The Wake

In the Great Hall, no one dared to speak as Jon examined the abomination. The bards would claim that the crowd was shocked into silence by the ghastly sight but it may have just been the smell - the putrid stench of rotting flesh dominated the air.

Grey Wind's head had been hacked off and sewn on a decapitated body. A circlet of iron with a few ungainly spikes was nailed to the head, a mockery of the Crown of Winter worn by the Stark kings. The dead body was bloated, oddly warm, and infested with squirming white maggots. Bumps protruded from the ravaged skin, reddish black shells about to burst into flies. A broken crossbow bolt jutted from the neck, and the smoke grey fur was blotched with dried brown blood. Like the dream, the golden eyes were sad.

"Where is the rest of the body?"

The girl froze. Jon waited for a response. After a long silence, the young servant gulped and looked up. "In the garderobe, near the rookery. That's where they cut up the wolf. Ser... Milord." She stammered the last few words, and shrank back, like a dog about to be beaten.

"Bring me the rest of the dire wolf. Every bit you can find." Jon said. After two weeks, there would be little left but Grey Wind deserved their best efforts. The wench nodded and hurried off.

"Who?" The question hung over the hall like a dark cloud. Jon did not bother to repeat himself.

Robin Ryger, his right arm bandaged, cleaned and set into a cast, stepped forward. "Elwood, Lord Snow. A good man. He was a Tully guard for six years."

"Bury Elwood in a cairn by the Trident. Mark his name." Jon said. "Chett, wash Grey Wind in water and wine. Take off the metal band. Wrap him in a shroud of linen, and find herbs."

The Winter Town boys cut away the stitchings and placed the headless body in a wheelbarrow. Jon gently closed the dire wolf's eyes before Chett took away the head with great care.

"Who did this? Who cut off Grey Wind's head?"

"It was our maester." A Frey girl blurted. Someone shoved forward Brennet, a bald, double chinned man with raven droppings on his robes. Maester Brennet whimpered and fell on his knees in supplication.

"I doubt he took the body from Sevenstreams and brought it to the Twins. Who hatched this idea of parading Grey Wind as a trophy of war?"

Few Freys met Jon's eyes. The other prisoners from the Westerlands and the Reach looked away, hoping to avoid any unwanted attention. The maester of the Twins continued to blubber.

"It was Whalen, my Lord." The answer came from a small skinny boy with the face of a fox.

"And you are?"

"Walder, son of Jammos. They call me Big Walder. I am the oldest grandson of Lord Frey named Walder. Whalen is my father's brother and married to my mother's sister."

"How do you know?"

"I heard Lothar and Whalen speaking of it, and my uncles gave him the honor of carrying the wolf head to Lord Frey." The skinny boy said.

Jon nodded. Smalljon Umber grabbed Whalen by the scruff of the neck and hurled him forward. A girl wailed before her young mother hushed her with a hand over the mouth.

"The boy lies. I had nothing to do with this. I was drinking at Sevenstreams. I never touched the wolf." The man babbled away.

"Maester Brennet - is it true?" Jon asked.

The fat man in grey gave a fearful nod and Whalen shrieked in alarm. He turned a hateful look at Big Walder, but the boy's cold eyes did not blink.

"Lord Snow, we could put them to the question." Harrion Karstark said.

"No need for torture." Jon replied. In the morning light, Ghost's eyes gleamed blood red like a face carved into a heart tree. "Bring me a barrel of pitch and a torch."

The Northmen trussed Whalen like a chicken to be roasted over a spit, bound by rope over shoulders, arms and legs. A simple fire pit was built in the middle of the hall, with bricks and stone taken from the hearth and the Smalljon tossed the man into the crude circle. A Winter Town boy ladled thick black tar on the back of the sobbing Frey's head and greasy hair.

The black tom hissed and jumped off the table. Jon lit the torch and walked closer, past the eyes of horrified Reachman, the Westermen, and Riverlanders. Whalen's cries for mercy fell on deaf ears. Jon thrust the torch forward. The black pitch combusted, the whoosh of the flames dancing in the air. The head burned a bright yellow, and the screaming became louder, until suddenly stopping. The heat did not bother Jon or Balerion.

"Cut the head and hands off. We will send them as gifts for Tywin Lannister."

Servants removed the burnt body before the Winterfell men entered the room. Four Stark guards, led by Ser Alyn, bore the Lord of Winterfell on a canvas stretcher covered with thick wool blankets. Robb wore a white surcoat emblazoned with a running gray dire wolf. His breathing was regular but he was still pale, Jon thought.

More eyes in the hall were on the tall graceful girl with auburn hair and bright blue eyes. In the last few days, only the most trusted retainers had access to the Stark tent. Wild tales had spread of the escape from King's Landing but few knew the true tale, and none of those dwelled at the Twins. Her presence shocked the Freys and the other prisoners.

Sansa Stark sat with her siblings, as they placed Robb down between Ghost and Nymeria. The Hound and Brienne loomed near, staring warily at the crowd.

"Lady Sansa, we heard that you would be married to the Imp." Edmure Tully said.

She raised her voice so that the hall could hear. "My brother Jon rescued me from the Red Keep. He burnt down the Iron Throne with wildfire before we departed."

"It was an ugly chair. I only wish Lord Tywin or Joffrey had been sitting there when I burned it down." Balerion hissed but calmed at his touch. "Tell me, Frey, what did the Lannisters promise you? How much gold and land did you shit on your family honor for?

Walder Frey shot Jon an angry look. "Everything I have done is for my family, bastard. I have taken care of my own, and seen my sons, daughters and grandchildren married, and married well. Any lands and titles would have gone to my children. House Lannister would have ensured their future."

"So you committed treason for the good of your family? Betrayed allies, imprisoned your liege lord, broke guest right, killed Lady Stark, and butchered countless unarmed men. All these crimes were for the glory of House Frey."

"I have to provide for my family." The old man spat back.

"You won't have that problem much longer. They sing in the North about the Rat Cook and how the gods cursed him to devour his young after breaking guest right. They will sing songs about how your greed destroyed your house."

""I am not guilty of treason, bastard. You are. I serve the true king, Joffrey Baratheon, the first of his name. Edmure Tully and Robb Stark rebelled against the Iron Throne. Their actions revoke my oaths to House Tully." Walder Frey said.

"You are a treacherous scum. Service to Joffrey will not save you from justice. King's Landing is eight hundred miles away. I would be quite happy to defeat what remains of the Lannister army. But you will be long dead before that happens.

"Then I would appeal to the gods. I demand a trial by combat." Lord Walder said.

The great hall was in an uproar. Ser Brynden was livid, along with every lord whose heirs had been imprisoned at the Twins.

"How dare you?" Lord Piper screeched. "A trial by combat is an appeal to the Seven for justice. You broke guest right, which is sacred. And you imprisoned our heirs at a wedding."

"Any noble has a right to a trial by combat. Any man can appoint another to fight." Lothar said.

"It is true, my lord. The right to a trial by combat is enshrined in the Faith of the Seven." An old white bearded septon said.

"Did you preside over Edmure Tully's wedding?" Jon asked. The man cringed and said no more.

"I would be happy to represent House Stark at any trial. They killed my friends Roland and Elbert at Sevenstreams." Ser Mychel Redfort said.

The Vale knight had volunteered first but many others loathed Lord Walder - the Greatjon, the Blackfish, even Tytos Blackwood and Jonos Bracken. Jon was certain that Brienne or the Hound would be willing to face a Frey, "And who will be your champion?" Jon asked.

"Black Walder."

Lord Frey's great grandson had a fearsome reputation as a warrior. Still, that was among the Freys, who were average fighters at best. Mychel was one of the best swordsmen in the Vale, and both Brienne and the Hound were vicious in battle.

"Lord Snow, I wish to face him." Dacey had washed her face, but only time could heal the black eye, broken nose, and bruised lips. She had replaced her torn clothes with a dark green studded brigandine and a plain mace. The steel morning star had been lost at Sevenstreams.

Black Walder gave a shrill hiccup of a laugh. "Can't get enough of me - can you, girl? After I win, I will chain you to my bed."

Dacey flushed red. "I will kill you before you ever lay a hand on me again."

"You were a prisoner for two weeks. I do not ,,…" Jon said.

"Prisoner? She was my whore. Ask her. Ask her how she squealed and shuddered when I fucked her. Or have you and your brother had her already, Snow? "

"You raped me, you bastard." Dacey said.

"And now, you might have a bastard of your own."

An angry rumble came from the Northmen. Either Black Walder believed that he would win a trial by combat or he knew he was a dead man, and wanted to go out in a blaze of glory, showing contempt for the North. Nether was acceptable to Jon.

"You can face me." The Smalljon bellowed, waving a huge, ugly greatsword.

"No. I fight my own battles. Snow, I can defeat him. I can..." Dacey said.

Jon held his hand up for silence. "Lord Walder, I will grant you trial by combat before the eyes of the gods. Smalljon, Harrion, cut Black Walder free." The Frey knight grinned as the ropes dropped from his arms and feet. He leered at the Mormont girls, a sneer on the surly black bearded face. "Am I to face the bitch?"

A she-bear was called a sow, but Jon doubted the quality of the education at the Twins. "Black Walder, did you truly rut with Lady Dacey?"

"Aye, she begged for my cock. She couldn't get enough. Said she never had something so thick or large. I may have ruined her for you though."

"I am glad you said those words. Hold him by the arms." The two heirs grabbed the Frey knight in a tight vise like grip. Black Walder may have been tall and wiry but the Smalljon and Harrion Karstark were tall, powerful men, even by the standards of the North.

