AN: I doubt anyone was expecting a new chapter this soon, but here it is anyways. Please nobody put the release of my last three chapters on a graph. It would be an exponential decay and I would probably need to post the next chapter in thirty minutes... and that isn't happening haha.
Happy reading everyone.
"They cannot catch you?" Harry and Dagon stood near the docks. The waters of the Shivering Sea batted against the side of Dagon's ship, The Northern Knife.
"It cuts through water easier than one of your blades cuts through flesh," he'd heard Dagon boast to Torwynd in the Hall one night. It was one of the southern and Essosi practices that had been happily adopted by the Norfolk captains. All captains come to love their ships.
It was past midday now. The clouds darkened the sky, and it only grew darker as the sun behind drew closer to the horizon. Harry meant to speak to Dagon sooner, but other matters delayed him every time he tried to make his way to the captain.
"They can't," Dagon agreed. There'd been a problem of late. Seemingly, their ships were being followed. Once, they went as far as Skane. Every captain experienced it at least once, but the pursuing ships could not keep the pace. "But that's only in a straight line. If they catch us unawares, flank us. Who knows what will happen. We try not to be predictable, but…"
Harry nodded. "Has it been the same ship?"
"Not every time but I have seen the same ship more than once. It started before we stopped trading after… the poisoning. Didn't think much of it, but it's persisted."
"Who do you think it is?"
"Pirates, Slavers," he said the word with great disdain. "Once near the Stepstones coming back from Oldtown, I thought it was one of the Ironborn reavers."
"I'm not sure what I can do to help. I can't be on every ship, much less know when this will become a real issue." He understood the concern but there was nothing he could do to solve this problem.
"I don't expect you to. We solved plenty of our own problems before you came," he smirked. "Though they tend to be of a completely different sort these days."
"As I've been told," he said good-naturedly.
"We captains have decided fewer ships will depart at a time. The crew sizes can double. They won't be needed for the sailing of the ship, you know that. But if it comes to a fight, we'll need more people." Dagon thought for a moment. "There is something else that we're considering as well. It would send a message. That's why I thought you should know, you've enough enemies as it is, and this could add to them."
"Well, thank you. I doprefer forewarning if we're going to have new enemies." They laughed. But Dagon stopped abruptly when something behind Harry caught his eye. He turned only to see Osha running through the lane between two storehouses looking frantic.
"Harry! You 'ave to come now!" she grabbed at his arm, pulling him away from the docks.
"What's going on?"
"Karsi sent me t' get you."she said between deep breaths. "It was a trap. The ice-river clans, they're no more'n thrall for the Others now. I don't know any more'n that." Harry's face fell. We prepared for that.
Dagon looked at him wide-eyed, "That does sound like the sort of problem you might be needed to fix."
Osha's news sent him straight into action. He disapparated on the spot, Osha still gripping him tightly, and they appeared on the banks the ice-river clans once called home. "Take me to Karsi." Severely disoriented, she took a moment to compose herself before setting off.
They ran, the cold air burning their lungs as they went. But neither willing to stop until they reached their destination. It must have been half an hour, but in the panic it felt quicker. They came to the crest of one of the Frostfangs' foothills where Karsi and the hunting party waited, looking nervously toward something in the valley. He could guess what it was.
At the base of the next hill to the west, just before the earth climbed ever upward to the heights of the Frostfangs, there was a great mass of the dead. They all formed a half circle around the entrance of a cave though none drew within fifty feet of the mouth itself. He saw no ice spiders, nor any of the Others though it was hard to tell from that distance.
Karsi looked relieved when she saw him, "Thank the gods, you're here. I've no fuckin' idea what to do."
"Who's in the cave?"
"Leathers, Myrtle, Jon, Hallim, Pate, Freyna, Chells, Robin, Erik, and Qorl." Karsi was one of the best of their leaders, she always knew who went where, and made sure they came back alive if it was within her power. "But we're only forty, we must be outnumbered forty to one."
"At least," Harry agreed, though his blitheness didn't please her. "Why have they not used their portkey?"
"Fuck if I know," she sounded as frustrated as he felt. "Taken from them, lost in the cave, or maybe it jus' isn't working. I've no idea if they were chased t' that cave or trapped inside when they were coming out. What I do know is that we need t' get them out."
"Of course, we do, and we need to do it quickly." It would be hard. They were massively outnumbered, but they couldn't wait for reinforcements if the Others were bringing their own. Seems I'm the reinforcements.
"What're you thinkin'?" Karsi questioned. He looked across the valley, one more time.
"There must be a reason they won't go any closer." It made some sense, but Karsi seemed to think differently.
"Or it's as much a trap for us as it was for them."
"Then they'll be under attack as soon as we make our move. They'll have to fight same as we will." She conceded the point. "But it looks to me as if theycan'tgo any closer, not that they won't."
"You think whatever is keeping them out is keeping our people in?" Osha asked.
"I do but it makes only one difference. If their portkey is gone, we need to fight so that they can reach us. If it is being stopped by the same thing that appears to be stopping the thrall, they just need to get far enough away from the cave."
"That's quite a big difference."
He nodded. "Either way, we're going to need to start with a distraction and then we're going to have to be right in the middle. You can form a tight circular shield wall in the middle. It should stop you from being flanked."
"No," Karsi was irritated, "We can just be swarmed."
"I'll be in the middle, that won't be possible. Do you have a better idea?"
"Could you not deal with them all from a distance?" she was afraid, and rightfully so. But Harry didn't believe that he alone would be enough to solve this problem.
"Maybe, they would come after me."
"How many? A hundred at a time? Could you not destroy them as they came?" Karsi questioned, "And then when their numbers are thinned…"
"It's worth a try," Toregg finally spoke up. "Puts us all at less risk if it works." Well, everyone except me, but I've never been one for leading from the back. Still, I don't think it will be that easy.
"No time like the present," he straightened and left without a word. His apparition took him fifty yards from the northern side of the gathered dead. The Elder Wand leapt to his hand, a dim blue light already emanating from the tip. Brandishing it forward, fire poured out in a torrent toward the dead.
The heat around him started melting the snow just in front of him. It was great enough that steam started filling the air.
