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House Arryn can even boast the rare distinction of twice being deemed worthy of marriage with the blood of the dragon. Rodrik Arryn, Lord of the Eyrie, was honored by King Jaehaerys I Targaryen and his wife, the Good Queen Alysanne, with the hand of their daughter, Princess Daella, and a child of that union, the Lady Aemma Arryn, in turn became the first wife of King Viserys I Targaryen and mother to his firstborn child, Princess Rhaenyra, who contended with her half brother Aegon II for the Iron Throne. In that struggle, Jeyne Arryn, Lady of the Eyrie and Maiden of the Vale, proved a staunch friend to Rhaenyra Targaryen and her sons, ultimately serving as one of the regents for King Aegon III. From that day, every Targaryen to sit the Iron Throne had a bit of Arryn blood.
The Arryns played their part in the wars of the Targaryen kings, and in the Blackfyre rebellions, standing stoutly with the Iron Throne against the Blackfyre Pretenders. During the First Blackfyre Rebellion, Lord Donnel Arryn boldly led the vanguard of the royalist host, though his lines were shattered by Daemon Blackfyre, and his lordship in peril for his life until Ser Gwayne Corbray of the Kingsguard appeared with reinforcements.
Lord Arryn survived to fight another day, and years later shut the Vale to traffic from the high road and by sea when the Great Spring Sickness swept over the Seven Kingdoms; thus, the Vale and Dorne alone were unaffected by that terrible plague.
In more recent years, the importance of the role played by Lord Jon Arryn in Robert’s Rebellion cannot be gainsaid. Indeed, it was Lord Jon’s refusal to deliver the heads of his wards, Eddard Stark and Robert Baratheon, that began the revolt. Had he done as he was commanded, the Mad King might yet sit the Iron Throne. Despite his advanced years, Lord Arryn fought valiantly beside Robert on the Trident. After the war, the new king proved his wisdom when he made Lord Jon Arryn his first Hand.
His lordship’s sagacity has helped King Robert rule the Seven Kingdoms wisely and justly ever since. It is a joy to the realm when a great man serves as Hand to a great king, for peace and plenty will surely come of it.
At the Great Council of 101 AC, the Arryns played little role, as Lady Jeyne was in her minority. To the Council in her stead came the Lord Protector of the Vale, Yorbert Royce of Runestone. One of the mightiest houses of the Vale, the Royces still boast proudly of their descent from the First Men and their last great king, Robar II. Even to this day, the Lords of Runestone go into battle clad in the bronze armor of their forebears, etched with runes that are said to ward the armor’s wearer from harm. Alas, the number of Royces who have died whilst wearing this runic armor is daunting. Furthermore, Maester Denestan in his Questions speculates that the armor is far less ancient than it appears.
Many have claimed that the Eyrie of the Arryns is the most beautiful castle in all the Seven Kingdoms, and it is hard to deny the truth of this (though the Tyrells surely do). Seven slim white towers crown the Eyrie where it sits high upon a shoulder of the Giant’s Lance, and no castle in Westeros boasts more marble in its walls or upon its floors.
And yet the Arryns and the men of the Vale will tell you that the Eyrie is impregnable as well, for its position high atop the mountainside makes it all but impossible to assault.
The smallest of the royal seats of Westeros, the Eyrie was not originally the seat of House Arryn.
That honor belongs to the Gates of the Moon, a much larger castle that stands at the foot of the Giant’s Lance, on the very site where Ser Artys Arryn and his Andals made their camp on the night before the Battle of the Seven Stars. Still uncertain on his throne in the early years of his realm, King Artys wanted a seat strong enough to withstand siege and storm should the First Men rise against him. The Gates of the Moon served well enough in that regard, but there was more of fort than palace about it, and those seeing it for the first time have been known to remark that it is a fine castle for a lesser lord but no fit abode for a king.
