BOOK ONE: ICE
Table of Contents:
Part 1 - Beyond the Wall, chapters 1 - 20,
Part 2 - The North, chapters 21 - 36,
Part 3 - The Convergence, chapters 37 - 50,
Epilogue and Appendix, chapter 51.
Book 2: Fire starts chapter 52.
Part 1 - Beyond the Wall
The world was frozen. A land of eternal winter stretched outwards as the white wolf ran across the frozen tundra.
This was a different world. These northern lands were wild and untamed. They were thick and rich, but also cold and barren at the same time. There were no trees, no foliage – nothing but rocks, ice and snow.
For a heartbeat, it felt like this was where he belonged.
Here, he was a hunter, a predator. Game was sparse and life was hard, but that just made the struggle all the more rewarding. Here, the direwolf reigned supreme.
The wolf was alone at the edge of the world. For the last few weeks he had consistently ventured further and further north, past the mountains. Few other predators would ever be able to survive this far north. It was as exhilarating as it was dangerous. He had grown lean, skinny but strong by the constant hunt.
The white wolf prowled the wasteland, nigh invisible in the frozen dusk. The sun was only just setting, and it was a good time for the lone wolf to hunt.
There had been a pack once. Briefly, at least. The white wolf remembered his brothers and sisters well. They had been a pack once. Someday, maybe they could be a pack once more - but the runt had never really been part of the group. The others used to howl and hunt together, but there had always been some distance between the runt and the rest of the litter.
The wolf didn't mind. Sometimes, solitude was what made the lone wolf strong. The wolf was strong now. He was a runt no more. His body was wiry and fast, his muscles were strong, and his teeth were sharp.
There were smells in the distance. He could pick up the thick, musky scent of humans - along with their horses, beasts and livestock. The gathering was so large and so thick that even miles away the smell was pungent on the cold wind. The wolf was comfortable among men, he had been raised amidst men, but being among thousands upon thousands huddled together was too pungent for the beast.
Still, the wolf's other half lived amongst those men. The white wolf couldn't ever leave his human brother behind. He made a note of their progress as the men slowly travelled south.
There was another smell, fainter, barely discernible. The smell of an elk that had been scared north by the human host. It was faint, but fresh. The wolf's stomach growled hungrily as it set off to hunt.
The wolf bounded across the thick snow with practiced ease. The scent was getting thicker now. It was heading further north, further up through the mountains and towards a large glacier. He could see the white icy spikes in the distance. The air was cold even under thick fur, but the wolf hungered. It would be a large elk - probably weakened and hungry itself. It would be good prey, worth the hunt.
The landscape cracked into rolling valleys and frozen rivers across the rocky, snow covered ground. The glacier was thick in the distance, looming over the world like a blue and black wall of solid, serrated ice. Only the toughest soldier pines trees stood amidst this mountainous ground. The elk’s smell became sharper, more vivid on the fierce wind. The scent was stronger than expected. It wasn't a weakened elk; it smelt more like a young buck. A strong beast, one hardy enough to survive the cold. It would be a more difficult hunt, then, but still a worthwhile one.
The wolf approached the glacier slowly. The temperature dropped further. That caused the wolf to pause. The air was thick with an unnatural cold. The wolf hesitated. His every hair was suddenly on edge.
The wolf felt the warning in the wind. The wind howled through the canyons, a low shriek emanating through the world.
The wolf felt the darkness in the air before it smelt the scent. The scent of death. Without warning, the wolf turned and ran.
The direwolf wasn't easily scared, but he felt fear now.
The cold was creeping over the mountains. It was heading south.
The smell of death followed.
The sound of howling whistled in the wind, echoing over the mountains…
Jon's eyes opened suddenly. A wolf was howling in the distance.
His heart was beating furiously. His blood felt cold. I'm scared, Jon realised in shock. He had only just woken up.
No. It's not my fear.
The thought of his direwolf shot into his mind. Ghost.
He could feel his wolf. He could feel the phantom sensation of snow under his paws as he ran through a biting wind. Ghost was more than just a companion, Ghost was part of him.
And right now, the Ghost was scared. The direwolf didn't scare easily.
It was night, but the wildling camp was never really quiet. All around him, sleeping bodies littered the clearing under heavy cloaks, but across the distance there were sounds of people moving and livestock moving freely over the sprawling camp. The large campfires dotted the rocky hills.
Next to him, Ygritte moaned quietly, her eyes flickering as she slept. They had been huddled together as they slept, with Ygritte's ginger hair brushing against Jon's face.
