The Holy War Against the Dornish Heresy (1985-1980)
As with so many other incidents in the history of the Great Game, in order to achieve his triumph at the Great Council of Eternal Peace, the High Spider had turned on his former allies, made false promises and broken them as easily as other men breathed, called in every debt and every favor, so that by the end of it, he had enemies in every corner of the South. Thus, following the Great Council, his enemies (seeing for the first time who they all were and how numerous they were) began to work against him.
It began slowly. One by one, the Storm King, the King of the Rock, and the King of the Mountain and Vale began to withhold their tithes from the Starry Sept, claiming that the Faith had become excessively interested in secular matters and that a period of spiritual cleansing and austerity was needed. With his bills from the completion of the Starry Sept’s renovation and the construction of the Crystal Palace beginning to come in, the High Spider turned to his old patron in Highgarden. But for once, his customary charm failed him, as Gwayne VII was still wroth that his conquests of the Riverlands had been stolen from him.
In a maneuver that Precocious records the High Spider blaming on Alton Manderly and Lucamore Lannister, Gwayne VII began to receive petitions calling upon him as “the greatest warrior-king of the Faith” to lead a “Holy War against the Dornish Heresy,” (as these petitions named the Dornish Rite), and so Gwayne refused to provide his customary subvention to the Faith until such time as the High Spider declared a Holy War in Dorne. However, later scholars argue that Gwayne’s conversion to the cause was ultimately less motivated by piety and more by the desire for conquest and a fear of the growing power of the Yronwood Kings, who in that time had succeeded in forcing the Lords of the Wells to pay tribute and were engaged in a campaign to seize the mouth of the Greenblood and so lay claim to the whole of the river.
This proved particularly politically difficult within the Faith, as in the wake of the High Spider’s pronouncement, the Moderate plurality (their ranks swollen by those former Exclusionists looking for a new home for their ideas) had begun to demand even-handed treatment in matters of orthodoxy, and even some of the Spider’s allies within the Heptarian movement were looking to show that their theological position was distinct from outright heresy. Stories began to circulate among the Councils of Faith that the Dornish worshipped foreign gods in the place of the Seven, with the Vulture standing in for the Stranger, the Rhoyne standing in for the Mother (at least among the Orphans of the Greenblood, always a recusant minority in that kingdom), the Father holding a tortoise instead of his usual scales of justice, and other wild rumors.
The cruel irony in all of this is that it was the High Spider’s very closeness to Dorne – his mistress Septa Sibyl, his patronage of Septon Mulciber (formerly of House Dryland), even his fondness for Dornish silks – that made him uniquely vulnerable to this pressure pouring in from all corners. It is said that the only voice in Oldtown that spoke against the Holy War was his sister Lady Maris, whose astrological calculations foretold disaster. After a series of fruitless attempts to head off this pressure through a Holy Commission that would investigate the truth of such allegations, or through financial support from Volantene merchant-bankers (according to Precocious, the High Spider even offered to put up his crystal crown as collateral), the prelate was forced to bow to pressure.
And so the High Spider began to play his last trick, sending coded messages sewn into the binding of holy texts gifted to septs across Dorne. Most prominently, the Qorgyles, Ullers, and Drylands, who had only reluctantly bent the knee to the Bloodroyal, were offered their independence, and according to Precocious, an exchange of seven highborn maidens from each side to ensure that the Reachermen would not betray their new allies should the Lords of the Wells rise up against their sovereign king, and vice versa. Precocious writes likewise of secret meetings with the reaving clans of the mountains where vast bribes of gold and silver were paid to ensure safe passage through the Prince’s Pass. On the other side of the Red Mountains, the Carons of Nightsong were offered the title of Defender of the Marches if they would join the Holy War (most to the displeasure of House Tarly, who believed that title to be theirs by right, and to the Storm Kings, who viewed the title as a bribe meant to win the Carons back to the Kingdom of the Reach after their many aeons service to Storm’s End).