This did not trouble King Artys overmuch, as it happens, for he was seldom there. The first Arryn king spent most of his reign on horseback, riding from one end of his domains to the next in an unending royal progress. “My throne is made of saddle leather,” he was wont to say, “and my castle is a tent.” The Eyrie. (illustration credit 113) King Artys was succeeded by his two eldest sons, who reigned in turn as the second and third Kings of Mountain and Vale. Unlike their sire, they spent considerable portions of their reigns at the Gates of the Moon and seemed content there, though each of them commanded certain additions to the castle. It was the fourth Arryn king, the grandson of Artys I, who began the process that resulted in the building of the Eyrie. Roland Arryn had been fostered with an Andal king in the riverlands as a boy and had traveled widely after winning his spurs, visiting Oldtown and Lannisport before returning to the Vale upon his father’s death to don the Falcon Crown. Having seen the wonders of the Hightower and Casterly Rock, and the great castles of the First Men that still dotted the lands of the Trident, he felt the Gates of the Moon looked mean and ugly by comparison. King Roland’s first impulse was to tear down the Gates and build his new seat upon the same site, but that winter thousands of wildlings descended from the mountains in search of food and shelter, for the high valleys had been buried by deep falls of snow. Their depredations brought home to the king how vulnerable his seat was at its present site.
Legend claims it was his future wife, Lord Hunter’s daughter Teora, who reminded him of how his grandfather had defeated Robar Royce, by attacking from the high ground. Much taken by the girl’s words, and by the girl herself, Lord Roland resolved to seize the highest ground of all and decreed the building of the castle that would become the Eyrie.
He did not live to see it completed. The task His Grace had set his builders was a daunting one, for the lower slopes of the Giant’s Lance were steep and overgrown, and up higher the bare stone of the mountain became precipitous and icy. More than a decade was spent just clearing a winding switchback road up the mountain’s side. Beyond the trees, a small army of stonemasons were set to work with hammers and chisel to carve out steps to ease the ascent where the slope grew steeper.
Meanwhile, Roland sent his builders across the Seven Kingdoms in search of stone, for His Grace was not pleased with the look of the marble available in the Vale.
In time there came another winter and another attack upon the Vale by the wild clans of the Mountains of the Moon. Taken unawares by a band of Painted Dogs, King Roland I Arryn was pulled from his horse and murdered, his skull smashed in by a stone maul as he tried to free his longsword from its scabbard. He had reigned for six-and-twenty years, just long enough to see the first stones laid for the castle he had decreed.
Building continued through the reigns of his son and his son’s son, but progress was painfully slow, for all the marble had to be brought in by ship from Tarth, then carried up the side of the Giant’s Lance by mules. Dozens of the mules died whilst making the ascent, along with four common workmen and a master stonemason. Slowly the castle walls began to rise, foot by foot … until the Falcon Crown passed to the great-grandson of the king who had first dreamed the dream of a castle in the sky. War and wenching were the passions of King Roland II, not building; the cost of the Eyrie had become prohibitive, and the new king needed gold to pay for the campaign in the riverlands that he was planning. Hardly had his father been laid to rest than King Roland II commanded a halt to all work on the castle.
Thus it came to pass that the Eyrie was abandoned to the skies for the better part of four years.
Falcons roosted amongst its half-completed towers whilst King Roland II fought the First Men in the riverlands in search of gold and glory.
Conquests proved harder to achieve than he had anticipated, however. After several small, meaningless victories over petty kings, he found himself facing Tristifer IV the Hammer of Justice.
, The last truly great king of the First Men handed Roland Arryn a shattering defeat, then served him a worse one the following year. In peril of his life, His Grace fled to the castle of one of his erstwhile allies, an Andal lord, only to be betrayed and delivered back to Tristifer in chains. Four years after riding forth from the Vale in splendor, King Roland II was beheaded at Oldstones by the Hammer of Justice himself.
Few mourned his passing in the Vale, where his belligerence and vainglory had won him no friends. When his brother Robin Arryn succeeded him, work on the Eyrie was resumed. Yet it was forty-three years and four kings later before the castle was finally completed and fit for habitation.
