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23 April 2012 @ 09:53 am
like the stillness in the wind before the hurricane begins, 1/4  
“Why are they so… queer around you?”

Sam can barely hear Alleras’s voice over the sound of the ravens, but he’d guess what it was about even if he couldn’t hear it at all. It’s been a week since the ravens have started behaving strangely whenever he came to give them food. Just with him – not with anyone else. They shriek, their wings flap wildly in their cages, and they refuse food.

“I don’t know. It’s never happened before,” Sam sighs. Tending to the ravens is one of the few things everyone agrees he’s good at. He doesn’t need it to change now.

“This isn’t good. They never were this unsettled.”

“I haven’t changed overnight either. They used to like me.” Sam is perfectly aware of how pathetic he sounds. He wishes he was back at the Wall – at least, someone did like him over there. He shakes his head, trying to clear his thoughts. He promised Jon he’d do this, he will finish it.

One of the ravens squeaks louder than the others. Sam thinks it’s saying Snow.

He empties the bucket of meat in the cage anyway before leaving the room. What am I even doing here, he thinks again as he walks back to his own room after getting rid of the bucket. In the afternoon he’ll have to cut a body open – he wants to throw up just thinking about it.

He sits on the bed, takes his face between his hands and tries to focus. Whenever he feels like this, he tries to imagine what will happen after he does get that chain. He imagines going back to the Wall, he imagines people that would have barely glanced at him before getting there looking at him with at least respect. He imagines Jon waiting for him at Castle Black, maybe smiling, and maybe saying I’m happy you’re back now. Maybe he’d say that when they were alone, but it doesn’t count. And then – then if they survive what’s coming, wouldn’t it be sweet if they grew old like that? They could be like the old Bear and Maester Aemon, Sam thinks at times. They’re still young after all – wouldn’t it be nice, to grow old together at the place where both of them belong?

It’s a silly fantasy, Sam knows that, but it makes him feel slightly better. All the training he’s had to go through and that he’s still going through would be worth it, if he could have it. It’s not even such an impossible prospect.

He stands up, his resolution renewed, and heads for the common bathroom so that he can wash his hands. Cutting up a body can’t be so bad; and the faster he does this, the faster he can be back home. At the Wall.

It’s not until Alleras stops him as soon as he’s out of the room that he realizes that something is very wrong.

“Sam? This arrived just now. I think you should read it before the others do.”

Sam opens the small message. His fingers tremble – it can’t be anything good.

Then he reads it and the only word his mind can form is no.

--

“Sam?”

He stares at the piece of paper, as if it could change the words written on it just because he wants them to.

“It’s my fault.”

He doesn’t know that he’s thinking it until he says it, but –

It is. It was all his plot. It was his idea. He never asked Jon for his opinion, he just acted, and he had never thought that it could backfire. That the others would disprove of Jon’s decisions.

That they could –

That they could –

He stares at the signature – Bowen March, 999th commander of the Night’s Watch – and thinks, if he was in front of me right now I would strangle him. Such a thought has never occurred to him before, but – if Jon is dead, then what is he here for? It’s all for naught, and who knows what would happen if he tried to go back? He can’t serve in a place where they stabbed Jon in the back. He can’t. It’s not – gods, it’s all his stupid fault. There isn’t written anywhere that Jon is in fact dead, which is suspicious, but that’s not the point at all.

“Sam?”

He looks up at Alleras and his vision is blurry. He brings his hand up to his eyes, wipes them and sees that he’s crying.

“This can’t – I think I know why the ravens are behaving like that,” Sam replies quietly. He tries to keep his voice steady. He doesn’t manage it. “I told you what we saw on the other side of the Wall.”

“You did. What do you –”

“If Jon’s plan was using the wildlings to have more men fighting them, it could have worked. But now he’s not there anymore and the ones who haven’t been out there don’t realize it. Not even at the Wall. They can’t see – the Wall won’t last.”

“You mean that –”

“We couldn’t hold it when I left and surely they won’t be able to hold it now, if the wildlings are gone. They will pass.” His voice is trembling by this point. “And I need to go back.”

“You just said that the Wall won’t hold – why would you even do it?”

Sam wishes he could explain him. He wishes he could, really, but he isn’t sure that he has the words.

“I only was here because Jon asked me. If that message is true, I have to go. I need to see it for myself. And if I have to die… the place to do it isn’t here.”

