Bran has been the Winged Wolf for almost as long as he was Bran the Climber. There was a short while he thought of himself as Bran the Broken. Sometimes, he even thinks about Eddard and Torrhen Karstark whispering that about him all those years ago.
But that was a long time ago. A time when Winterfell itself was broken and each of the Starks were lone wolves. Since then, he has learned that he has always been more than his inability to walk. When he was Bran the Broken, he buried his dreams of heroism and resigned himself to a life in the shadows of his father’s and Robb’s legacies. When he was Bran the Broken, he never imagined in a million years that he would resemble the heroes in Old Nan’s stories; the boy who fought against the Others, the boy who watched over his family and then returned to become Brandon the Rebuilder - a man of his own legend.
When Bran lost his legs and his home, Bloodraven guided him to the cave so that Bran could be his successor. In the years since then, Bran learned more than greenseeing from him. He learned what he needed to bring about a time for wolves from the man who sought to ensure that eternity remained a time for dragons. And Bran did that all without hurting anyone. Well, without hurting anyone who didn’t deserve to be hurt.
In his early days in the cave, Bran was melancholic. He did not want to live in that tree. He once thought that it was bad enough that he was broken, with his useless legs. Was he doomed to lose the rest too, to spend all of his years with a weirwood growing in him and through him?
Yet over time he learned to accept the future being offered to him. A thousand eyes, a hundred skins, wisdom deep as the roots of ancient trees. That was as good as being a knight. Almost as good, anyway.
He was promised so much of what he lost. He’d never walk again. But he could fly. And he could watch, and one day he could even protect those he loved. For a boy who grew up on tales of heroes, for a boy who wanted to be a knight but could not, it sounded like a dream. He would even get to live with the Children of the Forest! Once, a very long time ago, Bran remembered telling Maester Luwin how he wanted to learn magic. Bran, no man can teach you magic , Maester Luwin said. Bran, with a child’s imagination, protested, the Children could! The Children of the Forest! How little he had known. The Children would become Bran’s teachers. Key pieces of his plan.
And when Bloodraven betrothed Meera to him, Bran grew to truly love the man. Bloodraven said that Bran and Meera’s bloodlines were powerful. He said they carried the blood of the First Men and the crannogmen. Bloodlines of skinchangers and greenseers connected to the weirwoods and the Children of the Forest. Any children they had, Bloodraven said, would be powerful; children who could one day replace Bran and watch over humanity. Bloodraven was sure that Bran and Meera would have children too. Bran didn’t know he could have children
All Bran knew was that he cared for Meera but he wasn’t sure that she would care for him in the same way. After all, what could a boy without legs give a woman of sixteen? What could that broken boy offer? That broken boy stuck in a cave?
So when Meera, to his surprise, agreed to the betrothal just after his 11th nameday, Bran was ecstatic. Bloodraven said they could marry once Bran was fifteen and Meera could stay in the cave with him after Jojen returned home to Greywater Watch. For a boy whose main gripe with staying in that cave was that he would be far from everything he loved, having the opportunity to create his own family to keep him company made him happy.
But the more time he spent in the cave, the more he grew disillusioned with the man he was being trained to succeed. Bran learned Bloodraven cared most about securing Targaryen rule and was not shy to do that through questionable means; much as he had in his time as Hand of the King. In fact, Bran had his suspicions that Bloodraven simply used the War for the Dawn as a means to further his obsession with preserving Targaryen power.
The first Long Night brought together all the living. It’s why every people in every land had their own stories of the Long Night. For Bloodraven, the War for the Dawn having Targaryen heroes served another purpose too: securing the Iron Throne for his house. Bran had his own suspicions about the return of the Others. Given all he learned about the man, Bran found it too curious a thing for the return of the Others to coincide with the disappearance of the man who positioned himself as the greatest tool to fighting them.
Once the war was done, Bran decided he had no interest in furthering another man’s agenda. Not when he could return to his family and look after the one he hoped to one day have with Meera. The longer Bran spent in that cave, the more he learned about who Bloodraven was and what his ambitions were.
