I dismounted my horse and looked around the courtyard. The castle towered around me. People moved quickly, there were so many people. There weren't this many people in Pyke, I was sure about that. Suddenly a dark blur was running toward me. I didn't have time to move before it stabbed me in the chest. I fell back to the ground, this was the end. I hadn't even been in Winterfell for an hour, and they were already killing me off. I heard a giggle, and realized that the reason everything had gone black was because I had shut my eyes. When I opened them a girl with dark black hair stood over me. She offered me a hand, and pulled me too my feet. "Sorry I knocked you down. I'm used to sparing with Robb and Jon, they always hit back."
"I wouldn't hit a girl," I mumbled.
"It's just sparring, silly. Anyway if that had been a real sword, we wouldn't be talking right now. Maybe you ought to learn how to fight. I'm Amina, by the way," the girl said.
"Theon," I told her.
She smiled. "I know who you are. I've been so excited to meet you! I'm nine, like you. So are Robb and Jon, but I guess you knew that already. Anyway, would you like a tour? I'm not sure where Ned went, but I don't think he'd mind." Before I could answer, she was pulling me by the arm into the Castle.
"Are you a Stark too?" I asked. "There sure are a lot of you."
She shook her head. "I'm not a Stark. I was-" she paused. "Adopted." It was the first time I'd heard her hesitate. Though for all I knew she hesitated all the time. She could actually be terribly shy and quiet, I didn't know this girl at all. But, I had a feeling that wasn't true.
"So you're a ward too?"
"No. My family died a long time ago. Ned rescued me, I've lived here all my life."
"So you're a Stark."
She sighed. "No. I'm a Winterfell, the first and probably ever with that name. Ned wouldn't give me the bastards surname. He didn't think that was fair, just because they didn't know who I belonged to." Her eyes sparkled excitedly. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a notebook. She flipped to a page in the middle and held it out to me. "I just drew this today. It's my own house sigil. My words are "Forged by Fire and Honor.""
It was a fantastic sketch. A direwolf sat in the center of a circle, surrounded by curling tendrils. "The shape looks familiar. Did you borrow it from another house sigil?" I asked.
"No. I made it up," she said quickly, snatching back the book. "Come on, let's go find the Starks."
"Is Ned…"I paused not sure how to word it.
"Nice? He's the best. Catelyn too, but she's so overprotective." She scrunched her mouth to the side. "She says she worries because she loves me."
"My parents weren't all that protective. They always expected me to be a fighter."
She stabbed me in the side with her wooden sword again and smiled. "Maybe you ought to be."
"You should start taking lessons with us. You'll love Robb and Jon. We're best friends, they're like my brothers."
"I have brothers," I said quietly. She stopped walking beside me.
"But not anymore," She reminded me. Her eyes widened. "I'm sorry. Catelyn always says I have to watch my mouth. I don't mean that you have to love them like brothers today. But honestly, you can't help but love Robb. He's the nicest person I know."
"There you are, Amina." A woman rounded the corner. "Ah, I see you've found Theon."
"I was showing him around," Amina said. She bounced on her heels. She looked like she was weighing her options, debating whether to stay or run off.
"Ned needs to discuss a few things with him." The woman took a step toward me. I took a step back. Amina grabbed my hand again.
"Come with me," she said. Amina gave me a dazzling smile, I couldn't help but return it, through mine was much more hesitant. Catelyn nodded and allowed Amina to lead the way, while Catelyn followed on our heels. "Catelyn isn't that scary," she teased. We weaved through the halls until we stopped in front of a big door.
"Go on." Catelyn motioned. "Amina, why don't you go play with the boys?"
"Can't I stay with Theon?" She asked.
"I'd rather you not."
Amina turned to me with a pout. "Find me when you're done. I'll introduce you to everyone." She squeezed my hand reassuringly, then turned and sprinted down the hall. Catelyn smiled, and held the door open. I took a deep breath and walked in.
