Ned Stark Lives! Part 2 Chapter 1 Jon
This is a continuation of Ned Stark Lives! Please read it before jumping into this story. I hope you enjoy both and as always comments are welcome, the good, the bad, and the ugly.
"Commander, Maester Aemon is asking for you," Pyp told Jon Snow at the top of the Wall seven hundred feet above Castle Black. It was late afternoon, the dull glow of the sun low on the horizon to the west, its light barely coming through the clouds. It was also snowing lightly, making the world a little gloomier. Nearby were many more men of the Night's Watch with their weapons, eyes peeled to the forest below where the wildling hordes were hiding.
"Don't call me that, Pyp," Jon replied in a weary tone.
"What? Commander?" Pyp asked.
"But you are commander of Castle Black, at least for now," big Grenn reminded Jon once more.
"Did he say why?" Jon asked Pyp as he ignored Grenn's comment, deciding not to press the matter of his temporary title he never asked for nor wanted. 'The command is yours' Maester Aemon had told him after Donal Noye the blacksmith had died killing the king of the giants in the tunnel under the Wall. There were other, more senior and experienced men, but the Old Bear had taken most of them with him to the Fist of the First Men where they had died when the Others and their wights attacked them. Of those left behind at Castle Black, the steward Bowen Marsh was senior, but he was gone to the Shadow Tower. The few senior men left were so old they were more likely to fall off the Wall than defend it.
The wildling attack had started more than ten days past and Jon had taken the command after Noye had died, him a boy of barely more than sixteen name days. During those days and nights the surviving men of the Night's Watch had beaten back assault after assault of the wildlings. Some men had died, but not near as many as the wildings had lost. Their corpses had been dragged away and burnt by their brethren soon after they had died. Among the dead had been Styr, the Magnar of Thenns and most of his own men and the other wildlings who had attacked Castle Black from the south. The Night's Watch had burned their bodies. Including Ygritte's.
Jon had placed the torch himself under the pitch-covered logs her body had been laid upon. His black brothers knew who she was, had heard rumors, whispers of what had happened to Jon when he had gone ranging, whispers he had told only Maester Aemon and Noye. But there were few secrets on the Wall. He had broken his vows and laid with a woman, a woman he might have loved and married and lived to grow old with if they had both been of a different place, a different time. Or maybe not. "You know nothing, Jon Snow," she had told him more than once and it was so very true. He knew nothing of love, and little of death, but that had changed, the first in her warm arms and the second in the frigid mountain pass where Jon had killed his first man and had almost killed her. As he lit her funeral pyre he thought he would cry but no tears came. Then one by one his few friends that remained at Castle Black came up to him and patted his shoulder or said a kind word, and when that happened it was worse and he had to fight to hold back the pinpricks of tears that formed behind his eyes.
Jon had done much worse things than lay with a wildling woman. He had killed one of his black brothers, the Halfhand, and then he had reluctantly told the wildling leader Mance Rayder the strength and dispositions of the men of the Night's Watch. He did it all to save his life more than anything. He had tried to lie but Mance saw through it and Jon finally just told them what they wanted to know. Some had begun to trust him, especially Ygritte and Tormund Giantsbane. Others still did not trust him entirely, including Mance and the Magnar. If not for Ygritte saying they were lovers, Mance might have had him killed after Jon failed to tell them about the Watch's positions on the Fist of the First Men. Jon had hoped that Lord Mormont would surprise the wildlings and drive them off, but they had discovered the Fist had been overrun by Others and their wights, and the survivors scattered.
After examining the Fist, they had sent Jon to help a raiding party over the Wall and through the land south of the Wall toward Castle Black. The climb had been terrifying, and many had fallen to their deaths, but more than one hundred raiders successfully crossed over the Wall. Jon had looked for his chance to be rid of them and finally escaped near an ancient tower. He took the horse of an old man they were killing, using the glare and noises from a sudden flash of lightning to leap for the old man's horse, slashing at those that tried to stop him with his Valyrian sword Longclaw. He somehow got away, the Thenns and other wildlings without horses to pursue him. They tried to bring him down with arrows, and one had found its mark in his leg. After he had pulled out the arrow he examined it but was still not sure if it was Ygritte's arrow or not. But he had escaped from them, and had warned Mole's Town and had warned Castle Black in time, and the attack from the south had failed. Turning his cloak once more had not only cost him an arrow in the leg. His story led to eyebrows raised in suspicion. He was sure some of his brothers no longer trusted him. And it had cost him Ygritte.
He never knew whose arrow had killed her, only knowing it was not his. Jon hoped he never found out who had fired that deadly shot because he knew he might just beat that man to death with his bare hands and that would not do at all. He was commander now, for the moment at least, and he had to lead these remnants of the once great Night's Watch at Castle Black.
