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Between Love and Duty

Chapter Text

Whitehall

London, England

August 1796


 

 

Acting Lieutenant Jon Snow sat in the waiting room of the Admiralty awaiting his turn for his examination. His captain’s letter of recommendation, his certificates and his journals all sat at his side on the wooden bench where he waited. After months of blockading Toulon aboard HMS Queenscrown, the frigate had sailed to Portsmouth for long overdue repairs and his captain, Sir Jeor Mormont, had sent Mr. Snow to London to take his examination for lieutenant at last. He had been an acting lieutenant for over ten months now but there had been no opportunity before now for him to pass from acting to a fully commissioned officer in the Royal Navy.

At 19, Jon had served over four years in the service now and had displayed an aptitude for command and natural instincts as a seaman. Blockades were tedious business, wearing on men and ships alike, but at least it had provided Jon plenty of time to study for this. Not that that was much comfort at the moment as he sat there with 22 other young men waiting his turn. The captains sitting as examiners had chosen to go down the list alphabetically and Jon knew he would be in for a long wait…at least he thought so. The first young man they had called in had lasted less than five minutes and already fled the hall close to tears. Jon fervently hoped he would pass but he’d be damned if he cried over this, especially here in front of all the other candidates.

As he sat and waited, he looked back over the last letter he had received from his beloved, Miss Sansa Stark. He had met the red-haired beauty last fall in Gibraltar where she lived with her father, Sir Eddard Stark, and her younger siblings. They had met at a dinner party at the Starks’ home but she had later sailed with him on a mission to Alda Mehran in Tunisia to act as a translator on behalf of the navy being as she spoke Arabic quite well and they had found themselves without an official translator rather suddenly. Miss Stark was not just a beautiful young lady though. She was intelligent and witty and full of a fierce determination not to let the world dictate what she could or could not be based on her sex alone. He had fallen in love with her, on sight in some respects but that love had deepened as they became friends over the length of their journey together.

Jon had confessed his feelings to Sansa shortly before they had returned to Gibraltar but had unfortunately been sent off with the Queenscrown almost upon their return and he had not been granted so much as an hour’s shore leave to speak with her father and ask for her hand or even to say farewell. Not that Jon felt worthy of her hand being that he was the bastard son of a deceased French marquis and a young lady who had died giving birth to him in disgrace. He was raised by his uncle, a minor lord, who had no great claims of fortune and who had not named Jon his heir regardless. His other uncle was the reason he had joined the navy as Uncle Benjen was a well-respected frigate captain. Miss Stark on the other hand was the daughter of a knighted gentleman, formerly a colonel in the army. His family may have been involved in trade in the past few generations but had done well there and was quite well off. And her maternal grandfather was a duke no less, whose daughter had eloped with the handsome army officer, Eddard Stark, causing the gossips to wag their tongues for quite some time.

They had been parted for many months now but, as Jon had sent her a letter to tell her of his unexpected and much lamented departure, they had begun a correspondence. The post at sea was somewhat irregular being practically nonexistent but occasionally the much-loved mail ship would make its way to the ships on blockade and Queenscrown would receive a sack of mail. Sansa had learnt after a little trial and error to always date her letters, as they may not all arrive in the order they were sent, to always send copies, as nothing is certain at sea, and to seal them all in waxed sailcloth after the first letter Jon received from her was completely illegible due to dampness having caused the ink to run. And, unlike many sweethearts, Sansa, as the daughter and sister of soldiers, understood the demands of duty might keep even the most ardent young lover from writing as often as he might wish. She was also intelligent enough to realize that it was difficult to post letters regularly when surrounded by nothing but salt water. He smiled and read her words for the twentieth time at least since he had received this latest letter in Portsmouth two days ago.

Dear Jon,

I pray this letter finds you well. I was pleased to learn from your last letter that Queenscrown would soon be receiving some much-needed relief from blockade duty and I have sent copies of this to Portsmouth and Plymouth in the hopes that it may find you at one of those places. I wish you were coming here to Gibraltar but, since your destination is England, I am hoping that means you may soon sit for your examination. I have every confidence you will pass with flying colours based on your clear readiness when we held our question and answer sessions aboard the Francine.

