The bark of the wood began to make small spirals as it was carefully stripped off. In truth, this branch was just too big. He should have found a different one. Rickon tossed the branch over his shoulder and grabbed the last branch he had collected. Rolling it between his fingers, he found the thickness much better. Carefully, he sliced a notch into the end and inserted one of his sharpened rocks. He began tying it together tightly when a twig snapped behind him. He glanced over at the familiar wildling woman before turning back to his work.
“Are you planning on supplying an army with arrows?”
Rickon rolled his eyes at the woman and turned to face her. She always seemed at ease to him, like she was entirely comfortable where they were. Skagos was not kind to its inhabitants, getting there alone was hell. Now, they were situated in a valley of jagged mountains that looked like they hadn’t been carved properly. Osha was still looking at him expectantly.
“I want to go hunting,” he said simply, returning to the arrow in his hands. He carefully added fletching onto one end of it.
Osha sat down across from him, picking up one of the completed arrows. Rickon had made at least fifty. It was cathartic for him. After spending five years on this island, Osha and he had become guests to the Magnars of Kinghouse. However, Rickon felt uncomfortable in the walls there and often took it upon himself to leave without reason. Osha would always follow him after a while or seek him out after a few days. It had been nearly a week this time. He had Shaggydog, though. Somewhere out there his direwolf was prowling, hunting on his own and keeping watch for any dangers.
“And how many times do you plan on missing?” Osha asked him, testing out the bonds on the arrows.
“None,” Rickon said, finishing the arrow he was working on.
“Then, you’ll be taking just the one,” Osha said. She gathered up all the arrows that were scattered about his feet. “And I’ll be expectin’ some meat to dig into tonight.”
Biting back a protest, Rickon watched as Osha walked back to Kingshouse. He knew what she meant. He needed to return tonight for some reason or another, and she was testing him for some reason. Now, Rickon had but one arrow for his hunt. Shaggydog could help some, but he was more like to destroy prey past the point of consumption. Still, Rickon needed to set off soon if he was going to make it back before sundown.
“Shaggy!” he called. He allowed himself one call to his wolf per hunt. If not, he was going to scare off prey. A massive, pure-black direwolf came out of the underbrush, coming up to Rickon’s side. He placed a hand in Shaggydog’s fur, mussing it slightly. Then, he set off to find his prey.
On Skagos, Rickon was always sure-footed. He could travel through all the hills, valleys, and mountains without ever losing his step. Of course, Rickon had been here for years. It was the familiarity of the place that made it possible. Winter had set in long ago, covering Skagos in a layer of snow. The cold never bothered Rickon, though. He owned no clothing that was lined in fur and had refused a pair of boots with fur lining when offered to him. Instead, he had a simple woolen doublet and leather jerkin that Osha had made for him once she figured he’d stopped growing for a while. He had a pair of boots for hunting and a pair for warmth that were almost untouched. He didn’t need furs. He had Shaggydog when he needed him.
Following an elk that he caught the trail of, Rickon followed as quietly and steadily as he could. Shaggydog would loop around to corner the animal, and he’d have a clear shot at it. After that, he’d have to chase it down quickly to make the kill. Rickon felt Shaggydog start to move away from him even though he couldn’t see his direwolf. He travelled along the set path, breaching the crest of a hill. Something caught his line of vision – something that didn’t belong there.
Docked quite a ways away from shore, a ship sat on the waves. It wasn’t moving any closer, nor was it moving any farther. It appeared to be catching frost, some of the rigging looked worse for wear and Rickon could see ice beginning to form on the wood.
That was extremely out of place for Skagos. No one came here. Even when people were sent, more often than not they returned to the mainland as bones than one piece. And that was if they returned at all.
Rickon turned away from the ship and quickly went back to the trail of the elk. Shaggydog was fast-approaching it, and he needed to get on the scene before Shaggydog made the elk his own meal. At the next glimpse of the elk, Rickon nocked an arrow into his bow. His one shot – he’d have to make it count. He took a few more steps forward, set his aim to avoid a long chase, and loosed the arrow.
Without waiting to see if it landed, Rickon raced forward, pulling out his knife. The elk had belatedly tried to run. It seemed to be in shock that an arrow had sprouted from its neck. Rickon quickly moved to slash its neck and ended the elk’s life. He pulled the arrow out of the neck of the beast when he heard a low growling coming from behind him.
“Go hunt, then!” Rickon called to Shaggydog. “Quickly.”
Rickon examined all the trees in the area. There was one that looked like it’d have strong enough boughs to support the weight, but it was a small distance away. Grabbing the hind legs of the elk in his arms, he slowly but surely made his way under the branch. Then, Rickon set himself to tying the elk’s hind legs up, making sure to knot the rope securely. He tied the other end of the rope to a sizeable rock for weight, then tossed the rock over the branch. With all of his body weight, Rickon managed to just barely lift the elk enough to allow the blood to drain out of its neck.
Once the blood was drained, Rickon lifted the elk further until it was a few feet in the air. He tied the remainder of the rope around a nearby tree and waited for Shaggydog to return.
About five minutes later, the direwolf came back to the felled elk. He immediately went to smell the blood on the ground before Rickon called him over and forced him to bear the load of his kill. Shaggydog came reluctantly, and Rickon secured the elk to his direwolf. Together, Rickon and Shaggydog made their way back to Kingshouse.
