Justice and Injustice in the North was one of the most engaging books Maester Aemon had recommended. The old man made Sam write a list of books Val would find interestingly and whose knowledge would be useful. She had been bored out of her mind in her confinement. The tower King Stannis had imprisoned her in was limited in the way of occupation, and without her closest allies, she had little to do. Even Lord Snow had become more recluse since her return. Reading became her main outlet for it.
Val was considered one of the Learned Ones by her people. Learned Ones were above Woods Witches, and at times even the Mothers - most of the times they were both.
Aemon had considered them Maesters with magic knowledge. It was that far from the truth since Learned Ones that weren't leaders were typically skinchangers, but that ability had escaped her generation. Her wisdom was different. Their mother had been a Mother as her mother before her, and Skinchanger as well, but had no interest in learning in the way Val had.
Even Dalla, who learned with her, dedicated her life to the arts of healing, despite her loved of tales. It was Mance's songs that charmed Dalla, but his vision made her love him.
Val wisdom was a mix of studying the Old Ways, the trade learning of her mother's people, and every other knowledge she could get her hands in.
Val's teacher had been the famed Old Crone. An ancient woman that somehow was frightening, old, and beautiful. According to tales, she had come from lands far away and had been a lover of a Lord Commander. The true few knew. And with Mance and Dalla's death, Val was probably the only one left who knew.
It was why Val enjoyed her time with the old Maester, for she reminded Val a great deal of the famed Lady Shiera.
And he gave her books. So many books. Val had never seen so many texts in one place.
The ones Val read were mostly about History, the law of Westeros, and their lords. Some old tales made Val either laugh or roll her eyes. One was a very illuminative account about the family history of the old man. It was made even more incredible with the annotations attached to it. The Old Crone rarely spoke of her origins. Val now could see why.
The Seven-Pointed Star was the hardest to read. Val only finished because she liked to quote the stupidest parts to either Alys or Lord Crow to see them crack a smile. The part about bastards also opened Val's eyes to why Lord Crow was constantly called Lord Snow by the crows who hated him.
The book she was currently reading in her bed was about three Starks lords: Lord Torrhen Stark, who they called the King Who Knelt; Lord Cregan Stark, who occupied the largest part of the book, and a man that Val found fascinating and a true First Men; and lastly and less-interesting Willam Stark, who Val knew because he fought the King-Beyond-the-Wall, Raymun Redbeard.
It was interesting to see how alike and different the Free Folk leaders and the Lords of Winterfell were. She had seen it in Lord Crow. When he killed that awful crow, he had beheaded him himself, in the Old Way. He also took guest rights with the seriousness it should be treated. And even old sins some of the Free Folk committed were seen as crimes by Lord Snow.
Val knew not to expect that from all the Lords of the south. One of King Stannis's men had told her about the so-called Red Wedding, so Val knew those in the farther south were as godless as they come.
And everyone in the castle knew of the Boltons.
I hope someone shows them the Old Gods' justice.
Stark justice, too, it seemed.
Her musings were stopped by the sound of scratching on her door.
Something in her body stirred, and she put down the book, getting her dagger from under her pillow. Years in the frozen north had taught Val to trust her instincts - especially the one that made her guts turn.
Something was happening.
"What was that?" Alys Karstark asked, and the sound returned.
Val's finger went to her lips, her eyes shifted, and the brunette nodded. Alys put down her sewing work and picked up the dagger from the small table near Val's bed. Val nodded in approval at her handling of it. Alys Karstark was proving a more enjoyable companionship than she expected.
Sigorn's wife and Val were getting to know one other very well. It wasn't difficult since, after moons living in a place lacking women companions, they both were more than welcoming to the other.
Alys Karstark had not been what Val imagined the ladies of the south to be like. Her brothers had taught her to yield a dagger to defend herself, and unlike most of the kneelers, Alys took time to learn the customs of Val's people.
The lady also spent time teaching Val the way of the people south of the Wall.
Val knew the importance of learning from people different from her. It was her inquisitive mind and her willingness to adapt and see other ways that put in her the position she was in today, despite her young years.
