5,100 words later…I survived. Barely. That was close. Next time, I think I'll just let Aemon handle it #LittleBearVsTheNightKing #NoContest #TryToResistHimBlueGuy #NotPossible
Honestly, I'm a little nervous about the response to this chapter, because it's a monster chapter, with a lot going on and I switched to 3rd person POV with a time jump prologue and lines of poetry and just…like I said last week, I think I could write a whole novella on The Long Night.
What can I say? I find the impending end of the world and those who try to stop it to be a terribly delicious story. With no subversion necessary ;)
Anyway, hope you enjoy! Back to Jorleesi family fluff next week. Xo
Chapter 16 – Songs of Ice and Fire
Almost fifteen years to the day after the Battle at Castle Black, Maester Samwell Tarly of Winterfell and the Free North, sent a leather-bound book of collected tales and songs across the sea to Aemon Mormont, with a short letter tucked between its first two pages:
This, at long last, is the final version of the Collected Songs of Ice and Fire that we discussed on your last visit and which I've spent the better part of a decade working on. Your family features heavily in its pages, as you well know.
The collection will never be complete, as there are already more songs about that night at Castle Black and the Forest above and Mole's Town below than could fill ten volumes. And I don't doubt that the minstrels will be singing some of these songs for hundreds of years, long after all of us are gone. If Queen Shireen has her way, the one about your mother, in particular, will never be forgotten.
I hope you enjoy the collection. Give my best to your mother and father. And always good to hear that the Old Bear is still growling. Tell him that Tarly forbids him to die, at least not anytime soon.
Aemon set the letter to one side. He took his time, thumbing through the illuminated pages. Every margin was scrolled with an artist's hand to create twisting, braided borders of ice spiders, blue roses, direwolves and snowflakes. The songs themselves were written in flowing script, with tales that might be mistaken for fairy stories penned beneath them. For half the things that happened that night were unbelievable, to say the least.
Aemon remembered some of it but not much. He'd been so little. But he smiled as his eyes alighted on one of the full-page illustrations that Sam had commissioned, this one of his father riding into the Haunted Forest with Heartsbane in his grasp and Jon's direwolf, Ghost, running along beside him.
He flipped a few more pages.
Here was one of his grandfather wrestling the white bear. And Sansa Stark, pacing the top of the Wall anxiously, her scarlet hair caught in a frosty breeze, blown up against a background of black sky and swirling white snow. Beric Dondarrion setting his sword ablaze, Sandor Clegane covered in dirt and grime, Meera Reed with her bow drawn, Mance Rayder and his wildlings charging through the deep woods on foot. All the many heroes and heroines of that long-ago night were collected here, portrayed in song and vibrant color.
And what glorious songs they were…
The Haunted Forest
"Lyanna Mormont slayed a giant—
she stabbed that beast straight through his eye
and as he howled and toppled over
she spat, 'think twice before you rise!'"
It didn't go exactly like the song said. It never does. But close enough.
The Haunted Forest was full of shadows even in good weather and it was night, with a fickle storm of swirling snow that came and went, making it difficult to see much of anything at all. Up ahead, Beric Dondarrion's flaming sword cast an arc of light every time he swung it wide and Lyanna found herself seeking out that flame like a touchstone even after her eyes adjusted to the darkness, picking out the shapes of monsters in the night.
But then the archers would send a host of flames above, casting them all in blood-shades, or the moon would find a hole in the bank of violet-black clouds and suddenly light the snowy landscape in a silver sheen that was eerie at best and horrifying at worst.
For the Red Woman was right about one thing. The night was dark and it was full of terror.
Lyanna would always remember the sounds, even when she was an old woman. Those sounds would haunt her dreams and she would sit up some nights on Bear Island, staring out her bedroom window with her dark hair pulled to one side and that scowl she perfected as a girl stealing across her lips.
The ring of steel, the crunch of bone, the strangled cries of the horses, the screams of men being pulled apart alive. The hissing of the undead, the frantic scramble of feet on the ground. The earth rumbling beneath the crash of armies, the dead running, the cavalry charging.
The hours slogged on, and the dead piled up, and yet there were more. There were always more.
