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For Want of a Better King

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Chapter 4: Court Life Continued




The capital. The fierce fortress, once home to dragons, center of all Westerosi life. Peacocks prancing around, having lavish dinners, speaking in riddles, sick games, the false alliances, the betrayals, and the perversity had taught Arya more than she ever wanted to know about human nature, about what men were capable of. It was like pretending, playing the part of the Queen, that got her through.


She spent the first few months stuck in the Red Keep, sitting in on lessons with Tommen and Myrcella, sneaking in to see her father when she could, watching the Kingsguard practice in the yard from a secure hiding place, and trying to sneak out and explore the city. They kept close watch on her though, so she couldn’t manage.


She did look around the castle, the library, battlements, towers, the drawbridge, and even a few hidden passages. She did her best to avoid the Queen, never saw the King, and luckily the Prince seemed preoccupied and so was completely uninterested in her apart from intimidating her that first night. Her father was always busy, in meetings with one lord or another, or meeting with petitioners, merchants, masons, sailors, or whoever else sought the King’s ear and got the Hand’s instead. This was quite fortuitous for the honest men, but the deceitful ones were disappointed with his rulings. She was impressed with his fair hand, the way he listened closely to both sides of an argument, explaining his decree clearly complete with reasons. Even when Arya was not sure if she agreed with his ruling, she admired the calm, confident way he delivered the edict.


Maester Pycelle was nothing like Maester Luwin, he was old and he acted old. He spoke too slowly and with too much pomp, Arya found it hard to pay attention to what he was saying, and even harder to take him seriously.


Renly was her favorite, he was good-natured like Tyrion, but was handsome in a way that made you want to be around him. No one disliked him, except maybe his own brother the King.


Varys was unsettling, she heard talk about how his balls were chopped off amongst the soldiers in the yard, and spent way too much time trying to picture it. Everyone said he was sneaky and untrustworthy, and Arya found that to be true. He usually spoke to people in such a way as to make them feel naïve, ignorant, and outmatched. But he had a tone of respect that seemed genuine when conversing with her Lord Stark, and she appreciated that. Any man who saw the Northerner’s worth was worth something in her book.


Lord Baelish, or Littlefinger, was an old friend of her mother’s, and always smiled and doted on her when he saw her. He shared rumors about people at court, and the game for her was figuring out which statements were true and which were lies. He was small, unassuming, and always backed down from every confrontation, but he also had too much pride, and kept score of every little slight leveled against him. He was always happy to see her, a glowing look would enter his face, and she was reminded of a musician in the Vale who also paid her too much attention.


One day she was up in the Tower of the Hand, but she had to wait because Lord Stark was meeting with Maester Pycelle. Her uncle looked pleased to see her, and motioned her to come in and wait. Pycelle seemed reluctant to speak in her presence, though Ned insisted.


“Yes, quite a tome. I can’t imagine why he would bother with such a thing.” He spread a book out on the desk.


“Thank you Maester, you can go now.” He dismissed Pycelle, and they were alone.


“Is that… Did Lord Arryn read that book?” She tried to sound only mildly curious, while inside she was more than interested.


A History of the Great Houses: a Genealogy of the Great Houses


What a monster of a book, and so boring. Names, hair, skin color, eyes; lists of physical characteristics to mark each line. The Targaryans marrying brother and sister, the Lannisters, The Baratheons, what could he have wanted with that?


“According to Pycelle. I’ve no idea why though.” Curious.


A few days later she went again to visit her father, only to find he had gone down to the city with Jory, and no one knew why. She took the time to read the book still laid open, reading about her own line, Stark and Tully. Lord Eddard seemed to be looking at the Baratheon line. She went into a trance reading the monotonous writing, black hair, blue eyes, black hair, blue eyes, black hair…


Her concentration was broken by the arrival of a man in black. He was weathered, rough, with a scruffy black and gray beard and shifty eyes. The guard announced him as Yoren from the Night’s Watch. Upon seeing the girl in the Hand’s place, the guard looked unsure how to proceed.


“I’ve a need to speak with the Hand of the King.” Yoren said.


“He’s away, but will return shortly. You may leave us.” She directed toward the guard. He bowed and left, and the crow looked at her strangely.


“You Stark’s girl?” He asked.


“Yes, how did you?”

“You remind me of him.”


“I look like him. Everyone says.”


“No, not just in looks, per se. You got that same look a sizing people up. Smart but not sos you got to prove it right away, like.”


“You're friends then?”


“Aye. I come once a year to pick up new recruits from the wall, and me and Ned laugh over a pint.” He smiled in remembrance. Once a year.  She was jealous of their connection, and felt a bit guilty for it.


“Is that what you need, more men to take the black? I’m sure my father will…”


“Aye, I need more men. But that’s not all. I’ve news. There’s Wildlings organizing, planning a run for the wall. The Kingdom needs to know.” Wildlings? It gave her pause.


“And. Excuse me, but might you know any of the new recruits? Do you happen to know a Jon Snow? Is he alright?” She hadn’t intended to ask, but when he began describing the situation at the Wall, she was worried.


It took a while, but eventually Jon had written back. He apologized for being a craven on her departure, and said he’d miss her for all time. She thought that was a sweet if strange sentiment until she read the rest, he had decided to join the Night’s Watch. He said he would be a ranger like their uncle Benjen, and that he hoped one day to see each other again, though he doubted it. She was sad for him and his choice, knowing her own mother had had a hand in his decision, but not until now had she really felt worried.


“Ah, Jon. Yes, he’s a right good lad. Doing fine. Fighting circles around the others.” She was proud of him for that, but not surprised.


“Good. Thank you. Oh, I’m sorry. Can I get you anything? Water, wine, food…”


“No girl, thanks just the same. It’s the men I’ll be needing.” She thought about leaving a note for her father, or perhaps even staying around to wait, but then had a better idea.


“You’ll have your men, I’ll see to it personally.” She told him with utmost conviction. He was silent for a time, and then nodded his head.


“Thank you, m’lady. I’m happy to continue a long-standing tradition with the Starks.”


He left, not inviting her for a pint, and she smiled. Blood was so important in Westeros; most were defined by their family lines or lack thereof. She was a Stark, and to have someone see that, to trust her as capable, she felt a new world of possibility open up, one she intended to hold onto with all her might. Yes, many had told her she was beautiful, especially since her curves had grown more pronounced, they flattered her while devouring her with their eyes. She didn’t like it; it made her feel naked, small. But the few times someone had noticed her intellect, had commented on it, encouraged it; those were her proud moments. That was how she wanted to be seen. And now it felt almost within her grasp, here of all places.