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Longing for home

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Arya 

Arya Stark had never been more angry in her life. No amount of calm as still water reminders could have calmed her down. Father betrayed. Syrio, Hullen, Desmond, even Septa Mordane dead. All because of Sansa’s stupidity. Jeyne Poole was tortured at the hands of the Boltons because of her actions. How could she do that? 

Would Fat Tom and Cayn have died if she kept her mouth shut? 

I hate her. I hate her. I hate her.

Jory and Heward and Wyl died and she still trusted the Lannisters. Even after Mycah and Lady. 

How could she? 

Were it not for the curse upon the kinslayer, Arya wonders whether she would have killed Sansa for what she did. A dark part of her thinks: Valar Morghulis anyway. 

How could she? 

Hullen had always been kind to her, guiding her pony around the yard. Jory kept her secrets just as well as he kept everyone else’s. Septa Mordane thought the sun shone out of her arse and Jeyne, Jeyne used to call Arya, horseface just to endear herself to her. And Father? Father only wanted to keep her safe and away from the Lannisters. How could she do that? 

Arya wanted to kill something, she wanted to cry, to scream, she wanted to punch something, she wanted to sleep and never wake up again. How could she do that?! 

When she finally got to her room, Arya found her packed bag, she was planning to leave right after the wedding and now was as good a time as ever to leave. I can’t believe I planned to stay for the wedding just to save her the embarrassment.  As if that was the worst thing that  could happen to her. 

Arya could not stay in the same place as that traitor. How could she do that?! 

Arya had just grabbed her bag and turned to leave when Uncle Brynden and Jon burst in, both of their eyes going straight to her bag. Questions in their eyes. 

“If you must know, I’m leaving. I packed my bags last night, even before this mess. Now’s a good time as any, excuse me please.” 

Both of them moved to block her. 

“Please. Excuse me.” Arya begged. Trying not to cry. 

“Ser Brynden, please can you excuse us?” Jon asked, turning to her uncle. 

Her uncle hesitated but did as he was bid. When her uncle left the floor of her room, Jon took her hand and dragged her from the guest room Sansa had given her all the way to the Lord of Winterfell’s room. His room . He locked the door behind him.

“Arya, what’s happening? Where were you going?” Jon asked. 

“I have no place here. Don’t you have a wedding to be at? Your pretty wife, in her pretty dress is probably waiting for you,” she bit back. 

“Arya, I don’t think any wedding is happening today and I can’t say I’m upset about that.” 

“I didn’t want to embarrass her. I didn’t want to come between you. I was going to leave but Jon, how could she do that?” Arya beseeched. That’s all she could manage before her sobs racked out of her chest. Jon moved to grab her then, to hold her against his chest.

“How could she? How could she? How could she?” 

Jon held her throughout it all. He held her as she screamed. He held her as she weeped. He even held her when she thrashed against his chest as if hitting him could take away her pain.

When she quieted down somewhat, he put his forehead against hers. “I’m always here,” he said. “Whatever you do. I’m by your side. Cry, shout, scream. But please. Don’t leave, Arya. Not now, not ever.”

Arya looked up at him then, he had tears in his eyes just like her. He lost them too. 

“I don’t care that the wedding isn’t going ahead. I’m not even upset. I just want to be here for you. I can’t do that if you leave. Please let me,” he begged.

He looked so earnest, Arya didn’t know which of them made the first move, but she thought it was her. They kissed then. A kiss they put all their sorrow in. All their love. All their pain. All the years they spent apart and all the people they lost and all their hopes for a future neither of them felt prepared to face.

“Please. Stay,” Jon said, punctuating each word with a kiss.

And when she started weeping again, Jon held her throughout. He lay next to her in his bed as she sobbed her sorrow out. Not that it ever lessened at all. 

And when she sought to try and forget her pain she’d raise her lips to his, hoping he could kiss the pain away. At one point she even wrapped her legs around him begging him to rock into her clothed form. For a moment, as he found purchase between her skirts and against her smallclothes, she kissed him as if her life depended on it. Between her whimpers and his groans, her Jons and his I-love-yous she found something else to concentrate on. And when she couldn’t stand it any longer she removed that last barrier between them. “Please Jon,” she begged, “Please.”  She knew it was folly but she was desperate. So desperate to make the hurt go away. For that short while it did. Jon had never been one to say no to her so as he entered her, reaching places she could never on her own, moving above her and inside her, rocking, slowly at first, kissing every spot of her he could reach, biting her lip and leading their kisses, holding her, his eyes expressing the love he’d already expressed with his lips, she found a short respite. When she returned his fervor, his gentle strokes turned into thrusts, her hips moving to meet each one as she bit and moaned and scratched, whimpering I-missed-you, I-love-you, Jon, I-tried-to-come-back, Jon, I-missed-you in his ear. Her words emboldened him, turning his sweet, pleasurable, grinding into rough rutting that swallowed all her words and none of her screams. He rut, crashing against that spot inside and rubbed the nub outside that made Arya see stars behind her eyes. And when she reached her peak with just his name on her lips and a sound that could only mean I love you he followed her over the edge. He held her until she fell asleep and held her even after that.

