Revised! Story changes both minor and drastic have occurred. Drastic being in the 3rd and 4th mainly. I've decided to delay the sexual encounter slightly. It's not gone forever, promise!
A Den of Beasts
Arya Stark couldn't believe what she'd heard. He was alive. Not only had he survived the war (when she was sure he would be dead) but he was engaged to marry her sister (who'd she'd also assumed was too stupid to survive the war). It was all very quaint she supposed. He was fast becoming a war hero, a knight now, not highborn but noble. Sansa was the new Lady of Winterfell, first in the line of succession before herself or Bran based on the old ways. People believed in Sansa and in the North's fledgling alliance with the fierce Dragon Queen Daenarys the First of Her Name, Protector of the Realm and Mother of Dragons. "Titles, titles, titles," Arya muttered to herself as her garron trod over a snow bank. She remembered King Robert saying the same under his breath to her father once when a messenger from Dorne was introducing a letter from a prince of some sort or another. She always secretly agreed.
The couple was about as well-matched as anyone these days. It was just as well, for the winter is long and cold when you are forced to sleep alone. She would know. She'd been no one for so long Arya was sure she'd forgotten what it was like to be someone and it's hard to be held when you're no one. She just hadn't expected it to be him. She had traveled with him for so long and even though she had left, run away, she knew in her belly that he had always protected her. Even when they fought, even when he was complaining, he had never let anyone hurt her if he could help it. In fact, she reminisced, although they had been thrown together in a rather terrible situation, they had made a fair team. And here he was, marrying her big sister. Now he really would be a part of her pack, whether she willed it or no.
Arya adjusted her saddle straps before urging her mount on with a nudge. The afternoon's light snow had slowed her hardly at all and Arya felt in her gut that she must be at least gaining on the party she sought.
She'd heard about the nuptials only a sennight ago and had decided she would not miss her sisters wedding, regardless of the danger in the Riverlands. After all she was a wolf-bitch and a Braavosi water dancer, what was a walk through the Riverlands and into the North to her? The neck was no where she'd never been before. It's said in the Free Cities that although the Others are fallen to the new Queen's dragons, their wights and other fell beasts still roam across the wilds of Westeros. Direwolves were being rumored to stalk around the gates of Winterfell in the night. She would love for that to be true. They've even started calling her sister and Daenarys the Beast Queens of Westeros.
Arya couldn't help but doubt the rumors. The Sansa she remembered was hardly beastly. The people of the Free Cities are too excitable and hot blooded. She'd thought so for some time. Anything hardy enough to survive the winter wilds of her home lands frightened the spring children of the Free Cities. It was the same with any word that came out of the Summer Isles. To the free peoples everything was exotic and venomous and full of danger regardless of climate or reality. If anything, Sansa reminded Arya of a tiny bird, all plumage and twittering songs.
Arya leaned forward on her garron and wondered briefly if Sansa would even be happy she'd come. She hadn't much thought about it when she heard the news-she'd simply got up and gone. Arya knew many people assumed her dead and yet she had learned that her sister had sent out numerous ravens and knights to search for her regardless. She and Sansa were so different, had gotten along so awfully, it was a surprise her older sister had searched for her at all. Still, her sister had gone through the trouble when she'd regained Winterfell to send for Arya and would surely be angry if Arya showed up in the garb of a Braavosi assassin and more steel on her than most knights. She didn't know what to say instead of the truth though, what could be believed? It hadn't seemed so long while she'd been in Braavos but three years is a long time to be away from any place you love and much can change while you're away. She figured however she might as well return the favor and go through the trouble of a visit at least and she would try to dress and act the part. That is, if Arya deemed her sister had earned it. She decided she would cross that river as she came to it.
Arya pushed her hair from her face as she rode head down, below a thicket of tangled and icy branches. She had done her part in this war of kings and queens and thrones. Mainly, unlike her mother, her father, and her brother Robb, she stayed out of it. For that she had lived. She had studied to become a faceless man in the House of Black and White. She had learned many things, worn many faces, been many places, and in her own small way she even helped the war effort in general, and Sansa specifically, by removing a great adversary. Yet it had all seemed somehow removed. She'd seen death but she had not seen true battle. She had not been there when the Queen's dragons shredded the Others at the Wall. She had not heard the terrible cries of war or seen the battlefields soaked with blood and bathed in ice and fire. She had not seen as men hacked and slashed at each other with steel and nothing between them but wooden shields and rusted armor. What she had seen was the last breath of Cersei Lannister. For that, at least, she was greatful.