Born Brynden Rivers, Bloodraven was the bastard son of King Aegon the Unworthy by one of his many mistresses, Lady Melissa Blackwood. One of the great bastards legitimised as part of King Aegon’s last act as king, Bloodraven remained true to House Targaryen when his legitimised brothers rose up in the Blackfyre Rebellions to claim the Iron Throne for themselves.
For his loyalty, he served as Hand and Master of Whispers to two Targaryen kings, thwarting three Blackfyre rebellions. His enemies called him a sinister sorcerer who ruled the kingdom with spies and spells. During the First Blackfyre Rebellion his army, named the Raven’s Teeth, killed the three heads of the Blackfyre rebellion in quick succession using weirwood arrows said to be laced with magic. The people called him a kinslayer and the small folk blamed him and his curse for the Great Spring Sickness and the drought that followed.
The act that brought his political ruin happened years later however, when he called a Great Council to elect the next Targaryen king. Aenys Blackfyre asked to attend as someone with Targaryen blood. Bloodraven invited him, giving him an assurance of safety, before beheading him in the Red Keep. I sacrificed my honour for the realm, he said.
For breaking his promise of safe passage, the elected king, Aegon V - Aegon the Unlikely- sent him to the Night’s Watch.
Within six years, Brynden Rivers became Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. He disappeared during a ranging beyond the Wall not long after. That was the last most people had heard of him. Bran learnt in his time in the cave that Bloodraven disappeared after uniting with the Children of the Forest.
Together they agreed to re-establish the practice of the terms of The Pact between the First Men and the Children of the Forest.
The Pact had been signed thousands of years ago at the Isle of Faces, at the end of the Dawn Age, following years of war between the Children and the First Men. According to the terms of The Pact, the Children would live in the standing forests while men would inhabit the open lands with the promise that no weirwoods would be cut. Over time the First Men took on the worship of weirwoods, and chose greenseers or skinchangers as their kings. The weirwoods linked the First Men and the Children, and greenseer or skinchanger kings allowed the Children to always maintain a link to those who ruled, thus ensuring their interests were met. Both sides held to the terms of the pact for four thousand years, throughout the Age of Heroes and long after the Long Night, until the Andals crossed the narrow sea. The Andals cut and burned the weirwoods killing both Children and First Men.
After hundreds of years of war, the Andals conquered the whole of the South of Westeros with only the Kings of Winter, Bran’s ancestors, resisting them and ending their conquest of the North at Moat Cailin. That’s why the North remains one of the last places in Westeros where weirwoods grow freely and people, like the Starks, keep to the traditions of the First Men. Bran learned that story from Maester Luwin back in Winterfell.
With First Men blood of his own, through his Blackwood mother, Bloodraven promised the Children that he would help them in the coming fight against the Others and would then help to restore them to their forest lands, around the Isle of Faces. However, he said he could only do this if he ensured House Targaryen, the only possible dragon-riders left in the world, had a strong grip on power. They would need to hatch dragons to do that. What he hadn’t mentioned to the Children, however, was his true reason for wanting to bring back dragons.
His great nephew, Aegon V, Egg, had made many reforms that benefited the smallfolk in his time as king and this riled up many lords against him. This along with the Ninepenny Kings siding with Maelys the Monstrous, the last of the Blackfyre pretenders of that time, strained Egg’s reign. Egg believed dragons were necessary to secure his reign.
In turn, Bloodraven used his new position with the Children to continue to do what he always did as Hand: secure Targaryen rule by ensuring they had absolute power. And what assures that more than dragons? The interests of the Children of the Forest were secondary to that and the war against the Others was simply a means to his intended end to secure Targaryen reign for eternity. If a dragon-riding Targaryen saved the world, who could ever challenge Targaryen rule ever again? Bran didn’t know how he did it, but Bran was sure Bloodraven brought back the threat of the Others simply for this purpose.
With Aegon V married to Betha Blackwood, their children, like Bloodraven, shared the blood of the First Men and Old Valyria. Brynden Rivers had seen the power his lineage gave him as a greenseer and skin changer much before he connected with the weirwoods. Even when he was Hand, How many eyes does Lord Bloodraven have? the riddle ran. A thousand eyes, and one the people would say.
