They had given Edd a fine Stark-grey gambeson and brigandine what seemed like so long ago. Even now, with a little more meat on his bones and sword-strength in his arms, they still hung too large on his narrow frame, with twice the weight of his old boiled leather and black wool. Twice the weight and twice the warmth. A part of him was always thankful for that, keeping in mind the lingering chill of a winter that had lightened in the wake of their battle with the dead but never truly ended. Another, more presently relevant part of him complained loudly to the first of the tremendous heat inside the great hall and the equally formidable ache in his shoulders. Yet a third thought that crow feathers might have just suited him better.
Still, Edd stood, sweating dutifully before the fire at the king’s side. He was near swaying for want of a drink or a nice lie-down, but dutiful to a fault. He had put many an hour into looking sufficiently knightly, with the appropriately grim facial expressions and all, and would hate for all that effort to go unnoticed.
Dutiful to a fault, perhaps, but certainly more often faulty in his duties. The king was drifting off into his mind again, in the attendance of his entire seven-damned northern court no less, and not one of them had the balls to try and catch his attention. His eyes grew unfocused. Edd knew the look well. He would have to rouse him before they began to roll back and alarmed excitable Wyman Manderly so terribly he fell from his chair again.
“Your Grace,” Edd began, pausing in uncertainty.
Jon looked up. “Edd?” His voice was rough as wrought iron, his eyes wide and wild.
Jon had told him once, at the beginning of all of this, that his presence at court was non-negotiable, that his counsel was indispensable. Edd saw this for the pigshit excuse it was. He might have said two dozen words in his three years at Jon’s side at the high table, and half of them had been taken up by some ill-advised and ill-received joke involving swords, admittedly made in poor taste with both of Jon’s lady sisters in rare attendance. He may well have endeared himself to young Arya for the rest of his living days, but it had taken him nigh on a month to get back into Lady Sansa’s good graces.
As such, he mostly bit his tongue and paid little mind to talk of grain stores and trouble in the Barrowlands as these dour northern lords put even his sorry attitude to shame.
Now they all stared at him, waiting for him to speak, faces empty of the polite ignorance they had pretended for the king’s sake. He cleared his throat and continued. “Please do pardon me for interrupting, Your Grace, but might we move this outside? I never thought I’d say so even this far south of the Wall, but I’m beginning to sweat through my smallclothes, and I fear your fine leathers will be next.”
The few who possessed not the self-control to loftily ignore his words sent him filthy looks from across the table. They all scorned his insolence; he saw it in their eyes. But what was he to do with their disdain? So they thought him irreverent and crass, and rightly so. They did not see the grateful smile flicker across their king’s face, because they were not looking.
“Your Grace,” Manderly began pointedly after a long pause. “If we might continue discussing the feed stores at White Harbor? It has been a mild winter, but we are approaching the fourth year. Our people remain hale and fed, but it is the livestock I worry for…”
They all resumed ignoring Edd, and Edd resumed his uncomfortable shifting before the fire at his back. Such was the life of a knight in service to the North, he supposed, and better to be melting from the heat than frozen solid.
The moon had risen well over the high walls of Winterfell when they finally emerged from the council chamber. The courtyard air welcomed them with a dull, windless cold. It was all wrong.
It was not odd to find the yard near deserted at this hour; it was too dark a time to peddle wares, and too cold for a stroll. What struck Edd as odd was the figure that remained despite the ill conditions, loitering in the shadows of an old stone wall behind them. He recognized the man as a former brother by the make of his cloak and garb, though he could not put a name to the face. The man’s presence put him ill at ease. He turned away and lengthened his strides to resume his place at Jon’s side.
A direwolf howled from somewhere outside the walls that rose above their heads, savage and wild in the muffled silence of a still winter night.
Dread pooled deep in his stomach. When he turned to look back once again, the brother was gone.
“Your Grace,” he began, turning back to the king. Jon looked back at him, and the cloaked man was there suddenly, drawing up behind him silently. His hand gripped a dagger, half-hidden by the shadow of his cloak.
Jon turned and put a hand at his belt, grasping at nothing. Longclaw was left laying on the table in his chambers. Ghost was out somewhere beyond the walls, still howling. Edd drew his sword.
Edd was neither faster nor more dextrous than the cloaked man, and at a disadvantage with a longsword in close quarters. He moved to put himself in front of Jon, too slowly. He wasn’t going to make it in time, and so he did what any skilled, highly trained knight would have done in his circumstances. He tripped over his own feet.
It was an accident, really. Edd fell forward, catching himself only when his blade dug deep into the flesh of the cloaked man before him at the momentum of his fall. The man blinked at him. He pushed the blade in further. This was what his mother must have meant when she told them never to run with open scissors in the hand, he supposed. That was good. He would have to remember that one for Jon.
He bared his teeth for no good or practical reason, and he growled, fiercely and nonsensically, and felt an unfamiliar wave of embarrassment wash over him even as his sword forced through layers of ligament and bone and finally tore out the other side. It would not come out so easily as it had gone in, he knew. He made no move to pull it out, only watched as the man coughed his last sputtering breaths, full of blood and spittle, onto Edd’s cheek.
“Edd.” Jon said the word softly and warily. His name, yes. “Thank you.”
Edd blinked and became himself once again. “Oh, this?” He asked evenly, dazed, jostling the dead man lightly by the pommel of the sword buried beneath his sternum. “No need to thank me, Your Grace. All in a day’s work, what with me being a knight and all. Sworn to protect my liege.” Blood ran down the seams of Edd’s leather gloves, into his sleeves. He watched the grey wool darken and grow damp with an absent frown. “From this day until my last, of course.”
