Authors Note: Hi, I know it has been a long, long while. Family being hell and all that stuff. But hopefully this will meet expectations… Now – off to read all the new reviews I have managed to gather – so many! Yay!
Jon was sneaking out of Winterfell, an act that had become something of a habit. Since whenever he tried to be stealthy he raised his stealth skill, however atrociously he might be doing the act in question, it had become a staple of his days. The only person he didn't sneak around at this point was Arya. She had thought he was avoiding her, leading to another quest to cheer her up. The experience was good, though there had even been an 'Avoid Arya' quest for a while.
Jon had point blank refused to take it. He was not going to make Arya upset deliberately. To see that look on her face again... he didn't know how to describe it except to say that Ghost had nothing on Arya when she was upset. Pulling off puppy-dog eyes better than an actual canine was some achievement!
Initially the stealth training had also served as composure training. Being caught hiding behind a statue and making it look like nothing was up was tricky. He probably would have been detained had the guards not known him since infanthood. Luckily such incidents had decreased as he got better. Which was why he was heading to the stables with his ill gotten gains later than he had originally wished. And no, he had not stolen anything, only borrowed it without asking. Didn't stop him from unlocking the Stealing Skill though.
And all this for the sake of a broomstick, or rather two of Winterfell's oldest brooms that had all their bristles falling out. He was also carrying an old tunic, but that was his, and much more maneuverable. He winced as he picked up yet another piece of straw that had fallen down behind him. People followed trails, so he wasn't going to leave one for some Royal Court set of eyes to pick up on.
Remaining inconspicuous was something that Jon was determined to achieve. Well, not getting any more notorious would be more like it, but oh well, he'd live. Hopefully. But he digressed. They left in two days for Kings Landing, the announcement having taken place four days ago. Something about the weather being terrible and wanting to make good time for the tournament. Which meant that Jon had limited time to train his jousting. A skill which he had not yet unlocked. Hence the sneaking out via the stables with two broomsticks.
Jon didn't have to perform a skill perfectly or deliberately to learn it. The shirtless debacle leading to the sex appeal skill appearing was testament to that. So maybe hitting a target, or tunic, with a makeshift lance, or broomstick in a forest clearing would qualify. He could try! So with Ghost at his heels he rode out. Though his riding skill also needed some work. He could manage a horse fine casually, but the month long trip to Kings Landing might be a trial, as would controlling a horse mid joust.
A quick word to the guards, about ten minutes down the road and a quick detour to the side revealed a suitable spot. Stringing up the tunic from a suitable branch, mounting the horse and getting the broom in place - he must have looked a sight. But what else could he do? Practice Jousting in public when he didn't know how do any part of it properly? If he did this right he could gain the Jousting skill, up his Riding skill, and lastly seek out some lessons from a knight on his way to the capital of Westeros.
At the very least once he found someone willing to teach him he would be able to spend his points that way, giving his Jousting an extra boost. And he might just get through that part of the Tournament, with a bit of luck, not humiliating himself or his family too badly.
It was on the tenth pass he made at the makeshift target that he got it. And he had had to think about it, balance himself and lean forwards so that his weight was behind the lance. Which had taken a bit of practice, but he had got it!
Skill Unlocked: Jousting: 0/100
And by the end of his impromptu practice session it had also gained 2 points, his riding skill had also gained one. The day had been completely worth it, it was only a pity that Jon wouldn't get to do it tomorrow. No, the day that would follow the setting sun would be spent on packing... Which apparently was a big deal. At least in Sansa's case. Would the world end if she didn't take enough turquoise thread to completely re-sew her matching dress from scratch? After all, what if she needed that color for her needlework, used it, and then her dress fell apart at the seams. What would she do then?
The sarcasm present when Arya stated, deadpan, that it would be the end of the world as Westeros knew it was taken as the 'first sensible thing that you've said all day'. Sansa could be quite dramatic. And with the final skill growth of the day being a point of Composure for holding in laughter at the memory, Jon set off for his bedchamber. After checking the book via candlelight, just to make sure that there was no impending disaster that could be prevented through a Quest, Jon quickly fell asleep.
