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Finding Home In Foreign Lands

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A hand on her upturned shoulder pulled her from a dreamless sleep. With a grunt, she instinctively tried to roll away, keeping her eyes closed against the early morning sunlight. “Late night last night?” a soft voice asked from near her head. The warm hand wandered from her shoulder down her scarred arm, stopping just before her wrist.

“I got into some mead with some of the men,” she explained, her eyes still closed tightly. “You were asleep when I came in.”

“It’s been that way every night for nearly two weeks, Arya. I fall asleep and you aren’t here, and I wake up in the morning to find you hungover on the floor.”

Finally, she cracked an eye and gazed up at her Queen. She’d had more than seven years to get used to the Khaleesi’s beauty, but it still managed to take her breath away at least once a day. Daenerys was wearing brown leather riding pants, and a small strip of white fabric to cover her breasts. This left her shoulders and her stomach exposed, giving a sinful preview of the soft-looking skin. Her long hair was pulled back in a tight braid and her free hand rested on her hip, in a stance that left no doubt to how she was feeling. “I didn’t think you were paying attention,” she grumbled before she sat up and swiped at the sleep in the corner of her eye.

“Of course I’m paying attention, why would you think that?”

Thankfully, before she had to answer Missandei stuck her head in the tent. She looked away when she noticed Arya was naked, and spoke quickly, keeping her eyes down. “Khaleesi, they want to know if they should begin moving out.”

“Arya’s not quite ready,” Daenerys said with an indulgent smile. “Tell the men we’ll be leaving shortly.”

“Of course,” Missandei agreed, before she disappeared.

When they were alone again, Arya spoke. “You don’t need to wait for me. I can catch up.” She got up from where she’d slept on the floor and made her way to a small table that held a bucket of clean water. With her back to the Khaleesi she began washing herself. “Where are we going today?”

“It’s not my choice,” Daenerys reminded pointedly. “You’re the Khal.”

“Don’t call me that,” she snapped. “You know I’m not.”

“You are,” Daenerys amended. She walked up and put a hand on Arya’s shoulder, this time much closer to her neck. The warmth of the touch, the so-called Dragon’s blood heated her like an unforgiving sun and still she felt her body trembling as if she were caught unprepared by a Northern wind. “They follow you Arya, they respect you.”

“That’s fine,” Arya said as she shrugged out from under Daenerys’s hand, moving to the bag where she kept her clothes. “I’ll do my part, but I have no interest in ruling, so that’s up to you.” As she pulled pants up over her hips she looked over her shoulder. “So which direction are we marching Khaleesi?” With a weary grunt she leaned backward, stretching her sore muscles. She felt some relief but not nearly enough, sleeping on the floor had its disadvantages.

“You could use the bed you know.”

Arya sighed. They’d had this particular conversation dozens of times over the past two years, and it always ended the same way, with Arya annoyed and Daenerys angry. “You know I won’t.”

“What if one of the men had come in last night and seen you on the floor. They’d know the truth. What would you do then?”

The answer was out of her mouth before she could stop it. “I’d kill him to keep the secret and then go back to sleep on the floor.”

With a groan of frustration, she threw up her hands. “Arya be reasonable, you can’t sleep on the floor forever.”

“Which direction will we be going today?” she asked, desperate to change the subject.

It was quiet for a few moments and Arya quickly laced up her boots, while Daenerys thought of an answer. “The horses we got on your last raid are helpful, but we need weapons and for that we need to go toward the Free Cities.”

Still topless Arya turned around. “Alright then, I’ll tell the men to start moving out.” The shirt clutched in her fist was forgotten, as she made her way toward the entrance of the tent.

“You should probably put your shirt on first,” Daenerys suggested.

She scoffed and glanced behind her. “They wouldn’t care and you know it.”

“They might not,” Daenerys said as she brushed past Arya on her way to the exit, “but I definitely would.”

R-C

“Rough morning?” Missandei asked, speaking in the common tongue, an attempt to keep their conversation relatively private. Aside from Ser Jorah and Arya, her army knew little more than the occasional word or phrase. She looked around for Arya, and saw her several rows back in conversation with the Blood Riders. “She’s just so difficult sometimes,” Daenerys confessed to her friend.

“Has she always been like this?” Missandei asked curiously.

“For as long as I’ve known her. It’s like there is this anger that is waiting just below the surface for any excuse to come out.”

“How long ago was that Khaleesi, since you met Arya I mean?”

She thought back, counting in her mind. “Six… no seven years now. She was just a girl then, but she impressed the Khal, right from the start.”

“How so?”

Daenerys chuckled darkly. “By stabbing one of his best men in the ear with his own knife. After that he called her ‘Little Warrior,’ and began letting her train with the Blood Riders.”

Missandei laughed. “Truly? Did you know her?”

“Not at all, she was just another slave captured by the men during a raid. They brought her back to camp and before I could stop them one of the men was trying to rape her. Malnourished and weak as she was, she waited until he got close and while he was busy with his pants, she pulled his knife off his belt and buried it in his head.”

A hand reached up to cover her mouth as she gasped. Daenerys chuckled at the memory. “The Khal laughed and declared she was brave and strong. He promised no one would hurt her and no one did, not while he was alive.”

“He sounds like an impressive man,” Missandei said carefully. “I’m sorry I never got to meet him, and I’m sorry for your loss.”

Daenerys smiled at her friend. “Thank you, but it’s been two years. I still think about them every day, my husband and my son, but life moves on and I need to move with it. Life is for the living, I don’t intend to waste it.”

Lowering her voice to barely more than a whisper, she shifted her words to High Valyrian, a language no one outside the two women understood. “Is she still sleeping on the floor?”

Daenerys groaned, inadvertently pulling on the reins and forcing her horse to slow. “Every night,” she confessed. “She refuses to even consider using the bed.”

“She’s stubborn,” Missandei pointed out at her normal volume.

“Yes, but so am I.”

They laughed together until Arya came to a stop alongside Daenerys. She looked at the Khaleesi and smiled. “Talking about me again ladies?”

Daenerys scoffed. “That’s remarkably presumptuous.”

“The only time you two whisper in High Valyrian is when you want to talk about something private…”

“We can talk about many private things that don’t include you,” Daenerys said, doing her best to hide her smile behind a fake scowl.

“I should hope so,” Arya said, squeezing her thighs and forcing the horse to move on ahead of the khalasar. “If you talked about only me, I would insist we find you a hobby, urgently.”

She couldn’t help it, she laughed along with Missandei as Arya’s horse got further and further away. “Where are you going?” Daenerys yelled in the common tongue.

“To hunt your dinner Khaleesi,” she shouted, never bothering to look back.

The last Targaryen shook her head. “See what I mean, stubborn.”

R-C

She laid perfectly still in the grass and waited impatiently for something to approach. A handmade bow waited in the in front of her, and a quiver of arrows was strapped to her back. While she waited she looked down at her bare arm. Long gone was the pale skin of a Northern girl, replaced instead by a tan so deep she doubted it would ever fade. Scars marked her entire body, evidence of her violent path. Rarely a week went by where she wasn’t wounded by something, whether it be on a raid or when she was training with the men. She didn’t mind, in truth she often forgot they were there until she saw someone staring.

It was hard to believe. It had been eight years since a pathetic, crying girl had been exiled across the sea. Then, she’d been a child, entirely helpless and unable to protect herself. Things were different now, now she rode at the head of a mighty khalasar. Now when she swung a blade it wasn’t with mindless rage but expert precision. After a year in King’s Landing with Syrio, learning the Water Dance, she crossed the sea and learned a whole other dance from the Khal.

A grazing group of three female deer wandered toward her and she reached for the bow. Keeping as quiet as she could she retrieved an arrow and readied it. When it happened, it was fast. With practiced, fluid movements she popped up onto one knee and took aim. The deer turned its head in her direction and she released the arrow. It hit its mark, piercing the doe’s neck. The others sensed the danger and prepared to disappear, but Arya wasn’t done. She’d come out to hunt for Daenerys, but she wasn’t opposed to feeding more of the khalasar. Her arrow caught the second deer in the right rear. It collapsed, its legs unsteady. Arya rushed toward the spot where it fell, drawing a dagger as she went. Kneeling beside the animal she pressed down to keep it from struggling and plunged her dagger down into the side of her neck.

The ride to the spot where Daenerys set camp took longer than she would have liked. Weighted down by the deer made it nearly impossible for her horse to go faster than a gallop. When she arrived, she dismounted and instructed the men to begin preparing dinner. They went to work at once, eager to fulfill her orders. She made her way to the highest point in the camp, where she knew Daenerys would set up their tent.

Inside, she went straight for the table where the bucket of water waited. Before her bloody hands hit the clear liquid, she heard a familiar voice. “Enjoy your leisurely ride?”

“I did, but I doubt the deer feel the same,” she said, lowering her hands and turning her head to see Daenerys was sitting, reading by candlelight.

“You know, if you keep this up I’ll start to think you’re far less concerned with my dinner than you are with getting blood on your hands… anyone’s blood.”

There was probably more truth to that than she cared to admit. “There are worse ways to pass the time Daenerys,” she teased, as she scrubbed the deer blood from between her fingers. After a moment she asked, “What are you reading?”

Daenerys closed the book slightly so she could read the cover. “Histories of the Seven Kingdoms,” she answered opening the book completely again and continuing where she left off.

“You shouldn’t read that crap,” Arya said as she finished cleaning her hands. “It’s likely all wrong anyway.”

“It can’t all be lies.”

She took a step closer. “There are seven kingdoms Daenerys, seven kingdoms and seven hells, it’s not a coincidence. They had to make sure there was room for everybody.”

Daenerys laughed and closed her book. She rose from the chair. “That’s not fair, you told me your life in Winterfell wasn’t all bad.”

“No, Winterfell wasn’t all bad,” she conceded, “but King’s Landing is a different story. That place was nothing but a nest of vipers in disguise.”

“You don’t talk about it much, your life before.”

“There isn’t much to say,” Arya assured her. “It was a long time ago and much of it, I’ve forgotten.”

“I doubt that,” Daenerys challenged. “You still remember what Lys gave us as tribute four years back. I suspect you remember far more of your childhood than you’d like to admit.”

“It isn’t important Daenerys. I’m here now and I’m never going back. I can’t go back.”

Daenerys stepped forward, reaching out and wrapping her arms around the younger woman. “You can talk to me, you know. You’ve never told me what happened. I know you were in King’s Landing, but you always skip over the part about why you were exiled.”

Uncomfortable with the topic she pulled herself out of Daenerys’s warm arms, and took a step back to put space between them. “You’ve never told me why you were exiled either,” Arya reminded her, although there wasn’t a child anywhere in the Seven Kingdoms who didn’t already know the story by heart.

“I was born, apparently that was enough.”

“Well King Robert had his reasons. I wasn’t always the well-behaved woman you’ve come to know,” Arya said, hoping to lighten the mood and steer the conversation elsewhere.

Daenerys laughed. “Unbelievable.”

She smiled. “Our dinner is probably ready, let me go check.”

“Arya…” Daenerys called after her. Keeping her strides even, she kept on going.

R-C

They were waiting when the khalasar got close, blocking the route to the Free Cities further West. The horde was almost twice the size of Daenerys and Arya’s significant army.

The casual conversation between Missandei and Daenerys stopped when they saw the line of cavalry blocking the way. Arya and Jorah who had been riding further back, hurried to the front of the formation. “What would you have us do Khaleesi?” Jorah asked.

Rather than respond Daenerys looked to Arya. “We can’t run, can we?” she asked, her tone making it obvious she already knew the answer.

“No, we can’t.”

“And we can’t fight,” she continued.

“We could fight,” Arya disagreed, “but many would die, too many.”

With a resigned look on her face the Queen shook her head. “Is there no other way?”

“No good ones.”

“It doesn’t always have to be you,” Daenerys said forcefully.

She smiled kindly. “You say they respect me, that they follow me, if that’s true, you know it has to be me.”

With three sets of eyes watching her intently she checked her weapons, clearing them of dust and dirt from their travels. Before she left, she lingered in front of the old knight’s horse. “If I fall, get them out of here,” she said, as her right hand gestured to Daenerys and Missandei. “Even if it costs of us every man. Make sure they get away.”

She and Jorah didn’t like one another, they never had. They rarely saw things the same way, but there was one topic where she could rely on him, one matter where she and he could finally agree – Daenerys’s safety. Although she had an army of Dothraki warriors behind her, all willing to die for her, Arya knew Jorah was the right man to entrust with the job. His love for the Khaleesi made him willing to sacrifice everything for Daenerys, just as Arya would.

“Arya…”

“I’ll see you soon,” she said, hoping it was true. She caught Missandei’s sombre expression as she turned her horse and she knew that the others understood what she did, her luck couldn’t go on forever. In the two years since the Khal died, she’d fought to protect Daenerys and their khalasar sixteen times. Sixteen bloody fights to the death, against bigger, stronger men. She won them all, but her body was a map of scars and other damage, evidence of the cost.

When they noticed her coming alone, the Khal of the other khalasar and his three Blood Riders rode out to greet her. “They send a foreign whore,” the Khal said to the man on his left, “she’ll make a fine slave.”

“You’ll have to kill me first,” she said, speaking to them in their own language, and surprising them with her understanding.

Four sets of dark eyes narrowed. “What is this? Why send you? Tell the white whore if she surrenders we will let her live.”

“You should be far more worried about me. I am the Khal of this khalasar, my name is Arya. Who are you?”

“Khal Ryn,” he answered. “You are not Dothraki. You can not be Khal.”

“Then I should be easy to kill,” she said as she jumped down from her horse. “Take your men and go.”

All four of them laughed. “The girl thinks she’s scary.”

“Yep, I’m just a weak little girl, a foreigner, not Dothraki, so I should be no match for you.” Her grey eyes stared defiantly at the other Khal. “I challenge you.”

There was more laughter, but this time from only three. The Blood Riders saw the humor in the situation, but Khal Ryn did not. Furious at her words he dismounted his horse and followed as Arya backed up. She led them into an opening, where they could fight without interference.

“When you’re dead, I’m going to fuck her, then kill her,” he promised wickedly as he drew his arakh.

Across from him Arya did the same. “When you’re dead, I’m going to remove your head and stick it on a spike!” He reminded her of Drogo, if not in temperament, then in build and size. She knew from the lessons Drogo gifted her with that her only hope of surviving an opponent so strong was to move quick and end the fight before it could linger. The longer it went on, the more likely she was to be overcome by his long arms, or his powerful swings.

She stayed perfectly still as he approached like a racing bull. She waited until his arakh was in the air and then she rolled under it. Arya only meant the dodge as a way to calculate the speed of his strikes, but the result was one she hadn’t anticipated. From sheer force alone Ryn had pushed his arakh several inches into the ground. Instead of retrieving it, he abandoned the curved weapon with an enraged cry and drew the sword off his back.

In her mind, she heard Syrio Forel, her first dancing instructor, “An angry opponent is easy to defeat, you need only stand back and wait.”

Choosing to trust her former mentor, she kept still again, until Ryn was swinging his sword, then she slipped to the side. This time she swung her arakh and the steel clashed. With another roar Ryn took hold of her weapon by the blade, cutting into his own palm deeply as he gripped it and used it to throw Arya off to the left.

She hit the ground with a thud, her back landing against an unforgiving, jagged rock. Groaning in pain she rolled away and curled up in an admittedly feeble attempt to protect her vital body parts. In the toss, her arakh skidded along the ground and out of reach. Coughing wildly as she struggled to refill her lungs she was aware of approaching danger. Even unable to breathe, with tears in her eyes and pain racing through her, she knew she was in peril.

The whooshing sound gave it away. She rolled from where she sensed the strike was coming, and although she missed the brunt of it, a new gash split her under her left shoulder, extending to the back of her arm. While Ryn readied his sword for another attempt, Arya managed to get back to her feet.

Their blades met and each time Arya felt weaker and weaker. Just as Drogo promised, she couldn’t hope to fight off Ryn for much longer. She needed to be smart. After a particularly undisciplined swing of her sword, she walked right into a kick.

She fell back, but luckily her sword landed next to her this time. She hurried back to her feet before Ryn could capitalize, barely ducking under a swipe of his blade. Her next swing was on route to cut into the side of his neck. Just as he’d done with her arakh, Ryn used his bare hand to still her weapon. This time Arya was prepared. The moment he had hold of it, she let it go. That one decision froze Ryn in place and Arya pounced like the wolf she had once been. Ducking under his arm, she came to a stop behind his back. Before he could turn she lashed out, hitting her target in the back of his knee. The big man was already sinking before she slammed her knee into his spine, and her fist against his temple. When he was nearly flat, face down in the dirt she mounted him like a stallion and wrapped her legs around his waist. Squeezing with her thighs, she snaked her arm under his chin and using her forearm cut off his air.

When his body was limp, she gripped his long hair and twisted violently. The sound of his neck breaking echoed all around them. Untangling herself with the man who meant to kill her, she stood and tested her abilities against the new damage. Her back and arm burned, but a quick glance made it clear her wounds weren’t deep. She’d long ago gotten good at assessing her injuries and this time, she didn’t expect there to be any long-term effects.

Approaching horses brought Daenerys, Missandei, Jorah and Harbin, one of her Blood Riders, to where she was searching the grass for her arakh. “Arya are you alright?” Daenerys asked, her concern evident.

When she found it, she walked past the foursome of her friends and returned back to where Ryn had died. With a fluid stroke, she severed his head from his shoulders. Once that was done, she faced the enemy khalasar and as Ryn’s blood coated her entire lower arm, she held it high in the air. While they watched, she cut his braid, shaming him.

Looking over her shoulder she met Jorah’s eye. “Go and find Kelo, tell him I want a spike, as tall as a tree.”

The Westerosi scoffed. “Enjoying being King?” he mocked. “You might have the others fooled, but I know the truth and I don’t answer to you.”

“Please Ser,” Daenerys said, hoping to avoid conflict. He gave her a long look, and then with a huff led his horse off in the direction of where Kelo was positioned.

“Are you alright?” Daenerys tried to ask again. Her eyes kept glancing at the growing pool of blood forming around her feet.

“I’m fine Daenerys,” she said seriously. When the Khaleesi didn’t seem convinced she tried another strategy. “Trust me, I’ve done worse training.”

Daenerys rolled her eyes. “I don’t doubt that. I seem to recall having to bring you back from the brink of death several times because of your so-called training.”

“One time,” she said, working to keep her face even.

The ladies laughed before Daenerys countered. “Once my arse. It happened three times the first year she was with us alone.”

The next time Arya glanced at Missandei the former slave gave her a look that demanded confirmation. She only shrugged, causing a flash of pain in her arm. “What do you want to do with them?” Arya asked, using her bloody arakh to point to the enemy khalasar.

“Same as last time, join us or go,” Daenerys answered, leaving plenty of room for Arya to object if she disagreed.

The Northern girl nodded. “I’ll take care of it.”

“You aren’t going alone,” Daenerys decided suddenly. “I don’t trust them.” Arya was waving her hand over her head, calling for not only the two remaining Blood Riders but also her horse.

“I won’t be alone, but it’s not safe Daenerys. You and Missandei stay back, I’ll deal with them.”

“I’m going!”

“It might not be safe.”

“You’ll keep me safe,” Daenerys said as the others arrived.

With their conversation effectively over, Arya climbed atop her midnight colored stallion and led the group toward the spot where Ryn’s Blood Riders waited. When she reached them, she raised her voice as loud as she could and yelled, “Your Khal is dead! Any brave warriors who want a place in my khalasar are welcome. If you do not wish to fight for me, take your horse and go, but ensure this is the last time I ever see you.”

“You are not Dothraki,” the eldest of the Blood Riders helpfully noticed.

“No? I killed your Khal, perhaps I am more Dothraki than you.”

At the insult, he reared his horse back and shouted as he leapt in her direction. He struck Arya hard, knocking her right out of the saddle. As soon as she realized what had happened she was franticly trying to reach her feet. Her back wound bled more intently, although she tried not to notice. All around her, her men were holding bows, aimed at the Blood Rider who’d attacked. “Protect the Khaleesi,” she shouted as she drew her arakh for the second time that day.

“Arya no!” Daenerys cried as she was surrounded by horses and fighters.

She stood arakh in hand, ready to kill again. “Are you a better fighter than your Khal was?” she asked him bluntly. “I killed him, do you really think you can defeat me where he failed?” She almost missed it, the tiny flicker of hesitation in his dark eyes. It was damn near euphoric. The Blood Rider’s hand hovered near his arakh but made no attempt to pull it free. In fact, as the seconds passed, his hand moved further away, not closer to the handle. “Challenge me, or I’ll challenge you.”

“No,” he said in the common tongue. “No.”

“Challenge me!” she commanded.

“No.”

“I challenge you,” she said, stepping back to the area where Ryn died.

Unlike the last fight, she was certain this one would be quick. There was nothing less threatening than a man who didn’t want to be in the battle he found himself involved in. She’d shaken the Blood Riders confidence and that would make him an easy foe to dispose of.

He took three half-meaning swats before he left himself exposed. She cleaved his torso in two in response and more blood colored the scenery. Just as she’d done with Ryn, she removed first the head and then the hair. After another gruesome display from a rival Khal, many of Ryn’s khalasar had seen enough. They began crossing the field, going to join their new family.

On horseback again, Arya galloped to the spot where Kelo had positioned the stake. Ryn’s head sat in front of her in the saddle, and the Blood Rider’s in her right hand, she smiled to her friend. “Boring day?” he joked as he took the Blood Rider’s head from her.

“Very boring,” she assured him as she climbed down from her horse and immediately began working her way up the spike. At the top, she positioned Ryn’s head, letting it sink down until it was grimly situated several inches below the sharp end.

Back on flat ground she found Daenerys waiting for her. “Can I tend to your wounds, or are you still not finished?”

“Finished?”

“With your macabre artwork.” Violet eyes turned to the spike that now housed a head and although she didn’t look away, she was openly repulsed. “Was that truly necessary?”

“Yes,” she answered in an instant.

“Why?” Daenerys wondered.

“Because I told him I would and I’m a woman of my word.”

Daenerys looked at her feet for a moment and slowly shook her head. “You told him you were going to put his head on a stick? What did he say to you?”

“Nothing of consequence Khaleesi, I assure you.”

R-C

She sat in a tub of murky, red water and tried to think of a reason not to have to get out. She’d originally gotten in to clean her wounds, but that was done and now all she had to look forward to was stitching them closed.

Before she could convince herself to move Daenerys entered their tent. In her hand she held thread, a needle and a new candle. Moving the bucket of water off the table and setting it on the floor she dragged the table to a spot at the foot of the bed. “When you’re done I’ll sew everything back into its original place.”

“Very kind, but I’ll nothing, I promise.”

“You are capable of a great many things Arya Stark, but stitching a wound on your own back is not one of them. You’ll need help…”

“I’m sure Missandei would help, or one of the Blood Riders, such work is beneath a Khaleesi.”

“As I’m sure hunting my dinner is beneath a Khal,” she tested.

“I’m no Khal, and you of all people should know that since you’re the one who has to really rule these people.”

She shook her head first, and the words followed. “It wasn’t me and my skills as a ruler that saved our lives and the lives of our people today. It was you.”

“I just did the same as I’ve always done, protected you. That’s my only part in this. I only act like a Khal to keep you safe.”

“Well you do your job well,” Daenerys said with a fond-looking smile. “Now get out of the tub before you bleed to death, who would protect me then?”

R-C

When the wound was closed and the candle half its original size, Daenerys set her tools aside and gently pulled Arya down onto her uninjured arm. She immediately felt the younger woman tensing, attempting to sit up, but Daenerys kept hold of her. “Arya, relax. Just lay with me for a few minutes.”

“I should…”

She didn’t know what Arya intended to say, but no matter what it was, she didn’t want to hear it. “It can wait.”

In an effort to calm her uneasy friend she reached up and untied the thin bands holding her braided hair together. It took several minutes but she dismantled the braids slowly, methodically, combing at the dark hair with her fingers. “You could always cut it, you know. They’d still follow you, and I wouldn’t mind.”

The delay before she replied was so long Daenerys thought she’d fallen asleep. “I keep it to honor him,” she eventually said.

She didn’t need to ask who the ‘he’ was, she already knew. “Do you remember the night he told you to grow it out?”

The answer came almost immediately this time. “Of course.”

Daenerys smiled and cuddled up just a little bit closer to the younger woman. “He’d just given you your first arakh. He had it made special for you. He…”

She continued the story. “He said I was ‘blood of his blood.’ He told me I was Dothraki.”

“You’d been with us two years or so and after hours and hours spent training, he finally thought you were ready to raid.”

“Really? Because I seem to remember that if it had been up to Drogo I would have been going on my first raid weeks, if not months earlier.”

“Perhaps,” Daenerys allowed, as her cheeks reddened. “I just wanted to make sure you were ready. I didn’t want anything to happen to you,” she recalled, her hand finding Arya’s and interlocking their fingers.

She felt relief and comfort when Arya not only held her hand, but squeezed it. “Nothing did happen.”

“No,” she admitted with a laugh. “You proved the Khal right when you showed up the next night with the head of the man who tried to betray you. From that moment, you couldn’t have been more Dothraki in his eyes if you’d been born on a horse.”

“I won’t cut my hair until I dishonor him.”

“You could never dishonor him, he loved you.”

“He liked me, he loved you,” Arya said, choosing that moment to pull away and sit up. She exited on the opposite side of the bed, out of Daenerys’s reach. “And I would dishonor him, if I let something happen to you.”

R-C

Ned Stark sat behind his desk in the Hand’s Tower, reading through the various pages in front of him. He wasn’t meant for this. There were too many numbers, and too much reading. It turned his stomach the way a few rich and powerful people deciding the fates of thousands. He didn’t belong in King’s Landing anymore than the Southerners belonged in the North.

Ruling in the North wasn’t anything like being a part of Southern politics. In the North he set reasonable policies, honored existing laws and by and large his people thanked him for it. In King’s Landing opinions and loyalties changed with the winds and people only supported you until they got their use out of you, then you were quickly forgotten.

He yearned for his days as a soldier, when his enemy looked him in the eye and attacked directly. Now it was all whispered accusations and hiding in the shadows. He wasn’t suited to it. If he were smart he’d drop what he was doing and head North tonight, but he wouldn’t and he couldn’t. He was sworn to the Realm and to Robert and he wouldn’t break those oaths. Even if he disagreed with Robert’s methods, he was the King. Ned’s job was to advise him, not change him.

He thought about his family, about Cat who was barely tolerating his Southern posting. She remained in Winterfell, but visited when possible. With each passing year she grew more insistent that she be allowed to move to King’s Landing with her husband, but Ned wanted her far away from the schemes and backstabbing he’d grown accustomed to. Then there were his children, Robb who was currently Lord Stark, Warden in the North. By all accounts Robb was doing well, tending to the needs of his people in a logical, intelligent manner. Jon was on the Wall, and while they exchanged the occasional letter, replies were becoming less and less frequent. Bran was still adjusting to his injuries, but upon Cat’s last letter, he was riding his horse and even practicing archery. While he hated not being there to aid his son, he knew that between his wife and Robb, Bran would be well cared for. Rickon was growing, apparently more than half the height of his mother. Thinking of his youngest child hurt the most because when he was honest with himself Ned was forced to admit how little about the boy he knew. He didn’t know his favorite game, or his favorite color or even what he liked to do on a nice day. He’d left home when Rickon was little more than a babe and now nearly ten years had passed.

There was also the matter of his daughters to come to peace with. Sansa was with him in King’s Landing, but he was so busy they rarely had the chance for a meaningful conversation. When they did see one another, she was quick to avert her eyes. At first, he thought it was because her marriage to Joffery was so close at hand, but he was beginning to suspect there might be more to it than that. Recently when he saw her, her eyes seemed almost haunted, the way he’d seen some men tormented by war.

Last there was Arya, his youngest girl, his she-wolf. She was his greatest failure, the daughter he’d allowed to be exiled. He knew she was telling the truth about what happened but he couldn’t very well explain that to Robert. How could he hope to convince his friend that his daughter was telling the truth and it was Robert’s own son was lying? He would have looked like a father attempting to save his daughter from punishment. He wondered now if that wouldn’t have been better.

As it was he had no idea where Arya was, or if she even lived. He’d sent dozens of ravens to people he knew all over Essos, but none of them ever spoke of knowing his girl. The longer it went without word the heavier the weight felt on his shoulders. He still prayed to the Old Gods every night, asking that they watch over her. He didn’t know if it worked, but he liked to hope it did, especially on the nights he had to lie awake next to his wife and listen to her cry for their lost child.

R-C

They rode to the closed gates of Norvos. The city had been tight as a drum since scouts reported the approaching Dothraki. She rode with Missandei, Daenerys and Jorah, coming to a stop where she was confident the men inside could hear. Looking up she saw a line of ready archers just waiting for their orders.

“Open the gates and allow me and my companions to come inside to negotiate, or I’ll order the attack and we won’t stop until this city is burned to ash.”

Nothing happened for almost an hour. Enough time for frightened men to go scurrying in search of those in power to learn their will, and then to hurry out into danger to pass that message along. It was pathetic. She could never respect a leader who didn’t swing his own sword, whether he be called, ‘Khal’, ‘Lord’ or ‘King.’

When the gates opened, a large fraction of their forces were waiting. Behind crossbows and long bows they demanded that all four of them hand over their weapons. Arya and Jorah did so quickly and once that was done, men approached Missandei and Daenerys.

“What ‘bout you two?” one of the guards asked with a laugh. “You got any weapons pretty lady?”

Jorah spoke first. “Hey! Don’t.”

Arya tried to step forward, to move between the approaching hand and Daenerys, but a pair of crossbows held her in place. While she hated it, it was moments like this when her mother’s voice echoed between her ears, ‘Use your words.’ She highly doubted this was what Catelyn Stark meant but she felt no remorse for that. “Touch her with that greasy paw of yours and I’ll separate your head from your neck.”

The fool’s hand hovered just inches from Daenerys’s silky skin. He looked first to Arya and then to his friends. “You can’t kill’m, you don’t even have no weapon.”

Despite the arrows aimed at her, Arya defiantly took a step forward. “I won’t need my weapons,” she announced, loud enough for most in the courtyard to hear. “I’ll take yours.”

Daenerys tried to avoid conflict by dismounting her horse and standing before the man Arya was contemplating killing. “My friend and I aren’t armed, but you may check us if you wish. We only want to come inside and negotiate, so that we can avoid violence.”

Almost completely ignoring Daenerys, the man looked over her shoulder to Arya for confirmation. She shook her head. “I told you what happens if you touch her.”

“Arya!” Daenerys chastised.

“Bin, let them pass. People are waiting.” The orders were obeyed at once and a path was made for the four of them to move through. At the mouth of that path a grey-haired commander was waiting. He wore heavy plate armor, and held a matching helmet under one arm. “My name is Doran and I’ll escort you to the negotiations.” They walked in silence for a few moments before he said, “I’m sorry about my men, your horde has left them plenty frightened and frightened men will do almost anything to convince themselves they aren’t scared.”

“I understand,” Jorah said.

“It’s forgotten,” Daenerys added.

When it was her turn, Arya was far less forgiving. “If you want your men to live to be scared again, I suggest you tell those you serve about the benefits to avoiding war.”

“I’ll tell them,” he assured her as they moved out of the sun and under a large canopy. Held in place by carved marble pillars, it looked overly opulent and extravagant, just like the remainder of the mansion. The Northern girl was disgusted. These people had too much. It would be her privilege to take some of that from them.

R-C

When the door opened he didn’t bother looking up before he snapped irrationally at whoever had come calling. “Go before I take out my frustrations on you.”

No retreating footsteps confirmed he wasn’t yet alone, so he glanced up, surprised to find the Spider in the Hand’s tower. “Varys, I really haven’t the time…”

“Lord Stark, I mean no disrespect, but I’m afraid you’ll need to make time for this.” With his hands still hidden under the wide sleeves of his robe, he made his way to the door, closed and locked it.

Behind the desk Ned tensed. He didn’t know what this was about, but he had suspicions that he wasn’t going to like it. “What is this?”

He didn’t reply until he was once again facing the former Warden to the North. “My birds have been whispering my Lord.”

“Your spies, you mean?” Ned corrected. “Of course they’re whispering, isn’t that exactly what you pay them to do?”

“True indeed my Lord. I only meant to say, I think you’ll find interest in the song I’ve heard from across the sea.”

He wasn’t in the mood any of this. “Get to the point!”

“Are you familiar with the Targaryen girl?” he asked, expertly leading Ned to a point he couldn’t predict.

“She’s wed to a Horse-Lord, what of it?” Ned responded, his minimal patience evaporating.

Varys continued to study him, with a sad smile. “Woefully out of date information I’m afraid. Daenerys Targaryen was wed to the Khal Drogo but he was killed several years back, poisoned I’m told.”

He hadn’t been expecting that, and he was sure it showed on his face. “And?”

“In the time since another is said to have taken control of the horde, leading it as ruthlessly as any Dothraki.”

Again, he was surprised by the words the Spider shared. “They are being led by an outsider? Who is it?” Despite his earlier bad mood, he couldn’t help but laugh briefly. “I wouldn’t worry Varys, whoever this fool is, it’s likely the savages will kill him and carve up his body before your birds can report in again.”

“That fool, is your daughter!”

He was over the desk in a flash, clearing the top with his body. He gripped the Spider by his wide throat and squeezed. Backing him up, he pinned the round man between Ned’s unforgiving arm and the equally hard wall. “What did you say? Be very careful,” he warned, “no more riddles, no more games, just tell me what you know.”

Releasing his hold, he allowed Varys to sink to the floor. He stepped back and crossed his arms over his chest, while the other man coughed and sputtered. He began to speak almost at once. “A while back, word reached me about a Westerosi who was leading a horde of savages. At first it was strange enough but when I heard it said the new Khal was a woman, I thought the rumors were madness. I began to wonder if such a thing could really be true. I’d heard that the Dothraki love the Targaryen, but I didn’t think this extended to all foreigners. More than a little curious I began to investigate who the mystery woman might be.” He stood and smoothed out a wrinkle in the front of his robe. From up his sleeve he pulled out a small rolled scroll. “This message says the girl calls herself Arya, and that she’s exiled from the North.”

Whatever he imagined Varys might say when he came in and locked the door after him, it hadn’t been that. He wasn’t sure how he felt. His heart pounded and his mouth felt suddenly dry. He took the offered scroll and read the details for himself, everything was as the Spider described. “Thank you Varys,” he said honestly, “I feared she was dead.”

“Very much alive, according to what I’ve heard.”

“I’m sorry, for…” his words trailed off. He’d never been good at apologizing. Lords rarely needed to.

“It’s forgotten. You were a concerned father. I shudder to think of what I’d do in similar circumstances.”

“Thank you.”

“It’s because you’re Arya’s father that I felt compelled to bring this to your attention first, before I passed the scroll along to King Robert.”

“He doesn’t know?”

“Like you, I am loyal to the Crown, but like you I also am painfully aware of how our King likes to handle unruly exiles.” Taking back the scroll in question, it disappeared back up his sleeve. “I have plans to meet with Robert tomorrow around this time. At that meeting, I will be obligated to share with him what I’ve learned, but in the meantime, I’m certain you could send word to Winterfell, to make this news, and your wishes known.”

It took him a few seconds to read between the lines of Varys’s vague message. When he understood, he knew he would do it, even if it would be seen as a betrayal, even if it made him a traitor to the Realm he’d served for so long. “Thank you Varys, from both Catelyn and myself. I owe you a debt.”

He knew all too well how dangerous it was to owe a favor to someone like Varys, but he couldn’t deny the man placed himself at risk to give him warning and that alone earned Ned’s gratitude.

Alone again, he went to the door and locked it, needing privacy to gather his thoughts. First, he fell to his knees, right there at the top of the Hand’s Tower and thanked the Old Gods for keeping his daughter safe. At the completion of his prayers he moved back behind his desk and went to work drafting a letter to his eldest son. If Arya was alive, he was damn sure going to do everything in his power to keep her that way.

Chapter Text

“You’re asking too much,” one of the negotiators said. “You can’t expect us to give you half our stores of weapons. Our men require them as surely as you do.”

“Your men won’t need them if they’re dead,” Arya reminded him. “You can give them or we can take them.” She wasn’t going to back down. Norvos was famous for its axes and half their stores would be a valuable commodity.

“We?” an emissary scoffed. “Don’t you mean, ‘they?’

“I don’t understand your meaning.”

He stood from his chair, causing Jorah and Arya to do the same, with Daenerys and Missandei following after. “I mean look at you.” He held out his hand toward Arya, unimpressed. “You may dress like one of them, but you aren’t one of them. None of you are,” he observed raking his eyes from person to person.

At his words, she looked down at herself. She was dressed as she had every day for years, in the traditional clothes of the Dothraki. She wore tight, faded brown leather pants, with matching strips of leather crossing her chest, covering her breasts. “Careful.”

“Three women and an old man don’t inspire fear. Which one of you is in charge anyway?” he asked rhetorically.

Arya was nearly ready for blood when Daenerys’s heated hand on her wrist kept her still. “My wife is the Khal, she’s in charge,” she said confidently, so sure in her words that Arya actually wondered if they might be true.

“Wife?” he repeated. “You people have been living out with the animals too long. None of you are Dothraki.”

Daenerys chose that instant to lean over and whisper to Missandei. When they separated the translator took the reins of the meeting, likely so Daenerys could spend all her energies on keeping Arya calm. “Because the Khaleesi is generous, we are willing to accept a third of the weapons in your armory, in addition to the agreed upon horses and goods.”

When it looked like he was intending to refuse, Jorah made his opinion clear. “We have tens of thousands of men. It would be a massacre and we all know it. Take the offer, it’s the best one you’re going to get today.”

The emissary and his grey-haired commander led them out to the gate, where their horses had been fed. “We’ve got a deal, but I expect you to honor your part. You and your horde leave Norvos is peace.”

Arya clicked her tongue against her cheek to get her horse moving. “Don’t worry, you and your pathetic little city will be safe, but if your tribute isn’t waiting outside the gates at sunrise it won’t stay that way.”

“Threats aren’t necessary,” Doran said diplomatically.

“I’m still not certain you actually lead them. Why would a horde of illiterate savages follow you?”

“Betray us and you’ll see exactly how many of the men will follow me, because I’ll lead them right through your gates.” She smirked at his horrified expression. “Don’t look so stricken, if that happens, I’ll make sure you die first.”

R-C

In the months since Ryn’s death two other khalasars had joined theirs. With nearly one hundred thousand men ready for battle, they were the envy of every khalasar, from one side of the Dothraki Sea to the other. Their growth had been remarkable. She saw progress in almost every direction she looked, except Arya. Oh, she progressed daily as a ruler and a warrior but she remained unwilling to barter in their private affairs. She still refused to sleep anywhere but the floor and Daenerys had had enough.

She spent the evening drinking expensive wine with Missandei and then she retired to her tent to wait. If recent history was an indication it would be hours before Arya joined her. During that time, she read from her books on Westeros and continued to enjoy her wine.

By the time Arya arrived, Daenerys had stopped reading and drinking and had moved on to pacing. With her thin arms folded over her chest, she crossed their tent again and again.

“Khaleesi, what are you doing?” Arya slurred. Daenerys wasn’t the only one who had been drinking. “You shou’d be in bed.”

“I’m not using the bed tonight,” she explained, “not unless you do too.”

Arya turned her head to look at the bed and drunk as she was, she wobbled, teetering back and forth. “Daenerys,” she said in a sing-song voice, wagging a finger. “We ta…talk’d bout that.”

Now that Arya was accounted for, Daenerys went to her side of the bed and began getting undressed. She pulled back the fur blankets and the paper-thin silk sheet. “Join me in the bed or I’ll join you on the floor,” she proposed. “The choice is yours.”

Arya who had been uncoordinatedly attempting to untie her boot froze at those words. “Da…Daenerys.”

“Stop!” she demanded. “You say I’m in the real Khal, that I’m the one in power and that you only serve me? If that’s true, you won’t refuse me, will you?”

She knew she was playing dirty. Arya was drunk and tired. Otherwise, she likely could have held off Daenerys’s attempts to share the same bed for another decade.

With a roll of her grey eyes, she relented. “One night,” she said holding up a single finger to emphasize the extent of her concession. Daenerys was already plotting her next argument to persuade when the words reached her mind. Her violet eyes widened before the younger woman shrugged and held an unsteady hand out over the bed. “Let’sh go,” she slurred. “It wasa long day.”

As they climbed on opposite sides Daenerys could feel the tension in the tent. In a quest to lighten things up she tried to joke. “Don’t worry, I won’t take advantage of you in your sleep.”

Arya already had her back to Daenerys, but she still heard what sounded a lot like, “It’s not you I’m worried about.”

Without concern for their naked bodies Daenerys wiggled closer to her companion. One of her arms snaked around the scarred woman’s waist, holding her. Motivated by the words she still heard echoing in her ears, she felt encouraged enough to jest again as a smile stretched the limits of her face. “Did you say something, sweetheart?”

After a particular vulgar Dothraki curse Arya covered her head with her arm. “Nuthing,” she mumbled. “I didn’t say nuthing.”

R-C

It felt strange, waking up on a soft bed instead of the familiarly hard ground. For a fraction of a second she didn’t know where she’d be when she opened her eyes. Would she be in Essos, the exiled girl turned Khal or had it all been a dream? Would she be back in Winterfell, a young girl again, oblivious to the horrors of the world? Somewhere near the bed she heard voices, soft and considerate, whispering to keep from waking her. “Are you sure it’s wise to go without her?”

“We’ll take Ser Jorah with us,” Daenerys promised. “Arya’s been raiding so much lately, I want to give her a chance to recover if she needs it.”

“At least she’s in the bed,” Missandei noted, “that’s something.”

“It really is quite comfortable,” Arya supplied as she opened her eyes and looked at the two women. Daenerys was sitting on a wooden bench, facing a mirror and Missandei stood behind her back, braiding her hair.

“Arya, I’m sorry, we didn’t mean to wake you,” Daenerys said after a chuckle.

“You didn’t. Now where were you two whispering about going?” She swung her legs over the side of the bed and sat up, the blood-red sheet pooled around her waist.

“We’re not far from the city. I want to take a look around, before moving on.”

She stood, stretching her back muscles. It didn’t escape her notice that she felt better after a night in bed than she typically was after a sleeping on the floor. Missandei who was putting the finishing touches on the Khaleesi’s hairstyle gasped when she saw Arya’s scars in their entirety.

“If you want to go Khaleesi, say so. We can surround the city in an afternoon.”

With a laugh, she got up from her seat and walked to where Arya was splashing some water on her face. She put a hand on her friend’s tense shoulder. “I want to go to the market Arya, not overthrow their government. I won’t need the khalasar, in fact, you should take them training. I know how much you all love a chance to compare your swords.”

At her joke Missandei lost her composure and laughed. She quickly recovered, turning her head away, covering her mouth with her hand and trying to hide her outburst behind a cough.

After a playful glare in Missandei’s direction, Arya turned her full attention on Daenerys. She had managed to get on a pair of pants, but was still in search of some fragment of material that could be used as a shirt. “They certainly won’t need me for sword comparing, will they?” Was it her imagination or did Daenerys’s eyes trail down her body to the front of her riding pants?

“I’ll be fine you know.”

“You can’t go alone, and as you’ve said the Dothraki will be training.”

“I never intended to go alone. Missandei will be there and Jorah. More than enough security for a little shopping.”

“I think I’ll accompany you all the same,” Arya decided.

Missandei took that as her cue to leave. “I’ll go and prepare.”

While she gathered up the things they’d need for the day, she heard Daenerys moving about behind her. She wasn’t ready for it when she felt two deceptively strong arms hugging her from behind. “Thank you for staying with me last night.”

Arya turned inside the embrace, looking down at the older woman. “It was the least I could do.”

“I’m grateful,” she assured her quickly. Then before Arya could comprehend what was happening Daenerys was lifting up onto her toes, and leaning in. One of her hands gripped the back of her top, the other tangled in her hair.

“Wa..wh…Dan…” she stammered before Daenerys’s warm, moist lips closed the remaining space. Her eyes closed without permission and then rolled back in her head. How many times had she imagined Daenerys kissing her? Countless she’d wager and in all those fantasies she never came close to the reality. Her usually steady legs felt like a newborn colt and the fire she felt on her cheeks and neck had to have been coming from the Dragon blood. She scrambled away, tripping and stumbling until she reached the tent’s opening. “I… uh… I should probably go check on the horses.”

R-C

“Did something happen?” Missandei inquired as she rode on Daenerys’s left. Arya led the group far out in front, while Jorah and a handful of Dothraki protected the rear.

Before she answered, she had a quick look around to ensure they wouldn’t be overheard. Aware of how impossible it was to dissuade Missandei, she tried in a feeble attempt anyway. “What do you mean?”

She laughed humorlessly. “You know what I mean,” Missandei challenged. “When I left your tent you were smiling together, jesting and basically appearing very much in love. Now she won’t look at you, and your mood is worse than hers.”

Daenerys sighed. “I kissed her,” she admitted in High Valyrian.

She reached out and put a hand on the Khaleesi’s bare arm. “You did? I thought you meant to take things slow.”

“I did, I do, oh I’m not sure. I hadn’t intended to do it, I only meant to kiss her cheek, to thank her for using the bed but the next thing I know I’ve got my arms around her,” Daenerys confessed.

“How was it?” the former slave wanted to know.

“I want to do it again, regularly.”

“And then what happened?”

Narrowing her eyes, she glared in Arya’s general direction. “Nothing,” she recalled sadly. “She made up some excuse about wanting to check on the horses and she fled.”

“She was likely just startled,” Missandei predicted. “Once the idea settles, her mood will improve.”

Daenerys was far less convinced. “Or maybe I’m simply not her type.”

“You need not worry about that,” Missandei declared with confidence. “I’ve seen the way she looks at you when she thinks no one is watching. Anyone with eyes and many without could see how she feels.”

“I’m not so sure…” she began, but her words slowed and stopped all together when she noticed Jorah had past then. Instead of remaining behind them, he was now side by side with Arya.

“What do you think they’re discussing?” Missandei asked with false innocence.

She shook her head and wiped some sweat from her forehead. “I don’t even want to begin to speculate.” The easy chat with her friend forgotten, Daenerys struggled to keep her eyes on the path in front of her, and away Jorah and Arya.

As was rapidly becoming custom Missandei knew exactly what the Queen needed. “Why don’t I go and keep Arya company for a few minutes. I’ll send Jorah back here to you.”

“That sounds like a great idea,” Daenerys agreed. “Thank you.” Jorah had never liked Arya, but it was far worse now that the younger woman had come into power. He may have been knighted by a King, but it was Arya Daenerys turned to when she needed protecting, it was Arya who killed and risked her life for their people. She could tell it was getting harder and harder for the proud Mormont to overlook his limited role. That’s why she was thrilled to take Missandei up on her offer. She couldn’t force Arya and Ser Jorah to like one another but she could limit their chances to kill each other. Now, she just had to hope Missandei reached them in time.

R-C

“You shouldn’t take it personally,” Jorah said as he brought his horse in step with hers.

“Excuse me?”

He smiled slightly. “You wouldn’t understand, you’ve never been in love. If you had, you’d understand moods like the one she’s in today are to be expected when someone is grieving.”

She didn’t want to hear this. She hadn’t asked for his opinion or advice. She hadn’t asked Daenerys to kiss her either, although she hardly found that difficult to tolerate. Pleasurable as it was the guilt was stifling. When had she become such a wretched thing? Drogo had saved her life, protected her and taught her and she rewarded him by lusting for his wife. She was lucky he was dead, because if he weren’t, she was confident he’d demand revenge, and rightly so. He tasked Arya with guarding the woman he loved most and she’d taken advantage of her and her grief. It was shameful.

Digging her heels into the side of the horse she urged him to go faster. “I’m still not sure what you mean.”

“Ser, would you mind riding with the Khaleesi for a few minutes? There is an urgent matter she’d like me to discuss with Arya.”

“Of course, not.”

Arya said nothing until Jorah was well out of hearing range. “Did she really send you?”

“She did.”

“With an urgent matter?”

Missandei’s wide smile gave her away. “Maybe I overstated things slightly, but what choice did I have? I couldn’t allow you and Jorah to kill each other before we reached the market. Then what would become of Daenerys’s plans for the day?”

Arya barked out a laugh. From the first day they met, she’d always had a fondness for Missandei. It wasn’t her obvious intelligence, or her will to survive that endeared her to the Northern woman, but rather the sense of selfless bravery she didn’t seem to realize she had. In only months, she positioned herself not only as one of Daenerys’s most trusted advisors but also her best friend. “Your secrets are safe,” she vowed. “You’re much better company anyway.”

They rode in companionable silence for several minutes, until the first glimpse of the city appeared in the distance. “What will you look for?”

Arya answered without needing to think about it. “Something sharp.”

R-C

She was almost ready to leave. They’d been wandering lazily around the market for several hours and it was growing late. She bought all manner of things, tools for the camp, baubles for herself and even a gift for Missandei.

Using some of the gold from their most recent raid Arya bought a variety of weapons for her loyal commanders. The Dothraki had little use for goods bought with coins but exceptions could always be made, especially in the case of high-grade weaponry.

“Come one and all!” a merchant shouted. “Trinkets from across the sea.” A middle-aged man standing on an upturned crate waved his hands to get the attention of the crowds. “Get your own piece of history, items crafted for the Seven Kingdom’s greatest houses.”

She’d largely had her fill of shopping for the day, but she made her way to the table anyway. Arya, Missandei and Jorah were all close, but occupied. Missandei was looking at a measure of silk to fashion a new dress, and Arya and Jorah were both admiring the weapons at two different stalls. In front of her, as promised were various toys, figurines and jewelry, organized by family. Her eyes roamed the gold, the silver and the copper, finding the three-headed dragons in the collection. Not far from the dragons she noticed the section devoted to wolves, running wolves, howling wolves, hunting wolves, even wolves with gems for eyes.

Around the merchant, was a group of four sell-swords, likely hired to scare away thieves. They ranged in age from sixty to less than half that. All wore simple, but well-used leather armor. While she browsed they loaded up unsold goods into a cart. The merchant himself tried to make one final sale before day’s end. “Help you miss?” he offered climbing down from his perch. “Looking for anything in particular?” His eyes followed hers to the Targaryen jewelry. “That’s some of my best work,” he said addressing the necklace that had caught her eye.

“It’s lovely.”

Picking it up, he moved out from behind the table. “You look familiar. Do we know one another?”

“I don’t think so,” she said as she laid a handful of silver coins on the table.

“My mistake. Allow me?” He held out the jewelry in invitation and Daenerys nodded, reaching back to lift her hair.

By the time she realized she was in trouble, it was too late. She’d strayed from her guards and now was at the mercy of a madman. The soft hand that had been adjusting the necklace for her hardened and his thick fingers began squeezing at her throat. As she struggled, she noticed a pair of guards holding Missandei by the arms. Both Jorah and Arya and at least two Dothraki raced toward the merchant and the Khaleesi from different directions. Arya’s path was blocked by a blacksmith and his cart of goods. Jorah reached them first. He drew his sword and cut down one sell-sword before a second threw a spear that hit in the upper part of his chest. His sword fell to the dirt and he followed soon after.

She heard fighting off to the side and knew the Dothraki had arrived, but with the merchant’s hold so tight, she couldn’t hope to turn and see who was winning.

“King Robert says ‘hello,’ the merchant turned assassin taunted as he continued to choke her. She thrashed and squirmed but he had the dominant position and little remorse.

The corners of her eyes were filling up with black spots as she tried to remain awake. She stomped his foot and although he cried out in pain several times, it was never enough to make him release her.

She heard the sound of the arrow cutting through the air and she felt the hot spray of blood against her face as it hit its mark. The instant she was free she was darting away. In her haste, she ran without a destination in mind until Arya caught her, still clutching a recurve bow in one hand. “Are you hurt?”

Daenerys didn’t realize how dry and sore her throat was until she tried to speak. At first her attempts to be verbal only resulted in a fit of coughs. “I… I’m… I’m fine.”

“Go check on Jorah,” Arya suggested as she had a look around. The busy square was nearly empty now. The violence had scattered almost everyone, only the sell-swords opposed them. As she tallied up the carnage Daenerys realized just how wrong she’d been. It hadn’t been the four sell-swords and the merchant-assassin as she thought, the number was closer to ten. If the Dothraki hadn’t insisted to forgo training to protect the Khal and Khaleesi, her day likely would have ended very differently. She shuddered at the thought and knelt next to Jorah.

R-C

With Daenerys safe, Arya could put an end to the threat once and for all. Preparing another arrow, she took aim, at the cowards who used Missandei as a shield. “Let her go and I’ll spare you.”

They laughed together, unimpressed by Arya’s offer. “Can’t you count? We’s got numbers and you’re all alone.”

When the men started laughing again, Arya joined in. She laughed and laughed right up until she released the arrow, sending it through the air and striking the sell-sword over Missandei’s left shoulder. “You were saying?”

Enraged the man holding her pushed her to the ground roughly and stepped over her body. Arya yelled for her to stay down and then hurried to end the fight. When he swung his sword, she barely tried to avoid it, choosing instead to spend the time running her arakh across his midsection. The sword that cut her above her wrist clattered to the ground as he tried to keep his organs inside his body.

Confident he was dying she left him to it and performed a circle, searching for any survivors. Only one remained. He was doing what he could to hold the Dothraki at bay, but they inched closer to him with each passing second. She yelled for the warriors to leave him and they did. This was hers.

The final battle was the hardest. Whoever the sell-sword was he had been well trained and he had good instincts. They danced together, each one barely avoiding a handful of deadly strikes. For Arya that meant a new scar on her forearm, and a small piece removed from her ear, but her opponent was faring worse. He had been cut across the upper chest, at the wrist and the ribs. His every breath was labored and his once sure steps were wobbling.

“Mercy,” he pleaded when he couldn’t hope to fight any longer.

Arya kicked his weapon away and stood over him, arakh at the ready. “Who sent you?” She waited three seconds for the answer and when it wasn’t forthcoming she kicked him sharply in his already damaged ribs. “Who was it!?”

He gagged and sputtered. “K…Ki…King Robert.”

She gripped his hair and forced his neck around until he had no choice but to look at Daenerys. He groaned in pain but she was devoid of kindness. “King Robert sent you here to murder her?”

“Y…yes,” he groaned.

Furious she kicked him again and then brought her fist down on the side of his head. “Did Ned Stark know?”

“What?” the terrified assassin asked as he attempted to cover his face.

She pressed down on his throat with her boot. “I said did Ned-fucking-Stark know Robert hired assassins?”

“W…what?” he choked out against her heel.

“Did he know?!” she screamed. “If I have to ask you again you’re gong to suffer!”

“I don’t know. King Robert gave me my orders.”

“Fucking useless,” she complained. She delivered one last kick to his battered body before she looked back to Daenerys for approval. The Khaleesi nodded and Arya obeyed. She swung her steel in a fluid arc that sliced through the air and his neck. While Missandei and Daenerys helped Jorah onto his horse, Arya went to work creating a spectacle, cutting up the bodies and coating the majority of the market square in blood and guts. Word would spread and then fear would follow. No one would soon forget this day.

R-C

She took a long pull directly from the bottle of liquor she was drinking. Her injuries had been tended to and she’d been sufficiently patched up but that didn’t mean there wasn’t pain. Days spent in the saddle took their toll at the best of times. Repeated violent fights over days and weeks ensured that even the most basic injury had significant risks.

Lying on the bed where Daenerys slept every night she closed her eyes and tried to regulate her breathing. When she heard footsteps, she first thought one of the women was bringing in fresh water. “Thank you,” she said without opening her eyes, even knowing the Dothraki wouldn’t understand her gratitude.

Daenerys answered with humor in her tone. “You saved my life again, I’m pretty sure I should be thanking you.”

Her eyes snapped open and she was immediately trying to sit. “Daenerys,” she said in a gasp, but the Queen was quick, coming to stand beside the bed. Leaning down she kept a firm hand on Arya’s upper arm.

“Relax,” she urged gently. “You’ve earned it.” Her hand moved off her bicep to the newest mark that would scar. “Are you well?”

“I’m fine Khaleesi,” she assured her, “and you?” Grey eyes met violet and neither blinked. “I’m sorry it took me so long to reach you.” With a gentle touch, she ran her fingers over the side of Daenerys’s neck which had already begun to bruise.

