«illustration credit 1 illustration credit 2 The World of Ice & Fire is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the ...»
The Valyrians offered gold for slaves as well. Then as now, the Summer Islanders were a handsome people, tall, strong, graceful, and quick to learn. These qualities drew pirates and slavers from Valyria, the Basilisk Isles, and Old Ghis. Much woe ensued as these raiders descended on peaceful villages to carry their inhabitants into bondage. For a time, the princes of the isles abetted this trade by selling captured foes and rivals to the slavers.
Maester Gallard’s Children of Summer remains a chief source on the history of the Summer Isles. Much of the history—which was once obscured by the fact that so many of the Summer Isles histories were recorded in highly complicated, formal verse—have been rendered quite clear by his exhaustive efforts. Though certain controversies remain— Mollos’s questioning of Gallard’s chronology of the early princes of Walano being one example—no better work on the subject has appeared.
The histories carved into the Talking Trees tell us that these “Years of Shame” endured for the better part of two centuries, until a warrior woman named Xanda Qo, Princess of Sweet Lotus Vale (who had herself been enslaved for a time), united all the islands under her rule and made an end to it.
As iron was scarce and costly in the isles, armor was little known, and the long thrusting spears and short stabbing spears traditional amongst the Summer Islanders had proved of little worth against the steel swords and axes of the slavers, so Xanda Qo armed her sailors with tall bows of goldenheart, a wood found only on Jhala and Omboru. These great bows far outranged the recurved bows of horn and sinew the slavers carried, and could throw a yard-long shaft hard enough to pierce through mail and boiled leather and even good steel plate.
A swan ship of the Summer Isles. (illustration credit 176)
To give her archers a solid platform from which to draw and loose, Xanda Qo built ships larger than any previously seen in the Summer Sea—tall graceful ships cunningly fit together without so much as a single nail, many walled with rare hardwoods of the isles made harder still with magics, so the rams of slaver ships cracked and splintered against their sides. As swift as they were strong, her ships oft sported tall, curved prows carved into the shapes of birds and beasts. These “swan necks” won them the sobriquet of “swan ships.” Though it took the best part of a generation, the Summer Islanders, led by Princess Xanda’s daughter (and eventual successor) Chatana Qo, the Arrow of Jhahar, ultimately prevailed in what came to be known as the Slavers’ Wars. Though the unity of the isles did not survive her own reign (for the Arrow wed unwisely and did not rule as well as she had fought) slavers even now will flee at the sight of a swan ship, for each of these proud vessels is known to carry a complement of deadly archers armed with goldenheart bows. To this day, the bowmen (and women) of the Summer Isles are esteemed the finest in the world. Nor can their bows be matched by common bows, for the princes of the isles have forbidden the export of goldenheart wood since the Slavers’ Wars; only bows of dragonbone are known to surpass them, and those are exceedingly rare.
Certain Summer Islanders with a desire to see the wider world have been known to take up service abroad as mercenary bowmen and sellsails. Others have joined the pirates of the Basilisk Isles; some became captains of dark renown whose deeds are spoken of with dread in ports as distant as Qarth and Oldtown. Summer Islanders have risen high amongst the free companies of the Disputed Lands, as guardsmen in the retinues of the merchant princes of the Free Cities, or as pit fighters in the slave cities of Astapor, Yunkai, and Meereen … but despite the undoubted prowess and skill at arms they display as individuals, the islanders are not a warlike people.
The Summer Islanders have never once invaded any lands beyond their own shores nor attempted the conquest of any foreign people. Their great swan ships sail farther and faster than the vessels of any other nation, to the very ends of the earth, yet the princes of the Summer Islands have no warships as such and seem to prefer trade and exploration to conquest.
Throughout their long history, the Summer Islands have been united under a single ruler no more than half a dozen times, and never for long. Today, each of the smaller islands has its own ruler, styled as a prince or princess in the Common Tongue; the larger islands (Jhala, Omboru, and Walano) oft have several rival princes.
