It's been the most horrible fortnight and a bit that I can remember for some time. Mum had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's at the start of this year and she had also complained about various aches and pains... which turned out to be pancreatic cancer. Which spread. My wife and I dropped everything when my sister told us to get up to Colchester Hospital at once, and we did. We were told that Mum had some days before the end.

Mum never liked to keeping to any other schedule but her own, and the end came in hours. We were lucky to get there when we did.

We spent the past two weeks at Dad's place - it still hurts to not think of it as 'Mum and Dad's place.'

And then, like a harpoon to the heart with a gas bill attached to it, our dog Maisie died on Wednesday. She'd been battling what we feared was cancer since the start of the year. On Wednesday I found her collapsed on the lawn. We took her to the vet that was literally around the corner and... well, we pick up her ashes the day after Mum's cremation.

We got back home today. I packed up her toys and burst into tears.

The update kind of wrote itself.


It was a long morning. A morning that he wanted to be shorter with almost every moment. The wait for Noon to arrive was almost agonising.

But the wait was important. There was so much to do, so much to organise – including his own wedding. He had to confess that matters were very different from his last one. He forced his mind away from that. Jayne Westerling was… in the past, so to speak. Matters like that made his head hurt at times, thinking about what was the past in his head and yet had been yet to come when he looked at the calendar.

As Mother had pointed out, Grandfather would be in two minds over him wedding an Umber who was also a Wildling. Or half a Wildling. He didn't care. He loved Val and she loved him and that was that. It wasn't like before, when his choice of wife had been political or even a matter of life and death.

Well, he had to admit that there was politics involved in his marriage. Him marrying Val meant another tie to Mance – now Lord – Rayder and the Wildlings as a whole. Jon marrying Ygritte might also get tongues wagging. But drawing the Wildlings in and over the long term making them a part of the North – as they should have been, before things went wrong at the Wall so many centuries ago – that was a part of what he and Father had discussed, part of what they had agreed on as a long-term plan.

Of course they had to survive the war at the Wall first.

He turned his attention back to the desk and the endless flood of messages and decisions that would have to be made. Lord Reed reported that Moat Cailin's repairs were going well and that the cost was far less than had been feared. Lord Manderley reported that trade with the South and Essos was most profitable indeed and that Cersei Lannister had been safely delivered to her new home off the coast of the Vale. That made his eyebrows go up and down – he wondered how she liked her new home. Hopefully she loathed it as being insufficiently grand for someone of her status. There had been at least one message from her escort saying that the bloody woman had tried to seduce various members of the group. They had been warned about that – and all distrusted her.

He worried about what Father was going through in Oldtown. The Starry Sept would not have liked having to admit that other Gods existed, let along could be killed, he was very sure about that. He just had to hope that Father came home quickly, his business in the South taken care of. Starks did not prosper in the South.

Burying himself back into the messages meant that time flowed freely and before he knew it Luwin was knocking on the door to the Solar. "Lord Robb, it is almost Noon by my reckoning."

He stood and nodded, his throat suddenly tight with tension. "Is everyone gathering?"

"They are, including Quicksilver."

Another nod and he strode out of the room, Luwin at his heels, Grey Wind following. When he reached the passageway to the doors he could see the others waiting there, Mother at their head next to Val. Sansa was holding hands with Domeric, Arya and Bran looked excited, Tyrion looked as if he was slightly stunned – why? – whilst Dacey looked as excited as Arya and Bran. The rest of the Terrible Foursome were there as well, whilst the Cassels were all assembled. Septa Mordane was even there, looking rather odd without her headdress. And then there was Quicksilver, who looked calm and composed. Based on what Dacey had quietly told him and a stunned Mother, she might be destined to be Bran's bride.

Arya, Bran and Quicksilver opened the doors to the room with the chair and as they all flooded in. Val strode in at his side and her hand reached out to squeeze his quickly in encouragement. "Magic," she whispered. "Conjured by my betrothed." She winked at him and he smiled back at her, wanting to kiss her thoroughly – but then he looked at the stone chair and took a deep breath.

And then he sat down in it, placing his arms on the stone arm rests on either side. His nostrils flared for a moment as he took another breath and then he looked around curiously. "How does this work?"

