He stared down at the horn and frowned a little. There was something about it that made him… well, he wasn't sure what the word was. 'Uneasy' was too strong. He just had the feeling that there was something… odd… about it. The runes were odd. They were old. And strange. They looked like an old variant of the tongue of the First Men. Maester Aemon had consulted a book in his library about it, but they were still largely unenlightened.
"Why was it buried? If it was important, why not leave it in the Overlook?" He ran a hand over his beard. "And what is it?"
"The Overlook was being forgotten," Jeor Mormont grunted. "Perhaps it was a way of making sure that it would be preserved and could be found."
Ned raised an eyebrow slightly. "From what Ser Jaremy and Tollet said, the Others were searching the First of the First Men for something. What if they were searching for this?"
"Then that brings it back to what is it?"
That was a good point and Ned snorted slightly. "Until we know what the runes say then all we can do is keep guessing. And they're old runes. Maester Aemon thinks that there might be some books on old runes in the North in Winterfell. And perhaps in Surestone." He scowled a little. "I shall enjoy trying that Riverlander bastard for murdering old Lord Surestone."
"I still can't believe that he's dead," Jeor muttered, shaking his head. "A good man. A gentle man. Unless you were fighting against him that is. He was deadly with that axe. Especially on a horse."
"I remember him on the Trident," Ned replied with a fond smile. "It was a good thing that Barristan Selmy was wounded when he was. It might have been very nasty for him, as Lord Surestone was ten yards away from him and on a rampage."
"I remember when-" But whatever Jeor had been about to say was interrupted by the shouts of alarm from outside. They stared at each other and then they bolted for the door. Opening it they could see that everyone at Castle Black was staring at the Wall. Which was… glowing. Glowing red.
He gaped at the Wall as well, his mouth hanging open. It pulsed red, once more – and then it returned to its normal state. He watched it warily for a long moment and then turned to Jeor, who was still gaping in horror, although as he looked at the very much still intact Wall that horror was turning into relief. "What in the name of the Old Gods was that?"
"It affected the whole Wall, from what I could see," Jeor muttered as the shocked inhabitants of Castle Black started to recover. Then he paused. "Rayder… he said that that Child of the Forest had told him that he had to help fix the Wall – the magic links between North of the Wall and South. Perhaps that was it?"
Ned paused and then nodded. "It might be that. We need to find out what's happened at the Nightfort. We should have given Robb and his party a raven."
"Didn't think we'd need them to have it," Jeor said as he kept staring at the Wall. "Ned… the colour the Wall turned… it was like the colour your eyes turned when the Old Gods possessed you."
He absorbed that for a long moment. "That might be a good thing then." He peered at the Wall again. "Seems intact."
"I'll go talk to the Builders." The Lord Commander muttered, before heading down the stairs. He was passed by a rather excited Maester Aemon, who was holding a book.
"Well, that was an excitement indeed, Lord Stark!" the old man said jovially. "I heard one of my Brothers who was close to the Wall say that heard what almost sounded like a heartbeat within the Wall for a moment!"
"You aren't alarmed?"
The old Maester paused in contemplation for a moment and then shook his head. "Oddly enough, no. The Wall still stands, intact. A Child of the Forest said that the Wall had a flaw and that it would be fixed. It's logical that it was that happening." Then he raised an eyebrow. "Of course it would be prudent to check."
Ned led him back into Jeor's Solar, where they both sat down. "Lord Stark, the message from Cotter Pyke and young Redwyne has been bothering me since it arrived this morning. I do not doubt a word of what they wrote – well, what Redwyne wrote, as Pyke lacks his letters – but something struck me as strange. They wrote of finding the remains of a dragon, with white bones. But dragonbone is not white, it is black. I grew up with the evidence in front of me and you must have seen it as well, when you reached the Red Keep when the city fell."
Now that was a dark memory. The throne room had been the place where Father and Brandon had both been murdered. He'd seen the spots where they had died. Seeing the dead body of Aerys Targaryen had not been enough. Not for vengeance. But it had had to do. As for the lounging youth on the Iron Throne, with his bloodied sword and arrogant smile… well, he had disliked Jaime Lannister for a long time. And then there had been the dragon skulls. And Maester Aemon was right – the bones had been black and not white.
"Then what was the creature?"
Maester Aemon opened the book he was holding. "The description rang a faint bell in my mind and I looked up a reference I remember reading years ago. There was an account of a tale told by a man of the Night's Watch who had been on a ranging far to the North. He saw the bones of a great creature by the mouth of a cave. White bones. He had acquaintances amidst the Wildlings – I really should start calling them Free Folk now should I not? – and they said that it was the remains of an ice wyrm, also known as an ice drake."
