I'm sorry for the delay on updating, but our landline died and with it our broadband and after that we had a mad kaftaesque period of telecom engineering appointments being cancelled because of system failures that were totally insane. Anyway, here's an very long update to compensate.
It was almost boring in Winterfell at the moment. The King was fun to watch from a distance and she'd certainly learnt some fun new words from him (he sometimes seemed to have only one volume), words that Mother would probably be horrified that she knew.
Not that she really understood what some of them meant.
She had the feeling that growing up might involve complicated things about people's bodies and sweat.
In the meantime, as she sat on a bench in a courtyard in the sunshine, Nymeria asleep at her feet, Winterfell was sort of normal, if normal involved some very odd people here and there, some people who scared her a bit and others who made her laugh when she shouldn't.
She knew that Ned Umber had been sent there to meet her and perhaps start to woo her a bit, or something that led to wooing. Just thinking about that made her giggle. Ned Umber was a little boy and he'd been soon sucked into the Terrible Threesome, making them the Fearsome (or Foalish in her eyes) Foursome. Shireen soon had him under her thumb.
She liked Shireen. She knew that she'd grown up with greyscale, something that made her shiver a bit. There were stories about that. Nasty ones. But now the Old Gods had saved her. And that made her shiver in a slightly different way. She'd seen red fire in the eyes of Father and of Jon. And the Old Gods had seen her.
There were times when she wondered what they'd made of her. They'd called her a warg, and she knew she was one now. Did they have a plan for her? Or Father? Or Robb?
Robb was being very grouchy recently, whilst staring at Val a lot when he obviously thought that she wasn't looking. And Val was doing the same to him. It was like watching two cats circling each other from a distance.
Mother said that it was possible that Val was an Umber. And that her mother was due to arrive that day, or maybe tomorrow. And that Mors Umber, that one-eyed scary giant of a man, might be Val's Grandfather. Now, he was both scary and funny. There were times when he looked at her and seemed to look right through her and wince.
It might be the fact that she apparently looked a bit like Aunt Lyanna, who had died long before she'd been born.
Nymeria whiffled her whiskers in her sleep and then rolled over slightly.
Frankly it made no sense to her – if Val was part Umber then why didn't Robb just marry her and stop mooning about like an idiot? He liked her, she liked him, they'd helped the Hound kill the Mountain (a man who had truly scared her), so why couldn't they just get it over with and be happy?
Why were older people so stupid?
And for that matter why was Septa Mordane so weird these days? She'd heard the Call, she knew what was coming, why didn't she just accept it like Mother had? It was something to do with religion. Feh. Silly.
Bran's suggestion that perhaps the Seven-that-are-One had been Old Gods who got lost in Andalos had not gone down well, which was odd, because it made perfect sense to her.
Well, the Septa was still teaching them, but also spent time in the Godswood and also in the Sept.
People were odd.
Movement caught her eye and she looked over to see Robb stalking about the courtyard, Grey Wind at his side. He seemed to be looking for something, but she had no idea what.
Perhaps Bran should talk to him about that door in the crypts that they could only see when warging?
Perhaps Robb already knew?
Nymeria woke suddenly, shook herself and then looked at her expectantly. She wondered why for a moment – and then she sniffed the air. Ah. Pork chops. Lunch? She grinned at her Direwolf and then stood up and led her off to the kitchens, with Nymeria doing what she had termed the Wag of Hope.
It was a fine day. Nor warm, but the sun was shining. He was standing on a balcony overlooking the training yard, his hands on the wooden railing and he had to face facts. It was long past time that he did so, but he really couldn't put it off any longer.
His son was an idiot.
He sighed as he watched the lad get knocked on his arse for the third time in as many minutes. Thorne had paired him against a scrawny lad from The Reach, who had arms like twigs and a tendency to make the same mistake many times in a row. And he was thrashing an increasingly dismayed Joffrey.
Gods. If Baratheon could see them now he'd piss himself laughing. He forced his eyes away from the sad spectacle – and then he realised that the Old Bear was approaching him with a look of resolve on his face.
"You need to do something about the lad," Jeor Mormont rumbled. "I can tell that Thorne regards him as shit on the bottom of his boot already." The raven on his shoulder cawed almost derisively, as if he disgusted it.
He could tell at once that he was right. The thin-faced man was regarding Joffrey with utter contempt written all over his face, before shaking his head and looking away. "BREAK!" Thorne shouted. "Catch your breath. And wipe that mud off your arse, Hill."
Jaime ran his hand over his face as Joffrey slumped against a bench and looked around him. Their eyes met for a moment, but then he made himself look away. Gods.
Boots sounded on boards and he looked to one side to see that Thorne had joined them. The Master of Arms at Castle Black looked at him with a sneer and then jerked a thumb in the general direction of Joffrey. "Gods almighty, who taught that little shit? He holds a sword like it's a bloody rolling pin, and he'd do about as much damage."
"The Hound – Sandor Clegane." Jaime shrugged a little. "The problem is that the boy never listened. He was always looking around for the nearest pretty girl or thinking up new lion-related names for his sword."
Thorne curled a lip in his direction. "He doesn't bloody listen even now."
"And," Jeor Mormont growled, "Every now and then he keeps telling people he's a prince. Is he a lackwit? The boy's a bastard."
The boy represented his utter dishonour, but Jaime could not bring himself to say that. "I'll talk to him," he said after a long moment. "I'll try and knock some sense into him."
"Good," said Thorne, "Because if you don't I will and I'll beat some sense into him. No man of the Night's Watch in his right mind would want that little shit by his side when the Others bring their wights to the Wall. Not the way he is now. Talk to your son, Kingslayer. Now."
His fingers clenched on the rail he was gripping. "I was never his father," he said dully after a long moment. "Oh, I was the one who quickened his mother, but I could never be his father. He sees me as his uncle. I don't think that he'll really accept me as his father. He still thinks that Robert Baratheon fathered him."
"Then fucking well educate him then," Thorne snarled at him. "Because he'll not last long here otherwise. They laugh at him now. They won't do that for much longer. And as I said, I'd love to beat some sense into him, but Tywin Lannister is on his way to the Wall with the King and he'd be unamused if he saw that his grandson had a black eye and was missing some teeth."
Ah. They really didn't understand Father did they? He sighed again and then placed a hand on the pouch around his neck. Father was coming, and the King and Ser Barristan bloody Selmy. And once again he was going to be reminded about how badly he had disgraced his family and besmirched his honour.
The pouch… he tightened his grip for an instant and then he nodded, slowly and tiredly. This was going to be unpleasant. So he strode down to the courtyard and stood in front of his son. "Joffrey. Come with me now."
A complicated expression crossed ```` the boy's face, a combination of surprise and glee and dread. Jaime repressed the need to sigh yet again and ushered him to the lift that led up to the Wall and once up there he found a quiet place with no watchers.
But then as he turned to look at him, Joffrey burst out with words that sent his heart into his boots. "Uncle Jaime! Are you here to explain your plan to get us out of here?"