The flame engulfed twenty of the dead men in a second. It set their furs and flesh alight. It all blackened and burned as they fell to the ground and their true deaths. Even as some of their number fell before them, the dead did not turn. They seemed entirely unperturbed by this change. Another ten succumbed to the fire before Harry understood their apathy. From beneath the snow and slush at his feet, hands gripped for him pulling and tearing at his furs but finding no luck against the basilisk hide onto which it'd been stitched.
Still, their interruption caused the fires to cease. There were three pale riders sat atop decaying horses, only then did they turn toward him. But Harry paid them no mind, as around him bodies rose from the snow. He severed the hands attached to his clothing and apparated away. This time to the southern side of the dead.
The ground beneath Harry solidified in a ring extending out thirty feet with him at its center. But even as that ring formed, there were already dead rising at its edge. But as the corpses made to cross it, the ring's edge went ablaze catching several of the dead. Harry felt like he was back in the cave in his sixth year.
Again, flame erupted from the tip of his wand. And yet more of the dead were caught in the inferno he created. Ten, twenty, thirty, but the thrall of the Others were not inferi. They did not cower away from the fire, instead they threw themselves at it driven by the malevolent will of their creators. Charred corpses passed through and created a defense for the one behind, giving it safe passage through the fire. Or at least safe enough that they did not burn to their second death.
Instead, just their furs caught, and Harry found himself charged by the dead. Only one in five passed through but their onslaught was relentless, without fear or fatigue. And so, by their sheer will he was forced to retreat again.
With a pop he reappeared on the foothill. "It appears that there are more of them beneath the snow." He told the Norfolk casually.
Toregg snorted out a laugh. "We saw." Half of them were just staring at him. Even after years together in the city, many who joined the Norfolk cities later hadn't seen him perform combat magic of any kind.
Harry frowned. "Not a bad idea, but they clearly had plans of their own." It was only getting darker, and the snow was coming down more steadily. It was bordering on the edge of a snowstorm now. And there's no way of knowing if it's natural or if the Others are coming with more.
Karsi noticed it too, "We go with your plan."
"As soon as they're safe, we leave." Harry instructed.
A new portkey was made from a length of rope. It would take all forty of the hunting party into the center of the dead after Harry made his own entrance. Once the attention of the horde was on them, it should give their trapped comrades time and opportunity to join them or make their escape.
Another pop, and another apparition, but this time he found himself in the middle of the dead. They were all around him, close enough that they could have grabbed him, but they didn't react quickly enough. They were thrown away, toppling into one another, in a blink from when he arrived. Seems I finally surprised them. All those bright blue eyes snapped to him as one, even as the ground beneath the area he cleared solidified to stone. I won't risk that there are even more beneath them
All of this happened in just seconds. As it needed to, he'd made a timed portkey for the others, and after its activation he was surrounded by a circular shield wall. Fire erupted in front of them.
There was stillness, brief and palpable. The pale riders screamed, and the dead moved as one. They charged toward the fire and blades with great speed and reckless abandon. Whatever fear the Norfolk felt, they held firm.
From over the top of the shield wall, ten dragon glass spheres were heaved out into the throng of bodies. They traveled a good thirty feet away and exploded. The dead nearest the fire were instantly destroyed, their bodies torn apart from the force, the fire that followed caught even more in its wake.
The stone beneath Harry raised high enough that he could see over the shield wall. All around, the surface of the snow was being broken as even more dead filled the valley. Hundreds more, at least. They could have attacked the hunters at any time, before they even entered that cave. What was it Mance said? "What they really wanted was you." Looks to me like he was right. Harry noticed that no dead rose within the ring that had been formed near the cave.
His analysis of the situation ended abruptly as an ice spear sped toward his head at incredible speed. He shifted to avoid it, but it was close enough that he felt the rush of air as it passed. The spear sailed along toward the cave's entrance where it shattered like glass against some invisible barrier. Another spear shot through the air, this time lower. It passed through the fire unimpeded and slammed into Jarl's shield. It splintered, throwing wooden fragments into the air. Jarl screamed as there was an audible snap, his left arm now mangled and shattered. He fell, unmoving against the raised pillar. Harry expected a third spear, but it never came.
Instead, the dead tried to press that small advantage. They pushed toward the breach in the shield wall, but the gap closed almost as quickly as it formed. Three of the dead made it through the breach. A woman missing its left arm slashed at Karsi's back, but Toregg turned and cut it down, the flames that caught it as it came through the wall did the rest. Osha wasn't as lucky, a child that came through bit deep into her calf. She screamed but didn't let it deter her. Her spear found the thrall's head and went straight through, fire enveloped it. A flick of his wrist and the last of the dead that breached fell.
What they were doing was working. The focus of the dead was entirely upon Harry and those with him, not on the cave or those trapped inside. The bodies were beginning to pile up around the edge of their shield wall. High enough that some of the dead were trying to throw themselves over the top. Harry put a stop to that, banishing the piled thrall away with great enough force it knocked over many of the oncoming attackers.
It was then that Harry saw Leathers and Jon and the others sprinting away from the cave, weapons in hand, dragonglass spheres ready to be tossed into the fray. I don't need you to fight! I need you to leave! He hoped they would try the portkeys they already had again but he wasn't that lucky.
They were halfway to joining the battle when Harry apparated to them. They came up short in front of him. "Leave!"
"We…" Hallim started.
"The portkeys aren't working." Leathers insisted.
"Try them again!" Leathers immediately followed his command, reaching toward his neck. They would be gone in seconds, so Harry paid it no mind, instead meaning to return his focus to the battle being waged. He didn't get the chance. He felt it coming before it arrived and moved to the side, he retained his footing but only just. He just hoped that those behind him would already be gone.
Of course, it couldn't be that simple. Half of them were gone, Myrtle, Hallim, Pate, Qorl, and Jon remained. All five of them had been knocked to the snow by the charging horse of one of the riders. It was trying to trample them. The other horsemen were coming, he could sense it. And he imagined that the thrall would be following close behind.
Pate died to a sword of crystal-clear ice shoved through the back of his skull from the horseman above. Harry reacted, a spike of ice rose from the ground and impaled the horse, followed by a flame that consumed and killed it. What he did next came on old instinct. He sent a banishing charm at the rider. He was astonished when it went flying only to land heavily in the snow. These are not the common thrall of the Others, but they aren't truly one of them either.