She sat down next to Arya and tilted so that her head was resting on the younger woman’s shoulder. “You have nothing to apologize for. You protected me just as you always have.”

“King Robert…”

“Can wait until tomorrow,” Daenerys interrupted. “Right now, I’m too thrilled that everyone is still alive to let Robert Baratheon ruin things.”

“He tried to kill you! Send me to Westeros Khaleesi. Let me hunt for you and I’ll end the dangers.”

With her head still against Arya’s shoulder, Daenerys reached for and took hold of her Khal’s hand. “I have no doubt you could end King Robert’s reign, but what would happen to me in your absence?”

Her eyes closed on their own as Daenerys’s thumb rubbed the back of her hand. “No one would harm you. You’d be safe, the men would protect you until I returned. You have no need to worry.”

“That wasn’t what I meant.”

For the second time in several minutes her eyes popped open in surprise. She looked to her right and saw Daenerys watching her closely. “What do…”

The words were cut off by the softness of Daenerys’s lips moving against her own. Their only other kiss had been that morning and somehow it was better than she remembered. She kissed back, unable to resist, melting into the Dragon’s touch. When they separated Daenerys was both blushing and breathing heavily. “I want you here, with me.”

When she leaned in for another kiss Arya bent in the opposite direction, trying to regain control of things. “Daenerys, what are you doing?”

She smiled bashfully. “Something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.”

“But Drogo…”

At the mention of her husband the smile was gone. “I miss Drogo and I’ll always love him, but he’s been dead for more than two years now. I’ve grieved and I’ve mourned, it’s time I begin living again.”

Arya wanted nothing more than to surrender to what Daenerys was proposing. She’d yearned for more than friendship from the Targaryen for ages and now it was possible. Still, she didn’t know how to feel. She’d known Drogo, she’d respected him and risked her life fighting beside him. She would have died to save him and it felt wrong to bed his wife, even if she was willing.

Daenerys attempted to sway her by dropping kisses against the side of her neck and then moving up to her ear. “I think we’ve waited long enough,” she announced between kisses.

She tried to squirm out of reach, but Daenerys was relentless. “You had a trying day,” Arya allowed. “It’s only natural…” her words slowed before they stopped all together. Arya had to bite her lip to keep from moaning. “Fuck,” she hissed, “it’s only natural for you to feel mortal.”

“How very accommodating of you,” Daenerys said sarcastically. “I’m not doing this because someone tried to kill me today Arya Stark. If that were all it took I would have gotten you into bed long ago.”

“I won’t take advantage of our…”

Daenerys cut her off again. “Perhaps I’m the one intending to take advantage of you.”

This time as Daenerys’s mouth lingered near her ear she couldn’t hold the moan back. It slipped through tightly closed teeth and made it all too obvious just how affected she was. With determination she hated herself for, she pulled away from the talented mouth and stood. As her body responded to every action Daenerys took, she knew her time was limited. Soon, she wouldn’t be strong enough to resist any longer, so she needed to get ahead of it. “If you’re ready, I’m sure there are many men who would be interested. I’ll begin sleeping elsewhere, until you choose a partner and then I’ll step down as Khal and allow whoever you pick to lead.”

“Very generous,” Daenerys commented with a bitter undertone. “You can’t be quite so stupid.” Standing up she positioned herself between Arya and the tent’s opening. “The only person I wish to share my bed with is you. Not because you’re the Khal or because you continually save my life but rather because it’s the first time since Drogo that I have been attracted to anyone.”

Arya couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Since the time when she was old enough to truly understand sexual desire, a large part of her had been attracted to Daenerys. At the time she was married and later pregnant. Not even in the years since had she allowed herself to think her feelings might be returned.

She was so lost in her own thoughts that she almost didn’t notice the pained expression that passed over Daenerys’s beautiful face. “If you’re not attracted to me however, I won’t force you.”

The seriousness of the situation not withstanding, Arya found herself chuckling humorlessly. “Of course, I’m attracted to you. It is one of the few things I’m certain of these days.”

“Then what’s the problem?” she asked, leaning in and stealing a kiss.

“What would Drogo say? He asked me to watch over you, not seduce you.”

“You aren’t seducing anyone Arya,” Daenerys said with a laugh. “I’ve been trying to seduce you, but you haven’t exactly made it easy.”

“I’m sorry,” she said quickly, her cheeks heating and her eyes turning down.

Taking advantage of her conflicted feelings Daenerys put both of her palms flat against Arya’s chest and pushed her onto the bed. Not expecting that she tried to stand, but was held down by Daenerys’s body as she straddled her waist. She tried to protest but was silenced by a thin finger pressing into her lips. “Shh,” she purred as her lips left heated kisses all over the upper part of Arya’s chest. “I want you and I’m tired of waiting.”

Her entire body responded to Daenerys in a way she had never experienced before. Bumps formed on her skin as if she were freezing, while sweat dotted her forehead and face. Her nipples hardened and her stomach tightened as she tried to resist. Daenerys kept up her onslaught, nibbling, kissing and licking any bare flesh she could reach.

When she couldn’t deny it anymore, Arya gave in. With a growl reminiscent of her former pet she rolled them over, pinning Daenerys down under her body. She still felt guilt for wanting this, she felt shame for betraying Drogo, but that would all be waiting for her in the morning. In the moment, she had what she wanted and she couldn’t deny her willpower was at an end.

From the bottom Daenerys gripped the back of Arya’s head and pulled her mouth down for an overheated kiss. As their tongues fought for supremacy Daenerys wrapped one of her legs around Arya’s strong core. “That’s more like it,” she praised before she bit down on Arya’s bottom lip.

“No more talk,” she mumbled, as she ground her lower half against Daenerys’s.

“No more talk,” Daenerys agreed.

R-C

Calling on her childhood in Westeros Arya prepared a neatly wrapped gift for Daenerys. The Dothraki rarely gave gifts and when they did they were never wrapped. Secretly she hoped that by making an effort Daenerys would not only like it, but use it.

She waited until they were alone, in their tent to present it to her. “I got you something,” she said as she fetched the long, thin box from behind a chest of Daenerys’s clothes.

The uniqueness of the occasion seemed to give Daenerys pause. “A gift?” You didn’t need to do that.”

“Yes,” she assured her, “I did. After yesterday, it was most certainly necessary.”

If she’d thought it through, she might have chosen different words. She hadn’t considered how Daenerys might misinterpret the meaning. “Arya, last night was wonderful,” she said as she took the box. She lifted up and pecked at her lover’s lips. “You didn’t need to get me anything.”

Embarrassed. she blushed heavily. “I… uh, it wasn’t for that.”

She watched Daenerys’s eyebrows rise before she turned her attention to the box now sitting in her lap. She untied the bow carefully and peeled the ribbon away before she removed the lid. Inside was an arakh, not unlike the one Drogo had once given her. “Um, thank you but I think it’s probably best if you keep this,” Daenerys said lifting it from the box and holding it in Arya’s direction.

“Our battle with the assassins showed me that despite my best efforts, I can’t always be there to defend you.”

She hadn’t been fishing for reassurance or affection but Daenerys gave her both, setting her free hand down on Arya’s and following it up with words. “You did defend me, as you’ve always done. I couldn’t ask for a better protector.”

Using their joint hands, she moved Daenerys’s hand to her neck and gently grazed over the bruises the assassins left. “I wasn’t fast enough. If there is a next time, I want you to be able to stay alive until I can reach you.”

“This isn’t necessary,” she said as Arya’s hand and by extension hers lingered against her throat. Violet eyes fluttered and closed before she angled herself into Arya’s rough hand.

“Please,” she pleaded, her voice a whisper. “It would give me comfort”

“Very well then,” Daenerys conceded. She pulled her arm back, no longer expecting Arya to take the weapon. She looked at the arakh with new eyes, testing the feel as she took a first, tentative swing at the air. “Are you certain this is the best choice?” she asked. “Dothraki warriors beginning training young and it still takes years for them to master the arakh.”

Stepping back, she urged the Queen to stand. “It’s the right choice,” she promised, as she slipped in behind the smaller woman. When Daenerys took her next swing, Arya was there to correct her posture. As a result, her third attempt was much more fluid and natural than the previous two.

“How can you be certain?” she asked as she prepared to try again.

“You’re Dothraki. There is no other weapon suitable for a Khaleesi.”

Strong hands rested on Daenerys’s hips and adjusted her stance as she began her first lesson. Just as she’d done with the hand on her bruised neck, she leaned in Arya’s direction. “Do you train all our warriors like this?” Daenerys asked with a snicker as Arya’s hands lingered.

Her hands wandered upward, moving from the smooth leather of her pants to her soft skin and then to the coarse material that covered her chest. “Not everyone gets this level of hands-on attention,” she admitted as she took Daenerys’s arm and adjusted her form.

She looked over her shoulder at her tutor, a devilish gleam in her eye. “I should hope not. I might grow jealous.”

This time it was Arya’s turn to fight back a laugh. How could Daenerys think such a thing? No other woman, no man could ever compare to her, it was unthinkable. “You needn’t worry Khaleesi my heart is yours and yours alone.”

The swing Daenerys had been taking halted midway through and the arakh dropped to the floor carelessly. At first Arya assumed she dropped it accidently and bent to retrieve it but her plans were thwarted when Daenerys took advantage of her being bent over and locked their mouths together. As the kiss grew hungrier Arya reached behind Daenerys and gripped her leather-covered ass. The sound and feeling of Daenerys moaning into her mouth nearly caused her to drop the smaller woman as she lifted her off her feet and carried her in the direction of their bed. “Lesson’s over,” Arya decreed as she laid her lover down.

“Good,” Daenerys agreed with a wide smile. She took hold of Arya’s belt and pulled her down to the bed with her. “I have a whole other form of exercise planned for us and believe me, you’ll need your strength.”

She was glad when Daenerys melded their lips together in another searing kiss. It made it impossible for Arya to embarrass herself by speaking openly, or by moaning lewdly in response to Daenerys’s talented tongue.

R-C

It was amazing how quickly things could change. One minute she was enjoying her meal, happily listening to Missandei and Daenerys chatter on about one thing or another and the next she was up out of her seat, her dinner forgotten. Before any of the others at her table noticed Arya was shrieking her war cry, beckoning her Blood Riders to her side. They dropped their food and rushed to her, two of them still chewing as they arrived.

All around them, the khalasar had taken notice. Daenerys stood next to her, with Missandei on the other side. “Arya, what’s wrong?” she asked, reaching for her lover’s hand.

Using her chin, she pointed out a spot a mile outside the Southern borders of their camp. There, on horseback were six men. One held up the banner of his house. “They wait for us.”

“How do you know?” Daenerys questioned.

“I just do,” she answered vaguely. Looking to Kovarro she nodded. “Ready the horses.”

He immediately went to do as he was told. Once he was gone she pulled her eyes away from the interlopers and gave Daenerys what she hoped was a reassuring smile. “I’ll take care of this.”

“I’m going with you,” she decided, glancing down at her hip like she wanted to verify her arakh was still there. They’d been training daily and Daenerys proved to be an insightful student. She’d never be a true Blood Rider, her heart wasn’t in it, but Arya was confident that she could defend herself if necessary and that was enough.

“They’re from Westeros,” Jorah noted as he arrived at their side. “King Robert might have sent more assassins.”

“If they meant us harm, I doubt they’d wait patiently for us to notice them.”

“That’s not a risk I’m willing to take,” Arya said as she climbed up into the saddle.

“That banner…” Jorah started.

She didn’t need to hear it, she knew what that banner meant. “It seems so,” Arya accepted.

While the men were speaking, Daenerys demanded horses for her and Missandei. “Where you go, I go,” Daenerys said calmly, as if her point of view was both rational and obvious.

Sensing defeat Arya threw up her hands and then pushed one of them through her long hair. “Fine! Stay near Jorah, don’t take anything from them and if they try and touch you swing for the neck and don’t hesitate.”

“I won’t,” she vowed. When Arya gave her a skeptical look Daenerys only smiled. “I won’t. I haven’t forgotten my lessons.”

She shook her head and moved her horse forward. She was ready to get this over with, whatever this was.

Whoever she expected to see under the Stark banner, it wasn’t who was waiting for her there. He looked older than she remembered, his face had begun to show lines of age and his facial hair was colored with the first hints of greying. All the men wore castle-forged plate armor with the sigil of her family printed on the front. At least half the troops were senior, older than the man leading them.

When she led her group to the meeting, she noticed the banner beginning to wave. Looking at the man holding it, she noted he was the youngest of the enemy and seemed frightened by the Dothraki she led. He shifted back slightly in response, making Arya smile.

“So, it’s true then,” the leader of the Starks said. “I didn’t believe it was really you.” He smiled at her, while she stared emotionless in his direction. “Hello Arya,” he said as his smile slowly fell from his face.

“Hello Robb,” she answered, glancing to her right where Daenerys was watching. “Khaleesi, allow me to introduce Robb Stark from Westeros, my brother.”

Chapter Text

They held their meeting in a tent, away from most of the khalasar. After returning to the camp Daenerys graciously offered her guests food but upon smelling the unidentified meat all the Northmen refused.

Jorah, Daenerys, Missandei and Arya sat on one side of the table, with Robb and two of his men on the other. Around them, the rest of Robb’s guard stood on edge, expecting trouble as they eyed the handful of Dothraki mixed in among them.

“Did your King send you?”

“Robert?” Robb asked in surprise. “Why would he…” his words trailed off. “Arya father sent me.”

Daenerys responded with a startled hum, but Arya’s focus was on her brother and nowhere else. “But you serve the Realm? You’re loyal to your King?” she verified, her tone making her contempt for the title obvious.

“Of course I am,” he told her quickly and with feeling. “I’m the Warden of the North and Lord of Winterfell. We have always been loyal to the Crown, you know that.”

“Congratulations,” she said, her praise empty. “Did you know then that your precious King Robert sent assassins to murder Daenerys?”

She looked sideways as she said the woman’s name and gave her a slight smile. Under the table a hand found hers and gripped it tightly. “I didn’t know that,” Robb confessed as he looked to the men flanking him. They were equally oblivious. “I might not agree with all the things he does, but Robert is my King, just as he is yours.”

“That swine is no King of mine.”

Clearly surprised by her outburst, no one spoke for several long seconds. “Robert didn’t send me Arya, father did. I didn’t come to assassinate anyone, only to bring you home.”

“Westeros is not my home and I was exiled if you recall. I know you weren’t there that day, but I was told that if I returned I would be hung for my crimes.”

Daenerys’s grip on her hand tightened at this news. “Westeros is your home, Winterfell is your home and you belong there, with family. Father wouldn’t have sent me if he didn’t believe he could keep you safe.”

“No!” she answered forcefully. No matter what her father wanted, no matter why Robb had come, she wouldn’t be going to Winterfell. Her place was in Essos with Daenerys and her people and nothing Robb or her father could say or do would change that.

“No?” he repeated back. “Does that word mean something different over here?”

She scoffed, unamused by his attempt at humor. “I suspect it still means the same as it did the day I left.”

“You’re being offered a second chance Arya, a pardon. Don’t be a fool, take it. Return home with me and see our family again.”

Silent, Daenerys had allowed the siblings to discuss the matter privately but apparently, she could hold her tongue no longer. “Home?” she ridiculed. “Family? You mean the people who sent a scared child across the sea alone? That family?”

Robb’s eyes darted to the Targaryen and he lashed out. “Don’t presume to know about matters that don’t involve you.” When he looked to his sister his eyes didn’t soften. “How can you sit next to her? After all she’s done? After all her family has done to ours? Her father murdered our grandfather, burned our uncle alive too.”

Daenerys blanched at the mention of her father’s sins. Under the table, she tried to pull her hand back, but Arya refused to release it. “Tread carefully Stark,” Jorah warned.

“Speak to Daenerys that way again,” Arya threatened “and not all of you will make it back onto the boat for the return voyage.”

At her dangerous words, two of the Stark men drew their swords. Arya remained unmoved at the table, but around the tent the tempted warriors reached for their arakhs. Speaking first in Dothraki, she instructed the men to be ready, but to hold. “I strongly suggest you order your men to sheath their blades, or I’ll have my friends do it for them.”

She watched as Robb looked around the tent, taking stock of the situation. He held up his hand to still his men and slowly all swords were put away. “No need for that,” Robb said as forced a smile in Arya’s direction. “As I said I mean the Targaryen no harm. I didn’t come here for her, I came here to escort you home.”

“And I told you, no. I’m not leaving. Westeros is no longer my home. I belong here with my people.”

He scoffed at her, as he so often did when they were growing up. She heard the same sound every time she did something he didn’t approve of. “Your people? These aren’t your people Arya. I don’t know what’s happened since you left but whatever it is, it doesn’t need to continue. You can come home, see mother, father, Bran and Rickon. They miss you. They want you to return.”

“These are my people, which is why if I give the order none of you will leave this tent alive.”

“Arya,” Daenerys reprimanded quietly.

“What’s wrong with you?”

“I was forced from my home and sent alone to cross the sea with little more than the clothes on my back,” she reminded him.

“You must be tired after your journey,” Daenerys said as she fought to keep the siblings from violence. “You and your men are welcome to eat and move about the camp freely. We’ll have some tents raised for you.”

In an attempt to be diplomatic Robb pulled his eyes off Arya and met Daenerys’s violet stare. “That is very kind. Thank you.” When he addressed his sister, his voice was once again hard. “I trust you’ll reconsider after you’ve given it some thought.”

“Don’t hold your breath. Daenerys might be willing to tolerate your presence but I’m far less generous. I’m not going anywhere with you. I don’t care who your father is.”

R-C

“Do you never dream of going home?” Daenerys asked as they laid side by side in bed. “You have memories of your homeland, I have only ideas and still I think of it.”

This was surprising to Arya who rolled over and propped herself on an elbow to look at her lover. “You wish to return to Westeros?”

Daenerys reached out and brushed a lock of dark hair away from her face. “I’m not sure. Sometimes I yearn for home, but I have no desire to deal with the chaos I’d find there. Getting back what was stolen from us, taking the throne, that was Viserys’s sickness, not mine. I have no will to sit on that bladed chair, but sometimes I think I’d like to visit Dragonstone, to see the place where I was born, where so many of my ancestors lived.”

“I didn’t know you felt that way.”

Lifting herself up she stole a quick kiss before she continued on. “I have nothing and no one to go back to, no real reason to return but things are different for you. You have memories, friends, family and now you’ve got a chance to go back and see them all again. Don’t you want that?”

“No,” she answered honestly. She paused for a kiss, one that started brief and grew in duration and intensity. “My home is here,” she said as they separated. “My family is here.”

“Are you worried about me? Is that why you won’t go?”

“I will always worry about you,” she admitted. “If you wish it I will go to Westeros. I will kill Robert Baratheon and his heirs, but once it is finished, I’d return as quickly as possible, to you and to our people.” As she finished her speech an unpleasant thought occurred to her. “Do… do you want me to go?”

“What? No!” she shouted, too loud for the early morning hour. “Of course not. I would love nothing more than for you to stay here with me forever, but I can’t be selfish. You have a family. I know you must miss them, even if you never speak of it. I want you here with me, but I want you to be happy more. I don’t want you to resent me one day, because you missed the opportunity to get your life back.”

“You are many things Daenerys, but selfish is not one of them.” The two shared another kiss before Arya finished her point. “I don’t want a new life or my old one. I’m quite content with the life I have. I belong here, with you and I’ll stay until you send me away.”

“And what of your family? Your father sent your brother and Robb came all this way for you.”

“They’ll need to get over their disappointment, but luckily Robb will have the long journey back to Winterfell to come to terms with it.”

R-C

“Grow up,” Robb complained as he addressed his sister. He’d been in the camp for six days and during that time he never stopped trying to sway her. Like the Khal she was, Arya refused to bend.

“I did grow up,” she retorted. “Which is why I no longer feel obligated to simply obey our father’s wishes without question. When are you going to grow up?”

From where she both watched and listened Daenerys felt the need to act as a mediator. “Arya, I don’t think your brother meant that. He only wishes…”

“Stay out of this,” Robb demanded. “This is a family matter.”

Right before her eyes Arya’s annoyance shifted to murderous fury. “Don’t make me repeat myself. If you wish to stay in this camp and remain healthy, I would advise you to treat Daenerys with respect.”

Robb remained unrepentant. “Her?” he asked as he pointed her out. “Next you’ll be defending some of your savages or maybe the slave girl?”

Daenerys, Robb and Arya all looked toward the woman in question. Missandei seemed uncomfortable, but stoic. Daenerys rushed to her defense. “Say what you will about me, but Missandei…”

“She is more family to me than you,” Arya argued. “If you keep pushing, I’ll send you back to mother and father on a funeral pyre.”

It didn’t escape Daenerys’s notice that Arya’s hand was hovering near her arakh. She extended her arm and touched her wrist in hopes of keeping things civil. Seeing the same thing she did, Robb’s hand went toward his sword. Arya grinned deviously. “If you draw that steel big brother, you better mean it because I will.”

Desperate to defuse the situation Daenerys tried a little manipulation. “Arya it’s nearly midday, didn’t you want to train with the men?”

A wordless conversation happened between them. Arya saying she didn’t want to leave Daenerys alone with her brother and Daenerys guaranteeing that she’d be fine. “Mind your manners,” she insisted before she left.

“You need to start respecting your sister’s choices,” Daenerys said after Arya was gone. “She’s not the child you remember, she’s a grown woman and she can make up her own mind.”

“I didn’t ask you.”

“No, you didn’t. You’d never lower yourself to ask a Targaryen anything but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to hear what I have to say. Arya is strong and brave and she doesn’t need you or anyone else telling her what to do.”

He laughed humorlessly right in her face. “Don’t make me laugh. From what I can tell you use my sister to kill for you and you say I don’t respect her choices.”

She was horrified by the implication. “If you believe anyone can make your sister do anything she doesn’t want to do, you don’t know her as well as you pretend to.” She was more offended by this idea than any of Robb’s other attempts to belittle her. She would never keep Arya somewhere against her will, the thought was abhorrent. “It’s true that Arya has killed but she does so because she chooses to, not because I command it. I ask you, isn’t that better than swearing fealty to a King and bending the knee, whether you agree with him or not?”

“You know nothing of our world,” Robb interjected. “You have been in exile your whole life. Your knowledge of the Seven Kingdoms comes from those dusty books I’ve seen you reading.”

“I know more about the Seven Kingdoms than you do about the Dothraki. Seeing as how you’re here, perhaps you might want to learn, for Arya’s sake.”

“I know enough,” he resisted. “I know you were married to a Horse-Lord in exchange for his army. I know that when he died you got your claws in my sister and used her to keep your power.”

“That is not what happened!” Daenerys protested. “My husband didn’t die, he was assassinated, poisoned by your beloved King Robert. The drink was meant for me. Maybe that is why Arya wants no part of Westeros or her politics.”

This admission melted the anger from Robb’s face. For several minutes neither spoke. Finally, Robb asked, “Does she speak of us? Of her family, of home?”

She considered lying, if only to spare him pain, but in the end, she told the truth. “She rarely speaks of the past.”

“So, she’s never mentioned me?”

“I was aware she had a brother named Robb, but beyond that no, she never has.”

The pained expression he wore almost made her feel sympathy for the man, almost. He was still part of the family that exiled Arya and for that Daenerys could find no forgiveness.

“She trusts you,” he said lowering his quiet voice even further. “I can see that she does. She has a home waiting for her, a family that loves and misses her. Don’t let her stubbornness take away her chance to gain all of that back.”

“I already told you, no one can make Arya do anything she doesn’t want to. Not even me.”

“Try,” he begged.

R-C

It was later that night, after both her and Arya’s needs had been satisfied, repeatedly, that she broached the subject. They were a mess of tangled arms and legs, but Robb’s words kept echoing in her mind.

“I think you should consider returning to Westeros,” she whispered tentatively. “Your brother isn’t going to leave until you agree, you do know that.”

“Then he’s welcome to stay. I’m not going back. My place is here,” she said echoing their earlier conversations on the matter.

“I’m not saying you should go and stay forever,” Daenerys expanded, “but it’s not the worst thing in the world for you to reconnect with your family.”

“The Dothraki are my family, I won’t abandon them.” She reached for and took a sip from the glass of water on her side of the bed. “I won’t abandon you. Where is this coming from?” Recognition passed over her face almost as soon as the question was out of her mouth. “He asked you to convince me,” she said confidently, “how pathetic.”

“He might not be wrong,” she mentioned carefully.

“If I return to Westeros you know I’ll be going to King’s Landing.”

“I assumed you would.,” Daenerys said with an indulgent smile.

“And you still think I should go?”

“It’s your home.” Immediately she knew her mistake and worked to set it right. “It was your home, I mean,” she corrected.

“It was your home as well. Will you be joining me?”

“I’m an exile.”

“As am I. Where I go, you go right?” she asked, playing on the words Daenerys had said to her days before.

She couldn’t hold back her smile, she didn’t even try. “That’s right.”

R-C

At sunrise, she stood in her brother’s tent, looking down on his sleeping form. She felt no remorse for waking him. With a swift kick, she knocked him off the bed and onto the ground. “I’ll return with you.”

She left without waiting for a reply, going out into the camp and convening a meeting of her advisors. “We are going to need a fleet,” she told them as she paced.

“It would take years and a small fortune to craft a fleet the size we’d require,” Jorah informed them all. “We don’t have the gold.”

“We don’t need gold,” she interjected, “and we don’t need years. The ships are already built, all we have to do is take them.”

“No one in all of Essos has enough ships to ferry our army.”

Arya stopped wandering about and looked to the end of the table where Missandei sat. “The Masters of Astapor do.”

Popping up from his seat Jorah crossed his arms over his chest. “You can’t be serious. The Masters are some of the most well-protected people on this continent. We can’t simply take something from them. They have an army of Unsullied to fight for them.”

“And what our army should be frightened?” Arya questioned. She gave Missandei a slight smile. “I have some unfinished business with the so-called ‘Masters.’ It’s about time I settled it.”

“Don’t let your pride get in the way,” Jorah moaned. When it was clear he wasn’t getting the response he wanted, he turned to Daenerys, his favorite target, “Khaleesi please, talk some sense into her.”

All eyes shifted to the Queen. “I agree with Arya. If we wish to go to Westeros, we’ll need a fleet and the Masters have one.”

Jorah wasn’t prepared to surrender quite yet. “There is still the matter of Robert to discuss. If we take the khalasar to his shores he will see it as an invasion.”

“Good, that’s exactly what I want him to think. It will be an invasion.”

“The Dothraki have never crossed the sea, and for good reason. They won’t go and they shouldn’t. Challenging Robert in Westeros is madness.”

“If you don’t want to come, you can stay here.”

“That is not what I sa…”

“The Dothraki will cross the Narrow Sea,” Daenerys predicted confidently. “For Arya, they will.”

Just then one of the men poked a head through the tents opening. “Your brother wishes to speak to you,” he told her.

She nodded her agreement and then looked to the table. “Take what gold we have and distribute it to the men. Then get them moving toward Vaes Dothrak. I’ll go and deal with the Stark.”

R-C

“Finally come to your senses eh?”

“More like I’ve finally lost my mind,” she retorted.

He smiled warmly and held out a hand. “I’m glad you’re coming home Arya and the family will be thrilled as well. We can leave as soon as you’re ready.”

“There is going to be a slight delay,” she said, downplaying the truth.

“What kind of delay?”

“We need more ships,” she stated bluntly.

“I told you, I have a ship waiting but it’s quite a ride.”

“I doubt your single ship will be enough to move the entire khalasar.”

“What are you talking about?” Robb asked, reaching out again and this time grasping Arya’s upper arm. “We haven’t time for this.”

She yanked her arm free. “Make time. If you want me to return with you to Winterfell, I will, but only if you agree to bring the whole of my army with us.”

“That’s insane!”

“Perhaps,” Arya allowed with a shrug, “perhaps not, but if you want me on that boat, those are my terms.”

“And what of the Targaryen? You’d leave her here unprotected?” She knew he was trying to manipulate her, but this was non-negotiable.

“Where I go, Daenerys goes.”

“Arya, you can’t do this. She’s an exile. Robert wants her dead. Seven Hells, why are you so difficult?”

“I’m an exile. If father can think of a way to get a pardon for me, he can think of a way to pardon Daenerys as well.”

“That will never happen,” Robb screamed. “She has a claim on the Iron Throne. Robert could never let her live.”

“You’re right. One of them will need to die.”

Sensing that he was nearing victory, he tried again. “So, we agree then. Leave Daenerys here, with the army to protect her and you and I can return to Winterfell.”

“This isn’t up for debate. We aren’t setting sail until we have the ships to move the whole khalasar.” She let her words sink in and then she added, “Of course, you are free to leave at anytime.”

“Oh no,” he said, annoyed by the suggestion. “I promised father I wouldn’t leave here without you and I won’t.”

“Very well, get your horse then. We need to get moving.”

R-C

On the third morning of their trip to Vaes Dothrak Arya noticed that her brother wasn’t riding along side his men as he typically did. Instead she found him next to Missandei, in the midst of a serious conversation. She honed her ears and tried to pick out the common tongue among all the Dothraki but couldn’t. Giving an order to Kelo to guard Daenerys, she turned her horse and went to the middle of the pack.

When she got close enough to hear, Robb was asking, “And where are we going exactly? My sister wasn’t particularly clear.”

“The Dothraki city.”

She watched his eyes roll. “They have a city? Then why have I been sleeping in a tent?”

“The Dothraki are a nomadic people,” she told him to explain. “They all travel to the city, but few remain there.”

“They might be nomadic but you aren’t. Where are you from? You remind me of my wife. She’s from Volantis.”

This was news to Arya. She hadn’t known Robb was married and she couldn’t believe he’d married a foreigner. She smiled as she imagined her parent’s reaction to that.

“I’m from the island of Naath, very far from your home.”

“And how did you come to be here?” he wondered.

“Your sister’s kindness.”

He scoffed at the notion. “I don’t see much kindness in Arya these days. Why are you so willing to blindly follow her? What has she done to earn such loyalty?”

It was Missandei’s turn to roll her eyes. “I am not blind. I follow because I believe.” She paused for a moment, as if to collect her thoughts. “Your religion has seven Hells as I understand it.” After he nodded she proceeded. “I would follow Arya and the Khaleesi to the doors of all seven.”

The disbelief was clear on his face. “Why would you do that? What has she done for you? All I see is a selfish savage.”

“She…”

Arya had let the conversation go far enough. She didn’t want Missandei to have to relive their shared history. Picking up where Missandei left off, Arya spoke clearly and with an edge. “She wants you to leave her friend alone.”

“We’re just talking,” he whined. “I thought I should get to know your new family.” The last word was full of sarcasm.

“Speaking of family, I didn’t know you were married.”

He smiled, clearly thinking of his wife. “I am. We have a son.”

“Congratulations,” she said sincerely. “I’m sure mother and father were pleased. Even if you did marry a foreigner.”

“It took some getting used to,” he admitted, “but mother has grown to like her in recent years, especially since Little Robb was born.”

All too easily Arya could picture Catelyn Stark in the role of doting grandmother. “I’m happy for you. I’ll try to see you returned to them in one piece.”

He gave his sister an easy smile. “I’d certainly appreciate that.” They rode side by side for a few minutes of quiet before he made another point. “You haven’t asked about them, not once, not about mother and father or any of our siblings.”

This was surprising, but as she thought back she realized he was right. She hadn’t asked and he hadn’t offered. She imagined it was because she’d gotten so good at not thinking about home that it had become second nature. Now that the topic was broached however, she couldn’t deny the questions on the tip of her tongue. “How are they?”

Robb was visibly pleased by her curiosity. “They are well. Father is worried about you. He says King Robert knows you’re leading an army and he’s afraid he might act rashly.”

“He’s welcome to try.” She could only hope Robert, the fat, lazy King she remembered was willing to face her in combat. She’d dreamt of little else since he tried to kill Daenerys.

Not taking the bait, Robb moved on to their mother. “Mother is also well, although she misses father. She remains in Winterfell most of the time, but I suspect she’ll be going to King’s Landing soon.”

“Sansa, Bran, Jon, and Rickon?”

“Rickon is growing up quickly,” he said with a fond smile. My son adores him more than he does me I think. I hope they grow to be best friends. Bran has recovered well, but it’s been a struggle. You remember how he was right? Always climbing something, or running, now that he can’t I think it’s hard for him. Jon,” he paused for a moment, “Jon is still on the Wall. Word reached us that he’d been promoted.”

“That’s good,” Arya said with a smile. Despite the fact that they didn’t share a mother, she’d always felt a deep connection to Jon. It pleased her that he’d found his place in the world, just as she had hers. “Maybe I’ll visit the Wall before I return home.”

For the second time Robb let her statement pass without comment. “Sansa,” he began, “she’s in King’ s Landing with father. Her wedding to Joffery was postponed until every influential person in the Realm could be in attendance. They should be wed any day if it hasn’t happened already. Mother was planning on taking Rickon to see it.”

The idea of Sansa being married to that pig turned her stomach. “I can’t believe they are letting her marry him.”

“He’s a prince and they’ve been together for years. It’s long overdue if you ask me.”

Although she said nothing, Arya couldn’t disagree more.

R-C

Walking through the camp, she found Robb and his men huddled around a small fire. “Fetch me more wine,” one of the men yelled.

Missandei being the closest to them looked up from where she was cleaning clothes and met his eye. “Excuse me?”

“Can’t you hear? I said more wine.”

When Missandei made a move to actually do as the bastard asked, Arya knew she needed to intervene. She marched straight over to where he was sitting and kicked him in the side, knocking him over. “Get off your fat ass and get it yourself. She’s not your slave nor your servant.”

He laughed unrepentantly. “My mistake, it’s a little hard to tell around here.”

She turned to Robb since she knew if she kept speaking to this man, she’d cut his throat. “I told you to leave her be.”

“I didn’t…” he started to defend his actions, or lack thereof but she had no interest in hearing it.

“We were just talking. I didn’t know that was against the rules.”

“She’s got enough going on, without you adding to it with your horse shit.”

“She’s an interesting woman, your friend. How did you meet her?”

“We met in Astapor,” Arya said vaguely.

“How?” the soldier who started this prodded. “How did a slave become your advisor? She’s certainly loyal. Did you buy yourself a friend?”

Arya growled in response. “Missandei is no one’s slave and if you wish to see your homeland again I advise you keep that in mind.”

“These savages are all talk,” he said to Robb as he stood and dusted himself off. “Give me five minutes with them and I’ll prove it.”

Robb looked to her for approval and she shook her head. “Come on, we’ve been riding for days. A little sparring wouldn’t hurt.”

“The Dothraki don’t train with outsiders,” she informed him. “If we fight one of you, it’ll be a fight to the death.”

“I’m fine with that,” the smug soldier said proudly.

“You’re an idiot,” she replied in the same tone he used. Expecting Robb to be the voice of reason she suggested, “Put an end to this and save your man’s life.”

To her shock Robb was either unwilling or unable to reign in his guard. He only shrugged casually. “It’s his choice.”

“You’re an even bigger idiot than he is,” she told her brother.

“What’s the matter Khal?” the man mocked, using her title as sarcastically as he could. “Afraid of a little fight?”

In an instant Robb was on his feet, standing between the two of them. It was only then that Arya truly understood his attitude. He didn’t think his man would lose, so he didn’t see the harm in a fight, even to the death. Now that he realized that Arya intended to fight him herself, he was frantically trying to salvage the situation. “W…wait. You’re going to fight him?”

“This isn’t Westeros. Khal’s don’t hide behind their armies. If I can’t defeat him, I’m not fit to lead.”

At this, he turned to his man. “Vern, stop this.”

It was too late. His hand was already on his sword. “I thought it was his choice,” Arya said with a snickering laugh.

“It’s a matter of honor,” Vern said as he stepped forward, all too eager for a fight. “For days, I’ve had to sit here and listen to her threaten us and belittle our home. It ends now.”

“I’m not going to let you fight my sister to the death!” Robb decided.

“I don’t think it’s up to you, big brother.”

Sensing the promise of violence, many of the Dothraki had taken notice of their heated exchange. From the corner of her eye she noticed Missandei was no longer washing her clothes and Arya suspected she knew where she’d gone and who she was talking to. Her instincts were proven right when Daenerys came jogging over, with Missandei several steps behind. As he so often was, Jorah lingered near the Targaryen too.

“What’s going on?”

“Nothing,” Arya replied as she tried to keep the Khaleesi from needless worry.

“We were just going to have a little fun. Want to watch?”

“Can you talk some sense into her please,” Robb implored.

“No,” she answered quickly, addressing Vern’s question and not Robb’s. She gripped Arya’s arm and pulled her two feet away for some measure of privacy. “Don’t do this, please.”

The laughter from the Stark men verified they hadn’t gone far enough. “Hiding behind your wife eh? Some big, tough warrior you are.”

Robb had apparently decided he’d tolerated enough. “Vern shut your mouth or I’ll fucking kill you myself!” he roared.

“Please,” Daenerys said again. “No good can come from this. It doesn’t help anyone.”

More than a little annoyed, not only at Vern and her brother, but at Daenerys for ending her quest for blood she pulled herself free of Daenerys’s touch and marched straight toward Vern. As she bumped him with her shoulder, she made her thoughts on the matter perfectly clear. “Say thank you. She just saved your life.”

R-C

Still enraged Arya went to her tent with plans of having a bath. After a day spent in the saddle, she was filthy and she wanted to feel clean. She also hoped it might calm her rage.

Removing the ties from her braid she let her hair loose and combed it out with her fingers. While she removed her clothes, she heard the flap of the tent move and she guessed Daenerys had come to check on her. “I’m fine,” she lied.

“I just came to say thank you,” Robb said as he moved deeper into the tent. She turned to face him without shame, completely unbothered by the fact that she was naked. “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize…”

“It’s fine,” she said as she went back to smoothing her hair. “You can say what you need to say.”

“You’re naked,” he pointed out, as if she didn’t realize. “I shouldn’t see you like that. You’re my sister.”

She chuckled at his misplaced Westerosi chivalry. “You’re married and not at all my type. I think we’re safe.”

“Still, can you put some pants on at least?” When she turned back to find some clothes, he gasped. “Gods Arya what happened to you?”

She knew at once what he was seeing. Her back had been scarred by painful strikes from a whip during a fight with a rival just days after Drogo’s death. He wanted Daenerys and the khalasar for himself. That battle was the first one Arya fought to keep Daenerys alive. She was less skilled then and he was unquestionably the best whip-fighter she’d ever seen. She got the upper hand eventually, but only after he’d lashed her so thoroughly that she had to sleep on her stomach for months. “It’s nothing. Those are old.”

“Still.” He was quiet for a moment and she couldn’t help but look over her shoulder at him as she picked up her discarded shirt. “You’ve been through a lot, haven’t you?”

“No more than anyone else,” she assured him, before she slipped the shirt back over her head. She was immediately uncomfortable, with her long hair trapped under the fabric, so she worked to free it with both hands.

“Looks like you need a haircut,” Robb teased, trying to lighten the mood.

“Not if I can help it.” She thought about what it would mean if her hair was cut. It would mean she lost a battle, shamed herself, Daenerys and the whole of their khalasar. It gave her some comfort that if that happened, she’d likely be dead. At least that way she wouldn’t have to live with the knowledge that she’d failed them.

“Is that a Dothraki thing? All of them have long hair too.”

“We cut it after we’re defeated in combat,” she explained, adjusting her top.

Dressed again she rotated and found Robb watching her closely. “When was the last time they cut yours?”

She smiled proudly as she thought about it. Her hair hadn’t been cut since before the night Drogo called her a Dothraki and gave her an arakh. “Not since before the Khal began training me.” When she realized he didn’t know when that was she clarified. “I began training with him not long after I arrived in Essos.”

“How did you come to be with these people Arya? Of all the places I thought you might go in exile, I never expected this.”

“I was living on the streets in a small settlement outside Qohor. They came on a raid and I was taken. The Khal brought me back to the camp as a potential slave.”

“A slave? Missandei told me you don’t keep slaves.”

“We don’t anymore. Daenerys was already beginning to change things before I arrived. I was one of the last. When I got here, a man intended to rape me.”

She was touched by the look of anger on her brother’s face, even if it was unnecessary. “Which man?”

Arya ignored his question as if he hadn’t spoken. “I killed him before he could. I stabbed him with his own knife. The Khal took a liking to me after that and began training me. I’ve been with them ever since.”

“I’m sorry that that happened to you,” he said kindly.

“I’m not. I know you don’t understand it, and don’t like it but I found a home here. These people are important to me and I don’t regret a single thing that’s happened. Not being exiled or leaving Westeros, not surviving for months on the streets, eating out of trash and sleeping in alleys. All of it led me here and I don’t want to be anywhere else.”

In an effort to ease the tension between them, Arya waved him to a small circular table in the corner of the large tent. She searched for and found a bottle of rum and some glasses. As she poured she motioned for him to sit.

“You have a lot of scars,” he commented casually, as his eyes lingered over her bare arms. “How many fights have you had, like you were going to have with Vern?”

“Single combat?” she clarified. He nodded and she paused, thinking of the number. “Twenty, I think. I’ve killed others of course, like when the assassins tried to murder Daenerys in the market or the day we saved Missandei, I’ve killed my share.”

“Twenty?” he asked in wonder.

“At least, I haven’t exactly been keeping count. The Dothraki aren’t led by bloodlines. They follow the strongest among them. After Drogo died, there was a lot of fighting to see who would rule.”

“And you won.” This wasn’t a question, but a statement of fact.

“I never wanted it,” she admitted quietly. “I had no desire to be a Khal but Daenerys was in danger. I had to keep her safe, so I killed until there was no one left to challenge us.”

Robb sipped his drink before he asked his next question. “And after that? Things don’t seem very peaceful, even without people to oppose you.”

“Well we aren’t as civilized as your fancy Lords and Ladies. Here we deal with threats directly. It’s violent and it’s bloody but it’s a vast improvement over Kings plotting and scheming in the shadows, using poisons and tricks to kill their enemies.”

“You’ve changed so much, sometimes I can hardly see the girl I remember.”

“I have changed,” she affirmed, “but I’m not the only one. The years have changed you too.”

“How so?”

“Hurry up and finish your rum. I still want to have a bath and I’d hate to offend your sensibilities by forcing you to see your sister naked again.”

He laughed and she joined him. Perhaps they were making progress after all.

R-C

With the moon high in the sky and darkness all around, Robb Stark found himself unable to sleep. Leaving his tent, he wandered the camp aimlessly until he found another Westerosi enjoying a drink.

“What do you think of all this?” Robb asked Jorah as he settled in across the fire. There were so few people he could speak to in the common tongue that he had to take company where he could find it. “Do you agree with my sister’s plan to take the army to the Dothraki city and then to Westeros?”

“I follow the Khaleesi wherever she goes.”

Robb didn’t fail to notice the distinction. “The Khaleesi, but not the Khal?”

He took a long drink from his glass. “I was here before your sister. I’d pledged my loyalty to Daenerys on her wedding day and I mean to honor that oath.”

“Where are you from?”

“The North, like you. Before I was exiled, I was Ser Jorah Mormont of Bear Island.”

Robb worked to keep his face even. He’d heard of the knight turned slaver. His father had told him the tale and he’d learned it as a cautionary lesson, a warning that even the most trusted could betray that faith. “And now you ride with my sister?”

He took another long drink. “As I said, I serve the Khaleesi.”

“Yes, and she’s married to my sister.”

Robb had to wait for the reply because Jorah was so startled by his words he choked on the liquid and had to cough wildly to clear his throat. “Is that what she told you?”

He didn’t understand the response. “Well, no not exactly. I just assumed.”

“They are not married and Arya serves as little more than a figurehead. Daenerys is and always has been the true leader of her people.”

“So, they aren’t…”

“Daenerys still mourns her husband. She’s improved of late, but I doubt she’ll ever recover enough to move on.”

Robb decided to try and steer the conversation away from his sister’s romantic life. “It sounds like you’ve all walked a long and bloody road.”

“That’s only going to get worse now. With what your sister has planned.”

“The Masters in Astapor are that powerful?” he questioned. Robb himself disagreed with the strategy but without a suitable method of stopping her, there was little he could do.

“Defeating the Masters will be no easy task, but it’ll be a cool Northern breeze compared to the fight that awaits us in King’s Landing.”

“King’s Landing? Why would Arya want to go there?”

“Your sister isn’t taking the khalasar sightseeing in Westeros. She intends to march her army straight to Robert’s gate and make him answer for his crimes.”

Robb was speechless. What in Seven Hells was Arya thinking? She couldn’t defeat Robert’s army, no one could. Even worse, if she did this, the whole of their family would be thrust into the middle. Their father, who served as Hand to the King, Sansa who was or would be married to Prince Joffery and of course him, who was sworn to serve the Realm. He was Warden to the North, it wasn’t as if he could refuse when the King summoned him and his army.

“That’s madness. She can’t win. You have to see that.”

“You’re talking to the wrong man,” Jorah said as he stood. “I made my opinion clear and she plans to go ahead with it anyway.”

“We need to stop her.”

“We can’t. Only one person has a chance of saving us now and that’s the Khaleesi. She’s the only one Arya listens to.”

Robb couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He’d just had one of his best conversations with Arya earlier that evening and now he was learning that the entire time they spoke, she intended to murder his King. “I can’t let this happen.”

Taking his first step toward his tent, Jorah spoke in a low voice that Robb could barely hear over the wind. “Good luck Lord Stark, you’re going to need it.”

R-C

Daenerys didn’t understand what was happening at first. One moment she’d been engaged in a very pleasant dream, involving her and Arya and the next she was being jostled awake. When her eyes managed to focus she had to wonder if she was in another dream. Robb stood over their bed, with a sword in hand. Next to her, Arya was awake, her grey eyes looking at the sword and nowhere else. “Daenerys,” she said softly. “Why don’t you leave Robb and I alone for a moment? I think we have some things to discuss.”

Suddenly wide awake she felt trapped in her own body, unsure of what to do. She couldn’t leave them. What if something happened to Arya while she was gone? She could never survive losing the person she loved most, not again. “I’m not going anywhere.” Addressing Robb, she did little to hide her feelings. “If you harm her, I’ll have the Blood Riders come in here and disarm you. Then I’ll order your men murdered slowly and their heads put on spikes while you watch. You will beg for death before it comes!”

Robb looked over his sister’s body to Daenerys. “The Mad King’s daughter speaks. Listen to you.”

“Leave her out of this,” Arya snapped. “If you’re going to do it, get on with it. Otherwise kindly leave, so we can go back to sleep.”

“You aren’t afraid?” he asked incredulously. “Don’t you even care why I’ve come?”

“No and no,” she answered. “I’m sure you have your reasons, so either do it or don’t, but you need to make up your mind.”

“Think carefully,” Daenerys warned, her hand feeling around beside the bed for the weapon she knew Arya kept there. If he intended to hurt her, Daenerys would stop him or die trying, regardless of Arya’s sudden passiveness.

“You can’t kill Robert,” Robb said as his sword sank lower. “I should kill you for even thinking of it. Did you consider what it would mean for our family? For father, Sansa and me? What do you think happens if you and your army ride for King’s Landing?” His hand began to shake slightly as he waivered in his conviction. “I’m the Warden of the North. It’s my duty to battle all threats to the Crown.”

“What are you waiting for? I’m a threat to your precious King so kill me, or I’m going to kill him.”

“Stop this,” he pleaded, looking to Daenerys for help. Where he’d found a willing recipient to his points of view in the past, now he found only distain. “If she rides South they will kill her. Do you want that?”

Lifting the arakh from the ground she laid it across her legs, in full view. “I’d be far more worried about yourself right now Lord Stark.”

Arya’s hand moved from under the sheet to rest on the curved blade. “If you don’t like what I intend to do, you’re welcome to leave. Take your men and go, go and warn your King that I’m coming. That, or you can kill me now, but that is the only way you’re going to be able to stop me.”

“I don’t want to kill you damn it!”

“Go,” Daenerys commanded. “Before I forget that she loves you.”

Wisely coming to the conclusion that he wasn’t going to win, Robb lowered his weapon and backed out of the tent. When he was gone, Arya picked up the arakh and set it back on the floor. Without a word, she extended an arm and pulled Daenerys’s naked body closer to hers.

“What are you doing?”

Her eyes were already closed when she replied. “I’m going back to sleep. It’s still early.”

As Daenerys worked to calm her racing heart she couldn’t help but wonder if Robb would be among them when they woke. Would he stay with his sister and return her home as he promised, or would he run to Robert? She didn’t know and she assumed that Arya didn’t either.

R-C

Chapter Text

“They worship a horse? You can’t be serious!” Vern shouted loudly. “That’s strange even for savages.”

Most of the khalasar had already entered the city, but Arya had held up the Northmen outside the border. “No stranger than praying to a tree with a face I suspect,” she countered. “This is their Weirwood tree, their High Septon. You don’t need to believe as they do, but you do need to treat their beliefs with respect. If you can’t do that, I encourage you to stay where you are and wait for our return.”

“We’ll behave,” Robb promised. She hadn’t spoken to her brother since he stood over her bed with plans to kill her, and she was barely tolerating his presence now.

“If you violate the laws within the city they will kill you and I won’t be coming to save you,” Arya foretold.

“What laws?” Robb quizzed.

“It’s against the law to draw a weapon or to shed blood within the confines of the city.”

“These heathens have laws?” Vern said with a laugh that was echoed by one of the others.

“Vern enough!” Robb commanded.

Deciding that she’d wasted enough time on the men from Westeros Arya tied up her horse and entered the famed city, hurrying to catch up with Daenerys.

“Buy furs,” she said as she snuck up behind her lover, wrapping her arms around the smaller woman’s waist.

“For the bed?”

With her lips hovering near Daenerys’s ear, she laughed, causing the other woman to squirm against her. “For a coat. None of you have ever been a place as cold as Winterfell, I can promise you that.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Daenerys said turning around in the cage of Arya’s arms.

“We have time if you’d like to climb up,” she offered.

“We didn’t come here for that,” Daenerys said, looking away from Arya’s face.

“Actually, we did,” she disagreed.

“I thought we came for supplies.”

“Two birds, one arrow Khaleesi. We should honor them.”

The trip to the Horse Gate was sombre and largely quiet. It reminded her of the time they’d climbed the same path to burn Drogo and Rhaego’s bodies, and every visit since. Arya reached the top first, standing at the ledge to give Daenerys a hand. She lifted her easily, and settled her down on her feet.

She knew Daenerys would need a moment to collect her thoughts and stayed back. In an effort to look anywhere but at Daenerys she happened to glance over the side and saw her brother climbing up, just as they had. As soon as he was on solid ground she grabbed him by the arm and pulled him away, nearly shoving him over the side. “What are you doing?”

“I thought we needed to talk, about last night and…”

“Not now!” she hissed, looking to Daenerys who had dropped to her knees.

“What’s wrong with her?”

“Stay if you want, but you’ll be quiet and give her space.”

“Is she praying?” he asked, breaking the first instruction almost immediately.

“What did I just say?”

Leaving her brother on the edge of the cliff she was completely unconcerned with if he would decide to stay or not. Her only thoughts were of Daenerys. She went to her side and knelt. “He loved you very much,” Arya said gently. “And you would have been a terrific mother.”

“I never should have made that bargain with the witch.”

“You had to try,” Arya allowed, hating the way Daenerys still held herself at fault. “Blame Robert. You wouldn’t have had to barter with that crone if he hadn’t tried to kill you.”

“Maybe you’re right,” Daenerys said as she ran her hand over one of the horse’s rear legs. “He always loved this place. I hope they found peace.”

She couldn’t help it, she chuckled at the thought. “I’m not sure if peace is what Drogo was looking for.”

Daenerys laughed, looking away from the horses and showing her tearstained face to the Northerner. “No, you’re probably right. I still miss them everyday.”

Without thinking she put her arm around Daenerys’s shoulders. The Khaleesi leaned into the embrace. “I know, I do too.”

“He’d be proud of you,” she declared confidently. “He’d be happy with how strong you made our people, how you defend us.”

“I hope so,” Arya said, unsure if she agreed with the sentiment. “I’ve tried to live up to his example.”

“You’ve done well,” Daenerys praised. “Our people are stronger than they’ve ever been thanks to you.”

“I have the easy job,” she said as she wiped tears from Daenerys’s cheeks. “You get all the hard work.”

With another teary laugh Daenerys stood and held out a hand for Arya. “We should probably go and find those furs.”

“You go ahead. I’ll be right behind you.”

“I can wait,” she offered sweetly.

“Go on,” she urged, “I won’t be long.”

Kneeling alone in the dirt she balled her hands into fists. She spoke to the Khal who had been her mentor, hoping he could actually hear her. “I will go to Westeros and I will avenge your deaths,” she vowed. “I will protect her with my life as you would.”

She met Robb exactly where she’d left him. “What was that?” he asked as they began their decent down from the Horse Gate.

“That is the spot where we burned the bodies of her husband and son after your King caused their deaths.”

R-C

After returning to the main city, Arya and Robb moved about the Western market. She scanned the tables of goods, hoping she’d know the right gift when she saw it. In the area selling the highest-end weaponry she slowed her steps. When she saw a table lined with small blades, she stopped completely. One by one she picked up the various deadly tools, testing their weight, getting a feel for how they felt in her hands.

“Don’t you have enough weapons?” Robb asked, as he suggestively looked to her belt to prove the point. In addition to the arakh, she had two daggers, one strapped to the outside of each leg. Both short knives were bigger than the ones she was currently looking at.

“It’s not for me.”

“Daenerys isn’t lacking for blades either.”

Picking up a silver handled dagger she knew it was perfect. “It’s not for Daenerys either.”

“Who is it for?”

“Missandei,” she said with her eyes still on the steel.

“The slave? She doesn’t strike me as the fighting type.”

Annoyed that she had to keep repeating herself, she set the dagger down and turned on her brother. “For the last time, she’s not a slave. Our khalasar no longer keeps slaves and Missandei may not look it, but I’d take her over any ten men in your army.”

Robb stepped forward and picked up the weapon she’d released. He looked at it carefully, admiring the craftmanship and feeling it’s weight just as she’d done. He passed his thumb over the edge. “I thought she was merely an advisor.”

“She is,” Arya confirmed as she stole the dagger back. “I’ve known Kings and Khals, our father is an honorable Lord and our mother could hold her own against most men I’ve met. I’ve ridden with mercenaries and murderers, taking and killing where I please. I sleep at night next to the last Targaryen and still I have little doubt that Missandei will outlast the lot of us. And if she did, the world would be better for it. The things she’s been through, she’s one of the most principled, bravest people I’ve ever met, on either side of the Narrow Sea.”

“Sounds like you got a crush little sister. Are you and she…” his words died before he finished his thought. She didn’t understand what he was asking until he moved his eyebrows up and down.

“No!” she growled, annoyed by Robb’s choice to thrust himself in places he didn’t belong. “Not that it’s any of your business, but no, we’re not.”

“You’re my sister. Of course, it’s my business.”

“Do I ask you about your private affairs with your wife?” She paused and when he didn’t answer, she did for him. “No, I don’t, because despite being your sister it’s none of my fucking business.”

“What has you so defensive?” he wondered with a smirk. He was poking her on purpose, trying to illicit a reaction, just as he’d done when they were children. “This is Valyrian steel. A very nice gift for a friend to give another.”

“Missandei has more than earned it. She’s too stubborn not to go, but I refuse to take her back there until she is properly armed.”

“Where?”

“Astapor,” she said before her tongue changed to Dothraki. Addressing the merchant, she asked for the dagger’s price.

The merchant was an older Dothraki woman. She wore a slate grey dress the same color as traditional Stark banners. Her exposed skin told of a violent life. She had scars, not as many as Arya, but more than any noble woman in Westeros. Like all Dothraki she wore her markings as a matter of pride. “You are the Khal?” she asked. “The one Khal Drogo called ‘Little Warrior?’

“I am,” Arya confirmed as she reached for her purse of coins. While she ordered gold distributed for her army, Arya hadn’t thought to bring more than a handful of coins for herself. What she carried certainly wasn’t enough to buy a Valyrian steel dagger.

“Your khalasar is moving all over the city, buying things for a great voyage on wooden horses,” the woman told her. “Is it true you’re taking them across the poison water?”

“It is. Our enemies hide across the sea. We must go to fight them.”

The woman smiled, obviously pleased by the news. “Will you take us with you?”

“Take who?” Arya asked, looking around for anyone who might be with the merchant.

“Me and my son. He is young, but a good boy. After my husband was killed, we left and have been here since.”

