Summer Islands

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Approximate location of the Summer Islands. Geography is speculative

The Summer Islands or Summer Isles are a large archipelago located to the south of Westeros and Essos, and west of Sothoryos. The islands separate the Sunset Sea to the west from the Summer Sea to the east. The northern-most islands of the group have been mapped, but it is not known how far south the island chain extends. The mapped portion of the chain includes three large islands and numerous smaller ones.

Contents

History

The Summer Isles have a long history dating back thousands of years. Much of this was recorded in carvings made by priestesses on the famous Talking Trees of Tall Trees Town. Even more is recorded in oral tradition, because the Summer Islanders rely heavily upon histories recorded in highly complicated formal verse and memorized by rote.[1] In Westeros, Maester Gallard painstakingly translated and recorded many of these in his Children of Summer, which remains the chief historical text on the Summer Isles.

The Dawn Age

For much of their recorded history, the Summer Islanders lived in isolation from the rest of mankind, and they were apparently unaware that other lands and peoples even existed. Maps included in the ancient histories carved into the Talking Trees depict only the Summer Islands themselves, surrounded by a world-encompassing ocean.[2]

The Age of Exploration

The first recorded contact between the Summer Isles and the outside world occurred when the Ghiscari Empire was at its height (between eight and five thousand years ago). A Ghiscari merchant ship was blown off course by a storm and landed on Walano, but the crew and ship fled when they saw the inhabitants. Although this was no real meeting, the contact had a profound impact upon the Summer Islanders, introducing to them the idea that there were other lands and peoples beyond their home waters. Their curiosity and avarice were piqued, so the princes of the isles began building larger and sturdier ships capable of making long sea voyages. The greatest of these was Malthar Xaq, prince of the smaller island Koj, who is remembered as Malthar the Windrider and Malthar the Mapmaker. Even in the present day, Koj still possesses the greatest shipyards in all of the islands, with three quarters of all of their swan ships produced there.[2]

A great new era of exploration and trade began. The Summer Islanders first encountered the peaceful inhabitants of Naath to their east, then the Basilisk Isles, and the northern coasts of Sothoryos, as well as the southern coasts of Essos and Westeros. Depending on the exact date this occurred, merchant ships from the Summer Islands may have reached Oldtown in the Reach generations before the Andals did. Maester Jellicoe speculated that Oldtown may have first risen in the Dawn Age as a trading post where ships from Valyria, Old Ghis, and the Summer Isles would put in to replenish their supplies and trade with the local First Men and elder races.[3]

According to their own records, the Summer Islanders established trade colonies and cities on the western coasts of Sothoryos, but they were later overwhelmed and destroyed by the same forces that brought down later Valyrian and Ghiscari settlements there, particularly plagues, dangerous wildlife, and attacks by the savage Brindled Men of the interior. If these accounts are true, it was so long ago that no visible ruins of these settlements remain, their sites perhaps reclaimed by the jungles.[2]

Within less than half a century of their first contact, the Summer Islands had established a thriving trade network with the Valyrian Freehold. The Summer Islands are poor in metals (such as iron or tin), but rich in gemstones, spices, hardwoods, and tropical animals, all of which the Valyrians were eager to pay for with gold and other metals. The Valyrians never made any attempt to conquer the Summer Islands, probably because they were far away and the Valyrians were more concerned with their closer enemies. At the time Valyria was still an upstart power fighting the Ghiscari Empire to their east, and later they were focused on conflict with the Rhoynar to their west.[2]

The Years of Shame

It did not take long after establishing trade with the Valyrians for some princes of the Summer Islands to learn that the dragonlords would also offer them handsome payments of gold for slaves. Princes began to sell captured foes and defeated rivals to passing slavers. The Summer Islanders are an attractive, strong, and intelligent people, so they soon became a favored target for slavers from Valyria, Old Ghis, and the Basilisk Isles. Although no major attempt was made to conquer the isles or attack them in force, rapid coastal raids would carry off entire villages into bondage. Far more were sold into slavery by the princes of the isles themselves, fueling a round of internal wars in which each prince tried to capture more of their enemies to sell into slavery. For this reason, the histories carved into the Talking Trees refer to this time period as the "Years of Shame", and it lasted for the better part of two centuries.[2]

