Chapter 1: bran
They said afterwards that Jon had found him in the weirwood grove in the Haunted Forest, half-frozen to death, Summer standing guard over him, Meera, Jojen and Hodor all four, silent and still as the stone direwolves that lay at the feet of the Kings in the North in the crypts of Winterfell. Bran remembered little of it: darkness, strange, weary warmth. A voice from far away, harsh as the caw of a crow: one boon you may ask of us, in return for the service we will take from you. The cry Jon gave when he saw them, a choked-off noise between a howl and a shout of joy. Then Ghost licking his face, and icy cold when Jon lifted him up and the wind found his face, and then nothing, for a long time.
When he awoke, he was still in darkness. Terror clutched his throat for long awful moments before Jon's hands took hold of his shoulders. Bran, Bran, you're safe, little brother. It's me, it's Jon. This is Castle Black; you're safe.
I'm blind, he realised. I can't see.
And then, very gently, Jon had said, Bran, you're standing up.
He had cried then: not for joy as Jon first thought, but for anger. This was not what I asked of you! But Meera, quietly, from somewhere in the dark: Perhaps you'll need your legs to serve them, Bran.
That made sense.
Serve who? Jon had demanded.
The gods, Bran had said. The old gods, the weirwood gods. I – he tried the words on his tongue for the first time – I am godsworn now.
With the words came certainty: the dark was a part of it, the blindness a help. Summer would be his eyes now, if he needed them.
In the darkness, the light would shine all the brighter.
They said afterwards that Jon had hidden him from Stannis Baratheon and his red witch-woman for weeks and weeks. Again Bran remembered little of it. For a while after he first lost his eyes he lost all sense of time, blundering around in the dark hanging on to Summer's fur or Jojen's arm or Jon's hand like a child, relearning the use of his legs, discovering hearing and smell and touch infinitely heightened. He didn't know if that was normal for blind people or a part of being godsworn. Perhaps a little of both.
But what he did remember, all the rest of his life with undimmed clarity, through all the Long Night and the battles that it brought and the Coming of the Dragon Queen and every slow second he spent weaving spells into the ice of the wall and feeling it grow once more beneath his hands, was the smooth wood chair underneath him and the crackle of the fire on the day the ravens came: the press of Summer against his leg and the click of Ghost's toenails on the floor and Jon's heavy footsteps and the break in his voice when he said: Bran – the birds – they come from Greywater Watch. Howland Reed says – he says Robb lives, and Arya with him.
The Seven Kingdoms never did make up their collective mind if the Young Wolf had truly died at the Red Wedding and been brought back to life by his father's gods at the behest of his brother, or if he'd simply escaped the slaughter in the drunken confusion, or if indeed he had ever been at the Red Wedding at all, but had magicked up a sending of himself and Grey Wind and sent them in his place, and it was these shadow-copies that the Freys had butchered. Robb himself was never to speak of it one way or another, though Arya loved to tell the tale of how she'd stumbled into a farmer's croft one snowy evening searching for shelter on her way back north and found her brother sitting by the fire, pale and thin and prone to coughing, peeling potatoes for the lady of the house who'd taken him in. It was always Rickon's favourite story, even though it made Sansa sniffle.
Chapter 2: alayne
Truth to tell, Alayne had not meant for Baelish to die. It was really quite inconvenient, as his death had deprived her of a teacher and a protector at a time when she still had need of both those things. Nestor Royce had moved swiftly to consolidate his position as High Steward, and he was loyal enough to his Lord Robert... for now. Alayne had seen no other choice but to go to his solar one early morning while most of the keep was still abed and tell him, tearfully, the full truth of Robert Arryn's health.
That had been an unpleasant conversation. If Lady Waynwood's ward inherited the Eyrie, the fortunes of Lord Nestor might well go into a sudden steep decline, and he had not been slow in understanding that. Consequently, he had pledged his silence on the matter of Robert's health, and promised everything the little lord required to make him happy for the time being.
Alayne had been most relieved to have it confirmed that her continued presence, along with that of the new friends Robert had made in Lord Nestor's home, were among those things, even if one of those new friends was a kitchen maid's son. If Robert had decided he hated them... well, it hardly bore thinking about. Many things didn't, these days. She would have to go through Baelish's papers carefully once they returned to the Eyrie in summer to make sure that there was nothing there which might give her away. As yet, no one could even tell her if the man had made a will.
Really, it was most inconvenient that Baelish was dead.
But there, she thought and laid down her quill for a minute, pausing to massage her aching wrist. I had to do something. I don't know if I would have been brave enough to risk my head for Robert's life, but...
"S-Alayne, who are you writing to? Robert wants to build a snow-castle. And play with dolls. Alayne, I was too old to play with dolls when I was three."
"Never mind, sweetling," said Alayne gently, ruffling the boy's dark curls. He stood on tiptoe by her chair to look at the table-top and the letters scattered across the wood, blue eyes narrowed curiously. "We'll play-pretend the dolls are bad men who need taking away."
"You made him go away, you said."
"That's what big sisters do."
"Even Osha said you were incred-ble."
"Incredible. And thank you; that was a lovely compliment."
"You're welcome. So who are you writing to?"
"All kinds of people," said Alayne. "The Umbers. The Mormonts. The Glovers. Jon, at Castle Black. Everyone I can."
"I remember the Umbers," said Rick triumphantly. "Grey Wind bit the Greatjon's fingers off. If Shaggydog did that, he'd've been sent to the godswood."
Alayne smiled. One more line... there.
"Rick, can you read yet?"
He frowned. "Not much. I didn't like it."
"I'll teach you."
"Because I said so – hush now, don't sulk at me. You don't want to sulk like Robert, do you?"
Rick gave her a glare that told her he knew exactly what she was up to, comparing him with that milksop Robert. She bent over and hugged him, laughing.
"Here, you can help me seal them all and take them to the Maester."
She picked up the quill again and paused, looking down at the parchment.
The final step.
She signed her name with a flourish half-forgotten, and smiled again, relieved that she remembered that flourish, trembling that she'd dared it. Bitch! Baelish had choked out as his muscles cramped, his breathing stuttered to a halt. Bitch!
Wolf-bitch, she'd said, hands shaking, sick to her stomach with what she'd done, but her voice was surprisingly steady. You should not have forgotten it.
Lothor Brune had gone very pale when he had heard of Baelish's death, and looked at her instinctively, but to make accusations was to suggest motives for Baelish's murder, and Alayne was reasonably certain Lothor Brune had no intention of admitting to anyone that Baelish had been quietly plotting the killing of two small boys – one the Lord of the Eyrie, the other...
The other the Prince of Winterfell.
"See, I can read," said Rick. "Sansa Stark. And that's my name – Rickon – right there."
Chapter 3: the queen in the north
She dresses in silence, slowly, methodically. She rips her clothes with detached determination, barely seeing the fabric tear.
Her lady mother will be angry.
She brushes her fingers over the cut on her forehead. Touches her hair. Tears at that, too, so it hangs in unsightly hanks, comes loose from its coils. Let them all see her grief.
She bolted the door. Her lady mother rattles it, annoyed. "Jeyne!"
"One more moment, milady. Forgive me."
Brief startled silence. Jeyne has not spoken her mother so politely since the day the ravens came (dark wings, dark words), but her mother hesitates only a moment before sweeping away. Jeyne can hear her footsteps fading in the corridor.
The cloak is too big for her; it was Robb's. With luck her lady mother will not notice – will see only the torn dress, the disarrayed hair.
"I thought," she says aloud to her lord husband's shade, "I truly thought it would work."
So did I.
"I loved you the moment I laid eyes on you – so strong, so brave and handsome. I didn't mean to trap you, no matter what she says."
I know it. You told me so, the morning we wed. Remember? Sybell Spicer's daughter would not have made much of a match no matter what, you said. Not though she is a Westerling. You just wanted to know, you said. What it was, to love someone... You'd send me away to my Frey bride, and if a child came of this...
"You looked horrified. You said no child of yours would grow up the way your brother did, hated by his stepmother. That the Freys were even prouder than the Tullys. You said you'd father no bastards, ever."
I meant it.
Jeyne looks down. "You'll father no children at all, now."
No other children.
She shakes her head. "I've been late before. It means nothing. You heard what she said."
And yet, had not that last posset been left undrunk, the night she returned to Riverrun after he'd sent her back in the rain? Drink up, drink up, I want a grandchild, her mother had called and bustled out, but Jeyne had thrown it in the fireplace in a fit of grief: what use a posset for fertility when her lord husband was miles to the north? Perhaps that morning, before they rose, it might have done her good. That morning, wrapped up in his arms, the scratch of his beard when he kissed her and the way he touched her, gentle, loving.
It is a miniscule chance, the tiniest of chances, so small as to be negligible, as to not exist at all.
Is it enough? he asks.
"Enough for what?"
To make you a wolf.
Neither bedding nor wedding had made her that, nor living with him, struggling to understand his ways, to be patient, to comfort him in his grief and hold him and love him and sooth his fears while he held hers at bay. Grey Wind... she should never have mistrusted Grey Wind. The wolf was a part of him, Jeyne knows it now.
There will be no direwolf pup to be a part of her child.
"Where would I go? What would I do? Birth your child in a ditch by the roadside and scrape a living as an innkeep's serving girl or a seamstress while the traitor Bolton sits in your rightful seat and puts our son's inheritance to his own uses?"
North. Go north.
Further. Castle Black.
Jon Snow. Of course. Lord Snow, now. The birds had brought that news a few days ago and Jeyne had burst into tears all over again, thinking of what Robb might have said, how delighted he would have been for the brother he loved. Jon would help her, for Robb's sake, even if all he did was give her a place to sleep and a few words of comfort.
"Lord Snow. Yes."
Oh, it is foolhardy – absolutely foolhardy. She'll be found within days. She'll never make it to the Neck, let alone Moat Cailin. The Kingslayer will kill her, and her babe too, the way his men had butchered the Princess Rhaenys and Prince Aegon during the Sack of King's Landing.
If she even carries a babe. The chance is tiny.
Jeyne touches the bed: the bed they'd shared, the bed he'd slept in, loved her in, that had held his scent for days while she sobbed her grief into the pillows and refused to leave the room.
The chance is tiny.
Her lady mother is back.
It is a chance she will not risk.
"Yes," she repeats and clenches her fist. "Winter is coming."
I love you, says Robb's shade softly. I love you both.
(She finds the Blackfish, quite by accident; by then her chance has grown and grown. She decides on Eddard or Catelyn; Robb would be too obvious. Then, one glowering morning in an inn yard, months later with her grief numbed and her tongue sharpened, calluses on her hands and the soles of her feet, thinner than ever and her small skills as a needlewoman and a herbalist by now well-known in the little village, a scruffy boy with grey eyes touches her elbow and says, Excuse me, is this the Blue Fork Inn? My brother and I almost got lost in the woods. What's your baby's name?
And when Jenny Snow turns around to answer the boy and his the brother, she's become Jeyne Stark once more.)
Chapter 4: arya
They didn't quite mean to be left alone together. Rickon is asleep with Shaggydog in his bed. Robb and Jeyne have not yet come down. Osha and Brienne are talking in the practice yard
And so here they are.
Arya pokes at breakfast absently. Sansa is watching her across the table, not even bothering to pretend to eat. Her hair's got brown streaks in it and she's a lot taller than Arya remembers.
"I'm glad you found Nymeria," she says.
Arya looks up. "So am I," she says awkwardly, because apparently she's forgotten how to say 'thank you'.
But Sansa nods. Arya wonders if Robb has said something to her. Be careful with Arya. She's fragile. Arya is a very delicate lie, a sheet of ice that may crack at any moment.
He used to hold her and hold her in the hayloft at the farm, awake all night and gripping her tightly to him. Arya Stark you're Arya Stark you're my sister you're Eddard and Catelyn's daughter you're a Stark of Winterfell a daughter of the North and winter is coming you're Arya Stark.
"Where did you go?" Sansa asks gently.
Arya frowns. "North. Or I tried. The Hound wanted to ransom me to Mother but."
She cannot say it. I was there. I didn't stop it.
"Baelish wanted me to marry Harry Hardyng. In the Vale."
Arya wrinkles her nose. "Who's he?"
Sansa grins. "Stupid."
Giggle, like a silly little girl. They eat for a moment in silence, feeling fond and cheerful. Sansa chews a piece of cheese and plays with the knife thoughtfully, twisting it to catch the light. She's not holding it very well.
Arya swallows a mouthful of porridge. "I could show you how to throw that," she blurts.
Sansa looks up.
(And here comes the lecture about being ladylike.)
Wary, Arya nods. "Yes."
"Hmm. They say poison is a woman's weapon, you know."
"A weapon is a weapon," says Arya.
Silence. Sansa cuts herself a sliver of cheese and purses her lips. "I think I'd like that."
For a second, Arya's not sure what she's talking about. "Knife-throwing?"
She jumps up, suddenly elated – suddenly delighted. Sansa, agreeing to do something unladylike! Maybe she'll let Lady Jyana put her in a dress as a thank you.
"Let's go then!"
"Now?" Sansa protests, but she's laughing. "You haven't finished breakfast."
"Hmmf," says Arya, but several months of being around Jeyne have her dropping into her chair and finishing her porridge just the same.
They sneak a set of throwing knives off the weapons master and find a clearing and a tree to use as a target. Arya is used to having her dancing lessons in private and Sansa doesn't seem to mind. It takes ages of course – she can't throw at all, Sansa. Got no aim. But they practice and they practice and pause for a rest and practice more and laugh rather a lot. It reminds Arya vaguely of when they were very little, before dresses and embroidery mattered at all.
Robb brings them lunch himself. Grey Wind pads around the small clearing and sniffs at them both – are you all right good try not to wander off again – before settling down at Nymeria's side.
"Everyone all right?" asks Arya.
"Fine," says Robb. "Jeyne is talking mother-things with Lady Jyana. I beat a retreat after the first ten minutes. Something about cabbage. And the pup is devouring a midday meal that the Greatjon probably couldn't keep up with."
Sansa laughs. "And here's the King in the North, waiting on his sisters hand and foot."
"Hmm," says Robb and kisses her cheek. "It's no chore."
