A Sketch of the System: Made in Myr

Part I

When reading a Song of Ice and Fire we come to know Myr primarily through its manufacture. Bit by bit, the city is defined by its vast and bewildering array of products, by the power of the “Myrish” brand to denote quality craftsmanship, and by the prices wealthy consumers are willing to pay to enjoy them. Myr is the world’s workshop, its goods bought and sold from the Iron Islands to Asshai by the Shadow. Here we are going to examine these products in detail, from the materials out of which they are made to the uses to which they are put.

Myr map

Above in black are the locations or given destinations of every explicitly identified Myrish manufacture. In gold are Myrish items owned and carried abroad by sailors and mercenary outfits. The most commonly encountered goods are textiles, primarily lace and carpets. Glasswork and weapons are close seconds, being more speciality items, followed by works of art and medicinal alchemy.

The Free Cities collectively produce and export many fine textiles, but the most iconic and unique of these manufactures is Myrish lace. As its name indicates, it is only produced by the lace makers of the Free City of Myr. Volantis, Lys, and numerous other cities also make and export lace, but their products are clearly inferior in quality and reputation. None of the POVs ever bother to take note of dress with Volantene lace or Lyseni lace, such as they are, but they almost always take note of lace that is of Myrish manufacture. It’s unclear if Myrish lace is made from silk or linen as the lace is mostly distinguished by its name and color. There are some good reasons however to assume it’s a silk lace, or at least often silk. In nine of the ten times a garment with Myrish lace is described, the garment is explicitly a silk one (and with the tenth the type of fabric is not mentioned). It makes sense to match silk with silk rather than silk with linen. The Free Cities do good business importing silk from the Jade Sea and turning it into more valuable fabrics for re-export and a silk lace would fit in with this larger model. What is beyond doubt is that Myrish lace is costly! When the Queen puts on an expensive new satin and velvet gown, her thoughts make clear that the most expensive part is the “intricate black Myrish lace above the bodice” (FfC Cersei V). Satin is made from silk, while the velvet is described as “shiny,” indicating that it too is silk, so a little Myrish lace makes a bigger impression on the ledger then a gown’s worth of satin and silk-velvet. At the very least this indicates an extremely high cost of labor. And if it’s costly just across the Narrow Sea, imagine what price it must fetch across the Dothraki and Summer Seas.

Myrish lace has been described as both “intricate” and “ornate” (GoT Dany VI, SoS Sansa III). It is also fairly transparent; when Brienne of Tarth is made to wear one of the Whent gowns in Harranhall, Jaime can easily see her many bruises through the lace. Myrish lace’s widespread appeal comes from its beauty and its ability to give whatever garment it is part of an airy, unsubstantial, and perhaps otherworldly look.

In the Free Cities upper class ladies dress in gowns of Myrish lace. We know this because of how Galazza Galare the Green Grace of Meereen advises Daenerys not to wear one:

The Mother of Dragons must don the tokar or be forever hated. In the wools of Westeros or a gown of Myrish lace, Your Radiance shall forever remain a stranger amongst us, a grotesque outlander, a barbarian conqueror. Meereen’s queen must be a lady of Old Ghis. (DoD Dany I)

And in doing so implicitly signals that wearing a lace dress identifies one with the Free Cities in much the same way wearing woolen cloth identifies one as Westerosi. Deanery’s heeds the Green Graces advice and from that point at all important Ghiscari occasions clothes herself in the high class tokars…among them one of green silk fringed with Myrish lace. This silk and lace tokar Daenerys almost wears to dinner with her soon to be husband Hizdahr zo Loraq, but has to content with another as the lace has been torn and it has not yet been mended (rather fitting, Hizdahr isn’t her first choice either) (DoD Dany VI). In Southern Westeros the fashions are closer to those of the Nine Free Cities, but the cultural context is just as different, with an unworldly, monist religion and an increasingly autocratic government. So when we encounter Myrish lace its use is largely defined by those two things.

Tyana Sand and Lady Margaery (a known poisoner and a very probable poisoner) both wear white lace to project an image of purity and innocence. In her first appearance Tyana comes before Prince Doran in “a clinging gown of pale blue samite with sleeves of Myrish lace that made her look as innocent as the Maid herself” (FfC Hotah). When Tyana attends the presentation of Gregor Clegane’s skull she wears a gown of “cream and green, with long lace sleeves, so modest and so innocent that any man who looked at her might think her the most chaste of maids” (DoD Hotah). At her second and third weddings Lady Margaery seeks to dispel the specter of her marriage to Renly with a wedding gown “of sheer ivory silk, Myrish lace, and seed pearls” (FfC Cersei III). Later, she reaffirms her virginity on Maiden’s Day by going to the Sept of Baelor to light candles and hang parchments whilst wearing a very similar outfit, “a gown of ivory lace, with freshwater pearls on the bodice” (FfC Cersei X).

