Gemma`s last look at the old stone house was full of sorrow. I told myself so long ago that I never wanted to leave this place but here I am drinking the last breaths of the cool midnight air. A distant buzzing echoes throughout the valley from the bees gathering pollen from the night lilies. I walk over to one purple blossom and trace a finger along the silken petals. "This may be the last lily I ever see", Gemma thought with a sadness enveloping her heart. My eyes search the surrounding forest, etching every image into memory. The great oak that Danny and I climbed when they were younger still stood looking lonely without their fingers scaling the bark. I walk slowly to the garden, slipping over the low fence. With shaking hands I pick some vegetables to take on this long journey. I pull a few red potatoes from the ground and a very large radish as well. There are some ripe carrots and onions that I take as well. I make my way towards the fruit trees and gather my most favored fruit: dragon pears. My hands reach the tall branches of the tree to pull the very best fruits down, their rough skin scratching my calloused hands. I put them in the bag strapped around my waist with the rest of my food. Great chunks of dried lamb and chicken lie at the bottom and make my stomach rumble in wanting of a small taste. Before I give in, I close the bag and step towards the small creek. Lights glow in the water blue and gold and red. I will miss watching the fish swim peacefully under the starlight. Reluctantly, I leave and head towards the stables. My brother`s sword, bow, and cape lay at the door where I left them hours ago. I latch the weapons to my back and grab the cape when I enter the dusty stable. A shadow darts quickly in front of me.
"Longqu`, I was wondering where you went off to," I whisper leaning down to pet the enormous tabby. The cat`s purring reverberates through my hand and I enjoy his company. I walk slowly towards the last stall, Longqu` still following me. He sits back on his haunches when we arrive at the stall, his wise green eyes watching me. I grasp the cold iron handle and pull the door open in full view of Danny`s horse. She looks up at me from her bed on the straw covered floor knowing that it is time to leave. She lifts gently from the floor and nuzzles my shoulder. I pull the saddle from the stall door and strap the leather on her. With all the quiet I can muster, I drag the horse Mira out into the night. I tie the last bit of my effects to her and feel the need to leave before night slips by. I must go before I lose the chance, even if my heart despises me for leaving this place behind. Longqu` still trails behind the horse and I: He knows what lies ahead. I step over to him and pet his head silently. He leans towards me with a fat belly grazing the ground. His sad eyes look up at me, trying to make me stay. It makes me sad to lose him, but sadder that he loses yet another human friend. My lips graze his head in a final goodbye and I step towards Mira. When I place myself into her saddle I click the reins slightly urging the horse to walk. My eyes remain forward, for I am certain that if I chance a look behind me I will never leave my old home. We pass the bee hives and animals sleeping in gray barns. Mira makes barely a sound as she walks down the dirt path to the unknown, through the woods, and away from everything I love.
It was only hours ago that I kissed my little brother goodbye and had a last look at my mother and father. Eli was still asleep on his cot with no knowledge that I had been there but mother had seen. I had peeked through their door for one last glace at my family and her eyes stared back at me. Yet, she let me leave. I vaguely remember raising a hand in farewell to see her raise her own. How and why she let me off so easily escapes me, but I think she has also known that I would leave. She knew ever since he died I could not stay. He had a dream to be a great warrior and protect the lands of Westeros from destruction and harm. He yearned for the honor of being a knight. As children I knew he mostly wanted most to be a member of the great Kingsgaurd, but now he was gone, yet his dreams still remain. I may not be able to become a knight, but I will be a warrior. I will live his dream for him. I will keep the last promise I made to my brother. As Mira steps onto the King`s road, I think of the future I ride towards. I push back the need to look back by looking at Mira. "We ride North, for Danny," I say nudging my foot in her rib gently. She neighs in agreement and gallops on into the night.
