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Longing for home

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Arya 

 

Ever since Arya woke to Jon holding her tight and crying silently against her, she’s felt a heavy weight over her chest. Whatever he saw distressed him. Their children, Rickon, Winterfell. All of that seemed happy. Yet when she held him that night, she felt him in the darkness trying to avoid her gaze and she heard him pause as if he was considering how much to tell her. 

That alone would be enough to worry her but what he did tell her worried her even more. King of Winter, father’s words, Daughter of the North. Ever since he had the dream Arya tried to revisit it, to try and understand it but she is no further now than she was that night. Jon told her he didn’t even know he was the old man in his dream until he saw Longclaw. 

Bran wasn’t much help either. He wouldn’t tell them where Jon would become king of, how, or when. Just that he would be a king and that he’d sit on a weirwood throne with a giant guarding him. He couldn’t even say if it was Wun Wun or Mag the Mighty or someone else. If truth be told Arya wished Wun Wun was travelling south with them. This trip only added to her sense of foreboding. They didn’t have their wolves with them. Arya never wanted to travel south without Nymeria. Not again. Nymeria was her strength and she lost so much of that on that day on the Trident, so close to where Rhaegar lost his life. Jon’s father. 

Nymeria’s reaction to Arya leaving almost made her stay in Winterfell. Her massive wolf reverted to acting like a puppy, nuzzling against her stomach and curling up against her whenever she could. It was as if she would never see her again. She would even sleep at the foot of their bed with her pups, never straying from Arya whatever they did. In fact, she accompanied them all the way to the White Knife and watched over them until their river runner disappeared from view. 

More than anything though, she wished Father were here. Perhaps he’d have an answer for her. How did he know she would marry a king? Did he know it was Jon? Bran only told her he saw Father hear a voice at the Heart Tree telling him of a daughter who would marry a king. How did Father know it would be me? Arya was the most wolf-blooded of all Father’s children, well… of his grown children. Rickon was but a babe then. She would be the worst candidate for marrying a king. When she told Jon and Bran of her confusion, Bran told them how much Arya resembled Aunt Lyanna in looks and deed. “Perhaps there’s something in the two of you that calls to princes,” Bran joked. Except it wasn’t funny. Arya knew a moment that would change their lives was coming but she didn’t know when. She didn’t know what to expect or how to prepare for it. 

So she decided to plan for everything. When they got to White Harbor she asked for Manderly men to join them. Gared Locke volunteered to lead a contingent of Manderly and Locke knights. Lord Manderly had a ship ready for them to travel on but Arya asked for a trading galley instead. The Sand Snakes had told her how nothing happened in King’s Landing without the Spider’s knowledge. She wanted to have men inside and outside the city that the Spider had no knowledge of.

When she asked for the trading galley, Jon was in opposition. 

“Arya, a trading galley will make many stops, we’ll make better time on a ship that is our own. I understand you’re scared, I even understand why you asked Lord Manderly for more men but-“

“No one will question why a trading galley makes many stops,” she explained. “Father put all his eggs in one basket and they paid him back with killing all his men. We’re not just risking our own lives there Jon, we-“

“You think I’m leading you to danger? Arya I promised you, I wouldn’t let anything happen to you.”

“I know,” she tried to console him. “But it’s not just you and me. We’re responsible for those two children who insisted on coming with us. We’re responsible to Beth to bring back Anguy to her. To Wynafryd to bring back her husband to her. Lem and Sarra are newlyweds, and as much as Tom annoys the living daylights out of me I’ve grown used to him. We don’t know what we’re walking into Jon.” She rubbed her face with her hands and then ran her fingers through her hair. She noticed Jon waiting for her to finish what she had to say. She felt stupid. She felt her eyes start to burn. Why do I cry like a child all the time? 

She moved to sit beside him. 