Believing his blood to be special, he sought to preserve its purity to bring about dragons and for that he used his daughter.
To mark his own alliance with the Children, Brynden Rivers had a child with a Child of the Forest.
When he met her, Leaf told Bran about her travels throughout Westeros but what she hadn’t told him about was her daughter with Bloodraven; the one history would know as the wood’s witch of Jenny of Oldstones, or the Ghost of High Heart. The daughter Bloodraven would use on the ground to put his plans into effect in court.
His first step was to lead Duncan Targaryen to Jenny of Oldstones, a girl who dwelt half-wild amidst ruins, claimed descent from the long-vanished kings of the First Men. Their marriage ensured that Bloodraven could make his daughter, Jenny’s closest friend, an influential voice in court. She in turn prophesised that the prince that was promised, the one who would awake dragons from stone, would be born out of Aerys and Rhaella’s line - the only ones of Aegon V’s grandchildren to have two Targaryen parents. A bloodline that preserved Bloodraven’s own mix of First Men and the blood of Old Valyria.
He also sent Aegon dreams of a dragon that would be born to extend the Targaryen reign. Aegon in turn, called every one of the Targaryens to Summerhall to hatch dragons once more and usher in this new era. Unfortunately for both Aegon and Bloodraven, however, those plans were scarpered by the resultant Tragedy at Summerhall which Bran realised Bloodraven hated to talk about. All he would say about it was that he would protect the last living Targaryens from the killers at Summerhall. Killers he would never name.
While every adult Targaryen present except Aerys and Rhaella died that night, a dragon was born. Rhaegar just wasn’t the dragon Aegon or Bloodraven had planned for.
With most of the Targaryens gone from the world, and Aerys slowly falling to the family taint even before Duskendale, Bloodraven turned all his energies to Rhaegar. As the only child of Aerys and Rhaella, Rhaegar became obsessed with the prophecy that declared his parents’ line would bring forth the Prince that was Promised. Believing it to be himself, he spent a lot of time in the place of his birth where he met another survivor of Summerhall: The Ghost of High Heart. Aware of and growing increasingly threatened by the cold winds rising with the Others he himself had summoned, and in a last ditch attempt to bring back dragons, Bloodraven sought to recreate the power of his own lineage of First Men and Old Valyria.
He spoke to Rhaegar through his daughter about a song of ice and fire. The dragon having three heads was simply Bloodraven’s way of making a marriage to Lyanna Stark, a descendant of the Kings of Winter, palatable to a man who already had two children.
In the intervening years, he began guiding a student of his, Euron Greyjoy, to find dragon eggs to help this new son of ice and fire.
While Bloodraven was correct in predicting that the marriage of Rhaegar and Lyanna would bring about a son whose actions would defeat the Others, the prince that was promised, was no prince at all.
Bloodraven spent so long focusing on kings he hadn’t once considered the women of his line. After all, it was Princess Daenerys of House Targaryen who woke dragons from stone. Not her great grandfather Aegon V nor Rhaegar’s son. Still, he was pleased with the result. After all, she was the result of his interference and his prediction that only a pure dragon could bring about dragons.
With two Targaryens capable of riding dragons left in the world, Bloodraven made sure that he could manipulate events in their lives to guide them to uniting and becoming the heroes of the War for the Dawn.
Bloodraven guided Jon’s steps through Lord Jeor Mormont’s raven. He was the one who told Jon to burn that first wight in the Lord Commander’s room, calling him King often - an indication of his plans for Jon. He even played a role in Jon’s election as Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch squawking Snow, Snow, Snow through the raven during the election. That convinced some of the brothers of the Night’s Watch to believe Lord Commander Mormont wanted Jon to be his successor.
Learning Jon was not his brother broke Bran’s heart. All his life he loved his bastard brother. He remembered the day they found the wolf pups.
“You have five trueborn children,” Jon said. “Three sons, two daughters. The direwolf is the sigil of your House. Your children were meant to have these pups, my lord.” Bran saw his father’s face change, saw the other men exchange glances. He loved Jon with all his heart at that moment. Even at seven, Bran understood what his brother had done. The count had come right only because Jon had omitted himself. He had included the girls, included even Rickon, the baby, but not the bastard who bore the surname Snow.
