«illustration credit 1 illustration credit 2 The World of Ice & Fire is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the ...»
We can state with certainty, however, that men have lived at the mouth of the Honeywine since the Dawn Age. The oldest runic records confirm this, as do certain fragmentary accounts that have come down to us from maesters who lived amongst the children of the forest. One such, Maester Jellicoe, suggests that the settlement at the top of Whispering Sound began as a trading post, where ships from Valyria, Old Ghis, and the Summer Isles put in to replenish their provisions, make repairs, and barter with the elder races, and that seems as likely a supposition as any.
Yet mysteries remain. The stony island where the Hightower stands is known as Battle Isle even in our oldest records, but why? What battle was fought there? When? Between which lords, which kings, which races? Even the singers are largely silent on these matters.
Even more enigmatic to scholars and historians is the great square fortress of black stone that dominates that isle. For most of recorded history, this monumental edifice has served as the foundation and lowest level of the Hightower, yet we know for a certainty that it predates the upper levels of the tower by thousands of years.
Who built it? When? Why? Most maesters accept the common wisdom that declares it to be of Valyrian construction, for its massive walls and labyrinthine interiors are all of solid rock, with no hint of joins or mortar, no chisel marks of any kind, a type of construction that is seen elsewhere, most notably in the dragonroads of the Freehold of Valyria, and the Black Walls that protect the heart of Old V olantis. The dragonlords of Valryia, as is well-known, possessed the art of turning stone to liquid with dragonflame, shaping it as they would, then fusing it harder than iron, steel, or granite.
If indeed this first fortress is Valyrian, it suggests that the dragonlords came to Westeros thousands of years before they carved out their outpost on Dragonstone, long before the coming of the Andals, or even the First Men. If so, did they come seeking trade? Were they slavers, mayhaps seeking after giants? Did they seek to learn the magic of the children of the forest, with their greenseers and their weirwoods? Or was there some darker purpose?
Such questions abound even to this day. Before the Doom of Valyria, maesters and archmaesters oft traveled to the Freehold in search of answers, but none were ever found. Septon Barth’s claim that the Valyrians came to Westeros because their priests prophesied that the Doom of Man would come out of the land beyond the narrow sea can safely be dismissed as nonsense, as can many of Barth’s queerer beliefs and suppositions.
More troubling, and more worthy of consideration, are the arguments put forth by those who claim that the first fortress is not Valyrian at all.
The fused black stone of which it is made suggests Valyria, but the plain, unadorned style of architecture does not, for the dragonlords loved little more than twisting stone into strange, fanciful, and ornate shapes. Within, the narrow, twisting, windowless passages strike many as being tunnels rather than halls; it is very easy to get lost amongst their turnings. Mayhaps this is no more than a defensive measure designed to confound attackers, but it too is singularly un-Valyrian. The labyrinthine nature of its interior architecture has led Archmaester Quillion to suggest that the fortress might have been the work of the mazemakers, a mysterious people who left remnants of their vanished civilization upon Lorath in the Shivering Sea. The notion is intriguing but raises more questions than it answers.
An even more fanciful possibility was put forth a century ago by Maester Theron. Born a bastard on the Iron Islands, Theron noted a certain likeness between the black stone of the ancient fortress and that of the Seastone Chair, the high seat of House Greyjoy of Pyke, whose origins are similarly ancient and mysterious. Theron’s rather inchoate manuscript Strange Stone postulates that both fortress and seat might be the work of a queer, misshapen race of half men sired by creatures of the salt seas upon human women. These Deep Ones, as he names them, are the seed from which our legends of merlings have grown, he argues, whilst their terrible fathers are the truth behind the Drowned God of the ironborn.
The lavish, detailed, and somewhat disturbing illustrations included in Strange Stone make this rare volume fascinating to peruse, but the text is impenetrable in parts; Maester Theron had a gift for drawing but little skill with words. In any case, his thesis has no factual basis and may safely be dismissed. And thus we find ourselves back whence we began, forced to concede that the beginnings of Oldtown, Battle Isle, and its fortress must forever remain a mystery to us.
