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Geographic Map 25: Asshai, the Shadow and Beyond

Knowledge is believed to have no limits: students should be able to learn all there is to learn, seek out the mysteries of the world and of science and determine all that can be determined. But if there is a barrier to knowledge, a place where all of a maester’s training may falter, it lies in the far south-east of the known world, on the edge of what is certain. All our knowledge fails us at the Shadow.

But before the Shadow there are still lands on the fringes of our maps which have not been visited.

Asshai and the Shadow

Asshai, the Shadow Lands and the eastern Jade Sea. Click for a larger version.

Marahai

Marahai is a large island in the middle of the Jade Sea, located roughly 400 miles due south of Yin in Yi Ti. Marahai is a long, crescent-shaped island, 200 miles across but never more than 50 miles wide. In fact, the island is more of a circle than a crescent, with only an 80-mile-wide gap in the north breaking the line of symmetry. Within the vast bay of Marahai are two islands, both volcanic, occasionally spewing lava into the sky.

Some maesters studying the mysteries of lava and the earth suggest that Marahi was once a single, whole island that was destroyed in a volcanic explosion many thousands of years ago and is slowly recovering, similar to what is happening around some of the Fourteen Fires in Valyria. However, for this to be true the scale would have had to have been titanic, the explosion dwarfing even the Doom in scale and bringing destruction to the shores of all the Jade Sea. If this did happen, it must have been long ago, before man first came to the shores of the sea.

The Manticore Isles

The Manticore Isles are a small archipelago of seven islands in the eastern Jade Sea, 300 miles east of Marahai and 200 miles south-east of Turrani in Leng. The isles are small, remote and it appears uninhabited by humans, due to the dangerous creatures that live there in very large numbers. Manticores are small, scorpion-like insects with disturbingly human faces and a lethal sting that can kill a man in minutes. Manticores are valued as tools of assassination by organisations such as the Sorrowful Men of Qarth.

The Mountains of the Morn

The Mountains of the Morn are a very large and extensive mountain range in eastern Essos, on the edge of the known world. They lie south of the Dry Deep and Grey Waste, south-east of the Bleeding Sea and Five Forts and east of the Golden Empire of Yi Ti, whose borders reach into their foothills. The mountains are at least 800 miles long from east to west and are divided into several sub-ranges. The mountains are not as tall as the Bones further west, but are still an imposing barrier to travel in eastern Essos.

The Hidden Sea, the Winged Men and Carcosa

In the middle of the Mountains of the Morn is a large vale, at least 400 miles long and over 200 miles wide. In the middle of the vale is a vast inland sea, the Hidden Sea, so-called because it is difficult to find except through tricky passes leading west into Yi Ti.

Located at either end of the sea are two cities whose existence is highly disputed. On the north-western shore is the City of Winged Men, home to a species of men who have leathery wings like a bat and can fly. Maesters believe such reports to be apocryphal, and ponder if the inhabitants of this city have created artificial wings of some fashion, or perhaps ride wyverns or even dragons in the Valyrian manner.

At the south-eastern end of the sea is Carcosa, a city even more mysterious and bizarre (but far less well-known) than Asshai. Carcosa is ruled by a sorcerer-warlord who claims to be the 69th Yellow Emperor of Yi Ti, and has claimed the Imperial Throne in Yin. However, as yet he has made no overt move against Yi Ti. Given that Carcosa is said to lie just over 2,000 miles east of Yin, it is not an effective base of operations for a military operation against the Empire, nor does the area seem conducive to the raising of a large army. How this matter will unfold remains to be seen.

Asshai

When it comes to stories of the far east, one place is mentioned more than any other as a place of mystery, magic, wonders…and terrors beyond counting. Asshai, or Asshai-by-the-Shadow, is a great sea port on far eastern coast of the Jade Sea, the most southerly known location on the continent of Essos and a place of fell repute.

Asshai lies on the mouth of the River Ash. It is located 400 miles east of the Manticore Isles. The nearest major cities are Turrani in Leng, 600 miles to the north-west, and Jinqi in Yi Ti, almost exactly 1,000 miles to the north. According to the best estimates we have, Asshai lies almost exactly 6,000 miles south-east of King’s Landing in Westeros.

The border with Yi Ti lies about 750 miles north of Asshai. Almost the entire coast between the YiTish border and Asshai consists of ghost grass, a mysterious type of grass which poisons and kills all other forms of plant and animal life. Asshai and the surrounding region is eerily quiet, with no birds, insects or animals of any kind and the only fish to be found in the Ash and nearby waters of the Jade Sea are deformed, misshapen, unpleasant to look upon and unsafe to eat.

Travelling to Asshai is an ordeal: due to the ghost grass, it is necessary to carry fodder for pack animals all the way from Yi Ti to the city and back again, which makes trade caravans rare and expensive. For this reason most travel to the city is undertaken by sea.

Asshai itself is enormous. Thick black walls surround an area which could comfortably swallow Volantis, Qarth, King’s Landing and Oldtown combined. Thousands and perhaps tens of thousands of stone buildings fill the interior space of the city, most built of the same black stone, slightly oily to the touch. It is similar to the oily black statues of the Isle of Toads in the Basilisk Isles, the ruined city of Yeen in Sothoryos and the curious foundation stones of the High Tower in Oldtown.

The origin of Asshai is unknown, although the black stone and its similarities to other ruins across the world has hinted at the possible existence of a prehistoric civilisation annihilated long, long before even the Dawn of Days and the coming of the First Men to Westeros. But maesters dislike such flights of fancy. All that can be said for sure is that Asshai has existed almost unchanged through all of human history, predating the Old Empire of Ghis and perhaps even the Great Empire of the Dawn.

Asshai is vast, but it is barely inhabited. An estimate of the permanent population of the city puts it in the low tens of thousands at best. One in ten of the buildings are inhabited, if that, and these are mostly clustered around the mouth of the Ash where it opens into the Jade Sea, forming a natural harbour. Ships from across the Jade Sea and the known world can be found in Asshai’s harbour, where the traditional trappings of a city can also be found: merchant houses, taverns, inns, temples and so on. It is here that laughter and enjoyment can be had and heard, but only for a time. There is something oppressive and sinister in the atmosphere of Asshai, something that makes it a relief for the crew of a ship to leave.

Further into the city, away from the more public areas near the port, are more remote and sinister temples and palaces where black magic is said to be practised. Libraries hold forbidden lore and visitors from across the known world are permitted to undertake whatever obscene rites and foul rituals they wish, for nothing is forbidden in the City of Shadows. The only price is that the shadowbinders, the sorcerers of Asshai, are allowed to learn and gather intelligence from visitors, and in doing so their own power grows.

The Shadow Lands

On the north-eastern side of Asshai it is said that a single track leads east and north into the mountains. Closely following the course of the River Ash, the path rises into the jagged peaks, whilst the river below is plunged into shadow, the sun only visible briefly at midday. This is the Vale of Shadows, a place that strikes fear into the hearts of all who hear of it. Only the shadowbinders of Asshai and the natives of the Shadow Lands are allowed to travel along this road into the heart of the darkness.

Asshai and the Shadow Lands are oft-mentioned in the same breath, but are two distinct cultures and societies. The Asshai’i are pale but recognisably human. They have their own language and culture, but they are also sociable (in a strange way), dealing with outsiders from other lands on a regular basis. They are relatively few in number, and are found solely in Asshai itself. The people of the Shadow are different, more secretive and much more rarely seen. Those of the Shadow wear red lacquered masks and never let their faces be seen in public. It is unknown where they live – there are neither towns nor villages close to Asshai or marked on any map – or what they seek. Very occasionally, people of the Shadow venture out of their homeland and traverse the known world. They often speak in riddles and sometimes attach themselves to people of import at moments of great crisis.

300 miles north-east of Asshai, in the very heart of the Shadow Lands, is the corpse-city, Stygai (sometimes called “the Stygai”). The City of the Night lies high up in the mountains, overlooking a fork in the Ash, but it is dwarfed by the mountains around it and exists in near-constant shadow and night. The gates of the city conceal its size, extent and current status (although maps show the city as a ruin, this may be more guesswork than based on intelligence). Only the shadowbinders are allowed within its walls. According to legend, dragons and even demons dwell in the mountains around the city. The Shadow Men themselves claim to have taught the original art of taming dragons to the Valyrians, but this is considered a boast by maesters, who point out that if dragons were native to the Shadow, the people there would have likewise used them to conquer and rule, like the Valyrians. The alternative – that those of the Shadow may be instead using their powers to protect or defend something threatening or valuable within the corpse city – is even more disturbing.

The Shadow Lands cover a much vaster area of mountains, of course, extending a further thousand miles to the north-east where they blend into the Mountains of the Morn. Distinguishing between the regions is difficult, but the Shadow Lands can be identified from the ghost grass growing everywhere and the tall, jagged peaks hiding the sun giving way to a more traditional and less dramatic landscape. How far east the Shadow Lands extend, however, is unknown.

Ulthos

highly speculative map of one possible configuration for the island/continent of Ulthos. The red line marks the edges of canonical knowledge, the rest is speculative. Click for a larger version.

The Saffron Straits and Ulos

Asshai sits on the Jade Sea, but also just north of the entrance to the Saffron Straits. The entrance to the straits is a 90-mile-wide channel, relatively calm and inviting-looking. Relatively few ships will enter the straits willingly. East of Asshai, there are simply no ports known to exist. It isn’t even known if the straits are traversable by large ships, or if they open into a further eastern ocean or if they are actually part of a massive bay enclosing the island-continent of Ulthos. Attempted explorations in this direction have simply vanished without a trace. Some ships have managed to return after exploring the coast of the straits for a thousand miles: they report that the Shadow Lands and ghost grass continue along the shores to the north, and two large islands can be found in the straits. One of these has been dubbed Ulos and is large enough (150 miles across, roughly) to host a series of mountainous peaks, as well as thick jungle. Just inland from the north shore is a curious ruined city of unknown origin. What destroyed the city is also unknown.

Ulthos

The straits separate the continent of Essos from the island-continent of Ulthos to the south. Ulthos is covered in an incredibly dense jungle, reportedly of strange, purple-black trees. These reports are contradictory and bizarre; maesters point out that the saffron plant is purple in colour, so this may be a reference to large amounts of the plant growing along the coast. This would also give the straits their name.

The coast of Ulthos has been explored eastwards for over a thousand miles, but no further; ships that have travelled further east to chart the shore have disappeared. The current and prevailing winds on the Jade Sea have made exploring the coast southwards also extremely difficult, and overland expeditions have foundered due to a lack of fresh water. About 250 miles south of Asshai, an immense and spectacular harbour has been discovered, a good site for a port, but the hostile landscape and the lack of other cities to trade with on the south coast of the Jade Sea has meant that there has been no enthusiasm for the venture.

The size and status of Ulthos remains highly debatable. Some believe it is an island somewhat larger than Great Moraq; others believe it is a continent in its own right. Others have suggested it is an extension or part of Essos to the north and east or Sothoryos to the west and south. Until more reliable expeditions can be launched, the truth of this matter will remain unknown.

Beyond

This brings our exploration of the geography of the known world to a close. We have travelled some seven thousand miles, from the Lonely Light in the Sunset Sea to the isle of Ulos in the Saffron Straits, beyond even fabled Asshai, and spanned the globe from the northern polar seas beyond the Lands of Always Winter to the steaming equatorial jungles of the mysterious continents of Sothoryos and Ulthos. Yet even this vast region is but part of the world: astonishingly, it makes up just under one-quarter of the estimated surface area of the planet.

What lies beyond the boundaries of the known world is unclear. From Qartheen and Valyrian explorations, we know that Sothoryos extends southwards for a vast distance, deep into the southern hemisphere where sailors say even the stars are strange. Attempts to circumnavigate Ulthos and determine its true dimensions have failed, but some believe it to be a vast landmass on the dividing line between island and continent. And how far further east Essos extends remains a mystery, the unforgiving Grey Waste, Cannibal Sands and Shadow Lands blocking attempts to further explore that vast continent.

We know our world is a globe, so it should be possible to instead traverse the Sunset Sea and come to the far eastern shores of Essos from the east. Maesters estimate the distance to the eastern edge of the known world travelling west from the Seven Kingdoms to be almost 18,000 miles, a distance unfathomable to most and certainly not survivable in the best ships currently afloat (apart, maybe, from those of the Summer Islanders). But the Sunset Sea is vast, storm-wracked and inhospitable. Beyond the Lonely Light the ocean appears vast and infinite. The Farwynds of the Lonely Light claim to have found hints of other lands – islands, maybe even the coast of a continent as-yet unknown to science – but these claims remain to be confirmed.

What is clear is that the lands currently known to us contain enough dangers, wonders and adventurers to fill a million lifetimes, and it is in these lands that the cycle of war and peace, life and death, summer and winter will continue.

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Geographic Map 24: The Distant East

Beyond the Bone Mountains and Jade Sea, reliable information on the known world becomes more fragmented and dubious. History and geography become intertwined with invention, myths and fables. The distances involved are tremendous and travelling to those lands to learn the truth and back again may take years or decades, and along the way all sorts of unreliable information might be picked up. Thus the maesters of the Citadel have only been able to put together the most general of accounts of the lands of the furthest or most distant east. Still, we must report what is known.

