A/N: This took longer than I expected. The chapter ended up originally being twice as long as this, but I decided to cut it in half and keep you all in suspense. For now, enjoy this push in the plot and the next chapter will be nice and dramatic.
"Who authorized this?" Arya asked angrily as Brienne led her to where Theon Greyjoy was being held.
"Some of our men further north spotted him at an inn. They grabbed him once he was alone," the knight explained.
Arya was enraged. She wanted to make Theon pay, but she didn't want him prisoner. She wanted to capture him in battle and honorably remove his head. This seemed underhanded and dangerous. If Balon Greyjoy found out, he would surely attack her army. Especially the small numbers holding her land in the north.
She made it to the tent where two of her soldiers had placed him. She approached the man standing outside the tent, waiting for her. "Are you the one who brought him here?" she asked without preamble.
"Yes, your grace," the soldier replied, bowing with a flourish. "Two more of my men were with me."
"And who approved this capture?"
"No one, your grace," he said, mildly surprised at her forceful tone. "We knew he was one of the men who needed to answer for his crimes against the noble Stark family, and since he was alone and in bad sorts, we thought it was a good omen and brought him to you," the proud soldier explained.
"Did anyone see you or know who you served?"
"Not that we could determine, your grace. It seemed that no one recognized Greyjoy, either. He was it bad shape, your grace. His foot…there's something wrong with it. He looked dirty and he had a full beard, as if he hadn't had a good grooming in months. We suspected that perhaps Balon Greyjoy had tossed his son aside."
"What if this was a trap? Do you have any idea what will happen if Balon Greyjoy finds out? Or if word gets out that we are the ones who have him?"
The soldier was silent. His grin had fallen into a frown and he seemed chastised. "No, your grace. We did not fully consider the consequences. But I can assure you that we took all necessary precautions to prevent our exposure."
She sighed. "Very well. I guess we will have to keep our ears to the ground and see if rumors start to spread of his disappearance."
The soldier nodded and smiled with relief. "Thank you, your grace."
"If you decide to act without specific instructions again, it'll be your head I take," she warned with a fiery glint in her eyes.
He stared at her for a few moments in fear. "Yes, your grace," he said in understanding.
"Good, now let's see him," she replied as if the previous exchange had not just occurred.
"He is still unconscious, your grace," the soldier replied. He was still frightened.
"All the better. I'd rather he not see who his captor is at the moment," Arya said.
The solider pulled back the door flap and gestured for her to proceed. She entered the dark tent and saw only a small lamp in the center of the room hanging over the prisoner and illuminating him in sharp contrast to the shadows. She looked upon the man who she once considered an honorable young man, loyal to her father and family. Now, he looked haggard, aged more than the last five years, with long, unkempt hair and a patchy beard. She was almost amused by how far he had fallen since he tried his luck with his father instead of by her brother's side.
He was on the ground, tied to a pole that someone had dug into the earth and a swatch of cloth tied around his mouth as a gag. His right eye was swollen from what she assumed was a result of his possible resistance. There was dried blood on his split, chapped lips and he looked deathly thin. She remembered him as always have a trim figure, but he seemed to be wasting away in front of her now.
Arya took one last hard look at the unconscious man in front of her and then turned to exit. As she passed by the soldier she stopped and said, "Bring him food only when you feel he needs it in order to survive. And make sure no one else tries to take their vengeance on him. I am not ready to end this just yet."
The soldier nodded. "I will do as you instruct, your grace."
She turned without another word and walked away.
Two weeks has passed, and the men were starting to get restless. They couldn't believe that Arya was letting Theon the Traitor live in their care instead of doing her duty and separating his worthless head from his poor excuse for a body.
"The men are starting to question you," Lord Karstark warned as they sat in Arya's tent during their daily council meetings. "It might be best to end this whole ordeal and move on."
"I am not satisfied that we have waited long enough for word on whether Greyjoy's abduction is known before we make any move," Arya argued.
