AN: Try not to be too surprised, but I'm finally back!
As always, thanks to my betas.
The lifeless body was laid before the king and the rest of his court by the High Septon, and four of the silent sisters. Nobody had seen the old man in more than half a day when a serving girl came wailing through the halls about his death. Now two days later the old man was being put to rest.
Cersei looked down at Grandmaester Pycelle with little more than complete apathy. While she disliked the man, she could at least appreciate that he was one of her father's more useful toadies over his many years of service. Robert might never have sat the throne if not for his 'leal' advice to Aerys.
Whether she viewed that particular service of Pycelle's positively or negatively would differ with her mood on any given day and her frustrations with her fool of a husband. But more often than not Cersei preferred being Queen over the alternatives. It is where I was always meant to be after all, even if it should have been a dragon and not a stag. And that Robert is an unwitting cuckold with no trueborn children only makes it more bearable.
She would not mourn Pycelle's passing for his own sake, but she still knew it would leave her family without valuable information in the days before a new Grandmaester could be chosen and brought under Lannister influence.
"So how did he die?" Robert asked tersely. She glanced in his direction, and begrudgingly admitted to herself that he had regained some of the stature and vigor of his younger years ever since meeting with the King-Beyond-the-Wall. His belly had flattened somewhat and his arms thickened once more with muscle as he spent less time each day drinking and whoring. Instead he went to the yard with whichever Kingsguard pleased him and worked at reshaping his rotund body. If nothing else it has made the few times he finds himself in my bed slightly more bearable.
They were surrounded by the entirety of the small council, a number of the Kingsguard, her beloved brother included. Jaime cared less for the man than she did and couldn't even feign interest in the king's current interactions.
The High Septon was no maester but there was no one better equipped, or important enough, to weigh on such matters with the death of Pycelle. He certainly lacked the necessary knowledge to truly diagnose the old man's death. And that was likely why he looked to the king and told him, "His age finally caught up with him, your Grace. He served the realm well, but the Stranger decided it was his time."
Cersei resisted the urge to scoff at that. The man wasn't nearly as feeble as he pretended. He played that part simply because it served his purposes. People were far more likely to ignore a broken old man, after all.
Varys turned to Robert then, his sickly sweet voice grating on her nerves, "Your Grace, the Grandmaester had one of his regular visitors the night he died." The Spider looked to Littlefinger, "She was one of yours if I'm not mistaken." The High Septon looked affronted at the insinuation. Hypocrite. You've probably had the same girl while being buggered by one of the boys in the brothel.
Unfazed by the veiled accusation, Littlefinger just returned the Spider's smile, "It's true, your Grace, but the Grandmaester often indulged himself in one of the ladies from my establishment. She assures me he was alive and well, and as… enthusiastic as he'd ever been during their time together. And nothing about those circumstances changed before her departure."
"Of course." Varys just kept smiling, that smile of his that never seemed to reach the eyes.
"Men of the Grandmaester's age die every day." Stannis interjected irritably, "Whether his heart gave out, or his lungs or his brain. He is dead and there is nothing to say exactly why." There was general agreement to that statement, though an enigmatic smile graced Littlefinger's lips for the briefest of moments. He does quite enjoy playing the game.
"Too true." Robert agreed with his brother. "Enough of this! See to it that the Citadel hears of this and sends us a new Grandmaester. Hopefully, it won't be someone so longwinded this time." He grumbled the last as he started making his way out of the Great Hall. Those gathered began dispersing then, Stannis and Jon Arryn fastest, likely to send the raven as commanded.
Cersei left quickly as well. Father will want to know of these developments.
Jaime fell into step behind her as she made her way back to her quarters, "So the toad finally died? Can't say that I'll miss his incessant droning on? I can't think of a man more longwinded."
"No, but he had his uses, especially to father." Cersei replied absently. Not to mention to me. Jon Arryn has been digging around in things he shouldn't and Pycelle was best equipped to keep me informed. Still, there were other ways of dealing with such things and she had plenty of her own spies if necessary.
Jaime hummed his agreement, "Father will want to know so he might influence the selection of the next Grandmaester, a bit of Lannister gold could have the next man be just as much a lickspittle as the last."
Cersei turned to her brother surprised. He rarely showed a mind for such things. He always preferred playing in the yard to playing the game.
"What? I know better than any how valuablePycelle's loyalty could be." There was bitterness in his voice and a flash of anger behind his eyes. It never did sit well with him what their father did at the end of the Rebellion, and it never would have happened if not for Pycelle's words in Aerys' ear. Foolish man, of course the dragons needed to die, even if they were just children. The only thing worth regretting is the brutality of it. Gregor Clegane and Amory Lorch were anything but clean about it.
They were drawn from their conversation by a knock on the door. One of her handmaidens poked her head in, Myhrra or something her name was, Cersei couldn't be bothered to remember, "Your Grace, Lord Baelish is here to see you."
Cersei scrunched up her nose in irritation, but gestured for the girl to have him enter. What song does the mockingbird have to sing today I wonder? She poured herself a goblet of wine as he was shown in.
Littlefinger glanced between Cersei and Jaime as he came to stand in her solar, "Your Grace, Ser Jaime." He bowed slightly, ever remembering his courtesies. Before his betters.
"What do you want?" Cersei questioned bluntly, she had no patience for honeyed words.
"Simply to check on you, your Grace." He answered, even if they both knew it was a lie. "You knew the Grandmaester since you were a young girl, you must be terribly grieved at his passing. It was after all so sudden." Jaime wasn't even able to hide his laugh at that ridiculous statement.
"I am nearly bedridden with my sorrow," Cersei quipped dully, "and if that is all you may leave."
Littlefinger didn't move a muscle just smiled back at the Queen's obvious irritation, "Of course, it's odd his death, wouldn't you agree? He was quite the healthy man despite his age."
"Even seemingly healthy old men can drop dead faster than the toss of a coin," Jaime interjected.
"True, but the Grandmaester did have his fair share of enemies, some he might not even have known about."
That did pique her interest, if only slightly, "And which enemies might that be?"
"Well it's only speculation of course, but a fortnight ago one of my spies informed me that a Norfolk vessel docked in Braavos for a day before departing and heading south. Two days ago the same ship departed from Dragonstone and was seen heading south yet again."
"What of it? The savages have their trading vessels traveling up and down the Narrow Sea from Dorne to Braavos."
"True, your Grace, but it seemed an odd timing and route with the Grandmaester's untimely death. And no Norfolk ships were seen for a week before they started on their usual schedule again. Not to mention the recent correspondence the old man sent to Braavos." Cersei gave him a look that demanded he elaborate. He raised his hands in surrender, "Which I unfortunately know nothing more about, perhaps Varys would be better equipped. He does have so many little birds after all."
