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As battle was joined, the Sarnori chariots threatened to carry all before them. Their earthshattering advance smashed through the center of the Dothraki horde, the spinning blades on the wheels of their chariots slicing through the legs of the Dothraki horses. When Khal Haro himself went down before them, cut to pieces and trampled, his khalasar broke and fled. As the chariots thundered after the fleeing horsemen, the High King and his armored riders plunged in after them, followed by the Sarnori foot, waving their spears and screaming victory.
Their elation was short-lived. The rout was feigned. When they had drawn the Tall Men deep into the trap, the fleeing Dothraki turned suddenly and unleashed a storm of arrows from their great bows.
The khalasars of Khal Qano and Khal Zhako swept in from north and south, while Loso the Lame and his screamers circled round and attacked the Sarnori from the rear, cutting off their retreat.
Completely encircled, the High King and his mighty host were cut to pieces. Some say a hundred thousand men died that day, amongst them Mazor Alexi, six lesser kings, and more than threescore lords and heroes. As the crows feasted on their corpses, the riders of the khalasars walked amongst the dead and squabbled over their valuables.
Bereft of defenders, Sarnath of the Tall Towers fell to Loso the Lame less than a fortnight later.
Not even the Palace With a Thousand Rooms was spared when Khal Loso put the city to the torch.
The remaining cities of the grasslands followed one by one, as the Century of Blood drew to its close. Sarys, at the mouth of the Sarne, was the last to fall but yielded little in the way of slaves or plunder, for the people of the city had largely fled by the time that Khal Zeggo descended upon it.
It must not be thought that the Kingdom of Sarnor was the only victim of the horselords. The Valyrian colony Essaria, sometimes remembered as the Lost Free City, was similarly overwhelmed.
Today its ruins are known to the Dothraki as Vaes Khadokh, the City of Corpses. In the north, Khal Dhako sacked and burned Ibbish, reclaiming most of the small foothold the men of Ib had carved out on the northern coast of Essos (a much smaller Ibbenese colony survives in the dense forests beside the Shivering Sea, huddled around the town they have named New Ibbish). In the south, other khals led their hordes into the Red Waste, destroying the Qaathi towns and cities that once dotted that desert, until only the great city of Qarth remained, protected by its towering triple wall.
Despite their long history, little can be said with any certainty of the Qaathi—a people now gone from the world save for a remnant in Qarth.
What can be said is that the Qaathi arose in the grasslands and established towns there, coming into contact and occasional conflict with the Sarnori. They would oft have the worse of these wars, and so began to drift farther south, creating new city-states. One such, Qarth, was founded on the coast of the Summer Sea. Yet the lands in the south of Essos proved more inhospitable than those the Qaathi had vacated, turning to desert even as they established their foothold there. The Qaathi people were already well on their way to collapse when the Doom struck, and any hopes of using the chaos in the Summer Sea to their advantage vanished when the Dothraki attacked, destroying all the remaining Qaathi cities save for Qarth itself.
Yet in a way, the Dothraki destruction led to a resurgence for Qarth. Forced to look instead to the sea, the Pureborn who ruled Qarth swiftly constructed a fleet and took control of the Jade Gates—the strait between Qarth and Great Moraq, which joins the Summer Sea to the Jade Sea. With the Valyrian fleet destroyed, and V olantis’s attention turned west, there were none to oppose them as they established control over the most direct route between east and west, and so gained immeasurably in both trade and levied tolls for safe passage.
Many in the Free Cities believe that the westward thrust of the horselords was turned back at Qohor, when Khal Temmo’s attempt to take that city was defeated by the valor of three thousand Unsullied slave soldiers who stood fast against eighteen charges of his screamers. To believe that the stand of the Three Thousand of Qohor put an end to Dothraki dreams of conquest, however, suggests a complacency akin to that of the High King of Sarnor’s when the horselords first came boiling out of the east. Wiser men know that it is only a matter of time until the khalasars unite again under some great khal and turn west once more in search of new conquests.
