A Wolf in the Old World - Chapter 1 - Louen_Leoncoeur - A Song of Ice and Fire (2024)

Chapter Text

Jon Snow slowly opened his eyes, the light was painfully bright, and it burned his eyes. His whole body ached, and his head felt as if he had spent a night drinking, even though he hadn't. Gradually the pain receded and he was able to open his eyes and look around. To his surprise he found that he was not where he last remembered. He was not in his quarters, in fact, he was not even in Castle Black, he was surrounded by trees. For a moment he wondered how he had gotten into the haunted forest, but that was not right either. Looking closer at the trees he saw that there was something wrong with them. Many were the same type of trees as the haunted forest, but they were not right.

The trees looked decayed, not the decay that came after a tree died, no, these trees were sick, but with no sickness that he had ever seen and he did not wish to get too close to them to see. He looked about him, distressed to see that all the trees that he could see bore signs of decay. Even worse, when he looked up through the canopy of the trees, he found that none of the stars were familiar. He had no idea where he was and how he had gotten there. On a more pleasant note he wore his shirt of black mail and the familiar weight of Longclaw at his belt, though he would have been happier had he had his bow as well, but he would just have to make do.

Not wishing to remain in the sickly forest any longer he set off, not knowing where he was he had decided that it did not truly matter what direction he went in as one was as good as another, all he wanted to do was to get out of the forest. He trudged through snow which came up to his ankles, when the sound of something nearby made him stop dead in his tracks, his hand going to his sword. He could not tell from which direction the sound came from and his eyes darted from one side to the other in an effort to locate the source of the sound. His heart pounded like a drum and he took a breath to steady himself, he had been in battle before and it did not frighten him, it was not knowing that gnawed at him. Then a familiar shape came through the trees and Jon smiled for the first time since he had awakened.

‘Ghost!’ He cried out in relief and happiness as his direwolf came up to him.

Ghost, as always, made no sound, but Jon knew through their bond that he was happy to see Jon as well. Jon hugged Ghost and Ghost licked Jon's face. He still did not know where he was or what was going on, but with Ghost with him he felt far more ready to face whatever was to come. So it was with a lighter heart that he set off again.

After about an hour of walking he was pleased to see that the trees had started to improve, the rot becoming less and less visible. The stars began to fade and he knew that the sun would be coming up soon, that further improved his mood. Then Ghost stopped, his back arched and his lips curled back. Jon was instantly alert again. Now that he was listening, he heard sounds, it was faint, but he knew what it was. People were nearby and they were heading towards him. He looked about him, but none of the trees close by were climbable. So instead he drew his sword and loosened his muscles. He did not know if they were hostile or not, but he preferred to meet them prepared just in case.

The sounds grew closer and louder, there were the stamps of hooves, the rattle of branches off gear and…snorting? Jon was confused by that last sound as it did not sound like the snorting of horses. If anything, it sounded like goats. Then a stench struck him and made him gag. It smelled like a mixture of wet fur and dung. Jon's lip curled in revulsion and Ghost became even more agitated. Then the cause of the noise and smell appeared. For a moment Jon was so shocked that for a moment he could not move. There were three of them, but they were not horsem*n; they were not men at all. They were monsters, even more terrible than the wights he had faced beyond the wall.

They were a mixture of man and animal. Horrid and unnatural chimeras like from Old Nan's stories. They looked like goats, but far more massive, standing around six feet tall on two hooved feet instead of four and with human-like hands. Hands which were clutching weapons which, while looking even more crude and primitive than those carried by Wildlings, Jon had no doubt that they were deadly. The one on the right held a fire-hardened spear, the one in the middle held a club with metal spikes driven into it, while the one on the left, which had larger horns and seemed to be in charge, held a crudely forged double bladed axe. The creature pointed its axe at Jon and bellowed before charging forward followed by its bestial servants.

They were fast, but the cry had shaken Jon from his paralysis. The creatures attacked without skill, apparently relying on their strength and superior numbers to overwhelm him. Jon instinctively fell back on his training and as they closed with him he too moved forward and to the left, this put him at the side of the rightmost one as its momentum carried it past him. From this angle it could not effectively bring its spear to bear and its body blocked the others from getting to him. As it tried to stop and turn to face Jon he brought up Longclaw and rammed its pommel into the base of the creature's skull. As it stumbled, he brought the blade down and sliced the tendons behinds its knees. It bellowed in pain and fell to the ground.

The club-wielder stepped on its companion head to close the distance, swinging its club with a beasti*al fury hoping to take his head off in one blow. Jon quickly moved back and the blow hissed by in front of his face and continued on, its momentum causing the creature to stumble slightly. Before Jon could take advantage of this the third one came in from the side. In addition to being larger and better armed it appeared to also be a better fighter. Instead of attempting to use its axe in sop confied a space it used its haft to strike him, Jonraised Longclaw to block the blow, but the creature was far stronger and it forced Jon back till he caught his foot on a root and he fell onto his back. The creature made a sound which sounded as if it might be laughter as it raised its axe over its head hoping to split him in two. Jon tried to move away while holding his blade up to block it, but he knew that from his current position he would not be able to do so effectively.

As the axe reached it peak Ghost appeared. The direwolf flew over Jon at the beast. It tried to use its axe to ward off the attack, but it was too slow. Ghost slammed into the thing, his claws racking its chest and belly while his fangs sank into its throat. The creature dropped its axe and attempted to pull Ghost off of him, but its was too late. Ghost tore its throat out and it fell to the ground chocking on its own blood. The club-wielder rushed in to bash at Ghost, but by now Jon had regained his footing and rushed at it. Coming in from the side he thrust his blade up at an angle to pierce its side under its ribs and go up into its organs. It screamed and fell to the ground, dead before it landed.

