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BRAN
In the yard below, Rickon ran with the wolves.

Bran watched from his window seat. Wherever the boy went, Grey Wind was there first, lopingahead to cut him off, until Rickon saw him, screamed in delight, and went pelting off in anotherdirection. Shaggydog ran at his heels, spinning and snapping if the other wolves came too close. Hisfur had darkened until he was all black, and his eyes were green fire. Bran’s Summer came last. Hewas silver and smoke, with eyes of yellow gold that saw all there was to see. Smaller than Grey Wind,and more wary. Bran thought he was the smartest of the litter. He could hear his brother’s breathlesslaughter as Rickon dashed across the hard-packed earth on little baby legs.

His eyes stung. He wanted to be down there, laughing and running. Angry at the thought, Branknuckled away the tears before they could fall. His eighth name day had come and gone. He wasalmost a man grown now, too old to cry.

“It was just a lie,” he said bitterly, remembering the crow from his dream. “I can’t fly. I can’t evenrun.”

“Crows are all liars,” Old Nan agreed, from the chair where she sat doing her needlework. “Iknow a story about a crow.”

“I don’t want any more stories,” Bran snapped, his voice petulant. He had liked Old Nan and herstories once. Before. But it was different now. They left her with him all day now, to watch over himand clean him and keep him from being lonely, but she just made it worse. “I hate your stupidstories.”

The old woman smiled at him toothlessly. “My stories? No, my little lord, not mine. The storiesare, before me and after me, before you too.”

She was a very ugly old woman, Bran thought spitefully; shrunken and wrinkled, almost blind, tooweak to climb stairs, with only a few wisps of white hair left to cover a mottled pink scalp. No onereally knew how old she was, but his father said she’d been called Old Nan even when he was a boy.

She was the oldest person in Winterfell for certain, maybe the oldest person in the Seven Kingdoms.

Nan had come to the castle as a wet nurse for a Brandon Stark whose mother had died birthing him.

He had been an older brother of Lord Rickard, Bran’s grandfather, or perhaps a younger brother, or abrother to Lord Rickard’s father. Sometimes Old Nan told it one way and sometimes another. In allthe stories the little boy died at three of a summer chill, but Old Nan stayed on at Winterfell with herown children. She had lost both her sons to the war when King Robert won the throne, and hergrandson was killed on the walls of Pyke during Balon Greyjoy’s rebellion. Her daughters had longago married and moved away and died. All that was left of her own blood was Hodor, thesimpleminded giant who worked in the stables, but Old Nan just lived on and on, doing herneedlework and telling her stories.

“I don’t care whose stories they are,” Bran told her, “I hate them.” He didn’t want stories and hedidn’t want Old Nan. He wanted his mother and father. He wanted to go running with Summer lopingbeside him. He wanted to climb the broken tower and feed corn to the crows. He wanted to ride hispony again with his brothers. He wanted it to be the way it had been before.

“I know a story about a boy who hated stories,” Old Nan said with her stupid little smile, herneedles moving all the while, click click click, until Bran was ready to scream at her.

It would never be the way it had been, he knew. The crow had tricked him into flying, but when he woke up he was broken and the world was changed. They had all left him, his father and his motherand his sisters and even his bastard brother Jon. His father had promised he would ride a real horse toKing’s Landing, but they’d gone without him. Maester Luwin had sent a bird after Lord Eddard witha message, and another to Mother and a third to Jon on the Wall, but there had been no answers.

“Ofttimes the birds are lost, child,” the maester had told him. “There’s many a mile and many ahawk between here and King’s Landing, the message may not have reached them.” Yet to Bran it feltas if they had all died while he had slept … or perhaps Bran had died, and they had forgotten him.

Jory and Ser Rodrik and Vayon Poole had gone too, and Hullen and Harwin and Fat Tom and aquarter of the guard.

rand his sisters and even his bastard brother Jon. His father had promised he would ride a real horse toKing’s Landing, but they’d gone without him. Maester Luwin had sent a bird after Lord Eddard witha message, and another to Mother and a third to Jon on the Wall, but there had been no answers.

