A/N: MaryEvH here; thanks so much for sticking with us! I won't bore you for too long with programming notes, so read, review, and most of all, enjoy this new chapter!
Jon had finally sat down behind his desk, holding a small token between two fingers. The gold necklace had an unusually long chain, but it would be perfectly hidden under a gown. His thumb went to the intricate pendant of a Tyrell rose, gently stroking it. A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. He hoped it would make her happy.
A knock at the door interrupted his thoughts. "Come in," he called, hurriedly setting the pendant down and covering it with one of the letters.
Sansa opened the door and hesitantly stepped inside. "Is this a good time?"
He smiled at her. "Always, please sit," he said, standing from behind his desk and gesturing to the chair on the other side of it.
She took the offered seat and regarded him for a moment. "You look like him," she said quietly as he sat back down.
Jon quirked an eyebrow. "Like who?"
"Father. The furs, the desk… it suits you," she said, offering a small smile as well.
Jon looked down, both saddened and happy at the comparison. "I don't think I could ever live up to him."
"I know how you feel," she replied softly. "We have big boots to fill, being the last of the Starks."
Looking up, he studied her hooded eyes. "No one's heard from Arya?" he asked, knowing full well what had happened to all his brothers.
Sansa shook her head. "Brienne mentioned seeing her on the road with the Hound, but she left him for dead. No one's heard from Arya since."
Jon sighed, running a hand through his hair. He really didn't have the energy to contemplate the fate of his remaining family members. "You didn't come here to discuss Arya, though," he said, changing the subject.
A strange looked crossed his sister's face. "No, I didn't. How could you tell?"
"I've been at the Wall for a while; I had to learn how to read faces," he replied. "What's on your mind, Sansa?"
She glanced briefly over her shoulder at the door, and Jon briefly wondered if she was uncomfortable with her back facing the door. "I was watching Brienne and Pod train when I noticed two women walk across the parapet. I thought there weren't any women at the Wall?" she asked, her voice noticeably quieter.
"Normally no. The women you saw were Gilly and - Bethany," he said, managing to catch himself before he spoke her real name. "Gilly is… from beyond the Wall. She needed sanctuary and we provided it."
Something in Sansa's eyes sharpened, and he knew he wouldn't get away without explaining "Bethany's" presence here as well. "And what about Bethany? Where is she from?"
A knock at the door interrupted them. Thank the Gods, Jon thought. "Come in!" he called out, hoping Sam or Pyp had decided to rescue him...from his sister. When did this happen?
But instead of one of his friends stepping inside, the object of their conversation opened the door. She looked startled to see Sansa sitting in front of his desk, and Sansa was…well, shocked was an understatement.
"Margaery?" Sansa breathed, halfway getting out of her chair.
Margaery broke out into the most radiant grin Jon had ever seen, and quickly made up the distance, pulling the redhead into a hug. Both girls seemed to breathe a sigh of relief as they held onto one another. He got up to latch the door; he certainly didn't need Sam or Pyp walking in now.
"How did you get here, sweet girl?" Margaery asked Sansa.
"I would ask you the same thing," Sansa replied, still in disbelief.
Margaery glanced at Jon, now sitting behind his desk again. "It's…a bit of a long story." Jon leaned back in his chair, listening as Margaery began to recount everything that had happened. He'd heard the majority of it before, so he only listened with half an ear. Instead, his eyes trailed downward, to the necklace that lay obscured by the letter bearing the Bolton sigil. He frowned at the flayed man seal, disliking the way it covered Margaery's rose necklace. The symbolism of it bothered him to the point that he moved the Bolton letter and replaced it with a report. There, the seal of the black crow was much better.
His half-sister's voice distracted him. "Jon? Is everything alright?"
He ran a hand over his face. "I'm fine," he replied, not wanting either of the women to worry about him.
"I think we're bothering him," Margaery said, her tone teasing, but her eyes worried. "We should retire to my quarters, where we can gossip in peace without long-suffering brothers around," she said, and Jon couldn't help the upturn of his lips. He was glad they had found each other.
As the women left, Jon finally looked at the missives he'd received alongside the necklace. He'd taken note of the Bolton one and the one containing the rose necklace, but the third surprised him. It reported the sighting of Tyrell armed forces moving North. Lady Olenna had said nothing of sending her men, but if they were heading North, they could only be coming to one place…
But was it really a bad thing? With the increased sightings of Wildlings in the area, Jon knew it couldn't be much longer until Mance decided to attack Castle Black, and his lie about their numbers would only hold up for so long. Perhaps the Tyrell army could turn the battle in their favour? Provided the Lords would take orders from a bastard in black.
His eyes went back to the Bolton missive. He had to open it sooner or later… Sighing, he ran a hand through his hair again. Better get it over with.
The contents were…not what he expected. Gilly and Maester Aemon had told him about their run-in with Locke in the rookery, and after the man had disappeared south, he'd considered sending some men after him, but he really couldn't spare them. It seemed Lord Bolton had done him a favour. Though with that family…
He gathered the papers in his hands, sighing again. So much was happening, and it was all happening so fast. How can I command my men, protect the Wall, and keep my friends and family safe?
He sat with his face in his hands for a moment, until Ghost padded across the office and placed his head in Jon's lap. "What do you think I should do, boy?" he asked the direwolf. The animal tilted his head, his red eyes piercing Jon's, like he already knew what Jon should do. "They've finally found each other; I can't interrupt them now," he sighed, even though he longed to talk things over with Margaery. Over the course of their conversations, he'd learned that she could be quite the strategist, and she knew how to keep a cool head.