Pulling his sword free Jon went to the whimpering creature he had crippled. A swing thrust put and end to it and silence descended. Jon stood there panting as the adrenaline which had flooded him during the fight left him, leaving him feeling cold, drained and tired. Ghost, licking blood from his lips came up to Jon and nuzzled his hand till Jon began to absentmindedly stroke his fur. Jon looked at the dead creatures and then looked about to again take in the strange and unfamiliar forest. As his breathing returned to normal he said the first thing which came to his mind which he felt summed up his feelings.

‘What in the seven hells is going on?’

Not wanting to linger near the creatures Jon quickly set off, he did not know where he was going, but at the moment anywhere would do. The only qualification was to not go in the direction that they had come from as he was not eager to meet more of them. As he went, he kept his eyes and ears alert for any indication that he was going to be attacked again and it appeared that Ghost was doing the same. With nothing else to distract him his mind kept returning to what had just happened.

What were those things? He had never seen anything like them, nor had he read about them or heard about them in any stories or songs. He wished that Sam or Maester Aemon were with him, and he could consult with them. They were both more learned in such things and Jon was sure that if they had ever been written about in any of the books in Castle Black Sam would have read it or could find it. Still, as much as he would like to know what was going, he would not wish to have either of them here with him. He had to find out where he was and how he was to get back. Those monsters could not be the only living things here, there had to be men somewhere whose aid he could seek. He did not think he was beyond the Wall, but surely if there were people nearby, they would be enemies of the beasts and willing to help.

He snorted at his own naivete. The Watch and the Wildlings were both enemies of the Others, but they would far rather kill each other than cooperate against a common enemy. No, if he were to meet anyone, he would have to be careful. Perhaps he would observe them for a time before approaching them. Yes, that was the most sensible approach that he could think of. A plan in place he continued on his way.

As the day progressed Jon found himself becoming hungry and thirsty. Despite this he was reluctant to forage for food or drink water from either the snow of from the small streams he occasionally came across, he remembered the infected trees and he did not want to risk it. He knew that he could not do that forever, but he hoped that he could find people or get out of the forest and away from the possibility of taint. The sun had reached its zenith when Ghost again began to growl. Jon cursed.

‘Not again.’ He hissed as he drew his sword.

He looked around, but there was no sign of more of the monsters, so after a pause Jon continued on his way, doing his best to make as little noise as possible. After several minutes of straining his ears, Jon thought he heard more of the creatures off to his left. He started to move off in an effort to avoid running into them when he heard a scream which was undoubtably human in origin. He hesitated for a moment, he had no idea what was out there, and it was likely that he would not be able to do anything anyway. The sensible thing to do would be to keep moving. The sensible thing to do would also have been to kill Ygritte when they first met. Jon headed in the direction of the sounds, Ghost by his side.

It did not take long to find what he was searching for, the screams continued intermittently, and they were joined by braying, roaring and other noises providing him with a course to follow. He was aided in that, despite the trees blocking out much of the light, there was enough to find where the sounds were coming from, which he might of missing in the dark. Looking almost like a wound in the forest was a clearing, on the edge of the side opposite to Jon was a cave.

Outside of the cave were more than a dozen of the misshapen creatures and for a moment Jon, pressed to the ground at the edge of the clearing, felt his spirits plummet. A second look; however, showed that things might not be as dire as they first appeared. Many of the creatures were smaller than the ones he had fought before and less muscular. Indeed, some of them looked more like deformed humans. Jon did not know how that was possible and he did not want to know. There were no fortifications and neither did appear to be any guards. They were mostly gathered around a large fire which had a large hunk of meat roasting on the fire. Vomit rose in Jon's throat as he realized that the meat in question was a human ribcage. In addition to the meat the monsters were drinking something which was clearly alcoholic. From the cave came another scream and the beasts laughed in delight and Jon felt a fresh wave of revulsion, it was clear what was going on in the cave.

Again, Jon was conflicted, he was appalled at what was going on, but he did not know how he could prevail against so many, not including however many there were in the cave. He cast about, as if the answer would suddenly spring up from the ground and it was then that he saw it. A little away from the creatures was a pile of items which appeared to have been tossed together. They appeared to be items looted from others, as while he could not tell what all the items where they appeared to be too finely made to have come from their current owners, this was not what interested Jon though. What did interest him was that near the edge of the heap was a bow and a quiver of arrows.

If he could get to them, he would be able to kill several and even the odds before they could close with him. The problem was that, even drunk, he doubted that he would be able to reach it without them seeing him. As if sensing his thoughts Ghost slunk off to the side and soon vanished in the trees. Jon wanted to call him back, but he was afraid that the creatures would hear him if he attempted to do so. Just as he discounted the thought of calling Ghost, the direwolf appeared again.

Silent as his namesake Ghost shot from the trees towards his foes. Several saw him and raised cries of alarm, but it was too late. Ghost charged at one of the larger ones, who had risen to its feet clutching a large axe in its hands. While it had risen to its feet when Ghost rose on his hindlegs he was the taller of the two. Ghost lunged forwards and his fangs locked around its skull and then bit down. The creature barely had time to give a sound of pain and alarm before its skull was split apart. The other creatures were backing away, but they were not fast enough and Ghost tackled one of the smaller ones and tore its head from its shoulders. The others swarmed around Ghost, but Jon had not been idle.

As soon as Ghost attacked Jon made a dash for the bow and reached it without any of the creatures spotting him. Snatching it up he knocked an arrow and sent it flying into one of the smaller creatures as it attempted to get away from Ghost. The arrow took it in its throat and it fell to the ground. Unfortunately, this brought him to the attention of its fellows, including half a dozen or so who now emerged from the cave. Jon groaned at the sight.

