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Most scholars do agree that Essos and Westeros were once joined; a thousand tales and runic records tell of the crossing of the First Men. Today the seas divide them, so plainly some version of the event the Dornish call the Breaking must have occurred. Did it happen in the space of a single day, however, as the songs would have it? Was it the work of the children of the forest and the sorcery of their greenseers? These things are less certain. Archmaester Cassander suggests elsewise in his Song of the Sea: How the Lands Were Severed, arguing that it was not the singing of greenseers that parted Westeros from Essos but rather what he calls the Song of the Sea—a slow rising of the waters that took place over centuries, not in a single day, and was caused by a series of long, hot summers and short, warm winters that melted the ice in the frozen lands beyond the Shivering Sea, causing the oceans to rise.
Many maesters find Cassander’s arguments plausible and have come to accept his views. But whether the Breaking took place in a single night, or over the course of centuries, there can be no doubt that it occurred; the Stepstones and the Broken Arm of Dorne give mute but eloquent testimony to its effects. There is also much to suggest that the Sea of Dorne was once an inland freshwater sea, fed by mountain streams and much smaller than it is today, until the narrow sea burst its bounds and drowned the salt marshes that lay between.
Even if we accept that the old gods broke the Arm of Dorne with the Hammer of the Waters, as the legends claim, the greenseers sang their song too late.
No more wanderers crossed to Westeros after the Breaking, it is true, for the First Men were no seafarers … but so many of their forebears had already made the crossing that they outnumbered the dwindling elder races almost three to one by the time the lands were severed, and that disparity only grew in the centuries that followed, for the women of the First Men brought forth sons and daughters with much greater frequency than the females of the elder races. And thus the children and the giants faded, whilst the race of men spread and multiplied and claimed the fields and forests for their own, raising villages and forts and kingdoms.
KINGDOMS OF THE FIRST MENThe disunity of the Dornish is apparent even from our oldest sources. The great distances between each pocket of settlement and the difficulties of travel across burning sands and rugged mountains helped to isolate each small community from all the others and led to the rise of many petty lords, more than half of whom in time began to style themselves kings. Petty kings existed throughout all of Westeros, to be sure, but seldom so many (nor so petty) as the Dornish kings under the First Men.
We shall not attempt to speak of all of these. Most ruled over domains so small, or conquests so
short-lived, that they are scarce worthy of note. A few of the greatest do warrant mention, however:
those whose lines put down deep roots and endured for thousands of years to come.
At the mouth of the Torrentine, House Dayne raised its castle on an island where that roaring, tumultuous river broadens to meet the sea. Legend says the first Dayne was led to the site when he followed the track of a falling star and there found a stone of magical powers. His descendants ruled over the western mountains for centuries thereafter as Kings of the Torrentine and Lords of Starfall.
North and east, beyond a great gap in the mountains that provided the shortest and easiest passage from Dorne to the Reach, House Fowler carved its own seat into the stony slopes overlooking the pass. Skyreach, that seat became known, for its lofty perch and soaring stone towers. At the time, the pass it brooded over was commonly known as the Wide Way (today we name it the Prince’s Pass), so the Fowlers took for themselves the grandiose titles of Lords of Skyreach, Lords of the Wide Way, and Kings of Stone and Sky.
In a similar vein, far to the east where the mountains ran down to the Sea of Dorne, House Yronwood established itself in the high valleys and green foothills below the peaks and seized control of the Stone Way, the second of the two great passes into Dorne (one far steeper, narrower, and more treacherous than the Wide Way of the west). Well protected and comparably fertile, their lands were also well timbered and possessed of valuable deposits of iron, tin, and silver as well, making the Yronwoods the richest and most powerful of the Dornish kings. Styling themselves the Bloodroyals, Lords of the Stone Way, Masters of the Green Hills, and High Kings of Dorne, the lords of House Yronwood in time ruled northern Dorne, from the mountain domains of House Wyl to the headwaters of the Greenblood … though their efforts to bend the other Dornish kings to their will were seldom successful.
