They arrive in the solar and have mulled wine brought to them as they settle down in their seats, with Bran's chair placed near the fire.
"Where have you been, Arya?," Jon asks.
Taking a deep breath, Arya regales Jon with everything that happened since their father's execution. The old feelings of witnessing her father's sham of being shown mercy come back ten fold as the screams of Sansa while she begged Joffrey not to whisper through her mind. But she tampers them down as she continues with how she was taken by Yoren and disguised as a boy to be escorted to the Night's Watch. She tells him of the men
As she explains this, Jon's face becomes etched in sadness at hearing what his beloved sister had to endure at such a young age.
She then explains how it was within that caravan she met Hot Pie and Gendry.
"Was that the man you were embracing in the courtyard?," Sansa interrupts. A curious look on her face as her younger sister's actions now make sense.
"Yes," Arya says.
Jon looks thoughtful for a moment before he turns to Arya. "I assume then that you don't know who his father is," he tells her.
He brow scrunches in confusion. "What does his father have to do with anything?," she asks confused.
"Because he is the bastard son of the late Robert Baratheon," he tells her point blank.
The Stark sisters look at him in utter shock.
As Arya thinks on Gendry, she can see the resemblance. Black hair, blue eyes, strong jaw... she's sure he is the spitting image of his father before Robert became king and got fat.
"And the queen knows?," Sansa asks Jon.
"She does," he replies calmly.
"And she didn't try and give him to her dragons?," Arya asks skeptically.
Jon gives her an exasperated look to which she simply raises her eyebrows in challenge.
"No," he deadpans.
"Why not?," Sansa asks. "Robert was the reason her family was murdered."
He shrugs casually. "When she found out, she didn't believe him at first then was suspicious that he'd try and follow in Robert's footsteps. But he told her he didn't even know who his father was until the red woman came for him. She told him that as long as he shows loyalty to our cause, as Orys Baratheon was loyal to his half brother Aegon, she saw no reason to blame him for his father's crimes. When he told her that he's a blacksmith, she decided he could help with the weapons and armor."
"Huh," Arya says, looking at Sansa who shares her surprise.
She can't help the snort that breaks free as she thinks on just how much more interesting the queen's company is.
Jon and Sansa look at her when they hear the sound and silently indicate for her to share.
She shakes her head and smirks at them in amusement as she says, "We're one hell of an army, aren't we? Bastards, cripples, exiles, eunuchs, freed slaves.... It appears disregarded ones have come to take over."
Sansa smirks in response to that while Jon barks a laugh and nods in agreement.
"Aye, I never really thought of it like that," he says with a thoughtful smile.
They sit in silence for a moment before Arya clears her throats to continue.
"But back to where I've been," she says. She then goes on to tell them how their group was captured and taken to Harrenhal, the horrible events that happened, how she became Lord Tywin's cup bearer, the deal she made with Jaquen escaping with Gendry and Hot Pie, taken in by the Brotherhood, how Gendry was taken by the red woman, her time with the Hound, when she came upon the Red Wedding.
At that, Sansa covers her mouth with her hand as she remembers what she was told about what they did to Robb. Jon's face becomes broken and pained as tears form in his eyes as he hears what Arya saw. Bran simply stares into the flames.
But Arya doesn't falter and continues on telling her tale about how she sailed to Braavos, what she did while there and what she learned. She's had to come to terms with the atrocities she witnessed in her short life over the years. Otherwise, she would have surely died.
"I tried to become Faceless, but I couldn't let Arya Stark go. So I left and came home" she says with a shrug.
Jon just stares at her with a surprised look with a hint of sadness to know. This is not the sister he left. Yet at the same time, she's still feisty Arya Underfoot.
He shakes his head to clear it before he focuses on Sansa when a thought occurs to him.
"I noticed Littlefinger was absent," Jon says casually.
"Did he finally crawl away?," he asks, looking between his siblings.
Arya gives a devilish smirk and looks to Sansa.
"He tried to get me to turn against you and have me dispose of Arya," she says vaguely.
Jon looks at her with his mouth agape for a moment before a fierce anger crosses his face.
