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The Others mounted on ice spiders and dead horses, as the legends claim. (illustration credit 15) How the Long Night came to an end is a matter of legend, as all such matters of the distant past have become. In the North, they tell of a last hero who sought out the intercession of the children of the forest, his companions abandoning him or dying one by one as they faced ravenous giants, cold servants, and the Others themselves. Alone he finally reached the children, despite the efforts of the white walkers, and all the tales agree this was a turning point. Thanks to the children, the first men of the Night’s Watch banded together and were able to fight—and win—the Battle for the Dawn: the last battle that broke the endless winter and sent the Others fleeing to the icy north. Now, six thousand years later (or eight thousand as True History puts forward), the Wall made to defend the realms of men is still manned by the sworn brothers of the Night’s Watch, and neither the Others nor the children have been seen in many centuries.
Archmaester Fomas’s Lies of the Ancients—though little regarded these days for its erroneous claims regarding the founding of Valyria and certain lineal claims in the Reach and westerlands—does speculate that the Others of legend were nothing more than a tribe of the First Men, ancestors of the wildlings, that had established itself in the far north.
Because of the Long Night, these early wildlings were then pressured to begin a wave of conquests to the south. That they became monstrous in the tales told thereafter, according to Fomas, reflects the desire of the Night’s Watch and the Starks to give themselves a more heroic identity as saviors of mankind, and not merely the beneficiaries of a struggle over dominion.
The dragonlords of Valyria. (illustration credit 16)
R ISE OF V ALYRIATHE AS WESTEROS RECOVERED from the Long Night, a new power was rising in Essos. The vast continent, stretching from the narrow sea to the fabled Jade Sea and faraway Ulthos, seems to be the place where civilization as we know it developed. The first of these (not withstanding the dubious claims of Qarth, the YiTish legends of the Great Empire of the Dawn, and the difficulties of finding any truth in the tales of legendary Asshai) was rooted in Old Ghis: a city built upon slavery. The legendary founder of the city, Grazdan the Great, remains so revered that men of the slaver families are still often given his name. It was he who, according to the oldest histories of the Ghiscari, founded the lockstep legions with their tall shields and three spears, which were the first to fight as disciplined bodies. Old Ghis and its army proceeded to colonize its surroundings, then, pressing on, to subjugate its neighbors. Thus was the first empire born, and for centuries it reigned supreme.
It was on the great peninsula across from Slaver’s Bay that those who brought an end to the empire of Old Ghis—though not to all of their ways—originated. Sheltered there, amidst the great volcanic mountains known as the Fourteen Flames, were the Valyrians, who learned to tame dragons and make them the most fearsome weapon of war that the world ever saw. The tales the Valyrians told of themselves claimed they were descended from dragons and were kin to the ones they now controlled.
In such fragments of Barth’s Unnatural History as remain, the septon appears to have considered various legends examining the origins of dragons and how they came to be controlled by the Valyrians. The Valyrians themselves claimed that dragons sprang forth as the children of the Fourteen Flames, while in Qarth the tales state that there was once a second moon in the sky. One day this moon was scalded by the sun and cracked like an egg, and a million dragons poured forth. In Asshai, the tales are many and confused, but certain texts—all impossibly ancient—claim that dragons first came from the Shadow, a place where all of our learning fails us. These Asshai’i histories say that a people so ancient they had no name first tamed dragons in the Shadow and brought them to Valyria, teaching the Valyrians their arts before departing from the annals.
Yet if men in the Shadow had tamed dragons first, why did they not conquer as the Valyrians did? It seems likelier that the Valyrian tale is the truest. But there were dragons in Westeros, once, long before the Targaryens came, as our own legends and histories tell us. If dragons did first spring from the Fourteen Flames, they must have been spread across much of the known world before they were tamed. And, in fact, there is evidence for this, as dragon bones have been found as far north as Ib, and even in the jungles of Sothoryos.
But the Valyrians harnessed and subjugated them as no one else could.
