Lyanna the Grey Feathered Horse

Full text of the Knight of the Laughing Tree located at the very bottom for length.

Related image

I am speculating that it was Lyanna skinchanging the horse that Howland Reed rode, which was later feathered by Rhaegar and his men chasing the “knight”, only to have it revealed who the knight was after Rhaegar chased and caught her. I also speculate this is later back-shadowed by Melisandre and her “grey girl on a dying horse” vision.

This fits the theme of the story on a few levels, including the joining of two things to make a something stronger. We see this ideal repeated in a few areas, including but not limited to, when Ygritte tells Jon a true man steals a girl from afar to strengthen the clan, Bran slipping in to Hodor to do certain tasks, Bran and Sam “the Slayer” having to slay the lies of the Citadel, and I have no doubt that Sansa and Arya will end up coming together to take down the giant of Baelish who destroyed their lives.

I think there are enough clues in the story to show us that skinchanging/warging talents were cut off from the north when “Good” Queen Alysanne went north and closed Nightfort and drew attention elsewhere with her shiny jewels. Cheap jewels, flaking paint, and empty lands; that is what Queen Alysanne left in her dragon wake… but that will be another topic.

Just like dragons need their magics and riders, skinchangers and their familiars need each other, and the magics, to become “active”.

Also, it appears that maesters are set in ridding the world of any magic or knowledge that takes away their won power and “worth”. The maesters, including dear old Luwin, deny that any such skinchanging talents even exist. This means there was no one to teach or guide Lyanna, and Jon Snow, and why Bran received his training through Jojen (so far), Arya thinks she is dreaming, and who knows what with Sansa and her probable bird connection. And we know from the Varamyr prologue that it is best to have someone with these talents teach and guide the younger generation in how to use their gift. Borroq is most likely going to be the one who helps Jon with his warg talent as Jon heals.

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Lyanna Stark by Gloria Piñeiro Muñiz http://www.gloriapm.com/portfolio/lyanna-stark/

Also, all of the “horseplay” Lyanna does with her tomboy antics, her being described as “half a centaur“, and when Jaime says jousting is mostly about the horse, etc, etc. We have Elia Sand, aka Lady Lance, en route with Arianne as a new Lyanna stand-in to help drive this message across. There is constant attention drawn to the horses in the story. They have names, they have detailed descriptions, they have personalities.

From the start of the first book, in the POV of the known “dragon” person of the story, we are told this terribly derogatory idea from Viserys.

A Game of Thrones – Daenerys I

She had always assumed that she would wed Viserys when she came of age. For centuries the Targaryens had married brother to sister, since Aegon the Conqueror had taken his sisters to bride. The line must be kept pure, Viserys had told her a thousand times; theirs was the kingsblood, the golden blood of old Valyria, the blood of the dragon. Dragons did not mate with the beasts of the field, and Targaryens did not mingle their blood with that of lesser men. Yet now Viserys schemed to sell her to a stranger, a barbarian.

The term “beast of the field” also means a beast of burden, which include working animals such as horses. The more sinister meaning is a racists term from ancient days applied to black peoples. The Targaryens thought themselves above gods and men which lead to their generational incest as they thought other “races” are inferior.

  • Bastards were common enough, but incest was a monstrous sin to both old gods and new, and the children of such wickedness were named abominations in sept and godswood alike. The dragon kings had wed brother to sister, but they were the blood of old Valyria where such practices had been common, and like their dragons the Targaryens answered to neither gods nor men.
  • Why shouldn’t I marry Cersei openly and share her bed every night? The dragons always married their sisters. Septons, lords, and smallfolk had turned a blind eye to the Targaryens for hundreds of years, let them do the same for House Lannister. It would play havoc with Joffrey’s claim to the crown, to be sure, but in the end it had been swords that had won the Iron Throne for Robert, and swords could keep Joffrey there as well, regardless of whose seed he was. We could marry him to Myrcella, once we’ve sent Sansa Stark back to her mother. That would show the realm that the Lannisters are above their laws, like gods and Targaryens.

