Arya stood shaking before the Weirtree in the Gods wood at Winterfell. She was covered in blood, Jon's blood, the Night King had cut him down but somehow Ghost had gotten him through the gates. It had been too little too late. Ghost had taken him to the Weirtree and she had followed. Bran was there, Bran was always there. Jon had bleed out at the foot of the Weirtree. It was over, the many-faced god would have them all now.
"Arya!" Bran yelled, trying to bring her attention back to what he had been saying, it was the first time she had heard emotion in his voice in some time. "There is a way to change this, there is a way to go back, but it will cost blood."
Arya shook her head again, she couldn't do it. She looked at Sansa who was sobbing on the ground over Jon then back at Bran. "I can't."
He reached over to her and placed his hand over hers, placed their joint hands on the hilt of the Valyrian dagger, and made her unsheathe it. "We're dead anyway, you have too. You're the only one that can. Think clearly in your mind to which day that you need to go back to. You cannot stop me falling, that needs to happen, you cannot stop Jon from going to the wall either, his path must go that way. Choose a day after that, chose the place and time, remember the sights and smells. Think of who you were then. Give Sansa and me the gift that you were trained to give, then place your bloody hand against the tree. Make sure you bleed out slowly, the magic will need time. Either you will succeed or it won't matter."
Arya nodded slowly, she walked over to Sansa and wrapped her arms around her. Sansa lent into her arms and sobbed. "I love you." Arya whispered and slit Sansa's throat. She laid her gently across Jon's body. She walked up to Bran and he nodded. She killed him quickly and pushed him out of the chair so that the tree could get as much of his blood as possible. She stabbed herself in the gut, then lent against the tree and thought of the day that Mycah, the butcher's boy, had died. That was the first thing she needed to change. As she drifted out of consciousness she could hear the clashing of sticks and see the woods near the crossroads.
The world shifted and suddenly she was standing there with a stick in her hand, Mycah grinning at her as he struck. It was too unreal, too sudden, Mycah caught her off-guard and knocked the stick from her hand.
"I got you!" He exclaimed, "I actually got you!"
Arya nodded. She felt strange in her eleven year old body, she heard voices, Joffrey and Sansa, and suddenly knew what was about to happen. She snatched the stick out of Mycah's hand. "I can't play with you anymore."
Mycah looked hurt, he didn't understand. She ignored him and started walking away. She threw the stick away and ignored Sansa and Joffrey.
The days passed. Mycah lived and she stayed away from him. Lady lived and Sansa continued to believe that Joffrey was good. They reached Kings Landing and both Stark girls still had their direwolves. Arya withdrew from everyone, she became obedient and quite. She made Septa Mordane happy and her father worry. She spent most of her time alone in her room practicing with Needle. Eventually her father caught her, he let her keep the blade, just like last time. She gained her water dancing teacher, just like last time. She chased cats and overheard Varys, but unlike last time she didn't try to warn her father, instead she started following him.
They were on the street of Steel. Not the best part of Kings Landing, she knew she'd be in trouble if her father caught her, but this seemed important. She watched as her father walked back to the horses, listened as the man with him asked if he had found anything. Her father's answer caused all the air to suddenly escape from her lungs.
"King Robert's bastard son."
Was it Gendry? It had to be Gendry, he's just come out of a blacksmith's. She took a step backwards and knocked something over, causing her Father to turn and see her.
"Arya, what the hells are you doing out here?"
It was too late to be careful now. She ran straight past him, ducking under his arm and dodging his attempt to grab at her, and ran straight into the forge.
"Arya! What the hells are you doing! Get back here young lady!"
A man that she could only guess was Tobho Mott stood in her way, she drew needle, aiming it at his throat, and moved past him to get a better look at Gendry.
"And who are you?" Gendry asked gruffly.
She lowered her blade. "Arya Stark." She replied.
"Arya, get back here right this minute!" Her father yelled as he entered the forge. He looked at the scene and shook his head. "What the hells do you think you're doing?"
"He needs to know." Arya replied. She could fell the anger welling up in her and hated that she was this emotional little girl again, hated that nobody would believe what she knew. "He needs to know who his father is!"
Ned Stark's face softened. "Arya, we'll talk about this back at the keep."
Arya shook her head. "No, he needs to know. They're going to kill him, just like they killed Jon Arryn, just like they'll kill you." She could feel the tears streaming down her face now.
Ned crossed the space between them and knelt down in front of her. He lifted her chin up and made her look at him. "Nobody's going to kill me, I promise."
Arya shook her head. "You can't promise that! The Lannister's are going to kill you, and they're going to kill King Rob, and then they're going to hunt down every one of his black haired, blue eyed, bastards, including him." She pointed at Gendry. "Joffrey isn't his heir. He isn't the father of any of Cersei's children, Jamie is! That's what got Jon Arryn killed. Bran saw Cersei and Jamie together in the tower, Jamie pushed him out the window. He didn't fall. Bran never falls." She was full out sobbing now and she hated it.
Her father just looked at her in shock. "You really believe all this?"
Arya nodded. "We have to get out of Kings Landing, and we have to take him with us."
Ned sighed. "We'll talk about this when we get back to the keep, put your sword away."
Arya obeyed and Ned stood up. He placed his hand on her shoulder and started to lead her out.
"L-lord Stark." Gendry stuttered. "What she said, about my father, is it true?"
Ned nodded slowly. "Robert Baratheon is your father, but I suggest you keep that to yourself." He paused, as if considering if he should tell Gendry more. He looked down at Arya and then up at Gendry's pleading face and sighed. "You have an older sister in the Vale, named Mya Stone, she's under the protection of Lord Yohn Royce. I haven't seen her since she was a baby. You father is a good man, but he is not a good husband. I believe there are others here in King's Landing, and I believe Jon Arryn found them. I will find them too. I will do what I can to keep you all safe."
Gendry nodded slowly. "Thank you, Lord Stark." He turned to look at Arya. "Thank you, mi'lady." It was clear by the expression on his face that his whole world had just fallen apart.
Arya wanted to say something, to take the pain out of his eyes, but she didn't know how. As her father lead her away she looked back over her shoulder at him, he met her eyes then looked away. Arya lowered her head and wondered if she had helped or if she had only made things worse? Her father lifted her onto his horse, so that she was in front of him on the saddle, and she leant into him as they rode back to the Red Keep in silence.
It was a week and half after the Gendry incident. She had promised her father she wouldn't follow him again. She realised that her time with Syrio Forel was drawing to a close and she needed to make the most of it. She had started openly carrying her blade in the keep. Septa Mordane disapproved, but her father had allowed it. She would get up at dawn every morning and go down to the gardens with Nymeria to train for an hour before breakfast.
Sansa was never awake when she got back so she would do an hour of lessons, focusing on learning the houses and their sigils, then they would eat. Her new found want to learn things that were deemed lady like helped placate Septa Mordane, and these were things that she needed to know. After breakfast she would go train for another hour then come back and read from the History of the Greater and Lesser houses for two hours. Then she would leave Nymeria in their rooms and go chasing cats until her lesson. Septa Mordane may not like that she was carrying a sword but she couldn't argue about Arya's new found sense of discipline.
Arya had just finished her water dancing lesson. She and Nymeria made their way back to their rooms. She opened the door and found with relief that Septa Mordane and her sister were not there. She had just picked up an apple and started eating it when she saw her father come in with a book. She recognised the book and her heart sank. It was all about to start, that book, on the lineage of the greater and lesser houses with descriptions, should have been the last nail in the coffin for any chance of Joffrey getting the throne. But Maester Pycelle was loyal to house Lannister and Cersei would already know that Ned had asked for the book.
"Father?" She asked cautiously.
"Yes Ary?" Ned replied, he seemed completely distracted.
"Can we talk?"
Ned looked at her for a few seconds then put the book down. "Is everything okay?"
Arya shook her head. "I wanted to apologise for what I did the other week. It was wrong of me to put you on the spot with G... with the blacksmith apprentice." She realised as she was talking that her father hadn't told her Gendry's name.
"You're right," He replied. "You shouldn't have followed me, and you shouldn't have run into the forge like that." He chuckled. "And you certainly shouldn't have pulled your sword, but I understand why you did it." He walked over to Arya and hugged her.
She hugged him back tightly. She knew what was coming, she still had the memories from the other life, but they had started to fade. She wasn't an adult hiding in a child's body, she truly was an eleven year old girl. Just an eleven year old girl with terrible dreams. She didn't have the skills that her older self had.
"Gods, you are so like Lyanna." Ned muttered.
