A Clash of Kings-Chapter 23
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The Night's Watch finally finds people at Craster's Keep. Craster has been an ally to the Watch, but he has an unsavory reputation. Jon Snow discovers that Craster marries his daughters and gives his young sons to the Cold Gods. Jon gets the opportunity to talk to one of Craster’s wives, Gilly, about this, and learns that the Cold Gods have bright blue eyes like the wights that attacked Jeor Mormont. The next day, Jon rides with the Lord Commander, telling him about Craster’s sons and daughters, and learns that the commander knew. Then the commander tells him that Craster informed them that Mance Rayder is gathering his people at Frostfangs.
Jon Snow is riding beside a grumpy Lord Commander with an equally soaked and grumpy raven on his shoulder. There have been six days of rain, and the ground is treacherous; Jon thinks about Pypar and Todder sitting near the fire in the common room. The Lord Commander is relieved when he hears Jarmen Buckwell’s horn—it means there are still people at Craster's Keep. They have so far passed through seven villages without seeing anybody. Jon has heard many tales about Craster. Thoren Smallwood swears he is a friend of the watch, though he has an unsavory reputation: Dywen says he is a kinslayer, liar, raper, craven, and slaver. The Lord Commander tells Jon to spread the word down the column that he wants no trouble with Craster’s women, and the men will mind their hands and avoid talking to the women.
As he rides down the line, he finally comes to Sam with the baggage. The ravens are very unruly, and Sam explains that they hate the rain like men. Sam states he is doing alright, but wet, and when he is told that Craster’s Keep is just ahead, he tells Jon that Eddison Tollett says Craster marries his daughters, only follows his own laws, and that Dywen told Grenn he has black blood. Also, that his mother is a wilding that laid with a ranger. Sam almost goes on to call Craster a bastard, but Jon finishes for him, and says he has heard the word before. Jon finally makes it to the rear to give word to Ser Ottyn Wythers, who considers it welcome news; he has always looked tired, but the rain has made him look much worse.
On the way back up the column, Jon cuts through the woods. When he hears rustling, he thinks it is Ghost, but it is Dywen and Grenn. Jon gives them the news that Craster is alive, and discussion turns to how many wives he has. Then Ghost is loping beside Jon’s horse. Jon rides ahead to the keep.
When he gets to the keep, he is very disappointed. He did not expect a stone castle, but what he finds, he would call a midden heap. Inside the compound he sees a little naked girl pulling carrots, and two women tie a pig for slaughter. He can hear Chett’s hounds' barking being answered by the bark of Craster’s dogs. Some of the dogs break off when they see Ghost, while others growl and Ghost ignores them. Jon estimates that only 30 or maybe 50 will get to sleep in the hall, but not their 200. Dolorous Edd has been entrusted with the commander’s mount and tells Jon that he is to join the commander in the hall, but the wolf should stay outside.
Inside the squalid, foul smelling hall, there are already two dozen rangers, including Jarman Buckwell and Thoren Smallwood. Jon thinks how he looked forward to seeing the wonders beyond the wall—it is a pity Pypar and Todder are missing this. Craster is the only one sitting in a chair, even the commander has to sit on a bench, and seeing him Jon thinks of Old Nan’s tales of wildlings drinking blood from human skulls. He overhears Craster say he has not seen Brandon Stark for three years. In the background, shabbily dressed women prepare the food and pass out beer while a dozen puppies and a pig skulk around. Mormont tells Crater that Ben was searching for the vanished Ser Waymar Royce, Gared and Will. Craster recalls the three men, but does not know where they went. He does complain that his wives made cow eyes at young Ser Waymar who was too proud to sleep under his roof. The commander tells him about the villages they found abandoned, and the wights that attacked him at Castle Black. Craster feigns ignorance, but one of his wives recognizes the truth in the tale by the look of horror on her face. Craster also refuses the offer of an escort back to the Wall, saying he is of the free folk. He even has his wife confirm that this is their place, Craster keeps them safe, and it is better to die free. Jarmen Buckwell asks about Craster’s king, Mance Rayder, and Craster states that Free Folk have no need of kings, and that when one of Mance’s men arrived to tell him he had to leave his keep and grovel at Mance’s feet, he sent the man back without his tongue.
Craster then tells the commander that they can sleep on the floor, but he will only feed 20. Mormont responds that the roof would be welcome, and they have food and wine which they will share. Craster expresses particular interest in the wine and then adds that any man that lays a hand on one of his wives loses his hand. Mormont agrees, but does not look pleased. Craster now asks if Mormont has a man that can draw maps, and Jon steps forward stating that Sam likes maps. Mormont tells Jon to get Sam with quill and parchment and bring Mormont’s axe as a guest gift. Craster notes that Jon Snow has the look of a Stark, and is told that he is Mormont’s steward and squire. When Craster hears the name Snow, he understands that Jon is a bastard, and declares that a man who wants to bed a woman should marry her like he does, and then tells Jon to do his service.
Jon almost collides into Ottyn Wythers as he is leaving. Outside he finds tents have gone up all over the compound. He finds Dolorous Edd and tells him of the requests. Edd states that the commander will get his axe back, buried in his skull. When he hears that the commander wants wine as well, he says that Craster, drunk, will only cut off an ear when he attempts to slay them. When Jon tells Dolorous Edd that Smallwood says Craster is their friend, he responds the difference between wildling friends and enemies is that the friends bury them in secret graves.