"A friend," She replied and opened the door.
The white beast came straight to her. Ghost's quiet anger frightened Alys, but not Val.
Val trusted Ghost above any other in this castle. Even more than his bound-mate.
The direwolf looked at her with red eyes – old eyes – and Val offered him her hand. Unlike most days, he didn't lick it.
"What it is, Ghost?"
The direwolf tugged her hand.
"You want me to follow you," She concluded and sheathed her dagger in her belt.
Without any more questioning, she put on her white cloak.
She turned to Alys. Her eyes were as undecided as was her voice.
Her friend had little knowledge of the ways of the Old Gods. Val didn't blame her for her uncertainty.
Alys's blue-grey eyes - First Man's eyes - looked to where Ghost was pulling Val's sleeve. Val walked outside, knowing her new friend would follow her.
They walked outside the King's Tower into the snow-covered courtyard. It was empty, which immediately put on alert. A few moons ago, Castle Black was bursting with life, but since Stannis and the Free Folk went south, most inside it were crows. But even then, there should be someone patrolling.
Val's troubled mind couldn't recall who was supposed to be on guard duty. Since King Stannis left, she always made sure to know who would be guarding the tower.
The eerily silence, Val did not like it one bit.
"Lord Jon wouldn't let own tower unguarded," Alys whispered.
No, he wouldn't. Lord Crow wouldn't let two women unprotected at the Wall.
He had been the one to let her out of the tower. He wanted her to find Sigorn in hopes of finding a truce with him and Tormund. She had succeeded. Val had wanted to leave the tower King Stannis imprisoned her in and the crow's castle too that she had been more than pleased with her mission.
She was a member of the Free Folk, not some southern princess to be kept locked. Besides, Val saw how the men looked at her, and while she was capable of fending off men – she had done most of her life –if they banded together against her, there wasn't a lot she could do.
I have more freedom now than King Stannis would have liked.
"No, Lord Crow would have at least two guards on duty."
Val looked at Ghost. There was something different about the wolf. He had been acting strangely for days, but now, there was an aura to him that was more than barely contained anger. He barely took his eyes from her. It was as if he was expecting something of her.
What do the Gods need of me?
"Where is Lord Jon?"
A good question.
"Where is your bound-mate, Ghost?"
The white beast bared his teeth at her, but no sound came. He nipped at her fingers and pushed her sleeve, ripping it. Val stroked him, sensing his disquietness.
"Lead the way," Val said, troubled in the way the wolf was acting.
As they followed Ghost, Val's thought turned to the Lord Commander.
Lord Crow was what she expected for a man of the south. He let her people cross the Wall and shared his food with them. He didn't realize the loyalty he was gaining amidst the Free Folk. But Val could see it. And Val's loyalty was each day more firmly glutted with the Lord Crow.
Look at you. Each day you spent where you sound more like a kneeler.
When Mance confessed to having told the kneelers king of Val's line and the reason why Mance wed Dalla - and only Dalla - she had felt betrayed.
Until Val realized why Mance did it, he told Stannis the truth that would allow her a place in Stannis's court. A place of power that she could use to the Free Folk advantage.
Val offered herself to King Stannis in hopes he would spare her last remaining kin. It hadn't worked. Mance burned, and each day Val worried for Dalla's son.
Her heart tightened. Dalla's death still height on her heart, for Val had not expected it to happen.
If there was no battle around them.
If I hadn't been the only one delivering the babe.
No! Senseless doubt kills the mind.
The night grew colder, and not just in the way that announced winter.
Alys's voice made her stop. Ghost came to stand at her legs. He was eyeing the man with caution and seemed ready to attack him. Val's placed her hand in his head.
"Princess, Lady Alys." The man's eyes looked between the three of them. Ghost was already pushing her to move. "Something is wrong."
Val let Alys explained to the man as she followed Ghost. She heard the two other humans walking behind them.
In the snow was a body in black.
"I can't be. No!" Val screamed as she ran.
Her knees hit the floor, and her body bent over his.
Her mind couldn't even deny what she was seeing.