“Look, Jon,” she said, holding his hand. “That city is where Father died. It’s where our lives went to shit and now we’re going to speak to a queen who is considering a war. There are the Tyrells. I liked Willas and Garlan well enough but Uncle Brynden says they plot as much as the Lannisters and the Sand Snakes said something similar. I’ve seen what the Lannisters can do Jon. They wanted you for their girl. They won’t harm you. The Lannisters didn’t harm Father at first, but they killed Fat Tom and Cayn and Jory, and Heward and Wyl and Hullen and Desmond and everyone else without a second thought.” She felt her voice break. “Then there’s your dream. They called me Daughter of the North in your dream…” She took a deep breath in, hoping that she didn’t sound mad. “The only time I was ever called that was when I was reminded of my promise to be strong. A promise I made when Father told me of the dangers of King’s Landing. I know I sound crazy. I can’t explain it but I just...I find it strange that you would have that dream just before we went south. I just want to protect us.” The anguish returned to her heart as she said that and as always Jon’s warm embrace held her through  it.

“You’re not crazy, love,” he whispered against her hair. 

Trying to be strong is the hardest thing Father. 

“What do you plan to do with the men?”

She coughed something between a chortle and a sob against his chest. “I have no idea.“ 

At White Harbor Lord Manderly had given her a steady supply of oysters and clams. Food that she had been missing for weeks. She started to despise the smell of the dried meats they’d brought with them for the trip so was grateful for the change. She ate so much that she was sick. Not that it stopped her from wanting more. So she’d eat and be sick and eat some more and be sick some more. In fact, ever since they left White Harbor she’d been seasick so many times that she lost count. Lem ordered her to sit in the middle of the galley, to look ahead at a fixed point and to breathe in the sea air. That advice seemed to have helped Branda but did little for Arya. Any time she wasn’t being sick over the side of the ship she spent retching inside the cabin she shared with Jon. So overcome by tiredness was she that between sleeping and retching she did little else. She tried to explain to everyone that this wasn’t usual for her. She loved her journey to Braavos and spent so much of her time on boats in the city. It must have been something she ate at White Harbor. 

How Jon held her while she vomited everywhere she did not know. Instead of running away from her, he would hold her hair back as she heaved and then he would clean her up and carry her to their cabin as if she were a child. Whenever she was too tired to leave the cabin, he’d get in the bed, hold her and tell her stories. Sometimes those stories would make way for him finding himself inside her, which she didn’t really mind. In fact, most of the time it would be her distracting him from his stories. There was something about the way he smelt that began to make her want him. 

“I love this you, love,” he’d say against her lips as he found purchase within her thighs.  “If it weren’t for your seasickness, I’d spend the rest of our lives on a boat if you’d offer yourself up to me like this.”

Those were her favourite moments. 

She was grateful when she finally saw the pink stone walls of Maidenpool. To have a few moments on solid ground felt great. Rickon and Branda appreciated it too. Part of her regretted that they took a ship in the first place. She even asked Jon if they could ride the rest of the way but he said that they didn’t have enough time for that.

At Maidenpool, she instructed the Locke men to change into clothes that held no heraldry and asked Gared to divide them into groups. Some of them would stay in the town, watching out for ships, in case Arya sent news from King’s Landing. Another group were to make their way to Riverrun, to Uncle Brynden in case she sent news there. A third group was to wait on the King’s Road at the Inn of the Crossroads. Some of the old members of the Brotherhood who joined Winterfell’s guards joined them as they knew this part of the Riverlands best.  Lastly, their largest group was to travel on the next ship to King’s Landing as traders, enter through the River Gate and be her eyes and ears on the ground. 

“You’re men of the coast, I don’t need to tell you what sells in a city like yours. Find wares, sell what you need to sell near Fishmonger’s Square and settle in Eel Alley. I’ll find you,” she told them. “Or you will find Anguy. If neither of you hear from me every two days, then you will leave the city for Riverrun, Maidenpool and home.”

When she finished speaking, “Are you expecting trouble, Trouble?” Lem asked.

