14

Walder Frey gives specific conditions which the Starks have to accept if they want to cross. But the Freys are the bannermen of the Tullys! And Tullys are strongly connected to Starks because of Catelyn, who was born a Tully.

Isn't that the way it's supposed to be: that houses obey the words of the lords to whom they've sworn allegiance? Or is it not like that?

26

Oaths are words, Words are wind

Catelyn Stark answered your question when Robb wondered the same. If Freys are bannermen to Tullys, they ought to let Starks pass.

Walder Frey, Lord of the Crossing, had assembled a force of near four thousand men at his castles on the Green Fork.

“Late again,” Catelyn murmured when she heard. It was the Trident all over, damn the man. Her brother Edmure had called the banners; by rights, Lord Frey should have gone to join the Tully host at Riverrun, yet here he sat.

“Four thousand men,” Robb repeated, more perplexed than angry. “Lord Frey cannot hope to fight the Lannisters by himself. Surely he means to join his power to ours.”

“Does he?” Catelyn asked. She had ridden forward to join Robb and Robett Glover, his companion of the day. The vanguard spread out behind them, a slow-moving forest of lances and banners and spears. “I wonder. Expect nothing of Walder Frey, and you will never be surprised.

"He's your father's bannerman."

"Some men take their oaths more seriously than others, Robb. And Lord Walder was always friendlier with Casterly Rock than my father would have liked. One of his sons is wed to Tywin Lannister's sister. That means little of itself, to be sure. Lord Walder has sired a great many children over the years, and they must needs marry someone. Still …"
AGOT - Catelyn IX

Inside the dark corner called Walder's mind

In the same chapter, she also explained how Lord Walder's mind works:

"Do you think he means to betray us to the Lannisters, my lady?" Robett Glover asked gravely.

Catelyn sighed. "If truth be told, I doubt even Lord Frey knows what Lord Frey intends to do. He has an old man's caution and a young man's ambition, and has never lacked for cunning."

Precedent for vassals turning against Overlords in favor of Crown

Earlier, Catelyn wondered where the loyalties of her Father's bannermen lie:

Her father was the staunchest man who'd ever lived, and she had no doubt that he would call his banners … but would the banners come? The Darrys and Rygers and Mootons had sworn oaths to Riverrun as well, yet they had fought with Rhaegar Targaryen on the Trident, while Lord Frey had arrived with his levies well after the battle was over, leaving some doubt as to which army he had planned to join (theirs, he had assured the victors solemnly in the aftermath, but ever after her father had called him the Late Lord Frey).
AGOT - Catelyn V

Lord Walder's Position

Lord Frey however said that he wanted to go to Riverrun but he was waiting for his full levies to gather and Edmure lost before that. As to his vows, he correctly points out that he swore vows to the Crown as well.

“Now that I have observed the courtesies, my lady, perhaps my sons will do me the honor of shutting their mouths. Why are you here?

To ask you to open your gates, my lord,” Catelyn replied politely. “My son and his lords bannermen are most anxious to cross the river and be on their way.”

To Riverrun?” He sniggered. “Oh, no need to tell me, no need. I’m not blind yet. The old man can still read a map.”

To Riverrun,” Catelyn confirmed. She saw no reason to deny it. “Where I might have expected to find you, my lord. You are still my father’s bannerman, are you not?

“Heh, “ said Lord Walder, a noise halfway between a laugh and a grunt. “I called my swords, yes I did, here they are, you saw them on the walls. It was my intent to march as soon as all my strength was assembled. Well, to send my sons. I am well past marching myself, Lady Catelyn.” He looked around for likely confirmation and pointed to a tall, stooped man of fifty years. “Tell her, Jared. Tell her that was my intent.”

“It was, my lady,” said Ser Jared Frey, one of his sons by his second wife. “On my honor.”

Is it my fault that your fool brother lost his battle before we could march?” He leaned back against his cushions and scowled at her, as if challenging her to dispute his version of events. “I am told the Kingslayer went through him like an axe through ripe cheese. Why should my boys hurry south to die? All those who did go south are running north again.”
AGOT - Catelyn IX

And

We want to cross,” Catelyn told him.

“Oh, do you? That’s blunt. Why should I let you?

For a moment her anger flared. “If you were strong enough to climb your own battlements, Lord Frey, you would see that my son has twenty thousand men outside your walls.”

They’ll be twenty thousand fresh corpses when Lord Tywin gets here,” the old man shot back. “Don’t you try and frighten me, my lady. Your husband’s in some traitor’s cell under the Red Keep, your father’s sick, might be dying, and Jaime Lannister’s got your brother in chains. What do you have that I should fear? That son of yours? I’ll match you son for son, and I’ll still have eighteen when yours are all dead.”

You swore an oath to my father,” Catelyn reminded him.

He bobbed his head side to side, smiling. “Oh, yes, I said some words, but I swore oaths to the crown too, it seems to me. Joffrey’s the king now, and that makes you and your boy and all those fools out there no better than rebels. If I had the sense the gods gave a fish, I’d help the Lannisters boil you all.”
AGOT - Catelyn IX

Lord Walder Remembers

Then he expressed his resentment on various insults by House Tully:

Your lord father did not come to the wedding. An insult, as I see it. Even if he is dying. He never came to my last wedding either. He calls me the Late Lord Frey, you know. Does he think I’m dead? I’m not dead, and I promise you, I’ll outlive him as I outlived his father. Your family has always pissed on me, don’t deny it, don’t lie, you know it’s true. Years ago, I went to your father and suggested a match between his son and my daughter. Why not? I had a daughter in mind, sweet girl, only a few years older than Edmure, but if your brother didn’t warm to her, I had others he might have had, young ones, old ones, virgins, widows, whatever he wanted. No, Lord Hoster would not hear of it. Sweet words he gave me, excuses, but what I wanted was to get rid of a daughter.

