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It's only castles burning

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Smoke drifts up from the Wolfwood and stings Daenerys' eyes: the swirling ashes fall onto Drogon's wings and disappear, but white Viserion, flying ahead of her, is tinged with gray. The forest has burned for a week, taking the main force of the Others and their undead army with them, and the Night Watch have been hunting the stragglers while it burned. Now she is flying south, to see if any made it through, she and her... what? Her nephew? Her king? He tells her he is oathbound to defend his Wall, but that Wall is now nothing but a mound of icy rubble.

Viserion wheels suddenly, then roars; she urges Drogon faster, to see what his sister has found. More ruins. Westeros is full of them, she finds. These were once a large castle, great gray towers half-covered in drifts of snow, empty cracked courtyards still marked by the fire that destroyed the buildings around them. There is a grove at the heart of the castle of white weirwoods, and Viserion lands at its edge. When Dany dismounts beside him she sees that the trees at the edge are dead. Jon is nowhere to be seen. She rests a hand on Drogon's neck, willing him to wait, and follows him into the wood. The air is warmer under the trees, and once she is among them she can see that most of them still live: damaged but strong. Deep roots, she thinks, and shivers in the warm air.

Jon’s black cloak makes him easy to find, even in the mist rising from the pool before the great tree at the heart of the grove. The leaves rustle: it sounds to Dany as if the trees themselves are drawing breath. She wishes she could reach out a hand to him, offer him some comfort. "This was Winterfell, wasn’t it?" she asks instead. He nods. "You could rebuild it. You could bring workers, stone, whatever you need..." Perhaps this will be the key, the lure that draws him out of his black cloak, away from his ruined Wall: the power to restore what he has lost. She can give him that, at least.

"No," he says. "It isn't mine. It was never meant to be mine. I don't belong here."

The air is still, but the leaves keep rustling.

"You are a Targaryen. You are Rhaegar's heir. You belong wherever you wish to belong."

He turns to her. "Is that so? What do you know about home, anyway?"

She thinks of the small house with the red door, of the feel of her silver between her thighs and the sound of the bells in Drogo's hair. But there's no point in telling him of those things: she has come home, and her home is full of strangers. "Nothing," she says.

His face changes suddenly, the anger draining out of it. She isn't sure, but she thinks there was almost a smile on his mouth. "I'm sorry," he says. "I was thinking of what I had lost, not what I still have. We should rebuild, when winter ends."

Her heart beats faster at his 'we', although she knows he means his cousins, the half-wild boy back at the Wall and the self-contained girl in the Vale. She does not entirely understand how she has ended up returning the Starks who drove her family from the Iron Throne to their own seat, although it has something to do with the man before her.

"You would have loved my sister Arya," he says into the silence. "She was so fierce. I gave her a sword, a little thing, before she went south. I had Mikken, the blacksmith here, make it for her. She loved to ride, and was afraid of nothing. She would have loved nothing better than to wear breeches and ride on dragonback."

"When I was married to Drogo, he gave me a silver mare as a gift, as fast as the wind. I loved to ride her: it felt like being free. Now I ride Drogon, but it isn’t the same." One to bed and one to dread and one to love. She did not fear Drogon herself, but she knew what riding him made her.

"I know you didn’t have to come to the Wall," he says, "but you saved us all in doing so. I will go South with you, to help you reclaim your kingdom."

She takes his hand. "It's your kingdom too, if you want it."

end