"The Nightfort is to our East, your uncle should be already sitting in the chair as their Noon is slightly ahead of ours and-"

The doors suddenly slammed shut with a great squealing on hinges and the lanterns that so many were bearing guttered and went out. It happened with a rapidity and speed that stunned them all to silence – and then, before anyone could say a word Robb felt himself thrust back into the chair as if a great hand had pushed him. He tried to say a word but instead fell silent as all of a sudden the wall opposite seemed to slowly brighten, as if something was slowly, tentatively, waking up.

"What-" It was Tyrion speaking, but then his voice drained away. On the wall opposite they could all see vague figures emerging from the darkness. As the seconds passed, as Robb could feel his heart beating, the light seemed to change and increase. There was a room now visible, with a chair that mirrored the one he was sitting in – a familiar room, the Nightfort! He could see Uncle Benjen sitting in the other chair, with the King standing next to him, the Old Bear and Maester Aemon on the other side, and close to them an assemblage of the Lords that had gone with them to the Wall. Tywin Lannister was there, Lords Royce and Redfort, and a tanned black-haired man was standing next to Sarella and staring straight at him.

There was a long moment of silence and then the King said: "Well fuck me."

Robb found himself gaping at the wall – and then he swallowed. "We heard that Your Grace," he said and noted how everyone in the other room seemed to jerk back in shock. "And I can see that you can hear me?"

"Aye, we can!" Uncle Benjen looked as if he was about to burst with pride. "By the Old Gods… it works!"

"After so long, indeed it does," Maester Aemon said and Robb smiled as he heard how alive and vibrant the old Maester seemed, like a child discovering a great wonder. Then Maester paused. "Ah. Lord Robb… I see that you have a guest there. Would that be the Child of the Forest, of which your message spoke?"

Quicksilver stepped forwards and bowed, her hands starting at her heart and then spreading out in what almost looked like a ritualistic display. "You are the Older Dragonblood, Maester Aemon, yes? I see the Younger one there as well, the crowned one, the Storm King."

There was another moment of stunned silence as the people in the Nightfort stared at the Child of the Forest. The King's face seemed to go very red for a long moment, but then he seemed to take a deep breath. "Aye. I am the Storm King, of House Baratheon now, but also of House Durrandon. And yes, there is… Targaryen blood within me, the blood of Valyria."

Quicksilver straightened up. "The Dragonbloods were very mighty once, but lost their way and broke their own lands under their very feet. Magic is to be used and not abused. It is a lesson that you must all learn."

The two rooms seemed to stare at the Child of the Forest and then she bowed at them all and stepped back. The King seemed to collect himself for a moment and then stared at them all again at Winterfell and then shook his head. "Gods… we can all see you and you can see us. What a gift this is. It shortens communications in an instant."

"As long as there is a Stark there," Uncle Benjen said drily – and the King nodded and chuckled.

"Aye, as long as there is a Stark in both chairs." He paused. "Were there any more chairs ever made? I can't remember ever seeing the like in Storms End. Lord Lannister? Was there ever one in Casterley Rock?"

Tywin Lannister seemed to come out of what place he has retreated to in his own head, given his expression. "Sadly not, Your Grace."

"Only two were ever made," Quicksilver said. "Grown out of the rock by Starks who were Stonesingers."

The King nodded almost regretfully. "A shame then – that more could not be made." Then he paused. "Or can they? Are there any Stonesingers left?"

"No-one knows, just yet, Your Grace," Robb said hoarsely, not looking at Brann, whose mouth was hanging open at the sight of the room in the Nightfort. "But, as old things are waking, perhaps that might as well?"

King Robert nodded slowly and then clapped his hands together, something that seemed to make many in the rooms start. "Well now – we should meet once a day, now that know that this works. Such a wonder! I can't imagine what Ned would say about it. A marvel. Now – any new news from the Realm?"

And so Luwin stepped forwards with the lates messages and Robb sat there feeling stunned. After a moment he felt Val's hand find his. 'Magic', she mouthed at him. He smiled back and then looked at the wall where the Nightfort was projected. Yes. Magic. And valuable.


