Chapter 2: At the House of Wolves - Part 1
Geralt slipped off his mount after a stable hand had gotten the horse tied to a post, Graffin and the other soldiers doing the same. He'd take the time to gaze around the courtyard, getting an idea of his surroundings. The overall castle was well designed, being split from his understanding into multiple quarters which were separated by smaller inner walls and interconnected buildings. From his guess, this place was at least a several acres large, fitting for a family line supposedly as old as the Starks.
"No time to gawk around Geralt. Lord Eddard is expecting us." Graffin spoke up, getting the Witcher's attention.
He'd give a small nod before following the soldier across the courtyard and towards the inner eastern wall where another thick wooden gate separated the spaces. Voices spoke out as the gates were opened and two filed through before being closed behind them. The eastern yard was smaller than the main courtyard yet hosted the largest building he had seen in this hold, a massive hall. The grey stoned building was covered in the banner of a snarling grey wolf, the royal sign of the Stark family. The great wooden and iron doors into the hall were opened as two armored guards saluted to Graffin he gave a respectful nod to the guards as they passed by.
The inside of the hall was quite vast, having eight long tables set evening across the room. Empty braziers were set around the center along with a big fire pit, no doubt lit during dark and colder nights. At the far end of the hall was a small platform with a ninth long table set across it with a series of comfortable wooden chairs set behind it, facing out to the hall. Three men and one woman sat at this table, the oldest of the men sitting in the largest more throne like of the chairs.
Geralt focused on the oldest individual who was at in his forties by his estimate. He wore a fine yet simple leather best with bands crossing over it along with a regal cloak with a wolf pelt across the shoulders. Even with the heavier clothes, Geralt could tell the man was very much fit for his age, honed through years of training and exercise. His hair was a fine deeper brown and beard well-kept to give him a handsome northerner look befitting of a lord. His gaze was hard to read, yet it seemed deep and thoughtful
The two younger men, at least at or reaching their twenties were no doubt his sons because of their similar looks. The one of the left had longer flowing hair of a rich darker color along with a shorter shaven beard across his face. Much like his father, he wore a leather outfit although lacking the more regal hints the lord had. As for the young man on the lord's right, his hair was short and curly yet had the same darker brown color to it. His beard was more grown then his brother, yet finer shaped as well. His clothes were more similar to his father, perhaps hinting him being the closer in line to lordship. Both of them had a curious look at Geralt, the recognizable hint of young warriors sizing up another. He guessed the two blades on his back was what got their attention.
The last individual at the table was a woman, at least in her mid or late thirties by Geralt's estimate. She didn't seem like a northern like the few women he had seen, being softer and fairer looking. Her tied up hair was a lush auburn color and her eyes a piercing blue. She was dressed in a grayish blue gown, showing her quite slim figure. Her gaze seemed quite judging, cautious even from what he could tell.
Graffin stepped up before the gathered nobles, dropping to a knee and giving a short bow of his head. "Lord Eddard, Lady Catelyn, Lord Jon and Robb." He said formally to each individual at the table. "I'm surprised you were prepared for my arrival…I didn't expect news of-" He started before the Eddard spoke up, his voice having resounding command to it yet friendly in tone.
"We were having a small meeting among the household on other matters. Yet from my understanding you've traveled back here in quite the hurry along with…interesting company." His gaze drifted to Geralt, who locked gazes with the man, remaining silent still.
"He is a traveler was found a few days north during our patrol. This man encounter Wildlings, a band of a dozen." Graffin quickly explained, drawing looks of concern between the three men and a worried frown from the woman. "However they didn't escape sire if anything this man slayed them all." The two younger men looked to each other, muttering lowly as they glanced back at Geralt. The woman though had a doubting look to her. As for Ned himself…that steady gaze didn't falter in the slightest at this new detail.
"You are certain? That is quite a claim." Ned questioned calmly.