Sansa looks amazed. She's completely forgotten how to have a big brother. Arya can tell. She remembers feeling that look on her own face. Robb grins at them and stays long enough to give them tips about throwing arms and stances that Arya doesn't really need, but it's Robb and he's here to do it, so she'll listen to him lecture on whatever he likes, and then he wanders off again. Grey Wind noses at their hands in farewell. Be safe don't take long.
Later on, when it's Arya's turn to gather up the knives, she says, "What you said earlier. About poison being a woman's weapon."
"Yes," says Sansa. "Of course, its effectiveness greatly depends on how quickly you can get your hands on it."
Arya pauses. "Was – was that a problem in the Vale?"
Sansa's not looking at her. "Very nearly."
Impulsively, she says, "I promise not to tell."
"You never told. I did that."
"You were perfect." Perhaps it's slightly resentful.
"But Father loved you more."
"No, he didn't! Deep down he wanted me to be just like you really."
Sansa picks a knife up and tosses it from hand to hand, eyes narrowed a little. She doesn't fumble a catch, and she doesn't look up, and Arya thinks that she was probably wrong when she used to think Sansa was stupid. Just because you don't bother to look with your eyes doesn't mean you don't have them.
And sooner or later, everyone wakes up.
"I think," says her sister, "that maybe... maybe there were some things Father wasn't very clever about at all."
Chapter 5: jeyne
She finds him in the godswood, cleaning his sword.
It makes her think of Riverrun and Rickard Karstark. It makes her think of Lady Catelyn.
"Jeyne. All's well?"
"Yes, love. Are you?"
Robb sighs. "I think I see a way to solve a few of our problems."
She does not remember this wry, dark twist to his humour from – from Before. But Arya shares it with him and Jeyne thinks they must have discovered it together, those long months in the riverlands.
She seats herself at his feet before the heart tree and leans her shoulder against his knee, grey and purple skirts trailing. Her dresses these days are... rudimentary, and of heavier material than she's used to. She must remember to pack leggings for the trip to Castle Black.
"But?" she prompts him gently.
He flexes his hand around the hilt of his sword. "It's crossing a line. At least, I'm afraid it would be crossing a line. My lord father would not have considered it, I think."
"You are not your father, Robb."
"I appreciate the reminder!"
"Don't! Listen to me. Would Lord Eddard rather see you protect your honour or your family? They say he confessed to treason before they murdered him. What was that if not an attempt to shield Sansa from Lannister retribution?"
Robb makes an impatient movement; sheathes his sword and puts it aside. Jeyne does not turn, but she thinks he has sunk his head on his hands.
"All my life he's taught me one thing, and then he goes and acts another," he says bitterly. "Then he goes and dies while I'm still fool enough to think blood on my hands and a few battles at my back make me wise enough to rule."
She sits silent. He touches her hair.
"I love you," he says. "I'll never regret it. But I'm a fool indeed to throw my life away for honour, and then be given a second chance and throw my honour away for my life."
A cold chill is moving down her spine.
"Robb," she says softly. "Oh, Robb, what are you planning?"
Out of the corner of her eye, she sees him clench his fist. "Vengeance," he says. "One way or another. By my own hand, if I can. If not... there are still ways. I plan to make them fear me, Jeyne. I plan to make them fear all of us. The North is ours, and Bolton, Frey and Greyjoy will all know it ere the end."
"You're frightening me," she says.
He barks a laugh. "I frighten myself. But there. You don't hold a place like this for eight thousand years as kings and lords and kings again without a certain willingness to go an extra mile when someone crosses you. There was one other title they gave me at Riverrun. The King of Winter."
Finally, finally, she looks up at him. He cut his hair, close-cropped as his beard now, and there is threads of grey in that at his jaw, where underneath there is a line of scar tissue. Kitten has his eyes: river-blue, she thought at first, and no doubt Lady Catelyn did as well.
But that's not true at all.
"This is wolf-country up here," he says. "It has been so for eight thousand years. It will be so again. And winter is coming."
Chapter 6: the magicker
"But the question is, what now?" says Jon softly into the silence. Bran feels Sansa shift at his side and moves with her a little, rests his head on her shoulder. Sansa has changed in ways he can't quite understand; she's become harder and softer both at once.
"What would you have us do?" she asks quietly. "Bolton is dead, his bastard besieged at the Dreadfort –"
"That siege won't be lifted in a hurry," says Robb, mostly understandable now they've been listening to him all day. "It's one thing to truce with the kraken's daughter, and thank the gods the Crow's Eye is drooling over his imaginary dragons, but with half our armies tied up at the Dreadfort, we're still vulnerable."
"The krakens ceased to worry me a while ago," says Jon ruefully.
"I know," Robb answers. Jon and Bran were closeted with him for long hours today; he has heard the tales of half the Night's Watch, and if he had any scepticism left in him this morning, he doesn't now. "Winter is coming."
"So we've got to find a way to get into the Dreadfort and kill the Bastard of Bolton," says Arya, thoroughly practical. Bran grins a bit. Arya has a way of getting at the heart of things these days, and a ruthless cunning in a fight that matches Robb's.
Robb twists his mouth. At least, Bran is sure he does – he remembers the way Robb looks when he has to do something he doesn't want to. "You sound as if you're suggesting an assassination."
"Maybe I am," Arya says flatly. Bran thought she'd be more defiant about it, but Robb and Arya have been travelling with each other for months, just as Jon and Bran have been here together for months, and Rickon and Sansa, first in the Vale and then at Greywater Watch. Robb, Bran supposes, knows what Arya is capable of.
Bran knows it too: can see it when he looks at her, like a shadow behind-over her, the shape of the woman she will be. The Lady wears leathers, dark gray and black, and while she carries Needle in her left hand there's a strange knife in her right, with a dragonsteel blade. The Lady of Winter, Death's Lady, the Witch of Winterfell with a thousand faces, Lady Iceheart; the Lady of the Dreadfort.
He cannot see the hows and whys. All he knows is: it will happen.
They don't call her that because she wed the man.
"Our luck's turned," he says suddenly.
Jon snorts. "Has it? There's the Dreadfort to the east, the ironborn in the west, Stannis sat at Eastwatch with nowhere else to go but not enough strength left to ride against us, the Freys in the Neck and White Harbour blockaded. Whether you're standing at Winterfell or Castle Black, you're hemmed in. And winter is coming."
"Still," Bran says firmly, "our luck has turned. We're all here, aren't we?"
One of the girls laughs softly, a warm, quiet laugh. Bran realises it's Jeyne. He still doesn't know her very well, but Robb loves her, and Arya calls her little mother, teasingly, and she's gentle-hearted and patient, and the first thing she said to Jon when she put Kitten in his arms was, I was trying to come to you, when I thought Robb dead, and he said, I would have done everything and anything in my power to help you, and Bran had known then that things would be all right.
"I think Bran has a point," she says now, tired but content.
"I thought you were asleep," Robb says gently.
Jeyne yawns. "Very nearly. But Rickon already is."
It is true; the Prince of Winterfell is fast asleep, snuggled between Shaggydog and Nymeria, who has her head on Arya's lap.
Bran cannot truly see, not the way he could before. The greensight comes quick and clear to him now. He's grown used to seeing normal things from Summer's perspective, translating them to his own. And then there are some things, sometimes, that he just... knows. Where another person is. What they're doing.
Sansa yawns as well, rather hugely, and ruffles Bran's hair. "Bed for the pups at least, I think," she says. "Robb, how is your nose?"
"Broken," says Robb sourly.
"Serves you right," says Jon, unrepentant.
"I shall wear it as a badge of honour," says Robb snidely.
"Or a reminder not to trust in other people's honour," says Jon.
"Don't you worry," says Robb, suddenly grim. "The Freys will be – taken care of."
Sansa sighs. "Don't you try any plotting, Robb. You're no good at it."
"Too honest," says Arya.
"It's a major flaw among the men in this family," says Sansa, perfectly serious. "If Uncle Brandon had killed Littlefinger when he first had the chance, all sorts of things might have been different."
"I did think," says Robb blandly, "that I might give you the honour, Sansa. Perhaps you could come to some accord – with the kraken's daughter."
"You want me to send Asha Greyjoy reaving into the Green Fork," says Sansa softly.
"The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword," says Jon.
"True. But I cannot be in two places at once, and I have plans for the Dreadfort."
"The Frey lord at Riverrun will be sure to march north," says Sansa sharply.
Robb grins: wide and... well, wolfish.
"That's what you want," says Bran, staring: for here sits the King in the North, just as he saw him this morning, riding into Castle Black. Not just Robb-the-Lord, but Robb the Young Wolf, the warrior, the battle commander.
"The man's a fool by all accounts," Robb explains. "Half his bannermen had sons at the Red Wedding. There were rumblings enough when Sansa was writing to the lords in Rickon's name. How much more if they see me alive at Moat Cailin? The Lannisters can talk imposters all they like, but it will be rather difficult to argue with Grey Wind, don't you think?"
"And then what?" asks Jeyne quietly.
"A dead Frey lord, and open rebellion among the river lords," says Robb. "They'll not come north again."
"Are you sure?"
"They will not be able to afford to, love. They have lost too much already. So have we, in truth, but we have no other choice."
"It makes sense," says Sansa. "But the Frey – what is the man's name? Emmon? You will have to be brutal, Robb. No burials for this one. Put his head on a pike and leave it there."
"I thought to hang him, actually," says Robb. "Like a common criminal."
"Even better," says Arya.
Jon sighs. "I can't claim I like it. But thankfully, it is not my decision."
"I can't claim to like it," says Robb, flatly determined. "But Father's way simply did not work, and I think it's time to look to the old Kings of Winter for examples. I failed you all once. I will not do so again. Especially now there's Kitten as well."
Ah, Kitten. She'd been delighted by the Wall, and deeply interested in Castle Black; she'd clapped her little hands in glee and flung her arms around Summer and Ghost, completely unafraid, with a happy cry of "Wuff!" She was fierce and strong and curious about everything, and currently fast asleep on her Uncle Jon's lap; and Bran, the first time he had seen her, had seen first and foremost the Queen in the North superimposed on his baby niece: Catelyn of Winterfell, House Stark's Shadowcat with a direwolf at her side and her gloved hands wrapped around the hilt of her father's sword.
And perhaps, perhaps, a shadow behind her that might have been her siblings.
"We all failed each other, Robb," says Sansa quietly. "We were children."
"Not anymore," says Arya.
Hardly. Bran tilts his head; someone is coming up the stairs to Jon's room. The wolves stir, very slightly. Summer catches Brienne's scent, and a stranger who smells of fire.
Knock on the door.
"Yes?" Jon calls, handing Kitten back to her father and getting to his feet. Bran pushes closer to Sansa with the sudden emptiness on his other side, and Jon mutters a curse, trying to climb out from the pile of blankets and wolves and Starks that's heaped by his fire. Brienne opens the door.
"Lord Snow," she says, "a rider to see you, from White Harbour he says."
"Manderly?" wonders Robb. Bran hears him stand too.
"No, I'm afraid not," says the fire-stranger. "I'm a simple traveller."
"The Lannisters have been blockading White Harbour for months," says Jon.
"A simple traveller with a lot of gold," says the fire-stranger with an easy grin. Bran can see him now; he's dressed all in black and gold, and he carries two swords – one's a longer version of Needle, the other's shorter, curved. Summer looks up, at his face, and sees pale silvery hair, like Grey Wind's fur around his scars, and dragon-eyes.
Brienne leaves quietly at a nod and a smile of thanks from Sansa; she takes it seriously, the charge that Mother laid on her. Keep them safe.
But she has her secrets too, and sometimes Bran is a little afraid of them.
"So," says Jon. "Where have you come from, if not White Harbour?"
"Most recently, Sunspear," says the fire-stranger. "Before that... Meereen."
"Slaver's Bay. Rather a long way away. My uncle was... unimpressed with my insistence on coming up here myself after all that travelling, but there –" the fire-stranger grinned again; he was ridiculously cheerful for someone who'd arrived at the Wall after dark and a long ride in the cold – "I overruled him. I don't suppose, Lord Snow, that there's a chance of a private word?"
"No," says Robb.
"Ah-hem!" says the Lord Commander of the Night's Watch.
"Ghost or no, I'm not leaving you alone with him," says Robb firmly.
"I was almost hoping you would say that," the fire-stranger admitted. "It is rather a complicated tale. I was not truly looking forward to telling it twice."
"Oh, Jon, offer the man a drink," says Sansa. "He's come a long way."
The fire-stranger bows to her. "Milady," he says.
"My sister Sansa," says Jon, and an odd look passes swiftly over the fire-stranger's face. "This is Robb Stark – Queen Jeyne – Brandon – and Arya Stark."
Summer turns his head; Arya arches her eyebrows at the fire-stranger. "Valar morghulis," she says to him.
The dragon-eyes widen. "Valar dohaeris," he replies solemnly.
"He's Bravoosi," Arya explains.
"I spent my childhood there."
"Welcome to Castle Black," Jon says dryly. "Are you ever going to tell me what this is about?"
The fire-stranger smiles again, but sadly this time. "Perhaps we should start with this," he says quietly, holding out a letter. "It's from my foster-father – Jon Connington. My foster-mother died recently; a fever. Her name was Ashara Dayne. Father – Griff, I suppose I should call him now – then deigned to, uh. Honour me with some information I would rather not have had. And now I fear I'm about to do the same to you, Jon."
He looks round at them, from Robb to Jeyne to Rickon – woken by Brienne's knock, yawning as he sits up. Oathkeeper, Longclaw and Needle all lie on the table beside him; the wolves are watching him back. Grey Wind and Nymeria are wary, but Ghost, for some reason, is not.
"You see," says the fire-stranger quietly, "it would seem I owe my life to my mo- to Lady Ashara. And to Lord Eddard Stark.".
He draws a breath. "My name is Aegon Targaryen."
Chapter 7: aegon
King Robb comes to join him in the stables on the third day. Aegon is lounging against the wall feeling lost and irritable because horse-smell is at least familiar, and because everyone keeps looking at him as if he's about to throw a fit, go from perfectly sane to as irretrievably mad as his grandsire in the space of a second or less, and promptly start slaughtering every man woman or child he can get close enough to to hit with a sword.
