«illustration credit 1 illustration credit 2 The World of Ice & Fire is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the ...»
Then he heard the trumpets, ringing through the dawn air, the sound coming from behind him. And turning in his saddle, the High King beheld in dismay five hundred fresh Andal knights pouring down the slopes of the Giant’s Lance to take his own host in the rear. Leading the attack was a champion in silvered steel, with a moon-and-falcon on his shield and wings upon his warhelm. Ser Artys Arryn had clad one of his knights retainer in his spare suit of armor, leaving him in camp whilst he himself took his best horsemen up and around a goat track that he remembered from his childhood, so they might reappear behind the First Men and descend on them from above.
The rest was a rout. Attacked from front and rear, the last great host of the First Men of the Vale was cut to pieces. Thirty lords had come to fight for Robar Royce that day. Not a one survived. And though the singers say the High King slew foes by the score, in the end he, too, was slain. Some say Ser Artys killed him, whilst others name Lord Ruthermont, or Luceon Templeton, the Knight of Ninestars. The Corbrays of Heart’s Home have always insisted that it was Ser Jaime Corbray who dealt the mortal blow, and for proof they point to Lady Forlorn, reclaimed for House Corbray after the battle.
Such is the tale of the Battle of the Seven Stars as it is told by the singers and the septons. A stirring story to be sure, but the scholar must ask, how much of it is true? We shall never know. All that is certain is that King Robar II of House Royce met Ser Artys Arryn in a great battle at the foot of the Giant’s Lance, where the king died and the Falcon Knight dealt the First Men a blow from which they never recovered.
No fewer than fourteen of the oldest and noblest houses of the Vale ended that day. Those whose lines endured—the Redforts, the Hunters, the Coldwaters, the Belmores, and the Royces themselves amongst them—did so only by the dint of yielding up gold and land and hostages to their conquerors and bending their knees to swear fealty to Artys Arryn, the First of His Name, new-crowned King of Mountain and Vale.
In time some of these fallen houses would regain much of the pride and wealth and power lost on the battlefield that day, but that would require the passage of centuries. As for the victors, the Arryns would rule the Vale as kings until the coming of Aegon the Conqueror and his sisters, and thereafter served as the Lords of the Eyrie, Protectors of the Vale, and Wardens of the East. And from that day forth, the Vale itself has been known as the Vale of Arryn.
The fate of the defeated was far crueler. As word of the victory spread across the narrow sea, more and more longships set sail from Andalos, and more and more Andals poured into the Vale and the surrounding mountains. All of them required land—land the Andal lords were pleased to give them. Wherever the First Men sought to resist, they were ground underfoot, reduced to thralls, or driven out. Their own lords, beaten, were powerless to protect them.
Some of the First Men surely survived by joining their own blood with that of the Andals, but many more fled westward to the high valleys and stony passes of the Mountains of the Moon. There the descendants of this once-proud people dwell to this very day, leading short, savage, brutal lives amongst the peaks as bandits and outlaws, preying upon any man fool enough to enter their mountains without a strong escort. Little better than the free folk beyond the Wall, these mountain clans, too, are called wildlings by the civilized.
Though the Vale is guarded by mountains, that has not prevented outside attacks. The high road from the riverlands through the Mountains of the Moon has seen much blood spilled, for steep and stony as it is, it provides the most likely way for an army to enter the Vale. Its eastern end is guarded by the Bloody Gate, once merely a rough-hewn, unmortared wall after the fashion of the ringforts of the First Men. But in the reign of King Osric V Arryn, this fortress was constructed anew. Over the centuries, a dozen invading armies have smashed themselves to pieces attempting to breach the Bloody Gates.
The coast of the Vale—rocky and full of treacherous shallows and reefs—provides poor anchorage, which again has added to their defense, but the Arryn kings, well aware that their own ancestors came to Westeros from across the sea, have never neglected their coastal defenses. Strong castles and forts guard the most vulnerable coastlines, and even the stony, windswept Fingers are studded with watchtowers, each with its own beacon to warn against raiders from the sea.