We ride fast without much disturbance from the quiet night coming across only one group of ragged travelers. I am grateful for the few people who travel at night. We pass many inns during the night. Their boisterous noise and candle light leaks out onto the road, joy echoing about the forest. As I pass the road to The Eyrie, a group of fine dressed travelers are out in the morning air readying for a journey. I take my first break here and tie up Mira to a post. Inside I address a woman I assume to be the innkeeper. I wish to save the water I have and have some ale here. She smiles suddenly showing disgusting blood red teeth and fetches me a cup. There are men talking and laughing at a table across the room tottering drunkenly on a bench.
"What business does a girl have with bow and sword, hmm?" A voice behind me mocks. A balding man in dented silver armor says with a kind smile in my direction.
"There is no need to be nosy, Ser Rodrick. Leave her be," a woman says in the doorway as I am about to answer. The woman smiles at me, though she emanates an unhappy mood. The man, Ser Rodrick probably, smiles at me one last time and makes towards the door. I notice the symbol on her cloak and bow to her.
"It is a pleasure to meet you Lady Stark," I say rising from my stool. She inquires my name with tired eyes questioning every inch of my appearance. "I am Gemma daughter of Norne from Lanka`s falls." A truer smile crosses her face in recognition of my decent.
"Yes, I believe I knew your father and grandfather. I grew up feasting on the precious honey that comes from your meadow. How fares your grandfather, Ser Montigaine?"
"He passed years ago, I`m sorry to say but my father takes care of the honey now," I`m grateful she seems unaccustomed to my recent family history. She will be fooled if I have to lie. The Lady nodded and mentioned something about my grandfather`s reputation.
"He was a good man. I can remember the Ser and your father bringing treats and sweet breads to my family as a child. He would not wish his granddaughter travelling alone," Lady Stark`s voice is suddenly stern as her hawk like eyes settle on mine searching for an answer to her unsaid question.
"My brother wanted to meet me here for reason. He took my father`s weapons in case of trouble and insisted I take his for the same reason. It was a silly request of me; my brother can be a bit foolish." The last lie pains my heart, Danny was never inconsiderate in that way. I hate to describe him as such.
"He must be foolish or believe you to be good with a sword if he bid you go by yourself," she says still studying me. The knight stands back in the doorway, words hanging on his lips yet he stays silent not wanting to disturb the Lady Stark. She sees him and turns quickly back to me. "I hope he comes soon for you Gemma of Lanka. Safe travels."
"And you Lady Stark," I reply quietly.
I finish my ale and wait until I no longer hear their horses in the distance. I place a copper coin on the table and leave the inn. Mira neighs happily at me from the post I had tied her to. I remove her from the post and start again on the long journey north.
Carriages are all over the main road heading south to partake in the festivities of the Hand`s tournament. Groups journey by horseback and nearly push me off the road. I let them and head into the dense evergreen forest. I reach back and search within the soft leathers of my pack until I grip the old strips of paper. My grandfather`s old maps would be my guide. I stretch one across Mira`s back and find a place about four hours ride at the most that would make a safe camping spot. After safely returning it we trot through the woods.
Grandfather Motigaine had marked on the map where the savage tribes were not likely to go and also where safe places to camp might be. I try to stay in those areas. As the sunlight begins to fade we reach the camp on the edge of a cool river. Jumping out of the saddle I release Mira from the leather and my bags so she can roam and relax for the night. I am about to sink my teeth into the jerky when I glimpse the Gods wood surrounding me. It is abandoned but I now know that no soul will bother me tonight, animal or human. I drop the food and go to kneel at the bottom of the wise old tree. Its eyes stare down at me making me feel less alone. I pray silently that the old gods will keep my family safe and that my brother Eli will grow up strong and safe to become a knight and heir to the falls as my family has been since the first men. As Danny should have been. The empty eyes of the tree bore down into my own soul as if it could hear the prayer.
As I rise from the damp earth clinging to my breeches, I see Mira lapping water from the river. She seems grateful for the rest. I am grateful for the rough salted meat easing the ache in my belly. I offer some apples to Mira which she accepts with a loving whiney. After some berries and a large dragon pear my body aches for sleep. With the watchful eyes of the gods wood I let it take me.
. . . . .
