«illustration credit 1 illustration credit 2 The World of Ice & Fire is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the ...»
Many of these monarchs shared a common foe, for during these dark and bloody centuries, seaborne reavers from the Iron Islands dominated almost all of the western shore, from Bear Island to the Arbor. With their swift longships, the ironborn were able to strike and depart before any response came. Their raiders oft came ashore at unexpected places, taking their enemies unaware. Though the ironmen seldom ventured far inland, they controlled the Sunset Sea and exacted cruel tribute from the fisherfolk along the coasts. Having established themselves upon the Shield Islands by killing all the men they found there and claiming the women as their own, the ironborn even raided up the Mander with impunity.
King Qhored, the most fearsome of these ironborn overlords, boasted that his writ ran “wherever men can smell salt water or hear the crash of waves.” He was known as Qhored the Cruel in the Reach, and the kings who succeeded him went by such bynames as Hagon the Terrible and Joron Maidensbane.
It was against these men and their followers that the kings of House Gardener contended for three centuries, sometimes in alliance with the Kings of the Rock and the Lords of Oldtown, and sometimes alone. No fewer than six of the Gardener kings died in battle, amongst them Gareth the Grim and Garth the Morningstar, whilst Gyles II was taken captive, tortured, and cut into small pieces to bait his captor’s hooks. Yet the victory was at long last theirs, and each of them pushed the domains of House Gardener farther and brought more lands and lords beneath the rule of Highgarden.
That being said, many scholars still believe that the greatest of the Gardener kings were the peacemakers, not the fighters. Fewer songs are sung of them, it is true, but in the annals of history the names of Garth III (the Great), Garland II (the Bridegroom), Gwayne III (the Fat), and John II (the Tall) are writ large. Garth the Great extended the borders of his realm northward, winning Old Oak, Red Lake, and Goldengrove with pacts of friendship and mutual defense. Garland accomplished the same in the south, bringing Oldtown into his kingdom by wedding his daughter to Lymond (the Sea Lion) of House Hightower, whilst putting his own wives aside to marry Lord Lymond’s daughter.
Gwayne the Fat persuaded Lord Peake and Lord Manderly to accept his judgment on their quarrel, and do fealty for their lands, without fighting a single battle. John the Tall sailed his barge up the Mander to its very headwaters, planting the banner of the green hand wherever he went and receiving homage from the lords and petty kings whose lands lined that mighty river’s banks.
Greatest of all the Gardeners was King Garth VII, the Goldenhand, a giant in both war and peace.
As a boy, he turned back the Dornish when King Ferris Fowler led ten thousand men through the Wide Way (as the Prince’s Pass was then called), intent on conquest. Soon after, he turned his attention to the sea and drove the last ironmen from their strongholds on the Shield Islands. Thereafter he resettled the islands with his fiercest fighters, granting them special dispensations for the purpose of turning them into a first defense against the ironborn, should they return. This proved a great success, and to this day the men of the Four Shields pride themselves on defending the mouth of the Mander and the heart of the Reach against any and all seaborne foes.
In his last and greatest war, Garth VII faced an alliance between the Storm King and the King of the Rock, intent on carving up the Reach between them, but he defeated them both, then with cunning words sowed such discord between them that they turned on one another with great slaughter at the Battle of Three Armies. In the aftermath he married his daughters to their heirs and signed a pact with each, fixing the borders between the three kingdoms.
Yet even that paled before his greatest accomplishment: three-quarters of a century of peace. Garth Goldenhand became King of the Reach at the age of twelve and died upon the Oakenseat when he was ninety-three, still sound of wits (if frail of body). During the eighty-one years of his reign, the Reach was at war for less than ten. Generations of boys were born and grew to manhood, sired children of their own, and died without ever knowing what it was to grasp a spear and shield and march away to war.
And with this long peace came an unprecedented prosperity. The Golden Reign, as this time came to be known, was when the Reach truly flowered.
Yet all golden ages end, and so it was in the Reach. Garth Goldenhand passed from this world. A great-grandson followed him upon the Oakenseat, then gave way to his own sons.
And then the Andals came.
