Interlude

Copperhead Road

A deep shadow fell over the rolling fog off the Black Water, leaving the open mouth of the channel like the chilled bowels of a large hollow cave. The slightest slosh of water, the chuckled result of a harmless jest, carrying over miles of open water, it was a quiet night of a predator's delight. There was a cold wind that swept from the mainland. The mixture of foggy moisture and frigid late-autumn freeze was like a wet towel after a cold bath. There was something in the air that came unnaturally as the wet cold swirled over the inky black water of the bay. The waves sloshed and chopped loudly. In the distance, the ring of a distant buoy echoed over the empty water like the ominous sound of a Sept bell signaling high noon— a perpetual last gasp before the duel.

Obscured from the light of the stars and the low hanging moon, the figure of a slender skiff glided with a gentle slosh over the sea like a baker's knife through a fresh loaf. Its pure white of the crisp new sails flapped, and the thick ropes creaked in the toss of the surf line. The meeting of fresh and salt water created a friction that unsettled the rhythm of the already dangerous journey. On the sparsely populated deck there was a tense, uneasy silence that spread from the collection of dark Summer Islander faces. They had been on edge since the night they helped their cargo fight their way out of the Royal Navy's trap at the port of Duskendale. The running scrapes and barely escapes from Westros to Bravos, and now back again had flayed everyone's nerves on the ship.

Below the deck, in the humid, stinking barracks of swinging hammocks not an eye was closed. Many of the salty blooded men's minds were on the gold promised just a half an hour away, some on the many masochistic and pessimistic thoughts that plagued the many seasoned sailor that had their guts turn. There was something about this night that didn't sit well with any of them. A witch was in the wind, her foreign tongue speaking shadows and praying against them, as the wheel of destiny rolled on toward the uncertain future.

But even below them, in the deepest and darkest places of a ship built for these elicit enterprises, hidden by a hollow barrel there was a different energy. Not a positive energy, not even a worst energy, but a grimmer attitude. For the sailors above, when the met port, they would be paid and leave on the morning tide, to chase the sunrise. For the three souls sitting below, this journey does not end when their boots touched the rocks in the shadow of the grand red fortress beyond the wall of damp fog. When they touched dry land, it was just another leg on a perilous adventure.

In the tight humid confines filled with shelved barrels filled with strong liquor and foreign narcotics the dim of a single candle lit the smugglers hold. In the light a blade with dark steely ripples glinted as the wet stone scraped on the surface in time with the creaking lull of the back and forth in the toss of the watery abyss around them. Dark grey eyes seemed focused on their work, sharpened and cleaning an ancient weapon that had spilled much blood in the time it had been given to him, Wilding, Muteness Black Brother, Frey, Tully, and now Royal sailor. The further he tried to do the right thing, the further he was sinking into darkness and compromise. His handsome face was implacable and shadowed in the dim light as he thought of all the battles he's fought. He thought of an inn at a crossroads where a line had been crossed. It was where his childhood of disappointments and anger met with his honor and manhood. It was a place where he had lost all of them. He held two women that had been kissed by fire as they died that night. One cursed him, and the other hated him with her last breath.

Now all that mattered was the mission, was a letter carried by raven, all that mattered now to Jon Snow was the answers that had been promised at the end. When he had them, he would face the things that had been done, that he had done. He'd wear the hangman's necklace or feel the kiss of his brother's own steel after he had been satisfied and not before. If it were to end here in this watery grave or on the field … he'd chase his beautiful damsel, the golden haired tormentor across all the seven hells of her seven gods and that of his forefathers till she gave him all the answers he sought, all the answers she promised in exchange for her life.

He thought of all of his father's lectures in his youth, tales of honor, of duty. But what was all that to a man that had none to claim for himself. A motherless bastard, cursed by his father's lady, raised in the shadow of an ancient name, but had none for himself. Day after day thinking of what he would've given for just one ounce of reassurance that came from a name of his own. For just one moment knowing who he was, and why he existed. He loved his father, but Eddard Stark had no idea what it was like to be a bastard, to be a man desperate for truth as a waterless vagabond in the great wastes of the east. When baited with all of which he desperately hoped for, a man like Jon Snow knew no such thing as vows or honor.

His hand ran along the blade with a rhythmic scrape and in the beat he closed his eyes and remembered.

A boy stood in the lobby of her chambers looking on as the queen's handmaidens packed away the many trunks of her clothing, and belongings. Outside her window, the sound of the chaos in the yard echoed into the room. Far off, a wolf howled long and mournfully outside a tower window.

"Your Grace?"

He was a tall boy of seventeen with thick black curls and dark gray eyes. He looked more of a Stark than any of the other children, and yet the irony was that he wasn't a Stark by name.

The golden haired beauty looked up from her vanity as one of her ladies-in-waiting combed her long, blond waves. She wore a simple silk gown, her milky bare skin was on display, and she wasn't decent for visitors.

"You, get out of here wolf cur!" Ser Meryn Trant stepped forward, drawing his blade at the teen. The boy took a step back at first, but at the sight of steel he stepped forward angrily, challenging the knight. He might have been a bastard boy, but no one commanded or barred his passage, especially in his own chamber.

After their meeting in the yard, Cersei Lannister had moved her chambers away from the King's, and into Jon's. The boy had to uproot and move in with Robb; he thought it cruel that he had to move his chambers when no one else had too. He, however, never knew that many nights the queen lay in his bed, clutching his pillow, savoring his sent.

"Ser Meryn!" The Queen's voice was as loud and commanding as a litter driver's whip. "What do you think you're doing?" She asked, her tone dripping with disdain for her sworn shield.

The man's small hard eyes turned to his queen wordlessly, surprised at her tone. "You're not decent for anyone my queen, much less a bastard boy, lord's seed or not." He said with a burning dislike for the boy standing ready to defend himself.

