The Joining of Houses
"I think that if I were any younger, any sillier, I would fawn over the arrival of King Robert's sons and his stepsons," said Sansa.
Arya squirmed in her chair, itching to turn her head to look at her sister, but Lyanna jerked her head back and said, "Sit still." She continued to braid her niece's hair.
Catelyn, Lyanna, Arya, and Sansa were in Catelyn's bedroom, getting ready for the arrival of the King and his family. Arya hated dressing up and having her hair done, but she knew that it was imperative to look well groomed for the King of the Seven Kingdoms.
"I would expect you to," said Arya from her chair, "but you are betrothed Willas."
"Do really think of me as so shallow?" asked Sansa, sounding a little hurt.
Her sister flushed with guilt. "I did not mean it like that. I apologize. I know that you love Willas."
"Rumor has it that the King's sons are very handsome, but good looks alone are not enough to persuade me," said Sansa. "Willas is strong, intelligent, kind, and handsome. That is all I need."
Catelyn smiled as she finished fixing her oldest daughter's hair. "Willas is intelligent, and if he did not love you, then he would be the stupidest lord ever," she said, kissing Sansa's temple.
"I'm happy to have him." Sansa got up from her chair and walked over to Arya and smiled. "Perhaps one of the King's sons will want to marry you."
Arya gave an unladylike snort. "What a funny joke! No man will ever want me, nor will I ever want a man."
"Did you not say the same thing when you were a child, Lyanna?" asked Catelyn. She looked a bit amused.
Lyanna chuckled. "I did. Then I got married." She finished the last of Arya's braid and tied it so it would not fall out.
"Father and Grandfather will not make me marry, will they?" asked Arya, tugging her braid in disdain.
"It is a lady's duty to marry," reminded Catelyn.
"I don't want to be a lady," Arya said. "And who would want me? I'm Arya Horseface, remember?"
"That's not true," said Sansa.
She looked over her sister. While it was true that Arya was wild, frequently dirtied her dresses, spent more time with arrows and swords than embroidery, she was looking more and more like a woman every day. Since Arya first bled, Sansa had noticed when her sister's looks were maturing. There was the swell of her breasts and the pronouncement of her hips. When she wasn't in her dirty breeches, she made the heads of men turn.
Sansa was not blind to that, and she was sure that the Princes would be not either.
"You're late," said Robb, his eyes staring at Bran when he entered the room. Like how Arya and Sansa had to get ready to be pretty for the King, Robb, Bran, and Rickon had to as well. Their hair had to be shorn, and in Bran and Robb's case, their faces shaved too.
Bran looked down at his boots. "No," he lied. He had been climbing. Even at four and ten, he loved it. He wanted to see if the King and his party were coming up the kingsroad yet. Hours of watching and nothing when Bran realized that he still needed to get ready himself.
Tommy scraped off the last of the shaving cream from Robb's face and gave him a light slap to get up.
"You're up," said Robb, pushing Bran towards Tommy.
Bran sat down as Tommy began to grope at his long hair and cut it. He noticed Rickon sulking in the corner of the room, his head in his lap, and gripping his hair.
"What's wrong, Rickon?" asked Bran.
Robb took a look at his youngest brother and resisted the urge to scoff. "He did not want his hair to be cut so he fought Tommy. More of his hair was cut than needed," he answered.
Bran smiled but did not say anything.
The people of Winterfell had gathered on the sides of the road to watch King Robert and his men ride up to the castle. Gold and black banners with the stag of House Baratheon flew in the air as red and gold banners of House Lannister's lion followed closely behind.
The Starks were gathered in the courtyard along with soldiers and knights and castle staff. All were wearing their best clothes and finest furs. Lord Rickard stood at the head of them with Lyanna to his right. Ned stood between his sister and his wife, and then came the children in order, Jeyne and William beside Robb.
The visitors entered through the castle gates, gathering in the square. Blood red and pure white cloaks whipped in the wind as Lannister Knights and several members of the Kingsguard entered first. Ned could see many familiar faces in the Kingsguard such as Jaime Lannister, Queen Cersei's twin brother. Also among them was Brandon, and Lyanna and Ned smiled slightly when they saw him smirking back through his helm. Jon rode in next after his uncle with Ghost trotting beside him. He led Gendry and Edric and Robert's stepsons, Joffrey and Tommen.
A wheelhouse entered the courtyard and stopped. Robert was the last to enter with some of his Kingsguard. Within sight, everyone bent the knee, eyes trained on the ground. They waited as Robert descended his horse and strode to the Starks and motioned them to rise.
He hugged Rickard first and then Lyanna, a slight shadow of love in his eyes. He embraced Catelyn and gave Ned the most bone crushing hug imaginable.
"You have not changed at all!" roared Robert with a grin.
"Neither have you, Your Grace," said Ned. "Winterfell is yours."
The doors to the wheelhouse opened. Mya and Barra stepped out, huddling in their cloaks. Ser Brandon did not lie when he said that the North was cold. Myrcella was the next to step out before her mother, Queen Cersei Lannister did.
Robert had married Cersei a year after Ashara died. Cersei was a widow herself; her husband died of the same fever that took Ashara. Jon Arryn, Hand of the King, advised Robert to marry Cersei to provide stability to the Iron Throne, especially since the Lannisters were the richest house in all of Westeros. The marriage proceeded, and Cersei's children from her previous marriage were inducted to the succession line of the Throne. Robert had been displeased with his new wife though. Cersei was awfully ambitious, and he suspected that she wanted to put Joffrey on the throne before Gendry and Edric.
