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The Qunari first thundered into Kirkwall in 7:56 Storm during last of the New Exalted Marches.
The collected nations of Thedas were attempting to drive the Qunari from the northern mainland once and for all. Qunari armies were on the retreat, but in a desperate gambit, their fleet circled around Amaranthine coast and landed a great force near the Marcher city of Ostwick. Their plan was to overwhelm the Marcher cities of Starkhaven and Kirkwall, Starkhaven to block the roads leading north and Kirkwall to block ships on the waking sea coming from Orlais, all in an effort to deny the supplies to the Thedas armies assaulting Rivain. The attack on Starkhaven eventually failed, but Kirkwall was attacked in a daring night raid where the Qunari used their leashed saarebas mages in an unprecedented display of sorcery. The walls were torn down and the city was taken, and for the next four years, Kirkwall endured the most brutal occupation in its history.
Writing from that time are scarce. It was not until after the city was freed that the Qunari's deeds came to light: Children taken from families, forced conversion to the Qunari religion, and brutal labor camps. It's ironic that the old slave quarters of lowtown, still intact after centuries, provided the perfect means for the Qunari to control the city's people. When the famous Orlesian chevalier, Ser Michel Lafaille, rode into the city after finally defeating the qunari defenders, he wrote, "Kirkwall is full of people with empty eyes that had all independent thought driven from them." When Lafaille was appointed the city's first viscount by the emperor in 7:60 Storm, he made it his mission to undo the religious conditioning. The Lafaille bloodline remained popular enough that when the city finally rebelled against Orlesian rule in 8:05 Blessed, "viscount" remained the enduring title for Kirkwall's rulers despite its origin.
-From Kirkwall: The City of Chains, by Brother Genitivi, 9:24 Dragon