“Ofttimes the birds are lost, child,” the maester had told him. “There’s many a mile and many ahawk between here and King’s Landing, the message may not have reached them.” Yet to Bran it feltas if they had all died while he had slept … or perhaps Bran had died, and they had forgotten him.

Jory and Ser Rodrik and Vayon Poole had gone too, and Hullen and Harwin and Fat Tom and aquarter of the guard.

Only Robb and baby Rickon were still here, and Robb was changed. He was Robb the Lord now, ortrying to be. He wore a real sword and never smiled. His days were spent drilling the guard andpracticing his swordplay, making the yard ring with the sound of steel as Bran watched forlornly fromhis window. At night he closeted himself with Maester Luwin, talking or going over account books.

Sometimes he would ride out with Hallis Mollen and be gone for days at a time, visiting distantholdfasts. Whenever he was away more than a day, Rickon would cry and ask Bran if Robb was evercoming back. Even when he was home at Winterfell, Robb the Lord seemed to have more time forHallis Mollen and Theon Greyjoy than he ever did for his brothers.

“I could tell you the story about Brandon the Builder,” Old Nan said. “That was always yourfavorite.”

Thousands and thousands of years ago, Brandon the Builder had raised Winterfell, and some saidthe Wall. Bran knew the story, but it had never been his favorite. Maybe one of the other Brandonshad liked that story. Sometimes Nan would talk to him as if he were her Brandon, the baby she hadnursed all those years ago, and sometimes she confused him with his uncle Brandon, who was killedby the Mad King before Bran was even born. She had lived so long, Mother had told him once, thatall the Brandon Starks had become one person in her head.

“That’s not my favorite,” he said. “My favorites were the scary ones.” He heard some sort ofcommotion outside and turned back to the window. Rickon was running across the yard toward thegatehouse, the wolves following him, but the tower faced the wrong way for Bran to see what washappening. He smashed a fist on his thigh in frustration and felt nothing.

“Oh, my sweet summer child,” Old Nan said quietly, “what do you know of fear? Fear is for thewinter, my little lord, when the snows fall a hundred feet deep and the ice wind comes howling out ofthe north. Fear is for the long night, when the sun hides its face for years at a time, and little childrenare born and live and die all in darkness while the direwolves grow gaunt and hungry, and the whitewalkers move through the woods.”

“You mean the Others,” Bran said querulously.

“The Others,” Old Nan agreed. “Thousands and thousands of years ago, a winter fell that was coldand hard and endless beyond all memory of man. There came a night that lasted a generation, andkings shivered and died in their castles even as the swineherds in their hovels. Women smotheredtheir children rather than see them starve, and cried, and felt their tears freeze on their cheeks.” Hervoice and her needles fell silent, and she glanced up at Bran with pale, filmy eyes and asked, “So,child. This is the sort of story you like?”

“Well,” Bran said reluctantly, “yes, only …”

Old Nan nodded. “In that darkness, the Others came for the first time,” she said as her needles wentclick click click. “They were cold things, dead things, that hated iron and fire and the touch of the sun,and every creature with hot blood in its veins. They swept over holdfasts and cities and kingdoms,felled heroes and armies by the score, riding their pale dead horses and leading hosts of the slain. Allthe swords of men could not stay their advance, and even maidens and suckling babes found no pityin them. They hunted the maids through frozen forests, and fed their dead servants on the flesh ofhuman children.”

Her voice had dropped very low, almost to a whisper, and Bran found himself leaning forward tolisten.

“Now these were the days before the Andals came, and long before the women fled across thenarrow sea from the cities of the Rhoyne, and the hundred kingdoms of those times were thekingdoms of the First Men, who had taken these lands from the children of the forest. Yet here andthere in the fastness of the woods the children still lived in their wooden cities and hollow hills, and the faces in the trees kept watch. So as cold and death filled the earth, the last hero determined toseek out the children, in the hopes that their ancient magics could win back what the armies of menhad lost. He set out into the dead lands with a sword, a horse, a dog, and a dozen companions. Foryears he searched, until he despaired of ever finding the children of the forest in their secret cities.

