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The Lone Wolf

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He doesn't know, Arya decided as she stared at the heads that had lined Harrenhal's walls ever since her brother's bannermen captured the fortress.  They'd been dipped in tar to slow the rot, but that hadn't kept away the crows and it was already impossible to say who most of them had belonged too.  Arya could still recognize Maester Tothmure's head...even though the crows had already taken his eyes.  Robb couldn't know about what the Bloody Mummers are doing.  He'd make them stop if he did.  He'll punish them for it when I tell him though.  Them and Lord Bolton.  

"Admiring your work," asked a voice from behind her.  Arya turned and saw Gendry scowling at her.  He'd been like this ever since Walton Steelshanks took off the head of his old master at the armory, Lucan.  It was the same with Hot Pie only he wouldn't even look at her anymore.  She couldn't decide whether it was worse if he was doing that because he was afraid of her or because he hated her.  He's too scared of the stupid flayed man on my chest to tell me how much he hates me.  He probably does though...just like everyone else, Arya thought to herself sadly.  

"It wasn't my fault!  Walton Steelshanks killed Lucan and the Bloody Mummers were the ones who killed Maester Tothmure.  My brother will make them stop when he finds out, you'll see."  

"Your brother gave the order, more like.  None of you bloody highborns have ever cared what happens to the rest of us.  Don't see why your brother would be any different.  And you was the one what gave us Lord Bolton and the rest of this lot."  I care...  

"That's not fair!  And Ser Amory –"  

"So we traded Ser Amory, the Tickler, and the Bloody Mummers for Lord Bolton, Walton Steelshanks, and the Bloody Mummers.  Lannister and Stark, Bolton and Baratheon, you're all the same as far as I'm concerned.  At least Ser Amory didn't let Biter eat his prisoners.  Vargo Hoat cut off a little girl's feet and then threw her into the bear pit this morning for bringing him four pieces of breakfast bacon instead of three.  And Urswyck says that when the Bloody Mummers run out of heads, they'll start mounting our hands and feet on the walls, so don't be telling me how much better things are now that your brother's bannermen are here."  

"Things were worse under Ser Amory. And Robb doesn't know about what Lord Bolton and the Bloody Mummers are doing, stupid."  

"So the King in The North has no idea what his own bannermen are doing, is that it?  I bet your brother told Lord Bolton to have the Bloody Mummers chop off everyone's feet until there were no smallfolk left in Harrenhal from when the Lannisters was here."  Gendry is just being stupid because he's angry about Lucan.  Robb would never let the Bloody Mummers or his bannermen cut off people's feet for no reason, Arya told herself, hoping it was true.  

"Shut up!"  

"I forgot I'm talking to a highborn lady with a flayed man on her chest.  You're now enjoying Lord Bolton's table scraps and serving him his wine, aren't you?  The Bloody Mummers and the rest won't hurt you so long as you're his cupbearer and even if they did, all you'd have to do is tell Lord Bolton who you are and you'd be back with your brother and the rest of your highborn family in Winterfell.  Who cares if everyone else here dies, we're just smallfolk, right?  All that matters is that you highborns are happy, just like always.  Your brother is no different than Joffrey, far as I can –"  

"SHUT UP," Arya shouted, shoving Gendry as hard as she could.  That was stupid.  Someone might hear or see us and then Vargo Hoat will cut off both of our hands...or Lord Bolton will send us to Qyburn.  Arya shuddered and tried not to think about what would happen to her if she was sent to Harrenhal's rookery.  No one knew what Qyburn did in there to make people scream the way they did, but Arya knew that she didn't want to find out.   

As much as she hated to admit it, the truth was that Gendry was right about things being worse since Harrenhal fell.  Some of the Lannister men got what they deserved like when Vargo Hoat fed Ser Amory to a bear, but most of the dead men didn't do anything...not really.  The Lannisters would've given anyone who refused to serve them to the Tickler.  The last head mounted on Harrenhal's northern wall had even belonged to a little boy who was killed for biting Septon Utt while trying to stop the man from holding him down and taking him.  

"I'll go," snapped Gendry, "but don't be pretending your family cares any more about the likes of me than the Lannisters do.  Give me a forge, a meal a day, and a long summer, and you lot can do whatever you want for all I care so long as you leave the rest of us alone...not that you ever do.  I bet even if your brother's bannermen knew who you are and you told them to stop hacking off hands and feet, nothing would change."  

"It would so!"  

"Would not!"  

"Would so!"  

"Fine, go tell Lord Bolton.  I bet he'll show you an order from your brother saying to put all the smallfolk here to the sword for serving the Lannisters."  

"He will not!"  

"Go on then, m'lady.  Run along and prove it."  

"Fine, I will!  And I'm not a Lady, stupid."  

"Could've fooled me, boy."  

"I'm a girl!"  

"You're a highborn girl, but not a proper Lady? Is that what m'lady means?"  

"Yes, I mean...I told you to stop calling me that."  

"Or what?  Will m'lady run to Lord Bolton and ask him to have my tongue out?  I beg your forgiveness, m'lady."  

"I said shut up, you...you big stupid!"  

"What's a ‘big stupid?’"  

"You are, now go away," Arya snapped, as she stormed off.  

"Bloody highborns," Gendry muttered bitterly.  

...  

Gendry's words continued to haunt Arya as she made her way to Ser Robett Glover's chambers.  He probably hates me too, just like Hot Pie and everyone else.  He has stop being mad about Lucan someday.  It wasn't even my fault anyway...not really.  He'll forgive me eventually.  Him and Hot Pie both will.  He's just a big, stupid, stubborn old bull.  Even if he was part of her pack, Gendry could be the most frustrating person in the world sometimes.  How can one person possibly be so stubborn about everything?  

Stupid bull.  I'll show him!  He'll see!  I'll tell Ser Robett who I am and he'll make Lord Bolton and the stupid Bloody Mummers stop cutting off everyone's feet.  Even if she couldn't trust Lord Bolton, Ser Robett had never been cruel to anyone at Harrenhal and he behaved far more like one of her brother's bannermen should than Lord Bolton ever did.  Gendry won't be so stubborn tomorrow, Arya thought to herself with the smallest of smiles before nearly walking right into Ser Robett.  

"Best watch where you're going, girl.  Wouldn't want to bump into that damn Goat," said Ser Robett.  Everyone in Harrenhal knew that Vargo Hoat and Ser Robett hated each other almost as much as Vargo Hoat and Ser Amory did...or maybe it was just that everyone hated the Goat of Harrenhal.  

"I –"  

"No need to beg my forgiveness, girl.  I won't hurt you."  

"No...I mean...thank you, but..."  Arya suddenly realized that she never actually thought about how she should tell Ser Robett her secret.  What should I say?  Will he even believe me?  Should I just say it or try to explain first?  Arya bit her lip.  

"Thank you, Ser.  Very well, what else?  You're Lord Bolton's cupbearer, aren't you?  The one who made that soup?  What does your master want?  Be quick about it, girl, I don't have all day.  Is Lord Bolton holding a meeting of some sort?  I swear by the Old Gods and the New, if he forces me to endure one more of those damned things while he sits in a tub covered with leeches, I'll –"  

"Lord Bolton doesn't need you for anything...Ser."  

"In that case, it would seem that we have nothing more to discuss.  Run along back to your master, girl."  Wait, where are you going?  Don't leave!  

"But –"  

"My patience is not without its limits, girl.  Another word and Lord Bolton will hear about –"  

"I'm Arya Stark of Winterfell."  For a moment, Ser Robett looked as though he'd seen a ghost.  He studied her silently although he looked more confused than anything else.  

"What...what did you say, girl?"  

"I said I'm Arya Stark of Winterfell.  I escaped from King's Landing and...please, you have to help me get back to King Robb and my mother."  

"I...I...have...I have to what?  What did you just say?"  

"For the last time, I said I'm Arya Stark of Winterfell.  I need you to help me find my family and make the Bloody Mummers stop cutting off everyone's feet."  Suddenly, a flash of anger appeared on Ser Robett's face and Arya knew she'd made a mistake.  He doesn't believe me.  Before she could run away, the knight grabbed her right arm and held it so tightly that it was impossible to escape.  

"I don't know what in the Seven Hells you think you're doing, girl, but you'll regret it.  I can promise you that much," snapped Ser Robett.  

"No, my name is Arya Stark.  Really, I...I can prove it.  I know all about Winterfell, the crypt, Old Nan, Hodor, and –"  

"What the fuck is a Hodor?"  Maybe Ser Robett's never actually been to Winterfell.  He's just some stupid knight, not a Lord.  And he's probably never even seen me before besides, Arya realized as Ser Robett tightened his grip on her arm.  

"You're hurting me," Arya shouted, fighting back tears.  I will not cry.  I am a direwolf.  Direwolves don't cry.  

"We'll just see what Lord Bolton has to say about all of this," said Ser Robett coldly, dragging her along the ground by the arm.  No!  No!  No!  No!  Not Him!  He'll send me to Qyburn and...  Fear cuts deeper than swords.  Fear cuts deeper than swords.  Not today!  Not Today!  Not Today!  

"Please, I'm sorry, I –"  

"Not as sorry as you're about to be, girl.  Now if I hear one more word from you, I'll knock you out cold, do you understand?"  Arya nodded and began chewing her lip as Ser Robett dragged her through Harrenhal.  

...  

When Ser Robett Glover stormed into Lord Bolton's solar, still dragging Arya behind him, the Leech Lord was sitting at his desk writing a message of some sort.  He calmly lifted his head and studied them, looking as though nothing could have bored him half so much as the sight before him.  After ten painful seconds, he spoke in a voice as soft as a whisper.  

"Ser Robett, it would seem that you have managed to apprehend my cupbearer.  I commend you for what was, I trust, a hard-earned victory.  Lord Vargo would have considered the task beyond your abilities, I think."  Lord Vargo?  Robb would never let that stupid old goat be a Lord...would he?  

"Your bloody goat can think whatever the fuck he likes for all I care."  

"As you say.  Now then, tell me, why have you seen fit to grace me with your presence, Ser?  I am quite certain that I have no need of it at the moment."  

"My Lord, your cupbearer is telling some of the most wretched lies that I've ever heard.  She claims to be Arya Stark and demanded that I take her to her family.  She even tried to order me to make your pet rat stop maiming prisoners."  

"It would seem the two of you are in agreement on that matter, Ser."  

"My Lord?"  Ser Robett was plainly confused and that was good.  Arya knew that Lord Bolton enjoyed making knights like Ser Robett Glover and Ser Aenys Frey uncomfortable for some reason.  Maybe Ser Robett will forget about me and...no, that's stupid.  And even if he did, Lord Bolton won't forget.  

The Lord of the Dreadfort was staring directly at her, even when he spoke to Ser Robett and that was bad.  It was almost as though his cold, blue eyes were peering directly into her soul.  You never wanted Lord Bolton to look at you the way that he was looking at her...not even for a second.  Everyone who she'd ever seen him look at that way had been given to Qyburn, but Arya never broke eye contact with the Leech Lord.  Calm as still water.  Fear cuts deeper than swords.  Fear cuts deeper than swords.  

"Yes, yes, you are quite right, Ser.  It simply wouldn't do to have an impostor running around claiming to be Arya Stark, would it?"  

"I'm not lying, my Lord.  I –"  

"Shut up," snapped Ser Robett.  

"I'll not have you disrespecting Ned Stark's memory and the pain House Stark has suffered by breathing another word of this filth.  Arya Stark is dead; everyone knows that.  The Lannisters killed her when they seized the Throne."  

"But –" Ser Robett slapped Arya in the face with the back of his right hand, knocking her to the ground.  

"Tell me, Ser, do you make a habit of striking little girls?"  

"Lord Bolton, do you mean to tell me that after everything you've let that little shit of a goat do to the prisoners here, you can't stomach the sight of a well-deserved slap?  Your House's sigil is a bloody flayed man."  Lord Bolton's lips curled upward into what might've been a smile.  Arya shuddered.  Somehow the thought of the Leech Lord smiling was more frightening than the way he had been looking at her a moment ago.  

"You may slap anyone you please, Ser.  It matters not at all.  You may slap every little girl in Harrenhal if you wish...only not this one.  The girl is my cupbearer, my servant, and my property until such time as I depart from Harrenhal.  I shall discipline her as I see fit.  I believe you are familiar with how I punish those who displease me, are you not?"  

"Of course, my Lord, but...despite what she has done, the girl is only a child and..."  Lord Bolton began looking at Ser Robett the same way he looked at people right before he sent them to Qyburn and the knight fell silent.  As the Leech Lord continued to silently stare at Ser Robett, the knight broke eye contact and began to shift about uncomfortably.  He's afraid of Lord Bolton too, Arya realized.  

"You are to gather all of your men and ride for Duskendale immediately.  Harrion Karstark and Ser Helman Tallhart will accompany you.  We will strike at the heart of the Crownlands.  Are there any objections, Ser," asked Lord Bolton in a voice so soft that Arya could barely hear him.  

"No, my Lord."  

"Good.  Now, leave us.  I believe my cupbearer and I have some business to attend to, don't we, girl?"  Arya nodded and began chewing her lip.  Ser Robett left the room and closed the door.  Not today!  Not today!  Not today!  

...  

"Ser Robett tells me that you are pretending to be Arya Stark.  What am I to make of this?"  

"I...I..."  

"Yes, you.  Go on, girl, explain yourself.  I could always have your tongue out, since you don't seem to be using it.”  He’d do it.  It’d be like swatting a fly to him.  

"I...yes, my Lord.  My name...I'm Arya Stark of Winterfell."  

"And tell me, Arya Stark of Winterfell, how is it that you came to be here?"  

"I escaped from King's Landing when the Lannisters started killing everyone.  Yoren was supposed to bring me to Winterfell.  He cut my hair and told me to pretend I was a boy so no one would recognize me.  And it’s safer to travel that way besides."  

"Yoren?"  

"Yoren was a member of the Night's Watch who was bringing prisoners to the Wall.  He...he was a friend of my brother, Jon."  

"Hmm.  And where is this Yoren now?"  

"Ser Amory killed him when he captured me."  

"Does anyone else know who you are?  If what you say is true, then surely there must be someone you’ve encountered who can confirm this tale of yours?  Mayhaps some prisoner whom you confided in?"  

"No, my Lord."  He might hurt Gendry and Hot Pie if I tell him about them.  

“A little girl escaped from the Lannisters and made her way to the Riverlands unmolested along with a collection of thieves, rapers, and murderers by pretending to be a boy.  She was captured along with her...traveling companions by Ser Amory Lorch, a man best known for repeatedly stabbing a newborn babe.  He brought her to Harrenhal where she was kept prisoner.  When her brother’s bannermen took the fortress, she chose to remain a prisoner rather than revealing herself immediately.  Is that what you would have me believe, girl?”  

“I...yes, my Lord.”  

"Hmm.  You wouldn't lie to me, would you?"  Lord Bolton began staring at her again, but Arya looked him directly in the eye, just like the first time.  Fear cuts deeper than swords.  Fear cuts deeper than swords.  Fear cuts deeper than swords.  

"No, my Lord."  

"That was a lie.  Being lied to displeases me.  But you are Arya Stark, that much is certain.  Come now, did you truly believe I would have your tongue out?"  

"How did –"  

"I always knew that you were highborn.  The smallfolk say m'lord, not my Lord.  I assumed you were the daughter of some Riverlord and made you my cupbearer because that soup of yours amused me, but you have the Stark look.  A blind man could see that much.  When Ser Robett told me what you said to him, it was plain that you were telling the truth.  Of course, our fine friend from Deepwood Motte was too big a fool to realize what a valuable thing he had in his possession.  Most men don't look with their eyes, they only see what they expect to see."  

"Syrio, my dancing master, he said the same thing."  

"Your dancing master was right.  Now then, you will remain under my supervision at all times.  You will sleep in a locked room across from my chambers.  This is for your own safety.  It would not serve for one of the Brave Companions to kill you before I have a chance to return you to your brother.  And not even I can say what they would do if they found out who you really are..."  

"Thank you, my Lord."  

"Tell me, my Lady, why didn't you tell anyone who you were when Harrenhal fell?"  

"Not everyone who sounds friendly is a friend.  I wasn't going to tell Ser Robett at all, only...I thought he might make the Bloody Mum...I mean...the Brave Companions stop cutting off people's feet or at least make Biter stop eating people.  And I'm not a Lady."  

"Clever girl.  My son Domeric learned that lesson the hard way.  It nearly cost him his life."  

"What happened?"  

"Mayhaps I will tell you some day.  Oh and one more thing, when I do return you to your family, promise me that you will tell your mother what Ser Robett did to you today.  Your brother will see to it that he never hurts you again, I think.  Or anyone else, for that matter."  

"Yes, my Lord. I promise," replied Arya, allowing herself a small smile at the thought of what Robb would do to Ser Robett.  If not everyone who sounds friendly is a friend, doesn't that mean that not everyone who sounds dangerous is an enemy?  Lord Bolton did send people to Qyburn, but maybe he only sent bad people to the rookery.  Arya realized that she had only actually seen him send some of the captured Lannister men like Raff the Sweetling there.  He won't hurt me, but I still can't trust him...not really, Arya decided.  

"Good.  That will be all, girl.  I require silence while I work.  You'd best have a seat, I expect you'll be spending quite a bit of time in here.  We will speak more tomorrow, if you wish."  I'll show that stupid, stubborn old bull!  Lord Bolton will make the Bloody Mummers stop cutting off people's feet if I tell him that my brother would want them to leave the smallfolk alone, Arya told herself, and for just a moment, the Leech Lord didn't look quite so scary.  

"Lord Bolton?"  

"Yes?"  

"Is...is Robb winning the war?"  For a moment, the Leech Lord simply stared at her silently.  "Everyone always says ladies shouldn't ask about such things," Arya muttered bitterly.  

"I thought you weren't a Lady?  It matters not at all.  Anyone who cares more about songs and stitches than the war around us is a fool.  In truth, most people are fools, just like our friend from Deepwood Motte."  

"At Winterfell, everyone always liked Sansa best because she was a proper Lady.  Sansa would’ve probably said the war was too dreadful to even think about.  She knew all the songs though.  Her needlework was perfect and everyone was always saying how beautiful she was.  My mother probably doesn't even want me back because my stitches were always crooked," Arya replied, biting her lip and looking down at the floor.  

"Probably not.  But she is wrong, I think.  You're hardly a proper Lady, but mayhaps that is why you made it this far while your sister is still a hostage in King's Landing."  

"The Lannisters still have Sansa?"  

"Yes.  As for the war, your brother is winning the war against the Lannisters in the Riverlands.  Of course, the war in the North is another matter entirely.  What happened at Winterfell was most...unfortunate.  That will be all for today, girl.  I have work to do and you will be silent until it is finished.  You're not going to make me say that a third –"  

"The war in the North?  What happened at Winterfell?  Are Bran and Rickon alright?  What about my mother?  Please, you have to tell me!"  They have to be alive!  Robb would never let the stupid Lannisters attack Winterfell.  Never!  

"I have to tell you?  You presume to give me commands, do you," asked the Leech Lord, suddenly looking as though he had decided to give her to Qyburn after all.  He won't hurt me now that he knows who I am.  He can't; he's one of Robb's bannermen.  He just...likes scaring people is all.  But he'd have probably given me to Qyburn when I was just his cupbearer.  Fear cuts deeper than swords.  

"Very well. I shall indulge you this once, but from now on, you will mind your tongue when you speak to me.  Lady Catelyn is alive and well, as far as I know.  She is with your brother, most like.  They will have arrived at Riverrun by now, I think.  Your brother recently destroyed an entire Lannister army in the Westerlands and yet some men have taken to calling him the King Who Lost the North ever since the Iron Born seized Winterfell."  

"The Iron Born?"  

"Yes.  Your brother sent Theon Greyjoy to treat with his father, Lord Balon.  He thought the Iron Born would lend their fleet to our cause if we helped them win their independence.  Instead, the treasonous whore led an attack on the North and captured Winterfell."  Why would Theon attack Winterfell?  

Arya had always hated her father’s ward and he was almost as cruel to her as Jeyne Poole had been, but he was like a brother to Robb.  And how would he ever take Winterfell, even if he'd wanted to?  When Arya called someone stupid, it normally meant that she just didn't like them or that she was mad at them, but she'd once asked her father why Theon could say more than one word even though he was soft in the head like Hodor.  She'd tried sheep-shifting Theon's bed, but he was always too drunk to care about the smell and never noticed until the next day.  How could someone like that ever take Winterfell?  

"What about Bran and Rickon?"  Theon...he wouldn't hurt them...would he?  

"What about them?"  

"They were at Winterfell and..."  

"And you want to know about the fate that has befallen your brothers.  Is that it, girl?"  

"Yes."  

"Are you certain of this?"  Arya nodded, chewing her lip nervously.  

"Very well.  It brings me no pleasure to tell you this, girl.  Mayhaps your mother or your brother should be the one to tell you.  No, no, I suppose you have a right to know.  *sigh*  How can I put this?  I would hate to drag this out and yet one must be delicate when speaking of such things, don't you think?"  

"Please, just tell me!  What happened to them?"  

"As you wish.  I *sigh* have no idea whether your brothers are dead or alive.  In truth, there has been no word from Winterfell since it fell.  Your brothers may be hostages or two more dead little boys.  Your brother has charged me with retaking Winterfell and while my son's presence is required at the Dreadfort, I have instructed my bastard to raise a host.  If your brothers are still alive, I have no doubt that Ramsay will find them.  And if they're dead...well...I imagine you'll be the first to know."  

Chapter Text

She can’t truly believe that I would send Myrcella to Dorne if there were even the slightest possibility that doing so would place her in any danger.  It’s for the girl's own safety, Tyrion fumed as Seaswift vanished into the distance.  For all that his sister hated him, Tyrion couldn't understand how she could possibly be mad enough to believe that he would ever harm his own flesh and blood.  And why Myrcella?  That was the strangest part.  One would think that my sweet sister would have taken more comfort in the fact that neither she nor father has managed to make a kinslayer of me.  What might Cersei do, if she actually thinks that I mean to harm her children...  Tyrion liked that thought not at all.  

I doubt she would ever actually try to have me killed, even if the thought has no doubt crossed her mind.  Father mayhaps, but not her.  She merely threatened to have someone I love killed, Tyrion recalled, rolling his eyes.  I shall that have to be more careful when visiting Shae’s manse, I suppose.  In truth, Cersei is a far greater danger to her than she is to me.  My beloved nephew on the other hand...  

“Mother, when is Myrcella coming back,” asked Tommen, tears still pouring down his cheeks.  At least, he turned out to be a sweet boy.  If only Tommen had a touch more steel in him, he’d have made a perfectly serviceable King had he been the firstborn.  He couldn’t have been worse than Joffrey.  No, no, Cersei would’ve simply ruined him too, most like.  If ever a child was the beneficiary of benign parental neglect, then surely it was Tommen.  Now there’s an interesting question.  How much of our golden-haired King’s behavior is a result of the lessons which my sweet sister saw fit to instill in him and how much of it is simply his natural charm?  

“Ask your Uncle.  He stole Myrcella away so that he could send her off to die in Dorne.”  Gods be good, Cersei.

“Myrcella’s duh-duh-dead?”  

“She will be soon if your nuncle Tyrion has his way.”  Seven Hells, what would you have had me do?  Keep the poor girl here so that she can be raped and hacked to pieces if Stannis takes the city?  If father were here, he’d have Tommen sent to Casterly Rock too.  Tommen began sobbing uncontrollably, until he was cut off by a voice for which Tyrion had developed a special hatred since his return to King’s Landing.  

“Shut up,” snapped Joffrey.  

“But –”  

“I told you to stop crying.  A Prince shouldn’t cry.  And anyone who cries isn’t a real man besides.  They’re just a frightened little girl, nothing more.”  

“My little sister made you cry,” Sansa muttered.  Oh she did, did she?  I shall have to ask Lord Varys about that incident.  Oddly enough, neither my sweet sister nor my beloved nephew ever saw fit to tell me of it.  Funny thing, that.  I really do hope that Varys can shed some light on the matter.  I have no doubt that it will prove to be a most amusing story and what good is a Master of Whisperers if he can’t tell me about how a little girl made the King himself cry.  It couldn’t have been easy to make him do it in front of Lady Sansa.  After all, Joffrey is King and only scared little girls cry besides, Tyrion thought to himself with a smile.  

“What was that, my Lady?”  

“Nothing, Your Grace.”

“Are you sure?  I could’ve sworn that I just heard you say something.  Are you calling me a liar?”  

“Did Joff-Joffrey cry be-because he muh-muh-missed Sansa’s sister just like...just like I miss our sis-sister,” Tommen asked.  The look of hate upon the King’s face when he turned to his younger brother was unlike anything Tyrion had ever seen in his life and for a moment he feared that Joffrey might unsheathe Hearteater and simply murder his brother right there.  He probably won’t actually try to kill Tommen, but even so...  I’ll have to take precautions to ensure the boy’s safety.  Surely even Cersei can see that Joffrey means to hurt his brother...somehow.  The Gods alone know why...  

“SHUT UP!  With any luck, Arya Stark is lying face-down in a ditch where she belongs.  If we’d captured the little shit, I’d have had each of her limbs tied to a horse and made them all run in different directions.  Pity.  I would’ve liked to have heard that cunt scream for her mother and traitor brother to save her as she was ripped apart right in front of her sister.  Nothing would’ve pleased me more.  Of course, I’d have made her kiss her father’s head first.”  By now, everyone had grown silent and was watching the King nervously.  Seven Hells, the next time you decide to act like King Aerys III, can you at least wait until no one else is around?  No, that is plainly too much to ask of our golden-haired King.  

“Now then, my Lady, where were we?  Ah yes, I believe you had something you wanted to say about me?  I thought you said you saw me cry.  Could that be it?  Go on, I’m quite certain everyone else would like to hear all about that.”

“No, I...never, Your Grace.  I was only saying that you would never cry because you are as brave as a lion.”  A cowardly lion, it would seem.  

“And don’t you wish we could watch that dumb bitch you called a sister be ripped into five pieces while she cried out for her mother and brother to save her?”  Seven Hells, what could the poor child have possibly done to inspire such a singular hatred?  How badly could a little girl have humiliated the Crown Prince of the Seven Kingdoms?  I really will need to ask Varys about this...  

“Yes, Your Grace.”  

“Forgive me, my Lady.  I believe I’ve been rather selfish.  After all, why should I have all the fun?  You could’ve been the one to deliver your sister’s sentence.  I know!  You can show everyone how you would have sentenced the whore to death if she were here right now.  You’ll do that for us, won’t you?”  

“I...I...”  Joffrey struck his betrothed and the force of the blow split her upper lip.  

“The answer was ‘Yes, Your Grace.’  Whenever I ask you a question, the answer is always 'Yes, Your Grace.'  Do you understand or will I need to have Ser Meryn administer a second lesson?”  

“Yes, Your Grace.”  

“You heard my Lady, Ser Meryn.”  

“Please, I...I only meant that I understood.  Please, Your Grace.”  

“Go on, say ‘please’ again...”  

“ENOUGH!  Leave the poor girl alone,” snapped Tyrion.  

“Mind your tongue or I’ll have Ser Ilyn Payne cut it out.”  

“Come along, Joff, we should go now.  Everyone has finally seen what a twisted little monster your uncle is,” cooed Cersei, gently tugging at her son’s right shoulder.  How can she not see what Joffrey is?  

“But mother –”  

“Sansa Stark is just a stupid little girl.  She isn’t worthy of your time, Joff.”  

“Very well, but she’d best learn to do as she’s told.  That’s what women are supposed to do.  Didn’t my father ever teach you that, mother?”  The boy may have all of our heads on spikes before Stannis even arrives at the Mudgate.  

...  

“King Bread,” shouted one peasant.  

“Stannis!  The one true King!”  

“Renly!  Renly!  King Renly,” shouted several other voices.  Renly Baratheon is dead, you idiots.  The scattered treasonous cries did not bother Tyrion half so much as the way most of the smallfolk were staring at him and his family as they made their way back to the Red Keep.  The majority of the crowd held their tongues, but the bitter hatred in their eyes said far more than words ever could.  I like this not at all.  

“Bread!  Bread!  Bread!”  Keep Joffrey quiet, Cersei.  

“Ser Preston, escort Lady Sansa to the Red Keep at once.”  

“Yes, my Lord,” the knight replied.  That one has more wits than the other three combined, Tyrion decided, glancing at Ser Mandon, Ser Meryn, and Ser Boros.  At least Ser Preston has the good sense to be afraid.  One needed only to look at the knight’s face to see that he too had realized just how dangerous the situation had become.  The question is not whether or not there will be a riot, but whether it will happen before we make it to the Red Keep.  One wrong word from the King and we’re all dead. 

“Ser Mandon, get Prince Tommen back to the Red Keep now.”  

“I take my orders from the King, Imp.  I need not concern myself with your whims anymore than those of Ned Stark.”  

“I’ll have your head on a spike next to Ned Stark’s if you don’t do as my brother says,” snapped Cersei.  Ser Mandon scowled, but he did as he was told and began herding Tommen toward the Red Keep.  If even she realizes how much danger we are in, mayhaps Joffrey does too.  There might be hope for us yet...  They were almost at the Red Keep when a bloated woman somehow managed to force her way past Ser Boros and began shouting at the King.  

“Please, Your Grace, only a crust of bread.  My husband died and –”  

“Shut up!  I can’t stand the wailing of women.”  For all our sakes, just pretend that the Gods gave you half the wits they gave a turnip.  Ignore the bloody woman and move along before you get us killed!  

“But I am with –”  

“I am the King and I told you to be quiet.  Mayhaps this rabble has forgotten the penalty for disobeying their King.  Ser Meryn, remind the smallfolk of the penalty for treason.”  

“With pleasure, Your Grace,” replied Ser Meryn.  No!  No!  No!  

“They’ll kill us all, you bloody idiot,” snapped Tyrion.  

“I am the King and a King may do as he pleases.  You’d best remember that, you little monster.”

“Bread!  Bread!  King Bread!  Bread!  Bread!  Bread!” Ser Meryn’s sword sliced right through the woman, killing her within seconds.  The cries for bread turned into screams of horror as the twisted form of an unborn child came tumbling out of her belly.  There were more cries now and the smallfolk were no longer shouting for a new King.

“Brotherfucker!  Demon Monkey!  Joffrey the Unworthy!  Monster!”  

“To the Red Keep!  NOW,” Tyrion shouted.  The Hound grabbed the King while the Gold Cloaks, Ser Boros, and Ser Meryn surrounded the Hand and his sister as they made their way toward the Red Keep.  

“False King!  Dwarf!  Queen of Whores!  Northern Bitch!  Wicked Spider!  Abomination!  King of the Bastards!”  

“Who said that?  Kill him!  I want his head!  Let me go!  Kill them!  I gave you an order, dog!  KILL THEM ALL,” screamed Joffrey.  As soon as those three words left the King’s mouth, the crowd charged and Tyrion saw Grand Maester Pycelle disappear into an ocean of angry peasants.  At least they had the good sense to kill that old bastard first.  Another group were fighting over what might’ve been the High Septon’s crystal crown, although Tyrion could not say for sure.  

...  

Ultimately, the rest of them all reached the safety of the Red Keep aside from Ser Boros Blount and Tyrek Lannister who were nowhere to be found.  Dead, most like.  If they aren’t, they will be soon.  Ser Preston Greenfield and Lady Sansa had even made it back before the riot broke out.  I’d have thought the crowd would’ve gone after Ser Meryn first, but mayhaps that is simply wishful thinking.  Unfortunate as it was to lose the High Septon, he should be easy enough to replace.  I won’t miss Pycelle, that much is certain.  I suppose that...wait...where is...Seven Hells!  

“Cersei, where is Tommen?”  

“You sent him to the Red Keep with Ser Meryn right before the riot.”  

“It was Ser Mando, but yes, I did.  However, I don’t see either of them here.”  

“Tommen!  Tommen!”  

“Make sure that they aren’t inside.  If the Gods are good, Tommen is already waiting for you in his chambers.”  

“When have the Gods ever been good?”  

“Never.  Even so, we’d best check there too.”  Cersei nodded and much to Tyrion’s relief made no attempt to blame him for losing Tommen or for leaving her son with Ser Mandon.  It would seem she loves Tommen even more than she hates me.  I suppose this means she didn’t truly that believe I was trying to hurt Myrcella.  Not that it will stop her from murdering Shae if she ever found out...  

“Ser Preston, take these gold cloaks and begin searching the city for Prince Tommen, my cousin Tyrek, Ser Mandon, and Ser Boros at once.  Ser Meryn will accompany you.  I will send Ser Jacelyn Bywater with more gold cloaks as soon as possible.”  

“Yes, my Lord.”

“I’m not going back out there.  And I don’t have to take orders from you, Imp.  I serve the King and the King alone,” replied Ser Meryn.  Seven Hells, not again.  Is Ser Preston the only one of you who is good for anything?  

“You will go out and look for him now or I’ll have you stripped of your white cloak,” Cersei snarled.  “I am holding you personally responsible for Tommen’s fate, Ser Meryn...and a Lannister always pays her debts.  If anything happens to my son, I’ll make you wish that the smallfolk had torn you limb from limb.”  

“You’ll do no such thing, mother.  Ser Meryn, you are to stay behind the gates of the Red Keep.”  

“Thank you, Your Grace,” replied Ser Meryn, smirking at the Queen Regent.  Could that bloody coward be so great a fool as to believe that my sister won’t hurt him for this?  No wonder our golden-haired King has taken such a liking to him, they have much and more in common.  If Ser Meryn weren’t soft in the head, he’d realize that it will be far safer for him out there than it will be in here if anything happens to Tommen.  And if the fool is still alive when father returns...  

“Your Grace, it matters not at all.  I will lead the gold cloaks myself.  There is no time to waste arguing about who should or shouldn’t look for Prince Tommen.  Ser Mandon is a skilled warrior, but your brother’s chances of surviving grow smaller and smaller every second that he’s out there."  I shall have to find some way to reward Ser Preston for his courage.

“You’re quiet right, Ser.  We can’t afford to waste any more time arguing about such matters, not when Tommen’s life is at stake.  Very well, let’s remove the uncertainty.  Any man who leaves the Red Keep to search for my brother shall lose his head.  That includes you, Ser Prest –”  *SLAP*  The King winced and whimpered as he stumbled backward.

“You can’t...you can’t do that!  I...am...THE KING.  Tell him, mother!  Tell him that I’m the King, so he has to do whatever I say.  Tell him he can’t hit me anymore.”  For once, the Queen Regent did not come running to her eldest’s son’s defense and said nothing.  “Mother?  Mother, tell him he can't hit me.  MOTHER!”  

“Tommen is your brother.  Joffrey, this...this madness has gone on long enough.  Let Ser Preston and the gold cloaks search for him.  Please,” Cersei begged, plainly struggling to remain calm.  

"Have you forgotten to whom you are speaking, mother?  I am a King and you will address me as such.  Is that understood?"  

"Yes...yes, Your Grace.  Now will you please –"  

"I...said...NO!  Those traitors can fuck Tommen bloody for all I care.  As for you, mother, you will tell that twisted little monster you call a brother that he is not to hit me."  Not Aerys III.  This...this is something even worse, most like.

“Your Grace, if that vile creature strikes you again, I’ll cut off both his hands.”  

“You’re too craven to search for the Crown Prince, but you’ll gladly defend the King from a dwarf, is that the way of it?  What a brave and gallant knight you are, Ser Meryn.”  

“Mind your tongue, Imp.  I serve His Grace, not the likes of you.  Striking the King is punishable by death.”  

“Well then, what are you waiting for?  Here I stand.  And that monster is unfit to sit upon the Iron Throne besides.”  

“I...am...THE KING!  I will punish –”   *SLAP*  The King staggered backward, nearly losing his footing.  

“I said you...you cuh-can’t hit me.  Mother, he...he hit me again.  Tell him he's not...not allowed and...and...YOU CAN'T HIT ME ANYMORE!”  

“And yet I just did it twice.”  

“Please, Joffrey.  Whatever Tommen did, I’m sure he’s very sorry,” said Cersei as she desperately tugged at her eldest son’s right arm.  'Whatever Tommen did?'  Seven Hells, are you still defending this monster?  Tommen is your son too, Cersei.  Joffrey just condemned his own brother to death on a whim.  All the poor boy did was...  No, not even Joffrey would try to have his own brother killed simply for asking if the Stark girl made him cry...would he?  Could he really be mad enough to...Gods be good...  No doubt Joffrey would say that it wasn’t really kinslaying because he didn’t do it himself.  

“Why should I care that he’s my brother?  The boy is nothing to me.  With any luck, the mob threw him into whatever ditch the Stark whore is rotting in and buried him alive.  I hate –”   *SLAP*   Cersei struck her son harder than Tyrion ever had.  For a moment, the King looked as though he were about to cry, but a flash of anger quickly appeared upon the blonde beast’s face.  Suddenly, the King shoved his mother to the ground in one swift motion.  The Lioness's head hit the stone floor with a thud and for once, Tyrion found himself speechless.  

“What are you all looking at?  It...it was nothing,” Cersei whimpered as driblets of blood quickly turned to violent red streaks across the frightened woman's blonde hair.  It was plain that the Queen Regent had suffered some sort of injury to the back of her head which would require a Maester's attention, most like.  “I...I simply slipped and Joffrey was trying to catch me.”  

“No, you didn’t; I pushed you.  Shame we weren’t on a staircase.  I already told you once that you were not to do that again.  If you do it a third time, I’ll put your head on a spike right next to Ned Stark's; your heads would be a feast for crows.”  The King stormed off, the remaining members of the Kingsguard nervously trailing behind him.  

...

“Father will put a stop to this.  Don't worry, I give you my word that Joffrey will never hurt you again.  Do you hear me?”  If someone had told me a fortnight ago that I’d be invoking my father to comfort my sister, I’d have called them a madman.  

“Your word is worthless.  And if...if you breathe one word of this to father, I’ll have your throat slit.  Do you hear me, you little monster,” Cersei snarled as she used every ounce of her strength to shove her youngest brother away.  

“Are you mad?  That monster could've killed you just now.”  

“What do you think father will do to Joff if he hears about this?  He’ll...  You’d like that wouldn’t you?  First you send Myrcella off to die in Dorne and now you want father to kill Joffrey for you.  Don't bother denying it, we both know what you are and I won't let you hurt my children.  I'll kill you with my own hands if that's what it takes to protect them from you.  I...I know what you are; you might have deceived our brother, but you will never be able to fool me.”  For a moment, Tyrion simply stared at his sister in disbelief before silently walking a way.  There were no clever japes to be made about his family this time.  The Hand of the King felt only one thing: pity.

Chapter Text

“I can hear horses.  Lots of them!  Did Robb come back for us,” asked Rickon.  

“That’s not yer brother, little Lord.  If it was, Maester Lewin would’ve told us by now.  And yer brother will bring more men than that with him whenever he returns besides," whispered Osha.  

“But –”  

“Shhh.  It’s more men from wherever that Greyjoy boy is from, most like.  But you have to whisper, little Lord.”  

“I want Robb!  I want Mother and Father and Sansa and Arya!  They’re all dead!  Everyone who leaves Winterfell dies.  No one...no one ever comes back and –”  No!  Not now!  Please Rickon, not right now!  

“I miss them too, but you have to keep yer voice down.  Robb is coming to rescue us; I promise.  Maester Lewin will tell us as soon as they’ve retaken Winterfell, but we've got to stay here until then.  If Theon finds us...”  

“Don't worry, Bran; I’ll protect you from Theon.  I’m not afraid of him!  And Shaggydog won’t let him hurt us besides.  I’ve lost everyone else, but I won’t lose you.”  

“Someone will be here soon, anyway.  There’s already an army on its way to Winterfell.  I saw them take the castle.  There was a flayed man on their banners,” mumbled Jojen.  A flayed man?  Maester Lewin once said something about a flayed man when he was going through the banners of all the Northern Houses.  Bran wished he had paid more attention, but the lessons were always so boring.  Sansa would’ve known what it meant; she was better at her studies than the rest of us combined.  She knew all the Houses' banners, even the Southron ones.  

“The flayed man is the sigil of one of Robb's bannermen.  I don’t remember which one, but my brother must have sent...Jojen, what’s wrong?”  Robb sent an army to rescue us and retake Winterfell.  We'll be safe soon.  Why does Jojen look so sad?  

“Bran, I...”  

“What’s going on?  Isn’t Robb coming to rescue us,” asked Rickon, wiping away tiny tears with his right sleeve.  Jojen didn’t say anything; instead, he simply stared at the boy.  He’s trying not to cry, Bran realized.  He saw something else...something horrible.  He isn’t just sad, he’s afraid.  Did the Lannisters kill Sansa or Robb?  No, Jojen wouldn't be this frightened just because someone in my family died.  After two of the longest minutes of Brandon Stark’s life, Howland Reed’s heir finally spoke.  

“Rickon, I want you to promise me that no matter what happens, you’ll be strong for your brother.  He’s going to need you...mayhaps more than he's ever needed anyone else.”  

“Is Theon going to try to hurt me when Robb’s men get here,” asked Bran.  Why do you always talk in riddles?  Can't you just come out and say what it was that you saw?  

“Don’t worry, Jojen, I promise not to let anyone hurt Bran.  I’ll protect both of you!”  

“I’m sure you will, Little Lord, but you all need to keep yer voices down,” Osha whispered.  

“It doesn’t matter.  They’re almost here,” Jojen sighed.  

“Who?”  

“It’s nothing...or at least, there's no good that can come of talking about it now.  It's the only way you'll ever learn to fly, most like, so I suppose it has to happen."  

"Learn to fly?  Jojen, please just tell me what's going on.  Whatever you saw, maybe...maybe I can help or –"  

"You can't stop him, Bran.  No one can and it has to happen besides.  Else you may never go beyond The Wall..."  

"If it's the only way for me to get beyond The Wall then why do you look so sad?  That's where we needed to go anyway, wasn't it?"  

"I suppose it is..."  

"Then what's wrong?"  

"Nothing you need worry about...not yet, at least.  Just try to enjoy the next few moments while you can, Bran."  

"Why can't you just tell me what you saw?"  

"It would be too cruel."  

"Jojen, you...you're scaring me."  

"I'm truly sorry, Bran.  The sight can be as much a curse as a gift.  Sometimes I see things...things I wish I hadn’t seen.  But that’s not important.  No matter what happens, you have to find the three-eyed raven.  There may be wicked men whom you would see punished for doing terrible things...things beyond the imagination of most men, but whatever you may be feeling, you must needs fly beyond The Wall as soon as the time comes.  No matter how angry or sad you are, you can't look back for even a second.  Revenge is as dangerous an enemy as any other you'll encounter...and it will destroy you if given half a chance.  It's a poison...a poison more dangerous to you than most.”  

“Revenge?  I don't know why I'd want revenge on anyone or how I'd get it even if I did, but I promise.  I already know that we have to find the three-eyed raven.”  

"Yes.  You have to find the three-eyed raven."  

"You're coming too, aren't you?  Jojen?"  Howland Reed's heir simply looked down at the ground.

Jojen eventually motioned for his sister to come to him and whispered something in her ear.  Meera and her brother hugged each other fiercely, each plainly fighting back tears.  It was quite some time before either of them let go of the other.  Finally, Meera fell to her knees and began quietly sobbing.  Even after Meera finally calmed down, she was still plainly struggling to make peace with whatever he had told her.  What's happening?  What...what could he have possibly seen?

“It probably won’t even hurt for long.  Maybe...maybe the other side won't even be all that bad.  Whatever he does, you must needs stay strong for Bran,” Jojen whispered.

“The other side?  Is someone going die?  Why won’t you tell me?  Whatever it is, I...I have a right to know!”  

“If I tell you what I saw, you might try to stop it from happening.  The future is never set in stone and when you know what will happen, you can change it.  I see things that could happen and don't just as often as I see things that will happen.  And sometimes we have to let terrible things happen, no matter how painful it may be...even if it means people we care about will get hurt.  Sometimes that’s the only way we can accomplish something far more important.  You have to find the three-eyed raven, the rest of us...we don’t matter.”  

“I’m not afraid,” Rickon declared with a smile as wide as it was innocent.  

“I know you’re not, Rickon.  You just might be the bravest one here, but always remember what I told your brother about revenge.  The same thing goes for you.”  

"Revenge?  But don't bad people deserve to have bad things happen to them?"  

"It's not always that simple Rickon.  Sometimes we think revenge and justice are the same thing, but they're not...never.  When people forget that, it can make them do terrible things...things that make them worse people than they were before."  Rickon doesn't need to be hearing this right now.  He's just a child. 

"Don't worry, Jojen, I promise not to be bad!"  

"Good.  Now let’s not scare your brother; this won’t be easy for him.  It would be cruel to make it any harder than it has to be."  A little late for that...

*SNAP*  *CRASH*  *BOOM*  *THUD*  

“Hodor!  Hodor!  Hodor!  Hodor!  Hodor!”  

“Stop...Hodoring.”  

“It doesn’t matter, Bran.  I didn’t see any of the battle, but that was the gate coming down, most like.  They’re already here...”  

...  

The battle – if it could even be called a battle – lasted only a few minutes.  The noise they heard was followed by the clanging of swords and several screams.  After that, Winterfell went silent.  Osha quietly approached the doors to the crypt and began listening for some sign of what had happened, Rickon and Shaggydog trailing behind her.

*THUMP*  This time the noise was far quieter, but not half so far away as the sound of the gates coming down.  Did something fall in front of the crypt?  Whoever or whatever it was began to moan in pain.  I know that voice, it’s...  

“That’s Maester Lewin!  He’s hurt,” shouted Rickon, bolting toward the door.  Osha tried to grab him, but it was too late.  Worse, Shaggydog darted out after him and began barking and snarling at whoever was out there.  

“SUMMER STAY,” shouted Bran as a blood-curdling scream echoed through Winterfell’s crypt.  

“Hodor?”  

There were several shouts and soon the scream gave way to a high-pitched yelp of pain.  They...they killed Shaggydog.  Is Rickon...  

...  

It didn’t take long for the Northmen to find them after that.  Several rats were already making their way in and out of the gash in Shaggydog’s side, carrying off pieces of the dead direwolf’s entrails like prized hunting trophies.  There was a soldier’s corpse nearby too...the man’s entire throat had been ripped out.  It was an Iron Born soldier who killed Maester Lewin, most like.  He was probably trying to keep Theon's men from entering the crypt.  Shaggydog must’ve gotten confused and accidentally attacked one of Robb’s men.  

Only two Iron Born had been spared: Theon and a strange, bitter-looking woman wearing some sort of armor.  Both were gagged and in chains, but Bran could hear still Theon’s muffled screams off rage when he realized that he’d never bothered to search the crypt.  Big Walder and Little Walder Frey had also been taken prisoner.  Summer began to growl and bared his teeth.

“No!  Those are Robb's men.  Summer, stay!”  

“Bring the boy over here, Sour Alyn.  And tell Skinner to keep his bloody crossbow aimed at that beast’s head,” shouted a voice.  

“Yes, m'Lord.  You heard him, Skinner.  Don’t take yer eye off that monster,” replied one of the Northmen as he dragged Bran across the courtyard by his legs and threw him onto a cart.  Bran found himself face-to-face with a man who had two of the bluest eyes that he had ever seen.  He can’t be a northmen.  He wouldn’t be holding a knife to Rickon’s throat if he were one of Robb’s bannermen.  It wasn't just the man's pale, blue eyes that were strange, something had happened to the man’s left hand too.  It had only three fingers and was misshapen.  In truth, it looked as though large pieces of the man's hand had been burned off.  

“Let my brother go or I...I'll tell Robb!”  

"You will?  Hmm...well...I certainly wouldn't want my King to be wroth with me.  Mayhaps I should just kill all of you right now instead of rescuing you from the Iron Born.  Safer that way, don't you think?"  

"I said let Rickon go!"  

“Gladly, you just keep that wolf of yours calm while we get it into a cage.  After what happened to Damon Dance-For-Me, I just wouldn’t feel safe with another of those creatures wandering about.  I'm sure you understand and if not...well...I'm afraid I don't really care how you feel about any of this.”  The man put away his knife and released Rickon once Summer was locked away in a large cage.  

“Much better.  Now then, I don’t believe I caught your name.  Your brother Rickon has been crying ever since Sour Alyn killed the first wolf.  You’d best not start –”  

“If you know he’s my brother, then you already know who I am.”  

“Mayhaps, but I told you to tell me.  I want to hear you say it.”  

“Why?”  The man unsheathed a large hunting knife and his wormy lips curled upward into a predatory smile.  

“Well, I was hoping to play a game with you, but father told me never to play with strangers.  After all, you have to be very careful around people you've never met before.  Who knows what they might be capable of...”  

“Hodor!  HODOR!  HODOR!  HODOR!”  No Hodoring!  Not now!  

“Send the rest of our new friends over here, Sour Alyn.  We wouldn't want them to feel neglected, would we?  After all, why should these two get all the attention?"

“Any of you cunts who isn’t over there by the time I finish counting to five gets his throat opened.  One.  Two.  Fuck it.  Five.”  Fortunately, Jojen, Osha, Meera, and even Hodor had all made it across the courtyard by “two.”  

“Good, we’re all together now.  That’s much better, isn’t it?  I think it's better.  There, now we're like one big, happy family.  You, giant, what's your name?”  

“Hodor.”  

“That really is all you can say, isn't it?  Well now isn't that just about the saddest thing you've ever heard, Skinner?"  One of the Northmen grew pale as he struggled to decide how the blue-eyed man wanted him to respond.   

“Hodor.”  

“This tragic tale has touched my heart, truly.  Hmm...if only there were something I could do to help.  Well, since the cripple doesn’t want to play a game with me, mayhaps you will.  After all, I know your name, so you’re hardly a stranger.  It’s called ‘Teach the Half-Wit to Talk.’  Here’s how it works: You say something besides your name before I count to five or I’ll cut off part of a part of your body.  After that, we start at one all over again and keep going until you say something other than 'Hodor.'  Sound like fun?  Good.  One.  Two.  Come on now, just one widdle word is all I'm asking for; what's so hard about that?”  

“HODOR!  HODOR!  HODOR!  HODOR!”  

“Three.  Four.  You certainly do like living life on the edge.”  

“STOP!  My name is Brandon Stark.  Whatever you’re going to do, do it to me instead.  Please, just leave him alone.”  

“But we already started playing and...oh, very well.  Prince Brandon Stark of Winterfell.  This certainly is a treat.”  

“When my brother finds out what you’ve –”  

“I guess we’d better not tell him.  It’ll just have to be our special little secret.  We’re all friends here, aren’t we?  And what’s a secret between friends?  I KNOW!  How would you like to play a game?”  

“Please, no games.  Just let us go and –”  

“Games?  Great idea!  I love games!  Let’s play one right now!”  

“You don’t have to do this.”  Jojen?  What are you doing?  He'll kill you!  The only reason any of us are even alive is that Rickon and I are Starks, most like.

“And who might you be?”  

“My name is Jojen Reed.  I’m Lord Howland Reed’s son and heir.”  

“Ah and you're quite a brave young man, aren't you?  Lord Reed must be very proud.  The thing is, little Lord, I’m not doing this because I have to; I’m doing it because I enjoy it.”  

“If you let us go, I can help you.”  

“How’s that,” asked the blue-eyed monster.  

“I have the sight.  I can see things...things that will happen in the future.  Things that happened in the past.  Things that could happen, but don’t have to.  Sometimes when you know the future, you can change it.”  

“You sound like quite a remarkable little Lord.  Since you seem to be such a wise little Lord, mayhaps you can remind me why I care about any of this.  I seem to have forgotten.”  

“I saw you die.  I saw a Stark kill you once.  I heard you howling in pain and begging someone – anyone – to save you.  It happened during a hunt.  You screamed and cried the way people do at the end of your hunts.  You'll know a fear unlike anything you've ever experienced as you suffer the same way you've made countless others suffer.  And it won't even be revenge either, at least, I don't think it was...  That's simply your destiny unless something changes."  

"Wait...how do you know what I've done at the Dreadfort," asked the blue-eyed man, frowning.  "I was careful...usually.  Well...there was Alys, she almost made it to town.  Almost...but not quite.  Mayhaps...no, Jeyne never could've made it that far south...not after three arrows.  She barely managed to crawl out of the woods.  Oh Jeyne, you really were the one who got away...  Well that's enough of a trip down memory lane for one day; tell me how you found out about my hobbies,"  Alys?  Jeyne?  But...but those are...no, he must name the animals he hunts for some...some reason.  That...that has to be it...  Men don't...hunt...women...do they?  

"You would't believe me if I told you.  You don't have to die though...not that way, at least.  It...it won’t happen if you let us go.”  

“You don't say?  Being able to see the future is a a very special gift indeed, little Lord.  Tell me, are either of those two going to kill me while I’m at Winterfell,” asked the blue-eyed man, pointing his hunting knife at Bran and Rickon.  

“No, but –”  

“Good.  Now, where we?  AH YES!  I believe I was saying something before the wise little Lord over here interrupted me.  Mayhaps you remember, Prince Cripple?”  

“You’re a cripple too.  Your left hand is all burnt and covered in scars.  Can you even feel it anymore?”  The man’s pale, blue eyes seemed to glow with anger even as his smile grew ever larger.  I shouldn’t have...he’ll hurt me for that.  The eldest Prince of Winterfell didn’t hate many people; he didn’t even hate Theon or the soldiers who killed Shaggydog...but he did hate the blue-eyed man.  The man plainly knew all too well what it was like to be called a cripple – to have men everywhere look at you and only see some broken...thing – and yet it hadn’t stopped him from gleefully hurling the word like a spear at a boy who couldn’t walk.  Did he burn his hand when he was a child?  Bran tried to imagine the wormy-lipped monster as a little boy, but it was no use.  

“You shouldn’t call me a cripple.  It’s a very hurtful word and it's not even true besides.  Am I a cripple, Sour Alyn?”  

“No, my Lord,” shouted one of the soldiers.  

“That settles it; I’m not a cripple.  As for my hand...well...brothers fight sometimes.  It’s a perfectly natural thing.  And father always favored my older brother besides,” the blue-eyed man snarled through clenched teeth.  His brother did that to him?  Why...how could anyone do that to their kin?  

“What...What’s going on” asked Rickon.  

“Is that wolf pup going to shut up or do I need to have his tongue out?”  

“Hush, little Lord.  Best be as quiet as we can. No one’s going hurt you,” Osha whispered.  

“Don't be ridiculous, of course I'm going to hurt him.  Now then, where were we, Prince Cripple?  Ah yes, fun and games.  Let’s play ‘What’s My Name?’  That’s one of my favorites!  You try to guess my name and every time you guess wrong, I get to cut off part of your body.  Oh and if any of our other friends try to ruin my fun, I’ll kill you all.  Well, I’ll give the two of you to my men first,” said the blue-eyed man, glancing at Osha and Meera.  

“If I guess who you are, will you let us go?”  He probably won’t let us go either way, but I have to try...

“If you guess who I am, I’ll let the half-wit go.  I don’t need him and he strikes me as a man who can keep a secret.  I can’t imagine he knows how to write.  What do you say to that, Prince Cripple?”  Stop calling me that!  

“Fine.”  Flayed man?  Who has a flayed man?  It began with a “B,” Bran remembered that much.  Blackwood?  Burley?  No...Bolt...Bolt...AAARRRRGGGHHH...BOLTON!  That’s it!  Flayed men are on the Bolton’s banners!  

“You’re a Bolton.”  

“Too vague.  Which one?”  Lord Bolton is with Robb and I remember Maester Lewin saying that he had only one son.  Damon...Dom...Domeric!  

“You’re Domeric Bolton.”  

“Very good.  And how did you know that?”  

“One of your men called you ‘my Lord’ which means your father has to be a Lord.  Lord Bolton went south with Robb and he has only one son.”  Domeric kicked at the ground and began muttering to himself.  He turned to Bran and his wormy lips twisted into a mischievous smirk.  He’s going to hurt one of us...  

“You said you’d let Hodor go if I guessed your name.”  

“I did, but I’m afraid there’s just one teensy little problem.  I lied.”  With quick flick of his wrist, the man open Jojen’s throat with his hunting knife.  Meera screamed and ran to her brother’s body.  She wept and knelt by it, cradling Jojen’s head in her arms.

“Didn’t see that coming, did you, little Lord?  Pity.  I guess you weren’t such a wise little Lord after all.  I’m afraid I’m not Domeric Bolton.  That was a lie.  Oh and I forgot to mention that since I’m letting the half-wit go if you win, I’m going to kill one of your friends every time that you guess wrong.  If you get a special prize for winning, I get special reward whenever you make a mistake.  Alright, time for round two.”  

“I don’t want to play.”  

“You’re forfeiting?  In that case, I get to kill all of your friends.  I think I’ll start with your brother.”  

“No, don’t hurt Rickon.  I...I’ll keep playing.”  

“Good, I’m glad you’re having fun too.  I’ve never lost this game before.  Did you know that, Prince Cripple?  Of course, there’s a first time for everything.”  Maester Lewin said Lord Bolton had only one son.  Bran didn’t know why or how he’d remembered that, but he was sure of it.  How can he be a Bolton if he’s not Lord Bolton’s son.  He’d have to be a... 

“Are you a natural-born son of Lord Bolton?”  

“Did you just ask if I was baseborn?”  

“No, it wasn’t a question; it was my guess.  If you’re not Lord Bolton’s true-born son, then you must be his bastard.”  For once, the blue-eyed man said nothing.  He simply stared at Bran, squeezed the handle of his hunting knife with his right hand, and ground his teeth.  After thirty painfully long seconds, he finally spoke.  

“You will not call me that word again...ever.  You may be right today, but one day father will have me naturalized.  Once that happens, my name will be 'Ramsay Bolton' and...  I suppose you know my name now, don't you, Prince Cripple?  But enough about me, I believe we had a deal.  Sour Alyn, get the half-wit out of my sight.  It’s past time that creature left Winterfell.”  

“Yes, m'Lord.  You heard the man.  Go on, get out!  If you show yer face 'round here again, I’ll kill ya' meself.  Do you understand Hodor or whatever the fuck yer name is,” snapped Sour Alyn, as he chased Hodor out of Winterfell with his sword.  Ramsay Snow made his way over to Summer’s cage and bent over right in front of the door.  The direwolf snapped and snarled as it tried to force its way through the bars of the cage.  

“Do you want to rip my throat out?  I’m right here.  Oh, so close that time.  I really thought you were going to get me.  Come on, all you have to do is break through those bars.  What’s wrong?  Don’t you want to save your master?  Who’s a dead wolf?  You are!  Yes, you are a dead wolf.  Oh yes, you are.  Oh yes, you are.  Oh what big teeth you have.  Go on, boy, play dead.”  

“No, please don’t,” Bran begged.  

“I don’t think Prince Cripple ever taught his beast how to play dead.  I KNOW!  I bet it just needs to see what a dead wolf looks like.  Skinner, why don’t you provide us with a demonstration.”  No!  Stop!  Please don't!  

“Gladly, m'Lord.”  Skinner approached the cage and fired a crossbow bolt directly into Summer’s head.  The direwolf let out a high-pitched whimper and collapsed to the ground...dead.  

“SUMMER!"  

“Oh dear, Skinner seems to have killed your pet, Prince Cripple.  You mustn’t blame him though.  He was just following orders.  I'm afraid I've always been a bit of a sore loser and...well...I’m suppose I got a bit carried away.  Of course, you did ask if I was a bastard.  I suppose this makes us even.  Why don’t we just call it water under the bridge?  I asked you a question, Prince Cripple,” snarled Ramsay, making his way towards Rickon and Osha.  Bran nodded his head and the blue-eyed monster put away his hunting knife.  

“Good.  I’m glad we see eye-to-eye, Prince Cripple.  I want us to get along.  You can’t imagine how hard it is to find interesting prisoners.  Usually I get bored after a few minutes and simply flay them to death.  They always beg for mercy in they end, even the ones who try to pretend that they aren’t afraid in the beginning.  For some reason, they always seem to think that if they just say the right thing, I’ll let them go.  Just between us, the best part isn’t killing prisoners or even torturing them.  It isn't even tricking them into thinking that I'll spare them if they unman themselves for my amusement.  No, Prince Cripple, the best part is the look on their faces when they finally realize I’m going to flay them to death no matter what they do.  You didn’t beg me to spare your life though.  True, you did whine about your friends a bit too much for my liking, but I suppose no one’s perfect.  Even so, you made the game interesting.  I don’t normally get to play with the important prisoners.  Father doesn’t seem to trust me with them for some reason.  He trusts my shit of a brother though.  Luckily for us, Domeric and father aren’t here.  It’s just as well.  I doubt they’d approve of our little game.  Domeric would moan about it like a whore for weeks.  I swear, if that cunt starts bitching at me one more time about not being rude to prisoners...  As for father...well...the Gods alone know what he'd do if he were here.”  How could the Gods have created someone like this?  

“What now, m'Lord,” asked Sour Alyn.  

“I think we’ve had enough fun for one day.  And we’d best get going besides.  Find chains for Prince Cripple, his little brother, and the two cunts.  Once that’s done, place them with the other four prisoners.  Oh and while you’re at it, tell Skinner, Luton, Yellow Dick, and Grunt to burn this shithole to the ground.”  

...  

It only took three days to reach the Dreadfort, – in truth, it was as though time suddenly no longer mattered – but it could’ve been three years for all that Bran cared.  Summer and Shaggydog are dead.  Ramsay killed Jojen and he flayed one of Theon’s fingers to punish him for snoring.  Does Robb know the Boltons have betrayed...  

Did they all betray him?  Bran wasn’t certain of even that much.  Ramsay didn’t seem to like his brother very much and he said his father wouldn’t approve of what he did.  Maybe one of them is at the Dreadfort and will make Ramsay release us.  Robb wouldn’t have sent the Boltons to rescue us unless he trusted Lord Bolton.  Even if Ramsay is a monster, his father will probably force him to bring us to Robb right away and punish him for burning Winterfell.  Bran tried as hard as he could to force himself to believe that the worst was over, but it was no use.  

As two soldiers dragged him into the Dreadfort, Bran realized that there was no point denying what he had known in his heart from the moment they left the charred remnants of his home: Whatever awaited him and his brother within the castle’s walls, they were going to face it alone.  Robb will probably think that Theon killed us and burned Winterfell to the ground.  There is no army coming to save us.  The Boltons could kill us all right now if they wanted to and no one would ever know.

Chapter Text

“Each of you crows is dumber than the last.  Yer lucky we overheard you.  Having the bastard kill you to prove he wanted to join us...did you really think that’d work?  I’ve seen men dumber than mammoth shit grow old, but yer a half-wit compared to them.  Tell me, how did a man like you ever last more than a day out here,” asked Orell.  

“Most Southrons would die quick beyond The Wall, aye.  I suppose it’s no different up here than anywhere else.  All a man has to do is learn the ways of the land.  Like you said, even men dumber than mammoth shit can grow old here.  You’ll be proof enough of that someday, if you live long enough.  I seen plenty of half-wits die beyond The Wall too,” replied the Halfhand.  

“Mind yer tongue, old man.  Might be I’ll decide to show you what happens to half-wits up here,” snarled Orell as he unsheathed his dirk.  

“ENOUGH.  If I hear you speaking to either of my prisoners again, I’ll cut out yer tongue and feed it to that eagle of yers.  You hear me, Orell?  Put away yer bloody knife and get away from the crows.  NOW,” shouted a Wildling whom the others called the Lord of Bones.  

The other Wildlings followed his orders and he plainly had more wits about him than the likes of Orell, but the Lord of Bones wasn’t the so-called King Beyond the Wall.  Qhorin said that Mance Rayder was a friend of his many years ago, back when they served together in the Night’s Watch.  The Halfhand and the Lord of Bones plainly knew each other only by reputation.  They seldom spoke to each other, but the Halfhand had been trying to provoke Orell ever since the Wildling overheard their original plan with his eagle. Whoever he is, he’s not Mance.  Despite what Ygritte would’ve said, Jon Snow knew that much.  

“Yer one lucky crow,” Orell whispered to the Halfhand who responded by head-butting the Wildling.  The Lord of Bones stormed over and whacked Orell in the back of the head with his staff.  “Listen real close, you bird-brained fuck,” seethed the Lord of Bones, “when I tell you to do something, you do it.  Yer not gonna say another word to either of my prisoners ‘cause if you do, I’m gonna crack open yer skull and paint me staff red with yer blood and brains.”  Jon didn’t hear Orell’s reply, but it appeared to satisfy the Lord of Bones, who turned to face the Halfhand.  

“As fer you, Qhorin fuckin’ Halfhand, I don’t care how big a crow you were back at that southron wall of yers.  Yer in The North now...the real North.  If I think yer even lookin’ at Orell funny, might be I’ll only be bringin’ Mance one prisoner, after all.”  

“What do you think Mance will do to you if he hears you had me and didn’t bring me to him?  The man may have shit for honor, but I’ll wager he’d want to do the deed himself.”  The Lord of Bones spat in the Halfhand’s face and walked away.  They’re going to kill both of us.  They have to...once they bring us to Mance, we’ll know their numbers, where they’re camped...everything.  But even if Mance Rayder wants to kill the Halfhand himself, why was I spared?  They killed everyone else. Ygritte might not have wanted me dead, but the Lord of Bones wouldn’t have cared what she thought.  I suppose it doesn’t matter whether there’s more to this or not.  In the end, we’re both dead men.  

“Should’ve joined us when you had the chance, Jon Snow.”  Jon turned and saw Ygritte smirking at him as was her custom.  Was I wrong to let her live?  The Halfhand certainly thought so and had said as much.  It was plain that sparing her was madness...and yet, Jon knew that he would’ve done it again even knowing what he knew now.  

“It’s not so bad, bein’ free, ya' know.  You’d be free to make yer own way.  When yer free and you want something, you just have to take and it’s yers'.  There wouldn’t no old men forbidin’ you from takin’ a woman neither.”  The Lord of Bones never threatened her for speaking to either of his prisoners.  For that matter, he never threatened any of the Wildlings other than Orell...at least not for doing that.  Sometimes Jon wished the Lord of Bones would keep her from talking to him.  Other times though...  No!  My father was as far from an oathbreaker as any man living or dead.  Even as a bastard, I can still honor him by living my life the way he lived his: As an honorable man.  

“I swore a vow.”  

“The boy may be a bastard, but he’s taken the black, same as the Lord Commander and I did.  Whatever we were – rapers, thieves, murderers, or bastards – it don’t matter anymore.  We’re men of The Watch now.  We keep our vows.  And we don’t butcher innocent people like pigs neither.  Course, you lot and yer oathbreaker King wouldn’t know anything about honor, would you,” snapped the Halfhand.  

“You crows always seem to have forgotten that part whenever we raid Molestown,” shouted one of the Wildlings.  

“Shut up, all of you,” shouted the Lord of Bones as they approached a large valley.  “We’re here.”  Jon looked down and saw more men than he had ever imagined could fit in a single camp.  How many of them are there?  50,000?  80,000?  100,000?  I suppose it doesn’t really matter.  The Night’s Watch wouldn’t last an hour against an army half their size.  

...  

“Mance won’t draw it out.  He may have the honor of a Frey, but he’s not the type to watch men suffer.  Wasn’t when I knew him, at least,” mumbled the Halfhand as the Wildlings led them to one of the tents near the center of the camp.  

“It doesn’t matter.  I’m not afraid to die.”  There are worse things than a clean death...

“Then you’re even dumber than you look.  There must be 100,000 of them and they’ve got at least three giants. If you’re truly not afraid, it means you’ve gone soft in the head, most like.”  

“Get in there, both of you,” snapped one of the Wildlings, shoving them into the tent.  There were many different Wildlings inside of Mance Rayder’s tent. They were gathered around a man with a long orange beard and the largest axe that Jon had ever seen. That’s Mance Rayder.  Before he could say or do anything, Qhorin turned to him and shook his head.

“Is Mance here or not?  If he’s gonna kill me, I’m past ready.  Ain’t got all bloody day.”  

“What?  That’s not Mance?”  

“You hear that, lads?  The crow thought I was The King Beyond the Wall.  You may be prettier than my daughters, boy, but I’ve seen wet shit with twice yer wits,” bellowed the bearded man.

“You’ll have to forgive Tormund.  He’s not accustomed to taking live prisoners,” said another man as he made his way to the center of the tent.  

“Mance.”  

“Qhorin.  You’ve lost some fingers since we last spoke.”  

“And you’ve lost your honor.”  

“Who is the other crow?”  

“This one is Ned Stark’s bastard.  Thought you might want him too.  There were other crows, but we killed all of 'em,” boasted the Lord of Bones.  

“You burned the bodies?”  

“Aye.”  

“Good.  I suppose the Bastard of Winterfell could be of some use.  I thank you for these fine gifts.  The two of you are lucky the Lord of Bones was the one who found you.  I’m told a group of Thenns made a meal a out Jarman Buckwell and his crows yesterday,” said the King Beyond the Wall, glancing at a large man whose face was covered in scars.  

“As fine a crow as I’ve ever tasted,” sniggered the scarred man.  

“Leave us.  Styr, Rattleshirt, the lot of you...except you Tormund.  We wouldn’t want our guests to get any foolish ideas.”  One by one, all the Wildlings except Mance and the bearded man made their way out of the tent.  

“You were never a man who relished the sufferin’ of others.  Why are we still alive,” asked the Halfhand.

“You’re right.  The Thenns always enjoyed that sort of thing.  Me, I've always figured most every man deserves a good, clean death.  We won’t be killing either of you.  Soon as the sun rises, the two of you will be given meat and fresh horses.  With luck, that’ll get the two of you to yer southron Wall before nightfall.  No harm will come to either of you today by our hands, you have my word.”  Jon had been prepared for many things, but not this.   He’d steeled himself and was ready to give his life for The Watch.  To be taken prisoner and then released unharmed...their was no honor or glory in that.  

“The word of an oathbreaker,” muttered the Halfhand, spitting at Mance Rayder’s feet.  

“Aye, the word of an oathbreaker.”

“Why would you let us go?"  

“Ah, so the Bastard of Winterfell can speak, after all.  I’ve seen you before, boy.  Did you know that?  I was one of the singers at the feast celebrating your second brother’s birth.  Went by the name of Abel, I did.  Course, you were a bit smaller then.”  That’s impossible!  How...   

“Aye.  I been to Winterfell three times since I became a free man.  Hoped to steal myself a nice, young wife last time, just like Bael the Bard did all those years ago.  I scaled The Wall, made my way to Winterfell, and sang in your father’s great hall just like he did.  I even brought a blue winter rose with me, but old Ned’s eldest daughter was still a few years young for my taste.”  Sansa?   Jon’s blood began to boil and he stepped toward the King Beyond the Wall.  

“Easy boy,” growled Tormund, raising his axe.  “Another step and I’ll cut you clean in two, you hear me?”  Jon nodded although he never broke eye contact with Mance Rayder.  

“Don’t even think about it,” snapped the Halfhand.

 “But –”  

“Don’t.  Yer not the hero of some great song; yer just a bastard at the edge of the world.  They’d kill us both before you reached Mance and no one south of The Wall would give two shits.  Not that they’d ever find out anyway.”  Robb and Arya would care...

“Let the boy be young and stupid a bit longer, Qhorin.  He’ll have plenty of time to be an old man.”  

“Not if he keeps up like that, he won’t.  Now fer the second time, why are you lettin’ us go?  Don’t imagine us bein’ friends all those years ago would keep you from killin’ us.”  

“No, I suppose not.  Those were the days though.  What I wouldn’t give to be a young man again, hungry for glory.  I was gonna be the finest ranger the Watch had ever seen, did you know that, boy?  I knew I was destined to save The Wall from a Wildling army in a battle so great that men would still sing of it a thousand years later.  Whatever else you might think about the Gods, the bastards never miss a chance to mock the dreams of young men.”  Jon continued to study the man who had named himself King Beyond the Wall.  The Halfhand was right.  Mance is a hard man, mayhaps even a ruthless one, but not cruel.  It wasn’t a trick.  If he were going to kill us, we’d already be dead.  The leader of the Wildlings neither looked nor sounding anything like Jon had imagined.  He’d expected a powerfully built warrior whose thirst for battle was matched only by his hatred for men of the Watch...someone like Tormund.  Instead, Jon had found a nostalgic King nearing old age with thick jowls and the grizzled look of a man who had seen enough suffering to fill ten lifetimes.

"Tell me, how many of us do you think there are gathered here?”

“100,000, I’d wager.”

“You always was good with numbers.”

“Some things never change, I suppose.”

“Aye.  I suppose they don’t.”

“And tell me, old friend, how long do you figure you and the rest of your crows could last against us.”

“A day, most like.  Maybe two, at most, but we’ll still die with honor.”

“I’m letting you and yer pet bastard go so you can run along to Jeor Mormont or whoever yer Lord Commander is now and tell him that an army of 100,000 Wildlings is on its way.  Ned Stark’s bastard is about as good a witness as you could hope for, I’ll wager.  When we get to the Wall, I’m goin’ to light the biggest fire the North has ever seen. After that, one of two things is going to happen.  We both know that I have more than enough men to scale the Wall.  Got more than a few men who can warg into birds and they all say The Watch doesn’t have near enough men to guard every castle.  If you make us fight you to get over the Wall, I swear by all the Gods that I’ll kill every single crow in Castle Black.  You and yer brothers will all die fighting a battle you can’t win.  Or you could open the gates and let us pass through peacefully.  I have no wish to destroy the Night’s Watch, but if we stay here; we’ll die.  Simple as that.  The lucky ones may even stay dead.  Me, I ain’t done livin’ yet.  One way or another, we’re goin’ to make it to the other side of the Wall.  How we do it is up to yer Lord Commander.”  

“Have you gone soft in the head,” snarled the Halfhand, his face twisting with rage.  “I’ve given my life to The Watch.  Those gates will stay shut even if it takes my own dead body to barricade them.  The moment we open the gates, you and yer horde of savages will come pourin' in, open our throats, and butcher us all for meat.”  

“Do you take me for a Thenn?”  

“I take you for a bloody oathbreaker.”  

“I may be an oathbreaker, but at least I was never a raper.”  

“That was a long time ago.  Before I...before I joined The Watch; I was a different man...”  

“No doubt.  And I am a different man today than the one who left The Night’s Watch.  The Starks are right.  Winter is coming.  I’ve seen it with my own eyes.  I saw them, the Others...”

“You hear that, Jon?  Mance wants to make nice 'cause the Others are comin‘ for us.  Did they bring any Grumpkins with them?” The King Beyond the Wall scowled and his jowls shook as a flash of anger rippled across his face.  The dead men at Castle Black...  

“He’s right,” said Jon.  “At Castle Black, a dead man tried to kill the Lord Commander.  I saw it...killed it by setting it on fire. Another one killed Jaremy Rykker.”  Is it still killing if the thing was already dead?  

“Quiet, boy.  It’s past time you learned when to speak and when to shut up,” snapped the Halfhand.  

“Enough.  I don’t care if either of you thinks yer Lord Commander should open the gates.  All I care about is that you bring my message to him.  Can you do that much?”  

“Yes,” Jon replied.  The Halfhand has the right of it, most like, but if there’s even a chance...  And we don’t have much choice besides.  Qhorin Halfhand nodded wearily and spat at Mance Rayder’s feet.  

“That’s second time you’ve done that.  There won’t be a third, you hear me?  Tormund find a tent for the crows and tell Wun Wun to guard them.  Doubt even the Halfhand could get the better of a giant.  I’ll be sorely disappointed if he doesn’t try though.”  

...  

During the journey to back to Craster’s Keep, Jon realized just how ill-prepared he truly was to be a ranger.  The Halfhand knew the best places to hunt...how to find a quick path and navigate the snow...everything.  I wouldn’t last two days out here on my own.  Sometimes he even wondered if it wouldn’t have been better to remain a steward.  

Eventually, they came across two of their sworn brothers just outside Craster’s Keep.  The first man – one Jon had never spoken to before – was skinning a bear.  Jon knew the second man though.  He’d never thought much of Rast, but if the man helped kill a bear this size, he couldn’t have been half so craven as he seemed.  

“Kill that thing, yerself, Karl,” asked the Halfhand.  

“Aye, I killed ‘em myself.  Tough old bastard, he was.  The Lord Commander says we had to show that daughter-fucking Wildling bastard respect so long we’re eatin' his food and livin' under his roof, so I found my own fucking food.”  

“It would’ve killed you if I hadn’t distracted it.  Damn thing nearly ripped my throat out,” grumbled Rast.  

“What was that?”  

“Nothing.”

“You sure?  Haven’t had a good fight since I was 12.  Haven’t lost since I was ten.  I’d say it’s past time.  Eh?”  

“I...I’m sorry, I –” Rast wasn’t half as scared of Ghost as he is of this man...  

“You shoulda stayed at Castle Black, you know that?  Yer twice as useless as Chett.  Never thought I’d miss that pimple-faced prick.  Even if he’s near as craven as you, the man has at least half a brain in his head.  Such men have their uses, not like you.  Dumb fuck!  Chett’s probably sitting all nice and warm and fat in Maester Aemon’s chambers while we starve and freeze out here.  What do you think of that, Rast?  I asked you a question, you limp-dicked cunt.  And I better not catch you claiming credit for killin’ that old bear again.  You hear me?  Damn right you did, you arse-faced son of a whore,” shouted Karl as Jon and the Halfhand walked away from the two men.  Seven Hells...  

