The snow had finally lessened once they'd reached the stony shoreline of the Milkwater, giving the group a bit of relief in their trek. They'd been fighting through drifts that came up to their kneecaps, the snow sapping their strength and leaving them panting and desperate for a rest after only 30 minutes. Even those that claimed that they were built for such weather found their tongues stilled as they gladly agreed to rest their tired bodies whenever a pause was called for. But now their feet touched only rock and while there were still icy patches that could send one crashing to the unforgiving ground if they weren't careful it was far better than the struggles they had gone through only a day before. A bruised backside was better than feeling as if you had walked forever and gotten nowhere.

Not that Jeor Mormont could find much pleasure in that. The shores of the Milkwater meant relief yes but it also meant that he was now heading the wrong way, leaving the Wall even further behind and making towards the Frostfangs. Castle Black, his men, the safety of the North… every step drew him farther away from all of that.

There was a sharp tug on the rope that had been wrapped tightly around his wrists, reminding him that it wasn't his choice to go this way.

One did not get to be as old as Jeor without knowing embarrassment. A man might claim to have led a life where he only knew pleasure and happiness but everyone who had ever lived had tasted the bitter pie that was humiliation, save perhaps for those that died in the craddle. Failure and humiliation made you wiser, stronger, ready for the cruel world and all it could bring. And the older you were the more you knew of it. In fact it was guaranteed when you became old. Strong bodies would become weaker, muscle gave way to fat, handsome faces became as creased as well-worn leather, long hair drifted away into thin patches. Everything that one prized in their youth was taken from them, man and woman, leaving them shells in need of aid. Once he had been able to leap onto a saddle and gallop for a full day, resting only because his horse was blowing. Now? Now he hurt his back if he sat the wrong way in a chair.

But it wasn't just that… no. As one moved through life they felt embarrassment and humiliation time and time again with the hope that age would lessen the pain. Sometimes it did. Sometimes…

Jeor had plenty of moments that hadn't faded into fanciful tales of youthful indiscretion that he could tell around a fire with a mug of black beer in one hand and a spicy sausage in the other. No, they burned, even now, in his very mind, as painful as when they'd first occurred. When he'd been 6 years old and in an attempt to escape his father's tutor ripped open the seat of his pants before slamming into a large jar of thick Northern Honey. He'd been so shocked he fallen down where one of the family hounds liked to sleep and when he'd finally risen up his ass had been covered completely in dog hair. He'd howled as the maester had tried to removed it all and they'd resorted to using rough shaving blades to hack most of it off, leaving his behind so sore he couldn't properly sit for two days. Then there had been when he'd gone to a tourney in White Harbor and professed his love for a Southern girl from the Westerlands who he didn't even know the name of and she'd responded by pouring her wine on his head before her brothers had chased him about the town square striking him with willow branches for insulting her by pitching woo without even bothering to learn who she was.

"Hurry it up, Old Crow!" the young woman who was pulling on his rope called out, nearly making him stumble. "I know them old bones can ache in the cold but it won't do you any good if you slow down too much." She might have been a pretty thing had she been born in the Seven Kingdoms, what with her red hair that rivaled the Tullys and freckles that didn't mar her beauty as much as give her a bit more uniqueness. Yes her nose was a bit too pugish and her teeth crooked but that wasn't marred her beauty. It was her tongue, which was as sharp as the Valyrian steel sword that no longer hung at his hip and how she seemed to view life without any real sense of joy… other than mockery at anything that wasn't herself.

There had been greater embarrassments and humiliations though than merely the antics of youth. Namely the disgrace of his family name thanks to his only son. It was an important thing, to pass down the family name. The chain… father to son to grandson, so on and so on. It spoke of how good you had raised your children that they were able to pass the name and title down to the next generation, same as you had. But Jeor Mormont would never know that, for his son had disgraced himself by selling slaves merely to keep a wife with expensive tastes happy. A wife Jeor had never wanted for his son; he had tried to arrange a marriage with a good Northern girl but Jorah wouldn't have that. He'd always reached far beyond his grasp when it came to love. And it had cost them all. Worse still that he hadn't faced his punishment as a man but instead gone off to the Free Cities to work as a common mercenary, fleeing like the coward he was. And his whore of a wife was, from what he had heard, now the pleasure companion of some rich man that could buy her pretty things. He had given up everything, gone to the Night's Watch, so that Jorah might be able to rule as a young man, and in return for all this his son had shamed him so badly that his blood would not continue on. No, it would be Maege and her daughters that would rule; children who didn't even know their own fathers for Maege was to independent for that, having only named one: little Lyanna's father Jayms.