Yet even as the High Spider worked to divide his enemies, the host that began to gather at Highgarden was surprisingly understrength. In his climb to power, Septon Lewys had offended many of the ancient Houses of the Reach, and so Houses Redwyne, Manderly, and Rowan sent only excuses to Highgarden, claiming that a need to gather in the harvest in order to provide enough supplies for their men had delayed their forces; the Tarlys likewise claimed that rumors of a Dornish surprise attack on Horn Hill required their forces be kept at home. Moreover, the Westerlands, Stormlands, and the Vale, who had been so strident in their calls for the Holy War, sent only untrained levies largely made up of criminals, vagrants, and cripples. Most embarrassingly, Lady Maris Hightower mustered all of her forces and put them on a defensive footing in case of an attack by the Daynes. To make up the difference and further assuage the anger of Gwayne VII, the High Spider called forth virtually the entirety of the Warrior’s Sons from every chapterhouse on the continent, and called upon his kin of House Peake to call out every sword they could muster.
The Holy War’s High Tide
Despite these initial difficulties, the Holy War was initially astonishingly successful. At the northern entrance to the Wide Way the combined forces of the Reach and the Faith advanced slowly up the pass against a hail of spears, arrows, and rocks hurled by the forces of House Condor, who fought in the very shadow of the royal seat of Vulture’s Roost. At the outset, the Vulture King Deinochys IV was remarkably confident despite having but three thousand against ten times that number, telling his men to “dig your fortifications into the very mountains and no army of any size shall overcome you”– and indeed, the Dornish threw back a number of frontal assaults. However, their courage turned to ashes in their mouth when they saw Caron banners on the heights to their east – for the canny Marcher lords had mounted a mixed force of archers and spearmen on mules and sent them on a perilous flanking route around the entire Dornish army – and arrows began to fall like rain from on high. Even as his men scrambled for whatever cover they could find, Deinochys rode his horse through the deadly shower without a care, reassuring his men that his “leal cousins” would soon be arriving to relieve them. It was then that the rider he had sent to summon his cadet branch to his defense returned, a mutilated corpse lashed to the saddle and draped in the black and yellow of House Blackmont.
With their enemy thrown into disarray, the Holy War threw itself forwards with the High Septon (issuing promises of expiation of all sin with a seven-flanged mace in hand) leading the Peake infantry over boulders to seize the eastern flank and link up with House Caron, and Gwayne VII and Uthor Sevenflowers leading a mailed fist of mostly dismounted men-at-arms up through the center, slowly but surely fracturing the defensive line of their enemy. Seeing the Caron foot advancing down the slopes to cut off his retreat, Deinochys the Last knew himself to be lost and rallied his personal guard together for a suicidal charge. Precocious claims that as he rode, the Vulture King called down a blood curse on his traitor kinsmen, and while there is no corroboration for this account, the Condors certainly paid the price in blood, for in the melee that ensued, Gwayne VII slew the Crown Prince of House Condor and Uthor Sevenflowers his grief-maddened father, ending the line of House Condor in a stroke.
Pursuing their fleeing enemies like hunters after hares, the victors charged up the slope toward the doomed castle. Storming over the walls “like men granted wings,” the Holy War cleansed the Vulture’s Roost, putting to the sword all inside. Afterwards, Gwayne VII ordered the castle put to the torch and its walls put down – perhaps to forestall the High Spider from claiming this holdfast for the Faith Militant – although he was gracious enough to divide the lands of House Condor between the Peakes and the Condors as rewards for their doughty service.
After their victory at the Battle of Vulture’s Roost, the Holy War found the Wide Way open to them and their supply trains unmolested by the Blackmonts. As they advanced down the pass, ravens arrived bearing word that the High Spider’s gambit had born fruit. Lord Apollyon Dryland and his vassals Lord Malebranch and Lord Acheron, as well as his former rivals from Houses Uller and Qorgyle, rose up against High King Yorick II, routing his garrisons and staking his tax collectors and satraps out on the dunes to perish. The only thing standing in between the Holy War and their Dornish allies were the forces of House Fowler and their Manwoody vassals, who had seized full advance of the chance to raise their full fighting force.
