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Famous for their warriors and singers alike, House Caron has a storied history that stretches back to the Age of Heroes. The Carons are wont to say that the nightingales of their house have been seen on a thousand battlefields, and the histories show that Nightsong has been besieged no less than thirty-seven times in the last thousand years.
Evenfall Hall on Tarth. (illustration credit 147) As the marches are famed for their strong castles and their ballads, the rainwood is known for its rain, its silences, and a wealth in fur and wood and amber. Here the trees rule, it is said, and the castles oft seem as if they have grown from the earth instead of being built. But the knights and lords of the rainwood have roots as deep as the trees that shelter them, and have oft proved themselves steadfast in battle, strong and stubborn and immovable.
The history of the building of Storm’s End is known to us only through songs and stories—the tales of Durran Godsgrief and fair Elenei, daughter of two gods. Supposedly it was the seventh of the castles that Durran raised in that spot (though that number may well be a later interpolation of the Faith).
Storm’s End is surely an old castle, but when compared to the ruined ringforts of the First Men or even the First Keep of Winterfell (which a past maester in service to the Starks examined and found to have been rebuilt so many times that a precise dating could not be made), the great tower and perfectly joined stones of the Storm’s End curtain wall seem much beyond what the First Men were capable of for many thousands of years. The great effort involved in raising the Wall was one thing, but that was more a brute effort than the high art needed to make a wall where even the wind cannot find purchase. Archmaester Vyron, in his Triumphs and Defeats, speculates that the tale’s claim that the final form of Storm’s End was the seventh castle shows a clear Andal influence, and if true, this suggests the possibility that the final form of the castle was only achieved in Andal times. Mayhaps the castle was rebuilt on the site of earlier castles, but if so, it was long after Durran Godsgrief and his fair Elenei had passed from this earth.
Maesters who have served at the castle testify to its vast strength and ingenious construction.
Whether designed by Brandon the Builder or not, its great curtain wall, with its stones so cunningly fitted that the wind cannot get a grip on them, is justly famed. So, too, is the great central keep that thrusts up into the sky to overlook Shipbreaker Bay.
Storm’s End has never fallen to storm or siege, the histories tell us. Well can it be believed.
During Robert’s Rebellion, Lord Tyrell of Highgarden laid siege to Storm’s End for a year, without result. If the garrison’s supplies had been sufficient to the task, the castle might have held out indefinitely, but the war had come quickly and the storehouses and granaries were only half-full. By year’s end, the garrison under Lord Robert’s brother Stannis was sorely tested by hunger and want, only to be saved by a common smuggler who slipped through the Redwyne blockade one night carrying a load of onions and salt fish to Storm’s End. Thus, the castle was able to stand unbroken until Robert defeated Rhaegar on the Trident and Lord Eddard Stark arrived to end the siege.
It is said that, every seventy-seven years, a storm greater than all others comes howling down upon Storm’s End, as the old gods of sea and sky try once more to blow Durran’s seat into the sea. It is a pretty tale … but a tale is all it is. The records of the maesters of Storm’s End show that there are fierce storms nearly every year, especially in autumn, and whilst some are greater than others, there are no records that show unusually powerful storms seventy-seven years apart. The greatest storm in living memory was in 221 AC, in the last year of the reign of Aerys I, and the greatest before that was the storm of 166 AC, fifty-five years earlier.
illustration credit 148 D ORNE ONLY A DORNISHMAN can ever truly know Dorne, it is said.
The southernmost of the Seven Kingdoms is also the most inhospitable … and the strangest, to the eyes of any man raised in the Reach or the westerlands or King’s Landing. For Dorne is different, in more ways than can be told.
Vast deserts of red and white sand, forbidding mountains where treacherous passes are guarded by treacherous peoples, sweltering heat, sandstorms, scorpions, fiery food, poison, castles made of mud, dates and figs and blood oranges—these things comprise most of what the smallfolk of the Seven Kingdoms know of Dorne. And all these things exist, to be sure, but there is far more to this ancient principality than that, for it has a history that stretches back to the Dawn Age.
