To the people of Westeros, “beyond the Narrow Sea” is a phrase promising exotic new locales, adventures in remote and interesting lands and a reference to rich cities specialising in exotic gods, heathenism and corruption. They refer to the Nine Free Cities of Essos, often talking about them in the same terms when each city is remarkably different in tone, character and history. The Free Cities share a history – they were founded by or in response to the actions of the Freehold of Valyria – but culturally and economically each stands alone.
The region covered by the Free Cities is vast, matching the entire South of Westeros in size. It extends for approximately 1,800 miles from north to south and for over 1,300 miles from east to west. The Free Cities region is bordered by the Shivering Sea to the north, the Narrow Sea to the west, the Summer Sea to the south and the Dothraki Sea and Painted Mountains to the east.
Internally, the Free Cities region consists of large and fertile plains watered by numerous rivers. Several rivers rise in the hills and mountains of the north. Generally referred to as the “Hills of Norvos”, although many of these “hills” rival mountains in Westeros in size, these highlands give rise to the rivers which rush down to the plains and forests, forming the mighty Rhoyne along their way. The Rhoyne sweeps south for almost 1,350 miles, from the source of the Upper Rhoyne all the way to the river delta just below Volantis, watering the Flatlands, the Golden Fields and the Volantene hinterlands along the way.
Other areas of interest in this region include the Disputed Lands, Orange Coast, the ruins of the Rhoynar cities and the numerous offshore islands.
The Hundred Isles of Braavos
The northern-most of the Free Cities is Braavos. Braavos is located in a lagoon at the far north-western tip of the Essosi continent, where the Narrow Sea meets the Shivering Sea, surrounded by ridged islands which keep the worst of the winter winds and storms away from the city. Braavos itself is said to sprawl over a hundred islands, although the real number is fewer, due to some of the islands having sunk beneath the waves since the city’s founding eight centuries ago.
The isles of Braavos are enclosed in a brackish, saltwater bay open to the sea through channels through the outlying islands. Treacherous reefs and rocks dot these channels, leaving only one, in the north-west between Sellagoro’s Shield and a neighbouring island, large enough for ocean-going ships. This channel is guarded by the Titan of Braavos, a colossal combination of statue, lighthouse and fortification. The Titan, which is at least 300 feet tall and possibly more, has fires burning within its eyes to guide ships home and an immense horn (sometimes called the Titan’s Roar) which can be blown to alert the city to the approach of vessels. Just inside the bay is the Arsenal, an island where Braavosi war galleys can be constructed in a day from pre-fabricated components. The Arsenal itself is heavily defended and Braavosi warships patrol both the bay and the surrounding waters in impressive numbers.
Behind the Arsenal is the Chequy Port, a small island containing a customs inspection port. Ships passing the port will be waved to their destinations: foreign ships are directed south to the Ragman’s Harbour and Braavosi vessels are directed east to the Purple Harbor. Just south of the Chequy Port is the entrance to the Canal of Heroes, a broad waterway guarded by the statues of great Braavosi warriors and rulers. This canal leads to the bay at the heart of the city, where the Isle of Gods and Palace of Truth are located. The Long Canal leads south from this bay, leading to the fishmarket and south side of the lagoon, whilst the Green Canal extends eastwards.
Braavos is a city of canals, rivers and small lakes, all spanned by many hundreds of bridges. Although the city technically consists of many islands, it can be divided into three primary districts. The northern-most is the richest, being the home to many of the city’s nobles and richest merchants. The Sealord’s Palace is located at the north-eastern edge of the city, with the Moon Pool and the Iron Bank just to the south. To the south-west lies the most bustling district of the city, home of the Ragman’s Harbor, the biggest markets and many of the most popular taverns and places of business. The Drowned Town, the oldest part of the city which has subsided into the lagoon, can also be found here.
To the south-east lies the city’s poorest district, the Silty Town, although some noble houses (like the Antaryons, current rulers of the city) have taken up residence here due to favourable prices. The Sweetwater River, an immense aqueduct, extends from north-eastern part of the city south before swinging south-west to meet the mainland, thus supplying all three main districts of the city with fresh water.
In the centre of the city lies the Isle of Gods and many other places of worship: the Temple of the Moonsingers (the largest, in recognition of their role in founding the city), the Temple of the Lord of Light, the Sept-beyond-the-Sea and the feared House of Black and White, the reputed headquarters of the Faceless Men.
The mainland of the lagoon is brackish and swampy, so there appear to be no settlements immediately adjacent to the city itself. However, Braavos has claimed the coast of the Narrow Sea southwards from Braavos for approximately 450 miles, as well as the entire western shore of Lorath Bay. This region surrounding the city is dotted with mines, villages and some more substantial towns, all keeping Braavos supplied with food, timber and iron and, combined with trade, all allowing Braavos to maintain its position as the richest and most militarily powerful of the Free Cities.
The population of Braavos is unknown, although some speculate that maybe twice as many people live in and near the city as in King’s Landing in Westeros.
The Islands of Lorath
Located approximately 375 miles east of Braavos, at the northern mouth of Lorath Bay, Lorath is the most remote of the Free Cities; nothing lies to its east for over two thousand miles until hardy sailors reach the island of Ib, although a few ports can be found on the north coast of Essos. Lorath is the poorest, smallest and least populous of the Free Cities, but remains viable due to the rich waters around the Lorathi Isles, which teem with fish, walruses and whales.
The Lorathi claim dominion over both the islands and entire coastline of Lorath Bay. They do control the islands, most notably Lorath Island itself and Lorassyon, the second-largest island, as well as a score of smaller islands and rocks that no-one else wants, but at best they control only the east coast of the bay and the peninsula located immediately to the south of the islands themselves; the west coast is held by Braavos and the effortless superiority of the Braavosi navy means that the Lorathi are unable to press their historical claims. Their only major recent success has been the founding of the colony city of Morosh at the mouth of the River Sarne. However, the distance between the two cities (Morosh lies approximately 1,000 miles east of Lorath, almost halfway to Ib) precludes direct rule and the colony-city is left to its own course in most matters.
A curious feature of the Lorathi Isles are their mazes. An unknown and ancient people constructed mazes across the three islands and the nearby mainland. The largest covers three-quarters of the island of Lorassyon and extends for four levels underground, over 500 feet. According to tradition, the maze-makers were wiped out by a threat from the sea many millennia ago.
Norvos is located on the mainland of Essos, almost 750 miles south-east of Braavos. The tall peaks of the Hills of Norvos separate Norvos from the north coast and provide the city with its wealth via immense mines stretching under the limestone hills surrounding the city. Dark forests of pine and beech can also be found near the city.
The city is located on the banks of the River Noyne, a tributary of the Rhoyne, and this defines the layout of the city. The Low City sits next to the river and contains docks, a port and trading establishments. It is rude, rowdy and bustling. The High City, surrounding by tall stone walls, is located 300 feet above and is the home to rich nobles and the city’s religious caste, who act as de facto rulers. The two districts are linked by the Sinner’s Steps, which are guarded so only people with business in the High City are permitted entry.
Norvos is a theocracy ruled by the enigmatic Bearded Priests, who have no interest in explaining their religion to outsiders. The worship of other gods is not permitted in the High City and the city’s merchant council is appointed by the Priests. Although the Priests guard the independence of Norvos jealously, they are also pragmatic enough to collect tribute for when Dothraki khalasars ride out of the east along the impressive Valyrian highway leading from ruined Sarnath to Pentos. Norvos’s formidable walls and the ability to evacuate and reinforce by river make the city a tough nut to crack, even for the Dothraki, so the Norvosi tribute is helpful in persuading Dothraki khals not to expend the tens of thousands of lives it would take to seize the city.
Norvos controls a wide swathe of surrounding territory, extending some 350 miles north-east to the Axe (where Norvos holds several mines), north and west into the hills and south along the Noyne as far as Ny Sar. Norvos controls a small fleet of warships which it occasionally deploys against river pirates, sometimes in conjunction with (or in opposition to) the forces of Qohor to the east.
The Forest City of Qohor
Qohor is located 450 miles south-east of Norvos and almost 1,200 miles south-east of Braavos. The city is also located over 900 miles due north of Volantis.
The city rests on the banks of the River Qhoyne, just as it enters the forbidding Forest of Qohor. Much of Qohor’s wealth and riches come from the forest, which it has logged extensively over the centuries. The forest is over 700 miles long from north to south and 300 miles at its widest point. It is thick and dark, home to wolves and other dangerous animals. Travel through the forest is largely restricted to boating along the Qhoyne or by using the Valyrian road which leads from Qohor due east to long-fallen Essaria and Sarnath (and, across the open plains, beyond to distant Vaes Dothrak and the Bones).
Whilst this road allows trade caravans to pass the city, to its enrichment, it also provides an unfortunately easy route of access for Dothraki khalasars to the city. During the Bleeding Years, Qohor came under a massive assault by the Dothraki which it beat off by deploying a garrison of Unsullied warrior-eunuchs from distant Astapor. Qohor barely survived the onslaught. The Dothraki have chosen not to attack the city again, especially since the Free Cities are happy to provide them with tribute instead, but Qohor lives in caution of the day that a bold khal against chooses to try to sack the forest city.
Qohor is also called the City of Sorcerers, for it is reported that warlocks and self-styled wizards spend their time in the city trying to recreate the fallen arts of lost Valyria. This extends to metalworking, where the Qohorik smiths are said to have re-discovered at least some of the secrets of forging Valyrian steel. The city is united in its worship of the Black Goat, a deity that hungers for blood (of animals, but sometimes human sacrifice is reported in the city) and is regarded as a demon by some of the other Free Cities.
Despite something of a dark reputation, Qohor is also immensely rich, as it stands as a self-styled gateway between the worlds of the west and east.
Pentos is located on the west coast of Essos and is a mighty port. It sits at the head of the Bay of Pentos, a body of water almost completely enclosed by a mountainous peninsula, with a wide channel leading out into the Narrow Sea proper. Smaller than Volantis or Braavos, but larger than most of the other cities, Pentos is seen as the gateway to Essos and is located conveniently close to King’s Landing, the capital of the Seven Kingdoms, which lies about 800 miles to the west. Braavos lies almost exactly 750 miles to the north, Qohor 900 miles to the east and Myr some 450 miles to the south and east, giving Pentos (in theory) domination over a wide swathe of territory.
However, this is not the case. On paper, Pentos claims the Flatlands, the immense and fertile countryside of plains and rivers extending east from the city to the Rhoyne, north to the Velvet Hills and south to the Golden Fields. In practice, the Pentoshi hesitate to build towns and villages out on the plains from fear of the Dothraki. The Dothraki often visit Pentos, aware of the riches in tribute they can gather from its magisters and the wealth that flows into the city by sea. Although the Dothraki are unlikely to ever destroy the city itself (it being too useful as a source of slaves and tribute), settlements out on the plains are a different matter. Some magisters maintain expansive manses out on the Flatlands, but will generally retire behind the walls of Pentos when they hear of a khalasar‘s approach.
Pentos is also an ally – if sometimes a reluctant one – of Braavos. 190 years ago Pentos lost a sixth bloody war with the former Secret City and was forced to give up its claims to the coastlands to the north and also abolish the slave trade. Formally, slavery is as illegal in Pentos as it is in Braavos, but in practice the city employs a bewildering legal structure of “bond-servants” and “indentured servants” to get around this proscription.
Pentos’s submission to both the Dothraki and Braavos have given the city a reputation for cowardice and political expediency over ideology or strength. As a result the city lacks the formidable reputation of most of the other Free Cities, and is not widely respected (especially by the honour-obsessed nobles of the Seven Kingdoms). However, the merchant princes of the city can scheme and plot with the best of them, and should not be underestimated.
Myr is located some 450 miles south of Pentos and commands an impressive harbour at the eastern end of the Sea of Myrth, a significant inlet of the Narrow Sea. The city controls a wide swathe of territory, extending inland for several hundred miles and south to the river that marks the northern perimeter of the Disputed Lands. Despite this, it is not one of the larger cities and has spent time in previous centuries as a vassal of Volantis before re-establishing its freedom.
Myr is a practical city, less concerned with religious matters than with trade and with science. Myrish artisans build some of the finest clocks in the world, and their lens-makers are inarguably the finest in the world in the field of optics, impressing even the maesters of Oldtown.
Myr is well-situated for trade, with its trading fleets paying frequent visits to the Seven Kingdoms to the west and Pentos and Braavos to the north. Its merchants also strike out inland, helped by a Valyrian dragonroad which leads towards the Rhoyne; however, this road was never finished and soon gives way to a ruder network of roads and tracks traversing the Myrish hinterland and leading east to the Rhoyne and south-east towards Volantis, almost 800 miles distant.
Tyrosh is located on the north-eastern most island in the Stepstones, 400 miles south-west of Myr and 450 miles north-west of Lys. It dominates the northern part of the island and started life as a Valyrian military outpost, with walls of fused black dragonstone. Later, the inhabitants discovered a unique species of sea snail on the islands nearby which produced a remarkable dye. Tyrosh built its reputation and its riches on both this dye and controlling the treacherous trade routes through the Stepstones.