"What are you doing out here?" asks the King.
"Freezing my balls off," says Aegon. "How do you bear it?"
His Grace laughs. "As best we can."
"That's not a very encouraging answer."
The King grins again, touches his broken nose with a grimace, climbs up to sit on a barrel of... something... at Aegon's side. "Perhaps it wasn't meant to be."
"You mean, if I find it bleak and horrific enough up here, maybe I'll just pack up and leave and we can all pretend I didn't come here flourishing letters meant to prove your brother is not in fact your brother, but mine?"
Aegon hasn't had much experience with Kings, especially not ones his own age. He suspects that's just become painfully obvious.
The fact of the matter is: it simply does not help that King Robb does not act like a King. He doesn't even act like Dany, who spent most of Aegon's time in Meereen being alternately suspicious, tearful or affectionate, but never quite lost a certain sharp, regal air while she did so. Robb shouts at his siblings and carries his daughter around with him almost everywhere he goes and argues military tactics with Aemon at the breakfast table. He is the most defiantly alive person Aegon has ever laid eyes on, and judging by some of the things he's heard about Robb, it's entirely deliberate, and Aegon just cannot judge a man who does that.
"Something like that," Robb says now. "Why came you here, Aegon Targaryen? What gain did you think to have from it? Jon won't leave the Wall or his command to throw his support behind your Queen, and no man in Westeros would respect him if he did. Your grandfather murdered mine; my lords will not follow you."
"I don't ask for followers," says Aegon uncomfortably. "I don't ask for a thing, and never have since I've come here, except that Aemon listen to me."
"Your Queen will," says his Grace. "And his name is Jon."
"Perhaps," says Aegon. "But my brother's name is not."
Robb says nothing.
Aegon sighs. "A year ago, my mother died," he says. "A fever, as I told you. On her deathbed, she told me she loved me, and that she was sorry. I thought she meant for dying, or – perhaps for my life, I don't know. I knew she was a noble lady in Westeros. I'd always had an idea she did not want me to join the Golden Company, to be a sellsword. Anyway, I went to Father next day, to ask what she meant. He told me: for lying to you. About what, said I, like a damn fool boy with less sense than –" he waves a gloved hand, searching for a suitable comparison "- stubble."
"And Father said, about your parentage. You are not my son, Aegon. Nor were you ever Ashara's. You are not named for Rhaegar's child. You are that child. You are not my son."
Silence. Aegon is watching the horses now and talking as if he'll never stop – things he has not said to Dany and never said to Quentyn and would not say to Aurane if he knew where his friend was and might not even say to Aemon, who is his brother, but he can say them here, to the stable walls and the wolf-khal of Winterfell with his eyes like ice: ice, and death.
"I laughed at him. I laughed in his face and told him he had drank too much, that Mother's death had snapped his mind and lost him his reason. I told him the Targaryens were dead and good riddance, that dragons had no place in my world, that he had raised me to put my family and my friends first, to be loyal to them, to be more cunning and ruthless in their defence than I ever was in the employ of any man who contracted the Company, and that if he thought this bedtime story would drive me away, or whatever it was he was trying to do, he was sadly mistaken.
And the next day he called a council, my father did, summoned all the Captains of the Golden Company and stood up before them and laid Blackfyre on the table at his side and pointed at me and said: that boy is not my son."
"Gods be good," says Robb involuntarily.
Aegon laughs and knows it's bitter. "They weren't," he says. "It took an hour for the shouting to die down. That boy is your King, my father kept bellowing, Rhaegar Targaryen's trueborn heir by Elia Martell... and so Aegon Connington died, and Young Griff turned out to have been a shadow and a spook all along."
"Then you went to Meereen."
"First Griff held a speech about usurpers and hidden passageways in the Tower of the Hand that he so briefly held for his own. He talked about Rhaegar until the sun went down, and about prophecies and dragons and all sorts of nonsense. He said the Iron Throne was mine, and Dany born to be my Queen. And then he said: but three heads has the dragon, and Rhaegar had another son."
"My brother Aemon," says Aegon again. "I want no throne, Stark. I want no honours and no armies. I told Dany so, and she merely shrugged and said good, because she did. I think Griff was apoplectic over that, but he swore to her anyway. I want... well, nothing. I thought to –"
"You thought to find here what you've lost," says Robb.
"I suppose. Yes. You, I think, understand that."
"I understand losing, yes. And I understand standing up again afterwards and stabbing the bastards in the back." He smiles, a sharp-edged smile that makes some half-sleeping sellsword's instinct in Aegon wake with a start and remember to be wary. But then it falls away, and he's a boy now, tired and cold with a broken nose and a shadow of grief on his face. "I wish I didn't. More, I wish I didn't have to. I doubt my lord father meant for me to become the kind of man I fear I'm turning into."
"Will that man protect your siblings?" asks Aegon. "Will he save your wife? Will he see your daughter safe to adulthood, and a wedding that doesn't earn a colourful epithet?"
Robb looks at him. "Yes," he says.
"Then regret him all you like," says Aegon, "but don't change him."
They shiver together in silence for a short time before Robb asks, "Will you tell Jon any of this?"
Aegon shrugs. "Perhaps," he says. "Will he ask?"
Robb shrugs. "Perhaps," he says. "Will you?"
Aegon smiles suddenly. "Yes," he says firmly.
"Then so will he. Come on, Targaryen; it's near midday and I doubt dragons live off straw any more than direwolves do."
"I have a hankering for lion myself," says Aegon.
Robb grins. "We'll have that too, you and I," he promises.
Chapter 8: jon
"What is he like?" asks Sam, sounding curious. Jon tilts his head back and looks up at the sky, deep glowing blue for once, and wrinkles his cold, numb nose at it. It was snowing lightly when they arrived, sky Stark-grey and threatening worse blizzards, and snowing too when later on Sam came into the winter gardens and said, the Queen will live, your Grace. The child is a girl; she is weak still but otherwise healthy.
"Who?" he asks.
Sam sighs, faintly exasperated. More and more often he forgets to be a craven since coming back north. "You know. Aegon. Your brother."
"Aegon," says Jon, testing the name in his mouth the way he still sometimes does. Aegon is my brother. Robb Bran Rickon Aegon. He rubs at his nose with the heel of his right hand and scratches at his beard and says, "Aegon is... pragmatic."
Sam pauses. "Pragmatic?" he says doubtfully.
"Pragmatic," Jon agrees.
"You're not, you know. At least, you weren't when I left."
"I got better," says Jon, grinning. "Aegon's helped, actually."
Aegon is pragmatic. Aegon is sharp-edged and sharp-tongued and upon occasion childishly flamboyant. Aegon is fierce and clever and the most ruthless killer I've ever seen; not the best mark you, not yet, but the most ruthless. If you have the grave misfortune to be in his way, you die. Aegon is warm-hearted and open-minded and he gives himself to people, whole and entire, and all he asks for in return is that they not turn away from him. Griff did. Ashara did. I won't. Nor will Daenerys. I've never yet laid eyes on her yet I know this in my bones.
Sam shifts his back against the heart tree and says, still slightly doubtful, "I suppose that's a help," and scratches Ghost's ears. "Maester Aemon said your royal father thought he was the prince that was promised," he adds softly, but Jon is looking up at the sky and not really listening; not yet.
"Aegon," he says, "is my brother. Like Robb and Bran and Rickon and you and Pyp and Grenn."
There's a cold wind blowing, piping through the broken stones of Winterfell, and his lady mother sits in darkness somewhere below his feet with a crown of winter roses in her lap, enthroned among the Kings of Winter. The heart tree leaves rustle above his head, starkly red against the blue arch of sky. Ghost-eyes red; Targaryen red.
Three heads has the dragon.
"We should go back inside," Sam says. "The King might miss us."
"The King is busy with his daughter," says Jon and stamps his feet on the frosty ground, smiling to himself. It is, he thinks, a beautiful day.
Chapter 9: tyrion
"My Lord of Lannister," says Snow, grinning. "Come for the snark-hunting?"
Tyrion surprises himself by laughing as he dismounts. "With a dragon, no less. It's good to see you, Snow – or do I say your Highness now?"
"Hardly. A vow is a vow."
Tyrion nods. He'd expected no less of a Stark, whether Eddard's bastard or Lyanna's, and had told the Queen so more than once. She still hoped though, like the fool girl she still was, crown or no.
But first, there is one thing – well, two.
He swallows hard. "Jon," he says, "about Robb – I am truly sorry, Jon. It was a foul deed, cruelly done. He was my enemy, but that – that was not – ah. I am sorry."
Snow's mouth tightens, but he nods. "Sansa said you showed her kindness at King's Landing," he says. "That, I think, will win you safe passage in the North."
"I come as an envoy," Tyrion says, sharply.
"Robb and Lady Stark and dozens of others were guests," says Snow. "I think you'll find us somewhat more ruthless than you remember, Tyrion. I hear you're a kinslayer yourself these days."
Unseen under his cloak, Tyrion clenches a fist. There is no escaping it. Has Jaime felt this way about Aerys, all these years?
"Only the once," he says. "So far."
"Well, there are none of them up here to kill," says Snow, and Tyrion thinks, Oh, this one has grown dangerous. "Come along – this way, I daresay you've noticed a few changes."
"There was a battle, or so I hear," says Tyrion, struggling along by his side. Ghost walks with them, silent as ever.
Snow's mouth twists with unpleasant memories. "Years ago now." When they reach the door to the hall, he looks down at Tyrion and gives a sudden grin. "I hope you're not prone to fainting, Lannister," he says and pushes it open.
At the table inside, a red-haired man in white and gray rises to his feet: blue-eyed, broad-shouldered, broken-nosed, grinning tightly.
"Welcome back to Westeros, my Lord of Lannister," says Robb Stark.
For what might just possibly be the first time in his life, Tyrion Lannister is struck completely speechless.
Chapter 10: arya
There was a battle on – not a very big one, more a sort of running skirmish. Arya settled by a tree to watch, interested. Nymeria was less impressed with her sister's inactivity, but Robb was camped at Last Hearth with a small garrison, a foul temper, and the unshakeable opinion that Stannis was Watch-business and he wasn't about to interfere unless the man made any sign of turning south with the remnants of his forces, so would Arya please refrain from getting Overly Involved.
She'd rather wanted to ask what his definition of overly involved was when he was already sending her and Sansa to Eastwatch to take Shireen and Edric hostage, but Sansa had given her A Look. Sansa's Looks were famous these days. Arya supposed holding the Baratheons at Winterfell was leverage of some sort with the Dragon Queen; or maybe it was just Robb and Sansa Making Statements. They did that; it was a political thing.
Arya was trying not to think about politics unless she had to, these past weeks. She'd fought a Faceless Man at Moat Cailin who'd come for Robb, and the encounter had shaken her more than she had at first thought. It had been good to travel north with Rickon and spend time with Jon and Aegon.
An arrow thunked into the tree trunk beside her and a man gave a shout and broke off from a brawl at the fringe of battle to run at her, sword blade filthy-red. Nymeria leaped up and shook the snow off her fur and the man blanched – Arya could tell, even in the moonlight – and veered off again, away from her.
He'd be dead soon anyway. Stannis was losing. Arya considered it downright folly to rely on the loyalties of men who'd spent five hundred years being the minions of the family he, Stannis, was currently fighting against, but Stannis had high hopes and not much imagination. Whoever was advising the Velaryon boy had rather more; their forces had quietly sworn themselves to Aegon days before Queen Daenerys' ships had been sighted. The rout of the last Baratheon King had begun very soon after. The Imp had been gloating ever since.
Off to her right Aegon appeared out of the darkness – that black of his was rather useful – killed three men in quick succession and caught her eye, grinning sharply. Arya grinned back. Valar morghulis, he mouthed to her before he slipped back into the battle again. Further away she could see Jon on his horse, Longclaw in his hand, shouting orders at someone to the north. She craned her head around the back of the tree and saw shapes in the trees, men running north and west.
Baratheon loyalists, she supposed. Stannis was nowhere to be seen; had he already gotten out that way?
There was an itch between her shoulder-blades and an iron tang in her mouth. Nymeria wanted to hunt, and Arya was hugely tempted. Stags ran from wolves, it was the nature of things, but Robb had told her not to get Overly Involved. She drew a deep breath of snow-air and rammed her left fist against the tree trunk, scraping her knuckles.
Pain helped her concentrate when her pack was not there to ground her, she'd found.
She was Arya of Winterfell, daughter of the North. She had more control than this.
(Jojen was forever objecting to the way she kept her identity tied to a wolf, but as far as Arya was concerned Jojen had a lot of theories and very little practice when it came to clinging on his identity by his fingernails and not being swamped by a string of bad choices and three years of lies, and anyway her pack had been returned to her at last, and what more of an identity did a direwolf need?)
The hunt-urge died at last, the way it generally did. Nymeria whined in the back of her throat, and Arya bent to put her hand on the direwolf's head.
Soon, sister, she thought. Soon.
Even Robb knew the taste of a hunt in his mouth. Stannis Baratheon might run where he would; sooner or later, there would be a wolf pack on his trail.
The battle was dying down. Ghost slunk through the snow towards them, tilted his muzzle, flicked his tail. Nymeria sat up as an enemy came close. Confronted with two direwolves, he ran just as the last one had. The Night's Watch were moving into a more ordered line again now the Baratheon men were trickling away west; distantly there was the noise of a hue and cry in the woods to the east, and moonlight on metal.
Arya stood up, frowning. Had Robb come after all?
No. At the far side of the clearing, Aegon flung his sword up and shouted as he caught it, some guttural language Arya didn't know – but clearly a shout of triumph for all that. Someone answered him; someone else blew a horn; Jon urged his horse around and killed some fool who seemed about to run at Aegon, and two horsemen came into the clearing. One of them was Barristan Selmy.
Behind them, on a silver horse that seemed to shine rather melodramatically in the moonlight, and wrapped in furs as black as those of any man of the Night's Watch, rode the Dragon Queen.
Arya folded her arms over her chest. Hmm. Daenerys would be tall standing up, and probably slender. She'd flung her hood back but Arya couldn't see her face very well from this distance. Nymeria thought she and Aegon looked like pack-mates, the way Sansa and their brothers did, or Arya and Jon.
