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Now Volantis is the ember of Old Valyria, ensuring its flame does not go out of this world - as any Volantene will tell you. Pentoshi say the same about Pentos, Lysenes about Lys and so on. But after enough time in the nine Free Cities, is hard to see them as anything but ashes of glory.
Volantis is the oldest; the first colony of Valyria. After the Doom, the Volantenes tried to rebuild the empire under their rule. They failed. Not least because the last Valyrian with dragons, Aegon Targaryen, entered the war against them. Now Volantenes are content with dominating only the lower classes. Or so they say.
Braavos is the strangest; a city erected not by the Freehold but against it. A labyrinth of illusion and deceit to hide the refugees from Valyrian slave lords. After the Doom, the city emerged from the shadows to become one of the greatest banking centers in the world. A man can get anything in Braavos... for a price. Especially death. Your own if one offends one of the swaggering swordsmen that pollute the city. Or, if you're very rich or very desperate, anyone else's.
Lys is the... "easiest" of the Free Cities, full of pleasure houses catering to every taste, no matter how peculiar. Many men lose themselves in Lys and are never found, at least alive. When a man runs out of coin, the Lysenes may grant him their other speciality... on the house: poison.
Pentos is the most ruthless. The Magisters make a great show of choosing the Prince of Pentos from the Great Families, and granting him the powers of trade, justice and war. As long as he checks with them first. On the Mew Year, to bring good fortune to Pentos, this Prince must deflower the Maid of the Field and the Maid of the Seas. I confess I don't know how each is chosen, or what becomes of them after serving their purpose. But, if a crop should fail or a war be lost, the Magisters will slit the Prince's throat and choose another.
The other Free Cities are known for what they make. Myr, has its lenses and finery; Norvos, its axes; Qohor, its smiths who can reforge Valyrian steel; Tyrosh... its colors?... I'm sure Lorath adds something to the world but I can't think of it.
Frankly, the nine of them are more alike than than they would care to admit. They hire the same soldiers, to fight the same wars, for the same rulers: the rich; be they called Magisters, Archons, or what have you. When a Dothraki khalasar approaches, they give the same tribute to avoid the same sacking.
For thousands of years, the disgraced of Westeros have rained east to pool in the Free Cities; for a man of honor counts for less than nothing - unless it raises his price. Better men than I have learned that what a man sells for gold, he can never buy back. He must earn it... by fire and blood.
Jorah remembering Tyrosh for its colors is a reference to their production of various dyes and custom of its people to dye their hair and beards in bright colors such as green and blue.
- Iron Bank of Braavos (indirectly mentioned)
- Valyrian Freehold
- Qohor (mentioned)
- Norvos (mentioned)
- Tyrosh (mentioned)
- Lorath (mentioned)