"I think the black bastard has spent far too long sitting in a rickety chair to remember how to use his legs!" another of his 'companions' cackled.

Then there had been the disaster that had been the Great Ranging. He'd known it had been a mistake the moment he decided to do it, Maester Aemon not wasting a moment to inform him of that, giving no warning that he was draining the strength of Castle Black when they needed to keep it at its strongest. They both knew it. But he'd been afraid… if it hadn't been for Grenn he would have died to that corpse that had come lurching towards him in the dead of the night. He had known the moment he looked upon that burning corpse, its blue eyes piercing his soul, that if he didn't do something to show strength he'd lose his men. They'd either abandon their vows in droves or decide to do something reckless to try and prove themselves… be that going off on their own or seeking to strip him of his office as Lord Commander in the mad desire to take his seat. The Great Ranging was supposed to give them something to strive for, even if it failed with them returning empty handed.

He hadn't expected their ancient enemy to attack.

"More like all his blood has gone to his balls," someone called out. "They don't fuck enough on the Wall to drain themselves properly… assuming this old bastard even still has balls!"

He hadn't expected to need to flee to Crastor's.

He hadn't expected that his need to take a piss in the middle of the night would alert him that every last member of the small band of Black Brothers had he'd gathered with him from their flight from the Fist would decide to turn against him, forcing him to rush out into the night before he was taken.

He hadn't expected that a band of wildlings would capture him, lead by, of all the people-

"That's enough of that," a firm voice snapped. Jeor turned to see that one of the savages that had been taunting him twitch as a strong hand wrapped around his shoulder and squeezed hard enough to make the make nearly fall to the ground.

-Mance Rayder.

The King-Beyond-The-Wall.

"That there is Lord Commander Jeor Mormont. As good a leader as any of the kneelers could ever wish for. Fair. Strong. Just. He is our guest, Hormu, and you will respect him."

The other wildling that had been taunting him spat on the ground at that. "He's a fucking Crow, Rayder! Why should we give two shits about how we treat him? He and his kind would boil us alive if they had the chance."

Mance looked at Jeor and rolled his eyes. "Do you see what I have to put up with?" he muttered before turning back to the man, releasing Hormu.

It was the girl who spoke up. "Are ya really that stupid, Forde? You ever actually hear of a Crow boiling someone alive? How would they even do that? You ever seen a pot big enough to throw a man in? And how would ya keep him inside?"

"Well…" Forde said, scratching at his left ear that had been half torn away by… something, Jeor couldn't be sure what. "No, I ain't known someone who was, Ygritte… cuss they be dead!" He nodded firmly at that, pleased with his logic.

"No wonder the Crows kill so many of us, if there are Free Folk as dumb as you!" The girl, Ygritte, let out a huff, stopping so she could address Forde.

They were near a small rocky rise that the Milkwater cut through, the shore narrow enough and the rocks hanging overhead providing a bit of shelter from the wind. Jeor looked down as Ygritte and Forde and Hormu continued to argue with each other, noticing that there were signs that people had camped here recently. It was a good spot for a small party, protected and with cold fresh water and enough space to cook something small like a hare or even a fox… perhaps a young deer if one prepared it someplace else. Would hurt to sleep there but better to be protected from the wind and the snow than to have a comfortable place to lay one's head. He wondered who had came here, what way they were going. He could imagine a Ranger settling down for the night, sharpening his sword and tending the fire, and then two days later a wildling hunter discovering the very same spot, using the last remaining bits of wood to start their own fire, and settling in for the night. How many times had that occurred over the centuries?