"I have no reason to lie about it sir. My men searched the area well enough, found no trace of anyone else fighting the raiders. No other footprints or bodies. From what I say of my companion here, he had just finished battling them when we found him."
"I see…" Ned paused, looking back at Geralt. "Stranger, state your name if you will and tell us about this encounter."
Geralt stepped closer to the table, taking a small breath before speaking. "My name is Geralt of Rivia. I'm a Witcher, an elite sellsword from where I come from." Pausing, he'd continue speaking. "I will admit sire, I don't know how I ended up in those woods, only waking up worn and battered. One of those raiders found me, tried to lower my guard before attacking. The rest soon followed up in smaller groups...three or four from my guess. Obviously I won in the end, lucky only getting roughed up in the end. They weren't that skilled considering past foes I faced."
"Quite the confidence about you." The short haired son spoke up suddenly. "Skilled or not though, you were vastly outnumbered. Surely you had something to even the odds."
Eddard looked to his son and then back at Geralt. "My son Robb has a good point Geralt. Such a skirmish would have even the most experienced fighters at their limits. A deeper explanation be desired."
"My style of fighting is very unique and adaptive thanks to my training along with decades of experience. Also my tools go beyond blades and more…exotic weapons which I have surrendered to Graffin." The mention of the soldier's name quickly drew attention back to him.
"Ah right…Geralt is correct. The clearing where the fight happened there was an explosion from what we saw. At least four of the raiders blown to bits from alchemical weapon."
This drew a more surprised look from Ned's gaze as he shifted forward slightly in his seat. "Just what are you Geralt? The more we question about you the more puzzling you are." The man moved to stand up from his seat. "A man with two swords, knowledge of alchemy, hair and skin as pale as snow along with eyes fitting of a beast." One hand tapped at the table as Ned tried to find some logical explanation about Geralt. "I feel you have a lot more to share about yourself."
The Witcher was silent before nodding. "I do. I hope you won't mind hearing my tale?"
Ned sat back down as he gave a small wave to Graffin. "Go ask the servants to get food and drinks ready. I feel we'll be here for a while."
Geralt spent a good few hours sharing his story, telling it exactly as he did to Graffin days before. He made sure to exclude any details involving the magical nature to his arrival here, Witcher or Ciri. Robb and Jon both were fascinated by the story while Ned and his wife Catelyn focused on every detail silently. He excluded the detail of monster hunting from his story which Graffin didn't correct on, showing that the soldier didn't care about the lacking detail.
"You have quite the fascinating past Geralt and a troubling matter with you missing daughter." Ned remarked as the story was at last finished.
"Thank you. I'll admit that these few days have been…stressing for me. If anything I shouldn't even be here at all trying to find her." Geralt remarked back.
"And why is that? I'm sure any good father would go to the ends of the world to save someone they hold dear." Ned questioned.
"It's a bit more…complicated than that." After all, how was he meant to explain that Ciri had the power over space and time, much less the boggling complexities of magic? He could tell Ned was an open minded man, yet he couldn't risk sharing such details with him…not just yet at least. "I can't say anything more on the matter. It's personal."
"Keeping secrets doesn't help your cause sir." Catelyn remarked, her voice formal yet stern towards him. "It's obvious you're not from Westeros or even Essos from my understanding…so either you're lying or hiding something."
Geralt had to admit the woman was sharp, even again he was terrible at lying on the stop. It was hard keeping details about his world limited, yet hopefully vague enough. One thing was for sure, this woman didn't trust him. "If I told you, you wouldn't believe me."
The noblewoman kept that steady gaze towards Geralt, doubtful about his claim yet Ned would quickly speak up. "The man has his reasons. It is a personal matter, one that he can freely share at a later date." Looking back at Geralt, he continued speaking. "We can't ignore your actions dealing with the Wildlings, thus you're welcomed to stay here in Winterfell for as long as you wish. No doubt once you've rested and become familiar with the keep, you'll feel more open to telling us more about yourself."
