The Quiet Wolf
He smelled blood. The scent of prey was everywhere. It was the stench of battle that had once pervaded the Tower of Joy.
He dreamt of Winterfell, its crypts, the godswood, and the wolfswood. Ned Stark thought of Jon and the siblings they had both lost to the wars of the past.
I will not let any of them down. Ever. Ned had once promised before the weirwood in Winterfell. He had been a young boy then, six namedays old but already in love with his siblings.
Other gods demanded sacrifice and blood, death and pain, but not the Old Gods. They only asked for honour and justice. A vow taken before a weirwood was sacred, and whoever would break one was cursed in the eyes of the gods.
First, he had failed Brandon, then his father, and then Lyanna. The pack had not survived, it had died in the south, one by one. He had broken his vow.
When the war was done and he had travelled north from Riverrun, he had walked through the cold tundra of the north. He had waited for the wrath of the Old Gods then, to punish him for his broken vow.
A powerful snowstorm had swept over their camp one night and he had thought that it was the end.
Then he had woken up the next morning in his bed, beside his wife. The faint sunlight had dazed eyes and the wrath of the gods had never come.
In his dreams he saw every detail, every memory of his failures as clear as if they had been the day before. The mutilated bodies before the Iron Throne, the Trident, the Tower of Joy. The name, a mockery of the word.
But as the walls of Winterfell came into view, he awoke with a deep breath, his chest screaming.
His head was ringing. He felt a drumming in his skull like a war beat was pounding through his head.
Slowly, Ned Stark rose from his bed, taking in the view over King's Landing. The Tower of the Hand had crenelated battlements, a canopied bed, sconces on the walls, and rushes on the floor.
High, arched windows gave a good view of the grand Sept of Baelor.
He heard birds in the distance and the wind rustling through the trees as a breeze blew through the open window.
It was a mild day in King's Landing. The weather was cool yet not unpleasantly so. The smallfolk were already bustling in the streets below, the clangor of the streets of steel could be heard even from his own chambers atop the Tower of the Hand.
Lannister guards patrolled the battlements of the Red Keep. All of the two hundred Lannister household guards wore the same uniform; red wool cloaks, silver mail shirts over boiled leather and steel caps with line crests, as well as red and gold embroided surcoats and gold pommelled swords.
From this vantage point, Ned could see the entire city laid out beneath him like a map.
Every part of the city played a part, no matter how low or insignificant it seemed.
Without the slums of Flea Bottom and the desperate folk it produced, who would fight Robert's wars? Who would admire the high lords as they rode through the city?
There was the Street of Flour with its numerous bakeries. Without them, the Red Keep would have no bread. The forges burned hot in the Street of Steel. Without them Robert's armies would have no steel, no swords, and no armor.
Without the Street of Looms he would go naked, and without the Street of Silk he wouldn't enjoy going without them.
"M'lord," Jory said, as he finally exited his chamber and started the descent from the Tower of the Hand.
"Fetch my daughters for me," Ned told Poole who stood beside Jory. "We shall break our fast together.
Poole left to carry out his task as Ned climbed down the many stairs.
Lost in thought he remembered the fateful day, so many years ago. The faces of his friends as they rode with him. Proud Martyn Cassel, Jory's father. There was the grim, but loyal Theo Wull. Ethan Glover, who had been Brandon's squire. Ser Mark Ryswell, a kind, and soft man, yet a good fighter nonetheless. To Ned's right rode the crannogman Howland Reed and Lord Dustin on his great red stallion. His death cursed the relationship with his House for the next generation.
Once their faces had been clear, etched into his memory as hard as stone. But eventually, even the finest statues crumble. Now their faces were blurred, no more than grey wraiths on horses made of mist.
But not so for the Kingsguard. Unlike his companions, their faces were clear. Ser Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning, in the front with the pale blade of Dawn strapped to his back. Ser Oswell had stood to his left, sharpening his sword, with Ser Gerold, The White Bull and Lord Commander, between them.
Each of them had been deadly, but once they had exchanged words and blows they had died, taking five of Ned's companions with them to their graves.
He remembered the tower, the blood, the sweat, the heat.
And then he reached the bottom of the Tower of the Hand.