"Is he in the cells?," he growls.
"No," Arya says, "he was executed on the grounds of treason and murder."
Jon is once again silent in shock as he looks from Arya to Sansa. Both give him unbothered expressions and he shakes his head at the two she wolves in front of him. He looks to Bran as well, but his brother's face is a blank canvas.
But, he sees the wisdom in their eyes and reluctantly understands that they had solid reasons to execute the man. He just wishes he'd been here to do it for them. No matter how much his sisters grow up, he'll always want to protect them as he was unable to do when they were young. But, he sees he's too late. They don't need his protection. They know how to protect themselves. Sansa with her words and mind, Arya with her cunning and sword. Together, they could become a titan of power. And that doesn't even include Bran with his abilities. It's a hard truth to swallow.
He shakes the sadness away and quickly nods his approval, not really caring that Baelish was dead, and moves on.
"And the Vale still supports us?," he asks Sansa.
She scoffs at that. "Of course they do. Lord Royce never liked Littlefinger and was only too happy to see him removed once he learned how it was he who killed Lord Arryn. Although, giving him title as Lord Protector of the Vale until Robin Arryn comes of age may have also contributed to his lack of opposition," she says smugly.
He smirks at his sister's tactics, cementing his previous realization.
"Now, do you want to explain why you referred to me as king?," Jon asks Sansa.
"Because it was the smart thing to do," she replies calmly, refusing to back down from the challenge in his eyes.
"Why haven't you told the lords?," he asks.
"Because Jon," she replies, her anger flaring to life, "I would not have been able to answer the unending questions and demands they would have thrown at me! You were not here, Jon. You don't know what they were accusing you of when I had to inform them that Daenerys Targaryen was bringing her entire host here along with her dragons. You didn't even bother sending me reports on your progress or your whereabouts or anything! The only raven I received from you was your declaration that you've bent the knee!," she explains hotly.
"If I had told them you'd bent the knee, I know there would be several of the lords who would have taken their armies and gone home. Army of the dead or not, their pride wouldn't have allowed it," she finishes as she practically yells at him.
Jon at least has the decency to look abashed at that.
"I'm sorry, Sansa. That wasn't my intent. But we need her armies and her dragons. And I could not swear an oath to two queens," he tells her, his eyes pleading for forgiveness.
She sighs at the look and tries to calm herself down.
"I understand that, Jon," she says firmly, "I really do but you cannot make such important decisions when you're the only one there. You may believe in her but the rest of us have nothing to go on. You cannot expect them to bend. You were chosen as king. You can be unchosen." Her words seem to reverberate through the room.
He thinks on that before meeting her eyes again.
"Perhaps that's best," he says as he looks to his younger brother, "now that Bran's back, he is the rightful heir of House Stark and the North."
Sansa can't help the small wince at that statement as she shakes her head. No, Bran won't be a lord of anything.
"I can't do that, Jon," he says in a flat tone.
Jon's brow scrunches in confusion at that.
"But, it's yours," he says, his eyes flicking to Sansa in uncertainty before focusing on him again.
"I'm not meant to be the Lord of Winterfell. I'm the Three Eyed Raven now," his Tully eyes turning from the fire to look directly at Jon.
Jon's eyes squint at him briefly as he takes in this solemn young man before him. This wasn't the young boy he left behind when he went to the Wall.
"Can you explain that to me?," he asks Bran kindly.
"I'm the last true Greenseer," he tells him.
Jon's eyes widen slightly at that and he nods for Bran to continue.
"When I fell from the tower, I had dreams of a three eyed raven telling me I had to find it. I then began having dreams of other things," he explains as he gets a far away look in his eyes.
But his blue eyes snap back to Jon so suddenly, it's unsettling.
"I dreamt of father pleading with the king, his face etched in grief," he says then turns to Sansa. "I saw you crying yourself to sleep at night." Sansa goes rigid at that, not knowing which night he's referring to, but says nothing as he then turns to Arya. "You kept silent and held your secrets hard in your heart." Arya's eyes widen for a moment, tilting her head as she examines her brother.