The Dothraki have oft attempted to extend their power eastward as well, but there they have found the Bone Mountains to be an almost insurmountable obstacle. Those bleak, inhospitable peaks form an immense stone wall between the horselords and the riches of the Further East. Only three passes exist large enough to bring an army through, and athwart those stand the mighty fortress cities Bayasabhad, Samyriana, and Kayakayanaya, defended by tens of thousands of redoubtable female warriors, the last remnants of the great kingdom of Hyrkoon, which once flourished beyond the Bones in what is now known as the Great Sand Sea. Many a khal has died beneath their walls, and still those walls stand inviolate.
West of the Bones, however, from the Shivering Sea in the north to the Painted Mountains and Skahazadhan in the south, the vast expanse of grass where civilization first flowered remains a windswept desolation where no man dares plow a furrow, plant a seed, or raise a house for fear of the khalasars that wander freely there to this very day, exacting gifts from any man who seeks to cross their lands and making war upon each other.
The Dothraki remain nomads still, a savage and wild people who prefer tents to palaces. Seldom still, the khals drive their great herds of horses and goats endlessly across their “sea,” fighting one another when they meet and occasionally moving beyond the borders of their own lands for slaves and plunder, or to claim the “gifts” that the magisters and triarchs of the Free Cities bestow upon them whenever they chance to wander too far west.
It is said that the fortress cities of Bayasabhad, Samyriana, and Kayakayanaya are defended by women out of the belief that those who give birth are the only ones permitted to take life at will. The True Account of Addam of Duskendale’s Journeys, a merchant’s account of his alleged travels in eastern Essos, provides little further insight into these matters, or any others that scholars are interested in, and instead spends most of its time finding ways to remind readers that the warrior women walk about bare-breasted and decorate their cheeks and nipples with ruby studs and iron rings.
The horselords have only one permanent settlement: the “city” they call Vaes Dothrak, which stands beneath the shadow of the lonely peak they call the Mother of Mountains, beside a bottomless lake they name the Womb of the World. It is here that the Dothraki believe their race was born. No true city, Vaes Dothrak has neither walls nor streets. Its grassy thoroughfares are lined with stolen gods, its palaces made of woven grass.
This hollow shell of a city is ruled by women: the crones of the dosh khaleen, all widows of dead khals. The Dothraki esteem Vaes Dothrak as the holiest of cities. No blood may be shed there, for the riders believe this to be a place of peace and power, where one day all the khalasars shall gather together once more beneath the banners of the great khal who will conquer all, the “stallion who mounts the world.” For us, however, the only true importance of Vaes Dothrak is the trading that takes place there. The Dothraki themselves will neither buy nor sell, deeming it unmanly, but in their sacred city, by leave of the dosh khaleen, merchants and traders from beyond the Bones and the Free Cities come together, to haggle and exchange goods and gold. The caravans that feed the great Eastern and Western Markets of Vaes Dothrak give handsome gifts to the khals they meet crossing the Dothraki sea, and in return receive protection.
So, strange to say, this empty “city” of the nomads has become the gateway between east and west (for those who travel by land). Many distant peoples who might not otherwise meet, or even know of one another, gather here in this queer bazaar beneath the Mother of Mountains, and trade in safety.
The Shivering Sea is bounded to the west by Westeros, to the south by Essos, to the north by the vast frozen wilderness of ice and snow that seafarers call the White Waste, and to the east by lands and seas unknown.
The true extent of this vast, chilly, inhospitable ocean may never be known, for no man of the Seven Kingdoms has ever sailed farther east than the Thousand Islands, whilst those who venture too far north encounter howling winds, frozen seas, and mountains of ice that can crush even the strongest ship. Beyond them, sailors tell us, blizzards rage eternally and the very mountains themselves scream like madmen in the night.
It has long been accepted amongst the wise that our world is round. If this is true, it ought to be possible to sail over the top of the world and down its far side, and there discover lands and seas undreamed of. Over the centuries, many a bold mariner has sought to find a way through the ice to whatever lies beyond. Most, alas, have perished in the attempt, or returned south again half-frozen and much chastened. Whilst it is true that the White Waste recedes during summer and expands again in winter, its very shorelines ever changing, no seafarer has succeeded in finding this fabled northern passage, nor the warm summer sea that Maester Heriston of White Harbor once suggested might lie hidden and entombed behind the icy cliffs of the far north.
