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When adventurers, exiles, and traders from the Freehold of Valyria began to expand beyond the Lands of the Long Summer in the centuries after the fall of the Old Empire of Ghis, the Rhoynish princes embraced them at first, and their priests declared that all men were welcome to share the bounty of Mother Rhoyne.
As those first Valyrian outposts grew into towns, and those towns into cities, however, some Rhoynar came to regret the forbearance of their fathers. Amity gave way to enmity, particularly upon the lower river, where the ancient city of Sar Mell and the walled Valyrian town Volon Therys faced each other across the waters, and on the shores of the Summer Sea, where the Free City of V olantis soon rivaled the storied port of Sarhoy, each of them commanding one of Mother Rhoyne’s four mouths.
Disputes between the citizens of the rival cities became ever more common and ever more rancorous, finally giving birth to a series of short but bloody wars. Sar Mell and V olon Therys were the first cities to meet in battle. Legend claims that the clash began when the Valyrians netted and butchered one of the gigantic turtles the Rhoynar called the Old Men of the River and held sacred as the consorts of Mother Rhoyne herself. The First Turtle War lasted less than a moon’s turn. Sar Mell was raided and burned, yet emerged victorious when Rhoynish water wizards called up the power of the river and flooded Volon Therys. Half the city was washed away, if the tales can be believed.
Other wars followed, however: the War of Three Princes, the Second Turtle War, the Fisherman’s War, the Salt War, the Third Turtle War, the War on Dagger Lake, the Spice War, and many more, too numerous to recount here. Cities and towns were burned, drowned, and rebuilt. Thousands were killed or enslaved. In these conflicts, the Valyrians emerged as victors more oft than not. The princes of the Rhoyne, fiercely proud of their independence, fought alone, whilst the Valyrian colonies aided one another, and when hard-pressed, called upon the power of the Freehold itself. Beldecar’s History of the Rhoynish Wars is without equal in describing these conflicts, which stretched over the best part of two and a half centuries.
This series of conflicts reached a bloody climax a thousand years ago in the Second Spice War, when three Valyrian dragonlords joined with their kin and cousins in V olantis to overwhelm, sack, and destroy Sarhoy, the great Rhoynar port city upon the Summer Sea. The warriors of Sarhoy were slaughtered savagely, their children carried off into slavery, and their proud pink city put to the torch.
Afterward the Volantenes sowed the smoking ruins with salt so that Sarhoy might never rise again.
The utter destruction of one of the richest and most beautiful of the cities of the Rhoyne, and the enslavement of her people, shocked and dismayed the remaining Rhoynar princes. “We shall all be slaves unless we join together to end this threat,” declared the greatest of them, Garin of Chroyane.
This warrior prince called upon his fellows to join with him in a great alliance, to wash away every Valyrian city on the river.
Only Princess Nymeria of Ny Sar spoke against him. “This is a war we cannot hope to win,” she warned, but the other princes shouted her down and pledged their swords to Garin. Even the warriors of her own Ny Sar were eager to fight, and Nymeria had no choice but to join the great alliance.
The largest army that Essos had ever seen soon assembled at Chroyane, under the command of Prince Garin. According to Beldecar, it was a quarter of a million strong. From the headwaters of the Rhoyne down to her many mouths, every man of fighting age took up sword and shield and made his way to the festival city to join this great campaign. So long as the army remained beside Mother Rhoyne, the prince declared, they need not fear the dragons of Valyria; their own water wizards would protect them against the fires of the Freehold.
Garin divided his enormous host into three parts; one marched down the east bank of the Rhoyne, one along the west, whilst a huge fleet of war galleys kept pace on the waters between, sweeping the river clean of enemy ships. From Chroyane, Prince Garin led his gathered might downriver, destroying every village, town, and outpost in his path and smashing all opposition.
At Selhorys he won his first battle, overwhelming a Valyrian army thirty thousand strong and taking the city by storm. Valysar met the same fate. At V olon Therys, Garin found himself facing a hundred thousand foes, a hundred war elephants, and three dragonlords. Here too he prevailed, though at great cost. Thousands burned, but thousands more sheltered in the shallows of the river, whilst their wizards raised enormous waterspouts against the foe’s dragons. Rhoynish archers brought down two of the dragons, whilst the third fled, wounded. In the aftermath, Mother Rhoyne rose in rage to swallow V olon Therys. Thereafter men began to name the victorious prince Garin the Great, and it is said that, in Volantis, great lords trembled in terror as his host advanced. Rather than face him in the field, the Volantenes retreated back behind their Black Walls and appealed to the Freehold for help.
