On the surface, the escape from Winterfell seems to be Melisandre's idea: she gave Mance Rayder the mission of delivering Arya Stark to Jon Snow to earn the trust and the friendship of the Lord Commander.
Several things complicate this simplistic reading.
Something unaccounted for happened between Mance's departure from Castle Black and his arrival in Winterfell. Mance had no means to know the wedding would take place there.
For Mance it's not a simple mission.
It's the story of Bael the Bard all over again, and much more.
It is probably well known to all, but let's recall the political reasoning that led to the wedding in Winterfell. The supremacy in the north has been the Starks' prerogative for thousand of years. After Theon had taken Winterfell, Roose Bolton concluded that the Stark era is over and proceeded to establish the Dreadfort as the supreme seat in the north. Roose has the support of the Iron Throne. But he is well aware that he is not well liked, and that he is likely to be seen as an usurper by the other northmen.
The political goal pursued by Roose by arranging the marriage of Ramsay with Arya is to have a grandchild via the Stark heiress and thus gain control of the Stark inheritance. Without the Stark legitimacy, even if Roose were to prevail against Stannis, gaining thus a few years of political control over the north, it is likely that sooner or later a rebellion of northmen rallying behind some Stark would overthrow the Boltons, especially since the Lannister alliance is currently shaky, and many northmen are eager for vengeance. Roose understands very well this situation.
Therefore the disappearance of "Arya", that under all likehood most northmen know to be an imposter, undermines severely Roose's control over the north and condemns him to fall at the first sign of weakness.
Recall that "Arya"'s escape with Theon had been foreshadowed by Arya's escape from Harrenhal, then ruled by Roose Bolton.
Roose almost certainly does not care about Ramsay himself. He might even prepare to make a scapegoat out of his son.
For Ramsay, the loss of the bride is even more damaging. Indeed, she brought as a dowry the lordship of Winterfell, which is Ramsay's main title if he loses the inheritance to the Dreadfort. After the disappearance of the bride, the title can be contested. Ramsay's situation is now comparable to Littlefinger's in the Vale, where the Lords Declarant have rebelled against the dowager Lord of the Eyrie. It might encourage Ramsay to make a coup against Roose and Walda and claim the Dreadfort.
For the Freys, the calculation is more complicated and the disappearance of the bride can be beneficial in some sense. It weakens Ramsay, and prevents him from having an heir. In the end, it secures the Dreadfort for Walda's sons. Unless, as we just discussed, Ramsay tries to gain the Dreadfort in desperation.The loss of power of Roose that would be caused by the disappearance of "Arya" would obviously affects adversely Walda. But, the escape is much more Ramsay's problem, and it seems unlikely the Freys would put much effort in recovering the bride.
More than month, perhaps up to fifty days, elapsed between the wedding ceremony and the escape. Why so long?
“Did the Bastard hurt you?” Rowan asked. “Chopped off your fingers, did he? Skinned your widdle toes? Knocked your teeth out? Poor lad.”
Every gate was closed and barred and heavily guarded, though; no one was allowed to enter or depart the castle without Lord Bolton’s leave.
Lord Bolton had Winterfell sewn up tight as a babe’s swaddling clothes.
A man who has climbed the Wall half a hundred times can climb in a window easy enough.
Squirrel answered for herself. “Out a window, and straight down to the godswood. I was twelve the first time my brother took me raiding south o’ your Wall. That’s where I got my name. My brother said I looked like a squirrel running up a tree. I’ve done that Wall six times since, over and back again. I think I can climb down some stone tower.”
“To fight Lord Stannis we would first need to find him,” Roose Ryswell pointed out. “Our scouts go out the Hunter’s Gate, but of late, none of them return.”
He could hear the sound of music from the hall behind him. A soft song now, and sad.
The drumming seemed to be coming from the wolfswood beyond the Hunter’s Gate. They are just outside the walls.
And in the heart of the wood the weirwood waited with its knowing red eyes. Theon stopped by the edge of the pool and bowed his head before its carved red face. Even here he could hear the drumming, boom DOOM boom DOOM boom DOOM boom DOOM. Like distant thunder, the sound seemed to come from everywhere at once.
By the time the sky began to lighten the sound of drums had faded away, though warhorns were heard thrice more, each time a little closer.
Above, he could see some squires building snowmen along the battlements. They were arming them with spears and shields, putting iron halfhelms on their heads, and arraying them along the inner wall, a rank of snowy sentinels.