How far they had fallen. Weak to begin with, hundreds had been lost at the Fist of the First Men and in the icy retreat that had followed. The Old Bear Commander Mormont was dead, killed by his own men at Crastor's Keep according to those few who had come back.
Samwell Tarly was not one of them. Sam was Jon's friend and now he might be dead. Grenn had left him in Crastor's, sitting over the Old Bear's body. Grenn had begged him to come with them, but Sam wouldn't move, paralyzed in fear or grief or maybe both. Now they knew not if he was dead or alive somewhere in the wild beyond the Wall. When Jon had heard this news he had taken a few moments to say a prayer to the old gods to protect Sam. Then the attacks started and he barely had time to think of anything else for days. Now thinking of Ygritte and Sam and all that had happened made Jon morose, so he cast aside those brief fleeting thoughts and listened to Pyp.
"No," Pyp replied to his question of whether the maester had said what he wanted. "Perhaps he just wanted to see if my blood would freeze before I could deliver the message."
Jon nodded and agreed it was cold, and getting colder, cold enough to freeze one's blood perhaps. Winter was indeed coming, as his father would say. He looked over the Wall's icy parapets and in the late afternoon gloom he could see the rising smoke of many fires of the wildling's camp in the forest. They were cold too, but Jon knew they had plenty of tents covered in animal hides and the forest had plenty of wood to keep them warm. He also knew they kept their fires burning night and day to keep the Others away. He could not see the camp through the trees but he knew they were there, making plans for their next attack no doubt.
Jon looked over to Grenn, the big lad who had stuck by him through thick and thin since he had come to the Wall. Well, since those first days at least, when Grenn had called him 'bastard' along with everyone else, and did it to hurt him. He and the others had also mocked him with the name 'Lord Snow' the master at arms Ser Alliser Thorne had stuck Jon with. But that had been an age ago, and those who still truly hated him were dead or missing. Those that remained now knew his value as a leader of men and as a man of the Night's Watch. Green and Pyp and Satin and some of the others called him Lord Snow out of respect now, not to mock his heritage or lack thereof. Now they also called him 'commander', but he was no Mormont, and Jon knew it in his bones that he never would equal the Old Bear. Yet, the duty was his, and he had to give orders. Strangely enough they had followed his orders, and they had saved themselves time and again these past many days.
Jon glanced at the men standing there, all bundled up in furs and leathers, all black, with their weapons at their sides or in their hands. His brothers. Not his blood brothers like Robb and Bran and Rickon. But his brothers of a different kind, brothers who had spilled blood with him, their own and the enemy's. They would be his brothers for life as well as those who born the Stark name.
He looked back at Grenn, one of the biggest of his brothers, called Aurochs for his size and strength. And his dim mind, Pyp would have added in jest. "Grenn, the Wall is yours," Jon told him.
Grenn's eyes grew big for a second and then he just nodded. "Aye, Commander."
"Do we have to call him 'commander' now as well?" little Pyp asked in a sort of mocking tone, nodding toward Grenn.
"Too bloody right you do!" Grenn shouted at him. "Now move your arse and go get some more barrels to fill with rocks! And don't forget to bring the rocks too!"
Pyp smirked at him. "Why don't you just shake your head a bit. I'm sure a lot of rocks will fall out and.."
But before he could finish Grenn growled at him and chased him as Pyp ran away and the rest of the men laughed at their antics. Jon just shook his head in despair and turned to the cage, entered it and began the descent to the castle below.
As he descended Jon leaned on the cage, resting his injured leg, which still bothered him even after almost two weeks. It never had time to heal properly, what with all he had to do. He thought on Thorne again, his enemy from his very first day at Castle Black, who had mocked him for being a bastard and for already knowing how to use a sword. Jon could not help being already trained in arms, unlike the rest. His mistake was to show how good he was while the others barely knew how to hold a sword. No, Mormont told him later, after Jon had become his steward, that had not been a mistake. Never be ashamed of your skill at arms, the Old Bear had told him. He did not say it but Jon had a feeling the Old Bear hadn't much liked Throne's methods, his bullying of the boys, the giving of names that mocked them. But with so few good men in the Watch, and still fewer of them knights, the Old Bear made do with what he had. And indeed Ser Alliser Thorne had taught the other boys, had taught them much that saved their lives when it had mattered most.
Now the Old Bear was dead and when Jon had heard the dreadful news it made him so very sad. Mormont had treated him well, in some ways like a son, and had even given him his family's most prized possession, Longclaw, a bastard sword, with a Valyarian steel blade. A sword Jon had used to kill the Halfhand. He had dreaded telling this news to Mormont when he finally made it back to Castle Black but sadly there had been no need. Thorne was also gone, to Eastwatch, more to keep him and Jon from clashing than for any other reason. Lord Steward Bowen Marsh was gone to the Shadow Tower, so Jon told his story to Maester Aemon and Donal Noye. Then the attacks came and there had been no time for Aemon or the few other senior members of the Watch to deal with his confessions.
