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Serving Others

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He is used to serving others. Since he was four, he has learned how to make himself useful to men and women better than he. His father was a squire to greater men. Once before he died, his father had taken him in his lap and told Podrick that the life of a squire was not a lesser life, but part of something much bigger, helping a great man do great things and be even greater. Podrick barely remembers his father, but he remembers this moment and the feel of his father’s arms and the sound of the words.

Podrick Payne feels that the Seven have smiled on him, even blessed him to be in the service of some of the greatest heroes of this age. Minstrels may not sing his name but they will sing songs of the people he has worked for and the things he has seen. Once there was a time, he was certain he was lost and alone and destined for the noose. The Seven allowed him to be born a Payne which saved him from hanging alongside Ser Lorimer. The Seven brought him to Lord Tyrion Lannister. Lord Tyrion was truly a great lord, who was kind and witty, quick to joke and laugh, and so clever.

When his service to Lord Tyrion came to an end, Lord Tyrion had looked after him and called him the most loyal squire in the history of the Seven Kingdoms. Lord Tyrion’s brother gave him to Brienne. Brienne is his lady, who is strong and a skilled warrior. Though she snaps and often looks angry, she is kindhearted and a champion of the weak and vulnerable. Podrick knows she is not a knight but he still thinks that she might be the greatest knight who ever lived.

Since his lady swore her sword to Lady Sansa on the edge of the great wolfswood, they have been in the service of the Starks. When she pledged her sword to the Starks, Podrick felt in some small way he was still in Lord Tyrion’s service. After all, he would want Pod to watch Lady Sansa and keep her safe. If Pod is ever able to speak to him, he will tell him how they rescued her from the Bolton men.

The Starks are not like the Lannisters. They talk less and drink much less. They love each other a great deal and are fiercely loyal to each other. They enjoy each other's company and have little artifice. In fact, he rarely is reminded of the Lannisters at Winterfell. Except for Lady Sansa. He would never say it aloud, but sometimes she reminds him of a Lannister. He does not think this is a bad thing, just different for a Stark

At first, there is only Lady Sansa and her brother, Jon Snow. Jon Snow, King in the North, is everything a King should be in Podrick’s eyes. He is deliberate, thinking carefully about his decisions, trying to weigh what will be best for the most. It is said he was killed by the Night’s Watch and a witch brought him back, but Pod knows nothing about that rumor. Jon Snow is strong and smart, though he always seems troubled, like his Lady Brienne. Perhaps, that is the burden of greater men and women to be troubled by all they know.

While Jon Snow is at Dragonstone, Lord Bran arrives by wagon to Winterfell. He is the strangest of the Starks and Podrick keeps a respectful distance away from him because Pod finds him unsettling.
The last Stark to come to Winterfell is Lady Arya. She is dark compared to her sister’s light. Lady Sansa is tall and polite, fair and lovely, like a lady should be. Arya is small and dark, wild and dangerous, honest and fierce. She dresses like a man, though after years of living with Brienne, he does not find this strange. As with most Ladies, he is dumbfounded in her presence. She is all the things he is not; confident, graceful, like the sword, is an extension of her arm. She is young but there is nothing young about her. He finds her lovely, more lovely than Sansa, because she is a wild and dangerous and she is like no girl he has ever met before.

Often, people don’t notice him. He is completely unremarkable in every way. He does not mind that people do not see him. It allows him to observe them unnoticed. Lady Arya notices him, almost immediately. She catches his eye in the yard and smiles a slight smile at him, as she continues walking. He thinks to himself that he must have had the sun in his eyes or perhaps it was someone behind him.

Later that very evening, she catches him in the shadows of a hallway in Winterfell. He does not even hear her, before she is grabbing his sleeve, stepping out of the shadows. She has a sweet smile but Pod does not trust it. It reminds him of the smile Lord Tyrion would give King Joffrey. “You are Brienne’s squire?"

“I am, my Lady.”
“What is your name?”
“Podrick Payne, my Lady…”

The smile falls from her face. “Are you related to Ilyn Payne?”

“I am, my Lady. He is my second cousin, once removed. Maybe even further. I have never met him, even when I was in King’s Landing. My father was a poorer cousin who squired for his better cousins.”

“Ilyn Payne killed my father.”

“I am sorry.”

She looks in his eyes, unwavering and intense. He looks down first, afraid that he has insulted her or misspoke. She touches his arm. “You remind me of someone I once knew. A boy. He was a good friend. Almost like family”

He smiles at her, looking up into her grey eyes. “I hope he is well, my lady.”

“Don’t call me my lady unless you must. It doesn’t suit me. I don’t know if he is well, Pod, but I hope he is.”

After that night, they form an unlikely friendship. She is better at everything compared to him, fighting, reading, riding, even building fires or skinning rabbits. Once, they go fishing in the wolfswood, she catches five fish; he catches three. She teases that she would be a better squire and he laughs, agreeing with her wholeheartedly, telling her the story of how he left the skin on the first rabbit he cooked as Brienne’s squire.

Sometimes as he falls asleep in his tiny bed, he wonders why she would want to have a friendship with him. He thinks it must have to do with the boy from her past because there is nothing he has to offer a Lady of a Great House. He is clumsy and slow, thick and awkward. Around her, he feels even more graceless and awkward.

Arya is even more observant than he, which he didn’t think anyone would ever be, but she is. She notices how Lord Petyr Baelish lowers his voice so Sansa must step closer to him when he speaks. She notices the way Brienne will seem to struggle between trying to step closer and protect Sansa and to give her the space a Lady might need to rule and be a strong ruler. She even notices him watching her and she smiles when she realizes what he is doing.

One night, he is leaving the Great Hall of Winterfell and goes into the yard. He has not seen Arya, since she wandered away from dinner, distracted and lost in thought. He looks for her and finds her sitting on the fence where the livestock was sometimes kept. Her big eyes are looking up at the stars. The skies are clear and the stars are bright, but the air is brisk and the heat from his breath makes clouds when it hits the frozen air.

“May I sit here with you?”

She slides over a little and he leans next to her. “It’s cold. Arya, you have been out here for a long time. Come inside and let me get you something warm to drink. You don’t even have a warm cloak. You will catch a chill.”

She smiles at him. “I never get sick. Stop worrying, Pod. You don’t have to take care of me. You’re not my squire”

He blushes and smiles, “You are right. You can take care of yourself. But it is who I am to think of others needs... I always have.”

She pushes him playfully, with a mischievous look in her eyes. “Alright, I will go in and maybe we can find some ale.”

Lady Sansa won’t tell her sister that she can’t drink ale but she frowns upon it, Arya loves to do things to make Lady Sansa wrinkle her nose at them. Somewhere under all that deadly skill and wisdom is a little sister trying her bigger sister’s patience.