Arya woke up to Beth Cassel tapping her shoulder. “Here, put your shift back on and come with me,” she said, handing Arya her shift before taking her back to the guest room. 

“People talk and I didn’t think you’d want to be found in Jon’s room and become the subject of gossip. I’ll deal with the sheets in Jon’s room later. Now get in this bed and look asleep.”

She returned shortly afterwards, bringing Arya food and in the company of girls from the Keep who began drawing Arya a bath. Arya asked them the time and they told her it was noon. The day after the wedding. After she and Jon finished, Arya slept the rest of the wedding day away and most of the next morning.

When the girls had drawn the bath, Arya asked Beth to stay and eat with her. There was a lone winter rose in a glass on the tray. “Jon asked me to send this up with your food,” Beth said. 

Thoughts of what they did the previous night made Arya’s cheeks burn and that he thought of sending her her favourite flower despite all the upheaval he would be dealing with made her feel warm inside. He was generous with his expressions of love for her even after they both finished. “I love you,” he’d whisper in her ear as he held her from behind. When she turned to face him, “I’ve dreamt of you returning to me for years,” he told her between gentle kisses. “I looked for you in people I met, but it was never enough,” he said. She wanted to tell him how she did the same and how news of his death broke her. She wanted to tell him how her attempt to return to him nearly cost her her life in much the same way his attempt to return to her cost him his. But she didn’t know how to speak of that without disclosing her work with the Faceless Men. She thought he would hate her if he knew what she became, even if the Kindly Man did not ask her to kill for most of her five years of service. So she tried to put all her love in her kisses and gentle touches. 

And while she didn’t know that she loved Jon as a woman loves a man before, she was sure, as she lay in his arms, that she did. His words and his actions before last night, during the night, and now as he sent her this flower told her he must feel the same. That he told her he wanted her even before the wedding and then took her in his marital bed surely had to mean something. 

When they finished eating Arya asked Beth what happened after she left the wedding. 

“Jon held meetings all night. The Northern lords and ladies were opposed to the idea of Jon honouring the betrothal and the Queen was in agreement with them. Sansa and her contingent from the Vale all left at dawn. They were escorted to the White Knife by guards from Winterfell led by Anguy. Sansa refused to speak to anyone as she left. Even if she did speak, I’m not sure what she could say for herself. She was accompanied by Lord Edmure Tully and his family, including Lord Frey.”

Beth had grown up with them so never called Jon the Prince, or even Aemon. She returned to Winterfell soon after he came back. As she was the only other person from their childhood in Winterfell when Jon took over, he put her in charge of most of the responsibilities related to managing household staff. Her husband, Anguy, did the same for the men as Winterfell’s Captain of the Household Guard. 

“The Queen and her party will be leaving shortly with Lord Wylis Manderly who will host them at New Castle for two days before they sail to King’s Landing. Most of the lords and ladies of the North are still here. In fact, I’m not sure anyone else has left,” Beth offered.

When Arya didn’t speak, Beth added, “For what it’s worth, I don’t blame you for what you did at the wedding yesterday. You spoke for all of us, Jory was my cousin but good to all of us. I don’t blame you for what happened between you and Jon after either. I know what a woman will give to a man who cares for her. I wouldn’t be here without Anguy after everything that happened to me at the Dreadfort.”

“Anyway, You haven’t seen Jeyne yet, she lives in a small house in Karhold now, but when we first came back to Winterfell she was broken. She couldn’t even look at you when you spoke to her. She was nothing like the girl we grew up with. I can’t believe Sansa would have had a role in what happened to her.” 

“I know we weren’t always close when we were children, Arya, and I am sorry for that. House Cassel stood behind House Stark for thousands of years. For what it’s worth, I wish to stand beside you for what remains of my years.” Beth reached out to hold Arya’s hand as she said that.

