“Come on you sorry sons of whores; it’s a thousand leagues from here to the Wall and winter is coming!” the booming voice of Yoren called out from his wagon to the column of thieves, rapists and murderers that made up the Night’s Watch’s newest recruits.
Amongst them the young Arya Stark, dressed like a boy and armed only with that twig she called a sword, by the god’s let’s hope none of this lot find out about her, he thought; shuddering at the idea of a lady being surrounded by bastards and criminals. He had hated having to treat her like some commoner and just chuck her in with the rest of the recruits, especially since she was likely still in shock, but he needed to get her out. He owed it to Ned to get her home. It was a small comfort, but a comfort nonetheless at the fact that armourer’s boy had stepped in moments before to defend her from that fat one and his twitchy friend with the sprawling blonde hair, if she’s any sense in her she’ll stick close to that armourer’s boy. The journey would be long and tough but heading out across the luscious green farmlands outside King’s Landing you could be easily forgiven for not believing that winter was actually coming. Shafts of sunlight streamed through the thick trees onto the Kingsroad and Yoren soaked it up; breathing in, closing his eyes and enjoying the warmth, the god’s know it’s going to get a lot colder. If he didn’t have to lead this sorry column, he could almost have drifted off to sleep.
For Arya, however, the journey was much less relaxing; she had been walking for hours and thanks to the fact that the wagon’s continuously kicked up dust towards them, her throat was cracked and dry. Also, that fat kid who had tried to take her sword wouldn’t stop scowling at her; she felt her hand tighten on the pommel of Needle, just in case.
“I shouldn’t think you’ll be needing that, not for him anyway,” the voice of the armourer’s boy cut through her thoughts, his blue eyes nodding towards the hand she held on Needle, “I can’t imagine he’ll be in a rush to try anything, not after you threatened him like you did… I have to ask though, did you really kill someone or did you just say that?” Arya looked down to the floor, her stomach lurched slightly thinking back to the pitiful groans of the stableboy – how he had pleaded for her to take the sword out and the looks of confusion as pain and then death overtook him. A pale greyness had gathered under his eyes and across his face the same way a cloud covers the sun and the ground turns dark in its wake. “It doesn’t matter here,” he said after a long pause before leaning down so his head was her height “where we’re going they don’t care what you done.”
“You already said that,” Arya pointed out matter of factly, looking up at the boy – he couldn’t be much older than Robb. He was probably a little taller too, but he slouched, she noted. She wasn’t sure that he believed she’d killed someone, she wasn’t sure she could believe it herself – all that time training with Syrio, or dreaming of becoming a great warrior, nobody had warned her you shit yourself when you die, nobody had prepared her for the panic and fear that were written over the stableboy’s face or the noise as he choked on his own blood. She almost threw up in her mouth, barely catching what he said next.
“Tis’ the truth,” he replied nonchalantly and shrugging at her, “I’m Gendry, by the way, just Gendry, I figure if we’re going to be walking a thousand leagues together we might as well get to know one another,” he finished, a slight rising in his voice indicating he had asked her a question.
“I’m Ary-, just ‘Arry,” Arya said; irritated at herself for almost slipping up so quickly, “have you ever been to the North?”
The blacksmith shook his head, “you?”
Arya cursed herself for asking the question; she hadn’t thought about what she would say back about herself; she had to think, fast. “When I was younger I think, my father took me there. It’s colder.”
“Where is your dad?” Gendry asked, seeming genuinely interested.
“He’s dead,” Arya said coldly, suppressing the image of him on his knees up on the platform and wishing away the tears brimming in her eyes and blurring her vision – she cursed herself under her breath: she was ‘Arry the orphan boy, she couldn’t very well be crying, it could ruin everything. If Gendry noticed, he didn’t let on.
“I never really had a family, I had mi mum, but she died many years past, and I never even knew mi dad,” he said, equally coldly with his eyes placed firmly forward, “I thought I’d found a family in my old master, best armourer in King’s Landing, but…” he trailed off, lost in thought before turning sharply towards her “Still, just ‘Arry, us bastards have got to stick together right?” he shot her a smile that didn’t reach his eyes, “and we’ll all be brothers soon enough.”
She smiled back knowing that hers too wouldn’t reach her eyes; he could clearly see something was wrong and he patted her shoulder intending to be supportive; unfortunately he patted it so hard that she gave out a very high pitched yelp and tripped forward. “I’m sorry,” he said quickly, trying to help her up but receiving a well-aimed but futile push from her for his efforts. Even if he was barely moved he did, however, drop the helmet he was carrying and as he rushed to scoop it up Arya noticed it for the first time, “my hands, I’ve been hammering steel for the last ten years and I guess I forget my own strength sometimes.”
“What’s that?” She asked ignoring his apology and looking towards the helmet, “Can I see it?”
