Fear Cuts Deeper Than Swords
There it was, finally. Arya had been chasing the black tom cat for weeks now, and never had she come as close to it as she had now. The cat was a mass of midnight fur; it pressed itself against the stone walls behind it. Arya smiled. She knew the best way to catch the cat was through fear, for Syrio had told her so. Fear cuts deeper than swords, he had told her. Swift as a deer, Quiet as a shadow. Fear cuts deeper than swords. And so that is what she must do now. She did not intend to harm the animal, truly, but she was willing to let it think that, if it meant that she could present the cat to her dance master.
She'd come this close several days before hand, she'd chased it through darkened alleys, where shadows waited, ready to pounce. She'd been so close. The animal was even in her hands. But the kingsguard had caught her first. At first she'd thought the knight would wish to escort her back to the castle, with not so much as a telling off. She was Arya Stark of Winterfell, after all. But then they'd started murmuring to each other, their voices to low for her to understand, but she knew it wasn't good. So she ran. She ran through the halls of the castles dungeons, where monsters lurked in the corners. She ran through the city, where merchants voices could be heard screeching for someone to buy their wares. But last of all, and perhaps the worst, she had run through the sewers, all in plain desperation to get away from the harsh voices of the men of the kingsguard.
Eventually she had ended up in a darkened passageway, well beneath the red keep's walls. She had tried not to be afraid of the monsters. She had tried not to be afraid of the evils that lurked in the dark, but she couldn't help it. So once again, she ran. As fast as she could, until she reached the gates of the kings castle. The guards of course, hadn't recognised her at first, but eventually they let her through. With some quick wit and a dash of persuasion.
She'd never dared to dream that she'd ever see the animal again, until Syrio Forel's words came back to haunt her mind. The man who fears losing has already lost. And so, she had not given up. Every day she had searched for the cat. And now, they had met once again.
Arya whistled and stuck her hand out to the cat, as if to offer it a treat. But the cat arched its back and screeched. Before she knew what was happening, Arya jumped forward to grab the cat, and it scurried away through a hole in the wall. The Stark girl stamped her feet on the floor in frustration. The man who fears losing has already lost. The voice overwhelmed Arya, and she realized, she must refuse to give up.
"There must be some other way," Arya said to herself, rather than to the benefit of the empty walls surrounding her. Crouching on the ground, Arya peered through the hole the cat had disappeared through. The city was beneath her, people moving about shouting and talking, a fair few giddy from wine, most likely. The building opposite her... It looked like a forge. If I was trying to escape someone, where would I go? The answer was obvious to Arya. She would go the place she would least likely be found. The solution was clear. She must go to the forge.
Arya stood up again, not bothering to brush herself off. She knew her way out of here well enough now – she'd been sure to take note of the way she came in, so as not to get lost again. It wasn't hard, and eventually, Arya found herself standing outside the forge. Black smoke floated out of it, but Arya didn't make a fuss about it, not like Sansa would have. Arya could imagine Sansa's voice in her head now, 'Come away Arya, the smoke's ruining my dress!' or perhaps, 'We can't be seen here Arya, Septa Mordane will have our heads!' Arya smiled at the thought. Her sister and herself were so unalike. Sansa preferred dressing dolls and braiding hair, whereas Arya liked adventures and did not mind getting her clothes caked in mud one bit.
There was no door to the forge, just an empty archway, so Arya slid herself inside, trying not to make herself noticed. It's true, she was almost as black with dirt as the smoke itself, so she held in hope that she would not be spotted. The problem was though, where was the cat? Determined as she was, Arya tip toed past the various different anvils and busy smiths, until she spotted an archway. The cat was right beneath it. The archway led outside, to a courtyard. Slowly but surely, Arya walked towards the archway, her eyes focused entirely on the cat. Just a step further and she'd have it cornered.
"What'd you think you're doing here lad?" A man was stood in front of her, blocking the cat from view. Lad? Of course, the man must have mistaken her for a boy. It wasn't surprising considering most people who did not know her did the same.
"Err- I was just, um," Arya struggled to find a decent excuse to give the smith. Her eyes drifted to a boy that had came to stand behind the threatening man. He was tall; she'd give him that, with hair as black as the night itself. He, like her, was covered in soot, but he was smirking slightly, as though surveying Arya.
"Um," Arya continued to stutter. What excuse could she give for being here? None of the ones she thought of seemed believable.
"She's not a boy," The boy behind the smith said. How had he noticed? The way Arya looked now, she could pass for a pretty convincing boy.
