The Children of the Forest are a mysterious non-human race who were reportedly the original inhabitants of the continent of Westeros. They were already living in Westeros when the First Menmigrated to the continent, 12,000 years before Robert's Rebellion.
According to legend they were last seen during the Andal Invasion 6,000 years before the War of the Five Kings. In the present day, most believe that they are simply the stuff of myth and never existed at all. Even the few who do believe they once existed, such as Maester Luwin or Ned Stark, believe that they have long since gone extinct. In actual fact, some of the Children endured for a time Beyond the Wall as one group of Children came to serve the Three-Eyed Raven. This group was eventually killed during an assault on the cave of the Three-Eyed Raven, rendering the Children seemingly extinct.
The Children of the Forest were said to be humanoid, but when grown to adulthood they were no taller than human children. Their facial features are very rounded and soft, like a very small child. They also have disproportionately large and expressive eyes (like human babies), which are set wider in their face than would be normal for a human child of the same height.
They generally preferred to live in the depths of the forests in hidden villages, in crannogs of the swamps, or in caves. Thus they came to be known as "the Children of the Forest".
They also seem to be extremely long-lived. Given Leaf participated in the creation of the Night King some twelve thousand years ago, their lifespans are clearly measured in millennia.
The Children of the Forest worshipped nature gods, the countless and nameless spirits of every tree, every rock, and every stream. Their religion devoted to the Old Gods of the Forest had no complex temples, but according to legend it was the Children who carved faces into the sacred weirwood trees. These carved heart trees were the closest thing to a shrine in their religion.
The Children of the Forest weren't very technologically advanced, though they were skilled at woodcraft and had a great knowledge of the plants and animals of the forest. They hunted using bows made of weirwood and used blades made of dragonglass.
The wise men of the Children of the Forest were known as "Greenseers", who are said to have had impressive powerful magic at their disposal.
Legend holds that the Children of the Forest ruled Westeros for thousands of years before the arrival of the first humans on the continent twelve millennia ago. They inhabited the vast primeval forests which spanned most of Westeros before humans came and began cutting them down. According to legend, the Giants also inhabited Westeros at this time, and clashed periodically with the Children. Whatever history, wars, romances, or triumphs the Children may have had in the untold centuries that they inhabited Westeros, their stories have been forgotten.
Twelve thousand years ago, the First Men from the eastern continent of Essos migrated to Westeros by crossing a land bridge known as the Arm of Dorne. The First Men began cutting down the Children's forests, including the sacred weirwood trees, leading them into conflict with the Children. The two races fought a desperate series of wars for dominance for the next two thousand years, during which the Children of the Forest destroyed the Arm of Dorne and flooded the Neck through the sorcery of their greenseers.
After two thousand years of violence, the Children of the Forest and the First Men fought one another to a standstill. The two races agreed to peaceful coexistence and signed the Pact on the Isle of Faces in Gods Eye lake, granting the open lands to humanity and the forests to the Children.
The Pact lasted for another two thousand years before the enigmatic White Walkers invaded from the uttermost north, bringing death and destruction to both races. The Children of the Forest allied with the First Men to drive back the White Walkers in the War for the Dawn eight thousand years ago. After the defeat of the White Walkers, the Children, much-reduced in number, are said to have helped Bran the Builder raise the Wall with their powerful magic to prevent the White Walkers' return.
The Children of the Forest never had a large population to begin with, and they took heavy losses in the struggle against the White Walkers, from which they never truly recovered. Over the following centuries they gradually declined throughout Westeros, until they had all but disappeared by the time the Andals invaded Westeros six thousand years ago.
The few who remained were hunted or driven off by the Andals during their conquest of the continent, believing their magic to be an abomination to their Faith of the Seven. The Andals cut down the sacred heart trees in the south (except on the Isle of Faces), but the First Men of the North withstood their advance, and continued their worship of the Old Gods centered around the remaining heart trees there. The handful of Children who survived the slaughter were said to have fled to the far north, Beyond the Wall, where the Andals would never follow them. By the time that Aegon I Targaryen conquered and united the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros three hundred years ago, there had been no contact with the Children of the Forest for thousands of years.
According to the knowledge of the maesters, the Children are either extinct, or never existed in the first place and are a purely mythical race. This is disputed by the people of the North, who hold that they inherited their worship of the Old Gods from the Children of the Forest, who were real and have long since departed the realms of men.
Secretly, a handful of the Children actually did survive in the lands Beyond the Wall, unseen even by the wildlings, hiding in vast underground caverns.
Maester Luwin tells Bran Stark that many people think that magical creatures like the Children of the Forest never existed at all. Luwin tells Bran that he thinks they may have once existed in ancient times, but that they have long since gone extinct: "The dragons are gone, the Giants are dead, and the Children of the Forest forgotten."
Leaf, one of the Children of the Forest, emerges from the cave of the Three-Eyed Raven to save Bran Stark and his companions from a group of wights. She leads Bran and his companions deeper into the cave as other Children peer at them from around corners, until they reach the Three-Eyed Raven.
After managing to kill one of the White Walkers with a dagger made of Dragonglass, Samwell Tarly reads through many of the old manuscripts at Castle Black trying to find out what makes it so special. He explains to Stannis Baratheon that the only thing he's found is some mention that the Children of the Forest used to hunt with dragonglass weapons.
Bran Stark continues his training with the Three-Eyed Raven in his cave, where the remaining Children of the Forest also gather. Meera Reed is upset that she can't help Bran and doesn't have much to do but wait, but Leaf warns her that Bran won't stay at the cave forever and in time he will need her to protect him again.
During one of his visions, Bran is shown the darkest secret of the Children: they long ago created the White Walkers from captured First Men. When he awakens, he demands an explanation from Leaf, who tries to explain that they had no choice, as they were at war with humans. Later, Bran's attempts to quicken his vision quests draw the attention of the Night King, who shortly thereafter storms the cave. The Children of the Forest present put up a fight at the cave's entrance and within the cave itself, but most of them are cut down in the ensuing battle. Leaf survives to cover Bran and Meera's escape, but makes the ultimate sacrifice by allowing the wights to envelop and cut her down while she detonates an explosive weapon, destroying the last known holdout of the Children. Nonetheless, additional pockets of them may survive in the wildest and most secret places of Westeros.
While at Dragonstone, Jon Snow takes Daenerys Targaryen underground to show her the dragonglass that he seeks to mine. Afterwards, he shows her carvings of spiral symbols engraved by the Children of the Forest. When he takes her further in, he shows her carvings of the Children and the First Men standing by each other—banding together against their common enemy, the White Walkers, led by the Night King.
Despite proof from Samwell Tarly and Bran Stark, the Conclave believe that the White Walkers are no danger to Westeros, and compare them to Jenny of Oldstones, who claimed decent from the Children of the Forest.
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