WATCH OUT FOR SPOILERS! Since the teaser at the beginning is more spoiler-free, the one below acts as the true summary of Rise of Wolves.
Summary: It has been seven years since the war of Five Kings. Queen Daenerys has recovered the Iron throne from the Lannisters, and the war has been over for almost a year, yet no one can exactly call it peace. The dragons are unruly, the Dothraki and the Unsullied have nowhere to go and Daenerys' true people are too frightened of her. In the north, Winterfell is being rebuilt and the Kings of Winter have sworn fealty to the new Targaryen. But Cersei Lannister and Stannis Baratheon lurk ever in the fringes, Melisandre's shadows have darkened the lands, Dorn and the Ironborn are stirring, and the Wall has been breached by the Others. This is what Arya Stark comes home to.
A/N: I know that Game of Thrones isn't as popular but I couldn't help fanning over it since I finished the series. This fic is Arya-centric and may involve some romance, but she's much older now, with just a few quirks. This is largely not-cannon, I've added liberal amounts of pure fantasy in the way they chose to grow and live.
All works are rightfully George R.R. Martin's, and this is only a humble creation of a nameless, unworthy fan.
I. Face of an Assassin
Carrying the last of her supplies, Arya rode through the cold vast lands as swiftly as she could. She knew she had to make it to Winterfell by the morn. If she did not, she would have to make a loop back towards Wolfswood to catch more game— a damning inconvenience.
Night was slowly settling, and the last of the winter sun cast long shadows upon the trees. There was a gentle snow beginning to fall, so she pulled her hood higher. Her brown mare Hrrivro, or Surefoot in the Braavosi tongue, was losing that famed surefootedness from the weariness and the ice.
There was a band of riders galloping down the horizon to meet her. She heard them before she saw them, hazy dark forms with large stallions, their heavy cloaks billowing behind them. They were big men, but young, with only two sporting northern long beards and bushy brows. One of them could not have been more than two and ten. She eased her mare into a trot until they arrived before her, halting but a few meters away with their weapons drawn. Hrrivro reared back, anxious.
They were Bran's scouts, she reckoned. They must have spotted her advance from miles away. But these men looked prepared to slaughter her and bury her in the snow rather than escort her back to Winterfell. It was good for Bran to be cautious, Arya measured, but it still annoyed her to have a quarrel aimed at her face so blatantly like that.
"Halt! In the names of the Kings of the North, tell us who rides."
The man who spoke was comely, with his straight nose and narrow golden eyes, but with the mop of stringy straw hair he looked more boy than man. She might even say his ratty look reminded her of a Lommy Greenhands from so long ago, but it was another woman who was measuring him now- a woman she'd become, and not just the little Arya of House Stark.
This straw-haired man and his band looked staunch and unforgiving, and the snow made it all the colder. It would not do well for Arya to give false names and reasons to be travelling towards Winterfell. Though it was now a time of peace, it was hardly a safe one; plotters, thieves and murderers were still on the prowl. She swept down her cloak and lifted her chin.
"I am Arya of House Stark," she said, her Westeros not rusty but foreign on her tongue,
"Daughter of Eddard the Stern and Lady Catelyn The Grieving Mother. I am sister to Bran and Rickon, now Kings of the North."
She had heard these titles in Braavos late, perhaps even incorrect- but in Braavos news travelled quick as wildfire, and these were the versions she loved best. Some sailors had claimed Eddard Stark had died trying to discover the secrets Jon Arryn left him. It was common knowledge now that Queen Cersei had whelped her sons in incest, common too that Eddard Stark had been a loyal and just man. If only they had thought to learn the truth quicker, she thought bitterly. And the fate of her mother- pain still touched the no one Arya had become when she had learned more of the Red Wedding, about the way Catelyn's fingers came bloody from her face and how they had dishonoured her body in the waters of the Green Fork.
These titles were useless against these suspicious men, she knew. They were tough, armed to the teeth and vicious by the look of them, and only the straw-haired leader seemed highborn. Upon seeing her face the men burst out in laughter.
"What folly is this? We know no living Arya Stark, only of the Princess Sansa- at court by the Iron Throne. That name is folly, woman, for the real Arya Stark died during the war of the Five Kings. Last we heard she was an ugly whelp— and certainly no Braavos assassin."
When Arya had heard that Bran and Rickon were not only alive but were planting foot back in the ruins of Winterfell calling themselves King of the North, she had allowed a thrill of pure happiness shiver to her very bone. Everything else came as a blur as she swept herself up and left for a ship bound Westeros as fast as she could.
