Jon has always been a loner.
Not really wanting to be in the company of others all that much. Reticent and broody little Jon, that’s what people called him. He’s a lot like his father in that regard, with his long and somber face, dark hair and grey eyes. Then again, most of the Starks look that way, so it wasn’t really just his father whom he resembled. Sometimes, people would say that he looks a lot like his Aunt Lyanna as well. Other times, it was his Uncle Brandon or Uncle Benjen. He didn’t know who he really did look like, but he wished that he looked like his mother.
The mother that he never met. The mother who died giving birth to him.
That fact has always haunted Jon. He blamed himself for his mother’s death and the perpetual look of grief on his father’s face. He had felt the guilt for his birth ever since that day his father first brought him to the Godswood Cemetery to show him his late mother’s grave and explain to him how she died.
He doesn’t really know anything about his mother apart from the things his father tells him, but he always wondered how she’s really like.
His father had told him once that his mother was the most beautiful woman he has ever met and that she was kind and loving and fiercely loyal. Uncle Brandon was quick to second that part about her physical appearance. He had been too ardent in voicing his admirations, in fact, that it was “borderline lascivious” as what his Aunt Lyanna once remarked. He didn’t really understand what that word meant then, but he remembered his father’s unamused mien and the glare that he gives Uncle Brandon whenever he hears of his so-called lascivious praises, so Jon assumed that, perhaps, it meant something bad.
How right he had been, he thought, the day he learned of the word’s actual meaning. He didn’t exactly appreciate his Uncle Brandon’s ribald comments about his dear departed mother, but he didn’t hold it against him, either. Brandon Stark is what one would call a shameless and unapologetic flirt, and so he dismissed his provocations to be merely harmless teasing. They called him the Wild Wolf for a reason.
His father had kept pictures of her in a box which he hid in the virtually decrepit and forgotten attic of Winterfell Manor - a rather pretentious name that their ancestors had deemed to call the Stark estate.
On Jon’s fifth birthday, however, after they had visited his mother’s grave, his father took him to that musty and desolate part of the house and gave him that box. The moment he saw her face (a dusty and faded portrait of hers, at least), Jon had to agree, his mother was the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen. With her sun-kissed skin, haunting deep blue eyes that looked as if they were almost glinting violet and black hair that fell in loose waves up to her waist, his mother, truly, was stunning.
It’s become his tradition to go to the Godswood Cemetery every Saturday ever since he learned that his mother had been laid to rest in that very place. His father had accompanied him the first time on his fifth birthday, and then the next, and then the next, still. Until he stopped going altogether when Jon turned eight.
Ned had told him, that first time, that his mother slept in that place. It was also the first time that he somehow came to have a grasp of the concept of death. Although, initially, when his father told him that she slept there, he had not understood his meaning. He didn’t understand why his mother would be in a place that was not their home. Robb and Sansa’s mum, Aunt Catelyn, lives in Winterfell Manor with them, so why was his mother not? Why was she left in the Godswood Cemetery to sleep all by herself? It only confused him further when Ned pointed at a huge slab of stone with words and numbers engraved on it.
Ashara Dayne Stark
For you were a falling star
One of a million lights in a vast sky
That flared up for a brief moment
Only to disappear into the endless night forever
You will be remembered
**** **, 1969 - **** **, 1995
Jon felt uneasy around the Godswood Cemetery. It was a bleak place that had a dreary air about it and it was quite depressing, to say the least.
“There she is, Jon. Your mother.” His father’s low and placid voice sounded from beside him, breaking the silence. Jon can’t help but think of how his father’s voice fitted with the austerity of the place.
“That’s just a huge slab of stone.” He remarked matter-of-factly, his dark eyebrows knitting.
“What I meant to say is that she lays there. That’s her resting place.” His father explained.
How can she fit in there? And why would she rather sleep there? Doesn’t she want to be with us? Those were the questions that ran through his head. He had been utterly confused, then.
