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Before the Journey


Unlike the beautiful, ornamented wonders that were the keeps of the southron lords, Winterfell was a castle built for siege. Other strongholds might have allocated part of their inner courtyards for topiary or guest housing, or outgrown successive rings of curtain walls and merged with the towns around them, but Winterfell remained true to its calling, and to the Stark words, standing firm against the oncoming Winter, its northernmost tower jutting forward grimly towards the distant Wall like the pugnacious jaw of a fighter who knows the real test is yet to come.

At the foot of the northern tower, a few fires burned, and transients, soldiers, and those who had business within the castle grounds, but not the keep itself, huddled around the warmth and light, making quiet conversation and going about the last of the day's work as the sun faded in the west. The last of the orange glow was barely silhouetting the tops of the pines when Evan sat himself down by one of the less crowded firepits, a frown etched deeply into his brow.

Almost by habit, he took out his knife and started to sharpen it, periodically checking over the pile of heavy armour he had worn since his escape from Holdfast. The ritual of maintenance gave his hands and eyes something to do at least, while his mind dwelt on the unpleasant conversation he had just had with Ox and Stavro, and on the future unpleasantries that would no doubt come with their journey to Marshend. The conversation had been more of a monologue, really, with him doing a lot of the talking and making suggestions that sounded a lot like orders, and he wondered, not for the first time, if following through with this whole identity fiasco was really the best thing to do. It would be so easy to just up and leave. Again. He bit back the thought hard almost as soon as it came to mind, almost drawing blood from his lip as he did so. He thought darkly that at the very least, pursuing the matter first to Winterfell, and now to Marshend, would be the last thing they would expect him to do.

With this and similarly dark thoughts occupying his head, he failed to notice the hooded newcomer until the man had seated himself by the fire. Indeed, it was only instincts, the inborn sense that one has when something foreign has intruded into what was previously a cloistered space, that told him someone was there at all, for neither spoke, nor did Evan look up to see. The crackle of the fire and the scrape of Evan's knife on leather were the only sounds as darkness fell, until the newcomer spoke.

"Mind if I join you here?" The question was unnecessary, as he had been sitting there a good few minutes already. His voice betrayed education, but was otherwise indistinct, and gave no more clues about the speaker than the simple grey hood that covered his face.

"By all means," Evan said with a shrug, still not looking up. "As long as you don't ask any complicated questions."

They sat in silence for a time, as the fire slowly died down to the embers. From time to time, Evan would cast a glance back towards the barracks, and eventually the newcomer commented upon it. "You are leaving with Lord Stark and the rest when they ride to Marshend?" His only response was a nod, and the hooded man made a thoughtful sound. "What's your name, friend?"

Evan sighed. "I said, no complicated questions."

The man gave a short laugh. "Then we shall keep our identities to ourselves - such as they are. Although we may learn more on the road."

"You are going to Marshend with the escort as well then?" Evan did not look up, pushing at a stubborn dent in a pauldron. "How unfortunate for you. It will be an unpleasant affair no matter what the outcome."

Page last modified on January 14, 2008, at 12:44 AM