Across the narrow sea
A large part of the narrative in George R. R. Martin's epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire lies across the narrow sea from Westeros, an area comprised of a large, unnamed eastern continent and a number of islands.
The Narrow Sea separates Westeros and the lands to the east. In the north of the sea lies the icy island of Ibben and in the south the hot Summer Isles. The lands to the east of the narrow sea are mostly consolidated into a large continent of unknown name. Being roughly the size of Eurasia, this continent's geography and climate vary greatly. The western coastline is characterized by green rolling hills, the massive Forest of Qohor, and extensive island chains such as Braavos and Lys. The middle of the continent is covered by the flat grasslands of the Dothraki Sea and the arid wastes known as the Red Lands to the east. Beyond the Red Lands, the city of Qarth sits beside the straits that lead to the Jade Sea. The south is dominated by dry rolling hills and has a Mediterranean climate, with a coastline along the Summer Sea and Slaver's Bay.
The north coast of the mainland is separated from the polar cap by the Shivering Sea. To the south, across the Summer Sea, lies the uncharted continent of Sothoryos, containing the cities of Yeen and Zamettar. In the extreme east, across the Jade Sea, sit Asshai, Yi Ti, and the mysterious region called the Shadow Lands. It is a matter of speculation whether these easternmost regions are physically attached to the mainland or are separated from it by the Jade Sea.
Civilizations, Nations and Regions
Often called Asshai-by-the-Shadow, this port city borders the Shadow Lands, far to the southeast. To go to Asshai can be described as to "pass beneath the shadow". Asshai is a popular trading destination for ships in the Jade Sea, and it exports such goods as amber and dragonglass. It holds a significant amount of arcane knowledge. Of any current location, it is the most likely to have dragonlore. Ancient books of Asshai also record the Azor Ahai prophecy followed by members of the R'hllor faith. Asshai and its people have an ominous reputation in other lands. Asshai'i are described as having a dark and solemn appearance. The Dothraki believe that Asshai'i are spawn of shadows. The area of the Shadow Lands and Asshai are sometimes referred to simply as "the Shadow".
- Lady Melisandre
- Quaithe of the Shadow, a shadowbinder who seeks out Daenerys Targaryen and counsels her to go to Asshai. She wears a red-lacquered mask much like natives of the Shadow Lands.
The Disputed Lands
An area on the mainland of the eastern continent, located between the Free Cities of Tyrosh, Myr and Volantis, with Lys sitting just off the coast. The River Rhoyne marks its eastern border. Myr and Lys fight constantly over control of the territory, frequently drawing Tyrosh and Volantis into the struggle as well. The war over the Disputed Lands is often lumped in with the similar struggle over control of the Stepstones.
The Dothraki Sea
The Dothraki Sea is a vast, flat grassland inhabited by the Dothraki people, a copper-skinned race of warlike nomads with their own language and unique culture. The Dothraki live in tribes called khalasars, each led by a chief called a khal. Khalasars are broken into groups, called khas, which are each led by one of the khal's captains, called khos. When a khal dies, a new khal may take control of the khalasar or the khos may break away and form new khalasars led by their former khos. Dothraki are expert riders and their horses are of prime importance in their culture, used for food, transportation, raw materials, and warfare.
Khalasars rely heavily on raiding neighboring nations, and each other, for subsistence. Mounted archery forms the backbone of their strategy. Warriors also use whips and curved cavalry swords called arakhs. They eschew armor as cowardly and typically wear painted vests and horsehair breeches. Men grow their hair in braided topknots, which they must cut whenever they are defeated in battle. They mark victories by putting bells in their braids, often taking bells from the Dothraki they have slain. Thus, a warrior's topknot is a symbol of his prowess.
Khalasars have no fixed settlements. Dothraki can erect large grass canopies for special occasions, but typically live in portable tents, always on the move. The Dothraki have only one permanent city, called Vaes Dothrak, which serves as their capital. While khalasars are typically rivals on the plains, in Vaes Dothrak all Dothraki must behave as brothers. No one may spill blood or draw a blade in the city, on pain of death. The wives of khals, called khaleesis, live in Vaes Dothrak after their husbands die. There they rule over all the khals as the Dosh Khaleen.