...  

The Lord Commander didn’t say a word about Mance Rayder’s proposal during the rest of the journey to Castle Black, but a simple look at the Halfhand’s face made his decision plain as day.  He means to open the gates when the Wildlings come.  The Lord Commander has the right of it, no matter what the Halfhand may believe.  At least we have a chance of surviving this way...  

Alliser Thorne met them at the gates, flanked by Chett, Bowen Marsh, Othell Yarwyck, and a bald, frog-faced man whom Jon had never seen before.  Were it only Chett and Ser Alliser, their faces wouldn’t have been cause for concern.  Chett was a bitter leecher’s son who took the black after he raped and murdered a girl.  As for Thorne, Jon oft wondered if the man was even capable of smiling.  Yet Yarwyck, Marsh, and the frog-faced man wore the same grim expressions upon their faces.  

“Lord Commander,” began the frog-faced man, “I regret to inform you that Maester Aemon died two days ago.”  

“And who would you be?”

“This is Lord Janos Slynt.  A new brother, to be sure, but as honorable a man as you’ll find.  He is the former Lord of Harrenhal and was Lord Commander of the City Watch in King’s Landing before he took the black.  He helped thwart Ned Stark’s treasonous plot to seize the Iron Throne,” replied Thorne, glaring at Jon.  

“And he did such a fine job of it that they rewarded him by sending him here.  Is that the way of it?”  

“I found him dead,” Chett blurted.  “Maester Aemon, I mean.  He...he must’ve died in his sleep.”  

“For the last time, he didn’t die in his bloody sleep,” snapped Yarwyck.  “I noticed marks on the Maester’s throat like he’d been strangled.  Mutiny or not, someone murdered him.  I’m sure Chett would agree if he had half the brains the Gods gave a turnip, but what can you expect from a bloody lowborn peasant?”

Chapter Text

“I have news regarding your brother Robb’s whereabouts.  Do you wish to hear it?”  Arya studied the Lord of the Dreadfort, searching for the truth in his eyes the way Syrio had taught her, but it was no use.  The most dangerous thing about Lord Bolton was that his face never told you anything what he was thinking.  It’s probably just another trick, like the time he said that the Kingslayer murdered a member of my family.  He didn’t kill any of them though...not really.  It was just some stupid, old Karstark.  

“No, my Lord.”  They’re still at Riverrun, most like.  He’s just trying to make me waste my question again so that he can write more of his stupid messages.  Every day, Lord Bolton allowed the Lone Wolf to ask one question about anything she wanted and he’d always answer it...even if it was about the war.  But whenever she tried to ask a second question, he’d ignore her and spend the rest of the day writing messages to other Lords and he was always trying to make her waste her question.  At first Arya had hated it...then it became a ritual...now it was like they were playing some sort of strange game.  In truth, she'd come to enjoy it, even if it made little and less sense to her.  Why doesn’t Lord Bolton ever let me ask more than one question?  He doesn’t hate me.  And he never scolded me for not acting like a proper Lady either...not even once.  He’s not so bad, he just...doesn’t like to talk is all.  

“What I have learned concerns your mother as well.  If you would know where Lady Catelyn and your brother are, you need only ask.”  

“No.  That would not serve,” replied Arya, making a grumpy face and doing her best impression of Lord Bolton.  The Lord of the Dreadfort made a sound that could have been a chuckle or an annoyed grunt.  I won’t waste my question.  Not today!  I just have to ask him to make the Bloody Mummers stop hurting people.  He’ll believe me when I tell him that Robb wouldn’t want that stupid old goat to hurt the smallfolk.  

“Very well.  It matters not at all.”  

“As you say.  Elmar, bring me twelve leeches,” replied Arya.  She felt a mischievous smirk creep onto her face and couldn’t help laughing.  Father was still alive the last time I laughed at something, Arya realized and her smile began to fade.  Sansa said that she didn’t want a Prince who was brave, strong, or kind; she wanted Joffrey.  Arya had snickered at her sister’s words at the time, but the past year had turned the memory into a bitter reminder of everything that the Lannisters had stolen from her.  

Sansa has her stupid golden-haired Prince now.  She got her way again, just like she always does. If it weren’t for her, father would still be alive and...  Arya frowned and looked down at the ground in shame.  It wasn’t her fault...not really.  Joffrey, the Queen, and Ser Ilyn Payne were the ones who killed father.  I saw them.  Sansa was there too, but she hated it just as much as I did.  And she’s part of my pack besides.  Father always said that in winter the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives.  I’ll be with mother and Robb soon, and I won’t lose them ever again!  Lord Bolton said he’d take me to Riverrun as soon as it was safe.  Then we’ll rescue Sansa and kill all the Lannisters, every one.  The Lone Wolf's smile returned as she tried to imagine how Joffrey’s stupid, sneery face would look once Robb put his head on a spike.  

“Careful, girl.  You amuse me, but I fear you you may need a sharp lesson one day.  My son and my bastard both required several, much to their sorrow.  A wise man does not make mistakes; he learns from the mistakes of others.”  

“I’m not a man; I’m a girl!”  

“Be wise and mind your tongue when you speak to me, girl.”  

“Yes, my Lord,” Arya groaned, forcing herself not to roll her eyes.  He isn’t angry at me...not really.  I’d know if he was and he’d never hurt me besides.  Not while Robb's King...  Lord Bolton wouldn't try to hurt anyone in my pack...not really.  He's just...strange is all.  He even warned Robb that Tywin Lannister had sent a raven offering to make him Warden of the North if he became a turncloak and offered to find out whether the Lannisters had been sending ravens to any other Northern Lords.  Stupid Lannisters.  

Lord Bolton’s lips twisted into a thin smile.  “And it takes at least sixteen leeches to drain all of the bad blood besides.  Even Elmar Frey knows that.  The boy’s fear of leeches is a curious thing.  I’d have expected a Frey of the Crossing to be better acquainted with them than anyone else in Westeros.  Elmar himself was raised by leeches, I think.”  Arya sniggered at the thought of Elmar surrounded by a family of giant leeches.  

“Speaking of my squire,” the Lord of the Dreadfort continued, “did you know that Elmar Frey will soon be among your kin?”  

“What?”  

“King Robb has arranged a betrothal between the boy and Lady Sansa’s younger sister.  He needed to pass through the Twins and Lord Walder demanded certain...concessions.”  

“Sansa doesn’t have any other sisters.”  

“As you say.”  

“But then who...”  The Lord of the Dreadfort stared at Arya with the pale, blue eyes of a crocodile patiently watching its prey stick its head closer and closer to the water.  A flicker of amusement crept across his face as her confusion gave way to sheer panic.  Arya opened her mouth to say...something, but no sound emerged.  Her mouth simply hung open as she stared at Lord Bolton in shock.  It was though something deep within her had shattered into a million pieces and all that remained was a single thought: No!  No!  No!  No!  No!  No!  No!  No! 

“No!  Please, I...Robb, he...he wouldn’t!”  He wouldn’t force me to marry that stupid old Frey...would he?  Elmar would pretend to be nice if he wanted you to do something for him, but if you said 'no,' he’d threaten to have you whipped.  And the stupid chinless weasel never thanked you for helping him besides.  He’d never actually had anyone whipped, but Arya didn’t like being threatened.  I hate that stupid Frey and he’s craven besides.  He even soiled himself once when he had to remove some of Lord Bolton’s leeches.  Now Lord Bolton makes Elmar remove them after every leeching.  He doesn’t let him use gloves anymore either.  Arya smirked as she thought about the look of terror on Elmar Frey’s stupid, chinless face whenever he had to touch a leech.  I hope he gets killed by leeches someday, Arya thought to herself as her smirk turned into a scowl.  No, that’s stupid.  Leeches can’t kill people.  

The worst thing about Elmar was the way he kept telling the smallfolk that he’d return to Harrenhal and punish everyone he didn’t like once he’d married some stupid Princess.  If Robb is King then...  He was talking about me, Arya realized, her grey eyes burning with anger.  Did Elmar know who I was the whole time?  Was that what he meant when he said that he’d have me whipped?  No, he...he can’t have known.  He’d have told everyone by now if he did, most like.  I hate him!  Him and his stupid, weasely face!  

“In truth, it was your mother who negotiated the betrothal, but your brother accepted Lord Walder’s terms.  King Robb must needs marry a Frey too, but he’ll get to choose his bride, I think.  You mustn’t be too hard on him.  He only sold you to the Freys for a bridge because the bridge was more valuable to him.  Your brother had already given you up for dead, most like,” added Lord Bolton in a voice as soft as a whisper.  A bridge?  It was bad enough that her family had sold her to the Freys, but what hurt most was that it was just to cross some stupid old bridge.  They must have already gotten Lord Bolton’s raven.  Mother probably never even wanted me back...not really.  She’d want Sansa though...  

Arya studied her dirty, calloused hands and chipped fingernails.  Even my stupid hair is all tangled in knots, she realized, biting her lip.  The Lannisters could put Sansa’s stupid head on a spike and everyone would still be talking about how beautiful she was, most like.  Would Robb really trade me for a bridge, Arya wondered, sniffling.  No!  I will not cry.  I am a direwolf.  Direwolves don’t cry.  

“But I don’t want –”  

“It matters not at all what you want, at least...not so far as your kin are concerned.  I myself have met quite a few of our fine friends of Frey.  I even took one of Lord Walder’s granddaughters for a wife at The Twins.  I trust that you’re aware that you will be spending the rest of your life there with your new family.”

“My new family?”  

“Just as Lady Sansa went to King’s Landing after her betrothal to Joffrey, you will go to the Twins now that you have been betrothed to Elmar Frey.  You’ll never see Winterfell again, most like.”  Never?  

“I can’t even visit my family?”  But...but...that’s not fair!  Lord Bolton didn’t even have a chance to bring me back to my family first.  I can’t lose them!  Not again!  Never!  

“Your family could travel to The Twins to visit you, if they were so inclined.  In truth, it would take another war to compel your mother and brother to suffer Lord Walder’s presence, most like.  And of course, you'd need your Lord husband’s permission to leave The Twins.”  

“Elmar would never let me visit Winterfell,” Arya grumbled.  

“Mayhaps he'll permit you to visit your family in four or five years if you spend your days picking flowers in fancy dresses like a proper Princess...and pleased him when he claimed his rights as your –”  

“No!  No!  No!  No!  I won’t let him!  Never!”  

“Then I fear you will never see your family again after your wedding.  You’ll be expected to answer to ‘Princess Arya’ or ‘Princess Frey,’ most like.”  

“I’m a Stark, not a Frey.  And I don’t want to be a stupid Princess.”  

“Is your mother a Stark or a Tully?”  

“She’s a Stark, but I don’t want to be a stupid Frey.”  

“I will not chide you on that score.  I myself would not see you wed a Frey were the decision mine.”

“You wouldn’t?”  Arya hadn’t expected that, but it was good to know that there was at least one Northerner besides Jon who didn’t hate her...even if it was someone as strange as Lord Bolton.  

“No.  It would not serve for you to marry a Frey.  Of course, that matters not at all.  If you believe you can change your brother, mother, and Lord Walder’s minds, you’re welcome to try.  You’ll be wasting your time though, I think.  I should warn you that there are far worse in House Frey than Elmar.  You would not be first young girl that Ser Ryman raped after mistaking her for one of his whores.  With luck, he will be too lost in his cups to chase after you.  Ser Walder Rivers will beat you within an inch of your life if you catch him on a bad day and I fear there is never a good day with that one.  I trust you are already familiar with Ser Hosteen the Clever and brave, brave Ser Aenys.  And of course, you’d do well to avoid the one they call Black Walder.  If his brother Edwyn is to be believed, the man is quite fond of taking the wives of his kin regardless of their age.  Lord Walder knows, but it matters to him not at all.  Edwyn cares a great deal though, I think.  He would have you believe that Black Walder has already taken several of his good-mothers and raped at least one of his good-sisters.  The man is at least twenty-five years older than you, but I fear that won’t stop our fine friend of Frey if you find yourself alone in a room with him.  Your mother was never fond of you, was she?”  I will not...I will not cry.  I am a direwolf.  Direwolves don’t cry.  

“No, my Lord.  Sansa was always her favorite, but I never thought she hated me...not really.  And Robb...is it because my stitches were crooked?  I could learn to be a proper Lady like Sansa and –”  

“And it would matter not at all.”  

“Do I have to marry Elmar,” Arya asked pleadingly, even though she already knew the answer.  

“Mayhaps.”  

“Mayhaps?”  

“Yes, mayhaps.  Even if your brother wanted to, Lord Walder would never permit him to call off the betrothal that your mother so thoughtfully arranged for you, but if Elmar Frey were to die before the marriage was consummated...well...death does have way of complicating weddings.  If that happened, your brother would give you to the son of one of his bannermen, most like.  I can only imagine how awful that would be for you.  You’d have to spend the rest of your life in The North.  Worse, you would be expected to accompany your betrothed on countless trips to Winterfell.  And...well...who doesn’t dream of marrying into House Frey?”  Does he hate the Freys too?  But then why would he marry one?  Is he just...is he trying to make me feel better?   It was the last thing Arya would’ve ever expected Lord Bolton to do.  Less surprising was the fact his efforts to cheer her up involved talking about a child’s death.  I hate that stupid, weasel-faced Frey, but I don’t want him to die...not really.  It was better than nothing though and at least the Lord of the Dreadfort was trying.

“Where do you think Robb would send me if something did happen to Elmar Frey,” asked Arya, kicking at the floor.  “You said Robb would give me to one of his bannermen’s children.”  

“Had he not been killed by Theon Greyjoy, I would have said to Lord Cerwyn.  He was Lord of Castle Cerwyn and only four or five years older than you besides.  Alas, I fear a headless husband would not serve.  Of course, if your brother would see you wed a Frey, mayhaps we should not be so quick to rule the out a dead man.  Brandon Tallhart is Lord Tallhart’s heir and he too is only a few years older than you, but I doubt your brother would betroth you to an Iron Born hostage.  You would be a bit younger than your betrothed, most like.  The Smalljon has a younger brother and I imagine you would find yourself right at home among any of the mountain clans."  

“But none of them would want me...not really.  They’d just want to marry into House Stark.”  

“As you say, although my son Domeric is wise enough to know that there are worse things than a clever girl with a powerful name, I think.  One way or another, he will do as he is bid.”  Arya didn’t know what she was supposed to say to that.  It didn’t even make sense, but Lord Bolton could be very strange sometimes.  

“Thank you, my Lord.”  It seemed like the right thing to say and whatever Lord Bolton was talking about, her response seemed to please him.  “Do you think Robb would let me live at Winterfell if Elmar dies?  I could even help the servants cook and clean and –”  

“Do you truly believe he would let you do that after trading you to the Freys for a bridge?”  

“No.  I mean...no, my Lord,” Arya muttered, frowning.  The last thing she wanted to do was give Lord Bolton an excuse to call her “Princess Frey,” it was bad enough that he called her “Lady Arya” whenever she forgot to address him as “my Lord.”

“It matters not at all.  You will marry Elmar Frey as soon as you come of age and be sent to The Twins as soon as the war permits.  All you can do is pray that the boy doesn’t live to see the winter.  Of course, accidents do happen from time to time.  Mayhaps I’ll even kill him myself.  He did crush one of my leeches yesterday.”  

“Lord Bolton?”  

“Yes?”  

“You’re not really going to kill Elmar...are you?”  

“I fear you’ve already asked your question for the day.”  

“No, I didn’t.”  

“You said ‘what’ when I informed of your betrothal.  ‘What’ is a question,” Lord Bolton coldly replied.  

“No, my Lord.  I mean...I did, but I wasn’t asking a question.”  

“No?”  

“I was just...surprised is all.  It wasn’t a question though...not really.”  For a moment, the Lord of the Dreadfort studied the Lone Wolf with his pale, blue eyes.  His lips briefly twisted into what some men would have called a smile, but it was gone before Arya could say for sure.  

“You’re too smart for your own good.  Did you know that?”  

“Yes.”  Jon used to say that. 

“Though not humble, it would seem.  You also asked where your brother would send you if Elmar died, but I will indulge you in this matter.”  He’s letting me ask a second question?  

“Tell me, do you truly believe that I would murder my own squire over a leech?”  You’d kill him, just not over a leech, Arya thought to herself, but she knew better than to say so aloud.  Quiet as a mouse.  

“No, my Lord.”  

“Good.  Oh and one more thing, I received a raven from my son Domeric.  My bastard and his men have retaken Winterfell.  I'm told he took Lady Hornwood for a wife on the way although I fear she has not been seen since.  It would seem that I shall have to begin referring to my bastard as 'Lord Snow.'”  The Lord of the Dreafort’s pale, blue eyes seemed to darken with anger as soon as the words "Lord Snow" left his lips.  

“Are Bran and Rickon alive?”  

“I fear that would be a third question.  Two is more than enough for one day, I think.”  

“It wasn’t a question, I was just –”  

“Yes, yes, yes, you were simply excited by the news.  Lord Snow and his men found your brothers and...well...I will tell you the rest tomorrow.  I’m sure you’ll have plenty of questions and it would be rather cruel of me to tell you this when you can’t request any further details.”  

“Please, tell me!  I won’t ask any more questions until tomorrow.  I promise!”  A real friend would tell me...  

“Hmm.  You are their sister.  I suppose you have a right to know.  Mayhaps...hmm...I suppose...no.  I fear I’ve said far too much already.”  

“Please!  I won’t ask you anything else today!  I swear it by the Old Gods and the New.  Please, just tell me what happened to them.”  The Lord of the Dreadfort let out a loud sigh and Arya knew he’d decided to tell her about how Bran and Rickon were rescued.  Father used to sigh that way whenever he decided to let me do something unladylike.  He’d shake his head and tell me not to tell mother or Septa Mordane.  

“Very well.  But you will do as you've promised, else I shall punish you.  Is that understood?”  Arya gave the Lord of the Dreadfort her widest smile and nodded her head vigorously.  

“Thank you!  I mean...thank you, my Lord.  I’ll be as quiet as a mouse, I promise!”  Maybe Robb will let me visit Bran and Rickon before I go to The Twins...maybe.  The Lone Wolf's entire face lit up at the thought of seeing Winterfell one last time.  

“Yes, yes, very good.”  

“I’ll be the quietest person ever, you'll see!  I won’t even make another sound for the rest of the day.”  

“See that you don’t.”  

“I won’t!  Not another word!  Thank you again, my Lord.  I promise I’ll –”  

“Enough.”  

“Sorry, my Lord.  I...I didn’t mean to anger you.  I was just excited is all.”  

“You are forgiven so long as you remain silent.”  

“I will!”  Lord Bolton rubbed his forehead in frustration.  Arya wanted to ask him what was wrong, but that would be another question.  

“As I said, my bastard drove the Iron Born out of Winterfell...or at least what remains of it.  When Theon Greyjoy saw Lord Snow and his army approaching, he decided to burn it to the ground.  Ser Rodrik and Lord Cerwyn died in the ensuing battle.  As for your brothers...well...my bastard found them, but I fear the turncloak had already executed them by then.  He killed both of their direwolves, cut off their heads, and burnt their bodies to a crisp.  Theon Turncloak and his sister were both captured, and are being held at the Dreadfort as hostages.  Now then, there are other matters which require my attention and you will be silent.”  Bran and Rickon are...but...but I...NO!  They...they can’t be dead.  I was so close.  I...I...I never even got to say goodbye...  

Arya didn’t ask any more questions for the rest of the day; she simply slumped down into her seat.  Even if she'd wanted to ask Lord Bolton something else, she wouldn’t have known how to say the words.  It was as though she’d forgotten how to do anything except stare blankly at the Lord of the Dreadfort while he wrote his stupid messages.  The room grew watery and Arya felt tears rolling down her cheeks.  She tried to stop crying, but it was no use.  I sound like a stupid, scared little girl and not a wolf at all.  

...  

“Joffrey.  Cersei.  Theon.  Ser Ilyn.  The Mountain.  The Hound.  Ser Meryn.  Tywin Lannister.  Dunsen.  Polliver.  The Tickler.  Valar Morghulis.”  Arya repeated her prayer over and over again until she finally fell asleep.

When Arya closed her eyes, she was met not by darkness, but by the light of the stars in the sky.  There were no holes in her heart when she was with her pack.  The Lone Wolf felt the cool night breeze as she crept through the trees to the east of Harrenhal and looked up at the sky.  There’s a full moon.  

“Arrrroooooooo,” she howled.  Her little grey cousins answered her call one by one.  

“Arrrroooooooo.”  

“Arrooooooooo.”  

“Arrrooooooo.”  

Every time she howled, her pack grew in size.  They would never abandon Arya or give her away to any stupid Freys.  Last night, a group of men had hunted and killed five of her little grey cousins, two of them young pups.  Tonight, we will hunt, we will feast, and we will kill them all, every last one.  We will feast on their flesh and taste their fear.  I am not afraid!  Men are meat and I am the night wolf.  Her ears twitched as she listened to the sounds of the night: the owls hooting and the leaves rustling in the wind.  The breeze grew stronger and the tree branches began swaying back and forth.  She sniffed the air.  Smoke?  They’re here!  

Arya crept through the woods, her little grey cousins trailing behind her.  They followed the smell until she finally found the men.  There were only three of them this time.  The men had made a small fire and there was a dead boy at their feet.  One of the men was kneeling as if in prayer while the other two men whipped him.  Her pack quietly encircled the spot where the men had set up camp.  Arya growled and she could hear her little grey cousins doing the same.  The kneeling man shouted something and all three unsheathed their swords.  Several of her little grey cousins whimpered, but Arya wasn’t afraid.  She licked her lips and charged at the men.  

The rest of her pack came pouring out of the woods and two of the men were dead within seconds.  Arya had the kneeling man pinned to the ground, but she didn’t want to kill him right away.  I know him!  He led the men who attacked my pack last night.  He doesn't deserve the mercy of a quick death.  She snarled and bore her teeth at him.  The man wept and begged the Gods for mercy as she drooled hungrily all over his stupid face.  A foul smell filled the air as the man soiled himself.  

Arya only meant to bite his sword arm a little at first, but the taste of blood made her wild.  *CRUNCH*  She bit right through the kneeling man’s arm at the elbow.  Her little grey cousins all kept their distance, none daring to interfere while she played with her food.  The man screamed something about being a weak reed, but it didn’t matter.  She tore into his throat, gorged herself on his entrails, and supped on his flesh.  Her prey’s blood tasted sweet in her mouth and his fear sweeter still.  She looked up at the full moon and howled.  All fifty of her little grey cousins answered her – just like they always did – filling the forest with a sound more beautiful than any of Sansa’s stupid songs.  

...  

“Did you sleep well, my Lord,” asked Arya as she entered Lord Bolton’s solar.  Her mouth still tasted of blood, but the dream meat hadn’t filled her.  It never did.  The Lord of the Dreadfort regarded her with the most bloodshot eyes that she had ever seen.  

“No.  The wolves kept me up all night.  The forging party is dead too, most like.  I sent Septon Utt, Rorge, Biter, and your betrothed out into the woods last night and none of them have been seen since.  It matters not at all.  I shall see the whole pack skinned in time.”  

“Your squire?  But that means –”  

“Yes, I fear Elmar Frey is dead, most like.”  Arya didn’t know how to feel about that.  She was glad that her mother wouldn’t be able to give her away to the Freys, but she still felt guilty for having wished he’d be killed by leeches.  

“They weren’t a forging party.  Four men is too few and you wouldn’t have sent Elmar with them besides.”  Why is he lying?  He didn’t...  Arya bit her lip.  That’s stupid.  Lord Bolton wouldn’t kill his squire over some stupid leech.  Even so, the lie bothered her all the same.  

“As you say,” Lord Bolton replied mildly.  

“Then why did –”  

“Run along to the kitchens, girl.  I am of a mind to break my fast on wolf meat, four poached eggs, and eight pieces of breakfast bacon.  You may take what you wish.  Or don’t, it matters not at all.”  The Lord of the Dreadfort rubbed his eyes and yawned.  

“Yes, my Lord.”  Arya didn’t like being given commands, but it was best not to argue with Lord Bolton in the mornings.  And she didn’t want her new friend to be wroth with her besides.  

...  

Arya had almost reached the kitchens and she could smell meat cooking.  She turned a corner and walked right into Lord Vargo Hoat.  There was a time when Arya would have been afraid of the Goat of Harrenhal, but the wolf dream had left her feeling brave.  

“You’d betht watch where you’re going, you dumb bitch.  Elthe I’ll give you to Thagwell and cut off both of your feet when he ith finithed with you.”  

“You watch where you’re going, stupid.”  As Lord Bolton is here, I don’t have to be afraid of that stupid, old goat...not really.  I am a direwolf and a water dancer and the Ghost in Harrenhal.  No one here will ever make me a mouse again.  Never!  And direwolves eat goats besides.

“What did you thay? I athked you a quethtion,” snarled Lord Vargo, grabbing Arya by the throat and slamming her against the wall.  

“Lord Bolt...Lord Bolton...will,” wheezed Arya as the room began to spin.  

“Lord Bolton?  You have ten thecondth to tell me what the Theven Hellth he hath to do with thith before I cruth your windpipe,” the Lord of Harrenhal seethed, loosening his grip just enough for Arya to catch her breath.  

“Lord Bolton will want to know why you murdered one of his servants.  What do you think he’ll do to you if he finds out you killed his cupbearer?"  

“He won’t care.  He’ll find another cunt to therve him hith wine.”  

“He’ll care that you did it without his permission.”  

“Why would he protect you?  What are you to him?  Lord Bolton ith not the thort to take bedwarmerth.  Where are you from, girl?”

“I’m from Maidenpool.”  

“If any more lies come tumbling out of your cunt mouth, I’ll cut off your left hand and thove it up your arthe. You’re not even from the Riverlandth, are you?”

“Lord Bolton will cut off more than your stupid hand if you hurt me,” Arya replied in a flat voice.  Calm as still water.  The man who fears losing has already lost.  Fear cuts deeper than swords.  Fear cuts deeper than swords.  The Lord of Harrenhal studied her with his beady, little eyes and stroked his goatee with his left hand.  He’s afraid of Lord Bolton, she realized.  A few seconds later, the stupid goat threw her across the hall.  

“You’re fucking lucky to be alive, whore.  I thee you again and I’ll the drag you through each of the Theven Hellth.  Do you underthand, cunt?”  Lord Vargo stormed off before Arya could reply.  Joffrey.  Cersei.  Theon.  Ser Ilyn.  The Mountain.  The Hound.  Ser Meryn.  Tywin Lannister.  Dunsen.  Polliver.  The Tickler.  Vargo Hoat.  Valar Morghulis.  

...  

By the time Arya had finished breaking her fast, she was ready to ask her question.  

“Lord Bolton?”  

“Yes?”  

“Why haven’t you made Lord Slobber stop hacking off people’s hands and feet?  Robb wouldn’t tell you to let him do that.”  

“Lord Slobber?”

“Lord Vargo.  He tried to choke me when you sent me to the kitchens.”  

“I trust you now see why I have been loath to let you out of my sight.”  

“Yes, my Lord,” grumbled Arya.  She would never admit it, but Lord Bolton was right.  He could only protect her from the Bloody Mummers when they were in the same room.  

“Tell me, why would Lord Vargo try to choke you?  He is known as The Crippler, not The Strangler.  Did you give him cause to be wroth with you?”  Arya looked down at the ground sheepishly.

“Hmm.  I fear I cannot punish him.  It would only make him suspect that you are of value to me and that would not serve.  As to your question, you’re quite right.  Your brother merely named Vargo Hoat Lord of Harrenhal.  King Robb saw no need to concern himself with the fate of the fortress’ smallfolk, I think.”  That didn’t sound like Robb, but Arya never thought he hated her enough to make her a Frey just to cross some stupid, old bridge either.  Could Gendry have been right?  No!  Robb would never order it. He just...didn’t know was all.  

“But why don’t you stop him?  He’s afraid of you!”  

“Is he?  That is good to know.  Sadly, I fear that this is his castle.  It would not serve for me to tell him what to do with the smallfolk here.  They are his property, I think.”  

“The smallfolk are people too.”  

“Mayhaps.”  

“And you don’t have to send them to Qyburn besides.  Vargo doesn’t –”  

“Lord Vargo.”  

“Lord Vargo doesn’t send people to the rookery, you do.  Gendry said that Qyburn does horrible things to people up there that make them scream all night long.”  

“Who is Gendry?”  

“No one, my Lord.”  

“Hmm.  Whoever he is, he is quite mistaken.  Qyburn does not torture prisoners.”  

“But...what happens in the rookery then?”  

“That would be a second question.”  

“You didn’t answer the first one.”  

“Very well.  I shall take you there right now, if you wish.  You can see for yourself...”  

“Now?”  

“Yes.  Now.”  

“I...umm...but I...I mean...”  

“It’s quite alright if you’re afraid.  It matters not at all.  A Princess shouldn’t concern herself with such matters, I think.”  

"I don’t want to be a stupid Princess and I’m not afraid!”  Fear cuts deeper than swords.  Fear cuts deeper than swords.

Chapter Text

“But Your Grace –”  

“The Red Woman will accompany me when we sail for King’s Landing, Ser Davos.  I have made my decision.  You will command the royal fleet when the time comes.”  

“Begging your pardon, Your Grace, but I’m hardly qualified to lead five ships into battle, much less your entire fleet.  I was only a lowly smuggler before I entered your service and –”  

“And now you are a knight.  You have your orders, Ser,” replied the King, grinding his teeth as he studied the map of Blackwater Bay stretched out across the table.  

“Yes, Your Grace.”  

“Bah.  Once a smuggler, always a smuggler.  If Davos is too craven –”  The King cut off Ser Imry Florent with a loud sigh.  Another word and I’ll kill you myself, you bloody half-wit.  

“Ser Davos. He is a knight, Ser Imry."  

“Mayhaps in title, Your Grace, but I know his type all too well. He’ll sing pleasant songs of loyalty when times are good, aye.  But he’ll be the one burying a knife in your back the second our fortunes take a turn for the worse.”  

“Even if that were that true, he’d still be worth ten of you, Ser.  Now, leave us.  You as well, Ser Davos.  You have your orders.  I trust you will do your duty when the time comes.”  Ser Imry held his tongue, but his bitter scowl spoke volumes.  

“Always, Your Grace.”  

“And what of the Princess Shireen, Your Grace?  Every victory requires a –”  However valuable the Lady Melisandre might be to his cause – whatever powers she might have – the King had no intention of letting her finish that sentence.

“I told you never to speak of that again,” snapped Stannis, glaring at his red shadow.  The Lady Melisandre gave him a cold stare and the ruby on her neck began to glow.  She is displeased.  Very well.  Much and more displeases me every day and I suffer it all the same.  I never wanted to be King, but great or small, we all must needs do our duty when the time comes.  All the same, I’ll be damned if I’m going to burn my own blood on a whim.  Robert’s bastard was one thing, but this...  A sacrifice may be required, but I’ll have no more talk of King’s blood and dead little girls.  There must be another way.  The King ground his teeth as Ser Imry and the Onion Knight left the room.  

“Is it wise, Your Grace, to grant such an honor to a known heathen who has done little and less for your cause and seems content to spend his days spewing the foulest of blasphemies against the one true God,” asked Lord Alester Florent.  

Listening to the collection of two-faced, half-wits gathered before him question the honor of the only man in his service worth a damn had begun to wear on the King.  Mayhaps the Lord of Light will give me cause to watch the lot of you burn someday...  

“Leave me, all of you.”  One by one, the pompous, imbecilic lickspittles did as they were bid.  The Lady Melisandre stayed though.  She always knew when he required her presence.  She knows a great many things...  The Red Woman waited until everyone else had left the room to speak.  

“Your blood runs through the girl’s –”  

“I don’t care if she has King’s blood.  If we're all die, so be it, but I will not watch her burn.  Princess Shireen is my daughter and you’ll not speak of this again.  You say your God lives inside me?  Well your bloody fire God just gave you an order.  I agreed to bring you with me, is that not enough,” growled the King.  

“Great miracles require great sacrifices, Your Grace.”  

“And what of my blood?  Find a bloody leech.”  

“That will not be enough to ensure a victory, Your Grace.”  

“No?  What is it enough for?”  

“Favorable tides.  You could reach King’s Landing in a week using four leeches.”  

“Fine.  It shall be done.”  The Lady Melisandre gave Stannis a pitying look.

“Your fires burn low, Your Grace.  Do you doubt the power of the Lord of Light?”  Of course.  Stannis simply frowned and ground his teeth as the Red Woman approached him.

“Let me show you his power,” she whispered in his ear. The Lady Melisandre took one of the King’s hands and led him towards one of several candlestick holders in the room.

“Is the Lord of Light going to tell me why I can’t stop thinking of my brother’s bloody peach,” asked Stannis.  

“You are strong enough to see the truth with your own eyes, Your Grace. Look deep into the flames.  Do you see it?”  

“See what?  All I see is candlelight flickering.”  

“Keep looking, Your Grace.”  

“I still don't...”  Suddenly, he saw it; with each flame came a new image.  First, Lord Florent drove a sword through his back.  Seconds later, Stannis saw himself sitting upon the Iron Throne.  Suddenly, a great castle came crashing to the ground as flames came down from the above the clouds like some sort of divine inferno.  The fire turned green as The Rat Cook filled his goblet with blood while a wounded lion clawed open its own throat as men great feast...a feast where every glass was filled with blood.  A huntsman filled a whimpering wolf with arrows.  Another wolf – this one only a young pup – had curled up in a ball as it slept in a skinless man's lap and happily wagged its tail as it snored.  A dragon opened its mouth to devour its enemies...only to breath blood rather than fire and fall to the ground...dead.  A young stag and a second wolf pup locked eyes in some secret forest, but whether they were friend or foe, the King could not say.  Suddenly, the flames shot upward and the King saw a large dragon dueling with another slightly smaller one, although whether this was a vision from the past or the future, he could not say.  The first dragon had size, but the second was faster and danced around its foe.  Stannis strained his eyes, but he could not tell who was riding either beast.  The flames turned blue and there they were: An undead army marching upon the North – thousands of them, as far as the eye could see – as The Wall came crashing to the ground.  Suddenly, the candle went out.  

“What...what the Seven Hells was that?”  

“That is why we must prevail.  The Enemy and his Cold Children are coming.  Your daughter has King's blood flowing through her veins.”  

“No.”  

“You have seen the truth with your own eyes and yet you still doubt the Lord of Light's power?”  

“No, I do not doubt him.  Not anymore...no man could after seeing what you just showed me.”  

“I showed you nothing, Your Grace.  The one true God lights a path to guide us through the darkness.  We need only follow it when the time comes.”  

“The girl...she is my daughter.”  

“Most men will only be soldiers in the war to come.  The Princess can be so much more in death than any of them could ever hope to be in life.  The Lord of Light gave her to you for a reason, Your Grace.  Your daughter can die for the realm or she can die along with it.”  

“I won’t say it again, no.  I will not see my daughter harmed...not by you nor by anyone else.  You’ll have enough King’s Blood to get us to the capitol.  And the Lord of Light will have three sacrifices.  There are three bastards in King’s Landing and Robert Baratheon’s blood runs through each of their veins.  I will see Robb Stark dead.  I will see Balon Greyjoy dead.  I will see Tywin Lannister dead.  And I will see any other man who would make my kingdom bleed dead.  We sail for King’s Landing tomorrow morning.  Tonight, Lord Alester will burn.”  The Red Woman smiled.

Chapter Text

“Harrenhal ith my cathle.  Mine!  The thmallfolk and prithonerth are mine to do with ath I pleathe.  Roothe Bolton himthelf gave me the fucking title and yet that leech-loving cunt expecth me to athk hith permithion before harming any of hith thervanth.  I am the Lord of Harrenhal and the thmallfolk are my property, not hith!  That blue-eyed thit had betht get uthed to that before I turn him into one of thothe flayed men he loveth tho much,” growled Lord Vargo, slobbering all over the floor of the rookery as spoke.  Mayhaps you should tell him so...  

“As you say, my Lord,” Qyburn replied, nodding politely.  He had never cared for Vargo Hoat, even before the fool began interrupting his work with daily tirades about whatever slights he believed he’d suffered.  Qyburn had tolerated the ignorant boor because Lord Vargo – whatever his faults – was among the few who'd ever allowed him to indulge his curiosity, but the man was near as bad as the Maesters in his way.  Was there ever a man so lacking in imagination as this one?  He has had the services of a truly learned man at his disposal for years and all he could think to do with them was have me check women for disease before he raped them.  And even then, he'd still end up raping the diseased ones as often as not.  At least Lord Vargo comes by his ignorance honestly which is more than can be said for the Maesters, I suppose.  Mayhaps I could have forgiven his lack of intellectual curiosity, but the wastefulness...  The man must have discarded hundreds of perfectly good hands and feet.  Does he think they grow on trees?  

“I thould have fed Roothe Bolton to that bloody bear along with Amory Lorch.  Who the fuck doeth he think he ith?  How dare that thon of a whore place my property under hith protection?”  

“You know how Northerners are, my Lord,” answered Qyburn, playing the kindly, deferential old man as was his custom.  Vargo Hoat may hold the title 'Lord of Harrenhal,' but even a blind man could see that the castle belongs to Lord Bolton in every way that matters.  Even The Goat plainly fears the Leech Lord, else he would’ve tried to kill the man a long time ago.  Can he truly be foolish enough to believe that I would keep a word he tells me from Lord Bolton?  If the Leech Lord didn't find provoking the fool so amusing, our mighty Lord of Harrenhal would be dead already, most like.  The Starks would not grieve for the leader of Brave Companions any more than the Lannisters would.  Even so, it would not do for me to make an enemy of the man.  He is still dangerous in his way.  

“I know their kind all too well, aye.  Bunch of brooding, thutck-up cunth.  I thould put Roothe Boltonth bloody head on a thpike,” bellowed the Goat of Harrenhal.  Roose Bolton.  There is a man I can be proud to serve.  A wise man who understands the value of my work.  He has promised that once he brings me back to the Dreadfort, I shall never want for live subjects to experiment on.  It was folly to try to ingratiate myself to him by offering him a bedwarmer.  Lord Bolton had the woman fed until she could eat no more and then instructed me to slice open her belly so that he could see what happened to food after a person ate it.  It was in that moment that Qyburn knew he had found a kindred spirit in the Lord of the Dreadfort.  

“Not even Lord Boltonth bloody cupbearer treath me with rethpect.  That ugly little cunt told me to watch where I wath going after bumping into me.  The dumb bitch even threatened me when I began to dithcipline her.  Apparently that bathtard ith telling the thmallfolk that I can’t hurt them without hith permithion.”  

“His cupbearer?  Was the girl’s name 'Nan,' my Lord?”  

“Ith that the whoreth name?”  

“I believe so, my Lord.”  A false name, most like.  Lord Bolton does a good job hiding her, but not half so good a job as he believes.  And isn’t that a curious thing, come to think of it?  It was not unheard of to see Nan outside of Lord Bolton’s solar, although the girl would always scamper away the moment she saw one of the Brave Companions.  That alone would have been unremarkable, but there were flashes of defiance he’d seen her direct at Walton Steelshanks.  It was almost as though she didn’t fear the man at all.  That would’ve been strange enough, but rather than punishing Nan for her insolence, Walton oft behaved deferentially on such occasions...almost as though she outranked him.  Lord Bolton’s orders, no doubt.  Mayhaps Walton was assigned to watch over the girl, but why?  Roose Bolton plainly has little and less interest in bedwarmers of any age.  I wonder...  

“The cunt ithn’t really from Maidenpool.  Did you know that?  What ith that girl to Lord Bolton?  If I knew that, I could find a way to get rid of her.  I jutht need to convince the bloody Leech Lord to let me and I can’t do that unleth I know why he ith protecting her.”  In truth, I can’t say I blame Lord Vargo for hating the girl.  I fear she will have to be dealt with...one way or another.  Before Nan became his cupbearer, Lord Bolton would send me as many subjects as I required and oft asked to observe my work himself.  I fear he has grown more cautious of late.  He still sends me what subjects he can, to be sure, but not half so many as he used to.  Lord Bolton plainly does not wish for the girl to know that he permits me to experiment upon prisoners and why would such a thing concern him unless the girl were some highborn Lady whose delicate sensibilities he did not wish to offend?  One would think the safest course of action would be to send the girl away or at least make her identity common knowledge were that the case.  It doesn’t really matter, I suppose.  She will have to be disposed of...sooner rather than later, most like.  Lord Bolton is sending me fewer subjects and this has slowed the pace of my work.  That will not serve.  Roose Bolton may be a wise man with the right instincts, but I fear he is still a Lord.  And even the wisest Lord will always stray from the path to enlightenment if doing so will provide him with the smallest advantage when playing the game of thrones.  It is a folly, of course.  The game, power, honor, family, compassion, love...merely distractions, nothing more.  The quest for knowledge – true knowledge – is all that matters and the work must needs continue, whatever the cost.  

Suddenly, the door to the rookery swung open and Lord Bolton entered the room.  “Nan” stuck her head through the door and cautiously followed behind him like a frightened young pup.  The moment Qyburn looked at her, Nan’s eyes grew wide with fear.  She is terrified of me.  One should be grateful for life’s small pleasures, I suppose.  Mayhaps Lord Bolton has no further need of her and has brought me a new subject.  He so enjoyed watching me cut prisoners on various parts of their bodies to see how long it took for men to bleed out after being wounded in different places.  Men bleed quickly once they’ve been unmanned, but I have oft wondered if that is entirely incidental or due to the gender-specific structures on the male body.  I could perform more interesting experiments on her, I suppose, but mayhaps it would be a polite gesture to cut the girl just above the groin.  I imagine Lord Bolton would find it most amusing.  

Every trace of fear vanished from the “Nan’s” face the moment her sad, grey eyes made their way to Lord Vargo.  This was a different sort of defiance than the one Qyburn had seen her display around Walton Steelshanks.  Anger burned in the girl’s eyes like wildfire.  A man could not survive among the Brave Companions for a week, much less seven years, unless he knew how to read other men and Qyburn had learned to do so long before the Maesters expelled him from The Citadel for the crime of possessing an inquiring mind...for daring to seek the answers to life’s great questions.  The things I’ve learned by studying the living could’ve saved thousands of lives were it not for those cowardly, weak-willed fools.  With the proper resources, mayhaps I could have even cured death itself by now.  I’ve already brought birds back from the dead.  Why not men?  I fear the Maesters would see us all blinded by ignorance rather than providing the world with even a touch of illumination.  

“Lord Vargo tried to choke me to death this morning, m'Lord,” whimpered “Nan,” plainly doing her best to sound like a frightened child.  “I know I should have been watching where I was going.  I didn’t mean to bump into him.  I was sorry, m'Lord; I really was!  I tried to beg Lord Vargo’s forgiveness, but before I could he...he grabbed me by the throat and –”  

“You lying, horthe-faced, little cunt...”

 “Nan” glared at the Goat of Harrenhal for a few seconds almost as though something he'd said made her briefly forget that she was supposed to be playing the scared, innocent little girl.  The Lord of the Dreadfort yawned.  

“Are you finished wasting my time or would you force me to have your tongue out,” asked Lord Bolton mildly.  Ripping out tongues.  How utterly predictable.  We both know that you are a far more creative man then that, my Lord.  Qyburn – knowing better than to speak his mind regarding this matter – simply sighed in disappointment.  

“Sorry, m'Lord.  I wouldn’t have said anything at all, it’s just...Lord Vargo disrespected you is all.  I tried...I really tried to tell him that he wasn’t supposed to hurt your servants without your permission, but he said he could hurt whoever he wanted.  The stup...I mean...Lord Vargo grabbed me by the throat and said he’d crush my windpipe.”  Roose Bolton hid his emotions better than anyone Qyburn had ever met, but even his face could be read like an open book if you knew the language it was written in.  At least someone here is enjoying themselves...  At this rate, I fear we might even see Lord Bolton laugh.  

“Thut your lying mouth right now and maybe I won’t fuck you bloody with a hunting knife before I dip you in boiling oil.  Lord Bolton doethn’t need to hear any more of your lieth, dumb bitch.”  

“I don’t?  Am I to understand that you now presume to speak for me, Lord Vargo.”  

“No, I...I beg your forgiveneth, my Lord.”

“Very well, I shall forget your insolence this once, Lord Vargo.  Of course, if you continue to prove yourself unable to act the Lord, I fear you will force me to find out if another man in your company can.  Go on, Nan, finish your tale.”  

“I would, m'Lord.  It’s just...it seemed to be making Lord Vargo angry is all.  I’d never want to do anything to upset him...not really.”  

“Nonsense.  Vargo Hoat is a Lord in name alone; you needn’t concern yourself with what he thinks.  And he was enjoying your story besides, wasn’t he?”  The Lord of Harrenhal ground his teeth, clenched both of his hands into fists, and nodded his head.  “I fear you’ll have to speak up if you expect anyone to hear you.”  

“Yes, I was enjoying it very much, my Lord,” growled Vargo Hoat.

“Good.  You see, Nan, he doesn’t mind.  Now then, how else did Lord Vargo disrespect me?”  The girl is a terrible liar and a fool to draw such attention to herself, although I have no doubt the Goat attacked her.  Why is she still alive?  Lord Bolton must know she is not providing a true account of whatever happened and yet he has plainly chosen to side with her over Lord Vargo.  The whole business grows stranger with every word.  Sadly, I have no time for such curiosities   This should be settled elsewhere.  I need the rookery to do my work.  I require silence.  Is it not enough that Lord Vargo contaminates my workspace with his slobber on a daily basis? 

“I tried to tell him that your servants are your property, m'Lord.  He said...he said that what you thought didn’t matter because he was the Lord of Harrenhal and promised to beat me bloody.  When I told him that he needed your permission to hurt me, he threw me across the hall.  I hit my head on the ground.  It hurt, m'Lord,” whimpered “Nan,” rubbing her head.  

“I want that lying cunt punithed!  I’ll rip your lying tongue out of your mouth!  Do you hear me, you ugly little thlut?”  

“Yes, yes, yes, you’re quite right, Lord Vargo.  The girl will need to be disciplined, but not by you, I think.  As it happens, I am of a mind to do so right now.”  Lord Vargo’s smile is curious, to say the least.  I suppose I shall have to experiment upon prisoners mouthes.  I would not have thought a man could smile so widely.  I wonder...how far can a person’s lips stretch before they begin to rip.  The man is missing a few teeth.  Mayhaps I should pull out some from the back of my subjects’ mouthes to get more complete results.  Of course, that could artificially influence the outcome of the experiment.  Decisions, decisions...  

“Nan, you should have been watching where you were going.”  

“I’m sorry, m’Lord.  I really am!”  

“Liar,” hissed the Goat of Harrenhal.

“Very well, you will apologize to Lord Vargo and we shall consider the matter settled.”  Fascinating.  

“Yes, m’Lord,” grumbled Nan.  The girl took several steps toward the Goat of Harrenhal, but her eyes were fixed upon Qyburn.  “I’m sorry I walked into you, m’Lord.  I didn’t mean to scare you...not really.  I just...forgot to watch where I was going is all.”

“The girl has apologized, Lord Vargo.  Now you will accept her apology, I think.”

“I’ll do no thuch thing.”  

“Tell me, my Lord, are you left-handed or right-handed?  It matters not at all.  If you disobey me again, I will decide for you,” Lord Bolton calmly replied.

“I accept your apology,” muttered the Goat of Harrenhal.  

“Thank you, my Lord.  I never meant to upset you...not really.  I know!  I can show how to pronounce the letter ‘s.’  It’s not hard.  Even a half-wit can do it with enough help.  You'd probably just...need more help than usual is all.”  'My Lord?'  That answers one question, I suppose.  The child of some Westerlands Lord mayhaps?  No, that can’t be it.  She’d be in a cell were that the case and Lord Bolton would never indulge a Northern Lordling half this much, let alone a hostage.  

“Mock me all you want, but you will come to rue thith day.  You’ll be dead, thoon enough.  You can’t even begin to imagine the thingth that I’m going to do to you once Lord Bolton leaveth Harrenhal.  I’ll have you begging me to thkin you alive in five minuteth.  Once Lord Boltonth thtay at Harrenhal endth, tho will your life.  Do you underthtand?”  

“You’ll do no such thing, Lord Vargo.  I am of a mind to bring the girl with me when I depart from Harrenhal.  She will remain my cupbearer for as long as I see fit.  I trust there are no objections.”  

“No, my Lord.  The cunt ith yourth.”  Suddenly, “Nan” did something that shocked Qyburn.  The girl smirked at Vargo Hoat and stuck her tongue out at him, albeit only for a second.  

“I’ll kill you, you bathtard,” roared the goat, unsheathing a knife from his belt.  A bastard?  Could she be some baseborn child of Lord Bolton’s whom he feels responsible for?  She certainly has a Northern look, that much is certain.  No, the girl is too old to have been born during the war and if she were born before it, he’d have left her at the Dreadfort.  And "Nan" has none of his features besides.  

“Lord Bolton, the girl thaid ‘my Lord’ a moment ago.  I knew the wathn’t from the Riverlandth and –”  

“Enough.  Lord Vargo, leave us.  Now,” growled Lord Bolton in a voice as sharp as a knife.  Not amused anymore, are we, my Lord?  Vargo Hoat stormed out of the room.  As soon as the Goat of Harrenhal left the rookery, Lord Bolton whacked “Nan” in the back of the head with his right hand.

“OWW!  HEY!  What was that for?”  

“Even a whipped dog will bite if you kick it too often.  Thanks to that display of yours, the fool knows you are highborn.  And you’re a far better liar than that, I think.”  Lord Bolton trusts me enough to speak of such things in my presence?  That is good to know.  

“But you said the best way to get revenge on enemies you couldn’t kill was to play games with them.  And I didn’t lie...not really.  I just...changed a few things is all.  And you were doing the same thing to him besides,” replied “Nan.”  Lord Bolton’s lips twisted into a thin smile and he nodded approvingly.  

“I will not chide you on that score, but you must needs be more careful.  Lord Vargo fears me, but he would think nothing of butchering you.  A wise man only plays such games as he can win.  Remember that, Nan.”  He speaks to her like a man teaching his son...and a firstborn son at that.  Mayhaps the girl is Lord Bolton’s bastard after all and simply takes after her mother.  The daughter he never wanted, so to speak.  What other explanation could there be?  

“But Lord Vargo can’t hurt me...not really.  You wouldn’t let him.”  Did the girl stumble upon the aftermath of one of my experiments?  Is that why she keeps looking at me like that?  Lord Bolton plainly intends to legitimize her.  It would not serve for young Nan to become Lady of the Dreadfort someday should her half-brother ever die.  If she fears and mistrusts me this much already, she would never allow me to continue my work at the Dreadfort if I am still alive whenever Domeric dies.  And I very much intend to be.  The message from the blue-eyed raven promised me the secret to immortality if I followed its master’s instructions, after all.  The first raven Qyburn re-animated had flown out the rookery’s window only to return in a week with blue eyes and the first of several messages he’d secretly exchanged with his other master...one from beyond The Wall.  I can only imagine the knowledge they’ve gained after all of these years.  He promised to tell me secrets as old as time itself.  As the Starks are so fond of reminding us, winter is coming, Qyburn thought to himself with a smile.  

“And what if you should come across him again when I’m not around?  Who will protect you then?”  

“Sorry, my Lord.  I just...wanted to get back at him for hurting me is all.  I thought you’d be proud of me.”  

“Then there will be no more outbursts?”

“No, my Lord,” mumbled Nan, looking down at the floor of the rookery and biting her lip.  Nan Snow.  It is odd that he would bring her with him, but it is no stranger than his fondness for leeches, I suppose.  Roose Bolton may be the wisest Lord in the Seven Kingdoms, but he is a most peculiar man.  It would explain why he has taken such pains to hide her identity.  Vargo Hoat would think nothing of kidnapping the girl and using her as a hostage...or rather, trying to use her as one.  That’s the answer right there.  No, no, the Goat has to die along with the bastard.  It would not serve for him to gain any leverage over Lord Bolton.  I fear Lord Vargo is far too much of a loose cannon to ever be a suitable patron and he has scant appreciation for my work besides.  

“Good.  You did a fine job of toying with Lord Vargo though, I think.  I fear I’ve never been able to enrage the fool half so much as you did.”  Nan’s entire face lit up like a candle the moment those words left the Lord of the Dreadfort’s mouth.  All bastards crave their father’s approval, I suppose.  This one is plainly so desperate for a pat on the head from hers that Lord Bolton could probably make her his pet were he so inclined.  

“Qyburn.”  

“Yes, my Lord?”  

“My cupbearer seems to believe that you are torturing prisoners in the rookery.  I trust that you can dispossess her of such foolish notions.”  And the humiliations continue.  It would seem that I have been reduced to sanitizing my work for highborn bastards.  'Sanitize.'  A maester’s word if there ever was one.  

“Of course, my Lord.  Little girl, I merely ensure that the prisoners remain free of disease.  You wouldn’t want any of your little friends getting sick, would you?”  The girl gulped audibly and bit her lip.  “Come now, little one, do I truly frighten you so?  Would you like a chocolate plum?”  Surely there must be one around here that isn’t drugged.  Candy is the best way to test the effects of different poisons on small children, that much is certain.  Nan shook her head vigorously and took several steps back.  Stubborn little thing, aren’t you?  Yes, I’m afraid you’ll have to go.  The bastard looked up at her father pleadingly, but the Lord of the Dreadfort simply yawned at her.  

“Can we...can we go now, my Lord?  I believe him; I...I really do!  Can we please go back to your solar,” begged Nan, her fingers twitching nervously at her sides.  Qyburn smiled gently at the sad, grey eyes staring at him, each as wide with fright as a full moon.  I suppose the best course of action would be to persuade Vargo Hoat to kill the girl, but how?  The Gods alone know what he’d do if he knew Nan was Lord Bolton’s bastard, and one likely to be legitimized, no less.  I will have to convince him that she is some other highborn, I suppose.  Hmm...  The girl has a Northern look and she is of more or less the right age, if Lord Bolton’s raven can be believed.  Yes, that should be simple enough.  

“Do you know why I have Lannister men killed in the rookery, Nan,” asked the Leech Lord.  

“No, my Lord.”  

“Men fear most that which is born of their own imagination.  The prisoners hear screams from the rookery and, like you, they fill their heads with all the ways men could be tortured in this room.  Some fools even say Qyburn performs black magic.  They come to fear the rookery far too much to ever dream of disobeying me.  Do you understand, Nan?”  

“I think so, my Lord.”

“Then I will hear no more of this ‘Gendry’s’ wild tales about the rookery?”  I know that look, Qyburn thought to himself as he forced himself to contain his excitement.  Whoever 'Gendry' is, I fear he is not long for this world.  Not if Lord Bolton has anything to say about it, at least.  It would appear that I'll get a new subject today after all... 

“No, my Lord.”  

“Good.  In that case, we may return to my solar as you requested.  I’m sure Qyburn has little and less time for such interruptions.”

“The work continues, my Lord.”  For you and for the King Beyond The Wall...  

...  

“I thould kill them both.  Dumb bathtardth!  Lord Bolton knew the bitch wath lying.  A blind man could have theen it,” snarled Lord Vargo.  

“As you say, my Lord.  I have news which may interest you though.  You were quite right; the girl is indeed highborn.  I learned her identity from a message that Lord Bolton had me write,” replied Qyburn.  

“What?  You know who the ith?”  

“Yes, my Lord.  She’s not from the Riverlands either.  You were most clever to realize it.”  

“Why would you tell me any of thith?”  

“I fear you more than Lord Bolton.  And I have seen how he treats his friends when they are of no more use to him.  He favors a little girl because he has need of her, despite everything you have done for him.  I imagine he’ll discard me too when the time comes, mayhaps even violently.  And I would like to think that you are a man who remembers his friends...”  

“You are a withe man.  Who ith the cunt?  Tell me!”  And you are brutish, violent, and stupid.  A perfect catspaw!  

“The girl is Arya Stark.  Lord Bolton sent a raven to her brother informing the King Who Lost The North that he'd found His Grace's younger sister.”  If you had half the wits the Gods gave a turnip, you’d laugh me out of Harrenhal.  Arya Stark.  The girl is rotting in a cell somewhere in King’s Landing, most like.  

“The Lannitherth have her.  Lord Bolton once thaid they wanted to trade the two Thtark bitcheth for the Kingthlayer.”  

“Apparently the girl disappeared when the Lannisters seized the Iron Throne.  It doesn’t matter, I suppose.  Robb Stark has already lost the war, most like.”  

“He hath won every battle.”  

“Winterfell is a pile of rubble.  Tywin Lannister is rumored to be negotiating an alliance with the Tyrells.  Don’t you see the writing on the wall?  Of course you do, you’re a...wise Lord.”  It took all of the former maester’s self-control to say the last two words with a straight face.  

“Lord Karthtark will protect me if I can capture the Kingthlayer.  The boyth mother releathed him.  Dumb bitch.”  

“But why take a chance?  What if you never find the Kingslayer?  Surely the Lannisters will pardon you for your company’s betrayal if you return such a valuable hostage to them.  Mayhaps they will even pay you a ransom.  The Lannisters always pay their debts, my Lord.  It would be simple enough to break into the room across from Lord Bolton’s chambers one night and kidnap the girl, I think.”  Qyburn could practically see the gears turning inside the goat’s head.  

“It would be thimple enough, aye.  When the Lannitherth retake Harrenhal, I thall thee to it that they thpare your life, my friend.”  How sweet it is to kill two birds with one stone.  Soon I shall have Lord Bolton’s undivided attention once more and you will never drool in my rookery again.

Chapter Text

The Last Lion.  That will be my legacy if I cannot bring the Tyrells back into the fold.  The histories will remember me as the man who was Lord of Casterly Rock on the day that we ceased to be a great house.  Men will not remember who it was that re-built House Lannister brick by brick, nor will they remember the names of the monsters whose madness has consumed each of the seven kingdoms.  One way or another, they will all remember the name ‘Tywin Lannister.’  A hundred years from now, every man in the seven kingdoms will know me as either the man who restored order during Westeros’ darkest hour or as a weak, old man whose foolishness led to the destruction of the greatest House the world had ever seen, Tywin realized as he rode into Tumbler’s Rush with his host.  The Tyrells must be made to see reason.  This is a war for something more important than survival.  All men must die, after all.  It is a war for my name...my legacy.  

In truth, there was ample reason to think Mace Tyrell was already favorably predisposed towards the idea of declaring for the King on the Iron Throne.  Lord Tyrell had requested the meeting, for one thing.  More importantly, the Tyrells plainly had no intention of allying with the Starks...not after Ser Robett Glover's host was nearly wiped out at Duskendale.  It is only a matter of time before the Starks decide that they doesn’t need House Frey’s support.  If Lord Baelish is to believed, Lady Margaery never consummated her marriage to that sword-swallowing abomination from Storm’s End and once Renly died, I was certain Robb Stark would offer the Tyrells a marriage alliance.  The boy may have won every battle, but he plainly knows little and less about what it means to rule.  As I suspected, Robb Stark is simply a green boy, nothing more and nothing less.  Baelish was right about him...

Baelish.  The name alone was enough to make the Lord of Casterly Rock grind his teeth in anger.  Any man who must needs count that snake amongst his friends is truly lost.  The man did as he promised and safely delivered Prince Tommen to Casterly Rock, but he is no mere copper-counter and that riot could've easily led to Cersei or my nephew's deaths besides.  That up-jumped peasant from the Vale has climbed higher and higher above his station with each passing day.  Such a man will never be satisfied, most like. 

It was known that the smallfolk – and Littlefinger would always be one of them at heart, no matter how many titles he accumulated – were all ambitious, greedy beasts with scant honor and only the lowest sort of cunning.  Whatever the man may be, he has at least proven himself reliable.  More than most of my false friends can say, I suppose.  Tommen is safe and House Lannister will have a King to fight for even if Stannis Baratheon manages to temporarily take the capitol.  A debt was owed and now I must needs suffer him as the Lord of Harrenhal.  Whatever titles Baelish may hold, neither Gods nor men will ever compel me to acknowledge that man as a Lord in anything but name.  I’d sooner see Tyrion turn Casterly Rock into his own personal whorehouse.  All the same, so long as Littlefinger continues to make himself indispensable, I must needs suffer the man, his japes, and his flesh peddling.  I imagine Tyrion and him are inseparable.  Aside from their names, the only real difference between the two of them is their height.  That and the fact that Littlefinger didn’t murder his mother to come into the world.  I suppose it is fitting that he chose a mockingbird as his sigil.  The very idea that a man of such low birth could rise so far is a mockery of the natural order of the world, to say nothing of Varys.  That man lacks even Baelish’s thin veneer of nobility.  

There will be time enough to deal with both of them later.  For now, I must needs focus on Lord Tyrell.  He can’t mean to wed his daughter to Robb Stark.  Not after Mathis Rowan put thousands of the boy’s men to the sword at Duskendale.  It was admittedly a disgrace that such a large Rowan host had managed to make its way to the Crownlands and back nearly undetected, but the Lord of Casterly Rock could hardly complain about the outcome.  

In truth, Duskendale was the first good news Tywin had received since Jon Arryn died.  There had been rumors that Robert Baratheon would name him Hand of the King, but instead the drunken fool gave the office to Ned Stark.  In the end, King Robert the Fat learned what came of sending a soldier to do a Lord’s job and yet for all that Tywin hated the man, the Stag’s death brought him no joy.  It was plainly the final nail in the coffin of stability.  Before long, Robb Stark and both of Robert’s brothers had declared themselves Kings, and the one true King plainly lacked the wits the Gods gave a turnip.  What madness could’ve possibly possessed the boy to execute Ned Stark instead of sending him to the Wall?  It was Cersei’s doing, most like.  I should have known it was a folly to send Tyrion to bring her to heel.  I imagine the King is a weak-willed fool who simply obeys his mother without question while that spiteful creature The Seven inflicted upon my house lies drunk in some whorehouse.  That is all that ever comes of giving a woman any real power or responsibility: madness.  Madness and stupidity.  Women are weak, vain, and petty creatures whose lack of foresight is matched only by their inability to control their emotions.  That has been true for a thousand years and it will still be true a thousand years from now.  I’ll see to it that my grandson learns that lesson once I’ve finished winning his war for him.  

...

There were two men seated in front of the Lord of Casterly Rock.  The fat one sitting on the left and grinning like an idiot was plainly Lord Tyrell.  Lord Tarly was sitting to the fat fool’s right and his unflinching scowl gave Tywin hope that the Lord of Horn Hill appreciated the importance of the situation.  

“Lord Tywin, you honor us with your presence.  I trust you had a pleasant journey,” added Lord Tyrell, rising from his chair.  Persuading this fool to declare for my grandson should prove simple enough.  How did such a man as this ever come to lead a great house?  “There are no words for how pleased I am that you have accepted –”  

“Sit, my Lord,” growled Lord Tarly.

“You’ll have to excuse Lord Randyll, my Lord.  He meant no offense, of that I’m quite certain.  He is a fine man, the very finest.  And he is a good soldier besides.  Lord Randyll has been kind enough to help me shoulder a great many of my burdens since mother died.  I oft think he is the only man whom I can trust during such treacherous times as these.  My mother was old, but choking to death on her own wine...  Who could imagine such a thing?”  Baelish imagined it well enough, although he told a far more interesting tale.  I suppose it is only natural for a man who let his mother manage his affairs to eventually forget how to behave like a man.  The so-called Lord of Highgarden is plainly little more than a fat, blubbering fool.  

“My condolences, Lord Tyrell.  I hope that in time you will come consider me as worthy of your trust as Lord Tarly.”  

“I bet you do,” grunted the Lord of Horn Hill.

“My Lords –”  

“No, my Lord.  I think we’d best begin,” barked Lord Tarly.  

“Lord Randyll, my good man, we mustn’t be rude to Lord Tywin.”  

“The servants will have the first course of your supper ready by now, most like.  I can see to this business with Lord Tywin on my own, my Lord.  You needn’t concern yourself with such a dull affair as this.”  

“Are you certain, my Lord,” asked the Oaf of Highgarden.  What is this madness?  

“Yes, it should be quite simple, my Lord.  Lord Tywin won’t be here much longer.”  

“Very good, thank you.  My Lords,” said Lord Tyrell with a bow before scurrying out of the room.  Now that Lady Olenna is dead, it would seem that Lord Tarly rules The Reach through Mace Tyrell.  I will not let such a thing happen in King’s Landing.  Cersei must needs be sent to the Rock and soon.  I will not let her ruin either of my Grandsons. They will be men, not whatever it is that this fat fool calls himself.

“Let’s not waste each other’s time, Lord Tywin.  It’s plain enough why you’re here.  The once proud lion has come crawling down to Tumbler’s Rush with his tail between his legs to grovel at my feet and beg House Tyrell to save him from Robb Stark.  Or is it Stannis Baratheon?  So many different people hate you, that it gets a bit hard to keep track of them all.  I’m sure I’d hate you too were it not plainly a waste of time.  After all, a man who has lost every battle hardly seems worth the effort.  As it stands, you’re near as big a disappointment as my son Samwell, but what else can you expect from the son of the Laughing Lion?”  It was in that moment that the Lord of Casterly Rock decided that whatever happened at Tumbler’s Rush, he would kill the Lord of Horn Hill one day...even if it meant opening the man’s throat in this very room.

“I am not Tytos Lannister, my Lord,” Tywin coldly replied.  “And your attempts to provoke me to anger pale in comparison to the japes I’ve been subjected to since the day my second son –”  

“Enough.  Mace Tyrell will do whatever I tell him to do, just like he always does.  If you want me to advise him to save you and your kin, you will do three things.  First, you will see to it that the King is betrothed to Lady Margaery.”  

“Done.”  

“Second, your daughter will wed my son, Dickon.  Consider her a fee for my assistance in this matter.  Or don’t.  In truth, I couldn't care less what you think about it so long as the two of them are wed.  Third, I want you to ask me to save you.  I want to see Tywin fucking Lannister get down on his bloody knees and beg me to save him along with the rest of the inbred cunts in his House.”  

“No.”  

“No?”  

“No.”  

“Very well.  In that case, you can go shit gold somewhere else.  I fear there is nothing left for us to talk about, my Lord.”

“Mayhaps.  Tell me, Lord Randyll, does Mace Tyrell know that you poisoned his mother?”  

“What?”  Littlefinger may be no more than an up-jumped, copper-counting peasant, but the man has his uses.  

“Her wine.  Does he know that you had it poisoned?”  

“I don’t have to sit here and listen to your lies.”  

“You should've killed the poisoner once he had outlived his usefulness.  As it happens, the man is now a prisoner at Casterly Rock.  Abducting him was simple enough.  He had a very interesting letter in his possession...a letter baring your seal.  Have I upset you, my Lord?  You look rather pale.  Were you about to say something clever about my House?  Go on, Lord Tarly, say something clever.”  

“What do you want,” muttered Lord Tarly, looking nearly as broken as Pycelle.  Your head on a spike, but I fear we seldom get what we want most.  

“You made three demands.  Very well.  A Lannister always pays his debts.  Your secret will be safe so long as you do three things. First, you will convince Lord Tyrell to declare for the rightful King of the Seven Kingdoms.  In exchange, I will see to it that his daughter marries His Grace, King Joffrey of House Baratheon.”  

“Done.”  

“Good.  Second, your daughter will wed my cousin, Devan Lannister, and neither you nor your sons shall father any more children without my explicit permission.  I could have made these demands the moment Mace Tyrell left the room.  Instead, I gave you a chance to bring Lord Tyrell back into the fold willingly.  Had you chosen to cooperate, I would’ve seen to it that you were well-rewarded.  Instead, you insulted my House, attempted to blackmail me into a useless marriage alliance, and spat in my face.  If your son Samwell was a disappointment, I fear it was only because he takes after his father.  Isn't that right, my Lord?  I believe I asked you a question.”  

“Yes, my Lord,” growled Lord Tarly.  

“Lastly, I want you to get down on your knees and beg for your life.”  I’d open my own throat before I ever degraded myself in such a manner.  Fortunately, Randyll Tarly was not half so proud a man as the Lion of Casterly Rock.  

Chapter Text

Jaime would have made a fine second son.  I should know.  In truth, Kevan Lannister's eldest nephew had always displayed little and less interest in politics.  For all of his arrogance and childish vanity, Ser Jaime has always had the good sense to follow the lead of wiser men...men like his father and younger brother.  I fear Tygett never did learn that lesson.  A grim frown crept across Kevan’s face as he realized that he could no longer remember what either of his younger brothers looked like.  I’m growing old, too old...  I suppose it is natural for one’s mind to begin drifting to the past at such an age.  Tywin was always the younger man in every way that mattered.  

I must needs put such thoughts out of sight and out mind, at least until this business in Riverrun has been concluded.  No matter how great a warrior Jaime may be, I fear he will never be the man our House needs right now.  Even Tywin must realize this...not that he would ever admit it.  And yet House Lannister needs Jaime – and Tyrion, for that matter – far more than it has ever needed me.  In the end, even my brother understood that if I can free Jaime by sacrificing myself, then I will have done a great service for my House.  No matter how much Tywin may value my counsel, every man in The Westerlands knows that he does not need it.  He will manage well enough on his own.  I suppose he always has...  

And mayhaps it will not even come to that if Tyrion can emerge from his cups long enough to show his father than he can be trusted with real power and responsibility.  The man could be a great asset to his House, mayhaps even the heir my brother deserves and yet he chooses to spend his days drinking and whoring.  The drinking could be forgiven, as it is a common enough vice, but the rest...  

Mayhaps Tywin is wrong to blame him for Joanna’s death, but that hardly excuses Tyrion’s debauchery.  I fear that I can do little more than pray that he will stop playing the fool and realize what means to be a Lannister.  We need Lord Tyrion, not the bloody Imp.  If he can manage that, then I’ve no doubt he’ll find what I’ve always known to be true: His father is fair man.  An honorable man.  A just man.  A man who has spent his entire life sacrificing all he ever had for his family, for his children, for his grandchildren, and for every other man, woman, and child with Lannister blood running through their veins.  He is only as hard as he must needs be to ensure that our House remains the greatest House Westeros has ever seen.  When father died, he left us with a legacy of ashes.  Tywin not only restored our House to its former glory, he gave meaning to the name "Lannister."  

Some men – self-righteous fools like Ned Stark – will say that a good Lord must needs be kind, merciful, and soft.  It is a lie.  And more fool them if any of those so-called honorable men ever truly believed any of that nonsense.  My brother is a far more honorable man than any of them in his way.  Men say that “a Lannister always pays his debts” for a reason, after all.  My brother is a man of his word; he always has been and he always will be.  I would not have ordered the Mountain and Ser Amory loose to ravage the Riverlands like rabid dogs were the decision mine, but that is precisely why Tywin is a far better man than I could ever hope to be: He never hesitates.  He recognizes what must needs be done and then does it, whatever the cost.  He does what the rest of us are too weak to do.  

Tywin thinks only of the betterment of his House and that is what makes him a great man.  There is nothing immoral about using dishonorable tactics in service of an honorable cause as the men who slander and mock my brother know full well.  They simply lack the decency to admit it, most like.  Sometimes a man must needs take one step away from The Seven in order to take two steps towards them and so it has always been with my brother.  

If my brother is the cruel beast of a man that so many fools believe him to be, then what can be said of Jon Arryn?  "As high as honor."  How could those words ever be seen as anything other than some foolish jape.  Lord Arryn never spoke of honor when my brother brought Robert the dead Targaryen children.  He was all too happy to see them dead, so long as he didn’t have to get his hands dirty.  That wife of his, the Tully girl, she always hated us and I’ve no doubt her husband was of a similar mind.  Ned Stark.  Hoster Tully.  Robert Baratheon.  Jon Arryn.  That lot wouldn't know honor if it bit them in the arse, most like and yet they saw fit to judge my brother.  Elia Martell and her children needed to die; they knew it as well as Tywin did.  There was only one thing to do, so my brother did it...and Westeros showed its gratitude by subjecting him to endless japes about whether or not he shat gold.  

Lord Stannis was always the worst of them.  How can such a man even speak of honor?  Cersei has plainly been twisted into a foul, vain, hateful creature with a certain low cunning and in truth, I’ve no doubt that she tried to seduce her brother as she did my son.  The Gods alone know what could have possibly happened to that sweet, summer child to turn her into such a monster.  I wonder...how much suffering could’ve been avoided if Rhaegar had simply enough sense to wed her?  Cersei was a different person then.  Now she’s worse than a whore.  A whore may at least need the money, but I doubt my niece will ever want for gold.  She corrupts honorable men free of charge.  The Queen...Cersei always made a mockery of the title.  The Queen of Whores, mayhaps.  Even so, I cannot believe that a sweet boy like Tommen could possibly be a monster borne of incest.  Mayhaps Joffrey, but not Tommen.  Surely that was just a lie told by that fire-worshipping pretender.  Stannis Baratheon.  Another man who has spent a lifetime slandering my brother’s good name even while shedding his own honor as easily as a snake does its skin.  

Why was Ned Stark an honorable man?  For conspiring with Renly Baratheon to seize the Iron Throne from the one true King while Robert’s body was still warm?  For letting his wife kidnap my nephew and start a war?  Do the women of The North wear swords and their husbands the dresses?  Disgraceful.  This is precisely why I insisted that Tywin send Tyrion to the capitol.  I thank The Seven every day that I was able to make my brother see reason in the end!  

It is known that even the finest of women are prone to fits of madness every month or so.  'Womanly pains,' the Maesters call it.  It would not serve for Cersei to have her son’s ear at such a time.  The Gods alone know what madness she’d fill the poor boy’s head with, if she hasn’t ruined him already; no doubt His Grace's aggression can be traced back to the fits of hysteria his mother likely had during these 'womanly pains.'  They was the cause of Lord Stark’s execution, most like.  

I fear such madness is what comes of giving a woman real power.  Modesty is a women’s shield and courtesy her sword, after all.  A pity Cersei never learned that lesson.  If Ned Stark were an honorable man, he’d have taught his wife that much and she’d have never kidnapped Tyrion.  Catelyn Stark would've stayed in that wasteland of theirs where she belonged and so much needless suffering could’ve been avoided.  As the drawbridge lowered and Ser Kevan prepared to enter Riverrun, accompanied by ten other knights, it fully dawned upon him that Robb Stark could simply keep him as a second Lannister hostage.  I pray the boy is more honorable than his father...  

...

I see how you all stare at me.  I know you’d like nothing more than to open my throat.  They all wore the same hateful expression: The Blackfish, Lord Tully, Lord Umber, and others whom Kevan did not recognize.  You can take your anger and stick it up your spiteful arses.  A lion does not concern itself with the opinions of sheep.  Only one man’s thoughts interest me today; the rest of you aren’t worth a second of my time.  And I’ve eaten your bread and salt besides.  If Robb Stark thinks he can intimidate me with the leaders of his barbarian horde, he is mistaken.  These savages don’t frighten me.  

“Lord Stark.”  

“Ser Kevan,” the boy King coldly replied as the direwolf by his side snarled and bore its teeth.  If I didn’t know better, I’d have mistaken you for a Tully.  

“His Grace is the King in the North.  You’d best remember that when speaking to him, Ser,” growled Lord Umber.  

“I serve His Grace, Joffrey Baratheon, Protector of the Realm and the one true King of the Seven Kingdoms.  Of course, ‘duty’ and ‘honor’ are not words I would expect a Wildling to understand, my Lord.”  Go on, unsheathe your sword, you dumb bastard.  

“I’ll not have my honor insulted by some mutton-headed, old fool of a Lannister,” roared Lord Umber as he drew his sword. “Answer for your words or I shall make you bleed, old man.”  Fool.  

“Lord Umber, this man has eaten our bread and salt.  You will not –”  

“Indeed, I have, boy,” Kevan snapped, cutting off the pretender.  You won’t get off that easily.  “Is that what your father taught you of honor?  Lord Tywin wishes to negotiate the return of both of your sisters and your pet Wildling draws its sword before I've even had a chance to offer terms.  Lady Sansa and Lady Arya are both hostages at King’s Landing, to be sure.  However, they have both been treated honorably and my nephew Tyrion has seen to it that not a hair on either of their heads has been harmed,” Kevan continued, hoping it was true.  “Rest assured that your sisters have wanted for nothing during their stay in King’s Landing.”  How did Lord Baelish describe the two Starklings?  Was it Arya or Sansa who looked just like their mother?  Seven Hells, I’m getting too damn old for this sort of thing.  “My brother could have sent some lesser Lord to treat with you, but as a show of good faith, he sent me: His own brother.  I ate your bread and salt only for that Wildling of yours to draw his sword and threaten my life.”

“Call me a Wildling one more time and I swear by all the Gods, I’ll –”  

“Lord Umber, leave us,” snapped the so-called King in the North.  

“But Your Grace –”  

“That was not a request, my Lord.  It was a command.”  Lord Umber stormed out of the room, slamming the door like a petulant child.  

“I must apologize for Lord Umber’s actions, Ser.  He does not speak for me in this.”  Now I have him! 