But there was no reprieve, the other horsemen arrived in that moment. They slashed at them with icy swords. Harry apparated behind them, his comrades weren't so fortunate. Jon deflected the blow aimed for him, but Myrtle lost her arm up to the elbow from the attack. A spear erupted from Qorl's chest from behind, he dropped dead as the third of the riders charged back toward them.
The Elder Wand was at Harry's throat, and when he spoke his voice rang out all through the valley, "Retreat!" The rest of the hunting party still faced a few of the thrall, but they were no longer the focus of the battle. That was Harry alone.
He watched as the others disappeared from their spot, one by one and sometimes all at the same time. Only a few more and they're all safe. The thrall sped toward them; their numbers significantly thinned from when they started. A scream from behind pulled Harry's attention away from the advancing dead. There was an icy blade shoved through Jon's left hand. Fighting through that pain, Jon swung his dragonsteel sword and met no resistance. His enemy died in a shower of shattering ice. His blade disappearing along with him.
Jon ignored the pain. He didn't have the time to worry about it. He intercepted another of the pale riders as it tried to make its way toward him. Hallim fought the other, doing his best to protect both himself and Myrtle, though whatever strength he had was failing him. He had his own wound at the shoulder. There was no blood though, the frozen weapons enough to seal the wounds.
More flames erupted between the dead and those fighting nearer the cave. Harry cared little about them at this point, he just needed enough time to get the rest of them out of there. Around him, three conjured bears came from the snow and began attacking the last two pale riders, giving both Jon and Hallim a reprieve. It was enough for Harry to summon the three surviving hunters to him.
The conjurations didn't last though. They barely gave Harry an opportunity. His magic fell apart at the touch of their blades no differently than common steel. Harry gripped Myrtle tightly, and commanded the other two. "Hold tightly!" Jon's good hand wrapped firmly around his elbow, Hallim did the same to his other side.
With a thud, a spear pierced the basilisk hide that covered Harry's leg. It struggled to do it, but four inches of the blade lodged deep in the flesh and muscle of his left thigh. The pain was excruciating, the cold of it burned like frostbite. A grunt of pain was the only sign that he paid his new injury any mind though. With a pop, they disappeared from the spot.
Unfortunately, an unwanted traveler came along as well, its contact with Harry allowing it to pass through the wards. The group of five landed hard upon the ground near the watchtower.
Jon and Myrtle both retched, terribly disoriented. It was the first time that any of them apparated. Even Harry's tenacious foe took a moment to reorient itself, but it didn't last nearly long enough.
His enemy grabbed the spear in his thigh, trying to drive it in even deeper. In that same moment, Hallim pulled against Harry's arm, knocking the Elder Wand from his hand. His blue-eyed assailant shifted its focus immediately, grabbing the wand where it dropped.
Wandlessly, Harry pushed at the horrible thrall. It shot backward with great force into the wall of the watchtower just five yards behind before slumping to the ground. With a pained grunt, Harry pulled the spear from his leg. He tried to summon his wand back, but with inhuman strength, the thrall managed to keep its hold on it. With that failure, he drew his sword and pursued.
Dragonsteel met ice with a loud clang. Behind them, there was a shuffling as Jon rose, sword in hand trying to come to Harry's aid. It was for naught though. The warrior in front of them showed no fear, but did look desperate. With an unearthly, shrill crack, the Elder Wand snapped between white fingers. It didn't even have the time to show any satisfaction at its act before Harry's blade pierced through its chest. It died just as its brethren did on the battlefield earlier.
From the remains of his fallen foe, Harry pulled the remnants of the Elder Wand. He didn't know what to feel in that moment, looking down at his wand, the wand of his headmaster, and all the others that came before them for more than a thousand years. I'll have to make a new one.
The adrenaline of battle seeped from his body. His leg throbbed painfully as he started limping. Another scar for the collection. Jon and Harry helped Hallim and Myrtle up, and they all headed to the watchtower and took the gate back to First Forge. Each of them was worse for wear, but at least alive.
Harry felt a sense of relief as they arrived back home, injured and bruised, Val, Tormund and half a dozen others waited for them. Gilly stood there ready with healing salves. Ygritte and Arya both hurried toward Jon while Karsi, her hair sweat soaked despite the cold, approached him. "We lost four, in the end. Jarl didn't make it." So, four from her group, and two from Leathers'. We lost four to save eight in the end.
Val looked relieved at his appearance, but it was quickly replaced with irritation. Tormund slapped his hand down hard on Harry's shoulder, "You should'a taken more people with you."
"There wasn't time."
Val snorted derisively. "You had time to plan better than you did."
He rubbed at his shoulder, confident that would be another bruise, "Maybe, but I couldn't know that." They both looked like they were ready to continue the conversation but stopped. His exhaustion was enough to convince them to let it go.
"Let's get you healed," she shook her head at him. "Or at least try."
Harry winced as Val applied the healing salve to his thigh. The skin no longer looked frostbitten and was largely healed, but there was a thin scar that wouldn't ever go away. She wasn't gentle about it, still irritated with him for running off without telling anyone. Or planning. Even after all these years, I can't seem to stop my 'saving people thing'. He did try, and sometimes even succeeded but he wasn't going to leave those hunters in danger.
He grabbed her hand before she could pull away, "Thank you, love." She tried to maintain her stony expression, but there was a smile pulling at the edge of her lips. That only caused him to smile widely.
Val shook her head, amused. "You're welcome. And you're lucky I love you."
"I know," he pecked her on the lips. Their attention was pulled to their waddling toddler as Lily came to them with a happy giggle.
Val picked her up, but turned to him. "What will you do today?"
He sighed. "I'm going into the Haunted Forest to find one of the weirwood trees." In the city, he had access to ironwood, ash, fir, chestnut, and pine. But they didn't harvest the timber of weirwoods, so he would need to retrieve it. There were others that he would like to trade for that could potentially be used: willow, yew, spruce. The biggest problem was that not any old twig could become a wand. And there are no bowtruckles hiding in the trees to tell me if they are quality enough for wand wood.
He suspected that the magical quality of weirwood should make it a more suitable material for a new wand, "I need some of the wood. I expect to spend much of the day experimenting." Val hummed. It wasn't widely known that his wand was destroyed. And even fewer knew that he still had another. Even if my old holly wand isn't as effective as it used to be, it still works a treat in a tight spot. Years of disuse and personal changes made it less of a fit for him than it was as a child, and he meant to rectify it.