Jon wheeled his horse to face her. He was still holding Longclaw, streaked with blood, in his gloved fist, the silly fool. Arya sighed. She could just picture the stupid surprise on his face. Had he thought a woman they called Mother of Dragons would wait quietly at Eastwatch for him to go and fetch her off her ships?
Somewhere at Last Hearth, Sansa was giving Jon A Look. Even Ghost was tilting his head in a way that Arya was sure meant put the sword down when you're talking to your aunt, stupid.
Queen Daenerys didn't seem to care about the sword. She nudged her horse forwards past Ser Barristan and the stranger, reached out to Jon with her right hand, snatched it back, clenched her fist, reached out to him again. Arya saw her lick her lips.
"Aemon," she said.
In a burst of emotion comparable to the time he'd broken Robb's nose at Castle Black on seeing him alive again Jon caught her hand in his left one and held it tight. "Your Grace," he said at last, hoarse with the cold.
Was that the best he could do? Arya personally burst into tears when she found Robb in the riverlands. So did he. And then he did it again when they found Jeyne. And at Greywater. And Castle Black when Bran had come walking towards them across Jon's rooms. Of course, that might have been the broken nose.
Anyway, the Queen was trying to get down off her horse and keep a hold of Jon's hand and embrace him and call to Aegon all at once, and Arya sighed and shook her head at them and went to greet Ser Barristan. Father had liked him, she remembered.
Chapter 11: jon
The black stallion is quite possibly the most beautiful horse he's ever laid eyes on.
"Your Grace..." he says, stunned.
"Daenerys," she says. "I'll let you dispense with the 'aunt'."
He snorts. She holds out the stallion's reins to him, smiling.
"I cannot possibly accept –"
Oh, she has a lovely smile. In spite of himself, Jon smiles back; wraps his hand around the reins. "Very well."
Ghost watches interestedly as Jon spurs the stallion out of Castle Black; they canter down the road a ways, turn off it east along the wall, trot, then gallop, then, the horse surging under him and the wind in his hair and a whoop beginning on his lips, Jon gives the horse his head, and they run and run for a mile or more through the snow, and jump a ditch on the way back, flushed and thrilled.
"You've given me the wind, my Queen," he calls to her, laughing with the joy of it.
Chapter 12: daenerys
For some reason, she was not expecting Robb Stark to be so tall, though he is of a height with both her nephews. The man is handsome in a battered way, and probably quite ruthless on the battlefield, and far too open to be a truly good negotiator.
"Torrhen Stark bent the knee," says Dany. "Your lords –"
"My lords remember when Rickard and Brandon Stark were butchered on your father's orders," says Robb. "Six years and more we've ruled ourselves. An alliance is one thing. Fealty is quite another."
"It's your fealty I want – yours, and that of all the Seven Kingdoms," says Dany, watching him closely. Stubborn. Stubborn and unbreakable. He's seen too much for that.
"You won't have it," says Robb flatly.
"I have dragons," Dany says.
"Aegon the Conqueror's were big enough to ride," he points out dryly.
Dany snorts back laughter and flings her hands up. He's won and they both know it; she cannot retake her throne without his support. Robert Arryn will do as he says – they say in the North that the boy doesn't take a piss without the Lady Sansa's permission. The river lords will follow the Starks over the Lannisters if given the opportunity, and Shireen Baratheon and Edric Storm remain hostages at Winterfell in the wake of Stannis Baratheon's death at the Fist of the First Men. Any disgruntled storm lords will flock to those two, she hopes. Doran Martell will support her for Aegon's sake.
Leaves the ironborn, and the westerlands, and the Reach.
Robb is smiling back at her. He's quite charming in a fierce, honest way, and Dany suspects that given half the chance he would treat her with the same easy affection he treats his sisters.
She's honest enough to admit to herself that she almost likes the thought of that. It has proved quite impossible not to envy the Starks their closeness; they've even poached her nephews away from her, she thinks ruefully. Aegon has been overheard calling young Rickon pup the way his siblings do and helping Arya teach them all Bravosi. Yesterday, little Kitten called him "Uncle Aegon".
"Then independence is the price I'll pay for your support in the war," says Dany.
Robb nods. "What of the Wall?"
"Jon is my nephew, however much he dislikes admitting to it. What he needs from me, he'll have."
"He doesn't dislike admitting to it," says Robb. "He's just not used to it yet."
"Aegon has been here for two years," says Dany pointedly.
"Aegon is about as used to being a Targaryen as Jon," says Robb. "Give them time." He smiles suddenly. "At least, that's what my lady wife suggests."
It did not take Dany long to see that Jeyne Stark has the patience of Baelor the Blessed and far more mercy, despite all that has happened to her.
"Besides," she says, smoothly changing the subject, "if the Wall falls, sooner or later my realm will be as threatened as yours. It is in all our interests to aid Lord Snow in any way we can. I am certainly in no position to disbelieve the claims of those who've seen magic done beyond the Wall. Any kind of magic."
Robb nods. My realm and yours. She is sure he did not miss that. "Then there is just one other thing. A personal favour, you might say."
Dany nods. A gesture of goodwill. Dragonsteel, probably. The greatsword of House Stark was stolen and melted down by the Lannisters, she remembers. "Of course."
"Tyrion Lannister must take the black."
For an instant, she stares at him, completely taken aback.
Robb waits for an answer.
"The black?" she manages. "Why?" But of course: Sansa. "Your sister wed him practically at knife-point, and the marriage was never consummated. An annulment –"
"I find these days that I care very little for the announcements of the Faith of the Seven, and nor do my bannermen. I want there to be no doubt in anyone's mind, no matter what gods they follow, that my sister is free of him and may wed whom she chooses."
Dany, lips numb, says quietly, "I promised him Casterly Rock."
I owe him my dragons.
"I'm promising you the Iron Throne," says Robb. "I'm promising you vengeance."
Three betrayals you will know: once for blood and once for gold and once for love.
They never said that one of them would be her own.
Chapter 13: tyrion
If you'd told him seven years ago that he'd ever dance at a feast to celebrate the rebuilding of Winterfell, he'd have laughed in your face and reached for a drink.
Well, the drink part hasn't changed.
The music rises to a crescendo with a scrape of fiddles and a shout of laughter. Robb is spinning his wife across the floor with his broad hand across her lower back and her hair coming loose as she laughs up at him; scarce three weeks out of childbed and Jeyne Stark is unstoppable.
Well, the girl gave birth the first time on some innkeeper's hearthrug; that'll harden anyone. If it doesn't kill them.
It's all far too reminiscent of the first time he was feasted here by another Lord Stark, with a different Queen as guest of honour. Daenerys is flushed with wine and friendship and safety. Selmy stands behind her chair listening to her conversation with Arya Stark with a faint, contented smile.
Tyrion gives himself a shake. Of all the things he could be doing right now, observing his fellow revellers is surely the least interesting of all of them. There was a serving maid earlier who smiled at him inviti-
She's pouring wine for his lady wife.
Some fool demon squatting in his head prompts him to wander over to her, stepping over dogs and dropped tankards and the legs of Quentyn Martell, stretched out in front of him while he frowns up at the ceiling – Aegon was right, the boy can't hold his liquor – and wolf pups both two-legged and four. Kitten is contemplating the dregs of a glass of wine thoughtfully.
"Don't," Tyrion stops to tell her. "Once you've started, you'll never stop."
She looks up at him with eyes the same colour as her namesake's – as her aunt's – and smirks.
"Is that so?"
He shakes his head at her and carries on. Girl can't resist a challenge. Having the wolf blood, he's heard Arya call it.
He puts his tankard down on the table by his wife's elbow and climbs up on the bench beside her. That black wolf of hers is lying on her other side with its head in her lap.
"My lord of Lannister," says Sansa courteously.
"My lady wife," he says expansively, and wishes she could at least have the decency to flinch at the words.
"Don't you think we ought to be moving beyond those sorts of formalities by now?"
Faintest upward turn of that perfect mouth.
"Courtesy is a lady's armour, they say."
"I remember you saying it, yes."
Sansa looks surprised. Faintly, again. She's good at faintly. Where her expression was once vacant, now it's controlled: not quite stoic, but still guarded.
"Do you remember so many of our conversations, my lord?"
In spite of himself, Tyrion says, "Yes."
She glances down at the wolf in her lap, long fingers curling briefly in fur. She wears white, this wife of his, white and grey and little else unless it's pale blue, but the sapphire teardrop around her neck is set in gold, not silver.
He remembers it was a gift from Prince Aegon, for no occasion that Tyrion can recall except that he saw it and liked it and thought it suited her.
"What now?" he asks.
Sansa purses her lips. "I think I shall bully one of my brothers into dancing with me one more time, and then I'll retire."
That wasn't what he meant. He's not sure what he did mean. Her hair is pinned up only haphazardly, a careless informality he does not recall ever seeing in her at King's Landing. One long curl of it falls down behind her left ear and brushes at her smooth neck and the collar of her dress.
(He wants to reach out and twist it round his finger and pin it back in its place.)
When she looks at him, Tyrion could almost believe she's seeing into his very soul. The Queen of Winter, they call her, with eyes of ice and a smile like summer...
How many men have asked for her hand? He knows Robb's refused to make Arya marry, wrecking one attempt of dear Uncle Kevan's to return the North to the rule of the Iron Throne partly by proposing a marriage between Arya and the Tyrell heir. Rumour was Robb laughed in his face. What you prevented Lady Olenna from doing with one sister, you'll happily arrange for the other? he was said to have scoffed.
At least Kevan wasn't fool enough to have proposed a marriage with one of Aunt Genna's boys.
"Tyrion," she says and sighs. "I never could understand what it was you wanted from me."
"Neither could I," he says robustly. "What did you want of me, my lady?"
Sansa looks away, the torchlight sliding over her shoulders and playing in her hair. She's watching Jeyne fall into a seat by Dany and Arya, Robb gathering up the girls and shooing them towards the door, Rickon deep in conversation with Larence Hornwood and the young Glover lad, Bran's fingers trailing over the soot-stained walls as he follows his nieces, stops for a word with Robb.
"I wanted you to send me home," she says distantly.
I wanted you to not be a Lannister. I wanted you to not murder my parents. I wanted you to be tall and brave and handsome. I wanted you to be chivalrous and sweet and loving, not abrasively kind. Not just decent. I wanted you to be more. To be better. To be my dream, my knight, my champion.
Tyrion licks his lips.
"I'm sorry," he says bitterly.
Too much to ask to bend her stiff Stark knees. Then as now.
She looks at him silently. Nothing there: no sympathy, no apology, no regret. He knows now why they say she has eyes of ice.
He's almost opened his mouth to make an even bigger drunken fool of himself when the wolf looks up and a shadow falls over them: Jon Snow, holding out that burned right hand of his to his foster-sister/cousin.
"Dance with me, Sansa," he says, laughing. "Dany doesn't know the springreel and I promised I'd show her."
Sansa pushes her pup off her lap gently and jumps up with a swish of white skirts. "And you'd find yourself in a hopeless tangle if I weren't there to hold your hand!"
"Indeed I would," says Snow, still laughing. "Sansa taught me to dance, you see," he says to Tyrion. "In the godswood, when we were children."
The plain implication is that Lady Stark never let him take lessons with his supposed siblings, but both Sansa and Snow are smiling with the memory, as if it was one of the few times they were close as children.
"I'm sure she was an excellent teacher," says Tyrion, but they've already gone, whirling off into the smoke. Ghost picks Memory up by the scruff of her neck and carries her over to the fire where Arya's wolf – Nymeria? – lies asleep.
Tyrion empties his tankard and goes in search of another.
Chapter 14: the witch of winterfell
She got used to the cold eventually.
It sank into her bones and bred there, radiating outward once more to freeze her blood all over again. She adjusted her perceptions to accommodate it and controlled herself the way she had been taught. It was not just her face that was her tool, but her whole body, every muscle, every sinew, every square inch of skin. She twisted her tools around the ice in her veins and accepted it as part of her and when she wakes it will be part of her and there to stay.
But for now she eyes it, slightly distrustful, and then flees to her sister to prowl the woods and run the hills under a hunter's moon. She lifts her voice in song the way she did in the warmlands and her pack answers her: not as big as it was, perhaps, but closer, stronger. Sun-brother summer-brother pale-brother black-brother. Her children she could not find, but that was right, for they did not hunt yet. They guarded, and waited their time.
They spread out, slinking through the snow on noiseless feet, and surrounded the Place she lies in, helpless and yet not, for she is wrapping the cold into her bones, making it her own, and They will not defeat her.
Something is rasping, rough and wet, across her face. Double-vision of a human face and a wolf-one; the girl in the bed has grey eyes and a face full of edges, lovely but cold.
The girl in the bed has a name; she struggles back to it, wolf-tongue licking her face and smoothing all the layers of falsehood away until there is naught left here but Arya.
Her sun-brother puts his hand behind her head and lifts it gently.
Arya slurps the water greedily and finds his name stamped on his battered face, in blue eyes that have seen too much death and let go of too many beliefs.
"Bran?" she croaks.
"In the next room. Sam is with him."
"Jon? The pup?"
"Safe. Jon wasn't hurt. The pup's still at the Shadow Tower with the Mormont girl. Aegon held the Wall while we were gone."
"Hurt," she qualifies.
"Oh. No. Well, only cracked ribs."
She snorts, smiles, lets her eyes close. "Knew you'd come for us," she says.
Whiskered kiss to her forehead. "Always."
When Arya wakes again the dragon-queen sits by her bedside. It takes far longer to find her name than it did her pack-mates'.
"Daenerys," says the dragon-queen. "Jojen said you'd been running with Nymeria for so long, it might take you a while to remember."
Ah, Jojen. Understands her too bloody well.
"Dany," says Arya, stupidly proud she could summon the nickname. "Everyone –"
"Is perfectly well."
"Thank you, Lady Arya. You saved my life, and I've not had the chance to say it yet."
That was true. She remembers Needle in her hand, the pop of the wight's eyes being stabbed out, the way it stumbled and flailed. She remembers Dany being dragged away by her bloodriders, and the battle raging on.
She will not remember where she found herself when it ended.
"I wanted to give you these," says Dany quietly. "As a thanks."