He turns back to Jon and says, "I looked north and saw the Wall shining like blue crystal. I saw you sleeping alone in a cold bed, your skin grew pale and hard as all memory of warmth fled from you." Jon's takes a sharp breath through his nose at that as he remembers those last moments in the snow. The way Bran talks so is foreign to him, it immediately sets him on edge.
Either Bran does not notice the way they're all currently looking at him or he simply doesn't care as he continues. "I saw father in the crypts when he was beheaded. I dreamt of the ocean flooding Winterfell and drowning the people, including Ser Rodrick. Then the Ironborn came and took Winterfell, killing everyone," he tells Jon.
Jon feels the hairs on the back of his neck begin to stand up as Bran continues on, telling him about Jojen and Meera Reed coming to aid him, fleeing Winterfell and heading North while the wildling woman took Rickon elsewhere.
"We saw you beyond the Wall," he tells Jon.
Jon's eyes widen at that and he looks to Sansa and Arya. Apparently, he didn't tell them that either as they look just as shocked as him.
"Where?," he asks.
"When you were fighting the brothers who had betrayed the Watch," he says.
Jon winces at that, wishing Bran hadn't had to see such things.
"Why didn't you come to me?," he asks.
"You would have taken me back with you. And that was not my path. I had to learn," he says in reply. His eyes once again get a far away look.
"And... did you?," Jon asks hesitantly.
Bran nods. "Yes," he looks at Jon again before saying, "don't you remember, Jon? I've told you this before."
Now, Jon has absolutely no idea what Bran's referring to and can feel himself starting to panic as his brother looks at him with those Tully blue eyes that are both empty and full of an unfathomable amount of wisdom.
"You had wondered if I'd always had three eyes and I told you not before the crow," he says calmly.
Jon scrambles to remember where he's heard that but can't grasp it fully.
Seeing his struggle, Bran gives what he believes is a smile but it doesn't reach his eyes.
"I like it in the dark. No one can see you, but you can see them. But first, you have to open your eyes. See? Like this," repeating the words he'd said as he reaches forward to poke Jon's forehead between his eyes with his forefinger.
Jon reels away from the hand as the dream comes back to him. He was Ghost and Bran was a growing weirwood. He looks at Bran in disbelief and shakes his head as he struggles to find words.
"But...it was a dream!," he says in shock, his chest heaving.
Bran observes him for a moment before saying, "But not all dreams are just dreams."
Jon can't help but gape at Bran, not knowing what to say.
Sansa and Arya remain silent as they watch warily. They knew their brother could see things but to be able to communicate through dreams...
Bran keeps his eyes on Jon as he says, "And it's true, I was able to see many things in the dark without being noticed. Until I made a mistake."
He looks away at that. "I didn't hide myself well enough and he saw me."
The way he says that makes Jon break out in goose flesh.
"Who?," he asks quietly but for some odd reason, he believes he knows who Bran is referring to.
Bran cocks his head to the side as he regards Jon for a long moment.
"The same one who brought back those you could not save at Hardhome," he says.
Jon gasps at that. "How... how did you know that?"
"As I said, I see many things now, Jon," he deadpans as he looks back at the fire.
Jon looks wide eyed to Sansa. Lips thinned, she gives him a nervous look before her gaze returns to her younger brother.
"But, I'm learning to control myself more. I'm getting stronger," Bran says as he continues to stare into the fire.
"What do you mean?," Jon asks warily.
"It appears he is now connected to me and I to him... in a way. And I must become better than him if I wish to help defeat him," he says ominously.
Without another word, Bran looks down as he begins to roll the sleeve of his tunic and cloak up to reveal his forearm.
A perfect hand print is burned onto his skin.
Jon can't help the horrified gasp as he looks at the exposed flesh. He leans forward and grabs Bran's arm to examine it more closely. He looks back up at Bran who returns his stare with a blank acceptance. His eyes then turn to his sisters who are staring at the mark as if it were going attack them.
"How?," Jon rasps.
