I am a bit tired. So this is a big update to apologise for the delay.


He stayed on the Wall for as long as he could. He'd stood guard up there before and listened to people talk about the tricks required to stay warm up there. He knew how to walk about there – not too slowly as to get chilled from the wind, but also not too fast as to start to sweat.

There were braziers up there as well, where he could warm his hands periodically as he stared North, at the far horizon and the snowy tree-covered hills there. What was lurking in there, under those trees? Where were the Others and their wights, what they planning?

At least Baratheon's presence in Castle Black had lifted the spirits of his new brothers. The King was on the Wall and they knew that Westeros was with them, even bits of Dorne. He sighed a little at that. Things were happening.

And every time he looked down into Castle Black and saw a red cloak he sighed a little. He would be around the men of the Westerlands again soon. And Lannisters. His kin.

The family he had let down so very badly. There really were times when he had thought about stepping off the Wall and ending it all.

By the time that the sun started to march down to the West he was getting hungry and knew that he really needed to get down off the Wall and get some food. Sleep too.

Boots sounded off to one side and then stopped. He paused, sighed and then turned his head. Father was there, dressed in warm clothes and directing as scathing a glare at him as he had ever seen. Tyrion had once said that there were times when Father looked at him as if he was dog shit on his boot and now he was directing that same glare against him.

He tilted his head back a little and then turned himself. "Father," he said, staring back north of the Wall. "If you're expecting a witty comment from me then you'll be disappointed. This isn't the place for wit."

For a moment he felt almost as if he could feel the glare scorch his skin. But then Father stepped forwards and turned north as well, looking over the Haunted Forest. "On my way here I thought up almost a score of speeches to throw in your face, of the kind that I threw at… her." He said that last word with such venom that Jaime flinched a little. He knew who Father was speaking of.

There was a long moment of silence. "And then, when I caught sight of the Wall, all those speeches withered and died, as I realised that I was looking at the place where my eldest son will die."

A chill seemed to go through him for a long moment, because that was true. He was going to die here, at some point. There was no way around that.

More silence followed. And then Father asked: "Why?"

"Why what?"

"Why did you not tell anyone of the wildfire? And why did you listen to her and do what you did?"

He stood there for a long moment, feeling the cold wind prickle at the sweat on his brow. "I was barely a man when I was appointed to the Kingsguard," he said thickly eventually. "And just a few years older when I was left in King's Landing after Rhaegar returned and then rode out to the Trident to die. I was alone – no-one to truly talk to as I started to realise that Aerys had gone completely mad and intended to burn the city to the ground in his mad obsession to become a dragon. I did what I did.

"And afterwards, when Stark found me in the throne room, his disgust was so strong that I… I was taken aback, I did not explain why I had done it. What right had a wolf to judge a lion?" He looked at Father sternly. "And every time I tried to talk to you about why I killed the Mad King you brushed me off, you always had a more important meeting to go to. Aye, I should have said something, but you were never ready to listen. And yes, I was a fool. I thought that the wildfire would degrade, I truly did."

Father's nostrils flared and his mouth worked for a moment as he stared north again. And then he twisted his head and looked away as if to avoid the truth.

"As for her…" he closed his eyes, memories battering at his mind. "She was persuasive. I was insulted by people around me. Baratheon didn't love her. It was… insanity, I know that now. But at the time, being stuck in the Kingsguard, with no recourse that I could see for…" He clenched a hand and then rubbed his forehead briefly. "What passed for love? Affection? No – I was a fool."

More silence, a horrible and strained moment as they both stared north into the Haunted Forest.

"At least you admit to your stupidity," Father said eventually, in a hoarse voice. "What that stupidity has cost this family… well, you're not that much of a fool not to know."

"I know." He sighed deeply. "How is Tyrion?"

"In Winterfell, with his wife. He has wedded Dacey Surestone."

A weight that he had not really known was there seemed to slide off his shoulders. Good. That was good. "I'm glad to hear it. I know how much he loves her."