One by one his friends died, and his horse, and finally even his dog, and his sword froze so hard theblade snapped when he tried to use it. And the Others smelled the hot blood in him, and came silenton his trail, stalking him with packs of pale white spiders big as hounds—”

ryears he searched, until he despaired of ever finding the children of the forest in their secret cities.

One by one his friends died, and his horse, and finally even his dog, and his sword froze so hard theblade snapped when he tried to use it. And the Others smelled the hot blood in him, and came silenton his trail, stalking him with packs of pale white spiders big as hounds—”

The door opened with a bang, and Bran’s heart leapt up into his mouth in sudden fear, but it wasonly Maester Luwin, with Hodor looming in the stairway behind him. “Hodor!” the stableboyannounced, as was his custom, smiling hugely at them all.

Maester Luwin was not smiling. “We have visitors,” he announced, “and your presence is required,Bran.”

“I’m listening to a story now,” Bran complained.

“Stories wait, my little lord, and when you come back to them, why, there they are,” Old Nansaid. “Visitors are not so patient, and ofttimes they bring stories of their own.”

“Who is it?” Bran asked Maester Luwin.

“Tyrion Lannister, and some men of the Night’s Watch, with word from your brother Jon. Robb ismeeting with them now. Hodor, will you help Bran down to the hall?”

“Hodor!” Hodor agreed happily. He ducked to get his great shaggy head under the door. Hodorwas nearly seven feet tall. It was hard to believe that he was the same blood as Old Nan. Branwondered if he would shrivel up as small as his great-grandmother when he was old. It did not seemlikely, even if Hodor lived to be a thousand.

Hodor lifted Bran as easy as if he were a bale of hay, and cradled him against his massive chest. Healways smelled faintly of horses, but it was not a bad smell. His arms were thick with muscle andmatted with brown hair. “Hodor,” he said again. Theon Greyjoy had once commented that Hodor didnot know much, but no one could doubt that he knew his name. Old Nan had cackled like a hen whenBran told her that, and confessed that Hodor’s real name was Walder. No one knew where “Hodor”

had come from, she said, but when he started saying it, they started calling him by it. It was the onlyword he had.

They left Old Nan in the tower room with her needles and her memories. Hodor hummed tunelesslyas he carried Bran down the steps and through the gallery, with Maester Luwin following behind,hurrying to keep up with the stableboy’s long strides.

Robb was seated in Father’s high seat, wearing ringmail and boiled leather and the stern face ofRobb the Lord. Theon Greyjoy and Hallis Mollen stood behind him. A dozen guardsmen lined thegrey stone walls beneath tall narrow windows. In the center of the room the dwarf stood with hisservants, and four strangers in the black of the Night’s Watch. Bran could sense the anger in the hallthe moment that Hodor carried him through the doors.

“Any man of the Night’s Watch is welcome here at Winterfell for as long as he wishes to stay,”

Robb was saying with the voice of Robb the Lord. His sword was across his knees, the steel bare forall the world to see. Even Bran knew what it meant to greet a guest with an unsheathed sword.

“Any man of the Night’s Watch,” the dwarf repeated, “but not me, do I take your meaning, boy?”

Robb stood and pointed at the little man with his sword. “I am the lord here while my mother andfather are away, Lannister. I am not your boy.”

“If you are a lord, you might learn a lord’s courtesy,” the little man replied, ignoring the swordpoint in his face. “Your bastard brother has all your father’s graces, it would seem.”

“Jon,” Bran gasped out from Hodor’s arms.

The dwarf turned to look at him. “So it is true, the boy lives. I could scarce believe it. You Starksare hard to kill.”

“You Lannisters had best remember that,” Robb said, lowering his sword. “Hodor, bring mybrother here.”