He laughs, “I live to serve. If that will make you happy, I am sure I can find some.”
She jumps off the fence and brushes the dirt off her hands. Looking up at him, she stops laughing. “There is something you could do for me.”

She steps closer to him, looking up at him her eyes never wavering.

“Anything, Arya. I would do anything.” He hears the emotion in his voice, thick. He knows she can also hear it.

“Kiss me. I want to feel like an ordinary girl. Make me feel like an ordinary girl. Pretend that you are a squire and I am just a kitchen maid.”

“I am just a squire.”

She laughs. He puts his hand on her waist and slowly puts a hand against her cheek. Her skin is so cold that he wonders how long she has been out here in the yard,

Her skin is so soft and so white in the darkness. He wets his lips because he finds his lips are very dry. He looks into her grey eyes and she seems uncomfortable. “Is this okay, Arya?’

“Yes.. you are just so close.”
He pulls away,” I am sorry, my lady… Arya.”

“I didn’t say I wanted you to leave.” She takes his hand and places it firmly on her waist. She takes his other hand and places it on her cheek, smiling gently at him.

“I will have to get closer.” He says to her a whisper in a puff of cold air between them.

He smiles and kisses her softly. He means for it to be a small simple sweet thing, like a token a lady might give a squire. Something sweet for her to remember or forget, petals in a book that she sometimes pulls down and feels gentle when she sees them, but doesn’t remember it at all until she sees them. Of course, to him it is much more, a secret to hold close in his heart and never tell. The night he kissed Lady Arya Stark of Winterfell. Who could he tell? No one. No one would believe him.

But when his lips touch her, the heat in the kiss makes his stomach twist and he feels something strong and fierce pulling in him. He hears her make a noise in the back of her throat, and it makes his head swim in the heady noise of her pleasure. She wraps her small arms around his neck and pulls him closer. Opening her mouth, he forgets her title and his position and he kisses her with all the passion of a young man who has no hope or will never do this again.

When he pulls away from her, he hears her breath unsteady like she is trembling. Or perhaps it is his breath he hears that is shaking.

Pulling away, he looks at her rubbing the snowflakes off her cheek with his thumb. He is just a squire, but he is not stupid. He has been to a brothel and been with not one woman but three. He notices the effect of their kiss and her body pressed against him and he does not want her to know, or dishonor her in any way.

Her eyes are closed but softly her eyelashes flutter and it must be how she wakes from a dream with a soft girlish smile. Her big grey eyes half-lidded looking up at him, softly. In this instant, she could be the kitchen girl, sweet and innocent

She smiles, a wide bright smile full of joy and she bites her lip for a second. He sees the thoughts behind her eyes, all racing and jumbled. His heartbeat quickens as she presses herself against him as the small snowflakes fall in her dark hair, on her cheeks, her eyelashes. Standing in the yard of Winterfell, kissing in the gentle snow, they are just a boy and a girl sharing a kiss in the night.

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Arya Stark thinks to herself there is something about this man that reminds her of her father, not in his look, but in his manner. There is a quietness, an acceptance. Her father knew he was not a hero and this boy does, as well. Eddard Stark was not a great swordsman, but he never gave up. Her father had spent the first part of his life as a second son, playing second to his elder brother, playing second to Robert, the heir of Storm’s End. Even when he became Lord Winterfell, Ned Stark still had that humble, quiet quality.

All her father wanted was to keep his family safe and happy. Arya thinks if Pod had a family he would want the same quiet and happy life.

She wonders what her father would think of him. Podrick is calm and certain of loyalty, of truth, of goodness. He never doubts like she does. He is certain they will win, certain that love, truth, and goodness will overcome the darkness in the end. She is not sure of any of that. Her father would have liked this boy. Arya knows it.

When he touches her hand, she feels the warmth. “You are so cold. Come back inside.”

Arya goes with him. Since she has returned home, she has felt an awkwardness, as she tries to get used to living a simple life. Sometimes, she wakes in the night and wonders if she is playing a game, acting a part, until the need to finish her list wakes again. She came here to find Jon and Sansa, to be home with family. However, sometimes she wonders if she should not have come here. Perhaps, she does not belong here anymore. Like Nymeria, she wonders if she has grown too wild, too solitary to ever be Arya Stark.
Yet, sometimes, when she is teasing him, or Pod touches her, she wants more than anything to just be Arya Stark, younger daughter of Eddard Stark.

Letting him take her hand, she goes with him back into the castle to the lesser hall, outside the kitchens, where the staff and lesser knights eat. It is smaller than the Great Hall and as the night grows late, often there are a few squires, a traveling bard, or some of the household staff, drinking and playing songs. It is often quieter here and they are less likely to fall under Sansa’s disapproving stare.

There is a fire roaring in the fireplace and she sits down with Pod at one of the long tables. There are some wildlings, and some of the squires from the Knights of the Vale. They gather to tell stories and drink the ale that can be found. The wildlings tell stories of fighting bears, or the wights, of crossing the Wall. The squires of the Vale tell stories of men falling out the Moon Door or of wars with the hill tribes. Arya tells stories of Syrio Forel and King’s Landing and his death.

At first, Arya does not notice her sister, slender white, leaning against a column made of wood, blackened with age. When she does, Sansa smiles a small smile. In that act, Arya relaxes and realizes that her sister wants her to feel comfortable and be home here in Winterfell. Sansa steps forward with Brienne beside her and asks for a cup of the ale. Somewhere two cups filled with ale and another cask come with a nod from her long neck. Lady Sansa sits down beside Arya and Brienne with a mug of ale between her slender white hands. Arya tells the story of the Red Wedding and how the Hound saved her and the fight between the Hound and Brienne.

Finally, Pod speaks a few words to tell of Brienne’s strength and bravery and their journey to find Sansa and Arya. Brienne’s cheeks blush and she tells the story of Pod saving Tyrion Lannister’s life at the Battle of Blackwater. Brienne tells of Pod’s bravery at Riverrun and when they rescued Sansa from the Bolton men. Sansa, on her third mug of ale, cheeks pink and eyes bright confirms this and then tells the story of how she and Theon were saved from Ramsay’s men by Pod and Brienne.

As the night winds down, Arya walks her sister to her chambers, while Brienne follows them. Sansa is so graceful and light, but the effects of the ale make her clumsy and stumble. The color in her face is a bright pink and it makes her eyes an even brighter blue.

As they near Sansa’s chambers, Sansa hugs her in a warm hug. For an instant, Arya is reminded of her mother and she hugs her sister tightly.

“We must find you someone to marry Arya. Someone good and strong and handsome.”