In a way Jon had been thankful Thorne wasn't there. No doubt he would have thrown Jon into an ice cell for killing the Halfhand and joining the wildlings. But Thorne was now at Eastwatch and Jon even heard he had been sent south to King's Landing to beg for aid and to show them the hand of one of the wights that had attacked Commander Mormont. Jon flexed his burned hand as he thought on that, remembering the pain of the fire as he fought the wight and killed it. Of Thorne they had not heard of in a while and no one knew if he was alive or dead. News of the great battles around King's Landing had come to them, but they knew not if it was just rumors or truth. One letter they did believe came from King Stannis. It said Joffrey was dead and Stannis was now the rightful king of the Seven Kingdoms. That meant nothing to the men of the Night's Watch. They took no part in the realm's disputes.
But it also seemed the realm had no desire to take part in the Wall's troubles. The letters they had sent out asking for help had not been answered. Not even from Winterfell.
Several letters Master Aemon had received from Winterfell, letters the maester told him about when Jon had returned to Castle Black. One raven many weeks ago came from Maester Luwin, asking for information on wargs, skinchangers. But Maester Aemon, old and blind and slow to do anything, with his elderly, bald, chinless steward Clydas as his only support, had still been trying to do research on the subject when the wildling attacks came and so he had not answered the letter. Jon knew all about wargs, having suffered at the hands of one who had badly scratch his face in the guise of an eagle. Jon had killed the warg, Orell, the wildling man whose soul was now trapped in that eagle.
Jon also knew that he might be a warg as well, all the times he sensed he was running with his white direwolf Ghost, and even inside of Ghost. But Ghost had been unable to climb the Wall and Jon had lost him, and now he lost all sense of Ghost and that worried Jon. He missed Ghost and wanted him back badly. It felt as if part of him was missing with Ghost gone. Jon knew he was still alive, knew it deep down, and knew that Ghost had to be hunting and feasting and maybe even now was making his way to Castle Black. But he hadn't seen him or sensed him in weeks.
Then a second letter had come from Winterfell, from Lord Stark himself, and it was full of dire news. The Stark army had returned north but Winterfell had been attacked and sacked by ironmen led by Theon Greyjoy. Jon could not believe it at first, but it was from his father and so it must be true. All of his family was safe, but many others had died, including Maester Luwin. That news had caused Jon's heart to wrench in grief. The maester had always been kind to him, treating him like a true son of Eddard Stark, teaching him as he had taught the other Stark children. Maester Luwin had taught Greyjoy as well. Jon knew Greyjoy had been a hostage, knew he was a prisoner. But the Stark's had never treated him as such. Sometimes Jon felt Catelyn Stark treated Theon better than him. They had even had Mikken make a sword for Theon's sixteenth name day. Jon wondered if Lady Stark would have ever allowed such a gift on the day he became a man. That day had come and gone as he was training, but no name day gifts had been waiting for him.
Jon had never liked Theon, had never trusted his smiling face, his glib tongue, his easy way with the girls of Winterfell. And now it seemed he was right all along. Theon had returned the Stark's kindness by stabbing them in the back. Jon did not know all that had happened, did not know why Greyjoy had done this monstrous crime. It must have something to do with revenge, for what had happened to his brothers, Jon had thought when he had heard the news. No matter why, it had happened and Jon was full of fury at this news, especially when he heard Greyjoy had escaped, and he wanted to run off and find Greyjoy and put him to the sword himself. But this madness soon passed. His black brothers had saved him from himself when he wanted to run off and join Robb and rescue his father from the black cells of the Red Keep. They hadn't need do so again. Jon knew where his place was now. He was a man of the Night's Watch, and would man his post and do his duty.
Jon found Maester Aemon in his quarters, sitting at a table with Clydas by his side. The only light in the room came from a single candle on the table. Clydas seem excited about something. Perhaps there was good news for a change.
"Commander Snow is here," Clydas told the aged, blind maester.
"Stop calling me….never mind," Jon said in irritation.
"Take the title, Jon Snow," said Maester Aemon in his slow but steady voice, his clouded eyes looking past Jon at the wall behind him. "Keep your doubts from your mind. You have earned the right to be called commander of Castle Black, even if it is only temporary."
"Aye, as you say, maester," Jon answered, not wanting an argument. He saw a raven scroll on the table by the candlestick. "What news?"
"A letter, from Winterfell!" Clydas said in a rush. "They are coming!"
Jon felt an immense sense of relief and at the same time felt a great burden lift from his shoulders. "When? How many?" he asked eagerly, grabbing the letter from the table and reading quickly, bending closer to the candle to see better. "All of the North?" Jon said in surprise after a moment. "Does he mean…all of the North?"