 

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Rhaegar Targaryen presenting Lyanna Stark with the rose crown making her the Queen of Love and Beauty during the Tourney at Harrenhal. Art by M.Luisa Giliberti.

However, this is what we see Rhaegar do, he mixes dragon and horse (wolf) blood. Rhaegar, the bookish boy, is the more progressive character in the story (*as it is presented as of the end of A Dance with Dragons. Yes, this could always change.).

  • This follows what George set up in his earlier story Nightflyers. The main protagonist, Royd Eris, is a near exact Jon Snow prototype, and Martin has him chose Melantha Jhirl, a black woman, as his intended lover and partner. Royd rejects the incest he was created for, and instead he chooses the one he loves.
  • In the story And Seven Times Never Kill Man, the “superior” dragon representatives, the Steel Angels who worship the Pale Child Bakkalon, they refer to the native inhabitants as “beasts.” The main protagonist, Arik, NeKrol, is the one who defends them. At the end of the story we see that (after Arik dies) Arik has given a special cloak to the main Jaenshi female, Bitterspeaker, and it is thought to be a cloak for a widow, among a few other ideas.

Rhaegar seems to have been the choice for Lyanna over the intended Robert Baratheon. Rhaegar crowned Lyanna ‘queen of love and beauty’. Between the crowning and this, “The dragon prince sang a song so sad it made the wolf maid sniffle,” it seems that Rhaegar outwitted the other men who were fond of the wolf girl, whether Rhaegar knew it or not.  In the story of Adam HaRishon’s sin the Torah writes:

  • “And they were both naked, man and his wife, yet they were not ashamed…”(ii, 25);
  • “And the snake was craftier than all the animal of the field that Hashem Elokim had made” (iii, 1).
    • Melisandre says this about the girl in grey: “A deer, once.”

By the way, we also have Jon taking on some horse symbolism as well, especially in Dance as his character arc is about to make a major leap. This includes, but is not limited to, things like:

  • Val, was Jon’s first thought. But that was no woman’s scream. That is a man in mortal agony. He broke into a run. Horse and Rory raced after him. “Is it wights?” asked Rory. Jon wondered. Could his corpses have escaped their chains?
  • Mully cleared his throat. “M’lord? The wildling princess, letting her go, the men may say—”

    “—that I am half a wildling myself, a turncloak who means to sell the realm to our raiders, cannibals, and giants.” Jon did not need to stare into a fire to know what was being said of him. The worst part was, they were not wrong, not wholly.

Lyanna being the “horse” in this situation would also allow Howland to tell the story in truth because he was the “booming” knight. Lyanna guided the horse to be sure and true, knowingly or not, and allowed Howland to stand up to the bullies himself. This lesson from another in-story skinchanger may also allow some hints to Lyanna:

A Storm of Swords – Jon X

“Tormund Crowlover,” Harma sneered. “You are a great sack o’ wind, old man.”

The skinchanger was grey-faced, round-shouldered, and bald, a mouse of a man with a wolfling’s eyes. “Once a horse is broken to the saddle, any man can mount him,” he said in a soft voice. “Once a beast’s been joined to a man, any skinchanger can slip inside and ride him. Orell was withering inside his feathers, so I took the eagle for my own. But the joining works both ways, warg. Orell lives inside me now, whispering how much he hates you. And I can soar above the Wall, and see with eagle eyes.”

Together, Lyanna the little girl and Howland the little man, were stronger.

None were well loved, so the common folk cheered lustily for the Knight of the Laughing Tree, as the new champion soon was called. When his fallen foes sought to ransom horse and armor, the Knight of the Laughing Tree spoke in a booming voice through his helm, saying, ‘Teach your squires honor, that shall be ransom enough.’ Once the defeated knights chastised their squires sharply, their horses and armour were returned. And so the little crannogman’s prayer was answered…by the green men, or the old gods, or the children of the forest, who can say?