Cool green eyes found Jon from his reflection in the mirror, she gave him a beautiful disarming smile. "Jon, have you ever wanted to be a Knight in the King's Guard?" She asked with a tilt of head. The youth frowned at the question.

"What boy hasn't, Your Grace?" He answered cautiously, not sure where she was going with her line of questioning.

Her eyes grew fierce, turning to Meryn Trant, who seemed as perplexed as Jon about her question. "If this simpering fool bares naked steel against you again, you have my permission to strike him, and if just so happens you kill him … I might just Knight and give you his white cloak." Her tone was dangerous, more dangerous than anyone had ever heard the queen use before.

"My queen …"

"Get out!" Her voice was commanding and her temperament short. "All of you, I have a visitor, I wish to speak with him in peace. Get out." Everyone obeyed without a word. In passing, the white scaled knight bumped shoulders with Jon, making him stumbled back a step. Quiet, dark eyes followed Trant out the door, till it closed behind him.

The room was quiet as the queen stood and padded to the boy, who stood nervously in her presence. The youth hadn't been alone with her but once, and he wasn't sure what the protocol between a bastard and a queen who gave him his name was. He wasn't a lord, and yet not small folk.

"What can I do for you?" She gave him another disarming smile. Jon flustered just a moment, it was rare that a woman had given him such a smile.

"I'm sorry …"

"Why?" She tilted her head.

"I … I'm going to the wall today." He blurted out, before he had time to think.

The queen's face fell, twisting in some unimaginable sadness and panic at his statement. "Really …" She looked down at her feet. "Have you committed some great crime that I am unaware of?" She asked looking back at him with disapproving eyes.

Something twisted sharply in his stomach at her tone, a second of indecision plagued him. "No, your grace …" He opened his mouth, but paused, not willing to tell her the reason.

Her eyes searched his; he felt her gaze go through him like a chilled wind through a thin doublet. "It's not what you think it is …" She said in a low tone.

A fire was lit in his gut, who the hell did she think she was … and why did he care so much what she thought?

"The Starks have manned the wall for thousands of years!"

"And you're not a Stark!"

Her voice was loud and frustrated, a mix of anxiousness and disappointment. Jon felt as if he had been gutted by her comment. People had been telling him for years what he could and couldn't do, the Wall had always been somewhere he knew he could belong and make something of himself, now someone was telling him he shouldn't go there.

"Where will I go, your grace?" He asked loosing himself in anger. "To Kings Landing? To join your King's Guard?" He asked with gritted teeth.

Wear it like armor, and it will never be used to hurt you. He thought of her brother's words.

"I'm a bastard your grace … and will never have a place in your world." He said with conviction. "I may not have a name, but I have skills and I want to make something of myself. I'm going to the Wall where men like me can serve the realm with honor!" He wasn't sure why he was diving into his most intimate thoughts and telling her in such an insolent tone. But then, what was the queen going to do? Send him to the Wall?

The queen glared at him for a long time, her eyes lighting and hardening with each passing moment. It was a long chilled silence, before she spoke.

"Well, I see there's no changing your mind …" She turned and walked toward one of her trunks at the foot of his bed. After a moment she turned, seeing that he wasn't following her.

"Come …" She said in a hardened voice. The boy found himself following with the scrape of boots.

Bending over, she popped the lid to her trunk and began pulling out folded gowns and boxes of jeweled necklaces and other ornaments.

"I assume you came here because of your shit steel." She called behind her. When Jon didn't answer, she gave a toothy grin to herself bent over her trunk. After a moment she found what she was looking for, griping the item wrapped in a thirty three year old crimson and gold cloth. Standing straight, she turned, showing it to the boy.

"When my father learned my lady mother was pregnant with me and my brother, her belly was greatly swollen, our mother's maester was certain of twins, not knowing the sex, our father commissioned for two weapons to be made, one for Jaime …" She undid the cloth, slowly. "One for me." She held it out to him.

The scabbard was red, with silver inlay at the top. The handle of the two handed sword was covered with fine red leather; the pummel was silver and flat with a weighted ball at the end for balance. Jon took the weapon carefully, the feeling the blade had when he held it, was as if he had found the sword he never knew he needed, or should have. When he drew it from its scabbard,, the silvery blade glimmered in the low, northern morning, reflecting on the walls of his room.

"It's castle forged, the best steel money and prestige can buy … had I been a man, I would wear this at my side, like Jaime does his." She said watching him with the sword passively.

Jon's awe of the sword was halted when he caught her eye. Clearing his throat he sheathed her weapon and offered it back to her. "It's a fine sword your grace." He motioned it to her.

"It's yours …" She pressed it back into his chest.

"Mine?" He found himself asking.

"This weapon is one of a kind … you say you want glory and honor … keep it by your side, and you will find all you seek."

Jon stared down at the weapon with a frown then back at the queen. "I don't understand …?" He trailed off.

"Don't understand what?" She tilted her head.

"Why would you give me this?"

She paused and for the second and last time she touched the boy's cheek fondly.

"So you have a piece of me and I … a piece of mind."

When he opened his eyes, he still saw her golden hair and beautiful face and with every second of them in his mind and blood he wished that he had his father's strength. That in his heart there was strength in his convictions, not led astray by all the things that true born sons took for granted and regal beauties could promise. But Jon had betrayed every vow he spoke to his father's gods. He knew the warmth of a woman, of the enemy, taken her to wife in her own way. He had slain his father's allies under the protection of the inn's hospitality. A lesser man might have made an excuse that they were the first to draw their blades. But Jon would take responsibility for what had been done to cause it. Between the Imps cutting prods and Jon's wilding lover's hot words that publically called into question Lady Catelyn's virtue in the defense of his own honor. Jon had not raised a blade against his step-mother. Lady Catelyn and her brother had been murdered by their own father's bannermen before he could save them. But even without a hand to strike it was his own fault that he let the weasel faced murderers push him into open conflict. It had been a senseless fight that framed him in the laws of gods and men, and costing the lives of most of his friends and … and Ygritte. Even now his broken vows were risking much of innocent men. Out there somewhere Stannis Baratheon was prowling the Black Water and Narrow Sea for him and his companions. He'd kill everyman on this ship to see the two bastard outlaws and their fat friend hang from the walls of Maegor's holdfast.