The Slavers' Wars

The Years of Shame were finally put an end to by a warrior-woman named Xanda Qo, Princess of Sweet Lotus Vale on the western side of Jhala, who had herself been enslaved for a time. She united all of the islands under her rule, and then set out to stop the slavers once and for all. Because iron was scarce on the islands for making swords, spears, or armor, Xanda Qo armed her sailors with tall bows made of goldenheart, capable of firing yard-long shafts of hardwood so forcefully that they would penetrate even steel plate armor. Xanda Qo also had new large and sturdy ships designed, known as "swan ships" for the long necks of their prows, to provide high platforms for archers to fire upon approaching slaver ships. Led by Xando's daughter and eventual successor, Chatana Qo, these Slavers' Wars lasted a generation, but ultimately the Summer Islanders prevailed. Slavery has been strictly outlawed in the Summer Islands ever since.[2]

By the end of the wars, less than three centuries had passed since the Summer Islands had their first contact with the outside world. Given that the Ghiscari Empire was at its height when first contact occurred, and Old Ghis was destroyed by the Valyrians five thousand years ago, Xanda and Chatana Qo must have lived at least that long ago.

Since the Slavers' Wars

Princess Chatana Qo, known as the Arrow of Jhahar, wed unwisely and did not reign as well as she had fought. The unity that the islands had known under Chatana and her mother did not survive her death.[2]

Throughout their history to the present day, the Summer Islands have only been united under a single ruler about half a dozen times, and never for long. Instead, each of the smaller islands has its own ruler, styled as a Prince or Princess (not a "King"). The three main islands (Walano, Omburu, and Jhala) are large enough to support several rival Princes.[2]

Despite being ruled by several rival independent princes and princesses, the Summer Islands are by and large a peaceful place. War is not unknown there, but those that they do have are highly ritualized, taking place on days and times chosen by their priests. These battles more closely resemble tournament melees in Westeros, or a larger-scale version of a Trial of seven. Two opposing teams of warriors (both male and female) meet at the battlefield chosen and consecrated in advance by their priests. It is forbidden to use their mighty goldenheart bows, only spears and slings. Such "wars" rarely last longer than a single day. The losers who survive are not executed but must leave the islands in exile, while the winners gain what was in dispute (i.e. the loser's lands). In this way, only the warriors themselves are harmed, without crops and homes being burned, women raped, or innocent commoners slaughtered by invading armies. As a result, while there have been political shifts and court intrigues in the Summer Islands which could fill several history books, there have been none that truly devastated the islands or drastically re-shaped their society.[2]

The Summer Islands have had a long and rich history for the past five thousand years, and for millennia before that. However, while they will vigorously defend their own waters they are not a war-like people, so their rulers have never set out on external conquests or taken great part in foreign wars. For this reason the islands do not prominently enter into the wider histories of wars in Westeros and Essos. The islanders are not isolationists, however, they simply prefer trade and exploration to conquest. Swan ships from the Summer Islands can be found in such far away ports as Oldtown, King's Landing, Braavos, and distant Qarth. Summer Islander crews are actually a common sight in the ports of Oldtown and King's Landing.[2] Merchant ships from the rest of the world also visit the Summer Islands. Even Ibbenese whaling ships from the far north of the Shivering Sea are known to put in at ports as far south as Volantis, or in the Summer Isles.[4]

Numerous individual Summer Islanders have also set out for the wider world to seek their fortunes as mercenary bowmen and sellsails, some becoming pirates in the Basilisk Isles. Others have risen high among the sellsword companies in the Disputed Lands, as professional pit-fighters in Slaver's Bay, and as guardsmen in the retinues of merchant-princes in the Free Cities.[2] One such sellsword captain was Xhobar Qhoqua, an exiled prince from the Summer Isles who was one of the infamous Band of Nine during the War of the Ninepenny Kings.[5]