The only thing that ruined the perfection of the spot was frozen corpse that lay along the shoreline about 20 yards in front of him. It was sprawled out upon the stones, ice having formed along it to leave it firmly locked onto the rocks without any hope of moving it. While both the Night's Watch and the Wildlings did their best to care for their dead he knew that sometimes that simply wasn't possible. If one side killed the other they would often leave the bodies behind. And with their own that was the only choice as well in certain bitter situations. He knew that the Frostfangs in particular bred this sad reality. The rangers had told him that moving through those mountains was a battle to stay alive as it was without trying to lug literal dead weight with them. The air grew thinner and it was harder to breathe, to move, to think. Black Brothers had reported some desperate men trying to bring a friend back so they might get proper rites only to be found years later corpses themselves, clutching their burden in a final embrace. What made it all even more morbid was that the better trackers would use the dead like they would landmarks; the lack of predators at that height combined with the cold dry air would preserve bodies so that they would look fresh even decades later. Qhorin Halfhand had once listed them off to Jeor: the Swordholder (whose sword was forever raised as if he cursed the Old Gods even in death), Blue Boots (self explanatory), Capless (who was missing the top of his skull letting one see his exposed frozen brain), Barefeet (a ranger who was reclining on a rock like he was before a hearth in castle black, his blackened bare feet sticking up for all to see). It was a vile thing to do, to be so casual with the dead, but in death they had saved many rangers by helping them find the way home.

"I'm sorry about them," Mance said, moving to stand next to Jeor, watching as the three members of his hunting party continued to argue with each other. Jeor glanced at him; it still irritating him that his sword, Longclaw, was hanging off Mance's belt. He could handle the ropes, he could handle the taunts, but to know that the greatest traitor to the Night' Watch in a generation was wearing his family's sword? That made his blood boil in his veins. "The Free Folk don't really know how to play nice with those they disagree with. For them if they don't like someone they don't pretend all is well… they just slip a blade between their ribs or bash their skulls in till they are twitching on the ground." Jeor turned when there was a shout and watched as the girl, Ygritte, stood over Forde who was twisting on the ground clutching his face. "This is good though… they need to let loose like this so that when things truly get difficult the tensions between them aren't as… great."

"For a so-called King you lack control over your subjects."

"What the Free Folk consider a King and what Southerners do are very different," the former Black Brother stated with a shrug, not bothered at all by the taunt. "In the South it is all about demanding respect and obedience. Here you gain respect and that makes them willing to do as you ask. Not command. Ask." He paused, glancing at Jeor from the corner of his eye. "You will deny it nearly as much as they will but all of us are rather similar."

"We're not the same at all," Jeor stated. "I teach discipline, control… you allow savages and murderers to do all they wish so long as they follow you into battle."

Mance merely raised an eyebrow at that. While he was younger than Jeor his eyes were far older than his features. "I happen to know that Allister Thorne is still at Castle Black. Are you going to deny that you allow him to do what he wishes to your new recruits, savages and murderers themselves, selecting those he can bully and taunt and harass, purely so you settle his nerves and keep him under control?"

"It isn't like that at all."

"What about with that Tarly boy? He was rather cruel with him until the dwarf decided to step in."

Jeor whipped around and stared at the other man in utter shock. "How did you learn about that?"

Mance gave a casual shrug that made Jeor want to feel his nose smash against his fist. "Easy… I was there. All the old hiding places in Castle Black remain and while I'm a bit thicker than I was when I first found them," he patted his stomach, "I was able to wiggle into them all the same."

Despite the horror that the King-Beyond-The-Wall had not just managed to get over the Wall but had been able to so infiltrate Castle Black that not a single soul had known he was there Jeor found himself asking, "How much do you know?"

"Enough and more than you realize. I, and a few of my more tested associates, have been keeping watch on you and the Black Brothers. To see if there were weaknesses within the Night's Watch." He held up his hand. "Not what you are thinking. Well, not entirely. I did look for points of attack but only if my first mission failed. Believe me when I say that I wanted to attack that place only if there was no choice. No, I wanted to see if your mental defenses had begun to crack. If there were any of you willing to actually hear us out."

"On what?"

"On letting the Free Folk pass through your gates and get onto the other side of the Wall before it was too late."

Jeor felt ice water tricking down his spine and it had nothing to do with being so close to the river. "Too late before what?"