Arya feels her forehead wrinkled in displeasure. Sansa sees it and knowing her sister, says, “But we have plenty of time. You have just returned home. There is plenty of time for that later.”

****
Podrick settles in his small bed in his chamber. It is a small room that is attached to Brienne’s, in case she needs his assistance. There are a bed and a chair with a table and a small fireplace with a homemade braided rug. It is clearly a room for a servant, but it is the biggest room he has ever had all to himself. Even in King’s Landing, he shared with another one of Lord Tyrion’s manservants.

At first, it was too big, too lonely, and he wanted to ask Brienne if he could sleep on her floor. He realized that he was too old to ask for that and she would think him craven if he did. Now, he enjoys the room with its fireplace and its privacy.

When he was walking back to his rooms, Brienne caught him in the hallway. “You are spending a great deal of time with Lady Arya.”

“Yes..”

“Remember she is a lady and sister to our lady. Do not do anything to dishonor her or yourself, Pod.”

“I would not. I would do nothing to hurt her honor. I care.. I mean.. I know.”

Brienne looked at him critically and then she softened, “Pod look at me. She is a higher station than you. She is not for you to care for or fall in love with. It will end badly for you. It is her brother’s right to decide who will marry her. Remind yourself of this. I know you are gentle and true and do not wish to see you hurt.”

“Of course,” he says and he shuts the door to his room. Climbing into bed, he thinks he might have drunk more than he should and falls into a deep sleep.

 

He wakes to someone pushing next to him. Thinking he has overslept and Brienne is trying to wake him up, Podrick sits up and realizes it is a girl, climbing in his bed. By the light of the dying fire, he sees the skin of her naked back and shoulders. Her feet are cold as ice and her eyes are the color of ice.

“Lay down, Pod. It's just me.”

Obediently he lies down. Arya is looking at him, grey eyes burning in the almost dark.

“My Lady, you shouldn’t be here.” He reverts to formality when he is nervous.

“Arya.. Pod, my name is Arya. I want you to teach me. I heard you were the best and I need to learn.”

“Learn what?” He hears his voice crack.

She kisses him and he knows what she is asking him. “I want you to teach me what a man and woman do in bed. I heard the squires talking. They said that once three whores gave you the money back. You must be the best.”

“Stories..” He laughs.

“Please.. “ she says, but all he hears is Brienne’s words and how he would dishonor her.

She kisses him, softly. “Don’t think about it. Just be here with me. Please, Pod.”

Climbing in his lap, she helps him take off his nightshirt. He wishes it felt wrong, but it doesn’t. Soon, he stops thinking about anything except her and the delicious way her body feels against his body.

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It was cold and snowing when they left for White Harbor. There was no way they were going to be able to get to the Neck on the Kingsroad in the deep snow. The only way to get to King’s Landing now is by sea. Pod and Brienne head toward the sea. They were headed to King's Landing to treat with Queen Cersei, on behalf of Lady Sansa, Pod knows that Queen Cersei might kill them for their insolence and rebellion. From the look on Brienne’s face, he is certain she knows it too.

As they trekked through the snow and winter roads, Pod huddles deeper in his furs, coat, and gloves. He is kept warm by thinking of her, thinking of the nights they spent in each other's arms. He is thinking about the feel of her small hands in his, above her head, as he is kissing her in his small uncomfortable bed. If he thinks to much about her and the feel of her body pressed against him, he grows uncomfortably hard. Brienne would catch him in his memories. She speaks and her voice is sharp, “Be careful...you may fall off your horse daydreaming.”

Pod wonders if Lady Sansa has sent them away from Winterfell because she had wanted to keep Pod away from Arya. Before they were sent, Podrick has been watching Lord Baelish and the way he watches Arya when she whispers to Pod, cataloging the furtive and forbidden touches between the two of them. It is unsettling and he wishes he could tell Brienne but he would have to admit to disobeying her and he couldn't bear to see the disappointment. Once, Pod had kissed her in the darkness at the edge of the godswood. When he looked up, he saw Lord Baelish’s face, as unreadable as the moon, starting from the balcony above. Lord Baelish smirked and walked away into the darkness.

 

Lord Tyrion never trusted Littlefinger and Brienne can barely stomach him. He wonders what Sansa needs to keep him so close to her. Pod wishes he could tell Lady Sansa his concerns, tell her about how Lord Baelish watches her as she walks away, like a hungry dog. But he dare not speak to her. Sansa has the wise counsel of others and Arya’s steel to keep her safe. He felt there were other reasons there had been a tension. He had wanted to ask Brienne but she seemed very angry and he did not know how to broach the subject with her.

As they board the ship in White Harbor, it starts to snow. The Captain is from the Stepstones and he wants to get back to the Stepstones. There are dark rumors coming from the North and there is talk this might be the longest, coldest winter in memory. The snow falls softly on the dark water as they go beneath to their tiny room.

Podrick lays on the small cot with the straw mattress, watching the sky grow dark. The journey by ship will be a fortnight and he would have days to imagine her dark hair falling down her bare shoulders, like snow on the dark water, like the dawn on the dark wet ship...

Slipping into sleep, bundled against the never-ending cold, he dreams of their first night together. Long minutes with her curled against him like a cat, he wakes in the morning slowly. He is warm and rested and he wakes to find himself alone. In the dawn, he wonders if he has dreamed it all. He had fallen asleep with her resting on his chest, telling him how she hoped to cross the Sunset Sea.

Her big grey eyes open and watching him as he touched and kissed her. It’s all about touching and kissing with her as if she is starved for touch. She helps him take off his nightshirt. She is all muscle and scars, seven scars, ugly streaks, on her stomach. Pod does not know how she survived this assault and he traces them gently as if she is a miracle just breathing in his bed. When his fingers trace them, she flinches, as her body remembers the attack. He lets his tongue trail down her body to taste them..

Her eyes are unwavering and she never stops looking at him. He traces her thigh with the tips of his fingers and she opens her legs more, greedy to be shown pleasure and affection. She is naked on his bed and he can't stop looking, even if he knows he is disobeying Brienne’s trust.

He whispers to her as he kisses her, bold with desire. “Touch yourself. Show me what you like... So I can see.”

Arya seems embarrassed, vulnerable. Again, she is just a girl, even if she is a warrior. “I don't know.. There was no time in Braavos or on the road. I don’t know.”

Gently, he kisses her stomach, touching her body but avoiding her sex. She is moaning slightly. He kisses her lips, biting the bottom lip, “ We should not do this..”

 

She speaks back to him, once again, confident Arya, “If you don't touch me soon, I will cut you.”

 

Sometimes, when they are alone together in the nights that follow the first one, she bites and scratches him, as if the feelings she has are too strong for a gentle caress or a sweet kiss. Blood must be spilled. It is violence, a language they both speak, but she is fluent.

