The Bear and the Wolf Cubs
Jon hadn't wanted to go exploring but Robb had convinced him that it would be fun. Robb thought that it was a good idea and he was far better at persuading people to agree with him than Jon ever would be. On top of that though, he looked up to his older brother and thought he could do no wrong because, compared to Jon, he was perfect at everything. Robb was a better shot with a bow, a better swordsman, better rider and better at all of their lessons as well. It stood to reason, to Jon at the time, that he knew what he was talking about when it came to the decision to go exploring.
It was the first time Jon could remember his older brother being proven wrong in such a spectacular fashion and he couldn't even begin to feel happy about it.
The journey into the woods had gone well at first, the two of them chasing each other through the thick Wolfswood as they explored. Looking for Direwolves, Robb declared when they had snuck out of the front gates of Winterfell. Whatever they had been doing, the result was the same. They had become hopelessly lost within the thick woods and the cold of night had begun to close in around them.
They must have been unknowingly walking in circles because they hadn't gotten anywhere close to an edge of the woods in hours of walking. In the dead of night they had huddled together under their thin fur coats, shaking in the cold and praying their father or his men would stumble across them at any moment. In their desperation they had found what appeared to be a small cave in the side of a rather large hill.
Jon had gone to look for some sticks, with the optimistic idea of being able to start a fire, when he heard Robb shouting out in pain, a deep roar following after.
Forgetting the sticks in an instant, Jon drew the tiny dagger his father had trusted him with on his last namesday. He didn't know what he was expecting to find but what he stumbled in on was something he knew he would never forget. Robb was on the ground, trying to crawl backwards, with three deep red slashes across his chest. Above his brother, readying another swipe of its claws, was a giant bear, thick and brown and ugly.
Jon wasn't as smart as Robb but he knew that he was no match for a bear. Bears took dozens of experienced hunters to take down and even then extreme caution had to be used. But seeing his brother, his big brother, defenceless against the attacking creature was too much for Jon's young mind.
With a mindless scream of anger and fear, Jon charged the great creature. It was turned away from him, interested more in Robb, and that was the only reason he was able to get as close to it as he did. Jumping onto the back of the massive creature, Jon fisted some of its fur and used it as handholds to climb higher up the bear's back. The creature flailed wildly, trying to bat him away with its threatening claws, but he was too far behind it for its thick limbs to actually reach him. Still acting on instinct though, Jon held on tightly with his left hand and stabbed downwards with his dagger in the right.
By the grace of the Gods his wild stab landed square in the beast's eye.
The roar he had heard before was nothing compared to the howl of pain the creature let loose now. It damn near deafened the poor boy and let him know he had done enough damage to enrage the creature but not enough to actually kill it. Robb managed to back away from the confrontation quickly enough to avoid the now madly flailing beast as it tried again to shake Jon loose. Holding on became Jon's only thought and he let go of his dagger to use his other hand to grab hold as well. His fresh hand was covered in the bear's blood however and the fur slipped through his desperately clutching fingers.
All it would take was another good shake and he would be on the ground, at the non-existent mercy of the beast.
The first rock Robb threw at the bear missed its head and sailed past Jon's own. Confused, he managed to see the second rock hitting the bear square on the nose. The beast and Jon looked at Robb at the same time, seeing the heir of Winterfell clutching on arm to his wounded chest and throwing another stone with the other. Enraged with Robb once again, the bear made a few lumbering steps towards him and Robb seemed to be in too much pain to actually escape this time.
Pulling himself up again with determination more befitting a knight than a young bastard son of a Lord, Jon grabbed hold of his dagger again, yanking it free and distracting the bear again. Panicking slightly as the beast's attention was back on him, Jon stabbed again. This time was slightly more aimed than the last and the steel of the dagger sank into the neck of the bear, which roared once again in a mighty rage. Without waiting to see how much damage he had caused, Jon pulled the dagger free before stabbing back at the neck again and again. His arm was becoming tired but he continued stabbing, blood coating his hand and arm as the beast's pained roars became more and more strained.
The bear pitched forwards, crashing to the ground with a pitiful growl as Jon rode it all the way down to the ground.
Jon finally let go of the creature's fur and staggered a few steps away from it, eyeing it warily. The bear attempted to rise but the blood loss and damage to its head and neck seemed to be weighing too heavily on the creature for it couldn't raise itself more than a few inches off the ground before collapsing again. Jon felt a pang of sadness and guilt as he saw the once powerful creature brought low by nothing but a boy mad with the idea of protecting his older brother. Of course thinking about his reasons for attacking the bear made Jon far more accepting of its fate. But right now it was suffering without need. It was going to die – even Jon could see that – but it wasn't going to die quickly.
