Fun and fluff...it just came out...This one is even more years down the road. You try to do a one-shot as a favor and then...
Disclaimer: I do not seek to profit from any of this. This is just for fun and as an antidote to some recent boredom.
The Dividing Line
The men approached the open fields. They were still immersed between the green trees of the nearby forest when they stopped. The rolling green hills appeared particularly beautiful that day. Spring was almost there. It was cool, a slight chill, but the warmth of the sun more than made up for it.
The banners made their way to the agreed upon spot. The long streaming banners forked at the ends erupted in a riot of colors, much at odds with the grays and browns of steel, armor, fur, and boiled leather. They fluttered in the air at the ends, and then gave a last sway before halting all together along with men on horseback and those on foot.
It had been many long months, months of fighting, working, sleeping out among the elements, cool days and colder nights. And many had joined them on the way, on the way to the Kingsroad and to King's Landing.
The goal was in sight, the path clear. Place a good, a stable king on the throne and then turn back and fight the Others. Many bannermen were here and more were joining up with them at designated meeting spots along the way. Nobles, knights, men at arms, villagers, wildlings and men of the Night's Watch all. Some stayed behind for defense and the rest had come to journey to King's Landing, with the Starks at the head of the host.
Lord Commander Snow had come personally to help his family at this most critical time in the rebellion and also to join with the other forces should the Others come earlier than expected. Jon's horse came to a halt very near Lord Brandon's as well as Hodor's, who was nearby in case Lord Brandon should need him. "Is this the place…this field here?"asked Jon.
"Yes. Where the field begins and the part of the forest we are now in ends," said Bran.
"Do you trust them?"
"My mother does. And since they have sent people to Winterfell they have been honorable and trustworthy and have dealt more than fairly. There have been ravens back in forth and messengers of theirs to meet with us. They have been on the move far longer than we have tying up loose ends, but were on their way to join us as soon as they heard we had raised the banners and were about to start."
"So we wait. Let them send a rider first."
Bran nodded at Jon.
The silence was broken suddenly by the sound of hooves approaching from the rear.
"Why have we stopped? And I wished to ask you if you are sure what they said…it is for certain? Their men, the numbers are not far behind ours."
"We have not even picked up half our host yet, Arya. Don't worry. Not this time."
Arya Stark grimaced and pushed her direwolf helm off her head. Her long brown hair spilled out from her where it was tied in the back.
Jon smiled at her. "I remember when King Robert came to Winterfell. You were late, and as we awaited them, almost before we were going to bow and pay homage, out you run, dirt all over you, on your face, and a half helm you apparently stole.
"It was Mykken's, mind you, he let me borrow it," she informed him with a grin.
"Did he know?" Jon eyed her with suspicion.
Bran smiled. "Then how was it borrowed?"
"Maybe It wasn't then. But I would have told him if father hadn't taken it. I heard from him about it afterwards anyway." They laughed. A bit of nervous excitement tinged with the sweet recollection of the man they had all loved.
"He'd be proud wouldn't he?"
"Yes. But let's not talk. We have far more to do before this is truly over."
"Really, when we stop and make camp. We should tell him this story. He might enjoy it," said Bran.
"Who?" asked Arya.
"King Robert's son…"
"He has no true sons." She looked at him oddly.
"Yes, he does. After the red priestess and Stannis and his family….all the banners went to him. There is another son and a girl but he is the eldest…"
"I only saw messengers, well, from all different Houses, but I just assumed it was a relative or…" Arya trained and helped to train, but left the politics and diplomacy to her brothers and mother. Now she felt the biggest fool imaginable for not hearing much about this.
"I would think if we succeed, they would each take DragonStone and Storm's End amongst each other, like Robert's arrangement with Stannis and Renly."
"Yes. It would seem so. The new king would have to be in King's Landing. They will need to keep those places strategically for him.
"But I don't understand…who the hell," started Arya.