Here are the names of the most notable clans of the Mountains of the Moon, as reported by
the Archmaester Arnel in his Mountain and Vale:
Lesser clans exist as well, often being formed after some feud splinters one clan, but these usually last only a short time before they are swallowed up by rivals or wiped out by the knights of the Vale.
Most of these clan names have some meaning, however obscure those meanings might be to us. The Black Ears take the ears of men they defeat in battle as trophies, we know.
Amongst the Burned Men, a youth must give some part of his body to the fire to prove his courage before he can be deemed a man. This practice might have originated in the years after the Dance of the Dragons, some maesters believe, when an offshoot clan of the Painted Dogs were said to have worshipped a fire-witch in the mountains, sending their boys to bring her gifts and risk the flames of the dragon she commanded to prove their manhood.
The Andals were ever a warlike folk, for one of the Seven that they worship is the Warrior himself. Though secure in their own domains, some Kings of the Vale have from time to time sought conquest beyond their own borders. In such wars they had the advantage of knowing that, should the fighting go against them, they could always fall back behind the great natural walls of their mountains.
Nor did the Kings of the Mountain and Vale neglect their fleets. In Gulltown they possessed a fine and formidable natural harbor, and under the Arryns it grew into one of the foremost cities of the Seven Kingdoms. Though the Vale itself is famously fertile, it is small compared to the domains of other kings (and even some great lords), and the Mountains of the Moon are bleak, stony, and inhospitable. Trade is therefore of paramount importance to the rulers of the Vale, and the wiser of the Arryn kings always took care to protect it by building warships of their own.
In the waters off their eastern and northern coasts lie threescore islands, some no more than crabinfested rocks and roosts for seabirds, others quite large and oft inhabited. With their fleets, the Arryn kings were able to extend their rule to these isles. Pebble was taken by King Hugh Arryn (the Fat) after a short struggle, the Paps by his grandson, King Hugo Arryn (the Hopeful) after a long one. The Witch Isle, seat of House Upcliff with its sinister reputation, was brought into the realm by marriage, when King Alester Arryn, the Second of His Name, took Arwen Upcliff for his bride.
The last isles to be wedded to the Vale were the Three Sisters. For thousands of years, these islands had boasted their own cruel kings, pirates and raiders whose longships sailed the Bite, the narrow sea, and even the Shivering Sea with impunity, plundering and reaving as they would and returning to the Sisters laden with gold and slaves.
These depredations finally led the Kings of Winter to send their own war fleets to seek dominion over the Sisters—for whoever holds the Three Sisters holds the Bite.
The Rape of the Three Sisters is the name by which the Northern conquest of the islands is best known. The Chronicles of Longsister ascribe many horrors to that conquest: wild Northmen killing children to fill their cooking pots, soldiers drawing the entrails from living men to wind them about spits, the executions of three thousand warriors in a single day at the Headman’s Mount, Belthasar Bolton’s Pink Pavilion made from the flayed skins of a hundred Sistermen … How far these tales can be trusted is uncertain, but it is worth noting that these atrocities, whilst oft mentioned in accounts of the war written by men from the Vale, go largely unmentioned in Northern chronicles. It cannot be denied, however, that the rule of the Northmen was onerous enough to the Sistermen for them to send their surviving lords scurrying to the Eyrie to plead for help from the King of Mountain and Vale.
This help King Mathos Arryn, Second of His Name, was pleased to provide, upon the condition that the Sistermen agreed to do fealty to him and his descendants thereafter, and acknowledge the right of the Eyrie to rule over them. When his lady wife questioned the wisdom of involving the Vale in this War Across the Water, His Grace famously replied that he would sooner have a pirate than a wolf for his neighbor. The king set sail for Sisterton with a hundred warships.
He never returned, but his sons carried on the war after him. For a thousand years, Winterfell and the Eyrie contested for the rule of the Three Sisters. The Worthless War, some dubbed it. Time and time again the fighting seemed at an end, only to flare up once more a generation later. The islands changed hands more than a dozen times. Thrice the Northmen landed on the Fingers. The Arryns sent a fleet up the White Knife to burn the Wolf’s Den, and the Starks replied by attacking Gulltown and burning hundreds of ships in their wroth when the city walls proved too strong for them.