Ned stared at him. "I thought that they were naught but legends!"
"Were it not for the dragon skulls in the Red Keep men might have said the same of dragons. We will know better once the bone samples that they took arrive here, along with the eggs." His eyes darkened a little for a moment. "I have seen dragon eggs. I will be able to spot any differences."
Ned nodded slowly, his mind racing. "But," he said slowly, thinking it all through, "If the legends of ice drakes are true then what else might be out there? There are legends that the Others used to hunt men with ice spiders – creatures big enough that the Others rode them like we do with horses. What if they exist as well?"
Maester Aemon was as pale as Ned now felt. "That would, I fear, also be logical. We must consult the oldest of the books here again. And ask your new allies the Thenns if any member of the Free Folk has seen anything like that. Our enemies are mysterious enough and time is on their side, not ours. Every advantage that they have must be identified as soon as possible."
He peered at the ballistae carefully, and then at the face of the eager young puppy in charge of the defences of the part of Lannisport Harbour that he had been inspecting for the past day or so. Then he sighed a little. "Does it work?"
The eager young man beamed at him. "Yes, Ser Kevan!"
"You've… tested it?"
"Yes Ser Kevan! The principle is very sound! The rope is tied to the back of the bolt, so when the signal is given the ballistae bolt is loosed at the causeway over there, where a special area has been cleared."
Kevan looked over at the causeway, which was actually the breakwater that protected the harbour from storms from the North. Yes, there was indeed a sort of bare-ish place there. The practicalities of hitting such a spot in a storm, or in an emergency still concerned him, but he could see the way that it was designed to work. "And then…?"
"The rope is detached from the bolt over there and taken to the winches and the capstan, where it is secured and then they pull their end and we pay out ours. The rope is tied to a bigger rope, which leads to a hawser, which leads to a chain and then that chain leads to the great chain boom of Lannisport, securing the harbour."
"Ingenious." He peered at the boy. "Does it work though?"
A slight grimace told him that there must have been teething troubles, but then a nod. "Yes, Ser Kevan, although we have to pay close attention to the direction and strength of the wind at times."
"What happens if it falls short?"
"We have a man in a boat."
Kevan nodded and then looked up at the watchtowers that sat on the cliffs to either side of the harbour. They were far taller than the old ones had been. Tywin had sworn that the Ironborn would never be allowed to repeat what they had done at the start of Greyjoy's Madness, the name that he had long since given the insane rebellion. The memory of that night, as he and his brothers saw the glow of the burning fleet and the burning town in the distance. He'd had nightmares about that for years afterwards.
Well. Never again. The defences had been rebuilt and strengthened. The Ironborn would never be trusted again. And should they try to attack again then they would be thrown back into the sea. On fire. And with bushels of arrows in them.
He nodded again – and then something occurred to him. "Whose idea was this by the way?"
The young pup's face stilled and then he inspected his boots carefully for a moment. "It, erm, it was suggested."
"Erm, some months back, there was a visitor from Casterly Rock who was headed North, erm, and he suggested a few things, erm, and-"
He forestalled the man with a raised hand. "It was my nephew Tyrion wasn't it?"
The younger man nodded hesitantly, almost as if he was afraid of Kevan's reaction. Instead Kevan smiled. "Good. Tyrion always does have good ideas. Well done." And with that he mounted his horse and rode back into the port, his guards following closely behind him.
He loved Lannisport on days like today, with the sun shining and the wind blowing. The harbour was crowded with ships from all over the place, the Westerlands, the Reach, the North, Dorne, the Stormlands… There were even some Ironborn, although fewer than usual and all being carefully watched. Whatever was happening there, and the latest tales were of near civil war there, it meant that most Ironborn ships were headed for their home ports at the moment. Oh and there was the occasional ship from even further away, such as Braavos, Pentos and even Volantis.
He thought for a moment of poor, dead, Gerion and he sighed. Then he frowned. A ship was mooring at a nearby wharf, from the Reach by the look of it. And there was a man on the deck of that ship who looked very familiar. He was bald and had a grey beard and he was wearing a plain doublet, but the massive sword that was strapped to his back was… distinctive. He knew him.
Kevan turned his horse and nudged it forwards towards the ship. As he approached the now motionless vessel he watched as the crew bustled around with the gangplank. The man with the grey beard had spotted him and was watching him with folded arms. As soon as the gangplank was in place he strode off the ship and then walked towards Kevan.
"The last time we met was at Pyke."
"It was," Kevan replied as he dismounted and pulled off his riding gauntlets. "How have you been Randyll?"
The Lord of Horn Hill pulled off his own gloves and took his outstretched hand before grinning at him. "Well enough, Kevan, well enough."