"He is also my heir." Father said the words with a level inflection. "It is official."

"Good," he almost spat. "You should have done that years ago. He's a better man than I am. Cleverer, too."

Father's gloved hands came up to rest on the Wall and then curled into fists. "I know that now," he said eventually. "He is indeed better in every way. I was wrong about him."

The silence that fell was the longest one yet. Father broke it. "Come on down and get some food. There are plans being made that you need to know of, for this fight on the Wall."

Father strode off and after a moment he followed him.


He wondered how long it would take for the smell of ash to leave his nostrils. The odd thing was that they'd been upwind of the funeral pyre the entire time, but he could still smell the smoke.

They'd burnt Father's body at first light. There had just been a few there, him, Asha, the Reader, a few lords of the Iron Islands. It had been a time for Ironborn only, or at least those close to the Greyjoys.

At least there had been no mutters of 'Greenlander' directed at him, even though that word was now true about him.

Anyway – Father's body had been burnt on a pyre, consumed by a fierce blaze that was fuelled by lamp oil. Nothing had happened to the body as it had burnt. Thank the Old Gods.

And now he sat with the others in the great hall of Pyke as they broke their fast. Boots thumped to one side and Stannis Baratheon joined them – and then a door creaked open and Jon and Ygritte came in. They were holding hands and there was a look to Jon that he recognised in an instant.

Heh. At last. As the two last entrants made their way to the high table he smirked at his sister. "A stag if you please!"

She scowled a little at him and then laughed and tossed the coin in the air at him, so that he could snatch it from the air and then wink at Jon, whose face reddened a bit.

"Lord Harlaw," Jon said eventually after he and Ygritte had sat down and then attacked some warm bread rolls. "Who other than Drowned Men can perform marriage ceremonies on Pyke?"

The Reader, who had been addressing a plate of bacon with some gusto, looked up at this, before leaning back in his chair with a somewhat wry look. "Ah. A good question Lord Jon. Septons tend to be driven away from here on the Iron Islands. As for the Old Gods, perhaps the Stonebrows might know on Old Wyk." He ate some more bacon. "Might I ask why you ask that?"

Oh, he knew. His uncle had a twinkle in his eyes.

Jon looked at Ygritte, who openly smirked at him and then whispered something in his ear that made him blush a lot, before looking around the room at them all. "Ygritte and I are to marry. As soon as possible."

Asha grinned at Ygritte, who grinned back from her seat further down the table. "Is there not a Heart Tree on these islands?" the Wildling girl asked after snagging herself some bacon of her own.

The Reader laughed softly. "Nay, none. Once, maybe, but not now. The Drowned Men would never have allowed one to exist on these islands. They would have chopped down and burned any that they found, even before Harren Hoare started to build Harrenhall with every piece of wood he could find."

This made Ygritte look genuinely baffled and she exchanged a look with Jon, who muttered something about finding someone somewhere to perform the ceremony. He looked intent and Theon knew exactly why. He wanted a wife, not a lover and then have legitimate children. No bastards.

They all continued eating and Theon found himself wondering about what lay ahead of them. The trip to Great Wyk and the Stonebrows and then what next? It had to be back to the mainland and the North.

And then the doors opened again and as he looked up he could feel his jaw drop. Mother. Mother was walking in, on the arm of a man clad in green, with a dark green cloak with horns attached to the hood. A Green Man?

Chairs scraped as he, the Reader and Asha all stood almost as one. "Lanny?" The Reader asked in an astonished voice.

Mother came to a halt and then smiled slightly before curtseying hesitantly. She was still thin, still visibly strained, like butter scraped over too much bread, but there was something different about her, there was a focus and a poise that he hadn't seen before.

The last time they'd met, on Harlaw, Mother had been weepy and yet almost distant, as if she thought he was a shade of the past, a ghost, a memory. But now... there was a look in her eyes that he hadn't seen before.