His clothes were tinted with blood. The holes and rips showed the various places they wounded him. They left a dagger stabbed in his heart.
Who did this?
How could someone do this?
Where were the cowards?
Val wanted to rip their hearts out.
She might as well used it to stab her own heart, for it would hurt less. She felt her heart tighten with an intensity she hadn't felt since Dalla died on her arms.
"Jon," she whimpered.
She felt Ghost nudged her face.
"It's the Lord Commander!" a male voice said behind her.
"By the Gods, Jon." Alys joined her on the ground. "They stabbed him."
Val would reattribute each hit a thousand times over.
Her shaking hands tried to feel the pulse in his throat. She wept at the lack of heartbeat. She moved her hands and felt something warm in them.
She looked at her pale hands and noticed the specks of red.
Her eyes couldn't move away from them.
She didn't reply to frightened tone, nor the worried crows that joined them. The tear that fell from her eyes was answer enough. Val sank into Jon's body and yielded herself not to cry. Ghost shielded her from the other. The white fur wilted her wet tears and muffled her cries of anguish.
I love him.
By the Gods, I love him.
"My lady, we need to get him inside." Ser Davos spoke, and Val realized she and Ghost were shielding the body from the others.
"Val," A soft voice said next to her. She turned to the pretty boy, the only person other than herself that Ghost let close to Jon. He didn't hide the tears.
"Satin." She felt a new wave of wetness in her eyes.
"We need to go inside. To get Jon inside."
Val nodded at his slow spoke words.
He looked at Ghost, whose body was guarding her and Jon.
"I can't move his body by myself."
Oh, move him. Jon can't walk because he's-
Val closed her eyes and felt the softness of Ghost's fur. and the gentle way he rubbed her jawline gave her a newfound strength.
You can fall apart later.
Val turned to the men.
Ser Davos had been King Stannis's right man, the same way Tormont had been Mance's. She didn't know if she could trust him.
But of the King's men, she trusted him above all others, but that wasn't much. He seemed to be shaken with what he was seeing, and his look he gave her was warm with compassion.
Jon liked him, and Ghost let him follow them.
She turned her gaze to the crows.
Edd and Satin she trusted without a doubt.
Leathers and Jax joined the crows after they crossed the Wall, but they were of the Free Folk. Val trusted them to have her back.
The clubfoot boy: Robin. Val had memories of him being trained by Jon. His eyes were wide open, and he was constantly shifting.
There was one with a golden and grey beard that she knew little of, but he seemed to be frozen in place.
Val considered what to do with them. Her gaze shifted to Satin, who nodded.
"Take him to the King'' Tower," she commanded.
Val watched as Satin closed Jon's beautiful eyes with the softest of movements. Val took off her cloak and froze. It was soaked in red. Val brushed her hands over it, but they weren't in any better state.
It's Jon's blood.
Val threw it on the ground and walked back to Jon's body. Ghost at her heels.
Val had stripped Jon of his cloak as soon as they set him on a table. Her hands brushed the ruined jerkin. It had been mended recently by her hand. Val had used white thread, and Jon had given her a knowing look when she gave it to him. He knew it was an act of quiet rebellion, but afterward, Val barely saw him wearing another jerkin.
Val had not to know Ygritte personally, but she wondered if the red-haired felt. How could you deal with it? Val wanted to cry and scream, but at the same time, she imagined hunting down every crow responsible for this and using them as target practices for her daggers. Perhaps she would even use a bow. Regardless of her proficiency with it, it had been a while since she used one. The training would be most welcome.
"I want names," she growled.
"Thorne did this," Edd stated.
She brushed off the snow of Jon's breeches. He looked so peaceful. Val never saw him like that. He was always occupied with something or someone.
"He didn't act alone." Alys's asked as she walked in, bowl in hand.
"Bowen Marsh was always arguing with Jon," Satin offered, "He made no secret either."
"I think even in Dorne, they know of his dislike of Lord Jon's policy." Alys volunteer.