The Free Cities
The nine Free Cities are Lys, Myr, Pentos, Braavos, Lorath, Norvos, Qohor, Volantis, and Tyrosh. They are independent city-states that, with the exception of Braavos, were all originally founded as colonies of Valyria. The Free Cities are located on the western edge of the eastern continent: along the coast, further inland, or on islands in the Narrow Sea. Citizens of the Free Cities speak a distinct form of Valyrian, though the language of Westeros is also used.
South of the Dothraki Sea is Slaver's Bay, which holds three port city-states called Yunkai, Meereen, and Astapor. The cities were built from the rubble of Old Ghis, an ancient rival of Valyria that was crushed by that nation thousands of years before the events of A Song of Ice and Fire. Present inhabitants of the bay are a mongrel race that speak a bastardized version of Valyrian. The economies of the cities are largely based on slave labor and the slave trade. Treatment of slaves is often harsh, while citizens live in relative luxury. Professional soldiers of all three cities wear outlandish costumes and hairstyles that limit their usefulness in battle. The cities' militaries are highly dependent on additional slave and mercenary armies for the actual fighting. Astapor trains and sells elite eunuch spearmen called Unsullied that are renowned for their discipline and effectiveness. Those Unsullied that have not yet been sold are used to defend the city when the need arises.
The city of New Ghis also exists in the region, presumably populated by Ghiscari much like the cities of Slaver's Bay, but little is known of it, and no major characters have ventured there.
Ibben is an island nation in the Shivering Sea often referred to as "Ib". Its major port and capital is the Port of Ibben. The Ibbenese are a hairy race of people who often wear sealskins and favor axes and shaggy brown shields in battle. They populate the island of Ibben as well as colonies on the eastern continent. The Ibbenese are predominantly whalers, sailing fat-bellied whaling ships covered in black tar. They chew blubber and use whale oil to light their lamps. Their trading range extends to the Iron Islands in Westeros.
Lhazar is a land to the south of the Dothraki Sea inhabited by the Lhazareen, a peaceful people with bronze skin, flat faces, and almond eyes. They are predominantly shepherds, called the Lamb Men by the Dothraki, who frequently prey on them. They worship a god called the Great Shepherd and believe that all of humanity is part of a single flock.
A vastly rich city in the far east, home to warlocks and merchant princes. Situated in a central location, Qarth is a gateway of commerce and culture between the east and west, and the north and south. Brimming with wealth, the city's architecture makes a grand display. It is surrounded by three walls of thirty, forty, and fifty feet in height, respectively engraved with portraits of animals, war, and lovemaking. The city's buildings, are of many different colors, including rose, violet, and umber. Slender towers rise throughout the city and fountains adorn every square.
The Qartheen are a tall and pale people, called the Milk Men by the Dothraki for their complexion. They pride themselves on their sophistication and consider weeping in times of strong emotion to be a mark of civilization. Husbands and wives retain their possessions after marriage, though newlyweds are allowed by law to take one possession from their spouse as their own. Qarth is governed by the Pureborn, descendants of the city's ancient kings and queens, who rule the city from the Hall of a Thousand Thrones. The Pureborn also command the city's defenses: the Civic Guard, which includes camelry, and a great military fleet. There are three principal merchant groups that battle amongst themselves and against the Pureborn for dominance of the city. They are known as the Thirteen, the Ancient Guild of Spicers, and the Tourmaline Brotherhood.
Qarth is most famous for its warlocks, who are feared and respected throughout the East. Like the Alchemists of Westeros, however, the warlocks' power and prestige have waned over the years. Qarth is also home to a guild of assassins known as the Sorrowful Men, who whisper, "I am so sorry," just before they kill their victims.
