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Epilogue: Night Gathers
(One Year Later)
The Qartheen ship docked proudly in Blackwater Bay, towering over the merchant vessels that made up the city's usual maritime traffic. Shielding his eyes from the sun, Jon regarded it closely, a frisson of nerves making his spine tingle. Locating his aunt had been one thing, then bringing her home had been another and the whole process had taken the best part of a year. Such was the vast and sprawling nature of the world they inhabited. It was with only a small tinge of sadness that he realised he would probably see very little of it. It was a sharp contrast to the girl on the ship, whom he suspected had seen more than enough of it.
He tried to get her in view but all he could see was the mast and the rigging, the crow's nest reaching for the clear blue skies. Behind him and his entourage, the city had been spruced up for the occasion. Densely populated streets had been cleaned, the wide roads leading to the Red Keep had been decorated with coloured bunting and freshly pressed banners to welcome the exile home. Even the people had come out. Wary, at first, fearing an unknown girl who was more a foreigner than Westerosi. Those who remembered the Sack and those who once proudly displayed the Stag of House Baratheon carefully modified their own memories.
"Are you nervous?" Margaery was at his side, mounted on a white charger caparisoned in cloth of gold. Her hair was unbound, loose about her shoulders the way he most liked it.
"No," he replied, but it wasn't quite the truth. "Just apprehensive, I think."
"Don't be," she tried to assure him. "She's your family. You're her only family."
That was true. While he had his mother and the rest of House Stark, Daenerys had no one. Her husband was dead, her brother had been killed in an unfortunate incident no one could fully explain and her child had died in her belly. Now they had each other.
And the dragons, of course.
Sanya was almost too big to be perching on his shoulder but she still tried it all the same. As long as she kept her tail curled around his neck, she could just about balance herself. But her talons were long and sharp, breaking his skin regularly and she was the larger, more aggressive of the three. Rheanna and Rhaegon were flying overhead, circling the ship where they could probably scent Daenerys' three.
"You should be greeting your cousins, too," he told Sanya as he extracted her from his shoulders. "Never mind skulking back here and snapping at strangers."
Her eyes met his and he was left with a familiar uncomfortable feeling that she somehow understood him. However, with a final lash of her tail against his thigh, she spread her wings and joined her sisters in the sky.
"They go through a difficult adolescence, you know," said Lyanna, the Queen Mother.
Like Margaery, she was mounted on a white charger but it was caparisoned in cloth of silver. She had also made good on her sentiments about leaving the Red Keep. Old Lord Rosby had sold her the townhouse she wanted and she had set up home there some time ago. Even so, she was a stone's throw away from the Red Keep and could arrive within minutes of being summoned. If Jon needed to get away from the Court, even for only an hour, her home was a convenient and welcome retreat.
"Surely, it cannot be as bad as raising an actual adolescent," Lord Stark said, frowning at his sister.
All of the Stark children present that day turned sharply to face him. Jon, Robb, Sansa, Arya and Bran. The latter having recently arrived to begin his training as a knight – just as he had always dreamed. Eddard wilted under the intensity of that questioning gaze.
"Don't look at me like that," he said defensively. "You've all had your moments, you know."
As though not quite sure what to do with herself, Lyanna looked to the skies as she stifled a laugh. "What I mean is, they're willful and stubborn. You'll need to show them a firm hand, that's all. I remember Rhaegar telling me."
While they were all distracted, the three dragons had suddenly become six. Jon's heart leapt and he sent up a silent prayer to the Old Gods and the New that Sanya behaved herself. Shielding his eyes from the sun again, he noticed she had fallen into place alongside a black dragon that was slightly larger than her. They snapped at each other, two flames merged from each of them. But after greeting each other with a mutual show of aggression, they began playfully wheeling around themselves.
"What's taking the Princess so long?" Arya asked, exasperated.
Some of the household guards were looking a little weary too. They'd been standing straight and stock-still for over an hour now. The members of the Small Council had gone from dignified silence to exchanging idle chatter among themselves. Ser Barristan appeared to be missing in action and Prince Oberyn was searching for his paramour.
