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The Rock has been a habitation for men for thousands of years. Before the coming of the First Men it seems likely that the children of the forest and giants made their homes in the great sea-carved caverns at its base. Bears, lions, wolves, and bats have also been known to make their lairs within, along with countless lesser creatures.
Hundreds of mineshafts penetrate the lower parts of the Rock, where many veins of red and yellow gold gleam untouched in the stone even after millennia of mining. The Casterlys were the first to begin to carve halls and chambers from the mineshafts, and they established a ringfort on the Rock’s peak, from which they could survey their domain.
The Rock has been measured as thrice the height of the Wall or the Hightower of Oldtown. Almost two leagues long from west to east, it is riddled throughout with tunnels, dungeons, storerooms, barracks, halls, stables, stairways, courtyards, balconies, and gardens. There is even a godswood of sorts, though the weirwood that grows there is a queer, twisted thing whose tangled roots have all but filled the cave where it stands, choking out all other growth.
The Rock even has a port inside it, complete with docks and wharves and shipyards, for the sea has carved great caves into its western face, natural gates deep and wide enough for longships and even cogs to enter and off-load their cargoes.
The Lion’s Mouth—the huge natural cavern that forms the main entrance into the Rock—arches two hundred feet high from floor to ceiling. Over the centuries it has been widened and improved upon, and it is now said that twenty horsemen can ride abreast up its broad steps.
Casterly Rock has never been taken by storm or siege. No castle in the Seven Kingdoms is larger, richer, or better defended. Legends says that Visenya Targaryen, upon seeing it, thanked the gods that King Loren rode forth to face her brother Aegon on the Field of Fire, for if he had remained within the Rock, even dragonflame would not have daunted him.
The Lords of Casterly Rock have gathered many treasures over the centuries, and the sights of the Rock—especially the Golden Gallery, with its gilded ornaments and walls, and the Hall of Heroes where the costly armor worn by a hundred Lannister knights, lords, and kings stand eternal guard— are justly famed throughout the Seven Kingdoms, even in lands beyond the narrow sea.
Casterly Rock. (illustration credit 129) illustration credit 130 R EACH THE THE LARGEST AND most populous of the six southern kingdoms (the North, vast in expanse though thinly peopled, being a land apart) is commonly referred to as the Reach, but this name is somewhat of a misnomer. The domains of House Tyrell, the Lords of Highgarden, now largely correspond with those of the Kingdom of the Reach as it existed for thousands of years before Aegon’s Conquest, but
that rich and fertile realm was, in fact, once comprised of four kingdoms:
Oldtown and its environs, bounded by the Red Mountains to the east and the headwaters of the Honeywine in the north.
The Arbor, the golden island beyond the Redwyne Strait, famed for wine and sunshine.
The western marches, from Horn Hill to Nightsong.
The Reach proper, a vast expanse of fields and farms, lakes and rivers, hills and woods and fragrant meadows, mills and mines, dotted with small villages, thriving market towns, and ancient castles, stretching from the Shield Islands in the Sunset Sea, up the mouth of the Mander, past Highgarden, to Red Lake, Goldengrove, and Bitterbridge, as far as Tumbleton and the Mander’s headwaters.
This latter was the realm ruled by Gardeners of old, and in more recent days by the descendants of their stewards, the Tyrells of Highgarden. It was in these green fields that chivalry was born, history tells us; the gallant knights and fair maids of the Reach are celebrated throughout the Seven Kingdoms by the singers, whose own traditions first took root here as well.
Once and always a great realm, the Reach is many things to its inhabitants: the most populous, fertile, and powerful domain in the Seven Kingdoms, its wealth second only to the gold-rich west; a seat of learning; a center of music, culture, and all the arts, bright and dark; the breadbasket of Westeros; a nexus of trade; a home to great seafarers, wise and noble kings, dread sorcerers, and the most beautiful women in all Westeros. On a hill overlooking the Mander rises Highgarden, rightly hailed as the most beautiful castle in the realm. The Mander itself, which flows beneath its walls, is the longest and broadest river in the Seven Kingdoms. The great city of Oldtown is the equal of King’s Landing in size, and it is superior in all other respects, being vastly older and more beautiful, with its cobbled streets, ornate guildhalls, stone houses, and three great monuments: the Starry Sept of the Faith, the Citadel of the Maesters, and the mighty Hightower, with its great beacon, the tallest tower in all the known world. Truly, the Reach is a land for superlatives.
