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Beyond Bitterweed Bay lies the delta of the Sarne, the great north-flowing river whose many vassal streams drain much of central Essos. Here stands Saath with its white walls, the last (and least, many say) of the great cities of the fallen Kingdom of Sarnor. The ruins of Saath’s sister city Sarys, sacked and destroyed by a Dothraki khal centuries ago, can be found across the width of the delta. Between them, at another mouth of the great river, rises the Lorathi mining and fishing colony Morosh.
Those bold enough to continue still farther east will next pass the shores of the small, pastoral Kingdom of Omber, whose craven kings and feeble princes are best known for the grain, gems, and girls they pay the Dothraki horselords each year to be left unmolested. East of Omber our sailor will reach the Bay of Tusks, famed as the breeding grounds of walrus. And soon thereafter, the intrepid seafarer will find himself crossing the heart of the Shivering Sea, where every rock and wave is ruled by the hairy men from the great island of Ib.
Through the centuries many different peoples have made their homes upon the shores and islands of the Shivering Sea and sent their mariners across its chilly grey-green waters. The most enduring and significant of these are the Ibbenese, an ancient and taciturn race of islanders who have fished the northern seas since the dawn of days from their homes upon the Ibbish isles.
The Ibbenese stand apart from the other races of mankind. They are a heavy people, broad about the chest and shoulders, but seldom standing more than five and a half feet in height, with thick, short legs and long arms. Though short and squat, they are ferociously strong; at wrestling, their favorite sport, no man of the Seven Kingdoms can hope to equal them.
Their faces, characterized by sloping brows with heavy ridges, small sunken eyes, great square teeth, and massive jaws, seem brutish and ugly to Westerosi eyes, an impression heightened by their guttural, grunting tongue; but in truth the men of Ib are a cunning folk—skilled craftsmen, able hunters and trackers, and doughty warriors. They are the most hirsute people in the known world. Though their flesh is pale, with dark blue veins beneath the skin, their hair is dark and wiry. Ibbenese men are heavily bearded; wiry body hair covers their arms, legs, chests, and backs. Coarse dark hair is common amongst their women, even on the upper lip. (The persistent myth that Ibbenese females have six breasts has no truth to it, however.) Though the men of Ib can father children upon the women of Westeros and other lands, the products of such unions are often malformed and inevitably sterile, in the manner of mules. Ibbenese females, when mated with men from other races, bring forth naught but stillbirths and monstrosities.
Such matings are uncommon; though ships from the Port of Ibben are a common sight in harbors up and down the narrow sea, and even as far away as the Summer Isles and Old V olantis, the sailors who crew them keep to their own kind even when ashore and display a deep suspicion of all strangers. On Ib itself, men of other lands and races are restricted by law and custom to the harbor precincts of the Port of Ibben and forbidden to venture beyond the city save in the company of an Ibbenese host. Such invitations are exceedingly rare.
Ib is the second largest island in the known world; only Great Moraq, between the Jade and Summer Seas, is larger. Stony and mountainous, Ib is a land of great grey mountains, ancient forests, and rushing rivers, its dark interior a haunt of bears and wolves. Giants once dwelt on Ib, we are told, but none remain—though mammoths still roam the island’s plains and hills, and in the higher mountains, some claim unicorns can be found.
The Ibbenese of the woods and mountains have even less love of strangers than their cousins by the sea and seldom speak any tongue but their own. Foresters, goatherds, and miners, they make their homes in caves or houses of grey stone dug into the earth and roofed with slate or thatch. Towns and villages are rare; the Ibbenese of the interior prefer to dwell apart from their fellows, in solitary compounds, gathering only for weddings, burials, and worship. Gold, iron, and tin can be found in abundance in the mountains of Ib, as well as timber, amber, and a hundred sorts of pelts in the island’s forests.
The Ibbenese of the shore are a more venturesome folk than their cousins from the woods and mountains. Bold fishermen, they travel the northern seas widely in search of cod, herring, whitefish, and eel, but it is as whalers that they are best known in the wider world. Their great-bellied whaling ships are a common sight in ports up and down the narrow sea and beyond. Though seldom pleasing to the eye (or nose), Ibbenese ships are renowned for their strength for they are built to weather any storm and withstand the assaults of even the largest leviathans. The bone, blubber, and oil of the whales they hunt are Ib’s chief stock-in-trade, and have made the Port of Ibben the largest and richest city of the Shivering Sea.
