To Lady Stark's dismay, his name was her first word. She was stumbling along as she took her first uncertain steps. Father watching her with a smile and encouraging her to take a few more. She could do it. Ned’s wolf-blooded child. It was then she spotted Jon & squealed his name. She was his to protect the day Father placed his favourite child in Jon’s arms and his to revere from the day she took his name for her first word. It only made sense that his last thoughts were a memory of her and his first words when he arose “I want my bride back.”
When he rose he took the heads of all those who wielded daggers in the dark. Those who sought to hold him back from her. Didn’t they know she’d always been his to protect? He failed her when he left for the Wall but what place did that boy of fourteen have in a castle whose warmth went to King’s Landing?
He realised his mistake too late but he was about to correct it when they took his life. It was almost the story of his life. He wanted to march with Robb for Father the first time but his brothers had stopped him. He couldn’t avenge Robb when the free folk posed such a threat. For her though, it seemed as if all aligned. After agonising debates with himself he’d finally decided he’d march to get her back. He even had a just cause to do so. After all the Bolton bastard had threatened the Night’s Watch. For all concerned Jon could say he was protecting the Night’s Watch from a threat even if in his heart of hearts he knew he was marching for the one who held it. It’s not like he fooled anyone anyway. Everyone saw how Stannis held his favour even though the Night’s Watch was supposed to play no part in the politics of the realm. How he’d sent two kings to save his sister and made bonds between enemies of centuries to ease his task.
How could they understand what she meant to him? They had no idea how memories of her laughter kept him warm and how it was her he found in every object of his affections.Ygritte with her skinny body & stubborn ways, Val with her hunger to live her own way and even Winter’s lady, his kin, Alys who’d left an unhappy betrothal to flee to him. The grey girl on the dying horse he’d hoped was the heart he’d left behind the day he set out with Uncle Benjen. He found her in the wildflowers of the True North, in his easy friendship with Sam, in Pyp’s love of mummery, in Grenn’s steadfastness and in Edd’s humour.
He marched with the men of the free folk and the remainder of Stannis’ men at the wall. The men declared him The Prince that was Promised after the Red Woman had burnt the gentle princess to aid his resurrection. When news got to Jon about what the Red Woman had done, she fled Castle Black in the darkness of night before she could face his wrath. He was told the Queen Selyse Baratheon died of grief for the daughter she pretended she didn’t love.
When stronger men might have died from impassable roads and succumbed to worsening weather Jon Snow had a goal and nothing could stop him. Though the weather slowed him, as he progressed, more men joined him. At The Gift he was joined by men of the First Flints determined to march for the blood of Arya Flint. He also came across cousins of Brandon the Younger of Clan Norrey, men who didn’t join the first batch who marched with Stannis to Winterfell. As he passed Queenscrown old men from the Wulls who lived along the Bay of Ice joined him. They wanted to spend one last hurrah before winter for The Ned’s girl. Along the way the Burleys, Harclays, Liddles and Knotts sent more men to join him. The champions carried their two-handed greatswords while others were armed with axes. Armoured against the weather and for battle with ragged skins and studded leathers. Those of lesser means carried only their sling stones and staffs made of mountain ash. Harsh men of the mountains who rallied in loyalty to the man who always honoured them. “ Know the men who follow you ” he once heard him say “ and let them know you. Don’t ask your men to die for a stranger. ” Even after his death these men were willing to die for their remaining tie to him: Arya. The girl who’d sit at Lord Eddard Stark’s side when Northern lords and their men came to Winterfell. Some of the men recalled how she’d sit on the benches with them listening to their stories and telling some of her own. Others told him of how she’d invented names for their children. Some of the younger boys even recalled playing monsters-and-maidens and come-into-my-castle with her as children. They marched not only because she was Valiant Ned’s precious little girl but because she was the North’s daughter as well. The girl of the friendly smiles, quick wit, and big heart.