His brother was selfless and kind. Once, Jory took them fishing for trout. Bran didn’t catch any so Jon gave him his. The thought brought tears to Bran’s eyes. He remembered his other brother then. When he told Robb of this memory when they were still in Winterfell Robb promised they’d ride to the Wall to see Jon. Robb promised Jon would come visit them like Uncle Benjen did when King Robert visited. Except they never saw each other again.
Jojen and Meera told him about the Knight of the Laughing Tree but it wasn’t until Bloodraven had shown him what happened between Bran’s aunt Lyanna and Rhaegar Targaryen that Bran truly understood.
Learning Jon wasn’t truly his brother helped Bran make sense of other things he saw and heard as well. Like the time he saw his father through the weirwood as he prayed, “let them grow up close as brothers, with only love between them, and let my lady wife find it in her heart to forgive …”
Or the time he dreamt of his father before Father died. Bran remembered telling Maester Luwin about it, “We went down to the crypts. Father was there, and we talked. He was sad.” “And why was that?” Luwin peered through his tube. “It was something to do about Jon, I think.” The dream had been deeply disturbing.
His father’s last thoughts had been about Jon, the boy he promised to protect. Bran promised he’d tell Jon just how much Father loved him when he next saw him.
Bloodraven didn’t just manipúlate events in Jon’s life. He did the same with Daenerys Targaryen. With few weirwoods in Essos, Bloodraven sent his paramour, and half-sister, the sorceress, Shiera Seastar.
Shiera, who now called herself Quaithe, was educated in the higher mysteries just like Bloodraven. In Essos, she guided Daenerys much as Bloodraven had done to Bran and Jon. First she did this in person and then through the glass candles that began to burn once more when dragons returned to the world. Quaithe would warn Daenerys about threats to her reign and guide her to return to Westeros. To fight the Others and sit on the throne of her forefathers.
With one Targaryen in Westeros, and the other making her way there, Bloodraven used the only other person with links to Bloodraven himself, the Children of the Forest and House Stark to bring them together. Only what Howland Reed knew could bring together the two who would fulfil the legends of Azor Ahai, who awoke dragons from stone, and the Last Hero, the blood of the First Men, who united people and fought alongside the Children of the Forest.
When the two Targaryens united their armies, Bloodraven sent dragon dreams and dreams of Targaryen power and restoration to both Jon and Daenerys. Daenerys was more receptive but she had advisors who extolled the need for the Reach’s wealth and support. Bloodraven even saw the benefit of that. Bran suspected that after Daenerys spent enough time secure on her throne, Bloodraven would find a way to have her husband die so he could replace him with Jon. The man’s obsession with preserving Targaryen power knew no limits.
Jon, however, to Bloodraven’s chagrin, would always replace visions of Daenerys in his dreams with Arya. Not that Bran had to do much in that respect. Jon thought of Arya enough during the day so Bran’s interference in the dreams didn’t alert Bloodraven to what he was doing.
Bloodraven really didn’t like that Jon thought of Arya so much and he was so angry the day Jon marched south to rescue the girl he thought was Arya. Dead, dead, dead Mormont’s raven screamed, in warning, at Jon that day.
When Jon was brought back, Bran was worried that Jon would become what his own mother became. Bran had watched for a long time as his mother killed her way through the Riverlands. At first, he would tell himself that she was doing what she did for the sake of justice; to avenge the wrongs that were done at the Red Wedding. But when he saw her try to hang a squire not much older than him, Bran could not stand and watch. He killed his mother, or what she became, through Nymeria.
Jon, however, did not come back like Lady Stoneheart. Sure, he developed a primal anger - Bran presumed he got that from Ghost - but he remained much the same. He could sleep and eat and remembered the life he lived and all he loved. The only change Bran saw was how Jon’s old love for his sister grew to become something all the more... Targaryen. Bran found it disconcerting at first but he would remind himself that Jon was their cousin.