Sometimes, Pod is certain Arya seeks him out because she cares for him. Sometimes, he thinks she wants to do this to learn how men operate, in order to use her body as a weapon of a different sort. Sometimes, he feels her too detached, too far away. He kisses her and she comes back to him like waking from a dream.

To wake without her is unsettling. Every morning, he wakes and helps the sailors because to think of her so far from him is too much. Instead, he sweats, bleeds and freezes on the ship’s deck, lost in physical labor. However, it is better for him than to be lost in his memories of her.

When they land at King’s Landing, they take their things and make their way silently to the city. Podrick wants to thank her for all she has done for him. He waits for her to speak. Before they go to the Dragonpit, Brienne stops him at a gate entrance to King’s Landing. He cannot remember the name of it but he is certain this is where they say that Larys the Lame snuck Aegon II out of the capitol. He came here once with Lord Tyrion when they were checking on the city’s defenses before the Battle of Blackwater.

Brienne looks like she always does, with a slight scowl, like she is slightly annoyed. He knows she is nervous to see the Lannisters. He does not know what she and Jaime Lannister said to each other last time they spoke, but he knows she is nervous to see him again. She would never admit it, but she is more afraid to see Ser Jaime than she is to see Queen Cersei and all her steel. What can a sword do but kill?

Jaime Lannister can do more to Brienne of Tarth.

Pod has been wanting to ask her since they started on this journey, and if he does not ask her to know he fears, he will never know. He must know. So, against his shame and his better judgment, he asks, “Brienne, did Lady Sansa say why she sent us here?”

“Because we are in her service..”

He asks hesitatingly, “Is that the only reason?”

Brienne stopped him, “We did not do anything wrong. Lady Sansa sent us out for her own reasons. Whatever they were, they are her own secrets to keep.”

She looks at him “What reason do you think she might have had to send us away?”

He has an unbidden memory of Arya on top of him moving wordlessly, silent except for the tiny sounds of her flesh hitting his hips, harder, each time a little louder than the sound before. She grabs his hands in hers and he can feel her squeeze them. Her entire body is tightening like they are one muscle, one body.

Pod feels his face turn red as he meets Brienne's face, “Arya... Lady Arya and I… We didn’t stop. I continued to see her after you told me to stop.”

A flash of anger and then Brienne’s face is mostly unreadable. Brienne speaks, but her voice is quiet, “We don't choose the ones we love.”

Somehow, he knows she understands. She knows what it is like to love someone better than you in social standing, in skill, in beauty. Brienne understands what it is like to be drawn to them even when you know it will end poorly for you.

She touches his shoulder and looks him in the eye, ”Enough talk. It won't make their swords less sharp. Let us go to the Lannisters. “

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It is chillier in Kings Landing than it was the last time he was here and Pod wishes he had kept his heavy cloak on, instead of leaving it with his horse. While the lords and ladies from great and noble houses met in the Dragonpit, Bronn and Pod drank in a tavern nearby. Pod had been in establishments like this place before, some occasional music, wine-stained cups with chipped handles, and girls with smiles but sad eyes, all vying for attention and coin. Bronn ordered some fried potatoes, crispy and seasoned and hot with grease. Bronn had already finished two cups of ale, while Pod was still working on his first.

Bronn was rough and browned by the sun, like an old piece of worn leather. Pod knew he had gotten that way because was riding beside the Lord Commander’s side, all of Westeros. Wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, Bronn scanned the noisy room for a woman he approved on to spend some coin on and talked casually of his time with Ser Jaime Lannister, keeping the Queen’s Peace, with Pod.

Pod liked being with Bronn. It reminded him of when he was in Ser Lorimar or Lord Tyrion's service, during the War of the Five Kings. The men would engage in rough speak, talking about women with frank appraisals and rough descriptions, slightly awkward. The kind of speech that might make you laugh, not because it was funny, but because it startled you. When he was young, he remembered feeling like he was too young, being young, and wondering when he would speak like them. Pod had thought if he was old enough, he would feel comfortable speaking like they did. Then he would feel the sense of belonging to a group, like belonging to a family again.

However, now that he was old enough, he found he did not want to speak this way. Perhaps, he had been riding with Brienne for too long. When Bronn started speaking roughly, Pod realized he did not want to speak roughly any woman, but especially not Arya. Pod wondered if it was a show with Bronn, like it was for Lord Tyrion, a way to make it seem he did not care.

Bronn leaned over the table, “Tell me, Pod. Do you have a girl that keeps you warm up there in the frozen North?”

Pod looked in his cup. He was unsure if he should tell him of her. Honestly, he had never spoken of her to anyone. Bronn would not judge him or Arya. Maybe, Bronn would understand and offer some useful advice.

Pod looked at him and back to his cup. He spoke more to the cup than to Bronn, “There is a girl.”

Bronn smiled, a wide, white flash of teeth, “Tell me what she looks like. Be descriptive. How big are her tits?”

Flushed, Pod stumbled over his words and regretted speaking at all.

Bronn seemed more delighted by Pod’s embarrassment and continued asking questions. “Is she is a lady? Those highborn women can’t get enough of fucking the help..”

Pod’s embarrassment confirmed the question more than words could. Bronn spoke, laughing. “A Lady?.. Pod, who?.. Sansa?...”

“No.. No.. No, of course not, her ladies’ maid.”

Pod feels a twinge of regret over the lie, but he could not tell him of Arya.

Bronn chuckled and drank some more “Tell me about her tits? Big ones? Small ones?”

“No the right size, big enough..

Pod did not know where to begin with Arya, how could he begin to talk about her, what could he say. She was better than him with a sword. She always knew what to say and could outplay him at cyvasse. No one would ever call her simple or too kind., like they might with him No one would ever not see her in a room. She was the only thing he could see in a crowded room.
Pod could not explain what she was to him or the time they spent together. Bronn would think it was all lust, all a way to meet his physical needs There was a piece of that, he would not lie, but there was so much more to the time they spent together.

Sometimes, when she was curled against his chest, breathing softly, her hair tickling his nose and the world was soft and hazy, he would let himself dream the impossible. Perhaps, if he could distinguish himself in the coming war, he might an earn a place in the household at Winterfell. Perhaps, that gentleness that Lady Sansa and Lord Jon Snow felt for him, because of his part in saving Sansa and delivering her to Winterfell, Pod might earn the right to ask for Arya’s hand.

He liked to imagine her, smiling and throwing her arms around him and not having to hide it. Pod would go through all the ways he would show her his devotion. He would take the Old Gods, the Northern ways, Northern loyalty and their prickly nature. He would even take her name as his, Stark.

