He looked around him on the way to the forge - it didn't take much to notice the pox had relaxed its grip on Harrenhal while Gendry had recovered in Qyburn's cells. The mangled castle seemed finally to breathe again, a rasping gasp that shuddered and reeked of waste and the dead but brought with it air nonetheless. All around people's steps were less heavy, faces less drawn - even the shadows in the walls looked lighter if it were possible. And whether it was the warmth of her lips or an end to the sickness that plagued the castle, an altogether more dangerous contagion snaked through the twisting courts and corridors that made up of what was left of the once great home to Harren the Black
Hope, Tobho Mott had said to Gendry once or the madness of hope as he'd put it.
Back then Gendry hadn't hidden his desire to be more than what he was - a bastard orphan from Flea Bottom. he wanted to be out of the slums: to have a home - a real home - and a trade, and a family. He envied the men who swept into the forge in form fitted clothing of rich fabrics and bright colours. He'd asked Tobho as a boy how you could become one of them, a knight or someone important. His old master had laughed, patting him on the head and told him to keep working.
There is nothing in the seven hells more dangerous than hope lad, he had said gently, don't fill your head with fancy thoughts - you just worry about you and it'll be alright.
It had been a long time since Gendry had only worried for himself, not since he met the girl with a very sharp sword. It stung to think of Tobho knowing the old man had sold him to the watch, he was still the closest thing to a father he'd ever had. He wondered absently whether he'd still think that if Yoren had lived and they'd made their way north, he'd have long since reached Winterfell by now. Gendry shook himself from the thought and walked towards the sounds of metal being struck hard by hammers.
The forge at Harrenhal was filled with fresh faces, mostly boys who looked far too thin to have any real experience smithing. He recognised a kid of ten and three with sandy hair, but almost none of the others. He didn't need to ask where the rest were - all around the courtyards bodies were still being loaded onto the backs of wagons to be burned. Most of the boys didn't look like they'd even seen a hammer let alone picked one up, and if the piles of battered swords, helmets, shields and breastplates were anything to go by then the forge must have been struggling for weeks. He breathed a slight sigh of relief - they weren't likely to throw away a skilled hand when they were so clearly behind on work.
"Good to have you back." Lucan said quietly from behind him, seeming to sense Gendry's assessment of the situation and following his eyeline to the age of the boys working, "There's enough to be done without having to look after children." The man paused, and looked at Gendry's splinted leg, "I trust you won't slow us down."
"I won't, I promise." He said with more certainty than he felt. The truth was, whatever paste Qyburn had put on his knuckles may have brought down the swelling but he doubted he'd be able to swing his hammer properly without cracking open the scrabs on his hand. Even if he could, he doubted he'd be able to balance on his leg long enough to strike.
"Good." Lucan grunted, lips quirking into a thin but genuine smile before gesturing to the other children, "This lot are yours - start them on nails, horseshoes, hinges and whatever else Lord Tywin needs to get this castle back and running in good working order." He paused to point at two of the oldest of the group, boys with a light covering of hair on their cheeks, "You two, you're with me - we work on these." He picked up one of the crumpled helmets for effect and threw it to one of them.
Even in his state part of Gendry was affronted he wasn't allowed to work on the armour - it was silly really, Lucan had done him a kindness by putting him in charge of the youngest boys and keeping him from the heavier work. Even so, part of him felt slighted - he wished Lucan could have seen his helmet or some of his work in King's Landing.
"We take shifts, the forge stays lit day and night - let the fire die you're back at the pens, miss your shift you're back at the pens... and if you should fall behind," he stopped and look at each of them in turn, daring them to say something. One of the younger boys took the bait.
"It's... the pens?" The boy asked timidly, voice cracking slightly, he had dark brown curls matted with dirt and sweat and ears too large for his face.
Lucan rounded on him and barked, "No! Fall behind and all the fires in the seven hells will feel like a Northern breeze as you work til you're done or you fallen in from exhaustion."
