LIGHT! FROM A BURNING BRIDGE.
Killers. At the end of it, they were all killers. They took life and liked it, that was the base of all men, killing and fucking. Kings? they preferred to order the killings, the cravens. This was mayhaps the first time he's seen a king do his own killing and by the looks of it, this was not the only man this king has killed this night.
The boy, for that's what he was in truth, was covered in blood and muck …and grime. The tail end of a wild look now leaving his eyes. The atmosphere surrounding him was thick with the metallic scent of blood and the repugnant odours of shit and ammonia. Men shat themselves when they died, he more than most would know that…he's killed enough men to notice the pattern.
They were all killers after all.
The look of sheer savagery that was on the boy's face was quickly being replaced by an array of different emotions, confusion, gladness, realisation and then finally horror. Sandor figured he was confused as to how his sister came to be there, glad to see she was alive and somewhat safe, realised the state of his person and position he was in and horrified that his little sister had witnessed such gruesomeness.
Sandor glanced at the little she-wolf by his side and shook his head. The young king didn't know it, but his sister was just as much a killer as the rest of them, if given the chance. He'd heard and witnessed it in her character enough times on the journey to tell.
No, he didn't believe it was seeing her brother brutalize his enemy that had the girl's gaze filled with so much pain and anguish. They had arrived just in time to see, who Sandor assumed was Lady Stark, take a bolt in the heart for her son. He argued that such a sight would stagger anyone, even the little she-demon. To lose both parents in such quick succession…he was never close with his parents, so he couldn't really say he understood, but it seemed the girl was close with both of her's.
She started forward, her feet moving more on instinct than on any kind of command, he thought. She had to step over or just walk on many corpses to get to where she was going. Her brother was just staring at her with the same horror-filled expression etched on his face. He seemed to not be able to rise from his position over his downed foe, whoever it was.
The people behind him all wore equally heavy expressions, some even looked away in shame. It was not until she reached not an arm's length from him that Sandor heard the boy call for her.
"A-Arya." He said lamely, unsure of himself. He was ignored as she walked right past him as if he was not even there. Confirming Sandor's earlier thoughts, she approached the lifeless body of her mother and fell to her knees beside her.
"Mother?...Mother?...MOTHER!" her call grew louder with every utterance, more desperate, more heart wrenching. The hound cringed away from the unfamiliar sound coming from the little wolf.
"S-she cannot hear you, My Lady." Came a tentative note from a stout reddish-brown haired woman with a mace in her hand and a bear emblazoned on her jerkin. She looked properly disheveled and had blood smattering her furs as well. She slowly approached the bawling girl and her dead mother, resting her mace in the mud at their feet and delicately pulled her into an embrace. The boy king made his approach while the girl was shaking and screaming into the older woman's furs and leather.
"Arya…I'm sorry…I'm sorry I couldn't save her, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry…" his words started to become whispers and it seemed he too was shedding his own tears. This continued for a few more seconds with the men some steps away from them looking severely uncomfortable and heavy with shame, no doubt regretting their inability to have stopped what had transpired. All of a sudden the little runt leapt from the woman's hands and grabbed the mace that was on the ground.
The look in her eyes was one Sandor recognised, that was the she-wolf. The little demon that had prattled on about killing all those who had wronged her family. She grabbed the mace and dashed before anyone could react and let it drop on the head of the man who had shot her mother, crushing it to mush. The weapon was clearly too heavy for her to lift it again, even with the adrenaline that was no doubt running through her veins. So, she discarded it and went about hitting the dead man with her little fists, screaming her throat out as she did.
"Stupid! Stupid! Give her back! Give her back!" She screamed her throat raw before her brother came to his senses, grabbed her, and held her to his chest, trying to calm her down. He held her like that for what seemed an eternity, until she eventually cried herself to sleep. Pained and helpless eyes all around, there were a few mistrustful glances in his direction, but it seemed for now the little wolf held priority. For now.
He was of a mind to turn on his heels now and wander off into the wilderness, but he didn't know the Riverlands well. So, he would stay, at least for as long as it took them to decide on killing him, for whatever transgression or the other.
Where did the snowstorm come from? Like everyone else, she hadn't a clue. There were rumours, of course, but she didn't put much stock in what everyone was saying. They believed the Old God was going to come and save them, that the Great Father himself would descend from the Weirwood forest to exact the North's fury upon their captors.
She…was never one for such flights of fancy. Old God, New Gods, they were all the same to her, none cared, so none really mattered. For as long as she has been alive, she has seen those close to her leave their fate up to one God or the other, and for as long as she has been alive, she has seen those same people suffer, be taken advantage of and die a peasant's death. No, she would not leave her fate up to any god, old or new, her fate was in her own hands.
She had been planning an escape for days now, awaiting the right moment and memorizing the movements of the men. She had to do it tonight, or she'll end up as sport for the savages roaming the castle grounds. It was disgusting what they did, making the hungry fight for food, they were scum of the worst sort. If she was a believer she would have damned them to the Hells…if.
With no living family left within the castle walls, none outside the walls that she knew of either. There was no one to slow her down, or hold her back, only the three others she had planned the escape with, and she had no attachment to them, she couldn't. She watched her whole family be butchered or toyed with or starved to death. She couldn't find it in herself to care for another living person again, living only meant you could suffer and die.
None of the guards entered the Godswood for some reason or the next. The others believed it was because they couldn't face the Old God after what they had done, she didn't care why, she just knew it gave them an opportunity. 'Too smart for your own good', that's what people told her, just because she preferred to use her brain rather than her chest.
