Aryas dream was rapid and fevered. She was tangled in her bed sheets, pillows pushed to the floor due to her tossing and turning. Sweat was beading on her for head and her breath was coming in gasps. Her septa had been with her since the eve before when she complained of stomach pains and chills, Arya had missed supper in place of going to bed early and it was that that had her septa worried. It was so unlike this unruly child to miss a meal or an afternoon of play. So the septa had stayed close to Aryas rooms but out of sight knowing that the child would be furious at anyone coddling her, but when she heard the girls moans she did not hold back in running to see what was the matter. She had found Arya sick with fever and she had been unable to fully rouse her. The Maesters have come and gone but it was her septa that sat up with her throughout the night with a cool cloth pressed to Aryas forehead. She told the young girl stories of the north and even though she knew Arya could not hear her, it was more to ease the old septa then the young girl anyway. So there the septa sat speaking in a low voice and tending to the girl all the while praying to the old gods and the new that this fever would not take hold.
Arya didn't know where she was, she had thought herself in the gods woods for a moment but nothing seemed to look right. She was lost, definitely lost and scared. She had been running but couldn't seem to get very far because the ground would suck her feet in with every step. Her muscles burned from the effort, every inch of her was in pain and on fire but she had to keep going. It was so dark she couldn't see where she was going but that didn't matter as long as she kept moving. Pain shot through her stomach and took hold there, wrapping its way around and holding tight like a vice. It spread down her legs and up her chest leaving a searing mark on her side. She cried out thinking she must have been struck and when she looked down she saw red thick blood, her blood. What had hit her? But when she paused to look around it had given the ground time to swallow her and this time she couldn't pull her legs free, it was sucking her in and she screamed again clawing at the earth grabbing onto anything to stay above ground. She thought the ground would feel cold and damp but it was hot and stifling, she felt it burning and blistering her skin. Taking one last big gulp of air the ground swallowed her whole.
Arya woke up screaming in a panic. "hush Arya child, hush. You are here and everything is fine" her septa cood quickly stepping to Aryas side.
Arya was confused still thinking herself buried in the ground. she was thrashing and pushing the septa away. She grabbed Arya's face and looked into her eyes trying to calm the child again.
"sweetling, you are safe, everything is fine."
Gasping, Arya slowly started to come back to the room around her realizing she was no longer in the dream. She was weak, in pain and wanted nothing more than to close her eyes and have sleep claim her again. But her septa sat her up and began to rub her back in an attempt to keep Arya lucid. She had been asleep for two days while fighting the fever and her septa did not want her to slip away again.
Ringing the cloth out that she had just dipped in the basin beside the bed she lifted it to the back of Aryas neck and began to wipe away the sticky days old sweat.
"Just stay awake for a little longer, get something in your belly and you can rest again" she sweetly spoke as she began to drag the cloth around the front of Aryas neck.
Aryas exhausted eyes told her that was the last thing she wanted, but not having the strength to fight back she just inclined her head in consent and continued to let her septa clean her fevered skin. They brought her up some light broth but Arya only managed a few spoonfuls before her head began to droop again. Taking pity on the girl the septa gently laid her back down noticing with delight that Aryas fever had broke, she would let the girl rest now, the worst was behind her.
Neither of them knew that far across the red keep and in the slums of fleabottom Tobho Mott was thanking the gods as well. His apprentice Smith had been sick with fever for days, thrashing in his sleep and unable to calm the boy. He was a good strong lad but it had taken him so suddenly Mott feared he might lose him. But it was obvious now the fever had broken and the sickness would pass, the boy was safe now.
When Arya next awoke she could tell by the light in the room that it was early in the morning but of which day she did not know. She could see her Septa asleep, propped up on the chair next to her, knitting long forgotten and fallen to the ground. Arya was stiff and felt a low throbbing pain deep in her belly followed by an urgent need to make water. Gingerly she sat up to let herself out of bed and instantly knew something was wrong. Her thighs felt warm and sticky so she hastily threw back the covers to see what could be there.
It was her startled cry that woke the septa, jolting out of her slumber and frantically looking for the source of her disturbance. She did not have to look far for there was the girl, wide-eyed and terrified staring at her bloody nightgown.
"I'm bleeding! Oh gods what happened?" Arya shouted as she scrambled up towards the headboard only to reveal the bloody sheets that had bloomed underneath her. The poor girl was in a panic and uncomprehending what just had happened.
The septa gently rested a hand on Aryas arm in an attempt to comfort the girl but this only made Arya flinch away on instinct. Trying again but with soothing words this time instead of actions her Septa pressed on.
