Lord Arthur and his entourage leave to visit the Redwoods shortly after Ysabel’s party leaves to see the Crowmores. His entourage includes: Leo; Rebekka; Geena; Maester Meera; Jones (the archery trainer); Sam (one of Leo’s personal guards, who is now literate); Dessa Snow (the cook); Rena Stone (the Master of Horse), and Laura of Wickendon (Geena’s personal servant, a city girl who can be a bit of a gossip). It also includes a fair number of archers, as Aaron, the new Lord Redwood, requested that we bring some military forces along.
Maester Meera sends a raven ahead to Maester Tywinna to let her know we’ll be stopping to see her and the Waynwoods on our way through. The trip to the Redwoods takes about 17 days from the Teeth, so the Waynwoods make a good stopover point. Geena catches a slight cold before the party reaches the Waynwoods, but everyone else weathers the winter cold pretty well. We cross a week’s worth of frozen rivers and snowy passes before reaching the Iron Oaks forest, where the Waynwoods rule. The Waynwood castle sits on the edge of Lake Clear, currently frozen over.
A couple of hours out, the Waynwoods send a party to meet us, led by a Ser Sebastian. Lord Willem Waynwood meets us as well – a pleasant surprise, since he is often taken ill. He is accompanied by his wife, Anya Waxley; his son and heir, Morton (14); as well as his sons Donald (4) and Wallace (2). Maester Tywinna is with them, and she and Maester Meera greet each other warmly.
We spend a pleasant evening with the Waynwoods while the horses rest. The maesters talk over dinner, during which Maester Tywinna is quite charming. She hints at some rumors she’s heard from the Citadel. One is that this might be a longer winter than anticipated, perhaps two years or more. Another is that some maesters are said to be on the run from the Citadel for reasons unknown. She doesn’t have any specifics, but it’s said that there might have been some “discrepancies” and talk of revoking chains, so a few maesters just up and left. Tywinna’s cousin, Maester Tarwyn (an old friend of Meera’s), is the one who told her, but the Citadel is keeping a tight lid on things and not naming names. With this, and considering what happened with the fake maester killing Lord Redwood, there are sure to be a lot of investigations in the near future.
Maester Tywinna explains what happened in the lead-up to Lord Redwood’s death. As per Maester Meera’s request, the Waynwoods sent men to the Redwoods to arrest Haades. The lord died shortly after they arrived, unfortunately. Once Haades was behind bars, the Waynwood soldiers left the Redwoods to deal with the rest themselves. But it seems that Haades somehow escaped between their departure and Aaron’s arrival.
The two maesters turn to happier talk of how the Slagathors and Redwoods might eventually unite (not to mention the Slagathors and Waynwoods). Lord Arthur needs to start marrying off his many children, and there’s no shortage of potential suitors. Maester Meera admits that it will be hard to see the children go, even if a maester isn’t supposed to get too attached. Maester Meera asks about Lord Waynwood’s health. He’s been steadily getting worse for a long time; the Waynwoods had no maester for about two years before Maester Tywinna arrived. The two women discuss new ideas for treatments, herbs, and other remedies for him long into the night.
Throughout the evening, Meera gets the impression that Tywinna is quite fond of her and occasionally flirting with her. Meera is warm with her friend, but doesn’t cross into flirting back. When she gets the impression that Tywinna might know something more about the Citadel investigations, Meera tries to get her to open up by telling fond stories of her time at the Citadel with Tarwyn and showing how interested she is in Citadel business. Tywinna reluctantly tells her that Meera’s mentor, Maester Gerrick, is on the run. All she knows is that he’s headed east, though Meera gets the impression that she’s hinting that Tarwyn knows more. Tywinna doesn’t seem to share Meera’s concern for Gerrick. With even more reluctance, Tywinna lets Meera use one of the Waynwood ravens to send a message to Tarwyn. Her message mentions hearing rumors about a “mutual friend”, being worried about him, and asking for any information he can provide. She informs him that she’ll be visiting the Redwoods for a while before returning to the Teeth.
Rebekka ends up stuck with the servants during the banquet that evening. Luckily, the Waynwoods are wealthier than the Slagathors and are able to feed their servants quite well. She runs into the castle fool, a creepy, enthusiastic fellow from Asshai. He tells a couple of strange riddles and cycles through the same ones until she knows to give the right answers. Oddly enough, the fool knows Rebekka’s name and asks about her “only brother”, hinting that he’s not talking about Leo or any of the Slagathors. He then sings her the Ballad of the Lost Sword, which Rebekka recognizes as a retelling of the loss of the Royce family sword, Lamentation, during the Dance of Dragons period. Then the fool, Kessen, dances away.
