A/N: Hey everyone! Sorry, I meant to upload this a week ago but I was in an area with spotty internet so I couldn't get on to post. But here it is. The battle from Bran and Arya's perspective. This is the last action packed chapter for a little while now that the army is retreating, but there will be many battles to come!
Chapter 9: The Edge of the Battle
Bran had seen this day before in one of his many wanderings through time. He felt as if he had already lived it...unless this was only a premonition as well. It was difficult to tell the present and past from the future sometimes. They all ran together. Even in this moment, other visions danced before his eyes. Visions of death and winter's cold hand.
The future if the Night King should win.
The futures that Bran saw were never certain. They were only one possibility of infinite others. Small choices could alter the course of history in hundreds of years. Like a ten year old boy shoved from a window years ago. Or the decision of a tyrant boy king to take a Northman's head instead of showing mercy and sending him to the wall.
Things could have been very different.
"Bran," Sansa said. He felt his sister squeeze his hand. "We're going. Are you here?"
"Somewhat," Bran replied, looking around. He was in a covered cart, drawn by horses. The smaller Lannister, Tyrion sat across from him and Sansa, watching anxiously out the window. He could not fight in this battle much better than Bran could. Out the window, Arya sat atop her horse, holding a dagger.
"They're coming," she said, her voice hollow. "We need to go."
Sansa nodded once, swallowing hard. "It feels as if we only just returned to Winterfell."
Arya did not reply, but she clearly agreed. After so long away from home, neither of his sisters was satisfied with this short visit.
"You will return again," Bran murmured, though he was not sure that were true. It was possible, certainly. He saw both of his sisters alive and back in Winterfell in some versions. In others, he saw icy blue eyes where there were once soft grey. "You will find your way back."
"So sound sure of that," Sansa said.
"I am not. I am not sure of anything. You must be sure for me," Bran replied.
"So the rumors are true," Tyrion said. "You speak in riddles now."
"I do not try to," Bran said. "It is hard for me to speak words that make sense to others."
"I often faced that same problem in King's Landing. So many fools," Tyrion offered Bran a smile. If he was disturbed by Bran's current state, he did not show it. Once upon a time, the man had gifted Bran with a saddle to help him ride even with his crippled legs. The boy Bran was had been very grateful for a chance to have some normalcy back in his life.
Bran had left that boy behind.
He looked out the window of the cart as it started to move. The world rush by them and he could not focus on the landscape. He dipped back into visions of others. Visions of the battle happening so nearby. The armies had drawn first blood now. He saw Daenerys riding high upon her dragon and the Night King riding above her.
He saw soldiers battling for their lives and falling beneath the cruel blades of the dead.
"It's terrible," Sansa murmured.
Bran blinked hard, looking out the window. Their cart had reached a high hill, looking out over the field of battle. Drogon's fire burned bright across the armies of the dead, but he never had much of a chance to attack before Viseron swooped down from above. The larger dragon took an attack and Sansa gasped. But Drogon stayed in the air. His armor protected him.
A small decision, Bran thought. A small choice that altered the future.
Without that armor, Drogon and Daenerys would have perished and the war would surely be lost. Another bleak future evaded.
The third dragon smashed into the undead creature from the side.
The dragon has three heads.
And the head riding Rhaegal was Jon's. Bran could see him, though he looked like a tiny dot to the naked eye. Sansa let out a breath with Viseron was forced away.
"Thank the gods for good armorers," Tyrion commented. "We should keep going, don't you think?"
"A little longer," Arya said. "The dead will not reach this hill without us seeing them first."
She wanted to stay and watch because she worried for Jon. Bran saw him topple from his dragon, but Daenerys saved him. He released a breath. Good. No need to tell Arya of their brother's demise. Not yet. Though his life was still in question.
All men must die. Arya had said those words many times herself, and Bran knew it to be true. He had seen the deaths of all those he knew, one way or another. All those in the cart with him, and those on the battlefield, would die one day. They would all just be a few lines in a history book in a thousand years. Then, eventually, nothing at all. Parchment and ink did not last forever.
Considering the enormity of time, Bran should not worry about the result of this battle. Yet the boy he once was...did care.