"So you're speculating that the Norfolk had a hand in Pycelle's death because a single ship stopped in Braavos and Dragonstone? Seems poor reasoning at best." Jaime sounded far from convinced, "Why would they want to kill the old man?"
"Oh I wouldn't want to make any assumptions of that sort," Littlefinger replied innocently, "Just my stray thoughts on some odd occurrences."
"Another thought came to mind as well. The belongings of the Grandmaester should be recovered so a proper accounting of things can be done by his successor. I believe he's been lending books recently. I know I saw one on the Lord Hand's desk when last I spoke." The smarmy bastard made to stand, "I'll leave you to your grieving, your Grace."
Cersei had some idea what it was that Jon Arryn was investigating, in no small part because of Pycelle. She refused to react to the comment, unsure just how much the grasping little lord actually knew.
"Thank you for your visit, Lord Baelish." Cersei watched him leave before feeling her brother slide up behind her.
"Finally alone." Jaime whispered into her ear as he pulled her toward the bed. She allowed her concerns of Jon Arryn to wash away for the moment as she fell into his arms.
The ship came into dock late at night. Harry landed with a thud on the ironwood planks before they'd even fully moored, leaving Dagan and his crew behind. More than three months on the ship in total and they were finally back. Three months on ship is too fucking long. The trip down to Dorne from Dragonstone had been rough in the Narrow Sea and that spoke nothing of his personal jaunt over to Oldtown.
A cool wind whipped up a drift of snow as he made his way across Newport toward the portal that would take him back to First Forge. The only others awake were guards whose welcoming calls he returned distractedly. Truthfully, Harry had little care for any of it at the moment. Anger sated, for the time being at least, he felt tired deep in his bones and wished for nothing more than the warm embrace of both his bed and Val. But it seemed, like so many times in his life, fate had other plans.
"My lord." Called an accented woman's voice that he didn't recognize. Though she didn't yell, her voice carried clearly over the gusts of wind. Harry resisted the urge to bury his head in his hands. For fucks sake, can't I have even a moment of peace?
"Your safe return is a welcome sight." He noted she was tall, and wore surprisingly little given the chill of the night's air. She stood in the doorway of one of the small homes built only for one. Inside he could see a single flame in the middle of the room. Its light flickered and licked at the air, its rays silhouetting the unknown woman.
"I am no one's lord. And you don't know me, so there is no reason for you to care for my safety or find me a welcome sight." He responded tersely. She didn't respond in kind to his irritation. Instead, she just looked bemused. It does grow tiring to constantly point that out to people. He didn't have the patience for politeness, "Who are you?"
"My name is Melisandre."
"Lovely… and why are you here, Melisandre?" We can't seem to go more than a month without some new arrival from afar these days. It really is enough to drive a man mad.
"To aid in the war against the one true enemy."
Harry quirked one eyebrow, surprised. He certainly hadn't expected thatanswer. More often than not he had to fight tooth and nail to get people to accept the threat they faced, and here was someone willingly offering aid. "Well, fantastic. If you're in this city, Val must've allowed it which is good enough for me… for now at least."
He turned and started toward his home again, calling over his shoulder he told their newest resident, "I'm sure we will discuss things in greater detail soon, but I wish to find my bed. You should do the same."
"Of course," she called back smoothly, "Rest well, my lord." He resisted the urge to turn back and correct her again. Some people just refuse to listen.
Finally finding himself in his own home, he threw off his cloak, shirt and boots and felt the warmth of the furs beneath his feet. He padded softly to his bed, careful not to wake the children. As he crawled into his bed, he pulled Val into his chest and breathed in the welcoming aroma of her hair. She pushed closer unconsciously and he found himself asleep quickly.
He woke the next morning because of two pressing weights on his chest. The twins were babbling too fast for him to make out exactly what they were saying. Val was smiling behind them with Lily against her chest, "Everything you needed to do is taken care of then?" She asked over their excitement.
Harry stretched after a good night's rest. There truly is something to be said for a night of sleep in your own bed with the person you love.
"Finally!" He said good-naturedly, "Happy to be back." He rustled the twins' hair and stood to kiss Val. She kissed him back before nodding her head toward their living area. He could hear the crackle of meat over the fire and looked to see Dalla and Mance waiting there, talking softly among themselves. Trystan and Emer ran by him and out the door, already having eaten and excited to go to their morning lessons. Their enthusiasm brought a small smile to his face.
Mance noticed his attention and stood to shake his hand, "Good to have you back. All went well?"
"The House of Black and White and I have an understanding, the Grandmaester is dead and Marwyn gave his recommendation for his replacement." The travel could have been done faster by a month but going with Dagan seemed the best way of ensuring nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Harry even sent other trading vessels ahead to reestablish the schedule of things before leaving himself.
"He didn't want the position for himself?"
Harry shook his head, "Not even slightly. His interests lie only in the higher mysteries, not in the tending of spoiled shits in King's Landing." Dalla stifled a laugh as she served up the meal from the fire so that they might all break their fast.
"Who will be the new Grandmaester then? Did you manage to use your magic to make where Marin will be making her way south?"
Harry ignored his friend's witticism, "Nymos will take Pycelle's place. He's Dornish by birth and cares little for the opinions of the other Archmaesters. He's also one of the few who's agreeable to Marwyn. With Norren compelled, there should be no more threats coming from the Citadel, unless one of the other Archmaesters takes it upon themselves." And Marwyn all but insured him that the others were too concerned with their own lives and pursuits to worry about Harry and the Norfolk. That more than satisfied his company who took to eating their meals.
"What came of the trip to the Frozen Shore?" Harry asked as he scraped the last of some egg off his plate.
Mance frowned, "The Others took them all. We didn't find a single person alive in either of the villages we visited… And it seemed they hoped we would come. They left corpses hiding in the snow to attack us in the second village."
Harry couldn't say that he was surprised. He expected the worst when he sent his people, "Did you lose anyone?"
"Grigg, Brogg, and Dan," Mance responded unhappily, "The Mormonts and crows lost more though. Qhorin said that one of them was Waymar Royce, the son of Bronze Yohn. You might find yourself another friend south of the Wall there. The Lord-Commander should be willing to send a raven telling his father how he died." It was something worth thinking on if nothing else. He didn't necessarily want to go around Jon Arryn in the Vale if he could avoid it, but the more allies they had against the dead the better.
"What made them decide to attack now?" Harry mused, "They could have made their move anytime."
