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Lysandro’s heir, Lysaro, spent vast sums in pursuit of power and fell afoul of the other magisters, even as his siblings became embroiled in plots to control the Iron Throne. After his fall, Lysaro Rogare was scourged to death at the Temple of Trade by those he had wronged. His siblings received less fatal punishments, and one among them—Moredo Rogare, the soldier who carried the Valyrian sword Truth—eventually led an army against Lys.
A Lyseni noblewoman. (illustration credit 166) The Lyseni are also great breeders of slaves, mating beauty with beauty in hopes of producing ever more refined and lovely courtesans and bedslaves. The blood of Valyria still runs strong in Lys, where even the smallfolk oft boast pale skin, silver-gold hair, and the purple, lilac, and pale blue eyes of the dragonlords of old. The Lysene nobility values purity of blood above all and have produced many famous (and infamous) beauties. Even the Targaryen kings and princes of old sometimes turned to Lys in search of wives and paramours, for their blood as for their beauty. Aptly, many Lyseni worship a love goddess whose naked, wanton figure graces their coinage.
The wars, truces, alliances, and betrayals betwixt and between Lys, Myr, and Tyrosh are far too numerous to recount here. Many of their conflicts are so-called trade wars, fought entirely at sea, wherein the ships of the combatants are granted licenses to prey upon those of the foes—a practice that Grand Maester Merion once termed “piracy with a wax seal.” During the trade war, only the crews of the warring ships faced death or piracy; the cities themselves were never threatened, and no battles were fought on land.
Far bloodier, though less frequent, were the land wars fought over the Disputed Lands—a formerly rich region that had been so devastated during the Century of Blood and afterward that today it is largely a wasteland of bone and ash and salted fields. Yet even in these conflicts, Tyrosh, Myr, and Lys seldom risked the lives of their own citizens, preferring instead to hire sellswords to fight for them.
The Disputed Lands has been the birthplace of more of these so-called free companies than any other place in the known world, beginning during the Century of Blood. Even today, there are twoscore free companies in the region; when not employed by the three quarrelsome daughters, the sellswords oft seek to carve out conquests of their own. Some have also been known to seek employment for their blades in the Seven Kingdoms, both before the Conquest and after.
Among the oldest of the free companies is the Second Sons, founded by twoscore younger sons of noble houses who found themselves dispossessed and without prospects. Ever since, it has been a place where landless lords and exiled knights and adventurers could find a home. Many famous names from the Seven Kingdoms have served in the Second Sons at one time or another. Prince Oberyn Martell rode with them before founding his own company; Rodrik Stark, the Wandering Wolf, was counted one of them as well. The most famous Second Son was Ser Aegor Rivers, that bastard son of King Aegon IV known to history as Bittersteel, who fought with them in the first years of his exile before forming the Golden Company, which remains to this day the most powerful and celebrated of these sellsword bands, as well as (some claim) the most honorable.
Other companies of note include the Bright Banners, the Stormcrows, the Long Lances, and the Company of the Cat. Other companies besides the Golden Company have been formed by men from the Seven Kingdoms, such as the Stormbreakers, which was founded in the aftermath of the Dance of the Dragons, or the Company of the Rose, formed by wild men (and, according to some accounts, women) from the North who refused to bend the knee, after Torrhen Stark gave up his crown, and instead chose exile across the narrow sea.
The wars amongst Tyrosh, Lys, and Myr have not only fueled the births of the free companies in the Disputed Lands but have brought about the formation of fleets of pirates and seaborne mercenaries as well, sellsails ready to fight for whoever will pay. Most are based in the Stepstones, the isles that dot the narrow sea between the Broken Arm and the eastern coast.
These pirate fleets make any journey through the Stepstones treacherous. It is said that the swanships of the Summer Isles sometimes avoid the Stepstones entirely, risking the deep sea rather than chancing an attack by corsairs. Others with less skill at sea, and vessels less fit for the deep ocean, have no choice. These pirate dens, when they grow too volatile and numerous, are sometimes swept clean by the fleets of the archons of Tyrosh or the triarchs of V olantis or even the Sealords of Braavos. But they always manage to return.