The reasons for the abandonment of the fortress and the fate of its builders, whoever they might have been, are likewise lost to us, but at some point we know that Battle Isle and its great stronghold came into the possession of the ancestors of House Hightower. Were they First Men, as most scholars believe today? Or did they mayhaps descend from the seafarers and traders who had settled at the top of Whispering Sound in earlier epochs, the men who came before the First Men? We cannot know.
When first glimpsed in the pages of history, the Hightowers are already kings, ruling Oldtown from Battle Isle. The first “high tower,” the chroniclers tell us, was made of wood and rose some fifty feet above the ancient fortress that was its foundation. Neither it, nor the taller timber towers that followed in the centuries to come, were meant to be a dwelling; they were purely beacon towers, built to light a path for trading ships up the fog-shrouded waters of Whispering Sound. The early Hightowers lived amidst the gloomy halls, vaults, and chambers of the strange stone below. It was only with the building of the fifth tower, the first to be made entirely of stone, that the Hightower became a seat worthy of a great house. That tower, we are told, rose two hundred feet above the harbor. Some say it was designed by Brandon the Builder, whilst others name his son, another Brandon; the king who demanded it, and paid for it, is remembered as Uthor of the High Tower.
For thousands of years thereafter, his descendants ruled Oldtown and the lands of the Honeywine as kings, and ships from the world over came to their growing city to trade. As Oldtown grew wealthy and powerful, neighboring lords and petty kings turned covetous eyes upon its riches, and pirates and reavers from beyond the seas heard tales of its splendors as well. Thrice in the space of a single century the city was taken and sacked, once by the Dornish king Samwell Dayne (the Starfire), once by Qhored the Cruel and his ironmen, and once by Gyles I Gardener (the Woe), who reportedly sold three-quarters of the city’s inhabitants into slavery, but was unable to breach the defenses of the Hightower on Battle Isle.
The wooden palisades and ditch that had protected the city heretofore having so obviously been proved inadequate, the next King of the High Tower, Otho II, spent the best part of his reign surrounding Oldtown with massive stone walls, thicker and higher than any seen in Westeros to this point. This effort beggared the city for three generations, it is written, but such was their strength that later reavers and would-be conquerors were persuaded to seek for plunder elsewhere, and those who did presume to attack Oldtown did so to no avail.
It was not through war that the Hightowers were brought into the Kingdom of the Reach, however, but through long negotiations and marriage. When Lymond Hightower took to bride the daughter of King Garland II Gardener, whilst giving his own daughter’s hand in marriage to her father, the Hightowers became bannermen to Highgarden, reduced from wealthy but relatively minor kings to the greatest lords of the Reach. (Oldtown was the last of the ancient realms to bend the knee to Highgarden, not long after the last King of the Arbor was lost at sea, allowing his cousin, King Meryn III Gardener, to make the isle part of his domain).
By the terms of the marriage treaty, the Gardeners also undertook to defend the city against any assault by land, which freed Lord Lymond to turn his attention to his “great purpose,” the building of ships and conquest of the seas. By the end of his reign, no lord or king in all of Westeros could match the strength of House Hightower at sea. A great statue of Lymond Hightower stands overlooking Oldtown’s harbor to this day, gazing off down Whispering Sound. The last Hightower king is still remembered as the Sea Lion.
Lord Lymond’s descendants shared his vision. With rare exceptions, they tended to their own gardens and their own city, avoiding entanglement in the endless wars of the petty kings, and later, of the Seven Kingdoms that emerged. “Highgarden defends our backs,” Lord Jeremy Hightower said once, “so we are free to gaze outward, to the sea and the lands beyond.” Gazing outward, and building ever more ships to protect his trade, Lord Jeremy doubled the city’s wealth. His son Jason doubled it again, and rebuilt the Hightower a hundred feet taller.
