"It was just over a year after the Fall of the Rock when Lord Commander Selmy of the Night's Watch sent for help," Jon said. "The White Walkers, the 'Others' from the tales Old Nan, the woman who raised me, told me in my childhood, they were back, and they had an army of the dead behind them, numbering in the hundreds of thousands, Wildlings, Brothers of the Night's Watch and beasts among them. They were pale as snow and they rode dead horses and ice spiders larger than hounds into battle. That was what the missive said.
"I might have ignored it, except I am of the North. I grew up with tales of the First Long Night. And Ser Barristan's former sworn brothers were still knights of my Kingsguard. They assured me he was sane, and that if he was asking for help things were dire. Sers Oswell and Gerold's sellswords had been acting as the City Watch in King's Landing, after we found out how corrupt the gold cloaks truly were, and they had been patrolling the King's Road, keeping it truly safe for the first time in too long. They were easy to gather. I sent a letter to Lord Stark, my stepfather, to ask him of his view of the threat. He confirmed that it truly was dire, and I sent out the call to all of the realm. I marched North with an army of more than a hundred thousand men, with more still being mustered behind me. The day I reached the Wall, the sun set, and it did not rise for years."
Jon paused for long moments, drew in a sharp breath. This was still far more difficult to talk about than he might have wished, even if, to the children around him, this would likely seem no more real than the stories Old Nan had told him when he was still a child himself. "The Night King's army was terrible to behold," he said. "Half-rotten corpses of men, women, children and beasts. All of them would just stand there and stare at us with eyes colder and bluer than ice, but as soon as something living was within their range, they would strike, and they would tear the living limb from limb until they too rose up, another wight in the Night King's army. The Night's Watch told me that Valyrian steel and dragonglass would kill all, that fire would kill the wights as well. So I sent for dragonglass from Dragonstone. I had Oberyn Martell collect all the Valyrian steel weapons he could find, and I had my aunt Daenerys come to the Wall and bring Blackfyre the Dragon and Longclaw.
"We warred for years. At night, I longed for your grandmother, for our children. I tried not to think of everything I was missing, everything I did not see. Our fourth babe was born in darkness, and I did not meet him for years and years. Longclaw died..." He stopped, tried to think, tried to swallow past that wound, still barely scarred over. Measuring time in the War for the Dawn had been nearly impossible. Jon still remembered returning to Margaery and being simultaneously stunned that so many years had passed, and shocked that they had not all died of old age. Time had lost its meaning, with no days and nights to measure it by. "...about three years into the War. A White Walker threw a spear of ice into his eye and we crashed to the ground. He caught me on a wing, made sure I was unharmed even as he died, or I might have been crushed beneath him. I found myself behind enemy lines, with the Others closing in from all sides, with my dragon dying at my back. I was convinced this was it, this was the end of it. I met them in battle, and somehow their hands became wrapped around Blackfyre the sword. I am still not sure what happened; all I know is that she shattered. She fell in pieces to the ground. And I was alone and defenceless, and convinced I was about to die."
"What happened then, Grandpapa?" Jaehaera asked, clutching Jonquil's hand. Both their eyes were wide and attentive, and reminded him so much of himself and his siblings when they were children, listening to Old Nan's tales. Duncan's daughters, the eldest of his growing brood of grandbabes, were probably the only ones aside from Rhaenys, who did not quite count, who were quite old enough to understand the utter terror of it. Jon only hoped he would not have his son coming to complain tonight about children who would not sleep for fear of nightmares.
"Ice the Dragon," Jon answered. "He must have known Longclaw had died. Truly, he must have known ahead of time, because it takes longer than that to fly from Dragonstone to the Land of Always Winter. He swooped in. He burnt Longclaw to ashes, so the Others could not raise him back to fight on their side. And still he was too late. Even as he was swooping in, the Night King was moments away from stabbing me in the back. He would have succeeded, if not for Ser Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning-"
"But you are the Sword of the Morning, Grandpapa," Lyanna Martell protested, staring at him with solemn grey eyes and the mane of unruly black curls they both shared with her mother. Both their mothers, truly.