This still fits with Lyanna being a “knight of the laughing tree” symbol because of the double entendre of skinchanging and it being connected to the weirwoods/old gods. Think of how the once melancholy tree in the godswood at Winterfell was “laughing” at the marriage of a fake Arya to a historic Stark traitor, Ramsay Snow (Bolton). This was Lyanna “laughing” at the mockery of a wedding of a girl that is frequently compared to her. The awful teasing Arya receives from being called “horseface” probably has a lot to do with this foreshadowing, and we know how beautiful Arya is growing to be based on what we read other people tell Arya in the story.

A Dance with Dragons – Theon/ The Prince of Winterfell

“I take this man,” the bride said in a whisper.

All around them lights glimmered through the mists, a hundred candles pale as shrouded stars. Theon stepped back, and Ramsay and his bride joined hands and knelt before the heart tree, bowing their heads in token of submission. The weirwood’s carved red eyes stared down at them, its great red mouth open as if to laugh. In the branches overhead a raven quorked.

And readers of the series know that what takes place in tourney’s is often telling of another part of the story. This next section seems to really drive in the theme with mares, grey, speed, and beauty. This next quote from Eddard is courtesy of Pretty Pig via Feather Crystal.

A Game of Thrones – Eddard VII

When the Knight of Flowers made his entrance, a murmur ran through the crowd, and he heard Sansa’s fervent whisper, “Oh, he’s so beautiful.” Ser Loras Tyrell was slender as a reed, dressed in a suit of fabulous silver armor polished to a blinding sheen and filigreed with twining black vines and tiny blue forget-me-nots. The commons realized in the same instant as Ned that the blue of the flowers came from sapphires; a gasp went up from a thousand throats. Across the boy’s shoulders his cloak hung heavy. It was woven of forget-me-nots, real ones, hundreds of fresh blooms sewn to a heavy woolen cape.

His courser was as slim as her rider, a beautiful grey mare, built for speed. Ser Gregor’s huge stallion trumpeted as he caught her scent. The boy from Highgarden did something with his legs, and his horse pranced sideways, nimble as a dancer. Sansa clutched at his arm. “Father, don’t let Ser Gregor hurt him,” she said. Ned saw she was wearing the rose that Ser Loras had given her yesterday. Jory had told him about that as well.

And we have seen how Val is like Lyanna in the willfulness and visual looks department, being a “beauty”, as well as being connected to the old gods and Ghost. However, when you look again, Val is also given a grey horse when Jon sends her on a mission to find the remaining free folk and lead them to Castle Black under Jon’s admission. Jon gives Val a grey garron in-particular, and a grey garron is a type of Scottish work horse. The free folk are based on the Scots and Hadrian’s wall, so this Scottish horse being used also follows that theme… and it would not make sense to give Val a Dornish Sand Steed in the north. (Sidenote: Mully is named after George’s first cat, Mulligan, he had with his wife Parris.)

A Dance with Dragons – Jon XI

“Har!” Tormund snorted again. “You hear that, Toregg? Stay away from this one. I have one daughter, don’t need another.” Shaking his head, the wildling chief ducked back inside his tent.

As Jon scratched Ghost behind the ear, Toregg brought up Val’s horse for her. She still rode the grey garron that Mully had given her the day she left the Wall, a shaggy, stunted thing blind in one eye. As she turned it toward the Wall, she asked, “How fares the little monster?”

Remember, George is a hippy who grew up poor, and he loves the idea of the little guy taking down the big A-hole bullies.

The feathering idea comes from the possibility that when Rhaegar or some other men chased after the “knight”, they feathered the rump of the horse she rode in order to stop her from fleeing.

Melisandre is the on her own mission as the representative of fire intruding into this icy world of the North. She is being guided by R’hllor to seek the ‘prince that was promised’, whom she is misreading her flames as to the identity of this so-called prophesied one. Melisandre makes many admitted mistakes, and this grey girl is but one more.

A Dance with Dragons – Jon I

“Are your fires never wrong?”

“Never … though we priests are mortal and sometimes err, mistaking this must come for this may come.”

Jon could feel her heat, even through his wool and boiled leather. The sight of them arm in arm was drawing curious looks. They will be whispering in the barracks tonight. “If you can truly see the morrow in your flames, tell me when and where the next wildling attack will come.” He slipped his arm free.

