His candle had guttered out in a pool of wax, but morning light was shining through the shutters of his window. Jon had fallen asleep over his work again. Books covered his table, tall stacks of them. He’d fetched them up himself, after spending half the night searching through dusty vaults by lantern light. Sam was right, the books desperately needed to be sorted, listed, and put in order, but that was no task for stewards who could neither read nor write. It would need to wait for Sam’s return.
If he does return. Jon feared for Sam and Maester Aemon. Cotter Pyke had written from Eastwatch to report that the Storm Crow had sighted the wreckage of a galley along the coast of Skagos. Whether the broken ship was Blackbird, one of Stannis Baratheon’s sellsails, or some passing trader, the crew of the Storm Crow had not been able to discern. I meant to send Gilly and the babe to safety. Did I send them to their graves instead?
Last night’s supper had congealed beside his elbow, scarce touched. Dolorous Edd had filled his trencher almost to overflowing to allow Three-Finger Hobb’s infamous three-meat stew to soften the stale bread. The jest among the brothers was that the three meats were mutton, mutton, and mutton, but carrot, onion, and turnip would have been closer to the mark. A film of cold grease glistened atop the remains of the stew.
Bowen Marsh had urged him to move into the Old Bear’s former chambers in the King’s Tower after Stannis vacated them, but Jon had declined. Moving into the king’s chambers could too easily be taken to mean he did not expect the king to return.
A strange listlessness had settled over Castle Black since Stannis had marched south, as if the free folk and the black brothers alike were holding their breath, waiting to see what would come. The yards and dining hall were empty more oft than not, the Lord Commander’s Tower was a shell, the old common hall
a pile of blackened timbers, and Hardin’s Tower looked as if the next gust of wind would knock it over. The only sound of life that Jon could hear was the faint clash of swords coming from the yard outside the armory. Iron Emmett was shouting at Hop-Robin to keep his shield up. We had all best keep our shields up.
Jon washed and dressed and left the armory, stopping in the yard outside just long enough to say a few words of encouragement to Hop-Robin and Emmett’s other charges. He declined Ty’s offer of a tail, as usual. He would have men enough about him; if it came to blood, two more would hardly matter. He did take Longclaw, though, and Ghost followed at his heels.
By the time he reached the stable, Dolorous Edd had the lord commander’s palfrey saddled and bridled and waiting for him. The wayns were forming up beneath Bowen Marsh’s watchful eye. The Lord Steward was trotting down the column, pointing and fussing, his cheeks red from the cold. When he spied Jon, they reddened even more. “Lord Commander. Are you still intent on this…”
“… folly?” finished Jon. “Please tell me you were not about to say folly, my lord. Yes, I am. We have been over this. Eastwatch wants more men. The Shadow Tower wants more men. Greyguard and Icemark as well, I have no doubt, and we have fourteen other castles still sitting empty, long leagues of Wall that remain unwatched and undefended.”
Marsh pursed his lips. “Lord Commander Mormont – “
” – is dead. And not at wildling hands, but at the hands of his own Sworn Brothers, men he trusted.