He felt those eyes of his charge watch him, even as he did his best to ignore them. Those eyes were sharp, unnaturally so. Intelligence hid beneath those deep violet eyes, always planning, ever watchful. Ser Jory Cassel, instead, watched the proceedings of the court take place. Ned Stark was a grim young man. He passed judgment to those that sought his help, with fairness and justice as he saw fit. He was a good Warden of the North, and a true Northman, beloved by all the people this side of the world.
Jory resisted a sigh of relief, as the boy's attention turned away from him. Those penetrating eyes studied his father instead, and the woman that so hated him, and the rest of petitioners within the court. The rich merchants and a few foreign dignitaries, minor lords and all, and even the few smallfolk that have been lucky enough, had come to treat within Winterfell.
Once the court ended, and Ned had left, along with his wife, little Jon took to his feet and left for the Godswood. Shadowed, as always, by Jory. A strange thing for a captain of the guard to do, but do he must.
It had all started when the lady of Winterfell started suspecting the boy of some foul misdeeds, which Jory thought was foolish to have him waste his time on. Ned, of course, knew not of what she asked, and kept it quiet between the two of them. Jory would, of course, inform his lord by the morn of his Lady's suspicions and her demands.
"Sometimes, I wonder...," Ser Jory's features pulled into a frown, as he glanced at the bastard before him. He sat beneath a great heart tree, cross-legged and with an even breath. The bloody leaves crowned above him as if he were a king, and for a moment, the boy looked like a regal king, like how a Valyrian monarch resided in state,with his deep violet eyes and silver-gold hair. Jory sometimes mused that the Lord Stark must have bedded the last of the Blackfyres,or some other line with pure valyrian blood, for the boy did not have an ounce of the North in him. The ancient Valyrians had had sharp features,high and inhumanely beautiful. The Conqueror and his sister-wives had matched those looks. However,as the years passed, and the Targaryen line bred with Andals and Rhoynar, those pure valyrian looks had all but disappeared, save for the Valyrian colouring and pale skin. The bastard looked more valyrian than some of the Targaryen portraits he had seen, even more so than Prince Rhaegar whom he had only seen at the Tourney of Harrenhal.
"Boy?" He asked, uncertainly.
"This world is filled with strange wonders, ser knight".There was a solemness to this young lad. Barely eight namedays old, but the child he should have been had all but gone from this world. Was he ever a child? "Tell me, ser, have you ever wished to travel the world, and see the wonders with your own eyes?"
Jon Snow was the kin of the Warden of the North, Ned Stark. For a bastard, the boy spoke eloquently, and in a fine manner,more like a southron than any northmen he knew.
"I have travelled many times, boy," he said, as he watched the young bastard settle into contentment. "Alongside your father, I was there to watch him treat with many lords to some of the beautiful lands of Westeros. I was by his side as he made war against the Targaryens, and later against the Iron Born."
The bastard said nothing, as he looked grimly across the dark forest. The snow fell around them softly, and Jory could not help but shiver.
The boy reminded him far too much of the father, more than even his half-brother , the likeness was not in physical looks,but in that hint of frost in his violet eyes. The same freezing cold was in his lord father's eyes. Nothing escaped the boy's attention. Jon, so small and slight for his age, was not what his lady warned him against; that the boy was dangerous beyond reason. Jory could not see it. He was just a boy. What could a boy do? Yet, he could not help but feel ashamed when he gripped the hilt of his sword with much more pressure than he should. He is only a child, thought Jory. Only a child.
"I've made many plans, Ser Jory," Jon's voice brought him back to the present. "Plans, concessions, promises... there are many things I've done in secret to ensure that today comes to pass, without nary a thorn in my side."
Jory suddenly looked wary as he gazed upon his charge. This is not a normal child! The thought screamed inside his head, as he took a step forward. "What do you mean, boy?"
"My father the dreamer, the foolish king that fools himself as the saviour of the world," Jon chuckled, shaking his head despondently, "The king is a failure, and he was a failure as much as the father before him. Yet, I could not help but believe he achieved something."
Treasonous words. But it left him confused. What in the Old Gods and the New was he talking about? The king? Was this boy addled? And to call Ned a fool, the thought made him bristle with anger. "Boy, I suggest you watch your next words very carefully. What you may say will be reported to your father, and he will not be pleased. Hear that, boy?"
Ser Jory slapped his neck on instinct, alarmed, then pulled his hand away. He paled at the dart clutched within his fingers, dripping with poison. Before he could even reach three steps toward the bastard in anger, he fell to his knees, and slumped to the ground. The man was wrought with fear, as his limbs failed him. Jory never felt so helpless. The whole realm would laugh as he was bested by a child. The shame that would bring... to be lost without even lifting his sword...
The bastard dusted himself off from the hummus and the snow that caked his clothes, and knelt next to the captain. "Don't worry, it's only a paralyzing agent. You'll not die tonight. Tell your lord this; the day I come back is the day I will make war upon him, and take my throne for my own."
