A Clash of Kings-Chapter 4
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A Game of Thrones
Prince Bran Stark contemplates the red comet and listens to the direwolves howling in Winterfell, wondering about the reasons behind it all. He resents his broken body and the arrival of Big Walder and Little Walder Frey, whom he blames for Summer and Shaggydog being locked up. When he tells Maester Luwin about his wolf dreams, Luwin gives him a sleeping draught to stop the dreams, but that night he dreams he is Summer trapped in the godswood.
Bran prefers the stone window seat to his featherbed. Abed, the walls seem to press close about him. Although he cannot walk, climb, hunt, or fight as he once did, Bran likes to watch the lights begin to glow all over Winterfell in the evening and to hear the direwolves sing to the stars.
Of late, Bran often dreams of wolves. When they howl, Bran feels the direwolves are talking to him, brother to brother. He can almost understand them, as if they are singing in a language he once knew but has forgotten. His mother’s new wards Big Walder and Little Walder Frey might be afraid of them, but Old Nan told him the Starks have wolf blood, though it is stronger in some than in others. Summer’s howls are full of grief and longing while Shaggydog’s are savage. Their voices echo around the castle and it sounds as if a whole pack haunts Winterfell, instead of only two where once there were six. Bran wonders if the wolves miss their siblings, too.
When Bran asked why the wolves howl, everyone gave him a different answer. Ser Rodrik the castellan had no time for such idle questions, Farlen the kennelmaster believed it was for freedom, Gage the cook said they wanted to hunt, and Maester Luwin thought they were howling at the red comet because they thought it was the moon. When Bran repeated Luwin’s words to Osha the wildling, she declared that his wolves have more wit than his maester and know truths Luwin has forgotten. When Bran asked her what the comet meant, Osha replied, “Blood and fire, boy, and nothing sweet.” Septon Chayle thought the comet was the sword that slays the season, which makes sense to Bran since soon after the white raven came from the Citadel to announce autumn. Old Nan could not see the comet, but claimed she could smell it and said it foretold dragons. Hodor only said, “Hodor.”
Still, the direwolves howl. The guards curse, the hounds bark, the horses kick, the Walders shiver by their fire, and even Maester Luwin complains of sleepless nights. Only Bran does not seem to mind. Ser Rodrik has confined the wolves to the godswood after Shaggydog bit Little Walder, but the stones of Winterfell play tricks with sound; sometimes wolves sound like they are right below Bran’s window and other times they sound like they are up on the curtain walls. Bran wishes he could see them.
Bran can see the comet hanging above the Guards Hall, the Bell Tower, and the First Keep. Once Bran knew every stone of those buildings inside and out; he had climbed them all, scampering up walls as easily as other boys run down stairs. Their rooftops were his secret places, and the crows atop the broken tower were his special friends. Then he fell and almost died. Bran does not remember falling, yet he supposes it must be true. When his eyes fall on the weathered gargoyles atop the First Keep where it happened, Bran gets a tight feeling in his belly. Now he cannot climb, walk, run, or swordfight, and his dreams of knighthood have soured.
Summer howled when he fell, and for long after he lay broken, and Shaggydog and Grey Wind joined in his grief; Robb told him so before he went away to war. The night the bloody raven brought word of his father’s death, the wolves knew that, too. Bran wonders who the wolves are mourning now. Has some enemy slain the King in the North who used to be his brother Robb? Or has his bastard brother Jon Snow fallen from the Wall? Has his mother or one of his sisters died? Or is this something else, as Luwin and Chayle and Old Nan think?
Bran thinks wistfully that if he were a direwolf he would understand. In his wolf dreams he can race up mountains taller than any tower and stand beneath the moon with the entire world below him, as it used to be. Bran cups his hands and begins howling like a wolf, hesitantly at first, but Summer gives answer and so he tries again. The noise brings the guard called Hayhead to his door, but Bran only howls at him until he leaves.
Hayhead returns with Maester Luwin, who suggests Bran should be asleep. Bran insists that he is talking to the wolves. When Luwin offers Bran assistance getting to bed, Bran insists he can do it himself with the iron bars Mikken installed, but he does not want to sleep. Luwin insists that even princes must sleep, but Bran explains that when he sleeps he turns into a wolf. He asks if wolves dream. Luwin thinks so, but not as men dream. Thinking of his father, Bran asks if dead men dream. Maester Luwin says some think so, but the dead are silent on the matter. Then Bran asks if trees dream. Confused, Luwin says no, but Bran insists that they do and says he dreams of a weirwood tree calling to him sometimes. Bran says the wolf dreams are better; he can smell, and sometimes taste the blood.
This makes Maester Luwin uncomfortable, and he wishes Bran would spend more time with the other children. Bran insists that he hates the other children, meaning the Walders. He reminds Luwin that he commanded them sent away. Luwin grows stern as he explains that it is not for Bran to send his mother’s wards away, and asks where they would go if they were turned out. Bran says they can go home, since it is their fault he cannot be with Summer. Luwin argues that Little Walder did not ask to be attacked, nor did Luwin himself. Bran reminds the maester that Shaggydog was the attacker; Summer never bit anyone.