"If the Greyjoys had heard of it, they'd be on our territory by now," Captain Glover stated. "He's not a very smart man. He would play his hand as soon as he had been dealt it."
"But that daughter of his is rather crafty. She's taken most of the western islands," Brienne added.
"Yes, we all know how much you'd like to fuck her," Lord Karstark commented roughly.
"Lord Karstark, you will do well to remember that Brienne is a lady and an equal to you in my council," Arya said coldly. "If you do not like this arrangement, I could seek my council elsewhere," she started. Lord Karstark smiled. "Perhaps you would prefer to guard Theon Greyjoy's tent instead," she finished. The smile slipped from his face as he stared at her.
Gendry smirked. Arya had always been feisty and always had a rude word to throw at those who deserved it. This Lord Karstark was definitely deserving of her quick wit and acidic tongue. The man had looked utterly shocked at her verbal assault, but quickly recovered and was now looking at her with daggers in his eyes. Gendry thought it best to assuage the oncoming argument and spoke up.
"Aren't you supposed to be meeting with a Lannister spy tomorrow?" Gendry asked.
Two days previous, Arya had received an encrypted note from Tyrion Lannister asking for a secret meeting with one of his loyal men. They agreed upon the time and place: an inn off the Kingsroad in the early evening where they wouldn't be bothered. Arya had planned to take Captain Glover and Gendry with her to the arranged meeting. They were to head out the following dawn.
"Yes. I don't know what information they need to pass on in person, but it must be important. Perhaps there has been word of Theon's kidnapping after all," Arya replied.
"Or perhaps it is an ambush and they will kidnap, rape, and kill you," Lord Karstark replied rudely.
Brienne stood up abruptly, her sword still singing from being pulled from its scabbard and pointing directly at Lord Karstark's throat. "How dare you address the queen in that manner," she said loyally.
"Lord Karstark, are you starting to question my leadership as well?" Arya asked calmly.
He looked at his queen, then back up at the giant woman who was holding him hostage. "Robb Stark wouldn't have hesitated to behead that traitor," he said gruffly.
"My brother Robb would have understood the difference between a rightful death and a back-alley murder," Arya replied.
The old man looked at her, not saying a word. He knew he was trading on thin ice and he was wise enough to shut his mouth before he would regret it.
"I think we've had our fun today," Gendry said, sensing the tense atmosphere in the tent.
"Yes, let's adjourn until tomorrow. I will tell you all of my meeting with the Lannister spy when I return," Arya said as she watched her council stand up and prepare to exit. She watched Lord Karstark trail the other three members. As he passed by her she said, "You were wise to stop when you did. Next time you speak in that disrespectful manner, I'll have your tongue."
Arya and Gendry were riding in tandem on the wide trail in the forest. Captain Glover was riding a few paces behind them, his eyes and ears alert for any movement amongst the trees. They were staying as far off the Kingsroad as possible without losing it completely. It was their only marker to find this hidden inn.
"You were out of sorts yesterday," Gendry remarked as they cantered along.
"I know. I've never liked Karstark and I didn't like the way he was speaking to me. This whole being a queen thing is really daunting," she replied.
"And here I thought you weren't lady-like enough. You are a queen whether you think so or not."
"I'm stubborn and angry all the time. That doesn't make one a good queen," she remarked.
"What does make you a good queen is that you're just as good at running an army as your brother was known to be and you care about your men. They're too stupid to figure it out but you're trying to protect them. I know that's why you haven't killed Greyjoy yet," Gendry replied.
She hid a smirk beneath the layers of her cloak. Winter had arrived and every man in her army had searched high and low for enough furs to keep them warm in their tents and on the battlefield. She was wearing layers of breeches and shirts, armor, and at least three cloaks. She wasn't that cold, she was a Northerner, but her handmaids had insisted she wear the many articles of clothing. She would have to thank them since her feet were currently warmer than they would have been if she hadn't been coerced into applying three pairs of stockings rather than the one.
