Tower of the Hand

Book 5, Chapter 5.
Bran and his companions continue their journey to the three-eyed crow. Coldhands kills a group of men pursuing them.
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Bran rides in Hodor's basket wondering how much further they must go to find the three-eyed crow. Ahead of them, Coldhands leads their party through the frozen Far North, while behind them Meera carries Jojen, who has grown extremely weak on the journey. Summer brings up the rear. Bran spends much of his time in Summer now because the direwolf does not feel the cold as much as the others do. He also slips into Hodor from time to time, though he never feels comfortable wearing the stableboy's skin. Ravens also fly around them, serving as eyes and ears for Coldhands. One of the ravens whispers to Coldhands of men behind them, and he tells the others to continue until they find a lake and then follow the shoreline to an abandoned village. As Coldhands leaves to deal with the threat, Meera says she does not trust him and thinks they may be going in circles. Coldhands never eats or drinks and may not even breathe, as his breath never mists in the frigid air. Bran thinks of the stories Old Nan used to tell of the monsters beyond the Wall.

The party finds the lake, but it is frozen over and covered with snow, so following the shoreline is nearly impossible. After several hours of travel, night begins to fall, and Meera believes they have missed the village. Bran slips into Summer, who finds it for him. Many of the wildling villages the party have passed on their trip north had been burned, but this one is still intact. They take shelter in a longhall and have a meager supper of acorn paste. Jojen is so weak he refuses to eat, but he reassures Meera that this is not the day he will die according to his dreams. After dinner, Bran goes to sleep and slips into Summer.

Summer smells meat in the distance and follows the trail, but by the time he arrives three wolves are already there, a grizzled old male, a younger male, and a female.1 Summer prepares to challenge them for the kill, and as his eyes meet those of the old wolf, he senses a warg.2 After a short fight, Summer takes control of the pack. Summer turns his attention to the meat, several fresh human corpses, and begins feasting on one that has a sword in one hand and has a stump bound up in leather in place of his other one.3

Bran wakes up and learns that Coldhands has returned with a sow. He asks Coldhands of the foes behind them and reveals that he knows they were men of the Night's Watch because the bodies Summer found still had the remains of their tattered black clothing. Coldhands does not reply, and an agitated Bran asks who he is and why his hands are black. Coldhands explains that once the heart stops beating, the skin turns pale white except at the hands and feet, where the blood pools and congeals and turns them black. They realize Coldhands is dead and fear the three-eyed crow is some kind of monster. Meera asks what they should do now, and Jojen replies that they have come too far to turn back now.


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Footnotes

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