She smirked at him. A grown, married woman and to him she was still Trouble. “No.”

He shook his head and moved his hand as if to ask why all this then? 

“I was once taught to never do what they expect.” Syrio taught me that. That lesson saved my life more times than I can count.

“And what are you being expected to do?” 

“Sail into King’s Landing with all our men.” 

Maidenpool’s position on the Bay of Crabs meant she could eat all the clams and crabs and oysters she could want. Jon bought her enough fermented crab to last her all the way to King’s Landing as well. They were to spend a few hours in Maidenpool to stretch their legs. She was walking through the harbor with Jon when they came across a clam stall. 

“When I was in Braavos,” she giggled, “my best customers were the girls at the Happy Port. There was the Sailor’s Wife who only laid with men who married her. She’d always buy from me so she could stiffen her new husband for the consummation.” She picked up a clam and wiggled her eyebrow at him. 

He stood behind her and asked the stall keeper for two bags of fermented crab. “I don’t need oysters or clams to stiffen for you,” he whispered against her ear. The heat of his heavy breath against her ear sent a jolt right to her core. 

She was sitting on the ship with Osha and Sarra guzzling the crab with bread when she noticed Osha giving her a queer look. 

“What?” she mumbled with a mouth full of food. Mother would be mortified by my manners. 

Osha stood up and pinched Arya’s breast. “Oww.” Arya slapped her off. “What’d you do that for?” Her cheeks were still full of food.

“When did you last bleed girl?” Osha demanded, groping Arya’s breast again and holding it.

“I don’t know. I don’t bleed every month,” she swallowed. 

“When was the last time?” 

“I don’t remember...before the council?” 

“You been fucking like a bunny?” 

“What?” 

“I hear you and King Crow going at it at all hours of the day.”

“Osha!” Arya felt her cheeks burn. 

“You’ve been sick as a dog, you heave at the smell of food you liked just fine before, your tits hurt and you haven’t bled in near on three months-” Arya started to understand where this was going. Shit. 

And you’ve been fucking like you just discovered it.”

“I-” 

“Aye, you’re carrying a pup.” 

Sarra ran over to her with her arms outstretched. She made an excited sound Arya had never heard before and had the happiest smile on her face.  

Arya heaved to vomit again. Her head felt like it was spinning. Pregnant? Fuck.  

She stumbled back to the cabin she shared with Jon, holding onto the bulkheads as if she were just learning how to walk. Shit. Shit. Shit. 

When she walked in, Jon was wrestling with Rickon. She sat down watching two of the most important people in her life playing with one another all the while her hands found themselves to her middle where, if Osha was to be believed, another was growing. Shit. She felt like crying again. 

“You alright?” Rickon asked, looking up from the headlock he found himself in.

“S-sure,” she stammered, forcing a smile on her face. 

“Rickon, why don’t you go show Lem what you learnt,” Jon prodded. 

When they were alone, “Hey, what’s wrong?” he asked while closing the door. 

We’re fucked. 

Her throat felt tight. It burned. As if she could not manage to speak. Her heart was not much better. It ached. She gulped, stood up, took a hold of his hand and placed it upon her stomach, searching his eyes for a  reaction, an answer, anything. Her own eyes were filled with fear and worry. She felt her vision begin to blur again with tears. Why do I keep fucking crying?

He looked down at her belly and furrowed his brows. She saw the moment he realised what this meant. His eyes widened. His mouth fell open. She could see a hundred different emotions flick through his eyes. She still held his hand against her stomach. She wondered whether he could feel how fast her heart was beating. When he raised his eyes to meet hers she saw the tears in her own reflected in his. He spluttered incoherently. “I-we-”He looked at her with such reverence a sob broke out of her throat. 

“Arya. We-” His voice was rough. He looked at her with such awe. 

She nodded quickly, releasing a huff, a teary smile lined her face.

He brought his other hand to the other side of her stomach, together his hands covered most of her waist. He sobbed and lowered his head to rest it in the space between her shoulder and her neck.

