Jon was soaring. Above the clouds. Above Westeros and all its kingdoms. Above the world as he knew it. Jon was made of air and light and all the good feelings he had never known. He flew past a thousand stars and a thousand suns, beyond this world and into the next. In this infinite expanse, he felt welcome. Warm tendrils stretched throughout his limbs and encircled his heart, embracing him.
Jon followed this feeling blindly. He lay down his sword and shield. For once, trusting in the strength of a power he didn't understand.
If he could think, the young Lord Commander might have been frightened to leave behind not only the Wall, but the world he knew. Jon Snow might have protested vehemently at the very notion of abandoning his duty, his brethren, and the great black kingdom his ancestors have guarded for centuries upon centuries. And yet Jon Snow could remember nothing. Jon Snow wasn't anyone. A bird in the branches, a wolf in the dark. A whisper through the trees.
To go forward… you must go back. A voice called from the fire.
With numb mind and body, Jon saw a seemingly never-ending sequence of images. Each scene faded into the next at an alarming speed. A red haired woman lay panting on a thick blanket of furs. A thickset man garbed in black handed him a longsword. A white wolf curled into a young boy's side by a dim fire. Two young lads roughhoused in the snow. A dwarf catapulted himself off a fence and flipped through the air… on and on it went.
The visions called to him. Begged him to remember something important, something crucial about the identity of the boy, and the red-haired woman, and the winter roses encapsulated by glass walls. Walls of ice. Certainly, he felt a tugging in his chest and a jolt in his heart when the boy knelt in front of a white weirwood tree and spoke some long-forgotten vow. But try as he might. Jon could not connect the pieces.
Then suddenly, a sharp pain rocked his senses and Jon's vision went black.
When he woke, a mirage of color and light floated across his vision. The colors swirled and came to a sudden halt, distilling into a solid image. Fur. Brown fur, to be exact. Jon exhaled painfully, his mind slow to process anything other than the strong longing to go back to the blackness and the visions. The world of dreams called to him once more, and he tried to close his eyes and return, but the pain prevented him.
He groaned and lifted a hand to his head. His arms were heavy and slow, the sensation in his hands and feet were dulled, as if waking from a long and deep slumber. A bright light shone from an unnamed source on his left. The light begged him to wake further, but Jon was fighting a grogginess that trapped his body in a tight tube.
The first thing he noticed was the earthy scent that clung to the surrounding fabrics. A smell Jon recognized, yet could not pinpoint the source. He rolled lazily onto his side. His limbs slow and lethargic. A burning pain emanated from his back. Jon blinked and took notice of the direwolf tapestry hung on the wall, the black tunic laid out on the bed, the silver painted candles, the wooden sword leaning against the bedpost.
For the Watch…
Jon yelled and stumbled to his feet. Unseen enemies stabbed at him. Again and again. Snarling. Hateful eyes peered from beyond the rafters, from the window, under the bed and bloody hands were raised against him. Jon panicked and scrambled for the invisible sword at his hip. One foot got caught in the thick furs of his Winterfell bed and he went crashing to the floor. A loud bang resonated. The wooden sword on the wall went clattering to the ground and his loud yell frightened the white ball of fur that, until then, was lying silently at the base of his bed frame.
Jon's head slammed against the floor and stars danced in his eyes. He shouted again when his body exploded in pain. Silver daggers danced across the room. Taunting. Mocking.
For the Watch. Why? For the Watch. For the Watch.
Footsteps approached from down the hall and Jon dimly registered the sound of his door hinge squeaking open. Another familiar sound he knew from long ago. The stars fluttered to the outskirts of his vision.
Jon blinked. The sound of this voice was familiar. A pleasant tenor that plucked at his heartstrings. I know this man, Jon realized. The pain in his head intensified as his eyes focused on the dark hand outstretched toward him, and beyond the hand, a long face was staring, confused. The man was measuring him, and Jon could have laughed if not for the damnable pain, it had been so long since someone looked at him like that. Like he was a boy.
A much shorter and smaller Ghost padded to his side and licked his right hand. Jon's eyes were riveted to the person looming over him. A piece of the puzzle fell into place.