The great beauty of the Valyrians—with their hair of palest silver or gold and eyes in shades of purple not found amongst any other peoples of the world—is well-known, and often held up as proof that the Valyrians are not entirely of the same blood as other men. Yet there are maesters who point out that, by careful breeding of animals, one can achieve a desirable result, and that populations in isolation can often show quite remarkable variations from what might be regarded as common. This may be a likelier answer to the mystery of the Valyrian origins although it does not explain the affinity with dragons that those with the blood of Valyria clearly had.
The Valyrians had no kings but instead called themselves the Freehold because all the citizenry who held land had a voice. Archons might be chosen to help lead, but they were elected by the lords freeholder from amongst their number, and only for a limited time. It was rare for Valyria to be swayed by one freeholding family alone although it was not entirely unknown either.
The five great wars between the Freehold and Old Ghis when the world was young are the stuff of legend—conflagrations that ended each time in the victory of the Valyrians over the Ghiscari. It was during the fifth and final war that the Freehold chose to make sure there would be no sixth war. The ancient brick walls of Old Ghis, first erected by Grazdan the Great in ancient days, were razed. The colossal pyramids and temples and homes were given over to dragonflame. The fields were sown with salt, lime, and skulls. Many of the Ghiscari were slain, and still others were enslaved and died laboring for their conquerors. Thus the Ghiscari became but another part of the new Valyrian empire, and in time they forgot the tongue that Grazdan spoke, learning instead High Valyrian. So do empires end and others arise.
What now remains of the once-proud empire of Old Ghis is a paltry thing—a few cities clinging like sores to Slaver’s Bay and another that pretends to be Old Ghis come again.
For after the Doom came to Valyria, the cities of Slaver’s Bay were able to throw off the last of the Valyrian shackles, ruling themselves in truth rather than playing at it. And what remained of the Ghiscari swiftly reestablished their trade in slaves—though where once they won them by conquest, now they purchased and bred them.
“Bricks and blood built Astapor, and bricks and blood her people,” an old rhyme says, referring to the red-bricked walls of the city and of the blood shed by the thousands of slaves who would live, labor, and die constructing them. Ruled by men who name themselves the Good Masters, Astapor is best known for the creation of the eunuch slavesoldiers called the Unsullied—men raised from boyhood to be fearless warriors who feel no pain. The Astapori pretend that they are the lockstep legions of the Old Empire come again, but those men were free, and the Unsullied are not.
Of Yunkai, the yellow city, little needs be said, for it is a most disreputable place. The men who rule it, calling themselves the Wise Masters, are steeped in corruption, selling bed slaves and boy-whores and worse.
The most formidable of the cities along Slaver’s Bay is ancient Meereen, but like the rest, it is a crumbling place, its population a fraction of what it once supported at the height of the Old Empire. Its walls of many-colored bricks contain endless suffering, for the Great Masters of Meereen train slaves to fight and die at their pleasure in the blood-soaked fighting pits.
All three cities have been known to pay tribute to passing khalasars rather than face them in open battle, but the Dothraki provide many of the slaves that the Ghiscari train and sell—slaves taken from their conquests and sold in the flesh marts of Meereen, Yunkai, and Astapor.
The most vital of the Ghiscari cities is also the smallest and the newest, and no less a pretender to greatness: New Ghis, left to its own devices on its isle. There, its masters have formed iron legions in mimicry of the legions of the Old Empire, but unlike the Unsullied, these are free men, as the soldiers of the Old Empire were.
The fall of Old Ghis. (illustration credit 17) V ALYRIA’S C HILDREN THE V ALYRIANS LEARNED one deplorable thing from the Ghiscari: slavery. The Ghiscari whom they conquered were the first to be thus enslaved, but not the last. The burning mountains of the Fourteen Flames were rich with ore, and the Valyrians hungered for it: copper and tin for the bronze of their weapons and monuments; later iron for the steel of their legendary blades; and always gold and silver to pay for it all.