Nonetheless, the isles are by and large a peaceful place. Such wars as are fought there are highly ritualized, with battles that resemble tourney mêlées, wherein bands of warriors meet on battlefields chosen and consecrated in advance, at times deemed auspicious by their priests. They fight with spears and slings and wooden shields, just as their forebears did five thousand years ago; the goldenheart bows and yard-long shafts carried by their archers into battle against foes from across the sea are never used against their own people, for their gods have forbidden this.
Wars on the Summer Isles seldom last longer than a day, and do no harm to any but the warriors themselves. No crops are destroyed, no homes are put to the torch, no cities are sacked, no children are harmed, no women are raped (though warrior women oft fight beside their men in the line of battle). Even the defeated princes suffer neither death nor disfigurement though they must leave their homes and palaces to spend the remainder of their days in exile.
Though Jhala is the largest of the Summer Isles, Walano is the most populous. There can be found Last Lament, with its great harbor, sleepy Lotus Point, and sun-dappled Tall Trees Town, where priestesses in feathered robes carve songs and stories into the trunks of the enormous tower trees that shade the town. On these Talking Trees can be read the whole history of the Summer Islanders, together with the commandments of their many gods and the laws by which they live their lives.
THE OTHER SUMMER ISLES
THE SINGING STONES, west of the main isles, have jagged peaks so riddled with holes and airways that they make a strange music when the wind blows. The people of the Stones can tell which way the wind is blowing from the sound of their song. Whether gods or men taught the stones to sing, no one can say.
KOJ, once home to Malthar the Mapmaker, still boasts the finest shipyards in the archipelago. Three-quarters of the islanders’ famed swan ships are built on Koj, and the Pearl Palace, seat of the Princes of Koj, is renowned for its collection of charts and maps.
ABULU, a small desolate isle northeast of Walano, served for more than two years as home to Nymeria and her followers. The princes of the isles refused to allow her to settle on the larger islands, for fear of waking the wroth of Valyria. As most of Nymeria’s people were female, Abulu became known as the Isle of Women, a name it still bears today. Disease, hunger, and slave raids took a steady toll of the Rhoynar there, until finally Nymeria led her ten thousand ships back to sea in search of a new refuge. A few thousand of her followers chose to remain behind, however, and their descendants remain on the Isle of Women to this day.
Though a score of gods both great and small are honored on the Summer Isles, a special reverence is shown to the god and goddess of love, beauty, and fertility. The union of male and female is sacred to these deities; by joining together in this act of worship, the islanders believe, men and women give honor to the gods who made them. Be they rich or poor, male or female, of high birth or low, all Summer Islanders are expected to dwell for a time in the temples of love that dot the islands, sharing their bodies with any who might desire them.
Most serve the gods for no more than a year, but those deemed the most beautiful, the most compassionate, and the most skilled remain. In Braavos they might be called courtesans, whilst in King’s Landing they were thought no more than whores, but on Jhala, Walano, Omboru, and the other isles these priests and priestesses are much esteemed, for here the giving of carnal pleasure is regarded as an art as worthy of respect as music, sculpture, or dance.
Today the Summer Islanders are a common sight in Oldtown and King’s Landing, and the swan ships with their billowing clouds of sails traverse all the seas of earth. Bold mariners, their captains scorn to hug the coasts like other seafarers but instead strike out fearlessly across the ocean deeps, far from the sight of land. There are certain indications that explorers from Koj may well have mapped the western coasts of Sothoryos to the very bottom of the world and discovered strange lands and stranger peoples far to the south, or across the endless waters of the Sunset Sea … but the truth of these tales is known only to the princes of the isles and the captains who serve them.
Northwest of Sothoryos, in the Summer Sea, lies the mysterious island of Naath, known to the ancients as the Isle of Butterflies. The people native to the island are a beautiful and gentle race, with round flat faces, dusky skin, and large, soft amber eyes, oft flecked with gold. The Peaceful People, the Naathi are called by seafarers, for they will not fight even in defense of their homes and persons.
The Naathi do not kill, not even beasts of the field and wood; they eat fruit, not flesh, and make music, not war.