Arya pushes herself upright and takes the gift. It's two knives, grey-scabbarded, beautiful, with wolfshead pommels like Jon's Longclaw, and the one they put on Oathkeeper after Robb had the smiths remove Lannister's rubies from the hilt. Brienne gave it back into his keeping that first day at Greywater Watch, and to honour her service to Rickon and Sansa and their lady mother he never changed its name.
The knives are thin-bladed, near as long as Needle itself, and wrought of dragonsteel.
She looks up at Dany.
"You know I found the secret of it in Valyria," she says, smiling faintly. "And Needle is of little use against – our Enemy."
It's sadly true. Bran's knives are dragonglass but Arya has never seen him use them against any living creature. Arya grips the hilts and feels them fit perfectly into her hands and smiles.
"These," she says, "are gorgeous, Dany."
Dany touches her knee and grins back.
Chapter 15: aegon
They elect him Lord Commander over his protests and against his better judgment.
"We chucked the sellsword business around the time Griff packed us up and chivvied us to Meereen to get you your birthright," Marsen tells him. "And I an't the only one to say so. We were exiles, Aegon. You've brought us home. What contracts do you think we're about to accept other than this?"
Aegon curses at them and threatens retribution and offers coffers full of gold if they'll just burden Aurane with it and not him, but they laugh at him and make him swear the oaths just the same.
He trudges back to Winterfell alternating between cursing at Griff's body and crying over him, but of course it does no good. They build him a pyre by the godswood and watch as he burns: this, the only father Aegon has ever had, or ever wanted. What does he know of Rhaegar Targaryen? Naught but that the man loved two women and died for one, bringing ruination upon the Kingdoms as he did so.
Morbidly, Aegon wonders if the Usurper buried him, or if his royal sire's corpse was stripped and dumped in the river and left to rot there like any other soldier. He doesn't think Ned Stark would have allowed it, but it was Arryn who truly had Baratheon's ear.
Sansa stands by him, arm through his. She's spent most of the day closeted with Arya and Bran, who are safely tucked in their sickbeds as Aegon watches his father burn. In the firelight she is golden-red all over, from her hair to her skin to the white dress she wears that soaks up the light and keeps it trapped, to cling to her curves and swish as she moves. She's all grace and beauty tonight, though her eyes are bruised with grief and fear for her siblings and Mem stalks around them restless as a cat.
Too young to be a widow. Far too young to have been a wife in the first place. When Tyrion died Dany told him of Robb's demand that he take the black and leave Sansa unequivocally free. Viciously, Aegon wishes Dany had had the heart to tell him while he lived that she had agreed.
He's a dog in a manger, and a particularly ill-tempered one besides. If he cannot be happy – if nothing in his life can be simple for once – if his bloody father is going to die and leave him to sort out the mess he made in the assumption that Aegon has the slightest clue what he's doing – then everyone else should be suffering the same.
A log collapses, and sparks fly up, dancing gold against the black night sky. He went to Meereen at Griff's behest, and he stayed because he loved Dany like a sister within hours of meeting her.
And because Griff had disowned him and she was all he had.
You are not my son, Aegon. I did not name you for Rhaegar's child. You are Rhaegar's child. You are not my son. Nor were you ever Ashara's, though it was she who smuggled you out of the Red Keep and west to Starfall.
"Sansa," he says softly.
She looks up at him and laces her fingers through his.
Oh my wolf-queen; my rose-in-winter.
"I wronged you, did I not?" she says softly. "Back in the Vale."
I'll not marry you, Prince Aegon. I'll not marry anyone! I've no wish to be so helpless and so used again.
"No," he says. "It was my haste and my arrogance."
He never wanted to be a Prince of anywhere, but dear gods has he wanted her.
Sansa smiles. "I've thought myself in love before," she says. "Inevitably, that was the worst part."
Aegon raises her hand to his lips and kisses it. She tugs their joined hands down, draws him after her away from the ashes of his old life and the burning effigy of Aegon Connington, of Ashara Dayne's son, of Young Griff. She leads him across the courtyards and into the keep where the hot water rushes through the walls like the lifeblood of a living – direwolf. Poised to spring, to pounce, to run and hunt and tear down its prey, biding its time here in the centre of the North by the side of the kingsroad.
She leads him up the stairs and along the corridors, and he gently shuts the door to her chambers behind them both.
Chapter 16: the prince of summerhall
He wakes in darkness and panics for a moment – remembering the cold and the terror and the sound of the horn; the fire in his hands and the blue-bladed knife plunging towards his face – before she puts a gentle hand on his chest.
"Careful, love. You nearly lost that eye again. Here."
Warm fingers touch his temples, unwind the bandage from around his head. He blinks and winces; eyebrow, temple, cheekbone... what is it with people trying to cut his eyes out?
The firelit familiarity of his room at Winterfell swims into focus, and in the foreground: Daenerys.
"Your Grace," he rasps.
"Here. Drink." She helps him steady himself against the pillows; he sips at a cup of water and realises, dimly, that aside from his bandages, he's naked under the furs.
Dany smiles faintly. She has her own scars, he realises: at her chin, her own left eyebrow. "We won," she says simply.
They won. Yes. He had felt that, somewhere in his bones; the last attack on him was all desperation.
"He died well."
Stab of grief. "He shouldn't have died at all." So many dead in the last wave of fighting, in the darkness: Barristan, Brienne, Dolorous Edd, the Blackfish, Connington who had treated Jon with the same gruff affection as he had Aegon; even Tyrion, who'd known too much and taught Sam Tarly more, and so they'd worked their magic to kill him; even Howland Reed.
(She named you for the Dragonknight. She begged Ned to bring you home... she would not rest until he gave his word you'd be raised as a Stark of Winterfell.)
"You are his Prince, Aemon."
"I am the Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, and my name is Jon," he says sharply.
Dany smiles again; there's some strange knowledge behind that smile, some well of hope and joy and love.
Please, he'd begged her once before. Please don't – I cannot do this, Dany, I cannot, I love you with my whole heart and soul, but my life and my honour are no longer mine to give –
And she had called him Aemon one last time, and kissed him goodbye, and not by word or look or deed had they ever referred to that time again.
"Three horses you must ride," she says. "One to bed and one to dread and one to love. Well, I rode to bed with my sun-and-stars, and I've ridden north beyond the Wall to face a threat unimaginable. And then I rode back south, to Winterfell, carrying you with me."
"Dany," he says again, and wonders why he feels so panicked.
"The Wall is fallen, Lord Snow," she says softly. "We won the war, but the Wall fell. The Magicker has pledged himself to rebuild it, and the King in the North has disbanded the Night's Watch until it stands again, to return when Bran calls."
Speechless. He draws a breath, shocked.
"You're free, Aemon," she says quietly. "Free to come south, to stay in Winterfell, to go back North, to travel the world if you wish it. Free to come with me to King's Landing, to take up your rightful seat, to rule with me as you were meant to. The dragon has three heads, my love. You're free now: to be one of them. To be mine."
"Dany," he says. Third time's the charm. She cups his face in her hands.
"Aemon," she says. "My love. Come south with me, Prince of Summerhall. Be with me."
His hands come up to grasp her wrists. He swallows, hard, and closes his eyes against the sight of her face in the firelight; my place, my place is –
This is not your place, the Kings of Winter used to tell him.
She named you for the Dragonknight.
And from further back: he named me for the Dragonknight, who was his uncle, or his father, depending on which tale you believe...
Maester Aemon, I wish you'd known the truth of me, Great-Uncle.
He shifts his grip on Dany's wrists, kisses the left one, skin there soft as silk and hot as fire and the blood pounding beneath it: fire and blood, the words of my father's House, the man my lady mother loved though it brought her and half the Realm to ruin...
Uncle – Uncle Ned, forgive me.
"My Queen," he says against her skin. She frees her other wrist from his hand and wraps that arm around his neck, fingers sliding in his hair. "My love."
Her kisses taste of fire.
Chapter 17: the prince of dragonstone
"It's foolishness," shouts his aunt, "absolute folly. You could have wed the Tyrell girl, you could have wed a Lannister –"
"I'll wed no damn relation of the man who had my lady mother raped and murdered and my two-year-old sister butchered more brutally than a pig at slaughter," Aegon snaps. "I've had enough, Dany. I've sworn oaths to you; I've fought your wars and captained your armies, I've sacrificed my life and my friends to your cause. But I'll not be bartered off like a sheep at market, fifty years of misery in exchange for the Queen's peace. In this one thing, I'll make my own choices. I love her."
"Did you think I loved Drogo when Viserys first sold me to him?"
"I think Rhaegar, for all his other faults, would never have done it," says Aegon, calculated to wound.
Dany turns away. "The Tyrells..."
"Margaery Tyrell will be a widow thrice over by the time we're done here and childless still. Tully's wife died giving birth to little Minisa. Wed Margaery to Edmure, let her be a mother to the girl. She's near twenty years younger than he is; chances are she'll give him a son. Either way, that's two loose ends tied up. They'll make no alliances we find... unfortunate."
"One of the Royce girls..."
"It's done, Dany," says Aegon harshly. "Robb gave his consent, and we said the words before the heart tree before I left Winterfell. The southern lords will doubtless want it done again in a sept, but as far as I'm concerned – as far as the Starks are concerned, more to the point, and that includes my brother, lest you had forgotten – Sansa and I are wed."
Dany groans and falls into a chair. "You do love her, don't you."
He waits a moment, watching her rub at her temples, the bruises under her eyes, her tired pallor, and wishes he felt sorry for visiting this betrayal on her. Then, wickedly, he says, "If you're that eager to have Margeary wed a Targaryen, Aem is still –"
Dany throws a cushion at him. Aegon flees the queen's pavilion laughing and certain now that when Sansa comes south to join him, she'll be welcomed as befits the Princess of Dragonstone.
She's had so much grief in her life, his Queen of Winter. He means to bring her nothing but joy.
Chapter 18: jaime
It's a ridiculous effort to stay awake, but there is a weight on his chest and a strong light in his eyes... sunlight, he thinks.
Screams and cries and clash of steel. His left hand gropes for his sword-hilt as he forces his eyes open.
The Stark boy kneels over him, bearded and broken-nosed, a boy no longer. "Here," he says, oddly gentle, and puts Widow's Wail's hilt in his hand.
Jaime manages to shake his head, to push it back at him. "Take it," he wheezes. "Yours. Ice. Yours all along. Put a wolfshead pommel on it."
He pauses there to cough up his lungs and nearly choke on his own blood and rails, silently, at his useless left hand that's got him into this mess. Will Cersei know it when he dies?
Yes, for a certainty.
"That's what we've become," he says. "Thieves and oathbreakers. You and I know a thing or two about broken promises, don't we, Stark?"
The Young Wolf grips his hand with a grip far firmer than Jaime would have given him credit for, so long ago in the courtyard of Winterfell when Robert was shouting for lanterns and crypts and Cersei looked cold and tired enough to start demanding people's heads.
"Yes," he says gently. "Yes, Lannister, we do."
Jaime coughs at him when he wants to laugh and chokes when he tries to curse and wishes he could feel his fucking legs and meets a pair of eyes the same shade of blue as those of a seven-year-old boy he once tossed off a tower.
The things I do for love.
"Forgive me," he whispers, and the darkness moves to meet him.
Chapter 19: rickon
Robb finds him perched on the steps before the Great Sept of Baelor. Dawn is creeping over the houses of King's Landing; the Street of Sisters lies in darkness still, but at the Dragonpit there is movement and noise already.
At noon the Queen on the Iron Throne will throw open the great bronze doors for the first time in a century, and the dragons will enter in.
"Little brother," says Robb, stopping at his feet.
Rickon rubs at his unshaven face, runs a hand through hair too-long. Shaggydog lies curled around him, stretch of warmth at his back.
"I don't remember him," he says. "Not truly."
Robb starts to speak, thinks better of it.
"I've tried," says Rickon. "I've tried and tried and I keep – in my mind, he looks like Jon. And Mother – Mother is Sansa, but..."
"No," says Robb. "She didn't. Sansa's looks are... sharper. I think she and Arya must both look like Aunt Lyanna, in some way. Mother was beautiful, but it was a warm kind of beauty."
Rickon twists his hands together, afraid as he has never been before a battle.
"Father?" he asks.
Robb laughs. "Did look like Jon," he says. "Well, older of course. And bulkier, I think."
"No, not quite. I've got the Tully build, according to Uncle Brynden. No, Father was just. Heavier than Jon."
Rickon nods. "Well," he says. "At least we're relatively certain you'll not be the third Lord of Winterfell in a row to die down here."
Robb comes to sit by him then, laying Oathkeeper across his knees.
"Why did he do it? Grandfather, I mean. Why come here? He could have called the banners and begun a rebellion the moment Aerys' summons reached him. All sorts of things might have been different."
"I doubt it. Aerys would still have killed Uncle Brandon. Coming down here, there was a chance... the very faintest, smallest of chances. But still a chance."
"Family, Duty, Honor," says Rickon, disgusted. "Torrhen knelt, and we went tame."
Robb's fingers clench around Oathkeeper's hilt. "It's not a bad thing," he says, voice very steady. "To have honor. To keep your word. To tell the truth and show mercy, and to hold others to the same standard. It's not," here he pauses, swallows. "It's not wrong, is what I'm trying to say."
Rickon sighs. "No," he agrees. "No, I didn't mean that – I just – ah. Gods be good."
"Yes. Complicated. Far more complicated than anyone ever admits."
Robb wraps an arm around his shoulders and draws him close. Rickon shifts to fit himself against his brother's side like the scrawny boy who came to Greywater Watch in that autumn rainfall so long ago.
"And when Dany is crowned –"
"When Dany is crowned," says Robb softly, "we'll go home. We'll go home in Father's place, and in Uncle Brandon's and Grandfather's and Aunt Lya's. And later, when Jon and Sansa come and bring Sansa's pups home with them, we'll teach the little ones to shift their skin and open their eyes, and we'll lie in the Great Keep at night as they open the castle gates to let us out, and the wolves of Winterfell will roam the wolfswood under a hunter's moon."
Rickon shivers at the words: the promise of it, the taste of blood in his mouth and the wind in his fur. There have been weeks and months and years when the promise of running the wolfswood with his pack once more was all that kept him sane.