A hundred thousand wildlings camped together. They were peaceful, protected. Jon was in the centre of a great army. They were camped at the edge of the Frostfangs, following the Milkwater. The wildling army had been camped for weeks now, pulling in more and more free folk from across the Thenns and Frozen Shore – preparing to march south.
It is safe, he tried to tell himself. But Jon knew it wouldn't last.
Somehow, he wasn't quite sure how, he could feel the cold. He knew in his bones that it was no ordinary cold. His heart was beating furiously. I can feel them coming.
“… Wake up,” Jon whispered, dragging himself to his feet. It was so cold that he had been sleeping still dressed in furs. He kept Longclaw at his side constantly. “We've got to wake.”
Ygritte stirred as he lumbered up rough, yanking up his cloak. “Ygritte!” Jon hissed, as he stared around urgently. Tormund, he thought with panic. I've got to warn Tormund.
“What's going on?” Ygritte murmured with a tired yawn.
Jon grimaced, instantly uncertain. He recognised Tormund Giantsbane snoozing by the dying campfire, under thick bearskin furs. We need all the fighters right now.
“Tormund!” Jon bellowed, causing the other sleeping raiders to stir. “Tormund!”
“What in blazes is going on?” Tormund stammered in irritation, pulling himself up. Other raiders were doing the same. Tormund was already clutching a heavy stone maul, growling angrily.
“Tormund… Everyone…” Jon stammered. They were staring at him. “We need to ready our men, right now! They're coming for the camp!”
“Crows?” Tormund growled.
Jon shook his head. He could still feel the cold. “No. Worse.”
“By the gods, what are you talking about, lad?” A free folk grumbled. He was already attracting attention. It was the middle of the night, things had been so quiet, but Jon just knew…
“They're coming!” He hissed. “We need to get the people to safety.” Some of them were staring at him like he was mad. Jon flinched, flexing his burnt hand. “Don't ask me how I know, I just…”
In the distance, there was another howl. It was barely even audible over the backdrop of the wind whooshing through mountains.
Ygritte stared at him. She had her dagger in hand. “… Jon…” She said slowly. “… Where's your wolf at?”
There was a pause. Jon stared at Tormund, his eyes pleading. The raider looked back at him, frowning. He made the decision quickly.
“Find me Mance!” Tormund bellowed. In an instant, people were moving. “Now!”
There were more grumbles as people started to move. Free folk didn't follow orders easily. Still, they were quickly armed. All around, there were men clutching spears or notching bows.
They need more discipline, Jon swore. They need defensive locations, battlements, better positions. It would be on them soon, he could feel it.
“What is going on here?” A loud voice cursed. The commotion was gaining attention. The camps were starting to move. There was a rattle of bones as a man pushed his way through the crowd, flanking by two large dogs.
“The turncoat says we're under attack,” a wildling sneered, staring at Jon.
Underneath his skull helm, the Lord of Bones' mouth twisted into a vicious sneer. “Aww, did the little crow have a bad dream?” He mocked.
“They're coming for us!” Jon snapped. His body was trembling, and not just from the cold. Somewhere, somehow, Ghost was panicked. The direwolf was running for its life. “I felt them coming from north. We need to get the women and children out of here!”
“Quiet, boy!” Rattleshirt grunted. “Who is coming?”
“Them!” Jon hissed. He floundered slightly. He felt scared to even say the words 'white walkers', in case that might make them real. “… I don't know, they're just… they're coming.”
There were a few taunting laughs from the growing crowd. The wildling were sneering at him. Next to him, Tormund wasn't laughing.
“The boy is a warg, Rattleshirt,” Tormund warned, clutching his maul tightly.
“The boy is fool. And a craven,” said Rattleshirt. “I've had enough of this nonsense. Get out of here.”
The stubborn bastard, Jon thought with a growl. By the time they knew he was right it would be too late. “Everybody!” Jon shouted, turning from Rattleshirt to the gathered wildlings. “Grab your weapons! They're coming from the glacier, we must–”
A nearby wildling swung a punch angrily. Jon narrowly avoided the blow, jumping backwards. “It's late and you're annoying me, crow,” the man growled, glaring angrily. Jon clutched Longclaw even tighter. Behind him, Ygritte and Longspear Ryk shared a glance.