Huddled in their hooded cloaks, the guards outside were almost indistinguishable from the snowmen.
The snowmen the squires had built had grown into monstrous giants, ten feet tall and hideously misshapen.
Sentries crowded into the guard turrets to warm half-frozen hands over glowing braziers, leaving the wallwalks to the snowy sentinels the squires had thrown up, who grew larger and stranger every night as wind and weather worked their will upon them.
"Theon trudged through the storm until his arms and legs were caked with snow and his hands and feet had gone numb from cold, then climbed to the battlements of the inner wall again. Up here, a hundred feet high, a little wind was blowing, stirring the snow. All the crenels had filled up. Theon had to punch through a wall of snow to make a hole … only to find that he could not see beyond the moat. Of the outer wall, nothing remained but a vague shadow and a few dim lights floating in the dark."
There is little doubt that Crowfood collaborated with Mance and the spearwives.
Mance left Castle Black expecting to find "Arya" at Long Lake, before the location of the wedding was moved from Barrowton to Winterfell. But Mance arrived in time in Winterfell for the wedding. Of course, Roose wanted Stannis and his allies to come to Winterfell. So Stannis, Arnolf Karstark and Crowfood were all warned. Since Long Lake in Umber Lands, the logical conclusion is that Crowfood informed Mance.
According to my interpretation of the hornblowing, the horn has been sounded from inside the castle and the drumming outside was a ploy to confuse everyone about the origin of the sound. The drums seemed to have been sounded by Crowfood greenboys. Of course, it implies a coordination between whoever blew the horn and Crowfood.
Abel and the washerwomen needed help once outside the castle. They are strong and resourceful, but Theon and "Arya" are not. It's unlikely that all could escape the hunt by the Dreadfort men and survive in the blizzard. So Crowfood's help is providential, since it provided equipment for the snow, food and some protection because of the pit traps that slowed the Freys and distracted attention.
Here is how Theon recalls being found by Crowfood outside the walls of Winterfell.
Crowfood. Theon remembered. An old man, huge and powerful, with a ruddy face and a shaggy white beard. He had been seated on a garron, clad in the pelt of a gigantic snow bear, its head his hood. Under it he wore a stained white leather eye patch that reminded Theon of his uncle Euron. He'd wanted to rip it off Umber's face, to make certain that underneath was only an empty socket, not a black eye shining with malice. Instead he had whimpered through his broken teeth and said, "I am...” "
"...” a turncloak and a kinslayer," Crowfood had finished. "You will hold that lying tongue, or lose it."
But Umber had looked at the girl closely, squinting down with his one good eye. "You are the younger daughter?"
And Jeyne had nodded. "Arya. My name is Arya."
Therefore Crowfood recognized immediately Theon, while Asha could not a few days later. Moreover Crowfood identified immediately "Arya". It's clear that he expected them.
Stannis seems to believe Crowfood's presence was providential.
Stannis snorted. "You fell. Umber saved her. If Mors Crowfood and his men had not been outside the castle, Bolton would have had the both of you back in moments."
So Crowfood has been warned of the escape. It's unclear how Mance could have convinced Crowfood to work with him. Since Mors Umber has asked Stannis for the skull of the King-beyond-the-Wall, it is not certain that Mance has revealed its true identity to Crowfood.
An additional point of interest provides a clue of something else. Crowfood calls Theon a turncloak, like every northman does. He also calls him a kinslayer. A grave and apparently unjustified accusation. It has been used for the first time by the hooded man in Winterfell and the next day by Rowan. A sign that the hooded man, Rowan and Crowfood have communicated.
The signs of cooperation of Manderly with Crowfood began with the relationship initiated at the Harvest Feast in Winterfell when Ser Rodrik commanded them to work together to build a fleet.
The wood of the Umbers seem to have been
transported along the White Knife.
“The Whoresbane his own self,” claimed a riverman who’d just brought a load of hides and timber down the White Knife, “with three hundred spear-men and a hundred archers. Some Hornwood men have joined them, and Cerwyns too.”
So the river might have served as the channel of communication between the Manderlys and the Umbers.
Moreover, the absence of singer among the musicians brought by Manderly to Winterfell was providential for Abel's acceptance in Winterfell. It points to a connivence with Abel.