“We’re having a babe,” he cried. 

“We are,” she croaked. “You promised me you would get me with one.” It felt ridiculous saying that.  

And then he surprised her and ripped another sob from her throat. He knelt down to whisper to her stomach. A conversation just between him and their child. 

“Jon, I haven’t even felt the babe move. I don’t know if I’m truly with child,” she tried to say.

“You are, I know it, Arya,” he rasped, looking up at her. His eyes were adamant. He turned away from her and back to her stomach, “I am so excited to meet you little wolf,” he said, kissing her belly. 

He stayed there laying his head by her midriff for a while longer. She held him there, her fingers in his hair. The father of my child. The thought was dizzying and she cried some more. She imagined a little boy with grey eyes and wild curls in her arms. She imagined a young girl who followed him around as if he hung the moon. The way I followed Father. Jon would be just as good a father. Cregan and Lyarra will have a cousin. 

“Nymeria knew,” she finally murmured. 

He looked up at her, rising to his feet to take her hands between his own. “What do you mean?” 

“Before we left, she kept nuzzling against my stomach,. I thought it was because she didn't want me to leave.” 

He placed his forehead against hers. “Thank you.” 

“For what.” 

“For our babe.” He exhaled heavily, his forehead was still on hers. “I have wanted a son of my own more than anything in the world. I never thought it’d happen for me.” She heard a quiet whimper come out of him. She raised her hands to his face to wipe his tears.

“And now our babe sleeps between us. It’s happening for you. You will be a father, Jon. The best father.” 

He placed a tender kiss upon her lips which quickly became lustful. He pinched her arse and she moaned into his mouth. 

“You’ve just told me you’re with a child but Arya, I really want to be inside you.” 

Arya felt herself smile. “According to Osha… me wanting to fuck like a bunny is an added benefit of carrying your babe. It’s felt better for me ever since we set sail.”

“Well then, love, let me make you feel good,” he said, picking her up in his arms. When he did, he lay next to her, caressing her belly. “Do you think we hurt the babe?” 

“Jon, it hasn’t even quickened!” 

“Fine, but we have to find ways of not hurting the babe.” Her eyes rolled themselves. 

She would find him sometimes on deck, or with their people, or while she was speaking to someone, just looking at her with an unwavering look of love in his eyes. She’d feel herself flush every time she caught him. 

Absentmindedly, one of her hands would always find its way to her stomach. She’d drop her hand the moment she noticed, almost expecting a smack from the Kindly Man or the Waif who spent so long trying to beat biting her lip out of her. From the moment she’d found out that she was with child she felt a sort of madness come over her. She felt a protectiveness over her child that she only ever felt for Rickon, and by extension Branda, and the twins. But the feeling for her child was so much more visceral. She felt just as Nymeria did about her own pups. It was a feeling she knew surged through Nymeria’s body whenever they shared their skins. I’d burn the world for my child.

Once, while they were in bed “I don’t want anyone to know,” she told him. He was whispering to her belly as he did every night. 

“Osha knows.”

“And Sarra. But I mean in King’s Landing. I don’t want anyone to know Jon until we know what we’ve walked into.” 

The way he looked at her told her he didn’t think she needed to worry but he was too gentle with her to say so. He nodded instead. “I will never let anyone hurt you or our babe,” he vowed. 

When he finally moved up to lie beside her, he made space for her to lay her head on his chest, so she did. 

 “Arya,” he warned,  “you should know Dany is not a bad person. She wants to do good. Everywhere she’s been she’s won the love of the people easily. Until she came here. The one place she’d been told she belongs. She’s trying to win the love of the people and the Tyrells have isolated her. Dany can be difficult Arya. I’ve fought with her enough times to know.” He huffed. “Her heart is in the right place. Whatever happens in King’s Landing, remember that.” 

“You care for her.”


“I’m the last of her family. She helped us in the War for the Dawn.”