Bloodraven, on the other hand, hated this development. He would complain that Arya was a champion of death and destruction. A threat to his family. He had an inexplicable hatred of her, underneath which Bran saw fear. When Bran tried to find Arya through the weirwood net he saw the moment the Ghost of High Heart met her.
The dwarf woman studied her with dim red eyes. “I see you,” she whispered. “I see you, wolf child. Blood child. I thought it was the lord who smelled of death …” She began to sob, her little body shaking. “You are cruel to come to my hill, cruel. I gorged on grief at Summerhall, I need none of yours. Begone from here, dark heart. Begone!” There was such fear in her voice that Arya took a step backward, wondering if the woman was mad. “Don’t frighten the child,” Thoros protested. “There’s no harm in her.” Lem Lemoncloak’s finger went to his broken nose. “Don’t be so bloody sure of that.” “She will leave on the morrow, with us,” Lord Beric assured the little woman. “We’re taking her to Riverrun, to her mother.” “Nay,” said the dwarf. “You’re not. The black fish holds the rivers now. If it’s the mother you want, seek her at the Twins. For there’s to be a wedding.” She cackled again.
Why did the Ghost of High Heart mention Summerhall? Bran asked himself. Arya wasn’t even born then. Nor were our parents. Summerhall was the biggest frustration in Bloodraven’s plans to hatch dragons and if he associated Arya with his biggest defeat, then there was clearly something about Arya, Bloodraven feared.
Even when Euron Greyjoy, Crow’s Eye, the former student of Bloodraven turned against him, Bran had not seen him react with the same intensity. Leaf had once told him, before the War for the Dawn, that the only time after Summerhall that Bloodraven became truly enraged and despondent was when Euron Greyjoy sold a dragon egg as payment for his brother Balon’s murder. Bloodraven had sent him to find the egg so the Targaryens could use it to defeat the Others but the man used it to his own ends.
The day Daenerys Targaryen killed Euron Greyjoy, Bran saw the widest ever smile on Bloodraven’s ancient face. And yet this man whose interference brought back the Others and dragons, this man who was willing to destroy lives just so his family could become heroes and retain control, feared Arya. Why?
Whenever he missed his family, Bran would look through the weirwood to past events. Often, he would find his father with Ice sitting in the godswood. On one such occasion, the weirwood, not Bloodraven, had spoken to Father telling him of the nephew whose destiny was at the Wall and a daughter who would marry a king.
If Arya was that daughter, who was the king? Was it Jon? Why was that a bad thing? Bloodraven didn’t like Daenerys’ marriage to Willas but he didn’t hate the man.
Bran decided he didn’t care about a Targaryen restoration or why Bloodraven was scared of his sister. Ned Stark spoke of wolves and wolf packs to all his children. Wolves protected and were protected by one another. Bran would always choose his pack over being the tool of a dragon. If Bloodraven was once a Hand to a King, Bran was once a Prince of Winterfell. If Bloodraven was a Targaryen bastard, Bran was a Stark. If Bloodraven could act to restore the dragons, Bran could also play a role in bringing about a time for wolves.
His first step was to guide Nymeria and her pack north, to the Wall. To Jon. With Nymeria there, Jon would always remember Arya and that would make Bloodraven’s job to marry the last Targaryens that much harder until Bran came up with another plan.
Euron Greyjoy would not be the last person to become disillusioned by Bloodraven’s one-track obsession with his family.
In the meantime, Bran tried to connect with Arya whenever she warged into Nymeria. He’d watch the pack as they ran through the woods and he’d send dreams to her. He couldn’t communicate with her properly, but whenever they warged at the same time he could feel her sense of loss and grief and need for belonging. She reminded him so much of himself. They were always like that, he and Arya. Close in age and often each other’s shadow. Whenever Bran was sad, Arya tried to cheer him up and he did the same for her. He hoped Nymeria reuniting with Ghost would help Arya remember she too had a pack to come back to. It’s why whenever she spent too long without warging Nymeria he would send her wolf dreams.
As for Bloodraven, Bran had planned his move against him for years. When the War for the Dawn was won, Bloodraven turned his attention to helping Daenerys Targaryen defeat ‘ the last Blackfyre pretender.’
