Arya drew her sword and took the proper fighting stance, waiting for her opponent to follow suit. She sparred with the masked challenger, easily avoiding the assailant's blows and equally blocking her advances. They carried on like this for several minutes, the crowd around them cheering for their young leader until finally Arya saw her opening, knocked the sword out of her competitor's hand and quickly parried toward her foe with her sword at the unknown fighter's throat.
"I yield, your grace," the knight replied, hands in the air.
Arya smirked and sheathed her sword as the army cheered and the men paid their bets. She bent to retrieve her opponent's sword and handed it back. When she stood back up, she was no longer facing a masked knight, but a tall, broad woman with sharply-cut short blonde hair.
"Very well done, Brienne," Arya stated, holding out her hand to shake her guard's.
"And you, your grace," Brienne replied, taking the young queen's hand.
The war had been going on for five years, and after Robb's death, the army had chosen Arya as their new queen. While she didn't like being called such a regal title, she was glad there was an army to support her cause. She had three enemies: the Lannisters, the Freys, and the Greyjoys, and these Northern men were going to help her seek revenge on those who destroyed her family.
From the moment Arya met Brienne, she liked this unconventional woman, and the woman had taken a liking to the rough, young girl as well. When Catelyn Stark was killed, Brienne pledged her loyalty to Arya and soon became a guard, and adviser, and a trainer to the young girl, teaching her more how to handle a sword like a true knight. Today, Arya had finally surpassed her master.
As the men started to disband from the circle, there came a loud, long, bleating sound of a horn. The camp was under attack! Arya only needed to turn her head before someone appeared with her horse. She quickly jumped astride it with Brienne close behind as they raced to find more information. The men were scurrying to pick up their armor and weapons to fight their invaders.
Arya found the army's captain quickly enough and demanded information.
"There is a band of ruffians running out of the trees. They were chasing one of our scouts. They'll be here shortly, your grace."
Arya made a quick decision, "Disarm first. If they resist, then kill."
The captain nodded. "Of course, your grace." He raced off to relay the order.
"Are you sure, your grace?" Brienne asked.
"They are ruffians, not soldiers. Why kill them when they could potentially join our cause?"
The two women raced to the side of the camp where they saw a small band of men running to the camp. There, the army was set to meet them and the battled began.
The fight was over quickly; the men were crafty, but they were not skilled enough to fight a trained army. They were soon disarmed and lined up in the open field.
"Who's in charge?" the captain ordered to the imprisoned crowd. "WHO?"
A young man stepped forward.
A few soldiers grabbed the man and pulled him further out from the crowd, pushing him to his knees and forcing him to bow his head.
Moments later, Arya approached the crowd. She walked along the line of men, staring into their faces. She approached the man on the ground. "Who are you?" she demanded.
"We are the Brotherhood," the man readily replied.
"And why did you try to invade my army?"
"We weren't invading. We just wanted to steal your food and supplies."
She circled the man. He continued to look at the muddy ground. "You weren't invading? Could have fooled me, what with you rushing to my camp, chasing after one of my men."
"We were camping in the forest. We were waiting until nightfall when we would sneak in to steal your food. Your soldier just happened to find us. We were only going to capture him and question him on where to find the stuff," the man said.
"Do you have any idea whose army you just invaded?" she asked, her voice cold.
"No, nor do I care," the man replied with indifference.
Arya looked up at her men. "Would someone please enlighten this man who's camp he has infiltrated?"
Brienne stepped forward. "You have invaded the army of the North, led by the House of Stark."
The man suddenly looked up at Brienne. "Stark?"
"Yes, and you have been addressing the Queen in the North."
He looked Brienne up and down. "Don't look much like a queen."
Brienne took a step forward, drawing her sword, when Arya said, "Don't." The knight quickly re-sheathed her sword and took a step back.
"Have any of my men been killed?" he asked, returning his gaze to the ground.
Arya turned to the captain. "Captain?"
"No, your grace, but one has a minor injury. Lady Stark is working on him now."
"And what about our men?" she continued.
"Unscathed, your grace."
"Good, thank you, Captain." She walked to face the man again. "Are you content?"
"Oh, yeah, I'm the happiest man in Westeros right now," he replied sarcastically.
"You address her as 'your grace,'" Brienne called bitterly.
The man snickered. "Right, your grace," he replied.
"I have two options for you, heathen," Arya said. "You can remain our prisoners or you can join our army where you can readily have food in return for your service."
"I think we'll do prisoners. Free food without the obligation."
"Who said we feed our prisoners?" Arya retorted.
"Look, your grace," the man said, looking up. He didn't finish his sentence because he stopped short when he made eye contact with her.
Arya found herself staring into a face she thought she would never see again. While trying to keep her feelings in check, she called to Brienne. "Take him to my quarters."