Another sign of good understanding
between Manderly and Crowfood resides in the good fortune of the
Manderly men who left Winterfell through the East Gate, while the
Freys who left via the main gate fell into Crowfood's pits.
Whoresbane does not seem to have played any role in the escape. He had already left the Last Hearth when Mance was still at Castle Black. Many, including Roose, suspect Hother not to be loyal to the Bolton cause.
Mance has declared to be inspired by Bael the Bard. Nevertheless, Mance's ambition in Winterfell is completely different from Bael's.
It's likely that the conspirators know that "Arya" is an imposter. The real Arya Stark has visited twice White Harbor with her father. Mance had a close look at the Stark children when he came to Winterfell to see King Robert, and recognized Jon Snow at first sight. Whoresbane is quite perceptive and managed to recognize Theon at the Dreadfort. Even Jaime Lannister felt that something was amiss when he saw Arya's impersonator. (It's true that Jaime visited Winterfell and made the journey along the Kingsroad with the Starks, but he said to never have paid attention to Arya.)
About fifty days elapsed between the wedding and the escape. Mance and the washerwomen did nothing beside gathering information until the last three days. It's likely that they understood that the three main allies of Roose (the Dustins/Ryswells, the Freys, and Ramsay) hate each other. Mance and co killed one man belonging to each of these factions (the Ryswell man-at-arm, Aenys Frey's squire, Yellow Dick). The reason for the murder of the Flint crossbowman remains mysterious for me. Finally the collapse of the stables, followed by the relocation of the horses to the Great Hall made life unbearable in the castle.
The plan for escape has been finalized the day before the escape, since Theon agreed the night before. The help of Crowfood has been arranged before the wedding, we can suppose. But it is not possible that Crowfood would know that Abel was to escape on that particular day without information from inside. It seems that the sounding of the horn came from inside Winterfell, and the drumming answered it from outside. So the drummers had to know that the horn would be blown that night.
It seems that the hooded man came from outside the castle. If he wasn't an official visitor, he needed help to enter the castle. I can only see the Ryswell scouts. Since there are thousands of men in Winterfell, it is possible that the hooded man was there unnoticed, and could have met with Manderly, Mance, Rowan. However, Roose watches everyone, especially Manderly, as Lady Dustin noticed for us.
You think Roose does not know? Silly boy. Watch him. Watch how he watches Manderly. No dish so much as touches Roose’s lips until he sees Lord Wyman eat of it first. No cup of wine is sipped until he sees Manderly drink of the same cask.
(The Prince of Winterfell, ADwD)
I can imagine that the hooded man came with the message that Crowfood has positioned his green boys around the castle, that the pit traps are ready, that the boys are prepared to play drums as soon as they hear the horn, and that the escape should take place as soon as the armies leave the castle – and of course that Theon is a kinslayer. He might have passed a message to Manderly about the situation of possible White Harbor forces.
Is it enough communication for the coordination between Crowfood and Mance? At best, barely.
Since Crowfood asks the girl with Theon to prove she is Arya Stark, and since the conspirators inside know she is an imposter, we can conclude that no information left the castle and reached Crowfood. So something is amiss. How could Crowfood have been informed of the coming of Theon and "Arya" and not been informed that the bride is an imposter? Perhaps Mance neglected to tell him.
“My lady, how do things stand at Karhold with your food stores?”
“Not well.” Alys sighed. “My father took so many of our men south with him that only the women and young boys were left to bring the harvest in. Them, and the men too old or crippled to go off to war. Crops withered in the fields or were pounded into the mud by autumn rains. And now the snows are come. This winter will be hard. Few of the old people will survive it, and many children will perish as well.”
It was a tale that any northmen knew well. “My father’s grandmother was a Flint of the mountains, on his mother’s side,” Jon told her. “The First Flints, they call themselves. They say the other Flints are the blood of younger sons, who had to leave the mountains to find food and land and wives. It has always been a harsh life up there. When the snows fall and food grows scarce, their young must travel to the winter town or take service at one castle or the other. The old men gather up what strength remains in them and announce that they are going hunting. Some are found come spring. More are never seen again.”
“It is much the same at Karhold.”
Ser Corliss Penny gave the clan chief an incredulous look. “Do you want to die, Wull?”
That seemed to amuse the northman. “I want to live forever in a land where summer lasts a thousand years. I want a castle in the clouds where I can look down over the world. I want to be six-and-twenty again. When I was six-and-twenty I could fight all day and fuck all night. What men want does not matter.
