As the coast of Harlaw vanished astern at dawn he stole a look at Theon. He was standing on the starboard side of the ship, his hand on Mist's head. He really did seem to gain strength from the direwolf. Jon did not approach the pair. He knew what he was thinking. He was preparing to meet his father and reject everything he stood for.
He looked back at the helmsman. The Reader was standing next to him, talking quietly to Asha Greyjoy. The older man was the opposite of everything he'd thought the Ironborn to be. He was quiet but authoritative, studious but still fierce when he had to be. The moment that he'd shown them the room with the glowing runes had been one that would remain in his memory for many years to come. It had shaken them all.
Off to one side was a pale Ygritte who, wonder of wonders, was not retching over the side. The wildling girl that he had such an odd relationship with was obviously concentrating furiously on the Reader's advice on how not to get seasick.
The Reader bellowed a series of orders at his men that caused them to pull on various ropes whilst releasing others and after a moment he felt the ship shiver slightly as it started to somehow slip through the waves even faster.
"Aye," said Asha as she approached him and then looked up at the sails. "My Nuncle knows his bloody business. We'll be there well before sunset."
He pulled a slight face. "What will your father do when he hears that we're coming?"
The Ironborn woman – she was no girl, not now – stared ahead and set her face a little as she battled with what to say. "Depends on what he's heard. Ships go back for forth between the islands with the truce. But we left the day after you arrived so he might not know that Stannis Baratheon's sailing with us, and he definitely won't know that Theon's renounced his name. We know that there's a good chance that we're sailing into what my father thinks is a trap, but we have the people we need to let the jaws of that trap snap shut on empty air."
Jon looked at the other ships around them, with Harlaw pennants snapping stiffly in the wind. Hopefully she was right.
They were blessed with that same brisk wind for the rest of the day, a westward wind that drove straight for Pyke like an arrow leaving a bow, and Jon wondered if they would have the same impact once they hit their target. Balon Greyjoy's world was about to be changed in every way possible.
Along the way they passed fishing vessels, manned by a combination of Ironborn and people who could only be thralls, something that made him genuinely angry at the thought of it. Some of the crew of the ships they passed looked at them curiously, some cheered and others had an oddly conflicted look to them.
On they went and Jon found himself wondering how far ahead of them the pinnace that the Reader had sent before them was now. The small craft was fast but didn't look as sturdy as some of the others did, but that said it was fast.
As they approached Pyke – as the island eventually started to loom on the Western horizon – he found out how fast. There was a shout from the mast, arms were pointed and then the little ship was seen in the far distance, its triangular sail set as it tacked from side to side. As it eventually drew level various sails were lowered, the ships slowed and then a package was carefully thrown from the smaller ship to the larger.
The package contained a message, one that the Reader read with care – and a look at Asha Greyjoy that made her eyebrows contract for a long moment before she nodded and then orders were shouted and the little flotilla set a slightly different course.
When all was settled for the new course he looked at Asha, who strode over. "My father has sent word that he will meet us at the North coast of Pyke. A place called the Parleystone."
He nodded – but then he caught the look on her face. "What's wrong?"
She pulled a slight face. "This doesn't feel right. The Parleystone's long since lost its significance, it's a name that doesn't mean much, there's a much more important place on Great Wyck. That said, we'll keep to the plan. Plain cloaks and cowls. We'll match whatever my father means to do with means of our own." She said this with a strained smile that didn't meet her eyes and then strode off.
They sailed on, along the Northern coast, as the Sun started to head down towards the horizon, until they eventually reached what must have been the appointed place. There stood a great flat rock by the side of a sloping beach of grey shingle and as they rowed ashore in long cutters Jon found his eyes flickering to the headlands behind the beach. He couldn't anyone there – but that did not mean that no-one was there.
As he leapt ashore, Ghost at his side, he strode rapidly up the beach, joined swiftly by Theon and Mist and then Ygritte, who looked glad to be ashore again but not at the expense of neglecting her sentry skills. She had her bow in one hand, but then as she looked about and the direwolves sniffed the air, all three seemed to relax just a hair. She looked at him and nodded, whilst the direwolves attended to some much-needed relief now that they were both ashore. Once that was done they both bounded off, alert in every way.