Jon smiled at him with some alarm, brows drawn together. “Let us hope it doesn’t come too soon.”
Edd grunted, though in agreement or derision he did not know.
A small crowd had gathered. Some cried out; others cheered and grasped at Edd with thankful hands. A father covered his daughter’s eyes and a mother put her son on her shoulders at his urging so that he could peer over taller heads to look upon the dead man. Edd could not recall the first time he had seen a corpse, but his mother certainly had not been with him when he did, nor was she there to comfort him after the fact. That he would have remembered, the same way he might have remembered waking up one day to find she had turned into a mouse.
Someone was coaxing the sword from Edd’s grip, and he allowed himself to let go. He watched warily as the body hit the ground. If the dead man got up again. No such thing happened, of course. It tended not to, as a rule, thanks to the efforts of Edd and Jon, among others. The man he had just killed, for instance.
Tensions had only risen higher in the years since Edd had arrived back from Long Barrow to find his then-Lord Commander full of fresh holes and still breathing in spite of the best of them. Few were lucky as him when the Wall came down, and the Watch along with it. Not even Grenn and Pyp were knighted in the credit of their service to the realm; that honor fell to men of high houses or previous military history and, inexplicably, Edd. Others were given work at all corners of the North, and the worst of the criminals were left with nothing. He wasn’t surprised another brother had made an attempt on Jon’s life; only that it had taken this long.
Jon was beside him and suddenly Manderly and Glover and the others were among them, with questions of causality and loyalties and whether the man had acted alone, and Jon dismissed them all. They continued their longstanding tradition of ignoring Edd as they departed, and he was glad of it.
He hoped absently that he might get the sword back. It had been forged by Donal Noye in the year following his arrival at the wall, made quickly and cheaply of brittle steel like its five hundred some identical kin, and held immense sentimental value. He did not hold onto much hope. If the sword had inherited any of its bearer’s luck, the best it could aspire to was the blacksmith’s pile of metal scrap. Considering how little luck Dolorous Edd had to go around, he assumed it would be thrown in the mud with the rest of the rubbish.
He sighed heavily and let himself be pulled along by the king to his chambers.
“You know, my mother once said…”
The moment the chamber door shut behind them, Edd wrapped his arms around Jon’s waist and let his head fall onto his heavy-cloaked shoulder.
“What’s– are you alright?” Jon asked, startled.
Edd hummed into Jon’s shoulder. He breathed in deep the thick scent of leather oil and wet fur and wrinkled his nose. “Don’t know. Probably.” He realized belatedly that Jon was likely only asking if he was injured, to which he shook his head in denial. “Gods,” he swore and let go of Jon all at once, stepping back until his body was flat against the door.
Jon sighed, understanding, and closed the gap with a single pace. He did not look Edd in the eyes but took his hand all the same. He said nothing as he turned Edd’s palm down and guided the fingers to the inside of his other wrist. Jon’s heart beat steady and strong if slow, as it had since that witch of Asshai had woken him up. Edd found himself nodding, his breathing going even. His face relaxed. He nearly smiled at the relief of a familiar frown falling back into place on his lips, but that would not do.
“I am glad you’re all right, Your Grace,” Edd said honestly. “I fear it would be a task far beyond even my knightly abilities to retrieve the Red Woman again, and I doubt your lords would take kindly to my negligence of duty. I much prefer all your blood inside your body, and my head to remain attached to my shoulders.”
Jon did not sleep like the dead, as Pyp had suggested once at the alehouse, well into his cups with laughter shining in his eyes. Grenn had tried to box his round reddened ears for that. No, Edd had not said, Jon slept like a wild animal.
Jon slept like he was always dreaming, and dreamt of running more often than not. He twitched and kicked and grunted and whined, and when he woke he did it with a growl caught low in his throat, wiping at his beard with the back of his hand for something warm, wet, and red that was not there. Edd thanked the Seven and the king’s northern Gods both that he had grown accustomed to these sorts of things in all his years at the Wall. Old Mormont may not have fought like a bear at the very end, but he had never stopped snoring like one.
That was not what he did now, which was frightfully close to what Pyp had suggested. Edd lay beside him. He was pale and still, with a stern countenance. And he was cold to the touch, but he was always cold.
Edd turned fully onto his side and continued to watch him, biting his tongue. He did not want to wake him if he truly was sleeping; the Gods only knew the king needed his sleep, but ungrounded fear and need to fill the silence inevitably won out.
“What are you doing?”
Jon opened one eye to look at him, unsmiling but amused. “Sleeping,” he said.
Edd silently let out the breath he had been holding. “Ah. Could have fooled me.”
“What does that mean?”
“You looked too still for sleep is all, Your Grace.”
“I would never,” Jon said. “Not while you still had some clever thing to say about it, Ser Eddison.”
“Then we might be here for a while yet. I offer my deepest apologies, m’lord,” he said, putting arms around him, “for keeping you from your eternal slumber.”
Jon only snorted and shook his head. He kissed Edd lightly and turned his back to him, settling further into the warmth of the furs. Edd pulled him closer. He flinched at the chill of his skin. “Bloody freezing feet.”
“What did you expect would come of sharing your furs with a dead man?” Jon jested, tangling their legs further, laughing through the last of his words at his own wit. It was a rare sound, and terribly contagious.
Dolorous Edd himself made it a general habit not to laugh; he had a reputation to uphold, after all. But if he had found it in his heart to permit one private smile, smothered quietly to death into the cool flesh of Jon’s shoulder, then that was his own business after all.