Castle Black seemed a bleak and forlorn place in the pale dawn light. My command, Jon Snow reflected ruefully, as much a ruin as it is a stronghold. The Lord Commander’s Tower was a shell, the Common Hall a pile of
blackened timbers, and Hardin’s Tower looked as if the next gust of wind would knock it over … though it had looked that way for years. Behind them rose the Wall: immense, forbidding, frigid, acrawl with builders pushing up a
new switchback stair to join the remnants of the old. They worked from dawn to dusk. Without the stair, there was no way to reach the top of the Wall save by winch. That would not serve if the wildlings should attack again.
“How well, though?” Ser Godry drew his own blade. “Show us. I promise not to hurt you, lad.”
How kind of you. “Some other time, ser. I fear that I have other duties just now.”
“You fear. I see that.” Ser Godry grinned at his friends. “He fears,” he repeated, for the slow ones.
“You will excuse me.” Jon showed them his back.
“Yes, it is,” said Father, annoyed. “It may very well savetheir lives.”Save our lives! It was no longer a small alarm bell thatwas ringing in my head – they
were big bells now, like theones we heard from Sacred Heart of Jesus Church, not farfrom the zoo.
“But Piscine? He’s only eight,” Mother insisted.
“He’s the one who worries me the most.””I’m innocent!” I burst out. “It’s Ravi’s fault, whatever it is.
He did it!””What?” said Ravi. “I haven’t done anything wrong.” Hegave me the evil eye.
“Shush!” said Father, raising his hand. He was looking atMother. “Gita, you’ve seen Piscine. He’s at that age when boysrun around and poke their noses everywhere.”Me? A run-arounder? An everywhere-nose-poker? Not so,not
so! Defend me, Mother, defend me, I implored in myheart. But she only sighed and nodded, a signal that theterrible
“Come with me,”