They were all large and muscular, several of them were even larger than the ones which he had fought before and the last to emerge was truly a nightmare. It was a giant, dwarfing even Hordor and nearly twice as broad as a man. It possessed four arms, each which held a weapon and it had a tail tipped with a barb, on its head were four horns, two curled back and two sticking forwards like spikes. It looked at Ghost, then at himself and charged with a bellow that seemed to shake the forest around them. Jon immediately loosed another arrow as it charged, knocking several of its compatriots aside when they were too slow to get out of its way. The arrow struck it in the chest, but it did not seem to notice as it continued it rush towards its prey. Fear growing inside him Jon launched another arrow, but this one had no more effect than the first one had.

‘GHOST!’ Jon called out as he turned and fled back into the forest. He hoped to lose the beast and its allies in the trees, or at least get them separated so they could not all attack him at once. This hope was dashed when he heard the sounds of movement in the trees behind him.

He cursed, what more horrors could this accursed place produce to torment him? Just then a horn was sounded, and it did not sound like something the creatures would make. A moment later this was confirmed when men on horseback appeared through the trees. For a moment Jon had hoped that they were men of the Night's Watch, but it was soon clear that this was not the case. The men wore armour that, while battered from use and splattered with mud to such an extent that they appeared to be a group of brigands, was clearly not Night's Watch armour. Despite their appearance they clearly knew how to fight.

They slammed into the monsters, who proved to be as vulnerable as men to cavalry charge. Some were knocked from their feet and trampled while others, mostly the larger ones, were felled by blows form the riders' swords and other weapons. Only the freak that had been chasing Jon seemed to be putting up resistance. Two of its arms blocked attacks from the riders which drew too close, while with the others it attacked. Its tail shot out to spear the chest of one horse while it split the head of another rider. It took up a spear from the ground and hurled it like a javelin with such force that it went right through the breastplate of another of the men.

Just then another wave of riders appeared from behind the beasts. This broke the few that remained and all save the large one fled, pursued by the majority of the riders. Those who remained behind surrounded it and began harrying it, like wolves around and elk, with some attacking it and when it lunged at them, they would fall back while others rushed at it on its blind spots. Though it killed two more men and wounded several others it eventually fell and then, just like that, the forest fell silent.

As the last of the creates fell the riders, after having satisfied themselves that there were no more foes to face, set to work. Some went to gather the horses which had lost their riders and run off. Others began to collect the bodies of their fallen and tend to the wounded while still others headed into the cave that the monsters had emerged from, for what purpose Jon could not tell, though he assumed that they meant to confirm that there were no more of the creatures within.

Now that the fighting was over Jon found that he was not sure what to do. This was answered for him when one of the riders approached him. As he came closer Jon was able to get a better look at him. He wore a suit of full plate armour, though it was liberally splattered with mud and now blood from the battle, as was his horse's barding. Jon took him for a hedge knight, except that despite their battered appearance the men seemed to have a uniformed look about them and they appeared to have worked and trained for a significant time together. His attention was brought back to the knight, at least Jon assumed that he was a knight, as he pulled his horse to a halt some seven feet from Jon.

Jon thought that the knight would either move his horse closer or dismount to approach on foot, but he did neither. At first Jon was confused by the knight's behaviour and then understood as he realized that the knight was regarding Ghost. Jon was used to people being intimidated by Ghost when they first saw him; however, this was different. The knight was looking at Ghost with an expression which Jon could not quite understand. It seemed to be a mixture of fear and…awe? Jon was not sure about that last part and could not understand it if that was indeed the case.

After a few moments the man seemed to recover himself and focused entirely on Jon. He said something, but Jon had not the faintest idea what the man was saying. It like no language which Jon had ever heard before. It was not the Common Tongue of Westeros and it did not sound nothing like the language of the First Men spoken by the giants, nor did it sound like the bits of Essos tongues that he had heard. It was harsh and guttural and made the knight sound angry, even though he did not appear to be. After speaking what Jon guessed was question from the tone of voice the knight stopped and appeared to be waiting for Jon to answer.

‘I am sorry,’ Jon said; ‘I don't understand what you are saying.’ The knight looked as confused as Jon felt. After a moment he tried again.

Speaking slowly the knight spoke again. It was clearly a different language and one that was not the knight's native language. Again, Jon could not understand him and all he could do was shake his head. The knight was clearly becoming frustrated by the situation. He cast a suspicious look at Jon and then looked about as if the solution to the language problem would appear from the trees as if by magic.

Just then the knights who had gone into the cave emerged. With them were a dozen or so people who had the look of smallfolk, though what little of their clothing remained looked little like what was worn in Westeros. Seeing them approaching the knight seemed to come to a decision. He turned and barked out what Jon assumed were orders from the way the other knights reacted to them. He then turned back to Jon and offered him his hand.

Jon hesitated for a moment, he was not sure that he wanted to go with a group of knights whom he had no knowledge of and could not even speak to. On the other hand, he was quite eager to get out of the forest and the knights were clearly enemies of the creatures and Jon would be grateful for them if more of the creatures appeared. Finally, the fact they were apparently willing to fight to rescue and protect smallfolk showed that for all their strangeness they appeared to have a sense of honour about them. So after a moment he took the knight's hand and was pulled up behind the man. Once all the smallfolk had also been pulled up on horses the knight in front of Jon said something and the set off.

They rode for some time; Jon was not sure for how long. The forest slowed them down and many of the knights were nursing wounds of various severity. Additionally, many of those who were not injured were riding double with the people whom they had rescued. Still, their progress was, if not rapid, at least steady and to his relief Jon saw that the trees were beginning to thin, a clear indication that they were at last getting out of the accursed forest. Even better from Jon's perspective was the stance of the knights which had been deployed to guard the flanks and rear. While they were still vigilant, they became more relaxed as the trees grew thinner and thinner, a clear sign that they believed that the danger was diminishing.

