Chapter 15 – Arya
As soon as Jon had rested enough to be up and about, things had moved pretty quickly. The Unsullied had arrived, the tents had been taken down and put away, and they had all begun to march towards the Kingsroad, where they were to meet up with the remainder of Daenerys' forces – the Dothraki. In fact, much to Daenerys and Jon's chagrin, and Arya's amusement, they had moved so slowly that the Dothraki were already waiting for them. Then they had changed direction and begun to head even further north on the Kingsroad, towards Arya's old home.
The three dragons flew high overhead as they rode. Arya wondered if Sansa, still a few days' ride away in Winterfell, could see them. And she wondered how she felt.
Every time Arya had thought about Sansa over the last few years, her differing emotions had conflicted her to the point of frustration. Try as she might, Arya never could forget what her sister had been like the last time they had been together – lovesick, and blind to Joffrey's cruelty. The way she had stood next to him and Cersei at the Sept of Baelor as their father and rock was killed, the smug little smile on her face, the pretty dress – she had even copied the Lannister queen's hairstyle…
But at the same time, she had been a combination of smart, resourceful and lucky to outlive both their parents, Robb, Rickon – even Jon, since he had died once. And that couldn't count for nothing. Not to mention that Jon had trusted her enough to hold the north for him while he was away.
During the ride, Arya channelled her spare energy into remembering everything she could about her sister. She loved fine things and pretty clothes. She loved lemon cakes, though a rare delicacy in the North, given the climate. She wanted nothing more than to be a proper lady. And the things she could create with a length of fabric was almost second to none. She had also seemed to hate Jon, although Arya realised that must have changed. Maybe some of the other things had too.
Arya was suddenly aware of someone else riding very close to her. Gendry.
"Are you ok?" he asked her cautiously, clearly nervous at insinuating that she wasn't. "It's not like you to be this unfocused."
"I am focused," she retorted, leaning across to give him a light shove – a move she then regretted as he nearly fell off his horse.
"'Course you're not," Gendry countered. "You're going home. How many times have you tried?"
Arya considered this for a moment as they continued moving up the Kingsroad. The first time had been when they met: when she had ended up with Yoren and the Nights Watch recruits. Then she had tried to escape from Harrenhal with the hope of meeting up with her mother and Robb, who she assumed would go back to Winterfell after the war. The Brotherhood had had the same idea. So had the Hound. Trying to get to her aunt Lysa in the Eyrie she decided didn't count, since the Vale wasn't home. When she had asked about travelling north before heading to Braavos. She had thought about trying to get home again when she returned but decided against this – she hadn't known about the Bolton's defeat then and her main goal had been killing Cersei. And now…
"This is the sixth," she confessed once she had worked it out.
"Exactly," her friend told her gently. "Can many other people say the same?"
"Gendry," Arya said. "When did you get so wise?"
He smiled at her. "Growing up in Kings Landing and spending a lot of time on the run, I guess," he replied. "And a near-death experience always changes you, I'm sure you'll agree."
Arya nodded in assent. She definitely wasn't the same spirited little girl who used to run around Winterfell, trying to join in with the boys or hide from Sansa and Septa Mordane. A tiny stab of doubt hit her. What if Sansa hated her even more now? She was always so girly and gracious and, well, flawless. The thought of Arya telling her sister what she had been up to since they had parted made her cringe even more than the prospect of telling Jon had.
Maybe she could just stick close to Jon and Daenerys for a couple of days when they got to Winterfell. It was a known fact that Jon had always been her favourite growing up, so no one would question her. And Arya considered the dragon queen as more than a simple acquaintance. Not friends, necessarily. But more than an informal associate. And there was always Gendry to talk to if things got awkward. And Bran, perhaps. Arya was keen to find out exactly how her crippled little brother had survived the years, too. Besides, hadn't he given them the warning that the army of walking dead men was getting near the Wall? How did he know? And with that, she was lost in thought again.
As they approached the gates, still on horseback, Jon rode over.
"When we go in, do you want to ride next to me?" he shouted to her over the wind.
Arya considered this for a moment, then shook her head. "I want to go last."
Jon regarded her as intently as possible, given their arrangement, then shrugged it off. "Ok. Make sure you find me once we're in though." And he rode back off to join Daenerys, Tyrion and Ser Davos at the front.
Arya headed towards the back of the group and was swiftly joined again by Gendry. "Why aren't you further forward? King's sister and all?" he asked.
She scowled at him. "Why aren't you?"
"My only connection to this group is being your friend and the blacksmith," he said patiently as some other men in Stark livery overtook them. "Wouldn't exactly look right if I rode in front of little Lady Arya!" And then his horse whinnied as he quickly side-stepped to avoid Arya hitting him again.
The two of them carried on throwing insults back and forth until they were right inside Winterfell's gates. Arya practically threw herself off her horse and gave it to the nearest servant, keen to get closer to the group so that she could hear what was being said but at the same time remain unseen. She knew a formal reunion with Sansa and Bran out here in the open with everyone to see would be awkward. Gendry followed her, although nowhere near as quietly, with the result that Missandei saw them and murmured something in the ear of a man Arya could only assume was Grey Worm. She turned away, not really caring what Daenerys' entourage thought of her.
"Sansa!" Jon was saying as her enveloped a tall, auburn-haired woman. "It is good to see you." She could not quite hear her sister's reply. But she did get a glimpse of her face as Jon extended his hand to Daenerys and introduced them. Sansa was as beautiful as ever, but her eyes were suspicious and seemed to hold the wisdom of a thousand years as she acknowledged the dragon queen and nodded curtly. Jon. Gendry. Sansa. Everyone was wise now. Arya wondered if this was what growing up was really all about.
