Eddard Stark looked down at the report on his desk and checked over his map of the North. The area surrounding the Wolfswood was smattered with ink dots. A trail of them led from Winterfell, along the river that led into the Wolfswood, Crofter's Village, and a few dotting the Kingsroad.
Another cluster of bandits dead with no trace of their killer. The witnesses all said the same thing; a sudden drop in temperature followed by a freezing mist. Then came a hooded figure dressed in black, steel shattering like glass, and blue stars for eyes. He would always vanish as quickly as he arrived, leaving the ones he saved behind without so much as a word; disappearing into the freezing mists, before the weather cleared and the snow stopped falling.
The Lord of Winterfell closed his eyes and rubbed the bridge of his nose. The patterns and description matched all previous reports. This was getting out of hand. The smallfolk were talking, bandit raids had decreased as a whole, and other Lords were asking questions he had no clue how to answer. Then again, this was something he doubted anyone would have an answer for. A knock on the door, followed by his bark of "Enter." And Jory Cassel stepped into his solar.
"My Lord." Jory said with a bow of his head.
"Jory." Ned answered back.
Jory's lips pressed into a tight line when he said, "The search party has just returned, my Lord. There's no sign of him."
The Warden of the North closed his eyes as disappointment, worry, and anger all surged through him. "Thank you, Jory." Ned told his bannerman with a nod.
"My Lord?" Jory asked hesitantly. When Lord Stark looked back up at him, he said, "It's been almost a year, my Lord. We've combed as much of the Wolfswood as possible without encroaching on other Lord's lands, our best hunters and trackers have failed, and the men are getting more and more restless at the prospect of what we are looking for."
"Speak plainly, Jory." Eddard Stark rumbled.
"My Lord, we've searched almost every day. No one can find him, and we always seem to be ten steps behind when he appears. The other Houses are talking, as are the smallfolk. They are growing restless."
Ned stared at Cassel with an intense frown and narrowed eyes, "He is my blood, Jory." Ned Stark growled, "I will not rest until I bring him back."
"My Lord, he doesn't want to be found. Even if we do find him..." Here, Jory paused And visibly collected himself, "After...after what happened, should he be brought back to Winterfell?"
There was a pause before Ned Stark scowled, "Return to your post, Cassel. I will not hear any more of this."
Jory bowed his head in deference with an "Aye, my Lord." and left his solar. Ned let out a sigh from the depths of his soul and sank back into his chair. His eyes scanned the markings on the map to see if he could make out some sort of pattern for what felt like the hundredth time, and gave up when he once again failed to do so. He was tired. So very, very tired. A lack of sleep from worry saw to that; fretful nights staring out the window from an empty bed. He and Catelyn were still sleeping in separate rooms. His children had grown distant with him as well; Robb spending most of his time in the training yard, Arya hiding in the woods, Bran silent and sullen. Even Sansa was affected in her own way. She was quieter, much quieter. Theon was, too. Only little Rickon was unaffected; and he was merely a small boy. Ned dragged a hand over his face. His desperate prayers in the Godswood had gone unanswered when he begged to know what exactly happened on the day everything went to the seven hells.