He looked up from his work to keep watch of their confined traveling space. Curled contently was the large shaggy body of Ghost. Across from Jon the large beast silently breathed in and out, eyes closed. But under his observant stare, the direwolf felt its master and awoke from the alert slumber. When grey human and blood red wolf eyes met their gaze linked a connection between man and beast that had seldom been seen south of the neck. In the large wolf's eyes, John could feel its heart beat, feel the depression within it. Ghost was an animal, born to roam free in the snowy and fringed landscapes of the true north, where it was born and raised. Even in the damp chill that had invaded the south it was still too hot for the animal. He had also been kept on a ship for three days. But for what days were to humans it seemed like decades for a rare beast like the albino direwolf. In the confines of this wooden hull, surrounded by sea, Jon was starting to feel his friend lie low. The wolf had forgotten what it was like to taste mountain air, and the warm blood of the hunt. The young man gave a feeling of reassurance within his breast for the wolf to feel. Soon they'd be on land and the wolf would remember who he is, and what it felt to be free once more. Upon feeling his master's comforts within their unnatural stare down, the wolf lay his head back upon his paws and closed his eyes once more.

To accompany this wordless conversation was the horrid sawing noise that came from the sound of cutting boards of a group of builders. Even in his grim mood, Jon gave just the slightest of smirks at the thought of how nervous their crewmen must feel to hear the loud snoring noises. Samwell Tarly was lying flat on his back, his head pillowed into the side of the great white animal. Covered in their furs, he looked and sounded like a great harmless bear slumbering in for the long winter. Jon figured his best friend might be the only man in a hundred miles asleep tonight. Before they left Winterfell with Bran's blessing, he had told Sam that he did not have to come with the rest of them. That he could stay with Gilly and the baby as he had promised the night of their battle with Mance at the wall. But his faithful friend would not let him undertake such an adventure on his own. Even with thousands of men and gold sent by Tywin Lannister to take their place on the wall and hundreds more to finance this seemingly doomed rescue, Samwell was still convinced that Jon needed him. Now hundreds of leagues from the woman he loved, the large boy still would not leave him. Not even after they buried their friends on the Kings Road and said farewell to the Imp and his sell-sword. There was something comfortingly familiar to have Sam with him, even after the loss of Ygritte, Pyp, Grenn, Delores, and Ser Rodrik, it still felt like home to have the large young man. Even in the new surrounding and the danger Sam helped him still feel like himself.

But at the noise of clumsy rattles of inexperienced hands trying to sharpen a blade, he knew that he couldn't fully be himself again. That even on this adventure, this suicidal mission he still had responsibilities that were new. Jon looked next to him to find the biggest of them he had ever undertaken. Young, small, naïve, but stout hearted. His squire Tommen had also kept the road with them. The small boy sat next to Jon in their crouched quarters quietly sharpening the blade of the sword he had given him.

Out of all the people that the young crow did not want to come with them, it was young Tommen. Even before they had left the Wall for Winterfell, the boy was wanted. He was the sole heir to house Lannister, the last surviving son of an unholy union. King Robert would pay his considerable weight in gold for the head of the boy. After privately accepting Casterly Rock's offered assistance Jon had been approached and consecutively said no three different times to the young lord when he volunteered to come with the group of companions. It wasn't till a quiet night when his mind had been changed.

He had been planning their Journey on Maester Luwin's maps while Ygritte slept in his bed. He remembered just watching her, how queer the idea many years ago that a beautiful girl would be sleeping in between the very sheets of his very own bed. That one day a nameless bastard that felt doomed to be alone forever would someday have a woman who loved him, and didn't care who knew it. There had been a rap at his door that had come softly. He had grown annoyed at the sight of Tommen. The blond boy didn't ask for his permission to squire for him. Instead he told Jon at the fire side of his weeks in captivity at King Robert's hands. How scared he was every day, how his sister cried herself to sleep every night … and the vile things that the King had done to his cousin and brother. He retold the horrors of how the oaf he thought was his father had raped his mother in front of his sister and himself. The boy was in tears, though he tried not to show it when he spoke of the fear that his mother was back in that horrible place. He could not sleep till he had rescued her, delivered her safely to her father at Casterly Rock.

"Let him, come."

Both turned from their chairs by the fire to the bed, where the wildling spear wife lay naked, wrapped in sheets, while staring at the ceiling. She never said why they should, but in her voice there was a simple command. In her mind and wildling sensibilities this boy had the right to revenge on the man who hurt his family, no matter how old he may be. When they departed, the girl looked after him even when no one told her too. Something in the way he told his story had touched the seemingly hardened girl that night. From that day on she publically and relentlessly mocked Jon with her impressions of him when he was too hard on the boy during lessons. At meals on the road she gave Tommen portions of her own food. If the young would-be-prince was to be Jon's squire and Ygritte, his companion forever, it seemed that she felt a need to bring him into their lives fully.

Now Jon watched the boy as he attempted to sharpen the familiar Casterly Rock steel with the red leather hilt and silver pummel. He had bright green eyes and gold curls that made him every bit of a Lannister. But unlike his family who rarely broke from their inherited smugness, there was a deep sadness to the boy. In him was a melancholy that no child so young should have to bare. Even before they departed he had seen it. But now, after the fight at the Inn, it seemed to have lingered in his heart, like a cold in a weakened man's chest. Jon knew it well, and it made him wonder if every bastard in the world felt like they did? He asked himself if the crushing lonesome of this world ever stopped pressing against them.