Arya had another quick look for the son but she couldn’t pick him out from the crowd. “What is your name?”

“Mali,” she answered, offering both Starks a friendly smile.

Arya held out her hand in greeting. When Mali took it, the Khal returned her smile. “My name is Arya and you and your son have a place among our people.”

Mali’s smile slipped away as quickly as it appeared. “My son is not yet the best warrior. He has a strong heart but is small. Too small. After my husband died I knew he would follow, so we fled.”

“Your family will be safe Mali,” she vowed. “I will help to train your son.”

“He is good with a bow, hunts dinner each night and we never go hungry.”

As she praised her boy Mali’s smile returned and again Arya found herself smiling along. “We can always use more hunters. We’ll be staying until sunset. Gather your things and you can join us.”

“We will be ready,” Mali promised.

“How much for the dagger?”

She shook her head. “No,” she said in the common tongue. “You take. Gift for the Khal who help us.”

“Thank you,” she said in her native language since the Dothraki didn’t have a word for it. Shifting back what the merchant would understand more easily she asked, “Where did you learn the common tongue?”

“Books.”

“I must find the Khaleesi, but we won’t leave without you. You have my word.” Holding the dagger in Robb’s direction she nodded to Mali one final time and then moved away. “Hold this for me, will you?”

“What was all that about? And why didn’t you pay her? That was the most expensive piece by far. Why would she just give it to you?” His questions were laced with awe and wonder, pressed so tightly together she never had a chance to reply.

“She didn’t want coins, only a place in my khalasar.”

“Does she know where you’re going?”

“She does,” Arya confirmed.

Robb shook his head. “It’s amazing really! You tell a woman you’re going off to war, across the sea no less and her response is to tag along. What is wrong with these people?”

Taking the dagger back she attached it to her belt, right next to the arakh. “Well, you heard her, she speaks a little of your language. You can ask her for her reasons when she and her son join us tonight”

“Son? That’s great. So, my sister is running an orphanage for wayward Dothraki children. How generous.”

Despite having shorter legs, she put distance between her and Robb with every stride. She rolled her eyes at his comment. “Less whining, more walking. We need to find Daenerys.”

R-C

When they arrived in the Eastern market, Arya knew something was wrong. First, she noted that several of the stalls had goods but no merchants manning them. In addition, the usual steady flow of people moving in all directions had effectively ceased. The shoppers had formed a barrier, hiding what had their attention from Arya and Robb. “This isn’t right,” she said to her brother as she began to weave her way through the crowd.

Robb being taller saw what was happening before she did. “Seven Hells,” he said to her, before he cursed more violently under his breath. Robb’s determination to get to the front of the pack seemed stronger now and Arya didn’t like that. She followed his path, calling out in Dothraki that she needed to get through.

At the heart of the scene Arya found Vern standing against three Dothraki. He held a sword in his left hand and she noted blood dripping from it, landing on the body of a fourth man, who’d been gutted by Robb’s friend. She took a small measure of comfort from the fact that none of the men were from her khalasar, but that only brightened things slightly.

Without looking away from the disgrace before her she spoke to her brother. “Leave. Find the rest of your men and go wait outside the city. We’ll join you when we’re done.”

Seeming to realize the seriousness of what had happened Robb began trying to apologize. “Arya, I’m sorry…”

“Go!” She wasn’t interested in hearing his pitiful excuses or listening to him defend what was in her eyes entirely indefensible.

“What of Vern?”

“He’s mine,” she said grimly.

“You can’t just…”

She didn’t know how he intended to finish that sentence but no matter how it ended Arya didn’t want to hear it. “Yes, I can. Leave before I decide these people are owed more than just his head.”

Robb disappeared backward into the crowd while Arya went in the opposite direction. A murmur moved through the onlookers as she stepped up beside the other three. “Oh, how nice of you to join us. I thought you were going to miss all the fun.” Looking at the man he’d killed, he stepped on his body crudely. “Was he one of yours?”

“You fucking idiot,” she shouted in a language he could understand. Once he knew where she stood on the issue she addressed the Dothraki. “This outsider will die. I will kill him without violating our city any further.”

Arya knew from her past visits to Vaes Dothrak that she was widely known. Knowledge of her had been passed to even the smallest khalasars. They spoke of the girl the powerful Khal Drogo trained personally. They said he’d taken a foreign girl into his army as he’d taken a foreign wife into his bed. Many had doubts, but word of her victories crossed from one end of the Dothraki Sea to the other. It had taken years but she’d earned the respect of the larger Dothraki community. There would always be some who never saw her as anything more than an invader, but as her reputation grew and her deeds were heralded the majority saw her as an equal. It was because of this that when she spoke, the Dothraki around her not only listened, they obeyed. The three men who had been planning to fight Vern now stepped back, allowing the Khal to have the honor.

Seeing the muscular men retreating Vern smiled, completely misreading the situation. “Thanks Stark. What did you say to them?”

“Only that I mean to kill you.” His reply came in the form of a sword being swung at her head.

Her instincts told her to reach for one of the many weapons she carried but that wasn’t an option, not here. “Two fucking laws! Two simple fucking rules and you still manage to fuck that up. I’ll be doing Robb a favor.”

At her insults Vern swung again, this time catching her in the side of her neck before she could slip away. When she stood opposite him, she reached up and touched the wound. It wasn’t deep enough to cause concern. “Oops I think I just broke another savage law. What’s the penalty?”

Arya was glad the Dothraki couldn’t understand him. If they could, there would be a riot over who would get the privilege of killing him. She kept up her dance, fleeing from every attempt, ducking, and dodging, all while her hands remained empty.

Wearing heavy plate armor made Vern slow. It was for this reason that Arya managed to avoid the most serious attacks. After a few minutes, the speed of the swipes slowed. Vern chose to put most of his energy in powerful, two handed strikes, but was quickly running out of energy. Avoiding the sword, she lowered her shoulder and rushed at the idiot as fast as she could. Her strong arms wrapped around his waist as she applied force, trying to knock his legs out.

They fell together and while Arya accomplished not only taking him to the ground but disarming him too, Vern managed to roll them. He mounted her and began to rain blows down on her face.

While the crowd watched in horror Arya took punch after punch. A cut on her forehead and another on the bridge of her nose bled profusely. Still no one stepped in to help. Interfering in fair combat was a taboo the Dothraki thought unforgiveable. Even when Jorah, Daenerys, Missandei and all three of her Blood Riders joined the spectators they offered nothing more than words of encouragement.

Struggling to buck the bigger man, Arya tried to remember all the lessons Drogo had taught her. Then she went back even further and recalled Syrio’s lessons from what felt like a lifetime ago. She remembered vividly kneeling on the floor in one of the Red Keep’s many rooms. She was struggling to regain herself after Syrio had kicked her in the groin, hard. “You fight dirty,” she complained then.

“There is no such thing as dirty fighting. There is only fighting. Leave morals for those who don’t hold a sword. In battle, there is only dead or alive. Sometimes fighting dirty is the only way to win. You must remember this.”

She had remembered and Syrio had been right. She waited until the moment Vern landed a particularly brutal punch and then she went to work. First, she struck his throat. It wasn’t enough to tip him over but it did force him to stop punching her as he reached up to grab his neck. Second, she bent her knee under him and then gripped his brown hair in both hands to force him up. It wasn’t much, he was too heavy to lift fully, just a couple of inches but that’s all she needed.

Just as she hoped he would, he knocked her hands away from his hair and then attempted to sit back down on his foe. With her leg bent Vern unknowingly dropped his balls directly on her waiting knee. He screamed in a sound that rallied the nearby Dothraki. Ramming her knee even harder into him, she sent him toppling off to the right, rolling away. As he’d done with her, she mounted him quickly. After a brief struggle, she pinned his arms using her legs and settled both of her hands around his windpipe. While she squeezed, he frantically tried to wriggle free.

The onlookers mocked the man in a language he couldn’t understand. Earlier she’d been glad the Dothraki couldn’t comprehend Vern’s insults. Now she wished he could understand theirs as they ridiculed him. All around her they spoke. They wanted death for the man who violated their most sacred place. Beyond that they mocked his armor, amused by the fact that not even a suit of steel could keep him safe from one girl. Some offered free tactical advice, but as Vern’s death approached, the words faded and became one continual shrieking war cry. It seemed to shake everything and everyone around her. Arya just kept squeezing.

When it was over she stood. “He has no hair to cut!” she told them before she put a hand to her neck, to stem the bleeding.

With the fight over Daenerys and the Blood Riders rushed to her side. “Are you okay?” Daenerys asked, replacing Arya’s hand with her own. “Come, you need to be tended to.”

“It’s a scratch,” she said dismissively.

When she addressed Kelo, the youngest of her Blood Riders she kept her volume up, so others could hear too. “Take him outside the city. He isn’t fit to rot here.”

The Dothraki shrieked again, wordless agreement for Arya’s point of view. Kelo grabbed Vern’s legs and Kovarro took his arms. Together they carried his carcass through the people. Many cursed as they passed, others spit on the corpse. After the excitement was over things slowly began to return to normal. Only as she let herself be led by Daenerys did she notice Robb watching her. He hadn’t left as she’d told him to and as a result he had watched her kill. The deeply horrified set of his features couldn’t be discounted but it wasn’t all she saw. Mixed in she saw the wide eyes of surprise. Maybe now he’d respect the woman she’d become. Maybe he’d give her points of view consideration before dismissing them outright, or maybe he’d be unable to look at her and see his sister any longer. Maybe for the rest of their time together he’d see only the woman who choked his friend to death.

Daenerys pulled her from her thoughts of Robb and how she’d just altered their relationship. “Alright, you’ve shown your prowess one more time, now listen to your Khaleesi and allow me to tend to your wounds.”

“I’m fine Daenerys,” she said glancing to the spot where Robb had been to find him gone.

“Let me tend to you anyway,” she suggested.

R-C

Robb was kneeling next to Vern’s dead body. With his hands folded and his eyes down, he whispered to the Old Gods Arya had taught her about. She watched in silence, waiting until he was finished before she made her presence known. “There was nothing you could have done,” Daenerys insisted. “The minute he drew that sword he’d violated their law and the Dothraki have only one punishment for that.”

Covering his face with his hands he shook his head. “I can’t believe this happened. I’m the Warden of the North and now one of my men is dead. The worst part is there is nothing I can do because the killer is my sister. Worse still, she seems determined to destroy our former home. If I don’t do something, I risk allowing a revolt to take root.”

“Tell your people the truth,” Daenerys suggested. “Remind them that Arya offered to leave you outside the city, but you all refused. Inside the Horse Gate, despite knowing the law Vern drew his weapon, then he used that weapon to kill an unarmed man.”

“My men will want revenge,” he said with a grunt. His fingers were lost in his hair when he suddenly stopping combing and began to pull. “What the fuck happened to her?”

As she thought about Arya, she couldn’t control her smile. They hadn’t all been good times, but by and large they were. She arrived terrified and starving and was nearly raped on her first night, but she survived. “A lot happened and I think you need to take that into consideration when you speak to your sister next.”

Robb looked ready to respond, his mouth opened and the words died on his tongue. Curious about what quieted him she followed his eye and could see Missandei and Arya whispering together. She saw nothing out of the ordinary but Robb apparently viewed things differently. “What is it with those two?”

“What about them?” Daenerys prodded.

“Cute couple don’t you think?”

While most of her knew the assumption was baseless, there was a knot in her stomach all the same. Logically she knew Arya wouldn’t do that and neither would Missandei, but doubt lingered. Whatever Robb was seeing was all in his imagination, it had to be. That knot got tighter when she saw Arya smile warmly, before Missandei responded by rising up onto her toes to kiss the nearest cheek. As they separated, Daenerys could see Missandei was holding something, but couldn’t make out what it was. She was curious. Had Arya gone shopping and bought something specific for Missandei? They were friends, good friends, but that would be unusual given all she knew of Arya’s behavior going back more than seven years.

“I think they look like friends.”

“Neither of them will tell me how they met. I mean how bad could it be?”

Daenerys tried to dissuade him with nothing more than the intense scowl on her face. She folded her arms over her breasts. “It was bad enough,” she remembered. “That isn’t a pleasant story. It’s no wonder they don’t want to talk about it.”

“Were you there?” Daenerys nodded so he kept pushing. “You tell me then.”

“Why do you care? Do you desire Missandei, before you go back to your wife?” she mocked coldly.

He threw up his hands. “That’s not what this is about,” he cried. Once his anger settled he tried to justify his questions. “I came over here, travelled thousands of miles to find my sister. When I finally do, she’s nothing like I remember.” Facing Daenerys directly he leaned just a little bit closer, lowering his voice. “I want to learn about her life, see the things she cares about, meet the people who matter to her.”

He wanted to get to know Arya better. She could hardly deny him that. “Have you ever heard of the Walk of Punishment Lord Stark?”

“No, what is it?”

With a sigh, she closed her eyes. In her mind, she was overrun with images of their last time in Astapor. With her mind occupied by the past, her hands began to shake. “We went to pick up tribute, that’s all.” She sighed again. “They’d already accepted our terms.”

“What happen?” Robb asked warily.

She straightened her back and squared her shoulders before she responded. “The Walk of Punishment is a form of discipline for slaves. If you disappoint or disobey your Master, he crucifies you along a public street, as a lesson to other slaves not to do the same.”

“In the name of the Gods,” Robb said as he bowed his head. “How evil.”

Daenerys had come this far she wasn’t about to stop now. If he wanted to hear the story, she was going to tell it all, with every grizzly detail. “When we passed the line of crucified slaves, I spoke to them. I offered them water but they refused and begged me to let them die. Near the end four men in fine clothes were forcing a half naked woman up onto an unused cross. We reached them as they were hammering the first nails in. We knew we had to do something. It wasn’t our business, but we couldn’t do nothing. I wanted to help and Arya agreed.”

“Then what happened, how did you get her?”

“I went over first and tried to talk to them. We had gold, but likely far less than would have been necessary to buy her. I held out the coins and just then the woman sobbed above me. I was so startled I dropped them. While one man, bent down to help me pick them up, Arya struck down the other three.”

“All three of them?”

She nodded, her expression grim. “One swing of her arakh and we were suddenly in charge.”

“That’s incredible,” Robb admitted as he looked over at Missandei and his sister.

“We got her off the cross and Arya carried her out of the city while the Masters had their slaves rain arrows down on us.” Daenerys took a moment to gather her thoughts. “Things will be hard for Missandei now. Astapor has a lot of painfully memories for her. As if that weren’t bad enough, we know her Master wants her back. He’s placed a bounty on her head.”

“That would explain why Arya would want her to have a dagger.”

R-C

The trip to Astapor was both long and slow. More than once she heard Robb and his men complaining about the pointless journey. The Dothraki who largely didn’t understand the common tongue were oblivious to the dissention, but those who could, knew tensions were building.

“Go if you want!” Arya shouted at her brother, when they made camp, days away from their destination. “You’ve got your boat, take your men and go. I’m tired of listening to you whine like angry children each time we break camp.”

“We’ve been riding for weeks!” Robb reminded her.

Arya was unrepentant. “I know. I was there too, remember?” She balled her hands into fists, a clear sign of her frustration. “Just go. I’ll follow after you once I have the ships we need.”

She could tell he was considering it. She didn’t care either way. Robb and his men weren’t going to change what was going to happen. She was going to get ships and she was going to lead her khalasar across the sea to kill the King of the Seven Kingdoms. Robb’s attendance wouldn’t be required. If he was there, fine, but she refused to beg him to stay.

“How much further is it?” Robb asked, sounding defeated.

“A week,” she guessed.

He decided quickly. “We will join you.”

“Fine,” Arya said confidently, “but tell your men to stop belly-aching, it’s annoying and when I get annoyed people tend to die.”

Robb’s posture changed and he looked at her with a storm in his eyes. “You already killed one of my people. How about you keep your blade on your hip and away from my soldiers.”

She smiled darkly. “I killed your man,” she accepted, “but it was quicker and far better than he deserved. Do you have any idea what those Dothraki would have done to him if I hadn’t shown up?” She waited a few seconds before answering her own question. “If I hadn’t stepped in and killed him, they would have tied him to a horse and dragged him outside the city, so they could draw their blades, and his blood without violating the law. They would have taken turns removing pieces of him until there was nothing left and trust me when I tell you, your friend would have been alive until the final moment.”

With a curse, Robb shook his head. “Savages.”

Arya growled in defiance. “Those savages have exactly one city, one place in this world that matters to them and within that city they have only two laws. Vern violated the both of them. Tell me Lord Stark, what do you do to people who break your laws in Winterfell?”

“We don’t torture them,” he retorted. “We don’t kill them needlessly.”

Arya turned away and planned to leave her brother to his thoughts. When she was nearly ten feet away she looked back. “Wait a week,” she urged him. “After you meet the Masters of Astapor, you can tell me who you think the real savages are.”

R-C

Chapter Text

Arya, Daenerys, Jorah and Missandei all rode at the front of the army. Behind them were Arya’s Blood Riders and a line of the strongest commanders. When the city came into view everyone stopped.

“You don’t need to do this,” Daenerys clarified to Missandei. “You can stay with the women and keep the camp.”

“I’m not afraid,” Missandei announced, her voice shaking just a tiny bit as she kept her eyes locked on her former home.

“I know you’re not,” Arya said. “You’re no coward, but Daenerys is right. We can go and get the boats. You don’t have to set foot in there again, unless you want to.”

She watched the tension ripple through Missandei’s muscles, she could see the set of her jaw and the determined face she wore. “I’ll go. You may need me to translate.”

Daenerys’s arm extended to take her friend’s hand as they sat side by side on matching white horses. “Are you certain?”

Missandei nodded and Arya could tell she’d made her choice. “Robb!” she called.

“What are you doing?” Jorah wondered.

Robb arrived within moments, accompanied by one of his men. “You requested my presence?”

“You’ll be joining us in the city,” she decreed. With that said, she turned her horse around and looked at her Blood Riders. “Surround the city,” she told them in their language. “I want these pricks to have no escape!”

When she turned back she could tell both Robb and Jorah had something to say. Jorah was first, far less concerned with manners than her Lordly brother. “Why are you bringing him? He isn’t going to help.”

Robb looked at the knight. “Thank you,” he said sarcastically. “What do you need me to do?”

“Protect Missandei,” Arya ordered. “Once we go through the gates, I’ll be negotiating. I need you to make sure they can’t get to her.”

“Isn’t that what Jorah’s for?”

“Jorah’s job is to keep Daenerys safe. Your job will be to defend Missandei.” He nodded his agreement and intended to ride toward the city, but Arya placed her horse in front of his, blocking his route. “Don’t hesitate,” she instructed him. “If they try to take her, if they try to harm her, kill them all.”

“That’ll make it a little hard to get the ships you want, won’t it?”

“Actually, if they’re all dead, taking their ships will be easy,” Arya said with a light laugh that was only slightly forced.

“You can’t kill an entire city,” Robb rebelled with a scoff.

“Watch me.” Allowing Robb to pass she moved to Missandei and tried to smile. “Stay close to Robb and keep that dagger hidden. If someone touches you, you bury that in their neck and run.”

“I wouldn’t make it five feet before I was cut down. The Unsullied…”

“Will be busy,” Arya finished for her. “If you need me yell and I’ll call for the army. When the Unsullied see thousands of Dothraki riding toward their city, they’ll have bigger concerns than you.”

Before she could ride off to catch up to Robb Daenerys caught her arm. “Thank you,” she said quietly.

“For?”

“For taking such good care of Missandei. You gave her a dagger, taught her to use it and ordered your brother to protect her. You didn’t need to do all that. So, thank you.”

She could tell her cheeks were red. She was unused to such praise. “You don’t need to thank me. Missandei is important to me too. I’d never allow her hurt.”

“Be careful,” Daenerys pleaded, before she released Arya’s arm.

“You too.” With a nudge, she sent her horse galloping toward Astapor. She caught up to her brother and slowed slightly. The Starks were side by side in the quiet for a few minutes before Arya shattered it. “If anything happens to Missandei, you’ll be going back to Westeros like Vern.” With her violent promise made, she moved ahead of him, eager for the upcoming fight.

R-C

An emissary came out to meet them outside the gate. This wasn’t Astapor’s first dealing with the Dothraki. They knew how things worked. The young man who was flanked by more than ten Unsullied, wore expensive silks and had neatly groomed hair. “The Dothraki, how nice it is to see you. It’s been over a year since your last visit. As I recall that didn’t go smoothly.”

“It was smooth enough,” Arya disagreed. “We aren’t afraid of a few arrows and a little blood.” She smirked and wet her lips. “Are you?”

The man in his silk robe actually slinked back, away from her horse. She could smell the fear. “Y…yes well, my name is Aziz and I’ve been asked to negotiate a peaceful resolution. I’m certain we can come to some arrangement. How about three dozen horses, food, clothes and weapons?” He didn’t wait for her to respond before he kept talking. His green eyes studied the collection of warriors on horseback. “You have more men than last time. I’ll increase my offer to five dozen.”

He was already preparing to return to the safety of his city. “Hey!” Arya shouted, holding him in place. “We didn’t come here for horses and weapons.”

Aziz turned back and gave Arya a curious look. “You didn’t?”

“Ships,” she announced. “We’ll take our tribute in ships. All the ships you have.”

Arya could tell he was resisting the urge to laugh. He was almost successful. “Ships? The Dothraki have no need of ships. What could you possibly…”

She didn’t feel obligated to let him finish. “We do want ships!” Arya said forcefully. “We’re sailing for Westeros and as you’ve noticed I have quite a large army. It’s going to require a massive fleet to carry them all.”

The humor was gone and Aziz once again reviewed the rows of Dothraki located at her back. “I’ll take your request to the leaders of the city.”

“Tell them that I have more than one hundred thousand Dothraki warriors who are eager for a fight. Tell them that unless they want their city burned to ash and their people slaughtered, I want those ships.”

“Very well, will there be anything else?”

“Yes, I also require Kraznys mo Nakloz,” she decided. Behind her Arya heard the muffled gasps of the two females in the group. Neither Daenerys nor Missandei were aware of her plan to ask for the slave master.

“Kraznys mo Nakloz?”

“You heard me just fine,” she assured him. “I want Kraznys along with the ships.”

“That may prove difficult,” he said, working hard to be diplomatic.

“I will get exactly what I requested, either from you willingly or from the rubble of after the battle.” As her words sank in she pushed her horse forward, forcing Aziz to retreat to avoid being trampled. “Know this, if I attack your city today, I won’t start by killing your people, or even your soldiers, I’ll order my men to start with the Masters. It’ll be your blood that fills the streets, your blood that stains the stones.”

She could tell her point had been made, the look of terror on his face was unmistakable and it was exhilarating. “Y…yes, I … I understand. I’ll tell them.”

“I would consider it a personal favor if you allow me and my associates into the city while you present our offer to your people. My army will remain outside, of course.”

Aziz was clearly uncertain but in the end, he relented. Likely so he wouldn’t offend them. He led Arya, Daenerys, Missandei, Jorah, Robb and two of the Blood Riders through the gate. The third Blood Rider, Harvin waited with the army, ready to lead them if the call for a raid came.

Their host fled almost immediately under the guise of presenting their offer, but the speed with which he ran showed his panic. “I thought we came for ships,” Jorah complained when they were alone.

“We did.”

“Then why ask for this Kraznys?” Robb asked.

At mention of his name Arya looked to Missandei and saw the woman looking straight ahead. She didn’t need to wonder what Missandei was looking at, her eyes were glued to the Walk of Punishment. “We have unfinished business.”

“What business?”

Before she could answer her brother, Jorah interrupted. “Khaleesi, we didn’t come here for this. Don’t allow her personal feelings to stand in the way of getting what you want.”

Arya dismounted her horse and then helped Daenerys down from hers. When they were all standing with their horses secured in the stable, Daenerys responded to Jorah’s latest jab. “I agree with Arya. We have business with Kraznys. If we can get him in tribute, I’ll happily accept.”

“And if we can’t? The Masters aren’t going to hand over one of their own!”

“Then we’ll call for the raid and we’ll take him,” Arya stated calmly as though it were obvious.

“You can’t mean that,” Robb said as he looked around him. “Innocent people live in this city. If you raid, hundreds of them will die.”

She shrugged her tanned shoulders. “Its not up to me anymore. Now it’s up to them,” she said as she pointed to the tallest of the city buildings, the spot from where the Masters watched over their slaves.

R-C

It was three hours later that they were met in the center of the city by Aziz, no fewer than twenty-five Unsullied and three other Masters, Kraznys mo Nakloz included. Daenerys briefly thought they were going to honor the request and offer tribute but when she noted that he looked annoyed and not angry, she began to doubt her assessment. Also, it didn’t escape her notice that his wrists weren’t bound. Unless he willingly embraced death, they planned to refuse.

Leaning toward Arya, she whispered, speaking in Dothraki so the outsiders wouldn’t understand. “They say ‘no.’”

“I was hoping you’d say that,” Arya said with a wicked smile.

“What’s going on?” Robb questioned.

The conversation ceased when the approaching group arrived. She watched as Kraznys eyes moved from face to face, looking at them with contempt. Last time they’d been in his city they’d stolen from him and it was clear he hadn’t forgiven or forgotten. When he spotted Missandei, who was partially hidden by Robb’s body his face split in a sick grin. “You came to return my property?” he asked in Valyrian.

Aziz helpfully planned to translate, but Daenerys did it for him. “He thinks you came to return Missandei to him,” she explained.

“That’s never going to happen,” Arya told them bluntly. This time Daenerys allowed Aziz to translate, but it was like Kraznys didn’t hear a single word. He continued to stare intently at Missandei. Tense seconds passed, until finally Arya’s patience was exhausted. She moved forward, with a Blood Rider on each side and encroached in his space. Snapping her fingers in front of his face she commanded his attention. “Focus.”

When he moved his eyes off Missandei and onto her, Kraznys grew even more enraged. “What do you want?”

Daenerys translated for Arya and her lover smiled. “Today, only your head.”

Behind them Robb groaned, calling out his sister’s name. Jorah sensing violence drew his sword in anticipation. Seeing this Kraznys and the other Masters moved back while they ordered the Unsullied to step toward the danger. Daenerys yelled Arya’s name in warning but it was too late. By the time the words were out, the Unsullied were already in motion, surrounding them. They were outnumbered and heavily so.

Aziz tried to steer things back on track. “I’ve spoken with the city leaders and we would like to avoid violence. We are prepared to provide the ships you requested, but only with the promise that you use them to leave Essos and never return.”

“You aren’t that lucky,” Arya said. “We will return, but if you give me what I want, you won’t see us for more than a year. That’s a small price to pay for peace wouldn’t you say? A few boats.”

After translations, Kraznys spit on the ground at his feet. “A few? You want all our ships.”

Before Daenerys could translate Aziz was frantically trying to smooth things over. “You plan on returning?”

“This is our home,” Arya declared proudly. “When our business in Westeros is complete, we will be back.”

The negotiator thought for a moment. “Two years then. We want two years of peace.”

Arya looked to Daenerys for approval and the Khaleesi nodded. “Agreed.”

“Come,” he said waving his hand. “I’ll show you to your new ships.”

Once again, the slave master was focused entirely on Missandei. Robb had moved between them, but he didn’t seem dissuaded. In that moment Daenerys knew she wanted him dead just as badly as Arya did. “And you’ll leave him with us?” she clarified.

“I’m afraid Kraznys is not willing to go with you,” Aziz said carefully. “We can not force him to join you, so, we ask that you allow him to remain here and accept the ships and the crews to sail them as compensation.”

“That is…”

Daenerys was cut off by Arya who was again standing right in front of the man she hated. “Are you kidding me? Everyday from one end of this city to the other you force people to do tons of things they don’t want to do. Why should he be any different?”

After translations, it was Kraznys who responded. “Not people,” he said, “slaves.” Daenerys was appalled by his words but she tried not to show it. Pointing over Arya’s shoulder to Missandei he kept pushing. “Ask her, she knows the difference. I’ll train her better this time.”

“What did he just say?” Arya asked after she heard Missandei’s gasp.

“Slavery has always been a part of Astapor, just as it’s always been part of the Dothraki way of life. Your people have sold slaves here many times,” Aziz said in hopes of calming the hostility.

“We no longer keep slaves,” Daenerys told him. “Other khalasars might, but we do not.”

She could tell this surprised him. He translated quickly, avoiding Daenerys’s eye in the process. Kraznys laughed. “I don’t care! I’m not going and they can’t make me. They can take the ships and go, or die.”

As she translated she couldn’t deny Arya looked willing to fight. Just when Daenerys was certain violence was inevitable, Arya did something she’d never seen. She backed down. “Fine. Show us to the boats.” Seeking out Kovarro in the crowd, she addressed him. “Go get the men. Start moving them to the ships.”

He went to follow her orders and Aziz visibly relaxed. He led them through the city, toward the docks. The trip took them straight down the Walk of Punishment. Daenerys moved closer to Missandei, wanting to be near her as she endured this again.

When they reached the spot where they first found her, Kraznys slowed his steps, within a handful of strides he was side by side with Robb and Missandei. He pointed out the cross where she was meant to die. It was spotted with blood but presently unoccupied. “Remember that?” he asked her.

Daenerys intended to intervene but Arya beat her to it. In a flash of movement, she had a blade to Kraznys’s throat. Her grey eyes were furious and she pressed the steel down, drawing a thin line of blood from his neck. Daenerys watched in horror, aware of what Arya actively ignored, more than a dozen spears aimed at her. Half of them were close enough to press directly into her skin, while the others were posed to throw. The remaining Unsullied formed a barrier in front of Aziz and the other Masters. Daenerys didn’t know how she did it. Somehow Arya managed to act as if they weren’t there. After all these years she should have learned to stop being impressed by everything Arya did, but it was still amazing to her. “Talk to her again and I’ll cut your throat.”

This time Daenerys was more than happy to translate. “You can’t fight them all,” he said smugly. “It’ll be your final act.”

Again, Daenerys translated. When Arya heard what was meant to be a threat, she only grinned deviously. With her blade still at his neck, she spoke slowly, dragging the words out. “I’m prepared to die, are you?”

After Kraznys mo Nakloz had heard what she had to say, Arya released him and stepped back. He was quick to put distance and many Unsullied between them.

With the delay, they reached the end of the Walk of Punishment just as Kovarro was bringing the first one hundred Dothraki to their boat. “Daenerys,” Arya said in the common tongue. “Why don’t you go stand next to Jorah?”

She knew what that meant, she’d heard it before. As she slipped in between one of the Dothraki and the knight, Arya went to work. With a war cry she shrieked and instantly called all the Dothraki around her to arms. In a flurry of activity arakhs were drawn and held to every throat. Aziz was the only exception. The Unsullied tried to defend their Masters but were quickly overwhelmed by the superior numbers. With bodies scattered all around them Arya looked at a random Dothrak. “Go get others!” she demanded. When he was gone, Arya turned to the negotiator. “More Dothraki will be here any minute. We have that long to come to terms. I want the ships and I want Kraznys. If you give them to me, no one else needs to die. If you don’t, I’ll tell my men to start killing.”

Aziz looked around, at the faces of his counterparts, and then the few surviving Unsullied. The soldiers who had been there to protect him were now at the mercy of the ‘blood thirsty savages.’ “We don’t want violence.”

“Then I suggest you give her what she wants,” Daenerys said, speaking for them all. The man’s eyes lingered on the sharp edge of Arya’s arakh. After a moment. he pulled his gaze away and looked at a Master for approval. He was the eldest of the group with hair that was almost entirely white and skin that looked like worn leather. “Is the peace of your city worth less than his life?” she asked with hate.

“Take him,” Aziz finally allowed, the other Masters nodding in agreement.

He did his best to resist when he understood what was happening, but without the Unsullied to fight for him, the skinny man was no match for Kelo. A swift punch to his stomach had him doubling over.

Arya directed Kelo to take her prize to the ship and tie him up. When Daenerys heard the explicit instruction not to kill him, she knew her Khal had very dark plans for the Master. Daenerys enjoyed his cries for help more than was healthy as he was dragged toward the dock.

With the bargain struck Arya ordered her men to stand down and they did without question. From the corner of her eye Daenerys could see that Robb was less certain. He had drawn his sword and positioned himself in front of Missandei during the chaos but even with Kraznys gone, he was still on edge. His eyes shifted from left to right and back, searching for danger.

The remainder of the journey was made in silence. Aziz looked too terrified to speak and now that they had everything they wanted Arya and her khalasar had nothing left to say. As she walked, Daenerys wondered if Arya ever intended to leave Astapor without Kraznys and she suspected that she didn’t. Arya Stark wasn’t the type to settle. She wasn’t afraid of violence and she knew how to get what she wanted. She’d gotten Daenerys after all, even if the Targaryen had to make the first move, or two.

R-C

The final ships were being loaded. Arya insisted they be on the last one to ensure the Dothraki were treated fairly. The people and the Masters of Astapor were so terrified by the horde that they cleared out the market and hid indoors while the streams of bare chested soldiers marched through. Aziz waited with them, although he looked as though he’d rather be anywhere else.

When they were all on the deck of the ship, with Astapor at their backs, Jorah asked her, “Did you ever intend to let Kraznys live?”

Arya noticed Missandei, Robb and Daenerys all suddenly listening to their exchange. She held Missandei’s eye. “No, I wasn’t leaving without him.”

“Why not just kill him?” Robb inquired. “You could have done it in the city. Why bring him along?”

“I’ve wanted to kill many men over the years,” Arya admitted, “few of them more than Kraznys mo Nakloz. I would like nothing more than to tie him behind the ship until he drowned or starved to death, but it’s not up to me.”

As they often did in moments like this, everyone looked to Daenerys. At Arya’s insistence, all the advisors believed she was the ruler of the khalasar. “I…”

“It’s not up to her either,” Arya said calmly. Wind coming off the water blew a strand of hair into her face for her to wipe away and tuck behind her ear. She walked over to Missandei and smiled. “He’s tied up with the cargo. Do what you wish.”

Jorah moved to Daenerys’s side. “Stop this. She’s not a killer. If she does this…” his words trailed off.

“If she doesn’t want to, I will,” Arya announced, answering Jorah’s objection, “but that pig treated her like property for years. He disrespected her, he demeaned her and then he intended to kill her. She’s owed this much at least.”

Picking up where Jorah left off, Robb tried to dissuade his sister. “This isn’t the right way to do things. It was your order, your decision to demand him, you do it. Don’t make Missandei…”

“You aren’t listening,” Arya said after an animalistic growl. “I’m not making Missandei do anything. This isn’t Westeros. If you don’t have the stomach for it, you can swim back to Winterfell but one way or another that prick is going to die.”

“Arya…” Daenerys began.

The Northern woman pivoted toward her Queen. “You too? Really? I thought you of all people would understand why I did this.”

“I do,” Daenerys insisted.

“Then what is it?”

“Missandei,” Daenerys said simply.

Arya rotated further and found the spot where she’d last seem Missandei empty. “Where is she?”

The Khaleesi laughed lightly. “While you were all arguing like children, Missandei went make use of your gift.”

More than a little impressed, Arya smiled. “She’s down there now?” When Daenerys confirmed she was her smile grew. “That’a girl.”

R-C

When Missandei re-emerged from the cargo hold, she had her once hidden dagger openly strapped to the front of her dress and was wiping blood from her hands with a rag. Both Daenerys and Arya rushed to her side. “Are you alright?”

“I am fine Khaleesi,” Missandei promised, taking Daenerys’s offered hand and giving it a squeeze. Looking to Arya she added, “I would have brought him up, but he’s too heavy.”

“Don’t be silly,” Daenerys chastised gently. “I’ll have some of the men do it. Why do you think we keep them around?”

Missandei rewarded her with a laugh. “You mean it isn’t because of their muscles and their bare chests?”

She bit her lip and tried to hide her smile. When she looked in Arya’s direction she found the Westerosi girl watching her closely. Without releasing Missandei’s hand she gripped Arya’s in her other. “I find the bare chests less distracting than I once did,” she confessed.

When she looked to her friend, Daenerys saw Missandei’s eyes sink down to Arya’s barely covered breasts. She looked too, enjoying the view more than she should. She could easily make out the outline of Arya’s nipples through the thin fabric and sweat had made the once blue material turn almost black as it clung to her curves. Every muscle below her waist clenched in anticipation as she remembered the night before. “I have no trouble believing that,” Missandei commented casually, pulling Daenerys from her adventurous thoughts. “I’m going to go and clean myself up. You two have fun.” As she sauntered away she winked. With that, Daenerys knew her staring hadn’t gone unnoticed. Perhaps she was a little more obvious in her lust than she realized.

When Missandei was gone, Arya leaned over and gave Daenerys a kiss that was entirely too brief. She tried to move away but Daenerys refused to release her hand. She pulled hard and forced Arya back to her. “I was just going to get rid of the body.”

“He can wait,” Daenerys decided with regal authority. “Besides we have somewhere else to be.”

Upon hearing this Arya held out her free arm, gesturing to the expansive water all around them. “I don’t think we’ll be going anywhere for a long while.” For a second time, she tried to free herself, but Daenerys tightened her hold. “Daenerys,” Arya complained.

A sly smile crossed her face. “You’re going to take me to whatever corner of this ship holds our chambers and when we get there you’re going to lock the door and take me to bed.”

“Daenerys,” Arya said again. This time to her delight, it wasn’t frustration she heard in her lover’s voice, but rather a desire that matched her own.

Just as Arya had done, Daenerys held out her arm, over the side of the boat, pointing out the water. “Since we won’t be going anywhere for a long while, I think we’ll have plenty of time.”

With a growl that did nothing to lessen her hunger Arya ducked her head and lifted Daenerys up onto her shoulder. The Khaleesi laughed and playfully swatted at Arya’s ass as she was carried down into the belly of the ship.

R-C

“I need a minute,” her partner complained.

They’d been dancing together for nearly an hour, and while Arya had barely broken a sweat, Daenerys was gasping for breath. She knew she was pushing hard, but she needed to know Daenerys could protect herself. They’d been training every day the ship had been at sea, and they’d likely continue until they reached Westeros or Daenerys simply refused to train any further. “We need to keep going. We’ll be in Westeros soon and before we make landfall in that snake pit I want to know you can kill anyone who tries to hurt you.”

“I’ll have you to keep me safe,” Daenerys reminded her. “I just need some water and then we can keep going.”

“Give the girl a break,” Robb said from the side. He’d been alternating between reading a book and watching the training. He set his book down and went to fetch a glass of water for the Queen of the Dothraki.

When they were relatively alone, Daenerys set down her blade and approached Arya, wrapping her in a tight hug. “Look at that, who would have thought I chose the wrong Stark?” she teased. “You deny me water but your brother hurries to get me some.”

Robb chose that moment to reappear, armed with water for the both of them. She spun the Khaleesi in her arms, until her back was pressed against Arya’s chest. In this position, she allowed her to take the water from Robb, without having to let her go. “I wouldn’t jest. The brother I remember often chased several girls at a time, from all over Winterfell and the surrounding area.”

After savoring her first sip, Daenerys thanked him and smiled at Arya’s tale. “Is this true Lord Stark? Did you break many hearts before you found your wife?”

Robb blushed. “One or two perhaps but Arya exaggerates.”

“No, I don’t,” she challenged. “There was the girl who worked in the kitchen, with the red hair, you and Jon were always following her around. Another in the stables that you and Theon both liked, and then there was that girl who would come with her father to sell us goods. What was it?” she asked as she tried to recall years earlier. “Furs?”

“Wool,” he corrected. “She and her father came to Winterfell to sell their wool.”

Arya laughed at the memory. “That’s right, the sheep farmer.”

Daenerys laughed along with the woman holding her and seconds later Robb joined them. “I wasn’t that bad,” he insisted.

“Tell us of your wife,” Daenerys requested. “Did you meet her when she came to sell goods in Winterfell too?”

The fond smile that settled on his face couldn’t be missed. “No, I didn’t meet Talisa that way.”

“How did you meet her?” Arya asked.

“There was a rebellion in the Westerlands,” he said as all three of them moved to a table and sat. Arya released Daenerys to let her rest, but took her hand as soon as she was settled, holding it in her lap. “She was a healer with no allegiance. After the battle, survivors on both sides were taken to Talisa. I met her when I went to check on my men.”

“Was it love at first sight?”

He barked out a laugh before he could reply. “Hardly. She is beautiful, smart and fearless and she despised me from the moment we met.”

“Why?” Daenerys couldn’t help but ask.

“In her opinion, if I hadn’t led an army into the West, then none of the men who were killed or maimed would have been. So, she blamed me for all the death and damage she’d seen.”

“You obviously persuaded her with the Stark charm,” Daenerys teased. Under the table she squeezed Arya’s hand, causing the younger woman to smile.

“It took a while,” he admitted, “but eventually she came to see I’m not as horrible as she originally thought.” He paused and shook his head. “Sometimes when we disagree, she looks at me as she did that first day and I know I’m in real trouble.”

The women laughed together as Robb shivered in dread. “No man is adequately prepared for a wife,” Daenerys said confidently.

“I’d rather go off to war than face Talisa’s wrath,” Robb admitted.

“Wise man,” Arya said, sliding a little closer to Daenerys. “How did a woman from Volantis end up a healer in the Westerlands?”

“She hates slavery. Her brother was saved by a slave one day when he nearly drowned. After that, she couldn’t tolerate living in Volantis, so she took a ship to Westeros, where slavery had been outlawed. Once she arrived, she tasked herself with learning a skill that would help people, and she did. Even now, she’s Lady Stark of Winterfell, but I often return to our chambers after a long day and find them empty. When this happens, I know where to look. I’ll find her with the Maester, helping him with one job or another, healing one of the smallfolk or debating one treatment over another. She refuses to be just a wife and mother.”

“She sounds remarkable,” Daenerys said, echoing Arya’s own thoughts on the issue. “I look forward to meeting her.”

“Me too,” Arya added.

The skeptical look on her brother’s face might have offended her if she didn’t know its cause. She’d more than earned any distrust. “Really?”

“Yes really,” she swore, nodding for effect. “I have another sister now and a nephew too. Of course, I want to meet them.”

“I’ve told them about you,” Robb said, smiling warmly across the table. “I told them I was bringing you home.”

“We’ll get you back to your family soon,” Daenerys promised.

“What about you? You had a brother if I remember right, did you not?”

“I did, but he’s gone now,” Daenerys stated, averting her eyes in discomfort.

“I’m sorry,” Robb hurried to say. “I didn’t mean…”

“It’s alright,” she said. “My brother was a mean-spirted, cruel and petty man. He sold me to the Dothraki for an army. He had dreams of crossing the sea and invading Westeros. He wanted the Iron Throne.”

“What happened to him?” Robb asked lightly.

In the hopes of saving Daenerys from needing to tell the story, Arya stepped in to try and do it for her. “The Khal killed him. He struck Daenerys and then foolishly made demands. The Dothraki follow only their Khaleesi and their Khal. Viserys was neither.”

Robb seemed completely sincere as he said, “I’m sorry, that sounds horrible.”

“He got lucky,” Arya said confidently, as she traced the back of Daenerys’s hand with her thumb. “He should have died slowly for what he’d done.”

Daenerys rewarded her for her comments with a quick kiss that surprised Robb for reasons Arya didn’t understand. Blushing, she looked around and saw several Dothraki vomiting over the side of the boat, suffering the effects of seasickness. It had been that way since they left Astapor, but she noted it was growing less frequent. She suspected the Dothraki would never like ships, never trust water their horses couldn’t drink and would never want to cross the sea again after they returned to Essos but the fact they were willing at all was a testament to their strength. They’d come for their Khaleesi, a woman they all loved and respected. Daenerys deserved their support and the warriors she led were eager to slay the man who had ordered their Khaleesi dead, the same man who had poisoned their Khal.

She listened to Robb and Daenerys talking about life in Winterfell. Daenerys was full of questions and Arya listened carefully to the answers. When her water was gone, Arya pulled Daenerys back to her feet. “Let’s keep training.”

“We were having a conversation,” she complained.

“You said you wanted water, I gave you water. Now dance with me.” The time for words was over, she swung her arakh, trusting Daenerys to block the blow and she wasn’t disappointed.

R-C

With a groan, she fell down onto their bed in a heap. Her face was buried in a pillow as she said, “You know, just once when you ask me to dance I’d like to actually dance.”

Daenerys angled her head so she could sneak a peek at the other woman. Arya was already naked, standing at the water, washing the sweat from her body. Daenerys’s eyes skimmed over the familiar scars. Over the past months she’d memorized every detail of Arya’s body, including the litany of marks that mapped out her history. Occasionally when they were cuddled together, she’d point to one scar or another and ask how or when she received it. Some she knew, because she’d been there to see it happen, or she’d patched her up in the aftermath, but others were a mystery.

While she knew that some, many even would find Arya’s scars unappealing, Daenerys didn’t feel that way. She wished no harm had ever come to the woman she loved, but she knew who Arya was. She wouldn’t want her to be anyone or anything else. She was perfectly content with the state of her life. With that in mind, she pushed up off the bed and got to her feet. Coming up behind Arya she pushed her top down below her breasts before she flatted herself against the scarred back. “Need help?” she asked, breathing heavily as she lifted up to whisper in Arya’s ear.

“Are you offering,” Arya inquired, “because I think Missandei has seen me naked enough for one life.”

She set her hands flat on Arya’s shoulders and slowly began to let them wander down. Her hands reached for and massaged Arya’s bare breasts. “I’ve seen you naked far more, and I’m not opposed to seeing it again.”

It happened so fast Daenerys didn’t stand a chance. Not even her training with Arya prepared her for the speed of the movement. Before she knew it, Arya had spun around and gripped her waist. Her mouth connected to Daenerys’s neck, sucking and biting while her hands went to work on the pants she wore. Once they were gone Arya gripped her hips and lifted her off her feet. Daenerys happily wrapped her legs around the taller woman, desperate to feel the heat of her body.

When Arya laid her down on the bed and rolled her onto her stomach, Daenerys knew this wasn’t going to be one of their slow and gentle times and she was fine with that. Despite all outward appearances to the contrary, Arya had always been a respectful and thoughtful lover. More often than not, their lovemaking was tender and sensual lasting hours before they were both too exhausted to continue. On other occasions though, usually after a battle, Arya would come in and man handle her in a way that set every nerve in her body aflame. Those sessions often bruised her soft skin and left marks she had to hide with her clothes for days, but she couldn’t find it in herself to care.

As Arya’s mouth explored her body expertly Daenerys squirmed under her. One of her final thoughts before she surrendered to the feelings was that if training with Arya resulted in this, then maybe it wasn’t all bad. Her moans echoed around them and she lifted her hips in response. Yes, she decided in that instant, training was important. She was definitely going to need to continue her lessons.

R-C

“Trouble sleeping?” Arya guessed as she sat down next to Missandei and set a bottle and two glasses between them.

“It’s nothing,” she said, trying to dismiss the question.

“Killing someone isn’t easy. No matter what the Dothraki think,” Arya explained as she poured. She sighed and handed over one of the glasses. “Perhaps Jorah and Robb were right, maybe I shouldn’t have…”

“They weren’t right,” Missandei said forcefully, interrupting the woman who saved her life. “Daenerys told me what happened after I left. She told me what you were all talking about and they weren’t right.”

“Yet here you are.”

“I’m not having nightmares of killing Kraznys,” she said before she took a long drink. “I dreamt of killing him for many years.”

Arya took a sip of her own, if only to give Missandei time to compose her thoughts. “Thinking about it and doing it are different beasts.”

She chuckled humorlessly. “I’m not sure what that says about me.” With that she emptied the remainder of her drink in a single gulp and then immediately reached for the bottle.

Arya watched with nothing but concern for her friend. “What do you mean?”

The refilled glass stopped halfway to her lips and she spoke. “I haven’t lost a night’s sleep over him. I haven’t thought about him at all actually. If I’m supposed to feel bad, I don’t.”

“That’s what you’re worried about?”

“I’ve heard you talk, you, Daenerys, Jorah, some of the Dothraki even. You all say that killing is hard. It wasn’t hard for me. What was hard was letting him die, I wanted it to last forever,” she confessed, refilling her glass for the second time.

“You had plenty of reasons to hate him,” Arya said with feeling. “And however he died, he earned it.”

She set down her drink and pushed her fingers through her curls. “I just wish I knew why I was different.”

Like Missandei she set down her glass and reached across the table, taking her hand. “Maybe you and I are more alike than you realize.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Because I know exactly what you mean,” Arya confessed, using her free hand to pick up the glass that was getting dangerously low. She emptied her cup and then set it down. “You’re right. Killing is hard sometimes, but other times it’s the easiest thing in the world.”

She released Missandei’s hand and picked up the bottle. She refilled both of their glasses and then tossed the empty container over the side of the ship carelessly. “That’s not what you said to Daenerys. You told her…”

“I lied,” Arya admitted in a whisper. “I love her. What would she think if she knew that I enjoy it, that sometimes I need it.” She tilted her head and looked up at the starlit sky. “There is a darkness in me. I don’t know when it formed or where it came from, but it’s always there. There are times when I’m actually disappointed to have a settlement offer tribute, because I won’t get to kill anything. How sick is that?”

Suddenly it was Missandei comforting her and not the other way around. “She’d love you anyway,” the former slave said without doubt. “Even if she heard every word you just said, she’d love you.”

“I hope so. I don’t know what I’d do without her.”

“I don’t think you’ll ever need to find out,” Missandei predicted.

Arya smiled and picked up her glass again. “I am so grateful you decided to stay with us. You belong here.”

“I’m the one who’s grateful. What you did for me…” her words stopped suddenly as she seemed unsure of how to finish that sentence.

“You don’t need to thank me,” Arya assured her, “not ever.”

When she blinked Missandei’s gentle expression was hard and her eyes narrowed in anger. “I’m still going to so shut up and listen.”

“Of course, m’lady,” she said, her tone light and her words accented by a dramatic bow.

“What you did for me, was more than I ever dreamed anyone could or would do for another person. I was a stranger to you, but that didn’t matter. You didn’t even know my name the first time you saved my life.”

Her words halted and Arya watched as she looked down at her hands, running her finger across the scar that marked her palm. Although they’d intervened before Missandei could be crucified the servants Kraznys mo Nakloz sent to nail her to the Walk of Punishment managed to get started before Daenerys and Arya stepped in. It was one of her many regrets. She should have gotten there sooner.

“It was the right thing to do. Daenerys and I agree on that.”

“She might have given the order, but you’re the one who killed them. You’re the one who climbed up onto the cross to free me. You carried me from the city. You did more for me in a single day than anyone had in all my life, and you weren’t done. Instead of leaving me outside the wall, you gave me a home and a family too. I always knew I’d never be able to repay you, but that was before. Now my debt is even larger.”

Arya reached out, in her haste knocking over her largely empty cup. She ignored it and grasped Missandei’s hand, if only to get her to stop rubbing her scar. “You don’t owe me a damn thing.”

“You didn’t need to ask for Kraznys. You could have taken the ships and gone. You did that for me and then you allowed me to kill him, when I know you wanted to do it yourself.”

“You’re wrong, I did need to do it. You’re a part of this family Missandei, just like Daenerys, the Blood Riders or the knight. I can’t promise that nothing bad will ever happen to you, but I can promise that I will always try to stop it.”

Getting up from her seat Missandei walked around the table and came to stand next to Arya. She felt the unexpected kiss on her cheek. “Daenerys is a very lucky woman.”

“Would you mind telling her that,” Arya joked.

“I will,” she answered with a wide smile. “What are you doing out here? Shouldn’t you be in bed with your Khaleesi, I mean unless you’ve gone back to sleeping on the floor.”

Arya was momentarily speechless. She didn’t know how to respond to the sudden turn in the conversation. While she knew Missandei was aware that she and Daenerys weren’t romantically involved until recently she didn’t know the extent of her knowledge. Had Daenerys complained to her friend about Arya’s stubbornness? “How much has Daenerys told you?”

“She tells me everything,” Missandei said with a straight face.

Arya was suddenly glad she’d knocked over her drink, if she’d been trying to swallow now she likely would have choked and died. As it was, even air was difficult to take in. “I sincerely hope that isn’t true, for your sake as much as mine.” When Missandei showed no signs of breaking, Arya prodded her again, “Everything?”

Finally, her stoic expression lifted. “Well, maybe not everything but she tells me enough.”

Enough? Could she be anymore vague. If she didn’t know any better, she’d guess Missandei was taking pleasure from her discomfort. “What does that mean?”

“I know you could have been sharing the Khaleesi’s bed for far longer than you have been, if you’d only you’d shown an interest. For a long time, she believed you weren’t interested.”

“I was always interested,” Arya said in an attempt to correct the misconception. “I just didn’t want to rush her. She was grieving.”

Missandei laughed, a sound Arya was happy to hear after their largely serious conversation. “If you went any slower, she might have burst into flames right in front of you.”

“I didn’t think she thought of me like that. She’s beautiful and I’m…”

“The woman she loves.” With a firm hand Missandei pulled Arya to her feet. “Go,” she said nudging her toward the door that had Daenerys behind it. “She won’t want to wake up and find you gone.”

Before she left she gave Missandei a serious look. “Get some sleep. And don’t worry about your lack of feelings, you’re in good company here. Most of the Dothraki view killing as sport, not a hardship and even if they didn’t, you’d still have me.”

R-C

Chapter Text

He knocked lightly on the door before he entered. Inside he found Robert and Varys, along with Jamie and Cersei Lannister and an assortment of military commanders. They were obviously in the middle of a heated conversation. “I could come back,” he proposed, secretly hoping Robert would send him away.

“Get in here,” his King beckoned. “We were just discussing what to do about your wayward daughter.”

Ned tensed at once. “This is about Sansa?”

“Not her, the wedding planning is going fine,” he said looking to his wife for confirmation. “We’re talking about the other one.”

He moved deeper into the room. “Arya,” he said when it was clear his friend didn’t remember his child’s name.

“Yes, her.”

With a wave of his hand he urged Ned closer and then stopped talking, looking to Varys to continue. “Word has arrived from Astapor that your daughter has boarded a ship and is returning.”

“That’s great,” Ned said before he could realize his audience.

“Don’t be so sure,” the King Slayer said, trying to start an argument.

Looking at the severe faces around him, he stopped on Robert’s. “I told you I sent Robb to find Arya and see if the rumors were true.”

“I’d say he found her,” Cersei remarked snidely.

Annoyed by their cryptic comments, he cut right to heart of it. “What’s happened?”

“My friends in Astapor say…”

Varys was cut off by Robert, who slammed his fist down on the table. “They say your son is returning with not only his sister, but a Dothraki horde.”

Under other circumstances he might have thought it was a joke. “The Dothraki can’t sail.”

“Apparently they learned.” His hand came down on the table for a second time. “Damn it Ned, this wasn’t what we discussed. I said I’d be willing to forgive your daughter her past, if she apologized and agreed to stay in the North. I did not agree to allow her to bring a boatload of savages with her.”

“It’s actually many, many boats your Grace,” Varys informed him.

“That’s even better,” Jamie said with a laugh.

Robert was furious and turned his rage on his wife’s brother. “Don’t be so sure. If they attack us, you’ll be the one leading the army.”

His laughter died early, his smile gone. Cersei reached out and put a hand over her husband’s. “Darling, don’t you think it would be better to have Jamie…”

She didn’t get to finish before Robert interrupted. He didn’t even spare her a glance. “You need to fix this,” he said to his Hand.

Ned had no idea how he was supposed to do that, but he agreed anyway. “Your Grace, with your permission I’d like to return to Winterfell.”

“Have you heard nothing I said?” the King roared.

He did his best to ignore the outburst. When it was over he tried to justify his request quickly. “I have no idea why Arya would be bringing Dothraki with her, but whatever the reason I’m certain her first stop will be Winterfell. If Robb found her then she knows Catelyn is there, along with Robb’s family, Bran and Rickon. I’ll ride North at once and be there when they arrive.”

No one spoke for a few long minutes while Robert deliberated. “Go,” he said waving a hand out in front of Ned dismissively. “Go but you make sure those horse-loving beasts get back in their boats and return to where they came from.”

As he was leaving, Ned heard Robert’s words to the male Lannister. “I want you to prepare the army. Double the pay for new conscripts and make sure the smiths are working day and night so we have weapons and armor to support them. If these savages want a fight, we’ll be ready.”

R-C

Robb was waiting when the door opened and Daenerys exited. “Is my sister in there?”

“She is.”

“Is she dressed?” he inquired.

“Excuse me?”

