Chapter 21 (Bran III): Okay, so Bran is Lord of the Castle. Now he has to act the role, and play host to the big harvest feast at Winterfell. A big, fun party is had, with drinking, lots of food, music, dancing, and assorted sexual stuff. It's part state dinner and part medieval kegger. As always, the descriptions of the food are great. I got a kick out of Bran's lordly duties include him sending assorted dishes to assorted people. He sends good stuff to the lords, a giant lobster to Joseth the master of horse (who later on, snags himself a different sort of dish...
Chapter 22 (Catelyn II): Catelyn arrives at Renly's court... such as it is. To say she is unimpressed would be putting it mildly. Renly is supposed to be at war, but he has been plodding along in a general northerly direction. We've heard in previous chapters that he is moving slowly, but now we see it in action (or inaction, as the case may be). Renly has been stopping at every castle he passes and been feasted by some loyal stormlord or other. Not only that, but he stops his army's progress to have a tournament in the middle of a war. At least Joff's tournament we saw earlier was back at King's Landing, and the best fighters weren't involved because they were off fighting. Not so with Renly. We get to see Brienne of Tarth for the first time, and I'm betting it isn't the last time. She may not be all that good-looking, but don't tell her that, cause she'll wipe the floor with you. I wonder if GRRM was watching Xena when he conceived Brienne. Renly offers Brienne any reward she asks, and she asks for a spot in his Rainbow Guard, which he grants. (Rainbow Guard... fanciful concept. Certainly up Renly's alley, he seems very flamboyant. Which leads into me wondering if there's something between Renly and Loras, who seems to get more of Renly's attention than anyone else, even the new Queen.) Renly asks Cat if Barristan has joined Robb's cause, which baffles her since she hasn't heard that he was booted off the Kingsguard. Which means that Barristan isn't with Renly, or Robb, or Stannis, or Joff. Where is Barristan??? Sooner or later, we find out, I bet. When Cat brings up Stannis being the elder brother, Renly mentions that doesn't matter, because he has the bigger army, and means to take the throne the same way Robert did: by force. Renly thinks Stannis would make an awful king. Based on what we have seen so far of Stannis, I think this isn't too far off. But I don't think Renly would be very good either. He seems to have Robert's love of tourneys and all the fun stuff (well, not the womanizing that Robert did). I exepct Renly would wind up being an absentee monarch just like Robert was, leaving all the government to a Hand without really doing much ruling. No doubt driving the realm deeper into debt with tourneys and such all over the place, too. At the end of the chapter, we learn that Storm's End, Renly's castle is under siege... by Stannis. (DM folk who are also on Westeros: Is Renly having a "Little Mac" attack?)
Chapter 23 (Jon III): So the rangers have finally found signs of human life beyond the Wall. Craster's Keep isn't much of a keep. It's basically one big hovel, and it doesn't provide much in the way of shelter for the large force of men come from Castle Black. Most of the men have to sleep outside, much the same as they'd been doing since leaving the castle. Craster is a very unlikeable man, and we learn that he marries his daughter and has children by them. The boys get given to the Others. Maybe it's those sacrifices that keep the Others from overrunning the keep, but it leaves Craster without defenders if Mance Rayder decides to hit the place. There seems to be no love lost between Craster and Mance, who we have yet to actually see. There certainly is a lot of incest going around in this world. One of the wife-daughters wants out because she thinks her baby will be a boy, and Sam tells her he will help her. Jon is mad when he finds out. After they leave in the morning, Jon tells the Old Bear about the sacrifices. Mormont already knows. He feels nothing can be done about it, and Craster has been enough of a friend to the Watch that it isn't worth losing him. Then he mentions that Mance is readying an attack force in the mountains. Things could get ugly.
Chapter 24 (Theon II): Well, in his last chapter Theon learned that his return to the Iron Island wasn't as good as he hoped. Now it gets worse for him. He has a ship of his own to command. While he is checking it out, he meets a woman and makes passes at her, and she rides with him back to Pyke. It's only then, and several fondlings by Theon, that he finds out this is his sister, who is considerably more attractive than he remembers, and has a ship of her own as well. A ship with a fearsome reputation, in fact. Later on, there's a feast at the castle. Theon is humiliated when he finds out that just about everything Asha told him is a lie, and she, not him, has the place of honor by their father's side.All indications are that Lord Balon has no intention of letting Theon succeed him, and is likely to name Asha as his successor instead. Theon considers himself the true heir under the law, so he is pretty steamed. The icing on the cake is when Balon unveils his strategy. Asha is to take thrity ships and capture Deepwood Motte, Theon's uncle Victarion will sail up a river and capture Moat Cailin. Robb will be stuck in the riverlands, unable to head back North, and if he makes an attempt the Lannister forces are going to pounce on the diversion provided and destroy him. Theon, meanwhile, is to take eight ships and conduct raids along the coast as a distraction. Eight ships, making a diversion, for the person who thinks of himself as the lawful heir to the Iron Islands. And he has to take Aeron and Dagmer Cleftjaw along, making his command of the diversion in name only. Now Theon is downright insulted. Hell of a way for Balon to treat his son.