It can't be…
"Jory?" Jon croaked dumbly. The name sent a shiver down his spine.
No… another voice protested. The puzzle was jumbled once more and Jon was left grasping at the lingering facts. Jory Cassel was killed in King's Landing. By the Lannisters. Killed defending Lord Eddard Stark in a street brawl. A brawl started by Jaime Lannister. Yet, here the man was, staring in befuddlement down at Jon's body twisted in his bed sheets. Jon shifted his gaze to the still-growing direwolf that pawed at his hand.
My hand… There was something odd about the hand that had fallen to rest near his face. Jon lifted his palm and brought it closer. Where there should have been a burn, from grabbing a lit lantern and hefting it at the dead man in Jeor Mormont's chambers, there was none. Fresh, pale, slightly pink skin had taken it's place. Turning his palm over to look at his thumb, Jon noticed several more missing scars. Scars that once served as evidence of his training days with Alliser Thorne. "What - what's happening?"
"That's Ser Jory, to you, lad," the knight said gruffly and then grabbed him by the collar. Jon's head swum at the sudden righting, and an explosion of raw nerves. He lost his footing and crashed into the wall. Jory tutted.
"-not right with you…" Jory mumbled under his breath as he lifted Jon's arm over his shoulder and put another around his waist. "You been drinking, boy?"
Another wave of pain struck Jon's spine and his knees buckled. The pounding in his head returned with a vengeance and Ser Jory stared at him with slight irritation. Then, something changed in the other man's expression as the knight looked down at his hands.
"No…" Jon groaned, closing his eyes.
Whatever Jory said next, Jon barely heard, as his memories returned to him in a sudden rush. Ygritte. Sam. Lord Mormont. The deal with Tormund Giantsbane, the giant Wun Wun… decapitating Janos Slynt. The stabbing. Image after image connected in a startling realization and Jon felt his world turn upside down and then downside right. Fear and anger and shame flooded his blood, until he felt he was on fire.
I was betrayed. Jon realized with horror. With sharp clarity, he remembered the snarling face of Bowen Marsh, and the light touch of snow on his eyelashes as darkness overtook him. Jon reached a hand around his back and found it sticky, from blood or sweat, he did not know. Pulling it back, his hand was red.
Jory swore. "To the Maester, now lad."
Jon stumbled and Jory caught him again. By that time, Jon knew he was fading.
I already died… Jon protested silently. Why send me here to die again?
Jory dragged Jon through the stone halls of Winterfell and toward Maester Luwin's tower. Darkness gathered at the edge of his vision and Jon succumbed to the sensation. Voices called to them from the conjoining rooms. Voices that made him groan and cry in heartbreak. Figures from the past slowly emerged, but Jon could not speak, despite his great desire to respond.
His eyes opened when he heard Robb, his brother's voice, strong and youthful, and he gasped in both shock and joy when his brother's arm came to support him. Jon saw the red-brown curls from his dreams and nightmares. Concerned blue eyes, filled with equal parts love and concern. Robb's mouth moved, but Jon could not put the words into sentences.
From the conversation around him, Jon knew he was bleeding badly. Am I dead then…? Jon wondered. It would make sense. More sense than the reality around him. Relief threaded its way through his arms and legs. Finally, I am dead. It is strangely kind that the God's saw fit to return me to Winterfell. Will the healer be able to fix these wounds? No one ever said death would be this painful.
Somehow, they made it to the Maester's turret located below the rookery, though Jon could not recall passing through the kennels. Dogs barked and howled and the Maester's crows squaked and cried Snow, Snow, Snow. Or was that just Jon's imagination? The Lord Commander fought to remain conscious as he was laid gently onto Luwin's table, his nose was pressed against dark hard wood, and someone spoke gently into his ear.
"Jon… I will need to cut… remain calm… hold… happened…."
Jon tried to understand, but he was too far gone. It didn't matter anymore. He was dead and his beloved brother was here to take care of him. Even Ghost, as a little puppy. The Gods would take care of this mess.
