A couple years ago, I posted about a burning question in Dark Souls' lore: who is the "forgotten" god of war (first-born sun of Gwyn) who was expunged from the annals of Anor Londo? At the time, the leading theory was that Solaire was intended to be the firstborn god of war, and I tentatively went along with that interpretation. There were a few holes in the theory, a lot of it was circumstantial, and there were even a couple of alternative possibilities. I also wholly admitted that it was very likely that the god of war character simply wasn't present in the original game, except through the lore references in the environment and item descriptions. Dark Souls II did little to answer this question, other than to provide a possible name for the god of war: Faraam. Well, it turns out that Dark Souls III finally answers this question, and all of us who thought it might be Solaire were totally wrong - and may even look foolish in retrospect.
As is so often the case with Souls games, you'll have to work hard to find all the good lore. In this case, you'll need to find and conquer the optional Archdragon Peak area of the game, which, itself, requires that you find the Untended Graves optional area as well.
These statues of the Nameless King resemble the statue and pose of Gwyn in the first game.
Once you make it to Archdragon Peak, you'll be treated with a large, sunny area populated with serpent men that should look familiar to veteran Dark Souls players. I'm still unclear regarding the lore behind these enemies. The original man serpents from Dark Souls were hybrid creations of Seath's experiments. Perhaps the man serpents in Archdragon Peak are the progeny of the original serpent men from Sen's Fortress. More importantly, however, is that Archdragon Peak is also home to the Ancient Wyvern and the Nameless King.
During your encounter with the Ancient Wyvern, you'll get your first clue as to the lore that will be uncovered in this area. You'll find regal statues of a being holding a massive swordspear weapon. The style and pose of this statue may remind you of the statues of Gwyn that you saw in Anor Londo in both Dark Souls and Dark Souls III. The way that the character is standing, and the way that he's holding his weapon looks like he could fit in perfectly standing next to Gwyn in the Anor Londo cathedral.
The Nameless King strongly resembles Lord Gwyn from the first game.
But why would there be statues of the holy family in Archdragon Peak - a place that still has living wyverns and snake people, and which seems to be dedicated to worshiping dragons? Weren't Gwyn and his family locked in mortal combat with the dragons? Yes, yes they were.
Once you meet the Nameless King, you should likely also notice some other similarities. First and foremost, he will probably remind you of Gwyn. Nameless King's flowing white hair will resemble Gwyn's hair and beard. Their outfits will also be similar, with some of the same Aztec detailing around the sleeves and skirts. They both wear an almost-identical crown. They both wear sandals. They also both appear undead and hollow. And they both have elementally-charged weapons.
Broken Altar of Sunlight from first game.
You might also see some similarities between the Nameless King and the broken statue of the Altar of Sunlight that appears in the first two Dark Souls. You can see the sandals on the statue and some of the same Aztec patterns on the sleeves. The broken statue also has a spear that resembles the Dragonslayer Spear, which is similar to the Nameless King's swordspear.
The Nameless King is probably the hardest boss in the game. Defeating him will grant you the Soul of the Nameless King, which will verify what you probably already suspect: he is Gwyn's firstborn, and is the expunged and forgotten god of war. He also isn't Solaire.
"Soul of the Nameless King. One of the
twisted souls, steeped in strength.
Use to acquire many souls, or transpose
to extract its true strength.
The Nameless King was once a dragon-slaying
god of war, before he sacrificed everything to
ally himself with the ancient dragons."
Dragonslayer Ornstein, convoluted timelines, and illusions
There is one very confusing thing about this revelation though. Ornstein has apparently left his gear in Archdragon Peak. The Dragonslayer Spear can be found on the portcullis below the Nameless King's summoning bell. The Dragonslayer armor can be found in the Nameless King's arena, just sitting on the ground, after defeating him and the storm has cleared. This breaks a convention in which loot is always either in chests or pillaged from corpses. There are a couple of times that Dark Souls III breaks this convention - Hawkwood also leaves gear next to a tombstone.
"Golden lion armor associated with Dragonslayer Ornstein, from the age of gods, and imbued with the strength of lightning.
In the dragonless age, this knight, who long guarded the ruined cathedral, left the land in search of the nameless king."
The armor description says that Ornstein used to guard the Anor Londo cathedral, but then he left in search of the Nameless King. But wait, didn't we kill him in Dark Souls 1? You remember the Ornstein and Smough fight. Everybody remembers that fight! It was one of the toughest, most memorable, and more lore-significant fights in the entire game. So how could we have killed Ornstein there, but he still somehow showed up in Archdragon Peak centuries later to give his weapon and armor to the Nameless King?
