The Forgotten Keep
Kirkwall (also known as The City of Chains) is a coastal city-state and a major population center located in the Free Marches. It is on the southern edge of the Vimmark Mountains, east of the Planasene Forest, and north across the Waking Sea from Ferelden. Hawke is known to become the Champion of Kirkwall.
Any ship approaching Kirkwall will first see the cliffs – the “wall” that the city is named for – from many miles off. This sheer cliff is made of the same black stone that the city was built on, a pantheon of vile guardians representing the Old Gods carved into its face.
A channel has been carved into this cliff, allowing ships to sail through a dark corridor with sheer walls hundreds of feet high into the city’s interior. Flanking either side of this channel are the “twins of Kirkwall”, two massive bronze statues that are present for more than show: the city sits next to the narrowest point of the Waking Sea, and a massive chain net can be erected between the statues and the lighthouse on the nearest outcropping of rock that marks the edge of the narrow navigable lane. This stranglehold on sea traffic is jealously guarded by the ever-changing rulers of the city for the wealth of tolls, taxes and extortions it has allowed; the transitory politics of Kirkwall are as brutal and treacherous as the sea currents below.
The city is wealthy from its position on the Waking Sea but there are still many decrepit areas. Much of the destruction caused when the Tevinters fell has never and can never be repaired. Although the Chantry and the Keep are visible from most of the city it is easy to get lost in the maze of dwarven courtyards and prowling groups of outlaws prey on those who travel through Lowtown without a reliable guide or map. Lowtown is perpetually smothered in black smoke billowing from the many foundries. When the air is cleared by cold winter storms the baleful howl of wind over the open mouths of abandoned shafts is hardly better. Outside of the Kirkwall the remnants of the oldest slave quarries still remain in the mountains, most abandoned and some haunted by spirits clinging to the memories of the torture inflicted on those enslaved long ago.
Fundamentally then, Kirkwall still resembles its ancient self; greed drives the ragged and dispossessed scum of Thedas to its cursed shores and the unscrupulous consume them.1
Founded under the name Emerius, after Magister Emerius Krayvan, on the edge of the Imperium to be the main supplier of jet stone to build a Minrathous temple, the city gained notoriety after it was elected to be the new heart of the slave trade after a slave revolt made Archon Vanarius Issar fear for his security when he was almost killed. Magisters competed viciously for the honor of governing the port for nearly two decades before Emerius married his son to the archon’s daughter. The Krayvan family constructed the Gallows, patronized the next three archons and were the main backers for the Imperial Highway into the Fereldan Valley, which devastated them when Andraste led her rebellion from there against the Imperium. At the time it was defended by the Fourteenth Cadre (aka The Black Cadre) and was regarded by most Imperial soldiers to be a punishment to serve there. It wasn’t until a massive slave revolt circa 25 Ancient that the City of Chains came to be known as Kirkwall when a popular elven slave named Radun was assassinated by wary magisters for his influence, which led to violent retributions, such as the sacking of Hightown and the expulsion of Tevinter leaders (by means of hanging).
In 7:56 Storm, Qunari invaders took Kirkwall in a night raid and occupied it for four years, forcibly converting much of the populace to the Qun and making the natives work in labor camps previously manned by slaves. It was liberated by Orlesians under the chevalier Sir Lumile de Marais, who was appointed Viscount in 7:60 by the emperor. He pursued a campaign of religious reeducation and formed the Kirkwall City Guard to act as the city’s defenders.
In 8:05 Blessed, Kirkwall rebelled against Orlesian rule and gained independence, but maintained the title of viscount as its ruler.
In 9:21 Dragon, Viscount Perrin Threnhold attempted to expel the Templar Order from Kirkwall, killing Knight-Commander Guylian in the raid of the Templar stronghold, only to be overthrown by the Templar Knight Meredith Stannard, who was promoted soon after. With the Chantry’s support, she appointed Marlowe Dumar to succeed Perrin, but commands the true authority in the city from the Gallows.
Kirkwall is governed by a Viscount since the Orleisian occupation of the city, as the title itself is Orleisian. It has never truly been free to determine its own course, and since the ousting of Perrin Threnhold the Templar Order holds considerable influence over his successor, Marlowe Dumar, and the city.
If the ruling line of a Viscount dies out due to no living heirs, then the nobility of Kirkwall will gather to elect a new line from their ranks.