At the start of the Conquest, Aegon had two major things going for him. Dragons and surprise. Even though his ravens had carried his message to the Seven Kingdoms, no one was ready for him. It was also critical that he had landed on an undefended area of Westeros. It gave him time to settle down and prepare rather than try breaking through defensive lines. They built up the area where they landed and called it the Aegonfort. When they felt ready they went to work.
Visenya and Rhaenys were sent to capture two nearby lowly castles, both of which yielded to the sisters without much of a fight. And now Westeros became aware of the Targaryen presence. Up north, the Lord of Duskendale and the Lord of Maidenpool joined forces to drive Aegon out. They had over 3,000 troops, well over the number of Aegon’s forces. Duskendale was a wealthy port city, a much bigger threat than the measly castles they had captured. 3,000 could have been easily twice or even three times as many as Aegon’s own forces.
Aegon sent Orys Baratheon to meet them on the field while the Lords were on the march south. The two Lords were, no doubt, encouraged when they saw such a measly force riding out to meet them in battle. Their confidence quickly turned to dread. Balerion descended upon Westeros for the first time, Aegon on his back. He rained fire and death down upon the Lords who were quickly slain. To call it a battle would be an overstatement.
With the Lords of Duskendale and Maidenpool both dead, their successors yielded the castles to Aegon, laid their swords at his feet, and swore allegiance. Visenya prevented Duskendale from being sacked and, instead, claimed its great wealth to aid the Conquest.
Aegon called his allies and the defeated (new) Lords to attend him. He rewarded his oldest supporters with titles and lands and confirmed those he had defeated in their lands and titles. Aegon made new allies of his old enemies. He had a knack for winning them over and bringing them in to become some of his strongest supporters. Aegon formed the first small council at this gathering. He named a master of ships, law, and coin. And just what every King needs.
“My shield, my stalwart, my strong right hand” – Aegon
Orys Baratheon became the first Hand of the King. Aegon raised banners never used by the Targaryen family before: A red three headed dragon upon a black field. Visenya placed a crown upon his head and Rhaenys proclaimed him as Aegon, first of his name, King of all Westeros, and shield of his people. The smallfolk cheered the loudest. Aegon was one of them now, and he was beloved by his people. Westeros had known of their presence, but now they were aware of the Targaryen threat.
Here is where the Conquest goes into full swing. The seven Kings became nervous. Meetings were called, offers sent, and banners called. Aegon received a few offers. Some of marriage or alliance, but he had already made himself clear before even setting sail from Dragonstone. All they had to do was bend the knee, but none were willing.
Aegon had Seven Kingdoms ahead of him. He knew taking one at a time would be risky. This needed to be a swift war or else the Kings would come together with a force big enough to defeat Aegon. The divided Kingdoms were Aegon’s greatest strength, and also the very thing he sought to end with the Conquest.
Aegon turned his own eyes on the infamous Harren Hoare and his newly completed juggernaut of a castle, Harrenhal. He took a small portion of his forces and began marching that way. Aegon went to the Riverlands.
He sent his master of ships, Daemon, to Gulltown with their fleet. Visenya accompanied him with Vhagar. Visenya went to the Vale.
Orys Baratheon took the majority of their forces and marched south for Storm’s End with Rhaenys and Meraxes at his side. Rhaenys went to the Stormlands. The three heads of the dragon split and each had their mission.
Visenya and the Vale
Ronnel Arryn was King of the Vale at the time. A young boy who left matters to his mother, Queen Regent Sharra Arryn. Sharra was one of the most beautiful women in Westeros, and according to history, one of the most beautiful women ever. Sharra was one of the rulers to send Aegon a deal. A portrait of herself and an offer of marriage with the request that Aegon make Ronnel his heir. Aegon refused and Daemon and Visenya set sail for Gulltown to take the Vale.
The Arryn fleet met the Targaryen fleet in the waters outside of Gulltown. Daemon was no Stannis though. Even though the Arryn fleet was hastily assembled and prepared, they still managed to outmaneuver Daemon and defeat them. Daemon paid the ultimate price for defeat, his life.