The next day brought with it a sense of déjà vu, this was the nearly exact same thing as what one of Jon's first quests consisted of. Namely the fact that he was finding a needle in a haystack, though this time strangely enough, the latter was proving to be more work than the earlier quest. Well, the needle in question was not an actual sewing needle, instead being Arya's new sword for practicing Water Dance Style, finished this morning by Mikken and smuggled into the haystack by the excitable girl in question.
Her master plan was that no-one would find it, so she would retrieve it later and practice to her heart's content. But in all the chaos of not only the royal household packing, but also half the Stark family doing so as well various carts had been moved around. And having many war horses to feed, all of which were used to hay and would fall ill if made to change their diet to grass all of a sudden, there were more than several carts worth of hay being prepared. More than several, more than a handful! Jon was searching through his tenth cart!
Arya didn't have to do this, Jon mentally grumbled. Though it wasn't her fault that Catelyn Stark had decided to try and push as much etiquette knowledge as possible into her daughter, and hope that she would not forget it as she had done every time before. Besides, knowing Arya, she'd doubtlessly prefer to be rummaging through the hay alongside him than sit through deportment lessons. He only wished that she'd described the cart in more detail.
"It was about so-so wide and had lots of hay in it!"
That description covered just about half of the hay being transported... but he wouldn't stop now. Not only would Arya be sad, he would miss out on a rather impressive reward for finishing the quest. In a quick break he once again checked the book, and the description of his current task.
New Quest: Needle in a Haystack, Part 2!
Reward: +180XP, Increased Influence with Arya Stark, ?, ?
It was a less literal interpretation of his previous quest for Jayne Poole, but no less difficult. The item was bigger, but then again, so was the area. So here he was, hours of valuable time later, knee deep in hay, having finally found the rapier style sword. Problem solved… until you looked at what else he had found during the quest.
Quest Complete: +180XP, Increased Influence with Arya, Assorted Items, and +5 Strategy
They were mostly odd bits and bobs, a few coins that were worth a couple of silver stags, and a dead magpie. Now those birds were pests, they liked to steal food left out as well as anything shiny, and used to harass the hounds until the dire wolves arrived. Then they were too scared to. Either way their presence was nothing good - so their nests in the castle were destroyed and they were considered a fair moving target for archery practice.
The only places in Winterfell they were barely tolerated was the ruins, because those places were too unsafe to habitually clear out. So their nests were in the ruins Bran had been climbing. The ruins he had been thrown from. And the ruins that the magpie holding a Lannister brooch in its claws had apparently originated from.
It was suspicious as could be. It was an elaborate gold brooch, something only nobility could afford. So what was a Lannister, or part Lannister, in the case of the Queen and her children, doing snooping around the derelict and unoccupied areas. Why? The current gossip was that it was a servant searching for valuables that no-one would miss, something that was clearly incorrect. Jon was holding the evidence!
If something of this value went missing, well there would have been some sort of search at the very least. Or a punishment for some unfortunate servant. But this silence was the most suspicious part of the whole affair, the brooches owner clearly didn't want to raise awareness of their recent whereabouts. It was then that Jon realized one key thing – he had never checked the scene of the crime.
He had just been… busy, with everything. And Bran had been hurt – the priority had been his little brothers well-being rather than the culprit. There had been a search as well – but had anyone thought to check the magpie nests? Jon certainly hadn't considered the possibility until now. And with the departure for King's landing being tomorrow there was only one night in which to investigate.
Yes, Jon knew he was going to investigate. On one hand it would lend credence to his results if he had an accompanying person to vouch for him. On the other hand, that would take time, and leave a short while in which evidence could be destroyed. There was even the possibility of a witness deciding to lie due to political reasons or outside pressure, the Lannister's were incredibly powerful – and incredibly ruthless.
