The Lhazareen are ‘the other’ nomadic people of Essos. They share many features with the Dothraki, moving to where they can find grass for their herds of sheep. When they come close near the cities of Slaver’s Bay it is not to demand tribute but to trade what goods they have, as Lhazareen sheep produce the highest quality wool in Essos. Competition is non-existent for few dare to raise sheep in the hills when Dothraki Khalasars are known for raiding the lands in search of plunder and slaves. With no city walls to hide behind the Lhazareen have adapted to these circumstances well enough to survive in these harsh conditions. Their communities are not as big as the Khalasars but they still are counted in the hundreds, with the largest ones reaching the thousand members. Even with such large numbers they have no written records and their oral tradition is all that keeps the different communities together. These nomadic people might seem to us rather uninteresting and unimportant. They live in the shadow of the Dothraki and thus they could be all put to the sword or sold into slavery and no one would think twice about it except perhaps the tailor merchants of Mereen.
I won’t condemn anybody for having this view of the Lhazareen for I myself had this very same idea of them not long ago. My perception of them started to shift one day when I was traversing the narrow wynds of the market in Mereen. Amid the turmoil of the market a sound caught my attention: a flute, but no ordinary flute though. Its sound cut through the crowd like a knife through butter with a high clear tone, but what played wasn’t music; at least it didn’t sound like music. There was no melody to speak of, nor clear meter, not to speak of form. The flute wasn’t alone; there were more that sounded in the distance with a note here and a phrase there. I tried to find the flutist, first with my eyes and then following my ears but it was impossible. I asked the merchantmen around me if they could point to me where the music was coming from and I was told to go to the wool stands. With every street corner turned the notes went from clear and well defined to deafening shrills, but still no music. I had expected to find more musicians playing instruments that perhaps were being drown out by the noise but they were nowhere to be found. At the wool market there were two Lhazareen shepherds selling their goods, both at different ends of the square. The flutes they played where small, not longer than their lower arm. They were made of wood and hanged from their necks by a thread. From a distance, the notes they played made little sense, but up close it was gibberish, at least until you pay attention to their interaction. A few notes coming from one end of the square; then a few other notes coming from the other end. Every once in a while, a young boy would be dispatched from one stand to the other to fetch some wool or bring some water. That’s when I realized the shepherds weren’t playing music, they were talking to each other. A simple language, not for poetry but rudimentary and serviceable enough for the hills of Lhazar: ‘Come, I need help’, ’Bring water’, ‘I need four bags of wool’. Needless to say, I was astonished and simply forgot all my other appointments for the day and spent the entire morning looking at them until they were ready to abandon the city and go back to the hills. I was so mesmerized by what I had witnessed that I simply approached the men and asked them if I could go with them. They couldn’t comprehend why anybody would want to leave the safety of the city and venture into Lhazar. It didn’t matter how many times I tried to explain to them that I was interested in learning more about their flute playing, only once I had showed them I had food and water for myself they allowed me to follow them. I wouldn’t return for six moons, leaner, darker, and with a Lhazareen flute hanging from my neck next to my Maester’s chain.
The scales used by the Lhazareen seem to change slightly from dialect to dialect but one common feature is that they are all pentatonic (fig. a). Unlike the Dothraki, whose entire melodic system is based on the pentatonic scale, the Lhazareen know and use scales with up to seven notes occasionally, but never for communication purposes. While five notes are more limiting than seven when it comes to possible combinations it is compromise that favors comprehension over complexity.
Woodwind instruments are the most popular among the Lhazareen. Shepherds use their small flutes to communicate with each other across the expansive grasslands of Lhazar, which provide a high-pitched, rich and lively sound, preferring to use a single-reed flute with a lower register for music proper. It is traditional amongst the Lhazareen to improvise and write new melodies in their flutes while they herd their sheep during the day, and to switch to the single-reed flute at night to render their new tunes in a more melancholic and profound way.
The Lhazareen Flute Language
Before starting I should mention some important disclaimers. Firstly, that the coming pages are not meant to serve as a guide to learning the Lhazareen Flute Language but as a first attempt of keeping a written record of this entirely musical system of communication in case a catastrophe were to fall upon the Lhazareen before it is properly studied. Hopefully somebody with a strong enough will do this in the future, but my time is limited and I can’t dwell in this land for long enough for such an endeavor.
Another important disclaimer is that by the time I returned to Mereen and had the chance to return to the wool markets I was familiar enough with the basics of the language to became aware that what I had come to learn as Lhazareen Flute Language was but one dialect used by one tribe and by no means shared equally among all other shepherd tribes. Most of the words and phrases I had learned where understood by members of other Lhazareen tribes, but there were enough differences to make communication unclear at best, and impossible at worst. This is important in case someone decides to expand my work and stumbles upon a tribe whose dialect is far removed from the one I happened to stumble upon to not dismiss all my writings here as faulty (although I’m perfectly aware there could be some errors).
Now, before anything else it is important to learn about the nomadic lifestyle of the Lhazareen. A community is usually between 30 and a no more than a couple hundred individuals. Men and women tend the sheep, but it is mostly men who lead the sheep far and wide across the landscape to find the pastures needed for the sheep to graze while women process the wool, tend to the children and cook. Men leave early in the morning at dawn and return in at twilight but they are always within distance of the loudest note a Lhazareen flute can carry, which is at least half a league but it can increase depending on the terrain.
The simplicity and constrained nature of the language leaves no margin to error and mishearing one note can render the message meaningless. For this reason, it is a custom to repeat the same message twice or thrice depending on the terrain and the distance it is meant to cover, playing the sentence progressively slower pace and louder with every repetition. These repetitions give any dialogue between shepherds a bit more musical quality as the repetitions create an element of predictability quite enjoyable to listen to.