Maester Quince, the first man of his order to serve there, declared the Eyrie to be “the most splendid work ever built by the hands of men, a palace worthy of the gods themselves. Surely even the Father Above does not have such a seat. ” From that time to this, the Eyrie has remained the seat of House Arryn in spring, summer, and autumn. In winter, ice and snow and howling winds make the ascent impossible, and the castle itself uninhabitable, but in summer the castle is bathed by cool, fresh mountain breezes, a welcome refuge from the sweltering heat on the valley floor below. There is no other castle like it in all the world, or at least none has been recorded that matches it.
It is worth remarking on the statue that stands in the Eyrie’s godswood, a fine likeness of the weeping Alyssa Arryn. Legend holds that six thousand years ago, Alyssa saw her husband, brothers, and sons all slain, and that she never shed a tear. Therefore, the gods punished her by not allowing her to rest until her tears fell upon the Vale below. The great waterfall that tumbles from the Giant’s Lance is known as Alyssa’s Tears, for the waters pour from such a height that they turn to mist long before they ever reach the ground.
How true is the tale? Alyssa Arryn did live, of that we may be reasonably sure, but it is unlikely that she lived six thousand years ago. True History suggests four thousand years whilst Denestan halves that number in Questions.
The Eyrie has never fallen by force. To assault it, an attacker first must take the Gates of the Moon at the mountain’s base, a formidable castle in its own right. Should that be done, the long ascent remains, and as he climbs, the attacker must assault no less than three waycastles that protect the winding way up the mountain: Stone, Snow, and Sky.
This series of defenses makes the approach to the Eyrie difficult enough, but even should the attacker overcome each of these waycastles in turn, he would then find himself at the base of a sheer cliff, with the Eyrie itself still perched six hundred feet above him, reachable only by winch or ladder.
Small wonder then that few serious efforts have ever been made to besiege the Eyrie. Since its completion, the Arryn kings have always known that they had an impregnable redoubt in which to take refuge if hard-pressed. The maesters who have served House Arryn, students of the art of warfare all, have been unanimous in the belief that the castle cannot be taken … … save perhaps with dragons, as Visenya Targaryen once proved when she landed in the Eyrie’s inner yard on her dragon, Vhagar, and persuaded the mother of the last Arryn king to submit to House Targaryen and yield up the Falcon Crown.
Almost three hundred years have come and gone since that day, however, and the last dragon perished long ago in King’s Landing, so the future Lords of the Eyrie may once again sleep secure in the knowledge that their splendid seat remains forever invulnerable and impregnable.
The Gates of the Moon. (illustration credit 114) illustration credit 115
I RON I SLANDSTHE WERE THE FIRST MEN truly first?
Most scholars believe they were. Before their coming, it is thought, Westeros belonged to the giants, the children of the forest, and the beasts of the field. But on the Iron Islands, the priests of the Drowned God tell a different tale.
According to their faith, the ironborn are a race apart from the common run of mankind. “We did not come to these holy islands from godless lands across the seas,” the priest Sauron Salt-Tongue once said. “We came from beneath those seas, from the watery halls of the Drowned God who made us in his likeness and gave to us dominion over all the waters of the earth.” Even among the ironborn there are some who doubt this and acknowledge the more widely accepted view of an ancient descent from the First Men—even though the First Men, unlike the later Andals, were never a seafaring people. Certainly, we cannot seriously accept the assertions of the ironborn priests, who would have us believe that the ironmen are closer kin to fish and merlings than the other races of mankind.
Archmaester Haereg once advanced the interesting notion that the ancestors of the ironborn came from some unknown land west of the Sunset Sea, citing the legend of the Seastone Chair. The throne of the Greyjoys, carved into the shape of a kraken from an oily black stone, was said to have been found by the First Men when they first came to Old Wyk.
Haereg argued that the chair was a product of the first inhabitants of the islands, and only the later histories of maesters and septons alike began to claim that they were in fact descended of the First Men. But this is the purest speculation and, in the end, Haereg himself dismissed the idea, and so must we.
Yet however the ironborn arose, it cannot be denied that they stand apart, with customs, beliefs, and ways of governance quite unlike those common elsewhere in the Seven Kingdoms.