"It's ok child, you will be fine" The septa said with a knowing smile on her face. Arya only turned to her and gave a look as to say "Are you mad?! I'm dying!"
This made the septa laugh out loud "It is only your first moon blood." Tentatively she reached her hand to caress the girl's back.
"My What? No it can't be, it's too soon for that." The sentence started in a whisper but by the end there was no denying the tinge of panic to her words.
"You are more then old enough, this is a blessing and nothing to fear. You are a woman now, flowered and grown." The Septa seemed to be beaming at this point and for the life of her Arya could not think of why she would be so happy about this. Her life would be over now! Her lady mother would insist on finding her a match as soon as possible, and her sister... oh Sansa would take this as a personal slight that her little sister had flowered before her. No, no one could know about this.
Still in a panic Arya lashed out and grabbed the Septas arm and began to plead with a tone of desperation in her voice. "You can not tell, please no one can know." And then she added in "I promise I will never skip another lesson just, please tell no one." Her eyes wide with fear.
The septa gently patted her hand in understanding, her wild child of the north would have a hard time excepting this and would need time. "there is no need to fear, I will tell no one but your Lord father" she saw Arya quickly going to protest so the septa cut her off before the words could spill from her lips. "It is your lord father's right to know the goings on of his children, I will tell him and no one else, on this you have my word."
Arya wanted to fight her on this but she was still weak and tired from the days of illness so instead she just nodded her head and gaze down at the bloody sheets with a look of loathing.
The septa rose from her spot and made to cover Arya with the blankets once more. "I'm going to call for a bath to be sent up, it would do no good to your secrecy if the maids would see you and your sheets. Just rest and I will be back in a few moments to help you." With that the septa left Arya's chambers leaving her to her thoughts.
A bath did sound pleasant enough, her abdomen ached and she was sure the warm water would help soothe it. Her side still stung painfully from when she was struck in the dream for some reason. Tentatively Arya made to crawl out of bed again, placing her feet on the ground she gently got to her feet and ignored how the room seemed to sway. Cautiously she lifted her shift needing to see that the blood was in fact not from some still unknown injury. But when she pulled the shift passed her sex there was no denying it, she was a woman grown. With a angry grumble she began to lift her shift further to see why her side still hurt so. She gasped and quickly dropped her shift not believing or knowing what she saw. But just then she heard the maids outside the door with the bath and quickly stumbled back into bed, throwing the covers up around her neck. They let themselves in with the septa in tow. Aryas heart was rapidly pounding in her chest as her mind wheeled trying to process what she had seen. She watch the ladies bring pale after pale of warm water slowly filling the bath and her septa walking about the room grabbing a clean night shift and a drying cloth.
When the septa made to help Arya out of bed she shouted at her "No! Leave me be!" Pausing to gather her thoughts she tried again but with sweeter words. "I want to wash myself, please." She hoped her septa would think she was just embarrassed and leave her be.
"Alright child, but if you need me I will stay just outside the door?"
"Yes, thank you."
"Just let me know when you are done so I can help you dress and fetch your father."
Arya waited until the door was closed and she no longer heard her septas footsteps before getting out of bed again. She did not look down this time as she pulled off her shift and let it pool on the floor in a heap. Not having the courage yet to look at her side she simply grab the hand mirror off the night stand and set it by the bath. If she wanted to look, it would be there. Already exhausted from her efforts Arya climbed in the bath and just sat with her mind blank. She soaked for a long while before she finally with trembling hands grabbed the hand mirror again.
Arya slowly raised up her left arm and pulled it across her front to clasp her right shoulder. Shaking she held the hand mirror in her right hand and positioned it so she could see her left side. Taking a deep breath she turned her head to finally glance at what she had been avoiding. Her breath caught. There it was, just as she saw it last. Was she still in the dream sick with fever? She was sure this was no dream but, there high on her side where her ribs were, it sat black as coal and marring her skin.
How is this possible? Had she been cursed? Were curses even real? She tried to stop her brain from spinning and focus on what she saw. It looked simple and almost crude in design but there was no mistaking it, it was definitely a stag. Why a stag? she thought. Could it be something one of the Lannisters had done and this was the mark of the curse? No, then it would certainly be a lion.
Her thoughts then strayed to an old story she remembered hearing, a stupid story that Sansa loved. It was a story like every other about a fair maiden who loved a brave knight. The knight and the maiden were to be wed but before they could he was to go off to fight some war or another. Fearful of him dying and them losing one another they sought the help of a witch. They asked the witch to bind their souls so they could never be parted. Seeing that their love was strong and true the witch agreed by not only binding their souls but by also marking them for one another so that no matter what would happen to them they would find one another someday. The knight was marked with a winter rose for the maidens name and she was given the mark of his sword. Arya tried to remember what happened after that but she just couldn't, she never cared much for the story so she never really listened. Is that what this could be? The witches soul mark?
