Catelyn stared at White Harbor as the city’s stones gleamed in the sun. It hardly seemed fitting for the weather to be so nice with all that was going on in the world, but human affairs didn’t concern it. Her uncle noticed her poor mood of course, but didn’t say anything as their ship crossed the bay. Instead he was quiet as they looked over the bow and the choppy harbor and the welcoming party there.
A frisson of annoyance was almost comforting, but if she hadn’t been worried about far grander things the group’s composition might have bothered her more. The last time she’d been in White Harbor the boy had been absent but now she could see him among the waiting group. She’d have thought he would have the sense to avoid her, even when he’d been younger and still at Winterfell he’d stayed out of the way, but Eddard was his father. He was no doubt willing to endure her scorn for news of the only parent he’d ever known.
The oarsmen backed water as they slid into their slip, ropes were thrown to waiting hands and the sailors scurried to complete their tasks. A gangplank was thrown down across the gap and lashed into place, Brynden crossed it first as she followed. Ser Wendel, the younger of Lord Manderly’s sons was waiting and he bowed to her, as much as his bulk would allow.
“Lady Stark, White Harbor is yours.” She managed to give him the slightest of smiles as she inclined her head, and then fell into step with him as he turned for the horses. “Your son has called the banners, even now we’re mustering for the march to Moat Cailin.”
“I am sure he is as grateful for your loyalty as I am.”
“The Starks will always have that of us, we won’t forget the debts we owe.” He heaved himself upon his horse as he spoke, but Catelyn found herself distracted. The boy was there, holding two horses for her and her uncle and for the first time in years she met his violet eyes.
“Lady Stark, Ser Brynden.” The boy had always been polite, to be honest it had almost never been anything he did that annoyed her, only his presence. It had been a relief to see him leave Winterfell though, seeing her eyes in Ned’s face had always been painful. The boy had always wanted to be a knight though, and Ned had sent him to White Harbor to become one. It had been a mixed blessing; he was gone but he was forging ties with the strongest of the northern bannermen. At the time she had relished it before other fears began to raise their heads.
She gave him a short nod, the barest minimum required by courtesy and her uncle didn’t even do that, only seizing the offered reigns and mounting before riding to Wendel. Catelyn followed as Brynden began to ask about the progress of the Manderly’s muster, approving of the answers if his steadily warming tone was any guide. At the feast that night she couldn’t even see the boy at first, he wasn’t at the high table and his dark hair blended into the sea of other Northerners. That was an encouraging sign, that even among the people he’d spent years with he wasn’t seen as worth elevating above the rest of the household.
Two days later as the last of the army gathered she saw him again, and for an instant he looked so much like Ned from the back her heart clenched. He was oblivious to her of course, his eyes were solely on the girl in front of him. Catelyn could only see her hair, but that was enough to identify her. Wylla Manderly’s bright green hair hung over his shoulders as they shared a tight embrace.
“I’ll be back before you know it. We’ll get my father back and then I’ll be here with you again.” Whatever the girl replied was inaudible, but it caused the boy to push her back and meet her eyes. “If I’m to have any hope to be with you for real I need this. Your father likes me well enough, but if this war has taught me nothing else it’s that I’m still a Snow. If there’s a chance for me to rise I’ll take it. A valiant bastard might be worth a second daughter.”
Then they were clenched again and Catelyn was tempted to call for guards. If the boy’s behavior was witnessed it would ruin his chances with the girl, destroy the potential for him for gain allies. Surprising even herself, a larger part of her resisted. Men died in wars, and squires desperate for glory died more than most. Disrupting the boy’s final farewell would hardly matter. She walked on and soon her thoughts turned to other matters, at least until they left and she saw the boy riding out with the scouts, a swathe of green tied around his arm.
Waiting for battle was like being drunk. The littlest things assumed the greatest importance, and Jon could barely keep himself in his saddle with a mix of anticipation and terror that made the world swim around him.
If Robb felt similarly it didn’t show. His wolf was pacing around their horses’ legs but after a month they were acclimated to the beast. When he’d seen Grey Wind for the first time a pang of loss had shot through him, one that he’d ruthlessly crushed. Jon would never be Lord of Winterfell, he’d never be a Stark, he’d known that from a young age. Seeing Robb with a living embodiment of their father’s house had hammered it home once more.
His head seemed to clear as Robb perked up, mirroring his wolf. If Robb had noticed something it might be time. Jon resisted the urge to check his sword and armor one last time, at this point he knew both better than the backs of his hands. Wylla’s favor was still on his arm, something everyone but Robb had discretely ignored. Robb had his horse’s reins in his hand and was leaning forward in the saddle, the stallion stamping as it picked up on his eagerness. There was a shuffling throughout the company, Robb’s noble guards, and Jon could hear a few whispered prayers along with flexing leather and shifting armor.
