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Longing for home

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Arya 


Arya Stark has spent years not getting to the places she set out to reach. Years spent with loss, lessons, and longing. Longing for those she lost and the one she set out to reach above all others.

The one who was in her thoughts the day winter visited her for the second time. The day when the Lannisters slaughtered her friends and first broke her family. When she found Desmond’s body and stood by Hullen as he died. The day that started with Syrio smilingly saying “when we reach this Winterfell of yours, it will be time to put this needle in your hand.” It was Jon she couldn’t wait to show the progress she’d made by practicing every day like he’d told her to. Who’d have thought the day he gave her Needle she’d get good enough to impress the First Sword to the Sealord of Braavos a few (long) months later! Little did she know then how long it’d be before she saw him again.

Even when she set out with Yoren for Winterfell the day they killed father she yearned for the comfort of her true home. In Winterfell he was the one who comforted her when she was sad, accompanied her when she was lonely & helped her forget her worries and fears. He was the only one who truly understood her. The one who’d muss her hair and hold her even if she wasn’t sure he could fill the deep pit of desolation that took hold in her heart.


She searched for him in everyone she met and was so happy when she found glimpses of him in the one she took for her truest friend in her darkest time. The stubborn boy who kept her secret and finished her sentences with her. The Bull she thought would follow her to the ends of the world as steadfast as he had on the Kingsroad, at Harrenhal and then through the Riverlands. Expecting anyone to love her like he had was her first mistake. She should have known. It was why when The Brotherhood wanted to ransom her back to Robb and Mother she’d comforted herself with Jon will want me even if no one else does. How could she have expected Gendry to choose her over knighthood and the opportunity to ring the bells of prettier girls when she didn’t expect her own mother to want her of the calloused feet, tangled hair and muddied face back?


It was his gift to her that had saved her life countless times and his words that had saved her the first time and the many times that followed. Stick them with the pointy end he’d told her.

It was him she sought to reach that day at Saltpans after she’d left the Hound and his wounds to fate. And him she wanted to return to when hope blossomed in her heart the day she met the fat boy from the Wall in Braavos. If only he’d have been returning to Eastwatch and not sailing on to Oldtown.


In the intervening time it was the companion he, Robb, and Bran brought back that reminded her every night that she was a Wolf of Winterfell and the memory of his smile that kept Arya Stark and all her grief alive when no-one and her clean slate was offered as a destiny.

It was the news of his death that had finally broken her. That day on the barge with the Merling Queen when she heard passing traders talk of the Black Bastard of the Wall stabbed by his brothers. The day when she wept for the loss of the one thing that kept Arya Stark standing: the knowledge that despite all she’d lost, her dearest one was alive and that she’d one day find her way back to him. Different roads sometimes lead to the same castle. Except not for me it would seem. 

She remembered Dareon and his stupid song about the stupid lady who should have avenged her stupid prince’s death then. She retrieved Needle and the coin she’d been saving, made her way through the crowd lining up to see the mummers at Izembaro’s, down the Canal of Heroes, past the Temple of the Moonsingers and across the bridge over the Black Canal to Ragman’s Harbor. She’d spent the afternoon trying to find a ship to Westeros. She didn’t care which port. Wherever she started she promised to make her way through the lands and bring winter upon all those who’d hurt her family. She couldn’t believe her luck when she found a Lumber trader supplying the Braavos fleet making his way back to White Harbor. He had white whiskers that reminded her of Ser Rodrik and the gruff Northern voice of home. They would leave in the morning and then she’d make those so-called Black Brothers wish for the Others in the face of her fury. She’d make sure the betrayer Freys never forgot the story of the Rat’s Cook and she’d flay Roose Bolton like the man on his banners. She’d see just how sharp his blades were. She might even make herself a cloak from his skin like his ancestors had done to her own. Old Nan had told her the story once. She’d take Ilyn Payne’s head for Father, and avenge Syrio with Meryn Trant, and make Cersei pay for Lady and Mycah and for Sansa’s screams that day at the Sept of Baelor. It’d be a bonus if she had to face the Kingslayer to get to her. She’d kill him for Jory and Wyl and Heward. She’d hurt The Mountain for everyone at Harrenhal, for Gendry and even Sandor. Valar Morghulis. 

But when did Arya Stark ever find the places she sought out to reach? She stood on the painted bridge looking down at the rows of statues of the Sealords of old and up at the Titan when a smiley old lady asked her for directions to the Gardens of Gelenei. As she walked with her down the bridge and through an alley Arya found herself lost in the old lady’s gentle toothless smile and her balding head as she remembered the lazy afternoons she’d sit at Old Nan’s feet with Jon, Robb, Bran and even Sansa and Theon sometimes. In doing so she forgot the lesson Syrio had taught her all those years ago. The heart lies and the head plays tricks with us, but the eyes see true. Look with your eyes. While she was too busy finding pieces of her home in the old woman, Arya failed to see the knife that was twisted in her gut and then again between her ribs before the waif removed it to stab her once more. In her panic Arya found herself seeing through the eyes of five cats in the alley who’d descended at once upon the waif clawing at her face and body. The Waif’s screams were the last thing Arya remembered before she woke up back at the House of Black and White being tended to by the kindly man.

Arya Stark was a wolf and had been done with wooden teeth for a long time now. Never mind that she couldn’t stand. She decided that day that if they were going to kill her she’d die as a Stark of Winterfell and not no one. She told The Kindly Man she didn’t regret hurting the waif, she’d do the same to the next person they sent after her. Defiantly she declared, “If you want me dead you’ll have to do it yourself and you’ll have to do it before I can stand again.”

As if he didn’t hear her he suggested they’d play a new game. She wouldn’t offer him three things anymore. Instead he’d ask her three questions. “Where were you going? How long have you been able to control the actions of animals? Would you like to learn how to serve while having the option to return home?” Taken aback Arya only wanted to know the answer to the third question but the kindly man wouldn’t relent until she answered the first two.

“My brother was killed at the Wall” she whispered before the anguish took hold of her once more. Without knowing why, she began unloading her years of pent up grief on the kindly man. She sobbed through all the losses of her short life, mumbled through how she found out about Jon’s death and lamented that she couldn’t stay in Braavos while those who killed her Jon still walked. He listened quietly to her, once he even rubbed her back as she wept through her hurt. When she was done he asked her the second question again. She recalled the wolf dreams and seeing through the cat’s eyes as the blind girl and honestly added that she didn’t know how she managed to connect with the cats.

It was then that the kindly man told her she could serve the House with the promise that she could leave in five years’ time without the need to look over her shoulder. Arya chewed her lip and debated whether she could afford to give the people on her list five more years. In the end she decided to accept the deal. She’d only get better in that time and when she came for those who hurt her family they wouldn’t know what hit them.

And so she spent the next 5 years serving with honed skin changing ability that made her the best source of information the House had ever produced. She apprenticed at the Iron Bank, refined her command of a number of languages, made a name for herself as the courtesan Nymeria of Braavos, played her part in the Braavosi elections and made friends with some of the most powerful men and women in the city that, like her, had hid itself for so many years. In that time, she learned that she was apparently the wife of the traitor Roose Bolton’s son, that the North had risen in her honour with King Stannis Baratheon. When her father used to tell her that she reminded him of his sister Lyanna she never in a million years thought that like her she would become a battle cry for the people of her homeland. The day she heard of that news was the closest she’d come to leaving Braavos again but Arya was always held back from that which she longed for. A few more years she reminded herself instead and lost herself in her work.

In the interceding years, she learned of the lost prince Aegon Targaryen who’d removed the Lannisters from power with his Dornish Queen. She beamed when she heard of Cersei’s death in a pit of vipers and felt sorry for the man when she heard the Dragon Queen had sailed from Meereen to take his throne. Arya had a good opinion of the Breaker of Chains who’d killed masters instead of slaves but couldn’t help feel an affinity for the man who’d brought Cersei to justice. She chuckled when she was told of another lost prince of House Targaryen, Aemon, who united Westeros with his aunt and flew a dragon into battle with the Others. It sounded like a story Old Nan would tell and she wished she could tell it to Jon and Bran who loved tall tales as much as she had.

While the stories of the Others and the news of Westeros may have been of interest to her, the defeat of the Others meant that she would never have the opportunity to avenge her heart. And so she carried her sorrow like an ever-present stone in her heart and continued directionless.


When her five years of service were up she was presented with the option to leave or to stay and become a Faceless Man for true. The choice wasn’t as easy as she might have thought five years previously when she had her list of people that were alive. Now she was just a girl as lost as ever who used service as a distraction from her aimless life and all the losses she suffered.

That night she dreamed the wolf dream again for the first time in a long time. She loped freely through the woods with her white brother and their cousins. And when he caught her he nipped playfully at her ear and settled with her at the head of their pack. He felt so much like home.


When she woke she told herself she’d start a new journey for herself. First, she’d sail across the narrow sea like Queen Nymeria, and then if she couldn’t make herself a new home she’d sail away like Elissa Farman and the Hightowers. Perhaps she’d do even better than they did and find new lands. Arya Underfoot always wanted to see the world, even if she wanted to do so with her Jon of the sullen looks and the hidden smiles he saved for her.

And so Arya found herself at Castle Cerwyn, half a day’s ride away from Winterfell on a sturdy horse with Needle on her hip and hope in her heart. She’d heard when she landed at White Harbor that Sansa was home. Now a powerful Lady of the Vale she was at Winterfell for her betrothal to the Crown Prince Aemon. Arya couldn’t help but smile. Sansa finally found her prince. Arya could only hope he was better than Joffrey. Although when they’d last seen each other Sansa and Arya only spoke when Father made them, Arya was determined to make up with her sister, the only family she had left. She heard in passing that the lost prince Aemon was her aunt Lyanna’s son. Tickled by the never-ending surprises of House Targaryen Arya continued onwards keen to meet this alleged dragon-riding princely cousin who was to become her good brother. He sounded too much like someone out of Sansa’s stupid songs.

It was sunset when Arya reached the gates of Winterfell. The guards took one look at her weathered clothes and windswept appearance and asked her if she was here to serve in the kitchens for the wedding. Amused, Arya simply nodded. A servant in the kitchens was a step up from the stable boy Lords used to take her for when she was a child. The talkative guard guided her to the stables and told her he’d walk her to the kitchens. She recognised the looks he gave her as the ones men used to give Nymeria of Braavos and wondered what Jeyne Poole would have to say to Arya Horseface who’d become admired for her beauty.

Winterfell was full of people. Wherever she looked she saw labourers and servants, none of who she recognised from childhood, lords and ladies and the banners of so many Houses of Westeros. It was in this perusal that she found the shiny auburn hair that she’d recognise anywhere. Sansa glided graciously over to a tall brown-haired man who hugged her and kissed her forehead. Arya couldn’t see his face but couldn’t avert her eyes. Tracing the object of her interest the guard offered, “That’s the Lady Sansa and her betrothed Prince Aemon Targaryen. Did you know he was once a Snow like me? Lord Stark raised him as his bastard to protect him from King Robert.”

As the guard droned on over the ringing in her ears, Arya stood frozen in her place watching her Jon walk away with her perfect sister. Arya couldn’t name what she felt. Surprise that Jon was a prince? Relief and glee that by some miracle he was alive and that she finally found him? All she had to do was call out and she might find herself in his arms once again: the home in his heart that she’d spent years trying to find.

No. She could only stand there stunned with a familiar tug at her heart. The same sinking feeling that had kept her company all these years. The feeling of hope followed by loss. When did Arya Stark ever find the places she sought out such that she’d find it today? Her Jon was alive, at home, a prince and marrying Sansa in a few days. What place did she have between them? It was clear that his heart was to become a home for Sansa not her. Perhaps it was enough that she knew her family were alive, alright, at home and together. She swung round to leave and return to her horse when she heard two howls from the direction of the gates of the Inner Castle answered by a chorus of distant wails from the direction of the Wolfswood. Howls that silenced everyone in the courtyard. Turning to locate their source, Arya found herself facing two wolves as big as ponies. The red eyes of the white wolf staring her down and the amber eyes of the grey wolf warming her soul but it was the stunned grey-eyed man’s look of astonishment that made her heart drop and then soar as he ran over to her.

Chapter Text

Jon

To Lady Stark's dismay, his name was her first word. She was stumbling along as she took her first uncertain steps. Father watching her with a smile and encouraging her to take a few more. She could do it. Ned’s wolf-blooded child. It was then she spotted Jon & squealed his name. She was his to protect the day Father placed his favourite child in Jon’s arms and his to revere from the day she took his name for her first word. It only made sense that his last thoughts were a memory of her and his first words when he arose “I want my bride back.” 

 

When he rose he took the heads of all those who wielded daggers in the dark. Those who sought to hold him back from her. Didn’t they know she’d always been his to protect? He failed her when he left for the Wall but what place did that boy of fourteen have in a castle whose warmth went to King’s Landing? 

 

He realised his mistake too late but he was about to correct it when they took his life. It was almost the story of his life. He wanted to march with Robb for Father the first time but his brothers had stopped him. He couldn’t avenge Robb when the free folk posed such a threat. For her though, it seemed as if all aligned. After agonising debates with himself he’d finally decided he’d march to get her back. He even had a just cause to do so. After all the Bolton bastard had threatened the Night’s Watch. For all concerned Jon could say he was protecting the Night’s Watch from a threat even if in his heart of hearts he knew he was marching for the one who held it. It’s not like he fooled anyone anyway. Everyone saw how Stannis held his favour even though the Night’s Watch was supposed to play no part in the politics of the realm. How he’d sent two kings to save his sister and made bonds between enemies of centuries to ease his task. 

 

How could they understand what she meant to him? They had no idea how memories of her laughter kept him warm and how it was her he found in every object of his affections.Ygritte with her skinny body & stubborn ways, Val with her hunger to live her own way and even Winter’s lady, his kin, Alys who’d left an unhappy betrothal to flee to him. The grey girl on the dying horse he’d hoped was the heart he’d left behind the day he set out with Uncle Benjen. He found her in the wildflowers of the True North, in his easy friendship with Sam, in Pyp’s love of mummery, in Grenn’s steadfastness and in Edd’s humour. 

 

He marched with the men of the free folk and the remainder of Stannis’ men at the wall. The men declared him  The Prince that was Promised after the Red Woman had burnt the gentle princess to aid his resurrection. When news got to Jon about what the Red Woman had done, she fled Castle Black in the darkness of night before she could face his wrath. He was told the Queen Selyse Baratheon died of grief for the daughter she pretended she didn’t love. 

 

When stronger men might have died from impassable roads and succumbed to worsening weather Jon Snow had a goal and nothing could stop him. Though the weather slowed him, as he progressed, more men joined him. At The Gift he was joined by men of the First Flints determined to march for the blood of Arya Flint. He also came across cousins of Brandon the Younger of Clan Norrey, men who didn’t join the first batch who marched with Stannis to Winterfell. As he passed Queenscrown old men from the Wulls who lived along the Bay of Ice joined him. They wanted to spend one last hurrah before winter for The Ned’s girl. Along the way the Burleys, Harclays, Liddles and Knotts sent more men to join him. The champions carried their two-handed greatswords while others were armed with axes. Armoured against the weather and for battle with ragged skins and studded leathers. Those of lesser means carried only their sling stones and staffs made of mountain ash. Harsh men of the mountains who rallied in loyalty to the man who always honoured them. “ Know the men who follow you ” he once heard him say “ and let them know you. Don’t ask your men to die for a stranger. ” Even after his death these men were willing to die for their remaining tie to him: Arya. The girl who’d sit at Lord Eddard Stark’s side when Northern lords and their men came to Winterfell. Some of the men recalled how she’d sit on the benches with them listening to their stories and telling some of her own. Others told him of how she’d invented names for their children. Some of the younger boys even recalled playing monsters-and-maidens and come-into-my-castle with her as children. They marched not only because she was Valiant Ned’s precious little girl but because she was the North’s daughter as well. The girl of the friendly smiles, quick wit, and big heart. 

 

At Winterfell, King Stannis won the Battle of Ice and managed to take Winterfell back with the Northern army at his back. Unfortunately, he succumbed to his wounds not long after. While thankful for his efforts Jon didn’t have time to sit by a dying king’s side, not when there was a chance his heart was in the castle.  No. Jon ran through the Great Keep heart slamming against his chest. Doors crashing against walls as he screamed her name, hoping he’d find her in her old room or his or in the old cellars with the narrow windows beneath the Great Keep itself. The cellars where they’d sneak away and he’d tell her stories of the Targaryens of old and regale her with tales of the Long Night and the Age of Heroes; stories he’d heard from Old Nan when he was her age. She’d always be wide-eyed in wonder and even though he was sure Old Nan could tell the better story, he wanted to save those looks of marvel for himself. She always looked at him like he’d hung the moon and would always stand up for him when he doubted his place. He remembered the time Robb reminded him that a bastard could never be Lord of Winterfell. When Arya heard what happened she didn’t speak to Robb for 2 whole weeks. Not even when Robb would steal blueberry tarts from the kitchen in apology. And not even when she saw Jon and Robb playing together as brothers again. She only relented when Jon begged her to forgive their brother reminding her they were a pack who even when they fought had to stand together always. It was the lesson Father taught him and Robb when he heard of the incident. 

 

If only Jon waited before he stormed into the castle he’d have known Stannis’ men had found the Lady of Winterfell in the company of Theon Greyjoy. Only it was Jeyne Poole they found with her brown eyes, mousy face and frost-bitten nose. Theon was even more of a shock to him. With his missing teeth, hobbled walk and lost fingers he looked 40 years Jon’s senior rather than the five he truly was. He’d never felt more desolate than the day they presented Jeyne Poole to him as his sister. Didn’t they know Arya had grey eyes? How could they mistake her for the girl who’d bullied her endlessly? He remembered how she used to neigh when Arya walked past and how he once found Arya hiding her tears from the world by the heart tree. It was he who held her and reminded her that Jeyne was probably jealous that everyone who knew Aunt Lyanna said Arya looked like her. Who’d ever start a war for Jeyne? He laughed bitterly when he realised he had. Even when a war was fought for Jeyne, the men marched for Arya, he recalled. He wasn’t laughing when he found Jeyne though. He launched into a tirade that circled back to one question: how dare you impersonate the girl whose life you’d made a hell? While all in the hall were cowed by the tongue lashing he gave the frightened girl, it was Tormund who pulled him away. When he calmed down he realised just how broken Jeyne was. She told him of the attack on the Stark household in King’s Landing. How only she and Sansa survived. How Sansa was married to the Imp and how Jeyne was sold into service in a brothel. It was the Lannisters who forced her to pose as Arya so they could secure the North. “Arya’s probably dead,” she stammered, “No one made it out alive but Sansa and I.” Jon saw the girl was too distraught to fully answer his questions so he asked Alys Thenn to look after her affairs. After the death of Arnolf Karstark and his faction at the hands of King Stannis, she was the new lady of Karhold and took Jeyne with her shortly after.

 

Jon replaced his grief with the surer feeling of anger. At least he could do something with that. He started with the bastard who dared to take Arya for himself. He gave him a trial, though no one doubted his monstrosity. It was what Father would have done. In any case, Jon knew he’d find him guilty anyway. Once the trial was over Jon took the hand that wrote the Pink Letter and took Ramsay Bolton’s head as well without remorse. If only his death could cool the fire that burnt in Jon’s heart. The Northern lords demanded the death of Theon Greyjoy as well. Though the man had been broken beyond repair and Jon held hatred in his heart for the man who betrayed his family, Jeyne told him about how Rickon and Bran escaped. Still, he had to swing the sword if only for his lords. He allowed Asha Greyjoy to see to her brother’s funeral rites and allowed the Mormonts to keep her hostage until he decided what to do with her. 

 

He then marched for the Dreadfort. While Ramsay killed his own father after the latter had threatened to disinherit him, Bolton retainers remained at the Dreadfort with the prisoners they took from the sack of Winterfell. Taking back the Dreadfort was easier than he thought. With the Northern army at his back, the men inside surrendered while others fled. Once inside he was appalled at what the Boltons had done to the prisoners. In one room he found cloaks of skin hanging everywhere. By the kennels he found a small room full of women and ordered them released, given food and baths. It was there he heard someone gasp, “Jon Snow is that you?” The voice belonged to Beth Cassel, of an age with Arya; she was a friend of Sansa’s. Lying with her head on Beth’s lap was an old woman. Old Nan. Dying in that place of dread. Jon held her hand as she breathed her last and carried her to a cart himself. He buried her body in the lichyard by the First Keep, not too far from where he saw Jory Cassel was buried. He allowed himself to cry that day. To cry for the boy he’d been when he’d sat at her feet with Robb and Bran and Arya. He cried for the gentle crone who was the closest thing he had to a mother, even if he was hesitant to admit it to himself before and he cried for the loss of his last link to the summer of his life; when he had a brother for a best friend and a rival, a stalwart girl who he loved above all else for a sister and two boys who took him for a hero for little brothers. He even thought of the sister who loved songs of princes and knights that day.  

 

After Stannis’ death, the lords of the North swore fealty to him as their King. Lord Manderly told him of his efforts to find Rickon and Ser Davos gave him more details upon his return. Maege Mormont brought back Robb’s Will which legitimised  him, disinherited Sansa on account of her marriage and declared Jon Robb’s heir if Arya was never found. Jon came to learn that the Northerners were playing a game of their own. Some knew of Robb’s will before Stannis’ march on Winterfell and the Northerners had joined him knowing the battle would weaken both Stannis and the Boltons. Making easy work of whoever was the victor. Revealing Jon as Robb’s heir before that would have put Jon‘s life at risk. They kept it secret until they had the advantage to declare him King. 

Lady Mormont was followed shortly after by Lord Howland Reed of Greywater Watch and a band of outlaws calling themselves the Brotherhood without Banners. Lord Howland related the story of the men who’d been following a fire wight called Lady Stoneheart brought back from death by a red priest.  Lord Howland reported how she was the corpse of Lady Catelyn Tully Stark but had lost all the warmth that made up the woman. Harwin, the son of Hullen, was one of the men. He told Jon himself about how she’d been attacked by an army of wolves when she was about to hang a squire where the Riverlands met the Neck. She’d been leading her men around the Riverlands in revenge for the Red Wedding and searching for Arya to give her Robb’s crown. She was making her way to Winterfell and after her death, the men continued onwards to that destination. Not necessarily because of loyalty to her but because their priest Thoros of Myr had seen a threat to the Wall in the fire: one they had to fight alongside The Prince that was Promised. 

 

If only Lord Howland’s visit brought these men alone. Instead, he shook the foundations of Jon’s world, providing proof that Jon was the trueborn son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark. A child named Aemon Targaryen by his parents and hidden by Eddard Stark in a promise to his sister. Despite the anguishing questions in his heart like why did Father let me join the Night’s Watch? Why did he let Lady Stark take out her anger on me? Jon enjoyed learning about the mother he never knew. The mother whose face he used to spend so much time imagining. His mother was as kind and noble in Lord Howland's stories as she was in the dreams Jon had been having since his childhood. He only wished Arya was here to learn about the aunt she was often compared to. Jon was sure Arya would want to know who his mother was. She was the only other person who knew how much he wanted to know. 

Lord Howland told him how Lyanna Stark fought against squires who were bullying the young Crannogman and even entered the lists as a mystery knight. She reminded him so much of the girl of his childhood who he’d played sticks with. The one who stood up for anyone who was wronged. That girl, who like his mother, managed to combine the girly love of flowers with less ladylike activities. What happened to you, little sister? Except she wasn’t his sister was she? She was his cousin. He didn’t know how to feel about this change. She’d always been the closest person to him but the news also alleviated some of the guilt he felt about the less brotherly feelings he’d been having for her after his death. He spent his days yearning for her and at night his dreams were filled with her. Images of what he thought she might look like now. Could he take her for a bride? I want my bride back. I want my bride back. I want my bride back.

The news of his Targaryen heritage discomforted some of the Northern lords but he was the only one with Stark blood they had to turn to. No one found Rickon, Lord Howland told him his children had joined Bran but no one had heard from them either and the last news anyone had of Sansa was that she was wanted for killing a king. In any case she was disinherited. And his Arya was lost to them for good. Where are you, little sister?

It was Harwin who told him how they’d found Arya Underfoot in the Riverlands with the sullen blacksmith who came to Winterfell with them. She’d been leading two boys around the Riverlands determined to make it home. That sounded just like Arya. She would lead Bran around Winterfell on one quest or another and sometimes she would persuade Jon to join her. Usually it was to find some new type of flower or other. She would gift them to father and sometimes to him. One time she even managed to convince all the children in Winter Town to help her find the dragon that she heard keeps Winterfell warm before Lady Stark stopped that scheme. 

Anguy the Archer told him about how the little girl with the gracious heart had taught grown men the importance of mercy when she gave water to Karstark men guilty of crimes warranting death. That would have been a lesson she learned from Father who taught his children justice and vengeance were different things. 

Lem Lemoncloak related how she’d broken his nose and Jon couldn’t help but smile at the girl he knew would have fought the Bolton bastard to her death.

It took longer for the Blacksmith to speak to him though but when he did Jon saw how there was at least one other person in this world who missed Arya the way he did. Whenever the boy spoke of her, he’d speak of how he failed her. How he wished he’d have gone with her as she wanted. Chances are they would have died together but “Dying with her would be better than never knowing what happened to her,” he bemoaned. A feeling Jon knew all too well. The boy also recounted how the first time he met her she was threatening bigger boys with Needle and how distraught she was when she lost the sword. Gendry also spoke about how much Arya loved to talk about Jon and how she would tell anyone who would listen how much she loved that brother of hers. As much as hearing about Arya made Jon overjoyed. He held back from expressing how much he loved her too. It was too somber a feeling to think of all his happy times with her when he hadn't even given himself a chance to mourn her yet. Another reason was that her love for him and his love for her was only for them. They spent their happiest moments with each other and Jon didn’t want to let anyone else share in those with him.

 

 The Northern lords began presenting their daughters to him to take for a bride. He’d politely decline assuring them that he’d take a wife one day but he had to prepare for winter now. Where are you, little sister? I want my bride back. 

 

News from the Wall and from the ranging party he sent to Hardhome before his death helped him in this respect. He was told of a slaughter by the Shivering Sea where men were attacked by the Others with whole families lost. The injuries to the survivors and the reports of the Night’s Watch convinced many of the Northern lords of the true threat they faced to the North. Jon sent the Brotherhood to the wall along with prisoners from the Dreadfort and those still held at Winterfell. 

With Donal Noye’s death, the Watch would need a blacksmith to fashion weapons for them and Gendry was good at his trade. When Jon asked him to join the men going to the wall he joked that he’d been bound for the Wall with a boy named Arry anyway. Anguy on the other hand simply laughed about this being the second time a Stark asked for his service. Even if this Stark was a Targaryen. Anguy had won the archery competition at the Hand’s Tourney while Lord Eddard Stark was still alive and Ned Stark had offered him a place in his guards. Young and ten thousand gold dragons richer than he had been at the start of the tourney Anguy refused. Although he was sure to express just how much he regretted that decision a few short - full of fun- months later when he joined the Brotherhood. Penniless. “The little lady was less than impressed with the Brotherhood’s handle on finances. Or lack thereof, I suppose,” Thoros guffawed between sips of rum from his seemingly bottomless wineskin. Thoros himself had won twenty thousand gold dragons at the same Tourney when he won the melee and had nothing to show for it either. Jon wasn’t surprised at Arya’s repulsion at their handling of coin, she was always good at sums and managing a household. It was something she learned both from their lessons with Maester Luwin and from all the time she spent around the small folk whose company she liked so much. Sometimes the small folk around Winter Town would joke about how Lord Stark’s daughter, their Arya Underfoot, could haggle like a fishwife. Another thing she learned from them. Jon found himself reflecting on the fact that her love for the small folk had helped her survive during the war longer than anyone expected from a daughter of a Lord Paramount and Hand of the King. Did you make it out of the war alive little sister? 

Jon wrote to every one of the Great Houses of Westeros about the threat to the North, including the new King in the South. He also wrote to the Dragon Queen who landed in Dragonstone with foreign armies, 3 dragons, and Tyrion Lannister of all people.  The Targaryen King dismissed him as a would-be-usurper, a false prince, and a stain on his father’s honour. While the Dornish had regard for Lord Eddard Stark, a son of Lyanna Stark with Rhaegar was a further insult to Elia Martell’s memory. Rhaegar left Elia at the mercy of the Mad King and then to the dogs of Tywin Lannister while Jon and his mother were protected by the best of the Kingsguard. The Freys, the new rulers of the Riverlands, only sent him insults in return; the Lords of the Westerlands, the Reach, and the Ironborn never responded. The Knights of the Vale came themselves with Sansa to his surprise. She’d been hiding in the Vale since the death of Joffrey and assured all who’d listen that she hadn’t killed the boy although no one would blame her if she did. 

The Dragon Queen answered as well. She flew to Winterfell with her dragons and Tyrion Lannister and declared that she’d fight for the North if they recognised her as their queen and helped her defeat the false king in the South. She even promised to take Jon as her heir. While he was ahead of her in the line of succession she argued that he could step aside and allow her to take the seat of her father. "Why should a grandson come before a daughter or a son before a sister?" were her exact words. Although Dorne had sided with the Dornish Queen and held the Dragon Queen responsible for the death of Prince Quentyn Martell, she supposed they had the right of it on the matter of women's rights if nothing else. Jon kept quiet about the fact that the rules of inheritance in Dorne were about the order of birth as Maester Luwin once taught him. Jon was older, and in any case the son of the crown prince, so would still be ahead of her in the line of succession. Still, he thought Arya might like this queen who thought the woman was important too. While Jon looked on somewhat amused at this queen from the tales Arya loved so much, the Dragon continued her speech.  If the North refused to recognise her as queen she promised Fire and Blood for all who defied her. The Northern lords who held everything Southron with disdain relented quicker than one might expect. With three dragons and 2 armies at her back, a mountain of Dragon glass in her castle, and a betrothal to the new Lord of Highgarden with all his wealth and supplies she was their best chance at survival. Like Torrhen Stark before him Jon bent the knee to a Targaryen with dragons to save his people. Unlike Torrhen however, Jon did so with the full support of all his people who knew what was at stake. 

Together the disparate armies of Westeros and the Dragon Queen's armies from Essos fought the army of the dead and together they won. They were joined by Children of the Forest. He didn’t fully understand them but was grateful for their help. At the Wall they were also joined by an army of wolves led by a great big direwolf with golden eyes. Nymeria. Where are you, little sister? Look your wolf is with me and belongs with Ghost now. Your place is with me. I want my bride back.

The first time he rode a dragon he wished the one he longed for was by his side. She loved the dragon-riders of old and he wished in that moment she could be the Visenya she loved to his Aegon even if she was the Queen Rhaenys of his heart. Instead, she remained his Princess Rhaenys whose memory he kept alive. His name-sake’s daughter and the queen that never was. 

Gendry lamented that Arya was lost to them at the Red Wedding, and Brienne, a companion of Sansa’s, was sure she died at the massacre at Saltpans but The Hound, who followed Sansa around like a shadow, was sure the wolf-bitch would survive. She’d taken his coin and was determined to get to the Wall after all. What happened to you, little sister? I thought our different roads would lead to the same castle.

When Queen Daenerys took King’s Landing she killed the King she had named Blackfyre but let his queen live and return to her homeland to take her place as their ruling princess after her father’s death. Queen Daenerys herself married Lord Willas Tyrell of the Reach and subdued the remaining rebels in the Westerlands and defeated Euron Greyjoy and the Ironborn who followed him. The Stormlords had supported Aegon but Dany, as she asked her only living family member to call her, secured their loyalty by keeping the legitimised Edric Storm, a son of their beloved Baratheon over-lords, as their liege. It was the least she could do. The people seemed to like Aegon. The son of Rhaegar forgiving and accepting the son of Robert was seen as an action that would define Aegon as a man who sought to heal and unite. If Daenerys wanted to be taken seriously, she could not undo that action. She was already seen as a foreign invader and usurper by many so she could only build upon the sentiment behind Aegon's actions. She went on to legitimise all of Robert’s known bastards. Her only claim against Aegon was that he was a Blackfyre pretender - a threat to the realm. 

She was determined to secure the Riverlands next. Jon knew there was political gain in freeing Edmure Tully from the Freys. Jon didn’t know Edmure but he liked Edmure's uncle, The Blackfish- a gruff man who was as cutting as he was honest. Still, Jon pushed for them to attack The Twins to avenge Robb, free the Northern lords taken hostage at the Red Wedding, and to teach a lesson to the up-start lord that dared to secure his heart for a son who was never worthy. The Freys loved to boast that they’d held the crossing at the Green Fork for 600 years but what could they do against dragons and a Queen who promised Jon she wouldn’t accept surrender without slaughter? A gift to him and all those who’d lost loved ones at the Red Wedding. Jon wanted to burn Walder Frey and his gaggle of sons but the man who passes the sentence should swing the sword . While he was the dragon’s son, the blood of the First Men flowed through his veins so he kept to the Old Way like his true father before him and his before him. 

Queen Daenerys granted The Twins to Olyvar Frey, a boy who once served as Robb’s squire and remained loyal to his cause.  After the trials Jon spent half a day taking head after head after head. He saved Walder Frey for last. He wanted him to watch his legacy turn to a river of blood first. The Hound had told him how he saved Arya’s life at the Red Wedding but not before she saw what they did to her brother and his men. He had to exact the same revenge on the Frey lord for the actions he made Arya witness. Where are you, little sister? 

After the wars, the demands of marriage started once more.  This time his lords were joined by his aunt who insisted the continuation of the Targaryen line would depend on him. She was once told that she would never have a child and while a red priestess insisted she’d have children of her own she did not want to leave the fate of House Targaryen to luck. 

While each lord brought his daughter, some from even as far as the Reach and the Dornish Marshes, his queen and aunt suggested he look closer to home, at Sansa. Marrying Sansa would serve a number of purposes. It’d tie three kingdoms to the Crown his aunt loved so much, protect Sansa after the death of her husband from all the lords that circled her with marriage demands like crows after a battle and it would placate his own.

 Although the Northern lords initially derided her as a Lannister, even they had to accept a child of their beloved Ned was the best choice of bride he had. After all, everyone knew there must always be a Stark in Winterfell. He’d do what he could to stand by the last of his true family. Even if she’d never been his favourite growing up. She tried to make up for the distance between them in childhood in his greatest hour of need. It was Sansa who brought the Knights of the Vale to his side when he sought allies in the fight against the dead and Sansa who exposed Lord Petyr Baelish’s scheme to overthrow him and place her in his place. When she heard of Tyrion Lannister’s death in the taking of King’s Landing, it was Sansa who married the new Lord of the Eyrie to keep the Vale tied to House  Stark and her who secured supplies for the mountain clans that rallied for Valiant Ned's precious little girl. Perhaps they could one day become true friends even if she’d never have the heart that stopped and beat again for a feisty girl whose love in his heart burned hotter than any dragon fire and blew out, like the coldest wind, the prospect of him loving another.  Sansa was his family and he’d protect her the best way he could even if they both knew she’d be happier marrying the half-burnt sworn sword she truly loved

That’s how he found himself walking around the Inner Castle with Nymeria and Ghost by his side; greeting guests for a wedding feast he had no real appetite for. Arya was gone, lost to him forever it seemed, and all he had to remember her by were fading memories. It had been eight years since he last saw her. Soon, he would have spent longer without her than he had with her. The thought made Jon’s heart heavy. What was it about different roads I once said to her? That day when her tears threatened to overflow and I walked out before I could join her?

Earlier that day he returned from a week-long visit to Alys, Sigorn and their son Harrion at Karhold. Seeing Sansa for the first time since his return, he greeted her with a brotherly hug and a kiss to the forehead of the sister he was just getting to know when Ghost and Nymeria’s howls set off their smaller cousins in the Wolfswood, silencing the courtyard in the process. Tracing the object of their attentions, he saw a Northern beauty with long brown hair, a sword at her hip and teary grey eyes studying him as if she wasn’t sure he was truly there. Little sister? Different roads really did lead us to the same castle. Before he knew what he was doing he ran to her like the boy of ten who’d run around the Godswood with the girl who gave him wings. My heart is home!

Chapter Text

Sansa 


Alayne was getting ready for the start of the tourney of the Brotherhood of Winged Knights when Father arrived to give her news from the North. He told her of the Northern lords following Stannis Baratheon into battle against the Boltons to rescue Arya Stark from a forced marriage to the son of Roose Bolton. Arya. She’s alive! Sansa was so happy to know that she was no longer alone.

“Is Lady Arya alright?” Alayne asked.

Petyr closed the door and sauntered to the window before looking  at her with a conspiratorial smile, “Oh the girl was never your sister. Your sister was never found my dear, the poor girl is probably dead. The Boltons were given your old friend Jeyne Poole. Remember her? She was of a similar enough look to your sister to fool the Northern lords and would give legitimacy to the Boltons until we could return you to your rightful seat my sweet,” he swaggered.

“It’s time to do away with Alayne Stone so Sansa Stark can take her place as Queen in the North.”

“Queen in the North?” Sansa inquired incredulously.

Petyr began walking toward her,  “In your absence the Northern Lords proclaimed your bastard half-brother King in the North. It’s time we corrected this don’t you think?” he requisitioned, straightening Sansa’s necklace in the process.   Jon! 

“Here, wear this,” he dictated, picking out a dress, “It befits your station and wash the dye out of your hair, it’s time to show the lords and ladies of the Vale your Tully look.”

With that he walked out leaving Sansa to her thoughts. Jon! I still have family! Robb, Bran, Rickon and Arya may be gone but Jon is the last of my family. When I’m safe and within the walls of Winterfell as Queen, I will not let Littlefinger harm him , Sansa decided thinking on her mother’s words: Family, Duty, Honour. 

 

“My lords, my ladies, before we start the tourney, please, allow me to say a few words. Most of you have met my natural daughter Alayne Stone. I believe the time has come for me to come clean on a few matters.”

Standing outside the hall Sansa could hear the murmurs of the lords and ladies of the Vale.

“As you know, I was raised by Lord Hoster Tully with my late lady-wife Lysa Tully Arryn and her sister Lady Catelyn Stark. I considered them both my family and was raised to believe in the Tully words: Family, Duty, Honour.” 

“I was as distraught as any of you to hear of the misfortunes that befell House Stark and while many of us were unable to help in more military means, my late lady-wife and I saw an opportunity to assist our niece, Lady Sansa Stark.”

Still outside Sansa could hear how the earlier low level muttering grew into a buzz.

“As you know, the Lannisters forced her to marry the Imp after killing Lord Eddard Stark and holding her hostage. My lady-wife and I could not stand by and watch as our niece was tortured at the hand of the Lannisters so we decided to take action to save her from their clutches. Unfortunately, on the day we planned on rescuing her the Imp killed his nephew and we had to hide Lady Sansa away for her safety, against false claims of kingslaying. Lady Sansa, would you please join me?”

Sansa walked in then, wearing a grey and white dress, the Stark colours,  with the glossy auburn hair she spent the afternoon brushing until it shone revealing the look she shared with her Tully kin. 

Myranda Royce gasped but Sansa could see it was a feigned surprise while Nestor Royce looked at her unperturbed by the revelation. They must have known this entire time. Lord Yohn Royce and Lady Anya Waynwood both showed some surprise at the revelation, but they had been increasingly suspicious of how well Alayne took to noble life. It must not be too big of a shock to them . Harrold Hardyng on the other hand looked absolutely bewildered. He is stunned at his treatment of a Lady above his station. Ser Shadrich merely had an amused look on his face. 

After assuring the lords that he regretted having to lie to them and that he only did so for Sansa’s safety, Petyr revealed that the North was free of Bolton, and by extension Lannister, rule now. Winterfell was being held by Jon Snow, Eddard Stark’s bastard, and recently declared King in the North. Petyr made an impassioned plea to the lords of the Vale declaring that with the Lannister’s grip on power increasingly fraught following Cersei’s wildfire plot against the Faith at the Sept of Baelor, where poor Margaery died, and the recent arrival of a boy claiming to be Prince Aegon Targaryen, the lords of the Vale owed a duty to the blood of their former lady, cousin of their current Lord and the daughter of their friend Eddard Stark to return Sansa to her rightful place in the North. Although the Vale may have sat out the War of the Five Kings he argued, looking at Lord Yohn Royce, “it’s time for the Knights of the Vale to join the fray.” While they could not immediately make for the North with the increasingly bad weather, the Lords of the Vale began planning a campaign to return Sansa to her rightful seat. In that time Harry began to get closer to her to make up for his previously awful treatment. 

 

While the weather started to get slightly more permissive of travel, their campaign was further delayed by attacks from the mountain clans who were getting desperate for food. The Knights of the Vale had to deal with them first. During this wait, Petyr told Sansa of a letter from Jon requesting aid from all the Great Houses of Westeros against the Others.

“Was the bastard always one to jape?” he sneered.

Sansa had no response to that particular question. What is Jon playing at?

Later Petyr told Sansa about how Jon was now proclaiming to be the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark. With Jon claiming to be a Targaryen, a Targaryen king in the South and recent news of a Targaryen queen with dragons landing at Dragonstone, Sansa felt like it wouldn’t be long before they had to live through another Dance of the Dragons. I’ll be safer within the walls of Winterfell . Petyr was elated at the news of Jon’s alleged Targaryen heritage. He assured Sansa it would make their job much easier. 

 

When they finally set out for the North, Sansa noticed Ser Shadrich of the Shady Glen getting closer to her and trying to get her alone during the progress. One night while Sansa made water he grabbed her, putting a hand over her mouth and began to make away from the camp with her. Sansa felt a panic she hadn’t felt since she left King’s Landing. As she felt the bile began to build up inside her, she felt someone drag him off her. She turned to face her saviour and saw him  behead  Ser Shadrich with a single stroke of his sword. A tall hooded man accompanied by another tall hooded figure, Sansa felt herself growing increasingly frightened until the man removed his hood to reveal his face. Sandor! 

 

“Little bird. You should have left King’s Landing with me.” he declared. The figure behind also removed their cloak revealing a tall, armoured, disfigured blonde woman. She immediately went on one knee and offered her services to Sansa explaining that she had once sworn an oath to her mother to rescue and protect Sansa. 

 

Sansa didn’t initially trust Lady Brienne but decided that if Sandor vouched for her she would give her a chance. Brienne told Sansa that Ser Shadrich had been looking for her for some time seeking a reward for returning her to King’s Landing. The decision to allow Sandor and Brienne to travel with them to Winterfell did not please Petyr. He doesn’t want me to have allies he does not control but Sansa felt safer in their company. Sandor kept advising her not to trust Littlefinger, never missing an opportunity to list reasons why she shouldn’t. 

 

When Sansa finally saw the grey, warm, walls of home she felt a sense of security she hadn’t felt since she first left Winterfell.

Once inside the castle Jon greeted her with a warm hug and Sansa was introduced to her great uncle Ser Brynden Tully. Sansa found it odd that he would be at Winterfell but was happy to be around another member of her family. He will look after my interests and keep me safe.  

 

Sansa noticed that her uncle didn’t look particularly pleased to see Petyr. 

 

Once inside the Hall, courtesies were exchanged, Jon insisted Sansa sit at the high table while he sat on the Seat of the Kings of Winter. The rest of her entourage sitting on the benches. One side of the room was made up of the lords and knights of the Vale and the other side composed of Northmen and, to Sansa’s surprise, wildlings. 

 

Impatient, Petyr stood and began, “My lords, my ladies, I was as aggrieved as any of you about what befell House Stark and the North.  Please accept my condolences for your losses. While I was in no position to provide martial assistance during the war, I could not sit by while the daughter of my childhood friend, and good sister,  Lady Catelyn Stark was mistreated by the Lannisters. My late lady-wife and I went to great efforts to save Lady Sansa from the clutches of the Lannisters and kept her safe in the Vale until it was safe to return her to her rightful place. Here. In Winterfell. With you. The lords of the Vale and I were so pleased to hear of your retaking of the North from the Lannister-aligned House Bolton and are honoured to return to you your queen.”

 

The hall erupted in a thundering clamor, Lords speaking over one another furiously.  Southern Lords would never do this . Sansa found herself embarrassed by the gruff Northern lords.

 

Jon raised a hand and clenched his fingers into a fist and the hall quietened.

 

“My lord, you have my thanks and the thanks of all the North for returning Sansa home. Like many in the North our family has suffered many losses. Sansa’s return brings hope to us. Thank you for protecting her.” Jon said earnestly. Oh Jon, you are so much like Father now

 

Petyr smiled at that with the look of a man who had won. 

 

“I am pleased to have protected the rightful Queen in the North, it’s what Cat would have wanted.”

 

“Are you seeking to usurp the King we chose? Lady Lannister?” someone spat, drawing Sansa’s attention away from Petyr. The voice belonged to Barbery Dustin, Lady of Barrowton, late to join the Northern cause to overthrow the Boltons; she was still trying to ingratiate herself to Jon. Her first step had been to return Father’s bones to Winterfell and Sansa would find out years later how she had a particular dislike for the mother Sansa resembled so much. First for allegedly taking Uncle Brandon from her and then Father who was supposed to replace him. She also held an animosity towards Father for not returning her husband’s bones after the events at the Tower of Joy.

In that moment though, Sansa straightened her back, for all she preferred the South, she was a Stark of Winterfell who had nothing to fear. “My Lady, I am a Stark. I have always been a Stark. The Lannisters held me hostage after they killed my father and forced me to marry Lord Tyrion. Surely you cannot begrudge me for something that was forced upon a girl of three and ten?”

Before anyone could respond Petyr interrupted, “My lords, my ladies,” he punctuated with a pause, “the Lady Sansa is your rightful queen. She is the only Stark here and the heir to the King you chose. You cannot place a ba- ahem, pardon me, a cousin, before the true born sister of your king and the daughter of your liege before him.” 

 

“Our king,” Lady Maege Mormont countered, Sansa wasn’t sure she would ever think the peculiar woman with the dirk at her belt a lady if she wasn’t ruler of Bear Island, “chose Lady Arya as his heir if she was found and King Jon if she was not. I don’t see Lady Arya here. Do you?.”

 

 “I suppose you already know that answer since you sent a fraud in our rightful Queen’s place,” Lady Dustin added with a smirk that belied her own role propping up the Boltons and her prior knowledge that Jeyne was not Arya. Not that Jeyne was in any position to tell anyone the truth back then. 

 

“My lady, er, Mormont isn’t it?” Sansa was sure Petyr knew who she was, feigning ignorance was a tool he used to belittle. He had no recourse for Lady Dustin, “For all I’ve heard about The North Remembers , I cannot see how the North can support a-“ he looked at Jon disapprovingly then, “..Targaryen over a true-born daughter of Eddard Stark. I am sure King Robb did not know what we know today,” Littlefinger flaunted. 

 

Lady Mormont smiled knowingly, “I don’t believe it would have made much of a difference, Lord Baelish. Lady Catelyn was very open to making more distant kin Robb’s heir.” Sansa saw Jon’s jaw tense at that. “King Robb chose King Jon as an heir because he was a son of the North.”

 

“Why do you think we declared a King in the North in the first place?” Galbart Glover joined in. “When both Stannis and Renly were options against the Lannisters?”

Hiding his impatience with a smug smile, Petyr retorted,  “my Lord that does not answer my question. Why should a cousin or a younger sister come before King Robb’s rightful heir?” 

“You keep bringing this up. Didn’t you know Lady Lannister was disinherited?” Lord Manderly said with a voice that sounded bored.

Sansa looked at her uncle then. He simply nodded at her. Petyr had a mildly bewildered expression on his face.  The news saddened Sansa but did not particularly shock her. Robb was protecting the North from the Lannisters.


More immediately however, Sansa realised how out of depth Littlefinger was. They’ve been toying with him. They could have mentioned this when he first started speaking but they waited for him to make his intentions clear.

Sansa saw her opportunity and began to cry. She stood up, prompting Jon to do the same, and threw herself into his arms. . “I can’t hide the truth anymore,” she began with a whimper, a lady did not snivel, looked at Jon and then away at where Littlefinger stood near the front benches, “I have to tell the truth.” And so she did. She told all who were there how Littlefinger had been keeping her hidden in the Vale, threatening her against revealing her identity because she was wanted for kingslaying. 

 

 “I did it to protect you my lady. Your mother was like a sister to me and your aunt my wife,” he began. Sansa saw fear in the cool facade he struggled to maintain. 

 

“You betrayed my mother, killed my aunt and you used me to lie for you. You used me to hide your monstrous acts by threatening me with the Lannisters who would find me guilty of a crime you planned.” The tears were flowing readily now,

“You knew my hairnet contained the poison that killed Joffrey while I did not, and you made me lie and say it was the singer who killed my aunt. Before that you convinced Aunt Lysa to poison Lord Jon Arryn with tears of Lys. I heard her confess just before you killed her.  It was you who started the animosity between the Starks and the Lannisters when you had my Lord uncle killed.” Sansa felt her blood boiling now and noticed the murderous looks of both the lords of the Vale and Northern lords and ladies levelled at Littlefinger.

 

“My lady,  whatever your aunt said, she was a disturbed woman.” 

 

Unphased Sansa continued, “You sent Jeyne Poole here pretending she was Arya. It would give you time to consolidate your power in the Vale before revealing my identity. You wanted to crown me Queen in the North and crown yourself King which in addition to your position as Lord of Harrenhal and your power in the Vale would give you power in three kingdoms. How do we know you didn’t kill my sister just to reach your goal?” Sansa felt Jon tense behind her, and both her uncle and the Northern lords looked irate. They marched for Arya, their queen. The thought of Arya being placed above her perturbed Sansa but she knew her brother was only trying to protect the North from the Lannisters. He and mother knew I would be the better queen. I was raised for it, not her. 

 

“I did no such thing, my lady, everyone knows I was raised in the home of Lord Hoster Tully, I would never harm someone of his blood.” He looked imploringly at Ser Brynden then, the man who helped raise him.

 

His words broke Sansa’s reverie, “I wouldn’t put it past you Lord Baelish. You had me procuring sweetmilk for my cousin Lord Robert Arryn. You told me it was to help treat him but Maester Colemon told me the truth. He told me it would harm him so I stopped giving it to him but you didn’t care did you? Robert dying would be convenient for you. You’d replace him with Ser Harrold who you thought was more predictable.” 

 

Harrold Hardyng never looked more incredulous than in that moment, keen to show himself loyal to his kin and to the Vale. This latest revelation on top of Littlefinger being behind the death of Lord Jon Arryn and the Vale lords seeing an opportunity to free themselves of the hold he had over them all but sealed his fate. 


“My lady, I am innocent of these crimes. You have not provided any proof of your claims.” 

 

“We can always call Maester Colemon my Lord.” Now that the Vale lords were incensed, Sansa saved the best for last, The North Remembers. I’ll show them I’m a Northerner too.  She began to sob. “That’s not all,” Sansa hiccuped, the hysterics were feigned but her anger true, “Sandor, tell them, tell them what he did to my father.”  

 

Sandor Clegane moved  to the middle of the hall and told all inside how upon King Robert’s death Eddard Stark marched into the throne room with King Robert’s will declaring him regent. He was in the company of his own guard and 100 gold cloaks, enough to outnumber the Lannisters five to one. Sandor also revealed how Cersei ripped the will and ordered Lord Stark arrested. He revealed how the Hand’s own guards stood around him to protect him from the Kingsguard in the belief that the gold cloaks, Janos Slynt and Petyr Baelish would stand with them before the gold cloaks turned on them slaughtering the Stark men while Littlefinger held a knife to Eddard Stark’s throat saying, “I did warn you not to trust me.” 

 

When Sandor finished the Northern lords began shouting, Whoresbane Umber was being held back by his brother. Hother Umber had sworn fealty to the Boltons to save his nephew the Greatjon but was a loyal friend of her father. Sansa saw Robett Glover doing the same to his brother Galbart. The Vale lords were just as enraged. Bronze Yohn Royce principal among them. He was a friend of Father and supported Robb. Petyr always said he was the biggest threat to his plans. He didn’t see me coming. 

 

Littlefinger knew he was done for. Not that it stopped him making a feeble argument pointing out Sandor worked for the Lannisters too. “My Lord, Sandor Clegane was bound to obey his King, what excuse did you have? Despite his vows, he protected me in King’s Landing and he had even offered to help me escape during the Blackwater. I wish I had gone with him. If I had I would have been reunited with my family.”

She couldn’t help but think, Robb would have made me his heir, I would be a good queen. “He protected my sister Arya for a time as well before he was injured. Sandor Clegane has proven himself a man of honour and loyal to House Stark, something I cannot say about you.” 

 

Jon spoke for the first time then, with a furious look that made him look like a true King of Winter, “Take the prisoner away, he will be executed in the morning.” 

 

Despite their fury, she noticed later that night that the Northern lords and ladies had become somewhat less antagonistic, even if not particularly friendly, toward her. Well, all but two of them: Lady Dustin had a less than impressed look on her face and  Lord Manderly had a queer expression on his face. One that Sansa couldn’t quite read. She saw Lord Manderly later that night wobbling his way out of the dungeons. Jeyne Poole once told her he was called Lord-Too-Fat-To-Sit-A-Horse, Sansa would never use that nickname out loud though. Sansa paid him no mind. Sansa Stark was home and safe behind the walls of Winterfell. 

 

Littlefinger was executed the next morning by Jon.  His last words a pathetic plea for mercy. 

 

At the execution Sansa heard Thoros of Myr, a recent arrival from Castle Black where Jon had sent men to shore up the Night’s Watch’s numbers, speaking intensely to Sandor, who was always next to her - her trusted sword. “I’ve seen it all with this family. The fish in the river with the red cheeks, her son the wolf that wailed in the rain. Now I’ve seen the maid once of the purple serpents in her hair slay the giant in a castle built of snow. I wonder what came of the wolf-child, the blood child, the one whose sorrow was too much even for one who gorged on grief in Summerhall.” Sansa had no idea what the drunk priest was babbling on about.

 

Not long after Littlefinger’s death, the Dragon Queen answered Jon’s call for support in the war against the Others and came in the company of Sansa’s husband, Tyrion Lannister. Unfortunately, his arrival had soured attitudes to Sansa once more. Jon bent the knee to the aunt who insisted he take his Targaryen name as her heir. While Sansa did not agree with Jon bending the knee, her more immediate problem was making the lords of the North see her as one of their own. I will make them love me . She spent much of the preparations for war losing herself in securing food for the winter. Sansa was determined that the mountain clans would not have to send their old men “hunting” this year. The Northern people are grateful people. They still love father for all he did for them. They even keep talking about Arya as if a nine year old can do anything of note. When I feed them they will love me too. They won’t care about who I was forced to marry. 

 

With news from the Vale that Sweetrobin was on his deathbed Sansa found herself having to ingratiate herself to Harry the Heir and the Lords Declarant of the Vale. Upon Sweetrobin’s death Sansa promised the newly styled Lord Harrold Arryn and the various lords of the Vale, as cousin to the Crown Prince, to ask for her marriage to be annulled as soon as the war was over so she could marry Harry and become Lady of the Eyrie. “My father may have been a Northman, my lords,  but he was raised in the Vale. You sheltered me in my darkest time. You are my people as much as those of the North and the Riverlands. I will always stand by you. All I ask is that you stand by the North with provisions for the winter.” Harry was easiest to convince. 

 

When the Others were defeated, the combined forces of the Vale, the North, the Reach, the last remnants of the Ironborn,  under Asha Greyjoy, the last of the Greyjoys after the Dragon Queen killed her uncles,  some Riverlords under the command of Brynden Tully, some Westerland lords and the Dragon Queen’s armies turned their attention to the war for King’s Landing. The majority of the Houses in the Westerlands refused to side with either faction in the second Dance of the Dragons - although only one side truly had dragons. Those Westerland houses argued that they could not side with a usurper who had a kinslayer for a Hand nor one who usurped the rightful queen Cersei Lannister. The Targaryen King had the Crownlands’, Stormlands’ and Dornish armies on his side, a sellsword company he brought from Essos and some Riverlords under the Freys who knew that if the North-aligned Dragon Queen won their position would be untenable. 

 

Tyrion Lannister died during the Siege of King’s Landing and Harrold ungallantly insisted that he and Sansa marry before the sack of the city. While Sansa could not say she loved Tyrion Lannister, she could not help but note how the upjumped former landed knight turned Lord Paramount salivated at the opportunity  to marry someone with ties to the Royal family. He did away with all courtesies. 

 

Their marriage was equally uncourteous. While Sansa gave him a son, her beloved Robb, now  Lord of the Eyrie , in their two years of marriage, Harry fathered two more bastards before falling in an ambush by the mountain clans of the Vale. Good thing all his bastards were girls. Still, just to be sure they never became a threat to her son, out of her grace Sansa determined she’d betroth them when they became of age to some minor landed knights. It’s more than most bastards could expect. 

 

With her control in the realm still new, the Dragon Queen spent her first few years of rule cementing relationships with the Houses of her Realm and upon Harry’s death, she proposed a marriage between Jon and Sansa. 

 

Sansa found her half-brother turned cousin and betrothed difficult to understand. How could she ingratiate herself to someone she couldn’t read? He spent as little time as possible with her, preferring to spend his time with a former outlaw from the Dornish Marshes who married Beth Cassel, Harwin the son of Hullen, who took his father’s position as Master of Horse and a red-headed wildling who married Maege Mormont and styled himself husband to bears. Recently, he also spent time with Lord Edric Dayne of Starfall who he met in King’s Landing and had recently arrived in Winterfell for the wedding. Sometimes he’d even spend time with Sandor talking about Arya. 

 

Apart from her uncles, nephew and her little Robb, Jon was the last of the family she had around her. She decided she’d make him love her. She had to. They were all the other had. He still puzzled her though. Once she was watching Sandor walking around the yard with her son when she heard Jon say, “You love him.” It wasn’t a question and even if it were, Sansa wasn’t sure she knew the answer to that question. Instead, turning to Jon with a smile, she quipped, “that’s not something one usually says to their betrothed Jon.” His gruff response before he walked off  in the direction of the glass gardens, probably to stare some more at winter roses , was, “if you did I wouldn’t blame you. People can’t help who they love.” 

 

Weeks later she found herself reflecting on his question. Did she love Sandor? She wasn’t certain. He was the first person to try to open her eyes when she was nothing more than a little bird parroting courtesies, drawn to the glamour of a life she only knew of from the songs. Except songs of love and chivalry never once imitated life in Sansa’s experience. Twice married for power, first for her name and then for her husband’s, here she was considering a third that might make her queen to a man who favoured her long-dead sister. “ When did I turn into aunt Lysa? ” she found herself asking before reminding herself Jon was no Littlefinger. Still, it was Sandor who sat her down that night after the tourney and  taught her there were no true knights. A lesson life had beaten into her again and again. In a world where honesty and true honour died south of the Neck with Ned Stark, at least in most of the men Sansa had the misfortune to be around, Sandor never broke her confidence - even if a lady of her stature should not associate herself with such a man.  “A hound will die for you, but never lie to you. And he’ll look you straight in the face,” he once told her. 

 

But Sansa was a grown woman now, Lady Regent of the Vale, connected by blood to two Lord Paramounts, one of them a prince and her betrothed, mother to a third and mayhaps one day a queen if the expensive news of the Queen’s barren womb was anything to go by. Sansa’s children may one day sit the Iron Throne and she’d find her little Robb a worthy marriage. She might even make him Hand to his brother or sister. Mother prepared me to raise princes and lords . While the years have turned her skin from porcelain to ivory to steel, and made her so much more at ease with the burnt man that once terrified her, underneath it all she was still the girl who vowed to herself “ when I am queen I will make them love me .” Could she give up that dream for Sandor? A man with a dubious history, no wealth to show for himself and an even worse grip on courtesies than Arya. No, a marriage to him would weaken her hold on power in the Vale. If she was to marry, her lords expected her to marry from themselves to consolidate power. She only had two options. The first was to never marry again, she could always fall back on being a widow loyal to her “one true - dead - love.” Or she could marry someone above them: another Lord Paramount or, better still, a prince. Jon would never hurt me and he’d never father a bastard - he’s too much like Father . Though he and Mother never got on, Jon was raised to know the importance of Family, Duty, Honour. Why else would he break his vows for Arya? 

 

Joffrey and Cersei and Petyr and all the countless little men in between taught Sansa life was not a song - even if one of a little bird and her dog was oh so sweet. A lady should only marry from her station in life. No , it will have to be Jon she convinced herself. Mayhaps one day I’ll even hold his heart and if not with my beauty and courtesies, Cersei did teach me the greatest weapons in a Lady’s arsenal. My tears have already helped me so far when I blubbered about the lords of the Vale all but forcing demands of marriage on me. As if they could. I have secrets that could destroy each one of them. A final gift from Petyr. Still, my son and I will be safer with Jon. 

 

“Lady Lannis, pardon me, I’m getting old, Lady Arryn, please accept my congratulations on your third marriage.” The voice that broke Sansa’s train of thought belonged to the Lard Lord, Lord Manderly.  

 

He’s still annoyed that I made the case for the port at Gulltown to be expanded as a priority before White Harbor’s at the council of Great Lords. The queen wanted to use the remaining wealth she had from her conquest of Volantis to begin rebuilding Westeros. She held the Council to find out the needs of the kingdoms and spent the majority of the money feeding the Crownlands and the Riverlands. Expanding White Harbor’s port would have been a boon for the North’s silversmith industry which was more valuable than it’s already profitable lumber trade. While the quality of the Vale’s produce of foodstuffs could rival Highgarden, the Vale could not rival the North in producing silver or lumber but an expansion to the port at Gulltown would benefit both the Vale’s general trade as well as it’s profitable trade in marble. At the meeting, Sansa simply pointed out that the Vale had been a stable region during the wars and that port would be easier to expand than the one in White Harbor. White Harbor may need trade but like the devastated Riverlands expanding the port surely had to be the last of their priorities. Feeding the people through winter was. If the port was to be expanded, it could be expanded at a later time. Runestone is not far from Gulltown and I need Yohn Royce’s favour to secure my son’s position, Sansa thought then. One has to give when taking. Lord Royce helped me secure food for the North during the war. And if the Vale is rich, I can continue feeding the North. They would be grateful to me. The people would love me. Lord Manderly should be thanking me - I'd be feeding people who rely on him.  It makes no matter, he will regret his disrespect when I’m Queen. I’ll ask Jon to grant him a position in our Small Council. When he sees how gracious I am he will regret his treatment of me. I will make them love me

 

Reminding herself that A lady’s armor is courtesy, Sansa smiled at him and engaged in a polite conversation about his journey to Winterfell asking whether she could do anything to make his stay more comfortable when she spotted Jon fresh from his return to Karhold. He was flanked by Ghost and the monstrous Nymeria who rejected Sansa’s every attempt to groom her like she did with Lady. It was clear she took after her uncouth, wilful mistress there. Still her rejection hurt. I am a wolf too, Sansa thought, Lady died because of Nymeria. Arya died just like Lady. Nymeria should be mine now.  

 

Sansa walked over to Jon hugging him in greeting and asking about his visit to Karhold where Lady Alys and her wildling husband lived with the permission of the freed Lord Harrion Karstark. Sansa never understood why a lady of a noble house would marry a savage. All of a sudden Ghost and Nymeria started howling, starting a ruckus that set off the beasts Jon allowed to live in the Wolfswood. They were moving in the direction of a long faced girl wearing breeches with specks of dirt from travel on her face. She’s probably a servant . Sansa had turned back to Jon when she noticed a look of bewilderment on his face and tears in his eyes before he started running toward the girl in a very unlord-like  fashion. Sansa turned to look at the girl properly. Jon had slowed down when he reached her. Stopping just in front of her, softly holding her face in his hands, as if she might break, while he looked at her adoringly. Both of them openly crying and looking at each other as if the other might disappear. Jon then affectionately pulled her against his chest in an embrace. 

Arya.

Chapter Text

 

Arya 

 

Arya felt rooted to the spot as Jon came running to her. Her heart was slamming against her chest, her eyes releasing tears she hadn’t shed in years and she could only stand there gazing at this older version of Jon as if when she blinked he would disappear like the ghost she was sure he must be. Then he stopped just in front of her, lifting his hands shakily to hold her face as if he too couldn’t believe that she was standing in front of him. “Arya?” he asked in an all too hopeful voice. Arya could only respond with a sound that was something between a whimper and a chortle before Jon pulled her against his chest in an embrace that screamed home, both of them sobbing against the other. 

 

When Jon finally loosened his hold on her to look at her face they both sighed, “I missed you” at the same time like the children who finished the other’s sentences all those years ago. They both laughed at that until Arya remembered the news of Jon’s death, the news that all but devastated her. “I heard you died,” she said, agonised, in a low voice. 

 

Jon smiled a pained smile at her. “You didn’t think I’d leave you alone in this world did you?” he replied, holding her gaze, in the self-satisfied tone he’d use with her when they were children - earning more chuckles from her as a result. Arya felt her heart grow under his gaze. Jon raised his hands to Arya’s face once more to plant a lingering kiss on her forehead. In his arms, I’m home, I’m finally home the voice in Arya’s mind shouted. Arya hugged him tighter then and he reciprocated the gesture. She found herself quietly weeping against Jon’s neck; this was the first time in nearly eight years she was with a member of her family. 

 

Sansa joined them then and embraced Arya. Whispering, “Welcome home sister” against her ear before she turned to everyone in the courtyard who stopped whatever they were doing to look at the three of them. “My lords, my ladies, my sister the Lady Arya has returned home.  We will have a feast in two nights time, upon the Queen’s arrival, in Arya’s honour. For now, please excuse us. Jon and I would like to welcome Arya home in private,” Sansa articulated in a voice that sounded all too much like their mother to match the face that was entirely Tully. 

 

While Sansa spoke, Arya felt herself bound upon by the hulking figures of Ghost and Nymeria both wagging their tails like the puppies they were when she last saw them, and not the great big, fearsome, direwolves they were now. She stroked both of them affectionately and hugged Nymeria tightly. 

 

“I’m sorry,” she whispered against Nymeria’s fur. “I’m sorry for throwing stones at you and forcing you to leave. I missed you so much.” 

 

As if she understood her, Nymeria simply licked her face cheerfully. Not one to be left out Ghost joined in and Arya found herself wrestled to the ground and giggling freely for the first time in years. For a moment she looked up at Jon and found him with a glint of reverence in his eyes. Even Sansa looked amused at the picture Arya made with the two towering direwolves competing for her attention. 

 

Jon pushed them off her after a while and led her away from the courtyard and to their father’s solar, with his arm around her shoulder, sending her an unbelieving smile every time their eyes met. 

 

In Father’s solar they had their supper and the three of them began to fill each other in about their time apart. Sansa told her that she stayed in King’s Landing until Joffrey’s death before being sneaked away to the Vale by Lord Baelish, returning home just before the War for the Dawn. She told Arya how she married a Lord of the Eyrie and now had a son called Robb. Arya was happy to know that their family had continued. Sansa promised Arya that she could meet her nephew in the morning and excused herself to prepare a room and bath for her. 

Left alone together, Jon moved away from Father’s old seat and sat beside her, taking her hand into his own. “And you? Where have you been for the last six years? No one has seen or heard from you since Sandor Clegane travelled with you,” Jon inquired. 

“The Hound?” Arya asked quizzically. “I thought he died.” Jon then told her how he arrived with Sansa from the Vale and had been in her service ever since. Seeing Arya lost in her thoughts in response to this news, Jon repeated his inquiry about her whereabouts over the last few years. 

Not keen about speaking of her past, Arya gave him a brief, palatable, version of her journey. “Ever since I left Winterfell, it seems as if Braavos was my destiny. First, you gave me Needle, a bravos sword. Father found it you know? I thought he was going to take it but instead, he got me an instructor. The best swordsman I ever met,” her eyes were as wide as saucers, “Syrio Forel, first sword to the Sealord of Braavos,” she beamed. 

“And then I met another Braavosi, in the Riverlands. Well... he was from Lorath but spent lots of time in Braavos. He helped me at a time I needed help and told me if I ever wanted to find him again, I should say some words to any Braavosi and they would take me to him. After Father and Robb and Mother and Bran and Rickon, I didn’t have anywhere left to go. The Hound took me to the Vale but Aunt Lysa was dead, then he fell to an injury and I left him. I wanted to get back to you but no ship there was going to Eastwatch or to the North. Instead, the sailor told me he was going to Braavos so I went.” 

“Did you find him then, the man?” Jon asked with an anticipation that seemed to mask a sense of reluctance. 

“No.” Arya replied. “I never found him. But a kindly man gave me a place to live during my time there. During the day I did many odd jobs along the way.”

“And did this kindly man ever…?” Jon asked.

“No!” She shouted. 

Keen to change the conversation, Arya teased, “So… Jon, or should I say Aemon Targaryen, care to tell me how you went from playing a Targaryen hero when we were children to becoming one? Even in Braavos I heard about the dragon-riding hero who fought the Others. If I’d known it was you I’d have told people a few embarrassing stories about our childhood to make sure your head never got too big.” Jon, like Bran, was always easy to tease. 

Jon told her then about Howland Reed and his proof that Jon was the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark. How Father had raised him as his bastard to protect him from King Robert Baratheon who approved of the killing of Rhaegar’s other children; how Father left King’s Landing in disapproval and how Father hardly talked to King Robert until the Greyjoy Rebellion. He told her of how his aunt, who was even younger than Jon, was hunted halfway across the world by King Robert’s assassins and how meeting her and learning her story made him thankful for Father’s actions even though at first he struggled with being raised as a bastard when he was a trueborn. He spoke about leaving the Night’s Watch to rescue her and Arya was reminded of the phrase she’d utter to comfort herself. Jon will want me even if no one else does. 

He told her how he was crowned King in the North after her absence, japing “I stole your crown, my Queen,” and then how he bent the knee to secure Queen Daenerys Stormborn’s dragons in the War for the Dawn. 

Arya enquired about the war but could see that it still pained Jon to talk about it. He simply offered that it was a long year in which their armies lost lots of loved ones. Queen Daenerys herself had lost a dragon during the war. “I felt as if you were here with me though, Nymeria brought an army of her own to the Wall.” Arya smiled at that. 

“How did you bring yourself to fight for the Queen against your brother,” Arya asked, remembering the man who brought an end to Cersei. 

Jon looked pained at the question. “He wasn’t Prince Aegon,” Jon curtly replied. “Dany believed he was a Blackfyre but whoever he was, he wasn’t my half-brother. Ser Barristan Selmy said that Prince Aegon had a birthmark behind his knee, something that King did not.” 

Arya could see Jon felt uncomfortable talking about this war as well so she paused her questioning to sip some of the Arbor gold Sansa had provided.

As she did, Jon spotted Needle in its scabbard. Wide-eyed, “you still have it?” he exclaimed. 

Arya smiled, “We spent a long time separated but Needle always reminded me of home, of family...of you. I could never let her go.” 

“Gendry said you lost it,” he whispered. 

“Gendry?” she asked, putting down her wine. “You met Gendry as well?” 

Jon told her then how Gendry came to Winterfell with the Brotherhood without Banners. She couldn’t believe her ears. Of course, they’d take their time to a destination I wanted to reach. Jon told her of how Gendry learned how to make obsidian weapons during the war. "Gendry had started making dragonglass daggers by the time archmaester Marwyn, my friend Sam and Pate, two Maester sin training from the citadel, decoded the old magic required to make Valyrian and dragon steel swords," Jon said. "Gendry made the first Valyrian steel swords in a long time." 

Arya beamed at that. She used to like watching Gendry when he worked and she knew how much he loved working in a forge. 

“So where is that stubborn bull then,” she laughed. “Is he still here?” 

“Arya,” Jon paused, “Gendry died during the War for the Dawn. He died to save his cousin, the Queen,” Jon offered. Condolences in his voice. 

“Cousin?” Arya asked, only to learn that Gendry was the son of Robert Baratheon and therefore related to both Jon and Daenerys through his great grandmother Rhaelle Targaryen. He used to tease me for being a lord’s daughter and this entire time he was a King’s son!! Ewww. Bella. Good thing he didn’t ring her bells.

Jon told her how the queen legitimised all of Robert's known bastards and took them on as her cousins to show that she was here to heal the realm and not continue old wars.

For years Arya told herself she had a hole where her heart used to be. But despite this insistence, she always felt the pain of loss viscerally notwithstanding the fact that loss and longing had been her companions for years. Gendry left her for the Brotherhood but he was the only friend she had in a long time. Her heart broke at the thought that she would never see him again. 

Thankfully, Sansa returned then to tell Arya her room was ready and that she had a bath drawn for her. Arya bid Jon goodnight and made her way to her assigned room with Sansa while trying to keep her tears at bay. Ever since Arya left Braavos she promised herself that she wouldn’t hide herself anymore. She’d be Arya Stark again whatever it took and Arya Stark would mourn her friend.As they walked, Arya saw that Jon had been assigned her parents’ old shared room and Sansa the Lady of Winterfell’s. Arya on the other hand was given a guest room further down in the Great Keep. Arya told herself that was for the best as she did not think she could sleep in any of her family’s old rooms tonight.

Arya awoke from her featherbed at the hour of the nightingale, just before dawn. Unable to sleep, she slipped into one of the dresses Sansa had left in her room, of course, Sansa would think of clothes, took the flowers in the vase beside her bed, donned a plain grey cloak that was in the wardrobe and made her way out of her room. 

She made her way across the covered bridge connecting the Great Keep to the armoury, the entire yard visible beneath her. From there she turned right into Guards Hall, down the steps to the ground floor, stopping just before the First Keep and down the spiral steps behind the heavy ironwood door. For a moment she found herself looking for the spiders and rats the size of dogs Old Nan once warned her about before smiling at the memory and at the men, and lone woman, around who Arya would play monsters-and-maidens and come-into-my-castle. She then stopped in front of an imposing figure.

“Father,” she whispered looking at the statue that both looked and didn’t look at all like her father. He had a direwolf at his feet but no iron sword across his lap. Arya reckoned that was because no one in Winterfell now had any reason to fear her father’s vengeful spirit. He was a man of justice, not vengeance, something Arya wanted to emulate, even if she struggled at times. 

“Father. I’m home and I’m sorry,” she cried. “I tried to save you that day. I’m sorry that I couldn’t.” The rational part of Arya’s brain told her there was nothing she could have done for him that day but there were many times Arya wished she succeeded to reach him even if it was just to die with him. 

“I miss you. So much. Father, you gave me hope you know? Even after you left, even after I thought you would never hug me, comfort me or plant a kiss on my forehead again. Well, I never did get that from you again,” she chortled in a half-sob. “But you spoke to me father. In Harrenhal. I heard your voice. When they turned me into a mouse, when I gave up. Yo u are Arya of Winterfell, daughter of the north. You told me you could be strong. You have the wolf blood in you you told me. Father, you don’t know what that meant to me. I came close to losing myself so many times you know? But then I’d remember I’m the daughter of Eddard Stark, blood of Winterfell and then I’d try again.” 

Looking at her feet now, chewing her lip, Arya whispered, tears in her eyes, “But I feel like I’d disappoint you if you were still here. I’m not a good person anymore, Father. I’ve done terrible things and I think you’d hate me if you were alive. I hope you wouldn’t. I want to be good now. I want to make you proud. I always tried to keep your lessons alive Father. Even if I couldn’t act upon them.”

“Here, I brought you flowers. Just like when I was a girl. I thought you might like them even now. You liked them then,” she offered, placing them at his feet. 

“Father, Jon told me who his mother was.” 

“Hello Aunt Lyanna,” Arya said moving to the statue beside her father’s, placing some of the winter roses at her feet. “I’ve learnt a little about you from Jon and Father told me I reminded him of you. I’ll look after your son Aunt Lyanna. Even if he insists on looking after me,” she said laughter in her eyes.Arya paused then, remembering Jon was marrying Sansa in a few days time. She said her farewells to Father and Aunt Lyanna then. Paying her respects to both her uncle Brandon and Grandfather Rickard and the crowned likeness of Robb atop the empty tomb on her way out.

When she finally made her way atop the spiral steps, Arya found Jon waiting beside the ironwood door, one foot leaning against the wall. “I knew you’d visit Father first thing in the morning. I thought I’d give you a moment with him,” Jon offered unprompted. 

“You still call him father?” Arya asked. 

“He was the only father I knew.” He shrugged nonchalantly. 

“Do you want to know something else?” He smirked. 

“What?”

“I know where you’ll go next as well!” That self-satisfied smirk back on his face, his arms folded across his chest. 

“And where is it I will go exactly?” Arya teased back. 

“Come with me.” He said, taking her hand and guiding her to the glass gardens. Once inside, still holding her hand, he directed her to a small nursery at the back of the gardens full of different types of flowers. Amongst them she spotted: blue winter roses, purple bellflowers, forget-me-nots, moon blooms and even a small patch of the poison kisses that gave her a rash on their journey to King’s Landing. 

“Your next stop is the lichyard,” he offered. “Arya Underfoot’s dead aren’t only buried in the crypts and you wouldn’t visit Old Nan without taking her flowers. I always knew you’d come back so I made sure I saved myself time and put as many flowers as possible here so you wouldn’t make me hunt flowers with you like when we were children.”

“I know, I know, you’re so clever Jon ” he said in a high pitched voice he meant to mimic her own. “I know, Arya thank you,” he smirked, bowing for show, with a smug grin on his face that reminded her of all her brothers at once. 

Amused at his show and his continuous self-assuredness Arya scrunched her nose and called him stupid. He helped her pick bunches of flowers and told her, while they did that, about how the Boltons had neglected the glass gardens along with every other responsibility the Starks had to the North and how Lord Manderly provided new glass for the glass gardens so Winterfell could feed its people during winter. 

Together they then visited the lichyard, paying their respects to the dead of their home, well, the ones they could bury anyway. Jon told her how he buried Old Nan himself while Arya told him how she met a lady that reminded her of Old Nan in Braavos although she wasn’t as kind.

Arya left flowers at the graves of Jory, Wyl, and Heward who they lost in King’s Landing after which Jon guided her to where he laid a tombstone for Ser Rodrick. Although the Boltons killed him in the Battle for Winterfell, when Theon sacked the castle, Jon wanted Beth to have a place to come and remember her father. He did the same for Maester Luwin as well: the gentle man who helped raise them all. 

After that, they left to join Sansa and Robb to break their fast. Arya found her nephew looked exactly like Rickon did at the same age. Auburn hair and smiling Tully blue eyes. Arya repeated bits about her journey from the previous night for Sansa. While Sansa told her about the feast she was planning upon the Queen’s arrival the following day. She said that she had a dress ready for the feast and another for the wedding and instructed Arya to visit the seamstress for alterations to be made.

After the fitting, Arya left Sansa and her ladies, all of who were from the Vale, in the room and made her way out into the courtyard for a walk. As she walked past the stables, an arm pulled her inside and a hand covered her mouth before she could scream. It was Jon. Smiling at her still with that smug look on his face. 

“Do you still enjoy riding?” He asked and before she could answer “Good” he continued. “We’re going riding.” 

He had a grey, spotted, palfrey mare saddled for her and had a black courser saddled for himself. A bag of provisions in the saddle-bag. Together they trotted outside of the Keep in the direction of the Wolfswood with Ghost and Nymeria accompanying them. Once outside the castle grounds they sped up into a canter before Arya galloped away hooting, “catch me if you can!” over her shoulder. 

Arya felt so free. Laughing. The North wind blowing against her face, Ghost and Nymeria loping beside her and then darting ahead. She rode so fast her braid came undone, a flowing mane flying behind her. I’m so happy she thought. 

She turned back to see if Jon was catching up to her only to see he had stopped ages ago and was leaning against a sentinel tree, no longer ahorse and admiring her. The fondness in his gaze warmed her heart and made her feel as beautiful as Nymeria of Braavos. 

Arya cantered back to him and smirked, “No need to let me win you know? I was always the better horseman.” 

Jon simply rolled his eyes. “Come, I want to show you something,” he said, pulling her from her horse. 

Then, holding her hand, he guided her through a clearing, past great big oaks, evergreen trees, ironwoods and sentinels that Arya was sure had been there for hundreds of years. Their fallen pine needles littering the forest floor until he stopped in front of a great big Weirwood with a smile carved on its face. 

There, Jon told her the story of his mother entering the lists at the Tourney of Harrenhal as a mystery knight with a laughing tree on her shield. “Lord Howland Reed told me she based it on a tree that reminded her of home,” he said smiling at the tree. “I found it a year or so ago during a hunt and ever since then I’ve returned here whenever I was happy.”

Arya asked why it was a laughing tree and she could have sworn she heard it reply, “Maybe because I know something you don’t, stupid” in a petulant voice she couldn’t quite place. She looked at Jon for confirmation he heard the same but he didn’t seem perturbed at all. Arya had once heard her father’s voice speaking to her from the Godswood in Harrenhal but it didn’t sound like the voice of a mocking young man with laughter in his voice. In fact, the tree’s eyes reminded her of one that followed her around in her dreams. 

While she was lost in the eyes of the tree and its amused smile, Jon laid a cloth on the forest floor and began to place a tub of blackberry tarts on the cloth as well as an assortment of cheeses - all remnants of her childhood. Bran loved blackberries so she’d steal blackberry tarts from the kitchen with him, hiding from Gage the Cook, before running off to the broken tower together to devour them. Sometimes they’d give some to Rickon to keep him quiet. That Jon remembered her love for them made her want to shower Jon with kisses as if it was the most natural thing in the world. She even began to move arms outstretched to hug him until she remembered he was about to marry Sansa in days.

Instead, she returned her arms to her side and boldly asked, concealing her true tumult, “So...you went from being my brother to becoming my good brother. How did you go from the originator of don't tell Sansa to her betrothed?”

Jon answered her almost defensively. He spoke about the war, how Sansa came home, how she tried her best to support him, how her husband died and she became alone and unprotected from the advances of lords seeking to marry her. He told her how theirs was a political alliance in part and a brother trying to protect his sister. 

While he sounded earnest, he’s trying to protect my feelings Arya told herself. Sansa had always been beautiful and that only increased with age. Of course, Jon would fall in love with her when they reunited as cousins. Sansa was always meant to be a princess. The thought of Jon marrying Sansa burned Arya’s heart for reasons she didn’t want to give any thought to. Jon was her brother until yesterday. She told herself it wasn’t jealousy that she was feeling but merely the thought that their relationship would change once he had a wife, especially one as proper as Sansa. In her thoughts, a voice that sounded like Sansa and her mother combined offered up “ the lords won’t like the two of you gallivanting like children. You must grow up Arya .”

Noticing that she was deep in thought, Jon said, “I know she’s my betrothed, but I love her as my sister. Arya, with you gone, she was the last of my Stark family and this was the only way I could protect her.”

When Arya didn’t reply, he joked, “And when I say sister I don’t mean it in the Targaryen sense.” 

“You shouldn’t lie in front of a Weirwood you know? Even if it’s a smiling one,” she quipped. 

“I’m not!” He insisted. At that, the Weirwood shook its leaves singing truth, truth, truth . This time she was sure Jon heard it too as his eyes shot up.