However, unlike the narrow mouth at either end of the pass, the valley floor of the Wide Way was eponymously broad, allowing the forces of the Holy War to advance in a broad formation that allowed the commanders to bring their greater numbers to bear. Most importantly, the relatively level ground allowed the heavy cavalry to operate freely.
The Battle of the Wide Way that followed was a chaotic affair: at the first, the Dornish had the advantage, as the canny King of Stone and Sky refused to meet his enemies in fixed defensive line but relied instead on the traditional hit-and-run tactics that had made his ancestors feared across the Marches. Fowler horse archers and Manwoody light lancers refused to come to blows with the heavier cavalry of the Holy War, time and again making feigned retreats to draw them away from the slow-moving infantry so that the Dornish could wheel and shower the footmen with arrow and javelin, looking for a weakness in the line that their lancers could exploit. The battle turned when the infantry in the center seemed to break and opened a hole in the line, and King Gyr the Elder ordered his men to charge. The Dornish lancers broke through…
Only to find themselves caught in the High Spider’s web. Far from breaking, the Holy War’s infantry reformed into two disciplined schiltrons, with spearmen at the front defending archers in the center who poured on volleys from close range. And once the Dornish host was clear of the schiltrons, they found a reserve of heavy cavalry under Lord Archibald Caron just large enough to pin them in place while the main force under Gwayne VII raced back towards them. What ensued was a bloody melee, which saw Gyr the Elder fall to Gwayne VII’s blade, although not before Lord Hugh Manwoody dealt the Gardener king a grievous wound under the arm. Unlike at the Vulture’s Roost, however, the wide-open territory allowed the remains of the Dornish host to retreat in good order under the command of Gyr the Younger and Lord Hugh Manwoody.
The Holy War had paid the cost in blood both highborn and low, but were masters of the southern entrance to the Wide Way – all of Dorne lay before them.
With the King receiving care from his maesters, the Holy War paused to take a council of war. This council divided badly, between those favoring Lord Caron’s argument that the Holy War should first reduce the fortresses of the Fowlers and the Manwoodys to guard their rear, and those favoring Uthor Sevenflowers’ argument that the Holy War should push on to link up with their Dornish allies. In this moment, the High Spider held the balance of power. Uncharacteristically, the gambler threw his weight behind the more cautious approach, perhaps fearing that without the Gardener king by his side, he could not fully control the direction of the Holy War. Lord Caron took his forces back to Skyreach, where he placed the stronghold under a pitiless siege, whiling away the time by constructing mangonels to hurl small pots of wildfire over the wall. The Reachermen meanwhile settled down to besiege Talltowers, the seat of House Manwoody.
The irony is, that had the High Spider thrown the dice, things might have gone differently. While the Holy War stalled, the Lords of the Wells took to horse and raided in depth through House Yronwood’s home territories, threatening the capital itself. King Yorick II broke of his siege of Ghost Hill and made haste to defend his personal seat. Unfortunately, in his haste, the Bloodroyal allowed his vanguard to outpace the rest of his army and fell prey to an ambush in the Spottswood laid by the cunning Lord Apollyon Dryland. Pincushioned by half-a-dozen javelins, the Bloodroyal and a bare two score of his personal guard managed to make it under the walls of Yronwood Castle, as the rest of his host was scattered throughout the Spottswood, divided and leaderless.
With the Yronwoods leaderless and sore beset, the Holy War could have overrun all of western and central Dorne, if not the whole of the peninsula.
The Holy War Comes to Grief
That blow was not to fall, however. Emerging from his tent, Gwayne VII refused to move from the spot until the head of Hugh Manwoody was brought to him on a pike. Commanding his servants to place his travel throne on a bluff overlooking the siege-works, the king sat day after day watching his trenches slowly encircle the castle and his sappers slowly dig their way towards the girthy walls of Talltowers. Even when his lords offered to bring him the crown of the Bloodroyal on the end of a lance if he would give them leave to join up with the Lords of the Wells; even when the High Spider (having bitterly repented of his former caution) begged him from bended knee to allow the Faith Militant to bring Dorne back to the True Faith; even when his wound festered and his maesters begged him to return to Highgarden to recover – Gwayne VII remained the Implacable.