He pulled on his bottom lip with his teeth. “Last time I walked in unannounced, she was getting ready for a bath. Not a situation I’d like to repeat.”

Daenerys chuckled at his horrified expression. “She’s dressed, go on in.” She pushed the door open and allowed him to go first, then followed. She’d planned to search for breakfast but it could wait. The way Robb couldn’t hold her eye for more than a second made her uneasy about what he might have to say. Arya was in the process of taming her long hair. “Is there anyone on this boat who hasn’t seen you naked?”

She thought for a moment about the answer, stopping her work. “Uh, Ser Jorah, I think.” With the words out, her hands got back to their task. After she laid one band of hair across another she stopped again. “Actually wait, he saw me from the back once.”

Robb and Daenerys both shook their heads. “You were never as shy as Sansa, but you weren’t running around Winterfell naked either,” Robb remembered.

“Seven Hells no,” she said, laughing so hard she had to stop braiding again. “It’s much too cold there to do anything naked.”

Daenerys moved closer. Taking a seat on the bed she knocked Arya’s hands away and picked up where she left off. Arya let her. “I sincerely hope that isn’t true.”

She turned her head to look at her lover, forcing Daenerys to halt her efforts temporarily. Their lips met and it wasn’t until Robb coughed, choking on his own tongue that they remembered he was there. “I…I didn’t think… I heard you two weren’t really together.”

“What?!” Arya erupted.

“Who told you that?” Daenerys asked in a more suitable volume.

His blush looked almost permanent. “Jorah.”

Arya rolled her eyes. “Of course he did.”

“We’ve been together for months now.”

“Oh, uh, congratulations,” he stammered. “I didn’t know…”

“Thank you,” Daenerys said kindly.

“Perhaps you should tell Jorah.”

“He knows,” Daenerys said simply. “Or at the very least he suspects and is willfully ignoring the signs.”

“Why would he tell me it wasn’t real?”

“Wishful thinking,” Arya answered quickly.

Again, Daenerys stopped braiding, this time to slap Arya in the arm. “Be nice. He’s our friend.”

“He’s your friend,” she amended. “I tolerate him for your sake and he barely acknowledges me.”

Daenerys leaned over Arya’s shoulder and stole a quick kiss. “You say the sweetest things.”

She scoffed and leaned back into Daenerys. “You know me, I’m all hearts, flowers and ballads of love.”

They enjoyed their little back and forth before Daenerys looked at their guest. “Did you just come by for a visit Lord Stark or was there something you needed?”

If it were possible, Robb looked more uncomfortable than he had with their last topic of conversation. “Actually, I came to speak to you both about something important.”

The light mood in the room evaporated. Arya sat up straight and moved out of Daenerys’s reach. “What is it?”

“I was hoping you’d see reason,” Robb began, “I think I understand you fairly well. I knew the girl you were and I’ve learned about the woman you’ve become. I know you’re smart and you don’t want unnecessary harm to come to your people, so listen to me. Going to war with the Seven Kingdoms is madness. Even with your army of Dothraki you couldn’t win. Every House in the Realm would oppose you.”

“We’ve discussed this,” Arya spat, as she began pacing around the room.

He looked to Daenerys and offered a slight smile. “I understand why you’re doing this, I do but who benefits if you get yourself killed? It’s not worth it.”

Arya lashed out and took hold of Robb’s throat. “Are you fucking kidding me? Not worth it? Would you feel the same way if it was Talisa he tried to kill? If Robert killed the man who saved your life and then tried to kill your wife, would you truly feel the same way?”

“Arya let him go!”

She did, and he coughed as he reached up and massaged his windpipe. “You’re right, if it were just one man, I’d kill him. I’d kill a dozen men, but Robert is a King. I wouldn’t kill a King. I’d be smart enough not to try.”

“Really? I’m a King,” she challenged, “I’m the King of this khalasar. So, by your logic if I gutted your son and cut your wife’s throat, you’d do nothing?”

“Arya,” Daenerys hissed, trying to reign her back in.

“Fine,” Robb said as he threw up his hands in defeat. “You have every reason to want Robert dead. You happy? I agree with you, but that doesn’t change a damn thing. You still can’t win.”

“I don’t need to win,” she informed him. “I just need to make sure he dies first.”

Daenerys gasped. She bounced up to feet and marched straight to the spot where Arya was pacing. “Take that back. I’m not travelling thousands of miles to watch you die. If that’s where this ends then we might as well turn back right now.”

“What about your family? Are you prepared to kill us to get to Robert, because that’s what will happen? His spies will tell him you arrived and it won’t be long before he sends ravens to Winterfell and commands me to march South.”

“I’ll deal with that when it happens,” Arya said flatly.

With a sigh Robb tried again. “If I could get King Robert to agree Daenerys would never be harmed again, would you let this go?”

“No!” Arya refused.

“Yes!” Daenerys countered at the same time.

Turning his back on Arya completely Robb looked to Daenerys to be the voice of reason. “Please, try and talk to her.”

“Don’t Daenerys. You knew why we were coming when you got on the boat,” Arya reminded her as the door closed behind Robb.

“I didn’t come to stand by and watch you die. That wasn’t part of the deal.”

“I don’t plan to die,” she said before she pulled Daenerys into a hug. “I’m not going to leave you without a fight.”

“You better not. I’ll chain myself to you if that’s the only way to make you behave,” she threatened, speaking into Arya’s chest.

Arya kissed the top of her head, letting her lips linger. “I can imagine worse situations.”

Daenerys’s laughter shook them both. “Stop being charming,” she demanded. “I’m still mad at you.”

With a gentle touch, she guided Daenerys back. Taking advantage of the space, she quickly lowered her mouth to Daenerys’s. After the kiss ended Arya nudged her backward again and again until they reached the bed. “My apologies Khaleesi. Let me make it up to you.”

R-C

They stood there together, side by side. Daenerys was clutching her hand tightly as the lazy water lapped at their ankles. They were on Westerosi soil. All around them ships were being unloaded, gear was being moved and people were beginning to head North. Robb and his men were in the lead, a concession offered by his sister to remove some of the tension.

She bent down and ran her hand through the sand. She picked some up and then let it drop between her open fingers. “I never thought I’d be back here,” she whispered.

“Welcome home Arya,” Daenerys responded warmly.

“This isn’t my home,” she countered, her voice hardening as she brushed the last of the sand away. “Not anymore.” With a call to a nearby Dothraki Arya ordered their horses be brought to them. “We should head out, it’s a long ride to Winterfell.”

R-C

Ned Stark breathed easier when he was back in the North. This was where he should be. This was his home. He was a Northman and that would never change, no matter how many years he spent handling Robert’s affairs.

For days, he’d been riding as hard and as fast as he could. He needed to get to Winterfell and prepare. If Robert’s spies were right and Arya was bringing a horde to Westeros he needed to be ready. What was Robb thinking? His instructions said to find Arya and return her to Winterfell, they said nothing of bringing an army of savages with him. He and his heir would be having a discussion on the matter as soon as they were reunited.

He also thought of Jon on the Wall. He hadn’t heard from him in quite some time, his last few letters having gone unanswered. He considered going to see him before he returned to King’s Landing. He couldn’t do it now of course, not with Arya and her horde marching, but maybe he could find the time after all this had been dealt with.

As he came over the last hill and saw Winterfell in the distance he urged his horse to speed up. It was so close he could taste it. It had been far too long.

A ripple moved through the guards as they noticed and then whispered about his arrival. He stopped a man at random. “Where is Lady Stark?” Ned followed the pointing finger and entered his home.

She rushed down the stairs to greet him. “Ned, by the Gods, I didn’t know you were coming.” She threw herself into his arms and they shared a long, slow kiss. When they separated he noted her smile was gone, the happiness replaced by concern and barely disguised fear. “What’s wrong? Is it Robb?”

He put his hands on Catelyn’s shoulders. “Robb is fine,” he assured her. “He found Arya and they are coming home.”

“He found her!? Praise the Gods. Is she alright? When will they arrive? I need to prepare things for them…”

She was already flitting around the room in an attempt to get things ready. He made his way to her in two large strides. “I don’t know how she is? I haven’t heard from Robb yet.”

Catelyn stopped cleaning and turned to face her husband. “How can that be? How do you know they’re coming home, if you haven’t spoken to Robb?”

He sighed. “Robert’s scouts reported that Arya and Robb are on their way,” he explained cautiously. “We need to prepare. According to the scrolls they’re also bringing the Dothraki horde that Arya’s been leading.”

“It’s true then, she’s with the Dothraki?”

“It seems so,” he admitted. “I’m told she’s leading them.”

“How is that even possible?” Catelyn wanted to know.

“I have no idea. No one does.”

“What do you know about the Dothraki?”

“Same as everyone I suppose.” He considered lying to his wife to try and spare her, but he knew it wouldn’t work. Not only was she too smart to simply take him at his word, Arya would be joining them soon. Catelyn was going to get an up-close view of the Dothraki, so there was little point in lying now. “The Dothraki hate outsiders. They are wild savages who live on horseback. They roam Essos, killing, stealing and taking slaves.”

“How did Arya get involved with them!?”

“I don’t know,” he said again. “I sent ravens all over Essos looking for information about Arya, but no one had any. I guess now I know why. She wasn’t in a city, she wasn’t struggling to survive alone, she’d joined the Dothraki.”

“What are you going to do?” Catelyn wondered, her worry clear, in her voice and on her face.

He pulled his wife in for a hug. He held her tightly as he answered. “I’ll put the Dothraki back in their ships and send them where they belong.”

“What about Arya?”

“Robert has offered to pardon Arya, if I agree to keep her in the North, under Robb’s rule and away from King’s Landing,” he recited before he stepped back. “Where is Bran and Ser Rodrick? We need to prepare the garrison in case Arya’s friends are less than friendly.”

R-C

“I could have been in King’s Landing in days,” she complained as she rode next to her brother. “I could have gone there and ended this.”

Robb addressed her as if she were a scared animal, one he was afraid might bolt in the opposite direction at the slightest provocation. “Come to Winterfell. Once you kill Robert, or try to kill him, you’ll need to leave quickly. There won’t be time to visit. Meet my child, meet my wife, see Bran, Rickon, and our mother. Then you can decide if you really want to go ahead with this.”

“You think I’ll change my mind?” she gathered. “I won’t. Robert Baratheon is going to die.”

“And then what? Assuming you could get to him, and you could defeat his guards and then kill him, what then?” Robb quizzed.

She shrugged calmly. “Then I’ll go find Joffrey’s room.”

“Listen to yourself. Sansa loves him. Are you really going to kill the man your sister intends to marry? For all I know they could have been wed already.”

Her voice was as cold as the air. “If she loves him, she’s a fool.”

“Don’t you care about her at all? This is her family now too.”

“Sansa will be a widow before I return across the sea, I swear it.” With that said, she turned her horse and rode to find Daenerys. As she passed several of the Dothraki complained about the increasing chill. Arya instructed them to put on another layer of clothing. They weren’t made for this. Still, she was confident they’d survive. Just like those who got seasick on the voyage, she knew some would struggle with the cold, but she expected they’d persevere.

“I’m a little nervous,” Daenerys confessed as their horses walked beside one another.

“Nervous about what?” she asked, raising a dark eyebrow.

“I’m going to meet your family,” she said in a rush. “Your mother, and your brothers and your nephew and Robb’s wife. Oh, and probably your father too eventually. My father killed his brother and father. I doubt he’s going to like me.” She spoke so quickly that Arya had to work to understand it all. “They’re going to hate me, if they don’t kill me on sight.”

“I’d never let that happen,” she promised, “and I don’t care what any of them think.”

“Of course, you do,” Daenerys tested. “They’re your family.”

“You’re my family. I may have been born here,” she said taking a look around, “but I haven’t belonged here since before I was forced on that boat. I know who I am Daenerys and I know where I want to be and it isn’t in Winterfell.”

“I’d let you go, you know. If you wanted to. I’d let you stay…”

Arya brought her horse to a stop and reached out to grip Daenerys’s arm. Everybody behind them was forced to stop and wait. Turning her head, she looked straight into Daenerys’s violet eyes. “As soon as the King and his men are dead, we are getting in our ships and returning to our home.” She started the khalasar moving again. “Winterfell is just over the next hill. You should be able to see it after that.”

She should have expected it, but she didn’t. When they came over the last hill and Winterfell was in view for the first time in years, Arya was hit with a rush of memories. So many of the pivotal moments of her childhood happened here. Between her and her former home sat her father and the entire Winterfell garrison. She didn’t need to see the archers on the wall to know they were there, armed and ready.

As she got closer she noticed Bran on horseback, watching her. She approached them slowly, but called for the Dothraki to halt. With one last look at Daenerys, Arya moved her horse forward, going out to meet her father.

She was by herself for almost the entire trip, until Robb and his men came to join her. “Take it easy on him,” he said. “He’s been worried sick about you.”

When she stood opposite her father she was struck by how old he looked. The wrinkles on his face were deeper, the color in his hair had mostly shifted and he looked more than a little tired. Bran on the other hand looked young and strong, despite his injury. He’d undoubtedly grown up, but still kept a youthful appearance. Like their father, he wore castle-forged armor. Where Ned was armed with his famous sword, Bran had a bow and quiver strapped to his back. When she stopped, Robb kept going, his men with him. Together they crossed sides and joined the Starks. It left Arya entirely alone.

“What are you doing Arya?” Ned asked. He addressed Robb when he came to a stop at his side. “What were you thinking bringing them here?”

“It’s the only way she’d come,” Robb insisted in justification.

When her father’s judgemental eyes landed on her again she cocked her head to the side and showed him a smirk. “He’s telling the truth. I wasn’t going to come without them.” She looked past Ned to the soldiers. “Take your men back inside. We mean you no harm. The Dothraki will remain outside the walls. You can close the gate, if you want. Winterfell is safe. We only came for a visit.”

“You’re giving orders now?” he challenged. “I will not allow a Dothraki horde to camp outside my home and terrorize my people.”

Arya rolled her eyes. “You’re just like him,” she said, referring to Robb. “You don’t listen. I just said we mean you no harm. We didn’t come to scare your people or pillage your lands.”

“Then why did you come?”

“Because he wouldn’t take no for an answer.”

“Why bring the savages?” Ned asked, looking behind her.

“Careful,” she warned.

His eyes narrowed, wrinkling around the edges. “What did you just say to me?”

Where that tone had once inspired fear in her, and often brought shame for her misdeeds and shortcomings, now she felt no reaction at all. “I’m the head of an army of one hundred thousand ‘savage’ warriors. They haven’t had a fight in weeks. Offend them and you might not like the outcome.”

Arya watched the slight change in her father upon hearing the size of her khalasar. She noticed the way Ned looked first to Bran, then to Robb. It also didn’t escape her that Robb was subtly nodding, confirming what she’d said. Her father was clearly unhappy. “Come inside, but they stay out.”

“I’ll join you soon,” she said as she turned her horse, “and I’ll be bringing some friends.”

R-C

On their way toward the gate, Daenerys tried again to back out. “Are you certain you want us with you? Wouldn’t you rather visit with your family in private?”

“I’m not leaving you two,” she declared, looking at Daenerys on her right and Missandei on her left. “Either we all go in, or none of us do.”

Daenerys groaned. “You’re so stubborn!”

“You wouldn’t change me,” Arya retorted.

“You’re lucky,” Daenerys said as she looked at her lover with a smile.

Nearby Missandei chuckled. “You lived here?” she asked Arya. When the Khal nodded Missandei visibly shivered, wrapping the fur she was wearing even tighter to her body. “How did you keep from freezing?”

“Just remember to wiggle your toes,” Arya only half joked. “Don’t want them falling off before we get back to the boats.”

Both Arya and Daenerys enjoyed the horrified look on Missandei’s face. “M…my toes?” she verified, her teeth chattering.

Arya leaned over as if she intended to whisper to Daenerys, but she was intentionally loud enough for the advisor to overhear. “Do you think I should tell her today is actually rather warm by Northern standards?”

She bit her lip to keep from laughing. “No,” she finally said, playing along. “We should definitely keep that a secret.”

“I hate you both,” she responded without any harshness in her voice. Daenerys made up for their teasing by taking off her glove and putting her hand on Missandei’s arm. She tucked her fingers under the edge of her sleeve. Missandei moaned in response. “Oh yesss!” she muttered as she laid a hand over Daenerys’s holding it to her skin. “Your blood is so warm.” With a dreamy expression Missandei looked to Arya. “You’re so lucky, getting to sleep next to her tonight. At least you won’t freeze before morning.”

Arya chuckled and fought the blush she felt starting. “You’ll get no argument from me. I am very lucky,” she agreed.

When they reached the gate, Arya dismounted first and the others followed. Armed men were blocking the route. “Lord Stark waits for you inside,” one announced. He took the reigns of all three horses, while another soldier stepped forward.

“Please remove your weapons.”

Arya glared at him for a long moment before she put herself between the man and her friends. “Fuck you. I’m not giving you my blade.”

“Arya,” Daenerys reprimanded.

She ignored her Khaleesi and kept her focus on the guard. “I wasn’t asking,” he said snidely.

He took half a step in her direction before she replied. “You’re welcome to try and take it, but you’ll likely lose a hand.”

“I was told to remove all of your weapons. Please don’t make this difficult. Lord and Lady Stark are both waiting.”

She tried to walk around him, but he remained in the way. “I’m afraid you can’t go further until you’ve been relieved of your weapons.”

“Arya, just give him your arakh,” Daenerys tried.

“No.”

Sensing she was more amenable the guard turned his attention to Daenerys. “M’lady, if you’d please allow me to search you for weapons.”

“Don’t do it,” Arya growled.

“What’s the delay!” Ned yelled from the balcony overlooking the courtyard.

“Apologies Lord Stark, but they won’t allow me to check them for weapons,” the guard explained.

She could hear her father’s disapproval even over the distance. “Arya, give him your weapons.”

“No!” she said, even more emphatically than before. She took several steps toward the building so it would be easier to speak him. “I agreed to leave the army outside the walls. They’ll stay there but I need to be able to protect my friends.”

Ned scoffed openly, not even trying to hide it. “Your friends are safe here, you needn’t worry.”

“All the same, I’ll keep my blades.”

“One,” Ned bargained, “and your friends leave theirs with the guard.”

She looked to Daenerys and Missandei for confirmation and both women nodded their approval. “Fine.” With a wave of her hand she called the other women to her. Huddled together she whispered, “Stay close to me.”

To avoid any searches, Arya took the various weapons from her companions, and presented them to the guards. She also left her favorite two knives behind. If she was only allowed one weapon, it was going to be the most-deadly.

As she suspected the guard looked disappointed that he wouldn’t get a chance to search them. She rolled her eyes and herded Missandei and Daenerys toward the entrance. Her father had gone back inside and now Arya was preparing herself for what waited there.

In an unexpected gesture Daenerys gripped her hand, interlocking their fingers. “You can do this,” she said confidently. “I’ll be right there with you the whole time.” After a moment, she seemed to realize something and dropped the hand she was holding as if it burned her. She stepped sideways to put room between them. “Unless you don’t want me to be. I can be wherever you…”

Arya didn’t know much, but she knew where she wanted Daenerys to be. She wasn’t the least bit concerned about her parents finding out about their relationship. They would learn of it eventually, so why not now? It was the Dothraki way, letting life happen and taking things as they came. This was no different. Bending down and leaning over she pecked a kiss onto Daenerys’s lips. Last, she reached for and took her hand, winding their fingers together again. “I want you right here.”

The door swung open and they all heard Catelyn Stark’s firm voice. “I’ve waited long enough!” She rushed out the door and down the steps, stopping in front of Arya. “Oh, look at my little girl.” Her hand slid down Arya’s cheek, stroking the skin gently. “You grew up.”

She released Daenerys’s hand after a quick squeeze and Arya wrapped her arms around her mother. “I missed you too.” It was true, she really had missed her family, even if she rarely let herself admit it. “Come inside, you must see Rickon, and little Robb.”

As she peeled off the outer layers she was wearing, to dry them over a fire, Arya noticed Missandei smiling. “Warm?” she asked as she held her bare hands just inches above the licking flames.

“Finally.”

She walked into the hall with a friend on each side. The whole family was waiting. Robb was standing next to his wife, and she had a small child in her arms. Rickon was beside Bran who was sitting in an odd-looking chair. Her mother and father were side by side, watching her with curious eyes. One by one she looked at her family and smiled. As she did, she told the others who was who. When she finished introducing her father, she looked to her left. “These are my friends. This is Missandei, an advisor to our people, and this is the Khaleesi of our khalasar, Daenerys Targaryen.”

Her father erupted at the mention of her name. Like her he wore a blade. He took the first long step to reach them and Arya immediately placed herself in his path. “How dare you!” he shouted. “Bringing a Targaryen into my house. Did you forget what her family did to your ancestors?”

Arya refused to back down. She wasn’t going to tolerate Daenerys being disrespected. “I didn’t forget anything, but I don’t hold Daenerys responsible for her father’s actions.” Ned took another step and she did her best to subtly nudge Daenerys back. For her part, the Dragon was holding the back of her shirt, trying to keep her from acting. It wasn’t going to work. “When I was starving and near death it wasn’t you who found me, fed me and cared for me was it? When I was nearly raped it wasn’t you who taught me to defend myself.”

Catelyn rushed to Arya and hugged her, just as she’d done outside. “Oh, my girl. What happened to you?”

“A lot.”

“I could just wait in the camp with the others,” Daenerys offered. “I meant no disrespect Lord Stark, I only came because Arya asked me to.”

That was wholly unacceptable. Before her father could agree she answered for him. “No! I told you, you go, I go.” Her mother gasped at the steel in her words.

“Arya it’s okay.”

The next voice surprised them all. “I think you should let her stay,” Robb said.

In an attempt to diffuse the situation Catelyn hurried to change the subject. “I can have someone show you to your rooms.”

“No need,” Arya decided. “I remember the way.”

Chapter Text

Ned threw his hands up in complete frustration. “What were you thinking, letting her bring that horde of Dothraki with her?”

Robb recoiled under the harsh criticism but his answer was clear and straight forward. “It is as I said, she wouldn’t have come otherwise.” He folded his hands behind his back but kept his eyes on Ned. “Your scroll said to do whatever it took to bring Arya back. I did. What it took was bringing them with her.”

“Fine, I don’t like it, but that I can at least understand. How do you explain the Targaryen girl? What about her? How can Arya stand to be in the same room with her?” His tone grew more furious with every word. “How dare she bring her into this house, into my house! She’s betrayed every one of her ancestors. It’s disgraceful.”

He took time to gather his thoughts before he replied. “She’s not her father,” Robb stated simply. “She’s not mad. In fact, I think it’s quite the opposite.”

“What do you mean by that?” He was not in the mood for riddles. He had a Targaryen under his roof and Cat was upset at him for ruining their reunion with Arya.

“She saves people, random people, people she doesn’t know, and asks nothing in return.”

“The Mad King was known to be generous, right up until he had his subjects burned,” Ned recounted, still unwilling to even entertain the notion that Daenerys was anything other than her father’s daughter.

As soon as he could, Robb tried again. “She’s smart and she cares for Arya. I spent time with her and her people. I talked to some of them. The story I heard is that Arya would have died without Daenerys’s help.”

He didn’t know how to feel. His enemy was in his house, near his family. He could end the Targaryen bloodline with one swing of his sword. For years he tolerated Daenerys’s existence when they were separated by the Narrow Sea, but now she was only upstairs. In all the years since, he’d never managed to forgive her for her parentage. Right or wrong, Ned held Daenerys just as responsible as every other Targaryen for what happened to those he loved. He had once defended her when Robert wanted to kill the newborn but now that baby had grown into a powerful young woman with a substantial army at her command. “The Arya who left us would never have talked to me that way.”

“She’s not that little girl anymore,” Robb said, sounding almost pained by his own words. “When we first met, I had all the same reactions you’re having, but in time I came to see Daenerys does care for Arya. Beyond that her army is unlike anything I’ve ever seen and every one of them appears loyal to her. I think we need to tread carefully.”

“Does she really have one hundred thousand men?” he asked, unable to hide his skepticism.

“At least,” Robb confirmed. “Other groups join them and they grow by hundreds or thousands overnight. According to Arya hers is the biggest horde in all of Essos.”

Even with Robb to confirm what he’d heard, Ned still had his doubts. The Dothraki were savages. If only half the tales he’d been told about them were accurate, he couldn’t imagine his daughter mixed among them. From a young age, he knew she craved the excitement of battle. Still, it was a long road between honorable warfare and the aimless murder and theft the Dothraki carried out.

“Someone taught her the sword. She fights with that curved blade she wears. The way she fights, I’ve never seen anything like it.”

He struggled to image it. “You saw her in combat?”

“Yes, and everyday she spent hours training her warriors. Their methods are very unique.”
As his son spoke, Ned struggled to hear what he was not saying. It was obvious Robb was trying to tiptoe around something and it made him nervous. His heir had always been straightforward. If he was being purposely vague, it couldn’t be good. “Just tell me,” he ordered.

“Tell you what?”

“Whatever it is you’re afraid to say.”

The delay was long. At first. he thought Robb was thinking but as time went on, Ned knew it was more than that. “Vern,” he finally said in a low voice.

Ned’s mind immediately brought an image of the brash commander to the forefront. “Where is he?” He tried to think back to when Robb rejoined him. He had his guard with him, but Ned didn’t remember seeing Vern there. Then again, his focus had been mostly on his children.

“He’s dead. Arya killed him.”

Surely, he misheard that. Arya wouldn’t kill one of his men, would she? Being different, and Ned did not dispute that she was very different, didn’t make her capable of murder. The words didn’t make sense. He repeated them in his mind, and still couldn’t understand. “She killed him? Why would she do that?!”

“It was complicated. Vern…” Robb tried to explain.

Ned waved off the words. “She killed him,” he repeated. “I should have left her in exile.” Enraged he marched past Robb, bumping into him in his urgency. His feet carried him quickly to Arya’s old bedchamber. When he pushed open the door he was struck by what he saw. Talisa sat on the edge of the bed, facing Arya. They’d been strangers that morning but to his surprise Talisa was slowly unwinding Arya’s long hair as they spoke together. Under the window, Daenerys held little Robb in her arms, lifting him up off her lap and making faces at him, to illicit a giggle. If he hadn’t been so furious he might have taken a moment to appreciate having his daughter home but he needed answers and he wanted them now. He heard Robb coming up behind him but didn’t wait. He was Lord Stark, Hand of the King and Arya’s father. He felt that entitled him to the truth.

“Give the baby back to her mother!” Ned commanded.

Daenerys stood instantly to comply, but Arya was quicker. With her hair hanging loose she stood toe to toe with him before Ned could recognize that she was moving. He looked down at the young woman and without the thick cloaks and furs she’d worn earlier he could see both her coiled muscles, and a few scars that peeked out from the edges of her clothes. “Don’t speak to Daenerys that way. She’s your guest and she’s important to me.”

“In this house, I will speak to anyone I please in any manner I choose.” He stared over Arya’s shoulder to Daenerys. “Give the boy to his mother,” Ned said again. “And you,” he continued, looking to his daughter. “I should have you hung for murdering one of my men. Have you forgotten how we deal with murderers in the North?”

“I remember fondly,” she assured him. “And if you hate murderers so much, you should be thanking me. I only killed him after he murdered an unarmed man in Vaes Dothrak. He knew the laws and he violated them, so I gave him the same justice you were just recommending for me.”

Ned couldn’t help it, his eyes averted on their own as Arya’s words sunk in. He wanted to object, to continue to defend his soldier but he knew he couldn’t. Arya’s position had the benefits of being sound, logical and clear. Before he responded he glanced at his eldest child and got confirmation in the form of a look that Arya’s words were true. “You still shouldn’t have killed a Stark loyalist, no matter what he’d done.”

“He was lucky,” she retorted, entirely unrepentant. As the tension continued to build the baby chose to shatter it by letting out a high-pitched cry. Robb moved around Ned to enter the room and joined his wife as she got off the bed and took their child from Daenerys. Arya went with them. “Robb, I have to admit when you told me you’d been married I thought you’d been paired off to some noble or other. I expected your wife would be boring and stuffy but she’s not.” Robb who was tickling his son, looked lovingly at his wife. Arya clapped him on the shoulder. “You did well big brother.”

Robb and Talisa shared a kiss before Robb responded. “Yes, I did, didn’t I.”

Ned had seen enough. Turning on his heel he left as unexpectedly as he arrived, not bothering to pull the door closed behind him.

R-C

The next morning as his wife was dressing Ned Stark stepped out onto the balcony and looked down at the movement below. He and Cat had stayed in bed far longer than was typical, taking the time to get reacquainted after their long separation. No matter how badly he wished it, they couldn’t avoid the world forever, so she was getting ready and he would be right behind her.

When he saw Bran, on his horse, strapped into the saddle he knew what his son was doing. As he aged, his injury weighed heavier on him. He wanted to be able to protect himself and his people and since using a sword to do that in his condition seemed unlikely, he took to learning the bow. Ned could see that Bran had made great progress in the time he’d been away. When he was last in Winterfell, he only hit his target with one out of every five arrows. Now likely under lessons from Rodrick and Robb more than half went directly where Bran wanted them to.

He looked prepared to release another arrow when he lowered the bow and rested it in front of him in the special saddle. Curious as to what caused him to stop, Ned took a step to his right, to get a better angle on what was happening below. Arya was there, soothing the horse and tugging at the saddle firmly. Turning away from his children Ned hurriedly pulled on a shirt, in a rush to go see what was taking place in his yard.

R-C

Arya put her foot behind the wheel of Bran’s chair so it wouldn’t roll away, then she held out her arms for her brother. Bran had unstrapped himself from the saddle, but was less certain than Arya about her ability to lift him. “Are you positive you can do this?”

“I am,” she vowed. Reluctantly Bran wrapped his arms around his sister’s neck and allowed himself to be carried. She raised him out of his saddle and then rotated to set him down carefully in the chair. “See,” she told him once it was done, “no problem.”

With Bran safe, she went to work adjusting his saddle. She watched him shoot arrows for an hour, while they talked about their lives. She offered occasional tips and suggestions but they weren’t often required. Bran was quite proficient. Over time though, she could see that his errors weren’t due to a lack of skill, but rather an effect of the way he sat on horseback. It happened when he tried to hit a target far off to either side. Bran turned as best as he could, but strapped in place to keep from falling, there was little mobility he could manage. These unnatural positions had an adverse effect on his aim. She’d seen the Dothraki bowmen fight and even tried to learn the skill for herself. Arya knew how difficult it could be to shoot properly when you weren’t in exactly the right position atop the horse.

While she fussed with the saddle, his bow taunted her. She’d always loved early mornings in Winterfell, the air was so crisp and clean, the day yet to be corrupted. She held out a hand in request and Bran passed over the remaining arrows from his quiver. With eyes watching her from all around, Arya looked to Daenerys and Missandei. They were sitting next to the building quietly talking as they watched Arya interact with Bran. “A new horse says I can put these…” she stopped talking and looked down at the arrows in her hand, counting them up, “these seven arrows into those targets.”

When Missandei who was barely resisting the urge to laugh at her bold statement caught her eye Arya winked playfully. Next to her Daenerys smiled widely. “Deal.”

“Prepare to be impressed Khaleesi.”

With the wager made, she looked out at the targets. One by one she created a line of arrows, sticking the tips down into the snow and ice until they were standing up straight. When everything was ready she went back to the first arrow, which was coincidentally next to Bran’s chair. “Don’t miss,” he teased. “She’s watching.”

She glared at him but couldn’t hold her lips even. They curled up in an unwilling smile as she tried to appear angry. Her brother was even more observant than she remembered. He saw everything. Judging by Bran’s expression, he didn’t believe her fury was real, and he was right. “Just watch.”

Pulling the first arrow back taut, she let it go and was immediately running for the second firing position. On one knee, she pulled an arrow from the snow and took aim without standing, sending it hundreds of yards away in a deadly arc. When it was over, all seven arrows were in the centers of the targets. Applause from Missandei and Daenerys had Arya bowing while Bran scoffed from the chair. “Show off,” he complained half heartedly. “You learned to shoot a bow.”

“Had to,” Arya said as she stole a final glance at Daenerys, who was walking over with Missandei in tow.

“Why?” Bran questioned.

“If I didn’t learn, we would’ve starved.”

“You hunt your dinner?”

“Sometimes she hunts for the whole khalasar,” Daenerys informed him.

“What’s a khalasar?” Bran asked.

“It means our people, our horde, our tribe, whatever you want to call it. The army, the women, everybody all together is a khalasar,” Arya explained.

“You know what I was just thinking, while I was watching you?” Daenerys asked looking up at her lover.

For the second time that morning Arya had to fight to keep her smirk under a mask. “I have no idea,” she said before she coughed into her hand to try and hide her grin.

Daenerys shook her head and slapped Arya across her upper chest. “Behave.”

She knelt in the snow, crunching it under her as she did. “My apologies, Khaleesi. What were you thinking?”

“Kelo is one of the best bowmen we have,” Daenerys began, “I bet he’d have tips for Bran about shooting a bow from the saddle.”

She stood and dusted the snow from her knees. “That’s not a bad idea,” she agreed, looking to the horse. “If my father is willing to let him enter the walls, I’m sure he’d have ideas.”

Bran’s excitement at the news was palpable and it made Arya feel good. “Really? That’d be great. Thank you,” he said first to Arya and then again to Daenerys and Missandei in turn.

As a conversation sparked between Daenerys and Bran, Arya went to task, adjusting the saddle, sliding it back ever so slightly to give Bran a bit more room. She noticed her father approaching as she lifted him out of his chair and set him back on his horse. Bran used his hands to angle his feet into the stirrups and Arya could tell he’d done this so many times it had become second nature. When he began strapping his legs in place, her hand flashed out to stop him. “Wait,” she said. Gently she took Bran’s leg and pulled it back slowly, toward the horse’s hind quarter. “Try angling your hips as if you intended to strike the left-most target.” He complied and wobbled slightly as he shifted. Arya’s strong hand steadied him as soon as she noticed it was necessary. Without the straps in place, she could see how easily it would be for Bran to fall. Keeping her hand on his back to support him she gave the next instruction to Daenerys who stood on the opposite side of the horse. “Daenerys, stand behind the saddle and pull his foot back gently about an inch.”

“It’s done,” she announced as she knelt in the snow without concern for her clothes.

“Okay Bran, now the right-most target.” He wobbled again as he turned, but Arya wouldn’t let him slip. When he was centered again she released her hold on him and walked in front of the horse. “How was that?” she asked.

“What’s going on?” Ned asked, as he arrived.

“Just trying to help Bran,” she said.

Looking to the targets Ned reached out and petted the horse, touching his son’s arm with his opposite hand. “Doesn’t look like Bran needs it. You’ve gotten much better since last I was home.”

Bran was visibly uncomfortable with the praise. “Most of the bulls-eyes were Arya.”

“That’s not true,” Arya and Daenerys said together from different sides of the horse’s wide body.

Arya smiled at her brother. “I’ll modify your saddle and see if we can’t make it easier for you to turn and aim.”

“Thanks Arya. Thanks Daenerys.”

She patted the horse one final time and then slipped away. “You ladies coming with me?” Arya wondered, looking at Missandei and Daenerys with a question burning in her eyes.

“Where are you going?” Ned asked. “Your mother was hoping to spend some time with you and Rickon too.”

“Tell mother I’ll join her for lunch. For now, I need to go train with the Blood Riders.” Without giving him time to comment she led the trio toward the gates of Winterfell and out into the North where the Dothraki had made camp.

R-C

Arya wasn’t thinking when she pushed the sleeves of her shirt up over her elbows. The raging fires warmed the room and she acted without proper consideration. In the center of a casual conversation with her mother Arya watched her eyes widen in horror as her hand extended. Her palm floated above the scars, afraid to touch them while being unable to look away. “Arya!?” she gasped. “Are you hurt?”

She extended the sleeves to their full length. “Those are all very old.” When Catelyn wasn’t convinced she made another attempt. “Most of those were likely done in training,” she exaggerated. She wasn’t ashamed of the woman she’d become but she could still wish to spare her mother some grief. “They’re old, from the first few years I was in exile.”

Catelyn finally pulled her hand back and peeled her eyes off Arya’s wounds. “So, you’ve been with the Dothraki the whole time?” she deciphered.

“Most of it. Daenerys and Drogo saved my life,” she stated factually. “I wouldn’t have survived my first year in exile if not for them. After that I had no cause to leave.”

The mother was startled by Arya’s blunt assessment of her past. With tears shining in her eyes she looked to Daenerys with a sad smile. “Thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.”

Daenerys smiled warmly. “You’re welcome. I have never regretting helping Arya, but she makes too much of the assistance. I have no doubt that she would have survived just fine, even if we hadn’t intervened. And if Drogo were here, he’d tell you the same thing.”

“What happened to him?” Talisa asked in between bites of her lunch. The young mother was oblivious to the fact that she’d just dropped a barrel of Wildfire onto their marginally successful meal.

Setting down her fork Arya turned to glare at the head of the table. “Ask him,” she said coldly.

“Excuse me?!” Ned yelled as he stood, knocking his chair backward in the process.

Arya stood with him, while Daenerys tried to control her Wolf’s temper. “Arya, don’t…”

“Don’t what?” Catelyn inquired.

“She doesn’t want me to tell you what happened to her husband and my friend Drogo. She doesn’t think it’ll help for everyone to know that your honorable King Robert poisoned him.” All around the table every eye found Ned. “Did you know about the assassins? That time, or the time after?”

“I’m the Hand of the King, not his conscience,” Ned said in his defense. “I advised him against sending assassins but he did what he wished anyway.”

Catelyn shook her head and offered condolences. “Daenerys, I’m sorry for your loss.” She looked to her husband and continued, “I can’t imagine the pain.”

“Thank you, Lady Stark,” Daenerys replied politely.

“So, you knew Robert wanted to kill an innocent woman, a pregnant woman no less? You knew he intended to send assassins to Essos to poison her? Would it have made any difference if you’d known I was just as likely to drink from that bottle as Drogo or Daenerys?”

“Robert feared she would lead her horde to Westeros and attempt to retake the Iron Throne. Given how many Dothraki are camped on my lands, I’d say his concerns were valid,” Ned objected.

She scoffed at the notion that the assassins who had come to kill her were somehow Daenerys’s fault. “Strangely enough,” she informed him, “if he hadn’t dispatched those men to kill her, we wouldn’t be here now. He brought this on himself.”

“What does that mean?”

“Enough!” Catelyn shouted. “Arya, Ned, sit down and finish your meals.”

Arya was so pleased with her mother that she relented and sat first. She thought back to her childhood and couldn’t recall many times when her mother addressed her father so harshly in public. She was glad that her mother had learned to stand up for herself more openly in the years they’d been apart.

To steer the conversation to safety, Catelyn addressed Missandei. “Forgive me Missandei but you are not Dothraki either are you?”

“No,” she answered. “I come from the Ilse of Naath.”

“How did you come to join Arya and the Dothraki?” she inquired innocently, unaware of how volatile the subject was.

“Mother,” Robb said, hoping to convince her to change course.

Further down the table Arya had the same idea. “That’s not really an interesting story.”

With a shy smirk Missandei was less worried. “It’s alright,” she said. “I don’t mind.”

“Don’t mind what?” Ned asked, annoyed.

“Lord Stark, Lady Stark, I met Arya and Daenerys on what I thought would be my final day,” she recalled. “I was due to die a horrible death when they saved me.”

“What happened?” Catelyn asked.

“I was a stranger, with no coins to offer and they still stopped what they were doing and intervened to save my life. Doing so placed both of them and many others in grave danger, but they did not hesitate. Afterward rather then abandon me Arya carried me out of the city to their camp, getting struck with an arrow while doing so.”

Rickon, who Arya had noticed avoiding her was captivated by Missandei’s watered down version of the truth. “Wow! You did all that?”

She nodded and watched as he wiggled his chair closer in youthful excitement. Daenerys must have picked up on Rickon’s enthusiasm just as she had, because she added more details. “I had to stitch them both up when we got back,” she explained, causing Rickon to chuckle at her grim expression.

Intending to capitalize on the civil exchange, Catelyn kept talking. “Arya, your father told me that you spent the morning training with your…” she trailed off and looked to Ned. “Oh, what did you call them dear?”

“The Blood Riders?” she guessed.

“Yes, yes that was it, thank you. Who are they?”

“Blood Riders are the last line of defense, they are chosen to protect the Khal and Khaleesi,” Arya explained.

“So, they’re like knights, the best fighters?” she clarified as she struggled to understand the changes in her daughter. Arya didn’t mind the questions at all. In fact, she preferred her mother’s inquiry over her father’s open hostility and contempt. The three women who had come from Essos chuckled together at a private joke. Catelyn blushed when she heard it. “Did I misunderstand?”

“No Lady Stark, you’re exactly right,” Daenerys assured her. “In most khalasars a Khal chooses Blood Riders who are the best warriors, the strongest and bravest to fight by his side.” She looked to Arya and lightly shook her head. “Where others chose the biggest or strongest Blood Riders, Arya chose the smartest.”

“You broke the rules,” Talisa said in understanding.

“She did more than that,” Daenerys continued. “Instead of picking the deadliest men as was tradition, she picked three of the weakest, three of the least skilled. The people thought she was a fool.”

“They may have been right,” Arya injected.

“Then what?” Rickon asked, once again mesmerized by the tales of his sister’s bravery.

“Then she spent hours every day training the men she chose. Rain or shine, whether she went on a raid that day or not, she taught them. In time, she took those three inexperienced, weak fighters and crafted them into the best of our army. It’s why more than one hundred thousand men, women and children who feared the water were willing to sail across the Narrow Sea. It’s why each and every one of them would die or kill for her. Why they choose to follow her even though she wasn’t born Dothraki.”

“You always wanted to lead an army, like father,” Bran commented. “I guess you got your wish.”

R-C

“What happened to her?” Ned asked rhetorically as Catelyn got ready for bed. He sat with his hands resting on his knees. “Who taught her to be so disrespectful? I think the Targaryen…”

“Daenerys is not the problem,” she disagreed. “You must see how much Arya cares for her friends. If you continue to push her, to make her choose between us and the new life she’s built, she’s never going to stay.”

“Stay?” he said into his hands as he covered his face. “I’ll be lucky if I can talk Robert into letting her return to Essos.”

Catelyn was on him quickly, grasping his hands and pulling them away so she could look into his eyes. “You told me Robert agreed to pardon her? You said, she could remain in the North.”

He groaned. “That was before she brought the Targaryen girl with her. Robert isn’t the most forgiving man, and he holds every Targaryen equally responsible for what happened to Lyanna.”

“Daenerys had no part in that,” she protested.

“It doesn’t matter. The moment one of Varys’s little birds tell him about Daenerys being here, he’ll send the army North to get her.”

“Is it true what Arya said?” Catelyn wondered. “Did Robert really send assassins to kill that poor girl?”

“That poor girl is a Targaryen,” Ned reminded her. “Her father killed my brother and father and then there was Lyanna.”

“And Daenerys participated in none of it. She wasn’t even alive when those things took place.”

Ned threw up his hands, frustrated with his wife’s unwillingness to see his side of things. “I am tolerating her presence for Arya’s sake. Don’t ask me for more than that.”

She knelt down in front of him and hugged him around the waist awkwardly. “Years ago, you told me exile was the only way to save her. I hated it then, but I took you at your word. Now that she’s back I refuse to lose her again. If you don’t try harder, she’s going to leave and we are never going to see her again.”

Pushing his fingers slowly through her hair he spoke the words he’d been thinking since the moment he saw his youngest girl. “Maybe that’d be for the best.”

Catelyn who had been relatively calm was suddenly enraged. “How dare you say that?! Eight years Ned, eight long years I didn’t know if my child was alive or dead. Eight years I worried about her, I prayed for her, eight years I made myself sick fretting and finally she’s come home. Don’t you dare say that her return isn’t the best thing to happen to this family since the day Robert sent her away.”

“I’m sorry,” he quickly said. “I love Arya, you know I do and I’m glad she’s returned to us but I can’t pretend I’m happy with Daenerys being here. Every time I look at her, all I can see is her father, her brother…”

Cat grasped his hand and held it firmly. “Perhaps you should stop looking at her as the Mad King’s daughter and instead see her as the woman who saved Arya’s life.”

He didn’t think it was possible, but one look at his pleading wife and it was clear how important this was to her. “I’ll try,” he bartered. “I’ll try.”

R-C

More than half the people of Winterfell had made the trek through the snow nearly two miles to the spot where Arya’s people made camp. They came to see the Dothraki train. Some were curious and others had heard from Robb and his men of their brutal methods.

Even the Starks had come to watch, only Ned was missing. Robb was holding his son and kept one arm protectively around Talisa’s shoulders as he stood at the front of the crowd. Arya teased him as she passed. “Haven’t seen enough yet?”

“I trust this will end better than last time,” he answered, clearly referring to Vern.

“If we’re lucky.” Arya stopped in front of the Khaleesi. “Want to go first?” she proposed.

Daenerys was unamused. “All these people did not walk from Winterfell to see me train Arya Stark.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure,” she said with a shrug, “I’d watch you do just about anything.”

In a rush, she was overcome with heat that had nothing to do with her Dragon’s blood. Her desire to kiss her lover was only tempered by the knowledge that Arya’s family were close enough to see and overhear them. She didn’t want to embarrass the woman she adored, so she restrained herself. “Just go,” she said giving Arya a one -handed shove. “Can you try not to injure yourself today?”

“As you command Khaleesi.”

To begin the lesson, Arya sparred with the Blood Riders, fighting all three of them at the same time and still managing to best them. More than once as Arya carelessly threw herself toward danger Daenerys saw Catelyn Stark openly flinch. Every time a blade neared her daughter she reached out as though she intended to help her. When the warm up was complete, she called Mirak forward. He was the merchant’s son, the newest addition to their family. Just as she’d done years earlier with her Blood Riders, Arya painstakingly taught him to wield all manner of deadly weapons.

After she tasked Mirak with practicing, she introduced Bran to Kelo. The language barrier made communication nearly impossible without help. Without needing to even be asked Missandei came forward and translated both sides of the conversation, while they discussed ways to improve riding and archery for the crippled young man.

Daenerys stayed back and watched from a distance, enjoying seeing Arya interacting with her family after so long. “What are they talking about?” Catelyn asked.

“Oh, Lady Stark,” Daenerys said as she jumped slightly. “I’m sorry, I didn’t see you there.”

“Apologies. I didn’t mean to startle you.”

“That’s quite alright.” After a moment, both of them looked back to the Stark children. Robb had passed off his son to Talisa and was holding Rickon up so he could get a better view of the sparring Dothraki. “I was just wondering what they were doing.”

“Arya wants to modify Bran’s saddle, to make it easier for him to ride and shoot his bow. Since the Dothraki spend so much of their lives on horseback she thought perhaps Kelo had some suggestions.”

“That is very generous,” Catelyn said thoughtfully.

“Lady Stark, I know the woman you see now is not the girl who left Westeros, but she missed you, even if she rarely admitted it.”

Daenerys could see the tears shining in her eyes. “It hasn’t been all bad, has it? Was she ever happy? Ned’s told me about the Dothraki, about the way they live. I’ve seen the scars and heard Robb whispering about what happened in Essos. Please just tell me she is happy.”

“I think she is,” Daenerys decided. “I hope so at least.”

“Thank you for taking care of Arya when she needed it. I know from experience she isn’t the easiest one to watch after,” Catelyn said with a weak laugh. After, her tone was once again deathly serious. “I also should apologize for my husband. He usually isn’t so hostile, but I’m afraid the history between your family and his…”

“I understand,” Daenerys promised. “I only wish I knew how to properly apologize for the actions of my father and brother. I’ve tried several times and all my words seem so inadequate.”

Cat put a comforting hand on the woman’s shoulder. “The fact that you’re capable of feeling regret for your ancestor’s past proves Arya is right about you. You’re nothing like your father at all.”

“Thank you,” she said, not realizing until just then how badly she needed forgiveness for someone else’s sins.

Chapter Text

“Where is Missandei?” Arya questioned as she and Daenerys walked past the smith. She slowed, enjoying the familiar sounds of the steel being hammered and the smell of the sizzling fire.

“Likely inside,” Daenerys guessed, “trying to get her body to thaw. She doesn’t care for the cold.”

Arya snickered. “I thought we were going to need to make room for her in our bed. I didn’t think she was going to stray from your Dragon blood before sunrise.”

Melting into Arya’s arms, the two women held each other. “Tired of me already?” Daenerys challenged, just before Arya claimed her lips.

The sound of footsteps made it obvious they’d been caught. Unapologetic as she was, her face still heated as she looked down and saw Rickon watching them. “Hi,” he said cheerfully.

“Hi,” Daenerys said as she squatted to match his height.

“Can I see your curved sword?” he asked, holding out his small hand.

“Sorry Rickon, it’s not a toy,” Arya rebuffed gently, aware she would be disappointing him.

“I know that. I have a sword!”

“Really?” Arya verified. She couldn’t imagine her father or even Robb allowing Rickon to use a real blade. “Father gave you your own sword?” Even as she said the words Arya was struck by a wave of jealousy. She’d always wanted a sword, but Ned wouldn’t permit it. It was Jon who gifted her with Needle before he left for the Wall. If she had to wait for Lord Stark, she likely still wouldn’t have a weapon of her own.

Robb, who was walking with Ser Rodrick, corrected the misconception as he went by. “Father gave you a wooden sword to train with.”

“It’s still a sword,” Rickon protested. “Can I see it please?”

She shook her head to answer him. “Tell you what, why don’t you go get your sword, and I’ll train with you a little bit.”

His eyes lit up at the potential. “Really? Like you do with the Dothraki?”

“Exactly like that.”

Rickon didn’t need to be told twice and took off running for the door. When they were once again strolling around the grounds Daenerys made her opinion known. “That was very sweet of you. He adores you.”

“I wasn’t the only one who grew up while I was in exile. He was just a babe when I left for King’s Landing. He wasn’t there when I got on the boat and now to see him again and have him be nearly ten. It makes me realize just how much of his life I missed.”

The talking ended when Rickon came back out with three wooden swords. While keeping one he passed the others to Arya and Daenerys. “Alright,” Arya started as she twirled the sword on her open palm, “ready for your first lesson?”

R-C

Arya and her warriors training was the talk of Winterfell. So much so that eventually Ned himself made the trip to witness it first hand. Her focus was so singular that she didn’t notice him at first.

Kovarro sent the whip cracking through the air, aimed directly at her throat. Arya arched backward, her long hair grazing the snow as she avoided what would’ve certainly ended the battle. Before she could right herself Kelo slashed at one arm, while Harvin lunged for her legs. She tried to avoid them all, but they were too coordinated, just as she’d taught them to be. She launched herself into the air, over Harvin’s blade. Rather than swinging her own weapon she chose to use her knee, slamming it forcefully under his chin and sending him toppling onto his back unconscious. Kelo had the most success. She tried to block him with her arakh but only managed a slight deflection. As the steel bit into her bicep she took a page from Ryn’s book. She gripped his weapon like Ryn had once done to her, ripping it from his hands and throwing it aside. Undeterred Kelo pounced and tackled her to the ground. As they rolled around, struggling for dominance Arya became aware of Kovarro stalking closer.

Gripping the front of his jacket she rolled Kelo over and climbed on top. Punches were thrown in both directions as Kovarro got involved. She felt the warmth of blood on her back as he tried to urge her to submit with the whip. Pushing past the pain she slammed an elbow into Kelo’s temple, and then rolled away before Kovarro could lash her again.

Unarmed and injured she was at a distinct disadvantage as Kovarro circled her. With a wicked smile he dropped the whip tainted with her blood and drew a dagger. Arya smiled too. The dagger was his favorite weapon and with good reason. He was deadlier than anyone she’d ever seen with the small blade. Lowering herself she pretended to be searching for a weapon, while what she was really doing was picking up a handful of tightly packed snow. Kovarro continued to wait for an opening Arya found hers first. She threw the snow and he acted on reflex, reaching up to block it. In a rush, she threw herself into him, hitting him in the ribs with an unforgiving shoulder. Her own pain not withstanding, she allowed Kovarro to punch her several times, while she focused entirely on prying the dagger from his hand. Once she had it, she was quick to press it into the side of her Blood Rider’s throat, even as he sat overtop of her, raining down blows.

With the battle over, Kovarro stood and offered her an extended hand. She took it and spoke in Dothraki as she praised his skill and technique. When the Blood Rider went to do her bidding, Ned stepped forward. “That was pretty intense for training.”

She was surprised to see him there as she worked to catch her breath. “Easy training doesn’t prepare anyone for anything,” Arya commented casually as she looked first at her arm and then over her shoulder to assess her wounds. “If I’m not preparing my people for what combat is really like, I’m not doing them any favors.” Last, she opened her gloved hand and checked the depth of the gash she received grabbing Kelo’s arakh.

“We agree on that. What did you say to your friend, just now?”

“I told him to get some water and bring the other two around. I hit them pretty hard.”

With a thick finger, he pointed to the long opening across her back. “They returned the favor. You need to get those looked at.”

“I’ve had worse. I’ll be fine.”

“Arya,” he reprimanded.

“I’ll be fine,” she repeated. “I’ll clean it in a little while.”

“Arya Stark,” Daenerys yelled as she marched over. “You’re not fine, you’re bleeding and you won’t clean it in a little while, you’ll sit down and let me do it now.”

“Check on Harvin and Kelo,” Arya instructed. “They got it worse than me.”

“Missandei and Jorah will tend to them,” Daenerys answered dismissively. “Now take off your jacket so I can see the damage.”

She gritted her teeth, peeling the bloody fabric and fur away from her body. She was aware of not only Daenerys’s judgemental glare, but her father’s as well. It seemed they finally agreed on something. “We have a Maester in Winterfell who could sew the wounds,” he announced.

Arya looked to Daenerys, who gave the older man a friendly smile. “That’s quite alright Lord Stark, after Drogo and now Arya I’ve gotten quite good at this.”

“Have you heard from Jon?” Arya asked before she had to bite down on her bottom lip to keep from screaming.

“We send letters,” Ned explained. “I haven’t received any recently, but last I heard he was doing well.”

She smiled against the pain. “That’s good.” She let quiet settle around her before she finished. “I think I may ride to the Wall to see him.”

Arya did what she could to memorize her father’s smile as he heard this. She was glad they were alone. If her mother had been there, the tension and awkwardness would have been thick enough to cut. The situation of his own making always left Ned forced to balance on a razor’s edge, between loving and protecting his son and honoring his wife who had no shortage of opinions on the subject. She didn’t agree with the way her mother treated Jon and she was pleased that he’d found a place to be happy. Since this would likely be her last time in Westeros, she didn’t want to let it pass without seeing him, even if he was a bastard.

R-C

She sat in what had once been her childhood bedroom with a misshaped piece of wood between her knees. Using Missandei’s dagger, she methodically changed the shape until it was a replica of her arakh.

Arya had gotten used to Rickon’s daily requests to see her weapon, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t difficult to refuse him. She had once been him, yearning for a sword, any sword to hold, sharpen, polish and swing. She could relate all too well. Outside the walls, in the Dothraki camp, Kelo was putting the finishing touches on Bran’s improved saddle. She hoped both gifts would be ready to be presented the following day.

“Have you made up your mind?” Daenerys asked, her nose buried in a book.

She answered without ever lifting her eyes from the wood. “I need to go,” she decided. “I will never forgive myself if I don’t.”

“Tell me about Jon. What kind of man is he?”

Her hands stopped their task. “Honorable,” she began, “to a fault. No matter how horrible he was treated here, by my mother, by Sansa, you never heard him complain.” She slowly got back to work. “Of all my siblings, I was always the closest to Jon.”

“Why him?”

Arya shrugged. “We could relate to one another. Neither of us belonged, neither fit in where we were put. On one hand he was father’s son, like Robb, Bran or Rickon but my mother ignored him when she wasn’t bathing him in her contempt and jealousy. He was never happy here, always anxious for the day father would allow him to go to the Wall and Take the Black.”

She leaned forward so she might hear the whispered words sooner. “And what about you? You weren’t a bastard. How could you relate to him?”

Arya knew the words weren’t said with malice, but genuine curiosity. Maybe that was why she didn’t mind answering or perhaps it was just because Daenerys was the one doing the asking. “I didn’t fit in either. My mother already had one perfect daughter. Sansa loved all the right things, pretty dresses, sewing, even politics. She took to it like a duck to water, always assuming she’d marry a Prince or King one day. When I came of age my mother tried to mould me in Sansa’s image. She forced me to spend hours learning with the Septa, perfecting my handwriting, knitting and all other manner of foolishness.”