The man turned to the boy behind him, "Of course he's a boy! What are you, blind?"
"I'm a boy," Arya said in her most convincing boy-ish tone. She hoped her voice would not give it away to the smith. She'd probably be able to come up with an excuse for a boy being in the forge eventually, but a girl? She'd have no chance if she hoped to get away with it.
The boy met Arya's gaze again before looking back at the smith. "Of course sir, I'll just get back to my work then," And he left, going back into the courtyard from which he'd came.
The man then refocused his attention back on Arya. "Why are you here boy?"
Now, Arya had grown up, knowing that honesty wasn't always the best policy, but if she kept this up much longer, she'd be chucked out the forge before she could get her hands on the cat. So for probably the first time in her life, Arya told the truth. Well, half the truth.
"I was chasing that cat sir," She pointed to the cat which was currently lazing about in the sun. How can a cat be so arrogant? Arya thought. "It's my father's, he'd be devastated if he lost it sir. If you could just let me get it, and I'll be on my way," Arya tried to push past the man to the courtyard, avoiding his eyes, as though if she looked at him, he'd figure out her secret.
The man grabbed hold of her shoulder, forcing Arya to look at him. "Very well, but be quick about it," The man released her and Arya let out a sigh of relief.
The courtyard was bright. the hot sun beated down on Arya's back. The cat looked up at Arya as she got nearer. Not again, please not again. Arya knew what was coming, and suddenly, the cat had leapt up again. This time however, there were not a lot of places for it to go, so it hopped atop the anvil the boy she had met earlier was working on. The boy jumped in shock and looked up at Arya in surprise.
"You ought to keep a better hold of your cat miss; you'll lose it for good soon enough,"
"I'm not a girl," Arya hissed at the boy.
The boy laughed slightly. "Of course you're not, and I'm the bloody king of Westeros,"
"If you could just give me my cat, and I'll leave you to your work," Arya struggled to keep her temper in check. All she wanted was to give the cat to her dance master. Was that too much to ask?
The boy instead, took a hold of the cat, and held it in his arms. "You'll get your cat when you admit you're a girl,"
"But I'm not-!"
"Right well get your cock out and take a piss then!" The boy half shouted at her and Arya drew back from him defensively.
"I don't need to take a piss," It was a pathetic excuse, but Arya couldn't think of anything else to say.
"Of course you don't,"
The boy stared at Arya and Arya stared back. It was as though they were trying to out-stare each other, and the winner would be the one who was right. The boy was not giving up though, and Arya broke his gaze.
"Don't tell the smith," She told him.
"Don't worry, I won't," He said, smiling wider than she'd ever seen him, "What's your name?"
"Nice to meet you Arya, I'm Gendry," He gave Arya a mocking bow, his grin never faltering.
"Can I have my cat now?" She said, ignoring Gendry's gesture.
"Come and get it," He said, jumping back slightly when Arya reached out to get it.
"But you said-"
"I said come and get it," So Arya ran, the courtyard was only small, but the boy managed to escape Arya easily. She chased Gendry and the boy ran from her, the cat still in his arms. Gendry laughed and Arya growled in frustration.
"It's mine!" Arya shouted and she lunged towards the cat again. Gendry dodged and ended up behind her. Arya did not know how long she was chasing Gendry around the courtyard, but neither of them seemed to tire.
"Gendry, give me my cat," She gritted the words through her teeth. Gendry just grinned at her again, a goofy smile. The both stared at each other again, as though daring the other to make the first move.
"What's happening here?" The voice of the smith could be heard shouting out into the courtyard. Arya smiled slyly at Gendry before turning to the blacksmith. "He's got my cat," She pointed at the young smith.
"Gendry, give the boy his cat and be back to your work! I did not take you on for you just to mess about!" Gendry flinched at the smiths every word, but Arya could not find it in herself to feel guilty.
"Yes sir, sorry sir," He looked down at the floor while handing the cat to Arya.
"Thank you," Said Arya, a satisfied smile upon her face.
The cat was finally in her arms at last. He who fears losing has already lost, and Arya had certainly not feared anything.
"Goodbye sir," She nodded her head towards the blacksmith, "Gendry," Gendry smiled at her again mischievously, and just as Arya turned away to leave she heard his voice again.
"She's definitely a girl,"
Arya did not wait. She ran through the smith the way she came, and through the streets of Kings Landing. All the while she was sure she heard Gendry's distant laughter behind her, but it did not matter now. She had the cat.