The Shadow Lands
A land to the extreme east, the Shadow Lands reside at the edge of the known world, beside or around Asshai. In the western world, there are many tales about the Shadow Lands, though how much fact they hold is unclear. It is said that petrified dragon eggs come from the Shadow Lands, and that dragons themselves originated there. The Dothraki believe that "ghost grass" covers the land, with stalks that glow in the dark and grow taller than a man on horseback. Natives of this place, called Shadow Men, cover their bodies in tattoos and wear red lacquered wooden masks. They are described as "dour and frightening". Some of them practice bloodmagic, using spells that require blood sacrifices. The area of the Shadow Lands and Asshai are sometimes referred to simply as "the Shadow".
The Stepstones are a chain of islands in the Narrow Sea, to the East of Dorne and the Storm Lands. Once the Stepstones were part of the Arm of Dorne, which connected Westeros to the eastern continent. The First Men crossed the Arm of Dorne to begin their invasion of Westeros. Legends describe the greenseers of the children of the forest using magic to shatter the Arm into an archipelago. Various Free Cities engage in almost constant war over possession of the Stepstones. Several times in its history, the Seven Kingdoms has also fought for control of them.
The Summer Islands
The Summer Islands are a number of islands in the Summer Sea, to the south of Westeros, that form a single nation. The port of Tall Tree Town serves as its capital. The natives of the islands are a dark-skinned people who speak their own language and often wear capes of brightly colored feathers. Archery is an important cultural skill to the Summer Islanders. Their special bows have a longer range than most others, giving their merchant boats added defense against pirates. During the events of A Song of Ice and Fire, an exile prince of the Summer Islands, Jalabhar Xho, lives in Westeros. For many years he unsuccessfully attempts to convince the kings of the Seven Kingdoms to invade the Summer Islands and install him as their ruler.
A long-dead city of wonderment, Valyria was once the capital of a great empire called the Valyrian Freehold, but has since fallen to ruin. At its prime, the Valyrian Freehold was an advanced civilization and the dominant military and cultural power of the known world. The city was located on a peninsula of the eastern continent, and is the ancestral home of House Targaryen.
In the early days of Valyria, the mighty Ghiscari Empire tried to stop the city's expansion, fighting five major wars that were each won by the Valyrians. The last battle destroyed the Ghiscari Empire and its capital of Old Ghis. Over the years the Valyrians continued to conquer, building great cities and roadways that all led to Valyria. Many smaller nations, such as the Andals and the Rhoynar, fled west to avoid Valyrian expansion. Valyria took many slaves from its conquered lands and used them to mine deep into the earth. At the height of its power, the Freehold stretched over almost the entire east. Cities built by the Valyrian Freehold include Oros, Mantarys, Tyria, and all of the Free Cites except Braavos.
The Valyrian Freehold was destroyed when some as-yet undescribed "Doom" was visited upon it several hundred years prior to the events of A Song of Ice and Fire. The Doom fragmented the land surrounding the city itself into numerous smaller islands, creating the Smoking Sea between them. The area is now described as "demon-haunted", and most people are afraid to go there, as it is said, "The Doom still rules in Valyria." Though the eight Valyrian Free Cities survived the Doom, as well as the Targaryens who fled to Dragonstone, most of Valyria's culture, language, and craft was lost in the Doom.
Valyria is best remembered for its unique ability to raise dragons and use them as weapons of war. Much of its military strength came from the effectiveness of its dragons on the battlefield. Valyria is also remembered for forging "Valyrian steel", a magical metal used to make weapons of unparalleled quality. Valyrian steel blades are lighter, stronger, and sharper than those of regular steel, and feature distinctive rippled patterns similar to Damascus steel. The secret of forging such metal was apparently lost with Valyria, making those remaining weapons highly treasured and extremely rare. Most Valyrian steel blades in Westeros are treasured heirlooms of noble houses, each with its own name and storied history. Ice, the greatsword of House Stark, was one such blade.
Yi Ti is a coastal city on the Jade Sea, southeast of Qarth. The people of Yi Ti are said to be dark skinned and bright-eyed, and some wear "monkey-tail" hats. The jungles of Yi Ti are infested with basilisks. In Westeros, it is considered to be a fabulous city, though very little is known about it. Somewhere beyond the city is thought to lie a "legendary dreaming city" of poets.