Joffrey stared at him as if he was mad. "To get us out of this hellhole!"
He counted to ten in his head. And then he cuffed the back of his son's head. Joffrey yelped and reeled from him. "Uncle! How dare you strike me! I am a-"
"You are not a prince, Joffrey! Not anymore! Don't you understand this? This isn't a game, or a plot on the part of Stark and Stannis Baratheon! We are here and we deserve to be here, don't you understand that?"
There was a total lack of comprehension behind those green eyes that were in front of him, He groaned internally and then finally said the words that had been haunting him. "Joffrey, it's true. I betrayed two kings, one for the right reasons and one for the wrong ones. You tried to kill Robb Stark. We were sent here for reasons, Joffrey, not whatever nonsense your mother poured into your ear like poison. We are here and we will live here and we will die here. There's no way out of this."
"I am NOT your uncle! I am your father!" There, the fatal word had been spoken. He could see the denial in Joffrey's eyes, the incomprehension. "You know this, your Grandfather told you, Robert Baratheon told you and I am telling you now! I am your father! I loved my own sister and committed incest with her and the result was you and your sister and your brother! So, you are not a prince – you never were a prince, not really. You're my son. You're a bastard. And I'm sorry that you're here. But here we are, at the end of the world, where we'll have to fight monsters that want us all dead."
The wind whistled harshly past them as they stood there, on top of the Wall. And it was there that he saw something die in the eyes of his son. "I… I was going to be King one day." The boy whispered the words as he stared past Jaime's right shoulder with dull eyes.
"Well, now you won't be. You'll never be. Just a Black Brother with me, if we survive this war that's coming here to the Wall. Now listen to me – accept this fate. You have no choice. If you keep clinging to this fantasy that you are still a prince then the nods you see, with the grins that they hide from you behind their hands, will become sneers and later anger, before you have an 'accident' here at the top of the Wall and get discovered dead at its base. Now, I will train you and you will learn. Not whine, not complain, learn. Try and remember what the Hound told you. And forget ideas of escape. We cannot escape this. We cannot escape the reckoning for what we have done and what we are."
Joffrey's face worked for a long moment – and then he burst into tears and sat down with a sudden abruptness. And with a bewildered sense of confusion Jaime stood there next to him and patted him on the head, uncertain what to do.
He was a father and he had not the faintest idea how to act like one. And as he looked to the North, at the forest that stretched ahead to the horizon, he felt a sudden shiver of dread.
Something was coming. Coming for all of them.
Balon Greyjoy may have been a sour piece of utter shit, but he took a day to die. The wound to his stomach was fatal and the Maester at Pyke had to judge the amount of the milk of the poppy to administer very carefully, as he didn't want to kill him, but Balon Greyjoy's screaming never seemed to end for that day.
It was a day he remembered for some time, a day etched in his memory. A horrible day. Pyke was a place that defied description at times. The Castle was… in pieces. It was, on its seaward side, a series of towers sitting on stacks of stone, linked by stone arches or rope bridges.
Just looking at the bloody place gave him the creeping horrors. Apparently the original Pyke had been on a headland. Now that headland was just a group of islands. How long would it be before the islands went as well? Asha Greyjoy had told him that a lot of stones and mortar were used in areas at low tide at times. If he had been in charge then he would have told them to start placing huge rocks at the base of the islands and to keep placing them until the headland reappeared.
Something else that gave him the creeping horrors were the people in Pyke. Oh, Asha and the Reader had taken the place by the scruff of the neck and shaken it good and hard, helped by the death of Damphair and the wounding of Balon Greyjoy by his mad brother. Everyone had united in anger and fury over that. And as the word went around of what Euron had said, there had been a lot of muttering.
Damphair's Drowned Men had been dism
issed at once. They had not exactly gone willingly, but their hearts had been in the boots once word of Damphair's death – and word of Euron's babblings about the Drowned God being dying – had gone around.
But the thing that was really haunting him was the looks that various people were giving him – or not giving him. Many of the servants were afraid of Ghost, but they were all unable to look him in the eye. Not him, not Theon, not any member of their party. They seemed to be afraid of something.
And having talked to Stannis Baratheon beforehand he knew what that something was. They were thralls – slaves in all but name. Some had been taken in raids on the mainland before or during the Greyjoy Rebellion. Some were hopefully descended from those who had been taken in the raids, because they looked rather young.
And some, upon hearing the Northern accent of some of their party, had looked as if they wanted to say something but were too terrified to say a word.
Apparently the Reader had had a word with a few people, but it still all made him very angry.
And now, as they sat there in a dining room off the great hall of Pyke and awaited the latest news, he was looking at a thrall pouring his wine who would not look at his face and who trembled a little, but whose face worked slightly whenever he said a word.
"You're of the North," he said to her as quietly as possible. "Taken in a raid?"
She froze in place, not looking at him, just down at the goblet she was pouring the wine into. "Aye," she said eventually in the tiniest of voices. "Taken."
"You can go home now. My word as a Stark."
Her eyes flickered at him and then closed for a long moment. "Truly?"
A tear leaked out of the one eye that he could see of her frozen profile – and then she drew herself up and nodded formally. "Honour to serve House Stark. I heard the Call." And then she looked about the room, her face working, and all but fled.
Theon looked at him and then placed a hand on his shoulder. "Another taken from the North?"
"Fuck their Iron Price. And fuck their Old Ways. No slaves. Not now, not ever." Lord Greymist's voice wobbled about a bit from emotion, but it was intense.
"There'll be those that fight it," said the voice of the Reader to one side, making them both start a little in surprise. "But then there's always idiots out there that fight traditions being stopped. And any tradition that boosts the mad thing that is the Drowned God needs to bloody well stop."
There was a moment of silence and then they both nodded at Lord Harlaw, before sitting there and sipping their wine. They all knew what they were waiting for, once the agonised screams had started to ebb and fade.
Sure enough after a while the Maester appeared at the door. "Lady Asha. My Lords. Lord Greyjoy wishes to see you. He has not long left."
It was good that Stannis Baratheon had warned them all what it would be like to visit the room of a dying man with a stomach wound, because otherwise he would have gagged a little at the smell that no amount of scented candles could get rid of.
The Lord of the Iron Islands was a huddled shape on a bloodstained bed, even with the bandages. If he had been thin-faced before his mortal wound he looked worse now, his face all angles and hollows, his eyes sunken and dull.
As they entered the room Asha went over to him at once, whilst Theon stood in the middle of the room, Mist next to him, a pale erect figure with a look that combined sorrow with a wish to be elsewhere. Jon made way for the Reader and the Lord Hand, both of whom looked at Balon Greyjoy with hard eyes.
The dying man looked at his daughter and sighed a little, before looking around the room. "Ah," he said in the merest of tired voices. There was blood on his teeth, as if he had screamed his throat raw. "Witnesses. Good."
"Father-" Asha started to say, before being silenced by a ways of his hand in the air.