"I'm going to spend some time in the yard. I have some frustration I need to work off." She smiled cheekily at him. "Then I need to go see Dalla. She wanted to talk."
"Give her my best." With that he stood and gave both Lily and Val a kiss on the cheek, "I'll see you later, love."
It was around midday, the sky calm and clear. There had been a silence around the city for the past two days. Everyone acutely aware of the fact the Others made another overt move against them. Hunters were more cautious than ever, even in the bright light of day when they usually felt safer.
Harry passed the home that Jon used. He hesitated as Ygritte exited looking disheveled and… pleased. She came up short when she saw him, though the smile on her face stayed in place. "Mornin'"
"Afternoon," Harry corrected her. She looked up to the sky, seemingly surprised. "Long morning?"
"And night," Ygritte added.
"Finally got tired of Jon's hesitance then?"
Harry had a hard time keeping a straight face. He did appreciate the young woman's bluntness. "He took the initiative then."
"He did," she told him, clearly pleased.
Harry laughed at that as the door opened again. Jon joined them on the street, looking between the two of them. "Harry," he greeted, absently flexing his left hand.
"Jon," he greeted the younger man, who blushed slightly at Harry's appraisal. He spared Jon any teasing though, quite sure he would get plenty of it from others at some point. "You both have a great day, or at least what's left of it." Well, I mostly didn't tease at least.
Ygritte was entirely undeterred by it though. "Still plenty o' daylight left, Harry. I've heard you woke plenty late the day after you were stolen by Val."
"True," Harry smiled dreamily at the memory. With that, they parted ways. I suppose near death can spur a person into action. Or maybe Jon's blood was just up after battle. Whatever the case, Jon clearly didn't have the same objections that day that he had three days prior.
Harry walked through the Haunted Forest, surrounded by ironwoods, oaks, and chestnuts, wild white roses growing at the base of the latter. Tyl was his only companion, flying overhead. He'd considered flying himself but the weirwoods were harder to see from above in the great expanses of massive trees.
Shortly, he came to a group of weirwoods, there were three crows among their branches looking down on him intently. There were four weirwoods and he took great care in retrieving a bough from each of them. As he touched the last, he saw the briefest glimpse of a place he hadn't visited in years. It appears Brynden would like a word. He tied and shrunk the wood with his holly wand before pocketed it
Harry looked around the forest, and hesitated. Val was already frustrated enough with him for running off without a word once in the last week. This should be quicker though and safer. His goal that day was to acquire weirwood samples, it wouldn't hurt to retrieve one more. And I know where I can get one more, might as well stop for a little chat as well.
With a pop he found himself standing on clean snow and hastened toward the great weirwood. He entered the cave and found one of the Children waiting for him.
Leaf stood there, expecting him. "He's waiting for you." She walked by his side as he made his way down into the massive cave system.
"Last time I was here, you said there were some sixty of your people still within this hill… yet you're the only one I've met. Do I scare the others?"
"No, but I'm the only one who can speak to you." At his questioning gaze, she explained, "I am the youngest of those who remain, and I alone walked the world of men."
"You did?" Harry asked, surprised. "South of the wall people think of you as nothing more than legends lost to time."
"Even if I was seen, none would have thought me as anything more than a small animal." She explained, "I spent over a hundred years watching, listening and learning."
"And what did you learn?"
"How to speak the common tongue for one." She smiled up at him, "But more than that I learned that men... they are the children."
"Sorry?" They reached Bloodraven's cavern and stood on the far side of the bridge that led to him.
"They lost so much totime. Things both great and small. And for all their books and scrolls, they seem to learn nothing from their own history. So, they stumble through existence blindly, like small children." Leaf explained dispassionately.
"We do our best," Harry said simply.
"Some do. You certainly try to." Harry couldn't tell if that was a backhanded compliment or not. She turned and looked to the last greenseer, "You should speak to him."
Harry turned and made his way across the bridge, Brynden's one red eye found him. "It's been years, hasn't it? And so much has changed."
"What's changed?" Harry asked. He still remembered full well the warnings he'd been given years before. The grey rat, the dragons from the east, the snakes from the south, the stag and the wolf. All of it had implications for Harry and his allies. But it doesn't do to dwell on prophecies and visions. It can be enough to drive anyone mad.
"Everything." Brynden responded, unhelpfully. "You are an instrument of change, in matters both great and small. I told you once that I could see things that might be." Harry remembered. "And since you've come, whole new threads have come into being and many more disappeared altogether."
"For the better, I hope."
"Perhaps… One in particular, I didn't expect," Brynden admitted, and he seemed perturbed.
"Are you going to tell me what it was?" Harry asked, curious. Even if he tells me, it'll probably be another riddle.
Brynden regarded him for a moment, and gave a barely perceptible shake of his head. "It doesn't matter now. It won't ever be, and I won't fret it when there is nothing to be done to change it."
"As far as you can see," Harry retorted. "Which I think you and I can both agree isn't infallible."
"No, not where you're involved."
"So, I take it you didn't bring me here for another warning then." Harry prompted, now truly confused as to what necessitated his presence, "It seems it'd be useless at this point."
"You have little regard for vision and prophecy?" It wasn't an accusation, but he sounded intrigued, "Even when at least some of what I told you came to pass."
"I've been the subject of prophecies in my life before. A Dark Lord murdered my parents because he thought I was the child of a prophecy that predicted his end. So, I know that they're dangerous." Harry conceded, "His fixation and fear of that prophecy led to his own death. So, I took heed of your warnings, but I certainly didn't live my life in fear of every word that came from your mouth."
"And a great deal changed because of it, or maybe not. Perhaps, things would have changed around you regardless."
"I've always had a habit of making trouble." Harry smiled.
"So, it would seem. I'd wager you've caused many people headaches in your years here." Brynden chuckled hollowly, the sound odd from years of disuse, "But you're only half right, I mean to warn you but not of things to come."
"The trap laid for you by the enemy."
That gained Harry's interest, "You knew of it? And you didn't think to warn me?"
Brynden scowled. "I don't see all that's happening in all places. As you said, I'm not infallible. And there are few ways that I might've warned you anyway, you spent a good deal of your time in the south recently." Harry nodded his acceptance of that explanation, "You're curious, I'm sure, how they managed to counter your magic?"