Alleras gives him a nod, even if it’s obvious that he disapproves. Or at least, he doesn’t approve of Sam going alone, but it’s not as if he has much choice. Gods, it’d be madness – he’d be obviously disobeying the new Commander, and he isn’t really sure that leaving the Citadel when his chain isn’t completed is an option.

That doesn’t change the result. If Jon is alive he has to go, and if he’s dead he still has to go.

The problem is, the only way he can leave Oldtown and get to the Wall quickly is the same way he arrived.

“I need enough gold to board a ship,” he whispers, “and I need it fast. And I doubt I’ll find it here.”

“That you won’t,” Alleras agrees.

“Then I have only one choice, haven’t I.” Not one he’d take if he could help it. Oh, not one he’d take indeed.

“What do you mean?”

“My father.” His voice is slightly quivering, though not as much as it would have before he stabbed an Other. “Or my brother.”

There’s a minute of silence, and then Alleras moves closer to him and lowers his voice. It sounds strange – more feminine, maybe, but that’s probably Sam’s mind playing tricks on him.

“I can find you a horse tonight. If you ride hard enough, you can get there shortly, I reckon. But then you’ll be on your own.”

“Thank you,” Sam whispers back, feeling as if he could cry from gratitude. “But – how – why would you –”

“I know what it means when your entire family is against you but you need them nonetheless,” he whispers back, and then he’s gone with the raven’s message and Sam is left there, hoping that it’s his brother that he’ll have to talk to. They never were close, the two of them, and that was also literally; Sam can barely remember being in the same physical place of his brother at all.

Not as if they’re brothers anymore now. Jon was (is, not was, not until he knows) more of a brother to him than his real one, and if it means that Sam has to go back to a home he had hoped to forget as soon as possible, so be it.

--

He spends the rest of the day trying to behave as usual; no one tells him the news and he’s grateful for Alleras – now he understands how Jon had felt when Sam had been the one telling him that his father was dead.

Then, when he retires, he packs his meager belongings neatly. He leaves most of the clothes he had to wear in the Citadel and only keeps the regular breeches and shirt that he’s going to wear now – he can’t dress in black. Not here and not now. He puts his dragonglass dagger on his belt, dons the heaviest cloak he can find. He manages to sneak out without anyone seeing him – then again most apprentices are at the Quill and Tankard at this time of the night, and the maesters retire early. He goes straight for the stables and he’s relieved when seeing that Alleras is there, along with a horse that seems robust enough to carry his weight.

“Do you want me to say that you’re indisposed and that you asked not to be disturbed? That might buy you a couple of days.”

“Oh – yes, thank you,” Sam answers. “You don’t have to – I mean –”

“I know what you mean.” Alleras smiles, and Sam thinks again that it looks a bit like a woman’s smile. “Go, I know you have no time to spare.”

Sam mounts on the horse, not without a couple of moments where he thinks he’ll fall and break his neck, and then starts on the road for Horn Hill. Gods, he thinks, Gilly is there, too. He hopes that they had bought that story about the child being his bastard – it’d be just his luck if they haven’t. And gods help him again, if his father isn’t there he’ll have to deal with some bannerman, and won’t that be a problem.

No matter – he’s going to go back, at any cost. He went beyond the Wall, he killed an Other, he made a Lord Commander, even if ended badly; he can face his family, after this.

--

He gets to Horn Hill four days later. He can’t ride as fast as he wishes, and he has to take pauses to let the horse rest. He spends one night in a tavern along the way to get some necessary sleep, but that’s all the comfort he allows himself; when he arrives, he’s covered in dirt (he feels it inside his boots), he can barely hold himself upright and his stomach screams for food. He stops in another inn to get some, and he isn’t surprised when no one recognizes him; as he eats, he tries to listen to the small chatter. He learns that his father has been made Justicar in King’s Landing, and Sam isn’t really surprised. For a moment he hopes to hear that he’s still in King’s Landing with Dickon – if neither of them was here, he could talk to his mother, she still could give him enough gold to pay for that passage. He’s sure that she would – his mother was never made of his father’s steel. But then he hears that his father has just come back in order to bring Dickon to King’s Landing, and Sam’s hopes are crushed in the span of ten seconds. They may leave soon, but he can’t afford to wait.

He finishes his food, gets his horse again and heads for the castle. He sincerely hopes that whoever is guarding the gates will let him in, or best, that he knows them, but he’s not so lucky.

He walks up to the first guard, takes a breath.