Still, not happy with the feigned smile she gave him he decided to continue his japing. “Do you still want to be a Wildling? Perhaps I should steal you for a bride and run away with you beyond the Wall,” he joked, making a grab for her and pinning her against the forest floor. 

And then it felt as if time itself had stopped for Arya. Jon’s solid body above her felt comforting. As he jumped to grab her, her legs made way for him to settle between them and as she gazed into his eyes, the laughter in his eyes made way for something else. Something darker. Grey pupils blown black, he looked at her like a man beguiled but Arya told herself she was attributing her own, uncomfortable, feelings to him, and yet, she didn’t want to look away. She felt her body begin to heat and Jon’s breath get heavier as he looked into her soul, his eyes dragging themselves down to her lips.

I’m imagining things she told herself and told him he was crushing her, the great lumbering fool that he was. Self-conscious, he apologised and moved back to where he was sitting. 

They spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening filling each other in on parts of their lives apart, occasionally sending shy looks to each other that confused her. She and Jon had never been shy around each other at all in their lives. 

Arya noticed that like her he seemed to focus on happier or more practical memories than anything too heavy. Occasionally the laughing tree would shower them with red leaves as it’s addition to their conversation, offering the odd words as well. Often the tree’s quips would be targeted at Arya alone and Jon wouldn’t hear them. Arya couldn’t think of anyone more annoying than that tree other than maybe Bran when the two of them would have a battle of wits. 

When the sun set, Jon built them a fire saying that he didn’t want to return to the Keep just yet.

In the end, they returned just after supper was served and the Great Hall mostly cleared. Arya was somewhat thankful for that. While she loved feasts as a child and was sure she would now she was home, she wanted to avoid being a spectacle for as long as she could. 

Inside there were still a few lords and ladies who Jon had introduced her to in turn. Arya found that she liked Lady Maege Mormont and her daughters. They made her think of her own childhood and how she wished she could be both warrior and lady. The Mormont girls, Jorelle and Lyanna, in dresses with dirks on their belts showed her it was possible. 

After them, they sat for their supper with Lord Wyman Manderly. She met him twice in her childhood when she travelled to White Harbor with her father and found him still as warm as he was then. He told her how he knew the false Arya, Ramsay Bolton married, wasn’t her. “I’d never forget those Stark grey eyes my girl nor the stubborn jut of your chin whenever your father refused you anything,” he said. 

Arya asked Jon then who the girl was. “When you disappeared, the Lannisters sent Jeyne Poole in your place to give the Boltons legitimacy in the North,” he growled. Arya thought Jeyne couldn’t have been pleased with being forced to be Arya Horseface but couldn’t help but feel sorry for her when they told her some of the things Ramsay Bolton had done to her. 

When they were joined by Wynafryd Manderly and her Locke husband they told her about Lord Manderly’s revenge against the Freys and Boltons in the form of a Frey pie. Arya laughed at that saying she wanted to do the same to them too. “I’m glad someone showed them The North Remembers the story of the Rat’s Cook,” she laughed. 

 

They spent most of the night talking with Lord Manderly, later joined by the Mormont girls and two of the older Umbers, as well as a few men from clans Norrey and Liddle. Together they filled her in on happenings in the North. Arya thanked them all for marching for her, she was thankful to know that after years of being alone some people somewhere thought her important enough to be a rallying call for a pack that had been all but separated. Even Hother Umber who sided with the Boltons initially, had slaughtered Bolton men in secret inside the Castle before the battle. They all simply remarked “ The North Remembers sweet girl .” Arya felt as strong as Nymeria at the head of her pack then.

 

As the night went on Lord Manderly told Arya about his efforts to find Rickon; about how the trail went cold for years before he began hearing tales of a red-headed wildling boy with a great big direwolf in the lands beyond the Wall. “I thought Rickon was dead,” she whispered and Jon assured her that he had sent free folk men to find out the truth of these sightings.

 

Arya found the Northern lords on their table easy to talk to. Lord Manderly was especially earnest in his concern for the smallfolk of the North and had told her of his plans to expand trade into the Free Cities, something he felt was restricted in part by winter and White Harbor’s relatively moderate port. They spent an hour or so discussing trade in the North, needs across the Narrow Sea they could meet and ways they might be able to do so.

 

Arya had never met her grandparents before but that evening with Whoresbane and Mors Umber, Wyman Manderly, Torren Liddle, and Brandon Norrey, made her think this must be what it’s like to have a grandfather. 

 

That night, she went to sleep happy and when she dreamt, she was a wolf again. 

 

She ran through the woods with her white brother as they did every night. But this night, when he caught her, he claimed her for his own. 



Chapter Text

Arya 

On the morning of the feast, just after dawn, Arya made her morning ablutions and dressed in her now washed Braavosi breeches; she was thankful Sansa hadn’t had them thrown out. She donned a tunic she brought with her from Braavos, took Needle from the desk by the window and went to the training yard. 

As she walked under the covered bridge connecting the Great Keep to the armoury, Arya imagined for a moment hearing Theon’s laugh while Ser Rodrik bellowed commands at Jon and Robb. She imagined Bran practicing his archery while Rickon sat upon Alyn’s shoulders. Alyn, who always wanted to be a knight, would be telling Bran not to slouch “stand upright with feet shoulder-width apart, Bran,” he’d be saying. Quent, Jacks, and Shadd would have just finished their guard duty and would be replaced by Cayn, Desmond, and Fat Tom. Fat Tom would be walking slowly as always snacking on something he’d pilfered from Gage the Cook in the kitchens. Arya herself would probably be running away from Septa Mordane and would crash right into Father as he stood watching the boys. He’d ask her where she was running to and she’d show him her crooked stitches saying, “My stitches are crooked again. Septa Mordane would rather talk about my blacksmith’s hands than teach the left-handed girl how to sew.” Father would tell her she should return to her class but she’d run to the brothel in Winter Town. The girls  there had told her it was just a tavern with girls. Whenever she went there they’d give her sweets and she’d play with their children. Arya Underfoot. And when Mother came looking for her, Father would kiss her forehead and tell her he hadn’t seen Arya at all. 

But that was summer. Winter, the hard times Father warned her about, had come for her family. Theon betrayed Robb, The King in the North, the King in the North!  Mother died with him. A wolf with a fish in its mouth? That’s stupid! The Boltons killed Ser Rodrik and despite all the stories about spotting Rickon, Arya was sure Bran and Rickon were dead as well. Alyn never became a knight but his actions at the Battle of Mummer’s Ford against The Mountain and Tywin Lannister’s forces saved a third of the Brotherhood’s men so at least he became a hero worth singing about. No one would remember Alyn, she thought sadly; But I will. The North Remembers. Fat Tom and Cayn would have died protecting Father when he was arrested. Arya herself had found Desmond’s dead body the day she escaped the Red Keep. Desmond always made time for her and Fat Tom was always the easiest to fool but he never allowed her to be upset without trying to cheer her up. He was the one who first called her Arya Underfoot

Winter Town was practically empty now, the Boltons killed the smallfolk, and those who survived fled to White Harbor for fear of starvation. Arya never did find out what happened to Quent, Jacks, and Shadd.  As for Father, she was there the day that thrice-damned Joffrey had Ilyn Payne take his head. Sometimes when Arya tries to sleep at night she remembers the last look Father gave her when she was standing on Baelor’s statue but those are the soft-hearts of women. And Jon... Jon would marry Sansa the day after tomorrow. 

Arya tried to forget all this, losing herself in her training. Swift as a deer. Quiet as shadow. Fear cuts deeper than swords. Quick as a snake. Calm as still water. Fear cuts deeper than swords. Strong as a bear. Fierce as a wolverine. Fear cuts deeper than swords. The man who fears losing has already lost. Fear cuts deeper than swords. Fear cuts deeper than swords. Fear cuts deeper than swords.

“Fierce girl! You sure you not one o’ mine?” Arya turned round to see a red-haired man with tufts of white in his hair. Next to him was a younger blonde woman, holding a boy’s hand. They started walking over to her. 

“You must be the one the crow marched us for. I am Tormund Giantsbane, also known as Tall-Talker, Horn-Blower, Breaker of Ice, Tormund Thunderfist, Husband to Bears, the Mead King of-” The woman interrupted him. 

“We’ll be here until the sun sets if you list all your names to the girl, Tormund. He has more names than your Dragon Queen,” she smiled. “I’m Val, and this little monster here is my nephew Aemon. We’ve seen enough of Benjen Stark and Jon Snow to know you’re the girl that brought the kneelers behind the wall together.“ Val said.

Arya introduced herself to them and found she liked the two Wildlings. Their company had helped her forget her pain for a moment. Then Jon arrived to tell her Queen Daenerys would be arriving later that day, a few hours before the feast. When Arya said she looked forward to meeting her, Jon asked, “Her or her dragons?” Jon always knew Arya well. 

Together the five of them went to the Great Hall to break their fast and were joined by some of the Northern lords and ladies and more of the free folk, as they preferred to be called. Arya found it novel that Northerners and free folk would be breaking fast together when in her childhood they were sworn enemies. Then again fighting the dead would bring people together. 

After breaking their fast, her uncle Edmure arrived with his wife Roslin Tully and their son Hoster. They were joined by Arya’s great uncle Brynden The Blackfish Tully who Arya took an instant liking to. He reminded her so much of Father. The last member of their traveling company was Lord Olyvar Frey. He expressed his condolences to Arya for the death of Robb exclaiming that he was her brother’s squire and had been arrested before the Red Wedding as his family knew he would have warned his king. He spent years in the dungeons with the Northern lords after the Red Wedding. Arya found his words truly earnest and accepted his condolences. 

At noon, Queen Daenerys arrived, to Arya’s disappointment, without her dragons. She came riding in on a silver horse and with a small entourage of Dothraki bloodriders - a true Khaleesi. Jon later told her the majority of the Dothraki had returned East shortly after the Queen’s coronation and that her dragons now lived on Dragonstone. After the War for the Dawn, Euron and Victorian Greyjoy tried to take one of her dragons using a dragon binder horn and while Daenerys managed to defeat the two Greyjoys, the incident made her two smaller dragons increasingly harder to control. Jon said the Queen never fully got over losing her biggest, most loyal dragon, Drogon, to the Others. 

The Queen was also accompanied by a contingent of her royal army composed of Unsullied soldiers as well as her advisor Missandei of Naath, a very old Ser Barristan Selmy, the Queen’s husband Willas Tyrell of Highgarden, his mother Alerie Hightower, his brother Garlan Tyrell, now Master of War and Commander of the Queen’s Westerosi forces, and Dickon Tarly who the Tyrells had fostered in his childhood. He remained a close friend to the family. 

Curiously, the Queen was also traveling with the fat boy from the Wall Arya had met in Braavos. As soon as he plopped down from his horse he rushed over to Jon to give him a hug. 

And when they exchanged their greetings, Jon turned round to Arya to introduce his friend, “This is my friend Samwell Tarly, but everyone calls him Sam” he began. 

“I know you. You were the girl who helped me in Braavos. The two bravos accused me of dressing above my station and you told them I was a brother of the Night’s Watch. You gave me your clams. What are you doing here?” He asked in exclamation.

“Hello Sam, my name is Arya. Arya Stark,” she replied.

Sam’s eyebrows shot up to his hairline. “What?! Why did you tell me your name was Cat? Jon talked about you non-stop. If you told me who you were I’d have found you a ship back to Eastwatch!” Sam exclaimed. 

“I found it hard to trust people and you said you were going to Oldtown,” Arya responded. 

“Wait. The two of you have met?” Jon asked belatedly, a bewildered look on his face. 

Sam began to tell Jon the story when the girl who was traveling with Sam joined them. Her hair looked less tangled than the last time Arya had seen her and she looked much better too. They were joined by a full cheeked man, with a shadow of a beard, a scar on his right cheek, a hooked nose, and dense black hair that curled tightly around his ears. He introduced himself as Pate, “ like the pig boy ” he added. There was something familiar about that man but Arya couldn’t quite put her finger on it. 

Sansa joined them then and after introductions to the Queen and her company were completed, everyone went their separate ways to get ready for the feast. 

— 

Once inside the hall for the feast that evening, Arya spotted Anguy, Lem, Tom O’Sevens, and Harwin who had permanently settled in Winterfell after the war. They were sitting with Ned Dayne who arrived for the wedding. Given the loss of Robb, Bran, and Rickon and Jon’s relationship with Ned as milk brothers, the two became fast friends over the course of the wars. 

Arya was pleased to see Harwin back home even if his proclamation that he was no longer her father’s man had saddened her once. She spent her time with the Brotherhood catching up on old friends and happenings in Westeros. Arya noticed they were eager to avoid talking of the time between her departure and their arrival to Winterfell. 

Instead, she found out Lem Lemoncloak wasn’t called Lem at all. He was Richard Lonmouth, the Knight of Skulls and Kisses, a friend of, and a squire knighted by, Prince Rhaegar Targaryen. He told Arya of how he met her aunt Lyanna at the Tourney at Harrenhal and how as both a man of the Stormlands and a friend of Prince Rhaegar’s, competing loyalties between his liege and his friend forced him to become Lem Lemoncloak. He refused to choose between them and spent the years since Robert’s Rebellion living among the smallfolk. When he reunited with Howland Reed however he found that he was presented with another opportunity to serve his friend Rhaegar by watching over his son.

 “How much trouble could have been avoided if I didn’t try to out-drink Robert Baratheon at Harrenhal that night? The two of us drunkenly wagered to unmask the mystery knight and King Aerys ran with it, declaring the Knight of the Laughing Tree a traitor and sent out Rhaegar to find him. Still, who else can say they lit the spark that brought about The Prince that was Promised ?” he said wistfully. 

During their conversation, Arya learned  Jack-Be-Lucky, Likely Luke, Notch, Mudge, Beardless Dick, Puddingfoot and Thoros of Myr died during the War for the Dawn but not before Thoros of Myr summoned an army of Red Priests to the Wall, all of who, according to the Brotherhood, turned the tide in favour of the living. 

Arya asked Tom why he wasn't singing at the feast and learned that Sansa brought her own singer from the Vale.  “I haven’t seen this many trouts in one place since I penned the floppy fish. I have no need to show the Tullys I’m here. Your sister is as Tully as they come and doesn’t like me - it’s a Tully trait you see. Thankfully the Blackfish was gone for most of my time in the Riverlands but your uncle Edmure there has hated me since I took a girl he was too drunk to get it up for. Me making a song about it started his own hatred of music. Your Aunt Lysa, on the other hand,  forced me to walk naked through the Vale after their mountain clans robbed me. The only reasonable Tully I ever met was your mother and-“ Lem clapped Tom on the back of the head. He told him to respect the dead but Arya thought they were hiding something as well. 

While she sat with the brotherhood The Hound came over to them. “Still got me on that list of yours?” he asked in that gruff voice of his. 

“No.” Arya replied. 

“Good,” he nodded.

“You here for revenge?” she asked him in turn and he told her he wasn’t. 

Arya found it odd that Sandor Clegane was now her sister’s sworn sword. The gruff man had nothing in common with the knights in the songs Sansa once loved and while Arya had taken him off her list she still felt ambivalent toward him. She hated him for his part in Mycah’s death but had a grudging appreciation for his role in helping to keep her alive in the Riverlands. He told her during their conversation how he survived after she left him for dead. He received help from a Septon and had laid the Hound to rest to try and become his own man. 

At the feast, Arya spoke briefly to Queen Daenerys and her company and also spoke to more of the lords and ladies of the North. That night the Hornwoods were keen to express their relief that Arya had never suffered what Donella Hornwood had in the hands of Ramsay Bolton. The man had forcibly married her for her claim of Castle Hornwood and had starved her so much she ate her own fingers. They had been forced to feign siding with the Boltons but were glad to see their destruction. They told Arya how Lady Dustin found a passage into the castle through the crypts after visiting them with Theon Greyjoy who the Boltons took for a prisoner. Upon her instruction, they opened the passage for King Stannis’ men during the Battle of Ice. While the mountain clans marched with Stannis, the Hornwoods told Arya of the Northern plot within the castle, of lords and ladies all acting in secret, often from each other, to support the return of the wolves. The North Remembers they vowed to her. 

Arya also met Alys Thenn, formerly Karstark, of Karhold. Alys told Arya of how she fled to Jon when her uncle sought to grab power through her and how Jon joined her in marriage to her Thenn husband. She beamed when she talked about her husband and Arya found Jon’s eyes on her from across the room. He was smiling at her with a burning gaze in his eyes, it made her feel warm inside. Despite the new feelings for Jon that she tried to ignore, being around Jon also made her feel like the girl she used to be again so she scrunched her nose and stuck her tongue out at him at which both he and Alys, who watched their exchange amused, chuckled. 

When Alys walked away with her husband, Sansa moved to Arya’s side. “You really shouldn’t be so childish with Jon in public. The two of you are already so affectionate as it is. I saw him dragging you to the glass gardens yesterday hand in hand and saw you return well past supper from wherever you rode off too. I know you still see him as a brother but he’s not your brother, Arya. People will talk if they see the two of you still acting like children,” Sansa admonished in a voice that immediately made Arya feel guilty. She lowered her gaze, looking at her feet instead.

“Still, I must say you look beautiful tonight, sister.  I’m glad to see you’ve grown out of many of your unladylike behaviours.” Arya was surprised at the compliment but she should have expected the but that followed. 

“Although a lady of your status really shouldn’t be seen cavorting with outlaws. Anguy is his name, isn’t it? Beth Cassel’s husband? He and his band of outlaws are not good company for a lady, Arya.” 

“He is an old friend of mine,” Arya replied. “We were catching up and talking about friends we lost.” Anguy had told Arya how much Gendry regretted not going with her to Riverrun. How he was so concerned about his status as a bastard and worried he would never be good enough to be allowed to remain friends with her that he agreed to accept knighthood. He saw it as an opportunity to be on a footing with her. Anguy said Gendry had been searching the Riverlands for her long after everyone else stopped looking. Apparently Gendry rarely smiled after The Red Wedding. “Arya would have died with her family. She came back for me when The Mountain caught me and I was a stranger when compared to her brother. I should have gone with her.” 

According to Anguy, Gendry came to Winterfell because it was “what Arya would have wanted,” and he waited for her to come home until his dying day. Arya felt sad at that, she spent years telling herself that Gendry never cared for her. She wished they could have had a chance to have one last conversation. She would tell him how he wasn’t that stupid or maybe she would tell him he was. She never cared that he was a bastard. With Jon and Sansa about to marry maybe if Gendry was here, she wouldn’t feel so alone. Arya found herself revisiting an old dream of hers. Of her and Gendry traveling around like Wenda the White Fawn. The thought made Arya both happy and sad. She’d never see Gendry again. 

Unaware of Arya’s tumult, Sansa continued on, “You are newly returned home Arya and every lord and lady of the North, as well as lords and ladies from all across Westeros, are here for the wedding. All eyes are on you. You shouldn’t shame us.” Arya felt like she was nine years old again then. Never good enough.  

“I saw you speak to Lord Edric Dayne. The Sword of the Morning they call him, I remember you and Bran always being fascinated by Ser Arthur Dayne, are you still interested in fighting with swords?,” without waiting for Arya to respond, Sansa continued, “I hear he’s looking for a wife, he’s very gallant and a good friend of Jon’s besides. Jon would be happy to see you marry such a good man.”

 Arya declined to tell Sansa that Ned Dayne and Jorelle Mormont had left the hall together earlier, while Harrion Karstark was exchanging shy, flirty, smiles with Allyria Dayne. Instead, she said, “I met Ned around the same time I met Anguy. Did you know he’s also a former outlaw?” 

Arya saw Sansa give her a blank expression that suggested she didn’t. “Why is it that me talking to Anguy is bad but marrying Ned Dayne is proper?” 

Sansa gave her a look that suggested that she should know the answer to that question. Reminded of Sansa’s attitude to Mycah once, Arya felt herself start to anger. Calm as still water. Instead, she said, “I find it curious to hear that you lived through the War for the Dawn, one would think different people uniting against the Others would be enough to change your attitude.” 

Sansa’s lips formed a line before she smiled a practiced smile that told Arya she wasn’t about to drop her point. “Well, speaking of attitudes I hear they’re more permissive of some of your preferred activities in Dorne. Are you still a fan of riding horses like a man? I hear sand steeds are the best.” 

When Arya told her she wasn’t interested in marrying Ned Dayne, Sansa continued unphased. “Well, I believe you’re familiar with Samwell Tarly, his brother Dickon is not that much older than you. I’ve seen him at quite a few tourneys. He's polite and very good with a lance. I think you’d like him instead.” 

When Arya rolled her eyes, Sansa tried a different approach. “Perhaps you’d want to stay in the North. Beren Tallhart is also of an age with you and Torrhen’s Square is not far from Winterfell just say the word and Jon and I will be pleased to speak to him and his mother. They’re sitting over there.” Sansa said, pointing out Beren and his mother Berena Hornwood in conversation with Berena’s nephew Larence. 

“I have been home for two days Sansa!” Arya nearly shouted. 

“And I’m so pleased sister,”  Sansa said, threading her arm through Arya’s and beginning to lead her around the Great Hall. “I only mean to remind you of your duty to House Stark. Still, I’m sure there will be plenty of time to find you a husband. I’m so happy to have you here for the wedding and Jon is even happier. He won’t leave you alone at all.”

Sansa smiled then but it didn’t reach her eyes. “I had planned to name a daughter after you to make him happy but you returning is even better.  You’ve always been his favourite.” Arya wasn’t sure how to respond to that. 

When they walked past where Lord Manderly was sitting with Lady Barbrey Dustin, Greatjon Umber and Galbart Glover, Lord Manderly waved them over. “You look beautiful tonight, Arya,” - Arya told him the previous night not to call her Lady Arya - “the Hall is brightened by your presence.” 

“A true Northern beauty,” he said looking straight at Sansa. 

When they exchanged greetings with the Lords and Lady and walked away from them, Sansa began whispering, “You’ve only been home for two days and I hear the man is already bothering you with talk of trade. He is a sour sort. Nothing I do ever pleases him. He wasn’t happy when Jon and I were betrothed. If he wanted Jon for his granddaughters he shouldn’t have married them off first.” 

“I don’t mind speaking with him. Braavos has a new Sealord who is keen on expanding the Braavosi fleet.” Arya responded. “No one is in a better position to provide wood than the North. White Harbor is close enough to Braavos to provide a steady supply of lumber and the Braavosi Arsenal is capable of building a warship a day. Of course, we’ll have to replant as we go along to ensure the trade is sustainable. Beyond lumber, the North is one of the richest regions in resources in Westeros. We just haven’t been able to exploit these effectively. Better trade links with all Free Cities could help us to do that. After everything the North has lost, helping Lord Manderly think about ways we can rebuild the North is the least I can do.” 

Spotting her uncles then Arya said, “on that note, I’d like to speak to Uncle Edmure too about how rebuilding is going in the Riverlands. They suffered the most during the war.” If she could, Arya would want to ensure no child would ever have to eat worms like she and Weasel did because of hunger again and given her time at the Sealord’s Palace, and with the Iron Bank, she felt more comfortable speaking about financial matters than the topics of her conversation with Sansa so far. 

“Well, I’m sure Jon will be grateful to have someone with a handle on such affairs.  Perhaps now you have returned he will leave you to manage things here. I’d like to show him the Vale and it would give us a chance to get to know each other as husband and wife.  Ah, Myranda is here, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be sure to introduce you later. She's a very good friend of mine.” 

“Remember, tomorrow is the final fitting for your dress. Like I said all eyes will be on you at the wedding, best we give them something to admire.” With that Sansa floated off to greet her friend. 

Seeing how excited her sister was about her wedding made Arya feel guilty about her weird feelings for Jon. How foul a sister must she be to desire a man who until two days ago was her brother and who was betrothed to her sister? Sansa was clearly in love with Jon and Jon was only trying to be kind to Arya Horseface when he joked about stealing her for a bride. The two of them are clearly happy together, all these lords and ladies are here to celebrate that with them. In a room full of people, Arya felt alone. 

She found herself revisiting her short-lived plan to retrace Elissa Farman’s steps and sail off into the West. Her own ancestor Brandon the Shipwright had sailed West never to be seen again, and in spite of the risk Arya found herself considering leaving anyway. She had no place between Jon and Sansa. Brandon the Shipwright's son Brandon the Burner burnt the Stark fleet in grief after his father's unfortunate voyage but Arya found herself thinking that no one would really miss her if she left. Maybe Jon would but now he was marrying Sansa she wasn't so sure. Most of those she belonged with died. Fat Tom wasn’t here to cheer her up and Jory wouldn’t be able to hide this disgusting secret of hers nor was Father here to give her a hug and a kiss. Arya decided to leave the feast then, wishing Bran was here. He was two years younger than her but Bran was everyone’s friend and could make anyone happy. 

Chapter Text

Jon

Since Arya’s return, Jon found himself thinking about the words of Lord Howland Reed. “The wolves will come again,” he cryptically said. “The wandering one, the wild one and the winged.” Ever since the older man went beyond the Wall, Jon found himself missing him often. He’d become a father of sorts to him over the years and while Jon had Lem, he insisted on being called Lem - “I’ve had this name for so long now, it doesn’t make sense to be Richard again, my old lovers might not know Richard, ” - as well as his numerous advisors and companions, he hadn’t found someone to fill the places Lord Howland and, to some extent, Ser Davos had left behind in Jon’s life. 

The men were advisors, yes, but they were also people Jon could pour his heart out to. While the world saw him as the Crown Prince of the Seven Kingdoms and the Northerners looked to him for leadership, Lord Howland had seen the boy whose world had been shaken by the news of his parentage and he supported that boy when he cried and when he had questions and whenever Jon found happiness he celebrated it with him. Ser Davos had done much of the same. He left Jon’s side much earlier than Lord Howland, to return to the Stormlands not long after the Queen took her throne. “My Marya has been patient with me while I followed two Kings and a Queen to the ends of the world, seeing things most men don’t see in ten lifetimes, but it’s time I return to my woman now,” he said. 

Jon missed them at this moment. He wished Lord Howland and Ser Davos were here so he could tell them how happy he was about Arya’s return.

Ever since her return, he’s found himself grinning like an idiot often. Sometimes he feels like he’s talked more in the last two days of Arya being here than he has in years. He tells himself it’s because he’s missed her but he knows it’s also because he’s noticed how she holds back on him. She hasn’t mentioned any of the things Sansa told him about the massacre at The Tower of the Hand, or how she escaped King’s Landing. She hasn’t even shared anything about what Gendry told him: of the King’s Road with Yoren, getting caught by the Mountain, Harrenhal or all that followed once they joined the Brotherhood. She doesn’t even talk about the things Sandor had told him they experienced. Until this morning he didn’t even know Arya sold clams on the harbour in Braavos nor the fact she spoke fluent Braavosi. Jon speaks so much because he wants to create a comfortable space for her so they can return to what they were: two people who told each other everything. He knows however that he’s been holding back on her too. 

Arya is more reserved than she used to be. The girl with the tangled hair and muddy knees is no more. He’s seen her be as comfortable in dresses as she is in breeches. Sansa has had her attend a dress fitting and he didn’t hear a peep from her. She moves as graciously as any woman found in court and can hold a conversation with everyone from the Freefolk to the Queen herself. Arya was always good at talking to people but he sees a more measured tone to her speech now. 

And then there’s her swordsmanship. Arya would beg him and Robb to teach her and sometimes Jory or Alyn would help her play with sticks. On other occasions, she’d blackmail Fat Tom to teach her, telling him she’ll tell Gage he stole eggs from the kitchen that morning if he didn’t. But in all her years of playing sticks, Jon had never seen her hold her own with a sword that well. Her movements were gracious and there’s no way she would have learned what he saw that day from the few months with the teacher in King’s Landing she told him about. He also had no doubts she could be lethal with a sword given what he saw that morning. 

Jon also noticed how distressed Arya was in her practice the more she struck and parried and spun away, the more distress she looked. He wanted to know what she was thinking of and more than anything he wanted to run down from his hiding place on the covered bridge to hold her in his arms and make whatever pain she carried go away. But then Tormund and Val had broken her concentration.

Despite all these changes and questions, underneath this new, measured, Arya, Jon still found remnants of his Arya in her too. 

He saw it in the way she would make faces at him when she couldn’t find words to describe how she felt or what she wanted to say. His favourite was how she’d scrunch her nose when she was confused or embarrassed or how she’d chew her lip when she was thinking although those instances would be over in the blink of an eye. It was as if she was training herself out of those tells.  

Jon saw his Arya in how her eyes lit up when he presented her with the flowers in the glass gardens and in her smiles when she played with little Robb and even Aemon. He saw  his Arya in how she listened wide-eyed at the stories of the Northern lords and their rough riders. The desire to learn everything still evident in her animated conversations with Dany’s Dothraki bloodriders, each of them using hand gestures and a mixture of languages to try and convey what they wanted to say. He saw it in her conversation with Dany’s companion Missandei as well who she spoke to in a language he didn’t understand. 

And he saw how underneath it all she was still Arya Underfoot, able to find herself where no one would imagine. She has an extensive knowledge of Braavos and the Free Cities. In a conversation earlier that evening, Dany spoke about a childhood in Braavos, of a house with a red door and a lemon tree beside. From that description alone Arya knew where it was, remarking nonchalantly that lemon trees only grow in Braavos in the Sealord’s palace and around his menagerie. 

Dany has been watching them all evening and asked Arya at one point, “Do you know what they’ve done to the ever-brooding Aemon? This man is clearly not Aemon. He keeps smiling. Where’s that Targaryen melancholy.” Arya merely joked back, “I believe it’s the Stark sullenness. After all, he was raised by the Quiet Wolf. Not all of us were as loud as me and Rickon.” The two of them laughed at that. 

It wasn’t only Dany’s companions Arya found it easy to converse with. She took well to his Freefolk friends as well. Telling them that sometimes she wanted to run beyond the Wall and become a wildling herself. Val told her she was always welcome to join them and Tormund joked that she would make a good spearwife, while looking straight at Jon. 

The Northern lords were also happy to have her back. Although there hadn’t yet been time to discuss it, they were already treating her as the Lady of Winterfell. She spent time with each of the chiefs of the Mountain Clans thanking them for their part in marching into battle for her. She made fast friends with the Mormont and Manderly girls as well as Alys. 

And Lord Manderly doted on her like a granddaughter. They first bonded when she heard the previous night how he cooked the Freys in a pie. She told him how she had the same idea once, Old Nan made sure all the Stark children knew the importance of guest right and the story of the Rat’s Cook. From then on, Jon found the two of them using every spare moment to talk of trade to strengthen the North’s economy and the need to make Winter Town the North’s home for winter again. 

The majority of the Northern smallfolk spent the winter at White Harbor rather than at Winter Town this past winter. House Stark was revered throughout the North for providing for its people through the Winter Town settlements. It’s why The North Remembers. Arya was keen that this tradition continue. She learned about how when the Boltons took power they used the smallfolk to rebuild Winterfell and then killed, rather than provide for them. When Jon took over Winterfell again their coffers were massively depleted and his preparations for winter were widely impaired by the War for the Dawn. Many fled to White Harbor for succour and stayed there for the majority of winter. While provisions from the Vale provided relief to some of the mountain clans and Dany’s wealth from Essos and the Reach’s support fed the armies during the war, Lord Manderly remained the North's biggest benefactor. With a milder than usual winter after the War for the Dawn and an early spring on the horizon, Arya was keen to begin planning for the next winter and Jon found her and Lord Manderly huddled in a corner that morning, engaged in talk of lumber and silver - Arya was convinced that with the right support, the North’s wealth from silver could be more valuable than the Westerlands’ ever declining gold reserves.

Even the inscrutable Lady Dustin had warmed to Arya. Jon found her lips twitching in a smile and an impressed look on her face as she studied Arya.

Then there was what Ghost did the previous night with Nymeria. Varymyr Sixskins once told him it was an abomination to be in an animal while it mated with another.  As wrong as it was, it lit a primal fire in Jon for Arya. Yes, he loved her. He was sure. He made peace with that a long time ago but being near her, around her, atop her and between her legs like he was at the laughing tree confirmed that he needed her as a man needs a woman as well. She was Nymeria in human form: strong, a unifying force and loyal. And who was he but Ghost himself? Ever since he warged Ghost upon his death, he’s struggled to differentiate where he ended and Ghost started.  If nothing else Jon was sure Arya was his as much as Nymeria was Ghost’s. Wedding be damned, a dark part of him thought. I want my bride back, that dark part of him growled. If I have to be a bastard about this I will. Perhaps I got this madness from my father. 

While he thought this, he was watching Arya walk around the hall with Sansa. He found himself between a rock and a hard place. Having to choose between his heart and the honourable thing to do which would be to honour his betrothal to Sansa. Sansa needed him and he owed her the safety she so desired. After all the help she offered him during the wars, it was the least he could do. Yet this was Arya. He marched to save her from a monster despite knowing his life might be forfeit for it. He was even killed for it.

“The way you look at her a man might think you mean to steal the wrong sister for yourself.” 

Jon turned round to see Tormund who’d joined him then, drink in hand. 

“Who can blame you? When you told me you were marrying a Stark I was expecting Benjen Stark come again - the man was my enemy but what a fucking warrior! Then I saw the pretty Southron lady over there and thought she looks like no Stark I ever saw. This one though, she has all Benjen’s fire. A strong sort. Saw her in the yard this morning. I can see why you died for her. She’d give a man strong sons. Still, I thought you liked redheads. Hah? Kissed by fire. Hah!” Tormund clapped him on the back with a guffaw that reminded Jon why the Freefolk said Tormund could laugh the snow off a mountaintop. 

But Jon couldn’t laugh at Tormund’s joke. Not tonight. 

“You really are hot on the younger one? Well, yer faak’d. Every kneeler from The Bay of Seals to Dorne is here to see you wed the redhead. This is why stealing a woman is best. No one but your woman, if she wants you, sees you coming when you steal her. That way no one knows if you change your mind. When I stole my bear, she didn’t see me coming. I left Ruddy Hall, bundled up in my furs as I was and I mounted her. Great big teats and a body warmer than a fire in a snowstorm. No one but us knew our five bear cubs were mine until I marched back down over the Wall with you. Twenty years I was fighting crows by day and sailing off to Bear Island to rut my bear by night.” 

From the corner of his eye, Jon could see Tormund turn to look at him then. Expecting a response. Jon didn’t offer one, instead, Jon flexed his burned hand, opening and closing the scarred fingers, dark thoughts of stealing, and rutting running through his mind.

“If you want to steal her, I’ll help you take her back to Ruddy Hall, just say the word,” moving closer he whispered, “But I’ll tell you now, I’m not fighting a dragon for it.”

Still unimpressed, Tormund asked Jon what he planned to do. Jon didn’t know. 

He saw Arya leave the hall then, looking a little upset. He left to follow her. 

Jon looked everywhere he thought she might be: her room, the lichyard, the crypts, the broken tower where she’d hide with Bran sometimes, the First Keep and the cellars under The Great Keep where she’d hide with him, he even checked the kitchens and the area around the Heart Tree. He even checked the tree Bran fell asleep in once. 

Arya was nowhere to be found. 



Chapter Text

Arya: 

Arya felt like she was nine years old again sitting in the same room they had their embroidery classes in all those years ago. She felt as suffocated now as she did then in a room full of girls who fawned over Sansa as if she was the most interesting person in the world. 

That morning, Sansa had felt the need to tell Arya to remember her courtesies. Arya resisted the urge to ask in what language my lady? In her time acting on behalf of the House as an official in the Sealord’s Palace, as Nymeria of Braavos and as a clerk at the Iron Bank, Arya hosted dignitaries of every kind, from every corner of the world. Definitely more than Sansa ever had. But Sansa knew nothing of Arya’s life in Braavos. 

Sansa said they’d be joined by the Queen and Sansa’s friends from the Vale and she didn’t want to be embarrassed. She also asked Arya to do the same for the wedding tomorrow. Arya was to sit by the Queen’s side. Please don’t do anything to embarrass me. The Queen expects me to be a mother to a King. I need to show her that I am worthy. Please do not shame me in front of her. 

On top of the ladies-in-waiting Arya met the day before, they were joined today by more ladies from the Vale. There was Myranda Royce who was even more giggly and loved gossip more than the old Jeyne Poole and Beth Cassel combined. And if Arya heard Mya Baratheon talk about how Mychel Redfort wronged her one more time she might just burst into flames. Dying by dragon fire might be less painful than listening to this any longer. 

As planned, the Queen joined them in the company of her advisor Missandei of Naath. Arya preferred their company to everyone else there. Still, she found it curious that there were no Northern ladies in the room despite the fact that this was supposed to be Sansa and Jon’s Northern wedding. They’d have another wedding in King’s Landing to appease the Faith under the Faith of the Seven. 

Arya had her dress fitting earlier that morning but Sansa insisted she stay until everyone had theirs and final alterations were made to the wedding dress. To leave before would be ‘uncourteous .’ So Arya put down her stitches and elected to sit by the window, looking out at the yard where Tormund seemed to be wrestling with the Greatjon. 

Jon was instructing little Sam Tarly and Aemon Steelsong as they trained with wooden swords. They reminded Arya of herself and Bran once upon a time. That made her smile. Sitting on Jon’s shoulders, much as Rickon once had, was little Robb. His son this time tomorrow. Arya saw how he doted on the boy and knew how much Jon wanted children as a child even if he’d never say it out loud because he was a bastard. But now he was a true born son of a noble mother and a prince. A prince in his own right about to marry a girl born to be the wife of a prince. 

After she left the feast last night Arya went to the smithy where Mikken once worked, where Gendry might have before his death. If Gendry was alive she’d tell him about her plan to sail West and the more she talked the more he’d think and he’d have that pained look on his face. The same look he got every time he thought too hard. She’d tell him he could join her and that it was a better idea than her previous plan to become outlaws because at least he wouldn’t have to ride a horse. He was always a terrible horseman and then he’d ask her just what kind of a lord’s daughter are you? 

Arya’s thoughts were interrupted when a serving girl, Tandy, she was Barth the brewer’s daughter and was once a playmate of Arya’s, came in with lemon cakes, sweetbreads, mint tea, iced milk sweetened with honey and blueberry tarts. 

As they took a break for refreshment, Mya Baratheon made a point to introduce herself to Arya properly. “I met your mother once, I helped her get to the Eyrie when she kidnapped the Imp. She was a nice lady. You have my condolences.” 

“Thank you. I knew your brother,” Arya replied.

“Edric?” Mya asked.

“No, Gendry,” Arya told her. At that, Arya saw the Queen look down. 

“I never met him. Heard he died before the rest of us were legitimised. Once your name changes, the way people treat you changes in an instance. The moment I became Mya Baratheon, kin to the Queen, Mychel Redfort and his accursed father started to treat me differently. Lord Horton even had the nerve to tell me he’d have been honoured to have me for a good-daughter! Can you believe that? Beg your pardons Myranda, I know the girl’s your cousin.”

Not this again! 

Thankfully the Queen interrupted her before she went on another tirade. “I don't think the name of a man matters much. It's his nature that is more important. Ser Barristan once advised me about men. He compared them to mud and fire. He said You could make a poultice out of the mud to cool a fever. You could plant seeds in mud and grow a crop to feed your children. Mud would nourish you, where fire would only consume you, but fools and children and young girls would choose fire every time."

"I have often chosen fire," the queen smiled. "But I am a dragon - if you must choose. Choose mud," she added, not unkindly. 

“Well, our Sansa is about to marry both mud and fire. I’ve seen him dote on little Robb and cut men down during the war. If he’s half as talented in the sack as he is in the yard, little Robb will have a brother or ten very soon. I hope he’s nothing like my own late husband, rest his soul, who died while humping me.” Myranda giggled. Arya fought the urge to roll her eyes. 

With a shy look on her face, Sansa looked at the Queen then. “I hope to give House Targaryen many heirs, my Queen,” she said while batting her eyelashes. 

“I remember when I first told her, Eddard Stark’s bastard had become Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. You should have seen the excitement in her face. Did you love him even then you naughty minx?” Myranda continued.

“No!” Sansa exclaimed, horrified. “He was just my half-brother then. But now, he’s my cousin, he’s a good man and I believe a marriage to him would be good for the two of us. He is good to my son, he doesn’t want me for my name or my son’s claim, and I believe I can be good to him. We were all the other had for a long time.” Sansa smiled wistfully as she said the last part. 

Arya found the Queen looking at her instead, as if she was studying her. She’ll find nothing on my face. I spent too long under the kindly man to be an easy read to a stranger.

Unabashed, as always, Myranda took over the conversation, “I suppose we’ll have a tourney to celebrate your royal wedding. Do make sure to introduce me to a few fine knights. After all, you did steal Harry from me,” she tittered at Sansa. 

“I suppose Lady Arya would need a husband as well. Anyone take your fancy? Oh do tell, I haven’t heard any new gossip since I left the Vale!” she snickered. 

Thankfully, again, the Queen redirected the conversation. “Lady Sansa, how are things in the Vale?”

“Good, your Grace, for the most part. The expanded port at Gulltown is doing well and with winter coming to an end we hope to begin seeding the fields. Having said that, we are having increasing reports of the Vale mountain clans attacking caravans. Sometimes, and please pardon me, Your Grace, I find myself questioning Lord Tyrion’s decision to arm the mountain clans when we took King’s Landing in your name. Before that they had lower quality weaponry and couldn’t hold their own against the Knights of the Vale. They still struggle under a cavalry charge but have a better understanding of how knights fight now. They purposefully choose terrain that they would have the advantage on and now that the half man, as they called Lord Tyrion, is no longer here to manage them they are proving increasingly unpredictable and a nuisance to all those in the Vale. I even heard recently that they are uniting under one banner.”

At that, Edison Tollett, Winterfell’s new steward, knocked on the door. Once he greeted the Queen and Sansa, he turned to Arya, “Lady Arya, J-, pardon me, Prince Aemon,” he said looking at the Queen, “..has requested your company. Please follow me.”

Once they left the room, she found Jon standing at the end of the corridor. “I thought you might want to be rescued,” he smiled. “Come, Harwin has readied the horses, we could do with a ride and Ghost and Nymeria have already left before us.” 

At that, they left the keep in the direction of the Wolfswood. Arya on her spotted palfrey mare and Jon on his black courser. He took her to the laughing tree again. He only comes here when he’s happy. Of course he’d be happy. He’s marrying the beautiful Sansa she thought, annoyed.

Arya didn’t know why she was annoyed. What did she expect? Did she expect him to choose Arya Horseface ? While Jon was tying the horses, Arya felt herself start to anger, unreasonably, when the annoying laughing tree started to speak again. This time it wasn’t the annoying boy’s voice. It was Father’s. You will marry a king and rule his castle, and your sons will be knights and princes and lords.

Arya found herself smiling. Father’s voice! She was beginning to forget the sound of his voice. Then she registered what the voice said and remembered her reply to Father all those years ago. It was Sansa who was betrothed to a prince then. And Sansa who was betrothed to a prince now. Was this tree mocking her? Annoyed, she kicked it. How can a tree be so annoying? I will leave tomorrow. I will sail away and I will make a life for myself far away, beyond the reach of kings and queens and princes and stupid perfect ladies and annoying trees who love to talk when no one asked them to!

Jon: 

Jon had just tied their horses when he found Arya kicking the laughing tree. Amused, he asked, “What’s the tree done to you?”

“Why are we here?” she whipped round to him. 

“I thought you might want to escape from Sansa and her perfect ladies,” he smiled. 

“I meant why have you brought me here? You said you come here when you’re happy. I bet you’re really happy to be getting married tomorrow. Shouldn’t you be with your wife?” she asked. 

Jon didn’t know how to react. Is Arya jealous?  

Instead he chose to be playful with her, “She’s not my wife, Arya.”

“Fine, your betrothed. I heard today how Sansa had a crush on you. She always wanted a prince. I bet your happy to be marrying the perfect lady aren’t you? Sansa knows all her courtesies so she’ll be the perfect princess by your side. I would be happy if I were you.”

“Hey. Arya, what’s wrong?”  Jon said moving to stand in front of her, holding her face in his hands so he could look in her eyes. 

“Nothing. I just think you should be with your betrothed ,” she pronounced defiantly. 

“I think we should go back,” she added, moving away from him and to the horses. 

Jon grabbed her then, pulling her back and pushing her back against the laughing tree, trapping her with his arms. “Not until you tell me what’s bothering you.” 

“I want to go home, Your Grace, is that alright? May I be excused, Your Grace?” she mocked.

“No,” Jon said, moving closer to her ear so she heard him properly. “Not until you tell me what’s wrong.”

“Nothing is wrong, you stupid! Let me go Jon! Now!” she thrashed against his chest. 

Jon moved his arms from her sides again, to hold her face, hopefully, he asked, “Are you jealous?”

“Why would I be jealous stupid? You’re just my brother.” The words felt like knives but a dark part of him thought I’m a Targaryen

“I’m not Sansa. I spent all my time with you when we were children. Being jealous of you and Sansa would be like being jealous of Robb’s wife. Jeyne isn’t it? I heard she lives in the Westerlands.” 

“Sansa is your betrothed,” she added when she saw Jon wouldn’t move. 

“And if she wasn’t?” he asked her. 

“And if she wasn’t, the Queen would find you a wife, stupid.”

It’s now or never. 

“You wanted to know why I brought you here. I brought you here because I’m happy, Arya, I’m happy you’re home. I spent years missing you and the last five years since I left the Night’s Watch I’ve been looking for you, waiting. Every time I met someone who knew you, I kept them by my side. Gendry, the Brotherhood, Sandor Clegane. Anyone. And then you came back, Arya. That’s why I’m happy. That’s why I brought you here,” he said with hope, as his heart thrashed against his chest. 

“You’re getting married. Tomorrow. You should go back to the castle. Sansa will be waiting for you,” she said trying to get away from him. 

Jon pulled her back then, holding her against his chest, “I don’t want Sansa.” 

He spun her around, so he could face her, holding her flush against him, he kissed her. He brushed his lips against her soft ones, slowly. Arya didn’t return his kiss but she didn’t push him off either. Jon deepened the kiss then, pulling her closer for better access. 

One arm across her waist and the other around her hip, “Arya,” he sighed against her lips, “I want you.”

Her eyes blew open then. She pushed him again but he didn’t let go. Not until he said everything he had to say. 

“Ever since I found out I’m not your brother, I’ve wanted you Arya. I spent my days waiting for you and my nights dreaming of you. Thinking about what you might look like now, when you’d come back to me, how I’d welcome you back. You’ve been the only person who truly understood me. You never fit in any more than I ever had. You loved me when I was a sour bastard. You defended me even when you didn’t have to, even if it was against your mother. You never called me half-brother, you always tried to cheer me up and you never once hurt my feelings. I want you Arya. Say the word please and I’ll cancel the wedding.” I love you he sighed against her lips, keeping his forehead on hers. 

She pushed him again. Harder this time. 

“You don’t even know me! You can’t love me. No one can!” she shouted. 

“I can,” he said trying to hold her again. 

She shoved him off. “You still think I’m the little girl you last saw eight years ago with the scabbed knees and muddy face? I killed for the first time when I was nine and I haven’t stopped killing since. I’m a monster. You have no idea what I’ve done since you last saw me and if you did you’d hate me, not whisper sweet-nothings in my ear.”

“I don’t care what you did to survive Arya, you’re here now. That’s what matters.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” she scoffed.

You know nothing Jon Snow

“I do. You’re not the only one who has done things to be ashamed of over the years. I’m not the boy you left behind either. I killed a man who was a brother of the Night’s Watch. Qhorin Halfhand, a man more honourable than most men in this land. I separated a mother from her child, I took her child forcibly to be raised by people who were strangers to her. I used the Night’s Watch for my own purposes, alienating my brothers.”

“Arya, nothing you’ve done to survive will change how I feel. I’ve had longer to think about this than you. It’s been five years since I found out I’m not your brother. Five years I’ve waited for you. Hoping you would come back. Thinking about you every time I did something fun, every time I was upset. Dreaming about you. Don’t you see it? You came back at the right time. We can be together Arya. We’d be happy.”

She was about to walk off, clutching at straws, he said, “Nymeria’s been back with us for years. Don’t you find it curious that Ghost didn’t take her for a mate until your return?” 

He saw her step back then, shocked. 

Then she said, “You’ll marry Sansa tomorrow.”

“No, I won’t. Not when you’re here. I can’t lose you when I’ve just got you back Arya.” He replied, trying to hold her again. 

“Sansa loves you.”

“And I love you. I didn’t die for her. I died to get back to you.” Jon unbuttoned his jerkin and then his doublet and lifted his tunic to show her the scars then. He knew it was wrong to use them against her but he was desperate. 

She walked toward him then, raising her hand to his chest, touching his scars. A lonely teardrop running down her face. 

“You died?”

He nodded. “Ramsay Bolton sent me a letter saying you’d escaped. He told me to send you back to him. There’s no-one more important to me than you, Arya. I cannot lose you. Not again. Not after everything.”

As he spoke she continued to move her hand against his chest. A devastated look on her face. And when he finished speaking she wiped her tears with the back of her hands and raised her chin in that stubborn jut of hers that told Jon whatever she was about to say was not something he wanted to hear. 

“And now you will live. Sansa has lost everything we have lost too. She loves you and she needs to be safe. You will marry her,” she told him. 

“I just told you I don’t want to lose you again, Arya. Please.”

“You won’t have to lose me. I’ll still be here as your sister, the way I always was but if you break Sansa’s heart, I promise you I will leave and you will never be able to find me. Sansa already thinks I’ll embarrass her and ruin her wedding. Don’t do that to her,” she beseeched and at that she walked off, got on her horse and rode away from him. 

Jon felt as if he had been stabbed again and as he watched her ride off, he felt as if he’d lost his heart forever. 

He stayed by the laughing tree for hours. Trying to make sense of where everything went wrong. When he got up to leave, the tree showered him in red leaves singing bride, bride, bride in a voice that sounded all too much like Lord Howland’s once had. Jon tried to get the tree to speak to him again, “Please, tell me what to do!” he cried. 

He got no response. 

When he arrived back at the Keep that night, he noticed Arya’s light was off. He tried her door and found it barred. If he was to shout at her to open or if he was to break down the door, he’d wake all of their guests and he wasn’t sure Arya would ever forgive him if he had. 

He spent the rest of the night wondering which fate was worse: to never see Arya again or to live a life where he sees her every day and is unable to do anything about it. 

--

Sansa 

Sansa was so happy! As her oldest living family member, her great uncle Brynden was to walk her down the aisle. She had a great feast prepared by a cook sent from Highgarden. Her favourite singer from the Vale was also here to entertain her guests. Hers was to be the grandest wedding the North has ever seen and she knew her second wedding in King’s Landing would be even greater. Of course, she would have to make sure the hungry people of King's Landing were fed. They would love her for that. After all, people expected austerity now that the Iron Bank was demanding full repayment of the debts the Crown owed under the Lannisters and the short reign of the man who called himself Aegon VI.

Sansa would lift the spirits of the smallfolk with food from her wedding. Sansa would be a gracious queen and the people would love her for not forgetting them on her wedding day. 

She would have a dress made of the finest silks, silks fit for a princess of the Seven Kingdoms as she was crowned. A princess who could one day even be its Queen! Sansa thought the coin it took to procure the news about the Queen’s barren womb was more than worth it. And with all the talk of a breakdown in talks between the Queen Daenerys and the Iron Bank, her chances of being queen were increasing. All she had to do was ensure that they saw Jon as a good alternative. Why wouldn't they? After all, he will be linked to three kingdoms through her while Daenerys only has the Reach behind her and is still refusing to pay the debts. 

The thought of being a royal excited Sansa. A long time ago this was all she wanted. Then Cersei and Joffrey and Littlefinger and all the schemers in between happened. They told her life was nothing like the songs, but here, today, as she walked her way from the Great Keep of her childhood home to the Heart Tree in her beautiful wedding gown, on the way to become a princess, Sansa was living a song. 

When she got to the gates of the Godswood Sansa saw Jon standing right at the front, beside the Heart Tree and while he was a tall man, the Greatjon who stood beside him, to oversee the ceremony, hulked over him. 

Closer to the gate of the Godswood, however, Sansa saw Arya lurking at the back with Val and some of Jon’s Wildling friends, an empty look on her face. She should be sitting at the front with the Queen and their family. Why can’t she do as she’s told? I hope she does nothing else to embarrass us today

On either side of the aisle stood the various chiefs of the Northern mountain clans, as well as lords and ladies of both the North and the Vale. Sansa saw Maege Mormont and Alys Thenn in the company of their Wildling husbands, the Umber and Glover brothers, the Tallhart mother and son, all of the quarrelsome Ryswells, the Manderly girls and their husbands, Ned and Allyria Dayne and Harrion Karstark, all the outlaws Jon kept around, as well as the Royces and the Waynwoods of the Vale. 

Closer to the front, and to her left, on some of the few chairs in the Godswood, fat Lord Manderly sat with Lady Dustin who for some curious reason carried a cane that day. The two of them were whispering to each other conspiratorially. Behind them, stood the half-maester Samwell Tarly and his brother Dickon, Samwell’s Wildling wife Gilly sat with them too. The Queen had given Sam and Gilly special permission to marry. And Samwell’s friend Pate, archmaester Marwyn's novice, was holding little Sam Tarly. 

Across from them to her right, Sansa’s Uncle Edmure and his lady wife Roslin sat with their son Hoster while Mya had Robb in her lap. My boy looks like a prince

In front of them, the Queen sat with her consort Willas Tyrell. The two of them looked regal. As will Jon and I.  

Next to them sat the prince’s mother Lady Allerie Hightower. In another world Sansa would be Lady of Highgarden and Lady Allerie might have been Sansa’s good-mother. 

In this world however, Sansa was about to marry a Crown Prince and Jon would always keep her safe. Standing by the Heart Tree he looked so handsome. Sansa could see how when she convinced him to leave Winterfell she could grow to love him for true. She felt butterflies in her stomach at that thought. 

But the closer she got, Sansa noticed that Jon looked more like a man awaiting his execution than a man waiting for his bride. 

When she finally stood in front of the Heart Tree, in a hoarse voice that might suggest he’d been crying and red eyes that seemed to confirm that conclusion, Jon began the ceremony. “Who comes..” he started when Lady Dustin exclaimed, all but jumping - a feat for a woman with a cane. “Your Grace! Your Grace, forgive me for the interruption. But I cannot stay silent any longer and I cannot let you do this. Not until I say what I have to. Please, may we speak privately?” 

“His Grace is about to exchange wedding vows, Barbrey. Surely even you can spend a single day without being the centre of attention. If you’ve managed to keep whatever it is quiet until now I’m sure you can wait until tomorrow.” Lady Mormont said, unimpressed.  

“I have been quiet for too long Maege and every moment I have carried this secret has weighed me down. But I cannot stay quiet any longer. If I do, I believe I would be wronging the memory of everyone we lost in the War of the Five Kings.” Lady Dustin exclaimed while dabbing her tears with a white handkerchief.

Lord Manderly moved to grab her arm then in what Sansa saw was a mummer’s act on the part of the Lard Lord. 

Freeing her arm from his hold, Lady Dustin proclaimed,  “No, no, Wyman, sometimes a person has to tell the truth no matter how painful. I’m only ashamed that I left it this long. Staying quiet any longer would be unconscionable. Not when I can do something about this now. Your Grace, please, we should speak privately.”

“If it concerns what we lost in the War of the Five Kings I would have you say it here woman! I lost my son, my King and my countrymen. And I spent years surrounded by my own shit to boot, as a hostage to those rats at The Crossing!” The Greatjon bellowed in that loud voice of his. 

Chapter Text

Sansa

“Wyman tell them, tell them what that wretched Baelish told you  before his death!” Lady Dustin all but screeched. 

“The man was a liar, I cannot repeat his words here. Excuse us, Your Grace,” Lord Manderly said in apology to Jon while trying to pull Lady Dustin back down to her seat. 

As Lord Manderly continued to delay, Whoresbane Umber, stepped forward, “Out with it man! We haven’t got all day. What did he say?” 

“The man was simply looking for excuses to stay alive. Grasping at straws. He told me the night our men took him to the dungeons that Lady Sansa was not as innocent as she seemed. According to him, she helped Cersei against Lord Stark when he planned to send Lady Sansa and Arya back to Winterfell before he acted against the Lannisters. But  the man was a liar Your Grace. One cannot trust his word.”

“I apologise on behalf of Lady Dustin as well. She lost kin at the Red Wedding and has a woman’s soft heart. She wants to make sense of everything that happened and is seeking blame in the wrong place.”

“I wouldn’t speak of it if I didn’t try to confirm his allegations first, Wyman. None of you had the confidence of the Boltons. I did. Given my history with Brandon and my Willam’s bones not being returned, the Boltons believed I had good cause to hate the Starks and while they suspected you all, they gave me free reign of this castle. You’d do well to remember I was the one who found the passage into the castle through the crypts with Theon Greyjoy,” she said, turning round to look at the Northerners behind her.

“I went to the Maester’s turret during Lady Arya’s welcome feast and tried to find anything from the Lannisters to the Boltons to confirm Littlefinger’s word. I found nothing sent to the Boltons but I did find this letter...” she said, raising a letter up in the air,  “...sent to our good King Robb upon the arrest of Lord Eddard Stark. In it Lady Sansa talks of Lord Eddard’s treason and she bid our King Robb Stark to come to King’s Landing to bend the knee to the good King Joffrey .”

“They forced the girl to write that letter!” Uncle Brynden said in dismissal of Lady Dustin. 

“Is there any truth to this?”  Arya asked, walking toward the front of the Godswood.

Sansa was struggling to breathe, these two nobodies were trying to ruin her wedding day. They never liked me. They are so ungrateful. I fed them! No I won’t let them ruin my day. I’ll marry Jon and we’ll be happy and I’ll never have to see Lord Manderly or Lady Dustin again.

“I asked you a question. Did you tell Cersei Father was planning to have us leave King’s Landing?”

When Sansa didn’t answer, Arya continued. 

“I’ll take your silence to mean it’s true.” Arya scoffed then. “I remember how distraught you were about having to leave and not being able to marry your precious little Joffrey.”

Narrowing her eyes, Arya said, “Of course you would have done anything not to leave him.” 

“I only visited the Queen to tell her we were leaving. I didn’t know how evil she was, she was always kind to me until that point. I thought I was merely paying her a courtesy. Cersei was always going to kill father. I was a child and I just wanted to stay in King’s Landing. I thought she would protect me. I had no idea what plans she had. She would have been planning to have Father arrested with Littlefinger long before I spoke to her. What I said made no difference, I know it. This is what Littlefinger does, he turns people against each other and he’s doing it even now from the grave!” Sansa cried, trying to find an understanding face in the crowd. 

 

“You should have known not to trust Cersei! Father told us both King’s Landing was dangerous! In fact, he forbade you from seeing Joffrey and the Queen!” Arya glowered. 

 

“I wondered why Father confessed to treason when he always said a man’s honour was the most important thing he had. But then I remember you standing on the platform that day with your pretty little dress, hair styled exactly like Cersei’s, smiling at that ugly Joffrey.” Arya’s lip was twisted in rebuke. 

“The only reason I can think of is Father confessed to treason to keep us safe. Something he would have never have had to do if you kept your mouth shut. How many people died because you wanted to be queen?”

Before Sansa could say anything Arya sped on.

“Let’s start with the people who died that day. I was at my dancing lesson when the red cloaks came for me. Just hours before we were meant to leave. My dancing master was talking about how he’d let me practice with a real sword when we got back to Winterfell. Syrio Forel, first sword to the Sealord of Braavos.” Arya smiled a pained smile then. “He killed five red cloaks with just a wooden sword that day before Meryn Trant killed him. I’m alive today because Syrio died to let me escape. Syrio died. Because of you.” Arya’s tears were flowing now. She was looking into the distance, eyes dazed, as if she could see what she was describing. 

“Then there was Desmond. You remember Desmond don’t you? One day I was chasing cats around the Red Keep, Syrio said, every fighter can learn something from cats . When I came back to him with scratches all over my body he’d tell me be quicker girl, your enemies will give you more than scratches. So I got quicker. I caught every cat in the Red Keep apart from one stubborn black tomcat, they called him the Black Bastard. I chased him until I ended up in the tunnels under the Red Keep. I finally caught him but when I did I was lost. I was trying to find my way out when I overheard two men talking about the Wolf and the Lion, and the Hand finding a big book and a bastard. I was sure the bastard was Jon. They also talked about a Khal and a pregnant princess, I suppose that was you Your Grace,” Arya said, turning to the Queen briefly. 

“I was hiding inside one of the old dragon skulls under the Red Keep when one of them asked, if one Hand can die why not a second? I never understood what they were talking about then but I went straight to Father and told him everything and when we left the room I told Desmond I was worried about how few guards Father had. Desmond told me not to worry. Every Northerner is worth ten of these southron swords, so you can sleep easy, he said.  Do you know how I found Desmond that day? Dead. By the stables. Desmond didn’t die in the throne room like Fat Tom and Cayn would have done with the rest of the guards. Desmond died. Near the stables. Getting our things ready. So we could go home without anyone knowing. He died because you wanted to be queen.” Arya scoffed again in a bitter laugh. 

“We all used to say don’t tell Sansa whenever we shared secrets as children. Even Rickon knew not to tell you things and he was three! But none of us would ever have imagined your big mouth would get people killed!” 

Once she started it seemed Arya couldn’t stop. Everyone in the Godswood was as quiet as a mouse while she raged,  almost bewitched by her. Sansa was finding it harder and harder to breathe. She felt alone. Jon had left her side to walk over to Arya. Holding her face in his hands, whispering in her ear  trying to break her trance but it was as if Arya couldn’t see anyone but her ghosts  then. 

“I was there when Hullen died. They stabbed him so many times his tunic looked like it was decorated with scarlet flowers. He was lying by the stable door. His last words were: Arya Underfoot you must warn your lord father . Even when he was dying, I was still Arya Underfoot to him.”

Arya turned to look at Sansa. Hatred in her sooty eyes. “Hullen didn’t even carry a weapon. He was just a Master of Horse and he died because of you.”

“How about Septa Mordane? You could do no wrong in her eyes. She loved to remind me how I was never good enough, not next to you.  She thought the world of you and she died because of your actions. I bet she didn’t see that coming. Maybe if she did she would have been a little kinder to me!”

“And Jeyne? Jeyne was your friend!  If you kept your mouth shut she would have been on that ship with us too. She would have never gone through what she went through but your friend had to suffer things we can’t imagine. Because of you!”

Jon tried to move Arya away then but she shrugged him off, her accusatory eyes never leaving Sansa.

“I was nine years old. I had never seen that many dead bodies in my life. I was scared. I didn’t know what was happening. A stable boy grabbed me and tried to forcibly return me back to the Red Keep. I was so scared. The only thing I had with me was the sword Jon gave me when I left Winterfell.  I was so scared they would kill me like Syrio and Hullen and Desmond and everyone else. I stabbed him before I could think when he started pulling me. That boy’s parents probably expected him to come home that night and he never came home because I killed him. All. Because. You. Wanted. To. Be. Queen!”

“After that I  spent days in Flea Bottom with hardly anything to eat. I finally managed to kill a pigeon one day and spent ages trying to find someone who would buy it off me when I saw the crowds running to the Sept of Baelor. I followed them. I was there when they killed Father. I was standing on Baelor’s statue. I think Father saw me. I started running to the platform, I’m not sure what I thought I could do for him but if I had to die I would have died fighting to save Father, but Yoren caught me. A brother of the Night’s Watch. He was a friend of Father’s. The first time I met him I asked him if he met Bran and Robb on his way down from Castle Black. I asked him if he would take a letter to Jon for me.” Arya let out another bitter laugh.

“When I was making my way through the crowds Yoren grabbed me and stopped me from moving forward, he held me against his chest so I couldn’t see the moment they took Father’s head but I heard everything. I heard the moment his head hit the floor. I heard your screams. I heard the crowd’s jeers. Yoren took me away, cut my hair and told me to pretend I was a boy. He was going to return me to Winterfell on his way back to Castle Black. He was killed by Lannister men before he could. Then the Mountain’s men caught me and my friends Gendry and Hotpie. They took us to Harrenhal.”

Sansa heard Robett Glover gasp then. “Weasel!” he exclaimed. 

Arya paid him no attention. 

“I was beaten, everyday I saw them rape and maim and kill wondering when it would be my turn.” Sansa heard Arya scoff before she glared at her. “All because you wanted to be queen!”

Jon looked at Sansa as if he could kill her then. You should be on my side, you’re marrying me, we're about to become one soul bound for all eternity.  

Sansa couldn’t stand his murderous looks nor Arya’s contempt any longer. 

Sansa straightened her back and her shoulders and walked over to where they stood. To hell with courtesy. She raised her hand to strike her ungrateful sister when Jon moved to grab her arm and stand in front of Arya, Sandor moved closer to Sansa’s side and the Greatjon closer to Jon and Arya, the few Knights of the Vale stood to attention while the Northmen, Jon’s outlaws and the Wildlings moved to block them. In the periphery of her vision Sansa could hear Ghost and Nymeria growling. Sansa paid no mind to the battle of wills happening around her and wrenched her arm out of Jon’s grip. 

Their uncle Brynden tried to move Arya and Sansa out of the Godswood and away from the eyes of all in attendance but Sansa only had eyes for Arya. She would not be cowed by these vile accusations. Not after everything she suffered. 

“Do you think I had it easy? While you ran off from King’s Landing, I suffered things you cannot imagine. While the Night’s Watch man protected you from having to see the moment Father lost his head. I had no such protection. In fact, after he took his head Joffrey made me stare at Father’s head on a spike. Every time Robb won a victory they’d beat me in the Throne Room. Sometimes they’d even strip me when they did. I was alone. I had no one while you had your precious little outlaws running around in the Riverlands. Do you think you were the only one threatened with rape? You are not.”

Her uncle tried to walk her away again but Sansa refused to hide away. 

“Do you think I don’t regret what the Lannisters did? I lost the same people you lost. In case you forgot Ned Stark was my father too and Catelyn Stark my mother. Do you think only you lost Robb and Bran and Rickon? They were my brothers too! If you think I betrayed the North I will have you know that while you were away gallivanting in Braavos, or wherever it is you’ve been for the last six years, it was me who came home with the Knights of the Vale. I brought Jon an army and I made sure the people had provisions for winter.”

“You could not have survived what I survived.  Your potty mouth would have got you in trouble and Joffrey would have enjoyed killing you. I lived to return and to serve my people. You cannot blame me for the actions of Cersei Lannister, I was simply a child who fell for her act and I’ve regretted it ever since!” 

Arya pushed both Jon and Uncle Brynden out of the way, a murderous look in her eyes.

“You were a child? I was younger than you and I knew the Lannisters were not to be trusted!” she shouted as Jon and Uncle Brynden held her back.

“Even when I was in Harrenhal, I knew appearances weren’t everything and I was still younger than you were when you betrayed your father and the men who helped raise you to your Lannister queen. Roose Bolton took over the castle. A man of the North. He was Robb’s bannerman. But I saw his men abusing the prisoners and I knew he wasn’t a man of honour. So I never said who I was. Not even when they made me his cupbearer, not even when I was beaten or threatened with rape because Syrio taught me, look with your eyes and I knew Old Nan was never wrong about a person . Not long after that Roose Bolton betrayed Robb and took a fake Stark for a bride to strengthen his claim.”  

Sansa saw all the Northerners crane their heads to look at Arya then. Some sighing in relief.

“But even a blind man would know not to trust the Lannisters. Robb knew there was something not right about Joffrey, Jon saw it too. You said Jon was jealous do you remember? Hells, if we’d asked Bran back then I’m sure he would say something was off about them and he spent more time with plump Tommen than you did with Joffrey!” Arya shouted

Pushing Jon and Uncle Brynden off and walking right up to Sansa, “ You ” she said, shoving her finger in Sansa’s chest “...should have known Joffrey and the Queen weren’t to be trusted when they ordered Mycah and Lady’s deaths. After all it was your trusted sword,” Arya moved her finger to point at Sandor then “...who butchered Mycah. He cut him into so many pieces he returned him to his father in a bag that made Mycah’s father think his own son was a pig they slaughtered. You must remember that? You and Jeyne made a point to mention how it was my fault Mycah died. What was Mycah’s crime? Playing sticks with me? He didn’t even strike Joffrey. Joffrey was cutting a slice off his face but you didn’t care. In fact, you were very clear that I should have died instead of Lady when it was you who lied about what happened. I was on the ground, Joffrey raised his sword to strike me. He would have maimed me at best or killed me instead, if Nymeria hadn’t stopped him but all you could do was screech about how we were ruining it.”

If Jon’s looks could kill, Sansa was sure she’d be a head shorter. His red-headed Wildling friend had joined him now, placing a hand on Jon’s shoulder as if to hold him back. Lady Dustin had a smug  look on her face while Lord Manderly looked truly distressed.

“I also wonder whether Robb would have made the same decisions during the war if the two of us were safe. If he hadn’t lost half his army because Mother released Jaime Lannister would he have felt the need to turn to Walder Frey? I’m sure your trusted sword told you how we made it to The Twins in time for the slaughter. Did he tell you how they sewed Grey Wind’s head on to his body? The King in the North! The King in the North they were shouting. Mocking.”

“As for my gallivanting to Braavos, would I have had to go there if you kept your mouth shut?! I’d have been at home like Father intended.  If you suffered, you suffered because of your own stupidity!” Arya seethed, eyes blood red, tears dropping freely down her face.

“All you cared about was a crown. The Lannisters killed Jory and Wyl and Heward, men of Winterfell.” At the end of every one of her points, Arya took a step forward and every step she took pushed Sansa back. 

“The Kingslayer attacked Father in the streets. Joffrey and Cersei had your trusted sword kill my friend, a boy of Winterfell. And your only concern was that I called you a liar. Do you remember what you said to me? Call me all the names you want, you won’t dare when I’m married to Joffrey. You’ll have to bow and call me Your Grace. ” 

“And when I tried to comfort you, my big sister, despite all the hurtful words you said to me, the only words you could spare me were you ought to marry Hodor, you’re just like him, stupid and hairy and ugly. Well, I may be stupid and ugly, but I did not betray my family and Hodor would have died before he betrayed a Stark of Winterfell which is more than I can say for you.” 

Sansa’s back was against the Heart Tree now. She had nowhere to move. Even Sandor stepped away from Arya then and Brienne looked conflicted. 

“Well,” Arya scoffed again, every one of her words dripped in loathing, knees bent in a scornful bow, “I suppose you're finally getting your crown today princess. Enjoy it. Many people died to get you here.” 

Turning away from Sansa, Arya paused once to look at Queen Daenerys, and said, “With your permission, Your Grace.” Then she marched out of the Godswood, Jon and Uncle Brynden trailing behind her.

Sansa couldn’t breathe through her tears and felt as if the whole world contracted around her, crushing her. Her son was wailing in the background. Every Northerner in the Godswood looked at her as if she were Cersei come again. Even Yohn Royce looked disappointed in her. Only her uncle Edmure and his wife stood to help Sansa. Lady Roslin rubbed her back while her uncle began to walk her back to the castle. Sandor and Brienne walking on either side of them. 

Never one to miss the opportunity for a barb, almost unable to help herself, Sansa heard Lady Dustin say, “I always knew Southron ambitions were dangerous  but even I could never have imagined how deadly they would be. How can a daughter betray her father like that?”

Maege Mormont told her to shut up, but the woman was clearly enjoying herself. 

“What? I’m only saying what everyone else is thinking. Didn’t you lose a daughter at the Red Wedding? I lost kin on both sides. Both Ryswells and Dustins died that night. Wyman lost his boy Wendel, The Greatjon lost his boy Smalljon. Everyone here lost someone they loved that night. We all lost our King.” 

Sansa couldn’t hear anything more over the ringing in her ears. The abhorrent looks everyone in the Godswood gave her were the last things she saw before she fainted. Completely ruining her dress.

Chapter Text

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. 




Chapter Text

Bran 


Bran has been the Winged Wolf for almost as long as he was Bran the Climber. There was a short while he thought of himself as Bran the Broken. Sometimes, he even thinks about Eddard and Torrhen Karstark whispering that about him all those years ago.

But that was a long time ago. A time when Winterfell itself was broken and each of the Starks were lone wolves. Since then, he has learned that he has always been more than his inability to walk. When he was Bran the Broken, he buried his dreams of heroism and resigned himself to a life in the shadows of his father’s and Robb’s legacies. When he was Bran the Broken, he never imagined in a million years that he would resemble the heroes in Old Nan’s stories; the boy who fought against the Others, the boy who watched over his family and then returned to become Brandon the Rebuilder - a man of his own legend.

When Bran lost his legs and his home, Bloodraven guided him to the cave so that Bran could be his successor. In the years since then, Bran learned more than greenseeing from him. He learned what he needed to bring about a time for wolves from the man who sought to ensure that eternity remained a time for dragons. And Bran did that all without hurting anyone. Well, without hurting anyone who didn’t deserve to be hurt. 

In his early days in the cave, Bran was melancholic. He did not want to live in that tree. He once thought that it was bad enough that he was broken, with his useless legs. Was he doomed to lose the rest too, to spend all of his years with a weirwood growing in him and through him?

Yet over time he learned to accept the future being offered to him. A thousand eyes, a hundred skins, wisdom deep as the roots of ancient trees. That was as good as being a knight. Almost as good, anyway.

He was promised so much of what he lost. He’d never walk again. But he could fly. And he could watch, and one day he could even protect those he loved. For a boy who grew up on tales of heroes, for a boy who wanted to be a knight but could not, it sounded like a dream. He would even get to live with the Children of the Forest! Once, a very long time ago, Bran remembered telling Maester Luwin how he wanted to learn magic. Bran, no man can teach you magic , Maester Luwin said. Bran, with a child’s imagination, protested, the Children could! The Children of the Forest! How little he had known. The Children would become Bran’s teachers. Key pieces of his plan. 

And when Bloodraven betrothed Meera to him, Bran grew to truly love the man. Bloodraven said that Bran and Meera’s bloodlines were powerful. He said they carried the blood of the First Men and the crannogmen. Bloodlines of skinchangers and greenseers connected to the weirwoods and the Children of the Forest. Any children they had, Bloodraven said, would be powerful; children who could one day replace Bran and watch over humanity. Bloodraven was sure that Bran and Meera would have children too. Bran didn’t know he could have children

All Bran knew was that he cared for Meera but he wasn’t sure that she would care for him in the same way. After all, what could a boy without legs give a woman of sixteen? What could that broken boy offer? That broken boy stuck in a cave? 

So when Meera, to his surprise, agreed to the betrothal just after his 11th nameday, Bran was ecstatic. Bloodraven said they could marry once Bran was fifteen and Meera could stay in the cave with him after Jojen returned home to Greywater Watch. For a boy whose main gripe with staying in that cave was that he would be far from everything he loved, having the opportunity to create his own family to keep him company made him happy. 

But the more time he spent in the cave, the more he grew disillusioned with the man he was being trained to succeed. Bran learned  Bloodraven cared most about securing Targaryen rule and was not shy to do that through questionable means; much as he had in his time as Hand of the King. In fact, Bran had his suspicions that Bloodraven simply used the War for the Dawn as a means to further his obsession with preserving Targaryen power.

The first Long Night brought together all the living. It’s why every people in every land had their own stories of the Long Night. For Bloodraven, the War for the Dawn having Targaryen heroes served another purpose too: securing the Iron Throne for his house. Bran had his own suspicions about the return of the Others. Given all he learned about the man, Bran found it too curious a thing for the return of the Others to coincide with the disappearance of the man who positioned himself as the greatest tool to fighting them.  

Once the war was done, Bran decided he had no interest in furthering another man’s agenda. Not when he could return to his family and look after the one he hoped to one day have with Meera. The longer Bran spent in that cave, the more he learned about who Bloodraven was and what his ambitions were.


Born Brynden Rivers, Bloodraven was the bastard son of King Aegon the Unworthy by one of his many mistresses, Lady Melissa Blackwood. One of the great bastards legitimised as part of King Aegon’s last act as king, Bloodraven remained true to House Targaryen when his legitimised brothers rose up in the Blackfyre Rebellions to claim the Iron Throne for themselves. 

For his loyalty, he served as Hand and Master of Whispers to two Targaryen kings, thwarting three Blackfyre rebellions. His enemies called him a sinister sorcerer who ruled the kingdom with spies and spells. During the First Blackfyre Rebellion his army, named the Raven’s Teeth, killed the three heads of the Blackfyre rebellion in quick succession using weirwood arrows said to be laced with magic. The people called him a kinslayer and the small folk blamed him and his curse for the Great Spring Sickness and the drought that followed.

The act that brought his political ruin happened years later however, when he called a Great Council to elect the next Targaryen king. Aenys Blackfyre asked to attend as someone with Targaryen blood. Bloodraven invited him, giving him an assurance of safety, before beheading him in the Red Keep. I sacrificed my honour for the realm, he said. 

For breaking his promise of safe passage, the elected king, Aegon V - Aegon the Unlikely- sent him to the Night’s Watch. 

Within six years, Brynden Rivers became Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. He disappeared during a ranging beyond the Wall not long after. That was the last most people had heard of him. Bran learnt in his time in the cave that Bloodraven disappeared after uniting with the Children of the Forest.

Together they agreed to re-establish the practice of the terms of The Pact between the First Men and the Children of the Forest.

The Pact had been signed thousands of years ago at the Isle of Faces, at the end of the Dawn Age, following years of war between the Children and the First Men. According to the terms of The Pact,  the Children would live in the standing forests while men would inhabit the open lands with the promise that no weirwoods would be cut. Over time the First Men took on the worship of weirwoods, and chose greenseers or skinchangers as their kings. The weirwoods linked the First Men and the Children, and greenseer or skinchanger kings allowed the Children to always maintain a link to those who ruled, thus ensuring their interests were met. Both sides held to the terms of the pact for four thousand years, throughout the Age of Heroes and long after the Long Night, until the Andals crossed the narrow sea. The Andals cut and burned the weirwoods killing both Children and First Men. 

After hundreds of years of war, the Andals conquered the whole of the South of Westeros with only the Kings of Winter, Bran’s ancestors, resisting them and ending their conquest of the North at Moat Cailin. That’s why the North remains one of the last places in Westeros where weirwoods grow freely and people, like the Starks, keep to the traditions of the First Men. Bran learned that story from Maester Luwin back in Winterfell.

With First Men blood of his own, through his Blackwood mother, Bloodraven promised the Children that he would help them in the coming fight against the Others and would then help to restore them to their forest lands, around the Isle of Faces. However, he said he could only do this if he ensured House Targaryen, the only possible dragon-riders left in the world, had a strong grip on power. They would need to hatch dragons to do that. What he hadn’t mentioned to the Children, however, was his true reason for wanting to bring back dragons. 

His great nephew, Aegon V, Egg, had made many reforms that benefited the smallfolk in his time as king and this riled up many lords against him. This along with the Ninepenny Kings siding with Maelys the Monstrous, the last of the Blackfyre pretenders of that time, strained Egg’s reign. Egg believed dragons were necessary to secure his reign. 

In turn, Bloodraven used his new position with the Children to continue to do what he always did as Hand: secure Targaryen rule by ensuring they had absolute power. And what assures that more than dragons? The interests of the Children of the Forest were secondary to that and the war against the Others was simply a means to his intended end to secure Targaryen reign for eternity. If a dragon-riding Targaryen saved the world, who could ever challenge Targaryen rule ever again? Bran didn’t know how he did it, but Bran was sure Bloodraven brought back the threat of the Others simply for this purpose. 

With Aegon V married to Betha Blackwood, their children, like Bloodraven, shared the blood of the First Men and Old Valyria. Brynden Rivers had seen the power his lineage gave him as a greenseer and skin changer much before he connected with the weirwoods. Even when he was Hand, How many eyes does Lord Bloodraven have? the riddle ran. A thousand eyes, and one the people would say. 

Believing his blood to be special, he sought to preserve its purity to bring about dragons and for that he used his daughter.

To mark his own alliance with the Children, Brynden Rivers had a child with a Child of the Forest. 

When he met her, Leaf told Bran about her travels throughout Westeros but what she hadn’t told him about was her daughter with Bloodraven; the one history would know as the wood’s witch of Jenny of Oldstones, or the Ghost of High Heart. The daughter Bloodraven would use on the ground to put his plans into effect in court. 

His first step was to lead Duncan Targaryen to Jenny of Oldstones, a girl who dwelt half-wild amidst ruins, claimed descent from the long-vanished kings of the First Men. Their marriage ensured that Bloodraven could make his daughter, Jenny’s closest friend, an influential voice in court. She in turn prophesised that the prince that was promised, the one who would awake dragons from stone, would be born out of Aerys and Rhaella’s line - the only ones of Aegon V’s grandchildren to have two Targaryen parents. A bloodline that preserved Bloodraven’s own mix of First Men and the blood of Old Valyria. 

He also sent Aegon dreams of a dragon that would be born to extend the Targaryen reign. Aegon in turn, called every one of the Targaryens to Summerhall to hatch dragons once more and usher in this new era. Unfortunately for both Aegon and Bloodraven, however, those plans were scarpered by the resultant Tragedy at Summerhall which Bran realised Bloodraven hated to talk about. All he would say about it was that he would protect the last living Targaryens from the killers at Summerhall. Killers he would never name. 

While every adult Targaryen present except Aerys and Rhaella died that night, a dragon was born. Rhaegar just wasn’t the dragon Aegon or Bloodraven had planned for. 

With most of the Targaryens gone from the world, and Aerys slowly falling to the family taint even before Duskendale, Bloodraven turned all his energies to Rhaegar. As the only child of Aerys and Rhaella, Rhaegar became obsessed with the prophecy that declared his parents’ line would bring forth the Prince that was Promised. Believing it to be himself, he spent a lot of time in the place of his birth where he met another survivor of Summerhall: The Ghost of High Heart. Aware of and growing increasingly threatened by the cold winds rising with the Others he himself had summoned, and in a last ditch attempt to bring back dragons, Bloodraven sought to recreate the power of his own lineage of First Men and Old Valyria.

He spoke to Rhaegar through his daughter about a song of ice and fire. The dragon having three heads was simply Bloodraven’s way of making a marriage to Lyanna Stark, a descendant of the Kings of Winter, palatable to a man who already had two children. 

In the intervening years, he began guiding a student of his, Euron Greyjoy, to find dragon eggs to help this new son of ice and fire. 

While Bloodraven was correct in predicting that the marriage of Rhaegar and Lyanna would bring about a son whose actions would defeat the Others, the prince that was promised, was no prince at all. 

Bloodraven spent so long focusing on kings he hadn’t once considered the women of his line. After all, it was Princess Daenerys of House Targaryen who woke dragons from stone. Not her great grandfather Aegon V nor Rhaegar’s son. Still, he was pleased with the result. After all, she was the result of his interference and his prediction that only a pure dragon could bring about dragons. 