She snuck a quick glance at her travelling companion. He seemed to be just as bundled up as she was as he looked bulkier than he normally did. Clouds of warm air were billowing from beneath his hood as they trotted through the forest. He was a Southerner, so he was probably feeling the chill more than she, but he was doing well to hide it.
"Do you think I'm making the right decision?" she asked quietly.
He looked over at her and gave her a long look. She thought she would have to repeat herself when he said, "You are always thinking about others. Remember when you had the opportunity to escape from Harrenhal? What did you do? You came for Hot Pie and me. Why?"
"Because I couldn't make it out there alone," she replied.
"Because you didn't want to leave us there. You couldn't save all the boys, but you saved us. We weren't much help on the road, if you recall. You would have done just as well on your own, maybe better, but you took us with you and you didn't take no for an answer we thought about staying. And what did we hear when we met with the Brotherhood? Everyone at Harrenhal had been killed. You saved our lives, Arry. You may not know it, but you're a born leader and you certainly think things through before acting," he said.
They were silent for a few beats, then Arya said, "You didn't answer my question, stupid."
Gendry laughed. "You can't ask for my opinion because I'll always follow you," he concluded.
Arya felt a warm feeling surge through her core. She knew he was loyal to her, but his statement proved that he would always pledge to her and stand by her side. He was one of the few she knew she could fully trust. He would never betray her, and she, likewise, would never do anything to betray his trust.
They arrived at the inn with no incident. Arya looked at the sky and noticed the sun starting to set. They were just in time. She pulled her hood further over her face and led the way into the inn. The tables weren't all full, but there were enough men that her meeting wouldn't raise suspicion. She glanced from table to table, looking for someone sitting alone, or rather someone who was not deeply engaged in conversation with others.
In the back corner, she spotted three cloaked figures sitting on a bench facing the door. As she approached, she noticed that the man in the middle was remarkably shorter than the other two. She smiled to herself. "I think we have a child spy," she said cheekily.
"And a child queen, how remarkable," a voice from the small hooded figure replied.
She sat across from her brother-in-law and glanced up from underneath her cloak. "I thought you were sending one of your men," she said.
"I am the one man I trust the most with all my secrets," Tyrion replied.
"And yet you have your bodyguards," she said, implying the two extra figures.
"An arm and a footstool," he commented. He slightly turned his head. "Go play," he directed to them.
The two men stood up and walked over to two of the whores standing near the windows. Tyrion looked up slightly from his hood to look at her men. "And what of yours?"
With her eyes still locked on his visible, disfigured face, she said, "Go get some food, boys."
With slight hesitation, Captain Glover and Gendry left Arya alone with the half man. "You have been a very busy girl," Tyrion started without preamble, placing his short arms on the table and interlacing his stubby fingers together.
"Do tell me of your fascinating stories," Arya said. She knew early on that it was best to let Tyrion do the talking and to ask questions or supply information only when necessary. This was their third meeting and they had managed to keep these conferences hidden from the wrong people.
"Well there are the obvious ones you know about, as you are in charge of your army. Moving ever so slowly down the western shores of the realm, claiming whatever stronghold you can get your hands on. There's one little rumor that tickled my ear not too long ago that I think you will enjoy immensely," he said.
Arya raised an eyebrow displaying mild interest. "Oh? And what is that?"
"Theon Greyjoy of the Iron Islands—I'm sorry, you must already know him, of course—has been missing for some time; some say abandoned by his father, others claim he was the one to abdicate, but the story of the day is he has been kidnapped," Tyrion shared.
"Leave it to you to weave a boring tale into an exciting adventure," Arya said with a smirk.
"Oh, the story gets better. It seems the kidnapper is none other than the daughter of the house Greyjoy destroyed. What is your response to this?" he asked with a glint in his eye.
"I cannot possibly think why your storytellers would suddenly include me in this story. I've been focused on raising troops to go after Joffrey. Theon Greyjoy is an afterthought. He is a bug that will continue to survive throughout this war only to be squashed when everything seems right again. Perhaps the Brotherhood without Banners took him," Arya stated.