And the dragons came. Not three, as Prince Garin had faced at V olon Therys, but three hundred or more, if the tales that have come down to us can be believed. Against their fires, the Rhoynar could not stand. Tens of thousands burned whilst others rushed into the river, hoping that the embrace of Mother Rhoyne would offer them protection against dragonflame … only to drown in their mother’s embrace. Some chroniclers insist that the fires burned so hot that the very waters of the river boiled and turned to steam. Garin the Great was captured alive and made to watch his people suffer for their defiance. His warriors were shown no such mercy. The V olantenes and their Valyrian kin put them to the sword—so many that it was said that their blood turned the great harbor of V olantis red as far as the eye could see. Thereafter the victors gathered their own forces and moved north along the river, sacking Sar Mell savagely before advancing on Chroyane, Prince Garin’s own city. Locked in a golden cage at the command of the dragonlords, Garin was carried back to the festival city to witness its destruction.
A pile of dead along the Rhoyne. (illustration credit 22)
At Chroyane, the cage was hung from the walls, so that the prince might witness the enslavement of the women and children whose fathers and brothers had died in his gallant, hopeless war … but the prince, it is said, called down a curse upon the conquerors, entreating Mother Rhoyne to avenge her children. And so, that very night, the Rhoyne flooded out of season and with greater force than was known in living memory. A thick fog full of evil humors fell, and the Valyrian conquerors began to die of greyscale. (There is, at least, this much truth to the tale: in later centuries, Lomas Longstrider wrote of the drowned ruins of Chroyane, its foul fogs and waters, and the fact that wayward travelers infected with greyscale now haunt the ruins—a hazard for those who travel the river beneath the broken span of the Bridge of Dream.) Higher on the Rhoyne, in Ny Sar, Princess Nymeria soon received the news of Garin’s shattering defeat and the enslavement of the people of Chroyane and Sar Mell. The same fate awaited her own city, she saw. Accordingly, she gathered every ship that remained upon the Rhoyne, large or small, and filled them full of as many women and children as they could carry (for almost all the men of fighting age had marched with Garin, and died). Down the river Nymeria led this ragged fleet, past ruined and smoking towns and fields of the dead, through waters choked with bloated, floating corpses. To avoid V olantis and its hosts, she chose the older channel and emerged into the Summer Sea where once Sarhoy had stood.
Legend tells us that Nymeria took ten thousand ships to sea, searching for a new home for her people beyond the long reach of Valyria and its dragonlords. Beldecar argues that this number was vastly inflated, perhaps as much as tenfold. Other chroniclers offer other numbers, but in truth no true count was ever made. We can safely say there were a great many ships. Most were river craft, skiffs and poleboats, trading galleys, fishing boats, pleasure barges, even rafts, their decks and holds crammed full of women and children and old men. Only one in ten was remotely seaworthy, Beldecar insists.
Nymeria’s voyage was long and terrible. More than a hundred ships foundered and sank in the first storm her fleet encountered. As many or more turned back in fear, and were taken by slavers out of Volantis. Others fell behind or drifted away, never to be seen again.
Princess Nymeria leading the ten thousand ships. (illustration credit 23) The remainder of the fleet limped across the Summer Sea to the Basilisk Isles, where they paused to take on fresh water and provisions, only to fall afoul of the corsair kings of Ax Isle, Talon, and the Howling Mountain, who put aside their own quarrels long enough to descend upon the Rhoynar with fire and sword, putting twoscore ships to the torch and carrying off hundreds into slavery. In the aftermath, the corsairs offered to allow the Rhoynar to settle upon the Isle of Toads, provided they gave up their boats and sent each king thirty virgin girls and pretty boys each year as tribute.