The children were brought forth for introductions. Robert was impressed with Ned's sons. Firm handshakes were enough to know that they were just like the Starks of the past, tough and resilient. Robb was truly Ned's son; Robert could tell that he held the same sense of honor as his father. Bran had a lean build like his cousin, but Robert could tell from the look in his eyes that he had seen things that others had not. Finally, when Robert asked Rickon to show off his muscles, the boy had looked him straight in the eye and did not flinch as he did as he was told; he thought the young man would make a fine solder. Robert gave an approving nod to Jeyne and William, called Sansa pretty and only asked for Arya's name, silently noting that she looked remarkably like Lyanna.
Rickard took note of Robert's children. Mya looked to be just as wild as his daughter was and his youngest granddaughter. He could see them getting along well. Gendry looked almost exactly like Robert in his youth; handsome, broad shoulders, messy dark hair, and blue eyes. Edric looked the same as Gendry, if not a bit younger and slightly less handsome than his brother. Barra was young and pretty, but more like a lady and less like her oldest sister. The stepchildren shared their mother's features of golden hair and green eyes. Joffrey was tall and strong for his age, Myrcella was beautiful like her mother and very similar to Barra, and Tommen, the same age as Bran, was a handsome lad, but that was all that was striking about him.
"There is something I must discuss with you, Lord Stark," Robert replied. "You come along too, Ned."
Rickard raised an eyebrow but only said, "As you wish, Your Grace. Please, I shall take you to the great hall where we may speak."
And with that, they were gone, cloaks flickering behind them.
Lyanna embraced Jon after he dismounted from his horse. The crowd had dispersed, the Baratheons and Lannisters being shown to their chambers.
"I am happy to see you again, Mother," said Jon.
"I am happy to see you, too." Lyanna looked up at her son for a moment before adding, "Now what are you up to, bringing the King all the way back to Winterfell?"
"Nothing, Mother," he said, but Lyanna wasn't convinced. "The King just wanted to visit Winterfell since he had not seen Grandfather and Uncle Ned in years."
"You're lying," she said. "If he wanted to see them, why come all the way North? Why not just send a raven with a summons to court?"
Jon smiled again. "True. But what King Robert wants will be known soon, if the negotiations go smoothly. With what it is about, I imagine that it will not at first. It needs some persuasion."
"Jon!" Arya yelled out, running towards him and jumping into his arms.
"Ooof," grunted Jon, laughing. "You're a grown lady now; I can't keep catching you like this."
"Shut up, I missed you!"
What purpose would there be for King Robert to travel all the way to the North? A simple visit to Father and Ned was not it. In times when there was no war, the head of Houses would meet in person when a betrothal was to be made. However, Robb was already married, and Sansa was soon to marry Willas Tyrell. It dawned on Lyanna as she saw her son and her youngest niece laughing.
King Robert came to Winterfell with the intention of betrothing Arya to his son, Prince Gendry.
The sound of steel against steel rang throughout the courtyard. The men were crossing swords as Ser Rodrik oversaw them. Rickon and Tommen had sparred with Rickon winning easily despite the fact that Rickon was a few years younger. Robb and Joffrey also crossed swords, but Robb was better trained. Joffrey easily let his anger get to him when he could not strike Robb, and it was easily taken advantage of. Finally, Edric and Bran fought, but Edric was the better of the two.
Across the courtyard, Arya was practicing her own swordplay with Lyanna. They did not train with the tourney swords and blunt edges. They trained with the real steel of rapiers. Lyanna used a rapier she had convinced Mikken to make for her when she was younger, and Arya used Needle, the sword Jon had given her when she was nine. They did use wooden swords when Arya was still learning, but now that Arya was proficient at the Braavosi water dance, they dueled with real swords.
Arya and Lyanna danced, steel singing as they fought. Arya always gave Lyanna a run for her money. While Lyanna was still the strongest rider in the North, Arya was always close behind. Water dancing was a different story. Lyanna could admit that Arya was much better; she was younger, smaller, and much faster. She lost count of how many times she had to yield to her niece.
Arya slashed high to the left before down left. She made a quick thrust to the right and then to the right again, knocking her aunt's sword out of her hand.
"Yield," said Lyanna, and Arya withdrew the tip of Needle from her throat.
They heard slow clapping and turned to see Prince Gendry watching them nearby, casually leaning against a wooden column. "Very impressive," he said with a smile.
Arya forgot her manners and did not curtsy when Lyanna did. She raised an eyebrow and asked, "Why aren't you fighting with the other boys?"
Lyanna hid a smile. Her niece was wild and defiant; if this engagement went through, Gendry would have a lot to put up with. However, Gendry did not seem to mind or even notice the girl's rudeness.
Gendry shrugged. "I don't care much for sparring. In any case, if I did, I'd have to fight your cousin Jon. He already knows what I'm capable of, and I him."
"I'm sure that you've managed to best Jon in the years past," said Lyanna. "I remember when you both trained together when you were younger."
He laughed. "Yes, well, Jon is still better at the sword than I am. I prefer a war hammer like my father."
"I look forward to seeing you fight again someday, Gendry. Perhaps in a tourney?"
"Perhaps, Lady Stark."
Lyanna turned to Arya and said, "Arya, our dance is over for the day. I shall take my leave; there are other matters that need my attention."
"If you so choose to fight with the other boys, play nice."
She resisted the urge to scoff and roll her eyes as her aunt showed her courtesies to Gendry before she left.
With Lyanna gone, Gendry moved a little closer to Arya. He gently touched Needle's blade, careful not to cut himself on its edges. "This is a fine piece of work," he remarked.
"Jon gave it to me," she answered briskly, sheathing her sword.
"I know. He told me."
"Did he?" Arya looked up at Gendry in surprise, and was taken aback at how his blue eyes were so intently fixated on her.
"Yes. He's told me a lot about you," he said quietly, never breaking eye contact.
She suddenly felt embarrassed. Men did not look at her the way Gendry did. Girls saw her as a highborn that may as well be a wilding; men saw her as a tomboy, just as wild and unruly as her aunt. If she was younger, she wouldn't have been able to understand the look in his eyes. But she was six and ten, and she knew exactly what it was. It was the same look that Robb showed Jeyne, Willas showed Sansa, and her father showed her mother: desire.
