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No roads ran through the twisted mountain valleys where they walked now. Between the grey stone peaks lay still blue lakes, long and deep and narrow, and the green gloom of endless piney woods. The russet and gold of autumn leaves grew less common when they left the wolfswood to climb amongst the old flint hills, and vanished by the time those hills had turned to mountains. Giant grey-green sentinels loomed above them now, and spruce and fir and soldier pines in endless profusion. The undergrowth was sparse beneath them, the forest floor carpeted in dark green needles.  When they lost their way, as happened once or twice, they need only wait for a clear cold night when the clouds did not intrude, and look up in the sky for the Ice Dragon. The blue star in the dragon’s eye pointed the way north, as Osha told him once. Thinking of Osha made Bran wonder where she was. He pictured her safe in White Harbor with Rickon and Shaggydog, eating eels and fish and hot crab pie with fat Lord Manderly. Or maybe they were warming themselves at the Last Hearth before the Greatjon’s fires. But Bran’s life had turned into endless chilly days on Hodor’s back, riding his basket up and down the slopes of mountains.  “Up and down,” Meera would sigh sometimes as they walked, “then down and up. Then up and down again. I hate these stupid mountains of yours, Prince Bran.”  “Yesterday you said you loved them.”  “Oh, I do. My lord father told me about mountains, but I never saw one till now. I love them more than I can say.”  Bran made a face at her. “But you just said you hated them.”  “Why can’t it be both?” Meera reached up to pinch his nose.  “Because they’re different,” he insisted. “Like night and day, or ice and fire.”  “If ice can burn,” said Jojen in his solemn voice, “then love and hate can mate. Mountain or marsh, it makes no matter. The land is one.”  “One,” his sister agreed, “but over wrinkled.”  The high glens seldom did them the courtesy of running north and south, so often they found themselves going long leagues in the wrong direction, and sometimes they were forced to double back the way they’d come. “If we took the kingsroad we could be at the Wall by now,” Bran would remind the Reeds. He wanted to find the three-eyed crow, so he could learn to fly. Half a hundred times he said it if he said it once, until Meera started teasing by saying it along with him.  “If we took the kingsroad we wouldn’t be so hungry either,” he started saying then. Down in the hills they’d had no lack of food. Meera was a fine huntress, and even better at taking fish from streams with her three-pronged frog spear. Bran liked to watch her, admiring her quickness, the way she sent the spear lancing down and pulled it back with a silvery trout wriggling on the end of it. And they had Summer hunting for them as well. The direwolf vanished most every night as the sun went down, but he was always back again before dawn, most often with something in his jaws, a squirrel or a hare.  But here in the mountains, the streams were smaller and more icy, and the game scarcer. Meera still hunted and fished when she could, but it was harder, and some nights even Summer found no prey. Often they went to sleep with empty bellies.  But Jojen remained stubbornly determined to stay well away from roads. “Where you find roads you find travelers,” he said in that way he had, “and travelers have eyes to see, and mouths to spread tales of the crippled boy, his giant, and the wolf that walks beside them.” No one could get as stubborn as Jojen, so they struggled on through the wild, and every day climbed a little higher, and moved a little farther north.  Some days it rained, some days were windy, and once they were caught in a sleet storm so fierce that even Hodor bellowed in dismay. On the clear days, it often seemed as if they were the only living things in all the world. “Does no one live up here?” Meera Reed asked once, as they made their way around a granite upthrust as large as Winterfell.  “There’s people,” Bran told her. “The Umbers are mostly east of the kingsroad, but they graze their sheep in the high meadows in summer. There are Wulls west of the mountains along the Bay of Ice, Harclays back behind us in the hills, and Knotts and Liddles and Norreys and even some Flints up here in the high places.” His father’s mother’s mother had been a Flint of the mountains. Old Nan once said that it was her blood in him that made Bran such a fool for climbing before his fall. She had died years and years and years before he was born, though, even before his father had been born.  “Wull?” said Meera. “Jojen, wasn’t there a Wull who rode with Father during the war?”  “Theo Wull.” Jojen was breathing hard from the climb. “Buckets, they used to call him.”  “That’s their sigil,” said Bran. “Three brown buckets on a blue field, with a border of white and grey checks. Lord Wull came to Winterfell once, to do his fealty and talk with Father, and he had the buckets on his shield. He’s no true lord, though. Well, he is, but they call him just the Wull, and there’s the Knott and the Norrey and the Liddle too. At Winterfell we called them lords, but their own folk don’t.”  Jojen Reed stopped to catch his breath. “Do you think these mountain folk know we’re here?”  “They know.” Bran had seen them watching; not with his own eyes, but with Summer’s sharper ones, that missed so little. “They won’t bother us so long as we don’t try and make off with their goats or horses.”  Nor did they. Only once did they encounter any of the mountain people, when a sudden burst of freezing rain sent them looking for shelter. Summer found it for them, sniffing out a shallow cave behind the greygreen branches of a towering sentinel tree, but when Hodor ducked beneath the stony overhang, Bran saw the orange glow of fire farther back and realized they were not alone. “Come in and warm yourselves,” a man’s voice called out. “There’s stone enough to keep the rain off all our heads.”  He offered them oatcakes and blood sausage and a swallow of ale from a skin he carried, but never his name; nor did he ask theirs. Bran figured him for a Liddle. The clasp that fastened his squirrelskin cloak was gold and bronze and wrought in the shape of a pinecone, and the Liddles bore pinecones on the white half of their green-and-white shields.  “Is it far to the Wall?” Bran asked him as they waited for the rain to stop.  “Not so far as the raven flies,” said the Liddle, if that was who he was. “Farther, for them as lacks wings.”  Bran started, “I’d bet we’d be there if...  “... we took the kingsroad,” Meera. finished with him.  The Liddle took out a knife and whittled at a stick. “When there was a Stark in Winterfell, a maiden girl could walk the kingsroad in her name-day gown and still go unmolested, and travelers could find fire, bread, and salt at many an inn and holdfast. But the nights are colder now, and doors are closed. There’s squids in the wolfswood, and flayed men ride the kingsroad asking after strangers.”  The Reeds exchanged a look. “Flayed men?” said Jojen.  “The Bastard’s boys, aye. He was dead, but now he’s not. And paying good silver for wolfskins, a man hears, and maybe gold for word of certain other walking dead.” He looked at Bran when he said that, and at Summer stretched out beside him. “As to that Wall,” the man went on, “it’s not a place that I’d be going. The Old Bear took the Watch into the haunted woods, and all that come back was his ravens, with hardly a message between them. Dark wings, dark words, me mother used to say, but when the birds fly silent, seems to me that’s even darker.” He poked at the fire with his stick. “It was different when there was a Stark in Winterfell. But the old wolf’s dead and young one’s gone south to play the game of thrones, and all that’s left us is the ghosts.”  “The wolves will come again,” said Jojen solemnly.  “And how would you be knowing, boy?”  “I dreamed it.”  “Some nights I dream of me mother that I buried nine years past,” the man said, “but when I wake, she’s not come back to us.”  “There are dreams and dreams, my lord.”  “Hodor,” said Hodor.  They spent that night together, for the rain did not let up till well past dark, and only Summer seemed to want to leave the cave. When the fire had burned down to embers, Bran let him go. The direwolf did not feel the damp as people did, and the night was calling him. Moonlight painted the wet woods in shades of silver and turned the grey peaks white. Owls hooted through the dark and flew silently between the pines, while pale goats moved along the mountainsides. Bran closed his eyes and gave himself up to the wolf dream, to the smells and sounds of midnight.  When they woke the next morning, the fire had gone out and the Liddle was gone, but he’d left a sausage for them, and a dozen oatcakes folded up neatly in a green and white cloth. Some of the cakes had pinenuts baked in them and some had blackberries. Bran ate one of each, and still did not know which sort he liked the best. One day there would be Starks in Winterfell again, he told himself, and then he’d send for the Liddles and pay them back a hundredfold for every nut and berry.  The trail they followed was a little easier that day, and by noon the sun came breaking through the clouds. Bran sat in his basket up on Hodor’s back and felt almost content. He dozed off once, lulled to sleep by the smooth swing of the big stableboy’s stride and the soft humming sound he made sometimes when he walked. Meera woke him up with a light touch on his arm. “Look,” she said, pointing at the sky with her frog spear, “an eagle.”  Bran lifted his head and saw it, its grey wings spread and still as it floated on the wind. He followed it with his eyes as it circled higher, wondering what it would be like to soar about the world so effortless. Better than climbing, even. He tried to reach the eagle, to leave his stupid crippled body and rise into the sky to join it, the way he joined with Summer. The greenseers could do it. I should be able to do it too. He tried and tried, until the eagle vanished in the golden haze of the afternoon. “It’s gone,” he said, disappointed.  “We’ll see others,” said Meera. “They live up here.”  “I suppose.”  “Hodor,” said Hodor.  “Hodor,” Bran agreed.  Jojen kicked a pinecone. “Hodor likes it when you say his name, I think.”  “Hodor’s not his true name,” Bran explained. “It’s just some word he says. His real name is Walder, Old Nan told me. She was his grandmother’s grandmother or something.” Talking about Old Nan made him sad. “Do you think the ironmen killed her?” They hadn’t seen her body at Winterfell. He didn’t remember seeing any women dead, now that he thought back. “She never hurt no one, not even Theon. She just told stories. Theon wouldn’t hurt someone like that. Would he?”  “Some people hurt others just because they can,” said Jojen.  “And it wasn’t Theon who did the killing at Winterfell,” said Meera. “Too many of the dead were ironmen.” She shifted her frog spear to her other hand. “Remember Old Nan’s stories, Bran. Remember the way she told them, the sound of her voice. So long as you do that, part of her will always be alive in you.”  “I’ll remember,” he promised. They climbed without speaking for a long time, following a crooked game trail over the high saddle between two stony peaks. Scrawny soldier pines clung to the slopes around them. Far ahead Bran could see the icy glitter of a stream where it tumbled down a mountainside. He found himself listening to Jojen’s breathing and the crunch of pine needles under Hodor’s feet. “Do you know any stories?” he asked the Reeds all of a sudden.  Meera laughed. “Oh, a few.”  “A few,” her brother admitted.  “Hodor,” said Hodor, humming.  “You could tell one,” said Bran. “While we walked. Hodor likes stories about knights. I do, too.”  “There are no knights in the Neck,” said Jojen.  “Above the water,” his sister corrected. “The bogs are full of dead ones, though.”  “That’s true,” said Jojen. “Andals and ironmen, Freys and other fools, all those proud warriors who set out to conquer Greywater. Not one of them could find it. They ride into the Neck, but not back out. And sooner or later they blunder into the bogs and sink beneath the weight of all that steel and drown there in their armor.”  The thought of drowned knights under the water gave Bran the shivers. He didn’t object, though; he liked the shivers.  “There was one knight,” said Meera, “in the year of the false spring. The Knight of the Laughing Tree, they called him. He might have been a crannogman, that one.”  “Or not.” Jojen’s face was dappled with green shadows. “Prince Bran has heard that tale a hundred times, I’m sure.”  “No,” said Bran. “I haven’t. And if I have it doesn’t matter. Sometimes Old Nan would t............
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