“State your reason for entry.” The guard at the gate said sternly, but not unkindly.
“Just a traveler.” I said simply, gesturing at myself and the distinct lack of weaponry on me, aside from Erebus of course. “I heard the King was riding to Winterfell while I was in Torrhen’s Square, and I wished to be here when he came.”
The guard snorted, probably thinking I was some star struck fan boy. “All right, go on, then.”
He stood to the side and I rode past him, into Winterfell.
Winterfell; it was a large stronghold extending across many acres of territory, defended by two layers of strong granite walls. The outer walls were a bit shorter than the inner walls, but I figured both were at least over seventy feet. Between the walls, there was a wide moat.
Even though they were not currently manned, or even in use, I managed to spot at least three different places which could be used as a sort of shield against enemy fire as you shot arrows at them. Currently, these defenses were just wasted space, as three kids and their— were those wolves or dogs? I couldn’t quite tell— ran around.
Or rather, the girl was running, and the two boys were chasing her. I gave a small smile at the sight, before turning to look at where the weirwood tree was supposed to be. I dismounted and made to find the stables— directly to my left, hearing the sounds of a hammer hitting steel on my way there.
A quick glance to the side confirmed my thoughts; it was a blacksmith, hard at work at the forge. As I reached the stables, I was met with a giant of a man, who was shoveling the horse shit. He stopped at my arrival, and turned to stare at me.
He wasn’t quite as big as Hagrid, but it was close enough.
I gave a nod, and a smile. “Hello. You are the stable-boy?”
I felt weird calling a man of his age a boy, but you couldn’t help the names of the jobs people assigned to other people.
The man widely smiled back, and said “Hodor,” before nodding.
“Uh.” I said, feeling a little confused. “I’m sorry, but what does Hodor mean?”
“Hodor.” He pointed at himself.
“Oh!” I said. “So you’re Hodor.”
He nodded. “Hodor.”
“Can you not say any other word?” I asked, immediately feeling like a jerk when his face fell.
“Oh, don’t take it the wrong way!” I said quickly, moving a bit closer to the large man. “I’m just new here, I’m traveling, you see?”
The grown man considered my words, before nodding. “Hodor.”
“Am I forgiven, then?” I tried, and the giant grinned.
“Hodor!” He said, extending his hand.
I took it and shook twice, feeling a little amused, at the strangely gentle man. He didn’t try to squeeze my hand like I had expected, but did give a somewhat firm shake, before gesturing to my horse.
“I can do it.” I said with a smile. “Just show me where.”
And show me, he did. A few stalls to the right, and I was all set.
I patted Geryon on the neck. “I’m not going to tie you, so don’t get into trouble. If someone does try to tie you to a post, please don’t kill them, all right?”
Geryon gave me a look that said “you can’t tell me what to do!”
I shook my head in slight exasperation, and turned to the giant— Hodor, I reminded myself.
“Do I have to pay?”
Hodor shook his head.
“Awesome. It was nice meeting you, Hodor!” I said as I walked away.
“Hodor!” He almost shouted back happily. Maybe the guy didn’t have many friends because of his condition. I could see servants running around the place, dragging barrels of wine and carts filled with bread, cabbage and the like to what I figured would be a great hall of sorts, probably preparations for the arrival of the King.
The clacking noise of wood against wood— not the smith, but something else— hit my ears as I got closer to the entrance to the forest inside of the castle. Curious, I made my way past the well and to the edge of a large courtyard, where two boys near my age, possibly a little younger.
They were fighting with sticks, each trying to beat the other in combat while an old man— a warrior who could still no doubt kick some ass— watched and criticized when necessary. Next to the man, lay two dogs; one with smoke grey fur and yellow eyes, the other with white fur and red eyes.
I looked away from those eyes. Red eyes only reminded me of one person.
The first boy had auburn hair, and blue eyes, built powerfully while his opponent, dark brown hair, grey eyes and built more for agility than straight on combat. The two boys furiously traded blows, neither of willing to give an inch to the other.