"If I were to guess, the point was the trap." Mance sounded quite confident for a guess, "It wasn't just the wights waiting for us… there were White Walkers there as well, and I don't think they much cared about the lot of us. I think what they really wanted was you."
Harry's brow knit together, "Have there been any other attacks since?"
"No, but the cold seems to have deepened beyond the Frostbacks and down to the Frozen Shore." So they were expanding their reach and might even be coming after him directly. Well it was bound to happen eventually. They want to wipe us out entirely; I should feel privileged that I'm at the very top of their list.
"All hunters and those at the watchtowers have been warned?"
"They have." Mance confirmed, "And none have reported anything odd of late." But it could happen at any time.
Harry just nodded, before turning to Val, "I'm curious why there's a Red Priestess living in the city? I clearly missed a great deal while I was away."
Val looked as unamused as he felt, "She came to the gates claiming she wanted to help against the Others. I know they're zealots but help is help after all. I figured you should at least meet her before you send her away."
"What has she been doing?" Harry couldn't imagine that the free folk would put up with any of the preaching that the most devout Red Priests were known for.
"She's mostly kept to herself, staring into that fire she keeps in the house we've given her." Val told him, "She'll occasionally speak to some of the people and seems to have taken a bit of interest in the Targaryens. She even discussed a bit about magic with the twins."
"As long as she isn't burning people for her red god, then she can stay for now at least." Harry allowed for the moment. Though it's a headache I'll have to deal with eventually.
He ran a hand through his hair. Not even back half a day. Sometimes I wonder just how I got myself into this. Ah! That's right the saving people thing. He chuckled to himself which drew odd looks from the others. He ignored those looks, unwilling to explain, "Anything else I should know about?"
"Karsi wanted to talk to you, but other than that nothing else comes to mind." Mance itched at his graying beard idly.
"No issues with the Targaryens while I've been away."
"Viserys has been surprisingly well-behaved… even stayed away from his sister. The only thing of any note he's done is speak with the Red Priestess and spent a bit more time with the Thenn." Mance snorted out a laugh, "Considering he almost always has eyes watching him, his good behavior isn't entirely surprising."
"Daenerys spends a great deal of her time in the library and occasionally finds herself dragged around by Arya and the twins." Dalla informed him.
Val smiled slightly at that, "And speaking of Arya, she has taken to Syrio Forrel's teaching very well, the water dancing suits her better than anything we could have taught her. She doesn't leave the yard with nearly as many bruises anymore and can deal out a few of her own too."
Harry chuckled, "Well good, should mean she won't need as many salves." The four of them dispersed then, each to tend their own duties for the day.
Harry left home and was greeted by a cool crisp morning, the sun only just peaking up above the horizon. He set off down the path toward the Hall in search of Karsi. He passed the training yard as he went, and was unsurprised to find Arya there already.
Based on the sweat dripping from her brow, the young lady had been out there for some time. She appeared to be working on her balance, standing on one foot upon a short wooden plinth. He noticed that a small number of others just arriving in the yard joined her. It appears that Syrio has more than one pupil. He couldn't help but notice that all of the others gathering with her were some of the younger sailors who would normally be out at sea on one of the trading vessels. They must have taken an interest in the Bravosi.
Harry approached the young Stark, and shook his head ruefully when he saw that she finally convinced either Munda or Gilly to give her one of their tattoos. It was of a woven, howling direwolf that went from her jawline up to her hairline. Her parents are likely to be furious if they see that, but something tells me she couldn't care less. Oh, well. He could always hide it with a bit of magic if he wanted to avoid Lord Stark's, or more likely Lady Stark's, irritation with her new souvenir of her time with the Norfolk.
"How long have you been out here?" Harry asked.
She shrugged but maintained her balance as she slowly shifted from one foot to the other, "Couple hours."
"Have you slept?"
"Yes." She replied.
"Enough for me." He chuckled at that. Certainly can't fault her determination.
"Need any more salve?"
Her face split into a wide triumphant grin at that, "Nope." A training sword came from Harry's left side then and poked at Arya's ribs. She deftly avoided the jab and switched to her other foot on the plinth.
"The girl is getting better." Syrio said to Harry, "And you need not worry. This stubborn little pupil learned her lesson about overworking herself when she passed out in the snow halfway through her fifth day of training." Arya couldn't stop the blush that rose up in her cheeks.
Harry managed not to laugh at her, for his own sake as much as hers. "Well I'll leave you to it." Arya hopped down from the plinth and followed behind him. He turned a quizzical look down at her.
"I was only out here so early because Briar plans to take Jon and me out into the Haunted Forest today."
"She's not just going to use one of the animals in the city?" Harry questioned.
"She says those animals already know people and… trusts them, I guess. We wouldn't learn as much from that."
They reached the Hall together then, and Arya bee-lined for where Jon sat with Ygritte, "Well good luck." Harry told her departing back. The young girl only waved back.
Harry made his way to the end of the table where Karsi was sitting with Toregg. They noticed him as he approached and made room for him along the bench, "Mance said you wanted to see me."
"We're having issues with the ice river clans." That was surprising. The cannibals mostly left them alone, seemingly knowing when they were out matched. They were less than a thousand in total strength if he were to guess.
"They've taken two hunters in the last moon." Toregg interject, "Even made an attack at one of the watchtowers. Haven't had any hunters out there in a week."
"We think what happened at the Frozen Shore spooked them… forced them to find a new source of food." She finished grimacing.
"What do you want to do?"
"We need to wipe them out. We don't need good people getting eaten by those bastards just because we don't want to do something about it. And they'll only be more meat for the Others and their army if they make another move."
Harry hummed his agreement, "See it done." He made to leave but a thought occurred to him, "What of Varamyr?"
"For all his bluster over the years, he hasn't done much of anything. Just left us alone. Though we had reports that he's moved further east. Seems to want to be further away from the Frostbacks." Toregg took a pull of his ale and belched, "Most of the people Varamyr forced to pay tribute to him have fled to First Forge. He just contents himself with what little he has left."
Harry nodded and stood, "Just keep an eye on him as we have been then I suppose."
Karsi rose with him, "I'll find out who wants to help deal with the cannibals and have them ready by the end of the week. Might try and get some green lads a bit of blood on their blades. Better their first fight be with the bastards along the Milkwater than with the Others." Harry wholeheartedly agreed with that sentiment.
Ned and Catelyn watched from above as Robb and Theon instructed Bran in archery, little Rickon was nearby laughing at his brother's failed attempts. It took weeks for the comfortable peace to return between Eddard and his lady wife, she had been furious with him when she learned what happened at First Forge with Arya and the Targaryen girl. She raged and demanded that their daughter return home, but he would not be budged on the matter.
