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Since the Further East emerged from the Long Night and the centuries of chaos that followed, eleven dynasties have held sway over the lands we now call Yi Ti. Some lasted no more than a half century; the longest endured for seven hundred years. Some dynasties gave way to others peacefully, others with blood and steel. On four occasions, the end of a dynasty was followed by a period of anarchy and lawlessness when warlords and petty kings warred with one another for supremacy; the longest of these interregnums lasted more than a century.
To recount even the most important events of this long history would require more words than we have, yet we would be remiss if we did not at least mention a few of the more
fabled of the god-emperors of Yi Ti:
MENGO QUEN, the Glittering God, third of the jade-green emperors, who ruled from a palace where the floors and walls and columns were covered in gold leaf, and all the furnishings were made of gold, even to the chamber pots.
LO THO, called Lo Longspoon and Lo the Terrible, the twenty-second scarlet emperor, a reputed sorcerer and cannibal, who is said to have supped upon the living brains of his enemies with a long, pearl-handled spoon, after the tops of their skulls had been removed.
LO DOQ, called Lo Lackwit, the thirty-fourth scarlet emperor, a seeming simpleton cursed with an affliction that made him jerk and stagger when he walked, and drool when he tried to speak, who nonetheless ruled wisely for more than thirty years (though some suggest that the true ruler was his wife, the formidable Empress Bathi Ma Lo).
NINE EUNUCHS, the pearl-white emperors who gave Yi Ti 130 years of peace and THE prosperity. As young men and princes, they lived as other men, taking wives and concubines and siring heirs, but upon their ascent each surrendered his manhood root and stem, so that he might devote himself entirely to the empire.
JAR HAR, and his sons Jar Joq and Jar Han, the sixth, seventh, and eighth of the sea-green emperors, under whose rule the empire reached the apex of its power. Jar Har conquered Leng, Jar Joq took Great Morag, Jar Han exacted tribute from Qarth, Old Ghis, Asshai, and other far-flung lands, and traded with Valyria.
Though Yi Ti is a vast land, much of it covered by dense forest and sweltering jungles, travel from one end of the empire to the other is swift and safe, for the great web of stone roads built by the Eunuch Emperors of old have no equal in all the world, save for the dragonroads of the Valyrians.
The cities of Yi Ti are far-famed as well, for no other land can boast so many. If Lomas Longstrider can be believed, none of the cities of the west can compare to those of Yi Ti in size and splendor. “Even their ruins put ours to shame,” the Longstrider said … and ruins are everywhere in Yi Ti. In his Jade Compendium, Colloquo V otar—the best source available in Westeros on the lands of the Jade Sea—wrote that beneath every YiTish city, three older cities lie buried.
Over the centuries, the capital of the Golden Empire has moved here and there and back again a score of times, as rival warlords contended and dynasties rose and fell. The grey emperors, indigo emperors, and pearl-white emperors ruled from Yin on the shores of the Jade Sea, first and most glorious of the YiTish cities, but the scarlet emperors raised up a new city in the heart of the jungle and named it Si Qo the Glorious (long fallen and overgrown, its glory lives now only in legend), whilst the purple emperors preferred Tiqui, the many-towered city in the western hills, and the maroon emperors kept their martial court in Jinqi, the better to guard the frontiers of the empire against reavers from the Shadow Lands.
Certain scholars from the west have suggested Valyrian involvement in the construction of the Five Forts, for the great walls are single slabs of fused black stone that resemble certain Valyrian citadels in the west … but this seems unlikely, for the Forts predate the Freehold’s rise, and there is no record of any dragonlords ever coming so far east.
Thus the Five Forts must remain a mystery. They still stand today, unmarked by time, guarding the marches of the Golden Empire against raiders out of the Grey Waste.
Today Yin is once more the capital of Yi Ti. There the seventeenth azure emperor Bu Gai sits in splendor in a palace larger than all King’s Landing. Yet far to the east, well beyond the borders of the Golden Empire proper, past the legendary Mountains of the Morn, in the city Carcosa on the Hidden Sea, dwells in exile a sorcerer lord who claims to be the sixty-ninth yellow emperor, from a dynasty fallen for a thousand years. And more recently, a general named Pol Qo, Hammer of the Jogos Nhai, has given himself imperial honors, naming himself the first of the orange emperors, with the rude, sprawling garrison city called Trader Town as his capital. Which of these three emperors will prevail is a question best left for the historians of the years to come.