Beth never directly bullied Arya but they were never close. She always preferred Sansa’s company to hers even though she was Arya’s age. To hear her extending a hand of friendship to her, made her want to cry. 

But all Arya could say was, “Thank you Beth.”  

“That’s alright. Would you like me to help you with your bath?”

“No thank you. Thank you for the food and for keeping me company as well,” Arya replied. 

As she sat in her bath Arya found that she didn’t much care for what Sansa did. She never wanted to see her again. But she wondered whether her actions had led the Queen to leaving Winterfell much earlier than planned. While she felt ashamed at that, she didn’t really find it in herself to want to rectify it. In fact, if she could, Arya didn’t much want to see anyone but she didn’t want to sit in this room any longer.

When she dressed, she made her way to the covered bridge which connected the Great Keep to the armoury. Thankfully, as she made her way to the armoury, she only saw Tom O’Sevens and Ned who said nothing to her. From the armoury she made her way to the Godswood where she hoped no one would bother her.

Father used to go there when he needed to think. Sometimes he’d bring Arya here too, especially when Septa Mordane complained about her or when she was in trouble. He’d never shout at her, he’d only speak to her, ask her what upset her and then he’d tell her why her actions might have hurt someone else. And then they’d sit at vigil together in front of the Heart Tree. 

As Arya sat there she found herself thinking on Jon’s words about Ghost and Nymeria. For years Arya assumed that they were just dreams. She knew that she could enter the minds of animals, she had done so in Braavos during her years serving the House but she did not know that her dreams were Nymeria’s actions at night. The Night Wolf. Perhaps she should have suspected it. In Braavos she’d wake up with the taste of blood in her mouth after a wolf dream. And here in Winterfell, she should have known it was real when she woke up with an ache between her legs the night Ghost took Nymeria for a mate. 

In Braavos, she entered the minds of animals to listen in on conversations, especially during the Sealord elections, she used them to deliver messages back to the kindly man and sometimes she used them to kill like the time she killed the waif and the Volantene trader who abused little girls. 

If her wolf dreams were real, did she pull her mother out of the river? Rise. Rise and eat and run with us she remembers thinking in her wolf dream. Who was that woman who was hanging the boy in Arya’s wolf dream. The woman she killed?

Arya continued to sit by the Heart Tree long after she stopped thinking about her wolf dreams.  She was sitting there for a while before she heard heavy footsteps making their way to her. It was Lord Manderly. He sat next to her and patted her back. 

“Why did you wait until the wedding to reveal what you knew?” Arya asked him. 

“Lord Baelish told me what he did five years ago, but I didn’t think it was something worth acting upon. Not until Lady Dustin found the letter. When Barbrey found the letter to Robb, I thought he might have been on to something. The rest was confirmed by you.” 

“Believe me, I had no intention to disclose what I heard before that letter. I am a Manderly, sworn to serve House Stark. When the Manderlys were exiled from the Reach, House Stark took us in. My loyalty is to House Stark but I had to do what’s right for the North and your sister was not right for the North. I’m sure Lady Sansa regrets her actions but I could not stand to see the North neglected once more. Our people are proud but they are hungry. I’m sure you’ve heard how the old men of the mountain clans go ‘hunting’ when winter comes. Many of them don’t return when the spring comes. Your sister sent help to some of the clans, it’s true, but it was not enough. And I would never expect her to meet the needs of every hungry person in the North. But the Stark words are not Winter is Coming for no reason sweet girl. They are a warning of what we faced against the Others, yes, a warning about tough times to come, yes, but it’s also a warning that winter itself is coming. A warning to be prepared. White Harbor managed to feed the North this winter but it cannot feed the North indefinitely without changes being made. When your sister pushed for the expansion of Gulltown’s port despite knowing the need people here had, it became clear to me your sister’s priority was the interests of the Vale and not the North. Jon is one man, he cares for the North but he has responsibilities beyond us. Whoever he marries, even if he becomes King, will have to be a pillar for the people of this land. Your sister proved she could not be that pillar.” 

“What made you suspect her?” 

“When she arrived with Littlefinger, she sat there quietly while he berated Jon. She didn’t bat an eyelid as he protested Jon’s claim as King in the North. I found that odd. Even if she was the trueborn heir, I’ve never known a Stark to be disloyal or to make moves against a member of their family in front of others. A Stark would die for their family before they would see harm come to them. One only needs to look at the actions of your uncle Brandon, your grandfather and even your father when he raised Jon as his bastard. Sansa only turned on Littlefinger when she learned she was disinherited. She quickly recovered but I saw how her face dropped at the news of her disinheritance. And when she turned on Littlefinger, she revealed things no hostage should know. Things only a co-conspirator would. That is not to say she was not playing Littlefinger. For all your sister’s faults I believe she was pleased to see him die for what he did to your father but I didn’t think her actions were truly noble.” 

