- Rough Draft
- Discussion - Murder
- Violence - Canon-Level
- Alternate Universe
- Canon Divergence
It was a difficult thing, to behead a man. Not just in a feat of strength, but as an act of justice. One had to be certain of the verdict and sure of your reasons. One had to be willing to do the deed without shirking an unpleasant duty.
Ned Stark sat beneath the heart tree in the godswood of Winterfell and pondered the actions of the man he had just executed There wasn’t much he could know of him except that he had met his end bravely. Though he had rambled of the white walkers and seemed genuinely terrified of the old ghosts of winter tales, he had not made a scene or tried to fight his punishment. Ned could appreciate that it took a certain sort of bravery to accept your fate in the face of things outside your control. His biggest worry was that this was not an isolated event. This was the fourth such deserter in this year and it greatly concerned the warden of the North that he did not know for certain what was driving these men to abandon their vows and face a death sentence. The Wall and the brotherhood of the Night’s Watch could hardly afford to lose more men. Ben had confided to him that there were fewer than a thousand men still on the Wall. That they had lost more and more not just to desertion but to rangings on the other side of the wall and the Wildlings that waited. This was enough to think that these gathering wildling forces were the cause of these desertions, but the man’s fear and ramblings haunted Ned. He was not a superstitious man, but there was something about all of this that left him uneasy.
Bran had faced it well. He had worried the boy would not understand or was perhaps too young still to bear the sight of such a thing as what had happened. But he was proud of all of his sons this day. They had done their duty to the lands they were sworn to protect, stood tall, paid witness to the justice that the laws of the North demanded, and did not turn from it. Even his ward, as trying as Theon could be on occasion, had done well. He had not said anything that could cause real offense and had not teased Bran into acting unbecoming of his station. Jon had helped with that, and Ned felt a deep sense of personal pride in the son he had claimed. The boy was of his blood, a true Stark child even if Ned could not give him the actual name.
The only other real worry was that of the wolf pups. He was not ignorant of the whispers. The superstitious worry already spreading through the keep about the meaning of a Stag killing a Direwolf. The symbolism was obvious and while Ned did not hold with such things he knew that his people often did and that was a true concern. People would often act rashly when led by fear. The equally obvious correlation between the Direwolf pups and his children had gone a long way to resolve some of the unease, but having so many dangerous pups amongst his children would be an issue to watch carefully. He trusted his brood to do things right and not shirk their responsibilities to train the animals, but they were just children and he would be sure to make the kennel master available to aid them in the process, even if he did not openly admit to arranging it.
So many things weighed on him so many different problems and little whispers and superstitions. What should he do to address them, how could he lay to rest the concerns of his people when he did not have the answers and did not know how to address them? The meditative action of cleaning his greatsword, Ice, was a soothing balm on his frustration, but it did not give him the answers he needed. Instead, his eyes turned to the Weirwood tree behind him. The heart tree of his godswood was a refuge and a place of prayer. If ever he needed to commune with the old gods it was now. If they could but give him some insight on what it was that he needed to protect against be it Wildlings or the Others. Winter was coming, but what beasts were hidden from his senses? Surely he should at least ask for their aid?
And so Ned refocused on the face of the tree, its weeping eyes looking upon him and he prayed with all his soul for some answer to what could be done to watch over the north to ensure his peoples continued good health and prosperity. What else could he do? It was not as though they had the guardians of old to aid them. The Sentinels of the First Men had faded some thousand years before. Surely though there might be a similar solution or some means by which to gain favor and support. The Gods themselves must be aware of the dangers that losing the wall represented. They had aided his ancestors in stopping the Long Night and building the wall in the first place. He could only hope they would have a care for the troubles of their people still even in these latter days when faith in the old gods had waned to the few descendants of the First Men that still dwelled in the North.
As Ned preyed in somewhat helpless fervency the leaves above him began to rustle and sway. It took him a moment to wonder at the sudden wind when it had been a still day beforehand, but even more strange was that there was a rhythm to the sound the leaves were making. There was a sense of urgency and a low sound or undertone that were like words whispered at a distance. Ned sat straighter and cocked his head, wondering if any of the children had slipped into the greenwood and where speaking, but that did not seem right either, this was not a familiar language when he caught more than a murmur, it seemed to echo around the clearing with no clear origin. Perception of movement startled him into looking forward where he was stunned to realize the sap in the heart tree’s eyes had begun weeping anew. Fresh tears were leaking from the symbol of his faith after eons of stillness. With a deep breath, Ned felt a thump in his chest, more sense than physical beat, and the whispers grew more urgent, became clearer to his stunned ears.
“We can help. There is a price. Long have we waited. Longer still will we watch. For we are ever-present, in earth and tree, in stone and snow. Winter is coming, we will help you ward against it. Do you accept this as your burden? Do you acknowledge that what we shall call forth again is not for the faint of heart? We will ask much of our descendants, we will expect more than what has been offered.” the voices hissed through the branches. They wove around each other in an almost hypnotic wave. But though it seemed many voices spoke Ned had no trouble following what they were saying and he felt the weight of this decision fall heavy upon his shoulders. He had never truly expected an answer no matter how much he had hoped for one. But now he had to acknowledge that if he took what was offered it would affect more than him. He was sure of it.