Please give my regards to the captain, Dr. Seaworth, Mr. Clegane and Mr. Tarly as well as Selmy and Tollett and all of my old shipmates. I am certain they do not think of me often if at all but I think of them quite regularly. I miss you dearly and confess time creeps by very slowly here at home compared to life aboard, even with Rickon and Bran to keep in line.

I regret to report that my dear Papa’s health is poor. As I related in my last letter, Gabriel has been reported missing in action for many months now after sailing to the West Indies for the campaign there. Our father fears the worst, I think, though he tells us not to worry. Thank you for your kind words of comfort regarding Gabriel in your last letter. I have reread it many times when my spirits are low.

My brother, Robb, sailed for London this past month to take care of some family business matters of Papa’s as he is not fit to travel at present. But please do not fret on our behalf. The doctor is confident that he will soon recover and that it is only the melancholia of worry that allows this illness to linger. For myself, I still pray for my brother’s safety every night, just as I do for yours, my love, but I cannot believe he is dead. Surely, I would know it in my very bones if my twin were gone. Perhaps I am overly optimistic though.

On a happier note, I am so glad that Papa is allowing us to continue our correspondence. I know you wish to speak to him in person to ask for my hand. And while he says I am too young to marry just yet, I am encouraged that in time he will be inclined to give his consent to our match.

I am sorry for so few words this day but the boys await me for their lessons. Until I write again, please know that I think of you every hour of the day and long to see you again.

All my dear love,

Sansa

Jon folded the letter once more and placed it in his breast pocket next to the lock of Sansa’s hair that he had brought with him for luck. He was an educated and well-read man but he was enough of a seaman by now to share the lower deck’s superstitions and agree with their almost covetous belief in luck.

 

Three hours later, Lieutenant Jon Snow stepped out of Admiralty House with his freshly signed commission crinkling in his breast pocket next to Sansa’s letter, shining with happiness and benevolence towards his fellowmen. He sent a boy round his Uncle Brandon’s London house to leave word that he would be able to meet his uncle at his club for dinner that night and headed to Smith & Sons Tailors to purchase a new uniform coat. As he left the shop considerably poorer but looking quite smart in his new coat at least, he literally ran into Sansa’s elder brother, Captain Robb Stark.

“I beg your pardon,” the captain said after their collision, as both men dove to retrieve Jon’s journals and papers.

Jon remembered his reddish-brown hair and blue eyes well. He was in his red coat which was naturally covered in far more bullion than Jon’s as the army was far more ostentatious than the navy in their dress. Captain Stark’s gold gorget shimmered in the afternoon sun but Jon thought his stock looked to be tied so tightly it was likely to bring on an apoplexy and the young officer’s face was rather red already.

“Captain Stark?”

“Why, Mr. Snow! This is a surprise. What brings you to London?” he asked cordially when he recognized the sailor in front of him and the two young men shook hands.

“I was here to be examined for lieutenant and passed not two hours ago.”

“Oh, that is excellent news. Why, we should celebrate such a momentous occasion! If you’re free, I would be delighted to buy a bottle to share with you to toast your commission.”

Well, that is handsome of him.  I wonder if he knows anything of my and Sansa's understanding.  Perhaps not though.

“I’m to meet my uncle at Black’s for dinner but I am free for the next hour anyway.”

“Very good. I am at liberty at the moment and was heading to my favourite establishment for a drink. I would enjoy some company. I know very few people in town.”

The two of them headed to a tavern frequented by officers of both services and found a booth to share their bottle. It soon became apparent to Jon that Robb Stark knew nothing of his feelings for Sansa or their understanding. He told Jon he was there for business on behalf of his father and mentioned his brother had gone missing in the Caribbean. He had been allowed a few months of furlough to take care of his family matters in England. Jon talked of Sansa’s voyage aboard the Queenscrown, her invaluable assistance in Alda Mehran, and their return voyage aboard the Francine but left out any unpleasant details since he wasn’t sure what Sansa would wish him to share with her brother. And naturally he failed to mention that he had kissed her…more than once.

Despite having only met Robb once before, Jon found he liked him. He was an earnest young man in some ways, two years Jon’s senior, but also friendly and quick to laugh and smile. Jon already knew how dearly Sansa loved her family and how much she valued her elder brother’s opinion so he was predisposed to like him regardless.