Tyrosh is also the nearest of the Free Cities to the mainland of Westeros; the coast of Dorne lies barely 200 miles south-west of the city. There are friendly ties between Tyrosh and Dorne going back many years, with the Prince of Dorne and Archon of Tyrosh (the head of the city’s merchant council) frequently exchanging visits, but Tyrosh’s reputation elsewhere is mixed. In particular, the relationship between Tyrosh and the fleets of corsairs and freesails which infest the Stepstones is open to question, with many in both Westeros and Essos accusing the Tyroshi of employing the corsairs to raid ships for its own enrichment. The Tyroshi sometimes sponsor fleets to “clear” the Stepstones of raiders, which sometimes leads to a few years of peace, but always the pirates return.
Tyrosh has also often been at odds with Braavos, especially its brazen use of slavers (occasionally sailing even beyond the Wall in search of wildling slaves). The distance between the two cities (over 1,300 miles) precludes a major military confrontation, but the prospect of a merchant war between the two cities has usually seen Tyrosh back down.
Lys is the southern-most of the Free Cities. It is located on an island in the Summer Sea and commands the sea lanes leading north to the Narrow Sea, south to the Summer Isles and east to Volantis and the Jade Sea, all of which combine to make it immensely rich. It is also well-known as the most beautiful of the Free Cities, with graceful buildings and walls. Its pleasure houses are the finest in the known world and its origins as a retreat for Valyrian nobles is well-known.
Lys is not a soft target, however. It commands a formidable fleet and its walls may be beautiful but are also strong and thick. The Lyseni are devoted to pleasure but fearful when roused to battle, and they are rich enough to hire fleets of sellsails and armies of sellswords quite quickly.
The Disputed Lands
Myr, Tyrosh and Lys are often called “The Quarrelsome Daughters of Valyria”, for the near four centuries of blood and violence that have unfolded between them. Under the stewardship of Valyria, the three cities had a relatively peaceful existence, but in the wake of the Freehold’s fall they fell into conflict with both one another and Volantis, which attempted to establish an empire to inherit the authority of the dragonlords.
Once the chaos of the Century of Blood was over, the three cities found themselves clashing over the fertile “Heel of Essos”, a wide promontory at the south-western tip of the Essosi continent. This peninsula is the eastern end of the former land bridge that once joined Westeros to Essos, with the Stepstones all that remains of the intervening land. The Heel was balmy, fertile and beautiful, a land of rolling hills, fast-flowing rivers and numerous towns and villages which had endured for centuries under the rule of Valyria.
This rapidly changed. The three cities clashed repeatedly for control of this rich land, sometimes joined by Volantene adventurers from the east, and found themselves unable to conquer the region altogether. Simply put, the three cities have always been too well-matched and any attempt by two of the cities to join forces has always failed in backstabbing and recrimination. The three cities have established more permanent footholds in the territory – Myr from the north, Lys on the south coast and Tyrosh on the west coast – but have never been able to break out and conquer the entire territory.
The Free Companies of Essos were born in the Disputed Lands some permanently base themselves there; indeed, some towns and settlements have been under the rule of one or other of the mercenary armies far longer than they ever have been by any of the Free Cities.
The Disputed Lands are not quite as fertile as they once were. Scores of battles have seen towns, villages and even small cities completely destroyed and the ground where they stood salted. Some rivers and wells have been poisoned by one retreating army or another. Over the course of almost three centuries of warfare, much of the peninsula’s population has fled, leaving behind those too poor or weak to attempt the journey, or those brave enough to try to take advantage of the conflicts for their own enrichment.
Landmarks in the Disputed Lands are relatively few and far between, but most notable is the Tree of Crowns, a massive tree on a tall hill near the centre of the territory, and a commonly-used neutral meeting and parley ground. Most famously, it was here that the Band of Nine formed its alliance and struck out to conquer Tyrosh and the Stepstones before it was smashed by Westerosi armies during the War of the Ninepenny Kings forty years ago.
The Stepstones are a group of islands located between the peninsula of Dorne, in Westeros, and the Disputed Lands, in Essos. According to tradition, the Stepstones are the remnants of a land bridge which once linked the two continents. The land bridge was destroyed by the Children of the Forest in the event known as the Hammer of the Waters, which allegedly occurred ten thousand years ago during the war of the Children and the First Men. Maesters are divided on the issue, some believing this is a garbled account of a more gradual and natural rising of ocean levels due to the melting of remote ice caps, and some believing it never happened at all.
There are approximately sixteen islands large enough to appear on maps, but there are many more rocks, archipelagos and islets too small to appear on such maps. The islands are treacherous, with reefs and rocks located just below the surface. Most sailors know the safest channels to use to travel between the Narrow Sea to the north and the Summer Sea to the south, but so do pirates and corsairs. The Stepstones span a relatively small area – 200 miles east to west and 300 north to south – but a surprising amount of pirate activity takes place in this region, some of it attributed to the actions of Tyrosh, Myr and Lys, some of it to reavers from the Basilisk Isles or the Iron Islands of Westeros.
Only two of the islands have names which are well-known to history: Bloodstone, one of the larger islands, was once the seat of Daemon Targaryen, the briefly-reigning King of the Narrow Sea, and was also the site of the final battle of the War of the Ninepenny Kings, where the young Ser Barristan Selmy slew Prince Maelys Blackfyre in combat, ending the line of the Blackfyre Pretenders after five generations of blood. A third island name is known, Torturer’s Deep, but its location is open to speculation.
Volantis is the oldest, largest and most populous of the Free Cities, and some say the most corrupt and decadent. Located at one of the several mouths of the River Rhoyne on the far south coast of Essos, the city is an immense metropolis, one of the biggest cities in the known world. Its vast, crescent-shaped harbour extends for many miles and the entire city of Braavos could fit within its confines with room to spare. Its population may exceed one million, certainly when the surrounding farms, villages and towns are included.
Volantis is located approximately 750 miles east of Lys and is almost 1,900 miles to the south-east of Braavos. Meereen on Slaver’s Bay lies approximately 1,650 miles to the east. Most forbiddingly, the ruins of Valyria lie just 800 miles to the south-east of the city, a relatively nearby reminder of the heritage lost to the city.
Volantis controls a significant swathe of surrounding territory and, almost uniquely among the Free Cities, commands the authority of several settlements also large enough to be called cities: Volon Therys, located 75 miles upriver; Valysar, located a further 80 miles or so the north; and Selhorys, located about 120 miles even further north. Each of these cities exceeds Oldtown in population and maybe King’s Landing, putting their population at around 300,000-450,000 each. Volantis’s influence also runs approximately 225 miles to the east, where the so-called “demon road” reaches the top of the Valyrian Peninsula, and 300 miles to the west, along the so-called Orange Coast where some Volantene families have coastal retreats when they wish to avoid the city.
The city itself is divided into two halves by the River Rhoyne. The western half is newer and of more recent construction. The docks and ports for foreign visitors are located along the coast here and markets, taverns and housing extend for many miles inland. To the east of the Rhoyne lies the older and more up-market part of the city, with sprawling noble estates and higher-quality housing. Dominating the eastern district are the 200-foot-tall Black Walls, a large, circular construction extending for miles and including the most ancient parts of the city. Only those of noble Volantene blood may set foot inside the Black Walls.
Officially, the city keeps to the worship of the gods of Old Valyria, but many other places of worship can be found. Most notable is the massive temple to the Lord of Light, the largest outside Asshai. Thrice the size of the Great Sept of Baelor, the temple is seen as the centre of R’hllor worship in western Essos and commands tremendous loyalty from both freedmen and slaves in the city, to the growing disquiet of the nobility.
Although it is still the largest and most populous of the Free Cities, Volantis’s population is much reduced from what it once was; entire districts of the city have fallen into ruin and disrepair. Part of the reason for Volantis’s decline may be its reputation for corruption, but also its uncomfortable climate (the city was once a swamp, and outbreaks of disease make that clear) and its remoteness from the other Free Cities. However, Volantis’s position athwart the main shipping land east to the Jade Sea will ensure its continued prosperity for centuries to come.
The Rhoyne, also known as Mother Rhoyne, is the greatest river in the known world. It is born in the high valleys of the Hills of Norvos as the Upper Rhoyne. From its remote source, in the high peaks some 300 miles south of Braavos, the Upper Rhoyne flows south-east for some 430 miles before it meets the Little Rhoyne, a tributary flowing out of the Velvet Hills to the west. The ruined Rhoynar city of Ghoyan Drohe, which carries the main Valyrian dragonroad from Pentos to Norvos, can be found near the confluence.
From the meeting of the two rivers, the Rhoyne flows south-east for some 230 miles before it meets the Noyne, itself a mighty river having flowed for 500 miles from its south in the high hills north of Norvos. At the meeting of the two rivers lies the great Rhoynar city of Ny Sar, the home of the infamous Princess Nymeria who led her people in exodus to Dorne.
The river flows south for some 150 miles before reaching Dagger Lake. Almost 80 miles long and a dozen miles wide at its widest point, Dagger Lake is a notable landmark on the river. It is often shrouded in mist, allowing ships to slip past one another. The Qhoyne, another major tributary, also flows into Dagger Lake from the north-east, having already flowed for 300 miles south-west out of the Forest of Qohor. Another tributary, the Darkwash, flows south from the Hills of Norvos and the mountains south of the Axe for 500 miles before joining the Qhoyne.
South of Dagger Lake the Rhoyne becomes wider and faster-flowing. It is already miles wide at this point. About 130 miles south of Dagger Lake the river reaches the colossal ruins of Chroyane. Today called the Sorrows, the ruins of the once-greatest city of the Rhoyne stretch for miles along the river. Many of the people still living in the city are afflicted with greyscale, and ships are advised to pass through the ruins quickly lest they are overrun by “stone men”. At Chroyane, the river is joined by the Lhorulu, which itself has flowed for over 200 miles out of the Golden Fields to the west. The Golden Fields were once the breadbasket of the Rhoyne, feeding several of the cities, but today their remoteness from any of the major cities has left them wild and untamed.
170 miles south of Chroyane the river is joined by the Selhoru, at which point it is so wide the other side of the river can barely be seen. The river now enters the territory of Volantis and becomes faster-flowing. The city of Selhorys is located a few miles south of the confluence. Almost 300 miles to the south, after being joined by the Volaena and flowing past the ruined Rhoynar city of Sar Mell, the Rhoyne finally splinters into four major (and many smaller) branches as it opens into a wide delta. Volantis sits on one of the eastern-most branches, whilst one of the western branches loops around to flow into the Summer Sea at the ruins of Sarhoy, a once-great city of the Rhoynar obliterated by Valyria.
The Free Cities form a vast amount of territory, home to many millions of people and a competing morass of cultures more diverse than those in Westeros. It is merely the western-most part of the vast continent of Essos; further east lie peoples, cities and places stranger still.
Essos is the largest continent in the known world. To its inhabitants it is the birthplace of civilisation, the probable birthplace of humanity and, to all intents and purposes, it is the world, Westeros less than an afterthought.
Essos is a land of great extremes: its great rivers (such as the Rhoyne and the Sarne) dwarf the largest rivers in Westeros and its tallest mountains are far beyond the tallest peaks of the Sunset Lands in size. Its cities are larger and its merchants richer, by far, than their western cousins.
It is also a much more fractious and violent land. Whilst almost all of Westeros (barring the northern fringes) is united as a single polity, Essos is divided between dozens of city-states and kingdoms, as well as several large empires and nomadic warriors whose territories extend over thousands of miles.
It is also a land of mysteries and the unknown. Even its geographic constraints have not been measured: beyond the forests of Mossovy, the plains of the Grey Waste, the peaks of the Mountains of the Morn and the mist-shrouded waters of the Saffron Straits, all knowledge of the continent abruptly ceases. Expeditions seeking to explore the lands to the east of Carcosa and the Shadow Lands – even by the ancient Valyrians on dragonback – have simply all vanished without a trace. Even the famed Sea Snake of Westeros, Corlys Velaryon, chose to turn back at Nefer rather than risk further travel through uncharted seas.
The mapped portion of Essos, stretching from the western-most promontory in the Disputed Lands to the eastern shores of the Hidden Sea, extends across a distance of approximately 6,335 miles. At its widest in the far east, the continent extends for approximately 2,600 miles from Nefer on the Shivering Sea to Asshai on the Jade Sea. The continent is divided into several informal cartographic regions by maesters when discussing its geography, for ease of debate.
The western-most region is known as the Free Cities, for it is dominated by nine great city-states and the large regions of territory each control. These cities are Braavos, Lorath, Lys, Myr, Norvos, Pentos, Qohor, Tyrosh and Volantis. This is the area that has the most traffic with Westeros, lying as it does just a few days sail across the Narrow Sea.
East of the Free Cities lies the vast region known as the Dothraki Sea, consisting mainly of the vast grasslands that give it its names, as well as the lands watered by the River Sarne.
South of this region lies Slaver’s Bay, formerly the heartland of the vast Valyrian Freehold and the Ghiscari Empire before that, but today divided between the ruined lands of Valyria and the Lands of the Long Summer (over both of which the Doom still holds sway) in the west and the resurgent cities of the harpy to the east: Meereen, Astapor, Yunkai and New Ghis. Immediately neighbouring them to the east is the kingdom of Lhazar.
East of Slaver’s Bay lies the forbidding Red Waste and the great city-state of Qarth, as well as the immense offshore island of Great Moraq. The gateway between east and west, this region sees immense wealth flowing between the Summer Sea in the west and the Jade Sea in the east.
North of the Dothraki Sea lies the island of Ib (sometimes called Ibben), which also controls stretches of the nearby mainland as well.
East of the Dothraki Sea lies the immense Bone Mountains and the Plains of the Jogos Nhai, home to a formidable, nomadic warrior-race as well as the surviving city-states of the ancient, long-fallen Patrimony of Hyrkoon.