"Yes," said Maester Aemon. "It seems so. Your father was never a man to make promises if he had no intention of carrying them out. He is raising all of the North. Your father and brother and the rest are coming."
"Then we are saved," said Clydas with palpable relief.
Jon grinned. "All of the North! Mance won't have a chance against us now!"
But Maester Aemon soon put some sense back into them. "This letter is only six days old. It will be at least a few weeks before any large force can get here. Perhaps from the Umber lands we can expect some support sooner, but we have many hard days ahead of us yet."
"Aye," said Jon, calming down a bit, knowing it was true. "But we must tell the men. It will give them hope."
"Agreed," replied Aemon. "But no celebrations. If Mance Rayder suspects help is coming, he will press his attack and become desperate to take Castle Black before help can arrive."
"Or he might run away," said Jon hopefully.
"That he could," Maester Aemon said, but there was caution in his tone. "Clydas, leave us please. And speak no word of this to anyone yet."
Clydas looked abashed for a moment and then nodded. "Yes, Maester. I will fetch your supper."
"Thank you," the maester said and soon Jon was alone with him. "Sit, Jon Snow."
Jon sat in the chair Clydas had just left and the maester spoke. "I knew Mance Rayder when he was a man of the Night's Watch."
That did not surprise Jon. Maester Aemon had been on the Wall for almost seventy years, according to what Sam had told him. "What was he like?" Jon asked.
Aemon shook his head slightly. "I knew him but a little as he spent most of his time at the Shadow Tower. But I never thought he would forsake his vows. But then again, it is hard to know what truly goes on in a man's head or heart. I've often wondered why he forsook his vows."
"He told me it was because of a cloak with some red cloth in it," Jon replied. Maester Aemon asked for the story and Jon quickly told how Mance had been wounded by a shadow cat while ranging and an old wildling woman had saved his life and sewed up his black cloak with the red cloth in it. When he returned to the Shadow Tower the cloak had been taken from him and he was given a plain black one. Soon after Mance deserted.
"Strange," said the maester after Jon had finished. "Most men desert for a woman, for the warmth of the south, for their families they miss, or because they cannot stand to be under any man's thumb. Mance was a man who just wanted more color in his life."
"I think it was more than that. But the cloak was what finally did it for him."
"I am sure there was more to it than just the cloak," Maester Aemon agreed. "He willingly told you this story?"
"Perhaps you know him better than anyone else in the Watch now, Jon. You have supped with Mance Rayder, and heard his songs, and stories, even told him much you shouldn't have."
Jon flushed. "I've explained…"
"Oh, not to worry, I do not fault you. You did as the Halfhand commanded. Knowing him, it seems likely you tell the truth."
"I do!" Jon said with a fierceness he did not intend in his tone.
"I believe you," the maester said gently. "And if you hadn't told Mance the truth when he questioned you, you would be dead now. But can we truly know what the man will do when he hears Lord Stark had raised the North to come to the defense of the Wall? Perhaps we can persuade Mance to leave if we tell him. But it is uncertain."
He paused for a moment and Jon thought he was done but then he took a deep breath and began to speak again in his slow steady way. "But where would he go? The Others are behind him. Those fires you say they keep lit are not only for warmth, as we know. And he has made many promises to his people. Promises they will say he failed to deliver if he retreats now. The wildlings call themselves the free folk for good reason. Mance is King Beyond the Wall only because they follow him. Once they stop following him, he will have no control over them at all."
Jon knew it was true. The free folk were not knee benders. They followed a man because he was worth following, and would not follow or obey if they disliked some aspect of the command. Any southern lord would just give a command and if it was not followed he would see those who disobeyed hanged. If Mance had ever tried to hang a wildling he'd be the first one hanging from a rope.
"What should we do?" Jon asked. "They cannot retreat. And we cannot let them take Castle Black."
"No, we can't," said the maester. "We must search for a third option."
"What third option?" Jon asked in frustration. "We are too few to attack them. We are too few to kill them all. Mance would never surrender to us. Even if he did, and his people didn't kill him first, how could we feed his many thousands?"
"We couldn't," said Maester Aemon. "Before he left for the Shadow Tower and we sent ravens to the lords of the North, our Lord Steward Bowen Marsh said they had best bring their own food with them if they come. We have enough for ourselves for a long winter, but we can't feed many more mouths."
"My father will bring supplies," Jon told them with a sudden sense of hope.
"And bring many mouths as well," Maester Aemon pointed out. "No, Jon, we cannot take the wildlings as prisoners. And we cannot defeat them."
"All of the North is coming," Jon stated. "We will be strong enough then to face them in open battle."