“Hodor,” Hodor said, and he trotted forward smiling and set Bran in the high seat of the Starks,where the Lords of Winterfell had sat since the days when they called themselves the Kings in theNorth. The seat was cold stone, polished smooth by countless bottoms; the carved heads ofdirewolves snarled on the ends of its massive arms. Bran clasped them as he sat, his useless legsdangling. The great seat made him feel half a baby.

Robb put a hand on his shoulder. “You said you had business with Bran. Well, here he is,Lannister.”

Bran was uncomfortably aware of Tyrion Lannister’s eyes. One was black and one was green, andboth were looking at him, studying him, weighing him. “I am told you were quite the climber, Bran,”

the little man said at last. “Tell me, how is it you happened to fall that day?”

“I never,” Bran insisted. He never fell, never never never.

“The child does not remember anything of the fall, or the climb that came before it,” said MaesterLuwin gently.

“Curious,” said Tyrion Lannister.

“My brother is not here to answer questions, Lannister,” Robb said curtly. “Do your business andbe on your way.”

“I have a gift for you,” the dwarf said to Bran. “Do you like to ride, boy?”

Maester Luwin came forward. “My lord, the child has lost the use of his legs. He cannot sit ahorse.”

“Nonsense,” said Lannister. “With the right horse and the right saddle, even a cripple can ride.”

The word was a knife through Bran’s heart. He felt tears come unbidden to his eyes. “I’m not acripple!”

“Then I am not a dwarf,” the dwarf said with a twist of his mouth. “My father will rejoice to hearit.” Greyjoy laughed.

“What sort of horse and saddle are you suggesting?” Maester Luwin asked.

“A smart horse,” Lannister replied. “The boy cannot use his legs to command the animal, so youmust shape the horse to the rider, teach it to respond to the reins, to the voice. I would begin with anunbroken yearling, with no old training to be unlearned,” He drew a rolled paper from his belt. “Givethis to your saddler. He will provide the rest.”

Maester Luwin took the paper from the dwarf’s hand, curious as a small grey squirrel. He unrolledit, studied it. “I see. You draw nicely, my lord. Yes, this ought to work. I should have thought of thismyself.”

“It came easier to me, Maester. It is not terribly unlike my own saddles.”

“Will I truly be able to ride?” Bran asked. He wanted to believe them, but he was afraid. Perhapsit was just another lie. The crow had promised him that he could fly.

“You will,” the dwarf told him. “And I swear to you, boy, on horseback you will be as tall as anyof them.”

Robb Stark seemed puzzled. “Is this some trap, Lannister? What’s Bran to you? Why should youwant to help him?”

“Your brother Jon asked it of me. And I have a tender spot in my heart for cripples and bastardsand broken things.” Tyrion Lannister placed a hand over his heart and grinned.

The door to the yard flew open. Sunlight came streaming across the hall as Rickon burst in,breathless. The direwolves were with him. The boy stopped by the door, wide-eyed, but the wolvescame on. Their eyes found Lannister, or perhaps they caught his scent. Summer began to growl first.

Grey Wind picked it up. They padded toward the little man, one from the right and one from the left.

“The wolves do not like your smell, Lannister,” Theon Greyjoy commented.

“Perhaps it’s time I took my leave,” Tyrion said. He took a step backward … and Shaggydogcame out of the shadows behind him, snarling. Lannister recoiled, and Summer lunged at him fromthe other side. He reeled away, unsteady on his feet, and Grey Wind snapped at his arm, teeth rippingat his sleeve and tearing loose a scrap of cloth.

“No!” Bran shouted from the high seat as Lannister’s men reached for their steel. “Summer, here.

Summer, to me!”

The direwolf heard the voice, glanced at Bran, and again at Lannister. He crept backward, awayfrom the little man, and settled down below Bran’s dangling feet.

Robb had been holding his breath. He let it out with a sigh and called, “Grey Wind.” His direwolfmoved to him, swift and silent. Now there was only Shaggy dog, rumbling at the small man, his eyesburning like green fire.