"Your daughters are already breaking their fast, m'lord," Vayon Poole told Ned, hurrying towards him from the Maidenvault, where Arya and Sansa were sitting. They were already quarrelling about something.
Once, King Baelor the Blessed had confined his sister-wife Daena and her younger sisters, Rhaena and Elaena, to this court of beauty to avoid them tempting him with carnal thoughts.
Now, the long keep served as little more than comfortable rooms to sleep and dine near the royal sept.
"Father!" Sansa called out, performing a perfect curtsy. Even Arya smiled widely, as the two of them paused their fight for a moment.
"Can I go riding today?" Arya asked Ned innocently, reminding him so much of Lyanna.
"It's not ladylike," Sansa interrupted before Ned could answer. "You should rather work to improve your needlework."
"I feel nauseous," Arya deadpanned at her sister, causing Sansa to raise her nose and look down at Arya.
"You can both do what you wish today," Ned said, earning a look of honest surprise from Arya. "I have to attend a Small Council meeting today."
"With these men who always say what a great pleasure it is to have you there?" Arya asked.
"They don't always say that," Ned replied, growing a slight smile.
"A great pleasure as always, Lord Stark," came the eunuch's melodic voice as Ned entered the Small Council chamber. As usual, the man reeked of perfumes and scented oils.
"Yes, I find myself agreeing with our good spider here," came said the man to his right. He was dressed in finery, a silver mockingbird pinned to his chest. Littlefinger. "Our good spider is always a leal servant to the realm."
"Just like you, Lord Baelish," Varys said, his voice never wavering. Varys performed a short bow before taking his seat on the right side of the long table.
Lord Renly was absent, the Master of Laws seemingly having chosen to preoccupy himself with other things than this duty.
They were quite a pair, Stannis and Renly. The iron gauntlet and the silk glove.
Stannis already sat silently in his chair, staring forward without making a sound. He had merely bowed when Ned had entered the chamber.
His face had a tightness to it like cured leather, his cheeks were hollow and his lips were pale and thin. Ned knew himself to not show emotions openly, but Stannis Baratheon seemed to be carved from stone.
Two Lannister guards flanked the entrance of the chamber as Grand Maester Pycelle finally entered the room and sat next to Stannis.
The Lannister officers wore engraved gold-tinted breastplates rather than mail. Their men were all better armed and clad than the gold cloaks, and they swaggered around as if they owned the place.
There are many more Lannister guards than those sworn Houses Stark or Baratheon, Ned noted. I will have to speak to Robert about this.
"What do we have for today's meeting?" Ned asked the men present.
Varys was about to start but Stannis spoke first.
"Janos Slynt," the middle Baratheon brother grumbled. "The man is a fool and a fiend."
"The Commander of the City Watch?" Ned asked, noting the expressions of the men in the room. Pycelle and Renly seemed unbothered, Varys was as unreadable as always, and Baelish seemed annoyed before smoothing over his expression.
"Janos Slynt has been a dutiful commander for many years, Lord Stannis," said Baelish. "He has done a good job keeping the king's peace in the city."
"He acts like a bandit and a thug," Stannis growled, grinding his teeth. "I have spoken to the Gold Cloaks. He has been cultivating corruption in the ranks for years. They antagonize the smallfolk, steal, rape, plunder, and blackmail all who resist. I will not have it."
"Have you told the king about these claims?" Ned intervened before Baelish could reply.
"The king," Stannis said, distaste clear in his voice. "Can't be bothered."
"Do you have evidence for your claims?" Ned pushed. "One cannot make baseless accusations against men in his position."
"I have," Stannis said coolly. "I brought a hundred guards with me from Dragonstone, they have been scouring the city during the last weeks. There is clear evidence of widespread corruption throughout the gold cloaks."
"Then have him detained," Ned nodded, "and present me the evidence on the morrow."
Stannis gave a firm nod, whereas Littlefinger seemed aggravated. "This seems unreasonable and unjustified to me," he stated. "How do we know those words to be the truth? They did a fine job during the Hand's tourney."
"If what Lord Stannis says is true, then Janos Slynt and his comrades have no place in the order of the Gold Cloaks. No matter what he may have done otherwise."