A second, rival High King of Dorne also existed during the times of the First Men, ruling from a great wooden motte-and-bailey castle on the south bank of Greenwood near Lemonwood, where the river flows into the Summer Sea. This was a curious kingship, for whenever a king died, his successor was chosen by election from amongst a dozen noble families that had settled along the river or the eastern shores. The Wades, Shells, Holts, Brooks, Hulls, Lakes, Brownhills, and Briars all threw up kings who ruled from the high hall amongst the lemon trees, but in the end this curious system broke down when a disputed election set the royal houses to warring against one another.
After a generation of conflict, three of the old houses were wiped from the earth, and the oncepowerful river realm had shattered into a dozen quarrelsome petty kingdoms.
Other small kingdoms existed elsewhere in Dorne, in the deep sands, amongst the high peaks, along the salt shore, and on the isles and the Broken Arm, but few of these ever approached the power and prestige of the Daynes of Starfall, the Fowlers of Skyreach and the Wide Way, and the Yronwoods of Yronwood.
THE ANDALS ARRIVEThe Andals made their mark on Dorne, as they did on all Westeros south of the Neck. Yet most historians agree that their impact was less here than in any of the other southron kingdoms. Unlike the First Men, the Andals were seafarers, and the more adventurous of their captains knew the Dornish coasts well and were wont to say that there was naught to be found there but snakes, scorpions, and sand. Small wonder then that comparatively few of the invaders bent their oars southward when there were richer, greener lands far closer at hand, just across the narrow sea from Andalos itself.
Yet there are always a few who walk the roads that others shun, seeking after fortunes in the bleaker corners of the world. And so it was with the Andals who made their way to Dorne. Some contested with the First Men who had come before them for the choice lands along the Greenblood and the coasts, or ventured into the mountains. Others established themselves in places where no man had gone before them.
Amongst those were the Ullers and the Qorgyles; the former raised a grim, stinking seat beside the sulfurous yellow waters of the Brimstone, whilst the latter established themselves amidst the dunes and deep sands, fortifying the only well for fifty leagues around. Farther east, the Vaiths raised a tall, pale castle in the hills, at the juncture of the two streams that formed the river that soon bore their name. Elsewhere in the realm, the Allyrions, the Jordaynes, and the Santagars carved out holdings for themselves.
And on the eastern shore, between the Broken Arm and the Greenblood, an Andal adventurer named Morgan Martell and his kin descended on lands loosely held by House Wade and House Shell, defeated them in battle, seized their villages, burned their castles, and established dominion over a strip of stony coastlands fifty leagues long and ten leagues wide.
Over the centuries that followed, their strength grew … but slowly, for then and now the lords of House Martell were renowned for their caution. Until the coming of Nymeria, no Dornishman would ever have counted them amongst the great powers of the country. Indeed, though surrounded by kings on every side, the Martells themselves never presumed to claim that title, and at certain points in their history, they willingly bent the knees to the Jordayne kings of the Tor, the pious Allyrions of Godsgrace, the many petty kings of the Greenblood, and the mighty Yronwoods of Yronwood.
A Sword of the Morning carrying Dawn. (illustration credit 150) Sword of the Morning The Daynes of Starfall are one of the most ancient houses in the Seven Kingdoms, though their fame largely rests on their ancestral sword, called Dawn, and the men who wielded it.
Its origins are lost to legend, but it seems likely that the Daynes have carried it for thousands of years. Those who have had the honor of examining it say it looks like no Valyrian steel they know, being pale as milkglass but in all other respects it seems to share the properties of Valyrian blades, being incredibly strong and sharp.
Though many houses have their heirloom swords, they mostly pass the blades down from lord to lord. Some, such as the Corbrays have done, may lend the blade to a son or brother for his lifetime, only to have it return to the lord. But that is not the way of House Dayne.
The wielder of Dawn is always given the title of Sword of the Morning, and only a knight of House Dayne who is deemed worthy can carry it.
