The Andals in the Stormlands
Earlier, I discussed some of my frustration with the historical sections of the Stormlands chapter. In this section, we get to some of my biggest pet peeves with this section of the WOIAF – namely, that its account of the Andal Invasion of the Stormlands doesn’t really pass muster, especially when viewed in comparison to the other Seven Kingdoms.
Let’s begin with the annoying fact that there’s yet another large gap in the historical record between Ronard the Bastard (who ruled not long after the third century post-Durran) and Erich VII (who must have ruled around 1,700 years later). Again, this is a long period of history, during which some rather significant events happened and it would be interesting to see the Stormlands’ perspective of them – for example, Garth Goldenhand’s war against the Lannister-Durrandon alliance.
But that’s something of a side issue compared to the implausible narrative of the invasion itself. The depiction of the Durrandon state during the arrival of the Andals – similar to its depiction during the up-and-down fortunes of the dynasty during the Age of Heroes – is a state that was already in crisis before the invaders arrived and quite unprepared for the conflict ahead:
“Erich VII Durrandon was king in the stormlands when the Andal longships first began to cross the narrow sea. History remembers him as Erich the Unready, for he took little note of these invaders, famously declaring that he had no interest in “the quarrels of strangers in a land far away.” The Storm King was embroiled in his own wars at the time, attempting to reconquer Massey’s Hook from its infamous pirate king, Justin Milk-Eye, whilst fending off the incursions of the Dornish king Olyvar Yronwood. Nor did Erich live to see the result of his inaction, for the Andals remained occupied with their conquest of the Vale for the rest of his lifetime.
His grandson, King Qarlton II Durrandon, was the first to face the Andals in battle. After four generations of war, that monarch—who styled himself Qarlton the Conqueror—finally completed the reconquest of Massey’s Hook, taking Stonedance after a year’s siege and slaying the last king of House Massey, Josua (called Softspear).
The Storm King held his conquest for less than two years. An Andal warlord named Togarion Bar Emmon (called Togarion the Terrible) had established his own small kingdom north of the Blackwater but was being hard-pressed by the Darklyn king of Duskendale. Sensing weakness to the south, Togarion took to wife the daughter of Josua Softspear and crossed Blackwater Bay with all his power to establish a new kingdom on Massey’s Hook. He built his own castle at Sharp Point, at the Hook’s end, whilst driving the stormlanders from Stonedance and setting his wife’s brother to rule there as a puppet dancing to his strings.
Qarlton the Conqueror soon had more serious woes to concern him than the loss of Massey’s Hook. The eyes of the Andals had turned south, and longships had begun to come ashore all up and down his coasts, full of hungry men with the seven-pointed stars painted on their shields and chests and brows, all of them bent on carving out kingdoms of their own. The rest of his reign, and that of his son and grandson (Qarlton III and Monfryd V) after him, were times of almost constant war.” (WOIAF)
Once again, we see the Durrandons struggling to maintain their control over Massey’s Hook or hegemony on military force against outside forces – further evidence of a failure of a state formation similar to that of the Riverlands. No wonder, therefore that the Andals under Togarion Bar Emmon were able to grab Massey’s Hook so quickly, a rare case where we can see a direct line between Andal invaders and influential houses in the present (although the survival of House Massey is less explicable) and one that follows the model of the leading Andal houses of the Vale.
Where things get confusing is why we’re given so much information about Erich the Unready if the Andals arrived in the Stormlands two generations after his death – which raises the question of why he was given his nickname or why his unreadiness is relevant if it didn’t play a direct role in the Stormlands’ difficulties. But far more confusing is the larger narrative of the war:
“Though the Storm Kings won half a dozen major battles—the greatest of these being the Battle of Bronzegate where Monfryd V Durrandon defeated the Holy Brotherhood of the Andals, an alliance of seven petty kings and war lords, at the cost of his own life—the longships kept coming. It was said that for every Andal who fell in battle, five more came wading ashore. Tarth was the first of the stormlands to be overwhelmed; Estermont soon followed.