Maybe it was what had made Ygritte love Jon that attached her to the youngest Lannister. In her dark eyes she saw the same naive bravery within a tortured but true heart. Whatever was the reason, Jon felt a deeper attachment to the young boy now, than ever. There was a commitment deep within to be to the child what no one else had been to him at his age. Jon could protect him from this world till he was old enough to teach him about it. After all the roads hardships his only wish now was that someday when the boy becomes a lord himself, legitimized or not, he would be a better man than his teacher turned out to be. On that faithful day, Jon Snow would know he had done at least one thing right in his life.

He laid Long Claw in his lap. "Here …" The young man took the queen's sword from her son's hand. "Gently, like this." He showed the boy as he smoothed the leather against the sharpened blade. "Like you're stroking it." his voice was gentle. He repeated the motion several more times, before he handed the boy back the blade.

Green eyes narrowed thoughtfully, before he nodded. "Like petting a cat?" He asked in conformation. The Night's Watchmen waited for a long moment, watching the boy simulate the action, before he spoke.

"Yeah … like that." He frowned in puzzlement. It was a strange journey how he came to this point. From fighting with the savage and free Wildings of Mance, returning back to the hardened men of the Night's Watch, and now to be talking of kittens and small animals with a boy who would one day inherit the richest of the kingdoms. Years pent up in Winterfell, worrying he'd never see the world beyond the grey, cold walls. Who would have thought he'd be in the smugglers hold of a pirate ship, sneaking into the capital, while instructing a prince on the finer art of sharpening a blade gifted to Jon by a queen in terms of petting kittens. Whatever he could say about himself, between loving and bedding a wilding spear wife, to seeing the great Titan of Bravos … Jon Snow had lived.

THUEM!

The floor shook suddenly. Swords clattered to the floor and Tommen fell into Jon's lap in the violent tremor. The ship rocked viciously in aftershock before swaying back into its original rhythm.

"Gilly, the baby!" Sam shouted in alarm as he startled awake, furs flying in readiness. The large youth kept his head on a swivel searching the dark contents of their abode in misremembering confusion. But he had a light of sudden resurgence when he spied Jon, helping Tommen back to his side. Like scolded cats, the boys sheathed their swords quickly.

"Jon! What is going …?"

THUEM!

"… ON!"

The ship rocked again in another large quake that rolled the boy away from the direwolf, while plastering the dark haired knight and blond squire against their wall with painful thuds. Jon was able to catch Sam and steady him as the ship recovered. Suddenly there were heavy and frightened thumps running in full speed above them. In the distant a bell was being rung in alarm, a shrill foreign voice screaming in the barracks as they rang.

"Sam!" Jon shouted in wordless command, as he began digging through the jumbled clothing spilled to the floor. He picked up a dyed black leather coat and slipped it on over his white undershirt. The large boy still on his hands and knees began chasing a sliding jerkin across the floor.

THEUM!

The poor rounded young man cursed as he slid back first into a barrel shelf with just one arm in his jerkin. The black haired leader grabbed an empty torch holder to steady him. When the shake passed, he looked to Tommen who alertly grabbed Long Claw and tossed it to John in one smooth motion. Unrolling the leather of the belt, he buckled it as the noise from above intensified. At this point Ghost had in his mouth, Samwell's sword and waited impatiently for the large boy to come take it as he rushed forward. Seeing the teeth bared at him, the boy sneered at the wolf. He snatched the sheathed weapon from the direwolf's mouth. "Not all of us have claws you know!" He said defensively, buckling his own sword belt clumsily.

Digging through his meager possessions he began stuffing them back into his pack, little hands, quickly, efficiently handing them to him. He paused on a long bow wrapped around a white and grey fur line quiver of twenty to thirty self-fletched arrows. It whiffed with her sent, the musty perfume that he'd inhale over a tight, slender naked pale body. When he closed his eyes it was like being stabbed in the heart all over again, and he could hardly feel himself being able to move.

"Ygritte! No, no … it's alright, you're alright … SAM! Stay with me!"

"Your lady-kneeler-motha is vicious cuent, you know that?!"

"She wasn't my mother."

"Good, than I wouldn't have felt guilty … ugh, foocking her tight Arse with me knife!""

"Gods Jon!"

"Sam … SAM! Listen to me, go get all the wine you can find, have Tommen and Tyrion heat up that caldron!"

"It's going to take more than wine … to get me to foock you tonight, Jon Snoew!"

"Don't talk! Just save your strength, I can save you!"

"Heh … You know … nothing … Jon … Snoew!"

"YGRITTE!"

THEUM!

The ship shook, causing the young man to lose his train of thought. His head crashed into the boards, sobering him back to the situation at present. Both his companions were watching, waiting for him to say something. With a deep breath, between tremors, he grabbed the bow and quiver, and tossed them to his squire. Finding a holding for his footing, he turned to the blond lordling, quickly stuffing things into their pack.

"Tommen!" He called over the distant roar of an explosion. The boy was attentive at the calling of his name. "You take the stuff and get above!" He shouted. "If you see even a trickle of water seeping in, you get on deck!" He commanded. The young boy nodded with a frightened obedience. With just a half a moment to spare he used it to place his hand on the boy shoulder to steady him inwardly as outwardly. They exchanged a meaningful look, and the raven haired youth gave him a curt nod of confidence.

Leading the way toward the narrow steps up, he turned back. "Watch him!" He pointed to the boy, but spoke to red albino eyes. The direwolf made no sound, but within Jon he could feel the agreement cemented in the small nip of a wet tongue nervously over fangs. A pelt of white fur was standing on end and within his breast was the aggression for battle that was shared with his master.

