The sun lit up the snow as it rose, gradually turning the dreary landscape around her into a beautiful field of sparkling white hills. It was the first sun the North had seen in weeks, but recent events had made sure that not a single person could be seen for miles.
Arya enjoyed the quiet as much as she did the sun. After living in the city of Braavos for so long, she had gotten used to the daily amounts of sun, and that part of the city she definitely missed, but as she walked on the familiar sensation of snow crushing beneath her boots and the sound of silence that came with the snowy environment made her feel like she was actually finally back.
She was coming home.
The joy she felt was careful, her heart wasn’t used to these kind of strong feelings anymore, but it was there nonetheless, and it was enough to keep her warm as the cold winter winds beat against her face.
The girl stopped for a moment. She had, of course, not been stupid when she left the Frey stronghold. The men there had some decent winter clothing, so she had accepted the grey parka, the pelt trousers and boots a dead man had gracefully left her. Arya smirked to herself, remembering how the Frey soldier had first looked very pleased with himself at scoring the pretty face she was wearing. Seeing his disgusting face go from a dirty smug look to a look of shock when she took her face of and then to a look of pure horror when she stabbed him right underneath his chin was great.
As it always was. She lived for these kinds of moments.
But she especially still savored the look on Walder Frey’s face. He had been on her list. She had imagined killing him, causing him pain, ending his house, for so long, and it was better than she had ever imagined it could be.
Taking a moment to drink and have a few pieces of dried beef, she looked around her. The King’s Road was barely visible through the snow, but at this point she didn’t really need it anymore.
Winterfell was close, she could feel it. She imagined she recognized some of the trees from the day she left years ago. It was impossible, of course, Arya knew this, but the flicker of happiness that was in her heart made everything nostalgic to her.
She stood staring out at the north, adjusting her scarf again so it covered most of her face. Her grey eyes were focused on the north, and now the sun was fully up she had to shield them with her hand. Her heartbeat sped up when she saw a small, dark, castle-like figure in the distance.
Could be nothing, she told herself, trying to keep a level head. But she immediately started walking again, faster than before, any idea of needing a moment to rest completely forgotten as she trotted on through the snow.
Home… I’m coming home…
Jon Snow watched the sun come up from above the gate. Sleep hadn’t come to him that night. It would have been a normal occurrence before, but after the previous weeks this sleeplessness was strange.
With Winterfell taken, fortified and safe again, the walls warm with fire and life again as they used to be, his sister Sansa and his brother Bran back home, he had almost felt at peace.
The white walkers were still coming, of course, and his days were spend speaking with the lords of the North to convince them to rally to his cause, which were tiresome conversations, and there was no doubt in his mind that Queen Cersei – the information of Tommen’s demise had come to him a week prior – would not allow him to proclaim himself King of the North for long, … Regardless, though, he had slept like a babe every night since his return to Winterfell.
Except this night.
He sighed as the snowy landscape in front of him lit up, all remnants of the battle already gone.
Gone, but not forgotten.
He turned away from the sight when he heard the sound of the bell, telling him that it was time for breakfast. His cloak swished as he went down the stairs, greeting his guards with a curt nod. Most of the fighters from the Free Folk had gone back to their settlements near the wall, but some had preferred to stay on as his guards. It pleased him at least as much seeing them guarding the palace as it did seeing the men that were send from the different houses of the North. The North had come together again at last, and it warmed his heart to see them together, the knights from the houses, the wildlings, old grudges set aside - for now at least.
It was enough for Jon though. He felt almost the happiest man alive as he walked into the Great Hall, were Sansa and Bran were already sitting at the grand table, joined by Davos and Tormund, his right hands, and Meera, who had become part of the family after everything she had done for Bran. Ghost looked up from his spot by the fire, and he smiled at the animal as he did at the rest of the room.
“You were up early today, King Snow”, Tormund said, greeting him with a sly smile. “Had a lady ya weren’t able t’ stay with in th’ mornin’?”
Even Sansa chuckled at the jab, Jon noticed. How times had changed.
Luckily, after all his time with the wildlings, he had gotten used to these kind of greetings.
“Aye”, he answered as he sat down in front of Bran, “her breath smelled as disgusting as you do on a good day. I’ll tell her to visit you some time, if she has it that bad herself maybe she can put up with you too.”
The big guy grinned in his beard and went on with his breakfast, as did the rest of the table.
Bran, however, looked at his brother curiously.
“You didn’t sleep much last night, did you, Jon?” he asked, his dark eyes regarding him knowingly.
