Disclaimer: I do not own A Song of Ice and Fire.
The Ghost of the North
Chapter 18: Jon
(Location: Castle Black)
He felt the wind blow through the window as he looked over the report on his desk. It was a normal one that didn't say anything worth mentioning later, but he still read it. When he was done, he put it down on his desk.
A cold wind blew through the window, chilling his bones. But compared to those days when the Long Night had come again, this was nothing. He leaned back in his chair a little as the wind died away. He could still remember those days when it seemed like there would be no light of the sun again. The vast horde of the Others and their wrights standing before the Wall was still as clear as the day he had first seen them. He could still hear how the Wall and the lands around it shook when the men of the Night's Watch sang their oath in defiance while the armies of Westeros added their voices.
"I sound like an old man," he thought to himself. That was when he remembered that he was an old man. He had once known Maester Aemon, his kinsman (and who he was glad had died before the Long Night occurred), to be the oldest man in Westeros. Now, he was just as old. While he could still wield a sword, most of his strength was gone. His hair had thinned and turned white (which he could always make a jape about finally becoming a Targaryen). But he was not blind, that much hadn't changed, and he still stood tall.
He looked out the window and saw the light of the sun. "Perhaps a walk would do me good," he thought to himself, standing up slowly from his chair. As he walked to the door, Ghost, who had been lying next to the fire, lifted his head, stood up, and went after him. To every maester who joined the Watch, either for a term or for good, the albino direwolf was a miracle. They kept telling him that he should've died years ago while the skinchangers he had known rolled their eyes at such words.
He stepped out into the open air of the courtyard. All the men and women in the courtyard turned their eyes to him when they heard the door to his quarters open. He knew what they were seeing: a man of legend, the last fighter of the Long Night and the greatest of them (according to the singers). He had been called many things in his life. Those who came from the south called him the Dragon on the Wall (most likely due to his being a Targaryen prince and the first head of House Icefyre, as he had never actually had a dragon), the ones who were from the North called him the Winter Wolf, and the Free Folk called him the Crow or, more informally, the Jon.
He gave a small wave, telling them to go about their business. As they did, he made his way to the food hall, walking slowly so he would not hurt anything. During the Long Night, he had taken a spear through the leg. It had hit nothing serious and it healed nicely afterwards, but in his old age that leg began to make him limp.
He reached the food hall and went in to warmth. He sat down at the table nearest to the fire, sitting opposite a woman in the black of the Watch. "Lord Commander," she greeted him courteously.
"Is that all I am to you, Arya?" he asked her with a small smile.
"I'm on watch, my lord. This is my lunch I am eating," she told him.
"That doesn't mean you must be courteous to me. I am your kin, after all."
She placed the spoon in her hand down to look at him. "Even if you are my kin, Great-Grandfather, you're still my Lord Commander," she said.
"Perhaps your father should've named you Sansa instead of Arya if he wanted to please me," he remarked. One of his grandsons had named her in honor of Arya Stark, the first woman First Ranger of the Night's Watch and his little sister (so to speak).
"I have my moments that make my name well deserved," she told him, going back to her food. As some food was being served to her commander, she looked at him again. "I should mention that there will be a group coming to Castle Black soon."
"Birds or Baby Crows?" he asked her. Since the years changes were made to the Watch, the Free Folk had begun calling those who served only a term Birds and those who were to join Baby Crows while full-fledged members had the title of Crow. Those words made their way over to the Watch through years and now it was normal to call people on the Wall such names.
"Birds, I believe. Some of them haven't flown." That was another term adopted by the Watch from the Free Folk, calling those who came to the Wall for the first time the Unwinged or Wingless.
He grunted in acknowledgement of the words, more focused on eating his food. It was a tradition nowadays for noble families to send their children up to the Wall for "seasoning." Those who served for a term would learn the things they needed to know and those who were interested in staying permanently would be shown what that would be like. Again, it was something that came out of the changes made to the Watch.
"Have we heard from your cousin and sister in King's Landing?" he asked her.
"Aye, we got a raven this morning. Aemon married the queen and they're expecting either the Crown Prince or Princess. Lyanna had joined the Kingsguard, so she's finally following in her hero's footsteps." She said those last words with a roll of her eyes.
He smiled at those words. Lyanna Icefyre had always wanted be like Brienne of Tarth, the first woman ever appointed to the Kingsguard. It had happened during the reign of his brother, Aegon, after Ser Barristan the Bold had passed away. She eventually became the Lady Commander and became regarded as Ser Duncan the Tall come again. "She is certainly like Brienne, minus the beauty," he remarked.
Arya looked at him. "You make it sound like you knew her."