"One good deed, does not erase a bad one," Stannis affirmed.
Pycelle seemed bothered at this development, and Littlefinger glared daggers, though Stannis seemed unbothered.
Ned found it hard to imagine what could frighten Stannis Baratheon. Had had once held Storm's End through a year of siege, surviving on rats and boot leather while the Lords Tyrell and Redwyne sat outside with their hosts, banqueting in sight of his walls. What was a lord's glare compared to that?
"There are more pressing issues at hand," Lord Varys spoke up when the glaring had ended. "The Targaryen in the east."
"What of her?" Ned groaned. "We have had this discussion more than once by now. What news is there of Daenerys Targaryen?"
"Not Daenerys," said Varys, shaking his head. "Aegon."
The effect was immediate.
"Aegon?" Ned asked incredulously. "Impossible. He's dead. He's been dead for years."
Ned remembered the babe swaddled in a crimson cloak, the cloth stained with his blood and brains. Robert had laughed then.
"No." The eunuch's voice seemed deeper as he spoke the words. "He has been seen in the east, in Volantis, with Daenerys Targaryen."
"An imposter, no more, no less. Lord Tywin Lannister saw to that long ago."
"It may very well be true," Ned nodded, thinking of the body that had once laid before the Iron Throne. Ned had known Princess Rhaenys from the Tourney of Harrenhal.
She had been little more than a shadow, with haunted eyes, so like Ashara’s. He had seen her lie dead before the Throne a year later, but Aegon had been unrecognizable.
Twisted and mutilated, a horror of bone and brain and gore, with just a few pale strands of silver hair sprouting from his head. Lord Tywin had said that it was Prince Aegon, and with the body laid next to that of Princess Rhaenys no one had thought to question it.
"No one will believe him. Any fool from Lys can claim the name of the Conqueror, but to prove it?" Baelish said dismissively. "The realm will see him for what he is. An imposer."
"Aye, most will see him for a Usurper, but far from all. If the boy is who he claims to be, then he is the heir to the Throne."
"He can't be," Pycelle said, shaking his head. "He is likely no more than a puppet to his supposed aunt. A ploy, to challenge the unity of Westeros."
"But what if they were to be wed?" Varys sighed dramatically. "There is no man, who can challenge the blood of Daenerys Stormborn. Maybe our good Lord Baelish was right... she should have been taken care of a long time ago."
The suggestion behind the words were clear, and for the first time, Ned did not find himself arguing back.
"Perhaps. You want to send the Faceless Men again, I suppose?" Ned asked, his voice clearly showing his displeasure.
"What other way is there?" Lord Baelish asked slyly. "For all we know, there has not been an assassination attempt in over two years. She might have dropped her guard, if just a bit. If we have some sellsword drunk on visions of glory try to kill her, he'll fail and she will be better prepared the next time someone tries. But if we send a Faceless Man after her, she's as good as buried."
"Maybe the boy would be a better target," Stannis noted. "The Faceless Men charge by the rank and the security of the Target. The boy has not been declared king and he has no warlocks or legendary knights guarding him."
"You all want to send assassins. After two children?" Ned asked lowly, glaring at them intently. Only Varys and Stannis seemed unbothered.
"My brother has charged us to protect the realm from all threats. Inside and out," Stannis replied coolly, his blue eyes seeming to darken. I have a duty."
Stannis paused then, gazing around them. "We all have a duty. If we must sacrifice one child or another, to save the realm from another war, then we shall do just that. Sacrifice ... is never easy, Lord Stark. Or it is no true sacrifice."
"The boy is the better Target," Baelish spoke smoothly, smiling at them all, most notably at the Spider. "There will be no dragons going on a rampage once he dies, and the price will still be fairly low."
"I will take this matter to the king," Ned declared, keeping his voice strong and firm.
Jon's brother might yet live. And if Jon is still going east as promised, they might just meet.
"If you seek for him to spare the Targaryens, you do not know the king as well as I thought," Littlefinger jested, rising from the table, just as Ned did. "You have a better chance of convincing him to kill both."
Ned paused for a moment, considering the words. For all he hated it, the Lord of the Fingers was right. There was no chance that Robert would choose to spare any Targaryen, even Stannis had chosen to send assassins.