She pulled back from the hug and he smiled at her. She wanted to savour this moment, but she couldn't, she had a mission and she wouldn't get another chance. She leant into her father so that he couldn't look into her eyes. "What was his name?" she asked.
Ned stroked her hair and held her close. "Gendry." He replied.
Arya nodded. "Gendry." She repeated and gifted her father with a small smile. "How many others have you found?"
"A few." Ned replied. "Arya, you don't need to worry about this, I'll protect them."
"I know you'll try." Arya replied. "But what if something happens to you? Somebody else needs to know."
"Please father, trust me, I'm the last person anybody will suspect. Tell me about them, tell me their names, how to find them. If something happens Gendry deserves to know who his brothers and sisters are."
Ned lifted up her chin and studied her face. "You're not going to let this go, are you?"
"No." Arya replied. "I stopped following you, like I promised. But if you don't tell me I will try and find out another way."
Ned nodded. "Okay. Have you had lunch?" Arya pointed to the apple and he laughed. "I think we can do better than that. Let's get some real food and talk." He paused. "You may want to take notes if you're going to be the hand of the hand of the king."
Arya smirked and stood up. "Yes, my Lord." She replied and bowed dramatically. She almost tripped over Nymeria in her rush to get parchment and ink. An hour later she had a full belly and a list of names, ages and locations for every known Baratheon bastard in Kings Landing, and a few others besides.
She walked Nymeria in the gardens as she tried to plan out what to do next. The King was to go hunting the next day, she couldn't stop that, he would get drunk and wounded, she had maybe four days. It was unlikely that Gendry could read so the list wouldn't do him much good. She needed an ally that would listen, one that wasn't known to be connected to House Stark but that had reasons to by loyal to them. The next day she went in search of Yoren.
"Okay." Yoren said with a sigh. "Say for a minute that I believe you, which I don't, what would you have me do?"
"Easy." Arya replied. "As I said, I'm not asking you to believe me, I'm asking you to listen to me. If things happen in the next few days the way I believe they will, if King Robert dies and the Queen declares father a traitor and has him arrested, I will try to get to the street of steel, to the forge of Tobho Mott. Look for me there."
"And then what?" Yoren replied.
"And then we rescue Father, and Sansa if she's not already with me, save King Robert's bastards, and run like hell."
"Right, sounds easy." Yoren muttered.
"Can't be much harder than riding straight to the Wall on William's horse after getting revenge for your brother's murder." Arya replied.
"And how the hells do you know 'bout that?" Yoren asked, his eyes growing wide in shock.
"I told you," Arya replied slowly. "Sometimes I know things. Bran and Rickon do it too, but Bran's the strongest. I know you were a couple of years older than me when you watched your brother die, I know he was stabbed through the heart on your doorstep. I know you said William's name like a prayer every day unto the day he came riding back into town. I know you can't picture your brother's face but you can remember William's. He was a nice looking boy, good white teeth, blue eyes, dimpled chin… he wasn't so pretty after you buried an axe so deep into his scull they had to bury him with it though, was he?"
"You can't know that. Who told you that?" Yoren asked shaking his head.
"Who would tell me that? No one, you haven't told many people that story."
"Who else knows you can do this, girl."
Arya shook her head. "No one, I'm trusting you."
"God's girl, what else do you know?"
Arya paused. This was her one chance, she didn't know what difference Yoren could make but she knew he would try, and he actually believed her. She took a deep breath. "Lysa killed Jon Arryn then sent my mother a letter saying the Lannister's had done it. Littlefinger gave her the poison, he wants to take advantage of the chaos. He's going to betray Father. Daenerys Targaryen is going to miscarry her son and hatch 3 dragons. The Night King is real and the white walkers are coming, many of them are Craster's sons. Now I shouldn't know about Craster and his daughter-wives, should I?"
"No." Yoren replied.
"We need to make a pact with the Wildings if we want to survive the winter, and we need dragon glass. There is plenty of it at Dragonstone but Stannis is no longer a good man. He has turned to worshiping R'hllor, the Red God, and is burning people alive trying to become Azor Ahai. He will use blood magic to murder Renly."
"Gods." Yoren muttered. "If even half of that is true, we're fucked."
"You believe me?" Arya asked.
Yoren nodded. "I believe you. Gods, I wish I didn't, but I believe you."
Arya nodded. "The day my father is arrested I will see you at Tobho Mott's."
The wandering crow suddenly looked like he had aged ten years, his worry lines had already been so deep that Arya was surprised they could get deeper. "Anything else you need me to do?"
Arya paused. "Can you read?" Yoren shook his head. "Can you spare a small knife or dagger?"
Yoren frowned. "What sort of knife or dagger?"
"The type that's good for slitting people's throats." Arya replied with a coldness that belied her age.
Yoren didn't question her. He was a man that knew all too well the harsh realities of the world. He wasn't about to tell her that a young lady shouldn't be thinking or talking that way. All men of the black understand that survival comes at a cost. She was appealing to the soldier in him, not the man, and the soldier saw a kindred soul in her. He simply nodded and pulled out a slim double edged blade. "Will this do?"
Arya nodded. She took the blade then paused. "As far as my Father is concerned this conversation never happened."
"Aye," Yoren agreed. "Finally something we agree on. I need a drink."
Arya tried hard to be nice to Sansa but Sansa wasn't making it easy. Arya knew how to get herself out, but if she went down that path at least one of the direwolves was going to die. She didn't want any part in the death of Lady again. She had gotten up early and done her dawn training as usual, but today wasn't a usual day, today was the day that Littlefinger would betray her father. Nymeria kept nudging her and licking her hand as they made their way up the steps, clearly the wolf could sense that something was wrong. Arya scratched the back of Nymeria's ear and sighed. Septa Mordane was waiting when she got back to their rooms.
She did her first lesson of the day as usual. Sansa finally got up and they had breakfast. Instead of leaving after breakfast to train again Arya picked up her book and kept going over the houses and sigils. Sansa ignored her. Arya moved to sit by the window with her book and Nymeria curled up beside her. A servant brought an invitation from Princess Myrcella for Sansa and Arya sighed at Sansa's excitement. Clearly this was a plot by Cersei to ensure she knew where Sansa was. They would expect Arya to be at her water dancing lesson. Sansa looked at Lady and sighed, Princess Myrcella was scared of her. Arya tried to keep focused on her goal, she needed to save both direwolves.
"I could look after Lady for the day." She muttered quietly from her position on the floor.
"Why, Arya, that's a lovely offer." Septa Mordane responded. "Isn't that a lovely offer, Sansa?"
Sansa glared at Arya. "And how do I know you won't do anything stupid and put Lady in danger?"
Arya looked up from her book. "I'll even miss my water dancing lesson to look after her if you want me to." Arya replied innocently. "I'm trying to learn the sigil's of the Dornish houses anyway."
"Why the Dornish houses?" Sansa wanted to know.
Arya looked up at Sansa and smiled. "There are lots of good reasons to study Dorne. Nymeria, Meria Martell, and they treat their bastards better. I'd like to go there some day and get trained to use a sand-spare."
"I wish you'd go there now." Sansa replied meanly.
Arya sighed and lent against Nymeria. "So do I." She replied wistfully. "Go have your tea party or whatever, I'll skip my dance lesson and look after Lady."
Septa Mordane frowned. "Sansa, Arya has made a very nice offer, say thank you to your sister."
"Thank you." Sansa snarled as insincerely as possible.
Arya sighed. "Enjoy the lemon cakes."
Ten minutes after they had gone Arya grabbed a small knapsack with some extra clothes. She put both her and Nymeria's brushes in it. After some consideration she packed the book as well, even though it made the bag a lot heavier. Lastly she grabbed some apples from the table. She led both wolves through the servant passages to the kitchens.
Old Chef Roylon was happy to see her as always. "You're early today, mi'lady, and you brought your sister's wolf as well?"
Arya nodded. Chef Roylon gave both of the wolfs some meat and she asked for some bones for them for later, and some cheese and bread for herself. Another knapsack was found and Chef Roylon gave her a large wheel of cheese and two loafs of bread stating that he knew she would find people to share it with. He gave her a parcel of salted meats as well. When the wolves had eaten their full Arya used the servant's passages to make her way to the stable. If her calculations were correct she had little over two hours.
The stable boy that she had killed to escape in the previous time line was nowhere to be seen. She quickly saddled a horse and climbed into the saddle. Nobody tried to stop her as she rode out of the red keep with two direwolves behind her. She spent an hour and a half riding around the city, people would remember seeing a person riding with two direwolves so she tried to be seen in as many places as possible. Finally she made it to the street of steel and sold the horse to the first person that would pay for it. She knew she was getting ripped off but the horse was a liability. She pushed the gold into one of her bags and made it to Tobho Mott's nervously.