Now that the immediate threat appeared to have passed Jon had time to consider his situation fully. He had no idea where he was, the people here spoke a language which he could not understand, and they could not understand him, and it was apparently filled with monsters. Well, he supposed so was his, his mind going back to the Others and their servants making their way towards the Wall. That last thought caused his mind to stop short for a moment. The threat was coming and he, the Lord Commander, was…wherever this place was, when it was clearly his duty to be at the Wall doing what he could to prepare it to hold back the threat and defend Westeros as the men of the Night's Watch were sworn to do. He had to get back, but he had no idea how that was to be done, he did not even know how he had gotten here in the first place for Seven's sake. He shook his head in frustration and then took a deep breath and forced himself to be calm.

It was no good becoming frustrated over something that he had no control over, especially now. He was tired, hungry, thirsty, and sore from all that he had been through. These people, whoever they were, appeared to be a friendly people and they had fought together against a common enemy. Surely, they would be willing to provide him with hospitality, at least for a while. He would rest and recover his strength. Once he had done that, he would seek to find someone who knew what had happened and how he could get back. He doubted that they had Maesters here, but surely a people could not advance to the point that they were able to produce armour and weapons of such quality without having men of learning? No, they surely must have such men and Jon would consult with them. This further helped Jon to relax. It felt good to have a plan and not simply be blundering in ahead blindly.

His mind put at ease, at least temporarily, he looked about him at the other people in an effort to learn more about them. As he had already noted the people other than the knights the people were clearly smallfolk. It was hard to tell what they did as most wore only night cloths. Jon supposed that they were most likely farms, though one boy of about fourteen had the brawny build that suggested a blacksmith apprentice. More peculiar than their appearance was the way some of them were acting.

While the signs of weariness, shock and grief were not unexpected, what was the way some of them were regarding Ghost. Like the knights they looked at him with something like a mixture of fear and awe. Jon was somewhat confused by this. It was true that Ghost was far larger than a normal wolf, but these people lived in a place of horrific monsters, could a giant wolf really be so strange to them? Even more odd was the gesture several of them made towards Ghost. It consisted of them holding the thumb of their right hands holding the middle and ring fingers to the palm, and the index and pinkie finger sticking up. At first, he thought this was a sign to ward off evil, but as he looked closer he saw no hostility in their expressions. Rather it looked almost worshipful, or at least reverential. He was not sure what to make of that. He hoped that it had Noon came and went, but the riders did not stop. The riders produced bread, dried fruit and wineskins and they and the people they had rescued ate as they rode. The knight riding with Jon offered him wine and bread, as well as a strip of dried meat. Jon found the wine bitter, but drank it and ate the food gratefully. He had not realized just how hungry and thirsty he was till he was eating and drinking. Afterward he found himself at last growing drowsy; all he wanted to do was lay down and sleep, but they continued to ride on.

An hour or so after noon Jon saw smoke drifting up into the sky. For a moment he thought that another attack by the creatures had occurred. However, as he looked around, he saw that the knights looked happy and relieved at the sight of the smoke, thus Jon assumed that the smoke was caused by friendlies. Soon thereafter they arrived.

At first Jon thought it was a military camp, as all he saw were more of the knights and their squires. A closer look though showed more smallfolk were present as well and from the shouts of joy, cries of pain and them rushing to embrace each the others as they dismounted from the knights' horses Jon saw that they must all have been from the same village. As they dismounted Jon saw that several people were staring at him, or rather they were staring at Ghost and making the same sign with their hands that some had been making on the journey here. He still did not know what it meant, but as before the expressions on their faces were more fearful and worshipful than hostile. Just then the knight who he had been riding with motioned for Jon to follow him. They made their way through the camp towards a slightly larger tent where another knight stood guard. They exchanged a few words and the knight stood aside to allow them entrance.

There were several braziers which provided some heat, but Jon's attention was drawn to the centre of the tent were sat three men at a table. The man in the middle was an older man, though still a formidable one. In a way he remined Jon of his predecessor, Lord Commander Mormont, though this man was not as burly. He was clad in armour similar to the knights and from the deference that the man was someone of importance within their order.

The man on his left was also in armour, though this is where the similarities ended. His armour was clean and had been polished to a sheen. Bizarrely, it seemed to be made from brass, but that made no sense that armour would be made from such inferior material. As for the man himself he was a short man with sandy blond hair, beard and moustache. He had green eyes which were bright and intelligent. He regarded Jon with curiosity, but with none of the fearful awe that some of the smallfolk had shown.

The last man was a bear of a man. He was taller than either of the other two men and broader as well. His head was shaved smooth, but as if to compensate for this he sported a bushy beard which fell halfway down his chest. He wore a robe and over this he sported a battered, but well cared for, breastplate. Over his shoulders he wore the pelt of a wolf. His eyes were as grey as his beard and looked cold and hard as ice as they regarded Jon and Ghost. After a moment the man in the centre began to speak.

He said something which Jon did not understand and then tried several more times. Though Jon did not understand any of it from the sound of it he was speaking in several different languages. Each time Jon had to shake his head and say in Westerosi that he did not understand what the man was saying. After a while the man gave up and looked to his companions, as if hoping one of them would suddenly come up with an idea. The man on the left said something, in suggestive tone. The robed man said something in a tone that suggested that he did not agree with what the man had suggested, whatever that was. However, the man in the middle, who Jon assumed was the leader, listened intently and nodded his head. He shouted something that brought one of the knights running in. The man at the table said something to the knight and then indicated that Jon should follow the knight.

After they left the tent the knight made his way through the camp, which now Jon realized that it was larger than he had first thought, till they came to another tent. This was a large affair as well, but there the similarities ended. While the tent he had just left had been made of simple heavy canvas this one was of dark blue silk with stars and other celestial objects stitched onto it. Like the last tent this one had guards outside of it, though these had the look of sellswords about them. The knight said something, and they were allowed entry to the tent.