“What did you want?”

“I wanted to be on a horse, riding at my father’s side, defending the Realm. How could the gossips at court compete with that?” she wondered rhetorically.

Daenerys surprised her with a kiss on the lips. Forgetting Rickon’s toy she coiled her arms around Daenerys’s neck and pulled her closer, for a longer, more serious try. “I’d say you got your wish.”

She didn’t need a mirror to know her face wore a cocky smirk. “I always get what I want.”

With her warm, wet mouth teasing around Arya’s ear, Daenerys poked her a little. “Is that so? Always?”

With an abundance of charm, she tilted her head back and looked into Daenerys’s eyes for several seconds. “Always,” Arya confirmed. “I got you, didn’t I?”

After a lustful growl, Daenerys tackled her until she was flat and then quickly climbed on top. “You don’t get to take credit for that,” Daenerys said as she began kissing Arya’s neck, while nimble hands were unlacing her top. “If it were up to you, I’d still be waiting.”

R-C

Breakfast was an interesting affair. After only two bites, Rickon had been presented with the gift Arya made for him. His own wooden arakh, to go with the wooden training sword his father had given him. He was thrilled, and immediately went to work, fighting all sorts of invisible enemies from all around the room. Arya watched him for a few seconds, privately enjoying that her gift was so well received and then she moved on to Bran.

“After we eat, I’ll take you to the camp. Kelo is waiting there and your saddle is ready. It should make aiming much easier, especially on the move.”

Bran set down his fork and smiled widely at the exiles. “Thank you so much, both of you. I can’t wait to try it out.”

“If you listen to Kelo, you’ll be hitting every target you can see and likely some you can’t,” Daenerys added. “He’s even tried to teach me, although I think I’m a lost cause.”

Further down the table, Missandei, Talisa, and Robb were all engaged in a conversation about Talisa’s homeland. The baby was still sleeping, a rare occurrence his parents seemed willing to make the most of.

When Ned and Cat came down the staircase they gravitated toward Bran and Arya’s conversation first. Catelyn tried to coax her youngest boy into his seat while she prepared a plate for both Ned and herself. “What are you all talking about?” her father asked on his way to the head of the table.

“Arya’s friend is finished with the saddle for me. She’s going to take me to try it out.” Bran told him happily.

He smiled at his son and then looked to his daughter. “You can do your practicing inside the walls today.”

The fork that was less than an inch from her lips froze and she glanced at Daenerys who was no more prepared for Ned’s change of heart. “I wanted the Dothraki to give Bran some tips.”

Ned nodded. “One of those Blood Riders you trained with the other day?”

“That’s right,” she confirmed.

“You can bring those three with you. I think my men would benefit from seeing how seriously the Dothraki take their training,” Ned said before he took a massive bite from the plate Cat set in front of him.

Arya knew better than to push for more. Concessions by her father were rare, but not nearly as rare as him changing his opinion once it was made. If he was willing to allow any Dothraki inside the gates of Winterfell, Arya was going to take that as a sign of real progress. She tried to infuse her words with as much sincerity as she could. “Thank you,” she said, finding and holding his eye from several seats away.

Under the table, Daenerys reached for and took her hand, pulling it into her lap. They didn’t need words, she knew that Daenerys was just as surprised by the allowance her father had made as Arya was. It also didn’t escape her notice that her mother was smiling wide, shooting approving looks at her husband every few seconds.

R-C

“You don’t need to go,” Arya said gently as they cuddled together, “certainly not tonight.”

“I do,” Daenerys objected, her tone leaving little room for debate. “I may be too much of a coward to apologize to your father directly, but I can apologize to your ancestors.”

Arya rolled so she could prop herself up on an elbow. “You aren’t responsible for what others did.”

“How can you say that, after everything my family did to yours?”

“It was before either of us were born,” Arya reminded her.

“That fixes things? Your father has every right to hate me. Your whole family does.”
“If that’s true,” Arya said, leaving the bed and falling to her knees on the floor, “then I owe you multiple apologies.”

Daenerys was not amused. She held out a hand in invitation but Arya wouldn’t budge. “For what?” she was finally forced to ask. “You’ve done nothing but risk your life for me day and night. There is nothing to forgive.”

“That’s not true. By your logic, I am to blame for all my father’s actions. He knew Robert sent assassins, but did nothing. Because of Robert and my father, Drogo and Rhaego are dead. You have reason to hate me too.”

“That’s hardly the same thing,” Daenerys contested. “I believe your father when he says there was nothing he could’ve done to change Robert’s mind.”

“He still should have tried.”

This time when Daenerys held out a hand, Arya took it and allowed herself to be brought back to bed and into Daenerys’s waiting arms. As soon as she was in reach, Daenerys took advantage and kissed the other woman. After their tongues had dueled for as long as the limited air supply would allow, they separated reluctantly. “I could never hate you.”

“And I could never hate you, not even if all of my family did.” She paused to try and gather her thoughts. “I couldn’t hate you because I love you Daenerys.”

Daenerys Targaryen had known for a long time that she was in love with Arya Stark. She’d known it the first time they shared a bed, the first time they shared a kiss and with increasing frequency every day since. Still she always thought she’d be the one to say it first, guessing incorrectly that Arya would put little stock in the label. Up to that point she hadn’t said it, because it didn’t seem important. She knew how she felt and she knew how Arya felt. Even without those three little words, the evidence was overwhelming. It was obvious each time Arya defended her to her family, first with Robb and his men and then with Ned. When she drew blood to protect Daenerys and the khalasar it was perfectly clear. If others couldn’t see it, it was only because they weren’t looking in the right places. Daenerys was. Hearing the words whispered with such conviction they were more meaningful than all the other times in her life she’d been on the receiving end of such affections.

Chuckling in disbelief Daenerys pushed a hand through Arya’s long hair. “Well aren’t you full of surprises. Just when I think I know what to expect…”

“I’m sorry,” Arya rushed to say. “I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable, I know it hasn’t been that long since Drogo.”

She pressed a finger to Arya’s lips. “Stop.” There was a pause, after which Arya nodded, promising a vow of silence. Daenerys let her finger fall away. “As I was saying, just when I think I know what to expect from you, you go and say the last thing I thought I’d hear tonight.”

She looked into Arya’s eyes and could tell she was preparing to respond so Daenerys stopped savoring the moment as she had been and finished. “I love you too and I have for a long time.” As she watched the myriad of emotions passing over her face, Daenerys did her best to identify each one before it was gone. “You were right about one thing though,” Daenerys said as an afterthought.

“Oh? And what’s that?”

“We aren’t going to the crypt tonight,” Daenerys said as she knelt on her half of the bed. In perfect synchronization, she pushed the fabric of her dress off her shoulders. The material slid down her body and puddled at her knees. “I don’t think we’ll be leaving this bed until sunrise at least.”

“At least,” Arya agreed, her eyes drinking in Daenerys’s form as she got to work on her own clothes.

R-C
“No one will be required to accompany us,” Daenerys said to preface what was coming. “The main army can start to pack up the camp and when they’re ready, begin the march down from Winterfell toward King’s Landing. Arya, I and whoever wishes to join us will not be gone long. We will catch up to the khalasar long before you near the capitol.”

“It’s cold there,” she told the Dothraki around her. “Colder than here. There is no danger, no one to fight. Ride South and prepare for battle. When we arrive, I will lead you against our enemies.”

The Dothraki shrieked in appreciation of Arya’s words. Very few had a desire to see the famous Wall. They didn’t care who built it, or why. It didn’t matter to them how tall it was, or how long it kept the Seven Kingdoms safe. To the Dothraki, unless their enemy was on the other side, it was of little importance.

“Are you sure you aren’t willing to join us Ser?” Daenerys asked her knight. “Your father is Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch is he not?”

“He was,” Jorah allowed, “but that was years ago. I don’t even know if he lives.”

“Do you not wish to find out?”

“My father made his opinions on my conduct quite clear in our last correspondence. He left little doubt what would await me if he saw me again,” Jorah explained sadly.

Daenerys had heard enough. She thought she was helping by suggesting he accompany them, but she could see now it was far more complicated. “Fine. The Blood Riders are coming with us, so you’ll be responsible for moving the army…”

“Don’t rush,” Arya interjected. “It’ll be a short visit, but the weather can be treacherous that far North.”

“We’ll be fine.”

“Just make sure you don’t get to King’s Landing before we do,” Arya instructed.

“This is your war. We aren’t fighting it without you. We probably shouldn’t be fighting it at all,” Jorah finished with contempt.

“Let’s not do this again,” Daenerys implored.

“If you disagree with what Daenerys and I have planned, you’re free to go. You don’t have to fight in a war you don’t believe in.”

“I’m loyal to the Khaleesi and will honor her wishes, but I know we’re here for your pride and little else,” Jorah declared with a fierce glare.

Daenerys was ready to intervene between the woman she loved and her oldest friend if necessary, but it wasn’t. To her surprise, Jorah’s words passed as if Arya hadn’t heard them. The Northern woman took Daenerys’s hand and interlocked their fingers. Somehow this action managed to hurt Jorah far worse than any words Arya might have said.

R-C

Rumors had spread through Winterfell like Wildfire. They said the savages would be leaving for the South while Arya and a small group of her friends headed North to the Wall. Ned knew why she was going and he was proud of his difficult daughter. She’d always had a strong kinship to Jon. He was the one who gave her Needle, a reward as their father saw it for treating him as a Stark and not a Snow. Jon may have been a bastard to him, and a painful reminder to Cat but Arya never saw him that way. He always admired that about her.

Missandei was chatting happily near a fire with Robb and Talisa, while the child slept in her arms. Rickon was swinging the wooden arakh his sister made for him, grinning as he did, trying to tempt two of his guards into a fight. Catelyn was in the kitchen making arrangements for their dinner. Outside Bran was making use of his new saddle in the courtyard, taking instruction from Kelo and Harvin. Although she wasn’t present, Arya had taken advantage of his invitation to allow the Blood Riders inside the walls. A few questions at the gate and he learned Arya hadn’t returned to the Dothraki camp that day. When he searched nearly the whole of Winterfell without success, he knew there was only one place left for her to be.

He was pleased when he heard the muffled whispers. He descended the steps slowly, attempting to remain quiet. Arya was surely different from the girl who once lived down the hall, but if she’d come to pay her respects to their ancestors, then maybe she wasn’t as far gone as he originally feared.

Ned’s feelings changed when he reached the bottom and realized he hadn’t heard Arya praying out loud before the statues but Arya and Daenerys whispering together. His child stood against the wall, her hands folded behind her back. On her knees in front of his father’s shrine Daenerys wept.

He wanted to charge in, to demand the Targaryen leave a place where she didn’t belong, but the conversation he overheard slowed him.

“…how could he do this?” Daenerys was asking. “How could anyone be capable of this?”

Pushing off the wall, Ned watched as Arya closed the gap between them. With a tender touch, one he hadn’t seen in the ‘new’ Arya, she lifted Daenerys to her feet and turned her away from her grandfather. “He earned his name,” she stated simply. “He was ill.”

Daenerys sank into Arya’s open arms. “What does that say about me?” she questioned. “Is that what we have to look forward to, my descent into madness?”

“You aren’t your father,” Arya said with force. “You aren’t going to lose your mind. You are kind, and decent and beautiful. That will never change.”

Ned’s face heated as he listened. He couldn’t explain why exactly, but somehow the moment he was witnessing seemed too private to spy on. Never before had he felt that way inside Winterfell. All at once, he saw what Robb, Arya, and Cat had been telling him. Maybe Daenerys was different. He still wasn’t sure, but for the first time he was willing to entertain the possibility.

“You knew Viserys,” Daenerys said after a lull where Arya did nothing more than hold her. “He was cruel and obsessed with the Iron Throne. Turning out like him wouldn’t be much better.”

“You are nothing like your brother!” Arya shouted, her voice echoing around them. “He was an abusive pig and if Drogo hadn’t killed him, I would’ve.”

Smiling against her tears Daenerys leaned in and pressed her lips to Arya’s. Ned watched, expecting his daughter to push the Targaryen away, but she didn’t. Instead she gripped her around the waist and gripped her tightly as the kiss deepened. He never considered the reason for Arya’s devotion, but he likely should have. Her spirited defense of the Targaryen made much more sense now.

He escaped the crypt without revealing himself. The final thing he heard was Arya saying, “Next is my Aunt Lyanna.”

R-C

Half a dozen Dothraki were accompanying them to the Wall. Arya knew it wasn’t out of interest in seeing the wonder but only in a desire to protect her and Daenerys. Jorah refused to join them, afraid of angering his father. He would lead the army South in the coming days.

Almost entirely covered in furs Missandei rode atop her horse to where Arya and Daenerys were waiting for the others. They both took notice. “Missandei,” Daenerys started, “you don’t need to come along, unless you are sure you want to.”

“I am your handmaiden and your advisor,” she replied. “What if you need my aid or advice on your journey?”

Throwing a sharp look at Arya, she smiled fondly. “Should that happen, I’ll put Arya to work until we return to you.”

“Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that,” Arya joked from nearby. “I can’t craft those braids she likes as you do and I have little chance of providing helpful advice regardless of the situation.” She gave Missandei a knowing smirk. “Trust me, your job will be secure. In fact, I bet after a few weeks with me, she’ll be eager to have you back at her side.”

“You’re irreplaceable,” she said to her lover, before her violet eyes landed on Missandei. “And you are welcome to do as you please. If you wish to see the Wall, join us. If you ache for warmer climates, help Ser Jorah lead the khalasar South.”

“My place is with you,” she decided, her posture changing with the new wave of determination, “unless you two want to be alone, that is.”

“Daenerys and I will have plenty of time to be alone,” Arya predicted.

“She’s right, but there is no need for you to freeze needlessly. We’ll be back with the khalasar before you reach the spot where we came ashore.”

Missandei considered her options for a few moments then angled her horse to Arya. “This Wall is truly made of ice?”

“Yes,” she confirmed.

“I can’t imagine such a thing. I would like to see it, even if it kills me in the process.”

Moving away from Arya, Daenerys put a heated hand on Missandei’s nearest leg. “I would never let you freeze.”

“Do you have room for a few more?” Ned asked as he and four of his men rode into the Dothraki camp.

The good-natured teasing and laughing was over and all three women were suddenly serious. “You intend to join us Lord Stark?”

Despite the question coming from Daenerys, it was Arya he addressed. “I haven’t seen Jon in ages. I’m not sure the next time I’ll be back in the North, so it seemed prudent to take advantage.”

His daughter nodded. “Lead the way. We’ll catch up shortly.”

She spent an hour going around the camp, ensuring everyone knew what was expected of them after they were gone. Predictably when they reached Jorah he tried to change Daenerys’s mind. “Khaleesi,” he pleaded, “the wilds near the Wall are dangerous. There is too much risk for you to accompany Arya on her personal errand.” He pushed a hand through his hair and groaned. “If something happened to you…”

“Nothing will happen. I’ll be perfectly safe with Arya and the others,” Daenerys stated calmly.

“It’s far too great a risk,” he said, repeating his earlier point. “Stay with the khalasar, stay with your people and we will lead them together.”

Daenerys set a kiss onto Jorah’s prickly cheek. “I’ll see you again in a few days,” she exaggerated. “Keep our people safe.”

“I will,” he swore, blushing as Daenerys returned to Arya’s side.

Their horses were delivered to them and they said their final goodbyes. Arya looked up at the thick clouds and the lightly falling snow. If the weather permitted they would catch up to her father and his men by dinner.

Chapter Text

They were days into their ride when Ned pulled away from his guards and chose instead to talk with Arya. Missandei and Daenerys were a row back, flanked by the Dothraki who had joined them. “I have some questions about the Dothraki,” he said without warning.

“I’ll answer what I can,” she said, keeping her tone even and her words purposefully non-committal.

It was quiet for a time. “How is it that after her husband died you took control? Why would they follow you over his wife?”

She could understand his question. He’d spent his entire adult life in service to a system that honored bloodlines and marriage. Arya herself had struggled with the shift during her first few months with the Dothraki. It really did take some getting used to. “The Dothraki honor strength above all else. If you can’t defeat them, why should they fear you? If they aren’t frightened of you, how can you hope to rule them? After Drogo was killed, everything descended into chaos.” She squinted against the sun as she remembered. “For months it was near constant fighting.” She looked down at her covered arm to where a particularly gruesome scar was hidden. “I was challenged day after day.”

“That’s a lot of killing.”

She agreed with him, it definitely was. “If there was another way, I would have taken it but they wouldn’t follow Daenerys alone.”

“Why did it matter?” he asked. “She could have left, you could have gone with her.”

“That was our home,” she said with conviction. “Those ‘savages’ as you call them were my family just as surely as you or Robb. We weren’t going to run if we could help it.”

“Was it worth it? Robb told me you nearly died several times, suffering injuries in combat and during raids.”

“That’s true,” she confessed as she looked behind her at Daenerys. “I’ve never regretted it. I’d have killed all of Essos if necessary.”

Ned’s expression turned thoughtful before her eyes. “That’s quite a feat. Not all soldiers can say they never doubted if they were on the right side of things.”

“Have you?”

“More so recently,” he told her. Like Arya had done he snuck a peek at the Targaryen. “I never regretted my role in the Rebellion. It needed to be done, and the Realm was better for it. That said, I should have known better than to leave the North. We’re Wolves and we don’t belong down South.”

“The Northmen are loyal to you,” Arya pointed out. “Why not leave Robert and return to your home, to your wife and your family?”

“I serve the Crown until my efforts are no longer required,” he said simply, sounding exhausted in her opinion.

“You’re willing to accept that?” she tested. “Allow yourself to be unhappy for your friend’s sake?”

“It’s enough for now,” he said, his tone effectively ending the conversation.

“I doubt mother would agree,” she added under her breath. The way his eyes moved off the horizon and to her face made it clear he’d heard her.

“Your mother has endured far more than most wives would. I know she wishes me home.”

“She wishes you home sure, but she’d settle for you allowing her to move to King’s Landing. It upsets her to be so far away from you,” Arya explained.

“She told you this?”

Arya chuckled humorlessly. “She didn’t have to. It’s undeniable.”

Again, Ned looked over his shoulder to see Daenerys. “Well as you can no doubt agree marriage is far more difficult than it looks from the outside.”

She shrugged, urging her horse to move faster. “I wouldn’t know. I’ve never been married.”

Ned blushed, seemingly as uncomfortable with the change in topic as she was, even though he chose it. “I just assumed. You call her the Khaleesi and you’re the Khal.”

“The Dothraki aren’t big on ceremonies. It’s not unheard of to have a wedding, but it’s not necessary either.”

“So, you and Daenerys never…”

“Why are you asking?” she snapped.

“I just want to know if my daughter got married while she was away,” he said, working hard to justify his inquiry. “She seems to be a big part of your life. Her and Missandei too.”

“They are a big part of my life,” Arya accepted, “but a wedding wouldn’t change a single thing. So why bother?”

“I’m your father, Arya. I’m just concerned.”

“You have no cause to be,” she told him bluntly. “What happens with Daenerys and I is no more for you than your relationship with mother is mine.”

“We’re family,” he informed her. “It would be wrong to assume it didn’t matter, or that no one notices.”

She smirked at him, amused by his position. “We aren’t hiding anything.”

“You’re my daughter Arya and regardless of what’s happened between us, I’ll always worry about you.”

“My life is dangerous, but Daenerys is the last thing you should worry about. I couldn’t ask for anyone better.”

Ned scoffed in obvious disapproval. “A woman who forces you to kill for her so she can remain in power? That’s hardly the woman I would choose for my daughter.”

Up until that moment Arya had been enjoying their relatively civil conversation. Now she wasn’t. “You don’t get a choice, not then or now.”

“Arya…” he started to say.

“Enough!” she roared, drawing the attention of all those in their party. “As I said, it’s not your business, but if it were I would tell you that Daenerys saved my life and not just the day we met. She doesn’t make me do anything and she never has.” With that she turned her horse and moved back to join her friends.

R-C

She sat next to Ned as they both picked at the rabbit she’d hunted for their dinner. Conversations were happening around them in various languages, but neither Stark felt the need to get involved.

When Daenerys got up to go and speak with the Dothraki, Arya knew her father wouldn’t pass up the opportunity. “Robb tells me that Jorah Mormont is with you.”

“He is,” she said, taking a large bite to justify having nothing else to say on the matter.

“Is he still selling humans like cattle?” Ned questioned, but Arya could tell there was nothing casual about the choice of words. She’d heard the tale of Jorah when she was a girl, long before she met the errant knight. After she landed in Essos she heard the story from him as well. She had little interest in the bickering that dated back to a time when she was just a child. Jorah may not be her favorite person, but he was loyal to Daenerys and that was enough.

“If he were, Daenerys would have killed him long ago,” she said confidently before she took another bite.

“She would have killed him? Robb said they are close,” Ned said looking away from his meal and at the Khaleesi.

“They are,” Arya confirmed. “He is one of her oldest and closest friends.”

“And she’d kill him?”

Her eyes flickered to Missandei. The topic of slavery made her uncomfortable, not because of the brief time she spent in bondage before she earned Drogo’s favor, but because she knew how lucky she’d been. Missandei and so many others had suffered greatly before Daenerys intervened. “If she ever thought he was going to buy or sell a slave she’d take his head from his shoulders.”

Ned’s food was forgotten as he looked at Daenerys. The Dragon was laughing with the broad chested Dothraki. Everyone was suffering in the cold, only the Northmen seemed suited for it. Arya had been hoping to reach the warmth of Castle Black by now, but they were still several hours away. The light was fading fast and they’d need to finish the trip tomorrow. “I can’t imagine it, her killing anyone. She doesn’t seem the type.”

She was entirely unimpressed by his assessment. “No one is the type, until they are.” Arya wiped grease from her mouth with the back of her hand crudely. “I hadn’t killed anyone until I was tied up and forced into the Dothraki camp. I wasn’t sure I could do it, but when the opportunity presented itself, I didn’t delay.”

“Killing to defend yourself is different from murder,” Ned justified.

Arya rolled her eyes at her father, even knowing it would offend him. “Is it murder when you behead deserters from the Night’s Watch?” she wondered. “They didn’t threaten you, or Winterfell or our family, but you did it anyway.”

He responded by groaning at his youngest daughter. “That’s different and you know it. I am loyal to the Realm. It’s my duty.”

“You’re loyal to the Realm,” she said back to him as she nodded. “Daenerys is loyal to her people. It’s not all that different.”

“It’s not even close to that same thing.”

She had heard enough. Standing she tossed a bone from her dinner into the fire and wiped her hands on the front of her pants. “If you say so,” she challenged as she walked away to join the Dothraki.

R-C

Ned was at a loss. He didn’t know what to do. Arya had always been difficult, a free spirt, his wild wolf, but this was different. Every time he attempted to make a connection to her, she resisted. They went two steps forward and then one back. He didn’t know how much longer they could continue this way. It would destroy his wife but he was coming to the conclusion that the best place for Arya was back in Essos.

He was so lost in his thoughts that he didn’t realize when Missandei took the seat Arya had vacated. “Would you like to talk?”

He didn’t particularly want to have this conversation with a woman who was a stranger, but he was desperate for any chance to learn more about who Arya had become. As much as it pained him to admit Missandei knew far more about Arya now than he did. “I just want to understand her and the more I try, the more I’m certain I know less,” he heard himself confessing before he could hold his tongue.

“Have you ever been to Astapor Lord Stark?”

“No,” he admitted, taking off his gloves and holding his hands over the heat.

“I was stolen from my home, taken there and forced into slavery. It is where I would have died if your daughter and Daenerys hadn’t stepped in.”

He looked up from the flickering fire and met her rich brown eyes. He recalled the conversation they’d had back in Winterfell, both Robb and Arya had brushed over Missandei’s history when Cat asked. He thought little of it at the time, but now he wished he’d given it more thought. “You said they saved your life.”

With agony still lining her face she surprised him by smiling. “They did. That’s who your daughter is. I had upset my Master and was destined to die. When Daenerys and Arya walked past I was being nailed to a cross.”

“That is horrible.”

“It was,” she agreed. “I had never been so scared in all my life. Not when my family was killed, or when I was taken away from my home, not even when I was forced to do unspeakable things by my so-called Master.”

“Fear is a reasonable response,” Ned commented, looking into the fire to avoid Missandei’s soulful eyes. “Death is frightening, especially for one as young as you.”

She shook her head and pushed a hand through her curly hair. “Oh, I had no fear of death,” she assured him. “I’d been ready to die for years, but I was still afraid.”

“Of what then?”

“That I’d be weak,” she said looking down into her lap. “I didn’t want them to break me. I wanted to be strong.” She stopped talking and opened her hand, running her thumb over a scar Ned could barely see. “I cried when they hammered the first nail in. It hurt so bad, and I knew I was going to beg. I was going to give what little pride I had left and I hated myself for it.”

“I can’t imagine…” Ned said, knowing how true the words were. “What became of your Master?”

“Arya gave him to me as a gift,” she stated calmly, that smile still present on her face as she clearly fought tears.

“When she rescued you?”

“No,” Missandei corrected, “before we left for Westeros.”

“How did she…” he muttered as he tried to follow the trail to its completion.

He didn’t have to finish his question before the former slave answered. “We needed ships. We went to the Masters in Astapor and Arya threatened to sack their city if the fleet wasn’t provided.”

“You got the ships,” Ned acknowledged.

“We did,” Missandei said with a fond smile, no more tears shining in her eyes. “We got the ships, but Arya wanted more. She insisted that she’d attack with the whole army if my Master wasn’t given to her. They resisted, naturally, but in the end, the ‘Wise Masters’ were cowards and they sold him to Arya as they sold so many before him.”

“I’m glad Arya was there to help you when you needed it.”

“That’s who your daughter is now, and that’s why I’ll follow her anywhere she chooses to go. I can also promise that there isn’t a man, woman or child who follows her who doesn’t have at least one story like mine about Arya.”

“That is…” he didn’t know quite what it was, but she’d given him plenty to think about.

“Your daughter is special Lord Stark,” Missandei praised. “There isn’t a warrior she hasn’t battled beside or bled to protect. She regularly leads the hunters, cooks with the women and I’ve personally seen her sew just as many pairs of torn pants as savage wounds.”

“I don’t doubt she’s brave. She’s always been fearless, reckless even.”

“Lately, she’s helping teach others to read and write.” Knowing how much Arya hated her lessons as a girl Ned had trouble picturing it, but he tried. Daenerys chose that moment to call Missandei over and the woman smiled kindly before she went off to join her Queen. “I hope I helped.”

“You did, thank you.” While he had no shortage of new information, Ned still wasn’t lacking questions about Arya. While Robb told him bits and pieces of what he’d seen in Essos he definitely left out plenty. He skimmed over what it took to get the ships, saying only that Arya convinced men in Astapor to loan the fleet to her people. He mentioned nothing of the man’s death she orchestrated in the process. Looking across the fire Ned studied the women as they interacted. A Stark, a Targaryen and a freed slave.

R-C

More than half of their party had already retired to their tents for the evening when Arya’s head snapped up and she squinted against the darkness. Something, or someone was coming, she could feel it. With a guttural shout, she woke the sleeping Dothraki and within seconds every one of them was holding a dangerous weapon.

Ned rushed out of his tent, flanked by his men, all of which looked like they’d been dreaming only seconds earlier. “What’s wrong?” he asked when he arrived at her side.

She spoke first to the Dothraki, sending them out to form a perimeter around the camp. If trouble was coming she wanted to know about it as soon as possible. As they all rushed to obey her orders she glanced sideways at her father. “I’m not sure. I think someone’s coming. I heard something,” she said as she pointed with her gloved hand in the direction of the noise that alerted her.

“It was probably the wind,” Ned said dismissively.

“Maybe, but if it isn’t, I’d prefer to be ready.”

Daenerys came from their tent, clutching her fur around her body tightly. “What’s wrong?” she asked, addressing Arya only.

Without taking her eyes off the horizon she answered. “Wake Missandei and make sure you’re both dressed.”

“Arya what’s…”

“Go Daenerys,” she pleaded, “and don’t forget your weapons.”

After Daenerys had rushed back into the tent, Ned looked at her with critical eyes. “Don’t you think you’re over reacting? It could have been an animal, or just the weather.”

The call came from the West and had Arya tightened her hold on her arakh. “That means trouble. Get ready.”

When everyone was out of their tents, awake and armed Ned positioned his men in front, blocking the route the Dothraki call had come from. Satisfied that she had at least a few minutes, she hurried to where Daenerys and Missandei were huddled together. “Stay back,” she instructed as she moved to Daenerys first, pulling a hood up over her silver hair. She set a quick kiss on her lover’s lips before she sidestepped to Missandei. As she’d done with Daenerys she pulled a hood up to hide Missandei’s face. “There, that’s better.”

“Who is it?”

“This far North it could be anyone,” she imagined. “It might be bandits, or highwaymen or it could be wildlings from beyond the Wall.”

It was nearly twenty minutes later when the horses rode into their camp. “Mind if we join you?” the leader of five asked as he approached the largest of the fires.

“Who are you?” Ned asked, respectfully.

“Just travellers, looking to get out of the cold.”

“Cold is the only thing we have for you,” Arya said rudely as she stepped in front of her father and locked eyes with the leader.

“You have more than that,” he countered. “I see food, tents, horses, water and,” he paused to glare and then he smiled, showing off yellow teeth, “and pretty women back there.”

“We don’t want trouble,” Ned said diplomatically.

“Smart man,” one of them said as he looked to his right. Next to him his friend laughed. “If you’se don’t want trouble, you should give us what we want.”

“What is it you want?”

Arya had no patience for this. “Go back the way you came and hope you never see me again.”

”Really, now?” he asked after a loud, obnoxious laugh “Should I be frightened of ye girl? I have a dozen men with bows just waiting for the signal to kill you all.”

“There is no need for that.” Her father tried to redirect the conversation but Arya was already imagining ways to carve these whores up.

“Listen to him,” the bandit said, “or this ends badly for you. Now why don’t one of you whores fetch some food for me and my boys. It’s been a tiring day.” When no one moved he grew annoyed. “Do it!” he demanded, “or I’ll start cutting throats.”

“Get on with it then,” Arya prompted, “because it’s the only way you’re getting anything from me.”

His mouth opened and his lips moved but the sound was cut off by four shrill cries from the distance. Arya recognized them and she knew what they meant. “What the fuck was that?”

She chuckled darkly. “A dozen men huh? I bet it was only four.”

Even in the darkness she could see the skin under the dirt and grime turn red in reply. “Twelve or four, it doesn’t matter. It’s still enough for me to get what I want.”

“It might be, if your archers weren’t dead already.”

The look on his face was perfection. He was trying to remain confident and smug, but she noticed the way his eyes flickered from side to side, looking to his mounted friends.

“Gregor!” he shouted. The silence was deafening as they waited for a response. “Anil!”

Arya wasn’t sure she’d ever been more proud of her men than she was right then. “Good help is so hard to find. Go before I decide I want more blood on my hands.”

“And if I refuse?”

“Then I’ll cut your head off while your friends watch,” she threatened.

“I’m not going anywhere,” he said as he reached for his sword. When she stepped forward Ned tried to pull her back but this fool made his choice. From a standing position she cleaved into the side of the horse’s neck, killing it instantly and sending the bastard tumbling to the ground. So excited by the prospect of battle she barely felt the sword cut into her shoulder.

The fight was happening all around her. She stepped over the man’s body to attack someone on his right. The Northmen fought, protecting their Lord while the Dothraki she’d sent to guard the perimeter rode fast toward the skirmish. One of the bandits pierced a bannerman’s stomach, before Ned slashed his neck.

Furious she threw herself into the fray. She pushed her steel into a man’s chest and then used her boot to kick him away. As he collapsed a second swing separated his head in two gruesome parts. It would have been easy to kill the leader but a quick death was too good for him. When her soldiers arrived, she ordered them to subdue the boss, while she and the Westerosi finished with the others. When it was done, the leader and his one surviving man were disarmed, kneeling in red snow as they pleaded for mercy. She glanced sideways at the Hand of the King and saw he looked inclined to grant the request. Mercy wasn’t on the menu tonight.

With a bark of instruction to the Dothraki, she stepped up to the leader. His smug smile was gone now and she savored the fear she could feel.

“Arya what are you doing?” Ned asked.

“I’m going to cut off his head and make his friend watch, just as I said I would.”

Both of the bandits tried to stand. A quick punch to the leader’s ribs returned him to his knees and he looked up, desperate. “Please…”

When she raised her hand for the killing blow Ned’s strong grip prevented it. “You don’t need to do this. You’ve made your point.”

“I wasn’t trying to make anything. Stand aside.”

When she tore her arm free of her father’s hold, she turned on him with fury. Sensing danger three of the Stark men stepped forward, swords ready. “Tell your men to step back or we’ll be burning more bodies before sunrise.”

“Don’t do this.”

She answered with a stare as she pushed past Ned and gripped the bandit leader by his shaggy hair. He screamed like a scared woman as she cut into his flesh. She sawed the arakh back and forth slowly, inflicting more pain than was necessary. As she severed the artery, a gush of blood sprayed out from the wound, coating her face and neck. She kept up her task until the body fell in one direction and only the head remained. She approached the only surviving bandit slowly, stalking forward, carrying his friend’s severed head. “Do you wish mercy?” she asked him.

He nodded quickly. “Very well. She grabbed one of the bandit’s horses at random and pulled it close. “Get on your horse and ride South. Ride as fast as you can, all the way to King’s Landing, because if I see you again, I’ll make sure you suffer.”

His voice broke pitifully. “I’ll… I’ll go,” he swore. “Y… you won’t see me.”

She smiled as the terrified man mounted the horse. “When you get to King’s Landing, tell King Robert that Arya Stark is coming for him. Tell him what happened here tonight.”

“I… will,” he said as he shook.

Arya waited until he was several feet away before she yelled for him to stop. Terrified she changed her mind, he looked over his shoulder, tears shining in his eyes. This son of a whore would be an excellent messenger. With a grunt, she threw the bandit’s head at his friend, hitting him in the chest with it and smearing blood all over the front of his leather armor. “Don’t forget to show King Robert that.”

He rode away as if beasts from all Seven Hells were chasing him. The Dothraki around her laughed as he went, but the Westerosi looked horrified. “What are you doing Arya?”

She ignored her father’s question and went to her friends first. “Are you two hurt?” she asked. She knew none of the bandits had gotten within feet of Daenerys or Missandei but that didn’t mean she didn’t worry.

Daenerys wiped the fresh blood from her face with a gentle touch. “We’re fine.”

“Why did you send him to Robert?” Ned protested. “What’s any of this got to do with him?”

She guided Daenerys into their tent before she answered. “Everything. I didn’t bring an army across the Narrow Sea just to visit you.”

R-C

When the Wall came into view Ned felt relief. The last day had been difficult. He’d witnessed his daughter kill men and what was worse she seemed to enjoy it. She didn’t need to cut off the bandit’s head, but she did without hesitation. He had no doubt she would have struck him down if he tried to interfere. If that weren’t enough she ridiculed his friend and sent him South to warn Robert. More than once since he’d tried to talk to her, asking what she intended to do with her army, but it was as if she didn’t hear him. Grey eyes that matched his just stared through him for a moment or two before she rode ahead, ending their conversation.

Witnessing Arya’s face splattered with blood was something the father in him never wanted to see. He’d heard Robb speak of her violent tendencies, he saw the scars that marked her, and he knew the cause but to watch it happen and be helpless to stop it went against everything he stood for. Her refusal to even consider leniency scared him more than he wanted to admit. He knew Arya was angry about Robert’s actions but he hadn’t allowed himself to think she intended to act on it. As a loyal servant to the King, and his friend he knew he should flee for the South immediately and warn Robert, but as a father he was conflicted. He’d already allowed Robert to exile Arya once. That decision shattered his wife’s heart, broke apart his family and put Arya on the path she was currently walking. Was it better to be a good father or a good Hand?

He and his men rode ahead of the Dothraki, hoping to ease the shock when the savages entered Castle Black. He ordered one of his men to display the Stark banner as they approached, wanting to give the Night’s Watch, plenty of warning of their arrival.

Jon stood next to Commander Mormont. The gate was open, and the snow swirled around them as they got closer. When he saw his father, Jon hurried out to greet him. “Father,” he said, concern etched on his handsome face, “what’s wrong?”

He smiled as he climbed down from his horse and pulled his bastard into a hug. “Nothing is the matter. Your sister wanted to visit, and I decided to join her.”

The disbelief was evident on his face. “Sansa’s here?”

Ned couldn’t help but smile. Sansa would never make the journey to the Wall, not for anyone, and certainly not for Jon. They’d never been close. “Not Sansa. Arya’s come home.”

The surprise was quickly replaced by a wide smile. “Arya’s back?” he asked, looking over Ned’s shoulder at the approaching troops.

“She came to visit us in Winterfell, and she insisted on coming to see you before she returned to Essos.”

Jon’s smile was gone as quickly as it appeared. “She’s going back?” he asked in a rough voice.

“That’s up to her,” Ned stated flatly. “Be warned, she brought friends with her.”

“What friends?”

Kindly, before Ned had to try and explain Arya arrived behind his back. She was off her horse faster than he would have thought possible. She blurred past him and threw herself into Jon’s arms. “Jon, I’ve missed you!” she declared loudly as she clung to him. “Come, there are people I’d like you to meet.”

“Arya,” Ned chastised firmly, “he can meet everyone inside.”

She pulled back from the embrace just enough for Ned to see her roll her eyes. “Fine. Let’s go inside then.”

R-C

Daenerys watched with private glee as Arya joked around with her bastard brother. She noticed Ned watching them with a smile as well. Missandei and the Dothraki were huddled around the largest fire in the room, attempting to raise their body temperatures above freezing. Ned was sitting beside a smaller hearth with Commander Mormont, talking privately. She took her handmaiden a warm drink before she wandered back toward Arya, picking up the middle of an ongoing conversation between the siblings.

“… so you like it?” Jon was asking.

“I love it,” Arya answered, warming Daenerys’s heart with the passion behind her words. “You’d love Essos. You should visit.”

He smiled and flicked her braided hair with a long finger. “I would, but my place is here. Father says you mean to go back.”

The easy mood around them vanished in a blink. “Just as your place is here, mine is there.” Arya finally pulled her eyes off Jon and found her. “Jon, I want you to meet my Khaleesi, Daenerys Targaryen.”

She felt shy as she took a step toward them. She’d been trying to give them privacy, or at least that’s what she told herself, but truthfully, she was nervous to meet Jon, especially after hearing how much Arya loved and respected him. For days, she’d been listening to how much Jon meant to her, and how deeply she valued his opinion. It made her uneasy.

Daenerys’s steps faltered as Jon’s eyes landed on her. “Targaryen?” he repeated. “You’re friends with a Targaryen?”

Grey eyes hardened while she watched and Daenerys couldn’t help but wonder if Arya intended to strike her brother. “Not you too,” she spat. “First Robb and then him,” she said pointing to their parent. “She’s nothing like her father and she deserves your respect.”

Jon was instantly repentant. “No, it’s not that. There is a Targaryen here too.”

Daenerys doubted she heard him correctly. How could that be possible? She was the last of her cursed family. Viserys was dead, her father, mother, Rhaegar, all dead. She opened her mouth to speak but it felt as dry as the desert sand. Luckily Arya spoke for her, saying exactly what Daenerys couldn’t. “That’s impossible. She’s the last of her blood.”

Jon smiled first at Arya and then Daenerys. “No, she isn’t. Not for a few more days anyway.”

While she struggled to process what she heard, Jon walked over to greet her. He offered his hand, and she took it gladly. “It’s a pleasure to meet you Jon. Arya speaks highly of you.”

“Does she now?” he replied quickly, throwing an arm over Arya’s shoulder as he hugged her to his side.

“I only speak the truth,” she assured him. “You’re my favorite brother and that’s as it’s always been. Jon this is Daenerys, my Queen.”

For a fraction of a second she saw the shock on his features. It was almost painful for her to stand there and wait as he put the pieces together to understand what Arya truly meant. He understood it quicker than most. Usually it took until someone saw them cuddled or kissing to understand their relationship, but Jon, like Bran appeared more perceptive. She feared his reaction briefly before he gifted her with a grin. “Well, well, well. Aren’t you full of surprises.”

He squeezed her against him for a few more seconds before he released her and put his arm around Daenerys instead. “Nice to meet you Daenerys. Thank you for keeping Arya out of trouble.”

The three of them shared a laugh. “No one can keep your sister out of trouble,” Daenerys said, immediately taking a liking to Jon. “Not even me.”

With a wave of his hand, he pointed to a long staircase. “Follow me. There is someone I think you should meet.”

R-C

Just as Daenerys had done, when she reunited with Jon, Arya stayed in the background when they arrived in the Maester’s chambers. Her great uncle was confined to his bed. He was clearly nearing his final days and although Arya didn’t know him, that saddened her. She knew how much it pained Daenerys to be the last of her family and she wished she could help but it was too late. Death hung over him like a cloud and they could all feel it.

When she introduced herself, Arya saw his eyes stretch before he tried to speak, causing a fit of coughs to shake him. Daenerys rushed to his side and fetched him water while Jon and Arya helped him sit up slightly to clear his lungs. She noticed the tears in Daenerys’s eyes and she gave her a sympathetic smile as she settled the elder Targaryen back against his pillow.

“Why don’t we give them a minute alone,” Arya suggested to Jon.

He nodded without hesitation. “Yell if you need us. We won’t be far.”

Daenerys thanked him and took a seat on the stool next to the bed. The siblings left the room and went down the hall toward Jon’s room. “You look happy,” Arya noted. “Do you regret coming here?”

“No,” he said quickly, too quickly for it to be a lie. “I couldn’t stay in Winterfell. I miss you all everyday, but I couldn’t stay.”

“I know,” Arya said in understanding.

“Exile doesn’t seem to have hurt you either.”

She chuckled darkly. “You’re right. I should probably thank Robert before I run him through.”

Jon, who had been tidying up the room to make space for Arya to sit froze as her words settled in. “You mean to kill King Robert? Does father know?”

“Yes, although he is working awfully hard to pretend he doesn’t. He is telling himself I brought an army of Dothraki here for a vacation, but soon enough he’ll be forced to admit the truth.”

“If you enjoy Essos and are happy there, why do you hate Robert for sending you away?” Jon inquired.

Arya had been lazily scanning the room, looking at everything and nothing in particular. Her eyes stopped on the sword that sat next to the bed. She picked it up and removed it from the scabbard. She took a test swing, feeling its weight. “I don’t hate him for exiling me, as I said I should probably thank him. I hate him for trying to kill Daenerys. He sent assassins after her more than once. One of them poisoned her husband, and others attempted to kill us both.”

She looked up from the blade and saw Jon riveted by her tale. “What happened?”

“I killed them,” she remembered fondly, “but he won’t rest until she’s dead. I have to stop him before he tries again.”

“You can’t be serious. Robert has the loyalty of all the great houses. He can raise a massive army. It’s suicide.”

“I’ll take my army over his any day,” Arya proclaimed. “I lead more than one hundred thousand warriors, all of who will kill to defend Daenerys.”

“What about father?” he asked seriously, “and Sansa too for that matter. Isn’t she wed to Joffery?”

“I don’t care,” Arya declared. “My first loyalty is to Daenerys. I won’t have some pig trying to murder her. What kind of woman would I be if I let him live?” she asked without expecting an answer.

“You love her,” he acknowledged, shaking his head as he smiled.

“I do. More than I ever thought possible.”

“I’m happy for you,” Jon said, taking the sword from her so he could pull her in for another fierce hug.

R-C

Arya, Jon, and Ned were enjoying a private meal together. Daenerys had left her great uncle to rest and after spending some time with Missandei she sought out the Commander. “Lord Commander Mormont,” she said as she approached. The old man was bent over a map, studying the details.

When he turned, she could see the resemblance to her friend. “Lady Targaryen, please sit,” he urged, holding out his hand to one of the available chairs.

“Thank you,” she said as she sat. “I don’t mean to interrupt but I just wanted to speak to you briefly about your son.”

“My son? You know Jorah?”

Daenerys smiled warmly. “I do. I am happy to say he is one of my dearest friends. He has protected me and provided me with wise council for years now.”

“Has he?” the Commander verified, sounding uncertain.

“I don’t mean to involve myself in your affairs, I know your history with Jorah is complicated, I only wish for you to know how kind and decent a man he has become.”

She could see that her words hit their mark. “I…I’m pleased to hear that.”

“He didn’t want to join us here, for fear that it might upset you. He does not know that I intended to speak with you, and would probably be angered to learn of it, but whatever mistakes he made in the past, he’s no longer that man.” She paused and considered stopping when she noticed the pain pass across his face. “I know that he regrets what happened deeply and he wishes he could take it all back.”

“That’s…” he stopped abruptly, and blinked hard. “Thank you, m’lady.”

“Daenerys, please. Your son may have left Westeros in disgrace but he is now one of the most loyal and honorable men I have the pleasure of knowing. I also know that he regrets the pain his actions caused, to you most of all.” She could see he was struggling for how to respond, so she rushed ahead, so he wouldn’t have to. “I’m telling you this, only so you can know that who he was then, is not who is he is now. He’s changed and I can attest to that first hand.”

“I appreciate you coming to speak with me Daenerys,” the Commander said after a long stretch of quiet. “Please tell my son I wish him well.”

“I will,” she promised.

R-C

She dreaded the moment she’d have to leave Jon. She missed her entire family of course, but Jon was special. He welcomed her with open arms, despite who she brought with her and he asked nothing of her for the two days they’d been at Castle Black.

Daenerys had spent plenty of time with the dying Targaryen, and Arya secretly feared the day he died. She’d comforted her through the loss of both her husband and her son and she was not eager for a repeat performance.

For her part Missandei was the talk of the castle, even more so than the out of place Dothraki who wandered about, spoke in a language none of the Crows understood and trained in the courtyard until long after the sun had fallen. To the hundreds of men who had sworn to never marry, who had spent months if not years without seeing a beautiful woman, Missandei and Daenerys offered excitement. While Arya’s constant presence kept most away from Daenerys, they followed Missandei around the castle, like lost puppies begging for scraps from the table. Seeing this Arya had to resist the urge to involve herself. She was acutely aware that Missandei could handle herself. She survived far worse than a few unwanted advances but Arya still felt on edge. She knew that unlike Jon many on the Wall weren’t as principled. They were murderers, rapers and thieves. They chose service to the Realm because it was the only alternative to a headman’s axe or a hangman’s noose.

Arya had just come from checking on Daenerys, and taking her something to drink. She found her sitting by her elder’s bed, reading quietly. Arya invited her to join her family for their evening meal but Daenerys declined, perfectly content where she was. They shared a brief kiss and whispered so not to wake the man. She didn’t linger long, knowing Daenerys wanted and needed space.

Her way to find Jon was blocked by a sweating, heavy man who showed fear in his eyes. She knew that look well, she’d seen on many a men and women over the years. Her brother had introduced him to her on her first night. His name was Sen, no, Sam, yes Sam that was it. “Hurry!” he said, far too loudly for the quiet corridor. “You must come with me.” When she didn’t immediately jump into action, he continued, “We must find your brother and then help your friend.”

Now he had Arya’s attention. She pictured the Dothraki in her mind as she followed the large man down the staircase. She knew that many of the men spent hours watching the Dothraki train. She also knew that despite protests from their Commander, Jon, Arya and Ned some were still desperate to test their skills. Even though they spoke different languages Arya knew it wasn’t impossible to provoke one of them into a fight, even though she’d given them strict instructions.

The man’s short legs annoyed her as she followed after him. Why weren’t they moving faster? “Is it the Dothraki?”

“N…no,” he stammered. “They are still training, it’s Missandei.”

Her heart dropped into her toes, before it returned to its place and doubled speed. If anyone hurt Missandei there would be a slaughter. Nothing and no one would be able to stop her, not even Jon. “You know Missandei?”

“Of course, she helped me translate a scroll last night. It was written in High Valyrian.”

That sounded exactly like something Missandei would do. They finally arrived to where Jon and her father waited. “Come!” she yelled for them. Not caring about her volume any longer. She’d apologize to the Targaryens later, if she woke the dying man, but now was not the time. “Where are they?” she demanded of Sam.

Startled by her anger, he shifted from one foot to another. Just before she struck him to restart his memory Jon reached them. His tone was softer, and much friendlier, “Sam, what’s wrong?”

“It’s Missandei,” he said again, “her friend,” he added, pointing to Arya. “Torin was bothering her. I think…”

He didn’t get to finish. “Fuck this. Tell me where they are!”

“Arya,” Ned reprimanded.

His anger might have been comical if she wasn’t too enraged to hear it. Sam pointed and the three from Winterfell took off, leaving the portly man to follow at a different pace. “I know the way,” Jon said.

His urgency turned her stomach. He was friends with these people, lived with them even, they were his brothers and if Jon was worried for Missandei than Arya surely was. “If he’s harmed her, he’s a dead man,” she warned. To emphasize her point she drew the arakh from her belt and chased Jon through a cracked and worn door. Inside they found Missandei and a man she could only assume was Torin, but they were separated by the entire space. Missandei had her back against one wall, squatting in the corner. Her dress was torn and her eyes wide. In her hand, she held the dagger Arya gave her in a white-knuckled grip. She was panting heavily and looking straight ahead. She didn’t even glance up when the others entered. Opposite her, against stacked supplies Arya saw a man with light hair and brown eyes. He was sitting with his legs out in front of him, and his face was deathly pale. Both of his hands were folded against his stomach and Arya might have thought he was praying if she didn’t see the steady stream of red flowing from between his fingers. “Help,” he whimpered weakly.

Her urge to kill was strong, but she knew she was needed elsewhere. She released her blade and hurried to Missandei. “Are you hurt?” she asked before she dropped to her knees. She was vaguely aware of Ned and Jon assessing the prick’s injuries but none of that mattered.

It took a measure of time that felt like forever before Missandei blinked and returned to herself. She was obviously surprised to find the Khal with her. “Arya?”

Relief washed through her as surely as the rage had. “Missandei,” she said, brushing back some hair from her face, “are you hurt?”

She looked down at herself and then up to the man who had tried to hurt her. Arya blocked the view with her body. After another delay, she answered, “N…no.” Tears started then and despite her best efforts Arya wasn’t fast enough to brush them all away. “I didn’t want to,” she confessed in a low voice. “This wasn’t like Kraznys.”

Arya didn’t care about that. She hugged her friend tight to her body and squeezed as hard as she could without harming her. “I’m so glad you’re okay.”

Neither woman moved, not when the Lord Commander came in, or when they removed Torin. Once they were alone, Missandei’s tears finally slowed. Arya waited patiently. Normally the questions on her tongue would have burned but not in this case. She’d wait until Missandei was ready.

“What are they going to do to me?” she asked in a shaky voice that reminded Arya too much of the day they met.

“Nothing!” she said with conviction. “You were defending yourself. That is your right, just as much here as in Essos.”

“I didn’t want to,” she continued, “but he wouldn’t stop.”

“I need you to tell me what happened,” Arya said, doing her best to make her voice appealing.

So, she did. She spoke of how she’d met Torin the day they arrived and how he’d been attempting to flirt with her since. She had done her best to avoid him but evidently failed. He cornered her and forced her into the storage room where he tried to force himself on her. “I did what you did,” Missandei whispered as her horrid story drew to a close. “I waited until he was opening his pants and then I cut him.”

She wasn’t aware Missandei knew all the details of her first day with the Dothraki, but it shouldn’t have surprised her. She kissed her forehead and offered the best smile she could. “You did the right thing, I promise.”

“What if he dies? What if I’m a murderer?” she questioned in a rush.

“Nothing is going to happen to you. I won’t let it.”

“What if…”

She didn’t need to hear the end of the statement to know what her answer would be. “Then I’ll kill them all and we’ll ride back to Winterfell.” Standing from her spot next to Missandei Arya held out both hands and waited for the woman to take them. When she did, Arya lifted her with ease. “Come on, let’s get you cleaned up and see if we can find you something to eat.”

R-C

By the time she got to the meeting, it had already begun. The Commander of the Night’s Watch, Mormont was there, along with Ned, Jon, Sam and a handful of others she didn’t know. Her appearance halted the conversation. “Where the fuck is he?!” she demanded without preamble.

“Arya, calm down!” Ned said after he rose from his seat.

“Calm down? You can’t mean that. He tried to rape her. If he isn’t dead already, he should be!”

Jon stood next to their father and gave Arya a sad smile. Without comment he pulled out the chair next to him and silently invited her to sit. She didn’t want to sit, she wanted to kill, but she did anyway, for him.

Everyone took to their chairs and the meeting resumed as if her outburst hadn’t interrupted a thing. “Samwell, please tell us what you saw,” the Lord Commander instructed.

“I met Missandei last night, she helped me to translate scrolls from the archive. She’s very intelligent.”

She could do without the opinions. Somehow Jon knew that and prodded his friend to get to the point. “What happened today Sam?”

“Oh, right, well…” his eyes flickered from face to face, and when he landed on Arya’s he stopped. His discomfort was obvious. “I had a question about the High Valyrian past tense, so I went to ask her about it and well, that’s when I saw Torin talking with her. She looked uncomfortable.” Arya’s blood felt like it was boiling under her skin. On top of the table her hands were balled into fists, until Jon flattened the closest one with his palm. “He wasn’t harming her,” Sam emphasized. “They were just talking then.”

“And later?”

“Later I saw her in the hall, I still had my question, I thought she was on her way to dinner you see, so I went to get my food and I waited, but she didn’t arrive.” He took an unsteady breath. “I thought she was lost.” He turned his attention to Jon and then his boss. “You know how these halls can be when you first arrive, they are a maze and they haven’t been here that long…”

This time it was Ned who motivated Sam back to the important parts of his story. “So, you went to look for her then?”

“Yes,” he said nodding as he blushed. Looking down at the table he kept going. “I saw her approaching, so I waited. I was going to walk her to the dining room but it took too long, so I went to check. I saw Torin push her into the storage room, so I ran to get Jon and his sister for help.”

She’d minded her manners too long. “You didn’t think to go help her? Before she’d been attacked by the animal?”

He looked at her and his blush grew more intense. After only the briefest of moments he returned his eyes to the table. “I… I would’ve, but I didn’t think I could help. Jon’s the only one who could best Torin,” he explained. “Him and maybe the Commander, but only them. I came to get them as fast as I could, but I found you first.”

Without removing his hand from Arya’s Jon smiled at his panicked friend. “You did the right thing Sam.”

It didn’t escape Arya’s notice the way Sam brightened at the praise from her brother, nor did she miss how Ned looked at his son fondly at the mention of his abilities. As she tried to think about it strategically she knew that Sam was right. He didn’t look like a fighter, and he was in a rush when he stopped her upstairs. With a start, it occurred to her that he didn’t need to come and get her at all. Many wouldn’t have. They were outsiders, and Sam had turned against one of his own to save Missandei, a woman who was little more than a stranger. She swallowed her anger and smiled as best she could. “Jon’s right Sam. Thank you. You’ve done a kind service for me, for Daenerys and for Missandei and I know that none of us will forget it.”

“Y…your welcome,” he said returning the expression. “You’re Jon’s sister and he’s my brother, I couldn’t do nothing.”

“How are they?” Mormont asked Arya.

She took a deep breath before she answered. “They’re okay. Thank you for sending dinner up for them. Missandei wasn’t feeling well enough to come downstairs and Daenerys refused to leave her. She’s only just fallen asleep, or else I would still be there.”

“Things like this are rare,” he said, “likely because we get so few visitors, but not unheard of. This never should have happened and I’m sorry that it did. I can assure you punishment will be handed down and it will be swift and final.” It pleased Arya that she could hear the disgust and anger in his voice.

“I’ll do it,” Arya offered without delay.

Her father shared his opinion, or more correctly, his disapproval when he said, “Arya this isn’t Essos. You aren’t a Khal here. The Night’s Watch will handle things and that decision is up to the Lord Commander alone.”

“I am a Khal everywhere, and the Dothraki have a way of handling these things too.”

“Is the girl a Dothraki?” Mormont asked not unkindly.

“She’s as Dothraki as I am.”

“Were you not born in Winterfell with Jon?” one of the men she didn’t know wondered aloud.