The Red Mountains that compose its western and northern boundaries have kept Dorne separate from the rest of the realm for thousands of years, though the deserts have played a role as well.
Behind that wall of mountains, more than three-quarters of the land is an arid wasteland. Nor is the long southern coast of Dorne more hospitable, being for the most part a snarl of reefs and rocks, with few protected anchorages. Those ships that do put ashore there, whether by choice or chance, find little to sustain them; there are no forests along the coast to provide timber for repairs, a scarcity of game, few farms, and fewer villages where provisions might be obtained. Even freshwater is hard to come by, and the seas south of Dorne are rife with whirlpools and infested with sharks and kraken.
There are no cities in Dorne, though the so-called shadow city that clings to the walls of Sunspear is large enough to be counted as a town (a town built of mud and straw, it must be admitted). Larger and more populous, the Planky Town at the mouth of the river Greenblood is mayhaps the nearest thing the Dornish have to a true city, though a city with planks instead of streets, where the houses and halls and shops are made from poleboats, barges, and merchant ships, lashed together with hempen rope and floating on the tide.
Archmaester Brude, who was born and raised in the shadow city that huddles beneath the crumbling walls of Sunspear, once famously observed that Dorne has more in common with the distant North than either does with the realms that lie between them. “One is hot and one is cold, yet these ancient kingdoms of sand and snow are set apart from the rest of Westeros by history, culture, and tradition. Both are thinly peopled, compared to the lands betwixt. Both cling stubbornly to their own laws and their own traditions. Neither was ever truly conquered by the dragons. The King in the North accepted Aegon Targaryen as his overlord peaceably, whilst Dorne resisted the might of the Targaryens valiantly for almost two hundred years, before finally submitting to the Iron Throne through marriage. Dornishmen and Northmen alike are derided as savages by the ignorant of the five ‘civilized’ kingdoms, and celebrated for their valor by those who have crossed swords with them.” The Dornishmen boast that theirs is the oldest of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. This is true, after a fashion. Unlike the Andals, who came later, the First Men were not seafarers. They came to Westeros not on longships but afoot, over the land bridge from Essos—the remnants of which exist today only as the Stepstones and the Broken Arm of Dorne. Walking or riding, the eastern shores of Dorne would inevitably have been where they first set foot upon Westerosi soil.
Few, however, chose to remain there, for the lands they encountered were far from welcoming. The children of the forest called Dorne the Empty Land, and for good reason. The eastern half of Dorne is largely barren scrub, its dry, stony soil yielding little, even when irrigated. And once beyond Vaith, western Dorne is naught but a vast sea of restless dunes where the sun beats down relentlessly, giving rise from time to time to savage sandstorms that can strip the flesh from a man’s bones within minutes.
Even Garth Greenhand could not make flowers bloom in an environment so harsh and unforgiving if the tales told in the Reach can be believed. (Dorne’s own legends make no mention of Garth.) Instead he led his people through the mountains to the fertile Reach beyond. Most of the First Men who came after him took one look at Dorne and followed.
Yet not all. Some there were who saw a beauty in that stark, hot, cruel land and chose to make their homes there. Most of them settled along the banks of the river they named the Greenblood. Though meager when compared to the Mander, the Trident, or the Blackwater Rush, the waters of the Greenblood are truly the lifeblood of Dorne.
Most of the First Men who chose to remain in Dorne, instead of wandering north in search of sweeter lands, settled close to the banks of the Greenblood, digging canals and ditches to bring its life-giving waters to the trees and crops they planted. Others preferred to dwell beside the narrow sea; the eastern shores of Dorne are more forgiving than the southern, and soon many small villages arose, sustaining themselves on fish and crabs. The more restless of the First Men pushed onward and made homes for themselves in the foothills south of the Red Mountains, where storms moving north were wont to drop their moisture, creating a fertile green belt. Those who climbed farther took refuge amongst the peaks, in hidden valleys and high mountain meadows where the grass was green and sweet. Only the bravest and the maddest dared to strike out inland across the deep sands. A few of these found water amongst the dunes and raised holdfasts and castles on those oasis; their descendants, centuries later, became the Lords of the Wells. But for every man who stumbled on a well, a hundred must surely have died of thirst beneath the blazing Dornish sun.