ANDALS IN THE REACH
The Andals came late to the Reach.
Crossing the narrow sea in longships, they landed first upon the shores of the Vale, then later all along the eastern coasts. The fleets of Oldtown and the Arbor barred them from the Redwyne Straits and the Sunset Sea. Reports of the bounty of the Reach and the wealth and power of Highgarden and its kings undoubtedly reached the ears of many an Andal warlord, but other lands and other kings lay between them.
Thus, long before the Andals reached the Mander, the kings in Highgarden knew of their coming.
They observed the fighting in the Vale, the stormlands, and the riverlands from afar, taking note of all that happened. Wiser perhaps than their counterparts from other regions, they did not make the error of allying with the Andals against local rivals. Gwayne IV (the Gods-fearing) sent his warriors searching out the children of the forest, in the hopes that the greenseers and their magic could halt the invaders. Mern II (the Mason) built a new curtain wall about Highgarden and commanded his lords bannermen to see to their own defenses. Mern III (the Madling) showered gold and honors on a woods witch who claimed that she could raise armies of the dead to throw the Andals back. Lord Redwyne built more ships, and Lord Hightower strengthened the walls of Oldtown.
Yet the great battles most of them had anticipated never came to pass. By the time the conquerors were done conquering the eastern shores, generations had passed and the Andals had raised up twoscore petty kings of their own, many of them at odds with one another. And in Highgarden, the Three Sage Kings followed one another upon the Oakenseat.
Garth IX Gardener, his son Merle I (the Meek), and his grandson Gwayne V were very different men, but they shared a common policy toward the Andals, one based on accord and assimilation rather than armed resistance. Garth IX brought a septon to his court and made him part of his councils, and built the first sept at Highgarden, though he himself continued to worship in the castle godswood.
His son Merle I formally espoused the Faith, however, and helped fund the construction of septs, septries, and motherhouses all over the Reach. Gwayne V was the first Gardener born into the Faith, and the first to be made a knight by solemn rite and vigil. (Many of his noble forebears have had posthumous knighthood conveyed on them by singers and storytellers, but true knighthood only came to Westeros with the Andals).
Both Merle I and Gwayne V took Andal maidens as their wives, as a means of binding their brides’ fathers to the realm. All three kings took Andals into their service as household knights and retainers.
Amongst those so honored was an Andal knight named Ser Alester Tyrell, whose prowess at arms was such that he was made the king’s champion and sworn shield under Gwayne V Ser Alester’s.
descendants in time became the hereditary stewards of Highgarden under the Gardeners.
The Three Sage Kings also found lands and lordships for the more powerful of the Andal kings descending on the Reach, in return for pledges of fealty. The Gardeners sought after Andal craftsmen as well and encouraged their lords bannermen to do the same. Blacksmiths and stonemasons in particular were handsomely rewarded. The former taught the First Men to arm and armor themselves in iron in place of bronze; the latter helped them strengthen the defenses of their castles and holdfasts.
And though some of these new-made lords foreswore their vows in later years, most did not.
Rather, they joined with their liege lords to put down such rebels and defended the Reach against those Andal kings and warbands who came later. “When a wolf descends upon your flocks, all you gain by killing him is a short respite, for other wolves will come,” King Garth IX said famously. “If instead you feed the wolf and tame him and turn his pups into your guard dogs, they will protect the flocks when the pack comes ravening.” King Gwayne V said it more succinctly. “They gave us seven gods, we gave them dirt and daughters, and our sons and grandsons shall be as brothers.” Many noble houses of the Reach trace their ancestry back to Andal adventurers given lands and wives by Garth IX, Merle I, and Gwayne V amongst them the Ormes, Parrens, Gracefords, Cuys,, Roxtons, Ufferings, Leygoods, and Varners. As the centuries passed, the sons and daughters of these houses intermarried so freely with those descended from the First Men that it became impossible to tell them apart. Seldom has a conquest been achieved with less bloodshed.