"My husband is dead," Mother said in a level voice that shook a little at the edges, "And my daughter is now the Lord of the Iron Islands. I am here to support her in every way. And this Green Man here has helped me to see certain truths at High Harlaw." She looked at Nuncle Rodrik. "Certain runes."

Nuncle Rodrik blanched. "Lanny, the runes are terrible and-"

But Mother waved a hand in dismissal. "They confirmed certain feelings I'd had for years. Years, Rodrik. You read a lot. Can you deny that you did not have doubts too?"

The Reader stood there for a long moment, his face working a little. "I cannot," he said eventually in a hoarse and strained voice. "But we would be fools if we did not acknowledge that there will be others who cling to the Old Way." He looked at the Green Man. "And who would you be?"

"Alwyn, of the Isle of Faces, my Lord Harlaw," said the man with an accent of the North. "And aye, I am a Green Man. I am here to meet with the Stonebrows, who sent a message to the Isle. Old connections must be remade."

He stared at the man. Old connections? What old connections? He must have muttered the words out loud, because all of a sudden the Green Man was looking at him.

"The Stonebrows - and others - can tell you the story, but there were always those on the Iron Islands who would send their sons and daughters to the Isle of Faces, when they heard... well, call it a different kind of Call. A longing perhaps, or dreams. Word was sent. Word came back. It was quietly done."

That made sense and he nodded slowly as he looked at the man with the green cape and the antlered hood. "There is no Godswood on the Iron Islands though."

"No," the Green Man said quietly. "The Drowned Men were always jealous for their own god. They would never brook any sign of the old ways." He smiled slightly. He seemed to be waiting for something as he and the Reader escorted Mother to the table and sat her down, watching as Asha and Theon scrambled to find a plate, cutlery and food for their mother. It wasn't his imagination, she did look better.

After a long moment, as Mother ate quietly, Asha looked back at the Green Man. "Green Men normally tend to Godswoods. Are you here to plant one?"

"If Lord Harlaw will permit it, perhaps one on Harlaw. But first one on Old Wyk. The Stonebrows and others have waited a long time, their patience must be rewarded."

"Won't that make them targets?" Theon blurted out the words. "I mean, if they weren't already, surely that will make them doubly so?"

The Green Man smiled a little. "I think that there will be those who will defend them, no matter what happens. Winter is coming. As do the Others, as you know. Word came of their attack here. Yes, there will be fools who deny it. But more will believe now."

He looked at Asha, who looked deeply conflicted. He knew why. Even now, despite everything that she had seen so far, there was still conflict within her. Some roots lay deep. Then she took a deep breath. "After Great Wyk and perhaps Harlaw, we will talk, Alwyn of the Isle of Faces," she said in a troubled voice. "Talk of many things."

The Green Man nodded. But it was Jon who spoke next. "Alwyn, can you marry people, as a Green Man? Under the eyes of the Old Gods?"

The man from the Isle of Faces turned and smiled a little. "I can, Jon Stark."

Jon blinked at this, as did Theon, but then he looked at Ygritte, who was beaming by his side as they both stood. "Then we have a marriage to carry out."


The arrival of the King had also meant the start of a great many meetings and planning sessions, because the King, the Lord Commander, the First Ranger, the Master of Arms at Castle Black and himself had spent a long time talking the previous night. But then all of that had been about the affairs of the Night's Watch and how the repairs to the castles on the Wall were progressing and what else was happening.

The other matters – the more personal ones – well, those could only wait until the next day. And now he sat in his study, a cup of moss tea in his hands made by the fiercely protective Jenn in his hands, waiting. Craster's widow seemed to have decided that he was in need of her protection. Well, she had her numbers and was surprisingly literate – not that he had pressed her for her full story. She would tell him if she wanted to. Such things needed tact.

A brief smile twitched at his lips. Appearances were so illusory were they now at times? She had come to Castle Black as a Wildling, but now she was very much more as she showed off that hidden side of hers. Roses bloomed in the most surprising places at times.

A fist pounded against the door and he looked up. "The door please, Jenn. And then, as we discussed, please leave us. This will probably be his Grace the King."