When Daenerys took her place on the Iron Throne, Bran waited three years for Bloodraven to do what he knew he wouldn’t. In that time, Bran continued to watch over his family. Arya and Sansa were the hardest to reach. The Eyrie did not have a weirwood so Bran could not see her in his early days.
When he first came to the cave Bloodraven told Bran that the eyes on weirwoods were the first eyes a new greenseer learns to use. In time, he learned to see beyond them and began to watch over Sansa through birds and other animals. Arya, on the other hand, had dropped out of Bran’s reach until he began warging Nymeria. He watched over Rickon the most though; through Shaggydog’s eyes and he spoke to him through the weirwoods. He watched over Jon in much the same way.
It was through Ghost that Bran learned, to his surprise, that Jon was to marry Sansa. While Bran knew of Jon’s feelings for Arya he also saw how much Jon wanted to protect the last of the family he knew of. He’s a wolf after all, Bran smiled, it’s what we do. All Bran wanted was for his family to be safe and to be together again. Whether Jon married Sansa or Arya didn’t much matter to him. Their safety did.
Back when he was still Bran the Climber, the heart tree in Winterfell used to frighten him. Trees ought not have eyes or leaves that looked like hands he used to think. And when he was Bran the Broken he used to wish he was a wolf. I’d sooner be a wolf, he once told Maester Luwin. I could find Arya and Sansa. I’d smell where they were and go save them, and when Robb went to battle I’d fight beside him like Grey Wind.
Bran did become a wolf but he couldn’t bring an end to the war or save his siblings. In the years he spent in that cave, Bran couldn’t have been more grateful for the eyed weirwoods that allowed him to watch over his family.
With the Others defeated and Queen Daenerys increasingly secure on her throne, the Children grew more impatient with Bloodraven. Bran chose that time to begin communicating with Lord Howland Reed. Bran guided him first to Rickon and then to the cave, much as Bloodraven had once done to Bran. With a mild, spring-like, winter after the War for the Dawn, their journey was much easier than Bran’s had been.
Bloodraven was confident in his plan to have Bran be his successor. In his mind, he would secure the legacy of his house and prime a greenseeing skin changer who could control the weirwood nets to succeed him. It was a fool-proof plan. After all, what does a boy you pluck from his home when he has next to nothing hope to return to? Bloodraven hoped Bran becoming his successor would placate the Children. But what Bloodraven hadn’t planned for was Bran’s strong identity as a Stark of Winterfell: a wolf who wanted to return to his pack.
As for Lord Howland Reed, Bloodraven did not feel threatened by Bran calling him to the cave. After all, he used Lord Howland’s knowledge of Jon’s true parentage to unite the last remaining Targaryens. He also believed him to be an ally through their joint association with the green men on the Isle of Faces.
However, what Bloodraven seemed to forget was that Howland Reed, the greenseer, was also Howland Reed, the lord. Sworn bannerman of House Stark. He was Howland, the close friend of Eddard Stark. He was Howland the father: Meera’s father and Bran’s soon-to-be good-father. If he ever had to choose, his loyalty was to the wolves, not the dragons.
So when Lord Howland arrived, Bran took advantage of the Children’s growing discontent by acting on his plans to destroy Bloodraven.
Bloodraven’s pact with the Children of the Forest was based on the idea that a Targaryen with dragons having absolute power could protect their interests. However, in all of Bloodraven’s time with the Children, including the years of Targaryen power, Bran pointed out, he had not made good on any of his promises to them. It was the Starks of Winterfell who kept to the Old Way enshrined in The Pact. It was the Starks of Winterfell who made efforts to man the Wall. And it was the son of a Stark who brought together armies to fight in the War for the Dawn long before Daenerys and her dragons showed up. Bran also made a point to highlight that it was a Stark skinchanger’s army of wolves who fought on the ground while dragons flew in the sky.
Of course, Bloodraven was quick to whisper in that scratchy voice of his that the two heroes of the War for the Dawn were born as a result of his actions. It was he who ensured Aerys and Rhaella would marry and he who pushed Rhaegar to marry Lyanna.