By the time he looked back at the ships, the Reader was shore, along with his men and Stannis Baratheon. The Hand of the King had brought along half a dozen of his best men and all had hidden their Baratheon tabards beneath plain cowled cloaks. He's heard the King's brother mutter about hating such mummery, but as the Reader had pointed out they needed to keep his presence a secret until the right moment.
As one of Lord Harlaw's men bound the flag of House Harlaw to a tall pole that they had brought with them and then walked over to the flat rock and jammed it into the shingle so that it stood upright, before wedging it in place with stones at the base, Jon sighed and placed a hand on Dark Sister's hilt. He really needed to give it a new name, to hide it in plain sight, but that felt vaguely wrong somehow for a sword with such a history.
And then he paused. Ghost and Mist had both stopped dead in their tracks and were looking out to sea. He walked over to his direwolf, waving at Theon to do the same and then all four stared Northwards. There was nothing in sight, save a distant fogbank, but something was causing the hackles on both direwolves to ripple briefly. "What is it?" he asked Ghost, but the direwolf just tilted his head to one side as if both puzzled and disturbed, before huffing slightly and sitting and looking about.
"Something's amiss," Theon said in a low voice. "I'll have a word with Asha and the Reader."
"Aye," he replied. "Just because we can't see trouble, that doesn't mean it's not coming."
Theon strode off quickly, Mist at his side, and had that word. Asha looked bemused but the Reader nodded sharply and then talked to one of his men, who detached others to set a good watch, before glancing at Jon and then saying something to Theon.
The new Lord Greymist had a slightly bemused look to his face when he walked back. "He listened. Then he looked at me, looked at you, said 'You'll both do' and dismissed me. What do you think he meant by that?"
"It means that sometimes you've got a brain in that thick skull of yours," Ygritte said to one side and she passed them and stared at all four points of the compass. "There's trouble coming. You'll do." And then she walked off with a smirk at Jon.
"Gods," Theon muttered at him. "Bed and marry her. Watching you two circle each other like a pair of randy stoats is getting very wearying."
They waited after that. Waited for a worryingly long time, as the sun started to set and dread started to gnaw at him. He didn't know what was delaying Balon bloody Greyjoy, but at one point he heard the Reader telling Asha Greyjoy that her father was a fool, something that she did not disagree with. The Reader then ordered some of his men to start gathering the driest of the driftwood to make a bonfire to one side, in case they needed the light to re-embark.
But then, finally, he heard shouts to one side and looked up to see a procession of men striding along the headland and then down towards the flat rock. They held a standard before them, the banner of House Greyjoy snapping and booming in the stiff breeze, and as they approached he sent Ghost to the rear of their assembled party and then joined the others, his Stark tabard hidden by his own cloak and his face obscured by his hood.
As the Greyjoy party approached two men stood out. The first was a gaunt man with long grey hair that was flecked with white and a slight stoop who wore a Greyjoy tabard. The second was shorter, with long black hair that seemed to be mixed with something else – and the burning eyes of a fanatic.
"Damphair," someone breathed to one side of him and he looked over to see Asha looking at the approaching men with a troubled gaze. And then: "And Father."
The Greyjoy party reached the base of the rock and then the man with the stoop gestured at the man with the standard, who jammed it into the ground and then placed rocks at its base to match the Harlaw standard. And then what could only be Balon Greyjoy stepped forwards, the man with long hair a step behind his right hand side.
As he approached The Reader stepped forwards to greet them, Asha at his side – and then a long silence followed. The Reader and Asha just stood there, whilst Balon Greyjoy glared at them almost as much as the man who had to be Aeron Greyjoy.
Finally Balon Greyjoy broke the silence: "Harlaw."
"My Lord." The Reader nodded shortly. His eyes flickered to one side. "Damphair."
Damphair – the name was apt, was that seaweed in his hair? – curled a lip at his goodbrother.
"Father." Asha said the word simply and with some regret.