“Is Lord Tarly here?” he asks.

“He is, and what would you want to do with him?”

“I want an audience.”

“He’ll hear the peasants this afternoon – you have no business here until then.”

“No. I want a private audience. Tell him that it’s his son.”

“His son? Are you mad? His son has been here for –”

“His first son.”

The guard’s stance changes – from distant to surprised; thankfully, he doesn’t add anything and tells Sam to stay there and wait.

Sam waits for what seems like days but is probably half an hour before the guard comes back.

“Come in and use the kitchens’ door. Someone will be waiting for you.”

Sam walks inside, slowly, trying to keep his breathing even and his hands from sweating. He can do this, he thinks. He can do this.

Or so he tells himself.

--

The servant who had been waiting for him tells him that if he wants to wash before meeting with his lord father he only has to ask. Sam pretends to accept, but instead of calling someone to fetch water when he’s given a room, he changes into his Night’s Watch clothes only. He keeps the dirt and the sweat on himself – he hasn’t come here to please his lord father.

The servant is obviously not happy about his choice when Sam finds him at the end of the hallway and says that he’s ready, but he doesn’t comment on it and brings Sam to a room where his father used to receive private visits.

Sam takes another long, deep breath and opens the door.

--

His father looks… the same as he had that day they saw each other last. Maybe a bit older, but that’s it. His brother has grown up, instead – Sam should probably feel offended that he’s looking at him as if he doesn’t care whether he’s here or not, but it’s not as if they ever shared anything. Being upset would be ridiculous.

“Why are you here and what do you want?” Randyll Tarly asks, and he sounds so annoyed that for a moment Sam is tempted to run from the room. “As far as I heard, you were supposed to be North. Not here.”

“I came here because of – of my Lord Commander’s orders,” Sam replies. He tries to keep his voice steady. He doesn’t exactly manage it, but he isn’t sounding like a quivering maid either.

“Of course, and since a Lord Commander would give a mission to you, you also saw fit to send us a girl claiming she had a son from you? Don’t look so worried now, she obviously wasn’t lying.”

When she said she had slept with me, probably, Sam thinks. Then again, it means that wherever Gilly is, she’s safe – good.

“I assume you – you received news from the Wall, lately.”

“I heard something about a mutiny, yes. Was that the Lord Commander who sent you here?”

“No. It was the previous one. Which is why I’m here. I need – I need to go back to the Wall and I have no means to.”

Silence falls after that, and Sam doesn’t like the look in his father’s eyes. It makes him feel as if he was six all over again and spitting pig’s blood and trying not to retch.

“So you are contradicting a direct order, aren’t you? Why should I help you instead of hanging you like Wall deserters usually deserve?”

“I am not deserting. If the Commander who ordered me to come here is d… not in service anymore, I can – I can hardly be punished for wanting to go back.”

“And what did the previous Commander order you here for?”

Here it comes. He hoped he could avoid that question. “The old Maester we had at the Wall died. He sent me to Oldtown to – to forge a chain and – t-take his place.” He hates his own voice for stuttering so much – he thought he was past that. He obviously was wrong.

He wasn’t wrong about his father’s reaction, though. Sam can feel venom coloring his voice as soon as he speaks. “Did I just hear that you went to the Citadel to swear yourself to a life of service? I had thought you couldn’t disappoint me more than you already had, but this – and you have the face to come here and ask me for gold? Why do you even think that I should waste any more time with a worthless craven such as you are?”

Two years ago, Sam would have tried to run (without much success).

For a second, he’s tempted to.

But then – then he remembers that first couple of days on the Wall.

He remembers the first time he and Jon had met.

(Sam’s first impression of Jon Snow is the only good one he had of the Wall in the first place. It’s all said and done in maybe a second or two – not more than that, because it was when the laughs started.

Jon hadn’t laughed, though.

It’s in the two seconds during which Sam looks at Jon as he stands in the yard, sword in hand. He notices him because his hair is longer than the others’, and after the hair Sam noticed a lean, strong body all covered in black. Pale skin, grey eyes, hands grabbing the hilt of his sword steadily. Sam has never managed to hold a sword so comfortably – his fingers always start to shake.

He had known that the Wall had a lot of good fighters, but if this is the average, then maybe he should have just died before setting foot in here and be done with it. He’ll never stand up to this standard. Not as if he wanted to be here.