“To hear the way people say it, she took your crown.” 

“It was a small price to pay for her help.”

“You think she’ll insist on this war.”

“I’ll try my hardest to talk her out of it.”

“She’ll die if she insists Jon.”

“I’ll try to keep her alive.” 

Arya exhaled loudly. The heavy feeling returned to her chest. “Tell me about these Tyrells.”

She felt him shake so she looked up at him. head. She realised he was grinning.

“What?”

“Haven’t you heard enough about them from the Blackfish and the Sand Snakes?”

-----

At Duskendale she commanded Anguy to take the Rosby road with some of their men. His instructions were to stay in Flea Bottom. Some of his men were to stay along the King’s Road watching out for any riders sent after anyone Arya sent out. She didn’t want a repeat of what happened at the God’s Eye. This time they wouldn’t be blind from the south if they fled north. Just as she told Gared and his men, “I’ll find you,” she promised. She knew Flea Bottom best of all of King’s Landing and Anguy had the most intimate knowledge of the city. 

“One more thing,” she shouted out as the ship began to move, “I’ve been instructed to order you to stay away from the Street of Silk!” Arya remembered how he’d won the archery competition at the tourney thrown for Father. He’d spent his fortune on whores. Well whores, good boots and a dagger. Jack-be-Lucky, thought spending it on land would have been better. She missed the Brotherhood. She was glad to have reunited with Harwin, and to now see Anguy, Lem and Tom as family but she missed her old friends too. The friends that were gone. Lommy...Gendry. Gendry was her truest friend. She felt herself begin to tear up again. She was returning to the city where they all met. She wondered whether Hot Pie was still alive and where he was. 

Their ship docked near the Mud Gate. She remembered the last time she’d been there. The day they killed Father. The Lannisters dressed men in Stark colours. Arya nearly ran to them until she remembered Syrio’s words. Look with your eyes, he’d commanded her. The men in grey they had sitting by the Wind Witch were not her Father’s men. They didn’t even recognise her when she approached them. But they knew to wait for her there thanks to Sansa. 

Before she left Winterfell, Bran had taken her aside to tell her that Sansa was going to be in King’s Landing.

“She’s our sister,” Bran said. “A member of our pack. You remember Father’s words don’t you? She’s a lone wolf right now, Arya. And the sharks are circling, waiting for her to show a moment’s weakness. She’s weak, alone and she needs us.”

Arya didn’t truly hate Sansa but she would be lying if she said she wasn’t still angry; that she didn’t hate what Sansa did. 

As if he could read her mind, Bran continued. Sometimes Arya wondered whether he could read minds and just elected not to tell them. 

“We’ve all made mistakes,” he reminded her. “You have your own regrets, I have my own and so does she. We’ve all done things that have led to the death of innocent people.” 

Arya defensively furrowed her eyebrows at him.

“I don’t mean the stable boy or the guard at Harrenhal,” he explained. “I mean the men you saved from the cage.”

Arya felt her heart clench. “Jaqen?”

“I can’t find the Faceless Man. I mean the two others.”

“Rorge and Biter.” It had been so long since she thought of them. 

“They raped and slaughtered and burned down homes in Saltpans. They killed an old septon and ripped small babes from the arms of their mothers and they laughed while they did it.”

“I-“ No words would pass by Arya’s throat.

“You could have never seen that coming. You were trying to do the right thing when you saved them. I can’t say Sansa thought the same when she told Cersei of Father’s plans but she was always more trusting of people than you ever were. You both made mistakes and people died.”

Arya felt herself cry, even now, as she remembered.

“What happened to Rorge and Biter?”

“Brienne of Tarth killed Rorge.” Arya remembered meeting her. 

“And Biter?”

“Gendry.”

That strong bull. 

When Bran caught her smiling at the heroics of her old friend, he told her more about how much he’d done to protect children at the Inn of the Crossroads, waiting and hoping she’d one day return.  I would have, if I had known he didn’t leave me. 