"Interestingly, the Brotherhood has seemed to have disappeared as well," Tyrion commented.
"How strange. Maybe they are in hiding or are out of even your reach," she replied.
"That is always a possibility, but they are a large number. It's a wonder that their numbers should have diminished when yours have grown by a curiously similar amount."
She smiled. "I guess coincidences are everywhere."
Tyrion nodded in understanding. She knew very well that he could see right through her lies, even if she was much better at it than Sansa ever was. What she needed to know now was whether this news was commonplace.
"I wonder, is this version of Greyjoy's story a popular twist amongst the people now?" Arya asked as innocuously as possible.
The small man smiled at her veiled attempt at innocence. "Not yet, and I don't think it will be. Perhaps the Lannisters at Casterly Rock have seen him begging for amnesty only to be turned away into the cold and to certain death. Perhaps your version is the truth and he has been captured by the mysterious Brotherhood. Perhaps he will not survive the war as you believe he will," he replied.
"Perhaps not," she agreed.
She silently thanked the Gods for Tyrion's offer to help ward off attention to her army. Now she could safely deal with Theon when she returned to camp. If the men hadn't taken care of him already.
"Now for my most fascinating news," he said, leaning over the table to get closer to his coconspirator.
She glanced around to make sure no one was watching them. Tyrion's men were currently enjoying the company of the whores by the windows, engaging in touching and kissing and certain activities she had never before seen in her life. Gendry and Captain Glover were at a table close by, eating some food but keeping a close watch on the room. She leaned closer to her brother and waited for him to speak.
"Daenerys Targaryen is coming home to Westeros." Arya's eyes widened. "With an army of twenty thousand and three dragons." Her mouth dropped open as she looked at the dwarf in shock.
"That's just a rumor, right?"
Tyrion shrugged. "Some say it is, but I have heard stories from Essos and it seems she has a ship or two and is heading home to take back her throne. There are some who would view this as a golden opportunity."
"How so?" she asked curiously.
"A win on the throne and someone to put there. I would think the first army to offer their allegiance will be a lucky band of fighters indeed, especially if their leader has no desire to sit on the Iron Throne," he continued. "She is said to make port within the next two weeks. If I had an army, I would be composing my letter right this very moment. As it is, I'm very content with my life at the moment and have no desire to be entering any race for the Throne."
She smiled and leaned back. Their meeting as over. She had much to think about, but first she needed to know about her sister. "How is she?"
Tyrion smiled crookedly. "She's getting larger by the day. I swear this infant will be bigger than me when it comes out."
Arya chuckled. "I wish I could see her."
"If what I have heard is true, you may be seeing her sooner than you think. Maybe we can have this whole mess straightened out by the time she gives birth. Wouldn't that be wonderful?"
"I will try my best, brother," Arya said kindly.
Tyrion looked as if she had given him the best gift in the world. "You know, I should have married into the Stark family years ago. You lot all love me better than my entire family ever did."
Arya's hand snaked out from beneath her cloak and seized Tyrion's tiny hand. "You have done more for my family than others have done in generations. I will be proud to one day fully acknowledge you as my brother."
Tyrion squeezed Arya's hand. "You are a sweet girl. Equally as sweet as your sister at your age, but you have seen so much more. I hope you do not have to see all the horrors of war."
"I will never be as innocent as my sister," Arya said regretfully.
Tyrion gave her a questioning look but did not question her. Instead, he looked over at his men who were still playing with the whores and whistled at them. The two men looked up and sadly removed the women from their laps. After a few parting kisses and coins were exchanged, the men approached Tyrion and waited for him. He stood up and went around the table to where Arya sat. "Until we meet again," he said. Then he turned and led the way out of the inn on his gnarled legs.
Arya sat for a few moments staring at the table and processing the information that had been passed to her before she felt a weight shift on her bench. She looked up and saw Gendry sitting next to her and Captain Glover filling the spot Tyrion had just occupied. She smiled at her companions. "Let's go home," she said.