Gendry looked up as she entered the forge, Tobho Mott was nowhere to be seen. She urged the wolves in, flicked the sign to closed and shut and barred the door.
"We need your help." She whispered.
"I'm sure you do, mi'lady, but master Mott isn't going to be happy if he comes back and finds the shop closed."
"And if he comes back, finds two dead direwolves, the shop open and robbed and you and me taken by the Lannister's?" Arya asked. "Please, Gendry, they have my father and my sister, they will kill all of my father's men. I need you to hide us. It won't be for long, Yoren of the Black will come. But I need your help."
Gendry put his hammer down. He studied her for a minute and she suddenly felt silly pressing up against the door begging for his help. She felt the fear rising up in her throat. What if he wouldn't help her?
"You were right then?" he asked.
Arya nodded. She hated being this small fragile girl, especially when she had memories of being someone stronger.
"Having the door shut will draw attention." He muttered. "You better get out the back, try not to touch anything."
Arya nodded and went through the doorway that he had nodded to. He walked past her and re-opened the door. The back was messy and cluttered, she found a space on the floor. Lady whimpered and Arya reached out and patted her. Arya stretched out on the floor and pulled out her book. Both wolves curled up beside her as she settled in to read. The heat of the forge was immense, even back here, as Arya wasn't accustomed to it she quickly drifted off to sleep.
Dreaming was never peaceful for Arya, the memories of a life she would never lead tormented her. She was at the temple of Balor, crouched on the statue watching them. Joffrey, the Queen, Ilyn Payne, Sansa… the scene played out in her head as it had so many nights before. Often mis-remembered. Did Yoren hold her against his chest and tell her to look at him, or did she see her father's head get chopped off? Either way she woke up weeping, Nymeria trying to lick her tears away. As the back room of the smithy came into focus she hugged Nymeria tightly. Lady tried to comfort her as well. She moved into a sitting position, allowing Lady to climb into her lap as she buried her face into Nymeria's neck and wept.
After a while she realised that she could hear three male voices talking softly. She concentrated and recognised Gendry and Yoren, she could only guess that the third voice must be Tobho Mott. She managed to calm herself down and wiped the tears away from her face. She looked around and realised that it had gotten dark. A mug of water had been put down for her, and a dish for each wolf. She drank the water thankfully and carefully put her book away before cautiously moving in the direction of the voices, a bag on each shoulder and a direwolf at each side. She knew it must be obvious that she had been crying but she didn't care.
As she entered the room that the voices were coming from Yoren looked up and gave her a worried look. She gave him a weak smile in return. "You came." She whispered.
"Of course I came, girl." He replied gruffly. "I promised, didn't I?"
Arya nodded. She turned her gaze to Tobho Mott. "I'm sorry, I didn't know where else to go. I have food to share, and money for meat for the direwolves. Once I free my father and my sister…"
Tobho Mott shook his head. "Keep your food, Lady Stark, I'll help you."
Arya shook her head. "Not Lady Stark, Lady Stark is my mother, just Arya. And the bread is fresh baked today, no point letting it go stale. Please, I know I'm an unwanted guest, but I bring bread and salt."
Tobho Mott nodded. He brought out a large wooden board and Arya pulled out the two loaves of bread and the salted meat. She pulled out the wheel of cheese last and Gendry let out a low whistle at the size of it. She smiled, pulling out the dagger that Yoren had given her and cut deeply into the wheel. She cut a generously sized wedge for each of them and Tobho Mott got drinks, he offered her ale but she asked for water instead.
Yoren raised an eyebrow at the dagger she was using to cut the cheese and she smiled. "I didn't have to kill anybody to escape." She said quietly in response to his unasked question.
Yoren nodded. "Good." He paused as if considering his words. "You're going to have to lay low for a few days before trying for your father and sister. You created quite a fuss today. Did you really have to ride around the entire city?"
Arya laughed. "I figured the more places I was seen the more conflicting reports the gold cloaks would get, and the harder it would be for them to know where to look."
Yoren nodded again. "Smart." He muttered. "You know, if you'd been born a boy I'd be trying to recruit you to the wall right now. We could use more good thinkers like you."
Arya nodded. She sliced four more pieces of cheeses and handed one to Gendry before eating one straight. He took it hesitantly.
"You're not going to be able to move those wolves without drawing attention." Tobho Mott observed. "I'll get a room made up upstairs for you. And don't worry about money for feeding them, you're going to need every copper once you leave Kings Landing."
Arya nodded. "You should leave Kings Landing too. Litterfinger knows you've been protecting Gendry, Varys most likely does too, that puts you in danger."
Tobho Mott shook his head. "I'm not afraid of them."
Arya nodded. "Do you read?" she asked.
The man nodded. "I'm from Qohor, you need to be able to read there to be trained as a smith, I've even taught Gendry a bit."
Arya nodded. "Good." She reached into her pocket and pulled out the piece of parchment. She handed it to Gendry. "This is everything I know about your brothers and sisters. If you help me save my family I'll help you save yours."
Gendry took the parchment as if it was the most precious item in the world, to him it possibly was. "Thank you, mi'lady." He looked up at Tobho Mott. "It's late, I should get home."
"Wouldn't it be safer if you stayed here?" Arya asked.
Gendry shook his head. "There's only one guest room."
Arya shrugged. "Then you take it, I don't need much space, just a corner for me and these two."
"Mi'lady, I couldn't…" Gendry was shaking his head.
"There's a spare room in the servants quarters, Gendry." Tobho Mott said gently.
Yoren nodded. "Good, I'll be back in three days. I'll try and swipe a spare set of dungeon keys while I'm sorting the recruits." He glanced at Arya. "Mind if I grab more of that cheese?"
"Mind if I keep the knife?" She answered as she cut a large hunk off for him.
"If I minded I wouldn't have given it to you in the first place." Yoren replied around a mouthful of cheese. He glanced up at Tobho Mott. "Told you Starks were different."
Tobho Mott nodded, he got up to let Yoren out, leaving Arya and Gendry alone. Gendry was still looking at the parchment with the information about his brothers and sisters.
"You must really hate me," Arya muttered. "Damn high-born coming in and messing up your life."
Gendry looked up at her in shock. "You've given me more answers than I've had my entire life, mi'lady, why would I hate you."
She looked at him sadly. "Because now you have to be afraid."
"Are you afraid?" Gendry asked.
Arya nodded. "Afraid and angry." She replied.
Gendry frowned. "Is that why you have bad dreams?"
Arya shook her head. "The bad dreams are why I'm afraid." She saw the question in his eyes. "I dreamt that they executed my Father at the Sept of Balor. I've been dreaming it for months." She paused, unsure if Gendry would believe her. "I dreamt about you, that's why I followed Father that day."
"What did you dream about me?"
Arya sighed, there were so many answers. She chose one of the bad memories. "Always starts after my Father is killed, it gets bad, really bad. Yoren tries to sneak us north but we get attacked by Lannister soldiers and taken as prisoners to Harrenhall. We're chained in this pen for days, no food, exposed the rain, sleeping in the mud. One day they choose you to be tortured. They strap you in a chair and ask you questions you cannot answer. They get a metal bucket, put a rat in it and strap it to your stomach. Then they get a torch. I'm not going to let that happen. That's what happens if we try to go north, so we'll go south. I don't know what happens if we go south but north isn't an option."
Gendry just looked at her in shock, after a minute or two he spoke. "You know the future?"
"The future isn't set in stone." Arya replied. "I know one version, and I'm determined to change it. Will you help me?"
Gendry nodded. "Yes, mi'lady, I'll help you."
Three days passed slowly for Arya. She soon learnt with relief that the street of steel was a noisy place, loud enough to cover the occasional howl of a direwolf. The hardest thing was safely letting Nymeria and Lady out to relieve themselves, the back of the blacksmith had a small fenced off courtyard leading to a back service ally and open sewers, but the ally was often busy so Arya only dared take them out in the early hours of the morning or late at night. Gendry would keep watch, but it was unclear if he was more afraid of the direwolves being seen or the direwolves themselves.
Luckily for Arya she had spent many months keeping to herself, so she was used to the loneliness. Nymeria had been her only companion since the day she had ended her friendship with Mycah and saved his life. She stayed upstairs, alternating her time between reading and training.
On the first day Gendry came up to bring her some food while she was training. The expression on his face was so priceless that she just kept training. He watched for a while and then wordlessly put the food down and turned to leave.