"I have… no time left. You are my… heir. Just you. They-" and here he directed a savage glare at the others in the room, "They are here to witness this. Nothing… else. Nothing for… them." A complicated expression crossed his face, as many emotions seemed to clash.
"You were… right. Right about many things. I…" He closed his eyes for a long moment, whether in anguish of emotion or in pain, Jon could not tell. "I was wrong. I heard it. Heard… the Call. Damphair persuaded me… otherwise."
"Yes, Father," Asha said with a sigh. "I suspected that."
"If anyone stands against you… if any fools question you… you are my heir. If Drumm questions you, kill him."
There was a long moment of silence. "Kill Euron. He's… not right. Never was, but now… he's something else. Something terrible."
"I will Father, I swear it."
The man was visibly weakening, his head wobbling. "Burn me. After. I die." And then he was gone, the light fading from his eyes.
Jon bowed his head for a moment and then looked up at Stannis Baratheon silently touched his shoulder and then gestured at the door. As they filed out, leaving the weeping figure of Asha Greyjoy behind, he wondered what would happen next. And where Euron Grejoy was, the mad fucker.
He'd never really thought about who he'd ever marry. Father had told him once to pick someone who wouldn't snore and who you wouldn't go to bed angry with, which was not particularly helpful. He'd once entertained vague hopes of marrying a barmaid in Oldtown, but she'd become attached to some rich twat with deeper pockets than his at the time.
And now here he was, standing in the Godswood of the Red Keep, by some alchemy that he didn't fully understand. Father had been a believer in the Old Gods, as he'd lived for a time in Runestone and then again in the Neck, so something had rubbed off on him, but he'd been surprised when Ursula had told him that she wanted the Godswood for their marriage.
Given the nature of the Shield of the Riverlands that never left her side, it seemed fitting. The Foxhold had a small Godswood and also a small Sept, but not that he came to think about it, he couldn't remember the name of the bloody Septon that must have been there. Oh. Wait. Yes, he remembered now. The man had left just after he'd taken up the title of Lord of the Foxhold, because he'd heard the Call. They'd have another ceremony there once they returned, just to reassure followers of the Seven there.
He was woolgathering again and after a long moment he looked back at the six foot tall weirwood tree that stood in front of him now. There was the merest suggestion of a slight and very small face on the trunk and that disturbed him more than anything he could imagine.
And then the man next to him, the man with the green cloak and the antlered hood whose name escaped him, cleared his throat and he looked over his shoulder.
Ursula Cawlish was standing at the end of the line of trees, Lord Arryn next to her. She was wearing a cloak of green and gold over a red dress and something that he couldn't explain within him knew that those colours were right.
Something seemed to have frozen his lungs for a moment and as he started to breathe again he realised that something must have crossed his face, because Ursula was looking at him with the kind of burning gaze that meant that once they were in their rooms a lot of clothes would be torn off.
As she approached he took a deep breath. He had always known that he had the capacity within him to be a right bastard. He'd been a sellsword and as such he'd done a lot of things that he had not been proud of. That said, he'd always told himself that there were limits, that there were certain things that he would never do and truth be told he'd kept to those limits.
But now he was going to be a husband and he had to wall off that part of him that could be a right bastard forever. He was Lord of the Foxhold now, in love with a woman who was descended from royalty and… gods. He was in love with her. How could he not be?
And now here he was, in this place, at this time. He knew that this – their marriage – was not a thing that he could dare ever fuck up. No. Never. He had to stay true to this, matter what happened.
And judging by that gaze from her he knew that it was the right thing to do.
The Green Man, who had been taking care of the Godswood, cleared his throat to one side before launching into the words. He barely heard them, he was too busy looking into her eyes. Godsdamnit, he was marrying a woman descended from bloody royalty, albeit a long time removed. His father wouldn't have believed any of this. His son, the Lord, marrying the daughter – alright, the legitimised bastard daughter – of a Lord.
He knew that there was going to be a lot of fuss over that damn shield, but right now he didn't care. He was going to get married and be happy and make her bloody happy, even if he had to use that particularly athletic position that made his back hurt after a while but women seemed to adore.
Apparently he no longer 'rode like a sack of wet straw jammed onto a saddle', or so his half-sister Mya had said. Well. That was good to know. However, he did not have what she described as 'poise'. He had no idea what that bloody was, other than some way of sitting on a saddle and not falling off.
His life had changed in so many ways these past months that there were times that his head hurt. He was a blacksmith's apprentice and he was riding with lords and the King – who was his father.
Aye, his head hurt.
He was riding with Mya and the Vale Lords a lot, mostly because he had no intention of going anywhere near that scary bugger Lord Lannister, who could terrify at a glance.
And the more he rode North the more he wondered how many others were also doing the same, driven by the Call. On the road he heard so many accents from places he had only ever heard of. The Reach. The Vale. Dorne.
All headed to the Wall. The end of the world, or so he'd heard in King's Landing. And now the place where there was going to be a war. He couldn't wrap his head around that. He and so many others were heading willingly towards the place where there was going to be a war.
They'd spent the night in an encampment where the privies had been rigorously policed after the King had issued orders placing those privies himself. He hadn't understood why until he'd overheard two veteran Baratheon guardsmen talking about how lax privy placement meant men dying of the shits. Now that was a horrible thought.
They were in the Gift now and as they rode North they'd met more Thenn. They fascinated him, with their bronze armour. They seemed to be in awe of his father for reasons he didn't understand and totally loyal to Lord Stark, again for reasons that he didn't understand.
The Thenn also fascinated the Royce part of the party, especially Lord Royce with his bandaged armour, with the cloth hiding those bloody runes that kept frustrating him. He could engrave runes easily, but they wouldn't bloody glow. Why?
Shireen's words, that he had to think like a First Man, kept nagging at him. How? How could he do that? They'd lived all that time ago, without iron, without steel, without so many things that he took for granted.
All the things he'd tried to engrave runes that glowed had failed. Every one. It drove him almost mad. He'd hoped that the Thenn might have had the answer to it, given their bronze armour, but they didn't have any glowing runes on anything they had, which was confusing as they wrote with runes. None of it made any sense and he brooded over it as they kept riding North.
The party paused as they reached the crest of a hill and he wondered why until the muttered comments rolled their way back through the column. Apparently the King had seen his first glimpse of the Wall. He frowned at that – they were at least a day away from the Wall, surely?
But then as the column resumed he rode up and over the brow of the hill and like the others he saw that line of white on the horizon and shivered. Aye. The Wall. Gods, it was huge. As he heard from one Lannister rider, men wouldn't have built such a thing, still less maintain it, unless there had been something terrible beyond it. Something beyond terrible.
As evening drew in they made camp again near a village that seemed to have grown a lot recently, given all the new construction and the stones being moved. The King was about the camp once again with Stormbreaker and he could see how people reacted to the sight of them. Relief.
Could he ever do the same? Could he ever make men under his command be relieved by his very presence? No, he couldn't imagine it. Not him. He was just a blacksmith's apprentice.