The further North they rode the more uneasy he felt about it all. It was a creeping feeling, a growing unease and worry that preyed upon his mind. There was something terrible up here, in the snow and ice, amidst the trees. It could be all too quiet at times. Where were the birds? The animals? The direwolves?

When they saw the great scar in the snow that showed the passage of thousands of feet he felt true alarm kindle in his mind. The Green Man halted them the moment that they first saw the edge of it and Jaime could see concern in his eyes for a moment, before he relaxed a hair.

"Wights were here, driven by Others," the old man muttered, before tilting his head a fraction. "Heading West. Not South. Interesting."

"Not headed for the Wall," Brienne said, her own eyes narrowed. "Not yet at least."

"They're waiting for something," the Blackfish agreed. "The start of Winter?"

Jaime pulled a face. "Such numbers – why not attack now?"

"They don't think like us, Ser Jaime," the Green Man rumbled as he gestured them forwards to cross the trampled snow and vegetation. "They've been patient for thousands of years, rebuilding their strength. What's more months to them? Nothing. Wights rot in heat. They'll wait until Winter. Or until they're ready to bring Winter South. And they can do that. Don't underestimate them."

Bring Winter South? He wanted to scoff, to laugh – and then he saw the look on the faces of the others. They were not scoffing. They were intent. In agreement.

He swallowed his words and joined them in riding North, across that scar in the snow, where here and there he could see the occasional wiggling thing on the ground that made him blanche and look away. Fingers and toes. Blackened and rotted, but still fingers and toes. Gods. How old were those things?

They kept riding North, although there were times when he thought that the Green Man seemed to be… wandering? Searching? Almost sniffing the air at times, like a bloodhound in search of a trail. And then, as the Sun started to head down towards the horizon he seemed to stiffen in his saddle and then led them in a brisk canter straight North-East.

After a while he could see a hill in the distance, heavily wooded and he could see weirwood trees there. As they approached he saw that the Green Man seemed to both relax a hair for a moment and then also gird himself.

The Blackfish looked at the nearest weirwood tree and then Jaime blinked as he saw the carved face on it. It was a Hearttree? "This place is warded," the Blackfish said approvingly. "Strongly, too."

"Against wights… and Others." Brienne looked around as well, with the same look as the Blackfish had on his face. The Green Man turned in his saddle to look at them both and then nodded with evident satisfaction. And then he pointed at a cleft in the hillside. "There."

As they rode towards it Jaime realised that the entire area was encircled with weirwood trees, and from what he could see – were they all Heart Trees? "Who warded this place? Wildlings? Green Men?"

"Neither," said the Green Man with an odd tone in his voice. "Our hosts did."

"Our hosts?" Jaime frowned. "Who are they?"

"They are our friends and not our enemies, so keep your hand from your sword, Ser Jaime Lannister. They call themselves 'Those who sing the song of the earth', but we call them the Children of the Forest." And then he nodded at the cleft – and Jaime's eyes widened.

There was a small figure standing there, at the opening, larger than a child but not much more. The figure – was it female? – was wearing a cloak of what seemed to be leaves and its hair was red, brown and gold, whilst its skin was brown. And it wasn't human.

As they approached the Green Man drew rein and then dismounted, before bowing to the little figure and speaking in a tongue that he had never heard of before. The short figure seemed to stiffen in shock for a moment, before bowing almost ceremoniously and then replying in what seemed to be the same tongue. Jaime could see the Blackfish and Brienne dismounting quickly and then craning their heads slightly to listen before then nodding slightly and looking at each other as if they were gleaning bits of it.

As for Jaime he sat there, feeling poleaxed, on his horse for a long moment, before dismounting himself. He felt almost clumsy from being so stunned. There had been word that the Children of the Forest were still around, but he'd almost scorned that, given that they had been unseen for so long. He could almost imagine Tyrion tutting over his head right now, telling him not to be so foolish.

"I shall speak your language, so that you all can understand," the little creature said after a long moment. "I am named Leaf. Or that is the small word that summarises my true name." She eyed the Green Man. "We thought ourselves alone."

"You were not. The Isle of Faces – and other secret places – remained intact, South of the Wall."

"I know – or I know now. The sacrifice made by Rickon Stark will never be forgotten. We will sing his name for many years to come. Sing of what he did."