“Rickon, call him,” Bran shouted to his baby brother, and Rickon remembered himself andscreamed, “Home, Shaggy, home now.” The black wolf gave Lannister one final snarl and bounded off to Rickon, who hugged him tightly around the neck.

Tyrion Lannister undid his scarf, mopped at his brow, and said in a flat voice, “How interesting.”

“Are you well, my lord?” asked one of his men, his sword in hand. He glanced nervously at thedirewolves as he spoke.

“My sleeve is torn and my breeches are unaccountably damp, but nothing was harmed save mydignity.”

Even Robb looked shaken. “The wolves … I don’t know why they did that …”

“No doubt they mistook me for dinner.” Lannister bowed stiffly to Bran. “I thank you for callingthem off, young ser. I promise you, they would have found me quite indigestible. And now I will beleaving, truly.”

“A moment, my lord,” Maester Luwin said. He moved to Robb and they huddled close together,whispering. Bran tried to hear what they were saying, but their voices were too low.

Robb Stark finally sheathed his sword. “I … I may have been hasty with you,” he said. “You’vedone Bran a kindness, and, well …” Robb composed himself with an effort. “The hospitality ofWinterfell is yours if you wish it, Lannister.”

“Spare me your false courtesies, boy. You do not love me and you do not want me here. I saw aninn outside your walls, in the winter town. I’ll find a bed there, and both of us will sleep easier. For afew coppers I may even find a comely wench to warm the sheets for me.” He spoke to one of theblack brothers, an old man with a twisted back and a tangled beard. “Yoren, we go south at daybreak.

You will find me on the road, no doubt.” With that he made his exit, struggling across the hall on hisshort legs, past Rickon and out the door. His men followed.

The four of the Night’s Watch remained. Robb turned to them uncertainly. “I have had roomsprepared, and you’ll find no lack of hot water to wash off the dust of the road. I hope you will honorus at table tonight,” He spoke the words so awkwardly that even Bran took note; it was a speech hehad learned, not words from the heart, but the black brothers thanked him all the same.

Summer followed them up the tower steps as Hodor carried Bran back to his bed. Old Nan wasasleep in her chair. Hodor said “Hodor,” gathered up his great-grandmother, and carried her off,snoring softly, while Bran lay thinking. Robb had promised that he could feast with the Night’sWatch in the Great Hall. “Summer,” he called. The wolf bounded up on the bed. Bran hugged him sohard he could feel the hot breath on his cheek. “I can ride now,” he whispered to his friend. “We cango hunting in the woods soon, wait and see.” After a time he slept.

In his dream he was climbing again, pulling himself up an ancient windowless tower, his fingersforcing themselves between blackened stones, his feet scrabbling for purchase. Higher and higher heclimbed, through the clouds and into the night sky, and still the tower rose before him. When hepaused to look down, his head swam dizzily and he felt his fingers slipping. Bran cried out and clungfor dear life. The earth was a thousand miles beneath him and he could not fly. He could not fly. Hewaited until his heart had stopped pounding, until he could breathe, and he began to climb again.

There was no way to go but up. Far above him, outlined against a vast pale moon, he thought he couldsee the shapes of gargoyles. His arms were sore and aching, but he dared not rest. He forced himselfto climb faster. The gargoyles watched him ascend. Their eyes glowed red as hot coals in a brazier.

Perhaps once they had been lions, but now they were twisted and grotesque. Bran could hear themwhispering to each other in soft stone voices terrible to hear. He must not listen, he told himself, hemust not hear, so long as he did not hear them he was safe. But when the gargoyles pulled themselvesloose from the stone and padded down the side of the tower to where Bran clung, he knew he was notsafe after all. “I didn’t hear,” he wept as they came closer and closer, “I didn’t, I didn’t.”

He woke gasping, lost in darkness, and saw a vast shadow looming over him. “I didn’t hear,” hewhispered, trembling in fear, but then the shadow said “Hodor,” and lit the candle by the bedside, andBran sighed with relief.