"Of course, I don't want it to happen again," he could understand his struggles in the Land of Always Winter. We were invaders in a foreign land, essentially their stronghold. It was like trying to assault Hogwarts only worse. But that did nothing to explain what exactly happened in the cave.
"The cave they lured your people to, that they forced the river clans to take refuge in, it was sealed millennia ago. It served as a tomb for some of the Children and one of their greenseers. Before that it was much like this, almost a place of worship to them, and their power lingered there. They perished in the war with the First Men." His red eye fixed on Harry, "The Others didn't stop your magic, the Children did. Just like here, only their magic holds sway in the deep places of the earth. Even your foreign magic cannot overcome it, it would seem."
"So, that's why they couldn't enter either." This would require caution in future. "But how did they know it would work?"
"They probably didn't." Brynden sounded quite certain of that, "But you've captured one of their own and that has surely infuriated them. You're an annoyance, a prick in their side, and I think they're willing to take a chance if it means killing you."
"It's been so long since I had a genocidal maniac fixated on killing me," He snorted out a laugh. "I almost forgot what it feels like."
"They will be relentless," Brynden warned.
"I'm aware, trust me. I have the scar to prove it." He scowled. "And a broken wand for it as well. But they would've been relentless regardless, I don't think they were planning on giving anyone winter flowers and singing songs."
The greenseer ignored his cheek, "I imagine when they realized they wouldn't kill you, they thought to deprive you of your weapon." Brynden narrowed his eyes. "You don't seem overly concerned with it."
Harry frowned, he was furious at having lost the Elder Wand but it wasn't something he could change, "I'm not completely without one and there's a reason I was seeking out weirwoods today." Harry looked at the roots around Brynden, "I would take a branch of this one as well, if you and the Children allow it."
"I see no problem with it."
There was silence between them. For a moment, the only sound came from the rushing water far below. Then, a question came to Harry's mind, "The creature that broke my wand. It wasn't one of the Others. It was too human, rode a horse not an ice spider, and it was affected by my magic. But it was far greater than the other dead."
"They aren't dead, but they are thrall." Brynden explained, "Humans corrupted at or near birth by the magic of the Others. You met the father of some of them years ago, when you first arrived here."
"They're Craster's sons?"
"Yes, some of them, children sacrificed to a cold god. Craster wasn't the only one north of the Wall who believed such things. You might consider them the lesser commanders on the battlefield, capable of directing the dead."
"I would've thought I was important enough to demand the presence of one of the Others."
"Or dangerous enough that they decided on caution."
Harry conceded the point. "I'll tell my people to be careful in the future. Especially where caves are involved. I won't let them trap us in the same situation again."
"Wise. Though I doubt that will be the last of their schemes."
"I have no doubt. But I won't be caught in the same trap twice." Harry departed then, glad for the information he received on this little excursion. It'd answered questions that had niggled at the back of his mind in the days since the battle. When he reached the top of the cave Leaf waited for him again. She held a branch of the weirwood tree out to him with her small, clawed hands.
"Decided to eavesdrop?"
"I listened," she corrected. "He wouldn't have kept anything said between you a secret anyway. It's easier to hear it all the first time."
"Next time, just stay. No need to hide."
"I'll consider it. But I'm used to hiding." He accepted the offered branch and walked away from the tree a good twenty yards before disappearing with a pop back to First Forge.
The sea foamed against the sides of the Northern Knife as it cut through the waves. Dagon and his crew were traveling back north from Sunspear and Oldtown before that. The latter was the only city where they made port that he disliked, at least some of the time.
Every Norfolk that stepped foot in the oldest city in Westeros suffered the preaching of overzealous septons and septas about their blasphemy. Most left them alone, but it seemed every time they arrived in Oldtown at least one of the white-robed bastards would recite the Seven-Pointed Star at them or tell the crowd to 'Beware the heathens.' It gave him a headache and made him want to drink. And the readily available Arbor Gold only made the headaches worse.
And then there were the acolytes of the Citadel. Some were interesting enough, but others thought far too highly of themselves because they were making a chain around their necks. The bad sort are the ones that think they know something about life because they've read about it in a book. Dagon could only chuckle in memory of how Gareth used to be the same.
Sunspear was easier. No one cared one wit whether he and his sailors worshipped the gods of the forest or the seven who were one. They only cared about their goods.
They were west of Bloodstone, nearly past the whole of the Stepstones. Sailors shared tales more readily than any other men he'd met and he'd heard more than one about the island to their east.
It served as the seat of a king, or a would-be king anyway. Daemon Targaryen, the Rogue Prince, made a home there when he declared himself the King of the Stepstone and the Narrow Seas. He, along with Corlys Velaryon, conquered all but two of the islands of the Stepstones. But it didn't last. The Triarchy of Lys, Myr, and Tyrosh launched a counterattack led by Racallio Ryndoon. They say Daemon didn't have the patience for defending, much less ruling, his meager holdings.
Racallio was a foul-mouthed, gluttonous drunkard beloved by his men, so beloved that they made him king for a couple years. A pirate-king who people still read poems of and sing songs about over a century later. Kings have gotten less.
But Dagon had more pressing matters to concern himself with than the stories of Bloodstone he'd heard in the ports and taverns of Westeros.
"They're still following," Marra told him. She was a younger girl, no more than four and ten with braided dark hair and small pale green eyes, thin lips, and a crooked nose. There was a scar on her freckled cheek from a brawl with her brothers when she was five. She'd only been on his ship for six months, the callouses on her hand not yet fully developed for sailing. She was a tenacious thing more than a head shorter than him.
"Good." The ship behind started following around the Grey Gallows. It was a galley with blue sails. A new one.
But it didn't change the plan. Normally the pursuing ship would be unable to keep pace with them. They would try fruitlessly, turning round within minutes of the pursuit. But this time was different, they were letting them stay just close enough. They wanted to be followed this time. And they wanted them to think that they could be caught. A storm hit the open waters south of Dorne three days prior. They must think we're hobbled by some damage.
For hours, the ship pursued them along the eastern coast of Westeros. And with each passing hour they let that ship get closer. Good, they're persistent.