-Jon staggered into the great hall with blood leaking from marks on his face and gashes in his tunic. For a moment, they locked eyes, and his nephew had gotten out a weak "Father?" With blood dribbling down his lips before he collapsed to the stone floor. Ned had screamed his name and practically leapt over the table to get to Lyanna's boy, Robb at his heels, with others running to Jon's side-
-"He will live, my Lord." Luwin said the minute he stepped out of the room. Ned let out a shaky sigh and nearly collapsed in relief. The old maester continued on, "It is strange, my Lord. Such wounds should be fatal, but young Jon lives. It...it is a miracle." The old maester muttered-
-"What happened? Did someone try to kill Jon?" Robb asked with an expression of mingled fear and fury. It was one Ned shared. He said, "All of Winterfell and Wintertown are being searched for a culprit as we speak. The guards are on high alert. No one is to leave the castle." Ned told his son, as well as Arya, Sansa, Theon, and Bran behind him. Catelyn was there, too, holding Rickon in her arms and her expression blank. Ned continued, "You will all be escorted under guard at all times until this is resolved. If the killer still resides in these walls, I want you all protected."-
-"Say again, Jory?" Ned demanded. Jory grimaced and repeated himself, "My Lord, everyone who saw Jon said he was hale and hearty throughout the morning. One of the servants saw him begin to stagger just before he reached the hall. There's blood right before the entrance. Everyone who saw him say no one was with him before he entered. No one was even near him."-
-"Jon!" Ned beamed in relief as all the pent up stress and anxiety evaporated upon seeing his nephew alive on the bed. Bloody rags boiled in hot water to prevent infection covered the stab wounds that had been sewn shut by Luwin's stitches. By all accounts, the maester had admitted Jon should be dead, but Ned merely thanked the gods and focused only on that the boy was alive. The moment Ned walked into the room, Jon's eyes shot open wide and he turned his head to look at him in a way that made him freeze. The deep scratches on Jon's face had scabbed over, and the red lines on his pale face emphasized the lost and wild look in his dark eyes that pierced Ned's very soul. He'd seen eyes like that before on men after a bloody battle, when the only thing breaking the silence were the screams of the wounded and the smell of death filling the air. Jon's eyes were old, haunted, and shadowed; the eyes of one who had seen too much war, death, and horror.
His nephew should not have those eyes.
Ned just stared at Jon, and Jon stared back. There seemed to be no recognition in his gaze. It was like Ned was in the room with a stranger and not his nephew. Not his sister's son; the blood of his blood. Ned swallowed passed the dry lump in his throat, and called, "Jon?"
Jon's mouth worked for a moment, and he blinked. The building tension in the air Ned hadn't even known was there vanished. Jon's smile was as flimsy as summer ice, and he said "Hello, Father."-
-Arya said the words softly, as if she was worried someone might hear, "Father, something's wrong with Jon." She told him one quiet afternoon. It had been a week since Luwin declared Jon to be able to move freely again. The boy had made a miraculous recovery, and against Luwin's wishes, had went right back to training with the sword. No suspect for the attack on his life had been found, and Jon had told them he could not remember anyone attacking him that day, either. Ned looked at Arya and then out towards the training yard where his nephew stood alone in front of a practice dummy. A sword was in his hands but he had not swung it at all since he arrived. He just stood there, still as a statue.
"He doesn't talk to anyone anymore. He's always in the Godswood or in the crypts." Arya said, "And he won't talk to me or Robb about what happened to him." His daughter sounded hurt and distressed when she sent a look in Jon's direction. The boy still had not moved and was just standing there, staring at the dummy. Then Arya whispered, "It's-it's like a part of him died."
Ned looked sharply back at Arya, who seemed to be on the verge of tears, and bent down to pull her into a hug. "Arya, Jon is alive." He told her, "He was badly hurt, but something like that can change someone. Give him time. He'll come round." He wanted to believe those words. He really did. Especially when he heard a loud crack of splitting wood, and looked up to see Jon had suddenly decapitated the dummy with a single stroke of his sword-
-"Your bastard was in the library today." Catelyn said out of the blue. Ned froze from undoing his tunic and stared at his Lady Wife. She was brushing her hair before her nightstand mirror without meeting his eyes.
"Oh." Was all Ned could say. Catelyn rarely spoke of Jon at all unless put upon. He asked, "Did something happen?"
"No." She replied, "He was reading about the Targaryen dynasty, as well as a few other old tomes." She said distractedly. A complex fist of panic and fear gripped his heart for a moment before he quelled his nerves and looked towards his wife. She never waivered in her brushing, nor did she meet his eyes, but stared into her own reflection with a stony expression that was marred by the distracted furrow of her brow. "He is still going to the Wall, yes?" She asked him directly.