The Distant East

The far north-east of the known world. Click for a larger version.

The Plains of the Jogos Nhai

Lying to the east of the northern Bone Mountains and the Howling Hills are an area of grasslands and plains not immediately dissimilar to the Dothraki Sea west of the mountains. This area of grassplains is extensive, although not as large as the Dothraki Sea, extending for over 1,000 miles from the Shrinking Sea to the furthest north extending up the eastern shores of Leviathan Sound. The area measures between 800 and 1,000 miles across from east to west, extending from the Great Sand Sea to the Bleeding Sea.

This region is the home of the Jogos Nhai, a curious people who bind the heads of their infants for the first two years of their life, resulting in pointed skulls. They are warlike, considering themselves to be at war with all other peoples (although individually they can suspend this conflict to justify some elements of trade), but they do not engage in internecine warfare, which is forbidden by their gods. The Jogos Nhai are nomadic, living in mobile tents known as yurts, and are divided into small bands, each led by a jhat (or chieftain) and a Moonsinger, a priestess. Occasionally the Jogos Nhai are led by a jhattar or jhat-of-jhats, but this has not occurred for some centuries.

The border between the Jogos Nhai lands and the northern frontier of Yi Ti is fiercely debated, with the lack of a major geographic feature to define the frontier. The latitude of the Shrinking Sea running east to the Bleeding Sea is generally considered the border, but this is an imprecise measurement. The Jogos Nhai raid the frontier incessantly, with the Empire sometimes sending retaliatory forces into the Jogos Nhai lands, but there hasn’t been a major war between the two powers for a long time.

N’Ghai

N’Ghai is a small kingdom located on the Shivering Sea, east of the Plains of the Jogos Nhai. In ancient times N’Ghai was much larger, extending far to the west. Its western borderlands were destroyed by the Jogos Nhai, who have pushed the border back to the river and a single city of note, Nefer.

Nefer is the only known port on the Shivering Sea east of New Ibbish and the Port of Ibben. There are literally no known safe harbours or ports on the north coast of Essos for a thousand miles or more to the east, and no ships come sailing out of the east from whatever nations or cities which may lie at the far eastern end of the continent. As a result of this Nefer is the end-point for voyages out of the east and the start for bold merchants sailing west to Ib, or even further west to the Free Cities.

Nefer is built around a reasonably-sized harbour, but the geography of the region is difficult, with a rocky shore and towering chalk cliffs nearby. For this reason, as well as defence, most of the city is built underground, making it a dark and ill-omened place. Nefer is reported to be a haunt for necromancers and torturers, although how much of this ill reputation is earned is unknown.

Leviathan Sound and the Thousand Islands

Leviathan Sound is a wide bay on the north coast of Essos, more than 400 miles wide. The immense bay is home to fish but also to whales, who gather here in their tens of thousands. The Ibbenese see these waters as fertile hunting grounds, sending whalers into the waters in large numbers. The shores are claimed by the Jogos Nhai, so the Ibbenese prefer to make landfall on the islands that dot the bay.

Further east lies an absolutely immense archipelago stretching for over 1,200 miles from east to west and 800 miles north to south. This region is called the Thousand Islands, but the total number of large islands is believed to be no higher than three hundred. The Ibbenese have charted the islands and even made attempts to colonise them in the past, but were dissuaded by the inhabitants of the islands.

The natives of the Thousand Islands are strange, with green-tinged skin. The women file their teeth and shave their heads. Statues of obscene, fish-faced gods can be found on many of the island shores. They are utterly xenophobic, attacking strangers on sight. They have a deep fear of the sea, refusing to set foot on ships even on pain of death. The waters and islands are also dotted with strange ruins. According to myth this entire region was once above the water, but a cataclysm in the Dawn Age saw the sea waters rise and drown the entire kingdom. Some maesters date this event to the Hammer of the Waters that drowned the Arm of Dorne between Essos and Westeros, which some claim was a result of polar ice melting beyond the Shivering Sea, but this is speculative at best. What is known is that the Thousand Islands are hostile, unpleasant and dangerous.

Mossovy

Mossovy is a large region located east of the Thousand Islands. It is the eastern-most region of Essos to appear on maps, extending as it does right off the edge of the known world. What lies beyond, or how large Mossovy is, is unknown.

It is known that Mossovy’s coastal region is heavily forested for at least a thousand miles, starting not far east of Nefer. These forests extend for between 200 and 300 miles inland and are thick, dark and cold. Shapechangers and demon-hunters are said to dwell in Mossovy. There is no record of any Mossovite cities or towns existing.

The Cannibal Sands and Grey Waste

The Grey Waste is a vast desert region located south of Mossovy and east of the Bleeding Sea. It appears to be utterly uninhabitable, being cold, grey and utterly lacking in forests, rivers or habitable lands. It is likely that this region continues for some distance to the east, and its utter hostility may be a key reason why the eastern-most part of Essos remains unknown to us.

The fringes of the Waste are known as the Cannibal Sands and are reportedly home to rapacious tribes of flesh-eating men and women. Maesters are doubtful of this story – tribes of cannibals would presumably eat themselves to death very quickly – but there are enough stories of savage, barely-human tribes in this region that some credence is given to them.

K’Dath and the Land of Shrykes

The city of K’Dath stands alone on the plains south-west of the Grey Waste and Cannibal Sands, some 200 miles east of the Bleeding Sea. The K’Dathi claim to be the oldest people in the known world, with their city existing since the dawn of time, but this is again doubted by learned men. K’Dath is reportedly a place of bizarre and obscene rites designed to appease the depraved desires of mad gods, with even the cannibals and Shrykes fearing to approach the city.

South-west of the city lies some 300 miles of wasteland, inhabited by the Shrykes, a race of men wearing lizard skins who occasionally test themselves against the Five Forts on the border of Yi Ti, to little avail.

Bonetown and the Dry Deep

The city of Bonetown lies approximately 350 miles south-east of K’Dath, south of the Cannibal Sands and east of the Land of the Shrykes. Bonetown is a ramshackle city perched on the edge of the Dry Deep, a large canyon. A hundred leagues long, the Dry Deep is a parched, steeply-walled valley, dotted with the remains of large animals. The bones of these creatures are collected for trade at Bonetown (which itself is said to be partially built out of bones).

The Cities of the Bloodless Men

South-east of the Dry Deep, along the north-eastern fringes of the Mountains of the Morn, lies the Cities of the Bloodless Men. The natives of this region are curiously pale. Some claim the natives of this region are in fact dead and have been resurrected by foul rites. Maesters outright reject this story, considering it fanciful at best.

South of this region lies one of the most redoubtable areas of the known world: the Shadow Lands, the Hidden Sea and, beyond them, the forbidding and secretive city known only as Asshai-by-the-Shadow.

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Geographic Map 23: Yi Ti

In the far east of the known world lies land of myth and legend. Little news of it comes to Westeros, save in the form of tales too incredible to be believed and the reports of those few sailors brave enough to visit the Jade Sea. This land is Yi Ti, the Golden Empire, the Land of a Thousand Cities and bearer of many other grandiose titles.

Yi Ti

The Golden Empire of Yi Ti. Click for a larger version.

Separating fact from fiction is hard, but it is known that Yi Ti lies on the northern shores of the Jade Sea, east of Qarth and the Jade Gates. The Golden Empire expands across a colossal area, measuring some 1,800 miles from east to west and 1,700 miles from north to south. However, these measurements are inexact, given that the borders of Yi Ti are constantly shifting depending on who makes the maps and which emperor is sitting on the throne at any time. The current borders are generally held to be the Dry Bones and the Great Sand Sea in the far north-west, the Shrinking Sea and Bleeding Sea in the far north, the Mountains of the Morn in the north-east and the Shadow Mountains and their ghost grass-swathed foothills in the far east. Yi Ti is the second-largest nation-state in the known world, outstripped in size only by the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. The Dothraki claim more territory, although they do not rule it as a coherent nation-state.

Despite its name, the Golden Empire is far reduced in size compared to its glorious heyday of several centuries ago, when its borders stretched much further north into the Plains of the Jogos Nhai and south to encompass the island of Leng and several other isles of the Jade Sea, including the east coast of Great Moraq. It is smaller still than the Great Empire of the Dawn, a vast nation which stretched from the Bones to the furthest east beyond the Shadow Lands and Grey Waste and from the Jade Sea to the Shivering Sea. The Great Empire of the Dawn collapsed in the Long Night and Yi Ti emerged as its successor state, suggesting that the current Golden Empire may approach eight thousand years in age, predating Valyria and maybe even Old Ghis.

The Western Provinces

The western provinces of Yi Ti are where most travellers and traders first encounter the Golden Empire. The city of Asabhad is the gateway to Yi Ti, sitting at the mouth of a river on the main road leading west to Qarth (about 500 miles distant) and north to Bayasabhad (450 miles distant). Given the naming convention, Asabhad may have been a city of the Patrimony of Hyrkoon in origin rather than Yi Ti; the city’s modern status is ambiguous, with a strong YiTish influence but also numerous outlanders living within its walls.

From Asabhad, a road leads down the coast for some 600 miles. This stretch of the coast is populous, with numerous small towns and ports dotting the shores. Cultivated farmland extends inland, to where the great jungles and forests of Yi Ti begin.

The Jungles of Yi Ti

Yi Ti’s southern half is dominated by a vast region of jungle and woodland. The maps of this region can be deceptive: rather than one vast unbroken canopy of trees, the jungles are divided by open areas, hills and fields surrounding towns and small cities. The jungles are warm, but they are not the boiling, plague-ridden hell of Sothoryos or the thick, balmy jungles of the Summer Isles. The jungles of Yi Ti are very hospitable, giving rise to Yi Ti’s enormous population. The jungle region of Yi Ti extends for 1,400 miles along the northern coast of the Jade Sea and extending for over 700 miles inland.

The great city of Yin sits on the coast of the Jade Sea, where a mighty river flows into the sea. Yin is the traditional capital of Yi Ti and is (usually) the largest city of the Empire. A vast, sprawling metropolis, the only city of the west that can rival it in size is Volantis and maybe Qarth. More than a million people appear to live in and around the city, from where the 17th Azure Emperor Bu Gai rules over the Empire. In practice Bu Gai’s remit does not extend that far from the city itself, and his rule is challenged by the rival Pol Qo of Trader Town, the 1st Orange Emperor, and the Sorcerer-Lord of Carcosa, who claims the title of 69th Yellow Emperor.

Hundreds of miles upriver and inland, deep in the heart of the jungle, lies the ruined city of Si Qo, from where the Scarlet Emperors of Yi Ti ruled for centuries before they were pulled from power following several disastrous expeditions against the Jogos Nhai.

The Eastern Provinces

The eastern provinces extend from the delta of a vast river into the fabled Shadow Lands. This region is ruled from Jinqi, an extensive and large city located on the river delta. The Maroon Dynasty established its capital in Jinqi at a time when Yi Ti’s borders were hard-pressed by raiders out of the Shadow Lands. Wearing red, lacquered masks, the raiders tested the boundaries of Yi Ti until the Maroon Emperors decisively defeated them, driving them back into the mountainous Shadow Lands. However, the Emperors forbade punitive expeditions, fearing that their armies could not return from the shadow-drenched lands of the mysterious east.

The eastern provinces are dominated by jungle in the south and vast areas of cultivated farmland in the north, extending for over 400 miles to the towering Mountains of the Morn. To the south-west, a river divides the Yi Ti frontier from the Shadow Lands. This region is infested with ghost grass, a form of white grass which poisons other crops and kills them. According to the Dothraki of the far west, ghost grass will one day consume the entire world. Given the remoteness of the Dothraki Sea from this region (between 2,500 and 3,000 miles away), it is curious that they have even heard of ghost grass, let alone developed legends around it.

The Northern Provinces

The northern provinces of Yi Ti cover fully half of the Empire. This region is dominated by utterly immense, cultivated farmlands which extend across colossal distances. The better part of a thousand miles separate the Great Sand Sea from the Bleeding Sea, and this space is filled with farmsteads, towns and small cities, linked by numerous roads. This is the breadbasket of Yi Ti, the food supply for the huge, hungry coastal cities of the south.

The largest city in this region is Tiqui, the seat of the old Purple Emperors. Tiqui is a vast, thriving metropolis linked by good roads to Bayasabhad (450 miles to the west, around the fringes of the Great Sand Sea) and Trader Town (300 miles to the north).

Trader Town is another large city, located near the northernmost territory reliably claimed by the Empire. The city lies athwart the Steel Road which leads north and west around the Great Sand Sea, through the Howling Hills and into the Bone Mountains, to the city of Kayakayanaya. Trader Town is so-named for its reputation for trade and commerce with the lands to the west. It is also heavily fortified due to the threat of the Jogos Nhai, whose territory lies not far north of the city. General Pol Qo has recently seized Trader Town, proclaimed himself the first emperor of the Orange Dynasty and laid claim to all of Yi Ti, but has so far not moved against the southern provinces.

Not far east of Trader Town lies the Shrinking Sea. Once an immense lake, this body of water has driven up over the millennia, leaving behind just two shallow lakes and a lot of mud. Some maesters believe that the Shrinking Sea has shrunk due to the long impact of the unpredictable seasons, a similar fate to the Silver Sea of western Essos and the Great Sand Sea, although of course this does not explain how the sea formed in the first place.