Grey and gloomy, the Port of Ibben has ruled over Ib and the lesser isles since the dawn of days. A city of cobbled alleys, steep hills, and teeming docks and shipyards, lit by hundreds of whale-oil lamps suspended over its streets on iron chains, the Port is dominated by the ruins of the God-King’s castle, a colossal structure of rough-hewn stone that was home to a hundred Ibbenese kings. The last such king was thrown down in the aftermath of the Doom of Valyria, however. Today, Ib and the lesser isles are governed by the Shadow Council, whose members are chosen by the Thousand, an assembly of wealthy guildsmen, ancient nobles, priests, and priestesses not unlike the magisters’ councils of the Free Cities.
Far Ib, second largest of the Ibbenese islands, lies more than a hundred leagues southeast of Ib itself and is altogether a bleaker and poorer place. Ib Sar, its only town, was originally a place of exile and punishment where the Ibbenese of old sent their most notorious criminals, often after mutilating them so they might never return to Ib itself. Though that practice ended with the fall of the God-Kings, Ib Sar retains an unsavory reputation to this very day.
The men of Ib have not always confined themselves to their islands. There is abundant evidence of Ibbenese settlements on the Axe, on the Lorathi isles, and along the shores of the Bitterweed Bay and the Bay of Tusks (in the west) and Leviathan Sound and the Thousand Islands (in the east), and history tells of several Ibbenese attempts to seize control of the mouth of the Sarne, attempts that brought the hairy men into bloody conflict with the Sarnori sister cities Saath and Sarys.
The God-Kings of Ib, before their fall, did succeed in conquering and colonizing a huge swathe of northern Essos immediately south of Ib itself, a densely wooded region that had formerly been the home of a small, shy forest folk. Some say that the Ibbenese extinguished this gentle race, whilst others believe they went into hiding in the deeper woods or fled to other lands. The Dothraki still call the great forest along the northern coast the Kingdom of the Ifequevron, the name by which they knew the vanished forest-dwellers.
The fabled Sea Snake, Corlys Velaryon, Lord of the Tides, was the first Westerosi to visit these woods. After his return from the Thousand Islands, he wrote of carved trees, haunted grottoes, and strange silences. A later traveler, the merchant-adventurer Bryan of Oldtown, captain of the cog Spearshaker, provided an account of his own journey across the Shivering Sea. He reported that the Dothraki name for the lost people meant “those who walk in the woods.” None of the Ibbenese that Bryan of Oldtown met could say they had ever seen a woods walker, but claimed that the little people blessed a household that left offerings of leaf and stone and water overnight.
The history of the fighting pits of Meereen known as the Red Book, written by an unknown Yunkish hand and translated centuries after by Maester Elkin, makes passing reference to the fact that many of the Ibbenese women sold into slavery ended their days in the fighting pits of Meereen, Yunkai, and Astapor, for the slavers of the south deemed them too ugly to serve as bed slaves and too savage to use as field hands.
At its greatest extent, the Ibbenese foothold on Essos was as large as Ib itself and far richer. More and more of the hairy men crossed over from the islands to make their fortunes there, cutting down the trees to put the land under the plow, damming the rivers and streams, mining the hills. Ruling over these domains was Ibbish, a fishing village that swelled to become a thriving port and the second city of the Ibbenese, with a deep harbor and high white walls.
All that ended two hundred years ago with the coming of the Dothraki. The horselords had hitherto shunned the forests of the northern coasts; some say this was because of their reverence for the vanished wood walkers, others because they feared their powers. Whatever the truth, the Dothraki did not fear the men of Ib. Khal after khal began to make incursions into Ibbenese territories, overrunning the farms and fields and holdfasts of the hairy men with fire and steel, putting the males to the sword whilst carrying off their wives into slavery.