"Jon has not said anything otherwise." Ned rumbled, "Why?" He asked, confused and a bit worried at Catelyn's behavior. Cat said nothing for a moment, before she finally put down her brush and stared at it with a complicated expression, "He asked me to watch over the others when he is gone. He told me...he told me he cares for us all, even if I may not believe him...including me." Cat stared into the fire with various emotions playing across her face. Ned stared at her. Silence filled their bedchambers for a long moment, until Ned decided to break it. He said, "Perhaps he has heard that Yoren is passing through Winterfell and hopes to ask him to join the Watch early?"
"Perhaps." Catelyn said after a moment. Another passed before she rose and headed to bed. Ned followed her, but sleep did not come easy that night. He needed to talk to Jon, and soon-
-The next morning, Jon shattered Theon Greyjoy's practice sword into pieces. Jon's behavior had rapidly changed over the course of the month, but the strangest, and by far the most worrying, was Jon had refused to spar with anyone. Instead, he turned his dulled blade on the practice dummies and targets, damn near hacking them all to pieces. Rodrick Cassel had made some odd comments about Jon as well, stating that the boy's whole fighting style had changed overnight; shaped up and sharpened into that of a seasoned warrior's. It was something his Master of Arms had tried to investigate further, but Jon always had an excuse when Rodrick began digging for answers. Jon also avoided to sparring with Robb and Theon, with was beyond concerning for all who knew him.
That morning, Theon had approached the Bastard of Winterfell and openly, and loudly, challenged him to a spar. When Jon declined, he tried to goad him further. When Jon declined further, Theon insulted him. When Jon flat out refused him and turned to leave, Theon had called him a coward on top of a bastard. Jon had froze in his tracks, according to witnesses, and stood there long enough for people to wonder if Theon had finally pushed Jon Snow too far. Ned hadn't known if something happened between them, but since Jon had recovered, he avoided the Ironborn like the plague. All he'd been told was that Jon had strode over to seize a practice sword and marched towards the Greyjoy heir with death in his eyes. Rodrick had seen the change in Jon and called for a stop, but Jon was on Theon before his Master at Arms could get the words out. The bout was over, quick and brutal, with Jon disarming Theon in seconds and sending him to the ground with a bloody lip. Jon had dropped his sword and stormed off, ignoring Ser Rodrick's demands for him to return and explain himself. Theon was having none of it. He rose and went for Jon with the practice blade still in his hand, and swung for Jon's back. Jon had turned and caught the dulled steel on his raised arm; an instinctive move to keep it from hitting his face.
The length of metal shattered against his forearm like glass.
Theon had stumbled but quickly righted himself and stared, dumbfounded. For a long moment, everyone had stopped and stared. Jon stared too, at his arm, with a look that had been described as utterly horrified. Then he had ran. Later, they said the metal shards had been coated with frost-
-Ned froze when he saw the cloaked figure standing in front of Lyanna's tomb, illuminated only by the torch he held. A deep voice rumbled through the crypts.
"You lied to me."
The voice was familiar, but the cadence was not, and the words damn near froze his heart in his chest. The man turned.
It was Jon.
"Jon?" He muttered. His first instinct was to berate his nephew for the fact he had disappeared for the whole day. Jon had vanished after the incident in the training yard, and no one, not even Arya Underfoot, could find him. Night had fallen and Ned had gone to the crypts after the Godswood had brought him no solace, but now? Something was off about Jon, something that Ned could not put his finger on.
"You lied to me." Jon repeated, and Ned discovered part of what had unsettled him. His nephew's voice was deeper, rougher; the voice of a man. What in the seven hells was happening?
"Jon," Ned called and walked towards his unrecognized nephew "Please, talk to me! Ever since Luwin said you've healed, you've changed, Jon. You're scaring all of us. Your siblings, too-"
Ned stopped dead in his tracks.