"Your grace?" Brienne asked.
Without another question, Brienne grabbed the man and hauled him away.
Arya looked at the men in front of her while trying to keep her face as neutral as possible. The captain approached her. "I want these men locked away until I have spoken with their leader."
He nodded and went to fulfill her orders.
She turned and walked to her tent, trying to maintain control of herself and not break out into a run. It seemed to take forever to reach her tent, but she finally made it and saw Brienne had shoved the man onto his knees again.
"Thank you, Brienne. That'll be all," she said as calmly as possible.
Her guard looked shocked. "Your grace!"
"Make sure no one disturbs us," she finished, her eyes fixed on the man's bowed head. She watched Brienne with her eyes, waiting until she saw the rustle of the hangings as her knight left. She returned her gaze to the prisoner who had lifted his head and was staring at her. "Stand up," she ordered, making her voice as steely as possible.
He obliged, rising but never taking his eyes off her. They stood there for a few moments, taking in each other's changed appearances until he finally smiled and said, "Hello, Arry."
Her cold demeanor melted and she rushed toward him, wrapping her arms around his neck, as he grasped her tightly around the waist. They stayed like that for some time, until she could finally pull away. She fiercely brushed away the tears that had appeared in her eyes as she looked at him. "You're taller."
"So are you. But not much. You look more like a girl, though," he replied in jest.
She answered with a punch to his arm. "Why didn't you come sooner?" she asked.
"I thought you'd be back in Winterfell by now."
She shook her head. "Winterfell's gone."
"What? I hadn't heard that."
"I found my brother Robb, obviously. I just traveled with them. Until he and my mother will murdered."
"I heard about that. I'm sorry, Arry. Wait, can I still call you that?"
"I'd prefer it if you did. I really don't like being called 'your grace.' It's worse than 'my lady.'"
He laughed. "I know, milady."
She glared at him but let it slide. "I've missed you, Gendry."
"I've missed you, too, boy," he said teasingly.
She rolled her eyes and turned to a small sitting area she had. She gestured to one chair as she took another. "So tell me of your travels."
"Raping, pillaging, the like," Gendry said with a stupidly confident smirk.
"So what would you want with a small camp full of men?"
"I have noticed two women so far," he said defensively. "Three, if you count the knight."
"Brienne is a woman," Arya affirmed.
"You may say so, but we'd have to see the men's reactions."
"Are those all in your group?"
"No, we have a group of about five thousand men."
"Gods! Five thousand?"
"Yeah. How many do you have?" he asked.
"Thirty thousand. We lost ten to an awful ambush a few months ago."
"Well, you know I'll pledge to you, Arry. You can have whatever men are willing to follow."
"What happens if they don't want to join?"
"Let them go," he replied.
"I don't think my men would like that."
Gendry shrugged. "So? Aren't you the Queen or something?"
"A title I have learned to loathe."
"Then, perfect! Also, what's great is they hate the Lannisters, too. If anything this is just an easy way to get food."
"They'll have to sacrifice their lives, should it come to that."
"Are you sacrificing your life?" Gendry asked pointedly.
"Every day," she replied seriously. "Brienne has been training me for the last five years. I'm an excellent fighter now."
"Really?" She nodded. "Prove it."
"Prove it. I want to fight you. If you beat me, my men will gladly fight for you. If I win, they get to walk away."
"They? What about you?"
"Do you think I'm letting you out of my sight again? Look what happened to you when I let you get away last time!"
"At least I'm not wearing a dress," she replied.
"Seven hells, do you own one?" he asked, feigning surprise.
"Several. But I only wear them on certain occasions," she replied.
"That's something I'll have to see," he commented. "Come on, let's fight," he urged.
"What makes you think you've gotten better in the last five years?" she asked smugly.
"I'm the leader of the group, aren't I?"
He had a point, she silently conceded. But she wasn't going to let him think he was intimidating her. "If you think I'll believe it has anything to do with your swordsmanship, you're dumber than you look. And that's saying something."
"Well, how else would you explain me being their leader?" he pressed.
"You're smarter than the lot of them. You only have half a brain, but that's more than what they all have put together."
"Do you talk like that about your own men?"
"Of course not."
"Then why are you insulting my men? Especially if they become your men," Gendry reasoned.
"Because they are not my men. Yet," she pointed out.
"Fine. But I think it will look good for my men if I fight you and lose rather than simply give up."
"So you admit you'll lose."
"I'm admitting there's a possibility."
She smiled and then stood up. "Let's begin, then."
"Let's go, Bull, or are you afraid to be beaten by a girl?"
He jumped up at that. "Not a chance, Wolf."
She led the way out of the tent and found Brienne standing near the entrance. "Brienne, get this man a sword. I'm going to fight him."
"Your grace?" Brienne looked shocked.