Cersei on the other hand wears Myrish lace for the same reason she wears jewels, to place herself high above those she seeks to dominate. Cersei bedecks herself in Myrish lace during some of her most decisive moments as Queen-Regent. She wears “a gown of sea-green silk, trimmed with Myrish lace” whilst presiding over her countercoup against Ned Stark (GoT Ned Ned XIV). When Cersei capriciously puts Jaime in command of pacifying the Riverlands she does so whilst wearing “a jade-green gown with sleeves of silver Myrish lace” (FfC Jaime III). When she holds court following the arrest of Lady Margaery and orders the lockdown of Kings Landing, Cersei is triumphantly “clad in green silk and golden lace” (FfC Cersei X). Clearly Cersei feels that Myrish lace gives her an air of authority as she consciously chooses to wear it during her confrontations and battles.

The queen-dowager isn’t the only one to stylishly deploy lace in her court intrigues. To comfort Cersei at Tommen’s wedding feast, Lady Taena Merryweather offers the distraught queen “a pale blue handkerchief of silk and lace” to wipe her tears (FfC Cersei III). Given that Lady Taena is from a prominent Myrish family the lace is certainly Myrish. The offering and acceptance of the handkerchief neatly precedes the offer and acceptance of an alliance. When Cersei questions Taena’s motivations it is sufficient for the Myrwoman to say: “Longtable may be sworn to Highgarden, but I am of Myr, and my loyalty is to my husband and my son” (FfC Cersei III). The Myrish lace kerchief wipes away the evidence of the queen’s unhappiness and its Myrish owner will soon help the queen in wiping away its cause.

A dress of Mryish lace also plays a prominent supporting role in Sansa’s forced marriage to Tyrion. Cersei dresses Sansa in silk small clothes and a wedding gown of “ivory samite and cloth-of-silver…lined with silvery satin… woman’s gown, not a little girl’s” with “a bodice was slashed in front almost to her belly, the deep vee covered over with a panel of ornate Myrish lace in dove-grey” (SoS Sansa III). The effect enhances Sansa’s natural beauty and makes her look older. Whether this was accident or intention, this is the first indication that the thirteen year old girl is about to be irrevocably thrust into a world of unwelcome adult desire.

As all the above examples make clear, in Westeros Myrish lace is strongly associated with femininity. Naturally Westerosi men do not wear it, but in Essos things are different. When the Tyroshi Daario Naharis first comes before Daenerys’ he wears a yellow doublet with “a foam of butter colored lace” around his collar and cuffs, which easily captures the Dragon Queen’s attention (SoS Dany IV). At a distance he looks striking, but closer up Danys sees his outfit has been worn down by the hard sellsword life that paid for it, “his lace…soiled by sweat” (SoS Dany IV). The distinguished Yunkish envoy Grazdan mo Eraz meets Daenerys dressed in a silk tokar fringed with golden Myrish lace and Daenerys capriciously violates her pledge of safe conduct by setting this costly garment on fire (SoS Dany IV). One can only imagine how it is worn in Yi Ti, Asshai, the Jade Sea, and beyond. In both cases there’s a degree of calculated artificiality. Daario is trying to look dashing, flamboyant, and larger than life, while Grazdan emphasizes his freedom from work and ability to pursue beauty.

Luxurious carpets are the next most prominent of Myr’s exports. Wool would be the primary raw material for most carpets, though cotton, linen and silk might also be used. The carpets are described as “wonderful thick” and “as soft as new spring grass” (DoD Tyrion VI & I). At least some of them have patterns woven into them, though these patterns are never described (FfC Arys, DoD Tyrion I). These carpets give the rooms they are placed in a strong feeling of richness, comfort, and intimacy and are thus often used by the aristocracy to liven up lover’s trysts, bedrooms and audience chambers. When Princess Arianne arranges to meet her lover Ser Arys Oakheart in some out of the way room near a candlemakers shop she makes sure to cover the floors with Myrish carpets. The guest rooms in Magister Illyrio’s manse have Myrish carpets, among other expensive furnishings. In Ser Raymun Darry’s bedchamber at Castle Darry there are many fine Myrish carpets; naturally King Robert and Queen Cersei appropriate it for their own use when passing through (and in Robert’s case, passing out) (FfC Jaime IV). When Prince Doran locks Arianne in a cell that “did not lack for comforts,” among said comforts are Myrish carpets (FfC Arianne II). When Oberyn visited Castley Rock with his sister Elia, Tywin regulated the Prince to a dark and windowless cell which Ser Kevan attempted to spruce up with Myrish carpets, albeit without much success (according to Oberyn) (SoS Tyrion V). Myrish carpets help furnish both the floors of the Red Keep’s Small Council Chamber and the Hand’s private audience chamber. The tense negotiations between Littlefinger with the Lords Declarant takes place in the Lord Protector’s solar, which has Myrish carpets laid out across the floor. On Sweetsister Lord Godric Borrell dines with and judges smugglers in a large hall with an uncommonly large Myrish carpet underfoot, though it does little good softening the otherwise dismal surroundings (DoD Davos I). The air of wealth, intimacy and comfort these carpets sometimes create makes them popular with brothel owners as well. When Tyrion pays a visit to a “modest” dockside whore house in Selhorys he finds a Myrish carpet in his room, “as comforting as lies” (DoD Tyrion VI). If a small establishment along the Rhoyne feels the need for such finery, what of the great pleasure houses of Lys and Tyrosh and the better brothels of the Seven Kingdoms?