I smirked silently to myself. I had no sword skills and I could easily beat these two combined.
“Not good enough for you, is it?” I heard from my right, and turned to see another teen, though probably eighteen or nineteen. “You think you could do better?”
He spoke arrogantly.
“I don’t think I could do better.” I stopped for a moment, letting the older boy grin in triumph. “I know I can do better.”
His smile disappeared.
“How about it, then!?” He said loudly, gaining the attention of the two boys, the old warrior, and whoever was passing by. “A spar between the two of us, to see if you are as good as you claim to be.”
I frowned. “One must give their name before issuing any challenges.”
“Theon of House Greyjoy.” The man, Theon, straightened up proudly. “And you are?”
“Harry of House Potter.” I said with no fanfare, knowing that my name would not be recognized by anyone.
“House Potter?” Greyjoy smirked as he mocked my name. “Are you from some backwater southern village that make pots?”
“From the east, actually.” I corrected. “And, no. We make swords.”
“You made that sword, then?” Theon looked at my sword. “Bit small, isn’t it?”
“It’s not the sword that makes the swordsman, my friend.” I said condescendingly, which irritated him slightly. “It’s the man wielding it.”
“Well said.” The old warrior said, grabbing both our attention, before fixing his eyes on me. “How about it, lad? Up for a fight?”
“Sure.” I said easily, making my way to the center as the two boys who had been sparring rushed to the side with excited eyes. I supposed that watching a fight was as fun as being in a fight, yourself. I placed my sword at the edge, before one of the boys threw his wooden sword to me, while the other threw his practice sword to Theon.
A few seconds later, we stood a few feet apart from each other. He gave me a cocky grin, sure of his win against me. And why wouldn’t he be so certain? He was older than me, bigger than me, and thought he had more experience.
“Ready?” The old warrior said. We both nodded. “Begin!”
He came at me with a stab, most likely meant to frighten and overwhelm me with his ferocity— long enough for him to land a stab in my stomach, but I was not so easily scared. I sidestepped his lunge before raising my right hand and slapping him on his ass— hard.
He yelped and fell forward, face first into the dirt floor. The two boys howled with laughter, and even the old warrior gave a smirk at the sight, before assuming his stern look once more.
To his credit, Theon got back to his feet and attacked me, once more, without any insults. Though he did gain some respect, I still planned on utterly beating him. To do that, I spent the next minute dodging his strikes, parrying them, blocking them, but never striking back.
As time went on he realized I wasn’t even fighting back, and became angry. His hits started to miss even without me dodging.
“Fight back, you coward!” He shouted as he swung wide again.
That was my chance; the whole thing happened in the next split second; I blocked his practice sword with my own, before a quick leg sweep had him on his back, my practice sword already at his throat.
He stared at it, then at me, then back at it, impotent fury visible in his eyes. I scoffed at the blatant display of emotion, and spoke.
“Do you surrender?” I asked loudly, and slowly.
A few moments passed as the older boy calmed down.
“…Yes. I yield.” He said quietly.
I gave a humph, and lifted the practice sword from his throat, extending my hand. He stared at it for a few seconds, before grudgingly grabbing it.
“You’re really good!” I heard a little girl’s voice as Theon dusted himself off next to me. He scowled at the girl, but took the practice swords and handed them back to the old man.
I looked at her; it was the same girl I had seen earlier. Next to her, stood both the two boys as well.
“Thank you.” I smiled. “I’m sure Theon took it easy on me, little one.”
That seemed to mollify the boy in question, while all the other kids looked at me disbelievingly. The old man was the only one who understood the gesture, it seemed. The little girl scowled at being called little— something which amused me to no end.
“Anyway.” I said as I went to grab my sword, before placing it at my side. “I do apologize for the interruption. I’m sure your students would like to resume their training.”
It felt strange speaking so formally, but if I employed the vocabulary from my realm, I didn’t think anyone would understand more than a few words.
“Think nothing of it, er..” The old man trailed off, unsure of how to refer to me.