"Gendry." Arya said quietly, causing him to turn and face her.
"Yes, mi'lady?" He kept his eyes lowered, a difficult feat considering how short she was.
Arya stopped, she brought Needle in front of her so that the hilt was at her waist and the blade drew a line down the middle of her face. "Thank you." She said softly, bowing with the word.
"It's nothing, mi'lday, I'm sure you're used to far better." Gendry muttered.
Arya put her blade away and took a step closer to him. "We don't do that in the North." She said gently. "We don't disrespect the gifts given by others." She gestured towards the plate. "This food is a gift, thank you."
Gendry nodded, still keeping his eyes lowered. Arya frowned, that had to stop. It was an action that she had never really seen until she had arrived at Kings landing. Sure, those that were not of noble birth were respectful in the north, but this was downright fear. Those of lower birth in Kings landing were openly called low-borns and treated poorly, something which her father would never have tolerated at Winterfell. She took another step towards him and touched his chin, lifting it to make him look her in the eyes. She pulled back in surprise when he flinched at the action.
"I'm not going to harm you." She said gently. "I just hate it when people lower their eyes when they talk to me. You are not less than me, the fact that your father was too much of a fool to come and claim you is his failing, not yours. And you have lovely eyes. Let me see them when you talk to me."
Gendry looked down. He took a deep breath then forced himself to meet her gaze. "Sorry, mi'lady." He muttered, his brow furrowing in that way that was so distinctly Gendry that it made her heart ache for a friendship she might never have now. Nobody could contort their expressions, or say so much with so few words, the way that he could.
Arya shook her head. "Don't apologise, you have nothing to apologise for. And my name's not mi'lady, it's Arya."
"As mi'lady commands." He replied.
Arya took a step back and shook her head rolling her eyes. "You are impossible." She muttered.
"Yes, mi'lady." Gendry agreed, still meeting her gaze, the beginning of a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. "I'd best be getting back to work."
Arya just nodded her head and went back to practicing. Gods he was so frustrating! She hadn't expected him to be so different this time. She hadn't realised what a difference it would make having him know who she was from the start. If she was going to have any chance of getting anything near the friendship that she saw in her dreams she had her work cut out for her.
On the second day Kings Guards came to the street of steel. Arya was sure that somebody must have seen her enter the forge, or heard Lady crying for Sansa, but after over an hour the guards left. Unable to believe that they weren't coming back, Arya spent the next two hours standing guard with her sword in her hands, her arms were aching by the time Tobho Mott came up to check on her.
Eventually she sat down with her book and tried to do some reading, but her arms ached and the room was hot, she was fighting to stay awake from the moment she sat down. She pushed the book aside and stated patting Nymeria, Lady came over for some attention too. Soon the three of them were curled up on the floor. The last thoughts that went through Arya's mind before she fell into a troubled sleep were that her mother had often made comments about fearing how Arya might just run off one day and join a pack of direwolves. Did two count as a pack?
It was late in the afternoon when Gendry shook her awake, the look of concern on his face telling her that she had been having sleep terrors again, or maybe it was just because she was laying in the middle of the floor? Nymeria and Lady were on the far side of the room, suggesting that she had been thrashing in her sleep.
"Mi'lady," He whispered. "Mi'lady, wake up."
She couldn't remember what she had been dreaming but she knew that it was bad, all she remembered was pain and fear. She felt the hot prickling at the back of her eyes that meant she was close to tears. Gendry was kneeling on the ground beside her, genuine concern overwhelming any possible fears of overstepping his station. In an instant she decided that she couldn't wait for their friendship to slowly build, she needed that friendship now. She flung her arms around him and let herself sob. Gendry froze at first, but slowly he hugged her back.
She clung to him for a little while after the tears had subsided, breathing in the smell of smoke and salt. Eventually she pulled away, embarrassed both at her weakness and at how tightly she had hugged him. "Sorry." She muttered, looking away.
"Don't apologise, you have nothing to apologise for." He answered gently, returning the exact words that she had said to him the day before.
"Thank you." She whispered.
Gendry nodded and stood up. "Any time, mi'lady." He offered her a hand and helped her to her feet. "Bad dreams again?"
Arya nodded. "I'm not used to the heat of this place."
Gendry nodded in understanding. "It does take some getting used to, I guess." He shrugged. "It's never really bothered me."
Arya gave him a small smile. "I bet I could outlast you in summer snows." She replied. "You'd be shivering like Jon does while Robb and Bran and I are still making snowballs." She paused, catching herself at her own words. She looked down. "Not that Bran will ever be making snowballs again, and Jon's gone to the Wall now… and I guess Robb will marry someone soon." She could feel the hot sting of tears again.
"They're your brothers?" Gendry asked.
Arya nodded. "And Rickon, he's younger again."
"Why did Jon go to the Wall?" Gendry asked.
Arya shook her head sadly. "He never told me, but I believe mother had a lot to do with it. She never did forgive father for bringing him home."
Gendry looked at her confused. "I don't understand."
Arya was surprised. She had to remind herself that she wasn't in the North anymore, the whole world didn't know that her brother was a bastard. She gave Gendry a sad smile. "My brother, Jon Snow."
"Oh." Gendry replied. "He was raised with you?"
Arya nodded. "My mother never missed an opportunity to remind him that he is not a Stark, must have been the happiest day of her life when he left with Uncle Benjin." She muttered bitterly.
"Your Uncle is at the Wall too?"
Arya nodded. "A ranger beyond the Wall actually, one of the best." She answered with a hint of pride. "Most generations at least one Stark goes to the Wall, we northerners understand how important it is better than most."
Gendry nodded, he went as if to say something then stopped himself, his brow furrowing in thought. He shook his head and frowned. "Master Mott will be wondering where I got to."
Arya nodded. He turned to go and started to walk towards the stairs. He paused and looked like he was going to say something else, but then he shook his head - as if telling himself not to - and kept going. Arya sighed as she listened to him walking down the stairs. Yes, it was going to be harder with him knowing that she was of noble birth before building the friendship, but she had built many friendships form this position, but she could do it. Only after he had gone did she notice the small plate of food which was the reason he had come upstairs.
The third day dragged on forever. The sun rose, but Yoren didn't come. The forge opened and the street of steel came to life, but Yoren didn't come. There was an argument 3 buildings down, but Yoren didn't come. The sun reached its apex, Arya's breakfast still untouched, but Yoren didn't come. Gendry brought up more food, and realised with concern that Arya hadn't eaten, but Yoren didn't come. Tohbo Mott came to check on her mid-afternoon, and expressed concern that she hadn't eaten, but Yoren didn't come.
She brushed out Lady's fur, but Yoren didn't come. Surprisingly Nymeria behaved as her fur was brushed, but Yoren didn't come. The forge closed and the sun set, but Yoren didn't come. She sat staring blankly at the wall, fingers absently brushing through Nymeria and Lady's fur, but Yoren didn't come. Tobho Mott tried to talk to her but she couldn't focus on the words, she wanted to stand by the window but she knew not to risk it, the moon was high in the sky, and Yoren did not come.
She sat, a direwolf at each side, trying not to think. Yoren did not come and she finally fell asleep, not on the bed, but on the floor curled between Nymeria and Lady. Sometime in the early morning she awoke to the sound of quiet voices and realised that Yoren had finally come. As the sun rose on the fourth day, four conspirators sat around a candle and made a plan, it would be a couple more days before they could put it into action. Six days after Arya had escaped the Red Keep she re-entered it through a servant way, wearing a heavy cloak, with Gendry at her side.
"This is a stupid plan." Gendry muttered as they snuck through the servant passages into the Red Keep.
Arya rolled her eyes. "I don't see you coming up with a better one." She hissed. "Be quite, noise travels in here."
Gendry looked nervous, but he also looked determined. He had a sword on his hip and a war hammer in his hands, the hammer had been Arya's idea. They had rolled it in a blanket to sneak it past the guards on the way into the keep.
Gendry had been amazed at how easy it was for a servant to get through. That amazement had quickly moved to concern however when faced with the maze-like passages that the servant's used to get around. Arya navigated them with ease, having started exploring them the first day she had arrived.
An old black cat with a torn ear ran across their path and suddenly stopped in the middle of the corridor looking at Arya. Arya recognised it as the cat people believed was Balerion, the cat that had once been Rhaenys Targaryen's kitten. That was the cat that she had followed down to the dungeons the day that she had overheard Varys.
"That's the real king of this castle right there." She whispered to Gendry. "Older than sin and twice as mean. People say he once stole a roast quail right out of Lord Tywin's fingers... I nearly caught him once."
"I think he remembers." Gendry muttered.