The story of the Reach begins with Garth Greenhand, the legendary progenitor not only of the Tyrells of Highgarden, but of the Gardener kings before them … and all the other great houses and noble families of the Green Realm as well.
A thousand tales are told of Garth, in the Reach and beyond. Most are implausible, and many contradictory. In some he is a contemporary of Bran the Builder, Lann the Clever, Durran Godsgrief, and the other colorful figures of the Age of Heroes. In others he stands as the ancestor of them all.
Garth was the High King of the First Men, it is written; it was he who led them out of the east and across the land bridge to Westeros. Yet other tales would have us believe that he preceded the arrival of the First Men by thousands of years, making him not only the First Man in Westeros, but the only man, wandering the length and breadth of the land alone and treating with the giants and the children of the forest. Some even say he was a god.
There is disagreement even on his name. Garth Greenhand, we call him, but in the oldest tales he is named Garth Greenhair, or simply Garth the Green. Some stories say he had green hands, green hair, or green skin overall. (A few even give him antlers, like a stag.) Others tell us that he dressed in green from head to foot, and certainly this is how he is most commonly depicted in paintings, tapestries, and sculptures. More likely, his sobriquet derived from his gifts as a gardener and a tiller of the soil—the one trait on which all the tales agree. “Garth made the corn ripen, the trees fruit, and the flowers bloom,” the singers tell us.
A few of the very oldest tales of Garth Greenhand present us with a considerably darker deity, one who demanded blood sacrifice from his worshippers to ensure a bountiful harvest. In some stories the green god dies every autumn when the trees lose their leaves, only to be reborn with the coming of spring. This version of Garth is largely forgotten.
Many of the more primitive peoples of the earth worship a fertility god or goddess, and Garth Greenhand has much and more in common with these deities. It was Garth who first taught men to farm, it is said. Before him, all men were hunters and gatherers, rootless wanderers forever in search of sustenance, until Garth gave them the gift of seed and showed them how to plant and sow, how to raise crops and reap the harvest. (In some tales, he tried to teach the elder races as well, but the giants roared at him and pelted him with boulders, whilst the children laughed and told him that the gods of the wood provided for all their needs). Where he walked, farms and villages and orchards sprouted up behind him. About his shoulders was slung a canvas bag, heavy with seed, which he scattered as he went along. As befits a god, his bag was inexhaustible; within were seeds for all the world’s trees and grains and fruits and flowers.
Some celebrated children of Garth Greenhand JOHN THE OAK, the First Knight, who brought chivalry to Westeros (a huge man, all agree, eight feet tall in some tales, ten or twelve feet tall in others, sired by Garth Greenhand on a giantess). His own descendants became the Oakhearts of Old Oak.
GILBERT OF THE VINES, who taught the men of the Arbor to make sweet wine from the grapes that grew so fat and lush across their island, and who founded House Redwyne.
MARIS THE MAID, the Most Fair, whose beauty was so renowned that fifty lords vied for her hand at the first tourney ever to be held in Westeros. (The victor was the Grey Giant, Argoth Stone-Skin, but Maris wed King Uthor of the High Tower before he could claim her, and Argoth spent the rest of his days raging outside the walls of Oldtown, roaring for his bride.) FOSS THE ARCHER, renowned for shooting apples off the head of any maid who took his fancy, from whom both the red apple and green apple Fossoways trace their descent.
BORS THE BREAKER, who gained the strength of twenty men by drinking only bull’s blood, and founded House Bulwer of Blackcrown. (Some tales claim Bors drank so much bull’s blood he grew a pair of shiny black horns.) ROSE OF RED LAKE, a skinchanger, able to transform into a crane at will—a power some say still manifests from time to time in the women of House Crane, her descendants.
ROWAN GOLD-TREE, who was so bereft when her lover left her for a rich rival that she wrapped an apple in her golden hair, planted it upon a hill, and grew a tree whose bark and leaves and fruit were gleaming yellow gold, and to whose daughters the Rowans of Goldengrove trace their roots.