Ornstein's equipment and weapon can be found just lying around in Archdragon Peak (not pillaged from a corpse).
Well, The answer to this may come from Solaire in the first game: "Time in Lordran is convoluted". This seems to be the first game's excuse for how summoning works: you summon a fellow warrior from another time. If characters can exist in multiple time periods, then there's no reason why Ornstein can't both have died in the Anor Londo cathedral, and meet the Nameless King in Archdragon Peak hundreds (or thousands) of years later.
There's also debate that Solaire's comment regarding "convoluted time" could imply that summoned characters (including Solaire) come from different dimensions (rather than different time periods). I tend to disregard this interpretation (much like the Silent Hill Otherworld), and I prefer to think of the summoning mechanic as being an abstraction of time travel (but that could be a whole other blog post on its own). In any case, I feel that Dark Souls III negates parallel dimensions when the opening narration proposes that "the transitory lands of the Lords of Cinder converge" on Lothric. This implies that the physical space of the world is in flux. That being said, it could also be the case that the player of Dark Souls III is playing in a parallel dimension in which Ornstein wasn't killed in Anor Londo, and that he eventually left and went to Archdragon Peak.
But perhaps the best explanation is that Ornstein wasn't in the Anor Londo cathedral in the first Dark Souls to begin with. If Princess Gwynevere was an illusion created by Dark Sun Gwyndolin, then could it be that Ornstein (and probably also Smough) were also illusions? After all, all the other sentinels of Anor Londo disappear after you "kill" Gwynevere. All the giant sentinels, all the gargoyles, all the silver knights, all gone. If this is true, then that could explain why the Old Dragonslayer exists in Dark Souls II. If Gwynevere left Anor Londo with Ornstein and Smough, then they may have ended up in Drangleic (or in a past version of Drangleic). Though, if you acquire Smough's Armor in Dark Souls III, it's description will say that Smough was "the last knight to stand in defense of the ruined cathedral." This implies that Ornstein may have been an illusion, and Smough may have been real.
If Princess Gwynevere is an illusion, then perhaps Ornstein and Smough were illusions as well?
In any case, Ornstein eventually finds his way to Archdragon Peak. The fact that Ornstein's equipment isn't pillaged from a corpse seems significant. It suggests that the Nameless King did not fight and kill Ornstein (or else we should expect to find his body). Instead, it suggests that, after having found and met with the Nameless King, Ornstein simply removed the gear and left it behind. So where did Ornstein go? That remains technically unresolved (will it be the subject of DLC?) But, we may already have enough pieces of evidence to reach a conjecture. Archdragon Peak also contains the Twinkling Dragon Torso Stone, which can be used to transform the player partially into a dragon. Using this stone requires that the player unequip all armor (head, chest, arms, and legs). Perhaps Ornstein drops his equipment in order to turn himself into a dragon? Perhaps Ornstein is the King of the Storm, still protecting what's left of the holy family after all these millennia? In fact, the Twinkling Dragon Head Stone says "The road to the old dragons is long and arduous, and only one can complete the journey". Since the player can only imitate the form of a dragon, perhaps that journey has already been completed by another, and that one may be Ornstein.
I'm not sure about this one though, as I'm not even sure if the King of the Storm even is supposed to be a dragon. It doesn't have scales, and is instead covered in purple/black feathers. It almost looks like it's intended to be some kind of crow-like creature, which implies that it may be linked to Velka. This almost makes sense, since Velka was opposed to the gods, and is often associated with occult weapons and items. Nameless King betrayed Gwyn, which means he may have the favor or alliance of Velka.
But I'm not aware of any items or anything providing any further info about the King of the Storm, so I don't know... CORRECTION: September 26, 2016: the Storm Curved Sword does, in fact clarify that the King of the Storm is a "storm drake". Though it's still possible that its crow-like appearance may relate it somehow to Velka.
Clues were under our noses all along!
Now that we know who the firstborn god of war is, we can look back at certain details and clues in the first two games. In hindsight, certain pieces of information that had even been used as evidence for Solaire now looks like it was a pretty blatant refutation from FromSoft. Many of us just mis-interpreted these clues. First and foremost is Solaire's own armor description from the first game:
"Armor of Solaire of Astora, Knight of Sunlight.
The large holy symbol of the Sun, while powerless,
was painted by Solaire himself.
Solaire's incredible prowess must have come
from rigorous training alone, for his equipment
exhibits no special traits."
Previously, the insistence that Solaire's "incredible prowess must have come from rigorous training alone, for his equipment exhibits no special traits" was seen as evidence that Solaire himself possesses superhuman capabilities, and that might be evidence of his former divinity. Now, it appears that the meaning is exactly what it says: that Solaire's prowess is the result of training alone. It turns out that this wasn't some tongue-in-cheek sarcasm, but was entirely literal and sincere. Solaire's prowess was the result of training, and not from being a god.