She took a step back, needing to breathe. "What has he said?" she asked.
"That his cousin was one of the best riders in the North. That she was a markswoman at the age of ten. That she danced, but not in the way that highborn ladies were supposed to. That she preferred breeches to dresses. That her direwolf does not fear men." Gendry stopped, his eyes slowly looking her up and down. "That she had the looks of a Stark, and she was becoming more beautiful every day…"
Heat flushed Arya's cheeks, but her body felt chilly with a cold shower of shame. "Don't be stupid!" she snapped at him, running off and out of the courtyard.
Lyanna found her father in the library. Rickard had a book open on his lap, but he was not reading it. Instead, he was lost in thought, his hand over his mouth.
"Hello, Father," she greeted.
Rickard snapped out of his reverie, and gave his daughter a small smile.
"What did Robert want with you and Ned?"
"Nothing that is concerning, dear girl," he answered.
Lyanna strode to him, and sat down at his feet. She had done it so many times when she was a child, asking him to read to her until it was late. "Does it have to do with an engagement between Arya and Gendry?"
"Did Jon tell you that?"
"No. I put the pieces together myself," she said. "So what of it? Is Arya to become the next Queen of the Seven Kingdoms?"
"I do not know. I am still unsure as well as Ned," said Rickard. He closed the book in his lap and set it aside. "That's what I've been contemplating on."
"Does Arya even get a choice?"
Rickard stared at her for a moment before saying, "When I betrothed you to Lord Lymond's son, I did it because it was a lady's duty to marry a highborn lord and provide heirs for her husband. However, I gave you a choice, a chance, to back out of it, and yet, you did not take it. You accepted the proposal and married. Why?"
She shrugged. "I had given you enough grief as a child. I was no lady. I was always stealing Brandon's horse and riding off. I skipped needlework to play with bows and arrows. You had to pry Ned's sword away from me every time you caught me with it, but when you caught me with the sword I forced Mikken to make, you sent a Braavosi to teach me how to dance. I ruined my gowns and stole Benjen's breeches and tunics to wear," she answered. "Obeying your wish to marry was the least I could do be a lady for once and fulfill the duty that I was given since I was born."
"You would have been unhappy."
"It does not matter, Father. Yes, I did marry to make you happy. It did not last though. I got pregnant and then kidnapped, and my husband rode into battle to rescue me which led to not only his death, but his brothers' as well. Jon and I hardly knew Lysander, and the only thing I can ever tell my son is that his father was good enough to try to defend my honor."
"Then what do you suggest? For Arya?"
"Let her choose if she wants to marry Gendry. Marriage is for life, and if she does marry him, I doubt that he will be dying any time soon," she answered with a bit of a laugh.
Rickard scoffed. "With the way Robert talks about his new wife, you'd think that she's trying to kill Gendry and Edric."
"She can't kill them that easily. They are Baratheons," said Lyanna. "They're so stubborn; they hang onto life as hard as possible no matter what." She watched her father slip back into a reverie. She stared at him for a moment before getting up and kissing him on the forehead. "Wait a couple of weeks or so before bringing up the engagement with Arya. It will give you and Ned and Cat time to think it over and see what Arya wants."
"Two weeks might be enough time. We must give the King an answer before he leaves."
She had always had the feeling that King Robert's visit was not just to see Ned again. Catelyn had suspected that it would have to do with the proposal of engagement for Arya, and she had expected that it would propose that Arya and Edric would join the houses of Stark and Baratheon. But not Arya and Gendry.
"Are you certain that Robert wished to make the union between Arya and Gendry?" she asked Ned.
"Positive. In fact, it was Gendry who had asked that the match be made," said Ned.
"But he hardly knows Arya to simply single her out."
"I imagine that Jon had some bearing in this. He and Arya had always been close," he said. "Lyanna goes to King's Landing for visits and to answer summons to court. She took Jon with her."
"And Jon had been close friends with Gendry since birth," added Catelyn. "She will have to leave me…"
"It is not official yet, Cat," said Ned. "Father and I asked for time to think about it."
"You know Arya will not like it."
"I know. I do not know if I should just go through with betrothing her to Gendry or refuse."
Catelyn remembered her family's words: Family. Duty. Honor. Never in her life did it sound so conflicting now. The Starks were like the Tullys; they considered family the highest of priorities, and they were honorable. But how was Catelyn supposed to fulfill the words of her house when her daughter would be unhappy with a duty she was expected to uphold?
A few days after Arya had called him stupid, Gendry found her in the stables, readying her horse. She had avoided him since their first encounter. He only saw her during dinner where she was constantly talking to one of her brothers, looking after her nephew, or even keeping her sister company. There was hardly an opportunity to get her alone.
"I hope I did not offend you before," he said as he approached the stables.
She was surprised, whirling around to face him, but the surprise quickly faded and a frown appeared on her face. "Hm," she mumbled, as she strapped on the saddle to her horse.
Gendry frowned. "Are you normally this hostile to people who try to speak to you?"
Arya rolled her eyes and curtsied, but he could tell it was anything but respectable. "I'm so sorry, Your Grace, that I do not have the courtesies of a lady," she snapped.
He groaned. Jon had never told him that his cousin could be infuriating. Then again, Arya could hardly be angry or annoyed with Jon; he was one of the ones she loved best. Gendry was just an outsider to her.
"Look, I apologize for what I did to offend you," he said. "Can we at least start over?"
She contemplated it for a moment before slowly saying, "I guess. After all, Jon says you are one of his closest friends."
Gendry smiled. "Thank you, milady." Her eyebrow twitched at the sound of "milady" but she did not say anything. His smile grew wider. "Do you mind, if I go riding with you? We could even race," he suggested.