Jon stood up, the eyes of the Hall on him. He took out a thick steel knife, with a single sharp edge for cutting and a heavy point for thrusting. "Dacey, Black Walder claims you enjoyed his cock. Then you should keep it as a gift."

The She-Bear grinned as she grabbed the blade. Smalljon and Harrion clamped burly arms around both shoulders. Dacey yanked down the breeches and cut off the offending appendage and held the bleeding trophy up for everyone to see. The cheers of the Mormonts almost drowned out the shrieking Black Walder.

"Looks rather small and shriveled, but perhaps things are different at the Twins." Jon shrugged.

"You cannot attack a man before a trial by combat." Lothar yelled.

"Why? Was he planning to fight with his cock? If so, that would have been a short battle."

Jon stuck a torch into the still hot embers of the fire pit. When the wood burned, he thrust the tip into the naked groin, to the gasps of the prisoners. The sickly smell of burnt flesh drifted through the hall and the screaming turned into whimpers. Jon took away the torch and nodded for Smalljon and Harrion to release the knight. Black Walder collapsed into a fetal position, hands over the mutilated nether regions, and passed out, breeches still at the knees.

Jon waited but the man did not rise. "Your champion forfeited. You lose, Lord Walder. I declare you guilty."

"You cheated, Snow. It is not fair, it is not fair." The old man whined like a petulant child.

"No, it is not. You shouldn't have killed a dire wolf." Jon sat down. "Bind Black Walder again."

"Lord Snow, can't we just behead him now? It is a waste of rope." Harrion said.

"No. His cock belongs to Dacey Mormont but his life belongs to me. Black Walder will not bleed to death. He will be awake when I burn him alive. Traitors do not deserve to die with honor."

Jon burned the younger Frey sons first - Elmar, Waltyr, and Colmar. Any boy who went as a page or squire to Sevenstreams died in the flames. Many of Lord Walder's grandsons fell into this group. The male lines of House Haigh, Vypren and Charlton were extinguished. The lord of House Erenford had been too ill to attend but his knights were hung from the rafters.

The dire wolf's remains, wrapped in a white shroud so only the head was visible, rested in an open pine coffin next to Robb. Gerry had rubbed sweet smelling balsam on the skin, and laid a bed of pennyroyal blooms under the body. The crushed leaves smelled strongly of mint. The lilac flowers made Grey Wind look like an uncrowned king.

"Maester Snow, we found it." Chett entered with a small box bursting with parchment.

"And where was it?" Jon reached out.

"In a chest in Lothar Frey's room. Under his wife's clothes." Chett announced.

"Lord Snow, I knew nothing about this." A dark blonde woman bleated. She sat with four frightened girls. The oldest was younger than Arya. The youngest was an infant on the teat.

"What is in the box?" Arya asked.

"Letters from Tywin Lannister. He kept them to record the promises made by the Iron Throne." Jon scanned the notes quickly. "Quite a reward. Lord Walder will be declared Lord Paramount of the Trident, Ser Emmon Frey gets Riverrun, Lancel and Daven Lannister will marry Frey girls and one will receive the Darry lands. Two other of Walder's sons will marry Eleanor Mooton and Joy Hill. And oh, Lord Tywin has awarded your hand in marriage to a Frey."

"Who?" Arya demanded loudly as Nymeria growled.

"Elmar. He's already dead. I will send his skull and ashes to King's Landing." Jon stared hard at Walder's sons. "Which one of you is Emmon Frey?"

"Ser Emmon married Lady Genna Lannister, Lord Tywin's sister. They dwell in Casterly Rock." Maester Brennet said.

Jon thought for a bit. "Cleos Frey. Your mother was a Lannister. Now, you are the heir to Riverrun."

A Stark guard pushed the butt of a spear into his back and Cleos stumbled forward. "I knew nothing of any plans."

"I would hope not. You have been a captive since the Whispering Wood. Still, you are a threat to House Tully. And your brother Tion is also our prisoner." Jon said.

"I will renounce any claim to Riverrun." Cleos blurted out. "I swear it on the Seven. My brother, as well. We are no threat to you." He looked like a particularly nervous weasel. His younger brother, Tion, was braver but that was not saying much.

"Lord Snow, killing Cleos won't help. He has two sons with Jeyne Darry and two brothers at Casterly Rock. Alive, he has value as a hostage to Lady Genna." Kevan Lannister was stolid and firm, even in the face of death. His three children and wife took after him.

"And does your sister care whether he returns alive or dead?"

"Of course she does. He is her son." Kevan said.

"Your brother didn't give a shit about the lives of his knights and lords. Many of them are related to him by marriage. So long as Ser Jaime was freed, Tywin Lannister approved Walder's treachery. He knew I could kill you, your wife, and your children. And I would, had Robb died." Jon stopped for a moment to let the words sink in. "Ser Cleos, you will live for now. You should thank your uncle for speaking on your behalf."

Jon held up a note, marked with a kraken sigil. "A letter from Pyke. How do you get this, Lothar? Why would Euron Greyjoy write to you?"

"Go to hell." Lothar said.

"I can guess the answer. Tywin Lannister urged the Greyjoys to attack Seagard. If Robb was beaten, you would have Frey men kill any survivors. But Robb won, so you had another plan to invite the Northmen to a feast where you broke guest right."

"Why would I tell you anything, bastard? You will kill me anyway." Lothar shot back.

"True. Anyone aware of the Black Wedding and the Traitor's Feast will die."

Lothar gave a feral grin. "Then I will tell you something. Roslin Frey knew. She knew we planned to take Edmure Tully prisoner."

"Then she dies." Jon said.

Roslin Frey was a small girl, with a slight chin, a delicate nose, and slim hips. Her long brown hair framed big brown eyes and a pale white face. She was quite pretty, and hid her fear well, walking without any prompting from the Stark guards.

"My lord, you cannot believe Lothar. He is a trickster and a cheat." Perwyn shouted.

"Lady Roslin. Did you know of your Lord Father's treachery?" Jon asked.

She bowed, exposing a slender neck. "Yes, my Lord. They told me the day before the wedding. Lothar said they would kill me and my brothers if I said anything. I did not tell them, Lord Snow. I never spoke to my brothers, or sisters about it."

"Who informed you?" Jon ignored the quiet sobs from many of the Frey women. To her credit, Roslin met his gaze.

"Lame Lothar. Ryman and Aenys were there as well, but they did not speak." Roslin said.

"Lord Snow. I served you at the Golden Tooth, and at the God's Eye. And my brother almost died for Robb in the Reach. Spare my sister. Kill me instead." Perwyn begged.

"You are a prisoner, Perwyn. Your life is not yours to give." Jon said bluntly. "Roslin assisted the plot, and for that, there is only one sentence. The North does not forgive."

"Roslin is not a Frey. She is a Tully." Edmure said.

"I do not care what her last name is. I ended House Vypren because they attended your wedding. That they were not Freys did not matter. Roslin helped Lothar commit these crimes."

"Edmure, this is not…" The Blackfish said.

"No, Uncle. Roslin is my wife. I said the vows before a septon and in the eyes of the Seven. I am hers and she is mine. I will not abandon my wife." Edmure said.

"Your wife knew that you would be a captive in a few hours. That your bannermen would be captured and your guards would be killed. How many Tully men died at the Twins? Your sister died. And after the blasted wedding, they attacked my brother and his men."

"She may carry my child, Snow. We pledged ourselves before the gods." Edmure mumbled. The Lord of Riverrun looked miserable but determined.

"My brother had a child too. Talisa was pregnant with his babe before the Freys murdered her. What would have happened if I had not taken the Twins? You would be locked in a dungeon for the rest of your miserable life. Walder Frey would rule the Riverlands. One of his sons would sit in your father's solar. The other Freys would murder your bannermen to take their castles."

"My Lords, perhaps we can discuss this later, when cooler heads prevail." Jason Mallister said.

"I won't allow my wife to die. My men will protect Roslin." Edmure said.

That was the wrong thing to say. "Your men? Your men died at the Twins. Your men did not rescue you. House Stark saved you. House Stark captured the Twins. House Stark freed your bannermen." Jon's anger carried through the hall.

"Lord Snow, our uncle is disquieted over his recent imprisonment. His fears have made him speak unwisely. Perhaps, we can come to terms over Roslin." Sansa said.

"Terms? What terms would this be?" Jon said.

"Edmure must offer something of great value for the life of his lady." Sansa said.

"Lord Snow, I offer my services to the North. I will pledge the swords of House Tully to Winterfell. I will shield your back and keep your council."

Jon bit back a sharp retort. Riverrun had few swords left and while he valued the Blackfish, he did not need Ser Brynden to wage war. The lords and knights in the hall went quiet, joining the silent prisoners. Edmure was no relation of his, but the Tully lord shared blood with Robb, Arya and Sansa. Jon looked at his fallen brother. No - not fallen. Robb was not dead, only resting. One day, his brother would rise again, and rule the North from Winterfell. Robb would be more generous with Lord Tully, and Jon had to put his own feelings aside.

Jon spoke first to the prisoners. "If I were Lord of Winterfell, there would be no settlement. I would kill all of you. But I am not Lord of Winterfell. My brother is, and he is more merciful than me. Pray that he lives, because if Robb dies, I will be far less kind."

He turned to Edmure. "These are my terms, Ser. You will swear an oath, and bind your children, and children's children. For a hundred years, House Tully will follow the commands of House Stark without fail."