South of the Plains of the Jogos Nhai lies the Golden Empire of Yi Ti. Probably the most populous nation in the known world, Yi Ti is ancient (some might say decadent), rich beyond reckoning and home to a hundred quarrelsome cities, each larger than King’s Landing or Oldtown. The wealthy island of Leng lies just off its coast.
In the far south-east of the world lies the Jade Sea, a vast, circular ocean whose shores teem with great cities, forbidding jungles and dark mysteries. Hundreds of islands fill the Jade Sea, chief among them fire-shrouded Marahai and the exotic Island of Elephants.
East of the Jogos Nhai lies the Far East, home to the Thousand Isles, the heavily-forested realm of Mossovy and the disturbing Bleeding Sea. This region is home to the Cannibal Sands, the Land of the Shrykes and the Cities of the Bloodless Men. The Mountains of the Morn loom over the landscape, in a hidden valley of which is said to lie the Hidden Sea, the homes of the fabled winged men and the forbidding, mysterious city of Carcosa. Knowledge fails us in this land and reality and myth become entwined.
Finally, south of the Mountains of the Morn and east of the Jade Sea lies the Shadow Lands, a land of towering mountains so high that they block out the sun, plunging the surrounding valleys into utter darkness even during the day. This is the land of ghost grass, the brackish waters of the River Ash and the corpse-city Stygai, where even the greatest sorcerers of the Shadow refuse to tread. At the mouth of the Ash lies the largest city (but most heavily under-populated) in the known world, Asshai-by-the-Shadow, mostly left in derelict ruins where sorcerers practice foul rites and hungry merchants lust for gold.
The population of Essos is hard to estimate, although maesters suggest it is considerably more than the (conservative) estimates of forty-five million for Westeros. Yi Ti is densely populated and the Free Cities almost all dwarf the largest cities in Westeros in population.
Due to its huge size, Yi Ti is home to numerous disparate factions and forces. The Free Companies, or mercenary sellswords, are considerably influential. Many of the city-states cannot afford to maintain standing armies, so they instead hire swords for coin to fight their battles for them. Although traditional, this has been cited as ineffective, since sellswords are untrustworthy and may turn their cloak if another city offers a better price. The Unsullied of Astapor, famed warrior-eunuchs with a reputation for absolute loyalty and fearlessness, are popular for their staunch reliability in battle, but this comes with a price. The warrior-nomads of both the Dothraki and the Jogos Nhai are feared for their skill and savagery in battle.
In matters of religion, Essos is home to almost as many faiths as there are stars in the sky. Rising in popularity is the cult of the red god, R’hllor, Lord of Light, which has gained vast numbers of followers in recent centuries. The centre of this faith is in far Asshai, but there is also a significant temple to him in Volantis. The Moonsingers are the most popular religious sect in Braavos, as they helped found the city, but temples to almost every deity under the sun can be found in the city. Also popular are the Great Shepherd of Lhazar, the Lion of Night, the Many-Faced God, the Stone Cow of Faros, the Weeping Lady, Trios, Bakkalon the Pale Child, the Hooded Wayfarer and the Black Goat of Qohor, amongst many, many others.
Essos then is a vast land of many different peoples, gods and lands, a teeming and confusing morass of cultures and races whose beliefs are very alien to those of the Seven Kingdoms.
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Artist Spiral Horizon (aka Jason Deem) has updated his spectacular map of Earwa (from Scott Bakker’s Second Apocalypse series). The map includes new material revealed by Bakker as well as information from the new maps in the Aspect-Emperor books.
The map is enormous (at 300dpi and over 9MB in size) but well worth a look. This is now one of my favourite fantasy maps of all time, a real labour of love.
Atlas of Ice and Fire is on hiatus for a little while, but will be back later this year with the regional maps of Essos and the other continents. I’m also exploring other mapping options for my planned coverage of the actual novels themselves. The regional maps of Westeros exposed the limitations in resolution of the main base map I’ve been using for small-scale maps, so I’m going to be looking for better options before tackling that (extremely long-term) project.
The stretch of coast between the Bay of Crabs and the Kingswood has long been one of the most marginal areas of Westeros. Relatively fertile, it had the misfortune at lying close to four other great powers: the Kingdom of the Vale to the north, the Kingdom of the Rivers and the Hills to the north-west, the Kingdom of the Reach to the south-west and the Storm Kingdom to the south. The area passed between the control of these regions several times before gradually being left alone to its own lords and petty kings.
When Aegon the Conqueror invaded Westeros, this was where he landed and where he secured his first allies on the mainland. Later his great capital city was built here and the area became directly administered by the Iron Throne itself. The informal term “Crownlands” fell into regular use, referring both to the lands directly administered by the king and the islands off the coast.
The Crownlands extend for approximately 400 miles from the Bay of Crabs to the Wendwater, and for close to 450 miles from the western border (near Gods Eye) to the Narrow Sea at the tip of Crackclaw Point. The Crownlands are geographically dominated by Blackwater Bay, an immense inlet of the Narrow Sea, and also include the offshore islands of Driftmark, Dragonstone and Claw Isle, amongst others. The Crownlands are economically and politically controlled by King’s Landing, the largest city in Westeros.
King’s Landing is the capital city of the Seven Kingdoms. It is built around three tall hills overlooking the mouth of the Blackwater Rush, where it opens into the bay. It is also the youngest city of the Seven Kingdoms, being formally founded only around 300 years ago by Aegon the Conqueror.
The tall hills overlooking the bay have made a natural place for habitation and settlement for millennia, and the ruins of villages and watchtowers in the region of the city could be seen even when Aegon arrived. However, the ever-changing borders between the surrounding kingdoms prevented a long-term settlement from taking root. When Aegon landed at the river mouth he quickly fortified the tallest hill overlooking the bay and built a wooden stronghold there, nicknamed the “Aegonfort” by his troops. After he completed his conquest, he expanded the Aegonfort and decreed that a greater city would take shape around it. When word arrived that a pirate fleet had sacked the Summer Islands he realised the city was vulnerable to a naval assault and commanded that walls should be raised, which were completed by 26 AC. He also ordered the rebuilding of the Aegonfort as a larger and more formidable stone fortress. This was completed during the rule of his second son, Maegor I. Built of red stone, the castle was named the Red Keep. Crowning Aegon’s High Hill, it is one of the most distinctive buildings in the Seven Kingdoms.
The other two hills have their landmarks as well. Atop the Hill of Rhaenys sits the Dragonpit. Once the hill was crowned by the impressive Sept of Remembrance, but this was destroyed during the Faith Militant Uprising, burned to the ground by King Maegor using the dragon Balerion. The Dragonpit, a home for the Targaryen dragons, was raised in its stead. This in turn was destroyed during the Dance of Dragons. The building has been left in ruins ever since.
Sitting atop Visenya’s Hill is the Great Sept of Baelor, the largest sept in the Seven Kingdoms and the centre of the Faith of the Seven, supplanting the older Starry Sept of Oldtown.
When the city walls were built, lots of space was left over for future construction and growth. But the city grew faster than expected. Today the city inside the walls is full to bursting and buildings have overflown outside the walls, along the roads and the banks of the Blackwater. The population of the city is hard to estimate, given seasonal variations in trade and travel, but some maesters have estimated that around 400,000 people can usually be found in or near King’s Landing, somewhat more than Oldtown. King’s Landing covers less area than Oldtown and the streets have not been paved, resulting in a city that’s busier, more crowded and distinctly muddier (and certainly more aromatic).
King’s Landing’s harbour is one of the most extensive in Westeros, stretching for several miles along the mouth of the Blackwater. The harbour usually bustles with ships from all over the known world, as well as ferries carrying people back and forth to the far side of the river where the southern Kingsroad from the Stormlands terminates (it resumes again on the north side of the city). The harbour is somewhat ad hoc in nature, consisting of wooden shanties built up against the city wall, representing a significant danger of fire and disease. The City Watch occasionally clears out the shanties of people and pulls the buildings down, but they soon encroach back again.
There are seven gates into the city. Clockwise from the south-east, these are the River Gate, the King’s Gate, the Lion Gate, the Gate of the Gods, the Old Gate, the Dragon Gate and the Iron Gate. Several major highways meet at King’s Landing: the Rosby Road leading to Rosby and thence to Stokeworth and Duskendale; the northern Kingsroad, leading north to Hayford, Darry and the Trident (and eventually Winterfell, some 1,500 miles to the north); the Gold Road, leading to the Deep Den and Lannisport (about 800 miles to the west); and the southern Kingsroad, leading to Storm’s End some 400 miles to the south. Thirty miles or so to the south-east of the city, the Roseroad splits off from the Kingsroad, leading to Bitterbridge, Highgarden and, about a thousand miles to the south-west, Oldtown.
South of King’s Landing lies the Kingswood, the largest and most extensive forest in Westeros south of the Neck. The forest sprawls on either side of the Wendwater and extends north and west to the banks of the Blackwater Rush, as well as north and east to the end of Massey’s Hook and west towards the plains of the Reach. The forest south and south-east of the Wendwater lies in the Stormlands, but most of its extent lies in the Crownlands under the direct authority of the Iron Throne.
The Kingswood has been partially tamed, with villages and farms found nestled between the clusters of trees. But, at the crown’s command, vast stretches of the forest have been left untamed. Fierce wild boar, proud pheasants and deer can be found in the forest, ready prey for one of the king’s hunting trips.
Despite its proximity to King’s Landing, the inhabitants of the Kingswood have not always greatly loved the crown. Less than a generation ago, a band of rebels and marauders won the support of the woodsfolk and rebelled against the Iron Throne, raiding surrounding lands and waylaying traffic on the Kingsroad. It fell to Ser Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning, to win back the allegiance of the woodsfolk and defeat the so-called Kingswood Brotherhood in a military campaign lasting months, during which the young warrior Jaime Lannister rose to prominence and fame.
The most notable house of the Kingswood is House Wendwater, which commands much of the length of the river from its castle near Wendwater Bridge.
The Crownland Castles
Located in the shadow of King’s Landing are several notable castles, home to houses far older than the capital itself, who in ancient times were subject to the Storm Kings or River Kings or Dusk Kings of Duskendale, or served for a time as petty-kings themselves.
The Hayfords of Hayford are the closest to King’s Landing: their castle is less than a day’s brisk ride from the city along the Kingsroad. A smaller road splits off the Kingsroad and leads north-west into the southern Riverlands, below Gods Eye. Hayford sits atop a hill surrounded by a small stream, making it a formidable defensive redoubt.
Located somewhat further away to the north-east of King’s Landing, maybe 65 miles or so, is Rosby. Rosby is a small castle surrounded by a village, a watering hole on the way from the capital to Duskendale. A further 40 miles or so to the north-west is Stokeworth, a proud and stalwart castle belonging to a family noted for their long-term allegiance to the crown. Between Rosby and Stokeworth lies the Old Stone Bridge, an inn and common waystop on the Rosby Road.
Located about 180 miles north-east of King’s Landing lies the large town of Duskendale. Duskendale sits at the head of a long inlet of Blackwater Bay, with a large headland to the east that keeps the worst of the sea storms away from the town. Duskendale used to be the largest port on the eastern coast of Westeros between Gulltown and Dorne, and it bore the loss of that position to King’s Landing with less than good grace (ultimately culminating in the Defiance of Duskendale and the breaking of House Darklyn). Now controlled by House Rykker, Duskendale remains a large port with healthy trade with the Blackwater islands and the Free Cities, but it seems condemned to remain in the shadow of the capital.
The Northern Crownlands
The Kingsroad runs north from King’s Landing through Hayford and on towards the Riverlands. Small villages such as Brindlewood lie on this road, providing rest and succour to travellers and merchants. East of the Kingsroad lies the castle of Antlers, the home of House Buckwell. The Buckwells used to be a strong family in the Crownlands, but made the mistake of backing the Targaryens during the rebellion. Although the family kept their castle, they lost some lands and some of their members were forced to take the black afterwards.
The northern Crownlands are large and covered by farms, smallholdings and minor noble lands. These lands form the breadbasket of King’s Landing, sending food and goods to the capital.
North and east of Duskendale lies the castle of Rook’s Rest, the seat of House Staunton. The site of a major battle during the Dance of Dragons, Rook’s Rest also marks the south-western end of Crackclaw Point. An immense peninsula, Crackclaw Point divides the Bay of Crabs to the north from Blackwater Bay to the south. The tip of the peninsula is 300 miles to the north-east of Rook’s Rest, whilst its width varies from about 70 miles to around 90 and then back down again as the peninsula narrows.
Crackclaw Point is covered in hills, bogs and barrens, with forests crowding the north-eastern part of the peninsula. The northern coast, east of Maidenpool, is the most heavily-populated. Brownhollow and the Dyre Den are two of the largest castles on the peninsula, but the headland is crowded with ancient ruins, such as the castle known as the Whispers. The people of Crackclaw Point are fractious, boisterous and uncouth by the standards of many of the surrounding lands. For centuries the headland was battled over by the Celtigars of Claw Isle (which lies off the peninsula’s south-eastern coast), the Darklyns of Duskendale and the Mootons of Maidenpool, amongst others. During Aegon’s Conquest the inhabitants of Crackclaw made alliance with Queen Visenya Targaryen in return for being allowed to govern themselves. After Aegon completed his conquest, he lived up to his word and refused to put any other lords in charge of Crackclaw Point. It is said that the area is a hotbed of Targaryen loyalism even today, but its remoteness means it is paid little heed.