And then instead of watching him get (shamefully) beaten, Jon stops the other person and Sam, for a long, painful second, thinks that maybe he had been wrong when thinking that being here would be entirely miserable.

As long as this isn’t a one time thing.

When the master at arms tells Jon to defend his lady love if he so wishes, Sam thinks that if only he wasn’t hurting all over, he’d be flushing.)


He remembers the time when he had told Jon about why a self-proclaimed craven would come to a place such as the Wall.

(Sam finds himself telling Jon why exactly he’s here, and his heart skips a beat or two when he sees Jon’s eyes widen as he recalls his last meeting with his father. He looks sincerely sorry, which is more than Sam could have hoped from anyone, and it’s enough to make Sam hope that he doesn’t start laughing after he’s done. He figures a lot of people would. He’s adjusted to that by now. He still isn’t adjusted to the sight of blood, and he can’t fight, and as Jon said before, he really should not be here, but it’s not as if he has a choice, is it?

“I tend to forget that not anyone comes here by choice,” Jon says at some point after Sam is done. Sam doesn’t know how to answer it; it’s not as if he can say that not everyone is a madman. Not when Jon did choose it himself. But it had felt so nice, seeing that someone could understand where he came from even if they’re here for completely different reasons.)


He remembers Jon telling him we’re not friends, we’re brothers, and the warmth he had felt at knowing that someone did not think him worthless for once, and instead of running out of the door, he raises his head, walks forward, puts his dirty hands on his father’s desk.

“You have no right being disappointed in me,” Sam whispers, because he can’t keep his voice high and steady at the same time. “Because the second I swore those vows that you wanted me to swear, you stopped being my father. I am asking you for help because I have no other choice and I have to go home now.”

“And why should I give that to you, if you’re not my son anymore? Not that I mind, let that be clear.”

For a second, Sam feels as if he could faint right here and right now – it had taken enough to say that, but then his eyes meet his brother’s for a second (and his brother looks slightly impressed – as if Sam talking to his father’s face like this had been something he hadn’t expected at all) and suddenly he knows. He knows what he has to say, and he also knows that he has all the rights to say it. Does he have the guts to say it, though?

Then he remembers his second day at the Wall, when he had been sure that he’d be killed during training, or close to it.

(That second day, Sam doesn’t add new bruises to the ones he got the one before, since everyone he fights against merely stays on the defensive.

Now, Sam might be craven and he might be a lot of things his father never liked, but he’s not the kind of person who doesn’t notice the obvious. He’s starting to think that it’s some kind of jape, but from Thorne’s reaction, it obviously isn’t. And yet, even when he urges the others to fight him for real, no one does.

Then he notices Rast glancing towards Jon more than once in a while, and then he also notices a lot of the other recruits glancing at Jon, and then Thorne starts doing the same except that he’s seething rather than glancing.

Sam doesn’t say anything that day because for some reason he can’t even find it in himself to say thanks – it just makes him feel even more pathetic than he does any given time – but he already knows that his gratefulness has reached new depths.)


Maybe he could have never said it for himself, as he could have never gone to the Citadel for himself, but – but for Jon, he has done a lot of things the he could never have done for himself.

“Because you owe it to me, and my brother does, too.”

“We owe you?” Randyll almost throws away the chair and stands up, and Sam is glad that his father never was very tall. “How do we owe you?”

“Does he even know how I came to take the black?” Sam hisses, making sure that his brother can hear it. He glances at his right – it’s obvious. He doesn’t know. He doesn’t know that it wasn’t a decision Sam took for himself at least. “Does anyone know how that happened? I chose a life that everyone sees fit only for assassins and turncloaks because you told me it was either that or you hunting me down. Do I remember wrong?”

Sam’s hands are sweating so much – they’ll leave stains on the wood, but seeing his father flinch ever so slightly makes Sam feel bold.

He knows it won’t last, so he takes advantage of it. “I went north thinking that I’d die there. I went beyond the Wall and I came back and the gods know that I didn’t think I’d survive it. I obeyed that order because that Lord Commander was my friend, and he was my brother more than anyone whose blood I share will ever be.” He breathes in again, knowing that he’s flushing – he feels blood rushing all over. “I don’t know if he’s dead, but if he is, I want to be there to bury him because I owe him that much. When I went to the Wall, I left you with your worthy heir and I spared you that place in the seven hells reserved for kinslayers. Yes, father, I think you owe me some silver to go north.”