For this reason, the Swords of the Morning are all famous throughout the Seven Kingdoms. There are boys who secretly dream of being a son of Starfall so they might claim that storied sword and its title. Most famous of all was Ser Arthur Dayne, the deadliest of King Aerys II’s Kingsguard, who defeated the Kingswood Brotherhood and won renown in every tourney and mêlée. He died nobly with his sworn brothers at the end of Robert’s Rebellion, after Lord Eddard Stark was said to have killed him in single combat. Lord Stark then returned Dawn to Starfall, and to Ser Arthur’s kin, as a sign of respect.
THE COMING OF THE RHOYNAR
The Martells ruled their modest domains for hundreds of years before Princess Nymeria and her ten thousand ships made landfall on the coast of Dorne, near to the place where the castle Sunspear and its shadow city now stand.
The arms of House Martell (center) and some of its vassals (clockwise from top), Dayne, Fowler, Jordayne, Qorgyle, Toland, Uller, Vaith, Wyl, Yronwood, Allyrion, and Blackmont. (illustration credit 151) The story of how Nymeria took Mors Martell as her lord husband, burning her ships and binding her Rhoynar to his house, heart and hand and honor, has been told elsewhere. We need not tell it again here. Nor will we repeat the old familiar tales of battles won and lost, alliances made and broken.
Suffice it to say that the wealth and the knowledge that the Rhoynar brought with them to Westeros, together with the ambition of Lord Mors and the indomitable will of Nymeria of the Rhoyne, enabled the Martells to greatly expand their power, as they defeated one lord and petty king after another, until at last they toppled even the Yronwoods and united all of Dorne … not as a kingdom, but as a principality, for Mors and Nymeria never named themselves as king and queen, preferring the titles prince and princess, after the fashion of the fallen city-states of the Rhoyne. Their descendants continued that tradition until the present day, even whilst defeating many a rival and proving themselves against the Storm Kings and the Kings of the Reach alike.
In the songs, Nymeria is said to have been a witch and a warrior; neither of these claims is true.
Though she did not bear arms in battle, she led her soldiers on many battlefields, commanding them with cunning and skill. It was a wisdom she passed along to her heirs, who would themselves command the hosts when she grew too aged and infirm. And though none matched Nymeria’s feat of sending six captive kings in golden fetters to the Wall, her heirs succeeded in keeping Dorne independent against the rival kings north of the mountains and keeping it whole against the rancorous, hot-tempered lords of mountain and desert whom they ruled.
House Martell has guided Dorne for seven hundred years, raising its great towers at Sunspear, seeing the shadow city and the Planky Town rise, and defeating all those who threatened its dominion.
Princess Nymeria and Mors Martell enthroned in Sunspear. (illustration credit 153)
Separate as they have been—and then a thousand years ago joined with the Rhoynar—the Dornish have their own proud, fraught history and their own ways.
The stony Dornish have the most in common with those north of the mountains and are the least touched by Rhoynish custom. This has not made them close allies with the Marcher lords or the Lords of the Reach, however; on the contrary, it has been said that the mountain lords have a history as savage as that of the mountain clans of the Vale, having for thousands of years warred with the Reach and the stormlands, as well as with each other. If the ballads tell of brave skirmishes with cruel Dornishmen in the marches, it is largely to do with the lords of Blackmont and Kingsgrave, of Wyl and Skyreach. And of Yronwood, as well. The Wardens of the Stone Way remain the proudest and most powerful of House Martell’s vassals, and theirs has been an uneasy relationship at best.
The sandy Dornishmen are more Rhoynish and are used to the harsh way of life in the desert. The rivers of Dorne are paltry when compared to the Mander or the Trident, but they bring water enough to irrigate fields and sustain villages and towns. Outside of them, however, men live in different fashion: moving from desert oasis to desert oasis, crossing the sands with the aid of what wells they know of in the midst of the wastes, raising their children along with their goats and their horses. It is the sandy Dornish who are the chief breeders of the famed sand steeds, considered the most beautiful horses in the Seven Kingdoms. Though light-boned and unable to easily bear the weight of a knight in armor, they are swift and tireless, able to run through a day and a night with no more than a few drinks of water. The Dornish love their sand steeds almost as much as they love their children, and King Daeron would remark in the Conquest of Dorne that the Knight of Spottswood stabled his sand steeds in his own hall.