She and her three…companions have been putting together some rope, trying to make it as long as they thought it would need to be. Winterfell's walls were very high, especially in the Godswood. But it was the only place where no guards were posted, and trees would hide them from passer-by view. If they were to climb it they'd need all the length of rope they could gather..
It was bloody cold and going outside the walls while the storm was still raging will only make her colder still, suicide mayhaps, but she would not stay inside, she couldn't. It was only a matter of time before they came for her, they'd been saving her like a particularly tasty side of venison. At ten and nine name days and a maid to boot, she was prime sport for depraved men. She'd freeze to the bone before she allowed herself to be used like that.
Most of the others did not seem as bothered by the cold as she was. They swore they almost couldn't feel it at all, and that it must have been the Great Father's blessing keeping the cold at bay. She had no idea what they were on about.
'as if any of the gods cared to bless anyone, tsk.'
"Tris!" Her name was called by one of her companions. " You going over the plan in your head?"
"Someone has to, is everything ready?" She asked the strapping young man. Harren was one of the companions who were jointly planning their escape from Winterfell. He had hair almost as tall as hers and no beard, not even a stubble. Which was odd for a northern man who was already well into adolescence.
"Aye, but…" He hesitated looking away and rubbing the back of his neck.
"It's Shayara, she's saying she don't want to bother going through with it."
"I told you! Did I not tell you!" she shouted in frustrated anger. Shayara, the damnable wench. Of course, she would be the main impediment.
"Aye! But I can't just leave her Tris!"
"You're so worried about getting your cock wet you'd kill the plan in its infancy?"
"No, of course not."
"Then what are you on about Harren?"
"...We'll still help you get out, we know what'll happen if you stay but…"
"You're abandoning me?.. Fine, I had expected as much, but you will be helping me." She stifled the minor feeling of betrayal threatening to slither its way up her neck and strangle her. People were fickle and ultimately useless, she would use them to further her plans and then forget them once she was outside.
"Aye, we owe ya that much." The sorrow she heard in his voice only served to make her more annoyed with him.
"Tonight." She insisted.
The young man called Harren stared at her with an uncomfortable look on his face for a moment but ultimately relented under her stone hard gaze.
"Aye, Okay Tris, tonight." he said then stalked off from whence he came. She should not have been surprised or even hurt by these proceedings. People were fragile, that is why she cared for none of them, but no matter. She would leave just the same.
It got dark rather quickly, the snowstorm made sure they never saw even a glimpse of the sun in the days. It was now or never for her, she'd either make it outside the walls… or die in the attempt.
Observing the entrance to the Godswood, and as she thought it was unguarded. Satisfied, she was about to go find the people who were to help her when she turned and bumped into Harren's chest.
"Not minding your surroundings there, Tris?" The young man said with mirth apparent in his voice and on his face. This close to him she could smell the lingering scent of burning coals on his person. He worked in the forges with the smith so that made some sense. Affection was never something she ever coveted, but not even she can rightly say that she has never wanted it.
These were not the times for such thoughts, however. Soon she'd be on the other side of the walls...alone.
"Don't be an arse, Harren. Why were you so close in the first place? Never mind , are you ready?" She asked, schooling her thoughts and face back to seriousness.
"Aye, as ready as we can be. We'll have to head there first, Shayara will come when we are sure it is safe."
Why the girl was coming at all was the question Tris wanted to ask, but she held her tongue, for now at least.
The guards never pay much attention to any of the small folk, unless they wanted them for their games of course. So sure were they, of the people's cowardice, that the idea of anyone even attempting an escape was laughable to them. Mayhaps they were right, the abandonment of those who were to be her companions proved true those thoughts.
But she would take advantage of the oversight tonight. Not much was done in the way of sneaking, it wasn't needed. The gates to the Godswood were indeed unguarded, in fact, whatever guards there were, seemed to be giving it as wide a berth as they could.
This made it easier for her and Harren to slip inside and trudge their way through the woods. Immediately after entering though, she couldn't help but to be stopped in her tracks, her eyes expanding in shock.
She looked behind her, through the entrance and then back into the Godswood, then behind her again.
"Great Father." It was said almost in a whisper, but she heard it, nonetheless. She was not a believer, but…what she was seeing did not make sense to her. Green…she could see green. Green leaves, trees, and the air was warm, pleasantly so. Even the pool beneath the Heart Tree was still flowing and shimmered in reflective resplendence. Birds chirped and gentle winds rustled through the leaves of thick vegetation.
"This…It's as if there isn't a storm ravaging Winterfell this very moment. God be good, this is a blessing Tris! How can you not believe after seeing this?" There was a look of sheer joy on his face as he basked in the warmth, his arms spread wide, and his eyes closed.
She would admit that this was wondrous, but that made her angrier than she initially was. So, the Great Father could spare time to protect his precious wood, but leave the people who believe in him to suffer and be made a game of?
Her mind firmed with the belief that the gods were selfish arses and did not deserve praise. How Harren could laugh and be so happy about such blatant show of neglect, she didn't know. Certainly, she had to leave this place.
"We need to get out of here."
"Why the rush?...Why? Is this not wondrous? The Great Father has left the Godswood untouched in his wrath!"
"Aye! What generosity for a grove of trees and insects, while the people of Winterfell starve, freeze, and are killed like dogs!"
"We don't feel the cold as you do Tris! Only the traitors feel the freezing winds. For us it is just a light breeze, it is this same way of thinking that makes your bones chill."