Balon Greyjoy's nostrils flared for a moment and then he looked at her. "Daughter." Something seemed to pass between them, but interestingly enough it was he who broke their gaze as he looked back at the Reader.
There was another moment of silence and then the Lord of Harlaw smiled ever so slightly. "No bread and salt?"
Balon Greyjoy's lips twitched for a moment. "It's coming."
The Reader's own lips twitched. "Of course it is," he replied. "You requested this meeting. What say you?"
The long-haired man drew himself up. "I am the Lord of the Iron Islands!" He barked the words.
"I know," The Reader replied. "I have never denied that fact."
"And you have taken up arms against me!"
The Reader tilted his head to one side slightly. "Did not your people take up arms against us when they started murdering those who said that they had heard the Call?"
An unpleasant silence was the result of this, as Balon Greyjoy looked angry and his brother looked as if he was about to start raving, only to be held back with a wave of the former's hand.
"The Call," Balon Greyjoy snarled eventually, "Is naught but Greenlander mummery and-"
The Reader cut him off. "Was there a Greenlander in my study when I heard the words 'The Others come. The Stark calls for aid. You are needed!'? No, there was not! Harras!"
A dark-haired younger man with Harlaw colours stepped forwards. "My Lord?"
"Where were you when you heard the Call nephew?"
"At sea my Lord."
"Any Greenlanders with you?"
"Not a one my Lord!"
Red spots burned in Balon Greyjoy's cheeks for a moment. "This 'Call' was-"
"You heard it too, didn't you Father?"
The question by Asha was direct and seemed to pierce the Lord of the Iron Islands, who deflated a little and looked about with more than a hint of uneasiness.
"We are loyal to you, Lord Greyjoy," the Reader said firmly. "All we wish is to help at the Wall. What is the threat in that?"
However, if Balon Greyjoy looked deflated his brother was the opposite. He seemed to swell with rage. "The Drowned God denies the Call! The Drowned God is all! No help for blasphemous Greenlanders!"
The Reader looked at Damphair with a look of utter disgust. "Asha," he said eventually, "Who did you discover is sending help to the Wall?"
"All of Westeros," Asha replied grimly. "From Sunspear and Highgarden to Dragonstone and Tarth. Even the Old Lion is sending help."
Balon Greyjoy snorted. "That sour old bastard has to, after his children were caught fucking."
But Damphair was not finished: "The Call is a nonsense! A lie from Greenlanders! Their so-called Old Gods that do not exist! The Drowned God-"
"Was once one of them! We know the truth now, Damphair! I have read the runes. We know the truth. When did you suspect that your Drowned God is mad and dying?"
The Ironborn in Balon Greyjoy's group hissed at the apparent blasphemy and Damphair turned a fascinating range of colours, from white with shock to red with rage that seemed to be tinted with something else. Shock? Fear?
"ENOUGH." The word came from the lips of Stannis Baratheon, who stepped forwards and shrugged off his hood and cloak. Behind him his men did the same and the Baratheon stag was visible on all their chests. "Enough. I am Stannis Baratheon, the Hand of the King. I speak with his voice and the King says this: there will be peace in the Iron Islands."
There was a shocked silence – and then Balon Greyjoy raised a trembling finger. "Stannis Baratheon?" He hissed the name as if it pained his lips to say it. "Stannis Baratheon?"
"You seem to have heard of me," The Hand of the King said dryly. "But you may call me 'my Lord Hand', as befits my title."
The enraged Lord of the Iron Islands rounded on the Reader and Asha. "That's why you were at Winterfell! To bring this man with you! Stannis Baratheon, the Butcher of Fair Isle!"
"Yes," Asha said steadily. "Father, it was the only way to get you to see sense."
"By bringing him here? The Butcher of Fair Isle!"
"Stop saying that," the Reader snapped. "I was at Fair Isle. You were not."
"He killed your sons!"
This time it was the reader who swelled with rage. "No! He did not! You killed them both! You, with your insane war that you could never win! You gambled that Robert Baratheon, a man who loves war, would not be able to bring the full force of Westeros onto us! You committed us to a war that we could never win!"
There was a long moment of mutual hatred and then the Reader let out a breath. "I, at least, will have children at some point. My wife is with child. And the Hand of the King is here to remind you that the King wishes for peace in these islands."
