THE DARK CITY OF MAGIC
The fringes of the Unknown World are the most fascinating of all. The legends of Asshai by the Shadow, concealed behind a black curtain of rumors, is a shining example for how limited our knowledge of the planet really is. It is rumoured that Asshai has existed since the beginning of time, but only very few have ever reached the shores beyond Jade Sea. Those who have braved such an odyssey report nothing of the distant city except a swallowing darkness. They say that black covers the streets, buildings, and walls, traveling from the harbor, past the inner district, and into the shadowlands.
Asshai is not just the most captivating place in all the World of Ice and Fire, but it is without a doubt the most sinister.
Asshai will remain concealed behind its veil of secrecy. At night, light burns from only one in every ten buildings – and what takes places in the dark is probably best kept a secret. No accounts in the Known World can illuminate the region’s shadows. Not even Corlys Velaryon or Lomas Longstride managed to tread those dark realms. Asshai, Stygai, and the Shadow Lands will remain an enigma. The Unknown World is enormous, wondrous, and strange, and the Shadow Lands reveal just how little we know about the facets of our own existence.
Asshai by the Shadow is an important harbor city along the Jade Sea. No one knows the dimensions of that mysterious ocean. Despite its many pirates, the Jade Sea is a dream for traders because the kingdoms and cities at its shores are full of riches.
Asshai might be wealthy but it is not a treasure trove of resources.
Barely any other region is as inhospitable, and hardly anything grows from its unforgiving ground. The city’s all-encompassing blackness saps all energy from the light’s rays, which dries up any vegetation. All that grows is weeds, which cover every surface. Maester Yandel found excellent words when he wrote that Asshai’s massive city walls could encompass Volantis, Qarth, and King’s Landing, and still have room for Oldtown.
But However large the city truly is, its number of inhabitants is comparatively low. Asshai by the Shadows contains no crowds. There is no hustle and bustle in the marketplaces, and people keep to themselves.
Asshai remains a crucial loading point with a flourishing harbor. All of Asshai’s food and supplies can be acquired there, since the city’s people would starve without them. Even drinking water must be imported, since the passing river Ash is said to be polluted. By day the water glistens black, and at night it shimmers green. There is hardly any life within the Ash’s waters, and the few fish that survive are blind and deformed. They say that only world-weary fools and shadowbinders shrouded in secrecy would risk drinking its waters.
The menacing dark city is actually a place of sorcery. Asshai represents an aspect of this world that is most often hidden from view. Sorcerers, alchemists, moonsingers, warlocks, bloodmages, necromancers, and all other practitioners of the arcane arts, roam the greasy dark streets. Some of the magic is not even found in the Citadel’s scrolls. The largest known magical group is the red priests, followers of the god R’hllor. Melisandre, the longtime supporter of Stannis Baratheon, comes from Asshai, the dark city on the Jade sea.
The Asshai’i wear masks or veils that conceal their faces from outsiders’ view. There is no sound of children playing in the streets. In fact, there are no children at all in Asshai. Asshai remains a crucial loading point
The Asshai’i have their own language to speak magic words, which sounds similar to ancient Valyrian. When the maegi Mirri Maz Duur performed a blood ritual on Khal Drogo, she sang in a foreign tongue learned in Asshai, where all forms of magic are permitted without restriction. Shadow-binders are the most feared sorcerers, not only because they eat one-eyed fish from the Ash, but because they are the only people who pass through the Shadow Lands, where monstrous ravines and twisted caves house all kinds of demons, dragons, and other unspeakable creatures. The more one strays from the city, the more dreadful, menacing, and repulsive the creatures become.
Past the mountains in the ruined city Stygai, even the bravest shadowbinders retreat. Stygai is known as the City of the Night, a terrifying place where corpses roam. Little is known of the city, except that it is even darker than Asshai, and only receives sunlight for a short time each day.
There in the Shadowlands, wide fields of white ghost grass grow higher than men atop their horses. Many believe that ghost grass, which glows in the dark, kills all other plants in the region. The Dothraki are even convinced that ghost grass will cover the earth someday, and consume all other forms of life. The Asshai’i swear that dragons originated here, and were domesticated before they were taken to the Fourteen Flames. When Daenerys Targaryen received three dragon eggs from Illyrio Mopatis at her wedding to Khal Drogo, the Pentosi told her that the eggs had been found in the Shadow Lands. Close to half a century earlier, when Aegon V Targaryen attempted to resurrect dragons in Westeros, he sent troops to the Shadow Lands to look for dragons and learn more about them. But his men returned empty handed.
All types of sustenance must be bought at the harbor. The Asshai’i can afford such measures because they have gold and jewels spilling from their coffers, which come from the surrounding Shadow Lands. Sea farers claim that travel through the area results in certain death, but fascination for Asshai’s treasures still lures them from afar. Some maesters would give their right arms to gaze upon the many artifacts, relics, and magical objects found in Asshai’s markets.
The Islands within Ironman’s Bay are separated into two groups. Many believe that the islands in the eastern sections make up the entirety of the Iron Islands, though they are only a part. These thirty-one islands include seven major isles, which are densely populated. Farther away, one reaches many other small isles, of which Lonely Light is the only inhabited one. Notably, Lonely Light is not included with the seven main isles, even though it is larger than Old Wyk, Blacktyde, and Saltcliffe. Lonely Light is the westernmost point of the Known World. The small isles surrounding it are rocks inhabited only by seals and sea lions, with no official names. Lonely Light’s name, however, is quite fitting, as the flame that burns atop it’s tower day and night is the only savior for seafarers lost in that part of the world. So far, none have told of travel farther west. The maesters at the Citadel are convinced that the world is round, and that farther west one would reach the Yi Ti kingdom and the areas beyond the Shadowlands. But the ironborn maintain that the west contains nothing except endless ocean.
Little more can be told of Lonely Light, as the island is irrelevant to world affairs. But accounts of the island’s inhabitants certainly incite the imagination. It is said that House Farwynd of the Lonely Light resides there, vassals to House Greyjoy and to another section of House Farwynd living in Great Wyk. House Farwynd of the Lonely Light’s coat of arms shows a black longship atop a black ocean, in front of a red setting sun. Many consider them a curious people, and that is the nicest of the rumors about them. It makes sense that a house so isolated would develop slanted practices. There are some reports that they are skinchangers who take the forms of sea lions, walruses, and spotted whales.
Because of these rumors, the ironborn consider the Farwynds of the Lonely Light to be the most pathetic of their houses. Some even think they have gone mad.
But throughout history, the mad words of Farwynds have proven to contain singular truths. Who knows? Perhaps they know something – whether from travelers, magic, or through their own endeavors – that the rest of the ironborn don’t know. No one can say with certainty what lies between Lonely Light and Essos.
No one knows how large the planet is, or can verify if other continents or oceans lie between the West and the East. One explorer attempted to venture as far west as possible thousands of years ago, but that brave sailor was never seen again.
Text by Alper Turfan
from the book "Unseen Westeros"
based on the book "The world of ice and fire" The Untold History of Westeros and the Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire) | Martin, George R. R., García Jr, Elio M., Antonsson
Co-Authors of"The world of Ice and Fire" Elio M. García Jr. and Linda Antonsson about the artwork. (english)
The biggest german YouTube-Channel about the story of Asshai. (german)