About one thousand years ago, at the end of the last of the Rhoynish Wars, Princess Nymeria led the surviving Rhonyar in a voyage across the ocean to escape from the Valyrians. They did not immediately arrive in Dorne, in the southeast of Westeros. After briefly stopping in the Basilisk Isles and attempting to settle in Sothoryos for almost a year, Nymeria and her followers fled once again due to the harsh local conditions. They wandered for another year and visited Naath, but later left due to the local butterfly disease. At this point Nymeria and the remaining Rhoynar refugees tried to settle in the Summer Islands. The princes of the isles refused to allow them to settle on any of the main three islands, for fear of provoking the wrath of the dragonlords. Instead, Nymeria and her followers settled on the small desolate island Abulu, located northeast of Walano. Because most of Nymeria's refugees were female, Abulu became known as the Isle of Women, a name it still bears. The island was already small, and its thin and stony soil could not possibly yield enough to feed them all, so many starved. Nymeria and her followers stayed on Abulu for two years, but hunger, disease, and slaver raids continued to take their toll. Ultimately she chose to set out once again with her people to find a new home, and sailing north they landed in Dorne. Several thousand of her followers chose to stay, however, and their descendants have lived on the Isle of Women up to the present day.[6]

Summer Islander merchant ships have been visiting King's Landing since its first years of existence, early in the reign of Aegon I Targaryen, when it was just a boomtown of mud and wood clustered around Aegon's High Hill. While pirates have come to fear the very sight of swan-ships from the Summer Isles, in 19 AC a large pirate-fleet managed to sack Tall Trees Town, carrying off thousands into slavery, and a fortune in wealth. When word of this daring and unexpected pirate attack reached King Aegon, it made him reconsider his decision not to build walls around his capital city. At first he had thought that none would dare to attack a city defended by dragons, but the sack of even a well-defended port such as Tall Trees Town made him realize that the worst attacks are often brazen and unanticipated, so it would be wiser to build strong defensive walls around King's Landing. Tall Trees Town later recovered and rebuilt from the damage.[7]

Recent History

Some years after Robert's Rebellion there was a civil war on Jhala which saw Prince Jalabhar Xho of the Red Flower Vale deposed (Red Flower Vale being located in the center of Jhala). He sought refuge in King's Landing and spent many years petitioning King Robert Baratheon for military assistance in retaking his homeland. Robert was attracted by the idea of invading the Summer Islands, but his advisors convinced him it was a foolhardy venture. Despite this negative response, Xho remains in exile in King's Landing.[8][9]

Geography

The three largest islands by far are (from north to south) Walano, Omboru, and Jhala. The Smiling Sea divides Walano and Omboru, and the Indigo Straits divide Omboru from Jhala.[10]

There are about fifty islands in the chain, some so small that a man can walk across them in a single day. Nine out of every ten persons live on the three main islands. Walano and Omboru are each less than half as large as Jhala, though either of the two is still larger than all of the Stepstones combined. While Jhala is the largest island, Walano is the most populous. Walano contains the cities of Lotus Port, Last Lament, and Tall Trees Town. The cultural or religious heart of the islands seems to be Tall Trees Town, where priestesses carve histories and laws into the Talking Trees.[2] Jhala contains the settled valleys of Red Flower Vale and Sweet Lotus Vale - the latter of which contains the port city of Ebonhead.[11]

About half a dozen of the smaller islands are large enough to support sizable populations and prominently appear on maps. The largest and most important of these is Koj, located between the western tips of Walano and Omboru. Koj has been the main center of shipbuilding in the islands since the time of Malthar the Mapmaker thousands of years ago, and today three-quarters of all swan ships in the islands are built there - making it disproportionately powerful and important relative to its size, though it is not quite considered the fourth "main island" of the chain.[2] The other moderately sized islands include the Isle of Birds (east of Koj, between Walano and Omboru), Moluu (a large island west of Jhala), the Isle of Love (north of Moluu and West of Omboru), the Singing Stones and the Three Exiles (west of Omboru and northwest of the Isle of Love), and (south of Jhala in Parrot Bay) Xon, Doquu, and a cluster of islands called the Bones.[12]

