Chapter Twenty-Four

1.9K 49 3

The air was sharp and cold and full of fear. Even Visenya was afraid. The fur on her neck was bristling. Shadows stretched against the hillside, black and hungry. All the trees were bowed and twisted by the weight of ice they carried. Some hardly looked like trees at all. Buried from root to crown in frozen snow, they huddled on the hill like giants, monstrous and misshapen creatures hunched against the icy wind.

"They are here." The ranger drew his longsword.

"Where?" Meera's voice was hushed.

"Close. I don't know. Somewhere."

The raven shrieked again. "Hodor," whispered Hodor. He had his hands tucked up beneath his armpits. Icicles hung from the brown briar of his beard, and his mustache was a lump of frozen snot, glittering redly in the light of sunset.

"Those wolves are close as well," Bran warned them. "The ones that have been following us. Summer can smell them whenever we're downwind."

"Wolves are the least of our woes," said Coldhands. "We have to climb. It will be dark soon. You would do well to be inside before night comes. Your warmth will draw them." He glanced to the west, where the light of the setting sun could be seen dimly through the trees, like the glow of a distant fire.

"Is this the only way in?" asked Meera.

"The back door is three leagues north, down a sinkhole." That was all he had to say. Not even Hodor could climb down into a sinkhole with Bran heavy on his back, and Jojen could no more walk three leagues than run a thousand.

Meera eyed the hill above. "The way looks clear."

"Looks, " the ranger muttered darkly. "Can you feel the cold? There's something here. Where are they?"

"Inside the cave?" suggested Meera.

"The cave is warded. They cannot pass." The ranger used his sword to point. "You can see the entrance there. Halfway up, between the weirwoods, that cleft in the rock."

"I see it," said Bran. Ravens were flying in and out. Lyanna saw that.

Hodor shifted his weight. "Hodor."

"A fold in the rock, that's all I see," said Meera.

The ranger continued, "There's a passage there. Steep and twisty at first, a runnel through the rock. If you can reach it, you'll be safe."

"What about you?"

"The cave is warded."

Lyanna studied the cleft in the hillside. "It can't be more than a thousand yards from here to there."

The hill was steep and thickly wooded. The snow had stopped three days ago, but none of it had melted. Beneath the trees, the ground was blanketed in white, still pristine and unbroken. "No one's here," said Bran, bravely. "Look at the snow. There are no footprints."

"The white walkers go lightly on the snow," the ranger said. "You'll find no prints to mark their passage." A raven descended from above to settle on his shoulder. Only a dozen of the big black birds remained with them. The rest had vanished along the way; every dawn when they arose, there had been fewer of them. "It's not so far," he said. "A little climb, and we'll be safe. Maybe we can have a fire." All of them were cold and wet and hungry, except the ranger, and Jojen Reed was too weak to walk unaided that Lyanna and Meera had to carry him.

"You go." Meera Reed bent down beside her brother.

He was settled in the bole of an oak, eyes closed, shivering violently. What little of his face could be seen beneath his hood and scarf was as colorless as the surrounding snow, but breath still puffed faintly from his nostrils whenever he exhaled. Meera and Lyanna had been carrying him all day. Food and fire will set him right again, Lyanna tried to tell herself, though she wasn't sure it would, yet; she misses him, she misses his voice... "We can't fight and carry Jojen both, the climb's too steep," Meera was saying.

THE WARG AND THE GREEN DREAMER,   game of thronesRead this story for FREE!