A Dance with Dragons – Jon XIII

“Your fires have been known to lie.”

“I have made mistakes, I have admitted as much, but—”

“A grey girl on a dying horse. Daggers in the dark. A promised prince, born in smoke and salt. It seems to me that you make nothing but mistakes, my lady. Where is Stannis? What of Rattleshirt and his spearwives? Where is my sister?”

“All your questions shall be answered. Look to the skies, Lord Snow. And when you have your answers, send to me. Winter is almost upon us now. I am your only hope.”

 

Chances are Melisandre is being shown who must be stopped/killed as the opposition to fire- Jon Snow. Melisandre is given the tools to make the distinction, but she is taking the clues as something else entirely and she is trying to convince those around her that she is more powerful than what her truth is.

A Dance with Dragons – Jon VI

Melisandre seemed amused. “What is her name, this little sister that you do not have?

“Arya.” His voice was hoarse. “My half-sister, truly …”

“… for you are bastard born. I had not forgotten. I have seen your sister in my fires, fleeing from this marriage they have made for her. Coming here, to you. A girl in grey on a dying horse, I have seen it plain as day. It has not happened yet, but it will.” She gazed at Ghost. “May I touch your … wolf?”

The thought made Jon uneasy. “Best not.”

A Dance with Dragons – Jon X

“I am seeing skulls. And you. I see your face every time I look into the flames. The danger that I warned you of grows very close now.”

“Daggers in the dark. I know. You will forgive my doubts, my lady. A grey girl on a dying horse, fleeing from a marriage, that was what you said.”

“I was not wrong.”

Melisandre may not have been fully wrong, just mistaken as she admits often happens. The ‘grey girl’ is plainly evident as Lyanna Stark with the grey representing her Starkness. The more curious question is which marriage Lyanna was fleeing?

  1. Her betrothal to Robert Baratheon? Lyanna never wanted to marry Robert Baratheon, and she made it known, and the betrothal was not her idea.
  2. Rhaegar abduction her to fulfill a prophecy that he knows of? That is IF Lyanna was not in love with Rhaegar and did not go willingly.

And I think we can see a hint to this in a Jon chapter as he flees from Ygritte, a girl he “stole”, and she feathers him with her own grey-feathered arrows. All the basic elements are there, just rearranged a bit.

A Storm of Swords – Jon V

Clumsily, he slid down off the mare’s back. His wounded leg buckled under him, and he had to swallow a scream. This is going to be agony. The arrow had to come out, though, and nothing good could come of waiting. Jon curled his hand around the fletching, took a deep breath, and shoved the arrow forward. He grunted, then cursed. It hurt so much he had to stop. I am bleeding like a butchered pig, he thought, but there was nothing to be done for it until the arrow was out. He grimaced and tried again . . . and soon stopped again, trembling. Once more. This time he screamed, but when he was done the arrowhead was poking through the front of his thigh. Jon pushed back his bloody breeches to get a better grip, grimaced, and slowly drew the shaft through his leg. How he got through that without fainting he never knew.

[by the way, /\this entire first paragraph takes place at/near Queenscrown tower and basically describes Lyanna giving birth and her bed of blood at the Tower of Joy, with the arrow paralleling Jon, and it continues below.)

He lay on the ground afterward, clutching his prize and bleeding quietly, too weak to move. After a while, he realized that if he did not make himself move he was like to bleed to death. Jon crawled to the shallow stream where the mare was drinking, washed his thigh in the cold water, and bound it tight with a strip of cloth torn from his cloak. He washed the arrow too, turning it in his hands. Was the fletching grey, or white? Ygritte fletched her arrows with pale grey goose feathers. Did she loose a shaft at me as I fled? Jon could not blame her for that. He wondered if she’d been aiming for him or the horse. If the mare had gone down, he would have been doomed. “A lucky thing my leg got in the way,” he muttered.