In the last three years she had come back to Westeros only once before, to give a certain woman a certain gift. Cersei Lannister had paid a debt to the Iron Bank with her life. To her credit the debt had been incurred long before she had been Queen Regent but she was the first regent who had refused to pay. No one refuses to pay a debt to the Iron Bank, not even those who sit on the Iron Throne. The irony of a Lannister dying for a debt wasn't lost on Arya either. The saying goes, "A Lannister always pays his debts." Arya made an honest woman of Cersei Lannister that day.
Giving the gift to Cersei Lannister wasn't the only reason she was no longer a servant of the Many-Faced God. Although she had not been meant to kill her, for although she had known the Queen Regent Arya said she had not known her, which was not the way. Still that could have been over-looked as an apprentice's very great and foolish mistake. The real reason was that instead of giving Cersei Lannister the gift the Queen Regent's death had been a gift of sweetness for Arya. That was her true test. Valar Morghulis. All men must die, and so they had let her kill the Queen regardless of the fact that Arya was acquainted with the Queen Regent. Valar Dohaeris. All men must serve, but she could not serve the Many-Faced God. Instead she wished to serve herself. Jaqen had been right; she was not no one, she was someone. She was Arya Stark of Winterfell, titles, titles, titles. She had taken joy from giving the gift and so they had turned her out. They gave her life back and kept nothing of hers but her acolyte robes of black and white and her iron coin. Neither of which were ever hers to begin with. They also left her knowing many things that young Westerosi ladies do not often know.
She bid goodbye to the Kindly Man and the Waif not two days after her return from Westeros. While the Kindly man was ambivalent as always and Izembaro seemed madder than anything, the Waif had seemed sad when she said, "you cannot serve." Arya left them on the steps of the House of Black and White and headed for the Purple Harbor. She had been an acolyte and she would pay with her last iron coin, their final gift to her. Thus she could find the best passage out of Braavos and back to the land of wolves and dragons.
For her return to Westeros she chose a barge that would bring her into port on the Bite, her goal was the port towns of The Neck, closest to the Kingsroad. She may not have been able to put on a new face as she once did, but Arya Stark still had enough tricks to fool most any sailor. The Bite was equidistant to Riverrun and Winterfell in opposite directions and so it was there she felt she would have the most strategic advantage. Once there she could get what information she could, find a suitable mount, and formulate a plan. She needed to know where her allies would be and she figured if she heard nothing of Winterfell, though it would break her heart to leave it until Spring, she could make for Riverrun. It would be hard to keep and hold a fortress such as Winterfell in the chill winter drifts and icy winds of a northern winter for an inexperienced garrison and Riverrun is far enough south that it would always be occupied. She couldn't be sure who ruled there but she knew the small folk around would be sympathetic to a Tully Granddaughter, especially after the events that had transpired there.
Fortunately that wasn't what happened, instead she heard of Sansa's holding of Winterfell and her betrothal. The small folk of Tarth had been practically humming with gossip that washed down the Greenfork and sped along the Kingsroad. It was all about the Maid of Tarth's invitation to the wedding and the rumor she would be accompanied by none other than Ser Jaime of the Queensguard. Arya wouldn't have noticed at all if Jaime Lannister had not been mentioned. The patrons of this particular inn, The Greenways, found it interesting that Brienne, who it appeared was the sole heir to Evenfall Hall after her father Selwyn died, was still refusing to marry. She was always, they said, in constant companionship with Ser Jaime and his nephew the squire and former boy king, Tommen. Arya also learned that Tommen's sister Myrcella Lannister was with her betrothed, a Trystane Martell, in Dorne. Apparently the Lannisters had survived the wrath of the Dragon Queen. It was an interesting development. She'd learned several new things and they were becoming stranger and stranger the more Arya heard.
She snuggled deeper in the seat in her dark corner, out of the way, and chewed her bread and drank her mead with her eyes closed and her ears open.