It hadn't helped her mood any that there was a growing discontent within Bran lately. With each letter and tale he heard of Arya and Jon, Ned waited for his son to ask him to go visit the Norfolk.
Another arrow whizzed wide of the target and stuck into the ground a few yards further away. Ned could hear as the older boys were unable to contain their amusement, and Bran hung his head in defeat, "Which of you was a marksman at seven?" All three boys looked up to him, "Keep practicing Bran. Go on." His middle son gave a small smile and nodded up at him.
With Robb whispering advice in his ear, Bran nocked another arrow and loosed it. This time it found the target just on the edge of the cloth target. Not a bullseye by any means but an improvement.
"Lord Stark," Rodrik called from behind them, he nodded at Cat as he came to stand before them, "My lady. Guardsman just rode in from the hills. They've captured a deserter from the Night's Watch."
Ned hesitated a moment, "Get the lads to saddle their horses."
"Do you have to?" His wife questioned.
Ned couldn't say it was something he wanted to do even as it had become more common in the last moon. He knew what the Night's Watch was facing and now many more of them did as well, "He made an oath."
"The law's the law, my lady." Rodrik tried to reason. But it's not just about that anymore is it. It's about the cowardice as well.
"And tell Bran he's coming to." Ned instructed his master of arms, who only nodded dutifully.
His wife on the other hand was indignant, "Ned, seven is too young to see such things."
"He won't be a boy forever," he countered easily, "And winter is coming. And we both know the Others are coming with it." Catelyn looked far from pleased but thought better than to argue.
They set off at midday, twenty in total, Brandon the youngest of the lot by some years. Ned could see that his son was bouncing between nervous and excited.
The black brother had been captured outside one of the small holdfasts in the hills to the northeast of Winterfell. He was bound hand and foot near the wall waiting for Eddard's arrival. He was short for a man grown, about the same height as Robb and missing both ears and a finger from frostbite.
Ned idly recognized him from his last trip to Castle Black. He was one of Benjen's rangers. "Cut him loose and bring him here." Ned commanded. He dropped from his horse. Jory Cassel followed behind him with the great-sword, Ice, in his hands. They came to stand before an ironwood block that had already been set out.
The ragged man was dragged bodily before him, not even fighting his captors. That was because he didn't have any fight left in him, "What's your name?" Ned asked. If you're going to take a man's life, you must be able to hear his name, his reason, and look him in the eye before you swing the sword. He remembered his own father's words.
"Gared," The captive told him. The man was broken, "I was a ranger of the Night's Watch." There was a mad look in his eye, and fear.
"I remember. But now you're a deserter."
"Aye, a deserter. I 'ad the courage to face the wildlings for more than half my life, cannibals and wargs and th' like." He shook involuntarily, "But the things I saw on the Frozen Shore. The dead rose… and those pale blue eyes."
There were tears in Gared's eyes, "I don't have the courage for that m'lord… So I ran, trying to put as much distance between me and those… monsters as I could."
Alysane Mormont told Ned everything that happened on the Frozen Shore. This wasn't even the first man to flee from the Wall since it happened. Four in the last moon. He was surprised it wasn't more, most days.
While Ned felt sympathy for the former ranger, the fact remained, "You've broken your oath, out of cowardice." He paused and made an offer that he could see in the man's countenance wouldn't be taken, "I'll offer you this chance to return to the Wall. That you might honor your oath and protect the realms of men."
Gared took a shuddering breath and glanced down at Ice, "I cann't do it m'lord. Just give me a clean death." The guards didn't even need to force his head down to the stump, "And burn my body."
Ned turned to Jory who offered him the hilt of the great-sword. The shwick of metal rang over the hill and made one of the horses uneasy. Holding Ice before him, Ned spoke, "I, Eddard of House Stark, Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North, sentence you to die." In one smooth movement, the great-sword rose and fell, slicing through Gared's neck like it never met any resistance. One of the horses spooked. But Ned was proud that it wasn't Bran's. And he didn't look away.
Blood spurted red across the snow. As it petered out and dripped weakly from the headless body, the ironwood block drank the dark red liquid in greedily. Ned heard Theon laugh as he kicked away the head. He shut up quickly when he saw the look directed his way by the older man.
Ned set the guardsman to building a pyre to burn the body. They fell to the task while the men from Winterfell saddled up for the return journey.
Atop his horse, Ned was lost in his own thoughts; only idly aware of the conversation between the boys when Theon and Robb bolted by him, racing toward the bridge ahead. Bran remained behind, looking pensive atop his pony.
Ned nudged his horse along so that he was riding beside his younger boy, "Are you well, Bran?" He asked. The first time you see a man's life taken can weigh heavy.
"Yes, Father," Bran turned to look at him, his Tully blue eyes holding a look of confusion, "Robb says the man died bravely, but he didn't look brave to me."
No, for this man, death wasn't bravery. Some things are worse than death and his fear far outweighed his courage. Despite that, there was still a lesson there for his son to learn, "What do you think?"
His son thought about it. "Can a man still be brave if he's afraid?"
"That is the only time a man can be brave," he told the boy. "Do you understand why I did it?"
"He broke his oath."
He smiled down, "Aye, he was an oathbreaker. No man is more dangerous. He knew his life was forfeit long before our guards ever found him. That deserter would have flinched from no crime, no matter how vile. But you misunderstand me." Bran looked confused, "Do you understand why I was the one who had to do it."
He had no answer at first, before responding uncertainly, "King Robert has a headsman."
"True," Ned agreed, "As did the Targaryens before him. Yet, ours is the older way. We are the blood of the First Men, and we hold to the belief that the man who passes the sentence should swing the sword. If you are to take a man's life, you owe it to him to look into his eyes and hear his final words. And if you cannot bear to do that, then perhaps the man does not deserve to die."
Bran processed what his father had to say silently. Ned continued. "One day, you will be Robb's bannerman, holding a keep of your own for your brother. When that day comes, you must take no pleasure in the task, but neither must you look away. A ruler who hides behind paid executioners soon forgets what death is." Bran remained silent, weighing his father's words as they continued toward the bridge at a slow trot.
When they caught up with Robb and Theon, the boys were sat atop their horses staring down at the decaying corpse of a once healthy young stag blocking the path. The faint perfume of death hung in the air. Its flesh was torn from its body by dozens if not hundreds of teeth marks. In its wounds and blind eyes maggots crawled. Its dark hair was a glaring contrast to the white snow drifts along the path. It was a truly massive stag, almost as big as his own warhorse.