“Will somebody just shut him up already?” Rattleshirt ordered. His dogs were barking. “Or maybe I'll just let the hounds–”
Heavy footsteps approached. “What the hell is this ruckus?!” A stern voice demanded. “Stand down or I'll put you down.”
Jon could have sighed as he saw Mance Rayder approaching, flanked by three men with Styr, Magnar of Thenn, approaching from behind. Even despite the quiet night, more and more were gathering. Jon could even see Varamyr Sixskins prowling from the distance, on the edge of the camp. The scene looked like a brawl was breaking out, and the King-Beyond-the-Wall dealt with brawls and riots in his camp on a daily basis.
Still, Mance isn't a fool like Rattleshirt, Jon thought. He could feel his heart pounding in frantic fear. Mance would listen.
“The turncoat is crazed,” Rattleshirt scoffed, but lowering his spear as the King-Beyond-the-Wall looked between him and Jon. “He's rambling nonsense.”
“Your Gra – Mance,” Jon stammered. “We've got to get the women and children to safety. They're coming for us.”
Mance stared at him darkly. “You know what is out there,” Jon begged. He could feel it getting closer. It was like his direwolf was howling in his mind for Jon to move. Ghost was begging Jon to run as well. “Please.”
The King-Beyond-the-Wall paused. The sound of the wind was still humming in the distance, but the night was quiet. It was a chilly night. Perhaps Mance noticed the cold too – it was a cold that had an edge to it.
Mance's brow flickered. “Lord of Bones,” Mance said after a brief pause. “Go check on our watchers.”
“What?” Rattleshirt exclaimed. “We have scouts all along the valleys, there's naught out there.”
“Then check on them,” Mance ordered. The king's voice was firm. He paused for the briefest of moments, before turning.
“Varamyr!” Mance shouted, calling to the skinchanger watching in the distance. “Get your eagle into the air! Let's see if what the boy is saying is true.”
There were mutters around the camp. Rattleshirt glowered and stomped off, cursing turncoats and bastards as he bellowed orders around. Jon was clutching Longclaw tightly. If he was wrong, they would see him as a fool.
But no, he thought with a quiet sinking feeling. I'm not wrong.
The Lord of Bones snatched up a large horn, blowing it deeply three times. The whole camp was stirring now. There was a long, moment of silence as they waited for the scouts to return the call. That was the signal – when the scouts heard three horn blows from the camp, they were supposed to reply one by one.
No reply came. “They're not replying,” Rattleshirt said with a frown. He sounded confused. The watchers around the camp should have returned the horn blast. “… How could four dozen men not reply?”
There was a long moment of quiet. Mance's expression turned dark. Tormund clutched his maul to his chest. For one heartbeat, there was absolutely nothing except the wind. And the cold.
Jon could feel the dread in the air. The others started to feel it to. It rippled through the camp…
“Gather the fighters!” Mance bellowed suddenly. “All clans, now! Get Mag the Mighty here now!” He stared up at the surrounding valleys. “And light those fires! I want as many fires lit as soon as possible!”
Tormund took up the roar. “You heard the man, you lazy geezers!” He roared. “Get moving and grab a weapon already! What the hell are you doing standing around, move!”
Jon's breathing was deep. He could feel the panic spreading around him, the whole camp rippling around him. More people were shouting, screaming, or running.
He saw the fires being lit, but somehow it couldn't stop the cold.
Around him, every raider and spearwife were riled into a frenzy. The Thenns shouted for blood, followed by the dull roars of giants even from the other side of camp. The whole camp became an orchestra of clanging and shouting.
And then, the air was split by the screams. The bloodcurdling screams of dying men.
They were cradled in the Frostfang Mountains; it was a defendable valley around the Milkwater. Any army would have to march up Skirling Pass to meet them, where the free folk could fight them on equal ground. It was hard to defend such a large, sprawling camp, but Mance had done his best. Their position was as good as it could ever be.
But these foes weren't living men. The dead weren't funnelled into the valley; instead the dead could simply clamber over the mountains themselves. The dead could attack from all sides.
Jon felt his breath freeze as he watched the dark shapes lumber over the black rocky hills. It was a perilous route – even a sure climber would struggle to traverse the icy, rocky cliffs, but the wights didn't care.
The dead were falling from the cliffs. They must have clambered over the peaks to charge suicidally down onto the camp. Jon glimpsed the falling bodies raining in the dark.
They were everywhere, from all sides. For a moment, Jon thought that the fall must have surely killed them, but then he heard the shouts.
The sound of hacking blades filled the air.