In the end the Arryns emerged victorious, and the Three Sisters have remained part of the Vale ever since, save for the brief reign of Queen Marla Sunderland in the immediate aftermath of Aegon’s Conquest; she was deposed at the sight of the approaching Braavosi fleet that the Northmen had hired at King Aegon’s command. Her brother swore homage to the Targaryens, and she herself ended her days as a silent sister.
“This was not a case of the Eyrie winning so much as Winterfell losing interest,” Archmaester Perestan observes in A Consideration of History. “For ten long centuries the direwolf and the falcon had fought and bled over three rocks, until one day the wolf awoke as from a dream and realized it was only stone between his teeth, whence he spat it out and walked away.”
House Arryn derives from the oldest and purest line of Andal nobility. The Arryn kings can proudly trace back their lineage to Andalos itself, and some of them have gone so far as to claim descent from Hugor of the Hill.
The arms of House Arryn (center) and some of its vassals (clockwise from top): Waynwood, Royce, Corbray, Baelish, Belmore, Grafton, Hunter, Redfort, and Templeton. (illustration credit 112) In any discussion of the origins of House Arryn, however, it is crucial to distinguish between history and legend.
There is abundant historical evidence for the existence of Ser Artys Arryn, the Falcon Knight, the first Arryn king to rule over Mountain and Vale. His victory over King Robar II at the Battle of the Seven Stars is well attested to, even though the details of that victory might have been somewhat embroidered in the centuries that followed. King Artys was undoubtedly a real man, albeit an extraordinary one.
In the Vale, however, the deeds of this real historical personage have become utterly confused with those of his legendary namesake, another Artys Arryn, who lived many thousands of years earlier during the Age of Heroes, and is remembered in song and story as the Winged Knight.
The first Ser Artys Arryn supposedly rode upon a huge falcon (possibly a distorted memory of dragonriders seen from afar, Archmaester Perestan suggests). Armies of eagles fought at his command. To win the Vale, he flew to the top of the Giant’s Lance and slew the Griffin King. He counted giants and merlings amongst his friends, and wed a woman of the children of the forest, though she died giving birth to his son.
A hundred other tales are told of him, most of them just as fanciful. It is highly unlikely that such a man ever existed; like Lann the Clever in the westerlands, and Brandon the Builder in the North, the Winged Knight is made of legend, not of flesh and blood. If such a hero ever walked the Mountains and Vale, far back in the dim mists of the Dawn Age, his name was certainly not Artys Arryn, for the Arryns came from pure Andal stock, and this Winged Knight lived and flew and fought many thousands of years before the first Andals came to Westeros.
Like as not, it was the singers of the Vale who conflated these two figures, attributing the deeds of the legendary Winged Knight to the historic Falcon Knight, perhaps in order to curry favor with the real Artys Arryn’s successors by placing this great hero of the First Men amongst their forebears.
The true tale of House Arryn contains neither giants nor griffins nor huge falcons, yet from the day Ser Artys first donned the Falcon Crown to the present, they have rightly held a storied place in the history of the Seven Kingdoms. Since the days of Aegon’s Conquest, the Lords of the Eyrie have served the Iron Throne as Wardens of the East, defending the coasts of Westeros against enemies from beyond the sea. Before that, the chronicles tell of countless battles with the savage mountain clans; the thousand-year struggle with the North over the Three Sisters; bloody sea battles wherein the Arryn fleets turned back slavers from V olantis, ironborn reavers, and pirates from the Stepstones and Basilisk Isles. The Starks may well be older, but their legends came before the First Men had letters, while the Arryns fostered learning amongst the septries and septs, and their good works and great deeds were soon chronicled and remarked on in the devotional works of the Faith.
With the unification of the realm and the establishment of the boy Ronnel Arryn (the King Who Flew) as the first Lord of the Eyrie, there were new opportunities for the house. It was no great surprise when Queen Rhaenys Targaryen arranged the betrothal of young Ronnel to the daughter of Torrhen Stark, for that was but one of the many such marriages she made in the name of peace. Sadly, Lord Ronnel later died a violent death at the hands of his brother Jonos the Kinslayer, but the Arryn line continued through a kinsman and has remained deeply involved in many of the great matters of the Seven Kingdoms.