Across the courtyard, I saw Amina sitting with two boys. She waved enthusiastically. I headed her direction. The taller boy looked me up and down. "He looks small."
"Be nice, Jon!" Amina snapped. "And for Gods sake, smile! Do you always have to be all moody?" He looked at her, with something akin to a grimace on his face. She hit him in the arm hard.
"Ow?" He said.
"Not like that!"
"So much for being nice." The other boy, who must be Robb, shook his head.
"This is how I smile!" Jon protested.
Amina rolled her eyes. "Fine then, don't smile! He's really nice, please stop trying to scare him off."
"We haven't even met the kid. Give us a chance to decide if we like him or not," Robb said.
"It doesn't matter if you like him. I like him so you are going to be nice!" She crossed her arms and turned to face me. I stood awkwardly a few feet away. "Sorry about them, sometimes they're insufferable," she mumbled. "Anyway, meet Jon and Robb." She motioned at them. Then turned to them,"This is Theon."
Robb looked me up and down. "Jon's right, he's small."
"Ami, I came out here to spar," Jon said. "Are we going to practice?"
"Yeah, of course." She grabbed her sword. I stepped back to get out of their way. She turned, taking her stance. She looked to poised to be a kid, I wondered how much she practiced. I watched and she and Jon fought. Amina was better than him, he was clumsy compared to her. Jon shuffled his feet too much, she only moved when necessary.
But suddenly the tables turned. Amina appeared to get distracted, though her eyes never left her target. Jon pushed his sword to her chest. "I win."
"I thought you had him that time," Robb said laughing.
"I did too," Jon admitted.
"Jon's better than me." She shrugged. "He should be, I'm a girl. I'd be worried if he wasn't." She reached into her boot and pulled out a very real knife. She turned toward the archery target. I watched her, once again, take a stance to perfect for a kid her age. She set up her shot, and threw. The knife landed dead center.
"Wow," I said in awe.
She curtsied. "I'm the best knife thrower in Winterfell. I'm self taught."
"If I was ever in a real fight with Amina, I'd be dead. It's a lot quicker to fling a knife at someone, than to fight them with a sword," Jon said.
"Can you fight?" Robb asked.
"I can shoot a bow and arrow," I said. Robb looked a bit skeptical. Amina picked a bow and tossed it to me. I caught it, and she smiled. She handed me an arrow. She quickly darted to the target to grab her knife, and then stepped out of my way.
I nocked the arrow, and pulled back the bow string. This shot would decide how I lived the rest of my days here at Winterfell. If I missed, I'd never live it down. I took a deep breath. One, two, release. The arrow hit dead center, where Amina's knife had just been.
"Amazing," Amina said. Robb clapped, Jon just looked moody. Amina pulled the arrow from the target and returned it to it's quiver. "I'm hungry."
"Come on, little deer," Robb said. He put his arm around her shoulder.
"Was that supposed to be a joke about how much food I eat?" Amina asked. He nodded. "Well, jokes on you. I wouldn't mind being a deer. Deer are pretty, and they're fast." She frowned. "They aren't very dangerous though."
"Then we obviously need to pick another animal for your nickname," Jon said. He grabbed her from Robb and spin her around.
"We could have a feast!" She squealed, as he spun her. "Dancing, music, and lots of food!"
"We aren't going to have a feast," Robb said, shaking his head.
Amina stopped spinning. "Well, we should."
"You just want to eat," Jon said laughing.
"I'm going to take Theon to the kitchens. We didn't make it that far before Catelyn found us." Amina slipped away from Jon. "Come on!" She took my hand again and pulled me back inside. Before we were quite out of view, she turned back to the boys and stuck her tongue out. Then she turned and quickly yanked me inside. "They like you," she assured me.
"They didn't really talk much," I said.
She shrugged. "The three of us are really close. We don't have a lot of newcomers. Once Robb warms up to you, you'll never get him to shut up. Jon's always been a grump, but I'm sure you and Robb will be best friends."