With two Targaryens capable of riding dragons left in the world, Bloodraven made sure that he could manipulate events in their lives to guide them to uniting and becoming the heroes of the War for the Dawn. 

Bloodraven guided Jon’s steps through Lord Jeor Mormont’s raven. He was the one who told Jon to burn that first wight in the Lord Commander’s room, calling him King often - an indication of his plans for Jon. He even played a role in Jon’s election as Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch squawking Snow, Snow, Snow through the raven during the election. That convinced some of the brothers of the Night’s Watch to believe Lord Commander Mormont wanted Jon to be his successor. 

Learning Jon was not his brother broke Bran’s heart. All his life he loved his bastard brother. He remembered the day they found the wolf pups. 

“You have five trueborn children,” Jon said. “Three sons, two daughters. The direwolf is the sigil of your House. Your children were meant to have these pups, my lord.” Bran saw his father’s face change, saw the other men exchange glances. He loved Jon with all his heart at that moment. Even at seven, Bran understood what his brother had done. The count had come right only because Jon had omitted himself. He had included the girls, included even Rickon, the baby, but not the bastard who bore the surname Snow. 

His brother was selfless and kind. Once, Jory took them fishing for trout. Bran didn’t catch any so Jon gave him his. The thought brought tears to Bran’s eyes. He remembered his other brother then. When he told Robb of this memory when they were still in Winterfell Robb promised they’d ride to the Wall to see Jon. Robb promised Jon would come visit them like Uncle Benjen did when King Robert visited. Except they never saw each other again. 

Jojen and Meera told him about the Knight of the Laughing Tree but it wasn’t until Bloodraven had shown him what happened between Bran’s aunt Lyanna and Rhaegar Targaryen that Bran truly understood. 

Learning Jon wasn’t truly his brother helped Bran make sense of other things he saw and heard as well. Like the time he saw his father through the weirwood as he prayed, “let them grow up close as brothers, with only love between them, and let my lady wife find it in her heart to forgive …”  

Or the time he dreamt of his father before Father died. Bran remembered telling Maester Luwin about it, “We went down to the crypts. Father was there, and we talked. He was sad.” “And why was that?” Luwin peered through his tube. “It was something to do about Jon, I think.” The dream had been deeply disturbing.

His father’s last thoughts had been about Jon, the boy he promised to protect. Bran promised he’d tell Jon just how much Father loved him when he next saw him. 

Bloodraven didn’t just manipúlate events in Jon’s life. He did the same with Daenerys Targaryen. With few weirwoods in Essos, Bloodraven sent his paramour, and half-sister, the sorceress, Shiera Seastar.

Shiera, who now called herself Quaithe, was educated in the higher mysteries just like Bloodraven. In Essos, she guided Daenerys much as Bloodraven had done to Bran and Jon. First she did this in person and then through the glass candles that began to burn once more when dragons returned to the world. Quaithe would warn Daenerys about threats to her reign and guide her to return to Westeros. To fight the Others and sit on the throne of her forefathers. 

With one Targaryen in Westeros, and the other making her way there, Bloodraven used the only other person with links to Bloodraven himself, the Children of the Forest and House Stark to bring them together. Only what Howland Reed knew could bring together the two who would fulfil the legends of Azor Ahai, who awoke dragons from stone, and the Last Hero, the blood of the First Men, who united people and fought alongside the Children of the Forest.

When the two Targaryens united their armies, Bloodraven sent dragon dreams and dreams of Targaryen power and restoration to both Jon and Daenerys. Daenerys was more receptive but she had advisors who extolled the need for the Reach’s wealth and support. Bloodraven even saw the benefit of that. Bran suspected that after Daenerys spent enough time secure on her throne, Bloodraven would find a way to have her husband die so he could replace him with Jon. The man’s obsession with preserving Targaryen power knew no limits. 

Jon, however, to Bloodraven’s chagrin, would always replace visions of Daenerys in his dreams with Arya. Not that Bran had to do much in that respect. Jon thought of Arya enough during the day so Bran’s interference in the dreams didn’t alert Bloodraven to what he was doing.

Bloodraven really didn’t like that Jon thought of Arya so much and he was so angry the day Jon marched south to rescue the girl he thought was Arya. Dead, dead, dead Mormont’s raven screamed, in warning, at Jon that day. 

When Jon was brought back, Bran was worried that Jon would become what his own mother became. Bran had watched for a long time as his mother killed her way through the Riverlands. At first, he would tell himself that she was doing what she did for the sake of justice; to avenge the wrongs that were done at the Red Wedding. But when he saw her try to hang a squire not much older than him, Bran could not stand and watch. He killed his mother, or what she became, through Nymeria. 

Jon, however, did not come back like Lady Stoneheart. Sure, he developed a primal anger - Bran presumed he got that from Ghost - but he remained much the same. He could sleep and eat and remembered the life he lived and all he loved. The only change Bran saw was how Jon’s old love for his sister grew to become something all the more... Targaryen. Bran found it disconcerting at first but he would remind himself that Jon was their cousin.

Bloodraven, on the other hand, hated this development. He would complain that Arya was a champion of death and destruction. A threat to his family. He had an inexplicable hatred of her, underneath which Bran saw fear. When Bran tried to find Arya through the weirwood net he saw the moment the Ghost of High Heart met her.

The dwarf woman studied her with dim red eyes. “I see you,” she whispered. “I see you, wolf child. Blood child. I thought it was the lord who smelled of death …” She began to sob, her little body shaking. “You are cruel to come to my hill, cruel. I gorged on grief at Summerhall, I need none of yours. Begone from here, dark heart. Begone!” There was such fear in her voice that Arya took a step backward, wondering if the woman was mad. “Don’t frighten the child,” Thoros protested. “There’s no harm in her.” Lem Lemoncloak’s finger went to his broken nose. “Don’t be so bloody sure of that.” “She will leave on the morrow, with us,” Lord Beric assured the little woman. “We’re taking her to Riverrun, to her mother.” “Nay,” said the dwarf. “You’re not. The black fish holds the rivers now. If it’s the mother you want, seek her at the Twins. For there’s to be a wedding.” She cackled again.

Why did the Ghost of High Heart mention Summerhall? Bran asked himself. Arya wasn’t even born then. Nor were our parents. Summerhall was the biggest frustration in Bloodraven’s plans to hatch dragons and if he associated Arya with his biggest defeat, then there was clearly something about Arya, Bloodraven feared. 

Even when Euron Greyjoy, Crow’s Eye, the former student of Bloodraven turned against him, Bran had not seen him react with the same intensity. Leaf had once told him, before the War for the Dawn, that the only time after Summerhall that Bloodraven became truly enraged and despondent was when Euron Greyjoy sold a dragon egg as payment for his brother Balon’s murder. Bloodraven had sent him to find the egg so the Targaryens could use it to defeat the Others but the man used it to his own ends.

The day Daenerys Targaryen killed Euron Greyjoy, Bran saw the widest ever smile on Bloodraven’s ancient face. And yet this man whose interference brought back the Others and dragons, this man who was willing to destroy lives just so his family could become heroes and retain control, feared Arya. Why?

— 

Whenever he missed his family, Bran would look through the weirwood to past events. Often, he would find his father with Ice sitting in the godswood. On one such occasion, the weirwood, not Bloodraven, had spoken to Father telling him of the nephew whose destiny was at the Wall and a daughter who would marry a king. 

If Arya was that daughter, who was the king? Was it Jon? Why was that a bad thing? Bloodraven didn’t like Daenerys’ marriage to Willas but he didn’t hate the man.  

Bran decided he didn’t care about a Targaryen restoration or why Bloodraven was scared of his sister. Ned Stark spoke of wolves and wolf packs to all his children. Wolves protected and were protected by one another. Bran would always choose his pack over being the tool of a dragon. If Bloodraven was once a Hand to a King, Bran was once a Prince of Winterfell. If Bloodraven was a Targaryen bastard, Bran was a Stark. If Bloodraven could act to restore the dragons, Bran could also play a role in bringing about a time for wolves.

His first step was to guide Nymeria and her pack north, to the Wall. To Jon. With Nymeria there, Jon would always remember Arya and that would make Bloodraven’s job to marry the last Targaryens that much harder until Bran came up with another plan.

Euron Greyjoy would not be the last person to become disillusioned by Bloodraven’s one-track obsession with his family.

In the meantime, Bran tried to connect with Arya whenever she warged into Nymeria. He’d watch the pack as they ran through the woods and he’d send dreams to her. He couldn’t communicate with her properly, but whenever they warged at the same time he could feel her sense of loss and grief and need for belonging. She reminded him so much of himself. They were always like that, he and Arya. Close in age and often each other’s shadow. Whenever Bran was sad, Arya tried to cheer him up and he did the same for her. He hoped Nymeria reuniting with Ghost would help Arya remember she too had a pack to come back to. It’s why whenever she spent too long without warging Nymeria he would send her wolf dreams. 

As for Bloodraven, Bran had planned his move against him for years. When the War for the Dawn was won, Bloodraven turned his attention to helping Daenerys Targaryen defeat ‘ the last Blackfyre pretender.’ 

When Daenerys took her place on the Iron Throne, Bran waited three years for Bloodraven to do what he knew he wouldn’t. In that time, Bran continued to watch over his family.  Arya and Sansa were the hardest to reach. The Eyrie did not have a weirwood so Bran could not see her in his early days. 

When he first came to the cave Bloodraven told Bran that the eyes on weirwoods were the first eyes a new greenseer learns to use. In time, he learned to see beyond them and began to watch over Sansa through birds and other animals. Arya, on the other hand, had dropped out of Bran’s reach until he began warging Nymeria. He watched over Rickon the most though; through Shaggydog’s eyes and he spoke to him through the weirwoods. He watched over Jon in much the same way. 

It was through Ghost that Bran learned, to his surprise, that Jon was to marry Sansa. While Bran knew of Jon’s feelings for Arya he also saw how much Jon wanted to protect the last of the family he knew of. He’s a wolf after all, Bran smiled, it’s what we do. All Bran wanted was for his family to be safe and to be together again. Whether Jon married Sansa or Arya didn’t much matter to him. Their safety did. 

Back when he was still Bran the Climber, the heart tree in Winterfell used to frighten him. Trees ought not have eyes or leaves that looked like hands he used to think. And when he was Bran the Broken he used to wish he was a wolf. I’d sooner be a wolf, he once told Maester Luwin. I could find Arya and Sansa. I’d smell where they were and go save them, and when  Robb went to battle I’d fight beside him like Grey Wind. 

Bran did become a wolf but he couldn’t bring an end to the war or save his siblings. In the years he spent in that cave, Bran couldn’t have been more grateful for the eyed weirwoods that allowed him to watch over his family.  

With the Others defeated and Queen Daenerys increasingly secure on her throne, the Children grew more impatient with Bloodraven. Bran chose that time to begin communicating with Lord Howland Reed.  Bran guided him first to Rickon and then to the cave, much as Bloodraven had once done to Bran. With a mild, spring-like, winter after the War for the Dawn, their journey was much easier than Bran’s had been.

Bloodraven was confident in his plan to have Bran be his successor. In his mind, he would secure the legacy of his house and prime a greenseeing skin changer who could control the weirwood nets to succeed him. It was a fool-proof plan. After all, what does a boy you pluck from his home when he has next to nothing hope to return to? Bloodraven hoped Bran becoming his successor would placate the Children. But what Bloodraven hadn’t planned for was Bran’s strong identity as a Stark of Winterfell: a wolf who wanted to return to his pack. 

As for Lord Howland Reed, Bloodraven did not feel threatened by Bran calling him to the cave. After all, he used Lord Howland’s knowledge of Jon’s true parentage to unite the last remaining Targaryens. He also believed him to be an ally through their joint association with the green men on the Isle of Faces. 

However, what Bloodraven seemed to forget was that Howland Reed, the greenseer, was also Howland Reed, the lord. Sworn bannerman of House Stark. He was Howland, the close friend of Eddard Stark. He was Howland the father: Meera’s father and Bran’s soon-to-be good-father. If he ever had to choose, his loyalty was to the wolves, not the dragons.

So when Lord Howland arrived, Bran took advantage of the Children’s growing discontent by acting on his plans to destroy Bloodraven. 

Bloodraven’s pact with the Children of the Forest was based on the idea that a Targaryen with dragons having absolute power could protect their interests. However, in all of Bloodraven’s time with the Children, including the years of Targaryen power, Bran pointed out, he had not made good on any of his promises to them. It was the Starks of Winterfell who kept to the Old Way enshrined in The Pact. It was the Starks of Winterfell who made efforts to man the Wall. And it was the son of a Stark who brought together armies to fight in the War for the Dawn long before Daenerys and her dragons showed up. Bran also made a point to highlight that it was a Stark skinchanger’s army of wolves who fought on the ground while dragons flew in the sky.

Of course, Bloodraven was quick to whisper in that scratchy voice of his that the two heroes of the War for the Dawn were born as a result of his  actions. It was he who ensured Aerys and Rhaella would marry and he who pushed Rhaegar to marry Lyanna. 

In return, Bran simply pointed to the curious nature of the Others’ reappearance at the same time as Bloodraven. “How is it that enemies to humanity who were gone for 8000 years reappear at the same time as a man obsessed with uniting a continent under dragons?” he asked. 

“What could unite all the warring people of Westeros, both behind and beyond the Wall, more than the one thing that once united the First Men and the Children?” He knew his allegation had a shaky foundation but soon realised his hunch was having an effect on the Children who began to look increasingly suspiciously at Bloodraven. 

He used that opportunity to point out that Daenerys Targaryen had sat on the throne for years yet Bloodraven had not made good on his promises to return the Children to the Isle. In fact, Bran told them, the War for the Dawn was simply a convenient tool for Bloodraven. A way to demonstrate Targaryen power now that dragons had returned. He got that by placing his blood on the throne.

Bloodraven doesn’t care about the many lives you lost during the War for the Dawn,” Bran declared.

“He is the same man who killed kin he guaranteed safety to, to protect Targaryen rule. Isn’t that what he did to you? He promised you protection and then let you die to an enemy he brought back simply to make Targaryens heroes. Everyone here remembers how Hodor and Leaf died protecting this very cave. How” Bran had never forgiven himself for his role in affecting Hodor’s mind and regretted that Hodor - Wylis- lost his faculties just to one day protect Bran. 

As an alternative to their deal with Bloodraven, Bran promised he could make good on a deal with the Children without wasting decades of their time. 

If they wanted The Pact to continue, Bran's terms were simple; they would have to throw their support behind him. 

He was related to the Tullys of Riverrun, the lord of whom had control of the land around the Isle of Faces. Bran, could return the Children to that home, and as Lord of Winterfell he could grant them lands beyond that. In fact, he promised, he would go further; he would continue the legacy of his ancestors who first fought alongside the Children in the Long Night. He would ensure the Wall was always manned and that the North, and Westeros, would always remember. The Children’s choice was simple: trust the Lord of Winterfell, the blood of the First Men and the King’s of Winter, with his many connections or continue to trust a disgraced, exiled, kinslayer who wasted decades of their time to achieve his own purposes. 

Bran’s only condition was that Bloodraven had to die. Bran had to ensure that for his own safety and so that if Arya ever returned, Bloodraven couldn’t use Quaithe to poison Daenerys against her. Bran had heard how Quaithe often whispered warnings of betrayal to Daenerys. 

As a sign of his good faith and his dedication to this new agreement, Bran told the Children his soon- to-be good-father, Howland Reed would stay in the weirwood net until Bran made good on his promise. As a green-seer who had been training with the green men on the Isle of Faces long before Bran’s birth, Lord Howland Reed was a man the Children of the Forest knew well and trusted. 

In exchange, Bran would return home to Winterfell to rule like the Kings of Winter and Lords of Winterfell before him. He would ensure the North lived by the terms of The Pact and would always be available to speak to the Children through the many weirwoods in the North. In fact, he promised, he would invite them to attend, alongside Lord Howland Reed, his Great Northern Council where the future of the North would be decided.  

With Leaf having died in the War for the Dawn, none of the remaining Children had much to tie them to Bloodraven other than their original agreement. With the only living dragons somewhat out of control, and given all the time they had waited for Bloodraven to come true on his words, the Children had nothing to lose. They sacrificed Bloodraven in that cave. 

That same day, Bran married Meera at the weirwood. Lord Howland gave her away and the Children oversaw the ceremony in front of Jojen, Rickon and Osha. The singers sang for them in the True Tongue long forgotten and even Jojen smiled that die. That was one of the happiest days of Bran’s life and that night, as he watched over his family, he saw that Arya was warging Nymeria, first in a state of uncertainty, and then surety. He knew she decided to come home and so did he. 

Rickon and Osha arrived on shaggy, Skagosi unicorns, that they could use on the ride back to Winterfell. Skagosi unicorns were even better than garrons beyond the Wall. Lord Howland Reed rode a garron to the cave. He gave it to Meera to use for her return to Winterfell while the Children fashioned a weirwood sleigh that Summer and Shaggy could pull Bran and Jojen on. They also made Bran a wheeled weirwood chair that he could use indoors. They placed that on a small cart with supplies pulled by Meera’s horse. 

Jojen and Lord Howland had an emotional farewell before they began their journey away from the Antler River, toward the Fist of the First Men, and across the Haunted Forest. Bran saw that Shaggy was not happy about being tied to a sleigh. In that respect, he was not too much unlike his master. Rickon did not want to return to all the rules of the ‘kneelers in Winterfell.’  

Bran had told him stories of home and of the siblings who would be so pleased with his return but Rickon only truly relented when Osha told him that she heard of Free Folk that supported the Starks of Winterfell. “You won’t have to be a kneeler if you don’t want, little lord,” she comforted him. “The Free Folk would never befriend someone who would force them to kneel.” Osha had become the closest thing Rickon had to a mother. She looked after him for the past eight years both in Winterfell and beyond. Bran was glad she would be there to look after Rickon as he returned to a life he didn’t really remember. 

Their journey back down to the Wall was a lot less perilous than their journey to the cave. As they made their way through the Haunted Forest, Bran would watch his family in Winterfell through the weirwoods. He saw how Sansa arrived with her retinue from the Vale a few weeks before their wedding. 

As they travelled they occasionally stopped at sparsely inhabited wildling villages for respite. When the wildlings saw Osha, and Rickon who spoke speedily in the Old Tongue, they shared their furs and their fires with them.

It was on one such night that Bran and Meera became a husband and wife for true. The memory warmed Bran as he thought of the moment he entered his wife. He never thought he’d one day lie with a woman in that way. While his legs didn’t work, he still had some feeling in the parts he needed to do his duty as a husband.

He learned on their journey, and through their many stops that he also had other ways of making Meera happy...even if they were both shy to try them sometimes. 

They were only a few days from Winterfell when Bran stopped by a weirwood to try and find Jon. That was when he saw Arya and Jon in the Wolfswood. They were joking with each other and holding hands and they both looked so happy.

Bran was so excited to see Arya return home. He started playing with her through the tree calling her stupid endearingly like they always did to each other. He was so excited about seeing her home that he spent a large part of the evening camping by the tree inserting himself now and again in their conversation. Arya had no idea what was happening so she kept sending suspicious looks to the tree which made Bran laugh even more. Until, Jon grabbed Arya and said he would steal her for a bride. Bran saw the seriousness in Jon’s face and when Jon said that he was to marry Sansa not out of love but of duty, Bran couldn’t help but whisper truth through the tree. 

The development concerned Bran. What if Jon was to run away with Arya before his wedding? Bran knew how Jon felt about Arya but Arya was harder to read, as always, she kept her secrets close to her heart. 

When they were a day from Winterfell, on the day of the wedding, Bran skinchanged into a raven to watch the proceedings as he wasn’t near a weirwood. What he saw shocked him. Sansa was crying, Arya was enraged, Jon was torn and all their bannermen watched on while his family tore itself apart. When Bran entered Nymeria he tried to guide her to Arya, to calm her down, but then the Hound moved toward Jon and the direwolf, feeling Arya’s unbridled rage, shook Bran off to protect her mistress. Bran could palpably feel Arya’s sense of loss and betrayal at all the people they lost because of Sansa’s mistake. 

Bran remembered thinking and praying for all of them the day Robb left. How many of those deaths flowed from Sansa’s actions? 

Despite his anger, part of Bran still hurt for Sansa. Her tears flowed nonstop. She lost her wolf so he couldn’t skinchange into an animal that shared her feelings. He could only watch as she made her way to the barges at the White Knife in the company of men of Winterfell, Knights of the Vale and some Manderly knights. Bran was sad he wouldn’t get to meet his nephew or comfort Sansa before she left. 

The wolves will come again Jojen told Bran all those years ago. As he approached the walls of Winterfell, oh how they have, Bran thought. 

Now is a time for wolves: wolves who’ll bring together a pack the likes of which the North has never seen. To serve, to protect, to unite, to remind and to remember, Bran promised.

Like Brandons before him, Bran vowed, if the Long Night ever comes again, the North will be ready . But for now, he was simply a boy keen to return to his family. They would heal together. Packs always did. 

 

Chapter Text

Jon


“Open the gates!” Jon bellowed from his vantage point on the battlements. He dashed past the Blackfish, all but skipping down the steps to the yard. 

It was Bran and Rickon! He recognised their wolves before he recognised them, but it was them. Three steps, two, one step and he was back in the yard of the Inner Castle. He was running to the gates, when he crashed right into Arya as she ran toward the gates from the direction of the Godswood.

“It’s Bran and Rickon,” he told her. “I heard!” she grinned, before bolting past him. 

Arya threw herself into Bran first. He was sat upon a sleigh that was pulled by Bran’s wolf and Shaggydog. 

“Hello, Arya.” Bran smiled at her. There was a mirth in his blue eyes visible from the torch light that danced around the embracing siblings. 

Arya was sobbing into his shoulder, their tight embrace visible to Jon from where he stood. Arya moved back to look at Bran properly. She ran her hair through his curls showering kisses upon his face as she laugh-cried at the brother she gazed upon.

Next to Bran a tallish bundle of energy shuffled from one foot to another, his hands in fists. Rickon looked just like Robb did at the same age. Jon walked over to hug the boy. 

Rickon stiffened at the hug, not reciprocating the gesture at all. Jon moved back from him then, to place a hand on his shoulder, bending down slightly so that he was at eye level with the boy. “Hello, Rickon,” he said. “You’ve grown so much little brother.”

Rickon, looked at Bran. “Bran says you’re not our brother anymore,” he declared matter-of-factly. 

Before Jon could answer, Arya responded to Rickon. “He will always be our brother,” she insisted. Jumping off Bran’s sleigh and skipping toward Rickon before throwing herself upon him this time.

Jon moved to where Bran sat. His little brother, cousin, had a wise look in his eyes, as if he held the world’s secrets. Bran fully returned Jon’s hug, refusing to let go for a long while. When Jon looked over his shoulder he saw Rickon be just as terse with Arya. 

“I’m sorry for hugging you without permission,” she said apologetically. “Why didn’t I think of this? Maybe you don’t remember me, I’m your sister, Arya.”

“Bran said you used to play with me and give me sweets,” he replied, slightly more open. “I remember the sweets.”

Arya choked on a laugh between her tears. “ Well, now you’re home, maybe we can get to know each other,” she said. “Would you like that?”

Rickon nodded. 

Harwin and a groom came to collect the horses then. 

“Maybe you can tell me where you’ve been,” she said to Rickon as she stroked his shaggy unicorn. “I’ve never seen a horse like this before.”

“It’s a unicorn from Skagos,” he corrected her.

“Well, maybe you can tell me all about Skagos, I’d really like that,” Arya replied. 

For the first time since Jon saw Rickon again, the boy smiled. 

When Bran finally let Jon go, Jon took a close look at his brother. “You’re a man grown!” He all but exclaimed. Bran simply smiled. 

Their companions stepped forward then. 

The first was a girl; shorter than Arya, but closer to Jon in age. She was slim and had long brown hair, tied up in a ponytail. She had a long knife hung from her hip and a spear in one hand.

“This is my wife... Lady Meera Reed of Greywater Watch,” Bran offered.

Jon looked at Arya. She had the same look of befuddlement he presumed he had on his own face.

“Your what?!” Arya cried out. 

“My wife,” Bran said with a shit-eating smile on his face before both siblings burst into laughter. 

Arya moved to Meera then to give the girl a hug. “Welcome home, good sister,” she greeted. Meera returned the hug with a smile on her face. 

Arya turned back to Jon. The confusion still clear on her face. After their wordless conversation, Jon congratulated the couple. 

Laughing, Bran introduced their next guest. It had to be Jojen Reed. Lord Howland had told him previously that both his children had come to Winterfell during the harvest feast and had disappeared with Bran and Rickon.

“This is my friend and good-brother, Jojen Reed,” Bran announced. The boy had a slight build like all crannogmen Jon had met. He had a wisened look on his face, much like Bran’s.

When both Arya and Jon greeted the boy, Bran turned his attention to their third guest. A tall woman, dressed in furs, with a spear of her own in her hand. She looked like a woman of the free folk. 

“This is Osha, she looked after Rickon and I in Winterfell after everyone left.” There was no barb intended by Bran’s words but Jon felt guilty for not being there anyway. 

“When we left Winterfell, Ramsay Snow had taken the castle and killed the household staff the iron born hadn’t got to first. We found Maester Luwin dying when we emerged in the Godswood. He told us not to go to the same place, so Osha took Rickon back to her homeland in Skagos.”

They both greeted Osha. “Thank you,” Arya mouthed to the woman before introducing the boys to their uncle, the Blackfish. 

Jon realised the group had gotten themselves a little audience made up mainly of the household guards but a few lords and ladies who followed Jon out of the Great Hall. 

He turned his attentions to them.

“My lords!” he declared, “The rightful Lord of Winterfell, Brandon of House Stark has returned with his brother and heir Rickon Stark.” 

Arya joined him then. “I am sure you wish to meet your lords,” she added. “We will convene two nights time for a feast. For now please allow us to welcome our little brothers home in private my lords. In the meantime, you have the hospitality of Winterfell.” 

Shaggy and Summer ran to the Godswood the moment they were released from the confines of the sleigh. Meera wheeled Bran into the Great Keep while Arya went about getting rooms prepared, food readied and baths drawn for her brothers. It seemed command came easy to her. 

When Jon offered up the Lord of Winterfell’s rooms, Bran requested his childhood room. Mikken had hammered a row of iron bars into the wall, so Bran could pull himself about the room with his arms. Thankfully, Bran’s room was one of those that escaped the burning. 

Rickon asked for his old room as well and that was readied for him. 

Nymeria chose that moment to burst into the room making a beeline straight for Bran, licking his face. 

“She didn’t even greet me like that,” Jon accused. 

Nymeria looked at him, let out a whine, and lay her head in his lap. He scratched in between her ears until her tail wagged like a puppy’s. 

She then went up to Rickon to do the same. Rickon greeted Nymeria the most warmly of everyone he met that night.

Jojen, Meera and Osha were led to their rooms but Bran asked to stay longer to talk to Jon.

“Osha says I’m a man grown so I’m staying too,” Rickon insisted, arms folded, lips in a pout. 

“Of course.”

When they were alone, Jon spun round to Bran. 

“You’re married!”

“I suppose I beat you to it,” he said sheepishly. Before sobering up.“I saw what happened at the wedding.”

“Yes, Sansa left this morning… wait, what? You saw us?”

“I can explain another time.”

“Bran, what do you mean you saw us?”

“I’ve been watching you all for years. I’m a greenseer now. I spent the war in a cave beyond the Wall, learning how to greensee with the Children of the Forest.” As if it was the simplest thing in the world. 

“Why didn’t they tell me when they joined us during the war?” Jon asked.

“I didn’t think we’d ever see each other again so I thought it best that I didn’t give you hope,” Bran said dourly.

“I knew you weren’t dead,” Jon assured him. “I saw your wolf, in Queenscrown. It knew me so I told myself you couldn’t have been far. Why didn’t you come to me? I would have protected you!”

“I wanted to, but my destiny was elsewhere,” Bran replied.

Sensing he didn’t want to talk about it anymore, Jon turned his attention to Rickon. “And you Rickon? Where have you been all this time?”

“In Skagos,” he said curtly. 

“How did you find each other?”

”Bran spoke to me through the trees and Lord Howland came and got me.”

Before Jon could ask where Lord Howland Reed was, Arya came back in with Beth and a few serving girls. They placed a small feast on their father’s desk of hearty stew, tasty venison steak, bread, cheeses, blueberry tarts, lemon cakes and an assortment of drinks. 

Rickon dived straight in for the sweets. When he noticed the amused looks on everyone’s faces he spoke, both his cheeks full of tarts, “They don’t have sweets in Skagos!”

Everyone laughed. Arya most of all. Jon stole looks at her as her brothers ate. Her attention was solely on them. A wistful smile on her face. She exchanged barbs with Bran as if they were never separated. She even got chuckles out of Rickon when she mussed his hair this time. 

Jon chose that moment to step out of the room. No one even noticed. 

When he made his way to the ground floor of the Keep, the Blackfish fell into step with him. “It takes a man to do what you did,” he said.

Jon looked at him confused.

“You declared Bran the Lord of Winterfell when this is a position you’ve held for years. Most men would stake their claim on a castle they fought for,” the Blackfish clarified.

“It’s his rightful title,” Jon said. “There must always be a Stark in Winterfell. I am no Stark.” The words flowed from his lips but were painful to hear himself say.

The Blackfish chose that moment to bid him goodnight.

It was a breezy, spring-like night. Jon walked around the castle grounds, flexing his fingers, wondering about his place in the world. 

He felt constricted and made his way to the stables. Harwin had retired for the night as did most of the stable boys. Jon brushed his horse’s back taking care to remove any dirt that might chafe the courser as he rode. He found himself thinking of years ago when he’d brush his horse’s back and girth as a new brother of the Night’s Watch. He used to think he’d be at the Wall until he was as old as his, a few times, great uncle Aemon Targaryen. Suddenly, he found himself missing the man.

He positioned a blanket on the horse’s back before lifting the saddle on, as he thought of how differently his life panned out. Rather than spend his entire life in the coldness of the Wall, he became King in the North - the only place he knew for true. The only consolation he had after finding out he was a Targaryen, other than not being a bastard, was that he still got to stay in the North. Part of him still hoped Dany would have children of her own so Jon could live the rest of his life in Winterfell.

Now, with Bran and Rickon’s return, he was forced to think about his place in the world. Maester Aemon once told Jon he often spent his nights living with his ghosts, thinking of the time before he went to the Wall.

As he did up the cinch straps, Jon began thinking about his own journey. He went from bastard to Lord Commander, King and then Prince and lord but now as he walked through the quieted yard of his childhood home he found himself feeling like the bastard of Winterfell again, unsure of where his place in the world is.

My mother says you can never be Lord of Winterfell , Robb’s voice taunted him.  

As he helped the saddle settle, removing any wrinkles in the blanket, Jon remembered his dreams about the crypts. Of the cold Kings of Winter with their unwelcoming faces.

You are no Stark, he heard them mutter in his dream with their heavy granite voices. There is no place for you here. Go away…up above he heard drums. They are feasting in the Great Hall, but I am not welcome there. I am no Stark, and this is not my place.” 

He looked behind him to see the lights flickering from Lord Stark’s solar. The true Starks were inside, happy and laughing.

He had fought and bled for Winterfell but would that be enough to satisfy the old Kings of Winter now that true Starks returned? 

Seeing him, Ghost padded off to the gates ahead of him, Nymeria stalked behind him. 

As Jon began to ride off, he thought about his old dreams. Since he was a child he wanted to have some semblance of power but the pinnacle of his dreams was his home: Winterfell. Nothing more. I am the Lord of Winterfell! he’d shout in his dreams. Yet now, as then, he had no right to it against true born Starks. Bastard or not.

Where is my place in the world? he asked himself as he trotted aimlessly in the direction of the Wolfswood. Dragonstone? The home of the father I never knew? He had no real attachment to his Targaryen heritage nor to that volcanic island. While he enjoyed the dragons, Ghost was a more dependable companion. The dragons had never been the same after Euron Greyjoy. 

In two month’s time he would need to return to King’s Landing to negotiate with the Iron Bank. Was King’s Landing to become his home? Somehow he did not wish for it. 

Dany became a friend but he did not want to be at the centre of her rule. Sometimes, he found himself questioning her decisions and when he did, she would remind him that she is the stallion who mounts the world : the Khaleesi who united the Dothraki - a feat no man had achieved. “ I am the queen ,” she would remind him. “ I have conquered kingdoms and freed slaves.”

I’ve been a Lord Commander and a King, and I know this land better than you, he sometimes wanted to retort. You left Volantis, Mereen and every other city you conquered a burning mess . The dark part of him would even want to remind her that the Iron Throne was his by right. 

No , he couldn’t live in King’s Landing. The two of them could be family but he cannot imagine having to sit on her small council permanently. He didn’t think she’d want him there anyway. He didn’t miss how her visage changed whenever the Dornish made clear their preference for him over her. Even Jon was surprised at that after everything the Dornish had said about him before the wars. He also noted how she grimaced whenever Stormlords preferred to talk to the boy Eddard Stark raised over Mace Tyrell’s son or Aerys’ daughter. Sometimes, he thinks Daenerys made him Warden of the North simply to keep him away from her court. 

She asked him to marry Sansa, saying she was following in the footsteps of her ancestors Rhaenys and Alysanne in sewing up the kingdoms through marriage. But Jon knew she was aware of how that marriage would tie him to three kingdoms. He also knew of her undisclosed plans to check his power. He knew of her plan to foster Sansa’s son Robb. She would call it fostering but the boy would be a hostage. Not that she would harm the boy though. Daenerys was too kind to children to do that. Perhaps Sansa would even appreciate having closer ties to court. But that didn’t mean he didn’t recognise Daenerys’ drive to be the most important ruler in Westeros. 

He had no real issue with that. He has only ever known the North and he was content with it. And anyway every time he has had to step in, he has regretted it. Before the wedding, they had an argument about her conviction not to pay the Iron Bank for the debts of Robert and Cersei and Aegon before her. Why should I pay for the usurpers? she questioned. Jon had tried to explain to her how the Iron Bank always got it’s due. When they heard that the Night’s Watch was no more, they added his debt with them to the Crown’s as well. Dany would not hear of it. Let them come, she said. They wouldn’t be the first to threaten me. I will deal with them the same way I dealt with all those before them; with fire and blood. 

Now that Winterfell housed it’s true owners, Jon felt he had nowhere to belong. He felt alone. Suddenly, he thought of the day he found Ghost. They had collected all five pups and began riding off before Jon heard a noise and turned back to find Ghost. He used to think that as symbolic of himself. Ghost was all alone, apart from the others in the litter. He was different, so they drove him out, he thought. Yet as Nymeria darted ahead with Ghost following her to join their pack, he realised that Ghost was nothing like him. Ghost had a pack of his own because that’s who wolves are; pack animals. Who was Jon? Dragon or wolf? Or nothing at all? Perhaps he was a monster who should never have been brought back.

As if she could hear his thoughts, he heard Arya galloping her horse toward him. Shaggy and Summer trailing behind her. 

“I thought Summer and Shaggy should be with their pack,” she offered, breathless and, without prompting. “..and I wanted to ask what was wrong with you. So..” she grinned as if they had not spent nearly a decade apart, “are you going to tell me why you are being sullen?”

It took him a while to come clean but when he did she called him stupid. 

She moved her horse close to his so that their thighs touched. “You were a Stark to me even when you were a Snow turning out to be a Targaryen doesn’t change that. In any case,” she said hitting his shoulder playfully, “I can see you took my words to heart, the woman is important too.”

She pointed at the snarling dire wolf sewn into his cloak next to a half crest of the three headed dragon. 

“You’re still a Stark,” she assured him. “And now Bran and Rickon are back, our pack will be as complete. Father once told me the lone wolf dies but the pack survives. We are a pack, just as they are,” she said pointing to the playing direwolves.

“And Sansa?” he couldn’t help but ask.

She rolled her eyes in frustration. “She proved herself more lion than wolf.” 

She turned to look at him square in the eyes with conviction, “She made her choice Jon, I did not make it for her.” With that she rode on ahead from him.

“Will you ever forgive her?” he asked. They hadn’t had a real chance to truly talk of what happened at the wedding and with Bran home now Jon felt the need to be some form of conciliator as the eldest in their family. 

Arya’s question was scathing. “Will it bring back Hullen, Desmond, Syrio and everyone else who died that day?” She asked, tears forming in her eyes. 

Jon wished he hadn’t said something at all.

”I ran into a dead man, sprawled facedown on the steps as I was running from the red cloaks. He was wearing the grey wool cloak of the Stark guards. I didn’t even stop to see who it was. We lost a man that day and I don’t even know his name because I was too scared to look.” Her voice was thick with grief. 

“Arya, no one would blame you for being scared, anyone in your position would be terrified.” he said, trying to comfort her. 

Arya seemed aloof. As if she was seeing something he could not.

“When I found Desmond he had one dead Lannister man next to him. I was so angry. I kicked him, I called him a liar. He told me Northerners were worth ten Southron swords but he only killed one man. Desmond didn’t deserve that from me that day. I was so scared and angry and I hated myself for what I did. I hated myself for being so weak, for not saving Syrio or saving Hullen but she caused it. How can I forgive her if I can’t forgive myself?” She looked at Jon again with her tears flowing freely. 

Jon stopped his horse next to hers to hug her, awkwardly. 

“I’m not heartless,” she said, “I know she’s suffered but I don't have it in me to forgive. Is that so bad?”

She wiped her tears and raised her chin in the way she always did when she wanted to seem brave, “I remember the day I found out about the fall of Winterfell,” she snickered. “I was serving Roose Bolton. I had to try so hard not to cry because I didn’t want to give myself away. I didn’t even have a chance to truly mourn them and now they’re home!” She laughed heartily.

Jon told her of how he found out too. Of how he’d just escaped the wildlings when Maester Aemon gave him the news. “I hated Theon so much,” he said, “but in the end he didn’t resemble the boy we knew or even the man who had sacked Winterfell.”

They talked of so many things afterward. She told him of Harrenhal and the Mountain, how much she hated herself for not being able to help people when the Lannisters killed them. 

“You can’t save everyone, Arya,” he told her.

In turn,  she listened to his stories beyond the Wall: of Craster and the sons he gave to the Others, of Mance who had come to Winterfell twice without them knowing before dying in his mission to save her. They spoke about the people they lost as well: of Father and Robb and their household. He wanted to tell her about Lady Stoneheart but he didn’t know how to approach that conversation.

They finally stopped by a stream to sit on a huge rock under the leaves of an ironwood tree. The bright full moon was the only thing illuminating them as they listened to the soft trickle of water in front of them. For a winter night, the weather was mild but Jon knew just how easily the cold could creep up on you so he gathered some sticks, struck the flint with his dagger and struck sparks enough to start a fire to keep them warm. 

When he sat down, Arya placed her head on his shoulder. 

In the silence, he wondered how best to approach the subject of what they had done the previous night. As much as he enjoyed it, he felt like a true bastard for dishonouring her in that way. He spent his entire life trying to show people that he wasn’t the lecherous bastard people assumed him to be even after he was revealed to be the true born son of a prince and a lady. Sometimes, given the dark places his thoughts about Arya took him, he felt more like a lecherous bastard after he came back from the dead as a true-born, than he did when he was the base-born son of Eddard Stark. 

“Arya, I’m sorry for what happened between us. I shouldn’t have taken advantage of you in your distress,” he blurted. 

“I seem to recall me being the one who kissed you first, and then asked you to bed me,” she laughed. 

 “And I’m sorry for dishonouring you. I should have known better,” he continued. 

She narrowed her eyes. “Do you regret it?”

It was the best thing I ever did.

She sped on before he could formulate a reply. “Think nothing of it,” she said. “I’m sure it meant nothing. We were both upset and trying to find a distraction.” 

She started playing with her hands and began chewing her lip before stopping suddenly. She got up instead, to walk toward the stream. 

He looked at her dumbfounded. “A distraction? Is that what you think it was to me?” he asked incredulously.

“Is that not what it was?” she bit back. “You said you shouldn’t have done it.” 

“I said, I shouldn’t have taken advantage of you. I don’t regret laying with you as a man does his wife.” 

Jon stood up, walked up to her and turned her around. Bringing his hands to her face.“I think part of me has always wanted you,” he confessed. “You were the only person in the world who saw me for true and loved me anyway.”

Jon found himself thinking of the Old Bear then. ‘You must wash away your former loyalties, he said put aside old loves.’ Jon’s loyalties were tested many times. He thought back to when he began riding South to join Robb or the times he considered a future with Ygritte but it wasn’t until someone threatened Arya that Jon Snow broke his vows. ‘The things we love destroy us every time, lad. Remember that,’ the Old Bear told him. 

Jon had never been able to put aside his love for Arya and he couldn’t say that if she was ever threatened he wouldn’t risk certain death for her all over again. 

Wrapping his arm around her waist, he pulled her closer to him, both of them staring into the other’s eyes. “I told you, when Ramsay Bolton, thought I had you, he demanded I send you back to him. I want my bride back , he wrote.” 

Closing his eyes, the annoyance was still there all these years later. He sighed heavily. “I lost my mind at the thought of you in another man’s bed, Arya... especially one that might hurt you.”

He moved one hand to her loosely braided hair, enveloping her between his arms. Arya leaned into his touch. Her soft sigh, music to his ears. “Even then I’m not sure I knew that I wanted you for myself but I knew I had to get you back and bring you home to me,” he told her, moving even closer to her. Her dark eyes mirrors of his own. “Your place was to be by my side,” he whispered. 

“The last thing I saw in my mind’s eye as I was dying was us on the day I left for the wall; you raining down kisses on me. My last thought was stick them with the pointy end. You were rolling your eyes at me,” he smiled. 

She reciprocated. Tears in her eyes now as then. 

Looking at her, making sure she could see how serious he was, he continued. “I realised I loved you as a man loves a woman when I came back. I had to get you back. Ramsay called you his bride, but the monster in me wanted to make you mine. I killed him for sacking and burning our home, for everything he did to the North, but mainly for you. Sister or not, you were mine to protect, mayhaps back then I could accept you marrying someone who would be good to you but never him,” he growled, pulling her even closer to him. 

“And now?” she asked

Now. You are mine as I am yours,” he whispered against her lips, kissing her for true this time. Her mouth still had the honeyed taste of cider. She gasped into his mouth, pulling him closer to her.

When he had his fill of her,  at least enough to continue talking, “I don’t regret what I did with you,” he confessed. His forehead against hers. “I regret that I did it before marrying you. I don’t want to father a bastard. I spilled in you. I-“

She moved back from him at that and made a face. “You want to marry me?”

“More than anything and now Bran is back perhaps we could talk to him.” 

She pulled away from him entirely. “Don’t jape, I’m not fit to be the consort of a prince.”

“You are!” he insisted. Why couldn’t she see it? 

“But if you like I could give it up - we can live here or we can move wherever you like. Perhaps you can show me Braavos or any of the Free Cities. I can show you the lands beyond the Wall. It’s enough for me that you’ll be with me,” he said, hoping it would persuade her as he held her face again, searching her eyes. 

“I don’t believe your queen would like that,” she joked, rolling her eyes.

The serious look on Jon’s face didn’t shift at all. 

She moved out of his grip, again, “You were a betrothed man until yesterday Jon. It’s too soon to speak of this. Sansa only left this morning. She loved you and you must have loved her too, you were about to marry her-“

He interrupted her. “I told you before. I love you . I died for you and I came back for you . Marrying Sansa was a political decision or a brother supporting his sister. Arya…” he exhaled in frustration, closing his eyes, holding the bridge of his nose, “I told you what I feel for you. If you don’t feel the same way, just say so. I will -“

Before he could finish his sentence she marched back to him with that stubborn jut of her chin and a determined look in her eyes and swallowed his words in a kiss so deep he felt drunk.

Arya put her hand on his cheek, his lips parted in the sigh of a parched man, thirsty for her love. “Does it mean so much to you?” she asked. 

He could only nod.

She moved him back to the rock they sat on earlier. When he sat, she climbed on to his lap, her legs either side of him. Chest to chest, she began to grind herself against him, “What’s in a title?” she asked him, a cheeky glint in her eyes, reminiscent of the Arya of his childhood. 

“Brother. Friend. Cousin,” she punctuated each pause with a kiss up his neck each one closer to his lips. She had the manner of a seductress not at all like the girl of his childhood. “Lover.” she sighed against his lips. She ground herself slowly against him. His manhood ached to be released from it’s confines. 

Moving one hand to her tight arse and the other to enjoy the feel of her breast, “ Bride ,” he groaned against the lips of this woman who was both the sister of his childhood and the bride his dreams conjured up in their years apart. “I want you as my bride, Arya.” 

“I don’t like titles,” she insisted in return, biting his bottom lip.

“I will have you as a bride Arya,” he growled, eliciting  a delicious moan from her. Perhaps it was his words or the friction between them or his ministrations on her breast. He did not know. He did not care.

He was truly lost, but something, perhaps it was the memory of Eddard Stark’s honour, prompted him to stop her hand as she began to undo the laces of his breeches. “We can’t Arya, I don’t want to father a bastard.I cannot dishonour you again.” 

“I have moon tea,” she whispered against his ear, wrenching her hand free from his grip to continue undoing the laces of his black wool breeches.

“Have you used it?” He asked, distracted. 

“Not yet,” she growled, freeing him from his breeches. 

A dark part of him wanted to tell her not to use it but instead, “Arya, we can’t. Not here-“ he tried to convince her. “I have no desire to take you on a rock.”

“Your hard cock suggests otherwise,” she smirked.

“I didn’t finish,” he told her. “I want to lay you on my bed, as my wife, not upon a hard rock.” When he saw she was listening, he asked, “Will you marry me?”

She shushed him and moved off his lap to unlace her own breeches. 

“I changed into riding leathers because I thought they would be better for riding after you,” she said as she stripped down. “I should have kept my dress on. It was much more suited to the ride I have in mind now,” she smirked - all dark eyes and wickedness. His protests died on his lips when she began to move toward him. 

And later when she rode to her heart's content, she screamed out in a language he did not know as he spilled inside her. Again. 

She panted heavily against his neck as she came down from her high. His sword was still inside her. Still pulsating. Still filling her. Ecstasy. 

He looked up to see the moon and the stars were witnesses to their love. Jon decided they could be their roof. The soft ground beneath his feet could be their bed; the crackle of the fire, and the soft babble of the stream their companions. He realised then that this was home. Not Winterfell or Castle Black or some castles belonging to ancestors he never knew. Arya was home. Wherever he could be with her was home. 

As she moved off of him, his spend trickling down her thigh, Jon found himself wishing his seed would take root. Moon tea be damned. He wanted Arya to be his. His bride and the mother to the children he was always too scared to say he wanted. It was dishonourable to take her when they were not married. You could still marry her and make a true family...she didn’t say no! the boy he was when he left Winterfell protested. As they pulled up their breeches once more and Jon wrapped them both in the furs of his cloak, please take root he wished, give me pups .

Instead, “I love you,” he told her. 

They talked the night away afterward. Sat beside their fire, hand in hand - they’d removed their gloves. Arya’s head was on his shoulder as they watched the stars. Occasionally she’d raise his burned fingers to her lips to kiss them. She told him about funny stories of Braavos and of her time with the Brotherhood. 

In return he told her funny stories about his time with the Night’s watch 

He watched her as she laughed. The sound of her laughter still warmed him. I want her, he thought. For now and always. 

Later, at the hour of the wolf, Arya began nipping at his neck, moving her hand up his thigh, making sweet sounds as she buried her face in his neck. Jon, she said needily. Once. That was all it took to make him forget all notions of honour. 

As she stroked him in earnest, a hungry look in her eyes, panting, her wolf-blood called to his. What is honour compared to a woman’s love?

He dragged her up and turned her around so her back was to his chest. With one hand on her breast, holding her against him, and the other fumbling with the laces of her breeches, he found his way to her moist mound, baring his teeth against her neck. Nipping. Kissing. Licking. Claiming. She hissed at the contact. The faster he moved his fingers the louder her whimpers grew. “Jon, please, Jon-“ was all she could manage. 

Standing was proving difficult for her. He began to thrust into her clothed form from behind.

She could only mewl and pant and quiver, moaning his name. I did this. Her sweet, desperate, sounds drove him wild. “Let go for me Arya,” he whispered against her ear. “Love, please.” She shivered at that reaching behind her to grab his neck and bring his face down to hers, crashing him against her for a searing kiss, punctuated by her moans. When she stopped for air she had a desperate look in her hooded eyes. Her release was close he could tell so he moved faster, “That’s it my love,” he encouraged her. He realised he loved calling her his love. His. When it all got too much for her, she howled at the moon, collapsing against him.

But he wasn’t done with her. No. Not at all. As she panted like a bitch in heat, “Get on your hands and knees,” he growled against her ear. ”... Nymeria .” She hissed at that and turned to him to see the feral, hungry, look on his face. Like her wolf a few nights before her, she submitted. 

He made love to her in his bed the night before. In his mind, he imagined they were a man and his wife on their marriage bed. But this night...this night he would mount her under the moon. He was a wolf and so was she. 

 

As he entered her, somewhere in the distance, he heard wolves howl. He answered their call and as his thrusts grew wilder so did she. 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Arya


Her white brother approached her, quietly whining. Touching her nose with his, bumping against her. When she got up to move, he followed her, rubbing against her, smelling her, seeing if she’s ready. She was. With a whine of her own, she moved her tail to the side and he mounted. The second time this season. Before long they were tied. Maybe this time there would be pups. 

Arya woke to her own ache between her legs as well as Nymeria's. Her knees were sore and she was sure as bruised as her hips and neck. My bride, he kept growling against her as he took her on the forest floor. And as his pleasure came, my Arya he murmured against her back. That was enough to unravel her. 

Nymeria and Ghost mating in her wolf dream returned the deep heat to her core and she found herself wishing he was there to relieve her. Her fingers could never do now that she knew his. 

She wanted him now. Again. They came back to the castle just before dawn, at the tail end of the hour of the nightingale. She asked him to come and stay in her room, hoping he’d give into her one more time that night, but he simply kissed her on her forehead and said he wouldn’t be found sneaking out of her room in the morning like a thief. 

As she lay in bed, she found herself thinking back on his marriage proposal. Of how earnest he was. Of the love in his eyes and the profession of it on his lips in both words and deed. He wasn’t lying about his desire to marry her. She knew that much. But she couldn’t accept his proposal. There were too many reasons for her to say no and just as many reasons why she couldn’t just disappear because she was too scared to face those reasons. Rickon and Bran were back now. She had to look after her little brothers. Her pack. She couldn’t just disappear because she was too scared to face Jon’s desire to marry her. She didn’t think she could leave Jon altogether anyhow. 

She told herself that he couldn’t have been serious about marriage. Sure, they desired one another, perhaps they even loved one another but marriage was a step too far. Why would he choose her ? She kept telling herself that perhaps he and Sansa would fix things. 

And anyway for all her faults, her sister had been raised to live and thrive in the Southron court of which Jon was now a prince. He told her just last night that he feared he would have no place in Winterfell now that Bran was back to take his rightful place. She told him not to be stupid. He was their brother. It felt strange to call him that given all they had done yet just right given all they were to each other. He told her of his fear that he would have to spend more time in the South. In fact he was travelling there in just a few weeks. She never ever wanted to return to King’s Landing. To court. She hated her one experience of the place. Syrio, her father and their household were the only people who made her time there palatable. Without them, she feared that even Jon could not make that place feel like home for her. He deserved a lady who wanted that sort of life even if the thought felt like a dagger to her chest. Arya wanted to stay in her father’s home. Her home. The home of everything she longed to get back to. The home she shared with Jon Snow all those years ago. The boy who’d wipe her tears and save his laughter for her. 

Another part of her told her to stop lying to herself. Her reticence about marriage wasn’t about Sansa or about marrying a lord or prince or even King’s Landing. This was about her own cowardice to face the facts. Jon didn’t lie to her about his feelings for her. She just didn’t think she was worthy of them. What would Jon want with a killer? A faceless man at that - an assassin with a hole in her heart. A damaged girl. 

When she reunited with Harwin all those years ago, she told him of everything that had happened to her on the road from King’s Landing except for the two people she’d killed along the way because telling Harwin would have been like telling her father how bad she had become. How could she tell Jon when Jon even looked like Father? She’d killed many more people than the two people she had killed when she first reunited with Harwin. It wasn’t just the killing either. It was the fact that she had been an assassin. Dishonourable. 

Once, she told herself that Jon wouldn’t care who she killed but now she wasn’t so sure. Perhaps he’d never look at her again if she told him the truth of what she had tried to become. He told her he didn’t care what she’d done to survive but it’s easy to say that about something you don’t fully understand. 

 She found herself wondering if she should have tried to leave Braavos when she first heard of Jon’s death even if it would have meant her own death. At least then she would have retained some sense of honour, turning against the ways of an assassin. But she stayed and continued to serve. I had nowhere else to go, a part of her whispered. I didn’t really kill many people in that time, she told herself. The Kindly Man was more interested in teaching her languages, finance, history and courtesanship. He used her to gather intelligence and spent more time teaching her to spot lies and tell them than he did in using her to give the gift but she wasn’t sure if that distinction would matter to someone as honourable as Jon. 

The options open to her broke her heart. The first was to never tell Jon about her history with the faceless men. She’d never lied to Jon before and this was too big a secret to hide. The second option was to push him away and she didn't want to do that. She'd spent too long trying to get back to him. Her third option was to tell him the truth and risk him turning away from her. She wouldn’t just lose a lover then. She’d lose everything Jon was to her. She was scared of losing the one person she longed to get back to the most. 

She slipped on the robe beside her bed and walked over to the small desk by the window to unravel the bag the one who had called himself Jaqen had given her. She’d have to find out why he was in Winterfell but perhaps he had the right of it. Arya was not ready to bring a child into the world. She didn’t think  Jon would want her once he knew the truth and he didn’t want a bastard. Her only choice was to drink. She boiled water in the kettle over the fire, sniffed the herbs to make sure it contained no poison she knew and sipped the bitter tea. 

As she drank, she decided that as foul as her past may have been, she still had an opportunity to do right by her father and his lessons. She could still look after her brothers. When she was little she used to tell Robb that she would stay in Winterfell forever and never get married. She would take Old Nan’s place and look after his children and their children and even theirs. Robb was gone now but perhaps she could look after Bran’s and Rickon’s and live a quiet life at home, even after Jon left her.  

---

When she finally got dressed and covered the marks on her neck, she made it to her father’s solar to break her fast with her family. She found Bran sitting there with Osha. But no Jon. Bran sat in their father’s chair and Osha opposite him. They were eating soft boiled eggs and bacon with black bread and hot spiced wine. 

“Good morrow,” Bran greeted her. 

She smiled at him and Osha. 

“Where’s everyone else?” she asked, as she sat down, grabbing a piece of bread for herself.

“Jon has gone hunting for the feast and Uncle Brynden joined him along with a few other lords. Meera is with Jojen.” 

“And Rickon?” she asked. 

“Rickon is with father,” he said, smiling sadly. “He doesn’t remember what father looked like, or mother for that matter, but he remembers waiting for him in the crypts all those years ago. He wanted to go and see what Father looked like.”

“Should I go after him?” she asked.

“Give the little lord some time,” Osha replied. 

So she sat and ate with her brother and this woman who had all but raised their youngest. She learned that Osha once dueled with Robb in the Wolfswood after her party tried to rob Bran. She had first come to Winterfell as a captive but looked after both boys when Theon took over the castle and helped them escape when the Boltons took over afterwards. She was originally of House Crowl of Skagos but had gone to live beyond the Wall when she was a young girl as a spearwife before joining and then leaving Mance Rayder and his party. 

The more she spoke to the woman the more Arya liked her. 

Bran, on the other hand, told her of his own battle against the Others alongside the Children of the Forest beyond the Wall. He told her how the Reed siblings originally came to Winterfell to renew their fealty to House Stark and help him reach his destiny beyond the Wall. Bran told her of his skinchanging ability and Jojen’s green dreams which foresaw both the fall of Winterfell and Bran’s destiny beyond the Wall. 

Beside her siblings, Arya felt somewhat inadequate. Bran and Jon were heroes of the War for the Dawn, Robb was the first King in the North in three hundred years, even Sansa got her childhood dream as the Lady of her own castle - even if it wasn’t the one she truly wanted. Arya had just become a killer. She knew she was being unfair to herself but it didn’t stop the thoughts coming anyway. 

When Meera and Jojen returned to Bran, Arya excused herself. 

She looked for Pate everywhere in the castle but could not find him and Sam did not know where he was. Giving up her search, she made her way to the Godswood and tried to pray but she didn’t know what to pray for so just cried. For what exactly she did not know. 

---

She heard the quiet padding of footsteps toward her and turned around to find Rickon and Shaggydog making their way toward her. Shaggy looked at her suspiciously and nudged her cheek with his nose. She knew this was the closest thing to comfort she’d ever get from Shaggy who was never as gentle and discerning as Ghost. She smiled and scratched him between the ears before he ran away deeper into the Godswood. 

“Why are you crying?” Rickon asked cautiously. 

“I don’t know,” she replied, wiping her tears with the back of her hands. 

“How can you cry if you don’t know why you’re crying?” he asked incredulously. 

“Because I feel upset,” she replied. “Do you not cry when you get upset?”

“Crying is for children,” he declared  “I’m a man grown,” - with all the fierceness of a ten-year-old. 

She chortled in response - something between a sob and a laugh at the little brother whose childhood she had all but missed and couldn’t imagine. She reached out to hug him and to her surprise he let her. 

“In Skagos you fight those who’ve wronged you,” he told her defiantly. “You should find the person who upset you and upset them or…” he rolled his hands into fists and shifted from foot to foot, “...or tell me who it is and I’ll do it for you. I know how to use a spear.” 

She snorted at that before fixing her face when he looked at her with the determination to back his words. 

“No one has upset me,” she confessed. “I just feel like I’m not a good person anymore.”  It felt weird unloading all this to her ten-year-old brother. 

“Me too,” he whispered before sitting down next to her. 

“What do you mean?” she asked. 

“What do you mean?” he responded.

“I’ve done bad things.” 

“Me too.” 

“I’ve killed,” she said, not sure why.

“Me too,” he replied.

“In Skagos, when the darkness came, the warriors went to the Wall but left the women and the children on the island. We ran short on food. Toward the end people fought each other for what remained. I killed two old men who tried to steal from me.” 

She reached out to hold his hand. 

“Who did you kill?” he asked. 

“Many people...But I don’t want to kill anymore.” She raised her chin, “We should make a deal,” she proposed. Perhaps this would be her new start.

“What?” he asked, eyes narrowed. 

“We will try to be better than we were.” 

“How?” Suspicion was still apparent on his face.

“The wars are over,” she told him. “We never have to fight again. We still have an opportunity to become good people.”

He studied her for a while. “How?” 

“We will help Bran and… and Jon,” she smiled. “We will be the people Father and Mother would have wanted us to be, and Robb as well.”

“I don’t really remember them,” he confided. “I remember mother had red hair, that Father used to let me sit on his lap in the Hall and that Robb used to guide my pony sometimes, but I don’t remember them.” 

“Would you like me to tell you about them?” she asked.

He nodded. And so she spent hours in the Godswood telling him about how she remembers the day he was born, how he wailed in a way Jon and Robb said no one but her had; how Mother would carry him around as she ran the household and Father would watch him with pride whenever he tried to join the boys in the yard. She told him about their father’s justice and honour and their mother’s gentleness and love. She told him of Robb who they all looked up to, their brother, their protector and hero.

Rickon listened to everything chipping in with his own small memories of how he remembers going to the crypt to wait for Father because he dreamt of him, of how he thought he was coming back alive. He didn’t understand then that the crypts were for people who would never live again. 

He told her about how he used to think if he forgot Father died that he could somehow come back. He also spoke about how alone he felt when everyone left. 

“Bran said none of you truly wanted to leave. But why would anyone do something they don't want to do?” he questioned. 

I didn’t want to go,” she pointed out. “...but father was going and he asked me to come. I don’t think he liked it very much either,” she added. “If I could turn back time, none of us would have left.” 

“Bran said we still have each other. That we just have to live with the family we have left even if we miss our old one.” 

“I agree.” Bran always knew what to say. 

“Bran said if I came back Jon would go fishing and hunting with me like he used to with Bran but he left before I woke up this morning,” Rickon pouted.

“Maybe he thought you should sleep little wolf, you’ve had a long journey.” 

Rickon looked at her, in contemplation.

“Bran said you know all the best games.”

 “Did he now?” she asked amused.

“Yes. Will you play with me?” 

She nodded and they did. They played spin-the-sword and monsters-and-maidens and toward the end, come-into-my-castle. Rickon’s courtesies made her laugh as they were entirely harsh and Skagosi in tradition. So she taught him things he would need to say and do as the heir to Winterfell, much of which he scrunched his nose at. 

“I’m happy I came back,” he confessed after a while. “I didn’t want to in the beginning. Not even when the onion man came,” 

“The onion man?”

“He said Lord Manderly sent him, that he was a friend, but I didn’t trust him. Neither did Osha, so The Crowl hid us and said we never came. But then Bran started talking to me through the tree and he told me how everyone missed me...and I missed him too and Shaggy missed his brothers and his sisters, even the one that died, so I thought Shaggy might be happy if we came back but now… I think I can be happy too.” 

She hugged her little brother then. “I’m happy you’re home too,” she replied, kissing his long hair.

When the others returned from the hunt, they had their supper together in Father’s solar. Their uncle and even Meera and Jojen joined them this time. Jon told them about the hunt, which Summer joined along with Ghost and Nymeria. Arya noted that Jojen was happy to contribute to the conversation and had a peaceful look about him, even when he’d smile at her with a look that suggested he could read her soul.

Jon on the other hand, would watch her from underneath his eyelashes whenever he raised his mug to drink. A look of devotion in his eyes that both reminded her of the conflict she felt about her feelings for him and made her forget everything but him. 

When they had their supper, he walked her to her room, pulling her into an alcove for a searing kiss, whispering “I missed you,” against her lips before bumping his nose against hers and bidding her good night. When slumber came to her she slept smiling, forgetting the storm that raged within her. She'd spend whatever time she could with him before her secret destroyed them. 

--

On the morning of the feast they gathered at Father’s solar with Jon’s steward Eddison Tollett to look over the ledgers. Jon was adamant that they know the state of the castle’s finances. After they broke their fast, Arya asked Meera to stay as she was the new Lady of Winterfell as well. Jojen stayed as well while Rickon and Osha left. 

The granaries were somewhat depleted by the wedding and the upcoming feast but Jon assured them that much of the food for the feast was from food that was set aside for the wedding feast they didn't have. Arya felt somewhat embarrassed for derailing those plans even if she still felt justified for her reaction. He also said they were expecting a new consignment from the Reach to restore their stocks in the next moon. 

They also spoke of coppers and servants before Jon updated them on who ruled which castles. Most castles stayed within their ancestral families with the exception of the Dreadfort and Castle Hornwood, while the free folk inhabited some of the nineteen castles along the Wall. The Dreadfort remained bare, although the Ryswells laid claim to it on account of Roose Bolton’s second wife being a Ryswell. 

You don’t suggest giving the castle to the whelp of a Frey do you?” they asked when Walda Frey Bolton had a son. The boy died shortly after during the winter, while his mother returned to her ancestral home as the Northerners treated her with open hostility. 

The Dreadfort was currently looked after by a castellan while Castle Hornwood was seized from Ramsay Bolton and granted to Larence Snow, the natural son of Lord Halys Hornwood. 

Jon told them how Lord Manderly laid claim to the castle as Lady Donella Hornwood was his cousin, while the Glovers insisted their ward should be given the castle as the last living child of the true Lord Hornwood. Jon asked the queen to legitimise Larence Snow and betrothed him to Wylla Manderly to quell the conflict. 

“That was a good decision,” Bran said in response to Jon. 

“I proposed to legitimise Larence Snow myself when Robb was still alive. Lord Manderly had seized the castle but Ser Rodrik said how it might be seen as offensive to Lady Hornwood. I’m glad, what you did appeased both the Manderlys and  the Glovers.” 

Bran then told them of his own plans to call a Great Northern Council, convening all the lords of the North along with the free folk and the Children of the Forest to understand the needs of his people and to re-abide by the Pact between the Children and the First Men. 

Arya suggested postponing the Council until they had a better understanding of what people in the North needed and what each part of the land could offer in trade. She told her brother of her conversations with Lord Manderly and all the opportunities of new industry the North had to offer. She learned so much from the Iron Bank about the trade needs and specialisms of each of the Free Cities and she wanted to have the same understanding of her home. Lord Manderly had told her about the hunger people had and how White Harbor could not continue to feed the North indefinitely. 

“I want us to run Winter Town again,” she said, remembering the place she spent so much of her childhood, “I want the North to rebuild and for new towns to be established so that the North can be even better than it was under Father and his father before him.” 

It was at that moment that the ever contemplative Jojen spoke. “The hungry will be fed by one who has known hunger, those in fear protected by one who conquered hers and the people led by the honourable who always answered the call of duty alongside the one who was shaped for service.” 

Arya knew Jojen was talking about Queen Daenerys who had been hungry both as a young girl and as a Khaleesi in the Red Waste. The stories had spread as far as Braavos. Jon had also told her how she spent most of her life running from killers sent to her by King Robert as well as those who wanted her dragons. Those she freed had spoken of her justice and Arya herself had met her courteous husband, Willas. 













Chapter Text

Arya stood at her room’s window. 

Down below, squires practiced their aim against the two quintains in the yard. Castle staff milled between the kitchens and the Great Hall with preparations for the feast. Lords and ladies in the insignia and colours of their different houses talked and laughed with one another as they made their way to the hall. They were followed by gruff rough riders in wool, leather and mail, courtly knights in their heraldry and free folk in their furs. 

She heard the clinks of Pate’s acolyte links before she saw him. Sam’s heavy breathing normally gave him away and the castle maester’s chain made more noise. No one else would have the audacity to just walk into her room without knocking first either.

Not looking away from the window, she remarked, “I never knew you to be so loud. Those links make you a shit assassin.”

“A good thing a man is not here to kill,” he responded, in the soft velvety voice of Jaqen. 

She turned around to see Pate’s face gone and replaced with that of Jaqen H’ghar - the face she knew. He was dressed in a woolen cloak and riding leathers. Behind him, her door was barred shut, never having made a noise. He’d clearly moved his links around to bring his presence to her attention. He was sitting on the chair beside her desk, legs splayed open, head resting on the top rail, his red and white hair flowing over the back. He had a bored look on his face as he stared at the ceiling, sitting there as if he belonged in this room and she was the trespasser. 

“Where are you going?” she asked, referring to his travel clothing. 

He sat up, not looking at her. Instead, he poured himself a glass of wine. 

“A man has duties elsewhere,” he replied, before sipping his drink, appraising her. Waiting for the questions he knew were coming.

She sat at the window seat, analysing him in return. She missed this part, watching another faceless man, trying to spot the most imperceptible of movements. He smirked when he realised what she was doing.

“A girl has changed. She has learned patience,” he drawled when she didn’t speak. 

“Why are you here?” she finally asked.

“A friend is leaving, he is here to bid a lovely girl farewell.” 

Knowing he wouldn’t tell her where he was going, she tried to find out what he had been doing at Winterfell and before that in Westeros.

She sauntered away from the window and toward him, drinking from the same glass he had just put down. She sat on the desk, looking down on him. 

“And what has my friend been up to since I last saw him?” 

He smirked, again, in the mocking way he was always wont to do. “A man was here to learn at the citadel, then he helped in the War of the Dawn and then he watched. A man has done that and now he must leave.” 

“Do you expect me to believe you were here to just learn? You?” she asked skeptically. 

He scoffed at her and took the glass back from her, taking another sip. “A girl has spent time at the Sealord’s Palace and at the Iron Bank. Why is it right for her to learn and wrong for a man?” 

“How do you know what I have or have not done?”

“After everything a girl has seen, that is her question?” he mocked. 

“I was an acolyte, you are not,” she threw back.  

He took another sip and shrugged. “A man has already told a girl the truth. If she does not believe it, a man can do little.” 

She looked down at him from her vantage point, reading his face closely. He returned her gaze, his eyes mocking her. Look all you want, they seemed to say, you won’t find anything here. 

So she tried a different tact. She walked away from him, back to the window, her back to him. Jon and Rickon were now in the courtyard below, Rickon was mounted astride his shaggy unicorn. 

“What’s to stop me from telling Jon a faceless man is walking around Winterfell?” she asked

He moved to stand next to her, turning his face to look at her once he reached her, tutting. “A man was wrong. A girl has not changed. She threatens when she does not get her way.” he tutted again as he shook his head, unimpressed. 

She decided she would not rise to his challenge. The silence waned over them. 

In the yard below, Rickon began charging against the quintain, lance in hand. He struck the shield and managed to avoid the rotating arms to remain seated in his saddle. Jon clapped for him before those still in the yard joined in. Arya smiled. 

Finally Jaqen spoke. “A girl has a lovely brother, he is even fiercer than a girl was at his age.”

He wore a smile on his face but Arya heard the threat all the same: it would be a shame if something happened to him, he seemed to say. Perhaps I’ll give him a coin. 

She turned to him, with a smile that rivalled his. “Give Rickon a coin and I’ll kill you...even if you change your face every hour of every day, I’ll still find you and I will kill you. Do you understand?”

He smiled wider, “There’s the girl with more courage than sense.”

They returned to their silence, both standing sentinel. 

He broke the silence again. “A girl’s lover is liked by his people,” he said, looking at Jon who was now talking to The Flint and The Wull. “A girl has done well.” 

She rolled her eyes at him, refusing to engage with his barb. Instead, she decided to ask him the question she’d been wanting to ask since they separated all those years ago.

“How did you know I was a Stark? In Harrenhal.” 

He continued smiling. “A girl pretends to be a boy, the man called Yoren knows and pretends he does not. She says the gold cloaks are looking for her, she bears castle forged steel and shouts Winterfell in battle. She prays to a heart tree - help me get those men out of the dungeon so we can kill Ser Amory, and bring me home to Winterfell she prays. Then she threatens a man to free those Northmen all while the lions fight the wolves. The man called Yoren would not risk what he did for a lowborn girl who pretends to be a boy. And a lowborn girl in Harrenhal would neither care nor have the bravery to break out men from a dungeon. But a she-wolf of Stark? Well…” He let that hang. “A man simply hears and sees what is in front of him.” 

“How did you know I was Arya specifically.”

”A lord of Stark had two daughters, one betrothed to the crown prince and the second, younger. This girl called herself Arry, a man only needed to look to see.”

“You could have told the Lannisters who I was and been given a reward.” 

He studied her. “A nobleman’s daughter, a girl of ten,  travels in the middle of a war. She hides in plain sight. She is fearless enough to jump into a burning barn to save three criminals even though two threaten her. She is merciful enough to save a child in the middle of battle when she could get further without her, manipulative enough to order a dangerous man to do her bidding and distrusting enough not to reveal herself to men she saves until she makes a decision about them. Such a girl is meant for greater things than what Tywin Lannister could offer.” 

“Like being a faceless man?” she asked. “I’m sure you know by now that I failed to become no one.” 

“To be a faceless man is only one way to serve, lovely girl,” he replied. “Perhaps a girl did not fail. A girl learned many things in Braavos did she not? Perhaps the best way for this girl…” he poked her in the chest, “to serve is not to give the gift but to simply be what she is.” 

“What’s that?”

“A lady of Stark... A man did not just give a girl a coin and the House did not just let a girl go. A man watched and a man saw. So did the House.”

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“A girl will have to be patient.” He tucked a hair behind her ear.  

“Farewell, my lady of Stark,” he added, before striding for the door.

“Wait,” she blurted. “Will I ever see you again?”

He stopped at the door, turning back to her. “A girl might,” he answered, before Jaqen made way for Pate.  

----

For the feast, Beth helped Arya dress, picking out a light grey woollen gown trimmed with white lace and a white hip belt that accentuated her waist. The sleeves and bodice were sewn with pearls and on her feet she wore fur lined boots above her stockings although Beth had suggested grey doe-skin slippers. Her hair was in a northern braid the length of which fell over her left shoulder. The bruise on her neck was covered by powder and a pendant necklace Beth had found in Winterfell upon their return. It might have belonged to her mother. 

She found her family waiting by the entrance of the Great Hall. Bran was seated on his wheeled chair, dressed in grey woollen breeches and a white doublet with his sleeves and collar trimmed with fox fur, a silver direwolf brooch by his heart. Meera was dressed in a green gown, parted at the sides to reveal black breeches - it was clear that like Arya she felt more comfortable in breeches than she did dresses. Her brother also dressed in their house colours while Rickon, wore the white and grey of House Stark. Jon, was in all black with the direwolf of Stark emblazoned upon his doublet beside the three-headed dragon. Their uncle Brynden was dressed in the blue and mud red of House Tully, a black trout brooch clipped upon his doublet. Osha on the other hand wore a simple woollen brown dress that Arya was sure someone found last minute. Osha didn’t seem to mind though. 

Their arrival was announced by Lem’s loud voice. Long rows of trestle tables filled the Hall, parted by a central aisle for the guests to walk through. At the front of the room, one side of the steps to the dais had a ramp to ease Bran’s access. 

Bran and Meera were the first in. Bran’s chair was pushed by Jon who was followed in by Rickon and Osha, while Jojen twinned his arm with Arya’s. Their uncle was the last to walk in. Rickon had insisted on bringing Shaggy attending the feast until Osha talked him out of it. 

Stark! they chanted in unison, punctuated with shouts of Winterfell! Bran was the first up the dais, he sat in his chair and kept the Seat of the Kings of Winter to his right empty for Jon to sit upon. They’d agreed before they entered that Jon would sit there not only because he was a prince but because he was the last King in the North, and his older brother besides. Arya saw how sitting with pleased Jon. When they were children, their mother used to insist he sit on the benches, preferably as far from the dais as possible. She’d sneak away to sit next to him whenever she could. The more fun people sat at the back of the Hall anyway. 

This night, she sat to Jon’s right, with Rickon to hers with Osha at the end. On Bran’s left were Meera and Jojen and their uncle Brynden. 

Below the dais sat Lord Manderly on his special wide chair, alongside the Greatjon Umber, Harrion Karstark, Lady Cerwyn, the young Beren Tallhart and a few other lords and ladies including Maege Mormont, Tormund Giantsbane and Val.

Jon bid them all welcome as Warden of the North and the acting Lord of Winterfell.

“My lords,” he began, “I am honoured to welcome the return of Lord Eddard Stark’s trueborn heirs, Brandon Stark, the rightful Lord of Winterfell, his wife, Lady Meera of House Reed, her brother Jojen Reed of Greywater Watch and, finally, the heir to Winterfell, our youngest, Rickon Stark. May their years with us be plenty and their achievements many!” he declared, raising his goblet to cheers from the guests. 

One by one, each lord and lady, with the exception of the freefolk, stepped forward, swearing their fealty to Brandon of House Stark. Lord Manderly’s son Wylis bent the knee with great difficulty in place of his father.

During their meeting in their father’s solar earlier that morning, Arya asked Jon whether he should get permission from the queen about declaring Bran the Lord of Winterfell. He said that he would write to the queen to inform her of Bran’s return. He was insistent that Winterfell was the home of the Starks and he refused to usurp its rightful lord. 

Once the lords had sworn their fealty, Bran declared his intention to call a Great Northern Council.

“I am aware many of you have been speaking to Jon and my sister Arya about the needs of the North. Given her time in Braavos, Arya,” he said turning to her with a smile, “proposes trade with the Free Cities as a way of building our economy and our lands.” He gestured to her for her to speak.

She arose, raising her voice. “My lords and my ladies, many of you remained loyal to House Stark in our toughest times. We have all heard of the sacrifices you made, in wealth, in blood and livelihood for our house. It is now our turn to show you that House Stark has not forgotten that loyalty.”

“In Bran’s name, I intend to make a progress of the North. To remind you that we have not forgotten you and to hear of your needs and of your grievances directly. We want to appraise your lands with a view to develop trade links and to enrich you.”

“For too long we have been known as a people of scarcity. We are a harsh people who live in a harsh environment. It’s true. But the North is as bountiful as it is beautiful. After all you’ve suffered, it is time for us to serve you. It is time for you to taste the fruits of your loyalty.”

The crowd cheered at that. Stark! Winterfell! could be heard all across the Hall. 

Robbett Glover stood then, raising his glass. “A toast,” he declared, “to Lady Arya of House Stark.”

“While the Young Wolf routed the Lannisters at every turn on the battlefield, the She-Wolf of Winterfell fought a battle of her own. Tywin Lannister’s foreign sellswords turned tail when they saw how the tides turned against the Lannisters.”

“As you know, they feigned a capture of northmen, myself and Helman Tallhart among them. They took us as prisoners to the lightly garrisoned Harrenhal where we would capture the castle from within. Unaware of this plan, seeing captured northmen. Men of her father and her brother. Valiant Ned’s, valiant girl broke into the dungeons before the sellswords with three men of her own, burning and blinding the guards to ease our escape. It was thanks to her that the direwolf of Stark was raised over Harrenhal with no injury to a single northman.” The crowd cheered once more, this time in her honour.

The she-wolf, they chanted. 

Once they quited, “Why did you not make yourself known, my lady?” he asked. 

“The only northman I knew at Harrenhal was Lord Cerwyn,” she answered. “He was captured at the same time as you, Ser Wylis,” she said, turning her head to the heir of New Castle. “I wanted to make myself known to him but he died before I could. Ser Helman and you, my lord, left before I could make my mind up about whether to trust you. And the more time I spent with Lord Bolton, the more I realised I could not trust him.” 

“What do you mean?” Lady Mormont asked.

“He threatened to have my tongue for asking him questions and he was regularly violent to the people in Harrenhal. My father taught us to judge a man by how he treats those beneath him.”  

“That foresight kept you alive, child,” her uncle said. “If only we had your discernment.” 

“That shrewdness saved you from the bastard of Bolton,” Lady Dustin added. “The poor girl they sent in your place suffered heavily.” 

She noticed Jon’s jaw tense at the mention of Ramsay Bolton. 

“Where have you been my lords?” Lord Manderly asked, turning to Bran and Rickon. 

“When the Boltons captured the castle, my brother Rickon escaped to Skagos with Osha, while I went beyond the Wall with my wife and good-brother,” Bran answered. 

“I sent a man to Skagos my lord,” Lord Manderly added. 

With pride in his voice, he continued, “House Manderly never once broke faith with House Stark. I wanted to oust the Boltons and return Rickon to his father’s seat. I never once gave up the quest to find him.” Arya knew that was true as he spoke about sightings of Rickon to her the first time they saw each other again.  

“I’m sorry for hiding,” Rickon blurted. “I didn’t know who to trust.” 

“That was smart of you,” Lord Manderly agreed, with a grandfatherly smile. 

“Why did you take so long to return?” Lady Mormont asked Bran. 

“I had many things to learn beyond the Wall,” he answered cryptically, “...from the Children of the Forest.” 

Once upon a time that would get him raised eyebrows and murmurs of incredulity but it was accepted by everyone in the Hall as if it was the simplest of explanations. Arya supposed it was natural for people who fought against the Others beside dragons and the Children to accept as fact what they’d previously dismissed as old wives’ tales. She wondered what Maester Luwin and Old Nan would have had to say if they were here now. Maester Luwin  spent most of her childhood belying the existence of magic in the world while Old Nan would swear Maester Luwin knew nothing. 

As the food and drink began to flow, beside her Rickon blabbered speedily to Osha in what Arya presumed was the Old Tongue while Bran and Jon conversed with one another about the War for the Dawn. Arya found herself looking at the benches remembering the feasts of her childhood where Jory would jest with Alebelly and Farlen from the kennels, while Mikken debated heavily with Hal Mollen about whatever came to their minds and Fat Tom ate whatever he could get his hands on besides Maester Luwin who spoke busily, even during a feast, with Vayon Poole about household affairs. 

All of those people from her childhood were gone. 

But it wasn’t all doom and gloom. There were still signs of their old Winterfell in the room. Palla the kennel girl, Farlen’s daughter, was here as was Tom Too, Fat Tom’s son and Cayn’s son Calon. Arya used to run amok with them and Bran when they were children. 

On another bench, Beth sat with Anguy and the brotherhood, Ned Dayne and his sister nestled between them. The free folk had a bench of their own while Sam sat with his wife and his once black-brother Eddison Tollett. This combination of old and new - the people from their childhood coupled with their father’s bannermen and the packs they made along the way were their people now. 

Jon’s hand squeezing hers under the table broke her contemplation. His warm smile felt like a balm. 

It was then that Greatjon bellowed for the music to play and the dancing to begin. “Where is this outlaw singer I’ve heard all about then?” he blared. Prompting Tom O’Sevens to start plucking his strings while the food was cleared and tables moved to the sides. 

Tom began with Two Hearts That Beat As One, in honour of Bran and Meera’s marriage followed by Wolf in the Night, which was composed following Robb’s victory at the Battle of Oxcross  and sung at the feast in honour of its living veterans. 

On and on the music went. 

Arya danced with her uncle as well as Lords Manderly, Glover and Karstark, as well as the Magnar of Thenn, The Flint and The Wull. Bran made his way down from the dais with Meera, making an effort to talk with the guests, much as Father once had.

Jon danced with Alys Thenn and the Mormont and Manderly sisters. 

Taking a break from dancing, Arya found Sam sitting alone and made her way to him, taking the opportunity to question him about Pate. 

“Where’s your friend Pate?” she inquired, taking a sip of the Arbor gold. 

“He had to return to the Citadel,” Sam replied. 

“He is a little weird isn’t he?” she baited. 

“He helped Archmaester Marwyn and I work out how to forge Valyrian Steel,” Sam protested, in defence of the man he thought of as his friend. 

“And was he a close acolyte of this Archmaeater?” 

“He studied under him, my lady, same as me but I am the Archmaester’s chief acolyte. Pate took longer to move from novice to acolyte.”  

A faceless man is not slow, she thought. If he’s pretending to be so there’s clearly something else going on. She couldn’t work out what it was. 

Bran joined them then. She learned that Sam had met Bran before he met her and had helped Bran cross the Wall. 

“Ah. Sam, you’ve met my brother,” Jon interrupted, sitting next to her. 

Arya and Bran exchanges sheepish looks as Sam stuttered.

“Well...err…” he stumbled. “Bran and I, that is Lord Stark and I..err had met before.”

They recounted the story of their meeting.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Jon demanded.

“It’s not Sam’s fault,” Bran said. “I asked him not to tell you, you’d only have taken me back to the Wall.”

Jon huffed. 

“I suppose you’ve met Rickon as well then,” he deadpanned.

Sam craned his neck, in good humour, to look at Rickon he stood across the hall, laughing freely, with Tormund and Osha. 

“No, I can’t say that I have,” he finally said. 

As the small group spoke and were joined by others, Arya sent him smiles that were at turns, shy and demure, cheeky and teasing and at times, when she was sure no one was looking, wicked grins promising something more...well, more. 