The day wasn’t completely lost however. Visenya descended from above on Vaghar and burnt the Arryn fleet to the ground (sea). Technically you could say it was a draw. Both fleets were sitting at the bottom of the sea, but it was a bigger blow to the Targaryens as Visenya couldn’t take Gulltown and the Vale. For now, the Vale stood independent.
Orys, Rhaenys, and the Stormlands
Orys and Rhaenys marched south to Storm’s End with the meat of their forces. Argilac was King during this time and we talked about him before. He’s the one who offered Aegon lands he didn’t even own and who chopped off the hands of Aegon’s messenger. He was known as Argilac the Arrogant.
Orys faced harsh resistance on his way to Storm’s End. Argilac’s bannermen pulled a surprise attack on Orys. They rushed from a forest and cut down a thousand men before disappearing as quickly as they came. The forest provided great cover for the guerrilla-like tactics, so Rhaenys burnt the forest down with Meraxes. Argilac called his forces back to Storm’s End and they brought him word of Rhaenys and her dragon. Argilac had heard news of Aegon’s dealings in the north and he did not intend to make the same mistakes that others had. Argilac rode out of Storm’s End with his forces to fight. He went on the attack.
Rhaenys flew high in the sky on Meraxes, which turned out to be Argilac’s downfall. Not because she swept down on them and burned their entire force, but because she had information. She had time to inform Orys of Argilac’s movements, his numbers, and everything else.
The Last Storm
Orys found a good defensive position on three hills and dug in with his forces. He knew what was coming. Argilac commanded twice the numbers Orys had. As Argilac drew closer, a raging storm began. Argilac’s men tried to convince him to halt the attack, but to no avail. Argilac had twice the numbers and the sight of the Targaryen forces on his land angered him. He wasn’t a complete fool though. The winds blew into the enemies faces which made it incredibly hard for Orys and his forces to see. A great advantage. Argilac began the attack and what is known as The Last Storm began.
Battles in the rain are never fun. This one moreso than most. The winds howled and the rains came in downpours. Horses couldn’t gain speed in the mud. Men’s feet sank and slipped on the hills where Orys had made his defense. Three times Argilac had his horsemen charge and three times they were pushed away.
He answered by sending his spearmen on foot up the hills. The rain was blinding Orys and by the time they saw the attack coming it was too late. Two hills fell and Orys was left with a single point of defense. And that point too was eventually broken through.
What the attackers found was not a swift end to the battle though. When Argilac and his forces broke the line of defenders they found an angry dragon and Queen Rhaenys waiting for them on the ground. Everything fell into even more chaos. Horses panicked and dropped their riders into the mud. Dragonfire engulfed the attackers. Argilac himself was thrown from his saddle.
Orys descended from the hill and found Argilac fending off half a dozen men.
“Stand aside” – Orys
He met with Argilac and gave him one last opportunity to surrender. Instead, Argilac cursed him in typical fashion. Orys slew the storm King in single combat and Argilac was the last of his family and name to rule the Stormlands as King. Their troubles weren’t quite over though.
Argilac’s daughter, Argella, closed the gates of Storm’s End as Orys approached.
“You may take my castle, but you will win only bones and blood and ashes” – Argella
The men of Storm’s End weren’t super excited about that though. They had no king. Defeat was inevitable. Castles couldn’t defend from dragons. The gates were opened and Argella was delivered to Orys chained, gagged, and naked. He treated her kindly and even took her family’s sigil and words. Storm’s End became Orys’ seat and Argella became his wife. The Stormlands had fallen to the invaders. Six kingdoms to go.
Aegon and Harrenhal
Did I mention Harren Hoare was a terrible person and that everyone hated him? Also did I mention Aegon had the smaller portion of his forces accompanying him? Good. Because it’s true.