Edmure gulped and nodded. The Blackfish was resigned to his nephew's folly and the other Riverlords were too weak to object.

Jon turned last to the lady in question. "Roslin Frey, you are pardoned for your crimes. Go back to Olyvar and Perwyn. Those two have served the North well. You will be safe with them. But your other brother was at Sevenstreams."

They threw Benfrey into the fire pit. He screamed a long time.

By lunchtime, a dozen sons were already dead, their skulls and hands in a pile in front of a slack-jawed Walder Frey. Some hadn't died by fire. One, a particularly fat, slovenly man, had protested that he had done no fighting, and was only told to get the Greatjon drunk. Merrett Frey had passed out during the feast and not woken until the fighting was over. Her brother had listened, and then ordered servants to bring out a butt of wine. The giant barrel was taller than Arya. The protesting Frey was drowned, his chicken like legs sticking up in the air.

"What a waste of wine." Ser Andrew Tollett sighed, licking his lips. If it was only one Frey, the knight might have taken a sip. But a half dozen other men were held under, until their bodies stopped thrashing. Their corpses were removed but the vintage was already spoiled.

Arya picked at her boiled beef and radishes. It was tasty enough with bread and cheese, but she would have preferred to leave. Jon departed before lunch, his priority sending ravens to expose the promises that Tywin had made to the Freys. Arya knew that stripping an ancient house of their castle AND breaking guest right would set highborns against the lions. The question though was whether anyone, besides the North, had the courage to fight.

"Gerry, did my brother leave this behind?" Sansa pointed to a piece of parchment.

"No, my lady. It is a list of names sentenced to die. If the maester doesn't return, we will kill them after lunch." The blond boy cheerfully replied.

Arya could see a dozen more Freys on the sheet. Lord Walder was the last, with only Ryman and Lame Lothar before him. These twelve would all die by fire.

"Why does he have to burn them? Couldn't Snow simply execute the guilty?" Brienne said.

"But he has. The archers, crossbowmen and men at arms who surrendered were beheaded this morning and thrown into a mass grave. Only the highborn were burnt." Gerry added.

Brienne turned white. "But they yielded. I am sorry, Lady Sansa - your brother is a cruel man. He could have spared them."

"Oh, please. Snow has been less violent than expected." Clegane snorted. "What would Tywin do if the Freys attacked his men at a feast? Far worse than Snow. Tywin butchered the three year old Tarbeck heir and drowned everyone in the mines of Castamere. Why is death by water any worse than death by fire?"

"But they could be sent to the wall. There, they would still serve the Seven Kingdoms."

"Why would we want Freys at the Wall? They are liars and traitors." Arya demanded.

"Arya!" Her sister hissed.

She turned to see Roslin's pale ashen face, leading half a dozen ladies over to their table. Some were older, some younger, but all the Frey women had been crying. Arya scowled and stabbed the beef as some meaningless pleasantries were exchanged.

"Lady Sansa, I am glad you are freed from King's Landing." Roslin said.

"Lady Roslin, I wish you happiness in your marriage." Sansa replied.

"May I introduce my sisters and nieces. My nieces - Zia, daughter of Tytos, Fair Walda, daughter of Steffon, and Alyx daughter of Symond. And these are my half sisters, Tyta, daughter of Alyssa Blackwood, and Arywn and Shirei, daughters of Annara Farring." The last one was only six and clung to her older sister's skirts.

"I am pleased to meet you all." Sansa said with grace and courtesy.

Arya did not pretend to be pleased. Of the many daughters, and grand daughters, these six looked least like Lord Walder. That was no accident.

"My sisters and nieces wonder what will become of the castles. It is the only home they have known." Roslin said.

Sansa blinked. "I do not know. Why not ask Lord Edmure? House Tully rules the Riverlands."

"Everyone knows that Snow will decide our fate." Tyta said bluntly. She was the oldest Frey, and still unmarried at the age of thirty.

Jon had not executed any women. At least not yet, Arya thought grimly. She suspected a few wives but there was no evidence. Lothar's wife, a Lefford, had nearly passed from hysteria, denying any involvement and knowledge. Her niece, Lady Alyssa, attempted to console her, but Leonella Frey was still in a panic over her girls.

"Lady Sansa, I beg you to speak to your brother on behalf of my sisters and nieces. They fear for their future." Roslin said.

"Jon keeps his own council." Arya said abruptly.

"That is quite true." Sansa admitted. "I have not seen him for more than four years since he left for the Citadel. Surely, your husband might intercede for your sisters."

"Snow is not likely to listen to Lord Tully." Tyta declared. "We do not know who else to ask, my lady. It is a hard thing to wait while others determine your fate."

Arya stood up. "I need air." She ignored her sister's reproof as she left the hall.

No one bothered Arya on the walk to the bridge. Nymeria had not left her side that morning, and the dire wolf was more fearsome than any knight. Further, everyone was busy. Hundreds of prisoners needed to be watched and guarded. The Mormonts counted the soldiers still healthy enough to fight. The Umbers and Karstarks took charge of the baggage and the supply train. The Winter Town boys focused on food and fodder. The Manderlys scoured both castles for any loot. They found chests of silver, bags of gold, jeweled rings, silk bolts, fine tableware, and suits of enameled armor - the servants at the Twins had been pathetically eager to give up Walder Frey's treasures. They were deathly afraid, Arya realized.

The sun passed its highest point. A flock of smallfolk gathered on both shores to gawk at the pontoon bridge, like villagers attending a royal tourney. The Forresters sang while they helped the little birds dismantle rafts. Wine barrels rested on the banks, waiting for barges. Septons preached fiery sermons on how the Father punished Lord Walder for his crimes. Bloody fools, she thought. It had nothing to do with the gods. Winter came for House Frey.

"Arya Stark." A graceful woman watched the murky green water rush under the bridge.

"Lady Ravella." Arya smiled but Nymeria's ears prickled, remembering the cramped bathtub, scalding water and stinky flowers.

"I am sorry about Lady Stark. I did not know her well but she seemed a good woman, who cared greatly about her daughters."

Arya nodded. "Why are you here, my lady? It is far from Acorn Hall."

"They killed my husband Theomar at Edmure's wedding. I did not love him, but we wed when I was one and seven. I bore him two children, my boy who died and my Carellen who I sent to Oldtown. The Freys stripped his body and threw it, with his slain knights, into the river."

"My brother will kill his murderers."

"The servants claim Snow will bake Walder Frey into a pie to serve his family." Lady Smallwood sighed. "Vengeance won't bring back my lord. Why are you on the bridge, Lady Arya? I thought you would be seated at the high table with your brother and sister."

"I was but then Roslin Frey and her sisters came over. They begged Sansa to speak with Jon for them." Arya snorted.

"I can understand their fear." the lady said softly.

"Why? Jon hasn't executed any women or children." In her mind, the squires that fought at Sevenstreams were as guilty as the men.

"What happens next? Your brother will kill any Frey knights or men at arms. Who will protect them? Where will they go? What happens to a highborn lady without a home or gold?"

"They can return back to their other families. Walder took wives from many houses. So did his sons. Or they can go with Roslin to Riverrun." Arya said.

"Do you think they will be welcomed there? The Freys butchered the Tully guards. They killed Edmure's knights and imprisoned his companions. The North may remember but the men of the Trident do not forget. No, child. Their fears are well placed."

"My uncle is an idiot. He should have set her aside. He had been with her for a few hours before her brothers threw him into the dungeons."

"Lord Edmure has a good heart but a soft head. He is kind to his people and too honorable to discard Roslin. He can hawk, dance, and bow as well as any, but in war…"

"My brothers are better." Arya had heard the whispers that morning. They feared Jon.

"Edmure is a fine ruler in a time of peace. But he cannot defend his people in war. I do not know how much longer I can hold Acorn Hall. I have walls, but not enough men. When the war comes next, I doubt we will survive."

"But there is no more fighting in the Riverlands." Arya said.

"How long will that last? Tywin Lannister will demand we bend the knee or he will send reavers and rapers into the Riverlands again. Your brothers will not allow that. The war will return."

"You could come North with us, my lady. The Starks would protect you."

"And what of my people? We are a small house, and beholden to Lord Karyl Vance. I must hold Acorn Hall for my liege and my Carellen, for whatever good that does her."

Arya wondered if she would ever see Lady Ravella alive again. Would she be dead when winter came? Would her daughter return from Oldtown to a sacked castle? She felt ashamed of her anger at the Frey girls. "I will speak to Jon. He will protect you and your people."

"But how? He does not have many men. Your brother cannot save everyone."

"But he can save you. You are pledged to Karyl Vance, and the Vances are loyal to Riverrun. Edmure has sworn his swords to Winterfell. You are our bannerman and the Starks do not abandon our men. Do not worry. My brother will find a way."

Arya left to find Jon.

The Freys did not believe in death with dignity. They screeched and wailed and begged as they were dragged to the fire pit. They screamed as the flames consumed them. The names on the parchment had been scratched off - Hosteen, Symond, Danwell, Raymund who had slit Lady Catelyn's throat, Jared, Aenys, Peter, Edwyn, Black Walder, Ryman, Lame Lothar, and finally there was only one left.

The Greatjon grabbed Walder by the scruff of his scrawny wattled neck. The old man had pissed himself in fear and Lord Umber held him at the end of his long arms. The Greatjon deposited him into the fire pit, still red hot from Lame Lothar's burning. Walder Frey fell over on his knees, and rolled around in the embers, shrieking like a large and very ugly baby.

