The wind was howling, no, screaming, with winter wind. Jagged teeth of ice bit into Jon's ace and caught in his hair which blew in every direction, obscuring his vision. But even still, in the distant horizon, he could make out five figures on horseback riding towards him. Though he couldn't see them clearly, they were approaching rapidly, the dread pooling in the pit of Jon's stomach told him so.
Do you seem them, Little One? Do you see them coming?
The words slipped into his ears like wind, filling his skull. It was neither male nor female; no, no, that wasn't true. Rather the voice was both male and female; it was musical and raspy, young and ancient, moral or divine all in one.
"What…what are they?" he asked the wind. It was cold, cold like the far reaches of Winterhold during Morning Star or like the peak of the Throat of the World at night. It was cold as the worst storms of the North.
Remember the stories of your childhood, Little One. You've run far from them, tried to distance yourself from them. But they haven't forgotten you; it’s time for you to remember!
"I don't want to be here!" The cold froze the words in his throat and the five figures were nearly on him. He looked down at his hip, desperate for his sword but instead, he found that he was completed nude and bare to the elements. The cracking of hooves against ice drew his attention back to the figures and he saw that they were closer still, probably less than half a mile away now with the middle rider the closest by far.
Soon you may not have a choice. Something seized him by the shoulder tightly and them, after only the smallest glance of a gnarled white hand, Jon woke up.
Jon woke up to a knocking on his bedroom door.
"Come in," he called and, with a groan, he hauled himself in a sitting position, pressing his palms into his eyes as he tried to rub the disturbing imagines of his dream from them. Jordis the Sword-Maiden entered already dressed in her daily armor, sword at her hip, and carrying a pitcher of steaming water which she sat down on the dress next to his washbasin.
"This is the third time I tried to wake you, my Thane. You must have been sleeping very deeply." Jordis puttered around his room, throwing up his curtains, opening his wardrobe to select a cloak for him, and straightening the ink, quills, and rolls of paper he kept on his desk. For a second he considered reminding her that she was his housecarl, not his servant. Twice a week, on Morndas and Fredas, he paid a maid to come in a clean Proudshire Manor thoroughly. He also made use of the local laundry service that picked up dirty laundry and delivered it back clean once a week. Day-to-day chores like cooking, washing dishes, and the removal garbage were shared between the inhabitants. But he ultimately bit his tongue, Jordis disliked being still and if straightening his clutter made her happy, then he was not going to tell her to stop.
"Something along those lines. Did you let Ghost out into the courtyard while I slept? Still, he usually wakes me at the break of dawn." Jon looked over to the pile of furs in the corner that was, quite unusually, not occupied by a giant white direwolf. Normally, Jon's morning routine began with his oldest companion leaping onto the bed and giving his ear a firm and enthusiastic nuzzling. But this morning the great white beast was nowhere to be seen.
"Don't you remember, my Thane? Sir Enzo took Ghost along with him when he left for the training exercise with Captain Aldis and the new recruits this morning."
"Oh, yes, I had forgotten. They’re doing tracking exercises, I believe."
"Correct, they'll be back by supper. Now, breakfast is nearly ready and you don't want to be late for the last session of court."
Jon raked a hand through his wild dark curls and tried to get the haunting image of the five mystery riders out of his mind, "I'll be down shortly, Jordis. Would you please set out a bottle of Honningbrew?"
This housecarl's eyebrows shot up, "Of course, but you feeling alright, my Thane? You look quite pale."
Jon forced a small grin, "I'm always pale." Internally he winced though, he rarely drank alcohol with his morning meal and when he did, it was always when he was stressed about something. Now she sure to believe him to be troubled.
The Sword-Maiden's face relaxed somewhat and her lips twitched upwards slightly, "That is true, but-"
"I'm fine, Jordis. I just need something to help me relax before I have to deal with all those nobles in court. I have to keep reminding myself that I am a noble as well, otherwise I'd avoid them all."
That wasn't a total lie and, judging by Jordis' snort of amusement, she believed him well enough. Though even still, she gave him one final contemplative look, before taking her leave and Jon was left on his own to get ready for the day. He brushed his teeth with a thick paste made from mint and corkbulb root, gave himself a quick scrub down of warm water and lavender soap, making a mental note to visit the bathhouse that evening as he did so. Proudshire Manor had its own private washroom, but after three weeks of dealing with the irritating intricacies of the court, Jon had developed an annoying pain in his neck, several actually, so a nice relaxing massage followed by a herbal soak would not be unwelcome.