But the wolfswood is far away, and there's no snow-smell in the wind that comes in off the sea, and direwolves don't belong in dragon-country.
He sighs. "It's never so simple," he says. "Winter is coming."
Robb laughs. "It already came. We beat it back. We always do."
Rickon laughs in answer, startled. "I'd not thought of it that way."
"It takes practice." Robb scratches at the scar along his jaw, eyes and voice very far away.
The sunlight has crept into the Street of Sisters as they talked. Behind him Shaggydog yawns hugely; Rickon leans back to the warmth of the wolf's body and closes his eyes. The sea wind touches his face and Robb's chest moves against his arm with his breaths, a rhythm as familiar to Rickon as his own heartbeat. The great doors of the sept groan as they open to greet the new day; did Father hear them, standing here before he died, did Sansa, alone at Joffrey's court and wed to a Lannister, did Arya, before she ran and ran and kept on running from King's Landing to the Crossing and over the sea to Braavos?
"Best go back," says Robb's deep voice, and the blackness shatters and darts away at the sound of it. "Sansa and Jon will miss us by now."
It's a short one, Sansa said, holding out the raven's letter to him. You read it to me.
And the parchment smooth under his fingers, and the sound of the words coming easily now: It says "Robb lives"...
Rickon smiles. "I'll race you," he offers, jumping up and promptly suiting action to words. Robb pelts after him with an indignant shout, dignity forgotten, and perhaps that's not the only thing they leave behind.
Chapter 20: shadowcat
She makes her way down the steps slowly, the lantern held out before her, Lynna clinging to her hand.
"You're not scared, are you?" she asks her. "You shouldn't be. The Kings of Winter look after their own."
"I'm not scared," says Lynna firmly.
"Good," says Catelyn.
Hope and Kitten follow after them, nearly full-grown now, eyes gleaming golden. The Kings of Winter watch them pass, and their footsteps echo in the darkness.
They reach the end: Lord Rickard, Uncle Brandon, Aunt Lyanna. Grandfather, Uncle Benjen, Grandmother. Their grandparent's tombs are empty, they know, just as Brandon the Shipwright's is. The Silent Sisters came never north to Winterfell bearing Lord Eddard's bones; yet he waits here for them just the same, solemn and kind. Lady Catelyn's statue is the first ever placed here not of a Stark born. Her smile is faint and soft, and she has a look that makes her granddaughter think she was very sensible in life.
Cat takes the torch in both her hand and Lynna steps up to Aunt Lyanna's tomb, holding up the crown of winter roses.
"Aunt Lya," she says. "I'm sorry Uncle Jon couldn't come. He's gone south with Aunt Dany and Uncle Aegon to win the Iron Throne back. But he asked me, before he left, if I'd come in his place and bring you the first winter roses the way he always does."
She puts the wreath in Lyanna's stone lap and touches the cold unfeeling stone hand. The wolves lead them back out of the tombs, back to the light, to Father and Mother and Ned and Bran and baby Jon. Back to Aunt Arya and Uncle Rickon and Uncle Bran.
Cat glances over her shoulder once, as they walk, back at her family. In the torchlight, flickering, distant, Lord Eddard seems to smile after them.
Chapter 21: daenerys
Aemon has that look again – that cynical look of his, slightly mocking. Dany doesn't like it. Robb told her once that he used to brood when they were boys; now he looks wry and sardonic instead.
She can guess when that started. Reconciling himself to being Aegon's brother, Lyanna's son by Rhaegar Targaryen, was one thing. Reconciling himself to not being Eddard's son was quite another. Gaining parents is all well and good, but losing one, and the only one you ever knew at that –
Aegon had gotten sardonic himself when Dany had spoken to him of it and remarked that at least Griff had done him the favour of disowning him officially – publicly too, and in person. When Dany thinks of the way his mouth had twisted she remembers red doors and a day in the Dothraki sea: the day she had first known she would have to take herself home, that there was no one else to do it.
And now here she is. Not long past dawn, the shadow of the castle darkens on Dragonstone's gardens; the dew lies heavy on the grass and the leaves rustle in the morning breeze. Dany passes between the trees silent as a shadow in black and red. She went to put her Dothraki leathers on this morning, had a sudden, firm conviction that her mother would have thoroughly disapproved of them, and put them away again – at least for today.
The small postern gate is heavy, but she is not Drogo's child-khaleesi anymore and it opens for her with only the briefest murmur of protest. Jon's footprints are clear in the wet grass, though Dany cannot tell if Ghost went with him. She follows him across the meadows down to the sea-path and the sand dunes. The salt tang of the sea she'll treasure the taste of for the rest of her life wraps itself around her, borne inland by the wind. It had never been so precious to her before her first sight of Dragonstone hovering over the waves in the evening sunlight, painted with its blood-red glow; between one glance over the prow of the ship and the next, she had finally come home, and the sea had become an irrevocable part of her.
She finds her dragon-prince sprawled on his back in the sand dunes, dark eyes half-shut, arms behind his head.
"I didn't mean to wake you, love," he says. He always knows when she's near him.
Dany sinks down beside him, not touching. The sand is cold, and slightly damp. "You didn't. I wanted to come out here early and watch the sunlight on the sea."
He shifts. "Here it is, then."
"Don't be cynical. It suits you about as well as patience would suit Rickon."
He laughs. "Forgive me, your Grace."
"My Grace will consider your petition."
Sigh. They stay silent for a short while, watching sea and sky respectively, and Dany is sure now that this is the best way to get a confidence out of Aemon: by waiting and by not looking at him when he speaks it.
"I can't feel it," he says at last.
"Home. I feel – I feel closer to them at King's Landing. And yet he was born here, lived here, and she loved him, so I... ah. I don't know."
Dany pauses. "I should perhaps make a joke about true Targaryens," she says.
"You and Aegon have other homes. This will be Daemon's, and his siblings'. That's enough. That is more than I have ever hoped for."
"It –" Aemon says, but can't finish the thought. Half dragon, half direwolf; they call him the Prince of Summerhall and yet he lives with an ear to the North Wind and the tales it tells him; he is not entirely himself down here... but he is not entirely different either.
It's just complicated.
Dany sees, quite suddenly, very clearly.
"Prince Aemon is not the man I fell in love with," she says. "Jon Snow is. And if your lady mother had thought of you as Rhaegar's child she would have let Lady Ashara take you east with Aegon, not begged Lord Eddard to raise you as a Stark of Winterfell."
He draws a sharp breath, but stays silent.
"Aemon need not be a different man to Jon," she says. "In fact I would prefer him not to be. Nor is he... somehow the truth, while Jon Snow is a lie. You are who you are. If you don't trust yourself in this, trust me. And trust Lyanna."
Jon lays a hand on her back below her shoulder blades, warm but light, as if afraid to touch her.
"Fire and Blood," he says. "That's how I think of you – as though your very blood were wildfire."
Dany smiles. "I think of you the way I first saw you. In the woods just south of Eastwatch with a battle in the snow all about you and a hunter's moon shining on your sword-blade."
"Hopelessly, incorrigibly romantic," he says. She stretches her legs out and lies down beside him and he takes her in his arms, beard-stubble grazing her forehead. The heat of him warms her and his heart beats steady under her hand.
"Stay with me as long as you can stand to," she says. "Go home if and when you need to. I want your love, not your devotion. I've come to believe those are two very different things."
He smiles. "I think you may be right."
It's hardly the most comfortable place to make love in – nor the warmest, or the most private. But Dany loves her wolf-lord most when he smiles like that, and he has a way of watching her as if she's a Queen whose likeness he's come far to see; not devotedly, but with awe and admiration.
They walk back to Dragonstone together hand in hand. Dany carries her boots. Jon's tunic hangs unlaced.
"We could still be wed," he says. "If you wanted. Pyp's gone and done it, and he's not the only one, so they can't really object about my oaths."
Dany purses her lips. "It might give people ideas. After all, Aegon has a better claim than I to the Iron Throne."
"It's hard to argue with three fire-breathing dragons," Jon points out wryly. "Besides, the throne will come to Daemon eventually."
Married or not, they will never have a child together.
"Still, I think it safer not to. I love Quentyn, but I've yet to meet his sister and she is Doran's heir. Trystane is wed to Cersei's daughter and Mace Tyrell bounces back and forth between allegiances so often you could play at catch with him for a ball."
She looks up sharply. They might not object about his oaths, whoever they are, but he is not so cavalier about his honour. "Unless you –"
He laughs. "Once," he admits. "Perhaps even now, a little. But one day the Wall will stand again, and then... well."
"I do nothing but tear you in two," says Dany ruefully. "Winterfell or Dragonstone, a wedding or your vows..."
"Ah," says Jon, "but you don't ever demand of me that I fix the cracks."
They kiss beneath the oak tree inside the gate, Dany's back pressed against the rough bark, her hands in Jon's hair.
"Shave for me?" she says when they draw apart.
"After breakfast," he promises.
Chapter 22: the queen of winter
The second time her husband and her brother crawl out of the hearth in Daemon's nursery, Sansa cannot even summon much surprise.
"Again?" she asks drily, shifting Day in her arms. He flexes his fingers against her breast and his eyes flutter as he sucks. It's frankly an effort to look away from him to his father and uncle.
"It's a way to pass the time," says Jon, scratching Memory's ears and turning his back politely. Aegon climbs out after him with a twist and a muffled curse and comes to kiss her and Day.
"How was council?" he teases.
"Much less entertaining without you both," says Sansa, turning her face up for a second kiss. "How much longer do you plan on doing this?"
"Until we've got a map of the entire tunnel system," says Jon.
Aegon and Sansa exchange a long look.
"He's bored," she says.
"It's all the highness-es," says Aegon. "They grate on his nerves."
"Poor boy," says Sansa, straight-faced.
"I'm still in the room, you know," says Jon.
She knows the way his mouth must be twitching; five-and-twenty years of teasing and laughs and dancing lessons in the godswood have taught her. She knows the way his right hand is flexing, too; twelve years of winter, of battle and fear, have taught her.
"Nothing is crawling through those walls, Jon," she says.
Aegon strips his filthy tunic off and goes to wash his hands and arms in the basin of water by the window before he squats by her chair with his hand on her knee – scratched and damp, it leaves a water-smudge on her white dress. His fingers are warm through the thin silk, indigo dragon-eyes fixed on their son.
"I know," says Jon quietly.
Naturally it will not stop him worrying. Probably nothing ever will.
"Anyway, half the tunnels we can find are too small for either of us to explore," says Aegon. "They say Varys used children to spy in them, but I'm none too keen on the idea of children even just mapping the tunnels. Dear old Maegor came by his reputation honestly, and the gods alone know what booby-traps have been fitted in this place since he died."
Sansa sighs. "So that's why you're doing all these complicated things with yardsticks and lanterns and mirrors."
"... possibly," says Jon evasively, shoulders hunching in remembered amusement. He, Aegon and Sarella had spent most of yesterday running around the training yard with yardsticks and shouting about the thickness of the walls and the width of the armoury, to Sansa and Dany's hilarity and the exasperation of the long-suffering Aurane.
"There was only one mirror," says Aegon. "It didn't work as well as we'd hoped."
"He means they dropped it," Sansa confides in Daemon, who appears to have dozed off. She slips her nipple out of his mouth as Jon snorts back laughter and hands Day to his father to lace up her gown again.
Aegon settles the baby gently in the crook of his arm and proceeds to look utterly besotted.
"I wonder," says Sansa thoughtfully, getting to her feet with a swish of skirts – she loves that little noise, the smooth brush of the silk against her legs – "I wonder if his Highness the Prince of Dragonstone, Lord Commander of the Golden Company, a Captain of the Dragon Host, Councillor to her Grace Queen Daenerys –"
"You know she's about to make a truly scathing point when she starts listing all your titles," says Jon. "The one and only time she's ever called me Prince Aemon I was getting a tongue-lashing for coming off my horse at the Battle of the Trident."
"Brawling with that Spicer fellow like a common foot soldier," says Aegon, solemn with disapproval.
"I wonder, I say," says Sansa smoothly, refusing to be interrupted, or side-tracked, "if said Highness and his esteemed brother have ever given a thought to waiting a short while with their great project and then asking the Lady Arya Stark for help with it when she arrives?"
There follows a slightly abashed silence. Jon and Aegon exchange a look. Arya is sleekly slender, and not very tall, and they're all sure she is far more acrobatic than she has ever shown herself to be in their presence, and her ship is due the day after tomorrow and she would jump at a chance to explore the Red Keep's hidden corridors.
Not to mention the fact that anything fool enough to threaten Arya while she's down there will get what's coming to it several times over, which is more than can be said for the slightly more tender-hearted men of this family.
If Sansa were feeling uncharitable, she might call them thoroughly impractical instead of tender-hearted, but she isn't, so she doesn't.
"I suppose," says Aegon.
"She'd like the," says Jon.
"That's true, isn't it?"
Dear gods, they don't even need to finish sentences anymore.
"So if we leave the north section –"
"Right, and then she can get into it from the –"
"Don't forget that –"
Sansa shakes her head at them. Aegon has found a roll of parchment on a chest and handed Day off to Jon while he sketches; the Dragon in Winter tucks his baby nephew into his blankets with a practiced motion and a thoughtful look. Ghost slips into the nursery when Sansa opens the door and goes to curl around the foot of Day's crib.
She shuts the door on their conversation gently and goes to help Dany rule the Realm, smiling to herself.
Chapter 23: catelyn
The day the rider arrived was a blustery, grey, wintry sort of day. Cat had already finished her morning lessons, planned a strategy for the siege of the godswood on the next snowy day, cleaned up her room and practiced her needlework with Aunt Arya and Beth Cassel; now she was loitering at the edges of the practice yard and hoping Father wouldn't come find her and drag her off to do accounts with him. Father hated doing accounts and so did Cat; neither of them had the slightest head for figures, but Mother said that misery shared was misery halved and threatened to lock them in the study together until the things were finished.
Fortunately there was no chance of that last happening today. Jon had the summer flu and was being quite extravagantly miserable, so Mother and Maester Sam had conferred briefly and then ordered a quarantine for Mother and Anya, just in case. Yesterday Father had taken them all below the window of the Queenskeep and they had said their goodnights with Mother perched on the windowsill and Ned trying to climb the walls.