“Harry is fine.” I smiled and shook the man’s gloved hand. His grip was strong. “I am no Knight or Lord, just a simple traveller.”
“I see.” The stout man said. “I am known as Ser Rodrik Cassel, and I am the master-at-arms of Winterfell.”
Master-at-arms? Why would someone so high up be teaching a bunch of wayward children— Oh… I looked at the group of kids, before looking back at him uncomfortably. The old man understood.
“Not to worry lad.” The old man said, patting me on the shoulder. “No sense in punishing those who win their battles fairly.”
“Ah— Good.” I replied gratefully. “That’s good. Thanks.”
It would suck to have to fight my way out of there because the reigning Lord’s brats decided they wanted to hang me for irritating them. Ser Rodrik then introduced me to every one of them, and a round of shaking hands and “nice to meet you”-s were exchanged.
The boy with auburn hair was Robb Stark, the Heir of Winterfell. The other boy his age was a bastard— apparently it was something to be ashamed about or something, the whole thing irked me, and I could tell the boy himself, Jon Snow, didn’t appreciate his last name being bandied about like that.
He probably thought I would judge him for it, but was surprised when I shook his hand with a grin, saying that we should spar together, later.
“I’ll hold you to that.” Jon said with a grin.
The little girl was Arya Stark, and got really irritated when I called her “Little Lady”. Heh. Kids were always fun to fuck with.
The two boys were Bran and Rickon Stark, respectively. I gave them smiles and quick hellos, watching them tease their sister.
“May I ask why you’ve come so far north?” The old knight asked, as he set the two boys.
“Word came to Torrhen’s Square that the King rides for Winterfell.” I said simply. “Rumor has it he’s bringing his entire court with him.”
“Aye.” The knight said, smirking slightly as he heard Arya shouting at her brothers to stop calling her Little Lady. “You’re here to see the King, then?”
“Yes, it should prove to be an interesting experience at the very least.” I said, before looking over to the tree line and pointing to the tree with the red leaves. “I’ve also wanted to examine that tree, over there.”
Rodrik’s eyes landed on the large treetop, as well.
“I see.” He said. “May I ask why?”
“Of course.” I smiled. “I’ve heard of these Old Gods of the forest, stream and stone while travelling, and admit to being quite interested in them. Am I allowed to enter the forest?”
“Aye, lad.” Rodrik immediately answered. “The godswood is open to everyone. Forgive my questions; just an old man’s curiosity.”
I gave a nod and prepared to go. “It’s quite all right. I took no offense.”
“However, do keep it in mind that.” He said before I could bid the others goodbye. “The godswood is a place of worship and meditation. Do not desecrate it.”
Unspoken words were also said: If you do, you’ll come to regret it.
“I won’t.” I answered, and looked at all the other kids. “It was nice meeting all of you. I will see you later, Jon.” I walked away, feeling a little happy.
“Not what I’d expected from the sons of Lords.” Erebus said to me as I skirted past a few workers unloading a cart full of firewood, before entering Winterfell’s godswood.
I was a little surprised; the woods were much thicker than I expected, considering the forest was inside of the stronghold. I expected a few trees, here and there, with defined paths and many benches and the like, kind of like a garden.
This was anything but. The only way I managed to find my way through was because of the tree’s shape, color and size. Quite thick, bone white, with leaves as red as blood.
I approached the tree slowly, feeling a thrum of power running from it into the earth. It wasn’t anything earth shattering, barely enough magic to sustain a cornish pixie— but it was there. The energy seemed to cover the grounds of the godswood, never going outside of its borders.
A sort of safe zone, if you will— but against what?
“And who might you be?” A voice came from behind the tree as a man emerged from its left side. The man looked to be in his mid-thirties, with a long face, dark hair, and cold, grey eyes. He had the look of a hard man to him, and I instinctively gulped at the sight.
Standing in his furs, carrying a great sword as wide across as a man’s hand and taller than I was, the man gave me a curious, if not cautious look. Curiously enough, I felt another thrum of power from the sword itself— it felt strangely “hot”, I decided after a moment, before I realized the situation.