"Thank you, Lord Harlaw," Stannis Baratheon rumbled before stepping forwards, one hand resting casually on the pommel of his sword. "The Crown has heeded the Call. The King rides for the Wall, to help the Night's Watch fight the ancient enemy there – the Others have returned and they care not a whit for our squabbles. We are fighting for each other and if you think that the Others do not care about you here then you are wrong. The Iron Throne will look favourably on those who help in the North. It will look askance at those who do not – or who hinder it."
Balon Greyjoy looked from the Hand to the Reader and then back again, his face working through a number of emotions.
"Father," Asha said quietly, "I have been to Winterfell. I've seen the King there. And I've seen things that you need to know about. The shades of the dead gathered at Barrowtown, until Ned Stark and his son bade them to leave. Strange fog gathered at Harlaw and vanished at the same time that the dead were dismissed in Barrowtown. Father, magic has returned. The Others are out there. As your heir, I urge you to see reason on this."
"As my heir… Daughter you presume much. And strictly speaking Theon is still my heir."
"No, he is not." Stannis Baratheon said the words flatly. "Asha is now your heir."
Balon Greyjoy did not blanch at this. He did not curse or wince. He simply flicked an eyebrow up and down. "Ned Stark took his head then? Well, he was a hostage after all."
The words were said in such an indifferent way that Jon blinked and then bristled. Theon was not his friend in the way that he was Robb's, but he was closer to the new Lord Greymist than he had been before.
"No," and now it was Theon's turn to shed his hood and cloak, before clicking his fingers and summoning Mist. "He could have, after finding out that you rebuilt the Iron Fleet. But he did not. Instead I have renounced my Ironborn heritage. I am Lord Greymist now, of the North."
The blood drained from the face of Balon Greyjoy as his men muttered behind him. Finally he rallied enough to say: "Theon?"
"Father." Theon replied flatly. "Did you hesitate about my fate for a moment before you ordered the rebuilding of the Iron Fleet? Was my life – the life of your last living son – worth nothing to you?"
His eyes were blazing and his father could not meet them for long. "We had to be strong," he muttered eventually. "If you are truly Ironborn then you'd understand."
"What I understand is that my father abandoned me to my fate as a hostage." He looked down at Mist and then back up again. "So why should I not abandon my father's name? I am Lord Greymist of the North. I am a man – a lord – of the North."
"A dog to the Starks," Balon sneered. "Good then that you ran away from your heritage. You are indeed no Greyjoy, boy. And I see that you have a dog of your own."
"He's a direwolf. And Lord Stark has been a better father than you ever were."
"And have you abandoned the Drowned God?" Damphair shook his head in disgust. "Your father is right, it is better that you are lost to us."
"The Drowned God?" Theon almost spat the words. "The Old Gods saved me from him! You see this?" He pulled out the Weirwood pendant from his shirt. "They gave me this after I dreamt that my brother Rodrik tried to drag me to him! I dreamt of an island made from bones, set in a sea of the dead. Rodrik was dead and rotting, but he was still alive in some way that I don't understand and he wanted me to meet this… thing that stank of madness on a throne by the shoreline. I killed Rodrik and the thing chased me onto a boat where I was saved after I chose the Old Gods!"
Another silence fell, with many of the men muttering behind Balon Greyjoy, who had an odd expression on his face, as if he was troubled. Damphair on the other side had gone as white as a sheet. "An island made from bones, boy?" He croaked the words slowly. "And… a smell?"
"A stink of foulness," Theon said softly. "And I woke up to find this pendant around my neck. It was more than a dream. I don't fully understand it even now but… I follow the Old Gods."
Damphair fell silent and stared at Theon as if he was not sure what he was, whilst Balon Greyjoy just stood there, his face still working until he finally groaned and then rubbed his hands over his face. "Oh," he said slowly, "Very clever Harlaw. Well played. Well played indeed. Asha is now my heir, Theon is lost to me and you have forced the truce on your terms, not mine."