(Aunt Arya had recovered from her fit of the giggles just long enough to put a stop to that. She'd said the Queenskeep was where Uncle Bran had lost his legs and learned to fly and that Ned wasn't old enough for that sort of thing – not while summer lasted.)
Anyway, this was the day the rider came, limping slightly with weariness and cold as he came into the yard behind Beth. He was watching her out of the corner of his eye; of course lots of people were surprised that the personal garrison of the King in the North was commanded by a woman. He was about Uncle Bran's age she thought, and had a pleasant, curious face.
"... take you to his Grace," Beth was saying.
"Thank you very much, m'lady – ma'am – "
"Captain," said Beth, looking amused.
The stranger made a slight bow. "Captain. Thank you."
Cat jumped up. "I can take him to Father," she offered cheerfully, Kitten running at her heels.
"Hmmph," said Beth. "Don't you have lessons?"
"Not anymore," said Cat smugly. "Welcome to Winterfell," she added, turning smoothly to the stranger. "I am Catelyn Stark; is it a message you carry for my father? I could take it to him while you rest and eat."
The man was looking at her with an odd little smile. "No," he said. "Thank you, milady, but I should see his Grace in person. In fact it was – it is Queen Jeyne I've come to see."
Cat frowned. "Then I must apologise – my brother has the summer flu and my lady mother thought it best that she stay alone in the Queenskeep for a short while with my baby sister."
"The Captain made mention of that," the stranger says. "Forgive me, I have not yet introduced myself – my name is Rollam Westerling."
Beth was pursing her lips in that way that meant she didn't approve of something, but was willing to be convinced.
We don't speak of your other grandparents, Kitten dearest, because my mother – my mother is wicked, and self-serving, and would have had me wed a Lannister when she thought your father dead.
Cat drew herself up.
But yes, I miss my siblings. Elenya helped me get away, so I could start north and give birth to you in safety.
"Then you are doubly welcome here, Uncle," she said.
Rollam smiled; she thought he looked relieved. He nodded down at Kitten. "I remember Grey Wind," he said. "Jeyne was always afraid of him, but I liked him."
"Mother's never been afraid of Grey Wind," said Cat, shocked.
"Perhaps it took her time to adjust," Rollam offered.
Cat pursed her lips, but then nodded. They crossed the yard together and went into the Great Keep. Inside, he loosened his cloak with a look of surprise and she explained about the hot springs and how they pumped through the walls like the lifeblood of a direwolf. Up the stairs and through the corridors, past maids and guards and Bran's pup Smoke, banished from the lesson-room. Kitten stopped to nose at him in passing.
Then: Father's study. Rollam hadn't spoken; was he nervous?
"Come," Father called. "You'd better be here for the accounts, Shadowcat."
Cat smiled. "Your Grace," she said, and Father looked up sharply. She was never so formal. "A visitor for my lady mother, Father. From the Crag."
Father stood up as Rollam stepped into the room. "Rollam?" he said, surprised.
"Your Grace," said Rollam, bowing. "I –"
"Oh, gods, boy, don't be an idiot," said Father and came around the heavy desk to grasp his hand, wrist to wrist. "Grown up a bit since last I saw you." He was smiling, roughly fond.
"Yes, sire," said Rollam, startled. "I mean. Robb."
Father grinned. "That's better. Have you eaten? Rested? I assume Shadowcat's told you about our quarantine. Anya's just three months. Jeyne wanted to err on the side of caution."
"Congratulations," said Rollam with a smile. "I should have said that first of course – six times over. I'm sorry that –"
"That you never answered Jeyne's letters?" asked Father bluntly. "She wrote six times that first year we came home, and then gave up."
"I know it," said Rollam. "My dear mother had us watch while she burned the letters in the hearth without even opening them."
Father's turn to pause. Cat chewed thoughtfully on her lower lip; what a horrible grandmother she had. Still, not even Sybell Spicer could compete with Mad King Aerys. Poor Uncle Jon.
"I'm sorry," said Father at last.
Rollam shrugged. "Why bother?" he said, sounding tired. "Eventually Elenya and I learned to ignore it."
"I hear she wed a Marbrand," Father offered.
"Yes. After all my mother's talk about Lannisters and great Houses." Rollam looked amused, but it was the vicious kind of amusement that Uncle Rickon had had once when Cat had overheard him talking about the sack of the Twins with Gawen Glover. "Anyway." He sighed. "I would not have been able to persuade Father to let me come if she were not dead. A fever. I had an idea the knowledge might ease Jeyne's mind should she ever wish to visit the south."
Father glanced at Cat, as if he was worried what she thinks of the whole nasty business. She pulled a face at him, very slightly.
"Should I go and ask the kitchens to have a meal sent up for Uncle?" she asked. "And rooms made up. Will you stay for the wedding?"
Rollam blinked. "Wedding?"
"My brother Rickon to Anna Mormont," explained Father. "It's three months away."
Rollam shook his head. "I don't mean to impose upon your hospitality so long," he objected.
"Jeyne's not seen you in thirteen years," said Father. "It's grieved her, Rollam."
That swayed him. Cat ducked out of the study and meandered down to the kitchens. She'd call Jesper Grad the steward and have him give Uncle Rollam the apartments in the west wing on the second floor. A place for him at table that evening in the Great Hall and a maid to run to Mother and give her the news - oh, but she'd check on Jon first so Mother would know he was all right. What else would Mother do? Oh - get the twins to look presentable. That would take up several hours. Lynna would help, though.
Chapter 24: the tale of years
Let's say the Red Wedding is a kind of "year zero" for the History of the Starks of Winterfell. (Erm, I'm assuming the years have twelve months in Westeros as well, even if they don't have proper seasons.)
A few weeks after the Red Wedding: Alayne Stone, enjoying the hospitality of Lord Nestor Royce along with Lord Robert Arryn and Lord Petyr Baelish, follows Lord Robert out of the gardens of the castle when she sees him sneaking off with the son of one of the kitchen workers, a Northern woman named Osha. The boy, calling himself Rick, takes Lord Robert to an abandoned barn in the woods and shows him a friend: the direwolf Shaggydog.
Three months aRW: Sansa Stark poisons Petyr Baelish with hemlock upon discovering that he has realised the kitchen lad Rick is her brother Rickon Stark and plans to kill him along with Lord Robert. Lady Sansa then begins to write covertly to her brother's bannermen in Rickon's name, claiming Winterfell and the crown of the King in the North for her brothers.
Four months aRW: Brienne of Tarth appears in the Vale.
Nine months aRW: Birth of Catelyn Stark, daughter of Jeyne Westerling and Robb Stark, born in an unnamed inn north and east of Riverrun, close to the Blue Fork. 'Hoster Snow' is the first to hold his 'great-grandchild'. On the same day, somewhere in the Frostfangs, Brandon Stark accepts the task his father's gods lay on him. In return they offer him a gift which will aide him the rest of his life in exchange for his service.
A day later, Robb Stark awakes on the riverbank of the Green Fork with three arrow-wounds in him and a scar along his jaw. He is found by farmers and taken in, believing him to be the victim of bandits.
A week after this, Jon Snow finds the Reed siblings, Hodor, and Brandon Stark in the weirwood grove in the Haunted Forest and takes steps to hide them from Stannis Baratheon.
1 aRW: Arya Stark returns to Westeros and meets her direwolf Nymeria, with whose help she shakes free of the training she underwent in Braavos. Arya is able - though it takes much practice - to retain the skills the Faceless Men taught her and yet keep her identity as "Arya Stark" intact. One snowy evening, Nymeria guides her to the farmhouse where Robb is sheltering and brother and sister are reunited.
Around this time Roose Bolton is slain battling the Greyjoys near Moat Cailin (which is given to the Glovers to hold). His son Ramsay returns to the Dreadfort with a young girl he claims is Arya Stark, marries her, and proceeds to rule the North (rather badly) and attempt to get a child on her. Winterfell he leaves in ruins, having no taste for the work of rebuilding.
16 months aRW: Arya and Robb Stark reach a small village by the Blue Fork and stop to ask for directions. The young mother in the inn yard is pointed out to them as the new village herbalist, Jenny Snow, who arrived here heavy with child and in the company of her late husband's grandfather. Robb meets his daughter for the first time.
2 aRW: Robb, Jeyne, Arya and Catelyn Stark and Brynden Tully reach Greywater Watch, where they are warmly welcomed by Howland Reed. He shows them Sansa's letters pleading Rickon and Brandon's rights to the lords bannermen of the North, and Robb asks him to contrive a way to send ravens to the bannermen and Sansa and summon them to Greywater Watch.
Two weeks later, Sansa Stark and Jon Snow are among the recipients of Howland Reed's brief message: Robb lives.
27 months aRW: Sansa and Rickon Stark, Brienne of Tarth and Osha the wildling arrive at Greywater Watch. To say it's an emotional scene would be something of an understatement.
A short time later, the lords bannermen begin to arrive, and Robb lays out a campaign plan to lay siege to the Dreadfort.
29 months aRW: The wolves of Winterfell return home. The Dreadfort is besieged and Stannis, furious at Robb's return, the continued refusal of his bannermen to bend the knee to him, Stannis, and the wildings' repeated rejections of him as King, leaves for Eastwatch, where at least he is sure of his power base. Jon Snow announces Brandon's presence at Castle Black and fights off the third assassination attempt by false black brothers sent north for this purpose by Cersei Lannister. They had previously succeeded in killing Stannis' queen, although not Stannis himself, nor his daughter Shireen.
31 months aRW: The King in the North, his siblings, his wife and daughter arrive in Castle Black, where Jon Snow breaks the King's nose in fury at Robb's "boundless bloody stupidity" and tells him all he knows of the encroaching invasion by the Others and the return of magic to the world.
Aegon Targaryen makes his way to Castle Black at last, having travelled to Meereen to pledge his allegiance to his aunt Daenerys Targaryen, the Mother of Dragons, and then on to Sunspear with his cousin Quentyn Martell. Doran Martell is dubious of Aegon's claims at first, but accepts Daenerys' rejection of a marriage to Quentyn on the grounds of barrenness, naming Aegon her heir and rightful Prince of Dragonstone. Aegon sets out from Sunspear to find his half-brother, if he possibly can: Rhaegar Targaryen's son by Lyanna Stark. The boy was named Aemon by his mother and taken north to her home by his uncle Lord Eddard; Jon Connington, Aegon's foster-father and Lord Commander of the Golden Company, knew no more of him than that, but Doran mentions Lord Snow on the Wall, giving Aegon hope that perhaps that man is not Ned Stark's son, but Lyanna's. He and Jon Snow quickly become close.
3 aRW: Arya Stark finds a way into the Dreadfort and kills Ramsay Bolton, pausing to tell him the wolves of Winterfell send their regards. She opens the gates of the castle to her brother's men, who raze it to the ground and sow the earth with salt afterwards so that naught remains of the Dreadfort but the godswood. The woman posing as Arya Stark begs a boon of her.
The lords bannermen begin calling Arya 'the Lady of the Dreadfort' and 'the Witch of Winterfell'; the first whispers begin that the Starks are sorcerors all, and their names should not be spoken lest the speaker draw their attention.
In the meantime, Sansa Stark truces with the kraken's daughter at Deepwood Motte, Euron Crow's Eye being more interested in raiding the Reach and dreaming of dragons than fighting the Starks. Asha Greyjoy gives up the Motte and leads her men into the Green Fork. They begin a butchery at the Twins unmatched even by the Red Wedding itself, leaving the Freys all but extinct and burning the castles. It is said later that a woman robed in grey put the knife in Lord Walder's heart and died then in the flames, having spoken briefly to Asha Greyjoy. There were whispers she was Lady Stark herself, but Robb reacts angrily the first time he hears that tale and it is never spoken of to his younger siblings.
Howland Reed comes to Castle Black confirming the truth of Aegon Targaryen's tale to Jon Snow.
40 months aRW: Birth of Lynna Stark, daughter of Jeyne Westerling and Robb Stark, at Winterfell. This childbed was far harder on Jeyne than the first. Oldtown never having sent another Maester north to serve at Winterfell, both mother and babe nearly died. Several of the lords bannermen were guesting at Winterfell at this time and Rickon Stark overheard Lord Manderly listing possible second wives for his King, weighing alliances and wondering which was most likely to bear a son - Myranda Royce was suggested, and even Shireen Baratheon. Robb, when told, was furious, storming into the hall and annoucing little Catelyn was heir to Winterfell and all the North; that no son of his would supplant her, and that in fact he would be dammed if he ever got a child on any woman but Jeyne. Manderly left Winterfell that same day (and indeed never returned there for the rest of his life, though his sons and grandchildren did).
In later years, the story went that Manderly had left and the gates of Winterfell were about to be closed when Lord Snow and Lord Brandon rode up from Castle Black in a great hurry. The King! Lord Snow shouted. Where is the King? I bring a Maester for Queen Jeyne. Maester Samwell was a black brother, a great friend of Lord Snow's, and saved both mother and child's life. Sarella Sand and Quentyn Martell journeyed north with him, guesting at Winterfell and becoming close with the Starks.
Jon goes to the crypts and brings his lady mother a crown of blue winter roses for the first time.
4 aRW: Daenerys comes to Valyria. Tyrion Lannister has helped her control her dragons and learn to communicate with them to some extent; in return, she promises him Casterly Rock. Sansa Stark begins to learn from the Reeds, from Brandon and from Jeyne Stark, eventually becoming proficient as a herbalist and something of a magicker in her own right.
5 aRW: Emmon Frey finally marches past Asha Greyjoy's fortifications in the Green Fork, from whence she and her men have been raiding the riverlands for near two years and reaches Moat Cailin. He is completely defeated by the northmen, with half his bannermen (primarily those whose families attended the Red Wedding) refusing to take up arms against Robb Stark after the King in the North shows himself with Grey Wind at his side. Frey is hanged like a common criminal by Robb's own hand on a gibbet raised before the new walls of Moat Cailin. The river lords will not declare him King a second time - which Robb accepts, intending by now to back Daenerys' claim to the Iron Throne when she reaches Westeros - but they declare peace and reopen trade through the Neck.