"I was not born the Sword of the Morning, Sweetling," Jon said, pulling little Daeron, Duncan's thirdborn and heir into his lap and stroking his silvery tresses away from his grey eyes. "Arthur Dayne, my uncle in all but blood and one of the best, most loyal men I have known, had followed me into the Land of Always Winter, for all that he did not have a dragon to ride. He had nothing but his skill and his courage and loyalty and sword. Somehow, that was enough to get him to my side." Jon had to pause, and swallow down the lump in his throat. Uncle Arthur had been his father, just as much as Ned Stark, and the wound left by his death would always remain all too fresh. "He took the blow for me, and on his dying breath, he bequeathed Dawn, the Sword of Heroes, to me. Dyanna Dayne, he reminded me. I was blood of his blood still, and worthy of Dawn. I took Dawn from his dying hands and got on the back of Ice. Ice made sure to burn Uncle Arthur, so the Others could never use him against me, and then he flew me away." He had to stop again and suck in a sharp breath.
Rhaenys, Jon's own second daughter, named for his long-dead sister, burrowed further into his side. Her head of black curls dug into Jon's ribs, and Jon held her close, still wondering at this babe of his, older than his grandchildren and so, so gentle, conceived just a few days after the Return of the Dawn.
"For years, it went on, a stalemate. We burnt all wights we could find, but for every single man of ours that fell, another wight rose. I thought it would never end, that we would never stand a chance of winning. Even my aunt Dany and I working together could never cover enough ground to take out all the wights before new ones arose. Our men were brave. The best of them would sneak behind enemy lines, armed with dragonglass or Valyrian steel or both, and try to take out the Others. But it was never enough. There were so many of them, many more than we had ever thought possible. For what felt like an eternity, all we did was fight, and neither side was winning. All we knew was that if we did not start to win soon, we would begin to run out of living men. There had not been a harvest in years, even in Dorne, even across the Narrow Sea. If nothing changed, we would all still die. Time was on the White Walkers' side, and they made the best of it. I think they knew all too well that they need not try to move South yet, did not need to try to take the Wall. Eventually mankind would die out all on our own if they could only stall.
"In the seventh year of the War for the Dawn, there was a great battle. We knew we needed to make some difference, push the Others and their forces back. We hoped that if we pushed them back far enough, places like Dorne and Lys and Volantis, and the Ghiscari Cities of Slavers' Bay, at least, might see the sun for long enough to claim a harvest or two. We went all in, and we were on the verge of losing. Aunt Dany and I had to come too low to the ground, and we were very nearly slaughtered, along with our dragons. There were wights clinging onto the wings of Ice and Blackfyre, pulling them to their doom, when suddenly fire rained down on us. The wights burnt and we were free to escape. We got high enough to do some damage without exposing ourselves too much, and it was then that we realised another dragon had joined us."
"Father," Jonquil said. "It was Father on Dawn the Dragon, was it not?"
Jon smiled, and reached out to smooth her silvery curls out of her eyes. "Yes, Sweetling," he said. "It was. I did not recognise him at first. I had no concept of time remaining, and in my mind Duncan was a boy of five namedays. But in truth, he was two and ten, and tall and strong, a true knight even then. And there was nothing he wanted more than to serve the realm and keep her safe. He had been riding Dawn since he was eight, he told me later. He managed to keep it secret from his mother, somehow. And then one day, Dawn headed North on his own initiative, and Duncan just clung on.
"He arrived in the midst of battle, and Dawn was fresh and rested while Ice and Blackfyre had been exhausted for years. Together, the three of them turned the battle to our side. We won." Jon paused for a moment, remembering all too well the fear and pride warring within him when his own son, suddenly not that much shorter than him, suddenly half a man, had come in to turn it all around. "And in the sennights following, we realised that a third dragon made the whole difference. We did not have to just defend anymore. We could employ tactics we had only ever dreamt of." Jon paused a moment. "Rhaegar Targaryen, my birth father, was half mad," he said at last. "But his obsession with prophesy... He was right, in the end. 'The dragon must have three heads'. There had to be three dragons and three riders to win the War for the Dawn, even if he was wrong about the who and the how. It took not three siblings, but three generations of Targaryens. In the end, just a few moons' turn after Duncan joined the War, there were no more wights left, and most of the Others were slain. We were deep into the Land of Always Winter. We truly believed that somehow, against all odds, we had won the War. But it was an ambush, and we fell right into it. Blackfyre and Ice were slaughtered before Aunt Dany and I even knew what was happening. All we could feel, without the dragons there to sustain us, was the utter cold. It was beautiful there, in an unnatural, otherworldly way. I knew it would kill us in hours if nothing changed.