Intrigue + 2
And didn't that say something about court politics. He would basically have to look himself before creating a commotion, oh, and after he had returned Needle to Arya. She had rather stubbornly stated that she would wait until her precious was once again safe before she would even consider going to bed. A bit silly, but so very Arya that Jon couldn't he was smothering a grin before walking past Arya's bedroom window and holding Needle aloft. Shortly afterwards the light was extinguished, and Jon's thoughts began to have a more depressing nature.
As his feet began to retrace the very same path that he had sprinted down in his haste to save Bran, the tension in him built. Walking carefully up the crumbling stone steps, Jon felt a certain satisfaction that soon he could be in possession of the culprit's identity. Justice would happen for Bran. It was only right.
The room was heavily shadowed; little could be seen of the destruction to the remaining furnishings that had occurred when his Uncle had ordered the most thorough of searches. Not even the ragged and moth-eaten curtains, which allowed minor illumination from the moonlight had been spared. Shrugging to himself, Jon tied the remnants back with some leather cord and began to pile everything which looked vaguely stable in the center of the room.
Climbing Skill Unlocked!
The skill value was low, but so was the difficulty. It was simple enough for Jon, with his increased dexterity, to catch hold of a rafter while standing on top of the pile, and then swing himself up. It was only then, in the pitch black afforded by the roof tiles that he uncovered his lantern. A flurry of wings surrounded him as the magpies reacted to an intruder in their midst, but that soon dissipated, leaving behind a bit over a dozen nests.
None of them had eggs in, on further investigation, but then it was winter and not anywhere near nesting season. Jon felt a bit foolish for not realizing that earlier. But of much greater importance was an all too familiar gold glint, a second one in addition to that of the brooch in his hand. Peering inside, there was money aplenty, in copper, silver and gold, as well as minor pieces of jewelry. He was pretty sure that that heart-shaped locket was Sansa's lost one, and that the numerous hairpins had formerly belonged to Arya.
Though unlike Sansa, Arya would not be overjoyed by their return, she made a habit of losing the things so that she had an excuse not to spend hours twisting her hair into an elaborate and impractical style. They had probably picked them up from all over Winterfell. And yet… even after searching every single nest there was nothing incriminating. Nothing that was unusual. Jon pocketed the items, and the gold coins – the magpies could certainly afford to lose them, but there was a nagging thought in the back of his mind, he was missing something.
Until after a few minutes his Perception score of 33 finally redeemed itself. There was still a subtle glint coming from the outside of the nests, noticeable now that the more prominent glints of gold and silver were removed. And closer inspection revealed more information. Gold hairs were woven in with the straw, Lannister gold hairs which were much, much longer than Jaime Lannister's, longer than both Princes' hair. They were even longer than Myrcella's! There were shorter ones mixed in, though far fewer in number.
And an item Jon had previously overlooked, a simple wooden comb, turned out to have those very same golden hairs caught in its teeth. This… didn't make any sense! All the evidence pointed towards the Queen, and maybe Joffrey, Jon honestly didn't think that Tommen or Myrcella would be involved, not least because they had been with Arya at the time. But why would the Queen be in an isolated and private part of the castle… to comb her hair? It was beyond strange?
There was always the possibility of her needing to tidy up after pushing Bran off the tower, but no, that was simply not feasible. If Bran had caught her hairstyle in a frantic grasp, then there would have been strands on his fingers. But why? And it wasn't like Jon could do a single thing right now about it. If he went to his uncle, with the brooch, he probably wouldn't take action due to the lack of proof. Catelyn Stark wouldn't listen to him. A public accusation, well, that would actually be the worst option. All the Queen had to do was accuse him of theft and he would be severely punished, if not killed.
After all, he had been into the royal living quarters during the quest to save Ser Pounce, even if it was ostensibly to deliver a sewing kit it would still be a black mark against him. So he was helpless now. But not for long. He would go to Kings Landing, he would excel in the tourney and he would gather more evidence so that Justice could be served. If he hadn't caught Bran, a feat only possible due to the book, then the consequences could have been death or crippling at best. It was a murder attempt.
