Prologue

“Weshouldstartback,”Garedurgedasthewoodsbegantogrowdarkaroundthem.“Thewildlingsaredead.”

“Dothedeadfrightenyou?”SerWaymarRoyceaskedwithjustthehintofasmile.

Gareddidnotrisetothebait.Hewasanoldman,pastfifty,andhehadseenthelordlingscomeandgo.“Deadisdead,”hesaid.“Wehavenobusinesswiththedead.”

“Aretheydead?”Royceaskedsoftly.“Whatproofhavewe?”

“Willsawthem,”Garedsaid.“Ifhesaystheyaredead,that’sproofenoughforme.”

Willhadknowntheywoulddraghimintothequarrelsoonerorlater.Hewishedithadbeenlaterratherthansooner.“Mymothertoldmethatdeadmensingnosongs,”heputin.

“Mywetnursesaidthesamething,Will,”Roycereplied.“Neverbelieveanythingyouhearatawoman’stit.Therearethingstobelearnedevenfromthedead.”Hisvoiceechoed,tooloudinthetwilitforest.

“Wehavealongridebeforeus,”Garedpointedout.“Eightdays,maybenine.Andnightisfalling.”

SerWaymarRoyceglancedattheskywithdisinterest.“Itdoesthateverydayaboutthistime.Areyouunmannedbythedark,Gared?”

WillcouldseethetightnessaroundGared’smouth,thebarelysuppressedangerinhiseyesunderthethickblackhoodofhiscloak.GaredhadspentfortyyearsintheNight’sWatch,manandboy,andhewasnotaccustomedtobeingmadelightof.Yetitwasmorethanthat.Underthewoundedpride,Willcouldsensesomethingelseintheolderman.

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