The cat continued to stand in their path, looking at Arya, a moment later they heard footsteps. The cat turned and dated through a partially open doorway. Arya followed, pulling Gendry with her, just before a pair of guards rounded the corner. The old black cat rubbed against Arya's leg, she tentatively reached down to scratch its ear and amazingly it let her.
"Now you want to be my friend?" She muttered. The cat just rubbed against her leg again then left the room. It seemed to be going the same place that they were going and they ended up following it, many times the cat's actions helped them avoid the guards. Arya couldn't shake the feeling that the cat was intentionally leading them. Once in the dungeons their path separated with the cat's as it went in the direction of the Dragon skulls.
They hadn't gotten much further when Arya thought she heard footsteps again, she couldn't be sure, the sound was much lighter that the steps of any guards, but she pulled Gendry into the shadows to wait just in case. They had barely managed to hide themselves when Varys came into view. He looked around then turned down another passageway. After some debate Arya decided they should follow him. Varys being Varys however they would have to be cautious, she quietly removed her boots and signalled for Gendry to do the same. He frowned at her but did as she wished.
They followed Varys at a distance, eventually he reached his destination, he looked around again before take a key and unlocked a large cell. Thankfully he didn't look too carefully and Arya could only assume he was looking for guards. She waited a while before moving closer to listen.
"… Sansa came to court this morning, to plead for your life."
"On her knees, begging for me." Arya heard her father say with bitterness, the sound of his voice causing a lump in her throat. He sounded broken, defeated. She'd never heard him like that. He let out a bitter laugh and it was all that she could do to force herself to wait. "Did you laugh with the others?"
Arya took a slow breath and forced herself to relax. She released the hilt of Needle, which she hadn't even realised she had grabbed and carefully put her boots back on with trembling hands. Gendry wordlessly put his boots back on as well. She could hear Varys talking, something about everybody having a role to play, everything was games to him. She looked at Gendry sadly and knew that he wasn't about to like what she was going to do.
She had made a choice the moment that she had seen Varys, the man was dangerous and unpredictable. In part she knew that this wasn't the choice of the eleven year old Arya. This was the older Arya, the Arya who had lost everything. This was the Arya that knew Varys would help Daenerys, this was the woman that had seen too much war and loss, who had almost become no-one. Daenerys coming to Westeros, and the wars that resulted, had weakened them against the Night King, Varys had played a large role in that. It had been over the moment the Night King had gained one of her dragons…
Arya realised that she was losing herself in thought. She had to separate herself from her troubles. She was a weapon, a blade, a sword, nothing more. She quietly drew her sword and tried to think of it as a part of her hand. She started listening again, Varys was talking. "…Cersei's no fool, she knows a tame wolf is more use to her than a dead one."
Arya didn't stop to think, she burst into the cell. "What about a free one?" She asked, her sword aimed at Varys. Gendry wasn't far behind, war hammer in hand.
"Arya?" Ned looked up at her, bewildered, but her attention was on Varys.
"Where are they keeping her?" she asked, pointing Needle at Varys's chest.
"Lady Arya, I…" Varys stuttered, but Arya had no time for it. "My sister, Sansa, where is Joffrey keeping her?"
"Lady Arya, let's be reasonable…" Varys placed his hands up pleadingly.
"Let's not." Arya replied. "My father and sister are prisoners and Gold Cloaks have been hunting me for days. I'm all out of reasonable. Now tell me where to find my sister."
"You should listen to her." Gendry advised. "She's scarier than she looks."
Arya took a step forward, forcing Varys to take a step back and putting his back against a pillar.
"Arya, don't." Her father pleaded. He was a good man, but now was not the time for good men.
Arya pressed the blade into Varys' chest just hard enough to start drawing blood. "Tell me where my sister is."
"Okay, okay." Varys replied, "They're keeping her in the north tower, you can't miss it, Joffrey had the heads of all the Stark people put on pikes so Sansa has to look at them. She's well-guarded though, you won't be able to get to her."
Arya nodded. "Thank you, Lord Varys." She said politely, and then she killed him. "Gendry, chains."
Gendry seemed stunned for a moment then he leapt into action trying every key on the ring that Yoren had given them. Eventually one worked.
Arya ignored them and searched Varys' body until she found another ring of keys. She smiled, "These are what we need." She muttered. She found a couple of coin pouches on him and took those as well.
Gendry got Ned's chains undone and helped him to his feet. "Can you walk?"
Ned looked from Arya to Gendry, still in shock. "I… yes, I think so." He looked at Arya. "We have to get Sansa."
Arya shook her head. "We have to get you to safety first, then we'll get Sansa. There is a ship waiting. Nymeria and Lady are already on it."
Her father nodded, too tired or too broken to argue. He tried to stand but his injured leg didn't want to behave for the first couple of steps so he ended up leaning on Gendry heavily. His eyes lingered for a long time on Varys' body as they left the cell. Ned Stark couldn't move quickly and they were soon spotted by guards. Gendry tried to steady Ned against the wall but Arya's father had been raised a soldier and he wasn't about to sit back and let somebody else fight his fight, he pulled the sword from Gendry's waist before the young man could react.
Gendry's hammer killed the first guard, Ned lunged for the second but his leg betrayed him. Arya parried the blow that was about to strike her father and forced the guard to step back, lining him up for Gendry's second shoot. Another guard came running and Arya rushed ahead, ducking under his strike and coming up with a killing blow.
She led the way confidently to the gate that blocked off the area where the dragon skulls were kept. It took a couple of attempts to get the gate open, but she got them through and the gate locked without them being seen. She led them straight to the largest dragon skull and they climbed inside to hide. It was only once they were in the relative safety of the Dragon's skull that she allowed herself to register the blood on her hands.
Maybe an hour had passed? There had been no sounds of guards for some time. Arya took a deep breath and looked at Gendry. "You go down that passage and keep going down." She pointed to the way out. "You will end up outside the keep on the beach, follow it around to the port and met Yoren, I'm going to get Sansa."
"You can't go alone." Her father argued.
"You're not fit to fight." Arya argued back. "Besides I know these passages almost as well as the old black cat does, trust me."
Her father shook his head. "Take Gendry with you."
Arya looked at her father sadly. She hugged him and quickly pulled away. "I love you, Father." She turned her attention back to Gendry. "Stick to the plan, the ship sails at dawn whether I'm there or not, sooner if you have to. Lord Stark has to get back to Winterfell, even if you have to carry him yourself."
Gendry nodded. "Yes, mi'lady." He answered sadly.
Arya started to walk back to the gate but her father grabbed her. "Arya, I can't risk losing you as well."
"What do you think Joffrey will do to her once he finds out you've escaped?" Arya asked coldly. "Do you think he'll let it go? Or do you think he'll sit on the Iron throne with a crossbow pointed at her while he instructs someone like Meryn Trant to rip her clothes from her and beat her? Do you think he'll stop there? You waged a war for your sister, let me try and help mine. She's my sister, even if she doesn't like me very much."
Her father looked at her for a long moment then let her go with a nod. "You better be at that damn ship before dawn." He muttered.
Arya had no idea what she was going to do as she walked away from her father. She saw the dead guards and suddenly realised that Gendry still had the guard keys. She checked the guards and found another set and some coin pouches. She tucked the coin pouches away and picked up the keys, she hesitated for a minute and then picked up one of the swords as well. Suddenly she had a plan.
She started looking through the cells in search of one particular prisoner, it didn't take her long to find the faceless man that wore the face of Jaqen H'ghar. She opened the door to his cell and he gave her a curious look, his red and white hair falling around his face.
"A girl would like to make a deal." She said quietly.
"A man is listening." Jaqen H'ghar replied.
"A girl has given two gifts to the god of death tonight, and helped give two more." She said slowly. "But a girl must give many more deaths if she is going to save her sister, and a girl cannot do it alone."
"And who is a girl's sister?" Jaqen asked.
Arya smiled. "The name that I would like to keep from the many-faced god tonight is Sansa Stark, I am willing to give many names in return."
"And why should a man help?" Jaqen's voice gave away nothing but curiosity.
"A man may choose to help because the god of death is the only one being prayed to tonight. A man may choose not to help, for reasons of his own. A man may have another path to walk. A man may choose to give me the gift of death instead. A man is free to make his own choices. A girl gives keys and a sword regardless of what choice a man makes." She threw the keys to him, placed the sword on the ground and left the cell.
It took her over an hour to sneak her way from the dungeons to the kitchens. She planned to pose as a servant to approach the guards. She wanted to make it believable. She put some food on a plate and then put the plate on a tray, she carefully pulled the cloak around her to hide her sword and made her way to where he sister was being held.
