#but there’s no hope now...they thought that the king’s sibling would be able to free the king from the corruption
If the summer of our lives could just come again, ch31
Everyone was beyond exhausted. Bags under the eyes, sluggish movements and dim conversation had become the norm.
Then the mammoth showed up. It’s stride barely even notices the trench, now widened the earth shaking.
The Free Folk all hope that the Night King did not count any of the giants among his soldiers.
Ygritte’s arm shakes as she looses arrow after arrow trying to fell the beast. All the others in line do the same. The arm she took the arrow in has begun to feel warm, but she does not fear corruption so much as reopening the wound.
It’s just as the beast over the castle walls has been hit enough to stumble, that Rowan comes behind the archers to warn of an impending call to the trees, so that they could kneel and brace themselves.
The first time they had had an archer fall clear over the ramparts, his neck broken. He’d risen far too quickly, and they’d been forced to burn him. Remembering it made the hair on the back of Ygritte’s neck stand up. They still hadn’t seen any sign of the Night King.
Close to the pull of sleep, Arya had told her once about it before, muttering with her eyes half closed about how she had stabbed him with her little dagger and he had shattered as if made of glass.
This time, Arya is woken from sleep by the shaking of the earth. She sputters a bit before turning to Ygritte.
“Do they need me back?”
Ygritte shakes her head. Better to let her sleep. Arya was a damn good archer, but there wasn’t much that could be done until the snow let up and the visibility improved.
Other than trying to keep them from climbing the walls.
In the Great Hall, Ned’s shoulder still burned, even as he left his cot. He went against Maester Luwin’s advice the minute he’d heard.
The Hunter’s gate was overrun. Val and the other Free Folk were cutting down all they could see, slashing and cutting down the wights left and right.
“Best we’re trying is to let the bodies pile up and block the opening,” she tells him, hacking at a wight dragging along the ground with her dragon glass axe. “And once they do, we’ll set fire to the lot.”
The plan works, to Ned’s shock. Once the fire is burning and the pile stops twitching, several of the largest of the Free Folk make to block the broken gate with empty wagons full of whatever they can find to weigh them down.
But while they are doing this, a cluster of wights have made their way inside the keep.
The one Ned sees used to be a woman, he thinks. She lumbers, jumping on a young squire from behind, before one of the other squires slices her skull from the rest of her, and scooping her remains into the fire.
With a start, Ned realizes the fighter carrying the dismembered wight is Rickon. His youngest son is now a figured smeared in dirt and blood, his hair slicked with sweat and snow.
Ned spins, following the sounds of the screams, the clang of steel, waiting to find a target he could direct them to. Eventually, a scream he recognizes pierces through.
He follows as fast as he can, finding Robb on the ground, a wight’s teeth sunk into one arm, his other flailing, trying to reach his sword where it had fallen. His arm is already beginning to take on an icy hue.
Ned’s muscles snap as he springs as fast as he can. But his movement isn’t necessary, as the wight is seized by one of the Free Folk and pulled away. But even as the threat is gone, Ned sees Robb’s arm, torn to bits, with lines running down it glowing an eerie unworldly blue.
The sight makes him freeze nearly, the sight of his first born child, the sounds of the battle rattling in the back of his head. His stillness is interrupted when Val comes to him, picks up the sword from the cobblestones and in a single quick movement, with barely a grunt of effort and a sickening crack, severs Robb’s arm at the shoulder.
His screams ring out through Winterfell.
“Give me your torch,” she tells one of the Free Folk, and Ned watches as she holds the fire to the wound until it seals and the smell of perverse cooked meat fills the air.
“Help me get him to the Great Hall,” she orders, and though Ned moves to help, he realizes Val’s words were directed at Gendry off beside him, who takes the fallen torch in one hand, and carefully lift’s Robb’s uninjured arm over his shoulder.
Once they are out of sight, that part of the keep is once again quiet of screams, at least for this moment. Ned’s shoulder burns worse than before.
