They walked together through the snow, the night's voice dulled to a whisper by the falling flakes. Dany clung to his arm, and Jon found he wished he could hold her closer. He felt likely to disappear, to fall back into Ghost's mind. The giant wolf seemed to hear that thought, heaving a sigh of breath that lifted a few silver strands of Dany's hair.
"What was it like?" She asked it in a quiet voice, not quite a whisper, as if the snow weighed on her words as well as the world. He wanted to pretend he did not know what she meant, to pretend he was still wholly human, not part animal, not a warg like Varamyr. The wildling had been cruel with his gifts and warped by them as well. Jon could not imagine becoming so twisted, but the fear was there. Would Dany still want to hold him close if he were to run as Ghost more often? Because while the fear was there, so too was the yearning to run free, to feel the wind through fur, to hunt.
"It was half a dream," he said. "I forgot who I was at first, but my thoughts… they were frantic with what I'd just heard. All I wanted was to run away. I ran leagues, nearly to Torrhen's Square and back. I smelled horse and leather and iron—and snow, I could smell snow. I ran through the khalasar. "
"I saw you. Ghost frightened Rhaegal."
Jon held his tongue for a moment. How would she react to know? He wondered. But he couldn't keep it from her, not when he needed her, every day, every moment. She had her head turned up to the falling snow, her eyes half-closed in contentment, though her hold on him had not slackened. The snowfall melted on her cheeks, shimmering like tears in the torchlight, the same color as her hair in the torchlight.
"No, it was not Ghost… it was—I did. We looked up, and then… I was Rhaegal."
Her head snapped round to look at him. "What?"
"I, or Ghost… he heard Drogon roar and wanted to look up to see the sky snakes. That's what he called them," Jon mused quietly, then continued. "And then I was in Rhaegal's thoughts, and he panicked. It wasn't like with Ghost, where he and I were the same. It was like Rhaegal and I were fighting for space." Jon paused, saw the confusion and hurt in Dany's eyes. "He calls you Mother."
"He calls me… oh." The hurt faded behind pleasure, but she fell silent just the same, thinking. "What was it like to fly?"
"Terrifying," he said immediately. That tore a laugh from her, and he smiled. "Then, wonderful. But Rhaegal forced me out when you called to him, and Ghost just kept running back to the crypts."
"To your mother," she said, lowering her voice. He nodded. From the dragon named for his father to the stone carved like his mother. It had a dreadful symmetry, and he had to think of other things. It hurt, to think of them, not as much as the knowledge had hurt at first, but there was a hole in him that would take longer to heal than any of his wounds ever had.
"And when my own ears heard you… well, Ghost's only thought was that he wanted to protect you."
As if he knew, and perhaps he did, the white wolf moved forward and nudged Dany's shoulder with his nose, and she let out a breathless laugh. "He scared me in the crypts. He scares me more than Drogon can," she admitted.
"You've not watched him grow," Jon said. "He was the size of my hands when I found him. I carried him the whole way back from his mother's side in my jerkin, right against my heart." Your heart, he corrected himself when she smiled.
"Drogon was small as well, they all were."
"And yours still grow," Jon said.
"So it's seeming," she said, then her smile evaporated into a thoughtful frown. "Do you suppose Rhaegal would let you ride him now? Not his mind, but…"
"Maybe," Jon said, also thinking, but more focused on the heights he'd felt from inside the dragon's mind. It wasn't like standing on the Wall, where you needn't approach the edge in all truth. It had been like falling, falling fast, and his stomach whirled. But the wonder had been there, too, the joy.
"If you are your father's son… you could be a dragon rider yourself," she said carefully though there was only Kovarro to hear.
"Would you want that?" He asked it gently. "He's your child, Dany. I'd not take that from you."
"You couldn't take that from me," she said, her voice solid, firm. "I want you to fly with me. And perhaps…" she rested her hand across her stomach, sending stutters through his heartbeat as he thought of the life growing within her. I will be there for our children. "Perhaps we'll have a clutch of eggs one day."
He said nothing at that, only pulled her closer to himself, laying his free hand atop hers where she held him. Jon could feel Kovarro's gaze on the back of his neck. The bloodrider was protective, to say the least, and though he could understand that, he wished he could show Dany affection, any affection, beyond the common courtesies between lords and ladies. "Dany," he said.
"I want to marry you."
"I know," she said, with a smile.
"No," he said, slowing. "I mean tonight. I want to marry you now."
"Jon, I've not told my councilors yet. And your sisters, the wars—"
"We'll tell them tonight, then, and plan a small ceremony. I want to be able to hold you without Kovarro thinking of new ways to tear my eyes out."
