Malazan Wiki
Malazan Wiki

Empire of Lether and its neighbours

"To the Letherii, gold was all that mattered. Gold and its possession defined their entire world. Power, status, self-worth and respect--all were commodities that could be purchased by coin. Indeed, debt bound the entire kingdom, defining every relationship, the motivation casting the shadow of every act, every decision."
Udinaas, on the Letherii[src]

The Kingdom of Lether [Leather or Leth-er],[1] later known as the Letherii Empire [Leh-thair-ee],[2] was the most prominent human nation on the sub-continent of Lether. Its capital city was Letheras, which had over one hundred thousand residents.[3] A half dozen other Letherii cities had similar populations.[3]

As a nation, the Letherii believed in constant progress and expansion without end. They revered coin above all else. Intricate schemes and deadly sleight of hand were the lifeblood of the Letherii.[4]


The Letherii had conquered and made protectorates of many of the nations on their borders. These nations paid tribute to the Letherii and provided troops towards the common defence.[5][3]

Cities and Settlements[]



The overriding cultural philosophy of the Letherii was that of unimpeded and unending expansion. Whether that was the physical expansion of their territory, or financial expansion, they believed there was no going back, ever.

The Letherii accomplished their expansionist objectives through intricate schemes and deadly sleight of hand[8] using tools of treaty and bureaucracy. Relations with strong neighbours were carefully controlled by treaty, which could be tactically breeched for an advantage during treaty renegotiations.[9]

Sometimes the Letherii sent Sentinels to carefully study the weaker tribal peoples on their borders. Then that information was used to ensnare their neighbours in trade and chains of debt while poisoning them with alcohol, White nectar, and Durhang.[10] Sacred sites were specifically destroyed to weaken the people's connections to their gods and any power they might derive from them.[11] If the tribal culture collapsed in dissolution, there was no sympathy as it was only proof that the Letherii were stronger.[10] Once broken, many in the tribes were enslaved and then scattered across the empire to weaken their claims to their former lands.[12] In these ways, the Letherii subjugated and destroyed the Bratha, Faraed, Fent, Katter, Nerek, and Tarthenal.[10][12][13]

The Letherii even practised outright extermination campaigns, massacring tribal encampments to the last man, woman, and child. Afterwards, the construction of outposts, forts, and raised roads would encourage settlers to occupy the land. Such direct methods might be covered over with targeted rumour campaigns to convince the Letherii citizenry that the exterminated tribe had been preemptively caught plotting to launch an attack of its own on Lether.[14]


The Letherii practiced indentured servitude for the repayment of debt. Such contracts could be multi-generational, holding the debtor's descendants responsible for the original amount owed. It was not unusual for servitude to be passed from father to son to grandson.[15] Indebted were essentially slaves without slavery's promise of food, clothing, shelter, and protection.[15] For particularly dangerous tasks, indebted might be enticed with a provision on their contracts clearing out their debts in the event of their deaths. Indebted were known to trade their lives for the sake of their children and grandchildren.[16] Slaves who escaped their masters faced the Drownings when recaptured.[17]


The kingdom was a hereditary monarchy headed by King Ezgara Diskanar. The rest of the royal family was comprised of Queen Janall and Prince Quillas. The next two highest positions in government were Chancellor Triban Gnol and First Eunuch Nifadas, who served as advisors to the king. Both king and queen had a number of concubines and consorts with the primary being First Concubine Nisall and First Consort Turudal Brizad. The king's personal bodyguard was known as the King's Champion. This role was filled by Brys Beddict. The king's sorcerer was Ceda Kuru Qan and the head of the army was Preda Unnutal Hebaz.