He returned each one with his own answer- a burning gaze under his dark eyelashes. He only once fixed his ogling eyes when he spotted Bran looking at him. 

Arya excused herself and made her way to the rear door, known as the lord’s door, hoping Jon caught her come hither look. 

She waited for him in the courtyard of the Inner Castle, all giddy from the drink and the looks he kept sending her. The moment her appeared, she pulled him down to her, conveying all her need in a desperate kiss. 

When she finally pulled away, Jon’s head darted in all different directions, looking to see if anyone might have seen them. 

“Have you taken leave of all your senses?” he whispered, disparaging her although his voice held no real coldness to it. 

“If anyone sees they’ll think I’ve dishonoured you,” he said.

“Perhaps it is me,” she pointed at herself, “...who has dishonoured you,” she said, poking his chest. 

He gave her a loaded look and she took a hold of his hand all but dragging him across the castle to the First Keep where they wouldn’t be bothered. The sounds of the feast faded away behind them as they ran, laughing like the children they’d been a lifetime ago.

They ran through the dilapidated stairwells of the First Keep, dashing into corners to kiss, mouths seeking each other, tongues exploring, hands caressing and groping with a desperation they felt unquellable, pressing into one another as if they could climb into the other’s skin to truly become one. 

In their desperation, they stripped one another, clothes forgotten in a pile at their feet. 

Once they’d given into their need, he held her on his lap, staring longingly into her eyes, the moonlight filtering through the broken windows of the keep was their only source of light. 

“I’ve been meaning to ask you,” he said, tapping her nose, “just how did you manage to coordinate an escape from the dungeons in a castle that you yourself were held prisoner in?”

“I prayed,” she told him. Jaqen appeared after her prayer. 

“How did you convince those men to help you?” he asked. 

“When we travelled for the Wall, Yoren was transporting three men from the black cells in a cage. When the Lannister men attacked our party, that cage was in a burning barn and the men screamed for my help. I helped them.”

“And they helped you, is that correct?”

“Well...only one helped me. The others were scared of him.”

She bit her lip and felt a sudden need to tell him not everything but something, a truth. 

“He was a faceless man,” she spouted. When he looked blankly at her, she continued. 

“An assassin, I didn’t know it at the time. He said, I’d stolen three lives from death so I had to give three in return. He said he’d kill anyone I named for me.”

Jon started laughing then, to her surprise. 

“What?” she asked, confused. 

His laugh turned into a snort. 

“Only you would make friends with an assassin,” he managed to say between his fit of laughter. 

“You’re not disgusted?”

“Why would I be? Your assassin may have kept you alive and in the Great Hall, men think you a hero,” he said.

She felt a burden lift at that. He might not hate me if I tell him what I did in Braavos, she told herself. Yet, somehow the words wouldn’t come out. 

“Who did your assassin kill for you then?”

“Two Lannister men. One who raped a girl and was proud of it and the other who beat me.”

“And the third?”

“I asked the faceless man to help me free the prisoners or I’d name him as my third name.”

Jon started laughing again. She watched him, confused by his reaction yet warmed, and before long she started laughing along with him at the ridiculousness of her story.

Chapter Text

 

—-

Arya 

On the morning after the feast, Bran asked Arya to take him to the godswood. She rolled his wheeled chair easily to the godswood where they sat in companionable silence. 

“I saw you, at Harrenhal,” he announced suddenly. 

“You saw me?” 

He chuckled. “When I went over the Wall, I learned how to greensee and how to see through the weirwoods, like the Children used to. I can see anything from the past or the present through the eyes of a weirwood,” he explained. “So I saw you, at Harrenhal, when you’d practice with your broom. I wanted to join you. It reminded me of us playing sticks here.” 

Her brother had tears in his eyes. He was always as quick to cry as her when they were children - but only when they had good cause. 

“What was it like for you here during the war?” she asked him. She spent so long trying to get back here before she got the news of Bran and Rickon’s deaths.

“Tedious,” he snickered to her surprise. 

“When Robb and Mother left, Maester Luwin and Ser Rodrik would tell me I had to be the Lord of Winterfell and I’d remind them that I would never be Lord of Winterfell. Robb’s children would get the title before me-” he trailed off. 

She squeezed his hand. 

“Then, Robb became King and I became the Prince of Winterfell. That wasn’t the worst part though. Even not being able to use my legs wasn’t the worst part.” He started laughing to Arya’s confusion.

“What was the worst part?”

“The Freys!” 

“The Freys?”

“During the war, Mother made a deal with Lord Frey for his support. As part of this alliance she fostered two of  his grandchildren who the Freys promptly sent here. I’ve never met two more annoying people in my life,” he laughed, before she joined in. 

“Mother also made another promise to Lord Frey.”

“I know,” she told him, “Robb was to marry one of his daughters.” She’d learned Robb’s failure to honour that promise was the cause of the Red Wedding.

“Yes, but I wasn’t going to say that,” he responded, mirth in his eyes.

“What then?” 

“Mother agreed to have you betrothed to one of Lord Frey’s sons.”

“What?!”

Her brother was choking with laughter. She didn’t understand what was funny about that. She’d been betrothed without her knowledge! 

Finally he composed himself. “You’ll laugh when I tell you who it was, trust me,” he said, right before he broke out into laughter again. 

She was unimpressed. What was funny about this?

“Who was it?” she demanded.

“I believe you know Elmar Frey.”

“What?” All of a sudden she remembered Elmar sitting on the steps at Harrenhal, alone, sobbing about the princess he couldn’t marry before she broke out in a cackle. She looked at Bran and he had tears running down his eyes from his laughter. 

“He cried to me about not being able to marry his princess!” she cackled. “I was crying about you and Rickon dying and he told me no one cares about a serving girls' brothers so I told him, I hope your princess dies!” 

“Well, I for one am glad she didn’t,” her brother smiled. 

“Do you know what became of him?” she asked. “Should I be expecting my betrothed to come riding in one day?” She’d wring his neck before he tried to touch her. 

“He’s dead.” 

“How did he die?”

“At the hands of Lady Stoneheart.”

“Who?” 

“You must remember. You found Mother’s body in the river as Nymeria.” 

She felt as if her heart would stop. Rise. Rise and eat and run with us. She felt herself filled with dread.

“The red priest, Thoros of Myr, refused to bring her back when Harwin found her body. He said she’d been gone for too long.” 

She felt the tears sting her eyes. Harwin remained her father’s man, even though he didn’t leave the brotherhood for her. Loyal to House Stark even after her mother died.

“So Beric Dondarrion gave his life to bring Mother back, in honour of his love for Father.” 

A lonely tear escaped her right eye when she realised where this was going. The woman at the Neck who Nymeria...

“But the creature who came back wasn’t Mother,” Bran fumed. “She wasn’t!” he shouted when she looked at him.

“At first, I told myself what she was doing was right. The Freys killed Robb and her and so many of those who followed them south. But then she started killing people who weren’t even at the Red Wedding just because their name was Lannister or Frey. That wasn’t Mother. Mother was not vengeful, you know that.” She didn’t know if he was trying to convince her or himself. 

“Then one day,” he continued, his voice sounded so small, “She was about to kill a boy, not much older than me, for no reason other than his last name. I couldn’t watch it Arya!” he choked looking at her eyes. “Arya I swear it, you have to believe me, it wasn’t Mother anymore.” 

She gripped his hand tighter, “It’s alright,” she said.

“I couldn’t watch it, so I killed her, in Nymeria. I had to stop her Arya, she was going to kill that innocent boy,” he sobbed. She stood up to hug him as he shook in her arms. 

“It’s alright,” she told him as she stroked his hair. All men must die. Suddenly, the Brotherhood’s reluctance to talk about their time before they came to Winterfell made sense. They were following her mother and they either didn’t want to upset her with the knowledge of what she’d become or they were ashamed of what they became. Or both. 

She bent down to look at Bran, holding his face up to hers, she told him, “What you did was a mercy Bran. You gave Mother a gift. Mother would have wanted us safe and she would have wanted to rest. We’re safe and together now and who knows? Perhaps Mother is with Father now hmm?” 

They returned to their silence after that. She sat back down resting her head against his knee.

“Now you know one of my worst secrets. Will you tell me what you hide from the world Arya?” he asked. “You can hide from everyone but you and I were always close. Will you tell me what weighs heavily on your mind? Is it Jon?” 

“What?” she shouted, confused but not wanting it to show on her face, using all the lessons the waif and the kindly man had taught her. 

“What about Jon?” 

“I saw you two,” he said. “At the laughing tree. When you first came back and then again the night before the wedding.” 

She tried to change the subject. “Have you not grown out of sneaking up on people Bran? You’re a man grown with a wife!” 

“If you won’t tell me what’s wrong with you, I have to find out in other ways,” he shrugged loftily so reminiscent of their fights as children. 

“It was you!” she realised. “The talking tree was you!” 

He grinned mischievously. “ Perhaps I know something you don’t, stupid!” 

“You’re so annoying!” 

“So? Do you love him?” 

When she scrunched his face at him, he continued, “Love is not as stupid as you and I used to say. I love Meera.” 

That made her smile. She saw the love in his eyes now and whenever he was with his wife. 

“I-” She didn’t know what to say. “I don’t want to marry a prince,” she lied. 

He huffed, a smile on his face. “When we were little I wanted to be a knight, perhaps the next Arthur Dayne. I wanted to ride out with a warhorse between my legs, bright armor adorning me and streaming banners flowing in the air above me. But that wasn’t to be my lot in life. Life took me elsewhere, but I’m no less happier now for it. And there’s no reason why you wouldn’t be happy with Jon. Prince or no, he’s always been your home.”

Floored by his words, she only managed to rasp out, “When did you grow so wise?” 

“Will you tell me the truth now?” he questioned. 

“Jon, won’t want me if he knows the things I’ve done,” she admitted. 

“Do you know the things he did when he couldn’t find you? Or even before that? Something tells me whatever you did, he’ll forgive it.” 

“I became a killer Bran!” 

“Every one of us became a killer, Rickon included and none of you have done anything worse than me.” 

She looked up at him, eyebrow raised. “What?” 

“Hodor.”

“What about Hodor?” 

“He was strong and big enough to be a knight. His great-grandfather was Ser Duncan the Tall. He could have grown to be a knight if not for me.”

Her brother had lost her again. “Bran, Hodor was a grown man before you were even born and everyone knew he was slow of wits, kind and gentle, but simple-minded nonetheless. The only thing he could say was his name.” 

“His name wasn’t Hodor. It was Wylis and what happened to him was my fault. If I didn’t keep trying to skinchange into him he could have been a great knight.” 

“Bran. I don’t understand.” 

“When we went beyond the Wall. We were attacked by wights. I skinchanged into Hodor to fight them and when I realised I could walk again through him, I started to spend more time within him. It used to scare him but I did it anyway. I told myself I wasn’t really harming him. Then one day, when Hodor walked outside of the Cave, just to get some fresh air, I was looking through the weirwoods at Winterfell when Father and Wylis were children. They were all playing together. Aunt Lyanna was there and Uncle Benjen and even Uncle Brandon. Hodor was attacked by wights outside of the cave while I was still watching the past. Meera begged me to help Hodor so a part of my conscience tried to move to help Hodor while the other part of me stayed stuck in the past, looking at the young Wylis. I’d never been stuck in the past before. But that day I couldn’t leave what I was watching. I was still new at it, so when I skinchanged into Hodor I skinchanged into the young Wylis at the same time, all the while Meera and the children screamed Hold the door at him. Leaf, one of the Children, died trying to help him. As the wights began stabbing Hodor in his attempt to shut the door of the cave shut, young Wylis started convulsing. HOLD THE DOOR he screamed as he fit on the ground. HOLD THE DOOR, HOLD THE DOOR, HOLD DOOR. Finally as Hodor took his last breath after shutting the door, young Wylis sighed, HO-DOR as his fit ended. Ever since that day he was unable to pronounce another word.” 

Bran was crying again and Arya realised before long she was too. For Hodor and for Bran and all the guilt he carreid. 

She decided then to tell Bran about Jaqen and the faceless men. Her brother had bared his soul to her. She would do the same. Perhaps, when she did she wouldn’t feel so heavy anymore. 

 

Jon 

 

After the feast their guests began returning to their keeps. First to go were the Ryswells and Lady Dustin, for which Jon was grateful. No two Ryswells were ever found in close proximity except that they were engaged in one quarrel or other which, more oft than not, he would have to quell. It was for that reason that he was glad to see the back of Lord Rodrik Ryswell and the gold horse on his arms, his son Roose Ryswell with his black horse, Rickard Ryswell and his brown horse and Roger with his grey. Why one family had to have so many arms befuddled Jon. 

Their sister, Lady Dustin with all her airs and graces was no less exhausting. One would think she spent years studying just how to get under someone’s skin without saying anything truly offensive. For all she tried to hide it, he was not unaware of her deep dislike for House Stark. He only had to play along with her courteous ruse because she was central to the recapture of Winterfell and because she was the one to return Father’s bones to Winterfell. 

Lord Manderly and his knights and retainers followed them shortly after but not before the portly lord joked that if he were thirty years younger he’d send Bran a proposal for Arya’s hand in marriage. The man was over sixty. Even if he was thirty years younger, he’d still have been too old for Arya. After his misplaced jest Jon could not wait for the heavy lord’s litter to disappear down the King’s Road on its way to the White Knife.

The Glovers followed the Manderlys along with the mountain clans while Maege Mormont and her girls left shortly after. Jon had stood there while Maege and Tormund engaged in a very public display of affection that was met with whoops from both the free folk and Lady Mormont’s company and barely hidden derision from the more proper lords and ladies. While uncomfortable with the voyeurism, Jon supposed he’d do the same if he were to have to wait thirty years to acknowledge the person with whom he had five children. 

Today, the third day after the feast, it was the turn of Tormund and the free folk who joined him to return to the New Gift.  

Once the wars were over, most of the free folk settled south of the Wall with Tormund as chieftain. Somehow King Beyond the Wall didn’t work well for a king who’d settled behind the Wall. Semantics aside, the free folk had gathered behind Tormund after the death of Mance Rayder and he was for all intents and purposes their leader. The free folk, as was their culture, refused to bend the knee to Daenerys but had agreed to keep the queen’s peace and regularly worked closely with Jon to do so. Any feuds between northmen and free folk were normally brought to Winterfell for judgment. While Tormund had some reservations when Jon declared Bran Lord of Winterfell these were easily dealt with when Jon pointed out Bran’s education with the Children of the Forest, who were held with high regard by all First Men, as well as the fact that Bran and Rickon were protected by a woman of the free folk. 

Jon escorted the party as they made their way out of the castle to begin their journey.

“Your she-wolf is ferocious, har!” Tormund bellowed with a belly laugh, smacking Jon’s back in the process. 

“She had three grown men on their arses in the yard this morning and didn’t even break a sweat! I told you before, better move fast King Crow, or she’ll be stolen afore y’know it.”

As was often the case, Jon didn’t know how to react to Tormund Giantsbane’s barbs. So he tried to move the conversation on. The man was already much too loud for the confines of the castle. 

When they reached the North Gate of the castle, “Arya will be travelling to The Gift for her progress.” Jon said. “She plans to travel beyond the Wall as well. I cannot be there, I ask you to look out for her while she is with you,” Jon requested of his friend. 

“You mean make sure she’s not stolen.” 

“I mean, make sure she comes home in one piece.”

“Aye, crow, I’ll look out for her but I don’t think she needs much looking after.”

Jon smiled at that. 

“Farewell friend, he bid Tormund. 

“See you at this council,” he replied. 

Making his way back to the inner castle Jon was distracted by the clack of wood on wood. Rickon was training with Lem. Having seen Jon train one morning with the Brotherhood, Rickon had taken to joining them every day as well. 

“Look here, little one,” the voice, surprisingly, belonged to The Blackfish “you need to bend both your legs so you can move speedily to attack or defend. If you keep standing straight, you make your job that much harder. Now, try again. Knees bent, sword arm upright, keep your other arm behind you. Now move toward me, front foot first.” 

Rickon got the hang of things fast, lunging, then parrying The Blackfish’s attacks. 

“Aye, that’s it!” The Blackfish beamed. “Now block this.”

Rickon blocked the parry easier than he had in previous days, trying to hit The Blackfish’s lower body on the riposte. Clack, clack, clack the sound went. To their left, in the inner ward, Anguy was training his men in archery while Tom O’Sevens nursed a hangover sat atop a stone bench by the Broken Tower. 

Meera was there too, watching Rickon with Osha. Jon enjoyed getting to know the two Reed siblings. The knowledge that Lord Howland Reed would be joining Bran’s Great Council in seven moons’ time, delighted him. Jon had truly missed the man and was glad to know that he would soon be reunited with the children he thought dead during the wars. 

“Jon, did you see!” his brother called out, when he managed to hit his uncle twice in quick succession. 

“I did little wolf! In no time you’ll be better than me,” Jon replied, earning himself a smile from Rickon. 

When Rickon returned to his training, Jon asked Lem, “Have you seen Arya?” 

“She was walking towards godswood with her wolf when I last saw her.” 

When he got there, all he found were Ghost and Nymeria lying side by side at the mouth of the black pool by the heart tree. Arya was nowhere to be seen.” 

“Where’s your mistress?” he asked the she-wolf. Nymeria regarded him with cold indifference, humphed then looked away from him. 

He moved round to the direction she faced and asked “What’s gotten into you?” He could have sworn she rolled her eyes at him right before she got up to shake off all the water in her coat all over him.

Stunned and soaked, “Ghost?” he beseeched. Ghost gave him an exasperated look. Don’t ask me, he seemed to say. 

Confused at Nymeria’s attitude, he walked across the godswood, made his way beneath the windows of the Guest House, to the underground hot spring that fed the pond above. The steam from the hot pools felt like a mother’s embrace despite the mild weather outside. Inside, Arya was lying in one of the hot pools. He hardly made any noise entering but she was looking in his direction the moment he saw her, as if she had been expecting him.

“Hello,” he smiled. “Where have you been all day?” 

“Busy,” she replied tersely before getting up and walking away from the pool, the sight of the beautiful woman in front of him with water dripping down her naked, tight body, made his cock twitch.

She didn’t even turn back to look at him, or smile.

He moved toward her, stripping out of his doublet and woolen tunic at a speed that was embarrassing. His breeches and boots took longer to remove. He all but tripped his way to her in nothing but his small clothes before she left the room. Finally, he caught her and undid the tie of the drying cloth she wrapped around herself and removed it from her hand, holding it just out of her reach, 

“Jon,” she reprimanded him, “I don’t have time for this, give me the cloth and move!”  

Somehow the angry naked woman in front him aroused him further. 

“Jon!” she carped, “Give me the cloth, or I’ll throw you in the pool.” 

“Fine,” he shrugged loftily, “Throw me in the pool.” 

Moving down to her ear he added “I’ll take you down with me and then... I’m not responsible for what I do to you in there.” 

“Is that so?” she leered, right before she pushed him. True to his promise he pulled her down with him creating a mighty splash as they hit the water, earning him a yell from her before she began to fidget within his arms. He held her against him as she thrashed, his clothed arousal hard against her backside as they got to their feet in the pool.

“Are you going to tell me what’s gotten into you, my love?” he whispered, low, against her ear, moving his hand down her stomach toward her mound, then languidly moving his finger up and down her slit, purposefully avoiding the nub that made her keen every time. 

“Would you like me to ease your frustration?” 

“Let me go,” she protested, barely, her breath heavy as she pressed herself into his hand, seeking more. 

“Not until you tell me what’s upset you,” he said, turning her around to face him,backing her into a corner until she was surrounded by him, trapped against the wall of the pool. He moved  his hands below the water to rest on her arse, grinding against her, relishing in the quiver that came out of her lips. 

“If you must know,” she began, breath hitching in time with his thrust, “I had a very interesting conversation with Tormund this morning before I broke my fast. He told me all about how you like women whose hair is kissed by fire. Are you sure you should be bothering me in this pool?” she stifled a moan when he moved his hand down to the apex of her thighs, pressing a finger to the bundle of nerves he knew would distract her. 

“Shouldn’t you be running off to the Eyrie after your beloved redhead? I’m sure she still wants a crown,” she managed to continue after her surprise. 

He was somewhat amused by her jealousy but only because she had nothing to be jealous about. 

“Tormund is a tall-talker,” he said, circling his finger just where she wanted it. Involuntarily she bucked against his hand. 

“Oh is he?” she mused, removing his hand from between her thighs so she could speak.

“Did you not have yourself a spearwife lover? Was that the bit that was the lie? If it’s not a redhead you want but a wildling I’m sure Tormund can help you out.” 

He smiled mischievously.

“I didn’t care about her hair or the fact that she was a wildling,” he teased, moving his hand back to her waist.

“Is that so?” she bit back, cocking her head to the side. “What was so special about your woman who was kissed by fire?” 

“I’ll tell you,” he said, pulling her back against him. 

“I saw a skinny, stubborn girl who’d fight when she should run, tangled hair that made me wonder if she combed her hair once a season and a tendency to say whatever comes to her mind. Sound like someone you know?” 

“I cannot say that it does” she retorted, flipping her wet, wavy locks so they hung alluringly over her shoulder, barely concealing a smile.

When he looked at her with desire, all but saying she reminded me of you, she took her fingers to her hair, combing through her tresses. “As you can see my hair is not tangled and I am more muscle than skin on bones.” 

“But you’ll fight instead of run and no one in this world can match your stubbornness.” 

She had no response to him so she smiled sheepishly. He should have known she was planning something devious. 

“Tormund told me all about your lord’s kiss.” 

That made him smile and his manhood throb. Did Arya play this entire ruse just to ask him to take her into his mouth? The thought aroused him further, his cock aching against his small clothes. Her eyes were dark, the grey gave way to black and she breathed heavily, her chest rising with each breath, her lips parted. 

“Is that what you want, my love? I think I’d really enjoy that but I should warn you, a lord’s kiss is nothing compared to a prince’s. Are you sure you can handle it?” 

He should have known Arya would not give in without teasing him senseless.

“No, my prince. I cannot say that I can. I am but a mere lady, I’ll have to find myself another bed partner,” she declared wryly before pulling his hands away from her waist to move away from him.

The words provoked a deep growl from him. He crashed her back towards his chest before she could leave the pool, prompting her to splay her hands across it to steady herself.  

“You are mine,” he rasped, grazing his lips against hers, a barely there kiss into which she keened, chasing his lips when he moved away. “Only mine,” he whispered as he trailed kisses down her jaw.

“I have never wanted anyone the way I want you,” he groaned against her neck. “I want you to know that. No one has ever come close to you.” 

She placed her hands, gently around his face, pulling him up, raw emotion in her eyes. Her eyes darted around his face, searching his eyes as if she was trying to find something in them. 

“I love you.” He wanted her to know if that was the truth she was searching inside him. He waited so long for her to return to him. He pressed their foreheads, bumping his nose against hers, the familiar gesture eliciting a teary whimper of a smile from her.

Heat surged from his stomach to his chest as her lips moved closer to his, he brushed his thumb across her lower lip, her breath hitching as he did so. He gazed into her eyes, hoping he could communicate the depth of his love for her. Slowly he lowered his eyes down to her lips, covering them with his own, sliding his tongue against hers, trying to pour his longing for her into this.

She melted into his arms, her fingers knotting themselves in his hair, until he gasped into her mouth, in surprise or in pleasure he did not know and didn’t care. She smiled against him. He was home. 

“Let me make you feel good,” he murmured raggedly against her lips, before taking her hand and walking her out of the pool and laying her down on top of her discarded drying cloth. 

As he hovered above her, she guided his hand to her breast, fondling it as she cooed. He moved his mouth to her jawline, kissing a slow trail down her neck, then her chest, all the while keeping up his ministrations on her chest. 

Then, moving his hand from her chest, downwards, slowly, gently, he kissed each of the scars on her torso.The ones she hadn’t spoken to him about. As he did that, he took the opportunity to part her thighs wider for himself, sliding his hand down her hip. 

“If you want me to stop, tell me now,” he teased, stroking his way down her sensitive skin. She gasped.

“Or now,” he whispered as he trailed his fingers through the barely there curls, Does she shave? he wondered. I’ll have to ask her later . Her breath hitched in response to his movements while his mouth watered in anticipation. 

“Or now,” he husked right against her swollen, sopping centre. She trembled as he licked her in one long, slow motion. And when he took her nub between his lips, sucking, slowly, she rewarded him with the most delicious of moans.

Dizzy with want, he pressed his mouth into her hot centre, nuzzling closer, sucking faster, dipping a finger inside her. She mewled at the shock of it, raising her hips. 

She thrust against him, as he stroked his tongue urgently, firmly against her, her gasps mixing with his groans. She throbbed against his tongue, wriggling above him, moaning.

“Jon,” she finally managed. 

Hearing his name in this tone drove him crazy, every time. 

“Jon - I,” she mewled. “Please.” 

Heady with need, he licked more urgently, pushing his face against her, inhaling the musk of her desire, tasting her want, drawing a slow, searing, spiral around her folds with his tongue. Round and round and round, until she could only pant above him, whimpering, unable to form any words,  simply thrusting harder against his finger and his mouth. 

He paused briefly to look up at her, her eyes tightly shut, her teeth clenched, hips rising and falling, hands groping her own breasts. He chuckled at how the cold girl of earlier gave way to this scorching woman of his, lost in her pleasure. 

She groaned in frustration when she finally realised he moved his mouth away from her but she was clearly not annoyed enough to say anything as he slid another finger inside, curving them forwards, moving faster before returning to lap against her, all lips, tongue and teeth all while his fingers continued to crook inside her.

Her cries of pleasure drove him wild, as he continued to suck and stroke, wanting to milk every last bit of pleasure from her. Her inner muscles squeezed down upon his fingers as a long, wanton cry of release ripped out of her chest before giving way to ragged pants and trembling thighs. He lapped her nectar slowly, revelling in the fruits of his labour, savouring each drop of her sweet, tangy taste. She shivered at the contact. 

Once she was sated, he moved up to lie down beside her. 

“I told you a lord’s kiss was nothing like a prince's.” 

She rolled her eyes, then rolled to her side, draping her thigh across his hip and resting her head on his chest. 

“You’re welcome to remind me any time you wish, my prince.” 

He looked down at her, nestled against him, her cheeks were flushed and she had a serene smile on her face. Suddenly, a surge of possessiveness rushed through him. He wanted her to be his. Forever. His bride.

She looked up at him then, questions in her gaze. 

“Will I have to deal with two ferocious she-wolves every time you’re annoyed with me?” he probed. 

“What do you mean?”

“Nymeria all but glared at me in the godswood. I should have known she was getting her cues from you.”

“If all works out you’ll have more than two she-wolves to worry about,” she grinned in return. 

He looked at her quizzically. 

“I think Nymeria is carrying pups…I’m not sure but I, I think so,” she explained.

“You know what this means he thought. I’ll have to give you pups for Nymeria’s to look after. The thought of spilling his seed in her later turned him on even more. 

Unaware of the dreams he was planning in his head, she got up and dressed, while he watched her, somewhat disappointed that she left him rock hard and wanting. He was hoping for more. 

Once she was fully clothed, she looked over her shoulder at him, “Aren’t you coming?” she inclined, lowering her eyes to the bulge in his small clothes. 

“If I’m going to introduce you to the Meereenese Knot we’ll probably need some privacy.”

He shot up with burgeoning excitement. 

Once in her rooms, he shut the door - too loudly he would have said if the wild thumping of his heart against his chest didn’t sound like a loud roar in his ears. 

Barring the door, he pinned her against it, crashing his lips against hers as if she might disappear otherwise. 

He stripped her of her clothes, desperate with anticipation. He didn’t know where this was going but the sight of her naked body was always welcome. 

She took his roaming hands in hers and guided him further into the room, walking backwards as she tried  to take charge of what was happening, the sight of her bare and in front of him drove him mad with need.

When she started to remove his clothes, she moved at a decidedly slower pace than he did when he rid her of hers. But the burning desire in her eyes remained a mirror to his own. He moved his hand to her cheek before trying to brush his thumb across her top lip and toward her lower lip, just as he did earlier. He loved the gasp that came out of her the last time. This time though, she didn’t let him simply rub her lips, she sucked his thumb into them, teasing him all while holding his gaze with her heavy lidded eyes. All he could think as his thumb slid between her kiss-swollen lips was another part of him in its place. A shiver ran down his spine as he twitched inside his breeches. 

Perhaps she read his mind. She looked up to him, smiling around his thumb before releasing it from her lips. Her lips pulled into a feral grin more reminiscent of her wolf than the woman she was. She began to rub her hand firmly against his breeches. 

 “Arya,” he groaned into the silence. 

She moved into him, kissing his neck, licking. He could only hiss as wildfire fire raged within him. He pulled her face up, biting her lip into his mouth, tongue sliding against hers fervently. She returned his hunger for her, drawing her tongue along his in long, slow sensuous pulls, moaning in his mouth. His favourite sound. As if they had a mind of their own, his hands moved down her back to caress her tight her arse, his stomach twisting into a knot when she groaned. 

As his lips worked against hers and their tongues battled for dominance, she pulled his tunic out of his breeches, slowly lifting it above his head. He broke away from their kiss to help her, throwing the tunic against her bed in his desperation to return his lips to hers. 

Then, in a motion that rendered him breathless, she broke away from him only to sink to her knees, kissing his hip bone, just above where his breeches were laced. It was only when she began kissing a trail down from his navel as she undid his laces that he realised what she meant to do. His breaths came out sharper, shallower. 

She stopped, looking up at him, eyebrow raised, in a mocking tone “Would you like me to ease your frustration?” she winked. 

He was almost too lost in his need to realise she was imitating his earlier words. He groaned above her,  pulling her head back to where it was, just above his groin, she licked him there in continuation of her teasing. He’d return the favour later but right now he just wanted her to take him into her mouth, or to sink into her wet heat or anything really, anything that would make this ache subside. 

With a handful of his woollen breeches in each hand, she tugged them down to his feet, commanding him to step out of them with her eyes. He was more than happy to comply. He even volunteered to remove his small clothes himself, head heady with excitement, breath ragged. 

His cock sprang free, aching and already dripping. She bit her lip as she came closer. 

“Take a seat.” She motioned, to the bed behind him. “Let me make you feel good.” He realised as he sat that she was parroting his own words back to him again but this was something he’d have to return to later. For now he'd obey. He sat on the edge of the bed, nervous with excitement.  

She crawled toward him on all fours. The sight of her approaching him as if she were stalking prey had his blood roaring in his ears. He widened his legs to make space for her, his breaths coming out in shallow rasps. Then, before he knew it she was right there. Between his legs. She brushed her hair over her shoulder, moving it out of the way. Then she placed a hand on each of his knees, meeting his gaze with hunger in her eyes as she slid her hands from his knees up his thighs. She dipped her head down to sweep her tongue around the tip of his cock, licking the wetness that began to leak from him. Evidence of his arousal. A guttural growl escaped his throat. She chose that moment to lick  slowly up the thick pulsating vein under his shaft. 

“Seven hells - Ar, ah.”  His eyes rolled back and his head crashed against the bed, his knuckles turning white as he gripped her sheets. He couldn’t stop himself from thrusting his hips upwards, desperate for more.

When he finally opened his eyes to look down at her, he found her licking her palm slowly before wrapping it around the root of his cock concentration etched on her face as she worked her hand up and down. Any other time he’d laugh at how serious she looked but right now he was too lost in the feel of her hands moving up and down his shaft.

“Fuck-“ he howled as she took him back into her mouth, sucking him this time as she placed her free hand under his balls cupping them. The feel of her velvet tongue and the sight of him sliding in and out of her lips threatened to send him over the edge. He’d been hard since the moment he found her naked in the pools, he’d spill any moment now. 

“Arya stop, otherwise I won’t last,” he gasped, voice hoarse. 

When she didn’t stop, he tugged her by the hair. “Arya, please, you need to stop if you need me inside you. If you continue this I’ll spill before I can do that.”

Her mouth slipped off of his cock. With strands of her wet hair plastered to her forehead, she turned her eyes up to him. “Good,” she mused, “I wanted to taste you.” 

When she returned her lips to him, he let out a strangled moan. He tightened the grip on her hair the faster she worked against him. She moved up and down his length with desperate abandon all the while working her fingers on his balls. He could feel himself coil. He could only breathe in sharp pants as he pressed his head further into the bed and his hips up into her mouth. Then, to his surprise, she took him into her mouth from base to tip, his length touching the back of her throat. She sped up, still cupping him and working her fingers around his balls. 

After one sharp pull of her hair she moaned around him. The sound, the vibration and her movements all combined to make his balls tighten right before he came with a shout of her name, body tense, as he fell over the edge. He came apart inside her mouth and she took every drop of what he gave. His head dropped back against the bed. 

She joined him in the bed after she removed his boots,  nestling herself against him. He moved his hand down to her stomach, wanting to please her just as she pleased him but she placed her hand on top of his and held it against her stomach. She turned her head to the side to smile at him, the love in her eyes made his heart skip a beat. She moved up to his face, lowering herself in for, what he hoped was, a kiss but she simply bumped her nose against his before moving to pillow her head against his chest. He stroked her hair as they reveled in the silent aftermath of their pleasure. 

“Where did you learn how to do that?”  

She raised her head up to look up at him. “I sold clams to a brothel in Braavos, the girls at the Happy Port were my best customers.”

He pulled back to look down at her before breaking out into laughter. Of course she would, Arya Underfoot. Every time his eyes met hers he started laughing all over again. 

“What?” 

“Nothing, tell me more.”

“This was cheaper than fucking so it’s what men requested the most. My friend, her name was Merry, ran the brothel, she taught me just how to move my tongue.”

“Did she ever ask you to work for her?” he asked, suddenly aware this could take a decidedly worse turn than he expected. 

“No!” she exclaimed, shooting up, her tender breasts and hard nipples landed on his chest when she put her hands on either side of him. 

“But, if you must know,” she murmured, “I did apprentice as a mermaid with the Merling Queen, one of Braavos’ most beautiful courtesans. She taught me how to charm any man to do my bidding.”

“Is that what you were doing in the pool?” 

“No!” she scoffed, then she admitted, in a small voice, “I was jealous.” 

“Well, you have no need to ever be jealous about my love for you. Besides, I’ve never been with a courtesan's mermaid,” he teased. She rolled her eyes at him. 

“Did your Merling Queen ever ask you to-?” he didn’t know how to word it.

“I seem to recall you wiping my blood off your cock our first night together,” she responded. “No Jon, I’ve never lain with another man before you or shown him the Meereenese Knot,” she grinned. 

“What does being a mermaid  even entail?” 

“First I just had to accompany her everywhere, holding her veil for her and doing her hair. It’s why my hair is no longer the tangled mess it used to be when I was a child,” she laughed. 

“I didn’t really speak to any of the men who’d visit her, I was only there to learn. I was with her the day I heard of your de-” she trailed off, looking down at his mangled chest with tears in her eyes.

She kissed each of his scars. “I thought I lost you,” she whispered.

“I thought I lost you too,” he said. “When I came to Winterfell. You weren’t here. Over the years everyone had their own theories of what happened to you but everyone agreed that you were dead. Imagining a life without you ever returning to me was so hard so I refused to believe it more out of stubbornness than anything else. The only other person who didn’t believe you dead was Sandor Clegane.” 

She snickered before returning her head to his chest, limbs still wrapped together. She thread her fingers through his burnt hand, interlocking their hands. Looking at their entwined fingers she asked him, “You never told me how you got this.” 

“When I was still a new brother of the Night’s Watch, Uncle Benjen went ranging beyond the Wall. Then he disappeared. For weeks no one had heard of him. Everyone thought him dead, everyone except me.” 

She raised her head and sat up, looking at him with teary eyes. Uncle Benjen was always good to her.

“The Old Bear, Lord Commander Mormont, ordered us to go beyond the Wall to go looking for Uncle Benjen. Not far from the Wall, we came across the bodies of Uncle Benjen’s men but he was nowhere to be found. So we brought their bodies back to Castle Black. That day, we found out about Father being arrested.” Her eyes dropped at that. He knew the day of Father’s arrest would always be associated with the massacre at the Tower of the Hand for her. 

“The Master of Arms at the Watch, Ser Alliser Thorne, hated me. Hearing of Father’s arrest delighted him, he called me a traitor’s bastard .” 

Before he could continue she interjected. “And this man, is he still alive?” 

That made him smile, “No. he died during the War for the Dawn. But on that day I wanted to take his life. I lunged at him with a dagger in my hand. My brothers stopped me but I was thrown in a cell as punishment. That night Ghost started scrabbling on my cell door. When I opened the door the guard was dead and the tower was unnaturally cold. When I got to the Lord Commander’s chambers one of Uncle Benjen’s men, the dead ones we brought back, was up and walking. He was a wight, he’d killed the guard downstairs and when he saw me he began attacking me. Try as I did nothing I did could stop him so I grabbed a fire and threw it at him. I burned myself in the process but it finally killed him.”

She looked too stunned for words so she kissed his hand. “All men must die,” she said, before returning her head to his chest, hands still interlocked. 

She decided to tell him a story of her own scars, showing him little burns on her hands and arms. “When I first got to Braavos I used to cook food with a lady called Umma,” she began.  “I..I couldn’t see properly,”she whispered, “so I burnt myself a dozen times as I learned.” 

“And this?” he asked, tracing a long cut across her middle finger.

“I was chopping onions and cut my finger down to the bone.” 

“I knew you always collected scabs as a child but your hands have never been anything short of deft,” he told her. The words had new meaning now after what she did to him. 

“I told you,” she challenged, “I couldn’t see properly.” 

Then she hovered just above him to caress his face. He leaned in to her touch but kept his eyes open, her breasts were too close to his face for him to close them.

“And this?” she asked, running her hand down the scar on his face. 

“A wildling skin changer’s eagle. I killed him so he went into his eagle and attacked me.” 

She started laughing then. 

His eyes dropped to her stomach, the painful scars were right in front of him.

“And these?” he asked, tracing his fingers across them.

She sat up and he followed her.

“The day I heard about your death, I was with the Merling Queen as I told you, by the harbor. In Braavos, I’d hear about you sometimes. They’d call you the Black Bastard on the Wall. The news used to make me both happy and sad. Happy you were alive and sad that you might not even recognise what I’d become,” she had tears in her eyes as she tried to smile bravely at him. 

“But the day I heard about your death, I sobbed in a way that I hadn’t after the Red Wedding. I thought I lost the last good thing in my life.” The tears burst forth from her eyes like water from a dam, spilling down her face. 

He could feel burning in his eyes as well. 

“I decided then, that I’d come back to Westeros. That I’d kill everyone who ever hurt anyone I love. I got so close.” She smiled then, but it didn’t reach her eyes. 

“Of course, as you know, I never made it. If I had, I would have got back to you years ago. I was standing on a bridge, looking forward to coming home to bring winter upon everyone who ever hurt me or those I loved, but ever since I left home never getting to the places I sought out to reach became the thing that defined me.”

“What do you mean?” 

“An old woman asked me for directions. She looked so much like Old Nan, Jon. She stabbed me, twice, but like your Wildling man, I skinchanged into cats in the alley and they killed her.” 

“An old woman stabbed you?” 

“She wasn’t truly old.” 

“But you said she looked like Old Nan!” Jon had never met anyone who looked as old as old as Old Nan except maybe Maester Aemon. 

“She wasn’t truly old,” she explained. “In Braavos...there’s a guild of assassins. They’re called the Faceless Men. They can change their face at will. They can change their faces like someone else might their clothes.” 

He bent down then to kiss her scars. His heart broke at what she had to suffer. “I’m sorry, Arya,” he said, crying at all that she had to suffer. 

“It was not all bad,” she replied, pulling him up to her face, trying to console him with a smile. “The kindly man I told you about found me and patched me up and he gave me better jobs than before. He taught me even more languages than before, and sums and-” 

“Wait. Why did an assassin try to kill you?” he interjected. First an assassin saved her life and then one tried to kill her.

She gulped, eyes darting around his face, searching his eyes like she did earlier, blinking the threatening tears away. 

“Arya. Why did that girl, woman,” he shook his head in confusion, “Whatever she was! Why did she stab you?” 

She stared at him, tears spilling down her face.

“Arya, are you in trouble? Arya I promise you I won’t let anyone hurt you. Please tell me. What happened?” Panic took hold of him. 

She wiped her tears with the back of her hand, hurriedly scanning the room for something to cover her nakedness. She threw on a dress. No shift underneath nor smallclothes or stockings. She slipped her feet into slippers and bolted for the door.

He grabbed her before she could leave. 

“Arya what’s wrong? Talk to me.” 

Gently, he put his hands around her face, tilting her head up to look at him, aware of his nakedness and her vulnerability as the tears streamed down her face.

“Arya what happened to you?” 

That look was back on her face, the one that suggested she was trying to read him. Desperately searching for something.

“Arya, whatever happened, we’ll get through it together. I promise you. I won’t let anyone hurt you ever again,” he told her with conviction. She was his to protect. “I want you Arya. Now and always, whatever has happened. Just talk to me.” 

She smiled at that, tears still flowing. “You think you want me,” she agonised. “But you you shouldn’t. I’m not anything good anymore.” 

She removed his hands from her face and darted out of the room, leaving him standing there, confused, heartbroken and not sure whether it was for himself, because she didn’t trust him, or her because of all the hurt she’s been through. Perhaps it was both.

He waited all day in her room, waiting for her to return. Then he sought her out in the evening and throughout the night asking everyone if they had seen her. No one had. Even Ghost couldn’t find her. It was as if she had disappeared. 

Then he saw her, the next morning leaving Lord Stark’s solar before Bran left for Greywater Watch. 

Jon had gone to the solar that morning with the intention to give Bran Widow’s Wail, one half of the Stark ancestral sword. The Brotherhood had brought it north with them after Jamie Lannister was killed by Lady Stoneheart. It was right that now there were Starks in Winterfell that the sword went back to its rightful owners. 

“This is Ice,” he introduced, “Well, one half of it. The Lannisters melted down Father’s sword into two. This one belonged to Jaime Lannister, they had changed the pommel to a lion’s head and I changed it to a wolf, but it’s still Ice. Sansa’s sworn sword Brienne has the other half. I kept this in safekeeping for the day a Stark returned to Winterfell.” He left, or when I had a child of my own unsaid. 

Bran regarded the sword with the loaded look of a boy who once dreamed of being a knight. 

“Do you remember,” he said, “the first time I saw Father use this sword?” 

“It was the day the Night’s Watch deserter was killed.” Jon remembered. It was the day they found the direwolves.

“How much do you think would be different if Father took the man’s words seriously?” Bran asked. 

“I’m not sure,” Jon said honestly. “We’d have been facing unreal odds regardless.” 

“Perhaps.” Bran replied. “But then Father would not have gone South and he would have lived long enough to tell you the truth of who you were. It was the last thing he wanted before his death.” 

The confession floored Jon. He still struggled, although to a lesser extent, with Ned Stark’s choice to hide the truth of his birth from him, condemning him to the life of a bastard. 

“What do you mean?” he questioned.

“When the moment of his death came, his greatest regret was leaving you alone in this world when he promised your mother he would protect you. He loved you truly as a son, Jon, I think you should know that.” 

When did Bran get so wise, Jon found himself wondering. Instead, “I loved him as a father,” Jon replied, emotion clear in his voice.

“I know you wonder why he allowed you to go to the Wall,” Bran added gently. “Why if he loved you would he allow you to waste away at the Wall?” 

“If I didn’t go to the Wall, I wouldn’t have been able to help the Night’s Watch prepare,” Jon countered.

“And Father knew that,” Bran avowed. “When you were little more than a boy, Father heard a voice from the weirwood telling him that your destiny was at the Wall. Father didn’t abandon you. He knew you were meant for greatness, he just wished he could live to see it.” 

He could feel the tears welling in his eyes. “All I ever wanted was to be a Stark,” he admitted, out loud for the first time ever, “I wanted people to say that Ned Stark fathered four sons, not three. I always wanted to make him proud.”

“I suppose it’s a good thing you weren’t truly his son,” Bran offered, wryly, “Starks aren’t known for desiring their sisters.” He had a cheeky smile on his face as he said that.

“Bran, Sansa and I, it was the queen-“

 “I know about Arya.” 

Jon wanted the floor to open up and swallow him then. He gulped, opened then shut his mouth, once, twice, thrice. He was sure he looked more fish than man. “Bran I-” 

Bran was clearly enjoying watching Jon recoil under his gaze. 

Finally, he spoke, smile still present on his face, “You are my brother Jon. Whoever your father was. You and Robb were the stalwarts of my childhood. When you left, Robb and I felt  lost without you.” 

The mention of their dead brother brought tears to Jon’s eyes. Robb was his rival and best friend. 

“We used to talk about coming to the Wall to visit you or you coming down here to visit us.” Bran smiled wistfully. “But, if there’s anyone who would have felt more adrift without you than Robb or me, it’s Arya. I was her accomplice in every mischief when we were children but you have always been the most important person in her life. There’s no one who could make her happier.”

It felt bizarre talking to Bran about this. Jon remembered Bran in his swaddling clothes yet he found himself wanting to unburden himself.

“I’m not sure I can...make her happy,” he finally admitted.

“Why not?”

“Arya is not as easy to read as she once was.”

“She’s carrying a lot of grief and it weighs her down,” Bran seemed to agree, with sad resignation. 

“She won’t speak to me of it though. She only tells me the less gruesome details. Half of what I know of what she went through is from others and the other half tumbled out of her at the wedding when she recalled all the things she’d witnessed after the Lannisters took Father. She told me only one thing herself and the moment she did she clammed up.” Jon wanted to mention the scars across her gut and between her ribs but somehow he didn’t think that was an appropriate direction for this conversation. 

“That’s always been her way. Arya keeps her secrets locked away in her heart.”

“Not always. She used to tell me everything.”

“Give her time,” Bran replied. 

I am, Jon wanted to protest, but she won’t even speak to me. 

It was then that Maester Elric walked in. 

“Excuse me, my prince, my lord, there are two ravens from Her Grace. One addressed to you, my prince and one, you my lord..”

Bran’s letter was a curt one in which the queen welcomed him back to his home and to his title as Lord of Winterfell.

Jon’s letter was significantly more terse. “ Since you are no longer Lord of Winterfell, you will take your place as Prince of Dragonstone upon your return to King’s Landing.”

What Daenerys seemed to say was, now you’ve lost me the North to parties I do not know, do your duty to your real family and accept the legacy of House Targaryen.   He was sure she’d have more to say once they reunited. 

The thought of living in the South filled him with dread. He’d only ever been to Dragonstone a handful of times and there was something deeply foreboding about the place. For all that the Northern lords were gruff they were a much more straightforward bunch to deal with. Dragonstone’s bannermen were a more tedious sort. There was sour old Lord Celtigar, the child Lord Velaryon whose bastard uncle stole Cersei’s royal fleet, leaving her with no real defence against the Golden Company’s assault upon King’s Landing and Lord Chyttering whose company was the most palatable of the lot, but only because Jon was acquainted with him while King Stannis was still alive. 

The crux of his dread, however, was that he’d just reunited with his family - Arya especially. Something told him Arya, who was avoiding him unless she had to interact with him, would not choose him over staying in the North with Bran and Rickon. 

Chapter Text

Jon: 

In the week since Bran’s departure for Greywater Watch, Arya has thrown herself wholeheartedly into her duties as the acting Lady of Winterfell. The Stark in Winterfell. The playful girl he knew gave way to a sombre woman whose focus was entirely on her duty. 

Jon kept telling himself she was trying to step into her mother and father’s shoes and that she didn’t want to fail in her responsibilities. Jon himself had been in her position and struggled to meet the needs of all his people. 

But a part of him knew she was avoiding him. Ever since their conversation about her scars she has been brusque with him only talking to him when he spoke to her and never speaking more than a few words to him at a time. The only time she’d seek him out would be to talk about the castle’s affairs. Whenever he tried to find out more about her time about Braavos she’d be vague and any mention of her scars earned him silence after she said “ It’s nothing to worry about. I’m fine.” He didn’t understand why she was shutting him off. He only wanted to know if she was in danger. Why couldn’t she see? 

He didn’t understand what her connection with these assassins was. Most people don’t even meet one assassin and she told him about two. How many more were there? He just wanted to know if he should be looking out for anything. She didn’t seem worried about anything but he couldn’t help but worry.  He decided to let her be in the end. Arya had never stayed angry at him for a long time before. Perhaps they’d return to normal soon. He just hoped that his Arya was still in there when they did. 

This Arya, he learned, had an uncanny ability to rid her face of any expression, seemingly at will. The girl of his childhood whose every emotion played out on her face and even the woman who he could read so easily upon her return disappeared to give way to a blank face with no light in her eyes. 

She spent most of her time with Rickon. The two of them had become as thick as thieves, either riding out into the Wolfswood with their wolves or sneaking away into the deepest nooks and crannies in the castle. Occasionally Ghost would join them which was the only time Jon would see her laugh freely. 

Whenever he sought her out she’d make some excuse or other. “ I’m meeting with the steward,” she’d say, or “ I promised Uncle Brynden, I’d have supper with him,” or she’d give him some excuse related to work with the household staff. Her new favourite excuse was, “ I have to meet with the maester.” 

When they were children, his strongest suit was military strategy and knowing the histories of the northern houses. As a bastard he knew he would never be Lord of Winterfell yet he never wanted to be inferior to Robb in the things he could manage. He couldn’t change his status as a bastard but he could be good at everything that didn’t depend on his birth. That’s not to say Robb wasn’t better than him at most things but Jon exerted himself in this area. 

His knowledge of the northern houses and the North helped Stannis in his campaign to recapture Winterfell. And his knowledge of strategy helped him countless times as Lord Commander and even before. Arya, on the other hand, was never educated in military strategy as a girl. She was strong at sums and knew her letters well enough but she was never good at learning sigils and house words. Perhaps it was because she never got on with her septa or because her septa was not of the North. She was good at all the subjects she learned from Maester Luwin so he decided it must have been the septa. 

Given her weakness in this area, she tried hard to make up for it by spending hours each day locked in the Maester’s Turret with Maester Elric, educating herself on the North, both for the purposes of her progress as well as her role as the Lady of Winterfell until Bran and Meera returned. 

This morning she would be presiding over her first petitions. Under Lord Stark petitions were heard every three weeks. Since Jon became Lord of Winterfell, he tried to ensure petitions were hard twice a week. The people had just lived through extraordinary circumstances and he wanted to make sure that as many people as possible had as many chances as possible to be heard. However, with all the events over the last three weeks, first due to the wedding planning and then the pursuing fallout, no petitions had been heard in Winterfell from the small folk for more than three weeks. 

She was nervous, he could tell. She kept asking the Maester questions, babbling endlessly in the way she always did when she was nervous or excited. She would confer with The Blackfish whenever she wanted to double check the punishment for certain offences. She even asked Jon some questions about the type of cases he regularly dealt with and asked him to sit next to her as she heard them. “I don’t want to mess this up,” she confessed. Her request for him to be by her side thrilled him. Perhaps it was a sign that the coldness between them was beginning to thaw. 

The day’s petitioners were already in the Hall when Jon arrived. Maester Elric and Edd were seated on the dais to the right of the stone seat of the Kings of Winter. To its left, were two other seats, for Jon and Rickon. Up at the gallery above the Hall, Osha and The Blackfish sat with some of the household staff- all of whom were keen to see a lady’s justice delivered in Winterfell for the first time in their lifetimes. 

Rickon came in next, sulking. Arya had forbidden him from bringing Shaggydog with him after the direwolf bit a man in Winter Town the day before. Rickon insisted the man deserved it but wouldn’t tell anyone why. He plopped himself in the seat next to Jon, arms crossed, lips pouted, eyebrows in a frown. 

“This is stupid,” he began. It reminded Jon so much of Arya as a child. Everything she disliked was stupid.

“What is?”

“This. I don’t even need to be here. Arya’s the one who’ll be dealing with them. Why couldn’t I just stay with Shaggy?,” Rickon grumbled.

Jon leaned over him, “You have to be here because Arya needs you.”

“For what?”

“Well, look over there,” Jon motioned across the seat of the Kings of Winter to where Elric and Edd sat. “Arya has the Maester and the steward here to advise her on money and accounts as well as any legal matters related to the castle’s household and it’s estates and the delivery of the queen’s justice. And she needs me and you-“

“For what?” Rickon interrupted. 

“Our advice. You’ve been the Stark in Winterfell with Bran before and you were so brave to survive what you did. Maybe you’ll know something she doesn’t. And...you’re also the heir to Winterfell. One day you might have to sit on that chair so you’ll have to learn.” Jon remembered coming to watch Lord Stark listen to petitions when he was a child. Sometimes Robb would sit beside Father while Jon had to watch proceedings from the gallery.

The heavy oak and iron doors were opened then. There she stood in between two columns of guards, Nymeria by her side and Lem behind her. Anguy, the Captain of Winterfell’s guards, had travelled to Greywater Watch with Bran so Lem had stepped into the position.

With her wolf by her side, Arya had the presence of a true Queen of Winter. As she walked to the dais, Jon’s eyes, like everyone else’s judging from the murmurs that took hold in the Hall, fell upon her clothes. Every aspect was carefully chosen. For one, she hadn’t worn a dress yet no one in that room could have mistaken her for anything but a woman. She wore a square cut tunic with breeches, typical of a man’s dress, but to remind all she was a woman, as if her beauty would not tell them, her breeches were fitted and worn under a knee-length skirt - her own style and a marker of how she wanted to present herself to the people in the Hall. She was a lady delivering justice in her father’s Hall. Her hair suggested as much. She had the front half of her hair tied up while the back flowed over her back, in much the same way as her father would tie his hair when he heard petitions. And as if anyone would forget she was a Stark, her brooch depicted the snarling direwolf on the sigil that hung all around the Hall, while its living embodiment would sit at her feet for the remainder of the session. 

Her tunic had a woolen collar, rather than the fur women of her standing normally wore. Something told him she did without a wolf pelt collar because she took Nymeria’s pack to be her own but he also knew her choice of wool was deliberate. The small folk stuffed their collars with wool. It was all they could afford and wool was something the North had in plenty. She knew people’s eyes would fall upon her clothing. The smallfolk who realised what she had done would be heartened by the woman who dressed like them and if he knew people, he knew it wouldn’t be long before even highborn ladies tried to emulate the dress of the practical daughter of Ned Stark. It would only bode well for those who reared sheep and traded in wool. Around her waist, she wore a sword belt holding Widow’s Wail , which Bran had renamed Winter’s Justice, and to his surprise, and delight, she had her hand around Needle - the sword he gave her. The sword she told him reminded her of him. Perhaps she wasn’t so mad at him. 

Rickon broke him out of his daydream. “Why does she get to bring her wolf while Shaggy is stuck outside with Ghost?”

“Because, Rickon, it's her first time doing this and maybe she’s nervous.”

“Maybe I’m nervous!” 

Jon didn’t know what to say. 

Arya began to ascend the steps to the dais with Lem behind her. Lem took his seat on the other empty seat on the dais. As she sat, her face was a still pool. No emotions were etched on it but hardness that was more reminiscent of stone. Just how she managed to make her face sit so still confused him. Being Lord Commander, King and Lord all required him to manage his expressions. He’d always been a sullen child too so brooding came easier to him than smiling yet even he could not hide emotions on his face half as well as her. 

She took her seat on the seat that sat a long line of her ancestors before her - a line that until recently ended with him, the last King in the North. He spent so long wondering about where his future would be and whether he would ever find a place to belong. A part of him still coveted the title of Lord of Winterfell, yet as he watched his woman sit on that seat he found that he  felt no jealousy, only pride.

She turned her head to the maester who stood to read Bran’s decree.

This is the decree of Brandon, son of Eddard Stark, the Lord of Winterfell. I am pleased to return to my home and to my people. 

I am grateful on behalf of myself and the people of the North and the seven kingdoms to the Hero of the War of the Dawn, my brother and cousin, Aemon of Houses Stark and Targaryen who I grew up calling Jon. The Prince of Dragonstone, Jon, has been the Lord of Winterfell we needed in times of war and of strife. He has done his duty with honour and unwavering justice. He is now leaving his position with us in the North to return South to do his duty to the realm at large as the Crown Prince of the Seven Kingdoms. His departure will sadly precede my return. 

Given this state of affairs, I, Brandon of House Stark, Lord of Winterfell, do hereby command my sister Arya Stark to rule in my place with my full authority until my return, when I hope to do my duty to you. 

Jon heard some mutterings but none of this should have been a surprise to anyone. The decree was pinned at the gates of Winterfell and at the doors of a number of establishments in Winter Town while a crier read out the decree across the town. 

Jon turned to look at her as the decree was read. The stone-like look on her face was reminiscent of Father’s lord face. Arya would sit in the gallery with Jon to watch proceedings when she got too old to sit on her father’s lap as he heard petitions. Yet even their father’s face had never been so still. The look on her face almost made him overlook just how small she looked sitting on that throne but her face and the way she sat straight upon the seat, with her shoulders raised, made her look bigger than she truly was. 

Rickon pulled Jon’s sleeve then. Leaning over, he whispered, “That’s her serious face. She taught me how to do it too. Look.” He then wiped the smirk off his face to reveal a serious look. 

Arya looked over at them. 

“What?” Rickon muttered. “I’m ruling my face. What do you think, sister?” Rickon put the look back on his face and Jon saw a ghost of a smile pass over Arya’s face before she stood to speak to the gathered crowd. 

“I, Arya, daughter of Eddard Stark of Winterfell, swear to hear your grievances and to deliver justice according to the laws of those who have preceded me. Please,” she indicated to the steward’s assistant in the crowd, “Bring forward the first petitioner.”

And so the hearings began. If he was to judge the rest of the day by the first petition they heard he knew he should prepare himself for the session to be filled with the most mundane of requests. 

The first petition had two petitioners: the inn-keeper at The Smoking Log, the ale-house in Winter Town, and Winterfell’s brewer, Bedric - the son of Barth who was Winterfell’s brewer during their childhood. The crux of the case rested on the death of the ale-taster two weeks ago - a week since the last hearing Jon held. The ale-taster’s job was to test the quality of bread, ale and beer and to ensure that they were sold at a price that reflected their quality. 

Since the death of the ale-taster, the inn-keeper complained, Bedric had been selling him low quality ale for a high price. He requested that the price be lowered and that he be compensated for the difference in price between the old (good) ale and the new (bad) ale. 

“Without an ale taster my prince, we are being swindled by this man,” the inn-keeper said, complaining to Jon while Arya sat on the seat of the Kings of Winter. 

Not a single muscle on her face moved at the man’s blatant disregard of her.

Then the brewer bit back, again directing his speech at Jon. Arya’s face remained a blank slate of emotions, all her attentions focused on the two men in front of her.

“My prince, I have served as Winterfell’s brewer for years and I have never been accused of such a thing!” Bedric decried. 

Arya spoke then, but only to ask the inn-keeper his name.

“My name is Alaric, my lady,” he answered.

“Bedric,” she said, addressing the brewer, “have you changed the way you brew your ale?”

“No, my lady, I use my father’s method.”

“Have you been adding water to your ale?”

“No, my lady.”

“Will the appointment of a new ale-taster satisfy you, Alaric?”

“Yes, my lady but-l”

“Very well,” Arya interrupted, “the position will be filled in the next week, Edd, please see that it is,” she commanded before turning to the two petitioners. “You may leave.” Her words were courteous but no less an order. The brewer began to move to the door but the inn-keeper remained in his place.

“My prince, what about the money he has charged me for his bad ale?” Alaric objected.  

“You will address me while you are here,” Arya interjected, voice level though he could tell she was annoyed by how she grabbed the arms of the chair. 

“What about the extra-coin he has charged me, my lady?” the man drawled. 

Arya smiled then. Her first smile since she entered. 

“When did you become the inn-keeper of The Smoking Log, Alaric?,” she inquired. “I’ve never met you.”

“I’ve been the inn-keeper for six, nearly seven, years, my lady.” 

“What did you do before that?”

“I had a small tavern near The Dreadfort, my lady.” 

“And the Boltons made you the inn-keeper in Winter Town is that correct?” 

“Yes, my lady.” 

“Did you know Roose Bolton then?” 

“I did, my lady.”

“Did he often come to The Smoking Log?” 

Jon didn’t understand where her questioning was going and turning up to the gallery he realised neither did The Blackfish but that didn’t make it any less interesting.

“He did, my lady. He came often to my inn. He knew just how good the ale I served was. My lady, I would love to host you as well now that you are back in Winterfell.” 

“Thank you, Alaric. I would be honoured to visit your establishment. How would you describe Lord Bolton?”

“He was a most fearsome man, my lady.”

She smiled at him. “And you thought now that Jon was no longer Lord of Winterfell, a young girl and her even younger brother as Lord of Winterfell with a ten year old for an heir would be easier targets for your attempt to make easy money. Is that it?” she asked, leaning forward. Jon realised she used Jon and not Aemon then. For some reason  the sentiment made him smile. 

“My lady, I don-” 

“Lord Bolton scarcely drank, Alaric. I would know. I was his cup-bearer for a time. The next time you want to make some coin from the opportunities presented by the misfortunes of others, do try not to be so obvious by lying,” she spat. “Because the next time you come here to make a false accusation, I may just grant The Smoking Log to a more honest inn-keeper.” 

“You cannot do that!” he jeered before Nymeria’s low growl ate the rest of that sentence. 

“Lord Brandon will be back and I will return with my petition then,” he muttered in a lower tone.

“You may do that,” she conceded, face painted with a smirk, “But believe me, Bran is even more difficult than I am. I do not have the gift of being a green-seer. If you’re offended by a girl’s judgment, perhaps you’d like to speak to Rickon here? He-.” 

Refusing to engage further with Arya the man turned to Jon. “Perhaps, Prince Aemon, I can give you the ale he sold me for you to taste,” he pleaded. 

Arya smiled and spoke again before Jon could respond. 

“Some liars blink incessantly when they tell tales, Alaric. Others stare, some smile while their eyes do not, some lick their lips as if to ease out their lies. Some look away just before they do, and the most obvious, like you, have eyes that dart around as if they know not the direction from which they will be caught. But what gives every bad liar away are the muscles at the corners of their jaw and the muscles where their neck joins the shoulders,” she artfully explained.

“If you would like to prove me wrong, there’s no need for you to fetch ale from The Smoking Log. Barth’s brewery is within this castle. If your accusation is that Bedric has been brewing and selling bad ale because there is no ale-taster to examine his wares, then he will not mind me sending a guard to bring back ale for me to taste. Will you Bedric?” she asked.

“No my lady.”

“So, shall we taste Bedric’s ale, Alaric? If his ale is shown to be of bad quality I will ensure you are paid what you are owed. If his ale is alright, then…” she left the sentence unfinished but the menace in her voice was unmistakable. 

Or you can tell me you are satisfied with the appointment of a new ale-taster and we can move on from this. Which will it be, Alaric?”

“I am satisfied with the appointment my lady,” he grumbled. 

As the man walked out with his tail between his legs Jon realised how wrong he was. This day was already proving to be far from mundane. 

Three more petitioners addressed Jon with their complaints instead of her. Each time she stayed silent only correcting them if they did so after she spoke to them. She listened to every case closely, examining each person. 

She consulted with the maester, Edd and Jon whenever she needed advice on a matter but handled most of the cases alone. Jon noted how as the day went on each petitioner began to speak to her with more reverence, and some with more fear, than the one who came before them. 

The last hearing of the day was from a resident of Winter Town. While the town was relatively bare for winter, there were people there. The woman told them that her daughter was sick and needed healing. These sorts of cases were routine. Arya asked the maester to attend to the girl. 

When the hearings were done, she was the first to leave before the audience began to pour out of the Hall. 

“I did not expect that,” The Blackfish commented, as he came to stand next to Jon.

“Neither did I,” Jon concurred. 

Her mother once told me, “ A woman can rule as wisely as a man,” The Blackfish said.

Jon smiled, it reminded him of Arya once vociferously proclaiming the woman is important too! 

I told her mother then, “The right woman can rule, and that girl there is the right woman for that seat,” The Blackfish added with pride, pointing to Father’s seat. Jon couldn’t help but agree. 

He found her in the yard, by the stables, with Rickon. She was guiding Rickon’s fingers around his face, while explaining something intensely to him.

“Arya is teaching me to lie better,” Rickon announced with Arya’s hands still around his face.

“I’m teaching you how to be more courteous, even when you don’t feel like it,” she corrected, turning his face back to hers. 

“If I’m pretending to feel like something I’m not, then I’m lying,” Rickon countered. 

Arya rolled her eyes in exasperation. 

“You should rule your face, sister. Smiles and scowls should be your servants,” Rickon mocked, mimicking Arya’s voice by emphasising words he’d no doubt heard from her. 

Arya snickered before she burst out laughing, the smile on her face didn’t disappear even when she looked at Jon. That made him join in with her laughter. Her smiles for him had become so rare. He put his hand in hers then and squeezed. She squeezed back and he could have sworn his heart took flight. 

“You did well,” he told her. 

“Thank you, I was scared I was going to fail,” she said earnestly. 

“You could have fooled me,” Rickon broke in.

“Well, you can do it too if you learn to rule your face.” 

“Where did you learn how to read lies so well?” he asked, eager to keep her talking to him and to keep her hand in his. 

“In Braavos,” she replied and took her hand out of his. As always Braavos remained a gulf between them. 

As a consolation she added, “I apprenticed with a justiciar.”

She sold cockles to a brothel, cooked with a woman called Umma, apprenticed with a courtesan and a justiciar. Jon found himself wondering how one person could do so many roles without settling on one. When did she even find the time to learn all the languages she knows? 

“Jon?” 

“Hmm..”

“Are all hearings like today’s?”

“What do you mean?” 

“Do you have mostly men attend?”

“Women do sometimes. I’ve never counted, but when I first arrived I made sure that I held the petitions twice a week to give as many people to attend.” 

She bit her lip and had a look of contemplation on her face before she turned to Harwin. “Harwin, please get my horse ready and Osha’s as well,” she requested. Jon had gifted her the grey, spotted, palfrey mare she rode the first night he took her riding. She named it Sun Chaser after Elissa Farman’s ship. She told him one night that she considered sailing west once. 

“Rickon, find me Osha and ask her to bring a cloak with her, we’re going out.” 

Rickon sped off in obedience to her request, while Arya made her way to the Great Keep. “Where are you going?” he asked when he fell in step with her. 

“Winter Town.”

“Why?” 

“Perhaps the women are scared to come here because you’re a man. If  they won’t come here, I’ll go to them.” 

Jon felt chided by that. He tried his best to be a fair judge and to be available to his people when they requested. 

It seemed Arya read his mind as she stopped and put her hand on his shoulder. “Jon, I didn’t say that to disparage you. Sometimes women feel more comfortable with a woman, that’s all. There’s every chance I’m overthinking this but I would like to see anyway.” And with that she was off. 

He wouldn’t see her until she rode back in on Sun Chaser late that night with the maester and Osha in tow. She promptly made her way to her rooms and left him to find out what she had done with her day from the maester. She held court in Winter Town and decided to set up a full-time infirmary. There was a small house where the maester went to see people once a week and Jon regularly encouraged people to come to the castle whenever they were ill to request treatment as well. But Arya wanted to ensure that the Winter Town infirmary was open every day. Apparently, she said that she would work there when her duties allowed, assisted by Osha and other women in the town who had a healing background. And when Meera returned she said that the new Lady of Winterfell would join them there. Jon knew there were no maesters in the moving castle so the crannogmen taught themselves how to do basic healing. He was more interested in where Arya learned how to practice healing. I bet it’s one more apprenticeship, his mind whispered. The maester answered the question in his head, with a look of amazement in his face. “Lady Arya, tells me she apprenticed at the House of the Red Hands, it’s one of the greatest healing centres of the world!” 

How many apprenticeships did this girl do? Jon asked himself. 

He also learned that some of the women complained about their husbands dying during the wars leaving them as widows and without protection from men who harassed them. They told Arya that Jon had always taken strong action against rapers but that there were men who still engaged in low-level acts that put fear in them without turning violent. They said the fear of violence was just as insidious. The maester told Jon that Arya agreed to set up self-defence classes in Winter Town for women. Apparently she’d lead those too. 

Just what did Arya do in Braavos?

---

At the next petition that week, more women turned up. Most of them came only to watch but others presented their cases. Some were run-of-the-mill complaints about debts and tenancies while others were farmers complaining about their neighbours' sheep grazing in their fields. 

Again, there were the odd men who addressed Jon instead of her, despite Bran’s decree being read again. One particular man even had the audacity to question why a girl was sitting there.

“If the Lord of Winterfell isn’t here, it should be Lord Rickon sitting upon that seat,” he droned. 

Jon answered him before Rickon could say something rude. After that no one referred their cases to him or spoke down to Arya. 

Others came expecting lenient judgments from her, clearly unaware of what happened to Alaric a few days prior. 

Then came the turn of an old crone named Tanda. Grey-haired but strong, she told Arya that petty theft had increased in Winter Town with thieves rejoicing that Prince Aemon was no longer Lord of Winterfell. “Prince Jon,” the woman said, choosing to refer to him by his Northern rather than Targaryen name, “ensured that our wealth and properties were safe in the same way Lord Stark ensured before him. Are we to expect less from you, my lady?” she enquired. 

“No,” Arya said. “I speak for myself and for your lord when I say you should expect no less from us.” 

From then on the direwolves began nightly patrols of Winter Town. Any thieves caught sometimes lost a limb if Shaggydog was feeling particularly peckish. Nymeria and Ghost, on the other hand, would normally drag them to the gates and to the guards on night patrol, although they too were known to leave thieves with more than a few bumps and bruises. Reports of stealing decreased shortly after. 

--

From then on, he noticed more women come to court from both smallfolk and highborn alike. Lady Cerwyn even made the half-day journey to attend court. As Jon predicted, a few women both from the smallfolk and the highborn began to dress just like her. A braver few even began to wear a weapon on their waist. 

More women also began attending her self-defence classes which Jon heard consisted of Braavosi water dancing drills. He hadn’t seen her in action himself as no man but the maester was allowed in her women’s courts. 

It had been two weeks since he got the letter from Daenerys and he had not yet had an opportunity to talk to her of his impending move. He didn’t feel as if he could talk to Arya about such a big topic when they were still only having the most cursory of conversations. 

---

At the first hearing of her third week as the Stark in Winterfell a man came in to complain that his wife had decided to carry a sword around with her. Jon saw Arya’s eyes smile, the rest of her face donned the stone mask she wore at every one of these hearings. 

“Does she fulfill her duties to her family?” Arya asked.

“Yes,” the man answered.

“Then what is the problem, kind ser?” 

“She doesn’t really mean he’s kind,” Rickon whispered to Jon. 

“It is unnatural for a woman to fight!” the man hissed.

Nymeria’s growl helped him rethink the tone of his voice.

Arya turned away from him entirely to focus her attention on the wife. “Why do you carry a sword?” she asked her. 

“I want to protect myself, my lady.”

“From what?” 

“From whatever life throws at me,” the woman answered. Arya actually smiled then. 

“Do you begrudge your wife that, ser?” Arya asked the complainant. 

“My lady, I can protect my wife-”

“Are you always with her?” 

“No, my lady I work as a labourer in-” 

“So, naturally, you cannot protect her yourself at all times. Is that correct?” 

“Yes,” the man conceded.

“So what is the issue?” 

“Women are the weaker creatures, my lady. She would do more harm with that sword than without it.” 

And that’s when Jon knew the man was in trouble. 

Arya stood, removing her sword belt to place it on the table in front of her with a clatter. She placed Winter’s Justice on the table but removed Needle. 

She turned to Lem. “Ser Richard, please can you provide this kind ser with a sword. Joren, please clear the floor” He knew from her use of Lem’s real name she was very serious in her request. Everyone in the hall began murmuring. Joren, one of the guards began the process of pushing people back to the sidelines while The Blackfish all but jumped from his seat on the bench below the dais, that he was sitting on, to begin to caution his niece as she made her way down the steps. Jon left his seat to join them to try and talk her out of the madness she clearly intended while Rickon grinned with pure glee on his face. Edd looked confused and the maester scandalised. 

The man in question on the other hand was confused. 

“Arya, don’t,” Jon warned, pulling her arm back when The Blackfish gave him the tired look of a man who tried to control his child and was rebuffed. It was a look Jon had seen on Father’s face many times where Arya was concerned. 

“Do not make me look weak in front of this man Jon,” she implored before pulling her arm from his grip. 

“Let’s make a deal, ser,” she said, turning to the man, “If you beat me with your sword, I will agree with you that women are weak creatures and a sword will do nothing for them. But if I win, your wife will continue to carry her sword and attend my lessons.” 

“I cannot fight you, my lady, it is treason to bear live steal against your liege. Lord Brandon left you in charge. Raising my sword against you would be a kin to raising it against him, my lady,” the man protested. 

“I’ll excuse it in this instance.” 

“My lady, I don’t want to hurt you.”

“I’ll try my best not to do the same to you,” she replied with a smirk on her face. Jon found himself cursing the wolf blood as he stood by Lem’s side. He refused to return to his seat. If he had to he would step in. Her desire not to look weak be damned. 

“My lady, if I hurt you, even by mistake, I fear your wolf would not be able to separate our spar from danger.” 

“Nymeria, outside,” Arya said. Nymeria left by the rear door. 

Arya took the sword out of Lem’s hands and handed it to the man hilt first, holding the blade herself. The man took it with the smile of a man who foresaw his victory. 

Arya stood sideways with Needle in her left hand and her right arm behind her back. Needle looked tiny compared to the long sword the man held with both his hands. She was so small compared to him, something he was sure the man did not fail to note. Even if he was just a labourer his size gave him an advantage over her. Jon clenched Longclaw’s hilt. Why must she be so stubborn? 

The man began to move toward her. She did not wait for him to reach her before she began spinning around him, striking and retreating. Jon had not seen her raise her sword against anyone since her return. In fact he hadn’t seen her use Needle after that morning he saw her practice and even that did not prepare him for what he saw this day.

She held Needle as if it was an extension of her arm. Her movements were swift and sudden...and elegant! Faster and faster she moved forward and retreated, harrying and tiring the man. Jon would say he was a great swordsman. After defeating the Others he would allow himself the opportunity to say that about himself without feeling conceited. Yet even he did not move as swiftly or as gracefully with a sword as she did. It was artful. It was as if she was dancing not fighting while the man hacked inelegantly. 

Finally, “Dead!” she proclaimed as she stopped Needle right before it pierced his neck. 

“Let’s go again, ser, I will not have it said that a weak woman won by chance.”

And then the dance began again. Jon was less nervous this time. The Blackfish had an impressed look on his face. His praise, he did not doubt, would astound Arya. The Blackfish was known for his prowess as a knight. 

Rickon’s mouth was agape, Edd looked confused, and the maester looked horrified. As Arya moved in fluid, water-like movements around the room, Jon felt himself having to readjust his breeches. It had been ages since he last shared her bed - it had been since that damned day she left him without an idea of what he did wrong. 

“Dead!” she said again. This time even the man was smiling. Everyone in the crowd was whispering in excited tones. 

“Let’s go again,” she demanded before spinning away again, clearly enjoying herself. 

As she maneuvered around the room, Jon noticed that her steps made no sound. It was why the man never knew where to expect her next hit to come from. 

Beside him Lem, in contrast to everyone else in the room, had the look of a man who’d seen it all. Jon supposed he would. Arya broke his nose when she was only ten. It only made sense to him that she would only get more deadly with age. 

She continued her graceful movements, ducking, diving, dancing, until after one attempt to spin around her the man found himself stop to find his hands empty. When he turned around Arya was dangling his sword and hers in her hands. 

She walked up to him. “Dead,” she said, holding each sword at a different part of his neck. 

“Still think women are weak?” she asked.

The man who had begun their spar with the smile of a man who foresaw his win, smiled the smile of a man who had respect for his opponent. “No, my lady,” he said sheepishly. 

Arya handed him his sword. “I have to say, ser. You tired me out. I haven’t trained in a long time. If we went one more round, I’m sure you would have beaten me but good for your wife that if she continues her lessons she would never have to go so many rounds against an opponent.” Jon wondered why she didn’t ask him to spar with her if her lack of training was such an issue. 

The man thanked her for her kind words and made his way to stand next to his excited wife who would be continuing her lessons. 

Arya walked back to the dais standing with Needle in her hand. 

“When I was a child my maester told me stories about Visenya Targaryen and Queen Nymeria, warriors who did not let the fact that they were women stop them from doing things most people never achieve. And Jon,” she began, pointing at him with Needle, “gifted me this sword when I was a little girl because he saw how much I wanted to learn how to fight with a sword.” Jon could have marched up that dais to kiss his woman with the sword he gave her all those years ago in her hand. 

Unaware of his desires Arya continued. “And my father, Ned Stark, did me one of the greatest favours of my life when he got me a teacher to help me learn how to use this sword. Those lessons are what saved my life time and again during the War of the Five kings. After everything you know befell House Stark is there anyone who would say that my father was wrong in the decision to find me a teacher?” she challenged. 

The murmuring crowd of earlier became as silent as the grave. 

“Fear cuts deeper than swords,” she said. “A woman learning to protect herself is not a crime. If a woman is fulfilling her duties to her liege and her family, I do not see any issue...unless there is someone here who will tell me I am wrong?” 

An old gruff man stepped forward, “If you put weapons in the hands of women, what is to say they will not begin aggrieving others?” he demanded. 

“Justice does not discriminate,” Arya answered curtly.  

“If no one else has anything to say, my lessons will continue on as normal tomorrow.”

When the session was over, Jon saw The Blackfish smile with approval as he spoke with his niece. Rickon was tugging her sleeve no doubt asking for his own lessons to start with immediate effect. 

If the man she called Syrio Forel taught her all this in just her time in King’s Landing, Jon decided he would have to have been the greatest swordsman who ever lived but something told Jon that if he scratched far enough he’d find one more apprenticeship under even this. 

And he was proven right. He later learned from Rickon that she trained with two First Swords to the Sealord of Braavos. One in King’s Landing and one in Braavos. Jon did not get an opportunity to ask her about this. She spent all her time in Winter Town teaching her classes and working in the infirmary she helped set up, and no doubt avoiding him. 

---

It was not until the last petition of her second session in her third week as the Stark in Winterfell that Jon saw the extent of Arya’s dedication to delivering justice to her father’s people. 

A beaten and bruised woman appeared before the court. In all his years and in all the wars, Jon had never seen a woman beaten the way this woman was.She sported serious swelling and bruises on her face, her nose was broken, her lip was split and she even had bite marks on her hands and neck. Bites Jon was sure were not given in a moment of love. 

Jon saw Arya lean forward, clenching Winter’s Justice, her father’s sword, as she waited for the woman to begin speaking. 

“Your father was always good to us,” she started. For all her vulnerable state, the woman’s voice was strong.

“And the people called Prince Aemon just. The covenant between the smallfolk and their lords is that we owe you obedience so long as you grant mercy to the weak, help to the helpless and justice to all. Can I expect this from you?” the woman asked. 

“Yes, you can,” Arya vowed. “Please tell me what you require of me.” 

So the woman told them the story of her life. Her name was Sarra. She married her husband at the age of 12. She spoke of how he started beating her not long after he married her and of how she withstood those beatings. When she finally had a child, the ten year old girl next to her, she tried to focus all her energies on her child while her husband whored and warred and drank his time away. She told them how his beatings caused her to lose two pregnancies and of how he blamed her for her inability to give him sons who would work with him. 

When she finished, Arya asked her why she didn’t leave.

“I was not raised in a castle, my lady, I do not know how to read or write. I was married off when I was two and ten. I am now five and twenty. I do not know anything but my husband and if I were to leave him, I would have nowhere to go. My father is dead and if he were alive, I am sure he would tell me back to my husband. I came here expecting justice but tell me if I won’t get it here, I’d rather kill myself than return there.” 

“Did he let you come here?” Arya asked.

“He was out whoring.” 

“What does he do for a living?”

“He is a butcher.” 

“And you want rid of him, is that right?” 

“I want justice.” 

“And if justice in this case means his death. How will you feed your daughter.” 

“If I have a safe roof over my head, I will find myself a job.” 

“Do you have any talents?” 

“I can do whatever is required of me, my lady,” the woman said, warming to Arya for the first time since she appeared before her.

“Good,” Arya said. “It just so happens that I am looking for a chambermaid.” Arya hated anyone fussing around after her which made him appreciate just what she was doing for this woman. It made him love her even more. 

“You will need to come to live in the castle for this position though, as will your daughter. Is that something you are willing to do?” 

“Thank you my lady,” the woman chimed in excitedly. 

“Our steward, Eddison Tollett, will see that your name is put into the ledgers as a member of our household staff, and will ensure that you are shown to your room. I trust you are ready to start with me tomorrow?”

“Yes, my lady,” the woman said gratefully, with tears in her years. “Thank you.” 

“It is my duty as you said,” Arya told her as she climbed down the steps of the dais to make her way to the little girl. 

Kneeling, “Hello,” she said. “My name is Arya. What’s yours?” 

“Branda,” the girl replied before grabbing her mouth, eyes wide. “My lady!” she added.

Arya smiled at her. “It’s alright I was never good at courtesies either,” she winked.

“Do you like flowers Branda?”

“Yes, my lady.” 

“Call me Arya.”

“Yes, Arya.” 

“Me too,” Arya volunteered. “When I was a little girl I used to love collecting flowers.” 

“Me too!” the girl said. 

“I know Arya replied, you have a petal stuck in your collar, look.” Jon saw a small white petal from a snowdrop flower on the girl’s brown collar. 

The girl smiled shyly.

“We have some glass gardens here with all sorts of flowers, Jon planted a lot of them,” she added looking over to him with appreciation in her eyes. “Would you like to see them?” 

The girl nodded and Arya took her hand in hers. 

“Sarra, Branda and I are going to look at some flowers. I will be sure to bring her back to you later.” 

The mother walked over to Arya, took her hands in her own and said, “Thank you, my lady. I was scared you would turn me away.” 

Arya said something back to the lady that Jon could not hear. 

He realised he loved the woman in front of him more than he could have ever imagined. 

The next day he’d fall in love with her even more. 

It was sunset and he was at The Smoking Log with Edd and Lem. The latest consignment of grain had arrived from The Reach earlier that day, and they left the castle after they oversaw the delivery and storage. It was then that he heard a bell ringing and the loud voice of a woman. Arya. 

He rushed outside of the ale-house, Lem was directly behind him, both of them had their swords drawn. 

Arya was atop Sun Chaser and she had a rope in her hand. She was dragging a badly beaten man. She stopped right in front of the gathered crowd outside  the Smoking Log. 

“This man beat his wife for years and no one stood up to him,” she began, in a loud voice that reverberated in the way Pyp’s would when he spoke in his loud mummer’s voice. She pulled the rope then and the man fell to his knees.

Jon realised there were no children in the crowd. Just women and the few men who were in The Smoking Log. He saw then that none of the women looked surprised. They knew this was coming. He let out a bitter laugh when he realised she planned this. She planned to get a dangerous man herself. A man who beat his own wife the way they saw just the day before and she did not tell him. Damn the day I put that sword in her hand, he thought. 