"No last words? No clever gibes?" Jon asked, as the Winter Town boys brought over a small cask full of black pitch and tar. Only sobs could be heard from the pit. "Count yourself fortunate. You will die quickly."

Chett lit the cask and the flames burned red, yellow and black. Jon dumped the barrel of burning pitch on Walder, the liquid fire pouring down the eyes, the nose, and the throat and encasing the body. A short shrill squeal and it was over. The last and final Lord of the Crossing was dead.

For dinner, servants delivered cauldrons of mutton in a thick broth of ale and onions to the hall. To their shock, the Freys ate with the other prisoners. Only three of Walder's sons survived - Stevron, Perwyn and Olyvar, and a handful of grandsons over the age of five. Jon listened to both Arya and Sansa. That night, he left the castle to sleep under the stars.

Tywin Lannister was running out of henchmen. In the taverns, bards sang of the Mountain's Last Ride but in the Small Council, the Grand Maester was an equally damning loss. Pycelle was a toad but he was his father's creature, a spy in the Red Keep and a reliable vote on the Small Council. Three weeks after the Wildfire Wedding, the Iron Throne struggled to find a suitable replacement. And the maesters declined to offer any help.

"The Conclave chose Gormon Tyrell, Mace's uncle, as a replacement for Pycelle." Tyrion said.

"Father will never allow that." Cersei said.

"It has been forty years since a Grand Maester was elected. Gormon was one of three Tyrells considered for the position. There are more maesters from the Reach than all the other kingdoms combined." Tyrion said.

"What about the maester at Casterly Rock? Why not appoint him?" Cersei said.

Creylen was a decent man, but had no chance of being selected. "Only the Conclave chooses the Grand Maester. There are twenty one archmaesters, and they care more about the names of comets than the desires of the Lannisters." Tyrion replied.

"The Citadel has no army. Who are they to say who Joffrey can appoint? The grey rats can complain, but they will not force the issue." Cersei said.

"Those grey rats are in every castle in the Seven Kingdoms. We have enough enemies already. We don't need to make more." Tyrion said. It was not the first time he and Cersei disagreed. It was pointless to try to change his sister's mind. "Have you found men for the Kingsguard?"

Jaime shook his head. "I would consider the Strongboar and Robert Brax but they are both captives of the North. And Addam Marbrand is his father's heir."

"I have found someone who could be a fine Master of Whispers." Cersei preened. "Lord Orton Merryweather."

"The man with a nose like a potato and hair like a carrot?" Jaime said skeptically.

"He has offered to spy on Mace Tyrell for me." Cersei said.

"And what is he telling you? Did Mace have honeyed ham or lamprey pie for breakfast? How many glasses of Arbor Gold did the Fat Flower drink?" Tyrion chimed in. "Poached pears in honey? Or Peaches in sweet cream? If Lord Mace used the sword as much as the fork, he would be the greatest warrior since Ser Arthur Dayne." Jaime said.

"Laugh all you want. At least I have a spy among the Tyrells." Cersei said.

"No, you do not. Mace Tyrell is a bumbler. Olenna Tyrell rules her son, and she is not dumb enough to trust Orton Merryweather with anything important." Tyrion said.

The doors to the small council chambers burst open to reveal a gaunt gray face. Only six moons ago, Lancel Lannister had been a handsome squire full of youthful promise. Now he looked like an old man with hollow cheeks and tired, nervous eyes.

"The Twins have fallen." Lancel announced, loud enough for everyone outside the doors to hear.

"But, how?" Jaime asked.

"The High Septon claims it is punishment for their sins. That the gods will damn any man who abused the sacrament of marriage and the sacred laws of hospitality."

"One castle is not easy to siege, let alone two. The North does not have many men, particularly with Edmure and the other lords as hostages. You need siege towers, battering rams, catapults, and ladders. Storming a castle takes a long time." Jaime said.

Yet it had been done so quickly that the singers would compose another damned song. Tyrion wondered if it would be Twilight of the Twins or some other ridiculous name. "How does the High Septon know? No ravens have come to the Red Keep." It was still early in the morning.

"Everyone in the Sept of Baelor knows. Snow took the Twins yesterday at dawn." Lancel said.

"Of course. The ravens reached the castles in the Riverlands last night. News would spread to the villages and the septs, and the High Septon has spies there." Tyrion said aloud.

"How could Walder Frey be so incompetent? Perhaps the battle was bloody and both sides lost many men. If Snow is wounded or killed, that would solve our problems." Cersei ranted.

"The septons say Snow suffered no losses. He crushed the Freys with ease. He did not even need any Rivermen to fight for him."

"Joffrey will be angered greatly. This defeat will bring shame to the Iron Throne." Cersei said.

"Shame the Throne? Who cares about Joffrey's moods!" Lancel exploded. "My father, mother, brothers and sister are all prisoners. The maester at the Tooth says that mother and Janei were dragged North after the Freys shat on guest right. Janei is a girl of three name days. What do you think the White Wolf will do to her? Will he kill her in front of my father and mother? Or sell her as a slave to some savage at the end of the world?"

"Joffrey is your king, Ser." Cersei replied sharply.

Lancel looked at her with loathing. "He is a fool that chopped Ned Stark's head off. He is not fighting this war. Joffrey ran like a coward at the Wildfire Wedding. We all saw his courage."

Fortunately, Jamie stopped Cersei from spewing more nonsense. "Lancel, your fears may be overdone. I was a prisoner at Riverrun with your father and brothers. We were treated better than we could have hoped. Walder Frey is a dead man but your family had nothing to do with his treachery. Why would your mother or sister be harmed?"

"Then why were they taken North? The prisoners were safe at the Tooth. My family had nothing to do with this but yours did. As soon as you were safe, your father plotted these shameful deeds. Tywin Lannister only cares about you, Jaime. He doesn't give a shit about the rest of us. He would be happy to trade all of our lives to win the war."

"There is no proof, Ser, that Lord Tywin had any ties to Walder Frey's schemes." Cersei said.

His face purpled. "Stop with your lies. The truth has already won. The gods will punish those guilty for these crimes. I will pray to the Mother for mercy and to the Crone for wisdom. And if my family should be saved, I will dedicate my life to the Faith." Lancel stormed off.

"He didn't tell us whether Edmure Tully was rescued or died in the castle." Cersei complained.

"Ask Lord Merryweather and his vast network of spies." Tyrion quipped. Jaime laughed. Cersei did not.

As the new Master of Coin, Tyrion had far fewer guards. He took all of them, Bronn and Pod into King's Landing. Whatever the septons knew, the sparrows would as well. With the Riverlands at peace, the number of refugees in the city had shrunk. The ones that remained were more militant and better organized. The sparrows had no love for Lord Tywin. They were angered at the destruction in the Riverlands, and furious about the crimes of Walder Frey. Tyrion wondered how they would react to this news.

They arrived at the manse just south of the Iron Gate. Olive skinned spearmen stared hard at the carriage. They were backed by more guards in canary yellow robes and white headdresses with heavy crossbows. Oberyn Martell seemed like a dandy but he had fought in the Disputed Lands, and founded his own company of sellswords. It was a good thing that Dorne and the North were far away, Tyrion thought. Both kingdoms were good at war.

The steward announced their names to the Martells. Three Sand Snakes lounged under the fruit trees in the garden. One glared, one scoffed, and the last stared curiously at him. Their father ate breakfast with Ellaria, and a slender young man with curly black hair and brown skin. Tyrion wondered why the Summer Islander looked familiar.

"Tyrion Lannister." Oberyn pushed forward a plate of flatbread, olives, and dates stuffed with cheese and nuts. "Eat. I don't murder guests like Walder Frey or Tywin Lannister."

"Thank you." As Pod and Bronn took a bite, Tyrion stole a glimpse at the letter under the Red Viper's plate. A hungry raven ate corn from the young man's hand.

"Why are you here, Lannister?" Ellaria said.

"I have come to ask about my niece, Myrcella and whether she has taken well to Sunspear and the Water Gardens." Tyrion said.

"He wants to see what we know about the Twins." The third Sand Snake said. "The news must have just reached the Lannisters."

"Is that so? Did it arrive by raven?" Oberyn smirked. "Our spies in the riverlands sent a letter. Everyone on the Trident knows of the Lannister's treachery."

The Trident was a long river. The news might have spread as far west as Hornvale and Deep Den and as far east to Saltpans. By tomorrow, all the Westerlands would know and ships calling at the Bay of Crabs would visit the Vale and Crackclaw Point.

"I hope Snow sent your father a raven. I would have loved to see Tywin's face. Dear Lord Hand - you are a lying piece of shit. Lothar Frey has confessed all." Oberyn said.

"Those are only words. There is no proof that my house was involved."

"Snow has letters. Written in your father's hand with the Lannister seal to Lothar Frey. He read them aloud to his lords. Your father promised Riverrun and Darry to the Freys. He also would marry Joy Hill and Eleanor Mooton to Walder's sons. The wolves will tear Lord Mooton to pieces for his treachery." The Dornish prince was enjoying himself immensely.

At least Joy, his favorite uncle's daughter, would not have to marry a Frey. She was a sweet child and deserved better. Tyrion gave up any pretense of ignorance. "What else does the letter say? How did Snow take the Twins so quickly? And what will happen to the prisoners?"

"Which set of prisoners?" Oberyn asked pointedly. "The spy writes that Snow took a bridge with a bridge. We do not know what that means. A mummer's riddle."