The Andals established themselves on Cape Wrath as well and might well have taken all the rainwood if they had not proved as willing to make war on one another as upon the kingdoms of the First Men.” (WOIAF)
This passage gives us a fairly straightforward narrative – the Battle of Bronzegate likely taking place as the Andals pushed south overland from their foothold on Massey’s Hook, and their defeat leading the Andals to adopt a strategy of marine landings on the islands (hence Tarth and Estermont, which both raise the question of how those houses persisted to the present) leading to an attack on the southern Cape. Infighting aside, however, this is a narrative that follows much more closely to the First Men defeats in the Riverlands and the Vale, where the Andals were able to overrun territory and hold it, rather than the outright victory of the Starks or the successful assimilations of the Lannisters and Gardeners.
But that’s not what happened. Instead, we get a narrative of the Durrandons basically winning the war through a series of frankly implausible events:
“But King Baldric I Durrandon (the Cunning) proved expert at setting them one against the other, and King Durran XXI took the unprecedented step of seeking out the remaining children of the forest in the caves and hollow hills where they had taken refuge and making common cause with them against the men from beyond the sea. In the battles fought at Black Bog, in the Misty Wood, and beneath the Howling Hill (the precise location of which has sadly been lost), this Weirwood Alliance dealt the Andals a series of stinging defeats and checked the decline of the Storm Kings for a time. An even more unlikely alliance, between King Cleoden I and three Dornish kings, won an even more telling victory over Drox the Corpse-Maker on the river Slayne near Stonehelm a generation later.” (WOIAF)
As much as I find the Blackadder reference amusing, this isn’t a great explanation for how a kingdom previously characterized by dysfunction and stalemate somehow managed to fend off the Andals. For one thing, as I’ve said before, the highly visible presence of the Children of the Forest thousands of years after they were supposed to have retreated from the world of man is a significant worldbuilding error – why would the maesters of the Citadel believe that “they never lived at all” (AGOT) when they were making military alliances well within the scope of written records? (The plausibility of their involvement isn’t helped by the fact that the Children conveniently disappear after the Andals and First Men make peace, which makes them seem more like dei ex machina than historical actors.) Nor is there any explanation of why the Children’s alliance would be so determinative in the fight against the Andals, given the Children’s manifest inability to defeat the First Men invasion which had been carried out with much weaker technology. Likewise, there’s really no explanation of why the Dornish would make an alliance with a historic enemy when the Dornish would have had their hands full with Dornish invaders on their own soil, or why that alliance would have been useful outside of the Marches.
Finally, I just find that the end of the narrative doesn’t particularly work in a literary sense either, coming off as rather vague, indistinct, and repetitious compared to other chapters:
“Yet it is an error to assert that the Storm Kings turned back the invaders. For all their victories, they never stemmed the Andal tide; though many an Andal king and warlord ended with his head impaled upon a spike above the gates of Storm’s End, still the Andals kept coming. The reverse is also true; the Andals never truly conquered the line of Durrandon. Seven times they laid siege to Storm’s End or sought to storm its mighty walls, history tells us; seven times they failed. The seventh failure was seen as a sign from the gods; after that, no further assaults were made.
In the end, the two sides simply came together. King Maldon IV took an Andal maiden as his wife, as did his son, Durran XXIV (Durran Half-Blood). Andal war chiefs became lords and petty kings, wed the daughters of stormlords and gave them their own daughters in return, did fealty for their lands, and swore their swords to the Storm Kings. Led by King Ormund III and his queen, the stormlanders put aside their old gods and took up the gods of the Andals, the Faith of the Seven. As the centuries passed, the two races of men became as one … and the children of the forest, all but forgotten, vanished entirely from the rainwood and the stormlands.” (WOIAF)
In previous chapters, we’ve seen at least two (three if you count the Iron Islands) similar scenarios where the Andal invasion ends in assimilation and marriage alliances. But in those cases, there was a plausible narrative as to why the Lannisters and the Gardeners prospered – the growth of strong and stable polities through the actions of monarchs like Loreon the Lion or Garth Goldenhand, which gave monarchs like Tyrion III and Gerold II in the West and the Three Sage Kings in the Reach the necessary strength to force a favorable settlement. Here, we have a weak and divided polity that pulls a rabbit out of a hat, and then the Andals just give up.