"She's probably combing her hair," Jon replied, assuming her hair had now grown back just as his had. "Or whatever it is women do when preparing to appear in public."
Arya scowled at him but whatever reply she had was cut off by the arrival of Ser Barristan Selmy.
"There's another ship incoming from the Night's Watch, your grace," he said, explaining his absence. "I've sent a messenger out on a rowboat to hold them off until evenfall."
"Thank you, Ser Barristan," he replied. He felt bad for making the Night's Watch wait, especially when their excursions south were so rare, but it had to be done. "Any idea what they want?"
Ser Barristan shrugged. "None whatsoever, your grace."
They were holding a banquet in Daenerys' honour that evening, but he saw no reason why the men from the watch couldn't join them if they so desired. In the meantime, there was one small matter to attend to while Ser Barristan and Bran were finally in close proximity.
"By the way, Ser Barristan," Jon began. "Now I've had to admit at last that I'm no longer your squire, it's time you met my younger brother, Brandon."
While Brandon turned red in the face, Ser Barristan smiled broadly. "Ah, your replacement, your grace. An honour to meet you, Lord Stark."
Brandon, wide-eyed and tongue-tied, could only gulp in reply and Arya was kind enough to disguise her laugh as a cough. Then everything was drowned out by a sudden fanfare of trumpets and a steady beating of drums. Jon turned sharply to the ship, where a young woman mounted on a beautiful silver-white horse was making her way down the gangplank.
"This must be the Princess," said Sansa, steering her mount to Jon's side.
Jon's three dragons peeled away from the others and flew back to his side of the two households now forming up on shore. His apprehension grew as he watched his aunt dismount and plant her dainty feet on Westerosi soil for the first time in her life. There she stood, before kneeling and touching the stone with her bare hands. When she rose again, it looked like she was wiping a tear from beneath her eye.
"That's definitely her, Jon," said Lyanna. "Go."
He was nervous now. However, he could see his aunt was dismounted and he slid down from the saddle of his own horse. Still, he hesitated, then raised a hand to his men. "Wait here."
From the day they named him King, he had not had a private moment. Even when he used the privy someone lurked outside, standing guard and one even tried to come in with him once. It was expected of Kings, apparently. He soon put a stop to that, but they still insisted on watching over him as he bathed and slept and did all the other silly things most people did in sweet solitude. But this, the first meeting of the aunt he never knew he had, would be a moment he would share only with her.
Daenerys soon noticed him walking toward her, alone and without so much as a groom in attendance. Likewise, she motioned to her Dothraki handmaids to remain at a distance before approaching him alone. Their footsteps were measured, each understanding without saying anything, they had to arrive at the midway point together and at the same time. Behind him, he could sense his household holding their breath. They could not see how Jon's smile matched hers as they finally arrived at a speaking distance.
"Princess Daenerys of the House Targaryen?" he asked.
She couldn't be anyone else with that silver-gold hair and those lilac eyes. Lilac eyes still filled with unshed tears as she glimpsed her home after long years of penniless exile.
"King Jon of the Houses Stark and Targaryen?" she asked in reply and knelt.
"King's Landing is yours," he answered, raising her straight back up again. He motioned to the streets decorated with bunting and banners before added: "Be welcome, aunt."
Her lower lip trembled as she said: "Nephew."
A simple declaration that meant nothing else needed to be said. They were family and they were together, at last. They leaned in close, kissed each other's cheeks and embraced for all to see and with not a care in the world.
Back at the townhouse, dressing for the evening's banquet, Lyanna allowed herself a small sigh of contentment. Her one remaining handmaid – which was all she needed these days – had laid out a new gown and some jewellery for her. She was a lot plainer these days, but she was grateful for it. Sometimes, she forgot she was once as wild and wilful as Arya and dropping the pretence of Queenliness and come as a breath of fresh air to her life. Although she rather lacked Arya's energy in these days of encroaching middle-age.
Sat at the table, she began brushing out her hair in preparation for the upcoming banquet. "That went well, didn't it?"
Eddard was close by, watching her from the doorway of the drawing room. "Very well, she seems a pleasant girl. I'll admit, I worried she might hold a grudge."
