An Oncomming Storm
Ancestral Longbow, "The Black Bow of Bywater"
Valar Morghulis carried by Orys Bywater, Black Griff
Amongst the ancestral heirlooms of the Bywater family none can match the mighty longbow known as Valar Morghulis in fame and infamy alike, for its is a legacy of fell battles and dead sons. Valar Morghulis is made almost entirely of dragonbone laminated at the side near the centre with the wood of the goldenheart to avoid twisting, shaped in the Freehold during the ancient heydays of Valyrian power. As all weapons of that storied culture it is superbly crafted and as most bows of its fabled material it draws surprisingly well while retaining tension and firmness, making it a powerful if difficult and tiring weapon to wield. The bone is smooth to the touch and quite light, though unlike most dragonbone the Valar Morghulis has a colouration akin to obsidian, dark as the deepest night with but a faint hint of grey when light falls across the bowstave. The slightly thicker grip of the bow has a carved, slightly raised handle of goldheart wood clad in soft, deep ruddy leather to provide a solid hold. The string-groove at the upper and lower end of the bow is made from carved dragonhorn in pale bony white and inlaid with the pattern of a majestic eagle-like creature, wings gathered. The bowstrings used by Valar Morghulis has most always been specially spun strings of silvered silk, as befitting such an heirloom, though naturally any bowstring could be used.
Though certainly impressive when displayed on the wall of Lord Bywater’s solar Valar Morghulis is first and foremost a weapon of war, explaining in part the lack of adornment through its long history. The weapon truly lives up to its name for in the hands of an expert archer it is truly a terrible weapon to behold, exceeding most other bows in both range and power. It is said that Aeron I, the Griffon Knight, could send an arrow straight through the breastplate of a fully armoured opponent more than twenty paces away or soar an arrow across the pond from the castles walls. Though no man today can match the feats of those storied days an arrow from Valar Morghulis, fired by a strong man of matching height, can still punch clean through a coat of chainmail or strike a horse to the ground. It is also surprisingly light for its size and when wielded by a skilled hand can even be used from horseback, as it indeed has by several of its most famous owners.
How Aeron Bywater, the Black Griff, came to own the longbow Valar Morghulis is not mentioned by any of the stories describing his life nor more accurate historical works, though most of them do indeed say little of him, if at all, before he rose in the favour of the Conqueror. In all likelihood this foreboding black bow was an heirloom from his life in the Freehold, possibly a heirloom of his line. It is quite possible that the tradition of giving this weapon to the youngest son, as well as naming him “Black Griff” is a tradition that hails from the lost Freehold as well, since Aeron was indeed the youngest of his brothers. What is known however is that from the day Aeron first came to Westeros as a captain under Aegon the Conqueror he carried Valar Morghulis in every battle and every adventure recorded and recounted, and every peasant legend about him in the Cocklesvale feature it prominently. It is said the young Griffon Knight first earned the note of his liege in an archery competition upon Dragonstone in the weeks before the invasion, black longbow not missing a single mark that day. Landing on the shores of Westeros Valar Morghulis claimed Lord Mooton’s eldest in an ambush as the first of its fell tally, later Lord Greywind at the Battle of the Reeds, the Bailiff of Bywater during Aeron’s legendary flight and fine knights beyond reckoning on the Field of Fire. Later it followed the Black Griff up the Cockleswent and it was Valar Morghulis which brought Lord Draken to his knees after his capture at Whitebridge where it also claimed the cousins Cockleston just as battle was joined.
Such was the dread reputation of the “Black Bow of Bywater”, as many smallfolk legends name it, founded in the bloody years of the Conquest, and even up until this day the Valar Morghulis has carried a black and bloody reputation. This is in no small part connected to the Reach’s obsession with chivalry and personal combat, which has made the death at an arrow’s end especially ignominious. Yet precisely that end has been meet by countless foes of the Griffons of Bywater through the ages, always in the hands of the youngest son designated as “Black Griff”. Valar Morghulis claimed Mors Manwoody “The Black Death” during the First Dornish Wars, sang its deadly song at Stonebridge during the Faith Rebellion, ended the line of house Merwent in 148 AC, laid low Lord Redding during the harrowing “Long Siege” of Bywater before revenging its wrongs at Redgrass Fields where Redvers youngest was shot like a hare. Only once in recorded history have it been wielded by a woman, Helena “the Hare” Bywater who fought at Preston and of whom it is said that she wielded the longbow like no man before her had save Aeron himself.
The Black Bows greatest claim to fame and infamy both however took place during the chaotic Second Battle of Tumblestone during the Dance of Dragons where Aurion “Pale-Eye” Bywater, led the Griffons as part of Addam Valeyron’s force. All accounts agree that the knights of the Griffon were the lead elements of the eastern flank, charging after the dragon Seasmoke into the Green’s encampment, but Bywater lore furthermore strongly suggests that it was Aurion wielding Valar Morghulis who killed prince Daeron Targaryen before he could reach his own dragon, Tessarion. Though it is true that prince Daeron was found with an arrow through his throat it is still highly disputed if this is what caused his death, and several scores of men claims to have been the one to slay him, making the Bywater claim disputed at best. In more recent memory however Valar Morghulis has also left its mark, notably upon the features of Lord Durran Elenion who lost an eye at the Battle of Ashford as well as plucking Sofred Dannett from the ramparts of Queensburry, both during the War of the Usurper. Some bitter Bywater men far into their cups also grumble that it may well have ended the reign of the Usurper prematurely had it not been for the “Bastard of Hargrove”.