“Doesn’t he?  Do you take me for a fool, boy?”  Kevan spat at the ground.  “From what I’ve seen, that right there is worth more than the so-called honor of The North.  In The Westerlands, we still honor the sacred laws of hospitality.  If you are truly an honorable man, you’ll make amends.  Not to my House, but to me, for it is me whom you have wronged.  You’ve taken two of my sons hostage.  Release them both and mayhaps I’ll find a way to forget this disgraceful display.”  

“Lord Umber wronged you, not I.  And while I appreciate the gesture your brother made in sending you, I fear that I cannot do as you have requested.  However, as a show of good faith, I will release your youngest son, Martyn Lannister.  I trust this will be a sufficient apology, Ser.”  

“It will serve, boy.”  The man is a fool, that much is certain.  An honorable fool, but a fool, all the same.  More than can be said for his father, I suppose.

“You will not call me ‘boy’ again.  I was under the impression that you had come to negotiate the release of my sisters, not to trade insults.  Was I mistaken?”  

“No, Lord Stark, you were not.  His Grace will return both of your sisters to you in exchange for the release of my nephew, Ser Jaime.”  

“I cannot accept those terms.  I would've expected Lord Tywin to –”  

“Most men would see their sisters returned to them alive and well.  Mayhaps you would prefer that we send you Lady Arya’s head.  The girl only lives because of His Grace's compassionate nature, but I fear even his patience has its limits.  And we only have need of Lady Sansa besides.”  Mayhaps he is not such a fool after all if recognizes that two women are hardly worth one man.  

“Tell Lord Tywin that I will send the Kingslayer’s head to Casterly Rock if so much as a single hair on either of my sisters' heads has been harmed.  And it isn’t a question of what I want besides.  My bannermen would have my head on a spike if I accepted such a proposal and rightly so.  A King has a duty to his subjects, Ser.”  Madness.  A King's only duty is to advance the interests of his House.  Tywin always understood that the family name is all that truly matters.  

“Very well.  Release my nephew, Ser Jaime, and I will take his place as your hostage.  My brother’s most trusted advisor will be your prisoner and we will send your sister Arya to Riverrun.  Lady Sansa will spend the duration of the war in The Eyrie with her Aunt Lysa.  Are these terms agreeable to you?”  Could he truly be so great a fool as to think my brother would ever keep such an absurd agreement after Ser Jaime has been released?  I wonder...  The so-called Young Wolf winced.  “I warn you, if your bannermen have harmed my nephew in any way...”  

“Had you come a week earlier, I would’ve gladly accepted this offer.”  

“But?”  

“Don’t do it, Your Grace,” whispered the Blackfish.  

“What would you have me do, Granduncle?  The Lannisters have conducted themselves honorably in this matter.  And the Greatjon already dishonored Ser Kevan besides.  I will not insult the man further by lying to him.  I fear...I fear we have lost the Kingslayer, Ser.”  

“Lost him?  How?  He’s a man, not a new pair of gloves.  Do you mean that he escaped?”  

“My sister released him,” muttered Lord Tully.  “She thought Lord Tywin would release her daughters in return.”  Madness.  Madness and stupidity.  What else can one expect from the likes of Lady Catelyn?  I suppose that would explain why she’s not in the room.  If the Gods are good, that shrew is rotting in a dungeon cell.  That’s where my niece belongs after what she did to Lancel.  Whatever else Lord Baelish may be, I shall be forever grateful to the man for bringing that matter to my attention.  If there ever comes a day when I can be of service to him, he need only ask.  And if...if The Seven are ever so cruel as to take my brother away from the world, I’ll personally see to it that my niece ends up in the darkest of the black cells.  Catelyn.  Cersei.  Seven Hells!  I keep trying to warn Tywin that these bloody women will be the death of us all.  Mayhaps one day he’ll finally listen...  

...  

“What business do you have with me?  Go on, out with it,” Kevan asked the Northern soldier who had approached him roughly forty minutes later.  

“The Kingslayer has been re-captured, Ser.  His Grace, has instructed me to –”  

“Yes, yes, yes, very good.  Where is he?  I need to speak with my nephew before I take his place.”  

“As you wish, Ser.  He...he is in a cell.”  

“Bring me to him.”  The second son of Tytos Lannister followed the soldier to a small room and found the dead bodies of his two youngest sons waiting for him.  Suddenly, Ser Kevan felt the cold, steel bite of Rickard Karstark’s sword as it sliced through his flesh.

“The Tully bitch may’ve robbed me of my justice, but she’ll not rob me of my vengeance.  You’ll serve for now.  Mayhaps your cunt of a brother will realize the price of harming a Karstark after I've send him your head.”  I have...I...I have failed you, brother.  Forgive me.  

Chapter Text

Winter is coming...or mayhaps it's just my cell.  The Dreadfort seemed to grow colder and colder every day.  As soon as they reached the Dreadfort, Ramsay had ordered his men to drop Bran on the floor of a windowless room.  The room had a featherbed and the door was always left wide open, but that didn’t make it any less of a prison.  Bran hadn’t seen Rickon, Osha, Meera, or either of the Greyjoys since being placed in the room, but Ramsay visited him every day.  The bastard always wanted to play some sort of “game.”  The only rule that mattered was that if Bran won, he’d get to ask one question before the bastard...took something.  He’d already taken four teeth, two fingers, and a toe.  He always lies whenever you ask him anything...  

Bran had learned some things though, mostly because Ramsay was always complaining about his family, especially his half-brother.  The worst part of the room was the stench.  Bran had been left to lay in his own filth because no one would carry him to a privy.  And he’d learned to never, ever call Ramsay a bastard.  The last time I did that, he took two teeth and a finger...  

“Good morning, Prince Cripple,” the bastard cheerfully exclaimed as he strode through the open doorway, Sour Alyn and Skinner following closely behind him.  Skinner was carrying a bag of some sort...something for one of the bastard's games, most like.  “I’m glad to see that you’re enjoying your stay at the Dreadfort and... Seven Hells!  You should really use a privy if you need to take a shit.  No matter, as always, you are free to leave with your brother and the rest of your friends any time you want.  All you have to do is get up and walk out of this room.”  Robb is going to put cut off your head someday.  Jojen said that a member of my House would kill you.  You’re going to die screaming for someone to save you, but no one will.  

“Staying put, are we?  Well don’t worry, Prince Cripple, you’ll always be welcome at the Dreadfort.  You know what?  We’re not going to play any games today.”  

“We’re not?”  

“I can see how disappointed you are.  Very well, I shall take your left eye this evening.  No need to thank me, Prince Cripple.  Your happiness is its own reward.  Nothing to say?  You’re learning!  Mayhaps you’re not a half-wit, after all.”  

“Just a cripple, m’Lord.”  

“That’s exactly right, Skinner,” exclaimed the bastard.  “A cripple who has been soiling himself for days because his legs don’t work.  But that’s enough of that; the little Lord already knows he’ll never walk again, doesn’t he?”  

“Yes,” Bran muttered.  Bastard!  Bastard!  Bastard!  Bastard!  

“Yes, what?”

“Yes, Master.”  

“Good dog!  Now then, I do believe its time for a field trip.  I'd say it’s past time we checked in on your little friends, don’t you agree?  My men will carry you to the dungeons.  I believe you’ve already met Skinner and Sour Alyn.  You know, you Starks may be the most self-righteous bunch of cunts in the Seven Kingdoms, but you were right about one thing.  Wolves do make fine cloaks...or at least, those two direwolves of yours certainly did.”  

...

The dungeon of the Dreadfort was so cold that it made Bran’s room seem like Dorne.  There’s no one in any of these cells except Theon.  

“My brother...where’s Rickon?”  Ramsay put his right index finger to his lip and glanced at his men.  Skinner and Sour Alyn dropped Bran on the stone floor and for a moment the pain was so great that he thought his head had split open.  Robb is going to kill all of you someday; I just...I just have to stay alive until that day comes!  In truth, Jojen’s words were the only reason Bran had any self-restraint – or hope – left when speaking to the bastard.  Theon whimpered and wept, but said nothing.  What did they do to him?

“Do you know what your sister did, turncloak,” asked the bastard.  

“No, my Lord.”  

“Since this is an educational field trip for Prince Cripple, I suppose it’s only fitting that you’re about to learn something too.  Skinner, hand me the bag.”  

“Yes, m’Lord.”  

“Now then, you’ve been a very good boy, turncloak.  I think you deserve a reward!  I’ve brought a nice, comfy pillow for you.  Now pay close attention, Prince Cripple.  You’re about to learn what happens to people who displease me.”  Without another word, the bastard reached into the bag and tossed a woman’s head into Theon’s lap.  As the turncloak vomited all over himself and began screaming uncontrollably, Bran realized that he no longer bore the poor man any ill will.  I...I forgive him.  Did you hear me, Old Gods?  Whatever Theon did, no one deserves to suffer like this.  I forgive him for what he has done to my House.  If this is his punishment, let it end.  Whatever...whatever was supposed to happen to him, let it happen to me instead.  Please...  

“I'm afraid your sister didn’t get very far after she escaped the Dreadfort.  I must be a better hunter than the ones on the Iron Islands.  It wasn’t hard to track her down; I didn’t even need to use the hounds, but I still fed her body to them.  After all, we wouldn't want to waste fresh meat, would we?  I had the head dipped in tar to slow the rot and you will sleep on it every night.  Grunt will come by to check on you at random times and if you’re not sleeping on it, I’ll have you gelded.  Oh and in case you get cold, I’ve had her skin sewn into a blanket for you.  Isn’t that generous of me?”

“Leave him alone, you bastard,” snapped Bran.  

“What did...What did you say?”  

“I...”  

“Skinner, Sour Alyn, bring this crippled cunt back to his room,” snarled Ramsay as he unsheathed his flaying knife.  “It would appear that he is a slower learner than I thought.”

...

“I know why you’re upset, little Lord.  I promised to cut out your left eye and yet there it is, still in your head.  Don’t worry, I didn’t forget!  In fact, I might as well cut both of them out while I’m here,” snarled the bastard as his wormy lips curled into a savage smile.  Tonight, I’ll be free.  I’ll fly again...  I’ll still see in my dreams.  “No, no, that won’t do.  First I’ll show you what I’ve done to your brother.  It’ll be the last thing you see before I –”

“What is the meaning of this,” a voice calmly asked from the doorway.  “Put away the knife.  Now.”  The man had pale, blue eyes...just like Ramsay’s and there was a hunch-backed old man standing behind him.  The hunch-back had his hand on the shoulder of a trembling little boy.  “Run to your brother, Lord Rickon,” said the pale-eyed man.  “He’s missed you a great deal, I think.”  Rickon did as he was told and hugged his brother fiercely.  

“Domeric, what the fuck are you doing here?  You’re supposed to be building that bloody underground tunnel of yours,” snarled the bastard.

“It has been completed...and when I returned to the Dreadfort, I found Lord Rickon standing on a stool with a rope around his neck. The poor boy’s legs were about to give out, I think.  A few more minutes and he’d have been hanging from a tree.”  

“Lord Ramsay knows how to handle prisoners, m’lord, but it was me what strung the brat up.  Couldn’t make the cunt stop throwing things at me and Lord Ramsay said to be creative,” Sour Alyn proudly replied.  Domeric studied the man for a moment before silently driving a dagger through his neck in one swift motion.  Sour Alyn desperately tried to cover his throat with his hands as blood spurted from his neck and mouth.  He wheezed and gasped for breath before finally falling to the ground...dead.  Why would he kill one of his own men?   “Do you have any thoughts you wish to contribute, Skinner?”  

“No, m’lord.”  

“Good.”  

“You can’t just kill my men whenever you want, you cunt.”  

“Your men?  You own nothing.  Everything you do have belongs to father and me.  Now then, would you please be so kind as to lower your voice?  You’ve frightened our guests more than enough already, I think.  And you’ve behaved quite rudely besides,” said Domeric as he picked up a bronze candlestick holder.

“Father won’t be around forever and when he–”  *CRACK*  Ramsay stumbled backward and fell, hitting his head on the stone floor.  There was already large bruise on the bastard’s forehead where his half-brother had hit him.  Did he kill...no...the bastard is still breathing.  

“If you act like a dog, then you will be treated like one.  Ben, drag my father’s bastard to the kennel, put a collar around his neck, chain him to the wall, and leave him with the hounds until tomorrow morning.  You are to give him a single piece of raw meat to sup on whenever he wakes up.”  The hunchback nodded, grabbed Ramsay’s feet, and did as he was bid.  The bastard grunted as his head banged into the door.  

“Skinner, do you remember when I told you that I have come to rely upon you as my father relies upon Locke?”  

“Yes, m’Lord.”  

“Good.  Then I trust that you can imagine my surprise when Ben Bones told me that you were in the room when Sour Alyn gave Lord Rickon a black eye.  What am I to make of this?”  

“Lord Snow ordered –”  

“I named you Castellan of the Dreadfort in my absence.  That meant that you outranked my father's bastard.  It also meant that I trusted you to keep that dog on a tight leash.  Did I ask too much of you?”  

“No, m’Lord.  I...I did what I could, but...please...I...”  

“We were friends long before father instructed you to spy on my dog.  In light of that fact, I won’t kill you.  And a just punishment must needs be proportional to the crime besides.  Ben Bones says the only ones who actually harmed the Lordlings were Ramsay and Sour Alyn.”  

“Please...I...I had no choice, m’Lord.  Ramsay, he...he is a Lord now; he forced Lady Hornwood to marry him and then starved her to death.  He was a Lord, m’Lord, and so I...I couldn’t disobey him.  He’d flay me, you know he would, m’Lord.  And yer father would kill me for losing Lord Ramsay’s trust besides.”

“As you say.  But whether or not Lord Snow flays you is no concern of mine, is it?”  

“No, m’Lord.”  

“I should cut off your ears since you don’t seem to be using them when I give you commands.  Or mayhaps you would prefer that I blind you...”  

“Please, m’Lord muh-mercy!”  

“You wronged the Starklings as well.  Tell me, little Lords, what should be done with our friend.”  Skinner fell to his knees and sobbed as his pleas grew more and more incoherent.  Before long, he sounded even more frightened than Theon Turncloak.  Bran found that for all that he hated the man, he could not help but pity him.  

"KILL HIM," shouted Rickon.  

“NO!  Don't...don’t hurt him, my Lord.  Please...please don’t...”

“I fear I shall have to defer to you, Lord Brandon since you are the eldest.  Did you hear that, Skinner?  The little Lord thinks I should give you another chance.  Very well.  Despite my father’s best efforts, I fear that my heart is not made of stone.  I will give you a choice; the same choice that I once gave Lord Snow.  If you chose to be punished, it will be painful, but you will have atoned for your...lapse in judgment.  All will be forgiven.  If I could forgive Ramsay for trying to poison me, then surely I can forgive you.  However, if you chose not to be punished and fail me again in any way, I will kill you as a matter of principle.”  

“Thank you, m’Lord.  No need for any punishment!  I...I won’t fail you again.”

“See that you don’t; now, leave us.  And shut the door on your way out.”  

Once Skinner left the room, Domeric smiled gently at Bran and Rickon.  “I apologize for Lord Snow’s impolite behavior, my Lords.  I give you my word that he will not kill either of you.  Do you accept my apology?”  IMPOLITE?  Are you insane?  Arya was being impolite when she threw food at Sansa.  The bastard burned down my home, cut Jojen’s throat, made a cloak out of Summer and Shaggydog, pulled out my teeth, cut off my fingers and toes, tried to hang Rickon, skinned a woman so he could throw her severed head at her brother, told his men to drop me head first onto a stone floor, left me on the floor of this room until I soiled myself, and was about to cut out my eyes.  That was more than impolite, you bloody madman!  Bran nodded wearily rather than risk angering Lord Domeric.  

“Good.  Now that we’ve dealt with that matter, I should warn you that if your brother has an outburst of any sort, I fear he will force me to find him a suitable muzzle.”  My brother is a person, not a bloody dog.  “In truth, there are some days where I wonder if I should have simply killed Ramsay and yet I fear kinslaying might make father wroth with me.  I’m sure you oft feel quite the same way about your brother.”  

“No, I never have.  He’s my brother,” Bran blurted.  

“And you’ve never wanted to kill him?  Not even once?”  

“Of course not.”  

“Surely there is someone in your family whom you would kill if you had the chance.  I suppose it doesn’t have to be a brother. What about your father?  I oft think about –”  

“NO, THERE IS NO ONE IN MY FAMILY THAT I WANT TO MURDER!”  

“It is rude to yell, little Lord.  I cannot abide rudeness.  You will apologize,” said Domeric mildly, as he unsheathed a flaying knife.

“You want...you want me to apologize?  To you?”  

“As you say.  If you don’t apologize for raising your voice to me, then I fear that will be forced to start cutting off your fingers.  I would prefer not to discipline a child, but I will if I must...”  

“I’m sorry, my Lord,” grumbled Bran.  

“What are you apologizing for?”  

“I’m sorry for raising my voice to you, my Lord.”  Did Rickon and I die at Winterfell?  Am I in one of the Seven Hells?  No, that can’t be it.  It'd make far too much sense.  Mayhaps this is just a nightmare and...and if Arya were here, she’d tell me what a stupid thought that was, most like.  The Lannisters killed her, just like father...  They've killed Sansa too, most like.  Rickon and I will join them soon and then we’ll all be dead except for mother and Robb.  

“Very well.  I accept your apology.  Hmm...forgive me, Lord Brandon, but you are a most peculiar little boy.  You didn’t want me to kill Skinner and you’ve never thought about murdering your little brother...or anyone else in your family.  Quite strange, I think.  It matters not at all.  I fear that I will be forced to kill Lord Snow sooner or later.”  Peculiar?  I’m peculiar?  

“But they’re your kin...”  

“Of course, Ramsay is my half-brother, not my brother.  He was born on the wrong side of the sheets.  I suppose that I will hate myself for it...for a time.  It matters not at all.  I hate myself for many of the things that I’ve been forced to do.  Mayhaps it won’t come to that; I am doing the best that I can to train the bastard.  I thought fire-branding a ‘D’ onto his chest would remind him of what he is, but I fear he will require a harsher punishment this time.  It will hurt me far more than it hurts him, I think.”  

“What?”  

“‘D’ is for dog.  In truth, that's all my half-brother really is: a mad dog.  ‘D’ is also the first letter of my name and I am Lord Snow’s owner; I fear he has forgotten that.  I imagine that he burned down your home to spite me.  He thought he could cheapen my prize, most like.  Tell me, would either of you like to watch when I pull out four of his teeth?”  Bran shook his head vigorously.  Are all of the Boltons insane?  Why would father allow people like this to be Lords?  

“No?  Not even Lord Rickon?  It could be a useful learning experience.  You needn’t worry about the experience upsetting him.  My father used to force me to watch him discipline our most willful prisoners when I was his age.  I hated it at the time, but the results speak for themselves, I think.”  

"Can I really watch you –"

“No...th-thank you, my Lord," Bran stammered.  Seven Hells, what's gotten into you, Rickon?  

“Yes, I suppose it would be a shame if I were forced to put Ramsay down.  I used to have such hopes for him.  No, no, you’re quite right, it’s as much my fault as it is his.  When a dog misbehaves, the fault lies with its master.  Even so, if I must needs kill him, so be it.  You have the right of it, Lord Brandon.  I have a responsibility to kill him if the necessary adjustments cannot be made in a timely manner.”  I never said any of that...  

“Don’t you care that killing him would make you a kinslayer?  That doesn’t bother you at all?”  

“You do not know Lord Snow as I do; the bastard already tried to murder me once.  Some men would have killed their half-brother for that, but I was a different man then.  That was before father...fixed me.  I tried to kill Ramsay, but...I couldn’t.  He was my kin.  Father said I could keep him as a pet so long as I trained him properly and I gave him the same choice that I offered Skinner.  As you can see, there are still many adjustments that must needs be made or else...well...there are two types of dogs, I think.  One is the kind that can be trained.  I still have some hope left that Ramsay may be this sort of animal.  He hasn’t tried to kill me again since I punished him by forcing him to dip one of his hands in boiling oil.  Of course, he did burn down Winterfell to spite me, so mayhaps he is simply a mad dog.  The only thing to do with a mad dog is to cut its throat before it bites you, no matter how fond you may be of the beast.  Mayhaps I should dip his head in boiling oil the next time that I catch him foaming at the mouth.  It matters not at all.  You and your brother won’t have to suffer the Dreadfort much longer.”  

“You’re letting us go?”  

“No, that would not serve.  I’ll kill both of you as soon as I have father’s permission and feed you to the hounds once you’re dead.  I can’t harm either of you without permission or father will be most wroth with me.  Mayhaps my father will keep the Greyjoy boy and Lady Meera as hostages, but he will want to dispose of you and your brother as soon as possible, I think.  One way or another, I can assure you that your deaths will be quite painless.  Father expects me to maintain a veneer of civility and I would do my utmost to avoid flaying a child besides.  My father may be fond of our family’s...traditions, but they are a relic of a time long since past.  There will be no more flayed men once father dies.”  

“Where is Osha?”  

“Your Wildling friend?  No one knows and I fear that can only mean that Lord Snow fed her to the hounds.  I fear my dog has always loved his hunts.”  Mayhaps Rickon didn’t hear...  “Father will not care about her, I think.”  Bran heard the unmistakable sound of something wet trickling down onto the floor as the last of his younger brother’s courage left him.  

“I do hope I haven’t upset you.  None of this brings me any pleasure.  I was once a soft, foolish, weak little boy like the two of you, but my father forced me to learn the true way of the world.  I needed adjustments.  It was...it was for the best...what he forced me to do...even to her...  Your father was an honorable man and look at where it got him.  Father said I needed certain adjustments.  I never wanted to...especially not her, but I...I needed adjustments.  He only wanted...”  For a moment, the pale-eyed man’s mask slipped away and Bran saw a sad, frightened little boy standing before him, but the child vanished as quickly as he had appeared.  

“Forgive me, my Lords.  My father did the best that he could to train me, but I fear that I still suffer from occasional moments of weakness.  If either of you speak a word of what you just saw to anyone, I will make whichever of you did so watch while I flay your brother.  Do you understand?”  Rickon began to cry.

“Now, now, dry those eyes, little Lord.  A Lordling should not cry.  Little girls may cry.  Ladies may cry.  A man should never cry.  That was one of father’s adjustments.  I needed it, I think.  A Lord should never cry.  Father was right; I...I see that now.  If a boy cries then he must...he...he must needs be punished.  It was not my intention to discuss this matter until you started crying, but mayhaps it will please you to know that while our time together will be at an end soon enough, my father has informed me that your sister is alive and well.  Furthermore, he has stated that he has every intention of seeing to it that this remains the case.  It would seem that Lady Arya escaped from King’s Landing and is in my father’s care as we speak.  Your mother and the King Who Lost The North don’t know, but...well...they haven’t done a very good job protecting their kin, so mayhaps it is for the best.”  

“Arya’s alive,” asked Rickon.  No!  No!  No!  No!  Roose Bolton must be even worse than Ramsay or Domeric; he’s the one who raised them to be like this.  He’s probably flaying Arya right now.  No!  He can’t!  Robb wouldn’t let him...just like...just like he wouldn’t let the Boltons hurt me and Rickon...  

“Did...did you hear that, Rickon?  Arya’s safe.  She must have escaped and is prob...probably on her way back to moth...mother and Robb right...right now.”  Bran fought back tears and forced himself to smile reassuringly at his brother.  

“Yes, little Lords, it would seem that my father is rather favorably disposed towards your sister.  That father-stealing cunt must be quite a singular child given how much he loathes most members of the weaker sex.  Father oft said women are fools who waste their days knitting and singing.  Sometimes he would even tell my mother that she was no different than any other breeding mare and that if she didn't do as she was bid, he'd butcher her like a hog once she grew to old to bare children.  And he hates children besides...although I suppose you could count the people he doesn't hate on one hand.  In truth, I sometimes worry that my father has simply mellowed with age.  Mayhaps it is those because of those leeches which he loves so much more than his own son,” Domeric grumbled, rolling his eyes.  “It matters not at all.  Even if my father hated your sister, I fear we'd still need her alive.  And there must always be a Stark in WInterfell besides.  One way or another, Lady Arya will do as she is bid, I think.”  

“What does he mean, Bran?  Is Arya going to Winterfell?  Doesn’t she know that the bad men burned it down,” asked Rickon as soon as Domeric left the room, locking the door behind him.  “Bran?  Bran?”  Bran collapsed onto the ground and his eyes rolled into the back of his head.

...

Bran flew through the skies of some distant Southron land.  His two brothers were with him again, just like they were during every other dream he’d had since Summer died.  They were dreams; that much was certain...they had to be.  Even so, Bran broke away from his little brothers and began to fly North when he suddenly woke up on a feather bed.  I can’t be warging.  Summer’s dead and there are no more dragons besides.  

Chapter Text

“I already strangled Maester Aemon and the Lord Commander is furious with Piggy for losing all the bloody ravens.  They need me, even if I don’t have any of that blubberin' craven’s book learnin'.  And no one suspects anything besides.”  Try to give away my position to that fat fuck, will you?  You won’t take away my warm fire, you hear me, old man?  

“They know he was murdered,” growled Karl.  “I ain’t dyin’ for you, ya' pimple-faced fuck.  I ain’t some dumb, shriveled-up cunt like Rast over here.  Men paid me ten silvers to kill a man back in King's Landing.  Ya' hear that?  Ten bloody silvers.  I was a legend in Gin Alley and when yer a fuckin’ legend, yer services don’t come cheap.”  

“A legend?  You hear that, Rast?  Yer boy here is a legend.  You kill the Old Bear, recruit the men I need, and I’ll have you running the bloody Night’s Watch.  The man I got in mind for Lord Commander would shit his pants in front of the King himself if you told him to.  He’s terrified of you, I’d wager,” Chett calmly replied.  And I’ll be long gone by the time the bloody Starks find out about their precious bastard besides.  

“They’ll never make Rast Lord Commander.”  It took all of Chett’s self-restraint not to slap the so-called legend of Gin Alley.  I shouldn’t even be in this frozen wasteland with the likes of you.  That whore had it coming; the bitch laughed at me.  The cunt would sleep with everyone what asked her to except me.  The fuck is wrong with me?  My member works as well as anyone else's!  If the dumb bitch had just let me take her, I wouldn’t have had to rape her.  She’d still be alive and I wouldn’t be surrounded by these bloody cunts.  

“Not Rast, you bloody –”  

“Who then?  Ser Piggy,” asked Softfoot.  I hate you all.  None of you is fit to lick my boots.  Others take the whole damn lot of you.  

“NO, NOT PIGGY!  NOT THAT BLOODY CRAVEN!  SAMWELL FUCKING TARLY WILL NEVER BE LORD COMMANDER!  I AM GOING TO OPEN HIS THROAT FROM EAR TO EAR AND DRINK WINE FROM HIS BLOODY SKULL BEFORE I LEAVE, YOU BLOODY HALF-WIT.”  

“For fuck’s sake, keep yer bloody voice down, Chett, or we’re all dead men,” hissed Rast.  “I don’t want to be –”  

“You’ll be whatever I tell you to be, you bastard, orphaned, son of a whore,” roared Karl as he sent his pet rat tumbling to the ground with a single blow.  

“Rast, since you’re going to be the new Lord Commander, can I keep Lord Commander Mormont’s crow,” asked Small Paul.  This meeting is a bloody disaster.  

“I haven’t lost a fight in twenty years.  You know why?  Because I’m a legend that’s why!  A FUCKING LEGEND!”  How good can life really be at Craster’s Keep?  Mayhaps I should just turn myself in so I can watch the rest of you cunts hang.  At least Rast is only a half-wit.  More than can be said for the rest of this lot.  

“Enough already, Karl.”  

“Shut up, dickless Dirk!  You think you can take me, is that the way of it?  Ain’t had me a good fight in twenty years.  Never lost one before neither, but maybe you’re the man for the job?  Eh?”  

“No, I...I wouldn’t have a chance.”  

“Damn right, you wouldn’t.  I was a fucking legend and you don’t kill a fucking legend.  You hear me, you sorry bunch of fucks?”  

“Shut up, all of you,” snapped Chett.  Craster’s daughters better be good lays.  I deserve to dine on something nice and wet for putting up with these twats.  Chett...a Lord!  No, why not a King?  King Chett of Craster’s Keep – fuck that, Chett’s Keep – and the first of his bloody name.  

“Who did you have in mind for Lord Commander,” asked Karl.  

“Janos Slynt.”  

“I ain’t workin' with no high-born fucks.  Fuck you and yer bloody boils.”  

“Janos Slynt is a greedy, snivelin' little half-wit who’ll soil himself every time you speak to him.  He’ll wet his bloody britches when he takes a look at you.  Already took the liberty of tellin' him you’d skin him if he didn’t do as I said and now we own him. He was cryin' and beggin' me not to let you hurt him.  He said you were a fuckin' legend in King’s Landing,” Chett lied.  

“He did?  A legend?  Of course he did; I am a bloody legend, after all.  'The Legend of Gin Alley' they called me.  Aye, mayhaps I could see my way to tolerating the man for a time, so long as he does as he’s told.” If you believe he said that, then yer the dumbest cunt in Westeros.  

“Good.  And Slynt is a right proper highborn besides.  He’ll win Lord Commander when he runs, I’ll wager.  That’ll be like you being Lord Commander.”  Or not...  Don't really give a fuck what you lot do.  Everyone at The Wall will be so busy trying to find Lord Commander Mormont’s killers that they’ll never notice I’m gone until I’ve buried Craster six feet underground.  Never seen the Wildling fuck before, but Rast said he was just an old man...an old man with hidden food stores and twenty or thirty daughters.  Why should he get ‘em all for himself?  Craster – or whatever that Wildling cunt’s name is – had his turn.  Sounds like he has a good thing going.  Better than he deserves!  What about Chett?  When do I get mine?  The fuck’s wrong with me?  I’m gonna take it all from the old bastard.  All for Chett!  I deserve it, damn it!  

“And the rest of the men?”  

“If yer smart, you’ll tell Lord Commander Slynt that his first act will be to allow men of the Watch to lay with women again.  What man wouldn’t follow a Lord Commander who did that?”  

“Lord Snow wouldn’t,” muttered Rast.  “If yer smart, you’ll kill him too and do it at the same time you kill the Old Bear.  Bring Bowen Marsh into yer circle by convincing him that Jon supports the Lord Commander’s plan to let in the Wildlings.  Get him to deal with Lord Snow for us.  If Jon kills the old man, then we can convince our brothers that the Wildling-loving bastard is a turncloak just like his bloody father and was plotting to kill The Watch’s leadership.”

“No one’s talking to you,” snapped Karl, sucker-punching his pet rat.  “Yer as useless as a talkin' pussy, you know that?  Why would anyone believe that Jon killed the Lord Commander?  Eh?”  

“He’s right,” replied Chett.  “They’ll believe Jon did it.  Thorne will convince them, most like.  We can’t tell the stubborn old bastard about our plan – he'd turn us in, most like – but we don’t kill him neither.  He’ll support Slynt for Lord Commander and Thorne always hated Lord Snow besides.  He hates the Old Bear too for agreeing to let the Wildlings in and –”

“Everyone hates that prick.  Why would anyone listen to him,” asked Dirk.  

“Everyone hates Thorne, aye.  But they know him for an honorable man too, they’ll believe him, I’d wager.  Every man here knows that in the end, Thorne would always do whatever he thought was best for The Watch.  We just have to convince him that the best thing for the Watch is to execute Lord Snow and make Janos Slynt the new Lord Commander.”  

Chapter Text

“You'd best remind your father that I am the King.  I order him to return with to the capitol with his host NOW!  I already said that I don't care about the stupid Riverlands.”  Grandfather always was a craven.  If he thinks I don't know how he hid under Casterly Rock like the miserable rat he is while Robert won the war...  Mayhaps this foolishness is to be expected.  Grandfather would always whine about how pathetic his father was, but my real father was the one who killed The Mad King.  Mother says my father was the greatest knight Westeros has ever seen and since I was also raised by a great warrior, it's only natural that the courage of weak old men pales in comparison to my own.  Grandfather's day is done; I am the King and that means everyone has to do whatever I want.  I'll have to remind him of that the next time he shows his face in King's Landing.  

“I can think of no better way to ensure that my father won’t do something then for me to tell him that you ordered it,” replied the Imp.  Shut up, you stupid...stupid...dwarf!  I hate dwarves!  When the war is over, I'm going to make being a dwarf a crime punishable by death, the King decided.  Alas, that would plainly have to wait.  There were more important matters to attend to at the moment, namely Tywin Lannister's behavior which was as cowardly as it was treasonous.  

“I...am...THE KING!  That old fool can’t just take my army and fight whoever he wants.  Tell him...tell him that I’ll have his head on a spike if he doesn't return to the Red Keep immediately!”  Traitors!  They...they’re everywhere!  They think I don't know about their schemes and plots, but they can't fool me!  I’ll kill them all!  

“Your Grace, mayhaps it would be wise to set aside the matter of your grandfather until you have slain Stannis Baratheon, Robb Stark, and Balon Greyjoy.  Surely no other Lords will be foolish enough to defy you once they see how harshly you punish those men for their vile treason.”

“I suppose you’re right, Lord Varys.  I’ll deal with my grandfather's treasons later.  Lord Baelish."  

"Yes, Your Grace?"  

"Now that you’re Lord of Harrenhal, I might as well name you Lord Paramount of the Trident.  The Tullys will lose far more than that title for supporting Sansa's traitor brother.”  

“Thank you, Your Grace,” replied Lord Baelish with a serpentine smirk.  “It is an honor, although not half so great an honor as it is to serve a King as wise, brave, and noble as yourself.  If ever Westeros had a King sent by the Gods themselves to guide us during our darkest hour, surely it was you.  Give me leave to travel to The Eyrie, Your Grace, and I can promise you that I will return with an army of Vale knights ready to follow you into battle.”  The Spider sighed loudly and rolled his eyes.  I’ll gouge your eyes out if you ever roll them at me again, you cockless cock.  

“Why would –”

“Mayhaps you didn’t know, Lord Tyrion, but Lady Lysa has always been quite favorably disposed towards me.”  

“Yes, yes, very well.  Lord Baelish shall sail for Gulltown tomorrow morning,” replied the King with a yawn.  Pity.  Lord Baelish is the only loyal man on the Small Council, most like.  I’d have preferred to keep him in the capitol.  

“But...but he...very well, Your Grace.  Tell me, does it concern you in the least that your granduncle is dead,” seethed The Imp.  

“Who?  Oh you mean your uncle Kevan; he is dead, isn't he?  Who was it that killed him,” asked the King.  Kevan Lannister was a useless old fool to be sure, but his execution was treason all the same.  Would even Robb Stark dare to do such a thing?  No, he’s just a green boy and a mere pretender besides.  This was plainly his bitch mother’s work.  She must've put him up to it.  Mother always said Sansa's mother was a cunt.  The slut rules the North through her traitor son, most like.  It matters not at all; so long as I am King, treason shall never go unpunished.  

“Of course, the Starks killed him.  Seven Hells, Ser Kevan was your kin; the least you could do is pretend to care.”  Once I’ve dealt with Stannis, I’ll put your head on a spike for that.  How dare you raise your voice to me!  I AM THE KING!  One does not raise their voice to a King.  That treacherous dwarf might be too dangerous to punish right now, but soon...  

“Why?  The man was nothing to me.  The House Stark’s treason will be punished, but Ser Devan –”  

“Kevan.”  

“Right, that’s what I said.”  

“You said...never mind.”  That’s right, you little monster.  I’m the King and mother says that means the truth is whatever I want it to be.  If I say that I said “Kevan,” then that means I said “Kevan.”  You'd best remember that, you little monster.  

“Ser Kevan would've probably fallen off his horse and died within a fortnight anyway.  We’re better off without him, most like.  With any luck, your father will keel over next.”

“Your Grace, Lord Tywin is a wise and honorable man.  The Seven themselves could not have blessed you with a better counselor,” blurted Pycelle.  Tywin’s not even here, you senile, old fool.  Pity.  That stupid dwarf said he saw the smallfolk descend upon the Grand Maester, but it was just the High Septon.  At their age all men start look the same from a distance, most like.  Of course, the High Septon was much fatter than Pycelle.  I suppose I should be grateful that the smallfolk rid me of my treasonous little shit of a brother.  I should reward them by shooting a few with my crossbow so the rest have fresh meat.  

Pycelle.  The old fool has gone soft in the head, most like.  Either that or he is simply a half-wit.  Why else would he sing that Lannister craven’s praises rather than my own.  A blind man could see that I am the beginning of a dynasty that will last a thousand years.  Lord Baelish realized it, he said the Lannister name shall soon be lost in the sands of time, while the name "Joffrey Baratheon" will live on forever.  

“Grand Maester Pycelle, I charge you with wasting my time.  The penalty for for wasting a King's time is death.  Dog, escort this traitor to the black cells.  Instruct Ser Ilyn to put shove him into a washing tub and then butcher the useless traitor like a hog.”  

“But...But Your Grace, I...I...”  

“The Small Council meeting is over.  I believe we’ve accomplished a great deal, my Lords,” said the King with a smile as The Hound dragged away the Grand Maester.  One less traitor on the Small Council.  It is still far to big for my liking.  Lord Baelish is the only loyal man among them and if he continues to serve me well in the coming days, I shall name him Hand of the King once I’ve slain Stannis Baratheon and Robb Stark in single combat.  

...

It had taken several hours, but everything was finally ready.  All that’s left now is to wait for that dumb bitch to wake up.  The King stood near Sansa Stark’s bed and watched her as she slept.  Good, she’s rolling around; the dumb bitch will be covered in blood when she wakes up.  That was the real reason Pycelle had to die: so there would be blood to spread across Sansa’s bed once she’d fallen asleep.  It had been difficult to get into the room without waking her and Ser Meryn was forced to remove his armor beforehand.  Is he...no, I must be seeing things.  Ser Meryn can’t possibly be drooling.  It just looks that way because there’s so little light in the room, most like.  Even so, mayhaps it would have been best to have The Hound assist me with this task instead.  I suppose it doesn’t matter anymore.  Seven Hells, this is taking too long.  I’m tired of waiting!  

“WAKE UP, YOU STUPID CUNT,” screamed the King.  Sansa opened her eyes and found herself staring directly at the rotting head of her father.  Her scream was the loudest thing that Joffrey had ever seen in his life and nothing had ever pleased him more than the look of terror on the bitch’s face.  

"Ser Meryn, I want you to beat Lady Sansa so badly that men will call her 'The Purple Queen.'  Leave her face alone though, I like it just the way it is."  

"Yes, Your Grace."  That should teach your traitor brother not to execute my kin.  

Chapter Text

Arya fidgeted in her seat as Lord Bolton continued wasting the day writing more and more of his stupid messages.  Doesn’t he ever get sick of writing?  How many Lords could he possibly need to write to anyway?  Is this what Lords do all day?  I can’t believe I ever wanted to be a stupid old Lord.  The dull monotony of it all grew increasingly unbearable as the day wore on and before long, Arya was kicking at the ground in frustration.  Lord Bolton glared at her.  Is he finally going to talk to me about something?  

“You will stop making whatever that noise was; I require silence.”  Seven Hells!  

“Yes, my Lord,” Arya groaned, letting out a frustrated sigh.  There’s not even anything interesting in this stupid room.  Some chairs, a stupid desk, a bookshelf, and...wait...  I bet Lord Bolton has books about all sorts of things.  He’s a Lord so he probably gets to read about whatever he wants instead of just the boring things Septa Mordane kept trying to make me learn about.  She can keep her stupid Seven Pointed Star, the Old Gods are the only ones I’ll ever pray to.  I bet those books are about things even old Maester Lewin has never heard of...or at least things father would’ve never let me read about.  Lord Bolton will let me read them though; I know he will!  He’s my friend!  And he never tries to force me to act like a stupid, boring, old Lady besides.  Maybe there’s even one about Visenya Targaryen or Queen Nymeria.  

Arya quietly made her way to the bookshelf and grabbed a book from one of the lower shelves.  The Curse of Harren...wait...why are half of the pages missing?  She tossed the tome aside and grabbed another book: The Winds of Winter by Maester Martyn.  This stupid book doesn’t have any pages either; none of them do.  What’s the point of a book with no pages?  “That’s not even a real book,” Arya muttered to herself as she stormed back to her seat.  

What’s he even writing about anyway, the Lone Wolf wondered as she cautiously crept towards Lord Bolton’s desk.  Quick as a snake.  Calm as still water.  Quiet as a mouse.  Arya peered over the edge of the desk and saw something about a bird and some dead fish when she noticed two pale, blue eyes staring directly at her.  It was never easy to tell what Lord Bolton was thinking.  Sometimes he smiled when he was angry; other times he scowled when he was happy.  This was not one of those times.  His look was not one of anger or even annoyance, but of disappointment.  

Arya lowered her head with the shame of a son who had failed his father and sulked to the other end of the room without a word, never taking her eyes off the ground.  I shouldn’t bother him like that when he’s working.  I made him wroth with me and the letter didn’t even say anything interesting besides.  He was just writing about some stupid old bird.  Lord Bolton, he...he’ll have to punish me now, Arya realized, as she slumped down into her seat.  It was bad enough that Lord Bolton probably wouldn’t let her ask any questions for the rest of the week, but what frustrated the Lone Wolf most was that it was all because of something so stupid.  

There were certain things you had to know when you were living in Harrenhal.  You had to know that no matter what Urswyck the Faithful threatened to do to you, he’d leave you alone as long as you said you thought he should lead the Brave Companions instead of Vargo Hoat.  You had to know that if you ever annoyed Roose Bolton in any way, he’d get you for it...someday.  You’d probably never even realize that he had anything to do with what happened, but no matter how long it took, he’d always find a way.  He’d never hurt me though...not really.  I bet Lord Bolton wouldn’t sell his sister for some stupid old bridge, Arya thought to herself bitterly.  

Even as she stared at the ground, Arya could feel the Lord of the Dreadfort’s pale, blue eyes peering directly into her soul.  Everyone at Winterfell always used to say that Boltons were evil and that you couldn’t trust them.  Old Nan even used to tell stories about how they’d kidnap little children – especially Starks – and gobble them up for supper or turn them into mindless slaves, but those were just stories for children.  I am not a child!  I’m twelve and nearly a woman grown.  I don't...I don’t care if Roose is a stupid Bolton instead of a Stark.  He’s still part of my pack and a wolf just like me.  He probably even has a list too and I bet everyone on it is afraid of him.  No one will ever be afraid of me...not really, Arya realized with more than a little bit of disappointment.  

What began as mild disappointment quickly turned first to fear, then to panic, and finally to despair as her thoughts turned to the rest of her pack.  There was one thing that almost all of them had in common: They’re either dead or they hate me, all of them except Jon and Lord Bolton.  Jon lives at The Wall now, so I’ll never see him again, most like.  He’s probably dead too.  Arya bit her lip.  

She’d asked Lord Bolton about Gendry and the next day, he’d told her that there were no smiths by that name among the prisoners, but Arya knew the truth.  There was no point even asking about Hot Pie; the answer would be the same, most like.  They ran away without even saying goodbye.  They’d have left me behind if I hadn’t told Ser Robett who I was, most like.  It hurt almost as much as finding out that her family would sell her to the Freys for a bridge.  Gendry probably still blames me for what happened to Lucan.  Stupid...stupid, stubborn, old bull.  It wasn’t my fault!  Robb’s men weren’t supposed to hurt the smallfolk.  I didn’t know Lord Vargo was going to become Lord of Harrenhal once the Lannisters were defeated.  I even tried to make sure Lord Bolton wouldn’t let anything happen to him.  How can he blame me for that stupid Goat?  I didn’t know, you stupid...stubborn...I didn’t...  Arya tried not to cry, but it was no use and bitter tears slowly dribbled down her cheeks until she finally wiped them away on her left sleeve.  

When the Lone Wolf first discovered that her family had traded her to the Freys for a bridge – no, not even for a bridge, just to cross a someone else’s stupid bridge once or twice – it seemed like the worst part was learning just how little she was worth to her mother and older brother, but not even that hurt half so much as the fact that her mother still hadn’t replied to the raven Lord Bolton sent to let her know that one of her daughters was safe.  She didn’t care.  Neither of them did...not really.  They’d care if Sansa was safe though; mother would travel to Harrenhal herself, most like.  If they didn’t need to cross the Frey’s bridge, would Robb and mother have just sold me to the least favorite son of some other horrible old Lord?  

Lord Bolton doesn’t hate me, but if he has to keep punishing me for bothering him while he’s trying to work...  I...I won’t bother him like that anymore.  I’ll find something else to do when he doesn’t want to talk.  I can’t lose him too!  I’ll never see Jon again and father, Bran, and Rickon are all dead.  That means Lord Bolton is the only one left who still cares what happens to me, most like.  He doesn’t try to make me act like some boring old Lady and sometimes he even lets me ask more than one question if it’s about something important.  He can’t be like the Boltons in Old Nan’s stories!  He didn’t lock me up in some dungeon or try to keep me away from my pack.  He told mother and Robb where I was – not that they cared – and even lets me stay in his solar while he works.  

Suddenly, the Lone Wolf felt a small pang of guilt for having been annoyed with her friend for spending so much time every day writing messages to other Lords.  Even if they are boring, he wouldn’t spend so much time on them unless they were important.  Maybe they just seem boring because they’re in some sort of code...maybe.  It...it doesn’t matter.  I won’t disappoint Lord Bolton ever again!  I’ll be good from now on, he’ll see!  I’ll be quiet as a mouse for the rest of the day just like he wants me to be, Arya promised herself with a smile.  

“Talk,” said a voice as soft as a whisper.  

“What?”  

“Once you began crying, it was plain that you had no intention of permitting me to accomplish anything.  It is difficult to concentrate when someone is kicking the floor, tossing books about, and crying for no apparent reason.”  I made him wroth with me again?  Already?  But...but...I...  

“I’m sorry!  I’m sorry!  I’m sorry!  I’m sorry!  I’m sorry!  Please, I –”  The Lord of the Dreadfort sighed loudly.  

“Yes, yes, yes, very good.  You are forgiven.  I can only assume these outbursts were borne of boredom.  If so, then I fear ignoring you will simply make it worse.”  

“You’re not angry?”  

“If I were, I assure you that it would have been plain some time ago.”  

“Would not!  You never tell people that you’re angry with them.”  

“No?”  Arya shook her head vigorously.  

“No.  Sometimes they don’t know even after you gotten revenge on them.”  

“Revenge is such an ugly word.  It is a word for fools who cannot control their emotions, I think.  Whenever I act against a man, I do so only after carefully considering the cost and benefits of crossing him.  Revenge is...well...revenge is a word that my bastard would use.”  Arya couldn’t tell whether the Lord of the Dreadfort was joking or not, but she knew better than to ask.  She also knew that he did things to people all the time simply because they’d annoyed him once and it amused him to see them uncomfortable.  That’s why he used to make Elmar Frey handle all the leeches with his bare hands, most like.  

“You shouldn’t call him a bastard.  He probably hates that word.”  

“No doubt.  We will not discuss Lord Snow.  It is far too early in the afternoon for a leeching and I fear I shall require one if I hear another word about that fool.  Is that understood?”  Arya nodded.  “You are still capable of speech, are you not?”  

“It’s hard to have a conversation without asking questions, my Lord.  And I’m saving mine so that I can ask two tomorrow besides.”  

“As you say.  Very well, just this once, I will permit you to ask as many questions as you wish...at least for a time.”  This was the last thing that Arya had expected Lord Bolton to do.  Not only wasn’t it a punishment, it was a reward!  

“Thank you...I mean...thank you, my Lord.”  

“You may thank me by being silent while I work once our conversation has concluded.”  

“I will be, I promise!”  

“Good.  Now then, why were you crying earlier?  Do I frighten you so terribly?”  

“No.  You don’t scare me...not really.”  

“Are you quite certain,” asked Lord Bolton in a voice as sharp as a knife.  “You aren’t afraid I’ll flay you and cook you for supper?”  

“I know the stories about your House are just stories.  And even if someone in your House did that once, I don’t care what some stupid Stark or Bolton did 1,000 years ago.  The Lannisters are the ones who should be afraid; not me.  Robb’s going to kill them all, every last one.  And I’m too small to make a proper supper besides.”  

“As you say.  Tell me, do you know why my more willful ancestors worked so hard to spread such stories?”  

“If other Houses are afraid of what you do to your enemies, they’re less likely to challenge you.  Only...”  

“Yes?”  

“You don’t actually do those things because then other Houses would hate you and make alliances against you.”  Lord Bolton gave a small nod of approval.  

“Clever girl.  You’ve always been smarter than your kin gave you credit for, haven’t you?”  

“Mother never listened to me about anything.  She just wanted me to be a boring, old Lady like Sansa.”  

“Pity.  Mayhaps if you had a seat on King Robb’s Small Council instead of that fat fool Lord Manderly, the Lannisters would’ve surrendered by now.”  

“Thank you, my Lord,” said Arya with a wide smile, content with the knowledge that Lord Bolton still wanted to be her friend.  

“A pity you’ll never have an opportunity to travel to the Dreadfort.”  

“Why would I want...I mean...the Dreadfort doesn’t sound like what you’d call a castle that was safe to visit.”  Arya began fidgeting nervously as Lord Bolton sighed in disappointment.  He’s probably wroth with me because he knows that I don’t want to visit his stupid castle.  Fear cuts deeper than swords.  Fear cuts deeper than swords.  

“A wise man does not judge things by what they sound like.  For instance, you sound like a frightened little girl.  Is that what you are?”

“HEY!  I’m not –”  

“Not a frightened little girl?  You could have fooled me.  Even your sister Sansa wouldn’t have been half so scared of the mere name of a castle, I think.”  

“I AM NOT AFRAID!”  That’s not fair!  He doesn’t even know Sansa and now he thinks she’s braver than me.  She already has everyone else except Jon.  Lord Bolton’s my friend, not hers.  She can't have him!  

“I believe you, my Lady.”  

“I’m not a Lady.”  

“Then why have you decided to act like one?  No one at the Dreadfort would care if a girl wanted to learn how to fight with a sword or ride a horse instead of stitching.  Even my bastard oft takes women with him when he goes hunting.”  

“Really?  I didn’t know –”  

“Yes...not that such things would interest you, my Lady.”  

“I said I’m not a stupid Lady.”  I’m not afraid; he’ll see.  I’ll find out everything there is to know about the Deadfort or whatever that stupid place is called.  

“And I’d go there if Robb would let me.”  

“Would you?”  

“Yes.  I’m not lying; I promise!  I’m not a Lady and I’m not afraid of you or your stupid castle either,” Arya insisted, looking the Lord of the Dreadfort directly in the eye.  

“Clearly not.  That is good to know.”  

“What is?”  

“That I was right about you.  You’re much too brave to be a proper Lady, I think.  Far braver than your sister, most like.  No doubt that is the reason that you made it this far.”  

“Thank you, my Lord.  I didn’t mean to insult your castle.”  

“It matters not at all.  The Dreadfort has survived worse.”  

“Did you...I mean...how well did you know my father?”  Lord Bolton’s lips twisted into a thin smile.  

“King Robb cares little and less for my counsel, I think.  However, Lord Eddard counted me among his closest friends.  I fought with him during the Battle of the Trident.  Did you know that?"  

"You did?  Really?”  

“Yes.  He was mayhaps the wisest Lord that Winterfell ever had.  And like all wise men, he surrounded himself with other wise men, myself among them.  Your father always heeded my counsel.”  

“But then why didn’t he ever ask you to visit Winterfell?  I saw almost every other Lord there at least once.  Why wouldn’t –”  

“Would you like to hear a story about your father?”  

“YES!”  Lord Bolton dryly told a tale about the time Arya’s father slew the Sword of the Morning – Ser Arthur Dayne – all by himself.  She’d heard every version of the story hundreds of times, but it didn’t matter.  Hearing other people talk about her father always made Arya sad, but it was also the only way she could remember him without seeing Joffrey, the Queen, Ser Ilyn, and...Sansa.  I could’ve saved him somehow.  I could have...  Robb won’t let the Lannisters win!  Never!  He’ll kill them all for what they did to father, every one.  

“Is something troubling you?”  

“No, my Lord.  I just...”  

“You were thinking about what the Lannisters did to your father, weren’t you?”  Arya nodded.  

“I was there.  I saw it.  It...it’s my fault he’s dead.  I should have done...something.”  

“Your father would’ve wanted you to escape from King’s Landing, I think.  It would not serve for you to die in a doomed attempt to save him.”  

“But –”  

“Your father loved you dearly.  He would’ve gladly traded his life for yours, whatever Lady Catelyn may think...”  

“Whatever my mother thinks?  Why would she talk to you about me unless –”  

“I misspoke, it matters not at all.  We shall not discuss this any further.”  

“You did not!  My mother answered the raven you sent to Riverrun, didn’t she?  I know she did!  I can tell when you’re lying.”  

“I fear I must ask your forgiveness,” Lord Bolton calmly replied.  “Your mother responded to the raven that I sent King Robb informing him that I had found you at Harrenhal.  I burned it as I do all my correspondences once I have read them.”  

“I don’t understand.  Why didn’t you tell me?”  

“I had hoped that I might be able to spare you some pain, but you are Lady Catelyn’s daughter.  I suppose you have the right to hear her words.”  Arya found that she was far too excited to be angry at the Lord of the Dreadfort for not telling her the moment that he received the message.  

“What did she say?  When can I see her?  What about Robb?  Have they heard anything about Sansa?  I don’t have to marry a Frey now that Elmar’s dead, do I?  Are you sure you burned –”  

“Yes, yes, I am quite certain I burned the message.  Your mother missed you, no doubt, only...”  

“What’s wrong?  Are they alright?  Please, tell me!”  

“As you wish.  How can I put this?  Your mother was disappointed when she learned that I had found you.”  

“What do you mean,” asked Arya hoping the answer wasn’t what she already knew it to be.  

“If I tell you, I must have your word that you will not speak a word of this to your mother or King Robb when you see them.  It would not serve for them to be wroth with me at this time.”  

“I...I promise.  I won’t tell them; I swear it by the Old Gods and the New.”  

“Very well.  Your mother wrote that she prayed day and night for her daughter to be returned to her...and was most wroth when she learned that her prayers were for naught.”  

“But the Old Gods must have answered her prayers.  You’re going to take me to Riverrun and –”  

“And you were not the daughter she wanted.  Lady Catelyn made it quite plain in her letter that she prayed only for the return of your sister.  She missed you, no doubt, but...well...every parent has their regrets.  Mayhaps you were one of hers...”  

“That’s not true.  I’m her daughter, she has to love me at least a little bit...doesn’t she?”  

“The truth is seldom a pleasing thing and yet we must suffer it all the same.”  Arya had already begun to suspect that her mother only wanted Sansa back, but it hurt to have her worst fears confirmed all the same.  

“I can act like a proper Lady.  Maybe not like Sansa, but I...I can do it!  I really can!  Watch,” Arya begged as she began frantically trying to get the knots out of her hair.  Soon her hair was even more hopelessly tangled than ever before.  I will not cry.  I am a direwolf. Direwolves don’t...they don’t...  It was no use and soon bitter tears flowed from her sad, grey eyes like twin rivers of pain and loneliness.  

“It would matter not at all.  Your mother makes do with you in the same way that I have made do with my bastard.  Lady Catelyn wrote that she oft wishes she’d drank moon tea before you were born.  Did you know that?”  

“She wouldn’t say that!  She...she wouldn’t...she...”  She’s my mother!  She has to love me...even just a little bit.  Maybe Lord Bolton is just misremembering...maybe.  Arya tried to remember the times that her mother comforted her when she was sad, how she fiercely her mother would hold hug her when she was afraid.  Somehow the happy memories seemed just out of reach.  All the sad, lonely little girl could remember were the times her mother scolded her for not acting like a proper Lady, threatened to send her off to live with the Wildlings if she kept eating so messily, and all the times her mother told her to be more like her stupid, perfect sister.  Was that all there was?  No!  My mother loves me; I know she does...just less than Sansa and my brothers is all.  If she had to choose one daughter to save, she’d pick Sansa, but maybe she’ll let me live at Winterfell now that there aren’t any more stupid bridges to sell me for...maybe.  

“In truth, I would not be surprised if your kin blame you for Lord Eddard’s death.  It was not your fault, of course, but I imagine that they are quite used to blaming you for anything bad that happens to your House and...well...men see what they look for.  Women too, I think.”  

“But I wanted to save him!  I really did!  I was going to, but then Yoren made me look away,” Arya whimpered.  

“Why did you let this Yoren interfere?  Didn’t you want to save your father?”  Does Lord Bolton hate me too?  I could run away from Harrenhal and live at The Wall.  Jon would forgive me, I know he would.  

“What...what was I even supposed to do?  There were soldiers everywhere and –”  

“Would that stop your father if your life were in danger?”  

“No.  I’m sorry, I...”  

“Why?  A wise man knows when to act and when to wait.  Lashing out like a mad dog is easy.  Waiting patiently for the right moment to dispose of an enemy is far more difficult...though more rewarding, I think.”  

“You’re not...you’re not mad at me?”  

“I already said that your father’s death was not your fault, did I not?  Joffrey Lannister gave the order and you didn’t intervene because you are not a fool.  Do you understand?”  Arya nodded.  She knew that the Lord of the Dreadfort was just saying that to make her feel better, but she wiped away her tears and tried to force herself to believe him all the same.  

“It wasn’t just Joffrey.  It was the Queen and Ser Ilyn too.”  

“As you say.”  

“I’ll kill them for what they did...someday. Joffrey.  The Queen.  Ser Ilyn.  The Hound.  The Mountain.  Ser Meryn.  Tywin Lann –”  

“All by yourself?  Aren’t you a dangerous little thing,” said Lord Bolton as flicker of amusement crept across his face.  “I’m sure Ser Gregor Clegane trembles in fear at the mere thought of your wrath.”  

“No one would ever be afraid of me,” Arya muttered, kicking at the ground.  

“In truth, there are ways of making even the bravest of men fear you with a single look.”  

“Show me how.”  

“Very well.”  Lord Bolton spent the next ten minutes lecturing about how to hide one’s emotions, teaching Arya how to scowl and stare menacingly, and explaining the power of a protracted pause.  No one will ever call me “lumpyhead” or “Arya Horseface” ever again, the Lone Wolf thought to herself with a smile.  If they do, I’ll be able to shut them up with a single look.  

...

Where are all of the wolves?  Did Vargo Hoat and his men kill all of them?  Why aren’t they howling, Arya wondered as she locked the door to the small room where she slept each night.  It was cramped and when Lord Bolton first required her to sleep there, it oft felt like a dungeon cell.  However, she’d become more and more comfortable with it as the days went by.  It’s not so bad...not really. The room is just...small is all.  And I don’t need a large room besides.  It was a safe place to sleep and that was all that mattered.  

*Creek*  What was that?  *Creeeek*  Whatever the noise was, it was coming from the other side of the door.  *CREEEEEEEK*  

“Who...who’s there?”  *CREEEEEEEEEEEEK*  Sansa might’ve screamed or hid under her sheets, but Arya wasn’t afraid; she slowly made her way to the door.  *CREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEK*  Fear cuts deeper than swords.  Fear cuts deeper than swords.  *click*  

Arya lowered her head to look through the keyhole when the door suddenly slammed open, hitting her in the face.  The force of the blow knocked her to the ground and when she looked up, there was a man standing in the doorway.  He had a long goatee and was holding a bloody knife in his right hand.  “Do you want to find out what happenth to little girlth who thcream?”  Arya shook her head.  Not today!  Not today!  Not today!  

“Lord Bolt–”  

“I don’t therve Lord Bolton anymore; you dumb bitch.  Hith Grace Joffrey Baratheon, the one true King of the Theven Kingdomth will make me Lord of Harrenhal thoon...and not jutht in name.”  

“You already betrayed the Lannisters.  They’ll kill you, stupid,” snapped Arya, hoping it was true as she tried to stare at the Goat of Harrenhal the way Lord Bolton had taught her.  Lord Vargo didn’t look very frightened.  Am I doing it wrong?  

“They won’t care.  Not once they thee the gift that I’ve brought them.”  

“Go run back to them then.  If you leave now, maybe Lord Bolton will give you a head start before he kills you...maybe.  I'm not afraid of you.”  

“Not afraid of me?  But you thould be, m’Lady.  You really, really thould be...”  

“I’m not a –”  

“Don’t you ever thtop talking, you dumb bitch?”  In one swift motion, the Goat put his knife in it’s sheath, grabbed Arya by the neck, and lifted her off the ground.  “Of courthe, I’ve never had a highborn cunt before.  No reathon I can’t have thome fun before I give you to thothe golden-haired thitth once we’ve gotten away from thith bloody cathtle...ith there, Lady Arya?”  Not today!  Not today!  Not today!  

Chapter Text

He’s dead.  Robb was my only remaining son and now...  It hadn’t even been a battle, not if the survivors were to be believed.  Tywin Lannister’s men were exactly where Robb said they’d be, but it was a trap.  The Tyrells surrounded the Northmen and swatted Robb's entire host like a fly.  I told him not to do it.  I begged him, I warned him, I pleaded with him.  Whatever mistakes I’ve made, I knew this would be a massacre.  Seven help me, I knew.  I could feel it in my bones.  Why wouldn’t he listen?  Was it because of the Kingslayer?  I had to free him.  It...It was the only way to make the Lannisters return Sansa and Arya.  They must see that...  Surely Robb realized that freeing the Kingslayer was what kept the Lannisters from executing his sisters after Ser Kevan's murder.  But he never said anything about informing Lord Tywin of his son's mistake...only that the man had a right to know that his brother was dead.  I suppose it doesn’t really matter anymore, does it?  Robb ignored my warnings and now my uncle is dead.  Suddenly, there was a knock on the door and before Catelyn could reply, her brother entered the room wearing the same bitter scowl he’d greeted her with ever since she’d traded the Kingslayer’s life for those of her daughters. What would you have had me do?  See the Lannisters take Sansa and Arya's heads?  Is that what you want?  

“His Grace wishes to speak with you,” muttered the Lord of Riverrun in a voice so cold it would've made the Others shiver.  

“Am I to wear manacles every time I see my son?”  

“After what you did, they can keep you in chains for the rest of your damn life for all I care.”  

“Edmure, I –”  

“You what?  Do you have any idea what you’ve done?  You didn’t just free the Kingslayer, Cat.  You humiliated me.  Robb trusted me with his most valuable prisoner and you freed him.  You released the Kingslayer and gave Tywin Lannister his heir back for nothing."  Nothing?  How can you say that?  

“I traded the Kingslayer for my daughters...for your nieces.  Do Sansa and Arya’s lives truly mean nothing to you?  Mayhaps if you had children of your own –”  

“I’d feel the same way.  Lords don’t have the luxury of letting our emotions and selfish desires run wild as yours so plainly have.”  

“You have no right to talk of selfishness.  It was your foolish thirst for glory that allowed Tywin Lannister to survive the trap that my son laid for him.  Lord Tywin is already in King’s Landing by now, most like.  And with a Tyrell army at his back, no less.  If so, then Lord Stannis may not even attack King’s Landing.  Thanks to you, he'd probably have better luck landing at White Harbor and attacking The North.  Your King gave you an order and had you followed it, the war might’ve been over by now.  You were also the fool who convinced my son to execute the late Lord Karstark instead of keeping him as a hostage."  

"I will not apologize for supporting my King's decision to execute a man who brought such dishonor upon us all by breaking the guest right.  And you were the one who freed the King –"  If you were even half the man our father was...  

"Ned would’ve understood why I traded the Kingslayer for –”  

“Ned Stark is dead.  What he would or wouldn’t have done doesn’t matter anymore.”  Catelyn tried to raise her hand to slap the Lord of Riverrun, but she couldn’t get her left arm far enough from her right.  

“This is why we keep you chains, sweet sister.”  How could father have ever had a son like you?  Seven Hells, even Jon Snow would’ve made a better Lord, most like.  

“House Tully’s words are ‘Family.  Duty.  Honor.’  Family comes first for a reason, Edmure."  

"I'm part of your family too, Cat.  Were you putting me first when you freed the Kingslayer?"  

"Until you can see understand your nieces lives were worth more than that of the Kingslayer, I no longer have a brother.  Now are you going to bring me to my son or have you decided to disobey your King yet again?”  

...

“Leave us, Lord Edmure.”  

“At once, Your Grace.”  

“At least you had the decency to remove my chains,” Catelyn muttered bitterly.  Robb may be a King, but I am still his mother.  Forcing me to wear manacles while I spoke to him would’ve been a betrayal in-and-of-itself.  

“Do you have even the slightest idea what you have done by releasing the Kingslayer?”  

“Did you bring me here to deliver the same tired lecture I’ve been hearing from my brother ever since I traded the Kingslayer for Sansa and Arya.  They’re your sisters...or have you forgotten?”  

“I am a King and that means I am responsible for more than just my kin.  I must needs think of what is best for the entire North.  Father would’ve said the same thing if he were here.”  

“Thinking of what’s best for the entire North?  Is that what you were doing when you reneged on your agreement with Lord Walder?  Does House Westerling rule The Twins?  And your father would’ve done anything to save your sisters besides.”  

“Saved them,” Robb seethed, plainly unable to contain his anger any longer.  “Is that what you think you did by freeing the Kingslayer?   You freed him for nothing, mother.  Lord Edmure proved that he understood the meaning of House Tully's words when he agreed to marry one of Lord Walder’s daughters in my place.  I’d have hoped you might remember them as well, but their meaning has plainly eluded you of late."  

"Robb –"  

"Lord Edmure thinks that you never truly recovered from the news of Bran and Rickon's deaths and I am starting to fear that he was right.”  

“I want you to listen to me very carefully.  I freed the Kingslayer to –”  

“Yes, yes, to save my sisters.  Even if we could trust the word of a Kingslayer, it wouldn’t matter.  The Lannisters only have Sansa; Arya is no longer their hostage.  Mayhaps she never was...”  I warned Robb not to tell that beast about his brother's death.  Why couldn't he have let the Lannisters believe that Ser Kevan never made it to Riverrun?  Is this Tywin Lannister's his revenge for the death of his brother?  First Ned, then Bran and Rickon, then Uncle Brynden, and now Arya...all gone.  And I’ll never see Sansa again, most like.  For all that Catelyn loved her daughters, there was a part of her that couldn’t help feeling a small hint of relief that the Lannisters had chosen to spare Sansa’s life.  Catelyn loved each of her children fiercely and would've gladly given anything for simply the mere possibility of saving any of them.  However, Catelyn also knew that if she could only save one of her daughters, she would’ve chosen her eldest even though the  loved both equally.  It would be an impossible choice – the cruelest thing one could ever force a mother to make – and yet she knew the decision she'd inevitably make if there were truly no other way to save even one of them.  In truth, it mattered little and less, so long as Arya never knew...and she never would've never dreamed of such a thing in even her wildest nightmares, most like.  

“How did she die?”  

“I'm told that she is alive and well.”  

“What?  But that’s –”  

“I just received a raven from Lord Bolton.  He claims that Arya somehow managed to escape from King’s Landing and make her way to Harrenhal.”  Arya is alive?  

“How?  I...I don’t understand.  That’s impossible.”  

“We shall find out soon enough.  I’ve sent a raven instructing Lord Bolton to ride for Riverrun with a host as soon as he deems it safe leave Harrenhal.  With any luck, Arya can wed Waltyr Frey while we’re at the Twins.  Lord Bolton mentioned that Elmar Frey has passed away and Lord Walder will no doubt expect her to wed his next youngest son.  He was very clear that if I would not marry one of his granddaughters then at least one of his kin must needs marry a different Stark if House Frey is to remain in the fold.”  

“You can’t do that to her.  Robb, it’s...it’s too cruel.”  

“What would you have me do, mother?  Break my word to the man a second time?”  

“There must be some way to delay the wedding, at least...at least until she’s had a chance to visit Winterfell one last time.  This is –”  

“You once said that you’ve known Lord Walder since you were a little girl.  During all those years, did he ever strike you as an accommodating man?  Do you think he will have any interest in long betrothals after what I did?”  Must Arya pay for your sins too?  Is Edmure's sacrifice not enough?  No, Robb...Robb has the right of it.  No matter how much we may hate it, no matter how much Arya may hate us for it, he is simply doing what must needs be done.  

“And Sansa?”  

"Dead, most like.  Were the Kingslayer still a hostage, she might have survived despite Ser Kevan’s murder, but now...  How do you think Tywin Lannister will avenge his brother’s murder?  What will Joffrey and Cersei do to Sansa in retaliation?”  

Chapter Text

At Winterfell, Arya would oft pretend that she had to fight off six men at once – each ten times as dangerous as Vargo Hoat – all by herself.  She’d pick up a stick and pretend it was a sword.  Sometimes she wouldn’t even bother pretending it was a sword.  I don’t even need a sword to beat them, Arya would tell herself.  Sword-fighting – even if it was with just a small branch – always seemed so easy back then and the Lone Wolf always imagined herself dodging every blow with such speed that she didn’t even need a shield.  Within twenty seconds – thirty if she decided to go easy on them – her imaginary foes were all begging for mercy.  It wasn’t real, but Arya practiced so often that she was shocked when Syrio Forrel showed her just how much she had left to learn.  

Even if there would always be someone better, Arya had been certain that if anyone tried to hurt her or capture her, she’d be able to fight them off without breaking a sweat...and that was before Jon gave her Needle.  Sansa might get frightened or quietly do as she was bid, but not me.  I am a direwolf and I am not afraid, she’d oft tell herself.  There were even days when Ned Stark’s youngest daughter hoped someone would try to kill or capture her because she knew her bravery would so impress the rest of The North that her father would have to let her become a Lord or maybe even have a seat on the Small Council someday.  Those were the days when she lived with her whole family, when the King was her father’s best friend, and when it seemed as though the summer would never end.  But those days had come and gone...the Lannisters saw to that when they took off her father’s head.  

Father’s dead and Theon Turncloak murdered Bran and Rickon before he burned Winterfell to the ground.  Sansa’s dead too, most like. Jon decided to spend the rest of his life at the stupid Wall and now I’ll never see Lord Bolton again either.  Mother, Robb, Gendry, and Hot Pie are alive, but they all hate me.  No, Robb doesn’t hate me...not really.  He doesn’t even care enough to do that, most like.  If he loves that stupid old bridge so much, he should just marry it.

As Lord Vargo slung Arya over his shoulder and her face slammed into the short man’s chest, the reality of what was about to happen slowly began to dawn on her.  For all the times she’d imagined herself fearlessly facing off against far more dangerous adversaries, Arya found that she could not be brave.  When Lord Vargo told her that he knew her secret and was going to take her back to the Lannisters as soon as he finished raping her, something deep inside of the Lone Wolf shattered into a million pieces.  He can’t take me back to King’s Landing, not now!  I was so close!  Even if they hate me, Mother and Robb are still part of my pack and I...I have to find them!  Did Lord Bolton only become part of my pack so that I could lose him too?  It felt as though everything that had happened since she escaped from King’s Landing was part of some cruel joke and the Old Gods were laughing at her just like everyone else always did at Winterfell.  Jon never laughed at me...not really.  

But the worst part was that not matter how hard she tried, Arya couldn’t force herself to fight back.  Her whole body seemed to go numb and she couldn’t even will herself to scream or insult Lord Vargo...not anymore.  It was nothing like what Arya had imagined when she played with branches in Winterfell’s Godswood.  I’m just a stupid, scared little girl like Sansa and not a wolf at all, Arya thought to herself sadly as Lord Vargo slipped out the door and crept past the dead body of Walton Steelshanks.  

“Playing dead won’t help you tomorrow morning.  I’d fuck you bloody even if you were dead,” whispered the Goat, snapping Arya out of her stupor.  He stopped to kick Walton’s body and upon seeing no movement, bent down to search the dead man for coppers.  

“Nothing clever to thay?  Pity.  I wath hoping you’d put up more of a fight.  Mayhapth a bit of kicking at leatht.  A bitch thath already broken ithn’t half ath much fun.  I wath looking forward to watching the latht bit of hope leave your face.  Hmm...mayhapth you jutht don’t underthtand what ith going to happen tomorrow.  Don’t worry, we can fix that right now!  I’m going to unlace my britcheth and you are going to thuck on what I pull out until I tell you to thtop...or rather you’ll thuck and thwallow until I tell you thtop.  You know what they thay, it thuckth to thuckth.  Well...mayhapth that doethn’t have to come firtht.  Tell me, m’Lady, would you prefer to give me your maidenblood before or after I fill your belly with my theed?  Oh and don’t worry about what will happen if I get you with child; athuming you’ve already bled, I’ll jutht beat you every night until the remnantth of the bathtard leave you.  I learned that trick from a former Maethter.  Thteelthankth, you thon of a whore, you didn’t even have a thingle copper on you.  Cheap bathtard.  Hardly worth the time it took to kill you.”  

A child?  His seed?  He’s going to...  NO!  I...I won’t let him!  Never!  He can’t!  I won’t cry.  I am a direwolf.  Direwolves don’t cry.  I won’t let him!  "NEVER," Arya screamed as loudly as she could, yelling as much in anger as she was out of fear.  A single thought raced through the Lone Wolf's mind as though it were the only word she’d ever known: No!  No!  No!  No!  No!  No!  No!  No!  

Without even realizing what she was doing, Arya grabbed the first thing she saw within reach and began hitting Lord Vargo with it over and over again.  The Goat dropped her, fell to the ground clutching his groin, and began howling in pain so loudly that one could be forgiven for assuming he’d shattered every piece of glass in Harrenhal.  Without thinking, Arya got right back up, jumped on top of the wounded man, and began hitting him with the object over and over again.  

First the Goat’s screams turned into quiet whimpers, then he grew completely silent as his limbs began to jerk about aimlessly, and even these sudden movements soon turned to small twitches.  Arya didn’t notice and she began hitting the man’s face over and over again even though he had already stopped moving a long time ago.  Something red began to splatter out from inside of the Goat like the juice from an exploding watermelon, but it didn’t matter...nothing else did.  Not survival, not her list, not even her pack.  Time itself seemed to stop in its tracks.  Only one thing mattered and Arya screamed it over and over again like a wolf howling at the full moon: “No!  No!  No!  No!  No!  No!  No!  No!”  

It wasn’t until Lord Bolton carefully pulled her off of Vargo Hoat’s mangled remains and forced her to drop her weapon that Arya realized she had grabbed a knife from the Goat’s belt and was covered in his blood. There was a human eye speared on the blade when she dropped the dagger and Lord Bolton crushed a second one beneath his right boot.  What...what happened?   Where did Lord Bolt-Bolt-Bolton come...come fruh-from...how...but I... 

The Lone Wolf glanced at the ground and saw something that might have been a human body, but was so covered in stab wounds that it was impossible to say for sure.  Both of the corpse’s hands were shredded nearly beyond recognition and each of its fingers were either missing or had been sheered of all flesh.  The Goat’s entrails were sprawled out across the floor and there was a mangled pink sack hanging out of his belly.  The red hole in the middle of Lord Vargo’s face made it appear as though someone had tried to hack off his nose with a dull blade, only to make a hash of it and cut off his upper lip as well.  Something white was dripping from a second twisted gash that might’ve once been the dead man’s mouth.  

Arya had killed a stableboy once when she escaped King’s Landing, but this was different.  Vargo Hoat looked like he’d been mauled by wolves.  And the stableboy had been an accident besides.  Lor-Lord...Lord...Bolt-Bolt-Bolt-Bolt-Bolton muh-must have duh-duh-done that...I...I could-could-couldn’t...I didn’t...I just...I just...what...what’s hap-happening...I...I...  

“Syllables and sentences.  This incoherent babbling will not serve.  And you disposed of our fine friend on your own, I think,” said the Lord of the Dreadfort as he released the twitching, trembling wolf pup.  Arya realized that she couldn’t feel her legs – or anything else, for that matter – and she immediately fell face-first onto the ground, landing right next to a severed ear.  

“Was...did I...out-out-luh-loud...did...did I s-s-s-say that?”  

“Yes.  Now then, did Lord Vargo force himself upon you?”  

“Nuh-nuh-no.  I...I...no...he was...said...he...he s-s-said he was...was go-going to...I think.”  

“As you say.  Are you hurt? You look as though you’ve been dipped from head to toe in a barrel of blood.  Goat’s blood, I think.”

“Go-Go-Goats?  What?  But I...I doh-don’t...don’t see any...I...I...no...nuh-not hurt.  Buh-buh-blood?  But...but that's...that’s not muh-my bluh-bluh-blood...I mean –”

“Good, then we have suffered no great loss.  Walton Steelshanks is nothing if not replaceable.  I fear that is the best thing that can be said of a man like him,” replied Lord Bolton as he lifted Arya off the ground and made his way to his solar.  “Once you have calmed yourself, we shall speak further.”  

“Yes, my-my Lor...my Lor-Lord.”  

...

It took forty minutes for Arya to fully regain control of her body and another thirty for her to be able to speak without stuttering or babbling like a half-wit.  

“I’m sorry!  I’m sorry!  I’m sorry!  I’m sorry!”  The Lord of the Dreadfort sighed loudly.  He probably hates me now...just like everyone else.  No one should want me any more after what I did.  I didn’t just kill Lord Vargo, I butchered him.  Mother and Robb might even send me back King’s Landing.  They’ll send me to Skagos or trade me to the Lannisters for Sansa...maybe.  No, that’s stupid.  All I was worth to them before was a stupid bridge.  Now they’ll just banish me from The North, most like.  