"He prefers tongues, I believe," she said, laughing, then falling silent. "Will our people understand us taking time to marry when there are wars to fight?"
"There's no need to feast a day and night away," he assured her. "We can perform the ceremony and let that be that until the war is won. We will celebrate two things before we march south to take back your throne."
She searched his eyes for a long moment. "Tonight?"
"As soon as we have a spare moment," he said. "I am already yours, Dany, as you are mine, but the world needs to know it so that I can do more than carry your hand upon my arm."
"I'll call my council," she said, her fingers curling tight on his sleeve, her eyes shining.
"And I will tell my sisters when we meet to share stories."
"Tomorrow?" she asked, her voice thick.
"If you will it," he said.
"Tomorrow, then," he answered as a wonderful tightness grew in his chest at the thought.
"My lord—Your Grace." A voice called to them from ahead, and Jon turned to find one of the hundreds of boys who roamed the castle now that they'd called the banners. He thought this one might have come with Lyanna Mormont, but he couldn't stop the immediate reaction of reaching for his dagger.
"Yes?" he prompted.
"The Lord Tyrion and Lady Sansa await in the war room," the boy said. "They bid me tell you when you did return so that you might join them, if it please you."
"Thank you. You may return to them and inform them that we will be there promptly." Dany said, and when the boy nodded and left them, asked, "The war room? Did your uncle have need of it often?"
"No," Jon admitted, though his thoughts lingered on 'uncle'. "It's more of a library or study. Our old steward made use of it, but the name is a remnant from when the castle was built, and wars were waged often."
She nodded, and when they reached the door, turned to look at Ghost. "Will he follow us in? I've not seen him inside since I arrived—only in the crypts."
"If he wishes," Jon said. "I've not forced him to do anything since we went beyond the Wall together. He always comes back when he leaves."
Her eyes went thoughtful at that, and he watched her study Ghost, her brow wrinkling. "What is it?" he prompted, gentle with words as he wished to be with his hands, to touch her face, to smooth the lines from her skin and promise her all would be well.
"I cannot do the same with Drogon and Rhaegal. I tried, in Meereen, as you know. Nor can I chain them again. They cannot have freedom, and they cannot abide captivity."
Jon watched the memory of the body, the bones, tear at her. He could see the pain in her eyes, in the stiffness of her spine. "There are other ways to prevent that, my queen, I'm sure. We will find them. Sam loves to find old knowledge in his books. Surely some maester or Targaryen wrote about the ways to tame a dragon."
She nodded, her brow still tight in thought, but he watched her shake it and smiled as she lifted her hand to Ghost's neck, her pale fingers disappearing into the winter coat he wore. She seemed to draw strength from his companion, the same as he himself might. It made his heart warm, knowing they had connected. "Come," she said finally, "our bannermen and women await."
"Yes, my queen," he answered.
Ghost, he was surprised to find, did follow them to the War Room, dominating the large space with his presence. The eastern wall was lined with books, tomes on battles that Sam or Tyrion might find interesting, though Jon could not name a single time that Maester Luwin or his father had ever opened one. A massive table, with maps already spread, dominated the center of the room, and a crackling fire warmed the chamber. It was the number of people that overwhelmed, though, and Jon realized all of his bannermen, their masters at arms, and their guardsmen had been called to attend. At first, he thought to protest but then realized this was the opportune time for them to witness their new queen. They would accept her here, when they saw her strength. It seemed to be Sansa's doing, and when he met his sister's—cousin's—gaze, he found confirmation in her blue eyes.
As he thought on that, Dany pulled on what he thought of as her ruler's mantle, though she kept her hand on his arm. Kovarro tool the door guard as she led them and walked to the head of the table, between Tyrion and Sansa, who stood opposed on either side. Ghost heaved a heavy breath as he settled in front of the hearth, and Tyrion's eyes grew wide at the sight of him. They'd last seen each other atop the Wall, so long ago.
"My lords, my ladies," Dany stated, nodding to Sansa, Lyanna Mormont, and Alys Karstark in turn, and then the room in general. She gently released his arm, and though Jon mourned the loss, he knew the reason and stepped back to hover behind her shoulder, as Grey Worm moved from the edge of the room to do the same on her other side. "I apologize for keeping you waiting so long. I did not accept the truth of your Lord Snow changing skins as easily as a person of the North might. He and Ghost proved me wrong." Jon would have smiled, but he knew she needed her words to stand on their own, so he only nodded solemnly at those who studied him as she continued.
"The gods—old and new—know we have not always fought on the same side. North and south, Lannister and Stark, the rebellion against my family. These divisions can no longer matter. It is man against Other, now, in the only war that matters. We must stand together, or fall. That is all I ask until we destroy the army of the dead. Then we may quarrel again, but not before."