Bran shrugs as he says, "I thought I was spying on him when it turns out he was spying on me and took advantage of my distraction. It gave him access to where we were staying, killing the Three Eyed Raven, the Children who were there..." His voice dies for a moment and his eyes become sad as he swallows. "And Hodor and Summer," he whispers.
Jon can see the agony over the loss of the simple man but especially over Summer.
Sansa swallows hard and looks at her lap, knowing just how awful losing your direwolf is.
"I'm so sorry, Bran," Jon whispers.
"The ink is dry. The past cannot be rewritten," Bran replies.
Jon sits back in his chair and scrutinizes the crippled man before him as Bran keeps eye contact with him.
"So you see, Jon, I cannot be Lord of Winterfell. I must continue to watch," he says vacantly.
Jon stares at him for a long time. He looks first to Sansa who gives him a nod then to Arya who shrugs her shoulder. He looks back to Bran and with a small sigh, nods in acceptance.
They sit in silence for a moment when someone knocks on the door.
Arya gets up and opens it to find Brienne standing there with Tyrion Lannister, Daenerys Targaryen, and the other members of her small council behind her.
"Ah," Tyrion says looking from Sansa to Jon, "I hope now is not a bad time."
"Come in, my lords, Your Grace," Sansa says stiffly as she rises from her seat, Jon rising as well.
Arya moves to the side as the group enters the room and takes their seats, Brienne shuts the door again to resume her position outside.
Once everyone is once again seated, Sansa looks straight at Daenerys.
"Your Grace, I did not address my brother as king in any a sign of disrespect," she begins but the small queen raises her hand to stop her.
"I can understand why you did it, Lady Sansa. I will admit that the circumstances in which Lord Jon declared his loyalty to me were not ideal," she says, her eyes flick to Jon before they bore into Sansa's. Jon's cheeks flush at the statement but his face remains neutral.
"I do plan on bringing the North into the fold, but I promise I am not here to conquer the North. I am here to save it," the queen tells her with conviction.
Sansa's brow rises slightly at the vehemence in the queen's lilting voice.
She quickly glances at Jon who gives a slight nod in confirmation then looks back to the queen.
"I hope that is true, Your Grace," she replies coolly, her face impassive.
Sansa watches the queen's eyes narrow slightly as she looks at her.
"If I was truly here to conquer, would I have emptied most of the grain stores we hold and brought them as an offering? Would I have brought my entire force to this cold land, when my dragons would have easily worked?," she asks as she continues to scrutinize Sansa.
Her heart skips a beat at the mention of the dragons, but she tries not to let it show.
"But I feel that is exactly what you are doing by coming here, expecting the North to simply follow their king and bend alongside him without complaint. Unfortunately, the Northern lords are too focused on the matters of the living instead of on the dead. The possibility of going back into the fold to play the game of thrones is one they will not accept," she says coolly. Arya silently nods her head in agreement.
The queen purses her lips and glances at Tyrion who looks at her in thought as the wheels in his head turn to find a solution.
Surprisingly, she then turns to Jon. He heaves a great sigh and looks at her grimly.
"Would it help them to know that I am not here to conquer because I too have seen the army of the dead?," she asks him quietly.
A pained look flashes in Jon's eyes as he takes in the queen before him while Tyrion winces slightly. Missandei and Jorah give the queen sad looks. Varys simply lowers his eyes to his lap for a moment.
The Stark sisters exchange a suspicious glance at the reaction of the others and look back to the queen. Bran looks right at the queen, already knowing why her third dragon is not with her. He saw how it fell from the sky.
"I don't think you need to tell them the details," Tyrion says as the queen looks back at her Hand, "but if the look my brother gave when you told him the number is any indication, then yes."
She looks back to Jon who silently nods.
A chill runs down Sansa's spine at the conversation held before her.
"You saw them?," Arya asks with a calculated look in her eyes.
The queen looks straight into her eyes and nods. "I did," she says.
"How many?," Arya asks.
"At least one hundred thousand from what I saw. But I'm sure there are more," she says grimly.
Horror washes over Sansa and she sees that Arya feels the same as she reads the truth on the queen's face.
She looks at Arya, the young she wolf quickly regains her composure as she purses her lips and gives a nod.