No, this certainly was no sword but a stag and a stag was the sign of house b... no! No! That could definitely not be it then! There was no way in the seven hells she was meant for the prince! It was just a stupid story of made up things for stupid girls like Sansa. But then what could this mark be? What would they do to her if anyone saw this? What would she do?
Getting out of the bath Arya made up her mind, She simply would not think about it anymore for it did not matter. Soul marks weren't real and even if they were she would marry no one, especially the prince! stars and gods be damned, no one but Arya would control her own life. Sansa would marry the prince and live there merry life while Arya would eventually beg to go back north to be free from them all. And if anyone ever saw the mark it would be too late, the stupid prince was already wedded! It would work, just ignore it till the threat had passed. With that finalized Arya dried her self and found a long cloth that the septa had given her to cut in strips for her moon blood, but instead she used it to wrap tightly around her chest. She would bind her budding breast and hide the mark at the same time, giving her the chance to ignore both of the things she wanted desperately to not think of. Finally dressed she called for the septa to change her sheets and fetch her father. Her septa was not happy with her for not asking for help when done with her bath but let it be only scolding her a little but more out of concern then actual anger.
When Ned Stark finally came to his daughters rooms Arya found it easy enough to convince her father to keep her flowering a secret as well. He would tell no one for a while longer because she knew he wanted the same thing she did, for her to be his little girl for just a while longer.
It was only a few moons after Neds conversation with Arya that he found himself in the forge of Tobho Mott. He had been retracing the steps of his predecessor Jon Aryn, trying to find the answers that Jon had been looking for, the answers that had gotten him killed.
As soon as Ned saw the boy he knew there was no mistaking it, this was Roberts son, for he looked to be his spitting image. This also confirmed what Ned had found at his previous two stops, Jon had been tracking down Roberts bastards for some reason. It was no secret that Robert had many bastards across the land so it troubled him that Jon had been seeking them out.
"My lord?" Mott questioned, drawing Ned from his thoughts.
Ned quickly made an excuse about needing some work done and began to ask questions about the boy. He was pleased enough that the boy was who he thought and he didn't want to stay too long and draw attention. But when Ned made his excuses to leave he was surprised to find Mott asking him for a word in private. Ned agreed thinking that the conversation could not take too long. Mott directed him to a small room off the smithy and quietly shut the door behind him.
"My lord, trust I know the reason you came to visit, same as the old hand of the King. You know who the boys father is." Mott hesitantly started the conversation not meeting Neds eyes, concern for the boy laced with his words.
"Yes I believe there is not much denying it, plain as day that's Roberts boy." Replied Ned rather nonchalantly with a shrug. “Does the boy know?”
“No my lord... but you must know? it cannot be safe for the boy here." Mott was hesitant but finally met Neds eyes.
"Has someone threatened him?" Ned question with concern growing on his brow. Was that why Jon had come here?
"No my Lord, but if the wrong person discovered him-"
But Ned cut him off starting to lose his patience with the conversation. "Robert has many bastard's and I see no need for you to fear for the boy, we will not point out who he is and if anyone comes looking or asking about him I have no doubt you will come to me." It was a command not a question that Ned gave him. He began to make his way to the door wanting to end the conversation and make his way back to the castle, he had much to do and needed to think on the day.
But again Mott stopped him with a plea for the boy. "Please my Lord, there is more.." but he trailed off needing a guarantee of the boy’s safety before he continued on. "But you must promise me the boy will be safe."
Taking a breath Ned turn back around to face the man and calmly stated. "I would never hurt a child let alone a son of Roberts. Please tell me what else you have to tell and speak plainly."
But Mott persisted "I have your word then that no harm will come to the boy and you will do all in your power to keep him safe?"
Ned thought this was a bit much, annoyed he answered "Yes I give my word, the boy will be safe."
Seeming to resign himself Mott took a deep breath. "My Lord a few months past the boy came down with a terrible fever, he's a strong lad but we feared we might lose him, It was so intense and the boy slept for days. But when he awoke he began to complain of a terrible burn on the back of his shoulder, when we lifted him... Believe me my Lord when I swear to you that this is no jest." And Mott tried to give Ned a look of intensity to convey that he knew how these words would sound but they were true nonetheless. "There was a mark on the back of his shoulder that had not been there before, I swear to you my lord that these words are true, the mark was a wolf."