Time seemed jumbled. It was light and then it was dark. Words washed over him and then faded into nothing. The flames of the Red Woman danced in his vision, and Jon didn't even care when dragons breathed fire and the door opened and closed, and the Others were suddenly unimportant. Because, he was in heaven, and it was no longer his responsibility.
When he woke next, a loud clamor surrounded him. Jon supposed he was battling back and forth with consciousness. No one never said death would be this confusing. Bells sounded in the distance. The alarm bells. Why would there be alarm bells in the heavens? Robb's heavy feet rushed out of the room with determination and Jon wanted to cry after him. Don't go! Soon after, a large shadow appeared in the Maester's door.
His father was speaking to him.
"... no trace of the dagger or it's… remember… Jon! Jon!"
Jon smiled. Father was here. The only person who had ever truly loved him, completely and wholly, just for being Jon. Everything was perfect. Just when he decided to finally abandon his post, everything went black. Jon was soaring again and the voice returned.
To go forward… you must go back.
Death was not so merciful, Jon mused humorlessly.
Seven days later, by this world's reckoning, Jon sat in bed. His back was propped against two large pillows, though it did nothing but aggravate his mending wounds. With a heavy sigh, he met Lord Stark's piercing grey eyes.
"As I said earlier, I cannot recall anyone entering my chambers. I woke from a nightmare and fell to the ground. I felt pain, and the next I knew, Jory was carrying me to the Maester's."
Ned Stark's nostril's flared in frustration. Jon could have laughed or cried at the familiar sight. Though if he had, they would have likely fed him Milk of the Poppy again and he wouldn't wake for another day.
Maester Luwin recorded that Jon had been stabbed twelve times by what appeared to be several different daggers, and the wounds had smoked for a full day afterwards. From the conversation Jon had with the Maester, Luwin was completely baffled. The heat from the wounds seemed to simultaneously heal and cauterize Jon's skin, and there was no medical explanation for this phenomenon. The Maester promised to write to the Citadel for advice and guidance.
Jon knew how the injuries truly occurred, but he could not easily explain his miraculous return to Winterfell - almost two years in the past. The past of the only reality that he had ever known. Or was that life a dream? Jon was still not unconvinced that this was a strange test the Gods had concocted for him. Do all men return to the past after death? When would he ascend? Regardless, he could not explain how the injuries had manifested onto his fourteen-year-old back. No one else seemed to be aware of the future. Only the Gods knew the answers to those questions.
But why would the Gods send him here? And now? At the beginning of all things.
There is only one God, Jon Snow. Melisandre's exotic voice would say, whenever his thoughts turned to the strange fate he had been dealt.
I did not die by fire, Jon would think in turn. Why would the Red God handle my soul?
He knew the answer. Jon could scarcely think it, let alone say it aloud to himself. Why would the Red God torment my soul? Why would any God?
I failed. Jon knew it in his heart. Jon had failed in his duty to the realm, and to the world. He could not salvage the Night's Watch, he could not defend against the darkness. Jon had failed and perhaps… perhaps this was his punishment. Likewise, perhaps this was a test of his determination. Or a delusion. Was this another grand fall into utter unconsciousness?
The first night, when he woke in the Maester's turret, Jon could not sleep. The pain in his back had been reduced to a lingering throb - thanks to Maester Luwin's medicines - but he could not sleep. He could only stare at the ceiling and question his existence. Why was he here? What was he supposed to change? Was he meant to live out his life again, and again, reliving the same death for all eternity as some sort of neverending punishment for betraying Ygritte? Was this the will of the Old Gods, the New Gods, the Fire God or the evil Other that sends the White Walkers and all manner of Hell?
Fortunately, the Maester, Robb, and his father all seemed to agree that the stabbing was an unfortunate accident. A mistaken assassination. The dagger was meant for King Robert, whose chambers were directly above Jon Snow's. The Lord of Winterfell had closed the gates to the keep within several hours of the attack, and the Kingsguard was conducting an investigation throughout Wintertown. As far as Jon knew, the unknown assailant had yet to be apprehended. And they wouldn't be.
Was this all a delusion?