"Maybe the girl would still be the better target," Varys mused out loud. "When one purchases the services of the Faceless Men, a name is promised to their Many-Faced-God. If the boy is indeed an imposer... nothing happens."
"If the boy is a pretender, Daenerys' dragons would know," Grand Maester Pycelle stuttered. "I studied dragonlore with Prince Aemon at the Citadel, they are a reliable method to sense Valyrian blood."
"And men from Lys have the blood of the dragons," Stannis grunted.
"But not enough. Their Dragonblood is too diluted," Pycelle replied. "Only a Targaryen has enough Valyrian blood, or perhaps the Blackfyres. But they are long gone."
"But the-" Baelish started to speak, but Ned no longer listened as he left the Small Council chamber, closing the door behind him.
The Red Wolf
Sansa watched in awe as the knights fought in the training yard of the Red Keep. The Hand's tourney was approaching quickly and every knight worth the name was hoping to win the great prize.
Thrice her Lord Father had delayed the Hand's tourney, claiming multiple reasons, yet in the end the king had remained unmoved.
It was splendid. Where in the North the men had fought with brute strength and with plain swords and armor, here the world was silver.
The armor of a hundred knights glittered in the beaming sun, their horses cloaked in silver-golden cloths with the onlookers cheering in the stands.
The North had been vast and cold, the lords and ladies harsh and unyielding. Here, the high lords and ladies were beautiful and kind. Sansa had seen Lord Renly dressed in the most beautiful silk she had ever seen.
King Robert Baratheon himself stood in the middle of it all, with a massive Warhammer slung across his shoulder. His figure was toned and strong, giving him the appearance of a true warrior king. As she watched him Sansa wished, for a moment, that she was betrothed to him, instead of Joffrey.
But then she saw Joffrey and cursed herself for the thought. For a short while she had hated him for the incident on the Kingsroad. That night she had wept her eyes dry, but it had not been poor Joffrey's doing.
Now as she watched the training yard, she could almost still feel Lady nuzzling her hand, as delicate as a queen.
It was the queen who had given the order and father who had killed Lady. Arya had caused all of it. The prince had nothing to do with it, no, he was too kind and beautiful to hate.
He wore a deep blue doublet studded with a double row of golden lion’s heads, and around his brow a slim coronet made of gold and sapphires. His hair was as bright as the metal.
The queen was kind as well, and oh so very beautiful. A golden lioness in every way. A jewelled tiara gleamed in her long golden hair, its emeralds a perfect match for her eyes.
Jaime Lannister stood behind the king, his long white cloak fluttering in the wind and his armor shining gold from head to foot, with a lion's-head helm and a golden sword.
"Come boy!" the king's voice suddenly boomed over the training yard. Father had once told her that one needed to have a strong voice to reign over the battlefield. Maybe that had been why the king had won his crown?
The current ruler of the seven kingdoms was always loose-tongued and blunt, yet never cruel, always kind.
The king's own fool, the pie-faced simpleton called Moon Boy cackled loudly at that. He stood on the thin railings that ran along the training yard, dancing on it wildly, while mocking everyone with such deft cruelty that Sansa wondered if he was not so simple after all.
"I've been trying to get that golden shit to swing a hammer for ages!" a half-drunk Robert cried out, to the laughter of the crowd. "Look at your brother! What is a Baratheon without his hammer? Or even a sword."
Sansa gasped at the King's foul language, and even Septa Mordane frowned heavily beside her. Yet indeed, when Sansa turned to her right, she saw the young Tommen being taught by the Kingsguard Andrew Estermont. A cousin to the king, by his mother's side, and skilled with the Warhammer, he had been named to the Kingsguard not long ago.
He had been the replacement to the legendary Ser Barristan Selmy, though no man could fill the gap that he had left behind.
Again, Sansa shook herself for the thought. Ser Barristan was a traitor, who had abandoned the king and the White Cloak, to serve Daenerys Targaryen.
She was torn from her thoughts when she saw the queen and prince's demeanor change at the words of the king.
Poor Joff reddened at the slight to him, and as did the queen. How could the king humiliate his own son in such a way? Who could find fault in a beautiful creature like Joffrey?