A Tyroshi merchant. (illustration credit 167) In times past, the pirates have caused enough turmoil that royal fleets have been sent from King’s Landing and Dragonstone to deal with them. Lord Oakenfist himself spent more than one season hunting pirates, to great acclaim, and the Young Dragon intended to wed a sister to the Sealord of Braavos to seal an alliance with him, with the aim of removing the pirates that were hindering trade with the newly conquered Dorne. Grand Maester Kaeth discusses this at length in Lives of Four Kings, arguing that here King Daeron erred, for talk of a marriage alliance with Braavos, which was at that time at war with Pentos and Lys, emboldened the other Free Cities to lend crucial aid to the Dornish rebels.
Pentos is the nearest of the Free Cities to King’s Landing, and trading ships pass back and forth between the two cities on an almost daily basis. Founded by Valyrians as a trading outpost, Pentos soon absorbed the hinterlands surrounding it, from the Velvet Hills and the Little Rhoyne to the sea, including almost the whole of the ancient realm of Andalos, the original homeland of the Andals. The first Pentoshi were merchants, traders, seafarers, and farmers, with few of high birth amongst them;
perhaps for this reason, they were less protective of their Valyrian blood and more willing to breed with the original inhabitants of the lands they ruled. As a consequence there is considerable Andal blood amongst the men of Pentos, making them perhaps our closest cousins.
Despite this, the Pentoshi hold to customs very different from those of the Seven Kingdoms. Pentos counts itself a daughter of Valyria—and the old blood can indeed be found there. In elder days, the city was ruled by a prince of high and noble birth, chosen from amongst the adult males of the socalled forty families. Once chosen, the Prince of Pentos ruled for life; when one prince died, another would be chosen, almost always from a different family.
Over the centuries, however, the power of the prince steadily eroded, whilst that of the city magisters who chose him grew. Today it is the council of magisters that rules Pentos, for all practical purposes; the prince’s power is largely nominal, his duties almost entirely ceremonial. In the main, he presides over feasts and balls, carried from place to place in a rich palanquin with a handsome guard.
Each new year, the prince must deflower two maidens, the maid of the sea and the maid of the fields.
This ancient ritual—perhaps arising from the mysterious origins of pre-Valyrian Pentos—is meant to ensure the continued prosperity of Pentos on land and at sea. Yet, if there is famine or if a war is lost, the prince becomes not a ruler but a sacrifice; his throat is slit so that the gods might be appeased.
And then a new prince is chosen who might bring more fortune to the city.
The Free City of Pentos. (illustration credit 168) Given the risks attendant to the office, not all the nobles of Pentos are eager to be chosen to wear the city’s crown. Indeed, some have been known to refuse this ancient but perilous honor. The most recent and famous of these is the notorious sellsword captain called the Tattered Prince. As a youth, he was elected by the magisters of Pentos after a long drought and the execution of the previous prince in the year 262 AC. Rather than accept the honor, he fled the city, never to return. He sold his sword, taking part in battles in the Disputed Lands, then founded one of the newer free companies of the East, the Windblown.
For most of its history, slavery was widely practiced in Pentos, and Pentoshi ships played an active role in the slave trade. Several centuries ago, however, this practice brought the city into conflict with her northern neighbor, Braavos, the “bastard daughter of Valyria,” founded by a fleet of escaped slaves. Over the course of the last two hundred years, no less than six wars have been fought between the two cities over this issue (and, it must be pointed out, for control of the rich lands and waters that lie between them).
Four of these ended in Braavosi victory and Pentoshi submission. The last of them, concluded oneand-ninety years ago, went so poorly for Pentos that no fewer than four princes were chosen and sacrificed within the span of a single year. The fifth man in this bloody succession, Prince Nevio Narratys, convinced the magisters to sue for peace after a rare victory—one, it was rumored, that Nevio purchased by means of bribes. In the peace accords, Pentos was forced to make certain concessions—most notably the abolition of slavery and a withdrawal from the slave trade.