She heard the undead giant come crashing through the grove beside her, bending grown trees like twigs. The flaming arrows had set a large swath of the woods on fire and now it was all burning, throwing up ash and casting long shadows everywhere. Lyanna's pulse quickened as she found herself swallowed up by the largest one yet. The giant moved slower than the other wights but his strength made up for any lack of speed. He took on two of her vanguard, tossing one aside and mashing the other into the ground with a gruesome club made of leg bones.
And then it was just the Lady of Bear Island squaring off against a monster ten times her size.
He knocked her sword from her hand and she swore at him. Then he brushed her aside as if she were a gnat, forcing her to the ground with a flick of his hand. Her face was already smeared with dirt and ash and she spit blood out of her mouth as she stubbornly got back up again, taking a deep breath before charging him with a holler.
The giant picked her up as if she were a rag doll and, in that moment, Lyanna felt more anger coursing in her veins than anything else. Not fear, not horror. She knew it was pride, but if she was going down, she'd take that damn thing with her.
So as he lifted her up, she scrambled to grab at whatever she could on the ground, seizing a long shard of dragonglass on impulse. The glass was broken, dropped by one of the men who didn't make it, and the shard was sharp enough that she felt the slick warmth of fresh blood on her palm as she gripped it tightly, slicing her hand open in the process.
The cut of glass stung like mad. But her hand would heal or she'd be dead before morning, so what did it matter?
She was stubborn to the last. And as that giant brought her close enough to bite her head off, she stabbed him. She stabbed him in his damn eye, straight through. The giant instantly shattered, his bones coming apart at the seams, his grip loosening. Lyanna fell from his grasp, tumbling, landing in the snow below far less gracefully than the songs would later portray.
She groaned as she got to her feet, her left hand feeling worse for the wear, a cracked rib or two for her trouble. But there was no time for recovery. She muttered, "It's all fucking blasphemy," before rising to ready herself for the next wave that would come running out of those blighted woods.
At the Top of the Wall
"A scarlet songbird has no glad melody
not for the long night
no warble where silence is her only prayer
and entertains no patience for
who found her there"
Sansa Stark kept watch at the top of the Wall. She would not come down, even as evening sank into night and night continued on and on, until time might have stopped altogether, stuck at the deepest hour of the darkest night. This is where Sansa would wait out the end, so close to the bruised underbelly of that crisp winter sky that she could nearly touch its icy rafters.
But her gaze wasn't on the sky. Her eyes never strayed from the northern forest. Not even as the man beside her started speaking his nonsense once again.
"They won't win this battle," Littlefinger's naturally sensuous tones lingered in her ears. How could they not? He stood so close. Petyr Baelish always stood so close to her.
"You don't know that," Sansa insisted, not sparing a glance on Littlefinger.
"We should go now. Ride south with me before it's too late," he told her.
"I'm not going anywhere with you," she muttered, remembering well how it worked out last time. If Jon and Stannis had not come to Winterfell when they did and Ramsay had done all he wanted…that would have been on Littlefinger's head. She couldn't forgive him for that.
She wished she could keep her tongue silent as well. He didn't deserve her words.
"Why aren't you down there? Why aren't you fighting with them?" she demanded.
"I'm not a soldier, Sansa. I brought you the Knights of the Vale," Petyr spoke smoothly. "What more would you ask of me?"
"I wouldn't ask anything of you," Sansa sighed. "Except to leave me in peace."
"I didn't know about Ramsay," he was so good with his lies. She wondered if he tricked himself into believing them. "I swear to the mother, Sansa. I didn't know."
"Oh, Lord Baelish," Sansa shook her head, her mouth twisting up into a strange grin, without humor, without warmth, certainly without affection. She said, "I don't care. I don't care if you knew or not. I don't care if you're here to appease me or try to win me over or…push me off the Wall."
"Push you off the Wall?" he blinked, stunned, though she wouldn't see it, her gaze still fixed on the Haunted Forest. "Sansa, I love you. I would never—"
"You don't know what love is, my lord…"
"Just shut up, Lord Baelish. If you truly love me, give me silence. My brothers are out there and likely won't return this night. If you had any shred of honor, you'd be out there with them. You've betrayed my family too many times to count," she finally looked at him, but only briefly, her blue-grey eyes easily seeing beyond any mask he might wear, any song he might sing. And underneath it all, she saw him, the little man with his petty jealousy and his selfish dreams.