Easing his way forwards, Jon stopped a foot or so away from its head, seeing the bear watching him with its remaining eye. It felt like it was judging him. Or begging him. Either way, he quickly darted forwards and yanked his dagger free before jumping back. The bear let out another weak roar of pain but was otherwise still. Edging forwards, Jon knelt down in the frost next to the beast's head and took a hold of his dagger with both hands. Taking a deep breath, he raised it high above his head before stabbing down with all the strength of his seven year old frame.
Thankfully the dagger was sharp enough that it broke straight through the top of the creature's skull, killing it instantly.
As with most 'green boys', Jon turned and vomited when he made his first kill. He had ridden along with his father and Robb on some small hunts and seen deer and rabbits killed. A few months earlier he and Robb had witnessed their father execute someone for the first time. He had managed to avoid losing his supper over those incidents but this was far too personal for him to ignore it – something was dead literally only because of him.
He had to use his foot to gain enough leverage to prise his dagger from the beast's skull, his strength had been barely enough to get it through the skull in the first place and now it was like the bone resisted his attempts to remove the dagger. He wiped his dagger clean gingerly against the fur of the bear.
"Is it dead?"
Robb's quiet question startled Jon more than it probably soon have done. For some reason Jon felt the blood pounding in his ears, making it harder to hear Robb than it should have been. Turning to his ignored brother, Jon was reminded of the claw marks on his brother's chest. Forgetting about the bear, he clambered over to Robb, pulling his brother's arm away to look at the marks on his chest. They were deep and they were bleeding quite heavily. Jon thought frantically – what would maester Luwin do? He swallowed thickly,
"Aye… aye it's dead." He replied softly, coming down from the level of heightened senses and energy. He was suddenly bone-tired and wanted nothing more than to crawl into his bed back at Winterfell. He licked his dry lips as he sank down onto the ground beside Robb, "We need to get back to Winterfell... Maester Luwin needs to make your chest better."
Ever the older brother, Robb attempted a cocky smirk but was too pained to make it seem natural. Instead it twisted into a grimace of pain. No doubt the older boy had been about to make some remark about how it wasn't all that bad and the pain had interrupted him. And to make matters worse it was beginning to snow. It was just a light splattering right now but Jon knew the weather of the North well enough to know that it likely wouldn't stay a light snowfall for long.
Helping his brother to the small save the bear had thoughtfully vacated, Jon looked back at the beast's massive, furry, carcase before coming up with an idea. Leaving Robb to rest against the wall of the cave, Jon fetched his dagger and knelt back down beside the bear. Fur was fur and Robb would get colder as he was injured – at least that's what he remembered from when Robb had been sick in bed last year. He had shivered and felt the cold so much more than usual. But they had no more furs ready – they only had a massive bear dead at their feet.
He had no idea what he was doing and he likely ruined more fur than he actually skinned from the giant beast. This wasn't helped by the fact that he had thrown up again the first time he had peeled the beast's skin and fur back and saw its insides. Forcing himself through it for his older brother's sake, Jon pulled enough fur from the creature to drape around Robb's upper body if nothing else. Returning to his brother, Jon could see that he was shivering more and looked very pale. Wrapping the fur around his brother's shoulders, Jon put his dagger away. He held a hand out to Robb,
"We need to get home Robb… come on, get up."
Robb scowled a little bit at being ordered by his little brother but did as he was told. Jon helped pull Robb to his feet before realising that his older brother wasn't steady enough on his feet to make it too far. He turned around and knelt down slightly. Robb got the message and gingerly climbed atop his younger brother's back, arms wrapped tightly around his neck. The whimper of pain Robb let out as Jon stood up wasn't lost on the younger boy,
"I'm sorry Robb but you won't make it back to Winterfell if I don't carry you."
Not waiting for any response, Jon started the long trudge back home.
Picking a direction his gut told him was right, he squared his shoulders and held his brother's hand as he carried him forwards. Each and every step caused his brother pain but Jon had to believe that it would be better his brother experienced some small pains now and was able to be seen by Maester Luwin sooner rather than later. The Maester had been there to clean and heal their first scars from their fairly recently sword training sessions – he would be able to do the same for Robb now.