In the distance, a lone wolf howled.
“Jon!” Ygritte screamed. There was so much panic from all sides that Jon could barely even hear her. “Jon!”
The world blurred as Jon grabbed pulled his sword and followed the fighting. Yet the fighting was everywhere, Jon didn't even knew where to go.
Jon saw Tormund roar as he swung two mauls at once. He saw burning arrows lighting up the air. He saw shadows of raging giants as scrambling bodies threw themselves in berserk rages. He saw Mance at the centre of the camp, desperately trying to set up barricades while tents caught fire.
They needed more fires and there was no time to clamber for firewood. They were just setting the tents on fire for more heat as quickly as possible.
Something cold hit Jon's nose. One by one, he watched snowflakes fall to the ground.
The snows fell softly at first, but then all at once. The sight of fighting and battle was obscured by the thick whirling flakes. Bodies were falling, and then the snow was falling too. Ygritte grabbed his arm, trying to pull him to one side. Jon had his sword in his hand, but in the dark and in the snow all of the thrashing bodies looked the same…
The shouting and screaming filled the air.
Too disorderly, not enough discipline, Jon thought with panic. Every raider fought by himself, every clan kept to their own. They were all running blind while the enemy attacked from all sides.
“Fight you cravens!” Tormund howled through the storm. “Fight!”
Ygritte was in front of him, with Longspear Ryk firmly by her side. Ygritte cursed in the storm and dropped her bow, pulling out a short bronze sword instead. Between the snow, the dark and the chaos, any bowmen were useless – no free folk could get a clean shot.
But the wights had no such hesitation. There were dull thuds as arrows cut down three men around Jon. A barbed arrow bit into the ground next to his foot. Longspear cursed violently as another arrow clipped his arm.
There are undead archers on the cliffs, Jon realised with a jolt. They shot arrows randomly into the camp and probably hit their own forces as much as they hit the free folk, but that didn't matter. A wight could easily walk off an arrow, even one through the brain, while a living man couldn't.
Jon reacted on pure instinct as he glimpsed a blue-eyed creature come shambling at him. Longclaw cleaved straight through its skull, but the thing kept on trying to claw at him. He wrestled with the creature, frantically trying to push it away, until raider dragged the wight away and split it in two.
He saw another wight – one missing the lower half of its body – clawing on the ground desperately towards them. Jon kicked it in the head and its neck cracked, but it still kept on coming.
The wights were vicious creatures. The more recently deceased, the nearly intact ones, they wielded swords or mauls and fought with berserk rage. Still, even the decaying wights –the creatures with rotting bones and flesh – they would still charge in with bare hands.
There was no self-preservation instinct. No restraint.
We can still win this, Jon thought with a gulp. They needed to rally the clans, get people fighting together. We take a stand at the edge of the Milkwater, and fight together…
The free folk outnumbered the wights. The wights fought hard, but they fell quickly too. If only they could stop the chaos then this would be a short fight…
“Come…!” Ygritte shouted. “… We need to run!”
Jon grimaced, and shook his head. “No! We can beat them!” He shouted. “Gather whoever you can and stick together! We can win this, I know it!”
Her eyes were wide. Her face was pale. “You know nothing, Jon Snow.”
Jon felt the shiver go down his spine. She must have realised before he did. The wights were charging in madly. This is only the first wave of an assault.
The temperature dropped.
It was the like the quiet oozed slowly over the battlefield. In the darkness, men were screaming, and then the screaming stopped. The breath froze in their lungs, their shrieks failed to carry through the air, and something shivered in the world itself.
It was them.
They moved with an unnatural grace, gliding over the snows, leaving no footprints in their wake and clutching blades that shimmered with an icy luminescence – swords so cold that the air crackled around them. The white walkers were deadly ghosts amongst the chaos of battlefield. With every step they took, men died.
Jon saw bright blue eyes glittering in the dark, while the snows swirled and danced around them.
First, they sent in the dead first to create panic. Now, the masters themselves take to the field.
Jon watched the campfires flicker and die as they passed. The air was so cold it hurt to breathe. Every breath felt like a knife in his chest.
They were coming from the north. The creatures cut through the camp with ease, flanked by wights off all shapes and sizes. Jon saw undead wolves, hogs, bears, and shadowcats – decaying animals with bright blue eyes. There were dark shadows looming over the rocks – resurrected rotten giants lumbering into the battle.
The army of the free folk – the greatest, largest gathering the far north had ever known – was being torn to pieces from all sides.