The only sound that can be heard after that is Sam’s heavy, slow breathing. Gods, what did I just say? Sam thinks as he stares in his father’s wide, surprised eyes.

You became a man, Jon’s voice answers in his head.

Sam wonders whether Jon would have said that for real, if he had been there.

“I think he’s right.”

Both Sam and Randyll turn to Dickon, who hasn’t said a word until now.

“You think he’s –”

“Everything he said was true. He’s asking for nothing – we’re not wanting for silver or gold. Just give it to him and let him go on his way.”

Sam feels suddenly so thankful that he could go and hug his brother for all he cared, but he doesn’t dare. He’s barely managing to keep himself upright – he’s sure that not even the last conversation he had with Jon had left him so drained.

“Fine,” Randyll snaps. He opens the first drawer on the heavy desk in front of him, takes out a small bag and pushes it towards Sam. Sam takes it – it’s heavy.

“That’s enough to buy yourself three passages to bloody Eastwatch. If this is all, you can go.”

It isn’t all. It isn’t all by a long shot, but Sam doesn’t have the time or the force of will to deal with this. It’s not as if his father will ever put himself in Sam’s shoes, and Sam has more urgent matters to care about. It’s not as if it’s even worth it.

“Very well. I will – I will go. Just – one last thing.” He’d rather leave, and he doubts that his father will be reasonable, but the well-being of the realm is more important than Sam’s feelings. At least he can’t say that he hasn’t tried.

What?”

“I heard – I heard you’re going to King’s Landing. We – we sent an envoy, a while ago, to ask for help, but the king refused –”

“Are you going to waste my time with that story about White Walkers again? When everyone knows that they don’t even exist?”

“I wouldn’t be so sure about that,” Sam whispers, taking a couple of steps towards the door. “And I can assure you both that – that they do exist. Having killed one myself, I think I’m entitled to say that they are very real.”

He lingers for a second, taking in his father’s shocked face and his brother’s maybe a-little-bit-impressed one, and then he turns his back on them and goes out of the door. He hears someone calling for him, but he speeds up instead of listening.

He has nothing else here. He wishes he could try to find Gilly, but doing it would be unadvisable, and he has to go back.

Sam goes to the stables, finds his horse again and rides out without saying a word to anyone trying to stop him. Then he takes the road back to Oldtown.

--

It takes him another four days; he sleeps when the horse has to rest, and only for the necessary time. He divides the coin into smaller bags so that they’re less noticeable, and when he arrives he’s downright filthy. He’d go search for a passage right then, but he knows it’s not a good idea, not the way he looks; he pays for a room at the first good inn he finds, asks for a bath, makes himself presentable, wears his plain clothes again. He isn’t sure that it’s safe to wear his black ones, especially if the news about what happened to the last Lord Commander has spread by now. (He hopes not.)

He sells the horse before heading for the port; he gains half of the money he has spent for the room.

It takes him ten tries before finding someone willing to bring him to Eastwatch and not to any nearby harbor, and it’ll take him most of his money, but that’s fine. He doesn’t expect to need it, not when he finally gets there.

As he boards the ship, his heart feels heavy. Gods, what is he doing? If he goes directly to the Wall, everyone will know why he came back (and he can’t hope that no one except Pyp and Grenn knows that he was behind Jon’s election; by now others will know), and if they could stab Jon in the back then who knows what they’d do with him? He could go to Mole’s Town first, see if there’s a chance that someone is still there and that they might have information for him.

Gods, he just hopes that he gets to see Jon one last time, dead or not. Of course he hopes that he’s somehow still alive for some miracle. There are so many things Sam wishes he could tell him (thanks for being my friend, thanks for being my family, you’re the best person I’ve ever known), but even if it turns out that he can’t… he still can’t bear the idea of arriving there and finding out that they might not even have bothered to dig him a grave (turncloaks never have that luxury).

He thinks about the way he was told Robb Stark died and when he throws up over the rail, he doesn’t even mind the way the ship’s captain looks at him as if he’s a fool that has no business being seasick even before the ship sails.

I swore my vows near the heart tree, he thinks, because I thought my gods had forsaken me. Old gods, please don’t forsake me as well. He can’t be dead.

There’s no answer of any kind, but it’s not as if gods answer men directly most times, do they?

Sam asks the captain where his quarters are, lies on a cot that was made for a man half his size and waits quietly until the ship sails.

He tries not to think about what might wait for him when he gets to Eastwatch.

part two here
 
 
feeling: okayokay