“Be on your guard with this one.” Erebus whispered in my thoughts.
“My apologies.” I said in slight embarrassment. “The weirwood tree stole my attention away from me for a moment— first time I’ve ever seen one, you see. I’m Harry Potter.”
He nodded at the name.
“I am Eddard Stark, Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North.” The man said in one breath.
Oh, damn. He’s the head honcho, here. Shit. Must be respectful—
“Do you have to say that every time you introduce yourself?” I blurted out before I could stop myself.
A moment of silence passed as the man looked completely taken aback at the question, before an amused look graced his features. I was about to apologize, but he answered.
“Aye, lad.” He replied. “It never gets to be less of a mouthful, even after years of saying it.”
“I can imagine.” I said, before turning to the tree. He followed my gaze and smiled.
“Beautiful, isn’t it.” Eddard said.
“Yeah.” I agreed wholeheartedly. “I’ve never seen anything like it. I read that the Children of the Forest carved faces in these trees.”
“Aye.” Lord Stark confirmed, bidding me to follow with a gesture. I obeyed, and found myself on the other side of the tree, in front of the carved face. It looked so real, and the red sap made it look like it was bleeding.
“It is often said.” Eddard cut through my thoughts as I stared at the face in the tree. “That no man can tell a lie in front of a heart tree, as the Old Gods know when men are lying.”
Interesting tidbit of information, I thought as I placed my hand against the bark, communing with the tree. There was definitely a presence there, though I could not focus on it. It was similar to seeing something in your peripheral vision without being able to turn your head to see it.
Proof that the deities I encountered were real.
I backed away from the tree after a few quiet minutes, and spoke to Lord Stark.
“Truly an amazing sight.” I said again, before giving him a short bow. “I apologize again for interrupting your prayers. I’ll be on my way. Good day, Lord Stark.”
“Likewise.” He nodded back respectfully, before sitting under the tree and closing his eyes again. I took that as my cue to leave, and relaxed for the rest of the day at The Smoking Log, an inn in the winter town, just outside of the stronghold’s east gate.
It was named as such, since most people— small folk; they were called in this world— migrated here during the wintertime due to the fairer conditions at Winterfell, caused by the heat of the hot springs.
Right now? There were a few people, here and there, but I could tell that the town’s marketplace could hold up to five to six times the amount of merchants it currently had. Another thing that caught my eye for a few moments was the town’s brothel.
I played with the idea of getting a quick fuck, before shaking my head. Who knew what sort of diseases these girls carried? These people didn’t know the first thing about science, let alone something as complex as the idea of sexually transmitted diseases.
Best not fuck around when it comes to something like this— pun intended.
The room I had rented out was quite smaller than the one I had in Torrhen’s Square, but it was cheaper, and I didn’t have need for all that much room to begin with. I paid the inn keeper— a stout, middle aged man with a lazy eye— enough silver to last me a few weeks, since I had no idea when King Robert’s convoy would arrive.
I wasn’t really sure why I was waiting for the man, really.
I mean, it was just one man.
“One man who rules all of these lands.” Erebus corrected. “At the very least, it is worth the wait, just to see what sort of man he is.“
In the following week, I read the book I had purchased in Torrhen’s Square about Old Valyria, now a ruined city in the eastern continent of Essos.
It was once the capital of a great empire called the Valyrian Freehold, which had encompassed the majority of the eastern continent until the cataclysmic event known only as “The Doom” destroyed it utterly, with the exception of the Targaryen family.
An ominous title.
A century before Aegon the Conqueror had set his sights on Westeros; The Doom fell on the Valyrian Freehold.
What The Doom actually was, is unknown; the book said it was a cataclysm without actually going into detail on what the cataclysm entailed. Was it a series of erupting volcanoes? Some kind of biological warfare? Maybe, their own dragons killed them?
At any rate, what grabbed my attention was that Valyria had wizards. Magic existed, centuries ago, though it was rooted in blood and fire.