They neared the southern side of the island of Tarth, passing a well-hidden alcove within the rocks. Waiting within was another of the Norfolk vessels The Free Daughter. It'd been one of the first ships built by Harry and the shipwrights. The bow of the ship had been reinforced though. Instead of just wood, it was now wrapped in steel and looked intimidating beneath its owl figurehead. They'd never had need of such a thing before. Time to see it work.
"Increase speed. Turn to port." The crew moved to action. And within moments they were pulling away from the other vessel. This movement broke the line of sight between the two ships.
Captained by a man named Krim, the crew atop The Free Daughter moved to action. Their anchor pulled and their sails unfurled within moments. But they didn't move just yet.
"Hard to starboard and come about." The crew moved to his command. But as they came about, they slowed again waiting for the other ship to come into view again.
The wait was brief. It was at that moment The Free Daughter moved, getting up to ramming speed in seconds. The pursuing ship tried to turn but it was much too late. The crash of the two ships reverberated along the sea, and all around the alcove where it happened. It left the enemy vessel quaking, its port hull damaged beyond repair, and the crew of the ship thrown about on its deck. They were taking on water, but they didn't intend just to sink the ship.
The Northern Knife came along the starboard side, "Ropes." They threw grappling hooks that dug deep into the wood of the other vessel. From the hold more men and women than ever would have been needed to sail one of their ships revealed themselves. They'd taken half the amount of goods that they normally would to make room for the extra fighters.
None of his sailors were pirates, and while most had some experience fighting in their old life many were out of practice. So, Dagon brought as many good fighting men as he could, not to mention archers. Even if they aren't used to fighting on sea, it's better than nothing.
Arrows rained down onto the decks of the blue-sailed ship, pained groans and screams the only responses.
The other ship was pulled up by the ropes between both the Norfolk ships. "Planks!" With that they were charging on to the deck of the enemy vessel.
They alighted with steel drawn; cutlasses made for them by the blacksmiths in the last two weeks. He knew well enough from his time with other sailors to know that they were better suited to fighting on deck.
Chaos awaited them. The other crew was in disarray. They'd been so thrilled at the thought of claiming their prize they hadn't considered that it was all a trap.
Dagon parried a blow that came from his left. He didn't have to swing his own blade as Marra came from behind and cut the man in the back of the neck. He slashed his blade at another man to his right, it cut through tanned, wind-burnt skin. The man dropped dead, his blood staining the wood around him as it poured from his body.
The clangor of blades and screams rang along the deck, people on both sides fighting and dying in the skirmish. But the odds were always in their favor, and far more of their enemies died than did Norfolk. Dagon watched as one man jumped overboard, swimming toward the shore of Tarth as fast as he could manage. He wasn't the only one either.
The battle felt longer than it probably was, within minutes they overwhelmed their enemies. The fight left them, and they laid down their arms. Dagon turned to one of them. "Where's your captain?"
The man was tall, skin the shade of teak with black hair and black eyes. His clothing was thread-bare and stained. He spoke the common tongue with an accent Dagon didn't recognize, "Below." He'd never met a Summer Islander but, this damn met the description he'd heard.
Marra scoffed from behind him, "He hid and left you here to fight. Not much of a captain."
Another of the sailors spoke up. He looked odd, different than any man Dagon ever met. He was short and heavy, broad-chested, and broad-shouldered with a sloping brow, and small sunken eyes. What skin was visible was pale, but he could see little of it because of wiry hair. It thickly covered both his arms and chest and could be seen protruding from his pant legs as well, "Not our captain. Our master. Chrogar." This one was Ibbenese.
"We were cargo." A third man interjected, he looked Westerosi, with pale skin, blue eyes, and a scraggly, unkempt beard. He sounded like he was from the Stormlands. "He forced us up from the hold to fight, when he saw that you'd turned to attack. He's below with ten of his men."
"Some of us didn't. But some of us can't swim." The Islander pointed overboard where there were still men swimming to the shore. Three he could see were floundering for their lives. Seems they can't swim either and they still risked it.
"In the heat of battle, would you have known the difference?" the Westerosi asked. They wouldn't have, he knew. "When you killed the last of the captain's men, we laid down our arms."
Krim approached him then, "The door t' the hold is barred. Can't ge' through it so far."
"Well, keep trying. I want to have a word with this captain." It took about ten minutes, and in that time the situation on the deck was calm. The surrendered slaves, or at least would-be slaves, caused no trouble. Some even talking amiably with members of his crew.
But others looked anxious. "There are women and children still below." The Ibben informed Dagon.
A light rain started on the deck as the door gave way. They thundered down into the hold but came up short. Along the walls of the ship, women were chained and shackled unable to move more than a foot left or right.
The captain and his men stood in the middle of the room. Of the eleven men arrayed before them, one was quite clearly the captain. The man must have been Tyroshi, garishly dressed in bright red, with jewels and beads tied into his beard. "No closer!" His blade rested against the throat of a young woman. Her head was forced back by the grip on her dirty blonde hair and there were tears in her green eyes.
Each of his other ten men had blades drawn on another prisoner. One of them was a boy of no more than five.
It was enough to make Dagon's blood boil, but he controlled himself. Bastards. I'm going to gut every one of them before the day is over. The Free Folk could be monstrous in their time, Dagon knew it well. They raped and murdered and some of them did worse than that. But not all were bad people and Harry changed much of it. But at their worst, they had no tolerance for slavery.
"You will escort me and my men to the deck. We will take a boat to shore. You will not pursue." The Tyroshi made his demands confidently. Seemingly self-assured that this situation, despite how terrible it looked for him, was going to go his way.
"Will we?" Dagon asked. "I don't think you're in a position to make demands."
"We'll kill them!" the girl whimpered as he pulled harder on her hair.
He didn't want to see any of the women or children dead, but Chrogar didn't need to know that. "Go ahead, kill them. I'm not here for them." He stared him down. "I'm only here for you. You thought you were hunting us today, but we were hunting you."
"Clearly. But what do you want?"
"These past few months, I've grown tired of being pursued. All our captains have. So, I decided to send a message that we aren't going to tolerate it any longer." Dagon smiled, hoping to ease the tension of the situation. "I think we've managed that today. So, perhaps you can leave here with your life, if you tell me what I need to know."
"Excellent!" Chrogar took that news well, "What can I tell you?"
"Why chase us? What do you want?"