She continued, "I'm sure some mischief brings you to our aid now. But I'm done with it, do you understand? Play your games as you will. Even here, even now, if you can manage to think of your ladder and your chaos while men are dying defending you. Yes, even you, my lord. But I'm done with your games. And I'm done with you."
She turned back with another soft sigh, running her cold fingers against themselves anxiously, her gaze drifting out over the night.
Her words cut as deep as her mother's always had. But chastened by the scarlet wolf, Petyr Baelish took his leave, bowing once before leaving her to her vigil.
In Fields of Ice and Blood
"They say every Bear Islander fights with the strength of ten men
but that night
Jorah Mormont fought with the strength of a thousand."
All the men and women who fought in the Haunted Forest the night the dead marched on the Wall deserved songs. But every last one of them would agree that Jorah Mormont's skills that night, as a soldier, as a knight, would be something to be remembered for a generation.
He led the Knights of the Vale into the forest and he stood on the front line for the entire night, cutting down every creature that came out of the woods like their existence was a threat to his very soul.
Which was true enough. With every slash of the blade, he found himself thinking of Daenerys and the children, Jeorgianna's arms around his neck and Aemon's little wave goodbye, and what would happen if even one of the dead men remained standing.
I'll see you when this is over. He held onto her last promise like a lifeline.
He would kill them all. Every last one of them. No matter how many times those damn White Walkers raised them up again. No matter how many of the men beside him fell in battle only to join the other side.
Heartsbane tasted more blood and ice and rotting flesh that night than in all the rest of its battles combined. Jorah held the line for hours, keeping them out of the godswood. The others, who might have run back to Castle Black out of fear and the sheer impossibility of their task, looked to Jorah and held steadfast because of him.
Tens of thousands flooded from the trees to make their assault on the godswood, where Brandon Stark sat waiting, where the nine weirwood trees watched, their eyes bleeding fiercely all night long, streaming down their white bark in rivulets.
Other things came out of the forest, spiders the size of horses, giants the size of houses and at least one dead bear that had a taste for human flesh. They killed them all. And then they killed them again, even when their arms grew numb and their legs felt ready to crumple beneath them.
They say Jorah killed a thousand wights by himself. Lyanna slew a giant. And Jeor would wrestle the undead bear before the night was over, tussling with the rabid thing in the snow drifts, a mess of fur and white hair, before killing it with his own two hands, solidifying his own song in the process.
"Fucking Mormonts," Tormund Giantsbane would say at the end of the night, but this time with awe in his voice and respect in his wide, blue eyes.
But Jorah didn't want anyone's respect. He didn't need their praise. He needed to keep his family safe.
I'll see you when this over. Please, Jorah… With Daenerys's soft, sweet voice echoing in his head, drowning out the more horrific sounds that surrounded him, he found the strength to do just that.
"R'hllor cursed the dragon's name
his eyes sparked fire, wreathed in rage
for as his priestess fed his flames
with king's-blood burned from Shireen's veins
Daenerys Stormborn stole her back
denying him his taste for ash
and proved the old words true once more
that fire will never kill a dragon"
Gilly was out of breath when she reached Daenerys and the children.
They had settled Maester Aemon into an upstairs room of the only inn in Mole's Town and Jeorgianna and Aemon both sat at the foot of his bed, quietly, watching as their mother fed the old man sips of broth that she'd brought up from the kitchen.
The children couldn't sleep, and Daenerys couldn't blame them. They'd heard the horns from Castle Black and the whole village now waited on pins and needles as the night wore on, lonely, dark and cold, the scent of fire and bloodshed on the cusp of every frigid breeze that blew down from the Wall.
Daenerys had been distracting herself with caring for her uncle, with telling the children stories and promising they would see their father again…soon.
Please let it be soon, she prayed, feeling physically ill every time her mind wandered to Jorah and where he was right now, what he was doing. Her body ached for him, her every thought was for his safety.