The inside was surprisingly rich in its furnishing, with carpets and furniture which would not have been out of place in any lord's castle. The largest piece of this was a table covered with books, charts of some kind and a telescope. The room's only occupant was a man a few inches shorter than Jon was and many pounds heavier. His hair was mostly grey, though here and there a bit of brown could still be seen. He was clad in robes of light purple and black and held a staff in his hand. He looked up from a heavy tome which he had been reading and regarded them with a mixture of curiosity and annoyance. He said something to the knight in an annoyed tone of voice, clearly displeased at the interruption. The knight said something which clearly annoyed the man. The man rose from his seat and came over to them. He looked at Jon and then demanded something that Jon did not understand.

‘I am sorry, I do not understand what you are saying.’ This was said in a voice which matched the man in annoyance as he had grown weary of constantly having to go through this again and again.

The man took a step back, apparently genially surprised. A look of contemplation came over him and he raised his staff and began to chant, as he did so the gem at the top of the staff began to glow. Magic! Jon thought as a tingling came over his skin.

Many years again there had been a fair in Winter Town and a man had been there who had claimed to perform magic. He had made objects disappear and then appear again and had produced coloured flames. The girls had been fascinated and Robb had been slightly uneasy, though he had tried to hide it. Maester Luwin had smiled indulgently at them when they had returned to Winterfell and told him. He had explained that the man had been a mountebank and that his 'magic' had been naught but tricks and illusions. Magic, he had told, had either never truly existed or had gone from the world.

For a long time, Jon had believed that, but since he had joined the Night's Watch that view had been challenged. He had seen the wights, servants of the Others, who he now knew to be real as well. He had seen the glamor that the Red Witch had cast on Mance Rayder. So magic was real, but he had seen none that was to his liking. What had he gotten himself into?

Abruptly the tingling stopped and the glow on the staff faded. The sorcerer took a step back and stared at Jon, a look of bewilderment on his face. For a moment he simply stood there, a pensive look on his face, as if he was not quite sure what to do or say. The look was eventually replaced by a thoughtful one. Eventually he seemed to come to a decision, and he returned his attention to Jon. He drew himself up to his full height and pointed to himself.

‘Gilbert.’ He said slowly, pronouncing the word carefully.

‘Gilbert Hertel.’ Jon guessed that the man was telling him his name. He must be of important birth then if he had a surname.

‘Gilbert Her…tel.’ He repeated. While the name Gilbert was a name he had heard before he had never heard of a surname like the one this Gilbert had. The name nodded and smiled and indicated towards Jon. Jon guessed his meaning and pointed to himself.

‘Jon Snow.’ He spoke. Absurdly, considering everything else which had happed and not knowing what was to come, he found himself hoping that the man would not recognize the significance of 'Snow'. If nothing else it might lower his standing among these people if they knew of his bastard status.

‘Jonn Snow.’ The man said. Jon nodded, though his name had sounded somewhat strange when the man had said it. Well, Jon thought, it was close enough and it was good to at least be addressed by name rather than just have people speak in his direction.

Gilbert paused, seeming to consider what to do now that they had each other's names. After a moment an idea seemed to come to him, and he pointed at Longclaw and said a single word. Jon looked at Longclaw and then touched it.

‘Sword.’ He spoke. He did not know if they named their weapons here and he did not want to confuse the matter, so he simply gave the name for what it was.

‘Sword.’ Gilbert said.

And so, it went for some time. They took turns pointing at objects and saying the name for them. It did nothing for grammar and to Jon is sounded as if they were a couple of infants baby-talking to each other, but it was surprising, good to say something besides ‘I don't understand’ whenever someone spoke to him. As it began to grow dark outside Gilbert's stomach emitted an audible rumble. He smiled in a self-deprecating manner.

He went to the table and took up a small bell which he rang. Appearing as if from nowhere a man who was clearly a servant appeared and Gilbert gave him a command. The man bowed and disappeared. Gilbert turned back to Jon, smiled again and said something which Jon did not understand. Though he did not understand the word he could guess its meaning when the man returned with a tray heaped with food. They took seats as the servant divided the food onto two heaping plates. The food was simple, bread, dried meat as well as fruits and vegetables, foods usually found at the table of nobles at war, washed down with wine.

The wine was good, though a bit sweet for Jon's taste. What was truly surprising was that the vegetables and fruit were, in fact, fresh. Either the campaign had not been going on for very long, there was a source nearby, or Gilbert was wealthy enough that he could afford to have them brought to him. Jon suspected the last option, especially when he bit into the meat and found that, while the meat was indeed the dried sort that armies took with them on campaign, it had been seasoned with spices. He did not know anything about the economics of this place, but nothing that he had seen of the area indicated that spices were grown here, and it was likely as expensive here as it was in Westeros. Another indication of Gilbert's wealth. It appeared that had indeed fallen into very important company.

Gilbert provided Jon with a tent and had his man pitch it next to his. It was noticeably smaller than his own tent, but far better than sleeping on the ground, as he had done on more occasions than he cared to think about. Here he had a comfortable cot to sleep on and a belly full of food and wine to help him sleep. Before he drifted off; however, he spent some time considering the changes to his situation. And a great deal had changed. He now had a friend in this strange place, at least he thought of Gilbert as a friend.

In addition to teaching him the language, or at least enough of it that Jon could make himself understood, Gilbert was a wizard and Jon guessed a powerful one judging from his wealth and the deference which he was shown by those around him. If it was magic which brought Jon here, wherever here was, then Gilbert was the only that Jon knew about who might be able to figure out how to send him back. He had seen that Gilbert already knew something, or at least Jon thought that he did from the way he had moved his staff over Jon. Even if he could not do so right away, he might at least be able to tell Jon what had happened.