Most Dornish rivers are in full flood only after the rare (and dangerous) rainstorms. The rest of the year they are dry gullies. In all of Dorne, only three rivers flow day and night, winter and summer, without ever going dry. The Torrentine, arising high in the western mountains, plunges down to the sea in a series of rapids and waterfalls, howling through canyons and crevasses with a sound like the roar of some great beast. Rising from mountain springs, its waters are sweet and pure, but dangerous to cross, save by bridge, and impossible to navigate. The Brimstone is a far more placid stream, but its cloudy yellow waters stink of sulfur, and the plants that grow along its banks are strange and stunted things. (Of the men who live along those selfsame banks, we shall not speak). But the Greenblood’s waters, if sometimes muddy, are healthful for plant and animal alike, and farms and orchards crowd the river’s banks for hundreds of leagues. Moreover, the Greenblood and its vassals, the Vaith and the Scourge, are navigable by boat almost to their source (if shallow and plagued by sandbars in places), and therefore serve as the principality’s chief artery for trade.
The three kinds of Dornishmen—the stony, the sandy, and the salty. (illustration credit 149) From such origins did the three distinct types of Dornishmen we know today arise. The Young Dragon, King Daeron I Targaryen, gave them the names we know them by in his book, The Conquest of Dorne. Stony Dornishmen, sandy Dornishmen, and salty Dornishmen, he named them. The stony Dornishmen were the mountain folk, fair of hair and skin, mostly descended from the First Men and the Andals; the sandy Dornishmen dwell in the deserts and river valleys, with their skin burned brown beneath the blazing Dornish sun; the salty Dornishmen of the coasts, dark-haired and lithe and olive-skinned, have the queerest customs and the most Rhoynish blood. (When Princess Nymeria came ashore in Dorne, most of her Rhoynar preferred to remain close to the sea that had been their home for so long, even after Nymeria burned their ships.)
The single most important event in Dornish history, and mayhaps the history of all Westeros, is one about which, to our frustration, we know far too little.
Most of what we do believe of the Breaking comes to us through song and legend. The First Men crossed from Essos to Westeros by land, all agree, walking or riding across through the hills and forest of the great land bridge that connected the two continents in the Dawn Age. Dorne was the first land that they entered, but few remained, as we have chronicled; many and more pressed on northward, through the mountains and mayhaps across the salt marshes that once existed where the Sea of Dorne is now. As the centuries passed, they came in ever-increasing numbers, claiming the stormlands and the Reach and the riverlands for their own, eventually reaching even the Vale and the North. They drove the elder races before them, slaughtering giants wherever they found them, hewing down weirwood trees with their bronze axes, making bloody war against the children of the forest.
The children fought back as best they could, but the First Men were larger and stronger. Riding their horses, clad and armed in bronze, the First Men overwhelmed the elder race wherever they met, for the weapons of the children were made of bone and wood and dragonglass. Finally, driven by desperation, the little people turned to sorcery and beseeched their greenseers to stem the tide of these invaders.
And so they did, gathering in their hundreds (some say on the Isle of Faces), and calling on their old gods with song and prayer and grisly sacrifice (a thousand captive men were fed to the weirwood, one version of the tale goes, whilst another claims the children used the blood of their own young). And the old gods stirred, and giants awoke in the earth, and all of Westeros shook and trembled. Great cracks appeared in the earth, and hills and mountains collapsed and were swallowed up. And then the seas came rushing in, and the Arm of Dorne was broken and shattered by the force of the water, until only a few bare rocky islands remained above the waves. The Summer Sea joined the narrow sea, and the bridge between Essos and Westeros vanished for all time.
Or so the legend says.