Jon hears a shout of fear as he finishes up feeding the horses. He finds Ghost with two rabbits confronting a 15 year old girl. Jon promises that Ghost will not hurt her. He asks her if she is one of Craster’s daughters and is told she is now his wife. She was hoping to breed the rabbits. Jon can tell that Ghost has gone after the caged rabbits; he must have been hungry. He would pay for them but has no money, so he tells her that the Night's Watch will make good. She calls him lord and he responds he is no lord. Then ranger Lark the Sisterman tells her that he is Lord Snow himself, and then notes that the wolf is looking hungry. Jon tells Lark that he is scaring her, only to have Chett respond that Lark is warning her. The girl then remembers she is not to talk to them. Chett tells Jon that he would not be so bold without Ghost around; Chett lost is position as Maester Aemon’s steward because of Jon. When Lark joins in about Jon being a coward without his wolf, he leaves.
It takes a while for Jon to find Sam, and it is actually Ghost that finds him under a rock outcrop. Ghost has given Jon the second rabbit, and Jon shows Sam and then informs him that the commander wants him to create a map. Jon proceeds to cook the scrawny rabbit over a fire. It smells wonderful and the other rangers give them envious looks. As they eat, Sam asks if Craster is a savage, as they say. After Sam leaves with the quill and parchment, Jon falls asleep thinking that maybe the commander will learn something that will lead them to Uncle Benjen.
He wakes to dawn, and Ghost is gone. Everything is coated in a fine ice glaze, and Jon thinks of his sisters, and that Sansa would call this enchantment. He hears his name called and finds the girl with the rabbits wearing Sam’s cloak. She asks him if he is the king’s brother, and he tells her he is his half-brother. Jon is concerned about Craster, but Gilly tells him her father drank too much and will sleep most of the day. She then asks him about King’s justice; she wants to leave. Craster should not even notice since he has 19 wives. She explains that she is pregnant, and while it will not be too bad if she has a girl, since Craster will let her grow up and marry her, if it is boy, he will give it to the gods. Nella has told her that the baby will be male, and Gilly believes she knows these things, having had six boys. She continues by telling Jon that when the white cold comes, he sacrifices the boys, and it has been coming more often, so he has had to give the sheep, which are now gone. Next it will be the dogs. The Cold Gods come at night, and are white shadows. Jon thinks about the two wights, asks the color of their eyes and is told they are bright blue. She tells him that she knows he did not take of Craster’s hospitality, so Jon is not bound to Craster, and asks to be taken to the Wall, but Jon tells her that they are going the other direction, and that it is for the old crow to decide, not him. Disappointed, she leaves.
He joins Dywen, Grenn and Hake for breakfast. Dywen claims he had three of the woman that night. He is not believed. Jon asks if Sam slept in the hall, and is told that it was impossible to sleep with the hard ground, the ill-smelling rushes, and the snoring, particularly the snoring of Brown Bernarr. Jon soon excuses himself to attend to the Lord Commander.
On the way, he passes by the scouts, and Jarman Buckwell tells him to keep a good edge on his sword since they will be needing it soon enough. When he enters the hall, the commander’s Raven announces his presence with a request for corn. When the commander asks, Jon tells him the rain has stopped but it is cold. Mormont tells him to saddle his horse for he plans to leave within the hour. He tells Jon that there is some food, but Jon declines, deciding he will not take of Craster’s hospitality.
He finds Sam behind the hall with Gilly. She quietly leaves and Sam tells Jon he was hoping he could do something for Gilly. Jon asks what he could have done, wrap her in a cloak and take her with them? Sam admits Jon is right, but she is afraid, and maybe when they come back they can take her. Jon states the commander will not let them take one of Craster’s wives, then quickly excuses himself because he has to groom and saddle the horses.
As he rides alongside Mormont, Jon notes that Craster has no sons or sheep. Mormont admits that Craster gives his sons to the wood, and tells Jon that all the rangers know, but will not talk of it. If he could have, Mormont states, he would have taken the boys, they could raise them to the black, but the wildlings serve crueler gods. Mormont then asks if Jon spoke to one of Craster’s wives, and Jon admits he did. Then Mormont tells Jon that if he had his way, with Craster sprawled out drunk and the new axe below, one of the wives could easily kill him. However, the Night's Watch need Craster, and his keep has been responsible for saving many ranger lives. Mormont can tell Jon wants to say something, and tells him to. Jon states that his father said that a brutal or unjust bannerman shames his liege lord. Mormont responds that Craster is his own man and has sworn no vows.
After Jon informs Mormont that Buckwell has told him he would soon need his sword, Mormont explains that Craster told them Mance Rayder is gathering his people at Frostfangs, a cruel, inhospitable wilderness of stone and ice. Mormont expects Mance to invade the realm. Jon mentions that Raymun Redbeard in the time of his grandfather's grandfather, and before that Bael the Bard, invaded the realm. Mormont admits this, adding more names including Joramun, who blew the Horn of Winter to wake the giants, but not only is the Watch a shadow of itself, Winterfell is weak with Robb Stark marching south. This is a great opportunity for the wildlings. Their only choice is to find Mance Rayder and stop him.