'Game of Thrones' Author's 'Fire & Blood' Reveals Key Origin (Exclusive Book Excerpt)

George R.R. Martin's 'Fire & Blood' tells the secret truth behind a crucial Westeros landmark.
Courtesy of HBO

Game of Thrones returns in April 2019, but first, there will be Fire & Blood.

The new novel from A Song of Ice and Fire author George R.R. Martin chronicles the histories of the Targaryen kings who reigned over Westeros long before the births of Jon Snow (played by Kit Harington on the HBO show), Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) and the rest of their friends and enemies. Hitting shelves Nov. 20, Fire & Blood marks the latest story from Martin set in the fictional Seven Kingdoms, one that further explores the dragon-fueled secrets upon which the current saga is built.

Martin's new book begins with the first Targaryen king, Aegon the Conqueror, the warrior who united the Seven Kingdoms under one rule. In an exclusive excerpt for The Hollywood Reporter, Aegon becomes acquainted with the customs of Westeros, as well as his own limitations as a flesh-and-blood ruler of men. What did King's Landing look like in its earliest days? And what's the story behind the formation of the Kingsguard, the sacred order that would one day include the Targaryen-killing Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau)? The answers to those questions lie ahead in this first look at Fire & Blood.

King's Landing grew up around Aegon and his court, on and about the three great hills that stood near the mouth of the Blackwater Rush. The highest of those hills had become known as Aegon's High Hill, and soon enough the lesser hills were being called Visenya's Hill and the Hill of Rhaenys, their former names forgotten. The crude motte-and-bailey fort that Aegon had thrown up so quickly was neither large enough nor grand enough to house the king and his court, and had begun to expand even before the Conquest was complete. A new keep was erected, all of logs and fifty feet high, with a cavernous longhall beneath it, and a kitchen, made of stone and roofed with slate in case of fire, across the bailey. Stables appeared, then a granary. A new watchtower was raised, twice as tall as the older one. Soon the Aegonfort was threatening to burst out of its walls, so a new palisade was raised, enclosing more of the hilltop, creating space enough for a barracks, an armory, a sept, and a drum tower.

Below the hills, wharves and storehouses were rising along the riverbanks, and merchants from Oldtown and the Free Cities were tying up beside the longships of the Velaryons and Celtigars, where only a few fishing boats had previously been seen. Much of the trade that had gone through Maidenpool and Duskendale was now coming to King's Landing. A fish market sprung up along the riverside, a cloth market between the hills. A customs house appeared. A modest sept opened on the Blackwater, in the hull of an old cog, followed by a stouter one of daub-and-wattle on the shore. Then a second sept, twice as large and thrice as grand, was built atop Visenya's Hill, with coin sent by the High Septon. Shops and homes sprouted like mushrooms after a rain. Wealthy men raised walled manses on the hillsides, whilst the poor gathered in squalid hovels of mud and straw in the low places between.

No one planned King's Landing. It simply grew . . . ​but it grew quickly. At Aegon's first coronation, it was still a village squatting beneath a motte-and-bailey castle. By his second, it was already a thriving town of several thousand souls. By 10 AC, it was a true city, almost as large as Gulltown or White Harbor. By 25 AC, it had outgrown both to become the third most populous city in the realm, surpassed only by Lannisport and Oldtown.

Unlike its rivals, however, King's Landing had no walls. It needed none, some of its residents were known to say; no enemy would ever dare attack the city so long as it was defended by the Targaryens and their dragons. The king himself might have shared these views originally, but the death of his sister Rhaenys and her dragon, Meraxes, in 10 AC and the attacks upon his own person undoubtedly gave him cause . . . ​

And in the 19th year After the Conquest, word reached Westeros of a daring raid in the Summer Isles, where a pirate fleet had sacked Tall Trees Town and carried off a thousand women and children as slaves, along with a fortune in plunder. The accounts of the raid greatly troubled the king, who realized that King's Landing would be similarly vulnerable to any enemy shrewd enough to fall upon the city when he and Visenya were elsewhere. Accordingly, His Grace ordered the construction of a ring of walls about King's Landing, as high and strong as those that protected Oldtown and Lannisport. The task of building them was conferred upon Grand Maester Gawen and Ser Osmund Strong, the Hand of the King. To honor the Seven, Aegon decreed that the city would have seven gates, each defended by a massive gatehouse and defensive towers. Work on the walls began the next year and continued until 26 AC.