In the early dawn, more night than day, he would relish in her touch and the idea of being part of a family. The Starks may be broken and stiff, but still, they were a family he could wrap up in and keep warm. It was a far-fetched idea, more a fantasy of an orphan boy than ever an attainable goal. It was like his childish dream of his mother coming back for him and finding him. When Pod had been a boy, daydreaming of his mother’s return had been his favorite past time, especially when he was hungry and cold in the rain.

Once, he had told Ser Lorimar that his mother would come one day for him The old man had laughed, “Your mother is never coming for you, boy. Her man left her, used up like spoiled fruit. Now, she is a whore in Lannisport. She wouldn't recognize you if she saw you today. For a coin, she would fuck you, just like any man.”

Pod remembered, wanting to kill the man for saying lies about his mother. But in his heart, he wondered if he wanted to kill him because he spoke the truth.

Almost as soon as Pod would think about marrying her, he would push it out of his mind guilty. Who was he to think he could marry her? He was no great knight, no man of any wealth or land. He was no one. Then, he would pull her closer and resolve to end it all in the morning, for once and for all. To do the right thing no matter how difficult it may be.

Pod had tried a few times to convince her not to come back to his room again, to forget him.

She would laugh, eyes big “I am here because I want this. You do, too. Admit it.”

Watching her, the shape of her nose in the darkness or the way her hair curled around her ear, he was afraid to admit it, afraid she might leave him. He wonders if he wants her or the sense of belonging besides her. Perhaps, it is because she looks at him and sees him. Even, if sometimes she looks at him like she is a wolf, hungry and predatory, trapped in a keep when she should be roaming free in the wild. It reminds him of the way his mother would look at him sometimes. Like she needed to be free and she was sorry if that would hurt him.

Pod’s memories go to her small hands wrapped against his body. “I saw someone do this once.” Quickly and with no shame or guile, she moves her body to his waist and licked the tip of his cock, softly wrapping her mouth around him.

“Arya... my lady.. you shouldn’t.” He speaks unable to stop watching her lick him and growing more excited at her forwardness.

“Why? Why should I stop? Does it hurt?”

“No, but you are a lady..”

“I saw a woman do this... “

“Where?” he said, gripping the sheets as she took more of his cock in her mouth. Pod is barely able to make words, watching her lips move around him, her eyes watching him intently.

“The brothel in Braavos... At Harrenhal, there a was a woman in the kitchen. Do you like it?”

“Yes,” he said, breathless

“As much as I like it when you lick me..”

“More.” Briefly, he thinks about how good she tastes, her sex soft and hot against his face.

She looks at him, critically, and smiles, “Good. Enjoy it, Pod. Let me see how much you like it.”

A moan escapes his lips as she continues her ministrations.

Wickedly, she says, “Call me my lady, again.”

But he could no longer speak. She takes him so deep in her mouth.

Pod’s memory is broken by Bronn's laugh. “She must be pretty good, boy. She’s gotten all in your head. You better get back North before she tumbles into another boy’s bed.”

“She wouldn't do that,” but as he spoke the words sat between them.

Bronn left him some coins while he went with one of the girls to a room. Pod sat there, drinking wine and waving girls away, while he thought if Arya would find another.

Lady Brienne finds him. She is in a foul mood and she leads him to a ship. Jon Snow, Lord of Winterfell and King in the North, has offered them passage back to Winterfell on Queen Daenerys’ ship. Pod has so many questions about how this has come about, but with one stern look from Brienne, he knows better than to ask them.

Pod spends the entire ship ride with Lord Tyrion. Brienne is in a foul mood and seems troubled. Pod would think she would be troubled with the Hound, but instead, Lady Brienne seems troubled about the King and Queen Daenerys, and more importantly what transpired between her and Jaime Lannister. Pod learns to avoid her and is drawn to Lord Tyrion who is also troubled but is still quick to joke and smile.

He thinks of Arya the entire ship. Images of her and him, stolen moments, come to him throughout the day as he helps Lord Tyrion. Most of his help is pouring Lord Tyrion’s wine and refilling the wine jug by his table.

 

One night, he drinks with Lord Tyrion. They drink far too much. With his red face and warm drunkenness, he leans over the table and tells Lord Tyrion he is in love with a girl in the North, Tyrion gets serious and smiles like he can remember how sweet love is.

“Who, Pod? Which Northern girl has your heart? “

He speaks, looking at his face. “Lady Arya Stark.. Of Winterfell.”

Tyrion gets very serious. “Love seems to make us all fools. We are an entire ship of fools. Pod, do you love her?”

“Aye, my Lord. I think I do.”

“Well then, you shall not lose her. I will help you win the girl. In the dark, we are all the Knight of Flowers. We will give you a lordship. I will press Queen Daenerys to make your claim to her brother, Jon. As soon as I am on the Rock, we will give you a lordship, a keep, money. She will be yours. You will be the one to be happy, Pod. You.”

Pod wants to tell him that he does not need a keep or money to hold her, that she is different, they are different, but Tyrion is telling him all he knows of love, young love.

In the morning, Lord Tyrion wakes with a headache and Pod feels like his head might break open from the pounding. Lord Tyrion never speaks of it again. Pod realizes he must not even remember. It was the ramblings of a drunken man.

Instead, Pod passes the time thinking of how she will smile at him when he returns. He imagines meeting her eyes and seeing them brighten because he is there again with her. He imagines their first kiss, whether in an empty corridor or the privacy of his bedroom. And how she will feel in his arms once more.

As they arrive in port at White Harbor, Pod thinks to himself that this is the closest he has been to her in a moon. He thinks of when they said goodbye at Winterfell. Arya had found him in a back empty hallway. The morning is grey and cold, like every morning.

Arya speaks, moving closer to him, “Do you have to leave, Pod? You could stay and take care of my sister.”

“No, I cannot. Lady Brienne had asked Lady Sansa that I stay to protect her, not that I am as good as Brienne. But still, Lady Sansa said no. I need to go with Lady Brienne.”

Arya spoke, pressed against him, opening her eyes slowly, as if she was remembering something she had forgotten. “I should go with you. I would like to see Queen Cersei.”

Pod kissed her forehead, “Arya, stay here where it is safe. I could not see you in danger.”

She kisses him and speaks to him, “Podrick, come back to me. Cersei will not even notice you. Stay out of sight. Stay out of everyone's way and come back to me.

Arya pressed a deeper kiss to his lips in the hallway, squeezing his hand. Pod remembered how flushed he was as he walked into the cold and snowy yard, certain that everyone in the yard knew he had kissed Arya.

Her kiss burns his lips, as he leaves Winterfell. He is certain when he kisses her again, it could be hot enough to burn Winterfell down.