The boy paled and took an involuntary step away from the heat of the forge. Lucan straightened himself up, caught Gendry's eye and winked at him as if to let him know he wasn't serious about working the boys into the furnace. But burns were a blacksmith's profession, Gendry had long since stopped fearing the fire, the pens - the pens did frighten him. The memory of the rat and the bucket pressing around his chest frightened him. Looking around at the other terrified faces he was reminded that though Lucan was a kindly man, he was not exactly kind. As the forge leapt into a flurry of activity Gendry set the young boys around him to gather the materials and tools they needed and spared a glance at the master blacksmith; he was leaning next to a pillar and pointing to the dented edge of a sword, explaining to the two boys how to repair the blade. Beneath all the bravado, Lucan just looked tired - sickly almost.
Gendry set on talking to him later, after he'd finished his own work. He was able to do a surprising amount of his work sitting down, with the boys fetching things for him and hanging off his every word - none of them wanted to go to the pens. He smiled to himself at the thought that he had an actual captive audience. He was slower, but he found he could used his left hand and a small hammer to shape a number of nails and bolts for the many new buildings and repairs that the Lannisters had ordered constructed around Harrenhal. Gendry still remembered how impregnable the dark walls had looked when they entered, but whether it was his fever breaking, the madness of hope or just keener observation it was clear from the inside that the castle was too sprawling and too broken to be properly defensible. He wondered if reputation was the only reason they hadn't been attacked.
He lost himself in his work, the warmth of the metal in front of him soothing him as he concentrated on each piece of steel - it had always amazed him, the moment that it turned molten; fiery and malleable under his hand and ready to become whatever shape he wanted it to be. Not for the first time he wondered if the blackened walls had glowed the same white when the dragon fire had melted the stone into the strange shapes all around them. It must have been a sight to watch - dragonfire as far as you could see turning the world around to dust and blackened earth. As he gently hammered the tip of the first nail into a square head he watched the metal fade to a deep red with each tap - nails were surprisingly tricky to make, hit them too soon or too hard and they bent or became too thin, hit them too late and they broke. All the same, he hadn't become a smith to hit nails, and the whole process was slower with the boys having to fetch and pour and pass the tools to him, but they made progress.
"This is good work." Lucan said over his shoulder, it must have been an hour later and they'd produced barely a dozen nails.
Gendry smiled unconvincingly at him, wiping the sweat from his eyes and leaning back as one of the boys took the most recent nail to cool.
"You're upset I asked you to make nails." Lucan stated in a way that invited no disagreement, when Gendry tried to deny it he sat next to him adding, "You are. Any man can make a sword…" He paused when Gendry looked like he might interrupt and then continued, "Not anyone can make a great sword, but we are not making great swords. These aren't the blades you buy on the Street of Steel, they need to cut and not much else. The lifeblood of a good defence is good nails for the wagons, the walkways, the gates and the barricades. My master told me it takes a thousand nails until you've mastered how to make them just right, though I take it you know that."
Gendry smiled reluctantly at the compliment, and said honestly, "We mainly made armour and swords, but my old master said any smith worth their salt should know how to make a decent set of tools."
"You be grateful he did!" Lucan laughed, "Makes you a damn sight more usable - these are good." He said as he properly inspected one of nails they'd cast and shaped. "Try not to die Lommy - I should like to see what you can do with both hands."
"Thank you, master… what should I call you?" Gendry asked, realising he didn't know Lucan's second name.
Lucan flashed him a grin that made him look half his age, "You just call me Lucan, you're nobody's apprentice anymore." All too soon his smile dropped as he looked at the boys who'd stopped working to listen - holding up one of the nails he barked out, "Fifty more by nightfall, come the morning, I want you all producing these."
A kindly man, but not exactly kind.