Arya scoffed, though he could tell there was no malice behind it. "You want to race when I have a Dornish sand steed?"
"At least even the playing field," he joked.
For the first time, she smiled at him.
Lovely, he thought with a grin.
"Fine then. I'll take Jon's horse. I'm sure he wouldn't mind."
They rode out of the castle, over the hills and plains. The land was lush and green with summer snow melting on the ground. Arya gave Gendry a history of the people of the North as they rode. He had learned about it before, but he enjoyed hearing it from Arya; her pride as a Northerner was evident.
"When we rode for Winterfell, this is all we saw," said Gendry. "It really is lovely country though."
"Perhaps it is more grim compared to King's Landing."
"It's warmer there, to be sure, and it is more populated. You hardly see any settlements here."
"The villages are small, but they are scattered through the North," said Arya. "If you do want a big city, there is always White Harbor."
"Uncle Tyrion says that he would love to visit the Wall before heading back to King's Landing."
Arya laughed. "So he may take the black?"
"Hardly. He mostly wants to stand on top of the Wall and piss off the edge of the world," he answered with a grin. As he expected, she was not fazed by such vulgarity, and simply laughed. "You have an uncle that is part of the Night's Watch, right?"
"Mm. The Lord Commander allowed him to visit us a few days because of your family's visit, and at the same time, find new recruits."
"Do you know why he joined?"
Arya shook her head. "Not really. Maybe it had to do with making my father the heir of our house. Aunt Lyanna says that shortly after Uncle Brandon pledged his life to your father and joined the Kingsguard, Uncle Benjen left to take the black. Maybe it was because he knew that my father would be the heir first, and he wanted to be useful some other way."
"It's admirable that he's in the Night's Watch of his own volition."
"Yes, that's true." Arya glanced at the castle in the distance and grinned at Gendry. "How about that race now? Go!"
She turned to the direction of Winterfell and dug her heels into the sides of Jon's horse. Gendry swore and urged his horse to race after her. She had gotten a few seconds lead, but she was far outstripping him, her cloak and dark hair wildly flying behind her. It was no lie that she was one of the best riders in the North, and she wasn't even riding her Dornish sand steed.
When Gendry had finally caught up with Arya in the courtyard, she had already dismounted Jon's horse and was laughing with Ser Brandon.
"That is Jon's horse, is it not?" asked Brandon. His niece only laughed, and he shook his head. "This reminds me of when Lyanna would steal my horse and run it until it was exhausted."
"Is that why Grandfather got her a sand steed?" asked Arya.
"It wasn't Father who got her that. It was me." Ser Brandon caught sight of Gendry, panting as he dismounted his horse. "Hello, Your Grace. You should know better than to race my niece here."
"Everyone was not lying about your riding skills, Lady Arya," Gendry said with a laugh.
She gave him a triumphant grin, which was quickly cut down when Ser Brandon said, "She has yet to beat my sister in a race though."
Dinners in the Great Hall were very boisterous. People talked and laughed as music played and people danced. Food was continuously brought out to fill the stomachs of the men and women and children, and drinks were constantly being refilled.
Barra watched the whole scene from the royal table. She liked the music and the dancing. She did not like the loud laughing of men, however. They were drunk and feeling up the maids. She was seven and she understood what it all meant. Many times she had seen her father drinking and with women who were not her stepmother. She did not like that very much.
She looked away from her father to see Mya and Jon dancing to the music. They were laughing, making silly faces as they danced past the tables. Barra smiled and hopped down from her chair. She wanted to dance now too.
She went looking for her brothers, knowing that one of them would want to dance with her if she asked, but in her search for them, she noticed bright green eyes from beneath the table where the Starks dined. She bent down to see a black direwolf with its eyes staring back at her.
It looked the opposite of Ghost, and Barra was not afraid of Ghost. She was about to reach a hand out to stroke the direwolf when someone said, "Don't touch him! He might bite your hand off!"
Barra recoiled and straightened up, seeing Rickon Stark behind her. "I'm sorry," she said. "I just want to pet him."
"Aren't you afraid of direwolves?" asked Rickon.
"No," she smiled. "I'm not scared of Ghost, and Lady Sansa let me pet her direwolf." Rickon frowned at her. "May I please pet yours?"
Rickon called Shaggydog to him and the giant direwolf obeyed him. He was bigger than her, and Barra really should have been afraid, but she smiled at it.
Barra reached up and stroked Shaggydog's fur. It was coarse. Not silky smooth like Ghost and Lady. But Shaggydog was still a magnificent creature she thought.
"Where are the other direwolves?" she asked. She was curious to see the rest of them and pet them too.
"Mostly likely in my brothers' and sisters' chambers," answered Rickon. "Nymeria is here though. With my sister Arya."
Barra looked to where Rickon was pointing, and sure enough, a silver furred direwolf with yellow eyes was seated beside her mistress. She was about to go over to ask Lady Arya if she could pet her direwolf when Rickon said, "Your brother looks at my sister quite a bit."
"Your brother. Prince Gendry. He stares at Arya a lot."
Barra did not need to turn around to see for herself. "Yes, I know," she said. "He likes her a lot."
"He just does. He has for a while."
Rickon watched Gendry move from the head table to where Arya was and sat down beside her on the bench. They chatted before a smile cracked over their faces and they laughed.
He could see it. He was young, but not stupid. Their eyes told the whole story. "I think she likes him, too."
Barra smiled and nodded. "I think the same."
She didn't have much to do that day. Most of the men left the castle to go hunting with King Robert. Hardly anyone was in the courtyard, and Arya was not feeling it today to practice her dancing alone. So she went into the castle library to pick out a book to read. It wasn't one of her favorite pastimes, but she did like it every once in a while.
She got a book from the shelves and curled up in the big chair that her grandfather often occupied. He was a man of few words, but he was still respected and even feared in the North. Arya liked her grandfather's stoic nature. His actions spoke for him, and when they did, they were powerful like the wolf's fangs.
