King Jon Stark had seen the Wildlings when he and Ghost, his direwolf, took walks together in the forest. Ghost liked to hunt for his food, and Jon liked to get away from the confines of Winterfell and ruling and spend some time in the fresh open air.
On this particular day, the sun was beaming through the trees and early morning snow had freshly covered the land. Ghost was somewhere ahead of him, but not too far should Jon need assistance, and there were two guards following a distance behind.
Even when he was alone he was never truly alone. But he was lonely, and only there were only few he could trust.
Finding trustworthy allies who weren’t plotting behind your back for another cause was difficult enough, but having friends was even harder. Was a King every truly allowed to want things for himself? To be himself?
It was a question he came up against time and time again. A question that so far was a resounding no. A King’s life was always with the Realm in mind. A King worked for the people and did what was best for them. It was what he’d learned from his father as Warden in the North, and it was what he’d learned from his brother, the King in the North.
Both were dead now.
Enemies. They were everywhere, around every turn, and in every corner. You just had to learn how to sniff them out. And after all the death, all the war, and all the betrayals, Jon hoped he was able to do that well enough now.
Suddenly, one of the guards shouted, jarring the wolf king from his musings, and he looked up, hearing them running towards him and he saw a flash of furs. Long and gray and black, stark against the vibrant red hair peeking out of the top. They turned and Jon’s breath caught. A woman. He hadn’t expected a woman. Nor one so beautiful at that. Skin as pale as the snow, red lips, and a delicate sloped nose. Their eyes met and Jon took a step in her direction, wanting to see the color of them, and then stopped when his guards rushed past him.
He shouted at them to stop. They did, albeit reluctantly.
“Leave her,” Jon said and whistled for Ghost lest his direwolf come across her and think to rip her to shreds.
She made it up over the crest of the hill and was gone from sight. Jon stood there, staring at that spot for quite some time. His guards rambled onto him about the Wildlings and how they needed to learn not to cross further boundaries. They needed to stay away for what if they decided to infiltrate Winterfell?
“They have giants, Your Majesty!” one of them exclaimed. Clearly, he was put out by not being able to give chase.
Jon nodded absently, his mind filled with the vision of loveliness he’d just seen.
After a while, he and Ghost headed back to the castle.
“Something must be done about the Wildlings, Your Grace,” Lord Royce said the next morning during a council meeting.
Jon rubbed at his chin as he leaned back in his chair at the front of the Great Hall. He thought of the woman he’d seen the day before. He’d thought of her all day and dreamt of her the night before. In his dreams, he met her in the woods and though he beckoned her closer, she would not come. He’d pleaded with her, yet still she would not come. Instead, she’d stood there, shrouded in the shadows, unmoving,
This was what he’d been reduced to; a mere milksop, dreaming of a woman he didn’t even know. Longing for her in his dream because even after the parade of women the neighboring lords had sent his way, even after the not-so-subtle urging of his friend, the King in the South, Tyrion Lannister, he still would not wed.
It wasn’t that he was opposed to it. Well...perhaps a little. But he knew what his duty was; he knew that he had to continue the Stark line because Gods knew his sister Arya wouldn’t, and Bran was unable to given his crippled state. His other siblings, sadly, were dead now.
The thought of children rather warmed him. Often, he indulged in the possibility, of a brood of wolf pups with gray eyes and dark hair. Aye, he could fill Winterfell with Starks and make his parents proud. They would have wanted them all to be happy. To carry on and fill Winterfell with family of their own.
While Bran remained in Winterfell with him, Arya was exploring the world. Gods only knew where she was now and when she’d be back.
“Your Grace,” Lord Royce said, interrupting his thoughts.
“We should send some men to push them back to the wall, let the Night’s Watch take care of them,” Lord Karstark said.
“Or kill them,” Lord Umber suggested.
“We’ll not kill them,” Jon said, thinking of red hair and a pert nose.
“Then what exactly do you plan to do about the problem?” Lord Umber demanded.
“Perhaps make friends?” he suggested lightly, knowing they’d never go for that. The Wildlings didn’t mingle with kneelers, and kneelers certainly did not mingle with Wildlings. One group was too full of themselves and the other too uncivilized.
The Northern Lords looked at Jon as though he had gone mad.