Mance merely shook his head. "You wouldn't believe me without proof. I've been trying to get it but catching one-"

He knew it was a risk. A great one. Once his mother had told him that the most powerful thing in the world was the truth... but that was why you must only share it when necessary. Give it away too freely and it lost its power. 'When does a secret stop being a secret? When two people know it.' And yet if what Mance was hinting at was what Jeor expected then clinging to the truth was a fool's errand. Because he very well may have the answers he himself had been searching for.

"Do you know why I decided to lead this great ranging?" he asked in a low voice.

Mance turned to him, a thoughtful expression on his worn features. In another life he could have been the most popular mummur on stage or a gallant knight that made all the women swoon. Jeor knew he was a talented singer and he could picture him as a bard traveling from town to town making all the women long to sit beside him and all the men burst into laughter with his bawdy tales. It was funny how life worked though to turn old men into commanders and bards into kings.

"No," he admitted. "That puzzled me greatly. It seemed so… random. So sudden. I couldn't find the logic to it. I know that some have said it was to find Benjen Stark- have you found him?"

"No, we haven't," Jeor said.

"Pity. He was a decent ranger. Not just a good one, decent. There is a difference, you know? A good ranger can survive out here, killing wildlings by the score. A decent one survives out here and knows when to merely quietly nod to a passing Free Folk who never even thought about causing trouble." Mance shook his head. "I'm sorry. The ranging?"

"I did it because… I needed to be seen doing something. My men… they had to know that I was… being proactive."

"Against what?"

Jeor jaw worked slightly, chewing on the words. "Four days before I decided we'd do the Great Ranging… we brought back two fallen brothers." He could see from the way Mance tensed that he'd been right in his assumption. "And I think you have a guess in what happened next."


"Wights. One of them tried to kill me… almost did. My steward thankfully is a very light sleeper." He shook his head. "I did all this because suddenly the reason for the Night's Watch's existence, the beings that I'll admit even I thought were nothing more than a myth, turned out to be very real. The men didn't say it but they were frightened… those that weren't trying to deny it by claiming it was a trick. Because if wights are real… if a man can walk again after being dead… what else from the legends might be real, lurking out in the darkness, lumbering towards humanity?"

Mance grabbed a water skin that hung from his hip and took a long drink of it. "Jeor… it's true. All of it. I've seen it. Wights. Ice Spiders. The Others. They're real." He shook his head, taking several breaths like he'd been running for ten minutes straight. "Fuck… this changes everything if you know." He reached down once more but this time he pulled out a knife but before Jeor could feel a drop of fear the King-Beyond-The-Wall began to cut the rope from his wrists.

"Hey… hey!" Hormu cried out, drawing the iron blade on his side that was little more than twisted metal. "What the fuck do you think you're doing, Mance?"

"Things have changed," Mance said, handing Jeor Longclaw back. "He knows of the wights. Seen them. He's not our enemy."

"He's a Crow," Ygritte argued, though she didn't unsling her bow.

"And you are a wildling," Jeor stated, keeping his voice low and steady. While he had his sword back he raised his hands so that they didn't think he was going to draw it. "But the… the Others," it was insane to actually discuss them like they were real… but they were, "aren't going to care about that if I read your plight correctly. The increased raids, the movements closer to the Wall, the abandoned settlements, my missing men… they are pushing you towards, us, aren't they?"

Mance nodded. "And filling out their forces with our dead. That's the nightmare when it comes to those bastards: your men become theirs." He looked to the three wildlings who still seemed utterly unsure of Jeor standing their without any rope to bind him. "Don't you see? The Lord Commander of the Night's Watch believes us! He knows what's happening! We don't need to sneak over the Wall or fight them until they are willing to listen. He can actually help us!"

"And I will," Jeor said firmly. "I came out here on a fool's errand because I wanted to do something. I couldn't stand the idea that I was sitting by, not acting when there was clearly a great threat against us. Now I have a chance to do something right."

Ygritte shook her head. "You expect us to believe that you suddenly love us?"

"No," Jeor admitted. "No, I don't love your kind. I grew up knowing only to hate you. To see you as savages that rape women and murder babies in their cradles. But those old hatreds must die if we are to survive. Every one of you that dies is another soldier for the Others... I see that now! I can't deny it! And every one of us that dies trying to keep you on your side of the Wall is one less person to fight for the living!"

