Despite Yoren’s gruff manner and the spanking he had given her, Arya had become fond of him. In the midst of her overwhelming relief at being safe home at Winterfell again, she felt a little sad about leaving behind the man who had been almost a father to her when she most needed one. She felt bad about leaving behind Gendry as well. She told him to say hello to Jon for her when she reached the wall. Glad as she was to see Bran and Rickon and Maester Luwin and Ser Rodrik and Old Nan again, she missed Jon more than ever. She felt a little bad for Gendry because while she was going home to her family to be a princess, he would have to spend the rest of his life at the Wall, even though he said that he hadn’t broken any laws.
At least Arya had two new friends, Jojen and Meera Reed. She remembered how her father had reminisced about their father, Lord Howland Reed. She was glad to meet two people who had any connection to Father, no matter how distant. Arya also liked Osha, the wildling woman who was sort of their prisoner and sort of a servant. She had never met any wildlings before and was especially excited when Osha told her that she was a spearwife, as were many other women of the “Free Folk,” as the wildlings liked to call themselves.
Arya was glad to see Summer again and to play with him, even it wasn’t really the same as having Nymeria back. Shaggydog, however, was another matter. He had become quite wild in the time that Arya had been gone, and Maester Luwin and Ser Rodrik kept him locked up most of the time, despite Rickon’s anguished pleas. Arya certainly didn’t feel safe around him. And Rickon had grown rather wild himself, with long shaggy auburn hair that he refused to let anyone cut, saying he would only let Mother cut it.
For the first time in her life, Arya was glad to take a long bath. After a month on the road, it felt so good to sleep in her featherbed in her warm bedchamber which she had all to herself. And instead of having nothing to eat but salt beef, there were thick bloody steaks, juicy roasts, crisp, sweet autumn apples, fresh bread warm from the oven and slathered with butter and succulent vegetables grown in Winterfell’s glass gardens.
Arya sometimes had dreams where she was Nymeria, prowling around what must be somewhere in the Riverlands. These dreams frightened her, yet she wanted to keep having them. Not only did they connect her with her lost direwolf, they gave her a sense of power that she had never had before. Instead of being a skinny little girl, she was a mighty direwolf that struck fear into the hearts of beasts and men alike.
Bran of course was crippled, and Rickon was still too young to start training with wooden swords. So Arya asked Ser Rodrik if he would train her to use a sword the way he had trained Robb and Jon. It wouldn’t be as good as studying with a Braavosi water-dancer, but at least she would learn conventional swordsmanship and she could practice what Syrio had taught her on her own. As she had expected, Ser Rodrik was taken aback. “My lady,” he said in his astonishment, “in all my years I have never trained a girl. Your lady mother—“
“Father allowed me to take sword lessons in King’s Landing,” Arya interjected. “From a Braavosi water-dancer. I learned a lot.” Then she added, “The dancing master died saving my life. I’m sure that both he and Father would have wanted me to continue learning.” Worried that her dead father’s authority might be insufficient, she said, “I’m sure Robb would let me, and he’s the king now.” She thought of one final reason: “with a war on, I need to learn how to defend myself.”
At that, Ser Rodrik laughed in spite of himself. “You’re nothing if not determined, Arya Stark. I suppose you have a point about defending yourself. Anyway, it seems to me there’s no harm in you at least learning to use a sword.”
Arya had never prayed much before, but now with so much at stake, she thought that she should start. She’d always liked Father’s old gods better, but just to be on the safe side, she thought that she should pray to Mother’s Seven as well. It couldn’t hurt. She prayed for Robb to win the war, of course, and for him to come home safely. She also prayed for her mother, and even for Sansa. Arya often wondered what had become of Sansa. Maester Luwin assured her that King Joffrey and Queen Cersei wouldn’t harm her as long as Robb held Jaime Lannister captive, but Arya still worried. For one thing, Yoren had told her that the Queen had been planning to send Father to the Wall, but then Joffrey had killed him anyway. And while they might keep Sansa alive as long as Robb had Ser Jaime, that didn’t mean that they wouldn’t hurt her. And she prayed for Gendry, for Yoren, and especially for Jon.
Arya also prayed in both the godswood and the sept for the deaths of Queen Cersei, King Joffrey, Lord Tywin Lannister, the Hound, the Mountain, Ser Ilyn Payne and Ser Meryn Trant. She wasn’t sure if you were allowed to pray for the gods to kill someone, but she did anyway.
One day Ser Rodrik told her to come to the solar. There she found him with Maester Luwin looking very serious. Arya’s heart raced. “My lady,” Ser Rodrik said, “I think you’d better sit down.” Arya was now terrified. Had Robb been killed in battle, or taken captive? Had the Lannisters done something to Sansa? What about Mother? Ser Rodrik continued, “I received a raven from your lady mother. You’re to be betrothed to Elmar Frey.” Arya was practically numb with shock.
“Betrothed—to who?—why?” Ser Rodrik sighed.
“Elmar Frey is a boy your age, the twenty-second son of Lord Walder Frey of the Twins, one of the most powerful riverlords. In exchange for his support, your brother agreed to marry one of his daughters and for you to marry his youngest son.”
Arya had heard about old Lord Frey. He was 90 years old and had been married 8 times, producing countless children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, bastards and grandbastards. He was certainly not the kind of man she wanted for a father-in-law. And what must his son be like?”
“Why did Robb agree to that?” she asked, outraged. “Lord Frey is one of his bannermen—he has to do what his liege lord says.”
Ser Rodrik sighed. “A man of honor obeys his liege lord,” he said, “but old Lord Frey never does something for nothing and without his help, we can’t win this war. Your won’t have to marry Elmar Frey until you are older—“
“I don’t want to marry him ever!” Arya cried. “I don’t want to marry anyone!” Grasping for a straw, she said “When Sansa comes back this Frey boy can marry her instead. I’m sure he’d much rather marry Sansa than me, anyone would.”
“We cannot be sure that Sansa will return,” Maester Luwin said gently, “though of course we all pray that she will. And even if she does, Lord Walder is a notoriously prickly and stubborn man. I am not at all sure that he will accept a different Stark sister than the one he was promised. And Sansa may not want to marry Lord Frey’s son anymore than you do.
“I don’t care what Sansa wants,” Arya yelled, her eyes filling with tears. “Father would never have done this to me. Why does old Lord Frey even want me to marry his son, anyway? His daughter will be Robb’s queen.”
Maester Luwin sighed now. “Lord Frey wants all of his progeny to marry as well as possible. For his youngest son to marry the sister of his king is better than anything else he could hope for the boy.”
“So he just wants to marry because I’m Robb’s sister,” Arya sobbed. “He doesn’t care about me at all.”
“When his grace the king and your lady mother return to Winterfell, Elmar Frey will be with them. You will be under his grace’s protection—“
“I’ll have to bed him and have his babies whether I want to or not!” Arya was becoming hysterical. Ser Rodrik tried to hug her but she shoved him away, screaming, “I hate all of you, you and Robb and Mother and old Lord Frey and his stupid son!”