Faceless Men

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A Faceless Man on the rooftops. © Fantasy Flight Games
Arya Stark, viewing the Faceless Men's collection of faces in the House of Black and White. Art by Marc Simonetti ©

The Faceless Men are a religious society of assassins who worship the Many-Faced God, a god of death. They are based in the House of Black and White, in the Free City of Braavos,[1] though they claim to have originated in the Valyrian Freehold.[2]

A phrase associated with the cult of the Many-Faced God is valar morghulis, the High Valyrian for "All men must die". The traditional response to this is valar dohaeris, or "All men must serve."[3][1][4]

Religion

Followers of Him of Many Faces consider death to be part of the natural order of things and a merciful end to suffering.[5] According to the guild, the god is present in many religions, under different names. They claim he is called the Black Goat in Qohor, the Lion of Night in Yi Ti, and the Stranger in the Faith of the Seven.[2]

The guild's House of Black and White in Braavos has a large sanctuary that contains a pool of black water, idols of many death gods and altars with candles, and small alcoves along the walls that contain stone beds. Some visiting worshippers light candles to their god, then drink from the pool using a stone cup, then go lie in one of the alcoves.[1] The religious order refills the fountain with a poison, so that drinking from the fountain leads to a painless death. This is sometimes referred to as "the gift" of the Many Faced God.[5] Some alcoves, called "dreaming couches", have special candles that bring visions of the past, for a sweet and gentle death.[4] When a body is found, it checked to see if the person is completely dead, and then serving men will take the body down into the vaults. There acolytes will strip and wash the bodies, which are then taken to a lower sanctum where only the priests may go.[5]

Every morning at dawn, one of the priests leads the acolytes and novices in prayer, as they kneel around the black pool. There is another prayer at evening. Other than that, there are no formal services, no songs or paeans to the god.[5] Sometimes a worshipper will ask to speak with a priest, who will meet with them in the sanctum.[5]

The priests wear cowled robes, black on the right side and white on the left.[1][5] Acolytes' robes have no cowls, and are black on the left side and white on the right. Novices wear a black and white robe with a black undertunic. Servants of the temple wear a tunic of undyed wool, baggy breeches, linen smallclothes, and cloth slippers.[5] Blind acolytes are common in the House of Black and White.[6]

Inner workings and assassinations

Faceless Man - by Colin Boyer © FFG

For a price, the guild will agree to kill anyone in the known world,[7] considering this contract to be a sacrament of their god.[5][2][6] The price is always high or dear, but within the means of the person if they are willing to make the sacrifice.[2] The cost of their services also depends on the prominence and security of the target.[8]

An elite group of followers within the House, the Faceless Men, are trained to perform this task. Only a few Faceless Men have been women.[5] Even more rarely would they train a child.[5] They are trained to use all their senses to root out deception and create their disguises, seemingly possessing magical abilities that allow them to change their appearance at will. Part of their training includes discarding their true identity in a nihilistic way, thinking of themselves as "no one".[5]

The Faceless Men convene in a chamber in the House of Black and White to discuss potential assignments and dole out contract assassinations. They discuss the potential deaths in the Braavosi language, though some may speak in High Valyrian. Debates can become very heated.[4] An assassin only accepts an assignment if they are unfamiliar with the target.[4]

The Faceless Men use a variety of methods to kill their targets, including a poison called the strangler.[9] The assassination technique of a Faceless Man must not be haphazard, killing the intended target only, the only one "marked and chosen" by the Many-Faced God.[4] Their fee is for a precise killing, often looking like an accident, rather than an outright murder. They consider it best if the target never even notices the assassin.[4] A novice must perform an assassination correctly before becoming an acolyte and receiving their first apprenticeship.[4]

The Faceless Men cure the faces of the dead who come to die in their sanctuary, hanging these skins in deep vaults below the temple as masks, which they use to disguise themselves during assassination contracts. However, these are more than simple leather masks. The wearer drinks a tart-flavored potion and their face is cut, causing blood to stream over their features; when the new face is applied, it is moistened by the blood, becoming soft and supple. The magic causes the wearer to look exactly like the original person's appearance, including broken teeth or other injuries. (Though they themselves cannot tell the difference, sensing only their own face and features.) When the face is first applied, the wearer may experience some of the memories of the dead person, and may dream those memories as nightmares.[4]

The Faceless Men also use sorcerous glamors and mummers' tricks to help their disguises. Clothing, taken from the dead and stored in the vaults of the House, can be found to match the disguise.[4]