Bran, however, made Arya feel even more unsettled. He looked older, as he should, but he was very thin and his eyes held a wide, vacant, almost empty look in them. Arya felt a pang as she remembered the little brother she had known and loved as a child, who would climb the walls whenever he could (or couldn't) get away with it, who was modest, who everyone loved, and who would laugh when he failed at something. Replaced with not even a shadow of his former self.
After a few minutes, Jon, Daenerys, Sansa and everyone else began to make their way into the castle.
"Are you going to join them?" Gendry asked, sounding amused.
"In a minute," Arya replied. She looked around the grounds and was dismayed to see no familiar faces except Gendry's. Which naturally caused her to doubt and distrust every new person she saw. She sighed. She supposed that if Jon trusted them then that should be enough for her. Except… Jon might not have the best judgement. He was murdered by people he trusted, after all.
Arya decided not to go straight to the others. She left Gendry by the forge and headed through some of the emptier passages of the castle. Being home was bittersweet. Arya had hoped returning to Winterfell would fix her, make everything go back to normal, like it was before her father died. No such luck. Nothing could ever be the same again, and Arya felt stupid for taking so long to realise it.
Within a few minutes, Arya found herself in the low-lit crypts beneath the castle. It didn't take her long to find the stone with 'Eddard Stark' engraved in the granite. Arya glanced from the inscription to the marble statue and fought back the urge to curl her lip in disgust. The likeness was very inaccurate and poorly done, with the result that the man shown could have been anyone. Arya bit her lip, now fighting back tears. A small part of her had felt bittersweet excitement about seeing her father, even if only in stone. She turned away a little, so that she could face Robb's and Rickon's too.
"I'm sorry," she whispered very softly, not daring herself to say more. For now, Arya had heard a noise and sensed a lone figure approaching her.
"I thought I might find you down here," a somewhat familiar voice said. Arya turned fully to see Sansa at last, a little taller and the slightest stockier since she had last seen her, but more beautiful than ever with her long auburn hair, deep blue eyes and regal air. Sansa looked a lot more like their mother. The girlish semblance was entirely gone and Arya could tell Jon had been telling the truth. This was not the same Sansa that she had left Winterfell with all that time ago.
"…You did?" Arya said nervously, aware that her sister was now sizing her up.
"Yes," said Sansa simply. "It's what Father used to do – do you remember? Whenever he went on a hunt, or to visit another lord, or to carry out justice, he would always come to the crypts first when he returned. And then onto the Godswood."
"I remember," Arya replied, turning back to the smooth rock. "Doesn't look like him. It should have been carved by someone who knew his face."
Sansa gave a wry smile. "Everyone who knew his face is dead."
"We're not," Arya countered.
Her sister nodded in assent with another smile, this time a more genuine one. "We're not." Then she enveloped Arya in a tight hug. It was a small gesture, but it said a lot. When they broke apart, Sansa had tears in her eyes.
"How did you manage to find Jon?" she asked.
Arya grimaced in the dim light of the crypt. She definitely didn't want to tell Sansa everything. Especially not yet. "It's a long story," she said finally. "I imagine yours is too."
"Yes, and not a very pleasant one."
"Mine neither." Arya shook her head. "But our stories are not over yet." She took a step closer to her sister. "They say you killed Joffrey. Did you?"
"I wish I had," Sansa replied, and Arya could not miss the vehement longing in her tone.
"Me too," she replied flatly. "I was angry when I heard someone else had done it. However long my list got, he was always first."
"Your list?" Sansa questioned, one perfectly arched eyebrow raised. Crap Arya thought. What a way to be subtle.
She decided to just be honest. "Of people I'm going to kill."
Sansa gave a nervous laugh and after a few seconds, Arya joined her.
"Who else is on your list?" she asked.
"Most of them are dead already," she replied with a shrug. It was true. Who was left? The Red Woman. Beric Dondarrion and Thoros of Myr. Ilyn Payne. Compared to list she used to have, the four names didn't seem like much at all.
Sansa nodded and looked away. Then she looked back at Arya.
"You know Jon's new company better than I do, clearly," she said softly. "I know Lord Tyrion to be a good judge of character, but I know not the circumstances under which he became Daenerys' hand." Sansa took a step forward. "What do you think of the Mother of Dragons?"
"She's here with everyone to help with the fight against the dead," Arya said, shrugging. "And she's the official Queen of Westeros now. But Jon trusts her, and that's enough for me." Arya noticed Sansa looked sad and slightly defeated. "She's not like Cersei. Trust me."
"I suppose that will have to do for now," Sansa conceded. "I find it pretty difficult to trust people, now, anyway… I wonder how Cersei died…"
"I wonder," Arya echoed lightly, sure that that part of her story would come out sooner rather than later. She didn't have time to say anything else before Sansa was hugging her again.
"You're home," Sansa said fiercely in her ear. "We're all home and nothing is going to separate us again, especially not those ice monsters north of the Wall."
Arya smiled as she moved back.
"Now come on," Sansa said. "Let's go and join the others."
A/N: There we go, we're back at Winterfell.
I still have a few more chapters planned out for this story, but I don't think I will include the actual war with the White Walkers, just before (and maybe after)...
Anyway, thanks so much for reading! I'm sorry it's taken so long to update again but college is just crazy at the moment and my workload is awful.
The next chapter will be in Daenerys' POV and I will get it out as soon as possible, but it might not be for another couple of weeks. I will try my best.
Thanks for reading again, don't forget to review!
Until next time.