In my dream there is white across the land and sky. The white falls in powdery clumps to the extent that I cannot tell whether up is up or down is up. There are no stars in this white sky. I am lost among the white dust. Something lurks closer in the darkness. A pair of great red eyes stops only an arms length away. Warm breath blows in my face. The long snout of a white wolf looms in front of me. I stretch my hand toward its fur, desperate for warmth and the downy softness of its fur. The great wolf welcomes my touch and I nestle in close to it enjoying the company of this newfound friend. The wolf towers over my crouched frame: This was no regular wolf. It nuzzles me like mother would to its child, tongue kissing my cheek. A voice behind me calls and the wolf perks up. In reply to the voice it offers a long howl into the cold wind.
I try and tell the wolf to stop since it will alert whomever is there but it ignores my plea. I am glad the wolf does not go and greet the stranger. The man walks close behind me now, for I hear the scrunching of the white beneath his feet. I hear his voice again, a soft deep voice straining against the wind to be heard, but I can make out no words. I look to the wolf and squeeze its neck slightly. A new voice that seems to come from inside the walls of my own head says "You can turn around. He is good." The red eyes of the wolf look into my own knowingly as if it was his voice I had heard a moment ago.
I wake from the dream unsure if I saw the man`s face or not.
. . . .
Mira and I leave the camp after a quick breakfast of the large radish and chicken jerky. I feel sad to leave the gods wood; they looked after me well. Throughout the day it seems to be colder and my sweat freezes on my skin. I hoist by brother`s deerskin cape over my shoulders for warmth. We ride swiftly through the night and make excellent time off the main road. We only stop three times in the next four days and for quick stops. I am afraid to sleep for long in case a robber or hungry animal stops by our camp during my slumber. At the end of the fourth day Mira and I have passed Winterfell. Thankful for shelter and a warm bed, I rest for a day and a half and then continue on the trails my grandfather mapped years ago.
The white dust is everywhere, though not as cold and thick as my dream. I see no large wolves either, nor many animals at all at the exception of a group of deer. The leather gloves my brother had made for me in secret were well needed at last. The dark black leather keeps the wet dust off my hands while the fur lining makes sure my fingers are warm. Just when I start to become used to the cold around Winterfell, the wind blows harder and any heat flies south marking that winter is on its way. I am very near the wall now and ready to join the Night`s Watch. I can even see the wall from here looming over the entire world it seems.
I have already given so much; my family, my home, the very warmth in my body, but now I have just one more thing to give up. It really shouldn`t be as hard as I make it, but tears sting my eyes as I ready my dagger. The beautiful tresses spilling down my back will never be able to hang this long, for fear I may look too much like a girl. I look at my reflection in a pond. The ice shows my face as a mirror would, shining in the sun. I am paler than when I left home. The lovely rosy stain on my cheeks is replaced by a red chaff mark from the relentless wind. My mother used to love my face and hair for that. The girlish blush and shine in my soft long tresses would make men fall to their knee in love one day she said. Mother would be so saddened to learn what I have to do. I run my fingers through the strands and pull out a few leaves that have made a home. Even now with grime and twigs in it, my hair is still soft and beautiful. With a sigh I lift the dagger to the base of my neck and pull against my lovely dark hair. It shreds without any effort. I cradle the strands in my arms as droplets role down my cheeks. Sobs quake through my body as I realize all that I`ve left behind just to become a boy. I weep and pity myself like that for a long while, the sun is nearly down when I stop. I look again into the ice mirror and fix the parts sticking out on my head.
I do look like a boy, the leather of my coverlet flattens my breasts and covers my curves. It makes me look a bit fat for a girl, but still skinny for a boy. I look like a younger boy, thirteen or fourteen years old, even though I am truly sixteen. With a sigh I accept that for my brother`s dream I have no need to be pretty but I do have to appear to be a man. I had promised Danny and I won`t break my vow.
