Chapter Fourteen

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They climbed without speaking for a long time, following a crooked game trail over the high saddle between two stony peaks. Scrawny soldier pines clung to the slopes around them. Far ahead Lyanna could see the icy glitter of a stream where it tumbled down a mountainside. She found herself listening to Jojen's breathing and the crunch of pine needles under Hodor's feet, even her breathing and her steps. "Do you know any stories?" she asked the Reeds all of a sudden.

Meera laughed. "Oh, a few."

"A few," her brother admitted.

"Hodor," said Hodor, humming.

"You could tell us one," said Bran. "While we walked. Hodor likes stories about knights. I do, too."

"There are no knights in the Neck," said Jojen.

"Above the water," his sister corrected. "The bogs are full of dead ones, though."

"That's true," said Jojen. "Andals and ironmen, Freys and other fools, all those proud warriors who set out to conquer Greywater. Not one of them could find it. They ride into the Neck, but not back out. And sooner or later they blunder into the bogs and sink beneath the weight of all that steel and drown there in their armor."

The thought of drowned knights under the water gave Lyanna the shivers. She didn't object, though; she liked the shivers.

"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, and Princess Lyanna has heard that tale a hundred times, I'm sure."

Lyanna glanced back over her shoulder and shook her head.

"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 Lyanna began to think that Meera 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 brave and smart and strong as well. He grew up hunting and fishing and climbing trees, and learned all the magics of my people."

Lyanna was almost certain she had never heard this story. Bran spoke up "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 kindly. 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 Lyanna. "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."

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