Then horns split the night. They were long, mournful, deep, reverberating through his chest. They were also the signal, and thousands of hooves started to pound throughout the woods. Robb was to his left, one of the Karstarks between them as they started to bunch up to form a single mailed fist. The woods were fairly thin, Lady Catelyn had said that it was kept groomed for hunts, and the horses were able to run smoothly through it even in the dark. He didn’t want to imagine what would happen if his horse found a hole and fell, with the army around him he’d be trampled.
Suddenly they were out of the woods and before them in the valley was the enemy. Lord Brynden had taken Robb’s guard aside before the battle and told them that their only task was to keep Robb alive. He’d given specific instructions that Robb was not to lead the charge, that one of them was to get in front by any means necessary and break the line before him.
As Jon kicked his horse into a full gallop he realized that he wasn’t the only one with the idea, trying to block Robb’s clear path to the Lannisters. Daryn was on the other side as they closed in front of him, they exchanged a glance in acknowledgement before they lowered their lances and then it was blood and madness.
His spear pierced two of the infantry, spitting them before it snapped leaving him with a yard of wood. He flung the shaft forward and drew his sword, barely blocking a thrust before he was past the nameless spearman. The world seemed to darken around the edges and endless practice in the yards took over. He stood in his stirrups for force as he swung- each sweep carving through the screaming men below. They’d achieved complete surprise a detached part of him noted as he kept cutting and moving. They’d hit the formation in the flank and the soldiers who’d been chasing Lady Maege all night were breaking.
Then they were through and the sudden lack of enemies was shocking. He wanted to wheel his horse immediately, but the others were just behind him. They started to climb the other side of the valley before he heard Robb’s shouted command.
“Back in! Towards the knights!” Their charge had shattered the neat lines, but there was a knot of stability that was swiftly growing among the Lannisters. It was cemented by armored men riding tall horses, and among them there was one in red and gold. Robb was galloping towards them shouting almost before Jon realized that he should be doing the same, then the rest of the guard followed.
If their first pass was chaotic this was insanity. No one still had their lances, and charging infantry with only a sword felt much less safe. They were doing it though, and Jon felt a pang of cowardly relief that he wasn’t in the lead this time. It was Daryn again and one of the Karstarks, riding flat out trying to keep Robb from being first. He couldn’t tell if they succeeded because he and the rest of the guard hit the front like a breaking wave.
It turned out not having a lance mattered little compared to the advantage of a trained warhorse. Men simply fell before him, smashed by his horse’s broad chest and churning legs. Then there was a sudden pressure and everything slowed, they’d reached the enemy knights and the infantry had nowhere to run before being cut down and crushed.
A knight with a purple cloak was swinging a flail at Dacey, Jon nudged his horse forward and kept to his blind slide before hammering his shield into the knight’s neck. The blow didn’t kill him, but Dacey was quick to take advantage, crushing the man’s hand with her mace before ripping him from his saddle in a feat of strength Jon wasn’t sure he could match.
His surprise nearly cost him as he ducked away from a blow that should have taken his head off. The knight was slow to recover and Jon’s bastard sword just managed to catch his arm and send his hand flying into the melee. They locked eyes for a single moment in the midst of the madness and Jon almost thought he saw a grin forming on the man’s face as they looked at his stump- then reality resumed and his second stroke took the knight’s head off.
He wheeled his horse around, searching for enemies, and then he heard a wet scream from a voice he recognized. Daryn fell from his horse, blood spurting from his throat and a man in gold was on Robb. Jon kicked his horse forward, no one else seemed to hear his shouts or see the peril, but Robb was trading blows with a knight. A slash that got through left a groove on his breastplate, but one of the Karstarks was there before the Kingslayer, who else could it be, was able to take advantage.
The golden knight seemed to be toying with Kars- no it was Torrhen, flicking his blocks away before with a fluid twist his sword was in Torrhen’s neck. Eddard was there next, screaming something incoherent, but the Kingslayer trapped his sword and disarmed him. Eddard had the same expression of shock Jon had seen before on dying men as Jaime was drawing back for the killing blow- then Jon tackled him.
Their armor rang as they collided, for an instant Jon thought his desperate dive would fail and the Kingslayer would stay in his saddle- then they were in the mud. The punch from the Kingsguard staggered him, he rolled away desperate to get clear space and room to stand. He somehow got his feet under him, but everything was black. His visor had somehow jammed shut and it was a frantic race to rip it off before Ser Jaime was back up. He could see again just in time to duck away from his first testing blow, he flung his helmet in a bid for time and just managed to get his sword up in time for the next.
Jon had rarely lost a duel since he’d started growing. People whispered that he was his uncle come again, another violet eyed Sword of the Morning, and he had even started to believe it. He was faster than almost everyone and even Ser Marlon admitted he had a gift for anticipating his enemy. His lance work was never much past passable but everyone in the training yards, even visiting knights, would admit he was a terror with the blade.