Apparently when the Dragon Queen came across the sea she brought with her the tiniest Lannister, Tyrion the Imp. He had killed his father, for what Arya had not heard, and swore allegiance to the Dragon Queen's cause. He convinced the, at the time would be Queen Daenarys, that although Jaime had killed her father for his madness he had no hand in the killing of her brother, nephews, niece or good sister. Upon their return to Westeros the Imp also convinced his brother to bend the knee. With Cersei (at Arya's own hand), their father (at Tyrion's small hand), and Uncle Kevan Lannister (found in his chamber with several knife wounds and apparently no assailant) dead that was all there was to it. Tyrion gave up Casterly Rock to remain in Kings Landing and advise Her Grace and Jaime, it seemed, was content to take the former king and remain in Tarth at Evenfall Hall with the Lady Brienne when he wasn't wanted as a member of the Queensguard. Tommen squired for his "uncle" and Myrcella was kept in Dorne with her betrothed and the Martell's in the relative safety of Sunspear. The Lannisters were redeemed and though they held no land, they were once again very powerful.
A cat came up and crawled between her legs before settling himself. He was a tom by the looks of it. Cats disliked skittish people, which was why they always sat near Arya even when she didn't smell of cockles. He stretched beside her feet languidly and she could sense his hazy knowledge of food in the air and a mouse creeping along the far wall of the pub. She came back to herself when she heard a man tell of how he had saddled the fresh horses they requested this morning before they left Shoalstone, the particular town she was in. The party had only just been through there.
It was then that she determined she would try and catch the company on their way to Winterfell. She had hoped to spend more time in the Riverlands if she could but this was too good of a chance to pass up. A grand entrance, her family, a host already heading to the very same place, and she had missed her home all the while she'd been gone.
They would surely be traveling with a small garrison of knights she thought, at least 15. It would be easier to make her provisions last if she supplemented from their stores and if anything attacked them it would be easy to break off and slip away while they took the damage. Doing this would also allow her to assess the dangers more easily and perhaps gather more information. She had not heard tell of Bran or Rickon at the inn, unsurprisingly, but she also hadn't heard talk of the Wall or Jon Snow. It had been three years she was in Braavos and although Arya knew she was a flowered woman grown of six and ten she could hardly imagine how her siblings would have changed. She still pictured Rickon as she left him, clutching her mother's skirt and sniffling as her and her sister followed their father south.
She would be able to get a look soon she hoped.
Arya had abandoned the size and speed of a courser or destrier for a smaller, stouter mare with a broad back and thick hindquarters. She carried Arya quickly and easily through the snow which was most likely why she was able to catch up with Lady Brienne's host so quickly. It was as they watered their horses that Arya came upon them. The party rode large and somewhat ungainly coursers, a mistake a Northman would never make. The size meant the horses would need to drink much and their legs were not thick enough for snow travel and they needed to have the snow removed from their hooves often.
At first she was startled to not see a maid anywhere in the party and feared that they were not the travelers she had been looking for. Arya assumed they would have a litter with them at least but as she crept closer she identified one of the knights in full armor as being a lady, the Maid in question she assumed. She was no more a lady than Arya. She wore a man's attire of breeches and a leather jerkin beneath her armor and on the breast a shield of yellow suns on rose quartered with white crescents on blue, the crest of Tarth. It was only when she removed her thick outer cloak and breast plate that Arya was able to see it clearly. There were no other characteristics in her when hooded that would have given any inclination as to her being the Lady Brienne. She was large, broad and had a wide gate. Arya noticed she also had a thick configuration of scars on one cheek as though she had been savaged by a beast. The maid was speaking softly to a man with thick golden hair and similar attire with the addition of a brilliantly white cloak who could only be Ser Jaime Lannister of the Queensguard. Arya had yet to see his face but the reflection of the snow on his hair made a golden glow around his head. He looked as she would expect the Warrior to look only she knew this warrior to be less trustworthy.
The other knights, of whom there were only five and not fifteen, were all too busy checking their saddles, provisions, and armor to notice her as she slipped towards camp. Arya crept closer to hear the conversation between Lady Brienne and the Kingslayer.
"I am unsure." The lady's voice was softer than Arya expected and more timid. Arya was surprised to see Ser Jaime crookedly smile at the woman.
"I don't know why-you were invited, so you go. House Tarth has always been for House Baratheon in the past and the Baratheon's love nothing so much as the Starks. With Storms End and even Highgarden both Lordless the Lady of Evenfall must go. As the queen's women would say, it is known. And, the groom, I don't know much about him truthfully even though you would think I would. I know he's loyal at the least. What I do know, Lady, is you bent your knee to the Queen and she granted the North to Winterfell."
"I know that is the truth and yet I feel as though it is not my place. I am, unsuited, for this."
"You're not suited to get pissed and sing loudly and a wedding in the freezing cold? And here I heard you call yourself knight. I know what you're going to say wench, but Tarly and Tyrell are cunts and you are a knight so act like one."