Chapter Text

They ride hard from White Harbor back to Winterfell. The party is big and it takes longer than it had when it was just him and Brienne. Brienne senses his restlessness and tells him they will get there soon enough. The weather is cold, but it holds clear all the days it takes to ride to Winterfell.

When Pod arrives at Winterfell, he expects her happiness at his return. He enters the gate behind all the people of note. He sees herself throw herself around her brother, Jon Snow.
He knows he needs to be patient. This is about her being reunited with her family, about the Starks having a moment together after all the years apart. But he has waited for so long to see her, to hear her voice, to hold her, that he feels his skin will burst.

However, he knows his place. Pod knows that she needs space, that she demands it and she would just tease him if she knew how much he missed her. He does not want her to think he is foolish or too sentimental.

However, when he tries to meet her eyes, Arya does not glance at him or even look in his direction. In fact, Arya pulls a big muscular, dark-haired man from the line. From what he can tell, Jon knows this man. His name is Gendry. What Pod notices is that Arya and Gendry do not let go of each other’s hands. Arya does not even notice that Pod is watching because she is only looking at Gendry and Jon. She is smiling and Pod thinks she is beautiful, even as his heart aches.

Bronn's words echo in his ears. Get back to her before she tumbles into someone else's bed.
He hears Brienne say that Gendry looks like he could be a brother to Renly. When it is announced at the feast that he is Gendry Waters, bastard son to dead King Robert Baratheon, it starts to make sense. Pod wonders how they met and how quick she was to fall in love. Perhaps all he meant to her was to teach her. Perhaps, he was just a tool, to serve but in a different way. He was foolish to dream or want more.

Gendry is a hero and ran an incredible distance to send word to Queen Daenerys. When Pod hears the story, he finds it highly unbelievable but everyone seems to confirm it. Gendry must be an exceptional hero to run so far so quickly that the Queen could save Jon and his men. In honor of saving her true love’s life, Queen Daenerys legitimize Gendry Waters as Gendry Baratheon and awards him Lord of Storm's End and the Stormlands.

Gendry wields a huge iron hammer. He lays the head at his feet and plays with the wooden handle in his big hands. He has black hair, bright blue eyes, fine white teeth, and he hears the serving girls comment on how fine his body is.

Stranger revelations came out at the feast like the Dragon Queen and the King in the North are in love, that the Jon Snow is not the bastard son of Eddard Stark but the trueborn son of Rhaegar Targaryen, and that Jon Snow, whose real name is Aegon Targaryen has a better claim to the Iron Throne than Daenerys Targaryen. But Pod could care less about how things unfold or the strange revelations, he only has eyes and ears for Arya and Gendry.

Pod wishes he could hate Gendry. When he sees him tease her playfully or push a piece of hair from her face at the main table in front of her family, Pod realizes that Gendry is wildly in love with Arya. Drinking a cup of ale in three swallows, Pod wonders how it would have felt to have loved her so openly, and for all to see, to not have been a secret. To be so bold and comfortable that you could touch her cheek with your fingers while her brothers and sister watch. Pod’s face flushed from the idea of it.

 

Pod does not approach Arya or try to ask. It would be hard for him to find his voice and ask the questions if he could even speak the words. Instead, he finds more wine for Lord Tyrion, Lady Brienne, and himself.

Lady Brienne's dismisses with a nod. She doesn't want more wine. They have received word from spies that Jaime Lannister is coming North with any good men who wish to fight the army of the dead. Since the news of his arrival, she looks toward the doorways, listening for him., restless.

On the other hand, Lord Tyrion does not refuse him. Instead, he makes Pod drink with him. Pod knows that all the news about birth and parentage and thrones has unsettled the Hand of the Queen. Where he pours the wine for Lord Tyrion, Tyrion meets his eyes. “Ahh... Pod, you are still one of the best men in the room. Love is complicated. When we are finished with this, I will still give you Castamere. Lord Podrick Payne of Castamere. It has a good ring to it.”

Lord Tyrion had not forgotten his promise on the ship to White Harbor. Tyrion looks to Arya and his eyes are sad, but his smile never wavers.

“Drink with me,” Lord Tyrion says.

Pod has already been drinking but when Lord Tyrion encourages him, Pod drinks even faster. Lady Brienne does not bid him stop or scowl at him. Even she knows, Brienne allows it because she had known as well. She smiles at him quickly, brokenhearted and ugly. He is appreciative of their sympathy, but it makes him feel desperate and needing pity. He does not like the feel of being noticed and pitied for being the one not chosen, the lesser man.

As the night grows late, Queen Daenerys leaves and Jon .. Aegon goes with her. Once the Queen leaves, Pod watches Arya takes Gendry’s hand and slip from the Great Hall. Podrick knows which way they go. To his bedroom. He sees the tightness in Lady Sansa jaw. He recognizes it as the disapproving look Arya would get before they would slip from the room together.

Jealousy fills him. He wonders if she is as starved for Gendry’s touch as she was for his. Pod wonders if she will do the things she did to him and if Gendry will be able to make her cry out. He tries to push the thought of the two of them in bed out of his head but he cannot.

Pod has to get out of the Great Hall. There is too much noise, the smell of the food, the smoke from the fireplaces, the laughter. It all seems too much. He had to leave.

Stumbling in the yard of Winterfell, Pod realizes that every corner of the yard is full of couples, kissing and pulled in intimate encounters. The lateness of the hour, the possibility of certain death, the return of the Starks, the truth of Jon Snow’s parentage was too much and the excitement and anxiety had brought couples together. The effects could be seen around the yard. Pod thought of Arya in some room in this castle undoing her clothes under Gendry's gaze.

Fleeing into the godswood to escape the people, Pod feels a wave of nausea and hopes he won't get sick. He had drunk too much ale and wine. In the godswood, there are no couples, just silence, trees, and the cold. The overgrown and slightly haunted nature of the godswood did not welcome couples to their trysts.

 

Leaning against a tree, he tried to look at the stars, but the sky was covered by the tree branches and the clouds of the coming snow.

Pod must have fallen asleep because he woke to Arya over him. “Pod, get up. You will freeze out here.”

For a second, he thinks he is in his room and she has come back. But almost immediately, he knows she has come to tell him she will never come back to him again. Arya did not have to come to find him to tell him this. He could tell from her eyes, Pod has been watching them all day.

He sits up and brushes the snow from his cloak. “How could you have fallen in love so quickly? I wasn’t gone that long.”

“Pod, Gendry is the boy I told you about. The boy I loved.”

“He does not seem to me to be a boy.”

“We all have grown.”

“You never said he was Robert Baratheon's son..”

“I didn't know it…. I know how it looks, I am sorry. I never wanted to hurt you.”