He gave her a look. "Of course I knew her; she came up with Aegon just as the Long Night began. She and Lyanna are just alike, except that Lyanna is much more better looking." Every time he heard a minstrel play a song about Brienne, he could not help but laugh when they start to describe her beauty. The only thing that could really be called pretty on the Maid of Tarth was her eyes.
"Oh." She was silent for a moment, and then she spoke again. "My lord, if the Night's Watch has defeated the Others, why does it still exist? Shouldn't we have disbanded a long time ago?"
"We did not defeat the Others," he told her, his voice cold and serious. "We barely beat them back and with many losses." Rhaenys Targaryen, Oberyn Martell, Obara Sand, Jaime Lannister, Yohn Royce, his Uncle Brandon, Brynden Tully, Renly Baratheon, Viserys Targaryen,…Val and Ygritte were only a tiny number of names he remembered since the Long Night. House Blackfyre had joined the fight due Viserys' marriage to one of them and was wiped out as a result. Even Bran, his cousin, had given his life to fight in the Long Night (just in a different way than the rest of them).
"I am sorry," she apologized, having forgotten that her great-grandfather did not like to speak of the Long Night.
"Do not trouble yourself with it," he told, going back to his food while idly tossing a scrap of meat at Ghost.
"…Great-Grandfather, did the Ghost of the North fight in the Long Night?" she asked, finally asking the question that had been bugging for the better part of three years now.
He put the spoon in his hand down and looked at her. "No, he didn't," he answered shortly. The last time he had ever seen the Ghost was years before the Long Night began, when he gave a black Valyrian steel sword to each of the castle commanders.
The rest of the meal was spent in relative silence, with only a few random things to be spoken of. When the meal was done, he stood up from the table and went back outside to the cold. He started to make his way back to his rooms, only to stop. He turned around and went for the stables instead. The nearest stable hand was surprised to see him coming. "Lord Commander, would you like one of the horses saddled?" he asked instantly.
"Yes, I am going to the godswood beyond the Wall," Jon said to him. He went off and the Lord Commander waited in silence for his horse to be ready. Anyone who heard the words did not bat an eye. It was common knowledge that Lord Commander prayed to the old gods and went to the godswood practically every day.
His horse was readied for him in a matter of minutes. He mounted the horse with ease and rode it out to the gate, Ghost trailing far enough behind so his scent wouldn't spook the horse. They waited silently for the gate to open and when it did, they rode out beyond the Wall.
As he rode, Jon's thoughts were on the Seven Kingdoms. Despite all that had happened during the Long Night, it seemed like it was all forgotten within a matter of years. The world went on with time and history. His brother Aegon died five years after the Long Night and his firstborn daughter sat the Iron Throne, with Visenya as her Hand.
The Seven Kingdoms didn't seem to like the fact at first (with the exception of Dorne). Some families had even tried to rebel, only to be crushed ruthlessly. Now the Iron Throne was sat by another queen, Aegon's great-granddaughter, who was married to his great-grandson. The Realm may have difficult times ahead again. Hopefully, Queen Rhaenyra had steel in her spine.
But that wasn't the only problem. The Night's Watch had grown strong during his time as the Lord Commander. So strong that some of the nobles in Westeros had begun to wonder if the Watch would try to break away from the Iron Throne and become its own kingdom. Such talk had spread to the Watch itself and while it was only a minor party for now, if not handle with care it could grow and cause trouble for the Realm. And despite how they banded together and fought together, there were still men and women who felt that the Free Folk were nothing more than savages who had been taken in by his mercy.
These problems and more haunted the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, so much so that people begun to see Aegon's reign as time when things were much more simpler and easier. He always suppressed a semi-bitter chuckle at those words. The two of them had thought the same of their father's reign when they had led as king and Lord Commander, facing their share of difficulties. It was something that would always repeat through time: people always thinking that the past had been easier.
He reached the godswood in the same amount of time it had always taken him to get there. He dismounted the horse and tethered its reins to a nearby tree, making sure it did not go anywhere. He approached the weirwood tree and Ghost followed him. But the direwolf did not stay by his side for long. Instead, he soon came to a stop and sat on his haunches, as if he was standing guard.
It was a good comparison, for that was what he had been doing for the past year. It had been just more than a year ago that Jon had found the hole in the roots of the weirwood tree and when he climbed down; he found that it led to a tunnel. He followed that tunnel until it revealed a room full of books, tomes, and scrolls. There had been a note addressed to him from the Ghost saying that knowledge was both power and destruction and that he was to choose what knowledge should be taken out and what should be burnt.