“I didn’t mean to kill him...not really.”  

“No?  You could've certainly fooled me.  Lord Vargo looked as though he’d been mauled by a pack of hounds.”

“Hounds?”

“Yes.  I have seen what they can do to a...stray.”  

“I’m sorry!  I really am, I promise!  I didn’t even know what I was doing, I...I don’t even remember.  It was all a blur and –”  

“Why are you sorry?”  

“What?”  

“What is it that you think you have to be sorry for,” asked Lord Bolton with a hint of amusement.  

“I killed Lord Vargo.”  

“He was going to rape you, was he not?”  

“Yes, I mean...I think so, only...I didn’t just kill him.  He doesn’t even look like a person anymore...not really.”  

“No, but it sounds as though our fine friend left you no choice.  And Goats should know better than to attack wolves besides.” 

“You...you’re not angry at me?”  

“No, of course not.  Only a fool would be angry at you for what you have done.  I am quite proud of you, in truth.  My son was two years older than you when he finally killed his first...enemy.  Of course, my bastard started much earlier than you, but I fear he has been a disappointment in other ways.”  

“Proud?  I don’t understand; father always said that killing was –”  

“What you did was not a crime.  It was justice and who doesn’t wish to see the wicked punished for their crimes from time to time?  You should take pride in your work, I think.”  

“My work?”  

“Yes.  Lord Vargo tried to rape you and you butchered him as was your right.  When a man wrongs you, it is your duty to dispose of him in whatever manner you see fit.”  

“What I did...that was justice?  Really?”  

“Of course it was.  Tell me, was Lord Vargo on that list of yours?  Come now, don't look so surprised.  Do you truly think I haven't heard you whispering the names of everyone who has wronged your House?  Was Lord Vargo one of your enemies?”  

“Yes, my Lord.”  

“You see, you’ve already crossed off one name.  Who knows?  Mayhaps in time you will even cross off another.”  Despite being covered in Lord Vargo’s blood, Arya couldn’t help smiling ever so slightly at that remark.  

“Mother and Robb won’t think it was justice.”  

“No?”  

“Neither of them would understand...not really.  They’d never want me back if they knew what I did.”  

“They don’t want you back already, I think.”  

“Please, don’t tell them.  They wouldn’t even look at me again if they knew. Please, I –”  

“Very well.  It shall be our secret.”  

“Thank you, my Lord.  I think...I think I would like to visit the Dreadfort after all.”  

“Mayhaps you will one day.”  

“Robb and mother would never let me.”  

“It seems an absurd custom, but I am told that children find this comforting,” muttered Lord Bolton as he approached Arya and mussed her messy, blood-soaked hair the way Jon used to before he left for The Wall.  The reminder of her favorite brother – as small as it was – prompted Arya to hug the Lord of the Dreadfort the much the same way that a frightened child might hug his or her mother.  

“What are you doing,” hissed Lord Bolton in a voice dripping with such cold contempt that Arya immediately let go and stumbled backward in surprise.  It was a tone she’d never heard him speak in before – to her or to anyone else – and for a moment Arya was certain that there had to be someone else in the room.  

“Sorry, my Lord.  I...I didn’t mean to anger you, it’s just...didn’t your children ever –”  

“No.  And I would’ve never dreamed of behaving in such a manner toward my father.”  

“No one has ever hugged you before?  Not even once?”  

“Never.  I do not like to be touched.  You will not do that to me again, it that understood?”  

“But I only...sorry, my Lord.  I...I won't do it again.”  Lord Bolton is very strange.  It doesn’t matter; he’s still my best friend.  And he’s part of my pack besides.  He’ll always be my friend, Arya decided.  

“Very well.  In light of your achievement this evening, I shall let this...unfortunate incident slide so long as it never happens again.”  

“What did you mean when you said your natural-born son had started when he was much younger than I am?  Why would he –”  

“I have a gift for you.”  

“A gift?  Why?"  

“At the Dreadfort, a man’s first kill is a coming of age moment of sorts.  Yours should be no different, I think.”  

“But I’m not a Bolton.”  

“As you say.”  After rummaging through one of the drawers in his desk, Lord Bolton presented Arya with a strange knife that had a thin, hooked blade.  

“Is that a –”  

“A flaying knife?  Yes.”  

“But flaying isn’t allowed.  Father said –”  

“Your father and I were good friends.  Do you truly believe I would flay people if he had forbidden it?”  You might if you knew no one would ever find out about it, Arya thought to herself, but she knew better than to say so and simply shook her head.  

“Good.  If you flay a man properly, he will tell you whatever you want to know.  Of course, this is far from the only purpose that my House’s tradition serves.  Flaying is justice.  Flaying is vengeance.  Flaying is how my House has chosen to dispose of men who wrong us...men like Vargo Hoat.  Your method served its purpose, but...well...I fear Lord Vargo died long before you finished your work.  Surely there must be some part of you that would have liked to have seen your attacker suffer for his crimes before he died.”  

“But –”  

“Justice may seem harsh at times, but it is nothing to be ashamed of; we should take pleasure in punishing the wicked.  Well, what are you waiting for?  Go on, take it.”  Arya hesitated for a moment before finally accepting the knife, lest she risk angering her friend.  

“Thank you, my Lord.”  

“You are welcome.  Oh and one more thing, don’t let your mother or brother see you with that.”  

“I promise!  It...it shall be our secret.”  The Lord of the Dreadfort nodded approvingly.  

“Lord Bolton?”  

“Yes?”  

“My brother, Jon, he...he once gave me a sword.  I named it Needle, but the Mountain's men stole it and I thought...can I...would it be alright if I named my flaying knife?”  

“It is your blade; you may do with it as you please.  I was going to give it to my bastard as a nameday gift, but I suppose he shall have to do without.  It matters not at all.  Do you know what we say about flaying knives at the Dreadfort?”  

“No, my Lord.”  

“Our blades are sharp.”  

“Our blades are sharp?”  

“Spoken like a proper Lady of the Dreadfort.”  

“I’m not a Lady.”  

“As you say.  Ladies do not spend their nights drenched in the blood of would-be rapers, I think.  Tell me, what do you intend to name your blade?”  Arya already knew the answer to that question; she’d known it from the moment she first held the flaying knife in her hand.  

“Flaying knives are House Bolton’s vengeance.  This one can be my Vengeance.”  

Chapter Text

The Hound had turned away in fear the moment that Blackwater Bay transformed into a green inferno.  The King gazed at the green Hell with an almost religious reverence.  It was though Joffrey had looked upon the Seven themselves and been rendered speechless by the sight of something beyond man’s understanding.  Lord Wisdom Hallyne wore the loving smile of a mother cradling a newborn babe in her arms and was jumping up and down so giddily that it seemed only a matter of time until he began moaning with pleasure.  Ser Lancel’s wits – such as they were – seemed to abandon him completely for a time and he seemed incapable of doing anything other than speaking in some sort of strange, incoherent gibberish.  

And still other men – those whose names the histories never remember, whose songs were destined to remain unsung – were no doubt experiencing countless other emotions.  In a matter of seconds, most of Stannis Baratheon’s fleet was reduced to a pile of ashes that the wind would soon scatter across the burning green sea.  It was a miracle, but in both the most beautiful and and terrifying senses of the word.  A man could be awestruck by a dragon’s majesty while cursing the beast in the same breath for the fiery holocaust it had inflicted upon all it encountered...and so it was at Blackwater Bay as green flames licked the smokey sky.  And yet for his part, the Hand of The King felt neither terror nor joy.  Though he fully appreciated the gravity of what had just happened, Tyrion found himself unable treat the sight before him with any more reverence than he would a chair or a nail.  In truth, he did not take any pride in having dealt his enemy such a devastating blow while losing no more than a single ship.  Instead, the second son of Tywin Lannister felt one thing and one thing alone: relief.  

It's about time something went right, I suppose.  It would seem that Stannis’ fire God has made his will known.  No doubt Father will chide me for wasting a perfectly good ship transporting the wildfire.  The Gods alone know what Cersei would’ve done with it...burned down King’s Landing, most like.  After the way the week has gone, it’s a wonder I didn’t manage do that myself when the barrels were being loaded onto that bloody ship.  Even if we did burn every ship in Stannis Baratheon's fleet, it won’t matter unless the Mountain arrives with the bloody host father claimed to have sent.  The time for the Mountain and his host to arrive was two days ago or mayhaps even yesterday.  Now they won’t matter, most like.  Not unless they arrive within the next half an hour.  Why isn't father leading the men himself?  He was never one to pass up the chance to ride in on his white horse and...Seven Hells, the old bastard has written us all off for dead.  I wonder which King he'll back once Joffrey's gone.  Father must have reason to believe the Starks will release Jaime although I can't imagine why they'd ever do such a thing.  Mayhaps Robb Stark would be foolish enough, but Lady Catelyn is far too clever a woman to ever permit such a thing.  

At least this bloody fire God has a sense of humor.   No doubt, he’s just as bad as The Seven, but at least when this bastard decides to screw over one of his followers, he takes enough pride in his work to get creative about it.  Mayhaps I’ve chosen the wrong faith.  No, no, you can’t trust a God with a sense of irony.  If this fire God has his way, I imagine we’ll win the battle only for The Mountain to slip on some mud and crush me without even realizing it.  Naturally, Father would get all of the credit for such a victory.  

In truth, setting Blackwater Bay on fire – and with it, the entire Baratheon fleet – had bought the King’s men invaluable time...even if it was little more than a brief reprieve.  At the very least, it was far more than Tyrion had dared hope for at the start of the battle.  As the Hound led a sortie against Stannis’ forces – which had finally managed to land using an army of rowboats as a makeshift fleet – The Hand found that he could not help thinking about just how much had gone wrong in the days leading up to what he was certain would be the last hour of his life.  

The past week had been nothing short of a disaster and it began with one of the strangest ravens that The Hand had ever seen.  The message was from Riverrun – written by Robb Stark, no less – and apologized with a truly singular sort of desperation for what it claimed were the unsanctioned murders of Ser Kevan Lannister and two of his children by Lord Rickard Karstark.  Uncle Kevan was a good and honorable man.  He did not deserve to die in such a shameful manner; father mayhaps, but certainly not him.  Even if he was far too loyal to father to ever contradict him publicly, he was still among the few who ever treated me kindly.  In truth, I imagine I could’ve forgiven him for almost anything.  

I don’t doubt the Stark boy had nothing to do with his death, not that father will care...no more than he’ll care that Lord Karstark was executed.  Kevan's would’ve been bad enough, but the letter went on to explicitly state that anything done to Sansa in retaliation would be inflicted upon Jaime a thousand times over.  The damned boy threatened turn him over to the Boltons if we harmed so much as a single hair on Arya or Sansa Stark’s head, Tyrion thought to himself with shudder.  Even in The Westerlands, House Bolton’s reputation for brutality was so well-known that most men would've likely preferred death to being captured by flayed men.  We have the Cleganes and the Starks have the Boltons, I suppose.  Lady Sansa should thank The Seven that my dear brother is her family’s prisoner.  Otherwise, father might’ve returned to King’s Landing so that he could personally oversee her torture.  I doubt Stannis will execute such a valuable hostage.  It would seem that the poor girl may yet survive us after all, assuming my sister doesn’t have her executed before Stannis captures the Red Keep, of course.  

Wednesday had begun promisingly enough: Littlefinger had scuttled off to The Eyrie like a rat on two legs after convincing The King to let him hide behind Lady Lysa’s skirts.  The sight of Lysa Arryn “feeding” that utterly repulsive little beast she called a son – the first thing that came into Tyrion’s mind whenever he had the misfortune of hearing the bloody madwoman’s name – was one of single most disgusting thing The Hand had ever seen and yet his disgust was not half so great as the delight he took in trying to imagine the truly singular misery that awaited Littlefinger in The Eyre . I wonder...when was the last time, he saw sweet Lysa?  As a young boy at Riverrun?  At The Eyrie, during the early years of her marriage to Lord Arryn?  She’s changed, Tyrion had thought to himself with a wicked grin and a wave of his right hand as he watched Littlefinger’s ship sail away.   

Naturally, our golden-haired King had to create a new problem to take Littlefinger's place.  It was bad enough when the little monster began hiding Ned Stark’s bloody head everywhere.  First he put in it Sansa’s bed while she slept, then he forced the poor girl to bathe in a tub while the head floated in the water, and he'd even served it to her on a silver platter by the time I finally had the damn thing burned.  The King had even taken to calling the cruel game “Where’s Dead Ned’s Head?”  As I recall, he thought that rhyme was the very height of cunning.  Small things amuse small minds, I suppose.  

Of course, my beloved nephew soon found a new hobby once he could no longer use a dead man's head to torture his betrothed.  The little monster heard some absurd rumor that Robb Stark could shoot an apple off a person’s head with a crossbow.  And so it was that Tyrion had entered the throne room on Friday to find Sansa tied to a makeshift pole of some sort with an apple on her head sobbing hysterically as the King aimed his crossbow at her belly.  Had I arrived just a few seconds later, Robb Stark’s mad dog would still be peeling skin off of my dear brother.  The Boltons are not like the Starks; they're the monsters mothers warn their bloody children about in Lannisport when they want to scare them into doing as they are bid.  In truth, I wouldn't be surprised if Lord Bolton secretly persuaded Lord Karstark to break the guest right by murdering uncle Kevan.  If Robb Stark gives my brother to his pet savage...  Seven Hells, they could be torturing the poor man for the next ten years.  That letter mentioned both of Ned Stark's daughters, didn't it?  We weren't the ones who killed Lady Arya, not that the so-called King in The North will believe that.  The girl's dead, too be sure, but it was likely the smallfolk of King's Landing who did the deed.  Not every dead Stark's blood is on my family's hands...  

The next day, Lord Varys vanished from King’s Landing without a trace.  It was as though the man had simply disappeared into thin air.  I’d come to rely on that one.  I never trusted him, but somehow I didn’t expect him to flee.  Littlefinger was no surprise, but Varys was...disappointing.  Then came the worst news of all, Stannis was all but certain to arrive at King’s Landing a week earlier than anyone expected...and more importantly, a week less than was needed to adequately repair and reinforce the mud gate.  

“You can’t leave, dog,” screamed the King, breaking his uncle’s chain of thought.  

“Try and stop me, ” growled The Hound, storming away.  Seven Hells, have we lost already?  Lancel’s gone.  Dead, most like.  In that case, I suppose this battle wasn’t a complete loss...  *THUD*  

“The gates!  They’re go-going to break down the gay-gates,” shouted the King.  “I...I should go...yes, go...I...umm...The Red Key-Keep, they...they may need...may need me there.”  You spineless, little...  If you leave, the Gold Cloaks will abandon their posts!  

“You can’t leave, you bloody fool.  You’re the King!  If you won’t fight, why should...I’m sorry, am I boring you?  My apologies, Your Grace.  I certainly wouldn’t want to disrupt your conversation with Ser Meryn.”  

“I...I have to go.  I have to...I mean...umm...I have to...err...tend to err-urgent business to see in-inside the Red Keep. S-S-S-Ser Meryn will...will rep-represent me on the battlefield,” stammered the King as he trudged away from the battlements, staring at the ground in shame.  Seconds after the King retreated inside the Red Keep, the mud gate came crashing to the ground.  Oh fuck me.  

There was no place left to run and so they fought.  The men fought not for their King nor even to defend their city, but for survival.  A Baratheon soldier charged at The Hand, but Ser Meryn Trant cut the man down.  I never thought I’d owe that man my life.  That was the last thought that passed through Tyrion Lannister's head before Ser Meryn cut it off with a single stroke.  

Chapter Text

“One seldom gets to enjoy such tranquil occasions with their family.  It is quite pleasant, is it not,” asked Domeric.  Why couldn’t that fall have killed me?  How much worse could death possibly be?  No, Rickon would be on his own if that happened.  He’d be alone with these madmen and he’d get himself killed by talking back to one of them in half-an-hour, most like.  Mayhaps Lord Ramsay isn’t insane; he’s plainly just as miserable as I am.  He’s not insane like Domeric; he’s just a monster.  

“Seven Hells, Domeric, must the whole world be subjected to your bloody tea parties every time father leaves?”  

“It is not a tea party, bastard.  It is a family dinner in honor of our guests.  In truth, your company is seldom a pleasant thing, but I had hoped that the Lordlings would prove to be more agreeable conversationalists.  I fear I was mistaken.” 

“If it is in our honor, can we leave,” Bran asked, even though he already knew the answer.  

“Certainly.  If you wish to be excused, you need only get up and walk away from the table.  Why can’t you be more like your brother?  The child has not touched his food to be sure, but neither he has not complained once during the entire meal.  He seems to have learned much and more from his last beating.  Mayhaps Sour Alyn was right about the best way to deal with ill-tempered children, after all...”  Bran watched as his younger brother continued to stab his steak over and over again with his knife.  Rickon’s probably imagining that piece of meat is your neck.  You know that, right?

“They’re not Boltons.  Father’s not here and these two pretenders are, so we can’t very well call this a family dinner, can we?” 

“You’re not a Bolton either, I think.  Only a bastard...”  

“I’m the Lord of the Hornwood, you cunt.”  

“You’re my dog, nothing more and nothing less.”  Not this again...  Where do these people even come from?  Seven Hells, Rickon!  Stop banging your head on the table before one of them notices you!  

“What did you say?”  

“I said that you are a half-breed whom I have permitted to sit at this table instead of in the kennels with the rest of its kind.  I’ll gladly have you put down if you don’t start behaving as you should.”  

“You know, you’re quite right, dear brother.  Family dinners oft prove highly amusing.  I know I enjoyed watching our last meal with your mother.  Don’t feel bad about what father tricked you into doing.  Just remember that your mother will always be with you, well...actually I doubt she was with you for very long. 
Do our new friends know that you –”  

“If you say one more word about that, I swear by the Old Gods and the New that I will unman you.  Do you hear me, bastard?”  

“I was only trying to make conversation, dear brother.”   

“You’re not part of our family, so this can't be a stupid family dinner!  Neither of you are related to us and you never will be either!  I hate both of you!  I hate you!  I hate you!  I hate you!  Tell them, Bran!  Tell them that they’re both big stupidheads and that Robb’s going to kill them dead.  Them and their stupid father,” yelled Rickon, stabbing the table with his knife.  Domeric ground his teeth and for a moment he looked as though he were about to leap across the table and strangle the boy with his bare hands.   No!  No!  No!  No!  No!  No!  No!  No!  You can’t use bad table manners around Domeric or he’ll hurt you.  It's just like how you can’t call Lord Ramsay a bastard.  Never!  Never!  Never!  Else he’ll...he’ll...  No!  Go away, Reek!  GO AWAY!  I don’t have time to argue with you right now. 

Of late Ramsay had begun insisting that Bran’s name was “Reek.”  The first time he did it, Bran had laughed in his face.  It was the stupidest thing he had ever heard and was funny in a pathetic sort of way...until the monster flayed one of Rickon’s fingers.  After that, Bran always answered to the name when Domeric wasn’t around.  It got worse once Ramsay started dunking Bran’s head in a bucket of water over and over again until he lost consciousness.  Sometimes – when Bran needed to escape from the Dreadfort, but couldn’t dream about being a dragon – he’d hear Reek whispering to him from some dark corner of his mind.  Bran never listened to this strange voice, but it had grown louder and louder as the days went by.  I burned some desert city to the ground during the last dream, Bran recalled, allowing himself the smallest of smiles.  

“You’re absolutely right, little Lord.  We’re not part of your family.  My father’s bastard never will be, I think.  Of course, after my wedding night, you and dear Brandon will be my good-brothers.  That’s the only reason father would not permit me to kill the two of you, I think.  Or mayhaps he simply wants to use the two of you to obtain your sister’s consent and cooperation without leaving any scars.  I fear it would not serve for Northmen to see Ned Stark’s little girl missing an ear here or a finger there.”  

“No, father’s going soft.  You said yourself that he seemed fond of the dumb bitch.  The soft-hearted fool probably wants to keep her as another of his pets once she’s given you a son.” 

“You've always been obsessed with keeping human pets...fitting enough given that you are one, I suppose.  That doesn’t mean father wants to –”  

“Who cares what that old fool wants?  He’s too weak to be a Lord; it’s just a matter of time until he gets both of us killed.  We both know that father has mellowed with age.  He no longer enjoys flaying children, he lectures me about the immorality of kinslaying, and now he's trying to find a way to control that little wolf cunt without harming her.  That old bastard had his turn; it's our time now!  If you had half the wits that the Gods gave a turnip, you’d stick a knife in his back the moment he returns.  Do that and you won’t have to wait twenty years to become Lord of the Dreadfort.”  

“Why?  So that you can tell him you’ve uncovered a plot on his life during his absence and force our dear father to dispose of me?  No, I think not.  A wise man does not keep the counsel of a dog, Lord Snow.”  Please stop calling him that; Lord Ramsay’s a human being, not a dog for you to kick.  He can’t talk about master that way...no one can!  Shut up; I told you to go away, Reek!  Ramsay’s a monster and Domeric is a madman.  I hope they kill each other!  

“Look at you,” Ramsay cheerfully replied, “just a few months away from getting yourself a nice, young wife.  You really do love children, don’t you?  How old did father say Lady Arya was?  12?  13?  Of course, I’m sure father will still expect you to marry your child bride-to-be even if she was just a girl of nine years, so mayhaps she isn't so young after all.  Of course, it might be a bit awkward if he wants you to consummate the marriage before the poor little girl has even bled.  No matter, I’m sure you’ll do as your bid when the time comes.  Won’t you, dear brother?”  Domeric squirmed in his seat and looked as though he were about to vomit all over the table in disgust.  Bran grabbed his brother’s left wrist – nearly falling out of his seat in the process – before Rickon could throw his plate at the bastard's head.  

“What’s wrong, Domeric?  Afraid you won’t be able to perform?  Can’t get it up when you’re with a girl who is too young to have proper tits, is that it?  Fear not, dear brother, I have never had any problems in that department.  I’ve even fucked a few dead girls in my day.  You should really try it some time; you’d like it.  Calms the nerves, I think.  The dead ones never scream or try to run away.  I suppose what I'm really trying to say is that I'm here to help."  

"You will be silent," hissed Lord Bolton's heir, rubbing his forehead in frustration.  

"There's really nothing to worry about, dear brother.  Just say the word and I’ll be happy to rape your scared, whimpering little wolf bitch for you.  After all, it doesn’t really matter which Bolton puts a baby in her, does it?  It may prove to be an unpleasant task, but we all must to our part for the betterment of our House.  Children that young are oft so trusting.  Mayhaps she’ll even believe me when I promise not to hurt her.  What I’m trying to say is that if you aren’t up to the task, I’ll always be there for –”  

“ENOUGH!  One more word and I’ll...I’ll...I’ll...  You will not rape my wife.”  

"Me?  Rape a child without being asked?  Why Domeric, you wound me."  

"YOU WILL NOT RAPE HER!  The father-stealing cunt is my property, not yours!  Is that understood?"  

“I suppose.”  

"I will unman you if I so much as suspect that you might –"  

"Fine, fine, fine, I won't rape your wife, happy?  Seven Hells, I offer to do you a favor and this is the thanks I get?  Ungrateful prick."  

"What was that?"  

"Nothing, dear brother."  

“Father said the girl is twelve, so at least she’ll be a woman grown in another year or so.  If the Gods are good, he’ll let me wait that long.  He will, I...I...I know he will; father knows best!  He...he won’t make me rape her, not if she’s truly a mere child.  He’s plainly quite fond of the girl, but he was fond of me too when...  I...I didn’t know any better.  Damn it, I didn’t want to do it to her!  I was trying to save mother.  Not even father couldn’t have enjoyed it, he...he couldn’t...  He knew he’d gone too far.  Why else would have started using leeches to drain the bad blood after...after he made me...”  What are you talking about?   

“Oh yes, I’m sure father hated every minute of what you did to poor Lady Ryswell.  That weak, soft-hearted cow could never be a true Bolton.  Her heart was always bleeding all over the floor.  The bitch’s...accident was your fault, wasn’t it, dear brother?”  

“Yes.  Father, he...he said the same thing.  If I’d been stronger...if I hadn’t asked her to remind him that it was my nameday while he was in his private chambers, she’d never have seen him and...and he’d never have had to make me...  NO!  I...I needed adjustments!  I must needs be strong; father knows best!  He always knows!  A man shouldn’t cry and I cried when I saw what he'd done to mother, so I had to be punished.  If I hadn't cried, he wouldn't have made me...  Forgive me, this...this outburst of mine will not serve nor can it go unpunished, I think.  I...I trust that you would be...would be willing to pull the fingernail off my left thumb later this evening."  WHAT?  

“Hmm...you know that I am nothing if not a peaceful man, dear brother.  And I fear that even the mere thought of causing you pain is almost more than I can bare.  Very well!  For the sake of the love that I bare you, I shall force myself to pull off one of your fingernails.”  How could anyone – even a Bolton – possibly raise their children to be...whatever these monsters are?

“Nothing would please you more, I think.  Father never tires of finding ways to torment me, does he?  He wrote that the girl has already bled...‘goat’s blood.’  What am I to make of such non-sense?  It is not a thing to jape about.  If Lady Arya has bled then she is a woman grown, if not then she is still a child.  I would not consummate a marriage with a child and yet if father commands it, what choice is there?  I fear he has also instructed me to find ways of disciplining the girl without causing any physical injury to her person.  Father says that he believes that the wolf cunt will do as she’s bid when the time comes.  If Lady Arya proves to be a willful child then she’ll have to be disciplined just like any other breeding mare and I fear that this will require me to flay our guests in order to ensure her...cooperation.  So be it; I shall break the father-stealing cunt like any other animal if it comes to that.  The girl will do as she’s bid even I have to hang her upside down from the ceiling or chain one of her ankles to a bedpost and toss her out a window.  She can hang upside down from the side of the Dreadfort for the rest of her life so long as she does as she is bid when the time comes.”  

“HEY!  Arya’s my sister, not some sort of animal, you stupid walnut-head.  She’s not your slave and she doesn’t belong to you either!  You'd better stop talking about her like that or I’ll...I’ll...I’ll kill both of you,” shouted Rickon, throwing his plate at the wall.  As the plate shattered into a million pieces, Bran realized that it is was no longer a question of whether or not his brother would be punished.  The only thing that remained to be seen was what type of torture would be inflicted upon him.   It’ll only be worse for him if I try to make excuses for his behavior.  Right now, only one of them is wroth with him.  If I say something, Lord Ramsay might try to punish me by doing something to him after Domeric is done. 

In truth, Bran had been dreading just such an outburst ever since their sister’s name was mentioned.  Rickon and Arya got along better than either of them did with anyone else in the else in the family.  Father always used to say they were the only ones who had the wolf’s blood.  Arya and Jon were inseparable, but mother said he’ll never be part of our family and that bastards can’t be trusted.  And Jon will never be a real Stark besides, so he doesn’t count.  Somewhere deep within Bran’s mind, Reek wondered whether or not it was acceptable to refer to one of Lord Ramsay’s enemies a “bastard.”  As for Rickon, he oft behaved as though he believed he could single-handedly protect anyone in their family from harm.  They already beat him for threatening to kill Domeric and if one of them killed me... 

“Tell me, little Lord, did you know that King Robb was the one who proposed this unholy union to my father,” asked Domeric.  

“Liar!  Liar!  Liar!  Liar!”  Of course he’s lying, Rickon, now please stop talking!  Don’t you see the trap he set for you?

“We all know Robb didn’t do that.  He...he loves Arya just as much as we do, now please stop saying that word and apologize to Domeric.” 

“But he is a liar, Bran!  
A big, fat, stinking liar.”  

“Rickon, don’t –”  

“Listen to your brother, boy.  My patience is not without its limits.  I would prefer not to discipline you again, but I fear you will leave me no choice if you continue to exhibit poor table manners.  Such rudeness cannot go unpunished, I think.  I once took a joint from one of Lord Snow’s toes for chewing with his mouth open.”  Poor table manners?  That’s the part that bothered you?  Not the fact that Rickon just called you a liar?  

“Shut up, you...you...YOU FUCKING WALNUT-HEADED MURDERER!”  When did he learn that word?  

“I suppose my brother does look a bit like a walnut, doesn’t he,” murmured Ramsay.  

“If you don’t apologize for that remark this minute, I will make you watch while I unman Lord Brandon.  I swear by all the Gods that I’ll cut off both the log and the stones.  Is that what you want, little Lord?”   

“Can I watch too,” asked Ramsay.  A wide grin spread across the monster’s face as Domeric began grinding his teeth in frustration. 

“RICKON STARK, APOLOGIZE TO DOMERIC BOLTON THIS MINUTE,” screamed Bran. 

“Wait, no, don't cry.  I...I’m sorry, please don’t cry, Rickon.  No, stop.  Please, you don’t understand, I –”  I hate my life!  Maybe...maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to let Reek live it instead...just for a little while.  I could come back later and...no!  Never!  I...I won't be me anymore.  

“I’m sorry, Bran!  I’m suh-suh-suh-suh-s-s-sorry.  I was...I was only try-try-try-trying to...to pro-protect –”

“I forgive you; it’s going to be okay, I promise.  I didn’t mean to frighten you.  I...I’m sorry for shouting at you.”

“Close enough.  At least the little brat apologized to someone,” muttered Domeric.  

“Seven Hells, you’re just as weak as father.  You should just kill those two bastards for disrespecting you and be done with it.  If you don’t have the stomach for it, just say the word and I’ll do it myself.  I’m sure the hounds are hungry...” 

“As you say.  Tell me, bastard, did you ever wonder why you were the only one of us who was served soup?” 

“What do you mean?  None of you had...”  Did he poison the monster?  Lord Ramsay looked as though he were wondering the same thing, although he was plainly having a decidedly different reaction to the possibility.  “What...what the fuck did you do to me, you bald piece of shit?  I...I feel faint, I –”   

“No, of course you didn’t notice,” replied Domeric, ignoring his half-brother.  “You’re simply a dumb animal whom I took in out of the kindness of my heart.  An unthinking, mindless beast and nothing more.  You’d do well to remember what happens to dogs who forget their place, bastard.  That soup of yours contained several ingredients aside from the broth itself.  I should know; I oversaw its preparation personally.  It contained salted pork, sliced carrots, various spices...and the flesh from the finger that I took to punish you for harming the Lordlings without my consent.  A touch less amusing when it happens to you, isn’t it?”  

“What?”  

“I fed you one of your fingers and kept the bone as a souvenir.  Which part don’t you understand?  Oh and one more thing, if you wish to vomit, be a good dog and do it in another room.”  Give me a sign, you Old Gods.  How will any of this help me find the three-eyed raven, Bran asked himself as Lord Ramsay fell out of his chair, hit his head on the floor, and raced out of the room. 

“I am truly sorry about that, Little Lords,” sighed Domeric. 

“Why would you feed your own brother his –”  

“I wasn’t talking about that, you fool.  I was apologizing for threatening to unman you.  I would never actually do that to a child.  Of course, if your brother ever calls me a liar again or worse, exhibits the sort of rudeness he displayed this evening then I fear that I shall still be forced to punish him.  I thought that mayhaps Lord Snow might prove more likely to leave the two of you alone if he thought you were living in constant fear of what I might do to you.  If...if father needs some-someone unmaned, I’ll be happy to cut off his...no.  I...I mustn’t speak of father that way.  You...you understand, don’t you?  Neither of you would ever tell him what I said, would you?”  

Bran shook is head vigorously and shot a death glare at his younger brother when he saw a smile not entirely unlike Ramsay’s resting upon Rickon’s face.  Don’t even think about it!  Playing those sorts of games with people's emotions is something that the Boltons do; father would never have done something like that...not even to a monster like Domeric or Lord Ramsay.  And you’ll probably just get us killed besides.  You know that, don’t you?

“No, we won’t say anything, will we Rickon?  Rickon?  RICKON?” 

“Fine.”  Fine?  FINE?  What the Seven Hells has gotten into you?  Can't you just tell the madman what he wants to hear. 
What is so hard about that?  

“Good.  You must understand that I...I hate this place.  There, I said it.  I will not...I’m tired of flaying children and trying to train that depraved bastard.  He can have the Dreadfort when father dies; I don’t want it.  Father will never be proud of me anyway.  Never!  Ramsay should’ve been the trueborn son, I think.  He’d be the heir father wanted...the...the heir House Bolton deserves; I am too weak...and I am tired.  I...I have a prop-proposal for the two of you.” 

“A what?” 

“I wish to make you an offer.  Once father sends your sister to the Dreadfort; I will permit the three of you escape with me when the time comes if and only if you swear by all the Gods that you will persuade your father’s bastard at The Wall not to kill me once I take the black.  One way or another, I mean to leave this place.  I could never refuse father anything...not after my fourteenth nameday.  Not after mother...  He would say that I became a man that day, I think.  I became something, that much is certain.”  You have to warn Lord Ramsay!  You have to or he’ll hurt us forever and ever and ever!  No!  I won’t tell him.  I...I don’t know who you are or how that monster put your voice in my head, but I’m not listening to you.  I am not Reek; I am Brandon Stark of Winterfell.  But Bran, we’re nothing without Lord Ramsay.  No, Reek, you are nothing without that monster. 
I’ll still be here and soon I’ll be free...  


“I swear that Jon will not hurt you,” Bran replied.  His heart sank when he saw the look on his younger brother’s face.  Rickon, he...he thinks I’ve sold us out to these people.  Why can’t he just trust me?  He’s oft let me think for the two of us before; why did he have to pick this moment to start doubting me?  Is it because I warned Domeric that he was planning to put pieces of broken glass in the bast...in Lord Ramsay’s soup?  I was trying to save you, Rickon!  I hated watching Domeric beat you, but do you have any idea what would’ve happened to us if you’d killed the monster or worse, if it’d only hurt him a little and he survived?  And you had no way of actually getting all that glass you'd hidden into Lord Ramsay's soup besides.  Did you think the cooks would just dismiss the guards, let you out of our room, and walk you over to the kitchens?  When Reek and I agree that something is a terrible idea...  It must be nice living in a world where everyone is either a good guy or a bad guy and you can solve all of your problems by daydreaming about hurting people, Bran thought to himself bitterly.  This is a dangerous place and it’s hard enough to keep us alive without you looking at me I’ve just stabbed you in the back.  

“My brother Robb is Lord of Winterfell; he’s the oldest.  You should send him a raven telling him what happened at Winterfell and where Rickon and I are.  He’d let you live if you did that, I know he would.”  Mayhaps this is just another game like the ones Lord Ramsay always forces me to play, but what do I have to lose?  If he’s lying then he’ll hurt us either way and if he’s telling the truth...  

“No.” 

“What? 
Why not?”  

“That will not serve.”  

“Then we should ride for The Wall now, before your father returns.”  

“No.  We will leave when I am ready and no sooner.”  Even if Rickon’s right, it’s still safer to play their games.  There’s always a way to win...or at least, not lose as badly as we would by refusing to play.  When I won his first game, Lord Ramsay let Hodor go...just like he said he would.  You see, Bran, we can trust him.  Lord Ramsay is a kind and generous master.  He loves us just as we must love him...just as we will always love him.  He will only hurt us if we’re bad.  We need him!  SHUT UP, REEK!  

“I’ll convince him not to hurt either of you, but you have to promise not to rape our sister, no matter what your father tells you to do.” 

“I fear that I oft behave in strange ways when my father is around.  I could never summon the courage to speak to you as I do now were it not for his prolonged absence, much less defy him in any way.  I shall do my utmost to comply with your request, but I fear it will depend entirely upon whether or not my father is the one who brings Lady Arya to the Dreadfort.  As I said, he instructed me to find ways to discipline your sister without physically harming her which means that he is quite fond of the brat, most like.  I fear that I will never understand how a little girl – a Stark, no less – has already earned far better treatment from my father than either of his own children.  He’d favor a piece of rotting wood over the bastard, to be sure, but I can assure you that there was never any sort of rule against physical discipline where I was concerned,” grumbled Domeric with the jealousy and bitter resentment of a little boy who fears that he has been replaced by his newborn brother. 
The strange, pale-eyed man raised his three-fingered left hand in the air.

“What do you mean,” asked Bran.   I shouldn’t have asked that.  Whatever Domeric is talking about seemed to be making him angry.  

“Father even indicated that he would prefer that I not rape the father-stealing cunt anymore than is necessary for her to bare two sons and said that he would consider taking my left hand if I flay her even once.  I have done every terrible thing he ever asked of me, no matter how much I hated myself for it, and he flayed me all the same.  Mayhaps I should leave your sister behind if father loves her so much.  He can keep his bloody pet and Ramsay can wed her for all I care!”  No!  No!  No!  No!  

“Stop talking about Arya like MMPH!  Mmmph!”  Bran covered his brother’s mouth with his left hand.  

“If you let my siblings and I escape to The Wall with you – all three of us – then I swear by the Old Gods and the New that not only will no harm come to you by Jon’s hand and every man who is loyal to House Stark shall count you among his friends.”  Rickon rolled his eyes at his brother in disgust and for a moment, Bran was afraid his brother was going to bite him.  Mayhaps this is what Jojen meant; maybe Domeric is telling the truth and this is how we’ll get to The Wall.  

“That is kind of you to say, but not being killed in my sleep by your father’s bastard will serve, I think.  Very well.  You, your brother, and that miserable little cunt whom father would see me wed will all accompany me when I ride for The Wall.  Mayhaps the dumb bitch will freeze to death on the way there,” growled Domeric, grinding his teeth.  

“Even if he wanted to kill you, Jon would never do it while you’re sleeping.  He’s an honorable man.  He’d never kill someone when they couldn’t defend themselves.”  

“And what of Lord Rickon?  He too must swear to tell your father’s bastard not to attempt to do any harm to my person.” 

“He’ll tell Jon that you helped us and he’ll ask him not to hurt you too, right Rickon?” 
Rickon studied the pale-eyed man sitting at the head of the table for a moment, swished something around in his mouth, and then spat a chewed up piece of food at empty chair where Lord Ramsay had been sitting. 

“No, Jon will kill you.  Dead.  Dead.  Dead.  Dead.  He’ll kill you dead and after he’s cut off your stupid walnut-head, he’ll kill you all over again.  Arya and I will make sure he does even if Bran's too scared to do it.  You...you may've frightened Bran into betraying our family, but I'm not afraid of you.”  Bran buried his face in his hands and tried to decide whether he was angrier at Domeric or his younger brother.  

The Castellan of the Dreadfort calmly stood up and walked over to the little boy’s seat.  The wolf cub looked his enemy directly in the eye and for a moment it seemed as though he might growl or bare his teeth.  Suddenly, in one swift motion, Domeric slammed Rickon’s head against the table so hard that he knocked the youngest Stark unconscious.  Rickon's body fell out of his seat and his head slammed against the stone floor.  *CRACK*  Rickon's limbs jerked wildly for a moment and then his body went completely limp.   

"Rickon?  Rickon?  Wake up!  Please, please don't...don't...don't leave me alone with these people.  Please, don't die, Rickon.  Please..."  Is he...  He's breathing!  He's alive!  

"If I were you, I'd find a way to make my brother see reason.  If you can't...well...The Dreadfort is a large castle and I fear small children will go missing from time to time."  

Chapter Text

He’s coming!  My Petyr will be here soon, Lysa reminded herself, giddily smelling her lover’s letter for the seventh time in the past hour before holding the sacred message over her heart.  The mere thought of the one man she’d ever loved caused things that Maester Coleman once said women no longer felt at her age.  Soon we’ll be married and then not even Cat will be able to steal my Petyr away.  We'll be together forever and ever...

“MOTHER, I’m hungry!”  

“You just ate, dearest.  My strong, healthy, handsome, perfect little Robin doesn’t really need any more of his special mommy milk tonight, does he?”  "Robin" was the wrong name for you.  A perfect baby deserves a perfect name.  Jon was a stupid, smelly, small-minded simpleton.  If he had even half the wits that the Gods gave a turnip, he’d have let me name you “Petyr.”  It would’ve been the only kind thing that beast ever did for me.  Did he let me name my special little boy "Petyr?"  No, of course not.  That would've required compassion and that fool was always as cold as winter.  Why couldn’t you have let me pretend that I was feeding my Petyr?  WHY?  You can’t do anything about it now, can you, Jon?  How I wish you were still alive to see me marry my sweet Mockingbird.  Go on, climb out of your grave and try to rob me of my happiness again.  We both know you want to!  I...I won’t let anyone steal him from me!  NOT THIS TIME!  You can’t keep me from imagining that it is Petyr sucking at my breast every day.  I won’t let you take that away from me!  Never again!  Do you hear me, Jon?  No, of course you don't and do you know why?  Because you're dead.  DEAD!  DEAD!  DEAD!  That's what happens to people who try to come between Petyr and me.  You'd have known that if you weren't such a stupid, useless old –  

“BUT I’M HUNGRY NOW!  I want to eat now!  NOW!  NOW! NOW!  And then...and then, I want to see another little baby man fly.”  Lysa frowned at the noisy child who'd rudely interrupted her thoughts.  If you were Jon Arryn’s son, I’d have thrown you out the moon door myself years ago...but you're not.  Petyr still thinks I drank moon tea after he made love to me that night...the night I demanded that he prove that he still loved me, but I would never let anyone take a baby away from me again.  I forced myself to pretend Lord Arryn was my handsome, thoughtful little Mockingbird the following night, but I never drank the tea.  It wasn't easy lying to my Petyr about that, he's always been so trusting.  The things I do for love...  

Of course, Jon had all the passion of a dead fish, but at least he always believed the boy to be his.  “The seed is strong,” he said.  “My boy will be a great Lord someday,” he said.  Petyr’s boy will be a great Lord, you emotionless twat.  The seed was strong because it was Petyr’s seed, you fool.  I could never lose his son...not again.  What if we never got another chance?  I tried so hard...the Gods know how hard I tried with Jon.  Of course, that self-rightious brute of a man never gave me anything but pain.  A falcon would’ve made a better lover than that...that...horse-brained simpleton.  No one will steal Robyn Baelish from me!  Not even Petyr...  He'll understand when the time comes to tell him that our perfect little boy is already Lord of the Eyrie and Warden of the East.  My Petyr was always such sensitive and understanding man.  

Any other woman would do the same, that much is certain.  Any woman except sweet, perfect, beautiful, smart, precious, wonderful, adorable little Cat.  The mere thought her wicked sister filled Lysa with a murderous rage and she ground her teeth so hard that she almost chipped one of them.  That fat cow always went for the most obvious thing.  The cruel little brat was always taunting poor Petyr...throwing herself at him like a common whore.  That stupid, spoiled brat didn't have to say or do anything, but I saw the stupid way she toyed with my Petyr because she was always so stupid and stupid people do stupid things because they're stupid and...and SHE WON'T STEAL HIM FROM ME!  NOT THIS TIME!  HE'S MINE!  

I confronted her about it when we were girls and Cat the nerve to insist that she had no idea what I was talking about, but I knew the truth!  How dare she pretend to be worried about me and offer to help me find a way to tell Petyr how much he meant to me.  Did she truly think that I was some empty-headed child who would let her poison our love with her lies so that she could have my Petyr for herself?  

Petyr was always a man of character, but I fear that his honor oft clouds his judgment.  For all his wisdom, he was always so trusting...so innocent...so quick to assume the best of those around him.  He wouldn't have suspected a thing if...yes, that had to have been it.  Cat must have come on to him when no one else was around.  The wicked old witch probably threw herself at him like a dog.  Thank the Gods Petyr was strong enough to resist her advances.  What an evil woman.  I oft wonder if Cat ever thinks of anyone except herself these days.  If only she could see that there was more to life than her own happiness...that other people's needs matter too.  We were so close as young children.  She changed.  I wonder...would she have seen the error of her ways if she weren't forced to marry the brother of that vicious beast who nearly killed my Petyr?  Cat made the man's brother spare Petyr's life, so there was still some good in her then, most like.  Could it be that living in a frozen wasteland with those cold, unfeeling wolves simply ruined her?  She suffered at father's hands just as I did, Lysa thought to herself sadly.  No!  I can’t worry about Cat...not now!  I must needs focus on Petyr and on our son.  

“Of course, you can eat now, Petyr.  My beautiful boy can do anything he wants,” Lysa murmured softly.  Should I tell my Mockingbird about his father?  No!  Petyr, he...he'll know the best way to tell Robin.  My Petyr is so very clever, he always knows exactly what to say.  

“Mother, you called me ‘Petyr’ again.  I'm not a 'Petyr,' I'm a 'Robin!'”  

“No, I didn’t.”  

“Did so!”  

“Did not!” 

“Did so!  You did!  You did!  You did!  I said...you...DID! 
You do it whenever you feed me and no one else is –”  

“I have such smart, clever little boy.  You remind me so very of your...uncle.  Of uncle Petyr, yes...”  Such a sharp little thing.  Sweet, gentle, thoughtful, handsome, and so very much like his father, Lysa thought to herself as she lovingly watched her son drink his supper.  I’ll tell him the truth on his nameday; no child could ask for a better present that learning that he was really the son of my Petyr.  Or should I tell Petyr on his nameday that we have a son?  Or mayhaps I can announce it in front of every Lord in The Vale at our wedding.  No, no, all that attention would embarrass Petyr; he's such a shy and sensitive man.  Should it be a nameday gift for Petyr or Robin?  Decisions, decisions...  

“I think it’s empty.  Is there more milk in this one,” asked Robyn as he grabbed at his mother’s right breast.  In truth, the Lady of the Vale was far too busy staring dreamily at her son to notice.  Sometimes – if she tried hard enough – Lysa could even make herself hear her son’s words in Petyr’s voice.  It always put her in a trance, especially when it was the boy’s mealtime.  You’re far too interested in my body to have been Jon’s son.  Look at you, the very image of your father.  My perfect, handsome, brilliant, sensitive –   

“I said I...want...MORE!  MORE!  MORE!  MORE!  I WANT TO EAT NOW!”  

“Of course, dear.  My special little Robin can drink as much of his special mommy milk as he wants.  And after you’ve finished your meal, your mother is going to have five more dwarves thrown through the moon door.  Do you know why, Robin?”  

“Umm...wait...I know this one!  It’s because...no, that’s not it.  Is it...wait...don’t tell me!  It’s uh...oh, I know!  It’s because I’m a perfect angel, isn’t it?  Is that it?  Did I do good?”  


“That’s right!  Of course, you did good.  You can never do anything wrong because you're my special little Robin.  And what does that mean?”  

“It means that I can have everything I want whenever I want it.  No one can ever tell me ‘no’ because uncle Petyr is going to be King someday and when he dies, I’ll rule all of Westeros.  When I’m King, I’ll move the Iron Throne to The Eyrie.  We’ll make everyone I don’t like fly, mother.  They’ll all fly...starting with the little Lannister baby man.”  

“And who do we discuss this with?”  

“No one, not even uncle Petyr.  Only you and me are allowed to talk about it.  That’s right, isn’t it?  Did I do good, mother?”  Petyr will make you his heir one day, he just doesn’t know it yet...  

“Such a clever little boy,” Lysa cooed.  And someday, your mother will get exactly what she deserves too.  Petyr will give me a daughter and another son.  We’ll name them "Petyr" and "Lysa."  No, that’s ridiculous; there’s no need for a second son.  I’ll just change Robin’s name to "Petyr" once he learns about his real father.  He can marry our daughter and then their children can marry and their children’s children can marry too.  It will be like marrying my Petyr over and over again for the rest of time.  

... 

“Robin wanted to wait up for you, Petyr.  He loves you so very much.”  

“I’m touched, truly I am.  I fear you’ll have to forgive me if I’m a bit irritable; it would seem that Lord Bolton has rejected my offer.  The man wants nothing to do with me, if you can believe it.  I offered him the key to the North and he threatened to send my message to the Starks if I ever cross him in any way.  I suppose every piece has a will of its own.  The Poole girl isn't really Lady Arya, but he couldn't possibly know that...yet my agents in The Twins tell me that Lord Bolton and Lord Frey are both...less than satisfied with The King Who Lost The North.  Quite a thorn in my side, this so-called Lord of the Dreadfort.  Even as far south as Highgarden, men have long called the Boltons 'The Cleganes of The North," but I fear they are a touch more clever than their counterparts in The Westerlands.  The fool can't be too clever though, since he plainly thinks that I am scarcely worth his time.  That bloody flayed man thinks he’s smarter me, most like.  Just like that drunken dwarf in King's Landing.”  But...but that’s madness, no one could ever be smarter than my Petyr.  “The bastards!  I'll show them all!  I’ll have Lord Bolton's head on a spike right next to Ned Stark’s soon enough and then we'll see who is smarter than whom.  If that fool thinks that he can spit in my face and...apologies, my Lady.  I must be boring you."  

“Well...”  Oh Petyr, you always could see right through me.  

"I pray that you will be able to find it in �yourself to forgive my foolish outburst."  

"Oh Petyr, there's nothing to forgive.  How could anyone ever be angry with you?"  

“You are to kind, my Lady.  I fear that I remain as unworthy as ever of your love...though never more grateful for it.  In truth, Lord Bolton and Lord Tarly don’t matter.  We are the only ones who matter right now.  Where is the boy,” asked Petyr wearily.  

“Robin’s fast asleep.  You know, I...well...I was thinking...wouldn’t it be best if he awoke to find us in bed together?”  


“Nothing would please me more, my love.  I would like nothing more than to wed you tonight, only...”  What?  What could possibly be wrong?  Jon is dead.  Father is dead.  Cat...that whore has her claws in him again.  Yes, I can see it now.  After all her years of waiting, her husband is finally dead, so Cat thinks she can steal my Petyr away from me.  She can’t have him!  I...I’ll kill him with my bare hands before I let that happen.  HE'S MINE!  I...I’ll never let him leave the Vale again.  Never!  Never!  Never!  Yes, that's plainly the only way to protect him from that wicked woman's schemes and plots.  My Petyr will stay here with me.  We’ll be together forever and ever and ever!  My mockingbird has finally returned to his nest and if that...that bitch tries to steal him again, I’ll cut her throat myself.  

“Lysa, do you love me?” 

“More than anything in the world, how...how could you even ask me that after everything I’ve done? 
I’ve lied for you, I’ve killed for –”  

“Yes, yes, I know, dearest,” replied Petyr.  “It's just...I need you to show me how much you love me, Lysa.  I need you to do one simple thing for me.  Do it without question and I will know that you truly love me.”  

“What is it, Petyr?  I’ll do anything!  Please, tell me!  Tell me!  TELL ME NOW!”  

“Very well.  If you truly love me, then you will let me smuggle your niece into The Vale.  While you are the only woman I could ever love, I fear that I feel a certain...responsibility� to look after at least one of your sister's children.  Lady Sansa will marry Lord Robin...when he comes of age, of course.” 

“But...but I...very well.  For...for the sake of our love, I shall allow it.  You...you’ll give me another son, won’t you?”   It can’t have been easy being Cat’s daughter.  If my sister hasn’t completely ruined the poor girl, I...I’ll be the mother she should have had.  I will teach her to be a proper Lady rather than a common whore.  With a steady hand like mine guiding her, I’m sure even Sansa Stark can grow up to be just like me.  And if...and...and if that hateful little bitch so much as glances at my Petyr, I’ll throw the empty-headed child out the moon door myself.  

“Of course, Lysa.  I’ll give you sons and daughters.”  Oh Petyr...  

Chapter Text

I killed Lord Vargo and I didn’t even need Lord Bolton or anyone else to help me do it, Arya thought to herself as she watched Lord Bolton read some sort of message in his solar.  It wasn’t so bad...not really.  He was a monster and he was going to rape me besides.  Does it even matter that he got what he deserved?  No, that’s stupid; of course it matters.  Lord Bolton said I should be proud of my work.  And Westeros is better off without that stupid old Goat besides, even Gendry and Hot Pie would thank me if they hadn't escaped.  No one will miss Lord Vargo either...not really.  In truth, even the rest of the Bloody Mummers had seemed relieved when Lord Bolton made Urswyck the Faithful the new Lord of Harrenhal. 

Lord Bolton was right.  I am proud that I killed Lord Vargo and I’d butcher that stupid goat again if I could.  I’m not afraid of him or anyone else.  My enemies are the ones who should be afraid!  Joffrey.  Cersei.  Ilyn Payne.  The Hound.  The Mountain.  Tywin Lannister.  Theon Greyjoy.  Polliver.  Dunsen.  The Tickler.  I’ll kill them all some day, every one.  They’ll suffer the same way that my pack has suffered and...and then I'll...  Arya looked down at the ground in shame.  

What would father say if he were alive?  He’d be ashamed of me, most like.  Father...he...he can be wrong too sometimes.  Lord Bolton said it was justice, not revenge. No matter how hard she tried, Arya couldn’t shake the feeling that she had done something horrible, even if Lord Vargo had left her no choice. 

“Lord Bolton, am I a...never mind.”  That was stupid.  I can’t keep bothering him like this when he’s trying to work.  He’ll hate me if...no, not Lord Bolton.  Everyone else could hate me and he’d still be my friend, just like Jon.  As long as they’re alive, I’ll always have a pack.  

“I fear you forfeited any right to silence the moment that you chose to disrupt my work.  Now then, what seems to be troubling you?  You look quite ill, I think.  If it is about Lord Vargo, I assure you that what happened was not your fault.  You were thrown into a dangerous situation and conducted yourself far more admirably than most boys your age.”  

“I’m a girl!” 

“As you say.  And yet you killed Lord Vargo all the same.  It takes great courage to butcher a man like an animal.  Most men cut off an enemy’s head and call it justice; I call that cowardice.  If a man wrongs you, he should suffer slowly.  Mercy is for the weak.  Do you understand?” 

“I think so.”  I am not weak. 
I am a direwolf.

“And Lord Vargo plainly suffered a great deal before you killed him.  In truth, I fear that I must beg your forgiveness.” 

“What?  Why?” 
Mother and Robb are the ones who should be asking for my forgiveness, not Lord Bolton.  He'd never try to sell me for some stupid old bridge!  

“I should’ve been more careful.  Lord Vargo must have figured out your identity after seeing you in the rookery.  I never should have brought you there.” 

“That wasn’t your fault.”  

“Mayhaps.” 

“It really wasn’t!  I’d tell you if it was, I promise!  There’s nothing to forgive, my Lord. 
And even if there was, I’d still forgive you...no matter what you did.” 

“Would you,” asked Lord Bolton as a flicker of amusement crept across his face.  What did I say?  

“I’m not joking. 
I really would forgive you, I promise!  No matter what you did, I'd –"  

"You really mean that, don't you?"  

"Of course I do!  You...you’re my only friend.”  

“As you say.”  

“But what I was upset about, it...it’s just that...”  

“Yes?” 

“The morning after I killed Lord Vargo, I felt...part of me wished that I could kill him again only...only for revenge this time, even though it wouldn’t be justice.”  

“And?  Revenge and justice are one in the same.” 

“They are?  Really?  Are you sure?”  

“Yes.”  

“But you don’t...you don’t think that makes me a monster, do you?” 

“Of course not, don’t be ridiculous,” said the Lord of the Dreadfort dismissively as he rose from his seat and approached the lone wolf.  He mussed her hair the way Jon used to and Arya gave him her widest smile. 
Lord Bolton studied her for a moment with his pale, blue eyes.  

“I want you to listen to me very carefully.  It is good that you enjoyed killing Lord Vargo.” 

“Good?  But I –” 


“I thought I told you to listen.”  

“Yes, my Lord.”  

“Men oft speak of their bloodlust and courage, only to turn craven on the battlefield.  You are not a craven; you were quite brave, I think.”  

“Brave?  But I was afraid; how can you be brave if you’re afraid?”  

“That is the only time when a man can be brave, I think.  Else there wouldn’t be anything courageous about what he did.  You knew that there was only one thing to be done, so you did it.  You were afraid, but you didn’t let your fear keep you from crossing a name off that list of yours.”  I never thought about it that way.  Maybe I was brave after all...maybe.  “Someday you’ll look back on that night with pride and tell your children about how you killed your first enemy.” 

“I don’t think this is something I want to tell anyone about.”


“You’ll change your mind one day, I think.  Boltons have long passed such stories down to their children and their children’s children.  I was five when my father told me about the first man he killed.” 


“But I’m a Stark, not a Bolton.”

“It matters not at all.  There is a proper way to raise a child.”  Just because you told your children about the first time you killed someone doesn’t mean that I have to, I...I’ll just tell them that I killed Chiswyck instead.

“But shouldn’t I kill my enemies without torturing them?” 

“And where is the fun in that?”  

“Fun?” 

“Yes.  Fun. 
You just told me that a part of you enjoyed killing Lord Vargo, did you not?"  

"Yes, but –"  

"The man was going to rape and murder you.  This would have been a rather unfortunate development.”  That’s it?  Unfortunate?  That stupid goat was going to rape and murder me.  It was unfortunate when Nymeria pooped under Sansa’s bed.  Well...it was unfortunate that mother saw her and realized what I was training Nymeria to do, Arya thought to herself with a wicked grin.  “Close your eyes.  No, close them all the way.  Good.  Now then, you say that Joffrey Lannister gave the order to cut off your father’s head.”  

“Yes, my Lord.” 

“I want you to imagine that you have Joffrey alone in a room. 
You’re holding the flaying knife that I gave you –”  

Vengeance!” 

“Yes.  Imagine that you are holding Vengeance.  Think about what it was like when your father lost his head.  That monster also has raped and mutilated your older sister more times than you can count, most like."  

"HE WHAT?"  

"Now imagine Joffrey Lannister on the ground, begging you for mercy.  Will you give it to him?”  

“NO!  NEVER!  I...I’ll kill him!  I’ll kill him again and again and again.  I’ll bury Vengeance in his throat and then I’ll...I’ll –” 

“Flay him?” 

“Right, I’ll flay him and...wait...did I just –” 

“Say you’d flay Joffrey Lannister?  Yes.  It matters not at all. 
Tell me, how did saying all of that make you feel?”  

“It made me...I mean...it...it made me feel better, I think.  At least a little bit...”  

“And what is so terrible about that?” 

“Nothing, my Lord. 
It’s wasn’t so bad...not really.”  

“As you say.”   

“But what if mother and Robb do find out?  They wouldn’t understand and even if they did, they still wouldn’t let me be a Stark anymore.” 

“They already don’t want you in their House, I think.  The two of them tried to sell you to the Freys for a bridge.  If your kin had their way, you’d be Lady Frey – no, Princess Frey – of the Twins.  They are fools, I think.  You may be a little girl, but you are plainly far too brave to ever be a proper Lady.”   I hate the Freys!  Them and their stupid bridge.  It probably wasn’t even the bridge that Robb wanted...not really.  Lord Bolton said the Freys are Tully bannermen.  That means they’re supposed to be just as loyal to uncle Edmure as Lord Bolton is to Robb.  They’d let my brother cross the bridge if uncle Edmure needed his help, I know they would!  And even if they didn’t, Robb would’ve just taken the stupid bridge and cut off Lord Walder’s head, most like.  And why would the Freys even want me anyway?  They’re not Northmen, so they’d never get Winterfell.  They should hate me just as much as everyone else does, unless... 
The Freys only agreed to take me to pay some sort of debt to House Stark, Arya realized.  

“Are you sure they sold me for a bridge?  What if they were just trying to get rid of me and didn’t even want the bridge?”  

“You wouldn’t repeat any of what I say to you to your kin, would you?” 

“No.  Never!  Sansa always liked to gossip about everyone, but I’d never do something like that. 
And half the secrets Sansa told people weren’t even true besides.”  

“Very well.  They wanted the bridge, that much is certain.  It is simply worth more to them than you are, I think.  I fear your kin have already all but disowned you; you’ll never be one of them, as far as they’re concerned.” 

“But I am one of them!  I’m a Stark too!  Sansa doesn’t even want to live in the North and they still let her be one.  She even prays to The Seven instead of the Old Gods.  She –” 

“You are a Stark today, but what of tomorrow?  I fear it is only a matter of time before your kin sell you like a slave at an auction.  And they will sell you cheap, I think.  I
f they try to marry you to another Frey –”  

“They can’t!  It’s not fair!  They...they’re my family; they’re supposed to love me at least a little bit.  Even if they hate me, they wouldn’t do that to me...would they?”  

“We shall see.”  If they wanted to get rid of me that badly, they could’ve at least let me live at the Dreadfort.  That way I'd still be in The North and I would still have part of my pack.  Lord Bolton wouldn’t care whether or not I acted like a stupid, old Lady.   He even said that his naturalborn son likes to take women with him when he goes hunting, so maybe he’ll let me come with him one time if I ask him.  I wouldn’t get to see my family except for when Lord Bolton traveled to Winterfell, but at least I’d be with people who care about me.  No, that’s stupid.  Even if he is my friend, Lord Bolton would never let me do that and Winterfell is my home besides.  

“But if they knew about Lord Vargo, they wouldn’t just try to...I mean...they...they’d banish me from Winterfell forever, wouldn’t they?  I know you’d never tell them, but what if...what if one of your men saw something or –”  

“No doubt.  Your kin must never know what you did to that man.  I fear that your mother and King Robb are not as enlightened as I am.  It matters not at all.”  

“What do you mean?”  

“If the day should come when your kin discover what you did, I want you to know that you will still have a home in The North.” 

“But I’m a Stark; Winterfell is my home.” 

“As you say.  Even so, if you ever find that you can no longer rely upon the hospitality of Winterfell, you should know that you will always be welcome at The Dreadfort.  In truth, I oft find that I can’t help but think of you as one of my kin,” replied Lord Bolton, mussing Arya’s hair.  Robb’s not allowed to do that anymore, the Lone Wolf decided. 
Only Jon and Lord Bolton, and no one else.  

“Really?  I mean...I –” 

“Is something wrong?” 


“No, nothing’s wrong; it’s just...no one ever...thank you, my Lord.”  

“Oh and one more thing, if that day should come, I can promise you that I would never force you to marry a Frey or leave The North.  Furthermore, I am quite certain that there is not a soul within my House who will care whether or not you wish to behave like a proper Lady.  In truth, I have no doubt that my son Domeric would think just as highly of you as I do.  You may be a Stark, but so long as I am alive there will always be a place for you at The Dreadfort should you ever find yourself in need of a home.”  Without thinking, Arya leapt up from her seat and hugged the Lord of The Dreadfort. 

This time, Lord Bolton didn’t snap at her.  Instead, after initially trying to squirm away, he awkwardly began to move his hands toward her several times only to move them away again like a frightened child, plainly unsure of how he was supposed to respond.  

“Thank you, my Lord.  My family doesn’t care about me...not really.  All of the ones who are left hate me except for Jon.  You can’t be like my family; you actually care about me.”  

"You...you can let go of me now."   I wish my family treated me the way Lord Bolton does. 

“I’m sorry, I...I forgot that you don’t like to be hugged.  I didn’t do it on purpose.  I really didn’t,” Arya insisted, as she nervously backed away and slumped down into her seat.

“I forgive you, but if you truly want to thank me then you will never do that to me again.  I do not wish to be touched in such a manner; such things will make a man weak.”  Weak?  What does he mean?  How could someone be so scared of a hug?  

“I’m sorry, my Lord.  I'll never hug you again.  I really mean it this time!”  

“Good.  I will not permit you to make a habit of it.  If it happens again, then I fear you will require a sharp lesson.  Is that understood?”  If Lord Bolton doesn’t want me to hug him than I’ll never do it again, no matter how nice he is to me.  I didn’t even do it on purpose though.  Why does he care anyway?  No, it...it doesn’t matter...not really.  All that matters is that Lord Bolton told me not to do it.  He’s usually right so maybe being hugged can make people weak...maybe.  Arya silently nodded at the Lord of the Dreadfort and lowered her sad, grey eyes in shame like a chastised child. 

“Other children were oft cruel to you at Winterfell, were they not?”  

“Yes, my Lord.”  What does that have to do with anything?  

“Tell me about what they did to you.” 

“Do I have to,” Arya groaned.  

“Yes.  Your brothers, Brandon and Rickon, were they ever cruel to you?”  

“No, never.  Bran could be annoying sometimes, but he was never mean to me...not really.  And I always got along really well with Rickon.”  

“That is good to hear.  You’ve mentioned your sister before, I think.  Remind me, what did she do?”  

“Sansa’s friends were always calling me ‘Arya Horseface.’  Jeyne Poole would always neigh whenever she saw me.”  

“Was she a half-wit?”  

“What?  No.  Riding a horse was the only thing that I could ever do better than Sansa, so she stole that from me.”  

“By neighing at you?  Unless you can no longer ride a horse better than your sister, it sounds as though all that was lost was this Poole girl’s dignity.  And you are better than your sister at many other things besides.” 

“Really?  I am?  Are you...are you sure?” 

“Of course.  You are far better at escaping from your enemies, killing sellswords, finding your way home, surviving on your own, and deceiving fools like Ser Robett, I think.  Your talents simply happen to lie in areas that actually matter. 
I can’t imagine why your parents considered you the disappointing child rather than your sister.”  

“Thank you, my Lord,” Arya replied with an appreciative grin.  The Lone Wolf loved her sister, but few things could’ve made her happier than the thought of someone being disappointed in Sansa for once.  

“Did your sister do anything else?”  

“Sansa would always tell everyone at Winterfell whenever I did anything wrong.  The worst part was that whenever she broke something, she’d always say that it was me and mother always believed her.” 

“Your mother didn’t care what Lady Sansa said so long as your sister provided her with an excuse to punish you, did she?”  

“That’s not true.” 

“No?” 

“No!  My mother still loved me when we were at Winterfell...even if she hates me now.” 

“Are you certain?  This is the same mother who tried to sell you to the Freys, I think.  She plainly never –” 

“HEY!  My mother loved me, so you'd better stop trying to say she didn’t!  I...I mean...I didn’t mean to raise my voice, I promise.  I know I’m not allowed to do that when I’m talking to you, my Lord.  Please don’t be angry, I...I mean...I just...”  Lord Bolton’s pale, blue eyes grew so cold that Arya nearly shivered.  She bit her lip and began fidgeting nervously as her friend’s lips twisted into a cruel smile.  Arya could feel her heart racing, but that happened every time that she thought the Lord of the Dreadfort might be disappointed or angry with her.  That was stupid. 
Lord Bolton will be wroth with me and... 

“Very well; I forgive you.”  

“You do?  You’re not mad at me?”  

“Of course not.  A wise man knows how to keep his emotions in check.  Do you take me for a Stark?”  

“Hey, I’m a Stark!” 

“For now...”  

“What do you mean ‘for now?’  I’ll always be a Stark.” 

“Not if your kin have their way.  Speaking of your sister, I trust you are aware that the Lannisters have lost King’s Landing.” 

“What?  Is Sansa safe?  Did Robb cut off Joffrey’s head?” Father wouldn’t want me to be excited about that, but if it’s justice like Lord Bolton said... 

“No.  Stannis Baratheon took the capitol after setting Blackwater Bay on fire.  Didn’t I tell you this already?  
It matters not at all.  Cersei Lannister was taken prisoner and it is known that The Imp’s head has been mounted on the same spike where your father’s head used to reside, but I fear that Joffrey has escaped from King’s Landing, if the reports I’ve been receiving are to be believed.”  

“How do you know that?” 

“Your brother has named me Master of Whisperers.  It has become my business to know such things.”  Lord Bolton is on Robb’s Small Council?  Maybe I’ll still get to see him at Winterfell when the war is over...maybe.  

“Is the war over?  Robert Baratheon was father’s friend and...it’s not over, is it? 
Did something bad happen to Sansa?”  

“What makes you think that?”  

“You’re smiling.” 

“Do you truly believe that I enjoy giving people bad news?” 


“Yes, especially when it makes them really uncomfortable.”  

“Our amusements are our own, I think.  It matters not at all.  Your brother refused to bend the knee, so Stannis named King Robb and all of those loyal to him enemies of the crown.  And your sister...well...I fear that the King in The North has already removed her from your House's line of succession in his will.  It was in the message that he sent to all of the Northern Lords announcing his decision to name your father’s bastard as his heir.  He disinherited Lady Sansa.”  

“What?  But why...why would he do that?”  Did Jon leave the Wall?  Is he coming back?  Does mother know?   Maybe she’ll be so angry at Robb that she’ll forget how much she hates me...maybe.  No, that’s stupid.  And I don’t want them to hate each other besides.  Not even if it would make mother love me again...  

“Your brother wanted to keep Winterfell out of Southron hands, I think. 
It would seem that Stannis Baratheon has decided to force your sister to marry –” 

“My Lord,” shouted Lord Urswyck through the door, “it’s Locke.  He’s re-captured the Kingslayer and some strange woman...or mayhaps it was a man, no one’s quite sure.  Said somethin‘ about sapphires too.  The bitch was wearing armor and Locke says that whatever it is put up more of a fight than the Kingslayer.  Then again, that beast had both of its hands which more than I can fer the Kingslayer.”  

Chapter Text

“We cannot defeat Tywin Lannister and Mace Tyrell on our own, Your Grace.  The Martells won’t lift a finger to help us, not after what your brother Robert ordered Tywin Lannister to do to Elia Martell and her children.  The North is our only chance of winning the war,” Davos insisted.

“And the Knights of The Vale?” 

“They serve Lysa Arryn, Your Grace.  Robb Stark is her nephew; if we make an enemy of him, then we make an enemy of the her as well.” 

“Mayhaps.  Lord
 Stark may be Lady Arryn’s cousin, but the Knights of The Vale did not come to his aid when the Lannisters took off Ned Stark’s head,” replied the King.  

“Even if there is bad blood between the two, I doubt it will be enough to persuade Lady Arryn to declare for you.”   

“Very well, what do you propose?  Lord Axell may be Hand of the King, but I’d trust a turnip before that man.  I’ll not fight alongside Ned Stark’s son or any other man who breaks the guest right.” 

“Offer to betroth Sansa Stark to Robin Arryn in exchange for the support of The Vale.  It would give the boy a claim to The North and pit the Arryns against the Starks.” 

“Lady Sansa will remain in King’s Landing until her brother bends the knee.  I’ll not reward the girl for her brother’s crimes.  If Lord Stark ends his treasonous rebellion within a fortnight and withdraws from The Crownlands then I shall pardon the boy and the Lords who declared for him.  If he refuses, then I shall attaint the Starks, Tullys, and any of their bannermen and knights who have not yet bent the knee.  Honor or treason, the choice is his, Lord Davos.”  Lord Davos.  How many smugglers can say they rose to become Master of Ships?  Time enough for pride later.  Right now, I must needs make him see reason before the Lannisters and Tyrells kill us all.  “As for Lady Arryn and the Knights of The Vale, I am their King.  You say I should offer to wed the Stark girl to Lord Robin in exchange for The Vale’s loyalty. 
Tell me, Lord Davos, why should I bargain for that which is mine by rights?”  

“But Your Grace, betrothing Lady Sansa to any knight or Lord who brings you Joffrey Baratheon –”  

“Joffrey Waters.  The boy is a bastard born of incest and I already said she’d be betrothed to any man who brought me that abomination alive besides.” 

“Joffrey Waters.  It seems to me that we’d be wasting a valuable –”  

“I’ve made my decision, Lord Davos.  The bastard has King’s blood running through his veins and the Lady Melisandre has said that if I burn the bastard, I’ll be able to kill every pretender in one stroke.  Tommen Baratheon, Robb Stark, and Balon Greyjoy will all be dead and buried soon enough.  We’ll speak no more of it, is that understood?” 

“Yes, Your Grace.  And what of Dorne?"  

“What of it, Lord Davos?  You don’t truly believe a dragon burned Sunspear to the ground, do you?”  Mayhaps not, but something plainly happened there.  There’ve been far too many rumors.  Someone – or something – destroyed Sunspear and killed nearly everyone there in a matter of seconds.  That’s all any of the survivors could agree on, the poor bastards. 
I like this not at all.  

...

The Master of Ships studied the most important prisoners – such as they were – and could not help pitying them.  Among them were a knight of the King’s Guard, Cersei Lanniser, Ser Ilyn Payne, and others whom Davos did not recognize.  No man deserves to be burned alive.  You’re a just man, Stannis; give them a clean deaths.  It may be more than they ever gave their victims, but that’s the bloody point.  You’re not like them.  You’re not just the one true King, you’re the King that Westeros needs.  You’re the King and I’ll never say you don’t have the right to choose your advisors, but I truly worry some days.  Each of that lot is worse than the last, Davos thought to himself as he glanced at the men who sat with him on the Small Council. 

There was the new Master of Coin, Lord Celtigar, a man who hated his King near as much as the Lannisters.  The Master of Laws, Lord Velaryon danced like a trained monkey to whatever tune the Hand of The King, Lord Axell Florent, chose to sing.  Worse, the Red Woman sat in on every Small Council meeting. Since the Battle of the Blackwater, Stannis has come to rely upon the Red Woman more and more with each passing day.  I suppose I should count myself lucky that I managed to convince His Grace to eliminate the post of Master of Whisperers instead of giving it to another of those bloody lickspittles who are always circling him like vultures.  Speaking of lickspittles, where is Lord Axell?  The man never struck me as the type to miss a chance to see other men beg for their lives.  

“I, Stannis of the House Baratheon, King of the Andals, the Rhoynar, and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, and Protector of the Realm decree that Ser Ilyn of House Payne be granted safe passage back to Casterly Rock.  From what I gather, the man has performed his duties honorably and done only that which was asked of him by the abomination he believed to be his King.”

“But Your Grace –”  

“I’ve made my decision and I’ll hear no more about it, Lord Valeryon.” 

“Yes, Your Grace.”  

“Your Grace,” blurted the sole surviving member of the King’s Guard. 

“You will speak when spoken to, Ser Meryn.”  

“But Your Grace, I was serving the man I believed to be my King too.  I...I served him loyally and would do the same for you.  Please, Your Grace, I never knew him for a bastard. 
The King told me to kill the Imp and I took off his head at the Blackwater, as any man of honor would."  

“You would have me believe that the King ordered a member of the Kingsguard to behead his own Hand in full view of his army during an attack upon the capital?  Tell me, Ser Meryn, how big a fool do you take me for?” 

“But His Grace...I mean...Joffrey, he did.  I swear on my honor that he gave me the order.”  He can’t truly believe this nonsense will work, can he?  The bloody fool has lost his wits. 
Whatever Joffrey Waters may have been, he can’t possibly have been mad enough to give such an order during a siege.  

“You thought that you could save your own head by taking The Imp’s once you saw that the battle was lost, most like,” replied Lord Celtigar. 

“You are man without honor, Ser Meryn.  You are also plainly a liar, a traitor, and a craven.  Since members of the Kingsguard serve for life, I fear it is not within my power to replace you at this time.  You’ll spend your final hours in one of the black cells and offered to the Lord of Light tonight.” 

“But Your Grace –” 

“Get him out of my sight; Cersei Lannister as well.  I’ll see both of them burnt before the day is done,” snapped the King as the guards dragged the wailing knight out of the throne room.  Cersei did not have to be carried...at least not until a scream from some nearby hallway made its way into the throne room. 
After that, it took three men to restrain the false Queen and drag her away.  

“I am the King!  You can’t do this!  Traitors!  I...I'll have all of you executed!”  

“Joffrey?  Let me go!  Please!  Let me see my son!  If any of you lays so much as a single hand on him...  You can't...please, Your Grace, burn me instead!  I...I’ll do anything!   Joffrey?  Joffrey, is that you?  JOFFREY,” screamed Cersei as several guards carried her out of the throne room kicking and screaming like an ill-mannered child.  

“Mother?  Mother, is that you?  Tell them, mother!  Tell them that I am the King and they have to let me go!  Mother?  Please, I'm the King and...and...please, don't...don't hurt me," whimpered Joffrey Waters.  "You can't...I mean...umm...I...I surrender.  You can be King now, uncle Stannis.  I don’t want the Iron Throne anymore; I really don’t!  You...you have to believe me!  I didn’t mean any of it and I...I never wanted to hurt anyone.  It...it was all mother’s idea.  She made me take the throne.  I never wanted to do any treasons, I swear!  I...I tried to tell her that you were the rightful King, but she wouldn't listen.  None of them would; it was all my mother's fault, uncle Stannis.  Or...wait...umm...I mean...it was my stupid grandfather's idea.  He made me do it!  I never wanted to be King!  It was mother, grandfather, and that stupid dwarf’s fault.  Or Littlefinger or...or...it can be anyone you want.  I...I'll say anything!  I'll blame whoever you want, you'll see!  Please, don’t hurt me,” sobbed the bastard.  Who would ever follow such a craven?  That's not a King; Princess Shireen is just a little girl and she has a hundred times more courage than this one.  

“Your Grace,” shouted Lord Axell with a reptilian smirk as he strolled into the throne room.  "
Allow me to present you with a small gift: the false King Joffrey Waters.”  

Chapter Text

“Wait!  What about Sansa?  What happens if no one finds Joffrey or if he’s already dead?” 

“I fear there is nothing that can be done for your sister at this time.  It matters not at all.  I have no doubt your mother and King Robb will do everything that they can to get her back.  Her fate matters a great deal to them, I think.” 
Lord Bolton’s right, most like.  He usually is...  

“Can I see the Kingslayer?”  