Blackwater Bay is a very large body of water, with the island fastness of Dragonstone lying 400 miles north-east of King’s Landing. The massive extent of water inbetween is patrolled by the royal fleet, with 50 ships based at King’s Landing and 160 at Dragonstone (including 80 war galleys), making this one of the most heavily-defended stretches of water in the known world. Pirates know better than to even attempt to enter the bay.
They are two ways into Blackwater Bay. The safer is the Gullet, a 60-mile-wide strait between the tip of Massey’s Hook and the island of Driftmark. Between Driftmark and Dragonstone and the mainland of Crackclaw Point is a narrower strait, about 30 miles wide, but this seems to be less well-travelled, possibly due to the rocky coast.
The most famous stronghold on Blackwater Bay is the castle of Dragonstone sitting on the island of the same name. Dragonstone is a mountain of volcanic origin, jutting dramatically out of the Narrow Sea. The island was the home and birthplace of dragons for centuries, but in recent centuries the dragons have disappeared. However, the island is still home to a formidable castle. Fashioned by the Valyrians of the lost Freehold, the castle is carved out of the very volcanic stone of the island and resembles a serpentine mass of dragons and firewyrms. Since Robert’s Rebellion and the defeat of House Targaryen, the island has been held by Lord Stannis Baratheon, the king’s brother.
Just south and west lies the island of Driftmark. Driftmark is considerably larger than Dragonstone, but much less dramatic in appearance. House Velaryon, also of Valyrian origin, commands the island from the castle of Driftmark. The Velaryons were once one of the most powerful houses in Westeros, commanding a vast fleet and exerting immense influence, particularly during the days of Corlys Velaryon, the “Sea Snake” who undertook many great voyages of discovery and exploration in the Shivering Sea and Jade Sea before playing a key role in the Dance of Dragons. Their influence waned considerably in later years, but Driftmark remains a sizable centre of travel and trade on Blackwater Bay. The Velaryons command both Driftmark Castle and the partially-ruined castle of High Tide, along with the town and port of Hull. Another port, Spicetown, was destroyed during the Dance of Dragons and never rebuilt.
120 miles to the north-east of Dragonstone, along the coast of Crackclaw Point, sits Claw Isle. This is a small rock, still called Crab Isle by the inhabitants of the peninsula. Claw Isle is the seat of House Celtigar, another ancient house of Valyrian origin.
Another key stronghold on the bay is Sweetport Sound, the seat of House Sunglass. The Rambtons of Rambton are important vassals of Sweetport. The two houses are noted for their piety to the Seven.
Forming the south-eastern edge of Blackwater Bay is the narrow peninsula known as Massey’s Hook. The Hook extends for about 130 miles from the mainland, north and east of the mouth of the Wendwater. The Hook is narrow, mountainous and difficult to attack. Two castles can be found on the hook: Stonedance, the seat of House Massey, and the fortified lighthouse known as Sharp Point of House Bar Emmon, located at the very tip of the Hook. A great fire burns on Sharp Point, warning ships traversing the Gullet away from the rocky shore.
In ancient times the Hook was part of the Stormlands. The Masseys rebelled against Storm’s End but were ultimately defeated. However, during the Targaryen stewardship of Dragonstone, both the Masseys and Bar Emmons allied with them and supported their military campaign to win control of Westeros.
Houses of the Crownlands
The Crownlands owe their fealty to House Baratheon. Most of the mainland houses are sworn directly to King Robert Baratheon, who sits the Iron Throne in King’s Landing, but many of the islands in Blackwater Bay and some of the surrounding coasts are instead sworn to Dragonstone and Lord Stannis Baratheon, the king’s younger brother who serves as Lord Admiral of the Royal Fleet and Master of Ships on the small council. The king’s youngest brother is Renly Baratheon, who now serves as Lord of Storm’s End.
Major houses sworn to King’s Landing include House Brune of Brownhollow and the Dyre Den, House Buckwell of the Antlers, House Hayford of Hayford (and their vassals, House Hogg of Sow’s Horn), House Rosby of Rosby, House Rykker of Duskendale, House Staunton of Rook’s Rest, House Stokeworth of Stokeworth (and their allies, House Byrch), House Wendwater of Wendwater.
Minor houses sworn to King’s Landing include House Blount, House Boggs, House Bywater, House Cave, House Chelsted, House Crabb of the Whispers, House Cressey, House Dargood of Duskendale, House Darke of Duskendale, House Darkwood of Duskdendale, House Edgerton, House Gaunt, House Hardy, House Harte, House Hollard, House Kettleblack, House Langward, House Mallery, House Pyle, House Pyne, House Rollingford, House Thorne,
Houses sworn to Dragonstone include House Bar Emmon of Sharp Point, House Celtigar of Claw Isle, House Chyttering, House Farring, House Follard, House Manning, House Massey of Stonedance, House Sunglass of Sweetport Sound (and their vassals, House Rambton) and House Velaryon of Driftmark.
The map above uses heraldry designs (under Creative Commons) from the excellent Wiki of Ice and Fire and La Garde de Nuit, the ultimate English and French-language guides to the Song of Ice and Fire novels.
Thank you for reading The Atlas of Ice and Fire. To help me provide better content, please consider contributing to my Patreon page and other funding methods, which will also get you exclusive content weeks before it goes live on my blogs.
The south-eastern coast of the Seven Kingdoms lies along the shores of the Narrow Sea, the great body of water separating Westeros from the vast continent of Essos to the east. The sea is, as its name states, relatively narrow, with only a few days of voyaging separating the Seven Kingdoms from the great cities of the east.
The Narrow Sea also acts as a funnel for the great storms that build on the Shivering Sea to the north and the Summer Sea to the south. Whilst all the coastal lands of the Narrow Sea can be affected, particularly during autumn and winter, the worst of the storms break on the rocky and windswept stretch known as the Stormlands.
The Stormlands extend from the Kingswood and the lower end of Massey’s Hook all the way to the Sea of Dorne, over 400 miles to the south. They also extend from the coast to the easternmost plains of the Reach, varying from 300 to 500 miles, and also include a significant number of islands in the Narrow Sea and the Sea of Dorne, most notably Tarth and Estermont. Finally, the Stormlands also control a sizeable salient of territory extending south and east, between the Reach and the Red Mountains. This salient, known as the Dornish Marches, extends just over 400 miles to the south-east of Summerhall. From the south-eastern tip of the Marches, at the castle of Nightsong, to the north-eastern corner on the coast near Massey’s Hook, the Stormlands extend for over 900 miles. For an area that is often overlooked by history and chroniclers, it is a surprisingly large region.
Although large, the Stormlands are not hugely populous. The region lacks a major city and the land can be damp and dismal. The Stormlands certainly field less soldiers than the Westerlands, the Vale, the Reach, the North or the Riverlands, but they have a reputation for fierceness and valour.
The Dornish Marches
For thousands of years, the kingdoms of the Reach, the Stormlands and Dorne battled one another in near-constant border skirmishes. Dornish raiders would descend from the mountains to pillage the border castles before pulling back behind their formidable natural defences. Attempts by the Storm Kings and Kings of the Reach to invade Dorne would founder in the mountains or desert. Fortresses and towns along the borders have swapped rulers many times.
As centuries passed, the borders stabilised. The Stormlands were left with a large swathe of territory along the feet of the mountains and extending into the coastline along the Sea of Dorne, forming an effective buffer between Dorne and the Reach.
The Marcher Lords, as they are known, are among the most martial lords of the Seven Kingdoms. As well as officially-sanctioned wars against the Dornish in the past, they have fought bandit kings and rebel lords hiding in the mountains. Many of the Marcher castles have been besieged or even destroyed several times over in previous conflicts, only to be rebuilt stronger and more formidable than before.
Most remote of these strongholds is Nightsong, located at the mouth of the Prince’s Pass. Nightsong has been besieged thirty-seven times in the last thousand years and was partially destroyed by Lord Fowler of Skyreach during the First Dornish War. Nightsong was restored and remains the main stronghold of House Caron. Further east and north, near the headwaters of the Cockleswhent, lies Harvest Hall. A less grandiose fortress, Harvest Hall is the seat of House Selmy, a house of landed knights who have become more notable with time. Their most famous son, of course, is Ser Barristan Selmy, Lord Commander of King Robert’s Kingsguard.
Further east still, at the northern end of the mountain pass and road known as the Boneway, lies the ruins of Summerhall. Summerhall was built by King Daeron II Targaryen in 188 AC as a great summer palace, located symbolically where the borders of the Reach, the Stormlands and Dorne were closest together. However, the castle was destroyed seventy-one years later, burned to the ground during an ill-fated attempt to hatch dragon eggs. King Aegon V Targaryen lost his life to this firestorm. The ruins were abandoned and the castle was never rebuilt, its ruins left as a warning of the folly of meddling with forces best left to history.
South of Summerhall, in the Red Mountains, lies Blackhaven. The seat of House Dondarrion, the castle is strong with black basalt walls and a deep, dry moat. Located north of the River Wyl, and the cruel Wyls of Wyl, Blackhaven has, like Nightsong, had to resist multiple attacks from the south before Dorne joined the Seven Kingdoms. The current lord of Blackhaven is Beric Dondarrion, a young and vital knight, popular with the commons for his tourney skills.
East of Blackhaven, the Dornish border turns south to meet the Sea of Dorne. A further stretch of the Marches remains along the coast, however, guarding against possible attacks by sea. This stretch of the Marches is known as the Red Watch, for the Red Mountains that extend north of the Sea of Dorne. The River Slayne cuts a swathe through the mountains here, the only part of the mountain range which is located entirely with Stormland territory. King’s Mountain, the seat of noted knights such as Ser Patrek, lies in this region.
The most impressive castle of the Red Watch is Stonehelm, the seat of House Swann. The Swanns are possibly the most ancient house of the Stormlands following the now-extinct Durrandons, their names mentioned in the most ancient histories of the Marches. They are formidable soldiers, with many of their number serving in the Kingsguard, including the current Ser Balon Swann.
East of the Dornish Marches lies Cape Wrath, an enormous peninsula extending for almost 400 miles into the Narrow Sea and measuring around 150 miles from north to south. The cape is dominated by the Rainwood, a large, damp and, during the summer, humid forest. The Rainwood and the surrounding lands tend to be rainy but are also quite fertile, and a large proportion of the Stormlands’ population lives in this region.
Notable castles in this area include Crow’s Nest, located at the western edge of the cape in the foothills of the Red Mountains, Mistwood on the southern edge of the Rainwood, and Rain House near the north-eastern tip of the cape. The island of Estermont lies just off the cape, ruled by the noble house of the same name from the castle of Greenstone.
Cape Wrath is also home to two of the Stormlands’ towns. Fawnton lies near Stonehelm, and occasionally suffered Dornish raids before Dorne was brought into the realm. Larger and more significant is the Weeping Town, the largest port of the Stormlands, under the rule of the redoubtable House Whitehead. The coasts of the Stormlands tend to be rocky and poor, with offshore rocks making landings difficult. The Weeping Town has one of the few good harbours in the area.
At the far north-western edge of Cape Wrath, sitting at the far western end of Shipbreaker Bay, lies Griffin’s Roost, the seat of House Connington. House Connington was once a powerful and influential house, its young Lord Jon rising to the rank of Hand of the King to Aerys II before being exiled following his defeat during Robert’s Rebellion. The Conningtons retain control of the castle, but have suffered significant reductions in lands and wealth.
The storms that rage across the Narrow Sea are, through some quirk of fate or geography, often squeezed between the tip of Cape Wrath and the south coast of the island of Tarth, resulting in them smashed into the fifty-mile-wide gulf north of Cape Wrath. This gulf is known as Shipbreaker Bay, as the sea floor is littered with the wrecks of hundreds and possibly thousands of ships that were caught in the bay at the wrong moment. The coasts of the bay are rocky and dangerous even in good weather. When storms lash the region, lives are frequently lost. Most famously, Lord Steffon Baratheon, his wife and many loyal retainers were killed when their ship was smashed to kindling on the rocks and only a single survivor, a fool sent insane by the experience, was pulled from the wreck.
On the northern coast of Shipbreaker Bay there is a headland extending slightly over the bay: Durran’s Point. On this seat sits Storm’s End, one of the most famous castles in Westeros.
Storm’s End is massive, consisting of a single huge, curving curtain wall and a single massive drum tower. According to legend, six castles were raised on the site of Storm’s End, only for the storms and the winds to destroy each one. The current castle is the seventh, built with cunning stonework and, according to rumour, the expertise of Brandon the Builder, who later would construct the Wall. However, this is regarded as fanciful by maesters, as Storm’s End would have to be as old as Winterfell and this does not appear to be the case.
Storm’s End was built by King Durran; his line, House Durrandon, ruled the Stormlands for millennia until King Argilac the Arrogant was slain by Ser Orys Baratheon during the War of Conquest. Following this victory, Orys took Argilac’s daughter to wife and was granted the castle, the sigil and the words of House Durrandon as his own. House Baratheon became a stalwart supporter of the Targaryen dynasty until Robert’s Rebellion, when Lord Robert raised the banners of war and unseated the Mad King. King Robert Baratheon removed himself to King’s Landing to rule, appointing his younger brother Stannis as Lord of Dragonstone. His youngest brother, Renly, was given command of Storm’s End.