These provisions remain the law in Pentos to this day though certain observers have noted that many Pentoshi ships evade the prohibition against the slave trade by running Lysene or Myrish banners up their masts when challenged, whilst in the city itself there are tens of thousands of “free bond servants” who seem to be slaves in all but name, for they are collared and branded much like their counterparts in Lys, Myr, and Tyrosh, and subject to similar savage disciplines. In law, these bond servants are free men and women, with the right to refuse service as they will … provided they are not in debt to their masters. Almost all of them are, however, since the value of their labor is oft less than the costs of the food, clothing, and shelter provided them by those they serve, so that their debt grows rather than diminishes over time.
A further provision of the peace accords between Braavos and Pentos limits the Pentoshi to no more than twenty warships and prohibits them from hiring sellswords, entering into contracts with free companies, or maintaining any army beyond the city watch. Undoubtedly these are among the reasons that the Pentoshi are now notably less belligerent than the people of Tyrosh, Myr, and Lys.
Despite its massive walls, Pentos is oft seen as the most vulnerable of the Free Cities.
For this reason, its magisters have adopted a conciliatory attitude not only toward the other Free Cities but also with the Dothraki horselords, cultivating a precarious friendship with a series of strong khals over the years, and showering lavish gifts and chests of gold upon any who brought their khalasars east of the Rhoyne.
The greatest, richest, and most powerful of the Nine Free cities are Braavos and V olantis. And there is a curious connection between the two, for in many ways they stand in opposition to one another.
Braavos lies in the far north of Essos, and V olantis to the far south; Volantis is the oldest of the Free Cities, and Braavos the youngest; Braavos was founded by slaves, whilst V olantis is built upon their bones; Braavos’s greatest might is at sea, whilst that of V olantis is upon the land. Yet both remain formidable powers, their histories deeply marked by the Freehold of Valyria.
Ancient and glorious, Old V olantis—as the city is oft named—sprawls across one of the four mouths of the Rhoyne, where that mighty river flows into the Summer Sea. The older districts of the city lie upon the eastern banks, the newer on the west, but even the newest areas of V olantis are many centuries old. The two halves of the city are linked by the Long Bridge.
The heart of Old V olantis is the city-within-the-city—an immense labyrinth of ancient palaces, courtyards, towers, temples, cloisters, bridges, and cellars, all contained within the great oval of the Black Walls raised by the Freehold of Valyria in the first flush of its youthful expansion. Two hundred feet tall, and so thick that six four-horse chariots can race along their battlements side by side (as they do each year to celebrate the founding of the city), these seamless walls of fused black dragonstone, harder than steel or diamond, stand in mute testimony to V olantis’s origins as a military outpost.
Only those who can trace their ancestry back to Old Valyria are allowed to dwell within the Black Walls; no slave, freedman, or foreigner is permitted to set foot within without the express invitation of a scion of the Old Blood.
For the first century of its existence, Volantis was little more than a military outpost established to protect the borders of the Valyrian empire, with no inhabitants save the soldiers of its garrison. From time to time dragonlords descended to take refreshment or meet with envoys from the Rhoynar cities upriver. Over time, however, taverns and brothels and stables began to sprout up outside the Black Walls, and merchant ships began to call as well.
Many of the Old Blood of V olantis still keep the old gods of Valyria, but their faith is found primarily within the Black Walls. Without, the red god R’hllor is favored by many, especially among the slaves and freedmen of the city. The Temple of the Lord of Light in olantis is said to be the greatest in all the world; in Remnants of the Dragonlords, V Archmaester Gramyon claims that it is fully three times larger than the Great Sept of Baelor. All who serve within this mighty temple are slaves, bought as children and trained to become priests, temple prostitutes, or warriors; these wear the flames of their fiery god as tattoos upon their faces. Of the warriors, little enough is said, though they are called the Fiery Hand, and they never number more or less than one thousand members.