“If I ever earn your ire Lord Manderly, talk to me first. Do not attempt to do to me what you did to Sansa,” Arya told him. 

“I ask the same of you my lady,” he smiled.

“I have known four generations of Starks and few were as fiery as you.”

“I knew your brothers Robb and Bran but you don’t need me to describe them to you. I met your great grandfather when I was a child. Edwyle Stark was the son of a warrior lord killed by the King-Beyond-the-Wall Raymund Blackbeard, he was a tough man. I suppose he’d have to be losing his father in that way but much like your own father, he was quiet and measured.”

“I knew your grandfather too. Rickard Stark was a stern man, honourable. He had a quiet dignity about him. His lady wife Lyarra was a friend of my lady cousin Donella, she was a sweet, loving woman. I don’t believe I ever heard her shout. And then there was your father. I don’t believe I need to tell you about the Quiet Wolf. Benjen left us for the wall too young so I didn’t get to know him very well but I did know your aunt Lyanna somewhat. She was a good-natured girl and a friend of the smallfolk but when she got something in her head, no one could stop her. Jon’s the biggest example of that. As for your uncle Brandon,” he chuckled when he said that, “he was a friend of everyone in the North, well everyone whose daughter’s maidenhead he hadn’t taken but the man was as fiery as wildfire and just as explosive. I see bits of him and Lyanna in you.”

“But what you have in common with every Stark I have ever met is your love of the North. The Starks have not ruled the North for eight thousand years just because of their name. Even when the first Starks conquered, they sought to meet the needs of their people. Why do you think The North Remembers?”

“As I said, Jon is good, but he is one man with responsibilities to both the North and South. You, however, are the daughter of the North sweet girl. You are the Stark in Winterfell and we’ll look to you. I’ll be here by your side, every step of the way and my Wylis will be by your side after me. My granddaughters are also just as capable. You also have Maege and her troupe of she-bears. You have the Hornwoods, the Umbers, the Karstarks - who make a point to remind us Karstarks are the descendants of Starks,” he turned to smile and wink at her then.

“You have the Glovers, Robett has told us all about your Weasel soup and how you saved the Northmen at Harrenhal. Each one of the mountain clans already calls you theirs - the Flints take an opportunity to point out you are the blood of their Arya Flint,” he said rolling his eyes. 

“You have the Tallharts and the Cerwyns behind you as well. Even the most quarrelsome family in the North, the Ryswells seem to have managed to stop arguing with each other when it comes to you. Then there's Barbrey Dustin... the North has not seen a bigger schemer since Roose Bolton and even she seems to like you...perhaps she sees Brandon in you." He laughed as he said that.

"And dare I say it, even the Wildlings seem to be taken with you," he added.  

“My point, sweet girl, is that the North is behind you. First, we’ll find Rickon, wherever he is and Bran if he is alive, though I have heard nothing of him, and then we’ll rebuild our homeland.” 

Lord Manderly patted her on the back then and left to return to the Keep. 

As the sun set, Uncle Brynden joined her. He didn’t speak for a long time, he just sat beside her. 

“I know what it’s like to have a sibling who you cannot see eye to eye with, child. Hoster and I were much the same. Even as we lit his funeral pyre, I was sure the man would get up one last time to remind me about the Redwyne girl I refused to marry,” he looked at Arya then, trying to make her smile.

“We hardly spoke for decades and the stubborn man just would not let it go. But as he lay there dying I found myself wondering what was more important, my brother or my pride? That’s not to say I’d marry that Redwyne girl, mind,” he smiled again.

“But that man was my brother and as a Tully of Riverrun my words are Family, Duty, Honour. For all that you are a Stark, you are a Tully of Riverrun too, child. I see your uncle Edmure’s concern for the smallfolk in you, I see your mother’s fire too.”

When Arya turned to look at him, a confused look on her face, he said, “Oh don’t look at me like that. Your mother was one of the strongest people I knew. Don’t let her dresses and courtesies fool you, when she believed in something she wouldn’t let it go. You have that in you too. And you got your best quality from me,” he smiled, prompting her to ask more.