"I have played nothing," the Reader said, tilting his head to one side. "This is all the work of others. And of you. You were the one who denied the Call. You were the one whose orders broke the Iron Fleet. And you were the one who wanted this parley."
The Lord of the Iron Islands just looked at him and then stared at the sea. When he looked back Jon could tell that something had broken within the man. He clicked his own fingers and as Ghost padded out from behind everyone he could see that Balon Greyjoy was looking at him. "Another direwolf? Who are you then?"
He undid the cloak and showed the Stark tabard on his chest. "Jon Stark."
"Here to bear witness for your father?"
"Well now, the Bastard of Winterfell is here as well. My humiliation is complete."
He did not rise to the bait. Instead he just repressed his temper and placed a hand on Theon's shoulder. "The North has welcomed Lord Greymist."
Balon Greyjoy's lip curled – and then a pair of hands came together in a clap of delight off to one side. "Ah! To be present at such a moment! House Greyjoy – and attendant dogs and vermin – united in one place! I'd cry if I could, but that's no longer possible for me."
The speaker was a slender bearded man with long black hair and an eyepatch over his left eye. The right eye was blue and it shone with malice and amusement, whilst for some reason the man's lips were blue.
And he was alone. Standing there dressed in black leather breeches and a white shirt under a black leather doublet, but alone, with just a short sword and a dagger on his belt.
"Crow's Eye." The Reader hissed the words, before looking at Balon Greyjoy. "I was warned he had returned from his exile. Why is he here?" Asha had one hand on her sword and all of the Reader's men were looking alert. Jon remembered what Asha had said of her mad uncle and placed his own hand on the hilt of Dark Sister.
Balon Greyjoy shook his head. "Brother. Things have changed. Leave."
Euron Greyjoy threw his head back and laughed. "Oh, Balon! Did you really think that I am here to help you? That your poor pathetic plan to force a peace on these miserable pile of iron-rich rocks was ever what I wanted? You always were a fool!"
Everyone stared at him, Ironborn and Mainlander, in confusion. Eventually the man stopped laughing and looked at his oldest brother. "I'm here to kill you." A languid hand waved at the others. "All of you actually. I am here for power, the kind of power that you can't even begin to understand. You are all… beneath me now."
Jon stared at him, confused, and then at the horizon in all directions. There was no threat that he could see. "Is he mad?" Whoever asked the question was speaking what he was thinking.
Euron Greyjoy walked forwards a step. "Damphair! Why don't you explain to everyone why you're so worried about your dying god? Yes, I see that look in your eyes, that look of utter panic. You know as well I do that he's dying as he clings to that ledge and begs for scraps from our tables. A rape here, a murder there, a curse… crumbs to feed a dying creature."
A look of false pity crossed his face. "We should put him out of his misery, surely? Is that not the right thing to do?" The look was replaced with one of mad glee. "But the opportunity that would emerge! When he dies a void would be there… a void that could – can – be filled! A new god! A young, virile god!" The grin somehow grew wider. "Me."
"He's mad," Ygritte stated very firmly. "He's out of his mind."
Euron Greyjoy frowned slightly as he looked at her. "A Wildling? Here? How odd." And then he fixed his eye on Jon. "A Stark." He said the last word flatly, with something in his voice that might have been a tremor of uncertainty. "A Stark. A meddling Stark, full of rectitude and 'honour' and without any idea of how to use the magic in your veins from your Child of the Forest ancestors."
Jon blinked at the man. What? But then the one-eyed man waved a hand. "Irrelevant. You die today. You all die today and I take a step towards achieving my goal."
"Bold words from just one man," the Reader said with narrowed eyes. "Where is your crew?"
The question seemed to amuse the lunatic. "My crew? My crew are… assisting me as only I know how to use them properly. You'd be amazed at what I have picked up from places like Valyria." For a moment a shadow seemed to cross his face before another languid wave of the hand dismissed that as a topic. "I have help coming from another place." He looked at the sea and then sighed slightly. "They are so annoying. No proper sense of timing. Well, what can you expect from such creatures?"
The hairs on the back of Jon's neck stood up at the same time that he felt Ghost's hackles go up. The fog bank off the coast was drawing closer and all of a sudden he felt colder. "What have you done?"