Both former men of the Night's Watch flew up the steps quickly. Together they threw open the smuggler's hatch, filling their lungs with less stale air, breathing in the confused and panicked energy surging through the barracks. Dark skinned men were flying through the large wooden room, pulling on vests and boots. Jon and Sam navigated through the chaos and mass of bodies to get above on deck.

THUEM!

The next quake knocked everyone off their feet. Bodies of sailors and oarsmen went tumbling on the slickened floors. Hands grabbed hammock netting, and other men, creating a safety chain of bodies, till the calm settled back. Once again the bell at the entrance of the bowels rang aggressively as officers shouted orders. Men got to their feet and rushed toward the stairs that led above. In the doorway that led outside, a boy no older than Tommen was handing out sword belts, and bows and quivers to exiting men that rushed by.

The night was cold and damp, but the thicket of heavy fog was starting to dwindle into visibility. In the distance beyond the rolling earthly clouds a collection of thousands of lights began to dimly become visible. They looked like hundreds of swarms of fireflies, standing stationary, waiting for them. Above, on the tall mast were the shouts of just visible specs. Ropes and jibs strained and rippled as the great white sail began to fold.

FUMP!

There was a loud release of pressure that echoed like a roar over the open inky water. Above them there was an eerie, bone chilling noise of the whistling of something big cutting through the night air. Jon and Sam snapped their heads above as a glowing ball of light appeared through the foggy air rapidly. The fireball touched down only fifty yards from the bow of the ship. They watched the flaming pitch land in the ocean with a mighty splash, soaking all on deck with the iced water that matched the channel's name. In the wake the small ship rocked violently one way and then the other.

Jon sprinted to the side, Samwell at his heels. Both young men leaned over the edge, bracing themselves on the thick ropes, to look out for the origin of the fire. In the distance, only several hundred yards away was the frightening sight of two large sources of red light twisting to and fro behind them. The two lanterns hanging off the port and starboard sides of their predator's towering war galley made it seem in the blinding fog like a great and terrible sea beast slithering in hungry pursuit of their small smuggler's ship.

"Come on!" Jon grabbed Samwell back. Quickly they dodged and pushed past a terribly busy deck toward the center. At the helm of this pirate ship was a short, older man with dark skin. He wore golden embroidered clothing from Lys, and a grand hat of matching velvet with a large white feather. When the boys got to him he was shouting harshly in a hard spoken foreign language to a shirtless dark skinned man made of pure strapping muscle. He wore decorative silver piercings on a broad face, and had large illuminating white teeth.

"What in the seven hells is going on?!" Jon shouted to the captain over another whistling sound. This time the pitch exploded, though well above them. It seemed that whoever was chasing them, had been hoping to hit their sail.

Sallador Saan looked up from his departing first mate to the two young men dressed in all black and rolled his eyes. "I fucked a red priestess, and she's prayed to her fire god to rain his wrath upon me for making her cum too soon!" the pirate shouted at the two young men. Jon and Sam frowned and traded a look of confusion. Sallador cursed their slow wits with a growl under his breath. "What do you think is happening, Crows!" he yelled at them. "Robert's Hammer caught up with us!" He motioned to the looming shadow behind them.

Hearing the news, Jon stepped up angrily. "You said we lost Stannis on the Titans Straights, outside of Bravos!" He shouted over another thunderous explosion from above.

The brash seaman just groaned in annoyance as he steered his vessel. "Well obviously he found us in the last place he looked, Wolf-boy!" He shouted at them.

"You said at that bathhouse that you could outrun the Royal Navy! We're paying you for your ships, not your mouth, Pirate!" Jon snapped, barring his teeth at the man.

The dark skinned captain turned in anger. "One more comment like that and you and the fat boy will be swimming to your brother fucker!" He threatened. But after a moment of tense bravado a devil-may-care attitude replaced it as he turned back to the sea. "Plus, they haven't caught us yet!" he bragged confidently to the two young men.

Jon snarled. "They're going too if you don't move this piece of shit!" he motioned angrily.

Sallador did a double take. "You don't call my ship a piece of shit!" He pushed Jon distractedly with one hand. Sam quickly held his friend back, before they all lost sight of the real problem that was starting to take shape from obscurity behind them.

As Jon and Sallador Saan argued, the now rhythm splashes of oars touched water. The sound of a deep base rhythmic drum shook the deck in time with the splashes of sea water. Sam turned to the captain in worry when he heard the noise of their rowing as the fog began to thin out quickly, the large sprawling red walled city's glow was now becoming more visible in their race toward it.

"You raised your sails!" Sam shouted shrilly. "A ship this small is not going to outrun a war galley in rowing speed!" He argued. "And if they catch us in the open, out of this fog we'll be done for!" He pointed out in panic.

The stressed captain, who had already one second guesser, obviously didn't need another when he took off his hat and proceeded to strike Sam with it irritably. "Finding a path through these rocks hiding in the mouth of the Black Water, is not like sneaking into the kitchens at Castle Black fat-boy!" He shouted. "We need a steady speed to maneuver with!" He slapped his grand hat back on his head crookedly. "A ship that big can't follow, where we are going!" He huffed. Samwell's face fell at the name lobbed at him after his bereavement with the frilly hat.

Like a figure leaping from a cloud of dense smoke. The small smuggler ship glided out of the wall of thick fog in a puff and into open visibility of the city. From the walls of the Red Keep the sight of the racing sea voyager was accompanied with the fiery glows of arcing fireballs being shot from inside the grey clouds and landing wildly and carelessly all over the water front stalking its elusive target. Thunderous explosions broke apart awkward rock formations and caused the awakening of new candle light to appear in every darkened window in Maegor's Holdfast.

