Sansa stared in awe at the giant weirwood tree as it stretched its white limbs into the cobalt blue sky. She lifted her eyes to its bright red canopy and listened to the chattering of the birds high in the branches as the wind rustled through its leaves. Two horses that were tethered to its lowest branch bucked and reared as Rhaegal glowered at them through half-lidded eyes.
She closed her eyes to take in the scent of the snowbells that were scattered across the meadow which surrounded the rocky knoll. Then she opened them again when she felt Jon’s hand on her shoulder.
“Ready?” he murmured.
She took a deep breath and nodded.
“Lead me to him”, she said.
They walked around to the other side of the tree. Then Jon began to peel back piles of brush, revealing a hole just large enough for an average sized man to crawl through. Sansa looked somewhat askance.
“Will I have to crawl the whole distance?” she asked.
Jon shook his head.
“No, once you enter then there’s a bit of a drop before the passageway opens up. But there isn’t much headroom and the floor is riddled with rocks and roots so be careful how you go”.
She hesitated once more.
“How will I see?” she asked, her voice tinged with anxiety. “We haven’t brought a torch”.
“You will have to feel your way for the first part of the journey. It gets easier as we draw nearer as the cave is graced with phosphorescent lights”, he replied.
Jon entered first, holding out his arms for her as she knelt down and pushed away at a branch which threatened to scratch her cheek before scrambling through the hole. Then she swung her legs over the ledge and, with Jon’s hands gripping her waist, dropped lightly on to a packed dirt floor.
She stooped and began to walk slowly, trailing her fingers along the clammy walls. They were quickly losing the light and within minutes they were plunged into total darkness.
“Jon?” she cried out nervously.
“Take my hand, sweetheart”, he replied.
She reached forward to grasp his proffered hand.
“Don’t leave me”, she whispered as she clutched it tightly.
“Not a chance”, he replied as he gave her hand a squeeze.
They stumbled blindly through the twists and turns as they slowly descended further into the bowels of the earth. When she finally spotted some light curling around a bend, she let out a cry of relief.
There was a fresh, earthy scent to the air as they drew closer to the light. It reminded Sansa of a forest after a heavy rainfall had saturated the soil and water continued to roll off the leaves long after the rain has ceased.
As they turned the last corner, the passageway opened up into large cave. Small pinpoints of light dotted the walls giving the illusion of a starry sky on a clear night. Tendrils of roots hung from the ceiling, fluttering slightly in the breeze as exchanges of damp air wafted through the chamber. And scattered across the floor were the bones of creatures long since passed.
But it was the scene in the center of cave that stopped Sansa short. The gnarled roots of the ancient weirwood had plunged through the ceiling of the cave. And beneath them, sat upon a throne comprised of twisted wooden limbs, was an auburn-haired boy on the cusp of manhood.
His eyes were closed and he sat so still, so silent, that Sansa shifted her gaze to his chest, watching it rise and fall with every shallow breath.
“Sometimes he looks like he’s sleeping…but he’s not”, said Arya emerging from the shadows.
Sansa glanced at her.
“What does he do then?” asked Sansa.
“He watches the world”, replied Arya.
She felt Jon move closer to her side.
“He’s been watching all of us like a divine presence”, he said.
“He has become a very powerful warg, Sansa”, said Arya as she knelt down before Bran. “All simple life forms are his to command from the birds flying in the sky to the fish swimming in the sea”.
Sansa looked at her sharply.
“How can you be so sure?” she asked doubtfully.
Jon leaned in.
“Because he knows small, intimate details of our lives that only somebody who was there would know”, he said in a low voice.
Sansa flushed and considered this thoughtfully. If true, then the scope of Bran’s abilities went beyond the limitations of her comprehension.
Bran began to stir just as Arya reached out to prod him gently.
“She’s here”, whispered Arya.
Bran’s eyelids fluttered open and he regarded Sansa gravely. Then gradually a smile lit up his face.
“Sister”, he said warmly.
Sansa uttered a small cry and, after a couple of faltering steps, reached out to embrace her younger brother.
“How long have you been here?” she asked as she groped him gently, noting the slenderness of his frame but the firmness of his flesh, before releasing him. At least he was not half-starved like Rickon.
He shook his head ruefully.
“I’ve lost track of time”, he replied. “Days, months, years…they have all run together. Ultimately it doesn’t matter…time itself has no divisions to mark its passage. It is indifferent to the affairs of men. And since I am capable of moving between the past, the present and the future with equal ease, the marking of time matters little to me”.
He smiled beatifically while Sansa regarded him with skepticism. How, she reasoned, could a boy unable to use his legs have survived all these years? She glanced around the chamber looking for clues.
“The Children of the Forest nurture and protect me”, he said as if reading her mind.
She looked startled.
“I thought they were all gone, hunted to extinction by the Andals”, she said. “I was told that all that was left of them were the faces carved into the weirwood trees”.
Bran shook his head.
“Merely gone to ground”, he replied. “They kept themselves hidden out of fear of the Others”.
“Why are you here, Bran?” she asked. “What do they want from you?”
“They needed me to aid Jon in his fight to deliver us from the Others”, he said simply.
Sansa whirled and looked at Jon who was staring at Bran.
“I don’t understand”, she said in a halting voice.
“I was by Jon’s side during the battle for the dawn. The birds, the animals and the trees… they were all his allies. Jon was our chosen champion but I was the unseen hand to ensure that that we won the war”, he explained.
Jon straightened and there was a flash of understanding in his eyes.
“The eagle”, he said.
Bran nodded as Jon turned towards Sansa and Arya.
“There…there was this eagle that would appear in the midst of battle. Normally the birds had enough sense to keep clear of a dragon but this eagle would appear of nowhere and plague Rhaegal until it began to give chase. There was many a time I lost control of the dragon and I cursed that damn bird for distracting us. But invariably the move changed the course of the battle which led to…victory”.
He stared at Bran in curiosity.
“How did you know?” he asked. “How could you possibly foresee how it should all play out?”
Bran sat back with a knowing smile on his face.
“The trees”, he began, “the trees have borne witness to every major event since time immemorial. They granted me access to their memories. I was able to view the original battle for the dawn thousands of years ago. I grew to recognize the weaknesses of the Others and learned how to minimize their strengths. I came to understand my role in guiding you through battle after battle, pushing them back, creating holes their defenses until your final clash with the Great Other”.
Bran paused to take a breath.
“I was with you, Jon”, he continued, “I was with you every step of the way. Victory had to be ours, brother, because anything less would have meant complete annihilation”.
Bran closed his eyes and leaned his head against the back of the chair. His atrophied legs dangled listlessly.
“And now”, he concluded with a sigh, “my task is completed and my journey is over”.
A look of alarm passed over Sansa’s face.
“Bran”, she said in a panic as Arya and Jon crept to his side. “Don’t leave us now that we have finally found you”.
He opened one eye and then the other. Sansa could sense an air of mischief surrounding him and it served to remind her that despite his lofty words, Bran was still very much a child.
“I’m not leaving all of you, Sansa”, he said with a sly grin, “I’m ready for you to take me home to Winterfell”.
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