"The gate is blocked," the maester reminded him. "How will we get to the other side? And even if we unblock it, it is too narrow, wide enough for only one man or horse at a time. The wildlings could defeat us piecemeal as our force comes through the gate."
"The rest of the castles, the abandoned ones, they are blocked up as well?" Jon asked.
"Yes," the maester answered. "Still blocked…we can hope."
"Then the only way a large force can get to the other side of the Wall is from Eastwatch," Jon said but at the same time realized it was a futile plan. "That will take more time!" Then he felt another sudden glimmer of hope. "When my father comes he will know what to do," Jon said with conviction.
"Perhaps," the maester replied. "But the situation will not change. And don't forget the Others are out there as well, the enemies of us both."
There it was, the truth of the matter. The Others and their wights cared not who they were, wildling or brother of the Night's Watch. They were all enemies of the Others. The enemy of my enemy is…and then Jon knew what he must do.
"Maybe…maybe…," Jon started and then stopped and shook his head, suddenly realizing the folly of what he had in mind. "No…it's stupid."
"There are no stupid suggestions, Jon. I will not belittle you or shame you even if I think it what you suggest is folly. Jon, you are commander. You have proven yourself worthy of that title. Tell me what you think."
"Maybe…," he began and gulped. "Maybe the wildlings could become…become our allies."
The maester took so long in replying Jon thought he had misheard him. Or worse, thought it was sheer utter folly but was trying to find a kind way to say so.
"Allies," the maester finally mused aloud. "It is…an interesting thought."
Jon waited of him to say more but after a long pause he could bear it no longer, knowing how such an idea would be accepted by his black brothers. "They will call me turncloak for even suggesting it."
Aemon nodded slowly. "Quite possibly. We must not forget that Mance Rayder is a deserter from the Night's Watch. Our brethren would ask for his head, not his help. We cannot ignore his betrayal."
For a few moments Jon had forgotten about that. The maester was right. He did not say so but Jon knew Maester Aemon thought it was a stupid idea. "Then we all doomed if the Others attack in force."
To his surprise Maester Aemon chuckled. "Jon Snow, you forget why this Wall was built in the first place. Not to keep wildlings on the other side, but to keep the Others there."
"It is just ice and rock," Jon replied. He had climbed it and knew it was not a thing to be mocked, but also knew it was not the great obstacle the Night's Watch made it out to be.
"Oh no, it is much more than ice and rock," Maester Aemon answered him. "There is an ancient magic in this ice and rock. The Others shall not pass."
Jon wanted to laugh at him, scoff at him, but he held his tongue and was grateful the maester could not see the doubt on his face. He had heard the same stories, had learned the legends from Old Nan and Maester Luwin, how Bran the Builder wove sorcery into the Wall to keep out the Others eight thousand years ago. But that was eight thousand years ago, and there was no record of such deeds, only stories, now legends.
As he thought on this, another thought occurred. "What I saw at the Fist of the First Men…the remains of the battle. The Others were unstoppable, even against disciplined men of the Night's Watch. If we keep the wildings out and the Others as well, then the Others will slaughter them."
"It is very likely," Maester Aemon agreed. Then he sighed deeply. "We should help them…they are people, like us in many ways. But we cannot help them without betraying our vows and our duty to the realm."
Jon could only nod and agree. "Then we must wait…for my father's advice, at least."
"Yes…and so our battle must continue. And you must remain our commander."
"Until Bowen Marsh or someone more senior returns," Jon reminded him. "Have we received any word from the Shadow Tower or Eastwatch?"
Jon knew the maester would have told him there had been word and felt silly for asking. Just then came a knock at the door and Clydas returned with Master Aemon's dinner. The smell of the mutton stew and warm bread stirred Jon's own feelings of hunger and he went off to the hall to eat his full. So very few men were there, and they and Jon ate quickly so they could relieve their brothers on the Wall and allow them to come and take some warmth and food as well.
No more attacks came that night or the next day. The word that the North was coming quickly spread and the boost to the men's morale was incredible, with Jon having to calm them down and admonish them to not cheer. Of the wildings there was still no sign except their fires and the sound of trees being cut and falling and the sound of wood being chopped.
That night Jon crawled under his furs in Donal Noye's old chambers behind the armory, glad for a chance to rest for a few hours at least. He awoke at the dawn with the Old Bear's crow cawing at him for corn as it did every morning. It seemed Jon inherited the crow with the job as it followed him everywhere.
"Yes, corn, I know," he said sleepily as he crawled out of his bed and threw a handful of corn on the table from a sack he kept on a shelf. The crow leaped to the table and was soon picking up the kernels and gobbling them down.