Ygritte was dragging him, pleading desperately. The air was so cold that her tears froze on her cheek. She was shouting something, but Jon couldn't hear over the sound of the screams.
Jon had no choice. He turned and ran.
Skill meant nothing when life or death was just a gamble. Arrows were flying randomly through the air, swords were hacking. Every moment more men were dying, and it was pure chance whether or not Jon would be one of them.
Dark, spindly shapes broke off of the group. They moved so fast and so graceful that Jon could barely make them out, but then there were men falling to the ground screaming.
The spiders were as large as hounds, ice-white with long, gangly legs. The ice spiders tore into men as they tried to flee, clicking and biting as they dragged men bodily across the ground.
The white walkers turned and watched their spiders, as a harsh crackling sound filled the air.
Laughter. They're laughing.
Even in the middle of the battle, they laughed at their spiders like huntsmen watching hounds bring down their quarry.
This isn't a battle, it's a slaughter. Like it's all just a sport to the Others.
Jon's hands were trembling so badly that he could barely hold his sword.
There were more people screaming in terror than shouting in defiance now. The host was being broken into pieces, with men scattered to the mountains. The clans broke, each one fighting or running by himself.
The wildling army – the one that the sworn brothers had come to fight – was sent running for the hills.
I'm a fool, he thought quietly. He didn't stop running. Ygritte was still holding his hand. Lord Commander Mormont was a fool. Qhorin Halfhand had been a fool. The Night's Watch was comprised of fools.
All of this time, they had been fighting against wildlings, trying to stop wildlings.
The Night's Watch. The shield that guards the realm of men. They had been trying to shield against the wrong foe.
And now the Others had come for them all.
“Run,” Ygritte hissed in his ear, panting for breath. It was the only word she had said for so many desperate hours. “Run!”
The word echoed in Jon's head until it lost all meaning, echoing like the cawing of a raven. Run, run, run…
Jon could barely run any longer. He could feel himself weakening with every step, each breath getting hoarser than the last. With every frantic step, he stumbled a bit more. Sooner or later, he would fall, and he didn’t… he couldn’t imagine how he would be able to stand again.
The mountains were harsh and uneven. The Frostfangs earned their name. Between the snows and the rocks, it was hard travelling.
Still, they couldn't stop. Jon couldn't see those that pursued them, but he knew they were out there. He could feel them, like the ice in his lungs.
When the wildling horde broke, the free folk scattered in every direction. Most of them tried to flee by following the Milkwater down the pass, but it proved a folly. The Others had come prepared – they had barely made it a mile before they saw the lumbering shadows blockading the pass. A group of wight giants brought up the rear – cutting off any escape through the valley.
The fleeing free folk had been trapped between the giants, all the while those ice spiders hounded their rear relentlessly. There could be no fighting either foe – the giants were so large, strong and resilient that they seemed indestructible, while the ice spiders were even worse. The spiders were silent and ruthless assassins, invisible in the snowstorm as they cut down men one by one, from all directions. Perhaps an organised defence and formation could have beaten them, but there was no hope in the panicked chaos of the fleeing wildlings.
Instead, there had been no choice except to escape over the valley cliffs, trying to climb the rocky outcrop through the Frostfangs to escape the undead.
It hadn't been an honourable retreat or an easy escape. The thought left a bitter taste in Jon's mouth. He knew fine well that the only reason they had survived was because the ice spiders had been too busy killing all other runners like him. They had been one of the few lucky enough to make it out of the valley, simply because the Others couldn't kill them all quickly enough.
Like rolling the dice. Nothing but chance that separated living men from the dead.
It had been a close thing too. Ygritte was a swift climber, but Jon had been struggling clambering up after her up a cliff wall when an ice spider had skittered up after him. He had barely even seen it before suddenly vicious, hooked fangs bit into his leg.
The spider had been as big as a small dog, but its bite was deadly cold and sharp, and it had very nearly pulled Jon straight off the cliff. If it hadn't have been for Longspear Ryk catching the beast with an arrow, then it probably would have killed Jon too.
He didn't know where Ryk was now. They had lost sight of each other somewhere in the chaos, the screaming and the running.
It was just him and Ygritte now, running through ice cold barren terrain.
There had been others who had escaped the cliffs like they had, but no one stuck together. All of the free folk had ran their individual ways, running blindly into the mountains. A large group was a bigger target. Right now, their only hope was to run and pray that the Others picked somebody else to chase.
