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In folklore, even as far as Westeros, Qohor is sometimes known as the City of Sorcerers, for it is widely believed that the dark arts are practiced here even to this day. Divination, bloodmagic, and necromancy are whispered of, though such reports can seldom be proved. One truth remains undisputed, however: The dark god of Qohor, the deity known as the Black Goat, demands daily blood sacrifice. Calves, bullocks, and horses are the animals most often brought before the Black Goat’s altars, but on holy days condemned criminals go beneath the knives of his cowled priests, and in times of danger and crisis it is written that the high nobles of the city offer up their own children to placate the god, that he might defend the city.
A preserved example of a lemur from the Forest of Qohor can be found stuffed and mounted in the Citadel, though so many hands have patted it for luck in their examinations that its fur has long since fallen out.
The woods that surround Qohor are the principal source of the city’s wealth. The earliest settlement here was a lumber camp, the city’s histories reveal. Even to this day, it is as hunters and foresters the Qohorik are most famed. The shining cities and sprawling towns of the lower Rhoyne hunger for wood, and their own forests have long ago been depleted, cut down and plowed under for fields and farms. Huge barges heavy with timber depart the docks of Qohor every day for the long voyage down the Qhoyne to Dagger Lake and the markets of Selhorys, Valysar, V olon Therys, and Old Volantis.
The Forest of Qohor also yields up furs and pelts of all kinds, many rare and fine and highly prized, as well as silver, tin, and amber. The vast forest has never been fully explored, according to the maps and scrolls at the Citadel, and it likely conceals many mysteries and wonders at its heart. Like many northerly forests, it contains elk and deer in great numbers, along with wolves, tree cats, boars of truly monstrous size, spotted bears, and even a species of lemur—a creature known from the Summer Isles and Sothoryos, but otherwise rarely seen farther north. These lemurs are said to have silverwhite fur and purple eyes, and are sometimes called Little Valyrians.
The artisans of Qohor are far famed. Qohorik tapestries, woven primarily by the women and children of the city, are just as fine as those woven in Myr, though less costly. Exquisite (if somewhat disturbing) wood carvings can be bought in Qohor’s market, and the city’s forges have no peer.
Qohorik swords, knives, and armor are superior to even the best castle-forged steel of Westeros, and the city’s smiths have perfected the art of infusing deep color into the metals of their work, producing armor and weaponry of lasting beauty. Only here, in all the world, has the art of reworking Valyrian steel been preserved, its secrets jealously guarded.
Qohor is also famed as the gateway to the east, where trading caravans bound for Vaes Dothrak and the fabled lands beyond the Bones are outfitted and provisioned before heading into the gloom of the forest, the desolation that was Sarnor, and the vastness of the Dothraki sea. Conversely, caravans returning from the east come first to Qohor, to refresh themselves after the crossing and sell and trade the treasures they have acquired. This trade has helped to make Qohor one of the richest of the Free Cities and surely the most exotic (though it is said the city was ten times richer still before the destruction of Sarnor).
Maester Pol’s treatise on Qohorik metalworking, written during several years of residence in the Free City, reveals just how jealously the secrets are guarded: He was thrice publicly whipped and cast out from the city for making too many inquiries. The final time, his hand was also removed following the allegation that he stole a Valyrian steel blade. According to Pol, the true reason for his final exile was his discovery of blood sacrifices—including the killing of slaves as young as infants—which the Qohorik smiths used in their efforts to produce a steel to equal that of the Freehold.
Strong stone walls protect Qohor, but the people of the city are not of a martial bent. The Qohorik are merchants, not fighters. Apart from a small city watch, the defense of the city is entrusted to slaves —the eunuch infantry known as the Unsullied, bred and trained in the ancient Ghiscari city Astapor upon the shores of Slaver’s Bay.
During the Century of Blood that followed the Doom of Valyria, Qohor and Norvos made common cause against Old V olantis when the V olantenes attempted to bring all the Free Cities under their heel. Since that time, those two Free Cities have been more often allies than enemies, though it is known that the bearded priests of Norvos regard the Black Goat of Qohor as a demon, with an especially vile and treacherous nature.