At Winterfell, King Stannis won the Battle of Ice and managed to take Winterfell back with the Northern army at his back. Unfortunately, he succumbed to his wounds not long after. While thankful for his efforts Jon didn’t have time to sit by a dying king’s side, not when there was a chance his heart was in the castle. No. Jon ran through the Great Keep heart slamming against his chest. Doors crashing against walls as he screamed her name, hoping he’d find her in her old room or his or in the old cellars with the narrow windows beneath the Great Keep itself. The cellars where they’d sneak away and he’d tell her stories of the Targaryens of old and regale her with tales of the Long Night and the Age of Heroes; stories he’d heard from Old Nan when he was her age. She’d always be wide-eyed in wonder and even though he was sure Old Nan could tell the better story, he wanted to save those looks of marvel for himself. She always looked at him like he’d hung the moon and would always stand up for him when he doubted his place. He remembered the time Robb reminded him that a bastard could never be Lord of Winterfell. When Arya heard what happened she didn’t speak to Robb for 2 whole weeks. Not even when Robb would steal blueberry tarts from the kitchen in apology. And not even when she saw Jon and Robb playing together as brothers again. She only relented when Jon begged her to forgive their brother reminding her they were a pack who even when they fought had to stand together always. It was the lesson Father taught him and Robb when he heard of the incident.
If only Jon waited before he stormed into the castle he’d have known Stannis’ men had found the Lady of Winterfell in the company of Theon Greyjoy. Only it was Jeyne Poole they found with her brown eyes, mousy face and frost-bitten nose. Theon was even more of a shock to him. With his missing teeth, hobbled walk and lost fingers he looked 40 years Jon’s senior rather than the five he truly was. He’d never felt more desolate than the day they presented Jeyne Poole to him as his sister. Didn’t they know Arya had grey eyes? How could they mistake her for the girl who’d bullied her endlessly? He remembered how she used to neigh when Arya walked past and how he once found Arya hiding her tears from the world by the heart tree. It was he who held her and reminded her that Jeyne was probably jealous that everyone who knew Aunt Lyanna said Arya looked like her. Who’d ever start a war for Jeyne? He laughed bitterly when he realised he had. Even when a war was fought for Jeyne, the men marched for Arya, he recalled. He wasn’t laughing when he found Jeyne though. He launched into a tirade that circled back to one question: how dare you impersonate the girl whose life you’d made a hell? While all in the hall were cowed by the tongue lashing he gave the frightened girl, it was Tormund who pulled him away. When he calmed down he realised just how broken Jeyne was. She told him of the attack on the Stark household in King’s Landing. How only she and Sansa survived. How Sansa was married to the Imp and how Jeyne was sold into service in a brothel. It was the Lannisters who forced her to pose as Arya so they could secure the North. “Arya’s probably dead,” she stammered, “No one made it out alive but Sansa and I.” Jon saw the girl was too distraught to fully answer his questions so he asked Alys Thenn to look after her affairs. After the death of Arnolf Karstark and his faction at the hands of King Stannis, she was the new lady of Karhold and took Jeyne with her shortly after.
Jon replaced his grief with the surer feeling of anger. At least he could do something with that. He started with the bastard who dared to take Arya for himself. He gave him a trial, though no one doubted his monstrosity. It was what Father would have done. In any case, Jon knew he’d find him guilty anyway. Once the trial was over Jon took the hand that wrote the Pink Letter and took Ramsay Bolton’s head as well without remorse. If only his death could cool the fire that burnt in Jon’s heart. The Northern lords demanded the death of Theon Greyjoy as well. Though the man had been broken beyond repair and Jon held hatred in his heart for the man who betrayed his family, Jeyne told him about how Rickon and Bran escaped. Still, he had to swing the sword if only for his lords. He allowed Asha Greyjoy to see to her brother’s funeral rites and allowed the Mormonts to keep her hostage until he decided what to do with her.