What made it clear that Robb Stark was unaware of any attachment between himself and Sansa though was that the young officer asked if he’d like to go to Mother Adley’s with him later that evening. Jon could not condemn the young man for going to a brothel since so many of his shipmates were no doubt doing the same with their shore leave but he highly doubted the suggestion would’ve been made if he was aware that Jon hoped to be his brother-in-law someday. Mother Adley’s was a very high class establishment which did not surprise Jon considering that Robb Stark reportedly would draw an income of 5000 a year someday.

As they rose to leave the tavern, a young man, perhaps a year or two older than Robb, came in apparently looking for him. He was about Jon’s height and slim and dressed rather fine…a little too fine really. His plum colored jacket was fashionable for certain though a bit flamboyant in Jon’s opinion. He had sandy brown hair and a moustache.

“There you are, you bloody lobster,” the young man said when he spotted Robb in a tone of outrage but with an easy smile.

“Greyjoy,” Robb said with a smirk. “What brings you to this hovel amongst us common soldiers and sailors? I thought a dandy like you would never dare be seen here.”

“Careful now. I’m your way in at Mother Adley’s, so you should be nice. Who’s this? You leave your oldest friend waiting while you associate with sailors now, Stark?”

“I have not left you waiting,” Robb said with a certain stiffness that reminded Jon of Sansa a bit when her hackles were raised. “We agreed to meet half an hour from now. And since when have you ever been on time? Allow me to introduce Lieutenant Jon Snow of His Majesty’s Navy. Mr. Snow, allow me present the greatest pain in my ass since the age of five, the Honorable Theon Greyjoy, Lord Pyke’s younger son.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Snow,” the earl’s son said with a friendly handshake. “Snow? Are you related to Lord Brandon Snow, the baron, by chance?”

Jon saw Robb stiffen once more and appreciated his new friend’s concern on his behalf but Jon was used to this. When he was forced to acknowledge his relationship to his uncle and his status as his bastard nephew was known, people usually had one of two reactions to him, a sudden discomfort in meeting his eye or an obvious sense of superiority…sometimes both.

“I am. I am his nephew, sir.”

“His sister Lyanna’s son then?”

“Yes.”

“Oh,” he said with a smirk. Superiority, it is then, Jon thought without much surprise. “Well, would you like to come along with us to Mother Adley’s? She’s supposedly got a new girl from France, quite the beauty they say…and talented with her tongue,” he finished with a cheeky grin.

Jon’s eyes widened at Greyjoy’s remark but merely replied, “No, thank you for your offer. I am actually supposed to be meeting my uncle at Black’s for dinner.”

“Well, we could give you a lift in my coach then since that is close to our destination.”

Jon had been surprised by the offer to join them at the brothel and even more surprised by the offer to share a ride. It was evident the Honorable Theon Greyjoy thought himself above a bastard and yet did not seem unwilling to be in his company. He wondered if Robb’s willingness to be in his company was the deciding factor. He agreed and they rode together companionably enough. Jon thought he could possibly learn to tolerate Greyjoy with his easy manners and droll remarks…until the subject of Sansa was raised.

“And how is that bluestocking sister of yours, Stark? Has she bloomed into an exquisite beauty as I predicted when I last saw her? Has she grown much, if you take my meaning?”

“I would warn you not to speak of my sister in such an illiberal manner, Greyjoy. And, there is nothing wrong with an intelligent young lady being well read.”

“Oh, come on, Robb. She was already a beauty at 14 though she insulted me for saying so at the time. I imagine she has grown even lovelier as she has, um…matured,” he finished with a leer.

Jon let out a huff of indignation before he could stop himself and drew the man’s attention.

“Have you met Miss Sansa, Mr. Snow?”

“Yes, I have had that privilege, sir.” I have had the privilege of kissing her sweet lips and I carry a letter from her and a lock of her hair with me, you contemptible scrub.

“So, what’d you think of her? Such fiery red hair to match a fiery temper…enough to get any man’s blood up, no? A lovely bloom like that is begging to be…”

“I would thank you not to speak of the young lady in such a way, sir, especially in the presence of her brother who has already given you warning and a man you just met, who you do not know well enough to speak so unreservedly.”

“Are you really a sailor, Mr. Snow? Sure you’re not a parson?” Greyjoy said with a laugh before changing the subject.

Robb, however, looked over at him with something like new-found respect and nodded to him as the coach came to a stop in front of Black’s. Jon thanked Greyjoy for the ride and bid them both adieu before entering his uncle’s club.