A sacrificial altar dedicated to the Black Goat. (illustration credit 163) Four hundred years ago, when a Dothraki khal named Temmo rode out of the east with fifty thousand savage horsemen at his back, three thousand Unsullied turned him back at the gates of Qohor, withstanding no fewer than eighteen charges before Khal Temmo died and his successor bid his men cut off their braids and toss them at the feet of the surviving eunuchs.
From that time to this, the Qohorik have relied upon the Unsullied to protect their city (though they have been known to hire free companies as well in time of peril and to offer lavish gifts to Dothraki khals to persuade them to pass on).
THE QUARRELSOME DAUGHTERS: MYR, LYS, AND TYROSH
The easternmost of the Free Cities—Lorath, Norvos, and Qohor—have little commerce with Westeros. For the rest, it is a different matter. Braavos, Pentos, and V olantis are all coastal cities blessed with great harbors. Trade is their life’s blood, and their ships travel to the far ends of the earth, from Yi Ti and Leng and Asshai-by-the-Shadow in the far east, to Lannisport and Oldtown on Westeros. Each city has its own customs and histories. Each has its own gods, too—although the red priesthood of R’hllor holds sway in all of them and often wields considerable power. Over the centuries, their rivalries have been many, and the squabbles and wars between them could—and do— fill volumes.
All this is also true of Myr, Lys, and Tyrosh, those three quarrelsome daughters whose endless feuds and struggles for dominion have so often managed to embroil the kings and knights of Westeros.
These three cities surround the large, fertile “heel” of Essos, the promontory that divides the Summer Sea from the narrow sea and was once part of the land bridge that joined that continent to Westeros.
The fortress city of Tyrosh stands upon the northernmost and easternmost of the Stepstones, the chain of islands that remained when the Arm of Dorne fell into the sea. Myr rises on the mainland, where an ancient Valyrian dragonroad meets the tranquil waters of a vast gulf known as the Sea of Myrth. Lys is to the south, on a small archipelago of islands in the Summer Sea. All three cities have claimed part (or all) of the lands between them, which we know today as the Disputed Lands, for all attempts to fix borders between the domains of Tyrosh, Myr, and Lys have failed, and countless wars have been fought for their possession.
In history, culture, custom, language, and religion, these three cities have more in common with one another than with any of the other Free Cities. They are mercantile cities, protected by high walls and hired sellswords, dominated by wealth rather than birth, cities where trade is considered a more honorable profession than arms. Lys and Myr are ruled by conclaves of magisters, chosen from amongst the wealthiest and noblest men of the city; Tyrosh is governed by an archon, selected from amongst the members of a similar conclave. All three are slave cities, where bondsmen outnumber the freeborn three to one. All are ports, and the salt sea is their life’s blood. Like Valyria, their mother, these three daughters have no established faith. Temples and shrines to many different gods line their streets and crowd their waterfronts.
A Myrish tradeswoman. (illustration credit 164) Yet the rivalries between them are long-rooted, giving rise to deep-seated enmities that have kept them divided, and oft at war with one another, for centuries—to the undoubted benefit of the lords and kings of Westeros, for these three rich and powerful cities, if united, would make for a formidable and dangerous neighbor.
Lys, the most beautiful of the Free Cities, enjoys what is perhaps the most salubrious climate in all the known world. Bathed by cool breezes, warmed by the sun, on a fertile island where palms and fruit trees grow in profusion, surrounded by blue-green waters teeming with fish, “Lys the Lovely” was founded as a retreat by the dragonlords of old Valyria, a paradise where they might refresh themselves with fine wines and sweet maids and soothing musics before returning to the fires of the Freehold. To this day, Lys remains “a feast for the senses, a balm for the soul.” Its pillow houses are famed through all the world, and sunsets here are said to be more beautiful than anywhere else on earth. The Lyseni themselves are beautiful as well, for here more than anywhere else in the known world the old Valyrian bloodlines still run strong.