All the people seemed to think, and act, and behave separately from him, which shook Jon's belief that this was a vivid dream or illusion. Normally, in his dreams, if he feared it to be true - it became true. Here, people acted of their own accord, as if they were living, sentient beings, beyond the reach of Jon's subconscious.
With that knowledge, came other unpleasant knowledge. In this Winterfell, events were playing out exactly as they had two years past. The King had come to ask Lord Stark to be Hand of the King, Jon Arryn had recently died, Sansa would marry Joffrey, and according to Arya, Jon would be joining the Night's Watch. Father would go, of course, to the capital where he would later die. Robb would inevitably lead an army South, to his death. Theon would betray them and Winterfell would fall to the Bolton Bastard. Jon clenched his teeth. All the while, I will be freezing at the wall, trying and failing to prevent the Long Night.
When Jon first woke the second day, he cried for joy at the sight of little Arya curled against his side while his lord father slumbered in the corner chair. Even seeing Sansa's upturned nose brought a certain level of emotion to the surface. Their faces, their voices, their small touches brought Jon back from the brink of insanity.
Jon studied his father's features. It had occurred to him that, amidst all the chaos, Lord Stark was acting rather strangely. Despite the gravity of the situation, his upcoming departure from Winterfell for the capital, and Bran's unfortunate fall, Eddard Stark had decided to devote an inordinate amount of time to Jon's bedside. A fact that Lady Stark noticed, and commented on to the waitstaff, the cook, his siblings, the guards, and to her Lord Husband when she graced the archway of Jon's door... that one time. Jon knew his father loved him, but he didn't think himself so self-important that Lord Stark should tear himself away from his trueborn son's bedside.
And yet, for some reason, the Lord of Winterfell continued to question him about the stabbing. Long after it was unanimously decided that the assassin was meant for the King.
He'd had been at his bedside for the past three days, morning and night, asking question after question while Jon bumbled over false stories and imagined events, contradicting himself and drawing further suspicion. If only Lord Stark could have waited a day or two more, for Jon to recover from his shock and concoct a plausible story, these constant interrogations might have been avoided.
As a bastard, Jon always felt fortunate enough to live in his father's house, but he never been given this kind of singular attention before. It was unnerving, even for a man that had survived death. One time, after Jon woke from a particularly long nap, he found his father standing over his bed with the strangest look of trepidation on his face, and when Jon locked eyes with him, he fled the room.
"Jon, I need you to focus," his father's voice brought him back to the present, and away from his torrential dark thoughts.
Jon turned to him and struggled to lay back on the feather pillows that had been gifted to him, uncomfortable in more ways than one. The pillows were Sansa's castaways, most likely, and lumpy in some places. Still, it was a sweet gesture that Jon had appreciated. Her mother would not have allowed her to sacrificed her better pillows, or spend gold on new ones.
Now, Ned Stark was staring at him with deep concern. Jon had been silently brooding, avoiding his father's gaze and staring at the flickering flame of his bedside candle.
"Do you remember any words being said?"
For the Watch.
"No," Jon lied and turned to gaze at the vase of winter roses Arya had plucked from the glass gardens. Several flowers still bore thorns. And it wasn't a vase, not truly, but a muddy wooden cup she had stolen from the kitchens. It was the most beautiful gift he had ever received, and Jon had told her so.
Arya was the only other member of his family who visited often, besides Robb and Father. Sansa would occasionally stand at the doorway and twiddle her thumbs before running away like a scared butterfly. Jon had not seen or heard from Theon, Bran or Rickon. Of course, Bran had fallen from the Broken Tower sometime during Jon's long sleep, to his utmost dismay. Jon wished he could have prevented that, more than anything. That was something he could have changed for the better.
Jon felt Lord Stark's gaze on his face, and he shifted uncomfortably.
"I need you to tell the truth, Jon. Has someone threatened you?"
"I am telling the truth," Jon tried his utmost to sound convincing.
Ned Stark sighed and signalled for the knight to leave the room. The door clicked shut and a heavy silence descended on the pair. Jon hated to lie, but knew the truth was too unbelievable, even for his father's ears. The direwolf at his side nuzzled his hand affectionately, sensing his distress.
"Is there anything you'd like to tell me, Jon?"
