The next morning, Jon awoke to a whole new host of aches and pains after managing to squeeze into his uncle's double-bed with both Sam and Ghost. Calon had been given the spare cot they were offered, and set-up shop right near the fireplace, hogging most of the warmth. Though, Sam and Jon did have a direwolf at their disposal, which helped counter some of the chill in the air. Even at the coldest points, Winterfell had its own interior heating—all throughout the castle, water from the hot springs had piped through, lending extra warmth to each chamber. Castle Black, however, felt the chill of the Wall's every icy exhale, giving Jon a whole-new appreciation for the hardened men of the Night's Watch who were destined to shiver until their last day.
Finally, back inside of the King's Tower, Jon made his way up the stairs and to the set of double-doors, behind which his wife awaited his arrival this morning. Barristan would be keeping an eye on Arya while Jon escorted Daenerys back to Aemon. Luckily, his sister had made fast friends with the knight, having been forced to ride with him upon his horse for the better half of their journey. It was rare anyone should dislike Arya, however, and each time Jon attempted to apologize for the unexpected passenger, Barristan would dismiss all of it with a smile and a wave of his hand.
Mere seconds after knocking, Arya had thrown open the doors for her brother, greeting him with an already sour expression that crumpled her face.
"Arya?" he asked, suddenly hesitant to step inside the room. "Everythin' alright?"
"How do you sleep next to her?" she griped as her brother entered.
"What d'you mean?"
"She talks so much in her sleep."
No, she doesn't, he thought, perplexed. "What'd she say?"
"Something about Jenny? I couldn't understand the rest with the pillow over my head."
"Jenny?" How odd, he considered, unable to find any link, himself. "Are any of the girls at Winterfell named Jenny?"
"No. Closest is Jeyne," the girl explained, seeming rather disinterested as she picked at her nails.
Daenerys had returned from the privy, exchanging places with Barristan, who then slipped out of sight. Her face had been wet from a recent wash, the short wisps around her hairline slick and stuck to her forehead.
"Have you been havin' nightmares?"
"No..." she diverted her gaze from his as she blotted the water from her forehead with her wrist.
"Arya said you kept her up all night mumblin' about some Jenny."
This time, Daenerys dodged his question further with the turn of her head. Jon tried to follow her gaze, even physically adjusting himself so he was unavoidable in her periphery. "Who is Jenny?" he asked.
"You're one to ask," she whipped her head around, finally meeting him with a half-hearted glare.
"Excuse me?" he asked defiantly, offering a glare in return, until it finally clicked. "Is this why you asked what I called you last night?" he whispered, hoping Arya wouldn't be able to hear.
"You said Jenny."
"I most certainly did not," he huffed. "I don't even know a Jenny. I've been with you for weeks, Daenerys. Only you. Me sayin' some other woman's name doesn't even make sense."
She sighed, "You're right. I suppose I knew you hadn't, at least up until the dreams stirred it all back up."
"I wish you would've said somethin' last night before I left you. Then you might not 've kept both Arya and Barristan up all night with silly nightmares."
"Barristan?" Arya asked, suddenly rejoining the conversation. "Barristan the Bold?"
Shit, Jon internally cursed himself.
"The Bold?" Daenerys asked in return, though Jon only nodded, confirming his sister's suspicions.
"You do realize that's Bran's hero, right? He was at Winterfell all that time and Bran never got to meet him."
"It was for his safety, so people wouldn't recognize him. Father commanded it."
"Because he's Lord Commander of the Kingsguard," Jon whispered, even though Barristan had been in the privy, unlikely to have heard him, at any rate.
"So that's what the Imp meant yesterday. He recognized him," the young girl guessed before giving herself a moment to piece it together. "If that's true, then what in seven hells is he doing here?"
"Lord Stark invited him to our wedding, as he was close to my family," Daenerys explained. "My brother."
"Rhaegar?" Arya asked, turning her gaze to Jon. "Rhaegar Targaryen?" she repeated, this time adding his last name as she cocked an accusatory eyebrow.
Jon shifted uncomfortably under his sister's sudden scrutiny, "Yes. Of course Rhaegar Targaryen. Is there any other Rhaegar?"
"Arya," Daenerys pleaded with hands clasped together as if in prayer, "Can you keep a secret?"
"Oh, if only you knew," she spat, shaking her head at the both of them before rising to her feet and storming off in a huff, leaving Jon scratching his head.
He and his wife's eyes followed the girl to the open living space where she finished dressing in her leathers, before equipping a small sword belt which held Needle. She might've been small, but looked like a natural with a sword at her hip.
"Do you suppose she's upset about the Rhaegar and Lyanna rumor?" Dany whispered.
"It's possible," he admitted. "Or maybe she's upset that Bran didn't get to meet his hero. I wish I'd known..."