He ached, and the sun had just dipped under the castle walls when he left the forges and saw her again. She was standing under a halfarch, part of an old dividing wall to a room that had long since been destroyed. The last of sun's light painted a ghostly pink against her pale skin. It had been a surprisingly clear day and even now the sky was still bright; pinkish gold rays reflecting off the tips of the warped battlements. It was the first time Harrenhal had ever looked even slightly welcoming and for a moment Gendry thought he could imagine it in all its glory, but already men lit the night-time braziers to hold back the long, gloomy shadows that seemed to creep forward from every corner. It wouldn’t be long before it was hard to see without a torch.
"Arry." He said softly, and sent her a small smile. He limped towards her still using his stick for support.
She went rigid as she heard him. She looked almost frozen in panic and like she might bolt at any moment. He looked around to see if he could make out what was frightening her, but all around men just went about their duties and prepared to take their posts for the night watch. It took him far too long to realise she had frozen because of him. Her eyes were fixed on him, unbelieving and distrustful - when he finally took another step towards her she jolted backwards slightly. It was only a small step - but unmistakeable.
"Arry." He said quieter this time, gentler and filled with sorrow. He had left her here, he had left her alone in this place. He stopped a few feet away from her, giving her plenty of space. Gendry could feel it in her gaze; she was pulling away from him. "I'm here Arry."
The silence stretched uncomfortably until eventually she took a step towards him. She was a fragile thing, he thought idly, watching as she stood defensively and seemed to search his face. Not fragile in a soft way - hunger and grief had washed her softness away, her features were drawn thinner and had left straight lines and sharp edges. She was still beautiful, but more brittle - cut jagged like ice or metal hammered too cold. Fragile as a blade about to shatter, but he knew too well that shattered steel could cut too.
He waited as she found some answer in his eyes, though the gods only knew what the question was. Her expression softened slightly, but when she spoke she still sounded guarded,
"You," she began, unsure - pausing before continuing, "You kissed me."
Gendry smiled, "I did."
"I kissed you." She said quietly.
He nodded, "You did." If he wasn't afraid she might run at any second he could have laughed - Arya looked like she was trying to solve the hardest riddle in Old Town.
Her eyes burrowed into his, "Why?"
Because I love you, he almost said out loud. It wasn't the first time he'd thought it, he'd realised it in Qyburn's cell, but that realisation had never felt so real to him until she asked such a simple, impossible question. Of course he loved her; he had offered to die for her but more than that he had fought to live for her - how could he not love her. "Because," her eyes seemed to flash as he finished lamely, "I wanted to."
"Oh." She mouthed, and he was sure he caught disappointment on her face, and then vulnerability.
He wasn't used to seeing her like this - quiet and unsure, she was the first to poke sticks at murderers, she refused to kneel before lords and she had a knack for picking fights with people who were much bigger than her. She set her jaw, taking a small step forward to close the gap between them so nobody could hear what they said.
"You're here." She said out loud, more to herself than him and then set her jaw and asked bluntly but uncertainly, "What else do you want?"
His heart seemed to skip a beat, and Gendry's face flushed red looking at her, his companion and friend, Arya Stark. He felt hot under her gaze and his eyes dropped to her lips involuntarily. Pushing down the swell of heat he felt rushing through him, he bent his head down and caught her in a kiss. It was against all the rules of gods and men and he didn't care. Outside these walls he could be pelted with stones or gelded or worse but in this moment nobody in the Seven Kingdoms knew who they were, there was nobody to tell them they could never be. He smiled against her mouth at the thought that he might, in that moment, be the only person happy to be in Harrenhal.
It was a chaste, brief kiss; she let him press his lips against hers, leaning in and opening her mouth just slightly and taking in the sensation. When he began to pull away she followed him back, her mouth ghosting his until she could no longer catch his lips. He'd always been too impulsive, but he fought the urge to snake his arms around her back and pull her into a tight embrace, instead he stepped back and made space between them - instantly missing her warmth. This was new enough to Gendry, he guessed it must be completely new to her and he didn't want to overwhelm her, to scare her off. A not small part of him was still frightened she might not want to be with him like this.