Mad! He was mad! "Y-you are of kin to House Stark... w-why betray us? Why betray your family?"
"Betray my family?" The boy asked. The boy cocked his head, then he unsheathed Jory's blade by his side. Jory struggled to move at the theft, and the boy's cowardice, as anger overcame his shame to budge. He couldn't move an inch. The boy's fingers danced upon the face of the steel, and smiled. "I'm trying to save them."
Mad! "M-mad! You're mad! The la-ady was right. No-... no one will support your claim to Winterfell. Not for a b-.. bastard!"
The boy shook his head, a melancholic heartache that seemed so alien on such a young lad. The blade was returned back to its sheath. Jon seemed lost, even helpless. It was as if he were looking into another world entirely. "I don't remember my father, but I do remember my mother. I remember the tower, and the bed of roses. I remember the stories she used to whisper, and the stories. Oh, the stories! She told me of how they married before a heart tree, once, and gave their vows. The love she had for my father..." Jory blinked in confusion. And dread. What had Ned done? Jon gave a soft smile, "You've always been by your lord's side, and you do your best to serve the Starks, and your loyalty would be well rewarded should circumstances differ, but alas..."
A moment passed, as Jon shared in the peace and quiet with the knight, and just as quickly shook his head.
Jon got to his feet once more and sighed. "Make sure you protect my family, will you? Tell them I will miss them. I'll be leaving them in your care. I can appreciate that, at the least. Goodbye, ser Jory Cassel. The next time I see you, it will be on the battlefield."
It was only two hours later, when a guard found him in the Godswood, did Jory inform Lord Stark of his son's betrayal.
The cloaked man that secreted him away out of the capital of the north, knew how to hide their tracks well. And Jon offered no complaints when they could not stop, lest they are captured. Fear drove them, as much as determination drove Jon.
They were long gone by then, even as pandamonium ran rampant throughout Winterfell. They will not find him.
It would take another few weeks before the boy was able to reach White Harbor, and with nothing but the clothes on Jon's back and a few golden dragons hidden beneath the sleeves of his shirt and pants.
For a small boy with no wealth, it would have been a dangerous thing, indeed, to carry around such coins. Jon was prepared, of course. A small cog awaited him, and a handful of men that ran it. The captain was a copper-skinned man that spoke of Dothraki lineage.
The captain nodded deeply, respectfully, as Jon bordered the cog. Another hour, and the cog left for Pentos, and eventually, they made their way to the Doom that awaited them. Old Valyria.
Jon looked upon the few dozens handpicked men that accompanied him to their doom. He knew none will survive. Only fools would follow him to where he went, but promises were made. And promises Jon had kept. Their families would be well received, with a few acres of lands and a manse of their own in Braavos. Their children will eat well, and be educated, and held a future that most smallfolk could have only dreamt of. The gold he had to steal barely affected the treasury of Winterfell, but caution must be kept, and the books must be cooked and balanced. His uncle was no fool, and whilst he might not have a knack for numbers, even he would notice the theft.
They really need a dedicated accounting management, thought Jon with dismay.
And now, Jon and his men sailed across the seas, and eventually crossed into the Smoking Sea. A perilous journey, which would eventually lead them to the dreaded island that spoke only of legends and death.
It was a long time before they managed to set foot on the legendary island.
The earth cracked, and spewed fire. Mists, humid and hot, clung to them like oil. Black ash fell from the red sky almost every night. Only dead trees and the crumbled ruins of an old civilization gave proof of a once thriving nation. The few homes Jon and his men entered, they shared their meals with the remnants of the decayed, ashes of the dead.
Some, knowing death had come, hugged their loved ones even as they died. Families shared their meals, arms outstretched. A few sat alone, with their arms crossed around their knees and eyes closed. The children were the worst of it all. They died quickly, he knew. The Doom was a painless one, which gave him comfort.
There was fear in all of them, in all their expressions Jon studied. And courage, also. Courage so great, it had left him weeping.
This was death in its purest form. The Doom was a reminder of the Valyrian's hubris, and Jon learned that lesson to heart.
What food they brought, was carefully sealed lest they were poisoned by the very air they breathed. It did not save the men, of course. The deeper they went into the island, the more deadly it became. The ashes fell as thick as his thumb, and the land was covered in black and fire. There was nothing here, nothing but death and misery.
Jon missed his home.
The food was eventually spoiled, and his men dropped dead one by one, either through burnt lungs or of hunger. The few that survived abandoned him, as despair set in. They sought their own deaths, and Jon was wise enough to let them go.
As hunger set in, and days passed, he ate what remained of the few dried beef he managed to bring along with him, poisoned, though, they were. It was the only thing that allowed him to force his march forward.
Jon wondered why he survived. How was he not poisoned? He was young, and his body fragile, yet he survived, determined to make way to place that he had dreamt of for the last year. Jon could not stop. He won't stop. He would never stop.
And so, a week past before he was able to follow the road that would eventually lead to one of the greatest civilizations that sprang on this side of this world.
And there, Jon found salvation.