"Ah, well done boy," Syrio Forel told Arya in his thick Bravosi accent. Arya had made her way straight to her dance master as soon as she had escaped the smith. She gave the squirming cat straight to her dance master, who was in deep conversation with one of the guards at the time. The guard had looked at her in shock, but Syrio had smiled at her proudly.
Now, they were both stood in the room where Arya's dancing lessons took place. "I believe you have been chasing cats long enough now," He set the cat down on the floor, where it scurried away from the girl and her dance master. Arya almost wanted to cry out, as though all her hard work had been lost, but Syrio stopped her, seeming to know what she was thinking.
"It is not the animal that matters boy, what matters is your lessons," Arya knew he was right of course, but still, she could not help but feel saddened, as though all her hard work had come to nothing.
"Now boy, put this on," Arya looked at the man to see he was holding out a black blindfold to her.
"Why?" She asked, for she could not help her curiosity at the strange task her dance master was giving her.
Syrio Forel smiled at Arya, "A waterdancer must learn to see with his ears, must learn to see with his nose and must learn to see what he feels,"
The answer did not make much sense to Arya but still she obliged. She put the mask on and felt the world black out around her. A wooden sword was thrust into her hands and Arya held it in her left, turning sideways. Syrio had told her, if she was to succeed in the waterdance, she must make herself a smaller target, and so that was what she was doing.
"Now boy, I will attempt to strike you, and you will attempt to strike me. Remember, see not with your eyes,"
Arya nodded and felt the Bravosi begin to move forward. She took quick steps backward and small steps forward. Whenever she sensed the wooden sword near her, she would dart out of the way. On hearing the dancemaster step sideways, she too would move sideways.
"Faster!" Her dancemaster commanded her and Arya begin to quicken her pace. Her dancemaster begin to drive her into various different corners of the room, but Arya would be quicker. She made small steps and light touches with her feet. Light as a feather she thought. All of a sudden, she sensed Syrio's sword above her head, she ducked and drew her sword out, hitting her dancemaster in the stomach. She stepped sideways around him and turned around to face him.
Arya took off her blindfold to see herself and her dancemaster with their swords pointed at each other.
"Good child, but tomorrow, you shall be better!" Her dancemaster turned around and Arya lowered her sword. In a flash however, Syrio was back at it. Arya did not have time to react, before her dancemaster had his sword pointed at her throat. Arya looked down at the sword wearily and then back to her dancemaster.
He smiled at her before they both chanted together, "The waterdance never ends until the opponent is dead,"
Syrio lowered his sword soon enough, just as one of the kingsguard came crashing into the room.
"Lady Stark, you must come with me immediately!"
Arya dropped out of the waterdance stance, looking from Syrio to the guard. "Why?"
"Your father," He panted, he seemed as though he'd been running to get her, what could possibly be that urgent? "He's been injured," The guard continued.
Arya looked back at Syrio Forel for reassurance. Surely, her father could not have been attacked. He always had members of Winterfell's own guards with him at all times. How could this have happened? Arya could only hope it wasn't serious.
Syrio nodded and it was all she needed before she could drop the wooden sword on the ground with a clash and follow the guard out of the room.
"What's happened?" Arya asked the guard, struggling to keep up with his fast pace. She'd never seen him before in her life, but she could only presume he was a knight of the realm. He was dressed in silver armour, a gold cloak on his back.
"I don't think I should be the one to tell you that, mi'lady," He said, never looking at her.
This did little to reassure Arya. Their feet echoed off the floors in the Red Keep, making Arya's head pound. Eventually they made it to the room her father was in. Another guard stood outside the door, looking grievous.
"What's happened?" Arya demanded once again. The guard said nothing and opened the door for her. She could not bear the thought that anything might happen to her father. She was close to her mother of course, but her father even more so. He did not question her when she said she did not want to be a lady. He did not force her to do any sewing lessons or over frivolous activities, and for that, she was more grateful than she'd ever told him.
So when the guard opened the door, her heart leapt in to her mouth. Sansa was sat next to her father's bed, her hands clasped together, eyes closed. Her father was laying in the bed, his eyes closed, but his breathing steady. "What happened?" Arya asked Sansa, her voice croaking in her throat.
Sansa looked up at Arya, her face solemn. Usually she'd have some sort of sarcastic remark for Arya, but her face softened at the sight of her younger sister. Her voice is weak, and Arya had to strain to hear it.