"What?" He whispered.
Jon turned fully to face him, and Ned realized with a shock that the boy had aged. He looked a man grown; not by much in height, but he saw it from how he met the lads eyes and how his shoulders were broader, his arms thicker, his forehead more pronounced, and his nose and chin fuller. What was more, Ned saw that the rough scruff that adorned Jon's face had thickened into a full beard and mustache. Even the way he held himself was different. He stood with the countenance of a Lord, straight-backed and unyielding, not the downcast eyes and head of the bastard of Winterfell. Jon's eyes were the only thing that hadn't changed; they were still dark and shadowed.
"And you-" Jon spoke the words as if they tore at his throat like they did at Ned's heart, "-Are not my father! You are my uncle!"
For a moment, Ned stood rooted to the spot. He could do nothing, say nothing, think nothing! A numb horror had swept through him, paralyzing him in place like the bite of a Dornish viper while his nephew unraveled the lie he'd been placed in for protection before his very eyes.
"I may not have your name but I have your blood, that's what you told me!" Jon shouted at him. Jon's eyes, Lyanna's eyes, reflected the torchlight; wide, hurt, furious, and something else. "You lied! You were the most honorable man I knew, and you lied to me! To your Lady Wife! To everyone! I do have a name, Uncle, and it is not Jon or Snow! It's Aegon Targaryen!" Jon's voice cracked at the end. His eyes were wet, and his face was set in a combination of rage, guilt, remorse, and regret.
"Who told you?" Came his horrified whisper.
Jon continued on, "My mother was Lyanna Stark! My father was Rheagar Targaryen! I am the rightful heir to the Iron Throne!" He yelled the words as if he could not believe them. Jon was crying, now; hot tears splashed down his cheeks and wet the ground.
"WHO TOLD YOU!?" Ned roared in shock, anguish, and grief.
It was the wrong thing to say.
Jon...changed. The tears stopped, his face went eerily blank, and his frame stiffened. A cold wind swept through the crypts and guttered Ned's torch. For an instant, Ned swore Jon's eyes were blue.
"That's what you can only think to ask? Who told me?" Jon said quietly. His nephew stared at him, hard and sharp, before he said "Bran did."
"What?" Ned breathed, dumbfounded.
"Bran told me." Jon repeated in a steady, matter-of-fact tone of voice "When he had became the Three-Eyed-Raven. He told me when I returned to Winterfell with Dany...my aunt. Daenerys Targaryen. Her dragon Viserion was killed by the Night King and the Wall had fallen to the Others while Cersei Lannister sat the Iron Throne!" Jon hissed the words out with a deadly finality.
Ned stared at his nephew. What in the seven hells-
"Everyone was dead when it was over." Jon said, "Everyone. I was the last of my family...both of them." He choked out. "Westeros was either frozen from winter or scorched by wildfire...she attacked us while we fended off the Others. Arya got her, in the end though. Everyone died, father...everyone. It was just me and the Night King...we would have killed each other, but..." Here, Jon visibly snarled, "That Red Witch!" He spat before yelling, "She was burning everything! She set off the casks of Cersei's wildfire! Smuggled whatever else she could get her hands on and planted it all over the Seven Kingdoms! Burning it all for her Lord of Light! She left a trail of ashes behind her as she made her way North again. She...she wanted to be there when it happened...when I became her god's chosen. The Prince That Was Promised. Azor Ahai..." Jon chuckled mirthlessly. It was a cold and empty sound; one that chilled Ned to the bone. "There was nothing left to burn, when she found us. I don't know how she did it. Magic, I suppose...she's a withered hag without her necklace, you know that? Bet Stannis didn't..." Jon trailed off, heaving for breath and staring at the statue of his mother. "We made a deal, him and I." Came Jon's feverish whispers, "There was nothing left, and he was once a Stark..."
"Jon..." Ned croaked. He felt sick. Had Jon gon mad? What was happening? Mayhaps, he himself had gone mad and this was all one terrible delusion. Or nightmare.