Geralt didn't expect such a patient reaction from the Lord, yet so far Eddard acted unlike any noble he had met before. He didn't impose his title like past rulers and treated him like a normal person despite his Witcher traits. Obviously, Eddard was a level headed individual or at least honorable enough to not be demanding towards him. Or perhaps the Northerner saw him as a useful ally…although Geralt already was thinking the same thing of the lord.
"I'll admit it's been a tiring week for me. I just need some time to rest, eat and get my bearings." Geralt answered back in a thankful manner. "Still I'm willing to do my part around the keep. Can work around the grounds, tend to any injured you may have or help the men train." The mention of training had Jon and Robb mutter to each other, along with Ned giving a thoughtful look. After all they all were curious to see the Witcher was capable of. "One request I have is if I can use your library. I'd like to research on certain matters and learn as much of the Seven Kingdoms as quickly as possible."
Ned thought for a moment before nodding. "Hmm…I see no issue with your request. For now, I recommend you take some time to look around Winterhold while the servants get your quarters arranged."
Geralt gave a respectful nod back. "Thank you Lord Stark. If there is nothing else, I'd like to take some time alone."
"Nothing else Geralt. I will call for you if anything comes up."
With that, the Witcher turned to leave yet even as he moved across the hall he could hear the low mutterings between the four nobles, yet was certain they were debating about the story he had shared. Leaving the great hall, the guards shut the gate and escorted him back to the main courtyard. Graffin was nowhere to be found, no doubt taking a long break after the days of traveling.
"Seems like I am on my own." Geralt muttered to himself, glad to no longer have anyone looking over his shoulder. If anything, he needed time to do some tests, somewhere private to see how his Signs were working. Also his wolf medallion still hummed lightly, hinting that a large source of power or someone with potent magic was nearby. His gaze drifted around the large court yard, trying to notice anything or one that stood out. However, he'd hear hushed voice, young and female in tone, coming from the archway leading to the Great Keep.
"We shouldn't bother him Arya." The older voice muttered nervously.
"I just wanted to see if it was true. Never seen anyone carrying two swords on their back like that." A younger more excited voice muttered back.
"He could be dangerous. I don't like those scars and…I heard he killed a dozen people." The other voice argued back.
"A dozen Wildlings Sansa. The spooky raiders you whimper about whenever Old Nan tells a story." Arya teased to Sansa.
"I do not!" Sansa snapped in an annoyed manner yet gasped when she realized Geralt was standing right there, arms crossed and giving a questioning look at the two girls.
The eldest girl was a fair young woman with long light brown hair and was dressed in a lovely northern dress and cloak. It was easy to tell by her looks and finer clothes that she was one of Lord Ned's daughters since she had a fitting look of her parents, mainly from her mother's side. She glanced away shyly, seeming nervous by his gruff appearance.
The young girl had darker brown hair styled into two pigtails along the sides of her head. Her dress was plainer yet more fitting for outdoors. If anything she almost reminded Geralt of a younger Ciri with the way she looked at him with curious yet confident gaze. She stare at the Witcher's cat like eyes, a hint of surprise showing on her face for a moment.
"You do have cat eyes! And you said the guards were lying! Arya remarked at her sister, a small smirk crossing her face while Sansa muttered, no doubt having betting on the matter.
Geralt couldn't help but give a small chuckle at her reaction. "Funny. Most people normally cower when they see them." He remarked back. "Then again people back home are overly superstitious."
"So is it true you're a mercenary? They say you're from some far off place across the Narrow Sea, a master swordsman even. I mean…that's why you use two swords right because you wield them both?" The young girl quickly asked.
He guessed the cover story from being from this continent of Essos was spreading. So far it seemed only the older Starks and Graffin knew the vague truth about his origins.
"Don't normally duel wield them. Normally use steel while silver is for more special occasions." He explained to the young girl.
"Like what? I mean isn't silver a poor choice of metal for weapon?" Arya commented.
"Huh…reading up on weapon crafting?" Geralt questioned, not expecting someone like her to know such a detail.