No discussion of Yi Ti would be complete without a mention of the Five Forts, a line of hulking ancient citadels that stand along the far northeastern frontiers of the Golden Empire, between the Bleeding Sea (named for the characteristic hue of its deep waters, supposedly a result of a plant that grows only there) and the Mountains of the Morn. The Five Forts are very old, older than the Golden Empire itself; some claim they were raised by the Pearl Emperor during the morning of the Great Empire to keep the Lion of Night and his demons from the realms of men … and indeed, there is something godlike, or demonic, about the monstrous size of the forts, for each of the five is large enough to house ten thousand men, and their massive walls stand almost a thousand feet high.
Of the lands that lie beyond the Five Forts, we know even less. Legends and lies and traveler’s tales are all that ever reach us of these far places. We hear of cities where the men soar like eagles on leathern wings, of towns made of bones, of a race of bloodless men who dwell between the deep valley called the Dry Deep and the mountains. Whispers reach us of the Grey Waste and its cannibal sands, and of the Shrykes who live there, half-human creatures with green-scaled skin and venomous bites. Are these truly lizard-men, or (more likely) men clad in the skins of lizards? Or are they no more than fables, the grumkins and snarks of the eastern deserts? And even the Shrykes supposedly live in terror of K’dath in the Grey Waste, a city said to be older than time, where unspeakable rites are performed to slake the hunger of mad gods. Does such a city truly exist? If so, what is its nature?
On such matters, even Lomas Longstrider is silent. Perhaps the priests of Yi Ti know, but if so, these are not truths they care to share with us.
THE PLAINS OF THE JOGOS NHAI
North of Yi Ti, the windswept plains and rolling hills that stretch from the Golden Empire’s frontiers to the desolate shores of the Shivering Sea are dominated by a race of mounted warriors called the Jogos Nhai. Like the Dothraki of the western grasslands, they are a nomadic people who live their lives in yurts, tents, and saddles, a proud, restless, warlike race who prize their freedoms above all and are never content to remain in one place for long.
Yet in many ways these riders of the Further East are very different from the horselords of the west. The Jogos Nhai are as a rule a head shorter than their counterparts and less comely to western eyes—squat, bowlegged, and swarthy, with large heads, small faces, and a sallow cast of skin. Men and women both have pointed skulls, a result of their curious custom of binding the heads of their newborn during their first two years of life. Where Dothraki warriors pride themselves on the length of their braid, the men of the Jogos Nhai shave their heads but for a single strip of hair down the center of the skull, whilst their women go wholly bald and are said to scrape all the hair from their female parts as well.
The mounts of the Jogos Nhai are smaller than the fiery steeds of the Dothraki, for the plains east of the Bones are drier and less fertile than the Dothraki sea, their grasses sparser, offering meager sustenance to horses. And so these easterners ride zorses, hardy beasts originally made by breeding horses with certain strange, horselike creatures from the southern regions of Yi Ti and the island of Leng. Foul-tempered beasts, their hides marked with black and white stripes, the zorses of the Jogos Nhai are renowned for their toughness and can supposedly survive on weeds and devil grass for many turns of the moon and travel long distances without water or fodder.
Unlike the Dothraki, whose khals lead huge khalasars across the grasslands, the Jogos Nhai travel in small bands, closely connected by blood. Each band is commanded by a jhat, or war chief, and a moonsinger, who combines the roles of priestess, healer, and judge. The jhat leads in war and battle and raid, whilst other matters are ruled by the band’s moonsinger.
Dothraki khals make endless war on one another once beyond the sacred precincts of Vaes Dothrak, their holy city, but the gods of the Jogos Nhai forbid them to shed the blood of their own people (young men do ride out to steal goats, dogs, and zorses from other bands, whilst their sisters go forth to abduct husbands, but these are rituals hallowed by the gods of the plains, during which no blood may be shed).
The face the zorse-riders show outsiders is very different, however, for they live in a state of perpetual war against all the neighboring peoples. Their attacks upon N’ghai, the ancient land to the northeast of their domains, has reduced that once-proud kingdom to a single city (Nefer) and its hinterlands. Legend claims that it was the Jogos Nhai, led by the jhattar—the jhat of jhats and war leader of the whole people—Gharak Squint-Eye, who slew the last of the stone giants of Jhogwin at the Battle in the Howling Hills.
Before the Dry Times and the coming of the Great Sand Sea, the Jogos Nhai fought many a bloody border war against the Patrimony of Hyrkoon as well, poisoning rivers and wells, burning towns and cities, and carrying off thousands into slavery on the plains, whilst the Hyrkoon for their part were sacrificing tens of thousands of the zorse-riders to their dark and hungry gods. The enmity between the nomads and the warrior women of the Bones runs deep and bitter to this very day, and over the centuries a dozen jhattars have led armies up the Steel Road. Thus far all these assaults have broken against the walls of Kayakayanaya, yet the moonsingers still sing of the glorious day to come when the Jogos Nhai shall prevail and spill over the mountains to claim the fertile lands beyond.