The west coast of Sothoryos is only known to men from Westeros and Essos for about a few days' sail south of Basilisk Point. Some suspect that the Summer Islanders, who live comparably nearby, have actually explored and mapped these shorelines much further south than is known to the rest of the world. The Summer Islanders, however, jealously guard their charts and do not share any of this knowledge. While the northern coasts of Sothoryos are jungles filled with plagues, massive dangerous animals, and savage tribes, it is possible that unknown portions in the further south are actually home to peaceful civilizations - but the Summer Islanders do not want to alert the slavers from Essos to the existence of new targets to attack. Others speculate that the vague rumors about the unexplored regions of Sothoryos - that they contain fierce lizard-men, eyeless cave-dwellers, giant vampire-bats (which can drain a man of all blood in minutes), and gargantuan apes who dwarf the largest of giants - are just stories that the Summer Islanders spread to scare away any slavers from attacking the actually normal human societies of the region.[13] There are said to be "certain indications" that the great explorers and cartographers of Koj know much more about the western coasts of Sothoryos than they have shared with outsiders, and have mapped them to the very bottom of the continent.[2]

Economy

The Summer Islands are rich in gemstones, spices, hardwoods, and exotic animals. Gemstones found in the islands include emeralds, rubies, and sapphires, as well as pearls from the coasts. Spices from the islands include nutmeg, cinnamon, and pepper. Valuable hardwoods produced in the islands include bloodwood, ebony, mahogany, purpleheart, blue mahoe, burl, tigerwood, goldenheart, and pink ivory, among others. Goldenheart is famed for making the best bows in the world (except for Dragonbone, which is exceedingly rare), though since Xanda Qo's time the export of goldenheart out of the islands has been outlawed, instead reserved for arming their own crews to defend themselves. Goldenheart only grows on Jhala and Omboru. The islands also produce exotic fruits and palm wine.[2]

Exotic animals are also exported from the Summer Islands, purchased by wealthy foreign collectors for their menageries. The islands are home to a myriad of beautiful tropical birds, including parrots. The islanders also export the birds' feathers. Spotted panthers that grow larger than lions are also sold (as cubs), as well as monkeys. During the time of the Valyrian Freehold, a fashion developed among the dragonlords for monkeys, apes, panther cubs, and parrots from the isles.[2]

The Summer Islands lack iron, tin, and other metals, so they obtain them through trade, in exchange for the other resources which they have in abundance. The Summer Islands have a large merchant fleet to support this trade, traveling to major ports such as Oldtown, King's Landing, Braavos, and even Qarth.[2]

Culture

The natives of the islands are an ebony-skinned people who speak their own language and often wear capes of brightly colored feathers. The act of lovemaking is considered an important and even holy skill. Prostitution is a respectable profession, practiced even by the high-born islanders. Summer Islanders respect their elderly, and mourning customs include celebrating the dead with wine and lovemaking.[14][15]

The Summer Islands are known for their swan ships. Archery is another important cultural skill, and their special bows have a longer range than most others, giving their merchant boats added defense against pirates. According to semi-canon sources, the Summer Islanders are regarded as the best archers in the known world.[16]

The best bows are made of the golden wood from the Summer Isles. The golden wood that the Islanders are famous for comes from the goldenheart tree which are only found on the Summer Islands.[17][18] They also make a sweet amber wine.[19] Their diet consists primarily of fruits and fish.[20]

Recent Events

A Game of Thrones

Lords from the Summer Islands are among the guests who attend the wedding of Daenerys Targaryen and Khal Drogo.[21]

A Storm of Swords

Exotic dancers from the Summer Islands perform at the royal wedding of King Joffrey Baratheon and Queen Margaery Tyrell in King's Landing.[22]

A Feast for Crows

Garin tells Arianne Martell that according to sailors in Planky Town, a new corsair king has risen in the Basilisk Isles and has raided Tall Trees Town.[23]

The exiled Prince Jalabhar Xho petitions the Iron Throne for aid in retaking his seat, the Red Flower Vale, but is denied once more by Queen Cersei Lannister.[9]

A Dance with Dragons

Fighters from the Summer Islands are among those who come to Meereen to battle in Daznak's Pit, including one ebon-skinned spearman who fights and loses to Khrazz.[24]

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