And now, as he sat at a rough table and ate a quite tasty stew, he kept finding his mind wandering. Mya was next to him, japing with some Valeman about the lack of spices in the food, but his mind kept going back to those bloody runes. He was missing something. But what?
Someone down the table laughed at a comment that someone else had made about the Thenn and their bronze everything (before looking guiltily over their shoulder in case 'one of those scary buggers' was near) and then… and then… something clattered into place in his head.
"What?" Mya said after a long moment of looking at him. "What's amiss? Do I have bloody spinach in my teeth again?"
"Bronze," he said thickly after a while. "The First Men used bronze. We use iron. I've been trying to inscribe runes with iron, not bronze."
Mya looked confused for a long moment and then seemed to realise what he was talking about. "Aye, but the Thenn use bronze and runes, but their runes don't glow."
"But they don't inscribe the runes onto their armour! Wait, wait, it must be more than that."
"Lord Royce's blacksmith tried with bronze and he got odd results with that – some glowed and some didn't."
He screwed up his face at that and then concentrated as hard as he could. The First Men used bronze. Was that it or was there something else? He looked about, his mind racing. And then he gulped down the last of his stew, chewed his bread, swigged his ale and stood. "Is there any weirwood nearby?"
This obviously bewildered Mya. "What?"
"Weirwood. Did Lord Royce's people use it in their carvings?"
"Why would they have used weirwood in carvings?"
"Because the First Men might have had weirwood handles for their tools!" And with that he darted outside and looked about wildly. There. He could see red leaves and white branches in a copse to one side. He made himself walk to the trees, thinking everything through. He wasn't clever, not like Shireen, but it all seemed to make sense to him, and as he reached the white-barked trees he looked around for something suitable.
After a careful search he finally found a fallen branch that looked about the right size, with a good weight and thickness. He didn't think about using a branch cut from the tree, that didn't feel right. It would mean using green wood, or as green as weirwood got.
As he returned to the encampment he could see Mya standing by the tent, looking at him puzzled. "Why did you go running out?"
He held up the branch in response. "Right. Are there any Thenn smiths in the camp? I need a bronze hammer and a bronze rod, or something like a chisel."
Mya stared at him and shrugged helplessly, but then they both started a little when a voice to one side said: "I'll talk to the Thenn. We'll get you what you need lad." It was Lord Royce and he looked intrigued as he stood there in his jerkin. "I overheard what you said to Mya. Do you really think that might be the answer to the runes?"
Now it was his turn to shrug. "I don't know my Lord. But I have to try this. It's the only thing that makes sense to me. We've all tried so many ways to carve the runes to make them glow, but this seems like… my Lord, I can't think of anything else."
The Lord of Runestone nodded, laughed softly and then clapped him on the shoulder. "Gods, you've your father's face and his stubbornness. Get to the forge and I'll get what you need."
He nodded back and then strode off to the forge, which was cooling down after the day's work. That wasn't what he needed there though – what ne needed instead was his knives hanging in a bag, and the small lathe. He cut the branch down to the most useable and straight part and then used the lathe to get the imperfections off the surface without taking too much off.
After a while Lord Royce arrived with a rather baffled Thenn, who handed over what he needed – a bronze hammer and a straight length of bronze. This was perfect and he quickly removed what looked like the pine handle from the hammer and then peered at the hole, before returning to the lathe and shaving what he needed to fit the weirwood handle into the head of the hammer. As for the bronze rod he used his iron hammer to square one end of it carefully, turning it into a press.
And then he pulled out one of the sheets of bronze that he'd been using for his experiments, one of the unused ones obviously. And then… he paused and looked at Lord Royce. "I need a rune to carve, or a phrase in runes. Something that means something. Something important."
Lord Royce paused and then reached out to grab a piece of cloth and then a quill and a pot of ink. "Try this." He wrote quickly and cleanly a few runes on the cloth. "It means 'protection'. That should suffice."
He looked at the runes, memorising them, and then he took a deep breath and started to hammer an impression of the runes into the bronze with the hammer and the press, striking as carefully and exactly as he could. After he finished the first rune he paused. Nothing.
"Keep going," Lord Royce said softly. "It's just one letter in a word, so why would it glow?"
He kept at it, tapping carefully until the runes were finished on the bronze. But then, as they all stared at them, they glowed fitfully for a moment. Deflated he sat back. "I don't understand. That should have worked."
Mya looked at the runes and then back at him. "You said that we needed to think like the First Men."
"The First Men prayed to the Old Gods. Did you when carving out those runes?"
He shook his head. "No."
Mya swapped a glance with Lord Royce, who then cleared his throat: "Then try it again, whilst praying to the Old Gods as you carve the runes."
He took this in and then frowned. "My Lord, I don't know how to. I've never prayed to the Old Gods before."
"Call to them, lad. Ask them to help you with every tap of that hammer"
So he tried again, this time muttering a prayer to the Old Gods with every single tap of the hammer into a new sheet of bronze whilst feeling more than a bit awkward.
And this time the runes glowed brightly long after he had finished the last one.
There was a long silence as the three of them – Mya had been a silent observer of all of this – stared down at the glowing runes.
"Well bugger me," Gendry found himself eventually muttering. "There's a thing."
"More than a thing, lad." Lord Royce was beaming at him. "Well done! Gendry Baratheon, Stongarm and Runesmith!"
"First runesmith in thousand of years," said Mya with more than a hint of wonder in her voice. "My brother."
He flushed at this praise. "I just tried to think like a smith of the First Men."
"His Grace the King must know of this. I'll send word to Runestone as well, along with your name."
Gendry rummaged in his bag for a moment before pulling out the bracers that he'd been working on for some time. They were good steel with a soft leather interior lining. "My Lord, I was making these for my father. He needs new ones. I was going to engrave stags onto them, but now…" He took a deep breath. "Lord Royce, which runes would be suitable for His Grace the King?"
From the look on Lord Royce's face it was the right thing to say and to do. The older man nodded and bent over another scrap of paper to sketch out more runes whilst Mya looked at the leather. "That'll need ringlets and leather lacing. Let me help."
He nodded. Leatherwork wasn't his strongest skill – he wasn't bad at it but he knew that Mya was better as she could work on saddles with ease.
It wasn't hard work, but it was fiddly to find the right sized bronze sheets, both identical and then precisely stamp the runes into them. Once he'd done that he detached the leather, which he handed to Mya (who squinted at it and then muttered about his crap stitching) so that she could work on it, before attaching the sheets to the curved steel bracers with carefully placed bronze pins. This was bloody fiddly but he needed the practice for the more ornamental work.
All of this took time and he realised after a moment that he had an audience. Two Thenn were watching him, looking extremely impressed, whilst that other Vale Lord, Lord Redfort, was watching as well.
Mya handed the leather back to him and he raised his eyebrows. She had done very good work indeed. He smiled at her, reinserted the leather into each bracer and then addressed the last remaining little things that needed to be smoothed out. Only then did he stand and show what he – what they – had made to Lord Royce.
