Chapter 2: The Sept
Now that Arya was a woman, officially, she was to be sent off to The Sept of the Seven, a sisterhood of women devoted to the New Gods, shunning all contact with men, and a safe haven for girls. While her mother claimed it was for her own good, to give her perspective, to force grace and modesty into her, she suspected it was a punishment. An attempt to break her.
Her mother still followed The Seven, but The Starks held to the Old Gods. Furthermore, Arya resented being forced to do anything against her will, and felt nervous to leave the sanctuary of her homeland. She threw a fit, the likes of which none of them had ever seen. But Catelyn held firm. There were tearful goodbyes, promises to write weekly, and general dismay. Nymeria was not allowed to come, a travesty as far as Arya was concerned. Worst of all, Jon refused to come wish her a proper goodbye, sulking in the Godswood instead. That was the first time her heart broke. All in all, it felt to Arya like a death sentence.
But there was one upside; she would have the chance to spend time alone with her father, who would see her there safely; learning about his past, and connecting with him the way her brothers did on hunts and important duties. On the road, she wasn't a daughter he had to keep at a distance; she was like any other of his sons. And for this trip alone, no one would criticize her for slouching or leaving her hair uncombed.
Whenever they settled for the night, she watched her father and his men start the fire and clean rabbits for supper. After a few nights of watching, she was allowed to help, under his supervision, receiving advice here and there. They heard a few far-off howls in the night, wolves from deep in the woods. The guards tensed, but not the Starks, they only smiled at each other. She was enjoying the trip immensely, and told her father so.
"I think I like sleeping out on the road. The sky is so big, and it smells so green."
"I'm glad you're here with me sweet girl, I will miss you." As she looked into his large grey eyes, eyes like her own, she saw how sad he looked.
Arya wrapped her arm around his shoulder.
"Then don't make me go. Bring me back. Tell mother I'm better off in Winterfell." She pleads. Her father only sighs.
"You don't understand, Arya. I don't want to send you away any more than you want to go. But your mother is right. It's different for girls. Harder in a way. You have to learn that somehow, some way. The Gods know I can't stomach it. If it were up to me I'd let you run around filthy through the woods. But it's not the way of things. We all have our duties, our responsibilities. I've mine as well. Just, try to make the best of it, yeah."
And she doesn't argue with him again, not wanting to ruin the fragile perspective they'd just gained on one another. There was no point in fighting. She knew too that most likely, when she'd served her time at The Sept, she'd be shipped off to her cousin in The Vale. This could be her last free moment as a Stark. Winterfell well and truly behind her.
Parting from her father was tearless, determined to show him her strength and not have him remember her as a weak child. /he hugged her close, wished her well, and left her there.
In the Sept, there was women everywhere the eye could see, dressed in white habits, all hair covered, each intent on their tasks, busy ants put to work.
They put her to work, scrubbing floors at first. She took too long. Then, helping in the kitchens, where she found she couldn't cook anything passable, and the laundry where she turned a few dozen white habits gray. The Sisters didn't scold her; they just came up with new tasks for her. Next, taking care of the orphan girls, given her education. She loved the girls, and managed the patience to teach them reading, and music, but she found it difficult to instruct them in their prayers, the words not wanting to move past her lips. Try as she might, she couldn't make herself believe in their teachings, and had to fake sentiment at mass. These were not The Gods of her father. The Head Sister noticed, and suggested another task.
Once she proved herself willing, they let her help with the midwifery. She began by watching, all the blood and screaming. When she didn't faint or run off, they deemed her able. Then they let her feel around, pointing out different aspects, asking for observations. They brought out powders, teas, and salves and had her smell each then demonstrate their uses; warn her away from certain poisons, laxatives, and hallucinogens. She saw death and miracles alike. Anyone can die, there is no curse or secret, no way to tell who or when. Some women came to undo their pregnancy; the Sisters said it was far preferable to the woman accidentally killing herself. She learned the secrets of herbs and elixirs for preventing a baby, all the while being lectured about the consequences of lying with men. Those pitiful women's faces swearing that he'd promised forever, the sorrow of giving the baby away or worse when there were complications. She was a Lady, expected to remain pure until her wedding, she would never think of ruining her family's honor for a moment's mistake. She couldn't see how these women could be so stupid either, but she was only thirteen, and just barely flowered.
Actually, despite its intent as a punishment, she quite liked her time there. She was meant to have disobedience beat out of her, and she did learn obedience, but not the way her mother wanted. The work was grueling, but rewarding, and not exactly what Arya would call lady-like.
Around the age of fourteen, news from the capital rocked Westeros. It even made its way to The Sept. The place was abuzz with talk of The Hand's death. Jon Arryn, her father's friend, her betrothed's own father. There was much speculation as to the means. It was said he was poisoned, but the next question was why.
Though she couldn't care less about any of that when she learned the last part of the news; Ned Stark was named to take his place.
The Sisters gave her a choice, to stay on amongst them, rising through the ranks, and perhaps become head of their order one day; or involve herself in the problems of The Realm. While terrifying, she loved the idea of it being her own choice.
In the end, she chose to go help her father. Many of the girls cried, and a few of the sisters said it was a shame. Part of it was about honor, upholding a family promise, but Arya felt the Sept was not for her. She couldn't hear the New Gods speaking to her, calling her to their service. So off she went, putting up a brave front of the perfectly schooled lady her mother hoped she had become. But knowing, she never would be.
The sisters had quite a taste for wine, so she didn't have to wait long for an entourage. She hitched a ride with some merchants passing through. They thought she was an actual sister, and she didn't disabuse them of that error. As a young lady, it was not safe on the road, but as a holy sister; she was afforded respect and a fair amount of distance. The men were from everywhere in the seven kingdoms, and some from across the sea. They told her of their lives, and she almost felt as though she had lived them. So many adventures locked away in her head, and she meant to live all of them. What was it about the road that was always so freeing? She felt different outside the walls of Winterfell and The Sept, and people treated her differently too.
Though she felt nervous to enter the viper's nest that was the capital, she knew her father needed her. If Lord Arryn was murdered, the next Hand might not be far behind. Something was telling her to go too, voices. She might have imagined it to be the Sacred Seven speaking to her, as the Sister's sometimes claimed, but no. All that time in the Holy Sept, and she'd felt nothing, not one divine touch. And now, she felt a tangible pull directing her South to King's Landing. The Old Gods had plans for her, and she would listen.