AN: This is an AU where the Lannisters caught Arya and kept her a prisoner at court.

Foolish Girls

The small, slender sword lay across Cersei's open palms. Light and sturdy. Strong, but absurdly useless. So like the defiant child who stood before the queen. Yet when Cersei ran a thumb along the blade, she struggled to repress a gasp as the sword tasted her blood.

Cersei's gaze rose to the little wolf pup. She studied the girl's long face and grey eyes. Not an ounce of shame did she find there.

"One of your bedmaids discovered this hidden in your chambers." Cersei made certain her voice remained soft and gentle. "What were you doing with such a weapon, child? You might have hurt yourself."

"No, I wouldn't," Arya insisted. "I know how to use a sword without hurting myself. I'm not stupid."

Oh, but you are.

"And who is it you do mean to hurt? Me? My son, your king?"

Arya said nothing, holding her tongue as well as the queen's gaze. Those blaring purple and fading green bruises peeking below her sleeves and surely hiding beneath that plain northern-style gown taught the child to guard her words.

"If you are found with another weapon, we may have no choice but to assume you mean to enact treason. And you saw for yourself what becomes of traitors."

The girl bristled, but remained still, as still as a coiled snake.

Cersei set the sword aside.

"In taking this away, I am doing you a kindness, though I know you shan't be clever enough to see it." Arya said nothing, only met the queen's gaze. "Your lady mother would have done well to explain this to you, but I see the task is left to me. A sword is a man's weapon, sweetling. We ladies have only tears and what's between our legs to defend ourselves with."

"I am not a lady," Arya announced. "You said so."

It was true. When Ser Meryn brought the girl to the queen after killing the dancing instructor who was silly enough to stand in his way, Cersei had declared her to be more savage than lady. Arya had screamed and cried, kicking with legs clothed in blood splattered breeches.

But she had since quieted, though her insolence remained.

What a fool she is.

Cersei's next words came out unbidden, surprising even herself. "As children, my brother Jaime and I would dress in each other's clothing and spend the day each as the other. We fooled everyone, even my lord father. Me in breeches and doublet, Jaime in a gown of green, crimson, or gold. We seemed so alike. But in truth, where it mattered, we were not alike. He was given a sword and trained in arms. I was trained to smile, curtsy, and please."

The queen's gaze fell to that slender sword finding that the old wound had scabbed over, but still remained.

"Ser Jaime wore gowns?" the Stark girl asked, grey eyes round.

Cersei started, looking up at the girl.

"Of course you would miss the point. The lesson, little dove, is that the gods played a cruel jape on us. We both of us have the hearts of warriors and the feeble bodies of women. No matter how much we long to wield swords, no matter how often we wish the gods were kind enough to make us men, we will always be nothing more than ladies."

"I don't want to be a man!" Arya cried. "I'm a girl! I will be a woman."

"You were wearing boy's breeches and carrying a wooden training sword when Ser Meryn found you."

"The breeches were made for me." She was obviously trying to keep her tone even. "And I am a girl. Not a boy or a man. That makes them girl's breeches." Cersei had thought she finished spewing her fool notions, yet she continued, the words bursting from her mouth like water from a burst damn. "And swords can be for women too. Queen Nymeria was a warrior. So was Wenda the White Fawn. Queen Rhaenys and the women of House Mormont too. Queen Visenya had Dark Sister just like I have Needle."

Needle. The sword had a name.

"Had," Cersei said. "You had Needle. Now leave me, you poor stupid girl. And don't let me find you with another weapon."

As the child left the room, the queen regarding Needle once more.

What do I get? the child she had been wanted to know when Jaime received his first sword.

"Fool girl."