They could set candles made out of dragonglass on fire; and with it, they were said to be able to see across great distances, look into other men’s thoughts, and communicate each other even if they were on the other side of the world.
“I guess we can add Valyria as a place to visit.” I had said after finishing the book.
Another thing I had taken to doing was sparring with Jon, his half-brother Robb, and Theon Greyjoy. I found myself gravitating more to Jon, however.
The other two were more cocksure and arrogant— at least in Greyjoy’s case, anyway. Jon Snow had a tight lid on his emotions, looking more like his father than Robb ever did; stern, stone faced and cold eyed.
I knew why; bastards were treated with a general lack of respect and decency. Apparently, it was widely considered that bastards were evil parasites who just wanted to seize their birth family’s wealth and lands— a belief based on the story of the Blackfyre Rebellion over a century ago.
The story went that the reigning King at the time, Aegon the fifth, legitimized all of his bastards on his death bed. They took the name Blackfyre and eventually rebelled against the throne, most likely in some attempt to seize power.
After that particular event, bastards were treated even worse than before, even a hundred years after the fact.
I don’t really know why I started talking to him more.
Maybe it was because he wasn’t a douchebag like Greyjoy. Maybe it was because I was lonely and wanted a friend after trying so hard to deal with the fact that I may never go home again. Maybe it was because I respected him more than I respected his brother.
He reminded me of me, really. Until recently, the Dursley family didn’t want anything to do with me. I knew what it was like to wonder about your parents in the middle of the night and have no answer. I knew what it was like to be looked upon with distaste and scorn by the person who’s supposed to be your mother figure.
Jon somehow knew that I understood— in the short week that passed, we became good friends. He was reluctant, the first few days, but my dry humor and willingness to spend time with him finally got through, and he began to smile around me, like he did around his little sister Arya.
This day, he told me of his desire to join the Night’s Watch, something that’s been on his mind for the past year, he said.
“You’re not serious.” I said incredulously. “Join that band of criminals?”
Jon bristled when I said that, saying that his uncle Benjen was part of the Night’s Watch, and no criminal.
“I’m sure he’s not.” I placated. “But the Night’s Watch’s new recruits are almost always criminals.”
And then I told him the story of the thief in Torrhen’s Square. I told him of how he begged for me to let him go, or the authorities would either chop off his hand, or force him to take the black.
“I read up on the subject, afterwards, and asked around.” I said, as we began to dig into our dinners at The Smoking Log. “I learn— excuse me, something stuck in my tooth. Ah.. That’s better. Anyway, I learned that the Night’s Watch sends recruiters to the dungeons and prisons of many towns and castles, offering the criminals within to take the black as an alternative to the chopping block. Most choose the block over living the rest of their lives in a cold and inhospitable place, losing their freedom entirely.”
Jon was silent as he absorbed these words.
“I’m sure your uncle Benjen is an honorable man.” I smiled gently at my newest friend. “Your father is certainly that, and I know you are, too. But you’re my age… There’s a lot of things you could do with your life before making a big decision like this.”
“And what do you suggest?” Jon said a little heatedly. “You think I haven’t thought of it, either? I’m a bastard.” He spat the word out like it was a curse. “Who would take me, if not the black brothers of the Night’s Watch?”
“I would, in a heartbeat.” I said, and he looked at me in surprise. “I don’t give a shit about bastards, it doesn’t matter to me whose mother you were born to and what family you’re part of. You’re a very good person; I can see it from the way you behave around others. How you treat your siblings with kindness instead of allowing the bitterness within you to consume you.”
He still looked unsure, though the compliment did make him duck his head in slight embarrassment.
“I’ll be heading to the Wall after I see this King of ours.” I said wryly, and Jon lifted his head in surprise, wondering why. “I’ve heard it’s an amazing structure. I plan to at least stand at its top. You can come with me; see what these black brothers are like before making your decision. How does that sound?”
Silence. And then—
“All right.” Jon said, still a little reluctantly. “When the time comes, we ride for the Wall— if only to simply see what it’s like.”
The rest of the meal was spent in a comfortable silence.