Arya did not know how long she read, but when she withdrew from the history of Westeros, she realized that she was hungry. She could have popped down to the kitchens to steal food to eat, but it was nearing the time for dinner so the cooks would not let her take even a small morsel of food. She closed her book and head off for the Glass Garden.
The Glass Garden was a greenhouse in the castle that was heated by hot springs. The hot springs would create a moist atmosphere that would allow all sorts of vegetables and fruits to grow.
Unbeknownst to their parents, Arya and Bran used the hot springs for their own benefit. She had only experienced one winter in her life. She was eleven and it lasted for four years. It was cold; much colder than summer snows in the North. Fires were nice, but it was Bran who came up with the idea to soak in the hot springs in the Glass Garden. It was the warmest Arya had ever felt, more so than any fire or warm bath could make her feel.
Arya entered the greenhouse. She took a quick look around and found no one inside. She walked to one of the apple trees and began inspecting its fruit. She reached up to feel a red apple. The color was just right and it was firm. She yanked it down and took a bite of it. Its sweet juice filled her mouth as she chewed. She sat down beneath the tree, opening her book and reading where she last left off.
Arya looked up from her book. Was someone here? She moved towards the hot springs slowly, cautiously. She noticed a person's silhouette soaking in the spring, and she gasped when she saw who it was, dropping her book and apple. She immediately turned around, her face burning up; she knew it was not from the heat either.
"Oh Gods, I'm so sorry!" she exclaimed, covering her face with her hands. "I did not know you were in here!"
"No, I'm sorry! I-I just wanted to take a dip!" said Gendry.
She could hear him get out of the water. She looked over her shoulder but automatically turned back to look forward. However, that single glance she took was now forever burned into her brain. His wet, dark hair clung to his skin, and she had seen drops of water rolling down his chiseled chest. He was very muscular, and the thought of the Prince of the Seven Kingdoms half-naked behind her was making heat coil through her.
There was a rustle of clothing. "You may look now."
I don't want to, thought Arya. But she forced herself to turn around. Gendry's face was as flushed as hers, from the heat and embarrassment. "I'm so sorry," she repeated, averting her eyes to the ground. She was scared to look at him again. He honestly was handsome as everyone had said, and strong.
Gendry walked forward, picking up the book and the apple Arya had dropped. She refused to look at him, so he pressed both items into her hands. "I should apologize myself, milady."
"Do not call me 'milady!'" she snapped. She refused to look at him. She was embarrassed, mortified. She ran out of the Glass Garden and back to her bedchamber. She poured herself a cold bath and sunk into it, desperately trying to freeze whatever feeling it was boiling inside her.
"Why did Gendry not come with us?" asked Mya.
Robert was hunting for boars. His knights and his hounds went with him, and the Stark men except Rickon came along for the hunt. Mya, of course, joined the hunt. She loved the thrill of a spear in her hand and the chase of a powerful boar. Edric had accompanied her in an effort to protect his elder sister.
"I imagine that he wants to sweet talk Lady Arya again," said Edric with a laugh.
"Arya is not one to be persuaded with sweet words," cut in Jon.
"Then Gendry has to try harder."
Mya stepped over a tree's protruding root as she walked on. "She will accept him though, right?"
"Hard to say," said Jon. "She was so adamant about not marrying when we were children."
"And people change as they grow up."
"You haven't changed that much from when we were children," pointed out Edric. He seemed amused as his sister glowered at him.
"Shut up, you." She took her spear and prodded her brother with the other end and Edric laughed.
"I knew he liked her from all the stories I told him, but he seems to be even more infatuated with her since he's seen her in person," said Jon. He cut an obscuring branch with his sword.
"He stares a lot too," said Edric. "Barra has noticed it."
"Everyone has noticed it," corrected Mya. "The youngest Stark boy has too."
"All except Arya," said Jon. "She hardly notices anything if it is outside of her comfort zone."
The hounds began barking and Mya's senses were peaked. A boar was nearby. "There!" she yelled, running after the hounds with her spear in hand.
"P-pardon me, Your Grace?"
"You heard me, girl," said Robert. "I want to betroth you to my oldest son."
Arya suddenly felt so small, staring up at the high table where King Robert, her grandfather, and her father sat. She almost felt betrayed by her own blood that they would do this to her. They damn knew well that she had fought this very aspect on her sex since she was young.
"But it's your choice if you wish to accept or not," said Ned.
Relief rushed over her. "I have a choice?" she asked.
"What is your decision, girl?" asked Robert. Arya shivered as he stared down at her. His gaze was fierce. It almost looked as if she would be put to death if she said the wrong thing.
She wanted to refuse the offer, say that she never wanted to marry and have children, but the words were lost in her throat and she couldn't understand why. "Please excuse me," was all she could manage to say. She curtsied and rushed out of the Great Hall. In the courtyard, she could feel the stares of all those working there.
They had known about the engagement before I did, she thought. I'm so stupid. Why couldn't I refuse?
Nymeria trotted up to her, nudging Arya's hand and giving it a quick lick. Arya smiled, stroking her fur. "What should I do, Nymeria?" she asked. Her direwolf looked at her with golden eyes and began walking in the direction of the Godswood.
Bran's favorite part of Winterfell was the Godswood. He had always been religious and faithful to the Old Gods since he had learned about his ability to see visions of the past. It was in their will to let him hear their whispers from the heart tree.
He went to the Godswood with Summer trotting beside him. He had hoped to make his daily prayers to the Old Gods, but he found Arya sitting beneath the heart tree, Nymeria lying beside her.
He hesitated for a moment, tempted to turn around and leave, but he saw Arya's frown and uncertainty. He went to his sister. Nymeria raised her head, having sensed Summer. Bran's direwolf gave Arya's a nudge before moving to lap up water from the pond.