Leo chats with Lord Waynwood while Lord Arthur is away from the table. They discuss the Grafton wedding and why the Graftons would choose a Braavosi girl. They speculate that the Graftons might want strong ties to the Iron Bank so they could fund a large army and navy, though they don’t know why. Also, a Lannister was spotted in Gulltown during the wedding, which would have taken months of travel from Lannister lands. Did the Lannisters help arrange the Grafton wedding? If so, why? And what involvement was there from the Targaryens?
Morton brushes formalities aside with Geena and says how sad he was that she couldn’t come to the Grafton wedding. He acts very friendly and flirtatious with her, and Geena eats it up, basking in the attention. The Waynwood heir asks to visit her at the Teeth after winter passes (his father won’t let him make the trip in winter). When Morton comments that maybe Nina could paint him one of her famous pictures, Geena says Nina is a geek who would be too busy, but Geena would be happy to entertain him instead. She adores attention and flirts with lots of people at the banquet, including older men. Lord Arthur seems generally ok with her flirtatious behavior, though he reflects that it’s probably a good thing he didn’t take her to Gulltown after all.
Leo asks the Waynwoods for a description of Haades. He’s short, somewhat hunchbacked, bald, and might be from Essos. He was last seen wearing strange brown robes and a necklace with two pearls in it, one red and one black.
The Slagathor party leaves first thing the next morning. Lord Waynwood invites them to stop by again on the way home. He promises to come visit the Slagathors when winter is done with the tacit understanding that there will be an engagement at that time. As the Slagathors leave, the convoy passes the Starskins coming to visit the Waynwoods. We spot the painting that Nina painted for the Starskin wedding and realize that the Starskins are giving it to the Waynwoods to show their fealty, now that Nina’s paintings have value.
It takes about ten days to reach the Redwoods from there. Maester Meera pays special attention to Geena’s health to help her shake off the cold, and everyone is in good health by the end of the trip. We’re traveling higher into the mountains and the weather is getting colder. About two or three days from the Redwood castle, Hearttree, we stop at the Simon Stays inn for some rest and hot food. People there are gossiping about the Redwoods and their supposed “curse”. Some wonder about the fake maester story, so Maester Meera takes it upon herself to lecture them on how to spot a fake maester. A few people mutter that that’s why some of the herbs they got from Haades didn’t work as intended. No one has seen Haades since his escape. There’s not much to the west, and he might be recognized if he went south to Wickendon. The townspeople think it’s most likely that he went north, taking refuge with mountain men (the First Shadows are the local tribe). People recommend we speak to Wild Vincent, the Redwood castle hunter, who might know more.
Herbert, who owns the inn, shares rumors about a First Shadows camp in the valley to the north. They would be less active in winter, but very hard to reach. We also learn that the mayor of this town, Redbark, has been missing for about two months, so Herbert is the acting mayor. To keep Herbert talking, Leo buys a couple of fancy 5-copper drinks. Herbert launches into the tale of the Redwood curse, which many local people fear to even talk about.
Ten years ago, Lord Carter Redwood sent Aaron west to handle some business with a charlatan spreading rumors of a revolution. Aaron found the man traveling with a group of followers, curing diseases and telling prophecies about three dragons coming from the east. The man was just a healer in ornate yellow robes who was kind to everyone. It’s rumored that Aaron didn’t like the healer, so he arranged a meeting and had him and his followers killed. The healer placed a curse on the Redwoods before he died: “No child shall be born, no wife shall live, and then you yourself shall die.” The curse has held true since that day, and now everyone around here is afraid to go west again. They say the only way to end the curse is for the Redwoods to change their ways and stop following false gods (i.e. the old gods). The Redwoods are one of the only families in the Vale who still have a godswood.
The Slagathors arrive at Hearttree about two days later. There’s a nice castle town around the ancient castle. The Redwoods found this castle when the Raven Five first came to the Vale. As far as anyone knows, it’s thousands of years old, a relic of the First Men. It’s composed of strange concentric circles unlike anything people would build today. Surprisingly, there is no reception when the Slagathors approach. It’s not until the convoy has actually entered the city that Marlin, the leader of the Redwood garrison, comes riding to meet us. He explains that we weren’t expected so soon. Lord Arthur says the trip always takes 17 days, but Marlin says Lord Aaron told him it would take us 18 days. As such, no pomp or ceremony accompanies our march up to the castle.
Lord Aaron and Lady Sonya eventually come out to meet us. Strangely, Lord Aaron is in battle armor. Maester Meera notices that Lord Aaron’s hair is greying prematurely. His face is covered in stress lines and looks worn and tired, much worse than he did a month ago at the Grafton wedding. When greetings are performed, both Redwood siblings look happy to see us. Sonya seems especially happy to see Leo.