“And why would you want to do that?”  

“I just...wanted to see a Lannister taken prisoner for once is all.”  

“Very well.  Tell me, how would you like to throw a few stones at him?”  

“Stones?  What do you mean?”  

“Yes.  Stones.  Or food, if you wish.  You would enjoy it a great deal, I think.” 

“I guess so, only...”  

“Yes?”  

“Are you sure?”  

“You should aim for his head, I think.  Oh and one more thing, you will throw the first one as soon as I tell him about his sister's death and not a moment earlier.  Is that understood?”  

“Yes!  I mean...yes, my Lord.  And I won’t miss his stupid head either!”  

“See that you don’t.”  

...

“Lord Bolton, allow me to present you with a small gift.  I give you the Kingslayer and his...traveling companion, or if you prefer m’Lord, The Bear and The Maiden Fair,” announced Locke.  “Course you’ll have to decide fer yerself which is which,” he added with a smug grin, as he forced his prisoners to their knees.  Traveling companion?  Arya liked the woman – and it was indeed a woman – who had been taken prisoner alongside the Kingslayer the moment she saw her.  The woman was larger than any of her captors and she was wearing armor instead of a dress.  Although she had corn-colored hair and eyes as blue as the ocean, the Lone Wolf was certain that the strange woman had been called all sorts of horrible names as a girl because of her appearance.  Maybe she had an older sister who everyone else thought was perfect...maybe.  I bet her stupid family tried to to force her to be some boring, old Lady just like mine did at Winterfell.  She probably had nothing to do with the stupid Kingslayer.  Lord Bolton might even let her go and...no, that’s stupid.  Locke already said she was traveling with the Kingslayer, so she couldn't have helped re-capture that stupid Lannister.  Lord Bolton will give her to Qyburn, most like, Arya thought to herself sadly as she gathered several small stones from the ground.  

Lord Bolton probably won’t let her go even if I ask him to, but I have to try.  I don't want him to hurt her, even...even if she did serve the stupid Lannisters, that doesn't mean she deserves to die...not really.  NO!  Mercy is for the weak!  I am not weak.  I am a direwolf.  I won’t ask Lord Bolton to let her live, but maybe he’ll at least let her have a clean death...maybe.  Father said...  It doesn’t matter what father said.  Father, he...he said a lot of things and the Lannisters took his head off all the same.  Lord Bolton said mercy is for the weak and he’s still alive.  Father was wrong.  When winter comes, the pack dies and only the lone wolf survives.  I am a lone wolf...just like Lord Bolton.  

The Kingslayer didn’t look anything like the man who had accompanied King Robert when the latter came to visit Winterfell.  The man kneeling next to the tall woman was beaten, battered, and broken.  He wore no armor and was as thin as a twig.  If I bend one of his arms, will it snap off?  No, that’s stupid.  This isn’t the Kingslayer.  He’s too weak and his face is all wrong besides.  The man had green eyes, to be sure, but they were the sad, lonely eyes of a man who knew he'd lost all he had ever been and all that he ever would be.  There was no sign of the chiseled jaw that Sansa had once spent nearly an hour babbling about, only a thick beard that had more knots than Arya’s hair.  There was a rotting hand hanging from a string around the man’s neck.  That was also wrong.  The Kingslayer had two hands when he visited Winterfell.  

“Locke.”  

“Yes, m’Lord?”  

“Why is the Kingslayer’s hand hanging from his neck?”  That’s him?  That’s really the Kingslayer?  If Lord Bolton says it’s the Kingslayer then maybe...  Good!  I’m glad it’s him!  I wish I was there when they cut off his stupid hand.  I wouldn’t have looked away; that’s what Sansa would’ve done.  I won’t look away when the Lannisters and their men are killed.  Never!  I am a direwolf and I’m not afraid.  Tywin Lannister, Joffrey, and the rest of the stupid Lannisters are the ones who should be afraid.  Soon Robb and Lord Bolton will kill them all, every one.  Robb will kill Stannis too, most like.  Even if he doesn’t want me back, he won’t stop fighting until Sansa’s safe.  It’s not Sansa’s fault that mother and Robb only care about what happens to her...not really.  

“To remind the Kingslayer of his place, m’Lord. 
He’s just some golden-haired little shit who wouldn’t be anything without that hand and his –”  

“Get that thing out of my sight before I have your tongue out.”  

“Yes, m’Lord,” replied Locke as he yanked away the Kingslayer’s hand and tossed it off to the side.  

“I am Lord Roose of House Bolton.  The two of you may rise; you are both under my protection.”  Lord Bolton won’t protect them...not really.  He’ll say he’s withdrawn his protection as soon as he’s ready to punish the Kingslayer.  I know he will!  He’s just...playing with them is all. 

“Thank you, my Lord,” muttered the woman.  “Lady Catelyn has ordered me to bring the Kingslayer to King’s Landing and exchange him for her daughters.”  Mother wouldn’t do that!   Arya opened her mouth to call the strange woman a liar, but closed it again without uttering a single word.  Lord Bolton will be wroth with me if I say anything right now.  And he won’t believe her stupid old Lannister lies besides.  Even if she is a liar, I don’t want him to hurt her...not really.  No matter how hard she tried, Arya found that he could not bring herself to hate the woman.  There was something about the way she spoke and carried herself that was distinctly different from any Lannister soldier that the Lone Wolf had ever seen. 
The prisoner plainly lacked the arrogance, cruelty, and low-cunning that the Lannisters seemed to expect from those who served them.  

“And who might you be, my Lady” asked the Lord of the Dreadfort mildly.  His expressionless features were as menacing as a single shark fin racing toward some doomed castaway in the middle of the ocean.  

“I am Brienne of Tarth, daughter of Lord Selwyn Tarth,” replied the woman.  Arya smiled sadly at the way Brienne winced the moment the words “my Lady” left Lord Bolton’s mouth.  She never wanted to be a boring, old Lady either and didn’t let anyone make her one...not her mother, not her father, and not whatever stupid Lord they probably tried to force her to marry.  Arya smiled – happily this time – as she tried to imagine how Catelyn would have reacted to the sight of her youngest daughter wearing armor.  

“Curious.  I was never told of any such agreement.  Mayhaps Qyburn simply misplaced the raven.  I did hear that your father declared for Joffrey Lannister once Renly Baratheon was slain.  Forgive me, I fear my memory isn’t what it once was; that was before you helped the Kingslayer escape, was it not?”  

“My Lord, I swore to serve and protect Lady Catelyn and no one else.  I swear upon my honor that she –”  

“Yes, yes, yes, she told you to bring the Kingslayer to the capitol and exchange him for her daughters.  And there’s no need for any vows, my Lady.  Your honor matters not at all.”  Something changed in Brienne’s face after that remark and she no longer looked quite as tall.  “Now then, Lady Catelyn trusted you, the daughter of a Lord sworn to serve the man who had her husband executed, to return the Kingslayer to the Lannisters.  I wonder, why would she trust you with such an important task?”  She wouldn’t!  It’s just some stupid Lannister lie.  

“The beast before you may be many things, but I assure you that she is not a liar, my Lord.  Lady Catelyn freed me and made me swear to return her daughters once I arrived in King's Landing.  The woman loves her children near as much as Cersei loves hers.  She put aside her hatred and freed me even after I told her that I pushed her crippled son out of –”  Four stones flew through the air and hit the Kingslayer in the face.  He stumbled backward in surprise, slipped, and fell to the ground.  The once proud lion hit his head on a large rock and – after a grunt of pain – became as silent as a shadow.  Lord Bolton won’t care that I threw the stones early...not really.  The Kingslayer’s still breathing, Arya realized with a strange mixture of relief and disappointment.  

Locke started laughing, Brienne simply looked confused, and for once Lord Bolton made no effort to hide his thoughts.  For the three seconds that he stared at Arya, the Lord of The Dreadfort's face was an open book.  He’s disappointed in me because I threw the stones too early.  He’s not angry; he just...he trusted me and I...  I can’t even tell him that I didn’t mean to do it, not with other people around.  Who cares when I threw the stones?  They’re just stupid rocks.  I didn’t miss either, not even once.  And it was the stupid Kingslayer’s fault besides.  I didn’t want to throw the stones before I was supposed to, but the Kingslayer said that he pushed Bran out the window at Winterfell and...it doesn’t matter...not really.  All that matters is that Lord Bolton needed me to wait and I didn’t.  That was stupid!  

Lord Bolton will never hate me, but I can’t let him down like that ever again.  If I do, he’ll never bring me back to the Dreadfort with him...not even if Robb and mother agree to it.  They probably don’t even care where I live as long as its not Winterfell.  Arya bit her lip.  I won’t disappoint Lord Bolton ever again!  He’ll see!  The next time he tells me to do something I don’t want to do, I’ll do it anyway.  And I won’t argue with him either.  He’ll forgive me, I know he will!  He has to, he...he’s my best friend; he’s the only friend I’ll ever have for the rest of my life besides Jon, most like.  And I’ll never see Jon again and he’s probably dead besides.  Lord Bolton is the only person left who still cares about me.  I can’t lose him too!  I...I won’t disappoint him again!  Never!

It wouldn’t be so bad to live at The Dreadfort...not really.  At least...not compared to The Twins.  It’s in The North and Lord Bolton will bring me with him whenever he visits Winterfell if I ask him to, I know he will!  The Boltons just call their home The Dreadfort to scare their enemies, most like.  It can’t be too different from Winterfell.  Lord Bolton said he thought his son Domeric would like me and if I’m nice to his baseborn son then Ramsay will probably take me with him whenever he goes hunting.  Lord Bolton also said his trueborn son was only a few years older than me, so Domeric might even want to have swordfights in the Godswood like Bran and I did at Winterfell.  I bet Lord Bolton would even let us use tourney swords instead of tree branches!  There have to be servants at The Dreadfort too and the ones at Winterfell were always nice to me.  Maybe I will have other friends, after all...maybe. 

Winterfell will always be my home, but maybe...The Dreadfort could be my home too...maybe.  I could be happy there and I’d be with people who cared about me.  Lord Bolton said none of his kin would care whether or not I wanted to be a proper Lady, so they’d never try to change me.  I’d be safe too.  The Boltons would never let someone like Theon Greyjoy burn down the Dreadfort, I know they wouldn’t!  No!  I can’t live there, it...it doesn’t matter how happy I’d be at the Dreadfort...not really.  I have a family and they’ll always be my pack, even if they hate me.  If I was at The Dreadfort, I’d never see mother, Robb or Sansa again and...and that would probably make them happier than anything else that I could ever do for them. 
It’s not fair!  They’re my family; they’re supposed to love me no matter what.  I still love them after everything they tried to do to me. 
Father, Jon, Bran, and Rickon cared about me, but they’re all dead.  

It will be better for everyone if I go back to the Dreadfort with Lord Bolton and live there, most like.  Sansa, mother, and Robb will all be happier that way.  The Boltons can be my pack; they actually care about me...or they will once they’ve all met me.  Lord Bolton already cares about me more than mother and Robb do; he’s the only left who’d even notice if I died.  The next time he asks me to do something he knows I don’t want to do, I’ll do it!  Soon Lord Bolton will be proud of me again and after he’s forgiven me for throwing those stupid stones too early, I’ll ask mother and Robb to let me live at the Dreadfort.  They'll probably be so happy I'm gone that they'll forget all about House Frey's stupid old bridge.  

“I fear any further conversation shall have to wait until our guest awakens from his slumber.  The Kingslayer’s journey has left him quite tired, I think,” said Lord Bolton in a voice as soft as a whisper.  “Once Qyburn has treated his injuries, I want him placed in a cell.”  

“Yes, m’Lord,” replied Locke.  

“My Lord, Lady Catelyn has –”  

“Tell me, Lady Brienne, after Lady Catelyn freed the Kingslayer and told you to bring him to the capitol, did you encounter any Northmen?” 

“Yes, my Lord.” 

“Soldiers?” 


“Yes, three of them, but –”  

“And I trust they let you pass unmolested since you were instructed to deliver the Kingslayer to the capitol by Lady Catelyn herself.”  

“No, my Lord.  They tried to take us prisoner,” muttered Brienne, her face darkening as what had always been plain to everyone else in the courtyard slowly began to dawn on her.  At least give her a clean death.  Please...  The Lord of the Dreadfort glanced at Arya for a moment and his lips twisted into a thin smile.  Is he doing this to punish me?  She bit her lip when she noticed the way that he was looking at Brienne.   He’s going to give her to Qyburn.  

“And yet here you stand.  Tell me, Lady Brienne, why is that?  Did these soldiers let you pass once you explained the situation to them?  It was nothing more than a simple misunderstanding, is that what you would have me believe, my Lady?”  Stop calling her that, she hates it.  Please, I’m sorry!  I really am!  Stop dragging it out!  Brienne isn't like Ser Amory and his men, I can tell; she...she still doesn’t understand...  

“No, my Lord. 
They attacked us and I was forced to kill them, but I swear on my honor that –”  

“I see.  It matters not at all.  As I said, your honor means nothing to me.  Do you have anything of value to swear upon?” 

“My Lord, I –” 

“Gold?  Mayhaps a new title?  Surely you at least have lands that you can grant me, do you not?”  I’m sorry!  I'm sorry!  I'm sorry!  I'm sorry!  I just...please forgive me!  I’m so sorry for whatever he’s about to do.  I wanted him to hurt the Kingslayer, not you. 
I’m sorry, I...  

“No.”  

“No?  Is that all?”  

“No, my Lord,” Brienne seethed. 

“I see.  Pity.  In that case, I fear you are worth nothing to me, my Lady.  Lord Urswyck.” 


“Yes, m’Lord?”  

“When was your bear last fed?”  

“A day and a half ago, m’Lord.”  

“Good.  This woman’s father declared for Joffrey Lannister after Renly Baratheon died and I fear that actions have consequences.  Strip her of her armor, dress her in rags, and throw her in the bear pit.  Make a deep cut in her chest so that the bear will be drawn to the blood, but see to it that you do not kill her.  If you do, then I fear you will force me to have you thrown to your death in her place.”  What?  But...but...NOOOO!  Lord Bolton, he...he wouldn't have done this if he didn't need to punish me for throwing the stones to early.  Arya bit her lip.  I didn't mean to get you killed, I swear!  

“Yes, m’Lord.”  Brienne screamed and struggled, but there were too many soldiers.  Arya wanted to beg Lord Bolton to make his men stop, but she knew that he’d be even more wroth with her if she did that.  And he'd just do something even worse to the poor woman if anyone complained besides.  

“Girl,” said the Lord of the Dreadfort, motioning for Arya to come closer. 

“Yes, my Lord?”  

“Wait for me inside.  I will speak with you alone about your behavior momentarily.”  

“Yes, my Lord...I mean...yes, m’Lord,” replied Arya nervously as it dawned on her that she was about to receive some sort of “sharp lesson.”  

...

This is all my fault, if I hadn’t thrown those stupid stones...  No!  I...I have to be strong.  Lord Bolton said mercy is for the weak.  I am not weak.  I am a direwolf.  He’s going to make me watch, most like.  It...it’s going to happen either way, but at least if I ask him then maybe...

“My Lord, could I...I mean...can I watch,” asked Arya, hoping she didn’t sound as miserable as she felt.  Lord Bolton’s cold, passive expression slid off like a mask the moment he heard her words.  For a moment, his face was a mixture of pride, surprise, and genuine happiness.  Arya shuddered. 
The Lord of The Dreadfort was looking at her like a mother whose newborn babe had just said "mama" for the very first time and somehow it was near as terrifying as Qyburn.  

“You want to watch Lord Urswyck’s bear eat that woman?  Are you quite certain?  I thought you might be fond of her.”  I knew it!  He was punishing me!  Maybe now he’ll give her a clean death and find some other way...maybe.  At least...at least Lord Bolton’s proud of me again...  

“I am...I mean...I was, my Lord.  I hoped you’d give her a clean death, even if she does serve the Lannisters, but you wouldn’t have her thrown into a bear pit unless she deserved it and we shouldn’t feel bad about justice being done besides.  You said we should always enjoy it, even if it seems harsh.” 

“As you say.  And you truly believe that you would enjoy watching a defenseless woman get eaten alive by a bear?  You would consider that justice?” 
It was so unusual to see the Lord of The Dreadfort look this happy that Arya had to keep reminding herself that it was still him and not some unusually energetic child.  

“Yes, my Lord,” replied Arya nervously.  For a moment, the Lone Wolf could've sworn that she could actually feel her self-loathing devouring her soul bit by bit.  It’s too late to change my mind.  If I made Lord Bolton this happy and he finds out I’m lying, he’ll never forgive me.  I don’t know why he cares so much whether I want to watch him feed that poor woman to a bear, but he can be very strange sometimes.  I have to watch now, unless...  

“Lord Bolton?” 


“Yes?”  

“If she is a Lord’s daughter, maybe...couldn’t you just...I mean...isn’t it dangerous to play with important prisoners?  Their families might try to get revenge and it...it might even help House Bolton to keep her as a hostage or...or ransom her instead.”  

“Clever girl.  Fortunately, Lord Selwyn Tarth lives in the Stormlands and he lacks the wealth to pay a large ransom besides.  His reach does not extend nearly this far North, I think.  Of course, you are quite right; a wise man does not antagonize valuable prisoners.  My bastard could learn a great deal from you, I think.”  Arya couldn’t help smiling at that remark.  I’m glad Lord Bolton’s forgiven me; he likes me even more than he did before I threw the stones, most like.  I just...I just wish it wasn’t because of something horrible is all.  The Lord of The Dreadfort mussed her hair and Arya’s smile grew even wider.  Whenever he did that, she couldn’t stay sad...not really.  It reminded her that there was still someone left who cared about her and always would...no matter what she had done.  It also reminded her of Jon.  He used to muss her hair the same way at Winterfell.  

“You must always remember that there is no shame in enjoying such things, no matter how often you are forced to pretend you do not for the benefit of those less enlightened than ourselves.  You know that, don’t you?”  

“Yes, my Lord.”  

“Good.  In that case, of course you may watch.  I am very proud of you.  Far prouder than I have ever been of my bastard, I think.  I trust you won’t look away until it is over.” 

“No, my Lord.  I want to watch!  I really do!”  It’s going to happen anyway and if it’s the only way to get to The Dreadfort... 
I...I won’t look away, not even once.  

“I know you do.”  Suddenly, the joy vanished from Lord Bolton’s face and he looked as though he were extremely frustrated by something.  

“Is something wrong, my Lord?” 

“When I told you that if the day ever came –”  

“Can I live with your family at the Dreadfort?”  

“What?”  

“You said there would always be a place for me there.  You said –”  

“I did and you shall always be welcome there.  You must needs ask your mother and King Robb, I think.  We shall ride for Riverrun tomorrow, so you will see both of them soon enough.  If they consent then I have no objection.  When you do, be sure to tell them that it was your idea.  Your mother will prefer hearing it that way, I think.”  

“Riverrun?  WE ARE?  I mean...I will!  They won’t even care!  I know they won’t!  It...it doesn't matter, I...I'm finally going to see them again and they won't have to make me a stupid Frey to get rid of me!  We're going to Riverrun tomorrow?  Are you sure?  I'm really going to see mother and Robb again,” shouted Arya.  The excitement was too much and the Lone Wolf couldn’t even decide which thing to be happy about first.

“As you say.” 
Arya ran over to hug the Lord of the Dreadfort, but pulled her arms away just in time upon remembering how much he hated being touched.  

“No, it’s...fine,” grumbled Lord Bolton, looking more and more miserable with each passing second.  

“But you said it makes people weak.”  

“No, I meant...it’s just...I don’t mind.  I have...decided that you are free to...do that to me if you wish.  Go on.  Do it if you must.”  

“You don’t look like you’re okay with it.”  

“As I said, I oft find myself thinking of you as though you were my kin.  In truth, I feel as though I have gained a daughter of sorts.  If you truly find such...behavior comforting then I fear I shall be forced to indulge it for your sake.  You will grow out of it soon enough, I think.  Until then, if doing...that to me makes you happy then I suppose I must needs suffer it for the moment.  I fear such things are expected of me,” seethed the Lord of The Dreadfort through clenched teeth.  “If Domeric asks me again when I ever sacrificed –”  

“But I...I don’t understand.  You hate it, but you’ll still let me because it might make me feel better?  You...you actually care about me that much?  But no one...I mean...no one who is alive would ever...  And I’m like a...you care about me as...as much as you do about your...your own children?  Really?  Are you sure?”  For once, Arya’s tears were borne not from grief, but from happiness.  He may not be a Stark, but he’s treating me better than mother or Robb ever would.  He’s as much my family as they are, Arya decided. 

“Yes,” replied Lord Bolton.  The word had barely left his mouth when Arya leapt into the air and hugged him the way she had hugged Jon after he gave her Needle.  The Lord of The Dreadfort simply stood still, looking down in painful confusion at the 12 year-old girl wrapped around him like some sort of over-sized chain.  Lord Bolton coughed loudly as if to signal that he wanted to be released...not that it mattered.  Finally, resigned to the fact that the child was not going to stop clinging to him until she was good and ready, Lord Bolton awkwardly placed his arms ever so slightly on top of her back.  In truth, Arya didn’t notice his muddled attempt to return her hug any more than she had his coughing. 
She simply continued to hug the Lord of The Dreadfort as tightly as she could, closed her eyes, and smiled, secure in the knowledge that the worst days of her life would soon be over.  

...

The fight was over before it began and Arya was grateful for that, if little else about the sick game.  It’s Lord Urswyck’s bear, not Lord Bolton’s bear.  It’s all Lord Urswyck’s fault.  Lord Bolton wouldn’t have done it if I hadn’t thrown the stones early.  None of this is Lord Bolton’s fault.  He’s only punishing me because I forced him to; he doesn’t enjoy watching this any more than I do.  It’s not his fault!  It was all stupid Lord Urswyck!  Arya silently repeated the words over and over again until she truly believed every one of them with all her heart.  

Within minutes, Brienne had stopped screaming and the bear ripped something pink out of her belly.  Arya glanced at the Lord of The Dreadfort and he nodded at her approvingly. I didn’t look away, not even once.  I’ll never have to see or do anything like this ever again.  I’m finally going home.  Maybe to the home where I always belonged...maybe.  I’ll see mother and Robb one last time and then...then I’ll never lose anyone ever again.  No one will make fun of me or call me “Arya horseface” either.  I’ll be safe for the rest of my life with people who care about me and will never try to change me.  

Chapter Text

“Lady Sansa, do you know why you are here,” asked the strange, bald man sitting on the Iron Throne.  He won’t hurt me.  Father was going to declare for Stannis and he wouldn’t declare for someone who wasn’t a friend to The North.  He’ll send me to Riverrun as soon as it’s safe, I know he will!  He’s already been fighting the Lannisters with Robb, most like.  And his brother Robert was father’s best friend besides.  Stannis is nothing like Joffrey or the Queen.  

King Stannis looks so angry; why is he grinding his teeth like that?  Did I do something wrong?  He doesn’t think I wanted to be betrothed to Joffrey, does he?  I had no choice!  How can he blame me for that, wondered the wolf in exile, frowning.  No!  I just have to act as befits a proper southron Lady and King Stannis will realize that I’m good.  He’ll see!  Then he’ll send me back to my family.  Arya, Bran, Rickon, and father may all be dead, but I still have mother and Robb.  I belong with them, not in King’s Landing.  

“Yes, Your Grace.  Now that the Lannisters have been defeated, may I go back home to my mother and brother,” asked Sansa, doing her best curtsey.  What?  Why is that fat man with the big ears snickering at me?  What’s going on?  He shouldn’t be looking at me that way either.  It was bad enough when Ser Meryn stared at me like that...not that it did me any good when Joffrey told him to beat me.  

“The Lannisters have not been defeated, my Lady.  Lord Tywin and Lord Mace remain in open rebellion; they have declared for the bastard Tommen Waters.  If it is any comfort to you, your brother has made it known that your sister was found at Harrenhal.  It would seem that she has been betrothed to Waltyr Frey.”  Arya escaped?  But...but that’s impossible!  She died, everyone said so.  Even Joffrey and his mother thought that...no...if anyone would make it out of the capitol, I suppose it would be her, Sansa thought to herself with a small smile.  Harrenhal is all the way in the Riverlands.  How did she make it that far?  No matter, she...she can tell me all about it when I get to Riverrun.  

And they already found a proper husband for her?  I knew Arya would become a Lady someday once she grew out her dreadful childish obsession with swords, horses, and the like.  She must be so excited for her wedding!  I bet she’s counting the days until she can marry Waltyr Frey...whoever that is.  I never thought she’d be married before me.  As happy as she was for her younger sister, Sansa found that she couldn’t help envying her ever so slightly upon making this realization.  My husband won’t be anything like Joffrey.  Arya will be the jealous one at my wedding!  I’ll marry a gallant knight or mayhaps even a handsome Lord.  Not a prince though...  

“But you’re still sending me home, aren’t you, Your Grace? 
My brother Robb has been helping you fight the Lannisters and he’ll fight even harder once I’m home; I know he will!”  

“You will not leave the Red Keep, my Lady.”  

“But then how am I going to get back to my...wait...you don’t mean...but why would...NO!  You can’t!  I mean...please, Your Grace, I –” 

“A King may do as he pleases.”  Joffrey said that too.  No!  No!  No!  No! 
Is he...no....no...that’s not fair...he can’t be like Joffrey.  It took all of Sansa’s self-control not to throw up the moment Stannis Baratheon spoke his nephew’s favorite refrain.  

“But your brother, he...he...was a friend of my father.  My father...he supported your claim and –” 

“And your brother is a traitor.  Your mother is a traitor.  You and your sister are traitors too, most like.” 

“What?  No!  I’m not a traitor, I swear!  Robb is fighting the Lannisters too, Your Grace. 
How could he be a traitor?”  

“He has declared himself King in The North and would see me give away half my kingdom.  Lord Stark is another pretender, no different than the false King Tommen Waters or the false King Balon Greyjoy.” 

“Robb, he...he only did that while fighting Joffrey.  He'll bend the knee now, you'll see!  Robb knows you're the rightful King.  He’s not a traitor, he’s good! 
He –”  

“The man is a traitor.  You may thank him for your confinement in King’s Landing if your Lord husband ever permits you to see him again.”  

“My what?” 

“You will wed Lord Axell Florent and he shall become Lord of Winterfell,” replied the King glancing at the big-eared man standing to his left.  No!  Please, not him!  I survived Joffrey and the rest of the Lannisters.  I...I can survive Lord Florent too, only...  Father declared for Stannis; we were good!  And Arya got away!  She’s already with mother and Robb, most like.  Arya must be singing, dancing, and preparing for her wedding right now.  It’s not fair!  I wish...no, it’s not...none of what happened is her fault.  I’m glad one of us escaped, only...it isn’t fair.  Why was there never a chance for me to escape too?  I don’t deserve this either! 
It isn’t fair that she was the only one who got away!  I'm glad Arya's safe, it's just...it's not fair...  

“Lord Florent, you will not touch the Stark girl until after you’ve consummated your marriage.  Anything you put inside of her before then, you will lose.  Is that understood?”  For a moment the big-eared man looked as though he were about to strike the King, but the look vanished as quickly as it had appeared.  

“Yes, Your Grace,” muttered Lord Florent.

... 

The flesh melted off Meryn Trant’s bones as the man screamed from his pyre.  No one deserves to die this way...not even Ser Meryn.  Why do I have to watch?  Robb’s not a traitor and I didn’t even do anything wrong besides.  As she watched Cersei Lannister struggling to fight back tears as flames raced toward her, something deep within Sansa broke...something that not even her family could ever fix.  The sight of a mother – even one as wicked as Cersei – pleading for her son’s life with her dying breath before her sobs turned to screams as the flames turned her feet first to bone and then to dust was simply too much.  One moment Sansa was fine and the next she was screaming hysterically. 

“Burn me!  Burn me!  I’m sick of it!  Why won’t you burn me?  Please, I’m done...I can’t...this is wrong!  Please, no more!”  

“That’s right, burn her!  Sansa, she...she made me do it!  She tricked me!  I never wanted to hurt anyone, I just...burn her instead!  No, please, don’t...don’t hurt me,” begged Joffrey as the flames crept closer and closer.  No one deserves to die like that!  I shouldn’t have to watch this!  I was always good!  It’s not fair!  Arya never did anything she was supposed to and...and now...she should be here watching this, not me!  Why can’t it be her instead?  Sansa looked down at the ground in shame the moment the thought crossed her mind as Joffrey’s bones turned to ash.  She’s my sister!  It isn’t her fault that I’m here while she gets to sing, dance, get married, and see our family again even though she never tried to act like a Lady while I did everything those stupid stories and songs said to do.  I'm glad she's safe, but...I wish...I mean...it...it isn’t her fault.  It isn’t her fault.  It isn’t...it isn’t...it isn’t fair!  

Chapter Text

“Master,” whimpered Reek.  I...I just have to call him that until Domeric takes Arya, Rickon, and me to The Wall.  Once we’ve escaped; I’ll never...but...but there is no escape!  Master will know and he’ll hurt us.  Master knows everything!  We are his good and loyal Reek!  We are Reek always and forever! 

My name isn’t Reek; it’s Brandon Stark.  I can't forget my name; Rickon, he...he needs me.  He needs ME, not Reek!  Shhhhh.  Master will hear you; look at him, he already knows.  He’ll hurt us and...and...  What’s wrong with you, Reek?  Don’t you want to escape?  Escape?  No!  Never!  Master clothes us, feeds us, and puts a roof over our head.  What could be better than what we have here?  Even if we wanted to get away, there is no escape.  Our master needs his Reek and we need our master.  How can you even think about abandoning him after everything he’s done for us?  What do you mean “after everything he’s done for us?”  Seven Hells, Reek, he’s a monster.  All he’s done is hurt us...I mean...hurt me.  No, he doesn’t just hurt me, he also hurts Rickon sometimes...  

Rickon just is a hateful little monster who wants to steal away our master.  He wants to give our master to death.  DEATH CAN'T HAVE HIM!  Don’t ever talk about my brother that way again, Reek!  Why can’t you just go away?  I...I don't have time for you, Rickon needs...if Master gives us permission when he answers my question, then we have to warn him about the treason that Domeric is plotting.  It’s the only way we can stay at The Dreadfort where we belong.  I already have a home; my place is at Winterfell.  NO!  Master burned down the bad place.  He saved us from the monsters who lived there.  SHUT UP!  My name is not Reek; it's Brandon Stark.  I am Brandon Stark of Winterfell.  Not so loud, else Master will hear you...  

At least I’m free from you in my dreams.  I don’t need to walk there...not when I’m a dragon flying toward The Dreadfort.  One of my brothers even left Essos with me, but he stopped following me and went his own way after we burned down that city in Dorne.  He’s also traveling to The North though, I know he is!  The Dreadfort?  But why would you be sending a dragon here, unless...no, please don’t hurt Master!  Please, I need...we need him!  NO I DON'T!  YES WE DO!  

When I get here, I’m going to eat your precious master and burn The Dreadfort to the ground; did you know that, Reek?  NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!  It’s just a dream, Reek.  But...but...but...if you dream about hurting him, you might trick yourself into thinking we can hurt him.  If that happens, you...you might not warn Master the next time that ungrateful little brat is about to stab him in the foot.  I didn't warn Mast...I mean...Ramsay about Rickon to protect him, I did it so that he wouldn't kill Rickon.  Domeric shouldn’t have laughed at that, Master could've been hurt.  Why does he punish Master for helping us remember our name?  He should’ve punished Rickon for trying to do that, but instead he scolded us for interfering and punished Master for hitting us until we said our name.  My name is...Brandon...STARK!  STARK NOT REEK!  Shhhh...Master, he...he’s looking at us.

“Yes, Reek?  Go on, out with it.”  

“I...nothing.  I forgot what I was going to say.  And my name’s not ‘Reek,’ it’s –”  Before Bran could finish the sentence, the bastard punched him in the face.  Why did you make him do that?  We had a deal!  We would be me whenever Master was around and I'd let you pretend to be Brandon Stark whenever Master left.  I’m not pretending; our name really is Brandon Stark.  Is not!  Is too!  Is not!  Is too!  

“NO!  BAD REEK,” snapped Ramsay.  “I don’t know why you insist on making everything harder than it needs to be.  Now then, we’ll start at the beginning; what is your name?”  Just tell Master the truth; that’s all he wants to hear.  Shut up, Reek! 

“My name is Bran –”  *THUD*  This time, the blue-eyed monster slammed Bran’s head into the wall so hard that he nearly lost consciousness.  Master only does it because he loves us! 
GO AWAY!  

“LEAVE MY BROTHER ALONE,” screamed Rickon, kicking over a chair. No!  What are you doing?  Rickon, why can’t you just shut up like we...I mean...like I told you to?  Seven Hells!  What’s the point of putting myself through this if I can’t make Ramsay forget about you?  There is no point.  We should just tell Master our name before...shut up, Reek!  

“What did you say?”  

“I said leave my brother alone you stupid, walnut-headed bastard!” 

“You really shouldn’t call other people names.  I’ve alway hated people who do things like that.  I’m afraid I simply can’t stand bullies, can I, Reek?” 

“No, Master!”  Stop making me call him that!  But we had a deal!  I don’t care about our stupid deal!  Master will hear you and...please go away, Reek.  You go away; I was here first.  And Master doesn’t want you besides.  
 You were not here before me and I...I don’t have time to argue with you right now.  

“He’s not your stupid master, Bran.  Stop calling him that!”  

“That’s not his name,” snapped Ramsay as he slowly unsheathed a hunting knife that had been hanging on his belt.  Why isn’t he smiling?  Normally he smiles and talks in a friendly voice right before he hurts someone.  That’s because the little...his name is Rickon!  Rickon!  Rickon!  Not ‘little shit!'  RICKON!  Fine, but whatever his name is, he shouldn’t have called Master the bad word.  You can’t even think it around him.  You mean ‘bastard?‘  SHUT UP!  You...you thought the bad word; now he’ll have to hurt us too.  Why would you make him do that?  He can’t hear us...I mean...he can’t hear me...wait a second, why am I still arguing with you?  You're not even real.  Rickon needs me; I have to do...something. 

“You see this knife?  That’s it, take a good look at it, you little shit.  This knife and I are going to teach you how to behave like a good little boy.  Of course, it hardly matters since I’m still going to kill you as soon as I’m done.  Don’t worry though, by the time we’re done, you’ll be begging me to put you out of your misery.”  

“I don’t care; Domeric said you’re going to die as soon as your stupid father gets back.”  What are you doing?  Domeric never said anything like that!  I told you not to try and play them against each other.  It won’t work; they’ll just kill all three of us.  How am I supposed to save you now?  You can’t save him; no one can.  SHUT UP!  Either make yourself useful or go away.  

“What...what did you just say?”  For a moment, Bran could’ve sworn he saw a look of genuine fear on the monster’s face, but it was gone before he could be sure. 

“Your brother is a stupid walnut-head, just like you and he said...he said that your stupid father told him he was going to kill you when he got back if you hurt my brother and –”  

“You wouldn’t lie to me, would you?  No, you’re much too young to pull off something like that, most like.  Listen to me very, very carefully, when my father returns you and your brother –” 

“We’ll say whatever you want, just don’t hurt him,” shouted Bran.  Rickon, why are you doing this?  Can’t you see that Ramsay always knows what everyone is thinking?  Well...he doesn’t know about the dragon dreams, but he knows everything else. 

“Shut up, Reek!”  

“Yes, Master,” Reek whimpered.  

“Stop calling my brother that, you walnut-headed bastard!” 

“You will NOT call me that word again.  Do you hear me,” asked Ramsay.  The monster was so focused on the little boy’s taunts that he didn’t even notice that a fourth person had entered the room. 

“You can’t hurt us now,” Rickon insisted, sticking his tongue out. 

“Pretty sure of that, aren’t you?” 

“It’s true! 
And I won’t stop calling you a bastard until you stop calling my brother ‘Reek.’” 

“I’m afraid you forgot just one tiny little thing,” replied Ramsay.  “I can just kill you right now, blame Skinner, and your brother will say that he saw the whole thing happen however I say it did.”  Reek opened his mouth to warn his master about the bad man standing behind him, but Bran closed it before he could make a sound.  He’s going to kill our master; we have to warn him!  You said your master knows everything, so why does he need you to warn him?  He’s just testing us, most like.  We have have to show your perfect little Master that we are his good and loyal Reek, remember?  He ordered you to be quiet, so why would you want to deliberately disobey him by talking?  That shut Reek up and he watched in horror through Bran’s eyes as a meat cleaver was lifted high in the air behind his master’s head.  Rickon, plainly trying to keep the monster from turning around, spat at Ramsay's feet.  

“Fuck it, you’re not worth training.  I’ll just start taking things right now.  First thing’s first, I’m afraid we’ll have to start with castration.  We wouldn’t want a cunt like you to breed, would we?” 

“Bastard.  Bastard.  Bastard.  Bastard.  Bastard.  Bastard.  Bastard.  BASTARD!” 

“Seven Hells, can’t you at least let me enjoy killing you?  Wait, what are you looking at? 
Why aren’t you afraid?”  

“He is looking at me, I think,” answered Domeric.  Without another word, he sliced off his half-brother’s left ear in a single stroke, stopping just above Ramsay shoulder.  The monster fell to the ground and began howling in pain. 

“AARRRRGGGHHH...YOU FUCKING FUCK...YOU...you cut off my...my fucking ear!”  

“You did not use it to listen when I told you that you were not to harm my future good-brothers until after father has returned.  I thought it might have been purely decorative since you’d never be so foolish as to deliberately disobey me.  This is a far better look for you, I think.” 

“Returned to kill me...that little brat...little shit...he told me...told me what...what you said...father told you...to kill...kill me."  

“I said nothing of the sort.” 

“Prickon said –” 

"HEY!  My name is 'Rickon!'"  

"FUCK OFF!"  

“And you believed him?”  Before Ramsay could reply, Domeric knocked Rickon unconscious by slamming the boy’s head into the stone wall, grabbed his half-brother by his hair, dragged him across the floor, and pulled him out of the room. 

“I’m going to...going to kill...kill you.  Father won’t be...won’t be alive for-forev –”  Domeric slammed the door into his half-brother’s face so hard that for a moment, the ground itself seemed to shake. 
He turned around and slowly made his way toward Bran.  

“I fear you are the only other sane man in the room.  I shall have to speak with you, I think.”  We have to kill the bad man for hurting Master.  If your precious master wanted us...I mean...wanted me to do that, wouldn’t he have ordered you to do it by now?  Reek found that he couldn’t argue with that logic, no matter how much he hated it. 

“I have nothing to say to you. 
You could’ve killed Rickon!”  

“I thought you had nothing to say?  Hmm...I fear you have the right of it.  Your brother is indeed still alive, I think.  I’ll have to discipline him more harshly next time.”  We are going to kill you someday!  

“You promised that you wouldn’t hurt us.”  

“I fear your brother will have to learn to be more considerate of other people’s needs if he ever wishes to make any friends, my Lord.  I needed to punish Lord Rickon for whatever lies he told my dog and that far outweighed any promises which I may or may not have made to the two of you in the past.”  I don’t want Rickon to be your stupid friend!  I hate you!  Reek and Brandon Stark found themselves in complete agreement on that point, if little else.  

“I don’t care what you think I need to do,” Bran and Reek replied in unison.  

“The Reed girl, the one who was captured with you, she plainly didn’t think she needed to do what her betters told her to do either.  She provoked me in much the same way that your idiot of a brother seems to delight in provoking my dog.”  

“You could've killed Rickon!  How could he have possibly provoked you into doing that?  You even admitted that you were trying to kill him.  You and Ramsay are...you are...”  Seven Hells, I forgot about Meera.  “I mean...what about the...what about the Reed girl?  
You about to tell me what happened to Meera.”  

“Meera Reed.  Is that her name?  It matters not at all.  When I learned that she had been trained to fight, I told my dog to kill her.  Show me a woman who would fight alongside her brothers in battle and I will show you a half-wit who thinks herself our equal.  However, I am not without mercy.  The girl plainly thought herself the equal of her dead brother so I instructed my father’s bastard to do precisely what he would’ve done to a man her age who displayed such insolence.  She plainly wanted to be equal, so I made her equal.  Death is the one place in which men and women can ever be equal, I think.”  

“You...you what?”  

“In truth, it was a kindness.  I could’ve instructed my father’s bastard to train her.  Mayhaps a good, long rape might’ve done the girl some good.  No, no, raping one’s prisoners is quite rude, I think.  I fear that I never could abide bad manners.  It matters not at all.  I trust you will agree that I would’ve been well within my rights to do far worse to a girl who thought herself a fighter than merely having my father's bastard open her throat.”  Meera...she...she can’t be dead...  And Mast...I mean...Ramsay killed Jojen, so Meera was Lord Reed’s heir.  Reek, do you...do you think Domeric had Ramsay kill her so that their father would punish him for murdering a valuable hostage?  WHAT?  WE HAVE TO WARN MASTER!  

Mayhaps...mayhaps Reek is right.  How can I trust this madman with Rickon, Arya, and my lives?  It’s probably safer here with Ramsay.  Of course it’s safer here; master will never let anyone hurt us.  And he’ll only do it if we make him besides.  No!  No!  No!  No!  I’ll kill all of the Boltons...somehow.  Who knows, mayhaps my dreams will come true someday and I’ll burn down The Dreadfort...  

“I hate you and someday, I am going to kill you for what you did to Meera, Jojen, and my family.”  

“Excellent, my Lord!  I’m quite pleased to see that you agree that she deserved to die.  I feared that you might think my actions were too harsh.  You plainly have the right of it; I was far too kind to the Reed girl.  I should’ve kept her alive and simply instructed my dog to make any necessary adjustments using whatever methods he found suitable.   I fear my compassion will be the death of me one of these days.”  

“That’s not what I said!” 

“In truth, I already knew that I needn’t blame myself, but it is kind of you to say so.  That meant a great deal to me, my Lord.  It is good to know that you are strong enough to discard your friends without a second thought.  Father says a wise man has no friends whom he can’t sacrifice on a moment’s notice if necessary.  I always knew we would be friends; did you know that?  Naturally, I’d kill you without hesitation if father told me to, but you must believe me when I say that I truly hope that day never comes.  You and I see the world in much the same way, I think.  Tell me, why is it that everyone assumes my House will betray your brother to the lowest bidder?  Lord Baelish, Lord Frey, and Lord Lannister all seem to be under the impression that we can be purchased as cheaply as some kitchen wench from a whorehouse.  Don’t they realize we’ve received a far better offer...and from a man who would give us a seat at the table rather than mere scrapes?  Lord Baelish was the worst of them.  He offered to trade 'Arya Stark' for my father’s loyalty; it would seem that he was smart enough to realize that my father loathes your older brother, but entirely oblivious to the fact that we already have your sister in our possession. 
Father may entertain the offers of those three Lords, but he will turn on each of them before long, I think.”  

“I hate you!” 

“As you say.  I fear I find myself in complete agreement with you yet again.” 

“Are you just going to ignore everything I say that you don’t like?”  

"I heard all of what you just said, but why respond to things that do not matter?  In truth, I hope you do kill me one day.  It would be a mercy.  Mayhaps the greatest kindness anyone has ever done for me...” 

“What?”  

“However much you may hate my kin and I, I assure you that I hate all of us far more than you could ever know.  Despite what you may believe, I derive no pleasure from what Ramsay has done to you and your brother.  I punished Lord Rickon because he plainly told my father’s bastard some sort of lie about me.  I let my dog kill your friend because a woman’s place is in a bedchamber, not on a battlefield.  However, neither of these things brought me any joy.  Father says that a good man does whatever must needs be done and hurts whoever he must without a second thought.  That’s all I ever did...what father taught me to do.  I was only...only doing what needed to be done.  Father, he...he must see how much I've sacrificed for him...what I let him make me.  I never wanted to hurt mother, I...you don’t think I’m a monster, do you?”  

“I...umm...I mean...I don’t think anyone is born a monster.”  Bran wanted nothing more than to tell the madman that he was one of the worst creatures in Westeros, but there was something about the man’s voice – a lonely, despondent sadness – that made it impossible.  

“Once again, you have the right of it.  I was once a soft, happy child given to all kinds of foolishness.  I played the harp, lived to ride horses, and prayed for my father’s death.  I wanted him to die peacefully in his sleep, but I still prayed for his death every night.  I...I was going to change things at the Dreadfort.  There would be no more atrocities committed here when I became a Lord and I was going to make amends to the Umbers, Starks, and every other House my forebearers had wronged over the years.  When I became Lord of The Dreadfort, I planned to make House Bolton the most honorable House Westeros had ever seen.  I'd even deluded myself into thinking that mayhaps the smallfolk deserved to be treated as something other than property.  I was weak and I...I...I needed adjustments.  Father, he...he fixed me on my thirteenth name day.  He fixed me and showed me the way of the world.  He...he only did it because he loves me.  I’m sure you’re father would...would’ve done the same to you some day.  Why else would he do it?  I...I just have to make him proud and...it’s not his fault...I’m not allowed to be angry at him!  I have to remember that a boy...a boy’s best friend is his father.”  

“He fixed you?”  

“Yes, my father fixed me, but I fear mother was damaged beyond repair.  I told mother that father forgot that it was my nameday and she disturbed him in his solar.  It was her fault, I think.  Mine too.  I shouldn’t have complained and mother, she...she should have knocked.  When my mother opened the door, she saw father skinning a dead child.  I soon learned that this was how my father used to calm himself before he discovered that regular leechings had an almost identical effect upon him.  He would simply have his men find a peasant family, kill the parents, and bring him a young child once a week.  My father was a careful man and there were never any stories told about him, but I promise you that it happened.  An hour after my mother went to find father, he came to my room and brought me down to the dungeons.  Mother was nailed to a large “X” and father - after explaining the situation - handed me a knife.  He told me that my...my name day present was that I was about to learn what happened to people who didn’t understand the way of the world.  He told me that if I ever angered him in any way then terrible things would happen to me.  That is simply how the world works, I think.  I didn’t want to kill mother, but he told me that he would flay her every time I protested.  He took an ear and eight fingers before I killed her.  The next day, he had the flesh from one of her fingers put in my soup; that was my punishment for crying."  

"That's horrible..."  

You...you have to understand; he only did it out of love.  I...I have to believe that father did it because he loves me, else he...he's a monster.  And if father's a monster, then I...I let him make me into a...and I'm...if I became just like him for nothing then...then I...NO!  I needed adjustments!  It...it was all for the best!  Father, he...he always knows best!  It...it was my fault; a man shouldn’t cry!  Father knew he went too far though, that...that’s why he now uses leeches instead.”  

“He...your father did that?” 

“Yes.”  

“But that monster, he...he has my sister.  He’ll skin Arya or he’ll –”  

“Good.  I hope he kills that cunt.  Father wrote that I am not allowed to physically discipline the little shit if she misbehaves; he said he expects me to find other ways of punishing her...that he would not see her harmed any more than necessary.  Why would he do that?  He would oft beat me when I was a boy.  Does he...does he like her better than me?  That cunt is trying to steal my father from me!  I WILL NOT BE REPLACED!  NOT AFTER EVERYTHING I'VE DONE FOR HIM!”  

“I thought you wanted to escape from...listen, whatever else my sister is or isn’t doing, I promise she wants nothing to do with your father.  And your father plainly hates you besides.  He tricked you into eating your own mother’s flesh.  Why don’t you just kill your fath–”  Domeric bared his teeth and began choking Bran before the wolf pup could finish speaking.  

“My father loves me!  Apologize for that remark...NOW!  Go on, say you’re sorry or...or I...I’ll kill you!”  

“Can’t...breathe...can’t –” 

“SAY IT!”  

“S-s-sorry,” Bran wheezed, gasping for air once Domeric released his grip.  I can’t trust this maniac with Rickon, Arya, and my lives, but we can’t stay here either.  We have to find another way to escape...somehow.  There has to be another way!  

Chapter Text

Arya

No.  No.  No.  No.  This is...there’s blood everywhere, Arya realized, biting her lip nervously as she stared at the dark stain that had spread across her britches while she slept the previous night.  I...I can’t ask Lord Bolton for new clothes, he might be wroth with me for bothering him and...and...  No!  I can’t do anything that might disappoint him!  Never!  Lord Bolton, he...he probably wouldn’t care...not really.  It’s just...I can’t take any chances until I’m at The Dreadfort is all.  But if he sees the sheets, he’ll be even angrier at me for hiding something from him.  Lord Bolton would never hate me...not really.  It doesn’t matter!  No matter what happens, I can’t risk letting him down.  Arya frowned and felt a small pang of guilt for all the trouble she knew she’d already caused her friend.  

Why did it have to happen today?  Nothing like this has ever happened to me before.  This should’ve been the best nameday of my life and instead I’ve already ruined it.  We were going to ride for Riverrun today.  I still miss mother and Robb...even if they tried to get rid of me.  Maybe they’ll change their...no, they’ll always hate me.  Lord Bolton told me so himself and he’s never wrong...not really.  I can’t panic; it’s just...just a little blood is all.  I’m 13 and a woman grown; I...I can clean this up.  I have to...somehow.  Sansa would know what to do...  Arya tried to wipe the blood off of her sheets by rubbing them on the floor, but it was no use.  She frowned and began chewing her lip once she realized the blood on her britches had dried.  It was bad enough that Arya’s family tried to sell her for a stupid bridge, but now even her own body had betrayed her.  This day can’t possibly get any worse!  *KNOCK*  *KNOCK*  Seven Hells!  That wasn’t a stupid challenge, Arya thought to herself bitterly.  

“You should be awake by now, I think,” said a voice as soft as a whisper.  “I would ride for Riverrun as soon as possible.  It would not serve for there to be any delays in our departure.”  

“Just...just one minute, I...umm...I’ll...I’ll be ready soon!”  

“Is something wrong?”  

“No, my Lord.  I...I’ll be ready by the time you get to the courtyard.”  

“Do I have your word on that?  You sound as though something is troubling you.” 

“My word?  No, my Lord. 
I mean –”  

“No?”  

“It’s just...I...well...umm...it’s...it’s private,” Arya stammered as she furiously tried to get the blood out of her britches by using the dry portion of one of her sheets as a cloth.  The stupid blood is already dry.  

“This will not serve; you will open the door now.”  

“But I...I mean...fine,” Arya groaned.  I can’t make him ask a second time, else he’ll be even more disappointed in me.  Lord Bolton hates having to ask a second time.  I just have to get to The Dreadfort and then I won’t have worry so much all the time.  I’ll be there soon!  The Lone Wolf slowly opened the door and the Lord of The Dreadfort studied her for a moment, plainly trying to decide how to react.  

“You’ve bled,” observed Lord Bolton, wincing is disgust.  

“Yes, my Lord,” Arya replied sheepishly.  

“Is this your first time?” 

“It is, but I’m really sorry; I wasn’t trying to waste your time. 
Please, I –”  

“Why are you apologizing to me?” 

“You’re not angry at me?” 

“No, not in the least. 
Have you done something wrong?”  

“No...I mean...no, my Lord.  At least...I don’t think so, it’s just –”  

“The stench is revolting, but given your age, I fear it was only a matter of time before this happened.  When I am wroth with you, you’ll know, I think.  My condolences.”  

“What do you mean?” 

“Now that you have bled, I fear you’ll be forced to wed some Lord’s son sooner rather than later.” 


“But I’m going to live at The Dreadfort now; Robb and my mother won’t have to force me to marry some stupid Frey in order to get rid of me.”  

“As you say.  It matters not at all, I think.  I will instruct Qyburn to have you cleaned and provided with new clothes.”  There was a time when Arya would have been too frightened of Qyburn to comply with her friend’s instructions, but now she knew better.  There’s nothing to be afraid of...not really, the Lone Wolf decided, breathing a sigh of relief.  Lord Bolton wouldn’t send me to Qyburn if it weren’t safe.  He’d never let anything bad happen to me, even if I did let him down.  

Everything is going to be alright now, Arya told herself as she raced toward the rookery, praying that she didn’t encounter any of the Bloody Mummers on the way.  All of the Lannisters are dead except the Kingslayer and Lord Tywin.  Robb will kill the rest of them though, every one.  Lord Bolton will take care of me and I’ll still have a home when I’m at The Dreadfort.  I'll  just...be with people who care about me is all.  Lord Bolton and his sons will treat me like I’m a part of their family and they’ll look after me.  The Boltons are like a second family and Lord Bolton, he...he said that I’m like a daughter to him.  He even lets me hug him because he knows it makes me feel better, Arya recalled, allowing herself a small smile as she approached the steps leading to the rookery.  

Lord Bolton doesn’t treat me differently just because I’m girl though – well...I’m a woman grown now, not a girl – and he said that no one in his family would care if I didn’t want to be a stupid Lady when I grew up besides.  See father, I really could be a Lord someday.  Even though I’m going to live at The Dreadfort from now on, I’ll always be a Stark and not a Bolton.  Never!  I promise that I’ll always remember who I am.  I am a direwolf and I won’t let Robb, mother, or anyone else steal that from me.  I still love mother and Robb; they just...they don’t love me anymore is all.  I’d stay at Winterfell if they did though, I really would!  They tried to sell me to the Freys for some stupid old bridge that they could’ve crossed for nothing.  That’s how badly they wanted to get rid of me.  

Do you see Bran, Rickon, and Jon now that they’re dead too?  I bet none of you would have ever tried to trade me for a stupid bridge.  You don’t need to worry about Sansa either, father.  Robert’s brother is keeping her as a hostage, but Robb will save her; I know he will!  He still cares about her...everyone does.  At least mother used to love me a little bit, even if Sansa was always her favorite.  No one except Jon and Lord Bolton ever liked me better than Sansa though...not really.  Maybe Rickon did too...maybe.  He’s dead; Jon could still be alive though.  I could visit The Wall and see if...no.  Lord Bolton said that if Jon’s alive, then I should never try to visit or write to him — not even if he sends a raven asking about me — because I’d only be making it harder for him.  If I were alone at some stupid old Wall, I’d want Jon to visit me.  I don’t under...it doesn’t matter what I’d want...not really.  Jon’s dead, most like, but if he’s alive and Lord Bolton thinks it would be cruel to send him a raven when we get to Riverrun then I won’t do it.  Lord Bolton said that if Jon’s alive and I really loved him, then I’d do everything I could to make it easier for him to forget about everyone he had to leave behind when he joined the stupid Night’s Watch.  

I still have Lord Bolton though, father.  He won’t run away to some stupid old wall and if the Greyjoys ever tried to attack The Dreadfort, he’d kill them, every one.  Arya knew her father probably couldn’t hear her – the weirwoods were outside of the fortress – but that didn’t matter...not really.  It still made her feel better to pretend he was looking down from above and watching over his youngest daughter.  Less than an hour later, the Lone Wolf, Lord Bolton, and most of his men departed from Harrenhal.  Arya smiled and took one last look back at the fortress, secure in the knowledge that her worst days were finally behind her.

...

Catelyn

Catelyn nervously paced about Riverrun’s great hall as she awaited her youngest daughter’s return.  By the time the Lord of The Dreadfort entered the room – flanked by a Frey on each side – she was almost out of breath.  There had been a raven saying that Arya was still alive and in Lord Bolton’s care, but that could mean anything.  Lord Bolton’s care...what a terrible thought.  The sooner Arya is away from that man, the better.  Ned never trusted him; he oft told me that he doubted whether we’d ever come back alive if our family accepted one of that man’s invitations to feast at The Dreadfort.  In truth, I wouldn’t put it past Lord Bolton to find some poor, young Northern girl and try to pass her off as Arya.  I suppose his House’s reputation helps Robb’s cause, but the man can’t leave Riverrun too soon as far as I’m concerned.  The Lord of the Dreadfort glanced at her and for just a moment, she could’ve sworn she felt his pale, blue eyes peering deep into her soul.  Does he know what I was thinking?  No, of course he doesn’t, that...that’s impossible.  Catelyn shuddered.  

“Your Grace, I offer you two gifts of great value,” said a voice as deep as the ocean and as soft as a whisper.  “While at Harrenhal, I re-captured the Kingslayer.  In truth, my men did get a little out-of-hand when they found him, but they didn’t hurt him...much.” 
The other Lords in the room began whispering amongst themselves excitedly.  

“Was there a woman with him when you found him,” asked Catelyn.  

“A very strange one, I think.  The fool claimed that you ordered her to return the Kingslayer to King’s Landing.  Of course, no one believed the madwoman.  After all, why would you ever give such command?”  

“Yes, Cat, why would you ever give such a command?  I’m sure Lord Bolton would love to hear all about it,” growled Edmure.  Seven Hells!  Can’t you think about anything other than your bloody pride for two seconds?  

“If you had even one child of your own, mayhaps –”  

“Forgive me, my Lady, you didn’t free –” 

“She most certainly did.  Cat betrayed her son and humiliated me in my own castle. 
Did you ever stop to consider how your actions might effect me?”  

“YOU?” 

“Yes, me. 
Are there any other Lords of Riverrun that I should know about?”  

“You are no Lord; you’re just a boy playing at ruling a castle.  If you were half the man that father was –” 

“Enough! 
I expect better from both of you; Edmure, you will let my mother ask her question,” snapped Robb.  

“Yes, Your Grace.”  

“Lord Bolton, this woman, she...she was a dear friend of mine.  What became of her?”  

“I fear one of the Brave Companions fed her to his bear.  Naturally, I took no pleasure in it, but one must choose his battles where such men are concerned,” replied Lord Bolton as his lips curled into a cruel smile.  

“And Arya,” asked Robb before Catelyn could respond.  “Your raven said that you had found my sister; where is she?”  The Lord of The Dreadfort turned and muttered something unintelligible to someone behind him.  A little girl in britches with sad, grey eyes and brown hair as tangled as any Catelyn had ever seen cautiously crept out from behind Lord Bolton.  Robb said something, but in that moment, he didn’t matter.  Neither did Edmure, Lord Bolton, or anyone else save for the little girl who had begun trembling as she looked her mother directly in the eye.  There could no longer be any doubt.  She’s alive!  It...it’s really her... 

“Mother?”  

“Arya?  Is it really...but how –”  Before Catelyn Stark could manage a coherent sentence, her youngest daughter had already bolted across the hall, leapt into the air, and wrapped herself around her mother like a suit of armor.  The two Starks hugged each other fiercely and wept.  After what felt like an eternity, Catelyn looked down at her daughter and saw a strange look upon the girl’s face.  Where there had once been love and joy, there was now only fear.  “Arya?  What’s wrong?”  

“Nothing, I just...I...”  Nonsense.  I’ve never seen you look at anyone that way before, much less your own mother.  There are some things that a mother always knows.  

“Did someone hurt you?  Please, tell me what’s wrong.  You’re safe now; I promise!”  

“I...I’m sorry I can’t sing or sew like Sansa can; please don’t hate me,” Arya sobbed.  “I didn’t want my hair to be all tangled in knots either, I swear!  I just...I...I didn’t mean to have a stupid...a stupid horse face.” 

“Look like what?  Have you gone...I could never hate you.  How...how could you even say a thing like that?  Mayhaps Sansa was a bit easier at times, but I doubt any other mother has ever had a daughter quite like you.  I love you because of who you are and would never try to change you.” 

“That’s not true; you always loved Sansa more!  And you were always trying to force me to act like a stupid, old Lady besides.  You just...got stuck with me is all.”  Catelyn felt a part of her soul die the moment those words came out of her daughter’s mouth and would’ve gladly given almost anything to unhear them. 
Catelyn released her daughter, but this only made the sad, frightened child cling to her even more tightly.  

“You know how much I love you, don’t you?  Arya?”  

“I...I mean...I...”  

“Please, tell me what’s wrong.  What could possibly make you believe this madness?  Whatever it is, I know it’s not your fault; I promise that I’m not mad at you!  Did Littlefinger tell you some sort of lie when you were in King’s Landing?  I know that you know deep down how much I love you.  Do you know how much I worried about you every single day?” 

“More time than you spent worrying about me,” grumbled Edmure. 

“It’s okay, you don’t have to lie anymore.  I...I know that you...that you don’t...don’t really...never wanted –”  By now some of the Lords had begun murmuring amongst themselves and even the servants quietly stopped their work so they could watch the sad spectacle.  

“Listen to...listen to me very carefully, Arya.  I don’t know what’s gotten into to you, but I swear by the Old Gods and the New that I will always love you. 
Do you hear me?”  

“Then why were you going to marry me to Elmar Frey before he died?  He...he used to threaten to have me whipped when we were at Harrenhal.”  

“HE WHAT?"  The Freys?  He threatened to whip you?  Is...is that what this is about?  Did one of them hurt you at Harrenhal?  

“I always knew Elmar was a good lad.  Nothing to teach a woman her place like a good whipping,” chuckled Ser Hosteen.  Lord Bolton glared at the knight and the man seemed to shrivel up like a dried vegetable.  

“If you speak one more word to my sister, Ser Hosteen, it will be your last.  Arya, that's quite enough of this!  Is that all you have to say to your mother,” snapped Robb.  It’s not her fault; don’t you see that she obviously heard some sort of horrible lie?  If you talk to her that way, we may never find out what she’s talking about.  The worst part was that Catelyn couldn’t even defend her son.  In truth, it was unfair that he got to break his betrothal because he loved another woman while Arya would be given to that pack of chinless weasels without so much as a single visit to Winterfell before the wedding.  Is this how mother felt when father sold Lysa to Jon Arryn?  The poor girl was near as frightened as Arya; mayhaps that’s why she...  No!  Whatever happened to Lysa had nothing to do with her marriage to Jon.  Women have had their husbands chosen for them in Westeros for centuries and most of them survive with their wits intact...even if most men aren’t half so gentle as Ned was with me.  Such is a woman’s duty, Catelyn thought to herself sadly.  But how did Arya find out she’d been betrothed to a Frey?  

“You don’t have to trade me for a bridge in order to get rid of me.”  

“Arya, I’ve had quite enough of this madness!  What makes you think your mother and I would ever want to get rid of you?”  

“If you...if you had to pick whether to save Sansa’s life or mine –”  

“Your mother humiliated her brother and dragged our family’s name through the mud by freeing the Kingslayer.  Do you know why she did that?  She did it because she thought it might be the only way to save you and your sister.”  

“She did it to save Sansa!”  

“You...you really mean that, don’t you,” Catelyn whispered as she searched every corner of her mind for some hint about where she had gone wrong as a mother.  What could I have possibly done to make you think such a thing of me?  Was I truly so terrible a mother?  “I...I can...tell me what I ever did to make you think...you never said anything like this before you left.  What happened to you?” 

“Please, I don’t want to be a Frey!”  

“Arya, tell me what I can do to show you how much I love you.  Whatever you’re afraid of, I promise that I’ll protect you.  I’ll never let anyone hurt you, do you hear me?  Anything, just tell me what to do and I’ll –”  

“Don’t sell me to the Freys, mother!  I...I’ll be good from now on; you’ll see!  I’ll even try to be a proper Lady, just like Sansa or I...I’ll leave Winterfell and never come back; I swear!  You don’t have to send me to rot at The Twins; I...I can go to The Dreadfort.  Lord Bolton will let me live there; I know he will!”  

“The Dreadfort,” gasped Catelyn, turning near as pale as a ghost.  Lord Bolton was the one who found her, could he have truly...but what could he have ever done to make her behave like this?  And what would it gain him?  Unless...  Seven Hells!  Robb’s will!  I warned him not to disinherit Sansa, but did he listen?  Of course not.  If something happened to Robb, the other Lords won’t recognize a bastard, but that would make Arya next in the line of succession.  Could that beast be mad enough to believe...no, that can’t be it.  Lord Bolton is too old, Catelyn decided, breathing a sigh of relief.  That blue-eyed monster had something to do with this though; I’d stake my life on it!  Robb might not believe me – or at least, he'd demand some sort of proof before acting – and Lord Bolton is a very dangerous man besides.  I can’t say anything without some sort of proof unless...  Arya, she...if I could just get her to say what she heard or who she heard it from...until then, I won’t let that man out of my sight.  At least not when he’s around either of my children.  Why does he keep...stop looking at me like that!  Catelyn shuttered as the Lord of the Dreadfort continued to eye her the way a lizard lion might watch a horse slowly approaching a riverbank.  He knows I know!  How could he...is my face truly such an open book?  I suppose it doesn’t matter.  He knows that I know what?  What is it that he thinks I know?  

“Wasn’t the girl already betrothed to Waltyr Frey,” asked Edmure.  

“WHAT?  NO!  But I...you can’t...I don’t want...I...I mean...please, mother.  If you really love me, don’t let Robb make me a Frey,” Arya wailed.  Ser Aenys Frey had the nerve to laugh at the terrified little girl.  Catelyn looked from her youngest daughter to her son and back again.  The eldest of Hoster Tully’s children began shaking and bitter tears poured down her cheeks as she whispered three words in a voice that seemed to tremble near as much as her hands. 

“Robb...please don’t –” Family.  Duty.  Honor.  Your father may not have been a Tully, but whatever faults he had, he always understood the meaning my House's words.  Family comes first because a man's greatest duty is always to his family.  I heard the whispers that Ned confessed to some sort of Lannister lies and I believe them.  I know wasn't out of cowardice!  My Ned would've died before he sacrificed his honor, but he would've gladly thrown it away to save even one of our children.  The Lannisters told him they'd spare Sansa's life if he sang whatever song those monsters wrote for him, most like.  

“What would you have me do, mother?  I already broke my word to the man once.  You’d have me break my word to Lord Walder a second time, is that the way of it?  He is a proud man, most like, and we’ve already dishonored his House once.  I’ll not do it again!  I can't, especially not after all the damage Ser Kevan's murder has already done to House Stark's reputation.  If I break my word in this, then men will say that we have less honor than the Kingslayer.  I like this no more than you, but we don’t all have the luxury of putting our emotions ahead of what’s best for The North.”  How can you think of honor at a time like this?  Seven Hells, Arya is your sister!  

 

“Don’t let Robb send me to The Twins, mother!  You won’t let him, will you?  You promised you’d protect me and always keep me safe, remember?   Mother?  Say something!”  

“I...I’m sorry, Arya, I wish...there’s nothing I...I can’t...”  

“But...but Black Walder, he rapes his good-sisters and –”  

“Only the ones that have already bled,” sniggered Ser Aenys.  “With a little luck, you may not be his type for another year.”  

“Until...but I’ve already...NOOOOOO!”  

“Your name suits you, Ser Aenys,” muttered Lord Bolton.  

“Judging by her latest outburst, it would seem that the girl has bled recently.  In light of this, Your Grace, I can tell you right now that the wedding must needs occur at the same time as that of your uncle.  I fear Lord Walder has grown weary of long engagements,” the chinless knight added, ignoring the Leech Lord.  

“Fine,” seethed Robb.  

“But I don’t want –”  

“Come now, it was only a jape, Your Grace,” Ser Aenys sheepishly replied.  

“Out, all of you!  As for you, Ser Aneys, if I even so much as think you’ve spoken another word to my sister, I swear by the Old Gods and the New that you’ll rue the day you were born,” snapped Robb.  

"Bloody Starks.  No sense of humor," muttered Ser Aenys.  

“Can...can Lord Bolton stay,” Arya sniffled.  Lord Bolton again; I knew it!  What could he have done?  Is she afraid of him?  If he hurt...no, Arya plainly means what she’s saying.  

“What?  No, why –”  

“Arya, this is no way to behave around your kin.  You should walk right up to your mother and apologize to her for crying, I think,” said Lord Bolton with a cruel smile.  

“Do you think she’ll calm down just because you told her to,” blurted Catelyn.  

“But you said to...I mean...yes, my Lord,” Arya quietly replied, wiping away her tears with her left sleeve as her family exchanged confused glances.  “Robb, mother, uncle Edmure, I’m s-s-sorry for crying in front...in front of you.  Lord Bolton s-said that it would not serve for...for me to cry in public.” 

“There’s nothing wrong with crying in front of your mother, Arya.”  

“But Lord Bolton says that crying makes people weak, I think.” Seven Hells!  She’s even starting to talk like him.  

“What else did Lord Bolton say to you,” asked Catelyn, studying her daughter.  

“I wouldn’t pay her any mind, mother.  Arya’s probably just overwhelmed or mayhaps she has recently bled.  You must admit, that would explain a great deal and she all but admitted that she's done so before.  I’m sure Arya will be better tomorrow.”  

“Please don’t be angry with Lord Bolton, mother.  He didn’t do anything, he just...he just saved me is all.  Ser Robbet or Lord Vargo, they...one of them would’ve probably killed me by now if he hadn’t found me.  Lord Bolton, he...he’s my only friend.”  What did he do to you?  Ned always said to keep the children away from the man when he came to Winterfell, but this...  Could anyone be so cruel?  

“Lord Bolton has friends,” Robb blurted in surprise, plainly more shocked by this discovery than he was by anything else that had transpired.  

“He has me!”  It took every ounce of Catelyn’s self-control not to throw up when she heard that...instead, she merely wept tears as cold and bitter as the harshest winter snows.  I won’t let him steal my daughter from me!  Whatever that...that beast of a man is doing, he’s planning to hurt Arya somehow or wants something from her.  I know he does!  I just have figure out what it is...  I won’t let him or anyone else hurt her, I...Seven Hells! 

“Robb, where did Arya go?” 

“You didn’t see her? 
She raced out behind Lord Bolton the moment he left the room.”  

“It’s so strange...”  

“I don’t understand it either, mother; the whole thing is bizarre.”  

“You...you noticed it too?”  Was Robb merely putting on some sort of ill-advised performance to ensure that Lord Bolton thought his actions had gone unnoticed?  Mayhaps there is hope after all...  

“Of course I did; how could a man like Lord Bolton be so good at making children do as they’re bid?  And a child as stubborn as Arya, no less.  
I’d have assumed he hated them, but if he doesn’t, I never would’ve believed that Arya would be so deferential to him.  It's quite impressive, to say the least.”  

“Never mind,” muttered Catelyn, storming out of the room in search of her youngest daughter.  

...

Catelyn Stark raced to Arya’s chambers only to find the Lord of the Dreadfort waiting nearby...looking directly at her.  This time there was no mistaking the look on his face nor his intent.  In that moment, Lord Bolton was a predator hunting his prey, no different than a Wildling or any other beast.  It was too much and despite her best efforts, Catelyn’s anger came roaring out.  

“For your sake, I’d best not see you around my daughter.  If you hurt her, I swear on my honor as a –”  

“I trust you have some sort of evidence to support whatever wild accusations you are plainly about to make?"  

“Robb will believe me; one word to my son and –”  

“He’ll execute the Lord who re-captured the Kingslayer and returned his younger sister?  I think not.  Even if he shared your...concerns, I fear he would not act without proof.  While we are on the subject of trust, tell me, how was it that the Kingslayer escaped?  I fear that I’ve already forgotten.”  

“Why are you doing this?”  The Lord of the Dreadfort didn’t speak, smile, or scowl, instead he merely shrugged.  

“Then you admit it!” 

“I can’t imagine what it is that you are asking me to confess, my Lady.  I doubt you can either, for that matter. 
Of course, if I were as dangerous as you seem to think I am, a wise man might consider it prudent to tread carefully.  Else he might come to find one day that words spoken in haste are oft better left unsaid, much to his sorrow...”  

“How dare you threaten me!” 

“I did no such thing, my Lady.”  

“What did you do to Arya?  Please, I’m her mother, I...I have a right to know that much.”  

“I fear that I have no idea what you’re talking about, my Lady.  I wish that I could be of greater service to you, but I fear your imagination has simply gotten the better of you.  I didn’t do anything to your daughter except return her to you.  When I found the girl, she was a prisoner at Harrenhal and was at the mercy of a group of savages who called themselves the Brave Companions.  Most called them the Bloody Mummers and their leader would’ve raped her had I not intervened.  Some might even say that I kept your daughter safe while she was at Harrenhal.  I seem to recall her begging you to protect her from the Freys.  You didn’t do it, I think.  Another man might even go so far as to say that I’ve done a far better job protecting Arya than you ever did, but naturally I’d never suggest anything of the sort.”  

“Naturally,” seethed Catelyn, regaining her composure.  Suddenly the door opened and Arya emerged from her chambers with slightly less tangled hair.  

“Why are you fighting?  Did I do something wrong?”  

“Your mother has demanded that I never speak to you again.  I fear I have no choice other than to do as she has requested.  She is your mother and I must needs respect her wishes.”  

“WHAT?  NO!  Lord Bolton’s my only friend; I’d be dead by now without him or...or one of the Bloody Mummers would’ve...would...  Please, mother, you asked what you could do to prove...someone...someone who really loved me wouldn’t force my best friend to abandon me.”  Catelyn looked deep into the lonely little girl’s sad, grey eyes and let out a sigh of defeat as it dawned upon her that the Lord of The Dreadfort had likely planned this before either of them left the great hall.  This is all some sort of sick game to that monster and he won this round before I even knew we were playing.  

“Fine, but if you lay a hand on my daughter, I’ll –”  

“Thank you,” shouted Arya as she hugged her mother, plainly too excited to notice anything except the first word of her mother’s comment.  Lord Bolton’s lips twisted into a cruel smile as Catelyn realized what it felt like to hate someone so much that for a brief moment, she truly wanted to kill them with her bare hands.  

Suddenly, the Lord of The Dreadfort did something that made her far angrier than anything else that had happened on this wretched day.  It was something that made Catelyn feel as though someone had cut out her heart and buried it six feet underground.  There were only two people that Arya had ever let muss her hair.  The first was Jon Snow, but they were always inseparable.  The second was her father and every time that Catelyn saw Arya smile as Ned mussed her hair, it was a reminder of the special bond that the two shared.  When she saw Lord Bolton do it, it reminded her of everything that her family had lost since Ned left Winterfell, but the worst part was that when Lord Bolton mussed Arya’s hair, she smiled.  It was as though he’d replaced Ned's memory in the poor girl's mind.  I swear to you Lord Bolton, on my honor as a Tully...on my honor as a Stark, you will rue this day.  I’ll turn my heart to stone if that’s what it takes to save my daughter from you!  

“We’d best give your mother some time to herself, Arya,” said the Lord of The Dreadfort mildly.  “I fear she has had a very difficult day.  I imagine that Lady Catelyn has quite a bit to think about at the moment.  Come.”  

“Yes, my Lord.”  Come?  How dare you tell my daughter to come!  Arya’s a human being, not your bloody pet.  Without another word, Lord Bolton turned around and walked away.  Arya scurried along behind him in much the same way that she used to follow Jon around Winterfell.  I used to believe there was no one worse than that boy whom she could look up to...  

Chapter Text

“Good morning, mother.”  

“Oh.  Good morning, Arya.  Did you sleep well,” asked Catelyn as her daughter strolled into Riverrun’s great hall, sat down to her mother’s right, and frowned.  Of course they all started breaking their fast without me.  There’s not even any stupid food on my plate.  I have to remember what Lord Bolton said yesterday.  I can’t believe I have to say this; it’s so stupid.  It sounds like something Sansa would say, but if he thinks it will help...  I know he’d never try to change me like mother and Robb, but it’s still...I can’t believe I’m about to say this.  

“I slept very well and I’m terribly sorry for my behavior yesterday.  I shouldn’t treat you that way in public, I think.”  Even if everything I said yesterday was true, you’re not as bad as Robb...not really.  At least you tried...  Maybe mother still loves me a little bit after all...maybe. “I asked Lord Bolton to help me work on improving my manners.  It was my stupid idea,” grumbled Arya.  Robb nearly choked on a piece of blood sausage and Catelyn began quietly grinding her teeth for some reason.  

“I don’t know what’s gotten into you, but it’s certainly an improvement,” replied Robb once he finally managed to catch his breath.  “I told you she’d be better in the morning, mother.  It is known that women oft act in strange ways whenever they’ve recently bled.  Now that the bad blood is out of her...what?  Why are the two of you looking at me like that?  Is it something I said?”  Yes, everything you say is horrible or embarrassing.  Please stop talking!  

“Robb, this has nothing to do with –” 

“And what would you know of it, Cat,” snapped Edmure. 
“Shouldn’t you be off dishonoring our family name?”  Robb shouldn’t let him keep talking to our mother that way!  

“Not now, Edmure.” 

“That’s Lord Edmure to you; I’ll have you know that your son has named me Master of Ships.”  

“Uncle Edmure, as your King, I order you stop bringing up that business with the Kingslayer.  It appears you can hold a grudge near as well as my sister.  I didn’t know men bled too.”  Shut up.  Shut up.  SHUT UP, Arya silently screamed to herself as she buried her head in her hands.  

“It has nothing to do with that, stupid; I’m just angry at you is all.” 

“Whatever you say, little sister.  Tell me, how is it that Lord Bolton has managed to get you to give him the respect and obedience the rest of us are due.” 


“What do you mean?”  

“Yesterday, you calmed down and apologized to your mother the moment...wait a minute.  Arya, did Lord Bolton tell you to apologize to us this morning?”  

“I...umm...he...no,” Arya weakly replied.  

“Seven Hells!  You never listened to anyone else half this well.  Mayhaps Lord Bolton can succeed where Septa Mordane failed and make a proper Lady out of you before your wedding,” sighed Robb. 

“Lord Bolton wouldn’t do that; he’s my friend! 
He’d never try to change me the way to you and...what's wrong, mother?  Why do you look so sad?”  

