He'd wondered, as they rode for that crag, if the Green Man knew something about the place they were headed for that wasn't immediately apparent. And he was right. There was a path there, which led to a gulley, which lead to a dark cavern entrance that was big enough to ride into. From the rushes all over the cavern floor and the debris that had been piled outside the entrance, he could see that horses had been stabled in the cavern in the past.

'Refuge Crag' was the name of the place – there were runes carved by the entrance – and as he got down off Wanderer and looked around he could see that the place was larger than he had thought. The entrance faced South, which allowed light, even with the rocks in the gulley outside, and he could see stacked firewood and more rushes off to one side.

"There's a cleft in the wall over there that can be used as a fireplace," The Green Man said as he dismounted. "Ser Jaime, please light a fire. There's kindling and wood in here. The place has been used by both the Night's Watch and the Free Folk, sometimes even at the same time. I was told about it at Castle Black. It's a refuge."

"It's warm," said Brienne as she looked about the place, looking surprised. "The air's warm in here."

"Warm springs, further down. We'll need light though. Brynden, help me with the doors once the boy has got the fire going. And Brienne, light a lantern or two please."

"I'm not a bloody boy," the Kingslayer muttered as he knelt by the cleft and peered at it. "Ah. It's a hearth indeed." And then he started to lay a fire, somewhat clumsily, but with reasonably competent hands.

As the Kingslayer used a flint and steel to light the kindling and then blew on it carefully, Brynden looked at the entranceway and then realised that there were indeed doors – two wooden frames on either side that could be moved into place, with what looked like wool held in place with wicker lattices.

With the cavern starting to be lit by the fire and the lanterns he joined the Green Man in shifting the 'doors' to block the entrance – and just in time, based on the snowflakes that were pouring down outside and the howl of the wind.

"Will we be safe in here?" Brynden asked quietly. "This place is known to so many. But – the Others?"

The Green Man closed his eyes for a moment, before moving to one side and running his hand over some worn carvings on the left hand side of the entrance. "This place is warded. It was fading before we came here. It's reinforced now."

The hairs on the back of neck stood on end for an instant and then he eyed the older man. "You just reinforced it?"

"I did. You felt it?"

"I felt… something."

"As did I," Brienne said as she approached them, lantern in one hand as she rubbed the back of her neck with the other."

The Green Man smiled at them both. "You'll both do," he said. "Now – unsaddle the horses and get them fed and bedded down."

"Where will we rest?" the Kingslayer asked, looking confused.

"Horses first," the Green Man admonished. "We can take care of ourselves. They can't."

The Kingslayer blushed a bit at this, but then unsaddled his own horse, rubbed her down and then fed her, as they each did the same to their own.

"We'll need to keep the fire tended to," The Green Man rumbled as he eventually led them down along the corridor that led away from the cavern entrance. The rock walls were smooth, as if thousands of hands over the years had worked on them, and the path went down and opened up into a larger cavern. More rushes had been piled here and there and by the light of the lanterns they could see that there was a great blackened cleft in one wall that had what looked like an unlit fire in it. There was a small pool to one side that was fed by a steadily dripping hole in the rock as well.

Brynden lit it this time, using his own flint and steel. It was warmer in here, he could feel it, and the kindling was dry and went up without much effort. He could see logs pilled off to one side, dry ones, and he reminded himself to replace what they used. Yes, the Wildl- ah, Free Folk, were all to the South, beyond the Wall, but that did not mean that this place might not be used again soon.

There was even a pair of upwards-angled metal rods that had been hammered into the rock on either side of the hearth, perfect to hang a chain for a cooking pot from – which was what he wanted to do.

"I'll need water for the pot," he said as he unpacked a few things from his saddlebags. Then he paused. "Where's the warm springs? Further down?"

"Further down," said the Green Man as he unrolled a sleeping mat. "Over there."

He followed the jerk of the thumb and soon discovered two things. The first was a carved set of holes in a horizontal slab that could only be a privy. The second was a path that led to the hot springs themselves. The air grew warm as he approached and he undid his coat and them pulled it off entirely, before looking about. There were stalactites above him, about 20 feet or so, and a pool of water that must have been almost 50 or 60 feet across. There was steam rising from it in places and he dipped one finger carefully in the water before sighing. Oh, that was warm, deliciously warm in fact. He filled the cooking pot half-full and then walked back with thoughts of bathing in his mind.

