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Through the Eluvian

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Through the Eluvian
By J.C. Vascardi

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Act I, Part I

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Jon Snow and Robb Stark came to a stop in front of a large tree about half a mile from Winterfell. They’d gone out hunting, just the two of them, although they had taken Ghost, Grey Wind, Lady, and Summer with them. The latter two remaining in Winterfell when their owners, Sansa and Bran Stark, accompanied their father, Lord Eddard Stark, south to King’s Landing.

There had been a time when Eddard’s ward, Theon Greyjoy, might have asked to accompany them on their hunting trip, but those days were long gone. Because Theon knew that Jon’s and Robb’s so-called hunting trips weren’t really hunting trips as much as they were get away from the castle and make out trips. And thus, Theon, who preferred women, had no desire to be the third wheel on his foster brothers’ excursions.

Of course, despite being raised as Eddard’s ward, which had meant joining his children in their lessons with Maester Luwin and Ser Rodrik, there were things that Theon was not trusted with since he wasn’t a Stark. One of those things was the fact that Jon wasn’t Eddard’s bastard son, but was instead his trueborn nephew. But then, very few people knew that, as Eddard had kept the secret limited to himself, his wife, and their children for Jon’s protection.

There had been quite a few people who were surprised when Jon stayed at Winterfell when Eddard went south to be Hand of the King. Many had thought that Lady Catelyn Stark wouldn’t suffer the presence of her husband’s bastard since it was a well-known fact that she hated him. Although that was only because that’s what she wanted people to believe. Catelyn had played the role of embittered wife well, which had led to nobody questioning the fact that Jon was her husband’s bastard son.

Sitting down at the base of the tree, Jon grinned at Robb and said, “You’re much too far away.”

“Well, we’ll have to remedy that won’t we?” Robb asked, with a grin of his own, after he’d finished tying up the horses to a nearby tree.

While they tended to do more making out than hunting on these trips, they still brought horses with them to carry any prey they did take. Which they always made sure to do, as it simply wouldn’t look good to the people at the castle if they frequently went out on hunting trips and returned empty-handed. So they always made sure to come back with at least half a dozen rabbits, foxes, or similar small game, or even the occasional deer.

Kneeling on the ground between Jon’s legs, Robb grinned at his secret cousin, before their lips met in a kiss that was rather chaste at first, but got progressively less so as it continued. It wasn’t long before Robb was lying on his back on the ground with Jon on top of him, as they passionately made out.

They kept their relationship with each other a secret, not because they were both men, but because everybody back at Winterfell believed them to be half-brothers. Incest was frowned on by both the Old Gods and the Faith of the Seven, although only when it was between people who were considered to be too close in relation to marry, such as siblings. But since Jon and Robb were actually first cousins there was no impediment to them being together since it was an open secret that almost all of the Stark men since time immemorial were bearers, and thus could both sire and carry children.

Jon and Robb were so busy kissing one another that they didn’t notice the soft growling of Ghost, the other three direwolves having fallen asleep, when a wisp of black smoke appeared, with a woman stepping out of it a moment later.

“Well, well, what have we here?” the woman asked, which finally got the kissing pair’s attention, as they stopped what they were doing and looked over to see a strange looking woman.

She was unlike any woman either of them had ever seen. Long gray hair cascaded down her back, except where it was gathered up to look like two pairs of horns sticking out of the back of her head. She wore a dark red leather jerkin with black feathers at the shoulders, her arms and legs covered in steel armor.

By this point, all four of the direwolves were on their feet and growling. The woman, however, showed no fear as she simply rolled her golden-colored eyes and said, “Call off your dogs. I mean you no harm.”

Rolling off of Robb, Jon said, “Down Ghost, Lady,” even as Robb said, “Down Grey Wind, Summer.” The four direwolves sat down on their haunches, but it was clear that they were more than ready to leap to the defense of their humans at a moment’s notice.

“Who are you?” Jon asked.

“I’m known by many names,” the woman said. “The Witch of the Wilds, the Mother of Vengeance, Asha’bellanar, an old hag who talks too much… but you may call me Flemeth.”

“I’ve never heard of you before,” Robb said.

Throwing her head back as she laughed, Flemeth said, “I would be quite surprised if you had, Young Wolf.” Jon’s and Robb’s eyes both widened a bit at this woman’s use of Robb’s nickname that she should have no way of knowing. “I haven’t set foot in Westeros since before Aegon’s Conquest.”

“Before Aegon’s…” Jon said, “but that was…”

“298 years ago, yes,” Flemeth said. “I am a very old, old woman.”

“You can’t expect us to believe that,” Robb said.

“You are required to do nothing, least of all believe,” Flemeth said. “Shut one’s eyes tight or open one’s arms wide… either way, one’s a fool.”

“So you’re from Essos then?” Jon asked.

“No, I’m not. And before you ask, no I’m also not from the Summer Isles, Sothoryos, or even Ulthos. I spend the majority of my time on a continent that is so far outside of your known world that nobody has ever even heard of it. It’s called Thedas.”

“You’re right, I’ve definitely never heard of Thedas,” Robb admitted. “Of course, we barely know anything about Sothoryos and even less of Essos past the city of Qarth… Ulthos is almost legendary to most people, having only the second-hand and oftentimes hazy reports of travelers from Asshai to go by.”

“Thedas is over three-thousand miles southwest of Oldtown,” Flemeth revealed. “On the other side of the Sunset Sea, which in Thedas is known as the Amaranthine Ocean. There are a few other continents and islands between Thedas and Westeros, but nobody alive today in your known world has ever set foot there, as you simply don’t have the ships necessary for such a long voyage.”