“Winter is almost upon us, boy. And winter is death. I would sooner my men die fighting for the Ned’s little girl than alone and hungry in the snow, weeping tears that freeze upon their cheeks. No one sings songs of men who die like that. As for me, I am old. This will be my last winter. Let me bathe in Bolton blood before I die. I want to feel it spatter across my face when my axe bites deep into a Bolton skull. I want to lick it off my lips and die with the taste of it on my tongue.”
"As you will. Tell me, Theon, how many men did Mors Umber have with him at Winterfell?"
"None. No men." He grinned at his own wit. "He had boys. I saw them." Aside from a handful of half-crippled serjeants, the warriors that Crowfood had brought down from Last Hearth were hardly old enough to shave. "Their spears and axes were older than the hands that clutched them. It was Whoresbane Umber who had the men, inside the castle. I saw them too. Old men, every one." Theon tittered. "Mors took the green boys and Hother took the greybeards. All the real men went with the Greatjon and died at the Red Wedding. Is that what you wanted to know, Your Grace?"
Four White Harbor knights had formed a ring around Lord Wyman, as Maester Medrick labored over him to staunch his bleeding. “First you must needs come through us, ser,” said the eldest of them, a hard-faced greybeard whose bloodstained surcoat showed three silvery mermaids upon a violet field.
A battle was being fought in the yard; Ryswells pelting Barrowton boys with snowballs.When the northern nobility answered Roose Bolton's invitation, a peaceful wedding in Barrowton was in order. There was no danger of a battle with Stannis. The whole court left abruptly Barrowton to attend the wedding in Winterfell.
"A lance?" Blood and spit dribbled from Ser Glendon's mouth when he tried to speak. "Do I have all my fingers?"
"Ten," said Dunk, "but only seven fingernails."
Reek knew the cost. Seven, he thought, seven fingers. A man can make do with seven fingers. Seven is a sacred number.
Death was the sweetest deliverance he could hope for.
In the godswood the snow was still dissolving as it touched the earth. Steam rose off the hot pools, fragrant with the smell of moss and mud and decay. A warm fog hung in the air, turning the trees into sentinels, tall soldiers shrouded in cloaks of gloom. During daylight hours, the steamy wood was often full of northmen come to pray to the old gods, but at this hour Theon Greyjoy found he had it all to himself.
And in the heart of the wood the weirwood waited with its knowing red eyes. Theon stopped by the edge of the pool and bowed his head before its carved red face. Even here he could hear the drumming, boom DOOM boom DOOM boom DOOM boom DOOM. Like distant thunder, the sound seemed to come from everywhere at once.
The night was windless, the snow drifting straight down out of a cold black sky, yet the leaves of the heart tree were rustling his name. “Theon,” they seemed to whisper, “Theon.”
The old gods, he thought. They know me. They know my name. I was Theon of House Greyjoy. I was a ward of Eddard Stark, a friend and brother to his children. “Please.” He fell to his knees. “A sword, that’s all I ask. Let me die as Theon, not as Reek.” Tears trickled down his cheeks, impossibly warm. “I was ironborn. A son ... a son of Pyke, of the islands.”
A leaf drifted down from above, brushed his brow, and landed in the pool. It floated on the water, red, five-fingered, like a bloody hand. “... Bran,” the tree murmured.
They know. The gods know. They saw what I did. And for one strange moment it seemed as if it were Bran’s face carved into the pale trunk of the weirwood, staring down at him with eyes red and wise and sad. Bran’s ghost, he thought, but that was madness. Why should Bran want to haunt him? He had been fond of the boy, had never done him any harm. It was not Bran we killed. It was not Rickon. They were only miller’s sons, from the mill by the Acorn Water. “I had to have two heads, else they would have mocked me ... laughed at me ... they ...”
A voice said, “Who are you talking to?”
Theon spun, terrified that Ramsay had found him, but it was just the washerwomen—Holly, Rowan, and one whose name he did not know. “The ghosts,” he blurted. “They whisper to me. They ... they know my name.”
“Theon Turncloak.” Rowan grabbed his ear, twisting. “You had to have two heads, did you?” “Elsewise men would have laughed at him,” said Holly.
They do not understand. Theon wrenched free. “What do you want?” he asked.