"Ser!" The Maid of Tarth's agitation was immediate. "Ser Loras was my brother in arms and you will not disgrace his name."
"I'm sorry Randell Tarly and Mace Tyrell are cunts. Better?"
"Much, thank you."
She huffed and turned to walk away but he caught her arm easily enough.
"Lady Sansa will be a good Queen in the North, it is right that you go. Besides, I long to see my brother and he shall be there. I would like for you to meet him as well, my Lady. I think he will rather like you."
"I doubt that."
"Pardon me but he never met a maid he didn't like, least ways one as clever or reviled as himself. He feels a kinship I think." She hit him carelessly on the arm but they continued talking in lower tones as they moved towards the slow running trickle of water. Arya didn't know what was stranger, watching the Kingslayer cheer the tall women or hearing them talk about Sansa being Queen in the North. A title similar to that had gotten her brother and her mother killed. She moved to creep closer but a twig snapped behind her and a chill ran up her spine. She turned on her heel and came face to face with a blade as long as it was sharp. It was a fine, castle-forged, piece of steel, sharpened to a cruel point and directed towards her neck.
She cursed at her own stupidity. One of the guards had been standing watch and had noticed her creeping towards the party. The knight was tall and broad with thick, dark armor on and a black, well-crafted helm with a visor in the shape of a fish. She couldn't see his eyes very well but she thought they were black.
"Who are you and what is your business, man?" His voice was dull and slow, she imagined it was like his wits. She cocked her head and squinted a minute before answering. She did have on white breeches, a grey doublet and a large fur cloak with a hood that covered her head. No wonder he thought her a man, only a smallish one it seemed.
"My business is my own Ser. I might speak to your Lord Commander well enough." She assumed that it would be the Kingslayer in his white cloak and perhaps revealing herself would be best. What a great wedding gift it would be to Sansa and her beloved for the Maid of Tarth to bring back the lost Arya Stark. That was, unless they killed her. The idea seemed doubtful but not impossible.
"I asked your name and your business, lad." He still seemed to miss that she was in fact a women even though she had spoken in what was, she thought, a quite feminine sounding voice. She also spoke in a rather Braavosi tinged, but noble none-the-less accent. Yes, he was a slow thing. .
Before she could answer they were interrupted by a shout from the direction of the small camp. She had wondered when they would notice. The two of them were arguing rather close to the camp and Evenfall's precious Maid of Tarth. If Arya could hear their whispers than it only stood to reason that they could hear her conversation with the slow knight as well.
It was Brienne she could safely assume. No knight would speak in so high and clear a tone.
"Here, m'lady." Alyn cried, "I've someone who was outside of camps Ser-m'lady." Her captor shouted back.
As the Kingslayer and Brienne strode over, accompanied by another knight in similar armor and with a drawn sword, Alyn began gibbering again. "He was creeping about the camp my Lord-" The new knight looked down at her before standing beside her in case she made to run away. This one had a helm with antlers coming out of the top of it in a very imposing manner. He also had a large war hammer strapped to his hip where the Kingslayer seemed only to carry a dirk and did not bother to put on his helm at all. "…he said he wanted to speak with the Lord Commander."
"That is enough Ser Alyn . Thank you." The knight stopped speaking and backed away a few steps as the Kingslayer stepped in front of Arya.
He curiously peered down at her and she bent her head at the neck to look up at him as she mockingly curtsied in the small drift of snow she was standing in. With the new knight and Brienne, holding what looked to be a Valyrian steel blade, on either side of him, she had to concede that he probably needed no more than a dirk. The new knight nodded to Jaime and set a hand on her shoulder, "Speak, this is Ser Jaime Lannister of the Queensguard, he commands this company."
The voice she heard was a staggering blow. Arya had heard it countless times in her sleeping and waking dreams. She had wanted to hear it again upon her return to Westeroes, desperately, but hadn't thought she would. After word of the battles and famines and loss of life she had hardly allowed herself to hope. For true she had been shocked to hear of her sisters survival, she had scarce just begun to hope her brothers may have survived and then this too? It seemed too lucky.
Her heart thudded in her chest without control but she remained still and schooled her features blank. She peered out of the corner of her eye, out from under her hood, to better see the knight's face. What she saw was as startling as the voice. Blue eyes through the visor of his helm, dark blue eyes, with coal black lashes. She stood, smooth as silk, and flipped her fur hood back to reveal herself.