The Sapphire Isle
Tarth, the Sapphire Isle, sits 100 miles off the east coast of the Stormlands, in the Narrow Sea. It forms the eastern and north-eastern edge of Shipbreaker Bay. It is separated from the mainland by the 30-mile-wide Straits of Tarth, off the island’s northeastern coast. The island is fairly sizeable, measuring 100 miles from north to south and is between 40 and 50 miles wide.
The island is ruled from Evenfall Hall, located on the island’s west coast, by House Tarth. The Tarths used to rule as independent kings but were brought into the Stormlands through marriage. At some point, petty rebel kings established themselves at Morne on Tarth’s east coast before the Storm Kings rooted them out and destroyed them. Tarth was the first part of the Stormlands to be conquered by the Andals, who used the island as a redoubt and stronghold before invading Cape Wrath.
Tarth is among the most peaceful and tranquil of the Stormlands, aside from when its southern shores are battered by the storms of Shipbreaker Bay. The waters are warm and dazzling, giving the island its nickname. The island itself is home to towering mountains were marble is quarried (some of which was used in the construction of the Eyrie, according to legend) and fertile high meadows which feed the inhabitants. The last time Tarth saw violence was when a pirate fleet from Myr seized control of the east coast in 92 AC. Prince Aemon Targaryen, Jaehaerys I’s son and heir, was slain driving them back into the sea.
The Northern Stormlands
The Stormlands extend north and west from Storm’s End to the Kingswood and the River Wendwater, which mark the border with the Crownlands to the north. These northern marches are dominated by three strong castles: Felwood, Bronzegate and Haystack Hall, which guard the approaches to Storm’s End. The northern Stormlands are cooler and less storm-wracked than the southern, and make for more pleasant country to travel through. The Kingsroad extends north from Storm’s End, through Bronzegate and over the river at Wendwater Bridge.
Houses of the Stormlands
House Baratheon rules the Stormlands from Storm’s End. They are the youngest of the great houses, having only been founded during Aegon’s Conquest by Orys Baratheon, although they inherited the arms, castle and words of House Durrandon, whose blood still flows in the Baratheons since Orys married the daughter of the last of the Durrandon Storm Kings.
The Marcher Lords are among the most powerful Baratheon vassals. These are House Caron of Nightsong, House Durrandon of Blackhaven and House Swann of Stonehelm. Less powerful but still formidable and respected is House Selmy of Harvest Hall.
Other significant houses of the Stormlands include House Buckler of Bronzegate, House Cafferen of Fawnton, House Errol of Haystack Hall, House Estermont of Greenstone, House Fell of Felwood, House Grandison of Grandview, House Mertyns of Mistwood, House Morrigen of Crown’s Nest, House Musgood, House Peasebury of Poddingfield, House Penrose of Parchments, House Penrose of Amberly, House Staedmon of Broach Arch, House Tarth of Evenfall Hall and House Wylde of Rain House.
Lesser houses of the Stormlands include Bolling, Gower, Hasty, Herston, Horpe, Kellington, Kingsmont of King’s Mountain, Lonmouth, Seaworth of the Rainwood, Swygert, Toyne, Trant, Tudbury, Wagstaff, Wensington and Whitehead of the Weeping Town.
I have to beg an indulgence for this entry. George R.R. Martin named two Stormland houses for notable SFF bloggers, including myself. Ser Patrek of King’s Mountain, who plays a role in A Dance with Dragons (ending with him being dismembered by the giant Wun Wun), is based on Patrick St. Denis of the Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist blog, whilst Ser Addam Whitehead is mentioned in the forthcoming Winds of Winter as being a knight of the Weeping Town. Although the location of Ser Patrek’s home is fairly logical (in the part of the Red Mountains wholly within the Stormlands), I had to make a slight logical leap for his house name (“Kingsmont”), which is not mentioned in the novel.
For the arms of House Whitehead, I utilised the coat of arms of my maternal ancestors, the McCanns of Northern Ireland (their motto, “Virtue Thrives Under Oppression”, would also be a totally awesome ASoIaF motto), but perhaps George will come up with something more appropriate for the books.
House Tudbury is also a nod to George’s earlier iconic character, Thomas Tudbury aka the Great and Powerful Turtle in the Wild Cards superhero series.
The map above uses heraldry designs (under Creative Commons) from the excellent Wiki of Ice and Fire and La Garde de Nuit, the ultimate English and French-language guides to the Song of Ice and Fire novels.
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The southernmost of the Seven Kingdoms is the most distinct in culture, history and its people. Walled off from the rest of the continent by the Red Mountains and the sea, the fiercely independently peninsula of Dorne spent thousands of years in strife before being unified by Prince Mors Martell of Sunspear and his ally-turned-wife, Princess Nymeria of the Rhoynar. The kingdom inflicted two devastating military defeats on the Targaryen dynasty before finally joining the Seven Kingdoms thanks to the peaceful, shrewd diplomacy of King Daeron II. But Dorne has retained its distinctive character.
Dorne is hot, dry and rocky. It is the most arid part of the continent of Westeros and it is home to the continent’s only true desert. However, both the coastlines and the mountain valleys in the north and west are more comfortable and home to the majority of the Dornish people.
The population of Dorne is disputed. Some maesters of the Citadel have pointed out that although Dorne is sizable (measuring 1,000 miles from east to west and 400 miles from north to south in the west of the region), a large chunk of the landmass is effectively uninhabitable and certainly infertile. King Daeron I Targaryen undertook a thorough military assessment of Dorne during his invasion and concluded that Dorne’s population is far higher than it first appears, with its armed might apparently equal to that of the North or the Vale. The tenacity of the Dornish in continuing to field armies capable of fighting invaders late in both the First and Second Dornish Wars also contributes to this argument, although the maesters also point out that the Dornish neutralised the most dangerous enemy army, that of the Reach, very early on in both wars and afterwards practiced hit-and-raid warfare that hid their true numbers. In the absence of detailed demographic information, most now accepted Daeron’s assessment of Dornish population, which the Dornish themselves support.
The kingdom is divided into three distinct regions: the peninsula and the coastlines in the east, including the lands watered by the Greenblood and its tributaries; the deep desert in the west; and the mountains in the north-west. Respectively, these regions are home to the three kinds of Dornishmen: the salty Dornish of the coasts, the sandy Dornish of the desert and the stony Dornish of the mountains.
The Red Mountains
Rising in the north-west of Dorne, the Red Mountains extend in a huge arc for almost a thousand miles, from just north of Sunhouse (in the Reach) to north of Griffin’s Roost (in the Stormlands). The mountain chain is longer than the Mountains of Moon which separate the Riverlands from the Vale of Arryn, but the peaks are less impressive in height. Only the tallest mountains ever see snow, and most of the time the peaks are bare. Sandstone is common in the mountains, giving them their distinct red hue.
The Red Mountains are tall and rugged enough to severely restrict travel between Dorne and the Reach and Stormlands to the north. There are only two significant passes through the range. The Prince’s Pass is the larger of the two and permits the passage of very large hosts numbering in the tens of thousands between the Dornish Marches, the Reach and Dorne itself. The Stormland castle of Nightsong guards the northern entrance to the pass, whilst the Dornish fortresses of Kingsgrave and Skyreach guard the southern stretch. In the northern foothills, near the Prince’s Pass, can be found a strange sight: a tumble of quarried rocks and eight graves. This is the famous Tower of Joy, where Prince Rhaegar Targaryen allegedly imprisoned Lyanna Stark of Winterfell, triggering Robert’s Rebellion and the downfall of the Targaryen dynasty.
To the east lies the coastal pass, the Boneway, which links Dorne to the Stormlands. This pass starts in the north, near the ruins of Summerhall, and process south through the mountains to the north-western corner of the Sea of Dorne. It then proceeds down the coast, past Wyl, before terminating near Yronwood. The Boneway is narrower than the Prince’s Pass and easier to bottle up armies between the peaks and the sea. However, it is also easier to resupply and support from the sea as well.
The Torentine Valley
Lying at the far western end of Dorne, 900 miles from Sunspear, is a relatively fertile river valley cutting a swathe through the Red Mountains. The River Torentine rises in the far north-western Red Mountains, with two large streams joining at the castle of Blackmont to form a larger and more substantial river. This river flows south for about 150 miles, past the peaktop castle known as the High Hermitage, before emptying into the Summer Sea. The castle of Starfall, the seat of the storied House Dayne, overlooks the river mouth.
There are mountain passes leading to the Prince’s Pass and the deep Dornish desert to the east. There is also a narrow coastal track leading towards Sunhouse and the far south-western stretch of the Reach. This was used during the First Dornish War in a daring raid by the Daynes on the lower Reach, but is not suitable to the movement of very large armies.
The Torentine Valley is a remote and isolated part of Dorne, but its people are formidable and fierce. The Blackmonts and Daynes have both played key roles in the history of Dorne, the latter notably for their tradition of raising great knights. The greatest, known as the Swords of the Morning, are permitted to wield Dawn, one of the most famous swords in the history of Westeros.
The Dornish desert begins just south of the Prince’s Pass and extends for over 250 miles south to the rocky coast of the Summer Sea. The desert spreads from east to west for about 400 miles, starting in the hills bordering the Torentine and terminating along the banks of the three great rivers of eastern Dorne, the Scourge, the Vaith and the Greenblood. Stretches of the desert extend south of the rivers almost as far as Lemonwood, and to the north almost as far as the Broken Arm.
The desert is modest compared to the vast Red Waste of Essos (which measures 800 miles from north to south and 600 miles from east to west), or the Grey Waste and Cannibal Sands of far eastern Essos (on the very fringes of the known world), but it is almost more inhabited. The castle of Sandstone sits in the middle of the western desert, built on top of the only well of any notable size for 150 miles in any direction. The people who hold fealty to House Qorgyle are the true sandy Dornish, desert nomads who know how to find water, how to cross the burning sands safely and how to fight under the unrelenting Dornish sun.
Further east lies the Brimstone. This is an acrid, bitter river barely worthy of the name by northern standards. Its water is sulphurous and unpleasant. House Uller, founded by Andal adventurers, built the castle known as the Hellholt along the river. Soon a small town and docks followed. The Ullers were long overshadowed by the Drylands of Hellgate Hall, located further south towards the river mouth, until Princess Nymeria destroyed House Dryland in battle and sent their last king in golden fetters to the Wall. The Ullers then ascended to become lords of the entire river.
Between the Brimstone and the Vaith lies the eastern desert, known as the Red Sands. This stretch of the desert is slightly rockier and more inhabitable than the west, but it remains sparse, dry and unpleasant.
The Sea of Dorne
The Sea of Dorne is an immense gulf of the Narrow Sea, bordered by Cape Wrath (in the Stormlands) to the north, the Dornish peninsula to the south and the Stepstones in the east. Dorne is not a major sea power and never really has been one, due to the lack of good harbourages on its tremendously long coastline, but the sea does provide some measure of security and fast passage to the rest of Westeros.
The castle of Wyl is located in the far north-west of the Sea of Dorne, at the mouth of the River Wyl. 170 miles south lies Yronwood, the seat of House Yronwood. For centuries the Yronwoods were the strongest house in Dorne until the Rhoynar gave the Martells the manpower they needed to conquer the kingdom. Today the Yronwoods are the Martells’ most important and powerful vassals, guarding the mountain passes and helping defend the coast.
Off the coast, sitting on a barren rock in the southern Sea of Dorne, is Ghaston Grey. Of old a watchtower and fortress designed to defend the coastline, it has since been converted into a forbidding prison for prisoners and enemies of Sunspear.
Further east the coast becomes hillier. The Tor, the seat of House Jordayne, sits above the sea. So does Ghost Hill, with its chalk-white walls. There are also docks below Ghost Hill which permit passage across the mouth of the Sea of Dorne, some 200 miles to the Weeping Town of the Stormlands to the north.
Further east the coastline becomes rugged and more dramatic, with sheer cliffs that drop into the crashing sea. This is the Broken Arm, the remnants of an ancient landbridge linking Westeros to Essos. According to tradition, the Children of the Forest raised a great spell, the Hammer of the Waters, to shatter the Arm of Dorne, leaving behind the broken islands known as the Stepstones. This is the point where Westeros comes closest to Essos, with the western-most of the Disputed Lands lying less than 160 miles away. Inbetween lie pirate-infested waters. This is a cooler part of Dorne, home to castles such as Spottswood. Further south the tumultuous weather of the Broken Arm give way to the more placid waters of the far northern Summer Sea.
Sunspear is the largest and most impressive castle in Dorne. A thousand years ago it was a more modest stronghold, shaped by a cunning and gifted stonemason like a great ship, its prow jutting out over the sea. The Sandship, as it was then called, was the seat of the Martells, then just one of dozens of families feuding for control of Dorne. The several thousand ships of Nymeria, Princess of Ny Sar, landed on the coast near the Sandship. Exhausted by four years and over 4,000 miles of sailing through hostile waters, Nymeria agreed to ally with Prince Mors Martell in return for aiding him in the conquest of Dorne. They succeeded.
In the centuries since then, the Sandship was re-fortified and expanded. Towers and domes in the Rhoynish style were added to the castle, most notably the Spear Tower which juts into the sky over 150 feet above the ground. The nearby Tower of the Sun acts the seat of Dornish government. An entire settlement, the so-called Shadow City (although by northern standards it is merely a large town, with a population in the thousands), spread out around the Sandship and its new towers, with three great walls providing an impressive degree of protection, along the winding alleys and streets of the city itself.