The Ibbenese, a notoriously avaricious and, yea, even niggardly people, refused to pay the tribute the khals demanded, choosing to fight instead. Though the men of Ib won several notable victories, famously destroying the huge khalasar of the fearsome Khal Onqo in one epic battle, the Dothraki only came in greater numbers, as each new khal sought to eclipse the conquests of the last. The khalasars pushed the Ibbenese farther and farther back, until at last they overwhelmed even the great city of Ibbish. Khal Scoro was the first to take the city, breaking through the Whalebone Gates to loot the temples and treasuries and carry off the city’s gods to Vaes Dothrak. The Ibbenese rebuilt, but a generation later Ibbish was sacked again by Khal Rogo, who put half the city to the torch and marched ten thousand women to slavery.
Today only ruins remain where Ibbish once stood, a place the Dothraki name Vaes Aresak, or City of Cowards … for when the khalasar of Onqo’s grandson, Khal Dhako, approached to sack the city once again, the remaining inhabitants took to their ships and fled back across the sea to Ib. In his wroth, Dhako not only put the abandoned city to the torch but burned so much of the surrounding countryside that he was thereafter known as the Dragon of the North.
Ib retains a modest foothold on Essos even to this day, on a small peninsula surrounded by the sea and defended by a wooden wall almost as long as the ice Wall of the Night’s Watch, if not a third as high, a towering earth-and-timber palisade bristling with defensive towers and protected by a deep ditch. Behind the earthworks, the men of Ib have built the town of New Ibbish to rule over their muchdiminished domains, but sailors say that the new town is a sad and squalid place, more akin to Ib Sar than to the thriving city that the horselords reduced to ruins.
Terrio Erastes, the great Braavosi adventurer, kept a record of his time among the Dothraki and witnessed the fall of Ibbish while a guest of Khal Dhako. His chronicle, Fire Upon the Grass, notes that Khal Dhako was said to take great pride in being accounted the Dragon of the North, but at the end he came to rue it, for when his khalasar was broken in battle by that of Khal Temmo, the younger khal took the elder captive and fed him to the flames, cutting off his hands and feet and genitals and roasting them before his eyes, after first burning his wives and sons in the same manner.
EAST OF IB
Beyond the Ibbish coastlands and forests of the Ifequevron, the foothills of the Bones rise up out of the grasslands, and farther east the mountains themselves march down to meet the sea. Even from miles out into the Shivering Sea, the great northern peaks, with their icy crowns and jagged spires, seem to split the very sky. Krazaaj Zasqa, the Dothraki call the northernmost of the Bones: the White Mountains.
Beyond them lies another world, one that very few Westerosi have ever visited. Those who have come this far, like Lomas Longstrider, have come by land through the mountain passes or by the way of the warm southern waters and the Jade Gates.
Though the eastern waters of the Shivering Sea are as rich as those of the west, few come to fish them save the Ibbenese themselves, for beyond the Bones are found the lands of the nomadic Jogos Nhai, a savage race of mounted warriors with no ships and no interest in the sea. Whalers from the Port of Ibben regularly hunt Leviathan Sound, where those great beasts come to mate and birth their young, and Ibbenese fishermen speak of vast schools of cod in the deeper waters, seals and walrus on the rocky islands to the north, and spider crabs and emperor crabs everywhere, but elsewise these eastern seas are empty.
Still farther east lie the so-called Thousand Islands (Ibbenese chartmakers tell us that there are in truth fewer than three hundred), a sea-girt scatter of bleak windswept rocks believed by some to be the last remnants of a drowned kingdom whose towns and towers were submerged beneath the rising seas many thousands of years ago. Only the boldest or the most desperate mariners ever make landfall here, for the people of these islands, though few in number, are a queer folk, inimical to strangers, a hairless people with green-tinged skin who file the teeth of their females into sharp points and slice the foreskins from the members of their males. They speak no known tongue and are said to sacrifice sailors to their squamous, fish-headed gods, likenesses of whom rise from their stony shores, visible only when the tide recedes. Though surrounded by water on all sides, these islanders fear the sea so much that they will not set foot in the water even under threat of death.
A woman of the Thousand Islands. (illustration credit 184) Even Corlys Velaryon dared sail no farther east than the Thousand Islands; this was where the Sea Snake turned back on his great northern voyage. In truth, there was no reason for him to continue, save for his hunger to learn what lay beyond the next horizon. Even the fish taken from these eastern seas are oddly misshapen, with a bitter, unpleasant taste, it is said.