It was instinctive. There had been no hesitation in that moment, just pure, life-or-death survival.
“Jon,” Ygritte gasped, half-dragging him over the snow. Her arm was wrapped around their shoulder. “Run, Jon, run.”
He was getting slower with every step. He couldn't feel his leg anymore. It just felt cold. Somehow, that numbness felt more terrifying than the pain had. The blood felt frozen in his leg.
Did the spiders have venom in their fangs? He thought with a panic. Or maybe it was just blood loss, or cold. Either way, his leg was becoming more and more stiff. It was a wonder he had lasted this long, but he wouldn't be able to run much longer.
All around them, the snows didn't stop.
The Frostfangs were perilous. The wildling host had been camped by the Milkwater for weeks, but they still hadn't mapped the mountains fully. Right now, Jon's and Ygritte's only chance was to keep on running along whatever route they could and hope that they might stumble onto some pass out of the mountains.
He had no idea where he was going. It was only when he glimpsed a shape in the distance – the silhouette of a looming mound over horizon – that Jon recognised the landscape.
“… Ygritte…” he gasped, his throat raw. That was the glacier over in that direction. “We're heading north.”
“What choice do we have?” She grunted, staggering over the rocks. “There's no pass through the mountains here, and they'll kill us if we turn back. They're blocking the south. We have to just keep going, maybe we can slip by them. Maybe some of the other clans survived.”
Jon gasped weakly as he struggled over an outcrop. “We can slip around to the Frozen Shore,” Ygritte continued. “… Maybe find a crossing over the Bay of Ice. We cross the sea and we go south – as far south as south goes. It's our only chance.”
No, Jon almost argued. They should be trying to make through Skirling Pass or down the Giant's Stairs. If they could get to the Fist of the First Men, then maybe they had a chance. The Night's Watch might be their only hope.
Still, Jon hadn't told anybody about the ranging camped at the Fist of the First Men. He had kept that secret from Mance and all of the others. Just like Qhorin ordered him too – Jon had been a good, little, dumb soldier.
“We've got to head towards the glacier. There are passages there we could slip through,” Ygritte muttered, her whole body shivering. “I know those rocks – there are tunnels all under the ice. Old tombs buried for a thousand years. Hells, we must have opened half a hundred of those tombs under there searching for a bloody legend…”
She was mumbling under her breath. “Dammit Mance,” she cursed, ranting through panic. “We should have left the mountains weeks ago. He was the one that insisted in lingering a few weeks longer, searching for that bloody horn…”
The Horn of Winter. Mance had believed it was in the Frostfangs, and Qhorin had ordered Jon to join the wildlings searching for it. All of this time in the wildling host, and Jon had only ever heard mutterings. All Jon knew was that the free folk had been searching for the horn, and that Mance had held off the journey south as they searched…
Jon staggered, stopping for breath. Ygritte had to pull him to stop him collapsing. “Come on, Jon Snow,” she ordered. “Now is no time to kneel.”
“… Can't keep on running…” He wheezed.
“'Course we can. We can always run. We can run all the way south.” Her voice was as hard as iron. “We go south and you got to show me all those fancy, stone castles of yours. Let's go and drink southern wine and see the blooming forests, and search for the lands of eternal summer. We'll cross the sea and keep on going until the end of the world, just you and me.”
Despite the pain, he smiled softly. “I promised you I'd show you a proper castle,” he muttered. His head felt woozy.
“Aye. You did. You still owe me a castle. Don't go making a liar out of yourself now.”
Not a liar. A fool.
The cliffs of ice stretched out in front of them. It was a labyrinth of winding sheets of ice – like a world of ice surrounding. The path became thinner, more perilous. They were walking on a shelf of ice that was cracking apart.
Even despite the danger, the snows, the pain, it was still beautiful. A weird, unearthly beauty. They were on top of a glacier, staring out at the very edge of the world. The Lands of Always Winter stretched out before them.
It looked as beautiful as it did cold.
“… I really wanted to show you a castle,” Jon admitted weakly. The route was getting harder now. The cracks in the ice were deeper – large crevasses surrounding them like the ice had been shredded by a giant knife. Icy cliffs like serrated thorns.
Ahead of them, the path cracked away into nothingness. They were at the very edge of the glacier, where the ice fell away in a sharp vertical cliff. Ygritte cursed silently, trying to find another route down. Maybe it was climbable, but the ice was as sharp as blades and as tall as a castle wall.
There was no route down, not easily.