He found that he just wanted to know what had happened and not knowing what had happened was infuriating. It was also dangerous, if there was one thing that he had learned in the Watch was that what you did not know could hurt you and likely would. Where the gods playing some trick on him? He had never really thought of the gods as doing something like that, but in truth he had thought little of gods. He prayed to them when he needed aid and swore by them, but he had never really thought of them involving themselves in day-to-day affairs. His mind was still filled with such thoughts when he at last drifted off to sleep.

He awoke the next morning to the sound of a flurry activity. He left the tent and saw that the whole camp was in a state of being dismantled. Men were breaking down tents which were being loaded with other supplies onto wagon and pack animals. As this was being done other men were forming up into marching formation, both infantry and cavalry. Jon had not been aware that there were so many here, he was certain that there were more men here than in the entire Night's Watch. As he surveyed the scene Gilbert's servant approached him and motioned for Jon to follow him.

Gilbert's tent too was being broken down and his possessions loaded onto carts. A carriage which would not have been out of place in a nobles estate stood nearby. Gilbert motioned for Jon to get in and moved to follow Jon in. As the entered the door was closed and a moment later the carriage lurched forward. Jon looked at Gilbert, a questioning look on his face. Gilbert smiled and offered him a dried apple.

‘Home.’

Home, as it turned out, was not quite the most accurate description, unless Gilbert's home was a rather formidable looking stone fortress. Jon had at first thought that it was the local lord's castle, but a closer examination soon revealed that not to be the case. The place was completely focused on military matters. It was home to a number of soldiers. These included swordsmen, spearmen, archers and weapons which Jon could not identify. They were also moving things which Jon could not identify, but which were clearly war machines of some sort.

Beyond the fort there was a town. At first Jon thought it was like Mole's Town, a home for those who made their living proving for those at the fort, or who were there to take advantage of the protection that the fort offered. A closer look; however, revealed that such was apparently not the case. Many of the homes were little more than hovels and shanties. He guessed that many, if not all, the people here were people fleeing the monsters. From the number of people that he saw Jon realized that the danger must be far greater than he had realized. Looking at them, both the soldiers who were clearly preparing for battle and the looks of fear and disheartenment on the faces of the smallfolk reminded Jon of his need to get home. The Others were coming and soon the people of the Seven Kingdoms and as Lord Commander of the Watch it was his duty to protect them all instead of being trapped here…wherever, here was. His thoughts were interrupted as the carriage jerked to a stop.

Gilbert's man-servant opened the door and placed a step for them to step down on. Gilbert exited first, followed by Jon. Ghost, who had been walking along by the carriage, came up to stand beside Jon. They stood for a moment, islands of stillness in a sea of activity and then then they began walking. Gilbert entered a tower which struck Jon as strange for a moment, though he could not understand why and then he realized why. It was positioned all wrong.

It was not positioned in a place where it could aid in the defence of the walls in the event of an attack, nor did it appear to be connected to any of the other buildings. It was almost as if it had been deliberately built to keep it and its inhabitants away from everyone else in the fort. He only had a moment to wonder about that before they entered.

Jon had expected the inside of the tower to be an austere affair, likened to those back home. He soon saw that it was the exact opposite. The tower was richly appointed, with tapestries hanging from many of the walls and furniture which would not have looked out of place in Winterfell. Gilbert poured them both a drink from a decanter of cut crystal, which likely had cost a fortune. Once they had finished their drink, a rather sweet and heady brandy, Gilbert motioned for Jon to follow him up the stairs to the second floor. Once there he led Jon through a set of doors and into a huge library. It rose two stories high and had shelves and shelves of books. Jon found himself involuntarily thinking about how much Sam would love this place. After a second, he realized that they were not alone.

Preceded by the sound of shuffling feet a figure emerged. It was a man clothed in robes similar to those Gilbert was wearing, though his were more subdued. He was taller than Gilbert and Jon and lean almost to the point of emaciation. He had a mop of curly blond of hair and a layer of fuzz which was the clear attempt at growing a beard. Most curious of all was what else was on his face. He was squinting in the manner of near-sighted people and on the bridge of his nose was a strange device. There were two discs of thin glass held in place by wire which wrapped around them and balanced on his nose. The man seemed to be looking through them for some reason. The man came up and bowed to Gilbert and bowed, angling his head so that the disks did not fall off and then seemed to become aware of Jon. He looked at him and then at Gilbert, clearly looking for some indication as to how to react to Jon. Gilbert made a motion towards Jon.

‘Jon Snow.’ He then repeated the motion towards the man.

‘Wilfred Schoenberg.’ Gilbert then said something to Wilfred too fast for Jon to follow. The man returned his gaze to Jon and bowed again. Gilbert had obviously told Wilfred that Jon was someone of importance.

Gilbert continued to talk, still too fast for Jon to follow. As Gilbert continued to talk, Jon guessed he was explaining what was going on, Wilfred looked incredulous at Jon, clearly having difficulty believing what he was hearing. Jon could understand the man's feelings, but he was rather tired of both having to repeat his story again and again and being thought a liar or a madman.

Wilfred said something, clearly seeking to counter the story, but Gilbert interrupted with a statement in a tone of voice which made it clear that the debate was over. Wilfred bowed his head in agreement. Gilbert gave a command and Wilfred turned and headed off. Gilbert went to a nearby table and rang a small bell which sat on the table. Seconds later a servant appeared and Gilbert indicated that Jon should follow the man.

He was led from the library and up a flight of stairs to a richly appointed suite of rooms and was left there to rest. Shortly afterwards the servant returned with several others bearing buckets of hot water which they poured into a tub to allow Jon to bath. Seeing this Jon realized for the first time just how long it had been since he bathed and became aware just how filthy he had become. He quickly divested himself of his clothing and happily scrubbed himself vigorously with the brush provided. Feeling the dirt, blood and grime coming off and his muscles relax in the warm water was the most wonderful feeling that he could imagine.