Harren took a deep breath and shook his head. "My words are pointless to you, so I won't bother, just…be ready, Shayara will be here any moment now with the rope. I hope you find something better out there Tris, I do."
She did not respond, there was nothing left to say.
Climbing the walls had sounded like a good idea, before the attempt itself. Her legs and arms were berating her for her stupidity. They wouldn't stop her though, if she were to die, within these walls were not where it would happen.
She would try her best to forget the parting she just had with the only people who seemed to care. She never expected the reason they were staying was that Shayara was with child. They did not want to risk the climb with or the uncertainty of what awaited them outside. She shook her head to dispel those thoughts, she cannot allow herself to grow attached to anything or anyone. Life was in constant threat of ending, she would not be hurt by loss or racked with sorrow anymore. So no, she won't think of them.
Finally reaching the top of the wall, all she could see beyond was…nothing. The calm and serenity of the Godswood, had pushed from her mind the reality of everywhere else. For a storm still raged in and around the castle, mayhaps the entire North, she had no way of telling. Wilderness, as far as her eyes were able to see, this was what greeted her. A moment's contemplation on her decision and available options…there were none. Rather there were none she would entertain.
Her mind was made, and actions needed to be taken, no time to lament. She fastened the rope as best she could within a groove on the wall and started to make her way down. Halfway, she came to a realisation. In all her planning and cleverness, she hadn't accounted for one fact all from Wintertown and the castle proper should know. The walls of the castle and Godswood were higher on the outside than in. The castle was already on a slight rise but with the addition of a trench that acted as a moat , only without the stream, she ran out of rope several feet off the ground.
With no other choice and no more energy to return up the wall to figure a solution, she let go of the rope and hoped for a proper landing. She had no such luck and twisted her ankle upon meeting the ground with a stifled scream. She shed a wordless tear and just laid in the pain for a moment.
Getting to her feet, the cold already biting into her exposed flesh. The contrast in atmosphere between the Godswood and…everywhere else, still baffled her. Taking her first steps, she almost collapsed in pain, pain that was running through her leg like ants. This was a major disadvantage, she was too far away and the weather too harsh for her to bear the pain to go to the nearest shelter.
Despite her mind telling her she couldn't make it, she did not dally. She would die on the move, trying to find shelter and warmth, but she refused to die from the lack of will to continue. She had to climb out of the trench she had fallen into, a much more taxing task with only one working foot.
By the time she made it out, she was short of breath and her hands were cramped but her heart was pounding rapidly. She would push on, blocking out the pain as she so often does. Always too stubborn, most times to her detriment, she was told. It was this stubbornness that kept her on her feet now, one legged as she was, her raven black hair sticking to her skin.
Hobbling through the snow, slow as she went, she heard a loud howl in the distance. The direction of the predator could not be discerned, which only served to make her all the more wary. In quick succession, she heard another howl and then another, which only made sense, would that it had not. Wolves travelled in packs and with the storm they wouldn't have much to hunt, meaning they were most likely starved and all the more dangerous for it.
Panic took her, gripping her heart and making her already chilled limbs feel as if they were made of lead and would fall from her body. A weaker maiden would have collapsed and bawled away whatever chances she had of escape. She, however, would fight to the bitter end, they would not find her such an easy meal.
Hiding in the surrounding snow was the first thought that came to her but was quickly discarded. The wolves would have already known she was there. Her only option seemed to be Wintertown, a good way away. If she had walked through the gates, it would not have taken her long at all to get there. But she was coming from the rear of the castle, a good way off the road and the town proper.
Add the disadvantage of a useless appendage and the distance only got further away. She couldn't tell where the wolves were or how close they were to her. She only had this inferior sense of smallness, of being prey, and it got stronger the longer she hampered on.
The world was truly a jester, there she was, trying her damnedest to escape cruelty and death, only to run into the open jaws of frostbite and wolves. No matter, she'd either be eaten or find shelter, in the end, this'll be the end of it.
Whether it was that she was being surrounded, or it was her own fear, her body was on edge. She would jump at the slightest of noises or just simply fabricate noises, she knew not which for true. The pressure she was putting on her damaged foot was starting to take a toll on her ability to move quickly.
She had slowed by half and was getting slower still. 'Curse the damnable thing', she thought, feeling her body starting to fail her. She needed heat, her bones were almost frozen over and her muscles had long become dried leather. There was a metallic taste in her mouth, blood, from biting her bottom lip to keep from screaming.
More howls erupted from the bleak grey and these ones sounded even closer. She was unable to go any faster, though not from the lack of trying. To her side, some steps away from her, she saw movement. A definite outline of a large wolf and a sudden burst of energy quickened in her veins.
The pain from her injury became a faint tingle in the back of her mind as she pushed herself with sudden quickness and burst of dexterity. She hopped and hobbled, the winds of the ongoing storm lashing and clawing at her exposed flesh. She must look a terrible fright, she imagined, but what was appearance when one was running for their life?
The snow was thick, and the terrain was dark. She had no way to know where to make sure of her footing, but she didn't need to be sure. She only needed to get to where she needed to go.
'There!' she exclaimed mentally. Finally, she saw the shadowy outlines of the settlements which made up the town. Hope bloomed in her bosom as she weathered the pain and pushed on.
'Just a bit further' she told herself, hopping like a hare insane. But… the snow was thick, and the terrain was dark, her footing unsure. So it was that, with her already damaged foot, she stepped into a pile of snow that was covering an old posthole.