“Make peace with Sansa,” Bran said in his parting words, “if not for yourselves, do it for Rickon. He should get to know his other sister.”

“You know it’s supposed to be giving you advice right?” she needled her wizened brother. 

She dreaded the moment she’d meet Sansa again. They had never been truly close before and Arya felt that the gulf they had between them now could never be fixed. She would never give up Jon or their babe, but she couldn’t help but feel that Sansa was meant for this as they made their way to the Mud Gate. And I robbed her of the life she wanted. Whenever she said that, Jon would remind her of his green dream. “Bran said green dreams can’t be changed.”

“It stinks!” Rickon intoned, holding his nose with a face full of disgust.

“Why does it stink so bad?” Branda parroted. 

Jon held both their hands, and she could hear him tell them about the water works of King Jaehaerys Targaryen’s reign and how the ages, war, strife, the storming of the dragon pit, and afterward wildfire had badly damaged the works of the old king.

Jon had told her of what Cersei had done to the Great Sept but hearing and seeing it for herself were two different things. Visenya’s Hill was nothing more than a mountain of rubble that engulfed most of the Street of Steel. Arya felt sorry for the people of the city but a dark part of her was happy to see the destruction of the place where her father’s life was taken.

The memory came to her unbidden, as she stared at the ugly mountain of stone and soil. 

A stone came sailing out of the crowd. Arya cried out as she saw her father hit. The gold cloaks kept him from falling. Blood ran down his face from a deep gash across his forehead. More stones followed. 

She felt her chest constrict. Calm as still water. It didn’t help. The memories wouldn’t stop.

Dimly, as if from far away, she heard a … a noise … a soft sighing sound, as if a million people had let out their breath at once. The old man’s fingers dug into her arm, stiff as iron. 

The plaza was beginning to empty. The press dissolved around them as people drifted back to their lives. But Arya’s life was gone.

“You alright, girl?” Osha grabbed her.

“Yes. I...it’s nothing.” My heart feels afire. 

Ser Barristan Selmy was there to greet them the moment they entered Fishmonger’s Square. He was in the company of the queen’s unsullied, who had a number of horses for their party with them. Ser Barristan greeted Lem warmly on account of their relationship with Jon’s father and as the three men spoke, Arya took in the devastation of the city and how much it had changed since she’d last seen it. 

“How did they know we were here?” Osha asked. 

One of the unsullied heard her. “Grand Maester Marwyn saw.”

“Saw what?”

“The Glass Candle.”

Arya looked at Jon in confusion. When he explained what a glass candle was, “He’s like Bran?” 

“No. Bran has a gift. The Maester has a candle. It came back on with magic. With the birth of the dragons.”

“So he can see everything?”

“Whatever he looks for.”

Arya didn’t like that. She didn’t like that one bit. “Everywhere we go we’ll be watched by more than just the Spider,” she whispered. 

“No! No!” a raven squawked. The fat thing settled on her shoulder. “Stark. Stark.” it said. 

Or maybe not. “Hello Bran,” she smirked. Let’s see what a Glass Candle  is to the WInged Wolf.

They crossed Fishmonger’s Square, went up Muddy Way and climbed up towards Aegon’s Hill through the Hook. 

The Red Keep looked the same for the most part. Well, apart from the new Tower of the Hand that was so much different to the one they had once lived in. Part of her was glad for it. She did not want to remember what happened in that tower. Though hoping not to remember didn’t mean that she couldn’t. She felt herself tearing up. This child has turned me into a baby myself. 

Calm as still water, she reminded herself. 

The castle walls were adorned with the heraldry of all the Great Houses of Westeros. Arya saw the sun and spear of Dorne, the falcon of the Eyrie, the leaping trout of her mother’s house. She saw the Kraken, and the lion, the stag and the rose. At last, she saw the direwolf of House Stark. They were all dwarfed by the three-headed dragon.