A meal was prepared while he bathed, and he dug into it hungrily. It was a simple affair of meat, fruit and bread washed down with ale. After the meal he found that he was tired. Though it was far earlier than he normally went to sleep he crawled into the comfortable bed provided and was soon asleep.

Jon was awoken by the sound of a chock crowing. Rising from the bed he saw that his regular clothing was nowhere to be seen, but boots, trousers and a shirt had been left for him. More importantly, Longclaw was also present. Ghost rose from where he had been sleeping at the foot of Jon's bed and followed him as he left the room. Feeling rather strange to be wearing something besides black Jon headed down to were he heard the sound of voices, which turned out to be the library from the night before. Gilbert and Wilfred were there standing on either side of a table covered with books and rolls of parchment, some of which appeared to be very old.

They seemed to be in the middle of some form of debate, one which so engrossed them that they did not appear to have noticed Jon's appearance. Not wanting to interrupt them Jon stood in the door frame and watched them. Despite the fact that their language seemed harsh and guttural and was almost enough to make one think they were snarling and snapping at each other, their discussion appeared to be quite civil. One would say something the other would either reply, guessing from their tone the answer would be either in the affirmative or in the negative. At times neither of them seemed to have an immediate answer and one or both of them would take up either a book or scroll and would use what they found to either agree or disagree with what had just been said. Watching them Jon found himself thinking as he looked at them and the library, which he could now see contained far more books than he had first thought, that Sam would love this place.

Thinking of his friend made Jon feel a stab of homesickness and a longing for his friend. In addition to having someone familiar with him, someone that he could talk to for that matter, Jon was sure that Sam would understand what was going on much better than he himself could, Sam was always better at books than Jon, he might even be able to figure out their language as well. Just then his stomach gave an audible growl. This at last alerted the two men of his presence. For a moment they seemed annoyed to have their discussion interrupted, but then Gilbert smiled and motioned for Jon to follow him.

‘Food.’ He said simply and Jon found himself nodding and smiling in agreement.

Gilbert led him to the kitchens where bread, bacon and dried fruit washed down with ale were produced. Gilbert tucked in eagerly and ate more than both Jon and Wilfred, the later of whom looked at Gilbert with something that might have been disapproval. Jon ate till he was full and made sure that Ghost got his share of the bacon as well, unsurprising to see that all those around them appeared to be afraid to approach the wolf. After they finished eating Jon looked at Gilbert, waiting to see what was to come next.

The man rose and beckoned for Jon to follow him and led him back to the library. He began to talk and though Jon could not understand him the man was clearly excited, pointing to lines in various books and scrolls. None of this made any sense to Jon, even less so when the man pointed to what looked like star charts and formulas which meant absolutely to Jon, but which seemed to greatly excite Gilbert and Wilfred judging from the way in which they were pointing to these and jabbering both to Jon and to each other, all of which both annoyed Jon and made him determined to learn the language. His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of Gilbert and Wilfred arguing again. This seemed a little more heated, not necessarily angry, but rather more of an intense disagreement. At last Wilfred threw his hands up in apparent exasperated defeat. Gilbert, for his part, turned to Jon and smiled.

He motioned Jon to the table and tapped a particular scroll. Like the others it was a combination of what looked to be the marked rout of celestial bodies and writing which Jon could not read. It seemed to excite Gilbert; however, who looked at with an expression of confidence on his face. Jon was not sure if that comforted him or not, but he was sure that something was coming, and he felt the hairs on the back of his head rise in response and Ghost to move about uneasily. Gilbert motioned for Jon to stand in the centre of the room. Once Jon did so Gilbert took the scroll and began to walk in a slow circle around Jon while staring intensely at the scroll. At the same time, he began to chant. As before Jon did not recognize the langue, but he could tell right away that it was a different language than the one that he had been using before. Nor was this the only thing that was different.

His voice changed, becoming deeper and yet seemingly more distant. The air seemed to grow colder as he continued to chant. Though he remained as silent as always Ghost's hackles rose, and his lips drew back and though Jon placed a restraining hand on him Jon felt the same way. Sorcery was clearly at work, and he was sure that no good would come of it.

As Gilbert continued to speak Jon felt a cold tingling all over his body he could see that the symbols and writing were beginning to softly glow. Just when he thought that he could not take any more Gilbert ceased his chanting and the feeling vanished. As Jon rubbed himself to rid himself of the feeling Gilbert, a triumphal look on his face, turned to Wilfred and began talking animatedly. Wilfred, for his part, seemed still sceptical, but less so than he had been earlier. He asked a question of Gilbert, who seemed to consider it for a moment, a puzzled look on his face. It then shifted to a look of pleasure as an answer appeared to come to him and he snapped his fingers and spoke excitedly again. Wilfred nodded his head in agreement. Gilbert brought himself under control and issued a command to Wilfred and then turned back to Jon and motioned for him to follow him.

Jon, for his part, was becoming rather tired of it all, but he did not see an alternative. Gilbert led him back to his quarters, where a man Jon assumed was a servant, was laying out Jon's original clothing, as well as other sets. Gilbert gave a command to the man who began packing it all up into a trunk. Meanwhile Jon changed back into his own clothing, which in addition to being laundered had also been expertly mended. Gilbert left him to change as he went elsewhere to attend to other matters. After he dressed Jon had nothing to do but wait, something he did not always do well. Fortunately, he did not have to wait long. A man came to fetch Jon and carry the trunk down.

