In the year that had passed since the war’s end, Lord-Protector of the Reach Ardon Tyrell had done much to rebuild the Reach’s strength and its restock its coffers. He had also done what he could do erase the shame brought to House Tyrell by Lord Lyonel’ death and Ser Meros Tyrell’s betrayal, arranging two great betrothals - Lyonel’ daughter Jeona to Damon Lannister, son of Jonn Lannister and third in line to Casterly Rock, and his own daughter Lyessa to Lord Jonothor Arryn’s son and heir Eldred - through his sister Lady Reyna Saltcliffe. Now, months later, in a bid to show the Seven Realms that the Tyrells are still a force to be reckoned with, he sent forth ravens to every corner of Westeros, announcing a grand tourney to be held at Highgarden to celebrate the betrothals with Queen Daena herself presiding.
Lords, ladies and knights came from all across the Seven Realms, while the Queen sailed down the Mander to Highgarden on barges with near the entire court, for King Baelor was still recovering at Blackhaven. It was a leisurely progress, taking two weeks, with the Queen feted at Tumbleton and a tourney held in her honour at Bitterbridge. The day belonged to Ser Elmer Crakehall who overthrew knight after knight - including Ser Triston Templeton who was sore hurt, worrying the masters - finally facing the mystery knight riding as the Silent Knight. Him too he bested, unmasking Ser Anton Piper, naming his wife Lady Fiona Queen of Love and Beauty and winning the right to be the Queen’s champion in the lists at Highgarden.
Of Highgarden itself, the bards have already begun to sing. Great deeds were done there over the course of a month; famous knights added lustre to their reputations and others began forging names for themselves. The famed Ser Dagur Saltcliffe, known as the Iron Serpent and good-brother to the Lord-Protector, proved his fierce reputation well-earned as he won the betrothal joust. Ser Jaesin Lannister of the Kingsguard he unhorsed, and Ser Tancred Baratheon, heir to Storm’s End; the famous Ser Almer Connington, Ser Jonn Lannister, heir to Casterly Rock, Ser Elmer Crakehall, the Queen’s Champion. And finally, he bested beloved champion and steward to the king, Ser Conrad Arryn, to win the prize and queen his wife, Lady Reyna, Queen of Love and Beauty. He would also go on to win the grand melee, besting Ser Almer, and many others besides.
Dashing Ser Almer too had his victory after riding with great skill in a number of jousts, winning the fourth and final joust - the Joust of Champions - at month’s end. The Queen’s Champion Ser Elmer he overthrew, and skilled Ser Tancred, along with Ser Janden Melcolm. Finally, he unhorsed bold Ser Josmyn Reyne for the prize. But Ser Elmer was far from disgraced, for he had already covered himself with glory, doing the Queen proud as her champion by becoming the only knight there to win two jousts - chosen victor at the second joust, the Joust of Love, to add to his victory at Bitterbridge, and crowning Daena herself Queen of Love and Beauty in a gallant gesture that won much acclaim.
And Lord Allos Swann, the King’s Counter proved himself as skilled with a lance as with a tally stick, winning the third joust, felling a great many knights - Ser Anton Piper and Ser Alek Reyne; Ser Farin Prester, Ser Elmer and Ser Josmyn - before unhorsing the famous Ser Lymen Flowers, the Bastard of Honeyholt, for the prize. He too crowned his wife, Lady Kelyce, Queen of Love and Beauty.
Other knights as well did deeds worth the recounting - Ser Jonn, never known to be a jouster as his brother Ser Jaesin is, who yet proved himself the better at Highgarden, besting one knight after another. Ser Farin, who overthrew knights of renown; the Lord-Protector himself who took to the lists in the betrothal joust and made a gallant showing; above all, Ser Josmyn who bested more famous knights than many a renowned jouster managed.
But Ser Josmyn was also at the heart of the trouble that nearly saw a blood feud darken the tourney. For he along with his kinsman Ser Alek Reyne struck down Ser Obyn Meadows - favourite grandson of old Lord Manard Meadows and third in line to Grassy Vale - in the challenge of Monsters and Maidens, unknowingly killing him. It was the manner of it that incensed Ser Obyn’s kin, for Ser Alek felled the man - playing the Manticore Knight, one of the monsters holding the noble ladies who had all been spirited away from the masque the previous night captive - from behind. And even as Ser Obyn fell to his knees, crying, “Craven! Craven!” Ser Josmyn, already in mid-swing, struck him a blow that caved in helm and skull both.
