Tower of the Hand

Book 5, Chapter 1.
Varamyr, mortally wounded, attempts to take over the body of a wildling named Thistle but fails.
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Varamyr is hunting inside one of the wolves he controls. His three wolves come across a small group of wildlings, two men, a woman, and a baby, and kill them all. As the wolves feast, Varamyr thinks of Haggon, who told him that a man that eats the flesh of another man is an abomination as is a man who mates as a wolf with another wolf. The worst abomination, however, is to seize the body of another person. He thinks of how he killed Haggon, ripped his second life from him, and devoured his heart while in the body of one of his wolves. He returns to his own body, which has a wound in his side that has broken open again. The wound had been sewed up by Thistle, a spearwife who had traveled with him for a time. There had been other companions as well, but they had gone off on their own over time.

Varamyr thinks back to the aftermath of the battle at the Wall. Thousands fled together, pursued by the servants of the Others. No one recognized him, so Varamyr went by the name Haggon so no one would know he had turned craven and ran. He had given himself the name Varamyr when he was ten because he felt it was a name fit for a lord. One day, a rider came among them and announced they should make for the Milkwater, as the Weeper was preparing to try the Bridge of Skulls again to take the Shadow Tower. Another time, a warrior told them they should seek refuge in Thenn. On yet another occasion, a woods witch named Mother Mole told them she had a vision of ships carrying the free folk south and told them to make for the sea. Each time, a few more of Varamyr's companions left. He might have gone with the woods witch, but by then he was too weak from the wound he took when a young boy stabbed him in the side when he bent down to take a squirrel-skin cloak off the body of his mother.

Varamyr knows he will die soon, but Haggon told him that when he finally dies, he will live again in his second life. He has already suffered death nine times through his animals, the last one being the death of his eagle by fire.1 The fire has gone out in his crude shelter, so he calls for Thistle, but she has been gone for several days after saying she was going looking for food. He does not think she will be back, and fears she figured out that he planned to seize her body. He remembers being abandoned by his mother as well, who did not cry or protest when his father took him to Haggon, saying he belonged with his own kind. He had tried to find them once, years later, to tell them what the boy they had named Lump had become, but they were already dead. Before Mance Rayder had come, Varamyr had been a lord living alone in a log hall that had once belonged to Haggon. A dozen villages recognized his overlordship and gave him tributes of food, as well as any woman he wanted. He would lie with them, take a hank of hair to remember them by, and return them, sometimes with child. None of the children ever manifested his gift, however.

A wolf howl brings Varamyr back to the present. It is the voice of One Eye, the oldest of his three wolves. Stalker is leaner, quicker, and younger, and Sly more cunning, but both of them fear One Eye. He had lost control of his other animals when his eagle burned. His shadowcat merely fled, but the bear went into a rage and killed four men before being killed by a spear. He had always been difficult to control and hated Varamyr. Dogs were the easiest animal to control since they were already domesticated animals, while wolves were more difficult. Haggon told him that other animals were not to be trusted, as cats were vain, cruel, and treacherous, elk and deer were prey and would turn a man into a coward, and man was never meant to fly. He took Varamyr to a meeting of skinchangers once when he was ten, however, that included Borroq, who controlled a boar, Orell, who controlled an eagle, Briar, who controlled a shadowcat, and Grisella, who controlled a goat. Varamyr was stronger than all of them, however, including Haggon, who he forced from his wolf, Greyskin to deny him a second life. Varamyr was known as threeskin then and the wolf made four, but Greyskin was old and died soon after. Varamyr can bend any animal to his will, and he plans to take control of Thistle.

Hungry and thirsty, Varamyr leaves his hovel to look for supplies in the abandoned wildling village he is staying in, but his crutch breaks on the way and he falls in the snow, unable to rise again. He knows death is close, but he can feel his wolves nearby and does not worry, because when his body fails his spirit will slip into the body of one of the wolves to begin his second life, though over time his memory will fade until there is nothing left of the man he used to be. As he lies there, he falls asleep and dreams an old familiar dream. He had been born a month premature and was not expected to live, so his mother did not name him until he was four. By then, everyone called him Lump, the nickname his sister Meha had given him while still in the womb. She also gave his brother, Bump, his nickname as well, though he was born healthy. When Lump was six and Bump was two, Lump took control of one of the family dogs, Loptail, and killed his brother. When their father found Loptail and the other two dogs, Sniff and Growler, around Bump's body, he killed them all. Lump entered Loptail to try to tell his father to stop, and when he screamed as Loptail died, his family discovered his true nature and gave him to Haggon.

Varamyr wakes up as Thistle shakes him. She says they must leave immediately, as hundreds of wights are descending on them. Knowing he will never have a better chance, Varamyr forces himself inside her skin and tries to take her, but fails. For a moment, his spirit floats in the air and he can see his body twitching feebly and Thistle, who has clawed out her eyes and bit off her own tongue, dancing madly. Then, as death takes him, he awakens in the body of One Eye and watches the wights, including Thistle, lumber by in the distance.


Characters

  • POV: Varamyr,   1st in ADWD, 1st overall
  1. Appearing: Thistle, Varamyr

Footnotes

Warning: Footnotes may contain spoilers from later chapters or books.