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The Stranger's Bride

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A ghostly white ash covered the ruins of the Red Keep. Her feet made no sound as she walked through the godswood. The sharp smell of smoke filled her nostrils. A great oak that served for a heart tree stood half burned with the last blood-red leaves clinging stubbornly to the lower branches. Years had passed since Arya prayed here with her father. She smoothed her fingers over the face carved in the trunk and knelt on the soft ground.

 

'Help me Old Gods!' She pleaded. 'Help me find home!'

 

Arya wasn't sure where was her home now. Winterfell was a huge castle but never big enough for her and Sansa, and without Jon it just didn't feel right. For the first time in months, she found herself thinking of Braavos. She wondered if Jaqen H'ghar thought of her sometimes. Did the Many Faced God know what she had done? She stole so many faces, so many lives that weren't hers to take...

The leaves whispered tenderly, soothing her senses. Arya closed her eyes, trying to understand what her father's gods wanted of her. A light breeze had come from the sea, releasing a faint scent of ginger and cloves. Suddenly, she felt a shiver down her spine. He was there. The Many Faced God wanted his due.

Arya sprang to her feet and turned around to look at her former mentor. His handsome face was half-shadowed by the hood of his black cloak, his tall figure towered a head over hers. Jaqen H'ghar stood silent like a ghost as if waiting for her to speak first.

 

'What are you doing here?'

 

He pulled back the hood, revealing his long, blood-red hair with white streaks contrasting sharply to the darker color. His comely features and unusual coloring made him stand out among the others, but it was the intense aura of suppressed power emanating from him that turned her on.

As usual, he didn't answer directly.

 

'In Braavos poets are singing songs about a fierce she-wolf who fought the Death.'

 

His deep voice was pleasant and polite but his face showed her nothing. Arya looked at him, uncertain what to make of his words. Was Jaqen H'ghar proud of his apprentice or angry at her?

 

'Has the Many Faced God sent you? Will you take me to Braavos?'

 

Jaqen H'ghar inclined his head.

 

'If this is your wish. The Stranger's Bride is waiting in the Blackwater Bay. We can sail right away, sweet girl.'

 

Her eyes widened in surprise.

 

'The Stranger's Bride?'

 

His facade was gone now. He averted his face quickly and shrugged impatiently.

 

'I didn't pick the name!'

 

Arya was too astounded to laugh. Did Jaqen H'ghar blush? All at once the tension left her body. She remembered that from time to time Jaqen would lose his composure too. Usually it happened when she was around.

 

'Who did then?' She asked, all innocence.

 

'No one!' His full mouth set in a pout that resembled a stubborn boy's grimace. 'There was no other ship heading to King's Landing. A man had no choice.'

 

Arya looked at him with growing amusement. He seemed so young without the mask of sternness which he wore so often when he was her mentor. For the first time it occurred to her that perhaps he had hated that studied coldness as much as she had hated it. She bit her lip to suppress a grin. All of a sudden her future was looking much brighter.

 

'I will go to Braavos.' She agreed generously. 'But first, I want to sail west. I want to see the places no one has seen before.'

 

'West?!' Her deadly friend stared at her in disbelief. 'A girl...she makes a jest?'

 

'This is my wish.' She insisted, crossing her arms.

 

'By the gods! It will take moons before we reach the eastern shore! It might be a year before we make it home!'

 

Arya felt a thousand butterflies fluttering in her stomach. A year with Jaqen! Without the elders to watch over them! She was so happy that she could dance.

 

'Then we must hurry.' She looked at him pitilessly. 'We need food and water supplies. Is the Stranger's Bride solid enough?' She smiled sweetly. 'A couple of Greyjoys' ships have been spared. We can take one of those.'

 

He seemed resigned.

 

'She is strong enough to sail wherever this girl commands.' He hissed through clenched teeth.

 

'Jaqen.' She said in all seriousness. 'I'm going to enjoy every moment of this betrothal.'

 

He shot her a glance like blue fire.

 

'A man did not propose!'

 

Arya turned away from him with laughter and led them out of the godswood. She heard Jaqen H'ghar mumbling Lorathi curses under his breath. The future looked very bright indeed.