“Robb, aren’t you the least bit concerned about the hold Lord Bolton has on your heir?” 

“What are you talking about, mother? 
Jon is my heir, not Arya.”  

“If anything happens to you before you get your wife with child, she would be your heir.  Jon joined the Night’s Watch which means he cannot hold any lands or titles for the rest of his life.  If you die in battle, the poor girl will be Queen of the entire bloody North.”  

“What?  But I don’t want to be a stupid Lady, that...that’s supposed to be Sansa and...and...a Queen?  But I don’t want...I...I’m not...I mean...Robb, please don’t die,” Arya wailed.  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  If...if anything happens to Robb then...then I'll...Lord Bolton, he...he’ll know what to do.  But I...I mean...I...I don’t want to be a stupid Queen!  First a Lady, then a stupid Princess, and now this.  Why can’t I just be Lord of Winterfell when I grow up or sit on Robb’s Small Council like Lord Bolton does?  

“Your brother disinherited Sansa to keep Winterfell out of House Florent’s hands.  Now it will go to the Freys.” 

“Seven Hells!  I never would have done it if I thought she was still alive, mother.” 


“Wait...you just assumed I was dead?”  

“How was I supposed to know you were alive, Arya?” 

“You don’t...you don’t just give up on your family like that!” 

“I need you to tell us what Lord Bolton told you to do,” Robb replied, ignoring his sister.  “Has he ever –”  

“Are you even listening to me?” 


“We don’t have time for this, Arya.”  

“Lord Bolton just said that I should try to be extra nice to mother today because she had a hard day yesterday.  That’s all, really!”  Catelyn frowned.  “I know you don’t like him, mother, but he was just...worried about you is all.  I know he seems really grumpy most of the time, but you’d like him too if you just give him a chance.  I know you would!  He’s not so bad...not really.  Lord Bolton was...it’s almost like having father back.  He even let me hug him when I was scared after Lord Vargo attacked...mother?  Mother?  Mother, are you okay?  Your fingernails are digging into the table.  MOTHER!”  

“Oh, I’m sorry.  What...what were you saying?”  

“It is not unheard of for children her age to fancy older men they see as protectors or as...well...Lord Bolton isn’t what one would call gallant, but could that be it,” asked Edmure.  

“GROSS!  What the Seven Hells is wrong with you,” all three Starks snapped in unison.  

“Calm down.  It was merely a jape,” replied the Lord of Riverrun with a smirk not unlike the one that Arya had oft seen on Theon Turncloak’s face.  I hate him!  Him and his stupid ships!  

“Lord Bolton let you hug him because you were scared,” asked Robb, plainly struggling to decide whether he should laugh or panic like his mother.  In the end, he chose to laugh.  “I suppose it is a bit strange, but this business with Lord Bolton seems harmless enough.  At least you treat someone in this castle with respect.  What about me?” 

“What about you?  You and mother sold me for a stupid bridge...twice.  Your own sister!  At least mother changed her mind about it; she still loves me even if she lied about being able to always keep me safe.  She couldn’t protect me from the Freys though...or from you, I think. 
And you won’t even let me live at the stupid Dreadfort besides.”  

“You just bled again, didn’t you?  Seven Hells, Arya; at least go change your britches.” 

“I did not!”  

“Do I need to make Lord Bolton have a talk with you about your behavior?”  

“What?  You can’t!  Please, don’t tell him!  I...I’ll be good, I promise!  Please, I –”  

“You should have thought about that before you spoke to me in that tone.  However, you may feel, I am still your King.  I don’t know why you care so much what Roose Bolton thinks of you, but –”

“He hates it when people call him that!  He thinks Roose is a stupid name that his father gave him as some sort of jape.  You should call him Lord Bolton, I think.” 

“Whatever his name is, he’s going to hear about this and any other outbursts you have about your wedding.  Gods be good, Arya, you’ve even started talking like the man.  In any case, sometimes we all need to put other people’s needs ahead of our own.  That’s part of what it means to be a grown up.  If you want to be treated like an adult then you must needs act like one.” 


“Like you did when you married Jeyne Westerling,” muttered Catelyn. 

“Not you too, mother,” Robb sighed.  “Arya, I understand that you are upset about having to marry a Frey and I have been very patient, but you need to get over it.  What’s done is done.  You can’t expect me to break my word to a House whose support we need simply because you don’t want to marry a Frey.  You need to grow up and make the best of it.”  MAKE THE BEST OF IT?  At that moment something snapped deep within the sad, frightened little girl and all of her anger came racing toward her brother with the force of a hurricane.  

“If you send me to the Twins then Walder Rivers will beat me and Black Walder will rape me just like Lord Vargo almost did.  Ryman Frey will rape me too whenever he’s sober enough to catch me, most like.  You would let the Freys beat and rape your own sister; what kind of brother are you?"  

“Awfully well-informed about the allegations against Lord Walder’s kin, aren’t we,” murmured Catelyn.  

"ARYA, that's quite enough!  No matter how upset you are, it does not give you the right to spread such absurd lies.  Ser Stevron was an honorable man as is Olyvar Frey.  I would not see you blame the entirety of House Frey for Lord Walder's sins."  

“I’m still a Stark, Robb, and...and I always will be whether you like it or not.  Why can’t I just live at The Dreadfort instead of The Twins?  At least Lord Bolton protects his friends.”  

“Are you finished yet,” Robb groaned.  “Good.  Now go change your bloody britches.”  

“I HATE YOU!  I wish Joffrey took your stupid head instead of father’s and...and I...I mean...I just...I’m s-s-s-sorry.  I didn’t...I didn’t mean that...not really.  I just...I didn’t mean –”  Robb’s going to hate me more than ever now.  Arya lowered her sad, grey eyes in shame.  

“Yes, you did,” gasped Catelyn. 

“Lord Edmure, ask the Maester how long it usually takes for girls my sister’s age to stop bleeding.  This is getting out of hand.”

“Yes, Your Grace,” replied Edmure, plainly wanting nothing so much as to escape from the room.  

“I didn’t mean it...I didn’t...I...I just...please don’t hate me!” 

“Seven Hells, Arya, you just said you wished I was dead,” snapped Robb.  

“I...I just...I mean...”  Lord Bolton, he’ll know how to make my mother love me again.  He has to!  I...I just have to find him and I can fix this...somehow.  No!  Lord Bolton might be wroth with me for wasting his time.  I can’t disappoint him ever again!  Never!  Arya looked anxiously from her mother to her brother and back again before doing the only thing she could do: she ran out of the room, locked herself in Lord Edmure’s solar, and put a chair against the door.  

...

*KNOCK*  *KNOCK*  *KNOCK*  

“GO AWAY!"  

“Arya, please stop this madness; you can’t hide in your uncle’s solar forever.”  

“I’m sorry for what I said, mother.  I really am!  I just...please don’t hate me!” 

“There is nothing that you could ever...I don’t hate you, Arya; haven’t you realized that by now?”  

“You...you don’t?”  

“No.  I just...I worry about you.  How about if you stay in there, I come in too, and we just talk about how you’re feeling until you’re ready to come out?”  She’s trying so hard, she has to care a little bit.  And it’s Robb who wants to force me to marry a Frey, not her.  Even Lord Bolton can be wrong sometimes...  I...I have to tell her; it’s the only way to know for sure.  Maybe she really does love me...maybe.  Arya moved the chair and opened the door just long enough for her mother to enter the room before slamming it shut again.  

“I really am sorry,” whispered the Lone Wolf, hugging her mother fiercely.  “You’d still love me, wouldn’t you...even if I did something bad?”  

“I might be disappointed in you, but yes, I will always love you.”  

“I...I killed someone mother.” 

“YOU WHAT?” 

“Lord Vargo, he...he was going to rape me and Lord Bolton, he tried to protect me from...from...from the Bloody Mummers, but...but Lord Vargo, he broke...broke down the door and...and the bluh-blood...I...I had to stab him.  The blood...it was...there was bluh-blood everywhere...and...and...and Lord Bolt...Lord Bolton s-s-said he wouldn’t...wouldn't tell anyone because...because I knew you and Ruh-Robb would hate me if...if you knew and...and you wouldn’t even let me...let me be a Stark anymore,” Arya sobbed as the repressed memories of that horrible night came flooding back.  “I didn’t mean to kill him, I just...wanted to hurt him was all. 
He was go-going to make me...make me no one and...and I...and I...I didn’t mean it...I just, please don’t hate –”  

“Shhh...it’s okay.  You’re safe now and that’s all that matters,” Catelyn whispered, hugging her daughter so tightly that Arya felt as though she were being smothered to death.  

“Can’t...can’t breathe...”  

“Arya, I know that you didn’t want to hurt anyone and never would have unless this so-called Lord left you with no other choice.  It’s okay, I’m not angry at you,” Catelyn replied, loosening her grip.  

“Why not?  You shouldn’t...I mean...no one should want me after what I did to Lord Vargo.  Lord Bolton still cares about me though.  He even tried to cheer me up after he saw what I did, but he shouldn’t have, I think.  I was afraid...afraid that everyone would hate me so...so he tried to convince me that it wasn’t my fault.  Lord Bolton said that he doesn’t even let his own children hug him and –”  

“I’m sure he doesn’t...”  

“You don’t understand, mother.  Lord Bolton knew that I was suffering, so he did everything that he could to help.  He even said that if I ever had no where else to go, I would always be welcome at The Dreadfort.  I can’t disappoint him, else he might change his mind.”  

“Is that why you do whatever he says and follow him around all the time?”  Arya nodded.  She won’t hate Lord Bolton anymore now that she understands.  If...if mother still doesn’t hate me after what I did to Lord Vargo then she must really love me after all.  Maybe I don’t even have to go to The Dreadfort if she can convince Robb not to sell me to the Freys...maybe.  I could still live at Winterfell and I’d still see uncle Bolt...I mean...Lord Bolton whenever he comes to visit.  Uncle Bolton?  Seven Hells; I’m losing my mind, Arya thought to herself with a sad smile.  

“I...I don’t deserve someone who cares about me that much, mother.  I don’t deserve you or Lord Bolton...not really.  I wish you had a better daughter, one who could be a proper Lady like Sansa.  You don't...you don’t deserve to be stuck with me.” 

“Listen to me very carefully, no mother has ever been more fortunate than I was when you and each of your siblings were born.  My memories of the five of you were the only thing that kept me alive after I learned what the Lannisters had done to your father.  I still thank The Seven every day for blessing me with each and every one of you. 
As for Lord Bolton, someone who truly cares for you would never turn their back on you just because you –”  

“Robb’s forcing me to become a stupid Frey instead of letting me live at Winterfell,” Arya snapped.  “He turned his back on me when I needed him.  Does that mean he never cared about me?”  

“Arya...”  

“He hates me and you know it!” 

“Robb doesn’t hate you, don’t be ridiculous. 
Gods be good, Arya, he’s your brother.”  

“Then why is he going to let Black Walder rape –” 

“The Freys wouldn’t dare lay a hand on you; your brother is their King.  And for that matter, how do you even know who Black Walder is? 
Did Lord Bolton say –”  

“No, he didn’t say anything about the Freys.  He really didn’t, I swear,” Arya lied.  

“Are you sure?” 

“I’m sure.  Why do you hate him so much anyway?  All he ever did was protect me and get me safely to Riverrun. 
Whatever you think he did, you’re wrong!”  

“His family flays people!”  

“Who cares what his House did 200 years ago?”  

“Even if they don’t flay people anymore, he’s just using you to undermine our House.”  That’s stupid!  Why would Lord Bolton ever want to hurt us?  Robb’s his King; he’s loyal to the Starks.  And he’s my friend besides.  

“What are you talking about?  I didn’t trust him at first either, but he’s not so bad...not really.  He’d never do anything to hurt me, I know he wouldn’t!” 

“You always had a gift for seeing who people truly were, even as a little girl.  How can you not...you are Robb’s heir until his wife gives him a child. 
Don’t you realize what that means?”  

“Lord Bolton is my friend, so stop trying to say he isn’t!”  Lord Bolton was the only one who never abandoned me and I won’t let anyone talk about him that way, Arya decided, backing away from her mother. Never!  

“He’s just trying to get inside your head in case anything happens to your brother, why can’t anyone else see that,” Catelyn fumed.  “Arya, you are only a child and –” 

“I’m 13 and woman grown.”  

“And if Robb dies in battle there will be no shortage of Lords trying to manipulate you and your husband.  Lord Bolton is no different.” 

“I don’t want to marry some stupid Frey. 
Why can’t I be a Lord or...or just live at Winterfell.”  

“How could such a brave child truly wish to spend the rest of her life at her parents’ castle?  You'd never get to see the world or meet new people.  What kind...what sort of...adventure would that be?”  

“I guess you’re right; it would get boring after a few years, most like.  But why can’t I live at The Dreadfort?  It didn’t sound like a boring place when Lord Bolton told me about it.  I’d be safe there, I really would!”  Everyone’s scared of the Boltons, but they’d never hurt someone who didn’t deserve it...not really.  I am a direwolf.  I am not afraid.  Maybe my pack and I can attack the stupid Twins in one of my wolf dreams tonight...maybe.  They’re only dreams so no one would get hurt...not really.  I hope the Freys get eaten by wolves!  It’d hurt a lot more than if they only lost their stupid heads, but it would be justice as long as none of the women or children got eaten.  And Lord Bolton said that we shouldn’t feel badly about justice being done, no matter how harsh it seems.  If...if Olyvar or any of the other male Freys Robb was talking about really are good people then I don't want them to get eaten either.  That wouldn't be justice...not really.  

“NO!  You will never go anywhere near that wretched place, do you hear me?  Lord Bolton would burn our House to the ground if given half...come back!  ARYA,” shouted Catelyn.  The Lone Wolf raced out of the room as fast as her legs would carry her. It’s not true!  Mother’s just...scared is all.  She loves me though and she always will too!  Why is she so scared of the Boltons?  They'd never hurt me; I know they wouldn't!  Lord Bolton, he can explain it to mother better than I can or...why can’t they just get along?  

...

Arya could hear Ser Aenys shouting before she could even see the guest chamber in which Lord Bolton resided.  Less than a minute after she finally reached the room, the door swung open and Ser Aenys stormed out of the room.  The chinless weasel slammed the door behind him and looked down, scowling at Arya when she looked him directly in the eye.  Lord Bolton said whoever looks away first is usually afraid.  I am a direwolf.  I am not afraid.  

“Your pet rat wants you, Lord Leech,” the knight shouted, breaking eye contact for a few seconds.  

“HEY!  I’m not a rat, stupid!”  Suddenly, the door swung open a second time, hitting Ser Aneys so hard that the stupid chinless weasel fell to the ground and hit his head on the stone floor.  The man groaned, but was barely moving.  Arya hopped over him and scurried into her friend’s chambers, quietly shutting the door behind her.  The Lone Wolf was in such a hurry that she nearly walked right into the Lord of The Dreadfort.  

“Lord Bolton.” 

“Yes?  Something is troubling you, I think.” 
Arya nodded and bit her lip.  

“It’s my mother, she...she thinks you’re using me because I’m Robb’s stupid heir or something.  It didn’t make any sense, but she hates you for some reason.  My mother, she really does love me though, so she must be worried about something.”  

“And do you believe her?”  

“No!  I only thought...maybe if you explained to her how you helped me at Harrenhal then she might be nicer to you...maybe.  I tried to tell her that you were my friend and that you saved me, but she wasn’t listening...not really.”  

“I was wrong about your mother, think.”  

“I know; she still cares about me!  I wish she’d stop saying that you’re trying to use me to hurt my family though.  It’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard; why does she even think you’d ever do something like that?”  

“You must not repeat what I am about to say to anyone, do you understand?” 

“I won’t, I swear!”  

“I fear your mother has let her imagination get the better of her.  In truth, it saddens me to see such a strong, dignified woman embarrass herself in such a manner.  She is growing old, she’s lost her husband along with three of her children, and now that you’ve returned...well...it would appear that she’s seeing grumpkins in every dark corner.  She once confronted me and claimed that I was trying to steal you from her or some such nonsense, did you know that?  Lady Catelyn spends every hour of every day worrying that something will happen to you and your brother, I think.  The strain of it all was simply more than her mind could handle, most like.  I fear that not everyone is as strong as you are,” replied the Lord of The Dreadfort.  

“If that’s true, then someone has to take care of her; Robb won’t do a good job though...not really.  I can’t do it because I’ll be at the stupid Twins.  Robb said we’re going to ride for The Twins tomorrow morning,” Arya grumbled, fighting back tears.  I will not cry.  I am a direwolf. 
Direwolves don’t...they don’t...what if someday mother doesn’t even remember who I am?  

“Mayhaps.”  

“Mayhaps?  Wait...is that...is that why you were arguing with Ser Aenys earlier?”  

“As you say.  I advised Ser Aenys that it would be in his House’s best interest if Lord Walder could be convinced to settle for a marriage between Lord Edmure and one of his daughters instead demanding one between you and his son Waltyr as well.  The fool disagreed and went on to insult me at great length, but there will be time enough to deal with him later, I think.  And if not...well...after the way that one disrespected you today, I fear I shall have to make time.  I will not use any leeches on that day, I think.”  

“What do you mean?”  

“He called you my 'pet rat.'  This will not serve.”  

“You’re not going to –”  

“It matters not at all how I choose to handle the man.  We will speak no more of this.”  

“Yes, my Lord.  My mother, she...I mean...she’ll be okay, won’t she?”  

“Don’t worry about your mother; I will be keeping a very close eye on her.  For your sake, I will do all that I can to keep her from embarrassing herself further.  You were right to tell me about her...condition.  I’m proud of you,” replied the Lord of The Dreadfort, mussing Arya’s hair.  The heir to the North found that – just like every other time Lord Bolton did that – she couldn’t help giving him her widest smile, no matter how sad she felt.  

“Lord Bolton?”  

“Yes.” 

“If I ever disappointed you or did something bad can I still...I mean...you’d still let me live at The Dreadfort, wouldn’t you?”  

“I promise that no matter what you do, you will always be welcome at The Dreadfort.  My children and I would treat you as though you were a Bolton.”  

The moment that those words left her friend’s lips, Arya raced over to Lord Bolton and hugged him.  She hugged him even more tightly when – in an act that plainly surprised Lord Bolton almost as much as it did Arya – the Lord of The Dreadfort almost instinctively returned the hug.  Lord Bolton ground his teeth and even twitched a few times in discomfort, but Arya didn’t notice.  She simply closed her eyes and smiled, secure in the knowledge that no matter what happened – even if her mother ever truly lost her wits and forgot about her someday – there would still be at least one person in Westeros who would always care about her.  

Chapter Text

Tywin

This is madness.  What kind of beast would murder a man at his own wedding, Tywin silently screamed.  In truth, the Lord of Casterly Rock would never have imagined a massacre was about to occur until the moment that the first arrow raced through the room and entered Ser Lancel’s head through the fool’s left eye, killing him instantly.  Three more soon lodged themselves in the Mountain’s throat as he flipped over a table.  It took another arrow to extinguish House Clegane, but by then Ser Gregor had already killed five Tarly men-at-arms with his bare hands.  I spared Lord Tarly, I...I offered...I made a Lannister match for his daughter despite his insolence and this is the thanks I get?  You’ve damned your entire House in the eyes of Gods and men for the rest of time, do you hear me, you monster?  No Lannister would ever do such a thing!  

Randyll Tarly.  That...that inhuman beast of a man has shit for honor.  No, not even that much can be said for the savage, Tywin decided as he hid behind the overturned table with Lord Crakehall and Lord Marbrand...the only other men who had survived the first fifteen seconds of the massacre.  There was also the Tarly girl whom they’d managed to take hostage; it was plainly the only reason they weren’t already dead. I should have known the moment he said his wife was ill and couldn’t attend her own daughter’s damned wedding.  The Tarlys even had the nerve to play The Reynes of Castamere right before they began this unholy bloodbath.  It was some sort of signal, most like.  Or mayhaps it was simply Lord Tarly's way of laughing at my House...  Finally, the arrows stopped and Lord Marbrand forced the top of Talla Tarly’s head just above the table.  An arrow raced across the room and made its way through the girl’s head, killing her instantly and spearing Lord Marbrand’s right hand.  The fool lept into the air, clutching his hand in pain and was dead within seconds as Lord Randyll roared in anger.  

Lord Tarly has been planning this ever since we met at Tumbler's Rush, most like.  Does a man's word mean nothing anymore?  He’s been planning to extinguish my bloodline ever since I...wait!  Seven Hells!  Where is Tommen?  If they have him, then they will soon have the heir to Casterly Rock and the Iron Throne.  This will cause a complete breakdown in...no man will ever trust his host’s word again.  What kind of fool would ever follow a Tarly after this crime?  Aside from Lord Tyrell...  

“We only want Lord Tywin.  I have King Tommen in my custody and his grandfather must die before he can inherit any land.  As for the rest of you, if you come out from behind that table and pledge fealty, I will spare your lives,” shouted Lord Tarly.  We...we ate your bread and salt.  What kind of savage would do such a thing?  Do the guest right and the sacred laws of hospitality mean nothing in The Reach?  Lord Crakehall emerged from behind the table and two seconds later, he was an arrow-filled corpse.  At least someone here got what he deserved...  

I will not spend the rest of my life being tortured for Lord Randyll’s amusement and displayed to his guests like a caged animal.  I will die like a Lannister...with dignity.  As he scanned the carnage surrounding him, a single object caught the Last Lion’s eye and he knew he’d found a way out.  I won’t give that bastard the satisfaction, Tywin told himself as he grabbed a dagger from Lord Marbrand’s corpse and slit his throat.  

...

Arya

“What do we have here; the Young Wolf himself?  Looks to me more like a pack of stray pups far from home.  You call yourself a King?  Tell me, boy; what kind of King comes crawling back to those he’s wronged like a beat dog with its tail between its legs...and when he’s winning a war no less.  Mayhaps the kind who would remain forever young.  Heh.  The King in the North?  The King Who Lost the North, I say,” sneered Lord Walder.  Why is Robb letting him talk that way?  He shouldn’t...stupid Freys.  I bet they gave us stale bread on purpose.  I hate them, every one, Arya decided.  Ser Hosteen’s not around anymore though.  I haven’t seen him since my wolf dream two nights ago.  He got lost looking for a village to rob, most like.  At least Robb didn’t let any of the Northern Lords steal from the smallfolk...

“The war is not over, my Lord,” seethed Robb.  

“Most of the Lannisters are dead and Stannis has been at war with The Vale ever since your aunt killed his Hand along with the rest of the men he sent to The Eyrie asking for her help.  Seems the guest right isn’t what it used to be.  Heh.  The war for The North is over.”  

“Tywin Lannister has the entire might of the Reach behind him,” Catelyn replied.  

“For now, mayhaps.  Tomorrow, who knows?  I trust Mace Tyrell knows a losing side when he sees one; I certainly do...  But enough about that, let’s get a look at your kin and court.  Hmm.  Seems you’ll have to attend not one, but two of my House’s weddings, Lady Catelyn.  You should really do a better job watching your children.  You lost two to the Greyjoys, one to his crown, one to me, and one to the Lannisters.  Of course, they lost their Stark to the Baratheons and now Stannis appears to have lost her to...well...what does it matter?  The girl can’t even inherit anymore, the way I hear it.” 

“Lord Walder, if I may –”  

“No, you may not.  You broke your word to me and then had the nerve to ask for my help.  Now you’ll let me have my say, do you hear me, boy?”  

“Yes, my Lord,” growled Robb.  

“Can’t imagine your mother is too happy that one of her daughters will be marrying a Frey.  I should’ve made the girl marry Emmon’s son, Tywin.  Heh.  You Tullys have always spat on my House, don’t bother denying it.  The thought of your daughter’s Tully blood mixing with my son’s Frey blood drives you mad, doesn’t it, my Lady?  Your bloody father thought he was too good to show up at a single Frey wedding.  Never visited The Twins once unless he needed to cross my bridge either.  I collected a toll from him every time though, you can be damn sure of that.  Look at you now, Hoster.  You’re dead and buried, your son – the Lord Paramount of the Trident – is going to marry one of my daughters, and your granddaughter – the heir to the North – is going to marry one of my sons.  Heh.  I imagine Young Wolf will be eager to get a fresh litter of pups from that new wife of his now that his heir will soon be a Frey.” 

“I’m a Stark, not a stupid Frey.  And stop talking about my mother that way!  Robb’s your King and –” 

“Now’s not the time; we are in a very dangerous place,” whispered Catelyn, nervously tugging on her daughter’s shoulder. 


“Listen to your mother,” sneered the Lord of The Twins.  

“Shut up!”  

“This must be the one Ser Aenys Frey wrote about; the little brat who’s always following the Leech Lord around.”  

“I’m not scared of you; you’re just a stupid old man and no Lord at all,” snapped Arya.  Lord Walder stared at her with hungry eyes that seemed to shine with greed, but Arya didn’t break eye contact for even half a second.  Fear cuts deeper than swords.  Fear cuts deeper than swords.  Whoever looks away first is afraid.  I am a direwolf.  I am not afraid.  And Lord Bolton would never let some stupid old Frey hurt me besides.  

“Lord Walder, my sister only meant –” 

“Don’t piss on my foot and tell me it’s raining, boy.  I know what she meant.  You think I’m too old to hear the people standing in front of me, is that the way of it?  Bloody Starks.  You all laugh at me too up in Winterhell, don’t you?”  

“It’s Winterfell, stupid.”  Why does mother look so frightened? 
He’s just an old man and Robb’s his King besides.  

“Fine.  Let’s get a look at you.  Hmm...too flat for my taste, but the face is pretty enough, I suppose.  My wife was only a few years older than you when I wed her, did you know that?  Now I dine on all her finest parts at my leisure.  Heh.  Once you’ve been wed and bed, I’ll have to ask Black Walder how the Northern meat tastes this time of year since my son Waltyr is probably too stupid to even know what to do with it.  Bloody half-wit.  Doesn’t really matter which Frey takes your maidenhead as long as one of my sons does.  Heh.  It’s all the same to me which one of them puts a baby in you, I can promise you that.”  B-B-Black W-Walder?  Arya paled at the mention of the man’s name.  But Lord Bolton said Black...Black Walder would...would rape me and...and...  He...he can’t!  Mother wouldn’t let...mother and Lord Bolton won’t be here much longer, Arya realized, biting her lip.  I...I will not cry.  I am a dire...a d-d-direwolf.  No.  No.  No.  No.  She could hear Lord Bolton grinding his teeth as Lord Walder spoke and one had only to look at Robb’s face to see that it had finally dawned on him just what sort of fate awaited his sister.  

“I...I’m sorry.  I didn’t know...I thought...I only –” 

“A King shouldn’t talk to himself, boy.  Don’t worry about your sister; nothing will happen to her that you didn’t cause.  Heh.  The King in The North.  The way I hear it, men whisper that you’re The King Who Lost The North.  Heh.  Not that I’d ever say such a thing...  And to Balon Greyjoy, no less.  Mayhaps I should’ve made an alliance with him instead.  He seems like a man after my own heart, if nothing else.  Fewer useless mouths to feed in that family though.  Heh.”  

“Leave my brother alone!”  

“We respect our elders at The Twins, little girl.  Unless you’re as dumb as you look, you’ll do the same.  I hope you don’t require a sharp lesson; that face of yours wouldn’t be half as pretty with an eye sealed shut.”  

“Lord Walder, you can insult my son and I all you want, but I swear to you on my honor as a Tully, on my honor as a Stark that if you or your kin lay a hand on my daughter, you will lose the hand.  If you ever threaten her again, you will lose your tongue.”  I knew she cared!  

“What’s it like hiding behind your mother’s skirts all the time, boy?” 

“What’s it like spending every hour of every day wondering how long it will be until one of your sons finally kills you.  Oh and one more thing, my Lord.  Call me ‘boy’ again and you’ll wish that you hadn’t,” replied Robb, looking the Lord of The Twins directly in the eye.  The Lord of the Crossing didn’t look away; instead, a flicker of amusement crept across the cruel man’s face.  He’s not afraid of us, Arya realized.  He doesn’t even care that Robb’s his King.  Why wouldn’t he...  The Lone Wolf scanned Lord Walder’s features for some sort of clue; fortunately, the eldest Frey’s face was an open book.  He wants to hurt Robb; he...he’d kill him if given half the chance.  At least, he can’t do anything while we’re at The Twins now that we’ve all eaten his stupid bread and salt.  

“It was merely a jape; of course, I would never permit any harm to come to my good-daughter,” replied the old man with a smirk.  The Lord of The Twins raised his hands in the air as if surrendering although even a blind man could see that he was mocking his King with this display of feigned innocence.  “Tell me, Your Grace, does the guest right mean nothing in The North?  You lot come to my home begging me for my help after breaking the last promise you made to me and what do you do once you’ve eaten my bread and salt?  You threaten me, your mother says she’ll have my tongue out for giving honest counsel, and your sister insults me in my own castle.  Is this the honor of The North?  I suppose it's to be expected after Lord Karstark butchered Kevan Lannister and his children at Riverrun.  Not such a proud Lion after that, was he?  Heh.  Forgive me, Your Grace, we still honor the sacred laws of hospitality even if you bloody Northerners mock them near as much as you do my House.  Then again, mayhaps your heir’s outbursts aren't entirely her fault.” 

“I've already named Jon Snow as my –"  

"I hear this Lord Snow took The Black.  He already died at The Wall, most like.  Either way, that little girl is your heir so far as everyone so of The Wall is concerned."  

"Only until my wife gives me a son.  Of course, I could modify my will again, if the current arrangement doesn’t suit you, my Lord.”  

“Fine.  I’ll call her your temporary heir.  Happy, Your Grace?  Good.”  Catelyn took a step forward, but Robb gently held her back and desperately whispered something to his mother as she shot him a death glare.  Arya couldn’t hear all of her brother’s words, but it sounded like he was saying something about not having a choice.  Of course you had a stupid choice; you could’ve listened to me, to our mother, or even asked Lord Bolton what he thought.  If you really cared about me, you never would’ve sold me for a stupid bridge in the first place.  Stop pretending you feel badly about what’s going to happen just to make yourself feel better.  You could still stop it if you really wanted to, but you don’t...not really.  Mother and Lord Bolton actually care about me; if it were up to them, I’d never have to see another stupid Frey ever again.  Even mother was willing to trade me for some stupid old bridge until she saw how upset I was; Lord Bolton’s the only one who’s always been there for me.  I should be at Winterfell or The Dreadfort right now, not The Twins.  

“As I was saying before our beloved King’s rude interruption,” continued Lord Walder, “your temporary heir isn’t entirely to blame for her actions.  It’s plain that you didn’t have her whipped from an early age.  Always told my sons and grandsons that there are only two things which will truly teach a woman her place...although I fear only some of them have had the good sense to heed my counsel in this matter.  The first is a bull whip.  I never cared for that method although Hosteen and Ryman were always quite fond of it; a good, hard whipping leaves scars and gives women ugly skin.  If I wanted to fuck an ugly woman, I’d marry someone my own bloody age.  Heh,” snickered Lord Walder, slapping his terrified wife’s arse.  

“You...you can’t do that!  My family –”  

“Mayhaps not while they’re here...  Look at that, Your Grace, I do believe your temporary heir is already starting to realize the importance of respecting her elders.  Of course, the second way to handle a bitch is with a proper rape or two shortly before the marriage; teaches her who is the master and who is the slave.  I took each of my wives the day before our wedding night and none of them have ever given me any lip since, have they?”  

“No, my Lord,” replied the old man’s wife in a flat, emotionless voice that made her sound near as broken as she looked. 

“And you’d best keep it that way.  You’re not half as good a lay as a girl your age should be, dumb bitch.  What’d you ever give me, anyway?  Just another army of useless mouths to feed.  Hard to believe that out of every squirt of cum I put into my wives and all of those milkmaids over the years, my children were the fastest.  Heh.  Tell me, little girl, how would you prefer to be disciplined? 
I’d enjoy the second way more, personally, but we’d have to hurry if you expect to get anything in before your wedding tomorrow.”  

“NO!  Never!  Please, I...I don’t want...I don't...but I...you can’t!  My fam...my...my family, they...they wouldn’t let you and...and Lord...Lord Bolt...Lord...I mean...you can’t...and I don’t want –”   Not today!  Not today!  Not today!  Not today!  

“Oh settle down; it was only a jape.  Course, your mother and brother won’t be around here much longer, will they?  Heh.  No matter how we try, I fear we can’t protect our children forever.  Just ask your mother,” the old man sneered as his lips curled into a cruel smile.  

“Jape or not, I fear a man who speaks in such a manner will oft find himself wishing all too late that he’d held his tongue.  Even the oldest among us would be wise to see that they do not forget themselves, I think.  Else they may not continue growing old much longer,” seethed Lord Bolton as he took a few steps forward and gently pulled Arya back behind her brother and him.  For a moment, it was impossible to say whether Walder Frey or Catelyn Stark was more surprised by that remark.  In truth, everyone in the room except Arya looked as though they couldn’t believe what they’d just heard.  Of course Lord Bolton said something, he’s my friend!  Why is that so hard for everyone else to believe?  No, Lord Bolton's more than a friend, he...he’s like a second father.  He’ll always care about me no matter what and he’d never abandon me if I needed him.  Maybe he’s still trying to think of a way to keep me from having to marry a stupid Frey...maybe.  

“It speaks,” grunted Lord Walder.  “Mayhaps Ser Aenys was right about you.  I couldn’t believe it when I read the raven he sent, but it would seem that the Lord of The Dreadfort – a rare man unhindered by sentimentality – has been reduced to little more than a soft-hearted wet nurse...and by a little girl, no less.  Heh.  Tell me, my Lord, does the leash that child uses while walking her dog leave any marks on your neck?  Does the collar ever grow too tight?”  

“You will be silent,” replied Lord Bolton in a voice as sharp as Valyrian steel.  I’ve never heard him sound so angry before.  He’s not even trying to hide it...not really.  

“Is that so, my Lord?  I wonder, why do so many of my kin seem to have accidents around you?  Hosteen and Elmar have both disappeared, I’m told.  And of course, Ryman dropped dead the day of your wedding.”  

“Do you wish to join him, my Lord,” asked the Lord of the Dreadfort mildly.  "Threatening to have one of your guests whipped and raped is a serious enough violation of the guest right that some men might consider a violent response to be more than warranted."  Arya thought about what Lord Bolton would do if someone ever made him lose his temper and shuddered.  Lord Walder was plainly thinking about the same thing, since he slumped down further and further into his seat as the Lord of the Dreadfort began silently staring at him.  

"That won't be necessary, my Lord.  I'm sure Lord Walder would never violate the sacred laws of hospitality by deliberately make such threats against my sister," blurted Robb, plainly wanting nothing half so much as to prevent the confrontation from escalating any further.  In truth, even the Lone Wolf could see that it took all of her brother's self-control to force himself to say those words.  Why does he always let the Freys talk to us a that way?  How could some stupid old bridge be that important to him?  At least Robb sounded angry this time...  

“Forgive me, Your Grace.  As I said, it was merely a jape.  I assure you that I meant no offense."  Liar!  Liar!  Liar!  Liar!  "I...I’m simply used to being treated with respect by my guests.  A mere slip of the tongue is all, nothing more.  Umbers, Mormonts, Manderlys...the rest of you aren’t worth the time it would take me to insult you.  We have enough room for you lot, but the rest of your men must needs sleep in tents outside.  Now leave me be; I can’t stand the sight of you.  Go on, out I say!  All of you, go find yourselves a bloody room; I don’t care which ones.” 

“Thank you, my Lord,” growled Robb.  

...

Arya knew what the Freys' were and would always hate them – especially Lord Walder – but it helped that Lord Edmure’s wedding had gone so well.  The Lord of The Twins was like a changed man that night.  Anyone who’d only seen him at his new good-son’s wedding night would’ve sworn that Walder Frey was the very personification of humility, compassion, and generosity of spirit.  Lord Edmure and some of the other Lords seemed to speak a bit less harshly of him after that, but Arya wasn’t fooled and neither were her mother or Lord Bolton.  Robb stormed out of the hall during the bedding ceremony though after one of those stupid chinless weasels reminded him that there would be one after both weddings.  I won’t let Waltyr Frey do that to me.  Never!  Uncle Edmure shouldn’t have made his wife do that in front of everyone.  Didn’t he see how scared she was?  The poor woman was crying; what kind of man would even want to bed his wife in front of his friends and family anyway?  

Mother said Robb spent the rest of the night lost in his cups and crying about how sorry he was until he passed out, but if he was really sorry, he wouldn’t have sold me to the Freys for a stupid bridge or...he could’ve at least let me live at The Dreadfort.  I hate him, Arya decided as she made her way to Lord Bolton’s chambers.  Him and his stupid bridge.  If Robb wanted the bridge so badly, he should’ve just married a Frey himself instead of...Lord Bolton was right.  Robb sold me like a slave at some stupid auction; this is all his fault!  Suddenly, Arya saw Black Walder approaching and instinctively ducked into a nearby room.  

“Bloody Starks, what are they good for anyway?  All they ever done is spit on us like we was a bunch of inbred cunts.  I may've had more of my good-sisters than I can count, but that don't make me an inbred since I never had a squealing brats with any of them.  Well...none except the one I had with Edwyn's wife, but it's not my fault the bitch decided not to drink moon tea.  And the female ones don't really count besides.  Not like any of them will ever amount to anything more somewhere for the son of some Lord to sheath his sword.  Bloody Starks.  Father's right, all they ever done is laugh at us in their frozen wasteland.  They won’t be laughing when I put a sword through Robb Stark’s heart tonight, I can tell you that much.  At least his sister is nice and young...ugly as a horse though.  Father’s eyes must be going,” said Black Walder.  The Freys, they...they’re going to kill Robb.  Arya bit her lip.  

They’re going to do it at my stupid wedding, most like.  Everyone will be in one place and...and...I have to tell Lord Bolton.  He’ll know what to do!  Mother and Robb might not believe me until it’s too late, but Lord Bolton will listen; I know he will! “Ordinarily, I’d suggest that father take her himself or leave her for Waltyr, but I’ve never sampled the honey of a girl that young.  You know what they say, Lothar, variety is the spice of life,” snickered Black Walder with a wicked grin. 

“Quiet, you bloody idiot.  Someone might hear you,” hissed the one called "Lothar."  Arya watched him hobble along behind his brother and when the two men were gone, she raced to her best friend’s chambers as fast as her legs would carry her.  

...


“Lord Bolton,” wheezed Arya, struggling to catch her breath. 


“Yes?”  

“It’s the Freys, they...they’re planning to murder Robb at the wedding and...and...you don’t believe me do you?  I heard them, I really did!” 

“Heard who,” asked Lord Bolton, blowing out a candle and removing it.  

“Black...Black Walder and another Frey.  One with...one with a limp.  He –” 

“Lame Lothar?” 

“Maybe, I...I think so.  I don’t know, but Black Walder was...was talking about killing Robb and...and raping me.” 

“I feared as much.  I've been trying to warn your brother for some time that the Freys are not to be trusted.  You were right to come to me with this; I am...proud of you,” replied Lord Bolton as he mussed Arya’s hair.  Even now, she couldn’t help giving the Lord of The Dreadfort her widest smile when he did that.  It made her feel safe; it made her feel like she still had a father...and it was a reminder that she still had a pack.  Why does Lord Bolton sound so sad? 
There’s still enough time left to stop the Freys.  We can save mother and Robb; I know we can!  

“Then you believe me?”  

“Yes.  I believe you,” sighed Lord Bolton, picking up a large, bronze candlestick holder.  

“Good.  I knew that you would!  Now how do we –”  *THUD*  

Chapter Text

The Lord of The Dreadfort studied the unconscious girl lying on the ground in front of him.  I cannot leave her here; she’d wake up too soon, most like.  If I tie her up, gag her, and lock her in a trunk then she might suffocate.  I always could tie her up and cut out her...no.  Anyone else and mayhaps I would cut out their tongue, but not this one.  The child is far too amusing to silence.  I suppose Domeric does not need the Starkling’s tongue to put a baby in her.  The fool will soon develop a singular hatred for the sound of her voice, most like.  It matters not at all.  I will not mutilate her nor will I permit my son to do so.  And there are other alternatives besides, Lord Bolton decided, frowning at his own weakness.  

Father would be ashamed of me...and rightly so.  I fear that this is what comes of indulging a child by permitting hugs and other foolish displays of affection.  Weakness begets weakness and a wise man never concerns himself with the welfare of those around him...not even his kin.  One should only concern himself with ensuring that he acts in his own interests in all things great and small.  To do otherwise is as foolish as it is dangerous.  My father had the right of it, I think.  He never displayed any affection toward me when I was a boy and it made me a stronger man.  It was plainly a mistake to try to comfort the girl when she was afraid.  Letting the child think of me as a father figure and a protector should not have caused any changes in my own behavior.  The Gods alone know what madness possessed me to let her hug me or worse...to return her most recent one, the Lord of The Dreadfort silently seethed, grinding his teeth.  

Lord Snow would’ve cut out her tongue the same way another man might peel a potato...and while she was awake, I think.  Whatever else my bastard may be, he is plainly a better man than I in that regard.  It would seem that we all have our gifts...even the likes of him.  It matters not at all.  I will not permit any unnecessary mutilations to her person.  So long as at least one of her kin is alive with his sanity intact, it should be a simple enough matter to control her.  Killing one of her brothers the moment she misbehaves should be sufficient to acquire the girl’s full cooperation.  It has been far too long since I skinned a child, I think.  I fear I may indulge myself excessively...mayhaps it would be wiser to have my bastard do it.  That way the girl will blame him for the lesson while still doing whatever Domeric and I tell her.  Arya groaned and began to stir. 

I confiscated samples of the poisons and healing potions from Qyburn’s stores at Harrenhal, mayhaps...  Milk of the poppy should be sufficient, I think.  The girl will not have to suffer hearing her mother and brother die.  There is enough here to keep her unconscious until we arrive at the Dreadfort, most like.  The Lord of the Dreadfort carefully poured a little bit of the white liquid onto a spoon, inserted it into Arya’s mouth, and forced her to swallow.  The child stopped moving and slipped into a deep sleep.  Lord Bolton carefully picked up Robb Stark’s heir and gently placed her on his bed.  He turned to leave the room when Arya quietly whimpered a single word: “Father?”  She is already lost some poppy dream, most like.  

“No,” the Lord of the Dreadfort sadly whispered as he closed the door and locked it from the outside.  With some...adjustments and a proper upbringing, you could have been my daughter...mayhaps even my son were you of the right sex.  At the least, you could’ve been born a Bolton...but you were not.  You have no one but yourself to blame for forgetting that.  One would think that a child clever enough to elude the Lannisters and safely journey from King’s Landing to Harrenhal would be able to grasp this.  I fear the girl was so desperate for a pat on the head from the nearest man her father’s age that she’d believe anything I told her about her kin.  She will get her wish, I think.  Arya will be a Bolton once Domeric has wed and bed her, and she shall spend the rest of her days at Winterfell and The Dreadfort.  Domeric and I shall reside at Winterfell once it has been rebuilt, I think.  My bastard can have The Dreadfort...at least until my second grandson comes of age and establishes a cadet branch of House Bolton there.  Mayhaps I should permit my bastard to form a second one at Hornwood once I've wed him to Lord Reed's daughter.  

In truth, it took very little to turn the Starkling against her fool of a brother.  The King Who Lost The North did most of my work for me, I think.  The mother was even worse.  Ned Stark may have been a fool, but he was a strong Lord; that much must be said for the man.  Mayhaps this experience will impress upon Arya the dangers of forming emotional attachments.  The girl is only 13; a woman grown in the most important sense, but a child all the same.  There is still time to make adjustments, I think.  

I suppose it is not entirely her fault that she became so desperate for my approval that she would’ve convinced herself of anything if there was a chance that doing so would please me.  It was a behavior borne of fear, I think.  It is known that women are foolish, weak-minded creatures and slaves to their emotions besides.  This one has transcended the natural failings of her sex to a degree I never would have believed possible.  An exceptional child, to be sure, but a member of the weaker sex all the same.  I fear Lady Arya is ultimately governed by her emotions just like the rest.  It matters not at all.  She has the right name and would never harm my grandchildren out of spite.  If anything, I imagine she will be a fiercely protective mother after tonight.  If that helps my grandsons live to inherit Winterfell, so much the better.  

At least, there is still time to disabuse her of these foolish notions about her family.  The wolves were strong once, but by tomorrow, they will be confined to histories of The North where they belong.  It is known that most Starks are soft of heart and even softer of mind.  How the Red Kings of The Dreadfort were ever brought to heel by such men, I shall never know...  

In truth, Arya should be kissing my boots in gratitude the moment she awakens.  I saved her from the Brave Companions, from the soft-hearted fools in her own House, from the Freys of The Crossing.  I didn’t even cut out the girl’s tongue.  Will she thank me for choosing not to mutilate her?  No, of course not.  She’ll spit in my face, most like.  I wonder...if I gave her a chance to kill me, could she do it?  I think not, but I may have to try that someday.  I’d need only to leave a fake knife lying around and pretend to be asleep.  

It is fortunate that I learned her identity before receiving Lord Baelish’s offer.  Else I might’ve formed an alliance with that fool only to wed my son and heir to an impostor.  The Tyrells will be far more dependable allies, I think.  Lord Randyll plainly appreciated my counsel regarding how best to dispose of Lord Tywin.  I must needs find Lothar; I fear the festivities will have to begin without Arya.  That cripple is the only Frey who can be trusted to discreetly relay this information to Lord Walder.  Lothar Frey is the only member of his House who has even a glimmer of potential, Lord Bolton decided as he made his way toward the great hall.  

When I confronted the cripple with my knowledge that he’d poisoned Ser Ryman on the morning after my wedding, Lothar did not panic as many men would...nor did he insult my intelligence by denying it.  He calmly – and rather respectfully – stated that if I intended to tell anyone then he’d already be dead.  The cripple was correct, of course.  His discretion was lacking, to be sure, but I suppose such foolishness is to be expected from a Frey.  Lothar is a rather ambitious man, I think.  He is also wise enough to understand that a cripple will never lead House Frey and plans to rule through his half-brother Edwyn.  After meeting that soft-headed fool and his pet rat, Walder Rivers, I can see why the cripple chose him.  The man will doubt make an excellent, and more importantly weak-willed, catspaw.  

Ever since that day; I have owned Lame Lothar and all of his co-conspirators; an empty promise of support was all it took.  At the time, I thought I’d merely discovered another amusement, but one never knows when an ambitious, short-sighted man of flexible morals will prove the proper tool for the task at hand.  One would think it would give the fools pause that I had Ser Hosteen killed for suggesting that my future good-daughter be whipped; he was among the original conspirators, after all.  I suppose it would not serve for that lot to realize that any of them can be discarded like a broken toy on a whim.  

In truth, the cripple saved my life; the loyalty one can acquire simply by calling a man by his proper name instead of “Lame Lothar” or “cripple” is quite remarkable.  Of course, women are far from the only creatures ruled by their emotions.  I would not have guessed Lord Walder would be so short-sighted as to think he could rule The North simply by murdering me the day I before I was to leave The Twins, wedding Arya Stark to his son Waldyr, and blaming me for a massacre that occurred under his own roof.  It matters not at all.  Soon one man will rule The Twins and I will rule The Riverlands through him simply because I addressed a cripple by his name and never japed about his leg.  

Father seldom spoke favorably of me when he knew I was listening, but I oft heard him say to those who kept that his counsel that my greatest gift was the ability to detect most men’s greatest insecurities after little more than a brief conversation.  Whatever Ned Stark’s faults were – and the fool had a great many of them – I always respected him for being one of the few whom I was never able to influence in this way.  The man’s code was suicidal madness, but he never strayed from it.  Of course, most Starks are weak creatures by nature who are plainly all too willing to let their hearts bleed all over the floor at the mere mention of suffering smallfolk.  

It would be wrong to blame Arya for her chief faults, Lord Bolton decided.  The girl’s concern for the smallfolk was no doubt the result of being raised by a family weaker than herself.  She will grow out of it after a few years in her new House, I think.  The rest of her weaknesses stem from acting out of emotion rather than carefully considering the consequences of each possible action.  This is a product of her sex and I fear there are limits to how much one can transcend such a thing...  

The mother is of little consequence now that the Freys have decided to lay claim to Riverrun through Lord Edmure’s son.  The woman is little more than a doomed amusement, not unlike a dying wolf too weak to stop men from skinning it.  She is little more than an animal to be kept in a cage and tortured when Lord Walder finds himself in need of a new amusement, I think.  Robb Stark plainly wishes to live by his father’s idiocy, but is too weak to accept the consequences of such actions.  A man cannot talk of honor and then break his word for a prettier face. 

Of course, his mistake was not in breaking his word to Lord Walder once he no longer had need of him.  Were it done for pragmatic reasons, it might’ve even given the boy a single redeeming feature.  Of course, he did not do it to form a marriage alliance with the Tyrells as a wise man would.  Even if it had been for a betrothal to Stannis Baratheon or Balon Greyjoy’s daughter, the fool could’ve at least claimed to have had some sort of flawed strategic rationale.  Alas, the boy who plainly knows little and less about what it means to rule.  Jeyne Westerling gained The North nothing and cost House Stark everything.  Madness.  The Lord of The Dreadfort heard Lame Lothar hobbling toward him well before he saw the cripple. 

“Lord Bolton, I've been looking for –”  Suddenly, a series of screams cut through the castle like a knife.  “Fuck it.  We had to start without you, not that it really matters.  I noticed the Stark girl following Black Walder and me.  My half-brother wanted to cut out the child’s tongue, rape her, and open the girl’s throat, but I convinced him that the fool would just go running to you anyway.  And she’s worth more dead than alive besides. 
The Starkling has been dealt with, hasn’t she?”  

“As you say.”  

“Excellent, my Lord.” 

“And your father?” 


“Walder Rivers has poured the poison you gave me into his father’s wine.”  

“And what of brave Ser Aenys?  I believe I gave you rather specific instructions as to what was to be done with him.”  

“Throat slit and stuffed into a trunk, just like you asked, my Lord.  Don’t see why he needed to die, but I can’t say I’ll miss the bastard.  The fool was dead before he knew what hit him.  No one suspects a cripple, my Lord.  Not even one with a knife.”  

“As you say.”  No son of mine will ever turn kinslayer while I’m alive.  The other so-called laws of Gods and men are little more than arbitrary rules for fools too weak to take what they want, but not that one.  In truth, even bastards are kin...no matter how often they may trespass against us.  Domeric’s mother was...well...we all make mistakes.  And a man may do as he pleases with his property besides.  

Domeric knows that no man is so accursed as a kinslayer.  He will not murder his wife or any of their children; he may beat the Starkling within an inch of her life when she is not with child as is his right, but turn kinslayer over some inevitable provocation?  No.  He is my son and I have done all I can to re-build him in my image.  We can only do so much for our children...  

It matters not at all what happens after I am dead and buried, but until that time, my son shall due as he is bid.  In truth, that is not the greatest threat to joining the Bolton and Stark bloodlines.  Lord Snow...well...keeping him in The Dreadfort is the only way my grandchildren will ever come of age, most like.  It is fortunate that he captured Lord Reed’s heir.  Provided my bastard long wasn’t foolish enough to kill the girl, I shall wed him to Lady Meera.  In time, the Bolton bloodline will have absorbed too many other Northern Houses to allow a viable challenge.  And there are, of course, our fine friends in Barrowtown and Karhold...to say nothing of those in The Reach.  

...

Lord Bolton opened the door to the great hall once the screaming stopped and gazed at the carnage before him, carefully etching every detail of the scene in his mind’s eye.  Whatever else happens after this day matters not at all.  There is nothing greater I could hope to accomplish in life than this.  Winter may indeed be coming, but so too are the Red Kings, I think.  The Lord of The Dreadfort continued to scan the room and frowned.  Lord Walder has not touched his wine.  Worse, Robb Stark died before I could force him to bite down on one of the stone edges lining the room and crush his head beneath my boot.  Pity.  And neither of the Tullys are here...  I suppose this is what comes of sending a Frey to do a man’s job.  

“Lord Walder, I see that you have enjoyed your wedding present,” said the Lord of The Dreadfort as he carefully stepped over the SmallJon’s entrails.  

“Lord Bolton, good of you to join us.  Better late than never, I suppose,” muttered the Lord of The Crossing.  

“Arya Stark heard two of your sons discussing the wedding.  Fortunately, the girl came straight to me with this information.” 

“Did you kill the little wolf bitch?” 

“That would not serve.  The girl is the heir to Winterfell.  She is the Queen of The North as well now that you have killed her brother and his wife.  I can only assume that abomination next to Jeyne Westerling’s belly is...well...was their child.  In truth, I would never have guessed she was with child.  The boy
 didn’t tell even tell his mother, I think.”  

“I wouldn’t talk to that shriveled old cunt if she was my mother either.  Once they turn twenty, they’re nowhere near as good in bed, so why bother?  I’ve been at this along time and I promise you, they never disappoint at fourteen.  Mayhaps you wouldn’t be so bloody serious all the time if you tried one around that age.  Take my word for it, my Lord; it’ll be the best lay you ever had.”  I’d sooner take the word of a fresh piece of shit.  The Gods have plainly put me in a room with the likes of you to teach me humility.  You and your kin reek of excess and self-indulgence; a wise man takes enough pride in his work to conduct himself in a professional manner.  I am a Bolton; I don’t belong here with the likes of you.  And power tastes best when sweetened with courtesy besides.  

"I see Ser Wendel and the SmallJon’s corpses.  Did you take any Northerners alive?  I will need as many hostages as I can find, I think.”  

“That one calling who was always calling himself the GreatJon, some Mormont woman who tried to dance with my son Edwyn, and others whom you might recognize.”  

“And what of the Tullys? 
I see neither of them here.”  

“The old whore managed to sneak a knife out with her when Black Walder was taking her to the dungeons.  She opened his throat, but the bitch won’t get far.  And even if she does, what does it matter?  Lord Edmure has married my daughter Roselin and is rotting in a cell.”  Fool.  The North and Riverlands alike will rally around her.  No, I imagine Lady Catelyn is still at The Twins.  The first place she’d go is...  

“Lord Walder, if you’ll indulge me, I fear we would be remiss if we did not toast Robb Stark.  Without him, none of this would be possible, I think,” said the Lord of The Dreadfort as he poured himself a cup of wine.  

“Very well.  To the King Who Lost The North,” shouted Lord Walder, downing his cup before Lord Bolton could pretend to drink from his own.  Lame Lothar bolted the door shut and Walder Frey’s face twisted in pain as The Strangler did its work.  Before long, the Lord of The Crossing lay dead, his face as purple as the grapes lying next to him on the floor. 

“Lothar, tell your kin that their father has choked to death on his wine.  And keep them away from my chambers.”  

“Yes, my Lord.”  

...


“Arya, wake up,” whispered Catelyn as Lord Bolton quietly watched.  “Arya?  Say something!  We have to get out of here now!  ARYA?” 

“Mother,” groaned Arya, never once opening her eyes.  

“Arya?  It...it’s me; what did they do you?  Wake up!  Wake up!  Wake up!  I can carry –”

“Lord Bolton?”  The girl is plainly still lost in poppy dreams.  

“What...what did they make you drink,” Catelyn asked the unconscious child as she desperately rummaged through the poisons and potions in Lord Bolton’s chambers.  

“I have a father again!” 

“You already have a father, you...you always did.”  

“I’m a direwolf!”  

“That’s right, you...you are a Stark of Winterfell.  You’re my daughter and...and you...please wake up!  I...I need to tell you how much I love you one more time before we join Ned and the rest of your siblings,” wept Catelyn.  

“When will Jon come back?  I don’t want him to go...” 

“He...he’ll be here soon. 
We’ll...we...we’ll all be together again.  The rest of of our family, they...they're already wait...they're waiting for us.  All you...all you have to do is...is wake up and...and –”  

“My mother won’t want me...not really.  She always loved my sister though...”  

“Arya,” sobbed Catelyn as she hugged her daughter, “I have always loved you and I always will!  Please, I can fix whatever they did to you.  Just...just tell me...tell me what it was that they gave you."  The little girl's body remained as limp as ever and a thin line of drool began to roll down her right cheek.  "You...you have to wake up!  PLEASE!  I...I promise I’ll protect you.  I –” 

“And who will protect you, my Lady,” asked Lord Bolton. 
Catelyn spun around, picked a bloody knife up off the ground, and bore her teeth at the Lord of the Dreadfort.  

“I may not leave this room alive, but I swear on my honor as a Tully...on my honor as a Stark, I will open your throat if you don’t tell me how to fix whatever you monsters did to my daughter.”  

“Very well.  I poisoned the girl; it amused me to watch the child die after all of the trust that she placed in me.  I chose something slow that would also cause her to go soft in the head as it took effect.  That way I would be able to watch both her body and her mind die.  I wonder, which will be the first to go?  I could tell you which of the liquids on my desk would cure her, but if you would see your daughter live another day then you must needs trade your life for hers.  Drop your weapon and you have my word that no harm will come to your daughter tonight.  You say that you love the girl and want to protect her?  Very well.  Now’s your chance to prove it.  Go on, Arya’s life is entirely within your hands.  Your right hand, to be precise...”  Without a moment’s hesitation, Catelyn dropped the knife as a look of complete and utter defeat spread across her face.  Fool.   Lord Bolton made his way toward the sobbing mother and his lips curled into a cruel smile. 

“Tell me! 
You...you swore you’d tell me!”  

“I’d have hoped members of your House would know better than to trust me by now.  Do you truly believe that I would ever harm your daughter?  My children might, but I myself would not.  The girl is the heir to The North; only a half-wit would kill something that valuable and in truth, I enjoy her a great deal.  I merely hit your daughter in the back of the head and forced her to drink Milk of the Poppy so that she would not spend her nights lying awake with the screams of her kin echoing through her mind.  And it wouldn’t serve for Lady Arya to see her mother die besides.”  Suddenly, Lord Bolton grabbed the broken woman’s throat with both hands and squeezed as tightly as he could without crushing her windpipe.  

“The Stark bloodline will soon be extinguished.  And I want to share a little secret with you before you die.  Brandon and Rickon Stark are both prisoners of mine.  Theon Greyjoy didn’t burn Winterfell.  I did...well...my bastard burned it on my orders.  I’m going to kill one of your sons as soon as I return to The Dreadfort and lock the other one in a dungeon cell.  If your daughter proves...difficult, I shall have the remaining Starkling flayed in front of her.  Or I may unman the remaining boy if even this is not sufficient...  Your daughter is going to wed my son and heir; that would make her proper name Arya Bolton, I think.  Of course, this means that my son won’t have to rape your daughter in order to put a baby in her since he can simply claim his rights as her Lord husband.  Do you know why I’m telling you this?”  Catelyn was plainly unable to speak, but the ocean of tears pouring down her cheeks was a sufficient reply.  

“I am telling you this because I want you to understand the full extent to which you have failed your children.  You were unable to keep any of them out of harm’s way when they needed you most.  Lady Sansa is being kept as a hostage by your own sister, the Freys killed Robb, and the other three of your children are mine to do with as I please.  I want you to understand that you have them in the single worst way that a mother can fail her children: you could not protect them from those who would do them harm.  I need you to know that even when you threatened me; you were powerless to save a single one of those poor, sweet children.  Oh and one more thing, I am going to tell Lady Arya that right before the Freys killed you, you begged Lord Walder to do whatever he wanted with her and spare Robb.  She will spend the rest of her life wondering if those were your last words, I think.”  Without another word, Lord Bolton choked the last bit of life out of Catelyn Stark; his lips twisted into a cruel smile as the dead woman’s eyes rolled into the back of her head.  

Chapter Text

“Uggghhhh...what...what happened,” groaned Arya as she opened her eyes and scanned the room around her.  She was lying on a feather bed so soft that her whole body seemed to sink into it as though it were made of quick sand.  Where am I?  Why aren’t there any windows?  Am I at The Twins?  No...not even Robb would make me marry a Frey after they tried to...ROBB!  I have to warn him; the Freys were going to try to kill him and...where’s mother?  I can’t lose her again!  I never even got to apologize for all the things I said before I knew how much she cared about me.  I won’t let the Freys hurt her!  I...I’ll save her...somehow.  

“Hello?  Is anyone there?  HELLOOOOOOOO?  HELP!  PLEASE, I...I’m locked in this room and...LET ME OUT,” shouted the Lone Wolf, tugging on the doorknob.  No one’s coming.  I was locked in here on purpose; it must have been the Freys.  They must have...no, that can’t be it.  I had just told Lord Bolton and...and then everything went black.  It doesn’t make sense.  He’s dead too, most like.  I wish...I wish Lord Bolton was here; he’d know what to do.  Arya felt something cold tied to her left leg beneath her britches and shivered.  I still have Vengeance, she realized, allowing herself the smallest of smiles.  The Lone Wolf untied her flaying knife and hid it beneath mattress of the feather bed she’d been sleeping on.  *CLICK* 
Suddenly, the door swung open and Lord Bolton entered the room.  

“You’re awake.”  

“YOU’RE ALIVE!  Does that mean...is Robb alright?  Where’s mother?  I need to talk to her, I –” 

“I fear that is impossible.” 

“What?  Why not?  Is she alright?”  

“No, she is not. 
I killed her while we were at the Twins.”  

“What?  I...I don’t understand.”  

“You don’t understand why I killed your mother or you don’t understand that she’s dead?”  Arya staggered backward and the room began to spin; she could feel tears pouring down her cheeks.  It can’t be true; this has to be another nightmare or...or...  Before long, it was impossible to think anything save for a single thought that kept playing in a loop: No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  No. 

“But...but, I...she can’t...you wouldn’t...I mean...I never...I...I thought...I mean...why would you ”  

“It is simple enough, I think.  The Starks of Winterfell have spat upon my House ever since the Red Kings of The Dreadfort were forced to bend the knee.” I never spat on you...  And who were the stupid Red Kings anyway?  Sansa would know who they were, most like.  

“For centuries, your House was too powerful to openly challenge, so we waited.  Your brother Robb was a weak fool and when he named himself King in The North...well...I fear I had no choice but to relieve him of his burden.  I fear that sooner or later the King Who Lost The North would have dragged the rest of his kingdom down with him had I not taken matters into my own hands.  And I’d already risen as high as I could while your kin drew breath besides.  After the Greyjoys attacked, I sent my bastard to burn Winterfell to the ground while I did the same to the remnants of your House.  As for your mother...well...I fear that it would not serve to have her running around.  The North would rally around her, I think.  The Riverlands too, most like.” 

“Buh-Buh-But the Greyjoys attacked Winterfell.”  

“As you say.  Theon Turncloak, the treasonous whore, took Winterfell before my bastard destroyed your home.  It is being rebuilt, of course."  

“You k-k-killed Bran and...and Rickon?”  

“No.”  

“I...I don’t under...I don’t understand,” stammered Arya, frantically racking her brain for something – anything – that would prove this was all some sort of nightmare or even a sick joke...but it was no use.  Lord Bolton, he...he killed mother, Robb, Bran, and Rickon?  Mother, she...she even tried to warn me about him and I...I didn’t believe her.  I trusted Lord Bolton instead of her; I...I don’t deserve to have a family.  No one should ever want me anymore...not after I...Sansa would probably never speak to me again if she knew I was still alive.  Everyone will hate me now and...I’m sorry, mother!  I didn’t know; I swear!  Please don’t hate me; I...I’m so sorry!  I never even got to say goodbye...  I’m sorry, mother, I never hated you...not really.  I didn’t know!  I could have saved mother if I’d believed her; I could have...I could’ve...it’s all my fault.  I...I deserve whatever Lord Bolton is going to do to me.  

Please forgive me, mother!  There’s no one left would ever want me; everyone will hate me for not believing you.  You can’t be dead!  I...I need...please don’t leave me here.  I should have saved them...somehow.  I...I don’t deserve to have a family...not really.  NO!  Mother, she...she’d still love me no matter what.  She wouldn’t want me to think like this.  Mother would want me to keep going.  I have to escape and find Sansa...somehow, Arya decided as she slumped to the ground and buried her face in her hands.  

“Then everything you said...everything, it...it was all a lie?  You were just looking for a chance to kill my family?  Did you...I mean...did you always hate me?” 

“Everything?  No, not everything...  In truth, I never hated you.  I could have simply killed you and used the girl Lord Baelish found as a replacement.  You may be rather singular child, but I doubt anyone of note in The North would remember what you look like.  In truth, it would’ve likely been far easier to manage some frightened little girl...safer too, I think.  Most members of the weaker sex are fools; you are a rare exception.  We might ask our friend Lord Vargo what comes of underestimating you.  It matters not at all.  Do you know why I didn’t use Lord Baelish’s whore?  The reason is that I do not hate you...well...that and the fact that you’d half to be soft in the head to believe a word out of that man’s mouth.”  Lord Baelish?  Did Littlefinger help Lord Bolton and the Freys kill Robb?  

“In truth, I enjoy you far too much to ever kill you and the world is more interesting with you in it besides,” grumbled Lord Bolton.  Lord Bolton still cares about me at least a little bit, even if he is a monster.  It wasn’t all just some Bolton lie...not really.  He’s not even trying to hide how angry he is at himself about the fact that he cares.  It has to be true!  Lord Bolton couldn’t kill me if he wanted to...not really.  He doesn’t hate me; he just...hated my family is all.  He’d never...I mean...I...I hate him!  He shouldn’t have killed my mother!  Maybe I can trick him into letting his guard down the next time he tries to be nice to me...maybe, Arya thought to herself, eyeing the spot where she’d hidden Vengeance.

“I...I trusted you...I thought you were...you were like having another...like a...a...a –”  

“A father?”  

“Yes.  You were like a father to...I mean...NO!  That...that wasn’t what I meant.  I hate you!” 

“Hate away, the rest of my children do,” Lord Bolton replied, yawning.  

“I am NOT one of your stupid children.”  

“As you say.  You will not be a Bolton for two more days, I think.”  I’m a Stark, not a Bolton.  My father was a Stark too, so I’ll always be a Stark.  What is he talking about, the Lone Wolf wondered as the Lord of the Dreadfort mussed her hair.  For a moment, she couldn’t help giving Lord Bolton her widest smile out of habit.  After a few seconds, her smile turned to a bitter scowl and she bolted away from the monster.  What's wrong with me?  Why...why did I let him do that?  I should've stabbed him with Vengeance or...  Arya bit her lip.  Is this...it’s like petting a dog to him...  

“I’m not your stupid pet!”  

“Mayhaps.” 

“HEY! 
I said I’m not –”  

“I fear I have no time to argue semantics with you.  In any case, you plainly trusted me more than your kin.  As I recall, you wanted to live out the rest of your days at The Dreadfort.”  What are “semantics?”  Wait a minute...  

“I did not trust you more than my...well...I only did it because you were like fam...wait, that’s not what I meant.  I didn’t trust you more than my mother, I just...I mean...umm...I just...shut up!”  

“Mind your tongue.”  

“You were...I thought you were my friend,” seethed Arya.  

“I see no reason why that need change so long as you do as you are bid.” 

“You murdered my mother and three of my brothers!  Most of my family, they...they’re dead because of you.” 

“Does it matter?”  

“ARE YOU INSANE?  Of course it matters that you murdered most of my family!”  

“Mayhaps I am; I've oft considered the possibility.  In truth, I've long been inclined to conclude that this is indeed the case.  It matters not at all, I think.” 

“Don’t you care if people think you’re –”  

“Insane?  No, not particularly.  My sanity or lack thereof has no baring upon the situation in which we presently find ourselves, I think.  In truth, it matters not at all whether or not I am a madman.”  

“But –”  

“Is that all?  Good, now then –”  I...I hate him!  I hate him!  I hate him!  I HATE HIM!  

“I am going to kill you someday,” whispered Arya, forcing herself to speak in a flat, emotionless voice...just like Lord Bolton had taught her when they were at Harrenhal.  She lifted her head and tried to look the Lord of The Dreadfort directly in the eye, but her own eyes were so watery that the entire room was a blur.

“Go on then, do it.  That is the handle of the flaying knife I gave you poking out from beneath the mattress, I think.  You say you want to kill me.  Very well, here I stand.”  How did he know?  It...it has to be some sort of game.  He can’t fool me!

“No.  I...I won’t and you can’t make me,” replied Arya, wiping her eyes on her left sleeve.  She couldn’t help smiling for a moment when she saw the look of complete and utter disappointment on Lord Bolton’s face.  

“Why not?”  

“If you want me to attack you, then I won’t do it.  It has to be some sort of trick.  And you wouldn't just let me do it besides.”  

“You always were a clever child.”  

“I am not a child, stupid.  I’m a woman grown and –”  

“You will not address me as ‘stupid.’  Is that understood?” 

“I can call you ‘idiot’ instead, if you’d like.”  

“Mind your tongue, Lady Arya.”  

“Or what?  You can’t kill me; you said so yourself, remember?  You already killed my whole family, so you can’t do anything except threaten me.  And I’m not a stupid Lady.”  

“I was hoping to punish you for trying to kill me by executing your brother Brandon, but by failing to break a rule, I fear you have deprived me of that opportunity.  If you call me that word again, then you will force me to make an example of the boy.  The two of us may be unable to kill each other, but I can still kill your kin.  Quite easily, I think.”  What is he talking about?  Stupid Bolton.  I hate him!  He’s lying about Bran; he has to be and I could kill him right now; I just...don’t want to do anything he wants me to is all.  I really could kill him though, I...I’ll show him!  

Arya reached for Vengeance’s handle only to find that her left arm kept pulling away whenever her hand got too close...almost as though it had a mind of its own.  The Lone Wolf ground her teeth and bit her lip as her own body betrayed her.  I could kill Lord Bolton right now if I wanted to; I hate him!  I just...chose not to is all.  Maybe I don’t have to kill him right away...maybe.  Why can’t I just grab the stupid knife?  I hate him!  I hate him!  I hate him!  

“Bran’s dead.  You told your bastard to murder him,” snapped Arya.  

“No, I merely ordered my bastard to burn down Winterfell and take any highborn children he found back to The Dreadfort as hostages.  I should warn you that if you prove uncooperative or repeat a word of this, I shall be forced skin both of them.”  

“No, please, I...I’ll be good.  I mean...I’ll be good, my Lord.  I really will, you’ll see!  I...I didn’t mean to call you ‘stupid.’”  

“Of course you did.  Do not lie to me.”  

“Sorry, my Lord...I mean...wait, how do I know that Bran and Rickon are even still alive?”  

“You may see them, if you wish.  You might as well meet my...children too while you’re at it.  I should warn you that my bastard has...damaged one of your brothers.  I assure you that I did not in any way sanction Lord Snow’s treatment of the boy and my bastard has been suitably punished for his foolishness.”  Damaged?  What does he mean?  

“Come.  We shall speak more over dinner; you shall sup with my sons and I.”  

“I’m not hungry.”  

“Your brothers will be there too.”  

“Fine,” grumbled Arya, hopping off the bed.  

...

Lord Bolton led Arya to The Dreadfort’s great hall and they were met by two young men, each with the same pale, blue eyes as the Lord of The Dreadfort.  One of them could’ve easily passed for a much younger Roose Bolton were it not for the fact that he was completely bald.  The other man had hair, but he was missing an ear and one of his arms had been badly burned.  The burned arm had a stump wrapped in blood-soaked bandages where the hand should’ve been.  Fear cuts deeper than swords.  Fear cuts deeper than swords.  Fear cuts deeper than swords.  

“The three Starklings shall sup with us tonight.  Fetch the boys from their cells, Lord Snow,” ordered Lord Bolton in a voice so cold that the temperature of the room seemed to drop as he spoke.  Lord Snow?  That must be Ramsay, he...he’s the one who burned down Winterfell.  Roose Bolton.  Ramsay Snow.  Ilyn Payne.  Ser Meryn.  The Mountain.  The Hound.  The Tickler.  Dunsen.  Polliver.  Theon Greyjoy.  Valar Morghulis.  The bastard scowled at his father and stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind him.  

“Domeric.”  

“Yes, father?”  

“This is Arya Stark of Winterfell; you will wed and bed her before the week is out, is that understood?  Three days should prove sufficient, I think.  You may take the girl as often as is necessary to in order to put a baby in her, but under no circumstances will you be permitted to kill her or harm any grandsons she gives you.  It will be your right as her Lord husband to discipline her physically if you wish, provided she is not with child and you do so in a place that can be covered by clothing.  However, should you prove unable to find an alternative method, I fear you will disappoint me even more than you already have by letting my bastard run roughshod over you during my absence.”  He can’t mean...he wouldn’t...in three days?  But I don’t want...they’re going to make me a Bolton?  And I’d have to bare Domeric’s children and...and he’d...NO!  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  

“But father, she’s a bloody child.  Look at that...thing; she’s terrified.  Worse, it would be rude to rape our guest.”  Rude?  Rude is when you chew with your mouth open, stupid.  Raping someone is not just rude!  What the Seven Hells is wrong with you people?  

“It matters not at all what you want and her happiness is no concern of yours besides,” sighed Lord Bolton.  “Once you have wed her, she will be your kin and it will not be an act of rape.  Now then, both of you will be seated.”  WHAT?  NO!  I...I won’t let him! 
Never!  

“Mayhaps it won’t be rude to claim my rights as her husband, but she's still a child.  I don’t want to –”  

“Do you need further adjustments?”  

“No, I...I’ll do it, father.  I won’t let you down, I –” But then I would be a Bolton...and he would be my...and my...and my children, they would...they’d be Boltons too and...and...  

“I fear that ship sailed many years ago.  The wedding will be in three days and I expect no complaints when the time comes for you to consummate your marriage.  Be grateful that I chose not to require a bedding ceremony and –”  

“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO,” screamed Arya.  “I won’t!  You...you c-c-can’t make me!  No!  Never!  I won’t let him!  Please, I –”  

“You will do as you are told, I think,” replied Lord Bolton in a voice as soft as a whisper.  Suddenly, the door swung open and Ramsay re-entered the room with a sullen child trailing behind him.  However, the boy's entire face lit up like a candle the moment that he entered the great hall.  

“Arya?  Is that...you’re alive!  YOU’RE ALIVE,” screamed Rickon, racing across the room and hugging his older sister.  Rickon doesn’t hate me...not even after what I did at The Twins?  I have to get my brothers out of here; we...we can run away.  No, Lord Bolton would find us.  I have to save them...somehow.  I couldn’t save mother, father, Jon, or Robb, but I can still save Bran and Rickon.  The two siblings clung to one another as though both their lives depended on it and for a few seconds, Arya and Rickon Stark were happy.  

“I trust you will do as you are bid when the time come.”  

“Whatever he says, don’t do it.  He is probably just a stupid walnut-headed bastard who will hurt us no matter what we do...just like the other two.  I’m going to kill them all someday and –”  Suddenly, the Lord of The Dreadfort grabbed Rickon by the neck, ripped him away from his sister’s arms, lifted him in the air, and unsheathed a large hunting knife with his other hand.  

“Why the fuck am I the only one who was given an overcooked piece of meat,” snarled Ramsay as he struggled to cut the thick, burnt steak on his plate with one hand.  Eventually, the bastard picked up the plate with his remaining hand and threw it at the wall in frustration.  

“Is that truly necessary, father,” asked Domeric.  “At least give the child time to adjust to the situation.  We are going to be a family; the girl will realize this soon enough, I think.  When she does, Lady Arya will do as she is bid.”  I hate him too!  This is worse than being forced to marry a stupid Frey.  No, it’s not quite as bad...not really.  At least Domeric doesn’t seem to want to hurt me or my brothers.  He’s weaker than Lord Bolton.  Maybe I could trick him into helping my brothers and me escape...maybe.  I just...need to find a way to turn him against his stupid father is all.  

“I’m not a Lady.”  

“My apologies, Princess Arya.  That is your proper title, is it not?”  

“WHAT did you just call me?”  

“The two of you will be silent,” replied Lord Bolton mildly.  

“Well, well, well, what do we have here,” sneered Ramsay.  “Could it be love at first sight?  Look at you, dear brother; already so taken with your child bride-to-be that you’d risk our beloved father’s wrath simply to put in a good word for her.  I never knew you liked them so young.”  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  

“Were the decision mine, I can assure you that I’d feed the father-stealing cunt to your dogs.  Alas, father has seen fit to force me to take her for a wife.  That means she will soon be my property and a man must needs take an interest in the treatment of his property, I think.  Worse, I fear a man must needs protect his kin so long as they remember their place.  And I only kick my dogs when they disrespect me besides. 
You of all people should know that, bastard.”  

“If you call me a bastard one more time, I’ll tell father how you told me to scalp –” 

“Who did Domeric command you to scalp?”  

“I FORBID YOU TO SPEAK OF THAT,” bellowed Domeric.  Why is he so scared of his stupid father?   “Arya, sit.”  

“HEY!  For the last time, I’m not you or Lord Bolton’s stupid pet,” growled the Lone Wolf.  

“That was rude of you.  You will apologize immediately,” replied Lord Bolton’s heir.  

“Fuck off, you bald bastard,” snarled Rickon. 

“NO,” shouted Arya, hoping she’d managed to drown out her youngest brother’s words.  

“What did you just say to me?  Did you just tell me 'no,'” asked Domeric, tilting his head.  "You will apologize immediately."  