Robb turned his head to his father, "Looks like a pack must have chased it out of the Wolfswood."
Ned frowned, "So it would seem." Hullen and Harwin dismounted behind him to move the mighty stag. In the end, it took two more men to move it away from the road. Despite the decay it still weighed a great deal. The stag found its final rest along the northern embankment of the little river, where with time it would become nothing more than bone.
Less than two hours later, they found themselves passing through the gates of Winterfell, Ned dismounted and left his horse with the stable master. Without a word to anyone else, he took Ice and made toward the godswood.
He walked through the ancient wood until he found himself at the pool beside the heart tree. He always liked the godswood. In his youth, he heard a great deal of wisdom from his father before the heart tree. But now, there were moments where he thought he could hear the whisper of Lyanna's voice in the rustling of the leaves or Brandon's laugh in the creaking of the trees straining against the wind. And even on those days when the deep silence of the place left him brooding on his own mistakes, it still managed to bring him peace.
The red eyes of the weirwood followed him as he sat on a moss-covered stone at the edge of the pool and removed Ice from its sheath. In the dark waters, he started cleaning the blade.
He lost track of time as the smoky ripples of the Valyrian blade were cleansed of blood, the dark waters only growing darker with each drop.
"Ned," he heard Cat call to him. "Catelyn," He said. His voice was distant even to his own ears as he was pulled from his own thoughts, "Where are the children?"
"Robb went down to the Wintertown," She sat down beside the pool, her cloak billowing around her. He could see her discomfort as the eyes of the weirwood watched her. She never was comfortable among the nameless old gods, "Rickon is pestering Bran even though he's been quiet since he returned."
"He watched a man face justice for the first time today. It leaves a boy with a great deal to think about." Ned reasoned, "The man died well." He ran an oiled leather along the length of Ice, polishing the smoky metal with a dark glow. "I was glad for Bran's sake. You would have been proud of Bran."
"I am always proud of Bran." His wife replied, not unkindly.
"It was the fourth this year." He sighed, "I should just be glad it hasn't been more. Now they know what's coming."
Ned saw dread on her face, as her thoughts drifted to the Others, "We know they are coming and we're making every preparation. The Night's Watch is better equipped and better manned than it has been in years, or so says Ben. And we have our allies beyond the Wall as well. " They both knew it would take a great deal more than that should the Wall fail them, but there was no need to talk of such things now.
"Thank the old gods and new for Harry and his Norfolk for that at least." While Harry Potter might not have been Catelyn's favorite person, she was happy for his aid against the dark things that lurked in the Land of Always Winter.
Ned smiled gently and slid Ice back into its sheath, "You did not come here to tell me of your respect for the Norfolk," That drew a wry smile from her, "I know how little you like this place. What is it, Cat?"
Catelyn took his hand gently, "There was terrible news today, my lord. "I did not wish to trouble you until you had cleansed yourself." She steeled herself and told him bluntly, "I am so sorry, my love. Jon Arryn is dead." The words hit him like a blow to the chest. His eyes found his wife's and he saw only compassion there.
"Is the news certain?"
"It was the king's seal, and the letter is in Robert's hand. I saved it for you. He said Lord Arryn went quickly. The new Grandmaester gave him milk of the poppy. There was little that could be done but to make him comfortable. He didn't linger long in pain."
"That is a small mercy, at least," He said, knowing the grief was plain on his face. "Your sister," He asked, concerned after his wife as well, "And Jon's boy. What of them?"
"They are well and have returned to the Eyrie," Catelyn said. "I wish they would have gone to Riverrun instead. My sister needs the comfort of family and friends.
"Go to her," he urged his wife, "Take the children as well. It could do them good to see some of the world. And that son of hers could use the company. Your sister shouldn't be alone in her grief."
"Would that I could," Catelyn said, "the king is riding to Winterfell… to seek you out. His letter said they would be leaving within a moon. "
"Robert is coming here?" Years ago the news would have brought Ned great joy, and even still he felt the faintest happiness at seeing his foster brother again. But more than that, it filled the pit of his stomach with dread. "Arya will need to be here. And Ben as well." He made no mention of Jon, knowing how his wife would feel on the matter. "Did his message say how many were in his party?" Whatever anger he has felt toward me in these last years because of the Norfolk must have left him with Jon's passing.
She shook her head, "I should think a hundred knights, at the least, with all their retainers. Cersei and the children are coming as well."
"Robert will keep an easy pace for their sakes, which is better for us."
"The queen's brothers are coming as well. " She told him. Fantastic, we'll be surrounded by Lannisters.
"It sounds as though Robert is bringing half his court."
"Where the king goes, the realm follows," she said. Ned squeezed her hand reassuringly, though more for his sake then hers. Damn his royal hide.
Jon trudged through the snow silently as he could. He looked among the trees and along the ground for any sign of life in the area. There was a bow around his shoulders, a quiver of arrows on his back, and a sword on his hip, but he wasn't in the forest to hunt. Behind him, Briar rested her back against an ironwood tree. Her eyes were white, her mind not with her shadowcat but a bird overhead watching out for Arya more than him.
This was the fifth time that the three of them had ventured out into the Haunted Forest together. Arya was beginning to grow impatient with her inability to step into the mind of an animal but Briar only continued to reassure them. "Sometimes it can be easy, other times not."
Dogs were easiest, but Briar didn't want it to be easy. Arya wanted to simply go to the owlery and slip into one of their minds and see it done, but it would be too easy. They were accustomed to humans and it meant they trusted the human enough to let them in without a fight. That explains why not the dogs, I suppose.
For his own part, Jon had managed to reach into the mind of a crow but failed to break it. Suddenly, he felt a tingle in his spine, and couldn't help the feeling that he was being watched. Looking around he saw an eagle staring at him from the bough of an ash tree.
Straightening, Jon stared right at it as he moved closer. He noted the piercing eyes tracked him with surprising intelligence. Jon centered himself, as Briar taught him. But then as he started to reach out with his mind, the bird took to the air. Cursing under his breath, Jon could only shake his head in frustration. Well, onto the next I suppose.
Just then, in the distance, he heard a mighty roar. It was to the south, back where he'd left Briar and Arya. Above him, the birds that had eluded him the last hours soared away. But Jon cared nothing for that. He was already bounding through the trees.
He came to the tree where he'd left Briar. Her shadowcat no longer sat beside her. He saw its paw prints in the snow heading west. He kept running, his heavy breaths misting in the cold air. His legs burned as footfalls crunched the snow beneath him. He didn't know how long he ran for but finally slowed when he found his little sister hiding behind a large ironwood tree looking out into a small clearing. Jon had been in this clearing before, on a hunt with Ygritte.