The castle is very cold inside, full of serious people. Lord Arthur requests that we be allowed to pay our respects to the late Lord Carter. Lord Aaron leads Lord Arthur, Leo, Geena, Maester Meera, and Rebekka down to his father’s unfinished tomb in the crypt. As we pay our respects, it’s clear that Lord Aaron is much more relaxed once we’re away from the soldiers. The Aaron we met at the Grafton wedding resurfaces. He explains how his men have grown restless and have been swapping rumors. He thinks someone helped Haades escape, and he doesn’t know who to trust. Aaron tells how Haades was tortured for information, to no avail. The night he escaped, some soldiers said they spotted Aaron’s brother in the castle, helping Haades. Aaron suspects his brother and the castellan, Barys, are in cahoots.
Every member of the Raven Five has heard of Jack, Aaron’s older brother. He was a member of the kingsguard, but he became disgraced and was banished to the Wall. On the way north, he disappeared and is rumored to have taken up work as a sellsword in Braavos. Out of respect for the Redwoods, no one ever speaks of him.
Lord Aaron takes us to the Redwood heart tree and shows us the huge, ugly scar freshly cut across its face. It appeared around the time of Haades’ escape. A heart tree is tougher than most normal trees, so only a powerful blow with a sharp sword could have made such a cut. As we inspect the damage, Lord Aaron explains that he fears his brother took Haades north to hide with the mountain men, which is why he asked us to bring some Slagathor soldiers. His men don’t respect him after everything that’s happened, so he needs a big military gesture to crush the mountain men and restore his people’s faith.
Maester Meera is troubled by this idea, but she gets the impression that Lord Aaron is telling the truth about what he knows. Lord Arthur says we will discuss it, though he doesn’t seem any happier than Meera about it. Aaron has already sent scouts to find mountain man hideouts. They won’t be expecting to be attacked in winter, so we’ll have the element of surprise. Sonya hints at a reward for our help (i.e. she and Leo could marry). Leo offers to supplement the Redwood guards with Slagathor men, but Lord Aaron refuses, saying it would show he didn’t trust his own men. He also refuses to let Maester Meera examine Lord Carter’s body to verify his cause of death; he doesn’t think it would be proper to disturb his father’s remains that way. All we know is that Lord Carter died in his sleep because he couldn’t breathe. Luckily, Lord Aaron allows Meera to inspect Haades’ belongings instead.
Rebekka and Maester Meera pore over everything in Haades’ quarters. Rebekka finds a satchel containing Haades’ meager belongings. It holds only an extra set of robes (matching the description provided by the Waynwoods), an empty coin purse, a dagger (old and worn), and a few pouches of herbs. The remains of a book lie in the cold fireplace. It appears to be written in Valyrian, but it’s mostly utter nonsense as far as Meera is concerned. She makes out the phrase “a scarlet shepherd” and believes that it refers to an order in Essos related to the Lord of Light. The rumors say they’re missionaries, but very little is known of them. Meanwhile, Rebekka finds 100 silver stags in a hidden cache and quietly pockets them. Maester Meera inspects the herbs and finds that only common herbs were used; Haades probably didn’t know what the rarer ones were even for. But one herb is depleted much more than the others—Sweetsleep, the herb Haades requested of Maester Patrick.
Maester Meera and the children all rejoin Lord Arthur to have a discussion about how to proceed. Lord Arthur feels he has little choice but to go along with Lord Aaron’s plan. Leo suggests the women all stay at the castle during the raid and asks Rebekka to keep an eye on Sonya for him, earning lots of teasing from his half-sister. Maester Meera advises holding off on the raid for as long as possible. The Redwood castellan is currently imprisoned for his suspected role, and Lord Aaron’s advisor, Nestor Nys, hasn’t been able to identify any other traitors who might have helped Haades and Jack. She warns that any traitors we don’t identify before we make plans could just ride ahead to warn the mountain men of our arrival, ending in a massacre. We can stall by saying the traitors need identifying, the men need rest, Wild Vincent is still out scouting, and we need time to prepare. Everyone agrees Aaron’s plan is folly; he’s screwed up by allowing his father’s killer to escape, and now he’s trying to make up for it in the worst way possible. Lord Arthur estimates our stalling plan will only buy us about two days before Lord Aaron will insist we ride out.
Leo and Sonya go for a walk in the castle grounds before dinner. She walks very close to him. She’s glad the Slagathors have agreed to help, because she’ll be happy to marry a war hero. When asked who in the castle she trusts, she names Nellen, her wet nurse. Nellen raised all of the Redwood siblings since birth. She also trusts Quinton Smith, the leader of the scouts. She’s learned a lot from him and grown very fond of him. Leo ask her to stick close to Geena, Rebekka, and Maester Meera when the expedition leaves, just to be safe. Sonya asks if Leo will do whatever it takes to get Haades. When he says yes, she kisses him.