She'd shrug, a small smirk on her face. "Did ask the smith's apprentice a few questions very so often. Nan always tells myths and legends special weapons that can kill…well…"
"Monsters?" Geralt suddenly added in which caught Arya by surprise, who gave a small nod.
"Yah like that! I mean you don't actually kill monsters though?"
Geralt paused as he thought on how to answer. "I do kill such creatures if you'll believe it. I can say they're real enough from what I come from. Ghouls, ghosts and the like lurking around the dark places of the world."
Arya beamed when she heard his answer while Sansa rolled her eyes, obviously not believing what he said and thinking he was humored her younger sister. "I hope you mean it…so you better tell me a story about a hunt." The young girl demanded.
"Of course, for another time though." He answered back with a small smile. If anything Arya reminded him a lot of a younger Ciri which the way she acted. It at least improved his mood after the last rough few days. "I do have one question; do you have a shrine or sacred place here?"
Arya thought for a moment. "There is the small Sept of the Seven yet that is a boring place really. The Godswood and the Weirtree though-" Arya started before Sansa shushed her and spoke up.
"The Godswood is restricted though to our family and those invited into it. Arya seems to forget that detail after all." Sansa quickly explained, speaking sternly to her young sister who grumbled in annoyance.
"I understand. I'll have to ask you father next time then."
Sansa just nodded before shifting back to the Great Keep door. "Anyway we have bothered you long enough Sir Geralt. My sister and hi have to go back to our practices before mother notices." Arya gave a small sigh of boredom on the matter yet knew her sister was right.
"Goodbye Geralt! Umm…maybe you will show us how you fight during one of the training days!" Arya quickly remarked before Sansa tugged her back into the Keep.
Geralt gave a small wave as the two girl left before looking back around the court yard. To the north-west he could just make out tall trees over the many layers of walls the made up the keep. He couldn't tell how big the wooded area was, yet from what he saw of the keep from the outside, it must be at least a few acres. He was tempted to try sneak in yet knew that be a big risk. The last thing he needed was angering the Starks while in their good graces. For now, though his attention to one of the passing guards.
"Can you point me to the guest house and library tower?" Geralt asked simply yet politely.
"Sure. The tower is just right there." The man pointed to a large rounded tower that was set at one corner of the kenals area. "Guest House is across the Great Keep." He'd then point to a large building that build into a part of the north western edge of the courtyard wall.
"Thank you." Geralt answered back, the guard giving a nod before continuing his patrol. Looking to the tower, Geralt guessed now be a good time to check it out, get some light reading done before settling in for the night. The tower had two entrances, a main door at the front and a winding stairway along the tower's side. The long guard by the door nodded as Geralt approached, entering into a lodge area with chairs and small tables set around a large fireplace which was lit with a low burning fire. There were some bookcases set around along with loose tomes set around, no doubt from pass guests or the Starks readings. A quick check showed most of the books here were about general facts and knowledge, nothing that interested him.
Moving upstairs, he'd stop when he heard a low voice, an older man from what he could tell from the tone of the voice and light coughing. The second floor had a more fitting look of a library and study about it, with tall bookshelves stretched out in rows with ladders set around to reach the higher shelves. Geralt tracked down the source cough to find an old balding man dressed gray woolen robes along with a metal chain that was wrapped around his front.
"No need to hide yourself sir." The man said, his voice formal and clear despite his age. "If anything, it's rare to have anyone visit the tower here, much less an outsider such as yourself."
"You can say I'm a special. I'm Geralt of Rivia, Witcher." He replied as he moved closer to the man, noticing he was reading over scrolls and letters spread across an angled desk.
"Rivia…huh. I know my lands well sir, yet I can't say I've heard of such a country." The old man chuckled.
"Let's just say it's very far off."
The old man shrugged, a small amused grin on his face. "I believe an introduction is needed from me. I am Maester Luwin, advisor of the Stark family."
"I take that is the job of a Maester? Sounds like quite the important title." Geralt question.
