Grantland’s in-house Game of Thrones guru, Maester Jason Concepcion, has decided to learn Dothraki. This is a periodic account of his brave quest to master Khal Drogo’s brutal mother tongue.
If there’s one overarching achievement of the Song of Ice and Fire series, it’s the way that George R.R. Martin has taken fairy tale and fantasy structures and imbued them with a sweep and detail that resembles real history. There was no once-upon-a-time when the land was at peace, no great and good king (though Jaehaerys I might come the closest) who ruled in pure benevolence, and there is essentially no chance that the story, if and when it does end, ends happily ever after. In any other work of fantasy, Robert overthrowing the Mad King would be the end of the story. Instead, we meet Robert deep in his Jake-LaMotta-does-dinner-theater phase. Reading through The World of Ice & Fire, it’s amazing how fully realized even the minor corners of this fictional world are.
Here are some of my favorites so far.
The Hatfields and the McCoys of Westeros
The longest-running feud in Westeros is not between the Lannisters and the Starks or the Starks and the Boltons; it involves two noble houses of the Riverlands, the Blackwoods of Raventree Hall and the Brackens of Stone Hedge. Each family has roots that go all the way back to the First Men, and it was in that time before the Andal Invasion (anywhere from 8,000 to 12,000 years before the events of the show) that the enmity began.
In those days, there were many petty kingdoms throughout Westeros. Both the Blackwoods and the Brackens claim that their respective ancestor was the king while the other was the upstart banner house who usurped their kingdom. Since we’re talking about a feud whose beginnings predate writing, who exactly is right has been lost to the mists of fake history. Be that as it may, the feud is now perhaps tens of thousands of years old, and both the Brackens and the Blackwoods have long since become defined by their opposition to the other. The Blackwoods, for instance, still worship the Old Gods of the First Men, while the Brackens — despite fighting alongside the Blackwoods against the foreign Andals — ended up converting to the invader’s faith of the Seven. The Blackwoods believe their Weirwood tree died because the Brackens poisoned it; that’s how deep this thing goes.
Many kings, over many centuries, have tried to quash the beef, including Jaehaerys I Targaryen, also known at the Conciliator. The greatest of the Targaryen kings, he was able to outlaw Westeros’s onerous, Braveheart-esque “first night” tradition, create a united legal code, and start construction on a system of continent-unifying roads. Unfortunately, he was able to bring peace to the Blackwoods and the Brackens for only a few decades, a peace that ended upon his death.
The First Men, the Andals, the Rhoynar, and the Someone Else?
Fake history tells us that the First Men were the earliest human inhabitants of the continent, followed by the Andals and the roaming tribes of the Rhoynar diaspora. But there is tantalizing fictional evidence of an earlier group inhabiting Westeros. The Ironborn are thought to have descended from colonizing bands of First Men. Ironborn religious lore, however, preaches that they came not from the lands of men, but from under the sea, and were made by the Drowned God in his image. Local legend also holds that the ancient throne of the Ironborn Kings, the Seastone Chair, actually predates the Ironborn themselves. If true, who built it? The throne, described as being carved from “oily black stone” in the shape of, what else, a kraken, is unique in that it seems to be made of a material not native to the islands or the Westerosi continent at large. Archaeology aside, the Ironborn have a totally different culture and religious tradition than anything related to the First Men, Andals, or Rhoynar. There’s a bit of chicken-or-the-egg debate to be had here; did the Ironborn religion cause the society to be different, or did their geographical separation and relative cultural isolation from Westeros allow their unique religion to develop? It is interesting to note that the First Men were not a people with a history of seafaring, surely a prerequisite for colonizing the Iron Islands.
More evidence of pre–First Man habitation comes from the most ancient city on the continent, Old Town. Folk tradition holds that the Hightower, a great fortress and lighthouse on Battle Isle at the mouth of the Honeywine River, simply appeared one day. The fortress section of the Hightower, which forms the base upon which the lighthouse tower stands, predates the rest of the structure by … well, no one really knows. It’s made of one contiguous piece of black stone, similar in appearance (you know — black, rocklike) to the Seastone Chair of the Ironborn, with no visible seams or masonry joints. The dragonlords of Old Valyria were known to have built structures with much the same appearance, using their dragons to liquefy stone, then sculpting it into shape using some unknown magic. It’s known that Valyrian traders have been coming to Westeros since long before Aegon Targaryen launched his invasion from the island of Dragonstone. But, while the construction technique and building material seem to suggest a long-forgotten Valyrian connection, the spartan nature of the architecture itself is at odds with the usually ornate Valyrian style, which I would describe as being the architectural version of a particularly satanic early-’80s Ozzy Osbourne album cover, what with their twisting towers shaped like roaring dragons.
The book series is called A Song of Ice and Fire and the books are rife with hints and suggestions at all the ways that metaphor can manifest itself. The World of Ice & Fire is no exception. The book uses the history of a former court fool by the name of Mushroom as a fake primary source. Mushroom’s history asserts that the dragon Vermax, the mount of prince Jacaerys Velaryon, laid an unknown number of eggs in the crypts underneath the castle. Additionally, northern smallfolk have for many years told tales of a dragon underneath Winterfell, whose breath is the source of the heat that warms the subterranean hot springs. So, is there an actual dragon sleeping beneath Winterfell? Doubtful. But it’s worth considering that the very title of the book series can be seen as a metaphor for the union of Targaryen and Stark.
Ma ajin kisha astolat Dothraki (“And now we speak Dothraki”)
The most success I ever had learning a second language was Spanish. The reason for that, I think, was food. The ubiquity of Mexican restaurants in California made it easy to use my meager vocabulary, which consists, to this very day, of tacos, burritos, horchata, the numbers one to eight, and the words for various meats and toppings. Not having a similar environment for using my French is why I totally can’t speak French. So, let’s talk food. Note: I included some non-Dothraki food loanwords in order to make things more utilitarian.
General munchies stuff:
Hadaen mra qora ha yeraan. “I have food for you.” Literally: “Food in hand for you I have.” To express “to have,” the Dothraki use the expression mra qora, which means, literally, “in hand.”
Hadean anha zalat. “I want food.”
Anha garvolat. “I am hungry.” Literally: “I grow hungry.”
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA OH MY GOD, DAVID J. PETERSON, WHY?!
Asking for and receiving various foodstuffs:
Anha fichak jiz ma dalfe. “I bring chicken and beef.”
Ash! Jiz! Vos qifo? “Wow! Chicken! No pork?”
Sek, qifo akka. “Yes, pork as well.”
Anha zalat akat tacos dalfe ma jelli. “I want two beef tacos with cheese.”
Fin yer jolina? “What did you cook?”
Anha jolina jiz ma gamiz. “I cooked chicken and rice.”
Fin yer mra qora adakhat? “What do you have to eat?” Literally: “What you in hand to eat.”
Anha mra qora cookies. “I have cookies.”2
There is no word for “cookies” in Dothraki as far as I know. Their baking techniques were quite rudimentary.
Anha fevalat! “I am thirsty!”
Gwe, indes lemekh ohazho. “Here, drink fermented mare’s milk.” The word for drink is indelat. To express an affirmative request, add s to the bare verb stems if the verb ends in a consonant. For verbs that end in vowels, just add s. For negative requests, drop the final vowel and add os. So, “don’t drink” is indelos.
Sek, anha atak jin. “Yes, I will do this.”
Until next time, fonas chek.