He then marched for the Dreadfort. While Ramsay killed his own father after the latter had threatened to disinherit him, Bolton retainers remained at the Dreadfort with the prisoners they took from the sack of Winterfell. Taking back the Dreadfort was easier than he thought. With the Northern army at his back, the men inside surrendered while others fled. Once inside he was appalled at what the Boltons had done to the prisoners. In one room he found cloaks of skin hanging everywhere. By the kennels he found a small room full of women and ordered them released, given food and baths. It was there he heard someone gasp, “Jon Snow is that you?” The voice belonged to Beth Cassel, of an age with Arya; she was a friend of Sansa’s. Lying with her head on Beth’s lap was an old woman. Old Nan. Dying in that place of dread. Jon held her hand as she breathed her last and carried her to a cart himself. He buried her body in the lichyard by the First Keep, not too far from where he saw Jory Cassel was buried. He allowed himself to cry that day. To cry for the boy he’d been when he’d sat at her feet with Robb and Bran and Arya. He cried for the gentle crone who was the closest thing he had to a mother, even if he was hesitant to admit it to himself before and he cried for the loss of his last link to the summer of his life; when he had a brother for a best friend and a rival, a stalwart girl who he loved above all else for a sister and two boys who took him for a hero for little brothers. He even thought of the sister who loved songs of princes and knights that day.
After Stannis’ death, the lords of the North swore fealty to him as their King. Lord Manderly told him of his efforts to find Rickon and Ser Davos gave him more details upon his return. Maege Mormont brought back Robb’s Will which legitimised him, disinherited Sansa on account of her marriage and declared Jon Robb’s heir if Arya was never found. Jon came to learn that the Northerners were playing a game of their own. Some knew of Robb’s will before Stannis’ march on Winterfell and the Northerners had joined him knowing the battle would weaken both Stannis and the Boltons. Making easy work of whoever was the victor. Revealing Jon as Robb’s heir before that would have put Jon‘s life at risk. They kept it secret until they had the advantage to declare him King.
Lady Mormont was followed shortly after by Lord Howland Reed of Greywater Watch and a band of outlaws calling themselves the Brotherhood without Banners. Lord Howland related the story of the men who’d been following a fire wight called Lady Stoneheart brought back from death by a red priest. Lord Howland reported how she was the corpse of Lady Catelyn Tully Stark but had lost all the warmth that made up the woman. Harwin, the son of Hullen, was one of the men. He told Jon himself about how she’d been attacked by an army of wolves when she was about to hang a squire where the Riverlands met the Neck. She’d been leading her men around the Riverlands in revenge for the Red Wedding and searching for Arya to give her Robb’s crown. She was making her way to Winterfell and after her death, the men continued onwards to that destination. Not necessarily because of loyalty to her but because their priest Thoros of Myr had seen a threat to the Wall in the fire: one they had to fight alongside The Prince that was Promised.
If only Lord Howland’s visit brought these men alone. Instead, he shook the foundations of Jon’s world, providing proof that Jon was the trueborn son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark. A child named Aemon Targaryen by his parents and hidden by Eddard Stark in a promise to his sister. Despite the anguishing questions in his heart like why did Father let me join the Night’s Watch? Why did he let Lady Stark take out her anger on me? Jon enjoyed learning about the mother he never knew. The mother whose face he used to spend so much time imagining. His mother was as kind and noble in Lord Howland's stories as she was in the dreams Jon had been having since his childhood. He only wished Arya was here to learn about the aunt she was often compared to. Jon was sure Arya would want to know who his mother was. She was the only other person who knew how much he wanted to know.
Lord Howland told him how Lyanna Stark fought against squires who were bullying the young Crannogman and even entered the lists as a mystery knight. She reminded him so much of the girl of his childhood who he’d played sticks with. The one who stood up for anyone who was wronged. That girl, who like his mother, managed to combine the girly love of flowers with less ladylike activities. What happened to you, little sister? Except she wasn’t his sister was she? She was his cousin. He didn’t know how to feel about this change. She’d always been the closest person to him but the news also alleviated some of the guilt he felt about the less brotherly feelings he’d been having for her after his death. He spent his days yearning for her and at night his dreams were filled with her. Images of what he thought she might look like now. Could he take her for a bride? I want my bride back. I want my bride back. I want my bride back.
The news of his Targaryen heritage discomforted some of the Northern lords but he was the only one with Stark blood they had to turn to. No one found Rickon, Lord Howland told him his children had joined Bran but no one had heard from them either and the last news anyone had of Sansa was that she was wanted for killing a king. In any case she was disinherited. And his Arya was lost to them for good. Where are you, little sister?