Almost 600 miles separate the Shrinking Sea from the Bleeding Sea. This is the northern-most frontier of Yi Ti, patrolled by imperial armies and defended by infrequent forts. The frontier is frequently raided by the Jogos Nhai, but it is some centuries since a zhattar unified a really large army to trouble the Empire.

The Bleeding Sea is a large lake, 100 miles wide and over 500 miles long from north to south. Only the southern-most part of the lake lies within YiTish territory, and it is a remote, sparsely-populated region. The lake is ill-omened for its red waters, although these are caused by a simple and harmless blooming plant. More impressive is what lies on the south-eastern edge of the sea, a colossal network of fortifications to rival that of the Wall of Westeros.

The Five Forts

Located on the far north-eastern frontier of the Golden Empire are the Five Forts, a name given to five immense bastions and a network of smaller garrisons and walls between them. Each one of the Five Forts is made of fused black stone and extends reportedly 1,000 feet into the sky, making them the tallest man-made structures in the world, out-topping even the Wall and the High Tower of Oldtown in Westeros. Each one of the Five Forts is reported to be able to garrison 10,000 men. This array of fortifications stretches for about 250 miles, from the south-eastern coast of the Bleeding Sea to the Mountains of the Morn, forming a near-impassable barrier to travel between Yi Ti and the lands beyond.

The origin of the Five Forts is unclear. They certainly predate the Golden Empire and the Long Night. Some historians date their construction to the Pearl Emperor of the Great Empire of the Dawn, who built them to defend against the armies of the Lion of Night in the Dawn of Days, but maesters cast scorn on this story. Some similarities between the Five Forts and the dragon-forged structures of Valyria have been reported, but they long predate the Valyrian Freehold and, despite rumours of dragons in the Shadow Lands to the south-east, no reliable stories or histories place dragons in this region.

Beyond the Five Forts lies a 300-mile-wide region of wilderness inhabited by tribes of men called “Shrykes”. The Shrykes wear the skins of lizards and are hostile raiders, but they certainly do not represent a major threat to Yi Ti or to the Five Forts. It is assumed that whatever threat the Five Forts were built to defend against is long dead.

South and east of the Five Forts, on the other side of the Mountains of the Morn, lies a hidden valley, a hidden sea and a mysterious city where a sorcerer-king has recently proclaimed himself the 69th Yellow Emperor of Yi Ti. Again, this individual has made no move against the imperial heartlands so far.

Leng

The island of Leng lies just off the coast of Yi Ti. Until 400 years ago it was ruled by the emperors, but it threw off the shackles of conquest and became independent once again. However, the Lengii maintain strong ties with Yi Ti and try to avoid open warfare.

The island of Leng is 450 miles long from north to south and about 200 miles wide. It sits in the eastern Jade Sea, with less than 50 miles separating it from the mainland.

Leng is covered by jungle, within which sit curious, ancient ruins. According to Lengii tradition, great caves lead to fathomless depths, from where a race known only as the “Old Ones” ruled the island and commanded the native inhabitants. The YiTish collapsed most of these caves and banned any further worship of the Old Ones, but the tradition of following their teachings remains.

The northern two-thirds of Leng is dominated by the descendants of YiTish colonists; the southern third is dominated by the original Lengii. The ruler of Leng, who styles herself the God-Empress, rules in a line of matriarchal descent but takes two husbands, one from the Lengii area of the island and one from the YiTish, to maintain balance.

There are three major cites on Leng: Leng Yi on the north-eastern coast, 180 miles or so south-west of Jinqi in Yi Ti; Leng Ma on the west coast, some 250 miles south of Leng Yi; and Turrani on the south coast. Leng Yi and Leng Ma are YiTish cities in origin whilst Turrani is Lengii. Turrani also has the intriguing honour of being the closet major city to the fabled and feared metropolis of Asshai, located just 600 miles further south and east across the eastern reach of the Jade Sea.

North of Yi Ti lies another land of mysterious legends and myths, ruled by the zorse-riding warriors of the Jogos Nhai.

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Geographic Map 22: The Summer Isles

The Summer Isles lie far to the south of Westeros and the Free Cities. A land of unrelenting summer, beautiful wildlife and friendly (but not foolish) natives, the Summer Isles sound like a paradise.

The Summer Islands

Map of the Summer Isles. Click for more detail.

The Summer Isle archipelago consists of over fifty islands. There are three major islands, (Walano, Omboru and Jhala), over twenty intermediate-sized ones and more than twenty-five which are too small to appear on maps but are large enough to host colonies of birds or small tribes of men. The northern-most island, Stone Head, lies approximately 750 miles south of the south coast of Dorne and about the same south-west of Lys, whilst the island of Naath lies some 500 miles east of Jhala. The coast of Sothoryos lies an unclear distance to the south-east of Jhala. From north to south the archipelago spans just over 1,200 miles and some 1,100 miles from west to east.

The Summer Isles are divided into numerous small kingdoms, each ruled by its own prince or princess. These rulers sometimes come into conflict with one another, but do not fight wars. Instead they engage in ritualised combat resembling Westerosi tourneys, with the losers sent into exile. The Summer Isles have occasionally banded together as one people, most notably in the Slavers’ Wars when they turned back the pirates of the Stepstones and Basilisk Isles who sought to turn the islands into a source of slaves, but these periods are rare.

Walano

The most populous of the Summer Isles, Walano is the northern-most of the three main islands. 500 miles long and over 100 miles wide, the island is sizeable and home to the archipelago’s most notable settlements. Lotus Point, the largest city and main trading hub of the islands, is located on the south-western coast. Tall Trees Town, home to the largest collection of knowledge in the isles (via the vast grove of Talking Trees, which have the history of the islands carved into their trunks), is located 200 miles to the south, on the south-western coast of the island. The town of Last Lament is located on the north-western coast of the island, so called because it is the last port of call for Summer Islands before they cross the Summer Sea towards Oldtown and Dorne.

Walano may be the oldest-settled of the islands; the Ghiscari record the island as being inhabited well over five thousand years ago, when an expedition landed on the island after being blown off course and were forced to flee by the natives. This led to Walano being shunned as the “Island of Demons” for several centuries, until the Summer Islanders themselves ventured beyond their shores and made peaceful contact with Valyria to the north-east and Dorne to the north-west.

Omboru

The island of Omboru is located to the south of Walano, across the Smiling Sea. The smallest of the three major islands (at around 350 miles across and less than 100 miles wide), it consists of densely-packed jungle and appears to be the most lightly-inhabited of the three main isles as well, with no major cities or towns.

Jhala

Jhala is the largest of the Summer Isles, measuring over 600 miles from tip to tip and over 200 miles in width. It is located south of Omboru, across the Indigo Straits. Jhala is dominated by two towering mountain ranges which run along the coasts, dividing the interior into several pleasant river valleys. Sweet Lotus Vale is located in the west of the island and Red Flower Vale in the east. Red Flower Vale was recently the site of a major power struggle, which ended with Prince Jalabhar Xho being sent into exile. He has since taken up residence in the Red Keep of King’s Landing in Westeros, where he regularly petitions King Robert Baratheon for aid in retaking his homeland.

The city of Ebonhead lies at the mouth of the Sweet Lotus River, on Parrot Bay. This was once the seat of Xanda Qo, the famed warrior-princess who united the Islands and helped drive off the slavers. Her daughter Chatana inherited her crown and ended the wars with a decisive victory, but was unable to maintain the unity of the islands, which later fragmented into independent kingdoms.

The south-eastern part of the island is a peninsula, the Golden Head, extending into the Summer Sea. The small island of Lizard Head lies off the coast, so-named for the lizards that bask in the sun on its shores.

The Lesser Islands

The island of Stone Head lies off the north coast of Walano. It is named for the large carved face which stares north across the seas towards Westeros.

The Singing Stones, located west of Omboru, are so-called for their jagged mountain peaks and curious rock formations which cause the winds to make “singing” sounds as they pass over the isles.

Koj, located between Walano and Omboru in the Smiling Sea, is the centre of the isles’ shipbuilding efforts. The Pearl Palace, seat of the Princes of Koj, is home to a remarkable map collection, access to which is strictly rationed.

Abulu, better-known as the Isle of Women, is located off the north-eastern coast of Walano. The island is small but habitable. It was settled by the Rhoynar during their flight from the Valyrians. The island was too small for the hundreds of thousands of refugees, so Princess Nymeria led them on to Dorne, but a small number remained behind. Their inhabitants continue to live on the island to this day, a fierce and proud people of mixed Summer Islander and Rhoynish blood.

Other named islands include Xon, the BonesDoquuMoluu, the Three Exiles, the Isle of Love and Isle of Birds.

According to the Summer Islanders, at one time they attempted to colonise the western coast of Sothoryos, which lies to the south-east of their islands (far south of Basilisk Point). However, these attempts were all defeated by the same misfortune and bad luck which destroyed other colonies on the continent. It is believed that the Summer Islands have explored and chartered the west coast of Sothoryos for thousands of miles far to the south, but, if so, they have refused to share these maps with others. Presumably they remain, under heavy guard, in the Pearl Palace of Koj.

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Geographic Map 21: Sothoryos

To the south of Essos and far to the south-east of the Seven Kingdoms lies a savage, desperate and highly dangerous land. This is a world alien to that of men, a land of fierce, unrelenting heat, endless jungles, vast deserts and savage creatures, not to mention plagues that erupt without warning and kill indiscriminately. This is the remote, mostly unexplored and forbidding third continent of the known world and the most southerly location we know of: Sothoryos.

Sothoryos

The explored region of Sothoryos. Click to embiggen.

Sothoryos is located some 2,600 miles south-east of the eastern tip of Dorne, and about 750 miles south of central Essos. The far northern coast of Sothoryos lies south of Ghiscar and Slaver’s Bay, and south-east of Valyria. The continent is bordered by the Summer Sea to the north and presumably west, and the Jade Sea to the north-east. The southern and eastern-most boundaries of the continent have not yet been measured by any reliable reports.

The explored portion of Sothoryos measures some 1,750 miles from east to west and 1,100 miles from north to south. Despite its proximity to Essos, the continent has never been thoroughly mapped. Ancient Qartheen maps depicted Sothoryos as an island twice the size of Great Moraq, but this was clearly guesswork. The Ghiscari undertook surveys of the coast and concluded that Sothoryos was comparable to Westeros in size, suggesting a north-south oriented continent 3,000 miles or more in length. Later, the Valyrians undertook an exploration of the interior of the continent, flying on dragons far over the interior and to the south. Unfortunately this mission seems to have been more for amusement than for the purposes of exacting topographical exploration, to the frustration of many maesters. The Valyrian exploration suggested a continent comparable in size to Essos, meaning truly vast and apparently without end. The Qartheen have undertaken more recent explorations of the eastern coast of Sothoryos but have never found the bottom of the continent, whilst the Summer Islanders have likewise explored the west coast in their formidable swan ships, but have declined to share their discoveries with outsiders.

Northern Sothoryos

The northern portion of Sothoryos straddles the equator, which maesters believe should be the hottest part of the entire world. This region is covered in jungle and woodlands. The temperature in Sothoryos is stifling, the jungle moist and humid beyond belief, to the point where simply walking around is an incredible effort. The attraction of shedding clothes and going bare-chested is clear, but is also extremely dangerous, due to ticks, blood-sucking leeches and parasites capable of dropping from trees and burrowing into the skin. More than one exploration of the continent has ended in madness, plague, dehydration, starvation and death.

Dense jungle covers most of the explored portion of Sothoryos, but the foliage does break and fall back in the centre of the landmass, where the great River Zamoyos meets the Summer Sea in a vast, many-branched delta. The source of the Zamoyos is unknown: several expeditions launched deep upriver by the Ghiscari simply failed to return. The most successful mission reported that the river runs south for some 700 miles before opening into a large and substantial lake, which is fed by several lesser waterways. The lake is massive, more than 300 miles long and more than 50 miles wide. The Zamoyos is assumed to continue at the southern end of the lake, where a wide river extends south for another hundred miles or so. However at that point the relatively light jungle of the north gives way to the horrific landscape known as the Green Hell, so the explorers turned back and wisely lived to tell the tale.

The Zamoyos Delta is the most habitable part of the mainland of Sothoryos, although it is still hot, humid and unpleasant, with marshlands and swamps extending for dozens of miles along the coast. Crocodiles dwarfing even the formidable lizard-lions of the Neck in Westeros can be found in these waters. One part of the coast is elevated slightly above the rest, forming an effective island between several arms of the Zamoyos which is marginally more tolerable than the land around it. It was here, over five thousand years ago, that the Ghiscari founded the city of Zamettar. The city was the springboard for the Ghiscari exploration of the continent, but very few other colonisation efforts succeeded, apart from the settling of Gorosh to the east and Gorgai to the west.