"Well, it's not like he'll never get the chance to. It hadn't exactly been the most convenient of times, after all. I'm sure he'd be happy to see Bran when we return."
"Assumin' Bran is still there by then."
"Nothin'," he said, mussing his hair. Now wasn't the time to get into the territory regarding Bran and the strange adventure he planned to take beyond the Wall with the Reed kids and Hodor, of all people.
Barristan had returned then, from the privy, dressed head to toe in linen and leather.
"Are you truly Barristan the Bold?" his sister candidly asked.
"Arya!" Daenerys cried.
The man only laughed in response, "A name I haven't heard in many, many years. I suppose most tend to use it when my back is turned."
"So it's true, then? That you defeated Ser Duncan the Tall in a joust at just ten?"
"Heavens, no, child," he chuckled before taking a seat on his bed and pulling on his boots. "At ten I did little more than get unhorsed and unmasked. Prince Duncan proclaimed me a bold boy, and so the name stuck, and lingers on some fifty years later."
Jon exchanged looks with Arya, who had seemed downright awe-struck. Duncan the Tall had been, after all, one of Old Nans' storytelling specialties. Daenerys, on the other hand, looked almost spooked as the old man continued his tale with a reminiscent smile, "It wasn't until I was about the same age as Daenerys that I was able to defeat both Duncans."
"Prince Duncan? I suppose that means Duncan Targaryen?" his wife nearly shouted the instant the knight's lips stopped moving.
He nodded as his smile further split his lips apart. "When I close my eyes, I can still see him clearly through the visor as he extended his hand to help me up—his dark hair shone like metal in the sun that day," he recalled. "Some laughed as he unmasked me, but not Prince Duncan."
"I'm sorry, dark hair?"
The old man nodded, "He favored his mother, Betha Blackwood."
"To whom was he married?"
An odd question, Jon thought, flitting his gaze between the knight and his wife, who happened to be bombarding the poor man with some awfully strange inquiries.
"Well," he said, his fingers fondling at his ever-growing white beard, "Do you remember the woods witch I'd told you about?"
"That was her? He married the woods witch?"
"No, no. But she was a friend to Jenny."
"Jenny?" she asked, her jaw hanging ajar just as Jon's likewise fell open, wondering what in the seven hells any of it meant.
"Jenny of Oldstones," he sighed. "In a way, Duncan's marriage to Jenny served as the beginning of the end."
"What do you mean the end?"
"Summerhall, Your Grace," his gaze dropped to his hands, which he began to massage, as if working out the aches of old age. "Prince Duncan was the first to defy his father, to marry for love. But each of his brothers followed in his footsteps, leaving behind a trail of broken betrothals and insulted lords. Having married for love, himself, their father Aegon let them have their way. Though, desperate to control the turmoil in the wake of his son's actions, Aegon sought to restore dragons to House Targaryen, and so, Summerhall... went up in flames."
Everyone, including Arya, had been moved to silence after he finished his tale. As the moments passed, Arya returned to dressing herself, as had Barristan, carefully equipping his unpolished, unimpressive suit of armor, and Arya, the stolen fur cloak from Bran's collection. Each face had been stricken with an expression of mourning. Daenerys, most of all.
His wife merely stared into the distance, what little distance there had been from where she sat—her eyes wet with tears that threatened to fall should she so much as blink. Moving over to her, Jon gently cradled her shoulders with his palms, "Are you alright, Dany?"
Nodding her head fervently, the tears worked themselves free of her lashes, just in time for her to catch them with either index finger.
"You look like you've seen a ghost," he whispered.
"I might have."
. . .
After having retrieved his wife, Jon met back up with Sam outside, who stood alongside his loyal companion, Ghost. The direwolf had taken a shine to Daenerys, Arya, and even Sam, dividing his attention up between the four of them over the length of their travels. And now it was Sam's turn, again, as the wolf sat obediently by his side with a string of drool hanging from his muzzle. Jon couldn't help but laugh as Ghost stared up at a small basket his friend had been carrying—which, judging by the wolf's reaction, must've held a few food items with which Daenerys could break her fast while she aided Aemon in the rookery. After all, Jon had kept her a bit too long the previous night, and by the time they'd returned to the hall, the Maester had already retired, much to Dany's disappointment.
"You should come with me, Sam," she nudged him before grabbing the small basket of food he'd presented.
"I wouldn't want to impose," he nervously chuckled as he led the way. "Maybe after a day or two."
"But what is there to do here, otherwise?" she asked, shooting Jon an apologetic shrug at the insinuation.
"Well," Sam started, just before drawing in a lungful of frigid air. "I thought I'd get started in the library. Do some investigating. Maybe I can find something about the White Walkers... being on the Wall and all, there's bound to be something."