“You,” said the third washerwoman, an older woman, deep-voiced, with grey streaks in her hair. “I told you. I want to touch you, turncloak.” Holly smiled. In her hand a blade appeared.
I could scream, Theon thought. Someone will hear. The castle is full of armed men. He would be dead before help reached him, to be sure, his blood soaking into the ground to feed the heart tree. And what would be so wrong with that? “Touch me,” he said. “Kill me.” There was more despair than defiance in his voice. “Go on. Do me, the way you did the others. Yellow Dick and the rest. It was you.”
Holly laughed. “How could it be us? We’re women. Teats and cunnies. Here to be fucked, not feared.”
“Did the Bastard hurt you?” Rowan asked. “Chopped off your fingers, did he? Skinned your widdle toes? Knocked your teeth out? Poor lad.” She patted his cheek. “There will be no more o’ that, I promise. You prayed, and the gods sent us. You want to die as Theon? We’ll give you that. A nice quick death, ’twill hardly hurt at all.” She smiled. “But not till you’ve sung for Abel. He’s waiting for you.”
Reek might have done it. Would have done it, in hopes it might please Lord Ramsay. These whores meant to steal Ramsay’s bride; Reek could not allow that. But the old gods had known him, had called him Theon. Ironborn, I was ironborn, Balon Greyjoy’s son and rightful heir to Pyke. The stumps of his fingers itched and twitched, but he kept his dagger in its sheath.
Theon stopped so suddenly that Willow almost plowed into his back. The door to Ramsay’s bedchamber was before him. And guarding it were two of the Bastard’s Boys, Sour Alyn and Grunt.
The old gods must wish us well. Grunt had no tongue and Sour Alyn had no wits, Lord Ramsay liked to say. One was brutal, the other mean, but both had spent most of their lives in service at the Dreadfort. They did as they were told.
And perhaps the old gods were still watching over them; the drawbridge had been left down, to allow Winterfell’s defenders to cross to and from the outer battlements more quickly.
The Flints of Flint's Finger are also an unknown proposition. We have no idea of the strength of their ties with the main branch of the family.
Lord Locke is obviously close to Manderly. A Locke, perhaps Lord Ondrew himself, spoke up against Ramsay at the Merman's Court.
“The maid tells it true,” declared a stocky man in white and purple, whose cloak was fastened with a pair of crossed bronze keys. “Roose Bolton’s cold and cunning, aye, but a man can deal with Roose. We’ve all known worse. But this bastard son of his ... they say he’s mad and cruel, a monster.”
(Davos III, ADwD)
Furthermore, the presence of old Ondrew Locke without his family, apparently, is a sign that the old man is ready to die if it needs be.
Lord Stout is Lady Dustin's liege man. He certainly hates Ramsay for his behaviour in Barrowton. Ramsay has enjoyed seeing his bitches kill the old Stout dog in his own hall. Lord Harwood might dislike Roose, who has treated him with condescension the same night. But Harwood Stout is a mere petty lord that counts for little by himself. He might simply be representative of the men who serve Lady Dustin.
The position of the Ryswells is less clear. They appear to follow the daughter of the House, now the powerful widow of Barrowton. Lady Dustin had once been part of her father's great ambitions for the Ryswell family. There is no reason to believe that the relations between Barbrey and Rodrik have taken a turn to the worse. Moreover, Barbrey has put the golden horse of her father on her personal banner. Could there be any stronger indication of the bond between father and daughter? However, Lord Rodrik does not say a single word that we hear in Winterfell. So once again, we need to understand Lady Dustin.
There are three more Ryswells in Winterfell. Roger, Rickard and Roose. By tradition, Roose Bolton is sworn to protect his namesake. We know that Roger and Rickard look alike, and might be twins. The four Ryswells quarrel. The only hint we are given about the quarrel is the choice of colors on the Ryswell banners. The golden horse is for Rodrik. The three other horses are brown, grey and black. The colors are personal banners. Grey is the Stark color. No field is indicated for the banners. Is white the color of the field by default? The Stark colors come up often in Winterfell. No northman choose it by accident. We can suspect that one of the Ryswell is loyal to the Starks, and that the quarrel is about that loyalty. That makes for meager evidence of a Stark loyalist among the Ryswells. Roger seems to be leading the Ryswells in Winterfell, and seems on good terms with his sister. So I imagine the grey Ryswell is Rickard or Roose.