She thought back to the words Daenerys had once said. “I was told I couldn’t be more Dothraki if I was born on a horse.” She wanted the words back as soon as they were out. She and Jon both looked to Ned and saw the pain he was feeling. She and her father might not see eye to eye on much but she still loved and respected him and she didn’t want to hurt him needlessly. In penance, she made a concession. “I’ll do things your way.”

The ruling didn’t take long. “We’ll hang Torin at sunrise, if he survives his injuries that long.” He looked at Arya and smiled. “She cut him good.”

“I hope it hurts,” she commented before she left. Jon went with her.

In the hall, Jon reached for her arakh. She removed it from her belt and handed it to him. “Not exactly Needle is it?” he joked as he tested the edge with his finger.

“I still have it,” she promised. “I even use it from time to time.”

“I’m sorry for what happened here,” Jon said, his smile vanishing and his lips curling down. “Please don’t blame Sam. He feels horrible too.”

“It is not your fault or his. I was angry in there and I spoke without thinking. Only one person is to blame and it isn’t you or Sam.”

“Yes, well after tomorrow Torin will get his punishment and Missandei will have her justice.”

“However long he hangs, it won’t be enough.”

Jon’s face was grim as he handed back her weapon. “You’ll get no disagreement from me.”

“I’m sorry my coming here brought this,” she said quietly. She knew Jon took his vows seriously and if the Night’s Watch were his brothers now, then that included Torin.

“I’m glad you’re here, and I have no love for rapists.”

In need of a change of topic, if not for her own sake, then for Jon’s she said, “I saw a pretty big sword in your room. What do you say we go into the yard and test it out? Sam says you have skills, but I think I’ll be the judge of that.”

He laughed, that easy going laugh she remembered from her youth. It usually only happened when they were alone. “Be careful what you wish for. There isn’t much else to do here but train.”

“There is even less to do in exile.”

R-C

She woke before the sun and stretched her very sore back. It had been a while since she’d had to sleep on the floor. She’d been spoiled by the warm bed, the soft pillow and by Daenerys’s arm draped over her as she dreamt. After training with Jon, she snuck into the dark room and found Daenerys and Missandei sleeping side by side. One edge of the bed was left unused. To her tired eyes it looked deliberate, room left purposefully for her, but Arya wasn’t willing to risk waking them, so she got an extra blanket from Jon’s room and took up her post at the foot of the bed.

She was glad neither woman woke as she dressed in the dark. Missandei shouldn’t have to see Torin’s face again. Arya knew Daenerys would join her if she were awake, but the Khaleesi’s place was exactly where she was. So, Arya and the Dothraki would attend the hanging on their behalf. She’d witness every second, and when his end came, she’d treasure it.

She got outside before the others. A platform and noose had been set up sometime overnight, but she was the only person in sight. After about thirty minutes footsteps caught her attention. She stood from her seat expecting Torin, or maybe the Commander, but instead it was her father.

“Why don’t you wait inside?” he asked as she took her seat again.

She shrugged. “I’m fine here. How’d you sleep?”

“Better than in King’s Landing and worse than in Winterfell,” he said with a husky laugh. “At least I’m still in the North.” He took a spot next to her, crushing the tightly packed snow under his weight. “Can we talk before this starts?”

“If you want mercy for that animal, you’re asking the wrong person.”

He shook his head and then ran his fingers through his hair slowly. “No, it’s not about that. It’s not about this at all,” he said, tilting his head to where the execution would take place.

She looked away from the skyline that had been occupying her thoughts. “Sure.”

Ned didn’t speak, leaving her waiting. “I’m just trying to understand,” he said simply.

“Understand what?”

“Your hatred for Robert. I know he’s not perfect, no man is, and he’s made plenty of mistakes, but what can you possibly gain from going to war with the most powerful man in the Seven Kingdoms?”

As he waited for her reply, he hung his head and sighed. Again, it struck her just how aged he looked. So different from the strong, confident man he’d been when she left. “All I want is for Daenerys to be safe. Surely you can understand that.”

“I do, but you must see that bringing her to Westeros is only putting her in more danger, and taking her to King’s Landing,” he stopped and shook his head. He let out a groan that was muffled by his hands. “In King’s Landing no one will be able to keep her safe, not you, your army or even me.”

“He tried to kill her. He had his assassin sell her poison, poison she brought back to the camp. Poison I was just as likely to drink as she was, but we were busy that day, so Drogo drank some himself. He murdered her husband. When he was hovering between life and death she made a bargain with a witch to try and save him, a choice that cost Daenerys her unborn child.”

“That was wrong and I’m sorry your friend died.”

“I promised Drogo before he died that I would always defend and protect her. That’s why I’m here.”

She could tell her father saw this as his opening. He didn’t make her wait long. “If you want to honor that request Arya you need to keep Daenerys as far away from Robert as you can.”

“His last batch of assassins were much more straight forward. They attacked us at the market. One of them actually got his hands around her throat before I could reach them. Did he know I would be with them?” she asked harshly. “Did your best friend know that by sending assassins after Daenerys, he was likely sending them after me as well?”

Ned blew out a breath and they both watched it move through the cold air. “I truly hope not.”

“He hasn’t left me many options,” Arya said to try and justify what would happen next. “What if it was Daenerys’s father and not Robert who sat on the throne, what if instead of attempting to kill a woman you hate, he sent assassins to murder mother? What advice would you give me then?”

He gave it thought, so much that Arya didn’t think she’d be getting a reply at all. “If anyone threatened your mother, I’d be doing exactly what you are, but that doesn’t make it the right thing to do.”

“I love Daenerys, like you love mother, so right or wrong doesn’t matter anymore.”

It was quiet for more than a minute before he tried again. “If he agrees to leave Daenerys be, forever, would you agree to forget your plans?”

Robb has made a similar proposal once and she immediately rejected it, even though Daenerys was willing. It was harder to refuse her father, especially knowing what the conflict would mean for him. She responded with a question of her own. “How could I ever trust his word?”

He nodded as if he expected that or some version of it. “I don’t know, but Arya I need you to understand, I can’t, I won’t betray him.”

“I’d never ask you to,” she assured him quickly. “I know I’m different and I know you probably don’t approve of the changes in me, but I still love and respect you and I’d never dishonor you or our family by asking you to go against your beliefs.”

Ned had tears in his eyes as he took her in his arms. “I love you too.”

R-C

When Torin was escorted out into the yard he already had his hands bound behind his back. He was wearing pants and unlaced boots but no shirt. This gave one and all a view of the long bandage that covered almost his entire abdomen. The fabric held its originally color around the edges while the center was stained in a variety of reds. Jon held one arm and one of the unknown men from the meeting held the other. They walked slow to accommodate his injury giving Arya plenty of time to get up from the snow. Ned bolted up next to her, gripping her arm. “He’s going to die, you agreed to let the Commander handle this.”

“And I will, I just want a word with him before he goes.”

For reasons she could understand fully he doubted her, so as a gesture of good faith she removed her weapons and laid them on the ground where she’d been sitting. “See, just words.”

She caught up to them a few feet from the platform and she offered to take the place of the man standing opposite Jon, he obliged her and fell back. As they walked she looked at the bandage on his stomach. “She really did get you huh? Good. Missandei always was a good student. That was her name, in case you didn’t know. Did you ask before you attacked her?”

Torin said nothing until they were ascending the steps. “Burn in Hells,” he said without looking at Arya.

Jon responded to defend her needlessly. “Try and die with dignity,” he growled as he tightened his grip on Torin’s arm until he had the condemned man folded over in pain.

Arya bent with him, so she could whisper in his ear. “I will burn in Hells and when I get there, you and I are going to continue this conversation. I’ll be looking forward to it!”

Jon propped Torin up while Arya set the rope around his neck. With their tasks completed they went to stand by the King’s Hand to watch. Commander Mormont stood in front of the gathered group. “When this man came to us, both he and I took a vow. He vowed to be an honorable member of the Night’s Watch with all that that entails and I vowed to overlook his past misdeeds. I held up my end of our arrangement but Torin did not. He violated a guest of our home and put as all in danger. His past crimes may have been pardoned but these new sins must be made right. Do you have anything to say for yourself?”

Arya counted the seconds in her mind, and before she got to ten, Mormont decided he’d waited long enough. “Very well then. As Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch I sentence you to death. That punishment shall be carried out now!”

She was right, it didn’t last nearly long enough but she took some comfort from the fact that he was dead. It was over now and Missandei could begin to heal.

R-C

Not surprisingly, her father and his men left first. She had no idea if he really did need to get back to King’s Landing as he said, or if he finally realized Arya was serious and intended to warn his King but it didn’t matter either way. Her people had their orders and they would carry them out.

On their final two days on the Wall, Arya was reluctant to let Missandei out of her sight. When they were apart she insisted at least two of the Blood Riders were watching over the advisor. Her friend was stronger than she realized and recovered quickly, but Arya could see a fear in her eyes that hadn’t been there before Torin and she hated it. If she hadn’t been so focused on spending time with Jon and concerned about Daenerys’s great uncle and how his impending death would affect her, she might have predicted what happened to Missandei and been there to stop it. Although Missandei wouldn’t hold a grudge, Arya did and it kept her up at night, staring at the ceiling while Daenerys slept next to her peacefully.

“We can stay a few more days,” Daenerys said sweetly.

“No,” she replied, shaking her head to emphasize her point. “I came to see Jon and I’ve done that. He is going beyond the Wall tomorrow anyway, and we’ll need to ride hard as it is to catch up the khalasar.” It occurred to her almost too late. “Unless you want to spend a few more days with Aemon. Then, of course we could stay.”

In an instant Daenerys’s was fighting back tears. “No,” she said mimicking Arya’s action from earlier. “I have no wish to watch him die.” She swallowed hard and continued, “It’s enough that I got to meet him. That’s more than I ever thought I’d have.”

“Why don’t you go and spend a few more hours with him?” Arya suggested. “I’ll pack our things and gather the men and then I’ll come and find you.”

Lifting up Daenerys pressed a kiss to her nearest cheek. “You spoil me.”

She couldn’t help it, she blushed, even as she tried desperately not to. “Don’t tell anyone,” she complained quietly. “I’d hate for that rumor to spread.”

As she slipped past her Khal and moved toward the staircase Arya was rewarded with the sound of Daenerys’s soft laughter. It made the joke at her expense entirely worth it. She didn’t intend to but she couldn’t keep her eyes off the sway of her hips as she moved. When she turned back she found Jon watching her closely. “You two really are cute.”

“Careful,” she warned playfully. “Your little sister already beat you once, don’t make me embarrass you again.”

He laughed, a much different sound from Daenerys, but no less enjoyable to Arya’s ear. “Luck, but if you think you can do it again, you’re welcome to try.”

They talked about nothing important as they wandered through the halls. They found Missandei and Sam together, her translating scrolls while he scribbled as quickly as he could, listening to every word as if his life depended on it. “Are you sure that’s what it says?” Sam asked in disbelief.

“Yes,” Missandei vowed, the smile obvious in her tone.

Both of Ned’s children chuckled together. “Sam will be talking about this for weeks,” he guessed. They strolled into the next room at random. “I’m so glad you came to visit. I’ve missed you.”

“And I you. If I didn’t know how happy you were here I’d ask you come with me.”

“And I’d consider it,” he promised quietly. “You’re likely the only one who could make me even think of leaving.”

“Do you want to?” she asked, unable to hide her smile.

“No,” he admitted, “so I’d appreciate it if you didn’t ask, because I’m not certain I could refuse you.”

She stopped walking and pulled him to her for a hug. “I love you Jon. No matter where I am.”

“I love you too. Are you stopping at Winterfell on your return?” he wondered as he kept his hold of her.

“Yes, if only so Missandei doesn’t freeze before we reach the South.”

“Tell the family I miss them,” he said, his normally strong voice breaking slightly in a way that was so unlike him.

“I will.”

“Did you see father before he left?”

Arya answered with a stiff nod. “Did he tell you what you wanted to know?”

She knew before the words left his lips. She immediately felt for him. He’d wanted the truth about who he was for as long as Arya could remember and for reasons she didn’t understand their father denied him. He ran his finger over his stubbly chin. “No, he said ‘next time’, again. I don’t think he’ll ever tell me who my mother is.”

“Does it matter?”

“I suppose not. Whoever she is, I’m here and she’s…” he paused and took a steadying breath. “I’m here and she’s wherever she is. Knowing about her won’t change it.”

“He’s always refused to talk to me about her,” Arya recalled sadly.

Jon gave her a weak smile. “At least it’s not only me.” The tension in the air was thick and before she could decide how to remove it, Jon did it for her. “Enough about that. Outside,” he said pointing to the exit, “you can teach me to use that arakh and I’ll give you some tips with a sword.”

“Let’s go,” she said, already looking forward to it.

R-C

When the moment came for them to part Arya didn’t even bother trying to hide her tears. She’d sent the Dothraki ahead and now she, Daenerys and Missandei were lingering. There were few people in the world she’d let see her cry, but the women with her happened to be on the very short list. Only after it couldn’t be delayed did Arya separate herself from Jon. “There is a city in Essos called Vaes Dothrak. If you need me, send word there, we visit several times a year.”

Nearby Missandei was saying goodbye to Sam. He was thanking her repeatedly for her help with the scrolls and she was responding that she’d enjoyed it. Arya had told her the role that Sam played in her rescue and she was grateful. Before she mounted her horse, she kissed his cheek and thanked him one final time. He blushed and looked at the snow around his boots as he mumbled that he was just glad she was okay.

Arya moved away from Jon and went to where Mormont and Sam were standing together. “Thank you,” she said sincerely. “We are in your debt. We will never forget what you did for us. If there is anything we can do, please let us know. Jon knows how to contact me.”

“That is very kind Lady Stark.”

She smiled in spite of her every instinct telling her to reject the title. “If the Night’s Watch ever has need of a horde of savages, we’ll be here.”

Jon pulled Arya away a few steps and the Lord Commander chivalrously helped Daenerys into her saddle. “Please, tell my son I asked of him.”

“Of course, Commander.”

While Daenerys and Missandei headed down the snow-covered trail, Arya took the time to steal another hug from Jon. “Be careful,” he said seriously, “please, for me.”

“I’ll do what I can.”

“I know why you’re doing this and I won’t try to talk you out of it, but if you can, please try and spare our family. They love you and I know you love them too. Don’t do anything you’ll regret.”

“I’ll try,” she said knowing no other words would be true. “Remember, anything you ever need, anything, I’ll be here. We’ll all be here,” she whispered, privately.

“I thought the Dothraki hated the water,” he said with a forced laugh that was barely hiding his true feelings.

“They do, but they crossed the sea for me once, they’d do it again, and I’d do anything for you.” She climbed onto her horse quickly, knowing if she didn’t go immediately she never would. She didn’t dare look back, Khal or not, she wasn’t that strong.

R-C

Chapter Text

He felt no desire to enter the meeting room, so he waited outside under the guise of tying his boot. Even with several feet between him and the closed door he didn’t need to wonder what was being discussed on the other side. He could hear Robert’s booming voice as he made his disapproval widely known.

“How are they doing this!?” the King shouted.

Ned had to tilt his head to hear Jaime’s more subtle voice. “No survivors have returned from our last five scouting parties.”

The crashing sound made it clear Robert was still unhappy. “I thought I told you to send assassins and extra guards in scout armor.”

“I did,” the Lannister insisted. “None of them have returned. At this point sending out more men will only add to our losses.”

“Where are they now? Where are they hiding?”

“Somewhere near where she brought the ships ashore. Five patrols and not one survivor left to tell the tale. They attack at night and don’t even leave bodies behind,” Jaime recounted as if he was reading from a report.

“What do they do with the bodies?” Robert asked, his fury momentarily melting to curiosity.

“No one knows. They’re savages so it really could be anything.”

Ned resisted the urge to groan as he listened. Robert was already angry enough with Jaime poking him to make it worse. “Fuck them!” he decided loudly. “Fuck’em, fuck the Stark, fuck the Targaryen and fuck those unwashed pricks. This isn’t Essos. We can withstand a siege for years. We’ll be fine.”

In the hall Ned grimaced as he heard the way his friend spoke of his family. Straightening up and squaring his shoulders he prepared to enter the room when he heard Jaime respond. “We can withstand a siege,” he agreed, “but it’ll be harder without merchants and their goods.”

“What do you mean?” Robert asked in a tone that left little question to how annoyed he was to even need to ask.

“In addition to the scouts who have gone missing, so has every merchant we were expecting. I’ve heard of at least six traders who are several days late or worse. They were arriving from different directions, and all were stopped, so I think it’s safe to assume they have the capital surrounded.”

“It doesn’t matter!” Robert shouted, before Ned heard another set of objects being knocked to the floor. “Those whores can wait outside the city as long as they want, they’ll never be able to get in. This is the safest city in the world and my guards are the finest who have ever lived.” The slurping told Ned this important military briefing was being clouded by wine. The friend he followed in the Rebellion never would have drank during such a meeting. It reminded him just how much they’d all changed. “Tell me of the army.”

“Word has been sent everywhere but the North,” the Lannister explained. “The Iron Islands have pledged any boats we require and they’re also sending a substantial force. Half the Lannister troops arrived yesterday to reinforce the city and the keep and I had an additional ten thousand men dispatched to Dragonstone.”

“Dragonstone?” Robert repeated before he belched. “Why are you sending troops there? They’re coming for the Iron Throne and the fucking Iron Throne isn’t in Dragonstone.”

“I thought maybe the Targaryen would want to claim it,” Jaime justified. “I also thought it best to support your brother.”

“Fuck Stannis,” Robert said without hesitation. “We know they’re coming here. We need our troops here. Order half the men returned. What about the other houses?”

Ned could all too easily picture the accompanying shrug to go with the dramatic sigh he heard. “The Tyrells offer gold, which is good because we’ll need it if this turns into a year long siege.”

“Take the gold, the Tyrell’s can’t fight for shit anyway. What of the rest?”

“Renly is leading the majority of his force from Storm’s End to support us. I expect they’ll meet up with the Lannister forces and arrive within the week. With the extra recruitment we’ve done in preparation, our numbers will be the highest since before you took the throne.”

“Will it be enough?”

“I’m not certain,” Jaime said, sounding remarkably sincere.

This news didn’t improve Robert’s mood. Three words in, he was once again yelling. “If you don’t fucking know who does?!”

“Your Grace, no one knows how many Dothraki the Stark girl really has.”

“The Starks know,” he countered. “The second Ned gets back tell him I want to see him, and send word to Robb. He’s my Warden in the North and if I call my banners I expect him to answer.”

“Are you sure that’s wise? It may be best to leave the Starks safely tucked away in the North, where they belong.”

“Yes, I’m sure,” he said slurring his words slightly in his haste. “Send a raven to Winterfell and tell them to begin marching South immediately. Do the same with the girl’s aunt in the Vale. We’ll see if this Arya wants to go to war when it’s her family lined up against her.”

“I’ll send the ravens as soon as we’re finished,” Jaime promised. “The Frey’s are sending troops, but who knows how much help they’ll actually be.”

“What about the dreadful cunt from Dorne?” Robert asked with malice.

“We received word earlier today, she complies with your request for her armies and is mobilizing her troops right away,” Jaime said, once again sounding as though he was reading. “It’ll likely be weeks before we see the first of her soldiers and I don’t think Arya Stark and her savages and going to sit and wait for everyone to arrive.”

“They aren’t going to have a choice,” Robert said after a self-congratulatory laugh. “The gates are closed and as you said, more troops will be arriving everyday. By the time they get here from Winterfell the majority of our forces will be in place. The rest can fill in the gaps as others fall.”

Ned had heard enough, more than enough in fact. He knew he couldn’t avoid Robert forever, but he could for now. As he turned away from the door where he’d been listening the guard stationed there spoke. “I never saw you here m’lord.”

“Thank you,” he said before he began the familiar route to the Hand’s Tower.

R-C

With every step they took toward King’s Landing Daenerys felt Arya was moving further and further away from her. Not physically, Arya rode at her side almost constantly during the day and slept in her arms at night, but the void was growing nonetheless.

It began almost immediately after they left Winterfell on their return trip from the Wall. They stayed only a single night in her love’s former home before Arya was ready to move out, eager to catch the others. Daenerys offered to extend their stay longer, she encouraged it even, but Arya was determined.

Outside Winterfell’s gate, a chill that had nothing to do with the weather settled over her Khal. Each day it got worse, but Daenerys thought she could handle it. When they crossed the border into the South, she realized just how wrong she’d been. Once they were in ‘hostile territory’ as Arya termed it, she refused to leave the Queen’s side for a moment, expecting spies and assassins to be lurking behind every tree and bush. At night, she remained outside their tent, on guard, ready and willing to fend off whole battalions of enemy soldiers should the need arise. When she did sleep, it was only for minutes at a time, and always while sitting straight up. Daenerys had tried everything she could think of to lure her into the tent and had always been politely rebuffed. If she didn’t know how hard it was for Arya to be back, she might have taken it personally.

After they met up with the khalasar Daenerys had hoped Arya’s attitude would return to normal, but she was quickly disappointed. Within seconds of the first Dothraki noticing their approach Arya was shouting orders. She commanded groups of one hundred spread in all directions. When they reached the camp, she gave similar orders to others. By the end of their first meal back among their people more than half the army was moving about the area, prepared for danger.

Daenerys tried to discuss their next move, but Arya insisted they’d do that later, favoring training with the men instead. As she went off to practice her skills of death, Daenerys went in search of Ser Jorah. She had a message to pass along from his father.

She found him in his tent, reading a book. He looked up when she entered and smiled. “So, you’ve returned from the Wall. Quite a sight, isn’t it?”

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” she admitted honestly.

“And you met the Stark’s bastard brother?” he asked, his tone turning sour.

“As well as others,” Daenerys said carefully. “I spoke to your father.”

“How is he?” Jorah asked quickly, unable to hide his real concern and curiosity. It made Daenerys smile. Her knight almost never showed his feelings.

“He’s well. I see much of you in him, he’s a brave and intelligent man who wishes what is best for those around him.”

“I don’t know about that Khaleesi, I’ve failed…”

She wouldn’t let him berate himself, not now, not about this. Holding up her hand she silenced him. “I spoke of you to him briefly and he asked that I wish you well.”

“I find that hard to believe. As you know he and I did not part on the best of terms.”

The doubt she saw in his eyes then was almost painful for her to look at. “You doubt me Ser?” Daenerys asked, giving him a glare that wasn’t nearly as threatening as she pretended it might be.

“Of course not.”

“Very well. I told your father that you rode with us, and that I knew you to be an honest, fair and honorable man. He was pleased by this and asked me to pass along his well-wishes.”

She thought she saw a tear glistening in the old knight’s eye, but it must have been the light as it was gone the next time she looked. “That was very kind of you Daenerys, thank you.”

“Before you return to Essos, if you choose to return to Essos when this is through, I think you should ride for the Wall and speak to him yourself.”

“I go where you go Daenerys, I am sworn to you,” he told her without any doubt.

She nodded in understanding and then got an idea. “If that’s the case, then perhaps I will order you to visit your father. What would you say then?”

“I will do as you command Daenerys, always.”

R-C

As she had every night since it started she went to Arya sitting outside their tent and tried to seduce her inside. Usually it was with the promise of sleep, other times sex, food or wine but her offers didn’t matter because Arya always refused. The only thing she hadn’t done was order Arya to join her, not liking the idea of making her choose between obeying and their safety. Still, if things kept on this way, she might have to rethink her strategies.

“Come to bed with me. The guards will keep us all safe. We’ll have plenty of warning if trouble comes.”

“No,” she said, shaking her head in a lazy motion. Daenerys could see the dark circles under her eyes, and the vacant stare that had come from weeks of barely any rest. “I need to…”

“You need to sleep,” Daenerys said for her. “You can’t protect any of us in your current state.”

Tired as she was, those words got through the haze and she didn’t miss the hurt that passed across Arya’s face. “I will always be able to protect you,” she said a little too harshly.

“I know,” Daenerys corrected, “so come and protect me from inside our tent.”

With only a look she knew Arya had no intention of joining her so went ahead with her next idea. Instead of going into their tent Daenerys went in search of some of the best warriors in their khalasar. She chose ten in all and asked them to follow her. She led them to the spot where Arya sat and then issued her orders. She instructed the men to circle the tent. They did and Daenerys tried again, “There, we’ll be safe, now come to bed.”

When Arya surrender she quickly dragged her into the tent before she could change her mind. As much as she wanted to take advantage of the privacy and make love to the woman who mattered most to her, tonight was not for that, even if it had been weeks.

R-C

She woke first and watched Arya catch up on her sleep. She was certain there was work for a Khaleesi on the outside of her tent, people who wanted her opinions, her aid or her attention but they’d all have to wait. She wasn’t moving an inch as long as she had Arya in her arms.

It was nearly an hour or perhaps more when her staring was interrupted by a gravelly voice. “Don’t you have better things to do?”

She smiled and leaned down off her elbow to kiss Arya’s lips. “Not one.”

A grey eye opened and the lips she had just kissed shifted downward. “I find that hard to believe,” she grumbled.

Daenerys kissed her again. “Don’t doubt it for a second.”

For a moment neither of them moved and then to her disappointment Arya rolled away and began to sit up. As soon as she recognized what was happening Daenerys threw herself into the other woman and tried to keep her in place. “Daenerys,” she complained. “I need to go check on things. I slept too long.”

“You needed to rest. It’s not helping anyone for you to put yourself at risk like that.”

Arya sighed, trying again to sit. This time Daenerys didn’t stop her, but she quickly crossed the bed to climb out right beside her. “You don’t understand,” she finally said.

“You’re right,” Daenerys agreed. “I don’t understand why you’d do this to yourself.”

While she watched Arya covered her face in her hands and scrubbed hard as if she were trying to remove something from under her skin. “I brought you here. You’re in this horrible place because of me and if anything happened to you, it would be my fault.”

“I’m not quite as helpless as you make me out to be,” Daenerys declared with a smile. Trying to lighten the mood she added, “Unless you were lying when you said I was getting better with my arakh.”

A head spun around and Arya’s eyes were alight with passion. “I wasn’t lying,” she said seriously. “I’d never lie to you, but this place is nothing like Essos, it’s nothing like Winterfell. These people make treachery and betrayal an artform. They will greet you with a smile, while they cut your coin purse and they’ll lie to you until they’ve used you to their satisfaction. When they’re through they’ll order one of their men to take your head. I’ve seen it and it would kill me if it happened to you.”

Pulling on a pair of pants, Daenerys tried to reassure her. “Nothing will happen to me. I have you.”

“You’re right,” she responded ominously, “nothing will.”

Across the tent Arya was nearly completely dressed, although her braid looked wholly unkept. Before she could order the taller woman to sit so she could tend to it, Arya was calling for Kovarro. Daenerys listened as Arya gave the Blood Rider directions and told him to get people moving in that direction.

“Where are we going?” Daenerys asked, although she feared the answer. She could see the tension in Arya’s bare shoulders, as well as in her neck and it made her nervous.

She adjusted the fabric that made up her shirt and went to work tying her boots before she answered. It was unexpected when Arya looked up from her task and smiled at the Khaleesi. “You were kind enough to visit my home, I figured I should return the favor and escort you to yours.”

She heard herself gasp at the news. “You don’t mean…”

“Dragonstone,” Arya finished for her. “We’re returning to the boats and going on a sunlit sail.”

R-C

“Tell me,” Jorah said as they sat around a fire eating their dinner together, “just how do you plan to take Dragonstone away from Stannis Baratheon? By now Robert’s spies have told him you’re here, and he’s reinforced every castle he and his allies hold, including Dragonstone.”

Next to him, in another language, Kelo asked why Arya had sent half their army away.”

They’d been asking these questions for days, but apparently now, as they neared her birthplace she was finally prepared to answer. She addressed the Blood Rider first. “Worry not my friend. When the raid to end all raids comes, we will all be together.”

“What does that mean?” Jorah asked coldly.

She turned slightly to face him, her face even. “We will take Dragonstone the same way we take anything. We’ll circle the city and make our demands.”

He scoffed in reply. “Stannis Baratheon isn’t going to give you anything as tribute and the walls will keep us at a severe disadvantage.”

“The only tribute I want from Stannis is his brother’s head. If I have to climb the walls of Dragonstone myself to get it, I can live with that.”

“You won’t even get close. Didn’t you hear me, King Robert knows you’re coming.”

“Of course, he does,” Arya accepted. “If my father hasn’t told him by now, then the man I sent to warn him surely has.”

Daenerys smiled. She’d briefly forgotten about the bandits and the message Arya insisted one of them pass along. She pictured the man holding the head of his leader. Her woman was nothing if not creative.

“Why would you do such a thing?”

“Because,” Arya began, “no matter how much I wish otherwise, King’s Landing is nearly impregnable. It could withstand a siege for years. Robert would likely die of old age before I could lure him out. But, if I hold Dragonstone…”

“He still won’t meet you,” Jorah said cutting her off. “You knew Robert, did he strike you as a sentimental man? He won’t leave King’s Landing to talk to you, let alone fight you, not even to save his brother’s life.”

“I know that,” Arya said confidently.

She couldn’t help it, she had to ask. “Then why are we taking Dragonstone if you know he won’t meet with you to save Stannis?”

She shrugged her shoulders and flashed a smirk at Daenerys that made the Queen want nothing more than to kiss her senseless. Somehow, she refrained. “As Jorah accurately stated, Robert knows we’re here. That’s why I never mentioned Dragonstone to my brother or my father, and it’s why I sent that bandit to warn him I was coming to King’s Landing. I want his entire focus on the Red Keep. Then he won’t be ready when we take Dragonstone.”

“It doesn’t get you any closer to meeting with Robert,” Jorah complained.

“No, but it will give us a nicer place to sleep until we arrange all the details.” Missandei and Daenerys laughed, while Jorah found the jest far less humorous.

R-C

The boats were right where they’d left them, along with nearly all of the Dothraki Arya had assigned to guard them. Upon seeing her, the Commander hurried to her and proudly proclaimed, “The cowards can’t fight! They run!”

Arya didn’t doubt they did. She’d left thousands of her hardest killers to watch over the boats, knowing they’d be a prime target for Robert and his men. Arya couldn’t afford to have Robert seize the boats or sink them, so she assigned men to kill anyone who got close. The last thing she wanted to do was get stuck on this fucking continent with no way home. She instructed her men to strike at night, sneaking up on the enemy to kill them quietly, while keeping their numbers hidden and leaving nothing behind in their wake. She’d also asked that they keep the heads of every man they killed as well as any banners and anything with a Baratheon sigil on it.

When she saw no fewer than a dozen large sacks she knew she had Robert’s attention. She feared the men might be bored in her absence, but Robert had helpfully ensured they stayed busy. He’d sent many against her people, and they’d died just as she knew they would. “They no come for twenty days!” he said in the common tongue, a skill Missandei was a teaching a group of the military leadership.

Arya was pleased by this. The mighty King Robert had apparently learned that her men weren’t to be taken lightly and he had chosen to leave the ships alone.

Eager for a fight, the Dothraki boarded in what she was certain must have been record time for an army of their size. Arya and Daenerys’s ship led the way. When they were nearly in range of the castle’s defenses, Jorah approached the spot where they sat cuddled together. “We should pull back, we are nearly in range. Let some of the other ships go first.”

She pushed Daenerys forward slightly so she could stand up and stare at the older man. “I will not hide behind my men, but if you find yourself frightened, you’re welcome to remain on the boat.” It was a low blow and they all knew it. It had already been decided that Jorah would remain on the ship to guard Daenerys until Dragonstone was secure.

R-C

It looked as though the sky was on fire. Large flaming balls of Gods knows what were flying through the air toward the fleet. Rocks of all shapes and sizes sent in their direction, some landing in the water close enough to cause the sea to spray on her face. Arya had everyone on the deck and ready, firing arrows back at the men lining the castle walls. Daenerys felt regret and disappointment each time she saw one of the men standing around her fall. Her sorrow was only multiplied when one of the ships sunk.

The instant the land was close enough, Daenerys stood back and watched every Dothraki flood over the side of the ship, most didn’t even wait for the boat to strike the shore, needing to be on solid ground, even if it wasn’t particularly dry. Arya hesitated briefly, verifying that Jorah was staying behind to protect Daenerys and then she took off toward the violence. She’d seen Arya survive no shortage of fates that would have ended others but she had to admit this time she had her doubts.

The female Khal ran up the beach with her head down and a shield up. On her back her arakh was strapped and on her hip, she wore the thinnest sword Daenerys had ever seen. She learned it was a gift from Jon, her first real sword and it was obvious from the way she shined it until the early morning hours just how deeply she cherished it.

Arrows rained down on her people while she watched from a safe distance away. After dropping off their fighters, Jorah ordered the crew to take them out into open water, where they’d be safer. The boat rocked, as if the water knew what was happening. She did her best to try and spot Arya as the Dothraki began climbing Dragonstone’s walls, but she couldn’t make out the small figure among so many men.

“Perhaps you should rest Khaleesi,” Jorah tried, “I fear it’s going to be a long day.”

She smiled weakly at him, the best she could do given the circumstances. “Thank you, but I think I’ll stay.” She heard him walk away but didn’t look, too captivated by what was happening in front of her.

Missandei came up beside her and put a comforting arm across her shoulders. “She will be fine Khaleesi,” she said, uttering the exact words Daenerys was desperate to hear.

“I hope so,” she said as she ran her hands through her hair in a nervous gesture. “I don’t think I could lose her, I don’t think I could survive that again, not now.”

Missandei gave her a reassuring smile. “She would fight the Gods for you, without her weapon and she’d win. This,” Missandei said, pointing toward the island, “this, is nothing.”

She hadn’t thought anything could cheer her until Arya returned and Daenerys could see with her own eyes she was unharmed, but somehow Missandei had done it. That wasn’t the only reason she loved the former slave, but in the moment, it might have been at the top of the list.

R-C

Hundreds had died, maybe more. Her steps faltered as she watched boiling tar being poured over the wall and onto her friends. Had she been wrong to come here? Had she been selfish and prideful as Jorah claimed? She didn’t know. Next to her a man fell from an arrow and Arya stopped to remove it from his arm, covering him with her shield as she did. As soon as he was unburdened, he was on his feet and running back to the battle, trailing blood behind the arm he could no longer use. No Arya realized, Drogo wouldn’t have doubts about his objective. He wouldn’t question the lengths or the costs to keep Daenerys safe and she knew she shouldn’t either. She hadn’t decided this, Robert had when he repeatedly tried to kill her. She was in the right this time, it was the King who was wrong.

With newfound confidence, she pushed one of her men away from the ladder and led the climb. She didn’t slow when the first arrow pierced her back, or the second, they simply motivated her to keep going. The first swing of a sword nearly took her head. She leaned to her left at the last moment and then vaulted onto her opponent before he could try again. By the time she’d snapped his neck, Dothraki were on the walls all around her, slaughtering men with both hands.

The archers had the advantage when they were shooting down at the Dothraki on the beach, but now that they were all on the walls together, Arya’s people were in control. The fighting was fierce, violent and messy, everything the Dothraki had been promised. It took only minutes for Stannis’s substantial forces garrisoned on the walls to fall. Once they had, Arya ordered the wounded be tended to, while bowman began shooting down at the bulk of Stannis’s forces. Arya removed the arrows from her back and quickly patched up the minor injuries before she led the Dothraki down into the yard.

The battle grew more intense with every second. With thousands of men trapped in the box of the courtyard, the deaths were heavy on both sides. People were packed together so densely it could often be difficult to take a full swing with her weapon. She knew there would be losses, but she also knew her khalasar would win. Arya counted on the fact that her move for Dragonstone would be unexpected, even to her own people. Surely the King would reinforce the castle and send his brother extra troops, but not enough to repel them. Robert’s strong sense of self-preservation would keep him focused on knocking back an attack on King’s Landing not Dragonstone.

Stannis hid inside his castle but it wouldn’t change the outcome. Just as she had cleaved a man intent on killing her, an attacker she didn’t see struck from behind. The sword opened her back, starting up under her hair and stretching down past the center of her spine. The slice got through the skin and muscle alike and Arya knew she was in trouble. In one stroke, her arm fell immobile at her side. She could feel the rush of blood on her skin, and although she tried to turn she expected death would come before she set eyes on her killer. Instead there was a grunt and she felt the weight of a body collapsing into hers. She nearly fell over, leaning on the nearest person in the tightly packed space to remain upright. Harvin was there with an arakh in each hand and both were buried into the enemy, one in his back, the other the side of his neck.

She rewarded her friend with a grisly smile before she sank to her knee beside the dead man. This battle needed to end soon or she’d bleed to death before Robert was held accountable for his crimes. As if he knew what she was thinking Harvin picked up her blood stained arakh and she took it in her working hand. She wasn’t as talented with this limb as she was her dominate one, but she could still kill.

By the time she reached the doors dozens of Dothraki were ramming at it to break through. Fighting had slowed, as many retreated to the safety of the castle, but it was far from over. Few of Stannis’s men were willing to surrender, choosing instead to fight to the death. Arya admired them. If only they were fighting for a Lord worthy of their dedication.

When the door broke, Arya and her Blood Riders were the first through it. Although she’d never admit it, she was glad they were there, since every step sapped more of her energy. “Stop!” Kovarro said as forcefully as he dared as they weaved through the labyrinth of hallways, doing battle with any Baratheon loyalists they discovered.

“I’ll stop when we’re done!” Arya said before she forced Needle through a man’s neck, striking in the narrow gap between the bottom of a helmet and the top of a breastplate.

R-C

Ned knew something was wrong the moment Varys walked into the room. He glanced sideways at the Northern man and if Ned didn’t know better he looked almost sad. Fear tied a knot in his stomach as he steeled himself for what he might hear.

“What is it?!” Robert asked, his face red from a mix of anger and drink. Since Ned got back from the North, Robert’s mood had been most foul. He berated the servants, yelled at anyone and everyone and looked at his best friend with contempt.
`
“My King, I just received word…”

“Of what!” he screamed.

Again, Varys spared a glance in Ned’s direction, but then his eyes were back on the ruler. “It seems the Dothraki are attacking Dragonstone.”

“What?!”

All around them, others spoke, until they were drowned out by Robert’s shout. He turned to his wife’s brother. “Send reinforcements at once!”

Before Jaime could reply, Varys did. “I fear it wouldn’t matter. I hear the fighting has already begun and some accounts even suggest they may already be inside the walls!”

Robert’s anger vanished and he looked too stunned to say anything. That lasted only briefly before the anger returned tenfold. “Why are we just hearing about this now!? Why do we pay our scouts and our spies anything if they aren’t going to warn us before its too late? I want all of their heads!” he decided rashly.

“I suspect its too late for that as well your Grace. This word didn’t come from the island, but rather from men and women who saw the boats earlier today, a fishing vessel even claims to have seen flaming arrows.” He paused and then said, “If I had to wager a guess, I’d say the reason we heard no news of this, is because our people on the island are already dead.”

“Damn it!” Robert shouted, swiping his hand widely and nearly hitting his wife, before he cleared the table of half its contents. “She means to fucking drive me mad.”

Ned watched as Jaime took a step forward until his sister’s hand stopped him. “Why would she attack Dragonstone, what does it get her?”

“The Targaryen is obviously pulling her strings and trying to reclaim her birthright,” Cersei chimed in.

Turning to Ned Robert marched closer, a furious look in his eyes. “What do you know of this?”

“Nothing,” Ned replied honestly. “What I told you is what I know. Arya was upset about your attempts to kill the Targaryen girl and she intended to come here to seek an audience. She told me she intended to get your pledge that you’d never again send assassins after her friend. That’s all I know.”

While that wasn’t entirely true, Ned didn’t think Robert needed to know his daughter intended to murder him. He’d never lied to Robert like this before, not in all the years as his Hand and not in the years before when they fought side by side, but he had little choice. This was his child.

“And if I have you taken to the dungeon and strapped on a rack?” Robert threatened.

He didn’t flinch, he didn’t even blink. “You’re the King,” Ned reminded him. “If that’s what you want, so be it, but my answers won’t change. I knew nothing of this.”

With a huff of disapproval Robert pivoted and glared at the male Lannister. “Double the guards and find more recruits.”

“They’re already being double.”

Robert clearly did not want to hear it. “Double them again!”

R-C

They found Stannis barricaded in his throne room with two dozen of his men. The fighting was over quick, each of them dying. They were good soldiers, maybe the best he had and they didn’t go alone, but they were swarmed by the rush of shrieking Dothraki and overwhelmed. Arya ordered the men to begin rounding up prisoners. As the warriors coated in blood began moving about Arya took a perverse pleasure in the fear she saw on the Baratheon’s face. He didn’t know their language and likely thought she was ordering his death.

Only the Blood Riders remained with her. “What did you say to them?” he asked when the majority of the Dothraki left the room.

“I told them to round up the survivors and toss them in the dungeon,” Arya said as she limped closer. She’d taken an arrow in the thigh during the fight to the throne room, one more scar to add to her collection.

“So, it’s true, the Stark exile leading savages, I had my doubts.” Stannis stood against the room’s rear wall, dressed in full armor and although he held his impressive sword, it was resting at his side in an unthreatening manner.

“Believe it, and you’d do well not to call them savages again, unless you want to see just how right you are.”

He looked offended by her words. “What does it matter? You’re going to kill me anyway.”

She chuckled as sweat moved down her face. She didn’t need a mirror to know she was pale. The only reason she could remain on her feet was willpower alone. “If I wanted you dead, I’d have killed you already. I just need a word with your brother and then you can go back to playing in someone else’s house.”

Now it was Stannis’s turn to chuckle. “Oh, that’s right, I heard you came with the Targaryen, where is she?”

Arya smiled in spite of the situation a she thought about Daenerys. “Perhaps I’ll escort her down to the dungeons later so you can meet her.”

“If you live that long,” he countered with a smug grin, looking at the pool of blood forming under her. “That doesn’t look good.”

Her smile turned into a smirk. “Maybe not, but I’d still rather be in my boots than yours. What do you think Robert’ll do when he finds out you lost Dragonstone? You’d probably be better off to have me kill you now,” she said weakly as she wobbled slightly.

The smugness was gone now and it almost made Arya forget about the heaviness of her eyes. “Robert…”

“Robert will put you on a rack,” she said with confidence. “Now put down your sword.” She needed to speed this up, she didn’t have long. Whistling she ordered the Blood Riders forward. Stannis looked ready to die in glory for the first few of the Dothraki’s steps then thought better of it. Kelo and Kovarro took the King’s brother and escorted him from the room. She stayed on her feet just long enough to let the door close behind them and then she collapsed onto the stone floor, landing in her own blood while Harvin worried over her. Seconds later her eyes fell closed and she sank into a blissful, black emptiness.

R-C

Daenerys felt her body sag with relief when she saw a man on the beach waving a Baratheon banner above his head. That was the sign that the fighting was over and that Daenerys, Missandei and the others could safely join them on the island. From the moment they went over the walls, the Dothraki were largely hidden from view and Daenerys was clueless to how things were going. A few stayed on the walls, keeping an eye out for potential reinforcements, those she could see, although apart from dealing with an occasional straggler there wasn’t much to witness. The masses went down to take the castle and left her line of sight. The boat moved far slower than she liked but she resisted all urges to order they go faster. She was the first one out, getting her feet wet carelessly and barely noticing as her violet eyes moved from side to side, searching out the woman she loved.

It was Harvin who found her first, taking her by the arm and pulling her with him. “We must hurry,” he said and Daenerys felt all the Dragon blood leaving her body. Suddenly she wasn’t overheated, but frozen to the core. That wasn’t good at all. Her first instinct was to curse Arya for throwing herself in danger when she had an army to support her, but that thought quickly faded. Arya was right when she told Jorah that she wouldn’t hide behind her people and Daenerys commended that. It was a brave and selfless thing to do. It’s why the warriors, the men followed her.

She barely took note of the dragons carved into the stone as she made her way down the halls. This was where she was born, where a large percentage of her family died and none of that mattered now. If Arya died, she would regret coming here for the rest of her lonely days. Nothing she could learn about her family could ever be worth that.

In the throne room, she found Arya laid out on her stomach while no fewer than three different sets of the khalasar’s healers tended to her various wounds. Pulling out of Harvin’s grip she rushed to Arya’s side. Kneeling next to her face she had hoped to see grey eyes looking back at her, but she was unconscious.

“How bad is it?” Daenerys asked the healers, not caring who answered.

One of the women looked up and shook her head sadly. “Very bad Khaleesi. We do not have the skills to save her I think.”

That was just entirely unacceptable. With tears stinging her eyes she struggled to look past her terror for a solution. What would Arya do? If it was her dying on the floor she wouldn’t simply let it happen. There had to be something.

“I’m sorry Khaleesi,” Jorah said softly, trying to put his arm around her. Damn him, she didn’t want to be comforted.

She shrugged him off and stepped away. “No, no! There has to be something we can do.”

“You heard her, none of our healers are skilled enough to save her. Its up to the Gods now. They’ll do everything they can.”

His words repeated in her mind and she felt as if she might vomit. “Fuck the Gods,” she blurted out. “Fuck them. I won’t let her die.”

As Jorah’s deceptively kind words continued to taunt her she finally focused on the important few, ‘our healers.’ “You’re right,” she said suddenly. Jorah gave her a pitiful smile as he thought she was accepting Arya’s death. That would never happen. “Our healers may not be able to save her, but we aren’t in Essos anymore. Find me the… what is it, the Maester. Find me the Maester and bring him here.”

“He may be dead Khaleesi,” Jorah unhelpfully guessed.

She wasn’t willing to consider that. “No, Arya wouldn’t have killed someone who didn’t have a sword in their hand. What was done with the prisoners?”

“They were taken to the dungeons Khaleesi,” Kelo said as he alternated between Daenerys’s face and his fallen Khal.

“Go find him and bring up this Stannis too, I think we need to meet.”

R-C

The minutes while she waited for Kelo to return felt like torture. In that time, those tending to Arya’s leg had stopped their work, content with the result. Through sobs Daenerys learned that in addition to a vicious cut that did the most damage, she’d also taken three arrows, two in the back while climbing the wall and one in the leg before she reached Stannis.

“Be proud Khaleesi,” Harvin told her quietly. “She didn’t fall until after the man was gone.”

Daenerys smiled against her tears. “Of course not. She’d never give him the satisfaction.”

“She’s strong,” Missandei said, kneeling next to Daenerys, without worry for the blood ruining her silk dress. “She’ll be fine.”

Daenerys didn’t need to reply because Kelo chose that moment to return with another two Dothraki. They had who she could only hope were the Maester and Stannis, each with their arms were bound behind their backs.

At her command Kelo cut the Maester’s binds. The healer was younger than she expected, a man in his thirties if that. He had bright blonde hair and clear green eyes. “Save her and I’ll spare your life,” she told him, switching from Dothraki to his language.

His eyes flickered to his Lord and although it was almost unnoticeable, she caught the slight shake of Stannis’s head. She lashed out, slapping him in the face. Kicking him with her bloody boot she hit the back of his knee and forced him to the floor in front of her. Gripping his hair, she guided his eyes. “Do you know who I am?”

“I could guess.”

“Don’t guess,” she said, slapping him again. “I am Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen. I was born here and now I’ve returned. If you value the lives of your people, I suggest you tell the Maester to get to work, or else men, women and children will needlessly die.”

“Do what you will!” he challenged. “No one here will ever help the Mad King’s daughter.”

Furious she hit him again, and then again. Jorah prevented her from continuing and he carried her away while she fought against him the whole time.

“Beating him won’t get results,” Jorah predicted.

“What would you recommend?”

“Khaleesi if I may?” Missandei said gently. “While this Stannis might be ready for his people to die, the Maester seems far less certain. He looked horrified by his Lord’s words.”

Suddenly Daenerys had another reason to adore Missandei. She’d been so focused on Stannis she’d forgotten the other man, totally missing his reaction. Her tongue shifted back to Dothraki. “Find me his wife, find me his children, if he doesn’t have any, bring me someone else’s.

“Khaleesi, you can’t do this,” Jorah decreed.

Calling on her inner-Arya she glared at him rudely. “Watch me.”

“I understand you’re upset, but killing women and children won’t help.”

“You understand?” she questioned coldly. “You understand? These people killed Drogo and now they’ve nearly killed her too. I won’t let it happen.”

Jorah shook his head. “Arya brought this on herself. No one made her come here and she knew the risks.”

Her hand blurred out and she slapped her knight just as she’d done with Stannis. “Wow,” Daenerys said in disbelief. “You really do hate her, don’t you?” She didn’t wait for a reply. “Go and…“ Any pretense she might have considered, wasn’t worth the energy. “I don’t give a fuck where you go, just get out of my sight.”

Jorah was surprised by her outburst but he obeyed as he always did. Seconds after he was gone, Kelo and Harvin brought in a group of two women and one little boy. From the look on the Maester’s face, Daenerys knew she’d found her leverage. “What’s your name?” she asked him as the captives were forced closer to the danger.

“R…Robb,” he stammered.

“Maester Robb, likely named for the King I’d guess.” He answered with a nod and she kept going. “Do you believe in the Old Gods or the New Robb? I know your people tend to favor one over the other.”

He refused to take his eyes off the civilians who were just feet away looking utterly petrified. “T…the New.”

Walking over to the women Daenerys put an arm over the younger one’s shoulders. Her hand ruffled the boy’s dark hair. “Them too?” She didn’t need him to answer. “It really doesn’t matter,” she said after a laugh that sounded demented even to her own ears. “I’ll send them to whatever Gods they want if you don’t start saving her life.”

The women cried in fear and under any normal circumstances that might have stopped Daenerys from pushing further, but she didn’t have time to play nice, more importantly Arya didn’t have time. The Dothraki healers were doing what they could, but by their own admission they didn’t like their chances. Picking up the young boy she carried him over to stand next to Robb. “What’s it going to be? Are you going to save a life, or am I going to take one?”

From where he was watching, Stannis made his opinion clear. “Don’t do it!”

“Shut up or I’ll take your tongue!” the Dragon roared. “Robb this choice is yours, not his. Their blood will be on your hands, not his.” When she wasn’t convinced he would agree she went further, “Once they’re dead I’ll just send for others. I’ll eventually find someone you care enough about to help.” Daenerys gestured to Arya’s lifeless body. “If she dies, no one will leave here alive.”

She wasn’t in the mood to be strung along or toyed with. Glaring at him, her voice was ice. “Missandei, your dagger please.”

She stepped forward dagger in hand and Robb’s eyes bulged out in response. He weighed his options for less than three seconds. “Fine, I’ll do it, just let the boy go.”

She set the boy down between the horrified women and they quickly clutched him in tight arms. “What happens to them is up to you, so I suggest you get started.”

R-C

Chapter Text

For almost two full days even the terrified Maester with every reason to lie, admitted he didn’t know what Arya’s chances would be. After agreeing to help, a pair of Dothraki had carried Arya, following Maester Robb to where he could work most effectively. While that was happening, Daenerys ordered the three civilians and their Lord sent back to the dungeons.

Daenerys refused to leave her. It fell to Missandei to bring food and fresh clothes at random-feeling intervals. Many of the warriors came to inquire about Arya’s condition, but Jorah remained absent. She hadn’t seen him since she sent him away.

Each hour brought more panic if that were possible. She sat beside the bed, clutching Arya’s hand and whispering to her in private, completely unconcerned with the Baratheon loyalist nearby. The Blood Riders were in the room, so she knew she didn’t need to be concerned for her safety. She never had a problem watching Arya sleep, but this was torture. Now all she wanted was for her to wake up so she could see for herself that all her brutal methods were worthwhile. In hindsight, she was appalled by what she’d almost done, by what she was fully willing to do, but she didn’t let herself dwell on those thoughts for long. Daenerys did what needed to be done, no more and no less, exactly as Arya would have done for her. In a strange way, it felt oddly comforting to be the person doing the saving for once.

When the hand she was holding twitched the first time it was so soft she almost didn’t feel it. She’d been dozing off in the chair when it happened so she blamed a dream. The second time it was clearly deliberate, she screamed for the Maester not caring that he was in the room with her. Like an idiot he tried to send her out, claiming he needed room to work. Daenerys refused forcefully and suggested he ignore her and check on his patient.

Her eyes opened less than an hour later. Her voice cracked the first time she tried to speak. “W…what happened?” she asked, looking rather uncertain as she blinked at Daenerys.

Relief had tears coating her cheeks and she couldn’t even be bothered to reach up and wipe them away. “Nothing unexpected,” Daenerys said, able to laugh for the first time in days, “you just made me wait for you again.”

“S…sorry,” she mumbled, sounding exhausted. The eyes Daenerys was enjoying seeing had already begun to flutter closed.

Bending down Daenerys dropped a feather-light kiss on her lips. “Just rest, I’ll yell at you later.”

R-C

It was three more days before Robb was confident she would live. Another two days before Arya could stand and as soon as she could she was trying to get out of the bed. Daenerys did her best to hold her back, afraid to aggravate her injuries. She wasn’t nearly as pale as she had been, largely because Daenerys sat at her bedside and all but forced her to eat, drink and recuperate, but she still wasn’t at one hundred percent and they both knew it. “Just where do you think you’re going?” she asked, trying to laugh despite her worry that Arya’s movement might tear the stitches.

“I have work to do,” she said swallowing as she tried again to sit up.

“Relax, please,” Daenerys begged. “Whatever it is, it can wait.”

“I need to address the men, I should have done it right after the battle and I need to send Robert a message.” Looking past the Queen, her orders went to the Blood Riders. “Find me Stannis and two soldiers and drag them outside.”

“Arya, it can wait.”

“It waited long enough, now please either help me or get out of the way and let me find my clothes.”

Daenerys looked to the Maester to support her but he had his back to them, working desperately to pretend he wasn’t listening. “Fine,” she said with a sigh, “sit there and I’ll find you something to wear.”

When they neared their destination, Arya pushed off of Daenerys’s shoulder and stood under her own weight. She should have expected it, she’d never want the people who followed her to see her weak. They stood on a stone wall, with gargoyles in the shape of dragons watching from both sides. It was a reminder to Daenerys of who had once lived here. The bodies had all been removed, but the ground was still stained with blood, there was very little brown or green to be seen.

Men, women and children alike all screamed when they saw their Khal alive and well. Arya waved to them, raising her arakh in the air, as she placed her other hand on the wall for support. Her weapon was covered in dry blood, but that only made the Dothraki shriek and cheer louder. “Missandei,” Arya asked, “would you translate? I’d hate for our Westerosi friends to miss this.”

“Of course, Khal and I’m glad to see you up again,” she said kindly for only Daenerys and Arya to hear.

“I’m glad to be up,” she answered back. Looking out over her people she began, “We came here for blood and we got it!” The cheers got louder and Daenerys couldn’t hold back her smile. “We came to show them we aren’t afraid! Many died and I mourn them but they are with the Khal now and he honors them as I honor you. We will meet them again, but first we kill our enemies! We must punish those who killed our Khal and who try to kill our Khaleesi.”

Looking away from her excited people, Arya turned her head to the side where Stannis and the two soldiers knelt. Daenerys’s looked too and she could see how Arya wouldn’t continue until she was certain she had their attention.

“You know I came from these lands. I was born in the cold we visited.” Beneath them, many of the Dothraki openly shuddered as they remembered the frigid weather. “I came from these lands and I know these people. They can not defeat you! I’d rather fight beside you than any army of theirs!” The cries from the courtyard were deafening. Arya waited for them to settle. “We are not yet finished. We will kill their King and no suit of metal can save him! If he is too afraid to meet us, we will kill his people,” she foretold, looking again at her prisoners. “We will kill his people, we will burn his cities and we will take what we want!” With a final wave of her arakh she looked down at her adoring public, then with Daenerys at her side they went back inside.

She was again in the room with the Maester, sitting on the bed, arakh across her lap. Kovarro brought the three men who witnessed her speech before her. Next to her, on the bed, sat Stannis’s armor and his sword and on the floor at her feet was a collection of bags. In addition to the bags the warriors had gathered from those who intended to burn their fleet, she’d added all the bounty from the battle, everything from Dragonstone with a Baratheon sigil. It was quite a haul. Her courier was going to need a wagon.

Before Arya could speak, Stannis spit in her direction. “You’re as mad as she is. You’re going to die here.” He took a breath and then asked, “What happened to you? Your father is such an honorable man, how could he have spawned you?” He turned his hard eyes to Daenerys. “At least her father was insane, its in her blood, but you, it’s disgraceful.”

“Don’t talk to her. You don’t know the first thing about her.”