Just then, her Lord Father joined them, approaching them at a quick pace. He wore his lordly face, cold and solemn, something was wrong. In private her father was always soft and good, the lordly face only came when there were problems.
The Quiet Wolf II
"Your Grace!" Ned called out to Robert Baratheon, causing both him and the queen to turn around. "A moment, please!"
"What's wrong, Ned?" the king laughed. "Got tired of the arselickers on the small council?"
He paused for a moment before asking "Are ye here to fight?" Robert laughed even louder. "Here to show these tourney knights how it's done? Like in the old days!"
The reactions were equally affronted and eager, as Ned tried to get out of the situation without drawing steel.
"This is important, Robert," he urged. "We are no longer the boys we once were."
"You were never much of a boy, Ned," came the quick retort.
"WINE!" he yelled at Lancel Lannister without missing a beat, before taking a long sip. "Jon Arryn and your damned sense of honor saw to that."
Ned had known Robert for long enough, to know he was drunk, but even the Lord of Winterfell's iron patience was wearing thin.
"Robert..." he started again, only to be interrupted.
"Remember back in the Eyrie, Ned?" Robert asked, thankfully a bit quieter, yet still loud enough for at least a dozen men to hear. "Never even flirting with the fairest maidens. Remember the one I had, ahh... what was her name again? The one with the long black hair? Mya Stone... her sister liked you, you know, but ya were to stuck up with your honor."
"This is important Robert, there is a..."
"Maybe Baelish has a few good whores? A man has his needs Ned, Damn it, no woman wants Baelor the Blessed in her bed."
Finally, Ned's patience was at an end. "There is a possibiliy… that Aegon Targaryen is still alive," he said, and he knew when Robert looked at him, the king knew he was not joking.
A second later, Ned regretted it. I shouldn’t have spoken so freely in the open, Ned cursed himself. It had been too loud, too risky to speak of such matters in front of a hundred onlookers.
In a moment he was entirely sober again. His eyes widening first before narrowing into thin slits.
"You're jesting," he stated disbelievingly, searching Ned's face for any sign of deceit. "You have to be."
"I am not," Ned replied under his breath, already whispers were rippling through the crowd. "The Spider just received word from across the Narrow Sea."
Ned would have expected Robert to shout and scream, to rage and smash skulls, but the king remained deadly silent.
Finally, he picked up the Warhammer that laid on the ground beside him. It was still the same he had wielded during the Rebellion. The old smith of Storm's End, Donal Noye had forged it, and it had persevered all these years.
"This means war, Ned."
"Ramsay!" Jon called out, as he left the Red Temple. "Where are you?"
No voice rose to answer him. "Frost! Ghost!"
It was late in the evening by now, and the sun was setting in the west. The streets of Braavos were oddly quiet this night, and only faint sounds could be heard from the center of the city.
"Ramsay?" Jon asked twice more until finally, he heard Ramsay's voice.
"Bloody red witch," the Bolton bastard cursed loudly, as he stumbled out of the temple, the direwolves following not far behind him. Their snouts were bloody, their teeth dripping with blood.
In his right arm Ramsay clutched an iron dagger. The hilt and small crossguard were crudely forged yet the blade was thin and sharp. And now, blood-red.
Just whose blood is it?
From afar, Ramsay had seemed unhurt, yet as he moved closer Jon noticed a slash across his back and two across the side of his left arm.
The cuts were odd. Jon had seen cuts before, deep gashes that cut open entire limbs, and they had always bled profusely. Ramsay's wounds, however, seemed cauterized.
The flesh inside the thankfully shallow gashes was pink and burned. Where usually blood would leak from the wound, the flesh had merged back together.
"What happened?" Jon hastily inquired, as the Direwolves snarled at the darkness of the temple.
Ramsay did not have a chance to reply, as a bolt of light flared in the dark temple. Jon could barely make out three distant silhouettes, around a hundred feet away. And in their hands, flaming swords.
"They wanted my blood," Ramsay grumbled as he stumbled forward. It took a moment for him to regain his footing, and a moment later three of the temple guards were before them. "Muttered some mad shit about the Red Kings."