The Lord Commander deliberated with himself at the desk for another moment, before resolving to talk to her. He got up, motioned for Ghost to follow him, and went out the door. But as he got closer to Margaery and Gilly's quarters, he hesitated again. What did it say about him that he was willing to interrupt two close friends just after their reunion – and that he would seek out the tactical advice of a woman before that of his own sworn brothers?
Almost as if summoned by his thoughts, Sam appeared as he rounded the corner. "Ah, Jon," he smiled.
"Sam," Jon greeted with a nod. Perhaps it would be better not to disturb the ladies after all. "Been to speak with Gilly, I presume?"
Sam flushed faintly. "Edd, actually," the other man corrected, collecting himself. "He said you'd received some messages. Anything important?"
"A few," he admitted. "You can tell Maester Aemon that Roose Bolton took care of Locke for us. Though I almost wish he hadn't; we've now lost the chance to interrogate him."
"Really? Why would Lord Bolton concern himself with that?" Sam asked, and Jon could almost see him thinking. His friend was a smart one, that was for certain.
"I don't know, but I doubt it was out of the goodness of his heart. The Boltons aren't the type to do anything unless it profits them in some way," Jon replied, mulling over the conundrum himself. Looking at the facts, there was one explanation that took into account all the facts, but he wanted to see what Sam thought.
His friend's eyes widened. "You think Locke was a spy for the Boltons? But…why put a spy on the Wall, of all places? No one cares what happens here…"
Jon frowned. "The Boltons are Northerners, even if they haven't a lick of Northern loyalty. And their lands lie close to the Wall. Stands to reason they'd have a vested interest in what goes on here."
Sam nodded, agreeing with his friend. "Not to mention you're here."
This time, Jon's frown was one of surprise. "What?"
Sam blinked. "Well, with your family mostly gone," he said with a wince of compassion, "they might be scared that you could rally the other Northern Houses against them."
"But I've taken the black. Even if I wanted to," he said, ignoring the fact that a small part of him did indeed want to reclaim his family's home, "I couldn't do anything. I belong here. I'm the Lord Commander of the Night's Watch."
"And with that comes power," Sam noted, "even if it's only power over the men of the Wall." Jon paused to consider his friend's words, even as Sam went on. "And besides, not everyone puts as much stock in our vows as we do. They might think you'll take any opportunity to get away from all this. I know a lot of the men would."
Jon sighed. "You have a point, Sam. As always. I wish I knew what to do."
"My mum always told me to stop thinking so much and take it one step at a time," his friend advised. "My problem was always finding the first step," he admitted with a self-deprecating grin.
The Lord Commander couldn't help but let out a chuckle. "Sound counsel, indeed." Jon looked over Sam's shoulder, in the direction of Margaery and Gilly's chambers, and realized that he really shouldn't disturb the ladies. "I'll accompany you to Maester Aemon," he said, making his decision. "Perhaps he can offer some similar advice."
"So what's the plan?" someone asked a few horses away.
Portar only looked up from his pack once the Bolton insignia was safely hidden away. "Easy. We go in as prisoners. The Wall's always lookin' for fresh meat, right? An' then we get the girl soon as we see 'er," he explained. "You can pretend to be a guard or somefin'."
They were 5 men, in all, which was all Ramsay Bolton had sent. Originally, he'd ordered 20, but 20 men couldn't take Castle Black, nor could they enter unseen. So the Bolton bastard had changed the plan. It didn't sit completely right with Portar, the way old man Bolton had died, but none of his companions would care. And so, he had to put it out of his mind. So long as he got paid.
"Who is this girlie anyway?" one of the men asked. "Some lass he wants to put his cock in?"
"I'll bet ye 5 coppers that she'll be out on th' cross by mornin'," another chimed in, a hungry light in his eyes.
"I don't take fool's bets," the first man laughed loudly.
But he wasn't listening anymore. Instead, he scanned the trees around them. They'd stopped for a moment to regroup and go over the plan, thinking the lands in the Gift were safe enough, but now he wasn't so sure. Something rustled ever so slightly beyond the ring their fire lit.
"Hush, you idiots," Portar snapped, half-rising and grabbing his knife. They hadn't brought swords, on account of prisoners shouldn't have any weapons whatsoever, but now he lamented that decision.
He peered into the darkness to his left, sure he'd seen something. Then, suddenly, one of his comrades cried out behind him. Portar whirled around, but saw only the arrow protruding from one of the men's necks. The others cried out in dismay and clutched their paltry weapons, forming a circle around the fire.
A loud cry of war shattered the silence, and then they were upon them. Men and women wearing pelts and furs, their appearance shabby and unkempt.
There were Wildlings south of the Wall. And not a small amount of them either.
He slashed at one man - or was it a woman? - and felled them, but there was another in their place just as quickly. He heard a gurgle behind him, and knew another of his mates had been killed.
A blade cut into his leg, forcing him to his knees. He looked up into the face of the devil; a man with a heavily scarred face and bald head - a Thenn - loomed over him, grinning. Blood coated his chin, and was spattered across his face. The Wildling exposed his teeth and gripped Portar by the shoulders, raising his blade.
The last thing Portar saw was a Wildling going through his pack and pulling out the Bolton sigil.
At least that bastard will go down with us, he thought, before he knew no more.
A/N: Dun dun DUUUUUUNNNNN!
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