To me, it would have worked much better if the Andals had won in the Stormlands. This would move the meta-history of the WOIAF closer in line with how its portrayed in the books – with the Vale, Riverlands, and Stormlands having fallen to the enemy, only the strong kingdoms of the Reach and the Westerlands having managed to establish a peace on their own terms, and the Iron Islands and Dorne falling unhappily in the middle, this would be much closer to the story of how “the Andals crossed the narrow sea and swept away the kingdoms of the First Men.” (AGOT) Moreover, and especially if the Andal victory had come through canny warlords forcing a puppet Durrandon king to marry an Andal bride, there would be a nice parallel with how the Baratheons supplanted the Durrandons, which would give the Stormlands a more distinct arc compared to other chapters. Finally, in order to preserve the idea that Storm’s End has never been taken, you could the defeat of the First Men be the result of a Durrandon king who “gave battle in vain” – which also continues the theme both of the Durrandons’ stubborn temper and how it leads to hubris, in this case ignoring the painstakingly-constructed defenses of their ancestral castle.
It would also have worked better if the arrival of the Andals had a noticeable impact on the Stormlands, if not the complete cultural and political reworking of the kingdom that the Vale and the Riverlands experienced, perhaps more akin to the cultural regeneration seen in the Westerlands and the Reach. Instead, we get another enormous gap in the historical record, this one stretching from Ormund the III (who ruled sometime around 5600 BC) to Arlan I (who ruled around 450-400 BC). Needless to say, this gap of more than 5,000 years covers some hugely consequential periods in Stormlands history: how did the Durrandons respond to their near-elimination at the hands of Gyles III around 5000 BC? What led to Durran the Third’s invasions of Dorne and how did the Stormlands react to his defeats (given the way in which his nomenclature suggests some major crisis of succession around 700 BC)? Why was Arlan I called “the Avenger”? And once again, what happened in between these periods, how did the Stormlands interact with the other players of the Great Game?
A Most Unlikely Empire
Without answers to these questions, we don’t really know what long-term factors led to the ascendancy of the Durrandons between 400-100 BC. What we do know is that such ascendancy happened:
“House Durrandon reached its greatest heights in the epoch that followed. During the Age of the Hundred Kingdoms, King Arlan I (the Avenger) swept all before him, extending the borders of his kingdom as far as the Blackwater Rush and the headwaters of the Mander. His great-grandson King Arlan III crossed both the Blackwater and the Trident and claimed the riverlands in their entirety, at one point planting his crowned stag banner on the shores of the Sunset Sea.” (WOIAF)
The Durrandon Empire, which spanned all the way from the Dornish Marches to the Neck, seems to have occurred in a few brief stages. Moniker notwithstanding, Arlan I was successful in war against both the Kings of the Trident and the Kings of the Reach, incorporating a significant swathe of territory that included much of the eastern Reach and the present-day Crownlands. This in turn would have increased the punching power of the Stormlands far above its current levels, as I discussed earlier. Three generations later, Arlan III used that military might to conquer the Riverlands as discussed in Part IV of this series.
However much we lack for context, it cannot be denied that this period of Stormlands history has a level of panache and excitement that is missing from everything that came before. All of the sudden, the underdog in the Great Game comes closest to winning out of any of the historical participants (as far as we know), building an empire that included all of the Stormlands, the Crownlands, the Riverlands, and part of the Reach. But rather than just being a story of triumphal military expansionism, we instead get a grand narrative of hubris, over-reach, and a long twilight struggle against inevitable decline:
“With the death of Arlan III, however, an inevitable decline began, for the stormlanders were stretched too thin to hold this vast kingdom together. Rebellion followed rebellion, petty kings sprang up like weeds, castles and keeps fell away … and then the ironborn came, led by Harwyn Hardhand, King of the Iron Islands, and it all befell as previously related. Even as the stormlanders reeled back before the ironmen in the north, the Dornish came swarming over the Boneway to press them in the south, and the Kings of the Reach sent their knights forth from Highgarden to reclaim all that had been lost in the west.