She sniffed, but he had indeed discussed things with her beforehand and she knew that privacy was important now and then walked over to the door to open it. Om the other side was indeed King Robert, who strode in with a certain hesitancy, nodding at Jenn as she curtseyed quickly and then slipped out, closing the door behind her.

"Your Grace," Aemon murmured as he bowed. "Be welcome to my study."

The King looked about the place, at the ranks of books and papers and nodded choppily at him. "Great-grand uncle Aemon." He pulled a chair out and sank into it, looking strained and troubled, before finally looking him in the eye and sighed. "I have already apologised to Ned Stark about this, but I really need to apologise to you above all. I am sorry about Rhaegar's children – they should not have been killed. It was all on Tywin Lannister."

He sighed himself. "Tywin always was one for the darker gambits of the Game of Thrones."

"Aye." The King ran a large hand over his face. "I never thought that I'd ever be King. Just the Lord of the Stormlands, at Storm's End. By the time I got to the Red Keep and saw Tywin Lannister standing next to those bodies, obviously expecting me to be pleased whilst judging me with those cold green eyes of his… I reacted as I thought he'd expect. It wasn't until I saw Ned's face that I realised that it was as wrong as wrong could be. I was wrong. I'm sorry. They were kin to me. I just… well, I never understood Rhaegar."

"Not many did," he replied wryly. "He would write to me, you know. Letters about prophecy and legend and what I knew about the Wall and our family. He thought he was touched by something. He thought that there was a destiny he had to fulfil. By the end though, his letters were dark things indeed. He wrote of terrible mistakes he had made."

"He raped Lyanna Stark," Robert said in a voice like iron. "I know what he did. All of it. I know that it sounds strange, but she came to me in a dream, when I was in Winterfell. I know, that sounds mad, but she said that the walls between the living and the dead were thinner there." He looked at him carefully. "I have sworn an oath about… what Lyanna told me." His voice dropped to a whisper. "I know the truth about Ned's 'son'. He is not at risk from me, I have sworn it. After all – he's family."

A weight he had not known was on him lifted. That was good. "You must tell me more about this 'dream', in time. But first-" He looked over his desk and grabbed the precious package he had taken out earlier. "Please read these, when you have time. Your grandmother wrote to me, often. Letters of humour and wisdom and love. She loved your grandfather fiercely, and of course your father and you and your brothers."

As he handed the letters over he could see how much the King was moved, as his face worked and tears appeared in his eyes. "I recognise her handwriting," he said softly as a large hand fingered the cover of one of the letters. "Gods, but I miss her."

"She was very proud of you." He took a deep breath. "Her letter after Summerhall broke my heart. When Jaehaerys died after just three years on the throne she was deeply upset and then… well there was Aerys. She often wrote of her worries about him. And she was right to. What he did…" He shook his head in distress. "I knew from your grandmother's letters that House Targaryen was on the brink of disaster. I hoped that your Father's friendship with Aerys would… temper him. After he and your mother died… all I had was fear. Especially after Rhaelle died as well. Nothing but fear."

There was a long moment of silence in the room as they both stared at the past.

"And then," Aemon said at last, "Aerys murdered Rickard and Brandon Stark, after Rhaegar abducted Lyanna Stark. When word came of those crimes, I knew that House Targaryen was… doomed." He reached out and grasped the King's forearm. "I know that this will surprise you, coming from a man with my name, but you were right to do what you did, to rebel against the Iron Throne. Aerys was mad, mad enough to murder Lord Paramounts and order the deaths of other Lords Paramounts. And Rhaegar was a man obsessed with a prophecy that he did not understand and which led him down a dark road indeed. Even your father would have rebelled."

Robert Baratheon looked into his eyes for a long moment and then nodded choppily. "Thank you. Yes, I know what you mean." He sighed gustily. "In the meantime I have much to do here, whilst trying to work something out. We met Giants on the way here and they said that I was the man who brought storms with him, whilst Lyanna said that I need to let her go and become the Storm King I was destined to be." He spread his hands in bafflement. "How? Is it a Durrandon thing that is tied to Stormbreaker? Is it more complicated than that, involving my Targaryen blood? Is it prophecy, something I don't want to touch with a bloody bargepole because of Rhaegar and his madness?"