Jon felt his tongue stick to the roof of his mouth. He shook his head, No. In the back of his mind, he felt how discomforting it was to finally be the focus of all of Lord Stark's attention. After all these years, his boyhood dream was fulfilled. It was not so satisfying.
"Very well," Lord Stark sighed and sat back against the large wooden chair that had been brought for him. It was a lord's chair, intricately carved to show racing wolves up the arms and across the back. "You know I cannot help you if you are unwilling to tell the truth. I know you are lying, Jon. I know you think I do not notice, but you always flare your nostrils when you fib," his eyes crinkled a little at the side.
Jon could have shouted for joy. It seemed Lord Stark was finally giving up. "So, tell me about this nightmare."
Jon wrinkled his brow. Ygritte's laughing face danced across his vision. "My nightmare?"
"Yes," Lord Stark said no more, only waited expectantly.
Jon opened and closed his mouth, at a loss for word. Lord Stark might as well have asked for Jon to tell him about his death. What did it feel like to die Jon? Tell me what it was like.
It was wonderful, Jon thought wistfully. Before the pain came back, death was bliss.
"Well," Jon cleared his throat uncomfortably. The wheels turned in his mind. He remembered the flash of images before… or after… his death. "There was… the Wall."
"You have never been to the Wall," his father stated plainly. Jon nodded and frowned.
"Yes, I was there, nonetheless. There was a great fissure, running up the ice," Jon gestured to the vase at his bedside. "A single rose grew in the cracks, but when I approached, it caught fire."
For some reason, this seemed to displease Lord Stark, "That is not a nightmare. At least, it is not like the nightmares you used to have as a child."
Jon remembered those. Once, when he was five, he ran to his father's bed frightened by ghouls and the dark spirits. Lady Catelyn answered the door, to Jon's horror, and dragged him back to his rooms, locking the door behind him. Jon slept under his bed for a month afterward, until Lord Stark uncovered the incident and he was permitted to sleep in Robb's rooms, temporarily.
"No, this was different," Jon admitted. "I was filled with great dread."
Lord Stark leaned forward. That was when inspiration struck Jon and he decided to combine the truth with his lies.
"And when I turned around, I saw a dead man, and then another. I saw an army of wights, with blue eyes. The crows above me all cried, Corn, Corn, and I saw a red star falling in the sky. It was a dark omen, I knew. When I turned, the wall was gone and the dead men walked in the North."
Lord Stark rubbed his beard distractedly. He stared at the winter roses. Jon was disappointed. His father seemed more preoccupied by the flowers than the dead men. "And then you woke?"
"No, then I felt like I was soaring," Jon met his father's gaze time. "I saw other things. But they did not make sense to me. The Bolton banners in Winterfell, a stag with a flaming heart, a dark sword with ripples of red hidden underneath in the steel…"
"You dreamt of the Wall," the Lord of Winterfell mumbled. Then, he met Jon's gaze and spoke. "A few days ago you requested to leave with your Uncle, and journey to Castle Black. Yoren and my brother have already departed, along with the Imp. Your stabbing prevented your departure and now you are infirm. I am afraid you will have to wait until either Benjen, or Yoren returns. It may be some time. Weeks. Months."
"Uncle Benjen has left already?"
The news filled Jon with anxiety. Already, things were changing from the original timeline. Events were spiraling out of his control.
"I am sorry, but perhaps it is for the best. You are young yet. The Wall will always be there, Jon. I have convinced Catelyn to shelter you here until Maester Luwin gives you leave, and Yoren returns."
Jon felt a hand fall on his shoulder and he looked up in surprise. Hesitation marred Lord Stark's noble features.
"You are leaving for King's Landing soon."
"Soon," Lord Stark agreed. "Tomorrow."
Jon could only look down at his hands. Hands that were meant to be be scarred and show early signs of frostbite. The hands that killed Janos Slynt, and countless other wildlings. The hands that had once pleasured Ygritte until she screamed his name. And the hands that potentially nocked the arrow that pierced her heart. Hands that longed to strangle the bastard, Ramsey Bolton, even now, before the events of the pink letter.