The Green Man nodded sombrely. "He carried out his task. He was braver than many ever could be."

"And he will never be forgotten. We see each other again now. And the ways are open. Most of us here have gone South already." She smiled slightly. "I remain to tend to he who thought himself the last Greenseer. You have come in time, he does not have long left. I sense you have questions."

"We do." The Green Man turned to them all and then nodded. "We have someone to meet." And then he led his horse, and them all, into the cleft.


Ten days. He was ten days too fucking late. He had been away, travelling on business that had not been as successful as he might have hoped and then came home to discover that his remaining family had not just been evicted but his daughter almost sold into serfdom.

And then worse.

Sent to King's Landing, sent to an 'establishment', sent to a whorehouse morelike.

She was too young for that, too innocent, no it was wrong…

He had tracked her down, - but then he had heard that she had died. Oh, it was an 'accident', the madam of the whorehouse had said, but he knew different. He knew the truth. He had asked about and he knew that the man who claimed to be a knight had killed her, all but murdered her, because he liked his whores young.

Well now. He knew the name of the man. And now he knew his face. And now he had a knife in his hand and the whoreson had his back to him, neck exposed above that white cloak as he strode to another whorehouse and all he had to do was grab him and pull him into that alleyway by that factor's office and then plunge that knife in as hard as he could…

And then he ran.


As far as the people near the modest building near the docks of King's Landing were concerned, it was owned by a shipping factor called Telion, a man of Essosi roots, who travelled a lot but who always eventually returned to his adopted home in the city.

To become Telion meant wearing a rather scratchy wig, affecting a slight limp and perfecting the heavy scowl of someone who had many cares.

Which meant that it felt good to sit in the room at the top of the building, take off his wig, unfix his scowl and raise a glass of wine to his own acquaintance Ralys, a man who had also known Ilyrio, who raised his own in salute and then sighed tiredly.

"You are, I note, a little late in your voyage from Volantis and also look fatigued. May I ask why?"

Ralys sighed again. "Essos is… well, on edge. Much is happening there and you need to be aware of it all. For one thing, the Braavosi have searched Pentos from the highest loft to the lowest undercroft and are now so convinced that Daenerys Targaryen is not hidden in the city that they are expanding their search to the outlying area. And they are sending many searching parties."

A worm of unease went through him for a moment. "They are that keen to find her?"

"No, they are that keen to find her dragons. The Braavosi have dreams of the wonderful irony of using the last dragons of Valyria to crush the First Daughter and the other colonies of Valyria. Dreams that… drive them very much. They are searching very hard. And there is the danger."

Varys frowned slightly. "Danger?"

His old friend laughed harshly for a moment. "Volantis knows that Braavos failed to capture Daenerys Targaryen and her dragons and are sending out their own search parties! So are the other Free Cities! Why should they not, the Dothraki have vanished eastwards, about which I need to speak later, and whoever finds that girl and her dragons might tip the balance of the Game of Cities! And if some of those parties meet one another and clash and tempers are hot or, worse, someone finds the girl and her pets – well, blood will flow. And a war might start."

The unease was stronger now. "Matters are that tense?"

Ralys sighed again and then nodded. "Volantis is… beyond tense. They know that there's a war coming, they just don't know where from. Braavos taking Pentos again… well, that's not unexpected. Throw in the Targaryen girl and her dragons… they see the threat."

"But what can Braavos have in terms of dragonriders in the future?"

"More than enough Dragonseeds, either from Dragonstone or the Free Cities. Or hoped-for Dragonseeds. You know how the Valyrians treated their slaves. The Braavosi have their hope – and Volantis knows that. No, matters are tense in Essos. And those search parties will scour the area, searching for the last Targaryen and her dragons."

He nodded slowly. He might need to move the girl and her dragons, and soon. Then he frowned a little. "You mentioned the Dothraki?"

Ralys shifted in his seat a little. "Odd tales from the far east. I do not know how much credence to place in this but… there was word – rumour really – that one of the Five Forts had fallen to the walking dead. It was retaken, the word is, but… well, it's a strange enough tale that people are talking about it."

