His master’s voice rang in his ears. He turned his head towards his master, who walked below in a frozen valley between the mountains of ice. There were others with the master, ones he was sworn to. His master was calling him, but he could not obey. It frustrated him not to be able to respond, to bound down from the mountain and stalk by his master’s side, but there was that smell.
It had come to him in the night, tickling first at the end of his nose, only the slightest hint of anything at all. The others scents outweighed it. The smell of the men as they slept, the comforting earthen scent that belonged to his master. That was usually strongest; it called him home. There was the way that the ice smelled; dirty, tainted, and older, much older.
The new scent that flowed into his nose was older still. Older than anything he had ever smelled, but it did not have the fullness of corruption or rot. It tingled in his nose, called him to follow, to find the source of it. Reluctantly he turned away from the men, turned away from his master, and climbed the ridges of the ice.
The wind tugged at his coat as he crested the ridge, bringing with it more of this smell. Ice cracked beneath his feet and he moved carefully down the other side, making sure to spread his weight to avoid any catastrophe. He sniffed at the air and caught the last hint of his master’s scent. He hoped he would return to it soon. Then, he made his way down the mountain and into a nook of a valley on the other side.
He walked with determination, not running in case he mistook the way. He did not know the terrain; a mistake could take him hours from the scent and that would mean he was away from his master for longer. He thought about turning back, but the scent came again, stronger now. He tried to place it. It was rich like the smell of newly dug earth, full of the scents of his youth when everything was new. There was fresh running water and the brush of a river against the grass of the bank. There were flowers and the smell of beehives. Honey. That was the heart of the scent; that golden smell that spoke of delight and danger in equal measure. Saliva dripped from the corners of his mouth and he loped on.
Time passed and he did not reckon it. He came to a tunnel in the ice, with ridged walls. It looked like it had been formed over generations by small animals forcing their way forward bit by ragged bit. The smell was this way. He didn’t hesitate, forcing himself forwards into the tunnel, laying close to the ground and crawling forward by inches. Ice soaked into his coat and leeched into his skin, but there was no escape but to go onwards.
There was a hollow at the end, where stones had been erected in a circle. He sniffed at them, circling them, trying to find the source of the scent. But it was not in the stones, it was at their centre. There was nothing there save bare ice. Yet, the honey filled his nostrils, filled his head. He began to feel dizzy and lay down upon the ground.
All at once the cavern filled with light. He covered his eyes, howling until the flash was gone and only a soft glow remained. At its heart was the scent. It was shaped like a man, but it swirled about, turned in his mind. He could see the stones through it. His stomach jumped in his body, his heart raced and he shrank away from it in fear. It smiled, benignly.
‘Do not be afraid,’ it said, ‘I am not here to hurt you. I am a guide.’
He did not speak, he could not. Would this apparition understand? It was not like any evil he had sensed before. Tentatively, he sent it the honey-scent that had brought him here and what it looked like to him, sent him the fear that had gripped him.
‘I understand,’ it said, features swirling so that the mouth disappeared, ‘but there is no time to explain. The scent should have been stronger, we expected you earlier. There are friends of yours in danger and you must go to their aid.’
‘No, there are other places you must go. Mark my sending.’
Images rushed into his brain; the swirl and swell of the sea in the south, hawks circling with ravens in the air, and a large man with dark hair and a round belly running from a Paleman. It was like a flood that knocked the legs from under him and he howled through it, raising his voice as high as it would go.
‘You must go now, through this door.’
In the centre of the circle the air opened and beyond he could see snow falling. A high ridge stood ahead of him, where men had once lived. Lived and died. He approached the opening, placed one foot on the fresh snow beyond it and then stopped. He knew he had to go, the sending had been clear; the hunt awaits. But he needed to know one more thing.
Is my master safe without me?
The guide swirled. It could have been laughing at him, but it was hard to tell. A final image came to him. His master still alive and unhurt. He was still in the snow but the other men had gone. There was a woman with him now, her hair like waves of fire. She would keep him safe, the sending said. Ghost stepped through the opening and joined the hunt as the woman in the sending spoke.
“You know nothing, Jon Snow.”