"What have I done? Well, I have allied myself to creatures that want to kill everyone on these islands for a start." He paused. "They're a bit fixated on that point and not very bright. Such a shame for them, but then I'm going to betray them anyway and use the magic within them once they're done killing you all." He looked back at the sea. "Ah! At last!"
The fog bank was heading straight towards them and all of a sudden Mist was howling a warning. Jon and Theon both drew their swords and following their lead so did Stannis Baratheon and the Reader as they all stepped backwards from the shore. Balon Greyjoy looked confused, whilst Damphair was white and shaking – and as they breathed out white vapour was suddenly appearing.
It was colder than it had been before. Far colder. Jon and Theon swapped a horrified glance of recognition and then the latter sheathed his sword and unslung his bow from his back and scrabbled into his quiver. "Ygritte! How many dragonglass arrowheads do you have?"
"Not many," the Wildling girl muttered as she readied her own bow. "Didn't think that we'd need them here."
"Jon Stark! What's going on?" Stannis Baratheon barked.
"OTHERS!" Jon bellowed. "The madman's allied himself with the Others."
"But we're hundreds of miles South of the Wall! How can they be here?"
He shivered slightly. "This is the stroke we were warned of." He looked back at the fog bank. It was shredding now – and then he saw it. A huge iceberg was coming straight at them, a wake somehow at its front as it cut through the waves in a path as straight as an arrow. "They went around the bloody Wall."
"Iceberg's don't normally do that," the Reader spat. "TO ARMS! Lord Hand, Jon Stark, what should we do?"
"Light that fire! Throw lamp oil onto it! We need fire!" Stannis Baratheon roared. "How many dragonglass arrows do you have available Lord Greymist?"
As someone thrust a brand into the pile of driftwood and another man ransacked a backpack for lamp oil Theon conferred with Ygritte and then looked back at the Hand. "Ten between us my Lord Hand. If there's more than ten Others or wights in that thing we are fucked."
"Valyrian steel will help," Jon barked. "Who here wields Valyrian steel?"
"Harras!" The Reader shouted. "Please tell me you have Nightfall on you?"
"I do Uncle!" Harras Harlaw, a tall man with an austere face, stepped forwards and, after a wave of the hand from his uncle, joined Jon with a nod of recognition for his own Valyrian steel sword.
"Don't be overwhelmed by how they look," Jon muttered to the Ironborn. "It's going to get cold – colder than you've ever been before. Avoid their swords – they cut through anything but Valyrian steel." He looked back to the confused mass of men behind the Lord of the Iron Islands. "Pull back! There are monsters like you've never seen coming!"
The iceberg ground its way towards them and as it came closer Jon could see shapes in the ice, indistinct but still just visible – and then he saw the top of the mountain of ice. It was almost as clear as glass and within it he could see three figures within it, seated on thrones made from blue ice. Their eyes were open and shone with the malicious blue fire that he had seen North of the Wall. Others. There were Others somehow here.
"Euron!" Damphair screamed the word. "What have you done? Treachery! Blasphemy!"
Euron Greyjoy grinned at his brother, who was walking towards him, raving and waving his arms in the air. Damphair seemed to be out of his mind, screeching words and phrases about the Drowned God and faith. Jon opened his mouth to warn the Ironborn fanatic – and then Euron, with the speed of a striking snake whipped out his short sword and darted forwards to bury it in the belly of his brother.
"At last," he said as he stared into the eyes of the white-faced Damphair. "I've been planning to do that since I was seven years old. You always were annoying. Now, tell that mad god of yours that I'm coming for his skinny arse in the gate at the Hightower."
There was a moment of shocked silence, broken only by the grinding shriek of the iceberg forcing its way onto the beach – and then as Euron pulled his sword out, Damphair screamed in pain and then fell to the ground, trying weakly to stuff his entrails back into his stomach.
"Madman!" Asha shouted in horror. "Kinslayer!"
Euron waved his sword negligently, spattering his brother with his own blood. "Oh, kinslaying's the least of what I'm going to do to all of you, especially you niece," he leered at her. "I have plans for your wighted cunt."