Perhaps he was. One look at a beautiful woman and all that loneliness he’d done so well ignoring had come raging to the forefront.
“We’ll talk more on it,” Jon finally said. “Just not now.”
“But--” Lord Glover protested.
“I said not now,” Jon said firmly and got to his feet. He left without a word and went in search of Ghost.
He was eager for another walk in the woods.
Sansa Ryder, Queen-Beyond-the-Wall of the Wildlings, spied the man his people called King Jon coming closer with his direwolf. Lady, her own direwolf beside her, growled.
“Quiet,” Sansa said softly to her.
Lady quieted, yet remained at attention.
Once King Jon was within shouting distance, Sansa stood up from the hill she was crouched upon, the same one she’d been chased from just the day before while she’d been hunting for meat. Lady had been somewhere, making her own kill, and Sansa had been glad for it. With the king’s direwolf and hers, there could have been quite a fight had they come across one another without their masters to control them.
“Wildling!” one of his kneelers shouted.
King Jon held up a hand, his gaze on hers. His other hand went down to his direwolf, and he muttered something that made it stay by his side. That didn’t stop the white direwolf from baring its fangs though. Lady did, too, not one to be outdone.
He was beautiful; there was no denying that. With his black curly hair, plump lips, and rounded nose, he was a pretty man. But he was a kneeler and his men would kill her on the spot given the chance. Her people had been killed by kneelers in the past, and she didn’t trust them. Not one whit. But she also currently needed them. And they didn’t know it yet, but they needed her and her people, too.
“King Jon,” she shouted.
The king looked stunned to be called thus.
“You know my name,” he shouted back.
She smirked. “Observed you. How else?”
King Jon ducked his head and she thought perhaps there was a bit of a smile on his face. He looked up again. “What do you want?”
“Why, an audience with the King in the North of course.”
He stepped forward. “Will you come closer then?”
“Your Majesty!” his men cried in outrage in unison.
She heard him curse as he bowed his head in their direction. Then he looked back up at her. “Do you have a weapon, my lady?”
“I’m no lady,” she said proudly. Naming her direwolf as such was a jest. A lady was not something she’d ever be. But she could be as fierce as Lady, and she could hunt and protect her people, and that’s what she strove to do now. Protect them all.
She moved her furs aside to show him the sword at her side. “There it stays.”
“You’ll have to do better than that.” He stepped forward and pointed to the bottom of the hill. “You place your sword there and so will we.”
Her eyes darted behind him to his men. “All of them?”
King Jon nodded. “All of them.”
“What do you think, Lady?” she asked softly.
Lady growled softly and pawed at the muddy snow.
“Aye, I think it is worth a try,” she murmured. She pointed to Jon and his men. “You all first. I am outnumbered after all.”
“You’ve got a great beast at your side.”
“So do you.”
“Fair point,” he said.
She could hear the grumbling and protests of his men as he waved them forward to join him at the bottom of the hill. He said nothing, and they did what they were told.
When all weapons were dropped, Sansa and Lady made their way down and she tossed her sword among theirs.
She and King Jon were up close now.
“I didn’t think you Wildlings acknowledged Kings,” he said sotto voce. It was a nice voice when not shouting from a distance. And he was prettier up close, too. She’d assumed his eyes were brown, but they were not. They were grey and piercing. Sansa felt as though he could see right to her soul.
It disturbed her that he made her a bit nervous. Men didn’t make her nervous. Especially not men like him - Kings. Kneelers. She sneered at them. And now she needed them.
“We don’t,” she said. “I didn’t think Kings gave audiences to Wildlings.”
“We don’t,” he returned. “What do you want?”
His dark brows raised. “From?”
“White Walkers. Have you ever heard of them?”
He frowned. “Stories here and there. They’re not real, surely?”
She pursed her lips together. “They are. And my people have perished because of them. The Wall will not stand once they make their way to it, and I know they are marching for it now. I’ve seen them.”
“You expect me to believe that the walking ice creatures are real?”
“If you don’t believe me, then you put your people in danger, King Jon,” she said testily. “For when they come, they come with an army of the dead. And they can raise them from those fancy crypts you have in your castle.” She narrowed her eyes. “What do you have to gain from not believing me?”
“What do I have to gain from believing a story meant to scare children away from the Wall?”
“Your life,” she said. “And the life of your people.”