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BRAN
The ridge slanted sharply from the earth, a long fold of stone and soil shaped like a claw. Trees clung to its lower slopes, pines and hawthorn and ash, but higher up the ground was bare, the ridgeline stark against the cloudy sky.  He could feel the high stone calling him. Up he went, loping easy at first, then faster and higher, his strong legs eating up the incline. Birds burst from the branches overhead as he raced by, clawing and flapping their way into the sky. He could hear the wind sighing up amongst the leaves, the squirrels chittering to one another, even the sound a pinecone made as it tumbled to the forest floor. The smells were a song around him, a song that filled the good green world.  Gravel flew from beneath his paws as he gained the last few feet to stand upon the crest. The sun hung above the tall pines huge and red, and below him the trees and hills went on and on as far as he could see or smell. A kite was circling far above, dark against the pink sky.  Prince. The man-sound came into his head suddenly, yet he could feel the rightness of it. Prince of the green, prince of the wolfswood. He was strong and swift and fierce, and all that lived in the good green world went in fear of him.  Far below, at the base of the woods, something moved amongst the trees. A flash of grey, quick-glimpsed and gone again, but it was enough to make his ears prick up. Down there beside a swift green brook, another form slipped by, running. Wolves, he knew. His little cousins, chasing down some prey. Now the prince could see more of them, shadows on fleet grey paws. A pack.  He had a pack as well, once. Five they had been, and a sixth who stood aside. Somewhere down inside him were the sounds the men had given them to tell one from the other, but it was not by their sounds he knew them. He remembered their scents, his brothers and his sisters. They all had smelled alike, had smelled of pack, but each was different too.  His angry brother with the hot green eyes was near, the prince felt, though he had not seen him for many hunts. Yet with every sun that set he grew more distant, and he had been the last. The others were far scattered, like leaves blown by the wild wind.  Sometimes he could sense them, though, as if they were still with him, only hidden from his sight by a boulder or a stand of trees. He could not smell them, nor hear their howls by night, yet he felt their presence at his back... all but the sister they had lost. His tail drooped when he remembered her. Four now, not five. Four and one more, the white who has no voice.  These woods belonged to them, the snowy slopes and stony hills, the great green pines and the golden leaf oaks, the rushing streams and blue lakes fringed with fingers of white frost. But his sister had left the wilds, to walk in the halls of man-rock where other hunters ruled, and once within those halls it was hard to find the path back out. The wolf prince remembered.  The wind shifted suddenly.  Deer, and fear, and blood. The scent of prey woke the hunger in him. The prince sniffed the air again, turning, and then he was off, bounding along the ridgetop with jaws half-parted. The far side of the ridge was steeper than the one he’d come up, but he flew surefoot over stones and roots and rotting leaves, down the slope and through the trees, long strides eating up the ground. The scent pulled him onward, ever faster.  The deer was down and dying when he reached her, ringed by eight of his small grey cousins. The heads of the pack had begun to feed, the male first and then his female, taking turns tearing flesh from the red underbelly of their prey. The others waited patiently, all but the tail, who paced in a wary circle a few strides from the rest, his own tail tucked low. He would eat the last of all, whatever his brothers left him.  The prince was downwind, so they did not sense him until he leapt up upon a fallen log six strides from where they fed. The tail saw him first, gave a piteous whine, and slunk away. His pack brothers turned at the sound and bared their teeth, snarling, all but the head male and female.  The direwolf answered the snarls with a low warning growl and showed them his own teeth. He was bigger than his cousins, twice the size of the scrawny tail, half again as large as the two pack heads. He leapt down into their midst, and three of them broke, melting away into the brush.  Another came at him, teeth snapping. He met the attack head on, caught the wolf’s leg in his jaws when they met, and flung him aside yelping and limping.  And then there was only the head wolf to face, the great grey male with his bloody muzzle fresh from the prey’s soft belly. There was white on his muzzle as well, to mark him as an old wolf, but when his mouth opened, red slaver ran from his teeth.  He has no fear, the prince thought, no more than me. It would be a good fight. They went for each other.  Long they fought, rolling together over roots and stones and fallen leaves and the scattered entrails of the prey, tearing at each other with tooth and claw, breaking apart, circling each round the other, and bolting in to fight again. The prince was larger, and much the stronger, but his cousin had a pack. The female prowled around them closely, snuffing and snarling, and would interpose herself whenever her mate broke off bloodied. From time to time the other wolves would dart in as well, to snap at a leg or an ear when the prince was turned the other way. One angered him so much that he whirled in a black fury and tore out the attacker’s throat. After that the others kept their distance.  