The Vale Lord nodded approving them and then held out some sacking. "Wrap them up and then follow me the pair of you."
The moon was rising as they left the forge and the camp was starting to quieten as men and women started to retire to their beds. However, there was still light and activity at the King's tent, where Ser Barristan Selmy was standing guard outside. He straightened as he saw them approach. "Lord Royce."
"Ser Barristan. We need to see His Grace, we have important news."
The old Kingsguard dipped his head and then slipped into the tent. There was a rumble of voices and then he came out again and held the flap of the tent open. "His Grace will see you."
His father the King was sitting on a campstool, looking at messages whilst Lord Tarly and – Gendry gulped nervously – Lord Lannister sat in chairs by a small table looking at papers. As they entered three sets of eyes looked at him and he felt his cheeks flame with tension.
"What's this information, Lord Royce?" The King boomed.
Lord Royce stepped forwards and then handed over the first panel with glowing runes on it. "Runes can be carved again, Your Grace. Runes that glow and offer protection against the Others."
His father sat there, his mouth open in shock – and then he surged to his feet. "How?"
Lord Royce nodded at Gendry and Mya. "Your children, Gendry in particular, thought it out. They thought like First Men. Weirwood handles for bronze hammers to shape the runes and prayers to the Old Gods whilst carving them."
The two lords at the table had also come to their feet and the King handed over to them the piece of bronze.
"It was Gendry more than me, Your Grace," said Mya quietly. "And he has a gift."
With trembling hands he handed over the piece of sacking. "Mya helped with this, Your Grace."
Their father opened the sacking – and then went still. "I said the other day I needed new bracers," he said thickly after a moment. "You heard then?"
The King pulled the bracers out, with their glowing runes. Lord Tarly stared at them whilst Lord Lannister looked at them and then stared at him intently before twitching an eyebrow upwards.
"Magnificent," the King said at last before tugging them onto his arms and doing up the lacing. And then as the second one was made fast they all heard the boom of lightning far above as the runes glowed even more brightly for a moment.
And just for a heartbeat he swore he could see green fire in the eyes of his father.
He had the overwhelming feeling that many of the Ironborn were absolute pain in the arses, he thought as he watched some idiot lord be dragged away to the dungeons. The man had burst into Pyke's great hall to claim that his thralls were going to stay on the island, even if he had kill them to make them stay, and that Asha Greyjoy could not rule because she had tits, or some such nonsense.
The pale faced new Lady of the Ironborn, with the granite-faced Hand of the King and The Reader next to her, had reduced him to abject silence with mere words to the guards and a glare.
Good. He wanted to be away from this place and back to Winterfell as soon as possible. Because this place gave him the creeping bloody horrors. There were too many idiots here and he didn't envy Asha her task of ruling the Ironborn.
At least there had been no further attacks by the Others, or at least none had yet been reported. He wondered what it had taken them to mount that blow, to get that iceberg filled with wights and controlled by those three Others to the shores of Pyke.
Valyrian steel blades were not common on the Iron Islands. Nightfall now hung at the hip of the Reader and apparently House Drumm had a sword named Red Rain, which might possibly have belonged to the now-dead Reynes, based on the name.
So, as he too had a Valyrian steel blade, he had to stay around for a bit longer – and he knew that some were wondering how Ned Stark's bastard had such a weapon. The Hand was certainly wondering. Father had told him that the King knew his true parentage, but not the Hand and he wondered uneasily about how that conversation might go.
Asha stood suddenly and then looked at Jon and Theon as she rested a hand on some papers to one side. "My father had a lot of plans," she said after a long moment. "Unrealistic plans in places. He wanted revenge against the North for its part in squashing his rebellion."
Ah. He didn't look at Theon. He knew what that other version of him had done in that other time.
"These are my late father's plans for the invasion of the North." She picked them up and then walked over to the fireplace and dumped them onto the fire, where they went up with a crackle and a roar. "And that is where they belong. The Others come. The Stark has called for aid. We are needed. And that is the end of it."
There was a rumble of agreement and then they all watched as the papers burned. As they did a door opened to one side and a man walked in quickly. "My Lady!"
"Aye?" Asha said huskily as she looked at him. Then she saw the look on his face and straightened. "What's amiss?"
"The Silence has been sighted! In a cove, on the North of the island! About three miles away, near Oyster Point!"
And with those words everyone in the room stood up. It was the first word they'd heard for days of Euron bloody Greyjoy's ship.
"Double the guards in the castle – that kinslaying fucker knows his way around here all too well," Asha barked. "Nuncle, ready the Sea Song and any other vessel you need. I want the Silence pinned against the shore. I'll go overland with everyone and-"
But then another door banged open and the Maester hurried in, holding a message. "My Lady! A message from Winterfell!"
"Gods, what now? It'll have to wait Maester, the Silence has been seen."
"My Lady this might be related! The Mountain is dead – he tried to kill Lord Robb Stark and he was said to be possessed!"
There was a moment of stunned silence and then Theon and Jon both roared "What?!" at almost the same moment and then ran towards the Maester, who looked rather alarmed at the sight of their approaching forms along with their direwolves but who held the message out. Jon got it an instant before Theon, who scowled but then read it over his shoulder.
The message was one of madness, but they both relaxed when they read that Robb was fine. "The Mountain is indeed dead," Jon breathed. "Robb and the Hound killed him together. And his eyes… the Mountain's eyes were black. And apparently just before his head was taken his eyes changed colour again and he said that he was attacking the wrong Stark. What does that mean?"
"This is Maester Luwin's hand," Theon muttered as he handed the message over to his sister. "He writes that the Mountain could have been possessed by a Valyrian spell."
Asha looked shocked at this and then read it before showing it to The Reader, who was pale. "Euron mentioned visiting Valyria. And picking things up there. Gods, did Euron do this thing? What else can he do?"
"Black eyes," Stannis Baratheon said wonderingly after taking the message from The Reader. "And which Stark was he trying to kill?"
Jon's scalp prickled as he almost felt the eyes being turned towards him. "Why would Euron Greyjoy try to kill me? Surely – Gods he surely meant for Father to die! He's headed to the Hightower and the Gate, where the Drowned God is!"
"Send a message to Oldtown at once," Stannis Baratheon barked to the Maester. "Winterfell must have done so already, but we must be sure on this. Warn Lord Stark at once." He looked at Jon. "And you, Jon Stark, must be careful. At least Tyrion Lannister had those 'Warnings' of his. We have nothing like that."
The Maester looked from the Hand of the King to Asha Grejoy, who nodded, before bowing and striding briskly out.
"Right," said Asha quietly, before running a hand through her hair and closing her eyes shut as she obviously thought things through. "Uncle, take three ships, with ballistae on them. As I said, we double the guards here in Pyke and warn them to watch out for that kinslaying fucker Euron. He knows every way in and out of this castle, so have everyone be on their guard.
"Warn the whole island. No-one is to help him. In the meantime we will head over to the cove where the Silence is and see what's happening there and if he and his crew have landed there. Ygritte, Theon, have you replaced your arrows?"