Ned is later glad that he isn’t on the east side when it happens.
Brienne watches later as Gendry pulls two soldiers onto the back of his horse.
“The same fever?” she asks him. An illness of some sort had been passing through those stationed on the east side. With no time for proper food or rest, those who caught it had been dropping like flies. Brienne feared it wouldn’t be too long before it spread to other parts of the keep.
“Luwin’s having me quarantine them in one hallway outside the Great Hall. He fears them infecting the injured.”
He doesn’t tell her about the one he’d left a few days ago who had had a violent seizure when he’d come to check on them, his limbs shaking and mumbling fever dreams.
He nods to Brienne before turning to leave with the ill men.
Brienne surveys the meager forces manning the east wall again, as if by going through them again, they might suddenly grow, might suddenly be less haggard and starved.
As if they somehow might stand a chance.
As Brienne dismounts to go and check the archers on this side of the wall, the ground shakes, but not like before. Not like what the trees did.
And she hears the telltale sounds of stone beginning to crumble. The tiny chinks that have built up as the dead continued to slam and pile up against it, until parts of the east wall begin to crack and fall.
In the Godswood, Jon wakes with a start, to find Rowan shaking him.
“Your glove began to peel off,” she tells him, and he rights it. “You must be careful of frostbite.”
Yes, Jon thinks, frostbite.
Even trying to reclaim his tiny bits of sleep, he reaches out to the outside. He sees the second mammoth, the one who rammed the east wall and caused it to begin to crumble, and his eyes snap awake.
The trees don’t know too much of what to make of the Night King, other than he is heading south, fast, far too fast. Jon thanks all the gods that he seems to be limited by normal means of transportation.
The trees speak again to Jon now, unbidden. They say they will help again, but he does not understand their words this time. He feels the touch they would give to him, the assurance. That what they are about to do will take a lot out of him, and that he should brace himself, but not just physically.
Stumbling wildly out of the visions, Jon backs himself to the trunk of the weirwood, and lowers himself to the ground. Rowan presses closer to his side, and with his eyes trailing shut once again, Jon wishes Ygritte could be here with him too.
When the images pass through his mind, images of another him and another battle, he just lets it slip through him.
Sansa and Shireen pour over the harp for days that turn into weeks that turn into months.
“I learned to play in King’s Landing,” Sansa muses, “From Leonette Fossoway. But I was so anxious and frightened all the time, I’m afraid I was quite a poor student.”
“I learned a bit in lessons as a girl,” Shireen adds, “But not too much. I wanted to learn the lute instead.”
And a frozen bog in hiding from the rising dead isn’t quite the best place to try and relearn, but they do what they can.
“Great-grandfather’s fiddle’s around here somewhere,” Meera tells Jojen one afternoon when the soft pings of the plucked strings are ringing out again.
“Waiting for a Reed who’s not an embarrassment to the art of music,” Jojen agrees.
At that moment, the scene is interrupted by Bran sticking his head in from outside and calling out to Sansa. He’s holding a rolled up scroll from the leg of a bird, so Meera and Jojen both follow Sansa to find out what’s going on.
Shireen looks around the table and realizes she’s alone again. Oh well, it never lasts long, there’s not too many places to hide in a keep this size.
It doesn’t even last five minutes, as Lord Reed re-enters from the back end and sits on the opposite side of the table from her.
Shireen nods, and greets him. She never learned too much about House Reed, aside from its allegiance to the north, but they’ve been good enough hosts.
There’s a long bit of silence, when he asks.
“You’re an only child aren’t you Shireen?”
Shireen nods. She remembers having always wanted siblings, but thinking on her parents as nearly an adult, she suspects it might be better that she didn’t.
“I heard about your father at the Wall. I’m sorry.”
Shireen nods again. She’s tried so hard not to think about it.
“With him gone, I guess I should go home to Dragonstone after this. I don’t know if my mother- I should probably just try and do my duty.”