Jon's words were cut short. The sound of heavy, lumbering footsteps, and the clink of armor reached his ears. Ned Stark held up a hand to silence him, and a loud, booming voice demanded that Ser Jory stand aside. Jon's father rose and fell to his knees, just as the door swung open with a crash.
Jon's eyes widened. King Robert was a fat man, and his frame easily filled the entrance to Jon's small room. He looked ridiculously out of place in the humble setting. The Baratheon King dressed in a black and gold doublet - probably worth more than all of Jon's possessions put together - that bore the splatter of fat grease. Jaime Lannister leisurely trailed after the king with one hand on the pommel of his longsword. Jon fought down a wave of anger at the sight of the dastardly Kingslayer and quickly looked away.
There's nothing you can do now, Jon. As much as he'd like to wrap his hands around the Kingslayer's neck and squeeze, Jon wasn't likely to get further than three steps without collapsing, and the Queen would have him executed within the hour.
"Your Grace," Jon's father said stiffly. There was tension between the two.
"Stop that," Robert took a few steps forward and was followed by the knight. Jon detected the faint scent of sour wine in the air. Just in case, he placed a firm hand on Ghost's back. The direwolf was looking curiously, and soundlessly, at the new visitors.
"So, this is your bastard. Ha! Finally! I have before me the evidence that Ned Stark once forgot his honor!"
Jon did not know what to make of that statement. He bristled indignantly, but the imp's words came back to him and he held his tongue. In the distance, he could hear the dogs barking in the kennels, laughing at the King's jest.
Lord Stark's face was stone and he rose to his feet jerkily.
"My son, Jon," he said unceremoniously.
Lord Commander of the Night's Watch. Jon swallowed the title in his throat.
Jon inclined his head, "Forgive me, Your Grace. I cannot kneel."
The King waved his hand in a dismissive fashion, as if swatting a fly. "No matter, no matter. I suppose I have you to thank, for taking that stupid cunt's dagger. Although, I do not know how they could have mistaken your rooms for mine. Or you for me! I'm a wee bit plumper, I should say. Must have been a drunk assassin. Ha! I have had a few. Luckily, I have these noble fools," the King jerked a thumb at Jaime Lannister's silent, golden figure, "to protect me from knives in the dark. You, lad, are not so lucky."
"You honor me, Your Grace," Jon inclined his head once more. For some reason, his respect did not please the King.
"Hmph," the King frowned. "Honored by a knife. Unlikely, methinks."
"Is your curiosity sated?" Lord Stark voice broke Jon's focus on the King. Eddard stepped forward, and Jon was blocked from the King's view.
Jon blinked. Even if the King and Lord Stark were foster brothers, stepping in front of the King was audacious. King's were fickle things. Jon knew from his time with Lord Stannis at the wall, and King Robert was known to be rather verbose with whatever displeased him. The tension that permeated the air became more pronounced.
"My curiosity will be sated when I damn well say it is sated," The King said in a quiet, dark rumble. A tense moment followed and Jon suspected the King was glaring fiercely at his father, but he could not see the interaction from around Lord Stark's back and winter cloak.
"Ha!" the King finally broke, and his booming laughter filled the room. "Ah, Ned. Ned. So serious. I have not seen that look on your face in far too many years. And yet, I am the King and you will step aside."
Lord Stark's shoulders set rigidly. "My son is still injured, and I have just interrogated him about his attacker. I am certain he suffers from exhaustion."
The excuse was rather pitiful, Jon thought, and he wondered why his father made excuses. These two men grew up together. Wasn't this the Baratheon who was to marry Lyanna Stark, his long dead aunt?
"Let the boy speak then," King Robert's fat face appeared around his father's frame. "You, lad, do you tire?"
Jon's eyes swiveled between his father and the King. Ned Stark was looking at him sternly. A silent command to obey.
Jon opened his mouth and paused. Lord Stark wanted to keep Jon away from the King for a reason. Something about this situation did not sit well with him. It tickled the back of his brain. If Sam was here, what would he do?
"I am at your service, Your Grace."
Lord Stark's eyes darkened, but he stepped aside and the King approached, with a smug grin. Robert's chins jiggled as he lowered himself into the chair his father recently vacated.