An hour later Jon had eaten and was on the Wall, making sure the night shift men were well and the day shift men were all in place. An hour later a patrol came in from the east, three men Jon had sent out two days earlier to inspect the Wall for ten leagues distance to make sure the wildlings were making no attempts to climb it. They were stiff with cold and lack of sleep and reported they found no signs of anyone trying to climb the Wall. Jon sent them below to get some food and rest.
Not ten minutes later came the long sound of a horn blowing from somewhere down in Castle Black. Jon and Grenn and Pyp and the others on duty ran to the edge of the Wall and looked down and waited. And waited. But no more blasts came from the horn.
"One blast," Grenn said.
"Friends?" Pyp asked and then they saw, coming from the east, a line of men in black on horseback.
Jon smiled. "Reinforcements! From Eastwatch!"
The men all cheered and down below many men were coming out of towers and the few buildings left undamaged by the Magnar's attack. They were soon greeting their black brothers from the east. Jon wanted to rush down as well, but the cage with the patrol had just reached the bottom of the Wall and the switchback stairs that had been destroyed during the fight with the Thenns was still being repaired.
By the time he got to ground level, the new arrivals were all off their horses and crowded into the vaulted dining hall. Jon swiftly entered the room and then saw his enemy of old.
"I see at least Ned Stark's bastard has managed to survive," said Ser Alliser Thorne as he sat at a table while a steaming bowl of soup was placed in front of him. Some of the men with him laughed, but many others just continued eating as if they cared not. They all looked cold and hungry.
"Ser Alliser," Jon said curtly as a way of greeting. "How many men have you brought with you?"
"I don't answer to you, Lord Snow," Ser Alliser replied as he spooned up his hot soup.
"You haven't heard," said the cook Three-Fingered Hobb as he put a basket of hot bread loaves on the table. "Lord Snow is commander of Castle Black."
Thorne almost gagged on his soup. "I know the Old Bear is dead but where the hell are the senior rangers? Where is Marsh?"
"The rangers died on the Fist of the First Men and Bowen Marsh has gone to the Shadow Tower," said an aged voice behind Jon, and there was Maester Aemon leaning on the arm of Clydas. "There is much to discuss Ser Alliser. Jon Snow has been our commander for the last eleven days since Donal Noye died."
Thorne grunted. "Noye? Dead? How?"
"A giant killed him, in the tunnel, during the first attack," Jon told him. "Donal killed the giant as well." That brought many looks of surprise and some comments on his bravery.
"We have lost many," added Maester Aemon, and then proceeded to give a list of the dead and wounded. "Jon Snow has held us together and we have beaten off all of their attacks."
Thorne nodded, and then looked at Jon. "Well, bastard, looks like you were good for something after all. I am here now and I will take command of Castle Black."
That announcement, made loudly so almost all could hear, brought some looks of satisfaction from the men who had come with Thorne, but also looks and grumbles of disagreement from those who had fought with Jon during the battles. Jon wanted to protest this change of command but Thorne was senior to him by many years, and was a seasoned fighter. No doubt Cotter Pyke had sent him with these reinforcements for just this purpose when they heard from Maester Aemon's raven messages that Commander Mormont was dead.
"As you wish, ser," Jon said to Thorne. He did not want to give the command to this man, who many of the younger men despised, but truthfully he was relieved at the burden being lifted from his shoulders.
"Come, Maester, tell me it all," Thorne commanded and Clydas helped the aged maester take a seat at Ser Alliser's table. Jon went to sit as well, but Thorne stared at him. "Back to your post, Lord Snow. Spread the word that I am in command now."
"Aye…commander," Jon said and then he left without another word. He heard some chuckling as he left and felt his face burning as he left the hall, and the cold air outside did nothing to ease his anger. Thorne dismissed him like a child who has no place at the table when matters of importance were being discussed by the grown ups. Thorne was more senior, and surely would have been in command if he had been here. But his hatred for Jon ran deep, and now that Lord Mormont was dead and Thorne was in command Jon knew he would have to answer for what he did when he was out ranging north of the Wall. Maybe the maester wouldn't tell it all. But there were other men who had heard most of it and not everyone was Jon's friend.
He did not have to wait long. Several hours later his turn on watch ended and as he entered the vaulted dining hall with Pyp and Grenn and Satin and the rest of the men on his watch, Thorne was waiting for him with four strong men behind him.
"Lord Snow," Ser Alliser began with an evil glint in his eye. "Being a traitor's bastard wasn't enough for you, was it? No, you had to go and kill one of the best men who ever wore the black. Then you turned your cloak, took a spear wife, and led a party of wildlings over the Wall. You're under arrest, traitor!"
The four men moved to seize Jon but Grenn stood in front of him. "It wasn't like that!" Grenn said strongly and others raised their voices in agreement.
"Jon saved us from the Thenns!" Pyp shouted, moving in front of Jon as well.
"We all would have died if not for him," Satin added.
