The Scent of Winter Roses
It was wrong that he burned so. He may not be a Stark in name, but he was in blood, and his blood was far better suited for the icy chill of the North. But this burning! His insides felt like they were writhing like the flames in the hearth not far away, and the heat in his flesh felt like it was coming from within his very skin rather than without. Worse still, the frigid air that he had slowly become used to that sometimes accompanied the opening of the door could not ease the burn, but only intensified the torture.
Even in his delirium, he knew his situation was dire. He didn't need the muddled voices to tell him that. In his brief moments of near lucidity, he could still hear those around him, though they sounded far away and muffled, as though he were underwater. He didn't need to hear the words to know what those tones meant. He was in a bad way.
No, worse than that.
He was dying. Deep down there was a nasty little voice that told him so. He was too grievously injured. He couldn't survive.
Nevertheless, he fought. Jon Snow would not give up so easily. He was stronger than this. And he would rise from this blasted sickbed yet. The little voice was lying. It was doubt. Lord Snow controlled his own destiny now. So he fought.
And it was a bitter battle.
But every now and then there was respite. Every now and then unconsciousness would take him and he would be blissfully unaware. Sometimes he even dreamed. Mostly it was of running through the woods, agitated and anxious. Those were less restful, but there was a certain comfort to them. It was like he was proclaiming that he was still here, and still alive.
He opened his eyes. It was early morning, the light soft and pale. A cool breeze wafted in through the window of his chamber, bringing with it the heady but gentle scent of blue winter roses. It was pleasant, and even welcome, and he drew in a great lungful. He could distantly feel the ache from wounds he had begun to believe were mortal. He tested his limbs, wary of the pain he knew such movement should be causing. When he found they were wholly at his command, he slowly pulled himself up. He head spun ever so slightly, but it quickly dispelled when he paused, propped up on his elbows. After a moment he sank back down again, resting his weary body for a moment. He was so tired….then he tried again.
Gentle hands came to rest on his shoulders, urging him to lie back down, he resisted for a moment, but a firm, feminine voice quickly put a halt to that.
"You mustn't do too much. You need to rest, Jon, and regain your strength." A frown creased his forehead as he tried to place the voice. Oh, it was familiar.
Not just that, but the woman who now sat at his side looked familiar as well. She was turned away from him, and the soft splash of water came from just beyond her. Her dark hair was long, loose and unmistakably Stark. Then she turned back to face him, a damp towel in her hands.
"Arya?" He couldn't help it. But as he looked at her, he knew he was mistaken. She was older than Arya, or at least, older than the Arya he had seen last. But there was so much the same. They had the same face, long and solemn, and the same dark grey intelligent eyes. But there were differences as well. He had never seen Arya's eyes hold the gentleness that this woman's did, though the same willful fire obviously burned within them both. And though Arya far more Stark than Tully, there were still hints of Catelyn in the shape of her eyes and the curve of her mouth when she smiled. There was no doubt that this woman was a wolf; was wholly Stark. Then it came to him.
"No, you're Lyanna." She smiled, bringing the damp cloth up to dab at his brow. Jon was confused. But the silence dragged on, only broken when Lyanna turned to remoisten the cloth in her hands. She smelled of blue roses. Eventually he worked up the courage to speak, but as he opened his mouth, she smiled sadly, and spoke herself, her voice quiet but strong.
"My greatest regret, I think, is that I was never able to do this myself." Her hands stilled, and came to rest on her lap. Jon stared at her in bewilderment. She sighed, a flash of regret and anger reflecting in her eyes for the briefest of moments. "For that, I shall never forgive Robert. He was a fool." She turned again, tossing the cloth back into the basin, the water sloshing out in a glistening wave to splash onto the floor. Jon finally found his voice, his mind whirring as he struggled to make sense out of what she said.
"Robert? King Robert? But he was your betrothed. He went to war for you." Lyanna snorted disdainfully, acutely reminding Jon of his sister. She looked off into the distance, the anger surfacing again.
"I did not choose to marry him. I barely liked him. For some reason he loved me; thought I was soft and beautiful, a lovely rose to sit docile by his side. But I am no rose. I am as much a wolf as you are. I had no desire to be an obedient wife to a whoring husband. He didn't truly love me, Jon. He loved an idea of me. And when that idea was taken from him, he chose to fight. I did not ask him to," it was then that her face grew sad, "I did not want him to. Nor did I want my father and brother to pay such a terrible price for me." For a moment she looked on the verge of crying. Her eyes shone in the dim light. But she lifted her chin, determined not to let those tears fall. She was proud and strong-willed. She would not let her grief own her as many highborn ladies were wont to do. He could see it in her as easily as he could see the hue of her eyes.
"They died for me. As did the man I truly loved." She turned back to him, reaching out to lay a cool hand on his cheek. "You know I speak of your father." Jon nearly choked, a profusion of questions springing to escape his lips. But even as he was about to protest that Ned Stark was his father and question what she could possibly mean, the words died. Comprehension slowly began to dawn. Before they parted, his father said when they next met he would learn the truth about his mother. He had looked sad and weary then, and older than Jon had ever seen him.
"Ned Stark wasn't my father, was he." Lyanna slowly shook her head, an odd mixture of sadness and pride suffusing her features. Jon felt like he had been punched in the gut. "He lied to me. My whole life, he lied." He could feel the prickling sensation that heralded tears, but like the woman before him, he could not bear to let them fall. He had his pride, just as she had hers. He turned his head away, struggling to hold back the betrayal that threatened to poison his thoughts.