"I don't suppose you can hold much of a grudge for something you don't remember," she posited. "But still, this is a new start for her. For both of them. I hope it all works out."
That sounded more glib than she intended, but she believed her point stood. The past felt like a line had been drawn beneath it. Whatever happened no longer mattered and things were slowly being put right.
Finally, Ned entered the room and perched on a wooden stool. "The Night's Watch is here. I'm thinking I'll sail back North with them when they leave."
Lyanna wasn't surprised. "I thought you might. Have you told Jon?"
She looked at his reflection in the mirror rather than twist her neck over her shoulder. He appeared older than when he had first arrived in the city, just over a year and a half ago. Tired and drawn. While he was no doubt keen to establish Jon on the throne before leaving, that was safely accomplished and she thought only Ashara kept him in the city.
"I did but I'll speak with him again this evening," he replied. "Prince Oberyn is already being talked about as my successor."
Lyanna stopped brushing her hair as she recalled the ship delayed getting into the harbour. "Do you think the Watchmen have news of Benjen? It's been a full year, Ned, and we've heard nothing."
He hesitated for a moment, confirming her worries. "That's what I really wanted to talk to you about. I cannot imagine any other reason for them being here. Yoren travels on land, so this isn't about recruitment. What else can it be?"
"And if they're here about Benjen," she said, quietly. "Well, had he been found safe we would have heard from him personally much sooner. If they're coming here to talk to us in person, the news must be grim."
Ned did not contradict her. "I think we should prepare ourselves for the worst, sister."
She turned in her seat to face him properly. "If that is the case, I don't think we should tell Jon until tomorrow."
"Yes, let him enjoy the banquet," Ned agreed. "Let him have this evening with Daenerys and Margaery. But the Watch is due at evenfall, I'll speak with them myself as soon as they get here. That way, we will know."
Lyanna nodded, a heavy feeling settling in the pit of her stomach. For a year now, she had kept hope alive. And hope was a cruel thing. Hope seized you by the throat and wouldn't let go. Nevertheless, she continued her preparations for that night's banquet once Ned had left. She put on her pretty new dress and slid the earrings into her ears. She picked a necklace and a matching diadem and put the finishing touches to her hair as Ser Jaime arrived at her door. She knew it was him by the tread of his boots on the cobbles outside and the sound of him being admitted to the kitchen via the back door.
She went out to greet him, keeping her expression neutral until her maid had withdrawn and left them alone.
"Here you are," she said, looking him up and down. "And here am I."
"So it seems," he answered. His expression was unreadable, as always. "I've made up my mind. I'm going to speak with the King … I can no longer serve in the Kingsguard."
A kingslayer twice over, it was never going to be easy. Untenable seemed more likely than not. But they both knew there was more to it than that. They both knew how they really felt about each other.
"I'll help in any way I can," she assured him. "If you want me there, or if you think it will help if I speak with Jon first. I mean, he's going to find out the real reason why sooner or later."
"I know," he said. "Right now, one step at a time. I'll be released from my vows and then…"
He trailed off, waiting for her to take up the slack.
"And then we'll decide what comes next together."
"One thing we both have is time," he replied, raising a pained smile.
Lyanna partly disagreed. "But not right now. We're both expected at the banquet tonight."
"I passed your brother in the street," said Jaime, ignoring her hint. "He was his usually cheery self."
"Leave poor Ned alone and let's just go," she said, aiming a playful swat at his arm.
He smiled in a manner almost self-conscious. In Jaime, a Lannister to the core, it was almost unsettling. All the same, he opened the door for her and motioned the way out. "After you."
He was here only to escort her back to the castle and it was a pleasant evening. Warm, but with the unmistakable air of autumn approaching. Summer was done, it seemed. But, as of yet, the white ravens remained at the citadel. It wouldn't be for much longer, however. Not with the leaves turning on the trees and the chill creeping in at dusk and dawn.
While they walked, she tried to pinpoint the moment she realised she had fallen for Jaime. When he saved her from Robert? That seemed likely. But he was Kingsguard and she a fresh widow, still expected to observe a period of morning for her late husband. Now, that period of morning was over. She discarded her widow's reeds a few days ago and once more dressed in colour and light. It was like waking from a long night, finding herself on the brink of a new beginning. She looked up at him beside her and did not try to hide the smile. Things were complicated just now, but that would not last.