Nine miles to the west, the Water Gardens were established as a place of rest and recuperation away from the (sometimes vicious) politics of Sunspear itself.
The Summer Coast
The south coast of Dorne is immense, extending from the tip of the Broken Arm to south-west of Starfall. The Dornish have a tendency to exaggerate and often say that the coast of Dorne is four hundred leagues (1,200 miles) long. In reality, this is the width of the entire south coast of Westeros, including the Reach (Oldtown is almost 1,200 miles to the west and slightly north of Sunspear). It’s still a considerable distance, most notable for its utter lack of good harbourages or ports, or even landing spots for pirates or raiders. Between the port of Sunspear – and that is a poor thing compared to the great harbours of Oldtown or King’s Landing – and Oldtown there are almost no decent ports at all. It is possible to land at the Planky Town or sail up the Greenblood or Brimstone, but mostly landing on this coast means putting a rowboat ashore and hoping it doesn’t get smashed to kindling on the rocks.
Just under a hundred miles south and west of Sunspear lies the mouth of the Greenblood. The Greenblood is the largest and most impressive river of Dorne. It extends for 200 miles inland, where it is formed by the confluence of the Scourge and the Vaith under the shadowed walls of the castle Godsgrace. The Greenblood is a poor thing compared to the Mander or Blackwater Rush, but certainly compared to the immense Rhoyne of Essos. However, some of the descendants of the Rhoynar have taken to living on boats on the river in remembrance of their lost homeland, calling themselves the Orphans of the Greenblood and worshipping Mother Rhoyne as a goddess. At the mouth of the river they have lashed together ships and wooden buildings with planks to form a rough settlement, the Planky Town, the closest thing that Dorne has to a major port.
Just south of Planky Town lies the castle of Lemonwood, rearing above the Summer Sea. South of Lemonwood the coast turns west. The coast is barren, rocky and featureless until the castle of Saltshore is reached, sitting above the sea at the edge of the southern Dornish desert. It is a further 330 miles or so west to the mouth of the Brimstone. West of there the coastline becomes savagely inhospitable, with the burning deep desert of Dorne lying to the north. Ship captains and passengers usually breathe a sigh of relief when, just over 400 miles to the west, the coast turns abruptly northwards and they find themselves in open water, heading west for the Arbor and Oldtown.
That, then, is Dorne, one of the most storied and hostile parts of Westeros, but home to a noble and passionate people.
Houses of Dorne
House Martell rules Dorne from the castle of Sunspear. House Martell came from modest origins to build the castle known as the Sandship on the south-east coast, but the house’s fortunes were made when fate and currents conspired to bring the thousands of ships of the exiled Rhoynar princess Nymeria and her followers to their shores.
The second-most powerful house in Dorne is certainly House Yronwood, the Wardens of the Stone Way and whose lords still style themselves the Bloodroyal. The Yronwoods are tasked with guarding the Boneway and leading the defence of north-western Dorne. The Yronwoods have several vassal houses, but the most notable of them is House Drinkwater.
The next tier of powerful Dornish houses is made up of House Dayne of Starfall, which dominates the lower Torentine Valley (and a cadet branch, based at High Hermitage); House Allyrion of Godsgrace, House Blackmont, House Fowler of Skyreach, House Gargalen of Saltshore, House Jordayne of the Tor, House Manwoody of Kingsgrave, House Qorgyle of Sandstone, House Toland of Ghost Hill, House Uller of Hellholt, House Vaith and House Wyl of the Boneway.
Lesser houses of Dalt include House Dalt of Lemonwood, House Ladybright, House Santagar and House Wells (not related to the House Wells of the North).
Dorne comes from a variety of influences and inspirations, including medieval Italy (in the peninsula shape) and Moorish Spain, with perhaps a tiny dash of the Fremen of Frank Herbert’s Dune thrown in for good measure.
For many of years George R.R. Martin said that Dorne had a similar population to the North and the Vale, ahead of the Stormlands. In A Feast for Crows this was revealed to be a clever deception by the Princes of Dorne. Dorne is actually the “least populous of the Seven Kingdoms”, although many fans and commentators believe this is a reference to the mainland kingdoms; it seems highly implausible that Dorne has a lower population than the Iron Islands.
House Jordayne of the Tor is one of several nods to Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time fantasy series – published in the USA by Tor Books (who also published Martin’s long-running Wild Cards superhero anthology series) – in A Song of Ice and Fire. Martin has praised Jordan for opening the door for the longform fantasy series, which allowed his own to be published, and for Jordan’s critical praise for his books, which he credits with driving early sales of the series.
The map above uses heraldry designs (under Creative Commons) from the excellent Wiki of Ice and Fire and La Garde de Nuit, the ultimate English and French-language guides to the Song of Ice and Fire novels.
Sprawling across much of the southern half of Westeros is an immense plain, made up of huge fields of wheat, corn and barley, dotted with small forests and watered by rivers both large and small. The countryside is dotted with towns, holdfasts, castles and small villages. Hot in the summer, still moderately warm in all but the worst winters, the Reach is paradise compared to the cold, windswept North or the rocky, barren Iron Islands.
The Reach is the most populous part of the Seven Kingdoms. Conservative estimates place the population at around ten million and maybe as high as twelve million, more than twice that of any other region. It is also the second-largest, after the North, and the second-richest, after the Westerlands. It also claims the title of the most honourable and chivalrous (although this is disputed by the Vale, where the first Andals and Seven-worshippers came ashore on the continent), where the rules of tournaments and knightly comportment have evolved over many centuries. It is also the ancestral home of the Faith of the Seven on the continent, who were based in the Starry Sept of Oldtown before transferring their authority to the Great Sept of Baelor in King’s Landing.
The Reach measures approximately 1,200 miles along its longest axis (from the Arbor to the Blackwater Rush near King’s Landing). At its widest the region extends for about 800 miles from east to west and about 600 miles to north and south (with a significant southward extension west of the Red Mountains). The borders of the region are held to be the Sunset Sea in the west, the Redwyne Straits, Red Mountains to the south and south-east, the Kingswood to the east and the Blackwater Rush and Westerland hills to the north. The Reach counts several offshore islands as part of its territory, most notably the Shield Islands off the western coast and the Arbor to the south-west.
The North-Western Reach
The north-western Reach borders the Westerlands. Several Westerland castles are located very close to the Reach, or even on the plain itself, most notably Cornfield. The border is located some miles to the south of that castle. The north-western-most major strongholds of the Reach are Red Lake, located on the lake of the same name, and Old Oak, located on the coast between Crakehall and Highgarden.
Like most of the Reach proper, this region is fertile and populous. It is a little more varied geographically, with large forests in the north-west, a big lake in the north and hills rising to low mountains in the north. This informal region is bordered by the Lesser Mander to the east and the sea to the south-west.
The Lesser Mander
The Lesser Mander is an informal name for the river that rises in the Westerland hills and flows south for nigh on 450 miles before it joins the Mander proper. By any standards this is a significant river, but it is dwarfed by the Mander itself.
The Lesser Mander feeds the northern Reach, with numerous streams and rivers splitting off to water immense fields and grassplains stretching to the horizon. Located roughly halfway down the Lesser Mander and dominating the entire region is the castle of Goldengrove, held by House Rowan of the Northmarch. The Rowans, one of most powerful families of the Reach, hold the fealty of scores of lesser houses and landed knights, not to mention hundreds of villages and towns spread across a vast distance. From Goldengrove it is 250 miles to Bitterbridge to the west and over 220 miles to Highgarden to the south, granting the Rowans rule (under the Tyrells) over a large stretch of territory.
Among the notable and interesting castles of this region are Standfast and Coldmoat, located not too far from Goldengrove around a river known as the Chequy Water, which rises in the Horseshoe Hills and flows into Leafy Lake. These two castles, held formerly by Houses Osgrey and Webber, had a long-standing territorial dispute, complicated by claims from Houses Conklyn and Stackhouse. The matter was eventually settled by a marriage between the Osgreys and Webbers. Territorial disputes of this nature are more common in the Reach: although its vast, it also very densely populated with numerous houses controlling relatively small areas with territorial disputes and claims going back in some cases for thousands of years.
The Upper Mander and its Tributaries
The Mander is the greatest river on the continent of Westeros. It rises in the hills around Tumbleton, south-west of King’s Landing, and flows for over 700 miles south and west before curving northwards as it flows into the Sunset Sea via a huge river mouth. On its long journey it is joined by the Blueburn (which flows out of the Kingswood 300 miles to the east) and the Cockleswhent (which rises in the far north of the Dornish Marches), both of which add to the river’s size and width immensely.
The banks of the Mander are dotted with fishing villages, trade ports and holdfasts. The river provides a rapid means of transport from the sea to Tumbleton, from where cargoes can be loaded onto wagons for the last leg of their journey to King’s Landing.
Tumbleton is the largest town of the north-eastern Reach, growing fat on its position on the main trade routes north-west to the Riverlands, north-east to the capital and south along the river to Highgarden. The town sits in the midst of hills and ridge country. To the north lies the infamous Weeping Ridge and the Redgrass Field, where the armies loyal to King Daeron II Targaryen crushed the First Blackfyre Rebellion.
160 miles or so to the south-west lies Bitterbridge. Formerly known as Stonebridge for its large bridge spanning the Mander (the river widens significantly to the south of the town, making bridges impractical), the town was the site of a horrific battle and massacre during the Faith Militant Uprising. The Mander ran red with blood for twenty leagues, resulting in the town being renamed. The town suffered additional battles, riots and great loss of life in the Dance of Dragons. Since then the town has been rebuilt and continues to benefit from trade, both along the Mander and along the Roseroad. For those unable to afford water transport, Bitterbridge is the largest town and waystop between Highgarden and King’s Landing.
Seventy miles or so south of Bitterbridge, the Mander is joined by the Blueburn, which flows in from the Kingswood. The lands of the Blueburn are dominated by House Meadows, which rules from the castle at Grassfield Keep, near the town of Grassy Vale. Another powerful house in this region is House Merryweather, which rules from Longtable, located at the confluence of the Mander and the Blueburn.
A hundred miles or so south-west of Longtable is the castle of Cider Hall, seat of the red-apple Fossoways. This is located at the confluence of the Mander and the Cockleswhent. This is prime apple-growing country, with the castle of New Barrel (held by the green-apple Fossoways, the family splitting due to an argument during the Ashford Tourney of 209 AC) and the town of Appleton not too far away.
The Cockleswhent flows north and west from the foothills of the Red Mountains through some very beautiful countryside before joining the Mander. The castle and town of Ashford is the largest settlement on the Cockleswhent. The castle is notable for its role in history, as it was on the nearby Ashford Meadow that Prince Baelor “Breakspear” Targaryen was slain in a tourney mishap. Robert Baratheon also suffered his largest military defeat here during his rebellion, when he was defeated outside the town by the army of Lord Randyll Tarly.
130 miles south-west of Cider Hall, the Mander and the Lesser Mander combine and the river becomes truly immense, flowing south and west towards the sea.
Highgarden is the seat of House Tyrell, the rulers of the Reach, and for thousands of years before that was the seat of House Gardener. The castle sits on top of a hill overlooking the Mander. It has two walls, between which is a famous briar maze, whilst numerous halls, towers and an extensive sept are located around the inner keep, whilst the castle’s godswood is large and impressive, containing no less than three weirwoods.
Highgarden makes a claim to be the most aesthetically pleasing of the major castles of Westeros. The countryside surrounding the castle may be the most impressive, with immense fields of golden roses, melons, peaches and fireplums stretching to the horizon.
The Mander here has grown to be at least a couple of miles wide, with pleasure barges and boats sailing up and down the river. Overall, the scene is, especially in summer, idyllic and tranquil.
The Shield Islands
Located just west and north of the mouth of the Mander, the four large Shield Islands form an effective defence against any naval force planning to use the Mander to attack Highgarden and invade the heart of the Reach. There are four islands: Greenshield in the north-west, Oakenshield in the north-east, Greyshield in the south-west and Southshield in the furthest south.
The islands were originally known as the Misty Islands. Two thousand years ago, the ironborn were free to invade the Reach using bases and outposts on the Misty Islands. The Gardeners eventually drove out the invaders and settled troops from the Reach on the islands. Eventually these defenders were ennobled and made loyal vassals of Highgarden. The Shield Islands were given a significant and powerful fleet of ships to defend themselves. This fleet acquitted itself well during Robert’s Rebellion, slaying Lord Quellon Greyjoy when the ironborn attacked during the Battle of the Mander.
The Southern Marches
South-west of Highgarden lies a stretch of territory which, although ultimately ruled from Highgarden, holds most of its immediate loyalty to Oldtown, either as direct vassals or influenced by proximity to the city. This stretch of land is significant in size, measuring 400 miles from north to south and 300 miles from west to east.
This region is densely populated. Major strongholds along the coast include Bandallon and Blackcrown on the Sunset Sea, Three Towers on the Redwyne Straits and Sunhouse (with its surrounding port town, Cuy) in the far south on the Summer Sea, less than 200 miles from the Dornish castle of Starfall. Inland can be found Uplands, in the foothills of the Red Mountains east of Oldtown, and the castles of Honeyholt and Brightwater Keep, located up the Honeywine River from Oldtown.
At the far north-eastern edge of this region, less than a hundred miles from Highgarden, can be found Horn Hill, the seat of the extremely powerful and martial House Tarly.
