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Chronicles found in the archives of the Night’s Watch at the Nightfort (before it was abandoned) speak of the war for Sea Dragon Point, wherein the Starks brought down the Warg King and his inhuman allies, the children of the forest. When the Warg King’s last redoubt fell, his sons were put to the sword, along with his beasts and greenseers, whilst his daughters were taken as prizes by their conquerors.
House Greenwood, House Towers, House Amber, and House Frost met similar ends, together with a score of lesser houses and petty kings whose very names are lost to history. Yet the bitterest foes of Winterfell were undoubtedly the Red Kings of the Dreadfort, those grim lords of House Bolton whose domains of old stretched from the Last River to the White Knife, and as far south as the Sheepshead Hills.
The enmity between the Starks and Boltons went back to the Long Night itself, it is claimed. The wars between these two ancient families were legion, and not all ended in victory for House Stark.
King Royce Bolton, Second of His Name, is said to have taken and burned Winterfell itself; his namesake and descendant Royce IV (remembered by history as Royce Redarm, for his habit of plunging his arm into the bellies of captive foes to pull out their entrails with his bare hand) did the same three centuries later. Other Red Kings were reputed to wear cloaks made from the skins of Stark princes they had captured and flayed.
Yet in the end, even the Dreadfort fell before the might of Winterfell, and the last Red King, known to history as Rogar the Huntsman, swore fealty to the King of Winter and sent his sons to Winterfell as hostages, even as the first Andals were crossing the narrow sea in their longships.
After the defeat of the Boltons, the last of their Northern rivals, the greatest threats to the dominion of House Stark came by sea. The northern boundary of the Stark domains was protected by the Wall and the men of the Night’s Watch, whilst to the south, the only way through the swamps of the Neck passed below the ruined towers and sinking walls of the great fortress called Moat Cailin. Even when the Marsh Kings held the Moat, their crannogmen stood staunch against any invaders from the south, allying with the Barrow Kings, Red Kings, and Kings of Winter as need be to turn back any southron lord who sought to attack the North. And once King Rickard Stark added the Neck to his domain, Moat Cailin proved even more imposing—a bulwark against the powers of the south. Few sought to push past it, and the histories say that none ever succeeded.
The North’s long, ragged coastlines, both to the east and the west, remained vulnerable, however;
it would be there where the rule of Winterfell would be most oft threatened … by ironborn in the west and Andals in the east.
Crossing the narrow sea in their hundreds and thousands, the longships of the Andals made landings in the North just as they did to the south, but wherever they came ashore, the Starks and their bannermen fell upon them and drove them back into the sea. King Theon Stark, known to history as the Hungry Wolf, turned back the greatest of these threats, making common cause with the Boltons to smash the Andal warlord Argos Sevenstar at the Battle of the Weeping Water.
In the aftermath of his victory, King Theon raised his own fleet and crossed the narrow sea to the shores of Andalos, with Argos’s corpse lashed to the prow of his flagship. There, it is said, he took a bloody vengeance, burning a score of villages, capturing three tower houses and a fortified sept, and putting hundreds to the sword. The heads of the slain the Hungry Wolf claimed as prizes, carrying them back to Westeros and planting them on spikes along his own coasts as a warning to other wouldbe conquerors. (Later in his blood-drenched reign, he himself conquered the Three Sisters and landed an army on the Fingers, but these conquests did not long endure. King Theon also fought the ironborn in the west, driving them from Cape Kraken and Bear Island, put down a rebellion in the Rills, and joined the Night’s Watch in an incursion beyond the Wall that broke the power of the wildlings for a generation).
Until King’s Landing rose beside the Blackwater, White Harbor was the newest city in the Seven Kingdoms. Built with the wealth that the Manderlys had brought with them from the Reach after having been driven into exile by Lord Lorimar Peake at the behest of King Perceon III Gardener, who feared their swelling power in the Reach, White Harbor has more in common with the fine castles and towers of the Reach than with the castles of the North; it is said that the New Keep was built to reflect the castle of Dunstonbury, which the Manderlys had lost in their exile.
