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Howland is present at the Tourney of Harrenhal, where he meets Brandon Stark, Eddard and Benjen Stark. Their sister, Lyanna Stark, rushes in and protects him from three squires that were tormenting him. Later on the Knight of the Laughing Tree rode against knights of House Blount, House Frey and House Haigh, the knights corresponding to the squires responsible for the previous day.
Howland rides south with Eddard after the outbreak of Robert's Rebellion, fighting alongside him in battles. Howland will have fought in the Battle of the Bells and the Battle of the Trident. After the death of both Crown Prince Rhaegar Targaryen and King Aerys II Targaryen Howland stays with Eddard when he heads to the Tower of Joy to rescue Lyanna. All the other Northern companions die in the ensuing skirmish, but Howland saves Eddard's life when he fights Ser Arthur Dayne. With Eddard's death at the hands of Ser Ilyn Payne Howland is the last known survivor of that fight.