The Kingdom of the Storm shrank, king by king, battle by battle, year by year. The fall was halted briefly when a fierce warrior prince, Argilac (called the Arrogant), donned the stag’s crown, but even a man as mighty as he could only stay the tide, not turn it back. Last of the Storm Kings, last of the Durrandon, Argilac did just that for a time…” (WOIAF)
Once again, we can see the rules of the Great Game in action, as the Ironborn respond to internal rebellions within the Riverlands, and then when Harwyn’s victory at the Battle of Fairmarket revealed the Durrandon’s weakness (if my calculations are right, Arrec Durrandon lost some 20,000 men, which would have majorly affected their ability to mount defensive operations on multiple fronts), the Gardeners and Martells took advantage of the situation to regain the lands they had lost to Arlan I three hundred years earlier.
Moreover, it is in this period that we can see both the strengths and weaknesses of that legendary Durrandon temper. The stubborn unwillingness to accept that the Riverlands was lost meant that “King Arrec twice attempted to cross the Blackwater and take back what he had lost, but without success. His eldest son and successor, King Arlan V, tried as well, and died in the attempt.” (WOIAF) Given their diminished military power (since the loss of the Riverlands and the northern half of the Crownlands would have meant that the Durrandons could field some 27,000-odd less men) it would have been hard enough for the Stormlands to fend off the Reach and Dorne at the same time, but with tens of thousands of men being drawn into a largely fruitless conflict with the Ironborn, decline was almost guaranteed. At the same time, however, it was that same temper that drove Argilac the Arrogant to engage in what might be seen as a foolhardy attempt to turn back the tide of history to surprising results.
Argilac, Last of the Durrandons
In a strange irony, we get the most detailed portrait of any of the Durrandons with the very last one. And the portrait we get is another of Westeros’ military wunderkinds, a man who almost single-handedly managed to reverse centuries of imperial decline:
“From their great citadel Storm’s End, the Storm Kings of House Durrandon had once ruled the eastern half of Westeros from Cape Wrath to the Bay of Crabs, but their powers had been dwindling for centuries. The Kings of the Reach had nibbled at their domains from the west, the Dornishmen harassed them from the south, and Harren the Black and his ironmen had pushed them from the Trident and the lands north of the Blackwater Rush. King Argilac, last of the Durrandon, had arrested this decline for a time, turning back a Dornish invasion whilst still a boy, crossing the narrow sea to join the great alliance against the imperialist “tigers” of Volantis, and slaying Garse VII Gardener, King of the Reach, in the Battle of Summerfield twenty years later. But Argilac had grown older; his famous mane of black hair had gone grey, and his prowess at arms had faded.”(WOIAF)
Despite the relative briefness of this passage, we learn a lot about how Argilac managed to accomplish this. First, Argilac pursued a policy of inflicting punishing defeats on his enemies that would render those fronts quiescent for extended periods of time, allowing the Stormlands to concentrate their remaining force against one threat at a time – notably, the Dornish don’t seem to have threatened the Stormlands between Argilac’s boyhood (sometime in the 40s BC) and the raids on the Marches in 0 BC; likewise, the death of Garse VII at the Battle of Summerfield (sometime around 22 BC) managed to end hostilities on that front for several decades. Second, sometime during the reign of Argilac or his father, the disastrous reign of Halleck Hoare, which included “unsuccessful wars against the…stormlanders,” allowed the Durrandons to at least temporarily retake territory north of the Blackwater Rush, giving them breathing room on their northern border for a time.
Third and most intriguingly, Argilac seems to have turned his military talents to commercial purposes. Rather than purely acting out of geostrategic motives, we learn that “the Westerosi Storm King, Argilac the Arrogant, led a host into the Disputed Lands—in return for the promise of gold and glory.” (WOIAF) After all, while the Stormlands’ army is relatively small by Westerosi standards, it’s absolutely massive compared to most Essosi mercenary companies. Thus Argilac would have been able to name a very high price from the merchant princes of Tyrosh, Pentos, and Braavos, boosting the Stormlands’ economy similar to how Italian city-states, German principalities, and Swiss cantons exported military services during the Renaissance and Early Modern periods. Now we don’t know what Argilac did with the money (I would guess probably used it to hire mercenaries to make up for the Stormlands’ shrinking armies), but it is a rare case of Westerosi-Essosi interactions in a chapter that has very little of that, despite the close proximity of the Stormlands to the Free Cities.