Seasons turned, times changed. By now, Lyanna was more than used to it. She welcomed it.
"They say the last dragons were no bigger than dogs," said Daenerys. "And I worried mine would be the same. But not now. Look how big they are. And yours, too."
Jon had shared the same concerns himself. Especially after he had the skulls brought up from the dragon vault and lined up in the throne room, just as his Targaryen predecessors had done. He saw for himself then, just how small and sickly the last few dragons must have been. But his three girls grew so quickly his worries soon subsided, just as his aunt's seemed to have done.
"Oh, mine feed constantly," he laughed. Even now they were fighting among carcasses deemed unfit for the night's banquet. "And they're quite unaccustomed to sharing, I'm afraid. But I'll make sure Drogon, Rhaegal and Viserion get a good feed, too."
Daenerys laughed. "There's no danger of mine going hungry, nephew. They'll ensure they get their share."
They were watching from the terrace overlooking the King's gardens, where his girls had set up their own lairs among the foliage. While relations between Dany's dragons and his seemed cautious bordering on tense, Jon couldn't help but wonder about their future. Perhaps, just maybe, there might be dragon eggs forthcoming once they reached physical maturity. It was then that he realised he simply had no idea about dragon husbandry. But, with Dany here now, they would work it all out together. They would learn to bond properly and learn to fly together. A weight lifted from his shoulders now he had someone else who understood the process.
Meanwhile, night gathered. Drogon, the largest of Dany's hatchlings, was identifiable only by his red eyes smouldering in the thickening shadows. And they had a banquet get to which, no doubt, would see the six dragons feeding even more. It was the thought of Sanya, fully grown, that excited him more than anything.
"How did you know you were bonded to Drogon?" he asked. "I think I'm bonded to Sanya, named for my sisters. I thought that was it, at first. But it's more than that."
"I just knew," she said, calling her brood back to her. "It was always Drogon. I love them all equally, but Drogon and I understand each other. Drogon wouldn't leave me, he wouldn't let anyone near me that he didn't like."
He called his girls back to him as they made their way inside. Sanya once more trying to fit along his shoulders, rather like a clawed snake. But she managed it. In the throne room, the guests were already assembling: virtually every lord in the land had been summoned. Robert's hunting tapestries had been taken down and replaced with old Valyrian scenes. The doom and the Dance of the Dragons, all the key events of their shared history, once again adorned the red keep's walls.
However, among the dragons, the wolves still prowled. The Stark banners still hung from the rafters in the throne room, alternating with the three-headed dragon. Ghost, Nymeria, Lady and now Summer all took positions near the hearths of the hall and only left their favourite spots as their owners appeared for the feast. The feast that began in earnest as Jon and Daenerys took their seats at the high table, alongside Margaery and Lyanna.
On the table before them, whole roast hogs glazed in honey were laid out. A whole peacock, still in its plumage and all manner of game and fowl. He went to send a fish dish down to his father, only he just glimpsed Lord Stark slipping out of a side door with Prince Oberyn. The Hand of the King would be changing faces soon, he felt sure of that. Passing the fish to Arya instead, he leaned in toward Margaery.
"Once this is done," he said. "The next big event will be our wedding."
If he had his wish, it would have been a small affair with just family and their friends. In reality, it was never going to be like that. It was going to be the Sept of Baelor, public processions and celebrations. Free wine flowing from conduits in the streets and seventy-course feasts for the nobility inside the castle. Intimacy was the thing Jon missed most from his old life. Intimacy and the freedom to kiss his bride at will, without people whispering behind their hands.
In an act of flagrant free will, he kissed her at that moment. Their eyes met and they knew what was going to happen without saying anything. The kiss was sweet and tender. Come morning, there would be rumours the kiss had gotten her pregnant. That was how the court rumour mill worked and it made him laugh, sometimes. He was smiling now as they drew apart once more.
"Don't worry about the wedding, there's time yet," she assured him. "And I don't mind waiting."