The god of Naath is called the Lord of Harmony, oft shown as a laughing giant, bearded and naked, always attended by swarms of slender maidens with butterfly wings. A hundred varieties of butterflies flitter about the island; the Naathi revere them as messengers of the Lord, charged with the protection of his people. Mayhaps there is some truth to these legends, for whilst the docile nature of the Naathi seem to make their island ripe for conquest, strangers from beyond the sea do not live long upon the Isle of Butterflies.
The Ghiscari seized the island thrice in the days of the Old Empire; the Valyrians erected a fort there whose walls of fused dragonstone can still be seen; a company of V olantene adventurers once built a trade town, complete with timber palisades and slave pens; corsairs from the Basilisk Isles have landed on Naath countless times. Yet none of these invaders survived, and the Naathi claim that none lasted more than a year, for some evil humor lurks in the very air of this fair isle, and all those who linger too long on Naath soon succumb. Fever is the first sign of this plague, followed by painful spasms that make it seem as if victims are dancing wildly and uncontrollably. In the last stage, the afflicted sweat blood, and their flesh sloughs from their bones.
The Naathi themselves are seemingly untroubled by the illness.
The butterflies of Naath. (illustration credit 178)
Archmaester Ebrose, who has made a study of all known accounts of the affliction, believes that it is spread by the butterflies that the Peaceful People revere. For this reason, the disease is oft called butterfly fever. Some believe the fever is carried only by one particular sort of butterfly (a large black-and-white variety with wings as big as a man’s hand is favored by Ebrose), but this remains conjecture.
Whether the butterflies of Naath are true handmaids of the Lord of Harmony, or no more than common insects like their cousins in the Seven Kingdoms, it may well be that the Naathi are not wrong in regarding them as guardians.
Sad to say, the corsairs who prowl the seas around Naath long ago learned that the chances of dying of butterfly fever were low so long as they did not remain upon the island for more than a few hours … and lower still if they only came ashore at night, for butterflies are creatures of the day and love the morning dew and the afternoon sun. Thus it is that slavers from the Basilisk Isles oft descend upon Naath during the dark of night, to carry off whole villages into bondage. The Peaceful People always bring good prices, it is said, for they are as clever as they are gentle, fair to look upon, and quick to learn obedience. It is reported that one pillow house on Lys is famed for its Naathi girls, who are clad in diaphanous silken gowns and adorned with gaily painted butterfly wings.
Such raids have become so frequent since the Century of Blood that the Peaceful People have largely abandoned their own shores, moving inland to the hills and forests, where it is harder for the slavers to find them. Thus the fine handicrafts, shimmering silks, and delicate spiced wines of the Isle of Butterflies are seen less and less in the markets of the Seven Kingdoms and the Nine Free Cities.
THE BASILISK ISLES
East of Naath, the long chain of islands known as the Basilisk Isles could not be more different.
Named for the fierce beasts that once infested them, the Basilisks have for long centuries been the festering sore of the Summer Sea, inhabited only by corsairs, pirates, slavers, sellswords, murderers, and monsters, the worst of humanity. They come from every land beneath the sun, it is said, for only here can such men hope to find others of their own ilk.
Life on the Basilisks is nasty, brutal, and oft short. Hot, humid, and swarming with stinging flies, sand fleas, and bloodworms, these islands have always proved singularly unhealthy for man and beast alike. Ruins found upon the Isle of Tears, the Isle of Toads, and Ax Island hint at some ancient civilization, but little is now known of these vanished men of the Dawn Age. If any still survived when the first corsairs settled on the islands, they were soon put to the sword, so no trace of them now remains … save perhaps upon the Isle of Toads, as we shall discuss shortly.
The largest of the Basilisks is the Isle of Tears, where steep-sided valleys and black bogs hide amongst rugged flint hills and twisted, windswept rocks. On its southern coasts stand the broken ruins of a city. Founded by the Old Empire of Ghis, it was known as Gorgai for close on two centuries (or perhaps four; there is some dispute), until the dragonlords of Valyria captured it during the Third Ghiscari War and renamed it Gogossos.