Supper was some dried beef that had been softened in the pot, along with carrots, potatoes and turnips and some bread rolls that they dunked in the broth from the cooking to soften them up.

There was little if any talking. The Green Man seemed to have his mind elsewhere and the Kingslayer was either sulking or was thinking about something that demanded his complete attention. And as for Brienne… she kept stealing little glances at him. That was possibly because he was doing the same with her.

There was something there, a feeling, a… he couldn't put words to it. It was aggravating, something that gnawed at him at times. He could almost sense where she was at times.

After they finished eating and cleaned their bowls in the pool, the Green Man sighed a little and then stood. "I'll check on the horses and then take the first watch."

Brynden watched him go with a slight frown. And then he sighed a little himself. "And I," he said as he stood, "Will take the second watch, but only after I have bathed. The warm springs beckon to me."

The Kingslayer just nodded tiredly and kept staring into the fire, but Brienne tilted her head in a number of directions and then blinked at him. "A warm bath is always good."

There was something in her voice that sent a shiver down his spine but he had no idea why. So he stood, grabbed a small bag from his saddlebag and strode off down the path that led down to the springs, lit by his lantern.

He placed the lantern by the side of the cavern, stripped off and then strode into the pool, sighing as he felt the sensation of the warm water on his body. Before he'd entered the water he'd grabbed the lump of soap that he'd been able to access at Castle Black and now he scrubbed himself as he bobbed up and down in the water. By the Old Gods, it felt good. The water was warm and it tasted clean. He didn't know where it left the caverns, but it must vent out somewhere. As he floated on his back and gazed up at the ceiling he pondered on where the hot water came from. Was this a former fire-mountain, like Dragonstone? A smaller one perhaps? How many more of them were there?

"The water looks warm."

The voice startled him. He didn't flounder – he was a Tully! – but he brought his feet down and peered around. Brienne was standing there on the stone path. She was wearing a shirt and breeches and her feet were bare.

"It's warm indeed," he said in a low voice. She was looking at him and he met that gaze. There was something challenging in it and he suppressed a swallow as he felt his heart beat a bit faster. "You want a bath as well?" The words seemed clumsy, and he cursed mentally.

A smile flickered across her face and then she started to undo her shirt. But as he gallantly started to turn away she stopped him with a single word: "Don't."

He turned back and then watched as she stripped out of her clothes. Her breasts were pert and her thatch close-cropped and as blonde as her hair. But he wasn't looking at that as he felt himself stir under the water. It was her face. Others might not call her beautiful, but he would. There was a flame inside her that he could almost sense. Once she was naked she strode into the pool and then made her way towards him.

Something seemed to have happened to his breath and he could tell that she felt the same by the way that she licked her lips as she approached him. "I thought that I would come to you, as you had not come to me," she said eventually.

"I… I am older than you."

"The grey in your hair is gone now."

"I know, but I do not know why."

"I think that the path we are on has done that."

"Where does the path lead to?"

And with that she smiled. "I do not know. But let us walk it together." And with that they both reached for each other and her mouth was on his, and as he pulled her against him he made a note that the next day they'd find a Heart Tree somewhere and ask her great-grandfather to bloody well wed her.


He rode through the gateway of Riverrun with something of a song in his heart and a feeling that he hadn't felt in some time. He had a feeling that he was in love. It was a heady feeling. And a bittersweet one, in a way.

Dismounting he stroked the nose of Wanderer and then handed the reins to a groom, before looking around the courtyard. It was as busy as ever, perhaps a little busier and he smiled slightly and then strode off to Father's solar.

Father was looking into a cup of something that seemed to displease him when he rapped on the door and then walked into the room, but still smiled and waved him to a chair. As he sat Edmure paused for a moment. Father looked tired.

"A new tincture, from the Maester," Father said after a moment as he looked back at the cup. "Something to help."

He tensed a little. "To help?"

"With the pain." A strained smile crossed Father's face. "The bad days are increasing, Edmure. There will come a day when they will outnumber the good days. And then... there will be the days when I cannot get out of bed."