It was Harwin who told him how they’d found Arya Underfoot in the Riverlands with the sullen blacksmith who came to Winterfell with them. She’d been leading two boys around the Riverlands determined to make it home. That sounded just like Arya. She would lead Bran around Winterfell on one quest or another and sometimes she would persuade Jon to join her. Usually it was to find some new type of flower or other. She would gift them to father and sometimes to him. One time she even managed to convince all the children in Winter Town to help her find the dragon that she heard keeps Winterfell warm before Lady Stark stopped that scheme.
Anguy the Archer told him about how the little girl with the gracious heart had taught grown men the importance of mercy when she gave water to Karstark men guilty of crimes warranting death. That would have been a lesson she learned from Father who taught his children justice and vengeance were different things.
Lem Lemoncloak related how she’d broken his nose and Jon couldn’t help but smile at the girl he knew would have fought the Bolton bastard to her death.
It took longer for the Blacksmith to speak to him though but when he did Jon saw how there was at least one other person in this world who missed Arya the way he did. Whenever the boy spoke of her, he’d speak of how he failed her. How he wished he’d have gone with her as she wanted. Chances are they would have died together but “Dying with her would be better than never knowing what happened to her,” he bemoaned. A feeling Jon knew all too well. The boy also recounted how the first time he met her she was threatening bigger boys with Needle and how distraught she was when she lost the sword. Gendry also spoke about how much Arya loved to talk about Jon and how she would tell anyone who would listen how much she loved that brother of hers. As much as hearing about Arya made Jon overjoyed. He held back from expressing how much he loved her too. It was too somber a feeling to think of all his happy times with her when he hadn't even given himself a chance to mourn her yet. Another reason was that her love for him and his love for her was only for them. They spent their happiest moments with each other and Jon didn’t want to let anyone else share in those with him.
The Northern lords began presenting their daughters to him to take for a bride. He’d politely decline assuring them that he’d take a wife one day but he had to prepare for winter now. Where are you, little sister? I want my bride back.
News from the Wall and from the ranging party he sent to Hardhome before his death helped him in this respect. He was told of a slaughter by the Shivering Sea where men were attacked by the Others with whole families lost. The injuries to the survivors and the reports of the Night’s Watch convinced many of the Northern lords of the true threat they faced to the North. Jon sent the Brotherhood to the wall along with prisoners from the Dreadfort and those still held at Winterfell.
With Donal Noye’s death, the Watch would need a blacksmith to fashion weapons for them and Gendry was good at his trade. When Jon asked him to join the men going to the wall he joked that he’d been bound for the Wall with a boy named Arry anyway. Anguy on the other hand simply laughed about this being the second time a Stark asked for his service. Even if this Stark was a Targaryen. Anguy had won the archery competition at the Hand’s Tourney while Lord Eddard Stark was still alive and Ned Stark had offered him a place in his guards. Young and ten thousand gold dragons richer than he had been at the start of the tourney Anguy refused. Although he was sure to express just how much he regretted that decision a few short - full of fun- months later when he joined the Brotherhood. Penniless. “The little lady was less than impressed with the Brotherhood’s handle on finances. Or lack thereof, I suppose,” Thoros guffawed between sips of rum from his seemingly bottomless wineskin. Thoros himself had won twenty thousand gold dragons at the same Tourney when he won the melee and had nothing to show for it either. Jon wasn’t surprised at Arya’s repulsion at their handling of coin, she was always good at sums and managing a household. It was something she learned both from their lessons with Maester Luwin and from all the time she spent around the small folk whose company she liked so much. Sometimes the small folk around Winter Town would joke about how Lord Stark’s daughter, their Arya Underfoot, could haggle like a fishwife. Another thing she learned from them. Jon found himself reflecting on the fact that her love for the small folk had helped her survive during the war longer than anyone expected from a daughter of a Lord Paramount and Hand of the King. Did you make it out of the war alive little sister?