Ser Jaime was better. His cuts were like lightening, but hit harder and Jon found himself backpedaling across the torn up ground. The taller man seemed to glow in the midst of battle, his grin visible even with his face mostly hidden- he was enjoying this? The older knight didn’t give him an instant of respite, the openings he seemed to leave were merely feints and Jon nearly lost an arm to one before he realized his opponent’s skill.
If there was any consolation it was that Robb was safe. In the moments he could see past the Lannister’s flashing sword he could see that the guard had reconstituted itself around Robb even as they were swept away by the tide of battle. Ser Jaime seemed to realize this as well as he redoubled his attack, but somehow- impossibly- Jon blunted it. He didn’t get away unscathed but a deep scar on his breastplate was better than one on his throat.
“You’re Stark’s bastard then? Ser Snow?” For a battle that was a cacophony of screams and splintering wood the Kingslayer’s voice was strangely audible. “I didn’t get to settle things with your father, I suppose this will have to suffice.” Jon used the gift of time to get his feet settled beneath him and his sword up, at this point he was merely hoping for intervention. A raised eyebrow met his stance. “You do have a little Dayne in you, I didn’t see it until now.” That seemed to be the end of the conversation as Jaime adjusted his grip and stepped forward swinging.
Only his prepared footing let him spin away, Ser Jaime was just too quick to let in close. It might have been cowardly to retreat, but anytime Jon tried to stand his ground he barely escaped. Their duel seemed to have lasted his entire life and it seemed the Kingslayer thought the same as he roared and plunged forward. Jon met his blow with a sweeping cut that left a notch in his castle forged steel. He waited for the inevitable followup, but it didn’t come, the Kingslayer was on one knee, mud covering his cape as he struggled to stand. His sword was raised to ward off a blow but this time Jon had the advantage. He stepped forward and put his weight behind a single strike, his only chance before Jaime was back on his feet.
When it connected and the Kingslayer’s blade sailed into the night he almost didn’t know what to do. Fortunately, his body did and his sword found its way to the Kingsguard’s throat before stopping.
“Yield!” His voice threated to crack as he shouted the command, and every time the kneeling Kingslayer twitched he had to stifle the urge to bury his sword’s tip in his throat. It was no more than what Daryn or Torrhen had received, what was one more death? His brother’s guards’ arrival spared him the chance. “Well? Do you yield?”
His voice did crack that time, but Jaime just glanced around at the Northern lords surrounding him and laughed. “Very well Ser Snow.” After that events went quickly. The Smalljon and a few others had tied up and taken away the Kingslayer, and Jon had managed to retrieve his horse and helm.
Riding back towards the rest of the guard he was met with cheers. Greyjoy’s voice was loudest congratulating him on getting his very own Smiling Knight. It was Ser Wendel he was looking for, he found his knight master amongst the others and just as excited.
“Get off that horse Jon Snow!” He dismounted heavily, half confused but he’d been Ser Wendel’s squire long enough to respond instantly to his commands. “And kneel!”
Suddenly it was all becoming clear as he dropped to his knees with his sword’s point in the ground before him. Ser Wendel’s sword was on his shoulder. “Jon-“ he looked down expectantly, and Jon looked up and saw a grinning Robb past him.
“Jon Dawnstark in the name of the Gods, old and new I charge to you to be brave,” his sword hit his right shoulder, “to be just,” back to the left, “to protect the innocent, to protect all women, to protect the peaceful, to protect the old, and to protect the sick and dying.” Each category was met with another blow to an alternating shoulder and Ser Wendel looked down at him, pride shining in his eyes. Then his hand moved and Jon’s head jerked back with the blow before he felt Ser Wendel’s hand on his shoulder pulling him up. “Let that be the last insult you receive without answering and rise Ser Jon Dawnstark!”
Cheers once again rang out as Robb slammed into him with an armored hug. That was the signal for the others to crowd in. In that instant Jon felt that no matter what else he did this moment couldn’t be beaten. Even Lady Stark’s glare couldn’t bring him down.
The boy didn’t die. Worse he had succeeded in his aims beyond his wildest dreams. He and Robb had picked up their friendship as if they’d never spent five years apart and he’d ridden with the other noble sons at the Whispering Wood. She hadn’t seen it of course, but if there was anything spoken of beside her son’s brilliance and his wolf it was the bastard’s skill.
‘His uncle come again,’ was the common thought, and his defeat of the Kingslayer was a feat worthy of the Sword of the Morning. The Lannister had cut through the Northern ranks looking for Robb, killing one of the Karstark boys before he met Snow. The Lannister been battered and tired of course, but the boy had still defeated a knight of the Kingsguard in single combat. Ser Jaime had woken with a strange grin on his face that Robb reported lingering even when he was escorted to a cell beneath Riverrun.
Offers for knighthood had flooded in, even without heroics the shadow of Arthur Dayne still commanded respect. Somewhat predictably Snow had chosen Ser Wendel to knight him, taking the name of Dawnstark almost defiantly to Robb’s rapturous approval.