The properties of Valyrian steel are well-known, and are the result of both folding iron many times to balance and remove impurities, and the use of spells—or at least arts we do not know—to give unnatural strength to the resulting steel. Those arts are now lost, though the smiths of Qohor claim to still know magics for reworking Valyrian steel without losing its strength or unsurpassed ability to hold an edge. The Valyrian steel blades that remain in the world might number in the thousands, but in the Seven Kingdoms there are only 227 such weapons according to Archmaester Thurgood’s Inventories, some of which have since been lost or have disappeared from the annals of history.
None can say how many perished, toiling in the Valyrian mines, but the number was so large as to surely defy comprehension. As Valyria grew, its need for ore increased, which led to ever more conquests to keep the mines stocked with slaves. The Valyrians expanded in all directions, stretching out east beyond the Ghiscari cities and west to the very shores of Essos, where even the Ghiscari had not made inroads.
It was this first bursting forth of the new empire that was of paramount importance to Westeros and the future Seven Kingdoms. As Valyria sought to conquer more and more lands and peoples, some fled for safety, retreating before the Valyrian tide. On the shores of Essos, the Valyrians raised cities, which we know today as the Free Cities. Their origins were diverse.
Qohor and Norvos were founded following religious schisms. Others, such as Old V olantis and Lys, were trading colonies first and foremost, founded by wealthy merchants and nobles who purchased the right to rule themselves as clients of the Freehold rather than subjects. These cities chose their own leaders rather than receiving archons dispatched from Valyria (often on dragonback) to oversee them. It is claimed in some histories that Pentos and Lorath were of a third type—cities already extant before the Valyrians came whose rulers paid homage to Valyria and thus retained their right to native rule. In these cities, what influx of Valyrian blood there was came from migrants from the Freehold, or political marriages used to better bind these cities to Valyria. Yet most of the histories that recount this take as their source Gessio Haratis’s Before the Dragons. Haratis was himself from Pentos, and at the time, V olantis was threatening to restore the Valyrian empire under its control, so the notion of an independent Pentos with origins distinct from Valyria was a most politic convenience.
However, it is clear that Braavos is unique among all the Free Cities, as it was founded not by the will of the Freehold, nor by its citizens, but instead by its slaves. According to the tales of the Braavosi, a huge slaver fleet that had been out collecting tributes in human flesh from the lands of the Summer and Jade Seas became victim to a slave uprising instead; the success of this uprising was doubtless dependent on the fact that the Valyrians were wont to use slaves as oarsmen and even sailors, and that these men then joined the uprising. Seizing control of the fleet but realizing there was no place nearby to hide from the Freehold, the slaves instead elected to seek out some land far from Valyria and its subjects, and founded their own city in hiding. Legend says that the moonsingers prophesied that the fleet must travel far north to a forlorn corner of Essos—a place of mudflats and brackish water and fogs. There, the slaves first laid the foundation of their city.
For centuries, the Braavosi remained hidden from the world in their remote lagoon. And even after it unveiled itself, Braavos continued to be known as the Secret City. The Braavosi were a people who were no people: scores of races, a hundred tongues, and hundreds of gods. All they had in common was the Valyrian that formed the common trade language of Essos—and the fact that they were now free where once they had been slaves. The moonsingers were honored for leading them to their city, but the wisest among the freed slaves determined that, to unify themselves, they must accept all the gods the slaves had brought with them, holding none higher than any other.
The fires of the Fourteen Flames coursing through Valyria, fuel for the pyromancer’s magic. (illustration credit 18) In short, the names and numbers of the peoples who fell to Valyria are unknown to us today. What records the Valyrians kept of their conquests were largely destroyed by the Doom, and few if any of these peoples documented their own histories in a way that survived the Freehold’s dominion.
A few, such as the Rhoynar, lasted against the tide for centuries, or even millennia. The Rhoynar, who founded great cities along the Rhoyne, were said to be the first to learn the art of iron-making.
Also, the confederation of cities later called the Kingdom of Sarnor survived the Valyrian expansion thanks to the great plain that separated one from the other … only for that plain and the people who occupied it—the Dothraki horselords—to be the source of Sarnor’s downfall after the Doom.