He scoffed and spit again. His eyes moved to Daenerys and then back to Arya. “Gods, she didn’t tell you, did she?” He barked a humorless laugh. “While you were dying on the floor she threatened to kill a child if my Maester here didn’t aid you.”

Her cheeks felt warm and it had nothing to do with her blood as she felt Arya looking at her. A dark eyebrow raised in question and Daenerys felt the need to justify her actions. “You were going to die, I needed to do something.”

She wasn’t expecting Arya to smile and turn back to the Lord. “It might make me insane, or disgraceful, or whatever else you called us, but I’m more than a little proud of her right now.”

Stannis shook his head. “Gods you two are horrible. You deserve each other.”

Arya’s smile only grew. “You’re right, I think we deserve each other too, but I didn’t bring you up here to tell me why I should love her, I already know why I should love her. I brought you up here because I need your men to deliver a few things for me.”

Pointing at one of the soldiers she waved him forward. “You there. Do you know the way to King’s Landing?”

He nodded, looking warily at the Dothraki. “Don’t worry about them. Now you know the way, you’re certain?” Again, he nodded. “Good,” Arya said as she lightly kicked one of the bags before her. “I want you to deliver these to King Robert. It’s the head of every man we killed and every fucking Stag sigil I could find.” The man blanched when he learned the cargo he’d be carrying. “You tell your gracious King that unless he wants packages like this from Arya Stark every single week, he better meet me.”

“I w…will,” he said standing as soon as he was able and making a rush for the door.

Arya whistled. “Aren’t you forgetting something?” He froze and looked back. With a chuckle she directed him to the bags. Defeated he returned to the room to get the first two. Arya gave a dark laugh and before he was gone said, “I think you’re going to need to make more than one trip.”

“Gods you really have lost your mind. Fucking a Targaryen poisoned you.”

Daenerys expected violence but Arya only smiled at him and waved the other soldier forward. “Luckily for you, you have a lighter load to carry. You’re going to follow your friend there to King’s Landing and take King Robert this sword and armor. You tell him what you heard here tonight and you tell him that we have Dragonstone, we have Stannis and we have four-hundred-and-eight prisoners. You tell him Arya Stark wishes to meet with him and if he refuses, the next package I send will have Baratheon skin. He has one month.”

Just like his predecessor the man was eager to leave, but he remembered to take the items when he went. When Stannis and Robb were alone with the Dothraki the Lord spoke from his spot on the floor. “Why am I here? You plan to gloat or just kill me?”

She shrugged. “Tonight? Neither. Killing you now wouldn’t benefit anyone and there is no cause to gloat. We arrived on your shore unexpectedly with an overwhelming force. Your men fought bravely and well, I can attest to that first hand, but you couldn’t have won even if the Dothraki were half as skilled as they are.”

“So then why am I here?”

“I thought you wanted to meet Daenerys,” she said with a smirk. “How was I to know you two already got acquainted when I was resting?”

“You weren’t resting, you were dying,” Stannis corrected bitterly.

“And yet I’m still here. Go back to your cage and hope your brother values you more than I think he does.”

With Stannis gone, the Maester excused himself under the guise of getting more materials. Daenerys ordered Harvin to go with him and then turned her attention on Arya. She found the Stark looking at her with an odd expression. She didn’t know what to make of it until she remembered Stannis telling her what had transpired while she was unconscious. “I won’t apologize! You were dying and…”

The laugh came fast and hard until her injuries forced her to stop short, coughing hard and futilely folding over to lessen the burden. Daenerys held the glass for her to drink from and then helped her settle back into a lying position. When she was able, she tried again, a delighted smile still written all over her face. “I’d never ask you to apologize for saving me. I was going to thank you and apologize to you for forcing you to go to such extremes.”

“I was going to do it,” she confessed. “I wasn’t bluffing.”

“I would have done far worse if the roles were reversed,” Arya declared proudly, confirming what Daenerys had been telling herself for days to explain away her behavior.

“What does that say about us?”

Arya reached up, injures and all and pulled her down onto the bed. Daenerys went willingly, but was careful not to apply too much pressure as she snuggled in close. “Exactly what Stannis said, that you love me as I love you and we may just deserve each other.”

R-C

One night after Arya had dropped into a restful sleep, Daenerys summoned Jorah. She hadn’t spoken to him one word since the day she slapped him, but the time had come. She needed to know if he could still serve her, given Arya’s place in her heart. if he couldn’t she owed it to him to let him go.

“Khaleesi,” he said formally as he bowed his head slightly, “you asked for me.”

She had already poured the wine and was sitting at the table, across from an empty chair. “I did. Please come in Jorah, I think we are overdue for a conversation.”

After he sat, she reached across to nudge a glass in his direction. “Drink and relax, this conversation will not be like our last.”

“I hope not,” he said before taking a sip.

“To begin, I want to apologize. It’s a poor excuse, but I was frightened and upset and I took it out on you.” As she said those words she remembered Viserys and hated herself for being anything like him.

“There is no need…” he tried to say, but Daenerys wasn’t in the mood to be comforted. Just as she’d come to feel guilt for her actions against the civilians, she also regretted her harsh words toward Jorah.

“There is a need,” she protested. “You have been my loyal and faithful friend for a long time now and you deserved better than to be an outlet for my anger.” Moving her wine aside she laid a hand on the table palm up and waited. When Jorah placed his hand in hers, she closed hers tightly. “I’m sorry, for what I did and for what I said.”

He smiled at her in a way that made everything worse. He had feelings for her she couldn’t return and that right there was the crux of the problem. “You have nothing to be sorry for, the situation was,” he paused and seemed to choose his words carefully, “difficult all around. I spoke out of turn and you acted accordingly.”

Daenerys knew they’d never agree on this. She knew it was her fault, but she also knew Jorah would refuse to place blame on her, even when it was hers to carry. “Let us hope we both learned something from this, huh? I don’t like fighting with those closest to me, regardless of the cause.” He smiled at her wider than before and they both stood. She embraced him and didn’t pull away when the hug went on a few seconds longer than was standard.

When they returned to their seats and their wine, Daenerys broached the more uncertain of the two topics she intended to discuss. “As I said, you mean much to me. I value your sword, your counsel, and your friendship. Our khalasar, our family would lose something if you weren’t here and so you will have a place with me for as long as you want it.” She looked across the table and could see that his smile was gone, his jaw set. “Arya is also important to me. I’m not asking you to feel as I do, or to like her, but I do ask that you tolerate her and accept her as a part of my life. If you can do that, we’ll never speak of it again, if you can’t, I’m afraid we may need to part ways.”

“Daenerys,” he said, looking horrified at her suggestion that they separate. “It’s my job to protect you.”

“It is,” she verified, “and I keep you very busy in that regard but perhaps the only person you don’t need to protect me from is Arya Stark.”

“She’s using you,” he said in a huff, “exploiting your grief!”

Daenerys had to swallow down her anger, learning lessons from the last time the knight upset her on the subject. She needed Jorah to understand this and so she was going to have to be brutally honest. “She has never done anything of the sort. It was I who pursued her, it was me who wouldn’t take no for an answer when she repeatedly refused me night after night and it was me who assured her I was ready, when she thought I was still grieving for Drogo.”

Perhaps it was the passionate defense or maybe something he saw on her face but she could see at least some of the message got through. “She was sleeping on the floor, you both said so. Said it was a ruse to convince the others she was Khal.”

“That was the case,” Daenerys remembered unhappily. “For a long time that was the true, but it isn’t anymore. I will always mourn Drogo but I can’t spend the rest of my life alone.”

“Of course not,” he agreed, “but why?” He looked around her to the sleeping woman on the bed. “You could have chosen anyone. You could have…” his words stopped short but she knew what he wasn’t saying. ‘You could have chosen me.’

“Finish your wine Ser and then I suggest you retire to your chambers. If you decide you can’t remain here and see Arya and I as we are now, I understand. I wish you well and we will part as friends. I offer you one of the ships and the crew to take you wherever you want to go, but if you’re still here in the morning I’ll trust you and I have an understanding. Whatever you decide, I hope this isn’t the last time I see you.”

R-C

While she may not have planned it that way, Arya’s deadline for Robert to make contact inadvertently gave her time to heal. She remembered Robert, remembered the kind of King he was. He wouldn’t send ravens on the first day after her victory, or even that first week. If they heard the Baratheon at all, she expected it would be when the deadline neared its end and not before. As for the meeting she requested she knew Robert would never meet her, no matter how many pieces of Stannis she cleaved off and had sent to the Red Keep.

After a trying week where everyone was on edge all the time, Arya’s condition finally improved to a point where Daenerys would dare to leave her for short periods of time. Even with the progress they’d made in that regard Daenerys still checked her bandages twice as frequently as the Maester.

Not long into their wait to hear from Robert, Daenerys asked Missandei for help and the advisor agreed without knowledge of what would be asked of her. “What can I do Khaleesi?” In the days since Arya opened her eyes they’d all taken to speaking Dothraki almost exclusively to keep their captives guessing. With the Maester often in the room with them, minding Arya’s wounds, it was a prudent decision.

“Down in the dungeons,” Daenerys started, “the soldiers stay where they are, the Lord will remain but find a woman among the others, let them choose a leader to speak for them and then ask if she’d be wiling to meet with me.”

“Of course.”

“Assure her I mean her no harm, I only wish to speak about improving the conditions of the prisoners. If that’s something she’s interested in she can join me for lunch, if not, things will remain as they are.”

“At once,” Missandei said already heading for the door, but not before smiling warmly at Arya who was resting after a taxing walk around the castle with Daenerys earlier that morning.

“If she doesn’t wish to meet with me,” Daenerys shouted after her friend, “don’t force her. If she agrees, tell the guards, no binds and they are to stay back, close enough to save me, but not to scare her.”

The sounds of Missandei’s footsteps faded a bit and then more until at last they heard nothing at all. She’d been on the brink of sleep when the conversation began and she couldn’t help wondering what Daenerys was thinking. “You could have gone and done that yourself,” Arya said after a brief quiet. “I’m no longer dying and its safe to begin living a life outside of this room again.”

When Daenerys immediately looked away and then expertly avoided her eye, Arya understood she’d misjudged Daenerys’s reasoning. “That wasn’t why I sent Missandei, even if a small part of me still worries you’ll stop resting the second I turn my back.”

Arya couldn’t deny that. They both knew just how valid her concerns were. “I promised you I’d rest until I felt better, and I’m still a few days away from better.”

She folded her hands together against her stomach. “By now Stannis has told everyone in the dungeon how brutal and barbaric I was, and his claims will be backed up by the two women and the little boy I brought up to threaten. If any hadn’t known of my family before, I’m sure Stannis shared all the grim details about my father’s history…”

She hated when Daenerys spoke like this. To stop it, she lifted off the bed, blocking out the discomfort until their lips could meet. “You are not your father and his crimes aren’t yours to pay for,” she said as she sank back down.

“It’s not my father’s crimes I’m looking repent for this time,” she said in a quiet, depressed voice, “only my own.”

Arya sat up. Her damaged arm was still weak, too weak, but each day with effort she found she had a wider range of movement. She did her best to hug the Queen who wouldn’t stop berating herself. “You saved my life,” she stated simply. “You were in an impossible situation and you acted brutally yes, but this is war Daenerys. Sometimes brutality can’t be avoided. You didn’t hurt anyone. That boy, those women, all of them are still alive.” It was silent for a long while with only the rain bouncing off the windows to be heard. “Is that why you want to meet with a prisoner, to check on the boy?”

Daenerys sighed, leaning into Arya’s limited embrace and speaking into her chest. “Yes and no. I want to know he’s okay of course, but I want to make sure all the captives are well. You said you doubt Robert will ever trade for Stannis, so what hope do any of the others have? If he’ll let his brother rot at our mercy, he won’t lift a finger for any of the others, no matter how much we threaten.” She sighed again. “We can’t release them, I know that,” she hurried to say, “but we can make sure the women and children don’t spend the entire length of our stay in the dungeons.”

“What do you have in mind?”

“I sent some of the men begin clearing many of the largest rooms out yesterday,” Daenerys explained, “making sure there are no weapons or other surprises waiting for us. Another group is doing the same outside When they’re finished I’ll have the rooms lined with beds, so they can at least rest in comfort. I also want to ensure they can go outside and get fresh air if they choose.”

It really was impressive, in the heat of war, Daenerys retained her compassion and her heart. Arya couldn’t possibly love her more than she already did, but it was nice to see bringing her to Westeros hadn’t changed her.

“I think that’s a great idea,” she said honestly, “let’s go check their progress.”

“Oh no!” Daenerys quickly yelled, while she struggled not to laugh. “You aren’t going anywhere. You still need your rest.”

She thought about resisting but she was exhausted, and lying in bed had its perks. “If you expect me to stay in this bed Khaleesi, you’re going to need to keep a very close eye on me.”

Daenerys kissed the younger woman. “I was just thinking the same thing.”

R-C

Ned Stark was enjoying a rare dinner with his daughter. They ate alone in the Hand’s Tower. Ned had already filled his eldest daughter in on the majority of the family. Word of Arya’s return to Westeros was widely discussed and gossiped about in the court and the keep, but Ned treaded carefully there, choosing instead to focusing on how Sansa’s mother, little brother and nephew were doing.

“Robb and Talisa are well, and Little Robb is growing like a weed,” Ned said fondly.

Her responding smile wasn’t insincere, but it wasn’t the bright one of her youth either. “That’s good. Please send everyone in Winterfell my best the next time you write.”

“I will.”

“The wedding is on hold,” Sansa said without much feeling. “The King feels that with the city under siege and his brother being held captive now is not the time for festivities.”

She wasn’t telling him anything he didn’t already know. It had been his idea, that they wait. Admittedly a large amount of his motivation came from the fact that he didn’t want Talisa, Little Robb, Rickon and Cat on the roads to King’s Landing with the Dothraki lurking about. While he didn’t think Arya would purposefully hurt them, he still didn’t trust the savages one bit. For his part, Robert was all too quick to agree. Apparently, he wasn’t as thrilled as he’d once been with the idea of binding their families through marriage. He wondered where that would leave Sansa when all of this was done but he dared not ask. He’d just have to hope his friend could see the difference between Arya and the whole of the family.

“What do you think of that?” he quizzed.

Her silk covered shoulders lifted and then fell in a shrug. “It’s not my decision. Joffrey and I will marry when Cersei decides and not before.”

He couldn’t deny he was proud of his daughter’s shrewd and accurate assessment of her situation. “I suppose you’re right.” He set his fork down and leaned closer to her. “You need to be careful now,” he whispered. “Things are going to be dangerous for us here.”

“It’s true then, about Arya? I can scarcely believe it. I thought for sure the rumors had to be wrong.”

Ned could certainly understand that path of thought. “I did too. Until I saw her with my own eyes, I don’t think I allowed myself to believe what I’d heard either.”

“What is she like?” Sansa asked, sounding genuinely curious.

Ned covered his face in his hand and shook his head. How to answer such a complicated question? “She’s wild and louder than ten of your mother and Talisa combined.”

With a smirk, his daughter summarized, “So not all that different then?”

They shared a brief laugh before the seriousness was back. “She’s very different. She can be kind and gentle as I remember her, but then turn cold and ruthless just as sudden. I spent weeks with her, in Winterfell, and then travelling to the Wall and I still feel as if I don’t know her.”

“Why would she want to attack King’s Landing? She knows we’re here, right? She must! Why would she want to do that to us?”

He put a big hand over Sansa’s much smaller one. “Her reasons have nothing to do with our family and I think she feels her actions are justified.”

“Are they?” Sansa asked, posing him the one question he didn’t want to examine too thoroughly.

“Probably more than I’d like to admit.”

R-C

Chapter Text

Daenerys had just come from checking on the women and children. She had them removed from the dungeon and given new accommodations. She expected to find Arya where she’d left her, sleeping in bed. It might have been a naive hope but she hadn’t been gone that long. Instead she found the room empty of both the Maester and the Stark.

Frantically she rushed through the castle in search of someone who could tell her where Arya was. Apart from the guards who were watching over the newly released prisoners, and the women who were hard at work on their next meal, Daenerys found almost every room deserted.

Hurrying outside, she was met by Jorah and Missandei, who were watching as Arya led a rigorous training session. She struck at a dummy, while all around her small groups and pairs sparred. Steel clashed, echoed by grunts before cries of triumph and defeat. “Why didn’t you stop her?!” Daenerys shouted at both of the advisors.

“We tried Khaleesi,” Missandei swore. “She insisted she rested long enough and that it was time for things to return to normal.”

“She nearly died,” Daenerys reminded them. “She isn’t ready.”

“When I tried to stop her, she threatened to use me as her first victim,” Jorah remarked coldly.

On her walk to where Arya was, she noticed that the typically fluid woman wasn’t quite as graceful as she had been. Also, Daenerys couldn’t shake the feeling that something else was different, something she couldn’t put her finger on.

Standing ten feet away she finally noted the way one arm hung loose at her side. Daenerys knew Arya’s strength was returning slowly, but as she watched Arya’s arm look lifeless, she feared she reaggravated the injury in her rush to return to battle. “What are you doing?”

She took one final swing and left her arakh lodged in the dummy’s neck before she turned with sweat streaking her face and coloring her clothes. “Training, how are the captives?”

“Don’t change the subject!” she demanded. “What’s wrong with your arm, why does it look worse?” She took hold of Arya’s shirt and pulled her down so Daenerys could assess her back and shoulder more easily. “Did you tear your stitches?” she asked, pleased that there wasn’t any fresh blood she could see.

“No, I didn’t even use that arm.”

She found that hard to believe. “Then why was it dead at your side when I walked up?”

“Because,” Arya said, looking amused, “I need practice using my other arm, it’s weaker and it needs the exercise.”

Relief. “So, you aren’t hurt?” she verified.

“No, I was just using the dummy, nothing else.”

“It’s too soon,” she announced, repeating what she’d said to Jorah and Missandei. “You should still be resting. There will be time for training later.”

“Robert could send his armies after us any day. I’m tired, I’m slow and I’m forced to use my weaker arm. I need all the practice I can get.”

She might hate to admit it, but all of Arya’s points were valid. The war was coming, sooner or later and they needed to be ready. Since she had no hope of getting Arya to agree not to fight when that time came, her only viable option was to ensure she was as finely trained as she could be. Still, she didn’t like it. “Three days,” she bartered. “Please, rest for three more days and then you can train as much as you want.”

“I’m…”

“I know you’re fine,” Daenerys said. She’d heard that before, whether it was true or not. “Do it for me,” she pleaded, fighting dirty. “Three days and then you can train day and night and I won’t even try to stop you.”

Grey eyes lit up, understanding the concession that was being offered. “Three days?”

“Three very short days.”

“Deal.”

“Good,” Daenerys said, taking Arya’s weaker arm and guiding it over her shoulder. “Now take me back inside.”

R-C

He knew it wasn’t going to be good when Robert found him in his tower. He’d been reviewing documents regarding a shipment of gold and other goods from the Tyrell’s when Robert burst in and nearly knocked the door off the hinge with the force of his rage. He slammed it behind him to emphasize his point.

“Finally, word from Dragonstone. Your daughter sacked one of my castles!” he screamed. “She has hundreds of hostages.” He breathed heavily through his nose as he leaned forward, his sweaty hands messing up the items lining Ned’s desk. “Tell me you didn’t know they were going to take Dragonstone. Tell me Ned!”

“I didn’t,” he said, standing in front of his chair. “In all the time I spent with Arya and the Targaryen they never once mentioned Dragonstone to me.”

“We’re alone now, I need the truth. I know she’s your daughter and I promise I’ll try to spare her if I can, but I need to know what she’s planning.”

“Your Grace…”

“Cut the shit Ned. Just tell me the truth.”

He swallowed and tried again. “I didn’t know a thing about it. Neither of them ever mentioned Dragonstone to me, Robb or Cat, I’ve checked. When I even hinted at the idea that they’d come to put the girl on the throne, they were both offended. They told me neither of them had any desire to rule and I believed them.”

“If that’s true then why do I have bags and bags of human heads downstairs?” the King questioned.

Ned was sure he’d heard that wrong. “Excuse me?”

“I didn’t fuckin’ stutter. Your girl sent the heads of every man they killed at Dragonstone back by courier along with any and everything marked by a Stag. She says she’ll keep killing people until I agree to meet with her.”

“She has to know you’ll never agree to that,” Ned said lightly.

“Does she?” he pressured as he threw up his hands in frustration. “Maybe her time in Essos drove her as mad as the Targaryen.”

“What of Stannis?”

Looking toward the ceiling Robert said, “Another courier brought his armor and sword. Says that unless I agree to meet within the month, the next courier will deliver a part of his body.”

“By the Gods…”

“Fuck the Gods,” Robert complained. “I want to know how to fix this. She’s your daughter, you’re my Hand. Fix this damn it.”

“How would you suggest I do that?” he asked, unclear about what his King had in mind.

“If she wanted you dead, she could have killed you in Winterfell, right?” After Ned nodded, Robert got to the heart of it, “You’re going to go to Dragonstone and hear her demands. Whatever she wants, she can have it, I just want her and those horsefuckers back across the sea as soon as possible.”

“She’ll want a guarantee that there will be no other attempts on the Targaryen,” Ned said, knowing no negotiation could begin without that.

“Fine,” he roared. “She can have it. The Targaryen can die of old age in her bed for all I care, it doesn’t matter. They just have to go.”

“I’ll pass along the message.”

“See that she accepts it. If not, I’ll have no choice but to send the King Slayer and a large portion of our Southern forces against her. Your heir is leading the Northern army, ensure she’s on her way back to Essos before he arrives or I’ll put him on the front line.”

Ned was repulsed by the threat, but said nothing. Robert disappeared as abruptly as he arrived, slamming the door for a second time as he went. He was up to his neck in it now, trapped between his family and his duty. Once before he’d chosen his loyalty to Robert and the Realm over Arya and that played no small part in who she’d become. He had no idea what he’d do this time and that scared him more than he wanted to confess. The potential of two of his children fighting on opposite sides when the battle started turned his stomach.

He had no desire to ever see Dragonstone again, but it seemed he had little say in the matter. If there was an upside it was that he’d get out of King’s Landing and away from the snide whispers about his daughter, the glares of contempt and the cries of betrayal that were now coming from noble and commoner alike whenever he left the Hand’s Tower.

R-C

True to her word Daenerys never resisted after Arya suffered her three days of additional rest. Not a word was spoken when she was in the yard with the training dummies from sunup to sundown and beyond. When Daenerys found her sparring with two Blood Riders with her injured arm tied behind her back, she said nothing. Instead she was thoughtful and considerate. When the sky opened up and soaked Arya to the bone she’d enter the castle to find Daenerys waiting with dry clothes, a kiss and a mug of something warm to drink. When she tore her stitches, they were repaired without complaint and when she missed meals entirely Daenerys always ensured something was set aside for her.

As Robert’s deadline drew closer, she was pleased with her progress. Her leg was fully healed and she could move just as she had before they took Dragonstone. The wound on her back was largely healed, no longer needing thread to remain closed. The only real concern was the limited motion in the arm. She’d made significant strides, each day better than the last, but she was nowhere near as sure as she’d once been. Overhand swings were stalled and clumsy, while any strokes that crossed her whole body, caused pain. To compensate she worked tirelessly to strengthen her other arm and hand, practicing killing with it to ensure she could defend herself and others.

The Dothraki who hadn’t enjoyed the journey from Essos or the weather in the North, were comfortable at Dragonstone. They trained with her daily and were itching for the great fight she promised them. Mirak, Mali’s son was a quick study. He was shorter and thinner than most of the warriors, but he proved to be an intelligent and skilled strategist. As he grew competent in battle she knew an increase in rank would accompany it.

While she was training, Daenerys kept herself busy in the castle, tending to the needs of their captives, aiding the women with what needed to be done and wandering the halls her parents once had. Each time Arya saw her, she was carrying or reading a different book from the library. The Northern woman made a mental note to steal the ones her lover might want to read before they left for the final time.

Less than a week before King Robert’s deadline, the couple made passionate love in their bedchambers, despite the fact that Arya was exhausted from sparring all day. Lying together afterward she laid out her entire plan in whispers. Telling Daenerys exactly how she intended to get Robert to meet her.

When she was done the Targaryen looked at her in awe. “Do you think that’ll work?”

“It might,” she said truthfully. “Stannis was never important enough to bring Robert out, and regardless of my bravado and threats, a direct assault on King’s Landing is suicide. I need him angry and I need him trapped.”

“Does it have to be you?” she asked, brushing her fingers lazily through the long dark hair that hung down her back loose.

“I’m the only one who knows the tunnels. For this to work they can’t see me coming.” She paused and then added as an afterthought. “I need to see Sansa too.”

“Your sister is promised to the Baratheon Prince, isn’t she?”

“I can’t leave her there. I need to at least talk to her. You don’t know Joffrey, but I do. I need to check on her.”

“You don’t have to go alone,” Daenerys said with authority. “Take some of the men, take the best men, they can keep the guards busy while you work.”

She had considered that, but rejected the idea in the end. “A thousand Dothraki would be rather obvious in the Red Keep. I’ll be better off alone.”

“I don’t like it.”

“I know,” Arya said before she kissed her deeply. When she pulled back their eyes remained locked together. “I’ll be back in the sewers before anyone knows what happened.”

“How did you learn about the sewers anyway. That seems a little beneath a girl of your station.”

Her lips quirked into a smile as she thought back on one of her few pleasant memories from King’s Landing. “While I lived here I begged my father to let me learn the sword. He finally agreed and got me a teacher from Braavos, Syrio.”

“This Syrio took you into the sewers?” she guessed.

“No,” she said after a chuckle. “Before he let me pick up a blade I first had to pass his tests. He made me stand on one toe at the top of a staircase, and try not to fall.” Her laugh grew more intense as the story progressed. “I wasn’t very good. I think that’s how I got my first scars.”

In her arms Daenerys was hanging on every word. “What else?”

“After I passed that test he sent me to catch wild cats,” she explained, grinning widely.

“Cats?”

“Strays, they are all over the city. He said until I could catch one he wouldn’t teach me anything else. It took days, and I followed those mangy things through every disgusting alley, into every decrepit house and eventually into the sewers that ran under the keep. They’re a maze, layered one over the other, each added at different times, some connected to the rest, others completely cut off.”

“Do the guards patrol them?” she asked, with clear concern.

“A few do, but it’s dark and damp and they don’t like it, so they don’t try too hard. Besides, there are a ton of shadows to hide in.”

“Be safe,” Daenerys begged. “I need you to come back to me.”

Rather than answer with words she kissed her as hard and fiercely as she could, pinning the smaller woman under body. Hopefully she could show her just how deeply she was loved.

R-C

The next morning Arya assembled her war council. In addition to the Blood Riders and her usual guests she invited Mirak, the strategist. Unlike Daenerys, she gave them only the first piece of the puzzle. Telling them of how she intended to go to King’s Landing alone and sneak into the Red Keep.

Not unexpectedly Jorah’s voice was the first to show discontent. “That’s insane. Even if you could get in, and I don’t think you could, the castle is bound to be crawling with guards. How do you plan to walk past them without drawing their attention?”

“They’ll be busy,” she answered calmly. “The Dothraki I left on the mainland, more than forty thousand men, they are still there. They’ve been killing scouts and soldiers since we left and stopping any merchant who gets close. I’ll round them up and use them as a distraction.”

After her words were translated for him Kelo asked, “Will they recognize you. You lived inside once.”

“That was a long time ago,” she assured him. “I do not look the same.”

Satisfied it was Mirak who brought up the one chink in her armor. “Why not they shoot the boat when they see?” he asked in the common tongue.

That was the one area she was yet to perfect. Even in darkness the lookouts and patrols would eventually see her approach. Once they did, an alarm would be raised and everyone inside the keep and out would be on high alert. Still, she decided it was a risk she had to take.

For almost six hours, they broke it down and discussed every aspect of the plan Arya devised. “Shouldn’t you wait?” Missandei inquired. “It hasn’t been a month quite yet.”

Arya shook her head. “Robert hasn’t sent a raven, a courier or an emissary to speak with me. He won’t. He doesn’t care enough about Stannis, so waiting is pointless. If he was going to contact us, he would have done it by now.”

Around the large, elaborate table several smaller conversations were taking place. All of them stopped when Mirak jumped to his feet. “I know!” he said before he turned to Dothraki to explain in detail. “I know how we will keep them from sinking the boat.”

Minutes later a raven was flying from Dragonstone and heading for King’s Landing. On a lower level, Daenerys and Missandei were going through the captives, gathering the children and a small collection of women. Mirak’s plan was as simple as it was ingenious. They would load the boat with innocents, and send word they were being released. While not without risk it did decrease the chances that they attacked the boat on sight. They’d surely greet it with a sizeable force, but Arya thought she had a solve for that riddle as well.

R-C

It was well after dark, when they loaded the chosen onto the boat. A handful of Dothraki came to control the group for the trip, but were going to remain on the ship and return to deeper waters as soon as the people were off loaded. It was a dangerous task since it was likely Robert’s soldiers would refuse to let them return to Dragonstone, but there was no shortage of volunteers when she explained what they would be doing.

She left the Blood Riders with explicit instructions to watch over Daenerys and then said a quick goodbye to Missandei. Daenerys threw herself into Arya’s arms so suddenly she barely caught her. She mashed their lips together and mumbled against them incoherently as the kiss deepened. “Come back” she said, separating the words with a pant as she tried to regain her breath. “Just promise me you’ll come back.”

“I promise,” she said with conviction. They kissed again while a pair of Dothraki carried a bloodied, bound and gagged Stannis onboard as the last passenger.

“Be careful.”

Arya winked at her lover playfully. She was working hard to help Daenerys relax and to keep her mind at ease. It wasn’t much but given all that was happening, it was the extent of her abilities. On the deck she stood facing Dragonstone and yelled in Daenerys’s direction. “Always. You know me.”

“Exactly!” she retorted. “Which is why I’m begging you please be careful.”

R-C

About five hundred yards from the shore, Arya sought out Stannis. He’d been kept separate from the others. Where they were free to move about the boat, he remained bound and gagged. Reaching down she pulled the cloth from his mouth. “Your brother doesn’t care about you,” she told him bluntly. He worked to hide it, but she could see he’d come to the same conclusion. Stannis had heard the message she gave the couriers and knew the date was nearly passed. “I need to get his attention and since simply holding you prisoner won’t do it. I’ll have to think of something else.”

Like the soldier he was, he barely flinched. Even fully aware of what she was capable of, he showed little worry. If she didn’t know what to look for she would have missed the slight tension in his body and the two drops of sweat shining off his temple in the moonlight. “Just kill me and get it over with.”

“I told you before,” she said after a private chuckle, “killing you benefits no one. That’s even truer today. No, your worth to me isn’t in your death Baratheon.”

“Then why am I here?”

She stuffed the gag back into his mouth and gripped his hair. “Nod if you can swim.” For a moment nothing, so she cranked his neck violently to the right, straining the muscles. He tried to speak against the gag, so she jerked his head to the left with all her strength. “Nod if you can swim.”

Finally, he nodded, and Arya was ready. Using a dagger, the only weapon she was carrying, she cut the binds holding his legs and lifted him to his feet. They stood side by side as the boat inched closer to the place she hated most of all. Without warning she pushed him over the side and then dove in after him.

In the water, Stannis was frantically trying to stay afloat with his arms tied behind his back and a gag stuffed in his mouth. Lying on her back, Arya grabbed him by the shirt and pulled him to her. Lacing her arm under both of his she towed him toward the dark shore, while the boat continued on to a different destination.

As they got closer, she could see the welcoming committee. No fewer than five hundred heavily armored soldiers on horseback waiting for their arrival. At least she knew Robert got her raven. She swam to the shore, moving slow and deliberate to avoid detection. Knowing what to look for it took her only minutes to find the Dothraki. She was nearly attacked when she strayed too close without warning them first. After a brief conversation she issued her orders and watched as her warriors went to do her bidding.

Stannis fought her almost the entire way to the secret passage. Starting on the beach, less than five miles from where she sent the boat of hostages, she dragged him to a tunnel she hadn’t thought of since she was a girl. If her memory was sound it would take her under the wall and straight into the keep. Exactly where she needed to be.

Cold and wet she ached for the warm sun of Essos or better yet the heat of Daenerys’s Dragon blood. She nudged Stannis as they began to walk, letting him lead and controlling him with a strong hold on the back of his shirt. It was filthy and smelled horrible, but it was a minor detail.

 

The opening was right where she remembered it. Before she reached it, she heard the first shriek of a Dothraki war cry, then another, then the horns. It was faint, but growing louder. She smiled against the chill that soaked her entire body. Her men were doing their part to distract the guards and the people of King’s Landing. In her years away, it looked as if the entrance had been repaired at least once and then broken again, likely by smugglers who could benefit from a secret route in and out of the city. They crept slowly, Arya choosing caution over speed. As they crawled deeper into the tunnel she listened to Stannis mumbling while he repeatedly tried to face her. Annoyed she stopped and spun him around. The dagger to his throat proved she was in control. Tentatively she pulled the gag free. “What?”

Before he answered he coughed and sputtered, spitting onto the ground and desperately trying to wet his lips with hard licks. “Leave the gag out, you don’t need it. I’ll be quiet.”

She didn’t even need to think about it. “No, you won’t. You’ll scream for the guards the first chance you get, just as I would in your place.”

Stannis opened his mouth wide and pulled in a deep breath. Arya understood what was happening. Keeping her blade at his neck she pressed it in slightly while she drove an elbow into his stomach. He folded over, cutting himself in the process. It wasn’t quiet, but at least it wasn’t a scream.

R-C

Ned stood on the bow of the ship and slowly made his way toward Dragonstone. He was following his King’s command and going to try and arrange peace. He knew what Robert didn’t, that his chances were slim at best. Arya was determined and furious. He would do his duty and try, not only for Robert, but also for Arya’s sake.

Daenerys was no longer in danger from Robert. She’d won. An exile has received concessions from the King, now he just had to convince her to accept them. Earlier in the day a raven came from Dragonstone advising that the children and some of the women were being returned to the Realm. He recognized Arya’s messy handwriting when he saw it. It gave him hope. If his daughter was in a state of releasing prisoners without compensation, maybe he could get her to take Robert’s offer.

He was close enough to the mainland to see the boat arrive. Robert sent Jaime Lannister and a contingent of the best soldiers in the Realm to meet it, in case it was an ambush. It wasn’t. He squinted and saw the women waving, as they rushed for dry land. Some were carrying children in their arms, others held personal belongings. Their release was a kind gesture and although he didn’t say so to Robert, calling it unexpected would be a kindness.

Ten men, that’s all he was bringing with him. Three would stay with the ship and the rest would join him. He wanted to come alone, but Robert refused to allow it, saying he needed to be careful, even if she was his daughter. Ned pointed out, as Robert had previously that she had ample opportunities to kill him, but still Robert insisted.

Ten men wouldn’t do more than die if the Dothraki attacked. They had tens of thousands of men. Most were garrisoned at Dragonstone, but others were roaming the area around King’s Landing. Since she took the Dragon’s Island, no scouts reported in, the majority of patrols vanished and no merchants arrived at the closed gates seeking entry. Robert called it ‘indiscriminate killing’ but Ned knew better. The Dothraki weren’t killing everyone. In recent weeks, a group of Silent Sisters had passed unbothered, likewise for a handful of wandering vagrants. The Dothraki were killing, but only those associated to Robert.

R-C

It was early morning when she pushed Stannis through the end of the last tunnel. He tumbled forward onto his face and she stepped over him calmly before pulling him up. She recognized where she was immediately. She’d chased more than a few cats through these passage ways a lifetime ago.

Up ahead a guard walked down a long hall. He didn’t even glance in their direction, but Stannis saw his moment and tried to act. Screaming against his gag he tried to pry himself free. She kicked the back of his knee and then delivered an elbow to his throat. She let him suffer for a moment and then pulled the gag so he could actually breathe. “Don’t be stupid. Behave for one more night and I’ll be going back to Dragonstone without you.”

“What?” he choked out, clearly doubting her. “You mean to release me?”

“You’re a message, nothing more. I want Robert to know I can get to him if I choose. Bringing you here proves that, but the message works whether you’re dead or alive. If you yell, if you struggle, if you don’t do everything and anything I say, I will cut your throat and let your body tell the story instead.”

With his gag in place she slowly escorted him through the corridors, looking for just the right place. Off the kitchen she found a servant quarters. Six women sleeping, each one with a small table next to her bed and a chest at the foot. She used the sharp point of her dagger to keep Stannis in line and quiet as she searched the chests for something to wear.

Upon seeing the dress Arya wanted to rebel, just as she did when she was a girl. She hadn’t worn a dress since before she left Westeros the first time. The one dress father had packed for her, she traded for a warm meal less than a week after she made landfall in Essos. The Dothraki had no cause to wear dresses and Arya had been glad to be rid of them. Now though, it was a necessity. She’d avoided roaming patrols so far but there would be more the higher she went.

She snuck from the room with the dress over her shoulder and Stannis in front of her. She could have changed before moving on, but every second with Stannis made her uneasy. He wouldn’t hesitate to ruin everything if she gave him the chance. He’d outlived his usefulness. On her way out, she noticed the rooms only desk and scooped up a piece of scroll paper and a quill.

Arya crossed the kitchen for the second time in search of a storage room. Inside she stole herself an apple and enjoyed a bite before she shoved Stannis down against some crates. She whispered, but the words felt loud in the enclosed space. “Stannis, thank you for your help. Make sure to give Robert my regards. We’ll be waiting for him at Dragonstone.”

His protest, which was muffled by the gag was short. The first punch silenced him but she gave him three more just to be sure. Squatting down Arya used an unopened crate as a desk to write her note. She left it on the body and then began stripping out of her clothes. She wished she didn’t have to, but her riding clothes wouldn’t blend in well. She needed to look like she belonged.

The dress was a pale purple color, with silver accents. She hated it, but put it on anyway. It fit fairly well, but that didn’t help much. With her lips turned down she mimicked familiar moves, testing the limitations. How could she fight in this?

Keeping her head down she did her best to avoid the guards. Even deep within the keep she could hear the Dothraki cries though the stone. The closer she got to the throne room the busier people appeared. She noticed more than few scurrying about with fear on their faces. Arya did her best to mimic their actions. The guards stationed near the stairs weren’t stopping any of the others, so if they thought she was of their number, they wouldn’t stop her either.

When Robert came rushing through a door, she turned away to avoid being seen. A trio of Lannisters were right behind. “What do you mean they aren’t doing anything?”

“They aren’t,” Jaime said, sounding slightly amused. “Just yelling.”

“Why would they just sit there?” Robert wondered. “What are they waiting for?” She let them move ahead of her and followed at a safe distance, taking one step for every three of theirs. Robert’s anger made the conversation easy to overhear. “They’ve been hiding for weeks and now they show up right outside the gate?”

The dwarf took a guess. “Perhaps its because you didn’t respond to her last message.”

Robert turned to look at the small man and for the first time noticed her. She pivoted and did her best to look innocent as she fussed with one of the flowers lining the hall.

“What of the prisoners?” he asked, turning his focus to Jaime and allowing Arya to exhale the breath she’d been holding.

“All seem fine. They say the Stark girl was on board when they left but she’s unaccounted for.”

“Fucking useless, the lot of them!” Robert shouted, causing all nearby eyes to turn on him. “It’s a fucking boat, tell them to search it until they find her.”

“What of the Dothraki?” Tyrion prompted as they all stopped talking to listen to the faint war horns.

He thought for a few moments and then answered. “If they have a message best go hear what it is. Take the men you used to meet the boat.”

It was Cersei’s turn. Her calm, clear voice sounded exactly how Arya remembered it. It chilled her through to the bone. “My love, Jaime is better suited here, guarding us and dealing with the savage.”

“You captured one?” the King questioned, surprise coloring his words. Arya was equally shocked. Dothraki didn’t typically stop until they died, no matter the odds.

“Only one,” the Lannister said, and Arya detected a fair amount of admiration in his voice. “We had hundreds of men out there, they had a handful. We asked for their surrender and they attacked.”

“They’re mindless barbarians,” the Queen commented.

“Mindless or not, they killed almost two dozen men, before they died,” Tyrion proclaimed.

“Is he talking?” Robert wondered.

“No, and even if he did, I don’t speak Dothraki. I cut the man myself. He’s going to die long before we can get a translator.”

“Talking to them is pointless,” Cersei added to her brother’s comment.

“Enough!” Robert bellowed. He started with Tyrion. “Find me someone who speaks Dothraki.” His eyes lifted to meet Jaime’s. “Go see what the screamers outside have to say. If the Stark wants to send a message, one of them must speak our language.”

“Sweetheart…” Cersei began.

“Not now!” He pointed a fat finger at a random servant. “Convene my Small Council. I’ll be expecting them in fifteen minutes.”

Arya had heard lots, more than she expected. The knowledge only altered her intentions slightly. On the way out, she’d need to stop and check in the dungeons. Maybe she could get the prisoner out, along with her prize.

She was one turn away from the staircase she wanted and her heart was pounding in her chest. Either she was going to be successful and change the course of the war or she was going to be caught and likely killed. There was risk, that was undeniable, but it was worth it, if it protected Daenerys. Arya just had to hope nobody got new chambers since last night she slept in the Red Keep.

At the last minute she got an idea and took a detour. From a closet, she picked up two large boxes at random. They were heavy and she had no idea what was in them, but the contents weren’t the point. What mattered was that if she held them up it would be much harder for any observant guard to see her face.

She carried the boxes to the foot of the stairs where a Gold Cloak waited. “Where you going at this hour?”

Doing what she could to soften her voice, she spoke, making a show of adjusting the large boxes in her arms. “N…need to see Lady Sansa. She summoned me.”

“At this hour?”

“Wedding jitters I think,” she said. “Wants to go over some things,” she said tilting her chin to the boxes she held.

“I don’t think I’ve seen you before.”

“Likely not Ser. I normally work in the kitchen, but I was brought in to help Lady Sansa prepare the wedding.”

He laughed to himself. “That explains it. That wedding really is going to be something to see. Go on up. Third door on the right.”

“Thank you Ser,” she said as she hurried up the steps.

She knocked by didn’t wait to be allowed entry before she barged in. It was the early morning hours, before the sun and instead of finding Sansa in bed sleeping, Arya discovered her across the large room, sitting at the desk scrutinizing her reflection in the mirror.

Arya silently set the boxes just inside the door. She was seeing her sister for the first time since ‘that night.’ Before she approached the desk, she took time to flip the lock. She couldn’t afford for them to be interrupted.

Sansa was completely oblivious to her entry. She’d done this in Winterfell too when they were girls. She felt herself above the servants and staff that helped her, so she pretended they weren’t there. Only when one addressed her, would she acknowledge their existence. This gave Arya the opportunity to study her sister.

Naturally, all of her family had changed during her time in exile. Her parents were both beginning to wrinkle, their hair was changing color and they looked constantly exhausted. Robb and Jon aged the best, settling into their new roles and lives. Robb had Winterfell, Talisa and his son while Jon had his duty and his brothers on the Wall. Bran had lost his youth and developed into a man, his face thinning while his arms and upper body were lined with muscle. Rickon had gone from a baby, barely able to do much of anything and now he was running around Winterfell, swinging his wooden arakh.

With all that change in her family, it took only one glance to know that Sansa changed more than any other. They hadn’t seen each other in nearly ten years and to Arya it seemed Sansa aged twenty. She was still beautiful in the way their mother and other noble ladies gushed about, still had the bright red hair and clear, soft-looking skin. She sat at the mirror in this fancy, over-sized room wearing her yellow silken nightdress and she looked as if she belonged.

Arya crept closer. From a few feet away, she got a better view of things, while she hid behind a chest of drawers. Sansa was combing her hair, which fell an inch below her shoulders. Upon closer inspection, that smooth skin Arya could never have, looked pale and chalky. She was so thin, Arya couldn’t help but wonder how often she ate, or if she ate at all. Sansa put the brush down and then turned her head and watched her reflection do the same. It took a moment for Arya’s eye to follow, to see what Sansa was looking at, but when she did and her blood boiled under her skin. Suddenly all her plans and strategies were forgotten and she wanted only blood. On the side of her neck, in thick purple, were obvious bruises in a shape Arya recognized. It was a hand, someone had his hand around Sansa’s throat and she knew exactly who would do such a thing.

Standing up straight she made herself known. “I’d ask what happened, but I already know.”

Startled, Sansa jumped in her seat, turned her head a bit as if to look back and then thought better of it and used the mirror. “Arya is that you?”

Chapter Text

When his boat reached Dragonstone, Ned ordered his men to be cautious but not to act unless expressly ordered to. They were met by Ser Jorah Mormont, Missandei and a group of Dothraki. They looked unimpressed and eager for a fight, some already had their weapons out. What he didn’t see was Arya and he didn’t see Daenerys.

“Lord Stark,” Missandei said formally, speaking for them all. “We weren’t expecting you, but please follow me. The Khaleesi awaits your arrival inside.”

“Where is Arya?” he asked as he looked in all directions for this child.

“Please come inside. All will be made clear.”

On the walk. he fell in line next to Mormont. “Not dead yet?”

“Not yet,” he said with a humorless chuckle.

Ned decided to try and provoke him one more time. He’d never liked Jorah and he found his actions both despicable and dishonorable. “The bounty is still in place. It was a risk coming here.”

“All things involve risk, including coming here but you and I and everyone else on this island have much bigger problems than my crimes.”

His words gave Ned little relief as he neared and then entered a place he absolutely detested. Where was Arya?

R-C

She took a step closer, intending to take a look at the bruise. Arya wanted to ensure her sister was okay, but Sansa panicked. In a flurry she knocked over her chair and darted to her left, toward the window. “Stay back! Guards are close, I’ll call them.”

“Sansa calm down,” she said slowly, taking even steps. She kept her hands in the air and showed off one scarred palm and one smooth. “I’m not here to hurt you. Why would you think that? You’re my sister.”

“T…they.” When she stammered the words stopped completely. With Arya watching she closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Then her lips began to move as though she were talking to herself. Within seconds she opened her eyes and pinned Arya with a serious stare.

“Still using that old trick the Septa taught us?” Arya said with a laugh. She could hear the old hag’s voice in her head. ‘Ladies do not stutter,’ she’d say. ‘If you do, stop at once, close your eyes, take a few deep breathes and then count to ten.’

“Why are you here Arya? You shouldn’t be here? How did you get in? And where did you find that dress it’s hideous?”

Still the same old Sansa. Somethings never change. “I came to see you,” she said, telling only half of the truth. “I visited most of the family in Winterfell, and then rode to the Wall to see Jon. You were the only person I had yet to see.”

Less frightened now Sansa stood tall with her arms folded over her chest, a sure sign of her anger. “Well now you’ve seen me.”

Arya’s actions were deliberate, giving Sansa time to see what was happening. “I got this dress from a servant near the kitchens. I’ll be burning it as soon as we’re done here,” she said, hoping her mention of the dress would ease some of the tension.

“Is she dead?” Sansa snapped bitterly.

“Seven Hells, I haven’t killed anyone tonight. In fact, I released dozens of innocent women and children unharmed. Why do you assume I kill?”

Her eyes moved from side to side but never stayed on Arya for long. “They say you brought savages to kill everyone. The city is closed and they’ve doubled the number of guards.”

“What else do they say about me?”

“That you brought the Targaryen with you, and that she wants the throne. They say you took Dragonstone and King’s Landing is next. Guards whisper that you cut off the heads of children and sent them to the King. They say if your horde of beasts get inside the walls, they’ll kill the men and enslave the women.”

A wave of pride rushed through her. “Wow. Sounds like I’ve been a very popular topic around here. All of that is shit.” She thought she was done, a clear rebuttal, but then she realized something. “Oh, you were right on one count, I did come with the Targaryen, but Daenerys has no desire for the throne. In fact, I think she covets it less than me, and I personally think the swords should be used to kill King Robert and then be melted down and dumped in the sea.”

“If you’re not here for the throne, why are you here?”

She shrugged, an action that no longer hurt. “I told you, I wanted to see you and make sure you’re okay.” She angled her chin toward the bruise on Sansa’s throat. “Can I take a look at that?”

Sansa instantly covered the mark with her hand while she blushed. “It’s nothing.”

“You don’t have to live like this,” Arya said, and she didn’t mean the castle and the opulent things. “I can help you.”

“Help me? Now you want to help me? I’d be married already if you hadn’t taken Dragonstone. The stress is making everything worse. Just like always you keep messing everything up.”

She didn’t want to be, but Arya was hurt by the words. “Helping you is what got me into this in the first place,” she reminded her sister. “If I hadn’t come in…”

“Stop!” Sansa said loudly. “I don’t want to talk about that.”

“He would have raped you,” Arya stated simply, “and we both know it.”

“You don’t know that!” she said, using a finger to point at Arya. “You don’t understand. He was drunk and it was a mistake. He apologized. It wasn’t a big deal.” She said all the right things but the Khal didn’t believe her. It was like an actor delivering the proper line, at exactly the right moment. It was too perfect to be true.

“It is a big deal. If he’s done it once, he’ll do it again.”

Sansa was growing frustrated. She threw her hands in the air. “You don’t know Joffrey. You don’t know anything.”

“I may know little of Joffrey, but I’ve known plenty of men like him or worse. He won’t stop, he can’t.”

She looked to the ceiling and sighed. “Gods, its just like when we were children, you show up at the worst time and make everything worse. Can’t you do this one thing for me and leave?”

Again, Sansa’s harsh words tore right through her. “Do something for you? I went into exile for you or doesn’t that count? I stood there in front of the whole court and listened to Joffrey lie, I listened to other people lie, saying I attacked him without cause. One by one they stepped forward and they lied.” Grey eyes glared at Sansa as she remembered.

“I didn’t lie,” she said feebly.

“No, you didn’t say anything, not one word to defend me.” She shook her head. “I knew nothing I said would matter, so I made no statement, not even when they put me on the boat. I didn’t tell father or anyone else you were almost raped. I kept that secret, never once speaking about it in all the years I was in Essos.”

“Why would you do that?”

“For you! I did it for you. I hate Joffrey, but you’re my sister.”

“Everyone makes mistakes,” Sansa said, trying to defend the indefensible. “If he hadn’t been drinking he wouldn’t have…” Arya recognized the lie when she heard it. Sansa was a much better liar than she had been before, but Arya still noticed the way her eyes would dart from side to side, giving her away.

“Was that another mistake?” Arya asked, drawing attention to the bruise again. “I know what it’s like Sansa, to be trapped under a bigger stronger man who thinks he can just take what he wants from you. It happened while I was gone, so believe me when I tell you I understand better than you think.”

“What happened?”

“It doesn’t matter, what matters is now. Do you want to stay here and marry Joffrey? Is being Queen really that important to you?”

“I’m sworn to Joffrey and I will marry him. I love him,” she recited in a well practiced way. Casually Arya wondered how many times Sansa had said those words? Enough to convince even herself?

“I won’t force you to leave,” Arya said, concerned with the time this was taking. “I won’t, but I can get you out of the city. You can be free to live your own life, find a love that wasn’t picked for you and see how big the world is. I’ve done all of these things and I promise they are so much better than this,” she said, holding her hands out gesturing to the lavish decorations.

She paced while she waited for Sansa’s refusal. She never expected her sister to accept her offer but she knew she wouldn’t be able to live with herself if she didn’t try. “Can you really help?” Sansa quizzed after a long stretch of nothing.

A weight Arya didn’t realize she was carrying lifted from deep in her chest. “Yes, I can. My men are nearby, they’ll escort you wherever you want to go. Winterfell, if you want, anywhere.”

“You have men? It’s still hard to believe.”

“Start packing, one bag, choose the things you can’t live without.”

Sansa was in the process of undressing as she pointed to the corner of the room. “Move that table, underneath is loose stones.”

Arya did as she was told and sure enough found that six of the eight stones were removable. Inside was a secret compartment, with a leather bag. She lifted it out and then replaced the stones. By the time she had the table back in place Sansa was wearing a red dress and her hair was tied back in a simple ponytail. She held out her hand to take the bag. “What is this?”

“My most important things,” Sansa said as she opened it up and checked the contents. Arya couldn’t see inside, but Sansa seemed pleased with what she found. “I’ve been waiting for a chance to escape for years. I even tried once, before the guards caught me and returned me to him. A friend’s been helping me, but we’re still months or maybe a year away from being ready.”

“My men are ready tonight. They’ll protect you and get you where you need to go.” She thought of the Dothraki who screamed their voices raw outside King’s Landing for her. “They aren’t much for conversation, but they’ll keep you safe.”

“What about you?”

“I have other plans,” she admitted. “Does Joffrey still sleep in the same room?”

“Yes.”

“What about Tommen and Myrcella?”

“Their chambers are on either side of Joffrey’s, Tommen’s first then Myrcella’s. Why? What are you doing Arya?”

“I won’t harm the younger two,” she swore. “I just need to get Robert’s attention.”

“What does that mean?” she asked as they left the safety of her room and began moving down the hall. Arya was carrying the bag, doing her best to look like Sansa’s handmaiden.

“Where will I tell father you’ve gone? He’s going to ask.”

Sansa’s hand on her arm stopped her from continuing on. “Arya, father’s not here.”

“What do you mean he’s not here, he’s the Hand of the King.” Her plan had very specific steps, return Stannis, visit Sansa, visit their father and then take something Robert actually cared about. During the escape she also hoped she might be able to free her captured man, if he wasn’t yet dead.

Pulling Arya into a dark alcove where they could speak freely, she whispered, “King Robert sent father to Dragonstone to negotiate with you.”

That was unexpected, but good. “Fine, he’ll be safe there and I can talk to him when I get back.”

Turning around she headed toward the area of the keep reserved for the royal family. The number of guards was staggering, patrols, two-man teams stationed outside nearly every door, but Arya had come too far to quit now. To her amazement, not a single guard questioned her presence as she followed Sansa.

They stopped and Arya took a minute to gather information. Best she could tell there were three six-man patrols wandering this portion of the castle. In addition, each of the royals had two Gold Cloaks positioned at their door. “How many men are inside with Joffrey? Do you know?”

Sansa looked down at her shorter sister. “Inside the room? None, just those two outside.”

“What about when he wakes up?”

“Then the Hound follows him wherever he goes,” Sansa explained.

“Fuck he isn’t dead yet,” Arya hissed. The Hound had been one of the people who lied when she was brought before King Robert. She’d wished him dead often in the years since.

Drawing her dagger, she looked over her shoulder at Sansa. “Do you remember how to get down to the sewer, that grate in the floor near the room where I used to meet my dancing instructor? I’ll meet you there when I’m done.”

“No!” Sansa refused. Arya ignored her and took the first step toward the Gold Cloaks. Before she could take another Sansa had freed her hair from the ponytail and was shaking it out, fluffing it with her fingers. “Follow my lead.”

With a confidence Arya hadn’t see in her sister she walked right up to Joffrey’s door and spoke to the guards. Within seconds they were opening it for her. She waved Arya over and the guards barely glanced at her as she slipped inside. “What in Seven Hells was that?” she whispered.

“They think I’m here for sex,” Sansa admitted, her cheeks burning, “and they think you’re going to join us.”

More than a little impressed, she smiled gently. “Nice thinking. Now stay here.”

As she crept up to a sleeping Joffrey it occurred to her just how easy it would to end his life. She’d be doing the world a favor. He was going to be a terrible King, but that was Westeros’s problem, not hers. His hurting Sansa was harder to overlook. She wanted to close her hand around his throat and squeeze until he had a bruise far worse than Sansa’s. She wanted to hear him beg for his life before she ended it, but she needed to focus. Robert was the prize, Joffrey was just the bait.

With one hand covering his mouth he woke for only a second before she used the handle of the heavy dagger to knock him unconscious. She bound and gagged the Prince and then glanced at Sansa who was watching with her mouth gaping open in a very unladylike way.

“Call for the guards.”

Sansa hesitated, but Arya nodded to assure her it was right. The sun would rise soon and there was still a lot to be done.

The door opened, shielding Arya from view with the wood. She listened through it as Sansa said she thought there was something wrong with Joffrey. Hurrying in to check on their charge, they left themselves vulnerable. When they were both inside she kicked the door closed and attacked their backs. The first man didn’t stand a chance, she grabbed his hair in one hand and pulled his head down toward the blade. Three rapid thrusts kept him docile, mute and dying.

The second guard had been well trained. When he heard Arya’s attack, he stepped away to assess the situation and drew his weapon. Her dagger no longer sufficient she bent down and took the dead man’s sword. As the combat stole valuable time, she knew she needed to hurry When he lunged for her, she could see his angry green eyes. He wanted her dead.