Even before the coming of the Andals, the Wolf’s Den had been raised by King Jon Stark, built to defend the mouth of the White Knife against raiders and slavers from across the narrow sea (some scholars suggest these were early Andal incursions, whilst others argue they were the forebears of the men of Ib, or even slavers out of Valyria and Volantis).
Held for centuries by a succession of houses (including the Greystarks, an offshoot of House Stark itself, as well as Flints, Slates, Longs, Holts, Lockes, and Ashwoods), the ancient fortress would be the focus of a succession of conflicts. During the wars between Winterfell and the Andal Kings of Mountain and Vale, the Old Falcon, Osgood Arryn, laid siege to the Wolf’s Den. His son, King Oswin the Talon, captured it and put it to the torch. Later, it fell under attack from the pirate lords of the Three Sisters and slavers out of the Stepstones. It was not until some thousand years before the Conquest, when the fugitive Manderlys came to the North and swore their oaths at the Wolf’s Den, that the problem of the defense of the White Knife—the river that provides access into the very heart of the North—was resolved with the creation of White Harbor.
The west coast of the North has also oft been beset by reavers, and several of the Hungry Wolf’s wars were forced upon him when longships out of Great Wyk, Old Wyk, Pyke, and Orkmont descended upon his western coasts beneath the banners of Harrag Hoare, King of the Iron Islands. For a time the Stony Shore did fealty to Harrag and his ironmen, swathes of the wolfswood were nothing but ashes, and Bear Island was a base for reaving, ruled by Harrag’s black-hearted son, Ravos the Raper. Though Theon Stark slew Ravos with his own hand, and expelled the ironmen from his shores, they would return under Harrag’s grandson, Erich the Eagle, and again under the Old Kraken, Loron Greyjoy, who retook both Bear Island and Cape Kraken (King Rodrik Stark reclaimed the first of those after the Old Kraken’s death, whilst his sons and grandsons battled for the latter). The wars between the North and the ironborn would continue thereafter, but less decisively.
THE MOUNTAIN CLANS
The clans of the Northern mountains are especially famed for their adherence to the laws of hospitality, and the petty lords who rule these clans often vie with one another to be the most openhanded of hosts. These clans—located largely in the mountainous regions beyond the wolfswood, in the high valleys and meadows, and along the Bay of Ice and certain rivers of the North—owe their allegiance to the Starks, but their disputes have oft created difficulties for the Lords of Winterfell and the Kings of Winter before them, forcing them to send men into the mountains to quell the bloodshed (commemorated in such songs as “Black Pines” and “Wolves in the Hills”), or to summon the chiefs to Winterfell to argue their cases.
The mightiest of the Northern clans are the Wulls, the fisherfolk who dwell along the shores of the Bay of Ice. Their hatred of the wildlings is matched only by their hatred of the men of the Iron Islands, who have often raided along the shore of the bay, burning their halls, carrying off their crops, and taking their wives and daughters as thralls and salt wives. Large tracts of the Stony Shore, Bear Island, Sea Dragon Point, and Cape Kraken have all been held by ironmen at times. Indeed, Cape Kraken, closest to the Iron Islands, has changed hands so many times that many maesters believe its populace to be closer in blood to the ironmen than to Northmen.
The histories of the North claim that Rodrik Stark won Bear Island back from the ironborn in a wrestling match, and perhaps there is truth to this tale; the kings of the Iron Isles were often moved to prove their prowess and their right to wear the driftwood crown with feats of strength. More sober scholars call this into question, suggesting that if there was “wrestling,” it was with words.
THE STONEBORN OF SKAGOS
Despite centuries of feuds, the mountain clans have traditionally remained loyal to the Starks through war and peace. The same cannot be said of the savage denizens of Skagos, the mountainous island east of the Bay of Seals.
The Skagosi who reside there are little regarded by the other Northmen, who consider them no better than wildlings and name them Skaggs. The Skagosi call themselves the stoneborn, referring to the fact that Skagos means “stone” in the Old Tongue. A huge, hairy, foul-smelling folk (some maesters believe the Skagosi to have a strong admixture of Ibbenese blood; others suggest that they may be descended from giants), clad in skins and furs and untanned hides, and said to ride on unicorns, the Skagosi are the subject of many a dark rumor. It is claimed that they still offer human sacrifice to their weirwoods, lure passing ships to destruction with false lights, and feed upon the flesh of men during winter.