They shook hands, something that always tended to be a form of small-scale warfare with Randyll Tarly. "What are you doing here, you seldom leave The Reach?"
Tarly tucked his gloves into his belt with a sigh and then jerked his head at the wharf. "Walk with me."
Kevan obliged and when they were in an area with few onlookers raised an eyebrow. "What's amiss?"
This prompted a moment of genuine uncertainty from the old veteran, who seemed to be having trouble finding the right words. Finally he said: "How loud was the Call at Casterly Rock?"
Ah. Kevan pulled a face. "Confused. Tywin denies it. I am… more open-minded. Why?"
Tarly stared at him and then licked his lips with what looked like nervousness. "It struck Horn Hill like… like nothing else I can imagine. Like a bolt from the blue. And the dreams that followed it… well, I had dreams of the Field of Fire – and worse."
He stared back at the other man. "What could be worse than the Field of Fire?"
Tarly passed a hand over his face. "Best not to ask," he sighed. "Anyway, My eldest son, Samwell, had dreams that were just as bad."
Kevan eyed the other man carefully. There had been odd tales of Samwell Tarly and his father's efforts to make him more martial. "What happened?"
The Lord of Horn Hill looked about carefully. "Have you heard about Lord Willas Tyrell affectively taking over The Reach?"
He had indeed, an event that had prompted Tywin to grunt "Oh, woe, poor Mace," not that he would admit to witnessing that, so he just nodded.
"It happened partly because Lord Willas holds Otherbane, the spear of the Gardener Kings. A weapon of the First Men. It was in Horn Hill, hidden there. Waiting for him. Young Samwell puzzled out the clues. I… I did not see them." Tarly was red-faced and then shook his head. "T'was the oddest thing. He saw it, I did not." He looked up. "And now I am headed for Winterfell."
A wintery smile crossed Tarly's face. "The Others come. The Stark calls for aid. I am needed." The smile vanished. "Lord Willas has sent me to talk with Lord Stark. We need more information about how to fight the Others. I have some small experience of fighting. It seemed fitting to ask me to go."
Kevan nodded, even as he wanted to reel with shock. This… this confirmed quite a lot. The port was humming with talk of The Call, with talk of sending aid to the Wall. And now the least imaginative man that Keven knew, a man grounded in solid reality, was saying that it was all true. He almost wanted to throw up. Instead he rubbed a hand that he fought hard to stop from trembling over his jaw. "You are sure then?"
"I am." The words were said with every certainty. "We've docked to take in supplies and then we sail North. Past Cape Kracken and then as far into Blazewater Bay as we can get, so that I can get to Moat Cailin and the Kingsroad. We heard that there's unrest in the Iron Islands though?"
Kevan pulled a face. "You might say that. Latest news is that Balon Greyjoy has declared Lord Harlaw a traitor, or something close to that. There are reports of fighting. Nothing yet confirmed though."
Tarly's nostrils flared for a moment. "Then if necessary I will tell the captain to veer westwards to avoid the bloody Iron Islands. I must get to Winterfell though."
He nodded in response, but he in turn knew something himself. He had to get back to Casterly Rock.
Being married was… different. His quarters were bigger now – no, their quarters. Annah had brought a light not just to his life but also to their joint quarters. For one thing he had more shirts that weren't badly darned, something he'd never been that good at, and for another those shirts weren't all white.
Then there the other things. He talked a lot more, to her at least. And he ached a lot more. Certain muscles hurt quite a bit after particularly… amorous… nights.
His uncle kept looking at him and then smirking a lot.
What he most admired about his wife was her fierce loyalty, to him and to young Lord Robert, who kept going from strength to strength. He was so changed from that pale little boy with the shadows under his eyes in King's landing. He rode every day now, he was becoming adept with the bow and arrow and an unholy little terror with the sword – training dummies did not last long when he was around. But above all he wanted to know things.
And Annah had been delighted to see that he had made new friends. Young Bran Stark and Edric Storm made up the other two thirds of the Terrible Threesome, a name that was spreading throughout Winterfell.
"A crime, it was, to give him that poison," Annah had told him once, when they were entwined one evening, still sweaty. "He's a bright, happy lad without it. Lady Arryn committed a crime indeed."
It had been a crime and Jory had noticed that Lady Stark seldom, if ever, talked about her sister anymore and when she did it was with a careful look about for Robert, followed by a sigh and then a deep frown.
He looked over at the training yard and suppressed a smile. The Terrible Threesome were there, being given a stern lecture by Domeric Bolton about how to use a sword and not almost chop off the head of the person standing next to you. Young Edric was looking a bit abashed about this and Jory knew that he had been swinging his warhammer a bit too freely of late as someone else had apparently commented that they thought that swords could be a bit showier than warhammers.