“Nobody alive today?” Jon asked. “Are you saying that people in the past have visited this Thedas?”

“Yes, I am. The First Men began arriving in Thedas many millennia ago, although not by ship. Those that did journey to Thedas did so by magical means invented by an ancient empire known in Thedas as Elvhenan… you would know its people from your own legends, however. You call them the Children of the Forest.”

Before Jon or Robb could speak, Flemeth said, “Just as the First Men originated from Essos, so too did the Children of the Forest originate from another continent. In their case, Thedas. Although they’re not known as the Children in their native country. They’re called Elves in Thedas, which is now mostly ruled by the descendants of the First Men, following the fall of Elvhenan many thousands of years ago.”

“So did their history play out the same in Thedas as it did here?” Robb asked, although if he was honest he didn’t really believe anything that the old woman was saying any more than he believed Old Nan’s stories of White Walkers.

“No,” Flemeth said. “Unlike here, where the Children and the First Men formed an alliance against the Others—White Walkers according to your Old Nan—the Elves and the First Men did not. The First Men are at least partially responsible for the fall of Elvhenan and they then went on to enslave the Elves, which has created a good deal of enmity between the two races that lasts to this day.” Shaking her head, she said, “But I did not come here to give you a history lesson.”

“Why did you come here?” Jon asked.

“To offer you my assistance in claiming the Iron Throne,” Flemeth said before she shocked both young men by adding, “Jaeherys Targaryen.”

Flemeth laughed at the wide-eyed expressions on both men’s faces and couldn’t help but wonder if either of them was having difficulty controlling their bowels. “Yes, I know who you are, Jon Snow. But that shouldn’t surprise you. I did, after all, know Robb’s nickname, despite the fact that we’ve never met before today.”

“I…” Jon started, but then stopped. “I’m not planning on taking the Iron Throne.”

“You’ll change your mind when you find out what the Usurper’s son is up to down south,” Flemeth said.

“What is he up to?” Robb asked, suddenly worried for his sister and little brother. Sansa was engaged to be married to King Joffrey, after all, and Bran was fostering in King’s Landing and training as a knight under Ser Barristan Selmy while serving as Prince Tommen’s official companion.

Turning to the side, Flemeth pointed to the sky and said, “You see that raven flying towards Winterfell?” Both men nodded, although they could only just make out the form. “It brings dire news, Lord Stark.”

“I’m not Lord Stark,” Robb argued. “That’s my father, Lord Eddard Stark.”

“That’s where you’re wrong,” Flemeth said. “That raven brings news that King Joffrey had your father arrested for treason. Both Queen Cersei and your sister argued for mercy on his behalf, suggesting that he be sent to the Wall to take the black, but King Joffrey ordered his execution instead. So I’m afraid, Young Wolf, as of three days ago, you are Lord Robb Stark of Winterfell, Lord Paramount and Warden of the North.”

Shaking his head, Robb said, “No, no you’re wrong.”

“I can understand why you would wish that to be so,” Flemeth said. “However, I’m not wrong. The message that raven bears also says that your father’s body has been sent north for entombment in your family crypt… minus the head. Joffrey has already ordered that put up on display on the Traitor’s Walk of the Red Keep.”

“Eddard Stark may be many things but a traitor is not one of them!” Jon exclaimed.

“Oh, I agree,” Flemeth said. “His so-called conviction for treason has no merit. The only reason it happened at all was that he found out something that certain parties did not wish to come to light. Jon Arryn made the same discovery and he’s dead too, just as Eddard Stark now is.”

“No, no, you’re wrong. My father is not dead,” Robb said. “He can’t be.”

“I can see you need some time,” Flemeth said. “I’ll return to you tomorrow to present my offer of help. Until then, I’d suggest you both head back to Winterfell.”

Before either of them could say anything, Flemeth’s whole body began to glow. A moment later, Jon, Robb, and even the direwolves jumped backward in shock as the old woman turned into a large dragon and took to the sky.

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Jon and Robb didn’t linger long, despite their absolute shock of seeing an old woman transforming into a dragon. While neither of them wanted to believe a word out of Flemeth’s mouth, they couldn’t exactly deny that she was clearly a very powerful witch. None of the legends and myths that they’d ever heard of had talked about anyone being able to turn into a dragon. The closest example was that of Prince Aerion Targaryen, also known as Aerion Brightflame, who thought he was a dragon and that drinking wildfire would turn him into one. It hadn’t worked out well for him.

Having already felled some rabbits before they decided to take a break under the tree, they headed back to Winterfell. Although it was clear almost as soon as they rode through the gates that something was wrong. Entering the feasting hall of the castle, they found Rickon and a wheelchair-bound Arya trying to comfort Catelyn who had her head in her arms on the tabletop, sobbing her eyes out.

Jon and Robb shared a look, a sinking feeling in the pit of their stomachs as they realized with no small amount of horror that what Flemeth had told them was true. A fact which was confirmed a moment later, when Catelyn hearing footsteps looked up and upon seeing Jon and Robb cried out in anguish. Picking up the abandoned scroll from the table, Arya held it out in a shaking hand in Jon’s and Robb’s direction.

Nothing was said among the family for the next several minutes, as they all grieved the loss of their patriarch and worried for the safety of Sansa and Bran. Finally running out of tears, Catelyn sat up and grabbed Jon by the shoulders. “Promise me. Promise me that you’ll avenge him.”

Without any hesitation, Jon nodded and said, “I promise you, Aunt Catelyn, on both the Old Gods and the New, I will avenge him.” In his head, he added, ‘or die trying.’

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To be continued…