Despite her brave words when they'd parted, she found her hands shaking slightly as she lifted the spoon to Maester Aemon's lips, unable to banish the dire image of Jorah's body laid out in the snow from her head.
As the hours dragged on, her nerves wore thin and she wondered if there was anything that could break the tension that had settled on her caged heart.
She even wished for distraction. She remembers wishing for something to happen. But then Gilly came up the stairs. And this…no, never this.
"She's going to burn Shireen in the village square!" Gilly managed, her voice colored by a heady mix of fear for her friend and horror at the witch's actions. "She said there's no other way. She said the Lord demands a sacrifice…"
Gilly didn't have to explain further. And Daenerys found herself springing from Maester Aemon's bedside before she could think twice, spilling drops of that hot broth on her hands as she set it on the nightstand.
The Red Woman was too brazen. She kindled the dragon in Daenerys like no other.
"Bar the door. Don't let my children leave this room," she said in a steely tone, her words for Gilly. The words were a command and the way she said them, Gilly would never think to argue. The wildling girl nodded quickly as Jeorgianna seized her brother's hand, holding him back from following their mother.
Daenerys ran, as fast as her feet could carry her, down the stairs, out the door of the inn and down the village street to where she found Melisandre, placid and deathly calm, commanding men to tie Shireen Baratheon to a pyre.
Shireen was screaming for her mother and fighting against her captors. Selyse was nearby, restrained by guards, and watching the scene unfold with hollow, tear-streaked eyes. There was a man with a torch, ready to light the pyre aflame.
They were going to burn the girl alive.
"What are you doing?" Daenerys demanded of the red priestess, barely comprehending what was happening.
"Ah, Lady Mormont," Melisandre's lips twitched. She sighed, as if frustrated by a child's mindless question. She replied, "I'm attempting to save you and your children, my lady. And everyone else in this wretched country."
"By burning a little girl?" Daenerys asked, incredulous.
"Perhaps if you had kept to the fate planned out for you, this wouldn't be necessary," the witch mentioned, her usual smirk fading into a terse frown. "Your father's blood is weak in your veins, Daenerys Targaryen, nearly faded away. Such a shame."
"Daenerys, please, help me!" Shireen caught sight of the silver-haired woman. She continued to cry out, her voice strained from her many screams. The sound of Shireen's screams turned Daenerys's blood cold. And any mother within hearing.
"Let her go, I swear…," Daenerys began.
"Yes, Lady Melisandre, please! She's my only child. There must be another way," Selyse finally spoke, spurred to action by her daughter's screams.
But Melisandre was done talking. She was on a mission for her Lord of Light and she would not be dissuaded. She nodded towards the man with the torch and he dropped it on the oiled pyre. The wood caught fire immediately. Shireen screamed again, "Mama! Daenerys!"
"No!" Selyse cried out and struggled wildly against the men who held her arms, holding her back.
The Red Woman tipped her head at Daenerys and said simply, "Dracarys."
That word. That damn word and the visions it brought with it. Daenerys refused to succumb to them, false things all.
Those that were present, in the square, say that Daenerys's violet eyes flashed red at Melisandre and that if there had been time, they had no doubt that Daenerys would have strangled the sorceress to death right then and there.
But instead, she ran. She ran straight for the pyre and rushed into those greedy flames as if they were nothing at all. With nimble fingers, she untied Shireen's hands just as the flames licked up to scorch the young girl's palms. Shireen had enough scars. Daenerys would not allow the fire to add to them.
"Close your eyes, Shireen," she said to the girl, embracing her. "Close your eyes and do not move."
The flames had grown too tall for Shireen to walk through but Daenerys held her close, covering every inch of the girl, using her own body as a shield. The onlookers struggled to see what happened beyond the flames, as the fire raged, all those red flames seeming to consume the women within.
Ser Davos had been sent for as soon as Melisandre dragged Shireen from her bed. He'd been cursing himself for letting the witch slip away from Castle Black without his knowledge. And as soon as he arrived at Mole's Town, he cursed her too, bitterly.
