The Legend of House Pierce
No-one knows how old the mysterious House Pierce is. Unlike other Houses of Westeros, they have never paraded their lineage for all to see. While they were elevated to the status of nobility in ca. -700, it is whispered that their line dates back much farther, perhaps even to the conquest of Vale by Ser Artys Arryn himself. No Lord of the House has ever confirmed or denied this, perhaps from modesty, but more likely to keep the other Houses guessing. The Pierces keep their secrets well.
The circumstances surrounding their elevation to nobility are also a mystery, and perhaps the Pierces might have preferred otherwise. It is rumored that Landryk, heir to House Arryn was returning home with his bride Amira of Winterfel, when they were attacked by men intent on taking the pair for ransom. More than two hundred men attacked the couple and their entourage, and would have easily overwhelmed them, but no more than a minute later the two hundred men lay dead, felled by falcon fletched arrows that came silently from the surrounding forest. Landryk looked at the carnage in wonder, and would have thanked his rescuers, but no trace of them could be found. Returning to the Eyrie, he vowed to uncover those who’d come to his aid.
For six years the young Lord sought his benefactors but it might have been easier to grasp a shadow. He would gain periodic reports, or tantalizing tales, but each one led no-where. Finally, Landryk heard stories of smoke men living in the Darkenveldt Forest and rode out to investigate. The men who spoke those tales were lying, plotting to kill the young Lord, but unfortunately for them, the tales were also true.
Upon entering the forest, Landryk was separated from the main body of his men. It was then that the conspirators chose to strike. Many of the Arryn heir’s bodyguards were killed, and so would have he and his squire, were it not for shadows that began killing the treacherous nobles with ruthless efficiency. By the time it was over, only Landryk and his squire remained, amidst dozens of dead.
As if in a vision, a woman rode into the sun and, alone, approached the young men. Her horse was dappled black and brown, and her gown a mixture of green, brown and white. Her hair was a dark gold, and her eyes as piercing as a falcon. While many might not consider her beautiful, she was the most beautiful woman Landryk had ever seen.
“Milord,” she said softly, “you have gone to great lengths to find us and put yourself at great risk. Was there something you desired of us?”
“My Lady,” the young Knight breathed, falling to one knee, “you have saved me, and perhaps more than once. I am Landryk of House Arryn. Who may you be?”
“Is that why you have searched the length and breadth of the Vale? To know my name? Pick whatever name that pleases you, milord, and I will answer to it."
Landryk was taken aback. “You will not tell me your name?”
“The Houses put great stock in names, don’t they? You grow them like antlers and smash them against each other to prove which is the greater. You hang both your accomplishments and your vile deeds upon them like ornaments for all of Westeros to see. Very well, you may call me Falcon if you like. It’s as meaningless as any other name, and perhaps closer to the truth than most. Now, what did you wish?”
The young man stammered. He’d never met such a woman before. “I just wanted to thank you for saving me and my bride six years ago.”
“You’re welcome.” she smiled and turned her horse to depart.
By this point, Landryk was growing frantic. “Milady, I would know who you are, and who you’re people are! I am Landryk of House Arryn and my family rules this land!”
To the young man’s surprise, the woman actually laughed. “Do you think you rule this land Landryk of House Arryn? Do you rule the trees, the stone and the wind? Do you rule the shadowcat or the wolf? Do you think they would care if they knew? Do you rule the mountain clans that live in the Vale by the thousands? No, milord. You are, at best, the keeper of these lands, albeit an honorable one. You simply have custody, like the first men that came before you and those who will come long after you are gone.
It would seem that you were not listening, Landryk of House Arryn. Your name does not impress me. Your titles do not impress me. And, given that I have had to now rescue you twice, your actions do not impress me. If you wish to impress me, return to your men and stop wasting their lives on foolish errands.” With a final flash of white smile, the woman wheeled her horse and galloped back into the dense forest, leaving the heir to House Arryn standing bewildered amongst the score of dead traitors.
Three years passed, and perhaps the House of Pierce may never have existed if Landryk had followed the mystery woman’s sage advice, but by then the young Lord had been infected by her. Every woman he met after paled in comparison. To Landryk, the young noblewomen were shallow and stupid. He even withdrew his love from his wife Amira although, in truth, theirs had been a political match with little love to begin with.
While returning from White Harbor, Landryk was attacked a final time. He had been expected at the Gates of the Moon for his twenty-fifth birthday celebration, but he and his entourage never arrived. A prolonged search found both his men, and his attackers riddled with falcon-fletched arrows, but there was no sign of the young Lord.
When Landryk awoke, he found himself in a comfortable stone room. A fire danced in the hearth and the pelts of many beasts lined the floor and his bed. The woman he’d fallen in love with three years before sat beside him, tending his bandages. He’d taken three arrows, one in the shoulder, back and leg, but luckily none had been mortal.
“You are a decidedly difficult man to keep alive, Landryk of House Arryn.” smiled the woman known as Falcon. “I do not understand why a man, as intelligent as I understand you to be, can act so foolishly.”