That had been an order Jon had obeyed. Since that day, he had gone through each and every one of the books and scrolls, deciding whether or not to burn them. He had found many books of history that describe things he knew for a fact didn't happen, such as the conflict between Aegon II and Rhaenyra breaking out into a war called the Dance of the Dragons (that had been one for the burn pile).
There was a reason why Jon had done what the Ghost had asked of him and it went back to the day he had gotten lost in the wolfswood. He had lied to everyone about what had happened that day. As he, the Ghost, and the direwolf journeyed back to Winterfell, the Ghost told him of what was to come, how it could prevented, and how he would be the one to do those things. And to prove his point, the Ghost did something he had never done to anyone else: he lowered his hood and showed his face to a young Jon.
Jon had believed him, especially after he had seen the face of the Ghost, and went to the Wall to join the Night's Watch. The things that had been described to him had come to pass and he helped changed them in ways that helped prevent Westeros from being overrun by the Others when the Long Night came. That was why he was now down here in the cave of knowledge, deciding what would be saved and what wouldn't.
It had taken him this long, but he was nearing the end of his task. The knowledge that was to be saved was taken out to the tunnel and left by the entrance. They would be recovered when the next batch of Baby Crows came sworn their vows (but he would be able to sneak a few in himself). The rest would stay in the cave and be burned by the torch he had brought with him.
All that was left was a small (compared to the rest of books and scrolls that had occupied the place) group of tomes near the tunnel. He had spent the better part of the last month reading these tomes. They had started out as a journal written by a child, but that child soon grew into a boy and then into a man, the childish words becoming grimmer and darker.
He was on the last tome now, the others already with the group that was to be burned (he had decided that the moment he opened the first tome and read the first page). He took his time with it, reading each page carefully, even when the words were nothing good.
The Wall fell only a month ago and already the Others and their armies have descended upon Winterfell. I take no shame in admitting pleasure in hearing how the Boltons died screaming. Perhaps the Others have their own sense of justice, as they had killed Theon swiftly. I do not know if they have raised him as I have heard no reports of him amongst the wrights. I hope he is, for I will gladly kill him again for what he did to Bran and Rickon.
It's been more than three months since the Wall has fallen and the North has come under the complete grasp of the Others. What remains of the Night's Watch have regrouped in the Riverlands and have sent ravens to the remaining lords and nobles in the Seven Kingdoms. I can only hope that we will receive answers that say men and supplies will come.
The Iron Islands, the Westerlands, and the Vale have fallen to the grasp of the Others. How they reached those lands without first passing through the Riverlands, I do not know. Perhaps they managed to freeze the sea and cross that. But I do know how they were able to take the lands. We didn't get a single reply from the ravens we sent out. All those nobles are still more interested in playing the game of thrones instead believing that what used to be a story that scared children was now real. Even now, they believe that this invasion is nothing more than a remarkably trained horde of wildings that will be easily brushed aside.
It has been a year since the Wall has fallen. The Riverlands were taken soon after the Westerlands and the Vale had been conquered. I managed to lead the rest of the Night's Watch out of the Riverlands and into the Reach. I am now traveling to Highgarden, to see if there is anyone who will still heed my warnings and take them seriously.
Lord Mace Tyrell was an arrogant ass and he, along with his two younger sons, has paid for that arrogance. The fool actually believed that he and his army would be able to swiftly end the threat of the Others, only to be utterly crushed. His eldest, Willas, was more inclined to believe what I had said. But now it is too late, the power of the House Tyrell and Highgarden has been broken. Already I can see the nobles in the court of Highgarden plotting to overthrow the Tyrells and make themselves Lords Paramount of the Reach. What a bunch of soft-headed fools. But there was a bright spot in all this mess: Sam had met with his family again. He had told his father of what he had done and Lord Tarly gave him a curt nod of acknowledgement before following his lord into battle.
The Reach has fallen. I am not surprised anymore. I knew it was coming when the Others destroyed Lord Tyrell's forces. There is some hope from the Crownlands, however. Daenerys Targaryen and her nephew Aegon had joined forces and were planning to attack the Others. I am leading the most of the Watch to their side to join them in battle. Hopefully, we can finally end the menace that is the Others. But if not, I have sent the rest of the Watch to Storm's End to convince the Lady Shireen Baratheon to builds ships to take potential refugees to Essos. I hope she will agree, since it was the Watch that brought her back to the safety of the Stormlands when her father died on the Wall.
More than six years have passed since the Wall has fallen. Both Aegon and his aunt have died. Their deaths came soon after the Others, in a display of cunning I had long suspected they had, snuck silently through the night to murder the three dragons in the army with freezing cold. The army was soon destroyed afterwards, along with the Crownlands. I am leading the survivors to Storm's End, so they might find a chance of safety.