Around them, the snow churned. Jon could feel the cold and death approaching them. He felt their presence chill his bones.
He saw the ghostly outlines moving towards them in the snow.
They must have been following for a while now, he realised slowly. They hunted with unnatural patience. The Others could have attacked any time that they wanted, but they didn't. Instead, they just waited and followed.
The cold and the dead never hurried. They know there's never any escape.
He heard Ygritte curse in the Old Tongue. She had lost her spear as they ran, she only had a bone dagger. Jon kept Longclaw at his side. He could barely make out the figures, but there were a few of them. They were shapes gliding over the snow towards them.
The cliffs of ice stretched out behind them. The ranger and the spearwife huddled together facing demons of ice atop of a frozen glacier.
The white walkers took their time. They always took their time. They were as patient as ice.
Ygritte clutched her dagger tightly. Jon kept both hands on the pommel of his sword. I can't run, he thought quietly. His leg felt lame. Even if he could scale the cliff, he wouldn't be able to outrun them.
Jon stared at Ygritte. If he died, she would die with him.
“… Go find those castles, Ygritte,” Jon muttered, taking a deep breath. “Run. I'll hold them off.”
Her eyes blazed with fear. “Like hell you will. They'll kill you. They'll kill you and then they'll raise you again.”
“Yes,” said Jon. “But you might be able to survive. You can still run, I can't.”
She gulped, but shook her head. “I'll never run fast enough. All men must die, Snow, but I'm not leaving you to face those things alone.”
“Ygritte, you have to run!” he snapped.
“Bugger that.” Her face was pale, but her eyes were pure defiance. “I'm a free folk, I don't follow orders.”
Jon's hands clenched. It took the last slivers of strength he had left to pull himself up straight. Ygritte looked ready to charge against those things armed with only a dagger. “I won't let you die here.”
The Others were coming. He saw three figures approach from the storm; they were gliding over the snow towards them, but slowly. So slow it was mocking.
“You don't get to choose how I die!” Ygritte snapped. Her free arm wrapped around his, huddled together. “And I'm not leaving. There is absolutely no way that I will leave you to face these things alone, Jon Snow, you know that.”
“No,” he growled, feeling his heart pounding. With a deep breath, he grabbed Ygritte by the back of the head, pulling her towards him. Their lips slammed together in a sudden kiss. She tasted like fire. She tasted warm.
The last thing he saw was her eyes widen in surprise, her red hair flickering over his face. The kiss was fleeting, but deep, intense and passionate.
“… I know nothing.”
Without out another word, his hands pushed against her chest. The shove took her completely by surprise.
One second they were kissing, and then the next Jon was pushing her backwards straight over the cliff.
There wasn't enough time for her to even curse him before she fell.
It was maybe a twelve-foot drop, he thought, feeling hollow. Maybe more, but hopefully the snow would cushion the landing. Hopefully she would miss the blades ice. Hopefully.
For all he knew, he might have just pushed Ygritte to her death.
Still, maybe down there she had a small chance of survival. If she had stayed up here, she would have had none.
He drew Longclaw, clutching the sword with both hands. The Valyrian steel blade hummed in the night. Jon glared at the white walkers.
“Come!” Jon shouted, holding his sword firmly. His hands weren't shivering anymore. It was too cold to shiver. He charged with all the speed his lame leg would give him, limping furiously at the Others, swinging the bastard sword with all the strength he could muster. “Come!”
One final charge. Outnumbered, outmatched, and wounded.
He knew he was going to die.
Still, I'm not going to make it easy for them.
Every second that I'm still breathing is another second that Ygritte has to live.
The Other jumped backwards with all the grace of a cat. Up close, it was tall and gaunt with flesh pale as milk, with cold eyes as bright as blue stars. It had weird, graceful beauty – a frozen elegance like a statue. Its skin rippled with every shade of ice – somewhere between icy blue and brilliant white, rippling so softly it was hard to even create track of its movements, even when it was less than three feet away.
Its speed was unnatural. It wielded a white blade finer than steel, but sharper and colder than any Jon had ever seen. Jon slashed again, but it dodged without even parrying. There was a sound like the crackling of ice.
Laughter, he realised. They are laughing at me.
The three white walkers surrounded him. Jon swung wide and fast in wild arcs, but they danced around his blade. They seemed to take turns to swipe at him with fine blades of their own, causing him to stumble, but none of them pressed on with the attack.