“You don’t mince your words. In a world of two-faced sorts, it takes strength to say what you mean, child. But Sansa is your sister. She is one half of you. I wouldn’t be a Tully if I didn’t remind you that family comes first. When your mother read that letter from King’s Landing she immediately knew those were Cersei Lannister’s words.”

“I would never have written such a letter,” Arya challenged. 

“Not even to save your father’s life, child?” he asked, a kind look still on his face. 

“She wouldn’t have needed to write that letter if she didn’t betray Father in the first place!” Arya exclaimed. 

“Aye, you’re right. She made a mistake in speaking to Cersei and there’s little I can say to defend that, especially after everything you said yesterday. I only say this: don’t repeat the mistake Hoster and I made. The two of you may not get the chance to rectify that mistake.” 

“Now, enough of this speech. I’m an old man, the North is too cold for my bones and if I knew what was good for me I’d say my place is in Riverrun, but I know my place is beside the family that needs me. Edmure is a man grown with a family of his own. Your sister has left for the Eyrie without saying a word to any of us. Edmure has gone with her. She will not be without her family. What I mean to say, child, is I wish to get to know you. If you’ll have me, I’d like to remain in Winterfell, by your side.”

Arya found herself crying then and hugged her uncle. Sobbing into his chest. He kissed her brow lightly in the way Father might have done and that made her cry some more.

“I used to sit like this with your mother when she was a child. Hoster was too busy and Minisa too sick so she and Lysa and Edmure and even that damned Petyr Baelish would come to me with all their worries. Believe it or not, the man was once a sweet boy,” her uncle said.  

“Cat would have wanted me to be here for you, child. She heard news about all her children, both good and bad, but nothing about you, ever. You don’t know how much that hurt your mother.”

Arya wiped her tears then, “When the Brotherhood was returning me to Mother, I thought she might not want me back, I was so dirty and never a good lady,” she sobbed.

“Your mother knew Westeros does not allow girls to be what they want, sweet child, but she loved you and all your wilfulness. Half a boy and half a wolf pup. Forbid her anything and it became her heart’s desire. She had Ned’s long face, and brown hair that always looked as though a bird had been nesting in it. I despaired of ever making a lady of her. She collected scabs as other girls collected dolls, and would say anything that came into her head. I loved you from that description alone.”

Arya thought her tears would never stop at that so her uncle held her. 

And after hours or moments, Arya wasn’t quite sure, when she finished crying her uncle asked her to come back inside. She told him she’d like to sit a while longer. He kissed her brow one more time and returned to the Keep.

When he left, the leaves of the Heart Tree began to shake and Arya heard a voice. 

“A time for stags, a time for lions, the sun and dragons, and now, a time for wolves.”

This voice was different from all those Arya heard from a Weirwood before. It wasn’t Father’s nor the voice of the boy with laughter in his words who she heard at the laughing tree. This voice belonged to an older man. A man who sounded like he was of an age with her father. 

While Arya sat there racking her brain trying to make sense of what she heard, she began to hear footsteps. Only to see Sam’s friend from the Citadel, Pate. 

Am I going to get any peace here at all? She found herself wondering.

Instead, “How is it that a Southron worships at a Heart Tree?” she asked, not turning her head to face him after seeing his approach.  

“A man always did say a girl had more courage than sense.” 

Arya whipped her head round to see Pate’s face was gone and replaced by the face of the one who once called himself Jaqen H’ghar all those years ago. 

Arya jumped up then, “What are you doing here?!” she shouted. 

Unabashedly, he continued, “After today, a man learned the many names on a girl’s lips were about loss not vengeance. Still...a girl is not able to control her anger. Tsk. The House normally teaches discipline. Did your instructor not?" He shrugged.

"A girl of Stark always did do whatever she wants.” 

“Why are you here?” Arya asked him. 

“A man has been in Westeros for years, why are you here?” he asked in that nonchalant voice of his. 

“This is my home. I’ll ask you again, why are you here? Why did you tell me to go to Braavos If you wouldn’t be there?!”

“A girl needed discipline, not that a girl has learned but at least she is alive,” he said, looking her up and down, unimpressed, yet smiling.

“As for me, all men must die. The House had a role to play in the War for the Dawn and our knowledge was required.”

“And now?”

“And. Now.” he smiled. 

When he didn’t finish his sentence, Arya grew fearful after what Jon told her of his death, Arya blurted out, “Are you here for Jon?” 

“Oh no, lovely girl, he still has a role to play,” he smiled. 

“So why are you here?” she asked again. 

“The House is watching and a man is the watcher.  All men must serve. Yes?” 