From Jon's view they could see the outline of the massive docks and harbor of king's Landing ahead. The young man had never seen anything like it before in his entire life. There were more lights and shapes than he had ever seen before. There must have been every type of ship under the sun docked in the massive wooden structure. Looming above everything like an unkept promise was the mighty symbol of royal power. Commanding the sea and city was the Red Keep which looked imposing and impregnable to the young hero with its high walls, the color of blood and covered in ivy. His sight was drawn to the highest tower in the castle, where a single light still flickered, like a guide. He couldn't explain it, but it felt as if someone inside the room was watching him, could feel him from where they stood.

"What's that?!"

Straight ahead were two more pairs of reptilian eyes slithering toward them from the docks. However, backed from the city lights this time the outline of two more war galleys came into focus as they gobbled choppy waves to intercept them. Both galleys had the Royal markings, but the one on the right had the unique sigil of a ship on a field of an onion on its grimy sail.

Their host quickly swatted Sam's pointing finger away. "There's two more coming!" He answered. "Davos is trying to cut us off before we get to the straights!" He announced with widened eyes.

"Are they going too?" Jon stood shoulder to shoulder with their captain. Sallador just looked back to the younger man and refused to speak. The long stem of the Royal flagship pierced through the thick obscurity and into the open as the large beastly looking ship began to take shape into a massive shadow behind them.

After a moment the old pirate spoke gravely after the onion ship and it's comrade overtook their destination. "It's seems they've laid a trap for you!" He said pulling his hat off in hopelessness.

"How?!" Sam demanded. "We never told anyone how we were going to get here!" He turned to look out over the open sea to the gaining war galleys cruising effortlessly toward them on the horizon.

Sallador turned to Jon in particular. "It seems that Stannis Baratheon's Red Woman knew we were coming and worst … It seems that she told them what you're planning to do." He looked ahead with a defeated shake of his head. "King Robert would stop at nothing to see his queen's head on a spike and that starts with seeing that you're dead, boy." He scratched his stubbled head.

In that moment Jon Snow flashed to all he lost on the road to here. He thought how simple a few scribbled words on a piece of paper could lead to these desperate moments. How one simple promise to give a man the key to his entire existence could lead to such utter personal ruin to himself and those around him. But even on the edge of oblivion he would not compromise himself, nor let his friends have died in vein. From the seven hells to the very seat of her gods, he'd get his answers from the woman sleeping just in front of him beyond those red walls.

He turned to the pirate with a grim smirk on his determined face. "Ay, we wouldn't want to make too easy for the Baratheon Boar would we?" he asked with a dark humor. Upon seeing the kindred soul of such familiar grim tidings that only the greatest of pirates ever found themselves in, Sallador Saan felt suddenly revived in spirit.

"Sallador Saan never gives up, my friend!" His smile of arrogance seemed to mirror a mad genius burning within his dark eyes. "Nor will we hang from the walls of that ugly castle tonight!" He announced with a self-confident chuckle.

"Are you mad?!" Sam looked from both Jon to the pirate in fear and alarm of the idea of being the only sane man left in a suicidal situation.

The captain raised a finger toward the large boy. "When I give my word, I honor that word." He explained. "I promised the Dwarf that I'd safely deliver you to Kings Landing, and I will do so. If I promise that, I, Sallador Saan would take a shit on Renly Baratheon's boots. The sword swallower would have to buy himself a new wardrobe!" He slapped the helm.

Jon raised an eyebrow. "I really hope that wasn't one of the conditions for getting us here." He commented.

With a chuckle of mirth the pirate wheeled back. "For the gold the Imp is offering for your passage, I'd fuck the fat boy if he told me too." He offered cheekily.

Jon glanced over toward a distracted and somewhat nervous looking Samwell Tarly who was suddenly back at the mention of his name. "What did he say?" He frowned in a panicked voice.

Jon turned back to their host. "I wish you wouldn't." Was all the young man said in response.

Sallador shrugged distractedly. "I'm a lonely man … and you could be fucking the ugliest or the most beautiful creature your mind can conjure when you blow out the candles. In the dark it all feels the same, Lord Crow." He wiggled his eyebrows to a very confused Sam who broke in.

"What's the procedure for ramming?"

Sallador turned to Jon with the strangest and most suggestive of smiles. The boy just shook his head with an unamused glare. "What?" He turned toward his friend.

Sam looked from the pirate captain to Jon. "What's the Royal procedure for being rammed?!" He asked hurriedly as Robert's Hammer appeared out of fog and into view. Its massive sails and large body dwarfed even the other war galleys in the fleet. The towering fortress on water was topped with a banner of a crowned stag and her sail a flaming heart.

"You want to ram that?!" Sallador shouted in disbelief.

Jon shook his head. "Sam, we don't stand a chance against those ships in a stand up fight!" he shouted over a new set of explosions that were now closer than ever.

The large boy sighed heavily. "I'm not suggesting that we fight them! Just tell me what would happen if we attempted to ram them!" he forced.

Turning to their host, the pirate ripped off his hat again and scratched his scalp. "Their starboard and port sides are armored, they'd angle themselves so that the ram would hit the armor!" He'd explained.

Suddenly Jon saw what Sam did. "Yes …" He took a step forward and watched the gap between the two approaching ships. "If we make it look like we're going to ram them …" He started to explain to the captain.

Sam picked up for Jon. "They'll angle to deflect and we can split them!" He made a cutting motion in the gap between the two galleys.

For a long moment the pirate looked at the gap and then between the two boys, before back at the gap. "If we go in between them, their archers will tear us to pieces!" He argued.

"Not if we go in at full speed!" Jon cut in.

Sallador did a double take. "Drop sail? Are you a nitwit, boy? If we drop sail, Stannis Baratheon's pitch will catch it and this entire ship will go up in flames!" He shouted at him.

