(Scenario: Lord Walder states “neither the Stark boy nor the Tully bitch will cross his bridge without grovelling first” when he learns that the Northmen are near to The Twins.)
Lord Walder slurped his porridge. It tasted rank, like every other meal he had eaten since his sense of taste had abandoned him. But he swallowed it. Apparently, porridge provided good nourishment, or so his idiot of a physician said. Lord Walder had outlived five physicians. If their advice had been so wise, why he had survived and they hadn’t?
Ser Stevron, his heir and one of the least intelligent of his innumerable sons, finally entered the Dining Hall. It was unlike him to be late for a meal. “Father,” he said, hurrying towards him. “I have-”
“I might be old, but I still remember that I am your father. Don’t think I am going senile. Don’t think you will rule in my stead until I die.”
The Northmen Are Approaching
Ser Stevron hesitated and, at the age of sixty-six, gave the same stupid, sheepish look of embarrassment that he had done at aged six. “I would not dare wish a fate as such upon my father.”
Lord Walder scowled. “I’ve heard better lies from whores. What do you have to tell me?”
“Scouts report,” Ser Stevron said. “That Northmen, twenty thousand strong, are a league from The Twins. We assume they will want to use the bridge to aid Riverrun.”
Lord Walder grunted. He had heard of Lord Eddard Stark’s arrest, and he had guessed that Lord Eddard’s son would rally the North and march every man able to hold a fork south to rescue their liege lord from the Black Cells. But Lord Walder had not anticipated that the Young Wolf would have been a few hours from The Twins already. “Are the drawbridges up?” he asked.
“Are you as lame-headed as Jinglebell? Pull up the drawbridges! Make sure they are barricaded by the time the Northmen arrive.”
“Neither The Stark Boy Nor The Tully Bitch Will Cross The Bridge Without Grovelling First”
“B-but Lord Tully is your liege lord.”
“What of it?”
“His daughter and grandson lead the host,” Ser Stevron said. “Lord Tully will declare for the North, if has not already, like he did during Robert’s Rebellion. He will expect our allegiance, and that means keeping the bridge open for the Northmen to cross.”
Lord Walder sneered. How did a fool like you sprout from my seed? House Frey was going to be little more than lickspittle when he died if an imbecile like Ser Stevron ruled The Twins. It was a good thing Lord Walder had kept him waiting for forty years to take his place. Otherwise, House Frey would have lost its position as the second most powerful House in the Riverlands. “First, Lord Hoster is ill and won’t be expecting anything from us. Second, neither the Stark boy nor the Tully bitch will cross the bridge without grovelling first.”
Lord Walder tittered at his own words. Lord Hoster Tully had ridiculed him for years. He had failed to attend his last wedding and the one before that. Moreover, he had denied Lord Walder’s every request for a marriage between a Frey girl and Lord Hoster’s harebrained heir, Edmure. Those had wounded Lord Walder. That Lord Hoster had called him The Late Lord Frey for turning up at the Trident after the battle had been won salted the wound.
Aye, it was about time Lord Hoster Tully was given his due. If his grandson’s men were to turn up late to Riverrun and be unable to save them from the wrath of Lord Tywin Lannister, it would serve him right and prove that the gods were just.
“I Will Not Have Us At His Mercy”
“If House Frey will not side with the North and Riverrun,” Ser Stevron said. “Are we then to declare for the Crown and the Lannisters?”
“What, so Lord Tywin can ride to our rescue and send us a bill?” Lord Walder scowled and pushed himself out of bed with a jerk, grabbing his staff for support before he stumbled to the ground. “I will not have us at his mercy.”
Ser Stevron’s forehead crinkled. He did not need to open his mouth to reveal that he was confused. “If you are not going to declare for the North, and if you will not declare for the Crown, who will you declare for? Or is House Frey to stay neutral until a victor emerges?”
“You have the wits of a mouse, Stevron! Is there any hope for you?”
House Frey could not remain neutral. Not this time. If the Northmen had siege machines in their arsenal, they would smash one of the castles and take the bridge by force. Lord Walder would not permit that to happen. His ancestors had built the bridge six hundred years ago, and his House had held it ever since.
He would not have his name blacken that of his family’s, and that meant that he had to do a deal with the Starks. Lord Walder had the leverage. There was no reason why he could not come out of negotiations with the wolves with a favourable agreement. “When the Northern host arrives, you will await them on the east bank of the river. Then, you will tell them to come and talk to me if they want to cross the bridge. Everyone who uses it must pay their toll. The Starks will be no different.”
On The Battlements
Lord Walder’s knobbly knees burned as he finished going up the stairs. He growled and rasped for air, not wanting to admit that a man of his age and frailty should walk up to the highest point of the castle.
He looked over to the east bank to see the armies of the North; his failing vision turning the lines of men into a blurring stretch into the grey horizon. The wind gusted and Lord Walder shivered. The Starks were right: winter was coming. Or maybe they had brought the cold with them. Either way, it was colder now than it had been when Robert Baratheon had sat on the Iron Throne.
Walda, one of his daughters, pointed to the chair that soldiers had brought up to the barricades for their lord. “For you to sit on-”
“I know to put my arse on a chair, Walda!”
“It’s Perra,” she retorted.
“Fine.” She was a granddaughter, but Lord Walder had so many daughters and granddaughters that they all merged into one.
Indeed, if he hadn’t called her by a name, he would not have been corrected. Perhaps not calling any of his offspring by name was the best way to go about dealing with them from now on.
Subsequently, Lord Walder turned to the soldier nearest to him. If this was the last time he was to send men to war, he wanted to see it. “Raise the banners,” he ordered.
Words Were Wind
The soldier did as he was bid. Banners of the Stark direwolf above the Frey castle were hoisted into the air. The drawbridges fell and the portcullises rose to the clanking of gears. Then, many of the men on the eastern bank crossed the bridge, led by the Stark boy and his mother.
“You got a good deal, Grandfather,” Perra said. “Every girl in the castle is looking forward to seeing who Robb Stark will ch-”
“Seven Hells, have you nothing between the ears!? If the Stark boy is defeated by Lord Tywin Lannister, it won’t be a wedding we’ll need to arrange. It will be a funeral; a mass funeral for every Frey.”
The stupid whelp shut up after that.
Lord Walder looked back at the Stark boy, and grunted. He should have made the Young Wolf wed, bed and squirt his seed into one of his daughter’s bellies before he had let the boy cross the bridge. All Lord Walder had was a promise, words, that the heir to Winterfell would marry a Frey.
But words were wind. Only a fool believed them. For the first time, Lord Walder wondered if he had become as foolish as the people who surrounded him. Mayhap, foolishness was a disease and he had caught it.
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