She began to explain to the Lord that his wife had become poisoned against him. Amira sought to remove him in favor of their son, and blame it on the woman of falcons and her shadow men. The woman produced a letter, unsigned but in his wife’s hand, that confirmed her claim.
“It would seem, my Lord, that I have had to save you yet again. Each time it costs me more and more. You are becoming very expensive, Landryk of House Arryn.”
Falcon left him to deal with the emotions of her revelation, returning several times a day to check on his wounds and monitor his recovery. He had not thought it possible, but his love for the woman grew even more. He tried to draw her out and learn more, but she continued to deflect his questions skillfully.
Finally he asked her, “Why have you saved me so many times, if you think so little of me?”
She thought for a long moment. “It is true that you do not impress me, but that is because you have settled to be so much less than you could be. You are a great leader, yet you do not think before you act. You are intelligent, yet you ask foolish questions. You are insightful, yet you completely ignore that which goes on around you. You ask me why I continue to save you and kill those who would hurt you. Cannot the answer be as simple as: you are a good man and they are not?”
“But why all the secrecy? Can you not just come out in the open and swear fealty to House Arryn? Do what you do honorably?”
The woman laughed. “And I suppose you will do the honorable thing by going home and removing your wife’s head for trying to kill you.”
Landryk lay back in bed and shut his eyes. He was as big a fool as she thought. Of course he couldn’t do that. To do so would mean war with the Starks. No piece of paper would be enough to prove his wife’s guilt to them.
“The graveyards are full of honorable men Landryk.” she continued. “We care for the people of the Vale and we use the same weapons of treachery that our enemies would use. Unfortunately, treachery often relies on secrecy, and that may soon come to an end. Your Father is furious, and searches for his son’s body. His men scour the area as we speak. I can divert him for a time, but I cannot hold him off forever.”
She started to rise but Landryk caught her hand. “I’m sorry I brought this upon you… I love you.”
Falcon stroked his cheek, a sympathetic gesture. “I know.” she sighed. “It’s alright. Nothing lasts forever.”
“Do you think you could ever love me?” he asked nervously as she rose to leave.
Falcon laughed. Landryk had come to love that laugh. “Nothing is impossible, my Lord, but you will have to do much more to impress me than you have up till now.”
Weeks passed and the heir of House Arryn began to explore the fortress in which he found himself. It was cleaved from the very mountain at the end of a steep canyon. The far entrance had a gate house, and between it and the mountain hold ran a deep chasm. Four drawbridges had to be crossed to enter the hold, two of which were built on a natural central pillar at the midpoint of the chasm. It amazed him that a fortress of this size was unknown, but he supposed it was easy to hide that which no-one looked for.
He spent more and more time with Falcon, who was Lady of the castle, for lack of a better word. The hold was largely self-sufficient, with good hunting in the forest and limitless water from underground springs. There were few luxuries otherwise, and what little they needed and could not produce themselves they traded with the various mountain clans. As the days wore on, he came to respect Falcon as much as love her. Perhaps she was ruthless, even vicious in many ways, but her heart was good and she generally cared for people. Her kingdom had no borders and she would help those she could and who she felt deserved it.
One morning, over breakfast Falcon broke the news that had been inevitable. “Your Father has found us, Landryk of House Arryn. He brings six thousand men to my gates. It will not be enough, but I would not see so many lives wasted foolishly.”
“I’m sorry Falcon.” he sighed. “This is my fault.”
“Yes, it is. What do you plan to do about it?” she replied.
Landryk had thought for weeks about this day. He could only think of one solution that could solve everything without loss of life. He laid out his plan to the lady across from him. It was a risk, and she might not agree, but he could think of nothing else.
For the first time since meeting him, she was impressed. It would not be the last.
When Maerik Arryn and his army arrived at the first gate to Falconcliff, only one hooded man sat astride a horse to meet him. His Father rode out to parley, just as Landryk knew he would. The Lord of the Vale pulled his horse to a halt when he finally realized who he faced. “You’re alive!”
“No Father, I am not. Landryk of House Arryn was murdered by his wife four months ago. I am Rylind Pierce, Lord of Falconcliff.”
“Have you gone mad!” his Father exclaimed.
Rylind returned his Father’s shock with a soft smile. “Perhaps.”
None know what the two spoke of, or what bargain was reached, but at the end, the Lord of Falconcliff bent knee to the King of the Mountain and the Vale and Maerik returned to the Eyrie.
Amira would die of a tragic accident two years later, and her son would go on to be a great and just ruler of the Vale after Maerik’s death.
It would be another seven hundred years before a Lord of Falconcliff would be seen in public again, but the good rulers of the Vale would sleep soundly during that time. The foolish, incompetent, or reckless Kings of the Mountain did not sleep nearly so well.
Since the arrival of the Targaryens, the Lords of Falconcliff have made their presence felt more and more. Most of the other Houses believe they are ruthless, secretive and dishonorable. They are not far wrong.