Now the grey girl reader distraction. We also hear of Melisandre claiming, or rather she accepts what Mance Rayder tells her, that the water the grey girl was next to is Long Lake. This water could just as easily be the God’s Eye lake (map below).

 

A Dance with Dragons – Melisandre I

[Mance] “Long Lake. What else did you see around this girl?”

“Hills. Fields. Trees. A deer, once. Stones. She is staying well away from villages. When she can she rides along the bed of little streams, to throw hunters off her trail.”

He frowned. “That will make it difficult. She was coming north, you said. Was the lake to her east or to her west?”

Melisandre closed her eyes, remembering. “West.”

She is not coming up the kingsroad, then. Clever girl. There are fewer watchers on the other side, and more cover. And some hidey-holes I have used myself from time—” He broke off at the sound of a warhorn and rose swiftly to his feet. All over Castle Black, Melisandre knew, the same sudden hush had fallen, and every man and boy turned toward the Wall, listening, waiting. One long blast of the horn meant rangers returning, but two …

Who ends up showing up is Alys Karstark, a Stark looking girl from another family, and yes, her horse is in bad shape, however, it seems all the of the details to Melisandre’s vision do not qualify Alys as the Arya-sister replacement. The path from Karhold to Castle Black does not pass Long Lake. Alys is said to have been picked up, “Ty and Dannel came on her two leagues south of Mole’s Town.”

section of the north
What Melisandre claims she sees are all details that fit the time of the Harrenhal tourney.
  • I saw water. Deep and blue and still, with a thin coat of ice just forming on it – The tourney at Harrenhal does take place in the false spring, and crusts of ice on water are mentioned elsewhere (Blackwater) at the same time. Also, in the Theon/Winds of Winter chapter, which takes place not long after this vision, the ice on the lake at the Crofter’s Village is so thick it has to be cut through.
  • Hills. Fields. – The terrain
  • Trees – Many possibilities here. The laughing tree shield, the Isle of Faces, the cut down weirwoods used to help build Harrenhal, etc.
  • A deer, once. – Robert Baratheon and the broken betrothal.
  • Stones – The fire melted stones of Harrenhal.
  • She is staying well away from villages – Lyanna fleeing.
  • When she can she rides along the bed of little streams – Harrenhal is in the riverlands.
  • to throw hunters off her trail. – This could be Rhaegar, or Stark brothers, or Mad King Aerys’ men in search for the Knight of the Laughing Tree.

I tend to think this misinformation given to Melisandre by Mance (he is on his own mission, after all) is actually Melisandre being shown visions of Lyanna and her relation to Rhaegar, which resulted in the birth of Jon Snow, the opposing ice force to fire.

It is not made clear in the text we have so far just exactly where this “knight”, Lyanna, was found other than “not ten leagues from Harrenhal”, which equates to approximately 28-30 miles. On land, the league is most commonly defined as three miles, though the length of a mile could vary from place to place and depending on the era. To be safe we could expand the range from 25-35 miles, and it still puts the vicinity as being next to the God’s Eye lake.

Here is the description from the World book…

The False Spring of 281 AC lasted less than two turns. As the year drew to a close, winter returned to Westeros with a vengeance. On the last day of the year, snow began to fall upon King’s Landing, and a crust of ice formed atop the Blackwater Rush. The snowfall continued off and on for the best part of a fortnight, by which time the Blackwater was hard frozen, and icicles draped the roofs and gutters of every tower in the city.

As cold winds hammered the city, King Aerys II turned to his pyromancers, charging them to drive the winter off with their magics. Huge green fires burned along the walls of the Red Keep for a moon’s turn. Prince Rhaegar was not in the city to observe them, however. Nor could he be found in Dragonstone with Princess Elia and their young son, Aegon. With the coming of the new year, the crown prince had taken to the road with half a dozen of his closest friends and confidants, on a journey that would ultimately lead him back to the riverlands. Not ten leagues from Harrenhal, Rhaegar fell upon Lyanna Stark of Winterfell, and carried her off, lighting a fire that would consume his house and kin and all those he loved—and half the realm besides.

But that tale is too well-known to warrant repeating here.