"And that matters?" Forde asked. "You ain't all the fuckin' Crows."

Mance raised his hand. "They will listen to the Lord Commander-"

"You talk like you are one of them again," Hormu stated with a glower, his fingers squeezing tighter around his iron sword's pommel. "Always thought it was odd, you and your plans. What if this is all some grand trick to round us all up and get us killed? Wouldn't be the first time a Crow claimed to have abandoned his vows and then tried to sell our asses back to his true Brothers."

"I will swear whatever oath you need-" Jeor said.

Hormu cut him off. "The word of a Crow is shit. And I'm beginning to think that goes for former Crows."

Ygritte glared at the man for that. "Mance is one of us! He was born one of us, our blood runs through'im! He ain't no Crow!"

"He once was!"


The girl never finished, her words turning into a gasping cry as a rusty blade burst out of Hormu's chest, spraying half her face with blood. The wildling looked dumbly down at the sword that was sticking out of him, feebly touching it with his wrapped hands before he fell over... revealing the corpse Jeor had spotted further up the shore staring at them with blue eyes, chunks of its body having been torn away when it freed itself. The face was a twisted mass of skin, skull, and shredded muscle, one arm hung at an odd angle, and the chest had been clawed open to reveal frozen bloated organs.

"FUCK!" Forde screamed, swinging his blade at the corpse, hacking at its neck so deeply that its head fell to the side, only remaining attached by a thin strips of green and black flesh. But that didn't stop the wight in the slightest, for it simply grabbed its sword and ripped it from Hormu's body before wildly swinging at Forde's head. The wildlling blocked the blade and moved to swing again only to cry out. Jeor looked down and watched in horror as Hormu, his eyes now also an unearthly blue, sank his teeth into the man's leg, biting through britches to get to the flesh and muscle underneath. Ygritte tried to help but Mance darted forward and grabbed her, putting her away.

"Don't!" he shouted as the first wight and the Hormu-Wight dragged Forde down. "He'd dead already! No need dying with him! Come on!" Jeor turned only to see the icy waters churn as more wights began to rise up, their water-logged bodies making them slow, flesh falling from their bones with every step, but there were enough of them to give him pause. Forde continued to scream as he was pulled apart. "We have to move!" Mance roared, pulling a small axe off his belt while Ygritte drew her bow only to snarl in frustration and choose a short blade as well, handling it like someone who had once known how to wield it but time had dulled her abilities.

Jeor charged forward, swinging his Longclaw at the first wight that stumbled onto the shore, cleaving it in two. "Run! Run!" he shouted, motioning for the other two to hurry. Mance and Ygritte needed no other encouragement and the three of them began to move further along the shores, heading towards the Frostfangs. Jeor glanced back to see more wights pulling themselves from the river, ignoring Forde who was still twitching on the ground in favor of prey that still had a chance of escape.

'And that's what we are,' he thought with a shudder. 'Prey.'

"Should we make a break for the deep snows?" Ygritte asked. "It will slow them down."

"Do the same as us and they don't tire," Mance said grimly, huffing along with Jeor. "But the Mountains will give us a better chance. They might not be able to climb well and high ground will give us a better chance to fight back. At the very least it will let you separate from us and get word back to the rest of the clans."

"...I won't fuckin' leave you," Ygritte snarled. "I ain't no Southern damsel in need of savin'!"

"Use your head!" Mance shouted, Jeor looking back to see that the wights were keeping pace with them.

"Wait..." he said.

Mance though continued on. "Jeor and I are old! You're young... you'll have a fighting chance and it grows better if we aren't burdening you. And word has to get back to our people. They have to know that the Night's Watch has seen wights!"

"They aren't trying to catch us," Jeor panted as they began to make their way around a large bend, the sides of the shoreline rising up above them on both sides to create a canyon the Milkwater flowed through. The wind was growing colder, chilling his cheeks and making his face burn as he ran.

"You can tell them yourself!" Ygritte argued.

"Stop being stupid, girl!"

"I ain't no girl!"