Arya looked at him confused. He always did talk in riddles. 

“You’re watching me?”

“The House watches everyone lovely girl. The Valyrian Freehold raised and destroyed. Even after the Doom, the Valyrian project remained alive in every one of the Free Cities and beyond. Yet the bastard city that hid itself from the world survived. That city of slaves grew to be the most powerful of them all. Have you never wondered why? Perhaps the House raises and destroys just as well.  The Game isn’t played on just one side of the Narrow Sea, lovely girl, and a man has been busy. Watching. Waiting.” 

“Waiting for what?” 

“To see if one follows the path of old or carves a new one. For now she pleases the House but there are concerns.” 

“What? What have I done? I did my five years of service and the kindly man said I could leave!” Arya protested. 

“Who said anything about you, lovely girl?” he said, smiling that annoying smile of his. 

“Anyway, a man came to give you this,” he said, fishing out a small bag from his pocket. 

Sniffing, she said, “Moontea?”

“Is a girl ready to bring a life into the world?” 

“How did you even know?”

“A man knows these things. A cavalier girl of Stark is not one to ask a Maester. A girl with more courage than sense would ask a chambermaid or a whore. A man hears that’s who a girl likes to speak to, Arya Underfoot , but a girl cannot do that without risking gossip. No? But me? Friends can have secrets. Yes?”

“I already have a friend who’d help me.”

“It is all the same,” he dismissed her. 

“Are you here to kill me?” she found herself asking.

“Why would a man do that?” he asked. “A girl served, a girl is serving and a girl will serve.” He paused for effect in that annoying way he always did before quickly adding, “ And a man cannot kill someone he knows,” with a shrug. 

Arya heard Harwin come running to the Godswood then. “Arya Underfoot! Arya Underfoot! You’ll want to see this!” 

When she got up to follow him, the Heart Tree showered her with leaves singing a time for wolves a time for wolves , a time for wolves . At which Pate, Jaqen was gone, smiled knowingly. 

--

Jon: 

Jon was at a loss for words. He heard bits and pieces of Arya’s journey from Gendry, the Brotherhood, Ned Dayne and Sandor Clegane but hearing what she had been through from her mouth had broken something inside him. 

No nine year old should ever have had to go through the things she did. And to go through that as a result of her sister’s actions was something unimaginable to Jon. They all used to joke about don’t tell Sansa but no one would ever have seen what she did coming.

Jon was mostly surprised at the fact that Sansa made no previous mention of her actions. She didn’t even seem to express any guilt for her role in what happened to the Stark household in King’s Landing. He had spent a lot of time with Sansa during the wars and felt as if they had gotten close enough to share their life’s regrets. Sansa spoke often of the evil of Petyr Baelish but never once spoke about her role in the same events that led to the downfall of Ned Stark. Perhaps she felt ashamed. 

When he ensured that Arya was fast asleep, Jon left his rooms to begin a series of meetings that lasted until dawn. First he held court with his principal bannermen and then the Queen and her advisors and finally he met with the lords of the Vale and Ser Brynden and Lord Edmure Tully.

The Tullys were his last meeting of the night. He advised them that the betrothal was over. “After everything that happened today I do not believe I need to provide reasons my lords, but I can no longer honour this betrothal and make someone my bannermen accuse of treason my lady-wife nor will the Queen have the Crown associated with such a controversy when her own rule is still new.”

When neither of them spoke, Jon continued. 

“I have already asked my Steward, Eddison Tollett, the Captain of my Household Guard, Ser Anguy of the Hollow Hill, and my Master of Arms, and advisor, Ser Richard Lonmouth to meet with the High Steward of the Vale, Lord Yohn Royce, and Lord Wyman Manderly of New Castle to sort out provisions for Lady Sansa’s journey back to the Eyrie. She will be leaving at dawn. Stark guards will accompany the Vale party until they board a barge at the White Knife to White Harbor from where they will sail to Gulltown.”

“You mean to send her away from her father’s home because of a letter she was forced to write?” Lord Edmure asked Jon.

“My Lord, the letter is not the issue. Even if I accept that she was a child, my lords make a good point. Bran ruled Winterfell at a younger age. Lord Glover has also spoken of how Arya saved Northmen at Harrenhal, also at a younger age. Sansa is not being held against the standard of a child, but the standard of a Stark child and she has fallen well below those expectations.”

“Edmure will travel with Sansa to the Eyrie but I am staying here to ensure my other niece’s interests are protected,” The Blackfish replied. 