So while there could be more than one candidate for many of the prophecies and visions in the series, it also seems as though there is a main candidate and a secondary/lesser candidate (distraction). To me, it feels as if all of this information together equals a Lyanna and Howland “knight” match, and that the result is Lyanna as the grey girl on a dying/feathered horse.

Hopefully this post gives you a new look at this mysterious plot information that is the Knight of the Laughing Tree and how connected it is to the current story. I could be wrong about any of my theories, but I feel pretty confident in this one.

Lyanna and her bed of birthing blood is the sadder story for a different day.

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Centaur maid. Artist: Elvra Coacalina

 

Knight of the Laughing Tree

There was one knight,” said Meera, “in the year of the false spring. The Knight of the Laughing Tree, they called him. He might have been a crannogman, that one.

“Or not, ” Jojen’s face was dappled with green shadows. “prince Bran has heard that tale a hundred times, I’m sure.”

“No,” said Bran. “I haven’t. And if I have it doesn’t matter. Sometimes Old Nan would tell the same story she’d told before, but we never minded, if it was a good story. Old stories are like old friends, she used to say. You have to visit them from time to time.”

“That’s true.” Meera walked with her shield on her back, pushing an occasional branch out of the way with her frog spear. Just when Bran began to think she wasn’t going to tell the story after all, she began, “Once there was a curious lad who lived in the Neck. He was small like all crannogmen, but b rave and smart and strong as well. He grew up hunting and fishing and climbing trees, and learned all the magics of my people.

Bran was almost certain he had never heard this story. “Did he have green dreams like Jojen?”

“No,” said Meera, “but he could breathe mud and run on leaves, and change earth to water and water to earth with no more than a whispered word. He could talk to trees and weave words and make castles appear and disappear.

“I wish I could,” Bran said plaintively. “When does he meet the tree knight?”

Meera made a face at him. “Sooner if a certain prince would be quiet.”

“I was just asking.”

The lad knew the magics of the crannogs,” she continued, “but he wanted more. Our people seldom travel far from home you know. We’re a small folk, and our ways seem queer to some, so the big people do not always treat us kingly. But this lad was bolder than most, and one day when he had grown to manhood he decided he would leave the crannogs and visit the Isle of Faces.

“No one visits the Isle of Faces.” objected Bran. “That’s where the green men live.”

It was the green men he meant to find. So he donned a shirt sewn with bronze scales, like mine, took up a leathern shield and a three-pronged spear, like mine, and paddled a little skin boat down the Green Fork.

Bran closed his eyes to try and see the man in his little skin boat. In his head, the crannogman looked like Jojen, only older and stronger, and dressed like Meera.

He passed beneath the Twins by night so the Freys would not attack him, and when he reached the Trident he climbed from the river and put his boat on his head and began to walk. It took him many a day, but finally he reached the Gods Eye, threw his boat in the lake, and paddled out to the Isle of Faces.

“Did he meet the green men?”

“Yes,” said Meera, “But that’s another story, and not for me to tell. My prince asked for knights.”

“Green men are good too.”

“They are,” she agreed, but said no more about them. “All that winter the crannogman stayed on the isle, but when spring broke he heard the wide world calling and knew the time had come to leave. His skin boat was just where he’d left it, so he said his farewells and paddled off toward shore. He rowed and rowed, and finally saw the distant towers of a castle rising beside the lake. The towers reached ever higher as he neared shore, until he realized this must be the greatest castle in all the world.

“Harrenhal!” Bran knew at once. “It was Harrenhal!”

Meera smiled. “Was it? Beneath it’s walls he saw tents of many colors, bright banners cracking in the wind, and knights in mail and plate on barded horses. He smelled roasting meats, and heard the sound of laughter and the blare of heralds’ trumpets. A great tourney was about to commence, and champions from all over the land had come to contest it. The king himself was there, with his son the dragon prince. The White Swords had come, to welcome a new brother to their ranks. The storm lord was on hand, and the rose lord as well. The great lion of the rock had quarreled with the king and stayed away, but many of his bannermen and knights attended all the same. The crannogman had never seen such pageantry, and knew he might never see the like again. Part of him wanted nothing so much as to be part of it.