The truth of the combined strength of Myr, Lys, and Tyrosh was proved when these three cities did in fact unite, albeit briefly, in the aftermath of their victory over Volantis at the Battle of the Borderland. Pledging eternal friendship with one another, they came together in 96 AC as the Triarchy, though in Westeros their union was best known as the Kingdom of the Three Daughters. The Triarchy began with the stated aim of cleansing the Stepstones of pirates and corsairs. This was welcomed in the Seven Kingdoms and elsewhere at first, for the pirates greatly stifled trade. The Three Daughters won a swift victory over the pirates, only to begin to demand increasingly exorbitant tolls of passing swifts after gaining control of the islands and the channels between. Soon their rapaciousness surpassed that of the pirates they replaced—especially when the Lyseni started demanding handsome youths and beautiful maidens as their toll.
For a time, the Triarchy found itself overmatched by the power of Corlys Velaryon and Daemon Targaryen and lost much of the Stepstones, but the men of Westeros were soon distracted by their own quarrels, and the Three Daughters reasserted their power—only to be brought down by internal conflicts following the murder of a Lyseni admiral by a rival for the affections of the famous courtesan called the Black Swan (the niece of Lord Swann, she in time came to rule Lys in all but name). The rival alliance of Braavos, Pentos, and Lorath helped bring about the end of the Kingdom of the Three Daughters.
Tyrosh, an altogether harder city, began as a military outpost, as its inner walls of fused black dragonstone testify. Valryian records tell us the fort was raised initially to control shipping passing through the Stepstones. Not long after the city’s founding, however, a unique variety of sea snail was discovered in the waters off the bleak, stony island where the fortress stood. These snails secreted a substance that, when properly treated, yielded a deep dark reddish dye that soon became wildly fashionable amongst the nobility of Valyria. As the snails were found nowhere else, merchants came to Tyrosh by the thousands, and the outpost grew into a major city in the space of a generation.
Tyroshi dyers soon learned to produce scarlet, crimson, and deep indigo dyes as well by varying the diet of the snails. Later centuries saw them devise dyes of a hundred other shades and hues, some naturally and some through alchemy. Brightly colored garments won the favor of lords and princes the world over, and the dyes that produced them all came from Tyrosh. The city grew rich, and with wealth came ostentation. Tyroshi delight in flamboyant display, and men and women both delight in dyeing their hair in garish and unnatural colors.
A council of the Triarchy. (illustration credit 165)
The origins of Myr are murkier. The Myrmen are believed by certain maesters to be akin to the Rhoynar, as many of them share the same olive skin and dark hair as the river people, but this supposed link is likely spurious. There are certain signs that a city stood where Myr now stands even during the Dawn Age and the Long Night, raised by some ancient, vanished people, but the Myr we know was founded by a group of Valyrian merchant adventurers on the site of a walled Andal town whose inhabitants they butchered or enslaved. Trade has been the life of Myr ever since, and Myrish ships have plied the waters of the narrow sea for centuries. The artisans of Myr, many of slave birth, are also greatly renowned; Myrish lace and Myrish tapestries are said to be worth their weight in gold and spice, and Myrish lenses have no equal in all the world.
Whereas Lorath, Norvos, and Qohor were founded for religious reasons, the interests of Lys, Tyrosh, and Myr have always been mercantile. All three cities have large merchant fleets, and their traders sail all the world’s seas. All three cities are deeply involved in the slave trade as well.
Tyroshi slavers are especially aggressive, even going so far as to sail north beyond the Wall in search of wildling slaves, whilst the Lyseni are famously voracious in seeking out comely young boys and fair maids for their city’s famous pillow houses.
Th e wife of King Viserys II Targaryen, who gave birth to both King Aegon IV (the Unworthy) and Prince Aemon the Dragonknight, was the Lady Larra Rogare of Lys. She was a great beauty of Valyrian descent, and seven years the prince’s elder when she wed him at nine-and-ten. Her father, Lysandro Rogare, was the head of a wealthy banking family whose power waxed even greater following the alliance to the Targaryens. Lysandro assumed the style of First Magister for Life, and men spoke of him as Lysandro the Magnificent. But he and his brother Drazenko, the Prince Consort of Dorne, died within a day of one another, beginning the precipitous fall of the Rogares both in Lys and the Seven Kingdoms.