"Duncan swooped in on Dawn, he distracted them, and I somehow made my way to the Night King himself. I tried to stab him in the heart, but something was in my way. It was like striking steel against stone; the steel might be harder, but if you keep trying, you will damage your blade. But I had to keep going, or we would all be lost. I struck again, and chunks of star steel were falling off Dawn. But chunks of black dragonglass were falling from the Night King's chest as well, and I knew I had to keep going. So I did. I struck at him again and again. He was on his knees, and there was no honour left; just survival. I kept striking. Dawn, half broken, caught on something, and when I pulled it back, a black dragonglass dagger clung to its edge. Dawn was beyond damaged, but as that dragonglass dagger left the Night King's chest, he fell, and so did the rest of the Others, so did what few wights that remained. Duncan landed Dawn, and both Aunt Dany and I climbed onto his back.
"I do not remember much else. I was exhausted. They say I was wounded, though I do not remember the wounds. I remember waking up here, in the Red Keep, with my wife and children at my side. And I-"
"I hope you are not planning to pull an Aegon the Conqueror," a voice said from behind him, and Jon turned his head, felt his face fall into the smile that had been so difficult to find since the Long Night. "Dying while telling war stories to your grandchildren," Margaery continued. "Honestly, have you not had enough people, by now, tell you you may look like the Conqueror but you have more of the Conciliator in you? That means quite a few years more to see." She reached his side, bouncing the babe at her hip, their miracle babe, conceived after they both had thought it was long past their time. Jon gently took him from her arms, kissed the fuss of silvery baby curls while he prayed for those beautiful blue-gold eyes to show themselves.
After several long moments, Arthur blinked up at him, eyes distant and unfocused in that way babes had. "I am barely four and forty, My Queen," he said softly, directing a quick smile her way before returning it to the babe. He had missed so many years with their first three. He had not met Aegon until he was seven namedays old, and he had spent the first few years of Rhaenys' life fighting and struggling and begging and praying to rebuild the realm with what few resources they had left after the War for the Dawn. Arthur was his final chance, their last babe, the one whose first word he might be blessed enough to hear, whose first step he might be lucky enough to see. He swore, to the Old Gods and the New, that he would not miss a thing, not when they had seen fit to give him this last chance. For all that he loved all his children, watching one grow from babe to man without missing all the important bits was a dream that might finally be fulfilled. "I have no plans to expire just yet."
Margaery smiled. There were lines around her eyes he had not noticed before, and grey in her hair, from the strain of holding the Seven Kingdoms together while he fought a desperate war as much as from age. He knew he probably looked worse. He was not just greying and wrinkled, but scarred too, in probably every place a man could be scarred. But he was alive; they both were, and it was spring, the longest spring in millennia, and their last son flashed him a toothless grin, and no, Jon had absolutely no plans to expire just yet.
"If you have something more productive for me to do, you will have to actually speak the words," he told her.
She flashed him that impish grin of hers that seemed almost obscene given the amount of grandchildren in this room. "Oh, but you know I will," she told him, and kissed his temple before leaving the room, calling out for their grandchildren and reminding them that it was at least one story past bedtime. Jon held Arthur close, brushed those downy curls out of his tiny, long Stark face. "For as long as there have been Seven Kingdoms," he told his son, voice barely a whisper, "The Starks have been right. They always will be. But perhaps it can be just a reminder now, and not a prophecy." He pressed a kiss to the infant's brow. "You have no idea what I mean, do you?" he asked. He paused for a moment, looking into those beautiful eyes of his wife's and the way they glistened in their son's Stark face, and felt so utterly grateful for this last babe, this final chance, that it took his breath away. "It does not matter, anymore, does it? Winter will always come. Fire and blood is how you birth a dragon. But you, all I want for you is that you grow strong."
The babe let out a wordless gurgle, and for a moment Jon might have sworn he had grinned up at him, as intelligent as any maester, before all he was looking at, once again, was his babe's calm, peaceful gaze. Peace, he allowed himself to hope. Peace at long last, and Gods, but he needed that. Arthur reached out, gripped his nose and held it fast, refusing to let go, and all Jon could do was laugh and laugh and laugh.
First off, I realise the story Jon told in the beginning could probably be a novel-length fic all of its own, but doing it like this really made sense to me, for the references and the double setting and everything. If you are desperate to see it written out in full, I'm afraid you're going to have to do it yourself, since I am actually quite satisfied with this ending. It works for me, and I always write for myself first and foremost.