“It is no worry, my lady. I live to serve House Stark. I want you to be happy. The Queen bequeathed his lands and titles to him. He is the Lord of a Great House You are the daughter of a Great House. It makes sense. You will be a Baratheon and be happily married in Storm's End.”

“Do you think that matters to me? Do you think that is what is my motivation? To be a wife?”

“I didn't, but it makes sense. Look at him.. He is strong and handsome and you are beautiful and amazing. You are both unbelievable. You two make sense.”

“It has nothing to do with that.”

“Really? You shouldn’t lie to me now, Arya. It is unlike you.”

She looks at him and says quietly, “Are you able to get to your room or should I get help for you?”

“I can make it myself,” he says feeling the anger slip away, feeling ashamed at being so angry.

She disappears and Pod stumbles to his room, unhappy and disappointed. He wishes she had stayed with him. He wishes he hadn’t been so angry, so sharp with her. He wishes he could be more like someone she would want to be with.

As the week passes, Pod hates that he cannot despise Gendry Baratheon. Gendry has so many good qualities. He is easy to laugh, quick to help, hard working, handsome, strong, good company. Brienne starts teaching Gendry how to spar in the yard, to wield his hammer like he was trained and not a blacksmith. Gendry is a natural warrior and takes to it like he was born to it. The hammer must weigh at least twenty pounds and when he swings, it is as if it has no weight at all. Truly, he is like a man from the Age of Legends.

 

By the end of the week, Gendry seeks him out to talk, “How do you live among them? I see how you watch them. You live among them but you are not one of them. You are an outsider, like me. All their airs and manners... All the food and there are so many goddamn houses. There are so many rules and I am certain I do a hundred things wrong in a day.”

Pod laughs, “You will get used to it. It takes time, but you are a natural leader. You will do well.”

“I would do anything to be close to her. I have thought of her all these years, wishing I could tell her who my father was. I remember thinking that she could be my family. That maybe it might be possible.”

“She talked about you, as well. She had been thinking of you.”

“She talked about me?”

Pod smiled and then, he spoke, “All you need is an advisor you can trust. Someone who can see a situation from different angles and who represents your interests. Someone loyal and honest and true. Someone who knows how the game works. Look at Jon Snow. I mean Aegon Targaryen. He has Davos. Queen Daenerys has Lord Tyrion. You need someone who can remind you of the Houses, the price of bread, political alliances, and help watch your back while you sleep.”

Gendry looked at Pod. “Perhaps if we win this, you could come to Storm’s End and be my advisor. I could use a good man and you know so much more about these people than I do. You could be my castellan.”

Pod smiled. It would not be a bad position for him. If he made it through, he could be near Arya if she was the Lady of Storm’s End. Would it be better to be near her or go home to the Westerlands and never see her again? If he went to Storm's End, Brienne would not be too far on Tarth and Lord Tyrion would be in King’s Landing.

Could he watch her start a family with Gendry? Pod did not know but he did not think he could live the rest of his life without her in it.

 

When he finds her in the corridor crying, it has been only a week since he returned with the King and Queen, only a week since they made Gendry, Lord of Storm’s End. Since the Queen had bestowed the title of Lord of Storm's End. women have begun to flock even more to Gendry, but he only has eyes for Arya. Lord Baratheon treats Arya like she is as gentle as Sansa and as refined. He has also begun to pressure her to marry him.

“Let me help you...” Pod says when he finds her crying. He knows why she is crying because he watches her. Gendry and her have been arguing in corners, as often as they are kissing.

She is more angry and frustrated than sad. Arya speaks, “I thought it would be easy with him.”

Pod answers her, “Love can be complicated, my lady.”

“I'm not a lady. I don’t want a keep or children. I want adventure. I want to travel to the Sunset Sea and see what lies to the West. Pod, would you still go with me?”

He speaks slowly, “It would not be right to leave the North now.”

“No, not now.. Later, when the war is over. Would you go with me if I asked you? To travel with me past the sunset sea?”

“Yes. I would go anywhere with you.”

“And you wouldn’t make me settle down..”

“Arya, I don't have anything, no keep, no money, I am not a lord. I have no bannermen. I don't care what you wear. In fact, I think you look best when you have on nothing at all.”

She smiled.

He smiled flushed, “I just want to be near you.”

“Thank you, Pod.”

She hugs him and he continues down the hallway. When he turns back, she is gone. He sees Arya with Gendry. She does not look at Pod or acknowledge that they spoke.

Barely a fortnight since he has returned, Arya wakes him while Pod sleeps in his bed. “You and Jon were the only people I wanted to say goodbye to. But Jon will not let me leave if I tell him my plans. So, I can only say goodbye to you. Good, Sweet Pod.”

Pod rubs his eyes and sits up, “Where are you going?”

“I am going to King’s Landing with the Hound. I have a name left on my list. I think the Hound has some unfinished business, as well.”

“You shouldn't go.”

She smiles, “I should have left a long time ago, but I got distracted.”

Pod touches her hand, “Let me go with you.”

“Your fight is here with my brother… my cousin and Brienne. When the War comes to Winterfell, you must stay by Sansa’s side. Make sure she is safe. She is the Lady of Winterfell.”

“Of course. I would do that no matter what. I would give my life for her safety.”

Arya smiled at him and stood up to leave. Pod climbed out of bed, to have a chance for a stray touch before she goes. She is walking into certain death. He knows it. She knows it, as well.

She steps closer to him and speaks, “I will come back if I am able. They mean to wed me, as if I was a prize, to make me a lady regardless of my will.”

“I am sorry.” he says. He feels bad that he wanted desperately to make her his wife because he can see the grief in her eyes at the prospect of being wed. He would not have wished so hard for it if he had known she had wished against it just as hard.

She kisses him. It is quick and with no hope, but he loves her for it anyway.

Arya speaks, “I promise I will come back if I am able. Keep Sansa safe. Keep yourself safe.”

Pod pulls her to him and kisses her slowly as if there were no goodbyes after this kiss.

When she pulls from him, Arya smiles and disappears in the darkness.

Pod whispers more to himself then to the lonely corridor where she stood moments ago. “Be safe, Arya Stark. I will watch for you. I will wait.”

Chapter Text

It is a warm winter morning, and maybe, finally, spring has come. Pod does not hope for much anymore. After all, he has witnessed, spring would seem too kind. However, regardless of his feelings, the sky is clear and the snow along the road is melting, leaving the road a muddy mess. Even if the roads are atrocious, he is grateful for the warmth of the sun and the increased sunlight. The darkness and snow will always bring nightmares for him now.

He has seen horrors and days that were so dark that the sun never came out. He has lived through the end of the world and he has come out the other side. Ser Podrick Payne, the squire, is now a knight and a hero of the Second Battle for the Dawn. Bards sing songs about his heroism and his skill and of Brienne, the Maid of Tarth. Every tavern or inn they find on the Kingsroad, they have heard the songs of the War, celebrating their feats and the fallen heroes.