He was just deciding on which question he’d choose to ask first to clear his naïve and befuddled mind when his father’s voice broke his musings.
“Of course, she wants to be with us.” He answered with a light voice. Apparently, Jon had spoken those earlier thoughts out loud.
“She loves us both very much.” his father went on saying. “You, especially. But... she didn’t really have a choice. The Stranger took her and put her there. I’m sure that if she could, she would have stopped the Stranger from doing so. So she could be with you... with us.”
A moment of long silence hung in the air between them before Jon asked another question. “Who’s the Stranger?”
Squinting from the light of the sun, he looked up at his father’s face and awaited his answer.
“The Stranger,” his father sighed. “He’s the one who takes people’s lives when their time comes.”
“Why would he do that?” He prodded further as what a child as young as he is wont to do.
Ned found it quite endearing and amusing of his son to be this curious. Although, that is not to say that he would be equally appreciative of the incessant questions that - he was certain - was about to come. Jon is at that age where everything he encounters in life are promptly followed by questions that almost always had Ned breaking out in a cold sweat. It’s just that sometimes, he doesn’t know how to answer his son’s questions aptly and, at the same time, suitably for his age. Most parents would catch his meaning when he says that kids can oftentimes be extremely inquisitive to the point of making the adults feel uneasy.
He answered, regardless of his drifting thoughts. “Because that’s just the way things go, how things are supposed to be... Have you ever heard of the saying, Valar Morghulis?”
Jon has never heard of it, of course, and he thought that the saying sounded rather peculiar.
“Valarmoor-what?” he asked, frowning.
“Valar Morghulis. It means, All men must die.”
“Die... what does that mean?”
That word, he’s heard of before, but he isn’t really sure what it meant. He just knows that it was something to be sad about.
Die. Dead. Death.
For some reason though, he was sure that he didn’t like those words, nor will he ever like them.
“It means, you stop living.” his father’s voice interrupted his thoughts. “You stop existing in this world. It means, you can no longer be with the ones you love...”
“Because that’s just the way things go, how things are supposed to be?” he repeated his father’s previous words as a question.
“Well, that’s really... sad. And terrible. Whoever the Stranger is, I think he’s a big jerk!”
Jon’s eyes widened and he immediately slapped a hand over his mouth, realizing that he just uttered a very inappropriate word in front of his father.
His father, however, merely let out a short chuckle at that.
“Alright, I’ll pretend I did not hear that, but just this once.” His face was lit up with a rare smile that reached his eyes and Jon can’t help but mirror his father’s expression.
Grinning, he asked him another question, “But, Daddy, does that mean that we’d get to see Mummy again once the Stranger took us, too?”
In a firm yet gentle voice, he answered, “That, I do not know, Jon. Surely, we’ll know it when it happens... but not today, nor the next, because first, we must live.”
He stared at the solemn face of his father, mulling over his words, before he returned his gaze to his mother’s gravestone. One of the dates engraved on it caught his attention.
“That’s my birthday. Why is my birthday written in that stone?” he asked his father with a befuddled frown, pointing at the aforementioned stone.
Ned smiled dolefully as he gently put his hand over Jon’s head and lightly ruffled his dark curls. He slowly went down to his knees to be on an eye level with his son, gazing at him with somber eyes.
Grey on grey.
“She died the day you were born, Jon.”
Jon’s previous frown only deepened as he broodily tried to make sense of his father’s words.
“She died giving birth to you.” his father explained further in a strained tone.
An unbidden thought suddenly came to his mind then and before he could think better of it, he voiced it, “You mean... Mummy gave her life in exchange of mine?”
He took his mother’s life, he ruminated darkly. He’s not supposed to think that way, he knew. But it was as if his contemplations are almost involuntary. They just came without him even wanting to.
“Her time had come to end and yours had come to start. She wanted you to experience life as she once did.” His father replied evasively.