"We have," said Ygritte, who had moved close to Jon and was glaring at every dark corner as if there was a threat there. "Even found some dragonglass on the beach. There must be a place nearby where it can be mined."
"Gods," Jon muttered, "I pray for no more Others and wights."
The Reader, who still had Nightfall at his hip, nodded curtly at that.
"Uncle, we'll take banners with us," said Asha. "When we are in place on the landward side we'll signal you. Stand off the headland, out of sight, until you see our signal. Then sail in, anchor fast and train your ballistae on the Silence. The tide and the wind should be right for that, unless the wind shifts in the next hour or so. Is that clear, everyone? My Lord Hand, will you join me?"
"I will," replied Stannis Baratheon, before directing a shrewd look at her. "You're showing how you'll lead aren't you?"
"How can I not?" Asha shook her head. "If I cannot stand against my mad uncle, a kinslayer and who was willing to give us up to the Others, then how can I command the Ironborn?"
There was a silence and then she nodded again. "Right – let's be about it."
He had to say this about Asha Greyjoy, she knew how to get things organised. The Reader bowed formally at his niece and then strode out whilst the rest of them gathered their things and then also headed out of the doors. As they went through the castle Jon could hear orders being roared and the sound of man and women scurrying about.
By the time they made it to the main gate of Pyke there was a group of guards standing there, a mix of men in different colours from different houses, but all with hard eyes guarding for any threat. Ygritte was still sticking close to him and he eyed her. "Euron's going after my father, not me."
She looked at him as if he was an idiot. "Know that for a fact do you?"
"Well, no, but-"
"Shut up you idiot. You know nothing, Jon Stark."
Which was the answer he was expecting, so he sighed, looked down at Ghost, who looked back at him, and then waited until Asha Greyjoy gave the order to march.
Three miles was not far, but that last half a mile was more stealthy as the scouts spread out and then reported back with a local minor lord who bowed hastily at Asha and greeted her: "My Lady."
"Lord Tarling. You reported seeing the Silence?"
"Aye, me Lady, but…" His face worked suddenly. "There's summat not right with her. She looks wrong – neglected somehow, as if she'd been abandoned for months. But I swear that she wasn't there last night me Lady. I swear it. She wasn't there."
Asha stared at the man and then nodded, before issuing more orders. A chain of runners was organised, the last of which held a banner, so that The Reader's ships could be summoned properly. And then they marched onwards… before starting to crawl as they reached a rise overlooking a bay.
A ship was anchored there and even to Jon's eyes it didn't look entirely right. The sails looked as if they had been furled in a hurry at the very least and the vessel had a slight list.
Asha stared at it with wide eyes, before she and the Lord Hand both took out Myrish eyeglasses and stared at the ship. "That's not right," Asha said slowly as she inspected the Silence. "None of that's right. She looks fucking terrible. The sails have been furled by… no Ironborn would furl a sail like that! And those sails are faded and worn! The rigging looks ragged, no-one's holystoned that deck in a month at least and she's listing."
"Look at the outlet for the chainpump," muttered Stannis Baratheon. "No water on the planks under it. No-one's pumped her bilges in a while. If I knew nothing better, she's been abandoned for weeks. This makes no sense. No sailor would treat that ship so poorly. No-one on deck either."
"Lord Tarling, you are sure that the Silence was not there last night?" Asha asked of the local lord. "And is there any sign of her crew?"
"The cove has no sign of any landing, my Lady," Tarling replied. "Nor any sign of any other landings in the other coves nearby. No boats, no sign of footprints beyond the high water line, or even under it when it could be seen at low water."
Ashe bit her lip at that, before taking a deep breath. "Alright. Send the signal."
It took a little time for the runners to go and pass the message on, but eventually the three sleek shapes of the Reader's command appeared beyond the vaguely oyster-shaped headland in a line before shivering their sails, furling them and then anchoring with a precision that seemed to impress Stannis Baratheon enough to grunt approvingly. Jon could see The Reader himself at the back of one of the ballistae that were now trained on the Silence.
Which just sat there, swinging at its anchor. With no-one on deck. No alarm being sounded. Nothing.
Just looking at the damn ship made the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end and… it was then that he looked at the direwolves. Both of them had their hackles up as they looked fixedly at the ship. They were both broadcasting the same word: Danger. He looked at them and then at Theon, who looked worriedly back at him.
"What do they know that we don't?" Theon asked softly. He looked at Jon and then asked even more softly: "Can you warg into Ghost?"
Ah. He sighed gustily, sat down and then placed a hand on Ghost's head and tried to remember all of Arya's not particularly coherent explanations. He vaguely sensed Asha saying something and Theon snarling something back before he finally made that connection.
All of a sudden he had too many legs, but that was fine, he knew how to walk, sort of. He peered back. Oh. That was him, with the white eyes and the pale expression, whilst Ygritte looked at him – his body that is – oddly and Asha Greyjoy stared at him as if she couldn't believe what was happening.
And then he looked at the ship. He could feel his eyes widening and then all of a sudden he was back in his own body, shaking with terror. "Gods," he spat eventually. "There's something badly wrong with that."
"What did you see?" Theon asked.
He struggled for a long moment to express what his direwolf had sensed. "Sensed, not saw. Blood. Evil. Something terrible has happened there."
The men and woman around him muttered uneasily at that – and at him, although he heard Ygritte snarl that she'd seen more warging North of the Wall and they were not to be such fools.
Asha looked uneasy at that and then spoke in a low voice with Stannis Baratheon. And then she snapped out orders for a longboat to be brought down to the beach, for there to be a boarding ladder on it, lanterns, flints, short bows, arrows and shortswords. He frowned at this and Asha pointed at Dark Sister. "Ever fought on board a ship? Not much room there to swing a sword, even one like that. A dark place, a ship. Full of awkward angles. If Euron and his crew are on that ship – maybe they are and maybe they are not – then we might need to fight."
"If they're on it then where are they though? And why does that ship look like shit?" Theon sounded annoyed as he took his longsword off his belt and took a shortsword and a short bow, before shouldering a quiver with a selection of arrows.
"We'll have to go and see," Jon sighed as he removed Dark Sister and handed it over to the Baratheon guard. "Mind that well please." He then took up a shortsword as well, made sure he had a dragonglass dagger at his hip and looked at Ygritte, who was looking at the longboat which was now in the cove with little enthusiasm. "Are you coming?"
She shot him a look of pure scorn. "Of course I'm coming. If it's a trap then I'll smell it first. And if there are Others or wights on board I'll smell them first. You lot are children when it comes to fighting them."
"I know, because I know nothing." He grinned at her and then pointed at her bow. "That's too long. Take a shortbow. You know nothing about fighting on a ship." He grinned still further when she stuck two fingers up at him in the old gesture of defiance.