Bran knew that feeling well enough. When he’d been little, all he had ever dreamed of was being a knight. But that had been before he fell and lost his legs.

The daughter of the great castle reigned as queen of love and beauty when the tourney opened. Five champions had sworn to defend her crown; her four brothers of Harrenhal, and her famous uncle, a white knight of the Kingsguard.

“Was she a fair maid?”

“She was,” said Meera, hopping over a stone, “but there were others fairer still. One was the wife of the dragon prince, who’d brought a dozen lady companions to attend her. The knights all begged them for favors to tie about their lances.

“This isn’t going to be one of those love stories, is it?” Bran asked suspiciously. “Hodor doesn’t like those so much.”

“Hodor,” said Hodor agreeably.

“He likes the stories where the knights fight monsters.”

“Sometimes the knights are the monsters, Bran. The little crannogman was walking across the field, enjoying the warm spring day and harming none, when he was set upon by three squires. They were none older than fifteen, yet even so they were bigger than him , all three. This was their world, as the saw it, and he had no right to be there. They snatched away his spear and knocked him to the ground, cursing him for a frogeater.

“Were they Walders?” It sounded like something Little Walder Frey might have done.

None offered a name, but he marked their faces well so he could revenge himself upon them later. They shoved him down every time he tried to rise, and kicked him when he curled up on the ground. But then they heard a roar. ‘That’s my father’s man you’re kicking,’ howled the she-wolf.

“A wolf on four legs, or two?”

“Two,” said Meera. “The she-wolf laid into the squires with a tourney sword, scattering them all. The crannogman was bruised and bloodied, so she took him back to her lair to clean his cuts and bind them up with linen. There he met her pack brothers: the wild wolf who led them, the quiet wolf beside him, and the pup who was youngest of the four.

That evening there was to be a feast in Harrenhal, to mark the opening of the tourney, and the she-wolf insisted that the lad attend. He was of high birth, with as much a right to a place on the bench as any other man. She was not easy to refuse, this wolf maid, so he let the young pup find him garb suitable to a king’s feast, and went up to the great castle.

Under Harren’s roof he ate and drank with the wolves, and many of their s worn swords besides, barrowdown men and moose and bears and mermen. The dragon prince sang a song so sad it made the wolf maid sniffle, but when her pup brother teased her for crying she poured wine over his head. A black brother spoke, asking the knights to join the Night’s Watch. The storm lord drank down the knight of skulls and kisses in a wine-cup war. The crannogman saw a maid with laughing purple eyes dance with a white sword, a red snake, and the lord of griffins, and lastly with the quiet wolf…but only after the wild wolf spoke to her on behalf of a brother too shy to leave his bench.

Amidst all this merriment, the little crannogman spied the three squires who’d attacked him. One served a pitchfork knight, one a porcupine, while the last attended a knight with two towers on his surcoat, a sigil all crannogmen know well.

The Freys,” said Bran. “The Freys of the Crossing.”

“Then, as now,” she agreed. “The wolf maid saw them too, and pointed them out to her brothers. ‘I could find you a horse, and some armor that might fit,’ the pup offered. The little crannogman thanked him, but gave no answer. His heart was torn. Crannogmen are smaller than must, but just as proud. The lad was no knight, no more than any of his people. We sit a boat more often than a horse, and our hands are made for oars, not lances. Much as he wished to have his vengeance, he feared he would only make a fool of himself and shame his people. The quiet wolf had offered the little crannogman a place in his tent that night, but before he slept he knelt on the lakeshore, looking across the water to where the Isle of Faces would be. and said a prayer to the old gods of north and Neck…

“You never heard this tale from your father?” asked Jojen.

“It was Old Nan who told the stories. Meera, go on, you can’t stop there.”

Hodor must have felt the same. “Hodor,” he said, and then, “Hodor hodor hodor hodor.”

“Well,” said Meera, “if you would hear the rest…”

“Yes, Tell it.”