"Ah, yes, as I was saying," the King began eagerly, "Jon Snow. Jon Snow," The King tested the name on his tongue, as if by repeating it, he could somehow lessen the sin of Jon's birth.
Appearing to like the name, the King continued. "Jon Snow. You took the knife intended for my body, and for that, I am grateful. What would you have of me, as a reward?"
Jon wondered what rumors were flying around Winterfell. Did the King think he battled an assassin in the night?
"Nothing, Your Grace."
The King snorted and Jon thought it was a very unattractive sound. In the background, Lord Stark clenched and unclenched his left hand. A pinch of nerves? Jon could not recall a moment when he saw the stern Lord of Winterfell standing so anxiously, except perhaps as he awaited the birth of his children.
If Sam were here, he would know instantly. Sam always had a way of unraveling mysteries and making things clear. He'd quote some book verse and Jon would sit, stunned, that it hadn't occurred to him before.
But Sam wasn't here, and it didn't make sense. The King was being pleasant, and Jon could find no major faults in his actions, even if he was a bit brusque.
"Come now. I am a generous man. I am especially generous to my bastards, and you are the bastard of my oldest friend. Every lad needs something," the King prodded, sounding almost bored. Jon wracked his brain for an answer. What do I need? I need to go back in time, further than this, and stop Bran's fall. I need my father to stay in Winterfell. I need to not be a bastard.
"My son is bound for the Wall, sometime after we depart," Lord Stark began, "perhaps a warm cloak and boots would suffice."
"Ah! Furs fit for a King! I've heard it's dastardly cold there," the King eyed Jon expectantly. "I will bedeck you in furs, what say you?"
"Pardon, father," Jon spoke softly, sensing the Lord's growing ire, "I do have a suggestion, if it please you, Your Grace. I have always longed for a blade of my own-"
"A sword!" the King beamed and stood with his hands outstretched. His Grace appeared extremely pleased by this suggestion. Lord Stark scowled in the background, "Yes! A fitting reward. You want to be a fighter, like your father. Yes, I see it now. Jon Snow's bastard blade, hacking apart wildlings and ghouls. Once you're healed, of course," the King nodded in acquiescence to Lord Stark's glare.
Throughout his speech, the King had been extremely animated, even imitating a few swings at an imaginary enemy. "Feel better lad, and soon you'll be swinging your new blade."
Needing no permission, the King strode out of the room suddenly, with barely a glance toward his newly chosen Hand. Jaime Lannister bowed to Lord Stark before he moved to follow the King.
Jon locked eyes with his father and gulped. Lord Stark was angry. Jon felt his mouth go dry, but he dared not look away. Why keep the King away from Jon? What was the harm in asking for a well made blade to accompany him to the Wall? Surely, it was a more fitting gift than a cloak. The Wall had cloaks. It needed swords. Why would Lord Stark ask him to disobey the King, for no reason?
There was something amiss here. Jon leveled his father with the steely look of the Lord Commander of the Night's Watch. A look Jeor Mormont had given him, more than once.
A flicker of surprise passed over Lord Stark's face. Then, his father's gaze fell to the floor, almost in shame. Without a word, Lord Stark left the room. Hurt stabbed Jon's heart and he buried his hands in Ghost's fur. The Bastard of Winterfell didn't deserve any explanations. The direwolf licked and licked his face, and Jon realized a few tears had made tracks down his cheeks. Shame filled Jon, and then sadness. Why did the Gods send him back, only to make him powerless to the events that follow?
There is only one God, Jon Snow.
Jon turned away from Ghost's furs and stared into the fire. He saw nothing.
Lord Stark was headed straight for his death, and Jon was powerless to stop it. Once again, he would stand by and watch as the people he loved, died, thousands of miles away and alone. Longing to end this feeling of dread, Jon painfully eased open the flask of Milk of the Poppy he had been given and gulped down the foul liquid. Within moments he felt his eyes grow heavy, and the medicine took effect.
Before succumbing to sleep, his gaze drifted to the wooden cup of winter roses.
Someone had taken one.