Rickon was sleeping when she got to his rooms. After the execution, she had a bath drawn to wash herself of the blood. She knows Jon will be furious with her if he hears of what happened; of how she lost Needle in the melee. He lost it with her when she went after Sarra’s husband alone.
When Bran told them what he meant to do Jon warned her to stay away from any fighting that broke out. It’s why they kept her by the Heart Tree. But she couldn’t, not when they were attacking Jon and Lem and the Stark guards.
Still, she knew Syrio and Fario, her second teacher in Braavos, would no doubt be disappointed in her. What kind of water dancer drops their sword? Dizzy or not. She couldn’t see for a moment when he hit her on the head but since when did not seeing stop the blind girl? Syrio fought four Lannister men at once and only lost because he had a wooden sword. Arya Stark couldn’t even handle three.
Sarra was helping her bathe when she noticed the blood on the back of her head where the hilt of the Dustin man’s sword got her. Thankfully it was a shallow wound that didn’t need stitching. Her head still hurt though.
Though it was her who nearly lost her life, her thoughts were mainly with her brothers.
With Bran who would have made Father proud. He knew of Lady Dustin’s guilt but insisted on a trial. Justice must not only be done. It must also be seen to be done, were his words. Arya wanted to kill the woman herself. She could even make it look like the woman’s time had come. No one would have known any different but in doing what he did Bran sent out a message. The people saw him as a just man because he gave the woman a widely witnessed trial despite his gifts. He also gave them reason to fear his wrath, this boy on the cusp of manhood that had the Children of the Forest, who split continents apart, by his side. How do you commit crimes in the land of a man who can see the truth of the matter? After tonight, no man would call Brandon Stark, Bran the Broken ever again.
His people fought alongside Jon, the man who slew the Great Other, and they marched with the first King in the North for three centuries, and before all that they fought alongside their Father. The man who inspired love and loyalty even after his death.
Her brother had big shoes to fill and tonight he showed himself to be just as just, honourable, brave and fearsome when needed as all those who came before him. She was happy for him.
It was Rickon that she worried for. He reminded her so much of herself at his age. Headstrong. More courage than sense as Jaqen would say. Wherever he was.
Osha was leaving Rickon’s rooms with The Crowl when Arya came. When she told Osha Rickon nearly died, The Crowl began to laugh.
“He says the little lord was in no danger. He’d already killed a man before the one without the arm. The Crowl would have killed the one you killed before any harm came to Rickon,” Osha said in translation.
“He shouldn’t have been fighting at all,” Arya scowled, not sure who she was angry at. She supposed it was herself. She should have been watching him instead of giving into her own bloodlust.
“He answered the song of the blade.” was the Crowl’s response.
At his age, she’d already killed more times than him. In fact, she’d journeyed across the sea to join the House of Black and White. She wanted a different life for him. Rickon deserved to have the childhood they all lost. None of them had lost what Rickon had. The rest of them still had their memories of Mother and Father and family. He lost even that. She found herself believing in Bran’s dream of spring and she hoped it would give Rickon a semblance of peace.
Her little brother looked the boy of ten that he was, while asleep. Arya sat on his bed, stroking his hair, imagining this was what Mother would have done to her countless times when she was a child. His long auburn curls were unbound. He had shoulder-length hair now. Osha said he refused to have his hair cut for years after they left Winterfell and even after that he only shortened it a few inches every time. It suited him. Wild curls for her wild brother.
She’d just planted a kiss on his forehead when the door opened.
Shaggy walked over to lick Jon’s hand, an uncharacteristically gentle gesture on the part of their real wild wolf if there ever was one.
Jon sat on the other side of Rickon, not speaking either. Like her, he’d changed as well. And judging from his hair, he’d washed as well. They sat there in companionable silence watching their youngest.
“I told you I’m fine,” he said, opening one eye with a grin on his face.
“I was watching you through Shaggy,” he smirked. “I thought you were going to leave but I’m fine Arya. Really. Jon, tell her!”
“You shouldn’t have fought, Rickon,” Jon said instead.
“You did, and so did Arya,” Rickon pouted.
“She shouldn’t have either,” he said, before whispering conspiratorially, hiding his mouth with his hand, “I wish I had never given her a sword.”
Rising up and tilting his head, as if to get a better look at her, he added, “What do you think her punishment should be Rickon? I say we should lock her in a tower so she never gets in trouble again. What do you say?”