Once again, a carriage was waiting for them with Gilbert seated within who motioned for Jon to join him with a servant sitting on top who was joined by the man carrying Jon's trunk. Despite its size it was still a tight fit when Ghost squeezed in to lie on the floor, putting him too close to Gilbert for the man's comfort, it appeared that Wilfred would not be joining them. Once the trunk had been loaded, they and the half dozen men who appeared to be their escort took off.

Jon had not often travelled by carriage, and he found that he much preferred to employ a horse. It did not help that the road which they were traveling on was little more than a trampled path which seemed to have a rut or hole every few feet. Another contributing factor was that Ghost appeared to be equally unhappy with this mode of transportation and soon became antsy and was constantly turning and moving around, much to Both Jon and Gilbert's discomfort. Finally, they were clearly still in danger. Though Jon saw no sign of foes he could see that the guards were alert, constantly scanning the trees on either side and Gilbert was alert and clutched his staff, which emitted a faint glow, tightly and appeared ready to unleash his magic at a moment's notice.

Despite the clear unease the party felt no danger presented itself that day and the journey was uneventful, if uncomfortable. They halted that night and made camp beside the road. As the servants set up the camp Jon noticed something. While he had seen Gilbert work magic, he did not use it to lite the fire or set up the tents. Seeing this Jon wondered if this meant that these tasks were below Gilbert, or if there were limits on what the wizard could so with his power. Limited or not, Gilbert provided further demonstrations of his powers.

As they prepared to bed down for the night the man who appeared to be in charge of the guards set a sentry and Gilbert made his own contribution. He walked around the camp, stopping and muttering in a language which seemed different than the one Jon had heard them speaking since he had come to this strange place at several points around the camp. As he did so he used his staff to draw patterns on the ground. Once each pattern was drawn Gilbert placed his staff in the centre of it and uttered a final phrase. This caused the pattern to glow briefly with light and then fade.

Jon was fascinated by these actions, and he watched them intensely. Old Nan had told many stories about wizards and sorcerers who had cast spells and enchanted things and now he got to see it. In a way it made him feel like he was in one of those stories. He had felt that way before since he learned that the Others were real. He had not; however, found it to be a pleasant experience. Seeing Gilbert work magic had so far, while strange and unsettling at times, was nowhere near as terrifying. At last Gilbert finished and came back to sit by the fire with Jon and join him in eating the meal that the servants had prepared for them after eating they retired to sleep. Gilbert went to his tent while Jon went to the tent that had been set up for him. He lay on the cot, Ghost at the foot of it and was soon asleep.

The camp was up and being broken down and they set off. And so the pattern continued so for a number of days, rising early and traveling at a brisk pace throughout the day, stopping as infrequently as possible and stopping shortly before sundown. Though the guards remained on alert at all times and Gilbert made his protective wards at each camp, they saw nothing and no one as they continued on till, they left the forest. That was a relief to Jon, who had started to believe that the forest would go on forever. However, one day the forest just stopped, and they were out. Nor was that the only improvement to be seen.

The dirt track gave way to a paved road as fine as the King's Road. Once on it their progress increased, and they made even better time. They were clearly moving towards civilization as they began to pass people on the road and though they were often covered with snow Jon saw patches of ground which were clearly cultivated land. He also saw livestock watched by wary herdsmen. There were also other travellers on the road, though not many. These, Jon noted, all travelled in groups and were all well-armed. A more welcome sight was the occasional inn. Gilbert had them stay at these whenever practical. After camping out in the snow Jon welcomed the change. It was nice to have a warm bed again and several of the inns served very good stews. As much as he enjoyed these, he could not help but notice several things which struck him as odd.

He drew a few stares, not unusual with him being an outsider and even though he kept Ghost as out of sight as it was possible people still saw and were clearly both awed and terrified of him. He saw more than one person made obeisance’s to him and even some who left food in what appeared to be offerings. Ghost seemed as confused as Jon, who remembered similar actions by people when they first arrived at this strange place but was more than willing to accept any such offering. Even stranger was the way people reacted to Gilbert.

While they served him when they saw that he had coin people were actively avoiding him. Sitting as far from him as they could people directed looks of fear and dislike. Jon observed several people making gestures which he guessed were wardings of some sort. Gilbert, for his part, while clearly not unaware of all of this, pretended not to notice. He at his food and went about as if he did not notice anything out of the ordinary. Perhaps it was for him. Jon could not understand, Gilbert was clearly an important man and one of great value to this land. So why would he be treated so? He wished that he could speak the language so that he could find out. He began to wonder if he was traveling with some sort of outcast. At one inn he had been distracted from these thoughts by a strange sight.

There had been several individuals and for a moment Jon had taken them for dwarves, like Lord Tyrion, but he was sure that he had to be mistaken. Lord ‘Tyrion, indeed, all dwarves as far as he knew, were misshapen individuals. Their arms and legs were either too long or to short and their heads were oddly shaped. Lord Tyrion's face looked as if it had been pushed in. That was not the case with these individuals. While short, they bodies were all perfectly proportioned. Indeed, they were all very stout in build, with strong thick arms, long broad shoulders and short but powerful legs nor was that the only difference.

In Westeros dwarves were treated with a certain amount of scorn, seen as a joke at best and as freaks and monsters at worst. Here it was clearly not the case. The innkeeper had not hesitated to serve them and indeed had shown them what could only be described as deference, always quick to respond to their calls for food and ale, especially ale, in that regard they were like Lord Tyrion. Jon could only watch in amazed amusem*nt as they each drank enough to kill a full-sized man. This was truly a strange place. How strange Jon did not realize until they reached their destination. Gradually the countryside had been giving way to more and more development and Jon could clearly see that they were heading towards a city. Then, at around noon, they crested a hill and Jon was welcomed by the grandest City he had ever seen in his life.

A Wolf in the Old World - Chapter 1 - Louen_Leoncoeur - A Song of Ice and Fire (2024)
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