Asha narrowed her eyes. "Not whilst I have breath in my body, you mad fucker."
"That's the point, Asha," her uncle laughed. "That's the point. You won't have a say in anything. Aha! At last!"
The iceberg came to a halt and then suddenly the top of it seemed to shiver and then shatter as the three figures stood up from their thrones. White hair whipped in the wind as those inhuman eyes gazed down at them all – and the n the lead Other raised his sword into the sky – and then brought it down into the ice beneath its feet. The ice cracked as a fissure speared its way through the iceberg – and then the front of it shattered and the wights that had been trapped within it emerged, climbing over the ice and then surging towards the horrified onlookers.
"Stand and fight!" Stannis Baratheon bellowed as he got his men into line, joined quickly by the Reader.
Among Balon Greyjoy's men however chaos reigned. "What are those things?" was the most common words on the lips of the men behind him.
"Wights! Stand and fight!" Stannis bellowed.
"Aye! Stand with the Hand!" The Reader shouted. "Stand with the Hand and the Reader!"
The words seemed to shake the men into action, because swords were drawn and the men came forwards to meet the onrushing pack of wights. There had to be at least 60 of the bastards, maybe more and Jon swallowed as they came on before adding his own voice to the bedlam. "Crush their skulls! Hack their heads off! Cut them to pieces!"
Bows sang behind him and two wights stopped in their tracks and then fell where they stood, arrows standing out from their chests. "They can die," Theon shouted. "Dragonglass kills them!"
"Where the fuck are we going to get dragonglass on this bloody beach?" someone shouted.
"Brands! Use brands! Set fire to the wights! Lamp oil! Use lamp oil!" That was Ygritte, the most experienced wight fighter they had, and as he watched she darted forwards and thrust her dagger into the eye of a charging wight, which crumpled at her feet. Dragonglass. She had her dragonglass dagger. She caught his look. "Did you really think I'd go anywhere without that dagger Jon Stark?" And with that she grabbed her other dragonglass dagger and gave to the Reader, who took it with a grim nod
Another wight came at Jon and he felled it with three swift blows, severing head and arms, before stepping back and watching as Harras Harlaw swept the head off a wight and then plunged his sword into its chest, kicking the twitching body off and then staring down in horror as the arms still reached for him.
"Cut them to pieces!" Jon snarled as he sliced the fallen wight's arms off.
Others were doing the same and to one side a wight went up in flames, and then another. The group around Stannis Baratheon and the Reader were doing better than the men around Balon Greyjoy. Someone had pulled him back and there were unmoving Ironborn laying dead on the shoreline, mingled in with the still-moving parts of wights.
And then the Others moved, leaping down from the iceberg to land as lightly as cats on the shoreline. The lead wight raised his sword again – and then suddenly the dead Ironborn were standing, eyes blue as they raised their weapons against the living Ironborn.
Someone screamed in fear and then Jon looked to one side. Damphair was standing again, no walking, his entrails dragging on the ground at his feet and behind him. But then a bow sang again and suddenly Damphair was falling again, this time forever with a dragonglass-tipped arrow in his chest. "Rest Uncle," Theon said with weary sorrow. "Ygritte! How many arrows do you have?"
"I have two! Jon, we need to kill the Others!"
"Aye!" Jon roared, before grabbing Harras Harlaw by the arm. "Come with me!"
The pale Ironborn man tried to protest but then the Reader paused from stabbing his stone dagger into the eye of a wight and nodded. "Harras! Go with him!"
Gods, thought Jon as the two rushed forwards, we need Robb and Ice. He slashed at a passing wight and then stopped and readied himself as the three Others came towards them, long white hair blowing in the wind. Bows sang behind him and the Others ducked the arrows, one coming with the span of a man's hand from hitting the right-hand creature. To one side Jon could see Ghost hamstringing any wights that he could, whilst Mist did the same to one side.
"Shit," Jon muttered – and then the leading Other raised his sword against his, an almost bored look on its face. That bored look vanished the moment that Jon parried the blow with Dark Sister and then slashed at its face. Harras Harlaw took on another Other with the same result and Jon's heart lifted slightly. The Ironborn man was good, very good. But this was the first time that he'd fought an Other.