“You are welcome to do so Ser Brynden,” Jon agreed.

Sansa left the morning after the wedding without speaking to anyone. 

As he watched the sunrise, Jon found himself thankful the wedding didn’t go ahead but regretted the way in which it was called off: with a distressed Arya. Jon held her for hours after the wedding as she wept. She held onto him as if he was a lifeline. It was all Jon dreamt of for a long time but he didn’t know what to think of their kiss nor of the home he found inside her. Did she want him or was it only something that happened in the middle of her distress? 

Jon was so heartbroken to see her packed bag when he went to her room. To think that she would leave again without saying goodbye. He also noticed the scars around her gut and between her ribs. Something she chose, he guesses like many things, not to talk about. To know she suffered hurts him but he doesn’t want to push her for answers she’s not ready to give. 

Instead, he found himself trying to think of a way to keep her by his side. As he held her, as she held onto him for strength, for comfort, for love, as he kissed her, and loved her into his bed, spilling inside her, a man in love, he found himself wondering whether he could take her for a bride.

If there’s one thing he knew with respect to that question it was that Arya was in no position to think of that now. 

As he stood there overlooking the yard on a balcony in the Great Keep, Dany joined him. 

“My brother Viserys would call what happened at the wedding, waking the dragon ,” she joked. “Do the  Starks have a name for it?”

“Father called it the wolf blood,” he replied. “He always said Arya had it. You’d be interested to know the other two people he said had it were my mother and my Uncle Brandon. You’ll remember it was his wolf blood that had him marching to King's Landing to shout, come out and die , when my father and mother disappeared together. 

At that, the two of them chuckled. 

“You have a lot on your plate. You don’t need to bother yourself with hosting a royal party on top of everything else you have going on here. Wylis Manderly has invited Willas and I to New Castle and I have accepted. Samwell and his family will be staying. I will see you in King's Landing in two months’ time to discuss the issue with the Iron Bank," she said.

Once Dany left, Jon went to the small common room they had built in the armoury building. He knew Lem would be there as would Edd who’d already told Jon he’d visit Lem. And if Edd was there Jon assumed Sam would be there as well. Ned also spent most evenings with the Brotherhood as well. The only person he didn’t expect to see when he got there was Tormund. 

“Arya’s in the Godswood , Ned said, watching her from the window in the armoury. “Don’t worry, about her, we’re taking turns to keep watch.”

“Just so you know I ate a hearty share of the pigeon pie. Enough for you and your bride and then I took a tier of it home in addition to enough lemon cakes to last me a lifetime,” Edd offered, while Lem and Tormund chewed through plate-fulls of said wedding pie.

“Everyone will say you didn’t get married because of Lady Arya but I know why you really didn’t get married,” he went on. 

When Jon asked why, he replied, “You may have forgotten, but before you rode a dragon and became the prince of every maiden’s fantasy, you once swore to take no wife and father no children, it’s probably just come back to bite you in the arse. Having said that, I suppose that means I’m fucked as well.”

“Well, calling you fucked wouldn’t be quite right would it?” Sam quipped back in the voice of Sam, the lover. 

“I know the girl was your betrothed lad, but she’s lucky she left here unscathed. The little she-wolf broke my nose for much less. When she tried to kill the Hound for that butcher’s boy of hers, it was Gendry who stopped her. He had a way of whispering in her ear and calming her down but I don’t think even he could have stopped her yesterday. Even you struggled and that girl thinks the world of you.” Lem said.

“We’ve had the Red Wedding and the Purple Wedding. Perhaps there’s a song to write here. I’d call it The Wedding of the Treacherous Red Trout but after the Floppy Fish I think the Tullys would give the Faceless Men my name if I insult their family name one more time.”

“I’ll go with The Winds of Winter, Tom O’Sevens added. “No one who ever heard me sing my featherbed would know the playful maiden of the tree could whip up a cold winter storm that blew away a lion-turned-falcon before she could become a dragon.”

Of all the members of the Brotherhood, Jon often found Tom’s words the hardest to follow. 

Never one for silence, Tormund weighed in, “No kneeler I ever saw did something like that in front of any of your kings and queens. To tell you the truth, I’m not sure any of us did that in front of Mance.” 

“The wolf blood it’s called,” Jon smiled. 

“I thought she was quite measured by her old standards,” Harwin chimed in. “Arya loved my father and my father loved her; everyone lost that day in King’s Landing was someone she cared for. When the butcher’s boy was killed and Sansa refused to say what happened, Arya jumped on her in front of the King. What we saw yesterday was mild in comparison,” he added.

