“Jon!” Pyp shouted after him.
“Pull up,” Grenn said. “You can’t outrun us all.”
Jon wheeled around to face them, drawing his sword. “Get back. I don’t wish to hurt you, but I willif I have to.”
“One against seven?” Halder gave a signal. The boys spread out, surrounding him.
“What do you want with me?” Jon demanded.
“We want to take you back where you belong,” Pyp said.
“I belong with my brother.”
“We’re your brothers now,” Grenn said.
“They’ll cut off your head if they catch you, you know,” Toad put in with a nervous laugh. “Thisis so stupid, it’s like something the Aurochs would do.”
“I would not,” Grenn said. “I’m no oathbreaker. I said the words and I meant them.”
“So did I,” Jon told them. “Don’t you understand? They murdered my father. It’s war, my brotherRobb is fighting in the riverlands—”
“We know,” said Pyp solemnly. “Sam told us everything.”
“We’re sorry about your father,” Grenn said, “but it doesn’t matter. Once you say the words, youcan’t leave, no matter what.”
“I have to,” Jon said fervently.
“You said the words,” Pyp reminded him. “Now my watch begins, you said it. It shall not enduntil my death.”
“I shall live and die at my post,” Grenn added, nodding.
“You don’t have to tell me the words, I know them as well as you do.” He was angry now. Whycouldn’t they let him go in peace? They were only making it harder.
“I am the sword in the darkness,” Halder intoned.
“The watcher on the walls,” piped Toad.
Jon cursed them all to their faces. They took no notice. Pyp spurred his horse closer, reciting, “I amthe fire that burns against the cold, the light that brings the dawn, the horn that wakes the sleepers,the shield that guards the realms of men.”
“Stay back,” Jon warned him, brandishing his sword. “I mean it, Pyp.” They weren’t evenwearing armor, he could cut them to pieces if he had to.
Matthar had circled behind him. He joined the chorus. “I pledge my life and honor to the Night’sWatch.”
I pledge my life and honor to the Night’sWatch.”
Jon kicked his mare, spinning her in a circle. The boys were all around him now, closing fromevery side.
“For this night …,”Halder trotted in from the left.
“… and all the nights to come,” finished Pyp. He reached over for Jon’s reins. “So here are yourchoices. Kill me, or come back with me.”
Jon lifted his sword … and lowered it, helpless. “Damn you,” he said. “Damn you all.”
“Do we have to bind your hands, or will you give us your word you’ll ride back peaceful?” askedHalder.
“I won’t run, if that’s what you mean.” Ghost moved out from under the trees and Jon glared athim. “Small help you were,” he said. The deep red eyes looked at him knowingly.
“We had best hurry,” Pyp said. “If we’re not back before first light, the Old Bear will have all ourheads.”