Still, Zamettar endured, possibly more through stubbornness than sense. The city finally fell during the Fourth Ghiscari War, when the dragons of Valyria, escorting a fleet, captured the city in battle. The Valyrians were initially pleased with their conquest and planting their banner on a new continent, but rapidly discovered what the Ghiscari had before them, that the southern continent was a land of great promise but almost lethal danger. The Valyrians strove to tame Sothoryos for a time, the legendary explorer Jaenaera Belaerys taking her dragon Terrax on a daring three-year exploration of the lands to the south, but even she failed to find any sign of civilisation, or even the far end of the continent. Eventually the Valyrians abandoned Zamettar as more trouble than it was worth, the last dragonlords departing circa 1700 BC. The city was briefly repopulated around 700 BC by Nymeria and her Rhoynar followers, but they found the land far too hostile and they soon moved on, set on the course that would lead them to Dorne.

Wyvern Point

Wyvern Point is a peninsula in the far north-east of Sothoryos. This region extends along the Jade Sea and Summer Sea, with the island of Lesser Moraq located just off the coast. Wyvern Point is also covered in jungle and swamps, but is so-named for the large numbers of wyverns located within the treeline. Wyverns are smaller and far less dangerous relatives of dragons, but they are still extremely dangerous creatures, best-avoided.

Wyvern Point is lacking in interesting features apart from one excellent habourage. The Ghiscari established a port on the harbour, Gorosh, which they used as a penal colony during the days of the Old Empire. However, like so many other colonies in Sothoryos, it could not survive the harsh climate and harsher inhabitants, and was eventually abandoned.

Basilisk Point

Located in the far north-west of Sothoryos, Basilisk Point is a peninsula forming the west coast of a very wide (200 mile) bay. Basilisk Point is – marginally – more habitable than the jungles to the south and east, and there have been several attempts to colonise it. The Valyrians settled a colony in this region but it was soon destroyed. The Rhoynar founded two towns during Nymeria’s flight from Essos, but both were sacked by corsairs and the people taken into slavery.

Yeen

Yeen is a ruined city, located 300 miles upriver from Zamettar. It is a very curious ruin, however, consisting of buildings built out of a curious black stone which is oily and disturbing to the touch. The blocks are enormous, each requiring a dozen elephants or more to move, but seem to have been cut, lifted and fused together by means unknown. Even more curious is the fact that the city has no discernible point of origin. It appears to be older, by far, than any human city in the known world, far older than even Old Ghis or the oldest stones of Moat Cailin or the oldest cities in Yi Ti or Sarnor. Only Asshai, the origins of which are likewise mysterious, can challenge Yeen as the oldest city in the world.

Every attempt to resettle Yeen has resulted in horror. Located far inland, with only the Zamoyos providing any kind of easy approach to the city, the jungle surrounds it on all sides, although, curiously, the jungle has never fully reclaimed it. But sickness, plague, heat and the dangerous inhabitants of Sothoryos, the so-called “Brindled Men”, are a constant threat to the ruins. Every Ghiscari and Valyrian attempt to claim the ruins failed. The last known attempt was by the Rhoynar, who founded a new settlement amongst the ruins of Yeen. The settlement seemed to flourish for several months but then went quiet. A ship sent by Nymeria to investigate found that the settlement had been abandoned, every man, woman and child living there simply gone without a trace.

Sothoryos Hypothetical

A highly speculative and dubious map of Sothoryos, taking into account the discoveries of the Valyrian exploration of the continental interior. Click for more detail.

The Green Hell and Southern Sothoryos

Beyond Yeen and the lake of the upper Zamoyos, the jungle abruptly becomes thicker, hotter and more savage. This region is called the Green Hell, and makes the jungles to the north – which are still extraordinarily dangerous – look safe and inviting by comparison. The Green Hell is packed with dangerous insects, snakes big enough to kill wolves, the feared vampire bats (which can drain the blood out of a fully-grown man in minutes) and is the home of the Brindled Men, the immensely large, strong and vicious humanoid inhabitants of Sothoryos. They are distinctly non-human, and would be considered a myth save for the occasional specimen who shows up in the fighting pits of Slaver’s Bay. The Brindled Men are intelligent, after a fashion, but display a love for violence, killing and savage perversity that is deeply disturbing.

The landscape of the Green Hell is unmapped in detail since no sane person would venture far into it, and every attempt which has been made has ended in slaughter. This danger seems to extend to the coasts, with ships that make landfall generally not surviving to return home again. The only way past the Green Hell is by air, with the Valyrian expedition led by Jaenaera Belaerys on dragonback passing far overhead and managing to just about traverse the region before landing to the south. This suggests that the Green Hell might be over a thousand miles across, given the known distances that dragons can traverse with riders before requiring rest.

South of the Green Hell, far beyond the edge of any reliable map, the jungles of Sothoryos seem to terminate at a titanic series of mountain ranges. Beyond this lies a region of utterly vast deserts, dwarfing the Red Waste of Essos and the the deep deserts of Dorne in size. Barren and lifeless, this desert region extends in all directions for tremendous distances. At the fringes of the desert the Valyrians found more mountains and, more jungles (presumably giving way to more temperate forests in the south, far away from the equator). Three years into their mission, the Valyrians gave up the effort and turned for home.

The Basilisk Isles

Lying off the north-western coast of Sothoryos lies the Basilisk Isles, very occasionally called the Corsair Isles. These islands are so-called for the basilisks which can be founded in the wild. The forbidding name is also apt for the pirates and corsairs who infest the islands.

The islands extend in an arc for roughly 800 miles, from the Isle of Flies in the far west to Ax Isle in the far east.

The largest and most southerly of the islands is the Isle of Tears, which is roughly 100 miles wide. This island consists of steep valleys, studded with dark bogs and rugged flint hills. On the south coast is a good anchorage, where, well over five thousand years ago (according to tradition), the Ghiscari founded the city of Gorgai. The Valyrians seized the city in the Third Ghiscari War and renamed it Gogossos, using it as a penal colony for centuries. After the Doom of Valyria, Gogossos grew powerful and rich on the slave trade, corsairs seizing captives from nearby Naath and the mainland of Sothoryos to sell in their thousands. After the fall of Essaria to the Dothraki, Gogossos was nicknamed the “Tenth Free City” and may have even become that in truth. But, seventy-seven years after the Doom of Valyria, the Red Death erupted on the Isle of Tears. Nine out of ten of the population was wiped out by a horrific plague and the city of Gogossos and the entire island was abandoned.

North and east of the Isle of Tears is the Isle of Toads. This island is inhabited by strange people with fishlike faces and webbed fingers and toes. There are many small villages and towns on the island, but the strangest feature is the Toad Stone, a forty-foot-tall statue made of the same black, oily stone found in Yeen. The statue represents a toad of unpleasant aspect. It is considered cursed and shunned by outsiders, explaining how the isle and its people survive despite being surrounded by pirates and corsairs.

North of the Isle of Tears is Talon, the second-largest of the islands, so-named because it resembles a claw from above, 150 miles long with several peninsulas and headlands extending into the surrounding sea. It is the home of many of the pirates, with the largest pirate stronghold, Barter Beach, located on its shores. It is a rough and ready place, very dangerous to visit, but profitable for those with the stomach and the will. To the west, on the open sea, lies the Isle of Flies, presumably named for the insects which crowd the island in numbers. The island is the home of a rough alliance of pirates, the Brotherhood of Bones, which troubles the Summer Sea west to the Summer Islands and north to the Free Cities.

East of Talon lies the Howling Mountain, an island consisting of a single tall peak. There are several pirate bases on its shores. North-east lies Skull Island, the home of the most savage pirates who sacrifice captives to a dark god and collect their skulls in vast piles. Finally, in the east lies Ax Isle, one of the most heavily-fortified pirate isles. The Qartheen raider Xandarro Xhoare established a base on the island a century after the Red Death and built a new, formidable stronghold out of the strange black stones found on the Isle of Toads (and several of the other islands in smaller numbers). This stronghold still stands and is still frequently used to export terror and misery to the surrounding seas.

Naath

Naath, the Isle of Butterflies, lies to the west of the Basilisks. More than 200 miles long, it is only 300 miles west of the Isle of Flies and about 350 miles from the Sothoryosi mainland. The island is the home of the Naathi, the Peaceful People, a race of men and women who believe in accepting their fate, never making war, and worshipping their god, the Lord of Harmony.

Naath would certainly have been despoiled and depopulated millennia ago if it wasn’t for a special force protecting it. The island is home to millions of butterflies and caterpillars, who weave the fine silks the Naathi used to sell to traders to take across the known world. However, these are also the source of an infection, the butterfly plague. The plague is unusual in that it doesn’t strike immediately, instead building up for several months before striking. In ancient times, the Ghiscari seized Naath three times before their occupying force was wiped out by the plague. Slavers, corsairs, Valyrians and a sellsword company have at one time or another “conquered” the island only to be wiped out in less than a year. Knowledge of the curse of the butterfly plague became widespread and Valyria warned its sailors never to land there. This resulted in the island being left alone for centuries and possibly millennia. The Naathi, of course, are immune to this plague.

However, it also became known that the plague struck briefly and only after a long period of exposure. As a result, following the Doom of Valyria, the corsairs returned in force. They only allowed their crews to land for a single night, commanding them to take as many captives as possible in brief raids before taking them off. The Naathi responded by withdrawing from the coasts into the interior of the islands. Bolder raids followed, but fear of the plague limits how far the pirates and invaders are prepared to go before turning back to their ships. Naath is still periodically raided, as after long periods without raids the Naathi tend to drift back to the shores, but many of its people remain safe in the deep interior of the island.

Almost 600 miles to the west of Naath lies another land of – mostly – peace, plenty and beauty: the Summer Islands.

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Geographic Map 20: The Red Waste, Jade Gates and Great Moraq

The continent of Essos was once home to a long-lived and remarkably enduring people and civilisation: the Qaathi. They are mentioned in the oldest legends of the east, contemporaries of the Fisher Queens and the Great Empire of the Dawn, older even than the first flowering of Old Ghis. The lived in the western shadow of the Bone Mountains, ranging far and wide across the eastern Grasslands and along the banks of the Skahazadhan.

The Red Waste, Jade Gates and Great Moraq

The Red Waste and Western Jade Sea. Click to embiggen.

At some point in the remote past they were displaced from their ancestral homelands, forced south and east by the rise of Sarnor, Old Ghis and the first nomadic incursions by the ancient ancestors of the Dothraki. They found a new homeland, located south and west of the Bones. This was a vast stretch of countryside, fed by numerous rivers and running along the coast of the verdant Summer Sea. Here, on an excellent harbour on the straits linking the Summer Sea to the Jade Sea, they founded what would become the greatest of all their settlements: Qarth, the Queen of Cities.

The Qartheen built other cities, including Qolahn, Qarkash and Yhos, along with numerous towns in the interior. A network of roads was constructed, linking the Qaathi cities with the Ghiscari Empire to the west, the Sarnori city-states (and, later, Lhazar) to the north-west and the great Great Empire and its successor, Yi Ti, to the east along the coast. In the wake of the Long Night the Patrimony of Hyrkoon was founded and expanded west of the Bone Mountains, establishing Yinishar at the mouth of the Steel Pass on the northern fringes of Qaathi territory. It is possible that conflict may have erupted, but instead the two powers chose trade. When Ghis was laid low by Valyria, the Qaathi welcomed the dragonlords as trading partners and potential allies. The Valyrians had little interest in the Qaathi, aside from ensuring that they did not attempt to tax or levy Valyrian ships passing through the Jade Gates on their way to the fabled east.

Several centuries before the Doom of Valyria, the Qaathi noticed that the lands were becoming less fertile. The inland salt lake to the north-east, which the Dothraki forebears already called the Poison Sea, may have been responsible for this, but some believe that the repeated toll of long winters and long summers had simply sapped the life out of the land. Whatever the cause, the Qaathi heartlands began to dry up and then experienced desertification. In a remarkably swift period of time the Qaathi had to begin abandoning the interior, drifting south towards the coast.

This would have likely been a more leisurely and natural exodus, but then the Doom of Valyria took place and the Dothraki rode out of the east to destroy mighty Sarnor. Several Dothraki khalasars, seeing that the chances of booty in the west were reduced due to numbers, instead swept south into the Qaathi lands. They obliterated several cities, reducing them to Vaes Orvik (“City of the Whip”, due to the number of slaves taken in the sacking) and Vaes Shirosi (“City of Scorpions”). They also destroyed mighty Qohlan, renaming the ruins Vaes Qosar (“City of Spiders”). Vaes Tolorro (“The City of Bones”) was likewise abandoned, but its walls and many of its buildings are said by some explorers to still be intact, suggesting it was evacuated ahead of the Dothraki advance or was spared and later abandoned due to the encroaching desert.

The Dothraki turned back from the coast, sparing Qarth, Qarkash and Yhos. The reasons for this are unclear, but the Dothraki were far from home and the horse-riders feared the deep desert to the east. Thanks to the blood spilled as well as the colours of the sands, it was given a new name: the Red Waste.

The Red Waste

The Red Waste is the largest desert in the known world, although some ancient Valyrian records claim that much vaster areas of wasteland and desert exist further south in Sothoryos. The desert measures at least 1,000 miles across from north to south and around 800 miles across from east to west, although its size is debatable. The desert does not have sharp margins, with instead the land very gradually turning more desolate and barren from the fringes inwards.

Still, the borders of the Red Waste are held very roughly as the hills of south-eastern Lhazar to the north-west, the Poison Sea to the north-east, the Bone Mountains to the east and the coast to the south. To the west the land becomes more fertile until it opens into the sheep-farming country of southern Lhazar, beyond which lies the Ghiscari hills and mountains.