He leant back and pondered matters for a long moment. "There is much to discuss there and much for me to research. And I will do my best to give you answers. My very best."

Robert smiled at him after a long moment. "Thank you. One last thing – the Green Man says that we will need Daenerys Targaryen and her dragons. That… might mean that House Targaryen becomes a part of Westeros again, somewhere. We should… discuss where and how she should be approached." His face worked again. "I have doubts… but I am willing to think matters over. Apparently she vanished after Pentos fell to the Braavosi, but I'm sure she's out there somewhere. She has three dragons after all. She too has a destiny."

A little more weight fell from his shoulders. "I agree, my King." He paused. "Your Grandmother would have been very proud of you, right now."

The King chuckled. "Ned once told me that I always find my way back to the true path eventually. After prodding. Mayhaps he's right." Another sigh. "I lost my way before, Aemon. Please help keep me on the right path now."

And so he reached out and clasped hands with Rhaelle's grandson.


Bran always had the same look whenever Mother brought him into Father's Solar for his daily lessons. It was a look that combined dread with sullen sulkiness. He knew that the lessons about the North could be dull, but it wasn't dull enough to make his little brother slump in such a way.

"Bran," he said eventually, "You need to learn this."

His brother just glowered at him for a long moment. "Why?" It was remarkable how much whine he could put into one word.

"You need to know about how the North is run. You need to know about which House is which, what relationship they have with House Stark, what their local rivals are, which friends they have, what they trade, what they grow, what's changed and so on. A lot's changed after the Company of the Rose came back and started to reunite with their kin or rebuild from scratch. You have to learn all of this."

"But I'm never going to rule the North! You're Father's heir, and then Jon and Sansa and Arya!"

He sighed. "Bran, Father was never supposed to rule the North, Uncle Brandon was. No-one imagined that he and Grandfather would die in the way that they did. And that's why you need to learn, especially as you're the heir after me. Sansa and Arya are girls and although Jon has been legitimised, he follows Rickon in the succession."

His brother scrunched his forehead. "But that's stupid," he muttered. "Jon's older than me. Sansa knows more than me. Arya's a better warg than me."

"It's the way it is, Bran. Boys before girls and bastards after the legitimate children."

Bran glowered again. "'It is the way.' Stupid way." He returned to the books, but Robb could tell from the side glances he was giving him that there was something on his little brother's mind.

Eventually he looked at Bran. "What's wrong?"

Bran looked shifty. "Are you still looking for something here in Winterfell?"

"Yes." He smiled thinly. "I have no idea what, but the Green Man told me to look. That said, it might be more about the journey than the destination, as I've been looking at a lot of books about the earliest days of Winterfell."

From the look of bemusement on the face of his brother, the last point had sailed far, far over his head, so Robb sighed yet again and then asked: "Why do you ask?"

The shifty look intensified. "Well…" Bran said – and then he was interrupted by a knock on the door, which opened to reveal Maester Luwin with a message scroll in one hand.

"Your pardon, Lord Robb, but you need to see this at once." The old man strode over and held the message out, which Robb took, read and then repressed a groan over.

"Ah," he said eventually. "So Alekyne and Delena Florent are on their way to Winterfell? Luwin, could you please pass the word to my mother and Ser Courtney Penrose that I need to see them at once?"

Luwin coughed a little and then slid his hands up his sleeves in the way that he did at certain times. "I took the liberty of anticipating your orders as I came here and have already done so."

He smiled at the Maester. Luwin was an absolute gem at times. And it wasn't long before he heard the sound of footfalls and voices in the corridor outside before Mother and Ser Courtney arrived, their faces curious and he stood to greet them. "Mother, Ser Courtney. This just arrived." He handed over the message and then watched as Mother held it so they could both could read – and then react to with slight grimaces.