When they reached the stables, Arya felt herself struggle to breathe. A hundred images flashed before her eyes. Arya Underfoot you must warn your lord father. She shook her head trying to clear images of dead Stark men, blood and terror from her mind’s eye. Calm as still water, fear cuts deeper than swords she told herself. Calm as still water, she thought while struggling to breathe, it felt like heavy rocks were on her chest. Calm as still water, fear cuts deeper than swords, Arya Stark, come with us child, calm as still water, fear cuts deeper than swords, Arya, child, we are done with dancing for the day. Best you are going now, calm as still water, fear cuts deeper than swords, calm as still water, fear cuts deeper than swords, Arya, child, be gone now, fear cuts deeper than swords, Syrio, run, fear cuts deeper than swords, I can’t breathe. The first sword of Braavos does not run, fear cuts deeper than swords,  Arya Underfoot you must warn your lord father, I can’t breathe. Fear cuts deeper than swords, there she is,  she don’t know me, but I knows her, oh, yes. The wolf girl, fear cuts, deeper than swords, Ser Ilyn, bring me his head! Fear cuts deeper than swords, fear cuts deeper than swords, fear cuts deeper than swords. 

“Arya!” Jon shook her.

She tried to breathe. Jon is here. 

“Hey, what happened?” he asked, his hands were still on her shoulders.

“Nothing.” She tried to sound brave. “This is where Hullen and Desmond died,” she finally whispered.

He kissed her forehead. “Nothing will happen to us here. We’ll grow old together, remember,” he smiled, and kissed her forehead again. 

Rickon tugged her sleeve. “Do we have to kneel? Because I don’t want to but Branda says we do.”

“Maester Elric said we have to bow and curtsy to the queen.”

“But I’m not a kneeler.”

“Yes you are.”

“No I’m not.”

“Rickon, please,” Arya begged with exasperation. “If you see the queen, bow. It’s the courteous thing to do.”

Fortunately for Rickon the queen did not come out to meet them. Neither did her husband. That was...interesting. At the top of the serpentine steps they were met by Missandei of Naath instead. The girl greeted them warmly. 

“Prince Aemon, the queen has asked for your company once you have settled your family. She will be expecting you in an hour’s time.” She wants to see Jon. Alone. Arya noted a flicker of displeasure flash through his face.

As if he read her mind, he gave her a comforting smile and squeezed her hand. Don’t worry he seemed to say. She squeezed back.

“We have rooms ready for your family in Maegor’s Holdfast,” the Naathi girl said kindly. “The rest of your party will need to follow Sure Spear to a cornerfort we have readied for them.”

“Is there no space in Maegor’s holdfast?”

“My lady,” the girl said pursing her lips, “Maegor’s Holdfast is for the royal family alone.”

Arya smiled at her. She knew it’d be seen as her being difficult but she didn’t like the idea of their party being separated. “We’ll take rooms in the cornerfort too.”

Jon gave her a questioning look.

“But-“ the girl began.

“This is my family,” Arya interjected. If there is no space for them in Maegor’s holdfast, I’ll stay where they stay.”

The girl hesitated for a while before nodding. “This way, my lady.”

“I’ve never stayed in a palace,” Tom said loudly. 

“This is smaller than Winterfell,” she reminded him. “Remember what you’re here for.”

“I’ve been doing it longer than you have little one,” he winked. The Brotherhood sent Tom to infiltrate Riverrun when the Lannisters held it. He had a natural talent. Tom O’Sevens could play the fool whenever it suited him. They’d need to be shrewd and unassuming to get through this place. 

Jon was still holding her hand when they came across the perfumed Spider. His eyes fell upon their joined hands. The last time Arya had seen him was the day Father died. He was gliding across the podium with his soft slippers. 

The first thing Arya noticed about him now was how his feet made no noise. His head was bald. Perfect for a mummer. Arya had shaved her own head for a while in Braavos. It would make sense for the Master of Whisperers to have many disguises. She remembered the Kindly Man’s words. Not every man need be a faceless man to move without being seen. Why use a spell, where mummer’s tricks will serve?”