However, at the Battle of Moat Cailin, Rickon Stark is found to have snuck along in his brother's baggage train from Winterfell and nearly causes a disaster when found. Robb, furious, sends him north to Castle Black with the request to Lord Snow that Jon teach him common sense and self-control. Lord Snow laughs at Rickon when the boy asks to be made a ranger with Shaggydog and appoints him his steward. In spite of Rickon's reckless nature, the boy demonstrates considerable skill in the practice yard and with military strategies. Arya Stark escorted him north and spends several months at the Wall, often going ranging with the Reeds. Sansa Stark comes for a visit and she and Aegon 'practice their charm on each other', as Arya puts it.
61 months aRW: Daenerys Targaryen arrives at Eastwatch-by-the-Sea. Stannis escapes with much of his - by now rather tattered - host. Several of his lords swear fealty to Daenerys. Shireen and Edric Storm are taken as hostages to Winterfell. Aurane Waters is revealed as a member of the Golden Company and a dear friend of Aegon's. The Stark-Targaryen alliance is formalised. Daenerys becomes a guest at Winterfell, where she is somewhat astonished at becoming true friends with the Starks, never having had friends of her own age and equal rank before.
(Victarion Greyjoy's whereabouts are not known and remain so, but Daenerys once hints to Jeyne that dragons don't much like krakens, which the Queen in the North takes to mean that Greyjoy came to Meereen after all, where he likely conducted himself... the way most Greyjoys seem to do.)
65 months aRW: Melisandre of Asshai discovers Benjen Stark alive in her and Stannis' exile beyond the Wall. Jon leads a rescue but is separated from Ghost by Melisandre's magic and captured himself. Though he meets his uncle and confirms his identity, it remains questionable if Melisandre did not simply resurrect Benjen in order to lure the Starks out. Benjen himself is near-starved, feverish and delirious, referring to Jon as Father, Bran and Ned all before apologising to him for not telling him the truth of his parentage. More than even Howland's oath, or his affinity with the dragons, Benjen's words have Jon truly believing for the first time that he is indeed Lyanna's son.
At the Fist of the First Men, a battle is joined when Melisandre, desparate now, cuts Benjen's throat in an attempt to use his blood in her magic. Later, no-one is sure whether it was Robb's blow or Jon's that killed Stannis. Melisandre's corpse is found the next morning some way into the forest north of the Fist. She had escaped the fighting and reached the treeline relatively unscathed though driven half-mad by the failed attempt to draw on Benjen's lifeblood for power in her magic.
Then the wolves caught up with her.
Nymeria whelps three pups, female all: two grey for Catelyn and Lynna, and one pitch black, with eyes of weirwood-red which lead the Starks to assume Ghost sired the pups. Arya gives the third pup to Sansa, who names it Memory. Aegon quips about direwolves coming in dragon-colours now. Jeyne Stark begins to wonder about his relationship with Sansa.
6 aRW: Brandon Stark completes the rebuilding of Winterfell. With this work concluded, Brandon takes the black. Births of Eddard and Brandon Stark, twin sons of Jeyne Westerling and Robb Stark. Robb holds by his declaration of Catelyn as his heir and opines that introducing Dornish primogeniture would settle more than one dispute about inheritances in the North. Daenerys admits to her love for her nephew Jon Snow, who confesses it's mutual, but tells her he cannot forsake his vows. They kiss goodbye and do not speak of it again.
The Long Night begins.
6-7 aRW: Deaths of many dear friends of the Starks and Targaryens in the first battles of the War, including Brienne of Tarth, Osha and the Blackfish. Robb takes the title King beyond the Wall by a combination of audacity and belligerency and wrestling-matches, gaining wildling support and granting them safety from the Others and lands in the Gift to settle in if they wish, though with the proviso that they agree to pay a tithe to the Night's Watch. Sullen but afraid, the wildlings agree. Alys Karstark becomes godsworn like Lord Brandon.
90 months aRW: Sansa Stark and Aegon Targaryen go south to the Riverlands and the Vale of Arryn, bearing proof of the coming danger and a plea for arms and men to man the Wall. Those Lords who still follow the old gods pledge their assistance; so do many river lords who follow the Faith of the Seven. Others answer the Targaryen call. Lord Robert makes Sansa and Aegon welcome in the Eyrie, where Aegon proposes to Sansa. She turns him down, partly because of the War and partly out of old fears that all he seeks is a cementing of the Stark-Targaryen alliance. He tells her Rhaegar and Lyanna already took care of that, and that he can wait for her if she needs time.
8 aRW: Deaths of Tyrion Lannister and Howland Reed, murdered by wights in an attempt to wipe out the lorekeepers of the Stark-Targaryens. Rickon Stark meets Lyanna Mormont and promptly falls in love, destroying all Jon's hopes for him to take the black and succeed his cousin as Lord Commander of the Night's Watch. Together they take command of the besieged Shadow Tower, killing Euron Crow's Eye in battle and finding that they work well together, despite several vocal arguments.
99 months aRW: Arya and Brandon Stark taken captive at Craster's Keep by the Enemy. The King in the North and Lord Snow are able to free them, but both were hurt, and for the rest of their lives neither of them ever feel the cold again. Jon Connington dies during this battle, leaving Aegon Targaryen the Lord Commander of the Golden Company. Around this time, Sansa and Aegon become lovers.
9 aRW: The Wall falls. Working wolf-magic and dragon-magic with Jon Snow as a conduit and focal point for both sets of spells, Aegon, Daenerys, Brandon and Sansa are able to repel the Others, reinforcing the magics that keep them out of the Kingdoms and finally destroying them utterly - or so they believe and hope - with the help of the dragons themselves. Barristan Selmy is killed in the final wave of attacks defending Jon Snow.
The King of Winter announces the disbanding of the Night's Watch until such time as Lord Brandon has raised the Wall once more. Many settle in the Gift; others take up positions in the garrison at Winterfell. Maester Samwell becomes Maester to the Starks, to the delight of the Stark children.
Jon Snow announces his intention to go south with his brother and aunt to win back the Iron Throne for House Targaryen. He takes as his personal arms a single dragon's head, coloured winter-rose-blue, on a black background. Aegon takes a gold one, for the Martell spear and the Golden Company. The Dragon Host leaves Winterfell at last, to much sorrow and sniffling and promises to write and visit. Robb and Rickon march south with them.
Nymeria whelps three pups again, all male this time.
10 aRW: Birth of Jon Stark, son of Jeyne Westerling and Robb Stark. Marriage of Aegon Targaryen and Sansa Stark in the godswood at Winterfell. Daenerys, having briefly hoped for a marriage-alliance with a westerland house or Reach nobility, is at first angry, but her love for both Sansa and Aegon win out. The Dragon Host marches unchallenged through the riverlands to the Trident. Asha Greyjoy bends the knee to the Dragon Queen and is promised the Seastone Chair. Meanwhile, Rickon Stark slays Loras Tyrell at the Gates of the Moon, the Lannisters having sent a force to the Fingers by sea to march west through the Vale and attempt to take the Dragon Host in the rear. The men of the Vale who fought at the Wall return home. The Northmen with the Dragon Host are a small contingent. At the second Battle of the Trident, the Dragon Host has the mastery and Robb Stark slays the Kingslayer, Jaime Lannister, who returns the second longsword forged from Ice to its rightful owner before dying.
When they reach King's Landing, the gates are flung open. Mace Tyrell awaits them on bended knee. Cersei Lannister has poisoned herself, her son Tommen and several of her cousins upon hearing the news of her twin brother's death. Daenerys is horrified, having had every intention to spare Tommen and the younger Lannisters. She gives the Rock to Kevan Lannister and requests of the freed and reinstated Edmure Tully that he wed Margaery Tyrell.
Edric Storm, as the only acknowledged son of the last Lord of Storm's End, and Shireen Baratheon, as her father's only heir, are wed and given Storm's End. Davos Seaworth goes with them.
Coronation of Daenerys, the First of her Name, Queen of the Andals and the Rhoynar, Lord Protector of the Kingdoms of South Westeros, Daenerys Stormborn, the Unburnt, the Mother of Dragons: the Queen on the Iron Throne.
128 months aRW: Birth of Daemon Targaryen, son of Sansa Stark and Aegon Targaryen. In his honour, a great fair is held at Harrenhal. Aegon claims we've all had quite enough of tourneys, thank you. A tradition begins to form of fairs held at Harrenhal one year and Moat Cailin the next, called the Summer Fair and the Winter Fair respectively. Over the years Moat Cailin's economic importance to the North begins to grow, in rivalry with White Harbour. Robb is quietly smug about that.
12 aRW: Birth of Hoster Tully, son of Margaery Tyrell and Edmure Tully.
13 aRW: Birth of Rhaena Targaryen, daughter of Sansa Stark and Aegon Targaryen. Birth of Anya Stark, daughter of Jeyne Westerling and Robb Stark. Marriage of Rickon Stark and Lyanna Mormont at Winterfell, for which occasion the Targaryens return to Winterfell and bring half the nobility of South Westeros with them. Robb gives Rickon Oathkeeper, the sword he wielded throughout the War, taking instead the sword returned to him by Jaime Lannister for his own and naming it Ice once more, and also gives the couple Lordship of Moat Cailin. Rickon and Anna take as their arms a wolfshead, black, on a field of green - Mormont colours. The words they choose are Winter's End. Brandon predicts that their third son will rule the Wall.
Catelyn and Lynna Stark come south to King's Landing for a year to foster with their aunts and uncles in the south, where they shock several court ladies, get in fights with stableboys and spoil their small cousins outrageously. Arya Stark gives Catelyn her sword Needle before her nieces leave Winterfell and reminds her to stick 'em with the pointy end. Catelyn's direwolf Kitten whelps three pups: two male and one female. All have black fur, but only one of the males has green eyes as well, leaving the other two for Sansa's children. Daemon names his Meraxes and tells his baby sister that hers is Valyria. Around this time an egg laid by one of Daenerys' dragons hatches. Daemon decides the red-gold hatchling is a girl and names her Rhaenysia while he's at it.
14 aRW: Birth of Joran Stark of the Tower Starks, son of Lyanna Mormont and Rickon Stark.
Robert Arryn refuses the match Nestor Royce has arranged for him with a Tyrell - a cousin of Lady Margaery's - and insists on wedding a woman called Cassindre, a merchant's daughter who is the mother of his unborn child. Half Westeros is poised for war until Aegon, Sansa, Robb and Jeyne intervene, eventually arranging a match for the Tyrell girl with a Royce, while Daenerys, guesting in the Reach with Aemon, points out to Mace Tyrell that the only thing in the Vale Robert rules in more than name is his own private bedchamber. Nevertheless, a repeat of the Red Wedding is just barely avoided, with skirmishes in the woods around the Gates of the Moon and several Vale Lords privately telling Aegon they'll swear to the Queen but not to that fool Robert. Sansa and Jeyne welcome Cassindre warmly and give her what help they can in navigating her new role, realising that not only does she love Robert, but she is also capable of dealing with him in his stranger moods and fits. Anyone else, Sansa points out wryly, would have likely packed up, demanded an annulment and returned to her father's house within a month of the wedding.
While this confusion reigns in the Vale Catelyn and Lynna return home under the supervision of Aurane Waters until they are met at White Harbour by Rickon Stark. Catelyn gives Kitten's last pup to little Joran, who receives it with much delighted gurgling.
Aemon Targaryen loses his patience somewhat with Lady Olenna's needling about his parentage and the tourney at Harrenhal while attending such an event at Highgarden and rather irritably sets out to win it and crown Daenerys Queen of Love and Beauty. (Lady Olenna is excessively annoyed. Daenerys is not.)
15 aRW: Birth of Sansa Jeyne Arryn, daughter of Cassindre Baker and Robert Arryn. Aegon invites the Arryns to court. Robb and Queen Jeyne return north. While on the road Jeyne comes to realise she carries their seventh child, a summer babe they intend be born in peace. They choose Daena as their fourth daughter's name.
But Aeron Damphair has won many supporters in the Iron Islands with talk of Asha Greyjoy's disregard for ironborn ways, and finally gathers enough men to launch an assault on the Shadow Tower - though in truth this mostly involves walking up to the ruins and squatting in them. The Wall is as yet only a few feet high and glowing with new magic - wolf magic, which Aeron despises almost more than Melisandre did. The Damphair takes Alys Karstark hostage, provoking fury among the Northmen who already consider the godsworn apart from the squabbles of men and not to be harmed. Asha Greyjoy comes to Winterfell to truce preemptively with House Stark's Shadowcat, saying that it's best to let sleeping direwolves lie and that since the end of the War her uncle has only grown madder. Shadowcat accepts Asha's truce and orders men out into the wolfswood, north and east to the Stony Shore and the Motte, to scout the land and discover the Damphair's movements. Robb and Queen Jeyne are attacked on the kingsroad. Although the handful of Drowned Men are quickly driven off, Jeyne miscarries. Arya sends a message to Jon and Sansa before she leaves Winterfell to meet with Brandon and Jojen Reed at Castle Black: Winter is coming. Come home.
Jon sails to Eastwatch and rides west from there, meeting Arya, Brandon, Jojen and Harrion Karstark and planting the banner of the Night's Watch in the ruins at Castle Black. Robb, grieving for his daughter and furious, rides northeast with Rickon and hatches a plan to burn the ironborn's longboats and trap them at the Shadow Tower. He gambles they will not cross the Wall, for their Drowned God has no purchase in the far North at all, but try to hold their position instead. Arya sneaks into the ironborn camp and is able to rescue Alys Karstark. The two women reach the Motte eventually and have become fast friends by then. In the meantime the Northmen gather for a shattering assault on Aeron Damphair's position, winning an easy victory.
Robb executes Aeron there and then, ending the very last skirmish of the War of the Five Kings. He returns home to lay Daena to rest with the Kings of Winter. Jeyne spends several days locked in her chambers with only Daenerys for company, but recovers at last. Hurts are healed, wounds are bandaged, and every excuse imaginable is invented to put off their separation for as long as possible.
(The Targaryens leave Winterfell at last one morning some time after Joran's first birthday. The snow is melting in Robb's hair and Jon says cheerfully that black was always his colour and this time Sansa and Arya hug goodbye.)