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Only one port of note is to be found on the Shivering Sea east of the Bones: Nefer, chief city of the kingdom of N’ghai, hemmed in by towering chalk cliffs and perpetually shrouded in fog. When seen from the harbor, Nefer appears to be no more than a small town, but it is said that nine-tenths of the city is beneath the ground. For that reason, travelers call Nefer the Secret City. By any name, the city enjoys a sinister reputation as a haunt of necromancers and torturers.
Beyond N’ghai are the forests of Mossovy, a cold dark land of shapechangers and demon hunters.
Beyond Mossovy … No man of Westeros can truly say. Certain septons have claimed that the world ends east of Mossovy, giving way to a realm of mists, then a realm of darkness, and finally a realm of storm and chaos where sea and sky become as one. Sailors and singers and other dreamers prefer to believe that the Shivering Sea goes on and on, unending, past the easternmost coasts of Essos, past islands and continents unknown, uncharted, and undreamed of, where strange peoples worship strange gods beneath stranger stars. Wiser men suggest that somewhere beyond the waters we know, east becomes west, and the Shivering Sea must surely join the Sunset Sea, if indeed the world is round.
It may be so. Or not. Until some new Sea Snake arises to sail beyond the sunrise, no man can know for certain.
B ONES AND B EYOND
The ancestors of the Dothraki and the other horse peoples of the grasslands knew better, for some remembered crossing those mountains from the lands that lay beyond. Did they come west in hopes of fairer fields and plenty or in search of conquest, or were they fleeing before some savage foe? Their tales do not agree, so we may never know, but of their travails we may be certain, for they left their bones behind to mark their passing. The bones of men, the bones of horses, the bones of giants and camels and oxen, of every sort of beast and bird and monster, all can be found amongst these savage peaks.
From them the mountains take their name: the Bones. Tallest of all the mountain ranges in the known world from the Sunset Sea to Asshai-by-the-Shadow, the Bones extend from the Shivering Sea to the Jade Sea, a wall of twisted rock and sharp stone stretching more than five hundred leagues from north to south and a hundred leagues from east to west.
Deep snows crown the northern Bones, whilst sandstorms oft scour the peaks and valleys of their southern sisters, carving them into strange shapes. In the long leagues between, thundering rivers roar through deep canyons, and small caves open onto vast caverns and sunless seas. Yet however inimical the Bones might seem to those who do not know them, they have been home to men and stranger things over the centuries. Even the snowcapped northernmost peaks (known as Krazaaj Zasqa or White Mountains in the Dothraki tongue), where the cold winds come howling off the Shivering Sea winter and summer, were once home to the Jhogwin, the stone giants, massive creatures said to have been twice as large as the giants of Westeros. Alas, the last of the Jhogwin disappeared a thousand years ago; only their massive bones remain to mark where they once roamed.
“A thousand roads lead into the Bones,” wise men say from Qarth to Qohor, “but only three lead out.” As impassable as the Bones appear from afar, there are indeed hundreds of footpaths, goat tracks, game trails, streambeds, and slopes by which travelers, traders, and adventurers may find their way into the heart of the mountains. In certain places, ancient carved steps and hidden tunnels and passages exist for those who know how to find them. Yet many of these paths are treacherous, and others are dead ends or traps for the unwary.
Small parties, well armed and well provisioned, may make their way through the Bones by myriad ways when led by a guide who knows the dangers. Armies, trading caravans, and men alone, however, are well advised to stay to the main routes, the three great mountain passes that bridge the worlds of east and west: the Steel Road, the Stone Road, and the Sand Road.
The Steel Road (so named for all the battles it has seen) and the Stone Road both originate in Vaes Dothrak, the former running almost due east beneath the highest peaks, the latter curving southeast to join the old Silk Road at the ruins of Yinishar (called Vaes Jini by the horselords) before beginning its climb. Far south of these, the Sand Road passes through the southern Bones (sometimes called the Dry Bones, for water is scarce there) and surrounding deserts, connecting the great port city of Qarth with the market city Tiqui, the gateway to the east.