The centuries that followed the Andal conquest were to prove less peaceful. The Gardeners who succeeded to the Oakenseat included strong men and weak, clever men and fools, and once even a woman, but few had the wisdom and cunning of the Three Sage Kings, so the golden peace of Garth Goldenhand did not come again. In that long epoch between the assimilation of the Andals and the coming of the dragons, the Kings of the Reach warred constantly with their neighbors in a perpetual struggle for land, power, and glory. The Kings of the Rock, the Storm Kings, the many quarrelsome kings of Dorne, and the Kings of the Rivers and Hills could all be counted amongst their foes (and ofttimes amongst their allies as well.) The Oakenseat. (illustration credit 133) Highgarden reached the apex of its power under King Gyles III Gardener, who led a glittering host of armored knights into the stormlands, smashed the armies of the aged Storm King, and conquered all the lands north of the rainwood save for Storm’s End itself, which he besieged without result for two years. Gyles might well have completed his conquest had not the King of the Rock swept down upon the Reach in his absence, forcing him to lift his siege and hurry home to deal with the westermen. The broader war that followed involved three Dornish kings and two from the riverlands, and ended with Gyles III dead of a bloody flux and the borders between the realms restored to more or less where they had been before the bloodletting began.
The nadir of Gardener power came during the long reign of King Garth X, called Garth Greybeard, who succeeded to the crown at the age of seven and died at ninety-six—a reign even longer than that of his famous forebear Garth Goldenhand. Though vigorous in his youth, Garth X was a vain and frivolous king who surrounded himself with fools and flatterers. Neither wise nor clever, his wits abandoned him entirely in old age, and during the long years of his senility, he became the tool of first one faction, then another as those around him vied for wealth and power. His Grace had sired no sons, but Lord Peake had married one of his daughters, Lord Manderly another, and each was determined that his wife should succeed. The rivalry between them was marked by betrayal, conspiracy, and murder, finally escalating into open war. Others lords joined in on both sides.
With the lords of the Reach at swordpoint and the king too feeble to grasp what was occurring, much less stop it, the Storm King and the King of the Rock seized the moment, and large swathes of territory, whilst the Dornish raids grew bolder and more frequent. One Dornish king besieged Oldtown, whilst another crossed the Mander and sacked Highgarden. The Oakenseat, the living throne that had been the pride of House Gardener for years beyond count, was chopped to pieces and burned, and the senile King Garth X was found tied to his bed, whimpering and covered in his own filth. The Dornish cut his throat (“a mercy,” one of them said later), then put Highgarden to the torch after stripping it of all its wealth.
Dornish reavers in Oldtown. (illustration credit 134)
Almost a decade of anarchy followed, but in the end twoscore of the great houses of the Reach, led by Ser Osmund Tyrell, the High Steward, made common cause, defeated both the Peakes and Manderlys, reclaimed the ruins of Highgarden, and placed a second cousin of the late and unlamented Garth Greybeard upon its new throne as King Mern VI Gardener.
Though a man of modest gifts, Mern VI had able counsel in his stewards. Ser Osmund Tyrell was succeeded in that office by his son, Ser Robert, and later by a grandson, Lorent. Relying on their acumen, Mern VI ruled well, rebuilding Highgarden and doing much and more to restore House Gardener and the Reach. His son, Garth XI, did the rest, taking such a terrible vengeance upon the Dornishmen that Lord Hightower said afterward that the Red Mountains had been green until Garth painted them with Dornish blood. For the remainder of his long reign, the king was known as Garth the Painter.
And so it went, king after king, in war and peace. Yet through it all the green hand flew proudly across the Reach, until King Mern IX rode out to meet Aegon Targaryen and his sisters upon the Field of Fire.
No history of the Reach is complete without a look at Oldtown, that most grand and ancient of cities, still the richest, largest, and most beautiful in all Westeros, even if King’s Landing has eclipsed it as most populous.
How old is Oldtown, truly? Many a maester has pondered that question, but we simply do not know. The origins of the city are lost in the mists of time and clouded by legend. Some ignorant septons claim that the Seven themselves laid out its boundaries, other men that dragons once roosted on the Battle Isle until the first Hightower put an end to them. Many smallfolk believe the Hightower itself simply appeared one day. The full and true history of the founding of Oldtown will likely never be known.