"This is stupid." She announced suddenly, and he tried not show the hurt that flashed through him. He must have done a miserable job as she reached forward and held his hand, the hand that had scars across it, "Not this," She said looking at him directly, a smile playing on her lips "just, kissing and knights and silly girls - it was all Sansa ever talked about." Her smile faltered as she mentioned her sister.
"Good thing you're not a lady then," he said teasingly, trying to make her laugh. She hit him.
"Idiot." She shot back laughing, it felt like a long time since he had heard her laugh properly - he remembered how much more freely she smiled on the Kingsroad. They settled in a contented silence.
"Alright, what do you want?" He asked softly, almost without thinking.
She looked down at his hand and reached forward to touch it, even in the fading light the skin was still visibly bruised a deep purple and his knuckles were slightly swollen - the red blotching that had once ran the full length of his wrist to his fingers had faded now though, and he could flex and feel in his hand again. She turned it over in her palm and checked the marks from his old wounds, running a finger over the soft white scarring where the skin had split open.
"I, I don't want you to die." She looked up at him, the same fear he'd seen in her when Ser Amory had ordered him to stay on his feet, when the Tickler had pressed the rat against his chest or when she spotted the deep gash in his leg filling the stonework with his blood. She looked like she might cry - it was easy to forget how young she was, how young they both were.
"You and Lucan both." He grinned, attempting to make her smile.
"I'm serious." Her words were quiet but forceful and there was a frightening intensity in her eyes,
All at once he was surprised when she seemed to just spring forwards and catch him far too tightly in an embrace. It reminded him of the way family might hug each other after a long time apart - not that Gendry had much experience of that. He barely remembered his mother, and if Tobho had felt fatherly affection for him, he hadn't shown it. All too quickly she loosened her grip around him slightly and let her head rest against his chest, seemingly listening to his heart beating. He would have liked to have stayed like that, but there couldn't be much more than ten minutes of daylight left and if it wasn't safe in the day, it was even more dangerous after dark. Before he could break the hug she murmured against his chest.
"I want us to go to Winterfell."
He couldn't help but smile at her, even taken as he was by how exhausted she looked. Ignoring his racing heartbeat at her leaning against him, he gently created some space between them and led them to a small wall. She took a seat, face shadowed in the firelight from one of the nearby braziers.
"Are you," He started haltingly running a hand through his hair as he tried to come up with the right words "have you been... ok?"
She nodded unconvincingly, before her eyebrows furrowed and she asked a question of her own, "Where were you, how are you here?"
"With Qyburn, in one of the cells." He answered, she seemed to flinch slightly.
"They say he does experiments." She stated coldly.
Gendry pushed down the sounds of screaming in the dark. "Where have you been?"
"Tywin's war councils mostly."
"He's alive," she answered, smiling slightly, "and winning."
"Good." He breathed, “That’s really good.”
“He’ll like you,” she said, an expression akin to hope on her face, “they all will.”
“I’d be honoured.” He said, trying to mask the sudden hurt in his chest. If they made it back to her family, whatever they were would have to end – even still he couldn’t imagine not getting her back to her family. He changed the topic with another burning question on his mind – he thought he knew the answer but held out some hope that their friend might turn up, “Have you seen Hot Pie?”
She shook her head, and a hollow quietness fell between them. The sort of quietness Hot Pie probably would have managed to break up with some silly comment or noise. For how annoying the boy could be, Gendry couldn’t help but miss him dearly – he shouldn’t have died here.
"You should go back." He said, "It's almost nightfall."
She knew he was right; she didn’t even try to argue.
“I’m glad you’re alive.” She told him sincerely, “I really thought…”
Something in her seemed to make up her mind and she stepped lightly onto her tip toes, leant forwards and press a small peck on his cheek before slipping away and vanishing into the shadows.
There’s nothing more dangerous than hope.