With a cry of surprise and pain, she fell, hitting her head. Barely conscious, tears running down her blistered cheeks, she tried to pull herself back to her feet to no avail. Still, she would not cave to fate. Gritting her teeth and straining her already tired muscles, she tried crawling to the town.
She was not making any ground, she knew. She felt a stroke of pain and stifled an involuntary scream, which slowly turned into laughter. Truely, the world was a jester, she was just amusement for the Gods, Old and New. Her laughter became hysterical, her lips were dry and cracked, her furs had frozen to her, her ankle was a constant torrent of pain and she had almost lost feeling in the rest of her extremities.
Yet, she laughed. For what could be more humorous than fleeing from pain and cruelty, only to end up in the hands of certain death?
Her hands were steadily becoming weaker and weaker. Her hold onto consciousness slipped slowly, the harder she pulled, the darker her vision became. She was not going to make it, she knew, but silently she prayed. For the first time in all her years, she prayed. Not for hope, nor for her to miraculously make it to shelter. None of the Gods had such mercy, especially for a non-believer like herself.
She prayed for a painless death, she prayed that when she ultimately lost consciousness, she also lost her life. To end the suffering, to end the struggle, she prayed. And as she crawled, the corners of her vision losing focus and becoming dark, she remembered those she ran away from.
She ran away from them, away from affection, connection, and lived an unfulfilling life thus far. An unfulfilling life that was about to come to a pitiful end, here on the snow-covered ground…alone.
He could not feel her. She was a northern girl, he could see, but he could not feel her. If the entire North had become his body, then the people of the North were the hairs upon his skin. They were supposed to be there and did not feel out of place or… foreign.
Those that wished harm to the North or the people within felt like insects against his senses. Separate from himself and should not be, he could feel all on his body just the same. But this woman that the boy had carried into the camp, unconscious and almost frozen to death, stood upon him and he felt her not.
Who was she? How could she be a child of the north, yet his storm took such a toll on her health? How many more walked the vast expanse of the North, invisible to his senses? A troubling thought, but he was still becoming acclimated to being the God of these lands. Perhaps he had not fully collected his bearings as of yet.
Whatever it might be, he would not dwell, it was not his way. Come what may, he would do as he had always done.
"Your expression never changes, but I can tell when something's not to your liking. Anything that troubles you is bound to be a problem for the rest of us." He heard the voice of Mance Rayder, pulling him from his contemplations.
He was not alone in this tent, gazing at the recuperating woman. " It is of no concern." He replied simply. Anyone who had been around him for an extended period of time and wished to continue doing so, knew he did not waste words unnecessarily. The matter was dropped… for now, but Mance would not let it go, such was his nature.
"...The poor lass, what atrocities are they committing in there for her to prefer weathering the raging elements?" Mance digressed.
Jeor Mormont, who was also there, sucked his teeth. "We all saw the corpses getting here, and they were on the move then. Inside those walls, they can play with 'em as they have a liking."
"Mercy." Mance murmured, glancing at Jon who was sitting in the corner of the tent, brows pulled into a frown and hands held together in front of his beaming eyes.
The boy said nothing, he could not hear them, Kratos knew. The look in his eyes as he gazed at her unmoving body was…familiar. He was killing them a dozen times in his mind, the only thing he could hear was blood rushing through his veins.
It means he will not hesitate in crucial moments. He will completely rid these lands of his enemies, a philosophy that Kratos himself would not begrudge him of.
"Would that she were lucid, we could get reliable information from the inside. How many guards are where, who leads them, what position the common folk are in and the like." Mance commented, almost to himself.
"Aye, these are vile beasts. When the fighting starts, we don't want them to be using the common folk as meat shields."
"...The shits would do that, wouldn't they." It was not a question, a realisation more so.
Kratos felt it was time to intervene, lest they continued talking. Now was not the time for talk. "That is if they are thinking, we will not give them time to think."
"Ahhh, so an attack of speed then? Too quick for them to react. We would need to be inside the walls for that, Winterfell's walls are known to be marvels all by themselves." Jeor added.
"Tch, marvels, bah! These men have been climbing The Wall since time immemorial. The 'walls' around Winterfell may as well be goat fences to them." boasted Mance, waving his hand dismissively as if to fan a bad smell from his face.
Joer did not look impressed by the reminder. He shook his head and moved on. "Then we climb the walls, Which side?"
Just as it seemed Mance was about to offer an answer, another voice filled the cavity. "She came from the God's Wood."
The two other men in the tent whipped their heads to the boy's position in the corner in surprise, as if they had forgotten his presence. "Say again lad..?" The boy rose from his stool and approached the two men steadily.
"She climbed down the walls around the Godswood, which means th-"
"There are no guards there." He was interrupted by someone's enlightenment.
"Aye." The boy answered simply. Words were not what he wanted. Kratos would set him loose on the unwitting betrayers of the North.
He looked at Mance. "Ready the men, you will climb the walls."
Mance nodded his ascent. "By your leave. How many?" he asked.
"Boy, it is your castle. How many will suffice?" He asked Jon, effectively giving him control of the planned offence.
"...I know every crevice and corner in Winterfell, give me 50 men and stand ready at the gates."
Mance started walking out of the tent. " You'll have it." he said over his shoulder without breaking his stride.
"Well…I'm too old and heavy to be climbing walls, I shall be at the gates then. I will go and make ready, Great Father, Jon" Jeor concluded and made his way out of the tent, leaving Kratos with the boy.