The Tyroshi laughed. "Your ships are faster than even the swan ships in a stiff wind. There isn't a slaver alive who wouldn't want one intact. No ship would be safe from us. And it might not have been just one ship, rumor has it the Undying of Qarth are claiming they could recreate your ships given time."
It seemed that when you got the man going, he didn't stop. He loved the sound of his own voice. "And supposedly, there are masters from Volantis to Qarth willing to pay good gold for one of you Norfolk as slaves. I don't see the appeal but…" Dagon could sense the rising anger of the men and women around him, "
Dagon frowned. "So, it's solely greed that has you pestering us."
"Much of what happens in the world is because of greed, my friend," Chrogar was relaxing, as were the men around him. "And hopeless as it seemed, the payoff made it worth trying. I doubt this message you're sending will be enough to stop it either."
"We'll see," Dagon said icily.
"Shall we be done with this then? I'm sure you wish to return home." Chrogar tried persuading him.
"I do. My people will escort you to a boat. But the slaves stay."
"If I leave with my life, I won't lament having lost my cargo or my ship." Some of his men looked less pleased with this decision but they accepted and laid down their arms. The blades of all the sailors moved from the women and children then, some weren't gentle. He could see a line of blood dripping from an older woman's throat.
"You should visit Tyrosh. I hear you Norfolk have never been there. It's a wonderful city." He continued blustering even as they were led through the ship. Dagon resisted the urge to shove his blade through his throat, "You might find me at one of the pleasure houses there, and we'll share a drink."
They came to the deck, a boat waiting to be dropped down into the sea for them. They would never set foot on it though. The men they'd taken as slaves waited for them, weapons in hand again. They died screaming, all Chrogar's charm and bluster did nothing to stop the blades that sunk deep into his chest and throat and face.
When it was done Dagon spoke, "Free the other slaves."
"What will we do with them?" Marra asked him.
"Take them to their homes if they want. If not, we'll see them off somewhere safe."
What took place next took time. They piled the bodies of the dead on the deck. At the helm and mast pole, two owl banners were hung so whoever happened upon the damaged vessel would know whose work it'd been. The damage to the hull was repaired well enough that it could sail.
They sailed south again then, and left the ship filled with the dead on the shores of Bloodstone. Dagon was confident that the wreckage would be found, and that word would spread. Sailors do love to tell stories.
The Wall was every bit as impressive as she imagined. Though not quite as high as the Hightower. Margaery had been within the seat of House Hightower a few times in her life while visiting her mother's family. While not quite as tall, the Wall was astonishing as it ran on for hundreds of miles to the east and west.
She stood at the top, looking out over the great expanse of the Haunted Forest below. Four guards were with her, one to either side and two behind her. They'd arrived at Castle Black earlier that very morning. And they didn't know when exactly they'd carry on further north. They knew there could be risks traveling beyond the Wall, and needed leave from the Lord Commander, which was why Willas had been in conversation with the man since their arrival.
The wind blew and bit deep, through fur and cloth, sending a shiver down her spine. How does anybody live in this place. It's summer and the cold is dreadful. Margaery turned away from the edge of the Wall, her guards following behind her and made her way back to the lift. The great lift lurched its way down to the ground.
There was training going on in the yard, Ser Alliser Thorne oversaw it. But she paid it little mind, instead walking toward the Commander's Tower. It was blessedly warmer within. The castle itself wasn't in disrepair as she'd expected. When they'd visited at Last Hearth, the boisterous Greatjon told them much of the North and even of the Watch. It'd been in decline for years, and while they weren't well garrisoned, and only three of the castles were in use, they were in good condition. That's only because of the Norfolk from what I've been told.
That intrigued her. Margaery's understanding was that the Night's Watch and wildlings had been enemies for thousands of years, but things had clearly changed.
She climbed the stairs of the tower toward the Commander's solar. Her guard opened the door for her. Jeor leaned over his table, looking at her brother intently. "I understand why you're skeptical. I was too. But you'll see for yourself soon enough." His eyes found her at the door, "Lady Margaery, we're just finishing up."
Willas looked contemplative but smiled when he looked to her, "Come Margaery, we'll be leaving for First Forge sooner than expected." She raised one curious eyebrow. There wasn't enough daylight for them to reach the northern city even if they galloped the whole way.
"My steward should have retrieved Benjen by now. He'll be waiting for you at the gates." Mormont dismissed them.
"What's going on?" Margaery asked as they descended the stairs.
"I'm not sure I know, Marg." He looked as confused as she felt. "But Mormont told me traveling, even by horse, from here to First Forge was far too dangerous for southerners unaccustomed to the lands beyond the Wall. I thought for sure he was going to refuse us leave to travel."
"If that's the case we could make our way to Eastwatch and find a ship."
"Apparently it won't be a problem."
They arrived at the gates to find them open. The gates guard the tunnel through the Wall, which was long, twisting and narrow. When they came to the first of three inner gates within the tunnel, they were met by Benjen Stark, he was gaunter than his brother and slightly taller. But she could easily see the resemblance.
"Come." He was succinct. They, along with all their guards, passed beneath a murder hole. Each of the other two inner gates had one of their own as well. Finally, they came to the outer door of the tunnel. Made of solid oak, it was about nine inches thick.
Once on the other side, Benjen stopped and held up a black disc. It had runes etched on its surface. It wasn't overly big, no more than ten inches in diameter, "Place your hands on this, might be a bit difficult. I doubt he made this one with this many people in mind." None of them were sure what he was talking about, but no one questioned him, each finding purchase on the disc.
"This'll be unpleasant, but you'll prefer it to spending hours on horseback in the cold." He did something on the disk that she didn't really follow before she felt a hook behind her navel that pulled. In the next moment they were no longer in the shadow of the Wall. He wasn't lying that was horribly unpleasant.
Both Tyrells and their guards looked around in wide-eyed astonishment. Hundreds of miles in just a moment. They were on the outskirts of what she would consider a good-sized town. Behind her were fields of crops. Of course, she was aware that they somehow cultivated crops in this frozen place. But seeing it was an entirely different thing. Already she could confirm certain things to her grandmother upon her return to Highgarden.
She wouldn't call the place they were walking into a city. It wasn't close in size to any in the south. But its streets are better made than most, and it's much cleaner. The homes were uniform and well built. Somewhere else in the city, there was the ting of blacksmithing that carried to them. It seems a busy place.