Instead, Gwayne VII ordered his servants to lash him to his throne and told his lords that if they wanted to leave Talltowers, they had best take the castle. To the High Septon, he commanded him to pray to the gods for victory.
All the while, opportunity began to slip from the High Spider’s grasp, even as Apollyon Dryland captured Yronwood Castle by bribing a servant to open the sally port at dusk. The victorious Lords of the Wells poured into the citadel and found the defenders fled. In the great hall, a banquet had been laid out with fresh meet and cold drink and the dead King Yorick II sitting in the place of honor. Placing the Bloodroyal’s crown upon his own brow to the acclaim of all, Apollyon Dryland commanded that the servant who had betrayed the castle be made to eat from each dish and drink from each cup; when the traitor showed no signs of poison, the rebels sat down to celebrate their triumph, dividing the wealth and lands of the High Kings of Dorne between them like so much mutton. And so with the dead king watching on, the rich food and strong drink took its toll and one by one, the invaders slipped off into a deep sleep. At the stroke of midnight, the missing garrison of Yronwood, augmented by the forces of the sly lord Edmund Wyl (whose idea it had been to carefully fortify the drink so as to only very gradually induce slumber), stormed over the walls and put the Lords of the Wells to the sword.
Even this news of disaster was not enough to cause the King of the Reach to relent, nor the Lords of the Reach to break their obedience to their sovereign king. And so the Holy War began to send its men forward to end the siege by force. Common men with the seven-pointed star sewn, painted, or scarred onto their chests charged the walls again and again with the names of the gods on their lips. And again and again, the defenders rained down javelins, arrows, and boulders, until mortal flesh could endure no more. The sappers searched in vain for a way under the walls: the first tunnel perished short of the wall when counter-sappers collapsed the tunnel behind them; the second, painstakingly braced and propped, came to grief when counter-sappers bored holes through the tunnel ceiling and dropped flaming pitch down onto the diggers; the third, dug deep into the earth to thwart such designs, hit the castle’s cisterns by accident, drowning all within. After that point, even threats of hanging were not enough to get men to go back beneath the earth.
On Warrior’s Day 1980, it was a battered and demoralized army that drew up in ranks for one last assault on the citadel that had defied them for a month. But just as the day broke, a false dawn rose in the west as the violet banners of House Dayne crested the hills. To their credit, the Holy War did not panic but drew up in their ranks to receive the enemy, and withstood three separate charges. The crisis came when the king’s servants went to prepare Gwayne VII for battle and found that the king had perished in the night. The news of the king’s death shattered what little morale remained and the poor bastard infantry who had fought on their lord’s command or for their soul’s salvation began to retreat, first in a trickle and then in a flood.
Total disaster was averted by the astonishing courage of Grand Captain Uthor Sevenflowers, who rallied the Warrior’s Sons for a series of counter-charges into the teeth of the Dayne lancers who had gone chasing after the fleeing infantry like hounds after hares. By this point, the Warrior’s Sons had less than half of the men they had started with in 2000 BC, but those who were left were now veterans of two wars and possessed of unbending faith and the Daynes’ ability to use hit-and-run tactics were hampered by the knots of infantry, some fleeing, some fighting where they stood, and others simply lying dead on the ground. The final act of the Holy War would thus be marked not by clever stratagems but brute strength, as men splintered lances and shattered swords and horses foundered in the blazing heat of the desert.
According to Precocious, the battle lasted until nightfall, although historians with more than a scribe’s experience of war consider this highly unlikely. More likely is that the battle was halted by the exhaustion of both side’s horses and the heavy toll taken on both sides. The King of the Torrentine and the Grand Captain of the Warrior’s Sons met in parlay and agreed that the Warrior’s Sons would quit the field peacefully in return for a promise from the Daynes to see that the dead would be honorably buried. Subsequently, singers and poets have embroidered this meeting considerably by adding a man-to-man duel between the two (which contemporary accounts declare did not happen, despite Uthor’s best efforts to come to grips with the Dayne king) as a centerpiece of the battle, with both men transformed into paragons of their respective nations’ chivalry.