"That should get them to stop their nonsense," she says as she looks at Sansa.
"We will do so at the evening meal," Sansa tells the queen.
She nods in return.
"Now, about the situation with the North coming back into the fold," Sansa says to the queen. All eyes in the room focus on her.
"I think it would be wise to wait," she tells them.
The queen obviously does not favor that idea if the thinning of her lips is any indication.
Tyrion clears his throat as he watches the queen.
When her purple orbs settle on him, he says, "Perhaps we can come to a compromise of sorts."
"And what would that be?," the queen asks.
"The North does not wish to return to play the game of thrones, is that correct Lady Sansa?," he asks looking now at her.
"Yes," she says, unable to see where he was going with this.
"What if they were part of the kingdoms simply in name for the time being? Should you win the war against the dead, they will be given the option of sending their men to face my sister," he says looking back to the queen.
Varys looks thoughtful at that and nods slowly as it plays out in his mind.
"That could work, Your Grace," the Spider says.
"And if I need the men to face your sister and they still refuse? What then my lord Hand?," the queen asks.
Tyrion thinks a moment before he looks at the queen with a grim acceptance.
"Then you bring her fire and blood," he deadpans.
Sansa sees the displeasure on Jon's face of that idea but it quickly changes to grim acceptance.
The silver queen's brow raises at that and she then looks at Jon who gives her a silent nod of approval. She purses her lips before looking at Sansa.
"Is that acceptable?," she asks Sansa.
"I... believe it is, Your Grace," she says slowly.
"Then it is done," she says, rising from her seat, the others following suit.
"We shall see you at the evening feast," she tells them before she and her council exit the room.
When the queen's company leaves, Arya turns back to Jon. It was his turn to tell her what happened in the time they were separated.
"How were you able to leave the Night's Watch, Jon?," Arya asks him.
He gives her an incredulous look before turning to Sansa who looks at him sympathetically with sad eyes.
"I didn't tell her. I wasn't sure if you'd have wanted me to and it wasn't my story to share," the red head replies softly.
Jon heaves a great sigh and nods at Sansa before turning back to Arya, who's now rigid after the exchange.
"What?," Arya asks forcefully.
"You know that the vows are meant for life," he states slowly.
She nods her head, watching him warily.
"Mine no longer applied because my watch ended," he says softly.
"What do you mean?," she asks timidly, refusing to understand what he's trying to tell her.
"I was murdered by my brothers, Arya," he says, swallowing hard.
She gapes at him and shakes her head in disbelief.
She looks to Sansa who gives a single nod, confirming that it's true.
"Why?," she asks, emotion clogging her throat at the thought that her beloved brother had almost been gone from this world forever.
"They didn't agree with my decision to let the Wildlings through the gate in order to keep them from becoming more soldiers for the dead," he explains, "so they stabbed me."
She blinks back the tears as she examines the haunted look in her brother's eyes and takes a steadying breath as rage consumes her.
He slowly undoes the ties to his tunic and pulls his shirt down.
The hooked scar she sees makes her want to vomit and a choked noise comes from her as the tears blur her vision. She looks at her brother's face for a moment then jumps out of her seat and crawls into his lap, holding him tightly.
"The Red priestess, Melisandre, the one who took Gendry... brought me back," he says. His eyes drop for a moment as he swallows hard before looking back up to meets hers.
She thinks of how she had planned on killing the red woman who took her friend. But it appears that won't be necessary since the woman returned her brother. She wraps her arms around his neck and squeezes.
"I'm glad she did, Jon," she whispers, her voice breaking.
His arms wrap around her like a vice and he buries his face in her shoulder, taking a shuddering breath as he tries to control his emotions.
"I disagree sometimes. But seeing you all makes it better," he says hoarsely.
She nods and pulls back to look at his face. His eyes are red and shiny but his cheeks are dry.
"Did they pay?," she asks through gritted teeth, wiping the wetness off her cheeks with her sleeve.
"Aye. I had them hanged as traitors and cut the rope of their platform myself," he says, a muscle in his jaw ticking at the memory.