“Did you know she was going to do this?” he asked Lem.

“I was just about to ask you the same question,” his father’s friend replied. 

In the background Arya continued, “He abused her and debased her and beat her senseless and as if that was not despicable enough he abused his own child.” 

This news confounded Jon. Sarra did not say this in court nor did the child, Branda. 

His trial will take place here now and if found guilty he will be executed tonight.

“Ser Richard, please call the guards...and fetch me a block,” she ordered, before turning to the man, “One never knows what we will hear, but keep the block hidden from view. I will let you know when to bring it out.” Jon realised then that she only ever called Lem his real name when she was ordering him to do something. 

Jon wanted to march up to her and drag her off the horse. What he would do after he did not know. Part of him wanted to shout and lock her in a tower for good while the other part of him wanted to fuck her senseless. Perhaps he’d do both. She drove him absolutely mad with her disregard for her own safety. How could one person be this stubborn? 

The man’s trial was over in no time. Sarra was already in Winter Town as was Branda. They gave their evidence and Arya held Branda’s hand as she told them the things her own father had done to her. It was clear the child did not fully understand the severity of some of the things her father had done to her when she was younger. Arya then asked her mother to take her back to the castle with a company of guards. 

And then Arya pulled out Winter’s Justice.  

He moved beside her, “Arya, you don’t have to do this,” he implored. “I can do this for you. I am older than you and-”

“The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword - that was Father’s way and his father before him going back eight thousand years. I will not deviate from this while I can deliver this justice myself,” she asserted. The light of the torches around her bounced off her face. 

“Do you have any last words?”

“Go to hell,” the man replied. Jon wanted  to throttle him to death instead then. Arya did not react. She had the look of stone back on her face. 

“In the name of Daenerys of the House Targaryen, First of her Name, Queen of the Andals, and the Rhoynar, and the First Men, Lady of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm, by the word of Arya of House Stark, Castellan of Winterfell, I do sentence you to die,” she announced right before Winter’s Justice came down upon his head. Blood sprayed all over the floor as the man’s legs twitched a few more times as life left him. 

Valar something, Jon heard her mutter in a foreign language right before she climbed up on Sun Chaser again. Then in a sudden flash of fur, Jon saw Nymeria, Ghost and Shaggy come down upon the man’s body, ripping apart the limbs that remained. Arya watched them do this until there was very little left of the man. Arya ordered dirt to be poured over the area before turning to the crowd atop her horse, bloodied sword still in hand.

“House Stark owes you the duty to grant mercy to your weak, help to your helpless and justice to you all. This man preyed on the weak and helpless and today he met with Stark Justice. I want you to know that so long as a Stark remains alive you will have recourse to justice. Those who take advantage of the weak and the helpless should take this opportunity to change their ways, or that,” she said pointing with the bloody sword to the place where the man had died, (it was now being covered with dirt by women from Winter Town) “will be their end. They will have no grave and they will not be given the honour of a funeral. They will be no more than food for wolves. Let those of you who are present tell those who are absent that the departure of your prince will not mean the departure of justice from these lands!”

The crowd began to cheer her name along with cries of She-wolf, she-wolf, she-wolf, which the wolves joined in with their howls. Awooooooooooo! their chorus rang out. Not long after Nymeria’s pack joined in from the Wolfswood.

Suddenly Jon remembered Melisandre of Asshai. The night is dark and full of terrors, he thought, for those who prey on the weak. 

But as he watched her gallop off into the castle, he wanted to do nothing other than shake her. How could she risk her life in this way

When he finally got to the castle, she was nowhere to be found. She wasn’t in the godswood cleaning the sword in the way her father would do. She wasn’t in her rooms. Sarra confirmed that. She said Arya had come in to check in on her and then left. Edd hadn’t seen her although she would normally have a meeting with him at night. It was the maester who finally told him she was in the maester’s turret making a salve. She’ll need a salve after I’m done with her, he  thought. Maybe if he fucked her so hard she’d be too unable to walk and might actually stay in one place for once. 

“Make sure no one enters this tower,” he commanded a guard before running into the room. 

He smashed into the room only to find Arya there with Branda. The little girl jumped and he felt guilty. She told him to apologise to the girl with her eyes.

“I’m sorry for scaring you Branda,” he said consoling the girl. He bent to her eye level and said, “My name is Jon.” 

“I know she said, Arya told me. She said you gave her, her sword,” the girl exclaimed wide eyed. 

“I did.” He smiled at the girl and whispered “I wish I did not,” as he stood making sure Arya heard him. She looked at him again with the stone-faced look that he decided then that he hated. 

Arya was mixing some herbs. The squelching of the herbs she was grounding in a mortar was the only sound in the room but the girl still sat in the room, clearly looking comfortable. 

“Branda and I are making a salve for a friend of ours who scraped her knee,” Arya offered, not once looking at him. 

Scraped knees and tangled hair were the defining characteristics of her childhood. Of course she would know what to do for such a child even without a fancy apprenticeship at whatever the name of the healing centre she went to was called. She spent half her childhood here being tended to by Maester Luwin. 

“How long will you shut me out?” he whispered at her as Branda looked out of the window. 

“I’m not shutting you out.” she replied, unflappably. The hell  you are not. 

“How did we go from lying with one another to you not sparing me a single thought?” he ground out, keeping his voice low. “How could you risk your life to apprehend that man alone?”

It was then he realised she’d changed her clothes. There was no sign of blood splatter on this tunic at all. 

“I did not risk my life,” she squelched. He had to restrain himself from throwing that mortar against the wall. Squelch, squelch, squelch, the sound went. 

“You’re going to Dragonstone in three weeks,” she finally said, pouring some potion into the mortar before returning to her squelching. “Have you prepared yourself for your move?”

“Is that what this is about? You’re not speaking to me because of Dragonstone?” Are you not speaking to me because you will miss me, he meant. 

“I was just asking to fill in the silence.” He wanted to drag her to the top of this tower and fill the silence with her screams. How could one person be this infuriating? 

Instead he showed her weakness. “Tell me to stay,” he whispered, turning her to face him, and moving close enough to bump his nose with hers as Branda was distracted but before he could she moved away. 

“Branda, why don’t you go and call Alarra so we can fix her knees,” she said, voice pleasant and face smiling to the girl.

The moment the girl left running, she turned to him. “Do not dare shout at me. That child will be back here in a few minutes and I will not have her walk into this room to you shouting at me. Not after all the things she’s lived through. Do you understand me?” she snarled. 

“Yes,” he responded, feeling admonished. 

He sat down. “How did you know he abused Branda?” he asked. “Sarra did not mention anything about him abusing the child.” 

She sat opposite him, emotion etched on her face. Finally that mask is gone! 

“I knew an ugly little girl once. She wasn’t always that way, her father abused her until her face was permanently disfigured. She sought out her own death to escape his abuse. I got to know her well enough to know what to look for. If you know what to look for it’s easy to see. One only needs to look with their eyes.” 

“As opposed to what?” 

She smiled at him. “A long time ago, someone taught me that the heart lies and the head plays tricks with us, but the eyes see true. First look at everything with your eyes, he told me. Hear it with your ears, taste it with your mouth, smell it with your nose and feel it with your skin. Then” she raised her index finger, “comes the thinking, and then knowing the truth.” 

“Was this another one of your apprenticeships?” he spat, sick of learning about her life through others. It had been three weeks since she last spoke to him properly.

Before she could answer they heard shouting. 

“Arya! Arya! Arya!” Branda was shouting, with who he assumed must be Arya’s new patient. For someone who joined them just the day before, Branda had taken to Arya like a house on fire. 

“They won’t let us in!” she complained. “I told them you had to fix Alarra’s knee,” she added for good measure. 

“Joren, please let them in,” Arya asked. 

“My lady,” he said sheepishly, “Jon asked me not to let anyone in.” 

Arya looked over her shoulder at Jon, who took the opportunity to wrap his hands around her waist. Enjoying the intimacy.

“Joren,” he shouted, leaning over her to reach the window, “Please let them in.” 

When the girls arrived, he watched Arya laugh with the girl with the scraped knees as she put the salve over her injuries. Watching her with them even made some of his anger dissipate. When they were done she gave each one of the girls sweets. 

When she closed the door behind them she turned to face him only to find his lips crashing into hers. He missed her so much. He was so angry at her. 

His touch on her came suddenly and without warning, his tongue plunging into her mouth with an overpowering urgency, sweeping against hers with hunger. For a few moments she did not react and suddenly her fingers were laced in his hair pulling him into her, returning his kiss with a pressing need. 

Before long, he cleared the maester’s desk of papers in a single stroke, throwing her on it and taking her rough and hard, covering her screams with his mouth, putting all his rage, his love and frustration with her into the act. She returned every thrust and before long their coupling turned into a battle first of tongues and teeth and then an outright battle for dominance. 

When he was done, he moved away from her to return to his earlier seat. She was still splayed across the maester’s desk. The whole place was a mess of papers and ink. They’d have to clean up before they left. 

Part of him wanted to apologise but he decided he was too angry to do so. So he watched her scramble up to look for her breeches. Once she put them on he blocked her way to stop her from leaving. 

“Jon, move,” she scorned. 

“No,” he sneered back. “Not until you talk to me.”

“I’ve spoken to you now I have duties elsewhere, move!” 

“You will talk to me and you will tell me why you are avoiding me, Arya, and you will tell me what in the seven hells happened to you in Braavos. You will tell me tonight or I swear to you Arya Stark, they will find our dead bodies before I let you out of this room.” 

“I can expedite that process for you,” she said, pulling out a finger knife from her sleeve. Where the hell did she store that? he found himself wondering about the knife to his throat. 

A smile made its way to her face.

“Kill me,” he dared her, knowing she never would. “It’d be easier than living like this.” 

She blinked, looking distracted and before she knew it, he had her disarmed, an arm behind her back. 

“Don’t start fights you cannot win. I’ve faced worse than you,” he whispered against her ear, holding her own knife against his throat. 

She threw her head back violently, almost breaking his nose, and escaped his hold of her. When he looked up she had her knife back in her hands and between his legs.

“I never start a fight I cannot win, my prince,” she sneered back, amused smile on her face. “I would hate to have to geld you after all the enjoyment your little friend has given me.” 

“I didn’t think you’d actually hurt me!” he snapped.

“I didn’t break your nose Jon, I moved my head to the left to concentrate the force on your cheek. You’ll have a little bruise but you’ll be fine.” 

Jon bent down to the floor, holding his nose and as he expected, “Jon?” she said, her voice sounding worried. He smiled into his hands but did not look up. 

“I-I can’t see properly,” he said in a weak voice.

“Jon!” she panicked, throwing her knife and dropping to her knees, bringing his face up to look at her and running her fingers across his face.

“Where does it hurt?”

“Here,” he said, moving her hand to his heart.  

“What’s so bad that you would risk hurting me for it Arya?” he asked, all the tears he’d been holding back pooling in his eyes. Her eyes mirrored his.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” she said, raining down kisses on him in the way she always did as a child. 

“Jon, I’m so sorry,” she agonised, tears flowing down her eyes. She placed her forehead against his. Both of them were on their knees, holding the face of the other. 

“Talk to me, Arya. Whatever it is, I promise you I’ll still be here,” he whispered, voice thick with emotion. “Please.” 

“Don’t make a promise you can’t keep Jon,” she pleaded.

“There is no promise I wouldn’t keep to you,” he told her. “I promise that whatever you tell me, my hand will still be in yours at the end,” he added, twinning his fingers with hers and sitting against the door. She moved to sit next to him and so she began the story that would change his life and would explain all of her actions and her fear. 

She told him of how the faceless Lorathi assassin gave her a coin as a reward for her deviousness when she named him to himself. 

She disclosed how feeling she had nowhere else to go, after the Red Wedding, she handed the coin to a ship captain from Braavos. As she continued her story, he felt like an idiot for not putting things together. She told him on her first night back in Winterfell, how a Lorathi had helped her and told her to say words to any man of Braavos. Jon just didn’t know the significance of those words or the fact that the Lorathi was supposed to be a faceless man! 

She told him of how she learned how to spot and tell lies, which explained how well she read Alaric, on her first day hearing petitions, and it helped him understand just how she managed to make her face sit so still. She told him of how she learned Braavosi from some waif and practiced the language when she sold cockles on the job. She spoke about this early part of her time in Braavos with fondness. 

Then she began talking about how all faceless men had to be no one and of how they had to leave their true names and identities behind. Her voice grew progressively more harried. 

“I could never do it, Jon,” she cried with tears overflowing from her eyes. She told him of how Needle was the only thing she kept with her; she spoke of how Needle was Winterfell, their people, the summer snows, Old Nan’s stories, the heart tree and the glass gardens. She fondly said how Needle was Robb and Bran and Rickon, her mother and her father and even Sansa, who she hadn’t spoken to since Sansa left. “But most of all,” she added, “Needle was your smile. You used to muss my hair and call me little sister, I missed that most of all. Even without all this,” she gestured between them, “You were my favourite person ever.” 

Next came the story of what truly happened to his black brother Dareon. Arya delivered her father’s justice half a world away when Dareon abandoned Sam and Maester Aemon. He heard most of that story from Sam when they reunited. Jon did not begrudge her for that. He would have done the same. 

It was what came next that broke his heart. They blinded her for not leaving Arya Stark behind. That’s what she meant when she said she used to help a cook when she could not see properly before. 

“You couldn’t see at all!” he shouted when he realised.

“I couldn’t see with my eyes,” she corrected, squeezing his hand, as if he was the one who needed comforting after everything she went through. “I could hear and feel everything even better than before. Now I can move in the dark and have an advantage where most people do not because all of my senses are sharper.” 

“And anyway,” she added “It just felt like a punishment, I’m not sure it was. All acolytes had to be blinded as part of their training but it normally happens much later in the process than it did for me. In their own curious way, I think they did it as a reward,” she explained, with fondness. How could she smile about this?! 

She then told him the parts that she was sure would make him hate her, of the faces and the targets. She explained why Branda’s case affected her and how she had been the ugly little girl for a while when she took her face. When she did so, she had the girl's nightmares. Jon didn’t understand exactly how the faces thing worked but believed her nonetheless. The world had shown him many more unbelievable things. When she finished speaking she wouldn’t look at him, she even tried to stand and leave. He refused to let go of her hand.

“Look at me Arya, they blinded you!” he appealed. “What other choice did you have? When you tried to leave they tried to kill you!”

“To be a faceless man is a commitment for life,” she asserted. 

It was then that he realised he was killed for trying to return to her and she nearly died for trying to avenge him. He pulled her in for a teary kiss then, whispering words of love and regret to her.

“You don’t hate me?” she asked in a small voice. 

“Never. I hate that you had to do  those things. I hate that I failed you.”

And so she continued the story, this time trying to comfort him. “It wasn’t so bad!” she assured him.

“The Kindly Man patched me up-”

“The Others take him,” he spat.

“They can’t,” she laughed, “Thanks to you.” That made him smile.

“What did he do then?” 

“He found out I could skinchange and got me even better jobs than before. He didn’t send me out for kills anymore. He got me apprenticeships and oversaw my education in languages himself. He used me to collect information, something I’d been doing since I first arrived but this time I did so with more high profile people. That’s how I met the First Sword to the current Sealord of Braavos. He’s the one who trained me in water dancing while I was trained in the House of Black and White in how to use knives and daggers effectively. The Kindly Man told me that I could go home without having to worry about anyone following me if I served for five years. That’s why I took so long to return home.” 

“Why did they let you go?”

“I ask myself that question everyday. I suppose it’s because they never had a faceless man who could skin change before and I got them information they would normally struggle to get.” 

“How’s anything hard for a faceless man? They can change their face!”

“Sometimes people do things when they’re alone that they wouldn’t do in front of others. They’d do it infront of a cat or other animal but not where people can see them. Information is priceless,” she explained. 

“Do you seriously not hate me?” she asked with an unbelieving look. 

“Let me show you how much I love you,” he whispered. “Let me take you to your bed.” 

“We can’t,” she whispered. “I’ve given Sarra the small room next to mine.” 

He wanted to rage but couldn’t find it in him to do so, she did the right thing. 

“Jon, I’m so sorry,” she apologised, kissing the place where she had hit him earlier. “I thought if I pushed you away you would hate me. It was so hard for me but I told myself you’d be leaving for Dragonstone and I thought you might forget me and move on.”


“You thought wh-”

“Let me finish,” she interjected. “I thought you’d hate me for what I became, so I told myself if I pushed you away anyway, the distance would pull us away from one another and in any case, the queen would find you a bride. You are her heir after all.” 

“Would you move with me?” he asked, hopefully. 

“I don’t want to live in the South,” she whispered.

“And if I stay here will you let me?” 

“This is your home!” 

“You are my home, Arya. Wherever you are is my home. Ask me to stay.” 

“What about the queen?” 

“I told you before, we can do whatever we want with our lives. Show me Braavos, let me show you the lands beyond the Wall, let’s see the world together or if we want we’ll never leave Winterfell again. The choice is yours?” 

“For true?”


“For true,” he said, bumping his nose against hers.  “I’ll go to King’s Landing, I’ll do this final duty to Dany and I will return here, to you.” 

“Don’t tell her yet,” she blurted. “Not until after Bran’s Great Council. She’s the queen. She will need to approve whatever we decide. She might not if she learns we took away her heir.” 

He asked her then if he could see her change her face.

“I don’t have any faces  with me,” she smiled, climbing into his lap, “I’d have to take yours but I’d have to kill you first. I like your pretty face just where it is,” she said, bumping her nose against his. He decided this was even better than a kiss and he loved her kisses. She gave him one right then.

“Pretty am I?” 

“Stop fishing compliments, Jon,” she said before lowering her face again. 

---

After that they fell into an easier, closer, companionship than they ever had in their lives. Even in their childhood they hadn’t been that close. She started sharing more with him about her time in Braavos, citing each of her apprenticeships. She even worked as a clerk in the Iron Bank for a time, but the banker she worked with only managed Lorathi accounts.

In turn he told her about the struggles with and against Melisandre as well as the internal struggles he had when Stannis offered him Winterfell. He even told her about the dream in the crypts he used to have and how Bran told him the Kings of Winter were not decrying him. The dream only meant that he would find out that he was not a Stark in those crypts. 

She then told him about how her Lorathi assassin had been at Winterfell. He was dumbfounded.

“There was an assassin in Winterfell?” he roared. 

“There were two,” she sniggered.

“He could have killed anyone!”

“No one’s turned up dead.”

“What did he say?”

“That I was still impatient and undisciplined.”

They also began sparring together. Most days he’d let her win, although she’d swear she won on her own merits. Most mornings Rickon would join them, boasting to everyone how his siblings were the best warriors in the North. 

As for their couplings, they had to learn to be creative. Arya refused to do anything anywhere near weirwood swearing Bran could see them or near Shaggy because then Rickon might see them. She didn’t even trust their own wolves saying Bran could be warging into them without their knowledge. 

And to his despair and her amusement, little Branda followed her everywhere. She had a wooden sword made and wore it on her waist just like Arya. She’d tell anyone who asked, or didn’t ask depending on how she felt, that she was an assistant to the castellan of Winterfell. The already confident girl Arya took under her wing blossomed to be even more underfoot than Arya ever was. 

Arya also began consulting him more on the running of the castle and began to involve him more in her work at Winter Town, asking him to help her hand out alms and teach some of her new lessons. She decided people should learn how to read their letters and do their sums too. And whenever they had spare time he’d help her plan for her progress, telling her who she should trust and who she shouldn’t even though he knew she could read people better than he did.

Women would bring any thieves, rapers or abusers directly to Winterfell and she would assure everyone who came that her brother, Bran, was even more just than her and that his wife, Meera, was a warrior and healer in her own right. 

During this time she got a raven from Bear Island congratulating her for all her work with women. Lady Mormont reminded her that Bear Island had been doing this very thing for generations. 

There is a carving on our gate, the letter said, of a woman in a bearskin, with a child in one arm suckling at her breast. In the other hand, she holds a battleaxe. 

The letter delighted Arya beyond measure and her delight was infectious. He was proud of her. And she had been doing the things the woman Lady Mormont described herself over the past few weeks, bar the suckling part but if he had anything to do with that it wouldn’t be long before she did have a child in her arms. Her wolf was already swollen with pups. The only thing that prevented him from swelling her was the fact they weren’t married. But it wouldn’t be long before that came to pass he decided, judging by how open about her feelings she became with him. 

He already knew how good a mother she would be by how well she mothered Rickon. If Arya had a touch of the wolf blood, Rickon had nothing but the wolf blood in his veins and yet she managed him with ease. And their wild wolf increasingly resembled the little lord Osha regularly called him. 

One day, she found Rickon running around the castle with his wolf instead of being in his lessons with the maester. She pulled him aside, while Jon watched them from the stables.

“Why are you not in your class?” She asked him. 

“There’s no point,” he spouted. “They don’t have maesters in Skagos and people are just fine. I just have to learn how to fight and no one will ever bother me!”

“Come sit.” She motioned to a bench in the yard, right in front of where Jon stood. She winked at him which told him she knew he was there the whole time. Why did he think he could sneak up on an assassin?

“You’re right,” she told Rickon, “You’ll be a great warrior. But you also have duties outside of that. You are Bran’s heir and a Stark of Winterfell besides. People will look to you.”

“Until Bran and Meera have a baby.”

“Even if they do, you still have to learn your letters and your sums. One day you will run your own keep and be your brother’s bannerman and if war ever comes, The North will look to a Stark. Bran will be the brains. He may even be the heart but so will you. You will be his legs as well. Your brother will need you, I will need you to protect me, so will the North.”

You don’t need me!”

“I think I know who I need Rickon. Anyway, if the North is attacked from the South where would you need to fortify to protect the North?”

“The Maester can tell me,” Rickon answered.

“And if something happens to your maester?” 

Her little brother remained silent, biting his lip just as she does when she’s deep in thought.

“The right answer is Moat Cailin,” she censured, before telling him the reason why. 

That’s why you have to study history with the maester so you can learn from the lessons of the successes and failures of those who came before you little wolf,” she said, mussing his thick auburn locks.

“Another question,” she added. “Now imagine you’re at war, being the great hero you are, and Bran sends you a letter. How will you know what it says?”

“Someone there can read it for me.”

“But how will you know they’re telling you the truth?”

“I’ll look with my eyes,” Rickon taunted.

“Reading with your own eyes is even better than looking with them, Rickon. That’s why you have to learn your letters so you can be an even better warrior.”

“Now imagine you’re at war. How will you decide where to place your troops?”

Rickon shrugged.

“No one is born knowing that either. That’s why you have to study strategy. Did you know Uncle Brynden is famous throughout the seven kingdoms for being one of the greatest knights alive?”

Rickon’s eyes were as wide as saucers.

“I’m sure if you ask nicely he can teach you how to use your mind to be an even greater warrior.”

Now, she had Rickon’s full attention.

“One day you’ll have your own keep,” she continued, “People will rely on you for food and provisions. How will you ensure your people don’t go hungry?”

“I’ll go hunting.”

“You told me in Skagos people started running out of food. Sometimes that happens and there’s nothing anyone can do about that. But the Lord of a castle has a duty to do their utmost to ensure they have enough provisions. You will need to know your sums to ensure your people don’t go hungry,” she explained. 

“Jon and Bran and I will teach you whatever we remember from Father and along the way you will teach us things we don’t know. With all your teachers you can be one of the greatest warriors to ever live. Wouldn’t you like that?”

Rickon nodded, eagerly.

“Good she said, I’d also like to ask you a favour.”

“What?” he asked suspiciously.

“Nymeria is having pups as you know,” she said. “So I can’t take her with me on the progress. I will need you and Shaggy to protect me. Can you do that?”

“You don’t need my protection,” he said skeptically.

“Everyone needs protection sometimes, Rickon!” she breathed. “So...what do you say, will you get to know the North with me?”

Rickon agreed. And from that day on he did not miss any of his lessons.

As the time she spent in Winter Town increased, she asked Jon to help deal with some of the tasks of the Lord of Winterfell. He was in the solar when the letter arrived. 

He dragged Arya out of her infirmary, threw her upon his horse and galloped toward his mother’s laughing tree.

“Read it,” he snapped, throwing the letter at her. 

It was from Lady Berena Tallhart to Bran. She was proposing a marriage between her son Beren and Arya. The thought made Jon see red. The boy was pleasant enough but this was his bride.

Arya smirked when she read the letter.

“This doesn’t mean anything,” she announced.

“Look, Arya,” he said, moving to stand in front of her. “I don’t want anyone but you and I trust you do not want anyone else...right?”

She smiled and he was sure she was going to tease him, but instead she nodded.

“So what’s the issue? If it’s being a prince, I’ll give it up. If it’s your history, I don’t care. Just be with me. We’ll choose what we do with our lives. We’ve earned that right many times over. I want to grow old with you. I want to raise children with you,” he confessed, shyly. She smiled at that. 

“I want children who look like us. I want wilful daughters like you and Stark sons who love the North. I want to raise them like Father raised us. Please Arya, just say yes. I’ll wage a thousand wars for you if I have to.”

When she nodded, Jon was sure his heart was going to stop. He picked her up and spun her around making her scream before he put her down to put all his gratefulness in a kiss. He looked at his mother’s laughing tree and wondered if she could see him. 

Finally, Arya spoke. “I’m not moving to Dragonstone, I’m telling you that now.”

He felt like taunting her. “But what about the Queen?”

She rolled her eyes. “You will need to remind her you are more wolf than dragon. Your home is here with your family.”

“What will you do if she brings down fire and blood on Winterfell?” He teased.

“I suppose I’ll have to remind her that ice burns just easily as fire,” she shrugged.

He looked at her amused. “The Queen is quite fond of her title as the unburnt and her dragons are fire made flesh. Tell me she-wolf, what can you do against that?”

“The winds of winter snuff out even the hottest fires my prince,” she drawled. “As for her dragons if she dares to try and take you from me, I’ll show her what little threat a dragon is to a skin changer.”

As she dragged him down to her for another kiss, Jon decided he loved this possessive Arya the most. Come what may in King’s Landing, his home was in his arms. 

It was then that they heard Bran’s voice coming from the tree.

 

Chapter Text

Arya

Arya woke up most mornings missing Jon. She could scarcely believe that she was betrothed to the man. The people of Winterfell speak of him as if he were a hero from the songs - which she supposes he is. 

To her he’s always been the anchor of her life. The boy who used to wipe her tears as a child and who made time for some of her more eccentric requests - the ones even Bran wouldn’t want to be part of. She missed the War for the Dawn and hearing about it across the sea didn’t give her the understanding living with people who lived through it would. Jon told her parts of what happened of course, but she could tell talking about it was difficult on him. 

The people of Winterfell and Winter Town, and she’d learn later during her progress, the North in general, had no such qualms in talking about what they lived through. They were grateful to him for organising them - the horn that wakes the sleepers-  for uniting them without discriminating between northman and wildling - the shield that guards the realms of men. They were grateful to him for leading them - the sword in the darkness - and for being the one whose sword defeated the Great Other - the light that brings the dawn. 

They were clear their loyalty was to him and not the Dragon Queen. They were grateful to her because she fought with them but said it was Jon who made the ultimate sacrifice to get her to join their cause. “ Make no mistake, that queen’s first priority was her throne. It was Jon who gave up everything for us.” Tanda, the old woman from Winter Town who complained about increasing theft at one of Arya’s early court sessions, recalled the day that Jon bent the knee. She told Arya of how the Dragon Queen came on the back of her dragon and promised to rain down fire and blood on all those who refused to recognise her as Queen of the Seven Kingdoms. When Jon explained that there would be no crowns to fight over if the Others won, the Dragon Queen said her dragons would ensure her victory against all those who opposed her, living or dead. If Jon did not bend the knee, she said whether or not the northmen lived was inconsequential to her. “ The moment she said that she had her dragon blow fire as if to cow us.” Tanda then pointed out the exact place in Winter Town where Jon bent the knee and gave up his crown for his people. The woman had a tendency to speak plainly. “ That is the act you little Starks have to follow,” she said. “ We knew your father and we know Prince Jon,” Tanda never called him Aemon, “ We are getting to know you but that is the standard we will hold you against. Do not fail, and you will have our loyalty.” Arya had no intention to fail and she knew neither did Bran. Tanda’s scathing words reminded her somewhat of Braavos where people openly criticised The Sealord when they did not agree with his actions and she reflected on how that open culture ensured that The Sealord met the needs of his people. So long as the North had plain-speaking, yet loyal, people like Tanda, Arya decided they were in good hands.  

Learning of Jon’s achievements from the lips of others made her all the more unbelieving of the position she found herself in. Every time she remembered that she was getting married to him she’d wonder how she came to find herself in that position. She used to tell herself Jon will want me even if no one else does , but seeing him want her despite all the things she’d done was different. He took the news of her history with the faceless men better than she could have ever expected and assured her constantly that he could never hate her for it. “ You were a little girl, alone in the world. They blinded you and they tried to kill you, where else could you go?” he told her. 

At night whenever they were wrapped up in each other, he spoke to her of his own regrets as well. Of the brother he had to kill in order to infiltrate the wildlings, of Sam and Gilly’s baby who he took away to protect another child, of the woman who once loved him but who he had to betray for the greater good. 

She missed being curled up under the furs with him and talking of any and everything including all the places in the world they wanted to see. When she told him how in the Summer Isles, lovemaking was considered a form of worship he said he’d become the most pious man the islands ever saw, right before climbing on top of her to show her just how pious he was in a torturously slow, long, drawn out prayer between her thighs. One for which she ached even for now.

She missed consulting him and hearing his advice most of all though. Sure, toward the end of his time in Winterfell, they made themselves a hidden little room in the Broken Tower for all their little trysts but she just missed him - walking with him, riding with him, looking after the castle’s affairs together, managing their little projects in Winter Town together. 

When Bran returned, he announced the betrothal to their immediate family and their closest household staff consisting of Maester Elric, Edd, Anguy, Lem, Tom O’Sevens, Osha, Beth and Sarra. They’d announce the betrothal to their bannermen more broadly at The Great Council. 

Branda was the first to react. Completely enamored and unaware of her surroundings, and everyone else in the room, she ran over to Arya and spoke as fast as her lips could move. “Jon’s a prince so that means you will be a princess! Can I make you a flower crown for the wedding? I know your favourite flowers! Will you live here or somewhere else? Will you move to Jon’s castle? Can I come with you? Are you even allowed to take people with you there? What’s his castle like? I heard there are dragons! I didn’t see any during the war. Can I see a dragon? Will you ride a dragon? Am I allowed to come on the dragon with you?” 

Meera already knew the news from Bran. Her brother’s gift still made her uneasy. 

To Arya’s surprise, The Brotherhood and Edd were unsurprised - of course he’d tell them, they were his friends and he left them here to look after his family and to protect her during her progress - he forbade her from leaving Lem behind. 

Beth already knew of Jon and Arya so she simply congratulated them as did Sarra who saw Jon sneak into Arya’s rooms enough times to know he wasn’t ‘discussing castle affairs’ with her in the middle of the night. The maester was also courteous enough in his congratulations.

It was Rickon who took the news the hardest. He left the room at the first chance he got. When Arya caught up with him he was smashing his wooden sword against a tree in the godswood, crying. “You will leave! Just like mother and father and Robb, everyone always leaves me!” 

Arya confessed then that she wasn’t going to Dragonstone and that he would go wherever she went with her, if she went at all that was. “I don’t see why I should leave Winterfell,” she consoled him. 

Wiping his tears, with a suspicious look, he asked, “But Jon’s the Prince of Dragonstone. That’s his castle so you have to live there if you’re  his wife.” 

“I don’t have to do anything.” 

“You’re not leaving?” 

“I don’t think so. If I do, I promise to take you with me and you can live with Jon and I for as long as you want and you can visit Meera and Bran and Uncle Brynden and even Sansa until you make a family of your own. What do you think about that?” 

“Do you promise?” 

“Yes, but you also have to promise not to tell anyone.” Arya did not want the news of Jon’s abdication to reach the queen until after whatever decisions they made at the Council were approved. 

 The Blackfish’s reaction to the news was to ask her if she was happy with this marriage at least ten times. Bran had presented it to him as a political marriage, failing to mention the fact that Jon and Arya wanted nothing to do with Dragonstone. 

Bran thought telling The Blackfish that this was a marriage alliance was a better idea than to suggest Jon and Arya had chosen each other. After everything that happened at the wedding he didn’t want people to think Arya’s reaction was part of a broader plan to sabotage the wedding although there was no doubt that some would see it that way anyway. 

Arya found herself thinking increasingly of Sansa these days. While she believed her reaction at the time was right, she’s had time since then to reflect on all the mistakes each of them have made since they all left Winterfell as children - Bran beyond the wall, Jon as a brother of the night’s watch, Rickon in Skagos and her all over the place. They were all children and they all did less than honourable things. She did not know if she could ever be truly close with her sister, but their father did say that the lone wolf dies. They’d all become lone wolves, blowing in the wind, but it’s only when they reunited in Winterfell that they truly became a force to be reckoned with. She wondered whether the time would come for Sansa to join them as well. Bran had told her some of the things Sansa had gone through as well. Perhaps if Sansa did not leave straight after the wedding they would have had some time to talk things through. Jon’s prior betrothal to her sister was still a sore point for her. How would Sansa feel about this news? Did Sansa care for Jon? 

“Are you sure the queen will allow this, child?” her uncle asked.

“Is there any reason why she wouldn’t?” Arya hadn’t considered this part properly before. 

“The boy is the heir to the Iron Throne, his marriage is not just for him to decide on, child. You already know how I feel about Redwynes but Olenna Redwyne is not going to sit back and let the boy fall through her fingers again. What will you do if the queen refuses?”

Arya didn't know but something told her Jon wouldn't let anyone stop him.

Before she left, Arya began handing over control of her projects in Winter Town. Meera agreed to take over the self-defence classes but pointed out that she would be teaching them spear work and how to work with a net for as long as she could. Osha would help her afterward until Arya’s return. Meera would also help out at the infirmary with Osha, who decided she wouldn’t join the progress. “ I’ve seen enough of the North travelling with the little lords,” she said. 

Bran, on the other hand, would take over the other classes along with the maester. Bran had a saddle made that made it easy for him to ride among his people. He had a similar one designed by Tyrion Lannister when he was younger. Harwin had selected a gentle horse for Bran, and he regularly rode out with the men to The Wolfswood and to Winter Town to meet his people. Atop a horse Bran looked no different from any other man and Arya suspected it did a lot for her brother’s confidence - it would also help him ensure that if the time ever came, he could do his duty as the man who passes the sentence. 

All Arya had left to do was decide who to take with her.  Beth came back to Winterfell pregnant as did Meera - though Meera was at a much earlier stage than Beth in her pregnancy. Arya was over the moon at Bran having a child on the way as was her brother. With Beth pregnant, they couldn’t take Anguy on the progress with them. Lem had to come, apparently he had orders from Jon. Tom decided he would come too to sow his seeds across the North . As her chambermaid Sarra would join her and since Rickon was coming, Branda refused to be left behind. They would also take a contingent of guards with them. Arya asked Harwin to stay in Winterfell so that Bran could have someone from his childhood remain with him. 

On her last morning in Winterfell, Arya went to visit Nymeria’s den. Her other half had a litter of four pups. Three males and a female. Ever since Nymeria got into the last stages of her gestation, Arya had hardly seen her. Ghost, however, made frequent trips to the castle to walk beside Arya or lay in front of the fire either in Father’s solar or in her room. Sometimes she thought Jon was watching her through Ghost and sometimes she spoke to him unsure of whether she was speaking to man or wolf. 

Ghost was the most openly-loving of the wolves. Summer was friendly enough, Shaggy was as likely to lick the hand you extended to him as he was to bite it, even when playful. And while Nymeria is an extension of Arya’s herself,Ghost’s eyes sometimes look human, well as human as red eyes have ever looked on a person anyway. He was kind and discerning and quick to make people feel comfortable, just like his master. 

Before he left, Jon left Arya letters for each stop of her progress. Since he couldn’t send her ravens that truly expressed what he wanted to say, a lot of it too filthy for another’s eyes, he left her letters that would keep her company every step of the way. He surprised her with them so she didn’t even have enough time to do the same for him in their time apart. She could only send him formal and vague enough ravens every so often as she made her way through the North. 

His first letter was one he asked her to open when Nymeria had the pups:

If you’re reading this your other half and mine came together and brought pups of their own into the world. I look forward to the day I hold our first child in my arms, Arya - the product of our love. 

He was a lot more expressive in sharing his love for her and this was only one example. She hoped she could make him feel as loved as he made her, even if speaking about her feelings after such a long time at the House of Black and White was difficult. Every day he found new ways to let her know just how much he cared for her. 

----

Arya chose an arduous path for her progress. She was sure there were shorter journeys she could take but she wanted to see as much of the North as possible. So over the months of her progress she first went south on the King’s Road all the way to the Neck and then East across The Bite, first to Old Castle and White Harbor, and then up the East Coast all the way to Eastwatch. From there they rode across The Gift and up the Northern Mountains before travelling the West Coast by ship and finishing the progress at Torrhen’s Square.

Their first stop south was Castle Cerwyn, a castle she had visited very often as a child. With her brothers and Cley Cerwyn she used to ride through the Wolfswood whenever she was allowed to join them. The boys were always much closer to Cley than she was because she wasn’t allowed to go hunting with them. Cley’s father, Lord Medgar, was a kind, soft-spoken man, a friend of Father’s and the man she thought might have been her way out of Harrenhal when the Lannisters first captured him. She expressed her condolences for his death, again, to Lady Jonelle Cerwyn during their stay at the castle. 

Jonelle was a plump, homely and loyal woman who Arya learned had not attended Ramsay Bolton’s sham wedding at Winterfell, because in her words she “could not stand the thought of congratulating the monster that killed my brother and betrayed his liege.” She spoke of how she was the last of the Cerwyns and wanted to do her duty to her House by providing it with heirs. She shyly asked the Starks to help her find a husband. 

As with every stop, Arya asked the guards to mingle with the people of each place they visited so that they could understand the people’s needs. 

From there, they rode down the wide, hilly plains of the Barrowlands on their way to Moat Cailin. As they travelled through the bare, brown land, its low hummocks dusted with the light snows that signalled the beginning of spring, Arya found herself thinking of the journey that changed the lives of her family. A journey that Jon had just made and one that she would have to make herself, again, after the Great Council. Starks didn’t do well in the South. 

She remembered their first journey through these plains, when they travelled south with King Robert. Her father and the King had ridden off from the main column for hours one day and she and Mycah had ridden off too with Jory and Wyl. 

As they rode through the barrows that housed the bones of her First Men ancestors, Arya opened Jon’s letter for this part of their journey. It began surprisingly demurely. He pointed out that the sparsely populated land was very fertile and would be a good place to build settlements in the new North they wanted to build.  He finished it with, We will need to find people to plough these fields...I’ll plough yours for the rest of our lives, my love. 

Rolling her eyes as she put the letter back into her bag, Arya wondered what the future had in store for these lands and whether they would ever find people to inhabit them and make the land thrive.The North was bigger than the Seven Kingdoms combined but it had less people than most of them due to its harsh climate and at times  forbidding environment. They’d have to think carefully about how they would encourage people to move here.

During the journey, Arya also had an opportunity to talk to Lem and Tom about her mother’s life as Lady Stoneheart. They spoke of how even after death her mother had spent her time travelling throughout The Riverlands looking for Arya. 

Arya herself had spent months after the Red Wedding having nightmares about what happened to her family and in those dreams she would wail for the mother she lost. She wished she could have been reunited with her one more time. Lem told her after her second death, her mother’s body was afforded the Tully funeral rites as she took one last journey to the life beyond down the greenfork of The Trident. 

 

Arya had learned what a loving relationship looked like from her parents and hoped against hope that her parents were finally at rest together, and that she and Jon would have happier lives than they did. Perhaps if Father had told Mother about Jon’s mother, Catelyn Stark could have shown him the love she showed her own children. Arya’s mother was a loving woman, her treatment of Jon was just one of her few flaws. 

True to what Bran had told her of Lady Stoneheart, Lem and Tom spoke of how The Brotherhood lost its way after the death of Lord Beric and how they had the opportunity to regain their honour during the War for the Dawn - though the term honour remained relative for Tom who refused to marry any of the women on whom he had fathered his bastards. 

Once they approached Moat Cailin, to call Rickon underwhelmed by the structure would be an understatement. According to him it was a ruin. “How can that protect the North?” he asked, pointing to the three moss-covered towers that remained of the ancient stronghold. He felt hood-winked, all while Branda nodded in agreement with him.  Arya had to draw on all her recent lessons with Maester Elric to point out how the swampy terrain and the remaining towers allowed northmen to hold the causeway - the only safe route through The Neck - against any invading army from the south. “Any enemy would have to pass through that causeway and Jon says two hundred archers could hold the Neck against an army - with the help of the crannogmen probably even fewer,” she recalled from Jon’s letter.  

That meant little to her two terrors. What was of more interest to them was the history of the Children’s Tower. Legend said it was where the Children of the Forest once used magic to stop the migration of the First Men into this region by trying to break Westeros in two. They first attempted to break Westeros away from Essos by breaking the arm of Dorne but their efforts came too late to stop the First Men's migration. According to legend, while the Children’s hammer of the waters did not break Westeros in two it did create the bogs that surrounded The Neck and created a natural defence for The North against invading armies. 

Rickon was keen to point out how he’d met Children of the Forest at Bran’s cave and would be very happy to introduce Arya and Branda to his friends when they came to the Council. While Arya was amused by her brother’s eagerness to point out his proximity to these people of the legends, she would be lying if she said she wasn’t excited to meet them herself. She just wished Old Nan was still alive to see them. 

Old Nan had once told her the story of the close relationship between the Children and the crannogmen and of how the ancient crannog Marsh Kings held Moat Cailin until King Rickard Stark killed the last of them before marrying his daughter. That meant the Starks were descended from a crannogwoman. With Meera’s pregnancy, history was repeating itself. The next generation of Starks of Winterfell would also be the progeny of a woman from The Neck. 

Once they left Moat Cailin they were met by Jojen Reed, along with each of Greywater Watch’s vassals: Lords Blackmyre, Boggs, Cray, Fenn, Greengood, Peat and Quagg. They were small men  each of whom carried bronze knives, frog spears and leather shields. They welcomed them warmly while Jojen looked at Arya in that way that made her feel as if he could see into her soul. It was not desire for her she knew, but the more time she spent around him, Arya decided her brother had chosen a friend as strange as himself. 

She was grateful for their guidance though. Once they began to move through the marshlands she completely lost her bearings, something The Kindly Man and Syrio would be disappointed in. The swamp was fed by both the Fevre River and the Greenfork of the Trident. It was full of drowned forests, with trees that climbed out of the water as if they were reaching out to grab you. As they travelled through the bogs, Arya was keen to show the children the lizard lions she once went hunting for with Mycah all those years ago while Jojen helped them avoid the pools of quicksand that littered the bogs. Shaggydog, on the other hand, hated the place. 

Finally, after what felt like forever, they came across the floating islands the crannogmen lived in. Their houses were made of thatch and woven reeds located deep in the swamp.  As they travelled through the swamps, Jojen told  them how both the Freys and the Ironborn had tried to conquer Greywater Watch but had never been able to find it. When they finally spotted the moving castle Rickon demanded to know Arya why she hadn’t told him about this castle!

During their time at Greywater Watch, the Reed vassals introduced them to their way of life. They lived mainly on fish and frogs and had many medicinal (and poisonous) plants that were native only to this region of The North - plants and herbs that they could easily trade. 

While they were there, Branda made the same mistake Arya had when she was her age by going hunting for flowers. She came back to the castle one day covered in rashes which Lady Jyana treated much more effectively than Arya had when Mycah told her to cover herself in mud to stop the itching. 

Lady Jyana was a kind woman. In his letter, Jon had said that she and her husband had helped him a lot when he was first declared king. He had given her a cloak made of the pelt of an animal he hunted himself to give to Lady Jyana as a gift. 

From there, they travelled east and up The Bite by longship to White Harbor. It was the North’s major city and home to New Castle, the home of House Manderly. 

Built with the wealth the rich House Manderly brought north with them after their exile from The Reach, White Harbor’s buildings were made of white stone and the roofs of tightly pitched grey slate. It was clean and cobbled and reminded Arya of the streets of Silty Town in Braavos - although much cleaner. It was a seaside city whose port had ships from Braavos, the Vale and King's Landing. It stood out from all the places Arya had seen of the North and Lem said that was because it was built in the style of towns in The Reach. 

They were met there by Wynafryd Manderly and her husband, Gared Locke, a second son of House Locke of Oldcastle. They first took them to an inn at the harbor where they were served a platter of whitefish, crabs, clams, mussels and cockles, which took Arya back to her life as Cat of the Canals. She found herself thinking of her friends at Ragman’s Harbor and wondered how they were. She also wished Jon was here to taste her favourite foods as well. 

Like Braavos, she saw that the city had two harbors. The outer harbor hosted the larger ships while the inner harbor provided deeper anchorage for ships. While there she learned that sailing ships did not do very well up the White Knife, the river that allowed trade to move further up the North. Because of the rivers swift rapids, goods had to be transferred to long lean boats called river runners that were better able to traverse the rocky shoots of the White Knife. Hides and timber were brought from the Northern regions through the river along with fresh salmon, while stone and silver from the northern mountains were also brought downriver in the skiffs. They would need to build more for the trade Arya had in mind. Luckily, for her Lord Manderly was one step ahead of her. Since they last saw each other his shipyard had been busy.

As they made their way through the city, Arya asked Tom to sing in the taverns of the heroics of the people they’d lost in the wars so that the North would remember those who would otherwise be forgotten. On the journey, Tom sang The Knight that Never Was, about Alyn, the hero of the Mummer’s Ford, her father’s man and the guard whose dream was to be a knight. He sang the White Wolves about the gratefulness of House Stark to the heroes Martyn, Ser Rodrik and Jory Cassel who gave up their lives fighting for and beside Starks while others would have turned tail. Finally, he sang The Fall of the Twins in memory of those who fell at the Red Wedding, including Wendell Manderly of New Castle, and of Jon’s subsequent revenge that all but wiped out the remaining Freys. Tom then separated from the party to make his way to the city’s main brothel in Fishfoot Yard. The man was on a mission. 

New Castle was as white as the rest of the buildings in the city. It stood proud atop a hill above the city’s walls. Adorned as it was with paintings of mermans, Lord Manderly had told her it was built in the style of The Manderlys’ ancestral castle, Dunstonbury, in The Reach. Before they went to the castle they were taken through an underground passage that connected the castle to the Wolf’s Den. Maester Elric, and Maester Luwin before him, taught Arya that the Wolf's Den had been raised by King Jon Stark, to defend the White Knife against raiders and slavers from across the Narrow Sea. For the Manderlys however, it had a more recent history. 

“This, my girl,” Lord Manderly explained, “is where my ancestors took an oath to be the Starks’ men forever and we have stayed true to that vow for a thousand years and we will stay true to it for a thousand more.” 

Lord Manderly and Arya spoke of trade and the overtures they hoped to make to the Free Cities after the council. He showed her the Old Mint at White Harbor and the silver they had in their stores. 

Ser Wylis Manderly’s wife Leona had recently given birth to a son who displaced Wynafryd as heir to New Castle. Since she was married to a second son of House Locke, Lord Manderly spoke about how his brave granddaughter would be left without an inheritance. Arya understood what he was asking of her and promised that they would find a solution. 

Jon’s letter for her stop at White Harbor spoke of the political importance of the city, and of how granting the city to the Manderlys helped their ancestors resolve the problem of defending the White Knife, the river that provides access to the heart of the North. By granting the White Knife to the Manderlys and Karhold to Karlon Stark, the Starks expanded their influence in the east by surrounding the Boltons with houses loyal to House Stark. He advised her to think about where else they would need to do that. 

For the rest of their time in the city, Lord Manderly held a small tourney in her honour inviting all their vassals (Branda loved the knights and the pageantry), Arya visited the silversmiths to buy a present for Jon, and bought dresses for herself, Branda and Sarra for when they travelled to King’s Landing as well as gifts for the rest of her family still in Winterfell including the pregnant Meera and Beth. One night Arya even went to the mummer’s hall with Wynafryd.

She also got to know the city more generally and spent time with the smallfolk who fled Winter Town. She told them that the Starks came home again and told them of the Council and the fact that they would never be left alone and without help from House Stark again. 

Wynafryd and Lady Leona, after hearing of Arya’s women’s court in Winter Town, hosted a session in the Merman’s Court in Arya’s honour. While there, women shared their need for work and their troubles with Arya. 

They then made their way down the bite to Oldcastle and visited Ramsgate before going up The Broken branch to Castle Hornwood, the home of Wylla Manderly and her husband Larence Hornwood. Arya liked Wylla Manderly. Jon told her of Wylla’s words to Ser Davos - a man Jon loved but who Arya had not met. Wylla said, of the Lannisters and the Freys, to Lord Davos, an emissary of King Stannis Baratheon, “ They killed Lord Eddard and Lady Catelyn and King Robb. He was our king! He was brave and good and the Freys murdered him. If Lord Stannis will avenge him, we should join Lord Stannis.”

She’d also heard all about how she refused to marry the annoying Little Walder Frey - the one Bran had told her about. People memorised her words to the Freys that came for her betrothal and Arya heard them oft-repeated during her time in White Harbor:

“A thousand years before the Conquest, a promise was made, and oaths were sworn in the Wolf's Den before the old gods and the new. When we were sore beset and friendless, hounded from our homes and in peril of our lives, the wolves took us in and nourished us and protected us against our enemies. The city is built upon the land they gave us. In return we swore that we should always be their men. Stark men .”

The more time she spent hearing of the actions of the Manderlys during the wars, Arya knew their loyalty at a time of treachery would not be going unrewarded. Not by her, not by Jon nor by Bran. 

The Hornwood lands were more crowded than the part of the Barrowlands she’d seen so far. They had a warmer climate and were better suited to farming. The lands were rich in forests and were full of sheep farms while the castle, like Winterfell, also had glass gardens. Jon’s letter told Arya how Castle Hornwood was also granted to Stark loyalists in what were originally Bolton lands to restrain Bolton influence. And again, he told her to think carefully about where else in the North they would need to settle people loyal to them - she was sure he and Bran already knew the answers, Jon by experience and Bran by his strange gifts, but she appreciated the fact that they wanted to hear her observations as well. 

From there their route took them to the great fortress and watchtower that was Widow’s Watch, another seat of House Flint. Then they went up the Shivering Sea and up the Weeping Water to the Dreadfort. 

Arya hadn’t known what to expect of this castle. Old Nan had once told her of a room in The Dreadfort where the Boltons hung the skins of their enemies. When she got older she dismissed it as a tale but Jon told her how Old Nan was telling the truth. It made her death in this castle all the more sorrowful. Old Nan’s gentle smile and her stories had raised generations of Starks and she deserved better than to die emaciated and injured in Jon’s arms in this place so far from home. 

Once inside, Arya decided that, like Harrenhal, the castle’s reputation made it seem bleaker than it truly was. With its thick walls and massive towers, the fortress looked formidable but was for the most part abandoned and close to falling into disrepair. Jon had homed the smallfolk in there during the early parts of the War for the Dawn but they fled South for White Harbor fearing the fall of the Wall.  

Some had called for The Dreadfort to be stripped down but Arya, and Jon before her, thought it was a shame to do so. Built on a volcano, the castle’s vents kept it warm in the same way the hot springs kept Winterfell warm during the Winter. The heat also allowed whoever controlled the Dreadfort to continue growing and harvesting food long into the winter. 

When he saw some of the Bolton banners that still hung in parts of the castle, Rickon had a reaction that took Arya and Sarra long to calm. In his anger he spoke of the bad man with those banners who burnt Winterfell and hurt Maester Luwin. Rickon’s last memory of home was the kind maester who stayed behind with them while the rest of the family were in the South. Arya told him the man was dead and that Jon had killed him. “He can’t hurt you any more little wolf, I promise. No one will hurt you ever again. Jon won’t let it happen nor will I, neither will Bran,” she told her little brother. 

In contrast to his letters at her more recent stops, Jon’s letter to her at The Dreadfort did not speak of politics at all. He spoke of his love for her and how much he’d be missing her by this point of her journey. His letter was peppered with references to her as his bride which she was sure were driven by his memories of the letter the Bolton bastard had sent him. He spoke of how he couldn’t wait to be reunited with her and be married to her under the Heart Tree of their home.

Arya had missed him too and hated that she couldn’t write to him as expressly as he wrote to her. She wondered how things were going for him at King’s Landing and began to think more on her uncle's words about Olenna Redwyne. She wondered whether the queen would refuse to honour their betrothal.  

Arya also noticed Lem and Sarra getting closer over the course of their travels. One night as Arya brushed Sarra’s hair before they went to sleep, during their stay at The Dreadfort, Sarra shyly asked Arya what she knew of Lem. Arya told her of his history as the Knight of Skulls and Kisses and of how he was a friend of Prince Rhaegar Targaryen’s. While most women would be enchanted at being wooed by such a man, Sarra just wanted someone who made her feel safe, even if Lem was fifteen years older than her. As their journey progressed, the two of them became inseparable. Lem was good with Branda too so Arya vowed to support their union if they ever decided that was what they wanted. 

Their reception at The Last Hearth was warm and Arya was pleased to be reunited with the larger than life Umbers. The Umber lands were rich in forests of tall pine and old oaks. Their main issue, they told her, was that so many of their men rode south with Robb and died there. As such, a lot of their last harvests had gone to waste as they did not have enough people to plough the fields. She asked whether given their proximity to the Gift they had spoken to the free folk about letting them settle in these lands so that they could work the fields. The Greatjon said while he had a good relationship with Tormund Giantsbane, their two people had a historic enmity. Before the War for the Dawn, the wildlings regularly raided The Last Hearth - it was the first castle they’d come across once they breached the Wall. A daughter of Mors Umber had been stolen during one of these raids. After a long back and forth, the Umbers expressed their openness to a reconciliation with the free folk that would permit their settlement in Umber Lands. All three Umbers also spoke of their desire to get married, never mind the fact that Arya was sure that Crowfood and Whoresbane Umber could have been old enough to be her great-grandfathers. She promised to raise the issue with Bran.

Though they could have rode north from the Last Hearth to The Gift and then up the northern mountains, they went back out to sea, first to Karhold and then through the Bay of Seals to Skagos. 

Karhold was beautiful. Built at the mouth of a sheltered bay, the area was heavily forested and the castle overlooked the ocean which crashed against the tall Grey Cliffs. The people were fishermen but also made clothing made of the pelts of bears, seals and wolves. 

They were welcomed as kin by Harrion Karstark, Alys and her Thenn husband Sigorn. Scratch a Karstark, find a Stark was repeated many times about the descendants of Karlon Stark during this leg of the trip.

Rickon loved being reunited with someone of the free folk and spent his entire time at Karhold speaking in the Old Tongue to Sigorn and his men. Arya enjoyed the company of the similarly willed Alys. They were in the midst of planning for Harrion’s wedding to Allyria Dayne which would be held at Winterfell after the council. A big Dornish contingent would be travelling north with them for the weddings of both the Dayne siblings to northerners.

Arya wondered how that would go given the cold feelings the Dornish had towards Starks following the events that led to Jon’s birth. That wasn’t to say that Arya was not excited about meeting more of the Dornish. Even in The North they’d heard of Dorne’s women warriors. Jon had also told her of how the Dornish had initially rebuffed him during the wars but slowly warmed to him and preferred him over Daenerys who they blamed for the death of their prince Quentyn. 

When Allyria arrived she would take over the duties of the Lady of Karhold which Alys had managed until now. Harrion had invited his sister to stay in their lands but Arya, Jon and Bran had other ideas. Now that Arya spent more time with the family, and given everything she’d heard during her travels so far, she was sure what they had in mind was the right decision. 

Karhold was a great example of the North that the Starks wanted to build. Alys and Sigorn’s marriage created a kinship between northerners and free folk and the two groups not only lived in peace but intermarried. All over the town, she found babies born from these marriages. She also learned that the Karstark harvests were as affected as those of the Umbers when the men went south to war. However, unlike the Umbers, the Karstarks now had more people to work the fields and do the fishing. 

Jon’s letter at Karhold told her of how he once waited for her to arrive at Castle Black following a red priestess’ prediction that Arya was fleeing to Jon.  He told her of how much his heart hurt by seeing Alys who looked so much like her. He spoke of how he thought he lost her even if he refused to believe it and he spoke of his elation that after everything they found each other again. In his letter he told her of his hopes for their future and of how much he loved her. He ended this letter with “ I look forward to offering long prayers when we are reunited, love.” She missed him. Painfully so. 

Arya had heard that Jeyne Poole lived near Karhold but had not seen her in her time there. After everything Beth told her of what happened to the girl from their childhood, in Arya’s name, Arya wasn’t sure Jeyne would want to see her so they carried on their journey. 

Their next stop was the stony island that hid Rickon from danger for years. Rickon took her hand and ran with her throughout Skagos, introducing  her to the Skagosi chieftains, who called themselves Stoneborn and who treated her little wolf like one of their own. Arya had brought gifts with her from White Harbor to thank them for sheltering their little brother. Bran also extended an invitation to them to attend the Northern Council as he wanted the entire North to be involved in the creation of their future. For a long time the stoneborn had been shunned by mainlanders and it was time to change that. From now, Bran said, loyalty would be rewarded and for everything that the stoneborn had done, they would be among the closest people to House Stark. The invitation was warmly received.

In her time there, Arya learned there was little truth to Old Nan’s stories of the Skagosi being cannibals. But Old Nan wasn’t entirely wrong, there once was a cannibal on the island, it just wasn’t human. Cannibal, the dragon-eating dragon, that fled Dragonstone after the Dance of the Dragons landed in Skagos toward the end of his life. Arya and Branda walked through the caverns of the old dragon's bones which prompted Branda to start asking, again, whether she could ride dragons with Arya and Jon. Arya herself didn’t know whether they could ride dragons. Jon had said the dragons were mostly wild and only sometimes listened to their mother. They had more freedom in the sparsely populated Dragonstone than they would have if they were kept in the Dragonpit at King’s Landing. Still, given that they wouldn’t live in Dragonstone, Arya supposed their likelihood of seeing any dragons was minimal, unless of course their mother decided to fly them north to make them rue that decision. She would have to talk to Bran about what they would do if that ever happened. 

Unlike most of the descendants of the First Men, the stoneborn still offered blood sacrifices to the weirwoods, when they executed people for crimes. The weirwoods here were bigger than any Arya had ever seen. 

Their landing at the island was perilous given the strong currents, but it had rich fishing grounds. The stoneborn made their homes inside caves and traded in obsidian weapons made from the produce of the island's volcano - given its proximity to the Wall, Skagosi dragonglass was a big help during the War for the Dawn. The people also traded pelts of bears and seals and unicorn horns. 

Arya enjoyed hearing Rickon’s breathless laughter whenever they raced on the island’s beaches on their shaggy unicorns with Shaggydog chasing them. The direwolf preferred Skagos to White Harbor and most of their other, more crowded stops. He knew the people here and they were not as wary of him as others had been. The only other place where someone wasn’t scared of Shaggy was at Greywater Watch and that was only because Jojen knew him. 

She felt free and happy during her time on the island. While there, Arya learned a little of the Old Tongue from the wise women elders of the island, and helped Branda practice her riding. The girl had never ridden a horse with any regularity before they set out for this trip. 

Sarra and some of their guards, however, had a more difficult time on the island given the people’s harsh way of living. The main exception was Tom who revelled in being invited again and again as the guest of honour to each of the three holdfasts on the island, Deepdown, Kingshouse and Driftwood Hall, as the people wanted to hear his songs. By the end of the trip he was talking about how he was sure Tom O’Sevens would one day be the ancestor of a great Skagosi warrior. “ Bael the Bard did it once, now so will I,” were his words. Arya just hoped his son wouldn’t go to war against him like Bael’s did. 

As if he knew she would be learning the Old Tongue, Jon wrote to her in the Old Tongue using Common Tongue letters. She could only pick out one word in twenty. Thankfully for her, he provided a translation overleaf for which she was grateful. If she asked one of the old crones who hosted her, or Rickon, to interpret the filthy letter for her she didn’t think she’d ever live down the mortification. She wouldn’t know how to answer any of Rickon’s questions either. 

The next part of their trip took them to Eastwatch-by-the-sea and the Wall proper.  Arya spent so long wishing she could make it here, to Jon. Even before then, when they were children, she’d climb the highest towers in Winterfell with Bran trying to see if she could spot the Wall. Robb once told her she could see the Wall on a clear day from the towers, but now she was sure he told her that so she would stop following him and Jon around. She never did see the Wall from the highest tower in Winterfell. 

The Wall had a pale grey look to it and stretched as far as the eye could see upwards and across. It was more beautiful than Arya had ever expected. Jon had spent long nights in bed telling her about his time on the Wall - about the nights he spent freezing as he stood watch, of the battles he fought there and of the night of his death where this killers killed him opportunistically while the queen’s men fought with the wildlings. His letter for this part of the journey told her not to feel sad.

If I know you, you will look to this place as the place where you nearly lost me. Don’t. Look at it as the place where I came back to you, determined, relentless and in love. Not that I knew it then of course. You have always been the most important person in my life Arya and whatever lies ahead, we’ll face it together. 

Eastwatch was surprisingly busier than she expected. There were trading galleys there from Lorath and parts of the Seven Kingdoms and the mix of free folk and old Night's Watch brothers who still lived there patrolled the Bay of Seals to prevent anyone trying to take those lands from them. 

They were welcomed there by Tormund Giantsbane, who made the journey from his settlement at The Gift, and The Weeper, a man she learned was a legendary warrior among the free folk. The Weeper was the chieftain of the free folk who settled in this area. Jon had married him to a daughter of one of the chiefs of  the northern mountain clans to ease relations with the northerners who chose to settle and trade in this area. 

The Weeper told her of how Jon was his greatest enemy but in the face of their greatest threat, he gave him protection when The Weeper’s people were attacked by the Others. Since then, he said Jon has been a brother to him.

Tormund told her he would be accompanying her all the way to Bear Island to ensure she wasn’t stolen, on Jon’s orders. Of course he would. It wasn’t enough to lumber Lem with me, he’d have to add Tormund as well.  

In her time with Tormund, Arya also met his non-Mormont family and saw a giant for the first time. Thankfully, all her time at the House of Black and White had helped her reign in her reaction. She could not say the same for Branda who gasped loudly and stared with wide eyes and an open mouth before launching into a tornado of questions to the giant Wun Weg Wun Dar Wun. 

Pulling Arya’s sleeve she shouted, “Arya! Arya! Look it’s a giant, a real giant, like in the stories! Mother, look a giant! Rickon can you see him? Lem!!!” 

Rickon looked unperturbed, he’d probably have seen giants on his way south with Bran. 

Branda then marched to the surprisingly friendly giant to ask all her questions. 

“How did you get so big? Is it cold up there? How far can you see? Can you carry me so I can see too? Do you have to eat a lot to get that big?” on and on she went until she realised he couldn’t understand her. Then she turned to Rickon and repeated all of her questions again before asking him to translate them to the giant. 

In Tormund’s company, Arya also went north to see the Haunted Forest, which Jon had told her should be called the Drowned Forest for all it’s wetness. As they wade through the mud, Arya’s clothes clung to her and she found herself wondering how Jon survived in this place for so long. The forest was full of great oaks, grey-green sentinels, and black-barked ironwoods. In places the branches wove a canopy overhead. It even had two or three weirwoods growing in close proximity with each other in parts of the forest. Arya had seen a weirwood or two in each place of her journey but she had never seen so many in one place. 

Maester Elric had told her of an explosion at Hardhome that burnt the settlement with flames so high that the men of the Night’s Watch thought that the sun was rising from the north. Ashes from what happened on that night had rained down on the forest and Shivering Sea for almost half a year afterwards. Yet, looking at it’s strange beauty now, Arya would never have guessed that such a monumental act had ever touched this peaceful land.

There she saw more giants riding mammoths! She couldn’t decide whether she should have brought Branda with her for this - because she wanted the girl to see the giants and the mammoths, something neither of them ever had - or whether it was right not to bring her -because she did not want to offend the giants with Branda’s stares, and her questions, questions that if Arya was honest with herself she wouldn’t mind knowing the answers to as well. 

The freefolk had large herds of elk and mammoths that would no doubt ease the plans they had to capitalise on the trade of the North’s natural resources. 

From Eastwatch, they made their way past each of the old castles belonging to the Night’s Watch. Many of them had fallen into disrepair. Maester Elric had told her of how a long time ago the land that adjoined these castles belonged to the dominions of House Stark, until Queen Alysanne came north. Born a northerner, Maester Elric had a deep dislike for some of the more interventionist policies of the Targaryen queens Rhaenys and Alysanne. He described Queen Alysanne’s decision to grant the Gift to the Night’s Watch ‘ stupid in its entirety - a show of power and little else.’ 

The Starks had been estranged from the dragonlords even after King Torrhen Stark bent the knee to Aegon the Conqueror. Aegon’s sister-wife Queen Rhaenys had married Torrhen’s daughter, despite Torrhen’s protests, to an ill-fated Lord of the Vale - a wedding the bride’s own brothers refused to attend. 

When the Faith rebelled against the Targaryens, House Stark used that as an opportunity to distance themselves from the Targaryens saying that it was not for them to get involved in the affairs of another religion. Behind closed doors however, their inaction was tied to their general dislike for the actions of the dragonlords. The Starks used their geographical isolation to withhold their taxes during this period while a number of ravens from the Targaryens happened to get ‘lost.’ 

In response, Queen Alysanne made a progress, similar to Arya’s, in the north, one which was remembered in the South as a great feat of generosity but remembered in the north, by people like Maester Elric as ‘’ a grab for power, a  punishment of House Stark and a disaster for the people in the north.’

Maester Elric told Arya of how the queen had come north, spent time with the small folk and even gave her own jewellery to build a new castle for the Night’s Watch, saying publicly that her personal wealth mattered little compared to the welfare of the Night’s Watch. She was aware of the Night’s Watch’s close relationship with House Stark and sought to undermine it by building one of her own. The Night’s Watch would play no part in the politics of the realm but her actions would be talked about by people nonetheless improving House Targaryen’s reception among the smallfolk.

To make her ‘dedication’ to the Night’s Watch clear,  Queen Alysanne granted them the New Gift - land that was under Stark dominion - to remind the Starks that the Crown could take away their land at any time. She also betrothed a princess to a son of House Manderly to ‘buy’, according to Maester Elric, House Manderly’s support in the event that House Stark chose to rebel against her decision. 

But when the queen returned south, the New Gift, a fertile and previously populous land, declined because the Night’s Watch, with their lagging numbers, focused all their attention north and had little time to support their tenants - something the Starks had been doing for thousands of years. The people then left those lands to go south to lands ruled by the Starks of Winterfell. 

As she made her way through The Gift, Arya saw the truth of the maester’s words. There were free folk settlements peppered across the area but for all their strength, the free folk were not farmers and had not made full use of the land. 

They also visited The North’s underground town, Mole’s Town. Three quarters of the town was underground, in deep warm cellars connected by a maze of tunnels. Arya thought it was a genius idea and wondered why each town in the north did not have a variation of this to keep their people warm during winter. 

Jon’s letter for this stop told her of how he got as far as Mole’s Town when he heard of Father’s execution. He wanted to march south to Robb. He spoke of how pained he felt by his decision not to join Robb but finished his letter with:

Bran tells me my destiny was here Arya, but never having reunited with Robb still hurts me to this day. 

From there they went up the Northern mountains. Tormund was joining them for this leg of the journey to see his daughters with Maege Mormont. The Northern mountains were in a harsh and forbidding stretch of land full of silver and stone that was just begging to be mined properly. 

The hardy northern tribes folk who lived there looked more like the free folk than other northerners but were known for their strong loyalty to House Stark. They were the ones who marched with Stannis Baratheon in her name and people for whom she would always be grateful. 

She was hosted by the Wulls, the Norreys, Burleys, Harclays, Liddles, Knotts and her own kin the First Flints - she was named after her great-grandmother Arya Flint. Arya had gifts for each one of the chieftains and they in turn had gifts prepared to give her. Despite the little they had, the clans of the Northern mountains were some of the most open-handed of hosts - they prided themselves on how well they treated their guests and had made an extra effort for The Ned’s boy and girl. The Liddle even told her “ When there was a Stark in Winterfell, travellers could find fire, bread, and salt at many an inn and holdfast. But the nights grew colder and under the Boltons the doors were closed and those who sought refuge killed.” Bran had told her how he once heard something similar. They would have to recreate a North that was more like their father’s than that of the Boltons. 

Old Nan once told her how during a long winter men who’d lived beyond their years would announce that they were going hunting She said, “ their daughters would weep and their sons would turn their faces to the fire, but no one would stop them, or ask what game they meant to hunt, with the snows so deep and the cold wind howling.” 

They told her how during this winter Sansa had sent them food from The Vale and how grateful they were to her for that. Despite their differences, Arya was happy her sister had done her duty to their father’s people. 

At Bear Island, they were welcomed warmly by Lady Mormont where Arya saw the carving of the woman with her babe and her battle-axe. Tormund and Lady Mormont were the most expressive old lovers she had ever met, always holding hands and doing things Arya would normally balk at in public with each other. 

Lyanna Mormont had told Rickon that a Stark had once won Bear Island in a wrestling match from an ironborn man so Rickon challenged her to a wrestling match. Lyanna, Rickon and Branda then became inseparable from that moment on.

The island was rich in lumber. Everywhere she looked there were old gnarled oaks, tall pines, and flowering thorn bushes. Most of the people lived along the coast and mainly ate whatever they fished in the sea, although they were also rich in deer and had an abundance of bears. 

Here too a northerner was excited about their upcoming wedding at Winterfell to a Dayne. Jorelle Mormont was excited to see Ned again and Arya was happy for her friend. She too was excited to reunite with her man, even if she couldn’t tell anyone just yet. 

In fact, Lady Mormont asked Arya how many marriage requests she got so far piquing Tormund’s interest who began choking on his mead at the thought that someone could have the audacity to propose to Arya. It wasn’t long before the Mormonts knew of the betrothal anyway, thanks to him. Arya just asked that they didn’t tell anyone else. Jorelle thought it would be a great idea to have all three weddings in Winterfell on one day. It’d be auspicious she thought, to have their weddings after the first council a truly united north came together for. 

Arya enjoyed being so close to home when they got to Deepwood Motte, the home of House Glover. There she met the Glovers and their vassals the Forresters, Woods, Branches and Boles. They spoke of how ironborn raids had thankfully decreased in recent years although the ironborn still tried to engage in opportunistic raids. The Glovers were thankfully able to repel these. Jon’s letter for this stop told her about the North’s weakness along their western coast. White Harbor protected them in the east - they’d need to create a similar protection in the west. 

Since they were so close to home and had been on the road for months, Arya sent Sarra, Branda and Rickon home. Arya had been expecting protests from Branda and Rickon but they were surprisingly keen on going home - it would appear that even they got tired sometimes. 

At Sea Dragon Point, Arya was disappointed to not see a single Sea Dragon. But she did see weirwood circles of The Children of the Forest. Bran had asked her to find somewhere for them to settle and the sparsely populated land seemed like a good place for that. 

The land which was once an ancient stronghold of the First Men, and home to Warg King, had fallen into ruins but was rich in lumber and wildlife. The pine forests were a great resource for ship building materials and the waters around the peninsula housed otters and clams along the shore as well as colonies of seals that reminded her of Casso the King of Seals in Braavos. 

They’d just have to be careful about how they divided the land. The Pact between the First Men and the Children, gave the open lands to the First Men and the forests to the Children. Perhaps, if they wanted to use this land for ship building, they might want to think about whether it was the right place for the Children. 

Given Jon’s words about the need for Western defences, Arya thought this might be a good place to build a new Northern naval base. Building a port here, or near here, would also create a port city on the North’s west coast and would strengthen the development of the North’s wealth. A port in the west would connect their homeland with Seagard, Lordsport, Lannisport and even Oldtown, in the same way White Harbor created good trade links with the Vale, Saltpans, Duskendale and King’s Landing. 

From there her smaller group and her went on to the final stretch of their journey down the Sunset Sea to Blazewater Bay where they visited Flint’s Finger. On their way to Barrowton they spent a night being hosted by the grouchy one-armed Harwood Stout in Goldgrass. 

The Rill’s and this part of The Barrowlands that they hadn’t visited in their initial journey were the home of The North’s horse-breeding region and the home of most of their sheep farmers. Jon had told her the Ryswells were notoriously quarrelsome but even his warnings had not prepared her for what she encountered. They even argued about which one of them would have her hand in marriage. It would have been comical that they thought the first house to swear itself to the Boltons would think they would have the opportunity to marry a Stark if they didn’t spend hours arguing about it in front of her. 

The land as Arya had noted on her first trip south was fertile and a great place to focus on for farming. Unlike the eastern part of the Barrowlands, the lands around Barrowton were home to several thousand people, all of whom were keen to see one of the returned Starks. 

They were welcomed to Barrow Hall by Lady Dustin, who Jon told her to treat courteously despite the fact that she had supported the Boltons and only helped Stannis’ men when she saw the Boltons were about to lose. He said they had to treat her well because she ruled such a fertile land and because she had been the one to return Father’s bones home. Do it for Father, if no one else his letter said. 

Over supper Lady Dustin brought up the events at the wedding - the only person to do so in her entire progress. 

“Unlike your sister, you have proven yourself a true daughter of The North. Your sister was entirely Southron in disposition-” she began, while she knifed her meat. 

“Just like my sister I am also of the South, my lady,” Arya corrected with a tight smile, scraping her meat harder. Whatever was between her and Sansa was between her and Sansa, not this woman who planned what she did at the wedding to hurt all of them. 

“What I mean, dear, is that you are more like your Uncle Brandon. He grew up in these parts you know? He was fostered by my husband’s father and I knew him since we were children. He used to ride down to The Rills. Your sister resembles your mother more.” 

The woman spoke as if Arya was unaware of her history with her uncle and the woman’s deep dislike of her mother - Jon had told her of all this one night in the Broken Tower as they “planned” for her progress. 

“I never had the fortune of meeting my uncle, my lady, but do not let my Stark look fool you. I am my mother’s daughter.” 

“You misunderstand me, my lady Arya,” she drawled. “I only meant to speak of your dedication to the North.” 

Arya was no longer a faceless man. There was no need for her to hold her tongue, not to someone who meant to disrespect her mother. If Lady Dustin professed that she loved Uncle Brandon, Arya would see just how much she loved the wolfblood.

She put down her knife to turn her entire body to the disrespectful woman. 

“My lady, what happened at the wedding is something that should have happened behind closed doors between my sister and I. I do not appreciate your disrespect of her. My sister made a mistake. It’s true. But she was an eleven year girl, who made the mistake of trusting the wrong person.” 

Arya then picked up a glass of wine, and as she sipped she appraised Lady Dustin’s face as the woman attempted to hide just how rattled she was. Arya watched her squirm for a while longer before continuing. 

“There are grown people old enough to have been Sansa’s parents who sided with the Boltons despite what they did, my lady.  My eleven year old sister made the mistake of trusting a queen who was to be her good mother. The Ryswells and the Dustins, on the other hand, were the first to swear fealty to the Boltons and the last to join the Northern conspiracy... Yet here we are. Why is it that you can be forgiven for your folly and Sansa cannot?” 

“I believe you are misjudging me, Lady Arya,” the disconcerted woman protested, “I let Stannis’ men in through the crypts, I-” 

“And Sansa brought knights and food during winter. Whatever happened between my sister and I, Lady Dustin, is between my sister and I. It would do you well to remember that.” 

Arya stood up. “Now, if you will excuse me, I’ve had a tiring day,” she added, before stopping at the door once more Lem and Joren stood on either side of her with their hands on their sword hilts. 

“Ah, one more thing," Arya said, "Lord Umber tells me my mother sent my father’s bones north with Hallis Mollen and a contingent of guards all of whom I’ve known since the day I was born. I find it a curious matter that my father’s bones turned up without those guards. You don’t happen to know what happened to them do you?” The more time Arya spent around the woman the more she felt as if there was something she wasn’t saying. Hal Mollen was her father’s man through and through and only death would separate him from returning her father home. 

“My men found the dying man, as he came through the swamp. He must have been attacked by some creature or other, my lady,” the woman lied. She was wringing her hands too hard for someone who had no reason to be nervous. Arya stared at her, the woman began blinking and licking her lips in nervousness. It would be so easy to slit her throat, or to slip some poison in her food as she broke her fast but she’d check with Bran first, just to be sure. 

“Ah - that’s a shame,” Arya said. “As you know, The North remembers it’s enemies, I’d love to have known who harmed old Hal, Quent, Jacks and Shadd, they were men of Winterfell and it’s a shame to leave their blood unavenged.” 

As she went to her last stop, at Torrhen’s Square, Arya could only think about the suspicions she had about Lady Dustin. 

The Tallharts were pleasant but knowing they had sent a proposal for Arya’s hand made things between them somewhat strange. Arya was courteous enough and said that Bran would be the one to make a decision about who she would be betrothed to. That was the answer she gave every time someone asked about whether she was betrothed yet. 

A long time ago she heard her father tell her brother Robb, “ Know the men who follow you and let them know you. Don’t ask your men to die for a stranger.” 

Her progress had shown her that The North, contrary to what is said about it, was not just an endlessly barren waste of snow, cold, ice, rocks and hard people. The North was a land of untapped potential, of warm people who, for the most part, retained their honour and loyalty in the most testing times. 

Now it was up to House Stark to reward loyalty and punish treachery, just as they had for eight thousand years. If these Starks had anything to do with it they would do it for eight thousand more. 

But for now, as she made her way back to Winterfell, all she could think of was being reunited with her family, those who shared her blood as well as those who joined their pack along the way. 



Chapter Text

Jon


She was wrapped up in the furs, asleep. Awake, she had a larger than life presence but here, in their bed, curled up, their legs still entwined, both naked under the furs, she looked small, vulnerable, tranquil. Her long hair was splayed on the pillow around her, creating a flowing crown of sorts around her head. 

Outside, the stars had come out to play while the north wind swept and rushed through the castle grounds, rustling through the red leaves of the heart tree and rattling the shutters of this room, falling upon them like a lover’s frantic thrusts. 

Out there, the wolves ran with the wind, hunting, howling, playing. In here, loose strands framed her sleeping face. Her soft, full, red, lips were parted and her chest rose and fell, all while she dreamt, peaceful dreams, he hoped, of them, their future, their children. 

He’d taken her earlier that night, rough and desperate, in a fool-hardy attempt to fuck away the hurt of being without her for months. She answered him with the same want and ferocity, biting him hungrily in the throes of their pleasure. 

Harder!” she beckoned him, between deep groans, there was nothing soft about those sounds.

So he rut against her with wild abandon, blood roaring in his ears until he could hear nothing but the battering of his heart against his chest. He slammed into her slick heat again and again and again, her wanton screams only a whisper in the wind. He felt her flutter around him time and again. He wanted her, needed her. He saw her fall apart repeatedly but he wouldn’t stop, couldn’t stop, every time she approached the tail end of a peak, he’d smash against that spot that drove her wild. By the time he came with a thundering roar of her name, plunged so deeply inside his bride, she was shattered, way past exhausted. 

“Are you going to stare at me all night?” Her sleepy voice broke him away from his trance. 

“I’m sorry, did I wake you?” He asked, moving the stray strands away from her face. She deserved the sleep after what he’d done to her. 

“No,” she lied. “What’s keeping you awake?”

Their legs were still entwined, he turned to his side, holding himself up with one arm. “I don’t want to go,” he confessed. “Not anymore. Not now you’re here and there’s a we and a life for us to look forward to.”

“It’ll only be for a few months, stupid,” she comforted him, in her own endearing way. “You’ll be back before you know it.”

He looked at her, lost in the calm grey of her eyes. His eyes. “I love you,” he whispered. 

Her smile hurt his heart, he would be without it for so long. 

So he tried to stretch the time they had left together by loving her slowly, trying to commit to his memory every part of the girl who loved him unconditionally when he was nothing more than a cast out, sullen bastard. She loved him even now, years later, when they came back to each other as familiar strangers trying to get to know who the other had become. 

And as he loved her until he couldn’t separate her heartbeat from his, she begged him to come back to her, tears in her now stormy eyes. “I promise,” he told her and he’d never break a promise. Not to her anyway. 

—————

Jon had been in King’s Landing for two months. They were still waiting for the Iron Bank’s representative to arrive. He woke up every morning thinking of the family he left behind. He thought of their wolf-blooded Rickon, eager to fight and just as likely to laugh. He thought of the wizened Bran, the little brother who’d grown to feel more like a peer to him; a memory of what Robb could have been, had been. And Arya…she was never far from his thoughts. That girl of opposites. The years apart had hardened her into something that scared her, yet she remained soft enough to try and be the mother they lost to Rickon, and she still had a heart big enough to home all the children in Winter Town as well as their people. She was his now. Sometimes knowing that she was, after so long, felt like a dream. 

The day she agreed, he went to the crypts to talk to Father, to tell him that he’d always look after her and love her. He promised to look after all of them, even Sansa away in The Vale. 

He hoped Father would approve of their union, the dishonourable things they’d done aside. He tried to remedy that after the first time. He thought father might forgive that now that he was doing the right thing. 

He came to leave flowers for his mother that day, only to find someone had placed a crown of winter roses upon her head. It could only be the girl who’d been making flower crowns since she learned how to walk. The thought made him smile. He’d heard so much about his mother from Lord Howland, and some from Lem - who knew her less. Everything he’d heard about her reminded him of Arya. He wondered if that was the madness that drove his father’s actions, if it was he could understand it even if he couldn’t excuse it. 

He hoped his mother would approve. And he hoped that his and Arya’s end would be happier than that of his parents. 

He watched his family sometimes, through Ghost’s eyes. He’d see Arya laughing with Meera, Rickon demanding one more story from Bran, and Nymeria licking the pups. And every time he’d wish he were there with them. 

Instead he was in King’s Landing. 

He stood in his rooms in Maegor’s Holdfast, looking down at the city Daenerys ruled. Across from him, Visenya’s Hill was an ugly jut of rubble and rock over soil. Looking at it, it was hard for Jon to imagine the rumoured magnificence of the once Great Sept of Baelor. Cersei Lannister had seen to that when she blew it up with wildfire in her attempt to avoid trial. 

Daenerys insisted on keeping the ugly rubble in the centre of the city to serve as a reminder to the Faith of what she sought to overthrow. As if she had been the one to bring an end to Cersei’s tyranny. That honour had belonged to the Dornish princess’ husband, whoever he truly was. The man that had called himself Aegon VI was beloved to the masses and the Faith alike for bringing an end to Cersei’s rule. He was the one that brought the golden lioness to justice in the city that she devastated. 