I had thought that Mace Tyrell had been the most arrogant person I would ever meet. I was wrong; Dorne far outstripped the Fat Flower in arrogance. When I went to Dorne to beg the people there to flee Westeros for safety, they all laughed at me. The leader of House Martell, Princess Arianne, told me that they would disappear into the sands and deserts of Dorne and wait for the Others to defeat themselves in the effort. Foolish, arrogant woman! These are not Targaryens or men in armor sweating beneath the sun. The Others command winter itself! The Vale thought itself impregnable and the Reach thought it could easily defeat the Others, both were proven wrong. But I have long given up on trying convincing foolish and arrogant nobles to believe in something that might change what their beliefs were. It didn't surprise me when word reached us half a year later that Dorne had fallen.
What remained of the population of Westeros has created a settlement along the coast south of Braavos. Survivors from Dorne have managed to make their way to the settlement; among their numbers were Princess Arianne and the youngest of the Sand Snakes. The princess came to me late one night and surprised me by apologizing for how she acted when I came to Dorne to warn them. But her apology doesn't matter now. All that matters now is that the settlement doesn't tear itself apart. Shireen Baratheon has proven herself to be just like her father and uncle when it came to running the settlement, for she has the steel of Stannis and the charisma of Robert. Some of the nobles still try to play the game and put themselves in better positions of power. Some have even suggested that I take command due to my supposed lineage, but both Lady Shireen and I have put an end to that. This settlement is not Westeros; the Iron Throne is no more. Everything is different.
The Others have struck Slaver's Bay ten years after the Wall has fallen. I do not know why, as the Free Cities were much closer to Westeros. Perhaps the wrights they gathered in Westeros had enough of their memories to hate slavery. At least, that's what the romantics in the settlement have called it. I think that they struck Slaver's Bay simply because of one fact: there are more humans to rise as wrights there. But there has been a reaction I had not expected: the Free Cities are uniting beneath one banner to fight the Others, something that the Seven Kingdoms couldn't do. But even though there is hope in the settlement, I do not have any.
Last night, I dreamed of Bran sitting amidst the roots of a tree. All these I had thought he was dead and now he says he's alive! He told me to come back to Westeros, to come back to the Wall I had fled when it fell and go beyond it. I do not know whether or not this was just a dream, but if there was a chance Bran was alive, I would find him. I managed to find a ship and a captain who would sail me to Westeros, but only to Dorne. I will take what I can get if it meant finding Bran.
Jon closed the tome, having finished reading it. He placed it on the pile to be burned and set the torch upon it. As the pile of knowledge began to smoke and burn, he turned and went back to the tunnel. He stopped to use what was left of his strength to roll a giant boulder in front of the entrance so that the fire may be contained. He walked back down the tunnel to the hole amongst the roots. There were still problems of the Wall he had to take charge of, but what knowledge he had saved must be protected and preserved. Perhaps when they are discovered, he would have them sent to the Citadel. But even as he walked back to his life, he could still remember the words on the last page clearly.
I don't know how long it has taken me to get from Dorne to beyond the Wall, more likely years then months. I have spent a lot of time hiding from Others that patrol the Seven Kingdoms. Westeros has changed greatly since we have fled, looking more like what lay beyond the Wall. I met someone I did not expect in what used to be the Riverlands. She was little when I had left and now, she was big and old. She accompanied me north and gave me time to escape when the Others found us at the ruins of Castle Black. I traveled alone until I reached the weirwood tree Bran showed me in the dream. I found him beneath the tree and in it at the same time. He told me that while I had been trying to reach him, the Others destroyed the armies of the Free Cities and were now spreading throughout Essos. They had won. But then he told me that there was a way to prevent it from happening. He would send the entire world into oblivion to send me into the past to change the history, but I would have to leave who I am behind, becoming someone else, a ghost. I saw no other option and I took his offer.
This is the last entry of the journal of Jon Snow, the 998th Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, false bastard son of Lord Eddard Stark and true bastard son of Prince Rhaegar Targaryen.
Author's note: Thank you for all the reviews you've sent me.
So there's a little glimpse of the future of this story. And yes, I tried to leave it ambiguous on purpose.
People were going to die during the Long Night, it was an inevitable fact. It was just a matter of choosing who died.
As for the Ghost of the North's identity, I hope I had concealed it good enough during the story to leave you surprised at the end of this chapter. And whether the Ghost of the North is still around since the second Long Night has passed or not, I'll leave that up to you to decide.
I'll see you all in the next story! Merry Christmas!