In practise, King Ezgara's government was divided into two opposing factions. On one side was the king, Nifadas, Nisall, Kuru Qan, Unnutal Hebaz, and Brys. On the other was the queen, Prince Quillas, and Chancellor Triban Gnol.[18][19]

In addition to the King's Champion, the king was protected in his palace by the Royal Guard, which answered only to him.[20]


See also: Letherii Army

The Letherii army could field six hundred thousand soldiers, drawn from both their own lands and their protectorates.[3] The army and navy were mandated to be at a level of preparedness. Supplies and stores were required to be sufficient for a full season's campaign. Contracts with suppliers stipulated that, in times of conflict, the needs of the military outweighed private commerce.[21]

When the Letherii had faced threats from Bluerose, the city-states of the archipelago in the Dracons Sea, and the tribes of the eastern plains, four years of military service had been mandatory at age seventeen. Once these areas fell under Letherii influence, the requirement was ended and military service became a less universal practice. Campaigns were more likely to be driven by economic concerns than by threats to survival. Few bothered with martial training, and military service began to be regarded with a measure of contempt. Some foresaw a time when soldiering was left to the Indebted or to the mentally inadequate.[22]

Horses were not a part of Letherii culture until the conquering of Bluerose. As a result, what little cavalry they possessed was inept and disorganised despite training from dozens of Bluerose officers.[23]

Crime and Justice[]

See also: The Drownings

The Letherii focus on coin expressed itself in their criminal justice system. Most crimes could be expunged by paying a fine. Failure to pay a debt or the damaging of property was treated as harshly as murder or kidnapping. Those who could not afford to buy off their convictions were treated to punishment as public spectacle, such as The Drownings. While technically survivable, few managed to successfully swim a canal burdened by coin, and delighted crowds placed wagers on the severity of their failure.[24] Debtors could call on a similar 'payment by trial' to clear their debts with a similar likelihood of success.[25]


The Letherii followed the faith of the Holds[26] with the Empty Hold at the heart of their worship.[27] All Letherii knew the sequences and forms of the Holds accessed during a casting of Tiles.[28] Subjugated peoples were forced to embrace the Letherii faith by edict of the king.[26]

The ethics of Letherii worship were bound to traits and habits that served the acquisition of wealth. These included diligence, discipline, hard work, optimism, and personalisation of glory. Despised were the evils of sloth, despair, and anonymity of failure. Worship was born of pragmatism.[29]

The Empty Temple was known to pay for and sanctify curses against lawbreakers. Curses could also be had for such minir crimes as adultery. The going rate for a curse was half a peak and half again as much to remove the target's memories.[30]

The Letherii worshipped no god or demon of the sea, but sailors maintained traditions of superstition to avoid notice. They conducted sacrifices and read patterns in the tides.[31]

The Errant[]

See also: Errant

The Letherii regarded the Errant as an "eternally mysterious purveyor of chance, fateful circumstance and ill-chosen impulses"[32] and the arbiter of fate.[33] Much of their profanity invoked his name. Letheras held a yearly festival in his honour.[32]

Letheran steel[]

One of the kingdom's most closely held secrets was the technique for producing Letheran steel. This method of ironmongery produced unbreakable weapons that were nearly weightless and resistant to sorcery.[34][35][36] Sale of the steel was forbidden outside the borders of the kingdom.[37]


When a citizen wanted to curse someone with ill fortune, they tied the persons name to a dock and cast the coin into one of the city's canals.[38]


The Letherii seemed to name their months after the tiles of the Empty Hold. Betrayer's Month, Wanderer's Month, and Watcher's Month were mentioned as the summer months.[39]


See also: Currency of the Empire of Lether

  • Peaks: the coin of the filthy rich in Lether
    • Thirds: one millionth of a peak (i.e. 1,000,000 thirds = 1 peak)
  • Levels: the coin of the wealthy of Lether
  • Docks: commonest denomination of Lether money
  • Stripling: lowest denomination of Lether money


The Kingdom of Lether was originally a colony of the First Empire.[40] Their ships first reached the Lether continent near the Reach peninsula where they were greeted by Fent canoes. An exchange of gifts went awry leading the the slaughter of the Fent men and the enslavement the women and children. Three more Fent villages fell in the same manner as the colonists worked their way south along the shore. Eventually they made First Landing at the site now occupied by Gedry before continuing up the Lether River to establish Letheras. Few remembered the initial encounter with the Fent and the average Letherii believed the colonists first came to shore at Letheras.[41]