Hodor washed the sweat from him with a warm, damp cloth and dressed him with deft and gentlehands. When it was time, he carried him down to the Great Hall, where a long trestle table had beenset up near the fire. The lord’s seat at the head of the table had been left empty, but Robb sat to theright of it, with Bran across from him. They ate suckling pig that night, and pigeon pie, and turnipssoaking in butter, and afterward the cook had promised honeycombs. Summer snatched table scrapsfrom Bran’s hand, while Grey Wind and Shaggydog fought over a bone in the corner. Winterfell’sdogs would not come near the hall now. Bran had found that strange at first, but he was growing used to it.

Yoren was senior among the black brothers, so the steward had seated him between Robb andMaester Luwin. The old man had a sour smell, as if he had not washed in a long time. He ripped at themeat with his teeth, cracked the ribs to suck out the marrow from the bones, and shrugged at themention of Jon Snow. “Ser Alliser’s bane,” he grunted, and two of his companions shared a laugh thatBran did not understand. But when Robb asked for news of their uncle Benjen, the black brothersgrew ominously quiet.

“What is it?” Bran asked.

Yoren wiped his fingers on his vest. “There’s hard news, m’lords, and a cruel way to pay you foryour meat and mead, but the man as asks the question must bear the answer. Stark’s gone.”

One of the other men said, “The Old Bear sent him out to look for Waymar Royce, and he’s latereturning, my lord.”

“Too long,” Yoren said. “Most like he’s dead.”

“My uncle is not dead,” Robb Stark said loudly, anger in his tones. He rose from the bench andlaid his hand on the hilt of his sword. “Do you hear me? My uncle is not dead!” His voice rangagainst the stone walls, and Bran was suddenly afraid.

Old sour-smelling Yoren looked up at Robb, unimpressed. “Whatever you say, m’lord,” he said. Hesucked at a piece of meat between his teeth.

The youngest of the black brothers shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “There’s not a man on theWall knows the haunted forest better than Benjen Stark. He’ll find his way back.”

“Well,” said Yoren, “maybe he will and maybe he won’t. Good men have gone into those woodsbefore, and never come out.”

All Bran could think of was Old Nan’s story of the Others and the last hero, hounded through thewhite woods by dead men and spiders big as hounds. He was afraid for a moment, until heremembered how that story ended. “The children will help him,” he blurted, “the children of theforest!”

Theon Greyjoy sniggered, and Maester Luwin said, “Bran, the children of the forest have beendead and gone for thousands of years. All that is left of them are the faces in the trees.”

“Down here, might be that’s true, Maester,” Yoren said, “but up past the Wall, who’s to say? Upthere, a man can’t always tell what’s alive and what’s dead.”

That night, after the plates had been cleared, Robb carried Bran up to bed himself. Grey Wind ledthe way, and Summer came close behind. His brother was strong for his age, and Bran was as light asa bundle of rags, but the stairs were steep and dark, and Robb was breathing hard by the time theyreached the top.

He put Bran into bed, covered him with blankets, and blew out the candle. For a time Robb satbeside him in the dark. Bran wanted to talk to him, but he did not know what to say. “We’ll find ahorse for you, I promise,” Robb whispered at last.

“Are they ever coming back?” Bran asked him.

“Yes,” Robb said with such hope in his voice that Bran knew he was hearing his brother and notjust Robb the Lord. “Mother will be home soon. Maybe we can ride out to meet her when she comes.

Wouldn’t that surprise her, to see you ahorse?” Even in the dark room, Bran could feel his brother’ssmile. “And afterward, we’ll ride north to see the Wall. We won’t even tell Jon we’re coming, we’lljust be there one day, you and me. It will be an adventure.”

“An adventure,” Bran repeated wistfully. He heard his brother sob. The room was so dark hecould not see the tears on Robb’s face, so he reached out and found his hand. Their fingers twinedtogether.


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