Even the mighty Golden Empire of Yi Ti is not exempt from the depredations of the Jogos Nhai, as many a YiTish lord and princeling has learned to his grief. Raids and incursions into the empire are a way of life amongst the nomads, the source of the gold and gems that drape the arms and necks of their moonsingers and jhats, and of the slaves that serve them and their herds. Over the past two thousand years, the zorse-riders of the northern plains have reduced to ruins a dozen YiTish cities, a hundred towns, and farms and fields beyond counting.
Amongst the Jogos Nhai, jhats are usually men and moonsingers women, but female jhats and male moonsingers are not unknown. This is not always obvious to strangers, however, for a girl who chooses the warrior’s way is expected to dress and live as a man, whilst a boy who wishes to be a moonsinger must dress and live as a woman.
During that time, many an imperial general and three god-emperors have led armies across the plains in turn, to bring the nomads to heel. History tells us that such attempts seldom end well. The invaders may slaughter the herds of the nomads, burn their tents and yurts, collect tribute in the form of gold, goods, and slaves from the bands they chance to encounter, and even compel a handful of jhats to vow eternal fealty to the god-emperor and forswear raiding forever … but most Jogos Nhai flee before the imperial hosts, refusing to give battle, and sooner or later the general or emperor loses patience and turns back, whereupon life resumes as before.
During the long reign of Lo Han, forty-second scarlet emperor, three such invasions of the plains ended as described, yet the end of his days found the Jogos Nhai bolder and more rapacious than they had been when first he donned the imperial regalia. Upon his death, therefore, his young and valiant son Lo Bu determined to end the threat posed by the nomads for all time. Assembling a mighty host, said to be three hundred thousand strong, this bold young emperor crossed the frontiers with slaughter as his only purpose. Tribute could not sway him, nor hostages, nor oaths of fealty and offerings of peace; his vast army swept across the plains like a scythe, destroying all, leaving a burning wasteland behind it.
When the Jogos Nhai resorted to their traditional tactics, melting away at his approach, Lo Bu divided his huge army into thirteen smaller hosts and sent them forth in all directions to hunt down the nomads wherever they might go. It is written that a million Jogos Nhai died at their hands.
At last the nomads, facing the extinction of their race, did what they had never done before. A thousand rival clans joined together and raised up a jhattar, a woman in man’s mail named Zhea.
Known as Zhea the Barren, Zhea Zorseface, and Zhea the Cruel, and famed even then for her cunning, she is remembered to this day in the Golden Empire of Yi Ti, where mothers whisper her name to frighten unruly children into obedience.
In courage, valor, and skill at arms, Lo Bu had no peer, but in cunning he proved to be no match for Zhea. The war between the young emperor and the wizened jhattar lasted less than two years. Zhea isolated each of Lo Bu’s thirteen armies, slew their scouts and foragers, starved them, denied them water, led them into wastelands and traps, and destroyed them each in turn. Finally her swift riders descended upon Lo Bu’s own host, in a night of carnage and slaughter so terrible that every stream for twenty leagues around was choked with blood.
Amongst the slain was Lo Bu himself, the forty-third and last of the scarlet emperors. When his severed head was presented to Zhea, she commanded that the flesh be stripped from the bone, so that his skull might be dipped in gold and made into her drinking cup. From that time to this, every jhattar of the Jogos Nhai has drunk fermented zorse milk from the gilded skull of the Boy Too Bold By Half, as Lo Bu is remembered.
Southeast of Yin, surrounded by the warm green waters of the Jade Sea, the verdant isle of Leng is home to “ten thousand tigers and ten million monkeys,” or so Lomas Longstrider once claimed. The great apes of Leng are also far-famed; amongst them are spotted humpback apes said to be almost as clever as men, and hooded apes as large as giants, so strong that they can pull the arms and legs off a man as easily as a boy might pull the wings off a fly.
A YiTish male and a Lengii female. (illustration credit 187)
Leng’s history goes back almost as far as that of Yi Ti itself, but little and less of it is known west of the Jade Straits. There are queer ruins in the depths of the island’s jungle: massive buildings, long fallen, and so overgrown that rubble remains above the surface … but underground, we are told, endless labyrinths of tunnels lead to vast chambers, and carved steps descend hundreds of feet into the earth. No man can say who might have built these cities, or when. They remain perhaps the only remnant of some vanished people.