Kratos turned to the woman, when the others left, saying no more, the silence did not last long. "Forgive me, Great Father." He heard the boy's almost whisper. Kratos had a good idea what he was trying to say, but he would have him use his words. If he could not say it, then he was not ready to take action.
"You have not sinned against me."
"...No, but I dream now only of taking the lives of the men in that castle. To want so much for death, is that not a sin?" The boy finally turned to look at his God. His eyes were a dance of emotions, pain, anger, sorrow, remorse, and fury. The boy was dying, Jon Snow was dying, what would be born in his place?
"Violence against enemies? I will never judge you for that. You are angry, hone it, focus it, use it, but do not become it. Discipline, that is all, go, prepare yourself and show them no mercy." He gave the boy what council he deemed fit. He would make his mistakes and he would learn from them, there was no better teacher than that.
Jon took a deep breath, speared the sleeping woman another glance and then left through the flaps on the tent.
Kratos just stood there staring at the woman. These were his people now, their suffering was his suffering, their pain was his pain. Whoever would threaten them, hurt them, would feel his wrath.
The Spartans that went over the walls with Jon looked about the Godswood in awe and pride, further proof of the Great Father's grace and power. Only He could have left the grove untouched by the blizzard that raged around them. Only He could protect the sacred wood as he protected his faithful from the elements.
As they moved through the shrubs, devotion growing in their hearts and minds, only one took no notice of the calm surroundings. Jon was as single-minded as a wolf on the hunt, and as tautly pulled as a hardpoint arrow nocked.
His vision tunneled, he smelled nothing, tasted nothing, and heard nothing. He has already killed his enemies, is currently killing his enemies and can't wait to kill his enemies. A bundle of anger, pure hatred and hostile desire walked in a man's frame. Images flashed across his eyes, images of the mutilated corpses they passed along the journey to get to this moment.
The knowledge of what was done to some of those bodies before and even after death only served to deepen his convictions. 'No one will leave this castle alive', he promised himself, be it Bolton traitors or Ironborn scum.
There were no guards around the entrance of the Godswood, good for them, less so for whoever was in control of the castle. A scant few people were around the courtyard, and the ones who were, were huddled together under shop stalls. Frightened witless they looked, trembling with wild eyes.
No one noticed them at first, something else held their attention. The would-be liberators followed their gaze and there in the middle of the snow-covered courtyard, was the most barbaric sight Jon and his men had seen since they started this campaign.
A pole was erected firmly from the ground and three figures were tied to it by their ankles. Their legs up and their heads down, these people were a shock of vibrant red against an otherwise white and grey environment. Blood pooled at the base of the thick wooden pole, blood that drained from their skinless bodies. There were men, having a merriment around this monumental piece of cruelty. Laughing and sticking the bodies with their swords or just frozen twigs.
They were covered in layers of cloth, so no house emblems were immediately recognizable. Not that it mattered much who they were, they were dead men. They made a loose circle around the pole and the men on the other side of the circle were the first to notice them starting to trickle into the courtyard.
"OI!" One of the offenders shouted, alerting the others that something was amiss. These men were slow and half frozen, more vagabonds than soldiers. They ran at Jon and his men, shouting war cries and expletives as they went.
Jon, his body overflowing with unbridled prejudice, wasted no time going on the offensive. He ducked the wild swing of the first man, making a short but powerful swing of his own and taking the leg of the offender from the knee down. When he fell with a cry of shock and pain, a sword was buried in his throat.
The blood spewing from his amputated appendage turned to ice as it touched the snow and the wound bled only for a moment before it too froze over. This swift dispatching of one of their numbers, stopped the oncoming men in their tracks. Fear started to wring its way up their spines as one turned and shouted, "Raise the Alarm!" to no one in particular.
Shouts erupted all over the castle as Bolton men or Ironborn, rushed to and fro. Jon and the Spartans were not bothered by this turn of events, the more of them to kill the better and if any of them should fall? May the Great Father take their souls and permit them into the Weirwood Forest.
"Ten men to the gates, the rest of you to the castle and about…kill. ALL. of them." Jon managed to growl these orders through his gritted teeth. No questions were asked, and none hesitated, 10 went to the gates, to open and defend, and the rest dispersed into the castle proper.
Every hostile occupier would be sought out and made short work of. These men have been wading off the terrible chill of the whipping blizzard and a shortage in their food stores. Weak men who were weakened even more by these circumstances, they didn't stand even the whisper of a chance.
Jon's compatriots ignored the five men who were currently shaking and in the face of the White Wolf. They would be dealt with, no need to waste time on men who didn't realise they were already dead.
When they left to clear the castle, Jon, still stewing in his righteous anger, sheathed his sword. This confused the poor cowards who were to be his opponents, for they still had their weapons and would use them. He stood, staring at the bodies tied to the pole behind them. It was gruesome, inhumane, no man should be capable of such cruelty.
His heart paused when he heard whimpering coming from one of the bodies.
'One of them survived?' He could not imagine how someone would survive being flayed. The young man must have been bearing an unbelievable amount of pain, his throat was mayhaps raw from screaming and he could not muster the energy to do so anymore.
"G-G-Great…Fa—ther." Was the quaking and broken sound that came from the man that should be dead.
Jon was angry, he had been angry since he encountered the first corpse on the journey to Winterfell. Anger was easy, he replaced his sorrow with anger to stem the pit that grew in his heart, so he may continue and not falter. But this…this made Jon stumble backwards, he felt his eyes water, bile rose to the top of his throat, and he could do nothing to stop it.