Jeor's eyes widened. "They're herding us. THEIR HERDING-"

It was too late. They rounded the corner and Ygritte and Mance's argument died as they saw just what was waiting for them.

They were as beautiful as they were horrifying. Creatures of another world that simply didn't belong in the realms of man, to stand with all other living creatures. They were tall, at least a head taller that Jeor, but so thin and gaunt that the two of them before him could stand shoulder to shoulder and still be hidden by the Lord Commander's shadow. Their skin was as pale as milk but there were touches of blue upon them, with their lips the darkest but also about the tips of their ears and at the edges of their hairline, which itself was completely unnatural. Rather than true hair they seemed to have strands of glass one moment and then frozen fire the next. Their faces were sunken in like starving men but the way they held themselves made clear to all that they weren't weak from hunger. Their eyes though… their eyes held the only heat they had but even then it was a cruel heat, a false heat, like moonlight upon a frozen lake. A mockery of warmth.

The beings wore old armor yet to Jeor it was far finer crafted than anything he'd ever seen in his lifetime. It was like mirrorglass, changing color with the movement of the clouds overhead and the shifting of the three humans that stood before them. It reflected back all before it yet also twisted it and distorted it so that there was no way to tell what truly it was showing. They were mirrors like one would hear the old washerwomen and nursemaids speak of in their most frightening stories; tales of witches cackling in their crumbling towers and tricking innocents to stare into looking glasses so that they might be driven into jabbering madness.

Each held a sword loose yet ready in their grasp. They were crystal and while broad and long also as thin as a sheet of parchment and glowed a sickening, corrupted blue that hurt Jeor's eyes just to look upon. He could feel the cold of those blades just glancing at them, feel his blood freeze in his veins. It made him want to run back into the waiting arms of the wights that were still racing towards them, for a death by their teeth and fingers and broken weapons would be far better than being stabbed by one of those blades. Like all living creatures there was a memory in his blood of a time when man had not been the dominant beings in the world; when they too had been hunted and torn to shreds by predators. And all prey had an instinct of when danger loomed and the only choice was to run. Jeor felt that now and knew without a doubt that if he should one of those blades slide through his flesh it wouldn't just be his body that died but his soul as well.

From the way Mance and Ygritte had taken a step back he knew they understood what stood before them.


Ygritte, be it the bravery of youth or the stupidity of it, was the first to act. Like lightning she had her bow in her hands, an arrow notched, and let the shaft fly within a matter of seconds. Even more impressive was how one of the Others brought his blade up and deflected the bolt without even letting his glaze flicker from them. No fancy spins, no showy moves. He merely brought the flat of his sword up and let the arrow bounce away like a child's toy before returning his arm to his side.

"We have to run," Mance whispered.

"Where?" Jeor asked, looking about. "Back through that horde? Because we can… we'll die but we can."

Ygritte was already drawing another arrow as Mance looked across the river. "We could try and cross. They might not be able to swim."

"And if they can we'll be dead and that's assuming we don't freeze ourselves." Jeor looked up towards the canyon wall. Maybe, if they worked together, one of them could get up there before the other two were cut down. It wouldn't be him… he already accepted that he was going to die here. But perhaps Mance… he had been a skilled climber from what he remembered. Or the girl… assuming she would be willing to leave them.

But no. He could see that the walls were too high and too steep for them to hope to get a handhold. The others hadn't moved yet and he got the sense they were waiting, curious to see what they would do. Only then would they attack. It was a bowel-clenching thing to realize that one was being toyed with, that no matter what they did they were going to die and it was only a matter of choosing the matter of their execution.

Jeor drew his blade.

"If you have something you wish to fight for…" he whispered, "say it now." Mance drew his own weapon while Ygritte prepared another shot. "For the Wall!" He bellowed. "For the Watch! For Bear Island!"


It wasn't Mance or Ygritte who gave that cry.

From the rock above them a body hurtled down, throwing out something that struck the left Other in the shoulder before it bounced off the canyon wall and returned to the new arrival's hand. He caught it with ease before turning on them, throwing it so that it came so close to Jeor's cheek he could feel his whispers being shaved off. He turned to see it cut through a wight that had been dangerously close to taking them by surprise from behind, the disc cleaving its head from its shoulders before going on to the next one before finally striking the bend in the canyon and ricocheting back, now past Ygritte, and into the man's open hand. Jeor marveled not just at the skill of the toss but the fact that any wight that was struck by object crumpled and fell, dead once more.