Another couple of things: Jon is still Jon in his own head and to those closest to him, regardless of what everyone else calls him, but I like to think he's still doing quite well balancing his duel heritage and more than doing that, he's trying to create a wholly new future for his country and is in large parts, as hinted, following the Tyrell words more than the Stark and Targaryen ones at this point. Not because his heritage doesn't matter to him. It will never not matter, and both sides inform who he is and what he does, but the whole country is being rebuilt even now, and reassurances of a better future matter more than dire warnings and threats.
Also, Rhaenys. It is implied in the text but not entirely written out that she's 'sweet and simple' as a few Targaryens have been before. Basically, she is a teenager, but her mind is very much still that of a child. Which is not necessarily a bad thing. She's happy and well loved. Just wanted to make sure you all had some idea why she is sitting around with and mostly acting like her younger nieces and nephews.
Also: re the Sword of the Morning... I know giving that title to Jon might be going slightly overboard, but eh, crack treated seriously... Anyway, my reasoning is that no new blood has entered the Targaryen line since Betha Blackwood wed Aegon V. Aegon himself was the son of Dyanna Dayne, and as such half a Dayne. His children, then, were one quarter Dayne. And since the blood wasn't diluted for generations since, Rhaegar himself, was, arguably one quarter Dayne, making Jon one eighth a Dayne, despite the generations passed. In addition, he was partly raised by a Dayne, believed he was half a Dayne for much of his life, and shares the blood of the First Men. It might seem far-fetched, but that is my slightly more long-winded explanation for why he should be given Dawn, at least in this universe.
So... This was the end of the road. I very much enjoyed the ride, and thanks so much to everyone who stuck with me through it. Meant the world to me.
On a completely different note:
I am currently very hard at work on my own original story. And I need all the help I can get. If you're at all interested, please keep reading:
After the Kingdom of Lesnar loses their years-long war against the Kingdom of Baragsen, Princess Faraline is sent south to serve as a hostage. The Baragsene court is foreign and unwelcoming, and not everyone wants peace. Fara is the only person standing between peace and another war, and if she can't figure out who is trying to kill her, she will die and the continent will fall back into chaos.
Third Child is in some ways the usual fantasy story, and in some ways it's very much not so. The story is told on a smaller, more personal scale, with just one narrator, although the consequences are far larger than just one person. It's an old idea of mine that I have finally refined to a point where I can't do anything else without help, and I desperately need that help.
I realise I could just pay a professional editor to help me out, but I have several reasons why I would rather avoid that:
1) As much as I don't regret my trip to Guatemala earlier this year, it has left me damn near broke
2) I find that I learn more through discussion, between myself and others, and through watching others discuss amongst themselves, than I do from simply getting a document with a few notes.
3) Not all the things I need help with fall under an editor's purview.
Let me elaborate on that last one. I tend to be a bit of a minimalist writer. I care about world-building, very much so, but not all aspects of it are easy to me. So rather than just a straight-up edit job, what I need are also people who really enjoy fantasy, immersing themselves in other worlds and all that comes with it. I need help polishing off the world-building and refining the lore weaving and everything to do with that.
So, what do I need?
- People to help with world building and lore weaving (this is not a regular beta job. It doesn't matter if you can't spell to save your life, or if you're too detail oriented to help with larger plot points. Your help will still be valued)
- Line editors (people who are brilliant at grammar and spelling and enjoy sifting through long bits of text and pointing out every single error)
- Avid readers who just love reading and giving their honest reactions as well as long, in-depth comments with plenty of constructive criticism to really help me make this story the best it possibly can be
- Plot editors, who will help me figure out where things don't make sense and where I have gone wrong and made the plot as solid as Swiss cheese
- People who can do things other than this to help me out, even if I have currently forgotten that aspect of things
- Any combination of the above
If any of that sounds like you and you'd like to help me out, please create a user on and put your handle in the comments below, and I'll send you an invite to the discussion board I created for all this. It takes a small village to finish a novel, and I am desperately searching for mine.
If you are not interested in helping with the editing process, but would like to read the finished book once it's published, please put your email in the comments below, and I'll put you on a mailing list so you'll know as soon as the book is out.
Thank you so much for sticking with me through all my notoriously long author's notes. I really appreciate it :D