30th day of the 11th month of 299AC
Roose Bolton sighed with relief. He had a double dose of leeches on him to draw away the bad humours. He had a lot of those lately. The war not going exactly well, to begin with. Then his bastard behaving like a fool and getting himself killed. And by the hand of the Stark Bastard, no less. And then, the said Stark Bastard showed up at the gates of the Dreadfort with over two thousand men, mostly under the Manderley banner. But with sizeable contingents from the Karstarks, Umbers, Cerwyns, and others too. And browbeat the Castellan to be let inside.
As a result the Bolton lands were now under temporary attainment and ruled by Lord Too-Fat-To-Ride. To add insult to injury the Stark Bastard – after forcing his way into HIS castle - had judged and punished men sworn to the Bolton's and carrying out the orders of Ramsey – the rightful regent of the Dreadfort. That would not do at all – this was a grave insult to the Bolton's! Roose will have none of this. The bastard wolf had been a fool to cross him.
Yet stupidity simply seemed to run in the family. King Robb had spat on his honour and – more importantly – had insulted Lord Walder Frey and married some nobody from a destitute House. Said destitute House with a half-ruined keep being from the Westerlands, no less. The offer of Lord Edmure's hand for a Frey bride did not seem adequate compensation; a lord, even if Lord Paramount of the Riverlands, was NOT a King, after all. But the bigest damage was showing to the world that his word was wind. Also, for all his victories in the field, King Robb was no closer to ending the war in the West than he had been when crossing the bridge at the Twins almost a year ago.
The North's chances for winning anything in this war had ended a few days ago when another of the Five Kings, Stannis, had been beaten badly during his attempt to take Kings landing by the new Lannister-Tyrell coalition. With no sizeable army left the last of the Baratheon brothers was sulking on Dragonstone, powerless. And apparently this victorious Lannister-Tyrell coalition had brought the Martells on board as well. It was now about the North's survival, not restoration of the Kingdom in the North nor revenge for the late Lord Eddard.
And frankly the Northern Lords were slowly becoming disgruntled with the performance of their liege Lord. They had dutifuly called their banners when the Young Wolf had requested. They had been outraged both by Eddard's arrest and later execution, true. But their anger had been more about the Southrons harming one of their own than out of any deeper feelings for their Vale-raised Lord. And they got a slap in the face when Robb agreed to take a Frey bride. Never in living memory had the Starks wed in the South for two generations in a row. Both Eddard's and Robb's marriages had been for the same reason – to buy Southron swords for Stark's southern adventures which had nothing to do with the North.
After all the previous mess – Robert's Rebellion - had begun by Rickard arranging marriage alliances in the South and as a result having his wild children gallivant around the Riverlands. True that Roose himself had sent his heir to foster in the Vale – but it was to verify if the Starks knew what they were doing, to check if maybe that they knew something the Bolton's did not. But they did not - Domeric returned soft, naive and trusting.
Roose knew that he had his job cut for him – he had wedding arrangements to go over with Lord Walder and Lord Tywin. He needed to release the Kingslayer. He also needed to put a child in the belly of the bride, Arya Stark, which the Lannisters were to provide. He needed an heir to wear the Skull Crown of the Red Kings. Or, better, the Crown of Winter itself.
Among less weighty matters Roose needed a new Castellan for the Dreadfort - the previous one had chosen to be "the shield of the Realms of Men" over the block and was at the Wall. Lucky for him – had he still been at the Dreadfort Roose would had flayed him for surrendering the Castle to the Stark Bastard. Thinking of it – the boy's diligence in chopping heads off – and draping guts over boughs on occasion - pointed to the half Stark having potential for learning more refined manners of dealing death. Finally a Stark after his own mind! Seeing how bland Eddard's trueborns were Jon must had got his finer qualities from that unknown mother of his ... What a pity that Roose would have to kill the freshly minted Stark anyway. But all that in good time—let the leeches draw the humours out first ...
On the Kingsroad, somewhere in the bogs of the Neck
Jon was in his tent and thus out of sight. He thus allowed himself to indulge in his secret sin. He warged into Ghost and nipped at Summer's ear, drawing out of the beast's mind immediately afterwards. He smiled at the sounds of the scuffle outside. He then – with greater effort than previously, as he did not have the same bond with Summer – entered the other direwolf's mind and reciprocated the ear nipping. With same aftershocks. However, his next attempt at entering Ghost's mind - this time to chew at Summer's tail - was rebuffed and the direwolf's thoughts could be translated into human speech as – "sod off, stupid!"
He mentally promised the animals that he will not indulge in any horseplay and entertained himself with watching the camp through the eyes of one or the other. The effort quickly exhausted him, however, and he fell into a dreamless sleep. Rank had its privileges and he did not stand watch and thus slept until morning.
Peeing at a tree in the morning chill he admired the vapour rising from the hot stream. He smiled at the sight of the two direwolves sleeping, curled up next to one another. His grin turned into a grimace when he reminded himself that there were only two. Jon sighed ...
After returning from Deepwood Motte Jon had tried to "tame" Shaggydog. Yet to no avail. Rickon's death had affected the beast too strongly. The black furred direwolf tolerated the presence of children, was cold towards women, and hostile towards men. Very hostile even when the men were armed. The only exemption to this aggression was Jon himself. He had tried to enter Shaggydog's mind to "calm him" but had been rejected.
Facing a choice of having a very unhappy and constantly howling direwolf in the kennels or having him attack the guards when let out, Jon had released the animal into the Woolfswood. He had sent very strong thoughts of "do not attack people" but that had not been enough – either his warging powers were insufficient to get the idea across or simply Shaggy was too far gone. The black direwofl mauled a hunting party and Winterfell now had a widow and three semi-orphans to support. After that attack Jon had taken the other two wolves and sought out the rogue. They ran him down and Jon had extended the Old Way to Shaggy – he beheaded him before a weirwood. He felt acceptance at this act from the remaining brothers but he still felt remorse. It was like losing one more family member. And drove home the message that a boil was best lanced before it festered, a lesson he liberally applied when judging Bolton men at the Dreadfort.
"Edric has the blood of kings. Let me bed him. For the power to make a Shadow Assassin to use on Tywin. He is the only one that counts. And then burn the boy - he is young and weak and the making of R'hllor's Blade will bring him close to death anyway. Sacrificing him will bring R'hllor's Blessing for the battles that will follow" – the priestess of the Red God pleaded.
Stannis was tempted by the woman's offer. The making of two Shadow Assasins had drained him greatly and unmanned him, making him useless in this regard. He chided himself for throwing away resources for brilliant tactical victories which did not do much to further his strategic ends. Using the Shadow Assassin against Ser Cortnay Penrose had been an absolute waste. In hindsight, that is. It had seemed a good idea at that time – gaining Storm's End and thus securing the Stormlands for his cause. And Melisandre was absolutely correct– Tywin was the only adversary who mattered. With him gone the Lannisters controlling HIS throne would not have two grey cells to rub together. Only Tyrion had something resembling a brain amongst that lot. But Stannis was certain that the pretty, stupid and vicious Lannisters would not listen to the Imp. Also Edric – no matter how disgusting the manner of his conception, was kin. He would not kill the boy. Even if his - the One Rightful King's - situation resembled that of a stag surrounded by a pride of lions. Or better - that of a rat cornered by rabid cats. He was not that desperate. Yet.
"No. Leech him only".
1 - a shorter chapter as I am working on the Red Wedding
2 - half-Stark refers to Jon's bastardy