For the first time since he died, I draw his sword from the engraved sheath. The valerian steel shines bright in the fading sunlight. The ancient sword Durandal holds strong in my arms, but I doubt my ability to wield it. The sword is heavy in my hands and I slash it around in the ways my brother used to teach me with the wooden swords. I swing the thin blade in the same fashion I could with a wooden sword, but alas, I am not so much of an expert with a real blade. Once my shoulders start to ache, I sheath the sword and undo the bow and quiver from my back. I place a few apple cores on a faraway tree branch. From the quiver I draw an arrow, notch it, and pull back the tight string till I can place my thumb against my cheek, just like Danny taught me. Airs sucks through my nose and out my swollen chapped mouth. I release the arrow. The arrow shoots through the air at a speed I am most proud of, spinning on its way and splattering the apple core all over the surrounding trees. I was the second best archer of the families in the Valley. I suppose I`m the best now. I shoot the next two cores and collect the arrows. With proof in my own heart, I am ready to join the Night`s Watch.
Mira and I ride for scarcely an hour when we reach the entrance to the Castle Black. The men watching the gate see me coming from a long way off and meet me on horseback before I reach the gate. Their torch bobs in the distance as they gallop closer. When they inquire my purpose, I tell them in the deepest voice I can muster that I wish to join the Night`s Watch. The two men give me a wary look before they escort me the rest of the way to the Castle Black.
The place looks empty and dreary, lacking happiness as it does warmth. The wall casts everything in shadow at this time of night. Fear creeps in suddenly when the moon is lost behind the great wall. They show me to the stables and I leave Mira in the warmth of the barn. She munches on hay happily as a reluctantly skid away. I swallow my fear, and follow the men into a nearby tower.
Laughter echoes out into the night as we get closer and torch lights can be seen from under the doorway of the tower. Inside the room, the smell of a feast clouds my senses and I realize how hungry I am. I grimace longingly as we pass the food spread out on the table for the young men of the Night`s Watch. I feel eyes boring into my back, but it troubles me none.
In the back room two more men wait for me. Both are older men though burly and tall in stature. As common of the Night`s Watch, they are dressed head to toe in black. One has harsh lines etched into his face, yet his eyes are kind and he passes me a brief smile when I enter the room. It seems as if they were expecting me.
"What`s your name boy?" He asks in a deep commanding voice.
"Glenn, sir. Glenn from Riverrun," I say keeping eye contact.
"You`re not a Tully are you Glenn from Riverrun?" He says.
"No sir a farmer`s son. I mean to protect the land as a man of the Night`s Watch sir." The man looks cryptically at me for a second before the man next to him cuts in.
"As small as you are what help would you give us? I doubt you can lift that sword to polish it let alone swing it," he remarks with a snide tone. His eyes shine bright in the light of the torch as he stands and walks towards me. "Gah, I bet a girl could swing that blade better than you." His eyes twinkle with cruel laughter at the anger across my face. My ears are turning red with rage, not the everlasting cold for once.
"Alliser, that`s enough. We`ll take any man we can get if they will make it through the training," his companion said gesturing for his friend to sit back down. "I am the Lord Commander of the Night`s Watch Jeor Mormont and this is Ser Alliser Thorne, The Master at Arms of Castle Black. Eat well and sleep tonight, for tomorrow you will train with him and your new brothers of the Night`s Watch. Lord Marsh is going to fetch you some black leathers that you will don starting tomorrow, although your cloak will do since it is black. You may choose to reside in any of the towers except for the Eastwatch Sea Tower, Castle Black, and the Shadow Tower," with that he dismisses me from the room to go and fetch the Night Watch`s attire. As I pass the feast I so hungered after the need for food is taken over by a need for sleep. Lord Marsh guides me to get the new attire and I am left by myself for a bit.
I slip tiredly towards the tower filled with the least amount of lights and drifted up the cold steps to the first floor. No one looks to be living here so I make my bed up and slip into my underclothes. I lay myself over the hay mattress and hear light footsteps on the stairs. The torch light creeps into the room underneath the crack of the door. My eyes are too heavy to stay open, so I give up and let them close. Before I drift off to sleep I hear someone gently call "here Ghost" and sleep takes over the night.