He retched, bent at the waist, his hands on his knees, he retched. These were his father's people, his brother's people, they were simple, honest folk. He retched. All the women and children he saw, ripped, stabbed, strangled, for what? He retched. For all he had been holding back, holding in, he retched.
His would-be opponents took this as weakness. Only a green boy vomited at the sight of blood and death… and green boys had no place on a man's battlefield. They laughed and jeered.
"Look lads, I think he's shat himself!"
"You're not built for battle boy!"
"Surrender and mayhaps we'll only chop off half of your limbs, eh lads?"
They laughed and jeered. Thinking he was weak, thinking he could not handle battle and gore and death. They approached his form slowly, surrounding him, they relaxed their grips on their weapons, and became lax in their guards as they did. A mistake they would pay for dearly, for they approached a feral wolf.
Jon had sheathed his sword, because he wanted to kill these men with his own hands, no cold metal between them. It happened so suddenly, the approaching men hadn't registered what transpired until the one closest to Jon had already died. His leg broke at the most awkward angle and his head was turned behind him.
Before they could react, he was already on to his second prey. The man lifted his sword in hopes of defending himself but was not fast enough. Jon buried his fist into his stomach causing the air and strength to leave his victim all at once. His sword fell and he fell with it. On his way down Jon grabbed his head and rammed his knee into the man's jaw, breaking it off where it met the rest of his skull; he died of shock.
The others did not stand idly by. The bravest of them sought to make use of what he saw as an opening and struck, landing a blow. He stuck his sword into Jon's side, soliciting an involuntary cry of surprise on Jon's part.
But he was a man possessed, the pain of the wound was soon suppressed by the sheer adrenaline rushing through him. He grabbed the sword arm of his attacker, tugged him with great force and rammed his head into his nose, bloodying the man's face. He turned him about, wrapped his whole arm around his neck and squeezed.
The man struggled and protested, but it was of no use. The life drained from his rapidly purpling face while Jon locked gazes with the 2 remaining.
The men took tentative steps back, death was all they saw when they looked at this hostile stranger and they wanted no part in it. One took off in a mad dash and the other tried to follow, trying to escape, trying to live another day.
Jon picked up the sword that was in his side a moment ago, held it in both hands and threw it at the man closest to him, striking him in the back of the leg and effectively stopping him in his tracks. The other got away, running toward the gates of the castle grounds, toward his death still, unknowingly.
Jon watched him run, then turned to the downed man trying his best to crawl through the snow. He stood over him and listened to his pleas.
"Mercy! Mercy Milord please!" he screamed. Jon was disgusted. Not only were they scum of the highest order, they were also cravens. Were it not moments ago this same man was sticking his sword into the raw skinless body of innocents? Begging for mercy? MERCY?
Jon would show him mercy, indeed, he would show him the greatest of mercies. He grabbed him by his ankle and heaved, and heaved, and heaved. He was dragging the man to the Godswood, he would use his blood to feed the Weirwood Tree.
That…was the only and greatest mercy Jon would grant him. His pitiful and vile existence would be nourishment for the North…he should rejoice.
Approaching the Gates of Winterfell from two hundred metres away, Kratos opened his eyes and grunted in approval.
'Is he just going to fucking stare me to death? A sword would do it quicker.' Sandor lashed mentally, after sitting in Stark's tent for the better part of his evening. He was just enjoying his chicken when he sent for him, and what has he been doing this whole time? Just gazing at him like some fucking mute.
It didn't take a maester to figure out that Sandor didn't like being stared at. Mayhaps it was because of the scar that decorated half of his face, or mayhaps he just hated people altogether. The reason didn't matter to him, he just hated it.
He stood uncomfortably in front of the King in the North, waiting…he could be eating now, instead he was here, waiting.
"...What d'you want?" He asked, not for the first time in impatience. Finally, the young king reacted.
"Why did you bring my sister here, Clegane?"
"For gold, what else? Pay me and I'll fuck off by nightfall." He suggested snidely, he was never pleasant, and no one expected him to be. Northerners supposedly respected a blunt tongue, Sandor had that aplenty.
"You think I'd just let you go? The Hound? No." The young king answered, raising a single eyebrow in incredulity. His eyes were red from bawling them out with his sister, the little she wolf. Sandor turned his head to the side and looked to the girl sleeping not far from her brother. She had worked herself up into a fit and fell to slumber, a real spit fire that one.
"So, I'm a prisoner then?" He finally responded, after regaining his focus on the discussion.
"Your confusing the fuck out of me Stark!"
"I am confused as well Clegane. You're The Hound, Joffrey's dog, how did you end up so far North? In the Riverlands, far away from your king's fight with Stannis Baratheon and with my sister no less?" Sandor didn't like the way he said the words slowly, as if he were talking to a child.
"Fuck Joffrey and fuck Stannis. They can kill each other for all I care. Pay me and let me go or take my head, just be quick about it."
"...Surprisingly, I don't want to kill you either. I don't trust you, but you…you brought my sister back to me, regardless of your reasons, I am grateful, you have my thanks."
"I can't spend 'grateful'." Sandor thought he mumbled that jibe under his breath, but the grunt from Stark made it apparent he did not. He had made jape at it but truly, he was just unfamiliar with genuine gratitude. No one had ever thanked him for anything, he was not used to how it made him feel.
"Aye, that is the truth of it. It would be bad form to have you go unrewarded for this but… to many of my Lords you are still a Lannister tool." The young king opined. He looked to be in thought for a moment before he ironed his resolve. "I have a…Proposition for you Clegane, if you'd hear it?"