Five days of jousting were planned,” she said. “There was a great seven-sided melee as well, and archery and axe-throwing, a horse race, and tourney of singers…

“Never mind about all that.” Bran squirmed impatiently in his basket on Hodor’s back. “Tell about the jousting.”

“As my prince commands. The daughter of the castle was queen of love and beauty, with four brothers and an uncle to defend her, but all four sons of Harrenhal were defeated on the first day. Their conquerors reigned briefly as champions, until they were vanquished in turn. As it happened the end of the first day saw the porcupine knight win a place among the champions, and on the morning of the second day the pitchfork knight and the knight of the two towers were victorious as well. But late on the afternoon of that second day, as the shadows grew long, a mystery knight appeared in the lists.

Bran nodded sagely. Mystery knights would oft appear at tourneys, with helms concealing their faces, and shields that were either blank or bore some strange device. Sometimes they were famous champions in disguise, the Dragonknight once won a tourney as the Knight of Tears, so he could name his sister the queen of love and beauty in place of the king’s mistress. And Barristan the Bold twice donned a mystery knight’s armor, the first time when he was only ten. “It was the little crannogman, I bet.”

“No one knew,” said Meera, “but the mystery knight was short of stature, and clad in ill-fitting armor made up of bits and pieces. The device upon his shield was a heart tree of the old gods, a white weirwood with a laughing red face.

“Maybe he came from the Isle of Faces,” said Bran. “Was he green?” In Old Nan’s stories the guardians had dark green skin and leaves instead of hair. Sometimes they had antlers too, but Bran didn’t see how the mystery knight could have worn a helm if he had antlers. “I bet the old gods sent him.”

“Perhaps they did. The mystery knight dipped his lance before the king and rode to the end of the lists, where the five champions had their pavilions. You know the three he challenged.”

The porcupine knight, the pitchfork knight, and the knight of the twin towers.” Bran had heard enough stories to know that. “He was the little crannogman, I told you.”

Whoever he was, the old gods gave strength to his arm. The porcupine knight fell first, then the pitchfork knight, and lastly the knight of the two towers. None were well loved, so the common folk cheered lustily for the Knight of the Laughing Tree, as the new champion soon was called. When his fallen foes sought to ransom horse and armor, the Knight of the Laughing Tree spoke in a booming voice through his helm, saying, ‘Teach your squires honor, that shall be ransom enough.’ Once the defeated knights chastised their squires sharply, their horses and armour were returned. And so the little crannogman’s prayer was answered…by the green men, or the old gods, or the children of the forest, who can say?

It was a good story, Bran decided after thinking about it a moment or two. “Then what happened, Did the Knight of the Laughing Tree win the tourney and marry a princess?”

“No,” said Meera. “That night at the great castle, the storm lord and the knight of skulls and kisses each sword they would unmask him, and the king himself urged men to challenge him,, declaring that the face behind that helm was no friend of his. But the next morning, when the heralds blew their trumpets and the king took his seat, only two champions appeared. The Knight of the Laughing Tree had vanished. The king was wroth, and even sent his son the dragon prince to seek the man, but all they ever found was his painted shield, hanging abandoned in a tree. It was the dragon prince who won that tourney in the end.

“Oh.” Bran thought about the tale awhile. “That was a good story. Bit it should have been the three bad knights who hurt him, not their squires. Then the little crannogman could have killed them all. The part about the ransoms was stupid. And the Mystery knight should win the tourney, defeating every challenger, and name the wolf maid the queen of love and beauty.”

“She was,” Said Meera, “but that’s a sadder story.”

“Are you certain you never heard this tale before Bran?” asked Jojen. “Your lord father never told it to you?”

Bran shook his head. The day was growing old by then and long shadows were creeping down the mountainsides to send black fingers through the pines. If the little crannogman could visit the Isle of Faces, maybe I could too. All the tales agreed that the green men had strange magic powers. Maybe they could help him walk again, even turn him into a knight. They turned the little crannogman into a knight, even if it was only for a day, he thought. A day would be enough.

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