Lyanna let him have a moment, but eventually she turned his face back to her. "Do not blame my brother, for he did only as I asked. It must have chafed at his sense of honour, though, to have to lie to everyone," a faint smile tugged at the corner of her mouth, "and he was fond of his honour." Her face turned serious again.
"I knew I was dying when he found me in that tower, just as I knew that Robert would slay the child in my arms if he knew the truth. I made Ned swear to me that he would keep you safe, that he would raise you as your own, to protect you." Lyanna's face hardened, looking every bit a she-wolf. "Robert would never suffer the child of a Targaryan to survive, nor the evidence that he had been made a fool." Jon was transfixed. It was surreal; no, it couldn't be real. And yet the truth in her words was unmistakable. Jon sat up.
"You are my mother." He already knew the answer, but he had to say it. She smiled for real this time, her whole face lighting up with joy. She brushed back his hair from his forehead. "You weren't abducted, like the stories say." Once again, her large dark eyes became overly bright, but this time a tear did escape, though she made no move to brush it away. She shook her head. But when she spoke again, it was not sadness that tinged her voice, it was a measure of pride.
"No. I ran. I could not be coerced to wed Robert. Not before I met Rhaegar, and certainly not after. No. I took charge of my own destiny. I would not become a trophy for Robert Baratheon to display on his arm." Then the pride seeped out of her slender frame. Her gaze fell to her hands, shame and grief now the only emotions writ on her features; features that he now recognized as his own. "My only regret is for the lives my choice cost." Jon had nothing to say. Instead he looked to the window, focusing on nothing in particular.
The silence endured for several moments, Lyanna only moving to swipe that single tear from her cheek. This time it was Jon who broke the silence.
"So Rhaegar was my true father, then." Lyanna sighed, a small, involuntary smile coming to her lips. Jon turned to study her. There was no mistaking the love that smile spoke of. It was a love that had overturned an entire Kingdom. A secret love that hadn't been able to survive the horrors of the war it had sparked. He felt his chest tighten in sympathy. There was also a world of pain in that smile.
"Yes." That was all she said on the matter. She reached out and took his hand. Part of him wanted to pull away, to demonstrate his pain at the lies he now realized had constructed his life, but he couldn't. He craved her touch more; the kind, loving touch of the mother he had never known.
"He may not have been your true father, Jon, but my brother did love you as if you were his own true-born son. He wasn't capable of anything less." Jon tried to smile, but found he couldn't. He knew full well that Ned had loved him as a son, but that did little to ease the pain the revelation was causing him.
"I know this hurts, Jon. It will. But know that, while I do regret much of what came of the love between your father and myself, I could never regret you." Tears once again came unbidden to Jon's eyes, and no matter the effort he made he could not hold them back. Another part of him, a small, child-like part, wanted nothing more than to throw himself into her arms the way he'd never had the chance to. But instead he pushed that wish away. He was a man grown; the Lord Commander of the Night's Watch. And a man did not retreat to his mother's embrace as a child would, no matter how much he wanted to. Lyanna laughed, startling him.
"He may not be your father, but there is more than a little of Ned in you. He thought more of his pride and honour than his own comfort." Without preamble, she drew him into her embrace, her arms enclosing him the way he had always dreamed. He stiffened for a moment before melting into her, inhaling her scent as the years seemed to fade away. He was a child again, comforted in his mother's loving arms.
He could've stayed there forever. But they both knew he couldn't. Lyanna pulled back, smiling gently as she took his face in her hands.
"I am proud of you, Jon." He felt himself getting choked up again as her gentle but strong hands guided him back down onto the bed, pulling the furs up and tucking him in. There was so much that he wanted to say to her, and so much more that he wanted to know. Before he could even open his mouth, though, she laid a finger against his lips.
"You need to rest, Jon, and recover your strength. There is still a great deal of healing ahead of you." He couldn't help but smile at the firm, motherly tone she had taken, no matter how petulantly he wanted to protest. Never had such a tone been used on him before, and he found he liked the feeling.
It felt like love.
But he couldn't deny that she was right, as he could already feel sleep closing in around him as he relaxed into the furs she had pulled up around him. She grinned cheekily at him, the fire in her spirit once again lighting her eyes. Standing, she leaned over him, placing a gentle kiss on his brow.
"I love you, my son."
Jon was conscious in a flash, and the first thing he felt was a low, throbbing pain through his whole body that seemed to reach down into his very bones. His senses were dulled, and absently he knew it was from a heavy dose of milk of the poppy. After another moment his memory began to return in fits and spurts, the memory of the attack coming back to him. He should be feeling rage, but he was strangely calm.
Slowly he opened his eyes, blinking to try and clear his clouded vision. He was in his quarters, alone but for a single dozing figure in the corner, one of his loyal brothers in black, he noted absently. The room was dark but for the light from the heath, and it smelled of sickness and death.
Because of him, he realized with a start. He had been dying, delirious with pain and betrayal and rage. But now he felt—well, he wasn't quite sure how he felt. After another moment it came to him; he felt at peace. He was going to live. Just as sure as he could feel the pain all over his body, he could feel that he was beyond the worst of it.
Inhaling deeply, he silently rejoiced at the musty air he pulled into his lungs with each breath, basking in the pain that told him without a doubt that he was alive. As he pulled in another lungful, the mustiness and the acrid smell of the sickroom seemed to melt away.
And all he could smell were winter roses.