Now that the disc was once more grasped in the man's hand Jeor could see that it was in fact a large round shield. Two rings of red bordered a ring of white upon its surface and in the center of all of this was a field of blue with a single large white star. The metal gleamed oddly and for a moment Jeor wondered if someone had made a shield out of Valyrian Steel but as he looked upon it he saw that it was odder than the ripples he found in his own blade. It was… purer. Where Valyrian Steel was dark, with even the lightest colored blades holding a smokey quality as if the metal had forever trapped the heat of the forge, the shield the new arrival held was gleaming like sunlight on fresh snow. A beacon that when held up made him want to rush forward and face the foes that moments ago had left him filled with terror.

And then Jeor looked at the man who wielded the sword and he felt everything he had ever understood and known come crashing down.

This… was Other.

An Other that rushed the first two, deflecting a swordswing with his sword before grabbing the right Other's wrist and twisting it, forcing him to drop his blade. He wore the same mirror-like armor as the other two but his was darker, nearly blue in color, and he could see accents of light in white and red upon it, matching his shield. His face was the same pale white as the others but somehow where theirs were horrifying his were awe-inspiring. Perphaps it was because his features were filled with life: a clench of the jaw, a shifting of his brow, a quirk of his head as he battled the two. His hair was cropped short and was a whitish blond like spun gold, and where his foes were gaunt and thin he was filled with muscle, as if he had stolen the strength the other two should have been given and taken it for his own. He used his whole body in the fight, sometimes hammering away at the other Others with his fists, only to then switch to kicks that made Jeor feel so utterly old and feeble when compared to him. His movements were fast, sometimes so quick that his limbs blurred, and when he connected with one of his foes the sound of his fist cracking their armor filled the air. The shoulder of the left Other that his shield had struck had cracked and broken like a statue that had been toppled and now more such damage was being added to his assault of them, chipping and busting away at them bit by bit-

"LORD COMMANDER! DOWN!" someone above called and he dropped to his belly just in time to avoid a blade slicing through his neck. He rolled and saw that the horde of wights had finally decided to launch a new attack and he fumbled to grab his sword, which had dropped to the ground. Mance and Ygritte were struggling and the girl fell to the ground before him, crying out as the wight of Forde bit her arm. Jeor snarled and without thought finally managed to grab his sword and drive it forward, the steel piercing the wight… and causing the creature to become a corpse once more. "Mance, get them back!" The former brother nodded and grabbed Jeor and Ygritte, straining as he dragged them away from the mob of undead. Something came hurtling down and there was a terrible explosion of fire and dirt and when Jeor opened his eyes he saw the wights had been reduced to a twitching pile of burnt limbs.

The second new arrival threw down a rope but before the three of them could consider climbing up he was coming down. He was dressed all in black though his clothing had seen better days, and his shaggy brown hair and dark beard nearly hid his features. Jeor still recognized him though and even after all that had happened and remained to do he couldn't help but grin.


"Lord Commander… Mance…" Benjen Stark looked over at the King-Beyond-The-Wall, startling both of them by greeting him with utter politeness and openness, clasping hands with both. He turned towards Ygritte and reached into a pouch on his hip, pulling out a bottle that held a foamy liquid and some wrappings. "We'll need to clean that wound… wights attract all sorts of filth and nastiness that you don't want getting in you. Men die from the bites and scratches just as much as their blades"

"Don't… don't you touch me Crow," Ygritte said, pulling her arm tight to her chest.

Benjen though merely shook his head. "I'm no Crow. Not anymore. There is no Watch. No Free Folk. None of that matters. Only the living and the dead."

There was a howl, reminding them that a fight was still going on, and Jeor turned in time to see the first arrival drive his shield into one of the Other's chest, cutting through armor and into pale flesh. The creature let out a harsh scream, one that hurt his ears, before he shattered into shards of ice but their savior didn't even pause to watch them fall to the ground, instead grabbing the remaining foe and twisting his arm around his back and forcing him to the ground, face pressed into the stony shoreline.