Seeing how her brother is slowly shutting down, she clears her throat and racks her mind on something she say to change the topic.
"So," she says lightly after a moment, moving off his lap and back into her chair, "the queen is interesting."
Jon looks at her sharply as he tries to read her expression, which in turn gives Arya the answer she needed: Jon is somehow involved with the foreign queen.
"How so?," he asks cautiously.
She shrugs in response and begins twirling the dagger through her fingers as she answers, "I'm simply intrigued by the company she keeps."
Jon smirks slightly. "Aye, but they're all strongly loyal to her."
"And you?," she asks.
His eyes narrow as he realizes the trap she laid and purses his lips in thought.
"Aye, I put myself in that category," he replies slowly.
Arya has to fight hard to hide her shock and is able to see the quick flash of it in Sansa's eyes when she looks over.
"Why?," Sansa asks him forcefully.
Jon's eyes drop to his lap. "She saved us," he responds quietly.
Arya's mind runs quickly through the information she's gained since their arrival when it snags on something.
"There were only two dragons," Arya says. "I thought she had three."
A pained look mixed with guilt crosses Jon's face as he raises his eyes to hers.
"A group of us went beyond the Wall to retrieve a wight so we could prove to Cersei that what's coming for us all is real," he begins slowly.
The two sisters look at Jon with disbelieving outrage upon hearing that he would do something so reckless.
He notices their expressions and holds his hands up to placate them. "I know," he says, "It wasn't wise but it was the only way to make them believe." He looks at them apologetic expression in hopes they will understand the necessity of such a foolish excursion.
Sansa takes a deep breath in an attempt to release her rising anger and gestures for him to continue.
Arya does the same and tucks her hands away to keep from leaning over and smacking Jon upside the head like she did to Gendry.
"We managed to capture one but it alerted the others and they surrounded us. It forced us to take refuge on a small island in the middle of a frozen lake," he says.
"But I'd sent Gendry back before that happened in an attempt to request for aid. He managed to make it to Eastwatch and sent a raven to her at Dragonstone and she came. She went against her advisors' council to just leave us there and brought all three of her dragons to save us," his voice getting quieter as he continues.
The two women exchange glances at the admiration they both can hear in his voice while regaling them with the events they took place.
Clearing his throat, he says, "The Night King threw an ice blade that caught the one she named Viserion in the chest. It fell out of the sky and sunk below the surface of the lake." His voice holds a note of profound sadness as he finishes the story.
Sansa is horrified at what she's hearing. Regardless of what she thinks of this queen, she can't imagine what it had been like to see that. To know that even these mighty beasts can be brought low by this enemy terrifies her.
Arya feels the sadness coming off Jon and can't help but feel her own melancholy. The only dragons in existence have now gone to two.
Jon heaves a long suffering sigh and looks between his beloved sisters with an earnest expression.
"All I ask is that you allow her the chance to prove herself before you judge her," he says to them.
Sansa sighs as well and gives him a curt nod. "But if I don't like her, that's it, Jon," she tells him sternly.
He nods in agreement to that and looks at Arya.
"We'll see," she says vaguely.
"She will succeed. For fire and blood are what's needed in this war and the dragon must have three heads," Bran says cryptically as he stares at the flames. The others share wary glances at that statement but say nothing as Bran looks at Jon once more.
"I must speak with you later this evening. It's time you know," he says.
Again, his brother's words instantly put Jon on edge.
"Know what?," he asks.
Bran looks him over for a moment before answering.
"Something that could help us... or hurt us depending on how you perceive it," he says.
"And you can't tell me now?," he asks slightly irritated at how vague his brother was being.
Bran gives another empty smile and shakes his head.
"I believe you have other matters to attend to. This can wait until after the evening meal. Besides, I need to go to the weirwood," he replies. Arya nods and comes to stand behind Bran.
Jon studies his brother for a moment before rubbing his hand down his face and giving a tired "alright" before heading out the door.
As he makes his way down the halls, his mind goes over everything his siblings told him.
Dragons, greenseers, assassins, dead armies... if he weren't living it, he'd never believe such things would somehow be associated with each other.
What interesting times these were.