There were three sets of prisoners at the Twins. Edmure Tully and the highborn from the North and the Riverlands were one. The Freys were another although Tyrion doubted anyone would shed tears for them. The third were the hostages from the Reach and the Westerlands. How angry would the North be about his father's actions?

"Is Edmure Tully alive?" Tyion asked.

"Who gives a shit about Edmure Tully? He doesn't matter." An elegant Sand Snake said, stabbing a blood orange with a curved dagger.

"What plans does Snow have for the prisoners? Will he kill the Freys? And what of the men captured in earlier battles?" Tyrion said.

The oldest Sand Snake, a tall angry muscled beast of a woman, snarled. "He should strangle them with their own guts."

"Fortunately, you do not decide their fate." Tyrion replied.

The youngest girl, who looked as innocent as a septa, spoke gently. "You must forgive Obara. She is furious to miss the fighting. Snow is younger than her by many years and yet he has won battle after battle. And now, he has exposed your Lord Father as a cheat and a liar."

"I already know my father's character. Tell me what Snow will do to the prisoners. He has my uncle, my cousins, and many aunts. He holds over fifty Lannister squires."

"We don't know. I have someone I trust at the Citadel. Four years ago, Jon Snow was just a clever boy, eager to learn. He would have forged his links, and become a maester in the North. But your house started a war with the Starks, and he left Oldtown. Lord Tywin thought the Seven Kingdoms orbited around him. But orbits can shift, as archmaester Vaellyn claims. Snow can wipe out an entire generation of highborn in the Westerlands." Oberyn said.

That was true. The North had captured every Crakehall. None of Lord Roland's sons were wedded. The Leffords, the Lyddens, the Braxes, the Serretts - there might be a few children under five back in their castles but the Westerlands would suffer a huge loss if the prisoners were killed. Tyrion shuddered at the thought.

"Strange, isn't it? To live in fear and pray for mercy from your enemies. That's what House Lannister has done to their bannermen." Oberyn said. Tyrion could not disagree.

The wailing and weeping of women resounded through the godswood of the Red Keep. Tales of the Storming of the Twins had spread like wildfire through the city. Margaery kept her calm but her companions and ladies were painfully aware that House Stark marched the prisoners from the Reach North the past fortnight. Owen Fossoway waited with the other retainers as Mace held court over whatever tidbits of information the Tyrells could gather.

"Why are you crying?" Lady Olenna, munching on crackers and cheese.

"It is my Alyn. He was so brave and eager to go to war." Elinor said, wiping her red eyes. "And now, he might lose a hand, or a foot, or even have his eyes gouged out!"

Owen shook his head. He was fond of Elinor but she certainly enjoyed her drama.

A homely pox-scarred woman walked forward, completely out of breath. Septa Nysterica, who had been assigned by the Faith to the Tyrells, curtsied to Lady Olenna. "I have heard a foul tale from the holy brothers but it is too depraved for tender young ears. Maidens should not hear such horrid things."

The Queen of Thorns rolled her eyes. "Well, they certainly won't leave now. Tell us the story."

Nysterica silently appealed to young Lady Bulwer, Alla and Megga Tyrell. The three girls had no interest in covering their ears. "Snow accused Walder and his sons of rape. He cut off their cocks, one by one, with a sharp knife in front of the prisoners. And then he burned them all."

Lord Mace turned pale and the guards shuddered. Even Owen felt a bit green. Luckily, Olenna was made of sterner stuff. "All their cocks? Lord Walder has dozens and dozens of sons. It would take a long time. And why would anybody touch Walder Frey's cock? I would not do it for all the wine in the Arbor or the gold in Casterly Rock."

Elinor cried again. "What if he cuts off Alyn's.."

"If Snow snips Alyn, then you will find another betrothal. Men are not good for much, but without a cock, it is even less." Olenna said.

"Grandmother!" Margaery said.

"Jon Snow is a monster!" Mace Tyrell cried. "Imagine a man who would cut off your bollocks."

Olenna ignored her son. "Owen, what do you think? Would Jon castrate Walder Frey?"

"If the Freys hurt his sisters, certainly. But he would have a reason, my lady. The punishment would fit the crime."

"We need to save our bannermen from being burned alive or being unmanned. Do you think Snow wants more gold for our lords?" Margaery asked.

"I will write to the Twins, Lady Margaery. But a raven will take a day and a night, perhaps longer. If Snow is executing prisoners, then it may get there too late. But I do not think he will hurt our men. He will not harm squires and children. Snow is a kinder man than he seems." Owen replied.

Jon preferred working outside. Sunlight and fresh air was better for Robb. The wolves enjoyed the grass, the trees and the Trident more than the cramped castle. Chett had taken Ghost south on a mission but the black tom was at his side. He tapped the chisel into the bronze strip with a small jewel hammer, engraving a rune of the First Men.

"Lord Snow." Ser Mychel escorted a tall handsome man with dark hair and clever eyes.

"Am I to be burned alive then?" Baelor Hightower asked, looking at the large pile of oak and ash branches with twigs scattered on top. "We saw your boys building this from the castle."

"That is a funeral pyre, Ser. If I wanted to kill a prisoner, I would do it more quickly. Have a seat." A serving wench set out two plates, each with a soft boiled egg, a rasher of bacon, a wedge of cheese and fresh baked bread. "Do you take ale or wine?"

"Ale." Baelor Hightower broke the egg yolk over the hot bread and took a bite. The knight smiled. "I have eaten your bread. I take it you won't kill me today."

Jon poured out two cups of ale. "I would prefer not to kill anyone."

"You killed plenty of Freys. What do you plan for us or the Lannister men? "

"What do you think?"

"I will not beg for my life, Lord Snow. I have an heir at the Hightower, a second son, and two daughters. Thankfully, they had the wisdom to stay in Oldtown. I have brothers and sisters who will keep my house strong. I wish to live, my Lord, but I accept my fate."

Baelor Brightsmile's reputation was well deserved. He had the sanctity of a man at peace with himself. "You will not have to beg, Ser. Do you recall the peace talks at Harrenhal?"

"The North wanted Sansa Stark returned and peace for the Riverlands. Robb Stark insisted that there be no reprisals - no hostages, or stripping of lands and titles." Baelor said.

"We have Sansa Stark now. But we still want peace for the Riverlands." Jon said. "Can the Reach promise that?"

Baelor's eyes popped open in surprise. "You would be satisfied with those terms - even after the God's Eye and the Twins?"

"I plan to return North. There are Ironborn raiders at Sea Dragon Point and the Stony Shore. And our bannermen need to rest. Can your lords guarantee a truce?"

"Then you would let us go…" Baelor's mouth gaped slightly as Jon nodded. The knight thought for a while. "The question is how vengeful the Iron Throne will be. The Tyrells were happy to accept the deal at Harrenhal - it was Baelish and Joffrey that refused. I do not think they will allow the Tullys to remain Lord Paramount, after Tywin promised Riverrun to another. But I doubt that the Throne will attaint the other houses. They may want hostages, though."

"I will give you terms for your release. I want peace - no raiding, no looting, an end to all fighting. The rivermen need time to rebuild, so no levies or taxes for five years."

Baelor frowned at the last demand. "Kings are eager to extract gold and gifts from their vassals."

"A year of pillaging should be enough. Tywin's men burnt and sacked much of the Riverlands. The villagers need a good harvest to survive through the winter." Jon said.

"I certainly agree with you, Lord Snow. And I know that Ser Garlan, Lady Margaery and Olenna do not want war. What would you have me do?"

"Speak to the other lords. Sound them out on this offer. I want their word that they will seek no punishments for the Riverlords and that they will protect the smallfolk." Jon said.

"I shall but .." Baelor hesitated. "Lord Snow, this does not settle the matter. Tywin Lannister will not forget his humiliation. And Joffrey - I was only in the Crownlands for a short time but they say nothing good. He is not a kind or intelligent boy, and will be a poor and cruel king. He will carry a grudge against House Stark to his deathbed."

"We do not like him either. I will come South again, Ser. And next time, my army will be larger and better equipped." Jon said.

Baelor finished the meal quickly. "Permission to speak freely, Snow?" Jon nodded. "My house is one of the greatest in the Seven Kingdoms. With Oldtown, we are as rich as the Tyrells. We can muster fifteen thousand swords, and our own fleet of ships. We have influence in the Citadel and the Faith. We have a long and proud history. Yet for a hundred and fifty years, the Hightowers have not played the Game of Thrones. Do you know why?"

"Of course. Otto Hightower was Hand of the King in the Dance of the Dragons."

"My great great uncle nearly destroyed our House. He married his daughter to King Viserys I, and schemed to get his grandchildren on the Iron Throne. It led to a terrible and bloody war. Otto lost his head, the Lord of the Hightower was killed in battle, and his sons, grandsons, and great grandsons all died in the war. His daughter went mad before she passed two years later."

"And what is the point of the story, Ser Baelor?" Jon said.

"Power has a price. The Iron Throne is a poisoned chalice. Those who try to rise too high often fall, and their house suffers from their ambition." Baelor said.

"You should tell that to the Tyrells." Jon said. "I am not Otto Hightower, Ser. And my enemies do not have dragons. Neither Robb or I hunger for power. We bear no anger to Lady Margaery. But I doubt that Joffrey's reign will last long."

Ser Baelor was true to his word. The Stark guards had escorted the knight to the solar at the Twins. Two Winter Town Boys hid in an alcove nearby, and eavesdropped. The knight exerted a great deal of influence on the Reachmen. After the initial shock of the offer, the other lords and knights were eager to hear the full details. More importantly, none of the highborn, not even the truculent Randyll Tarly, had any desire for revenge against the Rivermen. Most only wanted to return home. There was no love for Joffrey Baratheon in the Reach.