Under all appearances Lady Dustin wishes to bury the Starks. It is certain that Roose trust her, while he mistrusts the Umbers, Manderly etc. He put Theon and "Arya" in Lady Dustin's care, and gave her thus the means to sabotage the wedding. And Barbrey did nothing but organize diligently the wedding. She might have other plans than supporting Roose all along, but she doesn't seem to be conspirating with Crowfood etc.
However, Barbrey's disappearance on the day of the escape is one of the main unsolved mysteries of the Winterfell Huis Clos.
Stannis has little knowledge of what is going on inside Winterfell.
But are there contacts between the northmen around Stannis and the conspirators?
There a maester at Deepwood Motte. I suppose Stannis is aware of all raven correspondence that arrived there before he left Deepwood Motte. Some messages have reached Deepwood after his departure, for instance Jon Snow's letter that warned of the Karstark betrayal. We know that Manderly doesn't trust his maester. The Hornwood, Cerwyn and Slate maesters are with Roose. Crowfood has no maester with him under all appearances. So I hardly see how any significant message could have reached Deepwood Motte after Stannis' departure.
He doesn't even know that Crowfood is "besieging" the castle. Crowfood has not given any information to Stannis about his forces. Whoresbane has not warned Stannis of the imminent Karstark betrayal. Both Umber could have sent an emissary to Stannis.
Nevertheless, Crowfood, after submitting "Arya" to his test, let her go to Stannis with Theon. I tend to believe that Crowfood knew "Arya" was an imposter, and that he let her go for that reason.
If Robett Glover is part of the conspiracy, there is a sign that some men with Stannis will answer to him.
The army covered twenty-two miles the first day, by the reckoning of the guides Lady Sybelle had given them, trackers and hunters sworn to Deepwood with clan names like Forrester and Woods, Branch and Bole.
“He’s not wrong,” grumbled Ned Woods, one of the scouts from Deepwood. Noseless Ned, he was called; frostbite had claimed the tip of his nose two winters past. Woods knew the wolfwood as well as any man alive. Even the king’s proudest lords had learned to listen when he spoke.
Ned Woods si sworn to Deepwood and knew the wolfwood as well as any man alive. Such a man could prove precious.
Jon saw no reason not to tell him. “Moat Cailin is taken. The flayed corpses of the ironmen have been nailed to posts along the kingsroad. Roose Bolton summons all leal lords to Barrowton, to affirm their loyalty to the Iron Throne and celebrate his son’s wedding to ...” His heart seemed to stop for a moment. No, that is not possible. She died in King’s Landing, with Father.
“Lord Snow?” Clydas peered at him closely with his dim pink eyes. “Are you ... unwell? You seem ...”
“He’s to marry Arya Stark. My little sister.” Jon could almost see her in that moment, long-faced and gawky, all knobby knees and sharp elbows, with her dirty face and tangled hair. They would wash the one and comb the other, he did not doubt, but he could not imagine Arya in a wedding gown, nor Ramsay Bolton’s bed. No matter how afraid she is, she will not show it. If he tries to lay a hand on her, she’ll fight him.
“Your sister,” Iron Emmett said, “how old is ...”
By now she’d be eleven, Jon thought. Still a child. “I have no sister. Only brothers. Only you.” Lady Catelyn would have rejoiced to hear those words, he knew. That did not make them easier to say. His fingers closed around the parchment. Would that they could crush Ramsay Bolton’s throat as easily.
Clydas cleared his throat. “Will there be an answer?”
Jon shook his head and walked away.
She was racing to him for protection, that much Melisandre had seen clearly. “I have seen her in my flames, but only once. We must win the lord commander’s trust, and the only way to do that is to save her.”
“Me save her, you mean? The Lord o’ Bones?” He laughed. “No one ever trusted Rattleshirt but fools. Snow’s not that. If his sister needs saving, he’ll send his crows. I would.”
“Dressing her in grey and white serves no good if the girl is left to sob. The Freys may not care, but the northmen ... they fear the Dreadfort, but they love the Starks.”
The castle was too crowded to withstand a long siege, and too many of the lords here were of uncertain loyalty. Fat Wyman Manderly, Whoresbane Umber, the men of House Hornwood and House Tallhart, the Lockes and Flints and Ryswells, all of them were northmen, sworn to House Stark for generations beyond count. It was the girl who held them here, Lord Eddard’s blood, but the girl was just a mummer’s ploy, a lamb in a direwolf’s skin.