"They tell me three were legitimized. Tommen was a pretender so the most rightful king with Stannis and his kin gone would be Robert's son. So for those who still loved Robert and were loyal banners, they knighted them properly so they are the rightful heirs. It was kept sort of secret until they could get proof and so certain others didn't find out too early and surmise what they were doing. Well, not Edric. Stannis had housed him and kept his nephew as a ward for several years, but The Onion Knight had moved him to safety because of the red woman. He always knew. But the girl, and the true heir, the eldest son, had absolutely no idea until about a year ago. Mother and I didn't tell anyone and I only told Jon recently too." Bran looked at his sister's shocked face with sympathy.
"Well, make sure it's not a trick,"blurted out Arya.
"It's not. Most were mother's men before. And some of them claim to know you Arya."
"How is that possible?"
"I don't know. I was hoping you'd be able to tell us…unless they mean the other Arya."
Arya made a face. Sad for the girl that was subjected to Bolton and his cruelties, but sighing in relief that it had helped her move about and get home that much easier without calling attention to herself.
"I would have to see them first."
"You will later. When we make camp and eat," offered Bran.
It was then that they noticed the necks of their men In their helms craning toward the sound of hooves, their visors clanging down to block the sun as they watched the man approach.
He rode up to the first Stark line.
"I wish to parley with Lord Brandon, future King of the North," he inquired in a friendly tone.
"I am Lord Brandon."
"My lord," he bowed from his saddle. "Lord Baratheon would like me to deliver his most sincere greetings. We rode out to show our good faith and to assure you that camp is about a mile from here and already being prepared and his banners have ensured enough food and wine for a grand feast. The baggage trains are more than ample in the Spring, with fresh supplies since Winter has ended."
"Very well. Give mine as well. We have a tent we will set up to go over the plans. After the feast, on the morrow, each House will send a member for a meeting and report back to their men and banners. A day or two to go over all the particulars, I think. Then we march I believe we agreed."
"Yes, but first, before we move to camp, my lord wishes to treat with a member of your House."
"I will send Lord Commander Jon Snow in my place." Everyone knew what had happened years ago to Lord Brandon, so his lack of presence at the informal treat hung in the air, and washed over.
"I am afraid that is not what Lord Baratheon meant. He wishes to treat with Lady Arya of House Stark."
There was silence for a split second.
"I believe Lord Commander Snow would best serve in this matter," said Bran firmly. Maester Luwun had always taught him to never show surprise even if words cause it.
"Lord Baratheon wishes to parley with Lady Arya. I apologize for the Lord if this has caused an inconvenience or offense," said the envoy smoothly.
"Offense?" piped up Arya. "Why? Do they think we are all pretenders? Out with it? Sansa had to be Alayne in the Vale. I was many to survive outside and within Westeros. Even Brandon and Rickon after the Greyjoy nonsense…is that what this is bloody all about?"
"Arya." Bran and Jon tried to shush her. Bran gave her a soothing but firm look that quieted her for a moment.
"I understand you are following orders. But I will send Lord Commander Snow to speak with Lord Baratheon and his staff."
"Oh, please don't misunderstand. Lord Commander Snow may come as well, and anyone else you wish,. but he specifically asked for Lady Arya."
"Why is he looking for a kingdom, a crown, a wife, and Winterfell, is that all?" snapped Arya.
Bran looked at her, letting her know silently that it was her choice and he would not force her.
"Fine." Arya shifted her helm from where it leaned on the pommel of her saddle and brought it down on her neck a little rougher and faster than Jon and Bran thought she should have.
She put a heel to her horse and trotted off. She turned her horse in a circle, visor up, and told them she would return, and quite possibly having already unsheathed Needle from her scabbard. She made sure the envoy heard her clearly and followed him to his lines.
Her brother's laughed and nodded for her to go. The men in the front lines would be ready if needed. Never too cautious, the Starks had learned.