Strange enough indeed. "One of the Five Forts? Beyond odd indeed. Please pass on more if you hear anything. Recent events here have… made me take tales of the walking dead more seriously. Matters North of the Wall have demanded the attention of the Crown here and I have to say rightly so."

"Truly?" Ralys looked unsettled.

"Truly." He said the word firmly. "I have seen evidence of such. Small cages filled with the moving parts of dead people."

Ralys looked even more unsettled at that. "Then I will keep an eye on many matters." He sighed again. "The other reason why I am late is that Volantis sent ships into Valyria to search for more Valyrian steel. And none returned. Which should hint at how desperate some are getting."

"Indeed." He sipped some more wine and then nodded a little. Time to move more pieces on the board.

And then he heard the sound of someone shouting outside the building and then others. Something seemed to be going on and he needed to find out what.

Jon Arryn

He stared down at the scroll of paper that had once been wrapped around the leg of a raven and which was now in his hand. The words were tiny, written as small as possible whilst still being legible and they spoke of… well, almost madness.

But then what was life these days, but a series of fantastic events, almost out of the Age of Legends?

He remembered the first time that he laid eyes on Ned Stark, a boy who was trying, almost successfully, to hide how homesick and afraid he was. The words "I am a Stark of Winterfell" were almost visible on his lips.

That boy had become a man that he was very proud of, a man who was proven leader in battle, a father, the Lord of the North, the man who had sent the Call and now… the man who had killed a god.

He sighed and kept on walking down the corridor. Ned had killed a god. A god. As a man of the Seven the very thought made his skin crawl. How could a god die? How could a man kill a god? Could a man who killed a god be… more than a man? He shivered for a moment.

What he did know was that Rickard Stark would have been bursting with pride over his son. He had always known or perhaps suspected that Ned would always have been a better Lord of the North than Brandon. Rickard's first heir had been too impulsive, too wild, too ready to draw the sword before talking. Ned was a better man than Brandon, not that he meant to speak ill of the dead.

As he walked into the room where what remained of the Small Council now met he could see that Velaryon and Merryweather were talking with Pycelle, who looked grimly focussed.

"My Lords. What has you so intent?"

Velaryon looked up at him. "The number of madmen in the Docks has increased, Lord Arryn. We have word of at least a hundred men in the city who have lost their minds, screaming the same thing – that they cannot hear the voice of… of…"

He held up the message in his hand. "The Drowned God, yes?"

The three men stared at him in some shock. "Well," Pycelle said after a moment, looking far more focussed than he normally did, "Yes, my Lord."

He strode forwards into the room and sat at the table there. "Word has come from the Hightower in Oldtown. Ned Stark has killed the Drowned God there, in the gate at the base of the Hightower."

There was a stunned silence for a long moment – and then all three stood almost as one and either gaped at him or bellowed the word "What?"

He smiled thinly and then tossed the message down the table to Pycelle, who grabbed it quickly and read it. "My Gods," he said eventually in a whisper and passed the message on to the others, who almost tore it in two as they grabbed either end of it. "That… that would explain much. If the madmen are all Ironborn…"

"In such numbers?" Merryweather asked, looking horrified. "Here in King's Landing?"

"In any large town or city that has docks there are bound to be such people," Velaryon replied grimly. "The Ironborn often seemed to intercept the choicest of cargos with excellent knowledge of the ships and crews carrying it. They had intelligence from the docks. Yes, this explains much."

"But for a man to kill a god… how can this be?"

Jon sat at the head of the table. "The message speaks of a detailed report coming from the Hightower, written by the new Lord Hightower." He shook his head for a moment. "And the mention of Leyton Hightower dying in a fight against Euron Greyjoy is… by all the gods, more strangeness. I hope that Oldtown sends a courier on a fast horse, this will be a tale for the ages."

"My apologies, my lords, for my tardiness," came a voice to one side and he saw Varys hurrying in. "I heard a song from Essos that demanded my attention and then I heard of an event at the docks that needs to be brought to your attention."

"If it's madmen that turned out to be Ironborn we are ahead of you there for once Varys," Jon said. "It seems that Pyke had more of a presence here in King's Landing than we thought. I wonder where else men have gone mad once they no longer heard the voice of their now-dead god? Oldtown? Driftmark? Planky Town?"