She opened the kitchen door. We walked over to a long table where they were preparing tonight's dinner. She grabbed two large pieces of bread and handed me one of them. She took a large bite. "Delicious," she said through a full mouth. She made a face at me, a piece of bread sticking right out her mouth. I took a bite and copied her. She snorted and almost choked. "Gods, Theon, you look like a troll!"
"So do you!" I countered. She fell to the ground, laughing to hard to stand up. I laughed at her. She grabbed my leg and yanked me down beside her. "That hurt!"
"You still look like a troll," she giggled.
"That isn't nice," I said, but I was still laughing.
"I know." We lay on the floor, laughing our heads off until the cook came over and shooed us away. That didn't stop the laughing fit, we only continued giggling into the hallway. She laced her fingers through mine again, and pulled me off to another location. I smiled at her. Maybe I had been wrong to be scared of this place, it seemed like things were going to be just fine.
That night Amina's personal house sigil appeared in my dream. "Fire and Blood." Her curling sketch, expanded into a dragon with three heads.
When I woke up I found her as soon as I could. "I know where I recognized your sigil from."
"I told you, I made it-"
"It looks like the Targaryen dragons."
She sighed. "It is."
My eyes widened. "You made it look like that on purpose?"
"I'm a Targaryen." She glanced around. "I don't think Catelyn or Ned wanted me to tell you. But, you guessed it on your own."
"Can I see the drawing again?" I asked. She pulled out the notebook, and ripped the page out. How that the dragon was fresh in my mind, I could see the lines weren't so random.
"Keep it, I'll draw another."
I folded it up and stuck in my pocket. "Do you want to go shoot arrows?"
"I can't, I'm supposed to help Sansa with her lessons," she groaned. Sansa was only six, but I understood the groans. My little sister was just like my brothers. Amina's sister, on the other hand, was the exact opposite. "All she ever wants to do is sew and dress up."
"You dress up," I noted.
"I like to dress up, but that's all she wants to do. And if I stab my finger one more time doing cross stitch, I swear I'll smear it all over her." She grinned, deciding that she liked that idea. "Anyway, I should go. I bet Robb will shoot arrows with you. You two better be best friends when I come back. If I come back."
I had been at Winterfell for six months. Today was Amina's tenth nameday. I looked out my window and saw her by the target. She was practicing her knife throwing. This was my chance. I ran down to meet her. "Amina!" I called.
"Shh!" She tossed her final knife. Four were all crammed perfectly onto the bullseye. "Now you may speak."
"I got you a present, for your nameday."
"I told you not to!" She protested.
"I know, but you'll like this." I handed her the lump which was poorly wrapped with some paper. She pulled the string I'd tied around it and unfolded the paper. The necklace was wrapped in its chain. She unrolled it slowly. I waited as she studied the pendant. "I used the drawing you gave me. The blacksmith helped me make it." Her face betrayed nothing. I was sure I'd messed up, she didn't like it after all.
Finally she threw her arms around my neck and hugged me tightly. "This is the best present I've ever gotten! It's perfect." She stepped away and put the necklace over her head. "But I still don't like presents."
"Always stubborn," I said with a sigh. I could tell she was fighting back a smile.
"Come on, little deer," I said using her least favorite nickname.
"I'm not a deer!" She protested.
"If I started calling you little dragon people might wonder."
She rolled her eyes. "Let's see if we can steal something from the kitchen. I'm starving!" I laughed. "Shut up, Theon!"
"What are you doing to my hair?" I asked laughing.
"Braiding it," Amina said casually.
"Because, I'm leaving tomorrow. It's time for my "Hi, I'm 16 and almost old enough to marry your son. But I won't, because I've been betrothed since birth." tour. I won't see you for over a month!"
"That is the worse excuse I've ever heard," I told her. But I made no move to get up.
"You don't seem too concerned, Theon," Robb said laughing. "Maybe you should do your hair like this more often."
"You're next," Amina said without looking up at him. That shut Robb up for a minute. "Then Jon." Jon stopped shooting arrows and looked over.