It was only after the battle had ended that both sides realized that the corpse of King Gwayne VII had been left on his throne overlooking the abandoned siege-works. Precocious claims that the Dornish were so awed by his martial reputation that they feared to approach his body lest his ghost stand up to fight them. More likely is that the combination of gangrene and decomposition made the prospect sufficiently unpleasant that the Dornish preferred to let the desert excarnate the body. Regardless, Lord Hugh seems to have reacted with a strange awe to the death of Gwayne VII, ordering that the skeleton of the Gardener King (held together by gold wire) be installed in a place of honor in the Manwoody crypt, and renaming his family’s castle Kingsgrave as a final honor.
The Pruning of the Flowers
As the remains of the Holy War retreated through the Wide Way, it became clear that the High Spider’s political star was firmly on the descent. Despite the fact that he had opposed the Holy War from the beginning, with the death of King Gwayne, the prelate was the only one left to blame. In one of his last recorded conversations with Precocious, the High Septon lamented “woe is he who can say that his only friend in the world was the king of the Reach.” Adding to the rising political tension was the fact that, as the grandfather of the boy king Mern IV, the High Spider was overwhelmingly likely to be named Regent. Many of the ancient houses of the Reach who he had crossed in his long and winding ascent for power realized that they must strike soon or forever lose their chance.
Thus, even before the Holy War crossed over to the Reacher side of the Dornish Marches, riders began to cross back and forth between those lords who had fought in the Holy War and those who had remained behind. The catalyst for what would be known as the “Pruning of the Flowers” began when the High Spider gathered a war council at Starpike and demanded from the Lords of the Reach their oaths of fealty in the name of his grandson. The previous day, a public letter arrived stating that the Lords of the Reach would no longer endure the “misrule, corruption, and malfeasance of this self-serving servant of the gods who provides naught but evil council to our innocent and most worthy king,” bearing the names of Lords Alton Manderly, Hern Tarly, Bolvar Rowan, and Vitner Redwyne.
Even as the High Spider sought to rally his forces to put down this rebellion, word arrived that the Storm King had crossed the eastern border of the Reach to settle his scores with the High Spider directly. The news shattered the Holy War, as the Reacherlords scattered to defend their own lands or settle old grudges while the realm lacked governance. To the north, the Oakhearts, Rowans, and Cranes fought a bitter private war over who would be named the next Marshall of the Northmarch, with Lucamore Lannister offering private loans to whichever side was losing so as to keep the conflict going. To the east, Durran XXX’s armies ground through a series of grueling sieges, capturing Tumbleton and Grassy Vale, but unable to push their way past Cider Hall, Ashford, Longtable, or Stonebridge, due to a clever system of using riverbarges to shuttle reinforcements from one castle to the next.
With his army disintegrating around him, the High Spider made the decision to leave his Peake kin to defend their stronghold from a siege by the Tarlys, and instead raced for Highgarden. But even as he was but a league away from the capitol, the Pruning of the Flowers began in earnest. Queen Regent Ellyn, who had been calling Highgarden’s own banners in an attempt to put down the rebellion, was garroted with a sharpened lute-string by a common minstrel known as Jory Silverstrings. As her ladies in waiting screamed in horror, the Queen tried to make it to her son’s side with both hands clasped around her neck holding in the lifeblood, almost making it to the door of her solar before collapsing.
As for the minstrel, who avoided a gruesome death by torture by being cut down by the queen’s guard, the motives of Jory “Redstrings” remain as unclear now as they were then. According to some accounts, the minstrel was a former favorite of the queen whose love suit had been sharply rebuffed; according to others, the minstrel was a former Exclusionist who believed that he was striking a blow for true religion; still others claim that the man was deeply in debt and could have been blackmailed by any number of parties.
But with the Queen Regent conveniently out of the way, the Lord Steward Grymas Tyrell took possession of the boy king and announced that, in order to “purify the line of kings,” he would be betrothing the child to a Gardener cousin. Moving with suspicious timing, on the same day as Queen Regent Ellyn was murdered, King Leon II annulled his son’s betrothal to Florys Sunflowers in the same breath that he cruelly informed her of the death of her sister and brother. Florys was made of sterner stuff, evidently, and reacted to the news by stabbing her former betrothed through the eye with a hairpin. Even as the grieving king (who would die not long after of apoplexy) ordered her to be flung into an oubliette and starved to death, Florys never stopped laughing.