That afternoon, Jon spoke with his sisters. Sansa expressed her worries but Arya was eager to return to Winterfell. And both were glad that their lady mother would receive the honors due to a Tully of Riverrun.

They gathered the commanders of both the Northern army and the Riverlords in the Great Hall of the eastern castle. Jon stood with Arya and Sansa, and flanked by Sandor Clegane, the Vale knights and Brienne. Ser Baelor attended as well as Lord Fossoway and Tarly.

There was no need to mince words. "We are going North to Winterfell."

"But - what of the Riverlands? We cannot defend our lands against the Iron Throne." Clement Piper said aghast.

Ser Baelor spoke. "We will talk to the Tyrells. The Reach does not want any more fighting in the Riverlands. In King's Landing, the Tyrell army is larger than the Lannister forces. Tywin is not reckless enough to send his army away for no profit."

"Lord Tywin ordered Amory Lorch, Vargo Hoat and Gregor Clegane to raid the lands around Trident. All three are dead and their men slain or scattered. Good riddance." Tarly spat.

"I have given Ser Baelor my terms. No raids into the Riverlands. No hostages and no stripping of titles." Jon said.

"How will they force us to give hostages when we have so many prisoners from the Westerlands?" Jonos Bracken said.

Jon shook his head and the Riverlords suddenly realized their true predicament. "You are going to release our prisoners? Even the Lannister men?" Bracken cried.

"They are not your prisoners, Lord Jonos. The army is returning North. We have been gone for too long. Second, Lord Edmure is a bannerman to House Stark. He swore to follow my lead. And third, the prisoners belong to Winterfell. This is my decision."

Jon looked about the room. "We are not jailers. We do not threaten to hang men to force their surrender. I did that at the Tooth only to ensure supply lines. Your bastard was locked up at the Twins, Lord Bracken. And your son, Lord Mallister. Do you want that for others? That they grow old in a dungeon? The War in the Riverlands is over."

"But what will happen to us?" Tytos asked.

"It is likely that House Tully is attainted. And the rest of you will have to bow and scrape. But that will not last." Jon said

"Lord Snow, I could hold Riverrun for two years with a few hundred men and a few Lannister hostages." The Blackfish said.

"And what kind of life would that be? The Iron Throne would lay siege with thousands of men. The Lannisters would pillage your lands and kill your smallfolk. Ser Brynden, you could hold Riverrun but at what price? Two more years of war." Jon said.

"The most defensive part of the Riverlands is here. From the Twins to the Neck and Moat Caitlin. The North will not cede this area. Ser Brynden, you will hold the Twins for the Starks." Jon addressed the rivermen directly. "My lords, if you wish safety, I welcome you to the North. There, House Stark can protect you from enemies. But if you do not go North, know this. The wolves will come South again. I cannot say when but our forces will recover and we will return, stronger than before."

Rickard Karstark stood up. "Lord Snow, if we retreat, will they say that we were afraid to fight? Will the Lannisters and their lackeys call us cowards?"

Jon shrugged. "How much do the words of liars matter? We have won eight battles in the past year. Men's weapons grow dull and their ardour for combat dampens. No kingdom benefits from prolonged warfare. In war, the goal is victory, not lengthy campaigns."

"Lord Snow, I was born in Raventree Hall and I will be buried there under the dead weirwood. I will not abandon my home but my sons, Hos and Ben, will go North. If the lions attack me, I ask that you avenge me." Tytos said.

"Lord Blackwood speaks well. I will keep Marq home but send Lewys to Winterfell." Clement Piper cried.

"Lady Whent, you are welcome to stay with the Starks. Lord Lyman, come North. I will teach you how to rule. When you are older, you will hold Darry again." Jon said.

The little lord gulped but agreed, as did Shella Whent. The Mallisters would stay home at Seagard but others decided to send their heirs. Lord Jonos's bastard and two of his daughters would come to Winterfell. The Vances would send a few sons, and the two orphans of House Deddings, the son and daughter of House Blanetree, and the youngest Shawney boy would go North.

Young Lymond Goodbrook spoke up. "Lord Snow, I would like to accompany Edmure, wherever he goes."

"It is your choice, Lord Edmure. You may stay at the Twins, if you wish. You are welcome in the North, of course. I would counsel you against Riverrun. It is a strong castle but it would not be difficult to trap you there." Jon said.

Edmure hesitated for a bit. "I have no good memories of the Twins. Perhaps White Harbour - Roslin might like to see a true city. Could I take her sisters with me?"

Wylis Manderly's jug-like ears reddened. "You are welcome, my Lord. But the Freys…"

Jon interrupted. "I will decide what happens to the Freys tonight, before the feast. And after that, we honor our dead."

Jon kept Ser Baelor behind after the other lords had left. They had a pleasant chat about the Citadel and how Alayn, Baelor's nephew, got his yellow gold link. The knight invited him to visit the Hightower. Before he could respond, Arya brought Lady Smallwood back to the hall.

"Jon, this is Lady Ravella." Arya said.

"Charmed. And this is Ser Baelor Hightower, Lord Leyton's heir." Jon and the knight bowed. Then the ever gracious Baelor kissed the hand of the flustered noblewoman with aplomb.

"Lady Ravella holds Acorn Hall for the Vances. But the Freys killed her husband, Lord Theomar, and she and her daughter are all alone." Arya blurted out.

"I am sorry for your loss." the Reach knight said.

"Ser Baelor, I wish to ask for a boon." Jon said. "When the war began, Lady Ravella sent her daughter to Oldtown. I want to make certain she is safe and that Acorn Hall will not fall. With the death of the Lord and his knights, House Smallwood does not have many men."

"Your daughter is in Oldtown, my lady?"

"Yes, Ser. She is with my grand aunt in a motherhouse near the Starry Sept."

"But she doesn't want to be a septa, I hope?" Ser Baelor smiled.

Ravella shook her head no. "My Carellen is a lovely dancer. She sings beautifully as well. She is two years older than Lady Arya."

"Then I have a solution, my lady. I have half a dozen nephews eligible to wed. There are five houses sworn to mine - Beesbury, Bulwar, Costayne, Cuy and Mullendore. If she wishes, House Hightower will ensure that Lady Carellen marries well. I will send my swords to Acorn Hall for your protection. You need not worry."

"Thank you, my lord." Lady Smallwood beamed.

"Thank the Starks, my lady. They demanded that the Riverlands be protected. The Reach will make sure that happens, regardless what the Iron Throne decrees. We would much rather fight off bandits than face the North again in battle."

Ghost had returned from Sevenstreams. Chett jumped down from the wagon driven by grim men. Several closed coffins, simple wooden boxes, rested in the back. The sweet rushes strewn over the pine slats could not cover the stench of the dead. The undertaker bowed as Jon held his nose, braving the awful smell. He opened the lid to see the gruesome decomposed body of Talisa Maegyr. The skin, the flesh, the hair - all of it had rotted away on the bloated corpse.

"Who are the others?" Jon said.

"Ser Roland Waynwood. Donnel Locke. Robin Flint. Ser Elbert Bellmore. The bodies are in bad shape, Maester, even worse than Lady Talisa." Chett said.

After fourteen days, they were lucky to find this much. "The corpses have already rotted. There is not much to be done. Paint their sigils on the coffin. For Lady Talisa, that will be a grey dire wolf on a field of white. Bring them north of the castle."

The Winter Town boys nodded and left. Ghost stayed and Jon felt comfort in the great wolf. It was time to deal with the Freys.

The great hall went quiet when Jon entered. The prisoners had been gathered and news had spread of the deal with Baelor Hightower. The Reachmen were relieved, the Westermen puzzled, and the Freys frightened. Then again, he had burned dozens of Freys yesterday. Weasels were afraid of fire.

"Bring the remaining Frey males before me." Jon announced.

The Stark guards rounded them up. Only a few with more than ten name days survived the purge - Stevron, Perwyn and Olyvar, Steffon, son of Walton and Alesander, son of Symond. The skinny fox-faced lad was the oldest of the rest, and there were several under the age of five. The toddlers sobbed as they were ripped from the arms of their mothers.

"Lord Snow, what about these ones?" Ser Alyn prodded the two sons of Emmon Frey. Cleos and Tion looked fearfully at their uncle, Ser Kevan. Jon shook his head no.

"Ser Stevron." The Frey knight raised his tired old eyes. "Do you swear that you had no knowledge of Lothar's plans?"

"I did not, Lord Snow. Ryman and Lothar knew you saved my life. I would have informed you of any plot against Robb. I beg that my grandsons, Steffon and Bryan Frey, be spared."

"Denied, Ser. I promised to end the line of Walder Frey. But you have served me well, like Perwyn, and Olyvar. This is my judgment. The name Walder Frey will disappear from history. You will take a new last name - Of The Crossing." Jon said.

"So, I will be Ser Stevron of the Crossing?" The gobsmacked man asked.

"It is quite a mouthful. I don't want to hear your father's name ever again."

"But what will I do, my lord? Where will I go?"

Ser Stevron was older than anyone in the hall. Hoster Tully had shrivelled away from old age two moons ago but he was younger than Stevron. "I can give you a horse, armor, and weapons. You are free to leave the Riverlands."

"For what? I am too old to be a hedge knight. I could go to the Wall, but then who will take care of my grandsons and granddaughters?"

