Jon stood up and crossed the room to close the door. Then he poured wine into two goblets and offered one to Sansa. She waved it aside while he took a swig of his own.
“The day we left Eastwatch, with the sun at our backs, I uttered a silent prayer of thanks for its light as we began our journey once more into darkness”, he began. “As the days wore on we began to lose precious daylight until I could count its hours on the fingers of one hand. We were soon plunged into total darkness with only the stars to guide our way. It was then that I remembered some of Maester Luwin’s astronomy lessons and looked to the North Star which burned brightest in the sky”.
Sansa recalled those lessons fondly. Jon and Robb usually feigned attention, itching to get out into the yard to re-enact the age of heroes. She and Jeyne usually rolled their eyes and giggled in the corner while Arya was restless and bored. Only Bran sat in rapt attention, seemingly absorbed by everything Maester Luwin had to say.
“Eventually we could see a glow over the horizon. Daenerys was as good as her word and had left a great fire burning to lead us to her. But when we arrived at the encampment, we found it in a sad state of disarray. In our absence, the food stores had been almost depleted so that, in the face of starvation, the famous discipline of the Unsullied had broken down. Tempers had flared and men had died at the hands of their brothers-in-arms. Our arrival with more provisions helped to restore some calm but I feared that the rift amongst some had become irreparable”, he continued.
“I questioned some of the men and discovered that there had been some sightings of the Others in the hills nearby. But when they gave chase, the Others disappeared seemingly down a rabbit hole. The men searched the area thoroughly and couldn’t find the source of the Others’ escape”, he said as he shook his head ruefully.
“I looked for Daenerys and finally found her in her tent. I wanted to discuss the implications of these sightings and discuss strategy. Instead, she begged me to help her search for Rhaegal. The dragon had been gone for several days. It wasn’t unusual for the dragons to be gone for long periods of time as they had to fly further afield in search of game. But she was convinced this time that Rhaegal was in danger. She and Drogon had already spent countless hours looking to no avail. So I offered to take Viserion and hunt for the missing dragon by myself as she appeared to be too exhausted and irrational at this juncture to be of much help”, he said before pausing to take his seat again.
“Viserion and I left the camp almost immediately. As I look back, I realize that the signs were all there of an imminent catastrophe but I was too absorbed by the conditions in the camp to pay attention”, he continued. “The encampment was surrounded on all sides by gently sloping hills which provided a break from the bitter winds. The camp fires burned continuously due to the cold and darkness. I heard the noises earlier but I didn’t give them much heed…until I pulled away into the blackened sky”.
“What noises?” asked Sansa curiously.
“Do you remember the great ice storm when we were children?” he asked.
She nodded with a distant look in her eyes.
“I remember the freezing rain falling for days. And when it was over the world was encased in a thick layer of ice. The forest looked like an enchanted fairy land and I desperately wanted to play amongst the trees and pretend that I was an ice princess in my frozen kingdom but Father said it was too dangerous”, she recalled.
“Do you recall the trees cracking and groaning under the weight of the ice as they swayed in the wind?” he asked.
“Yes”, she replied slowly.
“Those were the noises I heard. By the time I realized what they signaled it was too late. Viserion and I had already turned around but when we returned it was like the earth had opened up and swallowed the camp whole”, he said as he lowered his head in chagrin.
“They had set up camp on a snow covered glacier. The weight of so many men and equipment in addition to the heat of the fires had eroded the ice and caused it to give way”, he explained. “Some managed to escape, those who were close to the edge or who could swim to safety before the frigid water was able to claim them. I managed to pull a few from the water’s icy grip but their numbers were few”.
“And what of Daenerys?” asked Sansa fearfully.
“Gone…along with Drogon and Viserion”, he answered raising his eyes to meet hers.
She gaped at him.
“How…how did both dragons perish?” she gasped.
Jon’s eyes strayed into the middle distance before returning his gaze to hers.
“Viserion died trying to pluck Drogon from the inky water. They thrashed about wildly and clung to each other until they were both sucked into a vortex of freezing water”, he said sadly.
Sansa pursed her lips. Seven hells, she thought, this changes everything.
“How many of you survived?” she asked sharply.
“Twenty-seven of us left the encampment that day. We salvaged what we could before making the trip south. After a few days…nights…I dunno, it’s difficult to measure time when the sun neither rises nor sets…the ones who spent any time in the water gradually died of complications due to exposure. And then, when our meager provisions ran out and there was no game to be found, the dead became a feast for the living”.
Sansa stared in horror.
“You didn’t…I mean…did you…?” she asked in a tremulous voice.
Jon narrowed his eyes in disgust.
“No”, he replied vehemently.
“How many of you made it to White Harbor?” she asked.
“There were thirteen of us who limped our way out of the wilderness. One or two of the Unsullied might stay in White Harbor to serve Lord Manderly. The rest…well, they could hardly wait for the next ship to sail away from these godforsaken shores. The woman who set them free is dead and they owe no allegiance to me. They probably couldn’t wait to see the backside of me since I instigated the whole miserable campaign”, he replied with a deep sigh.
Jon buried his face in his hands and then drew them together as if in prayer.
“What do we do now?” Sansa whispered.
Jon shrugged helplessly.
“I could ask Lady Melisandre for guidance”, he replied.
“No!” Sansa snapped. “I don’t trust her judgment. She assured us that the dragons were the answer and here we are. The wights are bearing down on us again and our defenses are weak. I will have Sam send out more appeals to the Crown and pray that they believe us this time and send us reinforcements before it is too late”.
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