"If we draw him close and force him to chase. We'll be too close for pitch." Jon offered.

There was a negative look to the pirate as he continued his routine of stares. The young man suddenly grabbed the captain by his coat desperately. "Do you want to die hanging from those walls, or do you want to be known as the man who embarrassed Stannis Baratheon in front of the entire Seven Kingdoms!" He pointed out to the small shadowed figures starting to appear on the walls and in the windows of the large red structure.

The pirate pushed him off and glared, placing his hands on his hips. He looked like he might speak against it, stopped himself, traded approach to his offer, but was silenced again. After a long moment he pointed to the boy with a narrow of eyes. "A song named "The Red Lobster" has a good ring too it." He grinned madly.

With a shout the short man called all his officers to the helm. He gave instructions in the harsh language of the Summer Islands to his men, before motioning them to disperse. Some went up, and some went down but all were now being covered by the massive shadow of Stannis Baratheon's flagship that was catching them. From afar they could hear the drums from below decks of the war galley, and the harsh voices of their commanders organizing archers. Raising above the stern of the smaller ship the massive wooden ordainment of Lyanna Stark appeared. In Jon's beloved aunt's sad eyes, it seemed in this light that she was an unwilling participant in the night's action against her blood. Yet, strangely her presence brought him a deep unknown comfort like it always had.

A strong sweat began to dampen his face as Stannis grew closer and closer. He flinched as the sound of royal long bowmen loosing arrows, their metal heads making sharp thunks on the aft of the ship. "Now?" Jon asked the experienced sailor. The Captain shook his head, his breath wild, his eyes bugged. The gnashing of water by two rows of oars splashed like a roar in their ears as the large ship drew ever closer.

Taking cover behind the helm, the pirate turned from the ominous looming sight of Lyanna Stark, to her nephew next to him. "How much does this golden Queen Cersei mean to you boy?!" He asked hotly as the arrows were starting to come closer and more frequent.

Grey and dark eyes met amongst the sound death clamoring on the base of the mast. "She's all that matters now." He spoke man to man with the famed pirate. There was no denying the deadly seriousness in the young man's eyes. From the loss of his friends to the death of the girl he loved there truly was nothing left but the information that Cersei Lannister had promised him.

With a deep breath, the pirate grabbed Jon Snow by his collar and pulled him close. "If we survive this, I tell you, Wolf-boy … you fuck this queen till you die and you fuck her well!" he pushed off the boy.

Jon smirked. "Ay, trust me, if you get us through this, I'll take her from behind and pretend that she's you." He promised.

Reaching for a horn around his neck, Sallador Saan placed it to his mouth. With three loud blasts of ear popping groans of a low base, there was an explosion of noise in their wake. The beat of the pirate's drum began to echo in a faster speed, the oars matching it. Above there was a rattle of sliding wood and whining of rigging. The crisp white sail caught the wind even before it was fully secured. Filled with the night breeze and escalated with the hard rowing they began to pull away from Robert's Hammer.

"RAMMING SPEED!" Sallador roared, before sounding his horn again.

Both Jon and Sam held onto what they could grab as the salty wind, the foul stench of the city in front of them, threw their hair back in the massive jump of speed. On the horizon the two galleys were now becoming closer and closer. Behind them the Flagship, began to open up her own speed in an attempt to catch the smugglers. Overhead they saw the illumination of large fire balls being launched from the warship trailing behind them. However, like Jon had predicted, the pitch overshot them. There was just the slightest semblance of smugness from the small crew to watch the fireball tear a gash through the onion galley's sail and explode on their deck. They watched men and debris covered in flame fall off the sides into the wake of their ship.

Ahead of them the other war galley began to turn, the shadowy silhouettes on her deck running to the opposite side. As they floated to an angle, waiting to take the blow from the smaller ship, the gap was starting to open.

"It's working!" Sam yelled in frightened enthusiasm as he struggled to keep his eyes open in the whip of the hard wind of the incredible speed they were covering over open water. Ahead of them were the two massive ships. One covered in darkness, the other afire. Taken together they looked like a great canyon. The pride of the middle son of the house of Baratheon would not order a halt to his barrage. In front of the racing ship was the dark canyon coming ever closer, accompanied by intensity of splashes and tremors of exploding fireballs that soaked every man on deck as they crashed ahead of them and raked their own ships. Closer and closer they were coming to the bombarded warship that continued to angle its stern to meet the smaller. Jon looked from the large ship to an intensely focused Sallador who held their course steady. Again and again he traded his vision from the closing space to the captain, not saying a word, but he felt as if he had no pulse, his heart beating so fast that it was scaling up his throat.

Suddenly the pirate jerked the helm to the side, spinning the great wheel, till it reached its limit. Instincts taking over, the boy rushed and helped the straining older man hold the wheel as the ship fainted in the other direction, heading for the widening gap. Everyone on deck and below grabbed anything for dear life. Jon was sure he would find splinters in skin years after this as he held the helm with all his might, helping Sallador make the turn. "Let go!" The dark skinned captain screamed to him. Jon fell backward in compliance. Rapidly, the wheel spun back to level on its own.

They were in the gap now. Above Jon could see the bright orange of consuming flames from exploding pitch that had landed. Above he could see yellow vested and uniformed men with black trim shouting as they passed between the ships. Flaming debris fell from the top of the warship on the deck of theirs.

