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Battles to Come

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King in the North.  The words tasted bitter in his mouth.  He couldn’t bring himself to swallow them just yet but he could already feel the weight of them in the pit of his stomach, anchoring him to a life he was not sure he wanted.  The lords and lady who had proclaimed him their King may have thought that they were bestowing an honor upon him but Jon knew better.  No crown had been placed on his head but the minute the words had been uttered by Lord Manderly, Jon felt the plunge of the first knife piercing his body.  Instead of Thorne it was Manderly doing the stabbing with the sharp cry of White Wolf. And then the other knives came as echoes when the rest of the lords took on the chant of King in the North.  Jon had been there before, looking down at men who had elected him their leader without first asking his blessing.  Men who had asked to be led and then betrayed him when his leadership was not to their liking.

A bastard placed on the highest seat of power and leading highborn men.  Perhaps not unprecedented, he had heard the tale of Bael the Bard, the daughter of Winterfell and their bastard son who came to be Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North.  But those were only tales and even if they were true, Jon did not forget that Lord Eddard was survived by more children. Children who unlike him were trueborn.

King in the North.  He had turned to look at his sister and she in turn returned his attention with a smile.  But somehow it didn’t ring true.  Jon didn’t want to think about the uneasiness he felt when he thought about his sister.  He wanted to trust her, fully embrace her but there was a void between them he couldn’t do away with. That void grew larger whenever he thought about the Knights of the Vale and their sudden appearance at the bloody battle against the Bolton forces.  Jon had told his sister that he understood her secrecy.  But he didn’t.  The lives that could have been saved had they known that help was on their way.  He had made mistakes too, mistakes she had warned him about but— what’s the point nowDo I scold my sister, does she scold me?  She’s my sister, father’s daughter, I owe it to him and to Robb and Rickon and even to Lady Catelyn to watch over her.  She’s the only family I got.  And suddenly he remembered a skinny sword and its skinny wielder whose smile he wouldn’t need to second-guess.

“Jon, are you okay?”

Her voice startled him and guilt washed all over him.  Sansa is as much my sister as Arya. He turned and gave her a the semblance of a smile.

“I apologize my lady, I was lost in thought and did not hear you approaching.”  

Sansa’s lips began to form a word but she suddenly paused, thought the better of it and said:

“All the lords and lady have been accommodated in the empty chambers, I’m afraid their men won’t be as comfortable though.  Winterfell is not what it used to be, Ramsay saw to that.”

“Ramsay is gone but this castle will be restored and will endured even after we are gone. There will always be a Stark in Winterfell.” He said it almost to himself.

“A Stark in Winterfell,” she echoed softly and that brought him back.

“Winterfell is yours Sansa,” he said. “Please don’t ever think otherwise.”

Sansa made a move to speak but Jon interrupted her.  “I will lead because the real enemy is out there and a North united is the only way we can hope to survive the storm.  But I don’t for a minute forget that I am a bastard and my siblings true borns.  Winterfell is yours by right and Bran’s and Arya’s if they ever return.”

“And yours,” said his sister. 

He approached tentatively and briefly kissed her forehead. “I won’t usurp my siblings.”

“You didn’t take anything that was not offered, brother.” She said more coldly than she had intended. “The lords made you an offer you could not refuse.  I understand that. All I ask is that you don’t get yourself killed.”  She closed the gap between them and gave her brother a quick embraced and then turn and left without ever looking him the eye.

King in the North.  Jon never felt so lonely.