Wild and hot flames licked their swords, yet they were not bright enough to light the men's faces. At least, Jon assumed they were men. They wore long hoods obscuring their features.
"Through the command of High Priestess Yakara, the Lord of Light bids you to halt," the front figure spoke in the common tongue, the voice masculine. The flames grew higher and stronger, as the man raised his flaming sword. "You are touched by the Great Other and are to be taken into custody."
The man's voice rang with the Braavosi accent, the words flowing into each other.
The two other figures drew their flaming swords, though they burned less brightly.
It was a quick decision. There were just three figures before them now, but the temple was right next to them and reinforcements would arrive quickly.
Fight or flight. And a second later, he began to run. The Direwolves followed quickly, easily surpassing him, while Ramsay followed just two feet behind.
There was no stealth. They would need subtlety to lose them, but for now all Jon wanted was distance.
His long leather and bearskin cloak fluttered behind him as the two of them ran and ran, it did not take long for sweat to pour down Jon's temples.
Their pursuers had extinguished their flaming swords, becoming no more than shadows in the night. Only the sound of their steps let Jon know that they were still behind them.
The city seemed dead as they ran, the streets deserted.
In the distance Jon could see the lagoon of Braavos stretch out, around a league away.
"To the harbor," he said, taking a second to gasp for breath, Ramsay doing the same.
"And what then?"
"They won't kill us in the middle of a crowd," Jon returned, though he was not entirely convinced himself.
There was little time to argue, as once again, the footsteps grew closer and closer.
In the distance, light flared as shouts rang through the streets.
Without missing a beat, they continued running, the Direwolves shadowing them from the dark alleyways to their sides. The predators of the far north were near invisible in the darkness, beyond the occasional glimmer of moonlight on their teeth.
They ran past the Temple of the Moonsingers, the Drowned Town, and the Iron Bank. Finally, they passed beneath the dangling corpse, the first law of Braavos etched into the stone wall beside them.
The lagoon laid before them, the main port just a few hundred feet to their right.
"I think we lost them," Jon said after a short pause, leaning against the wall of laws, to regain his lost stamina. To their right rose a tall tower, overlooking the entire lagoon.
"Bloody witches," Ramsay croaked, being not quite as fit as Jon. "I hate magic."
"Do you think it's actually magic?" Jon mused out loud. "It might just be fancy tricks."
"It's real," Ramsay said, shaking his head. "The witch knew my mother's name... Jara Snow," he whispered.
"She knows her name, and you believe it's magic?"
"I didn't know it."
Jon did not think of it any further, as suddenly a voice rang through the night, as cold as the touch of the White Walkers. A dozen pitch-black blades lit up with orange flames just a few feet away from them.
Before them was water, to their left and right were the men, and now Jon could hear the thumping of foot-steps behind him.
"Yield. You are surrounded."
To flee had been a mistake, Jon cursed himself. He had been confident that he could run from them, reach the harbor and lose them in the middle of the hundreds of ships, yet the warriors of the Lord of Light knew the city better than he did.
In a fluent motion, Jon drew his sword from its sheath, the blade of Orphan-Maker whistling as it cut through the soft breeze.
Behind him, Ramsay drew his own daggers. Two sharp knives, long, thin and sharp – the blades of a torturer.
How many men and women have felt this blade cut through their flesh? Jon wondered for a moment. At times Ramsay seemed normal and calm, just another person. But at other times, there was certain, most of the times hidden, savage glint in his eyes that screamed of madness.
He hadn’t often seen this glint, but now it was back. It's bloodlust, Jon knew then.
The silhouettes around them did not visibly react. Instead, with barely a moment's notice, a sharp blade sliced down, only barely missing Ramsay's torso.
Quickly, the Bolton Bastard repaid the attacker with a dozen cuts to the arm. With the last strike the blade barely slid under the skin, peeling off the uppermost layer of skin. Still, the bastard of Bolton lost two fingers to the attacker’s blade, as the dying men blindly attacked in a whirlwind of strikes, before falling the ground.
"We need them alive," the leader who had spoken earlier ordered.
Two men were taken entirely off guard as the direwolves sprang from the shadows of the streets.
