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Interlude

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The wind was blowing hard, carrying the icy air of the north, its howling drowning every sound around him; he stood on the beach and stared at the sea, alone, lost in his thoughts and memories. Every once in a while, his body shivering from the cold would interrupt his musings and, pulling the cloak closer to his body, he would remember the reason he was there: Winter has come. It was like a mantra at that point, something men would repeat to each other, to themselves, as encouragement, as a reminder of the war to come. To him, though, it was a reminder of how much his life had changed, and that he could never go back.

Gendry remembered the last time he had stood on that same beach: Ser Davos had freed him from the prison of Dragonstone, put him on a boat and told him to row; and so he had done, he had rowed towards King’s Landing and towards his old life. He’d never imagined he’d missed it that much; it hadn’t been exactly a happy life, but it had been a simple one: he remembered the long days spent working at the forge, alone in the heat, his only cares doing a good job and earning his next meal. But once he’d arrived in Flea Bottom, he realized his old life was gone: taking a job as a blacksmith in King’s Landing would have been too risky, so he had taken residence in one of the poorest blocks of the city and lived off of occasional jobs, always keeping a low profile; in those months, he had found himself thinking about Hot Pie and about Arya and about their days together more and more frequently.

The news arrived late and sparse in the forgotten corner of the city he had been living in, its residents more preoccupied with their day to day survival than with the squabbling of capricious lords in distant lands, yet they arrived: he had learnt about the Red Wedding, the Boltons taking Winterfell, and about the marriage between Bolton’s son and one of the Stark sisters.

I should have never left her.

He had grown more restless with each passing day, until one day he couldn’t stay anymore: he had packed his few belongings and headed to Winterfell. Travelling by foot, trying to avoid main roads and problems, he had reached Winterfell 8 weeks later. Winterfell was back under the Starks: Lord Jon Snow, Ned Stark’s bastard, had defeated the Boltons in what had been named the Battle of the Bastards; Ramsay was dead and Lord Snow and his sister Sansa were now reigning over Winterfell and the North. Arya was never mentioned in any of the reports he had heard.

Once there, Gendry had realised the pointlessness of his journey: it wasn’t like he could storm into the castle and ask the King in the North about his long-lost sister; but he couldn’t bring himself to leave either. And then Ser Davos had found him, wandering in the streets of Winterfell: he had yelled his name from across the road and quickly walked up to him with an astonished expression plastered on his face; a grin had then appeared in its place, as he had asked Gendry: “Do you believe in fate, boy?”.

Ser Davos had led him to his quarters inside the castle, without even bothering to ask him what he was doing in Winterfell; Gendry would not have been able to answer anyways.

The old man had explained to him everything he had witnessed after their last encounter, Stannis’ death, Jon Snow’s return to life, the threat of the Others beyond the wall; and he had made Gendry a proposition: to be legitimized by the King in the North and take his place as the rightful heir in Storm’s End and, in return, to be at Jon’s side during the great war to come. Gendry could have said no to Davos, but he hadn’t been able to say no to Jon Snow. Had it been out of duty or guilt or hope, or simply because his grey eyes so much reminded him of Arya’s, Gendry could not tell.

 

So here he was, in Dragonstone, Gendry Waters from Flea Bottom, now Lord Baratheon, bannerman to Jon Snow, the King in the North, as they tried to convince Daenerys Targaryen, the Mother of Dragons, to join their cause against the icemen from beyond the wall that had the power to raise the dead.

He wished the wind would engulf him and just transport him back, to days gone by.

He heard footsteps approaching from behind and he turned to see Lord Snow walking towards him carrying two ale mugs; when he reached him, he offered one of the mugs, smiling, and Gendry took it, grateful.

“Something to warm us. Drink it while there’s still something left: at this pace, Lord Tyrion will have the whole castle alcohol supply drained in a couple of days.”

The comment drew a chuckle from Gendry, who, having known the man in question for little more than one day, did not hesitate to take Snow’s words literally.

“Thank you m’l… my Lord.”

They sat down on a rock nearby, where the small cliff arising behind them would protect them from the wind, and took a few sips in silence, while Gendry avoided looking him in the eyes as he had done ever since meeting him for the first time; in the few weeks they had known each other, they hadn’t had the chance to interact much: when they weren’t on the road, they spent most of their time in war councils and meetings with other lords, and Gendry had been quite busy forging new weapons to fight the White Walkers, after Lord Snow had learnt about his abilities as a smith. Every time Gendry had found himself alone with him, always the same question resurfaced from the back of his mind, but it never passed his lips.

Lord Snow began to speak “I know it’s difficult, this new position; being raised your whole life as a bastard and then finding yourself among lords, among leaders, having to make decisions that will affect more lives than you could ever imagine. It’s not an easy thing to get used to; I still haven’t for sure.”

“No, m’lord,” Gendry interrupted him, “I don’t believe you know. You lived in a castle among highborns, you trained with them, you ate at their table. I was raised in a tavern, between drunks and whores. I never knew my father and my mother died when I was a child; before becoming an armour apprentice, I lived on whatever lords were merciful enough to give me when I begged them in the street. I’ve lived the better part of my life, feeling as though it wasn’t my own.”

Gendry’s words came out sounding harsher than intended, but he hadn’t spoken out of resentment or annoyance, he had simply spoken the truth. He glanced at Lord Snow, who seemed to be reflecting on his words, not minding their hardness.

“Aye,” he replied. “I reckon our lives have been different enough. Still, I hope you’ll believe me when I say I know what it is like to feel like you don’t belong.”

