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Though considered disreputable in this, our present day, a fragment of Septon Barth’s Unnatural History has proved a source of controversy in the halls of the Citadel. Claiming to have consulted with texts said to be preserved at Castle Black, Septon Barth put forth that the children of the forest could speak with ravens and could make them repeat their words. According to Barth, this higher mystery was taught to the First Men by the children so that ravens could spread messages at a great distance. It was passed, in degraded form, down to the maesters today, who no longer know how to speak to the birds. It is true that our order understands the speech of ravens … but this means the basic purposes of their cawing and rasping, their signs of fear and anger, and the means by which they display their readiness to mate or their lack of health.
Ravens are amongst the cleverest of birds, but they are no wiser than infant children, and considerably less capable of true speech, whatever Septon Barth might have believed. A few maesters, devoted to the link of Valyrian steel, have argued that Barth was correct, but not a one has been able to prove his claims regarding speech between men and ravens.
Yet no matter the truths of their arts, the children were led by their greenseers, and there is no doubt that they could once be found from the Lands of Always Winter to the shores of the Summer Sea. They made their homes simply, constructing no holdfasts or castles or cities. Instead they resided in the woods, in crannogs, in bogs and marshes, and even in caverns and hollow hills. It is said that, in the woods, they made shelters of leaves and withes up in the branches of trees—secret tree “towns.” It has long been held that they did this for protection from predators such as direwolves or shadowcats, which their simple stone weapons—and even their vaunted greenseers—were not proof against. But other sources dispute this, stating that their greatest foes were the giants, as hinted at in tales told in the North, and as possibly proved by Maester Kennet in the study of a barrow near the Long Lake—a giant’s burial with obsidian arrowheads found amidst the extant ribs. It brings to mind a transcription of a wildling song in Maester Herryk’s History of the Kings-Beyond-the-Wall, regarding the brothers Gendel and Gorne. They were called upon to mediate a dispute between a clan of children and a family of giants over the possession of a cavern. Gendel and Gorne, it is said, ultimately resolved the matter through trickery, making both sides disavow any desire for the cavern, after the brothers discovered it was a part of a greater chain of caverns that eventually passed beneath the Wall. But considering that the wildlings have no letters, their traditions must be looked at with a jaundiced eye.
A child of the forest. (illustration credit 11) The beasts of the woods and the giants were eventually joined by other, greater dangers, however.
A possibility arises for a third race to have inhabited the Seven Kingdoms in the Dawn Age, but it is so speculative that it need only be dealt with briefly.
Among the ironborn, it is said that the first of the First Men to come to the Iron Isles found the famous Seastone Chair on Old Wyk, but that the isles were uninhabited. If true, the nature and origins of the chair’s makers are a mystery. Maester Kirth in his collection of ironborn legends, Songs the Drowned Men Sing, has suggested that the chair was left by visitors from across the Sunset Sea, but there is no evidence for this, only speculation.
C OMING OF THE F IRST M ENTHE According to the most well-regarded accounts from the Citadel, anywhere from eight thousand to twelve thousand years ago, in the southernmost reaches of Westeros, a new people crossed the strip of land that bridged the narrow sea and connected the eastern lands with the land in which the children and giants lived. It was here that the First Men came into Dorne via the Broken Arm, which was not yet broken. Why these people left their homelands is lost to all knowing, but when they came, they came in force. Thousands entered and began to settle the lands, and as the decades passed, they pushed farther and farther north. Such tales as we have of those migratory days are not to be trusted, for they suggest that, within a few short years, the First Men had moved beyond the Neck and into the North. Yet, in truth, it would have taken decades, even centuries, for this to occur.
What does seem to be accurate from all the tales, however, is that the First Men soon came to war with the children of the forest. Unlike the children, the First Men farmed the land and raised up ringforts and villages. And in so doing, they took to chopping down the weirwood trees, including those with carved faces, and for this, the children attacked them, leading to hundreds of years of war.