“I think she’d escape,” Rickon giggled. “She used to escape at night at White Harbor.”
“Oh did she?” Jon asked, folding his arms, and looking at her with a cheeky smile. “And where did she used to go?”
“She used to leave the castle with Wynafryd but I don’t know where,” the tell-tale told his tale.
Jon chuckled when she stuck her tongue out at Rickon.
“Go back to sleep little wolf,” Jon said, mussing his hair. “Tomorrow’s an important day for all of us.”
“As for you,” he whispered as they walked out, “walk with me.”
“I need to get my cloak.”
“No, you don’t.”
They walked in silence all the way to the empty godswood, hand in hand. He never let go of her, not even when they walked past the Umbers and Lord Manderly in the Guest House.
When they stood in front of the Heart Tree, he pulled her against his chest, planting a kiss on her forehead. “I never want to see you covered in blood like that again,” he said in a barely concealed sob.
When she looked up at him she saw the tears in his eyes. “I thought I told you not to get involved?”
She didn’t have a response for him. It was stupid of her. In joining them she left Rickon alone and if The Crowl wasn’t looking out for him then Rickon would have been hurt too. So she just wiped his tears and bumped her nose against his, hoping it would be the end of his anger. She already felt angry at herself.
“I’m sorry,” she said quietly, feeling like a berated child.
To her surprise his only words were “I love you Arya.”
She looked up to see the truth of his words in his eyes.
She rolled her eyes, amused at his proposal again. “I already said yes, stupid!”
“I mean now. I’ve already told Bran. We’re marrying after the council, while everyone is here.”
She pulled back from him. “What?”
He took her hands again. “Bran is announcing our betrothal tomorrow. And we marry three days later. A day after the Daynes.” He spoke with such conviction that she felt lightheaded. It was one thing to accept a betrothal with no date in mind but marriage. In three days. That made her head spin and her insides twist with anxiety.
“Why the hurry?” she finally managed with a dry mouth.
“A long time ago, someone told me if we die, we die, all men must die-“
“But first we’ll live. I couldn’t be true to her, not in the way she needed.”
“Your wildling woman.”
He nodded. “But seeing you tonight covered in blood like that made me understand what she meant. I know nothing matters to me more than you but I realised that whatever comes next, I want to face it with you as my wife.” He tightened his hold on her, kissing her lightly before placing his forehead against hers, eyes closed, probably waiting for her to say something.
She looked down at her feet and at the dark soil beneath the weirwood. She felt a fool, but she still asked him. “What about Sansa?”
Her sister had plagued her thoughts lately especially after Arya agreed to marry Jon. For all she had been appreciated for her beauty in Braavos, next to her sister she felt the sting of her old name. Arya Horseface - never quite good enough next to Sansa.
This time he pulled back from her. His body was suddenly tight with tension. He flexed the fingers in his sword hand.
“I have not spoken to Sansa in nearly eight months,” he exhaled. “If she was in your position what do you think she would have done?”
Arya was confused and she was sure it showed itself on her face in her furrowed brows and the mouth that sought to find words but could not.
“She would not have followed her heart or kept your happiness in mind,” he said in answer to the question he asked. “Sansa loves her sworn sword.”
“Yes. And yet she accepted a betrothal to a man she did not love for safety, for power, whatever her reason, Sansa did not love me in the way you think. And I wish you would see that. If Sansa was in your position, she would have chosen what benefited her, whether it would have made you happy or not.”
“Why would you marry her if you knew she didn’t want you?”
“Because she was my family and she needed me.”
“What if she still does?”
He bristled, exhaled loudly and looked out at the horizon, staying silent for an indeterminable time. The silence bore heavier on her every passing moment. What if he would choose her over me?