The direwolves would not go on the longboat and that reinforced that feeling he had that something was very wrong. Instead he and Theon left them at the feet of Stannis Baratheon who watched them go as the longboat was rowed out by a crew of ten men, five to a side. Asha stood at the bow, with one of her men, Darrin by name, whilst he, Theon and Ygritte sat near the man on the rudder at the stern.
They rowed a curving path, from the cove almost out to the Sea Song, where Asha and the Reader had a shouted conversation and then back to the Silence. As they approached Jon eyed it worriedly. The ship looked worn, as if it had sailed for months through rough seas with no maintenance, and as they approached its sides he stared at the portholes, looking for any sign of life. There was none, no movement in those dark and empty holes in the side of the ship.
Boathooks reached out from Asha and Darrin as they lurched by the ship and then after the rowers had stowed their oars the boarding ladder was hooked on and the longboat moored to it. Asha looked about, her face strained. "Right. We do this now. I'll go up the right hand side of the boarding ladder, Darrin the left. Those of you with bows keep your eyes peeled. If I see anyone waiting for us, I'll yell. The Reader's watching this side and the Lord Hand has the other and we'll hear if anyone on either side sees anything. Be wary all of you. Ulf and Torren, you stay here and guard the boat. Sing out if you hear anything. The rest of you – you'll follow me with the lanterns."
He watched as the two Ironborn swarmed carefully up the ladder, paused at the top, peered quickly over the side and then again further over and then vanished over the top. For a long moment his heart was in his mouth, fearing the worst, but then Asha's head reappeared. "Up!" She called. "All clear!"
This was a good thing as Ygritte was looking rather green in the lurching boat, but she seemed to recover as they climbed the ladder and then assembled on the deck of the Silence and looked about. His gut was churning for some reason that he didn't understand and he looked about carefully.
Nothing. There was no sign of anyone, as before. No sign of life. After a long moment something caught his eye. "What's that?" He pointed at a piece of leather that was flat on the deck and which looked out of place.
Asha walked over to it and picked it up in a gloved hand, before frowning. "Part of the rigging," she said, looking up. "Only… this is wrong. It's rotted leather. That's not right. It's a strap for the sail. A reef point. No-one sane would sail with this attached to their sail."
"Euron's not sane, but he's still an Ironborn," Theon said grimly, before pointing at a door at the prow of the ship. "We need to check that."
Two of the Ironborn sailors crept forwards, shortswords ready, before opening the door and then peering carefully in. Both then gagged slightly and pulled faces before looking in again. "Bunks my Lady," one called out to Asha. "For the forepeak. Four of them. Smell's from rotted food on plates in them. Badly rotted food. Apples, bread, some cheese, all rotted and green."
Asha Greyjoy stalked forwards and peered into the room, before pausing. "Stand back," she said quickly. "That should all be covered in flies and maggots. There are flies – but they're all dead."
"Poison?" Someone asked as they all looked uneasy.
"Maybe," Asha said warily, before gesturing at the covering for the hold that was before the mainmast. "Light the lanterns and let's see what she was carrying."
What she was carrying, as was revealed by the lantern that they lowered into the hold with a rope, was not very much. There seemed to be some boxes, but what they contained was a mystery. There was, again, no sign of life.
"Right," Asha said as she took a deep breath and then looked at the closed doors at the stern of the ship that Jon now knew led downwards, "Light the rest of the lanterns and let's be about this. Be wary, all of you."
They opened the doors quickly, with Theon and Ygritte standing ready with their bows, but there was no one behind them, just a patch of sunlight that showed the start of a staircase going down and then a dark void.
Heart pounding Jon took the lead with Asha on this, descending stair by stair with Asha, who was like him holding a lantern aloft with her left hand and a shortsword in her right. The others were behind them, watching and swivelling lanterns as they descended. Nothing.
At the base of the stairs was a closed door on their right, at the stern of the ship and a sliding door to their left. "Crew's quarters," Asha whispered as she pointed left and then as she pointed right: "Captain's quarters. Euron."
They paused and listened. Again, nothing. Then Jon frowned. "Captain's quarters has a door that opens outwards. Why?"
Asha pulled a face. "It can be bolted shut from the inside. Makes it harder to break in during a mutiny."
Ah. "Left first."
Darrin grabbed the door handle with his gloved hand, looked at them all as he counted from five to one and then pulled it open. They stood there, ready for anything – but nothing emerged apart from a smell of rotted food again.
Jon peered in. This was beyond odd. There were hammocks in various states hanging from heavy-duty hooks in places or just laying on the floor. And no sign of life.
"Seachests are all there," Asha said musingly. She pointed at one hammock. "And someone's flute. Where's the fucking crew though? Erik, Tom, the galley's through there. Have a careful look."
The two men hurried forwards – and then hurried back, looking nauseous. "Rotted food again, My Lady," one of them said, looking as if he wanted to throw up. "Gods, that's bad. No sign of the crew again."
"Where the fuck are they all?" Asha muttered, before turning and looking back at the closed door. "There's hardly room for them all to be in there. Right. Stand ready."
Jon stood by the door and reached out with the same hand that held the shortsword for the handle. It turned slowly under his hand and he looked about to make sure that the others were ready. They were,=- by their nods – and then he pulled the door open and stepped back to deal with any attack.
What he was attacked with was the overwhelming stench of blood. Gods, it was foul and cloying. He looked into the room and almost threw up.
Blood. It was everywhere. It coated every surface. It was dripping down the walls, off the tables, down off their chairs, off the ceilings, gods it was everywhere.
He froze. It was dripping. That meant it was fresh. No clotting. So… very fresh. "Gods," He said thickly. "Has this just happened? It's fresh. Still dripping and-" He paused, suddenly struck with the certainty that there was someone horribly wrong with the world.
And then he looked up. The ceiling was plastered with a horrible combination of blood, skin, bone, hair and must have been muscle. And in the middle of the ceiling was what looked like a large and malformed skull of some kind, in the eyesockets of which were a pair of blood-stained eyes.
And as Jon looked up at it, those eyes looked down at them.
Afterwards Jon could never explain what sparked that automatic instinct for pure survival in him. He wrenched his eyes from the horrible thing in the ceiling and threw his lantern against the desk in the room so hard that it shattered and sent burning oil everywhere. A moment after that he slammed the door shut, pulled out his beltknife and then thrust it into the doorframe so hard that the blade vanished into the wood, leaving the hilt which jammed the door shut.
"RUN!" Jon roared at the others and was swiftly rewarded by them fleeing up the staircase as fast as they could. As they went up he could feel something thump against the door and then make a noise of distress that was enough to make him snatch Asha's lantern from her hands and then throw that at the base of the stairs behind him. The oil went everywhere down there and caught fire in an instant, sending greasy smoke into the air as the dry wood started to catch.
Up they ran and Jon swore as one of the steps cracked and broke as his foot went through it, but he pulled himself up with a hand on the rail and as they emerged into the daylight he grabbed Theon's lantern and threw that down the stairs as well.