Nymeria refused and took her fleet to sea once again, hoping to find refuge amongst the steaming jungles of Sothoryos. Some settled on Basilisk Point, others beside the glistening green waters of the Zamoyos, amongst quicksands, crocodiles, and rotting, half-drowned trees. Princess Nymeria herself remained with the ships at Zamettar, a Ghiscari colony abandoned for a thousand years, whilst others made their way upriver to the cyclopean ruins of Yeen, haunt of ghouls and spiders.
There were riches to be found in Sothoryos—gold, gems, rare woods, exotic pelts, queer fruits, and strange spices—but the Rhoynar did not thrive there. The sullen wet heat oppressed their spirits, and swarms of stinging flies spread one disease after another: green fever, the dancing plague, blood boils, weeping sores, sweetrot. The young and very old proved especially vulnerable to such contagions. Even to splash in the river was to court death, for the Zamoyos was infested with schools of carnivorous fish, and tiny worms that laid their eggs in the flesh of swimmers. Two of the new towns on Basilisk Point were raided by slavers, their populaces put to the sword or carried off in chains, whilst Yeen had to contend with attacks from the brindled ghouls of the jungle deeps.
For more than a year the Rhoynar struggled to survive in Sothoryos, until the day when a boat from Zamettar arrived at Yeen to find that every man, woman, and child in that haunted, ruined city had vanished overnight. Then Nymeria summoned her people back to the ships and set sail once again.
For the next three years the Rhoynar wandered the southern seas, seeking a new home. On Naath, the Isle of Butterflies, the peaceful people gave them welcome, but the god that protects that strange land began to strike down the newcomers by the score with a nameless mortal illness, driving them back to their ships. In the Summer Isles, they settled on an uninhabited rock off the eastern shore of Walano, which soon became known as the Isle of Women, but its thin stony soil yielded little food, and many starved. When the sails were raised again, some of the Rhoynar abandoned Nymeria to follow a priestess named Druselka, who claimed to have heard Mother Rhoyne calling her children home … but when Druselka and her followers returned to their old cities, they found their enemies waiting, and most were soon hunted down, slain, or enslaved.
The battered, tattered remainder of the ten thousand ships sailed west with Princess Nymeria. This time she made for Westeros. After so much wandering, her ships were even less seaworthy than when they had first departed Mother Rhoyne. The fleet did not arrive in Dorne complete. Even now there are isolated pockets of Rhoynar on the Stepstones, claiming descent from those who were shipwrecked. Other ships, blown off course by storms, made for Lys or Tyrosh, giving themselves up to slavery in preference to a watery grave. The remaining ships made landfall on the coast of Dorne near the mouth of the river Greenblood, not far from the ancient sandstone walls of The Sandship, seat of House Martell.
Dry, desolate, and thinly peopled, Dorne at this time was a poor land where a score of quarrelsome lords and petty kings warred endlessly over every river, stream, well, and scrap of fertile land. Most of these Dornish lords viewed the Rhoynar as unwelcome interlopers, invaders with queer foreign ways and strange gods, who should be driven back into the sea whence they’d come. But Mors Martell, the Lord of the Sandship, saw in the newcomers an opportunity … and if the singers can be believed, his lordship also lost his heart to Nymeria, the fierce and beautiful warrior queen who had led her people across the world to keep them free.
It is said that, amongst the Rhoynar who came to Dorne with Nymeria, eight of every ten were women … but a quarter of those were warriors, in the Rhoynish tradition, and even those who did not fight had been hardened during their travels and travails. As well, thousands who had been boys when fleeing the Rhoyne had grown into manhood and taken up the spear during their years of wandering.
By joining with the newcomers, the Martells increased the size of their host by tenfold.
When Mors Martell took Nymeria to wife, hundreds of his knights, squires, and lords bannermen also wed Rhoynish women, and many of those who were already wed took them for their paramours.
Thus were the two peoples united by blood. These unions enriched and strengthened House Martell and its Dornish allies. The Rhoynar brought considerable wealth with them; their artisans, metalworkers, and stonemasons brought skills far in advance of those achieved by their Westerosi counterparts, and their armorers were soon producing swords and spears and suits of scale and plate no Westerosi smith could hope to match. Even more crucially, it is said the Rhoynish water witches knew secret spells that made dry streams flow again and deserts bloom.