But in her haste and determination she forgot that Lady Arya of Stark was a skin of long ago- that the engraved leather she was wrapped in was Braavosi, that the cloak and felts were Tyroshi, that the wide belt strapped on her leg holstered a dozen daggers of different types and sizes. Even her face betrayed her now, having shaped up much differently from their horsey beginnings. A true bannersmen of her father will doubtless see the resemblance of Stark on her face, but it had been seven years and she didn't know how much had changed and who remained. She could show them Needle, the castle-forged blade her half-brother Jon had given her, but nobody knew of it, like nobody knew of her.
It does not matter, she told herself. I am still a wolf.
She smiled at them, " I have grown Braavosi, that is true, but I owe fealty to my brother, not a wound. I am not an assassin."
The last part was a lie, but she could lie convincingly now, and read the other's face as clear as if there were words smacked onto their foreheads. She could see the distrust plain on their faces, the man in the lead twitching his nose like he would soon rather throw her in a ditch.
A man in the rear, an older one with huge shoulders and a fur-hemmed coat said, "There was an Arya Stark Bolton who hanged after that spider brought evidence against her. What makes you any different?"
"Show me to Bran and he can prove it to you."
"King Bran to you, wench," said a man with a bow, "and I'd sooner puncture you with my cock than a quarrel, so it's not likely you'll get to see him."
Her hand was already on Needle but a new voice broke out, hoarse and velvet deep, "Wait."
He had been judging her from the back, but now his white destrier trotted up to see her.
She knew him at once, now that he had shown himself. "Gendry."
His name hadn't slipped from her lips unbidden, she had said them loudly to prove she had ties with Westeros that the other men would less likely believe. But his presence shocked her. From the looks of it Gendry had grown two heads taller than when he had been a smith for those Harrenhal scum. He had grown wider too, and all muscle and bone. His face had more angles now, gaunt and lined from hardships. He was still thick of neck, with eyes just as blue and hair black as midnight even in the gentle snow.
She nodded to him stiffly, "Gendry, it is still a pleasure to see a friendly face."
She had thought it was best to don a Lady's courtesies if only to prove her highbirth, but it was an obvious mistake. Gendry only frowned. He looked her up and down, suspicion and hope flickering on his face, "The girl looks as fierce as the 'Arry I knew, but far too womanly to be Weasel as well."
"Obviously these last seven years slipped by your bull-headedness unnoticed."
"She could have been no more than eight when she left. You do not look ten and five."
"She was ten then, and I'm seventeen now."
The man with the straw hair fidgeted, impatient in the cold, "Are we doing sums now? Gendry, is she the wench or not?"
Gendry flanked her mare with his stallion so he could see her better. He then circled around her as if he were gearing her up. Arya couldn't really tell what he was seeing- the last time she peered into a looking glass she had seen a tough Braavosi with budding breasts and a small waist, a defiant expression, strong thick eyebrows, wild dark hair and narrow icy eyes. She no longer looked like a boy, and some even called her too pretty to be an assassin, but that was before she killed them anyway.
"When Arry and I rode together from Harrenhal we went with a sort of breakfast," Gendry said with his low voice, "Who was he?"
He is testing me, thought Arya, and with stupid questions too.
"His name was Hot Pie and he was definitely more of a dessert than a breakfast." We left him baking sweet breads in a run-down cottage during the war. He left the pack, right before you did.
Gendry nodded, but kept his face blank, "We met each other leaving King's Landing because—"
"—Yoren was going to take us to the Wall but got himself killed."
"When Weasel was in an acorn dress, we were down by the smithy. What did-"
Arya's patience ran short, "You know who I am now, so take me to Bran, you stupid."
"You didn't answer," Gendry said, a smile tugging at his lips.
"I said I looked like an acorn tree. You said—" she suddenly felt a hot flush on her cheeks, which made her angry, "we got to a grapple and I beat you down."
Some of the men laughed at that. Gendry took one last fleeting look at her face before he rode back towards the other men. "We should escort the princess back ourselves, Harrow. She looks to be the true thing."
The straw-haired man named Harrow still looked at her doubtfully, "You take rear guard with Hodgel and Rut. If we take this damn wench we'd best still be careful. I've known many a Braavosi treacherous, and woman more treacherous still."
She smiled pleasantly at Harrow, but her eyes remained cold, "If I was a Braavos assassin you would not even be talking about treachery. In fact you would not be talking at all."