In return, Bran simply pointed to the curious nature of the Others’ reappearance at the same time as Bloodraven. “How is it that enemies to humanity who were gone for 8000 years reappear at the same time as a man obsessed with uniting a continent under dragons?” he asked.
“What could unite all the warring people of Westeros, both behind and beyond the Wall, more than the one thing that once united the First Men and the Children?” He knew his allegation had a shaky foundation but soon realised his hunch was having an effect on the Children who began to look increasingly suspiciously at Bloodraven.
He used that opportunity to point out that Daenerys Targaryen had sat on the throne for years yet Bloodraven had not made good on his promises to return the Children to the Isle. In fact, Bran told them, the War for the Dawn was simply a convenient tool for Bloodraven. A way to demonstrate Targaryen power now that dragons had returned. He got that by placing his blood on the throne.
“Bloodraven doesn’t care about the many lives you lost during the War for the Dawn,” Bran declared.
“He is the same man who killed kin he guaranteed safety to, to protect Targaryen rule. Isn’t that what he did to you? He promised you protection and then let you die to an enemy he brought back simply to make Targaryens heroes. Everyone here remembers how Hodor and Leaf died protecting this very cave. How” Bran had never forgiven himself for his role in affecting Hodor’s mind and regretted that Hodor - Wylis- lost his faculties just to one day protect Bran.
As an alternative to their deal with Bloodraven, Bran promised he could make good on a deal with the Children without wasting decades of their time.
If they wanted The Pact to continue, Bran's terms were simple; they would have to throw their support behind him.
He was related to the Tullys of Riverrun, the lord of whom had control of the land around the Isle of Faces. Bran, could return the Children to that home, and as Lord of Winterfell he could grant them lands beyond that. In fact, he promised, he would go further; he would continue the legacy of his ancestors who first fought alongside the Children in the Long Night. He would ensure the Wall was always manned and that the North, and Westeros, would always remember. The Children’s choice was simple: trust the Lord of Winterfell, the blood of the First Men and the King’s of Winter, with his many connections or continue to trust a disgraced, exiled, kinslayer who wasted decades of their time to achieve his own purposes.
Bran’s only condition was that Bloodraven had to die. Bran had to ensure that for his own safety and so that if Arya ever returned, Bloodraven couldn’t use Quaithe to poison Daenerys against her. Bran had heard how Quaithe often whispered warnings of betrayal to Daenerys.
As a sign of his good faith and his dedication to this new agreement, Bran told the Children his soon- to-be good-father, Howland Reed would stay in the weirwood net until Bran made good on his promise. As a green-seer who had been training with the green men on the Isle of Faces long before Bran’s birth, Lord Howland Reed was a man the Children of the Forest knew well and trusted.
In exchange, Bran would return home to Winterfell to rule like the Kings of Winter and Lords of Winterfell before him. He would ensure the North lived by the terms of The Pact and would always be available to speak to the Children through the many weirwoods in the North. In fact, he promised, he would invite them to attend, alongside Lord Howland Reed, his Great Northern Council where the future of the North would be decided.
With Leaf having died in the War for the Dawn, none of the remaining Children had much to tie them to Bloodraven other than their original agreement. With the only living dragons somewhat out of control, and given all the time they had waited for Bloodraven to come true on his words, the Children had nothing to lose. They sacrificed Bloodraven in that cave.
That same day, Bran married Meera at the weirwood. Lord Howland gave her away and the Children oversaw the ceremony in front of Jojen, Rickon and Osha. The singers sang for them in the True Tongue long forgotten and even Jojen smiled that die. That was one of the happiest days of Bran’s life and that night, as he watched over his family, he saw that Arya was warging Nymeria, first in a state of uncertainty, and then surety. He knew she decided to come home and so did he.
Rickon and Osha arrived on shaggy, Skagosi unicorns, that they could use on the ride back to Winterfell. Skagosi unicorns were even better than garrons beyond the Wall. Lord Howland Reed rode a garron to the cave. He gave it to Meera to use for her return to Winterfell while the Children fashioned a weirwood sleigh that Summer and Shaggy could pull Bran and Jojen on. They also made Bran a wheeled weirwood chair that he could use indoors. They placed that on a small cart with supplies pulled by Meera’s horse.