If a Faceless Man gives a special iron coin to any man of Braavos and says "valar morghulis", that Braavosi will obey him, responding "valar dohaeris".[3][1]

History

The society originated in the volcanic slave mines of Valyria, prior to the founding of Braavos and the Doom of Valyria. The tale of its beginnings centers around a figure of unknown origins who was the first Faceless Man. This man heard the prayers of the slaves to their various gods and came to conclude that they all prayed to the same god "with a hundred different faces", the Many-Faced God, and that he was "that god's instrument". This led to him giving "the first gift" to the most desperate slave.[5] Later, the first Faceless Man discovered another slave praying fervently for his master's death. He granted the prayer in exchange for that slave joining him in serving the Many-Faced God.[6]

The first Faceless Man later brought the gift to the Valyrian masters as well.[5] Some scholars believe that the cause of the Doom of Valyria was too many assassinations of the mages who maintained the spells controlling the Fourteen Flames.[10]

Prince Harlan Hoare was rumored to have been killed by a Faceless Man.[11]

It is speculated that the letter King Aegon I Targaryen received from Prince Nymor Martell of Dorne may have contained a threat to hire the Faceless Men to kill Aegon's young son, Aenys.[12]

Known Faceless Men

The Faceless Men have no known true names, as they are "no one". They have either given false names, or are described by their characteristics.

Recent Events

A Game of Thrones

During a small council meeting discussing King Robert I Baratheon's demand that Princess Daenerys Targaryen die, Grand Maester Pycelle suggests hiring the Faceless Men to assassinate her. The master of coin, Petyr Baelish, says that doing so would be too expensive; the price to hire the Faceless Men to kill a merchant is twice that of hiring an army of sellswords, and the price to kill a princess would be even higher. Varys, the master of whisperers, will instead offer a lordship to a successful assassin.[14]

A Clash of Kings

The iron coin of the Faceless Men, as given to Arya Stark. One side shows a man's head, so worn that his features have rubbed off;[15] the other has the motto of the guild, "valar morghulis / valar dohaeris". Designed by Tom Maringer © Shire Post Mint.

Arya Stark meets a Lorathi criminal who calls himself Jaqen H'ghar, traveling in a cage on the way to the Wall with two other prisoners from the black cells, Rorge and Biter.[16] She saves them from burning at the Gods Eye town,[17] and in return for these three lives saved, Jaqen promises her three deaths.[18] Per her wishes, he assassinates Chiswyck[18] and Weese[19] and agrees to help her escape Harrenhal.[7] After the fall of Harrenhal, he changes his face to a completely different appearance and leaves the castle, saying that he has duties elsewhere. Before he goes, he gives Arya an iron coin, and tells her if she wishes to find him again, she should give the coin to any man of Braavos and tell him "valar morghulis".[7]

A Storm of Swords

Arya overhears the ghost of High Heart telling the brotherhood without banners that she "dreamt of a man without a face, waiting on a bridge that swayed and swung."[20] Balon Greyjoy is later reported to have fallen to his death from a bridge at Pyke.[21] Arya finds a Braavosi ship at Saltpans, the Titan's Daughter, and though she cannot afford passage, she remembers the iron coin that Jaqen had given her. She gives the captain the iron coin and says "valar morghulis"; he replies "valar dohaeris", and respectfully grants her a cabin on his ship.[3]

A Feast for Crows

The Citadel novice Pate dies in Oldtown after biting a coin he received from the alchemist, who calls himself "no one", and whose appearance matches the one that Jaqen H'ghar changed to.[13][N 1] Later at the Citadel, Samwell Tarly is introduced to a novice calling himself Pate.[22]

Arya travels to Braavos on the Titan's Daughter, whose crew treats her with much respect, giving her gifts and asking her to remember their names.[1] Once in Braavos she comes to the House of Black and White, and is accepted as a servant there.[1] One priest, who Arya calls the kindly man because of his kind face, seems to have some position of authority in the guild, as he is the one who takes charge of Arya's training. Another priestess, who Arya calls the waif, works in the House of Black and White handling poisons. Though she is thirty-six years old, she has a shrunken and childlike appearance brought about by exposure to poisons.[5][2]