At the end of the table, Mace Tyrell watched them hawk-like. He looked as though he did mind waiting and Jon knew he fully expected to be made Hand of the King. But, behind that pompous front, Mace was a good man and proud as punch his fairest rose had made the best match a lady could make. Which was lucky for Jon since the crown was poor and Mace was not. His father by law was footing the wedding bill.
"I know your parents want everything from winged horses drawing your wedding carriage, to actual angels blowing on celestial trumpets as they descend from the heavens," he said. "But what do we want? What do we really want?"
"Each other," she answered without hesitation. "A septon and a witness. Anything after that's a bonus."
It occurred to him that they could leave the city tomorrow, find a sept and just get married. Daenerys could be their witness and Lyanna wouldn't mind, either. It would be just as valid as their marrying in the Great Sept of Baelor. But, as the thought crossed his mind, the desserts were brought out. He helped himself to iced blueberries in cream – a favourite from his childhood in the north – and insisted on feeding a few to Margaery.
Meanwhile, the musicians were playing already. Lovers were canoodling in discreet corners and one or two dancers were finding a little space to themselves. It was all well done. Easily the most decadent thing he'd organised in his life. The food had been opulent, the cutlery and glassware still glittered in the light of a thousand candles. It felt royal; it felt flushed with success. He leaned back in his seat upon the dais, his hand in Margaery's, and watched the lovers dance.
He turned to the left, where Daenerys was now deep in conversation with Robb and smiled approvingly. Her Dothraki handmaids were to the side, watching everything happening around them with blank-eyed boredom. Even the music seemed lost on them. Music that petered out as the back doors of the hall opened to reveal Lord Stark, Prince Oberyn and an old man. A fourth man was close behind them, his features hard to make out from a distance and in poor light. However, he could tell easily that the old man was truly old. So frail that Lord Stark and Oberyn were holding him up as they guided him slowly down the aisle of the hall.
"Who is this?" he asked his mother.
Lyanna broke off the conversation she had been having with Jaime Lannister and looked at Jon startled. Not for the first time, he wondered at the true nature of their friendship.
"I really don't know," she said. "A Maester, by the looks of it."
Jon could make out the chain now. The music had died down and he could hear the metal links clinking softly as the wizened old man hobbled forwards. Both his hands gripped the tunics of the men assisting him. Struck by so unexpected a sight, it was Margaery who regained herself first.
"Someone find a chair," she said. "Quickly."
Robb gave up his seat but Lord Stark and Prince Oberyn came to a halt before the dais. Still positioned precariously between them, the old man stared about the hall through white, cloudy eyes. He was blind as well as ancient. Garbed in the black robes of the Night's Watch, pity stirred in Jon. A man of his age should be by the hearth, living out what few days remained to him in comfort, not stuck in the frozen wastes of the North.
Beside him, Lyanna drew a deep breath as she remembered something. But as she leaned in to talk to Jon, Lord Stark announced the newcomer.
"Your Grace, Princess Daenerys. May we present Maester Aemon of Castle Black. Formerly Prince Aemon of the House Targaryen. Your great-great uncle."
Jon and Dany were on their feet instantly. They rounded the table together, moving quickly to get their elder safely seated. All this time and no one had mentioned him. No one remembered him. Perhaps, given all that had happened, it had been for the best. Nor was this the time to remonstrate with anyone about the matter as Jon and Dany descended on him, guiding him to a chair at a vacant trestle table.
"Uncle," they said together.
Maester Aemon's breaths were shallow and ragged, his sightless eyes looking right through them both. He managed to bring his trembling hands to their faces, feeling their features gently and probing with his fingers.
"He sees with his hands, your grace," the Night's Watchman with the sack explained. The sack seemed to twitch, but Jon put it down to a trick of the flickering candlelight.
Jon had figured what Aemon was doing but said nothing and wondered whether his uncle could speak. So far, he had remained silent. However, before much longer, he wheezed a choking sob and said: "I never thought to see this day of restoration … and the dragons. They told us of the dragons."
Without wasting another second, Jon signalled to Sanya. Perched upon the eaves, she came swooping down to him. Drogon, too, came over to see what all the fuss was about.