Oldtown and the High Tower
Oldtown is the second-largest and oldest city on the continent of Westeros. No historian or maester has been able to determine when the first settlement was built at the mouth of the Honeywine, where it meets Whispering Sound, but it was many thousands of years before the Andal Invasion and almost certainly long before the Long Night. What records have survived indicate that settlers found an already-extant stronghold or ruins on Battle Isle, built from a curious, oily black stone. This was expanded to build the first stronghold and lighthouse on the isle by the Hightower family, or their ancient ancestors. Over the course of centuries, several successive wooden towers were built on the isle until the Hightowers replaced them with a proper, stone tower. Over the course of many centuries this tower was expanded, made higher and rebuilt until the modern tower was completed several centuries ago, reaching a height of 800 feet, taller than the Wall. In Westeros the High Tower is said to be the tallest artificial structure in the world, matched only by the Great Pyramid of Meereen, but legend speaks of the Five Forts of Yi Ti which may top a thousand feet.
The mainland near Battle Isle surrounds a great natural harbour. A town or fishing village was established here, braving ironborn raids or pirates from the Stepstones to expand, fortify and become richer and stronger. The city’s original name is unknown, but at some point it simply became known as “Oldtown”, a city that had stood since time immemorial. The city’s security was secured when King Lymond Hightower and King Garland II Gardener made an alliance through marriage, the Hightowers swearing fealty to Highgarden and making Oldtown the chief city and port of the Kingdom of the Reach. Some centuries later the order of maesters were allowed to establish their base of operations, the Citadel, in Oldtown, increasing the city’s prestige further.
During the Andal Invasion the Hightowers submitted to the invaders and retained control of the city. They secured their position by taking up the worship of the Seven and donating funds to help the Faith build a massive place of worship in the city. The Starry Sept became the centre of the Faith in Westeros for thousands of years. There are also many other septs in the city, including the Sailor’s Sept, the Lord’s Sept and the Seven Shrines, as well as a motherhouse for the training and education of septas. A cosmopolitan and open-minded city, Oldtown is also unusual in Westeros for hosting places of worship for foreigners, including a temple to the gods of the Summer Islanders and one to R’hllor, the Lord of Light, both relatively small and located in the dockland district.
The city of Oldtown is remarkable for its age and civilised beauty. The city is paved and mostly kept clean. The Oldtown City Watch is well-disciplined and effective. The city is a winding labyrinth of narrow, cobbled lanes and streets, broken up by estates and mansions. Some of the discipline in the city may be down to numerous guilds, who take in young people as apprentices and help keep lawlessness down on the streets.
The Citadel is located on the eastern side of the Honeywine, but extends onto the Isle of Ravens in the middle of the river, where the Ravenry is located. The original structure of the Citadel, when it was much smaller than today, it now serves as the place where ravens are kept, fed and dispatched on missions to maesters all over the Seven Kingdoms.
Lying off the south-western coast of Westeros, between the Sunset Sea (to the west and north), the Redwyne Straits (to the east) and the Summer Sea (to the south), the Arbor is a large island (over 100 miles long and about 60 miles wide) blessed by an excellent climate. The island is known for its shipyards, ports and its extensive vineyards, giving rise to excellent wines which are sold across the known worlds. The island is home to three notable settlements: Starfish Harbour, Ryamsport and Vinetown.
Houses of the Reach
House Tyrell rules the Reach from the castle at Highgarden. The Tyrells inherited the castle from the Gardeners when they were destroyed by Aegon the Conqueror on the Field of Fire. The Tyrells had been serving as the stewards of Highgarden and Aegon awarded them the castle for wisely choosing submission. However, the Tyrells’ relatively modest blood made this a controversial decision, with the Florents and Rowans (among others) occasionally noting their superior blood descent from Garth Greenhand.
The second-most-powerful family is House Hightower, who rules the city of Oldtown and a vast swathe of surrounding countryside from the High Tower, sitting on Battle Isle in Oldtown harbour. House Hightower, who in other circumstances would be a Great House in their own right, are loyal allies and vassals of the Tyrells. They also hold the allegiance of House Beesbury of Honeyholt, House Bulwer of Blackcrown, House Costayne of the Three Towers, House Cuy of Sunhouse (who also rule the port town of Cuy) and House Mullendore of Uplands.
The next tier of powerful houses include House Redwyne of the Arbor and House Rowan of Goldengrove. House Redwyne commands one of the largest fleets of warships in Westeros, based at the Arbor, whilst House Rowan rules the Northmarch, a vast swathe of the northern Reach stretching for hundreds of miles from Goldengrove to the Blackwater Rush. Vassals of the Rowans include House Osgrey and possibly House Durwell, House Stackhouse and House Conklyn.
Other major mainland houses of the Reach include House Ambrose, House Appleton of Appleton, House Ashford of Ashford, House Blackbar of Bandallon, House Caswell of Bitterbridge, House Cockshaw, House Cordwayner of Hammerhal, House Crane of Red Lake, House Cuy of Sunhouse, House Florent of Brightwater Keep, House Meadows of Grassfield Keep and Grassy Vale, House Merryweather of Longtable, House Oakheart of Old Oak, House Peake of Starpike, House Shermer of Smithyton, House Tarly of Horn Hill (and their vassals, House Hunt), House Varner and House Vyrwel of Darkdell.
Also significant are the four houses that command the Shield Islands: House Chester of Greenshield, House Grimm of Grimston (on Greyshield), House Hewett of Oakenshield and House Serrer of Southshield.
Lesser houses of the Reach include Houses Ball, Bridges, Bushy, Dunn, Footly of Tumbleton, Fossoway of Cider Hall (the “red apple” Fossoways), Fossoway of New Barrel (the “green apple Fossoways), Graceford of Holyhall, Graves, Hastwyck, Hutcheson, Inchfield, Kidwell of Ivy Hall, Leygood, Lowther, Lyberr, Middlebury, Norcross (possibly a vassal of the Florents, but unconfirmed), Norridge, Oldflowers, Orme, Pommingham, Redding, Rhysling, Risley, Roxton of the Ring, Sloane, Uffering, Westbrook, Willum, Woodright, Wythers and Yelshire.
The Reach seems to be very consciously influenced by medieval France. Like France, the Reach is huge, with mostly pleasant weather, fertile soil and lots of farms and villages, and liked to think of itself as the home of honour and chivalry. The Reach’s huge population also seems to be inspired by France’s: circa 1300 AD France had a population of 17 million, utterly dwarfing most of Europe’s other countries and certainly its key enemy England, whose population at the time was only 3 million. The somewhat lacklustre support for the Tyrells (who are seen as upjumped stewards) mirrors the sometimes half-hearted support for the French crown by its vassals during the medieval period.
Despite the French influence on the Reach, Oldtown seems to be more influenced by large English university towns like Oxford and Cambridge.
The status of House Osgrey and House Webber at the time of the novels is unknown. During the time of The Sworn Sword they were notable but minor houses in the region. They were unified when the aged Ser Eustace Osgrey married Lady Rohanne Webber, with Lady Webber apparently taking his name. After Ser Osgrey died, Lady Webber married Lord Gerold Lannister. This sequence of events leaves the fate of the Webber name unclear, although it is possible that Lady Rohanne left both Standfast and Coldmoat to another family who then inherited the Osgrey name.
Located along the far western coast of the Seven Kingdoms is a land of hills and low mountains, riddled with mines. Gold and silver is mined here in vast quantities, enriching numerous families, none moreso than the Lannisters of Casterly Rock. The Westerlands roughly match the Vale in size, but are more populous, more fertile and, by far, form the richest lands on the continent in terms of wealth.
The Westerlands occupy a stretch of the west coast of the continent, with Ironman’s Bay located to the north and the Sunset Sea to the west. The region’s borders to the east are formed by the headwaters of the Red Fork of the Trident and to the south by the headwaters of the Lesser Mander* and the northern plains of the Reach. The eastern and southern borders are somewhat flexible, resulting in frequent and long-standing border wars with the Riverlands and the Reach in ancient times, although since the Targaryn Conquest the borders have been settled. The Westerlands measure roughly 300 miles from east to west (with the Kayce Peninsula adding another 140 or so miles to that) and about 550 miles from north to south.
More vicious still are the Westerlands’ relationship with the Iron Islands, located less than a hundred miles off the north-west coast. The riches of the Westerlands made them a tempting target for ironborn raiders in the years before the Conquest, and during both the Red Kraken’s reign of terror and the Greyjoy Rebellion the Westerlands suffered significant raids and loss of life before the ironborn were defeated.
The Westerlands are roughly estimated as being home to between five and six million people, making them the second-most populous region of the Seven Kingdoms, behind only the Reach to the south. They can also field the second-largest (but easily the best-equipped) army, with a strong emphasis on heavy cavalry, pikes and crossbowmen.
The Hills and Mountains
The Westerlands are dominated by a series of highlands, hills and mountains, but these are not unified in large chains like the Red Mountains of Dorne or the Mountains of the Moon in the Vale. The Westerlands are much easier to traverse, as the hills and gradients are less severe. However, the hills are large enough where the River Road crosses the highlands into the Riverlands to form a significant bottleneck, where the Golden Tooth is located.
There are several distinct highland areas. The largest and most notable extends from the headwaters of the Tumblestone down to the Lesser Mander, and from just east of Casterly Rock to the headwaters of the Blackwater Rush. Most of the main mines and strongholds are located in this large area. A slightly smaller region of uplands is located to the north of the Tumblestone, extending east almost to Seagard and Wendish Town, forming a significant salient into Riverlands territory. Numerous smaller hill chains can be located across the region.
The North Coast
The coast of Ironman’s Bay is rugged, mountainous and sparsely populated. The largest castle in this area is Banefort, located on the north-west coast. Located close to the Iron Islands, Banefort is heavily fortified against attack, the distrust of the ironborn never fully leaving the area.
Ninety miles or so to the south lies the Crag, the seat of the once-great House Westerling. Once a much more imposing and impressive castle, it suffered when the nearby mines ran dry and left the family without resources or funds.
The Northern Vale
A densely-populated area can be found in the north of the Westerlands, between the mountains to the north and east. This region is dominated in the north by Ashemark, in the east by the Golden Tooth and to the south by Sarsfield. The houses Marbrand, Lefford and Sarsfield are the most powerful in this area.
The Golden Tooth is the second-largest castle in the Westerlands. It straddles the River Road as it makes its way through the mountains, presenting both a formidable obstacle to Riverlands armies attempting to invade from the east and a splendid jumping-off point for western armies heading into the Riverlands. A large, armed host would have to travel considerably far to the south to the Gold Road to find another suitable route into the Westerlands, or risk a more dangerous trek around the headwaters of the Tumblestone which is not suitable for large numbers of men.
The River Road skirts the mountains as it heads south-west. Here, not far from the Golden Tooth and a very optimistic three days’ hard ride from Casterly Rock, can be found the town of Oxcross, not far from the castle of Sarsfield.
In the west of the region, not far south-east from the Crag, can be found the ruins of Castamere and Tarbeck Hall. Formerly great castles belonging to mighty houses, the Reynes and Tarbecks, both castles were destroyed by the then-Ser Tywin Lannister after they rebelled against his weak-willed father.
Many mines dot the region. As well as the Golden Tooth, the exhausted mines of the Crag and the flooded galleries of Castamere, the most notable mines include Nunn’s Deep and the Pendric Hills.
The West Coast
The west coast is dominated by two major geographic features. In the north is Fair Isle. Just shy of a hundred miles long, it is has long been coveted by the ironborn. The island was conquered several times by the ironborn in ancient times, until they were either driven off by the Lannisters or the native people (a strong-willed folk) threw off the yolk of foreign rule. Eventually the ruling family of the island, the Farmans, aligned themselves with Casterly Rock permanently through marriage. Even so, both Dalton Greyjoy and Balon Greyjoy attacked the island during their respective rebellions.
House Farman controls the largest part of the Westerland fleet, which is primarily designed to defend the island and the coast from raids. During the Greyjoy Rebellion, the Iron Fleet was trapped in the Straits of Fair Isle, between the island and the Kayce Peninsula, and destroyed in detail by the fleet of Stannis Baratheon and Paxter Redwyne. This huge victory allowed King Robert Baratheon to invade the Iron Islands a few weeks later and end the war.
The Kayce Peninsula lies to the south of Fair Isle and north-west of Casterly Rock. 150 miles long and almost 50 miles across for much of its length, the peninsula extends into the Sunset Sea. The peninsula is dotted with watchtowers from the days of frequent ironborn raids. Kayce, the second-largest port of the Westerlands, can be found on the west cost of the peninsula. The castle, watchtower and lighthouse of Feastfires can be found near the tip of the peninsula, about 140 miles west of Casterly Rock.
Casterly Rock and Lannisport
The jewel of the Westerlands may just be the single most imposing and impressive sight on the entire continent: Casterly Rock.
Casterly Rock is a solid chunk of rock six miles long, extending for just over 2,400 feet into the sky (three times the height of the High Tower of Oldtown). Separated from the other mountains of the region by dozens of miles, the Rock is less impressive for its size (the Giant’s Lance of the Vale dwarfs it) but for its sheer imposing bulk, standing alone overlooking the Sunset Sea, and for the fact that over the course of thousands of years it has been gradually shaped by men. Giant harbours have been cut into the Rock where it meets the sea, two immense bastions of stone at the base have been shaped so they look like paws and the crest of the rock bristles with battlements, walkways and defensive weapons. At sunset the Rock resembles a lion at repose.