Curiosity got the better of him. "Get on with it then" he answered. The boy got up from behind the table he was sitting and began pacing, like a wolf.
"We were betrayed last night, by Northmen and Rivermen alike. All of whom had put a crown on my head and named me their king. Being raised by my father, I had once held the belief that Northerners were of a different sort than Southern snakes, that we were men of honour and rigidity." he stopped and stared at his hands as he made these statements.
Sandor was not sure how these happenings related to him, but he said nothing. Kings liked the sound of their own voice, he would let him talk.
"I was naive, men are men and people are people, whichever part of the world they hailed from. Anything that happened once, has the ability to happen again and I cannot be everywhere at once." He looked to his sister sleeping on the other side of the tent and Sandor began to understand the direction of the conversation.
"No." he said quickly and shook his head. This stopped Stark in his tracks, he spun and gave Sandor a bewildered look.
"I'm done guarding little shits."
"But you guarded her all the way here?"
"Yes, for gold . I'm about to become a prisoner for my troubles and you still haven't paid me."
"No one's making you a prisoner Clegane, at least not for true. Gold you said? I can give that to you if that is what you want. I can't protect my sister at all times, and I can't just assign someone to do it; their loyalties are uncertain."
"And you're so sure of mine?" he sniped in disbelief.
"Aye. If it was gold, as you say was your motivation, you would not have left King's Landing. No one has more gold than the Lannisters, plus you could have sold my sister to Tywin for far more than I would potentially pay you." Robb Stark reasoned, raising that damnable eyebrow again. He wanted Sandor to attempt at disagreeing, he knew he couldn't.
He grumbled and shifted on his feet. "You want to protect her? Teach her how to fight, she has the spirit for it and she's not afraid to kill." At that admission, a look of surprise came to the young boy's face, and he spared his sister another long stare. A small smile formed on his face, and he shook his head.
"I shouldn't rightly be surprised, Arya was more of a wolf than the rest of us, save for Jon. As an elder brother I would love to teach her how to defend herself, but as a king I do not have the time. You could, she knows you, and trusts you by now I think."
"Tch, I can't do her style of fighting, that stupid water shit, waste of time."
"She has a style?"
Sandor nodded his ascent. " Ned Stark got her some lessons from a Bravosi swindler, taught her some useless tricks with that sword of hers."
"She has a sword?!"
"...A skinny little thing, just like her. Said she got it from her brother before he left for The Wall. It was stolen from her, she had to kill someone to get it back."
"Innocence does not last in this world." he sighed. "We have no one to train her like that, we are on the road, in constant motion. You kept her alive this far, I will pay you generously to do so again, until Winterfell at least?"
Truthfully, Sandor had nowhere else to go, and he couldn't return to the Westerlands. He knew scarcely little of the Riverlands and the North even less. The Starks were always the honourable sort, so if he said he would pay him then Sandor believed him. There are worse fates which could have befallen him.
He had grown quite…tolerant of the little wolf, not that he would utter the words on his life. All he had to do was keep her alive, she could take care of herself. His deep contemplation brought forth a memory, one that grinded on his nerves like nails on stone. He wrestled with the idea of not saying anything at all, but it really took nothing from him to do so.
"Your other sister, the red haired one.."
"Sansa?" This got the boy's attention quite quickly and he became tense, awaiting whatever news Sandor would relay.
"Yes…the little bird. I tried to get her out of King's Landing, away from the Lannisters and Joffrey."
"How were you hindered, was she captured?"
"No, she wouldn't leave with me. Didn't trust me, can't say I blame her, but I tried."
"Aye, that sounds like her. How was she before you left, did they mistreat her? Was she fed?"
"He torments her daily, just to have a laugh he would have his King's guard rip her clothes off and beat her…I wanted to kill him for that."
"Why didn't you?"
"If I had, he would be dead, yes, but I would die shortly after, and she would still be stuck there. Cersi would have been vengeful, and you would not be looking at your little wolf sleeping in your tent at this moment."
"...Aye, you're right, I just… forgive a brother's impulsive anger."
Sandor just hummed, no words were needed. He didn't understand it, he would kill his brother in a heartbeat, but mayhaps all siblings were not like that.
"We are digressing, I can do nothing for Sansa now, not yet. Will you stay and guard my sister Clegane? She is a princess now." he laughed to himself after saying that. "She won't like being called that when she wakes up, never much liked being called a lady either." he had a whimsical look on his face and he looked more a boy then than before.
Sandor had made his decision the moment he told Stark about the little bird. He took a deep breath and firmed his footing. "Fine, I'll guard the little beast and I'll try to teach her how to not get killed, but only until Winterfell."
"Good man, I could ask no more of you. Come now, let us leave her to sleep, I have something to do, you can guard the entrance."
Sandor nodded and followed the young king after he gathered his particulars and exited the tent. When he came out he saw all the people from the keeps were being led to a clearing, mothers with babes, young, old and children altogether.
On the other side he saw the men of the North wheeling all the food that was stored in The Twins. The food made sense, they would be travelling to Winterfell, a long march and good supply was needed. But the people of The Twins? Why would they have them leave the keeps ? Stark would not enslave them, no not Ned Stark's son. Then why? He voiced this question to the young king who was surveying the crowd and supply chain beside him.