Jon sighed, but smiled nonetheless. The return of his younger brother had brought him a lot of joy, but at first a whole lot of worries as well. He had told him about his mother, of course, about the history of Ned Stark, of the Children and the White Walkers, and of the three-eyed raven. The young man’s knowledge and abilities had scared him at first, still did to a certain extent, but the love and memory of the young Bran had helped him look through this newfound mystique, and after some time he had gotten to know the man his brother had become.
“No I didn’t, little brother”, he said, biting into a big chunk of bread, “and somehow I get the feeling you know why it is that for the first time since I came back to Winterfell this happened.”
Sansa looked curiously at the exchange. She too had noticed the change in Bran, of course, but she couldn’t bring herself to care much about it. Her baby brother had come home. The last time she had seen him, he was in a coma, and now he was alive and talking, and gods be damned if she let his newfound abilities dim the happiness she felt when she saw him again.
She could see that Jon had struggled at first, but as time went by he too got used to the new Bran, and Sansa could not have been happier.
Well, almost… The loss of her youngest brother Rickon had been hard, despite her knowing that he was lost when he went to Ramsay. She had tried to keep all hope from her heart, but there was still some part of her that kept hoping for the best when it came to her family. And now they were three again, and she couldn’t be happier. The dread she had felt when walking through Winterfell at first, seeing all the banners and belongings of the Flayed Man’s House was washed away instantly when Bran and Meera were brought home by some Wildlings that found them wandering the forest.
From then on, Winterfell had gone back to feeling like a home. Despite all her responsibilities now, as the lady Stark, and the Winter that had finally come, she felt stronger than ever before.
Her blue eyes were fixed on her brother’s as she had her breakfast. Jon had asked Bran an indirect question, but as the boy did lately he took a long time to answer, almost deliberately taking more time than needed to empty his bowl.
Finally, Jon coughed and raised an eyebrow, and, throwing a slight smile at Sansa, Bran slowly made eye contact with Jon again.
“You’re right, I have seen something at the Weirwood last night. It was vague, and I’m not entirely sure what it means, but since you felt it too…” He smiled at the end of the sentence, a giddy smile that reminded them of the old Bran.
Sansa and Jon looked at one another, both obviously overjoyed at his enthusiasm.
“Well what, Bran?” Sansa chuckled, “are you going to tell us, or do you want us to suffer a little longer?”
Bran opened his mouth to speak, when he was interrupted by the door to the Great Hall opening.
“Your Grace?” The Guard entered hastily, looking upset that he disturbed the Royal family at their breakfast.
Jon sighed, pointing at his brother over the table: “We will continue this conversation as soon as this is done.”
Bran smiled and nodded. “If you wish.”
Jon frowned at the answer, but beckoned the guard in regardless.
“Speak then, man! We were having an urgent conversation, which I would like to finish as soon as possible.”
The guard turned positively pale. “Y-yes, your Grace, I apologise, but there is a visi-“
He was interrupted when a snowy figure burst into the Hall.
The figure was almost at the table when a group of guards followed, weapons at the ready, looking a bit distressed at having allowed an unknown, armed person to pass through their defenses and straight to the whole royal family.
All but Bran immediately stood up when they noticed what was going on, Jon, Davos and Tormund already drawing their swords and Meera grabbing a knife. Jon went around the table, his sword pointed at the unknown person.
When he stood in front of the intruder, sword under their chin, he noticed that this person was smaller than him, but also that they hadn’t moved a muscle.
“Who are you”, he said, looking into the intruder’s eyes. The grey eyes were fearless. He had to respect this man, surrounded by ten heavily armed guards, a sword at his neck, and his grey eyes were hard as steel.
Or were they?
As Jon continued staring into those grey eyes, they seemed to change ever so slightly. The hardness went out of them, replaced by something deeper… A look he recognized from years ago…
His hand was shaking as he lowered his sword.
“My lord, no”, he heard Davos say behind him, but Jon didn’t care. He knew now, he understood the feeling he and Bran both had had. Something in him still stopped him from moving towards this person, not because he wasn’t sure, but more so because he couldn’t believe it. Of all the impossible things that had happened to him these past years, this was the most impossible one.
But when the figure finally moved to take the scarf from her face and he was greeted by a familiar smirk, he knew.
“You know, this whole stick ‘em with the pointy end thing is fun and all, but it would be nice if you could try not to use it on your own sister.”
For the first time in long, her grey eyes shone with tears as her brother hugged her as tight as she had ever been hugged.