But despite all of Argilac’s efforts, he couldn’t overcome the larger geostrategic deficit that his kingdom was now operating with against the rising power of Harren the Black. And so, in his desperation, the Storm King gambled on a diplomatic solution to his woes, trying to build an alliance with House Targaryen:
“…no king in Westeros felt more threatened than Argilac the Storm King, last of the Durrandon—an aging warrior whose only heir was his maiden daughter.
Thus it was that King Argilac reached out to the Targaryens on Dragonstone, offering Lord Aegon his daughter in marriage, with all the lands east of the Gods Eye from the Trident to the Blackwater Rush as her dowry.
Aegon Targaryen spurned the Storm King’s proposal. He had two wives, he pointed out; he did not need a third. And the dower lands being offered had belonged to Harrenhal for more than a generation. They were not Argilac’s to give. Plainly, the aging Storm King meant to establish the Targaryens along the Blackwater as a buffer between his own lands and those of Harren the Black.” (WOIAF)
On the face of it, the idea of creating a friendly buffer state in the Crownlands actually makes quite a bit of sense for the Stormlands, putting Aegon and his dragons between himself and the Ironborn, and regaining some Durrandon influence over the eastern Riverlands and northern Crownlands through a marriage alliance to the proposed new kingdom. And if Argilac hadn’t been too clever by half in proposing to give land that he didn’t control as a dowry – instead of outright proposing a military alliance against the Hoares – he might have had more luck. History had other ideas, however, and Argilac’s attempt to make peace on his northern borders would ironically be the occasion for the violent overthrow of his House:
“The Lord of Dragonstone countered with an offer of his own. He would take the dower lands being offered if Argilac would also cede Massey’s Hook and the woods and plains from the Blackwater south to the river Wendwater and the headwaters of the Mander. The pact would be sealed by the marriage of King Argilac’s daughter to Orys Baratheon, Lord Aegon’s childhood friend and champion.
These terms Argilac the Arrogant rejected angrily. Orys Baratheon was a baseborn half-brother to Lord Aegon, it was whispered, and the Storm King would not dishonor his daughter by giving her hand to a bastard. The very suggestion enraged him. Argilac had the hands of Aegon’s envoy cut off and returned to him in a box. “These are the only hands your bastard shall have of me,” he wrote.
Aegon made no reply. Instead he summoned his friends, bannermen, and principal allies to attend him on Dragonstone. Their numbers were small. The Velaryons on Driftmark were sworn to House Targaryen, as were the Celtigars of Claw Isle. From Massey’s Hook came Lord Bar Emmon of Sharp Point and Lord Massey of Stonedance, both sworn to Storm’s End, but with closer ties to Dragonstone.” (WOIAF)
There are several things that need to be unpacked from these few paragraphs. First, in light of what we’ve covered before, Aegon’s counter-proposal seems to have been something of a deliberate provocation, aimed at giving Aegon a casus belli against the Durrandons –Orys Baratheon’s bastardy aside (although I doubt he was ignorant of the implications), Aegon was essentially proposing that, in exchange for taking the Durrandons’ former possessions in the Crownlands and Riverlands, he should also get a good chunk of the northwestern Stormlands, without giving Argilac much of anything in exchange.
Second, it’s pretty clear that Orys’ Durrandon temper made this diplomatic strategy particularly ill-judged – it’s not that an anti-Ironborn politics would have been unpopular (after all, the Arryns were looking for such an alliance at the same time), but if you react to every potential slight by mutilating envoys, you’re basically going to create more enemies than you started with.
Third, and most importantly, we see in Aegon’s war councils the continuing weakness of the Durrandon state. Despite thousands of years of warfare to control Massey’s Hook, the Storm Kings had failed to build a either a state bureaucracy or a common cultural identity strong enough to keep House Bar Emmon and House Massey loyal, and thus Aegon started the war with a foothold on his enemy’s territory.
And so began the Last Storm…