He dumped the elk off in the kitchens, loudly yelling that if anyone wanted dinner, they could cook it themselves because he had done the hard work already. Osha met him halfway up to the stairs.
“So found yourself a kill or just gave up early?” she asked, crossing her arms and blocking his path.
Rickon rolled his eyes at her. “I’m covered in blood, woman. What do you think I was doing?”
He pushed past her, attempting to smear some of the drying blood on her. She threw her head back and laughed, letting him through.
“I’ll cook up your cut for you, m’lord,” she called sarcastically. “As befits a kitchen wench like meself. You’ll have to find some other blushing maid to bring you hot water for your bath.”
Resisting the urge to tell her off, Rickon went to his designated quarters. While the people of Skagos were technically subjects of Winterfell, Rickon expected no special treatment for his surname. Osha had pulled some sort of magic trickery, making her a subject of desire for the Magnars and earning Rickon some sort of status in Kingshouse. Still, all the men here refused to kneel before him, and Rickon would accept no man who dared.
His quarters were sparsely decorated. Extra sets of clothes were piled into a trunk, and a separate trunk kept the furs that people had gifted to him. He used none of them save for a cloak on occasion. Rickon lit a fire for a small amount of warmth before he stripped down to take a quick bath. His bath was one of necessity rather than luxury. He scraped at his scalp to get the blood out of it, and rubbed out the other splotches of blood on his body. Then, he went over his body once more before drying off and putting a different set of clothes on.
After pulling on his boots, he began walking down to the kitchen while buttoning his doublet, knowing that Osha was only somewhat likely to cook a meal for him. While Osha still harbored some maternal feelings toward him, she was also a free woman and didn’t take lightly to being treated as anything but free. Rickon rounded the turn into the kitchen and found Osha biting into a cooked piece of meat.
“Good, then?” Rickon asked, walking past her on his way off.
“Good enough that I actually made you yours.” Osha used her chin to point over at another plate.
Rickon settled down next to her, grabbing a chunk of meat and sinking his teeth into it. He glanced over at the woman beside him, feeling a growing sensation of comfort in his chest. She had been the only mother he had ever known, and he still found that he rather enjoyed getting special treatment from her, even if he was cold to her sometimes.
With a full belly, Rickon found himself salting a few other cuts of meat and storing them in small bags in case he decided to run off again. He could usually spend a few days hanging around Kingshouse, but he always got restless. There weren’t many people around his age to play with, and even if there were Rickon felt like he had outgrown playing long ago. Now, he hunted to relieve the stress of nothing and dreamed for the small chance of seeing Bran again.
Remembering Bran sent a small pang through his chest. His brother had left beyond the Wall. He was somewhere out there. Rickon knew he wasn’t dead. He knew he would feel something if his brother died. But still, he couldn’t help but worry about his crippled brother beyond the Wall with two crannogmen and Hodor to keep him safe.
In attempt to put that thought to rest, Rickon decided to prepare for bed. He went so far as to grab a second fur for a blanket, knowing that Shaggydog would not be near to warm his bed. Settling into the straw mattress, Rickon drifted off to sleep.
Rickon dreamed he was Shaggydog. He often had dreams like this – dreams that felt more real every time they happened. Rickon relished in the excitement of his wolf dreams. Even at night, Shaggydog was active, seeking out prey or exploring some unknown corner of Skagos. The wind whipping against his face even felt refreshing, and he could taste the spray of salt water in his mouth. Rickon felt like this dreaming was a simple reflection of running as Shaggydog until he saw the ship.
Still docked offshore, the ship was settled amongst the trashing waves. Something was different, though. Along the shore, a small dingy was settled into the sand of the beach. Carefully, he trotted over to it, inspecting it to see if it had any familiar scents. It must have docked on shore just before the sun set. No one would dare sail to Skagos without light. They must be trying to find the Kingshouse. At night, though? It was pretty dangerous. For a moment, Rickon considered trying to find the sailor who had chanced a trip onto the mainland.
After following the steps to the edge of the forest, Rickon decided to drop the scent. Shaggydog might find it interesting, but he was over it. Sailors randomly washed ashore sometimes. It wasn’t a big deal. The wildlife was likely to scare them off soon enough. If not, the people would.
Rickon slipped out of the dream easily enough, letting a dreamless sleep wash over him until morning. At sunrise, Rickon resisted the urge to climb out of bed and do something. He instead rolled about under his furs and postponed his waking. When Rickon started to feel completely useless, he finally got up and put on clothes for the day before heading down to see if someone made breakfast.
Osha had apparently bullied some women into cooking. There were scents of various meats and breads wafting through the halls. Rickon was about to go into the hall when he froze. Someone new was there, and he seemed to be mid-speech.
Rickon carefully examined the man. He was definitely a sailor. An older man, he looked completely worn, as if he had seen many battles and even more death. Still, there was something about him that indicated he lived at sea. One of his hands wasn’t moving quite properly, and Rickon started to wonder if he was missing fingers.
It wasn’t until the man turned to face him that he realized the conversation had shifted. Rickon looked to Osha for help. The man spoke up first.
“Lord Stark,” he began. “I am Davos Seaworth, Hand of the One True King Stannis Baratheon, and I have been sent to return you to the mainland so you may take your seat as the rightful heir to Winterfell.”
The man took a few paces toward Rickon before bending the knee. Rickon simply threw back his head and laughed.