"T…Traitor!" the Other hissed with a voice like broken glass.

"And proud of it," their savior said in a far more human voice before decapitating his foe. He panted for a moment before securing his shield on his back and rising to look at them. "Benjen? Are they all right? Any injured?"

"The girl was bit by a wight but it wasn't deep. Should heal, assuming she lets me treat it."

The first man actually smiled at that, blazing blue eyes showing none of the cold the Others held but instead warmth and amusement. "I'd do what he says, my lady. I've seen the strongest of men lose limbs from wight bites."

"I'm no lady," Ygritte charged but as she said that Benjen grabbed her wrist and poured the liquid, which smelled of distilled wine, onto the wound, causing her to curse. "Gods damn you! That fucking hurts worse than the fucking bite!"

"If it burns it means its working," Benjen stated.

The strange new Other looked at her with a slight tilt of his head. "You are a woman though… and its only polite to treat you with the respect you deserve, my lady."

"Respect me for being able to fight," Ygritte snapped even as Benjen wrapped her wound with clean cloth. "I ain't some southern lady who sits in her castle shitting out babies and getting fat on meats and bread."

The new Other looked at Benjen. "There are ladies who do that?"

"A lot, actually."

"Hmmm," the Other said, surprised by that. Surprised… and disappointed?

Mance looked at them both, mouth twisted in annoyance. "I'm sorry to be blunt but would someone explain why one of the Great Enemies decided to not only save us but stand around and chat like we were friends?"

It was Benjen who answered. "Because he isn't an Other." Jeor must have shown his disbelief at that because the First Ranger sighed. "It's… complicated."

"I was almost one of them," the Other stated. "But a brave man saved me from that fate. Allowed me to turn their corrupted power into something that could challenge them." He looked once more to Benjen. "You know these three?"

"Only the men. He is Mance Rayder, the King-Beyond-The-Wall that I told you about. And this is the Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, Lord Jeor Mormont of Bear Island."

The friendly Other smiled and Jeor found himself dumbly shaking the otherworldly being's hand, Mance just as thunderstruck. "Greetings. I am pleased to meet you both. In the days and weeks ahead we will be working closely together to ensure that our Enemy doesn't achieve their goals. It is good that we've met now, it will save time."

"Who… who are you?" Jeor said, still staring at his hand before finally looking up at the being before him.

The Other smiled weakly at his question. "That… is hard to answer. It depends on who you speak with. To the Free Folk I am known as Azor Ahai. To the men of the North I am The Nomad. To the Knights of the Dawn I am… was… their Lord Captain. To the Court of the Others I am The Traitor. But back home, in the Westerlands? I am the second son of Lann Rogers of Castlery Rock."

He shrugged with good natured humor.

"You can call me Steve."

The Story Continues In A Shield Of Man


Author's Notes: And thus we have it, the man so many of you have been waiting for: Steve Rogers, the Captain himself, finally arrived.

…and he is The Traitor.

I think only one person guessed who The Traitor would be though a few on TVtropes did guess correctly that the title of The Traitor didn't refer to someone who betrayed humanity to the Others but rather a Traitor to the Others who fought for the Dawn.

I went with the Book descriptions of the Others rather that the show mostly because we will see later on that Thanos does keep his purple skin… certain others are able to influence and alter the look of their bodies. Steve, like the Night's Queen, chooses an utterly white complexion, Thanos purple… much like the Children can choose to alter their skin color.

We also see WHY I had Rickon describe how the Others work, so that here we could see that somehow Steve is different. We'll get into what happened to him in Book 3.

I also just now realized that once again I am putting out the final chapter of the book early. The reason is that during my vacation I was able to get rather far ahead with writing so now I can bang out another chapter of Shield to get me back to having 3 chapters of each story banked.

And just like what I did at the end of Book 1… the official description for Book 3:

Book 3 of A Song of Metal and Marvels. Tony must finally deal with his hidden foe. The North stands accused. Daenerys gathers her forces to remake the world. Jon and Natasha find themselves in the tangled web that is King's Landing. Arya must decide where her path lies. Bran and Jaime will discover their destinies. And a legend of the past comes to reforge the Night's Watch.