His stealthy return was quiet, and Jon's face was fixed in a neutral expression. Inside though, he was seething. Sleep took a long time to come that night, and when it finally arrived he was beset with nightmares. Horribly realistic nightmares of what could happen should King Robert Baratheon die, leaving the Lannister's in power.
They were scary… but might not be true. Surely not even Joffrey Baratheon would order the execution of Ned Stark – not out of faith in his humanity – but because surely it would be impossible politically. Executing the Warden of the North was a direct strike against a Lord Paramount. And it set a precedent for the execution of someone of that stature, which the remaining Lords could not stand for. King Aerys was mad and cruel, but it was only when he began to execute nobles that the rebellion truly started.
It was quite the dilemma. Jon wanted to deem them false, but with his dreams being occasionally prophetic, as in the case with Bran, he could not afford to dismiss them out of hand. Especially with evidence that the Lannister's were not opposed to secret elimination of threats, or young boys who saw something they shouldn't. Though Jon was frustrated that he couldn't pinpoint what Bran could have possibly seen.
But there was no time to mull over the matter, Jon had to get ready to ride out. Yes, it was early, but regardless of tourney invitation, he was considered unworthy of a lie in. All of the non-noble born had to assemble early and do their own packing. Jon did get help, unlike most others awake at the crack of dawn, but that was a concession to his public status as Ned Stark's son. He had no doubts, his mind somewhat sarcastically concluded, that once in King's Landing he would not be afforded such consideration.
So Jon felt that he might as well make use of the free time in the morning to get some quests done. Then maybe he could level up once or twice before his arrival at the capital of Westeros. He needed those statistic and skill points, though the latter were also bestowed by quests which he therefore should be doing right now!
Quest: Stop the Stampede!
Reward: +130XP, +5 Fist Fighting, +5 Poisons
Quest: Misunderstandings Galore
Reward: +200XP, +5 Manners, +5 Diplomacy
Quest: Oil & Water Do Not Mix
Reward: +90XP, +5 Science
Maybe it was because everything was in such chaos at the time, but all of the available Quests seemed to be rather more difficult than usual. First he had had to subdue a kicking horse, which had somehow got a mildly poisonous thorn in its shoe. And was trying to solve it in the time honored way used by both young children and animals called 'thrash around until it goes away'.
Then he had been involved in the most complicated love letter situation he knew about, Jon couldn't even imagine up such a scenario before experiencing it. To complete the quest, he had to get a courting couple who had an argument back together. Suffice to say that when delivering the young man's deplorable poetry, the maiden in question decided that paying more attention to the bastard born young man bearing it, and shredding the letter would serve her suitor right.
Now that was an awkward situation to get yourself out of. The only reason Jon stuck it out was because he needed those points in Manners and Diplomacy so that he wouldn't ruin himself in King's Landing. And last but not least, a spilled barrel of oil over the newly cleaned, and subsequently wet, floor led to an indoor sliding competition. That was not quite so bad, but then again the reward was worse. There was no time after that to do any more, and Jon found himself astride a decent quality gelding as he rode through the gates, glancing back at the only home he had ever known.
He felt strangely unaffected by the sight of Winterfell fading away. It was only when thinking of Bran, Rickon and Robb that led to a sense of missing something. But that too faded, and was replaced with a determination for Bran, naturally, but also a desire to make something of himself, something of himself. It felt strange, that desire, but not at all unpleasant?
Jon Snow: [Level 10] Statistics
Northlands Lore: 18/100
Westerlands Lore: 17/100
Religious Lore: 5/100
Short Bow: 66/100
Mounted Archery: 0/100
Wind Arrow: 0/100
Fist Fighting: 33/100
Short Sword: 64/100
Bastard Sword: 100/100
Long Sword: 64/100
Water Dance Style: 85/100
Fire Dragon Style: 0/100
Ice Gale Style: 28/100
Storm Hawk Style: 29/100
Prowling Lion Style: 20/100
Armour Wearing: 30/100
Dog Training: 15/100
Sexual Appeal: 3/100
Plant Identification: 5/100
High Valyrian: 5/100