A warrior of Skagos. (illustration credit 94)
Like as not, the Skagosi surely did once practice cannibalism, though whether this custom still lingers to this day is a matter of much dispute. The Edge of the World—a collection of tales and legends compiled by Maester Balder, who served the commander of Eastwatch-by-the-Sea during the sixty-year rule of Lord Commander Osric Stark—is our chief source for much of what we know of the Skagosi, including the Feast of Skane, wherein a Skagosi war fleet descended upon the smaller nearby isle of Skane, raping and carrying off the Skanish women whilst slaying the Skanish men and consuming their flesh in a feast that lasted a fortnight. Whether this be true or not, Skane remains uninhabited to this day, though tumbled stones and overgrown foundations testify that men did once dwell amongst its windswept hills and stony shores.
The “unicorns” of Skagos were once scoffed at by maesters at the Citadel. The occasional “unicorn horn” offered by disreputable merchants has never been more than the horn of a kind of whale hunted by the whalers of Ib. However, horns of quite a different kind— reputed to be from Skagos—have been seen by the maesters at Eastwatch upon occasion. It is also said that those seafarers brave enough to trade on Skagos have glimpsed the stoneborn lords riding great, shaggy, horned beasts, monstrous mounts so sure-footed they have been known to climb the sides of mountains. A living example of such a creature—or even a skeleton—has long been sought for study, but none has ever been brought to Oldtown.
Though rarely seen off their island, the stoneborn once were accustomed to crossing the Bay of Seals to trade or, more oft, raid—until King Brandon Stark, Ninth of His Name, broke their power once and for all, destroyed their ships, and forbade them the sea. For most of recorded history, they have remained an isolated, backward, savage folk, as like to murder those who land upon their isle as to trade with them. When they do consent to trade, the Skagosi offer pelts, obsidian blades and arrowheads, and “unicorn horns” for goods they desire.
Some Skagosi have served in the Night’s Watch as well. More than a thousand years ago, a Crowl (a member of a clan that passes for nobility on Skagos) was even Lord Commander for a time, and the Annals of the Black Centaur speak of a Stane (a member of another Skagosi family) who rose to become First Ranger but died shortly thereafter.
Skagos has often been a source of trouble for the Starks—both as kings when they sought to conquer it and as lords when they fought to keep its fealty. Indeed, as recently as the reign of King Daeron II Targaryen (Daeron the Good), the isle rose up against the Lord of Winterfell—a rebellion that lasted years and claimed the lives of thousands of others, including that of Barthogan Stark, Lord of Winterfell (called Barth Blacksword), before finally being put down.
THE CRANNOGMEN OF THE NECK
Last (and some might say the least) of the peoples of the North are the swamp-dwellers of the Neck, known as crannogmen for the floating islands on which they raise their halls and hovels. A small, sly people (some say they are small in stature because they intermarried with the children of the forest, but more likely it results from inadequate nourishment, for grains do not flourish amidst the fens and swamps and salt marshes of the Neck, and the crannogmen subsist largely upon a diet of fish, frogs, and lizards), they are quite secretive, preferring to keep to themselves.
A crannogman of the Neck. (illustration credit 95) South of the Neck, the riverfolk whose lands adjoin their own say that the crannogmen breathe water, have webbed hands and feet like frogs, and use poisons on their frog spears and their arrows.
That last, it must be said, is true enough; many a merchant has brought rare herbs and plants with many queer properties to the Citadel, for the maesters seek such things out to better understand their properties and their value. But of the rest, there is no truth to it: crannogmen are men, albeit smaller than most, even if they live in a fashion unique in the Seven Kingdoms.
Long ago, the histories claim, the crannogmen were ruled by the Marsh Kings. Singers tell of them riding on lizard lions and using great frog spears like lances, but that is clearly fancy. Were these Marsh Kings even truly kings, as we understand it? Archmaester Eyron writes that the crannogmen saw their kings as the first among equals, who were often thought to be touched by the old gods—a fact that was said to show itself in eyes of strange hues, or even in speaking with animals as the children are said to have done.