Bran, the boy who loved to climb, he mourned the loss of his legs and his chance at knighthood, who lost his mother and his father and his older brother...he still lived somewhere within the Three Eyed Raven. A tiny shard of his heart that still beat like it used to. And that part of him worried for Jon and his loved ones. It longed to intervene.
You have intervened before.
With Hodor. Yes, Bran had interfered with the past and driven an innocent boy to madness. Hodor. Hodor. Hodor. He should not interfere here. He should let things happen as they wanted.
"The Lannister army!" Arya called. "They've arrived."
"They have?" Sansa sounded stunned.
Tyrion released a breath. "They have. Gods... Jaime, you held her to her word."
Jaime Lannister had not held Cersei to her word, Bran knew. Cersei Lannister had betrayed her word. But her twin brother had not.
Small choices change the future. Small choices.
"They're sounding a retreat. Using the Lannister army as a chance to get away," Bran heard Arya say.
"Then we should retreat as well," Tyrion said. "The army of the dead will pursue."
It was a retreat though not a defeat. The army had made great strides today. And yet... The undead dragon still flew, and a future with that creature still in the air held dark things. The dragon could cut off escape. Destroy holdfasts and villages. Especially if Drogon faltered.
Small choices change the future.
Bran saw Viseron readying for another attack. So he pushed out of his own head and into the head of the green dragon. Rhaegal. He saw through the creature's eyes as if they were his own and forced the beast to turn from retreating. He beat his wings, lunging at Viseron. His jaws snapped. He caught up a thin piece of wing in his jaws and he clamped down, tearing with all of his might. It reminded him of hunting with Summer. Ripping at flesh. But instead of warm blood he only tasted cold.
Still he snapped and tore, taking away a great chunk of Viseron's wing. The beast faltered and fell as Bran pulled back. Then he retreated into his own mind.
"The dead dragon is falling," Arya cried out excitedly.
Bran blinked hard. "Yes." He looked to Sansa. "We must go. We've stayed to long."
Sansa nodded. "Right."
The cart rolled forward again at a faster pace. Bran saw other futures fade away as he leaned against the side of the cart, staring out the window.
Perhaps Bran was not just a watcher. He was still a boy from long ago, somewhere in the depths of his mind.
Brandon Stark is not dead.
Arya did not like to see the living retreat. She knew what it meant. She knew the dead would soon overwhelm Winterfell.
It shouldn't matter to her. All of the living had been evacuated from Winterfell. In fact, most of the living north of the Neck had been urged to move southward. The dead could advance for many miles without killing any innocents.
But Winterfell...the North...was still home. She did not like turning her back on it.
She did not like imagining her enemies walking where her siblings once played.
She imagined Sansa felt this way when the Boltons claimed Winterfell as their seat. She stood in their old home, surrounded by strangers and hounded by the sadistic bastard Littlefinger married her to. But the Boltons were mere men, and they could be killed. All men must die.
They were not supposed to rise again with their terrible blue eyes.
Arya forced herself not to look back as their cart retreated. She kept her horse at a steady canter, and her hand rested on the hilt of her dagger. Up the hill, they were far away from the shifting battlefield so they should be safe. But...
"Lady Arya, are you well?" Tyrion asked. "You look concerned."
"Did you miss the sight of the battle, Lord Tyrion?"
"No, but I feel it went rather well," Tyrion said. "The undead dragon is crippled. That will save many lives. And since my brother brought his soldiers, we have a chance to retreat and regroup."
"Forgive me if I don't celebrate yet," Arya's grip tightened on her dagger.
"She's right," Bran murmured. "It is too early to drop our guard."
Arya looked back at her brother, staring at her through the window. He spoke vaguely most days, but something about his words made her hair stand up on end. "Bran what have you seen?"
"Wights," Bran said.
Arya heard a hollow screech from above. She looked up in time to see a wight leaping down on her from above. She threw herself off her horse, rolling across the ground and coming up in a crouch.
"Arya!" Sansa cried out.
"Keep going!" Arya looked around wildly. The wight had fallen on her horse, gnawing at its neck as the creature squealed in pain. Her gaze caught on others shifting in the trees. Stray wights who had made it past the lines during the battle. Four. Five. Six? There could be more. She couldn't let them get anywhere near Sansa and Bran.
"Arya, wait," Sansa said.