The First Men—who had brought with them strange gods, horses, cattle, and weapons of bronze— were also larger and stronger than the children, and so they were a significant threat.
The hunters among the children—their wood dancers—became their warriors as well, but for all their secret arts of tree and leaf, they could only slow the First Men in their advance. The greenseers employed their arts, and tales say that they could call the beasts of marsh, forest, and air to fight on their behalf: direwolves and monstrous snowbears, cave lions and eagles, mammoths and serpents, and more. But the First Men proved too powerful, and the children are said to have been driven to a desperate act.
A carved weirwood. (illustration credit 12)
Legend says that the great floods that broke the land bridge that is now the Broken Arm and made the Neck a swamp were the work of the greenseers, who gathered at Moat Cailin to work dark magic.
Some contest this, however: the First Men were already in Westeros when this occurred, and stemming the tide from the east would do little more than slow their progress. Moreover, such power is beyond even what the greenseers are traditionally said to have been capable of … and even those accounts appear exaggerated. It is likelier that the inundation of the Neck and the breaking of the Arm were natural events, possibly caused by a natural sinking of the land. What became of Valyria is well-known, and in the Iron Islands, the castle of Pyke sits on stacks of stone that were once part of the greater island before segments of it crumbled into the sea.
Regardless, the children of the forest fought as fiercely as the First Men to defend their lives.
Inexorably, the war ground on across generations, until at last the children understood that they could not win. The First Men, perhaps tired of war, also wished to see an end to the fighting. The wisest of both races prevailed, and the chief heroes and rulers of both sides met upon the isle in the Gods Eye to form the Pact. Giving up all the lands of Westeros save for the deep forests, the children won from the First Men the promise that they would no longer cut down the weirwoods. All the weirwoods of the isle on which the Pact was forged were then carved with faces so that the gods could witness the Pact, and the order of green men was made afterward to tend to the weirwoods and protect the isle.
With the Pact, the Dawn Age of the world drew to a close, and the Age of Heroes followed.
THE AGE OF HEROES lasted for thousands of years, in which kingdoms rose and fell, noble houses were founded and withered away, and greet deeds were accomplished. Yet what we truly know of those ancient days is hardly more than what we know of the Dawn Age. The tales we have now are the work of septons and maesters writing thousands of years after the fact—yet unlike the children of the forest and the giants, the First Men of this Age of Heroes left behind some ruins and ancient castles that can corroborate parts of the legends, and there are stone monuments in the barrow fields and elsewhere marked with their runes. It is through these remnants that we can begin to ferret out the truth behind the tales.
What is commonly accepted is that the Age of Heroes began with the Pact and extended through the thousands of years in which the First Men and the children lived in peace with one another. With so much land ceded to them, the First Men at last had room to increase. From the Land of Always Winter to the shores of the Summer Sea, the First Men ruled from their ringforts. Petty kings and powerful lords proliferated, but in time some few proved to be stronger than the rest, forging the seeds of the kingdoms that are the ancestors of the Seven Kingdoms we know today. The names of the kings of these earliest realms are caught up in legend, and the tales that claim their individual rules lasted hundreds of years are to be understood as errors and fantasies introduced by others in later days.
Names such as Brandon the Builder, Garth Greenhand, Lann the Clever, and Durran Godsgrief are names to conjure with, but it is likely that their legends hold less truth than fancy. Elsewhere, I shall endeavor to sift what grain can be found from the chaff, but for now it is enough to acknowledge the tales.