The Armor of the Sun in Dark Souls III reinforces this:
"Chainmail armor and white coat featuring a large rendition of the holy symbol of the sun.
The choice attire of a singular Knight of Sunlight from a previous age. The symbol was painted by the knight himself, but the armor never bore any special power, sacred or otherwise."
This description refers to Solaire as a "singular Knight of Sunlight from a previous age". It further reinforces the idea of Solaire being just a simple knight with no special powers "sacred or otherwise". It's also worth noting that the broken Altar of Sunlight statue looks nothing like Solaire. The clues were all there, the fact that we didn't see them is kind of embarrassing...
There's also other clues that we can look at retroactively in the first game. Fans wondered: what crime could the firstborn have committed to get himself expunged? Well, it turns out that we had a clue to that all along. That drake that barbequed your character after the Taurus Demon in the first game can be seen as possibly protecting the Altar of Sunlight. This could have been seen as linking the Altar of Sunlight (and therefore the firstborn himself) to dragons. And if there's one thing that a member of the holy family could have done to become disowned by Lord Gwyn, it would have been to ally oneself with the dragons.
A red drake guards the Altar of Sunlight in Lordran. Perhaps it protects its ally's shrine from further desecration?
But, like with so much else involving the firstborn god of war, we just didn't see it. Despite devoted fans combing over every detail of the game for meaning, nobody seemed to spot this link between the firstborn, the Altar of Sunlight, and the dragons. And if you did notice this link, then kudos to you! You're in a very small minority.
The clues didn't end in Dark Souls 1. Dark Souls II also could have provided some clues. There was little reference to the god of war in Dark Souls II, other than the Faraam Set. This names Faraam as a god of war. At first, I assumed that this must have been in reference to a different god of war, since Dark Souls II seemed to have a different pantheon than the first game. But then again, the Altar of Sunlight does appear in Dark Souls II. The Sunlight Medal doesn't specifically mention the god of war, but it does refer to the "Sun's truest son". This suggests that Faraam may have been the same god of war from the first game, and that worship of him had spread to Drangleic as well, and that his statues there were also destroyed.
Faraam helm depicts a knight fighting a dragon.
The forehead of the Faraam helmet even depicts an image of a knight fighting a dragon. This is yet another link between the god of war and dragons, and helps to establish that Faraam is the same god of war referenced in the first game. It even implies that Faraam may have been the god of war's original name, since the helm depicts a knight fighting a dragon, and the god of war did originally fight the dragons alongside Gwyn. Though, his name was supposed to have been expunged from the annals as well, so it is assumed that nobody should have known his name by the time of Dark Souls II. But perhaps the Forossa Lion Knights had their own records?
The Lion Knights themselves can be further linked to Anor Londo. Another "Lion Knight" from the first game is Ornstein, who was famous for fighting dragons. The Faraam set is the armor of lion knights, and it depicts a knight fighting a dragon. This creates a link between the Faraam set and Ornstein, which further links the war god Faraam to Gwyn's divine family.
Alternatively, Faraam could still be an alias. The other two children both have names derived from "Gwyn" (Gwynevere and Gwyndolin), so it would make sense that the firstborn might also have a name that starts with, or is derived from, "Gwyn". Gwynevere's name appears to be derived from the Norman French name Guinevere, which translates roughly to "fair white phantom" or "fair white magical being". Gwyndolin's name may be derived from the Irish name meaning "white brow". Both names, I believe, have Welsh origins. Is there a Welsh equivalent of "faraam"? Maybe Faraam's original name was Gwynarf? "Arf" being the Welsh word for "weapon".
Perhaps the Dark Souls III DLC will shed further light?
There's still a lot of questions regarding the Nameless King, Faraam, and the God of War. But it is worth noting that we might not have all the pieces yet. The first of [at least] two Dark Souls III expansion packs has already been announced: Ashes of Ariandel. The setting of this DLC looks very much like the Painted World of Ariamis, and the trailer implies that this world may be the same Painted World, or another world that also exists in a painting. We may also get some additional back story regarding the gods. Hopefully, we'll learn more about the mysterious Velka, goddess of sin.
The first DLC, Ashes of Ariandel has been announced, and may reveal more about the gods.
Strangely, the trailer features footage of fights against some DSIII vanilla bosses, including Oceiros, Princes Lorian and Lothric, Aldrich, and even the Nameless King. So we could be getting more fleshed-out information about these entities, which may answer whether or not the King of the Storm is actually a dragon, or if it's somehow connected to Velka. Stay tuned...