She wasn't going to suffer this nonsense. How dare they? Some upstart, a bastard probably only a year ago or so, refuses to treat with Jon? She didn't say it to her brothers, but she had a feeling that they wanted to avoid Jon because of his bastardry. And everyone knew envoys parleyed or went over to a lord. Lords did not make demands of other lords to come over to one side or another. The always met, on equal footing, in the same tent, chambers, solar…at the same time,
She huffed in annoyance, trying to steady her temper. She told herself to stop getting aggravated as she rolled her shoulders back and again rode her horse with a tall and proud seat. Remembering Septa Mordane and her riding instructor nagging her that if she kept slouching on horseback and while walking she would be bent-backed like Old Nan or another crone of her choosing. She rolled her eyes at the memory.
She noted the yellow and black Baratheon stag banners and sigils, on shields, horses, cloaks, almost everywhere. She did marvel that the damned fiery heart of R'hllor and the stupid lion next to the stag sigils of Stannis and the Lannisters were gone. She hadn't seen the sole stag banners since King's Landing when Robert was king.
She held up her chin in her heavy direwolf helm. She was proud to represent House Stark herself. Proud that Jon and Bran let her ride out with them and come with them into battle eventually. Mother, Sansa, and Rickon were back at Winterfell running the day to day activities and supervising its defense. She had on grey breeches, worn leather boots, tunic, and over that a breastplate with the profile of a direwolf engraved with black and white enamel for eyes, pupils, and teeth. She rather liked the intimidating snarl of the wolf in their sigil. Much better than the stupid dancing lion the Lannisters had. She wore a long gray cloak that bore the sigil of House Stark and with a neckline and hemline encircled with fur for warmth. It joined over her left shoulder with another direwolf metal clasp. But the helm was specially made for her by Jon. And Needle, which hung over one side of her waist and also from Jon was with her too. So if these bloody idiots meant to insult him…she would let them know just what she thought of that. She was no longer Arya Horseface or Arya Underfoot, the names that some of them knew her as from Bran's banners. The Greatjohn had tried out the nickname a few weeks ago when his banners joined them on the way for old time's sake and she had landed him on his arse. The nicknames ceased. Who knew exactly who had joined up with this Lord Baratheon either? If she had to stop the nicknames again, so be it. She had been many things to many people but now she was once again Arya of House Stark for good this time and for all time.
She rode up to the first line. She noted that the envoy rode off. She had never done this before, so she didn't know that the infantrymen probably knew nothing.
"I am Arya of House Stark, come to treat with Lord Baratheon."
"Why would he treat with a girl? A handsome girl at that, but still…" The line cracked up laughing in amusement.
"Weren't you married to Bolton or was that the imposter? How do we know it's really you? I can't make out much of your people hidden in the forest either. If they are your people…"
"I am Arya of House Stark. I am not a pretender. And I will pretend you didn't say what you just did to me. If I were married I would not give my introduction as Stark or maybe you are all too dim-witted to realize that? Now, I will give you that I shouldn't even be here. But your envoy to Lord Baratheon refused to meet with my brother Lord Commander Snow, causing all this." Two men stepped toward her horse. She kicked one in the kneecap when he moved his hand out to her, as he yelled out and hobbled on one foot gripping his knee, she unsheathed Needle and held it out defensively in front of her. "Now tell the envoy to get his arse over here or your line may be shorter if I have to be insulted again or if anyone steps one foot closer to me. It's in bad form. You should probably know or if your arent't seasoned yet you will know that there is protocol for parley for all, for safety and hospitality reasons. Tell your lord and his envoy that!"
The envoy had approached behind and to the side of the men, and in her fury and audacity at their rudeness, she hadn't noticed that he had most likely observed the whole exchange.
"Yes, m'lady. I will get my arse to Lord Baratheon right away. He is in the back lines with his chief staff, of course." As he rode off again, Arya decided that he didn't like his flippant tone or the slight glimmer of amusemtn in his eyes.
She got of her horse, folded her arms, and leaned against the body of her horse and waited.
It took awhile and she grew angrier by the minute, but so far the young boys in the infantry had not bothered her again. She had noted that an older man had come over and given them a cold, authoritative stare. Most likely they would all be reprimanded later on while not in front of her.