Aegon personally went to deal with the maniac. Harren called his defenses and banners to Harrenhal in order to hold the castle and fight off the usurper. Instead, the Riverlands rebelled against him. Lord Edmyn Tully led the charge and declared for House Targaryen. If the Tullys of Riverrun were jumping ship to Aegon’s side, the writing on the wall became clear to the other lords of the Riverlands. One by one they declared for Aegon. Harren is the poster boy for what happens when you don’t treat your friends right. Aegon is the poster boy for what happens when you do treat your friends right.
And here’s where we see Aegon’s true military skill. Don’t forget that he had been planning this invasion for years. He had every step planned out. Maybe he took only a small portion of forces because he had confidence in himself and the Black Dread. Or maybe he took a smaller portion because he knew the Lords under the rule of Harren were fed up with him and his cruelty. I’d say Aegon knew they would jump at the chance to support a third party, and Aegon was exactly what they needed to take the plunge to – A: retain their land and titles (already displayed with Duskendale and Maidenpool), and B: get rid of Harren. He also knew Orys would need the extra forces in the Stormlands because Argilac’s bannermen were much more loyal. Also Rhaenys, although a great rider, wasn’t a warrior. Numbers are one thing in military strategy and Harren had the numbers, but Aegon knew not to strategize just around numbers, but around politics and weaknesses. Harren’s greatest weakness was his weak relationships with his own allies, so Aegon showed them exactly what they needed to switch sides. We’ll see Aegon use an understanding of his enemies to exploit their weaknesses again.
Harren realized he was in a very bad position. Luckily he had a new and impregnable castle. He hunkered down and waited. Harrenhal couldn’t be breached by anything known to men at the time. It could withstand a siege for an indefinite amount of time and that’s what Harren counted on. When Aegon arrived he met with Harren to parley as is protocol. (Harren was King of both the Riverlands and the Iron Islands if you’ve forgotten).
“Yield now, and you may remain as Lord of the Iron Islands. Yield now, and your sons will live to rule after you. I have eight thousand men outside your walls.”
“What is outside my walls is of no concern to me. Those walls are strong and thick.”
“But not so high as to keep out dragons. Dragons fly.”
“I built in stone. Stone does not burn.”
“When the sun sets, your line shall end.”
Harren promised great things to any man who could slay the dragon and retired for the evening to dine with his sons. And as the sun fell, Aegon mounted Balerion the Black Dread. He flew higher and higher. As high as he could go until they were a speck in the sky, invisible in the night.
The Burning of Harrenhal
Balerion descended on the castle and bathed it in black flames, twisted with red. Stone could not burn, but everything else did. Mostly men. It’s hard to slay a dragon when your skin is boiling and your armor turns into an oven. When black flames lick across your body and for a moment you don’t even feel pain, just watch as your skin catches fire in shock. Then, for the rest of your life, all you feel is pain.
The towers of Harrenhal cracked and split with the heat. Liquid rock ran down their sides as the stone melted. Spectators watching from the distance said it looked like the towers had turned into candles burning softly in the night. Harrenhal became a furnace, cooking everyone inside. Harren had spent forty years building his impregnable castle. And Harren had caused the horrible deaths of thousands over the years. The families who had suffered at his hands watched as Harren’s pride and joy cooked him alive. Aegon kept true to his word, Harren’s line ended completely that night and no Hoare would ever set foot in this world again. Aegon single-handedly defeated the undefeatable castle. His casualties were zero.
It took a day for Harrenhal to cool. Aegon wasted no time and made Edmyn Tully Lord of the Riverlands. The twisted, melted, and disfigured swords were gathered from the ashes of Harrenhal and sent back to where Aegon had made his home, the Aegonfort. The Iron Islands went into chaos but remained independent for now. The Riverlands fell to the Conqueror. Five kingdoms to go.
As always thanks for reading! All information comes from The World of Ice and Fire and the A Song of Ice and Fire series.
#1: Art by Amok
#2: Art by Jordi Gonzalez
#3: Art by Magali Villeneuve
#4: Art by John McCambridge
#5: Art by Unknown
#6: Art by Feliche
#7: Art by Stephen Najarian
#8: Art by Rene Aigner
#9: Art by Lino Drieghe