Ser Osmund was the king's fourth Hand. His first had been Lord Orys Baratheon, his bastard half-brother and companion of his youth, but Lord Orys was taken captive during the Dornish War and suffered the loss of his sword hand. When ransomed back, his lordship asked the king to be relieved of his duties. "The King's Hand should have a hand," he said. "I will not have men speaking of the King's Stump." Aegon next called on Edmyn Tully, Lord of Riverrun, to take up the Handship. Lord Edmyn served from 7-9 AC, but when his wife died in childbed, he decided that his children had more need of him than the realm, and begged leave to return to the riverlands. Alton Celtigar, Lord of Claw Isle, replaced Tully, serving ably as Hand until his death from natural causes in 17 AC, after which the king named Ser Osmund Strong.

Grand Maester Gawen was the third in that office. Aegon Targaryen had always kept a maester on Dragonstone, as his father and father's father had before him. All the great lords of Westeros, and many lesser lords and landed knights, relied upon maesters trained in the Citadel of Oldtown to serve their households as healers, scribes, and counselors, to breed and train the ravens who carried their messages (and write and read those messages for lords who lacked those skills), help their stewards with the household accounts, and teach their children. During the Conquest, Aegon and his sisters each had a maester serving them, and afterward the king sometimes employed as many as half a dozen to deal with all the matters brought before him.

But the wisest and most learned men in the Seven Kingdoms were the archmaesters of the Citadel, each of them the supreme authority in one of the great disciplines. In 5 AC, King Aegon, feeling that the realm might benefit from such wisdom, asked the Conclave to send him one of their own number to advise and consult with him on all matters relating to the governance of the realm. Thus was the office of Grand Maester created, at King Aegon's request.

The first man to serve in that capacity was Archmaester Ollidar, keeper of histories, whose ring and rod and mask were bronze. Though exceptionally learned, Ollidar was also exceptionally old, and he passed from this world less than a year after taking up the mantle of Grand Maester. To fill his place, the Conclave selected Archmaester Lyonce, whose ring and rod and mask were yellow gold. He proved more robust than his predecessor, serving the realm until 12 AC, when he slipped in the mud, broke his hip, and died soon thereafter, whereupon Grand Maester Gawen was elevated.

Listen along with an exclusive excerpt from the Fire & Blood audiobook:

The institution of the king's small council did not come into its full bloom until the reign of King Jaehaerys the Conciliator, but that is not to suggest that Aegon I ruled without the benefit of counsel. He is known to have consulted often with his various Grand Maesters, and his own household maesters as well. On matters relating to taxation, debts, and incomes, he sought the advice of his masters of coin. Though he kept one septon at King's Landing and another at Dragonstone, the king more oft wrote to the High Septon of Oldtown on religious issues, and always made a point of visiting the Starry Sept during his yearly circuit. More than any of these, King Aegon relied upon the King's Hand, and of course upon his sisters, the Queens Rhaenys and Visenya.

Queen Rhaenys was a great patron to the bards and singers of the Seven Kingdoms, showering gold and gifts on those who pleased her. Though Queen Visenya thought her sister frivolous, there was a wisdom in this that went beyond a simple love of music. For the singers of the realm, in their eagerness to win the favor of the queen, composed many a song in praise of House Targaryen and King Aegon, and then went forth and sang those songs in every keep and castle and village green from the Dornish Marches to the Wall. Thus was the Conquest made glorious to the simple people, whilst Aegon the Dragon himself became a hero king.

Queen Rhaenys also took a great interest in the smallfolk, and had a special love for women and children. Once, when she was holding court in the Aegonfort, a man was brought before her for beating his wife to death. The woman's brothers wanted him punished, but the husband argued that he was within his lawful rights, since he had found his wife abed with another man. The right of a husband to chastise an erring wife was well established throughout the Seven Kingdoms (save in Dorne). The husband further pointed out that the rod he had used to beat his wife was no thicker than his thumb, and even produced the rod in evidence. When the queen asked him how many times he had struck his wife, however, the husband could not answer, but the dead woman's brothers insisted there had been a hundred blows.