And your sister, that one, she’s full as bad.

[...]

I proposed that Lord and Lady Arryn foster two of my grandsons at court, and offered to take their own son to ward here at the Twins. Are my grandsons unworthy to be seen at the king’s court?

[...]

Lord Arryn wouldn’t have him, or the other one, and I blame your lady sister for that. She frosted up as if I’d suggested selling her boy to a mummer’s show or making a eunuch out of him
AGOT - Catelyn IX

Conclusion

So in conclusion:

  1. Lord Walder is a cautious man who takes no unnecessary risks. Why should he take field for a side that was losing?
  2. Lord Walder is legally bound to follow his liege lord but he is also legally bound to be faithful to the Crown. Of course vows mean little to a man like him, he has never been overly conscious about them. But there is precedent, in previous wars against the Crown, many Lords forswore their local overlords and fought for the King.
  3. He has Kinship with Lord Tywin. Lord Tywin's beloved sister Genna Lannister is his daughter-in-law. He can be sure that even if Tywin Lannister destroys everyone else, House Frey will be secure, leaving him little to worry about.
  4. Walder Frey could only sense ruin in Tully camp, why should he join it? Any Tully Power which could exact retribution is shattered by Jaime. Of course he is not blind, the Starks were here and sooner or later it was expected Arryns would be here as well. Together, they gave the Tullys a winning chance but to enter Riverlands without risking a battle with Tywin Lannister at Ruby Ford, they needed Lord of the Crossing which gave him enormous leverage, something he wasn't willing to give up for nothing. Now was the time to get something in return.
  5. Lord Walder is not overly fond of Tullys, Starks, Arryns or Lannister. He hates that they all look down upon him. He hates that Lord Hoster Tully didn't take his daughter as daughter in law. He hates that Arryns refused to foster his grand kids.

So TLDR, Tullys could order the Freys but would the Freys listen? Unlikely.

11

Will get access to the book and add citations/quotes later.

There are a few facts at play here

  • Hoster Tully is alive but dying. No one outside of Riverrun has been informed of just how bad his condition is.
  • Riverrun is under siege.
  • Edmure Tully has been captured by Jaime Lannister in a battle during this siege. The Riverlands forces have been routed. The Starks find out about this as they reach the Twins; the Freys already know.
  • Tywin Lannister's armies were mobile, marching north to meet Robb Stark, and a danger. If Robb Stark did not cross, he would have been drawn into battle with Tywin Lannister.
  • Walder Frey had a force of 4000 men at the Twins. He claims to Catelyn Stark that his forces had been gathering to march "as soon as all (his) strength was assembled", and Edmure Tully had been defeated before his forces could finish gathering. He is not marching presently because riding in after the lost battle will get his army killed (in his words), and those in the south are fleeing north anyway.
  • Robb could not besiege the Twins to force a crossing. Tywin Lannister would assault him from the rear.
  • Robb Stark needed to cross to relieve the siege of Riverrun, and free Edmure Tully.

As a result, Walder Frey has all the leverage in the situation. He can let Robb Stark cross, but he poses the question to Catelyn - "Why should I let you?". He hasn't openly acted against any side yet, and he hasn't openly chosen a side yet. He can dutifully claim some moral justification for his actions whichever way, but his real goal is to ensure he gets the best out of the deal.

But here's a the key fact in the whole affair - House Frey is a bannerman to House Tully. House Tully is in open rebellion against the Iron Throne (Joffrey is king now). The question of which oath takes precedence is unclear. This is similar to the situation Stannis faced during Robert's Rebellion - Robert Baratheon was his liege lord, and his brother, but Stannis did not know whether his duty to Aerys Targaryen took precendence or not. Stannis made a choice; Walder Frey appears not yet to have made his.

The Tullys did order Walder Frey to call his banners. Walder Frey did so. Walder Frey has not yet rebelled against the Iron Throne. The Tullys are not in a position to issue new orders presently, and Walder Frey can justify not obeying their orders if he decides his oath to the Iron Throne takes precedence (which really means, would profit him more). One reason he has not taken the Lannisters' side (in his words) is that Tywin Lannister is too puffed up, and has not asked for his help yet. He wishes to use his leverage to get House Frey the respect they deserve, and other concessions that will benefit them in the longer run.

TLDR: In response to : "Isn't that the way it's supposed to be: that houses obey the words of the lords to whom they've sworn allegiance? Or is it not like that?"

  • When you make many oaths, you cannot keep all of them at the same time.
  • Power resides where men believe it resides. No more and no less.
8

Sure, but in practice, which Tully was there? How long would it have taken to get a Raven to and from Riveerrun with the order? And would Walder Frey even heed it rather than claim the bird was lost or that Hoster Tully wasn't dead yet and so nobody else could tell him what to do?

Remember, this is the late Lord Frey as Tully called him, willing to shirk duty on any excuse if it's in his interest.

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