The others told him what had happened but the fire was too hot to approach. They waited, tense and nearly hopeless, until the fires burned out. Ser Davos had Melisandre's wrists in a dead lock, holding her fast, waiting to see what evil she had wrought before giving her the justice she deserved.
"Gods be good…," the relieved words escaped his lips unconsciously as he witnessed Daenerys Stormborn walk out of the smoldering cinders, miraculously unhurt, unburnt.
And Shireen with her.
"My child!" Selyse cried immediately, her voice breaking, from the cold air, from hours pleading and trying to bargain with the red witch. She ran forward to kiss Shireen on either cheek, the scarred side too. At the same time, one of the men who rode in with Ser Davos removed his outer cloak and threw it around the shoulders of the woman who had saved their princess, as the fire had burned Daenerys's clothes to ash.
"You have stolen from the Lord of Light, Lady Mormont!" the witch seethed at the revelation of their unlikely survival, her expression betraying her true feelings at last. "He will take what is his, in fire and blood…"
"Let him try," Davos answered, just before he cut Melisandre's throat wide open, silencing her on the subject forever.
Her red necklace broke on the bite of the knife's blade and she disintegrated to dust at the Onion Knight's feet.
"Meera Reed had climbed a tree
its branches bathed in silver glow
and when Jon Snow's voice split the night
Meera raised and aimed her bow
The Three-Eyed Raven's eyes were clouded
waiting for the killing blow
but when Jon Snow plunged Longclaw deep
Meera let her arrow go"
The dead had gained ground. Far too much ground. Near dawn, the dwindling defenders had been split in three meager factions, as the dead broke like a dam through their ranks, adding more to their numbers with every one of the living who fell in those woods.
The Tyrells, the Mormonts and the remaining brothers of the Night's Watch were now nearly backed up against the Wall itself, where the dead had slowed their charge, gathering in rank and file, an ominous line of them that stretched the length of the landscape. They waited only for their king's command. And when that final command came, it would be hundreds against a hundred thousand.
After the forest caught fire, Stannis and some of the others had been caught too far north, being chased away and now retreating westerly, with a pack of dead men on their heels. But the forest offered nothing but shadows and ghosts, no cover to speak of, no miracles to conjure. So very near the ruins of Craster's Keep, Stannis told the men under his command to turn and face their enemy. They would be overwhelmed in minutes, but Stannis was weary, as weary as the hours of the night.
And further east, Jon and Mance Rayder were now at the very lip of the godswood, where those nine weirwoods stood silently in the midst of fire, snow and battle. Their bone-white bark had turned a shimmering silver under the light of the eerie moon above. This is where Brandon Stark had spent the battle. This is where the Night King himself finally appeared, veering on his way to the Wall, needing to take care of the Three-Eyed Raven before leading his legions south.
Mance and Jon exchanged a glance as a cluster of White Walkers came forward, separating to reveal their king, the King of Night, the King of Death, striding forward in sprays of blustering snow.
"This is it, isn't it?" Jon mumbled.
"Aye, it is," Mance shook his head ruefully, swallowing hard. "That's the king of hell walking towards us, boy."
Mance took a breath, short and white-puffed in the frosty air, and then nodded at Jon and the handful of other boys who were left. They would go out swinging. The dead charged first but this time, the White Walkers raised their swords as well. No one was getting out of the godswood alive.
They fought and they fought well, the wildlings spurred on by Mance and Jon, bringing down the dead and half the White Walkers as well. But soon, the Night King grew tired of the melee and joined it himself, striking Mance Rayder down on the second blow.
Jon watched the wildling king fall. And as Mance hit the hard ground, something inside him broke.
The freedom to make my own mistakes was all I ever wanted. The older man's voice rang in Jon's ear as he charged the horned devil instinctively, perhaps stupidly, his sword finding the blue flesh of that monster in the woods by sheer luck.
The Night King turned from his prey too late, having no time to duck away. Jon's mark was true. But with lightning fast reflexes, the Night King brought his frosted hand up and caught Jon's sword mid-slash, before it could cleave his head in two. At the catch, the sword rang out a loud call, as if Longclaw had sunk its teeth against diamonds or the hardest granite.