"Very well, Ser. You can serve House Stark and erase the taint of the treachery by your actions. In return, I promise a home and hearth. And that offer applies to your kin." Jon said.

Loud gasps rang through the hall. Ser Stevron pushed for more. "I would accept my Lord, but what of my sisters, my nieces and their children?"

"Make your vows, Ser. I have never broken promises to a bannerman." Jon said.

They swore the oaths, not as Freys but under their new family name. Stevron, Perwyn, Olyvar and half a dozen more. Mothers urged their young sons to speak louder but the children tripped over the words "Of the Crossing." It would take time to get used to that name.

Jon waited until the hall was silent once again. "Ser Mychel Redfort."

The young Vale knight stood up and walked forward. He knelt, placing his sword on the ground.

"Ser Mychel, you saved my brother's life at Sevenstreams. You fought bravely at the God's Eye and helped me take the Twins. For that, I would honor you. House Bolton is extinct now. I would make you Castellan of the Dreadfort and rule over those lands." Jon said.

"My Lord, that is far too generous." Ser Mychel gasped. And it was. The lands of the Dreadfort stretched from the Lonely Hills to the Hornwood. The fortress sat on the upper waters of the Weeping River and was a few days' ride to the headwaters of the White Knife on the west and the Shivering Sea on the east. House Bolton's wealth was as great as any Stark bannerman.

"Sansa Stark." Jon called. His sister rose and faced him. "Ser Mychel, you are castellan. You hold the Bolton lands in trust. But my sister will award fiefs to those who serve House Stark. The Vale knights, the highborn driven from the Riverlands, and the Freys. Lady Sansa will take charge of the Frey women. Sansa will see to their positions, marriages and futures, and dower them with land and gold. Only those loyal to Winterfell will be rewarded."

Sansa curtsied. "It is a great honor."

Jon grimaced. "It is a great deal of work, and it will be enormous trouble. But I trust you to do this well. Ser Mychel, when my sister is finished, your family will rule the largest holdfast in those domains. You can create a new sigil for your house."

"Thank you, my lord. I promise before the old gods and the new, to always be your man. My descendants will honor that vow to the end of days." Ser Mychel said fervently.

"Not to be my man. To be a Stark man. To be loyal to the North." Jon corrected Mychel. The Vale knight swore his oath again.

"And to the North, I say this. You have fought and bled for Winterfell. Chett, bring out the treasure." The Winter Town boys heaped the plunder high at Jon's feet - chests of gold and silver coins, casks of gems, bolts of silks, yards of silver and gold braid, jeweled cups, and ingots of precious metal. Jon held up a fistful of coins.

"Behold, the spoils of war. But gold produces nothing. It is pretty to look at, but it will not feed a man through winter. We will take this treasure and transform the North. We will build ships and harbours, roads and bridges. We will trade timber, fur, honey and iron with Essos and connect the Salt Spear with the Bite. The gold will be shared by all of us, to make certain that the North will have meat and mead at our tables. The old men will not have to die in the ice and snow. And when we are strong again, we will go South."

"When will that be, Snow?" The Greatjon yelled. "When will we make the lions tremble again?"

"When Robb has recovered. When our army's numbers swell. And when we can wage war on swift wings. Give me time, and we will destroy our enemies." Jon answered.

They lit the fire boat at dusk. Catelyn Stark's body had been embalmed by Maester Vyman and Brennet, the organs removed and placed into seven clay jars lying at her feet. The vessel was a simple wooden boat, without sails or oars. Lady Catelyn's body had been cleaned and washed, and the undertaker had done his best to stitch the throat and smooth the torn skin. A gray cloak of House Stark was spread underneath her, and she was covered in thick woolen blankets of blue and red. Roslin's offer of a gown of blue silk had been rejected. Neither Arya or Sansa would let their lady mother be buried with any trace of the Twins.

Lord Hoster was laid to rest clad in shining silver plate armor, a blue and red surcoat and a greathelm with the crest of a Tully trout. A wooden sword, mail gauntlets, a hunting horn, and a great oak shield accompanied Hoster to his final rest. Lady Catelyn only had a small banner of Lady knit hastily by Sansa but an entire army paid their respects. Arya and Sansa stood on the bridge with Edmure and Brynden and Jon watched from the shoreline next to Robb and the dire wolves. Lords from the North, the Reach, the Riverlands, and the Westerlands bowed their heads to the flaming ship. Stark men saluted from both sides of the river.

The straw and wood already caught fire. As the funeral boat passed the Crossing, Sansa and Arya dropped two torches from the bridge. There would be no flame arrows or burning sails. The Green Fork slowed down at twilight, and the boat lingered, as if the Trident wished to offer a gentle embrace to Lady Catelyn. The burning boat receded into the distance, and the remains would sink down in the riverbed, where the lords and ladies of House Tully rested in death.

"Lady Arya, and Lady Sansa. I am sorry for your loss. I heard that your Lady mother died bravely, fighting for her house." Ser Baelor said, paying condolences for the Reachmen.

"I would rather that my sister be alive, Ser." Edmure Tully said. He glared at Ser Kevan, Lord Crakehall, and Lord Brax who stood awkwardly, waiting their turn.

"Thank you for your kind words, Ser." Sansa said. The Reachman bowed and walked away.

"Why are they here?" Edmure hissed. "The Lannisters invaded the Riverlands. They should be still locked up in the dungeons."

"My brother released them." Sansa said calmly.

"Let it be, Edmure. This is not the time nor place. We are saying goodbye to those that we lost." The Blackfish said.

They burned Talisa Maegyr at the western shore, near the broken bridge. A faint crescent moon had risen in the sky and the stars were out. Bonfires lit the shoreline, and the Winter Town boys dragged out a few barrels of ale and men drank out of wineskins. Robb's Honor Guard were out in force, as were the Northern lords and their heirs.

The Greatjon sang Northern songs in his deep bass rumble - The Wolves in the Hill and The Winter Maid. The Mormont ladies toasted the fallen healer, and the army paid tribute to those slain at Sevenstreams. They could not salvage all the bodies from the Trident but Jon asked the lords and heirs for names of the dead. The Winter Town boys carved them into rocks which were piled into a great cairn. And in front of the pile, Jon erected a stone altar, and inscribed five words - "Winter came for House Frey."

After Jon collected the ashes of Talisa and her unborn babe, they burned the other bodies - Ser Roland, Ser Elbert, Donnel Locke, Robin Flint, Owen Norrey. The sorrow and anger faded. Stories and memories were shared about the departed - not just the bodies recovered from the Trident but everyone who had fought and died defending the Riverlands. Servants carried out giant trays of whole roasted chickens doused with a rich creamy giblet gravy. The Hound grabbed an entire plate. Simpler fare - Pickled pigs' feet, cold ham, and fried sausages - were shared at the bonfires. More barrels of ale and wine emerged from the castle.

The festive mood stopped when Jon rose to speak. "We have one more to honor." He took out a circlet of bronze and black. Nine iron spikes wrought in the shape of longswords were mounted on the ring of hammered bronze. He had forged it that morning.

"Lord Snow, what is that?" The Blackfish asked.

"A Crown of Winter. The Stark Kings of old wore a sword crown until the dragons came. You offered to name Robb, King in the North. He refused but Grey Wind is still a king among wolves." Jon placed the circlet on the dire wolf's head.

Jon and a few Winterfell guards hefted the open casket and placed it on top of the oak, ash and pine branches. The other men stepped away, leaving only Jon and Robb close to the funeral pyre. The straw quickly caught fire from a torch, the burning wood crackled and popped, and the flames rose high into the night.

Ghost and Nymeria emerged from the darkness, leading a large pack of grey wolves. The dire wolves circled the pyre, paying homage to their brother. Arya and Sansa came forward, and joined hands with Jon. The inferno consumed the casket, and Grey Wind melted into ashes. And as the flames carried the dire wolf's spirit to the afterlife, Robb Stark gasped and woke. He sat up with a shiver, to the shock of everyone watching.

Sansa ran sobbing to her brother and Arya followed. Jon took the Crown of Winter from the fire.

Robb looked at the remains of his dire wolf. "Talisa?" Jon shook his head no. The Lord of Winterfell closed his eyes and wept.

Sansa was surrounded by Frey ladies who hung on her every word. She did not know half their names, or how they were related, or who their mothers were. Luckily, the Freys did not care. They were more focused on finding husbands and homes.

"How is your brother, Robb?" Roslin Tully, the only lady with a husband, asked. At the Twins, those who had been married were all widows.

"Tired and weak from his ordeal. He will need time to heal." Sansa said.

"Lady Sansa, what happens now?" A worried blond woman asked. This was Lothar's wife with the four young daughters, one still an infant.

"The army marches soon. In a moon's time, we should reach Winterfell."

"But what will happen to us?" The woman asked anxiously.

'You will come North. It will take time to divide the Bolton lands, and I must speak to my brothers about that. Rooms will be found for your families in the castle and Wintertown. You will be treated well - Jon does not break his word."

"But is Snow still in charge? Won't Lord Stark strip his half brother of power?" The Frey who spoke was beautiful but had a sharp tongue and greedy eyes.

Roslin responded sharply. "You cannot say such things, Fair Walda. Please forgive us, Lady Sansa. At the Twins, our brothers, half brothers and nephews jockeyed constantly for Lord Walder's favor. Promises were made, then broken, and often replaced with threats. Things were never what they seemed."