"You will see, all of the Riverlands will see." he said cryptically and walked off toward the bridge. Sandor didn't follow, he stood to watch the tent. Protecting someone wasn't new to him, protecting someone who wasn't vile and worthy of death? A new direction for his life, mayhaps he would gain some worth from this, some sense of peace.
That was the future, for now he would do what he was here for.
Days had passed already, it was the fifth day since Sandor had given his service to protect Arya Stark. The little wolf had woken up hours after fallen asleep but had not left the tent. He would bring food to her and inform her of what was taking place outside, but he didn't look at her in pity, he knew she wouldn't want that.
The quietness was a far cry from the rowdy beast he had been travelling with, but she was grieving. He had no worries that she would be back to herself as soon as vengeance took her will again.
It was dark out, very dark, there was no moon in the sky to light the land, instead torches were erected to illuminate the pathways among the camp of tents. The people they made to evacuate The Twins were given food and shelter for the ones who needed it most, as much as could be spared.
Among the scant few times he had seen the young king, he had asked what would be done with them ultimately. 'Whatever they want' he had said. They had an open invitation to go to the North if they so wished or relocate to any other farm or holdfast in the Riverlands.
'But they can't stay here.'
They had stripped the twin keeps of whatever valuable they contained. It seemed to him that Stark wanted to leave it barren, unable to sustain a population past a few days, if that much.
This was the most meticulous taking of a fiefdom Sandor had ever witnessed. Ofttimes when a castle or hold was taken, the conquering party would garrison it, to make use of its resources and positioning. The Northerners had deemed The Twins useless and planned to abandon it.
Quite a waste if you asked him. The Twins were uniquely positioned to control who or what could make the journey North. Sandor himself would have left it manned if it were his decision. He shook his head, he could never understand the mind of leaders, mad fuckers the lot of them, no matter the ilk.
He was lost in his head when shouts and screams drew him back to the present. He became alert in case there needed to be killing, he was good at that, that he could do. The little Stark came out of her hiding at the sounds.
"What's happening?" she asked, a dangerous look in her eyes. She was probably hoping there was killing to be one as well. A wave of noise came from closer to the keeps and got louder. Over the silhouettes of the tents in the distance he could make out a brightness rising. He was initially confused on what it could be until it grew even more.
Fire, fucking fire. The mad bastards had set The Twins ablaze and blaze it did. Why did people love setting fire to everything? He was glad to be this far from it.
"They're burning The Twins?"
"Seems your kingly brother wants to wipe the Freys from the history books." Sandor side eyed her at his statement, to catch her reaction, he wasn't surprised.
"Good." she said simply and retreated into the tent. He watched the entrance after her and grunted, then turned back to the sight.
"That you Clegane?" he whipped his head quickly in the direction of the familiar voice.
"The fuck are you doing here Dondarrion?" he asked in annoyance. He could already feel a headache forming from the very idea of dealing with the brotherhood. Dondarrion was a ragged looking man, he hadn't trimmed his brown hair in weeks and his clothes looked more like a pile of rags than clothes. He had an eyepatch made from ripped cloth covering one eye and a thick brown beard.
"We could ask you the same thing." Said Dondarrion's drunken priest, Thoros. A fat, red faced, red priest from Essos. He wasn't much of a priest but…Sandor had seen him do things that he could not readily explain, nor would he ever try to.
"I don't answer to either of you." He growled at the two men.
"That's true, but it appears you do answer to someone. You brought back the girl to her Brother?" the eyepatched man asked in condescension.
"Thats none of your fucking business."
"You don't have to answer Clegane, we already know, we heard tell. We also heard that the young Stark king was betrayed here but that he triumphed, it's what brought us this far North." Dondarrion said matter of factly.
"Though, We didn't expect to see…this." the drunkard gestured to the towers which were currently up in flames.
"Bet you like seeing that don't you fire fucker?" he asked in disgust. He hated fire.
"A Burning Bridge?…you can't imagine what significance such a thing holds."
"And what significance would that be?" A new voice startled the conversing men. They observed the new arrival who was in turn observing them. It was Dondarrion who made the correct deduction.
"King Stark, you have the gait of your father."
"You have me at a disadvantage Ser…"
"Apologies, Beric Dondarrion and my companion Thoros of Myr."
"Dondarrion? You're the Lord of Blackhaven, a Baratheon man." The boy said with some suspicion colouring his words,. His eyes narrowed and he leaned his head to the side.
"No Longer. We fight for no King now, no House or Lord. We are the Brotherhood without Banners." Dondarrion said proudly, raising his head.
"I've heard of you. Why are you here?"
The two men looked at each other. "We do not rightly know. Something leads us North. We do not know how far or in what part of the North, but we will know when we get there."
The king said nothing just gave them an understanding look before nodding. "You are free to do as you wish, but we will not feed or shelter you."
They laughed at the statement from Stark. "We can take care of ourselves king Stark, you need not trouble with us."
"Good. Now excuse me, I will go see my sister.'' He entered the tent on the dismissal and the three men said nothing more. They turned to the light once more, the light coming from the burning bridge.
I wish to extend my apologies for making you lot wait so long for my return. A lot has happened and is still happening. I have been in a place, stuck in limbo. Life is not what I thought it would be or should be at this particular time for me. I had lost my way, t'was the rereading of your comments and seeing your genuine interest that gave me a reprieve.
For those who kept faith, I am forever grateful. For those who waited, wait no longer. I am still going through stuff, but I have found my way back to the release and freedom that is writing. I hope you enjoy the new chapter, you may have to reread the earlier ones to reacquaint yourselves. Thank you for your times, it means a lot.