"No. Don't say it, Edmure. We need to acknowledge facts. I cannot honeycoat this. We know what's coming, this war on the Wall, this war against the Others and the dead. There's a winter coming of many years. And I am ill and you must – must – be ready to succeed me. And... House Tully has grown thin, at least in those bearing that name.

"You are my heir, with Cat or one of her sons after you if the worst happens. We can't rely on Brynden marrying any time soon, your uncle has ever been a man of... whims. Although that might have changed now, with his association with the Green Men and this girl of Tarth." Father sighed and passed a hand over his brow.

"I've met her, Father."

Father looked up at him. "Roslin Frey?"

"Aye. Are you sure she's a Frey? And his daughter?"

Father laughed at this, a booming laugh that gave him a sliver of hope against the knowledge that Father was ill. "Oh, aye. Takes more after that Rosby mother of hers. You like her then?"

He sat there for a moment, feeling the emotion within him at the memories of their meeting. "I do. Very much."

"Good. Good." Father sat back and then sipped at the cup and then made a face. "Ah, that's foul in taste." He looked at him. "You wish to wed her?"

"I do, Father. Strange, to want to wed a Frey. But she doesn't look like a Frey."

"Which is a blessing." Father leant back in his chair and smiled. "Then we have a wedding to arrange, and right soon. I don't know how long I have left, but there must be more Tullys in Riverrun. There must. Winter is coming and there is so much to do."

"I know Father." He stood and strode to the window to look out. "It's going to be bad, isn't it?"

Father threw the rest of the cup down his throat and then grunted as he levered himself out of the chair to join him. "Aye, it is. The Wall must stand. If the North falls then we are next."

He placed a hand on Father's shoulder. "Then I will tell Lord Frey that I will marry his sister and that we have a marriage to arrange. The Lords of the Riverlands can assemble to celebrate it and make ready for what is to come."

Father grasped his hand. "And I'll try to live to see the birth of your heir. Send the ravens now."


There were times when she could sense that Harrenhall was... restless. And if it seemed odd that anyone could describe a vast castle, parts of which could be said to be half-melted from dragonfire, as restless, well, you had to have an ear out for the way it sounded at times. The sound of the wind in the corridors – or were those moans?

So many had died in the castle, during its building and on that terrible day, when Balerion the Black Dread had burnt it on the direction of Aegon the Conqueror.

She looked at the fire in the fireplace of her room and shivered a little. Kingspyre Tower was a place that she always avoided on certain days, such as the anniversary of the day that Harren the Black and his sons had died on that wretched tower. There was something about the place that more than put her teeth on edge – it frightened her at times. The place could be cold, eerie, echoing with odd sounds at times when there should be silence.

And there was too much silence. She was the last of House Whent. Her husband, Walter was long dead, as were her four sons and one daughter. Or as good as dead. She sighed and forced her thoughts away from that subject. No word had or would ever come, unless that tiny, slender, hope faded and died before she did.

House Whent was the sixth House to have held Harrenhall since the death of Harren the Black. House after House had guttered and died in these halls. There was a curse, she was sure of it and she had written to Cat, who would inherit after she died, to urge her never to set foot in the great castle, lest the curse touch House Stark as well. Perhaps the Old Gods would protect young Robb or Sansa or Bran if they were gifted it. Or perhaps not.

She shivered again. There was something in the air tonight, something that was prickling at the edge of her senses, a ghostly touch of the skin, the sense that something was just beyond her vision, that if she turned her head fast enough she might see it – but never could. She could not try. She was tired, deeply, almost deathly tired.

Sighing deeply she closed her eyes for a long moment and listened to the fire crackle. When she opened her eyes again Walter was standing there in front of her, dressed in armour, a sword at his hip, grey in his hair as he had been in his last days. And he was looking at her with fondness and love in his eyes.

"Shella, my wife and love."

"Walter." She looked at him with tears in her eyes. "Is this a dream, or has my time come?"

Walter went down on one knee in front of her. There was something in his expression that made her blink. There was regret there, but also fierceness. "No, your time has not yet come. And I will be fighting for that. And this is almost a dream, or close to it. Like Winterfell, Harrenhall is a place where the living and the dead are not far apart. In Winterfell it's because of great and wonderful magics. Here – here it's the opposite. Something terrible happened here. And tonight it ends."