"I've been expecting this," Ser Courtney said eventually. "Ever since word went out of Edric's legitimisation. Aye, the Florent's will be here in numbers and his mother will want to make sure that he remembers that he's half-Florent. Those foxes aren't stupid."

"They are both cousins to Lady Baratheon are they not?" Robb asked as he dredged up what he knew about The Reach. "Will she welcome them, given Edric's new status?"

Mother tapped the message against her chin as she considered the matter. "Perhaps. The fact that Stannis is formally Robert's heir at the moment, until a later decision is made might complicate matters. I don't know enough about the Florents to guess otherwise. Based on this message, they won't be here for some weeks. They're sailing to White Harbour and then riding from there, so it should depend on tides and winds."

"I'll talk to Edric," Ser Courtney said gruffly. "Tell him that his mother is on the way." He pulled a slight face. "The Tyrells won't like this much. Aye, I know, Mace Tyrell is dead and Willas Tyrell has a head on his shoulders, but the Florents have always had a better claim to Highgarden then the Tyrells and it's foolish not to admit that they won't look on Edric as a possible threat. With your permission Lord Robb I'll have a word with Ser Rodrik Cassel about security."

Robb nodded and the Stormlander inclined his head and walked out, leaving him looking at Mother. "Could you have a word with Lady Baratheon, Mother? She's… difficult to talk to at times."

The ghost of a smile crept over Mother's face. "She is indeed. I shall talk to her and will be most careful in my use of words. Luwin, how goes her pregnancy?"

Maester Luwin visibly weighed his words. "It progresses well, my Lady. I am watching carefully what she eats and how much she does and am telling her why as I do so. The North seems to agree with her so far in terms of her health and I am wondering what the noxious airs of Dragonstone might have done to her in terms of her past pregnancies." He paused. "I am also talking to various servants to keep an eye on who serves her food, noting who remains who served the former Queen. I recognise that this might seem a trifle paranoid, but promised Lady Baratheon that I would do my best to see her pregnancy to a successful conclusion and I intend to keep my word!"

He blinked a bit at the intent manner in which the Maester spoke but then realised his wisdom and nodded. As Mother and Luwin departed, talking softly, he leant back in his chair – and then he looked at Bran, who had been watching the whole thing with a look of extreme impatience.

"Can I go and talk to Edric about this? His mother's coming!"

Robb directed what he hoped was a quelling look at his little brother, who deflated a bit. "Bran, you need to finish your studies for today. This is something you need to work on every day."

His brother rolled his eyes and then sighed in a highly exaggerated manner, but then returned to the books. After a moment he looked up. "Robb, what I was saying about you still looking for something, I mean, I think that I might-"

There was a knock on the door and they both looked up to see Jory Cassel at the entrance. "Beg pardon Lord Robb, but there's a party of Wild- er, Free Folk in the Great Hall. The Lady Val says that her mother is here."

He stood so quickly that Grey Wind jerked upright in a rush from his slumber with Summer and looked around for whatever enemy had alarmed his owner. Bran jerked back in his seat as well, until Robb gestured at the books. "Keep reading." And then he strode out with Jory at his side and Grey Wind at his heels. As they reached the door to the courtyard he looked at Jory. "Find Mors Umber, if you please Jory."

There were indeed Free Folk in the Great Hall, with five Thenn in their distinctive bronze armour acting as escorts. Some of the Free Folk looked a bit bewildered, some looked curious – and then there was the tallish woman who looked about the hall with a combination of familiarity and unease. Val and Dalla were standing next to her, looking happier than he had seen them look for some time. As he approached Val glanced at him and then turned to face him.

"Lord Robb – this is our mother, Rowan."

Rowan looked at him with eyes that had widened a bit – and then she curtseyed in a way that made some of the other Free Folk look at her in a rather bewildered manner. Well now. She knew her courtesies.

"We expected you a week or more ago," Dalla said with a slight frown of concern. "Is anything amiss?"