Queen Rhaenys consulted with her maesters and septons, then rendered her decision. An adulterous wife gave offense to the Seven, who had created women to be faithful and obedient to their husbands, and therefore must be chastised. As god has but seven faces, however, the punishment should consist of only six blows (for the seventh blow would be for the Stranger, and the Stranger is the face of death). Thus the first six blows the man had struck had been lawful . . . ​but the remaining ninety-four had been an offense against gods and men, and must be punished in kind. From that day forth, the "rule of six" became a part of the common law, along with the "rule of thumb." (The husband was taken to the foot of the Hill of Rhaenys, where he was given ninety-four blows by the dead woman's brothers, using rods of lawful size.)

Queen Visenya did not share her sister's love of music and song. She was not without humor, however, and for many years kept her own fool, a hirsute hunchback called Lord Monkeyface whose antics amused her greatly. When he choked to death on a peach pit, the queen acquired an ape and dressed it in Lord Monkeyface's clothing. "The new one is cleverer," she was wont to say.

Yet there was darkness in Visenya Targaryen. To most of the world, she presented the grim face of a warrior, stern and unforgiving. Even her beauty had an edge to it, her admirers said. The oldest of the three heads of the dragon, Visenya was to outlive both of her siblings, and it was rumored that in her later years, when she could no longer wield a sword, she delved into the dark arts, mixing poisons and casting malign spells. Some even suggest that she might have been a kinslayer and a kingslayer, though no proof has ever been offered to support such calumnies.

It would be a cruel irony if true, for in her youth no one did more to protect the king. Visenya twice wielded Dark Sister in Aegon's defense when he was set upon by Dornish cutthroats. Suspicious and ferocious by turns, she trusted no one but her brother. During the Dornish War, she took to wearing a shirt of mail night and day, even under her court clothes, and urged the king to do the same. When Aegon refused, Visenya grew furious. "Even with Blackfyre in your hand, you are only one man," she told him, "and I cannot always be with you." When the king pointed out that he had guardsmen around him, Visenya drew Dark Sister and slashed him across the cheek so quickly the guards had no time to react. "Your guards are slow and lazy," she said. "I could have killed you as easily as I cut you. You require better protection." King Aegon, bleeding, had no choice but to agree.

Many kings had champions to defend them. Aegon was the Lord of the Seven Kingdoms; therefore, he should have seven champions, Queen Visenya decided. Thus did the Kingsguard come into being; a brotherhood of seven knights, the finest in the realm, cloaked and armored all in purest white, with no purpose but to defend the king, giving up their own lives for his if need be. Visenya modeled their vows on those of the Night's Watch; like the black-cloaked crows of the Wall, the White Swords served for life, surrendering all their lands, titles, and worldly goods to live a life of chastity and obedience, with no reward but honor.

So many knights came forward to offer themselves as candidates for the Kingsguard that King Aegon considered holding a great tourney to determine which of them was the most worthy. Visenya would not hear of it, however. To be a Kingsguard knight required more than just skill at arms, she pointed out. She would not risk placing men of uncertain loyalty about the king, regardless of how well they performed in a melee. She would choose the knights herself.

The champions she selected were young and old, tall and short, dark and fair. They came from every corner of the realm. Some were younger sons, others the heirs of ancient houses who gave up their inheritances to serve the king. One was a hedge knight, another bastard born. All of them were quick, strong, observant, skilled with sword and shield, and devoted to the king.

These are the names of Aegon's Seven, as written in the White Book of the Kingsguard: Ser Richard Roote; Ser Addison Hill, Bastard of Cornfield; Ser Gregor Goode; Ser Griffith Goode, his brother; Ser Humfrey the Mummer; Ser Robin Darklyn, called Darkrobin; and Ser Corlys Velaryon, Lord Commander. History has confirmed that Visenya Targaryen chose well. Two of her original seven would die protecting the king, and all would serve with valor to the end of their lives. Many brave men have followed in their footsteps since, writing their names in the White Book and donning the white cloak. The Kingsguard remains a synonym for honor to this day.

Follow THR.com/GameOfThrones for more coverage.