“I believe I already told you all to be silent,” seethed Lord Bolton, rubbing his forehead in frustration.  

“I said ‘I’m not apologizing to you, stupid!’”  Before Arya could say another word, Domeric leapt out of his seat and sent her flying out of her chair with a single blow.  I hate him!  Him and every other stupid Bolton.  I can’t make Domeric too angry though, not if I want him to give me and my brothers a chance to escape.  He’d never do it on purpose, most like.  Maybe I can trick him into leaving me alone with my brothers before the stupid wedding...maybe.  Don’t worry mother, I’ll save Bran and Rickon...somehow. 
I really will, you’ll see!  

Ramsay’s worse than Domeric or Lord Bolton.  He’d kill me just because I was there if Domeric or Lord Bolton ever gave him permission, most like.  Domeric and him don’t seem to like each other very much.  If I could get them to start fighting...no, that’s stupid.  Ramsay might kill him and then Lord Bolton would just force me to marry his stupid bastard.  At least Domeric doesn’t want to rape me...not really.  Maybe he’ll lie to his father about having done it...maybe.  

“Lovers’ quarrel,” snickered Ramsay with a mischievous grin. 

“SHUT UP,” Domeric and Arya yelled in unison.  

“The brat will soon be more of a Bolton than you, bastard,” added Lord Bolton’s heir. 

“WILL NOT,” Ramsay, Rickon, and Arya simultaneously shouted as Lord Bolton ground his teeth and curled both hands into fists.

“Enough.  Domeric, you will not strike your betrothed again until after she has given you two sons.  Is that understood?  Consider it motivation to acquire them in a timely fashion.”  

“The girl will be my property soon, father.  That means I may discipline her in any manner I see fit.  And I don’t have to put a baby in her until I’m good and –”  

“You never cease to disappoint me,” Lord Bolton calmly replied as Rickon resumed his futile effort to free himself from the monster’s grip.  The Lord of the Dreadfort glared at his heir and Domeric’s entire body began to tremble.  The pathetic, empty shell of a man seemed to grow smaller and smaller until the last drop of courage had left him.  Before long, his face was that of a scared, frightened little boy desperately trying not to cry in front of his father.  

“Don’t worry, Arya; they won’t make you a Bolton.  I’ll kill all three of...kill...I’ll k-kill...can't...can't...can’t breathe...help me,” Rickon wheezed as Lord Bolton slowly tightened his grip.  Seven Hells!  Lord Bolton has a knife to your throat and is choking you to death with his other hand.  How am I supposed to save you if you keep saying things like this?  I’m very proud of you for being so brave, now please stop talking!  “I’m going to...go...going to kill...kill every last...last Bolt-Bolt-Bolt-Bolton and...”  A few seconds later, all Rickon could do was emit a faint clicking noise from his mouth and his eyes began to slowly roll into the back of his head.  Shut up!  Shut up!  Shut up!  Don’t you see he’s about to kill you?  

“Please, don’t hurt him!”  

“I would prefer that you wed my son willingly and give him a sons of your own volition.  Of course, it is known that a man cannot be a raper if he is simply claiming his rights as a husband.  In time, you must needs convincingly state to the remaining Northern Lords that I saved you from The Twins after the late Lord Walder turned Kingslayer and murdered your kin.  Of course, I could always skin your brothers while you watch and then have my son rape you until you’ve given him an heir should you refuse.  The choice is yours, I think.”  

“I...I don’t want...I mean –”  

“You have until the count of ten to make your choice...if you wish to save your brothers.  Of course, if you would have me skin them then you may wait as long as you wish to answer.  One.  Eight.  Nine.”  

“I...I’ll do it...I’ll do whatever you say, only...please don’t hurt them.  I...I’ll marry your stupid son.  I’ll be good, just don’t hurt my brothers.  Please, I can't...I can’t lose them too, I...your son, I’ll let him...let him...NO!  I don’t want to do it!  Please, I...just don’t kill Rickon.  Please, don't...”  Lord Bolton dropped Rickon on the floor and the boy scurried over to his sister, hiding behind her chair. 

“It matters not at all what you want.  I was going to kill one of your brothers as soon as you woke up, but instead I provided you with an opportunity to demonstrate to me that you already possessed an adequate understanding your present circumstances.  I fear that if you insist upon repaying my generosity by wasting my time with such outbursts then I will be forced to make an example of your brother RIckon after all.”  Your generosity?  GENEROSITY? 
What the Seven Hells is wrong with you?  

“NO!  I mean, you don’t have to...have to do that, my Lord.  It’s just...please don’t make me do this...you can’t...I mean...you were supposed...supposed to be my f-f-friend.  I HATE YOU!  You and your stupid children!  I’m going to...going to kill all of you someday...I’m going to...going to...I hate you!  I mean...I’m s-s-sorry, my L-Lord.  I didn’t...I mean, please don’t hurt Rickon.  I won’t say that ever again.  I really won’t; you’ll see!  Bran and him are the only ones left who –”  I should have killed Lord Bolton with Vengeance when I had the chance!  Maybe if I can’t get at least one of my brothers to somewhere safe then mother will forgive me for not believing her...maybe.  I can’t let them kill me; I have to save what’s left of my family!  Aunt Lysa would never hurt Sansa, most like.  At least one of us safe...  

“I know what we need all need,” declared Ramsay with a cruel and hungry look not unlike the one which oft sat upon Lord Vargo’s stupid face.  “What we need are some games to make our new friend feel more at home.  Tell me, little girl, have you ever gone hunting?”  Domeric jammed his finger into the hole on the earless side of Ramsay’s head – re-opening the wound in the process – and Lord Snow fell to the ground, howling in pain.  

“You will not hunt my betrothed, bastard.  The girl may be a spiteful, ungrateful father-stealing cunt, but father says she is to be the mother of my children.  She is mine to punish as I see fit.  Look at you, you’re little more than a mad dog in need of a shorter leash.  Mayhaps I should permit my betrothed to discipline you as well,” sneered Domeric, standing up and kicking his half-brother in the stomach.  Stupid bastard.  Maybe Domeric will let me kill him...maybe.  Arya found that despite her best efforts, she couldn’t help laughing at the weeping monster...until she realized that he was looking directly at her rather than his half-brother.  

Lord Snow’s pale, blue eyes burned with a hatred unlike anything Arya had ever seen before.  For a moment, she was certain that he was about to leap to his feet and strangle her to death.  That was stupid.  He would’ve been angry at Domeric if I didn’t point at him, but now he’s going to try to hurt me somehow.  Lord Bolton used to look at people that way when he was about to give them to Qyburn.  Arya shuddered...only to nearly fall out of her seat in alarm the moment she saw what her youngest brother was about to do.  “NO!  Don’t you dare throw that potato at Lord Bolton!”  Seven Hells!  Are you trying to get us all killed, Rickon? 

“You haven’t seen your other brother have you,” asked Ramsay as he picked himself up off the floor.  “He needed adjustments and...well...I suppose he isn’t really your brother anymore, is he?”  BRAN! 
I forgot about...what did they do to him?  

“As I recall, those adjustments forced me to make an adjustment to you as well,” added Lord Bolton, glancing at the bastard’s bloody stump.  

“Rickon, is Bran still alive?  What did they –” 

“The bastard made him not our brother anymore, Arya.” 


“WHAT DID YOU CALL ME, YOU LITTLE SHIT!”  

“He hates being called a bastard more than anything else in the world,” Rickon informed his sister with an overly dramatic yawn, plainly doing his best to make a show out of ignoring the monster’s anger.  Lord Bolton began stabbing the table with one of his knives although it was impossible to say who he was fantasizing about killing.  Everyone else in the room, most like.  

“If you say that word one more time, I’ll –”  

“Bastard.  Bastard.  Bastard.  Bastard.  Bastard.  Bastard.  Bastard.  Bastard,” the two Starklings chanted in unison. 
Ramsay charged at them, his eyes filled with murderous rage...only to be tripped by his half-brother and fall flat on his face.  

“DOMERIC, YOU TREASONOUS FUCK!  IF YOU DON’T STOP SIDING WITH THOSE CUM STAINS, I’M GOING TO...I mean...please forgive my outburst.  Dear...dear fath-father, I...I seem to have lost...lost my temper.  I have something that I would like so very much to show our guest.  REEK, COME!”  A second boy slowly entered the room, using his hands to pull himself across the stone floor.  

“Yes, Master,” whimpered Bran.  As he made his way towards Ramsay, the Lone Wolf realized that her brother had been badly mutilated and was missing fingers, toes, teeth, and an ear.  Bran refused to look at either of his siblings.  

“Bran?  Bran, it’s me.  Don’t worry, I...I’m here now and I...I’ll protect you...somehow.  Bran?  Say something,” sobbed Arya.  

“NO!  NO!  NO!  NO!  Not...not Bran!  I am Reek!  I am a good and...and...and loyal, Reek!  She can't...can’t fool me, Mast-Mast-Master!” 

“What...what did you do to him? 
Lord Bolton said if I –”  

“I can promise you that I was every bit as surprised by this display as you are,” seethed the Lord of The Dreadfort.  “I would have put a stop to this madness immediately had I known about it.  Both of my...children have already answered for this.  I fear this is what comes of leaving a weak, soft-headed little boy to do a man’s job,” sighed Lord Bolton, glaring at his heir.  

“It wasn’t me, father!  Ramsay did it!  I swear!  I...I...I wasn’t at The Dreadfort when it happened...I mean...tried to stop him, but by then it was too late.  Please, I was good!  You...you don’t need to make any more adjustments, I –”  Why is Domeric so afraid of making Lord Bolton angry?  What happened to him?  It...it doesn’t matter.  Bran has to be in there somewhere.  

“You craven little piece of shit!  I didn’t tell father about how you told me to scalp Howland Reed’s cunt of a daughter even after father had ordered us to keep her alive.”  

“Yes, yes, yes, there will be plenty of time to tell father about that later, but I am quite certain now is not the time.” 


“You deliberately disobeyed me, Domeric?”  

“I...I...umm –” 

“I am quite eager to hear all about what it was that possessed you to behave in such foolish manner.  You will tell me all about it in the dungeons after the meal has concluded, I think.  Once you have done so, I shall determine a suitable punishment.”  

“Please don’t hurt me,” whimpered Domeric.  

“How could father have ever chosen you to be his heir?” 

“I fear that you were the only alternative. 
Tell me, why did you carry out an order that –”  

“I killed the bitch because I felt like it.  What are you going to do, cut off one of my hands...oh wait...you already did.  Who gives a fuck anyway?  You worry too much father; look at all the fun we’re having!”  The Lord of The Dreadfort studied his bastard in much the same way that a lizard lion might watch its prey slowly approach a riverbank.

“Don’t kill my dog, father!  He didn’t mean –”  

“I meant exactly what I said, you cowardly fuck!”  Why does Domeric keep acting like everyone else is his stupid pet?  

“You will be silent, ” snapped Lord Bolton.  “Please continue, Lord Ramsay.  We are all very anxious to hear more about this...creature of yours.  And don’t hesitate to share any other insights you may have into whether or not you need obey me.”  The only time he’s ever sounded this angry before was when Lord Walder threatened to let Black Walder rape me...  

“Bran, please...don’t do this!” 

“Bran is an imaginary voice who makes me act bad in front of master. 
You must not be real either.”  

“Please, I –”  

“He doesn’t know who we are anymore, Arya,” Rickon mumbled.  

“Not Bran, Reek!  Good and loyal, Reek! 
I...I...I don’t believe her!”  

“It’s me, your sister.  I know you still remember who you are and...and...please don’t do this; I won’t give up on you.  Never!”  

“I...I don’t have any sisters,” moaned Bran in a flat, emotionless voice that made him sound as though he’d died many years ago.  “I have no brothers.  I have no parents.  There are no...no...no Star-Starks.  There are no Bolt-Bolt-Boltons.  There is only Master.  I...I live to serve Master.  Master is life.  Without Master there is nothing.  I am nothing without him.  A Reek...a Reek needs its master and a Master needs its Reek.  I...I love Master and –”  

“Yes, yes, yes, very good, Reek.  You see, father?  Brandon Stark was a threat, but Reek...well...Reek will never betray us.  And I can use him to make the Stark bitch cry over her dead family any time I want.  It should help the cunt remember her place.  I realize that you reacted rather...poorly to Reek when you first saw that I’d made him, but surely you’ve never seen anything half as satisfying as that loud-mouthed bitch crying over her dead family.  Poor widdle Arya.  Your daddy got his head chopped off by the Lannisters, your bitch mother and man-whore of a brother got killed at your useless uncle’s wedding, your treasonous aunt took some slut...I mean...your sister hostage, I turned one of your brothers into my Reek, and I have a feeling that dear little Rickon won’t be with us much longer once you’ve given my brother a son...assuming Domeric knows the proper procedure.  Hard to say with him, to tell you the truth.”  I am going to kill you!  I...I don’t care if they kill me!  I’m not going to escape with Bran and Rickon.  I’ll just save them and then stay behind at The Dreadfort to kill you.  And then when you’re dead, I’ll keep killing you over and over again.  Stupid bastard.  I hate you!  I hate you!  I hate you!  I HATE YOU!  

“BURN IN HELL,” screamed Arya, grabbing a knife from the table and charging at the blue-eyed monster only to be sent crashing to the ground with a swift blow to the stomach.  

“I told you that the girl is mine to punish and –”  

“Blow it out your ass, you self-righteous prick,” barked Ramsay.  

“Domeric.” 

“Yes, father?” 

“Escort Lord Snow and the three Starklings to the dungeons.  I shall join you momentarily.  When I arrive, I expect to find Ramsay chained to a wall without his britches.  I fear I only saw Qyburn cut open male genitalia once, but my bastard’s latest display has given me a sudden urge to try something new.”  The bastard’s face turned as pale as warm milk and he fell to his knees. 

“Father, please...you can’t...you can’t unman me,” sobbed the blue-eyed monster. 
“Please, I –”  

“I’m not going to unman you, bastard.  If I did, you wouldn’t be able to breed.  Of course, you don’t need the foreskin to get a woman with child.  You don’t need any of your burnt arm either.  If you try to run or fight, I shall be forced to take your stones as well.  Do you understand,” asked Lord Bolton, putting away his hunting knife and unsheathing a small flaying knife with a hooked blade.  

“Yes, father,” whimpered Ramsay. 
Suddenly, Bran began flailing about wildly.  

“Bran not Reek!  Reek!  Go away, Reek!  Bran!  NOT REEK!  Master, will hear you.  Shut up!  But master needs us!  Go away, I want to see our sister!  I mean...I want to see my sister!  We have no sister; only Ramsay.  I said go away or...or I’ll...I’ll...”  The broken boy collapsed and was knocked unconscious the moment his head hit the stone floor.  Arya and Rickon raced to their brother’s side and began shaking him, but it was no use.  He won’t wake up for at least an hour, Arya realized.  I...I promise that I’ll get you out of this place...somehow.  I don’t care what happens to me, I just...I just have to save Bran and Rickon.  

Chapter Text

“Lord Baelish, won’t -”  

“What have I told you about calling me that, sweetling?”  Why do I have to call you ‘father’ when there’s no one else in the room?  It...it feels wrong.  Everything about the this horrid place feels wrong; it’s all so dreadful.  I am a Stark of Winterfell and I already have a father...even if Joffrey took off his head.  

She didn’t notice it at first, but it had slowly become clear to Sansa that there was something very wrong about the way people treated her in The Eyrie.  Sometimes it was just a word, like when Petyr said she needed to always refer to him as “father.”  Sometimes it was a look...like the sad, guilty one Ser Lothor Brune oft gave her.  And then there was the way that aunt Lysa’s eyes always seemed to be watching her every move.  Even Robin would oft creep about in the shadows like some sort of tiny grumpkin, following his cousin around The Eyrie only to scuttle away the moment that he realized she'd noticed his presence.  Sansa didn’t know what any of it meant; but she did know that with a single look, Lady Lysa could frighten her almost as much as Joffrey and Lord Florent did.  And that was before the Lady of The Eyrie insisted that a large painting of two bloodshot eyeballs be hung from each of the walls in her eldest neice’s chambers...  

Even so, Sansa was still grateful to Lord Baelish and her aunt for saving her from Lord Axell, and there were perfectly logical explanations for how everyone behaved besides.  Most of the Knights of The Vale don’t even know what I look like and no one will remember anything about me in King’s Landing except for my name, but if that ever changes, I won’t be safe in The Eyrie anymore and there are spies here just like there were in the capitol, most like.  Lord Baelish is just trying to protect me because he loved mother.  That’s why he was already using Ser Dontos to make sure he’d be able to smuggle me out of the capitol even if the Lannisters won The Battle of The Blackwater.  Ser Lothor just feels sorry for me because of how much I’ve suffered since I left Winterfell with father, most like.  Robin and his mother are very...strange, but they’d never hurt me.  They're my kin.  Aunt Lysa even said she was letting me stay here for the sake of someone whom she loved more than anyone else in the world.  She was talking about mother, most like.  I...I wasn’t kidnapped and I’m not a hostage either.  I’m here for my own protection, just like Lord Baelish said, Sansa told herself just as she had so many other times since arriving at the Eyrie.  Deep down, the eldest Starkling knew that these thoughts were simply the latest in a long line of lies – most of which would’ve been a cold comfort even if they were true – that she wanted so very much to believe...even as she knew they were no truer than the summer songs Sansa would oft sing before she learned that she was nothing more than a stupid little girl with stupid dreams who never learned her lesson...until now.  Now she had finally learned...  There are no songs or heroes...only the monsters are real.  Lord Baelish was right; life is not a song.  It’s a nightmare...  

“Forgive me, father.  I only meant...I mean –”  

“There’s nothing to forgive, Alayne.  Now be a good girl and give your father a kiss,” replied Lord Baelish, motioning for his eldest niece to approach his chair.  Although the Lord Protector of The Vale spoke softly and wore a gentle smile, the hunger in his eyes betrayed him and even though she knew he would never hurt her, it always frightened Sansa when she felt his cold and calculating eyes creeping over every inch of her body.  It reminded the eldest Starkling of the way that Lord Axell would oft look at her and she hated it.  

What does he want?  He’s is too old to be lusting after me.  Lord Axell was old too, but Lord Baelish is already married to aunt Lysa.  He loved my mother, not me...and I...I’m his niece besides.  He...he even said it was important to always pretend I was his bastard daughter, especially when no one else was in the room.  Lord Baelish said the spies are listening even when only one or two people are alone in a room.  That has to be it!  He hates this just as much as I do, most like.  

It was a lie, but the eldest Starkling had to tell herself something.  Whatever the truth about her uncle was, Sansa had no doubt it was something horrid.  The truth was never a song and if it sounded like one, that only meant it was just another lie.  Sansa gave her uncle a quick peck on the cheek and prayed that would be the end of it, but it never was...  

“Must we go through this every time I ask my own daughter for even a tiny kiss?  You must needs kiss me on the lips and for more than half a second, else some little bird making its nest within these walls might convince itself that you’re not my daughter or some such non-sense.  You wound me Alyane; have I ever been less than a loving father?  Have I ever mistreated you in any way?” 

“No, my...I mean...no, father.  It’s almost as though the Seven sent you to watch over me the moment that you decided to acknowledge me as your daughter.  You’ve been so very kind to me.”  Mayhaps not too kind, but certainly far too familiar...  

“Good.  You have no idea how much it pleases me to here that, Alyane.  Now come show your father how much you love him, sweetling.”  

“Yes, father,” Sansa glumly replied.  With a quiet sigh, she gently kissed Lord Baelish on the lips.  For five agonizing seconds, Sansa managed to force herself not to throw up all over her uncle’s face before pulling away.  The eldest Starkling did her best to hide her true feelings, but her face betrayed her and she winced in disgust for at least half a second.

“You look quite ill, sweetling.  Is something wrong?”  Yes, everything is all wrong!  I hate this dreadful place!  I hate it!  I hate it!  I hate it!  Why couldn’t I just pretend to be a servant instead of your stupid bastard?  I’m nothing like Arya; I...I know how to cook, clean, and brush a Lady’s hair.  I could be aunt Lysa's chambermaid instead.  A Stark of Winterfell shouldn’t have to change bedsheets, clean chamberpots, or wash clothes; that’s what the smallfolk are for, but not even emptying someone else’s chamber pot every day could possibly be worse than having to kiss Lord Baelish like that whenever we’re alone in his solar.  

The worst part was that it could’ve easily been avoided this time since the only reason that Sansa had even gone to talk to her uncle was to ask if there had been anymore ravens from The Deadfort – or whatever that dreadful place was called – mentioning her sister.  Naturally, there were no messages...not that Lord Baelish seemed to care.  It was stupid of me to even ask; Lord Bolton sent ravens to any number of Lords informing them of his son’s betrothal, most like.  That doesn’t mean there’s any reason to think he’ll send another one to Lord Baelish or anyone else.  And  even if he did, it would be to some other Northern Lord besides.  Sansa cared about her younger sister and yet – as was oft the case, particularly after the eldest Starkling’s first few days in The Eyrie – her thoughts inevitably took a darker turn.  She knew that she was supposed to love her family no matter what and yet Arya had a way of making it difficult...even if she wasn’t actually in The Eyrie.  The feral child had things – cold comforts mayhaps, but comforts all the same – that she plainly didn’t deserve and there were times when Sansa couldn’t help resenting her for it.

I always did what I was supposed to and minded our parents at Winterfell.  I behaved like a proper Southron Lady.  Even when I was just a little girl, everyone would always say that I had better table manners than those of most people they knew.  And I never embarrassed our House by mouthing off in front of father’s guests or naming my direwolf after some evil old witch.  I never asked about matters that ought not to concern a Lady either.  I didn’t even ask Lord Baelish what he was talking about yesterday when he said the Sparrows were growing restless in King’s Landing, whatever that means.  Arya would’ve bothered him until he either explained what he meant or threw her the moon door, most like.  

It’s not fair that Arya got reunited with what was left of our family and is going to be allowed to die at Winterfell while I’m stuck kissing my own uncle and watching my aunt breastfeed her ten year-old son in this dreadful place, Sansa silently seethed.  Why should she get to see mother and Robb again when I never will?  It wouldn’t be so bad if I got to see them too, but it's not fair that she was the only one who got to spend time with them before they died.   The worst part is that Arya never appreciated any of this, most like.  I hate that horrid little brat and...and I...I mean... 

The eldest Stark felt sudden pang of guilt and looked down at the ground in shame.  It’s not her fault; she couldn’t help acting like a spoiled brat whenever she saw something that made me happy.  It’s just how she was born, most like.  And Aunt Lysa said it’s unbecoming for a Lady to envy those beneath her besides.  Even if Lady Lysa was a bit...strange, she’d given her niece good advice when the eldest Starkling spoke to her about this matter and asked if she’d ever felt that way about a sibling before: “Leave jealousy to the smallfolk.  Someday we’ll both get exactly what we deserve.”  For a moment, Sansa thought she’d found a kindred spirit in her aunt...then Lady Lysa began screaming at her and demanding she stay away from her family, whatever that meant.

I’m sure Arya didn’t want this to happen any more than I did.  The Boltons are going to force her to marry into their family and give one of those monsters a son.  Lord Baelish, he...he said they’d kill her as soon as she did that.  At least no one in The Eyrie would ever actually try to hurt me.  And Arya probably had to watch them kill mother and Robb besides.  The poor girl must be so very frightened.  I can’t believe I actually blamed her for...no, that was...it’s just the Eyrie, Sansa decided.  The stupid place seemed to have a way of loosening everyone’s grip on reality.  

“Alyane?  Can you hear me?  Are you alright,” asked Lord Baelish, frowning.  

“No, I...I mean...I just...”  

“Yes?”  

“It’s nothing, father.”  

“Do you remember what I once told you about the liars in King’s Landing?  I can assure you that the ones in The Eyrie are also all far better liars than you, Alayne.  Have I ever given you cause to lie to me?” Everyone else in my House is dead except for Arya and the Boltons will kill her as soon as she has a son.  Even if you’d never hurt me, you’ll never be a Stark either and that’s the only reason I need not to trust you.  

Someone with more courage than sense – someone like Arya or Rickon – might have answered her uncle’s question honestly, but Sansa hadn’t survived King’s Landing by running her mouth like a foolish child.  It wasn’t enough to simply hold your tongue or even lie; you had to know which lie the other person wanted to hear and then tell it the way that they wanted to hear it told.  

In truth, not everyone in King’s Landing had been cruel to Sansa.  There was Ser Dontos, but he was only saying Lord Baelish’s words.  Lord Tyrion seemed to hate the way Joffrey treated her, but he was still a Lannister and that meant he was just as dangerous as Joffrey and the Queen.  Lord Davos oft tried to protect her from Lord Axell, but he served King Stannis and Stannis Baratheon burned children alive while their mothers screamed for mercy.  

“No, of course not.  I’m so very grateful for everything you’ve done for me, father.  I know that if mother were still alive, she’d feel the same way.  It’s just...what happened at The Twins...I miss them and I just...I just...”  Sansa let a single tear fall from her left eye and roll all the way down her cheek.  The best lies are the ones mixed with the truth, Lord Baelish said so himself.  

“Shhhhh.  I understand, sweetling,” whispered Lord Baelish, rising from his seat and wrapping his arms around his niece.  How could you possibly understand?  

“You do?”  

“Of course, I understand.  You know that your mother is the only woman I have ever loved; I was devastated when I learned of her death.  I suppose I can even see how you might consider what happened to your brother and sister to be...unfortunate.  I fear that the world is full of such injustices; you know this better than most.  Your brother is dead and your sister will surely be dead before long, but there is nothing either of us can do to change that.  The only thing we can do now is wait until the time is right to take revenge on those responsible.  I promise you that by this time next year, the animals who butchered your mother will all be dead.  Every man who took part in the Red Wedding will meet the same fate that your kin did on that wretched day.  Do you understand,” asked Lord Baelish, releasing his niece.  In truth, Sansa had found some small measure of comfort in her uncle’s words and she nodded, allowing herself a small smile. 

“Good. 
Now then, my wife and I have something we must needs discuss with you.”  

...

“I don’t see why she has to live here, Petyr,” growled the Lady of The Eyrie.  Each word dripped with even more venom than the last and Lady Lysa’s eyes burned with jealous rage as she glared at her eldest niece.  For the first time, Sansa truly realized just how much danger her uncle had place her in by bringing her to The Eyrie.  Aunt Lysa, she...she truly wants to kill me.  What did I ever do to her?  She was always strange, but we could’ve been friends if she wasn’t always breastfeeding Robin.  

“Lysa, we’ve been over this before; you know how much this means to me.” 

“Oh yes, we’ve been over it before, Petyr.  You feel a responsibility to protect at least one of my...precious...wonderful...adorable...NIECES.  That empty-headed child looks oh so very much like her mother, doesn’t she?” 

“No, not particularly.  At least, I never thought so, but I believe you had something you wanted to tell Lady Alyane.”  Seven Hells, how many times can she breastfeed that little creep in a single day.  

“Please, don’t make me do it.  She’ll get her claws in him and steal my poor, innocent Robin away. 
And then she’ll steal –”  

“MOTHER, I WANT MORE,” screamed Robin, tugging at his mother’s left breast.  

“You’re quite right, Robin.  We must do what is...what is best for my Petyr, yes?” 

"I said...I...want...MORE!  MORE!  MORE!  MORE!"  

“Aunt Lysa, I don’t think that’s what he –”  

“Shut up, you hateful little bitch,” screeched Lysa.  “You may have fooled my Petyr, but you can’t fool me!  I know what you are, oh yes.  My Petyr is a sweet, trusting man, but I’m not so naive.  You’ll act the saintly virgin now, but soon you’ll come for everyone I love and take them all away from me.  You’re just like your mother, do you know that?  That two-faced beast of a woman could've had anyone she wanted, but she...she...Cat knew that no one but my Petyr would ever love me.  She was always trying to steal him from me and Cat...she...she put father up to stealing our child and sending my Petyr away,” sobbed Lysa.  

“No, I’d never...wait...what are you even talking about,” asked Sansa.  

“She can’t have my son; I won’t allow it!  Please, Petyr, don’t make me –”  

“No one wants to steal him from you; please, you have to believe me.”  Sansa glanced at her uncle and silently begged for help, but he plainly had every intention of saying as little as he could get away with and not a single word more.   Coward.  

“You don’t...you really don’t want to steal him, do you?” 

“No, of course I don’t. 
I’d never try to take him away from you, I swear!”  

“And...and you hate your sister too?” 

“I never hated Arya...not really.  She'll always be my sister, but her behavior was oft absolutely horrid. 
She was extremely frustrating, but I don’t hate –” 

“Of course, you hate her.  You can always be honest with me, little one.  I know what it’s like living with her kind...”  Sansa wanted to ask what her aunt meant by that, but she held her tongue.  Some wounds were best left unopened and her aunt was plainly trying to be kind besides.  Something horrible must’ve happened to Aunt Lysa to make her act the way she does, but maybe she’s not so bad after all.  Deep down, she’s just a frightened little girl who has surrounded herself with walls to keep from being hurt again.  Maybe...maybe I can even help her.  This place wouldn’t be half so dreadful if there was someone even remotely normal to talk to...  

"Aunt Lysa, I –"  

“I...I always wanted a daughter; I was supposed to have one, but my father...  You won't steal him from me; I know you won't!  I was wrong to judge you by your appearance.  You're nothing like that twisted gargoyle, are you?  You really won't take him away from me?  Not even if he asks you to?”  She's probably just afraid cousin Robin will fancy me and stop following her around.  I'm probably the first young woman he's ever seen.  If something terrible happened to another child of hers once...Robin must've been all that she had for so long.  She's just afraid of losing him, most like, not that she has anything to worry about...  Sansa noticed at her drooling cousin's wandering eyes and shuddered.  

"I promise I won't take him away from you, Aunt Lysa."  

"Then we...we can be friends?  I know this may come as a great shock to you, Sansa, but I was not always the sweet, timid, beautiful, and well-mannered Lady you see before you today.  There was a time when everyone ignored me except when they wanted to tell me what a precious, perfect little Lady your stupid mother was; Cat always tried to be nice to me, but that only made it worse.  She couldn't even act like a spoiled brat!  At least that way, I could've hated her without feeling guilty.  Of course, she stole that from me too; just like she tried to steal everything else I loved without even realizing what she was doing.  Petyr was the only friend I had back then; everyone else was too busy praising your mother to notice me and even he asked for her hand in marriage rather than mine when we were young.  Even as a little girl, I knew that the was no one except my Petyr who would ever want me.  I always loved your mother, but I'll never forgive her for stealing my life from me.  Don't worry though, I had the last laugh in the end!  I'm the one who got to marry Petyr.  I'm sure you'll get exactly what you deserve too and someday you'll be just like me."  Sansa forced herself not to laugh for her aunt's sake while Lord Baelish looked as though he couldn’t decide whether he was relieved, terrified, confused, or having some sort of bizarre dream.  Is everyone in The Eyrie insane?  At least she's not acting like she wants to throw me through the moon door anymore...  

“I...umm...I mean...I would like that very much, Aunt –”  

“MOTHER, I’M STILL HUNGRY!” 

“Not now, Robin, your cousin is talking.  You can have more special mommy milk later."  

"Buh-buh-but muh-mother, I...I want...I want...WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!"  

"No, no, wait...Robin, don’t...don't cry...umm...why don’t you go play with your father.”  

“If uncle Petyr is my father, does that mean he can feed me too?”  Lord Baelish grew pale and staggered backwards, as though his wife's words had caused some sort of deeply unpleasant realization.  

“He can't feed you; men don't make special mommy milk, Robin."  

“Then I *sniff* I don’t want *sniff* don't want to go with him.”  

"Robin, I –"  

"WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!"  

“Fine.  There's more special mommy milk in the other food sack, now let your cousin finish speaking."  

"It's okay, aunt Lysa, I –"  

"This is all so wonderful, Sansa.  We shall be the very best of friends, you and I.  I shall think of you as the daughter I should have had.  Now then, what is it that you were saying, dear?”  

“I was just saying that I would like us to be friends too; that would be very nice.  And I really meant what I said, I’d never try to take Robin away from you.” 

“What...did you...just...SAY?  I...I trusted you and...and...you really are just like your mother, aren't you?  I wasn’t talking about Robin, you idiot.  My Robin is far too clever to let a common whore like you wrap him around your finger.  You’re going to try to steal my Petyr from me, aren’t you?  Don’t bother denying it!  I know what you are now; I can’t believe I almost let myself fall for your lies!  What does mother always say, Robin?  Robin?  ROBIN?”  

"I WANT TO KEEP EATING," screamed the little brat as his mother's breast milk sprayed from his mouth like projectile-vomit.  "I'M STILL HUNGRY!  I WANT MORE!  MORE!  MORE!  MORE!"  

"That's right, we can't trust anyone except for ourselves and my Petyr.  Such a smart little boy my Robin is, yes?"  

“Fell for what?  I’m not trying to steal your husband; and he doesn’t even love me, he loves –” 

“Your mother, that’s what you were about to say, yes?  Did she send you to turn him against me?  ANSWER ME, you monster!” 

“Lysa, that’s enough.” 

“No, it isn’t, Petyr.  I want you to see what this empty-headed child is trying to do to us.  She’s just like her mother; she’ll never love you.  Seven Hells, she even looks just like Cat did at her age.  That’s why you wanted her here, isn’t it?  I am the only person who will ever love you and you...you...you're the only person who will ever love me.  I’ve lied for you, I’ve killed for –” 
Killed?  

“Yes, I know.  Lysa, why must you wound me like this?  Do you truly think so little of me?”  

“What?  No, I...I think the world of you; you are my world.  My sky, my moon, my sun, my stars, and my –” 

“MOTHER, I’M STILL HUNGRY! 
Are the food sacks full again?”  

“Don’t you know that you are the only woman I have ever loved...the only one I could ever love.  I wish I could believe that you felt the same way...” 

“No, wait...I...I’ll prove it to you, I...Sansa will marry Robin.  I won’t utter a word of protest.”  WHAT?  

“But mother, she has girl germs,” whined Robin.  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  Please, not him.  Anyone but him!  It’s not fair; why do I always get betrothed to crazy people?  First Joffrey, then Lord Axell, and now Robin.  At least they never seem to end up actually marrying me...  

Chapter Text

The knock on the door was so loud that Arya nearly fell out of bed in surprise.  *KNOCK*  *KNOCK*  

“I’m awake; now go away!”  The reply – from Roose or Domeric, most like – was too quiet for Arya to make out a single word...not that she cared.  *KNOCK* *KNOCK* 

“I can’t hear you; knock once if you’re Domeric.  Knock twice if you’re Lord Bolton.” 
*KNOCK*  

“The door isn’t locked, but even if it was; we both know that I still couldn’t open it.  This stupid chain is too short to reach the door and you have the key besides.”  Arya had asked Lord Bolton if she could sleep in one of the guest chambers rather than on the floor of his eldest son’s room  and much to her surprise both Domeric and Lord Bolton allowed it.  By the time Domeric brought her to the room, the Lone Wolf was already in the midst of planning her family’s escape...until Lord Bolton’s heir pinned her to the ground and chained her to one of the walls by her left leg.  He didn’t even bother locking the door.  Instead, Domeric smugly informed Arya that if she wished to leave, she need only get up and walk right out of The Dreadfort.  *KOCK*  *KNOCK*  


“What do you want?  This is stupid and you never even locked the door besides.”  *KNOCK*  *KNOCK*  

“GO AWAY!  I HATE YOU!”  *KNOCK* *KNOCK*  

“STOP DOING THAT!”  *KNOCK* *KNOCK*  

“AAAAAARRRRRGGGHH!”  *KNOCK* *KNOCK*  

“Either go away or come in and tell me what you want, but stop knocking on the stupid door.”  The door swung open and Domeric entered the room looking as though he wanted nothing more than to strangle the grumpy, frustrated child he’d chained to the wall the previous evening. 

“Good morning.  It took you exactly two minutes and 32 seconds to give me permission to open the door.  Worse, I believe I said ‘good morning‘ only to be met with silence. 
Are you going to respond to my greeting in kind or do you mean to force me to flay little Rickon until your manners improve?”  

“Good morning,” growled the Lone Wolf. 

“You are being rather rude, I think. 
This will not serve.”  

“EXCUSE ME?  I’M BEING RUDE?  You just threatened to flay my brother because I didn’t say ‘good morning.’  That’s worse a lot worse than ‘being rude!’”  

“Nothing is worse than rudeness.”  

“Shut up!” 

“In truth, I never said ‘excuse me’ before interrupting your childish babble. 
I fear your response is entirely understandable.”  

“What are you talking about?  Actually, I don’t care what you have to say,” replied Arya, sticking her tongue out at Lord Bolton’s eldest son.  

“That wasn’t very lady-like...”  

“I’m not a stupid Lady...I mean...you were loudly knocking on my stupid door even though you knew I was sleeping.  How is that not rude?  And you won’t let stop bothering me even after I asked you to...wait...why am I even arguing with you about this?  Get out of my stupid room!  I hate you!”  

“We’re talking, not arguing.  And ‘hate’ is a very strong word besides.  ‘I strongly dislike you’ would be far more polite, I think.”  

“LEAVE ME ALONE!”  

“In truth, I fear I must concede to you on at least one matter.  I apologize for repeatedly knocking on your door when you were sleeping.  Once would’ve been sufficient, I think.  In truth, I would hate someone who behaved so rudely toward me too.  I fear that your reaction is entirely understandable.” 

“That's not the reason I hate you, stupid.” 

“You accept my apology? 
Good, I’m glad we understand each other.”  

“Wait...that’s not what I meant!”  

“It matters not at all what you think about this...or anything else, for that matter.  I merely assigned to your words the meaning that I wished to derive from them.  More importantly, you are learning proper manners.  You said ‘excuse me’ before you interrupted me; I am pleased to see that you share my distaste for improper manners.”  

“I don’t care about having proper...never-mind,” grumbled Arya. 

“You’re ready for breakfast? 
I quite agree.”  

“I’m not hungry; so leave me alone and get out of my stupid room.  I hate you!  You and your stupid family!” 

“You want me to chain you to the wall of Ramsay’s room tonight, give him the only key, and lock the door from the outside?  Is that what you just said?  I might fear for my safety under those circumstances were I you, but if you continue to insist then I fear I shall be forced to comply despite my own misgivings.”  Ramsay?  But...he can’t!  Lord Bolton wouldn’t let him to that to me...would he?  Ramsay, he...he could be like Lord Vargo.  He’ll kill me or he...he might...he might try to rape...he might...  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  No. 
No.  

“NO!  Please, I...I...umm...I’m really hungry right now!  Is it breakfast time yet?  Can you please unchain me so we can get breakfast?” 

“Hmm...you make a good point, I suppose.  In truth, you shouldn’t be sleeping in your own room this close to our...wedding,” Domeric face contorted in disgust and it was plain that he hated the idea near as much as Arya did.  “You don’t want to sleep on the floor of my room and I will not suffer your presence in my bed for one second longer than father requires me to; but it would seem Lord Snow’s floor will not serve either.  I fear the only other option is to let you sleep in the kennel with Lord Snow’s dogs.  Don’t worry, they already ate some young woman two days ago so they won’t go after a scrawny thing like you, most like.  Well...mayhaps they will, but father did say you were a very...brave...CHILD,” screeched Domeric. 
The bald, pale-eyed man began punching the wall after he said that, but the Lone Wolf had better things to do than wonder why Domeric was acting like a half-wit.  

“Lord Bolton, he...he really said that about me?  Are you sure,” Arya asked nervously.  Suddenly, she forgot all about Domeric’s threats...this was plainly a far more important matter. Why would Lord Bolton try to trick Domeric into thinking he thinks I’m brave?  Unless...  No!  Everything he said was all just one big Bolton lie; it had to be!  How could someone who really felt the way Lord Bolton said he did still do the things he’s done to me?  That doesn’t make any sense.   

“I wish it were a lie, but I fear he meant every word of it.  Father never said I was brave...not even once,” grumbled Domeric.  No.  No.  No.  No.  NOT AGAIN!  NO!  NO!  NO!  I hate him and I’m going to kill him someday just...just not yet is all.  I’ll kill him though!  Lord Bolton, he...I thought he was my friend, but he wasn’t...not really.  I thought he was the only person who would always care about me no matter what and he turned me against my mother when she tried to warn me.  Mother was the one who really loved me, not Lord Bolton.  I could have saved her if I had listened; I could have...  I’m the one who deserved to die, not mother and Robb.  What's wrong with me?  Why...why do I still care what Lord Bolton thinks about me anyway?  Arya bit her lip.  

It couldn’t have all been a lie though...not really.  No, that’s stupid.  I hate Lord Bolton!  He shouldn’t have killed my mother!  Arya hated Lord Bolton near as much as she hated Lord Vargo and Joffrey, but she also knew that a small part of her – a part that never seemed to disappear completely, no matter how deep she buried it – would always want to believe that he cared about her at least a little bit.  She knew it wasn’t true and usually it was easy to ignore, but every once in a while Arya couldn’t keep this part of herself from emerging from its exile in whatever distant corner of her mind she’d confined it to...although the feeling seldom lasted very long.  Arya didn’t hate Lord Bolton any less in those moments though...not really.  It just...made her feelings about him more complicated sometimes was all.

“Lord Bolton, he...I knew it couldn’t all be a lie.  I mean...I...I don’t care if it was a stupid lie or not.  I just...you’re sure he wasn’t lying?  Lord Bolton really thinks I’m brave?  Maybe some of the other things...maybe they could’ve been true too...maybe,” Arya whispered to no one in particular.  She was still looking at Domeric, but couldn’t see him anymore...not really.  For a few seconds, Arya found herself unable to do anything except stare blankly as she tried to remember how she was supposed to feel.  Whatever Domeric was getting so upset about seemed to be having the same effect on him.  

Something similar happened to Arya whenever Lord Bolton mussed her hair: part of her wanted to rip his stupid arm off and beat him to death with it whenever he did that, but part of her – the bad part...one that filled the Lone Wolf with shame – wanted nothing more than to spend the rest of her life grinning like an idiot and letting Lord Bolton do one of the few things that reminded her of what it was like to have a pack...even if the Lord of The Dreadfort was among those most responsible for stealing it from her. 

Arya never did that though; lying to yourself was for people like Sansa and Jeyne Poole who were to scared to see things the way they really were.  The Lone Wolf didn’t want to be like either of them, she knew that much.  The last time Arya let her guard down and convinced herself that she might actually be able to be happy some day despite everything that had happened, it got her mother and brother killed. I am not afraid.  I am a direwolf.  I am a Stark of Winterfell and I always will be no matter who Lord Bolton tries to force me to marry.  

“You’re asking a lot of questions for someone who doesn’t care how my father feels,” muttered Domeric.  The bald beast's pale, blue eyes were as cold as ice when he spoke.  Stop looking at me like that!  Arya shuddered.  

“I...I mean...I don’t care what Lord Bolton thinks about me!  I really don’t!  I hate him!  Him and his stupid Dreadfort.  I hate him and I always will!  He shouldn’t have killed my mother!  I hate him!  I hate him!  I hate him!  I don’t care what he thinks about me...I mean...he...he didn’t say anything else about me did he?  Were there any other good things?  I mean...I don’t care, I really don’t!  I just...”  In that moment, the Lone Wolf felt as though her sad, grey eyes saw everything and nothing all at once.  Arya knew that whether Lord Bolton was lying didn’t matter anymore...not really, but that knowledge did nothing to diminish her need for an answer.  Any answer would do so long as she could make herself believe it.  I’m going to kill Lord Bolton and his stupid sons someday.  I...I’ll save Bran and Rickon too.  Mother will forgive me if I do that; I know she will!  I just...need to find out how much of what Lord Bolton said was a lie is all.  Did he ever really care about me?  And why would he kill my mother if he did?  I just...I just need to know, Arya silently insisted as though repeating the words in her head would somehow make them sound more reasonable. If I kill him now then I might never find out...  I’ll make him tell me...somehow...and when I do, I’ll kill the Boltons, every one. Domeric studied the Lone Wolf for a moment and looked as though he were trying to decide whether he wanted to help her escape or crush her head with his bare hands.  In the end, he did neither.       

“My father does seem to have that effect on children, doesn’t he?”  For once, Arya felt too tired to argue so she nodded even though she knew Domeric didn’t care what she thought.  “Father wrote...wrote all sorts of...he wrote that if I were more like...more like you; he might’ve had a son he could take some...some small measure of pride in.”  Domeric’s voice began to crack as he spoke and his fits shook with anger, but Arya didn’t care.  The mix of excitement, anger, pride, and self-loathing was making everything far too confusing and she couldn’t decide whether to be happy or horrified that Lord Bolton plainly saw something in her that he respected.  

“It doesn’t matter; I...I don’t care what he thinks...not really.  I don’t want to know what he thinks about me ever again; I really don’t!  I hate him and I’m going to kill him someday for what he did to my mother.”  

“Did you just say you were going to kill my father for what he did to your mother?”  

“I’m going to kill him and there’s nothing you can do to stop me either.”  

“Is that so?  In truth, I understand your hatred of him, which is why I can tell you that you will never be able to bring yourself to hurt him.  In time, you’ll come to love father as I do.  Everything he does is for the best...we...we just need adjustments.  Everyone does!  Father always knows best and a man shouldn’t cry besides.”  

“I don’t under...it doesn’t matter; I don’t care what you think!”  

“Just like you don’t care what my father thinks of you?”  

“Shut up!  If my brother Robb were still alive, he’d kill you and your stupid family.”  

“And if things were different, they wouldn’t be the same.”  

“AAAARRRRGGGHHH!  I said ‘shut up,’ you stupid...stupidhead!”  

“I will overlook your rudeness this once because I understand how you must be feeling.  Father’s adjustments – while entirely necessary – are seldom pleasant.  He only hurts us out of love; that is why we must always obey him in all things great and small.  Else I fear he will be forced to make more adjustments.  You would do well to mind your tongue the next time you speak to me.  Do you understand me, you father-stealing cunt?”  

“I can talk to you however I want, stupid.  Lord Bolton said you can’t hurt me,” snapped Arya, spitting at the bald man’s feet.  “And I’ll always hate you and your stupid father besides.  He killed my mother and...wait...what do you mean?  You understand?  How?  What did Lord Bolton ever do to you?”  He couldn’t understand what it’s like...not really, but maybe I can make Domeric think his father hates him and turn him against Lord Bolton...maybe.   Arya couldn’t help smiling at the thought of doing to Lord Bolton what he had done to her mother.  It won’t upset him as much though...not really.  Lord Bolton hates his children and my mother loved me.  I don’t deserve to have a family after I got Robb and her killed, but I can still save Bran and Rickon.  I’ll get them out of this stupid castle...somehow.  

“He killed my mother and fed her to me,” moaned Domeric as he unlocked the chain around Arya’s leg.  What?  No, that’s...not even Lord Bolton would do that...would he?  No!  That...that can’t be true. 
Arya glanced at Domeric and for a moment he seemed to be little more than a frightened child.  

“I’d kill someone if they did that to me.  I...I guess I can sleep on the floor in your room.  You don’t have to chain me to the wall though...not really!  I’ll be good, you’ll see!” 

“No, I won’t because I am still going to chain you to the wall.”  Arya frowned and bit her lip.  
I thought that would work...  

“I...I know that your father is forcing you to wed me.  I’m sure you hate it near as much as I do.”  

“As you say.”  

“I don’t blame you for any of this and I don’t hate you either...not really,” Arya lied.  He’s listening!  I can trick him into letting me walk around wherever I want and then I can free Bran and Rickon.  Maybe there won’t even be any guards...maybe.  Domeric hates Lord Bolton too; I know he does!  All I have to do is get him to trust me...somehow.  Stupid Boltons.  

“No?  I thought you said you’d always hate me.  Seven Hells!  At this rate, we’ll be late for the Kingslayer’s execution.  Father will be wroth with me if we miss his wedding present.”  

“I only said that because I...umm...I...I didn’t know what your father had done to your mother.  I know what that’s like though; Lord Bolton killed my mother too!”  

“No one cares about your problems and your mother deserved to die for bringing a father-stealing cunt like you into the world besides.  Father didn’t want to do it; he...a man shouldn’t cry.  I cried and needed adjustments!  I...I made him kill mother, I’d never learn otherwise.” 

“HEY! 
My mother didn’t deserve to die and you’d better not say she did ever again or I’ll...I mean...you really think Lord Bolton killed your mother because he saw you crying?”  

“I knew you’d understand.”  

“But that doesn’t make any sense.”  

“It has to make sense.  Father wouldn’t do anything to hurt me unless it would help me, I think.” 

“Lord Bolton said you were his greatest regret and that he’d rather have no children than a son like you.”  

“No, he...he wouldn’t say that; you’re lying...aren’t you,” asked Domeric, plainly struggling not to cry.  

“Nope, your stupid father hates you; he told me so himself at Harrenhal.  Lord Bolton said you were a failure and that he could never be proud of a son who let him do what he’s done to your mother.  He also said that a real Bolton would’ve killed him for it.  You should help me kill your father, Domeric.  You’d be Lord of the Dreadfort, we’d finally be rid of each other, and...c-c-c-c-can’t...can’t b-b-breathe,” wheezed Arya as Domeric grabbed her by the neck with both hands and slowly began choking the life out of her. 

“FATHER DOES NOT HATE ME!  TAKE IT BACK, YOU LYING BITCH,” roared Domeric.  The room began to spin and a few seconds later Arya started seeing spots where Domeric’s head should’ve been.  

“Help...”  Arya hated herself for saying that word.  It made her feel like a weak, frightened little girl and not a wolf at all.  

“It’s not enough for your kind that father favors you – a worthless, spoiled, father-stealing cunt who is of the wrong sex to ever do more than breed a new litter of shrieking brats – over his own son, is it?  ‘Don’t flay your betrothed,’ ‘don’t beat her until she’s given you at least two healthy sons,’ ‘don’t torture her any more than necessary,’ and yet all you do is bitch and whine.  I never received any such consideration from father when I was your age.  Can you even imagine what it’s like see father favor a worthless little shit like you after all the adjustments I’ve let him make?  Do you have any idea what I would give to be where you are right now?  DO YOU,” screamed Domeric as Arya’s eyes began to roll back into their sockets.  

“Bolton...hurt you...if...if...killing me...”  

“My father loves me, you lying bitch!  SAY IT!” 

“He...Lord...Bolton loves...you,” whispered Arya as her heartbeat grew fainter and fainter.  Domeric dropped her on the ground and the Lone Wolf began desperately gasping for air.  Domeric, he...he’s insane or...  I...I’ll tell Lord Bolton what he did!  No, I can’t do that...not really.  If I do, Domeric might try to hurt Bran and Rickon.  I can’t talk to Domeric about Lord Bolton that way ever again though.  It’s too dangerous; if I die then there will be no one left to save Bran and Rickon.  I won’t die; I’m going to save them, mother. 
You’ll see!  

“Please don’t tell father that I nearly killed...wait...NO!  This will not serve.  Seven Hells, there are marks on your neck; you have to tell him that Skinner tried to kill you, but you escaped.  Please, you don’t understand what he’ll do to me if he finds out I nearly killed you right before our wedding,” wailed Domeric.  

“Who’s Skin...Skinner?  And why...why should I help...help you?”  

“Do you have any idea what he’ll do to me?  Father, he...he might kill me for this.” 

“Good, I...I hope...I hope he does kill...wait...if I...if I tell...tell your stupid...stupid father that Skin-Skinner attacked...hurt me, will you...will you help me...help me escape?”  

“No.”  

“Then why...then...why...why should I help...help you,” panted Arya.  

“Because if you don’t, father might kill me.” 

“So?”  

“If I’m dead then he’ll force you to marry Ramsay instead.”  No.  No. No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  He can’t!  Lord Bolton wouldn’t do...no, that’s stupid.  Of course, he’d do that...  Not today!  Not today!  Not today!  Not today!  In truth, no matter how much the Lone Wolf hated Domeric Bolton – and she hated him near as much as she did the rest of his stupid family even before he tried to choke her to death – he was plainly nowhere near as dangerous as the bastard.  At least Domeric doesn’t want to hurt me...not really.  He just...loses his stupid mind sometimes is all; he’ll still be easier to outsmart than Ramsay, most like.  I just...have to be more careful next time is all.  

“No, I...I’ll tell him it was...it was Spitter.”  

“Skinner.” 

“That’s what I said, stupid.”  

“Come.  Father will be expecting us.” 

“I’m not your stupid dog,” muttered Arya, sulking out of the room behind Domeric.  

Chapter Text

There has to be some way to trick him, unless...what if he’s...no, that can’t be it.  I’m smarter than that stupid Bolton.  I just...have to figure out the right words is all, Arya decided as Domeric led her to The Dreadfort’s great hall.  The castle’s halls seemed to twist and turn like one of Lord Bolton’s leeches and most people would’ve gotten lost if they ever tried to escape.  It was like a labyrinth designed to trap anyone who had not spent a great deal of time there, but Arya didn’t mind.  The Dreadfort’s halls and passages didn’t confuse her...not really.  She could remember what each path looked like and where it led...at least, the ones Domeric and Lord Bolton had shown her, but Arya knew better than to say so aloud.  They only unlock that stupid chain because they think I couldn’t find my way around if I tried to escape, most like.  Stupid Boltons.  I bet Ramsay didn’t learn his way around this stupid castle as quickly as I did.  I’m more of a Bolton than he ever was and...I mean...  No!  No!  No!  No!  No!  NEVER!  I hate all of them!  I don’t care what Lord Bolton and his stupid ‘laws of Gods and men’ say; I’ll never be one a stupid Bolton...not really.  I am a direwolf and I will always be, no matter who Lord Bolton tries to force me to marry.  

The Lone Wolf knew that she would always be a Stark of Winterfell and yet she couldn’t help taking some small measure of pride in the fact that she already knew her way around most of Lord Bolton’s stupid castle as though she’d been born and raised there.  Of course, there were some parts of The Dreadfort – the ones that even Domeric seemed afraid to talk about – which Arya knew nothing about, but most of them didn’t matter...not really.  You could survive The Dreadfort even if you didn’t know what happened in the hidden tunnel that Ramsay would go through with anyone except his father.  You’d forget those rooms even existed if it weren’t for the occasional screams echoing through the castle and the Lone Wolf knew better than to ask what happened in places like that besides.  There was one hidden area that mattered though: the dungeons.  Even though the Boltons never brought Arya there, it was plain that Bran and Rickon were being kept in one of the cells.  

I can’t keep waiting; I have to try again.  If I don’t trick him into helping me before we get to the courtyard then it might be too late and Lord Bolton would notice besides.  But if I try again and it doesn’t work then Domeric, he...he might kill me this time.  I am a direwolf and I am not afraid.  

Even if I was scared, it wouldn’t matter...not really.  Bran and Rickon need me!  Rickon still loves me even though everyone should hate me after the things I’ve done.  Bran always looks at the floor whenever he sees me; he’s afraid I’ll get him killed too, most like.  I should’ve saved mother and Robb, it...it’s my fault they’re dead.  Mother always loved me and I believed Lord Bolton instead of her; if it weren’t for me she’d still be alive.  Maybe I deserve to be a stupid Bolton instead of a Stark...maybe.  All my mother ever did was love me and I wasn’t there to save her when she needed me.  Arya bit her lip.  I won’t fail my family again!  Never!  I have to protect them...somehow.  I don’t want to marry some stupid Bolton!  I hate everything about this stupid castle!  I hate it!  I hate it!  I hate it!  What if...I mean...I could...Domeric would have to help me then!  

“Domeric?” 

“Yes, my Lady?”  

“I’m not a Lady!”  

“I fear I must beg your forgiveness; in truth, your proper title is ‘Queen Arya.’  At least, so far as those loyal to the King Who Lost the North are concerned...”  

“You better not call me a stupid ‘Queen’ ever again or I’ll –”  

“If you will pardon the momentary interruption, you’ll find that I was not about to refer to you as such.”  

“You weren’t?”  

“No.” 

“Good because...I mean...you...you’d better not call me that.”  

“I wouldn’t dream of it.  After our wedding, it will no longer be improper for me to refer to you by your given name.  It is admittedly a rather tiresome one, but I suppose you cannot be blamed for your parents’ stunted creativity.”  

“HEY!  My name is not tiresome.”  

“Tiresome, dull, boring; I have no intention of arguing semantics with you at this time.”  

“Well you're...you’re just a big stupidhead!”  Domeric raised his hand in the air, but stopped himself before he struck his betrothed.  

“Consider yourself fortunate that father threatened to take my left hand if I left any visible bruises upon you prior to the wedding.”  Arya rubbed her neck and glared at Lord Bolton’s heir.  Stupid Bolton. 

“I changed my mind; I think I will tell your father what you did to me.”  

“Father will force you to marry Ramsay if he kills me.  I believe we’ve been over this already,” replied Domeric, plainly doing his best to feign indifference.  Arya simply shrugged.  The blue-eyed monster’s skin grew even paler than usual...almost as though Lord Bolton’s leeches had finally drained every drop of blood from his son’s body.  More importantly, the frightened child she’d seen earlier returned.  

“But he’ll...please, father loves me, but if...do you know what he’ll...he won’t just cut off my hand.  You’re going to make him think I’m too broken to fix even with further adjustments and you...you’re just...you’re just a child.  You don’t really want to make my father torture me to death, do you?  Of...of course not.  Please don’t tell him; he’ll take everything!  I won’t be me anymore and –”  Arya did her best imitation of the way she’d seen Ramsay smile right before he did something horrible.  

“I DON’T DESERVE THIS!  Please, don’t tell father.  He’ll think I need more adjustments if he knows I nearly killed you.  My father loves me!  It’s only for the best!  All for the best!  All for the...for the...PLEASE DON’T TELL HIM,” sobbed the bald leech, falling to his knees.  For all that she hated Domeric, the Lone Wolf found that she couldn’t help pitying him.  In truth, she almost felt guilty about making him suffer like this when she wasn’t even going to tell Lord Bolton what his stupid son had tried to do.  It felt...it felt like something a Bolton would do, not a Stark.  I am not a Bolton!  I am a direwolf.  I’m not doing it to torture Domeric, I just...needed to scare him a little is all.  And getting him killed would only make things worse for my brothers and me besides.  

“I’ll still say it was Sinner, but not because I’m afraid of Lord Bolton’s stupid bastard,” Arya lied.  

“Then why?”  

“I’m doing it for you as a favor.”  

“A what?” 

“A favor.  Don’t you know what a favor is?” 

“I have heard the term, yes.  People actually do those for each other?  Odd.  In truth, I thought it was simply a myth.” 

“It is not a myth, stupid; it’s a real thing. 
I did something nice for you, so that means you have to do something nice for me in return.”  

“Why?”  

“Because I just did you a favor, stupid.” 

“I don’t understand.”  What do you mean you don’t understand? 
How stupid are you?  

“Which part,” groaned Arya, rolling her eyes.  

“What’s stopping me from just letting you do what I want and never doing anything for you in return?” 

“That...that’s not how it works.”  

“Why not?  It seems like a far more sensible course of action.”  

“It just isn’t!  Now will you please stop being such a stupidhead and –” 

“Excuse me, but I do believe you have failed to answer my question in a satisfactory manner. 
That would’ve been rude enough even if you hadn’t insulted me.”  

“Fine, I’ll answer your stupid question.  If you only take and never do anything nice in return then no one will ever do you another favor in the future.”  

“Why would I ever need another one from you after this?  Why would I have any need for you at all once you’ve given me a suitable heir and a replacement in case the first one should die at an early age?  I suppose you’d have to raise them, but even so, you must admit that you’re hardly in a position to assist me at this time.”  Arya ground her teeth in frustration. Stupid Boltons!  

“For the last time, that’s not how it works!” 

“It is now. 
I fear your conception of such reciprocal transactions is a decidedly foolish one, at best.”  

“What?”  

“How can I put this in a way that a proud vulgarian such as yourself would understand?  Your childish notions that any act which benefits an individual by another person must needs be repaid in kind are absurd, impractical, and rooted in the stupidity of your forebarers’ beliefs, most like.  Was that sufficient or would you have me use even smaller words?”  

“You’re stupid!” 

“Your insult is ‘stupid,’ as you so elegantly put it.  In truth, everything’s always ‘stupid’ with you.  Why is that?  If it isn’t ‘stupid this,’ then it’s ‘stupid that.’  This will not serve. 
Find a new word for things you don’t like; even you can be more creative than that, most like.”  

“I can say whatever I want, stupid!  Stupid!  Stupid!  Stupid!  Stupid!  Stupid!  Stupid!  Stupid,” snapped Arya, sticking her tongue out at Domeric.  

“Mayhaps you simply lack the emotional maturity to express your anger and frustration in anything other than a decidedly childish manner.”  

“I do not act like a stupid child when I get angry, I just...HEY!  Stop laughing at me!  That wasn’t supposed to be funny, so you better stop laughing,” growled the Lone Wolf.  

“I wasn’t laughing at you; I assure you that your behavior disgusts me as much as ever.  I was merely practicing for this wretched ceremony that father has seen fit to force me to participate in; he will expect me to treat the attending Lords with something other than open contempt, I think.  I fear they are little more than a useless collection of boorish and vulgar fools.  Of course, they are still worth more than a member of the weaker sex, particularly one rude enough to make a Wildling appear civilized.”  

“Shut up!  I...I hate you! 
You and your stupid bald face!”  

“Have I done something during the course of this conversation to give you the impression that I care what a father-stealing cunt such as yourself thinks about anything?  If so than I fear I must apologize as I can assure you that I place no greater value on your opinions than I do those of a pool of wet shit from one of Lord Snow’s dogs.”  

“I SAID SHUT UP!”  

“Enough.  We’re almost there.”  

“We are?” 

“Yes and these childish outbursts will not serve.  If you misbehave in any way, shape, or form then I can promise you that your brothers shall pay dearly for it.  Should any Lord make inquires about the events which transpired at The Twins, you must needs inform him that my father led a counter-attack of sorts along with the Freys who would not take part in this so-called Red Wedding, rescued you from The Twins, and personally slew Lord Walder. 
Naturally, it was your dear dying brother’s last wish that I be wedded to his heir in order to repay my father’s loyalty,” grumbled Domeric.  

“THAT’S THE STUPIDEST THING I’VE EVER...I...I mean...fine, but you better not hurt Bran and Rickon after this stupid wedding.”  I can’t waste time arguing right now, this could be my last chance! Arya bit her lip and knew that she had to try something...anything.  

“Wait...it would be...I mean...it’s rude not to return a favor when someone does one for you,” Arya blurted.  Bran and Rickon need me!  I have to stay focused...no matter how annoying Domeric acts.  Not even Gendry was ever half as frustrating as that stupid, bald leech...  Arya frowned, knowing that she would never see Gendry or Hot Pie ever again.  She missed her former friends, even though she knew they hated her because of Lord Vargo.  At least, I didn’t get them killed too...  

“It is?”  Wait, that...that actually worked?  

“Umm...yes, it’s very rude not to return a favor when someone does one for you.”  

“I stopped choking you before I killed you, so in truth, it was you who owed me a favor.”  

“WHAT!  That wasn’t a favor, idiot!”  

“It wasn't?” 

“No! 
You...umm...you didn’t do it just to be nice.”  

“As you say; I must needs think on this.  We will not discuss so-called ‘favors’ any further, is that understood?”  

“Yes, my Lord,” Arya signed.  The Lone Wolf followed Domeric into the great hall, kicking at the stone floor as she walked.  In truth, Arya wanted nothing more than to run to one of the parts of The Dreadfort she’d never explored before and hide – even delaying the wedding for just a few minutes would’ve meant that much longer until she was forced to marry Lord Bolton’s stupid son – and she might’ve even done so were Bran and Rickon not being kept in The Dreadfort’s dungeons. 

...

Arya didn’t know who most of the Lords speaking to Domeric and Lord Bolton in the courtyard were, but she recognized a few of them.  She recognized Lord Glover, but Ser Robett was from House Glover too and he was plainly Lord Bolton’s creature at Harrenhal.  The Glovers’ are all just a bunch of cowards, Arya decided.  

Why do I have to wear this stupid dress?  It’s almost as bad as having to pretend to like all these people, Arya thought to herself bitterly as Lord Manderly rambled about how the North needed a Red King in Winterfell. I hate him!  Him and his stupid chins!  Arya clenched her fists under the table and forced herself to resist the urge to throw her plate at the fat Lord’s head.  Ramsay Snow.  Theon Turncloak.  Ser Ilyn Payne.  The Mountain.  The Hound.  Dunsen.  Polliver.  The Tickler.  Wyman Manderly.  Roose...Lord Bolton.  Valar Morghulis.  Arya bit her lip and lowered her sad, grey eyes.  Even after everything that had happened, a part of her still felt a small pang of guilt every time she included Lord Bolton on her list, no matter how much she hated him.   The Lone Wolf oft thought about adding Domeric, but killing him didn’t make any sense...not when there was still a chance he might help her if she could just figure out the right way to ask.  If he helps my brothers and me escape then he doesn’t deserve to die...not really.  

“The day of the direwolf is done and I can assure you that I speak for all in my House when I say my only regret is that it didn’t end sooner,” continued Lord Manderly.  No one here remembers my family and they don’t care what happened at The Twins either...not really.  They’re all traitors, every one.  Lord Bolton wasn’t any worse than the rest of the Northern Lords...not really.  I won’t forget about the Red Wedding!  Never!  Am I always going to have to pretend not to hate these people?  Lord Bolton can’t just make me be polite to people I hate for the rest of my life; that isn’t fair!  I don’t want to be some stupid old Lady who wears dresses or acts all boring and ladylike.  And Lord Bolton usually lets me wear britches besides...just like he did at Harrenhal. 

The Lone Wolf never thought she’d miss that terrible place, but thinking about it reminded her of a simpler time.  A time when Arya had let herself believe that she could still be happy even after everything that had happened in King’s Landing.  A time when she still had a pack and when The Dreadfort seemed like the answer to every problem she’d ever had.  The Lone Wolf knew that it had been just another lie – as ridiculous as those stupid songs Sansa liked so much – and yet she missed the feeling all the same.  

In truth, not everything about the day had been terrible.  Most of the Lords brought stupid goblets or boring old books for Domeric, but there was one wedding present that had brought a smile to Arya’s face which was even wider than Ramsay’s right before he hurt someone.  Lord Bolton’s wedding gift to his son was having the Kingslayer – the last Lannister – executed by some man named Spanner in the great hall, right in front of all the other Lords.  Arya took more than a little comfort in the knowledge that she’d personally witnessed the extinction of House Lannister and in truth, there was even a part of her that wanted to believe that Lord Bolton’s present was intended more for her than it was for Domeric.  She knew that he’d had the Kingslayer killed to show the other Lords that House Bolton could punish The North’s enemies, but that didn’t have to be the only reason...not really.  

If all of the Northern Lords were craven traitors, then the same could not be said of the Northern ladies and it most certainly could not be said of Barbrey Dustin.  Arya couldn’t hate Lady Dustin if she’d wanted to, not after the strange old woman shouted “The North Remembers” right in the middle of Lord Manderly’s stupid speech after he said “We have more than a wedding to celebrate today, I say.  After the countless disasters that House Stark has brought down upon the heads of every honorable Northman, we should also celebrate the long-overdue end to their rule.  However tragic the events which allegedly transpired at the Twins may have been, the North can finally rest easy knowing that the Stark bloodline has come to an end and they will be forgotten by the histories in just a few short years.”  Arya ground her teeth and began quietly stabbing the table with her knife.  Domeric was sitting to her right, but he’d somehow managed to fall asleep in the middle of his own wedding.  I won’t forget about my family and I won’t forget you and your stupid chins either...  

As Lord Manderly continued to babble about how evil House Stark was, Arya began stabbing the table harder and harder until she noticed Lord Bolton glaring at her.  The Lone Wolf bit her lip nervously and stopped stabbing the table, although Arya continued to grip her knife until she realized the Lord of the Dreadfort was studying the marks on her neck.  Lord Bolton looked from Arya to Domeric – who was still sound asleep – and back at Arya.  

“It was Shredder; Domeric didn’t do anything,” Arya whispered.  He doesn’t believe me.  Lord Bolton, he...he always knows when people are lying.  Why isn’t he angry?  As if in reply, Lord Bolton cuffed his son in the back of the head as though he were a dog.  

“What was that for?”  

“We shall speak of it later and in private, I think...”  

... 

The wedding itself was to take place in front of a heart tree in The Dreadfort’s courtyard.  Why does Ramsay keep smiling?  Arya shuddered.  The Bastard of Bolton kept looking at her as though he were a cat and she were a small mouse whose tail was pinned beneath his paw.  He’s going to hurt me...somehow, the Lone Wolf realized.  Lord Snow’s smile grew wider and wider as he slowly approached his prey. 

“Do you know who is going to give you away in just a few moments?  Normally it would be your father, oh that’s right, poor widdle Arya doesn’t have a daddy anymore does she?  No, that’s right, Joffrey Lannister cut it off and put it on a spike for the whole wide world to see each and every day,” sneered the bastard. 

“Shut up,” growled the Lone Wolf as quietly as she could. 

“What was that?  I could’ve sworn YOU just told ME to ‘shut up.’  Could that be right?  Pity.  What’s that old saying?  ‘Every time a little girl misbehaves, a wolf pup loses a toe.’  Yes, that’s it!”  Arya bit her lip.  

“That’s not fair!  I’ve been good and...Lord Bolton, he...he won’t just let you do that for no reason.”  Ramsay shrugged.  

“Well, I suppose we’ll just have to find out, won’t we?  Now then, I do believe I asked you a question.” 

“Go away! 
I hate you!”  

“Hate such an ugly word.  Is that any way to talk to your good-brother?”  

“You’re never going to be my good-brother.  Lord Bolton will be my good-father and his stupid son will be my...Domeric will be my...I’ll have to marry Lord Bolton’s son, but they’re both Boltons.  You're not a Bolton...not really.  You’re just a bastard and that’s all you’ll ever be; after this stupid wedding is over, even I’ll be more of a Bolton than you,” replied Arya, sticking her tongue out at Lord Bolton’s bastard.  The left side of Ramsay’s face began to twitch and for a moment the Lone Wolf thought that he was going to kill her right where she stood.  Instead, he simply smiled again...though not half so widely as before.  

“I fear you seem determined to force me to answer my own question.  Very well.  In a moment, you will be given away by a dear, beloved friend of yours, did you know that?”  

“Whatever.”  

“Theon Greyjoy was like a brother to you, wasn’t he?  Of course he was!  I’m sure this will make things so much easier for you, don’t you think?”  

“WHAT?”  

“Now, now, stay calm.  You wouldn’t want to upset my father, would you?  He’s been watching you very carefully today.  We don’t want to disappoint him, do we?  No, of course not.  After all, he might be so upset with you that he’d skin your brothers alive.  Which reminds me, in a moment, your best friend is going to take you by the arm and lead you out to the courtyard to...ah...here he is!”  Arya took one look at Theon Turncloak and nearly attacked him right then and there, but instead she simply spat in his face.  Her father’s former ward was missing four fingers and an ear...and those were just the things Arya could see; worse, he was so malnourished that his organs seemed to be tumbling out of his abdomen like an oversized belly.  The turncloak’s bones looked like they were about to burst through his skin like spikes and it was plain to Arya that she would have to be careful not to accidentally break them.  The stupid turncloak can’t even look me in the eye; he won’t stop looking at the floor.  

Maybe he only deserved a quick death though...maybe.  This seems...wrong.  Why should I even feel sorry for him anyway?  No one should suffer like that, but Lord Bolton, he...he said we should never feel guilty about justice being done.  NO!  I don’t want to be like Lord Bolton, but I can’t be weak either.  Theon Turncloak will spend the rest of his life in The Dreadfort’s dungeons, but I’ll convince Domeric to stop letting Ramsay torture prisoners.  No matter what that stupid Turncloak did, this can’t be what justice looks like or...it won’t be once Lord Bolton dies.  I can decide which people are good and bad better than anyone else and Domeric won’t care who deserves to be punished...not really.  It should be my job to decide what happens to our prisoners, not Domeric’s or Ramsay’s or anyone else’s, Arya decided as she tried not to think about what was about to happen in the courtyard.   I’d make a better Lord than either of Lord Bolton’s stupid sons.  I wouldn’t waste my time listening to stupid traitors like Lord Manderly or writing boring old ravens and I’d even be nicer to the smallfolk.  Why can’t I be Lord of Winterfell?  

If Lord Bolton is going to force me to become part of his stupid House then I’m going to make House Bolton more like House Stark.  Lord Bolton was right about most of my family: No matter how much they loved me, they were weak.  Even Jon had to be a little bit weak or he wouldn’t have run away to that stupid Wall.  Bran wouldn’t be calling himself ‘Reek’ if he were strong like Rickon and me.  I am not weak.  I am a direwolf.  House Bolton can’t be weak until after my brothers and I have escaped, else some stupid traitor like Lord Manderly might kill us the moment the Boltons are gone so they can rule The North.  

I’d still be a better Lord than Domeric or Ramsay though, I know I would!  Even Sansa would be ten times the Lord that fat turncloak from White Harbor, most like.  Lord Bolton, he...he even said that he wished his son was more like me.  I’m a girl and he still thinks I’m a better son than either of his stupid children.  If I...if I’m ever forced to have any of Domeric’s...NO!  They won’t belong to him...not really.  If I’m ever forced to have any stupid children then I’m going to raise MY stupid children whatever stupid way I want!  They’ll be strong, but they won’t be like Lord Bolton’s sons and they’ll still listen to me if any of them ever become Lords; I know they will!  Maybe Domeric won’t even care about being a Lord once his father dies...maybe.  I could argue with him until he gets so exhausted that he does what I want him to and...  Arya looked down at the ground in shame and for a moment, she hated herself near as much as when she first realized that her mother – the one person left who would always love her no matter what – was dead and all because her daughter wasn’t there to save her.  

Even if I could be Lord of Winterfell, all that matters is getting Bran and Rickon out of this stupid castle and Domeric would never listen to me besides.  The last time I was stupid enough to think I could ever be happy again, I got my mother killed and now I’m being forced to marry Lord Bolton’s stupid son on the same day that he tried to murder me.  And even if my brothers and I had a chance to escape, I still deserve to be a Bolton after what I did.  It’s my fault mother’s dead, so in a way it’s like I murdered her too.  Bran only told me that he blamed me for our mother’s death because Ramsay told him to, but he’d probably been thinking it already...  I won’t fail my family ever again!  NEVER!  

A light tug on Arya’s left arm brought her mind back to the day’s events as the Prince of the Iron Islands grabbed her left arm and began to slowly lead the Lone Wolf out of the room.  The Lone Wolf’s skin felt as though it was trying to crawl off her bones and run away the moment she felt Theon Turncloak’s arm around hers.  

“GET YOUR STUPID HANDS OFF ME!  DON’T TOUCH ME!  I HATE YOU, YOU STUPID...STUPID GREYJOY!”  

“Did I mention that if you give The Prince Who Lost Winterfell a hard time, I get to cut off one of Rickon’s arms?”  Arya ground her teeth and Theon struggled to drag her toward the door.  

“Why isn’t he saying anything?”  

“We’re playing the quiet game.  Theon, why don’t you explain the rules to Arya.  Oh that’s right, you can’t.  If your favorite turncloak says a single word without being asked to by my father, I get to unman him.” 

“Good.  I hope he talks so you can unman him; maybe Lord Bolton will cut out his stupid tongue too...maybe.”  Theon whimpered and tears began to dribble down his cheeks. 
Serves him right!  Stupid turncloak.  

“Ramsay?”  

“Yes, dear sister of mine?”  

“Don’t EVER call me that again!”  

“As you wish, little sister.”  

“I AM NOT YOUR STUPID SISTER AND...I mean...are you staying inside The Dreadfort?” 

“Yes.  Why do you ask?”  

“Lord Bolton ordered you not to set foot in the courtyard during the wedding, didn’t he?  It must be because only Boltons and other highborns are allowed to be there.  You're not a Bolton though...not really.  You're just some stupid bastard.  Lord Bolton doesn’t want anyone to think you’re related to him, most like.” 

“Shut your cunt mouth before I shut it for you!"  

“Your father’s ashamed of you; he doesn’t want anyone to know he had a son who isn’t a real Bolton, but he got stuck with you somehow.  You should be more careful how you talk to me since I’m about to be a member of your House...oh wait...it will never actually be a part of your stupid House because you’re just a stupid bastard and that's all you'll ever be, bastard.  If you ever hurt either of my brothers again, you won’t live to regret it. 
I’ll have your head on a spike before you can open your stupid wormy lips to beg for mercy,” the Lone Wolf growled, hoping her bluff sounded as menacing as it did in her head.  

“And you’d best be careful too, my Lady.  A great many things can change in an awfully amount short time and bastards can rise far in this fine world of ours...”  

“I’m not a Lady.”  

...


Theon Turncloak led Arya past all the Northern Lords and Ladies in the Dreadfort’s courtyard and stopped in front of a large heart tree where Lord Bolton and Domeric were waiting. 

“Who comes before the Old Gods this night,” asked Lord Bolton in a voice as soft as a whisper.  