Ned began to speak about the absurdity of it all and to remove himself again but then Mott was at the door barring his path, knowing that this might not be a wise decision but also knowing that he had to tell this man these words, he knew the boys life would depend on it.
"Please my Lord I will show you!" Mott practically shouted, and then a bit calmer. "I will have the boy show you the truth in these words and then if you still wish to make your leave I will let you go and never speak of it again I swear my Lord."
Ned was furious at this point, believing this man to be utterly insane and if he did not move from that door he is certain that this would be a dead man in front of him. Ned gripped the hilt of ice and simply nodded for Mott to open the door.
Mott ran out calling for the boy "Gendry?! Gendry! Quickly come here my boy." It was obvious that the boy was just as confused as Ned was. "Gendry, I need you to show lord Stark here.”
Gendry's eyes widened in surprise and fear. The Boy took a step back not knowing if he should run. But Ned having no time for this grabbed the boys shoulder and gave him a look that left no room for argument. "show me now boy, my patience is thin."
Ned saw the boys eyes glaze over with anger but he said nothing. He simply turned his back to the two men in front of him and slowly lifted his shirt.
Ned quickly sucked in a breath when he saw it. That was no wolf, that was a dierworlf. The thick black lines that represented his house were now straining across the mussels on the boys back.
"Did you show this to the old hand?"
"No m’lord." The boy answered "Only got it a few moons past."
"And how exactly did you get this?"
"was sick m'lord, with a fever... and when I awoke it was there." the boy said simply dropping his shirt and turning back around.
Ned now looked this Boy square in the eyes, searching for any hint of deceit. "and what do you remember of your fever?"
The boy met his eyes "Dreams m'lord, terrible dreams." He seem to be lost in his head for a moment. "It was freezing, everything was frozen. was so cold it burned my skin. I was being chased, can’t say by who. I ran fast as I could but my feet were freezing to the ground and my lungs burned with the cold, then suddenly... I was hit." Gesturing to his shoulder "right here... bout all I can remember till I woke."
Ned could find no trace of a lie in the boys eyes, and something was painfully scratching in the back of his head, screaming at him. That’s when his breath began to quicken and a sweat broke out on his forehead. "and when exactly did this happen?" Ned asked almost in a whisper.
"almost 4 moons past m’lord."
And that's when Ned knew, He didn't know how but he knew he had to speak with his daughter at once. Her illness at the same time, the dreams she told him about. This was no coincidence.
Quickly Ned looked back at Mott. "Tell no one of this and make sure the boy keeps a shirt on at all times, I will be in touch shortly but for now I must go."
"Thank you my lord." was all he could say in return but ned didn't even hear it for he was already out the door and on the streets headed back to the castle in search of Arya.
Quickly heading straight to his rooms Ned stopped the first of his men that he crossed and told him to find Arya and bring her back to him at once. He paced back-and-forth in front of his large oak door, thoughts still racing in his head. “I must be mad.” He muttered to himself. But all to shortly he heard a hesitant knock on his door. Racing over, Ned flung it open to reveal the surprised and anxious face of his youngest daughter. Wooden practice sword in hand and dressed in britches, he must have pulled her from her lessons Ned fondly thought. He prayed she would always be his wiled child.
"Father?" She questioned
"Come in, I must speak with you my little wolf." Speaking these words as gently as possible in the hopes of easing his daughters obvious distress.
Cautiously she walked in and carefully shut the door behind her. Fearing this would be a conversation about her being a woman grown now and needing a betrothal Arya sat her self down on the nearest chair and gripped the sides of it tightly to still her hands from shaking. She wanted to melt into the floor and disappear, anything to delay the and inevitable.
“I must ask you.. when you were sick with fever.." he paused grasping at the right words. "Has anything changed?"
She shrugged and look down "I already told you that father. "Her voice was so small, not wanting to say the words again.
Ned frowned and for a moment was confused, till realization took hold of him. "No child, not your moon blood, but something else?"
But where Ned thought she would look up with relief he only saw fear in her eyes.
"What?" Arya asked in a whisper, Ned didn’t think he had ever heard her so quiet. And in that moment Ned knew that she knew exactly what he was speaking of. Slowly he moved closer to her and knelt down to be at her level, putting his hand on hers for comfort.
"Arya?" Is all he said before she broke. She was crying and hurriedly flung her arms around her fathers neck and was fervently crying into his shoulder. Ned was shocked, but placed his hands on her back and rubbed soothing circles telling her it would be alright. How did he not notice that something had been truly troubling her for this long? The guilt had struck him hard then, she must have been consumed with fear and confusion this entire time.