By the time that he reached the outskirts of Oldtown, the High Spider was tottering on the brink of despair, ordering that all messengers be turned away after learning of the deaths of his children. His last hope was that his sister and all the power of the Hightower would support him against the enemies who were closing in around him, or so he promised to the mercenaries around him who had been demanding payment ever since the Holy War’s pay chest was abandoned at Kingsgrave. When he learned that his sister had barred the gates of the city against him, he put on his finest vestments and left his tent to face down an angry mob of sellswords baying for gold. Whatever else he may have been, the man once known as Lewys Flowers was no coward. Facing his men down with his mace in one hand and a copy of The Seven-Pointed Star in the other, he faced their demands with scorn, and said that they would have nothing from him but blood and meat. Stabbed by more than a dozen men, he smashed down three before succumbing to his wounds.
 According to Precocious, children were sometimes sacrificed to the Vulture to ward off famines, although this chronicler believes this to be a distortion of Dornish iconography, which emphasized the Stranger as a bringer of mercy to those who suffer most from hunger and thirst.
 The Fourteen Maidens used as pawns by the High Spider and the Lords of the Wells became a favorite subject of some of the more romantic poets, who imagined all kinds of wild escapes, star-crossed romances, and terrifying captivity. According to their surviving letters, these younger daughters enjoyed fairly quotidian existences
 The title of “Defender of the Marches” was an old title frequently disputed by the rivalrous houses of the Dornish Marches. To the Tarlys, who had sworn their swords to the Gardeners when the Carons had first bent the knee to the Durrandons, the title was a rejoinder to the Carons’ overweening claim to be Lords of all the Marches. To the Carons, the title was a first step to making their boastful sobriquet the consensus of two kingdoms. Needless to say, while the awarding of the title by Gwayne VII won him the swords of the Carons, the Tarlys refused to send anything more than a token force.
 While Precocious’ claims that the Blackmonts had been promised the lands of their royal cousins is likely an exaggeration, given what was to happen following the battle, the hand of the High Spider can be seen once again in his skillful exploitation of the resentments of ambitious vassals, who like the man once known as Lewys Flowers had chafed under the hand of their elders and betters.
 As Septon Mulciber’s memoirs suggest, the Yronwood forces might have been able to rally and break through the rebel lines, had not Yorick II suppressed potential threats to his rule with periodic purges of overly ambitious and independent-minded generals, leaving only the stolid and unimaginative who could be counted on to do nothing other than obey the Bloodyroyal’s commands.
 Unfortunately for the Yronwoods, this victory was not enough to restore their fortunes. In the absence of the royal armies, the Tolands of Ghost Hill rallied the houses of the eastern peninsula (including both the Jordaynes of the Tor and the Martells of Sunspear) into a confederacy that would resist Yronwood hegemony for a decade before falling to infighting. Even in the southern deserts, where the Yronwoods and Wyls pursued the remnants of the Lords of the Wells’ host, the new King Hamnet I Yronwood went too far in his quest for vengeance, blundering into an infamous stretch of quicksand and shifting sands near the lands of House Dryland known as the Rottenpockets, which cost him half his horse and allowed the desert Houses to escape, after which the heirs of the lords who died at Yorick’s last meal began a cycle of blood feud that would drag on for several hundred years, bleeding the Yronwoods dry and ending their ascendant phase short of unification.
 To this day, the folk of Highgarden maintain that on moonless nights, the ghostly queen holding her throat with both hands makes her passage down the length of the solar, forever trying to make it to her son.
 The ambiguity around his motives did not stop some remote communities in the Vale from venerating him as a martyr for some time.
 While no evidence ever emerged that Lady Maris had betrayed her brother, it is notable that she was the only one of the High Spider’s allies not to fall from grace during the Pruning of the Flowers.