There were two guards at the entrance to the tower, neither of them were guards that she knew but she kept her head down.
"What's this then?" One of the guards asked.
"For Lady Stark." She replied quietly, lowing her gaze.
"At this hour of night?"
Arya just shrugged. "I do as I'm told."
The guard looked at the tray, he lifted the plate to check that there was nothing hidden under it. He put it down stole a piece of food and ate it before letting her through. Arya made her way into the tower, there were a number of rooms and it took her a couple of attempts to find Sansa's room. She knocked on Sansa's door only to be greeted by the words. "Go away."
"Sansa," She hissed. "It's Arya, let me in."
Sansa opened the door slowly and looked at Arya with wide eyes. "How?" She whispered. Suddenly she noticed the blood on Arya. "What happened?"
Arya glanced down at the blood. "Not mine." She replied. "Father's waiting, let me in."
After the initial shock Sansa was surprisingly willing to follow instruction. Arya gave her a knapsack and she put a few items in it quickly. Arya positioned herself behind the door and nodded to Sansa who stood in the middle of the room and let out a scream. As predicted one guard came to investigate and the other kept watch. The guard was so focused on Sansa that he never saw Arya coming. Arya slid her blade into the gap at the armpit of his armour and straight into his lung, her right hand over his mouth to stifle his yell.
"You killed him?!" Sansa yelled at her in shock.
Arya looked at Sansa in exasperation "What else was I supposed to do?! We have to go, Sansa, now!"
Sansa shook her head and backed away from Arya. "You horrible little horse-face, you killed him! He was just following orders and you killed him, you don't even care, do you? Gods! How are you my sister? Why couldn't Jeyne Poole have been my sister? Why couldn't I have a nice sister? They would have let father live if you hadn't done this! Now they'll kill us all!"
"No." Arya replied. "They wouldn't have let farther live, no matter how many times you got down on your knees and begged. And if I was nice and ladylike I'd be a victim and a prisoner just like you!" she snapped. "Stop yelling, we have to go."
But it was too late, the other guard had already come. He looked at the dead guard on the ground and then at Arya. Without a word he drew his sword. Sansa screamed and backed against the wall. Arya ducked as he swung his blade. She put the body of the dead guard between them. The guard swung again and she parried, but she parried wrong and he knocked Needle from her hand.
She threw herself on the ground as he attacked her again and reached for the dead guard's sword. It was heavier than she was used to, she struck up blindly and connected with the guard, striking his hand, his sword almost cutting her as he dropped it. She dropped the dead guard's sword and grabbed Needle, scrambling to her feet as the living guard clutched his hand in pain. She grabbed Sansa and pulled her from the room. The guard lunged, trying to stop her, but he was injured and unarmed. Needle stuck him in the throat.
Arya had to pull at Sansa again to get her to move. They got out of the tower and ran over the bridge. Arya pulled Sansa towards the narrow corridors that the servants used, but she was panicking and she didn't know this part of the keep very well. They quickly became lost. Suddenly there were a group of three guards coming towards them, they turned to run, but there were two guards approaching from the other end of the corridor as well. It was too many, too many to fight, so much for being sneaky and cleaver.
Sansa froze, the guards approached slowly. Arya looked from the group of three guards to the group of two, she wold have better chances with the two, but she couldn't count on Sansa to run. She looked back at the group of three guards. The back guard suddenly fell, his head separated from his body by a fast moving sword, a flash of red and white hair and another guard fell shortly after. Arya pushed Sansa against the wall as the third guard fell. Seeing Jaqen H'ghar as the threat, the other two guards moved quickly past the Stark girls, but Jaqen made short work of them.
Jaqen turned towards them and bowed. "A man has chosen." He said softly. He took a step closer to Arya and raised his blade to her neck. She looked him in the eyes and did not flinch. "A girl is brave." He muttered. "Or is she stupid?" He lowered his blade. "This is your sister?"
Arya nodded. "This is Sansa."
He looked at her carefully. "How many gifts has a girl given tonight?" He asked.
"Four." Arya replied.
"And before tonight?"
Arya shook her head. "None before tonight."
Jaqen smiled. "And where is a girl taking her sister?"
"There is a boat, a ship, men from White Harbor, it sails at dawn with or without us." Arya replied.
Jaqen nodded. "Let's get you on it then."
Arya had to admit that there was something of a relief in letting somebody else do the bulk of the fighting. She held her own, but Jaqen got them out of the Keep and to the docks with surprising ease. Yoren was waiting to lead them to the right ship. As they approached Yoren looked at Jaqen than back at Arya, recognition in his eyes, and his hand moved to his blade.
Jaqen bowed and smiled. "It looks like I will be declining that offer to take the black." He told Yoren. "You should rethink that policy of not taking females though, a girl has many gifts."
Yoren shook his head as Jaqen walked away. He waited unto Jaqen was gone to take them to the ship. "That is a very dangerous man." He muttered.
"I know exactly who that was." Arya replied. "That's why I asked for his help."
Arya watched Sansa burst into a run the moment their father came into sight. Arya was too tired to run, too numb. It didn't matter, Sansa would need all of the attention anyway. Sansa threw her arms around their father and started sobbing as the ship pulled away from the docks. Ned hugged her tightly, but looked over her shoulder at Arya with concern. Arya gave her father a sad smile and looked for somewhere to sit down and clean Needle. She found a group of barrels lashed to a mast and decided it would do.
She hated being so short, she had to put a lot of effort into jumping up to the top of one of the barrels and her tired limbs no longer wanted to obey. She knew she needed to get as much blood off of her as possible before checking on Nymeria. Gendry appeared with a small bucket of water and some rags. There were wet patches on his clothes and a few places where he had missed splotches of blood. There was also a line of blood along his jawline which he clearly hadn't realised was there yet.
She took the offered water and rags wordlessly and started scrubbing the blood off of her hands and clothes. There were no words, not after what they had just done. He pulled himself up onto a barrel and lent his head against the mast, gazing numbly at the night sky. Minutes past and finally he talked.
"Let's never do that again." He muttered.
"Sounds good." Arya agreed, but she knew it was a promise that couldn't be kept.
Once she had removed as much blood as she could she lent her head against the mast. The night was clear and the stars looked bright, she started going over the constellations in her head. Her eyes found the dragon first, then the bull, the wolf… her mind wandered and she remembered Theon going on about how the Iron born can navigate by the stars.
The part of her that wasn't her felt a sudden surge of hatred towards Theon for crimes that he had not yet committed. They were crimes that he might never commit, but the realisation that he was capable of doing that too her family broke her heart. It was so confusing. Was he still that person if he didn't do those horrible things? She had viewed him as a brother, but how could she ever trust him again? She needed to think of something else.
She sighed and looked at Gendry, this was her priority now, to help him and his siblings. They had time, it would be a few weeks before Joffrey would decide to start killing bastards. The plan was to go with her father as far as White Harbor, once they were in the North her and Gendry would slip away and double back to Kings Landing. It had only taken a month for King Robert, with a full caravan of wagons, a month to cover twice the distance. Two people on horseback should be able to make it in a week or so. The hope was that her father would be too committed to getting back to Winterfell to be able to stop them. It would be hard to leave Nymeria behind but it was for the best.
She realised that she was starting to drift off to sleep. She should move, she should get off of the barrel and go check on Nymeria, but she didn't feel like moving. Gendry's shoulder was right there, she wondered if he would forgive her if she rested her head on it? The more she thought about it the more appealing the idea seemed. Before she was aware that she had decided to find out her head was on his shoulder. He didn't object, so she closed her eyes and let herself drift off to sleep.
She woke up some time later to realise that her father was carrying her. He shuffled her gently in his arms and opened the cabin door. He laid her on a bed and she reached up and hugged him. "Easy there, little soldier." He muttered. "I'm so sorry you had to go through what happened tonight."
"It's okay." Arya replied.
Her father shook his head. "No, it's not. I'm supposed to protect you from things like that. I'm so sorry Ary, you shouldn't be the one protecting me."
Arya hugged him again. "We'll be at White Harbor soon." She replied.
"I'm so proud of you." He muttered. "You did so well. We'll go to Dragonstone, then White Harbor, then home to Winterfell."
Arya was suddenly wide awake. "Wait, why Dragonstone? That wasn't part of the plan."
Ned nodded. "Aye, it was a good plan, but I need to talk to Stannis, tell him about Robert's bastards, maybe he can help them."
Arya's blood suddenly ran cold. "You're going to tell him how to find them?" She asked in a quiet voice.