She shook her head in confusion. "I... I don't understand."

He reached out as if to take her hand for a moment, but then drew it back. "You were right, the curse is real. Very real. You were right to do what you did. Harren the Black... he's still here, in a way. The mortar used in the building of Harrenhall has the blood of thousands in it. That was deliberate. Harren was steeped in foul and black magics, he wanted to build something that would last the ages and continue his line. He was a necromancer – he used the dead for his own ends.

"Aegon the Conqueror was right to end him and his sons the way that he did, in fire. Harren would have cursed him and his family if he had had time. But he didn't. Instead, in those last moments of his life he cursed the castle. His body died but part of him remained. He leaches life from the families that own this castle. He's there, like a leech, always draining from the living. Draining us."

She stared at him, horrified. "Then... how is it that you can now appear before me and tell me this?" Something moaned just out of sight and she looked about the room.

Walter pulled a slight face. "I've always been here," he said eventually. "The spirits of the dead that Harren drained of life to keep that sliver of him alive are always here. Helpless. Silent. Impotent. Prisoners of that cackling madman."

"But how-"

"Because he anchored his spells with the help of his mad, sick, dying god. The Drowned God was a part of his power. And thanks to Ned Stark the Drowned God is dead."

"Dead?" The word seemed to echo oddly in the room for a moment. "The Drowned God is no more?"

"He's dead. The curse is unravelling, like a thread being pulled that destroys a dark and terrible tapestry. I – no, we – are free again."

Her heart lurched within her – and then a shape wavered out of nothingness and she gasped at the sight of Osric, her eldest son, also in armour but with his sword in his hand. "Father, we must strike now, he weakens." He looked at her and smiled a strained and mournful smile. "Hello Mother. I've missed you so much. But it's time to go, Father. We have a battle to fight. And I want to sleep after."

"Oh, Osric," she said, tears in her eyes. And then she looked at Walter, who was drawing his own sword. "If you win I'll never see you again, will I?"

"No," her husband replied with the same smile as their son. "But we will be at rest. And Harren will be dead at last and the curse broken into pieces."

More figures shimmered into view, all in armour and bearing sigils of houses that had all held Harrenhall after the death of Harren the Black.

Walter looked at the grim-faced figures and then nodded to them. After they nodded back to him he looked at her. "I love you, my wife, always know that. Always. And now this ends, here and now. Harren finally dies tonight!"

The figures cheered at the final four words and with that the host turned and walked through the walls and out of sight, in the direction of the Kingspyre Tower. Just before Walter vanished from sight he turned and blew her a kiss, which she returned, the tears running down her face.

Perhaps there was hope left. Perhaps someone might return from his exile on the Isle of Faces. She believed in Walter.

She sat there for a long time, sensing... something, the trembling in the air, the sounds just out of reach of her ears, the clash of swords that she could only sense and not hear. There were screams, so many screams, of fury and pain and fear.

And then...

Someone close screamed. She could not tell who – was it her? Was it someone else? Who was it? A flickering form appeared in front of her, a burning shell of a man, half fire and half darkness, a creature that crawled on the floor and left smoking slime in his wake. There was a single eye in the ruined burnt face that looked at her, as shattered teeth gnashed at the air. She flinched back in her seat at it crawled its way towards her – and then Walter flickered into view. His face was bloodied, his armour rent and torn, his sword was notched but his stride was sure.

"No!" Walter bellowed as he raised his sword over the thing on the floor in front of him. "You will not have her! Or us! Or anyone, ever again! DIE!"

The sword slashed down, deep into the back of the burning creature, which screamed in anguish. Walter pulled it out, panting – and then drove it home again. Other figures flickered into view around the screaming creature and more blades rose and fell, hacking at the thing on the floor that was almost at her feet.

She stood abruptly and pulled out her own belt knife, before looking at the thing before her. It was almost oozing away into the floor, but there was still that eye that looked at her. So she knelt – and then she looked at the thing. "This is for my family." And then she stabbed the eye.

A wind rose in the room, something that brought the smell of burning into her nostrils at first, before it faded into emptiness. And just before she fell to her knees and fell asleep she could see Walter and Osric behind him smiling at her and then vanishing into the light.