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SAMWELL
“He sucks harder than mine.” Gilly stroked the babe’s head as she held him to her nipple.  “He’s hungry,” said the blonde woman Val, the one the black brothers called the wildling princess. “He’s lived on goats’ milk up to now, and potions from that blind maester.”  The boy did not have a name yet, no more than Gilly’s did. That was the wildling way. Not even Mance Rayder’s son would get a name till his third year, it would seem, though Sam had heard the brothers calling him “the little prince” and “born-in-battle.”  He watched the child nurse at Gilly’s breast, and then he watched Jon watch. fon is smiling. A sad smile, still, but definitely a smile of sorts. Sam was glad to see it. It is the first time I’ve seen him smile since I got back.  They had walked from the Nightfort to Deep Lake, and from Deep Lake to Queensgate, following a narrow track from one castle to the next, never out of sight of the Wall. A day and a half from Castle Black, as they trudged along on callused feet, Gilly heard horses behind them, and turned to see a column of black riders coming from the west. “My brothers,” Sam assured her. “No one uses this road but the Night’s Watch.” It had turned out to be Ser Denys Mallister from the Shadow Tower, along with the wounded Bowen Marsh and the survivors from the fight at the Bridge of Skulls. When Sam saw Dywen, Giant, and Dolorous Edd Tollett, he broke down and wept.  It was from them that he learned about the battle beneath the Wall. “Stannis landed his knights at Eastwatch, and Cotter Pyke led him along the ranger’s roads, to take the wildlings unawares,” Giant told him. “He smashed them. Mance Rayder was taken captive, a thousand of his best slain, including Harma Dogshead. The rest scattered like leaves before a storm, we heard.” The gods are good, Sam thought. If he had not gotten lost as he made his way south from Craster’s Keep, he and Gilly might have walked right into the battle... or into Mance Rayder’s camp, at the very least. That might have been well enough for Gilly and the boy, but not for him. Sam had heard all the stories about what wildlings did with captured crows. He shuddered.  Nothing that his brothers told him prepared him for what he found at Castle Black, however. The common hall had burned to the ground and the great wooden stair was a mound of broken ice and scorched timbers. Donal Noye was dead, along with Rast, Deaf Dick, Red Alyn, and so many more, yet the castle was more crowded than Sam had ever seen; not with black brothers, but with the king’s soldiers, more than a thousand of them. There was a king in the King’s Tower for the first time in living memory, and banners flew from the Lance, Hardin’s Tower, the Grey Keep, the Shieldhall, and other buildings that had stood empty and abandoned for long years. “The big one, the gold with the black stag, that’s the royal standard of House Baratheon,” he told Gilly, who had never seen banners before. “The fox-and-flowers is House Florent. The turtle is Estermont, the swordfish is Bar Emmon, and the crossed trumpets are for Wensington.”  “They’re all bright as flowers.” Gilly pointed. “I like those yellow ones, with the fire. Look, and some of the fighters have the same thing on their blouses.”  “A fiery heart. I don’t know whose sigil that is.”  He found out soon enough. “Queen’s men,” Pyp told him - after he let out a whoop, and shouted, “Run and bar the doors, lads, it’s Sam the Slayer come back from the grave,” while Grenn was hugging Sam so hard he thought his ribs might break - “but best you don’t go asking where the queen is. Stannis left her at Eastwatch, with their daughter and his fleet. He brought no woman but the red one.”  “The red one?” said Sam uncertainly.  “Melisandre of Asshai,” said Grenn. “The king’s sorceress. They say she burned a man alive at Dragonstone so Stannis would have favorable winds for his voyage north. She rode beside him in the battle too, and gave him his magic sword. Lightbringer, they call it. Wait till you see it. It glows like it had a piece of sun inside it.” He looked at Sam again and grinned a big helpless stupid grin. “I still can’t believe you’re here.”  Jon Snow had smiled to see him too, but it was a tired smile, like the one he wore now. “You made it back after all,” he said. “And brought Gilly out as well. You’ve done well, Sam.”  Jon had done more than well himself, to hear Grenn tell it. Yet even capturing the Horn of Winter and a wildling prince had not been enough for Ser Alliser Thorne and his friends, who still named him turncloak. Though Maester Aemon said his wound was healing well, Jon bore other scars, deeper than the ones around his eye. He grieves for his wildling girl, and for his brothers.  “It’s strange,” he said to Sam. “Craster had no love for Mance, nor Mance for Craster, but now Craster’s daughter is feeding Mance’s son.”  “I have the milk,” Gilly said, her voice soft and shy. “Mine takes only a little. He’s not so greedy as this one.”  The wildling woman Val turned to face them. “I’ve heard the queen’s men saying that the red woman means to give Mance to the fire, as soon as he is strong enough.” Jon gave her a weary look. “Mance is a deserter from the Night’s Watch. The penalty for that is death. If the Watch had taken him, he would have been hanged by now, but he’s the king’s captive, and no one knows the king’s mind but the red woman.”  “I want to see him,” Val said. “I want to show him his son. He deserves that much, before you kill him.”  Sam tried to explain. “No one is permitted to see him but Maester Aemon, my lady.”  “If it were in my power, Mance could hold his son.” Jon’s smile was gone. “I’m sorry, Val.” He turned away. “Sam and I have duties to return to. Well, Sam does, anyway. We’ll ask about your seeing Mance. That’s all I can promise.”  Sam lingered long enough to give Gilly’s hand a squeeze and promise to return again after supper. Then he hurried after. There were guards outside the door, queen’s men with spears. Jon was halfway down the steps, but he waited when he heard Sam puffing after him. “You’re more than fond of Gilly, aren’t you?”  Sam reddened. “Gilly’s good. She’s good and kind.” He was glad that his long nightmare was done, glad to be back with his brothers at Castle Black... but some nights, alone in his cell, he thought of how warm Gilly had been when they’d curled up beneath the furs with the babe between them. “She... she made me braver, Jon. Not brave, but... braver.”  “You know you cannot keep her,” Jon said gently, “no more than I could stay with Ygritte. You said the words, Sam, the same as I did. The same as all of us.”  “I know. Gilly said she’d be a wife to me, but... I told her about the words, and what they meant. I don’t know if that made her sad or glad, but I told her.” He swallowed nervously and said, “Jon, could there be honor in a lie, if it were told for a... a good purpose?”  “It would depend on the lie and the purpose, I suppose.” Jon looked at Sam. “I wouldn’t advise it. You’re not made to lie, Sam. You blush and squeak and stammer.”  “I do,” said Sam, “but I could lie in a letter. I’m better with a quill in hand. I had a... a thought. When things are more settled here, I thought maybe the best thing for Gilly... I thought I might send her to Horn Hill. To my mother and sisters and my... my f-f-father. If Gilly were to say the babe was m-mine...” He was blushing again. “My mother would want him, I know. She would find some place for Gilly, some kind of service, it wouldn’t be as hard as serving Craster. And Lord R-Randyll, he... he would never say so, but he might be pleased to believe I got a bastard on some wildling girl. At least it would prove I was man enough to lie with a woman and father a child. He told me once that I was sure to die a maiden, that no woman would ever... you know... Jon, if I did this, wrote this lie... would that be a good thing? The life the boy would have...”  “Growing up a bastard in his grandfather’s castle?” Jon shrugged. “That depends in great part on your father, and what sort of boy this is. If he takes after you...”  “He won’t. Craster’s his real father. You saw him, he was hard as an old tree stump, and Gilly is stronger than she looks.”  “If the boy shows any skill with sword or lance, he should have a place with your father’s household guard at the least,” Jon said. “It’s not unknown for bastards to be trained as squires and raised to knighthood. But you’d best be sure Gilly can play this game convincingly. From what you’ve told me of Lord Randyll, I doubt he would take kindly to being deceived.”  More guards were posted on the steps outside the tower. These were king’s men, though; Sam had quickly learned the difference. The king’s men were as earthy and impious as any other soldiers, but the queen’s men were fervid in their devotion to Melisandre of Asshai and her Lord of Light. “Are you going to the practice yard again?” Sam asked as they crossed the yard. “Is it wise to train so hard before your leg’s done healing?”  Jon shrugged. “What else is there for me to do? Marsh has removed me from duty, for fear that I’m still a turncloak.”  “It’s only a few who believe that,” Sam assured him. “Ser Alliser and his friends. Most of the brothers know better. King Stannis knows as well, I’ll wager. You brought him the Horn of Winter and captured Mance Rayder’s son.”  “All I did was protect Val and the babe against looters when the wildlings fled, and keep them there until the rangers found us. I never captured anyone. King Stannis keeps his men well in hand, that’s plain. He lets them plunder some, but I’ve only heard of three wildling women being raped, and the men who did it have all been gelded. I suppose I should have been killing the free folk as they ran. Ser Alliser has been putting it about that the only time I bared my sword was to defend our foes. I failed to kill Mance Rayder because I was in league with him, he says.”  “That’s only Ser Alliser,” said Sam. “Everyone knows the sort of man he is.” With his noble birth, his knighthood, and his long years in the Watch, Ser Alliser Thorne might have been a strong challenger for the Lord Commander’s title, but almost all the men he’d trained during his years as master-at-arms despised him. His name had been offered, of course, but after running a weak sixth on the first day and actually losing votes on the second, Thorne had withdrawn to support Lord Janos Slynt.  “What everyone knows is that Ser Alliser is a knight from a noble line, and trueborn, while I’m the bastard who killed Qhorin Halfhand and bedded with a spearwife. The warg, I’ve heard them call me. How can I be a warg without a wolf, I ask you?” His mouth twisted. “I don’t even dream of Ghost anymore. All my dreams are of the crypts, of the stone kings on their thrones. Sometimes I hear Robb’s voice, and my father’s, as i............
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