After dressing in his finest, yet most practical clothing, donned his beloved Aetherial Crown (he ran his finger over one of the glistening gemstones as he did so, letting himself give a smile of remembrance to Katria), fixing his favorite dagger to his hip (caring a sword in court was considered bad manners but, as no true Nord went anywhere unarmed, daggers where accepted), and slipping a snow bear pelt cloak over his shoulders, Jon went to work on taming his dark curls into something presentable. As he did so, his reflection stared back at him from the mirror mounted above his dresser, so different and yet so similar to the one he saw when he first arrived in Skyrim. He had grown into his long features, which seemed to become more sharply delicate with every year that passed. He was still pale and slender, swift and graceful on his feet, though his body was now muscular, covered in scars and symbols. He was finally able to grow a beard, which he kept short and well-groomed. But, unfortunately, despite growing several inches in the past years, he still wasn't particularly tall, standing a whole four inches shy of six feet.
Above all else, his dark gray eyes, which seemed to be black in the right lighting, remained the same and it was with those same eyes that he took in his reflection. Jordis was right; he did look paler than normal with dark shadows under his eyes. What had that dream been about and why was he so unnerved by it? This was far from the first nightmare Jon ever had, it wasn't even the first one this month. Far from the worst either; so why did it stick with him? Something about those figures riding through the snow and ice towards him, something so familiar…
"It doesn't matter, it was just a dream," Jon assured himself.
By the time Jon came downstairs breakfast was ready and laid out on the table: snowberry griddle cakes drizzled with honey, sliced apples, and bacon. In addition, there was a single goblet filled with mead (not a whole bottle like he asked, Jon noted in amusement) which Jon downed in one long swallow as soon as he sat down. Jordis watched him with knowing eyes but said nothing, only slid a tankard of milk towards him. They ate quietly, for the most part, only interrupted when Jordis made a few comments about her plan to go up to Castle Dour and find some soldiers to spar with.
"Don't hurt anyone too badly now, their bodies or their egos," Jon remarked with a smile that Jordis returned, with the added addition of an exaggerated eye roll. She wiped her mouth on a napkin and passed him a stack of folded papers, "Your mail came."
"Ugh, who wants a piece of me now?"
"Oh, probably the same people who always do. I looked through some of them; someone wants you to clear out a cave, your moonstone mine sent its quarterly report, and-" she paused and grinned widely, clearly taking enjoyment out of what she was about to say, "Lord Hail-Hardened has invited you to come and celebrate Heart's Day with him and his family."
Jon groaned and dropped his forehead onto the table with a loud thunk as Jordis laughed openly now. Lord Carlimund Hail-Hardened was one of the four lords of The Pale; a good man, from what Jon had seen, happily married to wife, Vola, and a bit of a scholar. His eldest child, who was also his daughter and heir, Bjanela, was a young woman of six-and-ten. Jon had met her a few times before and, yes, she was lovely and intelligent; but Jon had no interest in marrying her. Her or any other of the daughters thrown at him by eager mothers and fathers.
"If you just picked someone and got married, all these invitations would top." Jordis paused again and hummed thoughtfully, "But then again, maybe not. Plenty of families would love to get the blood of the legendary Dragonborn intermixed with theirs, no matter how."
"You know, you have a particular skill for giving good advice. I always makes me feel so much better," Jon mumbled as he shifted through his mail. A couple of letters were from people wanted help with something or other (packs of wolves, bandits, groups of falmer coming to the surface, skooma dealers) and were willing to offer compensation for his time, those he'd send on to Vilkas to divvy out to the other Companions. Some were requests for magical consultations or hopeful young students wanting advice, which he would send most of to Tolfdir, though Jon did intend to answer concerning his work on spells that would clear the blood of foreign substances. Perhaps he and this mage could share notes. The report from his moonstone mine showed that it had been a profitable quarter and that the ore they had dug up was in the process of being refined and shipped out to the usual buyers. That was by far the best news Jon had heard all morning and he looked forward to receiving the reports from his other five mines even as he made a mental note to send out a shipment of the proper potions to each of them.
He went through the letters one by one, sorting them into different piles. He got a lot of mail; some business, some personal, some that were in-between the two. Most from people he knew, some from people he didn't. But they all had a reason for contacting him; this was also true of the letter at the bottom of the pile. Jon's breathe caught when he saw it and the red wax held it closed. On the red wax was a very familiar seal, the head of a direwolf.
The letter was from Winterfell.