Jon's heart sank low. Mance had wielded dragonglass to no effect. And apparently, Longclaw would do no better.
What now? How do we kill you? Jon wondered desperately.
Jon pulled his sword back, dodging the blow as the monster swung his own sword, the iced weapon leveled at Jon's head. Jon rolled away, before quickly getting to his feet again, backing further into the godswood. He looked around him to find the others.
But there were none left. There was no one left.
The Night King's gaze was now fixated, no longer on Jon.
"Bran, watch out!" Jon called out in the godswood, unwilling to give up, even after being shown the true worth of his sword.
His words weren't for his brother, even though he called his name. His brother was a crippled boy who lived a half-life in the head of the Three-Eyed Raven. What could he do? Nor were they for the Three-Eyed Raven himself, whose eyes were clouded over and had been since the Night King walked into the godwood. With his defenders in tatters, perhaps he was searching for salvation elsewhere.
Jon couldn't guess the thoughts of a god. He didn't want to try.
No, Jon's words were for Meera Reed, if she still lived. The swamp girl was hidden away somewhere in the godswood. At least, he hoped she was. She could easily be dead too. Had the Walkers already pulled her out of hiding and cut her down with the rest?
He had to trust that she was there. He had to trust that she would know what he planned.
For there weren't any other plans left.
He gripped Longclaw, he made his move. The Night King's expression barely altered. He was annoyed perhaps, that this young wolf kept attempting to keep him from his prize, but he had time on his side, and the Three-Eyed Raven wasn't going anywhere.
Jon Snow struck, the Night King parried and the song of their swords rang out in the godswood.
The Night King was too sure of himself. His confidence would be his downfall. He toyed with Jon, taking too much pleasure in Jon's doomed dance, dropping his arm carelessly, knowing that Jon's sword would glance off his body as easily as he would bring down the Wall, once the Three-Eyed Raven lay slain in the godswood.
And Jon, for his part, was foolish enough to try the same thing twice. Even when he knew it wouldn't work. Even when he knew that a wise man would be running already. Stubborn as a bastard boy with no prospects, he'd never learned to give up.
A thunk hit the Night King, piercing his heart at the exact moment that Longclaw made contact with his gut. Meera Reed, from her perch in the seventh weirwood tree, had loosed her dragonglass-tipped arrow, aim as true as it would ever be.
And with that desperate meeting of steel and glass together, both pressed against the monster's skin at the same moment…
It worked. Meera hopped down from her tree limb, joining Jon and Bran below.
All around them, from the godswood to the Wall to the ruins of Craster's Keep, the army of the dead suddenly shattered into a million shards of ice and bone.
"A girl at her needlework
is a dangerous thing
so beware and take care,
all you false kings and queens"
Dawn came to King's Landing and Castle Black both, though no one in the North had slept that night and the lazy slumber of King's Landing wouldn't be over for a while yet.
But as the eastern horizon suddenly lit up with gold, Qyburn walked from his mistress's chambers with blood on his gnarled hands—buckets of blood on his fidgeting hands. He reached into the folds of his black robes to pull out a white cloth and wiped one hand clean.
But then he shrugged and tossed the bloody rag aside. After all, it wasn't his blood.
Qyburn walked down from Cersei's bedchamber in the Red Keep, veering down a narrow staircase before sliding out the servant's quarters. He nearly ran headlong into one of the gold cloaks as he passed the border of the castle grounds.
"Valar Morghulis," he winked, catching the young man off guard. Qyburn tossed the soldier a two-sided coin, before quickly joining the bustle of the city streets, which were already busy and crowded, as the bakers, butchers and fishermen were up and headed to work.
The gold cloak lost sight of him almost immediately.
They found Qyburn later that morning, in his laboratory, slunk down on the open chest cavity of the corpse he'd been examining the prior evening. He'd been dead for hours. His face was missing.
They found Cersei too, in her chambers, her green eyes gone dark, her golden hair a mess around her beautiful face, all soaked and matted in a puddle of her own blood. The queen had been dead for hours too.
But they never found the girl who did it, for she had left the city before they knew what had happened. And she wouldn't be returning. The south had never been kind to her family and her list was now complete.
Arya Stark was headed home.