Men fell in a matter of seconds but the flaming blades quickly drove the wolves back into the darkness.
Jon cut one of the attackers in two when he moved to engage but the distraction was enough.
He felt the stab of a blade against his back. A knife. Not even the greatest swordsmen could fend off enemies from all sides, and Jon was not the greatest swordsman.
The small blade didn’t pierce the thin chainmail he wore beneath his clothes, but it hurt like crazy nonetheless.
Jon spun and slammed the hilt of his sword into the figure's face.
He heard the sound of bones cracking and blood pouring as the figure stumbled backward.
Ramsay still fought with everything he had, biting and scratching, attacking with blind rage and hate.
That came to an end when two spears pierced through his leg, their tips glowing with heat.
Jon was about to attack the spear-wielders before he found himself with a hissing blade, not an inch from his throat.
Two more men fell to the Direwolves, but against flaming swords the northern predators shied back.
"Not a move," came the slow command, as a black cloaked man picked himself up from the ground. It was the leader, the one who had just now received a bloody nose. "The High Priestess ordered us to take you alive, but mistakes happen."
The man moved closer to Jon, though the blade on his throat did not move.
"You've been quite an annoyance, Jaehaerys," he muttered, and Jon noticed the dark red robes beneath the black ones.
"Trying my best," Jon replied, spitting into the man's square face.
For a moment, he froze, before wiping off the salvia on his face, and the robes.
"Yakara likely only wants your blood anyways," he muttered, taking his flaming blade from the ground. "Kill them both," he commanded the men.
Nine men laid bleeding on the ground, their dying bodies turning into corpses. They weren't completely gone, but they were scrambled and in pain, and if they did not die today, they would bear the marks forever.
Ramsay was still fighting, slashing at everything that approached him.
Jon could feel the heat radiate from the dagger beneath his chin.
He could feel the phantom sensation of Frost's paws beneath him.
Is this how it ends?
He was surrounded in a foreign city, with foreign men. Nowhere to run. Trapped.
The sky cracked.
And Jon felt the hand next to his throat twitch.
"What do we say to the god of death?" A voice suddenly asked behind him, causing the figure holding the dagger to spin around.
There, cloaked in the same hoods as all the other men, stood a kindly old man. In his hands, a quarterstaff.
Three thunks and the figure behind Jon was laying on the ground, clutching the parts of its body, where the quarterstaff had hit,
Jon's vision blurred, as the man swept effortlessly through half a dozen trained warriors.
Flaming swords clattered against his quarterstaff, but the old man parried every single strike.
The staff moved as quickly as the fastest cats, leaving only the hiss of air in its wake.
When, a minute later, Jon rose, the kindly man was the only one who stood.
Ramsay was still wildly stabbing everything around him, the sharp knives hacking through flesh and bones.
The lower end of the quarterstaff twisted upwards and with a distinct thonk, Ramsay too fell to the ground.
"Who... are you?" Jon croaked, as he pushed himself to his feet. Six men had fallen to the Direwolves, who now feasted on their flesh.
"Your story does not end today, Jon Snow," the kindly man spoke softly, and suddenly Jon recognized his face again. He had seen it not long ago.
"He has to stop. He will do it again," the man spoke. "Your song is not yet finished."
Suddenly Jon heard a soft moan, as the small figure of the person who had fallen first to the kindly man tried to rise from the ground.
Pulling the hood from the person's face, Jon recoiled as he saw a young woman.
"Her name is marked by Him of Many Faces," the man spoke, tilting his head. "But the god of death is already appeased with tonight's death. Her name is marked, but the time is not certain. She may live another decade or two. Slay her, or spare her. The choice is yours."
Jon remembered the lessons with Lord Stark and Maester Luwin, learning about their ideas and his uncle's code of honor.
Spare the women and children, Lord Stark had said. There is no honor to be found, in killing a defenseless woman.
But this woman was not defenseless. Jon had felt the heat of her dagger just a minute ago, and he could already feel burns starting to form around his neck.
"My children..." the woman stammered, and for a moment Jon halted his blade.
"She lies poorly," the kindly man stated, and Jon knew his choice. “The game of faces is not for her.”
Forgive me, father, he thought.
And in his hand a dagger flashed.