The Red Waste is dry, barren and virtually uninhabitable. A few intact wells can still be found, particularly in the ruins of some of the towns and cities sacked by the Dothraki or abandoned to the desert, but crossing the Waste is a formidable and difficult and task. Its presence, along with the possibility of encountering hostile Dothraki khalasars to its north, has routed a lot of trade and travel by sea to the south instead, through the Straits of Qarth.

The Jade Gates

The Jade Gates or Straits of Qarth (although some suggest that the two names are not synonymous, the Gates instead being the narrowest part of the gap, which is less than 30 miles wide) divide the Summer Sea to the west from the Jade Sea to the east and the continent of Essos to the north from the island of Great Moraq to the south. More than four hundred miles long, they form one of the busiest waterways in the known world, with ships from the Summer Islands, the Free Cities, Slaver’s Bay and even remote Westeros (which is located more than 3,900 miles to the west) passing through on their way to the Empire of Yi Ti, the islands of the Jade Sea and, of course, remote, foreboding and threatening Asshai-by-the-Shadow.

The straits are controlled by Qarth, which has a monopoly – or stranglehold – on all travel and trade along their route. Qarth once held the strait with a lighter touch, fearing the power of Valyria to the west and Yi Ti to the east, but with Valyria destroyed in the Doom and Yi Ti more concerned with internal affairs, the Qartheen built a huge fleet to enforce their control of the straits. They conquered the island of Qal in the middle of the strait and fortified it with two fortress-harbours. The Qartheen exact a toll on all ships passing through the Straits, giving them immense riches and allowing them to maintain their city.

Qarth

Qarth is one of the greatest and largest cities in the known world. Only Volantis, Meereen and the cities of Yi Ti can rival it in population and power, and only Asshai is known to be significantly larger (although far less populous). The city is built around an excellent harbour midway along the Straits of Qarth, on the very Jade Gates where the coasts of Essos and Moraq come closest together. On a very clear day the Moraqi coast can be just discerned as a distant line on the horizon.

Qarth is defended by its famed Triple Walls, three enormous, semi-circular fortifications of 30, 40 and 50 feet in height. The walls are inscribed with images of animals, war and lovemaking, respectively. The Triple Walls are one of the man-made Wonders of the World as noted by Lomas Longstrider.

The city is noted for its wide thoroughfares, with great statues of Qaathi and Qartheen heroes standing on top of marble blocks. There are fountains in almost every square, many of they carved into the shape of beasts such as dragons and lions. Dominating the skyline is the Hall of a Thousand Thrones, from where the Pureborn of Qarth dispense laws and justice. Far less ostentatious – but far more feared – is the House of the Undying, sometimes called the Palace of Dust, which is the home of the Warlocks of Qarth. Numerous large estates are located within the walls, one of the most notable of which belongs to the merchant lord Xaro Xhoan Daxos. Three merchant guilds – the Thirteen, the Tourmaline Brotherhood and the Ancient Guild of Spicers – control trade in the city, as well as skirmishing with one another for influence and power. Other notable locations in the city include the Temple of Memory, Warlock’s Way and the Garden of Gehane.

Qarth is an enormous city but also a vulnerable one: the landward side of the city gives way very quickly to the Red Waste. Although the Waste protects the city from the Dothraki better than any walls, it also makes travelling to the city overland difficult. It also prevents a hinterland of farms and market towns from being established to help feed the city. As a result Qarth has to import its food by sea from the coast of Moraq and from other cities to the west and east, as well as by caravan from places such as Lhazar. This is a vulnerable supply chain; if the city was blockaded by sea, it would starve in short order. The Qartheen maintain a huge fleet which guards against this eventuality; no other power on the Summer or Jade Sea has a large enough fleet to challenge them (Yi Ti certainly could if it chose, but it would take years to build).

Qarth’s direct control extends to Qal, a hundred-mile-long island in the east of the Straits of Qarth, and the cities of Qarkash and Port Yhos. Qarkash is located 300 miles to the west of Qarth, and Port Yhos a further 350 miles west of Qarkash. The two settlements provide food and supplies to Qarth itself, as well as acting as waystops for ships less willing to brave the deeps of the Summer Sea as they head west or east.

Great Moraq

Great Moraq is the largest island in the known world (possibly save Ulthos, the status of which remains debatable). 900 miles long from north to south and 450 miles wide at its widest extent in the north, the island acts as a massive barrier between the Summer Sea and the Jade Sea. It is separated from the continent of Essos 30 miles to the north by the Straits of Qarth and Jade Gates, and from the continent of Sothoryos 400 miles to the south-west by the Cinnamon Straits, which are packed with islands large and small.

Great Moraq is relatively fertile and green compared to the Red Waste located across the straits to the north. The northern half of the island is covered by rolling fields and low hills, where many farms spread which feed both the island’s population and the city of Qarth to the north. The north of the island is dominated by Faros, a large city-state located on the west coast near the mouth of a great river. Faros is a notable trade settlement, but it is less powerful than Qarth; prevailing winds and currents carry ships clockwise around the Jade Sea on the the great “trader’s circle”, which  means that ships have no choice but to enter the Jade Sea via Qarth, which has a monopoly on transit, but can come out via Faros, Vahar to the south or braving more westerly routes through the islands closer to Sothoryos. Faros thus lacks Qarth’s monopoly on travel. The people of Faros worship a god known as the “Stone Cow”, and have erected a massive statue to this deity in the city. It is an impressive, if slightly incongruous, monument.

The southern half of Moraq is covered in dense jungles and forests. At the southern tip of the island, more than 650 miles from Faros, is Port Moraq, a thriving and bustling trade city.

Moraq’s west coast is more densely populated than the eastern; due to currents and prevailing winds there is no call for ships to pass along the east coast. The island is reasonably populous but not rich in resources. It was conquered by the Empire of Yi Ti under Jar Joq, one of the sea-green God Emperors, but there was relatively little profit in doing so and many of the Moraqi simply faded away into the jungle until the invaders abandoned the effort.

Other Islands of Note

The island and city of Vahar lies about 170 miles south of Faros. It is an important centre of the world spice trade and gives the Cinnamon Straits their name. South-west of Vahar lies Lesser Moraq. A sizeable island (270 miles long, 150 miles wide), Lesser Moraq is covered in dense jungle and does not appear to be inhabited, at least not be civilised men. Less than seventy miles separates Lesser Moraq from Wyvern Point on the far north-eastern coast of Sothoryos. Although the waters between the island and the mainland appear to be traversable, ships usually stay well to the east out of fear of the plagues and savage creatures said to inhabit the southern continent.

An even larger island lies about a hundred miles to the south of Lesser Moraq, but curiously it has never been given a name (at least one that has stuck). Beyond this island the cost of Sothoryos extends southwards (and possibly somewhat eastwards) for, allegedly, thousands of miles, with both the ancient Valyrians and the more contemporary Qartheen claiming to have never found a bottom to the continent.

200 miles south-east of Port Moraq lies Zabhad, another trading city located on the north coast of the Isle of Elephants. According to sailors, the isle is ruled by a shan from the so-called Palace of Ivory. Elephants, unsurprisingly, are commonly found on the island.

600 miles to the north, located some 250 miles off the coast of Great Moraq in the western reaches of the Jade Sea, is the Isle of Whips. The island is a noted slaver trading post and a waystop for ships heading east; the coast of Yi Ti lies only 300 miles to the north-east.

South and west of this region lies a land with a name that means only one thing: fear. The southern continent of Sothoryos is a land of burning deserts, thick jungles, boiling plagues, shrieking monsters and unrelenting mystery.

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Geographic Map 19: Ibben and the Bone Mountains

East of the Dothraki Sea lies the edge of the known world, where true and reliable knowledge gives way to increasingly outlandish fables and legends. Part of the reason for this is a towering barrier that splits the continent of Essos in two: the Bone Mountains. Bisecting the continent from north to south, the Bones stand as a daunting barrier to travel and commerce. Difficult to traverse and unrelentingly hostile, the Bones force a lot of travel to the south, through the Jade Sea, and to the north, through the island nation of Ibben.

Ibben

The island and territories of Ibben. Click to embiggen (or embibben).

Ibben

Ibben is a kingdom which sprawls across several islands in the Shivering Sea and colonies on the northern coast of Essos. In ancient times, when Ibben was ruled by a God-King, the nation controlled a vast swathe of territory extending far to the east and west, reaching as far as the Lorathi islands and the Axe. Ibben’s power has waned. Since the Doom of Valyria, Ibben has been ruled by the Shadow Council and has pursued a policy of mercantile trade.

The homeland of the Ibbenese is Ib, one of the largest islands in the known world. Located off the north coast of Essos, near the Dothraki Sea, Ib measures 600 miles from the north-east to the south-west. It is about 300 miles across from the north-west to south-east, but with several peninsulas extending further into the Shivering Sea.  The mainland of Essos is about 200 miles to the south. The island is mountainous, particularly in the north, and the Ibbenese have great mines built into the hills where they mine and smelt gold, iron and tin. There are also extensive forests, allowing the Ibbenese to trade in timber, animal pelts and amber. Giants are said to have once lived on Ib, but were hunted to extinction. Shaggy unicorns, kin to those on distant Skagos, may also live on Ib.

There are two major cities on Ib. Ib Nor, on the north coast, is home to many whalers and traders. The Port of Ibben on the south coast is the largest port on the Shivering Sea east of Braavos. It is a bustling trade city where whalers, merchants and travellers mingle. Foreigners are permitted to stay in the Port’s trade quarter, but are not allowed in the rest of the city, or the island, without the protection of an Ibbenese host. The Ibbenese who live inland, in the hills and forests, are said to be deeply suspicious of outsiders.

The Ibbenese are the greatest and most prolific whalers in the known world. Their whaling ships can be found as far east as the Thousand Islands and as far west as the Bay of Seals off the north-eastern coast of Westeros, three thousand miles away. The Ibbenese are also among the finest sailors in the world, braving storms that even the ironborn (who live in more clement seas) would balk at. North of Ibben lies nothing but empty grey seas, often wracked by storms, until the endless ice walls of the White Waste appear, over 1,500 miles north of the island. Vast ice floes and icebergs sometimes pass close to Ib, and the Ibbenese treat the northern polar waters with respect.

Given the eastern location of Ib and the undoubted Ibbenese proficiency at sea, some maesters theorise that the Ibbenese must have explored the eastern Shivering Sea in much greater detail than any other Essosi or Westerosi sailors (even the mighty Corlys Velaryon, the Sea Snake, had to turn back a thousand miles or so to the east of Ib), and may even have reached the legendary far eastern coast of the continent. If so, the Ibbenese have refused to release charts of these waters or confirm what other kingdoms and peoples may exist in that direction.

300 miles to the south-east of Ib lies the island of Far Ib. Almost 250 miles long and about 100 miles wide, Far Ib is dominated by an inland mountain chain which the Ibbenese have extensively mined. The small port of Ib Sar exports these minerals back to Ib and to other markets along the Shivering Sea.

South of Ibben, across the Bay of Whales and on the mainland, lies the small port town of New Ibbish. New Ibbish is located on a passable harbour at the northern tip of a small peninsula, which the Ibbenese have walled off from the rest of the continent. The Ibbenese had once colonised more of this coastline, including the much larger city of Ibbish, but that was destroyed by the Dothraki during the Century of Blood.

The Bone Mountains

The Bone Mountains and surrounds. Click to embiggen.

The Realm of Jhogwin and the White Mountains

The Bone Mountains are the tallest and most extensive mountain range in the known world. They extend from north to south for just over 2,000 miles and, including lesser chains and foothills, are well over 300 miles thick for much of that length (in some areas, closer to 500 miles)

The great Bone Mountains begin at the Shivering Sea, although some maesters theorise that the mountains may continue under the waves, with Ib Sar directly to the north being the protrusion above the waters of some of the taller peaks. The northern-most Bones are known as the Krazaaj Zasqa, the White Mountains, for these mountains are covered in snow even during the hottest and longest winters. The tallest peaks in the range – and maybe the world – may be found here, peaks that dwarf even the Giant’s Lance of Westeros. Winds howl through the peaks, glaciers can be found nestling in the highest valleys and the land is desolate and unrelentingly hostile.

According to myth the Jhogwin, or stone giants, once dominated the northern Bones and ranged both west and east, hunting both the ancestors of the Dothraki and the Jogos Nhai. Gharak Squint-Eye, a great jhattar of the Jogos Nhai, is said to have unified the zorse-riders and destroyed the last of the Jhogwin at the Battle of the Howling Hills some centuries before the Doom of Valyria. The White Mountains themselves are believed to be uninhabited, but the Howling Hills to the south-east, at the north-western fringes of the Plains of the Jogos Nhai, are home to bandits and exiles.

The northern Bone Mountains are divided by a great pass, through which a road has been driven. This road extends west to Vaes Dothraki and south-east to Yi Ti. The Steel Road is so-called because of the great battles that have raged along its length. Several times, Dothraki khalasars have braved the pass to assault the great city of Kayakayanaya which sits athwart the trade route, but each time they have been thrown back. The Jogos Nhai have also assaulted the city from the east, seeking revenge for their ancient losses to the Patrimony of Hyrkoon. The city’s massive basalt walls have thrown back countless assaults from both directions (but never both simultaneously, the only eventuality which might trouble the imposing fortress-city) without falling.