They whisper faded back to a murmur as he considered. He did not know for certain what the gods would do, but he had a suspicion. If they were to call the sentinels back into existence there was more to consider then just if it would spread and who it would change, but also there were the political concerns to take into consideration. The Faith of the Seven had long decried the legends of the sentinels. Declared them savage heretics and claimed they were not blessed by the light. Ned was a man of the North, but he had sworn to a southern king and the south was not kind to those who still served the old gods. Even some of his people had converted. his lady wife was southern despite all her years in the North, she would not understand what a boon this would be, all the good it could do for their people, and the blessing it would mark from gods that had been silent for so long.
Could he do this? What choice did he have, he would not waste this opportunity to help protect his people He would not waste a gift offered by his very gods, a request he himself had made of them. It would not be born to snub them in such away. It would not serve his family or the North. No matter the fallout Ned knew that there was no other option but to accept. Bracing himself and hardening his determination, Ned looked to his heart tree took in the fresh tears on its face and the swaying branches with their whispering red leaves, and silently swore that he would take on any adversity and face whatever obstacles may arise if it meant that he would gain the aid he had prayed for.
It took a moment before he heard the voices become clear again. The whispers coalescing into a many-voiced answered. “We grant your prayer, Warden of the North your people call you, but we give you a greater purpose still, you will leave this place as Guardian of the North. The first of our Sentinels in a thousand years, we will grant you the knowledge you need to face the great enemy, to know how to withstand the coming cold and the long night ahead. We will answer your questions about Wildlings and Others, both of whom wait beyond the Wall. Now we will begin.”
The world seemed to fade for a moment, and then Ned felt everything Sharpen. there was a snapping sensation in his mind that had him draw a deep breath and wonder at all that he could sense, the smell of deep earth and the sharp tinge of the Weirwood tree’s sap met and combined with the gentle gurgle of the water in the pool beside him as the light played off of the leaves on the highest branches, turning them nearly transparent and every vein highlighted and defines. There was so much more than he ever expected, more than he could have dreamed, but the whispers still spoke to him, drawing him back to himself.
“There will be more, your senses will grow for a time yet, we would not wish to drive you mad before we could make use of you. We grant you time to adjust. You will have time to learn the things we would teach you, a guide shall be granted, a spirit to aid in your journey, one who cannot be parted from you and will be by your side even when you cannot see them with eyes, or hear them with ears. Only feel them in your heart where we dwell.” Ned lowered his eyes and met those of the giant black Direwolf that stood beside the heart tree. Its massive head would probably be of a height with his own and he was caught in the solemn grey of its eyes. The beast was bigger than any fable or legend he had ever heard of. It could not be compared to anything more intimidating and he hoped that the children’s wolves never got as big as this. Here was his companion, who would guide him as the old gods’ bid, and Ned was relieved that he would not face this alone.
As he looked at his new guide the Dire Wolf shook its black coat to dislodge a few flakes of snow that had appeared out of nowhere and chuffed at him in acknowledgment. When Ned nodded back it raised its great head to the sky and howled. The sound seemed distant yet thunderous. Ned could feel it in his very bones. It reverberated through his entire body and echoed across the god’s wood and beyond. as the sound spread out into the distance Ned could feel his senses expand to follow, soon he could hear all of Winterfell, and though it only lasted for a moment to that extent it was enough for him to mark and remember the heartbeats of his wife and children. He was drawn to their presence as though they had been pointed out to him with great purpose and he memorized their every minute sent. Now he would forever know them no matter what. A comfort to be sure, for he loved nothing more than his family, not even his duty could hold a candle’s flame to his devotion to his children.
As the call faded so did his senses. They returned to the slightly heightened senses that the gods had promised would grow with time and give him the chance to adjust. but he knew that he would have to learn quickly for a sense of urgency had been gaining his attention and he would not ignore it. Whatever lay ahead of them he knew that these next few days would make a huge difference in the North and the coming Night. He did not fear the cold, for he had aid now. Northerners were made to withstand the long Winters and they would persevere.
He turned back to where his Wolf was patiently sitting beside the tree and after carefully laying Ice beside him he approached the animal steady but cautious in his movements. He was not afraid of a beast that the gods had given to him but he was also no fool. This was no tame thing no matter how it appeared at the moment. This was an intelligent being that was supernatural in origin and he would grant it the respect it deserved. the Direwolf touched his outstretched hand with its nose briefly before fading to nothing, and as the wind had told him, though he could not see nor hear his guide, he could still feel it in the pit of his chest. Deep in the parts that were normally occupied by his love for his children now laid a fierce protective presence to guard them.
It was with immense reverence that he laid his hands upon the face of the heart tree and gave honest and fervent thanks to his gods. He bent his head until his forehead rested against the bone white bark and knew he would honor this gift and commit any act necessary to be worthy of the service entrusted to him.
Far away on the Wall, Benjen Stark felt a pull on his very essence and awoke to the Call of the Sentinels.