Ned nodded. "Yes, they're his blood, he'll help them. Gendry's a good lad, if he wants he can come to Winterfell with us."
Arya couldn't believe what she was hearing, by giving Stannis the locations and names of the seven bastards of Robert Baratheon that her father had found in Kings Landing he would also be giving that information to Melisandre. Arya's mind screamed at the possibilities of what the red priestess would do to them. The youngest was a one month old baby girl named Bella who's mother was owned by Littlefinger.
A sudden image of a baby being placed on a pyre and the pyre being set alight flashed through Arya's mind. They'd be dead or worse within a week. She swallowed thickly and feigned tiredness. Her father wouldn't believe the truth even if she told him. Nymeria jumped up on the bed and Arya hugged her tightly. She lay down and pretended she was going to sleep. Ned dropped a kiss on her forehead and pulled a blanket over her.
"I love you, Father." She said quietly as he was about to leave the cabin.
Ned nodded. "I love you too, Arya, very much."
She waited until he had left the room and then sat up. They were out of time. She needed to get Gendry and get off of this ship, fast. She hugged Nymeria tightly, not wanting to say goodbye. She wanted to lie down again but she couldn't risk going back to sleep. She moved quietly so as not to wake Sansa who was curled up with Lady on the other bed. Nymeria tried to follow her but she pushed the direwolf back into the cabin. She almost got caught twice sneaking back on deck. Gendry had curled up on a couple of the barrels. He looked almost peaceful and she felt guilty having to shake him awake.
"Gendry," she whispered. "Gendry, we have to go, something's changed, you're in danger."
"Can it wait til morning, mi'lady." Gendry asked groggily.
"Only if you want to be burnt alive by a red priestess." Arya replied. That woke him up.
"What's happened?" She could see the fear in his eyes.
"I'll explain once we get to shore. Can you swim?"
Gendry shook his head. "No."
"Have you ever rowed a boat before?" She asked.
Gendry shook his head again. "No."
"I guess we're both going to be very tired by the time we get to shore then." Arya replied.
Sometimes Arya hated being right. They had found a dingy and managed to lower themselves down in it without getting caught. Gendry had rowed for as long as he could, then Arya had made him switch places and rowed for a while. Gendry was much stronger than she was and she felt like her strokes weren't getting them anywhere, but Gendry looked so tired that she forced herself to keep rowing. 'Every hurt is a lesson, and every lesson makes you stronger.' She reminded herself as she forced herself to row just one more stroke, just one more stroke…
The sun came up, Gendry was asleep in the bow of the boat, his war hammer across his lap. Arya found that she was making progress but it was slow. 'Just one more stroke, maybe two, then I'll wake him. I can do one more stroke, one more...' He neck and shoulders hurt, her arms ached and her back was starting to spasm, but she didn't have the heart to wake him. The sun started to get higher in the sky. 'Just one more stroke.' Suddenly the shore came into view, somehow the currents had moved them near the secret entrance to the Keep. 'I can do this.' Arya told herself. 'Just a little further, I can do this.' She didn't wake Gendry until they were almost at the beach.
Arya was stumbling by the time they hit the shore but they weren't safe yet. She watched as Gendry pushed the dingy out to float away. They found the small secret entrance way to the lower Keep and went through a few of the secret passageways before Arya was willing to stop. Finally she leant against the hard stone wall and let herself slide into a sitting position drawing her knees up, she rested her wrists on her knees and watched her arms tremble with exhaustion.
Gendry also noticed that her arms were shaking. "Gods," he whispered. "Why didn't you wake me?"
"You needed the sleep." Arya replied. "Besides, if we're going to save your brothers and sisters I'm going to need you to be able to swing that hammer."
"Right," Gendry mutter bitterly. "We're going to kill more people."
"I don't want to." Arya replied sadly. ""But I'm not going to sit back and let innocents die."
"Me neither." Gendry agreed. "So what changed?" He asked. "I thought you said we had time?"
"We did." Arya muttered. "Until Father decided to go via Dragonstone."
Gendry thought about that for a moment. "Stannis Baratheon is at Dragonstone." He said quietly.
Arya nodded. "So is a red priestess named Melisandre. Stannis has been burning people alive as sacrifices to the lord of light. Melisandre will convince Stannis that burning you alive will give him the power to take over Kings Landing, stepping on Dragonstone right now is death for you."
"Gods." Gendry muttered.
"Father thinks Stannis will help you and your brothers and sisters because they are his blood, and because that's what my Father would do, he's going to tell him how to find them all. I can't let that happen, I'm not going to let Melisandre hurt them. I'm not going to let her hurt you again, not like in my dreams. I failed you once, I'm not going to fail you again Gendry."
Arya could feel the pain and the anger of the Arya that wasn't her, she could remember standing surrounded by the brotherhood without banners, outnumbered, while the guards chained Gendry up and threw him into the back of that cart. She was pulled out of the vision by Gendry's words.
"Wait, you're trying to protect me?!" He asked in shock.
Arya nodded. "Yes."
"This red priestess, this Malar-"
"Melisandre." Arya replied.
"Melisandre," Gendry repeated. "She wasn't going to hurt you? She just wanted me?" He watched her as she nodded. "So you could have gone to Dragonstone, you would have been safe. Gods, you should be with your family! With your father, and your sister, and the direwolves… you shouldn't be here. You gave me the list, you should have gotten me on the dingy and let me go!" He was visibly getting more and more upset as he realised the choice that she had made.
Arya shook her head. "I made my choice, Gendry, I chose to help you."
"But why?" Gendry yelled. "I'm just a bastard! Why would you choose a bastard over your family?!"
Arya was starting to get upset too, why was he making this so hard? Why couldn't he see that there was no choice? "I did what I thought was right," She yelled back. "And I'm going to keep doing what I think is right! And that's not sitting back and letting innocent people die so that I can run back to the North and hide at Winterfell! It's not letting other people get hurt or die fighting for me. Maybe Sansa can sit in the corner and do needlework while other people fight, but I can't! The only needle I'm any good with is this one!" She replied pointing to her sword.
She could feel the tears starting to spill out of her eyes and she angrily swiped them away. "This is my choice, Gendry, besides, you need me. You might be able to save a few of them alone, but you'll never get little Bella away from Littlefinger without my help!"
Gendry's face crumpled in confusion and frustration. "I just don't understand." He whispered sadly.
Arya closed her eyes and took a deep breath. "I know." She replied with a sigh. "I'm tired, Gendry. Can we talk about this later?"
He studied her for a few moments then nodded. "Yeah." He lent his head against the wall and pinched the bridge of his nose. "I'm sorry for yelling."
They sat in awkward silence for a few minutes. The shaking in Arya's arms started to lessen a little and she shuffled against the wall trying to find a position that was slightly less uncomfortable, nothing worked.
"Gendry?" She asked softly, her voice sounding small even to her own ears.
"Yeah?" He asked.
"I'm not used to going to sleep without Nymeria beside me. Do you mind if I lean against you?"
"No, mi'lady, I don't mind."
She leant against him and he hesitantly put his arm around her shoulders. "I guess I'm stuck with you, huh?" He asked teasingly. "How old are you, anyway? Nine?"
"Eleven." Arya muttered and snuggled in closer. "I'm just small."
"Small, but brave." Gendry muttered.
Arya's dreams were disturbing as usual, some of them were visions of what could be - memories of what might never be - but others were just nightmares. Things were getting more and more confusing in her head. There was always pain in her dreams, so much pain, especially in her gut. The Waif had stabbed her there, more than once, and twisted the blade. She had survived that. She had stabbed herself there as part of the ritual to bring herself back and change things. She hadn't survived that.
She remembered dying. It had only been for an instant, or an eternity, but she remembered it all the same. The spell was in place, even bleeding out against the tree in Winterfell she could hear the sound of wood on wood as her younger self spared with the butcher's boy, but there had been an instant where she had ceased to be. The suddenness of existing again had been a shock that she had never quite recovered from.
She woke up alone on the stone floor in the dark. There was no sign of Gendry. She pushed herself into a sitting position and quickly checked that she still had her weapons. Slowly her eyes adjusted and she realised that there was some light coming from a far corridor. Her mind was racing, had Gendry abandoned her? Had somebody found them? If somebody had found them why not take her? A dozen scenarios ran through her mind, each one worse than the one before. Slowly she eased herself to her feet, placed her back close to the wall, and started to make her way towards the faint light.