Garth Greenhand brought the gift of fertility with him. Nor was it only the earth that he made fecund, for the legends tell us that he could make barren women fruitful with a touch—even crones whose moon blood no longer flowed. Maidens ripened in his presence, mothers brought forth twins or even triplets when he blessed them, young girls flowered at his smile. Lords and common men alike offered up their virgin daughters to him wherever he went, that their crops might ripen and their trees grow heavy with fruit. There was never a maid that he deflowered who did not deliver a strong son or fair daughter nine moons later, or so the stories say.
These legends, though cherished by the smallfolk, are largely discounted by both the maesters of the Citadel and the septons of the Faith, who share the view that Garth Greenhand was a man, not a god. A hunter or war chief, most like, or perhaps a petty king, he might well have been the first lord of the First Men to lead his followers across the Arm of Dorne (as yet unbroken) and into the wilderness of Westeros, where only the elder races had previously trod.
God or man, Garth Greenhand fathered many children in this new land; on this all the tales agree.
Many of those offspring grew to be heroes, kings, and great lords in their own right, founding mighty houses that endured for thousands of years.
Of all these, the greatest was his firstborn, Garth the Gardener, who made his home on the hill atop the Mander that in time became known as Highgarden, and wore a crown of flowers and vines. All of Garth Greenhand’s other children did the Gardener homage as the rightful king of all men, everywhere. From his loins sprang House Gardener, whose kings ruled the Reach beneath the banner of a green hand for many thousands of years, until Aegon the Dragon and his sisters came to Westeros.
The list is long, and many are the legends, for there is scarce a noble house in all the Reach that does not boast of descent from one of Garth Greenhand’s countless children. Even the heroes of other lands and kingdoms are sometimes numbered amongst the offspring of the Greenhand. Brandon the Builder was descended from Garth by way of Brandon of the Bloody Blade, these tales would have us believe, whilst Lann the Clever was a bastard born to Florys the Fox in some tales or Rowan Gold-Tree in others. However, Lann the Clever’s descent from Garth Greenhand is a tale told in the Reach. In the westerlands, it is more oft said that Lann cozened Garth Greenhand himself by posing as one of his sons (Garth had so many that ofttimes he grew confused), thus making off with part of the inheritance that rightly belonged to Garth’s true children.
That Garth Greenhand had many children cannot be denied, given how many in the Reach claim descent from him. But that all other lordly houses of Westeros were similarly descended seems most unlikely.
THE GARDENER KINGS
The history of the Reach in the days of the First Men is not unlike that of the other realms of Westeros.
The bounty of these green and fertile lands did not make men more peaceful, nor less grasping. Here too the First Men strove against the children of the forest, rooting them out from their sacred groves and hollow hills, hewing down their weirwoods with great bronze axes. Here too kingdoms rose and fell and were forgotten, as petty kings and proud lords contended with one another for land and gold and glory, whilst towns burned and women wailed and sword rang against sword, century after century.
And yet there was a difference, in degree if not in kind, for almost all of the noble houses of the Reach shared a common ancestry, deriving as they did from Garth Greenhand and his many children.
It was that kinship, many scholars have suggested, that gave House Gardener the primacy in the centuries that followed; no petty king could ever hope to rival the power of Highgarden, where Garth the Gardener’s descendants sat upon a living throne (the Oakenseat) that grew from an oak that Garth Greenhand himself had planted, and wore crowns of vines and flowers when at peace, and crowns of bronze thorns (later iron) when they rode to war. Others might style themselves kings, but the Gardeners were the unquestioned High Kings, and lesser monarchs did them honor, if not obeisance.
King Garth VII Gardener, the Goldenhand. (illustration credit 132) In those centuries of trial and tumult, the Reach produced many a fearless warrior. From that day to this, the singers have celebrated the deeds of knights like Serwyn of the Mirror Shield, Davos the Dragonslayer, Roland of the Horn, and the Knight Without Armor—and the legendary kings who led them, among them Garth V (Hammer of the Dornish), Gwayne I (the Gallant), Gyles I (the Woe), Gareth II (the Grim), Garth VI (the Morningstar), and Gordan I (Grey-Eyes).