 

Her plan was to kick him in the groin the next time he got close enough. The guard, whoever he was, never got within range of her boot, instead the room echoed with a deafening crack. Behind him, she could see Sansa, holding a silver serving tray in both hands like a battle axe. The guard whose ears were liking ringing inside his helmet turned away from Arya and looked at Sansa in shock. That opening was enough. He pulled back his hand meaning to strike Sansa, but Arya got him first, slashing him across the middle.

His scream was loud, and immediately had Arya worried. On his hands and knees in front of her, she brought the sword down hard and took his head, but she still feared someone overheard. If they did, they would be arriving soon and she and Sansa needed to be somewhere else. “Thank you,” she said earnestly before Sansa dropped the tray. Reaching out with a bloody hand she waited for Sansa to take it. “Come on, someone heard that, more guards are on their way.”

Her sister remained perfectly calm, looking at the headless body. “No one heard,” she said confidently. “You can’t hear anything through these walls, trust me.”

Arya didn’t want to even consider how Sansa knew that. The elder Stark extending her hand, offering a cloth. “Clean the blood and we’ll go. Where do you want to go next?”

“Can you find paper?”

“At the desk,” Sansa pointed.

She wrote in quick, barely legible handwriting, just as she’d done with Stannis. It took less than two minutes but Arya could feel her time was running out. “Can you lift him?” Arya asked Sansa.

“I think so, why?”

“Take the gag from his mouth and prop him up, as if you’re helping him walk. If anyone asks, he’s drunk and you’re aiding him. If they question where you’re going, say Cersei wants to see her son. That should keep anyone from checking too closely.”

“What about you? People are beginning to wake Arya, if they catch you…”

“They won’t. Go please, I’ll meet you. If you get to the sewers before I do, don’t wait, just go, I’ll catch up.”

Desperate to get out of the dress she traded it in for Gold Cloak armor. There was a time when wearing such steel would have pleased her, been the fulfillment of a lifetime of dreams and wishes but now it was nothing.

Rather than take the hall and deal with another four Gold Cloaks at least, Arya went to the balcony. It had a marvelous view she noted, before she climbed over the right side and jumped for the balcony next door. If Sansa’s memory was valid, she’d be going to Myrcella first. Standing over the King’s only daughter she hesitated briefly. She wouldn’t harm her, that wasn’t why she’d come, but even doing what she planned made her feel dirty. When the note was finished she stuck it to the headboard of Myrcella’s bed, using the bloody dagger to keep it in place. As she was turning to go she watched blood drip down and land on the unsuspecting girl’s hair. Her guilt only grew.

She smiled as she landed back on the center balcony. She wouldn’t have been able to do that in a dress. The jump to Tommen’s was longer. She almost didn’t make it. Hanging by the tips of her fingers while she frantically tried to lift her body, the first colors of sunlight warmed her already sweating skin. Time really had run out. How long before someone came calling on Joffrey? They’d find the guards, they’d find one missing armor and they’d search every Gold Cloak in the keep. She needed to hurry.

In Tommen’s room she did as she had in Myrcella’s. She let him sleep, leaving a note above his bed, held there by the Gold Cloak’s sword. If Arya could say so, it left a pretty dramatic looking scene.

The return trip to Joffrey’s balcony went much smoother. Inside she debated whether it was better to be a Gold Cloak or an unknowing servant now that the castle was waking. She wanted to carry a sword, she felt safer with it in her hands but the truth was undeniable. Once they found a guard without armor, she’d be discovered. A serving girl in a dress on the other hand, would largely go unnoticed.

She put on the ugly dress again and then did what she could to redress the dead man. When it was finished she slipped out into the hall, put her head down and started walking as fast as she could without running.

The keep was busy, guards everywhere, servants moving in all directions to ready things for the upcoming day. She did what she could to join them, hoping to look like just another faceless young woman who played a small part in keeping the castle running smoothly. Carrying a basin of water to add to the charade, she rounded the corner and her heart stilled in her chest. Sansa was there, propping up Joffrey, while she spoke to the Imp. Without weapons, armed with only a bowl of water and wearing a dress, Arya prepared to kill Tyrion Lannister.

She took stock of the dangers. In addition to Tyrion there was a guard posted at each end of the hall. Luckily the middle, where Sansa and Tyrion were, was unguarded. She’d need to be quick and within seconds all of the keep would be after them, but she could do it, if she had to.

When she got close enough she heard Tyrion say, “Oh really? Well that was unexpected.” There was something in his voice she couldn’t identify. He sounded pleased.

Arya moved faster in response. “Lady Sansa,” she called, “I have that water you asked for.”

She arrived next to her sister and found her smiling along with Tyrion. “And you must be Arya. Pleasure to see you again.”

She ignored him completely. “Sansa what have you done?”

“Arya calm down!” she hissed. “Tyrion is my friend, he’s the friend who’s been helping me prepare to leave King’s Landing.”

She pivoted and looked at the Lannister with new eyes. “You’re helping her?”

“We should continue this conversation, while we walk. If anyone stops us, let me do the talking.” Being stronger, Arya took over the task of supporting Joffrey and Sansa looked relieved to be done with the burden.

“You’re helping her?” Arya repeated when they were in motion.

“No one should be forced to live with a man like my nephew, regardless of his title. He’s a self-indulged, spoiled, ass who takes pleasure from hurting those around him because he knows they can’t object. Well I can, and I do.”

“Tyrion protected me from Joffrey. He’d find reasons to keep us apart, and make sure he was nearby if Joffrey was in one of his moods,” Sansa explained.

“Thank you,” Arya said between grunts as she dragged his body toward the entrance to the sewer.

“Yes, yes, I’m the hero of the day. They’ll be songs and there’ll be statues. How glorious it’ll all be. What of Myrcella and Tommen?” Tyrion inquired.

“Sleeping safely in their beds, they never knew I was there.”

“So why were you there? Why go to them at all?” Tyrion wondered.

“To prove I could. If I did it once, they’ll have to wonder if I might do it again. Tell them I took Sansa and Joffrey and I’ll expect the King to be in touch.”

“Oh, you’ll hear from him,” the dwarf predicted. “You left him little choice.”

“Good. Check the storage rooms near the kitchen, you’ll find Stannis if someone hasn’t already.”

“He’s alive?”

“Do you know what happened to my man? The one they took captive?” she asked, already doubting her ability to free him from the heavily fortified dungeon.

“Died overnight. He came in with grave wounds according to Jaime. He went down fighting, killed a Maester and a castle guard with nothing more than what the Maester left within arms reach.”

She smiled a grim smile. “That sounded about right.”

She bound and gagged Joffrey with practiced ease. Next to her Tyrion and Sansa were whispering together. She wasn’t trying to listen, but she was too close not to.

“I’ll contact you at High Garden, perhaps we can have wine together without fear of who might be listening.”

She laughed, it was light and airy and real. “I would like that. Thank you, Tyrion, thank you for everything you’ve done.” She sank down and kissed his cheek, causing the infamous Lannister to blush, a singularly rare feat she was sure.

“I hope you know what you’re doing Stark, because a lot of people you love are going to die if you don’t,” Tyrion commented as she followed after Sansa, dragging Joffrey with her.

“I guess we’ll see soon enough. Thank you, and goodbye Lannister.”

“Goodbye Stark.”

R-C

When he entered that room, he fully expected to find Daenerys sitting on the throne exactly as her ancestors once had. Instead the throne remained empty and she sat in a simple wooden chair. Another waited empty across from her, the implication clear. She stood when she saw him, approaching with Dothraki flanking her. “Thank you, Ser,” she said to Jorah warmly. “Lord Stark, this is an unexpected visit. Please sit. Are you well? I can have some food prepared if you’re hungry.”

“I didn’t come for food,” he snapped rudely, while his eyes sought out his daughter.

Daenerys’s tone matched his own, all traces of courtesy gone. “Why have you come?”

“I came to see my daughter, to see if we can put an end to all this insanity,” he said without looking at her, still searching for Arya in the crowds. This wasn’t right, if she knew he was here, she would greet him, unless she couldn’t. “What happened to her?”

“Lord Stark, please sit. I’d be happy to answer all your questions.”

“Don’t play with me! Just tell me where Arya is now or…”

Just as it had the last time he challenged her, her kind words and polite offers vanished in a blink. “Or what?” she asked, seeming taller than her tiny body could possibly be. “You came here with ten men. All of whom have been relieved of their weapons, just like you. They live by my grace, as you do. One word and I could have your men brought in so you could watch them die painful and horrible deaths.”

Ned knew the truth even if he struggled to pretend they were lies. He was heavily outnumbered and without Arya to ensure his safety he was beginning to wonder if he’d survive. “The Mad King’s daughter you are!”

Once again, she was back to being soft spoken. “Perhaps I am. Now would you like to stand here threatening one another or would you rather sit down and enjoy some very fine wine while I tell you where Arya is?”

The choice he’d been offered wasn’t real and they all knew it. Without another word, he went to the chair and sat. “Missandei would you find us something to drink please?”

“Of course, Khaleesi.”

R-C

“High Garden huh?” she prompted as they neared the spot where Arya snuck in hours ago. That was the place where she knew at least five hundred Dothraki would be. “The Tyrells?”

“They are good people. I met their daughter Margaery at court. She was kind to me. Like Tyrion, she knew how Joffrey was. Her family had considered trying to match them before father and Robert arranged us. I’ll be safe there and Margaery’s brother, I think he likes me.”

She was pleased that her sister had people in her life who sounded decent. That would make the transition from would-be-Queen to Sansa a bit easier. At least she hoped it would. “Sounds like a good choice.”

They stood on the beach with waves coming in. Joffrey was awake and belligerent, trying to talk against his gag and failing. “What about you? What will you do next?”

The answer was out of her mouth before her ears had heard the whole question. “I’m going to finish things with Robert and then go home.”

“You’re going back to Winterfell?” she verified with disbelief.

“Winterfell hasn’t been my home for a long time. I have a life in Essos I need to get back to. The sooner I can do that, the happier I’ll be.”

Sansa looked like she wanted to ask a question. Her lips were moving, but no sound was coming out. After each attempt she’d close them tightly and look away, until she tried again. “Just ask,” Arya finally said. “Whatever it is you want to know, just ask. Now’s the time.”

“Is it true what they say?”

“What do they say?” Arya replied, unsure which rumor she was supposed to address.

“They say you lead an army of blood thirsty savages.”

That sounded exactly like something an ally of Robert’s would spread around. “To you they’re blood thirsty savages, to me, they’re just my friends.” When it was clear Sansa wanted to know more, Arya elaborated. “We had more than one hundred thousand fighters when we left Essos. Fewer now, after Dragonstone, but still lots.”

“Are you a King or a knight? Do you rule them too or just lead them in battle?”

“A little of both,” she confessed. “I lead them in battle, and if someone challenges me for control I fight them, but I leave the serious stuff to Daenerys.”

“The Targaryen?” Sansa clarified.

“The one and only,” Arya answered with a cocky smirk. “I help where I can, but Daenerys’s the one who really does all the heavy lifting.”

“It sounds like you admire her.”

“I do, more than you could imagine.”

“What’s she like?” Sansa asked, moving closer.

In the distance Arya could hear approaching horses and knew her men were coming. “You mean is she crazy like her father?”

Sansa looked away. “No, I didn’t mean it like that. I just meant that all I know about Targaryens is what I read in books the Septa gave me. What’s she really like?”

She smiled as she thought of the woman she loved. “She’s kind and fair, decent and beautiful, she’s stronger than she knows and braver than any knight I ever saw here in Westeros. She’s…” she couldn’t think of a word to do Daenerys justice, but she tried, “she’s incredible.”

Sansa understood right away. “You love her! She’s who you meant when you spoke of love!” It wasn’t a question, but a certainty.

Arya nodded proudly, picturing the woman in her mind. “I do, and by some miracle she loves me back.”

Their sisterly moment was ended by the arrival of the Dothraki. After speaking the common tongue all night, she effortlessly shifted to Dothraki to greet the commander of this group. “This is my sister,” she explained as she dusted off her ruined dress. He looked at her attire and smiled. “Not one word,” she threatened seriously. He nodded in understanding and submission. “Take care of her, protect her. She is blood of my blood.”

“What did you say to him?”

“I told him you were family. His name is Tiber and he will keep you safe. He’ll get you to High Garden.”

“You can’t leave me alone, they don’t even speak our language,” Sansa protested.

“They aren’t big talkers anyway. Listen, just lead them to High Garden. They’ll protect you, they’ll hunt and cook for you, and they’ll kill anything that tries to hurt you.”

“Arya wait…”

She stopped and went back, fully expecting Sansa’s wrath but she got a hug instead. “Thank you. Thank you for coming to get me. I don’t know how much longer I could have survived in that place.” She looked at Joffrey with hatred. “The things he made me do…”

“Shh,” she purred as she guided Sansa to her, forcing her eyes off the Prince. “He’s not going to hurt you anymore. No one can hurt you anymore. Go to High Garden and make a life for yourself, one you choose and don’t let anyone stop you.”

She sniffled against her sister’s filthy dress. “I will.” Arya was nearly turned again when she heard, “You be safe too.”

“Good luck Sansa.”

R-C

It felt strange sitting across from a man she knew hated her. That that man was the father of her lover only complicated matters further. Oh, how desperately she wished Arya back. With every passing hour, her concern grew. Her plan, Arya’s plan made sense, it was a good, solid idea, but good plans didn’t always guarantee success.

She sipped her wine and watched while the Lord across from her tried not to speak first. Daenerys wasn’t going to break. If he wanted to know, he was going to have to ask.

“Where is Arya,” he questioned as his grip on the wine turned his knuckles white.

Daenerys glanced sideways toward the window and looked out. The sun was shining and it was a nice day. “By now I hope she’s on her way back.”

She didn’t need to guess at Ned’s emotions, they were written all over his face. “Back from where? Where could she possibly have gone? She brought you all here insisting she didn’t want to leave you in Essos and now she’s gone?”

He made a valid point. “Trust me Lord Stark no one wishes her safe and speedy return more than I. I tried to dissuade her from going to King’s Landing, but she was determined. As I’m sure you understand, stopping Arya once she’s set her mind on something is really rather difficult.”

He was out of his chair in an instant, spilling his wine. “She went to King’s Landing? You sent her to King’s Landing?” He made it half a step before the Dothraki reminded him of their presence and he retreated.

Daenerys saw flickers of the woman she loved in the Stark’s anger. They were brief and more controlled but they were definitely there. “Missandei,” she said calmly. “Let’s see about getting Lord Stark more wine.”

“I don’t want wine!” he said through gritted teeth.

“Lord Stark we are both left waiting until Arya’s return. I suggest you make yourself comfortable, I think it’s going to be a long day for the both of us.”

R-C

Tyrion Lannister walked toward the throne and quickly assessed the situation. It had been hours since he’d left Sansa and her sister and in that time, he’d wandered the keep learning what he could. Even though he was likely the most well-informed man in the room, he played dumb, something he was exceptionally good at.

“Where have you been?” Robert asked. He had a hand under his chin and redness around his eyes suggesting he might actually be feeling something.

“Shorter legs, takes me longer to get anywhere,” he responded.

“Now is not the time Tyrion,” Jaime chastised.

He sighed dramatically. “Very well, I was speaking with my contacts around the city, learning what I could about the abduction.”

“What did you find out? Do you know where Joffrey is?” his sister demanded.

“By all accounts Joffrey was taken back to Dragonstone. The ship used to deliver the prisoners left on a return voyage. One man I spoke to even said he thought he saw a captive onboard.” This was a lie, he hadn’t spoken to anyone who had seen a thing but the lie sounded good and that, he knew was the hardest part.

“I’m going to kill her,” Cersei announced. “I’m going to kill her slowly. Obviously, the return of the hostages was a ploy so she could kidnap Joffrey.”

“Yes,” Jaime agreed. He was equally concerned but did better at hiding it. “Now it makes sense why none of those Dothraki last night spoke, they were there to distract not negotiate.”

“Where are they now?” Robert asked.

“Hiding as they were before. I could send out more patrols but I doubt they’d return and we’d likely just end up with another bag of heads,” he guessed.

Tyrion hid his smile behind his hand. Regardless of his allegiance he had to give Arya Stark credit, the girl had a flare for the dramatic.

“What of the savage you captured last night? Can he tell us anything?”

“Not anymore,” Jaime stated bluntly. “He went to his God or Gods or whatever it is those people believe in.”

“They’re not people!” Cersei objected. “They’re animals.”

“Do we have any idea how an exiled girl got into the keep when the gates have been sealed for days?”

“According to Stannis, they entered through an old broken sewer grate and followed the maze of tunnels that run under the city,” Tyrion provided helpfully.

Suddenly all eyes were on him. “Stannis! How in the fuck can Stannis tell you anything?”

Tyrion bowed his head in imaginary shame. “Apologies your Grace, but the Stark left Stannis bound in a rarely used storage closet.”

“Is he injured?” Jaime asked, his curiosity clear.

“He is being checked by the Maester but he is largely unharmed.”

Robert growled, more animal than man. “This fucking girl. Why would she bring Stannis back?”

He let the question hang in the air for as long as he could, enjoying the discomfort of those around him. When it couldn’t be prolonged any further he answered. “She left a note with his body,” Tyrion said holding it out.

“What does it say?” his sister cried.

Clearing his throat, he read the message for the third time, enjoying it as much as he had the first two.

Most Honorable King Robert Baratheon,

Apparently, Stannis isn’t an appropriate hostage. You wouldn’t even send a raven. I understand your thinking as I’ve had him here at Dragonstone for weeks and he’s been of little use to me. I’m returning him, so he can once again be of little use to you.

Sincerely and with Thanks

Arya Stark and Daenerys Targaryen

As he finished he heard Jaime chuckling, until Cersei’s glare quieted him. “This bitch and her fucking notes!”

This had Tyrion’s attention. “There were others?”

“She left a note in each of the children’s rooms.”

“What did they say?” Rather than answer, Robert held out a collection of papers. Tyrion took them and couldn’t help but notice the blood dotting the pages. Very creative indeed.

He started with the note found in Joffrey’s room. Tyrion knew of the two dead guards who were killed there and he was privately impressed anyone could kill in the Red Keep and escape without detection. Maybe Arya Stark was more intelligent than originally advertised.

Gracious and Kind King Robert Baratheon,

Stannis was a poor choice as a hostage. My mistake. I think I did better this time. What do you think?

You have one week to make contact with me at Dragonstone (that island and castle where Stannis used to live. Ask him for directions if you get lost.) Ignore me again and Myrcella will be bumped up in the line of succession.

With the upmost respect and love,

Arya Stark and Daenerys Targaryen.

This was like a good book he couldn’t put down, he quickly flipped to the next page, the note found subtly tacked above Myrcella’s head.

Oh Wise and Fair King Robert Baratheon,

As you read this I hope you understand how easily it would have been. One choice made differently and I could be slamming this dagger into her heart instead of wood.

Killing an innocent and defenseless woman asleep in her bed, that would be a lot like trying to poison a pregnant woman don’t you think? I guess that makes me a better King than you.

You brought this on yourself. One week and not a second longer.

With admiration,

Arya Stark and Daenerys Targaryen

He turned to the final note, the one left in Tommen’s room. If it was anything like the others, it was going to be entertaining.

King Robert Baratheon, Our Brave Stag,

Is it just me, or is Tommen growing to look a lot like his Uncle King Slayer? Hey King Slayer, if you get this, you could save everyone a lot of time and effort by just doing what you’ve done once already. If you did, I’d be on the next boat back to Essos.

Okay, the time for wishful dreaming has come to an end. I was in his room too. I could have ended your bloodline with a few swings of my blade, but I didn’t. I suppose that makes me a better King than you.

Let me know if you need the name of a good assassin, because the one’s you’ve been using aren’t top notch. One week.

Thinking about you,

Arya Stark and Daenerys Targaryen

As he set the notes down on a table beside the throne, Tyrion caught Jaime looking his way. The stress on his brother’s face was obvious and after reading those notes he could see why. Arya really did know how to twist the knife.

He rejoined a conversation already in progress. “Even with the savage dead, we have leverage,” Cersei decided.

Tyrion knew where this was going, so he took a half a step back and worked tirelessly to look innocent.

“What do you mean?” Robert asked his wife.

“Ned Stark, and his daughter Sansa. This Arya’s father and her sister. She isn’t the only one who can hold someone hostage.”

“Ned’s gone to Dragonstone to negotiate peace,” Robert reminded them all.

“It’s too late for that,” she rebelled.

“Still, he isn’t here.”

“Sansa then. Send for her, and prepare a raven. Tell this Stark that any harm visited upon Joffrey will be delivered to Sansa five-fold.”

Tyrion wasn’t touching this with someone else’s hand. No, he’d done his part, he ‘saved’ Stannis before he ran out of air in that cupboard. It was up to someone else to tell Cersei that Sansa had escaped.

News came when the servant returned alone. “Where is she?”

“I don’t know, my Queen. H…her hand…handmaidens say she wasn’t in her room this morning.”

“What?!”

“They’ve been searching for hours Your Grace, but no one can find her.”

“Perhaps she was taken,” Tyrion inserted.

“Or she was involved in Joffrey’s kidnap. I never trusted that little whore.”

“Could she have been with Joffrey when Arya came?” the dwarf proposed.

“They aren’t even married yet,” Robert said to refute the idea. Being the second biggest whoremonger in the room, Tyrion found Robert’s objection laughable.

“No, but they have been promised to one another for years. At this point the ceremony is a formality,” Jaime offered.

“He’s a prince and she’s to be his wife. He’s well within his rights,” Cersei said, defending her son to the end.

“Precisely my point. If she’d been there, perhaps Arya took her too.”

“You think she kidnapped her own sister?” Robert asked him.

“I think it’s certainly possible,” he lied. He wanted to give Sansa as much of a head start as he could. He knew from first hand experience that Cersei was not the type to let things go. She wouldn’t shed a single tear when Arya gutted Robert, but if Joffrey got his feelings hurt, she’d want to march on Winterfell and kill everyone in her wake. Hopefully Sansa would be safely behind High Garden’s walls before that could happen.

R-C

Behind her ship, were others carrying the Dothraki who she once left on the mainland. In addition to the extra soldiers, they were also bringing all the goods stolen from the merchants they stopped. Arya had yet to look through it, but she suspected there would be a lot of useful things.

Nearing Dragonstone, she went down into the hold and took the gag from Joffrey’s mouth. “I’m going to kill you!” he said as soon as he could. “Do you have any idea who I am. I am…” She stuffed the fabric back in place.

“Yes, Joffrey I know exactly who you are. I don’t go around kidnapping people at random. I think it’s my turn to reintroduce myself. My name is Arya Stark, you remember? The girl who beat you so badly you had to run to your mommy and daddy for help.”

She feared blinking on the chance that she might miss it, the moment of understanding followed so rapidly by panic. It had her skin tingling with excitement. She took the gag out again. “Go ahead and yell Joffrey, your parents aren’t here this time and my friends won’t understand a word you say.”

At the sight of the Dothraki he screamed for her to come back, but she kept walking. Not unexpectedly the shore was lined with people awaiting her return; Daenerys, Missandei, Jorah, and the Blood Riders as well as her father all had spots on the sand to watch the boat come in.

As soon as she was over the side Daenerys was running to her. They shared a hug as Arya spun her around in a wide arc. The kiss was hungry and passionate and Arya matched it with vigor.

When they were finished getting reacquainted, for the moment at least, she looked around at the others. She instructed the Blood Riders to go and get Joffrey and then looked to Daenerys. The older woman was studying her body inch by inch looking for damage. “It’s not my blood. I barely had to fight, just a couple of guards.”

Daenerys was brightened by the news. “You’re really okay?”

“I am. Everything went fine. Although I may have gotten a little carried away trying to pick a fight.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means we all need to be ready because Robert won’t be far behind.”

Listening in on their conversation Jorah ordered the Dothraki to begin preparations. Off to the side, separate from the rest Arya saw her father watching her. She dropped a kiss on the crown of Daenerys’s head and whispered, “Excuse me a minute.”

While she approached, he stayed rooted to the spot, forcing her to walk all the way to him. “Arya, I came…”

“It doesn’t matter anymore.”

“How can you say that, I’m trying to save your life and avoid a war,” he said wringing his hands in front of him.

“The war is coming and nothing is going to change that,” she predicted. “Whatever offer you brought, we both know Robert would never honor it, especially now.”

“What have you done?”

“It doesn’t matter. The consequences are mine alone. Take the boat, take any boat and go North. I’ll give you the rest of the civilians. They shouldn’t be here for this.”

“I have a duty,” he said, pushing his hand through his thinning hair. “I can’t just run, I can’t, I won’t.”

She shook her head. He still didn’t understand. “That duty is meaningless now. Robert’s coming with every ship and every soldier he can muster. It’s not safe for you in King’s Landing anymore. I kidnapped Joffrey. They’ll think you aided me, or they’ll punish you out of spite. Don’t go back there.”

She said nothing further and gave it a moment to sink in. She could see the wheels turning as he tried to make sense of how drastically she’d changed his world with a few sentences. “Arya,” he said, before he stopped, apparently unable or unwilling to continue.

“I’m sorry you got caught up in this, I am, but you shouldn’t waste your life enthralled to him. You’re ten times the man he is.”

“Do you realize what you’ve done?” he asked when he could once again speak.

She understood perfectly. “I couldn’t attack King’s Landing, so I had to bring the fight here. Only taking Joffrey would do that. It had to be something he couldn’t ignore, otherwise he’d take weeks and bring all the armies of Westeros together against me. Now he can’t wait. As an added bonus, I get to punish him for all the years he hurt Sansa.”

For a few seconds Ned seemed resigned to the way things were, but at the mention of his eldest daughter the fire was back in his eyes. “Sansa, she’s to marry Joffrey.”

“Not anymore,” Arya said, setting the record straight. “Did you know he was beating her?” She chose to leave out the remainder of her suspicions, not wanting to punish their father cruelly

“What!? Are you sure? She told you that?”

“She didn’t have to. I walked in to her trying to cover a bruise on her throat in the shape of a hand.”

“That’s meaningless. It could have been anyone’s.”

“It was his,” she said with confidence. “Do you remember the night I got in trouble? I beat Joffrey nearly to death with my bare hands.”

“Of course. What of it?”

She swallowed hard and hoped Sansa would forgive her for this. He needed to know, he needed to understand. “I told you that I heard him calling Sansa names, so I hit him, but that’s not what happened.” Ned squatted down and put his hands up as if to protect his face. He didn’t ask for more details but she provided them anyway. “I walked in on him trying to rape her, that’s why I beat him and if those guards hadn’t stopped me I would’ve killed him.”

After a curse, she almost didn’t hear over the water Ned stood again. “I have to go back, I can’t leave her.”

“Sansa’s fine,” Arya said quickly. “I got her outside the walls before I left. She’s riding for High Garden with hundreds of Dothraki.”

“The Tyrells? She always liked them.”

“I told her my men would take her anywhere in the world and that’s the place she chose.”

He sank down again and looked out over the horizon. Arya did the same from next to him. “You’re a good sister. Thank you for taking care of her.”

“I’m a horrible sister,” Arya corrected, “and I’m likely a worse daughter, but I do love you all, in my own way.”

Ned put his arm around her and drew her in for an awkward hug. She squeezed him tight, just as she had when she was a little girl. “We love you too.”

After the hug was over they stayed in that position. “Go North,” she told him. “Mother has waited long enough.”

She knew he understood the hidden message in her words, but he asked for clarification anyway. “What are you saying?”

“I’m saying your place is in Winterfell, with mother, and Robb, Bran and Rickon. I always thought we should have our own King anyway. Be a good one, be a better one than the man you served.”

“A Northern King? Generations have only dreamt of such things,” he said with no shortage of doubt in his tone.

“Make it a reality. They’ll follow you,” she declared confidently.

Ned looked like he wanted to agree, but he wasn’t quite there yet. His next words proved she understood him well. “Even if I wanted to, it wouldn’t matter. Robert will never allow the North to be free, and he’d rally others. It would be a massacre.”

“Robert won’t be your problem anymore, or anyone else’s. However this ends Robert’s army will be decimated. It’ll take years for them to rebuild to what they were, longer if I win, and cut the head off the Stag. After all I’ve done wrong I wish I had more to give you, but I’m afraid that’s it, just a head start.”

“And then?” her father wondered.

Arya was confident he was asking what was next for her, but she chose to frame the question around him. “Use the time to get ready, build up your army, increase your defenses, ally with the other houses.”

“You think that’ll be enough?”

“If it isn’t, you can always summon your exiled daughter and her horde of savages,” Arya tried to joke.

“You’d come back?”

“I can be a Khal and a Stark. If you need to find me send word to Vaes Dothrak.”

She could feel the end of their conversation looming over them. “I could stay. I might not have an arakh but I could help.”

Arya smiled. “I love you, but this isn’t your fight. Go home to mother, kiss Little Robb and be a grandfather. Your days of risking your neck in other people’s wars are over.”

Ned boarded the ship already loaded with the remaining civilians from Dragonstone and they were off. She stood on the shore and stared long after the boat had faded from view.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Daenerys asked as she snaked her arm around her lover’s waist.

“No,” she replied honestly.

“Very well, we can discuss something else – are you wearing a dress?”

The words sounded strange until she looked down at herself and remembered. “Fuck, the dress was ugly before I put it on, now that I’ve crawled around a sewer the smell matches too.”

R-C

Chapter Text

On her second night back at Dragonstone, she met with her advisors. “He’s going to call on every house other than yours to move against you,” Jorah predicted.

“Normally I’d agree,” Arya said as she paced about, “but he doesn’t have time. I gave him a week and we’re already on day two. Do you think Cersei Lannister is going to sit on her hands and wait for Robert to order more troops? We’re close enough they can smell us and that must be driving her mad. She’ll want to move as soon as possible and that’ll force Robert to scale back the size of the force. Plus, he can’t leave King’s Landing unprotected. He doesn’t know I called back the men who had been killing his scouts.”

“That’s right,” Missandei said, smiling brightly in understanding. “As far as he knows they are still there, waiting to attack. He’ll have to leave soldiers behind in case they do.”

“Exactly. We lost boats and men before we ever reached the shore and they will too. When they come, we’ll be on those catapults, lining the walls with archers. Getting up the walls is a long and bloody fight, believe me.”

“What else?” Daenerys asked.

“The courtyard, I’m having the men build extra platforms so our archers can have a better view of their targets once the fighting moves there. They’ll be ready long before the boats arrive.”

“That space is tight, fighting there will be fast and brutal.”

She agreed with the knight again. “It will, nothing can change that.”

“So how do you propose we keep everyone safe?” he said, looking suggestively toward the women at the table.

“Daenerys and Missandei and a hand-selected group of warriors will remain in the castle. If we are pushed back that far, we’ll converge to protect them.”

“I hope it’s enough,” Jorah commented under his breath. Secretly Arya did too.

“What do we know about who’s coming?”

Jorah held up a fragment of paper. “Word arrived from Winterfell Khaleesi. Robb Stark has been ordered to march, and he is moving but he reports that his men aren’t feeling particularly motivated. He thinks it’ll be weeks until they cross the border into the South.”

She smiled and shook her head. Up until that moment she hadn’t known how Robb was going to land in all this. Like their father he had a strong sense of duty, but he also valued family.

“That’s pleasant news,” Daenerys said to no one and everyone. “Anything else?”

“The Tully’s are reporting similar conditions. They’d originally pledged to help Robert defend the throne, but unrest around Riverrun has forced them to not only decrease the amount of aid, but also postpone it. Like the Starks they won’t be anywhere near King’s Landing in the next week.”

Just as she did when Jorah spoke of Robb, Arya smiled and kept her mouth shut. “What is this unrest?” Daenerys asked. “Can we exploit it further?”

“There is no unrest,” she admitted after a short laugh. “The Tullys are simply using that as an excuse not to fight us.”

“Why would they do that? Who are the Tullys? Why do they care?”

She put her hand on top of Daenerys’s on the table. “My mother was a Tully. Word has obviously reached them that my father is going North. Allegiances are shifting.”

Although she didn’t speak of it Arya was thrilled to learn she wouldn’t have to go to war with those she loved. She told herself she would have been willing to run right through Robb and his men to kill the King but she didn’t know how true that was. She felt nothing but relief at the knowledge that her father wouldn’t be opposite her on the day. She also had no idea if these admissions made her weaker or stronger.

R-C

During his brief time at Dragonstone, Arya repeatedly had Joffrey removed from his cell and taken to the yard to watch her and her men train. She wanted him to see their skill, she wanted him to be terrified, and if the scent of piss stuck to his clothes was any indication, he was.

On the third day she stopped training, picked up a well-made sword and carried it over to where he watched. “I’ll make you a deal,” she said as she laid the sword in front of him. “Pick up that weapon and best me and you’re free to go.” He looked skeptical so she kept pushing. “Come on, one fight. You know the sword, right? Between your father and your uncle, you must have learned. Defeat me and you can go on your way, but if I win I’m going to cut off your head and stick it from the highest point in the castle so it’s the first thing your father sees when he gets close enough.”

It was clear how badly he wanted to pick up the blade, but he didn’t. Around him the Dothraki laughed, having had Missandei translate the exchange for them. “Laugh all you want!” he screamed at them like a petulant child. “When my father and uncle get here, then you’ll be sorry.”

“I look forward to it.” She picked the sword up and leaned in close enough to whisper. “Know this, when they are dead at my feet, you’ll be next.”

“Oh yeah!” he yelled, growing more furious the more the Dothraki ridiculed him. “When I get back to King’s Landing I’m going to chop up your sister. I was growing bored with her anyway.”

“Sansa’s gone and you’re never going to see her again,” Arya replied as she struggled to control her rage. “But maybe before I kill you, I’ll let the men treat you like you treated her.” The limited color drained from his face as he looked at the collection of muscular warriors. “Enjoy the fresh air, you’ve got less than four days to live.”

When she turned she was greeted by Daenerys, who handed her a glass of something cool to drink. She took it gratefully and thanked her with a kiss. “Once I kill you,” Joffrey shouted as she walked away, “I’ll take her to be my new wife, now that Sansa’s gone.”

Arya laughed humorlessly as she handed the glass back to Daenerys. “You fucking idiot. You have no idea who she is, do you? Your father would rather see me kill you ten times over than have you bring her home to be your wife.”

She could see he was clueless. Arya had reached her limit. She ordered the men to take him to his cell. As he went, he kept yelling, “Who is she? Who is she?”

She took a long drink from the glass Daenerys provided. “I am going to enjoy killing him.”

R-C

She gave him seven days, he used only four. On the fourth morning, the scouts on the wall spoke of dots in the distance. By midday those dots were very clearly ships.

She stood on the wall, with a bow in hand, an arakh strapped to her back and a shield waiting at her feet. Needle was within reach too in the event she needed it. Every Dothraki was eager for a fight. The Blood Riders flanked her with Jorah while Missandei and Daenerys stood behind. For days, she’d been trying to urge Daenerys to stay inside, but she hadn’t been persuasive enough. As Daenerys saw it, they’d come here to defend her honor and she wasn’t going to hide away while they did it. Her hair was tightly braided and she too had her arakh. Missandei’s dagger easily accessible on the front of her dress and a short sword was well within her reach.

As soon as the first boats were in range the onslaught started. They fired large flaming boulders and arrows. Each time one of the boulders hit, the Dothraki would shriek. She’d promised them the raid to end all raids, and she delivered.

When a boat made contact with the shore, they took defensive positions against the arrows rather than rushing for the walls. Layers of shields protected Robert’s men as they unloaded. The battle raged until Arya ordered the bowman to stop. All they were doing was wasting arrows.

They sunk eight ships before they reached Dragonstone and killed an unknown number with arrows, but now the enemy was on the beach, organized and ready for a fight. On the walls and down below in the courtyard her people were anxiously waiting. They would write about her one day, about what she did and why. What would they say? What was about to happen would make her battle to take Dragonstone from Stannis look like a child’s game.

“Arya Stark! I am King Robert Baratheon and I demand the release of my son Joffrey.”

She stepped forward and made herself visible. “Hello again Robert, it’s been a long time.” Next to him, she was a bit surprised to see Cersei on her horse. “Lady Lannister, I didn’t think you’d be making the trip.”

“You stole my son, of course I’m here. Where is he?!”

“He’s resting,” she yelled. “He’s fine I assure you. He was little more than a means to an end.”

“Then release him.”

“What’s the rush?” she asked her former King. “You just got here.”

Robert yanked on the reins of his horse. “All this over a woman, a Targaryen…”

“I’d be very careful if I were you,” she encouraged, as she stole a glance at Daenerys. “You’re already on thin ice and you are a very fat man.”

His face colored to show his anger and although it might’ve been her imagination, she thought she saw Jaime’s pearl white teeth too.

“Kneel before me and ask forgiveness and I’ll give you the honor of a quick death, for your mother and father’s sake.”

She chuckled darkly. “Funny, I was just about to say the same thing to you.”

“You killed a lot of people to get me here. What happens now?” he wanted to know.

“We settle unfinished business.” A snap of her fingers had Joffrey brought forward. He had his hands bound behind his back and a gag stuffed into his mouth. “This piece of shit beat and raped my sister for years. By the laws of the Seven Kingdoms I’m owed justice. Without looking at her opponent, she announced, “I challenge you to trial by combat. Do you accept?”

“Joffrey don’t do it!” his mother shouted.

With the gag no longer in his mouth, the prisoner moved to the edge of the wall and looked down at the tens of thousands of troops brought to try and win his freedom. She doubted his pride would allow him to decline and he didn’t disappoint. “I accept!” he shouted. She cut his arms free and he immediately held them up, trying to illicit a reaction from the crowd. “Where are we fighting?”

“Right fucking here,” she told him. Expecting this outcome, she had armor and a variety of weapons available for him to choose from. He dressed quickly and chose the biggest sword.

When he raised steel over his head, the Dothraki around them made space. Drawing her arakh she promised her people they’d see a spectacle of death. They cheered for her, while she made her way to Daenerys. Kissing her Khaleesi, she brushed a strand of silver hair away from her face. “Stay back, I don’t trust him not to try something.”

Daenerys held her hand for a second longer and stole one more kiss. Just when she thought she might actually get to fight Joffrey the voice she’d been expecting called to her. “Wait! I wish to be Joffrey’s champion.”

“Uncle King Slayer, how sweet. What’s it going to be? You going to fight me or let your big bad uncle do it for you?”

Missandei translated and the Dothraki laughed at her mocking words, turning Joffrey the color of Sansa’s hair. “Joffrey accept Jaime’s help,” Cersei demanded.

“I accept,” he said weakly.

“Tie him up,” she said to Jorah, “and take his weapons.”

With Joffrey tended to, she stared down at the beach. “Are you going to invite me up?”

“You brought ladders, put one of them up to the wall and I’ll climb down.”

Her descent was slow. She was cautious, expecting one of the men holding the ladder to move it, or for someone to fire an arrow into her back, but none of that happened.

On solid ground, the ladder remained but the men holding it returned to their posts. Without delay she turned on the Lannister. “Are you ready then?”

He smiled wide. “Just like that?”

“Are we supposed to pray or talk about our feelings first?”

“This doesn’t have to happen,” Robert tried from a few yards away.

She glared at him with hate. “Oh yes it does and once your son has paid for his crimes, you’re next.”

“Get on with it!” Robert commanded furiously.

She turned to Jaime and watched him draw a beautiful sword. She held her arakh in one hand and twirled it dramatically while she waited for his first move. He swung at her and she nearly laughed, a child could have avoided that strike. She danced away and swiped at his outside leg. He got his sword down just in time to deflect the blow, but his wide eyes made it clear that he understood. It wasn’t going to be as easy as he thought.

For weeks, she’d been building up her stamina for precisely this reason. The King Slayer was one of the best swordsman to ever draw breath and she needed to defeat him. Over and over they challenged each other. He’d get the upper hand for an instant, then she would counter. He certainly lived up to his reputation. The murmuring of the onlookers made it clear the fight had everyone’s attention.

She had the honor of drawing first blood. After jumping over a slice that would have cut through both her knees his sword was too low to recover in time and she pushed her arakh into his upper arm. She could tell instantly she’d gotten through the steel. It wasn’t his sword arm, but it was better than nothing.

He cursed and backed away, dabbing at the wound with his fingers while she circled him. “You’re good,” he said, “who taught you?”

“You could meet him, if Robert hadn’t killed him.” She swung her arakh in an overhead motion and immediately regretted it. She was too clumsy and he took advantage. A big boot hit her in the chest, sending her flying backward. As she skidded along the ground she realized that if he hadn’t kicked quite so hard, she wouldn’t have had the chance to recover. As it was, she was on one knee when the sword came down. The curve of her arakh held the steel away from her, and the battle for control began. Each of them had two hands on their weapons. Grunting with effort he leaned forward and she pushed back with everything she had.

With his sword inching closer and closer to her, she knew something had to change. Taking a risk, she removed one hand from the handle of her arakh and was immediately in even more danger as Jaime took advantage. Her free hand went for her dagger. She felt around for it wildly and she feared she wouldn’t get to it in time. The bite of the steel against her cheek had her gritting her teeth and hissing. That was going to leave a mark. She got her fingers around the dagger and yanked it free. Jaime’s sword had her almost completely flat, it was now or never. With all her energy, she pushed the sword away, and thrust the dagger. Jaime hadn’t seen what was happening until it was too late. She plunged it into his thigh, right up to the hilt and then twisted with all her might. He screamed and in his anger swung wildly. Hurt or not, he was still strong as an ox and skilled like few she’d ever faced. She managed to deflect the worst of it, but took a small gash across the back of her hand. Her grip loosened as a result so she switched the arakh to her other hand to compensate. Jaime noticed the change and adjusted his pose.

They fought like that for what felt like hours but was likely only minutes. Both bleeding, both tired, Arya with one weakened hand, Jaime one damaged leg. When the end came it was really rather anti-climactic. She’d taken to moving from side to side, noticing that the Lannister had trouble pivoting on his injured leg. He soldiered through until he couldn’t anymore and he stumbled. He tried to recover but it was pointless. A swat at his legs, didn’t get through the armor, but was enough to unsteady him further. Arya heard who she could only assume was his sister yelling for him from behind as he fell. “Yield or I’ll finish it!” she said as the cut to her face burned in the sun.

“I yield and you kill my nephew,” he said grimacing in pain.

“You don’t yield I kill you, then I have my men kill Joffrey,” she said speaking loud enough for all of them to hear.

“Wait!” the King objected in his deepest voice. “You’ve proved your point. Now what do you want?”

She shook her head and scoffed at his ignorance. “I didn’t come here to prove anything to you. I came because you kept sending assassins to try and murder my wife.”

“Wife?” Cersei repeated. “You can’t be serious. They really do things differently…”

“Woman shut your mouth!” Robert demanded. “I told your father I wouldn’t send any other assassins, you and the Targaryen can live in peace.”

“Her name is Daenerys.”

“Daenerys then. I told Ned I won’t try to harm her ever again.”

“And I told my father I could never trust a word you said.”

“So where does that leave us?”

“I’m due justice. The Gods have found Joffrey guilty for his crimes against Sansa. Either you fight me, or I’ll take what I’m owed.”

When he realized she was serious his expression changed before her eyes. “You want to fight me?” he said slowly as if he didn’t believe it.

“In the Old Way, me against you. No more champions, just two people with a dispute. No one else needs to die.”

Even with additional time Robert seemed unable to comprehend what she was proposing. “How do you think this ends?”

She felt obligated to answer truthfully. “Likely with both of us dead, preferably you first.”

“What of Joffrey?” Cersei asked.

“Robert wins, I’ll release him. I win, he dies,” she proposed.

“I can’t fight you…” he started to say.

“Why not? I’m already injured, and you’re old, I’d say that’s a fair fight.”

“Kill her Robert, for Joffrey.”

It was a foolish mistake. She turned her back on her enemies. Looking up to the wall where she knew Daenerys would be, she yelled, “Missandei could you ask the Khaleesi to throw down a shield please?”

The voice that followed was working hard not to sound amused and it wasn’t Missandei’s. “What’s wrong? Afraid to ask me yourself?”

She locked eyes with the woman she loved. “Actually, I figure at this point, I’m just as likely to get a spear thrown in my direction, as a shield.”

The shield fell to her right and off to her left seconds later, a spear. Arya chuckled. “Thank you, sweetheart.”

Looking at Daenerys gave her the advanced warning she needed. The expression of horror she wore made it obvious what was happening behind her back. She dove but felt the arrow enter her back just before she hit the ground. The strike was low, just above her ass and if the pain was any indictor it was deep.

With the wall for help she got onto her feet. “So much for honor,” she spat before she yelled to the Dothraki to prepare. War horns and shrieking made it difficult to hear anything else.

“I had nothing to do with that,” Robert asserted quickly.

With her bloodstained arakh in one hand she reached back with the other and freed the arrow, letting it fall to the ground without looking at it. “Your army fire a lot of arrows without your approval, your Grace?” she asked sarcastically.

She made her way to the shield and picked it up, holding it as best she could in her weakened hand. She stalked forward until she was just steps from where the King Slayer sat beaten in the sand. “I didn’t order that,” Robert tried again. He wasn’t lying but she didn’t care.

She scanned the faces in front of her looking for the culprit. When she landed on Cersei she knew she’d found the right one. She watched from her horse with a sick little smile on her lips. “You’re going to regret that,” Arya promised the mother.

“I doubt it. You can barely stand.”

She nodded as if the Lannister was right. “Arya don’t do anything...” Robert began.

It was too late. “Kill the boy!” she yelled to her people in their own tongue. She sidestepped slightly to make sure the Queen had a good view and together they watched as Joffrey was tossed, alive over the wall to the beach below. Taking advantage of the chaos, her people readied themselves for war, both on the walls and inside them.

“No!” Cersei screamed as she realized what was happening.

Next to her Jaime tried to stand but his wound left him with a grave disadvantage. “You can thank your sister for this,” she said. He looked up into her grey eyes with a knowing smile before she brought the arakh down against him.

Behind her the gates swung open and thousands of Dothraki rushed out on horseback. Arya would wager the Westerosi had never seen anything quite like it. They expected her men to hide behind the walls, to wait until they climbed and fought there way in, but the Dothraki weren’t interested in anymore delays. They’d come a long way for this.

All around the island the fighting was happening in earnest. Arya’s shield got plenty of work while she backed away from Robert and into the fray with her men. She dropped it as soon as she could, feeling more comfortable without it. Bodies fell all around her and she knew many more were going to die.

As she fought beside her warriors she could see more than one of them smiling as they killed. They really did enjoy this. They might have lost, if the superior numbers of Dothraki hadn’t overrun the archer’s positions fast enough. Standing on the shore they they had no where to flee to. Once the arrows stopped, she felt more confident in their victory.

With a swing of her arakh she cut a man’s neck and hot blood spurted out onto her skin. Beside her Kelo was doing battle with three heavily armored men, when a fourth speared him in the side. He fell, coughing blood and Arya knew it was already over. Rather than tend to him, she did what her friend would want, she put herself in place to kill his murderers. With a war cry any Dothraki would be proud of, she killed the offenders one by one.

The gate had been closed after the Dothraki were let out to protect the women and children still inside. When she noticed out of the corner of her eye that it had been battered in, Arya hurried through the opening. Shoving the opponent she’d been fighting aside, she left him for someone else to kill.

The violence in the yard was just as fierce as it had been on the day they took Dragonstone from Stannis, maybe worse. And just like on that day, she received an injury on her way to the castle. She brought her arakh down hard, but the man she’d bested lunged forward with his dying breath and swiped steel across her stomach. He didn’t cut deep, he wasn’t strong enough, if he had been she would have died for sure. There was a lot of blood and two flaps of skin to hold closed but no obvious internal damage.

“Fuck!” she complained as she dodged an axe and impaled the axeman. Ripping at the sleeve of her shirt she pressed the fabric into her stomach wound, hoping to slow the bleeding. Her yell startled a horse and Arya was motivated to move quicker when she realized it was Robert’s horse she was looking at, without Robert.

The door swung open and she took off the head of the soldier standing inside. She knew where Daenerys would be. They’d decided days earlier the best place for her and Missandei to hide, once the castle was full of Robert’s men.

Arya killed seven on the way to the right room and maimed others, moving on before their bodies fell. Nothing mattered more than Daenerys, not even her thirst for blood. She arrived to find Jorah doing battle with the Hound, while Kovarro and Harvin were together trying to best his brother. It was widely known the Cleganes hated each other, but Arya knew you didn’t need to like or respect someone to fight beside them. All that was necessary was a common enemy. Big purses of gold usually helped too.

The door was being protected by three of Robert’s guard, and the man himself stood in the center of room, facing off with Daenerys and Missandei. Most of the Dothraki were dead, along with a large number of Robert’s personal guard. The advisor had her dagger pressed flat against the underside of her forearm and Daenerys held the arakh Arya’d given her as though it were a natural extension of her arm. “You must be the Targaryen. The one who caused all this.”

“Stay where you are,” Daenerys insisted.

From his back, he raised a large Warhammer. “I’ve been waiting for this for a long time.”

Arya needed to get in that room, no matter the cost. With a dagger loosely gripped in one hand and her arakh in the other she threw herself into the doorway, and onto the men positioned there. The moves were quick. A dagger to the eye, a swipe across a man’s gut. She felt the burn of a cut down her arm, but refused to drop her weapon.

By the time the final guard was dead, Robert was through talking. She hadn’t seen what happened but could surmise. Daenerys’s arakh was across the room, likely from an attempted block of Robert’s massive hammer. The King was muttering curses as he shook out his right hand. Missandei’s dagger was wet with fresh blood and she was positioned in front of Daenerys protectively.

Behind her back, a group of Dothraki flooded in after her, stepping over the bodies and killing anyone who was clinging to life. Many of her people were injured, some gravely, but every last one was holding a weapon soaked in blood. She was proud.

“Tell your men to put down the swords or none of them leave alive!”

Robert turned away from the Dragon and looked genuinely surprised to see her there. “You Starks come from hearty stalk.”

Robert seemed uncertain. With the aid of two additional Dothraki not even one as skilled as the Hound could fend off Jorah’s assault and he fell. In his death, Robert seemed to see the outcome if he continued. “We surrender!” he screamed. “Put down your blades men. It’s over.”

Off to the right, Arya could see Harvin’s bloodied body. In his hand, he still clutched the arakh that had cut the Mountain’s throat. “Watch him!” she instructed the others, as she hurried to her Blood Rider’s side. Tears burned in her eyes as she assessed his injuries. They were fatal. She took a knee on the slippery stones and grabbed his hand. He squeezed it as best he could, but it was little more than a twitch of his fingers against hers. “Its okay,” she told him, “the Khaleesi and I are safe. You did your job well. The Khal waits for you.”

Taking a deep breath, she said a prayer she hoped some God would hear, any God. Closing her hand in the tightest fist possible she pressed it against her forehead, smearing blood. She’d caused this. So many men died following her. It needed to be worth it. With renewed purpose, she picked up her arakh and stood as tall as she could.

“Arya, I’m so sorry,” Daenerys supplied.

She shook her head and swiped at the tears leaking from her eyes. “Later. This needs to end.”

Robert had been disarmed. He stood there in armor that barely contained his stomach and he looked ridiculous. “I can’t believe your father raised such a woman.”

“I can’t believe my father spent most of his adult life in service to you.” She staggered over to Daenerys. “You girls ok?”

“Young love,” Robert mocked.

“Shut up. The only reason you’re not dead yet is because I care more about making sure they’re okay than I do about killing you.”

“Do it then.”

She looked to Kovarro, her one surviving Blood Rider. “Give him a weapon,” she instructed in two languages.

Robert’s mouth hung open like a fish. “What?”

“Would you rather fight me without one?” she asked, annoyed.

He looked at her battered body and then up to meet her eye. “You mean to fight me?”

“It is what I came here to do.”

With a grim smile, Robert took back his hammer and pushed away the Dothraki who handed it to him. Against a weapon that big, injured as she was, she knew instinctively what her strategy should be. Move fast, let him tire himself out, and avoid the force of that hammer no matter what.

As she did with most of her battles, she let the enemy swing first. She was slower than she would’ve liked but she was still able to avoid it. The whole room felt like it was vibrating as he pulled the hammer back into the air.

The second attempt was much like the first. She avoided the blow only barely. The difference was that this time she swung her arakh, cutting into the underside of Robert’s wrist. She smiled when she heard him curse. It’d be harder for him to grip that hammer now.

Taking a shield off one of his men’s bodies Robert threw it in her direction. She put her hands up to block and took the steel in the side, breaking several of her ribs in the process. Air was at a premium and she knew if she wanted to win Arya had to end this fight now. With that in mind she did what she could to wrap her arms and legs around him, pushing him back. Without meaning to she inadvertently guided him toward Daenerys and Missandei. With the hammer pinned between them, he couldn’t hit her, but the reprieve would be short. He would throw her off soon and when he did she’d be at his mercy. The glistening of Valyrian steel caught her eye and she looked over Robert’s shoulder to see Missandei holding it out to her. She shoved it into the back of his neck without ceremony. He tossed her off then, and Arya slid across the floor until her head was stopped by a wall. She saw two of everything as Robert limped forward, reached behind his head and began spitting up blood.

“Missandei,” she said without even trying to get up. “You just saved my life.”

“A favor you’ve done for me once or twice,” she replied.

“Thank you.”

She got to her feet and used her arakh to support her battered body. “Your King is dead,” she screamed, speaking to anyone who could hear her. “You can join him, or you can go home to your wives and children. Decide.”

Arya was glad no one challenged her because she didn’t think she could fight anyone else. Daenerys kept trying to talk to her, following after her, fussing over her injuries, but she wouldn’t stop. “Where are you going?”

“I need to find Kelo’s body. He died on the beach.”

Daenerys no longer objected as they sought out one specific body among the thousands. As she went she instructed the prisoners be taken to the boats and sent back to King’s Landing. Mirak found her not long after she’d finished saying a prayer for Kelo. “You must come.”

She leaned on Daenerys shamelessly, struggling to breathe as she followed after the intelligent young man. Cersei Lannister sat with her son’s head in her lap. His body twisted in an unnatural position, devastated by the impact with the ground. Beside him, his uncle lay, having been dragged from where he died. Arya had assumed that Cersei went to the ships and fled when the fighting started but she’d been wrong.

“She say nothing, only cry.”

Arya nodded to confirm she understood. “Robert’s dead, the survivors are being returned to the mainland. If you want I’ll have Joffrey and Jaime’s bodies placed aboard a ship for you.”

“Robert’s dead, but you still don’t have King’s Landing. You still don’t have the throne.”

“I never wanted the throne, you can have it.”

Her words caused Cersei’s hand to freeze in Joffrey’s hair. “What?”

“I said, I didn’t come for the throne, you’re welcome to it. I came because Robert kept sending assassins to kill us. I came because he refused to leave us in peace.”

She scoffed. “Peace? Look around you, you don’t want peace.”

“You’re right,” Arya admitted. “It was a poor choice of words. The point is tonight I’ll be sailing home and you can take the throne for yourself, give it to one of your children or let the vultures fight for it, I really don’t give a shit.”

At last Cersei looked away from Joffrey and into Arya’s stormy eyes. “You killed my son, you killed my brother and you don’t want the throne?”

“I did. I also killed your husband, but you don’t seem too broken up about that.”

“You’re a monster!” the Queen said with hate oozing from every word.

“A monster who easily could have killed all three of your children, but didn’t. Jaime yielded in our match, I intended to let him live and Joffrey would have died a much cleaner death if you hadn’t tried to ambush me while my back was turned. If you’re looking for someone to blame, try a mirror.”

“I blame you,” she said with conviction.

“That’s fine,” Arya told her. “You can blame me all you like. You can hate me, you can curse me to the Gods, you can pray for my death. You can dream of it or fantasize all the different ways it might happen, I don’t care. But whatever you do, I suggest you keep in mind what happened when a ruler of the Seven Kingdoms tried to kill Daenerys Targaryen. Remember how tens of thousands of men died, remember Joffrey and Jaime and remember Robert and be smarter than them. Know this Lannister, you’re free to hate me until your dying day, but if you make me come back to this rancid pit I swear I’ll be far less generous.”

With that she left Cersei to her grieving. Daenerys was there to help her, help she desperately needed. “Can I tend to your wounds now?”

“On the ship. I want to go home.”

R-C