“That wasn’t the answer to my question.” he contended.
Ned sighed. He’s starting to regret his decision in bringing Jon here and telling him of his mother’s death. He’s still too young, he suddenly only realized. But Jon has always seemed ahead of his age, so strangely mature, that Ned sometimes forgets how young he truly is.
Gods, he only just turned five today. He thought contritely. He’s too young to be burdened of such matters.
But he knew he had to answer. Knowing Jon, he’d only feel worse if he was left with questions unanswered. He’s already opened the can of worms, so might as well just get it over with. He couldn’t lie to him either. Lies would only further complicate things. All he could do was to assuage the weight of the truth for Jon.
“In a way, yes, I guess, you could say that... it was a sacrifice she made.”
“So it is my fault, then? I’m the reason why she can no longer be with the ones she love and why she’s sleeping all cramped up under that piece of stone? What if she hates me for it? Do you hate me for it, Daddy?” Jon blurted out agitatedly, frantically. It was as if his words were engaged in a race with his emotions, as if his tears were fighting their way out ahead of his thoughts and he was trying to chase them desperately.
Jon just wanted to cry then. It was all too much to take in his young mind, knowing that his mother could be suffering, that she was all alone in this miserable place and that he was the reason for it. He didn’t completely understand and yet he felt the enormity of its meaning. He felt a great deal of pain.
“No, no, don’t think that.” Ned said quickly, shaking his head. “She could never hate you, I could never hate you. We love you. It’s no one’s fault. It happened because it was meant to be that way. I suppose, it’s rather kind of the gods, don’t you think? They took your mother from me, but they gave you as well. She isn’t completely lost in the world, because a part of her stayed. That’s you.”
His father tried to mask his pain with another smile and even then he still looked sad. Jon saw through it. He knew his father was only being placating for his sake and it only made him feel even guiltier. He felt ashamed of himself. Now, he’s hurting his father too. His eyes stung, his throat felt dry. He wanted to run away and hide in a corner and just cry. Cry his heart out until he could no longer feel whatever it was he’s feeling. He made a move to escape, but the hand that his father had placed earlier on his head now slid down to his little shoulder, holding him there firmly in place.
His father’s voice cracked as he said, “I’m sorry, Jon. I shouldn’t have told you. You weren’t ready. I’m so sorry. Your mother and I love you so much.”
Before he knew it, he was engulfed in his father’s warm embrace. And then, just like that, he let the tears flow. Surrendering in his father’s arms, he threw his own little ones around his father’s shoulders and burrowed his face deeper into the crook of his neck, sobbing hard while his father kept murmuring reassurances and apologies to his ear.
Ned lifted him up and walked away from his mother’s grave, all the while rubbing soothing circles on his back.
But Jon’s stare lingered over her gravestone while he rested his still slightly trembling chin on his father’s shoulder, eyes spilling with tears yet unwavering as they moved farther and farther away from where his mother rested.
It saddened him to think that she had no one with her.
She’s probably lonely, he thought.
And so that day, Jon made a promise to his mother that he will return. That he will never let her feel alone again.
Ashara Dayne’s epitaph was quoted from Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ book, “On Death and Dying”. I altered it a bit for a smoother cadence. I dunno, I think it just sounded better that way for an epitaph.
Anyway, here’s the complete quote:
“Watching a peaceful death of a human being reminds us of a falling star; one of a million lights in a vast sky that flares up for a brief moment only to disappear into the endless night forever.”
I just felt that that whole thing about death and falling stars quite suited Ashara Dayne. I mean, it’s one of the symbols in her House’s sigil and well, she supposedly died by jumping off a cliff in canon, so yeah, her epitaph should definitely involve falling stars, right?
And just for the record, I subscribe to the R+L=J theory (I firmly believe that Jon is a Targ and no one can tell me otherwise!), but for the purpose of storytelling, I decided to make use of the N+A=J theory in this fic.