The colony had lost contact with the homeland when the First Empire had collapsed and been isolated for many thousands of years. Popular belief held that the coming of the Seventh Closure meant the rebirth of the First Empire with the kingdom now an empire and the Letherii king transformed as First Emperor.[42][43] Some physical characteristics common in Lether (blonde hair, blue eyes, heart-shaped faces) could still be found amongst a small subjugated remnant population in Seven Cities.[44]


Lether's origin in the First Empire was still distinguishable with its language. A scholar familiar with ancient First Empire tomes would be able to recognise some modern Letherii words.[44] Its language was very similar to a dialect spoken in the slums of Ehrlitan.[citation needed]

Spoiler warning: The following section contains significant plot details about Letherii Empire.

In Midnight Tides[]

The kingdom was at the height of its power and preparing for the Seventh Closure, the prophesied renaissance when the First Empire would be reborn and King Ezgara would Ascend and assume the title of First Emperor.[45][46] After seventeen years,[47] the Eternal Domicile was nearing completion to serve as the site of Ezgara's coronation.

At the same time, Queen Janall, Prince Quillas, and Chancellor Triban Gnol schemed to orchestrate a war between the Tiste Edur and the Letherii in an attempt to grow richer off the spoils of conquered Edur territory.[48] First Eunuch Nifadas' planned negotiations with Hannan Mosag at the Great Meeting faltered when the Warlock King was deposed by Rhulad Sengar. Rhulad declared himself emperor of the Edur, dismissed the Letherii position out of hand, sent the delegation home, and declared a state of war between the two nations.[49]

The queen and prince tried to exploit the war to their benefit, but were soon captured at the Battle of High Fort.[50] The Letherii suffered a string of devastating losses culminating with the annihilation of the Letherii army at the Battle of Brans Keep.[51] On the predicted day of the Seventh Closure, Nifadas crowned Ezgara emperor in the Eternal Domicile to no seeming effect. The Letherii had miscalculated the date by two days.[52]

Emperor Rhulad quickly took the capital and confronted Ezgara in his throne room. Ceda Kuru Qan nearly bested the Warlock King in a duel of sorcery before he was slain by Trull Sengar. Brys Beddict handily defeated Rhulad in single combat, but not before Ezgara and Nifadas fell to poison. Brys himself unwittingly drank from the same cup and perished as well. When Rhulad recovered from his latest death, he was crowned Emperor and the Seventh Closure marked a change that no Letherii could have predicted.[53]

In The Bonehunters[]

Life under Emperor Rhulad was grim for the Letherii,[54] but where the Edur led, the Letherii followed. A river of gold could be found amidst the river of blood generated by Edur swords. The loyal became very rich, while the disloyal became indebted.[55] Hannan Mosag was able to curb some of Rhulad's more insane and violent commands, and Rhulad gained a new extended family of cowering fawners. Trull was soon denounced, shorn, and

Several great fleets of Letherii ships were sent all over the world to kill and terrorise and search out champions to face Rhulad in mortal combat. One such fleet was the Third Edur Imperial Fleet which harrowed the northern shore of Seven Cities.[56]

In Reaper's Gale[]

The Letherii Empire conducted a war of extermination against the Awl of the Awl'dan, sending Atri-Preda Bivatt with the Eastern Army from Drene.[57]

After Rhulad was defeated in battle by Karsa Orlong, the people appointed a new king, Tehol Beddict.

Significant plot details end here.