Arya is told she must rid herself of her possessions. After she does so, she is made a novice, and is taught some of the guild's history, as well as receiving lessons in High Valyrian, the Braavosi tongue, and poisons. She also learns to recognize lies, and to rule her face and expressions.[5] She is sent to learn Braavosi by immersion, and the skill of becoming "no one", by becoming a fishmonger's assistant called Cat of the Canals, but every month at the new moon returns to the House of Black and White to tell what she has learned and for more lessons in the guild.[2] Arya kills Dareon, a deserter from the Night's Watch, and when she tells the kindly man of this, she is given a potion in her milk that makes her blind.[2]

A Dance with Dragons

Arya learns that she has been blinded because she took the Many-Faced God's powers for herself, by judging the deserter and killing him. She continues to work as a novice in the House of Black and White, learning how to use other senses than sight. Her job includes removing the clothes and other possessions of those who have died in the temple, including identifying the coins by touch. She also is disguised as "Beth", a blind beggar on the streets of Braavos, though she avoids the places where she had been known as Cat. She is beaten by an unknown person in the House several times, and when she identifies her assailant as the kindly man, her sight is returned to her by means of another potion.[6]

Arya observes a meeting of eleven Faceless Men in a sanctum below the House of Black and White, where they discuss potential assassination contracts. She is given an assignment to kill an elderly ship insurance salesman, receiving her first new face to do so, that of a disfigured and ugly girl. After successfully completing her assignment by poisoning a coin that the salesman bites, she is made an acolyte. The kindly man then tells her she will be given another new face, a pretty one this time, and will be sent to Izembaro for her first apprenticeship.[4]

Quotes

Do you have any idea how costly they are? You could hire an army of common sellswords for half the price, and that's for a merchant. I don't dare think what they might ask for a princess.[14]

- Petyr Baelish to the small council

The Faceless Men are expensive. If truth be told, I did the Targaryen girl more good than you with all your talk of honor. Let some sellsword drunk on visions of lordship try to kill her. Likely he'll make a botch of it, and afterward the Dothraki will be on their guard. If we'd sent a Faceless Man after her, she'd be as good as buried.[14]

- Petyr Baelish to Eddard Stark

"My time is done." Jaqen passed a hand down his face from forehead to chin, and where it went he changed. His cheeks grew fuller, his eyes closer; his nose hooked, a scar appeared on his right cheek where no scar had been before. And when he shook his head, his long straight hair, half red and half white, dissolved away to reveal a cap of tight black curls.[7]

- observations of Arya Stark

Sometimes she wished she had gone off across the narrow sea with Jaqen H'ghar. She still had the stupid coin he'd given her, a piece of iron no larger than a penny and rusted along the rim. One side had writing on it, queer words she could not read. The other showed a man's head, but so worn that all his features had rubbed off. He said it was of great value, but that was probably a lie too, like his name and even his face.[15]

- thoughts of Arya Stark

Are you a god, to decide who should live and who should die? We give the gift to those marked by Him of Many Faces, after prayers and sacrifice. So has it always been, from the beginning. [...] All men must die. We are but death's instruments, not death himself. When you slew the singer, you took god's powers on yourself. We kill men, but we do not presume to judge them.[6]

- the kindly man, to Arya Stark

"I know this man," she did hear a priest with the face of a plague victim say. "I know this man," the fat fellow echoed, as she was pouring for him. But the handsome man said, "I will give this man the gift, I know him not." Later the squinter said the same thing, of someone else.[4]

- observations of Arya Stark

Death holds no sweetness in this house. We are not warriors, nor soldiers, nor swaggering bravos puffed up with pride. We do not kill to serve some lord, to fatten our purses, to stroke our vanity. We never give the gift to please ourselves. Nor do we choose the ones we kill. We are but servants of the God of Many Faces.[4]

- plague face to Arya Stark

Plague face: "Can you pay the price?"
Arya Stark: "What price?"
Plague face: "The price is you. The price is all you have and all you ever hope to have. We took your eyes and gave them back. Next we will take your ears, and you will walk in silence. You will give us your legs and crawl. You will be no one’s daughter, no one’s wife, no one’s mother. Your name will be a lie, and the very face you wear will not be your own."[4]

The Faceless Men don't post a list of prices on their door. The way it works, you go to them and tell them who you want killed, and then they negotiate the price. The more prominent the victim, the more difficult to get to, the more dangerous for the assassin and the guild, the higher the price.[8]

- George R. R. Martin

Notes

  1. Compare the descriptions in A Clash of Kings, Chapter 47 - Arya IX and A Feast for Crows, Prologue

References