"I will say this. We are not responsible for the actions of our fathers, just as our hatreds cannot be those of our pasts. I'm told the North remembers, and yet Houses Karstark and Umber stand. I'm asking the same forgiveness for the actions of my father and brother. They are long dead, and their only remnant now is animosity. Let us instead forge a new peace—not a fragile one, but one that will last, and hold our Kingdoms against the Long Night, against the rest of our enemies."
The silence held as her words rang out, the last notes sending shivers down Jon's spine. That, he knew, was the queen he'd knelt to, just as it was the woman he'd fallen in love with.
It was young Lady Mormont who broke the silence. "That is well said, Your Grace, but some of our ill will is more recent. Our fathers, brothers, mothers, sons, all died under the command of Lannisters and their kin. I see two Lannisters and plenty of their friends across the table."
Jon expected to see Dany's spine stiffen at the rebuke—her pride being a piece of herself that she fought to reign in—but she seemed almost relaxed, and even paused to look around the room slowly, weighing the present houses and their leaders, nodding slowly when she'd seen all of their faces.
"I understand your feelings," she said at last, "though yours are fresher than mine. I ask you though, if past hurts and wars were allowed to ruin this alliance, who would be here? Half of your Northmen would not be in this room—including your uncle. If we were to count my friends, I would be alone but for my Unsullied and my dragons; most the Dothraki would not have followed me. We cannot afford to treat our alliance as such."
"I once thought to punish Houses Lannister, Stark and Baratheon alike for the roles they played in removing my family from the throne. Now, my Hand is a Lannister, and both Baratheons and Starks number in my allies and advisors. I have not forgotten, nor should you, but I have learned from that hatred. Look what the past has sown for us—chaos and disorder. Let us sow a better future."
Jon held his breath, waiting, watching the She-Bear closely for signs of discord. But he saw only amusement. "I am glad to find our King was no fool when he bent to you, Your Grace."
"Just as I am glad to see you are no fool, Lady Lyanna. Shall we get to business?"
Lyanna nodded, and Dany sat in the high seat at her back, then, very deliberately, turned her eyes on Tyrion.
"Your Grace," the Imp said with a nod, then looked down to his sheaf of papers. "Winterfell is full to bursting, barely able to hold all of our people. We need some creative solutions for shelters for the Dothraki's horses, as well as the men in our armies. There is also the matter of protecting the people within the castle from dragon fire. You've seen Harrenhal?" Dany nodded, and Tyrion continued. "Food stores are already running lower than necessary, and we've no idea how to build siege weapons to fend off the dead."
On and on, the list went, the expressions in the room more dour by the minute. When Tyrion finished listing the enormity of the task, Dany seemed to chew on it a moment, then, in a rare humor, said, "Well, the Wall was built block by block. We'll do this the same."
"If I might, Your Grace," Sansa said, and though she spoke softly, her voice was strong.
"Speak your mind, Lady Sansa," Dany said.
"Winterfell is full, but only if we continue to house only one or two people per suite. My own chambers include a bedchamber and a solar, and in these times, I hardly have use for the latter, do I?"
"I've yet to see my own," Dany said, "but I assume the situation is the same."
"Yes, Your Grace."
"And for others?" Murmurs of assent rounded the chamber, and though some were grudging or hesitant, all nodded.
"As it's late, I could direct the household in closer sleeping arrangements on the morrow, as well as preparing other disused areas of the castle for quarters," Sansa said, and Jon wondered at the way her eyes drifted in the direction of the nearest corner, where Brienne stood at the ready, the Hound lounging beside her.
"Nya dare," Grey Worm said from behind Dany's right shoulder, and Jon studied the man over her head. Quiet, yes, but strong, Jon thought. "There are two empty towers that the Unsullied may rebuild to help in this."
"Lord Snow?" she asked in confirmation.
"Yes, my queen," he answered, falling into her violet gaze and wishing they could be alone so he could fall further. "The First Keep is rundown and unused, but may be easily reopened, I'd think. The Broken Tower may take more effort."
"See it done," she answered calmly, and Jon watched her turn away. "Are there any other thoughts?" She waited, then nodded. Very well. Next problem."
On and on the plans went, until Jon grew weary. Winter nights were long, true, but he guessed it was nearing four hours since the sun had taken its rest. Dany shifted in the high seat every few moments trying to find comfort on the stone, until she gave up and stood to pace. It was like watching her float over the cobblestones beneath her feet, how she glided from edge to edge of the small hall. The eyes of all the winter lords followed her, and the ladies as well, though the bickering continued. After an argument about throwing fire from the walls came to an end with no resolution, she turned to face the room.