"Watch out!" The call came from Darrin, who was looking upwards and Jon realised that there were pieces of rigging now hanging lose from the mainmast, which was audibly groaning – and then as he looked at it a great crack appeared in the wood.
Something screamed or groaned under their feet and the ship shivered. "Off! Jump for your lives!" Jon roared. "Never mind the boat, over the side and swim to the Reader's ship!"
Whatever tone he used must have been a convincing one, because the party turned as one and made for the side of the ship. As Jon reached it the mast groaned again. Ygritte was trying to say something as the others all vaulted the side and dove into the water but he paid her no mind. "JUMP!" Still she tried to say something so instead he picked her up and jumped as something screamed again in the interior of the ship.
They plunged through the water and then he kicked upwards, up towards the light. As they broke the surface he could see that the boat had cast off and was headed away from the ship and that the others were swimming away from the Silence.
It was then that Ygritte started to flail desperately in his arms and caught him a right ding on the side of the head that made him get a mouth of seawater. He let go and of her – and then watched her flail even more desperately. "Oh bloody hell, you can't swim properly can you?"
She spluttered something and he stroked around to behind her and grabbed her chest just under her breasts. "Stop struggling! It's me. I've got you now. Relax. Kick your boots off and then let me get you to the boat. You understand?"
White faced and obviously terrified she nodded slightly and abruptly went limp after wiggling her body more than a bit as she kicked off her boots. He took a deep breath and then started to carefully tow her back towards the now approaching boat. As he did he could hear Asha Greyjoy shouting her uncle to 'Sink the fucking ship, it's possessed or something. Loose your ballistae now!"
There was shout of acknowledgement and then, just as Jon and Ygritte reached the boat and the men in it reached over to pull them up and out he heard the deep thuds as the bolts were loosed from the trio of ships at that accursed ship. All hit, gouging deep holes in the side of the ship.
As he heaved himself up and into the boat and then checked on Ygritte he looked back at the Silence, where smoke was now billowing up from the back of the ship. And as he watched the ship seemed to be rotting to pieces. The mainmast failed at its base and topped backwards over the stern, the rotted sail smothering the smoke for an instant and- Jon froze. There was something moving under that sail, something that didn't look right. It was also on fire as the sail went up like kindling. Whatever was under it slumped downwards. Had there really been something there? Had it instead been a trick of the light?
"What the fuck was that?" Theon called out from the prow of the boat and he know that he had not just been him and that it hadn't been a trick of the light as the ship burnt.
The Silence shuddered visibly again and then, as the men behind the oars shook off their shock and struck out for the Sea Song as hard as they could. He could see the Silence and it horrified him. The ship seems to be changing colour, as if the wood itself was decaying in front of their eyes. He could hear the Reader shouting orders to buoy the anchors and then prepare to cut the hawsers and make all sail and looked around wildly to see that Asha and her men were swarming up ropes on the Sea Song.
As they reached The Reader's ships hawsers were let down from derricks, the oars were stowed, the hawsers attached to davits and then he grabbed Ygritte and hung on as the boat was hauled bodily out of the water and hoisted up to deck height and then swung aboard. The men were moving with a frantic speed and as he helped a retching Ygritte – how much seawater had she swallowed? – off the boat he heard The Reader shout out to make sail.
He strode to the side of the ship and joined the dripping wet Asha and Theon at staring at what remaining of the Silence, which was now low in the water, on fire and crumbling quickly. And then it seemed to somehow get compressed together in a horrible maelstrom of swirling wind, rotting wood, fire and water spray that howled into the skies for a long moment before it finally vanished beneath the waves with a bubbling roar.
The Sea Song and the other ships were moving by now and it was a good thing that they were because he really didn't like the look of the fiery bubbles of something that kept rising to the surface, along with very dead fish.
Away they sailed and as he sat down heavily on the deck he could see men at the mainmast signalling to the party at the cove. He was wet, had been badly shaken and needed new boots.
By the time that they docked again near Pyke and then met the others in the great hall he was drier and had new boots and was wondering what was wrong with Ygritte. She'd recovered from her near-drowning and also had new boots but was looking at him differently and he wasn't sure why.
He also had Dark Sister at his hip again and he thanked the guard that had returned it. And then he told the tale of everything that had happened on board the Silence, backed up by the others, including a very pale Asha Greyjoy, as they ate a hurried supper.
"Lord Jon here saved our lives, I'm sure of that. He moved fast when he saw that… that thing in there and throwing the lantern in was a good idea." Asha Greyjoy sighed. "Lord Tarling, if any wreckage of the Silence washes ashore, it is to be burned at once. That ship was accursed. I have no doubt that what we saw in that cabin was the remains of my mad uncle's crew and I have no idea what horrors he inflicted on them or what purpose he had. All I know is that he is to be killed on sight if he lays foot on the Iron Islands again."
"But where can he be?" The Reader mused as he stroked his chin. "He vanished on that beach, his ship is gone, his crew is dead – I hope – and no ships have been reported stolen. Where is he?"
Silence greeted this question and Jon stroked the fur between Ghost's ears. The direwolf was himself again and no longer fearful. The danger had passed for the time being.
"Once I know that Pyke is secure you and I should go to Great Wyk, Nuncle Rodrik," Asha said eventually. "You too my Lord Hand, if you please. We need to talk to the Stonebrows and find out what they know. This civil war that my Father started is over."
"His body must be burned anyway," The Reader said sombrely. "As you promised him. It's not the Ironborn way, but that needs to be the point now. The Old Way is gone. It died with your father and Damphair."
There was a pause and then they went their separate ways. He was tired, he needed clean clothes and to wash the salt off him and he needed to think about what they had witnessed that day. He knew without a shadow of doubt that Father was in danger from that mad bastard Euron Greyjoy, he just didn't know how the mad Ironborn could beat Father to Oldtown.
But as he started to close the door to his room it was blocked and then pushed open. Ah. Ygritte. "Are you alright?" He asked the words quietly and then frowned as she closed the door behind them and then walked up to him.
"I am fine, but you need to shut up and let me talk," she said softly. "If we were north of the Wall then my father would have cuffed you about the head by now and told you to stop being a stubborn bastard and admit that you love me. Because I know that you do, just as I love you."
"Ygritte-" He started to say, only for her to cut him off with a gesture.
"Shut. Up. Do you deny you love me?"
He stared at her, his blood boiling. "You know that you do." The words sounded strained. "But I never know where I stand with you."
She looked at him. "Right. Stand there." Frowning he did as she walked behind him. "You saved my life three times today. Once when you slammed that door, once when you swept me off that hellship and then finally when you saved me from drowning. North of the Wall that would make me your wife. So I am your wife – don't turn around yet! – and we can do whatever silly kneeler ceremony you like later. But here and now it's just you and me and this bed. Now turn around."
He turned. She was standing there, stark naked, in front of him. And in her eyes was nothing but invitation. So he stepped forwards, into her arms and swept her onto the bed as he kissed her mouth at last properly and helped her take those bloody salt-stained clothes off.
Sleep was forgotten for the time being. They were finally together.