Jon wrote to every one of the Great Houses of Westeros about the threat to the North, including the new King in the South. He also wrote to the Dragon Queen who landed in Dragonstone with foreign armies, 3 dragons, and Tyrion Lannister of all people. The Targaryen King dismissed him as a would-be-usurper, a false prince, and a stain on his father’s honour. While the Dornish had regard for Lord Eddard Stark, a son of Lyanna Stark with Rhaegar was a further insult to Elia Martell’s memory. Rhaegar left Elia at the mercy of the Mad King and then to the dogs of Tywin Lannister while Jon and his mother were protected by the best of the Kingsguard. The Freys, the new rulers of the Riverlands, only sent him insults in return; the Lords of the Westerlands, the Reach, and the Ironborn never responded. The Knights of the Vale came themselves with Sansa to his surprise. She’d been hiding in the Vale since the death of Joffrey and assured all who’d listen that she hadn’t killed the boy although no one would blame her if she did.
The Dragon Queen answered as well. She flew to Winterfell with her dragons and Tyrion Lannister and declared that she’d fight for the North if they recognised her as their queen and helped her defeat the false king in the South. She even promised to take Jon as her heir. While he was ahead of her in the line of succession she argued that he could step aside and allow her to take the seat of her father. "Why should a grandson come before a daughter or a son before a sister?" were her exact words. Although Dorne had sided with the Dornish Queen and held the Dragon Queen responsible for the death of Prince Quentyn Martell, she supposed they had the right of it on the matter of women's rights if nothing else. Jon kept quiet about the fact that the rules of inheritance in Dorne were about the order of birth as Maester Luwin once taught him. Jon was older, and in any case the son of the crown prince, so would still be ahead of her in the line of succession. Still, he thought Arya might like this queen who thought the woman was important too. While Jon looked on somewhat amused at this queen from the tales Arya loved so much, the Dragon continued her speech. If the North refused to recognise her as queen she promised Fire and Blood for all who defied her. The Northern lords who held everything Southron with disdain relented quicker than one might expect. With three dragons and 2 armies at her back, a mountain of Dragon glass in her castle, and a betrothal to the new Lord of Highgarden with all his wealth and supplies she was their best chance at survival. Like Torrhen Stark before him Jon bent the knee to a Targaryen with dragons to save his people. Unlike Torrhen however, Jon did so with the full support of all his people who knew what was at stake.
Together the disparate armies of Westeros and the Dragon Queen's armies from Essos fought the army of the dead and together they won. They were joined by Children of the Forest. He didn’t fully understand them but was grateful for their help. At the Wall they were also joined by an army of wolves led by a great big direwolf with golden eyes. Nymeria. Where are you, little sister? Look your wolf is with me and belongs with Ghost now. Your place is with me. I want my bride back.
The first time he rode a dragon he wished the one he longed for was by his side. She loved the dragon-riders of old and he wished in that moment she could be the Visenya she loved to his Aegon even if she was the Queen Rhaenys of his heart. Instead, she remained his Princess Rhaenys whose memory he kept alive. His name-sake’s daughter and the queen that never was.
Gendry lamented that Arya was lost to them at the Red Wedding, and Brienne, a companion of Sansa’s, was sure she died at the massacre at Saltpans but The Hound, who followed Sansa around like a shadow, was sure the wolf-bitch would survive. She’d taken his coin and was determined to get to the Wall after all. What happened to you, little sister? I thought our different roads would lead to the same castle.
When Queen Daenerys took King’s Landing she killed the King she had named Blackfyre but let his queen live and return to her homeland to take her place as their ruling princess after her father’s death. Queen Daenerys herself married Lord Willas Tyrell of the Reach and subdued the remaining rebels in the Westerlands and defeated Euron Greyjoy and the Ironborn who followed him. The Stormlords had supported Aegon but Dany, as she asked her only living family member to call her, secured their loyalty by keeping the legitimised Edric Storm, a son of their beloved Baratheon over-lords, as their liege. It was the least she could do. The people seemed to like Aegon. The son of Rhaegar forgiving and accepting the son of Robert was seen as an action that would define Aegon as a man who sought to heal and unite. If Daenerys wanted to be taken seriously, she could not undo that action. She was already seen as a foreign invader and usurper by many so she could only build upon the sentiment behind Aegon's actions. She went on to legitimise all of Robert’s known bastards. Her only claim against Aegon was that he was a Blackfyre pretender - a threat to the realm.