Even along these well-traveled routes, crossing the Bones remains grueling and hazardous … and safe passage comes at a price, for on the far side of the mountains stand three mighty fortress cities, last remnants of the once-great Patrimony of Hyrkoon. Bayasabhad, the City of Serpents, guards the eastern end of the Sand Road and exacts tribute from all those who seek to pass. The Stone Road, with its deep defiles and endless, narrow switchbacks, passes beneath the walls of Samyriana, a grey stone city carved into the very rock of the mountains it defends. In the north, fur-clad warriors ride the Steel Road over swaying bridges and through underground passageways, escorting caravans to and from Kayakayanaya, whose walls are black basalt, black iron, and yellow bone.
Ma ny accounts inform us that the mountain warriors of Kayakayanaya, Samyriana, and Bayasabhad are all women, daughters of the Great Fathers who rule these cities, where girls learn to ride and climb before they learn to walk, and are schooled in the arts of the bow, the spear, the knife, and the sling from earliest childhood. Lomas Longstrider himself tells us that there are no fiercer fighters on all the earth. As for their brothers, the sons of the Great Fathers, ninety-nine of every hundred are gelded when they reach the age of manhood and live out their lives as eunuchs, serving their cities as scribes, priests, scholars, servants, cooks, farmers, and craftsmen. Only the most promising males, the largest and strongest and most comely, are permitted to mature and breed and become Great Fathers themselves in their turns. Maester Naylin’s Rubies and Iron—named for the penchant of the warrior women to wear iron rings in their nipples and rubies in their cheeks —speculates on the circumstances that led to such strange customs.
The three fortress cities began as true forts, outposts and garrisons raised up by the Patriarchs of Hyrkoon to guard the western marches of their realm against the brigands, outlaws, and wild men of the Bones, and the savages who dwelt beyond them. Over the centuries, however, the citadels grew into cities, whilst Hyrkoon itself withered into dust, as its lakes and rivers dried away and its oncefertile fields turned to desert. Today the heartland of Hyrkoon is the Great Sand Sea, a vast wasteland of restless dunes, dry riverbeds, and ruined forts and towns baking beneath the sun. Water is said to boil away, it is so hot in the deep, southern portions of the sea.
Beyond the Great Sand Sea another world awaits: the Further East, a vast land of plains and hills and river valleys that seems to have no end, where strange gods rule over stranger peoples. Many great cities and proud kingdoms have risen and flourished and fallen here since the dawn of days;
most of these are little known in the west, even their very names long forgotten. Only the broadest outlines of the histories of the Further East are known to the Citadel, and even in those tales that have come west to us, over long leagues of mountains and deserts, there are many omissions, gaps, and contradictions, making it all but impossible to say with any certainty what portion is true and what portion has arisen from the fevered imaginings of singers, storytellers, and wet nurses.
Yet the oldest and greatest of the eastern civilizations endures to our present day: the Ancient, Glorious, Golden Empire of Yi Ti.
A fabled land even in the Seven Kingdoms, Yi Ti is a large and diverse country, a realm of windswept plains and rolling hills, jungles and rain forests, deep lakes and rushing rivers and shrinking inland seas. Its legendary wealth is such as to allow its princes to live in houses of solid gold and dine on sweetmeats powdered with pearls and jade. Lomas Longstrider, awestruck by its marvels, called Yi Ti “the land of a thousand gods and a hundred princes, ruled by one godemperor.” Those who have visited Yi Ti as it is today tell us that the thousand gods and hundred princes yet remain … but there are three god-emperors, each claiming the right to don the gowns of cloth-of-gold, green pearls, and jade that tradition allows to the emperor alone. None wields true power; though millions may worship the azure emperor in Yin and prostrate themselves before him whenever he appears, his imperial writ extends no farther than the walls of his own city. The hundred princes of whom Lomas Longstrider wrote rule their own realms as they please, as do the brigands, priest-kings, sorcerers, warlords, and imperial generals and tax collectors outside their domains.