Not one to be left behind another’s shadow, last year Daenerys, no doubt advised by her Tyrell in-laws, sought to appease the Faith by commissioning the construction of a new sept in the shadow of the ruins of the previous one. 

He was surprised by how the Faith had received him. He expected them to accept Daenerys because she shared their faith. However, even in the North they heard of the rise of the High Sparrow, with his iron-willed dedication to his faith and his aversion to all others. He heard how those who worshipped the old gods were derided as tree-worshippers and barbarians this far south. Yet, as they moved south he was given a welcome on par with Daenerys’ for their actions during the war against the Others. Enough Knights of the Vale, riverlords, and knights from The Reach had fought in the war and carried back tales of what happened to their septons. 

However, their good-will to Daenerys somewhat dissipated when she sought to overthrow the man they had accepted as their king and who, for all intents and purposes, appeared to be the rightful heir to the Throne. Even if one accepted the argument that Robert Baratheon had won the Iron Throne by right of conquest, there were no more true born Baratheons alive. Robert Baratheon’s claim had rested partially on the fact that he was the heir to the Iron Throne after Rhaegar’s children. The same was true for Rhaegar’s son once all of Robert’s trueborn children had died. 

And when Daenerys had Ser Barristan Selmy publicly declare the boy was not Aegon, the Faith had turned their support to Jon. It was only when he spoke in Daenerys’ favour that they relented. Well...it was that and the roar of her dragons. 

He left his rooms in the holdfast to make his way to the godswood. The Red Keep’s godswood brought neither the tranquility of Winterfell’s nor did it have it’s unwelcoming atmosphere to strangers. If it did, he would have had a reprieve from the seemingly relentless company of Leona Tyrell, the last of House Tyrell’s unmarried daughters after the rest died with Margaery at the Sept of Baelor.

As expected, the girl fell into step with him the moment he walked out.

“Good morrow, my prince,” she fluttered. She wore a flowing green gown today, accented with the golden roses of House Tyrell and worn with a bodice that left little to the imagination. He was told of the girl’s beauty by Dany and her husband long before he saw her. After the death of her own parents and the death of the other Tyrell girls Leona Tyrell had been all but adopted by Olenna Redwyne. The last female vehicle for Tyrell power. She had doe-like brown eyes, ivory skin, and light brown hair that fell down her back in a curled cascade that stopped at the curve of her waist. 

For the last month and a half, she had followed Jon around like a shadow, her brown eyes glinting with an ambition that disguised itself well as admiration.

“I trust you slept well, Lady Leona.” 

“I did, my prince, thank you,” she smiled, her cheeks flushed a soft pink, while her eyes hid behind shyly fluttered lashes.

Delicately, she slipped her arm in his, linking them, “I was going to the godswood.” she offered.

I’m sure you were. “So am I, my lady.” 

As they walked, “For the past few years, I’ve only been able to find peace in the godswood,” she confessed. “Highgarden’s godswood has three weirwoods. Some say they were planted by Garth Greenhands himself. When my sister, Alla, and my cousins Elinor, Megga and Queen Margaery were arrested by the High Sparrow on false charges, I prayed every day in the sept to the Seven, and their answer came in the ashes of the sisters I grew up with...” she sniffed, and slowly swept a tear away from her cheek, all while looking into his eyes from under her wet lashes. She forced a sad smile on her face.

“Ever since then, I’ve only found respite in the company of the old gods. That’s why I’m going to the godswood,” she smiled. 

“I’ve heard about Winterfell’s godswood, “ she continued. “I came to King’s Landing when your cousin Sansa was here...she told us a little about Winterfell then.” She looked into his eyes looking for a reaction. 

Then she gasped as they sat. 

“Please accept my apologies, my prince, I didn't mean to speak without tact by mentioning your previous betrothed.” She looked down. 

“I am sorry to hear your wedding did not go ahead,” she agonised.

 I’m sure you are, he thought. 

“I hope you find a kind and dutiful lady,” she fluttered.

 I have.

“People born to families like ours have...duties,” she bemused, unaware.

“I am sure the queen will find you another match, I know my cousin will be doing the same for me.”

And now we come to the crux of the matter. 

Seeing that Jon did not react, she peddled back from where he thought the conversation was going. 

“I’ve heard that you are to take your seat at Dragonstone, Prince Aemon. I apologise for not offering you my congratulations. I grew up reading about the Targaryens never imagining I’d one day have a dragon-riding Targaryen join our family...I would love to see them.” She put her soft hands in his - so different from Arya’s. And with that she sought her invitation, no doubt she’d hope to end up in his bed. 

He wondered what Arya would have to say to that. He hadn’t even told Daenerys about the betrothal - they hoped to tell her only after the Council. 

“I hope you do,” he responded to the girl, not knowing what to say. Wasn’t she here to pray?

—————

Jon sat on the small council table beneath the iron monstrosity his ancestor had built. Light spilled in through the throne room’s high narrow windows as they waited for the queen to arrive to hear the day’s petitions. All around him the empty skulls of dragons stared down at him, while an old battered black tom with a chewed off ear walked between his feet. 

Next to him sat Grandmaester Marwyn, called Marwyn the Maege. He’d been one of Sam’s teachers at the citadel and had travelled to meet Daenerys before her arrival in Westeros. He looked like no maester Jon had ever seen. With red stained teeth from his constant chewing of sour leaf and an ale-belly, the man was an oddity amongst his peers. He had advised Dany to fight in the war against the Others and had an obsession with her dragons. After the battle with Euron Greyjoy he and his acolyte, Pate, had been trying to help cure her dragons from their madness. Whenever they seemed to improve, their wildness began again. Since he came to King’s Landing Jon heard reports that the constitution of the dragons was improving.

The best thing about the Grandmaester was that he took Sam on as his novice, which meant that Sam was never far from Jon in King’s Landing. Lately, Sam was saddened by the death of his companion Pate. Apparently he was killed on his way to the citadel. Pate had been the one to discover the secrets to making valyrian steel during the war against the Others. 

Next to the Grandmaester sat the ever perfumed and powdered eunuch, Varys, a late joiner of Daenerys’ campaign. When he joined her, he said that he was a lowborn foreigner raised up by her father and would dedicate his life to putting and keeping Aerys’ daughter on the throne. Jon found it a curious thing that he only joined her when she began to make her way to King’s Landing. He’d been the one who put the king who called himself Aegon on the throne. Varys simply explained that he only did so because he thought him Rhaegar’s heir. He spoke to Daenerys of his close friendship with a man called Illyrio, a benefactor of Dany’s in the early days. That was enough for Dany to accept him in her company. That and the fact that he was a constant purveyor of secrets - keeping her updated on every movement the recently quiet Dornish made. The latest news was that Lord Edric Baratheon was betrothed to a cousin of the Dornish princess. 

The rest of Daenerys’ small council was made up of her allies, most of whom were from The Reach. There was Lord Paxter Redwyne, the Master of Ships, Lord Randyll Tarly, the Master of Laws, Garlan Tyrell, the Master of War, and the commander of her unsullied and Commander of the City Watch, Greyworm. 

Also there was Master of Coin, Tyrek Lannister, the Lord of Lannister. He had been swept away and hidden by Varys during a riot in King’s Landing and it was an open secret that Daenerys had chosen him as Master of Coin to have ready access to Lannister gold. The boy was grateful to be kept alive when so many of his family had not managed to survive Aegon’s war for the throne, or Daenerys’ assault on the Westerlands when they refused to recognise her authority.

Opposite Jon, sat Willas Tyrell, husband and Hand of the Queen. 

Last to arrive was the queen herself in the company of the Lord Commander of her Queensguard, Ser Barristan the Bold. He held a largely ceremonial, advisory, role as Daenerys had no Queensguard in the traditional sense. Instead, she was flanked on either side by six of her Dothraki bloodriders. Each of them sworn to her for life. There were the two who had been by her side since she was little more than a girl on the Dothraki Sea: Aggo and Rakharo. She’d once told him that she had a third who was killed by the Yunkish and for that she rained down dragon fire on Yunkai as she made her way to Westeros. Along with those two, she had four other bloodriders who’d sworn their lives to serve the stallion that mounts the world. If she died they were to die with her or live just long enough to pay the debt back to those who killed her before joining her in the nightlands. 

She proudly made her way up the stairs of the jagged throne their ancestor had built. The only people to ever sit on it were the kings that came before her, their Hands... and Jaime Lannister. Even regents were not permitted to sit upon the throne.

Harwin had told him of how Father, Ned Stark, not Rhaegar, had sat upon that throne dispensing justice and how he was sat there the day he sent Alyn and Harwin himself to root out Gregor Clegane in The Riverlands under the command of Lord Beric Dondarrion. 

Jon wondered how sitting on that throne felt for Father, knowing as he did, that his father was burned in this very room while his brother choked to death trying to save him. Was he glad to see Aerys dead and he alive to see his legacy gone? Or was he in pain to know that this place snuffed out the lives of those he loved before taking his as well. Ned Stark had never permitted them to know what truly happened in this room. Jon only learned of it as a man grown from Lord Howland Reed. The story when they were children was that Lord Rickard Stark and his son were beheaded. Did Father think that was a less painful story?

It was also the well-told tale that Rhaegar had kidnapped and raped Lyanna. The lie was intended to hide the truth of Jon’s birth Lord Howland said, but it didn’t make the stain upon his father’s name easier to bear. Especially not when he hears that Rhaegar was a tortured but good man obsessed with prophecy from people like Ser Barristan Selmy. Did his father only choose his mother because of a prophecy or did he truly love her? 

He sat there watching the queen atop her throne as she delivered her judgments. He found himself remembering her anger at his decision to declare Bran the Lord of Winterfell. She had raged for hours when he first arrived. Accusing him of trying to tear down the world she built. 

“How could you give away a seat I granted you without my permission?” she demanded.
“Winterfell rightfully belongs to Bran,” he tried to explain. “Winterfell has only been ruled by Starks for eight thousand years. Every time they’ve lost it, they’ve regained it. To usurp Bran would be to threaten war.”
“No one can threaten war against House Targaryen! You need only have consulted with me,” she said, relenting. 

“As queen I can name and unname any lord, I’ll rename you Lord of Winterfell, take back your seat and rule that land for me, I do not know these Starks but I do know you. Hold it for me, I know that is where you are happiest,” she slipped her hand in his and squeezed, her face was sincere.

“I don’t want it.” It didn’t feel like a lie either. Daenerys and he had had variations of this conversation many times over the last two months and initially when he said this sometimes it still felt like a lie. Inside he still felt the bastard who wanted to be lord but he told himself that he was fine with his lot in life, and he was. He promised Arya that they would choose a life on their own terms. And when Arya’s letter from Moat Cailin came, he truly believed it. She spoke of the need to rebuild Moat Cailin and how it could one day become a trading centre of the North as the only land route into a hopefully prosperous kingdom.  

Daenerys however refused to accept his decision declaring that to do so would be to celebrate and reward Ned Stark’s role in overthrowing her father. 

“Your father burned his alive,” he reminded her, “and killed his brother. Still unsatisfied he declared him a traitor and demanded his death for the crime of his brother demanding their sister back. Is that the father you want to defend? I would remind you that for all that I am Rhaegar’s seed, I am Ned Stark’s son. I won’t have you speak of him in this manner.” 

She scoffed then. He knew it would not be the last time she brought up Winterfell.

—————

Finally, after two months of keeping them waiting they got the news that Tycho Nestoris’ galleys had been spotted making their way towards the Blackwater. As they broke their fast, Jon was trying to convince Daenerys to accept whatever offer the Iron Bank gave her. They had given her three years to consolidate her rule. It was clear that they had no intention of overthrowing her.

“The Braavosi hate slavery. Everywhere you’ve gone, you have freed slaves. Use that to your advantage,” he advised her. “You have more in common with them than any ruler who has ever sat on that throne. Remind them if you wish, that the Targaryens were friends of Braavos and had opposed slavery when the rest of the Valyria supported it.” He remembered his conversation with Tycho Nestoris years ago on the Wall when the man told him about Braavos’ history as the city of escaped slaves. 

“Why should I pay for the debts of usurpers before me?” she insisted, as she took a sip of her mint tea. 

“The debt belongs to the Iron Throne.” He remembers Tycho telling him as much. 

“I will not pay for the debts of others,” Daenerys promised. 

“Then you should know that your refusal to do so may see you lose your throne.” He tried to convince her with well-mean advice but this was the crux  of the matter. The Iron Bank always got its due. 

“And who will they replace me with?” she laughed. “You?” She scoffed. 

“Pay the debt Daenerys,” her husband chimed in. “Cersei refused and the Faith rebelled against her son.” 

Daenerys put down her cup to cup her husband’s face with her hand, gently, she smiled. “Targaryens do not answer to gods nor men, Willas. Me more than most. I am the prince that was promised, the stallion who mounts the world . The world awaited my coming and thanks to my children, no one who has ever threatened me is alive today. Why should I fear some bankers when the powerful men of Yunkai, Astapor, Meereen and Volantis are ash beneath my feet?” 

—————

He waited for the banker on the serpentine steps of The Red Keep, accompanying him was Willas and the other members of the small council. Daenerys herself, along with Ser Barristan, would meet him inside the throne room where she sat upon her throne. As he waited he gazed up at the newly rebuilt Tower of the Hand. Cersei Lannister had burned the one Father had lived in. He would have liked to see where Arya stayed during her time here. Arya had sent him a raven from White Harbor asking him if he knew of any sailors to hold the west coast for them. She also spoke of the need to create a new sinecure post to oversee the customs at Moat Cailin. It just so happened that Jon knew just the man with enough knowledge of smuggling to ensure no one got past without paying the toll. Luckily for them, he also just happened to have seafarers for sons. He was expecting him to arrive soon. 

The unflappable banker arrived, wearing the flowing purple gowns of his profession he hadn’t changed much in the years since Jon had last seen him, His long beard simply had a few more strangs of grey. He was a persistent man, he learned, from those who were familiar with this negotiation with Stannis Baratheon. With Jon, however, he seemed reasonable. The deal he’d made with him came much easier than Jon had prepared himself for when he was Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. 

“Prince Aemon, it is good to see you again,” he started, his Common Tongue as flawless as ever.

“Valar Morghulis,” Jon greeted him in response. He’d learned the greeting from Arya. 

“Valar Dohaeris,” the banker replied,touching his brow with two fingers, an amused look on his face. 

“Please, call me Jon,” he insisted, before introducing the banker to the rest of the small council. 

As they made their way to their way to the Throne Room, the banker spoke to Jon. 

“I hear your fortunes have improved since we last saw one another. You must tell me yourself how you went from the very dead Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch I saw on my way back to Braavos, to the Crown Prince of the Seven Kingdoms. We’ve heard only snippets in Braavos.” 

When Jon simply smiled, the banker continued. “It is a strange thing for a man to return from the dead. I came to Castle Black on my way to Eastwatch-by-the-sea. Did you ever reunite with your sister? A snowstorm caught us as we travelled to the Wall so Ser Justin Massey sent her back to King Stannis Baratheon’s camp.” 

“The girl wasn’t my sister,” Jon gruntled. “The Boltons presented someone else as Arya Stark to claim the North. She’s truly my cousin, although I don’t think knowing that then would have made a difference” 

“Oh. How curious,” Tycho replied, looking around the castle as they walked, “This is a very different place we find ourselves in. I hope we do not have to face any surprises here today, as you know I’m a prudent man and not a fan of surprises at all.” 

As they entered a new corridor, “How are things in the North?” the banker enquired. “I found it to be a beautiful place, in a cold, forbidding sort of way.” 

“Well, thank you, my lord-”

“Please, I’ve told you before, I am no lord, simply a servant of the Iron Bank.” 

Jon smiled in apology. “Things are well in the North. We are hoping to rebuild.” Jon didn’t mention the council. That was only for Northerners for now.

“Well, I am glad to hear it. You should know The Iron Bank is always happy to support good investments.” Jon noticed Varys’ keen eyes on them then. 

When they entered the Great Hall that housed the throne room, Jon made introductions between Tycho and Daenerys. 

The banker praised her for freeing the slaves in Essos and extolled Braavos’ own efforts in trying to eradicate slavery in it’s long history of wars with Pentos. 

From atop her throne, Daenerys looked down with a smile on her face at the banker, thanking him for his words and declaring the fact that she was only doing her duty as the Breaker of Chains. 

This is going well, Jon thought. This is what we told her to do. Keep talking about freeing the slaves.

They then sat to talk terms. The banker set out the scale of the debt. They didn’t forget to add even the Night’s Watch’s debt to the lot. 

“We are great supporters of your work, Your Grace. It is for that reason that we offered you a grace period of three years to solidify your hold on your throne. The Iron Bank has only sent me now as you are firm on your throne...As you know, the Crown owes a great deal of debts and we can only postpone that repayment for so long.” 

Daenerys studied him for a while. “My lord-”

“Please, I am no lord, simply a servant,” Tycho corrected her. 

“Tycho Nestoris,” she corrected herself, “I was a babe, stolen away from my dying mother’s arms when my father was removed from this throne by the usurper Robert Baratheon. I was but a girl freeing slaves halfway across the world when his alleged sons sat upon this throne, and when you gave his brother a loan, I was a queen ruling my own lands in Meereen. I was saving Westeros from the threat of the Others when you came to a deal with the one who called himself my brother's son, why should I pay for the debts of these people?” 

Jon resisted the urge to put his head in his hands.

The banker was imperturbable. “The debts belong to the throne you sit upon, Your Grace. Who sits upon it matters little.” 

And there was the first threat of the meeting. Pay us or be overthrown was the threat. 

Daenerys pulled her lips into a tight smile. “There’s a saying here in Westeros. Targaryens do not answer to gods or men -”

“Even Aegon the Conqueror had a repayment schedule with the Iron Bank,” Tycho interjected. “Even he was not exempt, Your Grace, it is nothing personal. Simply business. I come with terms that may be to your preference-”

“I do not appreciate being interrupted,” the queen said. “Nor threatened.”

The banker remained unmoved. 

“I am the Mother of Dragons. No one can force me to do anything I do not want. You would do well not to forget that,” the queen told him. “Many have in the past and it did not end well for the Good Masters of Astapor, the Wise Masters of Yunkai nor the Great Masters of Meereen or the Triarchs of Volantis.” 

“I did not threaten you, Your Grace,” the banker dictated. “I merely informed you that the debt belongs to the Iron Throne. The Iron Bank does not trade in threats. We trade in debts and  whoever sits upon the throne must pay its debts.” 

“And what is to stop me from wiping the debt myself?” Dany asked. She left with my dragons unsaid. 

“I am only here to talk terms with you, Your Grace, whether or not you accept them is entirely your choice... but I should remind you, we Braavosi are descended from those who fled Valyria, and the wroth of its dragonlords. We do not jape of dragons.” 

He’d said those words to Jon once as well when Jon wished for a dragon to come to warm things up at The Wall. 

“Then it would do you well to avoid their wroth,” Dany quipped. 

Jon held his breath.

“But you will not need to do so on this occasion,” she added, with an unreadable look on her face - Jon wished Arya was here to tell him what it might mean.

“I will pay the debt and  will begin repayment of the Iron Throne's debts in three months' time, according to the schedule you have sent to me previously.” 

 

 

Chapter Text

Jon 


True to her promise, Daenerys made the first payment to the Iron Bank three months after the meeting with Tycho Nestoris. 

The intervening time went by uneventfully. Jon sat under the shadow of Dany’s throne whenever she held court, he hosted her guests whenever they arrived and sat in her small council meetings as a dutiful Prince of Dragonstone should. 

Jon prayed regularly that she would have her own heir who would inherit Dragonstone so he could stay in the North with his family. Arya’s letters were few and far between and with Ghost staying behind in Winterfell, he found himself missing her more each day. Her last letter to him had been from Bear Island. She intimated that Tormund Giantsbane couldn’t keep their secret from his she-bears. 

And a few small council meetings past, Bran extended an invitation to The Great Northern Council to Jon...and the queen, as a formality. 

They agreed before he left that Jon would be there - he wouldn’t miss it for the world - but Bran was keen on maintaining an amicable relationship with the Crown. His little brother’s strange gift gave him insights into people’s lives. He thought it prudent to invite the queen despite knowing she would not attend. People came to Queen Daenerys Targaryen she did not attend to them - not after saving the world with her dragons. 

The queen asked Jon what he thought of Bran and whether by calling this council he was intending to rebel against her rule. The Spider had informed her that the Dayne siblings were both marrying Northerners. The Dornish princess remained a thorn in Dany’s side, at least as far as Daenerys was concerned. The Dornish had not committed any belligerent acts, not yet at least. Anything that the Spider had reported was easily explicable as something any high lord or lady might do. The betrothal between Edric Baratheon and a Dornish woman could easily be a normal marriage alliance between two houses as easily as it could be the preparation for war but the betrothals between Ned Dayne and Jorelle Mormont and Allyria Dayne and Harrion Karstark were the natural conclusions of their time together in Winterfell. Of that he had no doubt. His milk-brother had no appetite for the game of thrones, and his betrothed much less.

Explaining that to Daenerys however was difficult. He had no doubt her Tyrell in-laws had dug their thorns in her, keeping her tied to them above all others. One only needed to look at her small council. It’s most powerful members belonged to them before they belonged to her. 

And at their head sat Lady Olenna Redwyne Tyrell, matriarch of both families.

Jon liked Garlan and Willas, they were both good men but he was not blind to their desire to prolong their family’s time in the sun. 

Unlike the Arryns, the Starks, and the Martells, the Tyrells did not have an old name whose prestige preceded the Conquest. They were stewards of the original rulers of The Reach, House Gardener, and only chanced upon their seat by bending the knee to Aegon the Conqueror after the Field of Fire. Their ascension was akin to the Pooles taking Winterfell, which ironically the Boltons and Lannisters nearly brought about in their twisted roundabout way. 

Given their relatively recent stature, the Tyrells spent a lot of their time presenting themselves as the paramount examples of chivalry. After nearly three hundred years without any intermarriage between their house and the royal line they married the only daughter of the main branch of their house thrice to three different king claimants. And they only sided with Daenerys after the king who called himself Aegon had chosen a Dornish bride. Jon did not suppose they would give up their quest to have a Tyrell sit the Iron Throne any time soon. He didn’t care much for that, he only wished Dany would trust someone other than them. They, like most others, put their interests above everyone else. Jon heard once from Lord Tyrion that they closed the Rose Road off during the War of the Five kings, all but starving the people of King’s Landing and then presented themselves as the heroes when they brought aid with them. Image meant everything to them. By surrounding herself only with them, Daenerys was limiting the scope of her influence to theirs.

For as long as he could, Jon vowed he would be the bridge between Daenerys and his family - he just hoped her reaction to his possible abdication would not undo all his efforts. 

As he turned the corner, Jon came across his shadow walking with the Tyrell family matriarch. Jon had heard the Queen of Thorns arrived the previous night. 

“My prince,” she curtsied, courteously. “I believe you have met Lady-“

“Yes, yes, I’ve met the boy,” the Queen of Thorns scowled, waving the courtesy away with her hand and looking closely at Jon. 

Lady Olenna was a tiny, shrunken woman. Her sharp tongue seemed out of place in the frail old body of a toothless woman the size of a small child. The only two people older than her Jon had ever known were Old Nan and Maester Aemon. As always, she was flanked by her twin guards, Erryk and Arryk, or Left and Right as she called them.

“Lady Olenna, it is a pleasure to see you as always.”

“Yes, a pleasure I’m sure...I hear you did not marry that doltish girl. You have my congratulations.”

“My lady...my betrothal to Lady Sansa did not bear fruit,” Jon managed.

“Count yourself lucky. I always thought the girl was as bright as a day in the Long Night. I trust you are well?”

“I am my lady, thank you for asking. How fare you?” 

“I fare well enough. My grandson's wife has invited me to this shit-smelling city for some feast or other for a cheese-seller from Pentos.” She rolled her eyes. 

Jon didn’t know what courtesies to use here. Fortunately, or unfortunately, for him, the Queen of Thorns liked the sound of her own voice when she was mining for information. 

“I hear the lost Starklings are back in their frozen wasteland.” 

“The Starks are back in Winterfell, my lady.”

“Tell me about this girl, Ned Stark’s other daughter, Arya is her name am I right?”

“Yes my lady, Arya’s-“

“I hear she is a hot pepper that might do better south.” From Varys no doubt. 

“I don’t think she likes the south very much my lady,” 

“Well, let me judge that for myself,” the old lady chided.

“Lord Stark is already organising her betrothal,” he blurted. They would not be taking Arya from him. 

“Well...some betrothals do not bear fruit,” she mimicked. “You and I are examples of that. I was supposed to marry one Targaryen or other once and here I am now. Olenna Tyrell not Targaryen . Anyway,” she said, clacking her walking stick on the cobbles, “it is bad manners to keep an old woman standing. You  must sup with me soon. Leona here has not stopped singing your praises.”

His shadow fluttered her eyelashes and blushed prettily before curtsying and toddling along after Lady Olenna. The Queen of Thorns’ walking stick clack, clack, clacked away down the garden path.

Who the hell does she have in mind for Arya?! 

———

The feast Lady Olenna was invited to was held in honour of Illyrio Mopatis, a  Pentoshi Magister who had once hosted Daenerys and her brother. The man had supported Daenerys’ campaign to take Westeros shortly after she landed at Dragonstone, confessing that once he heard there was another Targaryen alive he had asked the boy to propose to Daenerys as a sign of Targaryen unity and restoration. However, he said, when the boy refused, he could not sit back and let the rightful Queen of the Seven Kingdoms be usurped. 

Illyrio had brokered Daenerys’ marriage to the man she loved, her first husband, Khal Drogo, he gifted her her dragon eggs and sent her Ser Barristan Selmy among other loyal followers of hers. She held him in high esteem. As did the Spider. Illyrio’s intercession was integral to Daenerys accepting the eunuch into her inner circle. 

The Spider and the Magister were lifelong friends who had met as two poor boys in the Free Cities; Varys a mummer and Illyrio a sellsword. Life had worked quite well for each one since then, Jon thought. 

Jon had not met the man before, he’d only heard of him by reputation. Daenerys called him to the small council chambers to introduce them. 

When he arrived, “Illyrio,” she beamed, “allow me to introduce you to my brother’s son, and my heir, Aemon Targaryen.” 

“Prince Aemon,” the magister bowed. “I had not known your father but I did know your uncle, Viserys. It is a pleasure to finally meet you. Even in Pentos we’ve heard of the heroics of the last living Targaryens.” 

Daenerys’ smile was resplendent. 

“I am pleased to meet you too, my lord, our queen has spoken much of you, I trust your journey was smooth?” There was something about the man that he did not like. He just couldn’t place his finger on it. 

He walked over to shake Jon’s hand. He was remarkably light on his feet for one so heavy - his feet made hardly any sound. 

“My journey was pleasant. I look forward to my time in the company of the most beautiful queen in the world,” he bowed to Daenerys, “and my old friend,” he turned to smile in the direction of the Spider. “And I look forward to getting to know you as well, dear prince.” 

“Please, call me Jon,” he insisted. Jon saw the chagrin clear on Dany’s face. ‘You should wear your name proudly. You are a Targaryen,” she reminded him more than once. 

The feast was the grandest Jon had ever seen. When they had won the wars, Dany’s hold on the throne was shaky. They were still in the midst of winter, their armies depleted, the people of King’s Landing hungry and tired from the wars that plagued the city, and the Faith critical of Daenerys. After the High Sparrow and his ascetic preachings, the Tyrells - of all people - advised Daenerys not to throw any opulent events until the people were fed and winter at an end. 

That time had come and Daenerys threw a great feast in honour of her guest. The Great Hall was ready and bursting with lords and ladies. 

Spotting the arrival of the queen, her dothraki and her unsullied, in the company of Jon and his shadow, the herald cried out and silenced the hall in the process. “Entering! Prince Aemon Targaryen, Prince of Dragonstone, and Lady Leona Tyrell.” 

As the Hand’s cousin, and a lady-in-waiting to the queen, Leona Tyrell was given roles within the castle, including overseeing the ladies of the Court, and planning feasts like this one. 

Tonight, Jon’s shadow wore a black gown, tight as always in the chest, with skirts lined with red silk that flashed like fire whenever she walked. Her hair was pinned with fresh water pearls and held up in a southron style, leaving her ample bosom clear on display. She held tightly onto his arm as they walked down the carpet in the centre of the Hall. Ahead of them, Lord Willas sat on the dais in the seat next to the queen’s, the two seats next to him were kept free for Jon and his shadow, while Paxter Redwyne and Garlan Tyrell took the remaining two seats on that side. On the other side of the queen’s seat sat the fork-bearded Magister with the Spider and the Queen of Thorns. When they made their way to their seats Leona flashed Jon a radiant smile, fluttering her eyelashes flirtingly. 

“Entering-” the herald announced again, “Her Grace, Queen Daenerys Stormborn, of House Targaryen, First of Her Name, Queen of the Andals, and the Rhoynar, and the First Men, Lady of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Mother of Dragons, The Unburnt, The Breaker of Chains and The Prince that was Promised!” 

The queen looked irradiant as she floated to the dais, dressed in the colours of her house, and flanked by her bloodriders and her unsullied. She wore her crown fashioned in the shape of the three-headed dragon of House Targaryen. The coils of it gold, with silver wings and heads of jade, onyx and ivory on top of her intricately braided hair, which in accordance with Dothraki tradition was a nod to her numerous victories. 

When she finally made it up the dais she stood, smiling at her subjects. “You have my thanks for joining us,” she declared loudly, her voice reaching the back of the hall, “to welcome my dearest friend, the Magister Illyrio Mopatis, of Pentos.” She then raised her goblet to a thunderous applause from the guests. 

When the queen sat, servants flitted in, serving those on the dais the first course.

Jon looked down to see tabletops crowded with trays of mouth-watering foods: whole-roast deer, stuffed with bacon and herbs, rich swan, buttered potatoes and diced pumpkin smeared with spices, countless cheeses - for the cheesemonger no doubt- boar cooked with apples and mushrooms, rose shaped bread rolls - because of course they would be rose shaped - sweets of every kind, and sweet Arbor wines.

They were served course after course planned by Leona Tyrell herself. Gleaming, she turned to him, placing her hand over his, and whispering in his ear, “Is the food to your liking, my prince?” Her brown doe-eyes were wide and awaiting praise.

“The food was lovely, my lady, you are truly talented,” Jon replied.

She blushed, lowering her eyes, before looking up again, shyly, she positioned her hand above his, again. “You are most kind, my prince, I hope you enjoy the rest of the feast as well. And I pray that your feasts be plentiful and your achievements many.” 

Jon smiled politely and looked out into the crowd spotting Ned and Allyria Dayne sitting with their party from Dorne. They were positioned far enough from the dais to keep them away from Lady Olenna who had an enmity to the Martells. It didn’t help that four of the sand-snakes had travelled to King’s Landing with the Dayne siblings. 

Sitting with the present stormlords, Jon also spotted Lord Davos, a sight for his sore eyes. He’d missed the man and had been waiting months for him to return from his trip across the Narrow Sea. Jon wondered why he wasn’t informed of the arrival of both the Daynes and Lord Davos. He looked forward to reuniting with them.  

The wine continued to flow, and Jon’s shadow continued to intermittently brush her fingers with his, sending him shy smiles. He wished it was Arya here, although he wasn’t sure the smiles she would be sending him would be shy at all. He wondered where and how she was now. 

When the music started, the queen took the first dance with her guest of honour and slowly the crowd began to join them on the floor. Ned danced with his aunt, Garlan with his wife, Tyrek Lannister with his and Tyene Sand with Ser Andrey Dalt. 

Leona placed her hand above his again. “Will you dance with me, my prince,” she requested timidly. 

Jon nodded. It would be considered rude to refuse but after the fifth dance that night, he wished he had refused.

She held tightly to him, pushing her chest against his and looking up to him, keeping the conversation going, speaking of Winterfell and his heroics in the War for the Dawn. Every time he looked down to speak to her, her bosom was offered up to him, while she looked at him affectionately. And when the music slowed, she lay her head against his chest. 

Finally, as the song came to an end, a new hand offered itself to Jon. “Excuse me,” she postulated, looking at Leona. “May I have this dance?” Lady Nym put her hand in his and pushed Leona aside before the girl could speak. 

Oberyn Martell’s daughter Nymeria Sand had fought in the battle for King’s Landing and along with her late sister Obara, caused many casualties before the king was caught. Queen Daenerys in an act of benevolence pardoned the Martells after the death of their king and had tried to welcome them to Court many times under the mediation of her husband. They rarely came but when they did they sent Lady Nym most often. Her tongue could rival the Queen of Thorns, and unlike the old woman, Nymeria Sand had the ability to back up her words. Jon was sure she had a few daggers under her silks this very moment. 

“You looked like you needed rescuing,” she joked. 

Jon tried to hide his smirk. 

“Well that, and the Queen of Thorns was smiling down on you and her little rose bud. I do so enjoy watching her toothless smile curdle every time she sees my sisters and I.” Lady Olenna still blamed Oberyn Martell for her grandson’s accident and extended her dislike to all of his family. 

When Jon looked at Lady Olenna, she turned her head loftily away from their direction. 

“I can’t imagine she’s pleased to see the serpent’s whore’s spawn dancing with her latest project. I’m surprised they waited this long to entangle you, Nymeria added. 

“I am not entangled, my lady,” Jon rectified. 

“No? Pray tell me did pretty Leona Tyrell just dress in Targaryen colours and go as far as wearing pearls in the colours of your mother's house by accident?” 

Jon turned his eyes to Leona Tyrell.

“The moment she walked in this hall she made a declaration. And since then the girl has been all but undressing you with her eyes. Although... I do suppose she can’t be faulted...” Lady Nym trailed off. 

The Dornish had rejected Jon’s pleas for help during the War for the Dawn, dismissing him as a would-be usurper and the cause of what befell their aunt. However, in the intervening years with Jon’s burgeoning friendship with the Daynes, and their barely concealed loathing of Daenerys for the deaths of Quentyn Martell, their king and Obara Sand, they decided he was the lesser-evil. 

Seeing Jon’s obvious discomfort with her flirtation, Nymeria chuckled. “Oh don’t be such a prude. If I wanted to bed you, you would know.” she rolled her eyes amusedly.

“Anyway, I look forward to seeing this Winterfell of yours that has beguiled our two stars. I hear I share my name with one of your direwolves.”

“You do. Her mistress liked the stories of Queen Nymeria.”

“Oh, I’ve heard all about her ,” Nymeria quipped. “I’m sure I will enjoy her company. We  relish fiery people in Dorne.”

Jon felt Daenerys’ eyes on him. When their eyes met she smiled graciously at him.

After they finished their dance, Jon made his way to the Daynes greeting Ned and Allyria, as well as Tyene and Elia Sand and was introduced to the youngest of the Sand Snakes, Loreza Sand. 

From there he went to find Lord Davos. 

“Lord Davos,” he greeted the man with an embrace. 

“Prince Jon!”

“Please, if there’s anyone here who should call me my name it’s you.”

“How have you been, lad?

“Good,” Jon smiled. “Better than good.”

“Glad to hear it. I’m sorry for missing your wedding. Although from what I hear there was no wedding. I’m sorry, son.” 

“It was no one’s fault truly.”

“I came as soon as I could. What need do you have of me?”

Jon guided Lord Davos out of the Hall. 

“My cousins,” - it felt weird calling them that - “have returned to Winterfell. Rickon included.“

“Where was he?” Lord Davos enquired.

“Skagos. He apologises for hiding from you.”

“It was smart of him not to trust a stranger.”

“My cousin, Bran, well, Lord Stark would like to hold a council with all his lords. I mean for you to attend as well.”

“I’m no Northerner son.”

“But you are one of the few people in this world I trust well my lord. I’d be honoured to have you there with us. I assure you, we will not waste your time.”

“And here I was thinking my time with kings was done.”

“I am no king Lord Davos, merely someone who enjoys your company.” 

Lord Davos chuckled goodnaturedly and they stood there catching up for a long while. Lord Davos spoke of how he had taken his sons east to see the wonders of the world and detailed their adventures to Jon. 

———

Daenerys invited Jon to her apartments the morning after the feast. They were to break their fast together. 

“I saw the Dornish all over you last night. What did they want?”

“Lady Nym was expressing her excitement about seeing Winterfell.”

“Is that their new deception?” she asked, sipping her tea. She screwed her face up as she swallowed.

“Marwyn says this is good for fertility,” she offered when she saw him looking at her cup. “I know I will not have children of my own but trying makes Willas happy.”

“I hope you have many children, Your Grace.”

“I wish I had hope,” she said with a sad smile. 

They sat in silence for a while longer, the only sounds in the room were those of their cutlery. 

“Did you enjoy the feast?” 

“It was a pleasant feast, Your Grace.”

“Leona worked really hard. I was pleased with the results.”

The silence between them returned.

“Have you spoken to Lady Sansa since the wedding?”

“No but she wrote to Bran to welcome him home. She is well from what I hear.”

“She is being courted by a number of lords in the Vale.”

“I wish her well.”

“And I wish you well. As Prince of Dragonstone you still owe a duty to your house.”

Somehow the direction the conversation took did not surprise Jon.

“You are familiar with Leona by now. I’ve seen you walk the gardens together. She’s a pleasant girl and is nicely dowered. I am thinking of arranging a match between you.”

“You? Or the Queen of Thorns?”

When Dany didn’t speak, “The girl is insipid.” Jon scoffed. “I am not interested.”

“You do not have to be interested in her. You only need to marry her and tie the Tyrells further to me,” Daenerys pleaded, her voice soft.

“You’re already tied to them, Dany. You married the bloody Lord of Highgarden!”

“And he’s merely a consort and not a king in his own right.”

“He sits beside you as your Hand and is a king in all but name!”

Dany sighed. “Lady Olenna suspects I am barren and has all but asserted that a child of Tyrell birth must sit on the Iron Throne after me. Whether it is from my own womb or...your seed. As my heir.”

Jon scoffed. “You are the queen, Daenerys. Lady Olenna cannot make demands of you.” He tried to make her see sense. 

“Besides you are still young, Grand Maester Marwyn is giving you these teas. You’ll have a child in no time, you’ll see! And your son or daughter will take Dragonstone. And I will visit you and my cousins.”

The sad smile returned to Dany’s face.

“Truly,” he continued, “I wish you many children. I only want to return North.”

“After they threw you out?”

Jon resisted the urge to roll his eyes. “No one kicked me out Dany I-“

“You fought for their home. You and I defeated the Others.” She placed her hand on his arm, leaning in to him.

“And yet the moment your beloved Starks returned they threw you out. You who fought for their barren land. You, who gave up your crown for your people. You who brought together the army who defeated the Others. How dare they? Say the word Jon and I will give you the title again.” She had a severe look on her face. 

“Daenerys, look,” he put his hand over hers. “No one threw me out. The title belongs to Bran. When I was a boy Catelyn Stark thought me to be wanton and treacherous. To take Winterfell from Bran would be to prove her right.”

Dany smiled and looked at him with pity in her eyes. “You are a dragon, Aemon. The opinions of a dead woman mean little. You love Winterfell-“

“I love my family more.”

“I’m your family too.”

“You are.”

“And I need you. Jon-“ she only ever called him Jon when she needed something. She put her hand on his arm. 

“I need your help. Marry the girl. Don’t bed her if you want but I need the Tyrells and more than anything, I need the Redwyne fleet and for both I must appease Lady Olenna.”

“You don’t need anyone. You are Daenerys Stormborn. The blood of the dragon.” He squeezed her hand. “The Tyrells need you. Not the other way around.” If she wouldn’t listen to reason he would appeal to what she did listen to - reminders of her strength. 

Dany brayed. “I know that. But I do not want to rule entirely by fear. Willas is a good man besides. I want to treat his family well.”

“By throwing them me. They are playing you for a fool and you’re too blind to see it. The girl is the daughter of a landed knight and the daughter of a low branch of House Beesbury. In what world is she worthy of your heir?”

“Her parents are dead and the Tyrells have adopted her”

She sighed. “Before I married Willas there was another my heart wanted. But I did what was right for my kingdom. I married the man whose wealth and support would help me win my throne.”

“Who was the other man?”

“I used to have dreams of the man I thought was to be my lover. A comely young man. Closer to me in age than those who desired me. For a long time, his face remained a shifting shadow in my dreams, until I came to Westeros and I saw him…” she smiled wistfully. “But I sacrificed my desires for the realm. I’m asking you to do the same.” 

“I have already made sacrifices for your realm. I gave up my crown. I am not marrying this girl as well, Dany.” 

Jon got up to move. 

“Fine . Don’t marry the Tyrell girl,” she said from behind him as he walked away. 

“Your cousin. Arya-“

Jon spun around to look at the queen, who stood up to walk up to him.

“She is not yet betrothed.”

Jon knew where this was going. He only stayed silent to find out the name of the man.

“Lord Paxter has two sons Ser Horas and Ser Hobber, both unmarried and Lord Paxter says both boys know her from her time in King’s Landing and he-“

Jon couldn’t listen to any more. “Arya is not marrying either of them.”

“No?”

“No.”

“Lord Paxter says he will make whichever twin she chooses his heir. It’s a good deal for a second daugh-“

“She is already spoken for.”

“By who?”

Jon knew he shouldn’t, not without speaking to Arya first.

“Me. Arya Stark is to be my bride.”

The queen took a step back from him. “And yet no one knows of your betrothal.”

“That was out of respect to you. I did not find it fit to announce a betrothal I hadn’t shared with you.”

“You’ve been here for five months. When were you going to tell me?”

“When I was ready.”

“Hmm,” she hummed, putting her finger to her lip in thought and then looking up at him. “Well, I suppose no one knowing of this betrothal is a good thing. There will be no scandal if you break it and I-”

“I have no intention of breaking it,” he growled.

“I have not given my permission and you cannot marry without it. I forbid you to marry the girl.”

Jon felt a cloud of menace descend upon him. “You’d have to kill me to stop me, Your Grace...And even then I’m not sure that’s enough to stop me,” he added in a low voice, leaning into her so she marked his words. 

“You sound mad.”

“I suppose I got it from my father, or perhaps yours. You know what they say about Targaryens,” Jon glowered.

“Jon-“ there it was again. “I have to think about my kingdom,” she said gently. “The North can offer nothing of what Highgarden or the Arbor can. Forget this girl. Leona is beautiful and she can make you happy if you let her.”

“You seemed to have a lot of praise for the North when you needed me to marry Sansa.”

“Sansa brought me the Vale. Her sister only brings me the North and the Riverlands. The Riverlands is little more than a burned out carcass. The Vale was going to bring knights and trade to my cause. You will marry-“

“I will.”

“Good. I will let Leona know. She will be delighted.”

“The only woman I will ever marry is Arya. The sooner you understand that the better.” 

“I forbid you from marrying her.”

Jon learned in again. “I do not remember asking your permission.”

“I could have you arrested.”

Jon jeered at her. “Your father once arrested a Stark. Look how well that turned out for him.”

She grabbed his arm, narrowing her eyes. “Are you threatening me? I only have to raise my voice slightly and my men will kill you.”

“I’m giving you a history lesson, Your Grace,” he scowled in return. 

“You are no Stark.”

“Tell that to my siblings.”

“The cripple, the ten year old and the girl who’s been who knows where?”

Jon felt a madness seize him. “Three skin changers, a greenseer, the entire North, the Riverlands and the Children of the Forest at their back. You saw yourself what they could do during the War for the Dawn.”  Jon found himself laughing. “And for all Sansa is at The Vale and estranged, I assure you if Houses Stark and Tully rise the Arryns won’t be far behind. Family, Duty, Honour - she’s honour bound to answer and this time she has a point to prove. She will have to show that she is not a traitor to her family but a girl that was once badly burned. That’s what? Three of the four houses whose alliance brought down your father?”

“They killed your father too.”

“My father had a choice. He could have sided with the brother of his wife and taken the throne from his mad father. He chose wrong.” 

“I could have you killed for these words.”

“Do it,” Jon scoffed. “Let’s see how long you last on your throne.” He was sick of having to bow to every one of her demands. 

“My father did not have dragons.”

Suddenly he found himself thinking of Arya’s words to him. What’s a dragon to skinchanger?

He sat down and leaned back on the chair to sneer up at her. “And how are your dragons doing these days? Still mad?”

Daenerys studied him, thinking she made a discovery, she said, “You want my throne.”

“I want to be as far away from it as I possibly can be.” He exhaled deeply, eyes closed. He held the bridge of his nose and then stood to walk over to her, placing his hand on her shoulder.

“Look...Dany, I want to be in the North with my family. I care nought for your throne or the Tyrells or Paxter Redwyne,” he spat the last bit out. 

“I want you to have many more years on your throne. I want you to have children. I want to look out for them. I am not your enemy Dany. In fact... I am your only true friend in this place because I want nothing of yours. But I will not marry the Tyrell girl nor will you ever mention Arya’s name again in the same breath as those green boys. If you do, you’ll only compound your problems.”

“Is that another threat?”

“No. A declaration. Insist on this and you’ll have to find yourself a new heir before the day is out. Perhaps Edric Baratheon?”

“You wouldn’t-“

“Wouldn’t I?”

Jon walked out of her rooms before descending to the yard, Longclaw in hand to face whoever was stupid enough to spar with him in his rage.

The queen ran behind him. Even her unsullied had broken out of their frozen masks that could rival Arya’s with a confused look at their running queen. 

“Jon! Jon wait!”

Finally she caught up to him.

“Jon,” she pronounced breathlessly. Since she used his name, whatever she was about to say was going to be self-serving. 

“I’m sorry.”

He was not.

“I am just at a loss on what to do. I need the Redwyne fleet.”

“For what?”

She stepped away from him. “Please,” she said pointing to a room they stood outside. When they entered she closed the door.

“Do you really want this girl?”

“Yes.”

“I do not want to see you harmed.”

Unless it is to your benefit. 

“How much do you trust these Starks?”

Great. This again.

“With my life.”

“And you’re sure they do not mean to rebel against me and place you on the throne?”

“They don’t want your throne.”

“You seemed sure earlier that they had the means to fight me for it.”

“If you wronged them.”

There was a pregnant pause between them. Neither of them filled the silence.

Finally, “Fine. I give you leave to marry the girl. I will announce your betrothal at my own Council of Great Lords,” she said. 

“A council?”

“Yes. I will need to approve whatever decisions your Great Northern Council makes,” she mocked. “Why not use it as an opportunity for other kingdoms to share their grievances with me as well?”

Jon was sure there was something she was not saying. 

Sceptical, he asked, “What changed your mind so fast?”

“You were right. I am the blood of the dragon. I crush both roses and grapes underfoot. I will not sacrifice your happiness for theirs. I will just have to find a way for them and the North to stay loyal.”

“What do you mean?”

“I do not mean harm to your Starks, do not worry.”

———

Jon found out an hour later why Dany said she needed the Redwyne fleet and why she became suddenly agreeable to the banker after threatening him. She had no intention to pay the full debt. She was merely buying her time until Illyrio arrived. It was clear the man had been whispering talk of conquering Braavos to her long before Tycho Nestoris arrived.

“For too long the Iron Bank of Braavos has run roughshod over the world,” Daenerys announced loftily, “and everyone bowed to their demands. But no longer. I am Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen. I am the blood of the dragon - I will not stand by while some bankers threaten me and oppress my kingdom for the crimes of the usurpers. My words are Fire and Blood. I will not be cowed.” 

Leaning over to her “Dany, you cannot be serious!” Jon whispered. 

She pulled her lips into a tight line, ignoring him. 

“Braavos has subjugated the Pentoshi for longer than they have oppressed your realm, Your Grace,” the fat Magister piped up. 

“Whatever action you take to pay them back, Illyrio Mopatis is your servant.” He bowed his head for effect. 

“Braavos has done some things right,” Daenerys acknowledged. “They were right in their attempts to prohibit slavery in Pentos. In this instance, I just happen to have aligned interests with your council of Magisters, but there is a price for me forgiving your debts as well.”

“Oh, Your Grace,” the man appealed airily, “the Braavosi did ban slavery in Pentos. It was no mere attempt. We have not had slaves for a hundred years in Pentos.”

“What do you call raising the cost of living such that servants work for free simply to survive?”

“Your Grace, servants are remunerated for their service with a roof over their head. A man cannot control the expensive cost of living.”

Jon couldn’t believe what he was hearing. And what was worse, as he looked around the room, Daenerys’ council was silent, listening, as if this had any merit. 

“What help do you provide Her Grace in this ill-thought campaign to conquer Braavos?” Jon entreated. “Pentos is not allowed a standing navy. Any ships you have are merely there to protect your own waters nor can you have an army of more than ten thousand men at a time.” Arya had told him of Braavos’ arsenal and it’s unrivalled power in the seas. Pentos had lost its last wars with Braavos so badly that Braavos’ terms when Pentos sued for peace all but ensured the city could never rise up again.

“I have been a long-time friend of Queen Daenerys,” he said, answering Jon, but looking at the Queen, “I will support her in any way I can. Besides, Pentos not having a navy or an army does not mean we cannot offer money to buy them. Braavos cannot enforce the terms of a hundred year old treaty, if it no longer has the power to do so. Besides...Queen Daenerys has already proven herself a formidable conqueror.”

“What’s in it for you?” he asked the sweating man.

“The new Sealord is weak. Once I conquer Braavos I will need someone to hold the city for me,” Daenerys answered. “Illyrio has been one of my greatest supporters and this is only a fraction of what I owe him.”

“You are too kind, Your Grace,” the magister flattered. 

“And how will you ensure he doesn’t happen to slip and fall dead one day in the city notorious for its faceless men?” Arya had told him Braavos’ power lay in part in their ability to wipe out their threats without war. War is bad for business, she said. 

“They cannot harm him if their temple is destroyed.” Dany replied abruptly. “I have a particular dislike for assassins. Only cowards employ them.”

“Does this sound reasonable to any of you?” Jon queried the silent council. 

“If the queen can wipe out the Crown’s debts with little harm to us, it is a sound idea,” Tyrek Lannister squeaked. 

“Of course you would say that,” Jon snarled. 

“I will not only forgive the debts of my allies but I will reward my bannermen generously,” she said looking at her husband and good-brother and their uncle. 

“How do you propose to do this then?” Jon asked the dragon queen.

“With my children and my armies. The Redwyne fleet will hold the sea for me. They will be joined by the Volantene fleet made up of freedmen who chose me as their saviour. My unsullied will sack the city if my armies breach the Titan, all while I lead the assault in the air.” Dany looked pleased with herself. 

“Pentos alone won a battle at the very gates of Braavos in the Battle of the Titan. You, Your Grace, with your children, your armies and your friends in Pentos and Volantis, are sure to win.”

It was then that he realised they were all fools. Not a single one of them warned her against this folly. Even Randyll Tarly. For all he was a terrible man, he seemed a prudent commander. Even he stayed silent. Garlan and Willas as well. 

Jon wanted to go back North as soon as possible. His lords would have argued with him for a day and a night if he said something so stupid.

At least these flatterers hadn’t dragged those he cared about into their ill-thought plan for war. 

Two days later, he sailed for home with the Daynes, the Dornish and Davos, while Varys and Illyrio travelled to Volantis as envoys of Daenerys. 

Chapter Text

Arya 


Before the day started for their guests, Arya was up and already in the kitchens meeting with Osha, and all her staff. In addition to her duties in Winter Town, Osha took on overseeing the kitchen staff, for the duration of the Council, the associated feasts and the two weddings. She’d worked in the kitchens during the last harvest feast held while Robb was still alive. So she was familiar with how things were done. This time round many of the women of Winter Town joined them to prepare for the feasts. 

They were expecting people from the entire North to converge in the castle all at once: Free folk, First Men, Andals, Crannogmen, the Children of the Forest and, for good measure, a Dornish party. Arya had never seen Winterfell this busy, not even when the king came to visit. According to Meera, Beth and Osha, even the last harvest feast held in the castle was not half as busy as what they were managing this time round. Everywhere Arya looked there were a motley of colours and banners. 

The white knife in a blue pile on white of House Norrey, the black battle axe on silver of House Cerwyn, all the different coloured horses of House Ryswell, the sunbursts of Houses Karstark and Thenn, the pily flame on black of the Crowls of Deepdown in Skagos, the merman of the Manderlys, and the silver fist of the Glovers were just some of the banners that lined the castle walls as Arya ran about doing her duties. 

Everywhere they could possibly house people they had. The Great Keep was all but full of lords and ladies. They cleaned up the lower parts of the Broken Tower and housed lesser lords, knights, jugglers, singers, free riders, all sorts of other retainers and the free folk in the empty houses in Winter Town as well as in tents that were set up all around the castle grounds and Winter Town itself. Osha and Beth were indispensable in working out where to place different parties. Without them, Arya wouldn’t know who needed to be kept apart from who. Beth knew the intricacies of Northern alliances and Osha knew the same for the free folk. 

Uncle Brynden and some of the lords he fought alongside during the War of the Five Kings oversaw the guards. When the Greatjon bellowed, most northmen listened while Tormund kept the peace among the free folk. Given their combined efforts, they had little trouble. 

Thankfully for them, most lords and ladies brought provisions with them. Otherwise Arya was not sure they could feed everyone themselves. The most generous, as always, was Lord Manderly, though Sansa sent food and gifts congratulating Bran on his historical council. She was ‘ unable ’ to attend herself. 

These days, Meera waddled around the castle with swollen feet trying to do the duties of the Lady of Winterfell. Half the time, she stole Bran’s wheeled chair and was pushed around the castle by Rickon (whenever he wanted to escape his lessons), Branda or any child she could find to do her bidding. There was always a sweet or coin associated with this duty. 

With Beth Cassel a new mother, Sarra took over many of her duties although Beth remained partial to tying her daughter around her chest and helping out - something they were all grateful for. She’d been managing Winterfell for longer than any of them. 

It was an hour before dawn when Arya groggily came down to the kitchens with Sarra to help Turnip, their new head cook. He’d taken on his father’s role like Harwin, Tom Too, Calon, and Palla had taken theirs. Gage was Winterfell’s cook in father’s time and Turnip a friend of theirs as children. Their parents were all dead now but they remained together, keeping the memory of that old Winterfell alive. Harwin in the stables like his father Hullen, Palla in the kennels like her father Farlen, and Tom Too and Calon as guards like their fathers Fat Tom and Cayn who died in King’s Landing protecting Father. 

This part of the morning reminded Arya of her time in the kitchens with Umma at the House of Black and White, chopping onions, frying eggs and sharing the odd joke with those working with her. Dawn came and went by the time they began distributing food for those breaking their fast. They started with the Great Hall and then set up stations all around the grounds. 

Even at this early time of morning, there were musicians singing in courtyards. Somehow Arya remained partial to Tom after all those months on the road together. 

Arya was walking to take Bran his own food. She knew he’d already be in Father’s solar. Somehow it didn’t feel right calling it anything else. Bran had endless meetings from dawn to dusk each day, trying to get to know his bannermen. He said Ser Rodrik once told him, “ A feast makes a pleasant pretext but a man does not cross a hundred leagues for a sliver of duck and a sip of wine. Only those who have matters of import to set before us are like to make the journey .” Judging by the numbers that had made the journey it was clear many had requests and grievances. 

Sometimes, when she sat and watched him sit on Father’s chair she’d feel a pang in her heart thinking of Father sitting in the same place. She’d imagine Father making those same judgments and imagined Bran became the sort of leader Robb had become but Arya had never seen. 

These days her brother had a newfound confidence. His new horse listened well to his commands such that Bran could go riding, and then have the horse sit so he could slide into his wheeled chair without help as long as it was positioned near a wall for him. He also sometimes used his sleigh pulled by Summer or Ghost.

With all the guests in the castle, Nymeria spent most of her time with her pups in the Wolfswood, around the den. The pups were growing fast. Arya was already seeing them go through stages of development she had missed with Nymeria. 

As they broke their fast, Bran spoke of how different this feast felt to the last one - the one he had met Meera at. He spoke of his despondency back then, when his agemates had been tilting at quintains, playing games and calling him broken in their whispers. 

“And look at you now,” Arya consoled him, “Lord of Winterfell, a soon to be father and the most powerful man in the North.”

Her brother smiled shyly. Whenever he smiled her heart sang because she never thought she’d see him alive again. These days when Bran smiled she could see how genuine his happiness was. She could hear it in his voice and see the mirth in his eyes. His happiness was infectious.

“Father knew, you know?” she told her brother .

“Knew what?”

“That you’d achieve great things. When you woke from your accident, I asked him whether you’d come to live with us in King’s Landing and what you might do when you came of age. He said you could be the lord of a great holdfast,” she gestured around the room, “and sit on the king’s council. He said you might even raise castles like Brandon the Builder, which you are clearly planning to do with this council, he even said you might sail a ship across the Sunset Sea. If you do, you better take me with you,” she added, pointing a finger at him accusingly. 

“But he also said you might enter mother’s Faith and become High Septon, somehow after everything, I don’t think that particular prediction will come to pass.”

Her brother smiled. “You should know Jon is expected to arrive today.”

“Did you see that too?” she asked jokingly, though she felt excitement surge through her. 

He produced a scroll instead holding it between his fore and middle fingers. “I got this from Ser Wendel Manderly two days ago. They spent a day in White Harbor.”

“You’ve had this for two days? Why didn’t you tell me?”

“What would you have done differently, other than be as jittery as a maid before her bedding?”

“You may be Lord of Winterfell to everyone else Bran, but you’re still an annoying little shit to me.”

——-

True to Bran’s word, Jon and his party arrived just after the noon meal. She saw him enter through the Hunter’s Gate, riding his fine black courser. She resisted the urge to run to him while their household, minus Rickon who they couldn’t find, stood in a line to welcome the Dornish party and the man that could only be Lord Davos. 

Riding in with Jon were the Dornish, Harwin and guards who were no doubt sent out with horses to the tributary of the White Knife that flowed through the Wolfswood. Arya watched Jon and his companions dismount. Her heart fluttered and she felt like the maid Bran had described, bedding aside...or not aside. 

She was happy to see him again. He looked road weary but otherwise healthy. He walked straight to Bran as custom demanded, hugging him in greeting. He then introduced Lord Davos to Bran after greetings were exchanged with the Daynes. The Daynes then did the same for their people. 

Jon moved over to her to embrace her, holding her a beat too long for a public greeting but not long enough for all her pent up longing. “I missed you, love” he whispered in her ear, before stepping aside to begin introductions. 

Lord Davos wore simple leathers and gloves. She could see the shortened fingers through his gloves. At first Arya questioned why he would stay with a king who took his fingers before she realised the House of Black and White had taken her eyes and she still stayed, determined more than anything to prove herself. Lord Davos was clearly not much different in that regard. He had a genuine warmth in his eyes that she decided she liked.

“Lord Davos, I am pleased to meet you. I’ve heard a lot about you. Thank you for being by his side when we could not.”

“It was no trouble at all. If I’m honest, the lad looked after me!” Lord Davos laughed cheerfully.

He had a fatherly look to him that made Arya miss her own. 

The Sandsnakes were an interesting group. Uncle Brynden had told her about Prince Oberyn Martell: his flair for fighting, hatred of Lannisters and knowledge of poisons. From what she heard of him, Arya decided she would have liked the man. After all, he’d killed The Mountain, well nearly. Uncle Brynden said the man somehow lived a while longer without a head thanks to Qyburn. Perhaps he really would have been dead if Arya killed Qyburn herself in Harrenhal. Whatever the answer, whatever The Mountain became was killed when King Aegon took his throne. Arya thought it fitting he be killed on the orders of the man who proclaimed to be Elia’s son with Oberyn and Elia’s true niece by his side. Uncle Brynden also told her of what truly happened to Elia and her children. It was clear there were a lot of horrors from that period that Father hid from them. 

Prince Oberyn’s daughters were no less interesting than him. They presented Bran with gifts from Dorne

Nymeria Sand had an elegance that Arya had only seen in the most beautiful courtesans in Braavos. But from the tiny bulge around the place her boots met her breeches, Arya saw a dagger. She greeted Arya warmly, and had a devious smile about her but Arya could not see an immediate threat to her or anyone in Winterfell in it. Still, she’d stay vigilant. Nymeria asked if her namesake was around. Arya told her Nymeria had been avoiding the castle for the most part but occasionally came around. She’d introduce them soon. 

Nymeria and her sister Tyene looked as different as day and night. Where the first had black hair, dark eyes and olive skin, the other had blonde hair, blue eyes and fair skin. Tyene had an innocent look about her - Uncle Brynden said her mother was a septa. Arya tried to imagine the man who made a septa break her vows. Yet when the girl took off her gloves, from the discolouration on the top of her middle finger, Arya could see the girl dabbled in poisons. The waif had a similar mark from using Greycap. 

Elia Sand resembled her olive-skinned sister more. From the ease with which she dismounted her horse, Arya could see the girl was half horse herself. She had an easy smile to her. 

Arya was greeting the youngest of the party, the shy Loreza Sand when Branda came scampering into the yard, shouting, “Jon! You came back!” Everyone’s eyes turned to their winter storm but Branda remained unaware all but tumbling into Jon when he bent down to catch her. Still breathless, “Jon! We went to the Wall! Arya said you lived there! And then we saw giants!!” 

Arya saw Jon’s eyes widen in wonder, encouraging the girl’s story.

“They were so big Jon you wouldn’t believe how big they were!”

“How big were they?”

“So big, nearly as tall as the ceiling of the Great Hall! I’m not sure they could walk inside the Great Keep at all! Bran said they’re coming here and Osha said she used to fight them when she lived beyond the wall but how can a person fight giants? Anyway, I’ll show you when they come! I made friends with one. He carried me on his shoulders.”

“Please do,” Jon replied, still kneeling in front of Branda, “I would like to see a giant. What else did you do?”

“Arya bought everyone presents, she bought-“ The girl gasped. “I’m not supposed to tell you. Arya said it was a surprise.”

“What did she buy?”

“I can’t tell you. Arya said it was for the wedding.” Branda paused. Her eyes widened. Everyone was silently watching her. “Jon?” she said shyly. “Can I come and live with you and Arya when you marry?”

And there it was. The cat was out of the bag. Everyone stood silent to stare at the two people in the middle: the man on his knees and the standing girl with the petals in her hair.

“Do you want to live with us?” Jon asked Branda amusedly. His demeanour was calm as still water compared to the panic and embarrassment that surged through Arya. No one outside of their family and the Mormonts knew and now some southron guests knew before their own people. 

Branda nodded enthusiastically.

“Arya and I would like that,” Jon smiled at their winter storm.

After a pregnant silence,“Why didn’t you tell us?” Allyria demanded of Jon.

He only gave her a sheepish smile that made him look a boy again.

“Congratulations brother,” Ned said before pulling Jon in for a hug and doing the same for Arya. 

“Oh how I would love to be a fly on the wall when the Queen of Thorns hears this news,” Nymeria chuckled. “Someone must tell Leona Tyrell her efforts were in vain!” Nymeria and her sisters seemed beside themselves in laughter as they said something about a Targaryen dress.

“Who is Leona Tyrell?” Arya asked no one in particular, keeping her eyes fixed on Jon’s. All of a sudden he looked as guilty as sin. She raised her eyebrow at him, awaiting an answer.

Meera sensing the tension, broke in. “Right! You must all be tired from the road. Sarra, please offer our guests bread and salt. Please,” Meera motioned to their guests, “follow me I’ll guide you to your rooms, and order baths drawn for you. Food will be sent up for you as well.”

As their guests began walking to The Great Keep, Arya leaned in to Jon, to whisper harshly, “Who in seven hells is Leona Tyrell?”

“Later,” was his only response before he rushed away to push Bran’s wheeled chair into the Keep. 

Later he says. I’ll show him later! 

She asked him thrice more while they sat in Father’s solar waiting for the rest of their family. “Later,” he said, a warning in his voice. 

“Just some girl in King’s Landing,” was his second response. 

“Some girl whose efforts were in vain, she jeered from her seat. “What exactly were those efforts Prince Aemon?” She never called him that before but Jon was her person and he would not be Jon until he gave her answers.

Bran watched the entire thing as silent as a shadow that was thoroughly enjoying itself. 

“Why would her efforts be in vain Jon?” she insisted. “Why would Olenna Redwyne care who you marry?”

Jon was rescued by Uncle Brynden’s arrival while Arya was left to stew in her questions. 

“Welcome home, boy!”

Next came Rickon, Shaggy and Ghost. All while Arya sat there scowling at the prince who for some reason looked tickled by the situation. 

Meera came in with food, followed by Maester Elric.

She glared at Jon while they ate. He on the other hand, did not look at her at all. Ghost was the one who gave her attention, placing his head on her lap so she could scratch between his ears. 

Jon spoke to Rickon about the progress instead. The maester and Uncle Brynden spoke of castle affairs and Meera had her swollen feet on Bran’s lap. Her brother sat across from her on their father’s oak chair. Between them was the long plank-and-trestle table they’d sit at whenever they ate with their father here. When he wasn’t sending concerned looks to his wife and stroking her swollen belly, he was sending shit eating grins to Arya. Lord or not, Bran was still Bran. 

When the food was cleared, Maester Elric began laying out maps of the North. Given all the plans they’d made, and had yet to make, Arya was sure they’d still be sat here well into the night. And poor Maester Elric would have to write it all down.

“Before we start, I’d like to congratulate Arya and Jon on their betrothal,” her annoying brother said in his lord’s voice.

“My niece’s father may no longer be here but you remember she’s not alone,” her uncle warned. “She has two uncles who love her dearly.” Arya felt tears spring up in her eyes at the earnest look in her uncle's face. When she put her hand in his, he kissed it.

“I will never hurt her,” Jon vowed.

“I will let you know if he does,” Arya said scowling at Jon who simply smiled at her. What was funny about this?

 “I remember the day your mother married your father,” her uncle went on. “She did not expect to be married to him, but toward the end of her life, she loved no one more. I wish you even more happiness than your parents shared. May your love be as strong.” Her uncle thought their marriage was an arranged match by Bran and thought Jon and Arya shared a similar fate to that of her parents with one sibling standing in for the other as part of an alliance. Although in their situation, Sansa was alive. Arya wondered how she would react to the betrothal. 

“Thank you,” Jon replied to her uncle, “I hope our love is even stronger. The queen has approved of our match.”

“What?” Arya exclaimed. “Why didn’t you write to us?”

“I thought I’d tell you when I saw you,” he shrugged.

“Why did you tell her without consulting us?  What if she’d said no?”

“She wanted to arrange a match for you. I couldn’t stay quiet could I?” He had a satisfied smile. Arya narrowed her eyes at him, resisting the very urge to stick her tongue out. 

“To who?” Rickon burst in.

“Some Redwyne or other.”

“Why didn’t the queen ask me?” Arya wondered out loud. “Perhaps I would have accepted,” she added for good measure. It earned her a low growl.

“Would you rather Hobber or Horas Redwyne, my lady?”

She started laughing. “Sansa and Jeyne used to call them, Ser Horror and Ser Slobber.” Arya remembered the twins they were homely youths with orange hair and square, freckled faces. The last time she saw them was the day her father was killed, they and their guards nearly ran her down as they galloped past.

“Well,” Uncle Brynden said, “I suppose I owe you both congratulations for escaping the clutches of Olenna Redwyne. I did not think she would let you slip through her fingers again.”

“What do you mean again?” Meera asked (the relevant question). Bran continued massaging her feet. 

“The woman wanted Jon for some Tyrell or other. When the betrothal with Sansa happened that was that but I thought...with you unmarried and heir…”

“Was that Tyrell, Leona Tyrell?” Arya prodded. 

“I do not remember the poor girl's name, child.”

Arya glowered once more at Jon. 

“How were things here?” he asked them all. 

“How were things in King’s Landing?” Arya bit back before anyone could answer. 

“Not great.” Jon sighed. “The queen wants to go to war to Braavos.”

“Why? What’s Braavos done to her?” Arya liked the queen when she met her. The Dragon Queen spoke warmly about her own time in Braavos.

“She does not believe she should have to pay the debts of the kings before her.”

“What do the Tyrells have to say about that?” Her uncle asked.

“Her entire small council either supported or stayed silent.”

“And you?” she asked him. 

“I told her it’s a stupid idea obviously. She didn’t listen to me. Perhaps if the Volantenes refuse her she will decide to hold back from war.”

“What does Volantis have to do with this?”

“She’s promising to forgive the debts of Volantis and Pentos with the Iron Bank for their assistance.”

“No fleet gets past the Titan.” Arya remembered the fortress at the entrance to Braavos. From inside it watchmen could steer enemy ships to crash into the rocks while burning pitch was poured onto ships that made it past that stage. “It would end in disaster for any fleet that tries to breach the city. At least Volantis has distance between it and Braavos. Pentos is right next door and has been beaten thrice in their five wars.”

“They did not have a dragon,” Jon countered. “Dany is keen to remind everyone that Volantis, the more powerful of the two, once threatened Pentos and Aegon the Conqueror flew Balerion to their aid, pushing back the Volantenes.”

Arya thought this was the silliest thing she’d ever heard. “She wouldn’t get the chance to burn a thing if she’s dead.”

Her uncle gave her a queer look.

“No one threatens Braavos and lives long enough to see it through.”

“What do you mean?” Meera asked, slipping her feet off her husband’s lap.

“Braavos doesn’t engage in war often. They kill the leaders of their enemies. An army without an effective leader is just a bunch of disorganised men with swords.”

“Dany’s Pentoshi Magister would tell you if Braavos was that powerful, Pentos wouldn’t have won a battle at their city gates. The faceless men cannot kill every leader of an army as big as Daenerys’ and she has dragons.”

“I thought you said they’re too wild to live in King’s Landing?”

“The Grand Maester says their constitution has improved and Dany agrees, she feels her dragons in much the same way we feel our direwolves.”

Arya looked at Bran, “Even if the sky falls down you will not sign the North to this.”

“Thankfully, she’s not asked for any Northern assistance in this war,” Jon answered. “Let’s just hope the queen listens to reason when we go to King’s Landing. She does listen to smart counsel if she’s challenged enough...Anyway, forget about King’s Landing. Tell me about the progress.”

Rickon filled him in while Arya thought about all the ways the queen’s campaign could go wrong. Was that why Jaqen was here? 

“How long was Pate working with the Grand Maester?” 

“Since before the War for the Dawn, why?”

“I wondered whether he could help us...learn how to make Valyrian steel,” she lied. 

“I don’t think he can help anyone he’s dead.”

Arya knew whatever he was up to did not bode well. He told her on the night Bran and Rickon came home that he was here to watch. For now she pleases the House but there are concerns, he said. Arya thought he meant her. What if he didn’t?

The Game isn’t played on just one side of the Narrow Sea, lovely girl, and a man has been busy. Watching. Waiting.

“The Queen cannot go to war,” Arya blurted. “They’ll kill her.”

“Who?” her uncle asked but Jon and Bran’s faces told her they understood.

“The faceless men. The Sealord doesn’t have to go to war if he can just send her an assassin. She will never know who it is because they can change their face to be anyone and they could make anyone’s death look natural.”

“I would love to meet a faceless man,” Rickon proclaimed wondrously. “Have you ever met one?”

“No.”

“How would you know though if they can change their face?”

“Thank you Maester Elric,” her brother announced in his lord’s voice with respect to the now laid out maps. “Shall we begin?”

And so they did. 

“Rickon,” she boomed at the brother who decided whatever was happening outside was more interesting. “What were our two main industries?”

“Wool and wood.”

“And what else?”

“Maybe silver, stone and horses.”

Arya then detailed the main industries of each region before returning to the potential of Moat Cailin. 

“We have a main customs point at the port in White Harbor but no similar one for overland trade.” Arya remembered the Titan’s Daughter having to stop at Chequy Port for half a day. Braavos generated a lot of money through the port. 

“I know just the man to oversee the port,” Jon added before making the case for Lord Davos. They’d initially offered it to Uncle Brynden who refused, saying that he came to live with his family, not take on new responsibilities half a kingdom away.

They then moved on to speak of the need to better connect the regions of The North. Theirs was the largest of the kingdoms and people lived and died without seeing all of it. For trade to flourish they would need to make it easier for people to travel throughout the land. 

“We have enough rivers and two seas on either coast to make the creation of canals easy for us. In Braavos that’s how we got around.” Arya then stood up to mark out routes across the map with the stick Maester Elric gave her. 

“We could create a main canal going from White Harbor, where most of our oversea trade comes from, to Moat Cailin. It’s a relatively short route too and given our lack of coin is cheaper than most other routes.” 

“No.” Jon said taking the stick from her and keeping his hand over hers a little too long, “Doing that would allow the Ironborn to capture Moat Cailin and White Harbor one after the other before we could send aid to either. It would also make the Manderlys more powerful without adding anything to us. The North has been in Stark hands for thousands of years because the Starks made themselves indispensable. Yours is a good idea,” he said smiling at her, “but the new North we build must retain House Stark at its heart.”

“Instead,” he pointed, moving the stick down the map, “the main canal should be from Torrhen’s Square to the White Knife. It’s a long route sure but the canal passes directly through our lands, it is more secure, has connections to the King’s Road, and will make the Manderlys more money. We want them to make more money because it makes us more money as well but the control of the canal being ours makes them dependent on Stark favour.” 

Arya hadn’t thought that far. Both the Maester and her uncle looked impressed at his reasoning. Robb was right to choose him as his heir, and Arya saw the king he was as he explained his thought process. He smiled at her when he caught her staring. She nearly even forgot about Leona Tyrell. He handed her the stick again, asking her to continue. 

“We need smaller canals too. The White Knife goes through the Wolfswood but we should extend further with a canal that would make it easier for river runners to transport lumber to White Harbor for overseas sale.” She moved the pointer further north. “We should also link the Long Lake to the Last River. That way we can move up The White Knife to Long Lake before joining the Last River and then the King’s Road. It would ease travel between Winterfell and the Gift as well.”

When she looked up, the way Jon was looking at her made her cheeks burn. 

He moved next to her, holding her hand in his to move the pointer around. “And if war ever comes, we can send aid to Deepwood Motte and Bear Island quicker and end Ironborn raids before they can really take hold.”

“You will need a chain and fortresses to stop the Ironborn using the same canals to attack.” Her uncle pointed out. 

Jon let the pointer go so she could continue, keeping his gaze on her lips while she spoke. 

“Our wool region is concentrated mainly in the south. A canal connecting Torrhen’s Square to the Stony Shore would do for the wool industry what the northern canals do for the lumber trade.”

Her brother then chimed in. “This is less of a priority now that spring is here but we’ll also need to build in sledges so that when the canals freeze we can still use the canals.”

“We can use the same designs they have in Braavos,” Arya pointed out. “During the early winter, I suppose when you were fighting the War for the Dawn here, in Braavos we used sledges to travel through the frozen canals.”

They then turned their focus to their weaknesses along the West Coast. 

Arya recommended a new navy and port on Sea Dragon Point. “It has plentiful forests that would make it a good place to build a fleet as well,” she pointed out. 

“If we do that,” Jon said, leading her hand across the map again - it was obvious he enjoyed doing that since he couldn’t do anything outwardly flirtatious with her in front of their family. “The Ironborn will concentrate their raids on the Barrowlands and The Rills along the Saltspear and Blazewater Bay. We should keep ships along Sea Dragon Point, if they get that far, but the port and navy should be at the mouth of the Saltspear preventing them from attacking us inland. We can send support up the West Coast then and prevent them from getting reinforcements.”

Her uncle agreed saying that an attack from the north at Saltspear and one from Seagard in the Riverlands would have the Iron Isles surrounded. 

Once they decided on where to place different parts of a new northern navy, they began talking about the need to reward their bannerman for their roles in the wars. Many of them had ridden south with Robb for Father and lost limbs, loved ones and years of their lives in captivity. Yet they never betrayed House Stark and remained loyal. As for those who did betray them, their time would come too. 

“Robett Glover fought bravely in all the wars,” Jon said, “He also sent Davos to Rickon along with Lord Manderly. His wife recently died, leaving him a widower with two children. We should arrange a marriage for him.”

“We should do more for him,” Arya insisted. “We should find wives for both Glover brothers. We’ll need loyal men to hold lands.”

They then discussed options for both brothers and the new lands they might give Robett Glover, raising him to a lord.

“Lord Willam Dustin has a recently widowed niece,” Meera pointed out, “I met her at the feast.”

“Where would you give them lands?” her uncle enquired, on behalf of the man he fought beside in the War of the Five Kings. 

“Barrowton.”

“I thought the point was to reward Glover with lands,” Uncle Brynden stressed.

“Shall we ask Lady Dustin to pack up?” Jon laughed. “I suppose she’ll have a lot to say about that.”

“We won’t have to ask her anything. In any case, I listened to your words Jon about the Starks of old granting lands around The Dreadfort to their allies. We should do the same in the Rills and in the Barrowlands. The lands are fertile and empty. We could make a lot of money there and generate food for people in winter. Lady Dustin and her father were the first to swear fealty to the Boltons. They should not feel safe in their castles.”

“Arya, Lady Dustin returned Father’s bones to Winterfell,” Jon interjected.

“Without Hal, Jack, Shadd and Quent who my mother sent north with his body!”

“Beth and Anguy should also have their own keep,” Bran announced. “The last time I sat in this seat with Ser Rodrik, he was worried about Beth’s prospects. Ser Rodrik died for us,” her brother said, his voice thick with grief. “We should grant Beth good lands so House Cassel can continue in security.”

They all agreed. Ser Rodrik was an important member of their household growing up. He taught the boys how to use swords and told Arya stories whenever she ran away from the septa and he wasn’t too busy. 

“We’ll need to reward the Umbers too,” Bran added. “The Greatjon lost his heir and spent years in the dungeons of The Twins. According to Arya both his uncles want wives as well.”

“Jonelle Cerwyn is looking for a husband,” Arya recalled. “It would be a handsome reward for the Greatjon to have children that would inherit both Castle Cerwyn and the Last Hearth and Jonelle would have a child that carried on the Cerwyn name.” It was not unknown for children to take on the name of the family whose castle they inherited. Bran told Arya how Sansa’s own husband changed his name from Hardyng to Arryn. 

They then spoke about candidates for Mors and Hothar Umber selecting ladies who were slightly older but still of child rearing age, widowed and seeking someone to help protect their lands. They had told Arya they didn’t care who the man was as long as he would protect them and be good to them. As ancient as the Umber brothers were, they fought alongside Stannis and then Jon when they marched for The Twins to free their nephew. 

They carried on speaking well into the night about trade and appointments. Rickon fell asleep in his seat first, followed by Meera who left for her and Bran’s rooms. 

They sat and spoke until they were stiff from sitting in the same chair and night was about to give into day. They broke for a brief recess before dawn when they would begin speaking to select bannermen. She left the room first not looking behind her while Jon carried Rickon to his rooms. 

He was soaking in a bath an hour later when she burst into his chambers. She barred the door, while he leaned back into his bath and watched her with a burning gaze. It nearly distracted her.

“Who is Leona Tyrell?”

He started laughing like she asked a funny question. And then he stood up and walked toward her, water dripping off his muscled skin, a smile on his face. He looked bigger than she remembered. 

“No one important,” he sighed before pulling her to him and kissing her hair. 

She pushed him away. “You got my dress wet!”

“You should take it off and lay it by the fire,” he teased in a low voice, moving his lips to hers. His arms were on either side of her head and planted on the door. He surrounded her. 

“I’m doing no such thing until you tell me who in the seven hells Leona Tyrell is,” she growled back. 

“A stupid girl who wanted to marry a prince. She doesn’t know a single thing about me.”

“And what about the dress the sand snakes said?”

“She wore Targaryen colours to a feast. I’m sure someone told her she would marry me. The girl is not bad she just has her head in the clouds. Now can we stop talking about Leona Tyrell. I missed you Arya,” he whispered against her lips.

She pushed him off her again. “Not bad?”

“Arya,” he growled, pulling her hips into him. “I don’t want the girl. Let me show you, you’re the only one I want.”

And he did and her dress was currently hanging near the fire to ‘dry .’

Her head was lying on his chest. She looked up to him. His eyes were closed but he had a smile on his face. 

“Jon.”

“Hmm?” he didn’t open his eyes. 

She sat up. “Jon, Daenerys won’t survive a war against Braavos.” 

“I’ve warned her. We’ll warn her again in King’s Landing. Perhaps she’ll listen then. She hasn’t declared war, she’s merely floated the idea. She won’t go until after her council and that’s three months away.”

“That’s three months she could die in.”

“She’s currently making payments to the Iron Bank. I don’t think they will attack her without her giving them reason.”

“But-“

“Enough. You are naked in my bed, we have to go back down to meet with Bran in a few moments. Can I just lie here with my bride without talking of a war we won’t fight in?” 

He pulled her back down. 

“Are you sure we won’t fight in it?”

“I promise.”

“Good. Because I plan to have Braavos as our biggest trade partner.”

————

Osha sent food to Father’s solar so they could break their fast. The early fingers of the sunrise were prying their way through the clouds. Uncle Brynden had changed his clothes, Meera looked slightly more rested, Rickon’s hair had been brushed and tied up neatly. Jon looked great as always and Bran had the direwolf of Stark printed proudly across his chest.

Lord Howland Reed and the Children of the Forest arrived earlier that night. When the doors were opened to let them in, Arya could hear the whispers of people gawping at The Children of the Forest. 

Lord Howland was accompanied by three of them. They were slight in stature, a little shorter than the lord they accompanied. They had brown skin spotted with lighter spots. Their hands had three fingers and a thumb each with long black claws for nails. Two had golden eyes while one had eyes as red as the leaves of a weirwood. Something about them reminded Arya of the Ghost of High Heart.

Meera ran to her father pulling him into a hug, though her stomach got in the way. Her father laughed with tears in his eyes at his pregnant daughter and smiled at his goodson before bending down to hug him. The joy in his eyes made Arya think of her own father. Lord Howland had once saved his life against Ser Arthur Dayne. She wondered whether he would have been as happy as Lord Howland was to one day see her married after her insistence that she would never marry and settle down. She missed him every day even now. 

Jon and Rickon were next to embrace Lord Howland while Meera and Bran moved over to the Children. 

Lastly, Jon took her hand and walked her over to Lord Howland whose eyes widened when he saw her.

“Lord Howland,” Jon said proudly. “This is my betrothed, Lady Arya Stark.”

Lord Howland took her hand in greeting and kissed it. 

“My lady. You look so much like your aunt,” he said in a voice that held grief.

“I am pleased to finally meet you Lord Howland. I’ve heard a lot about you,” she replied. “It seems everyone in my family loves you already.”

“As I love them all.”

Bran then introduced them to the Children. 

“This is Ash,” he said gesturing to the first of the Children.

“It’s not really Ash’s name,” Meera pointed out, “His true name is too long for the Common Tongue so this is the name we chose for him.”

So this one was a him. 

Next was Snowylocks, no doubt due to her white hair. Again this was the name Meera chose for her. 

And last was Black Knife. Again a name chosen by Meera and Bran. 

They’d just sat down when Branda burst in. 

“Jon the giants! Oh-“ she said, turning to the Children. 

She moved away from Jon entirely. 