The Hightower on Battle Isle. (illustration credit 135) The origins of the Citadel are almost as mysterious as those of the Hightower itself. Most credit its founding to the second son of Uthor of the High Tower, Prince Peremore the Twisted. A sickly boy, born with a withered arm and twisted back, Peremore was bedridden for much of his short life but had an insatiable curiosity about the world beyond his window, so he turned to wise men, teachers, priests, healers, and singers, along with a certain number of wizards, alchemists, and sorcerers. It is said the prince had no greater pleasure in life than listening to these scholars argue with one another. When Peremore died, his brother King Urrigon bequeathed a large tract of land beside the Honeywine to “Peremore’s pets,” that they might establish themselves and continue teaching, learning, and questing after truth. And so they did.
When the Andals came, the Hightowers were amongst the first lords of Westeros to welcome them.
“Wars are bad for trade,” said Lord Dorian Hightower, when he set aside his wife of twenty years, the mother of his children, to take an Andal princess as his bride. His grandson Lord Damon (the Devout) was the first to accept the Faith. To honor the new gods, he built the first sept in Oldtown and six more elsewhere in his realm. When he died prematurely of a bad belly, Septon Robeson became regent for his newborn son, ruling Oldtown in all but name for the next twenty years and ultimately becoming the first High Septon. The boy he raised and trained, Lord Triston Hightower, raised the Starry Sept in his honor after his passing.
In the centuries that followed, Oldtown became the unquestioned center of the Faith for all of Westeros. From the dark marble halls of the Starry Sept, a succession of High Septons donned the crystal crown (the first of which was given to the Faith by the Lord Triston’s son Lord Barris) to become the voice of the Seven on earth, commanding the swords of the Faith Militant and the hearts of all the faithful from Dorne to the Neck. Oldtown became their holy city, and many devout men and women traveled there to pray at its septs and shrines and other holy places. Doubtless it was in part due to these ties to the Seven that the Hightowers were so often able to keep themselves separate from House Gardener’s countless wars.
The Faith was not the only institution to flourish behind the massive walls of Oldtown, under the protection of the Hightower. Thousands of years before the first sept opened its doors, the city had been home to the Citadel, where boys and young men from all over Westeros came to study, learn, and forge their chains as maesters. No greater seat of knowledge exists anywhere in the world.
By the time of Aegon’s Conquest, Oldtown was beyond question the greatest city in all of Westeros —the largest, richest, and most populous, and a center of both learning and faith. Even so, it might well have suffered the same fate as Harrenhal if not for the close ties between the Hightower and the Starry Sept, for it was the High Septon who persuaded Lord Manfred Hightower to offer no resistance to Aegon Targaryen and his dragons but instead to open his gates at the conqueror’s approach and do him homage.
The conflict thus averted flared up again a generation later, however, during the bloody struggle between the Faith and the Conqueror’s second son, the aptly named King Maegor the Cruel. The High Septon during the first years of Maegor’s reign was kin by marriage to the Hightowers. His sudden death in 44 AC—shortly after King Maegor had threatened to incinerate the Starry Sept with dragonfire in his fury over His High Holiness’s condemnation of his later marriages—is considered quite fortuitous, as it allowed Lord Martyn Hightower to open his gates before Balerion and Vhagar unleashed their flames.
The unexpected nature of the High Septon’s death in 44 AC aroused much suspicion, however, and whispers of murder persist to this day. Some believe His High Holiness was removed by his own brother, Ser Morgan Hightower, commander of the Warrior’s Sons in Oldtown (and it is undeniably true that Ser Morgan was the sole Warrior’s Son pardoned by King Maegor). Others suspect Lord Martyn’s maiden aunt, the Lady Patrice Hightower, though their argument seems to rest upon the belief that poison is a woman’s weapon. It has even been suggested that the Citadel might have played a role in the removal of the High Septon, though this seems far-fetched at best.
The Tyrells were never kings, though royal blood flows in their veins (as in half a hundred of the other great houses in the Reach). Ser Alester Tyrell, the founder of the line, was an Andal adventurer who became the champion and sworn shield to King Gwayne V Gardener, one of the Three Sage Kings. His eldest son became a notable knight as well, only to die in a tourney. His second son, Gareth, was of a more bookish bent and never achieved knighthood, choosing to serve as a royal steward instead. It is from him that today’s Tyrells descend.