From the clearing, a cacophony of growls and snapping teeth emanated. Two massive beasts fought within. One was a snow bear that stood more than twice his height. Its white fur stained red from a dozen claw marks. One of its eyes was torn apart, and there was a deep bite mark high on its neck. Its maw dripped wet and red with blood.
Across from the bear was a direwolf he recognized, though it looked worse for wear since last he'd seen it some moons ago. It stood taller than a pony and its gray fur appeared almost black in the places where blood poured from deep gouges. Its right ear was entirely missing, and as it moved back and forth in the clearing with the snow bear, it limped on its front right leg. It appeared as though the two animals were catching their breath for another attack.
Arya sensed his presence then. She turned back to him and gestured with a hand for him to come closer. As the two beasts lunged for each other again, his sister leaned into him to whisper. "The direwolf… She's protecting her pups." She pointed toward a formation of rocks at the edge of the clearing. There Jon could see one little head poking up toward what was happening in the clearing. And listening closely, over all the other noise, the tiny yips of frightened pups could be heard.
There was a great thud then as the two combatants came together again and fell hard into the snow. The weight of them was enough to shake loose the snow from nearby sentinel trees. It fell down onto both his and Arya's backs but they were too focused on the scene before them to pay it any mind.
The direwolf found itself pinned to the ground by one of the snow bear's paws. Blood bubbled up around it as the claws dragged down along the rib cage. There was a low, echoing howl of pain. The sheer size of the bear should have been the end of it but the direwolf didn't give up. Every instinct in its breaking body was to protect its pups.
Sharp teeth sunk deep into the snow bear's wrist forcing it to reel back. Quicker than one would expect given its injuries, the direwolf was back on its feet pressing the snow bear further away, until finally it teetered too far, and dropped hard. A sharp rock beneath the bear pierced deep into its back, pinning it in place.
That's how it finally ended. The snow bear struggling helplessly as the direwolf came around its hulking body with gnashing teeth brought to bear. Those long fangs found the soft tissue of the bear's neck and bit deep and wet. As those teeth pulled, the sound of ripping sinew reached their ears. With a spray of blood and gore, the direwolf ripped apart a chunk of the throat. The snow bear managed to bat the direwolf away with the last of its strength before it twitched in its death throes.
The danger finally passed as far as the mother wolf was concerned. She padded slowly over to where her pups were hidden and fell heavily into the snow, her breathing quick and labored.
She's going to die. The wounds are just too much. The pups would be dead by next morning if they weren't tended to. That eagle will come back and carry them off one by one, or two by two.
Arya made a quick move from behind the tree, but Jon managed to grab her arm. "Careful, little sister, a dying wolf is still dangerous."
"We need to help the pups," she countered, firm in her conviction. Always such a willful thing. He did love that about her.
She pulled free of his hand but heeded his words well. Cautiously this time, she made to approach the direwolf where it lay in the snow. Jon followed behind, taking note of the shadowcat keeping a close eye on them from the tree line on the other side of the clearing.
As Arya came within two meters of the beast, it finally took note of them. It stood shakily, unable to put any weight on its front paw any longer. Despite that, it still managed a deep growl of warning as its hackles rose. Both stopped abruptly and Arya just stared into the piercing yellow eyes that appraised her. The she-wolf barked a loud warning once, and then a second time before suddenly the great beast went silent and still.
Jon cocked his head in confusion but took the opportunity to stand in front of Arya, meaning to put himself between her and the danger. But, he noticed her eyes were only white. Seems she finally did it. He stared at her for scant seconds, a mixture of pride and worry, before Arya's eyes returned to their steel grey.
A bright smile broke across her face. Behind Jon, the she-wolf laid back down in the snow turning slightly on her side as her pups approached to sup on cold milk, their fear having left them with the death of the snow bear. The milk they drank was tinged with the blood that dripped down their mother's coat down to her nipples.
The smile faded from Arya's lips quick as it came. "She's afraid. She knows that she's dying. It was… hard … to get more than that." A wolf was harder than a hound, Briar told them. One could befriend a wolf but never truly tame them as they could a dog.
"I think she understands we'll protect her pups." She looked up at him with pleading eyes. "We will keep them safe, won't we?"
Even if Jon wanted to, he doubted he could deny Arya with that look in her eye. "Of course, we'll take them."
There were five little pups in total, two girls and three boys. Same as the Starks. Jon didn't know if he believed in omens, but it seemed appropriate. Of course, he never included himself in that number. He was the bastard, after all. But that simple truth of his life bothered him less and less with each passing day that he spent amongst the free folk. And so, there was no resentment as he saw the joy in Arya's eyes.
Each of the pups was dark, grey, or black. They were whelped recently. They haven't even opened their eyes yet.
Arya and Jon waited for the pups to have their fill of their mother's milk. They continued to take from her even as she stilled completely and the last of her life left her. We'll come back for the bodies, both hers and the snow bears. He didn't know everything of the Others, but from the stories he'd heard from the free folk, they didn't just raise dead men.
The two gathered up the five pups. Arya took two in her arms and swaddled another in her furs. The grey pup kept popping her head up from inside and licking at his sister's nose. I think she's in love already. The other two Jon carried on one arm, careful not to stir them about too much. The two were making their way back to Briar a short time later. They were just at the edge of the clearing when a noise brought Jon up short.
"Jon?" Arya looked back at him confused
"Can't you hear it?" he asked, only to be met with confusion. He looked around in the snow and brush and saw a little ball of white that wasn't snow. "There."
He went back to the dead she-wolf and then moved by her to the other side of the rocks. There he found a sixth little direwolf. The last pup was an albino, and was the only one with open eyes. They were red, a piercing garnet that reminded him of the tears of the weirwood trees. Arya smiled when she saw that it was another pup.
"He must have crawled away from the others," Jon said. The little pup made no noise, no whining like the others. But he did lick at Jon's hand.
"I think he likes you," Arya pointed out.
Jon couldn't stop the smile that came to his face. "So, he does. This one belongs to me."
The occasional turning of pages and whispered words was the only noise in the library of Last Refuge. Daenerys sat at a table alone. Her violet eyes scanned the words of the tome in front of her. Lives of Four Kings by Maester Kaeth.
Since her stay among the Norfolk had become more secure, the young Targaryen had begun devouring every piece of history she could about her family and the Valyrians that came before. Freed of her brother's subjective views regarding her family, she learned of Targaryens both great and terrible, their ambitions and their delusions. And of my father's terrible madness. If there was one thing that each of the histories she'd found on her father agreed upon, it was that he had earned his moniker. She believed Harry when he said much the same, but seeing it in ink, knowing history would remember it, was another thing entirely.