“I thought Ygritte was too much to handle for you, Crow but this one is a winter storm like he said…” Tormund said pointing at Tom, “...all on her own. You’ll have your hands full with this one. I like her. Her soul is kissed by fire. If you won’t take her for yourself, I’m sure it won’t be long before someone tries to steal her,”

When Jon narrowed his eyes at him, Tormund replied, “Not me! My bear will have my balls for that and your she-wolf is younger than all my daughters ‘cept Lyanna!” 

He paused as if he was in deep thought, “Perhaps this fire is why my blood follows you, Starks. My bear went to war behind your brother and came back to crown you. My cub, Dacey died with your wolf brother. My Alysanne fought with your fire king, Stannis against the squids, I and my other children fought beside you over the wall and back down again. My Dryn took you for a brother, giving his life for yours and my Munda named her baby after you. I never heard of a free folk called Jon before.”

“Anyway, you have nothing to worry about when it comes to someone actually stealing the she-wolf, I’ve seen what she can do with a sword and that one,” he said pointing at Lem, “is a big fucker and he said she broke his nose. We’ve all seen her words are enough to kill a man. The red-head dropped like a bag o’ stones at the wedding before the burnt man carried her off.”

Jon decided he wanted to turn the conversation away from stealing to speak to Ned, “Will you be staying with us for longer Ned? I think Arya would like Allyria’s company and you are always welcome in Winterfell.” 

Before he could speak, Tormund weighed in, putting down his drink, “Yes, he’ll be staying. The little star wants to steal my cub. Fancy sword or no, you will not have my girl unless you can steal her and I don’t think you can. She’ll gut you before that. I don’t care what her mother says about negotiating a betrothal. ” 

Intrigued, Jon asked for more. 

“I would like to marry Lady Jorelle Mormont,” Ned said shyly. “The two of us have spoken and find each other agreeable. I would like to stay to complete betrothal negotiations with Lady Mormont.” 

“He wants to melt my bear cub down in Dorne.” 

“We will be sending our star up North too my lord. My sister Allyria is being courted by Lord Harrion Karstark,” 

“Did he just call me my lord?” Tormund guffawed. “Reminds me of you bowing to me and calling me Your Grace , Crow. Your prince called me Your Grace,” he laughed heartily at everyone in the room, slapping Jon’s back. 

Jon was grateful for the distraction. 

After a while, Sam decided to retire for the night and Edd said he had some ledgers to work on. Tom, on the other hand, said he was off to Winter Town to “soon become Tom O’Eights if I can squeeze one more son out.” Tormund and Ned went to the Great Hall and Jon joined them. 

On the way there he came across The Blackfish and began to walk with him. The Blackfish told him he would be staying in Winterfell. He’d spoken to Arya earlier to tell her as much. Jon was somewhat glad to hear that. He wanted Arya to have as much family as possible around her. Perhaps then she wouldn’t leave. 

They sat together having their supper with the Dayne siblings and many of the Northern lords and ladies who hadn’t left Winterfell. Lady Dustin was telling anyone who’d listen why Southron ambitions were wrong and why Brandon Stark was happy with her until his father betrothed him to the Tully girl, sending the occasional glare at the Blackfish, but lowering her voice so he didn’t hear her say, Brandon was never shy about taking what he wanted. I am old now, a dried-up thing, too long a widow, but I still remember the look of my maiden’s blood on his cock the night he claimed me. I think Brandon liked the sight as well. A bloody sword is a beautiful thing, yes. It hurt, but it was a sweet pain. 

Her words made him think of his night with Arya, her blood on his sword. He wondered whether he could sheath himself in her again, sinking in her heat, moving to her sounds, hoping their story would be happier than Lady Dustin’s and their uncle’s. It might have been as sad if the wedding went ahead as Arya wished. 

You know nothing Jon Snow. A voice that sounded like Ygritte laughed.

Wolves and women wed for life. You take one, that’s a marriage." Varymyr had once told him. Ghost took Nymeria for a mate.

No one for you but her and you for her, his own voice whispered to him. The thought made him smile.

Lem came into the Hall then to whisper in Jon’s ear. “You’ll want to come out and see this.” 

When Jon asked what was going on, Lem simply said, “There are five people with the guards approaching the gates: two women, three boys and two direwolves, one of which is dragging the third boy. They also have shaggy horned horses with them.”

The wolves will come again. The wandering one, the wild one, and the winged.