"My lords, my ladies," she said, "we have only days to find a way to beat back an army of hundreds of thousands of dead men and their masters. And perhaps less time than we realize. The hour grows late, however, and we are no use to each other if we fight amongst ourselves—even with words—nor if we have not the strength or energy to go to battle. I propose we all take rest and reconvene in the light of the morning, when our minds may have solved our problems in our dreams. Beyond that, I would like to discuss a matter with my personal council, though I can promise I will not keep you in the dark long." Jon felt his heart clench within him. This was the moment, he knew. Their moment. It sent a thrill of nerves and excitement up his spine.
"At once, Your Grace," Sansa said, rising from her seat to curtsey, and prompting the rest to do the same in a clatter of chairs. "Shall I have the kitchens send more refreshment for you?"
"No, I thank you," Dany said.
"Perhaps another pitcher of wine, my lady?" Tyrion asked of his once-wife.
"Of course, my lord," she said, nodding, then looked to Jon. "Time now to tell stories, Jon?"
"Yes," he said, thinking that he had tales that would not be easy to hear. "I'll be only a moment."
"I'll have some food sent to Father's—your—solar," she said, and then curtseyed once more to Dany before following the departing crowd, Brienne and Sandor close behind. Not for the first time since his arrival, Jon wondered how the man had won a place at Sansa's back, next to the woman who'd pledged her life to Lady Catelyn's daughters. When he managed to tear his eyes away from the conundrum, he locked his gaze on Dany's once more. He could see the nerves hidden behind her eyes and tried to smile. He could not promise that the next moments would be easy, he knew, but he could pretend confidence.
"My queen," he said. "I believe the invitation to share stories extends to you as well. My sisters"—cousins, his thoughts whispered—"wish to know you better."
"I wish the same, my lord." Her thoughts seemed legible on her face—stay, give me more strength—but her next words were opposed. "I shall find you all there after I speak with my council."
"Yes, my queen," he said, then bowed. He said a silent prayer to the gods for a smooth telling as he whistled to Ghost and left the room. The wolf seemed to hesitate at the door, stopping to look back at Dany and then to Jon. The dragon queen smiled softly.
"I'm safe, Ghost," she called down the length of the room, as if he would understand. Jon knew he would, and had it confirmed when the wolf twitched his ears and seemed to sigh silently at the idea.
"Come on then," Jon said, reaching out to pat the wolf's neck. "You can wait for her in the yard."
They found Jaime Lannister lounging beside the exit of the tower, seeming not to have a care in the world. Ghost wandered further away and began to pace and sniff around the base of the walls, waiting, Jon knew. He himself would have passed through the yard with no comment for Jaime, had the golden man not spoken first.
"Is she telling them, then?"
"What?" Jon asked,
"Your queen. Is she telling her council she's fucking Lord Snow?" To calm the rage such a statement caused, Jon flexed his burnt hand and adjusted the glove, trying to think how best to reply. Before he could even begin, the Lannister spoke again. "They're not idiots—they already know. Why tell them? I think I've worked it out, because I have eyes to see it."
"And what do you imagine you see?" Jon asked, carefully.
"You love her?" Jaime asked in response. When Jon said nothing, the other man nodded. "And she loves you, you think?"
I know it, Jon wanted to say. But he said nothing. The Lion of Lannister seemed to need to speak, and Jon knew that silence was often the best way to prompt a man.
"Will her love still exist if you do not follow her? I wonder. What would the dragon do to you if you crossed her?"
And there, Jon knew, was the crux of it. "She's not Cersei."
Jaime chuckled darkly. "No, you're right about that, Snow. She's not Cersei."
Jon waited a moment. "Did you love her?"
Jaime nodded. "With every breath. Not towards the end, not after—why am I telling you this?"
"You seem to need to," Jon said, and then looked away, thoughtfully. "Like it or not, we share a common cause, now. It's good to know your allies. To trust them."
"Trust?" the man spat. "As if a son of Ned Stark could ever trust a Lannister."
If only you knew, Jon thought. He wondered what the Kingslayer would think of Rhaegar's son. The realm had loved Rhaegar, at least until they thought he stole Lyanna. He fought past the spiral of dark thoughts and only nodded as if the man had a point. "I trust your brother. Why not you as well?" The golden lion had no response, only watched him with narrowed, hunter's eyes, so Jon sighed. "My father did you an injustice."
That prompted a derisive laugh "Did he?"
"He was not perfect," Jon said, "just as you are not, and nor am I. We are all faulted. It is what we do to make up for those faults that matters now. It is what we do to correct our mistakes that should define us. My mistake was letting my name keep me from my family. What are you trying to erase, ser?"
Jon did not wait for an answer, only nodded in dismissal, and left the golden man to wait with Ghost beneath the falling snow.