Kayakayanaya consists of towering black basalt walls studded with black iron and yellow bones. The city is ruled by the Great Fathers and defended by formidable warrior-women, since the Hyrkoonish religion states that only those who can give birth are allowed to take life in battle. Peaceful traders are allowed to pass through Kayakayanaya (after paying suitable tribute) but are carefully watched to make sure they are not working to undermine the city from within. Kayakayanaya is not the only Hyrkoonish survivor-city in the mountains, but it is located far closer to the centre of both Dothraki and Jogos Nhai power and is thus the most commonly assailed.

The Great Sand Sea

South of the Steel Road lies the central Bones. Less wild than the White Mountains, but still tall and utterly formidable, the mountains are fringed with fertile foothills to the west, through which the Dothraki race their horses. The eastern side of the mountains is more dramatic, with the mountains falling through ragged hills into a desolate land of canyons and deserts: the Great Sand Sea. The Great Sand Sea was once a jumbled lowland area of lakes, rivers and fertile fields, divided into small kingdoms and city-states. This was the heartland of the Patrimony of Hyrkoon, a great nation-state which arose in the aftermath of the Long Night. According to legend, the hero Azhor Azhai, Hyrkoon in the local language, came from this region and it was here that he forged the sword Lightbringer before taking it into battle against the darkness, eventually proving victorious and lifting the Long Night.

The accuracy of this story is uncertain, but it is clear that the legend left behind a powerful legacy, with the Patrimony of Hyrkoon surviving for thousands of years before the Dry Times descended. The lakes and rivers dried up and became a wasteland. The Patrimony collapsed, its people retreating behind the walls of Kayakayanaya, Samyriana and Bayasabhad.

The Great Sand Sea measures approximately 1,000 miles from north to south and is around 400 miles wide at its widest point. The ruins of ancient cities can be found in its depths, along with river beds. Maesters believe that at one time the Great Sand Sea may have been an inland sea. By the time of the Long Night it had already dried up somewhat into many smaller lakes and seas, but since that time has become completely barren. Similar processes may also be responsible for the Shrinking Sea to the east and the Red Waste and the disappearance of the Silver Sea to the west, across the Bones.

The Great Sand Sea is mostly uninhabited, but for the bold there is one track that leads from Samyriana to Trader Town on the borders of Yi Ti, right across the heart of the wasteland. This route is not recommended, but brave merchants desperate to shave weeks off their travel times often make the attempt, with the survivors greatly enriched.

Samyriana and Bayasabhad

South of the Steel Road and Kayakayanaya lies its sister fortress-cities of Samyriana. Samyriana is less immediately-imposing than Kayakayanaya with the bulk of its defences oriented against an attack by the Dothraki to the west; the Jogos Nhai lie too far to the north-east across the Great Sand Sea to be as imminent a threat. Samyriana lacks Kayakayanaya’s formidable basalt and iron walls, instead being built directly into the mountain rock itself.

Squatting across the the Stone Road 550 miles south of Kayakayanaya, Samyriana remains a rich and notable settlement, even if its golden age as the greatest city on the Silk Route is millennia in the past. At one time trade caravans made their way from Slaver’s Bay, the Free Cities and even Westeros east through Samyriana towards the Patrimony of Hyrkoon and the Empire of Yi Ti. Although longer than the sea route via the Jade Sea, it was safer and less threatened by pirates. The Doom of Valyria made this route even more appealing, but the emergence of the Dothraki, the destruction of the Patrimony and the spread of the Red Waste combined to make it a less practical route. The Dothraki destroyed Samyriana’s partner-city of Yinishar which guarded the western entrance to the Steel Pass, making the route feel even less secure.

Further south lies the Sand Road. This pass splits the central Bone Mountains from the far southern end of the range, the Dry Bones. Bayasabhad, 450 miles south of Samyriana, is located near the eastern end of the Sand Road Pass. Like its two northern sister-cities, Bayasabhad guards its route through the mountains and is a formidable fortress, but the city is also less martial. The Red Waste has effectively sealed off the trade routes to the west and is never troubled by the Dothraki, whilst to the south-east lies the more peaceable neighbour of Yi Ti. Roads lead south to Asabhad, a port on the far north-western Jade Sea, and east to Tiqui and the northern fringes of the Yi Ti Empire.

The Dry Bones fall into the sea in another jumbled mass of peaks and islands, with Qal and the other islands of the Straits of Qarth (or Jade Gates) potentially being an extension of the mountain range under the waves.

To the south and west of the Dry Bones lies a forbidding land which even the Dothraki fear to enter: the Red Waste and, beyond it, the rich lands of Great Moraq and the Jade Sea.

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Geographic Map 18: The Dothraki Sea

East of the Free City of Qohor, beyond the great forest that gives the city its name, the terrain abruptly changes. A flat plain extends to the horizon, broken only by low hills in the north but completely covered in grass. This grassplain extends east for two and a half thousand miles, almost rivalling the distance from the Wall to the Summer Sea in Westeros, before abruptly ending in the foothills of the towering Bone Mountains. This flat plain, when viewed from the mountains or hills, looks like a green sea, which gives it its name.

Dothraki Sea

The Dothraki Sea and surrounds. Click to embiggen.

The term “Dothraki Sea” is a relatively new one, displacing the simple name “The Grasslands” that used to apply to this vast region and was used by the Valyrians, the Ghiscari and the ancient Qaathi for millennia. The term came into use between three and four centuries ago when Khal Mengo united the disparate and scattered tribes of the far eastern Grasslands and swept west in a crusade of blood and fire. In the Century of Blood the Dothraki destroyed no less than twenty-one major cities, tore down the ancient kingdom of Sarnor and destroyed the Valyrian cities of Essaria, Hazdahn Mo and Ghardaq. Their advance was turned back at the Battle of Qohor and the expansion of the Red Waste in the south. During the Bleeding Years the Dothraki established an area of control bigger than the Empire of Yi Ti and almost rivalling the Seven Kingdoms in size.

For outsiders, the Dothraki Sea can appear featureless, a monotonous slog of never-ending grass that has to be endured for the weeks it takes to cross to Vaes Dothrak. But the Dothraki have many names for different parts of the sea, and for the ruins that dot its expanse.

Ruins of Valyria

In the far west of the Dothraki Sea, the flat plains are interrupted by one regular feature: a Valyrian road extending east from Qohor. 400 miles east of Qohor, the road passes through an immense ruin, a shattered series of stone buildings, torn-down city walls and collapsed wells. Essaria was once a great caravan and trading city, founded by the Valyrian Freehold to facilitate trade with the Kingdom of Sarnor to the east. It was self-governing within the wider structure of the Freehold and, in the immediate aftermath of the Doom of Valyria, it declared itself a tenth Free City. However, almost a century later the city was overrun and destroyed by the Dothraki khalasar under Khal Temmo. The Dothraki renamed the city Vaes Khadokh, “The City of Corpses”, for the death toll in the city was staggering even by Dothraki standards. In the west it is prosaically known as the “Lost Free City”.

Two great Valyrian roads lead out of Essaria. One runs north for 600 miles to Saath on the Shivering Sea. The other runs east for about 230 miles until it reaches the banks of a great and magnificent river, a blue snake cutting through the western and central Dothraki Sea. This is the Sarne, the jewel of northern Essos, and once the lifeblood of the great Kingdom of Sarnor.

Fallen Sarnor and the Sarne River Basin

The Sarne is one of the greatest river networks of Essos, second in size and importance only to the Rhoyne. In ancient times the Sarne was born from the Silver Sea, a large lake or small inland sea in the east of this region, just south of the Bay of Tusks. The Silver Sea began drying up several thousand years ago and is now two large lakes and a number of smaller ones, linked by myriad rivers and streams which join to become the Sarne. The river is fed further by waterways running out of the hills and joined by numerous smaller rivers which feed the western Dothraki Sea and keep it fertile.

This land of fertile fields and rivers, all linked by the Sarne, gave rise to one of the most ancient kingdoms of Essos, that of the Fisher Queens. They ruled a great nation from a floating palace that circled endlessly around the shores of the Silver Sea. They were overthrown in a revolution, their subjects freeing themselves to establish Sarnor, the Realm of the Tall Men. Huzhor Amai was the first High King of Sarnor, uniting the Fisher Queens, Gipps, Cymmeri and Zoqora into one people.

Sarnor was an immense kingdom, stretching for some 1,200 miles from Bitterweed Bay to the Silver Sea, and then beyond for at least 150 miles into the eastern Grasslands. It extended for a similar distance from the Shivering Sea in the north to the Painted Mountains in the south, which separated it from the Valyrian Peninsula and Slaver’s Bay. Sarnor’s capital city was storied Sarnath, but other great cities were founded. These included Saath and Sarys on the immense Sarne Delta; Mardosh, Kyth, Hornoth and Rylathar upriver; and Sallosh, Gornath, Sathar and Kasath on the Silver Sea. These great cities, once among the most glorious cities ever built by men, now all lie in ruins, the works of thousands of years thrown down by the Dothraki. The sole exception is Saath.

Saath lies on the western-most mouth of the Sarne, sitting on the Shivering Sea. The geography of the region, with a network of rivers separating Saath from the Dothraki Sea to the south, prevents easy access to the city by land, helping to save the city from the Dothraki’s wrath. Saath is a relatively small port, a city of 20,000 living behind tall white walls surrounding a good harbour. Saath survives as an important waystop on the sealanes leading from Ibben in the east to Lorath and Braavos to the west. The Saathi are the last of the Sarnori, still calling themselves Tall Men, the last 20,000 survivors of a civilisation that once consisted of teeming millions. Saath can be a maudlin and nostalgic city for this reason.

200 miles to the north-east, on the northern most mouth of the Sarne behind a veritable maze of rivers, streams and marshes, lies Morosh. A colony of Lorath, founded after the fall of Sarnor, Morosh is a mining and trading port. Roughly 130 miles to the south-east of Morosh, about 240 miles due east of Saath, is the former port of Sarys, the sister-city of Saath. Sarys was the last city of Sarnor to be destroyed during the Century of Blood. Unlike Saath, Sarys was built on the southern side of the Sarne and was thus easily accessible by the Dothraki. Khal Zeggo and his khalasar destroyed the city in an orgy of violence and fire, but to their disappointment most of the population had already evacuated to Saath. The Dothraki now refer to the ruins as Vaes Graddakh, the “City of Filth”.

Further ruins lie upriver: Kyth, Mardosh the Unconquerable (before the Dothraki proved otherwise), Hornoth and Rathylar. But most legendary is Sarnath. The ancient capital of Sarnor, Sarnath of the Tall Towers was once one of the largest, most populous and richest cities in the known world, a city to rival Qarth, Volantis or Valyria itself. The Palace With a Thousand Rooms was one of the Wonders of the World, a building of breathtaking beauty. The city’s renown was so great that the Valyrians extended one of their famous straight roads from Essaria (520 miles to the west) to its gates, a rare honour for a city not of Valyrian origin or conquered by them. The city was obliterated after the Dothraki victory on the Field of Crows, when they destroyed the combined armed might of Sarnor in a day of carnage and blood. Its extensive ruins are now known as Vaes Khewo, the “City of Worms”.

Further east lie those cities which were destroyed earlier in the war, when the individual cities fought piecemeal: Kasath (now Vojjor Samui, “The Broken Gods”), the Waterfall City of Sathar (Yalli Qamayi, “The Wailing Children”), Gornath (Vaes Leqse, the “City of Rats”)) and Sallosh (Vaes Athjikhari, the “City of Sickness”), once the great City of Scholars whose library was the envy of the entire known world.

The Sarne River Basin keeps the western grasslands fertile and well-fed. Since the fall of Sarnor, this region has become the western Dothraki Sea, where many khalasars range with their herds of thousands of horses.

The Kingdom of Omber

Omber is a small, pastoral kingdom located in the north of the Dothraki Sea. It lies to the north of the Sarne, on a 250-mile wide headland located between the Bay of Sarnor and the Bay of Tusks. The country consists of fertile plains and fields in the west and tall hills in the east, along the Bay of Tusks.

Omber consists of no major cities, but instead numerous small towns and villages whose leaders rather grandiosely refer to themselves as princes. The Omberi princes survive by paying annual tribute of grain, wine, women and gemstones, mined from the nearby hills, to the Dothraki. The Dothraki could overrun the small kingdom in weeks if they choose, but they find getting the Omberi to do the hard work of mining gemstones for them to be more agreeable.

The Southern Grasslands

650 miles divide ruined Sathar from the city of Meereen on Slaver’s Bay. This region is seen by some as the “true” Dothraki Sea, an endless quilt of green grass, blowing in the winds. Small streams keep these lands fertile but there are no major rivers like the Sarne. During the summer this is an endless emerald sea, but during the winter the grass can wilt and die, turning the landscape brown.