She was determined to secure the Riverlands next. Jon knew there was political gain in freeing Edmure Tully from the Freys. Jon didn’t know Edmure but he liked Edmure's uncle, The Blackfish- a gruff man who was as cutting as he was honest. Still, Jon pushed for them to attack The Twins to avenge Robb, free the Northern lords taken hostage at the Red Wedding, and to teach a lesson to the up-start lord that dared to secure his heart for a son who was never worthy. The Freys loved to boast that they’d held the crossing at the Green Fork for 600 years but what could they do against dragons and a Queen who promised Jon she wouldn’t accept surrender without slaughter? A gift to him and all those who’d lost loved ones at the Red Wedding. Jon wanted to burn Walder Frey and his gaggle of sons but the man who passes the sentence should swing the sword . While he was the dragon’s son, the blood of the First Men flowed through his veins so he kept to the Old Way like his true father before him and his before him.
Queen Daenerys granted The Twins to Olyvar Frey, a boy who once served as Robb’s squire and remained loyal to his cause. After the trials Jon spent half a day taking head after head after head. He saved Walder Frey for last. He wanted him to watch his legacy turn to a river of blood first. The Hound had told him how he saved Arya’s life at the Red Wedding but not before she saw what they did to her brother and his men. He had to exact the same revenge on the Frey lord for the actions he made Arya witness. Where are you, little sister?
After the wars, the demands of marriage started once more. This time his lords were joined by his aunt who insisted the continuation of the Targaryen line would depend on him. She was once told that she would never have a child and while a red priestess insisted she’d have children of her own she did not want to leave the fate of House Targaryen to luck.
While each lord brought his daughter, some from even as far as the Reach and the Dornish Marshes, his queen and aunt suggested he look closer to home, at Sansa. Marrying Sansa would serve a number of purposes. It’d tie three kingdoms to the Crown his aunt loved so much, protect Sansa after the death of her husband from all the lords that circled her with marriage demands like crows after a battle and it would placate his own.
Although the Northern lords initially derided her as a Lannister, even they had to accept a child of their beloved Ned was the best choice of bride he had. After all, everyone knew there must always be a Stark in Winterfell. He’d do what he could to stand by the last of his true family. Even if she’d never been his favourite growing up. She tried to make up for the distance between them in childhood in his greatest hour of need. It was Sansa who brought the Knights of the Vale to his side when he sought allies in the fight against the dead and Sansa who exposed Lord Petyr Baelish’s scheme to overthrow him and place her in his place. When she heard of Tyrion Lannister’s death in the taking of King’s Landing, it was Sansa who married the new Lord of the Eyrie to keep the Vale tied to House Stark and her who secured supplies for the mountain clans that rallied for Valiant Ned's precious little girl. Perhaps they could one day become true friends even if she’d never have the heart that stopped and beat again for a feisty girl whose love in his heart burned hotter than any dragon fire and blew out, like the coldest wind, the prospect of him loving another. Sansa was his family and he’d protect her the best way he could even if they both knew she’d be happier marrying the half-burnt sworn sword she truly loved
That’s how he found himself walking around the Inner Castle with Nymeria and Ghost by his side; greeting guests for a wedding feast he had no real appetite for. Arya was gone, lost to him forever it seemed, and all he had to remember her by were fading memories. It had been eight years since he last saw her. Soon, he would have spent longer without her than he had with her. The thought made Jon’s heart heavy. What was it about different roads I once said to her? That day when her tears threatened to overflow and I walked out before I could join her?
Earlier that day he returned from a week-long visit to Alys, Sigorn and their son Harrion at Karhold. Seeing Sansa for the first time since his return, he greeted her with a brotherly hug and a kiss to the forehead of the sister he was just getting to know when Ghost and Nymeria’s howls set off their smaller cousins in the Wolfswood, silencing the courtyard in the process. Tracing the object of their attentions, he saw a Northern beauty with long brown hair, a sword at her hip and teary grey eyes studying him as if she wasn’t sure he was truly there. Little sister? Different roads really did lead us to the same castle. Before he knew what he was doing he ran to her like the boy of ten who’d run around the Godswood with the girl who gave him wings. My heart is home!