Chapter Twenty-Seven

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The caves were timeless, vast, silent. They were home to more than three score living singers and the bones of thousands dead, and extended far below the hollow hill. "Men should not go wandering in this place," Leaf warned them. "The river you hear is swift and black, and flows down and down to a sunless sea. And there are passages that go even deeper, bottomless pits and sudden shafts, forgotten ways that lead to the very center of the earth. Even my people have not explored them all, and we have lived here for a thousand thousand of your man-years."

Though the men of the Seven Kingdoms might call them the children of the forest, Leaf and her people were far from childlike. Little wise men of the forest would have been closer. They were small compared to men, as a wolf is smaller than a direwolf. That does not mean it is a pup. They had nut-brown skin, dappled like a deer's with paler spots, and large ears that could hear things that no man could hear. Their eyes were big too, great golden cat's eyes that could see down passages where a boy's eyes saw only blackness. Their hands had only three fingers and a thumb, with sharp black claws instead of nails.

And they did sing. They sang in True Tongue, so Lyanna could not understand the words, but their voices were as pure as winter air. "Where are the rest of you?" Lyanna asked Leaf, once.

"Gone down into the earth," she answered. "Into the stones, into the trees. Before the First Men came all this land that you call Westeros was home to us, yet even in those days we were few. The gods gave us long lives but not great numbers, lest we overrun the world as deer will overrun a wood where there are no wolves to hunt them. That was in the dawn of days, when our sun was rising. Now it sinks, and this is our long dwindling. The giants are almost gone as well, they who were our bane and our brothers. The great lions of the western hills have been slain, the unicorns are all but gone, the mammoths down to a few hundred. The direwolves will outlast us all, but their time will come as well. In the world that men have made, there is no room for them, or us."

Leaf seemed sad when she said it, and that made Lyanna sad as well. It was only later that she thought, Men would not be sad. Men would be wroth. Men would hate and swear a bloody vengeance. The singers sing sad songs, where men would fight and kill.

One day Meera and Jojen decided to go see the river, despite Leaf's cautions. "I want to come too," Bran said. Lyanna wanted to come but she wanted to stay with Bran.

Meera gave him a mournful look. The river was six hundred feet below, down steep slopes and twisty passages, she explained, and the last part required climbing down a rope. "Hodor could never make the climb with you on his back. I'm sorry, Bran."

When the Reeds and Hodor left. Bran spoke "You can go, Lyanna"

"I'm not going to leave you alone" she told him.

"I can always go into Hodor" Bran half smiled.

"Bran, you sneaky little mouse" She joked.

It was a long way down to the river, Hodor would blurt out "Hodor" from time to time, and he could follow Meera and Jojen, grinning happily, only Lyanna knew it was really Bran inside Hodor. He often tagged along, whether he was wanted or not. In the end, the Reeds were glad he came. Jojen made it down the rope easily enough, but after Meera caught a blind white fish with her frog spear and it was time to climb back up, his arms began to tremble and he could not make it to the top, so they had to tie the rope around him and let Hodor haul him up. "Hodor,"

The moon was a crescent, thin and sharp as the blade of a knife. Visenya dug up a severed arm, black and covered with hoarfrost, its fingers opening and closing as it pulled itself across the frozen snow. There was still enough meat on it to fill her empty belly, and after that was done he cracked the arm bones for the marrow. Only then did the arm remember it was dead. Lyanna ate with Visenya and her pack, as a wolf along with Summer.

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