Fire and steel and blood.
In the end, it all came down to fire and steel and blood. They shaped the world. They gave men power, or brought powerful men down. Fire and steel and blood were the very pulse of the world; in centuries past, dragons had flown in the skies, and magic had not been so scarce. The dragons were creatures of fire; fire trapped in flesh and blood. Dragons had shaped the world. The Targaryens had risen to power on the backs of dragons, and with the loss of their dragons the family had fallen. With the death of the dragons, magic had all but died.
All but, though, means not quite. There were places that true power still lived, though it had to be fought for and those who used it paid a price. And there were stirrings again; things long dead were walking. Soon the smoke of a funeral pyre and the salt tears of a girl would wake dragons from stone, and the world would change.
The old wildling witch knew this. She'd Seen it, in the scrying pool in the wierwood grove where her cottage sat. It was a place of power, and for those few who still practiced magic places of power were important.
She'd seen other things in the pool; honorable men dying for the sin of speaking truth, broken families, a continent at war, five men fighting for the shattered remains of a great realm while darkness closed on them from the north, unseen and unheeded. She'd seen death and blood and sorrow and pain as brother fought brother for a throne of swords. She'd seen innocents die and suffer.
She'd seen a silver queen rise in the East on a throne of dragonfire that would cast back the darkness. But it would be too late for so many thousands; it was always the smallfolk who suffered, when the great lords marched to war.
The old wildling witch cared little about the complicated politics of the southern kingdoms. She was a free woman, wildling-born. She'd had a long life; she'd fought and loved, birthed and laughed, sorrowed and smiled. But she cared about people, even if they weren't her own.
So many would suffer. Good men would die.
But that was just a possible future. Prophecy was a tricky thing, and sometimes those who could See true could also see how to change things.
Power was all but gone. But not quite.
The old wilding witch pulled her sleeping furs aside. The knife was still there, wrapped carefully in oilcloth to keep the damp out. Her daughters watched silently, half awed and half frightened. They'd seen the knife but rarely, though they'd often heard of it. It was far too precious a thing to take up lightly.
The old woman was a witch. Her mother had been a witch before her and her grandmother before that. Her youngest daughter would be a witch after the old woman died. The art had been handed down mother to daughter for longer than Wilding memory could tell. Other things had been handed down too. Stories, for example, and this knife.
It was a very old knife. Her mother had told her its story.
There were other worlds, her mother had said. Not all of them are like ours. Not all have dragons. Not all have magic. But sometimes, just sometimes, the veils between the worlds can be thinned, and things can cross from one to the other.
Long ago, before the dragon kings, when magic ran fierce and hot through our world, a man from a strange world of stone and steel slipped into our world by chance. He spoke of cottages of steel and glass as tall as mountains, of metal birds that men rode through the air, of wheeled carts that moved by themselves, faster than any horse. He carried weapons that could spit fire and noise and death great distances. He knew nothing of magic, but a great deal about things beyond the ken of even the wise. Things of metal and of alchemy. Things of healing, and things of war.
A witch-woman had at last found a way to send him back to his own world, but he'd left her with a knife and a daughter in her belly. And from mother to daughter, story and knife had been passed down. And now, generations later, the old wildling witch held the knife.
She saw what was to happen. And she saw how to change it.
Power was all but gone. Real power carried a heavy price. The old wilding witch knew this.
Fire and steel and blood. The steel and the blood of another world, and the fire to turn both into power.
Sometimes the price was worth paying, however steep.
The pyre was ready. She'd built it of wierwood branches; they gleamed white as bone in the moonlight. It was cold; the old witch's breath misted in the air.
Steel and blood and fire to bring the greatest warriors of another world to this one. Warriors and weapons such as Westeros had never seen. Men and women beholden to no king or lord, and weapons of fire and steel that made swords and spears into child's toys. Warriors and weapons to turn the tide against the dead, until the Silver Queen and the Prince that was Promised grew into their own prophecy and dragonfire burned away the ice of the Others.
Her daughters followed her, still silent. The elder of the two was gripping her spear so tightly that her knuckles were white.
"Remember, now." The old wildling witch eyed the pair; the elder was the taller of the two. She favored the man who'd sired her; plain-faced, tall and stocky and strong, and she had his mouse-brown hair and eyes. She'd no talent for witchcraft, but she was brave and strong and fierce and skilled with spear and bow.
The younger of the two had been the one to receive the Sight. She favored the old witch; dark hair, dark eyes, small and quick. The bones of her face were too sharp for her to be considered a beauty, but she was clever, and stronger in the Sight than the old woman had ever been. The raven that was her companion was hhrrking to himself in the lower branches of the largest of the wierwood trees.
"Remember." The old woman said again. "I can open the door, but no more. Wherever they arrive, you must find them and bring them north. And it will be you who must send them home, when the time comes."
Her daughters nodded solemnly.
The old witch started singing. The language was old; older than men. It was as old as the huge wierwood trees surrounding the scrying pool; as old as the dragonglass arrowheads left by the children of the forest.
She touched a torch to the wierwood pyre. The wood flared into flame; she brought the knife down across the palm of her hand. Blood welled, black in the moonlight, and she swept a hand in front of her, scattering droplets into the flames. They spat and smoked.
The air had been still, but now the weirwood leaves stirred. Shapes stirred in the shadows, queer shapes that raised the hair on the nape of the neck. The old woman kept singing.
She kept singing as she climbed painfully onto the pyre; she was an old woman, after all. The branches of the weirwood trees creaked, and in the stirring shadows voices laughed and muttered.
She was still singing in that strange ancient tongue as she lay down. Flames licked at her hair and clothes as she raised the knife above her breast. Still singing, she plunged the knife into her heart.
Sometimes, just sometimes, futures can be changed. And the future changed now, pivoting around the single point of an old wilding witch and twisting into a new shape, and one of the most momentous events in a thousand years went utterly unnoticed by nearly everyone.