“Dark wings, dark words,” some say, and though often enough the ravens that bear messages across the Seven Kingdoms bring glad tidings—of weddings, of births, of tourneys, of victories—from time to time that old saw proves to be true. So it was when a raven arrived at the rookery at Sunspear, the message tied to its leg opened and examined by the Old Palace’s maester. What followed was a hasty relay, from the rookery to the chambers of the Prince of Dorne, followed by the captain of guards being called for, and household knights being sent out to find Prince Maron’s councillors and kinsmen. But as they were sought, word began to spread in the castle: King Aegon had declared war on Dorne, alleging inequities and a failure to abide by the peace treaty signed with Baelor the Blessed.
This was, suffice it to say, news to the court. Immediately, the Prince’s advisors began to make plans for defending Dorne, but it was Maron himself who put forward that the first step should be to seek a peaceful solution to whatever had misled Aegon to such an act. A letter would be drafted, protesting the declaration of war, refusing to agree with the accusations, and offering to exchange emissaries to attempt to resolve matters peacefully. Some of the advisors scoffed at this—one of the prince’s uncles, most notably—but Maron made it plain that while he would have that letter sent, and meant every word, he would also order the defense of Dorne to be seen to, calling forces to reinforce the Boneway and the Prince’s Pass, and even preparing to send agents to the Free Cities to raise sellsails to defend the coast.
That seemed to satisfy even the most belligerent of the Dornish lords and knights, but as news leaked from the Old Palace to the shadow city and then beyond, there were stirrings of anger and fear as the memories were still vivid for many of those years of war and occupation and rebellion, and all the blood that had been spilled. Some wondered if the northrons beyond the mountains felt the same, knowing how many tens of thousands of their sons and fathers had died in Dorne…
But in King’s Landing, preparations for the Tourney of the Dragon had turned any anxiety into anticipation, as great knights and champions flocked to try their chance at the promised prizes, tens of thousands of gold dragons, amounts last seen at the Young Dragon’s legendary Grand Tourney. If there were preparations for war going on, they were less immediately evident in the excitement as pavilions were raised in the tourney grounds. Well over a hundred knights came to participate, some unherald, others famed. But some noticed more those knights who were missing: Prince Aemon the Dragonknight himself was alleged to be suffering from an ailment and would not participate, and not a single knight from the Dornish companions to Prince Daeron and Princess Mariah (the former himself not present for the tournament, having argued repeatedly with his father, the latter on Dragonstone) was there either.
Yet several knights of the Kingsguard did participate, and famous knights of note besides like the champions Ser Symeon Westerling and Ser Joffrey Caswell, or the king’s friend Ser Morgil Hastwyck who had proved fiercesome in the lists; all three advanced to the last sixteen knights. But there were other names less heralded who also advanced to the final group.
Of the deeds done in the final contests, the singers have already begun to sing. The contest between Hastwyck and Westerling was especially noteworthy, with nearly a score of lances broken between them before Ser Symeon at last lost his seat, and few thought anything might surpass it… until, that is, Ser Balon Selmy and Ser Omrys Baratheon, stormlords and cousins, met after each had faced notable foes—Ser Balon had contrived to overthrow both Ser Morgil and Ser Jofrey, while Ser Omrys had defeated Sorin of Sevenstreams, a knight of the Kingsguard. They did not break so many lances, but they rode a number of hard-fought courses, and then Ser Omrys somehow managed to battle his way out of those defeated who were given a second chance, to face his cousin once more in the final contest of that long day.
“The Clash of the Cousins” was on many lips, and if it’s sequel was not the contest some hoped for—Ser Balon defeated Ser Omrys a second time with relative ease—it was still such an unusual event, from two knights of no great fame, that it captured the imagination… and 40,000 gold dragons between them, as well. But that was not all that Aegon wished to show the gathered onlookers. The gold cloaks made a way through the crowd to a mysterious, much-speculated-on walled encampment dominated by a huge tent, where many mysterious comings and goings had been seen.
Most notably, pyromancers of the Guild of Alchemists had been seen coming and leaving at strange hours. The tent’s walls parted, and the broad gate in the wooden walls was opened, and out come ... a dragon! Or rather, a great wheeled contraption with a long wooden neck with a bronze dragon’s head at its end. A young pyromancer clambered up a ladder attached to the “neck” of this dragon, carrying a lit taper within the mouth where there was a round, brazen opening… and then he very swiftly made his way back down and inside the device.
As the king beamed, there was a pause, and then the faint sound of men within the contraption keeping time. The moment stretched, longer and longer… and then there was a sound almost like a roar, followed by a gout of fire from the dragon’s “mouth”: green fire, wildfire, forced out by some mechanism from the opening to be lit by the taper and then shooting up and over the crowd to some forty yard’s distance where an empty pavilion was set alight. Some in the crowd were terrified (rightfully, others would later say) at being so close to the deadly alchemical substance, but the king proudly asserted that this dragon was named “Balerion” and would be joined by six more just like it as a way to guarantee victory against Dorne.
Afterwards, there was feasting, but most all the lords and ladies of the court could think only of the day’s tourney… and of these great, wooden dragons that Aegon was causing to be built, terrible siege engines that the king believed (questionably, some might say) would shift the balance in his renewed effort to conquer Dorne.