A Game of Thrones-Chapter 70
|A Game of Thrones chapter|
|Place||Castle Black- Mole's Town and areas to the south of it|
|Page||645 US HC (Other versions)|
|Chapter chronology (All)|
A Clash of Kings
Jon deserts in the middle of the night, determined to join his brother Robb in the quest for vengeance. South of Mole's Town, his friends catch up and bring him back. In the morning, Lord Commander Mormont reveals he knows about the night’s events and convinces Jon to stay and join him on a great ranging beyond the Wall.
Late at night, Jon saddles a mare in the stables of Castle Black. As he mounts up, Sam appears in the doorway, insisting that Jon cannot do this. Jon warns Sam to get out of his way since he does not want to hurt him. When the fat boy refuses, Jon spurs his horse and forces Sam to leap out of the way, stumbling and falling. The mare leaps over Sam. As he heads south down the kingsroad, Jon hopes that Sam has not hurt himself getting out of the way.
The whole castle is silent and there is no one to see him leave; all the sentries are atop the Wall, looking north. Jon trusts that Sam loves him enough to give him a head start. In truth, he does not believe the timid boy can summon the courage to disturb the guards to wake the Lord Commander in the night. As he rides, Jon flexes his burnt hand, appreciating having the bandages off.
Jon stays on the kingsroad in the moonlight, knowing that he must get as far from Castle Black as he can before dawn, planning to then go overland to confuse the pursuit. When he fails to bring the Lord Commander’s breakfast at dawn they will search his cell, discover Longclaw, and know he has deserted. It was hard to leave the sword, but in the end Jon followed Jorah Mormont’s example. The thought of betraying old Jeor Mormont’s trust bothers Jon, but it cannot be helped. Jon is still not sure he is doing the honorable thing. Jon thinks that the southerners have it easier; they can talk to their septons to help sort out right from wrong whereas the heart trees do not talk.
Once out of sight of Castle Black, Jon slows his pace to spare the horse. He hopes to trade her for a new one and cannot do that if she is injured or blown. He will also require an entire set of new clothes; his black wool, leather, and steel will draw the suspicions of everyone north of the Neck. Once Maester Aemon's ravens take flight, not even Winterfell will offer refuge to him.
Yet fond memories of Winterfell are not why Jon has forsaken his vows. He is his father’s son and Robb's brother. Maester Aemon was right about the pain of choosing, but Tyrion Lannister was also right about denying a hard truth. Jon is done with denying the truth. For the rest of his life, he will be accursed and outcast but it will be worth it so long as he lives long enough to join Robb in avenging their father. Jon even envisions the moment he will reveal himself to Robb. Yet those visions stall at Robb’s reaction, when Jon cannot picture his brother smiling. Jon’s mind flashes to the deserter that their father beheaded and to what his father told the deserter about vows. He wonders what his father’s reaction might have been if that deserter had been his brother Benjen; he thinks it must be different. The thought of being rejected and executed does not bear thinking about, so Jon begins riding harder again, as if to outrun his doubts. He does not fear death, but he does not want to die like that. He is not a true Stark but he can die like one; let them say there were four sons.
As Jon approaches the lights of Mole's Town, Ghost disappears, apparently to go hunting. Jon does not concern himself, knowing the direwolf will follow at his own pace. Once he is well beyond the village, Jon stops to drink runoff from the snow and finds his fingers ache worse than they have in days and he has a pounding headache. Since his horse is lathered, he walks. Jon still has not seen his wolf and it concerns him. He decides to eat a sparse meal to give Ghost a chance to catch up. As he is finishing, Jon hears horses coming from the north. Knowing they are too close to outrun, Jon quickly takes cover with the horse in a grove of sentinel trees off the road.
As the riders ride up, Jon quickly recognizes the voices of the boys of his former training syndicate: Grenn, Pyp, Toad, Halder, and Matthar. Jon’s mare snorts, and Halder hears it as the others argue about where Jon might be, and asks the others to be quiet. Jon realizes that Sam did not go to the Lord Commander but he did not go to sleep, either. Jon is concerned that the other boys will be named deserters if they are not in their beds by dawn. Just as the boys are about to pass him by, Ghost comes loping through the woods and spooks Jon’s horse, giving away his position.
