A cold gust. A winter wind. "He is here. We've run out of time. It must be done. It must be me."
A look of horror, face aghast. "Why must it be you?! I've already lost my family once- I can't lose you as well!."
A cold, soothing presence. "There is no other. There is no choice."
A shared look. "Do you trust me, sister?
A pause. "I… I do." A hug. "Stay safe, brother."
A nod. "Do you doubt my skills, love?"
A guilty look. "I… do not." A short, passionate kiss. "Do not leave me again, please."
"I will return." A solemn vow. "I am yours, in life and death. I shall not part from this world without you."
A frightened shared look, and a reluctant nod.
"Then go," said the sister. "Do what you must."
"Take what is yours," said the wife. "Reclaim what is ours."
"I shall," said the hero. "I will not fail you."
And so Night's King went.
His foe held the might of Winter.
He meant to take it back.
Beneath the walls of Winterfell, from the crypts where they laid, the Kings of Winter rose.
The Starks of centuries past came with the darkening night, when the northern winds had passed and the mists had descended upon the ancient keep, they swarmed from the crypts of Winterfell wielding swords of iron and bronze, some with skeletal direwolves at their sides, and all of them with bright blue eyes.
They fell upon the Boltons and their allies with a cold vengeance, catching many of their men-at-arms and knights unawares and slaughtering them in their beds. It was the screams of those men that awoke the rest of the castle, and confusion and terror ran abundant. Boltons were hacked down as they lunged for their weapons, Freys tripped on the many corpses that littered the ground as they attempted to untangle themselves from the massacre, and the bannermen of those who supported the Boltons, like the Ryswells and Dustins, were put to the sword. Roose Bolton himself was dragged out of his bedchamber by several of the Winter Kings and was slowly fed alive to their wolves, and the leech lord died screaming, drowning in his own blood. Ramsay Snow was swarmed by a wave of dead men, and fought only until he realized that he was crossing swords with men who he had seen hacked down moments before, and the bastard turned and ran, leaving his fellow living men behind to take the fall, and that they did, only to rise again in service of the dead.
Ramsay was no coward. He was a pragmatic fellow. He knew what battles to fight and when to flee.
And so, Ramsay fled, sprinting as fast as his legs could carry him, in a desperate attempt to grab a horse from the stables and ride out to the Dreadfort. To his credit, he did succeed in acquiring a steed, and upon doing so, instantly swung into its saddle and whipping at the reins, forcing the horse onwards, and made for Winterfell's gates.
He did not get far.
The Bastard of Bolton let out a hoarse scream when his steed fell beneath him, only barely managing to pull his legs from the stirrups and flinging himself off the horse before it crushed him.
Only, immediately after, he was swarmed by the living dead, men in Bolton livery grasping at his limbs and face, and Ramsay thrashed in a futile attempt to free himself from them.
They did not harm him fatally, however, merely dragging him by horseback outside the walls of the Stark castle, where Ramsay spied a great army, shadowed by a great winter storm.
Ramsay was no coward, but even men like he could learn to be afraid.
As he was dragged closer to the lines of the dead, Ramsay's struggles increased, though they did nothing to halt the stride of his captors. Then, at last, the dead finally dragged him before their masters, and Ramsay knew the faces of winter.
Dismounting from her own pale steed that stood beside her brother and his wife, Ramsay's first bride smiled.
Blue eyes flashed ferally as the thing that had been Sansa Stark reached for him, and Ramsay Snow knew fear.
When the rider from Winterfell had been spotted, Stannis Baratheon had prepared himself for yet another battle in the snow. For who else could send a rider from the ancient keep but the Boltons and their allies, and for what reason could a message be sent but for his surrender?
And the Bolton army could not have come at a worse time- for Stannis no longer worried for the fate of just his army, but for his wife and daughter as well.
They had come several nights ago, terrified, fleeing from Castle Black with such haste that several of the horses had died before they had even reached the Queenscrown. Even Lady Melisandre, who had always kept calm in the face of danger and death, had eyes filled with a mute horror, constantly glancing over her shoulder back North, and always keeping close to a fire when they arrived.
At her blatant fear, Stannis had worried. The men from the South were talking as to what that meant, seeing that not even the flames could grant the Red Woman relief. The Northmen whispered to themselves in the Old Tongue, glancing superstitiously at the snowy skies. Selyse refused to speak of what had forced them to flee, only murmuring frantic prayers beneath her breath. Shireen had promptly buried herself in as many furs as she could find (several of which came from Stannis' own quarters; no daughter of his would freeze to death before he did) and slept away the exhaustion the ride from Castle Black had wrought upon her. The men-at-arms and Knights he had left behind to protect his wife and daughter were scared out of their wits, and did not give the Stag King the straight answers he sought.
So, after much hesitation, Stannis went to the Lady Melisandre, who stared into the bonfire, surrounded by many other worshipers, took her aside (though not out of sight of the fire), and asked her one, simple question.
"Have the dead breached the Wall?"
And she gave one, simple answer in return.
"Yes," she whispered.
Stannis stood there for a moment longer before turning on his heel and marching off to the hut he had taken as his own. Upon entering it, he sat down heavily upon the oak chair within. He had no choice now, did he? If the dead were coming, they would be slaughtered on an open field. Even with Lightbringer sheathed at his side, Stannis did not think himself enough to turn back the tide. To make a final stand, they would need fortifications.
I need Winterfell.
So he sent word to his commanders to prepare to march, and that his army had been preparing to do when the messenger arrived and a runner approached to inform him, face pale and eyes wide in fear.
He only understood why the runner had feared when he rode out to meet the messenger under the flag or parley.
For, sitting on a pale, dead horse, an Other awaited them.
Stannis' escort had frozen, then, before quickly urging their King to return to camp and fortify the position, but Stannis refused.
The creature has come under Parley. It is aware of what it means. But for what reason has it come?
It was only when they had reached within earshot of the Other that it opened its frosted lips and spoke.
"The King of Winter invites you Winterfell under Parley," its voice rasped. "Bread and Salt shall be offered to You and Yours, as per custom."
And though the others with him flinched, Stannis did not, though he tightened his grasp on Lightbringer's pommel. "There is no King of Winter," the Baratheon King announced back. "The Boltons are usurpers who unlawfully claim the Stark domain as their own. They serve the Lannisters and their get."
"Aye, the King speaks true!" one of the escort, a Mountain Clan chieftain spoke up, though his defiant look wavered when the Other turned its attention to him and stared. There was silence for a moment as the Other studied the Flint chieftain, before urging his dead steed away from them and back to where he came. Before disappearing into the snows, however, the Other turned back and spoke one last time, this time, in the Old Tongue, and Lord Flint froze.
"Tha na Starks ann an Winterfell air na brataichean aca a thogail."
The Flint sat still in his saddle before slowly nodding. "Bidh Fir na Beinne a 'freagairt na gairm," he replied.
Then the creature was gone, and with it, the terrifying cold.
There was a quietness that permeated for several more moments before Stannis wheeled his steed around. "See to your men. We march on Winterfell in the hour."