"You were not always so devout in your prayers. Why the change now?" asked Bran.
Arya smiled and shrugged. "I guess I needed some guidance from the Old Gods."
See true, see true, Bran heard the heart tree whisper.
"What are you going to do?" asked Bran.
"Oh Bran, I wish you could have seen King Robert's face when he told me that he wished to betroth me to Gendry," she said, fear in her eyes. "He looked at me with such expectancy to accept his son on the spot; I was scared that if I refused, he would mount my head on a spike."
See true, see true.
"Do you love Gendry?"
"No," she answered. Bran was reminded on his vision in the heart tree. Arya hesitated before shaking her head and added, "I don't know actually. I enjoy his company when he isn't being stupid, but…"
"At least Grandfather and Father are not forcing you into this."
"Yes. I am grateful that they are giving me a choice." Arya reached over to stroke Nymeria's fur. She was quiet for a moment before saying, "Mother keeps reminding me that it is a woman's duty to marry. Perhaps I should just marry Gendry after all."
Bran frowned. "For what purpose? Because it is expected of you? Because it is the honorable thing to do? You never once worried about what is proper and expected of you. Why do it now?"
"Sansa has told me all the rumors about him and his brother and sisters," she answered with a small smile. "She's said that they often take food to the poorest people in the city. They work with the city guard to keep the peace and to make sure that their father and the Small Council hears their pains. From what I've heard, Gendry is a good man."
"There is a difference between the rumors you hear and seeing it for yourself," said Bran, echoing his uncle from the vision.
See true, see true, whispered the tree.
"Yes, I know. But I've seen his character now. He's a stupid and stubborn prince, but he makes me laugh. He strong and handsome. He's awful kind to me, and I know why he and Jon have been friends for so long."
She's so blind, thought Bran. Listen to the weirwood, Arya, and see true.
Arya tossed and turned in bed. She couldn't sleep, and she just kept thinking about earlier that day. She had stated it many times before; she did not want to marry anyone. And now, her father and her grandfather wanted to betroth her to Gendry. It was different when Aunt Lyanna was married. Her husband was simply a lord in the Riverlands. Gendry was a prince and the heir to the Iron Throne. Marrying him would mean that she would be queen someday, and that was not her.
Arya threw the covers of her bed aside and pulled her boots on. She pulled a coat on and slipped out of her room. When she was at the iron gate of the Godswood, she took a look around to see if she was followed. Winterfell was silent.
She moved deeper into the Godswood until she was face to face with the ancient weirwood. She kneeled in front of it and clasped her hands together, praying to the Old Gods.
Please, grant me a sign of what I should do, she prayed silently. Give me a sign if I should accept Gendry or not.
She heard someone approaching, leaves crunching under boots. All Arya saw was a large, shadowy figure. She shrieked, tumbling backwards, and whipping out a dagger from inside her cloak.
"It's okay! It's only me!"
Arya recognized the voice. "Gendry?" Her heart was still racing as she angrily stuffed the dagger back into its sheath. "Stupid prince! What do you think you're doing?"
"I'm sorry. I couldn't help following you," he said, moving out of the shadows and giving her an apologetic smile. He sat beside her in front of the weirwood. "What are you doing at this hour?"
"…praying to the Old Gods."
Arya averted her eyes away and quietly answered, "To ask them what I should do."
He understood what she meant. The marriage proposal. "You know that I want you to accept my hand in marriage."
"Why bother marrying me?" she asked. "Why bother when you can have someone much more beautiful and much more proper than me?"
"Because I love you."
He had said it so frankly that Arya's eyes shyly met his. It was the first time she had really stared at his face since seeing him in the Glass Garden. His blue eyes seemed to pierce right through her, and Arya knew he wasn't lying. It made her feel self-conscious though. She was a tomboy, and she had the guts to be just like her brothers and their friends. She thought that no one would desire her, and that was fine with her. But now, there was a man who did want her, all of her, like the way a man wanted a woman and a hero wanted a heroine.
"You hardly know me," she said.
"That's not true. Jon told me all about you, and I know that he would never lie-"
"It's not the same! There is a difference between the rumors you hear and seeing it for yourself!" she argued, repeating the same words Bran had said to her earlier that day.
"Let me finish!" he said, raising his voice. His eyes looked caught between desperation and frustration, and Arya could feel tinges of guilt tugging her stomach into knots. "Since we were children, Jon told me all about you. His stories were what made me infatuated with you, and so he and I convinced my father to come to Winterfell so that we may be betrothed.
"Then I met you in person, and you were better than the stories your cousin told. You were beautiful, fiery, and stubborn and it only strengthened my resolve to have you."
A sign, a sign, please, she pleaded to the Old Gods. What do I do? What do I say?
"It's fine if you don't want to be queen. I'll ask my father if he can make me the heir to Storm's End instead, and Edric can take the throne!" Gendry reached out to stroke her cheek. Her breath hitched. "I'll do anything in my power to make you happy. So please, marry me."
Arya was torn between running away and bolting herself in her chamber or staying there in the Godswood with Gendry stroking her cheek, staring at her like she was the only one who ever mattered to him. She was scared; he was evoking feelings inside of her that she did not know or understand.
Then his lips were pressed against hers, setting fire to her blood and heat pooling in her stomach. His lips were tender against hers, but she could taste the underlying eagerness that he was trying to hold back. She should have pushed him away, oh yes, but she couldn't, wouldn't; not when her arms were wrapping themselves around his neck, pulling him closer. The Godswood was no longer cold. It was getting so hot; too hot to breathe, but she was so caught up with kissing him that her uncertainties seemed to fade away.
And maybe, just maybe, she wanted him as much as he wanted her.
Sansa knew that something was wrong with her sister.
