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Quaithe, the shadowbinder from Asshai

Updated: Nov 12, 2018

Who could be hiding behind the Quaithe's mask?

Shadowbinder from Asshai
Art by Rene Aigner

As an individual character, Daenerys Targaryen is rarely considered a favourite. The same can be said about Jon Snow. On a real-life parallel, while George enjoys writing about the human heart in conflict, the readers in turn tend to enjoy reading about the most conflicted hearts. Jon and Daenerys are fully into the fantasy part of the story and they are harder to relate to. My personal favourite is Ser Jaime Lannister, whose heart is so conflicted, but Arya and Brienne, who were so severely bullied and wanted to be something that wasn’t available to them, are also characters that have a strong grip on my heart.

Although the stories of Jon and Daenerys are more clearly set in fantasy and mythology, they are the ones that will determine the conclusion of such rich series of books and the mystery surrounding each character is truly enthralling.

There are two aspects to literary devices. I generally discuss the techniques, which are used to control the flow of the narrative, and in A Song of Ice and Fire is used to set a tone to the character’s chapters as GRRM uses them differently from most authors and compiles style by POV to give the reader a change of pace and create a “feel” of the character and surroundings. The second aspect of literary devices are the literary elements. The elements are often more straight forward, such as setting (when and where it takes place), perspective (in ASOIAF, the Third-person narration where each “POV” character isn’t actually relaying the story, but someone tells it from the perspective of the main character), and so on, but although they are far more objective, sometimes the author offers us elements in formidable ways.

George did just that when writing about lands not yet seen. In the far East of the known world, there are the Shadow Lands, which is a mountainous area written in a very mysterious way. To north and northeast, the Shadow Lands meet the Mountains of the Morn and at the southwestern tip of the Shadow Lands, the city of Asshai is located. From the Mountains of the Morn, the river Ash travels to the Jade Sea through the Vale of Shadows. The Vale is so narrow and surrounded by cliffs so high that it is said the Vale only receives sunlight at noon, being otherwise, always in the dark. On the cliffs, there are caves filled with creatures described as demons as well as dragons. Illyrio claims Daenerys’s dragon eggs came from there. The land is also covered in ghost grass, which is that grass the Dothraki believe will one day cover the whole world – it’s a white long grass so tall that it covers a man on horseback. The Dothraki claim it glows with the spirits of the damned.

In reality, it is not just the Dothraki that are superstitious towards the Shadow Lands. They are referred to and discussed by countless characters throughout the story.

Asshai plays an important part in the books, even without being visited. It’s a port city that sits right where the river Ash meets the Jade Sea and going to Asshai can be described as “passing beneath the shadow”, which explains why Daenerys automatically assumed Quaithe meant she had to go to Asshai before “touching the light”. A city that grew along the river shore, it has walls surrounding it that are so great they could contain Qarth, King’s Landing, Volantis and Oldtown combined. A great contrast to the population, which is small and never stable because, due to the lack of sunlight, Asshai is a city with no children and no animals. Animals for consumption arrive by ship, as well as potable water. The only animals that survive in the river Ash are blind and deformed. The streets and buildings are entirely built using black stone, so the light has no favourable conditions to shine off of the surfaces, but by contrast, Asshai is a great exporter of dragonglass, gold, amber and many precious gems.

All people in Asshai wear masks and veils. It’s a slave city and the slaves are often seen on the streets, carrying palanquins on their backs. The people of Asshai – called the Asshai’i, hold immense knowledge in witchcraft and wizardry. They have their own language and even they don’t dare travel upriver. Only the shadowbinders do so and even they seem reluctant to go near the doors of the Stygai. The Stygai is a “corpse city”, known as the “City of the Night” and GRRM used the “Shadows in the Moonlight” by Robert E Howard, as source of inspiration for that place. It’s a great fantasy book to read if one is ever so inclined as to know more about the shadow lands. It seems that the AWOIAF reference to Stygai came to show the reader that shadowbinders are tough people. We should know that from lady Melisandre, although it seems other shadowbinders are equally intriguing.

The literary device "Setting" is so strong when describing Asshai that even though it's so far away, it does give the impression of a dark and unfriendly sort of place.

According to the story, between the years 172 and 184 AC, the king of Westeros was Aegon IV Targaryen and once he died, the continent had to deal with the consequences of his infidelity. He had been a terrible king and what he did to Westeros left a consequence that is still at play. His last mistress, lady Sereney of Lys, had a heavy hand in the dark arts and it is said she was much older than the king, maintaining her youth and good looks though her craft. Lady Serenei died giving birth to her one child with king Aegon, the beautiful lady Shiera Seastar. While still young, lady Shiera started bathing in blood to keep her good looks and amused herself by making men fight for her affection, which she never granted. According to the author, lady Shiera was a seductress, not inclined to give her affection and despite having had lovers, she didn’t love. She united in bed mostly with her half-brother Bloodraven, each having powers, and together they worked on their objectives. Bloodraven was sentenced to the wall and that was the last the books showed lady Shiera, but there are several aspects of Asshai that indicate it would be the sort of place that would get her attention.

Shiera was described as a great reader and a permanent student. She spoke many languages and even kept a vast arcane library. Always linked to “stars”, her name means “Star of the Sea”. The symbolism for stars is strongly used there. Despite the fact that Shiera would be over 100 years-old, the universe of Ice and Fire has never made it impossible for those involved in magic to live indefinitely. Lady Melisandre seems to be several hundred years-old, Bloodraven is also older than sin. Maester Aemon lived a long life, and if Lord Frey is still alive and he is what he is, then Lady Shiera is definitely alive and causing mayhem wherever she goes. And why wouldn’t a partial Targaryen want to bring back a dynasty that has lasted centuries? It is her family we are talking about after all, and contrary to the other bastards who went against the crown, she actually played along Bloodraven as a loyalist. Perhaps she had an agenda after all.

There is plenty of literary evidence that Lady Shiera is Quaithe. In the A Clash of Kings appendix, Quaithe is described as a shadowbinder from Asshai (and in the prologue, Melisandre is described the same way, which is interesting as George loves consistency). As lady Shiera was deeply involved in dark magic and keen to learn, it was only logical that she would continue to grow her knowledge base. It is also consistent with the idea of disappearing from Westeros alongside all other royal bastards. The most important detail, however, seems to be that lady Shiera was surrounded by ancient scrolls. The prophecy of Azor Ahai was in ancient scrolls and as the prophecies of Azor Ahai are originated in Asshai, it would make sense that she would go after that knowledge, especially if she could see what it represented to her family. If she believes that Daenerys is Azor Ahai, then she could be the guide Daenerys needs. She is always telling Daenerys to go back to her roots anyway.

In a Dance with Dragons, Quaithe is most prominent and she often gives Daenerys (and the readers) the idea that she has something to do with stars. Daenerys sees her with a mask made of “starlight”, when she talks to Daenerys the Stars are all around her and even the way that Quaithe was introduced in A Clash of Kings is a reference to stars, after all, she, alongside 2 other characters, entered the story with gifts after a sacred birth, for another one of George’s biblical references. Those two characters were Pyat Pree and Xaro Xhoan Daxos. but contrary to them, who wanted something from Daenerys, Quaithe seems to be more interested in giving her advice, however cryptic, and acting like a guiding star and she says just that when asked what she wanted: “To show you the way”. The sentence actually comes after another indication of a star, which is that Quaithe’s eyes had moonlight shining in them. Daenerys is “lost at sea” at the end of Dance and Quaithe wants to show the way with moonlight shining in her eyes – like STARS in the Dothraki SEA.

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