The Rock is exceeded in terms of exterior dimensions by Harrenhal, but even that castle cannot match the Rock for height or sheer living space. Even conservative estimates have the Rock being inhabited for over six thousand years. During that time countless galleries, tunnels and chambers have been carved out, so many that no-one has mapped them all. These extend through the Rock and deep below it into the bowels of the earth, where the Rock’s great gold mines still ring to the sound of excavations.
The Rock has never been taken in battle and rarely suffered attack: it would be pointless, since the castle is almost too large to besiege and then occupy with a land army and would need to be cut off from the sea as well.
Located a few miles to the south of the Rock lies the sprawling city of Lannisport. The third-largest city on the continent of Westeros and by far the largest port on the west coast of the entire continent, Lannisport is home to between 200,000 and 300,000 people, varying by the season. The city is located around an excellent natural harbour, close to rich fishing grounds. The River Road, Ocean Road and Gold Road meet not far from the city, providing superb transport links to the Reach, the Riverlands and, a thousand miles to the east, King’s Landing. A huge amount of gold and silver trading goes on in the city, attracting ships from the Free Cities, the Summer Isles and even points further east, giving the city a cosmopolitan feel.
Lannisport is as rowdy as you’d expect for such a large port, but it is quite orderly. The Lannisport City Watch is excellently trained and equipped and keeps the peace effectively.
The city is ruled by House Lannister of Lannisport, a cadet branch of the main branch of the family. Off-shoots of the family in the city include the Lantells, Lannetts and Lannys.
A number of noble families are sworn directly to Casterly Rock and have their keeps within a few days’ ride of the castle. The most notorious of these, although not the most powerful, are the Cleganes of Clegane Keep. Located south and east of Lannisport, this is the stronghold of the terrifying Ser Gregor Clegane, the Mountain That Rides, and is reportedly a grim place.
The Southern Border
The Lannisters command the fealty of all the coastlands south of Lannisport for over 200 miles. The most notable stronghold on the coast is Crakehall, held by the family of the same name. Just inland from Crakehall is the largest stretch of woodland in the Westerlands, the home of the wild boars that give the Crakehalls their banner.
About 150 miles inland from Crakehall is Cornfield, the seat of House Swyft. Cornfield sits at the far north-western edge of the Reach, the absolutely immense region of plains and fertile plains sweeping south and east for many hundreds of miles to the Red Mountains of Dorne, fed by the Mander and its mighty tributaries. Large farmlands can be found in this region, helping feed the rest of the Westerlands.
South of the Golden Tooth and south-east of Oxcross is a large area of highlands and valleys, dotted with mines (the played-out and still-operational) and strongholds. The Gold Road crosses this area on its way from Lannisport to King’s Landing.
The strongest castles in this area are Hornvale, located above the headwaters of the Red Fork of the Trident; Deep Den, where the Gold Road crosses the hills; and Silverhill, located above a rich silverlode near the headwaters of the Lesser Mander.
Houses of the Westerlands
House Lannister rules the Westerlands from its impregnable stronghold of Casterly Rock. A cadet branch controls the city of Lannisport, whilst Houses Lantell, Lannett and Lanny are vassal off-shoots of the main house. There are numerous smaller and knightly houses in the surrounding region directly sworn to the Lannisters, including House Clegane.
House Lefford commands the Golden Tooth, making it one of the richest families of the region, behind only the Lannisters. The Leffords also have strategic strength, commanding the defence of the main pass into the Westerlands. Nearby are House Marbrand of Ashemark, another extremely influential and rich family who have mines in the nearby Pendric Hills. House Sarsfield of Sarsfield command a strong castle overlooking the River Road and are also a principal house sworn to the Lannisters. Less powerful, although of ancient lineage, are Houser Westerling of the Crag, whose once-immense influence has dwindled along with their wealth.
House Brax of Hornvale, House Lydden of the Deep Den and House Serrett of Silverhill are other rich families who hold mines and strongholds in the hills and mountains.
House Banefort of Banefort is charged with the defence of the far northern coast from ironborn attack, and is a strong, martial house. House Farman of Faircastle, the rulers of Fair Isle, likewise are charged with the defence of the west coast. There are several other families on the island, vassals of the Farmans. The most notable of these are House Clifton.
House Kenning of Kayce is another strong house on the west coast. The Kennings are descended from ironborn invaders who decided to swear fealty to the Lannisters rather than remain vassals of the Iron Islands. Known as hardy warriors, the Kennings are also famed for the Horn of Herrock, a mighty warhorn and heirloom of the house, which they sound before giving battle. House Prester commands the nearby castle of Feastfires and are likewise a renowned and powerful family.
The most notable southern families of the Westerlands are House Crakehall of Crakehall and House Swyft of Cornfield.
Lesser families of the Westerlands include Houses Algood, Bettley, Broom, Doggett, Drox, Estren of Wyndhall, Falwell, Ferren, Foote, Garner, Greenfield of Greenfield, Hamell, Hawthorne, Hetherspoon, Jast, Lorch, Moreland, Myatt, Parren, Payne, Peckledon, Plumm, Ruttiger, Spicer, Stackspear, Turnberry, Vikary, Westford, Yarwyck and Yew.
*The large tributary of the Mander which runs from Silverhill past Goldengrove almost to Highgarden is resolutely unnamed in the books. I use the term “Lesser Mander” here but its real name is likely something else.
Casterly Rock is based on the Rock of Gibraltar but, as with so much else in Westeros, it is considerably larger (about three times the size).
The most fiercely independent people of the Seven Kingdoms are the ironborn. Worshipping the savage Drowned God and preferring to raid and pillage from the decks of their longships, the ironborn have caused the Iron Throne more rebellions and more strife than almost any other part of the realm.
The smallest and least-populous of the Seven Kingdoms, the Iron Islands span forty-four small islands located in two distinct archipelagos in the Sunset Sea to the west of Westeros. Most of these islands are too small to appear on maps, but eight are large enough to hold reasonable populations.
The larger archipelago consists of thirty-one islands, seven of them large and well-known: Pyke, Harlaw, Great Wyk, Old Wyk, Saltcliffe, Orkmont and Blacktyde. This archipelago is located about 130 miles west of the Cape of Eagles (in the Riverlands), 90 miles north-west of Banefort (in the Westerlands) and 200 miles south of the Flint Cliffs (in the North). This larger island grouping spans approximately 275 miles from west to east and over 150 miles from north to south.
The smaller archipelago consists of thirteen islands, but only one large enough to be named: the Lonely Light. The Lonely Light lies approximately 450 miles due west of Great Wyk.
Pyke is the seat of House Greyjoy, the rulers of the Iron Islands, and is also the closest island to the mainland, with the Westerlands lying less than a hundred miles to the south and east. The island lies at the mouth of Ironman’s Bay, where it meets the Sunset Sea. Roughly fifty miles wide from west to east and thirty from north to south, the island is not as large, populous or fertile as Great Wyk or Harlaw, but it is more difficult to attack, with rocky shores and, in Pyke Castle sitting atop its seastacks and linked by rope bridges, a formidable stronghold. Nevertheless, the island was conquered by King Robert Baratheon’s armies during the Greyjoy Rebellion of 289 AC.
There are two ports of note on Pyke: Lordsport, located close to Pyke, acts as the port for the main castle. Further along the coast lies Iron Holt, which competes with Lordsport for trade and commerce.
Located to the west of Pyke, Saltcliffe is one of the smaller islands. It is approximately forty-five miles long from east to west whilst only being about a dozen miles wide from north to south.
The island is dominated by two castles, the strongholds of Houses Saltcliffe and Sunderly.
Located north of Pyke and west of Harlaw, Orkmont is the most central of the Iron Islands. Although comparable in size to Pyke, it is much more fertile and more populous. In the past it produced two houses who went on to rule the entire Iron Islands before being wiped out: Greyiron and Hoare.
There are mountains and mines on Orkmont, producing metals for use in trade and for the making of ships and weapons. There also used to be extensive woodlands, but these were cut down for shipbuilding.
There are three major strongholds on the island, belonging to Houses Orkwood, Tawney and a cadet branch of the Goodbrothers.
Blacktyde is the northern-most of the Iron Islands, located north of Orkwood and Harlaw. It is also one of the smallest, extending for roughly thirty-five miles from west to east and less than a dozen miles from north to south. It is dominated by the house and castle of the same name.
Great Wyk is the largest island controlled by the ironborn. It extends for 125 miles from west to east and for almost 100 miles from north to south. It is very hilly and mountainous, the interior dominated by the towering Hardstone Hills, so it is not as populous as Harlaw.
The hills form a chain curving around the length of the island, which is roughly crescent-shaped. The northern and eastern coasts of the island form the shores of a large bay known as Nagga’s Cradle, with the island of Old Wyk located in the middle of the bay.
Great Wyk is dominated by the Goodbrothers, who hold castles at Hammerhorn, Crow Spike Keep, Downdelving and Corpse Lake. Another notable family are the Farwynds, who hold Sealskin Point as well as the Lonely Light far to the west. The largest port on the island is Pebbleton, located on the east coast near the very centre of the Iron Islands, which is ruled by House Merlyn.
Old Wyk is the smallest of the Iron Islands, only a bit more than twenty miles from one end to the other and barely ten miles wide. Despite its small size, it is well-populated with three castles located on its shores: Shatterstone, Stonehouse and Drumm Castle.
At the south-western tip of the island, overlooking Nagga’s Cradle, is Nagga’s Hill. The hill is dominated by the Grey King’s Hall, formed out of the ribs of an immense sea dragon named Nagga, killed many thousands of years ago. In ancient times the ironborn gathered here to select their next king in the Kingsmoot, an archaic practice that has not been undertaken for many centuries. Old Wyk is counted as the holiest of the Iron Islands and an important centre in the religion of the Drowned God.
Harlaw is the second-largest and easternmost island in the grouping. It is almost eighty miles across from west to east and fifty from north to south, with a peninsula at the north-eastern corner of the island extending a further twenty-five miles to the north. Aside from some tall hills in the east, it is flatter and more fertile than the other islands and is the most heavily-populated island in the archipelago.
The island is ruled by the numerous House Harlaw, who control no less than five castles (Grey Garden, Harlaw Hall, Harridan Hill, the Tower of Glimmering and their chief stronghold, Ten Towers). Other important castles include those belonging to the houses Stonetree, Volmark, Kenning and Myre.
The Lonely Light
The Lonely Light is located some 450 miles to the west of Great Wyk. Less than forty miles across, the island is the western-most location in the entire Known World. Beyond the Lonely Light lies the imposing vastness of the Sunset Sea. The ironborn of the Lonely Light, led by a lesser branch of House Farwynd, tend to be quieter and more contemplative than their eastern kin, most interested in exploring the deep ocean than in raiding and bloodletting.
Occasionally, rumours spread that the Farwynds have found more land far out to sea, either more islands or even other continents, but so far these rumours have never been substantiated.
Houses of the Iron Islands
House Greyjoy rules the Iron Islands from the castle at Pyke. They also rule the island of Pyke as well. Their immediate vassals are House Botley of Lordsport and House Wynch of Iron Holt.
House Saltcliffe rules the island of the same name. It is presumed that House Sunderly, who also hold lands on the island, are their vassals.
House Orkwood appear to be the strongest house on Orkmont, capable of fielding a fleet of twenty longships. House Tawney of Orkmont are also listed as one of the most powerful ironborn houses, so it is unclear if one house has dominance over the other or if they both rule the island together. A cadet branch of House Goodbrother of Great Wyk also resides on Orkwood.
House Blacktyde rules the island of the same name. Lord Baelor Blacktyde is a follower of the Faith of the Seven, a rarity in the islands, and septons are welcome on this island.
House Goodbrother rules Great Wyk from Hammerhorn. The family is numerous, so has several cadet branches ruling from Crow Spike Keep, Downdelving and Corpse Lake. They also have brances on Orkmont and Old Wyk. House Farwynd is also a very powerful house, ruling both Sealskin Point on Great Wyk and also, via a cadet branch, the Lonely Light far to the west. House Sparr and House Merlyn are also strong houses on the island, the latter ruling the port and town of Pebbleton (pop. 7,000).
House Drumm and House Stonehouse dominate the island of Old Wyk, along with the Goodbrothers of Shatterstone.
House Harlaw of Ten Towers rules the island of Harlaw. There are cadet branches of the Harlaws located at the Tower of Glimmering, Grey Garden, Harlaw Hall and Harridan Hill. Other powerful houses on the island include Kenning, Volmark and Myre.
Minor houses of the Iron Islands include Codd, Humble, Ironmaker, Netley, Sharp, Shepherd and Weaver.
In A Feast for Crows Prince Doran Martell says that Dorne is the most lightly-populated of the Seven Kingdoms. However, it seems unfeasible that the very large Dorne, no matter how arid, can be less populous than the tiny Iron Islands. Elsewhere in A Song of Ice and Fire we see that the ironborn are often forgotten about or left out of counts (such as being left off the chalice Prince Joffrey receives as a wedding gift), and are especially disregarded by those they cannot threaten. With its rocky and sparsely-populated coastlines, the Dornish do not appear to have ever been particularly troubled by the ironborn. It is therefore much more likely that Doran was referring to the mainland Seven Kingdoms and, in particular, their traditional enemies in the Reach.
The impression given in A Feast for Crows is that the Lonely Light is quite small. However, it would be difficult for a very small island to sustain itself eight days from the rest of the archipelago, not to mention that if the island is tiny there’s not much point to holding it. Lands of Ice and Fire suggests that the island is quite big, comparable to the bigger islands in size.