“Arya of House Stark, Lady of Winterfell and Queen of The North, comes here to be wed,” replied Theon Turncloak.  “A woman grown, trueborn and noble.  She comes to beg the blessings of the Old Gods.  Who comes to claim her?”  I don’t want to be some stupid Queen and everyone would just hate me even more when they saw what a hash I’d made of it besides.  Sansa’s supposed to be a Queen, not me.  If Joffrey weren’t such a stupidhead, he’d have realized how lucky he was that someone who was perfect at everything loved him so much...even if it was only because she’s an idiot.  At least this is happening to me instead of Sansa; I’m glad she’s safe.  I wonder if she ever misses me.  Probably not...  

“Domeric of House Bolton, heir to The Dreadfort,” grumbled Domeric.  “Who gives her?”  HEY!  I’m a person, not some stupid pair of boots you’re buying from a merchant.  Stop talking about me like that!  

“Her father’s ward, Theon of House Greyjoy.  Domeric of House Bolton, do you take this woman?”  At first, Domeric didn’t say anything, he just stood there like a stupid tree and ground his teeth until his father whacked him in the back of the head.  Wait a minute...what are you so upset about?  I’m being forced to marry someone I hate too and I’m not being a big baby about it.  My stupid hair isn’t even tangled in any stupid knots today and I’ve been good besides.  You’re the one who fell asleep during his own stupid wedding feast.  Even if no one would ever want to marry me, I’m the one who should be upset, not you!  What do you have to complain about?  Stupid Bolton. 
You’re about to be King of the stupid North, can’t you pretend for five stupid seconds that marrying me isn’t one of the worst things you’ve had to do in your stupid life, Arya silently fumed as her face turned a crimson.  

Who cares how you feel about this stupid wedding anyway; I don’t want to marry you either!  It isn’t fair!  Why should it hurt my stupid feelings that Domeric also hates this stupid wedding when I still hate him?  That stupid bald leech better not make me feel this way ever again!  I don’t like it!  Stupid Boltons.  In truth, moments like this were part of the reason that the Lone Wolf hadn’t added Domeric to her list: whatever else he did, at least Lord Bolton’s eldest son seemed to hate everything that was happening in the Dreadfort near as much as she did.  

“Fine.  Now that I’ve committed myself to this unholy union, can I go?  OWWW.  Father, I said ‘fine.‘  OWWWW!  You didn’t have to hit me a third...wait...what I meant to say was ‘I take this woman.’”  That’s not why he did that, Arya realized.  Well...maybe it was, but it wasn’t the only reason...not really.  Lord Bolton’s hitting Domeric in public so that everyone here knows that even if his son’s title is “King in The North,” Domeric is still just a stupid puppet and not a real King at all.  Lord Bolton’s the real King in The North...until I kill him, at least.  

“That will serve, I think,” the Lord of The Dreadfort calmly replied.  “Arya of House Stark, do you take this man?”  The Lone Wolf didn’t need to think about her answer, all she needed to do was think of her brothers and the answer came without hesitation...not that this made her hate it any less.  

“I take this man,” the Lone Wolf whimpered.  Her eyes grew watery and she struggled to fight back the bitter tears that threatened to flood down her cheeks.  Arya knew that if she let her smile sag for even a moment or if Lord Bolton thought it looked too forced, it would be as though she were the one cutting off her younger brothers’ lips instead of Ramsay.  Each tear would be another knife in Bran and Rickon’s backs...one knife for each of their sister’s stupid hands.  I will not...I will not cry, I...I can’t!  If I cry or...or if I don’t look happy enough, Lord Bolton might let Ramsay kill Bran and Rickon.  I couldn’t save father from Joffrey even though I was right there.  I knew what the Freys were planning, but I told Lord Bolton instead of mother.  It’s my fault Robb and my parents are dead, but I can still save Bran and Rickon.  I...I won’t fail my family again!  Never!  

“And do you, Arya of House Bolton, grant your Lord husband all lands, titles, and incomes to which you are entitled as both Lady of Winterfell, Queen of The North, and heir of the late King Robb Stark?”  

“I, Arya of House...House Bolton, grant all of them to Domeric of House Bolton, my...”  Arya looked up at Lord Bolton with her sad, grey eyes and silently pleaded that he not force her to say the last two words.  Please don't make me say it...  

“Your what?”  

“My...I grant them to Domeric of House Bolton, my...my Lord husband.”  Something broke deep within Arya’s soul once she said the words “Lord husband” and as it shattered into a million pieces, she slipped into some sort of strange trance.  She couldn’t think, speak, move, or do anything else except stare blankly at the half-mad monster she’d just been forced to wed.  Domeric snapped the Lone Wolf out of her safe, distant state of mind when he dropped his cloak of protection onto the sad, frightened little girl’s head rather than gently draping it over her shoulders.  This earned him another whack in the back of the head from his father, but Arya didn’t care about that...not really.  All that mattered right now was forcing herself to keep smiling, not saying anything that might upset Lord Bolton, and keeping herself from crying...at least until she got away from all of the stupid turncloak Lords who used to serve Robb.  Domeric’s cloak was far too large and the bitter winds stung as they nipped at Arya's skin, so she wrapped it around her entire upper body like a large blanket. 

“It seems entirely unnecessary for me to degrade myself further in front of my subjects.  Would you truly have me kiss that...thing?”  I’m a girl!  

“So they are your subjects now?  Is that the way of it,” asked the Lord of The Dreadfort in a voice so quiet that even Arya could barely hear him.  

“As you say.  Now that this absurd ritual is at an end, I’m the King in The North.”  You’re only digging yourself a deeper hole, idiot.  You know that, don’t you?  

“Are you?”  

“In truth, our Houses use the title ‘Red King,’ but I needn’t fear another man ever again, I think.  And I have no desire to kiss a frightened little girl besides.”  Is he finally going to start standing up to Lord Bolton?  

“You mean your beloved wife?”  

“Father, look at the poor child.  She’s plainly too grief-stricken about using improper grammar to even understand what’s going on any more.  She’s near catatonic.” 

“Good.  Mayhaps she will remain in such a state until tomorrow morning.  It would make your job easier, I think.” What job? 
That doesn’t even make any sense.  

“It will not serve for our King to put his own selfish desires ahead of the needs of his House and I fear certain traditions must needs be observed on such occasions as this...however absurd they may be.  One way or another, you’ll do as you are bid, I think.  Do you require further adjustments, Your Grace?”  Domeric’s face turned as near as pale as his eyes and for a moment Arya was certain that Lord Bolton’s eldest son was about to soil himself.  So much for that...  Stupid Bolton.  

“No, father,” grumbled Domeric as he knelt to the ground and quickly did as he was bid...much to the disgust of all involved.  

“You,” grunted Domeric, glancing at Arya before turning around and walking toward The Dreadfort. 

“I have a name, stup...I mean...yes?  Do you need something,” asked Arya, glancing nervously at Lord Bolton.  The Lord of The Dreadfort let out a loud sigh of frustration, but plainly had other things on his mind.  

“I fear my father will want us to complete one final task tonight.”  

“As you say.  I trust you are familiar with the procedure, Your Grace.”  

“Yes, father, I’ve read about it in several books,” groaned Lord Bolton’s heir.  

“What is it, my...my Lord?  How may I be of...umm...assistance?”  They better not try to make me keep talking this way once everyone leaves!  

“Come.  I’ll explain in our chambers,” grumbled Domeric.  What does Lord Bolton want us to do now?  He’s not going to have Domeric rape me, at least not tonight.  If that was it then there would have been a bedding ceremony.  Arya bit her lip as she quickly followed Domeric back into The Dreadfort. I’m not sleeping in the same bed as that stupid bald leech!  Maybe I can still sleep on the floor...maybe.  

Chapter Text

“Where are we going,” Arya asked nervously as Lord Bolton’s son led her down a dark and unfamiliar path.  The Lone Wolf couldn’t see a thing and was forced to hold Domeric’s hand to avoid getting separated, much to their mutual disgust.  Just touching one of the blue-eyed monster’s cold, leather gloves was more than enough to make Arya’s skin crawl.  If she’d actually had to touch Domeric himself – even for a second – she would’ve thrown-up, most like.  

“To bed,” grunted Domeric.  

“No we’re not, my room is on the other side of the Dreadfort.” 

“Not anymore, I think.  I fear that what is mine is now yours as well.”  He can’t mean...GROSS!  I won’t sleep in his stupid bed! 
Never!  

“Can...can I at least sleep on the floor?”  

“It matters not at all.  Either way, I will chain your leg to the wall.”  Arya frowned as she tried to decide whether she should be relieved or angry about her husband’s answer.  “Oh and one more thing, you needn’t worry about your possessions, my Lady.  Father already took the liberty of having them moved to our chambers.”  

“For the last time, I’m not a stupid Lady, so you’d better stop calling me that!” 

“Is that so? 
And what will you do if I continue to call you that?”  

“I’ll...I’ll...umm...shut up!”  

“Do I have your word on that matter?  Is calling you ‘my Lady’ again truly all that I need do to end your babbling?”  

“HEY!  That’s not what I meant and I can babble whenever I want!” 

“It isn’t? 
Pity.”  

“I was telling you to shut up, idiot.”  

“You do that quite often, I think.”  

“Maybe if you didn’t say stupid things all the time, I wouldn’t –”  

“I bet you can’t go one day without calling something ‘stupid.’”  

“Well you said you wouldn’t call me a stupid Lady anymore after our wedding.”  

“As you say.  I fear you must needs forgive me; I keep telling myself that if I don’t treat you like my wife then it will be as though this wretched marriage never took place.  However unpleasant this experience may’ve been for you, I can assure you that it is far worse for me.”  

“WHAT?  Your father murdered my mother and brother, then he brought me to his stupid castle and threatened to murder my younger brothers if I didn’t marry you.”  

“Mayhaps.  Of course, I’m the one who must needs suffer your presence for the rest of my days.” 

“So? 
What’s so bad about that?”  

“If ever there was a fate worse than death, it is the one which you and my father have forced upon me.  In truth, I’d sooner wed a one of Lord Snow’s dogs.”  Arya tried not to let Domeric’s words anger her, but it was no use.  I’m not going to get angry.  I don’t care what he thinks about me...not really.  I don’t care and I never will either.  I don’t care what that stupid...stupid...AAARRRRRGGGGHHHH STOP MAKING ME FEEL THIS WAY!  Arya looked down at the ground so the stupid blue-eyed madman wouldn’t see that her cheeks had turned bright red.  This isn’t fair!  Why can’t you just let me hate you in peace?  I hate you near as much as I hate Lord Bolton and Ramsay, so why does it hurt my stupid feelings when you talk that way about me?  I hate you!  I hate you!  I hate you!  I hate you!  Stupid Bolton.  

“Oh yeah?  Well if you love Ramsay’s stupid dogs so much, why don’t you just marry...I mean...umm...you’re just a...you’re a...hearing your stupid voice is a fate worse than death.  I hope you slip and crack your stupid head open!”  

“At least then I’d finally be released from this unholy union.” 

“SHUT UP!”  

...

The castle seemed to grow colder and Arya jerked her left hand away from Domeric's the moment they reached a well-lit section of the fortress.  The Lone Wolf perked up her ears and tried to determine the source of the distant wailing noise echoing through the halls.  Suddenly, a whole pack of dogs began snarling and barking excitedly.  Is that...  NO!  Lord Bolton wouldn’t hurt Bran and Rickon tonight...would he?  He can’t!  I was good!  Arya bit her lip and was about to sneak away to follow the screams when Domeric – as if anticipating her intentions – explained the origin of the sounds.  

“Before you pester me about such trivial matters, allow me to assure you that the sound you hear isn’t either of your brothers.  Rickon sleeps in the dungeons and your brother Brandon sleeps on the floor in Lord Snow’s chambers.  Ramsay is simply feeding his dogs, most like.” 

“Feeding them?  But then there shouldn’t be any screaming unless...” 

“Yes, the savage is feeding some poor bastard to his dogs.  Mayhaps Skinner although I fear it is impossible to say for certain.  I assure you that I do not condone such behavior and will put an end to this madness the moment that father dies.  In any case, your brothers won’t die tonight. 
Of course, if you go running off looking for them...”  

“How did you...I mean...I wasn’t going to look for them, stupid.  How dumb do you think I am?” 

“How did I know your intentions?  In truth, you are nothing if not predictable.  I need only determine what course of action would cause me the most undeserved aggravation and it will be your heart’s desire, most like.  As for your second question, I think you’re an immature, spiteful child who wouldn’t know civil discourse if it punched her in the face.” 


“Well you’re too stupid to know when someone’s feeding you dog shit.”  

“What did you say?”  

“When you were asleep, I put a small, dried-out piece of shit from one of Ramsay’s dogs on your plate beneath some of the food while you were asleep and you didn’t even notice.  It was cold, hard, and black.  I think there was a fingernail in there or something, but it you must not have tasted it.  I was hoping you’d choke on it!  Who do you think the fingernail belonged to, Your Grace?”  Domeric’s face paled as he frantically shoved his right index finger down his throat.  The so-called King in The North threw up all over his hand within seconds...which was good because Arya couldn’t contain her laughter any longer.  At first, she laughed so hard that she could barely breath.  

“You should’ve...you should...you should’ve seen the look...the look on your...your stupid face!  I can’t believe I actually tricked you into...into making yourself throw up.”  

“But you said –”  

“How stupid are you?  I didn’t actually put dog shit in your food, idiot.  What do you think I did?  Do you think I just walked up to Ramsay’s stupid man-eating dogs and said ‘Good morning, can I have a big old piece of your crap so that I can feed it to this idiot I’m being forced to marry?’  I can’t believe you actually fell for –” 
*THUD*  

...

“Ughhhh...what...wait, how did I get on this stupid bed?  Oh right, I was laughing at you for throwing up all over yourself and you hit me because you’re too stupid to do anything else when you’re angry.”  Stupid Bolton.  Arya glanced at the chain around her leg and frowned.  “You could’ve waited until I woke up to put this stupid thing on me.  Why am I even on your stupid bed anyway.  You said I could sleep on the floor and –”  

“As you say.  Alas, I fear there is one thing which I fear we must needs do first.”  

“I don’t care what you think we have to do first.  I’m going to sleep right now and when I wake up, this stupid day will finally be over,” growled the Lone Wolf.  Without another word, she grabbed a pillow and jumped off the blue-eyed monster’s bed.  Arya was about to lay down on the floor when she noticed that Domeric was staring at her with a look that was equal parts disgust, contempt, and bitter defeat.  He’s going to hurt me because I tricked him into throwing-up, Arya realized.  The Lone Wolf bit her lip and began slowly backing away from the madman towering above her as she tried to decide where Lord Bolton would’ve put Vengeance.  I bet Vengeance isn’t even in this stupid room; Lord Bolton wouldn’t let me keep a flaying knife in here, most like.  Domeric is probably upset because he’s about to do something so horrible that he hates himself for even thinking of it.  He can’t kill me, but what if...what if Lord Bolton doesn’t care whether how badly he beats me now that the wedding is over?  Fear cuts deeper than swords.  Fear cuts deeper than swords.  


“You better not come any closer!” 


“Is that so?” 

“Yes and stop looking at me like that; I don’t like it!” 

“What you like matters not at all, I think.  And that is the least of your problems besides.  Tell me, have you always been this selfish?  Why is it that you insist upon complaining about the situation in which we currently find ourselves when I’m plainly the true victim of this madness?  Did you ever think about how unpleasant this incident will be for me?” 

“Did you just call yourself a victim?  You’re not the one who is being forced to –”   

“I accept your apology.  And you’re quite right; you and father do need to do a better job of considering my needs.  I’m glad you agree that any mild inconvenience you may suffer tonight pales in comparison to that which I must needs endure.” 

“I never said that and you know it, so stop trying to act like I did!  Why do you always pretend people are saying whatever you want to hear? 
Do you have any idea how annoying that is?” 

“I fear I can’t argue with you about that; it is plainly better for us to get this over with rather than dragging out my suffering any longer.” 

“ARRRGGGGHHHHHH!” 

“I should warn you that this will hurt, most like.” 

“What are you even talking...I mean...whatever you’re about to do, you’d better not do it because...because...Lord Bolton won’t let you hurt me,” Arya blurted even though she knew it wasn’t true...not really.  Domeric let out a bitter laugh and the cold, cruel look in his eyes seemed to flicker like a pale, blue flame.

“Tell me, who do you think is forcing me to do this?” Forcing you to do what? 

“Well...umm...even if your stupid father did tell you to do something bad to me, if you come even one step closer, I...I’ll tell Lord Bolton you attacked me tonight and almost killed –” 

“I think not.” 

“I really will!” 

“Would you truly risk causing your child growing up without a father?” 

“That’s stupid, I don’t even have any children.” 

“As you say.” 

“And the rest of what you said doesn’t even make any sense either, idiot.” 

“No?”

“Nope!  If my child grew up without a father because you died, then that would...wait...but...but that would mean...” That...that can’t be it!  Lord Bolton would never tell either of his children to do that...would he?  He said Domeric needed an heir and a second son, but...NO!  He...he can’t!  Not today!  Not today!  Not today!  Not today! 

“Go on, I fear it would be impolite to do this without first making you aware of what is about to happen.” 

“But if you were my son’s father then that would mean we...and you’d have...and I’d...and I’d have to be a mother to...and we...we’d have had to...but that would mean you r-r-r-raped –” 

“A husband cannot rape his wife, I think.  I fear father has insisted that I claim my rights as your Lord husband tonight.  Don’t worry, I have no intention of ever doing this again once you have given me two sons.”  Arya’s eyes shot toward the chain around her leg and it dawned on her that she was effectively bolted to the wall.  One thought raced through her mind and it was the only thought that mattered as she desperately ran toward the other end of the room: NO!  NO!  NO!  NO!  NO!  NO!  NO!  NO!

The Lone Wolf tried to leap over the bed, but the chain was too short and she landed right on top of it instead.  Domeric grabbed Arya by the neck with his left hand and was about to rip off her wedding dress when he released the frightened child, shoved her to the other side of the bed, and gagged in disgust as Arya felt something cold and wet spread across her groin.  The Lone Wolf turned and watched in a mixture of confusion, amusement, and fear as Domeric desperately tried to rub the blood off of his hand...only to realize that he was rubbing his hand on the part of his bed-sheet where Arya had been pinned down right before she started bleeding.  As she watched Domeric curse the dried blood and listened to him scream something about feeling “violated,” Arya couldn’t help wondering if she was the first person to possibly avoid being raped by bleeding on her would-be attacker. 

“Even when the blood is gone, I’ll feel that...that...that filth on my hand for the rest of my life,” wailed Domeric.  “Nothing can undo what you just did to me!” 

“YOU WERE ABOUT TO RAPE ME!” 

“IT’S NOT RAPE IF IT HAPPENS IN A MARRIAGE!” 

“YES IT IS!” 

“YOU BLED ON ME!” 

“I also bled on your bed.”  Domeric glanced at the blood stain in the middle of the bed and let out an audible gasp. 

“Seven Hells, now I have to sleep on the floor. 
I feel so...so...I feel unclean...” 


“You’d better not sleep on the part of the floor by left side of the bed; I’m sleeping there and I chose that spot first!” 

“Very well.  I’m going to sleep on the part of the floor by the right side of the bed; else you’ll probably bleed on me again.” 

“Seven Hells, it’s just a little bit of blood; stop being such a baby about it.” 


“IT’S BLOOD FROM YOUR...from...from...I can’t even say the word,” whined Domeric, shivering. 


“What do you think Ramsay and Lord Bolton will think about your behavior tonight,” asked Arya with a wicked grin.  Help me, you stupid Old Gods!  Please let this work!  Domeric’s face paled and the Lone Wolf knew she’d won...for now, at least. 

“You can’t...I mean...please...please don’t, they’ll never –” 

“The last time I did you a favor; you said you didn’t have to repay it.  Why should I help you now?” 

“If you don’t tell anyone about this then...then I’ll tell father that was your maidenblood.  He won’t make me claim my rights –” 

“You mean he won’t make you rape me?” 

“But it’s not rape if –” 


“Say the stupid word or I’ll tell both of them that you almost started crying because you got some of the blood on your hand from when I bled.” 

“Fine,” muttered Domeric.  “Father won’t make me claim...he won’t make me rape you for at least a few months if he thinks I might’ve gotten you with child tonight.  He considers forcing me to do this a necessary evil and won’t want to think about it, most like.” 

“Deal.  Only...” 

“Only what?” 


“If this doesn’t work or Lord Bolton doesn’t believe you then the deal is off.” 

“It will work.  Father, he...he’ll believe me, I think.” 

“He’d better,” growled the Lone Wolf. 

...

Domeric was still staring at his right hand like a broken man when a loud noise from outside the room woke Arya from her slumber.  *KNOCK*  *KNOCK*

“GO AWAY,” shouted Arya. 

“Domeric, you will open this door now,” snapped Lord Bolton.  The Lone Wolf glanced at her stupid husband and saw that his pale, blue eyes were bloodshot; he’d plainly been up all night gazing at his hand like an idiot.  It’s just blood; stop acting like someone just gave you gray scale.  How do you ever supposed to lead the North if you let yourself get all worked up about something as stupid as this?  I bet I’d make a better Lord than you...  Domeric did as he was told and the Lord of the Dreadfort stormed into the room, followed by Bran and Ramsay. 

“I thought your creature told you the girl was involved.”

“Reek doesn’t lie, father,” insisted Ramsay...a reply which earned the bastard a slap in the face.  Lord Snow bore his teeth, but managed – albeit only barely – to keep from slapping his father back.  The bastard was so angry that he didn’t even notice Domeric rubbing his blood-stained hand on his back.  Lord Bolton noticed, but was plainly too focused on other matters to comment.

“And you believed him?  Fool.  If the girl knew where they were, she would have gone with them, I think.” 

“But you heard Reek, he said –” 

“I thought she ran away with them.  I really did!  Please don’t me angry with me, master,” blurted Bran. 

“Thought?  You told me you were certain just a moment ago.  You’ve just embarrassed me in front of father; what do good Reeks do when they anger their masters?” 

“I’ve been bad; I deserve to be punished,” wailed Bran. 
“Please be kind and give me what I deserve, master.” 

“I don’t even know who or what you’re talking about, you dumb bastard,” snapped Arya. 

“SHUT UP, YOU HORSE-FACED CUNT” screamed Ramsay as he kicked The Lone Wolf’s kneeling, sobbing brother in the chest. 

“Hey!  Leave him alone!” 

“Reek, ask me to kick you again.  Do it. 
NOW!” 

“M-mast-master, p-p-please kick me again.” 

“As you wish,” replied Ramsay with cheerful cruelty as he kicked Bran in the face. 

“I SAID LEAVE HIM ALONE!” 

“I didn’t do anything that Reek didn’t ask me to do to him.  I suppose you could even say that I’m making him happier than he ever was when he lived with your family.  Isn’t that right, Reek?” 

“Liar!  Liar!  Liar!  Liar!  His name is Brandon Stark and he’s not your stupid Reek! 
And Bran is not happy here and he never will be either, so you better stop pretending that he is!” 

“That’s not what he says.  Reek, would you like the bad woman you take you away from your home?”  As Reek began sobbing, screaming, and babbling incoherently, it became plain to Arya that if she didn’t get Bran to safety soon, she might lose him forever.

“Enough,” snapped Lord Bolton.  “Your brother Rickon and Theon Greyjoy are both missing from the dungeons.  The guards are dead and we searched Lord Manderly’s food train before he left.  If you know how this situation came to pass, I would advise you to provide me with that information immediately, else I shall be forced to instruct Lord Snow to send his dogs after them.  Do you understand?” 

“Rickon escaped?” 

“The boy cannot prove his identity.  It matters not at all, I think.” 

“I don’t know where they are, but even if I did, I wouldn’t tell you!  Especially not after what you told Domeric to do to me.” 

“Was the procedure performed properly?” 

“It was horrible, but that’s none of your stupid –” 
Lord Bolton glanced at Ramsay and the bastard sent Arya crashing to the ground with a single blow to the belly. 

“That was a lie, I think.  You do not behave like one who was taken against her will.  Domeric, we will speak of your disappointing...performance later.  If you should prove unable to put the good of our House ahead of your own selfish desires, I fear I shall be forced to have Ramsay perform this task.  What matters is that the world believe the girl’s children are your sons.  Their actual father matters not at all, I think.  I understand these things can take time, so I will give the two of you one month to begin procreating every night on your own initiative until Lady Arya is with child.  Do I make myself clear,” asked the Lord of the Dreadfort as Bran and Ramsay left the room. 

“I’m not a Lady!” 

“Yes, father,” groaned Domeric. 

“Good,” replied Lord Bolton, slamming the door behind him. 

“Seven Hells, father forced me to marry you which means I can’t very well let Ramsay rape you, but I can’t disobey him either.  Of course, I can’t get you with child either without violating our agreement.  You’ve put me in a very unreasonable position, I think.”  Unreasonable?  UNREASONABLE?  I’LL SHOW YOU UNREASONABLE, YOU STUPID...NO!  Stay calm!  Must stay calm! 
Domeric might actually listen to his father this time if I yell at him for being such a stupid idiot. 

“What...*cough*...what are you going to do,” the Lone Wolf asked nervously as she struggled to get up off the ground. 

“In truth, I fear I haven’t the faintest idea.  Of course, if father were dead, I’d simply take the black, bring you and your brother with me to the Wall, and make the bastard my heir,” replied Domeric.  The Lone Wolf wasn’t listening though...not really.  Arya knew what she needed to do: I am going to kill Lord Bolton, mother; you’ll see!  I’ll kill him tonight and then Bran will finally be safe...

Chapter Text

Davos

“You are Azor Ahai reborn, Your Grace.  You have nothing to fear for you are unlike any other man living,” insisted the Red Woman.  She spoke in a warm whisper that somehow managed to echo through every inch of the throne room.  I don’t care what powers that bloody woman does or doesn’t have; this is madness!  

“There has to be another way.  Do you know what sort of King lights himself on fire?  A Mad King.  Once I’m dead and buried, men will spit on my grave.  They’ll call me King Areys III.”  

“Do you doubt the Lord of Light, Your Grace?  He is the one true God and he lives within you, the one true King of Westeros.”  

“I don’t doubt him; no one could...not after the things you showed me in the flames.  How can any man deny the truth once he’s seen it with his own eyes?”  

“The Onion Knight denies the truth, Your Grace.  Even now he refuses to recognize the one true God,” added the current Lord Florent.  Colin Florent – the fourth Lord of Brightwater since the beginning of the War of the Five Kings – was rumored to be a far more tolerant and pragmatic man than the late Lords Allister, Alekayne, and Axell Florent and Davos had briefly hoped he might prove a moderating influence on the Queen’s Men.  Alas, Lord Colin quickly proved himself to be a man cut from the same greasy cloth as his three predecessors.  At least this one takes after his eldest brother in temperament.  If nothing else, he doesn’t scream half so much as the late Lord Axell nor does he puff up like a bloated fish at the slightest provocation like his eldest nephew. Both of Lord Colin’s nephews and one of his brothers had perished at the Battle of the Blackwater which meant that he was now the last remaining male member of the Florent bloodline.  

“Forgive me, m’Lord, I'm afraid I’ve always lacked House Florent’s talent for changin' faiths the way the rest of us change cloths,” countered Davos.  

“There are no other faiths, Onion Knight, nor are there any other Gods.  I’d try and remember that if I were you.”  

“Enough,” growled the King.  “Lord Florent, leave us.  And you will not refer to Lord Seaworth as ‘Onion Knight.’  He is a Lord now and has been for some time.  I’d try and remember that if I were you, my Lord.”  

“As you wish, Your Grace,” grunted Lord Florent.  The man calmly exited the throne room as the King began to grind his teeth.  Once the Lord of Brightwater had left the room, Stannis turned to the Red Woman.  “Go on, my Lady.”  

“There is nothing more to say that you do not already know, Your Grace.  You are Azor Ahai reborn; you have nothing to fear from fire so long as you do not doubt the power of the one true God.  The Lord of Light will protect his champion, but your rebirth will not be complete until you’ve been reborn in the flames.”  

“The flames, they...she says they will cleanse your soul,” added Selyse.  

“Your Grace, this is madness,” blurted the Onion Lord. 

“Is that what you think, Lord Seaworth? 
That I have become the Mad King?  That I would see my subjects burn while my kingdom bleeds?”  

“He damns himself with his own mouth.  You heard how this so-called Lord of yours mocked the one true God!  He should have been burned a long time ago!  The Lord of Light wouldn't bring back that sinner,” snapped the Queen.  

“Quiet.  I will not see the only useful member of the Small Council burn.  Some here may have forgotten how he came to be known as the Onion Knight, but I have not.”  

“Thank you, Your Grace.”  

“Spare me your thanks, Lord Seaworth, I asked you a question and I would have it answered now.”  

“No, Your Grace, I do not think you are mad.  I think you are the King.  The one true King and the only man living who is fit to rule the seven kingdoms.”  

“Good.  Now let the Lady Melisandre finish speaking."  

“As you wish, Your Grace.”  

“Lord Davos speaks of that which he cannot understand and men always fear what they do not understand, Your Grace.  Even so, the Lord of Light has made it plain that we will need him during the war to come...the only war that matters.  You must have complete faith in the Lord of Light, Your Grace.  He lit a path that you as his champion must needs follow...wherever it may lead...no matter what the cost.  He has given you Lightbringer, seated you upon the Iron Throne, protected you from Lord Allister and other would-be traitors, slain those who refused to bend the knee to their King such as Robb Stark and Tywin Lannister...and the Lord of Light will continue to do so in the future.  All he asks in return is that we follow him without question when the time comes.  Some men may be no more than soldiers in his army, but you are so much more, Your Grace.  You are his champion and he has shown us the wildfire hidden beneath this city for a reason.  If you do not complete your rebirth by giving yourself over completely to the flames then the darkness will return to Westeros once more and this time, the Long Night will never end...not unless you follow the path the Lord of Light has chosen for you.”  Can she truly be so mad as to ask His Grace to destroy Westero’s last hope – its only hope – for peace by setting himself aflame.  After all the men who have fought, bled, and died to seat him upon the Iron Throne...  Stannis ground his teeth for what felt like an eternity before finally replying to the madwoman.  Even Lord Celtigar and Lord Velaryon were plainly horrified by the insanity unfolding before them...not that either man had the courage to say so.  

“Very well.  If there is truly no other way then I shall do as the Lord of Light commands.”  NO!  “Great or small, every man has his duty and none of us have the luxury of choosing our destinies besides...not even Kings.  It is the duty of every man in the Seven Kingdoms to obey me in all the things when called upon to do so just as it is my duty to defend them from all enemies.”  

“Your Grace, we’ve only recently secured the backin' of the Crownlands Lords.  Even if you survive, men like Lord Rosby will abandon your cause if you do this.”  

“Those traitors should be grateful that I did not put all of their heads on spikes where they belong.  I will not bend over backward for what is mine by rights nor will I abandon my subjects to appease a pack of fools who have spent the war dancing from one camp to the next.  It is the duty of every man in the Seven Kingdoms to obey me in all the things when called upon to do so just as it is my duty to defend them from all enemies.”  

“And what of your family, Your Grace?  This could cause the deaths of Queen Selyse and Princess Shireen.  There are more and more Sparrows in the capitol every day.  A man callin' himself the High Sparrow has begun organizing those bloody fanatics and agitating against your rule.  If you should perish in this wretched ritual, how long do you think it will be before the mob descends upon the Red Keep and kills every Baratheon it can find?”  

“I will not perish, my Lord.  And you would do well not to presume to lecture me on how to protect my family ever again.  No man has that right,” the King coldly replied.  

“Very well, Your Grace.  All the same, I beg of you, don’t do this thing.  Most of Westeros is under the thumb of one traitor or another.  These men have made your kingdom bleed and they will continue doing still until you stop them.  Not even the guest right is scared to these animals.  Randyll Tarly –”  

“Lord Tarly,” grunted Stannis.  “Whatever else he may be, the man is still a Lord.” 

“Beggin' your pardon, Your Grace.  Lord Tarly violated the sacred laws of hospitality by murderin' his so-called allies at his own daughter’s wedding.  Lord Tyrell has refused to punish his anyone involved in the massacre even though Lord Tarly is one of his bannermen.  The Tyrells claim to be fightin' to defend Tommen Baratheon's claim and they control The Westerlands and The Reach."  

"Waters."  

"Your Grace?"  

"My nephew's name is Tommen Waters, Lord Seaworth.  The boy is a bastard born of incest.  That abomination has no claim to the Iron Throne, The Westerlands, Casterly Rock, or anything else."  

"Aye, Your Grace, but the Tyrells are using him as their puppet all the same.  And they're not the only traitors who refuse to recognize you as the one true King besides.  The Late Lord Walder of House Frey murdered the man he once called his King."  

"It was not an accident that Lord choked to to death on his own wine right after the second Red Wedding.  The Lord of Light has punished Lord Frey for his sins, Your Grace...just as he will punish the Tarlys and Tyrells," added the Red Woman.  

"There you have it, Lord Davos.  Or do you deny that the Lord of Light has seen justice done to House Frey?"  

"Aye, I deny it, Your Grace.  Lord Walder may be dead and buried, but he was simply replaced by one of his sons – a man who participated in the Red Wedding, most like – who now rules The Riverlands while keepin' both Lord Tully and his own half-sister as hostages.  More than one Frey was responsible for the Red Wedding and punishing just one of those animals for that massacre is a poor excuse for justice, Your Grace."  

"Very well.  The Freys, Tyrells, and Tarlys will all answer for their crimes once order has been restored in The Riverlands and The Reach.  The Starks, Lannisters, and Tullys may be traitors, but they are still entitled to the King's Justice just like any other man in the Seven Kingdoms.  Is that all, my Lord?"  

"We are surrounded by enemies on all sides, Your Grace.  And it's not just the Sparrows, Freys, and Tyrells either.  Lord Bolton has wed his son to Lady Arya of House Stark and is claimin' that this makes his heir the new King in The North.  The Boltons mean to continue Robb Stark's war for Northern independence and they've received recognition from both House Frey and most of the ReachLords."  

"Then Lord Bolton is a fool," replied the King.  "Even if he hadn't been a traitor, Lady Sansa was next in House Stark's line of succession.  Lord Bolton's heir has no claim to Winterfell or anything else except The Dreadfort."  

"Your Grace, Robb Stark sent ravens to Lords in each of the Seven Kingdoms informin' them that he had disinherited Lady Sansa in his will after she'd been betrothed to Axell Florent.  The boy's new will named his father's bastard as his heir until such time as his wife gave him son, but I'm told Ned Stark's baseborn son had already taken The Black.  After the Red Wedding, Lady Arya was the only surviving Stark left in her House's line of succession."  The King ground his teeth, but did not deny the truth of the Onion Lord's words.  "And there are still more traitors, Your Grace.  House Arryn’s words are ‘As High as Honor’ and yet Lady Lysa broke the guest right when she executed your previous Hand.  Even without Robb Stark's will, I imagine we'd have a hard time gettin' the Northmen to bend the knee considerin' Lady Sansa is now livin' with her aunt in the Eyrie.  And no one has been able to make contact with any of the Dornish Houses for quite some time, so far as I know, but I don’t imagine they’re likely to bend the knee of their own accord either.  Only the Stormlands and the Crownlands have truly recognized your claim.”  

“The realm is full of traitors, Lord Davos; what of it?”  

“The realm needs you now more than ever.”  

“And that is why I must needs do the only thing a good man can when faced with his duty.  The realm will still have its rightful King, but I will emerge from the flames as something greater...something that can defeat The Enemy when the darkness comes...and make no mistake, he is coming for all of us.  Stark, Lannister, Baratheon, Bolton, Tyrell, Tully; it makes no difference to the Army of the Dead.  I’ve seen them with my own eyes...”  

“But –”  

“When I offered the bastard Joffrey Waters and his mother to the Lord of Light, the Red Woman asked him to accept my sacrifice and kill the false King Robb Stark and Lord Tywin.  Look at what has happened since then, Lord Seaworth.  Tywin Lannister is dead.  Robb Stark is dead.  The Lord of Light rewarded my faith then and he shall do so again tonight.”  

“Aye, they’re both dead, Your Grace...only it wasn’t the Red Woman’s fire God that killed them nor her blood magic.  They were both killed at their kin's weddings by treasonous Lords who have shown no greater inclination to bend the knee than the men they killed.  Beggin' your pardon, Your Grace, but if that’s the reward for your faith in this so-called Lord of Light then it seems to me like a rather hollow one.”  

“Enough.  I’ve made my decision, Lord Davos.  We’ll speak no more of this, is that understood?”  

“Yes, Your Grace.”  

...

The night was so dark that even the moon offered precious little light.  Before long, the once peaceful evening winds began to howl like a screaming child being ripped from its mother’s breast.  Small waves hurled themselves towards the shore of Blackwater Bay, only to dissipate at the last second...and even then, the water was near as choppy as it was murky.  Of course, that last part could’ve just been on account of the poor visibility.  

In truth, one could be forgiven for mistaking the weather for some sort of divine warning against the blasphemous ritual that was about to occur.  The only thing missing was a thunderstorm; other than that it was as though nature itself were doing all it could to signal its displeasure.  Despite his mounting dread...despite his certainty that the King’s chosen course could end only in a senseless tragedy from which the realm might never recover, the cruel irony of the present situation was not lost on the Onion Hand.  The last time Davos stood on the shore of Blackwater Bay with Stannis Baratheon – the man to whom he owed everything he had and everything that he would ever be – was the morning after the King’s greatest victory: the Battle of the Blackwater.  His Grace had taken King’s Landing from the bastard, Joffrey Waters, and for a short time the Onion Hand had even dared to hope that it might force Tywin Lannister and his allies to sue for peace.  Then reality set in...  

For all the King’s determination to put an end to the corruption that had infected the capitol – and no man could doubt His Grace’s sincerity on this matter – even Davos couldn’t deny that very little had changed.  There were new faces, to be sure, but that only meant that the Lannisters and Varys’ of the world were replaced by Florents and Celitgars.  A man may trade yellow pus for green pus, but the infection will kill him all the same.  Before long, the Sparrows began rioting in the streets and demanding the Red Woman’s execution after word got out that she’d nearly convinced King Stannis to burn the Sept of Baelor.  Sparrows.  Nothing but a mob of lunatics so far as I can tell. 

By the time, the so-called High Sparrow began organizing the bloody fanatics, the city of King’s Landing oft seemed to have mobilized against its King like some sort of ragtag army.  And of course, the war showed no sign of winding down on any front.  Worst of all, Davos found that the King did not listen to him near as often as he once did after the disaster at The Eyrie.  It became near impossible to curtail the Red Woman’s influence after that and soon some men even began to whisper that she ruled through the King.  

The Onion Hand and Lords Velaryon, Celtigar, and Florent all watched in horror – each man taking great care to keep a safe distance – as the King strode out into Blackwater, the Red Woman following closely behind him.  Even Selyse looked as though she were beginning to doubt the wisdom of her husband’s decision as she watched several soldiers tie him to a wooden pyre.  At the King’s request, one soldier stabbed him in the belly four times so that he would die if any attempt was made to halt the ritual before its completion.  The very ground upon which the one true King had achieved his greatest triumph would also be the site of his destruction; Davos could feel it in his bones.  And yet, there was nothing the Onion Hand could do to save the only man capable of saving Westeros.  Stannis had ordered him not to interfere and a loyal man had only one available course of action when given a direct order by his King.  In the past, there had oft been orders whose wording left loopholes which could be exploited while still technically honoring the letter of the law, but this was not one of those times.  There were but two choices: submission and treason.  

There was a bright flash of light across the cold, cloudy sky followed by the thunder that was missing only a moment ago.  *CRASH*  Suddenly, the Onion Hand heard a terrible noise which could’ve been a ship smashing into jagged rocks somewhere off in the distance...or it could’ve been the wind.  In truth, it was impossible to say quite what the noise was as it went away after a few seconds.  The winds died down as the Red Woman began chanting in some sort of strange language and the ruby around her neck began to glow so brightly that it seemed to light up the entire shore.  Shireen began crying and the Onion Hand had to grab her tightly to keep her from bolting over to her father as the flames began to lick the King’s skin.  Davos held the frightened child close to him, determined to ensure that the poor girl didn’t see her father burn.  He could do that much, if little else.  In truth, Davos couldn’t bring himself to watch and had to close his eyes not long afterward.  If anyone was watching, they were in shock, most like.  Even the Red Woman had stopped chanting.  

The Onion Hand did not open his eyes for quite some time although it was impossible to say just how long.  When he did open them, the first thing Davos saw was that Princess – no, Queen – Shireen was still holding on to him as though her life depended upon it and sobbing uncontrollably.  Selyse is only a Dowager Queen now; Shireen will have a Regent, most like.  May The Seven save the Queen; that poor little girl is the last person in Westeros who deserves to have anything to do with this mess.  The second thing he saw was Selyse kneeling and screaming like a madwoman next to her husband’s body...which showed no sign of having been even slightly burned.  

“Stay here...and promise me that you won’t look unless I tell you to,” whispered Davos as he gently pried himself out of the young Queen’s arms.  

“I promise,” sniffled Shireen.  

In the end, the Red Woman appeared to have been right after all.  The flames did not burn the King, so mayhaps Stannis was Azor Adoni – or whatever the bloody name was – reborn.  Alas, the flames did not protect him from steel.  While he was being reborn in the flames, the King bled to death from the wounds he’d ordered his own soldiers to inflict upon him to force himself to go through with the ritual.  For once, the Red Woman had nothing to say; she simply stared at Stannis Baratheon’s lifeless body in a state of shock.  She didn’t even respond when Lord Celitgar began demanding her execution for “murdering His Grace with blasphemous blood magic.”  

“You, Onion Knight...err...Onion Hand,” shouted Lord Florent as several soldiers dragged the Dowager Queen away.  The poor woman was still sobbing uncontrollably and had plainly gone mad with grief, at least for the time being.  Even though the woman had been trying to have him burned for quite some time, the Onion Hand found that he couldn’t help pitying her although he didn’t feel half so sorry for her as he did for the 13 year-old who would now sit upon the Iron Throne.  I wouldn’t wish that bloody chair upon anyone right now...  Davos cautiously approached Lords Celtigar, Velaryon, and Florent.  

“As you know,” continued Lord Florent, “the three of us have always had the utmost respect for you, Lord Seaworth.  That is why we believe you should serve as the Queen’s Regent until Her Grace comes of age.  It is known how much the King trusted you and none of us can think of a better man for the job.  Naturally, we shall do our utmost to assist you in any manner necessary from Dragonstone.”  You mean you want me to be the wicked counselor the smallfolk and our enemies can blame when this all comes crashing down while you sail away to safety.  

“Can...can...can...can I open...open...can...can I...can I open my...my eyes now,” whimpered Shireen right as Davos was about tell Lord Florent where he could stick the Regency.  As much as the Onion Hand wanted to flee the city while there was still time, he found that he couldn’t bring himself to leave that frightened, innocent child to face certain death alone.  And he couldn’t possibly make a greater hash of things than this pack of cravens besides.  

“In a moment, Your Grace."  

“What?  Why...why did you cuh-call...call me that?”  

“Very well.  For the sake of Her Grace, I will serve as Regent if that is the Small Council’s wish.  Lord Velaryon and Lord Celtigar, the two of you may sail for Dragonstone tonight if you wish.  Lord Florent, my first act as Regent shall be to name you Hand of the Queen.  In light of your new position, I’m afraid I’ll have to insist that you remain here in the capitol.”  As terrible as the present situation was, it took all the Davos' self-restraint to keep from smirking as he watched the color drain from Lord Florent’s face.  

Chapter Text

“Forgive me, my Lord, but I fear that I cannot call you ‘Your Grace.’  I’m afraid the King Beyond The Wall is the only one whom I’m permitted to address by that title.  It would be disrespectful to treat you as though you were his equal,” Qyburn calmly informed the one-eyed fool as they approached one of the towering Mereenese pyramids.  

“Tell me, old man, does it not bother you in the least that I’m going to cut out your tongue and drown you once right after first meeting with this so-called King of the Night?  After all, I can’t imagine he’ll have any further need of a senile errand boy,” countered Euron with a yawn.  It might if there was any reason to think you’d survive the encounter...  What use could a creature as old and wise as time itself possibly have for the likes you?  

“His Grace and I have an arrangement.  You've made one with the King Beyond The Wall too, if I’m not mistaken, my Lord.  Of course, I’d be happy to send one of his birds back with a message informing him that you are unsatisfied with the terms he presented you.”  For a few seconds, Euron Greyjoy’s eye seemed to shine a touch less brightly.  Even this fool is smart enough to fear His Grace. 

“No, that...that won’t be necessary.”  

“I didn’t think so,” muttered Qyburn.  

“As I said, I’ll deal with this so-called King of yours once we meet face-to-face.”  

“No doubt, my Lord.”  Can this one truly be mad enough to challenge the King Beyond The Wall?  I suppose if he’s fool enough to believe the Others will have any further use for him once he’s completed his task, anything’s possible.  Why is it that I so oft find myself forced to share the company of boorish men like Euron Greyjoy and Vargo Hoat who lack even the faintest appreciation of the significance of my work?  Oh they may enjoy hacking off a limb here or cutting out a tongue there, to be sure, but only as a means of inspiring fear.  

It is one thing to carefully remove a man’s organs while he is alive in order to determine which are of vital importance and which can be safely removed if infected, but it is quite another to mutilate a man just to make a point or worse yet, simply to indulge one’s base desires.  It would seem that silently suffering the excesses of ungrateful, ignorant fools is the learned man’s burden.  I fear genius is never truly appreciated in its own time, but mayhaps that will change once the King Beyond The Wall fulfills his end of our bargain.  After all, it’s not every day that a man discovers the secret to achieving immortality.  

It matters not at all who unlocks that door for me.  In the end, all anyone will care about are the limitless possibilities that I may grant any man fortunate enough to count me as his friend.  Lord Bolton never saw my work as anything other than a mildly diverting amusement, I see that now.  He'll rue the day he broke faith with me soon enough.  Even the Maesters will come crawling on hand and knee, begging me to share my knowledge with them.  They’ll plead with me to forgive them for failing to appreciate the significance of my work and will leap at the chance to aid all of my future scientific endeavors.  It was a pleasing notion, to say the least and Qyburn felt his soft, withered lips curl into a small smile.  While the former Maester oft tried to suppress any emotions that could interfere with his work, in truth, even a learned man could benefit from a touch of genuine happiness every now and then...  

It was an exquisite dream, to be sure...and if suffering a blue-lipped sea-ape for a few more weeks was the only way to make it a reality, then so be it. I suppose one must needs make sacrifices from time to time and The King Beyond The Wall gave very specific instructions besides.  In truth, they couldn’t have come at a better time.  My priorities were not what they should’ve been.  Worse, I fear my I let myself get distracted from my work.  How could one little girl possibly be so difficult to kill?

It had been absolutely maddening to see how Lord Bolton’s bastard kept eluding the former Maester at Harrenhal.  Somehow the bloody child managed to succeed where countless warriors had failed and kill Lord Vargo...at least if Lord Bolton was to be believed.  The former Maester had managed to have the child’s food poisoned, but apparently one of the servants in Harrenhal’s kitchens simply had to choose that night to steal food from her bloody plate as he was delivering it.  It should’ve been her lying dead on the stone floor with a purple face twisted in pain and as she spent her final moments trying to claw open her own bloody throat.  Others take that spoiled brat!  I'm a learned man and I was out-maneuvered at every turn by some Lord's baseborn child.  Just thinking about the Bastard of Bolton was enough to make Qyburn grind his remaining teeth in frustration.  Aside from requesting that I discreetly dispose of some armorer’s apprentice for him, Lord Bolton showed no interest of any sort in my work after Lord Vargo’s death.  I must confess that I seldom get such well-built young men around his age to use as subjects, but even so...  

At least Lord Bolton still had time for me on a few rare occasions prior to the failed poisoning.  Afterward, he brought the bastard with him almost everywhere although judging by her behavior, I doubt he ever told the girl about the incident. On one occasion, Lord Bolton had forced even forced the former Maester to take precious time away form his work to clean Nan Snow after the bastard bled for the first time.  It was as though the little cunt knew she'd already won and had decided to humiliating the former Maester one last time simply because she could.  A fine Bolton that one will make.  Pity.  I had such hopes for Lord Bolton...  Roose Bolton and that bastard of his will pay for their insolent ignorance and soon.  The former Maester let out a quiet sigh of disappointment.  

Shortly after Lord Bolton and his baseborn brat left Harrenhal, a blue-eyed raven arrived with new instructions from the King Beyond The Wall.  His Grace’s commands were carefully organized in a step-by-step manner; and this further bolstered Qyburn’s confidence in his new patron.  The King Beyond The Wall provided detailed instructions about how to reach Myr in the quickest and safest way.  Upon arrival, the former Maester was to meet up with two men.  The first was some half-crazed, one-eyed Greyjoy with delusions of grandeur who had been exiled to Essos and already had his own limited communications with the King Beyond The Wall using some sort of strange magic he learned in Asshai.  The second was a Qarthi warlock named Pyat Pree who seldom spoke, but apparently had some sort of obsessive hatred of Daenerys Targaryen, the woman whom His Grace’s instructions concerned.  

I shall never understand the foolishness of my fellow man.  How could a mere mortal, even one with an army and three dragons at her disposal, ever hope to thwart the will of The King Beyond The Wall?  Of course, if His Grace’s last message is to be believed, the woman has already managed to lose control of two of the dragons.  Everything is falling into place just as His Grace promised.  Well...everything except the Bastard of Bolton.  That was the one thing His Grace seemed entirely unaware of, but I suppose not even the King Beyond The Wall is entirely omnipotent.  As annoying a nuisance as Nan Snow was, she is simply of too little consequence to command His Grace's attention, most like.  And his eyes have been fixed upon Meereen besides.   

The plan was a simple one and Qyburn was grateful for that much, at least.  Once the work had been completed, Pyat Pree would use his magic to transport the former Maester and the one-eyed Greyjoy all the way from Meereen to Myr where there would theoretically be a small ship to waiting to take the two of them to Pyke.  The King Beyond The Wall had indicated that they would encounter a dragon when they arrived at Pyke and that Lord Euron was to use some sort of horn to bring the beast under his control.  The former Maester glanced at Pyat Pree.  

“Tell me, how is it that you are able to transport yourselves and others across such great distances?  I imagine it must be a fascinating –”  

“Secret.  I will be there when it is time,” grunted the Warlock, looking at Qyburn as though he were a cockroach scurrying across the floor of some abandoned kitchen.  

“It speaks,” chuckled Euron. 

“You speak too much,” replied the Warlock before disappearing into thin air.  The one-eyed fool frowned and turned his attention to his only remaining companion.  “I’ve had a bit of a change of heart where you’re concerned, old man.  Did you know that?”  

“A fascinating epiphany, I’m sure.”  

“‘Epiphany?’  What did you just call me?” 

“My Lord, I wasn’t calling you anything.  An epiphany is...you don’t really care what the word means, do you,” sighed the former Maester.  As ever, I find myself surrounded by small-minded fools.  Mayhaps this one will become a Maester one day.  Say what you will about Euron Greyjoy, but the man certainly has the requisite lack of intellectual curiosity to serve as Grand Maester.  I dare say the man has missed his calling.  

“No, I most certainly do not care what any of your fancy five copper words mean.  How very astute of you to notice; mayhaps you’re not half so foolish as you look although I must confess that is a rather low bar.  Now where were we?  Ah, yes, now I remember!  You called me ‘my Lord‘ again.  I, in my infinite wisdom, have decided that if you call me that again I’ll kill you where you stand.  The Crimson King –”  

“‘The Night’s King’ is the proper term although His Grace prefers to be addressed as The King Beyond The Wall, at least while that ancient structure is still standing...”  

“Close enough; now don’t interrupt me again.  As I was saying, I don’t give a flaming fuck what the Sun King told you to call him.  He is going to give me dominion over everything south of The Neck.  That means I will be a King and...well...as the rightful King of the Iron Islands, I suppose I’m already a King.  You will refer to me as ‘His Grace’ or ‘Your Grace,’ is that understood?”  

“Yes, Your Grace,” sighed Qyburn.  Another day, another humiliation at the hands of a lesser man...  

“That’s better.  Now then, I believe we are due for an audience with a so-called Queen and her dragons.  We wouldn’t want to miss it, would we?  Do you think our friend beyond The Wall would mind if I fuck this royal slut before killing her?”  

“I fear he would object, Your Grace.  We are on an extremely tight schedule and there is no time to waste on such follies.”  Euron’s eye seemed to shine with anger and for a moment, Qyburn thought the blue-lipped fool was going to strike him.  Fortunately, the brute managed to calm himself down without resorting to senseless violence.  

“Very well.  For a few coppers, I can bury my cock in some other hole in the ground later.  It’s for the best, most like.  I’ll wager there are finer cunts for sale in the Myrish whorehouses anyway.”  Quite the romantic, aren’t we?   

...

A Maester might’ve looked at the interior of the largest Meereenese pyramid and thought that the so-called Dragon Queen and her counselors were safe.  Grand Maester Pycelle would’ve lost his nerve, fallen to his knees, and begged for mercy the moment he saw the army of guards, most like.  Of course, most Maesters did not understand that there were some types of knowledge...some powers which could not be understood through the narrow lens of widely accepted scientific conventional wisdom.  Archmaester Marwyn was the only one whose instincts led him to explore that which he did not yet understand instead of fearing it, but even he lacked the inner-strength to truly dedicate himself to the pursuit of knowledge.  Pity.  Archmaester Marwyn had the right instincts.  At least he acknowledged that my hypothesis about the false finality of death was worth investigating which is more than can be said for the other grey sheep of the Citadel.  The rest were elderly fools too frightened by their own shadows to ever dream an impossible dream.  It is of the utmost importance that any man who would unravel life’s great mysteries remain open to the possibility that the answer will not necessarily be something he knew to be possible.  

Of course, not even Archmaester Marwyn was willing to do all that was necessary to conquer death.  I fear he’d never set aside such restrictive distractions as conventional morality, loyalty, empathy, and honor.  Most of the great medical discoveries were made by men like me.  Deep down, the Maesters are grateful for our existance...not that they’d ever admit it, of course.  Oh they’ll happily enjoy the fruits of a learned man’s labors, but will they thank him for it?  No.  I fear the most consequential medical discoveries do not come gift-wrapped in some neat and tidy package.  You cannot conquer death or eradicate a terrible plague unless you truly commit yourself to doing whatever is necessary.  If tens, hundreds, or even thousands of innocents must needs suffer slow and painful deaths so that the rest of us may live our lives as wiser men, so be it.  After all, how can you learn how long you have to safe a wounded man’s life before he bleeds to death without first watching a man of roughly the same age die from a similar wound and recording how long it takes him to bleed out?  

And my subjects are of little consequence besides.  What could most smallfolk do in life which would outweigh the knowledge that I can gain by experimenting on them?  At least this way their deaths will matter, which is more than most men can say.  And if an experiment fails due to some unforeseen complication...well...if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.  After all, even minor medical breakthroughs are seldom made without considerable trial and error.  Such is the nature of scientific experimentation, Qyburn reminded himself as he took another look at the stone-faced men lining the walls of the pyramid like ants swarming over a chocolate plum.  

The pyramid certainly doesn’t lack for guards, but what use are mere soldiers against powers most men could only dream of?  Teleportation, self-duplication, and the Gods alone know what else...  If only the Warlock didn’t guard his order’s secrets so carefully...not that I blame him for doing so.  Naturally, that one-eyed fool is fascinated by the idea that a man could fight in battle despite lacking that which makes him a man.  If all goes as planned, we will be the first Westrosi men to experience teleportation and all Lord Euron cares about is the possible existence of a cockless army.  It would seem that jokes about male genitalia are what passes for wit on the Iron Islands.  Small things amuse small minds, I suppose.  Will Lord Euron introduce himself to The King Beyond The Wall by asking how Others reproduce, the former Maester wondered, rolling his eyes.  Then again, the answer might be of some scientific value.  After all, a different species might have its own method of procreation.  I wonder...  

As the two men were escorted into the throne room, Qyburn glanced at the men flanking the false Queen Daenerys Targaryen.  The woman isn’t even a real Targaryen, most like.  She has the Targaryen look, but even so, this so-called Queen is probably little more than an impostor with dyed hair.  I suppose it matters not at all.  Standing next to the so-called Queen’s left was a bald, powder-faced man who carried himself like a woman.  To her right, was a man who – if his sigil was to be believed – had to be Ser Barristan Selmy, of all people.  What’s he doing here?  

“I’m told you’ve come from Westeros to bend the knee,” said the false Queen with a smug, self-satisfied air not unlike that which Euron Greyjoy himself possessed.  

“Not quite.  Of course, I was told you kept three dragons with you at all times and that’s not true either, is it?”  It shouldn’t be more than another minute or two until...hmm...the powder-faced man.  He suspects us of something already, Qyburn realized.  The former Maester glanced at the guards and for a moment he could’ve sworn they’d moved slightly closer, but the thought disappeared as quickly as it had arrived.  I fear the years are taking their toll; it would seem that my mind has begun playing tricks on me.  How could they know our intentions?  Even so, the bald one is planning something, that much is certain.  I wonder...  

“Two of them flew off.  First Drogon and then Viserion not long afterwards,” grunted Ser Barristan.  What’s taking that bloody Warlock so long?  He should be here by now or rather, about five or six of him should be here by now.  I like this not at all.  Seven Hells, the guards are definitely moving towards us.  Slowly and in complete unison, to be sure, but they’re inching closer.  Worse, they’ve already put a bolt over the door to the throne room.  This is a trap...it...it has to be...it’s not fair!  I was so close and...I...I can’t die now...not when there’s still so much work to be done.  The lisping Goat of Harrenhal.  The Leech Lord.  The Bastard of Bolton.  Urswyck the Faithless.  A one-eyed fool too blind to see death even as it approaches us at this very moment.  I’ve suffered countless humiliations at each of their hands to learn what The King Beyond The Wall would tell me.  Was it all for nothing?  Qyburn cursed Vargo Hoat, Roose Bolton, Nan Snow, Urswyck the Faithful, Euron Greyjoy, and everyone else whose excesses he’d suffered in silence over the years.  

“And the third dragon?  What of him,” inquired Lord Euron, ignoring Qyburn’s nervous glances and bitter glares.  

“Rhaegal...there was a village and...and he...”  For a moment, the false Targaryen’s face seemed to soften and resembled that of a mother mourning the death of a newborn.    There was even a faint hint of guilt in the so-called Queen’s voice when she said that nonsensical name.  Rhaegal.  What kind of name is that?  I suppose it is better than ‘Drogon,’ if nothing else.  What kind of half-wit would call a dragon 'Drogon?'  Does the fool think she was being clever by replacing the 'a' with another 'o?'  Then again, I’ve never understood the point of naming – or keeping – pets.  Animals should simply be referred to as ‘test subject one,’ ‘test subject two,’ and so on.  For a few seconds, the false Queen's mind was not in a Meereenese pyramid, but in some distant, unknown place...somewhere that was plainly a source of great pain for the woman calling herself Daenerys Targaryen.  However, her face quickly grew hard as stone and her violet eyes seemed to burn with an anger that wasn’t there before.  

“Tick-tock.  I don’t have all bloody day,” whined the one-eyed fool with a melodramatic yawn.  The guards aren’t even that far away anymore, you fool.  Haven’t you noticed that they’ve been moving closer and closer?  Does he some sort of bloody death wish?  

“I did not grant you and your...traveling companion an audience to discuss my children.  I merely wished to see whether or not either of you would confess to your crimes on your own once upon realizing the folly of your plot.  Lord Varys told me that you were seen communicating with a Qarthi Warlock.  The Warlocks of Qarth have already tried to assassinate me on one occasion and they failed then...just as they will fail today.  If you confess to your crimes and name any other conspirators, I will consider simply exiling the first of you to do so from Meereen.  Or I could always let Rhaegal decide what to do with the two of you...”  

Suddenly, Euron began laughing uncontrollably and Qyburn breathed a sigh of relief.  At precisely that moment, several Pyat Prees – three in total – appeared behind the false Targaryen and her two advisors wielding a small blade.

“I confess,” whispered the Pree standing behind the so-called Queen before opening her throat at precisely the moment that one of the other Prees did the same to the powdered man.  However, Ser Barristan managed to stab the third Pree before it could kill him.  In truth, he didn't matter.  The false Queen and Lord Varys were both dead before anyone in the pyramid had a chance to react.  The two remaining Prees then vanished into thin air as quickly as they’d arrived and two more appeared behind Euron and Qyburn, grabbing them, and disappearing once more.  

In truth, Qyburn initially had no intention of keeping his promise to Pyat Pree about asking The King Beyond The Wall to spare the Qarthi Warlocks in exchange for transporting his servants to Myr after the execution of the one mortal whom His Grace deemed a threat...although the former Maester couldn’t imagine what threat a false Targaryen could pose.  However, after seeing just what the Warlocks were capable of, Qyburn began to reconsider.  Mayhaps I will ask His Grave to let me keep a few of them alive for further study...  

Chapter Text

Bran

*KNOCK*  *KNOCK*  *KNOCK*  “Father, I know you’re in there!  Open the bloody door,” Lord Ramsay roared.  The door to Lord Bolton’s solar, evidently unimpressed, didn’t offer so much as a creek in reply.  While it hurt Reek to see his master so angry, he knew it was for the best.  No matter how angry being ignored made Master, both Reek and Bran had learned long ago that it was always worse when he actually spoke with Lord Bolton.  No one could force Lord Ramsay to hurt you the way Lord Bolton could, that much was certain.  

For his part, Bran’s thoughts were elsewhere...somewhere far away from the Boltons, although he had gotten much closer to them last night than in any of his other dragon dreams.  Of late, the dreams had become far more frequent and Bran was grateful for that, if little else.  The dreams were the one time when he was always completely free of Reek.  In the dreams, he was not a cripple, but a great and terrible force of nature that could reduce even the mightiest castle to ashes on a whim.  In fact, he’d done just that to the entire island of Skagos last night.  The dream world was different and no matter what the Boltons did to Bran while he was awake, nothing could stop him from flying to The Dreadfort on some cold, bitter night and burning the dreadful place to the ground in his dreams.  It wouldn’t be real, but it would still be a beautiful dream and it gave Bran something to live for besides.  

The best part about the dragon dreams was that Bran wasn’t forced to crawl around on the floor like a giant, two-armed slug.  The oldest living son of Ned and Catelyn Stark could fly and there was nothing Ramsay or even Reek could do to take that from him.  Stop thinking about drag-drag-dragons, Brandon.  Master will hear you and then he’ll have to hurt us.  Mast...I mean...Ramsay can’t read our minds, Reek.  He’ll know!  But –  NO!  HE’LL KNOW!  HE ALWAYS KNOWS!  

He’ll hurt us anyway no matter what we do and I like thinking about my dragon dreams besides.  You can’t make me stop having them!  DON’T THINK ABOUT THEM WHILE YOU’RE AWAKE!  Please, Brandon, you...you don’t...you can’t know how much it hurts when you anger Master.  I’m the one who gets hurt, not you.  I keep us safe.  Okay, Reek, if I agree to only think about dragons at night then you have to let me talk to Arya and Rickon when Ramsay isn’t around.  

It was hard living with Reek, but in truth, it had gotten far easier of late.  Reek could be overpowering and any man who tried to resist him would inevitably be destroyed sooner or later.  Of course, there were other ways to handle the cowering madman.  If you accepted Reek’s existence and treated him as an extension of your own self, peaceful co-existence was possible as Bran eventually realized, much to his relief.  However, this required constant negotiations and mutual respect for wide variety of different boundaries.  

But Bran –  But what, Reek?  Master says your sister is very bad and Lord Ramsay, he knows everything and...and...NO!  I...I won’t allow it!  We can’t betray Master like that; I won’t!  NEVER!  He loves us so much and it would break his heart when he saw how much we’d forced him to hurt us.  How can you even think such a thing after everything Master has done for us?  He even lets us crawl on the floor instead of being carried because he knows we need the exercise.  If you let me talk to my family – including Arya – then I’ll stop spending the days thinking about a dragon toasting your precious master to a crisp and eating him alive.  That’s my final offer, Reek.  Take it or leave it!  OKAY.  Fine.  Get Master’s good and loyal Reek hurt all over again.  You’re always making Master hurt me, Brandon.  *KNOCK*  *KNOCK*  *KNOCK* 

“I SAID OPEN THE FUCKING DOOR, FATH –”  Suddenly, the door swung open and within seconds Lord Bolton had his son pinned against the wall.  The Leech Lord was holding a knife to Lord Ramsay’s throat.  The Lord of The Dreadfort was plainly struggling to keep control of his emotions...and failing.  This was not the calm, controlled, and calculating Lord who who used silence as a sword and wore caution was like a suit of armor, that much was certain.  Instead, Bran and Reek saw a disheveled man who had come a hair's width away from impulsively killing one of his sons.  Lord Bolton’s pale, blue eyes resembled two swirling balls of rage...each of which were one wrong word away from flying out of their sockets.  The rest of the Leech Lord’s features had contorted into some sort of twisted form that was equal parts fear and fury.  In truth, he looked more like some sort of cornered animal desperately fighting for its life than he did a man.  For a moment, neither of the two souls residing within Brandon Stark's mind could believe this was the most powerful man in The North.  

“WHAT DO YOU WANT?  I WILL OPEN YOUR THROAT RIGHT...right this...I...I fear I must needs beg your indulgence,” seethed the Lord of The Dreadfort, releasing his dumbstruck son.  “I fear I have not been myself since the Starkling escaped.  It was only a momentary lapse, I think.”  As the Leech Lord struggled to regain his composure, both Bran and Reek saw the full extent of the fear in the Lord of The Dreadfort’s eyes.  Lord Bolton would show anger from time to time and on rare occasions even a strange sort of weariness, but true fear...that was something new.  “No doubt, Rickon Stark is on his way to White Harbor as we speak.  I had everyone and everything bound for White Harbor searched five times, but there was still no sign of the Starkling.  I fear you were right about killing the boy, Ramsay.”  

“I...I was right?  About what?”  

“About killing Lord Rickon in the crib.  Had I instructed Domeric to let you hunt –"  

"I don't hunt anyone with a cock, father.  It's nowhere near as fun.  Of course, I suppose I could've sent Skinner or Grunt after –"  

"You will be silent.  It matters not at all whom you wish to feed to your dogs; you will hunt whomever I tell you to hunt.  Have I made myself clear, bastard?"  

"Yes, father," growled Lord Ramsay.  

"Good.  My point is that had I simply let you kill the Starkling, our current position would be secure, I think.  A wolf pup may be harmless enough in captivity, but in the wild...well...even the smallest of creatures can rise to the top of a fearsome pack under the right circumstances.  If nothing else, I should’ve killed Lord Rickon the moment it became clear that he would not be as...cooperative as that creature of yours.”  Fuck you too, you pale-skinned piece of shit!  Not so loud!  Master will hear you and...and he’ll...  “In truth, you are my son and I should have kept your counsel as well as Domeric’s, I think.  You will always be my son, Ramsay.  You know that, don't you?  Mayhaps I've been too hard on you.  As my son, I suppose you deserve a chance to prove your worth.  If you can devise a way to capture and kill Rickon Stark before word of his survival spreads, I shall reconsider your position in our House.  I'll expect to see the body.  As this so-called Reek is plainly your creature, I shall use Lady Arya to confirm the boy's identity.  I trust you are more than capable of this task.  Then again, mayhaps it would be best if I simply sent Locke to –”  

“NO!  I mean...no, father, that...that won't be necessary!  I...I can...thank you, father.  In a few days, I’ll have that little shit's corpse ready for your inspection and afterward, I'll feed him to my dogs.  I'll prove myself worthy of the Bolton name and –”  

“See that you do.  Oh and one more thing, you will not speak of a word of this to Lady Arya until such time as Lord Rickon's dead body has been brought to The Dreadfort.  I would not see you taunt my good-daughter with her youngest brother’s impending death.  The girl shall be permitted to spend the next few days believing that at least one Stark is safe from harm and leading some semblance of a happy life, if that is her wish.  In truth, she should know better, but if not then mayhaps this lesson will prove sufficient.  A wise man prepares himself for the worst whenever an outcome is uncertain, I think.  If I so much as suspect you of mentioning Rickon’s death to Lady Arya or instructing your...creature to do so for you prior to her identification of the boy's dead body, it will cost you every remaining toe on your left foot.  Is that understood?”  Why does Lord Bolton care whether or not Arya knows if Rickon is dead?  

“Fuck you,” whispered Lord Ramsay through clenched teeth as shock and gratitude gave way to bitter hatred.  

“What was that?”  

“I said ‘yes, father.’”  

“I suppose I should be thankful that you still fear me enough to lie.  Else I’d have to kill you before you disposed of Lord Rickon and then where would I be?  Right back where I started, I think.”  

...

Roose

The Lord of The Dreadfort silently studied the miserable excuse for a family bickering in front of him like spoiled children whose sole purpose in life was to ruin his dinner.  The present argument concerned the second Reek...Brandon Stark...or whatever name had been decided upon for that repulsive creature.  At least no one would believe that one was ever a Stark even if all three of his remaining siblings identified him.  I suppose that’s one less thing to worry about...  

“Bran?  Please, it...it’s okay!  You don't have to pretend not to know your name.  No one will hurt you if you answer to –”  

“Don’t be ridiculous, dear sister, of course I’ll hurt Reek if he answers to a false name.”  

“I’m NOT your stupid sister and his name is Brandon, not Reek.  He’s my brother, so you’d better stop pretending –”  

“His name is Reek,” snarled Ramsay.  Rather than attempt to bring either his wife or the bastard to heel, Domeric simply buried his face in his hands.  As for the bastard’s abomination, he seemed content to stick an index finger in each ear and close his eyes.  Seven Hells, what difference does it make what that wretched creature is called?  Surely the girl isn’t fool enough to think that calling my bastard’s crawling dog “Brandon” will cause it to forget its training.  In truth, it matters not at all.  If that...thing shows any sign of still knowing who it is, I fear I shall be forced to kill it immediately.  I would not repeat the mistake I made with Lord Rickon.  

“Shut up!”  

“Make me,” sneered the bastard.  Kill me now!  In truth, that is a rather foolish request.  The Old Gods are far too cruel to ever allow me to escape these screeching children in such a manner.  I fear that if neither of my children have proven themselves worthy of the Bolton name after everything I’ve done to them then they never will, most like.  I have been far too lenient with Domeric, I think.  

“You’d better leave my brother alone!”  And here one can plainly see Lady Arya’s limitations; no matter how many redeeming features a member of the weaker sex may have, in the end she shall still governed by her emotions.  Whatever else can be said about Lady Arya, she is no exception in that regard, I think.  Had she not impulsively indulged her illogical need for some sort of surrogate parental figure, controlling her might’ve proven far more difficult.  Pity.  If she were born a Bolton and of the right sex, mayhaps the child could’ve become a worthy heir.  Of course, quite a few adjustments would be necessary...  And yet mayhaps the finished product would be more satisfactory than it was in Domeric's case.  

“Hmm...that’s odd, I still seem to be able to talk whenever I want.  Wait a minute, let’s try something else, shall we?”  Ramsay slapped his creature in the face, knocking the useless sack of flesh out of its chair.  “Well now isn’t that a mystery for the ages?  I just hit Reek after you told me not to and I’ve never felt better in my life.  My hand certainly didn’t fall off as far as I can see.”  

“I could easily arrange that for you,” Domeric muttered.  The bastard glared at his brother, but it was plain that even Lord Snow knew better than to treat this remark as an idle threat.  Instead, he simply continued taunting the red-faced child who had stopped biting her lip and begun silently staring at the bastard.  In truth, the Lord of The Dreadfort found it oddly pleasing to see that his good-daughter had remembered the way she’d been trained to look at her enemies at Harrenhal.  

“It’s almost as though I don’t care what you say because you’re just a helpless little brat who’d do well to shut her cunt mouth before someone decides to shut it for her.  What do you think, Arya?  Could it be that I can hurt Reek whenever I want and that there’s simply nothing you’ll ever be able to do about it?  Oh dear, have I upset you?”  

“I order you to shut your stupid mouth right now and never call my brother Reek ever again,” shouted Arya, stabbing the table with her fork.  I suppose it was folly to expect a member of the weaker sex, much less a child, to possess the self-control necessary to simply stare at someone without ever replying.  In truth, this could prove amusing, if nothing else.  More importantly, I fear I’m still no closer to capturing the Stark boy.  Mayhaps the bastard cannot be relied upon after all...  

“What did you say?  Did...did you just give me a...did you just give me a command,” stammered Lord Snow, plainly too shocked to fully process what he’d just heard.  Of course, this only meant the inevitable explosion of anger would be that much more violent, most like.  

“I gave you two commands, stupid.  One of them was to stop talking, but I’m sure you didn’t mean to disobey my orders.  You probably just...forgot your place is all.  Let me explain to you how things are going to work from now on, idiot.  The only good thing about being a stupid Bolton is that it means you have to do whatever I say.  Do you know why?  You don’t?  That’s okay, I’ll give you a hint.  It’s because I’m a stupid Bolton and you’re just some dumb bastard.”  This is a trick of some sort, most like and yet even so...  If Lady Arya comes to believe that her authority exceeds the bastard’s so long as she pretends to self-identify as a Bolton, mayhaps in time she will forget that it’s just an act.  I suppose this behavior should be encouraged, at least for the time being.  

“You’ve already cost Reek five teeth, his left ear, and an eye.  If so much as one more word comes tumbling out of your cunt mouth, I’ll blind him.  And don’t think I won’t find a way to make sure the eyeballs end up in your food someday.  I hear direwolf tastes like chicken, but I suppose you’ll have to be the judge.”  Domeric should be controlling these fools himself and yet there he is laughing so hard that I fear he’s forgotten that a man should not cry.  Pathetic.  If I am forced to mediate this dispute, it will cost the so-called King in The North the top joint from one of his fingers.  

“I don’t remember giving you permission to speak, bastard.  Hold on, let me check...nope.  Maybe you’re just too stupid to understand things the first time.  Let’s try this again, I order you to shut up, stop hurting my brother, and to never call him anything except ‘Brandon Stark’ ever again.  Do you understand or should I start having your fingers cut off until you remember that all you’ll ever be is a stupid bastard and not a Bolton at all,” asked Arya in a flat, emotionless voice.  Seven Hells, the bloody child is taking this game of hers too far, I think.  I fear I shall now have to constantly supervise my bastard to ensure he doesn’t murder the girl before she gives Domeric two sons.  

The right side of Lord Snow’s face began to twitch and Lord Bolton gripped the handle of his hunting knife in case a brief show of force was required to bring the fool to heel.  As Ramsay rose from his chair, a voice that was somehow both as soft as a whisper and as loud as a thunder cut through the room like a knife.  

“Ramsay, sit.”  

“I AM NOT A FUCKING DOG!  If you want to treat the Stark bitch like your pet rat, that’s fine by me, but I’m in no mood for any more of your horseshit either, father.  I’ve already had more than enough of it for one day.”  Yes, that’s it, get all that out of your system.  You’ll regret every word soon enough, I think.  I would hand you a shovel, but your tongue seems to be digging you a much deeper hole than any tool ever could...  

“Father, he doesn’t mean –”  

“You will be silent.”  

“Yes, father,” mumbled Domeric.  Stop trying to appease me, you spineless fool.  Is it too much to ask that you stick a knife in my neck the next time I try to make an ‘adjustment’ to you?  It’s not kinslaying to kill one’s father, I think.  That was how I became Lord of The Dreadfort, just like my father before me.  I fear youth is truly wasted upon the young.  Seven Hells, at this rate I may die of natural causes...  

House Bolton will die with Domeric, most like.  In truth, my heir is little more than a soft, frightened little boy desperate for a pat on the head from his father.  No doubt he would be dutiful son if left to his own devices and mayhaps a gentle, obedient nature is to be commended in the smallfolk, but I fear it is not a good son I need.  The North follows strength, I think.  They will rebel against House Bolton – successfully, most like – the moment they stop fearing us.  I do not need an obedient son; I need a worthy heir.  I proved myself worthy of the Bolton name when I murdered my father.  Domeric should’ve sent me to an early grave years ago.  His failure to do so after all these years of torture says a great deal about him and none of it good...  

A King must needs be made of stronger stuff, else he will never have a peaceful land nor a quite people.  Fear is all that keeps men alive is this world, Kings most of all.  It is the only reason my fine friends within the Northern nobility haven’t skinned me alive, I think.  What Lord would ever fear Domeric after my death?  If only Domeric were a bastard residing at the Dreadfort and Lord Snow had never been conceived.  My son would’ve been much happier that way, I think...provided I had a worthy heir and was never forced to legitimize Domeric.  

“Why the long face, dear brother?  Did father just put you in timeout again?”  Domeric was trying to beg me to be lenient when punishing you for this outburst.  If you’re too great a fool to recognize even that much, I fear you’ll never amount to anything more than a mad dog.  Mayhaps it would be for the best if I had the bastard executed the moment he's finished disposing of Rickon Stark.  No, no, that would be kinslaying.  I certainly can’t legitimize him, else he’d murder any grandchildren from Domeric's branch of our House.  I suppose I could simply cripple the bastard further so that he no longer poses a threat to the rest of my kin.  

“I’m goin