 

Black’s had an esteemed reputation as a gentleman’s club and his uncle clung to his membership tenaciously as a sign that he was still au courant with the ton. Jon was led upstairs to a semi-private dining room to wait for his uncle. Jon was always punctual, having had punctuality literally beaten into him as a newly-joined midshipman at the age of 15. He had overslept and been late for muster on three occasions, having had a difficult time adapting to no more than four hours of sleep at a time, when Captain Mormont had had him turned over a gun in his cabin and Mr. Clegane had administered a dozen to his posterior with his cane, a painful and humiliating experience that had convinced Jon to never again be late for anything. His uncle on the other hand, having never had to answer to anyone regarding his punctuality, was forty minutes late but did apologize for his delay before launching into the question of the day.

“Well? Did you pass?”

“Yes, uncle.”

Jon reached into his pocket and produced his commission. Unfortunately, he also pulled the lock of Sansa’s hair out with it. He quickly stashed it again but not quickly enough.

“What is that?”

“Nothing, uncle.”

“A lock of hair would’ve been my guess,” his uncle said with a wry smile. “Did some doxy give it to you in Portsmouth, boy?”

“No, sir,” Jon said with an icy glare. His uncle looked up sharply at him but decided not to press further.

“This is very good,” he said, fingering the prized piece of paper. Jon suddenly wished to snatch it back. He would’ve rather shared this with his Uncle Benjen, a man who would’ve understood all that it meant to him. “I am glad you are well on your way in the service, Jon, for I have some news.” His uncle leaned forward with a conspiratorially look and continued, “I am to be wed to Miss Jeyne Poole.”

“The steward’s daughter, my lord?” he gasped out as he choked on his wine. Why on Earth would he marry the steward’s daughter?

He remembered the girl naturally enough. She had lived on the estate all her life. She had mousy brown hair and soft brown eyes. She was sweet in a way but a bit of a flirt and gossip. The servants had always been aware of Jon’s unusual status and, while they accorded him respect, they did not shield him as much from their private world as they did his uncles and, naturally, he had played with their children when he was a boy. Jeyne Poole had kissed him once on a dare when he was 11, the dare having been her suggestion. It had been a chaste peck on the lips but for a week Jon had fancied himself in love with her until he had learned she had allowed herself to be dared quite often by many of the other local boys.

“Yes, Miss Poole has quite won my affections, such a spirited young lady and so sweetly devoted to me.”

She’s twenty-six years his junior…he must’ve gotten her pregnant. She will be pleased to be a baroness at least.

Jon forced the unkind thoughts from his mind and congratulated his uncle. He wanted to be happy for him but it only made him think of Sansa and their long separation which looked to be longer still. He wondered how long he would have to keep her waiting…assuming Sir Eddard ever gave them his consent.

 


 

 

Three weeks they had been in England and the ship was nearly back in fighting trim after much hard work and harrying trips to the dockyard on behalf of the captain to wrangle for this or that. Jon had been granted liberty on a couple of other occasions though which allowed for him to meet with Robb Stark again, in Portsmouth this time. Thankfully, his friend, the Honorable Theon Shithead, was not with him. They met for dinner at an inn near the docks and got along very well over the course of their dinner and conversation.

“May I trouble you for the salt?” Robb asked before continuing, “Have you heard the latest news regarding Spain, Jon?”

“That they will soon declare war upon us? Yes, I have heard. More wine?”

“Yes, please. It seems that soon all of Europe will be against us. The French have had so many victories to crow over and us so very few,” the young captain said dismally.

“True, the French have had their successes…by land,” Jon said with a slight smirk.

“Yes…yes, the Navy has done very well,” he said with a nod. “I will grant you that.” As the plates were cleared he next asked, “Are you free this evening? There’s a musical performance I’m planning to attend. The soprano is a gorgeous, young Italian lady…Talisia something. I never can say her last name correctly. An acquaintance of my father introduced me to her in London and I confess that part of the reason I travelled down here was to see her again. The other soloist is quite lovely, too, a very lovely blonde if you’re interested.”

“I wouldn’t object to the performance tonight but…Robb…have you spoken with your sister lately?”

“Sansa? No, I’ve had little time to see her or my younger siblings the past several months. Why do you ask?”

“I…I’ve asked your father’s permission to court her. I’ve asked and received his permission so, naturally, I am not interested in meeting any lovely blonde soloists or going to Mother Adley’s or…”

“Oh, I see,” he said with a look of complete surprise.