She heard horses approach and the envoy call out in a loud voice to a man next to him on horseback. "Lord Baratheon, this charming envoy is Lady Arya of House Stark. Whom I might add, threatened two of your front infantry with possible stab wounds from her sword and already bodily harmed one by kicking him in the kneecap, after using quite colorful language and threats."
She made a noise of anger and impatience and pulled off her helm with a violent jerk. Her hair fell out of its piece of twine and tumbled messily over her shoulders. One side shifted awry but she was too angry and humiliated to care. "Did you tell my lord what led up to that?" her voice rose in anger. "I didn't quite get that part. And how about slighting my brother, Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, thus allowing me to have to come in his place, by which the harm I supposedly caused your men could have been avoided?"
She saw the envoy smile and the men smile too. She didn't understand and seethed. Were they mocking me? Did I amuse them? Did they not believe I was Arya? Or would they just not take a young woman seriously. She slammed her helm to the ground in a fury. She realized this might not be good for the enamel on her wolf but she was too pissed too care. They only laughed harder. "I will not stand for this. How dare you? Is this how you treat? Should my brother Lord Brandon be concerned? Should I walk over there now and…is this some cheap foul trick? I will go over there now and I'll…"
"It's her…no, really, it is,' a deep voice shouted, but the voice slightly cracked, alerting her that it was highly amused and could barely contain its initial roaring laughter. But as he trotted closer with his horse and several other men on horseback, he was still too far to see. But she could see the visor, where the eyes were, and this person certainly knew who she was.
She misunderstood. It didn't make sense. Mother had dealt with the envoys that had come to Winterfell to make all of these arrangements with Bran. She had seen them come and go. The fake Arya was confirmed to be with Greyjoy, everybody knew that. Why would my family pretend if it wasn't me for them? But then why…the laughing man? Really all of them had laughed themselves silly at her expense.
She grew quiet and gave them all a surly glare. But then she looked around and saw amidst a sea of faces several that looked familiar to her. Perhaps grown…perhaps older… Then she saw Lem, Edric, and others. She then realized how stupid she had been because she now recognized several other banners besides the stag. And a few camp followers on foot approached her and her horse, right in front of the men on horseback that appeared to be coming from the rear because they had not broken the lines.
"Arry? Pardon me, m'lady, I mean Lady Arya. Are you mad? Yelling at a bunch of knights? Still a bit wild…always was." He called out to the men. "I'd be quiet if it were me, she's beaten me up before. Almost bloody cut me." A fat older boy warned the boys in the front line. "Have to be mad to try and start up with her."
"If she cut you, you'd have some fat to spare to go around now wouldn't you?" yelled out a soldier, and the men broke up again.
"Hello, my lady." A man plucked some strings and hit a few notes before greeting her by bowing with a grand sweep of his hands.
"Tom…Tom O'…Hot Pie?" she croaked in disbelief.
"Yes Arry, er, m'lady, it's me. Would you like some bread? You have to try it. I've gotten even better since you last seen me, really I have…and…"
She had been so occupied she hadn't noticed that the riders had stopped. They had fallen into line all except for two, but with one slightly ahead of the other on horseback.
The envoy whispered something to the man in the front. He laughed, threw back his head, laughed harder, and shook his helmed head in merriment. It was the same loud booming laugh she had heard a few moments before. The man on horseback was very tall and big. His chest led up to very broad shoulders that she noted was not just due to the very elaborate armor. The breastplate had a stag, and his one hand gripped the reigns of his horse as the other held a warhammer which casually rested on his shoulder. But the helmet she had seen before….it looked like it had been fixed up, polished, some additions made, especially to the horns. Only one person she knew had a bull helm to her knowledge, because no other house or knight personally had such an animal for their sigil. The man didn't even bother to raise his visor. He ripped his helm from his head but halfway up she saw the biggest smile she had ever seen. The black hair was mussed and sweaty but the blue eyes seemed to go through her own, the gaze as sharp as a sword.
The shock was too much, yet it felt as if she had only just seen him. He still looked somewhat of a boy but he had to be nearly two and twenty. She felt for some unexplainable reason her knees go weak. She grabbed her horse's side to steady herself. It was Gendry.