Varys frowned as he sat. "I'm sorry Lord Arryn? Dead god?"

Pycelle handed the Master of Whispers the scroll. "There has been a fight at the base of the Hightower. Lord Leyton Hightower lost his life battling against Euron Greyjoy, before Lord Stark drove him away – and then Lord Stark killed the Drowned God."

Varys read the scroll in obvious astonishment, the most obvious emotion that Jon could remember seeing on the eunuch's face since the first cage containing a wight's head had arrived. "Gods… one of my little birds sang a song to me that Oldtown was much on edge, but this… I think that this more detailed report that is on the road cannot get here sooner."

Jon nodded and then made a mental note that Ned only had one daughter – so far – who was not betrothed and several sons. Many lords would be beating a path to Ned's door to arrange marriage alliances. He hoped that young Robert was making friends at Winterfell. Ned Stark, the Godslayer – yes, House Stark would be prominent indeed if they won this war.

"My Lords," he said quietly. "I think that it would be a wise idea that the Small Council move to a more Northerly location as soon as practicable. I myself will be heading first for the Vale to complete certain duties that must be done before winter arrives and then for Winterfell. I think that White Harbour might be a suitable place initially. We will need to consult with his Grace the King and the Hand of course on this. The Kingdom must be run from a place that has adequate communications of course."

"I agree," said Merryweather at once, whilst Velaryon simply nodded. Pycelle looked mulish for a moment – the man liked some degree of routine in the Red Keep, including visits from women of a certain establishment – but then nodded reluctantly. Varys frowned a little.

"I will have to make some adjustments to my system – my little birds fly to me here in Kings Landing, so it will take a while to get them to send their songs to a new location – but that can be arranged, I think." He coughed delicately and arched his eyebrows at Jon, who remembered that he had spoken of other news.

"You mentioned Essos and the docks, Lord Varys?"

"Essos is in some degree of ferment, or potential ferment. The Braavosi are new convinced that Daenerys Targaryen and her dragons are not carefully hidden in Pentos, but escaped somewhere. They are searching for her – extensively I am told. And I am also told that Volantis knows this and is seeking her as well, as are, no doubt, the other Free Cities and other powers."

Velaryon groaned. "So, men from many cities, all armed, all searching, all potentially clashing?"

"Exactly, Lord Velaryon," Varys grimaced a little. "War could break out quite easily, especially if someone finds her."

Jon sat back in his chair and steepled his fingers under his nose as he thought hard. "Varys, if she is out there, in the area around Pentos, could your little birds find her? Her dragons must be growing by now."

Varys furrowed his brow for a moment. "I can ask my little birds to search. If we had a good guess as to where she might have fled to, that might help, but Essos is so large and months have passed so…" He threw his hands in the air in a gesture of worry.

"Even if we found her… what would we do with her?" Velaryon asked the question carefully. Jon had a strong suspicion why – the Velaryons of Driftmark had the blood of Valyria within them and he had often wondered if they were Targaryen loyalists.

He tapped a finger on the table as he thought. "This is a matter for his Grace. However, Daenerys Targaryen's dragons might be a weapon against the Others on the Wall. Some… accommodation might be reached with the girl, with legal restrictions put in place. After all, she is the last Targaryen, apart from Maester Aemon on the Wall. So – have your little birds search, Varys. Let us know if they need reinforcements."

"And she is nothing more than a girl," Merryweather pointed out. "She could be married into a Great House quite easily." He caught their looks and flushed a bit. "I know that it might be hard to arrange."

Jon raised an eyebrow and made yet another mental note to keep an eye on Merryweather. The man was a good Master of Coin but somewhat blunt in terms of the finer matters of politics. Then he looked back at Varys. "And the matter from the docks?"

"Ah, yes." Varys pulled a slight face. "I regret to say that Ser Boros Blount is dead. He was knifed in the neck by a man dressed in dark robes almost at the door of a particularly insalubrious establishment that dealt in, erm, young girls. He died quite quickly I am told."

Jon felt his nostrils flair for a long moment. And then he sighed. Blount had never been really worthy of the white cloak and Robert had written to him that Selmy was working on a plan to change the Kingsguard. Well. This made it a little easier, surely?