Where was Gendry?! She eased herself up to the corner and tried to control her breathing and listen. Her arms still ached from the rowing and she was concerned that it would become an issue if she had to fight. The light was coming from the left. It was a maze down here, she had to be careful to remember which way she turned or she would soon be lost. Had Gendry gotten lost? Did he need her to come find him? There must be over a hundred passageways down here, if he was lost he could wander for weeks!
She turned the corner slowly, her left hand on the hilt of Needle. There was nobody there. The light wasn't coming from this passageway but from somewhere further down, somewhere further under the keep. Arya argued with herself about if she should investigate the light or turn back. The light had to be coming from something, which meant somebody was likely down there and she was in danger. But the further she went the harder it would be for Gendry to find her when he came back. If he came back. Had he really left her? Had he heard someone coming and moved away from her to let them capture him and keep her safe? Why hadn't he woken her?
She turned right at the next corner, following the light, there was a stairway leading off of the passageway to the left, leading downwards, there were lower layers to the keep. There were doorways off of this corridor, which meant that there were rooms leading off of it. Storage rooms maybe? Arya couldn't begin to think what would be in rooms so deep under the keep. Surely nobody would live down here? There was a doorway half open about a third of the way down the corridor, and that was where the light was coming from.
She approached slowly, with her back pressed against the opposite wall. The light flickered like touch light, a small flame, not like a fire in a hearth. Her mind instantly recognised that it was not the eleven year old Arya that could tell the difference but the other self, the shadow that haunted her mind and made her older than her years. And the Arya that had trained in Braavos was getting very angry at Gendry for leaving her. The true self, the younger Arya, just wanted to cry.
She stopped near the door and listened. She could hear somebody moving around. She listened harder, she was sure that there was only one person. She summoned her courage and made her way forward, pushing the door wide open. The sight that greeted her made her stop. The room was lit by a single touch, over half of it was packed with crates, some of which had been opened. Gendry was standing over one of the opened crates with a look of wonder on his face, a sheet of something shiny in his hands.
He turned at her and smiled. "You're awake. You slept for ages… m'lady. I decided to start having a look around." He patted the keys on his waist that they had taken from the guards. "Some of these keys are very old and I got lucky on this door. Look." He pulled up the shiny thing in his hands, it was a shirt of very fine looking chainmail. He walked over and placed it into her hands.
"Chainmail." She replied, not particularly impressed. It was much lighter than she expected.
Gendry shook his head, a look of excitement in his eyes and a grin on his face. "Not just chainmail, look at it closer. Feel how light it is. It must be hundreds of years old, the silk it was wrapped in had almost rotted away but there is not a hint of rust on it."
Arya held it up to the torch light and looked at it closer, her jaw dropped. "Is it…"
"Valyrian." Gendry answered.
"That would draw a lot of attention." Arya muttered. "It's amazing but it would draw a lot of attention."
"Not if you covered it."
Arya looked at it carefully. It was way too large for her. "I'm far too small to wear this, it might fit you." Suddenly her stomach rumbled and she realised that she needed to relieve herself. "I ah…"
"I found a privy." Gendry said softly. "Even has a tap with running sea water." He grabbed the torch. "Come on, I'll show you."
Arya nodded and let him lead her. "We have running hot and cold water in Winterfell." She said quietly.
"Really?" Gendry asked. "I thought that was just a myth."
Arya shook her head. "Apparently Bran the builder tapped into some deep hot pools, it's best in the first keep, the oldest building, but its plumbed into the other buildings too." She noticed that Gendry wasn't throwing the words, m'lady at her with every sentence. She decided that was a good thing.
As much as it would have been wonderful to keep looking around the room, or see what other treasures could be found in the lower keep, they were both thirsty and hungry. They might find a million weapons here, but they would not find food or drinking water. They agreed that they needed to find a way back into Kings Landing. Gendry put the chainmail on then put his tunic over the top. He'd also found some interesting looking leather armour which looked like it had been made for a young adolescent or a child. He convinced Arya to put the leather armour on. It was too big for her and reminded her of how small she was. He picked up a few other things which he had found, promising that he would show her later, and they made their way back onto the beach.
With the darkness of the corridors Arya had thought that it was night, the bright afternoon sun made her blink and it took her eyes a bit to adjust. Once she could finally see properly she realised that Gendry was staring at her.
"What?" She asked, somewhat defensive.
"That's some strange looking armour." Gendry replied.
She looked down at it and realised that much of it it was a light yellow colour, almost gold. There were bands of black on it, and funny symbols. Possibly Valyrian writing. She ran her hand over it and realised it felt rough, like a lizard-lion… or a dragon. "Dyed?" She asked Gendry.
Gendry shrugged. "Cover it." He muttered.
She nodded and pulled her cloak around her as they made their way to the city gates. There was a caravan of people coming in and they slipped among them. They found one of the cheaper inns and Arya paid for a small room with money from one of the dead guard's purses. The inn was in a bad area of town and Gendry seemed actively worried for her safety. He asked her to sit closest to the wall when they sat down and ordered food and drink.
A young girl and a young man with a war hammer were bound to get attention sooner or later and eventually they did. Some drunk who had been staring at Arya for ages decided to approach, causing Gendry to reach for his hammer.
"Pretty girl." The drunk leered then turned to Gendry. "Nice weapon, what's its name."
"Brother's Love." Gendry replied with a growl. "Now stay away from my sister."
"An' what if I don' wanna." The drunk replied. "Pretty young thing, maybe I wanna break her in. I'll pay you well."
Gendry rose to his feet. "I said, stay away from my sister."
The drunk went to lunge at Arya and Gendry was just about to swing his hammer but another man grabbed the drunk and pulled him away, slamming him against another table and raising a blade to his throat.
"Does a man not know how to listen?" The man who had grabbed him asked. "A man has said he does not want to do business with you. Walk away, or die, it is up to you. This one does not care which you choose." The man, Jaqen H'gar, let the drunk go and the drunk slowly backed away.
"I guess a man chose to live." Jaqen observed as he sat down at the table opposite Gendry.
Gendry was still standing with the hammer in his hands and he looked like he wanted to swing it at Jaqen. Arya tugged on his sleeve. "Sit down." She hissed. "Jaqen isn't here to hurt me."
"A girl seems very sure of that." Jaqen observed as he reached over and picked up a hunk of bread off of her plate.
Arya shrugged. "A girl knows things." She replied. "Gendry, please sit down."
Gendry reluctantly sat back down and sat there glaring at Jaqen. Arya sighed. "Gendry, he could kill you six ways before your hammer landed and dodge the blow. If he wanted you dead you would never see it coming."
"Who is he?" Gendry asked.
"A friend." Arya replied calmly. "He helped me get Sansa."
Gendry shook his head. "You make some strange friends." He muttered.
"And you are not her brother." Jaqen replied calmly. "Does that make you strange, as well?"
Arya sighed then looked at Jaqen. "Is a man hungry?"
"A man could eat." Jaqen replied.
Arya ordered him some food and ale. They sat eating in silence for a while, with Gendry sending the occasional glare at Jaqen. Jaqen seemed amused, not offended. It was Jaqen who finally broke the silence. "A man is curious, why is a girl not on a boat to White Harbor with her family?"
Arya paused, considering her answer. "Valar Dohaeris." She replied slowly. "A girl has her reasons."
Jaqen nodded. He sculled back the last of his ale then placed an old faded coin on the table and pushed it towards her. "Does a girl know what this is?"
Arya nodded and pushed the coin back towards him. "A girl chooses a different path."
"Keep it." Jaqen replied. "A girl may change her mind." He stood up. "Valar Morghulis."
"Valar Dohaeris." Arya replied. She waited until he had gone to pick up the coin with a shaking hand and tuck it away.
"What the hells was that?" Gendry hissed.
"He is an assassin." Arya replied very quietly. "And he just offered to train me."
Gendry swallowed thickly. "Sometimes you really scare me, you know that?"
Arya nodded. "Try being in my head." She muttered. "In my dreams after Melisandre took you away to sacrifice you I ended up with nowhere else to go. My father was dead, my mother and oldest brother were murdered not long after I lost you, I couldn't get to Jon at the Wall, Sansa was a prisoner, and everyone believed Theon had murdered my other two brothers. Winterfell had been sacked and burnt, then taken over by the Bolton's… I know what it means to accept that offer."
Gendry looked at her in shock. "You wouldn't…"
Arya looked at him sadly. She wanted to tell him that if he promised her he wouldn't leave her she wouldn't go to Braavos. She wanted to make him swear that he wouldn't do something stupid like joining the brotherhood without banners. But the words choked in her throat.
"Help me." She whispered quietly. "There is so much in my head that I can't escape. I can't do this alone. Help me."
"I'll help you." Gendry promised.