Jon rides with Lord Commander Mormont and the other officers to the summit of the Fist of the First Men. Ghost refused to come up with him, running off three times. Lord Commander Mormont decides they will camp there to await Qhorin and the men from the Shadow Tower. Jon goes down to fetch Ghost, but he again refuses to go to the summit. Jon stares out at the terrain until dusk and then talks briefly with Sam, who seems to be finding a little courage. He then goes to find the Lord Commander, who is meeting with the senior officers, including Thoren, Jarmen, Ser Mallador, and Ser Ottyn. Lord Commander Mormont means to wait at the Fist for the wildlings to emerge, as the only path they can take is down the Milkwater and past the Fist. Jon takes his leave to get some supper as the Lord Commander goes to bed. Dywen is talking to Grenn, Dolorous Edd, and Hake and says that it smells cold. Jon loses his appetite and wanders off. Ghost appears and beckons him to follow. After leading him down the hill and around in the underbrush for a bit, Ghost starts digging. He uncovers a stash of dragonglass weapons, daggers and arrowheads, and a hunting horn. They have not been there long. Jon picks up the cloth they were wrapped in and realizes that it is the cloak of a member of the Night’s Watch.
Just like that, we’re four chapters deep into Jon’s story. I love the way that Martin is able to create this eerie atmosphere despite the number of people around. Two hundred isn’t a small number by any measure, yet by playing with the chapter and its scope, suddenly you feel like they’re all alone in the wilderness and their numbers don’t feel like any sort of comfort. The repeated mentions of how cold and frigid it is certainly help – somehow two hundred men stuck in the woods on a pleasant spring day doesn’t feel quite as desperate as it does with more extreme conditions. Now, we’re roughly midway into Jon’s story and if it feels like it hasn’t really gotten started or perhaps like it’s on the cusp of starting, that is probably because even by the end of ACOK, Jon’s story hasn’t really hit the points that it’s most remembered for. Let’s be honest; when we think of Jon, we think of his double agent gambit in joining the Wildlings, we remember Ygritte and we remember the defence of the Wall. The former two take place only at the tail end of the book and these other chapters are only here to setup for the flurry of events on ASOS.
“This is good ground, Thoren,” the Old Bear proclaimed when at last they attained the top. “We could scarce hope for better.”
The defensive properties of the Fist of the First Men are mentioned again and again and it’s enough to make one think that it’s a given that the Watch will be attacked there at some point yet mentioning the defensive capabilities of the hill distract us from the opposite point – while it’s easy to defend, it’s just as easy to encircle and wall off. Yet, at this point, the Others aren’t a ‘real’ threat yet – sure, we’ve seen some things but two fairly minor appearances in two full books isn’t enough to make us take the Others just yet. So far, we’re worried about the Wildlings – the Others are too distant.
“An old place, and strong,” Thoren Smallwood said.
Is this an LOTR reference? I seem to remember Aragorn saying something similar when leading the hobbits to Weathertop. By this point, the reference itself seems to point out the obvious – the Watch is going to be attacked by an unexpected, supernatural force (though technically, in LOTR, Aragorn and the others pretty much expected the Wraiths to be their attackers, I think).
“Stop acting the boy,” he told himself
This is an almost painful reminder of Jon’s arc in ADWD after he is elected Lord Commander. I won’t go so far as to say that this is foreshadowing since that would mean that Martin had the line ‘Kill the boy’ fixed in his mind at the time and also because ‘stop acting the boy’ and ‘kill the boy’ aren’t really close enough for it to really count as foreshadowing in the first place. Still, Jon forcing himself to act like a grown up does remind of those events and more than that, reminds me of how far he goes and how much he grows from this point in the story to that.
Had Ghost uncovered some ancient cache of the children of the forest, buried here for thousands of years?
I don’t think we ever get to the bottom of whose treasure cache this really is and yeah sure, I guess you could argue that it doesn’t really matter, but the fact that it was so shallowly buried (relatively) tells me that it was a recent burial. We might be told that directly, actually, in one of the following chapters. Anyway, it’s clear that whoever buried the stuff there knew exactly what they were doing – the dragonglass wasn’t there coincidentally and unless I’m mistaken that random horn might have some meaning too. In fact…it’s almost like the package was an emergency anti-Others toolkit – it has offensive weaponry in the form of the obsidian dagger, a horn for summoning help and a cloak for the stranded human to identify themselves. I’ll defer further discussion on the treasure cache till the next Jon chapter though; we’ll have more information to work with and can get some proper tinfoil-theory-crafting done.