The present inhabitants of Leng are of two sorts, so utterly different from one another that we must regard them as entirely separate peoples.
For much of its recent history, Leng has been a part of the Golden Empire of Yi Ti, ruled from Yin or Jinqi. During these epochs, tens of thousands of soldiers, merchants, adventurers, and sellswords made the migration from the empire to the island, seeking their fortunes. Though Leng broke free of Yi Ti four hundred years ago, the northern two-thirds of the island are still dominated by the descendants of these YiTish invaders.
OTHER ISLANDS OF NOTE IN THE JADE SEA, AS RECORDED BY CORLYS
VELARYON IN HIS LETTERS
MARAHAI, the paradise isle, a verdant crescent attended by twin fire islands, where burning mountains belch plumes of molten stone day and night.
To the traveler, they remain indistinguishable from the people of the Golden Empire; they speak a dialect of the same language, pray to the same gods, eat the same foods, follow the same customs, and even reverence the azure emperor in Yin … though they worship only their own god-empress. Their principal towns, Leng Yi and Leng Ma, resemble Yin and Jinqi far more than they do Turrani, the city to the south.
On the southern third of Leng dwell the descendants of those displaced by the invaders from the Golden Empire. The native Lengii are perhaps the tallest of all the known races of mankind, with many men amongst them reaching seven feet in height, and some as tall as eight. Long-legged and slender, with flesh the color of oiled teak, they have large golden eyes and can supposedly see farther and better than other men, especially at night. Though formidably tall, the women of the Lengii are famously lithe and lovely, of surpassing beauty.
For much of its history, Leng has been an isle of mystery, for the native Lengii seldom sailed beyond sight of their own shores, and such seafarers who chanced to glimpse their coasts whilst crossing the Jade Sea met a cold reception should they dare to come ashore. The Lengii had no interest in foreign gods, foreign goods, foreign food or dress or customs; nor did they allow outsiders to mine their gold, harvest their trees, gather their fruit, or fish their seas. Those who attemped to do so met a swift and bloody end. Leng became known as a haunt of demons and sorcerers, a place to be avoided, a closed island. And so it remained for many centuries.
It was mariners from the Golden Empire who opened Leng to trade, yet even then the island remained a perilous place for outsiders, for the Empress of Leng was known to have congress with the Old Ones, gods who lived deep below the ruined subterranean cities, and from time to time the Old Ones told her to put all the strangers on the island to death. This is known to have happened at least four times in the island’s history if Colloquo Votar’s Jade Compendium can be believed.
Not until Jar Har, sixth of the sea-green emperors, conquered Leng with fire and steel and took it into his empire did these slaughters cease for good and all.
In the four centuries since Leng threw off the yoke of Yi Ti, the island has flourished under the rule of a long line of god-empresses. The first of the current dynasty, still revered in the east as Khiara the Great, was of pure Lengii descent; to please her subjects, she took two husbands, one Lengii and one YiTish. This custom was continued by her daughters and their daughters in turn. By tradition the first of the imperial consorts commands the empress’s armies, the second her fleets.
Legends persist that the Old Ones still live beneath the jungle of Leng. So many of the warriors that Jar Har sent down below the ruins returned mad or not at all that the godemperor finally decreed the vast underground cities’ ruins should be sealed up and forgotten. Even today, it is forbidden to enter such places, under penalty of torture and death.
And so we come, nearly, to the end of the world.
Or, at least, the end of our knowledge.
Easternmost and southernmost of the great cities of the known world, the ancient port of Asshai stands at the end of a long wedge of land, on the point where the Jade Sea meets the Saffron Straits.
Its origins are lost in the mists of time. Even the Asshai’i do not claim to know who built their city;
they will say only that a city has stood here since the world began and will stand here until it ends.
Few places in the known world are as remote as Asshai, and fewer are as forbidding. Travelers tell us that the city is built entirely of black stone: halls, hovels, temples, palaces, streets, walls, bazaars, all. Some say as well that the stone of Asshai has a greasy, unpleasant feel to it, that it seems to drink the light, dimming tapers and torches and hearth fires alike. The nights are very black in Asshai, all agree, and even the brightest days of summer are somehow grey and gloomy.
Asshai is a large city, sprawling out for leagues on both banks of the black river Ash. Behind its enormous land walls is ground enough for V olantis, Qarth, and King’s Landing to stand side by side and still have room for Oldtown.
An account by Archmaester Marwyn confirms reports that no man rides in Asshai, be he warrior, merchant, or prince. There are no horses in Asshai, no elephants, no mules, no donkeys, no zorses, no camels, no dogs. Such beasts, when brought there by ship, soon die.