At breakfast, she ate her food without complaint, constantly keeping her eyes trained in front of her. Normally she was constantly chatting about training and riding horses with their brothers and Aunt Lyanna, but there was none of that. When it came time for Septa Mordane's instruction on needlework with the princesses, Arya hadn't even tried to slip out to go to the training yard. She just absent mindedly worked on her stitches.
"What is wrong?" Sansa asked her sister when Septa Mordane dismissed them all for the day.
Arya flushed. "Nothing's wrong." She gathered her skirts and ran in the direction of her bedchamber.
Sansa quickly gathered her skirts up too and chased after her sister. She hardly ran, and she had to admit that it was difficult, especially in her shoes. By the time she had reached Arya's room, the door was bolted shut. Sansa knocked and said, "Arya, let me in."
"I'm feeling unwell," she said from the other side.
"Do you want me to fetch Maester Luwin for you?"
"No!" Arya caught herself and added a softer, "No. It's fine, Sansa. Don't."
"Then let me in and tell me what is wrong."
There was silent moment until Sansa heard her sister unbolt the door and open it. As she slipped inside, she closed the door and locked it again. Arya sat down on her bed, drawing her legs up to her chest.
"Now, what's wrong?" asked Sansa, sitting beside her.
Arya chewed her lip before lowering her voice. "Is it proper…for a lady to kiss a man before she is married, or even betrothed?" Heat flooded her cheeks again.
Sansa stared at her sister, and a smile crept across her lips. "Is that what you're worried about? Kissing another man?"
"Don't laugh," snapped Arya.
"Kisses are harmless!" she laughed. "Did you kiss Gendry?"
The flush on Arya's face grew darker. "That kiss wasn't harmless…"
Alarm rose in Sansa and she quickly asked, "You didn't lay with him, did you?"
"No! Of course not!" she answered, frowning. Sansa relaxed. "It's just…what was your first kiss with Willas like?"
Sansa smiled at the memory of when Willas had kissed her for the first time. The Starks except Grandfather had gone to Highgarden to visit the Tyrells. A grand feast was held, but it was noisy and chaotic that Willas and Sansa had left to go outside when the dancing got too rowdy. They walked in the courtyards, chatting and talking. Willas' words soon turned sweet and flattering, and Sansa had her first kiss by a fountain under the light of the moon and stars.
"It was lovely," she answered, a dreamy look in her eyes. "Very pleasant. It made me feel so light and I had these strange sensations in me."
"…was there any passion?"
"Gendry kissed me last night," Arya said quietly. "He was gentle, but I could tell that he wanted more of me."
"Robb once told me that when he first met Jeyne, he partly infatuated, partly desired her," said Sansa. "He had to hold back until they got married. It is the honorable thing to do. Robb is a high lord as is Willas and as is Gendry. Of course they would hold back until they are married."
Her sister pursed her lips together and frowned.
"Arya," Sansa said gently, "when Gendry kissed you, how did you feel?"
"I liked it," she admitted to her lap. "A lot. So much that I just wanted to keep kissing him, and my fears about him and an engagement faded away."
"Then you have your answer."
Sansa laughed. "Sometimes you can be so blind," she replied with a smile. "You like Gendry; well on your way to loving him. And whether you are wearing those breeches or your dresses, or dancing with swords or to music or making crooked stitches or shooting arrows straight to a target, he loves you. Everyone knows that.
"Do not be a coward, Arya. You have the chance of a lifetime to marry a prince who loves you, and will do anything to make you happy. Don't run away. You'll be alone by your own hand if you do, and you'll have to grow old without him."
Arya looked up at her, tears brimming in her eyes, threatening to fall. She swung her arms around Sansa, holding her tight and murmuring "thank you" in her hair. They had always been polar opposites, at odds with each other since they were younger. But they were older now, more mature. They had come to respect each other, and now they had felt closer than ever.
"We're wolves," said Arya. "We're a pack."
"And we always look out for each other." They smiled, laughing quietly.
"What do I do now?"
"Find Gendry, get him alone. Tell him you will marry him. Then summon his father, the Queen, Grandfather, Father, and Mother and you both can tell them of your plans," said Sansa. "Simple."
"What should I wear?"
"You never cared what you wore before," she laughed. "I'm sure that Gendry doesn't either."
Arya looked down at her now wrinkled dress. "Can you do me a favor?"
"If it is within my power."
"Can you ask Gendry to come to the Godswood soon? And then summon the King and Mother and Father to the Great Hall later?"
Sansa smiled and kissed her sister's forehead.
When Arya had reached the Godswood, she found Gendry staring at the heart tree.
"I'm sorry I kept you waiting," said Arya.
"It's all right," he said. He stopped short when he saw her. She was wearing dark breeches and black boots, a silver gray tunic and a teal green cloak with Needle hanging from her belt. He smiled. "You really are stunning," he murmured.
The blood rushed to Arya's face. "Shut up. I asked you here so that I may give you my answer."
That definitely caught his attention. "Which is?"
She stood on her tiptoes to press a kiss on his lips. "What do you think, stupid?" she asked, half laughing, half smiling.
He kissed her again, smiling against her lips. "I love you."
"I know you do."
"Do you love me?"
"Not yet, but I know I will."
"You must have an answer by now, girl," said Robert. "Why else would you have called us here?"
Arya stood in front of the head table in the Great Hall, her fingers entwined with Gendry's. King Robert was there as well as Queen Cersei, Rickard, Ned, and Catelyn. Arya could see Cersei looking her over; she could tell from her eyes that she disapproved greatly.
"I want to apologize for keeping Your Grace waiting for my answer," she said. "My answer is that I would love to accept Prince Gendry's hand in marriage." She smiled, eyes shining, and she could feel her heart swelling with adoration and pride.
Robert gave a hearty laugh. "Yes, about time you accepted."
"I would like to make one more request, Father," Gendry cut in quickly.
"Let's hear it then."