And as the last red light was filtering through green boughs and golden, the old wolf lay down weary in the dirt, and rolled over to expose his throat and belly. It was submission.  The prince sniffed at him and licked the blood from fur and tom flesh. When the old wolf gave a soft whimper, the direwolf turned away. He was very hungry now, and the prey was his.  “Hodor.”  The sudden sound made him stop and snarl. The wolves regarded him with green and yellow eyes, bright with the last light of day. None of them had heard it. It was a queer wind that blew only in his ears. He buried his jaws in the deer’s belly and tore off a mouthful of flesh.  “Hodor, hodor.”  No, he thought. No, I won’t. It was a boy’s thought, not a direwolf’s. The woods were darkening all about him, until only the shadows of the trees remained, and the glow of his cousins’ eyes. And through those and behind those eyes, he saw a big man’s grinning face, and a stone vault whose walls were spotted with niter. The rich warm taste of blood faded on his tongue. No, don’t, don’t, I want to eat, I want to, I want...  “Hodor, hodor, hodor, hodor, hodor,” Hodor chanted as he shook him softly by the shoulders, back and forth and back and forth. He was trying to be gentle, he always tried, but Hodor was seven feet tall and stronger than he knew, and his huge hands rattled Bran’s teeth together. “NO! he shouted angrily. “Hodor, leave off, I’m here, I’m here.”  Hodor stopped, looking abashed. “Hodor?”  The woods and wolves were gone. Bran was back again, down in the damp vault of some ancient watchtower that must have been abandoned thousands of years before. It wasn’t much of a tower now. Even the tumbled stones were so overgrown with moss and ivy that you could hardly see them until you were right on top of them. “Tumbledown Tower “, Bran had named the place; it was Meera who found the way down into the vault, however.  “You were gone too long.” Jojen Reed was thirteen, only four years older than Bran. Jojen wasn’t much bigger either, no more than two inches or maybe three, but he had a solemn way of talking that made him seem older and wiser than he really was. At Winterfell, Old Nan had dubbed him “little grandfather.”  Bran frowned at him. “I wanted to eat.”  “Meera will be back soon with supper.”  “I’m sick of frogs.” Meera was a frogeater from the Neck, so Bran couldn’t really blame her for catching so many frogs, he supposed, but even so... “I wanted to eat the deer.” For a moment he remembered the taste of it, the blood and the raw rich meat, and his mouth watered. I won the fight for it. I won.  “Did you mark the trees?”  Bran flushed. Jojen was always telling him to do things when he opened his third eye and put on Summer’s skin. To claw the bark of a tree, to catch a rabbit and bring it back in his jaws uneaten, to push some rocks in a line. Stupid things. “I forgot,” he said.  “You always forget.”  It was true. He meant to do the things that Jojen asked, but once he was a wolf they never seemed important. There were always things to see and things to smell, a whole green world to hunt. And he could run! There was nothing better than running, unless it was running after prey. “I was a prince, Jojen,” he told the older boy. “I was the prince of the woods.”  “You are a prince,” Jojen reminded him softly. “You remember, don’t you? Tell me who you are.”  “You know” Jojen was his friend and his teacher, but sometimes Bran just wanted to hit him.  “I want you to say the words. Tell me who you are.”  “Bran,” he said sullenly. Bran the Broken. “Brandon Stark.” The cripple boy. “The Prince of Winterfell.” Of Winterfell burned and tumbled, its people scattered and slain. The glass gardens were smashed, and hot water gushed from the cracked walls to steam beneath the sun. How can you be the prince of someplace you might never see again?  “And who is Summer?” Jojen prompted.  “My direwolf.” He smiled. “Prince of the green.”  “Bran the boy and Summer the wolf. You are two, then?”  “Two,” he sighed, “and one.” He hated Jojen when he got stupid like this. At Winterfell he wanted me to dream my wolf dreams, and now that I know how he’s always calling me back.  “Remember that, Bran. Remember yourself, or the wolf will consume you. When you join, it is not enough to run and hunt and howl in Summer’s skin.”  It is for me, Bran thought. He liked Summer’s skin better than his own. What good is it to be a skinchanger if you can’t wear the skin you like?  “Will you remember? And next time, mark the tree. Any tree, it doesn’t matter, so long as you do it.”  “I will. I’ll remember. I could go back and do it now, if you like. I won’t forget this time.” But I’ll eat my deer first, and fight with those little wolves some more.  Jojen shook his head. “No. Best stay, and eat. With your own mouth. A warg cannot live on what his beast consumes.”  How would you know? Bran thought resentfully. You’ve never been a warg, you don’t know what it’s like.  Hodor jerked suddenly to his feet, almost hitting his head on the barrelvaulted ceiling. “HODOR!” he shouted, rushing to the door. Meera pushed it open just before he reached it, and stepped through into their refuge. “Hodor, hodor,” the huge stableboy said, grinning.  Meera Reed was sixteen, a woman grown, but she stood no higher than her brother. All the crannogmen were small, she told Bran once when he asked why she wasn’t taller. Brown-haired, green-eyed, and flat as a boy, she walked with a supple grace that Bran could only watch and envy. Meera wore a long sharp dagger, but her favorite way to fight was with a slender three-pronged frog sp............
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