Jon hammered at the icy blade of his opponent and then feinted one way whilst rolling his wrists and then slashing downwards. The Valyrian steel slashed into the leg of the Other, which then blew apart in a wails of ice and snow, followed rapidly by the rest of the Other.
But Jon had no time to celebrate. Harras Harlaw screamed suddenly and then staggered. Jon threw him a glance and then groaned. The upper half of a wight had grabbed his leg and was savaging it with its teeth. The distraction was just what the Other that the Ironborn had been fighting needed – the blade of ice caught Harras Harlaw in the neck severing the man's jugular and he fell choking on his own blood, Nightfall slipping from his hands.
"HARRAS!" The Reader shouted in real anguish.
"Shit," Jon said again, before ducking under a blow from one of the two Others and then darting down to pick up Nightfall. "Lord Harlaw! Catch!"
The blade flew through the air and the Reader judged its flight with care and then snatched it up before taking his place at Jon's side. There was a bloodied scratch down his face but he had a face like stone as he looked at the creature that had killed his nephew and heir. And then he swung into action at the same time as Jon, hacking at the ice swords with a terrible fury.
"The Reader!" Men called from behind them and then Jon heard the sound of shattering crockery and then the sound of oil igniting. "Stand with the Hand and the Reader!"
The leading Other started to raise a hand, obviously to raise more wights again, but Jon jabbed at it and then pressed it back, before finally getting in a killing blow on its head. The Other vanished in a blizzard of ice – and then its companion joined it in death when the Reader took its hand off at the wrist and then stabbed Nightfall into its chest.
All around them Jon could hear the slithering thumps of wights collapsing, no longer animated by the fell magics of their creators and Jon could hear the glad cries coming from their companions, or what was left of them. The Readers' men had been joined by some of the crew from his ship, who had brought more oil, who all looked shaken but jubilant.
The Ironborn of Pyke on the other hand were hushed and shaken, all looking down the bodies that covered the ground in front of them, many horribly fresh.
"Well, now, even my Goodbrother will have to admit that Others and their wights exist now," the Reader said with a certain sadness in his voice. He looked down at the body of his nephew. "At what cost though." He frowned. "What do we do with the bodies?"
"Burn them all," Jon replied. "If there's another Other out there – if this wasn't the only blow against us – they could be raised again. We can't take the chance."
"Well fought," Stannis Baratheon said as he cleaned his blade. "Where's Euron Greyjoy though?"
"Well, fuck," said a voice to one side and the three raised their blades as they saw the languid form of the exiled Greyjoy. "That did not go as I had foreseen."
"You, Euron Greyjoy, will pay for your treachery," Stannis Baratheon said through clenched teeth. "To ally yourself with Others!"
"Oh, please, you couldn't kill me if you even tried." And then he seemed to almost flicker, moving almost too fast to see. Jon cried out in alarm, but it was too late. Euron Greyjoy appeared like a grim wraith in front of his older brother and then pulled a dagger from his belt, plunged it into the stomach of Balon Greyjoy and twisted it, whilst grinning into his face. "Goodbye brother." And then he ran again, heading straight for the sea.
Chaos erupted again as Balon Greyjoy started to scream. Theon loosed what must have been one of his normal arrows at his uncle, but the man moved like a snake, dodging with ease, before vanishing behind a rock. Men hurtled after him in pursuit – but then paused and looked about. "Where'd he fuckin' go?" asked one.
Jon ran to the rock and looked about. The man was indeed gone. "Set guards. Watch for him."
"Aye, me Lord," one of the men said, obviously glad to have an order.
Jon looked about again in the gathering dark. Ghost was at his side, whilst Theon had Mist by him as he stood and watched as a pale Asha helped to tend to their screaming father. The Reader and the Hand strode over to him. "This isn't over is it?"
The Reader shook his head. "No. We need to send warning to the other islands of what happened here. And then we prepare for this war on the Wall."
He looked at the bodies everywhere. "I have a bad feeling about this." And then he strode off to help.