And besides the legendary kings and the hundreds of kingdoms from which the Seven Kingdoms were born, stories of such as Symeon Star-Eyes, Serwyn of the Mirror Shield, and other heroes have become fodder for septons and singers alike. Did such heroes once exist? It may be so. But when the singers number Serwyn of the Mirror Shield as one of the Kingsguard—an institution that was only formed during the reign of Aegon the Conqueror—we can see why it is that few of these tales can ever be trusted. The septons who first wrote them down took what details suited them and added others, and the singers changed them—sometimes beyond all recognition—for the sake of a warm place in some lord’s hall. In such a way does some long-dead First Man become a knight who follows the Seven and guards the Targaryen kings thousands of years after he lived (if he ever did).
The legion of boys and youths made ignorant of the past history of Westeros by these foolish tales cannot be numbered.
It is best to remember that when we speak of these legendary founders of realms, we speak merely of some early domains—generally centered on a high seat, such as Casterly Rock or Winterfell—that in time incorporated more and more land and power into their grasp. If Garth Greenhand ever ruled what he claimed was the Kingdom of the Reach, it is doubtful its writ was anything more than notional beyond a fortnight’s ride from his halls. But from such petty domains arose the mightier kingdoms that came to dominate Westeros in the millennia to come.
A ruined ringfort of the First Men. (illustration credit 14) L ONG N IGHT THE AS THE FIRST MEN established their realms following the Pact, little troubled them save their own feuds and wars, or so the histories tell us. It is also from these histories that we learn of the Long Night, when a season of winter came that lasted a generation—a generation in which children were born, grew into adulthood, and in many cases died without ever seeing the spring. Indeed, some of the old wives’ tales say that they never even beheld the light of day, so complete was the winter that fell on the world. While this last may well be no more than fancy, the fact that some cataclysm took place many thousands of years ago seems certain. Lomas Longstrider, in his Wonders Made by Man, recounts meeting descendants of the Rhoynar in the ruins of the festival city of Chroyane who have tales of a darkness that made the Rhoyne dwindle and disappear, her waters frozen as far south as the joining of the Selhoru. According to these tales, the return of the sun came only when a hero convinced Mother Rhoyne’s many children—lesser gods such as the Crab King and the Old Man of the River—to put aside their bickering and join together to sing a secret song that brought back the day.
It is also written that there are annals in Asshai of such a darkness, and of a hero who fought against it with a red sword. His deeds are said to have been performed before the rise of Valyria, in the earliest age when Old Ghis was first forming its empire. This legend has spread west from Asshai, and the followers of R’hllor claim that this hero was named Azor Ahai, and prophesy his return. In the Jade Compendium, Colloquo V otar recounts a curious legend from Yi Ti, which states that the sun hid its face from the earth for a lifetime, ashamed at something none could discover, and that disaster was averted only by the deeds of a woman with a monkey’s tail.
Though the Citadel has long sought to learn the manner by which it may predict the length and change of seasons, all efforts have been confounded. Septon Barth appeared to argue, in a fragmentary treatise, that the inconstancy of the seasons was a matter of magical art rather than trustworthy knowledge. Maester Nicol’s The Measure of the Days—otherwise a laudable work containing much of use—seems influenced by this argument. Based upon his work on the movement of stars in the firmament, Nicol argues unconvincingly that the seasons might once have been of a regular length, determined solely by the way in which the globe faces the sun in its heavenly course. The notion behind it seems true enough—that the lengthening and shortening of days, if more regular, would have led to more regular seasons—but he could find no evidence that such was ever the case, beyond the most ancient of tales.
However, if this fell winter did take place, as the tales say, the privation would have been terrible to behold. During the hardest winters, it is customary for the oldest and most infirm amongst the northmen to claim they are going out hunting—knowing full well they will never return and thus leaving a little more food for those likelier to survive. Doubtless this practice was common during the Long Night.
Yet there are other tales—harder to credit and yet more central to the old histories—about creatures known as the Others. According to these tales, they came from the frozen Land of Always Winter, bringing the cold and darkness with them as they sought to extinguish all light and warmth.
The tales go on to say they rode monstrous ice spiders and the horses of the dead, resurrected to serve them, just as they resurrected dead men to fight on their behalf.