Just how costly these carpets are can be discerned in several ways. They are one of Myr’s principle exports to the East. The Volantene Selaesori Qhoran carries fifty Myrish carpets from Volantis and Qarth. When Victarion captures the Myrish Dove he finds a cargo of carpets destined for Yunkai. Lest we think distance and exoticism might inflate their value in Slavers Bay and the Jade Sea, there are several incidents that indicate they are already quite pricey just across the Narrow Sea and just south of the Stepstones. When Ser Axell advocates sacking Lord Celtigar’s castle, among the spoils he hopes to take away are its many Myrish carpets (SoS Davos IV). The uncommonly large Myrish carpet in Sweetsister is “threadbare” but still so precious that the captain of the guard and Lord Davos make sure to hang up their wet cloaks lest they leave any puddles on it (DoD Davos I). When Tyrion rapes and then attempts to converse with a sex slave he’s rented in the Selhorys brothel, her response throughout is silent, listless apathy. But when he vomits all over the Myrish carpet the poor woman immediately cries out in fear. What stirs her from her internal hiding place is the savage punishment that she will be subjected to for allowing this valuable furnishing to be soiled.

Myrish looms also produce luxurious blankets, though they seem a less popular export. The only one we see is the “splendid Myrish blanket” Prince Doran Martell uses to cover his gout stricken legs (FfC Hotah). There aren’t any additional details, but from the use of the word ‘splendid’ we know that the blanket is gorgeous, magnificent, sumptuous, and brilliant in both color and appearance (dictionary.com). It doubtlessly has some sort of pattern or design woven into it, much like the Myrish carpets. Given Dorne’s hot climate it is definitely not a woolen blanket but rather made from linen, cotton, or silk, probably silk as the Martell court is quite wealthy.

After textiles, Myr’s next most famous export is glasswork. When Jon Snow ponders rectifying the Watch’s lack of a glass garden (greenhouse) his mind immediately turns to Myr:“The best glass came from Myr, but a good clear pane was worth its weight in spice” (DoD Jon VII). This is a fairly expensive manufacture, but well within the price range of anyone who can afford a spice rich diet, namely the feudal and trading aristocracy of the Narrow Sea. Clear Myrish glass is no doubt put to a variety of uses, but within the story it is almost always encountered in the form of mirrors and magnifying lenses. Of the first we have only one example, the Myrish mirror the Kindly Man instructs Arya to train her facial muscles with (FfC). One need only observe that the Faceless Men presumably use the best tools available in training future members. There is far more said about Myr’s lenses. According to Maester Luwin “The lenscrafters of Myr are without equal” (GoT Catelyn II). This is rather commonsensical; naturally the city that produces the finest, clearest glass grinds the finest lenses. Maester Luwin and Maester Aemon both use Myrish eyes (which Bran calls “a Myrish lens tube”) to study the sky and create star charts. Jon Snow later appropriates Aemon’s Myrish eye for intelligence gathering when Mance Ryder’s host lies sieges Castle Black. The Myrish lenses are powerful enough to pick out the faces of individual wildlings, assess the state of Dalla Ryder’s pregnancy, and study in detail the crude turtle being constructed to attack the gate (SoS Jon IX). It can be safely assumed that Myrish lenses are a standard tool used by all serious and well equipped astronomers. Special eyes are made for use by merchant traders as well. When Victarian captures the Dove he discovers its captain possesses “a Myrish eye that made far-off things look close—two glass lenses in a series of brass tubes, cunningly wrought so that each section slid into the next, until the eye was no longer than a dirk,” and promptly takes it for himself (DoD Victarian II). This Myrish eye might play an important part in Victarion’s POV of the upcoming Battle of Meereen. Less powerful lenses are ground to serve as reading aids. Aging Lord Rodrick Harlaw orders just such a lens from Myr so that he might have an easier time perusing his books (FfC Asha).