In the midst of this region can be found more ruins. Hazdahn Mo was once a great Ghiscari trading city, established as a colony of Meereen thousands of years ago to trade with Sarnor. The great hill city was annexed by Valyria after the fall of Old Ghis. After the Doom, the city unexpectedly found itself as a hub for slaves: the Dothraki brought Sarnori captives taken in the north for the Hazdahni to sell on to Meereen and Slaver’s Bay. This splendidly profitable arrangement abruptly ended when the Dothraki, on a whim, obliterated Hazdahn Mo and turned it into Vaes Diaf, the City of the Skull.

To the east, beyond a curiously tall, lone hill rising out of the grasslands, lies more Ghiscari ruins: Ghardaq (Krazaaj Has, “Sharp Mountains”, for its pyramids), Vaes Mejhah (the “City of Whores”) and Vaes Efe (the “City of Shackles”, another great slave city). These cities lie north of the River Skahazadhan, down which the Dothraki herd captives to sell in the flesh markets of Meereen. South of the river, which the Dothraki can ford in several places, lies the northern hinterland of Lhazar, which the Dothraki frequently raid for fresh slaves and plunder.

South and east of the Skahazadhan the countryside becomes bleak and desolate, giving way to the Red Waste, a harsh desert that the Dothraki will not cross for lack of water. Instead, they skirt the desert along its northern fringes to pass east to the towering Bone Mountains and the Poison Sea. Further ruins can be found here: Adakhakileki (“The Cannibals”) and Yinishar, a former frontier outpost of the Patriarchy of Hyrkoon reduced to rubble, now called Vaes Jini, the “City of Goats”.

The Great Northern Forest

A vast region of woodland extends along the coast of the Shivering Sea, sprawling for 1,300 miles from the Bay of Tusks to the Bone Mountains. At its thickest, the forest extends 350 miles inland. This utterly vast forest, dwarfing any in Westeros, is known as the Kingdom of the Ifequevron, the latter meaning “woods-walkers”. According to both Dothraki and Sarnori legend, the woods-walkers were a strange, peaceful race living in the deepest forest. Even the Dothraki seem to fear and respect them. Maesters and scholars have drawn comparisons between the woods-walkers and the Children of the Forest of Westerosi legend, but any similarity between these stories is theoretical at best. The forest coastline is habitable and Corlys Velaryon, the Sea Snake, put in along the coast to conduct a survey during his great northern voyage. He reported that the woods were silent and strange, with odd carvings in the trees.

Strangest of all is the ruined settlement on the coast. Located eleven hundred miles east of Morosh, the city does not appear to have been built by humans. The Dothraki theorise it was a city of the woods-walkers, abandoned thousands of years ago. If this is true it may cast doubt on the idea that the woods-walkers were an eastern colony of the Children of the Forest, who did not build cities as we know them. The ruins are called Vaes Leisi, the “City of Ghosts”, and are shunned.

550 miles to the north-east lies the town of New Ibbish. A small port located at the northern end of a peninsula, partially sealed off from the rest of Essos by geography and the rest by a lengthy wall, this is a colony of Ibben, which lies just off the coast to the north across the Bay of Whales (and we will explore further at another time). New Ibbish was founded after the Century of Blood, when the Dothraki destroyed the city of Ibbish. Located 250 miles to the south-east, Ibbish was built around a very impressive harbour and was heavily fortified. It survived for centuries before the Dothraki destroyed the city and its impressive Whalebone Gates. The city repulsed several Dothraki attacks before it was evacuated in secret, to the fury of the Dothraki who named it Vaes Aresak, the “City of Cowards”.

To the east and south-east of the forest lies the forbidding stone mass of the Bone Mountains, marking the boundary between western Essos and the lands of the further east beyond. South, however, lies the heartlands of the Dothraki themselves.

Vaes Dothrak

Vaes Dothrak, the City of Riders, is the only permanent Dothraki city, a great sprawling mass of buildings that looks more like a temporary caravan stop then the sole habitation of note between the Bones and Saath, 1,800 miles to the west. Vaes Dothrak is a remarkably isolated city: its nearest neighbours are Meereen, 1,250 miles to the south-west; Kosrak in Lhazar, 950 miles to the south; New Ibbish, almost exactly 700 miles to the north; and Kayakayanaya, about 800 miles to the east, through the Bones.

The city is huge, extending for miles along the shore of the Womb of the World, an immense lake sprawling for about a hundred miles. The Womb feeds a series of rivers which cut north through the northern forests before reaching the Shivering Sea. To the east of the lake is the Mother of Mountains, a sheer mass of stone rising out of the flat Dothraki Sea to dominate the surrounding landscape. Both the Womb and the Mother are considered holy by the Dothraki, who punish any trespassers with lethal force.

Vaes Dothrak has one large entrance, the Horse Gate, less of a gate than two immense statues of horses rearing in battle. From the Horse Gate a huge thoroughfare, the Godsway, extends across the length of the city. It passes the Western and Eastern Markets, both of which are bustling and cosmopolitan, with traders from across the known world meeting and mingling. The Western Market is home to traders from the Free Cities, Slaver’s Bay and the occasional Westerosi or Summer Islander who braves the journey. The Eastern Market is the place of trade for those from Yi Ti, Asshai, the Jogos Nhai and other remote lands of the far east.

Although huge, Vaes Dothraki has relatively little few permanent inhabitants. Most of the population is transitory, meeting to trade or feast. Only the crones known as the Dosh Khaleen and their servants and bodyguards permanently live in the city. Several Dothraki khalasars may be present at any one time, but the city is big enough to hold all of them – the entire Dothraki civilisation – if required. A gathering of the entire Dothraki horde has not happened in living memory, and will only come again if a khal-of-khals arises, a warlord powerful enough to unite all the Dothraki against a common foe.

The largest current Dothraki khalasar is that of Khal Drogo, a fierce warlord and canny general. More than 100,000 people live in his khalasar, over 40,000 of them warriors. How many more khalasars there are is hard to estimate, as they merge, break apart and fight one another with bewildering frequency. What is likely is that there are more Dothraki warriors than there are potential soldiers in all the Seven Kingdoms. It is fortunate that that width of the Narrow Sea and the Free Cities divides the Dothraki from Westeros; the Dothraki fear the poison salt water and will not cross it under any circumstances.

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Geographic Map 17: Slaver’s Bay

It is said that to “sail beyond Valyria is a fearsome thing”. For those living in Westeros and the Free Cities, the prospect of sailing around the broken Valyrian peninsula is daunting. There are no safe ports between Volantis and Elyria, a distance of eighteen hundred miles by sea. Being caught in storms off the Valyrian coast is a terrifying prospect for sailors, who believe that to come in sight of that fire-wracked coast where the Doom still holds sway means death. There is also the risk of being swept by storms out into the Summer Sea and towards the Basilisk Isles and Sothoryos, where corsairs and plague are common.

Slaver's Bay

Slaver’s Bay and the surrounding lands. Click to embiggen.

For those who take the risk, riches are to be found: the great trade cities of the Jade Sea, the remote and mystery-shrouded port of Asshai and, most profitable for many, slaves. The centre of the known world’s slave trade  are the three great cities of Slaver’s Bay, where everything from pleasure slaves to the feared eunuch soldiers known as the Unsullied can be purchased.

More than 600 miles wide, Slaver’s Bay is more of a small sea than just a bay. The far west coast lies against the Valyrian Peninsula, where the still-extant cities of Elyria and Tolos can be found. The north coast is bleak and mostly unsettled. The only good harbour is at Bhorash, but that city was destroyed after the Doom of Valyria and the ruins are shunned. The east coast is home to the great slaver cities. To the south, beyond the Isle of Cedars, Slaver’s Bay becomes the Gulf of Grief, a great body of water so-called for the centuries of conflict between Valyria and Old Ghis that raged across its waters. The Doom of Valyria saw a wave of water hundreds of feet high slam across the gulf, destroying every ship in its path and devastating towns all along the coasts, giving the name fresh meaning. To the east the coast turns along the Summer Sea towards the Straits of Qarth.

A Note on the Ghiscari

Slaver’s Bay is dominated by the culture of Old Ghis, the great Ghiscari Empire which ruled this region for over three thousand years before it was laid low by the might of Valyria. Valyria kept a chokehold on Slaver’s Bay for well over four and a half thousand years (according to tradition) before it was destroyed in the Doom. In the four centuries since then, Ghiscari traditions and culture (or a modern version thereof) have reasserted themselves. However, a distinction should be drawn between the spreading power of New Ghis, which claims to be the Old Empire come again, and the cities of Astapor, Yunkai and Meereen, which are culturally Ghiscari but wish to maintain their political and economic independence.

Astapor

Astapor, the Red City, is the southern-most of the three main slave cities. Its rooftops and many of its buildings are red in colour, derived from the crumbling old red bricks that the city was built from, giving the city its name. The air is also often heavy in red dust.

Like most cities of Ghiscari origin, its ruling class living in great stepped pyramids. The tallest in Astapor, located along the waterfront, is about 400 feet tall. Further down the coast is the port and the mouth of the Worm River, where pleasure barges can be found. The city’s rulers, the so-called Good Masters, are often found taking their ease on these barges, fanned and fed by well-fed slaves. Elsewhere in the city are far darker sights: the fighting pits where slaves battle one another to the death for the entertainment of the rich, and the Plaza of Pride and Plaza of Punishment where slaves are put on display.

Astapor is famed as the home of the Unsullied, warrior-eunuchs trained from birth to fight and die for their owners. The Unsullied are utterly formidable in battle and a popular choice for bodyguards and household guards. Astapor has a long-standing contract with the Free City of Qohor, which has exclusively used Unsullied as its front-line troops since defeating the Dothraki in the Battle of Qohor over three centuries ago.

Beyond the city lies its hinterland, which runs along the coast for a hundred leagues to the west and south and half that to the north. There are tall hills, more like low mountains, to the south, where the Worm River is born and flows down to the sea. Beyond these mountains likes the resurgent power of the Ghiscari Empire, which Astapor regards warily.

Yunkai

Yunkai, the Yellow City, lies a hundred leagues to the north of Astapor. A sister-city of Astapor, founded in the same wave of Ghiscari expansion well over five thousand years ago, Yunkai is built to a similar design, except the bricks used in its construction are yellow rather than red. Yunkai is the possibly the smallest and most obscure of the three slave cities, lacking Meereen’s enormous strength and influence or Astapor’s reputation built on its Unsullied slave-soldiers.

Yunkai’s rulers, the so-called Wise Masters, seem to compensate for this by giving themselves and their city flamboyant titles, such as the Queen of Cities. Yunkai has a good harbour but is otherwise unremarkable, few of its pyramids approaching the size of Astapor’s and its reputation is built on pleasure slaves rather than soldiers like the Unsullied. Yunkai’s hinterland runs east to the mountains and south along the coast for a good hundred miles or so.

Yaros

Yaros is a sizeable island located just off the coast claimed by Yunkai. The island appears to be mostly uninhabited, with a rocky coast characterised by towering cliffs. The island’s main use is as a shelter for storms, with ships sometimes choosing to pass through the straits between the island and the mainland rather than swinging west into the open sea. However, this sometimes makes the straits a popular spot for pirates.

Meereen

Meereen is the largest city on Slaver’s Bay and possibly one of the largest cities in the known world, outstripped only by Volantis, Asshai, possibly Qarth and some of the cities of Yi Ti. This means that the better part of a million people live in the city and the surrounding area. Meereen is larger than Astapor and Yunkai combined and its bricks are of many colours, giving the city a more colourful feel than its its two smaller sister-cities.

The rulers of Meereen are known as the Great Masters, who rule from the Great Pyramid. Over 800 feet tall and one of the tallest structures in the world (taller than the Wall, rivalled by the High Tower of Oldtown and outstripped only by the Five Forts of Yi Ti), the Great Pyramid dominates the skyline of the city and the surrounding countryside for miles. The next-tallest pyramids in the city are less than half the height. Also imposing is the Temple of Graces, the centre of religion in the city and the surrounding region.

Meereen’s walls are tall, studded with towers and significant bastions. With the Dothraki Sea located just to the north, across the river, and the city being located on the frontier between Old Ghis and Valyria, it has always had a need for a strong defence. The walls have been kept in good order (unlike Astapor and Yunkai’s, which have fallen into disrepair over the years) and the city remains formidable. No outside army has taken the city since Valyria overthrew Old Ghis, and even the Dothraki seem to have been daunted by the city’s sheer size. The Great Masters have wisely never given them cause to try to take the city, instead offering them good prices for slaves herded downriver to the city’s fleshpots.

Meereen sits on bluffs on the south side of the River Skahazadhan where it meets Slaver’s Bay. The Skahazadhan provides rapid travel eastwards towards Lhazar and the Dothraki Sea, but this can also be a weakness. During the ancient wars with Valyria, the Meereenese built immense wells to draw water from sources that could not be easily polluted by besiegers. Meereen’s hinterland extends south and east through the sandstone mountains towards the Lhazareen border. Estates can be found in these hills, although the territory is not as verdant as it once was. History records large numbers of cedar trees and olive groves studding the shores of the bay and extending into the hills, but the Valyrians burned most of these out. Farms, tended to by vast numbers of slaves, are located where the ground is fertile enough to turn a good crop, so to help feed the city. However, the land is harsh and in a prolonged siege, not able to bring in food by road or sea, Meereen would likely starve.