He moved away from her to a rock beside the black waters of the pool in the godswood.“Ever since I was a child I have tried to do the right thing. For others, for the greater good, for the realm. I joined the Night’s Watch because when Father left, your Mother would not have wanted me here-“
He raised his hand, silently begging her to let him finish. “That’s not to say I truly wanted to go. The day Father told me I could go I never felt more unloved. Well, until I joined the Watch. The Wall is a cold place, Arya and the people there colder. Men who joined the Night’s Watch for honour were few and far between. But whatever they were they became my brothers. I accepted my lot in life. Then one day Qhorin Halfhand tasked me with defending the Watch so for the greater good I killed a man I respected, and then I betrayed a woman who cared for me. The first person after...you.” His voice was thick. “For the greater good I let the free folk South of the Wall. For the greater good I gave up my crown. For the greater good I tried to support Dany on her throne because the alternative was war. All my life I’ve tried to do right by other people.” He scoffed before a bitter laugh escaped him. “To hear the way Bran tells it, even my parents coming together was about the greater good; about the role I’d play in the War for the Dawn. Well I’ve done that now. Is that all I was meant to be?”
She sat next to him, putting her hand in his. When he looked at their joined hands and up at her she saw tears in his eyes, no doubt a reflection of her own. She hated that all these years and great feats later they were still the children who never quite fit. The children who tried to find meaning in something bigger than them: him in his duty, her first in her anger and need for vengeance and then, in Braavos, she lost herself in service.
“I’m a man too Arya,” he said looking at her with painful sincerity. “I want to be more than a means to an end. For once I want to make the choice I want without having to think about anyone else.”
He stood up, hands still joined, he walked her to the Heart Tree. “I choose you. Here and now. I vow to love you until my dying day.” With a teary smile, he added, “And even beyond. I wanted to do this now and here because I want this to be about you and me and no one else. I love you and whatever awaits us, awaits us… as man and wife.”
His mouth sought hers. When they broke apart he bumped his nose against hers. And when he did she let out a whimper at the softness of his action and of his words.
“Why not woman and husband?” she asked, teasing him.
“Fine,” he replied, grinning, looking at the heavens, no doubt exasperated with her. “Whatever awaits us, awaits us as woman and husband.” He rolled his eyes.
At his words, she felt a burning hunger for him break out inside her. As hot as any fire. She dragged him down to her lips, wanting more, even forgetting that they were in front of a weirwood.
He snickered against her lips. A sound more reminiscent of the fourteen year old boy he was when she last saw him than the Last Hero that some people called him now.
“You have to let me cloak you first, Arya,” he grinned, before unclasping his cloak. There was no sigil on it. It was a plain black woolen cloak. When he caught her looking he simply said, “I told you. This is about you and me. Not about House Stark or Targaryen or lady and prince. Just you and I, and the two children we were.” He placed the cloak over her shoulders, gave her a chaste kiss, and then they knelt.
She prayed for a peaceful life together and she prayed that she could make him feel as loved as he made her. Whatever came next, they’d face it together.
“I hear you bought me a wedding present,” he said, causing her to open her eyes. “Well… we’re married now.” He looked so smug.
“Jon, this wasn’t a real wedding.”
“Have you not learned anything at all tonight?”
He carried her out of the godswood and into his bed, not caring who saw her in his arms. The free folk cheered as they walked past. Seeing the cloak on her shoulders, Lady Mormont joined in. She hid her face in his neck.
“We’ll have to consummate our marriage three times,” he whispered when they got to his rooms.
“Yes,” he said, removing the cloak from her shoulders.
“Now.” He kissed her neck. “At our wedding in the godswood in front of the whole North.” He kissed her jaw. “And in your mother’s sept.” He kissed her lips.
“My mother’s sept?”
“Lord Manderly’s Septon is here. I’d like to have an ironclad marriage. If a red priest was here I’d jump over the fire as well for good measure. I’m not going South without having all my bases covered. I won’t give them a chance to take us apart from each other.”
”I’m not sure that’s how marriages and consummations work, Jon.”
”Yes they are.”
”Since I said so.”
That made her laugh but then she sobered up. “But the queen-“
“Let me worry about her. Dany will want to throw a lavish wedding. I do not want to be associated with overindulgence all while she threatens to withhold money from the Iron Bank. And as much as I’d like to invite everyone to drink weirwood paste and look through the weirwood, if the Faith has any questions about the legality of our marriage they’ll only have the whole North to confirm we married in a sept.”
“Now, wife.” He grinned again as he moved to stand behind her. She could feel him hard against her as he brought his hand up to trace her clavicle, kissing her neck. “Let’s forget about everyone outside this room.”
There were so many ways this could go wrong she knew. The heir to the Iron Throne marrying without consulting the queen would probably offend the Crown, but as he laid her down, whispering words of love, she realised she didn’t care. First we’ll live.