Ser Josmyn went on to free the ladies by besting the final monster, the Night’s King played by Ser Conrad, but the real strife was to come later. Ser Obyn’s kin, led by his cousin, fierce Ser Kendros Goodbrook, known as Longaxe, and his good-brother, shrewd Ser Edwyd Bulwer, demanded vengeance, coming close to drawing steel on more than one occasion - most disastrously so at the third joust, when Longaxe, on being unhorsed by Ser Josmyn, challenged him to face him sword-to-sword, throwing the lists into chaos as he called for his blade. The situation was finally resolved only when Ser Ardon’s Tyrell guardsmen escorted the Goodbrook knight away.
In the end, the Queen herself and Ser Ardon summoned all those involved. Daena invoked the ancient tradition of blood-price, not seen for many years, ordering Ser Alek and Ser Josmyn to pay Ser Obyn’s father, Robett Meadows - for old Lord Manard had sickened with grief and taken to his bed - the sum of 1,500 dragons as recompense for the life taken. And in return, the Meadows and Goodbrooks would consider the matter ended. Both sides had no choice but to agree. But while the Reynes seemed glad to do so, Ser Obyn’s kin were not - and soon after being paid the gold, they departed Highgarden, well before tourney’s end.
Fortunately, Highgarden’s courtly ways and its graces served to distract the court from these bloody events even as they were happening. The Reach’s women are famed for their beauty and gentle ways, and these were on full display at entertainments such as Lady Tyrell’s masque, the theme of which was Great Stories. Some came dressed as their own ancestors, or characters from legend and myth. But none could match the splendour and cleverness of Lady Melissa Lannister and Ser Josmyn Reyne’s - him again - costumes, both winning the prize. It was after this that the ladies were siphoned off at the Queen’s summons and the knights and lords all called to the Field of Lances by a great roaring.
There a great mummers’ dragon breathed fire, and a terrible voice informed the assembled that their ladies had been taken - and indeed, there they all were, in a tumbrel. The dragon announced that a great game would commence the very next day - the game of Monsters and Maidens that would turn so ill-fated as the knights fought their way through a maze of thorn hedges and villains out of myth.
Another evening saw the garden made over into a living map of Westeros. The guests were escorted by Ser Ardon Tyrell through all the parts of the realm: the Westerlands, with a pair of lion cubs and a great throne hewn from golden rock , the Iron Islands, with pools of eels and goblets of salt-water. They saw the Wall with its tiny crows, and Winterfell with a pair of wolfcubs. From there they travelled through the Neck and a pair of snapping mummers’ lizard-lions into the Vale, up into mountains where a fierce falcon perched above a waterfall. Down again into the Riverlands, two streams coming together and filled with leaping trout, the Crownlands with the mummers’ dragon, this time sleeping. Finally, they saw the Stormlands and were greeted by a majestic stag - and a mummers’ griffin perched on a rock over the sea as a nod to Tyrell cousins, the Conningtons. At every stop there was food and wine aplenty—and no few expressed amazement at the creativity and detail in devising such an elaborate entertainment.
The women took part in tests of martial skill as well, such as archery. There, the Queen herself took to the field, greatly cheered by the smallfolk. And she proved herself easily the finest archer on display, defeating her closest rival, Ser Albyn Crane, to claim the prize - and then graciously asking that her purse of 500 dragons be distributed among the others who had shot well, such as Ser Albyn, Ser Galan Lannister and Lady Reyna.
And it was through that prize and all the others, not just the magnificence of the tourney, that Ser Ardon made clear that House Tyrell was still to be reckoned with. For they were truly kingly. Ser Dagur won a purse of 3,000 dragons for his victory at the betrothal joust and 2,000 for winning the grand melee, while Lord Allos received a large casket of precious stones of all kinds for the third joust. Ser Elmer won the finest jewels to gift to a lady for winning the Joust of Love while Lady Melissa and Ser Josmyn received a beautiful emerald necklace and a lovely jewel-pommeled sword respectively for the masque. Those who came second in the jousts and the melee were handsomely rewarded as well - but perhaps the greatest prize went to Ser Almer who was given a dagger of Valyrian steel with a dragonbone hilt for winning the joust of champions.
Throughout, there was feasting and mummers’ shows as well as music and singing of all kinds. Every night there was dancing, in the hall and in the gardens, and it seemed as if the Gods themselves smiled, for the weather was perfect. On the final night at Highgarden, the Queen hosted a feast herself, and gave gifts not only to her champion, Ser Elmer Crakehall, but to a number of other knights she felt had proved themselves, including Ser Janden Melcolm, Ser Luthor Rivers, and Ser Farin Prester. The court set out from Highgarden in a light mist that drew a curtain over the sight of such revels as the court had had, and veiled Highgarden away from them as if it were a pleasant dream, now ended.