"Ah you'd be right my friend." Luwin answered back with a nod as he'd roll up a scroll. "We Maesters are learned men dedicated to understanding of knowledge and truth. Herb lore, medicine, warcraft, history, economics and much more. No matter how small a noble house one Maester always serves it."
"Quite impressive considering. Where I come from such learning is more privileged to most and doesn't cover so many subjects. Oxenfort University was the closest form of high learning in the lands I come from, only the late king to have it shut down recently." Geralt remarked back.
"Sounds like your land was in troubled time if knowledge was being shut away like that." Luwin muttered in a concerned manner.
"Considering the church was rounding up anyone who knew out to mix water with any plant into a salve or speak in just another language, all in the name of ending witchcraft…yah…it was troubling."
The grim details had the Maester give a more wide-eyed look before turning to face the Witcher, his chain rattling about. "Just who are you Geralt? I was told that a scarred warrior came to out keep, a man who slew a dozen Wildlings." The man's eyes had a sharper look, looking over Geralt calculating as he seemed more alert then before. "Your age, I cannot determine it from a glance. The face tells me more middle aged yet the scars add more to my estimate. Physically though your body seems to be in its prime...perhaps farther then that considering. Your eyes are…" At that moment the Maester paused, having just noticed the Witcher's feline like gaze, yet he didn't question it just yet. "You are obviously learned considering how you speak. Can you explain the proper uses of milk of the poppy?"
Geralt knew the man was testing him and felt this maybe a good chance to win his favor. "A useful painkiller and anesthetic. Best taken in small doses from minor pains, drops mixed with drink. More serious issues should involve purer doses yet limited to avoid addiction. Back home healers prefer mixing it with alcohol for open wounds, numbs the pain and cleans the cuts." The Witcher clearly detailed.
"Interesting. Simple yet to the point answer…the last part I'll keep in mind since I've never thought to use the milk on such injuries." Luwin muttered with a small nod. "How far does your studies go sir Geralt?"
"Most of what you cover along with more exotic subjects." The Witcher answered back. "In my profession one needs to knowledge to get the job properly done, else that means someone getting hurt…or killed."
"Curious. You'll have to share more with me at a later time then."
"Gladly." Geralt paused though, thinking for a moment. "However could you give me a list of books? You know this place better then I. History about the Seven Kingdoms, the Houses, mythology, Night's Watch and this Wall."
"Quite the collection you're asking for." The old man moved about the library, seemingly finding every book the Witcher had asked for. "Ah if only the young masters were as inquisitive as you. They'd be wise leaders once of age." Soon a large pile was set on the desk yet already Geralt was shifting through them, picking one a black book with a raven crest, which of the Night's Watch, then a brown book titled Wonders Made by Men.
"Thank you. This will helpful for me." Geralt said as he flipped through a few pages.
"What interests you so much about The Wall so much Geralt?" Luwin asked.
"A hunch really. Heard bits and pieces traveling here and I just want to be sure." Geralt answered back as he leaned over the desk, cat like eyes rapidly scanning across the page's words.
"Well if you have any questions, seek me out. For me…" The Maester moved to collect his letters and scrolls. "…I have arrangements to sort out. King Robert and the Lannisters will be visiting within a few months. It has been years since the King has been up north, much less seen Lord Eddard." Sighing, he'd move to leave the Witcher alone. "Anyway, enjoy your studies Geralt."
The Witcher nodded, having not looked away from his book as he was curious over one page detailing the Night's Watch, mainly their founding history and purpose. Already Geralt was getting that this land had a long history stretching thousands of years. Maybe this information was misleading or just driven by myth. The book mentioned the Wildlings obviously, the wild people of the frozen north…yet one other mention was given.
"White Walkers…The Others…" Geralt muttered as he turned glanced at the book pile. He felt he needed to look into every detail about these beings. Myth or not, the vague details alone were too connecting to be coincidence. That alone made him all the more worried for Ciri.