While fans have speculated that the depiction of Letherii Empire was meant to be analogous to the United States, Steven Erikson says it was actually inspired by the British Empire.[58]

Notes and references[]

  1. Critical Conversations 05: Midnight Tides Chapter 19 with Steven Erikson - A Critical Dragon - As pronounced by Steven Erikson at 17:00/01:11:07
  2. Critical Conversations 05: Midnight Tides Chapter 19 with Steven Erikson - A Critical Dragon - As pronounced by Steven Erikson at 01:11:04
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Midnight Tides, Chapter 4, US SFBC p.124
  4. Midnight Tides, Chapter 2, US SFBC p.68
  5. 5.0 5.1 Midnight Tides, Chapter 16, US SFBC p.495
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 Midnight Tides, Glossary
  7. Midnight Tides, Chapter 20
  8. Midnight Tides, Chapter 2, US SFBC p.68
  9. Midnight Tides, Chapter 2, US SFBC p.65-66
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Midnight Tides, Chapter 2, US SFBC p.62/66-67
  11. Midnight Tides, Chapter 14, US SFBC p.432
  12. 12.0 12.1 Reaper's Gale, Chapter 6, US HC p.149
  13. Reaper's Gale, Chapter 7, US HC p.172
  14. Reaper's Gale, Chapter 1, US HC p.39-40
  15. 15.0 15.1 Midnight Tides, Chapter 1, US SFBC p.43
  16. Midnight Tides, Chapter 4, US SFBC p.125
  17. Reaper's Gale, Chapter 1, US HC p.41
  18. Midnight Tides, Chapter 4, US SFBC p.140-143
  19. Midnight Tides, Chapter 10, US SFBC p.324
  20. Midnight Tides, Chapter 2, US SFBC p.79/83
  21. Midnight Tides, Chapter 10, US SFBC p.314
  22. Midnight Tides, Chapter 10, US SFBC p.309
  23. Midnight Tides, Chapter 19, US SFBC p.576
  24. Midnight Tides, Chapter 4, US SFBC p.125-126
  25. Assail (novel), Chapter 4, US SFBC p.126-135
  26. 26.0 26.1 Midnight Tides, Chapter 2, US SFBC p.62
  27. Midnight Tides, Chapter 1, US SFBC p.51
  28. Midnight Tides, Chapter 1, US SFBC p.50
  29. Midnight Tides, Chapter 3, US SFBC p.99
  30. Midnight Tides, Chapter 4, US SFBC p.138/145
  31. Midnight Tides, Chapter 6, US SFBC p.191
  32. 32.0 32.1 Midnight Tides, Chapter 6, US SFBC p.197
  33. Midnight Tides, Chapter 19, US SFBC p.573-574
  34. Midnight Tides, Glossary
  35. Midnight Tides, Chapter 6, US SFBC p.205-206
  36. Midnight Tides, Chapter 18, US SFBC p.562
  37. Midnight Tides, Chapter 2, US SFBC p.60
  38. Midnight Tides, Chapter 2, US SFBC p.89
  39. Midnight Tides, Chapter 6, US SFBC p.211
  40. Midnight Tides, Chapter 2, US SFBC p.86
  41. Reaper's Gale, Chapter 13, US HC p.350
  42. Midnight Tides, Chapter 2, US SFBC p.86
  43. Midnight Tides, Chapter 22, US SFBC p.664
  44. 44.0 44.1 The Bonehunters, Chapter 16, US SFBC p.663
  45. Midnight Tides, Chapter 2, US SFBC p.86
  46. Midnight Tides, Glossary
  47. Midnight Tides, Chapter 2, US SFBC p.69
  48. Midnight Tides, Chapter 4, US SFBC p.142
  49. Midnight Tides, Chapter 13, US SFBC p.408-409
  50. Midnight Tides, Chapter 18
  51. Midnight Tides, Chapter 23
  52. Midnight Tides, Chapter 23, US SFBC p.664/667
  53. Midnight Tides, Chapter 25
  54. The Bonehunters, Chapter 24, US SFBC p.961
  55. The Bonehunters, Chapter 17, US SFBC p.690
  56. The Bonehunters, Chapter 16, US SFBC p.664
  57. Reaper's Gale, Chapter 1
  58. Steven Erikson Talks Building Malazan, Facebook Post, & More - See 13:15
List of abbreviationsPaginationsHow to reference an article