The malign influence of the Ash and its polluted waters have been implicated, as it is well understood from Harmon’s On Miasmas that animals are more sensitive to the foulness exuded by such waters, even without drinking them. Septon Barth’s writings speculate more wildly, referring to the higher mysteries with little evidence.
Yet the population of Asshai is no greater than that of a good-sized market town. By night the streets are deserted, and only one building in ten shows a light. Even at the height of day, there are no crowds to be seen, no tradesmen shouting their wares in noisy markets, no women gossiping at a well. Those who walk the streets of Asshai are masked and veiled, and have a furtive air about them.
Oft as not, they walk alone, or ride in palanquins of ebony and iron, hidden behind dark curtains and borne through the dark streets upon the backs of slaves.
And there are no children in Asshai.
Despite its forbidding aspects, Asshai-by-the-Shadow has for many centuries been a thriving port, where ships from all over the known world come to trade, crossing vast and stormy seas. Most arrive laden with foodstuffs and wine, for beyond the walls of Asshai little grows save ghost grass, whose glassy, glowing stalks are inedible. If not for the food brought in from across the sea, the Asshai’i would have starved.
The ships bring casks of freshwater too. The waters of the Ash glisten black beneath the noonday sun and glimmer with a pale green phosphorescence by night, and such fish as swim in the river are blind and twisted, so deformed and hideous to look upon that only fools and shadowbinders will eat of their flesh.
Every land beneath the sun has need of fruits and grains and vegetables, so one might ask why any mariner would sail to the ends of the earth when he might more easily sell his cargo to markets closer to home. The answer is gold. Beyond the walls of Asshai, food is scarce, but gold and gems are common … though some will say that the gold of the Shadow Lands is as unhealthy in its own way as the fruits that grow there.
The ships come nonetheless. For gold, for gems, and for other treasures, for certain things spoken of only in whispers, things that cannot be found anywhere upon the earth save in the black bazaars of Asshai.
The dark city by the Shadow is a city steeped in sorcery. Warlocks, wizards, alchemists, moonsingers, red priests, black alchemists, necromancers, aeromancers, pyromancers, bloodmages, torturers, inquisitors, poisoners, godswives, night-walkers, shapechangers, worshippers of the Black Goat and the Pale Child and the Lion of Night, all find welcome in Asshai-by-the-Shadow, where nothing is forbidden. Here they are free to practice their spells without restraint or censure, conduct their obscene rites, and fornicate with demons if that is their desire.
Most sinister of all the sorcerers of Asshai are the shadowbinders, whose lacquered masks hide their faces from the eyes of gods and men. They alone dare to go upriver past the walls of Asshai, into the heart of darkness.
On its way from the Mountains of the Morn to the sea, the Ash runs howling through a narrow cleft in the mountains, between towering cliffs so steep and close that the river is perpetually in shadow, save for a few moments at midday when the sun is at its zenith. In the caves that pockmark the cliffs, demons and dragons and worse make their lairs. The farther from the city one goes, the more hideous and twisted these creatures become … until at last one stands before the doors of the Stygai, the corpse city at the Shadow’s heart, where even the shadowbinders fear to tread. Or so the stories say.
Is there any truth to these grim fables brought back from the end of the earth by singers and sailors and dabblers in sorcery? Who can say? Lomas Longstrider never saw Asshai-by-the-Shadow. Even the Sea Snake never sailed so far. Those who did have not returned to tell us their tales.
Until they do, Asshai and the Shadow Lands and whatever lands and seas might lie beyond them must remain a closed book to wise men and kings alike. There is always more to know, more to see, more to learn. The world is vast and wondrous strange, and there are more things beneath the stars than even the archmaesters of the Citadel can dream.
Asshai-by-the-Shadow. (illustration credit 188) Dragons reborn? (illustration credit 189) In the years since I first set pen to parchment, much has changed both in Westeros and beyond.
Readers must understand that such a work as this is not the labor of a mere few weeks … or even years. I first set the framework for this history during the peaceful years at the height of good King Robert’s reign, intending to dedicate the volume to Robert and his heirs as a history of the land and the world that they had inherited.
But such was not to be. The death of the noble Hand, Jon Arryn, has unleashed a madness on the land, a madness of pride and violence. The madness has robbed the realm of Robert, and of his fair son and heir Joffrey. Pretenders strive to steal the Iron Throne, and disturbing rumors of dragons reborn trickle in from the east.
In such times of trouble, we must all pray that good King Tommen shall see a long reign, and a just one, to usher us again out of the darkness and into the light.
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