The Twins sounded miserable. Sansa felt a twinge of guilt over her petty feuds with Arya but any sisterly rivalry vanished after King's Landing. Lady might be dead but Sansa had rejoined the pack. "Winterfell is different. All my brothers trust each other. In his will, Robb stated that in case of his death or injury, Jon would command the North. Robb will recover but he is not ready to lead. My brothers are united. They have always been loyal to each other."

"So Lord Snow really will give us lands and gold for marriages?" Fat Walda squeaked. The Frey women still could not believe their change in fortune.

"Those marriages will be made to benefit the North. And you must be faithful to House Stark. If you are not, I will tell Jon. He will deal with any treachery."

Arya clung to the great she-wolf, her head resting on the dark grey fur around the massive neck. Nymeria would have preferred to run under the stars and moon, and gorge on the flesh of sheep and cows but the wolf stayed still, comforting her bondmate. Did she know, Arya wondered.

Syrio Forel taught her many lessons. There were simple ones on how to hold a sword, how to lunge and parry. There were strange ones on the catching of cats, balancing on one foot, and walking on top of short wooden poles. But the most valuable lesson was the day they arrested Ned Stark and her dancing instructor sacrificed himself to let her escape.

Syrio Forel had said the most important thing was the seeing. The heart might lie and the head could play tricks, but the eyes see true. Arya had not forgotten the lesson. That night, when everyone gawked and gaped at Robb's return, Jon had taken the Crown of Winter from Grey Wind's head. The crown was burning, the yellow bronze band and black iron spikes glowing from the heat. Jon held the circlet for only a short moment while Arya and Sansa hugged Robb. Amidst the excitement, neither the Northmen nor the other highborn noticed the sleight of hand. But Arya saw.

Her brother did not burn. Only one family had no fear of fire, and they were not Starks.

Jon placed the two urns holding the remains of Talisa, her child, and Grey Wind next to the bed. Robb had fallen into a deep slumber - drained, weary, and slightly befuddled. His brother was happy to see Sansa and Arya but mourned deeply. Robb would get better, and the ashes would be buried in the crypts of Winterfell, where they belonged.

Jon passed several sets of guards - Ser Mychel and Ser Andrew of the Vale, Patrek Mallister and Wendel Manderly of the Battle Companions, and Ser Alyn of Winterfell. They were all good men and eager to defend the Lord of Winterfell. Robb's return was celebrated as a blessing from the gods, although some credited the Seven and others the old gods of the North. Jon did not care. That argument could be left to the septons.

The Northern army would depart for the Kingsroad in a few days. There is a great deal to do - ravens to send, supply lines to organize, and equipment to transport. Crossing the Neck was difficult because it was impossible to forage in a swamp. The Barrowlands, dusty windswept plains, were not much better. The North needed a fleet for trade and transport. And with a canal connecting the Fever River to the Bite, Moat Cailin would boom. House Stark would need a capable and loyal lord for that castle.

"Maester." Chett called out from the rookery. "Satin is coming north. He has destroyed the blast furnace on your orders."

That was a pity but furnaces could be rebuilt. Due to cost, steel was used only in the finest weapons and armor. But that would change in the North.

"My mother and the other smallfolk are also travelling with him." Gerry said.

"They will be welcomed in Winter Town. The town will grow greatly once we build roads to the White Knife. What of the riverboats? When will they reach the Twins?" Jon said.

"In two days. The Green Fork is harder to sail upstream. But the return trip to Harroway will be quick." Chett said.

That would be the first stop. From Harroway, they could choose to take the Red Fork to the westerlands, or ride down to the rose road. The riverboats would continue to Saltpans where the ex-prisoners would find passage to King's Landing with a special cargo - the heads and hands of more than fifty Freys. Jon hoped the chest would be opened before the Lannisters in the Throne Room of the Red Keep. There was one more prize to add.

"Snow! Are you here to kill us all?" His lusty voice could be heard through the Great Hall, to the dismay of the other Lannisters. The ladies soothed the squires, who had lost any appetite for glory in war.

"If I wanted to do that, why would I free you first, Ser?" Jon said, curious about the man's logic. Bellowing came more easily than thinking for the Strongboar.

"Ser Lyle believes that you plan to murder us before we reach King's Landing." Ser Kevan said.

"I am not Tywin Lannister. Lady Lefford, do you remember what I said at your castle?"

The pretty heir to the Golden Tooth shook her head. Tybolt Marbrand answered. 'You swore that if the Westerlands provided supplies, no prisoners would be harmed. And when the war ended, the prisoners would be returned, safe and sound."

"The War in the Riverlands is over. I will honor my vow."

"So, you really will let us go?" The Strongboar asked, dumbfounded.

"Yes, but I have one more thing." Jon opened a bag and pulled out an enormous head. Gregor Clegane's brutish eyes stared out from a ruined face, charred black by fire. "I burnt the Mountain alive and chopped him up. I will do worse to anyone who attacks the Riverlands again."

The Westermen knights and lords were silent. The women looked away. "The Mountain's head will be sent to Oberyn Martell. But the Freys belong to House Lannister." Jon walked away.

He departed the castle and lay under the stars, with Balerion and Ghost at his side. He closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep. Like so many nights, Jon Snow dreamed of dragons.


Author's Notes

There is an excellent picture by Zippo514 in the wiki of Ice and Fire entry on the Red Wedding. It shows Grey Wind's head on a corpse with plate armor. The picture is allegorical rather than accurate as it shows Grey Wind with no crown, in armor, and sitting on the Iron Throne.

Maggots generate heat when they feed. And after 3 to 5 days, they turn into pupae. How long it takes to hatch after that depends on temperatures.

A garderobe is commonly known today as a privy but long ago, it meant a small room or place for valuables - more like a wardrobe. I have left it ambiguous.

Walder Rivers tells Jaime in A Feast for Crows that Whalen killed Raynald Westerling when he tried to rescue Grey Wind. Two Paege sisters married Whalen and Jammos (Big Walder's dad.)

The Merrett chapter (last one in Storm of Swords) talks about Lord Walder as the great provider. One constant motif is that family ambitions are often a curse - think of the Tyrells making Margaery queen, or Hoster Tully marrying his daughters to powerful lords to secure his own rule. Lysa, who could have easily swung the war, turns her back on Catelyn and Edmure.

A knight can demand trial by combat, but Walder asking for that after breaking guest right (a great sin before the gods) shows how it can be abused. Look at the examples - Bronn versus Vardis, Clegane versus Beric, the Mountain versus Oberyn, and zombie Mountain against whoever. Good drama, bad justice.

The shrill hiccup of a laugh is a quality of Lord Walder but Black Walder was very similar to his great grandfather, including the desire to spread his seed. Whether Black Walder raped others is never clarified. With a name like Black Walder, what would you expect?

The line on "squeals and shudders" comes from Roose Bolton talking about his wife, Fat Walda. I found that creepy given Roose knows that Ramsay will murder any true born sons.

The term "poisoned chalice" comes from Macbeth. This is a soliloquy where Macbeth ponders killing Duncan to become king. He already knows the act will damn him.

No kingdom benefits from prolonged warfare. Those few lines are paraphrased from Chapter 2 of Sun Tzu's The Art of War. Basically Sun Tzu says fight short wars with definite goals.

I know Jon's mercy will be questioned. I didn't write it explicitly but life under Spymaster Sansa in the North will be far better for Fat Walda, White Walda and all the other Waldas. They will be married off to knights, loyal followers from the Riverlands and the Vale. A reviewer commented in Chap 35, that I based Jon Snow on Julius Caesar. That is correct. Julius Caesar killed enormous numbers of barbarians but he was incredibly merciful to his Roman enemies. He even forgave tribes of Gauls when they were clearly paying both sides. And he argued against executing Romans without a trial.

Of course, that is a big reason Caesar was assassinated. Had he been more brutal, Caesar would have lived longer. He spared a lot of his enemies in Rome. Will Jon's mercy come back to haunt him? Possibly - but doing what is right can be very messy. And you can certainly argue whether it was right.

The Roman architectural revolution centered on three forms - the arch, the vault and dome. The Romans also used better material like their version of concrete. But the basics were already known centuries earlier by the Etruscans. The Romans just pushed it to the limits, and made fantastic things like stadiums, and aqueducts. That is effectively what Jon Snow is proposing.

The Romans believed that the soul could not rest until the body was laid to rest. This is why Robb awakes after Grey Wind is cremated. According to tradition, a small part of the remains, i.e. the ashes, must be buried. Interestingly, before Christian influence, children less than forty days of age and slaves were always buried, not cremated.

It may seem trivial in the modern world but the ancient world cared a great deal about honoring the dead. With the caveat that Ned Stark's body is who knows where, I wanted to convey that spirit in the last chapter. In the books, Hal Mollen is tasked with bringing Ned's bones home but the Ironborn have taken Moat Cailin and the Boltons rule Winterfell. Perhaps it will be covered in Winds of Winter but Ned's bones are lost, just like they are in this story!

I originally planned to drag out the wake over three days. Day 1 - Catelyn Stark. Day 2 - Talisa. Day 3 - Grey Wind. In a historical Scottish wake, they leave the bodies out for several days. But that's not who Jon is. In this story, when he decides something, he does it. Speed is very important in war. So Jon took the Twins at dawn, executed the male Freys on Day 1, and held the wake on Night 2, after sending Ghost to find Talisa's body.

The sequel is Once We Were Dragons. The conflict expands beyond the Starks versus the Lannisters to include Essos and Valyria. Several plot ideas introduced in Maester Wolf will be explored more thoroughly.