Neither of them spoke as he trudged his way home with his brother atop his back. Neither was sure if they were going in the right direction and the snow was getting heavier with every step it seemed. But despite all of that, Jon was determined that he would get his older brother back home safe – he didn't really think about his own health or safety at this time, he was thinking only of Robb. Jon Snow carried Robb Stark through the beginnings of a small snowstorm and beyond. Hours passed and he just trudged on with the same single-minded determination that had helped him fell a massive predator.
The tiredness, the soreness, was ingrained in his bones by the time they emerged from the treeline, spotting the towers of Winterfell across the field between the edge of the woods and the walls of the old castle. Just seeing the towers of Winterfell, and the Direwolf flags flying high, was enough to have Jon forget about the tiredness he was feeling, giving him enough energy to march closer to the gates. The small folk in the town around the castle avoided them – they didn't look like the children of Eddard Stark after all. They were covered in ice and snow and, in Jon's case, dried blood. They were almost to the gates when one of the guards on duty noticed who they were. One guard sprinted back into the castle and the other rushed forwards to meet them. Jon ground to a halt and was certain he couldn't have taken another step if his life depended on it then.
Robb, who Jon realised belatedly wasn't awake, was lifted off of his shoulders by the guard, who began shouting for the Maester. Jon was too tired to protest or try to follow as the guard carried Robb inside the castle walls. Only a guiding hand by another guard coaxed him into moving forwards into the castle itself. Left to lean against a wall, Jon watched with glazed over eyes as Maester Luwin and his father came rushing out of the main keep. The elderly Maester immediately began examining Robb and ordered the guards to carrying him away to his lab. Their father held Robb's hand desperately for a few moments before spotting him.
Always the same way – their father looked for Robb first before he ever looked for Jon.
Jon was shivering from the cold and was surprised by the sudden embrace his father wrapped him up in. He welcomed it though – he could count on one hand the number of times his father had honestly, and openly, embraced him like he was doing now. But even with that happy thought in his mind he only had one thing on his mind. Eddard Stark opened his mouth to speak but Jon spoke first. Spoke the burning question he had burning a hole in his mind,
"Will Robb be okay?"
Eddard Stark paused and Jon saw a strange expression cross his eyes before his father smiled one of his big, sad, smiles and placed a strong hand on Jon's shoulder. The additional weight on his tired body almost made him collapse,
"Yes… Maester Luwin assures me that the wounds are not deep." He spoke in his usual quiet but firm voice before adding, "The corruption, he says, is only very minor at the moment. If he had gotten to Luwin later though he would be in danger. The guards… they told me you were carrying him Jon."
He was so tired. Couldn't his father see this? He probably could, he realised, but Robb was still in danger – Robb came first. He nodded tiredly,
"We were in the Wolfswood – Robb thought it would be fun to explore. But we got lost and we couldn't remember where Winterfell was." He explained quietly, not wanting to explain all of this right now but knowing that his father needed to know, "We found a cave and thought he might have to make a fire but there was a bear…"
He trailed off and he could see that his father had already put some of the pieces together and knew what had happened. The important things at least. Eddard touched the drying blood on Jon's arm and looked him in the eye. Jon was beginning to feel a little bit uncomfortable before his father broke the awkwardness by speaking,
"You fought the bear."
It wasn't a question but it was also incorrect.
"I killed the bear." He corrected his father before adding, "It was going after Robb. I… I had to stop it."
Jon wasn't prepared for the tightness of his father's next embrace. There was such warmth behind it that many would be surprised that the usually cold but fair Eddard Stark was the one showing such affection. The level of affection was what surprised Jon the most, right up until his father spoke again,
"Jon… I have never been proud of you than I am right now." He explained to the young boy, pulling out of the embrace to stare into his eyes seriously, "Not for killing the bear – though that is impressive. I'm proud of you because you put yourself at risk for your brother like that. Always remember Jon, the lone wolf dies but the pack survives. You're a part of this family, this pack, and if you keep protecting them our family will be safe. Will you promise me, that you'll always protect our family Jon?"
Even so young, Jon knew that this was a massive responsibility. He would be protecting his family from anything that would harm them. And it wouldn't just be bears when they grew up, it would be men and women and other families. He would have to protect them against bigger and stronger things. But he would protect Robb, his beloved elder brother. And the girls, pretty Sansa and loud Arya. And even little Bran, so small that he wondered how he had ever been that small. He swallowed heavily and looked up at his father,
"I will protect our family father."