Sailors, by nature a gullible and superstitious lot, as fond of their fancies as singers, tell many tales of these frigid northern waters. They speak of queer lights shimmering in the sky, where the demon mother of the ice giants dances eternally through the night, seeking to lure men northward to their doom. They whisper of Cannibal Bay, where ships enter at their peril only to find themselves trapped forever when the sea freezes hard behind them.
They tell of pale blue mists that move across the waters, mists so cold that any ship they pass over is frozen instantly; of drowned spirits who rise at night to drag the living down into the grey-green depths; of mermaids pale of flesh with black-scaled tails, far more malign than their sisters of the south.
Of all the queer and fabulous denizens of the Shivering Sea, however, the greatest are the ice dragons. These colossal beasts, many times larger than the dragons of Valyria, are said to be made of living ice, with eyes of pale blue crystal and vast translucent wings through which the moon and stars can be glimpsed as they wheel across the sky. Whereas common dragons (if any dragon can truly be said to be common) breathe flame, ice dragons supposedly breathe cold, a chill so terrible that it can freeze a man solid in half a heartbeat.
Sailors from half a hundred nations have glimpsed these great beasts over the centuries, so mayhaps there is some truth behind the tales. Archmaester Margate has suggested that many legends of the north—freezing mists, ice ships, Cannibal Bay, and the like—can be explained as distorted reports of ice-dragon activity. Though an amusing notion, and not without a certain elegance, this remains the purest conjecture. As ice dragons supposedly melt when slain, no actual proof of their existence has ever been found.
Let us put aside such fancies and return to fact. Despite the sinister legends that have grown up around its northernly reaches, the waters of the Shivering Sea teem with life. Hundreds of varieties of fish swim through its depths, including salmon, wolf fish, sand lances, grey skates, lampreys and other eels, whitefish, char, shark, herring, mackerel, and cod. Crabs and lobsters (some of truly monstrous size) are found everywhere along its shores, whilst seals, narwhals, walruses, and sea lions have their rookeries and breeding grounds on and around the countless rocky islands and sea stacks.
Ice dragons notwithstanding, the true kings of these northern waters are the whales. Half a dozen types of these great beasts make their homes in the Shivering Sea, amongst them grey whales, white whales, humpbacks, savage spotted whales with their hunting packs (which many call the wolves of the wild sea), and the mighty leviathans, the oldest and largest of all the living creatures of the earth.
The westernmost reaches of the Shivering Sea, from Skagos and the Grey Cliffs to the delta of the Sarne, are the richest fishing grounds in the known world. Cod and herring are especially abundant here. Fisherfolk from lands as distant as the Three Sisters (in the west) and Morosh (in the east) have been known to work these waters … but they do so at the sufferance of the Free City of Braavos, whose fleets dominate the seas northwest of Essos, protected by their Sealord’s warships. Together with banking and trade, fishing is one of the “three pillars” upon which the wealth and prosperity of Braavos is founded.
Legend claims a thousand ships lie entombed in Cannibal Bay, some still inhabited by the children and grandchildren of their original crews, who survive by feasting upon the flesh of sailors newly caught by the ice.
Sailing eastward, an intrepid seafarer will eventually pass from Braavosi waters to those where the Free City of Lorath holds sway, albeit with a feebler grip, and thence past the Axe, where many different peoples have lived and died and perished over the millennia in wars beyond count. East of the Axe are the deep blue waters of Bitterweed Bay, where ships from Ib and Lorath have so oft contested for supremacy, and the last great war fleet of the Kingdom of Sarnor was sent to the bottom by the Sealord of Braavos. On Ib these waters are known as Battle Bay, whilst the Lorathi named them Bloody Bay. By any name, a thousand sunken ships and the bones of fifty thousand drowned sailors are said to be strewn across the bay’s bottom, home to the crabs for which Bitterweed is renowned.