Jojen and Lord Howland had an emotional farewell before they began their journey away from the Antler River, toward the Fist of the First Men, and across the Haunted Forest. Bran saw that Shaggy was not happy about being tied to a sleigh. In that respect, he was not too much unlike his master. Rickon did not want to return to all the rules of the ‘kneelers in Winterfell.’
Bran had told him stories of home and of the siblings who would be so pleased with his return but Rickon only truly relented when Osha told him that she heard of Free Folk that supported the Starks of Winterfell. “You won’t have to be a kneeler if you don’t want, little lord,” she comforted him. “The Free Folk would never befriend someone who would force them to kneel.” Osha had become the closest thing Rickon had to a mother. She looked after him for the past eight years both in Winterfell and beyond. Bran was glad she would be there to look after Rickon as he returned to a life he didn’t really remember.
Their journey back down to the Wall was a lot less perilous than their journey to the cave. As they made their way through the Haunted Forest, Bran would watch his family in Winterfell through the weirwoods. He saw how Sansa arrived with her retinue from the Vale a few weeks before their wedding.
As they travelled they occasionally stopped at sparsely inhabited wildling villages for respite. When the wildlings saw Osha, and Rickon who spoke speedily in the Old Tongue, they shared their furs and their fires with them.
It was on one such night that Bran and Meera became a husband and wife for true. The memory warmed Bran as he thought of the moment he entered his wife. He never thought he’d one day lie with a woman in that way. While his legs didn’t work, he still had some feeling in the parts he needed to do his duty as a husband.
He learned on their journey, and through their many stops that he also had other ways of making Meera happy...even if they were both shy to try them sometimes.
They were only a few days from Winterfell when Bran stopped by a weirwood to try and find Jon. That was when he saw Arya and Jon in the Wolfswood. They were joking with each other and holding hands and they both looked so happy.
Bran was so excited to see Arya return home. He started playing with her through the tree calling her stupid endearingly like they always did to each other. He was so excited about seeing her home that he spent a large part of the evening camping by the tree inserting himself now and again in their conversation. Arya had no idea what was happening so she kept sending suspicious looks to the tree which made Bran laugh even more. Until, Jon grabbed Arya and said he would steal her for a bride. Bran saw the seriousness in Jon’s face and when Jon said that he was to marry Sansa not out of love but of duty, Bran couldn’t help but whisper truth through the tree.
The development concerned Bran. What if Jon was to run away with Arya before his wedding? Bran knew how Jon felt about Arya but Arya was harder to read, as always, she kept her secrets close to her heart.
When they were a day from Winterfell, on the day of the wedding, Bran skinchanged into a raven to watch the proceedings as he wasn’t near a weirwood. What he saw shocked him. Sansa was crying, Arya was enraged, Jon was torn and all their bannermen watched on while his family tore itself apart. When Bran entered Nymeria he tried to guide her to Arya, to calm her down, but then the Hound moved toward Jon and the direwolf, feeling Arya’s unbridled rage, shook Bran off to protect her mistress. Bran could palpably feel Arya’s sense of loss and betrayal at all the people they lost because of Sansa’s mistake.
Bran remembered thinking and praying for all of them the day Robb left. How many of those deaths flowed from Sansa’s actions?
Despite his anger, part of Bran still hurt for Sansa. Her tears flowed nonstop. She lost her wolf so he couldn’t skinchange into an animal that shared her feelings. He could only watch as she made her way to the barges at the White Knife in the company of men of Winterfell, Knights of the Vale and some Manderly knights. Bran was sad he wouldn’t get to meet his nephew or comfort Sansa before she left.
The wolves will come again Jojen told Bran all those years ago. As he approached the walls of Winterfell, oh how they have, Bran thought.
Now is a time for wolves: wolves who’ll bring together a pack the likes of which the North has never seen. To serve, to protect, to unite, to remind and to remember, Bran promised.
Like Brandons before him, Bran vowed, if the Long Night ever comes again, the North will be ready . But for now, he was simply a boy keen to return to his family. They would heal together. Packs always did.