Elsewhere in the room Marin swatted Nairn on the back of the head, pulling her attention from the book. Daenerys huffed out a little chuckle at that. He is always quite the handful when Marin tries to help them with their numbers. She never took part in the lessons, either to aid the other girl or to learn herself, though she would talk with Marin when she wasn't teaching the children. Daenerys appreciated Marin's deep passion for books and knowledge. She's quite the skilled tutor, and incredibly patient. I doubt I could ever manage it. Gareth said much the same.
Daenerys never learned much of the wildlings growing up in the Free Cities, but what little she'd been told was a far cry from what she had come to know of them. They weren't the raping, raiding, drinkers of blood and eaters of man-flesh that the tales would have her believe. But they aren't so far removed from it either. There is still that dangerous edge to the people here. It was amazing to her just how quickly some things could change under the right circumstances.
There was a scratching of benches as the children were dismissed for the day. They made a great ruckus as they left. Daenerys just shook herself from the distraction and paid them little mind as her eyes returned to the book before her. She succeeded in refocusing until a shadow fell across the pages.
Hiding her frustration, Dany looked to the obstruction to find Arya standing in front of her. It was odd to her that she was actually happy to see the younger girl. Oh, how quickly things can change. She'd lived most her life hating the Starks because of their part in the downfall of the Targaryen dynasty. Yet now, she gladly spent time being dragged around by the adventurous youngest Stark girl.
Arya smiled at her as she struggled with her new direwolf. The little she-wolf had been named Nymeria, for a warrior-queen who reluctantly allied with Prince Garin of Chroyane in his war against the dragons of old Valyria. But then she saved her people from the dragon's fire in 10,000 ships. Or less, depending on which maester you read. She was the woman who united Dorne long before Aegon ever came to the Seven Kingdoms. She was a heroine of Arya's, and Daenerys thought it a fitting name for the little pup. Only three days since her eyes had opened and she'd proved to be willful to say the least.
"Come on, we've both spent enough time in this library," Arya insisted, finally getting Nymeria to submit to being held. The wolf's dark golden eyes were now fixed on Daenerys.
"I am in the middle of something, Arya."
"A book, yes, I see. The book will be there later." She reached across the table to close it, but Daenerys managed to pull it away. Despite the younger girl's quickness, she still had short arms.
"And what is it that you want to do that won't be there later?" Daenerys challenged.
That brought the young Stark up short. But she recovered quickly, "There's a deep chill today. So… I thought we could go to the hot spring." Seeing Daenerys' brow furrow, she elaborated, "The one in the cave at the mine."
Daenerys knew of the hot spring that warmed First Forge but had heard nothing of another at the mine. She did have to concede the point. Despite the sun shining bright in the sky and through the windows of the library, she'd been outside long enough to know that there was a chill even with the magic that made the city more comfortable. I do love a nice bath too. The hotter the better.
Nymeria yipped at her softly. Daenerys huffed out her nose, feigning some irritation, before she shut the book. It only served to bring a triumphant gleam to Arya's eye. She had the good sense not to say anything and push her luck though. Dany left the book on the table, knowing that Marin would leave it there so she could return to it when she could.
Scratching at the pup's neck as she stood next to her young friend, Dany waved a hand toward the door, "Shall we then?"
Arya whooped excitedly before taking off. They ran through Newport largely unnoticed, a number of sailors passed them by as they headed toward the docks. She always liked sailors. Even going so far once as telling her brother that she would have liked to live as one someday the last time they traveled to Braavos. He'd twisted her hair so hard she'd cried for that.
Despite living in the same city as Viserys, she saw him only occasionally and spoke to him not at all. She still loved him, or at least thought that she did. She lamented for the days where he would speak softly to her and tell her stories of all kinds, from the Seven Kingdoms to Valyria and their family. So much of it was a lie, intentional or not. It's hard to remember those days with the same fondness. But she still missed the kind boy that gave way to a bitter young man.
As she followed behind Arya, she caught one of those rare glimpses of her brother. He was standing along one of the roads speaking with the red priestess. Both of the Targaryens were well accustomed to the priests of R'hllor from their time in the Free Cities, Volantis most of all. Though, not all of the followers are quite as devout as that woman. And unlike many that she met in the First Daughter of Valyria, Melisandre bore no flaming tattoo across her face. So, she may not be a slave, but she's still a servant.
She'd talked with the red woman sparingly. Their few conversations usually turned toward dragons and the blood of Old Valyria. Daenerys did ask her once how she managed the cold in nothing but a silken dress. The cold bothers me less than most that have lived in the heat of the south, and I wouldn't think of wearing so little against the cold. Melisandre smiled at her enigmatically and told her: "The fires of the One True God provide me with all the warmth I need."
By the time the pair reached the gateway that led from Newport to the mines, they were both panting from the jog. They received a number of odd looks as they passed through. The area on the other end of the gate was empty when they arrived save for the self-sustained carts that carried off the ore from further into the mine to the west. In the distance, the faint sound of pick-axes meeting stone could be heard.
"Come on." Arya told her for the second time that day. She followed in the opposite direction of the ongoing mining. They came to an old shaft that led off even further east on the lowest level of the older section of the mine. "Dalla was the one who told me about this place. She said they stopped digging in this area after they had a cave-in."
Arya placed Nymeria on the ground then and picked up a torch that was left sitting against a rock. She's clearly been here before. Both Daenerys and the direwolf pup followed the young Stark into the dark shaft.
It was a long walk into the darkness. As they drew closer to their destination, the air grew pleasantly warm and moisture beaded on her brow from the humidity. Finally, they heard the sound of bubbling water. "We're here." There were four pools of hot water three connected and one that sat apart. There was a faint light emanating from each one. The light only just crept to the edges of the cave, leaving the walls largely in shadow.
"Ygritte told me that there's another cavern similar to this not far from the Wall. Free Folk legends say that they're the same caves that Gendel and Gorne used to attack the North three thousand years ago." Daenerys knew that Arya admired the feisty older girl. "Supposedly, when Gendel retreated back to the tunnels, they couldn't find their way back out and their descendants still live there in the dark, always hungry."
"Lovely," Daenerys replied pithily.
To all appearances this was just a singular cave, solitary and peaceful. Certainly not the home of some starving mole-people. "It seems a nice place to come if you want to be alone." Daenerys commented.