"Riders coming!" It was a distant shout from the main gates and he turned to look at them. There was a slight flurry on the ramparts and then his uncle appeared from a postern gate, walking quickly towards him.
"A party from the Riverlands, bearing the banners of House Tully," Uncle Rodrik muttered as he looked about the courtyard. Then he saw a young servant. "You! Fetch Lady Stark! Tell her a party bearing Tully colours is coming, and look sharp about it!" The boy more than looked sharp, he ran.
As the party came through the gates Jory frowned. They were led by a pair of armsmen bearing the Tully banners, followed by a far older man with a white beard and the look of someone who would spit death himself in the eye when his time came and then try and kick him in the balls. All the armed men in the party were wearing the distinctive fishscale armour of the Riverlands – except for one.
The exception was a shortish man with dark hair who was wearing basic travelling leathers. He had dark hair and was sporting a truly impressive black eye around his right eye. His hands were bound to the pommel of the saddle of his horse, which was being led by one of the riders in front of him and his eyes kept darting about, directing angry hateful glances in all directions.
Oh and there were the waggons that entered after the party, waggon after waggon after waggon. There must have been almost 20 of them and Jory stared in wonder. What in the name of the Old Gods was this little lot?
Fortunately Lady Stark soon arrived – and although she stopped and stared at the group, it was not for the same reason as Jory. No, she stared at the old man who led the party and who had dismounted in a trice at her arrival and then bowed formally.
"Edmyn? Is that truly you?" Lady Stark asked with a smile.
"Lady Catelyn – I beg pardon, Lady Stark it is now. How have you been?" The older man smiled fondly at Lady Stark. "You are still missed at Riverrun."
Lady Stark laughed and then walked up to the man and embraced him lightly. "All the better for seeing you, Edmyn. You are the one who first taught me how to use a dagger."
The fond smile redoubled. "You learned fast." Then the smile went away. "On the orders of your father and brother I have brought Ser Willem Bootle to Winterfell to meet justice."
Ah, thought Jory, so that's who the wretched man was. He looked at the prisoner, who was looking around in sullen fury, before finally bursting out: "I am Lord Surestone! Release me at once you…" He seemed to choke off his words as every man around him glared and placed a hand on his sword, including Jory, who let out a snarl. Lady Stark was not going be insulted whilst he drew breath.
"You are mistaken, Ser Willem," Lady Stark replied calmly, showing that she was worth a thousand of the wretched man. "You were never the heir to Surestone."
"I am the only male heir," the man all but shrieked. "Surestone is mine to do with as I please!"
"No," said a voice behind Jory, who turned to see Dacey Surestone standing there, his Annah next to her. "Surestone is mine. I am the heir to my father. He left Surestone to me, not to you. You were never his heir."
Something happened to Bootle at that moment. As he looked at Lady Surestone all the blood seemed to flee his face. "You… you still live? I thought that…" And then he flushed and shut his mouth with an audible snap of his teeth.
"You thought what, Ser Willem?" Dacey Surestone's eyes had narrowed and she glared at him so hard that Jory wondered why he had not burst into flame. "Was it you who caused me to be trapped at that inn? Was it you who told the innkeeper to try and turn me into a whore? Did you give him other orders?"
The wretched man worked his jaw for a moment, his eyes flitting from person to person as he looked about desperately. "I should have been his heir," he said at last. "You are naught but a bookish girl."
Lady Surestone looked at him with utter contempt. "Do you know why my father made me his heir instead of you? You were never worthy enough." Everyone looked at her for a moment and for that moment she seemed to be the tallest person in the courtyard.
Edmyn cleared his throat and bowed to her. "Lady Surestone? I am Edmyn, in service to Riverrun. Those waggons contain what this man stole from your home." He glared at Bootle, who flinched from his gaze. "He was trying to find a man called Collyns, whom he owed a great deal of coin to. Collyns was hung months ago for being a thief in the service of Petyr Baelish."
Lady Stark sighed. "Ah," she said eventually. "You made the wrong kind of acquaintances, Ser Willem. How much coin? Is that why you needed to loot my cousin's keep, the one you pretended that you were heir to, because you were desperate? You avoid my gaze, Ser." She looked at Edmyn. "Has he tried to flee?"
"Oh, several times." The Riverlander sniffed contemptuously. "He never got far though. Last time I had to smack him one, My Lady."
"Good." Lady Stark looked around for Uncle Rodrik, who was standing to one side. "Ser Rodrick? We need this man confined to await his trial once Lord Stark returns from Castle Black." She looked at Bootle again, who again flinched as if he had been struck. "Guard him well. He will face his worst nightmare – justice."