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Faith - northernlass49

Chapter 51

The dark towers of Castle Black loomed gloomily against the rosy sky as the sun cast its final glow. As Rhaegal circled overhead, Sansa studied the collection of tumbled down towers and crumbling walls that had been Jon’s home.

The word castle, she decided, was a misnomer as it lacked the sweep and grandeur of the keeps further to the south. Instead, what she saw was a sadly neglected fortress of weathered timber and stone.

To the north of the castle stood the remains of the great ice wall that had acted as a barrier between Westeros and its northern enemies for thousands of years. Great boulders of ice and snow now lay scattered on the ground, lonely remnants of the wall’s former majesty.

As the dragon dipped closer, Sansa could hear shouts and cries rising from the men below. She could see the men on the battlements pointing excitedly while those on the ground rushed to prevent the horses from bolting in fear.

Jon navigated the dragon in circles around the castle, drawing ever closer to the ground. The dragon screeched as it began its descent in earnest and finally skidded to a halt just outside the south gate, sending up a spray of snow and slush.

Jon alit first and then reached up to help Sansa down. As she slid into Jon’s arms she could hear the murmur of voices as a group of onlookers gathered at the gate. And then she heard a loud voice infused with the warm accent of her mother’s people.

“Cat’s little shadow…as I live and breathe”, shouted the Blackfish.

She whirled around and within a few strides had thrown herself into her great uncle’s arms.

“Nuncle”, she said with cry of delight as she pulled back to look at him. “It has been a long time”.

“Aye”, he replied. “Not since your wedding I reckon. I’ve heard you’ve birthed a couple of little pups since then. I’ll have to make a side trip to Winterfell on our journey home to see them for myself”.

“Mayhaps I will have given birth to our third child by then”, she replied with an impish smile as she laid a hand on her belly. The Blackfish guffawed and slapped Jon on the back.

“Well done, son”, he said heartily. Jon blushed and grinned sheepishly before glancing at the dragon which exhaled steam and had clawed a shallow crevasse in the muddy snow. He pulled Sansa aside.

“You should go ahead in with the Blackfish while I attend to Rhaegal. Then I will join you both anon”, he said.

Sansa nodded.

“I expect a tour of the castle, Lord Commander. I want to see where you slept, where you ate, where you trained and, especially, where you executed that traitor, Janos Slynt”, she said with relish.

Jon looked at her with astonishment.

“I never would have expected such ghoulish delight from such a refined and cultured lady as you”, he said, his lips quirked in amusement.

“I’m just full of surprises”, she laughed as she linked arms with her great-uncle.

As they strolled arm in arm through the icy yard, the Blackfish conveyed her Uncle Edmure’s regrets about being unable to join up with the northern forces.

“Silly bugger is useless when it comes to war anyway”, he muttered. “He’s better off staying home to protect his Frey wife from the northerners who still bray for Frey blood”.

Sansa winced at the memory of the Frey family’s part in the massacre of the Stark loyalists at the Twins.

“Aye”, she replied. “It is just as well that he stay put…northerners have long memories and are exceedingly patient when it comes to exacting revenge”.

The Blackfish patted her hand absently as his face softened and his eyes grew rheumy.

“It’s a bloody shame that Ned and Cat didn’t live long enough to enjoy their grandchildren”, he said sadly. “And I do believe that Cat might have grown to grudgingly respect your husband considering the man he has become”.

They were still reminiscing quietly in the shadow of the Commander’s Keep when Jon arrived. Before parting company the Blackfish requested that they join him later as soon as they were finished their tour.

“We’ve had some worrying reports from our most northerly outposts”, he said grimly.

As Jon led Sansa through the castle grounds, she drank in every detail. She noted the newness of the wood of the castle’s northern face, hastily erected to replace the fallen wall, as they made their way to Hardin’s tower where Jon slept when he arrived as a new recruit.

As they entered Jon’s cell in the tower, Sansa was struck by how bleak and mean the surroundings were.

“Oh, Jon”, she said with a sigh as she sank down on the thin, straw-filled mattress that covered the narrow cot that he slept on as a newly minted man of the Night’s Watch. “It’s a far cry from your rooms at Winterfell”.

“I won’t lie”, he replied as he sat down beside her, “it was hard at first. But I had Ghost for company and later I had friends to help ease the loneliness and disappointment”.

“Any regrets?” she asked as her hand crept into his. He covered her hand and shook his head.

“No…no regrets. It was time to leave Winterfell and I needed to forge a life for myself. I know that Robb would have taken care of me… given me a small keep of my own… given me a position of some responsibility to ensure my love and loyalty”, he replied. “But I needed to prove to myself and others that I could beat my own path and become the hero of my own story”.

After leading her back down the uneven steps of Hardin’s tower, Jon showed Sansa the common hall where the Brothers took their meals and the rookery where the current maester tended to the ravens. Then they continued their journey by going underground. As they wended their way through the pitch black wormways, torch in hand, Jon took her through the vaults and finally ended up at the ice cell where Jon had been imprisoned for desertion and murder. That is until Maester Aemon intervened and persuaded his gaolers that it would be wiser to accept the truth of his story and release him immediately due to his popularity among the other men. As they stood there silently fogging up the small, icy chamber with their warm breath, Sansa was suddenly filled with a sense of melancholy at the thought of Jon being locked up here for days on end, awaiting his fate. He squeezed her hand as she laid a weary head on his shoulder.

“Seen enough?” he whispered. She nodded.

When they emerged above ground, one of the sentries approached them both with the request to join Lord Reed and the Blackfish in the library.

“Welcome back, lad”, called out Howland, looking up from the map spread out on a large table. “You’ve returned just in time”.

He pulled out a chair and invited Sansa to sit. Then he gave her a wink.

“My friend here”, he said with a nod at her great uncle, “has just informed me of your news...the best of health to you and the babe, my dear”.

Sansa smiled graciously and thanked him for his good wishes.

“And now to the business at hand”, said the Blackfish briskly. “Your fellow wargs have been very busy, Jon. We’ve had a flurry of reports coming in via every manner of fowl to inform us of a massive army of wights marching on us from the furthest frontiers”.

Jon had identified and persuaded a small contingent of free folk, wargs and those simply longing for the familiarity of their deserted villages, to return to points north to operate as eyes and ears on enemy movements.

“The difficulty at this point is determining the size and scope of this army and which castles are most vulnerable”, the Blackfish continued. “And that is where we could use the services of you and your dragon. Would you be able to reconnoiter this evening and report back?”

Jon glanced uneasily at Sansa before replying.

“I would prefer to return Sansa to Winterfell first”, he replied. Sansa opened her mouth to protest when Howland interjected.

“We can certainly take good care of her here at Castle Black…if that suits you, my dear”, said Howland. Sansa held up a hand before replying.

“I would prefer to go with Jon”, she said as she rose to her feet.

“Then it’s settled”, said Jon as he took her hand. “I will return to take on the mission as soon as I have delivered Sansa safely to Winterfell”.

Sansa shook off his hand as she turned to face him.

“No, you misunderstand me, Jon…I intend to accompany you this evening on your mission north”, she said emphatically.

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