Gendry nodded, believing him; but Lord Snow had mistaken the cause of his unrest and he felt he should offer some kind of explanation, even if he didn’t know exactly how to voice it.

“It’s just this place, Dragonstone, and this wind; this bloody incessant wind, it carries echoes of the past and drowns every other thought.”

“Do you regret accepting Ser Davos’ proposition?”

It was a point-blank question and it took Gendry by surprise: since that day in Winterfell he hadn’t really had the time to think about his decision, in between the endless councils and discussions on the next course of action and his time working at the forge; often times he had felt he was out of his depth, but he had never truly questioned whether he had made the right choice.

“No, my Lord,” he replied at last. “I understand what we are fighting against: this war is far more important and bigger than matters of titles or nobility. When I accepted, I made my own choice, that’s what matters to me.”

Lord Snow smiled at him, seemingly pleased by his answer.

“Good.” he said simply, as he patted his shoulder, and turned to leave.

This time the words escaped Gendry’s lips before he even realized he was talking.

“I have to ask you something.” He paused and cleared his throat before continuing, “Have you received any news of your sister?” Gendry saw concern and puzzlement painted on Snow’s features and realized his mistake. “Not Lady Sansa,” he quickly added, “I meant Arya… Lady Arya.”

Concern morphed into wariness, but the northerner replied nonetheless.

“No.” he said quietly, his voice emotionless. “The last person to see her was Lady Brienne of Tarth: she encountered Arya and Sandor Clegane at the Bloody Gate; she defeated Clegane in duel, but Arya fled without leaving a trace. This was almost two years ago, no one has seen her ever since.”

Gendry exhaled a breath he didn’t know he was holding and closed his eyes in a silent prayer of thanks to the gods: she had escaped the Red Wedding, she hadn’t died at the Twins with her brother and her mother; but if she was free from the Hound’s captivity, why hadn’t she made her way back to Winterfell? Two years was a long time, she could have gone anywhere, she could be…

I should have never left her.

Lord Snow’s voice interrupted his galloping thoughts: “Why do you ask? You know something?” he asked, a mix of impatience and dread tied to his words.

“No, no m’lord,” Gendry replied quickly, lest he gave the other man any false hope. “I haven’t heard of any news more recent than yours. I ask because I used to know your sister, a long time ago. We were…” he paused, while searching for a word that could describe his relationship with Arya: travel companions? Friends, family? After all this time, even after discovering his ancestry, it still sounded wrong; furthermore, he wasn’t sure Lord Snow would have appreciated a lowborn smith calling himself friend with his Lady sister. “We travelled together,” he resorted to, “for a while, right after Lord Stark’s death. She was just a scrawny little girl back then, yet she managed to save my life more than once.”

Surprise painted Lord Snow’s features. “Then, my Lord, I beg of you, tell me about your time with her.” He urged him. “We never knew what was of her after my father died, where she went, what happened to her.”

And so, Gendry began his tale: he recounted his first meeting with Arya, the beginning of their journey toward the North and how she had saved him from the gold cloaks after they’d attacked them; he told Lord Snow about their days in Harrenhal, about Jaqen H’ghar and their escape and about the Brotherhood without Banners. He told him about his plan to stay with the Brotherhood and about the Red Woman.

When he finished his story, a sigh escaped Gendry’s lips and he turned to face the other man, preparing to speak those words that had been inhabiting his head for a while now and that he felt he owed to the brother of the girl who had once been his family.

“I ask for your forgiveness, my Lord.”

Lord Snow looked puzzled, but didn’t speak.

“Arya asked me to stay with her and I didn’t listen.” Gendry’s voice lowered as if he was talking to himself, and he shook his head, “I couldn’t see it then because of my stupid pride, but…”, he hesitated, trying to find better words to express his thoughts, and then resumed speaking with a clearer voice. “She looked out for me even if she had no reason to, she trusted me and, in return, I left her alone.”

Lord Snow nodded almost imperceptibly, as if to signal his understanding of Gendry’s words. “There’s nothing to forgive, my Lord” he said simply, his voice calm. “For my part, I am grateful that Arya had a friend by her side, if only for a while. And if you feel you have failed her in some way, you can ask for her forgiveness, when you see her again.”

Gendry looked at the other man; it wasn’t wishful thinking or just comforting words he had uttered; there was a composed certitude in the way Snow had spoken – as though he knew it as a truth that he would see his sister again, as though he was just waiting patiently for that day to come – such that Gendry couldn’t help but believing him. He trusted him once more, like he had trusted him before, when the King had asked the smith to follow him in this war: Arya was alive somewhere and Gendry’s path and hers would cross once more before the end.

And then, Jon Snow looked towards the sea, his eyes wandering far away as if chasing memories playing on the crests of the waves. “And may the Gods help you when you do.” He added, the shadow of a smirk resting on his lips.

Gendry cracked a half smile and raised his mug in agreement; aye, Arya Stark was not the forgiving type, but he would deal with her anger, disappointment or whatever her feelings toward him were in due course, he would welcome those feelings whatever they might be.

They finished they ale in silent and then headed back to the castle, back to their duty.

 

The work at the forge continued, the councils continued, war preparations continued and Gendry kept going as he had done until then. Only now there was a little something tucked away in the back of his brain and in the depth of his heart, that warmed him enough to give his steps renewed determination: he felt that maybe this time he wasn’t just a passenger of his own life; maybe, this time he was moving of his own accord, of his own will, and maybe, just maybe, this time he was moving toward something