Ghost bared his teeth at her when she got closer to them. The direwolf didn't let anyone closer to Jon as soon as they laid him. Except for Satin and Val. Val rested her hands on Ghost's head. The warmness of the animal calmed her, as much as her touch seemed to do to him.
"If Marsh is involved, you can make sure Whittlestick and Yarwyck were on it," Edd assessed.
"That is both the head Stewart and the first builder." The bearded one that Satin said was named Ben said. His tone mirrored the upsetting situation they were in.
Val got the bowl from Alys' hand. "Thank you," she whispered to the girl, who nodded and went to sit by the fire.
"How many of your brothers do you think you can trust?" Davos asking.
She placed the bowl of water on a corner of the table and wetted the clock inside.
"Trust? The men in this room." Edd spoke as Val cleaned off Jon's body as best as she could.
Ghost raised his head from Jon's leg to observed the men. Val could see how they tensed over the barely contained fury of the wolf. After a while, he went back to rest his head on Jon's leg. His eyes offered Val comfort and the attesting to the men's character.
"Does the wolf understand?"
"Better than you might imagine, Ser Davos," Val spoke without turning her eyes from Jon, "Just because he is silent, don't expect him to stand back. He wants to fight more than you all do."
"Good. We need all the help we can get."
Suddenly there was a knock on the door.
Ghost straightened his body. Val turned. The man in the room drew their blades. Val was surprised when they turned to her in question.
"Who is it? Don't you know the hour?" Val spoke, the trembling hidden under her annoyance.
"It's me, princess." The female voice was soft-spoken, but the heavy accent impossible to confuse. "I know you're not alone."
Val nodded to Edd, who opened the door. As the Red Woman entered, the men in the room sheathe their swords. Val kept the dagger in hand. She looked at the woman whose eyes fell on Jon's body. Val walked closer to it until the back of her knees hit the wooden table. Ghost sat at her feet which pleased her.
Jon told Val that Stannis's red witch was too comfortable with Ghost and he with her.
Val wanted to stab the red-clad woman, but at the same time, she knew there was knowledge to be found in her words.
"I saw him in the flames, fighting at Winterfell," Melisandre said, distressed.
Val's mind flashed to Mance and the burning pyre. The baby she had hidden with Gilly, and then with Jon's help, smuggled from Castle Black.
Val considered throwing the woman at her flames and see what would happen.
"I can't speak for the flames, but he's gone."
Val swallowed a sob. The Red woman walked closer to them, but Val held her hand before she could touch Jon.
"Don't you dare," she growled.
Melisandre's eyes met hers. Silent followed in the room. The tension deepened as the two of them didn't move.
See, Lord Crow, you're so pretty that even now women fight to touch you.
The red witch stood a small step back, and Val released her hand. Ghost came to stand between them. His gaze shifted between the two, and he sat on the floor. His body leaned on Val's legs, but his paws rested on the red silk of Melisandre's gown.
"We need a plan," Val told them but didn't take her eyes off the woman. "A quick one that ends with people paying for this. I say we stabbed them to death and see if they like it."
Ghost nudged her, and the soft whimper made freeze. She stared at Ghost's red eyes and then turned to Melisandre. The witch seemed as shocked as her, but as they looked eyes, understanding flashed between them.
"The men were in the common hall." Melisandre offered.
"There was to be a meeting," Satin offered. His first words. His voice was lower, and Val knew he was barely holding it together.
"He'll have seen we didn't come."
"Nor the Lord Commander," Val said. "The crows will ask for this commander. They can't keep this a secret."
"Thorne will have made it official by now. Castle Black is his," Ser Davos said.
Castle Black belongs to Jon, Val wanted to say. He picked it and the Wall over Winterfell. Over me.
"I don't care who's sitting at the high table. Jon was my friend, and those fuckers butchered him. Princess Val is right. Now we return the favor."
"We need to make them pay," Satin agreed, anger coloring his tone.
Even angry, he was pretty.
Val wanted to see those crows begging for mercy as each die, slowly and painfully. She would show them their betray was going o be punished. And that her punishment would be terrible. The Red Woman had Mance burned, and his death would be horrifying had Jon not put an arrow in his body. Val will make them wish for that pyre when she is done with them.