"If you will allow it, I want to request that I be made Uncle Renly's heir so that I may one day be the Lord of Storm's End and rule the Stormlands and its bannermen. In my place, I want my brother, Prince Edric, to become the heir to the Iron Throne."
Robert stared at his son, and Gendry was half expecting him to throw his cup at him for being so stupid. Younger sons could only be heirs to houses if their older brothers were dead, in the Kingsguard, or at the Wall, and Gendry had no intention of any of those.
"Tell me why you want this."
"Because my future wife," Arya gripped Gendry's hand a little tighter, "does not want to be Queen of the Seven Kingdoms. I've already promised that I will do anything to make her happy. And if this is what she wants, then I will give it to her."
Robert gave an approving laugh. "Then happiness you shall have."
Catelyn had whisked her daughter away to her chambers before dinner in order to get her prepared for the celebration of Arya and Gendry's engagement. Sansa and Lyanna were already inside waiting, with Sansa in tears. Arya laughed as she wiped her sister's tears away.
"You already knew that I was going to say yes to him!" exclaimed Arya with a grin.
"I know!" cried Sansa, mopping her eyes up with her handkerchief. "But we're going to be apart soon!"
"When we're married, Gendry and I shall visit you at Highgarden," she answered, "and you and Willas may come to Storm's End!"
Sansa laughed. "I'm being stupid, I know."
"It's fine. It's fine."
"Darling, you better get ready for the feast," said Catelyn. She kissed her daughters before moving to see if a bath had been drawn for Arya.
Sansa smiled and said, "Arya, won't you please wear the gown I made for you tonight?"
"It is very beautiful work," said Lyanna with a wink.
"I made it in the Southern style." Sansa moved to her mother's bed and scooped up the gown that had been laid down on it. Arya did not like dresses, but she thought this one was rather beautiful when she saw it in her sister's arms. It was yellow silk embroidered with silver and emerald green thread. Arya could hardly refuse such a gift from her sister.
It fit her like a glove, but at least she could still breathe as she entered the Great Hall after her mother, her aunt, and her sister. The music stopped and all eyes were on her.
Thank the Old Gods that I am only going to be the Lady of Storm's End, thought Arya. She felt mortified with so many eyes on her. Only when Rickon ran up to her, crying, hugging, and begging her not to leave did the music start up again and people resumed with the feast. Her brothers, Jon, and Gendry's brother and sisters swarmed her with hugs, talking all at once.
"Finally you're seeing with your eyes. You should know to do that since you have to when you dance. Why did you have to wait so long to do that with your own feelings?"
"Baby Arya is getting married! The prince is going to have fun chasing after you."
"I knew you would eventually come around to saying yes to Gendry."
"Don't go! Don't go! I don't want you to go!"
"King's Landing is so vastly different from Winterfell, but I'll keep you company and we can go riding every single day if you so wish! Oh, and then just imagine the tourney that will be held to celebrate the engagement, too!"
"Lady Arya, I am so happy you're going to be marrying my brother!"
"Lady Arya, I trust that you will like Storm's End like I do. I wish you and my brother eternal happiness."
"Stop! I can't breathe!" yelled Arya. She was laughing though in the midst of hugs.
"Yes, that's right, away with you all," said Gendry, his voice low and commanding. It was the voice of a prince and future lord. It made knots in Arya's stomach, but she was starting to like the feeling now.
They all let go of her, Bran prying Rickon away. They shot her smirks and retreated to their seats as Gendry pulled Arya into his arms in tune to the music.
Arya wished that she had Sansa's grace. She spent more time with her water dancing than her actual dancing lessons. She stumbled over her own feet as well as Gendry's as they danced on the floor. He held her tight, trying to help her find her rhythm to the song.
"Keep going," whispered Gendry. He glanced down at their feet.
It became simple for her to count the steps, know when Gendry was going to turn, and avoid stepping on his toes. It's still far from graceful, she thought, but this will have to do for now.
Gendry loosened his grip on her just a bit, allowing more room between them. He stared down at Arya's dress and grinned. "I'll dress you all in yellow silk, and on your head a crown," he teased.
Arya remembered that silly song she had heard when she was younger and rolled her eyes. "Stupid," she laughed, pressing a kiss to his lips. She could hear some inappropriate cat-calling from Robb and Jon, but she ignored them. "It's more like a gown of golden leaves," she shot back at him with a smile.
"Then I'll be your forest love."
"And me, your forest lass."
Arya wondered if it was possible to be so happy. She hated the thought of getting married before, but it was probably because her husband would force her to be something that she was not. But Gendry knew her, and he loved her just the way she was. Now, marriage didn't seem like such a bad prospect, especially since it came with love and happiness now.
She felt very, very lucky indeed.
Written for someone on tumblr who wished for this AU fic in which:
-Lyanna is alive.
-She didn't marry Robert.
-He accepted this fact and moved on.
-Gendry was born in Robert's marriage as well as Mya, Edric, and Barra.
-Gendry is the heir to Storm's End.
-Catelyn and Ned are married somehow.
-Lyanna and Arya are best friends who talk about archery, riding, and swords.
-Sansa has a happy ending.
-All of the Starks are alive such as Benjen, Brandon, and Rickard.
-Jon Snow knows his parents.
-Jon is Lyanna's son.
-Jon and Gendry are friends.
-Gendry and Arya get together.
All points have been fulfilled to the best of my ability and imagination. My biggest obstacle was to try to have everyone have a part. Just, ugh. Starks and Baratheons are very troublesome. And I know I mention the Lannisters, but it would have murdered me to really integrate them into the story. I just...I wanted everyone to be hunky dory. So they can take a back seat.
Check out my tumblr (aetherene) to see pictures of my dreamcast for the characters as well as their ages at the time this story takes place.
Chapter 1: Stark family
Chapter 2: Baratheon family
Chapter 3: Arya and Gendry