The advanced state of lens craft in Myr might have had something to do, directly or indirectly, with the development of a particular school of miniature painting. Our first encounter with Myrish miniature comes curtsy of Renly’s scheme to interest King Robert in the Lady Margaery:

Ned was not sure what to make of Renly, with all his friendly ways and easy smiles. A few days past, he had taken Ned aside to show him an exquisite rose gold locket. Inside was a miniature painted in the vivid Myrish style, of a lovely young girl with doe’s eyes and a cascade of soft brown hair. Renly had seemed anxious to know if the girl reminded him of anyone, and when Ned had no answer but a shrug, he had seemed disappointed. The maid was Loras Tyrell’s sister Margaery, he’d confessed, but there were those who said she looked like Lyanna. “No,” Ned had told him, bemused. (GoT Ned VI)

Renly’s miniature of Margaery was likely painted by a Myrish artist or by an Oldtown or Kings Landing Westerosi trained in the Myrish art of painting. The style is described as “vivid.” Vivid is defined as “seeming like real life because it is very clear, bright, or detailed” (Merriam-Webster). A second miniature of this sort appears in Feast for Crows when Pate goes through the strongbox under Archmaester Walgrave’s bed. Among its contents are “a painted miniature of a woman who resembled Walgrave (even to her mustache)” (FfC Prologue). The careful inclusion of the woman’s mustache establishes the Myrish style to be an exacting naturalism in which the subject is painted exactly as they are, with no romantic improvement. Most likely the merchant aristocracy of the Free Cities makes abundant use of these miniatures in arranging marriages, acquiring concubines, and preserving the memory of their loved ones. As with the keeping of whipping boys, these more sophisticated practices have only recently crossed the Narrow Sea and taken root in Westeros.

Not that the Myrish are incapable of appreciating romantic beauty, though this seems to appear largely in their woodwork. The Myrish make and export wooden screens carved with all manner of idyllic imagery. Tyrion spies one of these in Chataya’s brothel, “an ornate Myrish screen carved with flowers and fancies and dreaming maidens” (CoK Tyrion III). It’s interesting that this screen is in Chataya’s. Chataya is a Summer Islander and the Summer Islanders are also known for making beautiful screens. One such Summer screen adorns the Small Council Chamber, featuring “a hundred fabulous beasts cavorted in bright paints” (GoT Ned IV). Perhaps Chataya prefers the Myrish style over her homelands. Or perhaps the Myrish screens are cheaper (Myr is closer to Kings Landing then the Summer Islands and the Myrish screen only seems to have been carved, as opposed to carved and painted).

Crossbows are another of Myr’s iconic exports, albeit one more often than not carried overseas by a specially trained Myrish mercenary soldier. Myrish crossbowmen are among the Myrish mercenaries that King Stannis hires at Dragonstone. Lord Ambrose kills one during the Battle of the Blackwater (SoS Sansa I). When the Brotherhood falls upon a band of Bloody Mummers looting a sept, one of the mercenaries they capture and hang is a Myrish crossbowman who feebly protests “I soldier, I soldier” (SoS Arya VII). Whilst serving in the Windblown, Prince Quentyn comes to know is a pervy Myrish crossbowman named Baqq (DoD Quentyn II). There seems to be a fair amount of demand for these particular soldiers and their weapons on both sides of the Narrow Sea. Some of these crossbows are quite ingenious. To get a few afternoons of peace, Tyrion purchases and gifts to Joffrey a special Myrish crossbow that can fire up to three quarrels at a time (CoK Tyrion VI). Joffrey initially uses this crossbow to shoot at rabbits, but quickly moves on to peppering starving crowds from the castle walls (and Tyrion wonders why the commons blames him for this).

The smiths of Myr also manufacture a unique and extremely slender class of stiletto (Ser Jared Frey’s has “a grey mustache as thin as a Myrish stiletto,” see DoD Davos II). An arakh and Myrish stiletto with hilts of “match[ing]…golden women, naked and wanton” are Daario Naharis’s signature weapons (SoS Dany IV). The clear preference of this highly accomplished Tyroshi killer for the thin Myrish blade testifies to its effectiveness.

While not as renowned as the Lyseni, the alchemists of Myr are no slouches, producing a powerful, if pricey anti-septic: Myrish Fire. Syrio treats Ayra’s cat scratches with this substance and after Maester Luwin is bitten by Shaggydog he has the wounds treated with “pale red firemilk” which is probably Myrish Fire (GoT Bran VII). Myrish Fire is also among the healing herbs and potions used by the Nights Watch (SoS Sam II). Yet, with the exception of the Nights Watch and the Maesters, Myrish Fire has yet to really make much impression on Westeros. Boiling wine, fire, garlic, and mustard remain the go-to remedies, no doubt owing to their ready availability in the event of injury.


Leave a comment

Filed under Sketch

Comments are closed.