“I hope you are not offended that I didn’t speak before or that your sister is being courted by a bastard.”

“No…I’m not offended at all. It was your private business and you were not in any way obliged to share it with me. And as for your…parentage…if you’ll forgive me mentioning it, you are mistaken if you think that matters to me. For my part…well, I like you very much and, if my sister must marry someday, I’ll be glad to call you my brother. Much better than Greyjoy for certain,” he said, sipping his wine.

“Oh? I didn’t know he was…”

“Oh, he’d like to court her certainly but Sansa’s despises him and Father is not exactly fond of him either. And, while we played together as boys, I know for a fact that he would never make a good husband to any girl and I would likely wind up hating him if he were married to my sister. You have nothing to worry about from him. Knowing Sansa, you have nothing to worry about at all. Has my father given his consent to the marriage then?”

“Not yet. I’ve not been able to meet with him to actually ask for your sister’s hand so for now I must be content with letters. I know he doesn’t wish for her to marry too young and expects me to be in a position to provide for her so…”

“Well, let us drink a toast to your eventual success and happiness then.” Once they had finished their wine, Robb asked, “So, shall we go and be entertained tonight?”

As they walked to the small theater, Robb mentioned that his father wished to return to England with his younger siblings and Jon wondered if it might afford him better opportunities to meet with Sansa again. He certainly hoped so. The performance was very fine and the singers were talented though they could not move Jon the way Sansa’s voice did. He spent much of the performance daydreaming about Sansa playing the piano forte in the drawing room of her father’s house the night they met. Once the performance was done, Robb urged Jon to come with him back stage to meet his singer. While no young lady was as lovely as Sansa in Jon’s eyes, there was no denying that Robb’s Italian girl was a beauty. Jon stood to the side, avoiding the overtures of the blonde soloist, to allow his friend time to speak with her before they headed back out into the night, Robb to his inn and Jon to his ship.

 

It was quite dark once he reached the quay. He was attempting to find a wherry willing to row him back to his ship when he was approached by an older man in a plain blue coat.

“I beg your pardon, sir. Are you from Queenscrown?” the gentleman asked. His manners were impeccable but his pierced ear was a clear indication that he was a seaman.

“Yes, sir,” Jon responded, wondering if he were getting ready to be asked if they needed more men at present. Perhaps he’s some sort of warrant officer with that blue coat and needing a ship to join.

“I hope you’ll forgive me asking but would you mind taking a note to your captain for me?”

“I, uh…well, I can’t see any harm in that, Mister…”

“Mormont. My name is Jorah Mormont,” he replied with a slight smile.

Jon’s eyes widened but then he collected himself. He took note of the thinning blond hair and blue eyes and could certainly see a resemblance to Sir Jeor in the man before him.

“Certainly, sir. I would be glad to be of service to you.”

“Thank you, Lieutenant…”

“Snow, Jon Snow, sir.”

"Thank you, Mr. Snow,” the older man said then and he walked away after handing Jon the note.

Once Jon returned to the frigate, he went to hand the letter over to his captain. Sir Jeor seemed eager to read his son’s words without an audience and Jon quickly excused himself. Regardless, he had been upset by rumors from the wherryman that the frigate was being sent to the African station. He hoped they were not true and simply gossip. Such a mission would last two years at least. He sought out Dr. Seaworth, who was the captain’s particular friend, in the gunroom to see if there was any truth to the rumor and was relieved to learn from him that they were bound back to the Mediterranean instead. Davos further shared with Jon in confidence that they would probably be stopping in Gibraltar and his heart began pounding with excitement at once. In his joy, Jon got a bit ahead of himself.

“May I write to Sansa, do you think, sir? And tell her there’s a chance I may get to see her?”

“Are you daft, Mr. Snow? No, you may not write her about orders you know nothing about since I most certainly did not share such confidential information with you. Use your head, boy. If the captain announces our destination to the officers and crew, you may write to your miss about it. If not, you must keep your musings confined to her beauty and your longing for her…or whatever it is young lovers write about. I can’t remember anymore.”

Jon grinned at the older man’s response and begged his pardon for his rash suggestion to share naval movements in a private letter without proper permission. But, it didn’t stop his heart from singing in anticipation at the thoughts of seeing her once more.