"He could have it all, but I got a second chance." Jon breathed. Another cold wind swept through the crypt, and Ned suddenly realized that the cold he was feeling was not just from Jon's words. The temperature was dropping inside the crypt, his breath was coming out in steam, and his torch was flickering against the cold. Slowly, his nephew turned to look at him. Jon's eyes reminded Ned of cracked ice on a lake; hard, but one wrong move would shatter it all.
"I'm going to stop the coming wars, Uncle." He told Ned seriously "The King's children aren't his children. Don't go South or else you'll lose your head, Arya disappears, and Sansa is taken hostage by Joffrey if you bring them. Don't trust Littlefinger, either! Or the Ironborn. The Greyjoy's are rebuilding the Iron Fleet. Please, uncle...father," Jon's voice broke again, "Don't let Robb die as King in the North! Don't let Bran fall and keep Rickon safe! Lady Stark, too. The dead are marching on the Wall, father...I must go. I was given a chance and I must take it!"
The darkness seemed to be swallowing them. Ned stepped towards Jon as his torch guttered lower and the air grew colder. He could swear he saw hoarfrost coating the ground around Jon's feet.
"Jon!" He cried out. He had a terrible feeling all of a sudden, that if he let this madness continue, he'd loose Jon forever, "What are you talking about!? What wars? What deal?" Because that last part was the one thing that caught his attention. The way Jon had sounded when he said it made it seem like he had done something terrible for an even worse price.
"I gave him part of me, so that he could live." Jon said hollowly, and looked at Ned, "But I took some of him in return, to go back. He's in my head, now. I know things, father, things no man should know..."
The cold was coming from Jon, now. Facing his nephew was like facing a winter breeze. The chilling winds sweeping through the crypts seemed to emanate from Jon, not the entrance. His torch finally gave out, and they were plunged into darkness. Within the black, two glowing blue eyes opened from where Jon stood.
Ned ran for his nephew.
"JON!" He screamed.
There was the rush of someone running past him at incredible speed, and Ned's glove closed around empty air.
And Jon Snow, the Bastard of Winterfell, vanished into the night-
Since that day, Ned had dedicated all of Winterfell's forces to finding Jon. No explanation as to what happened, just a mass order of all guardsmen and able-bodied men to find Jon Snow and bring him home. They never found him. Someone had said that they had seen a cloaked figure running out of Winter Town towards the Wolfswood that night, but there had been hide nor hair of his nephew. Cat had finally had enough and demanded an answer from him. Overwhelmed by everything that had happened with Jon in the past month and shaken by what had happened in the crypts, Ned told her. He told her everything. To say that Cat had not taken it well was a grave understatement. She had hurt her nephew, her goodsister's babe, Lyanna's boy. Family, Duty, Honor; the words of house Tully, and she felt she had sullied those words with how she had treated Jon. Then, there was the matter of their own children. He could at least spare them the truth. All he told them was that Jon had vanished, and that they were looking for him.
Then, about three weeks after Jon's disappearance, the reports came in. Brigands, bandits, and highwaymen that roamed the expanse of the North turning up dead all over the place. Any survivors or witnesses all reported the same thing; black cloak, steel shattering, cold mists, and blue eyes in the dark. Later, it was said a direwolf was at his side. It had to be Jon. He was causing quite a stir with other Noble houses as well. The other neighboring Houses were asking questions as to the rumors surrounding the killings. Ned had no answers, nor did he want to give any. If the other Nobles found out...truth be told, he had no idea of what would happen if the other Nobles found out the truth of this. Nothing like this had ever happened before! No mattered what happened, however, he had to protect his nephew.
"Promise me, Ned...promise me..."
No matter what Jon had become.
Wow...i wrote all of that in one night. I am writing this with 3 hours until work starts on a Monday. Boy am i smart, but again, Idk where this all came from. Seriously.