“It’s my helmet,” he said, puffing his chest out slightly in obvious pride, he reluctantly handed it to her.
“Where did you steal it?” She asked him in a flat tone, not betraying any emotion in her face.
“I didn’t steal it I made-.” he began protesting but stopped as he saw she’d burst into a wide smile, bringing back the memory of their conversation about her sword. He bumped into her with his shoulder, knocking her probably a little too far as one of the horses in the procession nearby reacted skittishly and they were both cursed at from the wagon driver behind them. Arya’s grin was that of a disobedient child and for a brief moment they both burst out laughing before she turned back to look at the helmet properly, admiring the craftsmanship and running her hands over the seams where the metal was folded.
"This is incredible,” she stated in awe, “but why a bull?” she asked, passing the helmet back to him and noting the care with which he accepted it back, as though it was the most valuable thing in the world.
“At the armoury they said I was stubborn as a bull, they thought it was an insult,” he smiled at her, this time it did reach his blue eyes. He seemed to appreciate somebody noticing the skill in his work – it probably wasn’t often that anybody congratulated him, Arya thought. “What about you? You don’t look strong enough to have done any manual labour?”
Arya froze; after all, what could she say? Her heart pounded in her chest.
“It’s alright; I was just making conversation,” he said softly, noticing that his question had bothered her, “I didn’t mean to pry.”
“It’s not that,” Arya replied, honestly thankful as he had managed to take her mind off of everything if only for a few moments, “it’s just, well… tell me more about your helmet; how did you make it?”
Gendry seemed only too happy to change the topic of their conversation and seemed even happier to talk about his helmet; it was evident to Arya how much pride he took in it and the care he had taken to forge it. He talked about the proper temperatures to heat the steel to and how to create a neat join; he seemed to disappear into his own mind when he described the hum that the metal made after it was hit against the anvil. She found herself utterly immersed in his description, admiring the way in which even thinking about the craft he loved seemed to provide him solace. It was only when he told her that it had been praised by the Hand of the King himself she felt the stabbing pain of loss and pictured the platform – Cersei, Ilyn Payne, The Hound, Sansa, they had all been up there. She bit back the urge to ask questions knowing that she couldn’t afford to draw more attention to herself. Gendry misinterpreted her reaction as disbelief and went on to describe the man that could only be her father. She felt trapped, suffocated - how did my father know this boy? Is he lying? What makes me think I can even trust him?
“Right you lazy sons of whores, we break here tonight!” Yoren roared out from the head of the column to Arya’s immediate relief. She couldn’t remember exactly when it had happened but the bright blue sky of the afternoon had given way to a fiery, orange glow and with the sunlight no longer directly on them a chill crept through the air. She may have been from the North but in Winterfell she slept in a room warmed by fires and the heated water that ran through the castle walls; as a lady she wasn’t allowed to sleep rough, not at home… home…
She looked round to find Gendry unloading a carriage full of furs and was happy they wouldn’t have to sleep without anything to keep warm. He smiled at her and took an extra pack from the pile before heading her way. As she rolled out her furs she heard the familiar crack of wood burning shortly followed by the smell of some kind of meat cooking, probably rabbit. The smell triggered a painful growl from her stomach and she realised only then how hungry she was, she hadn’t eaten anything the whole day. The meat was added to some kind of broth served with bits of stale loaf and water – it was hardly the food she was used to but in her state, starving and tired, it tasted better than anything even the best cooks at Winterfell could prepare. She finished hers almost immediately after it was given to her, clearing her plate to suppress her ravenous appetite; she was far from full when she finished, but it would do – she hadn’t had anything better during her time in Fleabottom since her father had been arrested.
When the fires died down and the men went to their furs she realised only then the danger she was in, she looked to her side and felt a pang of relief to find the person sleeping nearest to her was Gendry. He seemed to notice her concern because he nodded at her, when she finally shut her weary eyes she did so while gripping Needle tightly to her chest, just in case.
In the darkness a deep chill crawled up the back of her spine as the faces on the platform swam towards her: her father, on his knees, Ilyn Payne, drawing Ice from its great sheath, Cersei, Joffrey, Sansa, The Hound. Around her the fists of a thousand cheering bystanders rejoiced when the sword dropped, taking her father’s head with it. She bolted upright, heart racing and sweat pouring from her forehead. She looked around in the moonlight before realising something was touching her arm, someone, she immediately reached for Needle and pointed it towards the figure.
“Seven hells ‘Arry,” Gendry growled, his blue eyes shone in the darkness, “You were crying and, well, I just wanted to check you were alright is all.”
“I’m alright,” she mumbled before lying back down wiping the sweat and what she assumed were tears from her face, “thank you Gendry,” she said as the darkness overcame her again.