“Hello. I’m Branda,” she said, holding out her hand for them to shake. “I’m Rickon’s friend. He said he was going to introduce me to you.”

The Children looked at each other and then each shook her hand. The smile on her face could have blinded everyone in the room. 

“Why don’t you show me the giants later?” Jon asked, smiling at her. 

“Alright,” she conceded. “I’ll go show Loreza!” and with that their storm was gone. 

Bran pointed out to the Children the settlements that had been set aside for them. He told them that they would have to cut some trees so they could trade in lumber but promised no weirwoods would be cut and that no trees would be cut in the areas set aside for them. He also told them of how their uncle had agreed to let them settle in the island on the God’s Eye where the original Pact was signed. As he spoke, Arya stole looks at the Children. She couldn’t believe that she was in the same room as the descendants of peoples powerful enough to cut lands into two. People who had fought the War for the Dawn twice and won. She wished Old Nan was here to see them. 

Bran also detailed how each of the castles on the Wall would be manned and that the North would never forget again. This time they would remain united for prosperity with their allies the Children of the Forest. 

The Children seemed pleased with Bran’s proposals. 

After their meeting with them was done, Meera guided them to an adjoining room away from prying eyes. 

Lord Howland stayed in the room with them as a member of their family now. He would sit in the rest of the meetings alongside Edd Maester Elric, and Uncle Brynden. The latter two, like Arya, kept stealing looks at the Children even though Uncle Brynden had fought in the War for the Dawn. 

Their first meeting was with Anguy and Beth who were over the moon with their new lands. Beth even cried, repeating her thanks.

“Ser Rodrik was a member of our family,” Bran consoled her. “And the pack looks after one another.”

Her brother’s words were a nod to the Cassel sigil of ten white wolves on grey with a black border. 

Arya found herself repeating her father’s words. “ When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives . Father said that to me once. Ser Rodrik died protecting his pack. Now we protect one another.”

Her friends smiled. 

“Who knew the day you captured me in the Riverlands we’d be sat here?” Arya teased Anguy. “I wanted you dead that day.” 

They both chuckled at that. 

“I’d never have guessed Eddard Stark asking me to serve in his household guard would bring me here.” 

“To House Cassel!” Bran announced. 

Their next meeting was with Lord Davos Seaworth. Arya liked the onion lord.

“Lord Davos,” Jon started, “You became like family to me when I thought mine was gone.”

The sailor smiled at Jon earnestly. “I was only trying to do the right thing, lad. You did me the greater favour by keeping a smuggler from Flea Bottom by your side.”

“I think you stopped being just a smuggler from Flea Bottom when you became Hand of the King,” Jon corrected goodnaturedly. 

“We are also grateful to you for all you did to try and find Rickon as well,” Bran added.

“I’m sorry for hiding,” Rickon blurted. “I didn’t know you.”

“You did the right thing,” Ser Davos replied. 

“Lord Davos,” Jon continued, “Everyone in the seven kingdoms knows that you are the best smuggler this land has ever seen.”

Uncle Brynden and Lord Howland laughed.

“We plan to rebuild Moat Cailin and establish a customs point there. We’ll need someone with your skills to hold that seat for us as castellan. The position will come with a sinecure in customs and we believe with your knowledge you’d bring in more than anyone else we can think of. In addition to the pay of the position, we know that you have three sons left,” Jon said. “Devan will inherit Rainwood after you but Stannis and Steffon as your younger sons will need to find their own way in life. We would like to betroth them to Northern girls and grant one lands in The Rills and the other lands near Sea Dragon point. Given their sailing experience across the narrow sea, we’d ask you to choose the son with the better experience to hold Sea Dragon Point for us. It will be a small naval port aimed at defending the northern west coast, while our main navy is at Saltspear.”

The former Hand of the King was emotional when he accepted the offer. Their father always looked for loyalty in his men and Lord Davos had proven himself ten times over from the things Jon told her of him.

After Lord Davos were the Umbers.

“Jon Umber,” Bran declared in his lord’s voice, “You served House Stark with distinction. You lost your son and heir protecting Robb at the Red Wedding and remained imprisoned for years. First, you have our thanks for that-“

“House Umber has stood behind House Stark for thousands of years. We only did our duty.” 

“And for that you deserve a reward. If you are agreeable, Arya has spoken to Lady Cerwyn. We would like to arrange a match between you and Lady Jonelle Cerwyn. Through this match we hope one of your children will inherit the Last Heart and another Castle Cerwyn.”

They then broached the subject of marriage with Crowfood and Whoresbane Umber both of whom were delighted with their new brides.

Next came the Glovers who were also happy with their arranged matches. 

And after them, they invited their Karstark kin: Harrion, his bride, Allyria and Alys and her husband Sigorn Thenn. 

“Loyalty deserves a reward,” Bran said to their cousins. 

“Harrion, you languished in the south for marching with Robb. We are honoured to be hosting your wedding here in this castle of our ancestors to the new Lady of Karhold.”

Harrion echoed the Umbers before him saying that he was only doing his duty. 

“And you, Alys, ran away to Jon rather than be used as a pawn against House Stark. We are happy that you found happiness with your husband when you did. You have proven yourself a capable Lady of Karhold and for the loyalty of House Karstark to House Stark, we would like to award House Thenn The Dreadfort as a sign both of the vision of the North we destroyed and the united North we wish to rebuild in its place. They are good lands and your lands would remain adjoined.”

Their cousins were appreciative of the gesture and hugs were shared all around. 

They also extended their thanks to the chieftains of the Mountain Clans and the free folk by sharing details of the new canals they wanted to build that would make travel easier throughout the North. They extended an invitation to foster their children at Winterfell and broached the subject of arranging matches between their two people, awarding second sons amongst them some of the castles along the wall. Every one of them was thankful. The free folk to the wolves and the mountain clans to The Ned’s children for continuing in his way of never forgetting his men in the mountains. 

With Lady Mormont and her daughters they shared their plans for a new navy on the West Coast to protect Bear Island from Ironborn raids. 

Arya noticed her uncle and Lord Howland whisper to each other with proud looks on their face throughout the meetings. 

Their last meeting of the day was Lord Manderly. 

Meera had his special chair brought in.

“Lord Manderly, I will be honest with you,” Bran began. “We will rely on you more than any other Lord.”

“House Stark has no more loyal servant than Wyman Manderly, my lord.”

“But loyalty also deserves reward. We have heard of what you did to the Freys and the Boltons and we heard of Wylla and Wynafryd’s actions as well. Your sons Wendel and Wylis marched south with Robb and Wendel died with him. Arya has told us how the prisoners at Harrenhal were treated. We can only imagine how Ser Wylis suffered on behalf of his support for Robb.”

Again Arya heard talk of people doing their duty. 

Jon was next to speak. “Wynafryd married a second son of Lord Locke so that she could take her place as Ser Wylis’ heir at New Castle.   Lady Leona has given birth to a son. Please accept our congratulations to you, Ser Wylis and Lady Leona.”

Lord Manderly smiled, no doubt aware where this was going.

“I promised you that we would find a solution my lord,” Arya continued. “Unfortunately we do not have the inheritance laws of Dorne here - would that we did.” She couldn’t help herself.

“The birth of Wynafryd’s brother now means that she is no longer the heir to New Castle. But as you will find and I’m sure know, House Stark does not allow goodness, bravery and loyalty to remain unrewarded. Jon has told us all about how he married Wylla to Larence Hornwood so that Wylla could take her place as lady of Hornwood after her great aunt Donella-“

“I remember how you seized those lands on behalf of your cousin and planned to wed her yourself,” Bran smiled. 

“I thought she would like to be a Manderly again,” Lord Manderly chuckled prompting everyone else to join in. 

“You and your family have been a great supporter not only of House Stark but of our people when we were unable to do our duty,” Arya said with a voice soft with thankfulness. 

Bran then took the pointer to the map. 

“We plan to create a new city in Saltspear by the harbour. Given House Manderly’s expertise on the sea, and House Locke’s location on the coast, we believe Wynafryd and Gared should have a new castle to head up the new town. For your loyalty, House Manderly would control two harbours in the North.”

Lord Manderly repeatedly expressed his thanks and congratulated them on their plans, declaring that he would support their plans to rebuild the North - forever a loyal Stark man. 

Now their loyal bannermen were aware of their principal plans. Tomorrow, they’d hold their historic council but first, a trial. 

Chapter Text

Arya

As the sun set, the blue haze of day made way for an orange gold that resembled the wintry hearths in the castle. Flocks of birds flew through the fire-kissed sky as if in a beautiful dance. Torches blew in the evening wind while the gathered crowd’s murmurs clashed with the sounds of the birds making way for the coming darkness. Everywhere Arya looked in the godswood people stood, chattering, no doubt wondering why they were called together the night before the council. 

Years on Skagos hardened Rickon to what was about to happen. He stood with The Crowl of Deepdown, the man who protected him in Skagos. Arya found it tragic how her youngest brother was numbed to violence yet a child in all the other aspects of his life. In some respects he reminded her of herself. 

When Bran ordered no children were to be let into the godswood this night, Rickon argued until he was red in the face. Bran reluctantly allowed him to come.

Tormund stood club in hand, Val, a vision in white, had her dragon bone knife in hand, while Lady Mormont and her daughters had their dirks hanging ready on their waists. Everywhere she looked she came across a sea of faces, all wondering why Stark guards were on horses holding torches amidst the gathered crowd. In the middle, remained an aisle kept free of people. It ran from the entrance of the godswood to the Heart Tree where Arya currently stood next to her uncle and Lem.

Anguy and his men on the roof of the Guest House looked like silhouettes against the darkening sky. Arya could make out arrows in their quivers across their shoulders and bows in their hands. Bran had given them weirwood arrows. 

By the entrance to the godswood, Jon was ahorse. Longclaw hung proudly at his waist. He and Sigorn Thenn were speaking to two giants standing on either side of the Guest House’s arches - no one went in or out of the godswood without going past them. In their hands, each had a club, though they were really just logs tied with boulders on the ends. Whatever they were no one would survive their impact. Arya looked at the two men covered as they were in shaggy pelts of fur. They had long arms and shorter legs, squished in faces and square teeth that she glimpsed whenever they spoke. Old Nan used to say giants wore huge boots but these two had horned feet that clearly needed no shoes. 

Old Nan also used to say giants mixed their porridge with blood and could eat bulls whole. Looking at them, Arya didn't doubt they could eat a bull whole but didn’t believe they ate blood in their porridge. Wun Wun was a vegetarian. 

A herald silenced the crowd. In came Lord Howland Reed, Meera and the three Children of the Forest. The Children each had dragon glass daggers. Snowylocks carried five bowls. The bottom bowl which was the only one Arya could see properly had a dozen faces on it carved like the Heart Tree - the faces were just as gnarled as the one behind her, not at all like Aunt Lyanna’s laughing tree in the Wolfswood; Arya and Jon’s laughing tree now. Black Knife and Ash each carried wineskins with them. Ash also carried a horn. Meera carried a spear - more for support than attack really. She was flanked by two of Nymeria’s growing pups. The mother of wolves.  

The crowd whispered while they walked down the aisle. As the Children made their way past the giants, Arya thought of how Old Nan used to say this land originally belonged to the old races: the giants and the Children. All were gathered here today. New and old. The children of the Rhoynar, the First Men, the Andals, the giants, the Children and the Crannogmen. 

Next came Bran in the company of the direwolves. Summer walked ahead of Bran’s horse with Nymeria, Ghost and Shaggy. Two of the four pups trailed behind. Arya saw the Sand Snakes crane their heads to get a better look. 

Jon rode behind him. Their faces were as severe as those of their ancestors in the crypts. Across Bran’s chest was a crossguard that held Winter’s Justice in a special scabbard behind his back. Those behind him would see most of the sword with the scabbard covering only the lower part. It wasn’t practical to keep the sword in that scabbard forever - it would be left to the elements. But on this occasion, the small scabbard would make it easier for Bran upon his horse to draw it on the downstroke. 

Rickon made his way to the Heart Tree. He stood on one side of her while Jon’s horse stopped by her other side. Uncle Brynden and Lem moved to stand by Bran’s sides. 

In front of her, Bran’s front was guarded by the grown wolves. He raised a fist. The waiting crowd quieted. Arya could see the red and grey ripples of her father’s sword reflected off the torch light. The sword was a more manageable size now. 

The orange of earlier had made way for a darkening velvet sky and the tall shadows created by the sunset were swallowed by the darkness. It was just as well. Wolves were creatures of the night. The stars, the moon and the torches blowing in the crisp cold breeze were the only sources of light now. 

The crowd waited for Lord Brandon Stark to speak. The man on the horse was lord before he was her little brother. That was made clear by the argument they had when she begged him to let her do what was coming. She wanted to save sweet, kind Bran from the darkness that comes with something like this. But he had seen things she couldn’t imagine. He was Lord of Winterfell and he would do his duty. It was the way of their people for thousands of years. He was Bran, the Winged Wolf. To let her do his duty would be to confirm to others that he was what they thought of him. Bran the Broken. The man that commanded the gathered crowd with just a raised fist was no broken man at all. 

In a loud voice he began. 

“You are wondering why I have gathered you here tonight. The Great Northern Council does not begin until the morrow.” Her brother paused to look at each face in front of him. 

“Tomorrow we set forth our vision for the New North. During the course of this council we will no doubt debate. You will set your grievances and your needs before House Stark and we will listen and answer to the best of our ability.” She could tell he stopped to smile. His shoulders relaxed.

“But before that, we will have a wedding. The first of many foundation stones of our new era.” 

The crowd began murmuring again. Arya kept her eyes on the Ryswells. Rodrik Ryswell, head of House Ryswell was flanked by knights whose shields were painted with the golden horse of his personal arms. His sons Rickard, Roose and Roger stood near him. Each one had their own version of the Ryswell sigil emblazoned on their surcoats. And with them stood their sister. As always she had her hair tied up in a widow’s knot, dressed in black to remind all she was still mourning her husband. All these years later. Perhaps she truly was mourning him.

“Whose wedding is it then?” someone shouted from the back. Arya couldn’t see them. 

Bran turned back to his siblings, motioning them to move to the sides so he could take his place at the front of the Heart Tree to witness the ceremony. 

They did. Arya could see her brother’s face better from this position. He had his lord face on. Not at all the boy who would jape with her in their father’s solar. The darkness touched all of them in their years apart turning them into what they became. Bran told her Maester Luwin used to call their ancestors in the crypts hard men for a hard time. That’s what war made them as well. 

Opposite her, across the aisle, stood the Greatjon, Harrion Karstark, Lord Davos, Alys Thenn, the Manderlys, Ned, and Allyria Dayne and the Sand Snakes, who were no doubt keen to see why no children were allowed here this night. Loreza was absent, no doubt with Branda, Sarra and any other Dornish person not here. 

“We are gathered here today to witness the marriage of Robett Glover to Lady Marna Forrester.” Bran declared proudly. The Forresters of the Wolfswood were vassals of the Glovers, they were no doubt happy with the match. Her father Theomore Forrester was the widower of Lady Vivian Dustin, sister to Willam. 

“And who did you consult when you made this decision?” Lady Dustin demanded, stepping forward to stand in the middle of the aisle and looking up at Lord Stark. Her brothers moved to surround her. 

“The bride herself.” 

“I am the head of House Dustin. As my husband’s only living niece, I mean to declare her heir to Barrowton. Her marriage is mine to organise.” 

“As Lord Dustin’s widow you are free to name an heir of your choice but until you officially name Lady Marna your heir, it is her father who decides who she marries. Lord Theomore has consented.” 

“I declare her my heir now. In front of all these witnesses. From this moment on, you must consult me and I do not approve of this match.” 

Bran smiled a measured, lord’s smile. He laid the trap for her and she fell in. She thought until meant she could oppose it once she declared the girl her heir. 

“That does not change the fact that Lord Forrester approved the match before you proclaimed her your heir...though I am pleased with your choice of heir,” Lord Brandon drawled, barely hiding the smirk that belonged to Bran. A smug look found its way onto Arya’s face as well. 

“My sister will marry Robett Glover. That is that,” Ronnel Forrester reiterated, gruffly. His father was to walk the bride down the aisle. 

The woman’s nostrils flared as he said that. Her jaws clenched and her hands balled into fists. But there was nothing more she could do. Lady Marna’s father had approved. 

“Robett Glover,” Bran beckoned. 

Robett came out behind the Heart Tree in the company of his brother, cloak around his shoulders. When he stood by the side of the Heart Tree, Arya saw his new arms. It was the silver fist of House Glover quartered with the white ironwood tree and black sword of House Forrester and the crowned crossed longaxes of House Dustin. Arya noticed how Lady Dustin’s eyes widened when she saw the heraldry. 

How Beth managed to sort out cloaks in half a day was beyond Arya. When they were children, Beth, like Sansa and Jeyne, was way better at sewing than Arya. But it was something else entirely to design a new sigil and then sew it in a cloak within a few hours. Her friend smiled when her eyes met Arya’s. She was clearly proud of her work. 

The bride and her father made their way down the aisle. The bride was pretty, Arya noticed. Her groom stood to Bran’s side. From on top of his horse, Bran looked as strong as any man there. 

“Who comes?” Robett Glover began. As he continued, Arya tried to spot Anguy on his roof. 

Lord Theomore answered. “Marna of House Forrester comes here to be wed. A woman grown …” as the bride’s father said the words, Arya watched Lady Dustin. The scowl on her face reflected the hatred that surged through Arya herself. 

“Me,” said Robett. “Robbett of House Glover, heir to Deepwood Motte. I claim her. Who gives her?” 

“Theomore of House Forrester, her father.” Lord Theomore turned to his daughter. “Lady Marna, will you take this man?”

“I take this man,” she said with a smile at her new husband. 

Robett and Marna joined hands to kneel before the Heart Tree, bowing their heads in prayer.

When they stood, Robett undid her cloak to fasten upon her shoulders the cloak that combined their heritage.

Robett carried his wife off as custom dictated but not very far. They stopped before they reached  the giants at the entrance and took their place among the crowd for the next phase of the night. People started whispering when the new Glovers didn’t leave the godswood. Custom demanded that the guests follow the bride and groom. Since they stayed there, the guests had to as well. 

“Arya Stark,” Lord Brandon called out. Everyone’s eyes turned to her. 

“Step forward,” her brother motioned to his side, so she could face the crowd. She did. 

“Are you aware that no one can lie in front of a Heart Tree?” 

“Yes.” 

Her brother nodded. “And what is it that you wish to bring before us?” 

Arya surveyed the sea of faces. She looked at Jon with his hand to Longclaw’s hilt where he stood by the Ryswells. She looked at the giants with their clubs in hand, she looked up at where Anguy stood but she couldn’t see, and at the children with their wineskins and odd shaped bowls.

“You all knew my mother and father,” she started. “When the Lannisters arrested my father, many of you marched south with my brother. Your king, Robb. When my father was killed you waged war with Robb. My mother followed you south, no doubt accompanying you with her advice and her prayers. Then, in a boon amidst the war, the Lannisters returned my father’s bones to my mother in my grandfather’s castle. Riverrun.” 

Arya noticed realisation dawn on Barbery Dustin’s face.

“Lord Umber told me that my mother sent my father’s bones north with Hallis Mollen, a member of our household guard. In his company were the Silent Sisters as well as three of my father’s other men: Jacks, Shadd and Quent. My uncle, Brynden Tully, confirmed the same as did my uncle’s steward at Riverrun, Utherydes Wayn.” Arya produced the raven scroll from Riverrun that confirmed the same.

“Harrion Karstark.” Bran  called out. “Can you read the scroll for us?” 

In his gruff northern voice, the Lord of Karhold read the contents of the letter, confirming Arya’s words. 

Her brother invited her to continue. 

“I have visited my father in the crypts and I have heard all about how his bones were returned to Winterfell by Lady Barbrey Dustin. His bones were returned. But the men and the women who accompanied them were never seen again. When I visited Barrow Hall, Lady Dustin said that her men found a dying Hal Mollen as he made his way with father’s bones through the swamp.” 

“That they did,” the Lady of Barrowton interrupted, stepping forward.  “What do you mean to say, girl?” 

“I mean to say that I do not believe your account.”

The Ryswells marched forward to stand beside their sister. Their father and his knights joined them.

“What is the meaning of this?” Rodrik Ryswell demanded as his knights put their hands on the hilts of their swords. 

Jon drew Longclaw holding it against Lord Ryswell’s throat. Anguy and his men shot arrows that landed at the feet of the Ryswell men, sparking a panic in the godswood. Her uncle stood in front of her. Lem by his side. 

Bran raised his hand again, instantly quetening the crowd including the growling direwolves. He spoke to Jon with his eyes asking him to remove his sword from the man’s throat. Jon complied. 

The Stark guards in the crowd, Tormund, Val and their men and the Mormonts then lined the ends of the aisle standing between the Ryswells, Dustin men and the crowd on either side. Their command from Bran was to keep the peace, whatever happened in the centre. 

“Lady Arya, why do you not believe Lady Dustin’s words?” 

Arya stepped forward from behind her uncle, sending him an appreciative smile as she did so. 

“She was wringing her hands while I asked my questions, her eyes flitted side to side and she licked her lips in nervousness. I was not asking her a difficult question, merely what happened to the man who accompanied my father’s bones.” 

“Do you have any evidence to support your suspicion?” Lord Brandon asked. 

Lady Dustin merely scowled at her, confident that Arya’s answer would exonerate her. 

“No,” Arya whispered. 

“I do not appreciate being slandered,” Lady Dustin fumed. “I returned Lord Eddard’s bones to Winterfell. I let Stannis’ men into this castle before that. Lady Arya here means to accuse me without reason for the crimes of Roose and Ramsay Bolton.” The woman turned away from Arya and to the crowd. 

“Aye, I swore fealty to the Iron Throne when King Robb died. Our king was dead, our men were dead and winter was coming. I did what I did to save my people. That is no crime. We have spent the last five years-” 

“I hear Stannis Baratheon was fond of a saying,” Lord Bran interrupted her. “ A good act does not wash out the bad, nor a bad act the good. Each should have its own reward.” 

“You have our thanks for returning our father’s bones to Winterfell.” Her brother nodded, dismissing Arya from where she stood. She went back to stand next to Meera, stroking one of the pups as a means to ground herself. 

Lady Dustin sneered, pleased in Arya’s embarrassment. 

Bran turned to a man dressed in the Dustin colours. “Beron,” Lord Stark called out. 

The man stepped forward. He was a large man with a weathered face, a scar ran down one of his cheeks.

“What do you do for a living?” Lord Stark questioned. 

“I am the serjeant of House Dustin.” 

“And what does that role comprise of?” 

“I command Lady Dustin’s household guard.” 

“And how long have you been in this position?”

“Twelve years, my lord.” 

Bran nodded. “You have heard Lady Arya Stark’s accusation.”

“Yes, my lord.” 

“Arya Stark accuses Lady Dustin of having a hand in the killings of the Silent Sisters and the Stark men sent forward with Lord Eddard Stark’s bones. Do you have anything to say to this?” 

The man gulped, looking once at Lady Dustin, who sported a blank face, though Arya could see a sheen of sweat. Nymeria growled, stepping forward.

“Nymeria.” Lord Stark reprimanded. The she-wolf sat on her haunches, still baring her teeth, not taking her eyes off the man.  

The man gulped again. “I know that Lady Catelyn Stark sent Lord Eddard’s bones north and that when the road was closed off by the ironborn’s capture of Moat Cailin Lady Dustin had men watching the swamps and waiting for the bones to emerge.” 

“Why?”

The man gulped again before he was encouraged by Nymeria to speak. It’s funny what men will admit to when faced with an angry wolf. Not as angry as me though. 

“Lady Dustin said she wanted to feed the bones to her dogs.” 

Barbery Dustin’s jaw clenched, she was about to open her mouth when Lord Stark responded to her. “Lady Dustin, you will have your opportunity to speak. Let the witness finish.” 

“How do you know this?” he asked the man.

“I...I-” Nymeria growled to help him along, this time joined by Shaggy. Arya turned to see Rickon glowering at the man, no doubt willing to rip him, and Dustin, and all the Ryswells apart himself. Perhaps we should do it together, Arya thought darkly. Bran can punish us later. But this was Bran’s moment. She would withhold her anger for now. 

Instead, she reached out to Rickon, placed her hand on his shoulder and whispered, “Bran knows what he’s doing, let him.” They were easy words but hard upon her tongue and harder still on her heart. She wanted to rage. 

She noticed the Sand Snakes look at them with understanding in their eyes. Uncle Brynden told her how they had to be locked up after their father’s death to stop them seeking vengeance themselves. 

“Continue, please,” Lord Stark requested. 

“I came to Winterfell with Lady Dustin for the marriage of Ramsay Bolton and Lady A-, well the girl they presented as Lady Arya... I accompanied her to the crypts with Theon Greyjoy. She spoke of how the northmen feared The Dreadfort, but loved the Starks. She included Whor-...Hothar Umber and the Hornwood men in that number who were present here for the wedding but loved the Starks..”

“And…”
“She said she was not one of that number-”

“Is that a crime?” Lady Dustin chastised.

Bran silenced her with a look. 

“Continue Beron,” he prompted. 

“Lady Dustin spoke about her anger at her husband’s bones not being returned when Lord Stark brought back Lady Lyanna’s bones from Dorne.” 

Arya saw Jon’s own jaws clench at the mention of the mother he never knew. 

“Lady Dustin wanted to prevent Lord Stark’s bones from resting next to his sister in the same way her husband’s were not interred at Barrow Hall.” 

Arya couldn’t prevent herself. “Why didn’t she go and collect her husband’s bones then? I’m sure someone could help her find the place. Why try and feed my father’s bones to the dogs? He didn’t kill her husband!”

Her uncle pulled her back, while Lem put a hand over Rickon’s shoulder.

“I did return your father’s bones, you ungrateful girl.”

“Without his men. It’s not too far a conclusion to reach that you would have killed those men to prevent my father's bones from returning.”

“And yet your father lies next to his kin,” Lady Dustin said smugly.

“Lord Brandon!” her father bellowed. “Is this what we are to expect of you? Accusations without grounds being levelled against your most loyal bannermen.”

“Most loyal my arse!” Arya shouted. 

“Jon Umber,” Lord Stark called out again. The Greatjon stepped forward.

“Howland Reed, Roger Ryswell, Davos Seaworth,” Bran added. Each man stepped forward though Roger Ryswell had to be called forward twice. He moved when Jon removed Longclaw from his scabbard and Anguy, or one of his men, shot an arrow right past his ear. It flew past Bran and lodged itself in the Heart Tree.

“Is there any man here who will deny the truthfulness of Jon Umber and Howland Reed?” Bran asked.

“Lord Reed is your good-father,” Lady Dustin chided. “He will say whatever you want him-.” 

Her father silenced her. 

“That is why I have asked Lord Davos Seaworth to step forward. He has no connection to the North.”

“He is Jon’s man.”

“That’s why Roger Ryswell has been called forward as well. Your own brother.” 

“I will need one more witness,” Bran declared.

Before anyone else could move, Nymeria Sand stepped forward, shrugging her shoulders. “I have no connection to the North and have never met a Stark before. I will stand witness, though I’m not sure to what.”

Bran beckoned the Children forward. 

“No man may lie in front of a Heart Tree, or so it is said. Today we will see it’s truth. Those with the power of green sight may see events of the past and the present through the weirwood,” the Winged Wolf explained.

“I was born with the gift of greensight. Our witnesses here, bar Lord Howland, were not. But with the aid of the weirwood paste,” Bran pointed to the thick red liquid being poured out of the wineskins into the bowls,”...and the help of the Children, they will be able to see the truth, or falsehood, of what Lady Arya and Beron have said. We will then judge accordingly. If Lady Arya has slandered Lady Dustin. There is a punishment for that too.”

“You can-“ Rickon was about to shout, before she covered his mouth. 

Tyene tried to pull her sister back, no doubt worried what the paste consisted of. Her sister told her to return to her place in the crowd. A Dornish knight, Ser Andrey Dalt, Arya recalled, pulled her back.

Arya watched as each witness drank the paste. First they scrunched their faces as if it was the most bitter of drinks before gulping it down as if it was the sweetest. 

The Children of the Forest then guided them to the Heart Tree, placing their hands upon the white bark. Each witness's eyes closed at once as if they were called elsewhere at the same time. 

All Arya could hear was her own breathing. The godswood was silent as everyone watched and waited with baited breath.  None more so than Lady Dustin.

Then after what felt like hours the witnesses opened their eyes. 

“You traitor” The Greatjon shouted. “Ned Stark did you no wrong! Willam went south with his liege and died in battle!”

“What did you see?” Bran asked Lord Davos.

“The lady ordering her men to kill any Stark men who come through the swamps of The Neck with Lord Stark’s bones.”

He will be food for my dogs ,” Nymeria confirmed.

“Lord Howland?” Bran prompted.

“We also saw the moment Dustin men fell upon Hallis Mollen and his men. They did not spare even the Silent Sisters.”

“She only returned the bones to buy favour when she saw what King Jon did to the Bolton men. She spoke of her fear when he was told of how House Ryswell and House Dustin ran to support the Boltons.”

“She said hating the Boltons did not mean loving the Starks.”

“Roger Ryswell?” With four witnesses saying the same thing there was little he could say so he pulled out a dagger, holding it to Lord Howland’s neck. The fool. 

His father took his prompt and pulled out his own, Roose Ryswell did the same  as did their knights. A sorry standoff. 

Jon took Roose Ryswell’s swordhand. Lem and two Stark men fell upon their men while the wolves each joined the fracas. Arya jumped in too, killing two Ryswell men with Needle before a Dustin hit her on the head, Needle fell out of her reach. She got dressed in such a rush she left her daggers in Jon’s rooms, and then she spent the rest of the day in the kitchens. She only managed to pick up Needle before she began leading people to the godswood. Stupid. 

Jon was battling two other men far from her. Wun Wun had just killed Lord Ryswell with a club that removed his entire chest. Tormund and the free folk were holding the crowd back. Arya was on the floor with nowhere to move, all around her people were fighting. 

The man raised his sword. She refused to close her eyes. Valar Morghulis. 

Just as he was about to bring it down on her, Arya saw a sword stick out of his throat. When it was pulled out he fell forward. Arya spun out of the way. Behind where the man stood was Elia Sand,with a bloodied sword. She extended her hand out to Arya pulling her up before joining the fray herself. Arya grabbed Needle and the two of them stood back to back. 

Someone blew a horn. The sound was so loud they all paused, raising their hands to their ears. Bran’s hand was in a raised fist again. Ash held the horn and Uncle Brynden stood with a sword in front of his nephew’s horse. The direwolves immediately stopped at the sound of the horn and moved to Bran’s side. 

The Ryswell and Dustin men were surrounded. In the standoff, an arrow flew past Arya and lodged itself between Roger Ryswell’s eyebrows. He fell back upon the weirwood, letting Lord Howland go. Black Knife fell upon him slitting his throat and feeding the blood to the Heart Tree. The first sacrifice to a Heart Tree in Winterfell for...Arya didn’t know. Her lifetime at least. 

Roose Ryswell was holding his stump, stifling a scream. There was a dagger to his throat. Rickon.

When did he move and where did he get the dagger? Arya saw the Crowl of Deepdown in Skagos looking proudly at his one-time ward. The man’s scabbard was empty of its dagger. Arya moved to where her brother stood. “Rickon,” she chided. “Give me the dagger.” 

“No! He was going to hurt Jon!” 

Dustin men lay dead among a number of Ryswell knights.The chestless body of Rodrik Ryswell was at their feet. 

Roose Ryswell either unaware of her presence or uncaring, threw his head back, pushing Rickon to the floor, he turned round to remove a small knife from his boot with his good hand before Arya brought down Needle upon him. Killing him at once. 

She picked Rickon up, taking the dagger out of his hand. “Are you alright?” 

“Yes.”

She pulled her brother to her crying.

Jon had just noticed her, covered in blood. He jumped off his horse, trying to find her wounds in front of the silent godswood. “Where? Where are you injured?!”

“It’s not my blood, Jon.” 

“Enough!” Lord Stark commanded the crowd. And just like that swords and daggers were lowered. 

It was only then that Arya noticed Rickard Ryswell holding a dagger to his own sister’s throat. He threw her in front of the direwolves and bent his knee. 

“Lord Stark, I am your man. From this day until my last day. I had no involvement in my sister's crimes nor did I or will I raise a sword against you.” 

“No wonder Father found you weak,” the woman snapped, spitting in her brother’s face. “Your father lies there dead. As do your two brothers. What a pathetic excuse of a man you are.” 

“Lady Barbrey Dustin. You are judged to be guilty of the murders of Hallis Mollen, and the Winterfell guards, Jacks, Shadd and Quent as well as the three Silent Sisters that accompanied them. Do you have any final words?” Lord Stark asked. 

Manic laughter fought its way up the vile woman’s throat. “The Southron bitch’s spawn will bring the end of you all. Mark my words!” she said to the gathered Northerners. And when she looked at Bran she spat at his feet. “There are my words to you.” 

He reached for Winter’s Justice, and brought it down to take the life of the once proud woman. 

Meera grabbed Arya’s arm then. “The child kicked!” she said with a teary whimper. “I believe I’m carrying another hungry wolf.” 

“Just don’t name him Theon,” Arya joked. They shared a smile in this most macabre time. Throughout everything that happened the two pups in front of her didn’t move away from Meera once. 

Just as they did with Roger Ryswell, the Children of the Forest nourished the Heart Tree with the lifeblood of Barbrey Dustin, her father Rodrik and her brother Roose. 

The Skagosi and the free folk watched the scene with approval. They were still tied to the culture of the First Men. The rest of the northmen watched with ambivalence. No horror was on anyone’s face. Not even the Sand Snakes. In fact Nymeria and Elia Sand had smirks on their faces. 

Rickard Ryswell was still on his knees, head bent. 

He swore his fealty to Bran who accepted it, declaring him, as the last of the Ryswells the Lord of the Rills. “You may bury your family at home.” 

“Let me be clear,” Lord Stark said to the gathered crowd. “Lady Dustin did not die for siding with the Boltons. She did not even die for her intention to feed Lord Stark’s bones to her dogs. Even if she did, I’m not sure that would warrant her death. She died because she killed men of the North for no legitimate reason. Know this: so long as there is a Stark in Winterfell, treachery will never be allowed to go unpunished nor loyalty unrewarded.”

He then ordered the Ryswell and Dustin men arrested. He would judge them later.

“Robett Glover and Lady Marna, step forward,” the Lord of Winterfell ordered. 

Robett and his wife walked forward. 

“Everyone here heard Lady Dustin name Lady Marna heir to Barrowton. From this day forward I name you Lady Marna Dustin and you, my lord, Lord Robett Glover of Barrowton.” 

Robett Glover swore his allegiance to House Stark, swearing that he would remain a Stark man until the end of his days. His wife did the same. 

Bran turned to the crowd. “Now we have removed the weeds that poisoned our soil, tomorrow we’ll plant the seeds of our dream of spring.” 

The crowd cheered Stark! Stark! Stark! Stark! 

Bran cantered out of the godswood followed by Uncle Brynden and the Stark guards. Arya asked Jon to go with him. For all the bravery he showed he was still their little brother. 

“Make sure he is alright,” she said. 

Jon looked at her for a long time, no doubt, trying to debate her before he nodded. He took Rickon with him.

As the crowd began to slowly walk out of the godswood, Arya found Elia Sand.

“Thank you. You saved my life.” 

Arya bit her lip. “Why would you risk your life for me?” 

Elia Sand smiled. “You are not much different from us. You were seeking vengeance for those you loved.” 

“I sought justice.” 

“Must they be different things?” Nymeria asked.

“We’ve heard and seen the North remembers,” Tyene added. “So does Dorne. We have more in common than you know.” 

 

Chapter Text

Arya 


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.”

“Where?”

“The godswood.”

“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.

“Marry me.”

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-“

Valar Morghulis

“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.”

“The Hound?”

“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-“

“But-“

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. 

“Three?”

“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 when?”

”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.

 

Chapter Text

Bran 


Bran watched the rising sun send the darkness of night to rest. The morning dawned gold and warm, a hint of the spring to come. A new day with new possibilities, and a fresh page in a book yet to be written. 

As he watched the sun rise over the battlements of his home, he remembered another morning, long ago. A day that dawned clear and cold, with a crispness that hinted at the end of summer. It was certainly the end of the first summer of his life. 

He rode out with his father and brothers and the men of Winterfell that day. A boy of seven out to watch his father deliver the king’s justice. He remembered sitting on his pony, trying to sit as tall as Robb and Jon on their destriers. He tried to mimic their stances, pretending he was an old hand at justice just like them. He remembered his father on his horse, still and solemn. 

And when the man’s time came, 

Bran could not take his eyes off the blood. The snows around the stump drank it eagerly, reddening as he watched.

Afterwards, his father took him aside. With Bran on a small pony, his father looked like a giant on his warhorse. He asked Bran if he knew why his father had to be the one to take the man’s head. As always, his father kindly explained things. 

The blood of the First Men still flows in the veins of the Starks, and we hold to the belief that the man who passes the sentence should swing the sword. If you would take a man’s life, you owe it to him to look into his eyes and hear his final words. And if you cannot bear to do that, then perhaps the man does not deserve to die…one day, Bran, justice will fall to you. When that day comes, you must take no pleasure in the task, but neither must you look away. A ruler who hides behind paid executioners soon forgets what death is.”

When Arya told him of her suspicions she told him, “ I’m not here to ask you for permission to do what I want. I’m only asking you to confirm whether or not she killed Hal, Quent, Shadd and Jacks.” She’d marched into Father’s solar as angry as a bull. When he saw the truth of the matter he felt like there was a battle inside him, between Bran Stark the boy and Brandon Stark the lord. Bran the boy loved Hal Mollen. Hal went riding with them the day they found Osha...well the day Osha found them. Hal was insistent they go with guards and was always kind to Bran. Quent, Shadd and Jacks used to play swords with him whenever Ser Rodrik was busy with the older boys. Bran the boy wanted to give into Arya’s anger. But Lord Brandon had a duty to see justice done and Father had warned him, you must take no pleasure in the task. So he could not. He had to afford even that vile woman a trial. The people had to see justice done. 

Having it done the old way showed the new among his people that the blood of the First Men still flowed through his veins, kneeler or not. And for the Children, the sacrifice served as an offering for the success of his Great Council. 

It hurt him to have to put Arya in the position he did, questioning her in front of everyone and pointing out her lack of evidence. But Brandon the Lord had a duty to show his commitment was to justice, even if the accuser was his sister. He could tell she didn’t hold any malice toward him. She sent Jon after him. 

After he left, Jon found him and took him to the hot springs under the Guest House. They soaked in the warm waters not as prince and lord but as brothers. That first time he witnessed an execution, it was Jon who warned him to keep his pony in hand to prevent it from being startled. He would have fallen off his horse if it wasn’t for that warning. One of the horses reared and had to be restrained from bolting. 

Last night, after another first, when it came to executions, it was Jon who sat beside him, telling him he did well and that Father would have been proud of him. When they were children, Jon was always self-sacrificing, especially when it came to Bran. He’d give him his fish when they went fishing, the day they found the direwolves he discounted himself so the rest of them could be happy. And last night, he simply faded into the background to allow Bran to do his duty, never upstaging him.

Even today, he insisted Bran sit on the seat of the Kings of Winter, because it was his council. It took lots of coaxing from Bran to get Jon to accept the seat for the duration of the council. 

And when they were done, he helped him dress. Bran felt helpless when unable to pull his breeches on the whole way. Jon simply bent down and helped him, without a word. Then he took him to the empty godswood to clean their swords just as Father used to do. 

When Bran began to cry because he couldn’t do even that alone, Jon comforted him. “You are not broken Bran,” he said firmly, “you are just unable to use one part of your body. There’s so much else you’re able to do that none of us can. Look at me,” he demanded, when Bran failed to raise his gaze from his broken legs, “We’re a family. All of us. If there’s anything you can’t do, we’re here to help you do it. I’m here, so is Arya, Rickon, your uncle, Osha, Lord Howland...Meera.” Jon smiled when he said Meera’s name. “She might be ready to have your pup any moment now Bran, but I know a fierce woman who’ll do anything for you when I see one.” His big brother clasped his shoulder. “We’re a pack Bran. Don’t let the one thing you can’t do make you feel less than anyone else.” Bran had never loved Jon more than in that moment. 

While Meera was out, Osha brought him food before dawn and helped him dress. All these years later, she called him little lord. Even now, when he was supposed to be Lord Brandon Stark. She tied up the laces of his breeches and clasped his cloak together before placing him on his wheeled chair. She was still strong. 

“I have to go, little lord, she said when she was done. She was looking at him like a proud mother, as Mother might have looked at me on a day like this, he thought. “Where shall I put your chair?” 

“By the window.” Now as then, he still liked to watch life go past from a seat at the window. 

A long time ago, Bran the Prince, hosted the harvest feast. He remembered watching the guests tilt against the quintains, knights duel against one another while the two Walders reminded him he couldn’t do what they could. This time Lord Brandon Stark, sat in the room that once belonged to his parents, and watched his people, thinking on his brother’s words. He might have wanted to be something else, but this is who he was. And those people in the courtyard had travelled to Winterfell to hear what he had to say, legs or none. 

He saw Arya and Jon walk through the courtyard, sending bashful smiles to one another as their fingers brushed. He knew they got married last night. Jon told him they would. Bran thought about how they, like him, would have to become something neither of them wanted. The Children had told him as much. But he also knew despite how much they might bristle against it, they’d answer the call of duty. It’s what father raised them all to do. 

It’s what Robb had done at the same age Bran was now. Before him, Father did his duty by his sister though the truth of who Jon’s mother remained a barrier between him and Mother. Mother also always did her duty, even when it took her far from him and Rickon. And Sansa, Sansa was learning to do the same now. 

His memories were interrupted when Meera came in. Even as big as she was, she was the most beautiful woman in the world to him. Sometimes when he saw the way Jon looks at Arya, he wonders whether this - what he feels when he looks at the girl he fell in love with when he was eight - is what Jon feels for her. If it is, he understands his brother completely. 

Wordlessly, Meera clasped a brooch upon his cloak. A silver snarling direwolf, reminiscent of one Father used to wear. It was a gift from Arya. 

Bran looked at his wife as she did so, wondering how he came to deserve her. Why would Meera Reed, the beautiful girl who hunted with a spear and net, choose him? 

“Oh stop it!” she scowled when she saw him looking. “I know what you’re doing, Brandon Stark.” She rose up to put one hand behind her back, all while wagging the forefinger of the other hand at him. 

When she finally sat down on the window seat opposite him, keeping her legs apart to give her bump somewhere to settle, she continued chastising him. “Everyone in this castle saw what you did last night. Before this day is over, all anyone will ever call you again is Brandon the Rebuilder. The man who brought the North together.” She raised her head to look at him, holding his gaze. “And I’m proud to be your wife.” 

Bran felt like crying. He was always quick to cry as a child. 

“I’m not doing this alone,” he murmured. 

“No one has ever done great things alone,” she reassured him. “For all people talk about Bran the Builder, I assure you there were many more people who believed in his dream, but this is your dream. Everyone else just helped you along the way. But you don’t need me to tell you that,” she chided. “I’m sure you can see that for yourself.” 

Bran cried for true then. Even now when she was swollen with his babe, he still felt like the broken boy who imagined she’d never want him.

“Cry if you must,” she said, wiping his tears with her thumbs. “Out there you might have to be Lord Brandon Stark, Lord of Winterfell… the terrifying Winged Wolf,” she rolled her eyes as she said that. 

“But in here, you’re just Bran. My husband, my friend,” she took his hands and put them on her belly, “and father to the hungriest, wildest wolves ever.” 

“Wolves?” he asked her, eyebrows raised. 

“No child would kick me in two places at once Bran. If you thought Rickon was wild, wait for these two to arrive. They squeeze my bladder like a toy!” she complained. “I’ve been to piss five times already this morning!” 

When she saw his startled face, Twins! , she knew what he was thinking.  “I know they’re twins, Ash told me,” she said, repositioning herself to make space for her stomach. 

As he held his wife, happy beyond measure, he thought of Bloodraven who wanted to use his children, who wanted to keep them in a cave and use them for the power in their blood: the blood of the First Men and the Crannogmen, skin changers and greenseers. 

As he bent down to kiss the wild wolves inside his wife’s stomach he basked in the knowledge that  he denied the man the opportunity to use his children just as he had used him. He denied Bloodraven the opportunity to hurt Arya and he gave his children an opportunity to live a life without being anyone’s tools. He still did not understand why the man feared or hated Arya so much. 

What he did know was that no one would hurt his family. He promised himself as much. And as Meera pulled him up for a kiss, his two wolves kicked. He deepened the kiss, moving his hand up her leg toward her thigh. 

“Much as I’d love to Bran,” she whispered against his lips, breath heavy with wanting, “We have to go eat with your family, and then I have to go and piss again if you want me to sit through your entire council. Although I beg you, for the love you bear me, wrap it up quickly before I have to piss myself in there.” 

She always knew how to make him laugh.

“Fine,” he agreed, kissing her once again. This time she returned his kiss and wrapped her arms around him. When he pulled away, “I love you,” he told her. 

“I’d hope so,” she replied, smirking at him. “Otherwise I’ve been lugging these two babes of yours for nothing.” 

She rolled his chair to the head of the table in Father’s solar where his family already were. Osha was forcing Rickon to eat something other than just bacon and bread, Arya and Jon were still brushing fingers against each other, lost in each other, as if they were a new couple, although he supposes they are now, Lord Howland spoke with Uncle Brynden, and Meera winked at him when he looked at her.“This is your day,” she whispered as she leant over to him, “I am proud to be your wife and they’re all proud of you too.” 

When he looked over to them, he realised they were looking at him, with smiles on their faces. He looked at Uncle Brynden and his constantly encouraging advice, at Lord Howland Reed who travelled leagues to get to him in the cave, at Jon who has always been a stalwart for him, at Rickon to whom he was the stalwart. He looked at Osha who thought him special even when he was a child, and at Arya in her new cloak, who scrunched her face and stuck her tongue out at him when she saw how wistful he looked. 

He realised then that he didn’t mind being helped by his family so much. Father said the pack survives. I’m not a lone wolf, he thought happily. Bran Stark had a role to play. It just so happened that his did not require his legs. He sat on the shoulders of giants. His parents, the Kings of Winter, his brother Robb, Sansa who sent him provisions, Old Nan who read stories to a boy whose head was filled with dreams, Maester Luwin and Ser Rodrik who taught him to be a lord, Hodor the gentle giant who travelled to death’s door for him, and even Bloodraven, the man who’d see the world burn for his family. All of them brought him here, he thought with tears in his eyes once more. 

This is my legacy . My family and my people, waiting for me in the Hall. 

 

Chapter Text

Arya 


That morning, the sun rose as a canopy of gold, bright and sweeping across the once blue sky. As it filtered through the window, Arya turned her face to the sleeping man beside her.

Once, six years ago, in a foggy city with grey skies a plague faced man told her of the price one who served in the House of Black and White had to pay. The price is you, he said. The price is all you have and all you ever hope to have. You will be no one’s daughter, no one’s wife, no one’s mother.  The girl who had been Arry, Weasel, Nan, Squab, Cat of the Canals, and Arya Horseface, thought it to be an easy sacrifice to make. What use did that girl with the hole for a heart have for a husband and children? 

But then she found Jon again and the boy who’d wipe her tears and listen to her fears became the man that filled the hole the deaths of Father and Mother and Robb created in her heart. He did it with his love, and kindness - just as he always had.

Looking at Jon as he slept on what was now their bed, she realised how steep that price truly was . To have paid it would have been to miss out on this - waking up next to him, watching the man the world called the Last Hero, sleep, peacefully with his arms around her . The woman he chose. Though there was no doubt there were others who offered themselves to him. 

They’d not done this before. Even when they were children and she sought refuge in his bed, in the morning, she’d find herself back in her own. When they met once again as man and woman, one would sneak out of the other’s rooms like a thief in the night, leaving the other to wake up to a cold, empty bed.

Not so this morning. She couldn’t do it this morning, he’d slept with his arm wrapped well around her, nor did she want to if she was honest with herself. 

“Good morning,” he rasped, when he finally woke, not making a move to release his hold on her.

Instead of replying, she nuzzled her nose against his, bumping it in their own secret form of affection.

“I told you,” he said, with beaming eyes.

She couldn’t help but return his smile. Tilting her head and drawing her brows together in confusion, “Told me what?” she asked.

 “That night at the stream. In the Wolfswood. When I first asked you to marry me. I told you I’d have you for a bride,” he grinned impishly. “I also told you I’d never break a promise to you, so here we are.”

My husband, she whimpered. So intense was the surge of emotion that came over her at the thought. It was only then that she realised she’d been staring at him sidelong and starry-eyed. She was rendered speechless by a few words. What was she a love-sick maid of seventeen? Well..yes.

“Do you remember what else I told you that night?” he questioned.

She shook her head at him in question. 

“I told you,” he whispered, moving himself above her, “that I wanted to…” he kissed her jaw, “lay you on my bed as my wife.”
Before he could kiss her again she put her hand on his lips. “You also told me you didn’t want to have me on a hard rock, Jon, and you did have me on the hard rock,” she teased him, laughing. 

He didn’t smile or laugh at her joke. He merely looked fixedly at her, the woman underneath him. So piercing was his gaze that she felt feverish. 

“I love you,” she uttered suddenly, unsure when the words escaped her. Judging by his stiffened posture and searching eyes, he was just as taken aback by her outburst. Usually, he was the one who spoke of how he felt. After all those years in the House of Black and White, speaking of her feelings felt foreign to her. Loving a man as a woman does, and being as open with Jon as he was with her felt unfamiliar. Yet as she lay beneath him, it felt natural. “I love you,” she repeated again to the stunned man with shiny grey eyes above her. It felt right to say it. “I love you,” she said again. This time his shaky, slow smile built into a look of welcome delight and she felt as if a dam had burst within her.

“You talk about how I loved a sullen bastard. You loved an ugly little girl who never quite fit in. And here we are.” For good measure, she couldn’t help it, she added, “Woman and husband.” 

As a chuckle escaped him, a teardrop fell on her cheek. He placed his forehead against hers, making space for himself between her splayed legs. 

“I love you,” she said a fourth time. This time both their eyes were closed. “Snow, Stark, Targaryen, bastard, Lord Commander, King.” She cupped his face between her hands.“You’ve worn as many names and identities as I have,” she told her husband. “We were meant to be you and I.” 

She felt him relax into her touch, and slowly, tentatively, with eyes still closed, he placed his lips on hers. They’d lain together plenty of times, but what they did this morning felt like the beginning of something new.

When they were done, he lay his head upon her belly. Tracing her scars with his fingers, while she ran her fingers through his hair.

“I want pups of our own Arya,” he said, in a voice so small she almost didn’t hear it. He looked up to her then.

“Well, I’m out of moon tea,” she admitted.

For some reason that made him smile. “Good,” he grinned. “When this council is over and we get married again, I’m taking you from Winterfell to somewhere only we’ll know and I won’t bring you back until I’m sure you’re with child.” 

She found herself giggling. “Why?” she asked. And he told her. He told her of the dream that felt too out of reach for a bastard boy up on the Wall.

“What if I can’t..have children?” she asked him, worried that she might never be able to give him what he wanted. 

“You will,” he promised her, fiercely. “Ghost and Nymeria waited for your return. I’m sure we’ll have our own litter.”

“And if we don’t?”

“Then we don’t.” 

He helped her get dressed for the council, all in garb that he bought her. A square shaped tunic, fitted breeches and a skirt - clothes that she felt most comfortable in. To top it off, he cloaked her, in their wedding cloak. In the light of day she saw the clasp had one white wolf and one grey one. Ghost and Nymeria. Not House Stark. Just their other halves bound together, just as they now were. 

Next to his gift, her silver ring with their names, in the fashion of Lorath, seemed insignificant, though he would not stop playing with it with a smile on his face for the rest of the day. 

As they broke their fast with their family before the council, Arya couldn’t see anyone else but him. 

After they ate, they made their way to the already packed hall. They waited outside, for the great oak and ironwood door to open, for their arrival to be heralded. 

Uncle Brynden, Lord Howland Reed and Osha had gone in before them. Outside, it was just them. The five Starks. Bran and Meera, Jon and her and Rickon. A contingent of their household guards stood behind them. 

Jon held the handles of Bran’s wheeled chair, while Rickon looked the lord next  to them. The two men and boy of her life. She had never felt so proud. And next to her, her goodsister. 

“So…” Meera intoned leaning over to her, “I hear congratulations are in order.” 

When Arya turned to face her, Meera had a twinkle in her eyes and a barely concealed smirk on her lips. 

She looked over at Bran who had the exact same look on his face as his wife.

“If I never go near another weirwood. I want you to know this is why,” Arya bit back.

“Bran didn’t see it,” Meera said in defense of her husband, “you can blame your... husband,” she added with teasing. “So…” she whispered, wiggling her eyebrows, “How was the consummation?”

“Meera!” 

“What?” she grimaced in feigned offence, “Your brother got me pregnant somewhere between that cave of his and this castle.” 

Meera felt like a sister more than Sansa ever had. She shared Arya’s sense of humour, loved a fight just as much and never backed down from a challenge. And as they laughed together outside the closed door of Winterfell’s Great Hall, Arya was glad she joined their family. 

The Great Hall was fuller than Arya had ever seen it before. The great oak doors that led to the inner yard were all wide open, with crowds outside arduously straining to hear what was said inside. Maester Elric was already upon his seat on the dais and above, in the gallery were more grey garbed maesters than Arya had ever seen in her life. They were no doubt there to write about the North’s historic council. 

The Children of the Forest, Black Knife, Ash and Snowylocks sat near the high table with Lord Howland, Uncle Brynden and Osha. Not far from them, were the free folk representatives: The Weeper, Tormund, Val, and the Skagosi chieftains among others. 

Everywhere she looked there was a sea of hopeful northmen. On the Karstarks’ table Arya spotted the Sand Snakes. They sat by the window outside which Wun Wun sat to watch the proceedings. Their faces still sported a look of marvel at what Bran had brought together. Underneath that look however,  she saw a look she knew well. One she sported for years herself and did just last night; the look of an unquenched thirst for vengeance. Whatever the source of their hunger for retribution, she saw that it didn’t extend to their family. They seemed playful if nothing else whenever they spoke to Jon. She’d have to speak to them properly soon to get the true measure of them. 

“I welcome you to our fires,” Bran said confidently, “and offer you meat and mead in honour of our friendship.” 

“I thank you for coming all this way,” he added with a strength in his voice that belied how young he was, how young they all were.

He looked so much like Robb once did that it made her heart ache in longing for the brother they lost. His looks were entirely their mother’s but the steel in the voice of the lord that spoke belonged to their father. 

“I’ve heard it said before,” he continued, “that when there was a Stark in Winterfell, a maiden girl could walk the kingsroad in her name-day gown and still go unmolested, and travelers could find fire, bread, and salt at many an inn and holdfast. But the nights grew colder and the doors closed. So much of what we have all suffered during the wars was the result of a failure of leadership.”

“We regret that we were unable to step up in your hour of need. We were no more than children ourselves but that was no excuse. Our father raised us all to know Winter is Coming. When it came we were unprepared,” her brother lamented.

It was Lord Manderly who raised his hand, standing too onerous for him, “None of us were prepared, my lord. Much less, children like you were.”

Her brother nodded at him in acknowledgement of his kind words.

“We feel your pain and we mourn your losses as you do ours,” Bran went on. “While we were unable to grant you the safety you deserved and were owed by House Stark, there are Starks in Winterfell once more and we hope to return the faith you have put in our name.” Her brother turned to her, prompting her to continue their thanks.

Arya stood. “There would be no Starks in Winterfell today if you, northmen and free folk alike, did not bleed to return this castle to us,” she said in recognition of their sacrifices. 

“You fought two wars behind a Stark in Jon,” she announced proudly, turning her eyes to the man she married. She sent him a secret smile, almost forgetting there was anyone else in that Hall. “The castle we have returned to is not the castle Bran tells me he left. Jon rebuilt this place and he made it a home for us, with all of you. You remained loyal to our father even after his death. For that we thank you. Now, we owe it to you to step into his shoes and to serve you as you served his memory.”

The crowd cheers with bellows of Ned Stark thrown out from the crowd. 

Next to speak was Rickon who began his thanks in the Common Tongue before switching into a flurry of the Old Tongue that had the free folk, and Jon, in smiles. 

Bran followed Rickon with his own attempt at the Old Tongue, one that he found funny himself. He spoke of the gratefulness of House Stark to the free folk for standing with Jon, and his personal gratitude to the Crowl and the Skagosi for looking after Rickon. “But above all, I’d like to thank the woman who entered our home as a prisoner, and became a stand-in mother for both Rickon and I.” As he said that, looking directly at Osha, Arya saw a tear escape the eye of the woman her two brothers took into their hearts.

“Long ago,” he said of the free folk and the Starks, “our people fought ugly wars. Today, we sit here, sharing meat and mead and the old way between us. From this day, I declare you our people as you have made us yours. You need no welcome to Winterfell from me, but I welcome you anyway, into our home and into our hearts.”

Tormund and the Weeper answered his welcome with tales about how Jon Snow once took his enemies as friends. Arya looked with pride to the man she loved. The man all these people loved and looked to as their hero.

Turning to the Children, her brother explained the long history between the First Men and the Children. He spoke of the Pact, the agreement he wanted to revive and the lands he wished to grant the people who fought alongside man to defeat the Others. 

“And last, but not least,” Bran smiled, “I would like to thank my lady wife, Lady Meera of House Reed, for being my companion for the last six years.” He then kissed his wife’s hand in gratitude to cheers from his people. 

When they quited, Lord Brandon spoke once more. “A man who had no idea who I was, once told me, when I escaped the sacking of Winterfell, things were different when there was a Stark in Winterfell. He agonised that the old wolf was dead and that the young one went south to play the game of thrones, leaving the North to ghosts. It was my friend Jojen Reed, who reminded us that the wolves would come again. Now we have. And it is my vow to you that once again a maiden girl will be able to walk the King’s Road in her name day gown and travelers will be able to find meat and mead in many a holdfast and inn.”

Her brother was given his loudest cheers at that. 

“Now,” he pronounced, inviting her to take the lead, “we will present our plans to make that happen for you.” 

She detailed the natural riches of the North and the ways they’d exploit them to rebuild. 

She spoke of how ample their wool industry was and how by virtue of that they could sell their goods to undercut The Reach’s sale of textiles at least insofar as wool was concerned. They were also unrivalled when it came to the production of fur and pelts. That seemed to please many of their lords. 

“But what is truly worth its weight in gold,” she continued, “is our lumber. From the Wolfswood to the Haunted Forest, Bear Island to the Gift, we have an abundance of pine trees, oak trees, ironwoods, and sentinels throughout our land. Pine trees that make excellent masts and oaks that make resilient hulls.” She learned that from all the time she spent selling clams and cockles near the shipyards. The Kindly Man didn’t mind what three things she learned each time she went back to the House of Black and White so she tried to learn as many different things as possible. 

“We also have plenty of land to set aside for ship-building and a population that has ample experience in sailing, making and repairing boats, in places like Bear Island and the Bay of Seals.” Arya noticed Lord Manderly’s calculating smile and Lady Mormont’s understanding that her people’s expertise was to bring its own rewards. 

“Our neighbours in the Free Cities are seafarers, my lords,” she explained. “Braavos most of all.” Arya remembered the Arsenal which was capable of building a warship a day. “They are hungry for wood and there is no kingdom in Westeros that could rival us.” She learned from Jon that The Stormlands currently produced the most lumber but even they could not rival a fully productive North.

At that, Jon thanked the free folk who had volunteered mammoths to the task of transporting the lumber until the canals were built. This too was gladly received by their people, especially when they heard of Arya’s connections with the Sealord’s Palace and the Iron Bank’s invitation for business to Jon. 

As they spoke of that, Arya tried to push back the feeling of foreboding that fell over her heart when she thought of all the ways they could find themselves caught between the queen’s desire for war and the Iron Bank’s unwavering pursuit to get their due. The Iron Bank’s pursual of their goals was why, she learned much later, she escaped punishment for killing of Raff the Sweetling. The Iron Bank used the death of Mercy, a poor young Braavosi girl, at the hands of a foreigner, Raff the Sweetling, as a means to expel Cersei’s Master of Coin, Harys Swyft, from Braavos. All because they wanted to fell Tommen’s reign. All these years later, the knowledge that, from half a world away, she played her own small part in Cersei’s fall still tickled Arya. She just hoped that this queen’s opinions were as malleable to good reason as Jon said. Otherwise an even worse fall awaited her. Cersei merely threatened to withhold payment. She did not threaten war. 

“We also have stone in plenty,” Jon explained, “which will be central to rebuilding castles and holdfasts throughout the kingdom.”

”In addition to that,” she said, looking at the chiefs of the mountain clans, “the North is rich in silver. We could use the silver we mine to start our own Silver Bank in White Harbor.” Lord Manderly had shown her the Old Mint there and some of their silver stores. She praised him for all he did for their people and their economy. 

“However, while we are rich in resources we are poor in coin. For that reason we will need to reach out to the Iron Bank of Braavos to offer them a share in our bank in return for their investment.” This was Jon’s suggestion, she looked at him with a grateful smile which he returned with a look of pride, and barely hidden hunger that was inappropriate for a Hall so full. She felt herself flush and had to clear her throat to return to her speech. 

When she finished, Bran took over once more to set out their plans to solve the issues that would hold back their development.

The first was the vastness of their land. He shared more widely this time their plans to connect the North through a system of canals that would not only boost trade but speed up travel.

“A well connected North - allows us to serve you better,” he pledged. “When we are done, from the Northern Mountains to the Neck, you will all be able to  travel easily to Winterfell to share your grievances with us.”

As he detailed the routes, Arya looked at the map to see how Barrowton and The Rills, the centre of the wool and horse-breeding regions, sat at the heart of their new canal systems. She basked in the knowledge that the woman who hated her parents would never see a single copper of the riches that would pass through those lands.

Bran also announced the establishment of a new town in Torrhen’s Square in addition to the new town they’d previously discussed at the mouth of the Saltspear. Torrhen’s Square was to be another hub of their canal system and the town was a benefaction to House Tallhart after Bran rejected their proposal for her hand. 

Bran also declared Ser Davos the new castellan of Moat Cailin, their customs point for overland trade. Everyone laughed once Bran spoke of how well the role suited a smuggler, all while Jon praised the man’s loyalty to his previous king and Jon himself. 

Bran also promised to continue the Stark tradition of providing for Winter Town and declared the establishment of new underground winter towns based on the Mole’s Town model.  The Children knew how to build underground cities and would help them develop them. It was Meera’s idea to create winter schools within these towns so that their people could learn while they were unable to till the fields. 

Winter is coming, was ingrained into all of them but none more so than the Lord Commander and King who had to see his people through that season. 

She looked at him, sat upon the polished stone throne of the Kings of Winter. With the snarling direwolves on either side of him, she wondered whether when her father said she would marry a king, he knew it would be this one.

So lost was she in the movement of his lips, and his commanding presence that she missed most of his speech about importing Myrish glass and establishing storehouses for grain and barns for livestock throughout winter. 

Next, he spoke of their plans to protect their West Coast from the Ironborn through a new navy.

To this end, Lord Manderly and Lady Mormont, promised their people who were experts in seafaring to the task of training fishermen to become sailors. 

Then Bran set out their intention to create a new Western port that would better connect them to the west coast of Westeros. In doing this, he announced new lordships and the betrothals that would form new alliances, including those between Ser Davos’ two sons and Northern families. 

In this vein, he also announced marriages between the free folk and northmen families whose expertise lay in farming. That would help them revitalise The Gift. 

Not only was it great land for farming, it was perfect for the free folk’s elk and reindeer herds. 

“The foundation of the new land we wish to build was laid by my cousin and brother,” Bran said, turning to Jon, “When he married our cousin Alys Karstark to Sigorn Thenn. To celebrate the North we wish to build, and bid good riddance to what we sought to destroy, we intend to grant The Dreadfort and all of its attendant lands and incomes to House Thenn.” 

He then went on to name the new lords of many of the old castles along the Wall. The ghost castles as Old Nan used to say. When they were children Bran knew them all by name. He could name them from east to west and west to east without thinking. So much so that even Uncle Benjen said Bran knew them better than him.

The attendant lands of these castles, Bran said, would come with a duty to always keep an eye out for a threat beyond the Wall. Something that the Children would help them with. Some of the former black brothers who settled in the North after the War for the Dawn offered up the expertise they developed in the Night’s Watch’s orders of the builders, miners and woodsmen as widely sought craftsmen. 

Bran also announced his plans to foster closer relationships between their youngest generation by fostering a number of future lordlings at Winterfell, including Mance Rayder’s son Aemon Steelsong; a gesture that was widely welcomed by the free folk who saw Bran to be closely tied to the ways of the First Men. 

As he spoke, she marvelled at the look of pride on their uncle’s face. One of the two last links they had to their mother. 

One problem that still plagued them however was their small population. Though their lands were bigger than all of the other kingdoms they had fewer people than most. 

To this effect, Jon recommended that they give lands to second and third sons of noble families as well as to men who proved their worth regardless of their birth. Men, who like he once had, would have had to seek to make their own way in the world without an inheritance to fall back on. He knew this would create a new Northern solidarity. To encourage people to move to the North they would also open this up the offer to second sons in the Vale and the Riverlands - lands they shared ties of kinship with. The condition would be that those sons married into Northern families. And to strengthen their Northern solidarity, preference would be given to sons of families who descended from the First Men. 

When they had more money, he said, they would also offer small folk families that wanted to settle in the North a stipend to encourage their settlement. 

When they were done sharing their vision for their homeland, their people exploded into cheers so loud the five Starks soared to new heights of emotion. 

One by one, their lords and ladies, reaffirmed their fealty and allegiance to House Stark.

Variations of this is why there must always be a Stark of Winterfell were repeated by each lord as they revowed their loyalty to the Starks of Winterfell. 

When Lord Howland Reed stood, the Hall quieted to hear the words of Ned Stark’s friend.

“My lord,” he said in his gentle voice, “we swore our swords and spears and arrows to your command on the condition that you grant mercy to our weak, help to our helpless, and justice to all. Do that, and we promised  to never fail you. Your grandfather and father fulfilled that promise. It is why we rode south with your father. It is why the North rose to follow Robb to war and rose again to rescue Lady Arya from the Boltons. Today you, and before you Jon,” Lord Howland knew Jon preferred the name he grew up with to the name Aemon, “have all proved yourselves to be loyal to the path your forefathers set.”

Lord Howland then bent the knee. “And for that, I swear by earth and water, bronze and iron, ice and fire, to never fail you.”

Arya looked to see Bran’s eyes shiny with tears. She wished her father and mother were here to see what their little boy had achieved. 

When everyone sat down once again, he began his closing speech. Part of which was the announcement of Jon and Arya’s upcoming nuptials. 

“Last night,” he said confidently, “we saw the coming together of Lord Robett Glover and Lady Marna Dustin. In the coming days we will celebrate many more weddings including those of Lord Umber and Lady Cerwyn.” The Umber men whooped loudly.

“...our beloved kin Lord Harrion Karstark to his lady, Lady Allyria Dayne of Starfall and the wedding of Lady Jorelle Mormont to the Sword of the Morning, Lord Edric Dayne of Starfall.” Both the free folk and the northmen cheered at that, though the Dornish were not much quieter.

“And lastly,” Bran said with a pride that made her feel like she could fly, “I am delighted to announce the upcoming marriage between my sister, Arya, and my cousin, my brother, Jon, named Aemon by his parents.”

The applause and hoots of their people faded into nothingness when Jon stood up to pull her into his arms, placing his lips on her forehead.

As she closed her eyes, she remembered that night at the stream when he promised her he would make her his bride. Now he had. 

Somewhere in the distance, she heard Bran close his council with “May your winters be short, your summers bountiful, and our dream of spring everlasting.” 

Chapter Text

Jon

Jon dreamt he was standing in the courtyard of the Inner Castle watching a river of men pour through the gates of Winterfell. A pack of princes, knights, lords, even a septon, sworn swords, free riders and six silent sisters shrouded in grey, their faces cowled except for their eyes. At the head of the column was an old man atop a warhorse. Over their heads shifting shadows obscured the banners that swayed  in the north wind.

Inside the courtyard, a lord and lady, solemn as stone, awaited the party in front of people behind them. They were flanked by direwolves. The direwolves were not the ones that belonged to him and his siblings, Jon could see as much. Winterfell looked even better than it did in their father’s time, rebuilt and regal. 

Next to the lord and lady stood a slightly older warrior, red haired, blue eyed and fierce. The moment the old man got off his horse, the red-haired man, unexpectedly for a man so intimidating, threw himself into the arms of the old man, sobbing. The old man answered him with his own tears, all while the welcoming party bent the knee, heads bowed. 

A black direwolf with green eyes joined them. Shaggydog? Jon’s eyes widened. Rickon?

When the two parted, the old man, the...king he realised, greeted the grey-eyed lord and lady, before the party walked through the castle grounds, silent as the grave. They walked under the covered bridge that connected the Great Keep to the armoury and past Guards Hall before stopping by the First Keep, and at the old heavy ironwood doors of the crypts.

He followed them while the princes carried a casket down the spiral steps. Jon trailed behind them. The old king limped past the stone kings on their thrones. The grey granite eyes that once used to scowl at Jon as he walked past, smiled at the old man. He could hear their granite voices welcome him. The King of Winter, they called him. Daughter of the North they seemed to say to the casket that went past. A chill wind blew upon his neck, all while he heard the sorrowful howling of wolves. 

They went past his grandfather’s crypt, Uncle Brandon’s, Mother’s, Father’s, Robb’s empty one. This body went next to Robb’s crypt. Anguish was etched in the dejected old king’s face. 

When the casket was interred, Jon felt his heart overcome with a feeling of hollowness as he watched, what he assumed were, the woman’s sons and lone daughter mourn their mother. 

One by one, they all left. All but the old man. His face was shadowed by a profound sadness that made Jon’s heart ache. He reached out with a shaking hand to the statueless crypt. 

“Why would you leave  me?” he wept. “What will I do without you?” 

Jon moved to turn away. This man’s grief was his own. 

But then, the old man picked up a folded cloth and removed a rapier. 

Jon’s heart stopped.

Needle.

It was then that he noticed the Longclaw hanging from the man’s sword belt...The old man is me. 

Two direwolves came out of the shadows. 

 

He woke up with a start, the room was dark and the body next to him warm. Arya. He pulled her against his chest, crying. He didn’t know whether his tears were sad tears or happy ones. Sad that he outlived Arya or happy that they had so many children and had a long life together. Arya wanted nothing less than to be queen. King of Winter their ancestors said. I gave up my crown. Daughter of the North , they called her. 

“Hey, what’s this?” she asked, puzzled, after his trembling awoke her. She sat up when he didn’t answer. “Jon? What’s wrong?” She sounded alarmed. She tried to wipe his tears. “Jon?”

“I dreamt we were old,” he faltered.

“What were we doing?” she asked, moving closer. Ever the story lover. 

“We...we were in Winterfell.” He couldn’t lie, she’d know.

He heard the smile in her voice. “And why was that sad?” 

“We were old,” he croaked, trying to bite back the sorrow that threatened to flow out of his lips. Instead he tried to focus on the good things when he noticed her curl up against him, expecting more. He imagined the wide eyed look of wonder he used to revel in when they were children and he would parrot Old Nan’s stories to her in the cellars under the Great Keep where they’d hide away. 

“Rickon was with us and we had many sons and a daughter.” 

“How many?” She placed her chin on his chest, a smile in her voice as she looked up at him, curious as always. 

“We had five boys and a girl,” he confirmed. “Our boys were princes…”, he gulped, “and knights and one was even a septon.” Neither of them believed in the Seven. 

He felt her stiffen next to him. She inhaled deeply. Finally, “And you were a king,” she exhaled, in a whisper.

A sudden coldness came over him. 

“You dreamt the same dream?”

He felt her shake her head. “Father.”

“Father?”

She sat up, legs crossed. He followed her up.

“What does this have to do with Father?”

She inhaled again. “In King’s Landing...when Bran woke up, Father told me of things Bran could do when he came of age. He said he could build castles, become a king’s councillor, maybe even the High Septon. So I asked him if I could do those things too. He just kissed my brow,” she said with yearning. 

“He told me that instead, I would marry a king and rule his castle, and that my sons would be knights and princes and lords and, perhaps even a High Septon.”

Jon was confused, “And you believed him?”

“No,” she laughed, though he could hear the apprehension that lay underneath. “I didn’t. I told him it was Sansa who would do those things. And then when I came home, we went to the laughing tree. Do you remember? The night before the wedding? I heard Father’s voice there again. It said the same thing to me. And again, I thought it was Sansa. She was the one betrothed to a prince again.”

They sat in silence.

“Do you think this means the queen dies?” she asked in a small voice? “Jon, I don’t want to be a queen,” she added.

“We were very old,” he managed to say finally. “Perhaps it won’t happen for a long time.” He was trying to convince himself as much as her.

“I’d make a terrible queen,” she murmured. “Jon, you have to stop her from going to war with Braavos. I don’t want to live there.”

He tried to comfort her. “In the crypts, they called me King of Winter,” he told her. “And you Daughter of the North. Maybe we’d stay here.” 

“Daughter of the North?”

“Yes,” he breathed, unsure he wanted to know whether she’d heard that before. 

“Arya of Winterfell, daughter of the north,” she whispered, with tears in her eyes. “You told me you could be strong. You have the wolf blood in you,” 

She jumped out of bed. 

“Where are you going?” he asked, as she lit a candle and threw on a robe. She was still barefoot on her way to the door. 

“I’m going to find Bran.”

“Arya, it’s the hour of the owl!” he pleaded, trying to find his tunic. 

“It’s not like they’re asleep. The twins make sure they can’t.”

“Arya where did you hear that?” he shouted behind her. 

“Father,” she hollered back as she ran in a frenzy through the hallways of the Great Keep. 

And right she was. When they got to the Lord of Winterfell’s chambers, Meera answered the door with a wailing Lyarra on her chest, while behind her, Bran, on his wheeled chair, held a quiet but awake Cregan.

“Did they wake you too?” Meera asked politely.

Arya marched past her. Jon looked apologetically at Meera. 

“Is Jon going to be a king?” she demanded of Bran. 

“What?” Meera exclaimed.

Bran appraised his sister for a while before he nodded his answer. Jon stood there shocked. King. Again?

“Why did you not tell me?”

“It would not have changed things.”

“What do you mean?” she shouted. “I have never wanted to be a queen! You took the choice away from me!” Her voice was thick with emotion. 

Would you have refused me? he wondered, hesitant to know the answer, fearful.

“What’s going on?” Meera whispered, while Arya berated Bran.

“I’m not sure,” he conceded, he didn’t truly understand what was happening. 

“How long have you known?” Arya asked with her head in her hands. She was sitting opposite Bran now, all while Jon stood in the middle of the room, far enough from them to feel like a bystander. 

All the while Lyarra wailed. His niece’s cries reflected the tumult he felt inside. What if she leaves me?

“I found out a few days before you married,” Bran admitted.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” she asked again. “I have never wanted that life.” 

Would you leave me because of it?

“What is seen in a green dream cannot be changed,” Bran explained. “When we were still in Winterfell, Jojen saw the sea come to Winterfell and drown Alebelly, Mikken and Septon Chayle. I tried to warn them...keep them away from water, but Theon and the ironborn still killed them.”

“Why must every man in my life be tested with these dreams?” Meera mumbled to no one in particular. 

Jon finally found his voice. “What did you see?” 

“Not me,” Bran said, “The Children of the Forest. They saw you sit upon a weirwood throne with Arya by your side, while a giant guarded you.”

“Not the Iron Throne?” Arya asked, lifting her head from her hands. 

“It was a weirwood throne.” 

King of Winter.  Daughter of the North.

“Who was the man?”

“I don’t know,” Bran said. “They said he was a giant with a broken sword.”

The Children of the Forest had left Winterfell two months ago, the day after they oversaw Jon and Arya’s wedding at the Heart Tree. They sang for them in the True Tongue, dotting their faces with weirwood paste. They did the same for Cregan and Lyarra.

They’d had a flurry of weddings in the days after the council. The first was Lady Cerwyn and the Greatjon’s wedding which was followed by many marriages between northmen and freefolk. Then came the Dayne weddings to Jorelle Mormont and Harrion Karstark respectively. 

He’d started the day of his wedding at his desk, trying to put words to paper. In the end, he settled for a short missive. However it was received, it would still convey the same message.

Your Grace,

I previously shared with you my intention to wed Lady Arya Stark of Winterfell. By the time you get this letter, she will be my lawful wife in the sight of all who matter. I would like you to welcome my wife into your family. I will not live without her. I will gladly abdicate my position as your heir for this action if you require it of me. I hope it will not come to that. 

Your nephew and heir, 

Aemon of House Targaryen, Prince of Dragonstone.,

A thick morning dew covered the godswood, glinting brightly in the sunrise. He tied his letter to the raven’s leg and watched it fly, hoping it’s response would not be dark words harbingered by those same dark wings.

He made his way back to their rooms in the Great Keep. As he walked, he saw Branda flying past with a bunch of flowers in her hands. She reminded him so much of Arya at the same age picking flowers for Father who would always accept them from her with a smile. 

When he got to their rooms, the moment he opened the door he was ushered out by Lady Nym, “Out, out, the bride will not be bothered by you,” she nagged, wagging her finger at the door, all while pushing him. 

He tried to get a glimpse of Arya but all around their room were women. Branda was in a corner with little Loreza Sand, unaware that anyone else was in the room. Such concentration was etched on her face as she made a flower crown. The Manderly girls were making last minute adjustments to her cloak, while Allyria and Jorelle did the same to her gown. Meera was talking with Lady Cerwyn, while The Sand Snakes were busy in conversation with Alys. How they made such fast friends with Arya he could not say, but every woman in the room was as unconventional as his wife. The Manderly girls with their green hair, Meera the warrior with her three pronged spear, Alys was the once runaway bride, now wife of a wildling. There was the she-bear, now of Dorne; even Allyria, the most gentle of the lot, could still  wield a weapon better than most men. He had no need to list all the ways in which the Sand Snakes were different.

The day after the council he saw her ride out with them to Winter Town. She told him after, that Nym and Elia helped out in her self defence classes while Tyene worked at the infirmary. 

“Know poisons and you know healing.” she said while speaking to him of her day before bed. That was the night before the wedding. They’d been inseparable for the past three days at that point and for the next month of their stay she’d ride out to the Wolfswood with Elia, spar with Nym instead of him and sit in corners during the many weddings whispering with Tyene. But there was a deviousness he saw in her when she sat with all three of them that he found uncanny. 

“We hate the same people,” she said by way of explanation. “The Mountain killed their father and he took me to Harrenhal. I believe everything they say he did to their aunt because he did things just as vile in front of me. Amory Lorch killed their cousin,” she paused, “your real sister,” she added.

”I’m glad you’re not my sister,” he replied laughing.

She continued on with her tale. “Ser Amory and his men killed Yoren. I enjoyed telling them how he died,” she smirked.

“They hate the queen,” he warned.

“And I have no reason to,” she consoled him. “I’m not a leaf that blows in the wind, Jon. I can separate the hate of others from my own. The Sand Snakes lost their sister to the queen’s war and say their cousin died to her dragons, while she killed their king. I’d be even more hateful than them if that happened to me. But the queen has given me no reason to hate her. In fact, from the little I know of her, I like her.”

I hope it stays that way, he thought. Neither Arya nor Daenerys were likely to back down if they ever found themselves on opposing sides. 

As he looked around, he couldn’t see his bride in the group of women in the room until he spotted Beth and Sarra. She was walking out of the partition that concealed her bath with them when he saw her. She was only clad in a drying cloth, her hair still wet. He pushed past Nym’s way to run to her. Pulling her against him, he crashed his lips against hers, all but groping her curves to bring her closer to him. Such was the force of his desire, he heard her whimper against him.

When he finally let her go, he heard giggling from the ladies in the room but he only had eyes for the wife that was currently biting her lip, somewhere between bashful and hungry for more. 

“Being born in Dorne gave you a Dornish man’s passions,” Elia whistled. 

Arya lowered her gaze. 

“Now, out!” Meera commanded him. 

He compared his feelings that day to the dread he felt on a similar day eight months ago when Arya was newly home and he was getting ready to marry someone else. He’d confessed his feelings to her the previous night and she threatened to leave him for good if he broke Sansa’s heart. It was his own heart she broke in the process. 

Today however, he felt like a man who’d found his home, so happy was he, he felt his heart might stop. His heart. Suddenly, he remembered another time he felt his heart might stop, for a completely different reason. 

“Moat Cailin is taken. The flayed corpses of the ironmen have been nailed to posts along the kingsroad. Roose Bolton summons all leal lords to Barrowton, to affirm their loyalty to the Iron Throne and celebrate his son’s wedding to …” 

His heart seemed to stop for a moment. No, that is not possible. She died in King’s Landing, with Father. 

“Lord Snow?” Clydas peered at him closely with his dim pink eyes.

 “Are you … unwell? You seem …” 

“He’s to marry Arya Stark. My little sister.” Jon could almost see her in that moment, long-faced and gawky, all knobby knees and sharp elbows, with her dirty face and tangled hair. They would wash the one and comb the other, he did not doubt, but he could not imagine Arya in a wedding gown, nor Ramsay Bolton’s bed.

As he stood under the Heart Tree of their childhood home, a beautiful woman with a flower crown of winter roses upon her head walked toward him in a wedding gown. No knobby knees, dirty face, tangled hair or sharp elbows in sight. On either side of her were her brothers, Bran upon his horse and Rickon on her arm. He couldn’t help the smile that broke out on his face. My bride. Finally. 

As they said the words under the Heart Tree and then again in the sept, he could only hear the Old Bear’s words. 

“Robb will wed some beautiful princess and father sons. You’ll have no wife, nor will you ever hold a child of your own blood in your arms. Robb will rule, you will serve. Men will call you a crow. Him they’ll call Your Grace. Singers will praise every little thing he does, while your greatest deeds go all unsung. Tell me that none of this troubles you, Jon … and I’ll name you a liar, and know I have the truth of it.”

Arya told him how the faceless men told her she would be no one’s wife and no one’s mother. Yet here they were man and wife. Singers sang of his deeds now too, while he married a beautiful princess, even if her brother’s crown was handed over in surrender. And one day, he hoped, he’d hold a son of his own blood in his arms. One that he shared with his bride.

He cloaked her twice. He could not bear to remove the wolf from her shoulders so he cloaked her in his own arms of the wolf and the dragon. Together they were both. 

Neither of them knew the words for the wedding in the sept and had to rely on the septon. She laughed when she realised that they did not. “Septon Chayle would be disappointed,” she giggled.Her laughter still warmed him, even now. 