It was only as they reached a large building, a townhall of some sort that she realized how much more pleasant the weather seemed in the town. Benjen went inside and bid them wait for him. The Norfolk that passed them paid them little mind, the most they got was an interested glance. A tall man with red hair and a clean-kept beard, paid her more mind than any of the guards. But she was used to the attention of men, she was aware she was considered beautiful and used that fact when necessary.
When Benjen exited the building minutes later, he wasn't alone. A beautiful woman clad all in white with braided blonde hair accompanied him. If Margaery were to guess, she couldn't be older than her mid-twenties.
"More southerners, seems we can't go half a year without one of you showing up at our door lately." This woman had an air of authority about her, "Benjen tells me you're here to see Harry."
"We are." Margaery confirmed.
"I could've guessed that. He always seems to be what people are looking for." She looked both her and her brother up and down, stopping only briefly on Willas' leg, "You're in luck. He's here. Might as well take you now. Your guards can wait inside if they like because you won't need them." The guards looked defiant but calmed with a gesture from Margaery.
The other woman looked to Benjen, "Feel free to go and find your niece and nephews."
With that the First Ranger left them, and they followed in the wake of the woman. Willas spoke up politely, "What's your name, my lady?"
"Val." The now named woman sounded amused. "And no need to call me 'my lady.' I'm not yours, lad." Willas smiled at that as they came to a series of archways, but none of them led into any building. Instead, they were each made of white stone, an odd bluish liquid filled them.
Val stepped through without pause. The same couldn't be said of the Tyrells. Both ambivalent after their previous traveling, Willas stopped and stared after her and didn't make to move until Margaery spoke up, "You first, brother." She winked at him when he shot a scowl her way.
Unlike their arrival in First Forge, there was no unpleasant sensation but when they stepped out, they'd certainly traveled. They were near a massive fortress beside a port. The other of their settlements.
Val must have expected their hesitation, she stood waiting by the archway. "It takes some getting used to," she informed them before she was away again. Looking around, most people were simply going about their day. One young man with a distinctive look did catch her eye. The silver-blonde hair and purple eyes marked him as descended from Valyria, and he wore clothing all in black in red. Surely that isn't the Beggar Prince. Now that would surprise her grandmother when she heard.
They entered the stone fortress and were led past the library to an out of the way room. Within a dark-haired man with startling green eyes stood over a table covered in various hunks of wood, vials, and materials that she didn't recognize. Some of the wood was charred as though it'd been caught in an intense fire. So, this is the Witch-King-Beyond-the-Wall. Margaery thought him handsome and younger in appearance than she'd expected. But then he's capable of great sorcery, and stories say Shiera Seastar kept herself young well past what was natural with sorceries.
Frustrated with whatever he was doing, he threw down a piece of wood. He ran a hand through his hair before his attention turned to them. "Margaery and Willas Tyrell, I'm guessing."
"Yes? And you're Harry Potter." Willas responded uncertain, "We didn't think we were expected."
"Ned told me you were coming," he stood, eyes flitting between them. "But he didn't tell me why. Honestly, I'm used to southerners showing up at our doorstep at this point. It's saved me some trouble having to seek people out at times."
"There are matters that our lord father thinks would be beneficial in discussing between your people and the Reach." Margaery piped in.
"Oh, I'm sure there are." He walked around the table, "And might as well get to it sooner rather than later." She suspected they weren't talking about the same things at this point.
He walked to Val and gave her a kiss. Ah, so she's his woman then. "There's something I think I should show them."
"I'll leave you to it. I have no desire to see it anymore often than necessary." Margaery shared a look with her brother. But they had no opportunity to think on it further as Harry walked briskly out the door, and they followed behind.
Willas struggled to keep the pace and when Harry noticed this, he slowed his pace, "I seem to remember Oberyn Martell mentioned you received that injury in a joust with him."
"I did." Willas confirmed. He warred with himself about what he wanted to say next, but visibly resolved himself, "I admit, interesting as I find you Norfolk, part of my decision to come here was selfish." One thing they'd learned about the Norfolk and particularly the man they were with from the different stories they'd been told was they preferred the straightforward approach. The trio stopped and the siblings watched fascinated as an expanse of wall fell away to reveal a corridor behind.
Getting passed his stunned silence, her brother continued, "I heard tales of what you did for both Shireen Baratheon and Doran Martell… I won't lie and say that in coming here I didn't hope something might be done for me as well." Margaery could only turn sympathetic eyes toward her brother. She knew nothing of this personal motivation for this journey, but it didn't surprise her either.
When they reached the end of the corridor there was no door. Harry turned to look at her brother, appraising his leg. He sounded amused when he spoke, "At this rate, I'll be the personal healer for every noble in the Seven Kingdoms. But all the same, I'll see if there isn't something I can do."
The wall in front of them fell away yet again. And what was inside sent an involuntary chill of fear down her spine. Cold blue eyes stared at them from an inhuman, beautiful face. Something about that gaze pulled all the warmth from her bones despite the pleasantness of the castle. His magic is real. Why wouldn't the Others be too?
AN: So, I wanted to make a quick remark about the situation with the Others. The idea of there being the true Others and Craster's sons is something I thought of before they ever portrayed it in the show. The design of the White Walkers in the show never had the ethereal, inhuman beauty I imagined from the book description, so I wanted to incorporate that into the story.
With regards to Dagon's scene, I don't pretend to be an expert on naval terms or combat. I wrote that after some research into the terms and then just what felt right in the course of the battle. So, if you are, and there are any egregious errors, feel free to let me know.
I'm considering cross posting this to ao3 because I know some people prefer that site. And I also feel that the comment and response system is a little bit better, since you don't have to send a PM to respond, and conversations can be had between reviewers because of it.
EDITED- 4 September 2022: I realized I made a mistake. It's my own fault for having six years between three chapters. In chapter six, Harry still has his holly wand. So, for continuity, Harry isn't wandless after the first fight now. He's still looking to make a new wand because he wants one that is fully compatible again. Somebody also pointed out an inconsistency with the portkeys between this fight, the first one with the Others, and the events on the Frozen Shore. So, all of the hunters now have their own portkey.
Thank you everyone. Until next time.