Instead, it was more like an eerie, childlike fascination. They swiped at him only to watch him stumble, and laughed at him as they danced around his strokes.
Toying with me. Like a game to them.
Jon's jaw clenched. The blades glittered and sparkled in the storm like moonlight.
“… I am the sword in the darkness…” Jon growled, slashing upwards as he charged forward.
Blue eyes shone at him tauntingly. “I am the watcher on the walls…”
Their blades buzzed with cold. He felt the edge graze against his back softly, but the pain still shot through his body. He knew that even a single cut would cause frostbite. Ice so cold it burned.
“… I am the fire that burns against the cold!” he snarled, grunting against the burning pain in his back.
Their blades flashed together, time and time again. Jon met them stroke for stroke, right up until the moment the one behind him idly kicked out his remaining leg.
Jon collapsed to the ground. The Other's gaze was taunting as it brought its sword down in an executioner's arc.
His sword-hand worked on instinct. Longclaw shot through the air.
The icy blade struck firmly against with Valyrian steel. The sound rung out like delicate glass chiming
For a moment, the Other even seemed surprised.
“… the light that brings the dawn!” Jon bellowed, striking upwards with renewed strength. He felt a blade strike against his back, but the Other in front was wide open. The creature didn't react in time as Longclaw plunged firmly into its chest.
Suddenly, the figure cracked and splintered into a thousand glittering specks of ice. The Other disintegrated under his sword.
Jon howled triumphantly, swinging at the Other behind him.
“The horn that wakes the sleepers!” Jon screamed. Their swords clashed together, each stroke ringing like a crystal chiming.
Briefly, he thought he might, somehow, be able to overpower the white walker.
That lasted right up until the third Other swung his blade at the same time.
Jon saw the attack coming. He knew he couldn't dodge it. His body didn't even twitch.
The icy blade plunged straight into Jon's chest.
The cold made the wound feel more numb more than painful.
Jon's body sagged but he didn't drop. The sword was still sticking out of his chest, with the white walker holding the blade. His fingers groped weakly at the Other's cold hand.
“… The shield that guards the realm of man…” he whispered.
He could feel his body turning cold. He looked down, staring at the blood weeping out of his chest. The white walkers were above him, staring down, watching him in unnatural silence.
I took one down, he thought. He felt his vision blur. I killed one of them.
In the distance, a lone wolf howled.
For some reason he couldn't quiet explain, Jon felt a small smile come to his lips. He was smiling softly. He felt his body deaden slowly, like ice was flowing through his veins. It didn't hurt, it just felt so… numb.
So cold I can't even feel it.
The Other pulled its blade out of his chest. Jon Snow dropped to his knees.
“… And now my watch has ended.” The words were as soft as the snow falling on his face.
With that, he collapsed.
The white walkers paused, picking up Jon's sword off the ground, holding it gingerly, before turning and walking away.
Jon was left lying on the snow, staring upwards into the glowing night's sky. He had never seen the stars so close.
There was something cold on his face, running down his cheeks. Tears.
I'm crying, he thought softly. Such a strange thought.
The last thing he saw was his own blood pouring out around him. The red wept out of the hole in his chest, soaking into the white around him. As his warm blood hit the cold snow, the snow evaporated in a quiet hiss of steam around him. Jon could see the faint tendrils of steam dance around his fading eyes like the smoke from a fire.
And then everything went black.
He had a weird dream. It was a dream as vivid as a forgotten memory.
He dreamt of giant roots weaving through the ground beneath of them, threading through the earth, but slowly forgotten by time.
He dreamt of river frozen solid, of bodies trapped in the still current, unable to move on.
He dreamt of grand structure of white stone so fine that it glittered, but abandoned and decaying; a castle so ancient that slowly, like the movement of the world, it was swallowed by a creeping wall of ice.
He dreamt of mountains rising and falling. Of summers and winters so fast that they flickered in the blink of eye. So many cycles that the earth itself rose, fell, and froze.
He dreamt of blistering heat and scalding cold. A heart of fire and a heart of cold, at opposite sides of the world. The heart of fire had burnt, raged and smoked for hundreds of years – an inferno that sucked the life and the magic out of the world – all the while the heart of cold slept and waited under the ground.
He dreamt of ice and fire, dancing around each other to the sound of harps.
He dreamt of a woman with dark brown hair and grey eyes, sleeping as soundly as the dead on a bed of pale blue roses.
And he dreamt of enormous white wings, smashing through ice and snow with a crack like thunder…