She’d remain Arya Stark. Brides of the royal line kept their own names, for which she was thankful. He carried her into the Great Hall, and in those moments they were the only people in the whole world. 

At their wedding feast, The Blackfish warned him again about hurting her before telling him that he approved of him for her husband. The thought threw him back. He remembered all the ways in which Catelyn Stark despised him. And here was her uncle declaring him worthy of her daughter. 

Rickon approached him to inform him that Arya said he could live with them wherever they went. Hearing that, Branda reminded him of his own promise to her. They had yet to decide on a home for themselves. They couldn’t live in Winterfell forever, they’d have to have a castle of their own to leave their children. With all the rebuilding, Arya was sure they’d have their own. Jon liked the idea of a rebuilt Moat Cailin. 

Tormund, ever inappropriate, approached the dias to loudly whisper, “Is she up the duff?” No doubt he was heard by everyone in close proximity. “When did you even manage to? Har!” he bellowed, spilling the fermented goat’s milk in his horn all over himself.

Then the music started. Tom O’Sevens sang The Queen Took Off Her Sandal, the King Took Off His Crown. Lord Umber picked up his homely wife as if she was as light as a feather, spinning her around in what passed for a dance. She cheered in laughter, turning red while her skirts swirled. Ser Andrey Dalt danced with Tyene Sand, Elia Sand, curiously, danced with The Weeper’s son, Dorin, who knew not the steps. Lord Manderly partnered with his granddaughter while Bran watched with a smile on his face. 

Jon turned to his wife, asking her for a dance. As they danced, the music slowed down. Tom introduced The Dance of the Dragons, a ballad about two lovers’ last moments during the doom of Old Valyria. With a Volantene mother of her own, Lady Nym sang the woman’s part of the song. 

They drank and feasted and danced late into the night, until the Greatjon boomed, “To bed with them!”

With pleasure, Jon thought, picking her up before any man could get to her. He made for the lord’s door to the rear of the hall while Ghost, Nymeria, Shaggy, Summer and the pups protected his back. 

When they were finally in their room, he continued to hold her in his arms, lost in the depth of her grey eyes. Ours. He moved his gaze to her red lips. Mine. Her brown hair hung freely across his back. 

“Are you going to put me down?” she teased.

“No. I want to hold you like this forever.”

She rolled her eyes at him but he couldn’t stop looking. “ Beautiful,” he whispered against her lips. When he looked back at her, she looked shocked. Of course, they made her think she was Arya Horseface. “You’re the most beautiful woman in the world to me,” he reiterated. She made a face and tried to hide her face in his neck. 

“Hiding won’t make a difference, love,” he told her, “I see your face even when I close my eyes.” 

“Shut up.” 

Ever nimble she moved her face up to his, brushing their lips, before deciding she’d be much more comfortable wrapping her legs around his waist. Lazily she kissed him. She broke apart from him only to stop and look at him with a look of love that made him want to cry. She’d beaten him to that. Tears glossed her eyes. “I love you,” they said at the same time, completing the other’s sentence just as they once had as children. She placed her forehead against his. They both closed their eyes. “I love you,” they said again at the same time before breaking out into a giggle. 

“I’m scared,” she confessed.

“Of what?” he laughed. “We’ve done this plenty of times before.” 

“Not of this,stupid,” she said, rolling her eyes. “Of what comes next. Do you think we rushed things? Shouldn’t you have told the queen first?”

“I did,” he told her, trying to bring his lips back to hers, “I wrote to her this morning.” 

“She was here for your wedding to Sansa,” she replied, moving down to stand on her own two feet. “You’re the Crown Prince of the Seven Kingdoms, Uncle Brynden said your marriage was a state affair. Your parents married without the king’s consent and look what happened.” She bit her lip when she realised what she said. “I meant-”

“I know,” he comforted her, holding her face. “I know, but Dany is not her father and without an heir of her own, there’s little she can do now we’re married.” He kissed her forehead.

“Jon, I don’t want to live on Dragonstone,” she reminded him.

“I know, and we won’t.” 

“You’re her heir! What if you have to sit on that throne one day?” 

“I won’t.” He remembered the words of her red priest, Benerro. “The red priests say that the Prince that was Promised would launch a dynasty that would last a thousand, thousand years. Dany will have her own children.” 

“I thought they called you that,” she queried. 

“It’ s not me,” he affirmed. “I did not wake dragons from stone. Now... are we going to keep talking about Daenerys on our wedding night?” 

The look of scepticism did not leave her face.

He held her face in his hands. “Arya, I promise you, I will not let any harm come to our family.” 

She nodded. “We won’t let it.” 

“Now, wife,” he smiled, “let me love you. I promised you three consumations.”

She responded with her own grin. “You did.” 

So he loved her, slowly.

“Jon, there,” she moaned against his ear, when he began slowly making his way to the spot she loved. He held her as she whimpered, fluttering all around him, tears streaming down her cheeks. Her heat engulfed him. He looked into her eyes as he spilled inside his wife, unfettered by the worry that he would father a bastard. Only trueborn children, born of love, would come from this. 

“I love you, so much,” he said as he poured inside her, hoping his seed would take root. 

Arya coaxed him inside her thrice more that night until they crashed into their bed, boneless and tired. She was keen to show him the things she’d learned in Braavos. Things that made him half hard even now, two months later. 

“We’re leaving tomorrow,” he told her. “There’s a hunting lodge near the Wolfswood, we’ll stay there.” 

“We can’t leave silly,” she said, “Meera is having the babes any moment now.” 

“Babes?”

“Aye, Bran says twins.” 

And right she was, again. That same night they awoke to banging at their door. “Arya!” The voice belonged to Sarra. “Come quick, Meera is having the babes!” Arya darted out of the door quick as a snake.

When he finally made it to Bran’s quarters, his brother sat on his wheeled chair, in the company of Lem, Anguy, and Harwin. Each of their women were in the rooms with Meera. The Blackfish and Lord Howland joined them later, before a sleep-dazed Rickon made his way out of the room to see what was happening. Tom O’Sevens was last to arrive from the people of their household. Slowly, the news then spread around the castle to their guests. Thankfully, guards were placed outside The Great Keep.

“Brandon Staaaaaark!” Meera shouted from the room. “This is the last time you put a babe in me!!!” 

They awkwardly stood there while Bran smiled, wringing his hands in nervousness. 

“Does it make you proud to hear me howling like one of your wolves?” she screamed. 

“I remember the nights the two of you and Lady Arya were born,” Harwin said looking at Bran and Rickon, “Lady Catelyn swore like a sailor.” 

On and on went Meera’s labour. Her screams were deafening. 

“I never thought this day would come for me,” Bran said in a whisper. “I never thought I’d have a wife or children.” His eyes glistened with tears. “I thought I’d be a broken boy left alone for the rest of my life.” 

Jon put his arm around his brother. “We all did,” he told him. “Rickon up in Skagos, me on the Wall, you beyond it, Arya in Braavos, I suppose even Sansa in King’s Landing. We all thought we’d be alone forever. And now here we are.” 

His brother smiled. “Sansa needs us.” 

“What’s happened to her?” 

“After the wedding...the lords of the Vale began to question her relationship with Littlefinger. If she can betray her own father, what else can she do? they started  to ask.” Bran inhaled deeply. “She regrets it Jon,” he said. “I understand Arya’s pain. Everyone who died was someone we knew as well. But Sansa is scared and alone. She tries to hide it in her letters but I see.” 

“See what?” 

“The lords of the Vale circling her, each one keen to have her for himself all the while threatening her with a fall. She doesn’t have many allies.”

“For what reason? She’s done nought to them! They escorted her to the wedding, supporting her.” 

“Nestor Royce and his daughter, Myranda, held her and Littlefinger responsible for taking away their chance to install Myranda as Harrold Hardyng’s wife. It’s a grievance they never let go.” 

“But they came with her here?”

“They play games in the South that we do not,” Bran said. “Seeing how she brought down Littlefinger by exposing his role in Father’s death, given her own role in those events, they began to question her relationship with Lord Baelish… and the sudden death of our cousin Robert.” Bran gulped. 

“The boy had a weak composition.” Jon had heard as much from Sansa and, when he died, The Blackfish. 

“They had the maester questioned in a trial. He said that Sansa had been giving him too much sweetsleep for a little boy to handle.”
Suddenly, Jon remembered Sansa’s implication of Lord Baelish. 

“You had me procuring sweetmilk for my cousin Lord Robert Arryn. You told me it was to help treat him but Maester Colemon told me the truth. He told me it would harm him so I stopped giving it to him but you didn’t care did you? Robert dying would be convenient for you. You’d replace him with Ser Harrold who you thought was more predictable.”

“Sansa said she stopped giving it to him, when the maester told her.” 

“The maester said at the trial that she did not stop, even after his warnings.” 

“Robert dying would be convenient for you. You’d replace him with Ser Harrold who you thought was more predictable.” It would make her Lady of the Eyrie. Jon tried to bury the thought. 

“What happened...at the trial?” 

“Sandor Clegane fought for her in a trial by combat and won.”

Jon, exhaled.

“But she lost the support of many of the houses of the Vale, who call her a kinslayer in barely concealed derision despite the fact that she was proven innocent-”

“Perhaps it’s as simple as the stronger man winning.”

Bran looked at him with resignation. “Do you think she poisoned our own cousin?” 

“I don’t know,” he said truthfully. “I don’t think she would but I’m not sure I know Sansa any more. I didn’t know her very well anyway.” 

Bran sighed. “The lords pay their taxes, but very reluctantly. Even then, they only pay them because she has Lord Yohn Royce as High Steward and he only supports her because he signed a betrothal agreement which would ensure his granddaughter becomes Lady of the Eyrie.” 

Bran sighed again, “And if that was not enough, the Mountain Clans regularly raid caravans.” 

Jon remembered asking her to make peace with them, just as they had with the free folk in the North. 

“I will not make peace with... wildlings ,” she said scornfully. “We will destroy them, once and for all. There is no place for them in the Vale.” 

“Their place is in the Mountains of the Moon,” he reminded her. “They were there before the Andals came.” The hill tribes were the descendants of First Men who resided in the Vale long before the Andals arrived. They were menacing when they only had pitchforks and stolen weapons. Tyrion Lannister had them trained for the queen’s war for the throne and gave them good weapons. Now they were more than an annoyance. They were a real force she’d have to deal with. He hoped for her own good that she learned when to fight and when to negotiate now. 

“What will you do for her?” Jon wondered. 

“I asked her to visit,” Bran huffed, “She refused. I thought that I could try and fix things between her and Arya. Sansa insists that she is the wronged party. She was a child and Arya didn’t try to listen to her at all was her response.” 

“Arya saw the bodies, Bran, after the massacre at the Tower of the Hand.,” Jon said in defence of his wife, he remembered her tears. “She was in shock and she suffered so much as a result of that one action,” 

“I know,” Bran said. “I know everything. Even Braavos.” 

He met Jon’s eyes with a deep sadness.
“Then you know why Arya did what she did.”

“I do,” Bran said. “I just wish things could be different.” 

“It’s not your job to make things different,” Jon reminded him, “They are both grown women. We have to respect whatever decision they make.” Ever since they were children, Bran was always the conciliator and there were no two people he reconciled more than Arya and Sansa. This time, however, Jon thought this too big a matter for even Bran. 

Meera let out a blood curdling scream, which was followed by the first cries of a newborn babe. Bran laughed and lifted his eyes to Jon’s, letting out a laugh of relief. Jon remembered the night Bran was born. Father let out a similar breath of relief. 

Jon hugged his crying brother. Rickon joined them. Then they heard the cry of the second babe. 

Outside, they all let out another sigh of relief when they heard Meera’s voice. 

The door opened. Arya and Beth carried a babe each. Arya was crying too. She sent him a teary smile. Beth placed the boy in Bran’s arms. He was brown haired and grey-eyed. A Stark if there ever was one. Arya held the girl. She looked identical to her brother. Jon wrapped his arm around his wife who held their niece. Lord Howland came to pick up his grandson, all while The Blackfish hovered to welcome the latest additions to the Tully family tree. Arya placed the girl in Bran’s lap then. Their brother let out a sob in place of laughter. Happy tears flowed freely down his face. 

“And Meera?” he asked.

“She’s fine,” Arya answered. “They’re cleaning her up inside.” 

They fell into an easy routine once the twins were born. Cregan and Lyarra they were named. Arya was never too far from them. He’d see one or the other wrapped around her chest as she saw to the Lady of Winterfell’s duties while Meera recovered. Seeing her swaddled with the babes made him want one of their own. So whenever he could, he’d try to get her with child.

“You’re insatiable,” she would complain but she’d always answer him with the same desperation. They even managed to get two days outside of the castle at the hunting lodge he wanted them to go to the night after their wedding. 

They spent more time together as a family as well. Jon would take Rickon fishing along the White Knife. She would race Rickon. His unicorn was always faster than her palfrey but she wouldn’t let that stop her.

“Your mother used to like riding like that,” Harwin told him once. 

Jon would also help Bran with his duties as lord, visiting holdfasts on his behalf and overseeing the progress that began after their council. 

Arya, on the other hand, would spend hours a day with Meera whenever she was in the castle. Once the Sand Snakes left, that time only increased. He’d never seen Arya have friends who were ladies even when they were children. She made friends with everyone as a child, but most ladies only visited briefly and those who lived in the castle preferred Sansa’s company to hers. 

Meera, Beth, the Sand Snakes, Jorelle, who travelled to Dorne with them to take her place as Lady of Starfall, and Allyria and Alys who went back to Karhold, were her new inner circle. He was happy for her.

Meera was different to them all though, Meera became to Arya, what Robb once was to Jon. 

And she became to Branda what their father was to all of them. The little girl idolised Arya and tried to be like her in every way she could. 

A raven from the queen arrived during this time. She welcomed them to King’s Landing for her own Great Council, to be attended by all the lords and ladies for the Great Houses of Westeros. She extended the invitation to Prince Aemon and his family. That was all the acknowledgement she made to his marriage, if that even counted as an acknowledgement. 

That night he went to his wife as always, desperate to sink into her heat. She was already in bed, unusual for Arya.

“Hey,” he whispered, gathering her into his arms. “What’s wrong?” 

“I’m tired,” she said, hiding her face in his neck. 

“What did you do?” He’d spent the day in Winter Town with Lem and Tom. 

“Nothing, that’s the thing,” she whined. 

He kissed her. 

The sides of her mouth pulled into a smile. She moved her hands to cup him between his breeches. He shivered. 

“Please,” she sighed, licking the sensitive spot behind his ear. One word, uttered so quietly, struck him like lightning.

“First, I need you naked, love,” he cooed.

She lowered her eyes to his breeches as if to say you first. He complied as did she. 

He wrapped his arms around her. “How should I love you tonight?” 

She watched him with dark eyes, heavy breaths moving her chest alluringly, inviting him to take her teats into his mouth. “Arya-”

She kissed him hard, fierce, hungry, a woman blinded by need.He groaned at the contact. She answered him with a needy moan, licking her tongue into his mouth. 

He lied her down to move above her, pinning her arms up with his own. 

“Jon, please, I need you.”

“I know, love,” he rasped. “Me too.” 

He trailed one hand down her stomach, past her bare mound. She did shave . She sucked in a sharp breath at the first touch of his fingers between her thighs. She was ready for him. “I love what’s between your thighs,” he declared. His mouth watered when he smelled her arousal. 

He climbed off from her. She whined at the loss of warmth, before throwing her head back in a relieved sigh at the moment he pressed his mouth into her hot, slick, centre. 

He loved the sounds she made whenever he sucked her into his mouth, licking and tasting her want. Her voice always grew tight whenever she was close so he sped up the movement of his fingers inside her and the spirals he drew with his tongue.

The sound she made whenever she came, was sweeter than any music he’d ever heard. This wife of his. 

She knew him just as well. She knew the spot under his jaw that sent him keening, and how he loved her fingers in his hair, and how her biting his lower lip sent a jolt of wildfire through his blood. It’s why she did all three things the moment he lied down next to her. 

She moved her hand down to his cock, all while rubbing her nose in that spot he loved, behind his ear, right before she licked it with the tip of her tongue. He bit his lip, swallowing  a groan.

Heat seared through his body  the moment she took him into her mouth. This nimble woman of his. He felt like his soul could fly out of his body when he looked down at her with his hooded eyes. Enchantress

He felt his  thighs tremble when she began moving her mouth in time with her hand, all while the fingers of her second moved between his balls.

“Arya-” he managed to rasp out breathlessly. His heels dug into their featherbed while his body arched up into her mouth of its own accord. She smiled against him. He could feel her breath against the curls at the juncture of his thighs. Her tongue felt so good on him, he did not want to stop her. He’d find his way inside her later he was sure, so for now he let her take him over the edge. He spilled inside her mouth seeing stars behind his eyes. It was only then that he noticed the tears that spilled out of his eyes in his pleasure. She saw them at the same time, licking them off his cheeks in a move that made him want to plunge inside her. 

She smiled at him and lowered her face to his for a kiss far too tender for what they’d done so far that night. 

He moved his hand  down to cup her breasts, her teats in his mouth were two of his favourite things.

“Oww,” she whined, moving his hand off her breast. “It hurts.” 

“I’m sorry, I must have not noticed how hard I squeezed,” he apologised. “Come here, let me make it up to you.” 

They fell asleep shortly after he did. 

---

Jon looked for her everywhere after she stormed out of Bran’s rooms. She didn’t even notice him standing there next to Meera, extending his hand out for her to take when she left. Or perhaps she did and decided she’d ignore him. He didn’t know which was worse. Perhaps this is the night I lost her, he thought, as he made his way back to their rooms. 

He sat on the window seat, watching the moon, desolate. He would have found The Blackfish who slept no more than four hours a night but he’d left to take his place as Riverrun’s castellan so that Lord Edmure could attend the queen’s council. 

She came back just before dawn wearing mismatched boots and one of his cloaks. 

“We can leave,” he blurted. “Anywhere you want. Just don’t leave me.” His voice was weak, desperate. 

She furrowed her brows. “Why would I leave you?” she asked, as if he was mad. 

“You said you don’t want that life, you don’t have to live it.”

“And you heard, Bran. He said those dreams cannot be avoided.”

“I will do anything for you, I will even make a green dream not come true.”

She smiled at him and walked to sit by him. When she did she took his hand in hers. “I made a vow, Jon. Whatever comes I’ll be by your side until I’m as old and grey as in your dream.” 

He let out a croak of laughter. 

“Where did you go?” he asked, looking at her robe, mismatched boots and cloak.

She let out another laugh when she looked at herself. 

“To see Father,” she replied.

“Why?” 

“In King’s Landing, Father told me it was a dangerous place. We have come to a dark dangerous place, child,” he said. “ We have enemies who mean us ill. We cannot fight a war among ourselves. This willfulness of yours,” she smiled while she said that, “ the running off, the angry words, the disobedience … at home, these were only the summer games of a child, he told me.”

But he said, “here and now, with winter soon upon us, that is a different matter. It is time to begin growing up . I promised him I would. I promised I’d be strong, strong as Robb.” 

Jon was confused, he didn’t understand what this had to do with anything. 

She gave his hand a comforting squeeze when she realised he was confused. 

“In Harrenhal, I prayed at the godswood there. I wanted guidance on what to do. I was dejected, a mouse. As I prayed, the leaves rustled and I heard Father’s voice,” she gulped, tears in her eyes once more. 

When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives , he said. So I told him the pack was gone. The Lannisters had Sansa and you were up at the Wall. Bran and Rickon were dead. I’m not even me, I told him. My name was Nan when Roose Bolton took over Harrenhal.”

“You named yourself after Old Nan?”

“I’ve worn many names,” she laughed. “I was Beth once too, but stop distracting me!” She slapped his chest lightly. 

“Alright, continue,” he conceded, holding the hand that slapped his chest.  

“I heard Father’s voice. You are Arya of Winterfell, he reminded me, daughter of the North. You told me you could be strong. You have the wolf blood in you .”

“That was my weakest moment,” she added, “and Father gave me strength. He reminded me I was a direwolf, strong as Robb, and done with wooden teeth. I left Harrenhal that same night... Whatever you dreamt, daughter of the north they called me, perhaps it was a reminder for me. Whatever is coming, I’ll be by your side, strong, just I promised Father. That’s why I went to the crypts, to remind myself of the promise.”

He never loved her more than in that moment. He pulled her to his chest holding her against him until the sun came up. 

“Besides,” she murmured against his chest, “you said we were old, perhaps you don’t get to become king of anywhere until you’re a few moments from death’s door. Now, can we sleep? I’m tired.” 

----

Arya didn’t want to take Rickon with them to King’s Landing. “We aren’t taking our wolves,” she griped. 

“They hate ships,” he reminded her.

“Then Rickon shouldn’t go.” 

“We promised him he’ll always have a place beside us, Arya and he’ll be miserable without the two of us.”

“I let Nymeria go and look what happened to me over there!” 

“I won’t let anything happen to you or Rickon,” he promised.
She finally gave in but insisted Osha come with them. “Osha will kill anyone who tries to harm Rickon," she rationalised. She also demanded a full complement of guards including Anguy, Lem, and Tom. Everyone had concealed daggers. 

With her daughter still so young Beth elected to stay in Winterfell but Sarra and Branda joined them as well. Branda had been excited for the trip for two months. 

“I want to see this Leona Tyrell too,” she added. “The woman who sought to claim my husband. Nym told me all about how devious she is.” 

She-wolf,” he laughed against her hair. 



 





Chapter Text

Leona 

Leona Tyrell, the golden rose of Highgarden, woke to a golden sunrise that reminded her of home. She rose from her bed, slipped into a robe and called for two of her bedmaids to draw her water for a bath. 

While born a Tyrell, Leona was not born one of the true golden roses of House Tyrell. That good fortune was exclusive only to the descendants of Lord Luthor Tyrell and his lady wife Lady Olenna Redwyne. Leona’s own father was a distant cousin of their lordly son, Lord Mace Tyrell. Leona became one by chance and she would stay one with hard work. 

Leona’s father, Ser Leo, was as true a knight as they ever came and her mother, Alys Beesbury, was the pinnacle of the good lady. Be that as it may, despite their name, compared to the true golden roses, they were little better than well-bred afterthoughts in the game of thrones. Pawns as it were. The pinnacle of her hopes was to marry some knight or lordling of a lesser house. Her father had tried to have her betrothed to one of Lord Paxter’s boys and was rebuffed. What he thought rising to have Lady Olenna’s trueborn grandchildren married to a landed knight’s daughter Leona did not know. Not that her father gave up. When he approached Lord Randyll Tarly, the man refused to entertain the thought of marrying his heir, Dickon, to a mere knight’s daughter.

Leona had accepted her place a long time ago. She always knew that she would live in her cousin Margaery’s shadow and had accepted that too. Her beautiful cousin was easily loveable. The highlight of Leona’s childhood was growing up with her sister and cousins. They hardly spent any time apart until the time came for Margaery to marry Lord Renly. Margaery then left home with Leona’s sister, Alla, and all their unmarried cousins. Leona was left behind. Her mother insisted she was much too young to leave home but Leona knew her mother had hoped keeping her in The Reach would help her catch the eye of some lordling cousin of hers that stayed behind. 

Leona stepped into the hot waters of her bath. Her bedmaids began to scrub her clean. 

While her sister and cousins returned briefly to Highgarden, they left again for King’s Landing for Margaery to become queen. Leona wanted so desperately to go. Highgarden and The Reach were known for their chivalry and pageantry but there was nowhere like King’s Landing for that. Still, her parents refused to let her go. 

Her father died a few months after the girls left and her mother not long after. The bards would say it was grief, if anyone sang about the likes of Alys Beesbury, but Leona knew it was a stomach ailment. 

And if that wasn’t enough loss for a young girl, news came that Margaery and their cousins had been accused of lewdness, fornication, adultery, conspiracy to commit high treason, and in the case of Alla, witnessing their shame and helping to conceal it. No one in The Reach believed those offences of course but Leona thought Cersei Lannister had some smarts to paint Alla as the bystander. Alla was always a meek creature. People thought the same of Leona but that was only because Leona kept her true thoughts to herself. 

So indignant was Lord Tyrell when he heard the news of his daughter’s imprisonment that he pulled back his forces from Storm’s End, refusing to besiege the ancient castle until his daughter was freed. If only life worked as simply as having the greater army and riches. For a long time House Tyrell had thought that to be enough. None more so than the true golden roses themselves. But what is reason to a mad woman? Cersei Lannister blew up the Sept of Baelor. With one well placed fire she blew to pieces the hopes of Highgarden: it’s queen, it’s future and it’s lord. Elinor, Megga and Alla died as well. Megga and Elinor were always considered above Leona and her sister but with no real marriageable pawns left to their House, the golden roses took her in. Lady Olenna was the scariest woman Leona ever met. What she lacked for in physical strength she made up for in her bite. Thankfully, Cousin Willas was there. He was always kind to Leona and protected her from most of Lady Olenna’s tirades, until the woman found use for her. Lady Alerie, on the other hand, was a kind enough woman but when Leona had first joined them she was too lost in her own grief following the deaths of her husband and two of her children. 

When the false dragon, as he was now called, landed in the Stormlands, House Tyrell considered declaring for him until he married the Dornish princess. Lady Olenna refused to bend the knee until he proved himself invincible. He did not have long to prove himself before the unmarried Dragon Queen landed in Westeros. The Reach was the richest kingdom in truth. While the Westerlands had gold, one could not eat gold in winter, and winter was coming. The men, wealth and holding in the Seven Kingdoms that The Reach could give her were too strong a draw for the Dragon Queen to refuse. So she agreed to a betrothal to the Lord of Highgarden, Willas. Leona loved Willas but always thought the Garlan would have been the better consort. He was a true warrior for a warrior queen. 

Leona stepped out of her bath. Her bedmaids began to dry and perfume her. A lady of her standing always smelled nice.

After the betrothal, the queen flew north with her dragons to subdue the North and help them in their war against grumpkins and snarks. Or so Leona thought. Since then, Leona had met enough people who fought in that war to accept that something truly extraordinary happened up there. Something that made the man of her dreams a hero of the songs. Raised a bastard, he was the true born son of Prince Rhaegar Targaryen. Though he looked nothing like the Targaryens in the songs, or the queen herself, she heard how he flew a dragon in battle alongside the Dragon Queen and slew the Great Other himself. 

Leona remembered the first time she ever saw Aemon. 

He was dismounting from his warhorse, his brown hair was blowing in the wind. He had a beautifully long face and haunting eyes that captivated her. When he finally stood near her, she almost drowned in the storm in his grey eyes. She noticed even then how deep his melancholy ran. Those who knew Prince Rhaegar had said he had a similar look of pensiveness to him. She knew that day that this would be the only man she would truly care for. Leona wanted nothing more than to love his pain away. 

Back then however, Leona was merely Lady Olenna’s companion in King’s Landing. The Tyrells had been adamant that the queen took the Iron Throne instead of the true heir as it would have made Willas king. Of course, the queen refused to declare Willas king, but she did name him her Hand following the death of the Imp.

The first day Leona saw the new royal family together, the crowds had cheered for the Tyrells who fed the city and for the queen whose dragons they feared but it was Leona’s Aemon for whom they cheered the loudest. The man who brought together armies to save the realm. The man who let someone else claim his birthright to save the realm from war. The man Leona wanted more than anything. 

Leona sat down in front of her vanity so that her bedmaids could brush her hair. 

Once the queen took her throne and the Great Houses of Westeros all bent the knee, Leona travelled back to Highgarden with Lady Olenna. The betrothals for her hand began to flow in. In a change of fortunes, even Lady Melessa Florent considered betrothing her to her son Dickon. The thought tickled Leona. Once she was of too little consequence to consider a lady for the future Lord of Hornhill but now that the true golden roses had claimed her she was good enough to join the striding huntsmen. Perhaps the striding huntsman is not good enough for me, Leona thought. 

The only man Leona truly wanted was her sad prince. There was something in his eyes that told her he knew pain. She supposed that it had to do with being raised as a bastard. While Leona was no bastard she knew what it was like to live in the shadow of her betters. She wanted to cure his hurts, make him happy and give him a castle full of sons that would make him proud. But being the wife of the heir to the Iron Throne was only that. A dream. 

Only in the songs did a maid like Leona get to be the wife of the prince they called the Last Hero reborn. But Leona Tyrell’s life was nothing if not a song. 

After three years of marriage and not even a single failed pregnancy, Lady Olenna began to question the queen’s fertility. The Spider, the eunuch they called Varys, confirmed not long after that the queen was barren, setting afire all of the Tyrells’ plans to finally have a child of theirs become a king. That was when Lady Olenna began to pay closer attention to Leona. She still remembered the day she was invited for tea with Lady Alerie and Lady Olenna. 

Though they were still in winter, Highgarden was never truly cold. She remembered walking past the beautiful barges that floated along the Mander, past the flowers in bloom and through the shady courtyards and marble colonnades of the beautiful castle. The Three Singers, the three weirwoods of Highgarden, sat in the shade of Highgardens sept which was now the greatest sept in the Seven Kingdoms after the destruction of the Great Sept of Baelor. 

Lady Olenna was sitting under one of the great marble colonnades in the company of her good-daughter. 

“My lady,” she said, kissing the Queen of Thorns’ hand before she did the same for the other dowager Lady of Highgarden. 

“Sit, girl,” Lady Olenna commanded. 

“Leona, you have brightened our lives and after the loss of my dear Margaery I have come to see you as my own daughter,” Lady Alerie began. She leaned in to Leona and tucked a stray hair behind her ear. “As a Tyrell, organising a betrothal of you falls to us.” 

Who will they marry me to? Leona remembered thinking. Probably someone else who refused my father. 

“As you know dear girl,” Lady Alerie continued kindly, “Prince Aemon is unmarried-”

My prince!

“As a rose of Highgarden you would come with a nice dowry that the queen would not refuse.”

“But-but,” Leona found herself objecting, beside herself, “He’s the prince and I am-”

“You are a Tyrell!” Lady Olenna broke in. “It is time for the boy to marry and there is no one better than you. You come with the strengths and riches of Highgarden.” 

Leona’s heart nearly flew out of her chest. She imagined herself next to her prince, in his bed and under him. He will love me one day, I know he will. 

“My eyes may be failing me, but you are not a sore sight. Entertain the prince, make him desire you and let us do the rest,” Lady Olenna ordered her.

Gladly. I will be his heart’s greatest desire, just as he is mine. 

“I am certain the Prince will be happy to have a daughter of House Tyrell by his side,” she said meekly but in her mind’s mind she did not care for House Tyrell’s fortunes. Merely her own. I will be his wife. They will sing songs of me and my one true love. We will be even greater than Queen Alysanne and King Jaeherys. King Jaeherys did not defeat the Others. She imagined herself running her fingers through his hair, kissing his lips, and holding his hand as well as his heart.

“When all is said and done, a child of this House will sit upon that ugly mangled chair,” Lady Olenna concluded. 

The first time that she saw her prince after that conversation, Leona was dizzy with excitement. It was a tourney to celebrate the queen’s nameday. He is going to be my husband, she remembered thinking but her dreams turned into ashes in her mouth when her prince agreed to marry Lady Sansa Stark, though she was an Arryn by that point. She was widowed and with a child besides. Leona was a maid who had saved herself for her prince and had the riches of Highgarden behind her. She must have bewitched him, Leona remembered thinking. She heard queer stories of wargs and what-not coming out during the War for the Dawn. But Leona also knew her prince was of a kind heart. Perhaps he felt sorry for her. Sansa Stark was a beautiful woman, perhaps only second to the Dragon Queen herself, but so was Leona. People said she looked like Margaery and Margaery was said to look like Lady Lyanna Stark, the woman for whom wars were fought. If Aemon was a man led by his desires he would have bedded Leona a long time ago. He only felt sorry for her. Lady Olenna said there was nothing but air between the girls ears, there’s nothing he could find in her that he couldn’t in me. 

Leona couldn’t believe her luck when the queen and Willas came back from Winterfell with the news that the wedding did not go ahead. Leona could have spent days at the feet of the Maid giving her thanks for her prince’s return to her. Lady Alerie had been the one to break the news to her, telling her of the scandal at the wedding and how Lady Sansa’s day was ruined by her own sister. Apparently the girl held Sansa responsible for the deaths of some smallfolk in their retinue. Leona would never have embarrassed Alla on account of some peasants but she wanted to thank the girl nonetheless for saving her prince from the clutches of the girl Lady Olenna called the Dolt of the North. 

The bedmaids brushed her hair until the brown locks glinted in the sun. “I’d like the green silk gown with gold,” she told them, pointing out one of her many gowns. I am a true golden rose now and the hope of Highgarden. 

Leona spent five beautiful months with her prince in the Red Keep. She learned early on that he liked to spend his time in the godswood and told herself, if I have to pray to trees for the rest of my life, it’s a small price to pay to be by my prince’s side. She would sit near those rustling trees for hours a day waiting for him to arrive. Every morning she would wear her most beautiful gowns. Lady Olenna commanded her to catch his eye and catch his eye she would. He was ever so gallant though. Even when she offered her full bosom to him in her most low cut dresses, he would only look at her eyes. Look my prince, she wanted to say, one day this will all be yours. You can even have it now if you wish. 

She even went as far as spending time with Samwell Tarly just to get closer to her prince. He was truly a kind man to become friends with that sweating ball of lard but there was little Leona would not do for her future husband. For him, she would even befriend the jittering fool. 

Her prince was a quiet man who let her lead most of their conversations but Leona supposed he was weighed down heavily by all the things he’d seen. It didn’t matter, Leona would teach him how to laugh again. 

Then one day, as she sat with the queen, the queen asked her what she thought of Aemon. I love him. Leona spoke about his kindness and courage. The queen smiled at the blushing girl in front of her. Leona knew nothing if not how to play the meek maid. One day I will be queen when you are dust in the ground. Leona never did forgive the snub when the queen allowed his betrothal to Sansa. But perhaps she would learn to tolerate the queen again if she gave her, her prince. Once Leona had a trueborn son there would be no need for the barren queen anymore and Cousin Willas would marry a true and fertile woman to continue House Tyrell’s line. He would of course be her Aemon’s Hand. Still, there was no need for him to know women’s plans. Willas was quite fond of his wife.

“I think he might like you,” the queen said. 

He doesn’t even look at me, but perhaps they are made of different things in the North. 

“Tell me, Leona, would you be agreeable to a match with Aemon,” the queen asked. 

Leona blushed prettily. “I am agreeable to whatever you decide my queen,” she tittered. Leona knew the queen did not bring this line of conversation up herself. She knew that Lady Olenna had a quite frank conversation with her telling her that for all their aid, House Tyrell expected to have one of their own sit the throne one day. By bringing this up to Leona the queen all but confirmed her barrenness. If I was capable of having a child I would never have allowed the Queen of Thorns to threaten me. Unfortunately for her, the queen had no true allies but the Tyrells so she was beholden to whatever they said. Even her Spider was not truly hers judging by all the whispers he brought Lady Olenna. What is the point of having dragons if you let people run roughshod over you? I will make sure no one tries to threaten my Aemon. I will give him sons to secure his throne for him.

Leona remembered the night of the feast when, with the queen's approval, she entered the Hall dressed in the colours of her future husband’s House. She even wore pearls that didn’t go with her dress to pay respect to his Stark heritage. Her prince had not discussed the betrothal with her but Lady Olenna assured her that he would be marrying her once he returned from that snowland he called home. That night, she made a statement to every lady in court. He was hers. Not that anyone still in court was competition for her. With Sansa locked away in her mountain, there was no one else of high enough birth to catch his eye. Leona was a true golden rose now even if she wasn’t one by birth. The only other threat was the Dornish princess but the queen would never allow her anywhere near the Iron Throne. Not after she killed her husband. Leona danced all night with him, lost in the depth of his eyes, until those bastard bitches from Dorne made an appearance. Why her prince gave them the time of day she did not know. He even smiled while he danced with the whorish Nymeria. He was truly a courteous man to give even those bastards the time of day. 

A knock at her door broke Leona out of her thoughts. “Go and see to it,” she commanded one of her bedmaids. Why she had to tell them everything she did not know. 

“Beg your pardons, my lady,” the Tyrell guard said, “but Lord Willas and Lady Olenna have asked for your company to see Lord Redwyne’s latest galleas on Blackwater Bay. I am to accompany you.” Lord Redwyne has hundreds of ships. What’s special about this one?  If Lady Olenna is asking me to meet upon one of them, she clearly has something she does not want overheard to say. 

Leona gathered her skirts, “Please,” she told  the guardsman, “lead the way.”

He offered her his arm as they walked out of the Maidenvault. The man had an unmemorable face but she knew he was in the retinue that came to King’s Landing with Lady Olenna. 

“I don’t believe we have met properly before,” she said. A good queen always left a good impression. Margaery did. 

“No, my lady, we have not.” 

“Are you the son of one of our bannermen,” she asked.  

“I am no one really, my lady,” he replied cryptically. “My father was a stranger to the likes of you. I was born a Flowers.” 

“Oh,” Leona managed. “Well, welcome to King’s Landing. How do you like it?” 

She continued making conversation with the man until they approached the ship. As they strolled through the Keep she knew this place was for her. One day I will be Queen Leona Tyrell, the wife of Prince Aemon Targaryen, the Last Hero and the last King of the North. The wife of a man the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the Age of Heroes and this castle will be my home. Oh the thought was so sweet. 

She did not know when her Aemon would return from Winterfell but he was never far from her thoughts. Every night she dreamt of him and there was seldom a moment of her waking day when she did not think of him. She even thought of names he might like for the children she’d give him, names of Targaryen heroes in the ages gone by. She had to admit she did not know much about the North he seemed to like so much but perhaps he would be happy if she gave him a son called Robb after the man he once considered his brother. She even thought of ways she could embroider the golden rose into his personal arms of the wolf and the dragon. That way, everywhere he went, a part of her would be there with him. Her greatest dream was to think about the day he would crown her his queen. 

The nameless guard helped her up the steps to the galley and took a position by the door of the cabin within which Lady Olenna and Willas sat. 

“My lady,” she kissed the old lady’s hand. “Cousin Willas.” She curtsied to her cousin. They were joined by Garlan as well. She greeted him too. They all sported looks of displeasure. 

Willas held a letter in his hand. “Bad news cousin?” she asked, pouring herself some of the wine for which the Redwynes were famous for. 

“Drink. Drink,” Lady Olenna said bitterly, “You might as well give yourself to drink seeing as you couldn’t do something so simple.” 

Leona had to stop her brows from furrowing in confusion. What did I do? 

Willas exhaled heavily, holding his nose with his free hand. 

“Cousin?” she finally managed to croak our, fearing the ire of the old woman. 

Her cousin finally raised his head. “Aemon has married-“

Leona felt her heart break.

“Who?” she interrupted forgetting all her courtesies. Sansa?

“He has taken Lady Arya Stark of Winterfell to bride and,” he unfurled the scroll, “threatened to abdicate his position as heir if the queen disapproves of his marriage.”

Leona had not given the younger Stark girl any thought at all. Lady Alerie said her behaviour at the wedding made her uncouth though Willas seemed to like her. He said she was ever the courteous lady. How can one be uncouth and courteous? He was supposed to be my husband.

“Wha-what does the queen say?” she stuttered. 

“What do you think?” Olenna spat. “She has no other heir beside the Baratheon bastard in Storm’s End, a man who is now married so your pink cunt means little and less to him,” the woman scowled all while Willas blushed at her brazen language. Garlan was silent. 

“The commoners love this boy as do the nobles. Even if he is Rhaegar’s seed he is Ned Stark’s boy. Robert Baratheon’s bastard married a Toland. Have you seen their sigil? The silver queen only sits comfortably because the boy supported her. She cannot lose him.”

“The queen accepts his marriage then?” Leona tried hard to hold back her tears.

“She is unhappy.” Willas, ever the noble, extended his hand to comfort her. “But Prince Aemon has forced her hand by threatening to abdicate.”

“Is the girl pregnant?” That must be it. He is an honourable man. But if he only wanted somewhere to sheath his sword, he only needed to ask me! Leona wiped her tears with the back of her hand.

“She is not,” Willas said with a conviction that surprised her.

“How do you know?” challenged Garlan. 

“If she was with child,” Willas explained, “she would be at least six months gone and yet Lady Arya conducted a progress throughout the North, riding for hours a day. A pregnant woman-“

“If the girl was with child he would have said,” Lady Olenna caterwauled, banging her walking stick on the floorboards in frustration. “Instead, he threatened to abdicate. The boy must be Rhaegar’s.” Leona hated the woman’s scowl.

“Could it be the Starks mean to rebel against the Crown?” Garlan asked, trying to fill the silence. “First they call this council and now they tie Aemon to one of their own…” he let that hang.

“Whatever they are planning queer things are happening behind their walls.”

“What do you mean?”

“Dany has tried to follow their council using Grand Maester Marwyn’s glass candle. The thing has always been mercurial at best but whenever he tries to see what happens behind Winterfell’s grey walls, a shadow covers the castle. He says Brandon the Builder raised the walls with magic and that even stronger magic still resides inside. He’s seen the Lord of Winterfell riding beyond the castle grounds. He says he is the source of that magic, though all the Starks including Aemon share it. I did see giants marching into the castle though, I lost sight of them the moment they entered the gates.” She’s a witch. She’s bewitched him with her wizard brother.

“They mean to use Prince Aemon to take the throne from us!” Leona gasped. 

“Oh do shut up, child,” Lady Olenna chided. “They neither have the men nor the smarts to do such a thing. They’re all younger than Sansa and that girl had nothing between her ears. With Ned Stark for a father they must be honourable fools.”

“They have The Blackfish with them and Lord Edmure was in Winterfell for the wedding,” Garlan reminded them. “Perhaps they mean to unite with their kin in the South to reclaim the Kingdom of the North and the Trident with the true heir to the Iron Throne at their head.”

“Or they have their eyes set on the Iron Throne,” Leona finished for him. Why would Aemon choose them for that? I could give him the riches of Highgarden.

“This is all speculation,” Willas declared. “Prince Aemon strikes me as someone uninterested in the Iron Throne. Perhaps he truly cares for Lady Arya.”

“So that’s it then? I won’t be his wife?”

“Oh do shut up,.” The Queen of Thorns spat. Her wrinkled face looked even uglier when she twisted it in frustration. Leona did as she was told, trembling lip and all. She wanted to shout. You told me I’d be his wife! You brought me here. I never had these high hopes. You introduced me to him and let me harbour these hopes and now I’ve lost him you have nothing to say to me!

“Grandmother,” Willas said softly, “Let Prince Aemon be happy with his bride. Dany and I will have children. You’ll see!” Leona found the hope in his eyes childish. 

“Oh my sweet child.” Lady Olenna raised her wrinkled, freckled, hand to cup her grandson’s cheek. Any kindness the woman had was reserved for her grandchildren. 

When Willas raised his eyes to meet hers, she leaned in to notify him, “The girl is as barren as the Dornish desert. You’d sooner make that bloom than plant a babe in your silver wife. Had we known the truth of her barren womb, I’d never have given you to her.”

“Mayhaps he will take Leona for a second bride. Targaryens have done that in the past,” Garlan offered. “The queen needs our armies for the war she has threatened against Braavos. Leona can be a condition. So long as Leona gives him the first child, it is hers that will sit on the throne.” 

I don’t want to share.

“The Faith will never accept that.” Leona remembered the troubles Margot the Cruel faced for his many marriages. 

Lady Olenna rolled her eyes in annoyance at hearing Leona’s voice. “To hear the way the Septons tell it even the tree worshipping boy’s shit is holy. They will excuse whatever he does. As for your little wife Willas, the girl is stupid for even thinking of this war and my nephew even dimmer for giving her his ships. Cersei tried to refuse the Iron Bank and they left her without allies. I will not see House Tyrell fall by the wayside for your little queen’s pride.”

“Cersei didn’t have dragons, grandmother.”

“Do remind me. Have either of you seen those lizards lately? If they were the threat she says they are she’d have kept them here to remind everyone of her true power. Instead she keeps them hidden away in her stone island. Why is that?”

Willas tried to defend his wife. “Grand Maester Marwyn says they are getting better every day and the visions in the Glass Candles getting clearer is proof of that.”

Lady Olenna waved him away. “Tell me. Does the girl have a chance of winning this war?”

Leona did not want to hear of a war. She wanted to know how they’d give her her prince back. She wiped her tears off with the back of her hand trying hard not to snivel. Lady Olenna hated that. 

“She has sent the Spider off to Volantis to secure her ships. A Pentoshi magister has also promised her all the support she needs.”

“That doesn’t answer my question.” Lady Olenna was getting impatient. 

Garlan the Gallant answered her. “She seems to have the numbers, grandmother.”

“Even without us.”

“Yes.”

“So why would she need us if her little slaves can fight for her?”

Neither grandson had an answer for her. 

“The reality is this. If she falls in battle the crown passes to the boy. And if she lives, the crown still passes to the boy's children. It’s the boy we need. The silver queen will either die in this war. Or-“

“Grandmother!”

“Do be quiet. Your oaf father never listened to me and you know how he ended up.”

“Grandmother, I will not listen to talk of harming my wife.”

“Who is talking of harming her? The girl is going to war. People die in wars.” 

“Not Dany.”

“She still will not give you a child no matter how much you love her, dear.” 

The nameless guard walked Leona back to her rooms all while she tried to swallow her sobs. She’d lost her prince for true. Why would he leave me? I would have loved him. What did she do to force his hand?

Leona cried herself to sleep that night, and the one that followed and the one that followed that until her days and nights all run as one long train of sorrow. 

She tried to avoid court as much as she could, saying that she was unwell for weeks at a time. The queen visited her once or twice but Leona did not truly want to see her. She had failed her twice. 

Then Lady Olenna came to visit her.

“I hear you’ve locked yourself away here. Why?”

“I-I..”

“You. You.”

Leona did not know what to say. 

Thankfully Lady Olenna spoke for her. “Dry those tears, girl. The queen’s guests are arriving. You will go on as you have always done. Host them. Charm them and remember new brides die all the time. The final word has not been said.”

It is only when she left that Leona truly understood what the Queen of Thorns meant. The girl will die and my prince will be mine. Lady Olenna’s word was law. 

Leona donned one of her most beautiful gowns that day, powdered her face to hide her puffy eyes, and lined her eyes. People always said she had the most beautiful eyes. 

She did her duties around the castle, hosted minor courtiers around the Keep for a few weeks along with a Volantene party that arrived with The Spider and Magister Illyrio.

And then slowly the Great Lords began to arrive. 

Leona welcomed Lord Edmure Tully, the bitch’s uncle who had arrived without his wife and son. Though Leona despised him on account of his bitch nieces she spoke to him courteously. 

The former Baratheon bastard arrived with his new Dornish wife and not long after him the snakes of Dorne arrived, unusually with their Princess. She had not been seen in King’s Landing in years. She’d only come once since the queen was crowned. Why ever is she here?

“Lady Leona,” the whore Nymeria chirped.

“Nymeria Sand,” Leona smiled. Bastard.

“It is nice to see you,” their princess lied.

“And you Princess Arianne.” Leona gave them a dazzling smile. I will be their queen one day. 

“Yellow and black,” Elia Sand drawled. “Whatever happened to the Targaryen colours?”

“I believe she’s heard by now Elia,” Tyene tittered. 

“Oh poor girl, you must be devastated to know your wiles couldn’t charm Prince Aemon,” Nymeria commiserated.

“Although, I must say, the devastation is entirely yours. His passions run quite high for Arya. You should know she returns his desires freely. You’d think their fire belongs in Dorne. Oh well, perhaps this time you will not overreach,” Lady Nym added, placing her hand on Leona’s shoulder with a look of false pity on her face. The Dornish were revelling in her hurt. They were all trying to prevent themselves from laughing in her face. How far must I have fallen for bastards to think they can say this to me.

Leona smiled at them, not allowing the cracks to show. “I will take your word for it. No one knows more about overreaching than the Dornish. How have things been for you ever since our queen removed your false king? We haven’t had a chance to speak in a while.”

Their smiles turned to ash. You shouldn’t have started something you couldn’t finish, bastard. 

Both Nym and Elia moved towards her but Arianne held out her arms out to prevent them from passing her.

“Well, Lady Leona,” Arianne said, with a tight smile, “I would love to stay and talk. But we are tired. Do be a darling and guide us to our rooms. I am sure we can tell you about how things have been another time.”

“We can even tell you all about the ways in which you will never rival Arya,” Elia added with a smirk. 

The girl’s reputation has preceded her. Let it. She’ll be dead soon anyway but I will make life difficult for all of them until she is. 

The golden rose picked up her skirts and made her way to the queen. The girl’s Dornish alliances might doom her before we do. Leona Tyrell could hardly hide her grin. I’ve spent long enough around Lady Olenna to know how much a well placed whisper can do for me. 

“Your Grace,” she said, curtsying in greeting. The Queen was in her apartments in Maegor’s holdfast with her foreign handmaids. 

“Leona,” she smiled. “Please, come, sit. How are you?”

“Well enough Your Grace. I’ve just welcomed the Dornish party...the Princess Arianne was with them....”

“Oh.” The queen tried to hide her surprise, “Well, I am glad. I intend to have all the Great Houses of Westeros at my Council. I mean for them all to witness how fiercely I protect their interests.” Leona could see how forced the words were.

“You are right, Your Grace, we are truly thankful to have a queen who protects us. The usurpers never truly cared about the people.” She loves to be praised. “ It takes a truly courageous queen to say no to the Iron Bank. The usurpers would have simply raised our taxes.” She believes going to war instead of raising taxes will make the people love her. She is desperate for the love they freely give Aemon. 

The queen beamed at the praise. 

“Westeros is mine to protect.”

“Your Grace..?” Leona bit her lip.

“Yes?”

“No, no, Your Grace,” Leona shook her head. “It’s nothing.” She looked at the floor.

“Leona. Look at me. Whatever is the matter?”

“Your Grace, it’s just.. The Dornish…”

“What about them?”

“Your Grace, how much do we truly know about the Starks?”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s just they had this council and they invited the Dornish..”

“Lord Dayne married a northern lady and Lady Allyria a Northern Lord. They were there for the weddings.”

Leona knew she had to be careful.

“It’s just.. the Sand Snakes went North and now Princess Arianne is here. I know Prince Aemon is good but…”

“But?”

“But what if the Starks have allied with them to replace you with Aemon. Lord Baratheon is married to a cousin of the princess. If they have the Starks, they also have the Riverlands. The Dornish are devious Your Grace and we know nothing of the Starks. They might be hungry for the crown Prince Aemon surrendered to you and-.”

Leona saw her words were having the desired effect. 

With all the meek sincerity she could manage she continued. 

“It’s just...you’re my cousin’s wife Your Grace.” She threw herself on her knees to hold the queen’s hand, tears in her innocent doe eyes. “I just don’t want these snakes to bite you. I wish someone warned my cousin Margaery and I..it’s probably nothing but I just.. I-“ she cried. 

“Don’t worry, my dear,” the clueless queen said. “I have my own plans to ensure the Starks cannot betray me.”

Leona left the room happy with herself. 

The bitch will die and everyone knows no one uses poison like the Dornish. My Aemon will destroy them for that and when he does,  I will heal his wounds until he forgets her.

The last golden rose hummed a pretty song to herself all the way back to her rooms. As she walked, she saw the nameless guard’s eyes on her. I really should ask his name some day. Instead, Leona smiled at him too. Men liked beautiful things. Nothing could destroy her happiness now. 

Chapter Text

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.

Chapter Text

Jon 

 

The shadows created by the flickering candlelight made Daenerys Targaryen look emaciated, her slender frame bony, and her pale Valyrian skin a grey that ran into the silver of her hair. She was clearly getting ready for bed. It’s why the room was nearly all dark. There were no bells in her hair nor any braids. Her hair looked more mane than the queen’s crowning glory it usually was. 

The Dany Jon knew was made for the sun and light. The darkness ate away the brilliance that made her one of the most beautiful women in the world. She looked weary. They’ve sat in silence since Jon’s initial greeting. Well, Jon sat, she moved a while ago and has stood by the window, gazing forlornly at the city she ruled. 

“I thought we had an agreement. All you had to do was wait for me to announce your betrothal at my council.” Her face glowered into a grimace. The darkness made it look even more distorted. “You went behind my back.”

“Just as you went behind mine-“

“I am queen!” she exploded. Her breath was heavy, noisy. “You put me in a difficult position,” she added in a quieter, more defeated voice. 

He felt sorry for her. “That was not my intention, Dany. If it makes your position easier, I am happy to abdicate.” My wife would be happier for it. As would I. 

She stared at him with a clenched jaw before taking a seat by the window to consider him. “Why do you want to abdicate so badly lately?” She leaned forward. “Would it free you to take what’s mine? Would it make you free to call yourself King in the North again, with your Stark wife as queen?” She said Stark as if it were a slur. She leaned back with an unbecoming, ugly smile on her face. Her eyes bore into him. “Or perhaps, you want my father’s throne?”

Jon gave a deep, jaded sigh; a sigh that belonged to a king who gave up his throne twice over for the woman in front of him.  “You are poisoned against me, Dany,” he tried to explain. “If I intended to overthrow you I’ve had plenty of opportunities, but I gave you my crown and I supported you to take your throne - what more do you want from me?” What happened to the girl I first met?

“Why could I not see your council? What black magic did your Starks conjure up to blind my Glass Candle?” she accused.

“Bran Stark invited you, Dany. You were the one who chose not to go. You didn’t even send anyone.” He rubbed his face with his hands. “I thought this whole Great Council of yours was for the Great Houses of Westeros to bring their needs and plans to you. Their queen. You will be hearing everything that was decided in the North directly from Arya.”

“So you mean to say the Starks have no intent to rebel? There are some who say they want their crown back.”

“Who?”

“People.”

“Look. I can tell you the truth as it is, and no more. You either trust me or you do not. I’ll speak to you when you make a decision on whether you do or don’t. Good night.” He jolted from his seat, making her jump in the process. “I’m sick of this game.”

“What guarantee do I have that they do not mean to rebel?” she challenged his back.

Jon flexed his burned fingers, so tired of this old game she began once his family returned. “My word. No more, no less.”

“Your wife refused you rooms in Maegor’s Holdfast.”

Arya doesn’t trust many people. “She did.”

“Why?”

“She wanted to settle with all her people in one place.”

“She thinks I mean to harm her.”

“She has no reason to fear you, Your Grace. This is the place where she lost her Father. You were at the wedding. You know what happened to her here.” My wife is with child and is worried for two. All Jon wanted was to return to his rooms and hold her where their babe rested. He was tired of politics, of looking over his shoulder, of duplicity. He was killed for it and he was weary of its players. No wonder Arya wanted to avoid this. 

“Are you happy?”

A look of puzzlement crossed his face both at the question and the speed with which she changed their topic of conversation.

“With your wife. Are you happy?”

“Yes.”

As he turned round to face her he saw his answer seemed to irk her. Why, he couldn’t say. He had told her he was marrying. The timing may have been a surprise but not his intention. 

It was then that she got up to walk towards him, the furrow in her brow seemed to dissipate slowly with every step she took, until she reached him looking exhausted and weighed down. 

“You made things difficult for me here, Aemon.”

Her tired, defeated tone of voice made him feel somewhat responsible for her sorrow. He extended a hand out to her. Hoping to comfort her. When she took it, “You should have spoken to me before you made promises that weren’t yours to make,” he opined, not unkindly. 

Her mouth twisted itself in pain at his words, a hurt under which sat offence if her next words and the force with which she released his hand were anything to go by. “I. am. queen. Tying together my realm is my duty. The duty of my subjects is to accept my decree.” 

“We are pawns on your board is that it?”

She huffed in laughter. “You assume I am exempt. I have married thrice for duty. Never for love. First for my brother, then twice for my people. If you cared for them as much as you say you do, you would have done so as well.”

“For the people or the Tyrells?” he spat. 

“Everything I do is for the people. You still have a chance to consider what is best for the people you love.” She paused, for effect. “The people of the North. You said Lord Stark wanted to rebuild. The Tyrells are prepared to fund it-“

A dark chortle escaped him. “But I must marry Leona Tyrell,” he finished for her. 

She looked hopeful when he said nothing further, her eyes wide with the enthusiasm of a woman who was making headway, all the while Jon clenched his jaw in irritation. Sometimes, life was easier as a bastard.

I’ve already dealt with the Redwynes and-,” she offered before he interrupted her. 

“How?” he shook his head in question. “ How did you deal with the Redwynes?”

She looked pleased with herself at the opportunity to reveal her grand plan. “I named Ser Horas and Ser Hobber castellans of Dragonstone. Lord Paxter is beholden to do as I say for as long as I hold his sons.”

Of course. “You still plan to use his fleet to attack Braavos then,” he realised as he sat. 

She ignored his question entirely. “Her dowry will be all the investment you need.”

“How do you know the Braavosi do not plan to attack you before you attack them?”

“Leona is young and beautiful. She will give our house plenty of heirs.” 

“Perhaps Braavos is attacking Dragonstone this very moment.”

She grimaced, annoyed with his intent to talk at cross purposes with the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms. When Daenerys Targaryen spoke, people listened and they sang willingly or unwillingly to her tune. Anything different was met with a reminder of her power. As was any suggestion that she was capable of losing in the one thing she was known for: conquering and bringing Fire and Blood to her enemies.

“You think me stupid.”

“I think you’re taking a risk you do not need to.”

She grinned at him. “I see what the Braavosi are doing just fine. I have a Glass Candle, in case you forgot. To attack Dragonstone, they’d need to have set sail, yet every day, their ships stay docked doing little more than patrolling their own waters,” she replied, pouring herself wine. No doubt from the Arbor. They even control what she drinks. 

“They don’t need an army to kill you Dany,” he reminded her. 

“I have guards everywhere.”

“You don’t have any here now.” 

“Aggo,” she called out to a dark corner. “Rakharo.”

Out of two opposing dark corners came out her two most trusted bloodriders. “Grey Worm, Cetherys, Black Fist,” more of her men popped out as she sipped her wine. 

Smirking she said, “I am never alone. The blood of my blood and my unsullied will kill anyone who seeks to harm me. My food is tested and my children have burnt , and will burn, down the cities of all those who seek to harm me. I am not easy prey Aemon Targaryen.” 

The name rankled even now. 

“My likes come once in a thousand, thousand years. To the Dothraki, I am the stallion that mounts the world. To my freedmen I am The Breaker of Chains,” her eyes widened, steadfast in the belief of her words, while a smile beamed on her face. “I am the Prince that was Promised. I will not fail, Jon , you will see.” She moved towards him, kneeling to hold his hand, while seeking the same belief she had in herself in his eyes. “I have never sought to send my people to death. I never have sent them to their death. I am the Mother of Dragons yes, but I am Mhysa too. I want to see Westeros thrive, Jon, and I will. I will show the people that I defend their interests. You will see.” She squeezed his hand tighter, leaning ever closer. “People have doubted me before. Right until I made the impossible reality. Every time. And anyway,” she smiled, “my children are so much healthier now. I feel it inside me,” she said clutching her heart. “I see them in the Glass Candles, flying, playing, laughing with one another.” 

Letting his hand go she sat there, looking up at him. “I tire of speaking of Braavos. It is inconsequential. What do you say to marrying Leona as your second wife?”

“No one has married more than one wife since Maegor the Cruel.”

“No one since Rhaegar,” she corrected. “The Faith accepted the legitimacy of your parents’ marriage on account of your achievements. They will accept your second marriage even more easily.” Her voice was high, “Think about the benefits-“

“For who?”

“The North. The Starks, of course,” she stated. “How else do they intend to make the money?”

Arya intends to make overtures to the Iron Bank of Braavos. “ The North is rich in resources they can sell,” he said instead. 

“And how will they pay those who do the work?” the queen enquired.

“They have sufficient silver stores to get them started. Then the trade will pay for itself, though Arya can tell you all this on behalf of her brother.”

“What if the Reach-“

“Who made you their intercesor?” he finally exclaimed, tired of this coaxing. Her Dothraki raised their dirks, ready to strike him for his insolence. 

“If they wish to discuss this, they should have the bravery to speak of it themselves, not turn you into their personal messenger. You are their queen. Perhaps you should remind them of that,” he shouted before he slammed the door behind him. 

——

When he entered their assigned room, Jon found all the tapestries that lined the walls stripped and on the floor. Arya, in her shift, was knocking away at the stone walls. 

“I made sure there are no peep holes. Tapestries cover those quite well,” she said in explanation to the question he didn’t ask. “Sometimes the person on the other side doesn’t even need to see. They can just listen. No one will be doing that here.” She pursed her lips in thought. “There’s no way out in this room either.”

She walked over to him, motioning for him to sit before bending down to remove his boots. “Here,” she added, holding out a sleeping tunic for him. As he changed she continued speaking. . “I’ve asked everyone to look for a way out in their rooms. There’s bound to be an entrance to the tunnels below the keep somewhere around here. The key is to not go down there until I or Bran skinchange and find the way. A castle like this is bound to have trap passageways. The Sealord’s Palace certainly did. The kitchens are near this cornerfort. The first time I found the tunnels I remember tripping over a scrubber woman, I just have to remember where it was. I asked Bran for help but the Lord of Winterfell has duties and a father of two has even less time to spend to help me find out…”

As she jabbered on, Jon wondered whether he was wrong to bring her back to this place. Would it have been better for Bran to come instead? She’s been the Stark in Winterfell before. He’d been worried about her since they entered the city. Arya Stark, ever since she was child, was more like to call something stupid or punch the ghost that scared her than admit she was scared. He saw how dazed she looked when she first spotted Visenya’s Hill and how clenched her fists were when they came across the stables. How shallow her breathing was. Am I harming her by keeping her here? And the child? The child. Jon could not believe he was going to be a father. For a man of the Night’s Watch, a bastard, it was a perpetually out of touch dream. Yet, now, here, inside her body a child of theirs grew inside her. The thought of it thrilled and terrified him. I’m so scared of failing her and our child. He wished he could keep her safe, cooped up in Winterfell for the rest of their lives but if she were ever that easy she’d never have been named Arya Underfoot and she certainly would not have travelled halfway across the world at eleven. 

“Good thing we didn’t stay in Maegor’s Holdfast,” she continued. “Septa Mordane once told me that Maegor the Cruel killed those who built the holdfast. She said there was no way out. But there must be at least one secret passage there… probably in the queen’s rooms. Did you ever come across one?” she asked, speaking speedily, all while folding the tapestries she’d ripped off the wall.

Is she unravelling or is she right to fear this place? Dany is not who she used to be anymore.

“You fought with the queen,” she said abruptly, yanking him out of his thoughts just as he slipped on his tunic. 

He tried to smile. To comfort her, not to add to her very clear distress. “What makes you think that, love?” He extended his arms out to envelope her within them, hoping he could embrace her fears away. If only it worked like that. 

“This,” she said, pressing her thumb against a bulging vein on the side of his head, “your false smile, and the fact that you won’t look into my eyes.” 

She made him chuckle, sadly. “Let’s get in bed, love.” When they did, he pulled her to him, her back against his chest. He  settled his hand where their child was taking root. It was the only source of comfort he could find in the misery of this place that chewed brilliant people up until they were shadows of themselves. 

Arya stayed silent, beckoning him to speak only with her hand that covered his over their child. We’ll protect it , she seemed to say. 

The words of anguish found themselves out of his mouth. His worry and his fear both for and of Dany and what she was becoming. “Dany is not the Mad King,” he sympathetised. “She is scared and alone and ruling weighs heavily on her. What she is these days is not who Dany truly is.” A smile worked its way onto his face as he remembered the girl behind the queen he got to know during the War for the Dawn. “Dany committed her forces to help us win against the army of the dead even though the time she spent up north allowed her enemies to plot against her. She saw it as her duty and her purpose. It cannot be accidental that I awoke dragons for the first time in more than a century in time for this war, she proclaimed proudly.” He remembered the force with which she said that and with which they all believed her. “She fought despite having no sword skill whatsoever,” he laughed. “She lost so many of her people and she lost the most beloved of her dragons to save Westeros. That’s who Dany is.” He sighed closing his eyes at the exasperation he felt in trying to hold everything together for the girl, the aunt who was once his friend and now his queen. “ Sometimes she says things that seem unachievable but everything she has done seems impossible, Arya.” He wasn’t sure if Arya would believe him. She is sure that Dany dies at the end of this. I’m not so sure. 

Arya didn’t interrupt him. “She brought back dragons into the world, as a girl even younger than you, she conquered cities, she freed slaves and united the Dothraki - men who had never followed a woman before. Sometimes when she speaks of her destiny I believe her. I just wish she was the girl I met during the War for the Dawn and not the untrusting queen she’s become. Fire and Blood is what she falls back on when she feels cornered. During the War for the Dawn I saw the real Dany. The one who cares for people. When it was just me and her and Gendry,” he huffed, smiling as he remembered those times at the end of the world. 

“You kept Gendry and I together and when she was with us, two bastards whose fathers went to war, she allowed us to see the girl behind the conqueror. A girl whose greatest dream was to be reunited with her first husband in a house with a red door and a lemon tree.”

“Well, she must be something if Gendry liked her. He didn’t like many people.”

“He liked you.”

“He better have!” she joked, turning around to face him. “We nearly died together so many times, that tends to bond people.” Seeing the way she smiled wistfully as she spoke of Gendry reminded him of an old jealousy he’d feel whenever Gendry spoke of Arya with the same expression on his face. 

“He told me you were only caught because you went to rescue him from The Mountain.”

She looked at him as if she could have done anything but return for him. She continued smiling as she said, “He was stupid and stubborn but he was my friend . I wouldn’t leave him behind. I couldn’t. He was part of my pack.”

Her words only poured oil on the ugly head of envy that took root in his heart. “You loved him.”

She furrowed her brow, but her lips twitched. “I was ten!”

“So?” 

“I didn’t even know what that felt like. I only knew how to love my family.”

“And if he were alive?”

She rolled her eyes, placing her hand on his chest. His hand went up to cover hers. “He’s not, Jon,” she whispered. “Just like your Ygritte is not. There’s only you and me.”

“So Gendry was your Ygritte?”

A devious smirk came upon her face. She leaned in to whisper, “I don’t remember Gendry ever giving me the Lord’s Kiss.”

“I should have known better than to think I could get my own way with you,” he uttered against her lips. She bit his bottom lip in the way that he liked. In the way that would normally distract him. But tonight, with this feeling still in his heart, though quelled, he wanted his wife to speak words of love to him. Even now I feel the outcast bastard, desperate for love. 

“I have one more question for you,” he mumbled. Her face was open, ready to answer whatever he wanted. He felt ridiculous for doubting her love for him. Not when their child was between them. Not that it stopped him asking the question, mind. “When you came back, when did you realise you loved me? Like this?” he motioned between them. 

“You were always my favourite person,” she grinned. “I don’t know when I realised I loved you.  I felt a weird burning jealousy whenever I saw you with Sansa. One I couldn’t explain. It felt wrong. You were my brother. My dead brother until I saw you again but I felt feelings that I shouldn’t have. I didn’t ruin the wedding because I wanted you though,” she tried to explain. “I was going to leave.” He remembered seeing her packed bag and her resolute face. 

“We were fated, love,” he said as he ran his fingers through her hair. She closed her eyes to let the feeling wash over her. He loved her like this. Unburdened and undoubting in a way she only was with him. It helped that she wore a silk shift that barely hid a thing. 

“Perhaps we were,” she whispered, enjoying the feel of his fingers on her scalp. 

But she wouldn’t be Arya if she didn’t throw a statement at him when he least expected it. “So your queen is going to war.”

“Who said that?” he asked defensively. 

“You argued. What else do you have to argue about?”

He sighed, the weariness returned to him. “She feels isolated and expects threats everywhere. Even when there are none.”

Arya smiled. “So she’s going to war.”

“Yes...unless her Great Lords all unite to oppose her.” He knew it wouldn’t but hoped it might nonetheless. Dany loves to be loved. Perhaps if she sees her people are against it she’ll delay. He knew it was foolish. Dany cared more about the small folk than she ever did a great lord and whisperers among them called her usurper. No doubt someone had instigated those whispers. 

“Dany says she’s been watching everything they do in Braavos through her Glass Candle. She says they’re not making any moves for war.”

“They don’t need to go to war to kill her.”

“She always has guards.” The thought unsettled him. She disclosed earlier that her guards stay in the room even when she lies with her husband. There are no secrets in a Khalasar, she said. Jon couldn’t imagine ever letting anyone watch as he took his wife. She is only mine to see. 

“I’ve killed someone surrounded by his guards. In any case, Ja- the faceless man, could be anyone. Even one of her guards. And when a faceless man kills, no one would know that they had. She won’t survive this folly.” Arya was adamant. “Anyway, that’s not all that has vexed you. What are you not telling me?” she said teasingly, rubbing her palm between his legs. 

“Did you courtesans teach you that?”

“No, my courtesans taught me how to get that information without asking you. I’m asking because you’ll tell me without all that faff.”

“What does the faff involve? Maybe I’ll want it,” he added in a low voice as he trailed his hand up her thigh, finding her not ready for him at all. She was always moist and ready for him on the ship. It makes no matter, he thought as he began moving his fingers. 

“So?” she sighed, when he pressed the bundle of nerves that he loved most. “While this feels...... great. There’s something else…” she exhaled with her eyes closed, “you’re not telling me.”

He ignored her, coaxing the warm, wet, invite out of her. 

“Tell me,” she demanded, bucking her hips up, eyes closed. “You should start now, before I peak because when I’m sated there’s nothing else to distract me.”

He inserted a second finger inside her, eliciting a drawn out moan from her when he curved his fingers, while his thumb pressed and rubbed and circled. 

“I believe that I can just keep doing this all night until you sleep love. You’ll love me all the more for it.”

“Or I can eject you from inside me,” she answered, pulling his hand out from between her thighs. 

He licked her want from his fingers, keeping his eyes locked on hers. He needed to be inside her. 

“So?” she prompted. 

The thought of the Tyrells deflated him. It felt like cold water was poured over the heat of his desire. “Am I ever going to be able to keep anything from you.”

“You’ve kept whatever truly happened in your dream from me.”

Her words made him freeze. That’s because you left me alone in the world, he wanted to say but couldn’t. If his dream were true, they had many more years together. He wouldn’t burden her with the load he now carried. 

She rolled her eyes, getting up to clean herself up. “Keep whatever happened in your dream to yourself. Tell me what the queen said. That’s what’s important now.”

He considered leaving the room, if only for escape but Arya was relentless. He knew she wouldn’t let it go when he returned. Even if he took years. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath in and admitted, “The Tyrells have offered to grant us coin to start rebuilding.” 

“What’s the catch?” she asked as she slipped back into their bed, bare. Even her shift was gone now.

“Is this what your courtesans taught you?”

“It’s a hot night,” she shrugged. “What are they asking for.”

He tried to find a bump where her stomach was, but it was as flat as ever. Her teats looked as inviting as ever though. Noticing his admiration of her, she raised her eyebrow. “So?”

He turned away from her. Sick of this shit city and it’s meddlers. “It will be offered as part of a dowry.”

“For Leona Tyrell,” she finished. “Well...it’s not a bad shout.”

He whipped his head back round. “What?”

“Are you considering it?”

“What in seven hells, do you mean it’s not a bad shout?”

“You get a pretty wife, the North gets coin which it will need when your queen decides to go to war with Braavos and ruins our plans,” she said bitterly. 

“Are you mad?”

“No. Merely practical. Have you thought of what they will do if you say no? They’ve worked hard to ensnare you, going as far as all but claiming to the realm that she was going to be your wife. Now I’ve come along. Asking for her to be your second wife is actually the gentler thing to do.”

Blood rushed through his ears. Every word she uttered made him feel even more fit to pass out. “What’s the alternative?” His voice was hoarse and his throat burned as he asked the question, as if his throat was unwilling to let the question pass in fear of its answer. 

“Why stop now when they can get rid of me?” she shrugged. “Many women have made an offering to the Many Faced God  in this circumstance.”

Jon felt a fire surge through him as he jumped up to hold her face with his hands. Resolute. “Arya,” he vowed, “I swear I will kill anyone that harms a hair on your head. I will burn Westeros to the ground for our babe. No one will ever harm you.

“Perhaps you should marry pretty Leona Tyrell with her massive tits.”

“Shut up,” he whispered, right before his tongue slipped into her open mouth before she could say another word. Her mouth was warm and soft, unlike her words. The heat of it rekindled the fire of lust talk of the Tyrells had doused. He moaned into her, stroking his half hard cock to ready himself. She pushed him away without warning. He stumbled back. 

“Think about it,” she taunted, “you get a pretty wife and Bran gets coin for his kingdom. Prince Aemon Targaryen and his rich wife funding all the great works of Bran the Rebuilder. It might free me up to actually do the travelling you stopped me from.” 

“Shut. Up.” He pushed her down climbing over her in an instant, crushing their lips together in a flash as hot as lightning. She slipped her tongue in his mouth, rubbing him, all but blowing upon the kindling to build a raging fire. It’s fine. I’m angry too. 

“Think-“ the she-wolf snarled before he slammed into her. A whimper escaped her at the force of his entry but he didn’t care. There’d be time for sweet and gentle later. Right now he wanted to fuck her until no word but screams of his name escaped her. Fuck the Tyrells and fuck all Seven Kingdoms. 

Her nails grazed his scalp in painful pleasure. He kissed her neck, licked it, sucked it, bit it. 

“You-you’ll leave a bruise,” she gasped. 

“I will. One big enough for every flatterer, fool and framer in this fucking city to know how well I fuck my wife.”

He lost himself in the tight, right, heat of her. He gripped her hard as he thrust wantonly inside her. He wanted any spies, those schemers sent, to hear her. He hoped there was a peep hole she missed. He panted against her mouth when she squeezed so good around him. So tight and all engulfing was her heat, but he was too angry, too stubborn to let it end now. He willed himself to continue smashing into her until she got it into her stubborn head that she was the only person for him. 

Sensing his desire for a fight she flipped them over. She looked as angry as he did. “Fuck Leona Tyrell,” he spat. “Fuck them all.” He fucked her harder, throwing all his energy into thrusting into her. She grabbed his wrist to bring his fingers to the nub above where they joined. He pressed it hard, circling it, rubbing it as furiously as she leaned back to brace her hands against his thighs, climbing that peak again. He watched it wash over her just as he felt her clench around him, “Fuck them,” she cried out in agreement, doing little to stifle her cry. Those words uttered in her anger and ecstasy brought on his own release. 

“Now do you see why I’m trying to find a way out of this castle?” she asked him.

“I’ll kill them all before I escape from them,” he promised her, holding her chin tightly. “I will kill every single one of them.”

The next morning when they made their way down to break their fast, Jon noticed that she walked with a traceable wince and immediately regretted the ferocity with which he took her. The mother of my child. When she fell asleep, he splayed his hand across her midriff, trying to find any traces of her stomach expanding for their babe. He even kneeled down to apologise to the wolf-blooded child they’d no doubt create if they continued in this way. He imagined a grey haired boy with a wooden sword who he’d train himself, or a naughty girl with a love of flowers just like her mother. He imagined the whole brood he saw in his dream, and wondered what life held for them. He fell asleep imagining their future. 

When they got down for food, Jon ordered the servant who served the food to taste every dish Arya had. It felt wrong. Perhaps the servant would be unaware of any attempt to poison her. He even instructed Tom, Lem and all their men to never leave her alone. Something told him no one could keep up with her if the little faceless man decided to escape but he would try to protect her as much as he could. “Look out for her,” he pleaded with the men who became like family. 

“We always have, even when she decided to run away from us,” Lem said chidingly. 

“It’s just...there are threats,” he tried to explain. 

“Yes, we know, fuck the Tyrells,” Tom intoned as he bit into an apple. “I don’t believe there’s a single soul in this keep who didn’t hear you.” 

Rickon seemed to overhear the conversation as Arya spoke to him. She was telling him and Branda a story about the Doom of Valyria. “What’s a Tyrell?” he asked aloud. I’d rather the ground swallow me now than have Rickon have heard me, he thought. In his rage, he forgot the children’s rooms were not far from their own. 

Arya turned a deep red. 

“They’re the women in green we saw yesterday, with the roses. Do you remember the old woman and the screaming girl?” Branda offered.

“Oh. The girl who was shat on.” 

Arya said she wanted to go riding, to see the city. Usually in Winterfell she’d do so alone but this was King’s Landing and if he had to send out 100 unsullied with her he would. 

It was as if she could read his mind from the intensity of his stare. “I don’t intend to be gawped at,” she said as they walked out of the courtyard with their men behind them. 

“You mean you don’t want to be watched?” 

She smiled at him while a horse was handed to her. She stroked it’s mane. When the groom walked away from her, “We’re already being watched, stupid,” she said, continuing to stroke the horse, training her eyes on nothing else but the palfrey in front of her. 

“Look! That apple tree is blossoming,” she said loudly. “I love the flowers!” She moved closer to him “And underneath it, a Tyrell guard has stood watching us too obviously for my liking. They’d need to do better than this.” 

When Jon lowered his eyes from the flowers he found a man clad in the colours of High Garden staring at him. The man even dared to smirk at him. 

“There’s no need to look but the unsullied soldier behind us is even worse at watching people than the Tyrell. The Dornish man and woman on that bench fondling each other are much better than them but none more so than the child hiding in the tree behind me.” She said all this without moving her eyes away from the horse at all. He wouldn’t have noticed any one of them, bar perhaps the Tyrell guard for no reason but the look of defiance he threw Jon. 

“I don’t care about being watched. I just don’t want to be gawped at as we make our way through the city.”

He insisted on sharing a horse with her. “I haven’t shared a horse with anyone since I was...ten!” she complained. “And even then it wasn’t my choice.” 

“I don’t care.” He pulled her up beside him while Lem rode with Branda and Tom with Rickon. Sarra and Osha had a mount each.

Why he expected her not to punish him, he did not know. She began grinding her tight arse against him, throwing him back devious looks every now and then.

She had memories in every part of the city. He heard her murmuring to herself. “What are you saying?” he asked.

He felt her smile against his cheek. “Syrio, when he taught me how to water dance, he’d have me saying words that would help me remember how to move my body and how not to. Calm as still water , helped me to stay still.” 

At the Street of Flour she joked about how the scent of hot bread along the street was sweeter than the scent of perfume to her when she was a poor girl on the streets of King’s Landing with nothing but a wooden sword, Needle , a bundle of good clothes and a silver bracelet Father had once bought her. “My silver bracelet was robbed off me and the only clothes I gathered after… what happened at the Tower was stolen while I slept in a burnt-out house at Pig Alley,” she said trying to sound brave. He felt his throat close up in pain over hers. “But I was good at catching and selling pigeons,” she added. 

To his surprise she laughed as she bought a loaf of bread from a bakery, outside which GARED ?

Gared Locke, though it was difficult to tell the dirty man in roughspun clothing was the future lord of Saltspear, sat outside the bakery. She entered without acknowledging him and when she left with her bread, she dropped a handkerchief. 

“You knew he’d be here.” 

She smirked at him. “Joren will be going to an inn along Eel Alley later this afternoon to pick up Gared’s response,” she smiled, absolutely thrilled with herself. He felt his cock twitch at the brazenness with which she planned for being watched. As they walked, he saw the Tyrell guard following them. He didn’t doubt for a moment that she knew was there. 

In Flea Bottom she told them how she tried to make friends with the children who derided her. “They probably knew, even as dirty as I was, that I was not one of them,” she shrugged as she chewed the bread she bought. “I’m much better now though. No one could tell now,” Somehow Jon didn’t doubt her. 

“One girl even tried to steal my boots before I beat her with my wooden sword. I didn’t make a friend in this city until Gendry. Even Hot Pie and Lommy didn’t become my friends until after we got to the Riverlands.” He wished he could wipe away all the pain she suffered. 

After their tour of the city she said she wanted some clams so they made their way to their last stop, Fishmonger’s Square. There she bought the clams she came for and more crab, before handing a bag of coin to the stallholder. 

“There’s no way in hell a few clams cost that much!” 

“Look with your eyes,” she grinned. 

Theomore Manderly, son of Marlon the commander of the garrison at White Harbor. 

“It’s fine for them to have their eyes within the castle, I’m more interested in having mine outside."

Chapter Text

Arya

The massive square fortress, the castle-within-a-castle Maegor Targaryen built, sprawled out in front of them across the dry moat lined with iron spikes. Old Nan once said Aegon Targaryen built his castle of red rock to remind people of the fires he had roasted his enemies in so that whenever people looked up they saw the price of defiance. His son, the Cruel, took that a step further killing all the architects who’d built his fortress so that only he knew its secrets. 

Their own rooms were in a fort facing the river, getting here was quite the maze. They walked throughout the keep, past courtyards, up serpentine steps, and below stone colonnades. Even at this early time of morning, people sat outside, meeting, whispering. All the Great Lords of Westeros were here with their knights and retainers. Last night, they supped with Uncle Edmure who’d arrived alone. Her cousin Hoster was growing well and Rosalyn Tully was pregnant with another child. Uncle Brynden had returned home safely and had been updating their uncle on all they’d been up to including their council. Her uncle spoke of how proud he was of Cat’s children and how much he wanted to meet Rickon and Bran. He sounded choked up as he spoke to Rickon, no doubt seeing, as many of them had, Robb in him. You should see Bran. She missed Bran more than ever. 

Behind them stood twelve-feet thick walls that made Arya feel trapped. Much like her entire time in this place had. She still hadn’t found a way out and felt a noose tightening around her neck though she knew not who or when they would kick the chair beneath her. She was surprised by Jon’s disclosure that the Tyrells had proposed Leona as his second wife. Not only was it unusual, it was unexpected. She didn’t think they’d sink that low. Aunt Lyanna was a second wife, she remembered. Why or how her aunt had accepted that marriage had died with her. I should have asked Bran. Arya didn’t understand why the aunt she was told she resembled so much would have ever have accepted such an...arrangement. Perhaps she believed in the prince that was promised too. The prince that wasn’t, well… wasn’t their son. 

She thought of her father and the heavy weight he’d carried all fourteen years before his death. How he withstood all the jibes made against his honour, and the speculation of his love life. All for his sister and her boy. She remembered Ned Dayne and his adamance that Father once loved Ashara Dayne - the maid who threw herself into the sea. She considered Jon, as they walked across the bridge into the square fortress, wondering whether loving him as he was now would ever drive her to such a thing. She hadn’t done it when she first heard she’d lost him. I can’t do it now either. She caressed her stomach, waiting, hoping, worrying. Are you truly there?

Unlike her aunt, the Tyrells had no excuse of prophecy. Only ambition. She looked at the man in question knowing he was insistent that he would take no other wife, but she wondered whether a day may come when he had to. For the future of his father’s house. The queen had no children after years of marriage and it was clear that the quest to remain in the royal line was what drove the Tyrells. She’s no less barren than a ninety year old crone, Lady Nym had said of the queen. A chill rushed through Arya as she thought of what they may do if they knew of the child. It was one thing for Arya herself to be an obstacle to their plans but a royal child would make any Leona Tyrell had an afte