Luwin reminds Bran that Summer tore out a man’s throat in that very room, and claims the sweet pups have grown into dangerous beasts. Bran suggests they should put the Walders in the godswood; the boys can play lord of the crossing all they want, and Summer can sleep with Bran again. Bran complains that no one listens to him, even though he is the prince. He is not even allowed to ride Dancer past the gate. Luwin insists that the wolfswood is full of dangers, recalling Bran’s last outing. Bran insists stubbornly that Summer would protect him and that princes should be free to sail and hunt and joust. Luwin asks why Bran torments himself with these dreams and reminds him that he is a boy of eight. Bran loses his temper and replies:
“I’d sooner be a wolf. Then I could live in the wood and sleep when I wanted, and I could find Arya and Sansa. I’d smell where they were and go save them, and when Robb went to battle I’d fight beside him like Grey Wind. I’d tear out the Kingslayer’s throat with my teeth, rip, and then the war would be over and everyone would come back to Winterfell. If I was a wolf...Ooo-ooo-oooooooooooo.
Maester Luwin attempts to reply, but Bran only howls louder until the maester concedes and departs. Howling loses its savor once Bran is alone and he quiets. Resentfully, Bran recalls that he did welcome the Walders when they arrived from the Twins. Rickon was the one who threw the tantrum then, screaming that he wanted Mother and Father and Robb, not these strangers. It was Bran who soothed him and welcomed the Freys. Even Maester Luwin said he did well. Then they played the lord of the crossing game in a pool in the godswood.
The game was played with a log, a stick, a body of water, and a great deal of shouting. The lord of the crossing stood in the middle of the water and was the only one who got to use a stick. The other players had to make up speeches about who they were and why they should be allowed to cross. The lord could make them swear oaths and answer questions. They didn’t have to tell the truth, but the oaths were binding unless they said “Mayhaps,” so the trick was to say “Mayhaps” so the lord of the crossing didn’t notice, then knock the lord into the water and become the new lord of the crossing. In practice, the game came down to mostly shoving, hitting, and falling into the water, along with a lot of loud arguments about whether or not someone said “Mayhaps.”
Little Walder was lord of the crossing as often as not. He is Little Walder even though he is tall and stout with a big belly. His cousin, Big Walder, is sharp-faced and skinny and half a foot shorter. The names came about because Big Walder is fifty-two days older, so he was bigger at first. Big Walder explained that there were bunches of Walders at the Twins, as well as a number of girls named Walda, all named after the boys’ grandfather, Lord Walder Frey.
Bran watched wistfully while the Walders played the lord of the crossing game with Turnip the cook’s boy and Joseth’s girls Bandy and Shyra. The Walders had decreed that Bran should judge whether people said “Mayhaps,” but as soon as they started playing they forgot all about him. The shouts and splashes soon drew others: Palla the kennel girl, Cayn’s boy Calon, and Fat Tom’s son TomToo. Before long everyone was soaked, muddy, and laughing. Bran had not heard so much laughter since the bloody raven arrived. Bitterly, Bran told himself that no one would be lord of the crossing but him if he could use his legs. Then Rickon came running into the godswood with Shaggydog and wanted to play. Shaggydog obeyed the command to stay until the first time Little Walder hit Rickon with the stick. Then, before Bran could blink, the black wolf attacked Little Walder.
Oddly, after that Rickon decided he liked the Walders. They never played lord of the crossing again, but they play monsters and maidens, rats and cats, and come-into-my-castle. They plunder the kitchens, race around the walls, toss bones to the pups, and train with wooden swords. But when Rickon showed them the crypts under the castle, Bran had screamed that Rickon had no right to show them a Stark place.
The door to the bedchamber opens and Maester Luwin returns with Osha, Hayhead, and a sleeping draught. Osha scoops Bran up and carries him effortlessly to bed. Luwin assures Bran that the draught will give him a dreamless sleep. Bran wants to believe him. After he has taken the draught, Osha lingers behind to ask if it is the wolf dreams again. When Bran nods, Osha says he should not fight so hard, since maybe the old gods are trying to answer all his talk to the heart tree. Bran fades off to sleep before he can really reply, but when the darkness closes over him, he finds himself moving silently through the godswood. Part of him knows it is only a dream, but even the dream of walking is better than the truth of his bedchamber.
In his dream it is dark amongst the trees but the comet lights his way as he moves, swift and strong on four good legs. He can feel the ground underfoot and the smells fill his head. The scent of squirrel reminds him of the taste of hot blood and bones cracking between his teeth. Slaver runs from his jaws, and he can hear the squirrel chittering and rustling safe above him. He can smell his brother, too, loping around and around, tirelessly searching but never finding: for prey, for a way out, for his mother, for his littermates, for his pack.
Behind the trees the walls rise higher than any wolf can leap. Cold iron and splintery wood close off the only exits, but his brother still stops at each one to fruitless bare his fangs in rage. He did the same the first night, but learned it was no good; circling the walls will not push them back and marking the trees will keep no men away. The world has tightened around them, but beyond the wall still stands Winterfell, and beyond that the true world calls him, and he knows he must answer or die.
References and Notes
- Humorous review of the chapter
- Review of the chapter the course of a 10th reread by Slynt.
- Review and summary by Leigh Butler.