"We have come to an arrangement. If I beat him, he and his men will join our army. If he wins, they are free."
Brienne stepped close to Arya. "Your grace, please reconsider. This is nonsense."
"It is not nonsense. I know I'm a better fighter, and I know I shall win."
"It could go either way," Gendry protested.
Arya turned to give him a look.
"I'm not going easy on you, Arry," he said.
"Good, because I'm not going to go easy on you," she replied.
Brienne looked affronted at how casually this prisoner had addressed her Queen, and that Arya did not even seem offended or outraged. "You will address her as her station commands," she ordered, defending her Queen.
"Brienne, it's all right. He's an old friend. He knew me when I was just Arry, so I'd prefer it if he continues to call me that." She looked back at her friend. "But let's just keep that to ourselves. In front of the men, we should try to keep up our appearances. It's good for morale."
"If you say so, milady," Gendry said silkily, bowing for effect.
She sighed. "You're hopeless. Let's go."
She led the way back through the crowd where her men were standing idly by, waiting for her return and her order. "Captain, please retrieve the prisoners." The captain followed orders and soon returned with the chained men.
"The leader of the Brotherhood wishes to be tried by combat. He will stand as champion for his clan, and I shall stand as champion for our army." The men protested. Several volunteered to take her place. She held up her hands. "No. This is something I must do. We will not be fighting to the death, for there is no need to go to that extreme, only until one disarms the other. If I win, the Brotherhood, should they choose to, will join our army and fight for our cause." The men started to protest, but she put her hand up again to silence them.
"We need more men, and if I have to fight to get them, then I will. But if this man can disarm me, then all his men are free to go." No one protested that. Certainly, she would not lose.
She turned to face Gendry, who had been given a sword, and pulled out her own. She turned sideface and held her sword out to prepare for battle. Gendry unsheathed his sword and tested it. "The balance is all wrong. I can't fight with an unbalanced sword. I'll surely lose," he argued.
Arya sighed. "Brienne, please donate your sword. I know for a fact that hers is impeccable and should do the trick."
Brienne reluctantly passed her beloved weapon to Gendry, who happily took it and tested it. "Oh, yes, this'll do nicely."
Instead of turning sideface, he faced her head-on, sword in front of him. With a grin and a cry, he ran toward her. She easily glided out of the way, gracefully stepping away and facing him again. He noticed early on that her movements were fluid and confident, like she was performing a dance. His choppy attacks were unrefined and unpredictable, but he could tell she could read his every move before he made them.
They fought like this for several minutes, their swords barely touching. Finally, after she saw his energy draining, she attacked. His defensive swordwork was basic, but he was strong enough to keep her at bay. As she inched closer, he engaged more of his strength, locking swords, until she was forced to use both her arms to keep her from losing her grip. He was smiling as he increased pressure on his sword, causing her to bend her knees. She saw some of her men stand at the ready out of the corner of her eye, but she was not going to let them in the fight. Instead, she lifted her foot and kicked him in the stomach, pushing him away.
Before he could recover and attack again, She collapsed on the ground and swept his legs out from under him. He fell hard on the ground, sword falling from his grasp. She kicked the sword out of the way and crouched over him, sword perched gently on his heart. "Do you yield?" she asked.
He nodded. "I yield."
The crowd cheered as she stood up and held out her hand to help him up. Once they were standing, they shook and hands and smiled at one another. The Brotherhood, however, looked displeased.
"We should have had a better fighter than you," one called out, enraged.
"Do you really think you lot could have taken her?" Gendry said to his men. "She's the best swordsman I've ever seen."
"Then you haven't seen many," a large brute said in a deep baritone.
"If you like, I can fight your other best fighter," Arya said calmly. "Or, you can be welcomed into our army where we will feed you and train you to be better fighters. The choice is yours."
"If we join your army, we'd have to fight for you," another one yelled, disgusted.
"Do you have any idea what our cause is?" she demanded.
No one spoke.
"Right, well, then, perhaps I'll tell you a little story," she announced.
And so, with the men listening intently to her, she told the story of her father's death and how that caused an uprising from her brother and the Northerners; she talked of how a family friend betrayed them and took her family home, killing innocent house members, including her little brothers, until they finally ran off, burning her home as the left; and she talked of the old, evil man who murdered her brother and mother for not upholding their end of a deal. And then she said that there was a pretender on the throne who did not even have Baratheon blood in his veins and she felt it right to remove him from that throne and allow the rightful heir to claim it.
When she was finished, she looked at the men and knew that they were no longer the Brotherhood, but members of her army. That night, they all took the vow and were given meals and a place to sleep. The rest of the Brotherhood were fetched and offered the same option. They all joined the first group of men in their new section of the camp. Gendry, however, was given his own tent, because he was an old friend and because she was already making big plans for him.