“Truth be told,” she said, “Lord Bolton aspires to more than mere lordship. Why not King of the North? Tywin Lannister is dead, the Kingslayer is maimed, the Imp is fled. The Lannisters are a spent force, and you were kind enough to rid him of the Starks. Old Walder Frey will not object to his fat little Walda becoming a queen. White Harbor might prove troublesome should Lord Wyman survive this coming battle ... but I am quite sure that he will not. No more than Stannis. Roose will remove both of them, as he removed the Young Wolf. Who else is there?”
“You,” said Theon. “There is you. The Lady of Barrowton, a Dustin by marriage, a Ryswell by birth.”
That pleased her. She took a sip of wine, her dark eyes sparkling, and said, “The widow of Barrowton ... and yes, if I so choose, I could be an inconvenience. Of course, Roose sees that too, so he takes care to keep me sweet.”
“Roose Bolton has Lord Eddard’s daughter. To thwart him White Harbor must have Ned’s son ... and the direwolf. The wolf will prove the boy is who we say he is, should the Dreadfort attempt to deny him. That is my price, Lord Davos. Smuggle me back my liege lord, and I will take Stannis Baratheon as my king.”
Robett Glover broke in to add, “Your loyalty does you honor, my lord, but Stannis Baratheon remains your king, not our own.”
And when Lord Umber, who was called the Greatjon by his men and stood as tall as Hodor and twice as wide, threatened to take his forces home if he was placed behind the Hornwoods or the Cerwyns in the order of march, Robb told him he was welcome to do so. “And when we are done with the Lannisters,” he promised, scratching Grey Wind behind the ear, “we will march back north, root you out of your keep, and hang you for an oathbreaker.” Cursing, the Greatjon flung a flagon of ale into the fire and bellowed that Robb was so green he must piss grass. When Hallis Mollen moved to restrain him, he knocked him to the floor, kicked over a table, and unsheathed the biggest, ugliest greatsword that Bran had ever seen. All along the benches, his sons and brothers and sworn swords leapt to their feet, grabbing for their steel.
Yet Robb only said a quiet word, and in a snarl and the blink of an eye Lord Umber was on his back, his sword spinning on the floor three feet away and his hand dripping blood where Grey Wind had bitten off two fingers. “My lord father taught me that it was death to bare steel against your liege lord,” Robb said, “but doubtless you only meant to cut my meat.” Bran’s bowels went to water as the Greatjon struggled to rise, sucking at the red stumps of fingers... but then, astonishingly, the huge man laughed. “Your meat,” he roared, “is bloody tough. “
The Greatjon’s been heard to say that the old gods of the north sent those direwolves to your children.
“Renly Baratheon is nothing to me, nor Stannis neither. Why should they rule over me and mine, from some flowery seat in Highgarden or Dorne? What do they know of the Wall or the wolfswood or the barrows of the First Men? Even their gods are wrong. The Others take the Lannisters too, I’ve had a bellyful of them.” He reached back over his shoulder and drew his immense two-handed greatsword. “Why shouldn’t we rule ourselves again? It was the dragons we married, and the dragons are all dead!” He pointed at Robb with the blade. “There sits the only king I mean to bow my knee to, m’lords,” he thundered. “The King in the North!”
“Bear Island knows no king but the King in the North, whose name is STARK. A girl of ten, you say, and she presumes to scold her lawful king.”
“Sisters,” Alysane Mormont replied, gruff as ever. “Five, we were. All girls. Lyanna is back on Bear Island. Lyra and Jory are with our mother. Dacey was murdered.”
The queen glanced at the words. “Protector of the Realm,” she read. “Is this meant to be your shield, my lord? A piece of paper?” She ripped the letter in half, ripped the halves in quarters, and let the pieces flutter to the floor.
“Those were the king’s words,” Ser Barristan said, shocked.
"The black brothers will accompany you as far as Castle Black," the king went on. "The ironmen are to remain here, supposedly to fight for us. Another gift from Tycho Nestoris. Just as well, they would only slow you down. Ironmen were made for ships, not horses. Lady Arya should have a female companion as well. Take Alysane Mormont."
“The evil is in his blood,” said Robett Glover. “He is a bastard born of rape. A Snow, no matter what the boy king says.”