She knew better. Her dark urges couldn't be followed. Not if what gut feeling was correct. Val's eyes looked at the wolf at her feet and then to Jon.
"Jon sent most of his allies to command the castles on the Wall."
She glared at the wolf. It had been stupid. He even wanted to send Edd away. Val managed to convince him otherwise.
You should've placed Edd in a position of command.
She let her truth hit them.
"We don't have the numbers."
She nodded to Ser Davos.
"We have a direwolf," Edd offered.
Val was pleased these men would stand with Jon until the end. But Val did have the numbers in her favor. But only if she could buy them time.
"It's not enough. I didn't know Lord Commander Snow for long, but I have to believe he wouldn't have wanted his friends to die for nothing."
Ghost nudged her hand, and she patted his nose. I know. She nodded at him.
"If you were planning to see tomorrow, you picked the wrong room. We all die today. I say we do our best to take Thorne with us when we go."
The men all took to Edd's words.
Ghost began to nipping her fingers softly.
"We need to fight, but we don't need to die. Not if we have help."
They all turned to her.
"Who's gonna help us?"
"You're not the only ones who owe your lives to Jon Snow."
She let the realization wash over them. Edd was about to leave when she called him.
"Leathers," the man turned to her, awaiting her command. "Go with Edd."
"I can go alone. I'll be back faster."
"Sorry, crow, but it's better if you take a member of the Free Folk."
"Former," Edd said drily.
"Leathers will speak for me. The free folk will listen to him. Thanks to the Old Gods, Tormund's camp is the closest, or they wouldn't be as welcoming."
Her red-haired friend would want to avenge this, and the people would follow him if her word wasn't enough.
"Speak for you?" Ser Davos asked, confused.
Val took off the weirwood brooch from her cloak. It was carved with old runes that few knew what they meant, but most of the Free Folk knew what it meant.
"Take it, with you Leathers. Show it to Tormund. He'll know it came from me."
Val walked to Jon's body and the hidden pocket she had sewn for him. Ghost came closer.
"I'm sorry," she whispered, too low to be heard, and got the braided red-hair strand. She placed it in Leathers's hand. The men in the room looked puzzled. "If you lose the hair, I'll kill you."
"Alys, you're going with them."
"I am not leaving." The girl protested.
"You might be skilled as fencing off a rapist, but against a group of men, there is little you can do. Tormund knows you're married to Signor. They won't touch you. With luck, your husband with be there too, and we can add more to our numbers."
Understand came to Alys's face, "Danny Flint."
Val nodded. Jon had told her the sad tale of Danny Flint.
"You should come with us," Alys said.
"I am not leaving Jon. The Others will have to drag me away, kicking and screaming."
There was a heartbeat of silence at her passionate speech. She didn't care. Only Lord Crow seemed to be unable to notice that her flirtation was sincere. Or perhaps, he knew it to be truthful but wanted to keep his vows. The Gods knew he flirted back.
"Bolt the door. Don't let anyone in. We'll be back as soon as we can."
"You better return fast. We won't be able to hold the tower for long." Val told them.
As the men left, she turned to the remaining ones. "I want at least one person on the battlements, bow in hand."
She and Alys had stocked the tower with weapons. Val had at least seven bows at their disposal.
"Shoot to kill?" Ben asked.
Val wanted to say yes so badly. These men killed so many of her people. Not everyone was on this plot, however.
"If they threatened to enter, shoot to kill. If there the man is part of the conspiracy, hit him. Preferably not to kill, and make sure to tell them, I ordered it. I wish to be present when they beg for mercy."
Jax grinned was a dangerous thing. He had seen her judgment many times over the years. Every single Free Folk member that joined the watch had been part of Val's group.
"If they offer to treat, deny them. If the person wants to join us, make sure he means it. I'll have no oathbreakers among us."
"Speaking of men to join, where is Olly?" Satin asked.
Ghost leaped from her side and gave a silent snarl. Even when Val tried to calm him, he still snarled.
"Add Olly to the list of traitors. Keep him alive." She said coldly.