His grey eyes were in such intense focus as he stared into the flames, that he felt as if there was something inside it. The swaying and shimmering fire twisted and moved like a hypnotizing dance that captured him completely. He suddenly saw within them a figure of someone. The harder he focused the closer he came to seeing her. She seemed so real he could touch her. The immense beauty had hair of silver and milky skin. She was sleeping under crisp linin sheets on her side. Her peaceful frame was silhouetted against a towering moonlit Pyramid out the window of her regal bedchamber. Her body covered in a silk sleeping shift. The girl opened soulful violet eyes as if she felt him close. She was drawn to the candle at her bedside as if she could see him in their flames. She titled her head inquisitively and there was just a smirk on her sleepy face as if his appearance from her slumber was a great pleasuring comfort. But suddenly she was frightened by his presence as her wits returned. Just as he was startled himself by the enchantingly beautiful girl a crew member dowsed the fire with a bucket. She was gone with the water and so was his breath.

Jon felt drained after his trance. But, he quickly got his bearings and saw that the war galley had caught onto what they were doing. He saw the large broadside of the angled ship, begin to swing back. The Royal Captain was attempting to crush them between the two ships. The pounding from the drums below was now at a desperate pace. Sallador roared as he braced the helm, their ship creaking and cracking in the building speed and tension as they flew through the deadly valley of wood and fire. Just as the window closed, the smuggler ship slipped past the two galleys and back into the open.

CRRRRRRAAAACKCKCKCKC!

KEUTTTTHHUM!

There was a sickening and blood curling crunch that echoed thunderously behind them. It was followed by an intense explosion that blasted the deck with a violent gust of hot air. Everyone hit the floor, covering their heads as it passed. In the aftermath all on deck and some below rushed to the sides of the ships to see what had happened.

Stannis Baratheon had let his reputation get the better of his commanding senses. Nipping at the heels of his mark, he had ordered more speed to catch them. In doing so his ship was sent into an irreversible pursuit of the pirates. But Robert's Hammer was too big to fit where the small smuggler's vessel could. As the captain of the Robert's Wrath tried to close the gap, he was met with the towering prized battering ram of the fleet's flagship. In the reckless force of the collision between the two galleys, it caused them both to careen into Davos Seaworth's vessel. The violence of the ramming had Robert's Hammer climbing on top of the Robert's Wrath, who had impaled the Onion Knight's now sinking vessel in the side.

Joining the sound of secondary explosions on all three piled up galleys was the deafening wild and indigenous yells and whoops of relief and taunting jubilee that carried to the Red Keep itself from the Summer Islander crew. Men came streaming from below deck to watch the spectacular and terrible victory left in their wake. Side by side, Jon turned to Sam whose face was illuminated by the great fire lighting the Black Water Bay. He turned to Jon and gave a drained smile of leaving stress. He gave a nod, and clapped a hand on his friends shoulder and gave it a shake in thanks for his quick thinking.

Suddenly Sallador Saan, pushed Jon out of the way with an energetic joy. He clapped his hands on Sam's chubby cheeks and planted a firm kiss on his lips. A grin fell on a squinted frown of disgust on the raven haired youths face. As the pirate broke the kiss, the crew laughed and cheered while Sam's eyes were wide and shocked when the captain pushed off him.

"I'm gonna be a very famous man!" He turned to Jon in his excitement. But when he looked that he was about to pounce on the other Night's Watchmen, he was stopped with a warning look.

The young man instead offered a hand for a forearm brace. "And a rich one …" He added to the Captain's statement. The pirate respected his wishes, but still pushed aside his arm and embraced the boy tightly. He put one arm around Jon and the other around Sam as the celebration continued.

He strained the boys' necks holding their heads close to his as if he was telling them a secret. "Fuck the gold! I'm already a rich man with many wives and mistresses, Lord Crow! But tonight, oh tonight they'll be singing the name of Sallador Saan forever!" Finally he released them and leapt with a wild yelp, pumping his fist in the air on his way back to the helm. On a high that he had never felt before Sallador Saan felt that night that he could live for a thousand years.

They watched him go with a humored smirk and a still frozen look of confusion. Sam rubbed his lips with a sneer toward Jon. "It's a good thing that I kissed Gilly before … I'd hate for that to have been my first." He stated between heavy breaths.

Jon let out his first real laugh in a month and padded his friend on the back as he walked back below deck. His smile lingered to curiosity. He paced through the crowd of celebrating sailors to a scorched mark on the wood where the fire had been. He knelt next to it, his hand touching the ashy residue, grinding the black soot between his fingers. When he closed his eyes he could see the silver haired beauty that still had him enthralled. His heart felt sore and his pulse still throbbing in his wrists. But it wasn't because of the battle … it was the girl.

The smuggler's ship slipped back into the fog and rocks, disappearing out of the view of the hundreds of shadowed figures watching from the Red Keep. But above them all, the light of candles and lantern was snuffed from within the Hand's chambers.


Author's Notes

"Copperhead Road - Steve Earl"

Jon's POV and mind state for the chapter inspired by the timely song of "Live Oak" By Jason Isbell.

As always your reviews help keep this story going.

I know that most of you guys are disappointed that it took me ten weeks to get back to this. But if you follow my Tumblr than I've already gone into detail about having very unsavory run ins with several fangirls over the Jaime & Cersei sept scene and my almost quitting on this fandom completely when they took one man's opinion on a fictional show so serious that they began harassing me on all my social media and tweeting Lena Headey to "Warn her" about me. which is hilarious because my TSCC fanfics have been read by her and Thomas Dekker in the past pre-game of thrones for fun. Also my own interpretation of the sept scene actually lined up with her and NCW's. So basically they were warning her to stay away from a guy who was the only person on her and the show's side ...

Fangirls, man.

Make no mistake guys I write this for fun, because it's fun and you guys are great. However the minute it stops becoming fun and people take something so serious they get ugly with me or each other. I pack my bags and go into seclusion.

Luckily for me and I guess you guys, the reader. I ended up having a lot of fun writing this and it really restored my faith and confidence in this story in general.

One last thing. Like I say in my Sarah Connor Chronicles stories. If you want to comment on the Author's Notes. PM me, the review section is for the story only.

Lean it, Know it, Live it.