Arya had already moved to the edge of one of the pools and begun removing her furs. "It is." She looked at her a bit shy then. "The water helped sooth some of the bruises from the yard. And it was a quiet place to come when I was missing my family."
Not entirely expecting that admission, Daenerys pressed a reassuring hand to Arya's shoulder, "Thank you for bringing me then."
Arya just nodded at her, as she freed herself of the last of her clothing. Growing up in the Free Cities away from the influence of the Faith of the Seven, Daenerys had none of the prudishness that some Westerosi developed. Though not Arya, but then the Starks worship the old gods, not to mention her time with the free folk.
A soft hiss pulled Daenerys attention back to Arya, "Careful, it really is hot." Nymeria yipped protectively at her new friend's discomfort causing both girls to laugh. Arya finally managed to ease herself down into the waters and gave a satisfied hum.
Divested of her clothes, Daenerys dipped her toe into the water and found it pleasantly hot. Not the scalding that I adore though. Arya glanced in her direction as she broke the water. She looked surprised. "Doesn't it bother you?"
"I'm a dragon." Daenerys told her. "Fire can't hurt a dragon. What would make you think some hot water could?"
"Stupid," Arya muttered, though in amusement. Daenerys only laughed in response and splashed a bit of water at the girl. Arya huffed in protest but splashed back quickly. The two just acted like a pair of children for a time with Nymeria at the edge of the pool snapping at any bits of water that came her way.
As they settled down in the pool, Daenerys absently stroked the fur of the little she-wolf as Arya scratched her chin. Nymeria leaned into her master's touch more than Daenerys' though. "She loves you already."
Arya gave a small smile. "Briar says that we have a bond… of some sort. I don't really understand what it means yet… but she said I will with time. It's the same for Jon with Ghost she said. Harry is going to talk with my father about the other pups… They think they might be bonded to my siblings." A small well of jealousy came to Dany's heart then but she stamped it down. It isn't Arya's fault that she has a gift any more than its Harry's or Trystan's or Emer's.
Something caught Nymeria's attention at the far wall of the cave and she pranced off to investigate it. Arya tried to call her back but to no avail. "Stubborn," she muttered irritably under her breath as the faint sound of small claws scratching at the wall reached them.
But Daenerys heard her anyway. "That explains the bond then." That earned her a glare, even if Arya knew she was right.
They fell into a companionable silence for a time, each of them just enjoying the soothing warmth of the hot spring's waters. The only sound was the interment pops of bubbling water and the slightest scratching of a small wolf.
The tranquility of the moment fell apart when a large portion of the wall behind them suddenly broke apart, filling the area with a thick clod of dust and causing both girls to begin coughing hard. After several tense moments, the collapsing cave wall finally stilled. While that was happening, Nymeria had come rushing back to the girls,cowering behind them. The little direwolf was covered in a thick layer of dirt, dust, and debris from the whole ordeal. Arya leapt out of the water and picked up the pup, making sure she was okay. Seeing no injury, Arya put her down and found a towel that she'd clearly left there from one of her previous visits.
As the dust settled, the young Stark brought the torch over to the far wall and found a hole that revealed a new expanse of cave. This cave must have become isolated in the cave-in… or maybe from one long before that.
Arya was already getting herself dried and dressed. She had that excited gleam in her eye, sensing a bit of an adventure approaching. "Let's see where it leads!"
Daenerys moved slower, unsure. "Maybe we shouldn't. There could be anything further in."
"I thought you were a dragon," Arya teased. Daenerys scowled and finished dressing. Arya knew exactly what she needed to say to goad her. By the time Dany finished dressing, Arya had already widened the hole more than enough that the two of them could get through.
The new exit opened up to a larger cavern where there were many bubbling pools. Dany counted fifteen in total. The pair cautiously made their way out into what proved to be a large cave system. Nymeria almost blended into the shadows as she sniffed around a pile of rocks further into the new space. She rejoined them in the torchlight as they left the soft light of the springs.
The cave went down after a few hundred yards and then back up. They were surrounded by craggy stalagmites all around them and stalagmites overhead. As they began to ascend, they could see the faint light of day at what appeared to be the mouth of the cave. "Looks like we found another way out."
Nymeria ran out in front of them as they neared the mouth of the cave. There was a small herd of sea lions barking loudly. The pup tried to respond in kind but didn't have the voice for it yet.
They were careful not to get too close, and were paid little mind by the sea lions as they came to stand at the coast. Dany turned to look back into the cavern as she quietly spoke her thoughts. "That shaft was the furthest east of the whole mine. Clearly, it put it right near the coast."
Arya didn't respond. She was out at the edge of the water looking up. Dany quickly moved over to her and looked upwards as well to see what had caught the younger girl's attention. Above them was a sheer cliff face. "Oh, I can see why no one has noticed this before."
"I was hoping we would find something more exciting than just a cave entrance and some sea lions." Arya mused, ignoring her.
"Like what? Cave-dwelling cannibals who haven't seen the light of day in generations and would happily eat the marrow from your bones?"
Arya looked as though she'd swallowed unpleasant medicine. "Point taken." Looking out to the Shivering Sea, there were hints of orange and red from the late day sun.
"We should get back." Daenerys said, and Arya agreed easily. With what they all knew of the Others, no one wanted to be caught in the dark of night with nothing between them.
They traveled back through the cave toward the mine. When they reached the larger cavern, Nymeria went and found that same pile of rocks she'd been digging at. Arya was beginning to lose patience. "Nymeria, come here!" She commanded stamping her foot at her pup.
As Arya continued toward the exit to the new-found cavern, the torchlight reflected off that pile of rocks and there was a brief glint of silver. "Wait!" Dany took the torch from Arya abruptly. Moving to kneel by the wolf, she held the torch aloft and peered at what the wolf had found.
There was a small depression in the stone of the cave, the edges dark as if scorched by fire. Within this small hollow were what appeared to be several rounded stones. Five there were, about the size of a melon, with grooves and raised plates along their sides... like scales. They were covered with the dust and rubble of who knew how many years since this cavern had been sealed off. Arya appeared and took the torch as Dany wiped it away. The silver that caught her eye came from one the color of a clear day sky. Beside it was one of pure black that seemed to almost take in the light. The third was burnt orange with veins of deep red. The fourth was white with swirls of gold and green. And the last looked like tarnished brass.
She took the silver and blue one in her hands and ran her thumb across its surface. Eyes wide, she just barely managed to whisper out two words that echoed off the walls of the cavern with all the awe, wonder, and surprise she felt. "…Dragon…eggs."
AN: I'm not going to promise that you'll see weekly updates, but I am going to put consistent work into my writing again.
Until next time.