Jon fought the urge to interrupt and poke fun at the pair of them, quickly realizing he was outnumbered. And so, he held his tongue.
"I bet the majority here don't even know how to read," Sam said with a huff as they climbed another staircase. "There could be a wealth of yet-undiscovered information."
"Great thinking, Sam," Dany smiled. "I might question Aemon, too. If I get the chance."
"Don't push it if you don't," he reminded her as the three of them came to her destination.
Daenerys gave Sam a quick hug before moving on to wrap her arms around Jon, sneaking a gloved hand underneath his cloak as well as his tunic, before giving his backside a flirtatious pinch.
"Alright," Jon cleared his throat in an effort to disguise that she'd startled him with the sudden, brazen touch, "First thing's first. Send a scroll off to Robb before all else. We should've done so last night."
"I know," she moaned, like a child being told what to do one-too-many times.
"You're better with words than me, so I'm trustin' you."
"The raven departs as soon as I'm inside," she purred in an all-too-suggestive a manner before rapping at the door.
"Enjoy yourself, today."
"You, too, Jon. And Sam. Thank you for the food."
The boys nodded at her as the old man opened the door for Daenerys and let her inside.
Though he wanted to meet the Maester, too, Jon thought it best not to infringe on his wife's time with the old man so soon. Though he hadn't always fit in, Jon had been surrounded by several blood relatives at Winterfell, all at arm's length. Even one who had, irritatingly, sneaked along for their trip north. For now, he'd relinquish his wife for their only relative's sake—as much as he could bear to do, anyway. After all, if he wished to go ranging beyond the Wall in search of Benjen, he'd have to impress Lord Commander Mormont to some degree, to convince the man he'd be more a help than a burden. Best to get started as soon as possible, he thought.
And so, after having walked Sam to the library, Jon and Ghost wandered off together, in search of the grizzled Commander. Aside from his plan to somehow get on the man's good side, Jon ached to unearth whatever details he could about his Uncle Benjen's disappearance, hoping even to glean how likely his survival might be, so many weeks on.
Ghost had thrown his ears back as they strode along, suddenly transitioning into a defensive prowl. Oh, no, Jon wondered, What could that mean?
Stopping just short of the corner they'd approached, Ghost's lips curled as Jon listened in. It was Mormont, and the unmistakable upper-class accent of Lord Tyrion, though he couldn't quite make out what they were saying. Deciding he had nothing to fear, despite Ghost's strange reaction, he carried on and walked up to the pair of men.
Just beyond them, another older man had stood, his hackles raised, and an eyebrow propped up high on his forehead. He glared at Jon in a way that felt almost too personal, before stomping up the stairs, right past the two men and straight toward him.
"Your uncle's gone, boy. You ought to turn around, run back to Winterfell where you belong."
The man said his piece before brushing right past Jon, leaving him no chance to retort, though even if he had, what could he possibly say? Ghost had since started growling, a rather rare sound from his normally-quiet wolf. This did nothing but confirm his suspicions that this man was trouble—a man Jon was certain he hadn't spoken a word to, and therefore, could not have offended.
"Charming man, that one," Tyrion flatly noted once he was out of earshot.
Jon shook the dumbstruck look from his face before asking, "Who is he?"
"Our Master-at-Arms, Alliser Thorne," Mormont explained. "So far as I'm concerned, he's not here to be charming. Here's here to turn this bunch of runaways and thieves into brothers of the Night's Watch."
"And how has that been coming along, Commander Mormont?" the small man asked.
"Slowly, I admit."
"I imagine his tactic works well enough," Jon spoke up. "I'd already like to show him some of my moves."
"Well, Snow," Mormont laughed, "Should you wish to spar with our men while you're here, you are welcome to it. They could probably use the challenge."
"With my wife otherwise engaged, I may just take you up on that offer, Commander," he smiled, having spotted an opening that might showcase his skills to prove him worthy of going beyond the Wall with the other rangers.
"Come inside, Snow," Tyrion said. "Let us have a drink."
Annoying Author's Note: Yes, this chapter is a bit shorter. But I figured it would be better sooner and shorter rather than longer and later. More to come soon. Once Jonerys Week is over I'm going to work on updating this fic quicker! Then it'll just be up to life to take it easy on me! :D
(I know some of my loyal readers are annoyed by my participation elsewhere drawing my attention away from this fic, buuut sometimes as a fic writer, you miss getting comments/reviews, so you get swept up in fun events/one-shots to chase that same high. I assure you that anyone else who has a long fic knows just what I mean!)
Oh, and - Preemptive explanation for those who might think Alliser is coming off a bit strong, already - He has different motives for disliking Jon so prematurely in this AU, and these reasons will be explained, soon. As always, thanks for reading!