Howland studies her. His gaze isn’t penetrating, but she still feels exposed.
“Is that what you want though?”
She smiles softly.
“I don’t want my house to die out, though I did think I would have a little more time...When I was little, I used to listen to Maester Cressen talk about his training, and I wished I could go to the citadel. I know they don’t let women in, but I always thought maybe I could sneak in at night, or something of the sort. I do at least have a huge stack of writings that I might be able to convince them to be worth reading now.”
Howland’s face has turned serious, and Shireen wonders what it was she’d said. The others have returned from whatever was being carried on the raven, but are on the other side of the room. He watches as Shireen tries to catch Jojen’s eye, hoping for a hint of if the letter was important.
“Are the two of you close?”
Shireen’s face turns pink.
“We’ve found some...very unusual common ground.”
Howland puts his face in his hands. His voice softens so the others don’t over hear, but is unexpectedly rough,
“When this is over, and you leave this place...convince him to go with you, in whatever capacity that is.”
Shireen blinks in shock.
“Don’t you want him home, safe?”
“Of course I do. But I don’t think he will be safe if he’s home. It’s not so bad here in the winter, but come spring...this environment is harsh. Illnesses spread through us like wildfire. In the spring the swamp gas rises. Jojen’s already fallen to Greywater fever once. I don’t worry about Meera, she’s strong-”
Shireen chuckles. A few days prior, Meera had climbed part way onto the roof of the keep to free Una when she had become entangled in a snare, with very little regard to her rapidly swelling abdomen.
“But Jojen never has been. He was always a fragile boy. And even though his mother and I always told him how important his visions were...we all knew that this was not a good place for him. I don’t want him to leave home and die like last time, but I want him to die earlier than he needs to even less.”
Shireen watches the others, solemn.
“I’ll see what I can do.”
The moons go on, and Sansa and her can’t make heads or tails of the harp. Once, when Sansa plays, Shireen notes that one of the runes on the side seems to light up, but despite her scribbling it down as fast as she can, they have yet to get that reaction from any of the other runes.
One morning, one the Reed’s lookouts come to report that men have been spotted marching along the causeway from the south.
“What? What banners are they carrying?” Sansa demands.
The lookout couldn’t see them in the snow, so Bran sends Una south.
When she reaches the men, Bran reports.
“House Tyrell, but they aren’t displaying their banners, I could only tell by their armor. And they’re being led by Jamie Lannister.”
The distaste in his voice is prominent.
“Should we tell the men to try and stop them from getting through?” Meera asks.
There’s a long pause.
“I don’t think that’s necessary,” Bran says slowly. “They’re not traveling under the banner of the crown. We should at least see what happens if they make it through and encounter the Others.”
There are nods all around. Bran spends the next weeks in and out of Una trying to discover why a company of soldiers, but not from King’s Landing, would be coming north.
One night when he had left her and nearly immediately fallen asleep, he dreams of the Night King coming for him in the Godswood. It wakes him in a cold sweat.
He’s just managed to calm his heart, when he realizes Meera’s sitting up on her side of the bed, hunched over.
“Hey-” he reaches out to touch her on the shoulder. “Is it the babe, should we call for the midwife?”
She shakes her head, and Bran sighs in relief. She should have at least a moon’s turn left.
“It was back before, when I left Winterfell,” her voice shakes. “It was snowing so hard, and I could barely sleep. I hadn’t slept alone, or been alone at all really, in so long…”
He rubs his hand along her shoulder and reaches for his cane beside the bed.
“Come on, lets get some tea.”
But when they reach the table, they aren’t alone.
Shireen’s muttering about fire, and Sansa says something about the crypts. But it’s not just them, but others within the keep, awake and speaking quietly.
Jojen is the last to join them, looking confused at everyone else.
When he sits, his only words are.
“That was a green dream. But I’ve never had one like that before.”
“Doesn’t make sense,” Sansa responds, “The things we saw really happened.”