Jon first tries to flee but the boys are on him before he can. He draws his sword and attempts to frighten them into backing down, but the boys are unafraid. Jon demands to know what they want and they explain they are here to take him back where he belongs. Jon insists that he belongs with his brother Robb, but the others remind him that they are his brothers now. Jon wonders why they cannot leave him in peace. They start reciting their vows, Jon cursing them. Pyp moves his horse closer, and the others surround him. Pyp grabs the reins and tells Jon that he must either come back with them or kill them. Jon knows can easily kill them all, but agrees to go back, cursing them all. Ghost comes out of the trees and Jon glares at him, but Ghost’s eyes seem to have a knowing look. Pyp notes that they have to hurry because they must be back before first light, otherwise the Lord Commander will have all their heads. They make it back an hour before dawn. To Jon it no longer seems like home and he decides he will bide his time before his next attempt and avoid the kingsroad next time.
The next morning as Jon is serving his breakfast, the Lord Commander reminds Jon of his comment that the things men love destroy them and that the hard truths are the ones to hold tight. Then he comments that Jon looks weary and asks if his moonlight ride was exhausting. When Jon expresses his surprise, Mormont explains that Maester Aemon told him that Jon would leave, and that he told Aemon that Jon would come back. He adds that he knew honor would bring Jon back. Jon points out that his friends brought him back, but Mormont replies that he did not say it was Jon’s honor. He then tells Jon that he had a watch put over him, and that if his friends had not brought him back, he would have been taken anyway.
Jon thinks his life is forfeit and declares he is not afraid to die. Mormont says he hopes Jon is not afraid to live either, pointing out that if they beheaded every man who rode to Mole’s Town for the night only ghosts would guard the Wall. Mormont also notes that Jon is plotting to desert again. When Jon keeps silent, Mormont asks if he thinks he can actually bring his father back to life or make any difference to Robb’s war; each of Robb’s bannermen command more swords than the entire Night’s Watch.
Mormont goes so far as to point out that his own sister, Maege, and her daughters rode south with Robb, but that his place is the Wall. Mormont asks where Jon believes his place is. Jon thinks that he has no place, no mother, and now no father, but only says he does not know. Mormont says that he knows Jon’s place. The cold winds are rising: Cotter Pyke’s men have reported mammoths and huge misshapen tracks near Eastwatch. Denys Mallister has reported that the wildlings are abandoning their villages near the Shadow Tower and Qhorin Halfhand has taken a captive who revealed that Mance Rayder, the King-Beyond-the-Wall, is massing his people in some secret stronghold for an unknown purpose. Then the Lord Commander asks if Jon thinks his brother’s war is more important than theirs is. He also asks Jon if he thinks it matters who sits the Iron Throne when dead men come hunting in the night. Jon has to agree; he has never thought of it that way before.
Mormont goes on to say that he believes Jon and Ghost were meant to be here, because the blood of the First Men, who built the Wall, is strong in the Starks of Winterfell; they remember things other men have forgotten. In addition, Ghost led them to the two wights. Some men, like Ser Jaremy Rykker, might call that happenstance, but Mormont stresses that Ser Jaremy is dead and he is alive. He wants Jon and Ghost with him when they go beyond the Wall; he wants to find Benjen Stark, alive or dead.
When Jon asks what he means, Mormont declares that he will not sit meekly and wait for the snows to come. The Night’s Watch will ride in force against the wildlings, the Others, and whatever else is out there. Mormont plans to command them himself. He continues that the Lord Commander’s steward also serves as his squire, but he does not want to be looking over his shoulder. Therefore, he asks Jon:
Are you a brother of the Night’s Watch or only a bastard boy who wants to play at war?
Jon pauses to apologize mentally to all his family before declaring that he is Mormont’s man and that he will not run again. Mormont expresses his approval and orders Jon to go put on his sword again.