"Go," Arya snapped. "I'll catch up."
She knew these lands well enough. She could make it on foot if she could deal with these wights.
The first came at her. She cut through the remains of its throat and it fell to pieces. Another swung a rusted blade at her head. She ducked beneath the swipe and stabbed her dagger through his stomach. She dropped low to the ground before a third could take her from behind and cut its razor think ankle out from under it. She followed up by plunging the blade into its skull.
Adrenaline pulsed through her as she stood, trying to take in her surroundings. She couldn't see any wights but there had been more than just three.
She heard a scream and the squeal of horses. The cart. They had gone after the cart. Arya sprinted off after her siblings at a break neck pace. The wights had begun to surround the cart and the panicked horses didn't know where to go. Perhaps because the way was blocked by a...
"White walker," Arya breathed. It was the first of the blue eyed creatures she had seen up close and for a moment it froze her. She had seen many horrible things in her life. Horrible people. She had lived among men who changed their faces, and even survived the blade of the waif. But at least in Bravos she had the comfort of Valar Morghulis. All men must die.
Unless they don't, Arya thought.
The White walker circled the cart, heading toward door. The door where Bran sat. Had the creature come for her brother to cut away his third eye and his life?
Arya steeled herself and flipped her dagger in her hand. Then she charged the white walker. It turned to look at her, swinging with its great sword as she approached. She ducked narrowly under the strike, jabbing out at its chest with her knife. But this monster moved far faster than the wights. It stepped to the side and came at her again with powerful strokes. He had Arya on the retreat. He had a whole sword, after all. And she could only kill him with this dagger.
Quick as a cat. Fluid as water.
Arya tried to keep calm as she dodged the blade. She could feel the cold from its edge when it sliced too close to her skin. She could not falter. She had to kill him or else he would kill Sansa and Bran.
Then, something caught her ankle. The hand of a wight with only half a body. She stumbled, falling backwards. She had the good sense to kill the wight on the way down, but now the White Walker loomed over her, blade in hand.
Valar Morghulis, Arya thought, sure, in that moment, of her death.
A wolf howled.
One moment the white walker stood over her and the next a mass of grey slammed into him, knocking him off course. Arya blinked hard, looking up at her savior-a great dire wolf with familiar coloring.
"Nymeria?" she breathed.
The dire wolf barred her teeth as the White walker regained its footing and brandished its blade. Arya let out something like a snarl and charged the creature while it focused on her wolf. She drove her blade into its heart and it screeched, falling to pieces around her blade.
The rest of the wights fell as well and Arya was left gasping for breath. Slowly, she turned back to look at Nymeria, her dearest friend from so many years ago.
"Thank you," she whispered.
"Arya, are you okay?" Sansa called out.
"I'm fine," Arya replied, not breaking eye contact with her wolf. Those eyes were as familiar to her as her own.
Nymeria edged forward, sniffing the air.
"You saved me again," Arya breathed. "I did not repay you the last time you did. I threw rocks at you. I'm sorry." She shook her head. "You can leave now. You've lived so long without me. I never expected you to return after what I did."
Nymeria did not turn and run though. She nudged Arya's chest with her nose. Arya reached out tentatively, laying a hand on her soft fur. She was so large, as big as any horse. Arya's own horse had been killed by the wights.
She exhaled, moving up to Nymeria's side. "Will you let me?" she whispered. "Nymeria?"
Her wolf did not move. And Arya swung onto her back. Nymeria lunged forward at a dead run.
"Follow me!" Arya called as she flew past the carriage. She gripped Nymeria's fur, holding tight with her legs. It was different than riding a horse. It was better.
Since they were children, the Starks had connections with their wolves that could not be explained. Most of their wolves were dead and gone now. Arya thought she had lost her companion long ago, along with her name.
Not yet though. On Nymeria's back, leading the cart forward, Arya felt lighter than she had in so many years. And all around them the woods filled with the howling of wolves.
A/N: While finally reading the books I was struck by the fact that all of the Starks have a warg-like connection with their wolves, as Arya dreams from Nymeria's perspective. As such, I knew Nymeria would still come to Arya's aid, as she is drawn to battle.
Until next time, we'll actually step away from the current POV characters and pop over to King's Landing with Cersei and Theon. See you then!