The Khyzai Pass

The Khyzai Pass is the name given to a mountainous pass linking the coast of Slaver’s Bay to the kingdom of Lhazar further inland. The Khyzai Pass has been hewn out of the sandstone mountains by the passage of the Khyzai River, a tributary of the Skahazadhan. The pass permits relatively easy travel between Meereen and central and southern Lhazar. There is a road that outflanks the mountains to the north, following the Skahazadhan more closely, but this road also passes through regions that the Dothraki raid on a fairly frequent basis. The pass is a safer and more secure route.

Lhazar

Lhazar is a small kingdom located to the east of the sandstone mountains and south of the Skahazadhan. The nation is noted for its non-warlike, non-expansionist nature. The people of Lhazar are peaceful, placid and value good, honest trade with its neighbours. Many of those neighbours – the Meereenese to the west and the Ghiscari to the south – are unreliable and take advantage of the Lhazareen pliability at almost every turn.

The bulk of the kingdom of Lhazar lies in a triangular region, its boundaries marked by three cities: Hesh in the north-west, Kosrak in the north-east and Lhazosh, the nation’s nominal capital, in the south. The Lhazareen are followers of a deity known as the Great Shepherd, whose priests and priestesses teach in trusting the winds of fate and not doing violence. Some Lhazareen reject these teachings and do take up the ways of fighting for themselves and their people, and have even been known to journey west to Slaver’s Bay and enter the fighting pits, although these are rare.

North of the river that flows from the hills beyond Kosrak, the countryside becomes more dangerous all the way north to the Skahazadhan. The Dothraki do not enjoy crossing the water, but there are several major fords across the river that allows Dothraki khalasars to strike into the Lhazareen borderlands, between the two rivers. Lhazareen villages and towns dot this landscape, becoming rarer in the east as the relatively fertile and green lands around the river give way to the parched desert known as the Red Waste. The Lhazareen of this land still follow the Great Shepherd, but rumour claims that witches and maegi also dwell in these lands, ready to bring curses and disaster on even the formidable Dothraki.

Ghaen, New Ghis and the New Empire

Located just over a hundred miles off the coast, the island of Ghaen was a Ghiscari stronghold for millennia, and latterly an annexed Valyrian colony. The island’s geography protected it during the Doom of Valyria, preventing its population from being wiped out like the Isle of Cedars. Subsequent to the Doom, the people of Ghaen broke away from Valyrian control and declared themselves the true heirs of Old Ghis, the sons of the harpy come again.

The city of New Ghis rose on an island off the coast of Ghaen. Smaller than Astapor, Yunkai or Meereen, but far newer and more dynamic, New Ghis has established itself as a vital waystop and trading centre. The city is strategically located on the main sealanes leading west to the Free Cities, Summer Isles and Westeros, north to Slaver’s Bay and east to Qarth and the Jade Sea. A boom town, New Ghis has increased in size, power and population quite remarkably in the last four centuries. Its location renders it vulnerable to attack by corsairs out of the Basilisk Isles to the south, but the Ghiscari have struck both alliances with the pirates (some say paying them off to seek prey elsewhere) and also trained their own formidable military, spearheaded by the Iron Legions, to defend themselves. The power of New Ghis has spread to the mainland nearby, the territory of old Ghiscar, and continues to grow, to the disquiet of Astapor to the north.

The region of Ghiscar is large, spreading for well over 300 miles to the north and east to the sandstone mountains, as well as along the coast of the Summer Sea. This was the old heartland and core territory of the Ghiscari Empire, its breadbasket and the location of its major cities. Almost five thousand years ago, Valyria devastated this region with dragonfire on an epic scale. So complete was the destruction that most of the Ghiscari towns and villages that once dotted this landscape have simply vanished, with nothing left standing above ground to indicate they were ever there.

An exception are the ruins of Old Ghis, the ancient capital of the Ghiscari Empire. Once one of the greatest cities in the world, Old Ghis spread for miles along the coast of the Summer Sea, along a fine harbour and sheltered from the storms and harsher tides of the open sea by a series of offshore islands. The city was obliterated at the end of the Fifth Ghiscari War, the Valyrians destroying the city in detail and salting the earth. However, the tallest buildings of Old Ghis, the pyramids, were too difficult to destroy altogether and so were simply abandoned. Over millennia they have started to fall back into the ground, but the ruined Great Pyramid of Old Ghis (the inspiration for the near-identical Great Pyramid of Meereen, some 700 miles to the north) still stands, over 800 feet tall.

That then is Slaver’s Bay, a land famed for corruption and decadence. To the north lies a much vaster area commanded by a force that keeps both the slave lords and the rulers of the Free Cities to the west in check: the horse lords of the Dothraki.

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Geographic Map 16: Valyria

Of old, Valyria was the greatest power in the known world. Its empire, the Freehold, stretched from Dragonstone in the Narrow Sea to almost the Straits of Qarth, from the Shivering Sea to the sweltering coasts of plague-ridden Sothoryos. Its armies were the most formidable, its riches beyond imagining and its reach, through the thousands of dragons it commanded, was all-encompassing.

For nigh on five thousand years Valyria was the most formidable power in the world until its might was checked by a force it could not reckon against: that of the earth itself. In a single day and night of fire, fury and tears the Valyrian Freehold was obliterated, its great cities swamped in fire and ash, its people immolated by the millions and the very land rent asunder by earthquakes and tidal waves. Valyria was shattered, never to recover. Its ruined, devastated landmass survives today as a broken peninsula and a jumble of islands separated by smoking waters, the land shunned by travellers. Only the bravest and the most foolish venture in the ruins of Valyria. Few return.

Valyria

The Valyrian Peninsula lies to the south-east of the Free Cities. The peninsula measures approximately 550 miles in width and roughly 450 miles in length from north to south, although this is substantially less than before the Doom. Before the Doom Valyria extended almost twice as far into the Summer Sea, but the devastating earthquakes saw the southern part of Valyria separated from the mainland by the sea, which came rushing into the lowlands along the neck of the peninsula. The southern half of Valyria now consists of three large islands, at least twenty-one of intermediate size, hundreds more too small to appear on most maps and yet more treacherous reefs and peaks lying just under the waves, ready to tear the bottom out of any ship trying to pass over. The lands commonly referred to as “Valyria” encompass all of these islands, the peninsular and all of the lands up to the Painted Mountains to the north and the Black Cliffs to the east.

The Painted Mountains and the Demon Road

Located at the northern end of the Valyrian Peninsular, the Painted Mountains form a barrier between the open grasslands of the Dothraki Sea and the coastlands to the south. The Painted Mountains are tall and fierce, not easy to climb or cross. The mountains were no obstacle to the dragonriders of old, but they were a barrier to settlers, funnelling them west into the Free Cities or east into the older, more decadent lands of Slaver’s Bay instead.

Running through the southern foothills is a straight Valyrian road linking the Free City of Volantis to the west with the lands of Slaver’s Bay, although the road itself terminates at the ruins of Bhorash atop the Black Cliffs, with only tracks and lesser roads extending further east to Meereen. This road is called the “Demon Road” because it has a fearsome reputation.

The city of Mantarys sits on the Demon Road at the top of the Valyrian Peninsula, just under 600 miles from Volantis and 450 miles from Bhorash. Founded by Valyria as a great crossroads settlement between east and west, north and south, Mantarys was once a great, bustling trade city. People from a hundred nations could be found there, Sarnori, Valyrians, Westerosi and Ghiscari hawking their wares and taking a well-earned rest on their way to other cities. The Doom changed Mantarys. The city survived, but became jammed with refugees fleeing from the south. In the past three centuries, the city has acquired a fell reputation and is now said to be a place of savagery and grotesques. Two-headed children, people afflicted with greyscale and other monstrosities are said to dwell there in vast numbers. The City of Monsters, as it is now called, is shunned. Those travelling overland from the Free Cities to Slaver’s Bay try to slip around the city to the north, but the geography makes this difficult. Many who brave the Demon Road through Mantarys do not return. Now the majority of trade and travel between the west and east takes place by ship, giving Mantarys and the Valyrian Peninsula a wide berth.

The Sea of Sighs and the Lands of the Long Summer

Of old, the Lands of the Long Summer were the breadbasket of the Valyrian Peninsula. Smaller than the Reach of Westeros but even more fertile, this region extends for approximately 400 miles from north to south and for almost 300 miles from east to west. The towering volcanoes known as the Fourteen Fires lay along this region’s southern and south-eastern border, with ash from the flames proving surprisingly beneficial to the growing of crops. Vast farmsteads dotted the landscapes, with bustling market towns lying athwart the great Valyrian roads leading north to Mantarys, north-west to Volantis and south to Valyria. In the north-west of this region lay the Sea of Sighs, a tranquil inland sea fed by rivers descending from the Painted Mountains.

The Doom changed all of this. The southern part of the Lands of the Long Summer was destroyed, simply falling into the sea. Vast amounts of ash fell across these lands, annihilating the towns and farms that used to sprawl across them. The waters of the Sea of Sighs turned red, poisoned by the filth falling from the skies. Formerly the greatest growing fields in the known world were turned into a wasteland. In the far south, overlooking the Smoking Sea, lies the ruins of Oros, formerly a great city located at the northern end of the pass leading into Valyria proper.

The Smoking Sea

The Smoking Sea is the youngest sea in the known world, formed during the Doom of Valyria. The Smoking Sea was once the southern part of the Lands of the Long Summer and a mountainous region dominated by the Fourteen Fires. The eruption of the mountains collapsed the lands, millions of tons of rock falling into the sea which came rushing in from east and west. Several of the Fourteen Fires appear to have been completely destroyed. Several survive on islands (said to be rapidly growing in size again) and several remain part of the mainland and the islands.

The Smoking Sea is so-called because the waters are often warm and strange mists float across the surface. It is said that whoever breathes in these fumes dies instantly. Some sailors claim that these mists are demons and the Smoking Sea is haunted. Maesters claim that they are natural, if noxious, gases resulting from volcanic activity. Despite theoretically cutting travel time from the Free Cities to Slaver’s Bay by a week or more, the Smoking Sea is shunned by almost all sailors. Only the hardiest (or most foolish) brave their waters.

Valyria

The city of Valyria was once the greatest sight in the whole world. A city of slender towers sitting above lava channels flowing from the southern volcanoes, dragons were required to fly safely between the buildings. This was the seat of the conclave of the Lords Freeholder, the meeting place of the Valyrian fire mages and the home of the dragonriders. It was a sight to behold, but it was all lost in the Doom. A veritable storm of ash fell on the city out of the sky, killing almost the entire population (human and dragon alike). Valyria was abandoned, but according to some the ash had the unusual effect of also preserving the city at the very moment of its destruction. For those brave enough to cross the Smoking Sea, reach the ruins and begin digging, great treasures are said to be just waiting. Most who make this attempt die or disappear in the attempt, but a few have survived, bearing treasures of the Freehold which attract immense prices in the markets of the Free Cities (especially Volantis).

The Isle of Cedars and the Gulf of Grief

The Doom triggered a vast series of tidal waves which reached across the seas to the east of Valyria, smashing against the coasts of the old Ghiscari Empire. The destruction would have been far worse along Slaver’s Bay if the Isle of Cedars had not arrested the waves, at terrible cost.

The Isle of Cedars is about 150 miles long and 30 miles wide. It is located between the coasts of the Valyrian Peninsula to the west and the coast of the lands held by Astapor to the east, whilst it also divides Slaver’s Bay to the north from the Gulf of Grief to the south. The island is steeply hilled and mountainous, their slopes inundated with tens of thousands of cedar trees. Of old the island was called the Isle of a Hundred Battles, as the great Ghiscari port of Ghozai lay at the northern end of the island the Valyrian city of Velos was located at the southern end. Located between the two empires, the isle was the site of many great naval engagements, sea battles and aerial assaults using dragons until Old Ghis was finally destroyed. Ghozai became a Valyrian city and both it and Velos prospered until the Doom destroyed both with a wave of water said to be three hundred feet tall. Only a few Valyrian soldiers manning watchtowers on the tallest hills survived.

The Isle of Cedars was never resettled and today is filled with animals, including wild boar and monkeys. The isle’s animal life is remarkably hostile and lacks a fear of man, so it is largely avoided. Over the years cities such as Elyria, Tolos and Astapor have mused on resettling the island, but have never done so.

Elyria and Tolos

Elyria and Tolos are, along with Mantarys and Volantis, the only cities directly founded by Valyria to have survived the Doom, as their location put them out of the reach of the waves that destroyed Velos and Ghozai. The two cities are relatively small, but both seem to have found a way of surviving by aligning themselves with the slave trade and establishing ties with feared Mantarys to the west.

Elyria, located on an island just off the coast of the Valyrian Peninsula, south-east of Mantarys, is obscure. It is off the main trade route from Slaver’s Bay to the Free Cities, so it has to survive on trade with Tolos. More famous Tolos, located the mainland about 120 miles to the east, is larger and better-known, with a significant hinterland. Tolos is known for its slingers, highly-trained soldiers who use powerful slings to hurl projectiles with devastating accuracy.

Both cities are beacons of civilisation – if of a rough and brutal kind – in a region still recovering from the greatest cataclysm the world has ever seen. Further east lies much larger and greater cities, if also cities that are more decadent and more corrupt: the great Ghiscari cities of Slaver’s Bay.

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