This was not always so, we know. In ancient days, the god-emperors of Yi Ti were as powerful as any ruler on earth, with wealth that exceeded even that of Valyria at its height and armies of almost unimaginable size.
In the beginning, the priestly scribes of Yin declare, all the land between the Bones and the freezing desert called the Grey Waste, from the Shivering Sea to the Jade Sea (including even the great and holy isle of Leng), formed a single realm ruled by the God-on-Earth, the only begotten son of the Lion of Night and Maiden-Made-of-Light, who traveled about his domains in a palanquin carved from a single pearl and carried by a hundred queens, his wives. For ten thousand years the Great Empire of the Dawn flourished in peace and plenty under the God-on-Earth, until at last he ascended to the stars to join his forebears.
Dominion over mankind then passed to his eldest son, who was known as the Pearl Emperor and ruled for a thousand years. The Jade Emperor, the Tourmaline Emperor, the Onyx Emperor, the Topaz Emperor, and the Opal Emperor followed in turn, each reigning for centuries … yet every reign was shorter and more troubled than the one preceding it, for wild men and baleful beasts pressed at the borders of the Great Empire, lesser kings grew prideful and rebellious, and the common people gave themselves over to avarice, envy, lust, murder, incest, gluttony, and sloth.
When the daughter of the Opal Emperor succeeded him as the Amethyst Empress, her envious younger brother cast her down and slew her, proclaiming himself the Bloodstone Emperor and beginning a reign of terror. He practiced dark arts, torture, and necromancy, enslaved his people, took a tiger-woman for his bride, feasted on human flesh, and cast down the true gods to worship a black stone that had fallen from the sky. (Many scholars count the Bloodstone Emperor as the first High Priest of the sinister Church of Starry Wisdom, which persists to this day in many port cities throughout the known world).
In the annals of the Further East, it was the Blood Betrayal, as his usurpation is named, that ushered in the age of darkness called the Long Night. Despairing of the evil that had been unleashed on earth, the Maiden-Made-of-Light turned her back upon the world, and the Lion of Night came forth in all his wroth to punish the wickedness of men.
How long the darkness endured no man can say, but all agree that it was only when a great warrior —known variously as Hyrkoon the Hero, Azor Ahai, Yin Tar, Neferion, and Eldric Shadowchaser— arose to give courage to the race of men and lead the virtuous into battle with his blazing sword Lightbringer that the darkness was put to rout, and light and love returned once more to the world.
Yet the Great Empire of the Dawn was not reborn, for the restored world was a broken place where every tribe of men went its own way, fearful of all the others, and war and lust and murder endured, even to our present day. Or so the men and women of the Further East believe.
Hyrkoon the Hero with Lightbringer in hand, leading the virtuous into battle. (illustration credit 185) At the Citadel of Oldtown and other centers of learning in the west, maesters regard these tales of the Great Empire and its fall as legend, not history, yet none doubt that the YiTish civilization is ancient, mayhap even contemporary with the realms of the Fisher Queens beside the Silver Sea. In Yi Ti itself, the priests insist that mankind’s first towns and cities arose along the shores of the Jade Sea and dismiss the rival claims of Sarnor and Ghis as the boasts of savages and children.
Whatever the truth, Yi Ti was beyond question one of the places where men first climbed from the pit of savagery to civilization … and literacy, for the wise men of the east have been reading and writing for many thousands of years. Their most ancient records are cherished, almost venerated, but are also jealously guarded by their scholars. Such accounts as we have are pieced together from hearsay from travelers and scattered texts that have escaped Yi Ti to find their way across the seas to the Citadel.
To tell the tale of Yi Ti is far beyond our scope here, comprising as it does hundreds of emperors and myriad wars and conquests and rebellions. Let it suffice to say that the Golden Empire has known golden ages and dark ages, that it has waxed and waned and waxed again throughout the centuries, that it has weathered floods and droughts and sandstorms and quaking of the earth so violent as to swallow entire cities, that thousands of heroes and cravens and concubines and wizards and scholars have passed across the pages of its histories.