During dinner, Leo spends most of his time with Sonya. Rebekka sits with the Slagathors; the bastard gets some strange looks, but the Redwoods themselves don’t care that she’s there. A commoner called Pamela the Scribe sits with Lord Aaron at the head table (it’s common knowledge that she’s his mistress). Quinton Smith watches Geena a lot and eventually asks her to dance, which she readily takes him up on. Leo notices and asks Sonya about Quinton. She looks irritated that her “friend” is dancing with Geena.
Geena chats happily with Quinton about his job and his interests. He boasts about killing lots of mountain men and having the scars to prove it. Quinton comments about Geena not visiting this castle in a few years and how she’s grown up. She complains about how boring the Teeth is, so he assures her that Hearttree is very exciting. A lot of his innuendo goes right over her head during their dance. Quinton says he doesn’t think the gods like all this murder that’s been happening. Though the castellan claims innocence, he thinks the man must have at least fallen asleep on the job to let Haades escape.
The two dancers part and Paxson the Brave takes Quinton’s place. Leo and Sonya step onto the dance floor as well. No one asks the bastard to dance, so Rebekka chats with Terra Stone, the leader of the bodyguards here. Terra was made leader about a month ago when the previous leader died. That was her mother, Gilda, who killed herself for failing in her duties when Lord Cartar died. It’s clearly a sore spot for Terra. Her family line has been protecting the Redwoods since they first came to the Vale. No one knows who her father was, though some say he was a traveling bard.
Terra’s attitude towards the Slagathors in general is fairly neutral. Rebekka makes polite smalltalk and calls her Captain Stone while trying to find out more about Haades. Terra says she never liked him. She thought he was hiding something, but could never find any proof. Other people tended to like him, though. Nestor, the advisor, was the only other person who disliked Haades as much as she did. Nestor is close to Aaron, but was never close to Lord Cartar, so there wasn’t much he could do while the younger Redwood was away. Haades never seemed close to anyone in the castle. He simply spent a lot of time alone with Lord Cartar and wouldn’t let anyone in while he was doing the lord’s treatments.
Terra notes that the soldiers who were supposed to be watching Haades were found dead after his escape. Three other soldiers went missing: Bronze, Copper, and Tin. All three had been in Hearttree for years, never doing anything exceptional or standing out among the thousand or so soldiers in the castle. Rebekka asks Terra to bring her any new information she discovers so she can help. She tells the guardswoman that we all consider an attack on one member of the Raven Five to be an attack on all of us, and in fact, that it was Maester Meera who diagnosed Lord Cartar’s illness as a poisoning.
Geena and Paxson race through several fast dances. Paxson is in great shape and dances enthusiastically. He compliments Geena often as the prettiest girl he’s seen in years. Leo “accidentally” collides with Paxson during one of his flirtatious moves to throw off his groove. Undeterred, Paxson switches to regaling Geena with his life story. His big sister died in childbirth, which he blames on the curse his brother-in-law picked up during that journey to the west. He thinks that all the troubles at Hearttree would be over if Aaron would just drop the “fake” old gods and follow the Seven. He even wonders if he’d be doing the “primitive tree-worshippers” a favor by burning down the weyrwood once and for all.
Their talk turns to more pleasant items, like weaponry. Paxson likes killing people with his battleax. Geena comments that knives are more her speed, since cutting draws a lot of blood. Paxson eventually suggests showing her the view from one of the tallest towers and she blindly accepts. Leo, Maester Meera, and Lord Arthur all notice this with unease, and Lord Arthur sends Rebekka to follow Geena and keep her out of trouble.
Maester Meera and Nestor discuss what happened with Haades. Nestor regrets not figuring out that Haades was an impostor. It all started when some villagers found the source of an outbreak of some illness and burned the source victims alive. Word started to spread that other villages should burn their source victims to be cured of their illnesses. Maester Till took some Redwood soldiers to one of these villages to investigate. They were last seen going into a barn and never came out. There were no witnesses, but the evidence suggests they were all burned to death. The Redwoods asked Maester Esteva for a new maester, and Haades soon showed up. He supplied a short, odd-sounding letter from the Citadel which he said was a temporary order. No one suspected Haades of foul play when he first arrived. Maester Meera speculates that Haades intercepted the raven and Esteva never heard from the Redwoods. Nestor points out that Haades had a real maester’s chain and his treatments seemed to help Lord Cartar sleep better. Meera explains that the sleep was caused by Sweetsleep, which was gradually killing him.