"Here, uncle," said Jon. "This one is Sanya."
He went to guide Sanya to the old man's lap. But, as if sensing the old blood of the dragon, she took to Aemon immediately. They both took to him. The other four tried to come over, but Jon and Dany held them off, fearing their elderly relative would be overwhelmed if they all came bounding over at once.
"This is Drogon," said Dany, placing the dragon where the old man could touch him. "He's mine."
The old man gasped as he made physical contact with them, running his hands down their long necks and rubbing the underside of their chins. He felt the ridges along their backs, all the way down to the tips of their tails. Sanya shrieked a greeting, curling her tail around the old man's delicate wrist.
"Dragons," the old man repeated, his blind eyes closed and his voice heavy with emotion. "The dragons reborn. Never had I dreamed of such a thing."
"We're glad you like them, Uncle," said Daenerys. "Our House will be restored to its former glory, I swear it."
Jon was about to add his voice to hers when Aemon spoke again.
"You don't understand," he said. "They are small. They are only infants. But they are the best hope we have."
Jon frowned, his brow knitting as he tried to guess at some deeper meaning. "I don't understand, Uncle."
"Ser Alliser here was about to set out for King's Landing when we heard about the dragons," Aemon explained. "And I knew I had to come with him. I had to know for myself that they were reborn. That the dragons were back." He paused, turning instinctively to where his brother of the watch still stood. "Show them, Ser Alliser, show them what you have."
The sack slid down from over Ser Alliser's shoulder, whereupon he upended the contents onto the stone floor. Jon stifled a gasp of shock at the sight of the disembodied arm. Cut off at the elbow, the dead white flesh was blackening at the edges. Ugly and monstrous, it lay on the floor twitching of its own volition. In silence, a crowd gathered and watched as it made a fist and flexed its fingers again.
"What is that?" Margaery asked, looking appalled.
Lyanna was at her side, more dismayed than sickened – unlike the others. Jon thought she had the look of a person who had expected this while praying it would never happen.
"Wight," she murmured and turned to her brother. "Ned, it's a wight."
But that's an old fairy tale, Jon thought to himself. Sharply, he turned to his father expecting Lord Stark to brusquely dismiss such a notion. But he stood there pale and tense, regarding the animated limb.
"Who was it?" asked Lord Stark. "Do you know?"
Daenerys stifled a gasp. "That was once a real person?"
"Jafer Flowers," replied the knight.
"A man of the Reach," said Margaery, gripping Jon's arm for support.
"He went North with Benjen Stark and came back," Alliser continued. "He came back … like this."
Lyanna made a choking sound but Jaime Lannister caught her fall and held her steady until she was safely seated again. Even Lord Stark was glassy eyed now. Sanya and Drogon reared and shrieked at the offending limb. Unprompted, two brief jets of flame shot out of their jaws and reduced the rotting arm to ash. Unsure of what to say or do, Jon shrank back.
"If there are wights," said Lord Stark. "Then something must be bringing them back."
"White walkers, Lord Stark," said Maester Aemon, searching out the spot where the Lord stood. "After thousands of years, the white walkers have returned and we are in more danger now than we have ever been."
Jon tried to speak and found his mouth dry. He looked at the windows, showing him the outside the world. Beyond the mullions, away from the warmth of the hearths, night gathered and winter is coming.
For now, at least, this is where I leave it. At some point in the distant future, there's going to be a sequel that covers the war for the dawn, hence why not quite everything is tied up with a neat bow here (which is something I generally dislike, anyway). But I want a good long break from writing for this fandom before I embark on another big story.
So, seeing as it's the end of phase one, I want to take the opportunity to thank everyone who has stuck with this story and left valuable feedback and reviews. I especially wish to thank:
Exploding Bunnies who sent me the PM that finally convinced me to get into gear with this re-write.
MX4 for all the brain-storming and plotting sessions.
Jmeec316 for the constant support.
Exiled Immortal for proofing the first two chapters and talking me out of making a big mistake very early on in the story.
BriEva for plotting and support and some very constructive feedback.
Thanks again to everyone who has left feedback. It's all kept me going and it always means the world. So, until next time, stay safe and keep well.