He thinks they are exaggerated and make the war seem like a story, unreal. He has waded through blood and men screaming as they were torn to pieces by an inhuman army. So many people lost their lives on that battlefield, including women and children. He saw brave Knights of the Vale flee and he saw a boy, no older than ten, stand beside him against the overwhelming foe and never waver until a sword took his head from his shoulders. Sometimes, he still has dreams of trying to find the boy’s head in the darkness, as if he could reattach it and all will be fixed. Some things will never be the way they were before the war.

Pod was offered a large piece of land and a lordship by Lady Sansa Stark. She had wanted him to stay. He had saved her life. When he had left, she had hugged. “I will miss you. We have been together for so long. Please take care of Brienne. She should stay and rest.”

He had said, flushed at being so close to her, “I will watch over her as best as I can.”

Lady Sansa had kissed him, a dry token, more for a show for the hall and her men than a thing of sentiment. Though it had meant much and Lady Sansa was beautiful, he had wished it was another Stark sister who was kissing him.

She had spoken, “Winterfell will always be welcome to you, Ser Podrick, Lord Payne. You have kept Winterfell standing, as you have kept me alive.”

The Great Hall had cheered and the ale had flowed. Pod and Brienne had stayed at Winterfell long enough, longer than most. Brienne had been grieving and he had been waiting for a rider from the South. The rider had never come and Brienne had realized her grief might never subside.

Once, she had decided to leave, Brienne could not bear to stay another minute and Pod thought that it might be better if she could heal more. She had injured her right shoulder with a blade of some dead man, and her right leg had serious burns, as well as breaking several ribs. She was mostly healed, but she would not stay put. They were headed to Tarth and Pod was still deciding if he would go to Storm's End or Castamere. He had told both Lord Tyrion and Lord Gendry that he would see Brienne home and he would send word from Tarth about his plans.

As Pod sat on his horse, feeling the morning sunshine and thinking, Brienne was getting sick behind a tree. Every morning for the past week, they would wake and ride for maybe an hour and Brienne would get sick. He did not mention it to her, but he knew she was with child. Brienne never got sick and the fact that it had happened every day, only confirmed to him that she was not ill. Pod wondered if they should get a wagon because he did not think she should be riding a horse in her condition, but he did not know how to broach the subject.

 

He knew they had to get to a healer, a maester, or a midwife, just to make sure all was as it needed to be. He could not lose her. She was his family, his friend, his mentor, and he could not bear to think that she might ever pass from this world, leaving him alone. In some ways, she was the reason he continued to get up in the morning, to see her ugly scowl and to ride beside her.

Pod had told her that the morning after the battle had been won. She had been dying, more of broken will and heart than of her injuries. He had taken her hand, bigger than his, and forced her to look at him, “You must stay. You have so much more to teach me and I have so much more to learn. You are my family, and I will be lost without you. Stay a while longer. I promise to listen more carefully, practice harder, serve you better. Do not leave me like all the rest. Please, Lady Brienne. Please, I do not ask for much, but for this one favor, I would never ask anything of you again.”

He had been crying like he was a child and not a knight. She had opened her blue eyes and looked at him. “You no longer have to serve me. Ser Podrick, you are a knight.”

He had squeezed her hand, smiling that she would answer. It was a sign she would not give into death Pod had said, “See, I still have much to learn.”

She had laughed, wincing from the pain. With that laugh, she had chosen to keep living. Pod was grateful for that decision.

Brienne came from behind the tree, holding her ribs and wiping her face with a rag.

Pod spoke, “Your stomach has been sour for over a week now.”

She spoke back with an angry edge to her voice. Pod knew she was troubled by the fact she was with child. “Perhaps, it's the fish you cooked or the chicken from the inn the night before.”

“Maybe we could find a healer in the next village. Just to look.”

She scowled at him.

 

As they rode down the road, Pod thought about Arya. He had waited for her. They had received word that Cersei had been found dead and he had thought for sure she would come to Winterfell, but she never came. He thinks of her often. Perhaps, she was dead like so many others. He would not believe that anything could kill her. When she never came to Winterfell, the fact she might be dead seemed more and more likely.

He had heard what the Golden Company and the dragons had done to King’s Landing. They had seen the damage as they rode through the countryside. He had heard that entire sections of King’s Landing were ash and melted stone. The Hound never came back either. It seemed apparent when they departed Winterfell, that Arya Stark was dead.

Sometimes, he dreams about her coming to him, burned flesh falling from her bones. She never speaks and when he tries to help her, to reach her, she disappears. Sometimes, he dreams that the Mountain has her by the throat and is choking her while he rapes her. Sometimes, he dreams even more terrible things about how Arya Stark met her end.

However, there are other dreams, dreams where she is alive and they are building snow forts in Winterfell with their children, dreams where they are riding through a forest together, dreams where she is sleeping next to him, content and safe.

 

Brienne sees the lone figure riding down the road before he does. She is observant and he is lost in his thoughts. Brienne speaks, ”Someone approaches..”

 

As they get closer, his heart beats faster.

It is Arya Stark.

Arya speaks first as if she has not been gone for so long from their company. “Good day, Brienne.”

Arya looks thinner but no worse for the wear. In fact, she seems relatively untouched or any different when she left Winterfell months ago.

Brienne speaks, formally. “Good day Lady Arya. You should send word to your sister. She is worried for you.”

Arya answers her, but she is looking at Pod. Her eyes are big and grey and remind him of winter. She smiles and he swears the sun seems brighter and the air warmer. “I will, I swear. Brienne, I have come for your squire.”

“Ser Pod is not my squire anymore. He is a knight, knighted on the battlefield, by Ser Jaime Lannister. Ser Podrick saved your sister, Lady Sansa, and more than a dozen men.”

Her smile is a mix of gentle teasing and pride of his accomplishments, “A knight? Congratulations, Ser Podrick.”

He speaks, “Good morning, Lady Arya. How have you been? I have.. We have all been worried about you these months.”

“I am sure, but I had a list that needed to be completed. It is finished now. I would like to have some adventures, some fun and you had said you would accompany me. But, maybe you are too busy to come with me? ”

“I will go. I told you I would go. I would go anywhere with you. But I must get Lady Brienne to Tarth. I swore to your sister I would.”

Arya smiles, “I am sure there are plenty of ships on Tarth.”

Brienne looks at the two of them and smiles softly. She says nothing but continues riding south. Arya and Pod ride side by side behind her. There is much to tell, much to say, but they have many nights to share all the things they have witnessed and done. For now, it is good enough to ride beside her, quiet in the sunshine.