"He led them over the Wall!" Thorne shouted back in the growing quiet of the crowded dining hall. "Now step out of the way or you'll all be joining Lord Snow in an ice cell!"
Grenn looked like he wanted to smash Thorne in the face but Jon just put a hand on his shoulder. "Step aside Grenn."
"Step aside," Jon repeated and Grenn finally did so.
Jon stared at Thorne. "Has Maester Aemon told you why I did what I did? That I was under the Halfhand's command to join the wildlings?"
"So you say," Thorne spat at him. "But we all know what the word of a bastard is worth." He turned to his men. "Take him to an ice cell."
"I know the way," Jon said.
"Your weapons, leave them," Thorne commanded. Jon unbelted Longclaw and his dagger and handed them to Grenn.
"Keep them safe," Jon told him and Grenn nodded with a grim look on his face. "As you command, Lord Snow."
"Don't worry," Pyp said when Jon started out the door with the four men behind. "Your father will set you free."
Thorne glared at Pyp. "Ned Stark has no authority over the Night's Watch. Best you lot forget about Lord Snow. If he is found guilty of aiding our enemies, he will hang."
Jon heard these words as he was led away. Ten minutes later he was inside an ice cell, a square room cut into the ice of the base of the Wall, normally used for preserving meat and fish, but at times used as prison cells. There was a bundle of old furs on the floor, frozen to the floor actually, and Jon had to struggle for a bit to pull them up. In the corner was a wooden pail, his only privy now. The ice cell was small, and he could not stretch out or stand to his full height inside. When the wooden door was closed and latched, there was barely enough light to see by. But as his eyes adjusted, the white ice walls of his cell seem to allow some outside light to filter through. Jon tried to make a bed for himself and then after he got as comfortable as he could he lay for a long time and wondered what would happen to him before weariness came over him and he slept.
He awoke when the door was opened and a steaming bowl of porridge was shoved through with a cup of ale. It was morning and for a few moments Jon shivered and felt weak as the cold that had seeped into his bones made him stiff like an old man. He gulped the ale and spooned up the porridge, his hands shaking from the cold. The warmth of the food seeped through his body and for that little bit of warmth he was grateful.
At noon Thorne arrived with some guards. "Ready to confess, bastard?"
"I told the truth," Jon replied, trying to remain calm.
Thorne just grunted and went to close the door. "Wait!" Jon shouted. "What of the wildings?"
"Your friends?" Thorne said with a smirk. "Still out there. We heard them building something. What are they doing?"
"I don't know."
Thorne snorted. "You know their plans, don't you, bastard? You're one of them now."
"Do you have rocks in your head?" Jon angrily replied. Throne started to retort but Jon continued, bullying right over Thorne's reply. "If I was with the wildings why would I warn the castle of the attack from the south?"
Thorne's answer to this sound logic was to give a skeptical snort and close the door.
Jon had no more visitors until he sensed it getting dark outside and then a short while later supper was brought to him. Supper was a bowl of thin barley soup and another cup of ale. At least the soup was hot. Breakfast was porridge and ale again. Three days passed in this manner, two meals a day, Jon shaking with the cold, feeling himself getting weaker, wondering if he was getting sick.
Each day at noon Thorne came to ask him to confess and Jon told him to go to hell each day and said he would only speak when on trial in front of his black brothers.
On the fourth day there was a break in the routine. Sometime after breakfast, a few hours maybe, the door suddenly opened. It was Grenn. "I traded duty with one of the regular guards," he said to Jon's surprised look. "Thorne doesn't know, of course. He's up on the Wall. Someone here to see you." A great bulk suddenly appeared in the doorway, blocking out all light.
It was Sam.
Jon gasped in surprise and tried to stand but couldn't. Samwell Tarly slid into the ice cell on his knees and then he was speaking fast, saying he had no time, that he had to finish before Thorne or one of his cronies saw them. He shoved a large chunk of smoked ham into Jon's hands and placed a hot cup of nettle tea to his lips. Jon sipped and it was so hot it burned but still felt wonderful. He chewed the ham and sipped the tea as Sam spoke.
"I came through the Wall, with Gilly. I'll tell you it all later. I'm with Ser Denys Mallister and many men from Shadow Tower. They found me and Gilly on the road. Her baby is with us and…" He babbled on about how the Old Bear was killed and he was helpless and how they fled and finally Jon just stopped him.
"Get me out of here," he managed to gasp.