There’s a long silence, interrupted only by the rustling of the others waking.
“But only you lot remember that these things happened,” Shireen says slowly, “The rest of us see this as new.”
They sit in silence again as this washes over them.
At White Harbour, Theon sits up with a jolt. They’re still on the ship, surveying before they disembark.
In the dark, he gropes his way out of the cabin before finding Yara on watch. Her eyes meet his, and her terror he feels must be mirrored on his own.
Yara stares at him steadily, before looking back out to the land in front of them.
“We do not sow. Remember our house words. We are here, we are Ironborn. We will not go down with the dead.”
Her words are enough, at least safely at sea.
Gliding on the air above them all, Danaerys jumps when her vision shifts, finding herself aboard Rhaegal again instead of Drogon like she had in the vision, and wonders at what could have made that seemingly small thing different. Much moreso, she is confused by the memory of her own feelings, her nearly arrogant certainty. She steels herself in the darkness, running a hand along Rhaegal’s scales. It would be wrong to admit she has no such certainty now.
Jamie’s arm is too light. This is the first thing that registers when he wakes. His arm is too light and it seems to flop around of its own accord.
But it’s not just his arm weighing him down, but the memory of Cersei’s betrayal.
She had begged him to find a way to stop Father sending her back to Casterly Rock, and he’d been plagued by guilt over it. Now he questions why. His whole life he’d tried to spend in her service, and what did he get in return for it? Now with this memory, though hazy and rapidly fading, his guilt begins to lighten.
When the first light comes, he orders the men on. His guilt does begin to rise, when he recalls what he suspects they will find at the end of the Kingsroad.
Margaery had found the necklace among her things ages ago, and she had also noticed the stone that came loose. She had kept it in her personal effects, close, planning to bide her time.
In the moons since she had sent Jamie away, Joffrey had become increasingly paranoid. Rambling on during council meetings about the rumors and correspondences with the Targaryen girl, even lashing out after being reprimanded by his Hand, his own grandfather.
She spends several days observing routines, finding the best time. Night time would be too obvious, too many servants who might take the blame.
The visions that pass over them all don’t even seem to phase Joffrey at all, to Margaery’s disgust. Breakfast provides the perfect distraction. Especially since breakfast today is fried fish, complete with their tiny bones.
Especially since it seems everyone else in the keep awoke in the same fugue state Margaery found herself in. Her maid had looked at her as though she had seen a ghost. She fingers the jewel tucked into her pocket. Her dream did nothing but spur her on.
In the Great Hall, everyone has gathered among the breakfast spread, no one much meeting others eyes and bumbling about, confused. Only Joffrey is already eating, licking the greasy batter of the fried fish from his fingers.
The jewel dropped its way easily into the goblet of red wine. She hasn’t even have the opportunity to sit down before Joffrey’s hand snatches it away.
“Far too early for a queen. Wouldn’t want you ending up like my dearest mother.”
Margaery lets him take the goblet and place it to his lips. And she waits.
Ned’s shoulder burns anew when he wakes. At least he knows he’s alive.
Robb jerks awake on the cot in the Great Hall. Only an arm, at least there’s that.
Gendry doesn’t even quit moving as he drags a man with a broken leg from the rubble of the east wall.
Brienne grips her sword tighter, the word ‘knight’ echoing in her mind.
Up on the ramparts, Arya stares straight ahead. She squeezes the dagger at her waist, and dares the Night King to come this time.
Beside her, Ygritte rolls on her side and mutters, “Gods, I hope someone killed that fuckin’ kid.”
In the Broken Tower, Benjen stares across the horizon, looking for the figure he imagines must still be coming for him.
In the Godswood, Jon touches his stomach and chest where the stab wounds had been, takes a deep breath, and tells the trees thank you.
“Do you think this will help?” he asks them, the tongue feeling more natural on voice now somehow.
“Unknown. But we’ve done what we can.”
Jon hopes that it’s enough.
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