"Jon Snow has never met a girl he likes more than his hair," Robb said laughing at him. "He's not going to let you touch his head."
I didn't have to see Amina's face to know she and Jon were looking at each other. Robb was laughing to hard to notice, but I always caught their glances. "You're right," Amina said. "Damn."
We sat in silence for a minute as Jon shot another arrow and Amina continued to torture me. "Can someone explain to me why this tour is necessary? The Starks have known who I was to marry since I was two. I'm even taking him with me? This does not make any sense."
"It's customary," Robb said. "I guess if someone posed a better offer, things could change."
"Except I'm not a Stark. What would they do, buy me?"
Robb laughed. "I don't know, I'm just saying."
"I believe it's so you can meet with each head of your banner men's families," I said. "It's to prepare you for being Lady of Winterfell."
She groaned, though I knew in reality she loved meeting new people. "Why couldn't the two of you come too?" She sighed and placed her chin on the top of my head.
"No one wants to take the bastard or the ward of Winterfell anywhere, why would they?" Jon shot another arrow. You could almost taste the bitterness in the air.
Later than afternoon, I wandered up to Amina's room. I expected she would be packing, instead she stood in the mirror, twirling in a pink summer dress. "What are you doing?" I asked laughing. She jumped when she noticed me.
"Trying on a dress, obviously," she said. "I might take it with me."
"You do know we live in the North, right? Even the summers are chilly."
She shook her head. "Yes, of course. Never mind about the dress then."
She glanced out the window. I knew who she was looking for. Jon's room was just across the courtyard. I didn't say anything, I knew she would never listen to me. Besides, she didn't know I knew about her relationship with Jon. "Yeah, I wouldn't pack the dress." I shook my head. "I just remembered something I needed to do. I'll see you in the morning."
"Goodnight!" She called.
I grabbed my horse from the stables and rode him to the brothel. "Where's Ros?" I asked a girl. She pointed down the hall. I found the redhead laying on a chaise. Her dress looked just like Amina's, but purple. Gods, had Amina been taking advice from the whores? "I need to borrow you."
"Anything for you," she purred. I was one of her best customers.
"I have a friend." Calling Jon a friend was a bit of a stretch. "He's always in a bad mood. I was hoping you might be able to cheer him up tonight."
"A virgin?" She asked. I nodded. "Annoying." She sighed, "Fine I'll do it, for the usual price."
"I've got it covered."
Early the next morning Amina burst into my room. "Amina the sun is barely up, what are you doing?"
"Did you send a whore to Jon's room last night?"
"Yes." I waited to see if she'd give anything away.
"I walked in on her trying to undress him," she said uncomfortably. I laughed. "Theon, it's not funny!"
"It is actually."
She huffed, turned on her heel, and marched out of my room. There were certain things Amina lived by, honor was one of them. She was betrothed to Robb, I wasn't going to let her toss away her honor for some crush.
"Theon!" Robb yelled from downstairs. "Aren't you going to come say goodbye?"
I walked downstairs where everyone was helping load up Eddard, Amina, and Robb's things. Arya was begging her father to let her come along, but he kept pushing her back towards Catelyn. Amina was dutifully putting crates into the wagon with her back facing me. "Are you ignoring me now?" I asked. She didn't answer. I sighed, "Come on, you're about to leave on your big long vacation."
"It's not a vacation," she said.
"Well, whatever it is, you're leaving for a while."
"Yeah. Don't look too sad, you'll have Jon." Jon and I shared a look. Amina knew we had never gotten along, but she was always forcing us to be friends.
"We'll be fine," Jon said gruffly. He barely looked at her, and she wouldn't look at him at all. I knew that was my fault.
"Amina, it's time to go," Ned called.
She turned to me. "Well, even if you are the singular most annoying person in the whole Seven Kingdoms, I'll miss you."
"You know I'll miss you too."
"Friends shouldn't say goodbye, we'll always meet again."