"We're working on it," Sam told him. "Ser Denys is on your side. Maester Aemon and Grenn and Pyp and Satin and all the others told him and Bowen Marsh all you did. Marsh is hurt, there was a big fight at the Shadow Tower as well. Dolorous Edd is with us and many more but they lost almost one hundred men there. Ser Denys says he knows the Halfhand better than any man and believes he would tell you to kill him and join the wildlings. But Thorne isn't budging. He is still in command at Castle Black. Ser Denys tried to overrule him but Thorne says only the Commander of the Night's Watch can rule on this case and until here is a new one you are a prisoner. The men demanded a vote for a new commander but the senior leaders agree there is no time for a vote while the wildlings are still out there. So Thorne is still in command here, there is no new overall commander of the Watch, and you are still a prisoner. Maester Aemon demanded you be moved inside to a warm room while waiting trial but Thorne means to break you and make you confess."
Jon already suspected this much. He felt strength and warmth flow through him from the food and the news that someone was trying to set him free, but as Sam confirmed what he suspected Jon felt his hopes sinking. Yet he might still have one more chance to be set free.
"Where is my father?"
Sam shook his head. "Still no sign. Some Umber men came in last night Grenn said, about twenty. Said the Greatjon Umber is on the Kingsroad…but there is no word of your father."
Then Grenn opened the door. "Come on, Slayer! Move your fat arse! Someone's coming!"
Sam made a hasty goodbye, took the cup and retreated. For a long time Jon lay on his furs and wondered on what else could befall him. If they tried him, many would say he was a traitor who had betrayed the Night's Watch. He had no proof of what the Halfhand commanded him to do. He only had his word. He was a bastard, much worse, a traitor's bastard, so his word did not count for much.
Four more days passed like this, and Jon thought he would have died without Sam and the others helping sneak him hot food and more furs. But still there was no trial, and he languished in the ice cell. Thorne continued his daily visits and seem to grow happier the more miserable Jon got. Maester Aemon came to see him one day to check on his health and tell him there had been a few wildling feints at the gate, but they hadn't amounted to anything.
"Mance Rayder wants to parley," Maester Aemon whispered to him as he handed Jon a jug of mulled wine. "But Mance is a traitor and there is much disagreement among the commanders. Some mean to see him hang if they capture him."
"As you said…when I was still commander," Jon replied as he sipped the hot wine, feeling its wonderful warmth flow through him.
"Jon…there's also been talk of sending you to Mance."
That surprised him. "To parley?"
"Yes," the maester replied. "At least that's what they will tell Mance."
"Mance will kill me on sight."
"Thorne knows this…I believe he wants you to assassinate Mance."
Jon grunted. "And die myself, succeed or not."
"To prove your loyalty, he argued with the other senior men. But Ser Denys and Bowen Marsh told Ser Alliser he could explain it all to your father when he arrived, about how he sent Lord Eddard Stark's son to his death."
"Still his son. Thorne shut up about sending you as an envoy after that."
Jon had to grin at that tale and the maester left Jon alone after reassuring him that all would turn out for the best.
Then on the eleventh day of his imprisonment for the first time Thorne did not come to see him at noon. Soon there came a great sound of horns and shouting and Jon thought for certain another attack had come from the south. He shouted to his guards but no one answered. Not ten minutes later he heard angry shouting outside the door.
"Step aside or I will gut you myself!" said a voice Jon longed to hear for so many days.
"You have no place here!" Ser Alliser Thorne replied angrily. "He betrayed us!"
"Do as my father says or you and the Wall will never see another man or scrap of food from the North ever again!" shouted another familiar voice.
There was silence for a moment and then the door was flung open. Lord Eddard Stark of Winterfell stuck his head into the ice cell. He stuck out his hand and Jon reached out, struggling to hold back his tears.
"Come, lad," Ned Stark said and then with his firm grasp he took Jon from the ice cell and into the air outside. Jon blinked and his eyes took a while to adjust to the light but when they did he saw a vast host of men moving into the castle, with what seemed like all the banners of the North with them.
Ser Alliser Thorne stood to the side, anger in his eyes. Robb was standing there glaring at him, his hand on his sword's pommel. Nearby were Sam and Grenn and Pyp and many others and dozens of northmen.
"You've got your bastard, for now, …Lord Stark," Thorne said, his face and voice full of anger. "But he still belongs to the Night's Watch. He said the words. He betrayed us. We will have a trial and he will pay for his betrayal."
"We shall see," was all Ned Stark said, his eyes glaring at Thorne, and then Thorne stalked off without another word.
"Father," Jon said weakly and then he collapsed. In seconds Robb and Ned picked him up.
"Where's the maester's chambers?" Robb shouted.
"I'll take you," Sam told them and soon they were on their way.
"Sorry," Jon managed to gasp as they helped him across the yard where he had first picked up a blunted sword and earned Ser Alliser's scorn. "Too much trouble."
"No trouble at all," Robb said with a grin. "We've already marched and fought halfway across the kingdoms, what's a few more hundred miles?"
"We'll deal with this betrayal business, not to worry," Ned Stark told Jon. "Come, time you were in a proper bed and got some hot food and rest. Then there is much to talk on."