A long moment passed before she had calmed enough to draw away from him and be able to speak.
"Arya, you must tell me for me to help you love." He spoke the words so gingerly to her and kissed her forehead while cupping the back of her head, Letting his lips linger there for just a moment, remembering her as a babe in his arms.
"I don't know what it is or how I got it." Speech broken by the residual hiccups from her tears. "I-I just woke up and it was there." Arya looked up at her father and he saw her eyes were brimming with tears again, ready to spill over at any moment. He lovingly patted her arm again giving her a moment to calm down. Ned closed his eyes and then told her. "I need you to show me love."
Arya bit her lip before nodding and standing up. Unsure of herself she took a deep breath and turned to her side and then lifted her shirt to reveal the binding underneath. She fiddled with the knot a moment before letting it unravel falling loosely to her waist where it lay limp and forgotten. Arya closed her eyes tightly, not wanting to see her fathers face when he saw.
Ned was somewhat dumbfounded, being unsure of what to expect. He was almost certain he was going to see another direwolf but instead a stag greeted his eyes. But it only took him a moment to realize why she had the mark of house Baratheon on her side. Of course it would be a stag he thought, The boy is Roberts son.
“That’s enough Arya" was all he spoke, letting her drop her shirt back down. She hesitantly walked back over to where she was seated before, sat down and began to just stare at her nail bitten hands.
"You won't make me marry him will you father?" Ned eyes shot up in surprise, did she somehow already know about the boy? But then she added "the prince" and Ned almost laughed at that but luckily caught himself before shaking his head and assuring her.
"No no my little wolf. I would never do such a thing. He will still marry your sister.”
Arya looked back up at him, relief written plainly on her face. He lovingly padded her hair down, trying to think of what to tell her. He needed time but knew he didn't have it. He needed to keep her safe and make sure no one saw the mark marring her skin, not that anyone would know what it meant if they did he was sure. He wasn't even completely sure what it meant, but he knew enough.
"You know I will always keep you safe Arya?" He Gently asked
Arya nodded and he saw again she was trying not to cry.
"And that is why i am to send you back home." The words pained him because he wanted nothing more than to have her safe here with him but he knew she wouldn't be safe there anymore.
"You're sending me away?" She asked with hurt written across her face.
But he gently chided her. "Only to keep you safe, I do not know what this means." gesturing to her side. “But we cannot trust people here if they discover it. Does anyone know but me Arya?"
She shook her head, biting her lip, still feeling pain at the thought of him sending her away but excited at the thought of going back north.
"Promise me Arya you will tell no one but your mother? Promise me?"
He hugged her then, so tightly, he wanted to crush her into him and let no one hurt his little girl. But she was not so little anymore, she had just turned 3 and ten and was already a woman grown and flowerd.
Reluctantly he let her go. "3 days to gather your things." He spoke softly "And then I will send you home."
Ned worked late into the night to make preparations. Firstly he told Robert that his wife had asked for their daughter to be sent back home. Robert seemed completely unconcerned and waved off Ned to do with her as he pleased. Next he wrote a letter to Tobho Mott explaining that he would send the boy north to Winterfell and have him kept safe and smith there, promising he would find him an adequate replacement for his apprentice. Ned handed the letter to one of his guards asking him to go discreetly at once and to deliver this to no one but Tobho Mott's hand directly.
He then sent to Raven to his wife explaining that he would be sending their daughter back home as she requested along with a new apprentice for Micon, hoping his wife would read between the lines. Ned would not say anymore in fear the raven could be intercepted.
Finally he wrote a much longer letter explaining everything, Arya, the sickness, her flowering, the mark and the boy. This letter would be sealed and given to Caitlyn's hands only. Ned told her that he didn't know what was to happen but that they would figure it out together. He would beg Roberts leave to return home as soon as Sansa was wed and until then she should make no hasty decisions with Arya's future or the boy for that fact. With words of love and devotion the letter was signed and sealed.
Ned thought to himself about what he would decide to do with Arya and the boy no, Gendry, Gendry was his name. Why did they two share this affliction? Were they now bound in some way?
Ned hoped not because As much as he hated to think it, a Kings bastard was still a bastard and could never marry the daughter of the hand of the king. Maybe the two would not even care for each other and it would make no difference? He could always send the boy away to one of his Bannerman and have him Smith there if it become an issue. But if the mark was what he thought it could be, it would matter. Perhaps he can ask Robert to recognize the boy and give him a lord ship? Then there might be no problem if they wed one another and no one then would have to know of the marks existence. Maybe this mark was not even what he thought at all?
He did know one thing, what ever the price Ned would keep his family safe.