The eunuch spoke with a tone that seemed too high to be his natural voice. 

“Lady Arya,” he said airily. “Welcome back to King’s Landing.” He smiled before he leaned in, covering his mouth with his hand as if he were hiding a secret. “Although, I suppose it's princess now. You have my congratulations,” he tittered to both of them. His smile didn’t reach his calculating eyes. Bran was no longer perched on her shoulder but was watching them closely. She noticed the bird cock it’s head. She wondered what her brother thought of the eunuch. 

“I am happy to see you hale and healthy,” he continued, “I looked for you for six months. Where did you go?”

“I’ve always been good at seeing without being seen, my lord.”

The eunuch smiled. “As am I. I would love to sup with you soon. I’m sure we have much more in common.”

They’d turned into a new corridor when they came across a decrepit old woman and a girl, who looked like she’d rather be anywhere but next to her. The girl might as well have been topless. At least she’d be more comfortable that way. It was then that Arya saw the golden rose embroidered on the old woman’s gown. Great. 

Jon squeezed her hand again. The girl’s eyes, like the eunuch’s, immediately went to their hands. The girl had cow eyes. Large and scheming. A false smile and a true one may look alike, but they are as different as dusk from dawn, the Kindly Man once taught her. This smile was as false as any Arya had ever seen. As for the old woman, Arya knew better than to fall for her act. Uncle Brynden and the Sand Snakes had warned her enough. Her eyes were colder and more calculating than the girl’s. And she walked without truly leaning on the walking stick for support. Like Arya, she made the most of her appearance as someone small and unthreatening.

“You’re back.”

“I am, my lady.”

“Welcome back Prince Aemon,” Leona Tyrell cooed. She batted her eyelashes as if she were waiting for them to help her take flight. If only they would.

“Lady Olenna, Lady Leona,” Jon nodded, “allow me to introduce my wife. Lady Arya Stark of Winterfell.”

The girl's smile looked more like a grimace. 

The old woman merely studied her. “So this is the little wife,” she finally grunted. “At least the last one had a pretty face. This one…” she looked Arya up and down, “Well, I’m sure you must have found something in her.”

The girl smirked, so did Arya. 

Jon was about to answer her when she squeezed his hand. Let me handle her, she said with her eyes. Uncle Brynden and I had quite the chat.

“Lady Olenna,” Arya chirped jauntily. “It’s a pleasure to finally meet you. I’ve heard a lot about you. People love who they love, my lady. I’d expect you of all people to know that. Didn’t your betrothed choose a man in the end?” The old woman’s smile curdled and the girl’s one gave way to a scowl. 

“Is your old Targaryen love what you were trying to recreate with Leona here and my husband? I can’t say I’m sorry to deny you the opportunity to relive an old dalliance.”

The girl raised her eyes to meet Arya’s as if almost in shock. Oh yes, I’ve heard all about your ambitions.

“I suppose you’re not your sister.”

“My Father once said we were as different as the sun and the moon.”

“Well, I hope you have a better time here than her. They say Starks melt south of the Neck. Do take care not to drown in your own doings.” 

Arya heard the threat quite clearly.

“I suppose it’s a good thing my mother was a fish then, my lady. I am quite the swimmer as is my sister. After all, she survived this place. Now,” Arya smiled, “if you’ll excuse us,” she raised their joined hands, “We are very tired.” 

They took a step away from her, in silence, before Arya spoke again. “One more thing,” she added while they were still in earshot, “It is customary to curtsy in front of a prince and his princess.”

Arya smugly watched the girl attempt a shallow curtsy. Olenna complained of a bad knee. 

When they were far away enough, Jon started laughing. 

“Princess?”

“Shut up.” 

Bran’s raven squawked once more and Arya heard the girl scream. 

My brother won’t be the only one who shits on you before this is over.