"I… was delayed," Rowan replied softly. "There was much to see and… well, there were many people on the road."

That seemed a thin excuse and he eyed her carefully. "You've been here before," he said in a low voice that made Val and Dalla both stare at him. "Winterfell is not new to you, is it?"

Rowan stared at the ceiling, the floor and her daughters, before looking at him with what seemed to be tears in her eyes. "I never thought I'd ever see it again," she said in a choked voice – and that really made her daughters stare at her in shock.

"Mother?" Val asked in a voice that made her sound as if she was trying to hold a lot back. And then in a rush: "What do you mean, Mam?"

But before Rowan could reply another voice spoke. "I thought you were dead." Mors Umber was in the nearest doorway, Jory next to him, the one-eyed man's face as white as a sheet. "I chased after the whoresons who took you, I went beyond the Wall looking for you, I thought that you were dead." His face worked in agony, memories chasing across his features.

Rowan's face fell as she closed her eyes for a long moment – and then she faced Mors Umber. "Father."

"I thought you were dead."

"I almost was." Her face worked for a long moment. "You almost found me. He had a knife to my throat, ten miles north of the Wall. You were there with fifty men, all mounted. I was about to knee the whoreson who took me in the balls, but he knocked me out first."

Mors Umber closed his eyes as if in agony. "I thought I heard something at the time, but my men thought otherwise. Gods fucking damn it!" He took a step towards her, almost hesitantly. "Rowan…"

She burst into tears and then ran into his arms, as Robb marvelled at the change in the huge man. He'd always viewed him as the drunk brute of the Umbers, but here he was, looking as if he was about to burst into a thousand pieces with emotion.

"Why didn't you come home sooner? Did that whoreson have you chained up?"

Rowan Umber smiled a savage smile. "He died, Father. Hard to breath after you have your freshly severed cock and balls stuffed down your throat."

The hall echoed with the sound of Mors Umber's laughter. "That's my girl!" Then he looked at his daughter. "I take it that there's a 'but then'?"

"But then I met a better man. Their father," she said, gesturing at a visibly gobsmacked Val and Dalla. "Gywn, his name was. A good man. I gave him two daughters and a stillborn son. And then he died, in a fight against the Others. Mance Rayder, Dalla's husband, said that he cut Gwyn's head off his shoulders after he was dead so that he couldn't be raised again as a wight."

Mors Umber looked at the three women for a long moment – and then he drew his daughter close to him again and kissed the top of her head. "I've a lot to think about," he said eventually in a husky voice. "I've always hated fucking Wildlings after they took you. But now… I'll think about it all. My daughter is returned to me and I'll not forget that, Lord Robb. And I have granddaughters. One's married to bloody Mance Rayder and the other's…" He looked at Robb fiercely. "Treat her right, boy. Treat her right. Or I'll have something to bloody say to you."

He nodded to the hulking man and then he looked at Val, who had a look on her face that combined shock with sudden hope. "I… will leave you to talk to your family. Umbers, all. Val, Dalla, Umber." He nodded formally and then looked at Val. "We must talk."

"We will talk." She said the words with utter finality. And the look in her eyes…

He had to be careful now. So careful. There was something precious hanging in the air and he could not jeopardise it. So he nodded again and then strode off, almost in a daze, back to Father's solar.

When he reached it he could see that Bran was somehow still sitting there and almost vibrating with tension.

"What happened?"

"Val's mother, Rowan, is in Winterfell, Bran. And she's Mors Umber's daughter."

His brother absorbed that. "So Val's an Umber?"


"Are you going to marry her?"

He considered that. "Perhaps? If she says yes?"

Bran sat there for a long moment. "So things are happening?"

He frowned slightly. "Yes? What do you mean?"

Bran sighed and scowled at the same time. "Robb… I've been trying to tell you something. There's a door in the crypts. A door… that you can only see when you warg. Is that important?"

He sat there for a long moment as all his dreams of a fast marriage to Val hit the obstruction of Bran's words.

"Say what again?"