"He was attacked, outside the gates. Littlefinger says it was Jaime Lannister. Jory... Jory's dead Arya,"
Arya stood still, her eyes unmoving. How could Jory be dead? She'd known him since she was a little girl. It didn't seem possible!
"Oh," Words had escaped Arya and the incoherent sound was all she could make.
"They've given him milk of the poppy. They say he'll be okay in a couple of days. But... but it was close Arya,"
The shock had not yet sunk in for Arya, she didn't want to believe her father had nearly died. The thought of that ever happening was too much to think of. Her father had always been the invincible man to Arya. He'd never been hurt like this before.
"They?" Arya asked Sansa, for want of making conversation.
"The Maester Pycelle,"
Arya's mouth formed an 'O' again but not words came out. Instead, she pulled up a chair and sat on the opposite side of the bed to Sansa. The two girls said nothing else to each other and Sansa went back to praying.
It felt like the world was crashing down on Arya. If that was the right way to put it. Shock was mainly all she was feeling. Had it really only been a few short hours ago, that she was chasing the black tom cat in the forge? It seemed hard to believe. It felt like this moment had lasted forever. She wouldn't pray. She couldn't pray. She wouldn't know what to say to the gods that might make them listen. They never listen. Arya had prayed before and she'd learnt to not rely on such activities. All it did was make you hope, and for that hope to be broken down. No. She would not pray. But she couldn't leave her father. Not now. Not until he was better. And even then, she knew she'd hold him closer than ever before.
And so, the days past in a similar fashion. Sansa left their father's bedside only for short times to bring him more doses of milk of the poppy, but Arya did not move at all. The thought that she might leave, and something might happen to her father was enough to keep her sat by his bedside. Septa Mordane would ask her to leave for meals and sleep, but one glare from Arya was enough to keep her at bay. Meals were brought to her father's bedside for herself and Sansa, but neither of them could bring themselves to eat. Arya guessed that Sansa felt as she did – sick with worry.
On the sixth day of this, their father began to stir. At first his eyes began to flicker, and neither of them noticed, but then he started murmuring something they couldn't quite make out and Arya and Sansa had looked at each other urgently. Sansa stood up immediately and began shouting to the people down the hall. Arya did not care for who she was shouting for, only that her father was alive. Arya held her father's hand and she felt him squeeze hers in turn.
Soon enough, Sansa had returned with an all manner of people. Maester Pycelle was there, along with Septa Mordane and LittleFinger. At first she could not think what Lord Baelish would be doing here, until she remembered he was with her father when he was attacked.
"Lord Stark, I see you are feeling better!" Said the Maester. None of them seemed to pay any attention to Arya as her father pulled himself up. Her father smiled at the Maester.
"Thanks to you," His voice was weak but Arya was just relieved to see her father was feeling slightly better.
"Oh no Lord Stark, you have your daughters to thank! Dear Sansa was here praying for you day and night and poor Arya never left your bedside either,"
Sansa had the good grace to look sheepish, but Arya just smiled warmly at her father.
"Thank you girls," He said, taking both the sisters in his arms and kissing them each on the head, "Has Robert been told I'm awake yet?"
Arya thought Littlefinger looked hesitant for a moment, before stepping up and saying, "Lord Stark, the king is not in kingslanding. He's taken to the woods with a hunting party... Some fear he did not want to be here while you were... feeling under the weather,"
Arya looked at her father, to see a hurt flash through his face, before it was gone. "Very well, Littlefinger. When shall he be back?"
"We do not know, Lord Stark. But before he left, he demanded you fill in the role of King until he returned, if it so pleases you, my lord,"
King? Thought Arya. Her father would be acting as king. If only for a few days, but still. A king.
"I don't suppose there's any persuading Robert otherwise?" Her father did not look happy being announced temporary king.
"No, my lord," Said Littlefinger, a smile on his pointed face.
"Very well, I shall act as king until Robert it gone. But I don't want any fuss. God knows the Lannisters will be fuming,"
Lannisters? Of course, Jaime Lannister was the one who attacked her father. Arya doubted he would be too overjoyed at the prospect of the man he attacked acting as the temporary king. And Cersei? Well Arya knew Cersei well enough to know she would be furious. Arya could only hope Robert would be back soon, so the role of king could be fulfilled by the rightful person.
Hi! So I wasn't originally going to publish this so soon, but I thought, I might as well since I'm writing everyday anyway :') Anyway, this is my first Game of Thrones story, and I really hope I've done the characters justice so far. So thank you for reading :D