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A Thousand Leagues

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“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.

 

Chapter Text

 

The darkness of the night soon melted into softer blues and the near silence of the woodlands, excluding the heavy snoring of the fat boy that threatened ‘Arry, was just now being broken by birdsong and with the sounds of the earliest rising merchants upon the Kingsroad. Gendry stared into the branches above him; it was just light enough for him to watch as their shape and form changed in the gentle morning breeze, but still too dark to pick out any details. How in seven hells am I going to survive the Wall if I’m too bloody cold here, he thought to himself with a shiver. He was a blacksmith through and through: he loved the heat of the roaring fires in the armoury and the clear ring and sizzle of his steel when he beat it with his hammer or dropped it into water to temper it. Out here, in the middle of woods, it was too cold and too quiet.

 

What did I do wrong? Gendry muttered to himself as he thought back to the events that brought him to this point. Two Hands of the King had visited him, him specifically, and within a few weeks they had both died, that can’t be chance could it? He was just some bastard from Fleabottom he knew that, but what could they have wanted from him? He remembered as Lord Stark leant close to him, studied him and then made a face that he would have sworn was one of recognition – what was it Lord Stark had seen in him? Nothing, Gendry sighed, I’m just a bastard boy who wants to feel special – Lord Arryn died of fever, probably because he was so old, and Lord Stark betrayed the crown, neither death was to do with me. I wasn’t even enough for my own Master to want to keep me. He didn’t understand why Tobho Mott, a man who’d sung nothing but the boys praises and had raised him for nearly 10 years, would just send him away. What did I do wrong?

 

His thoughts were broken by an almost noiseless whimpering nearby, coming from the thin bundle of furs that belonged to ‘Arry. Gendry thought him most peculiar, his voice hadn’t broken and his features were still soft and round compared to the rest of the men – he was more like a girl than a boy, and if he doesn’t stop crying, he won’t get through this. Gendry had already woken the boy twice when he started thrashing about in his sleep: the second time the boy had lashed out and caught him on the mouth drawing blood. ‘Arry was a truly awful sight, there was a horror in those sunk back grey eyes, a horror he hadn’t seen in anyone else’s; an anger that blazed hotter than wildfire. Whoever this boy is, whatever he’s seen, may the gods help him, Gendry thought, returning to trying and picking out the branches above him from the night sky, because I can’t.

 

By the time Yoren called out in his gruff angry voice for them to get up the darker blues had given way to light blues in the sky and before long Gendry could see the greens of the trees and the first tinges of the orange of the dawn. Truth be told, Gendry was happy to get walking again – even if he ached from the uncomfortable sleeping arrangements, something I had better get used to. After an uninspired breakfast of stale bread and a few swigs of water they had gathered from the local stream, Gendry took a quick piss before returning to the column to search for ‘Arry. The camping ground was a mass of activity, the fat boy and his scrawny friend were fetching water from the river, others were loading carriages with the furs and more still were using the stream to wash the worst of the mud from their bodies.

 

He eventually caught sight of ‘Arry returning from the woods – his face was pale and grey with dark circles formed under his bloodshot eyes; the water that he went on to splash on his cheeks did very little to hide his obvious fatigue. Gendry couldn’t help but pity him; whatever this boy was going through was tearing him apart, there was a weight above him pushing him down. The sight of this boy made Gendry’s own worries seem far less important and it was only after a few moments that he realised ‘Arry was staring back at him.

 

“How’d you sleep?” Gendry blurted, eager to break the awkward silence but regretting his choice of words as the boy winced in reply, “that bad huh?”

 

The boy nodded slowly, his mind clearly somewhere else before his grey eyes focussed on Gendry’s blue ones and he said quietly, “thank you… for-”

 

Gendry shook his head in response, “T’was nothing,” before shooting the boy a slight smile and then, after another awkward pause, looking forward and saying “it’s too bloody cold.”

 

‘Arry smiled back and for a brief moment Gendry thought something strange about the boy, his features were not that of a boy’s at all, but the moment was gone as soon as it had come when the boy’s face dropped back to that grim expression it seemed to be most comfortable wearing. Gendry stepped down to the stream and stripped off first his blacksmith’s tunic and then his small clothes; he washed his own face, wiping the grime from under his eyes and attempting to wake himself up before quickly running the water over his armpits and around his groin; making a vague effort to tidy himself up before the day’s walking began. He only noticed ‘Arry still watching him after he had put his clothes back on and, if he had not looked so grey, would have sworn the boy had flushed crimson.

 

It then became clear ‘Arry wasn’t looking at Gendry at all, but rather behind him – the red flush seeming to be one of anger. The fat boy was walking towards ‘Arry flanked by his scrawny blonde friend, Gendry took a deep breath as he saw ‘Arry’s hand fly instinctively to the handle of his sword, Gendry remembered that he’d said the sword was a gift, the familiarity with which he handled the blade did suggest perhaps he hadn’t stolen it, or maybe he’d stolen it a long while ago. Either way he walked towards ‘Arry’s side, leaving the fat boy in no illusion as to where he stood. ‘Arry shot him a thankful glance as he stood beside her and they waited for the two other boys to approach.

 

“I’m sorry,” the fat boy said as he walked over to the two of them, slightly out of breath, “I was… I was out of line yesterday, you were right I’m not a fighter – I’m a baker, or I was anyway… the name’s Hot Pie, well it’s not, but that’s what they used to call me, and I quite like it” he said, nervously trailing off before extending a grubby hand towards ‘Arry, “truce?”

 

There was a silence between the two groups and when neither ‘Arry nor Gendry made a move to shake the boy’s hand he withdrew it sheepishly before turning towards his thin friend with the flowing golden curls. “This is Lommy, Lommy Greenhands.”

 

“I’m sorry too,” Lommy said, looking first to ‘Arry and then up to Gendry, “I didn’t mean any disrespect.”

 

Gendry looked at them, and then to ‘Arry, relaxing a little as he saw the boy drop his grip from the pommel of his sword. “I’m ‘Arry,” he heard the boy say before ‘Arry gestured towards him, “this is Gendry, he was an armourer’s apprentice.” That was all that needed to be said and the two boys went back to gathering water further upstream, ‘Arry sighed a breath of relief and looked towards Gendry, shooting him a quick grin.

 

Once they were back on the road, they walked a while in silence, this time it was not awkward, it was the type that two companions, old friends, would walk in – both mutually appreciative of the company. It was difficult to find things to talk about – ‘Arry seemed desperate not to talk about his past to Gendry and Gendry wasn’t rushing to say any more about his old life as a Blacksmith’s apprentice – there wasn’t exactly much left to tell. He settled on asking her about the sword she carried.

 

“They say all the best swords have names,” he said after a while.

 

“It’s called Needle,” ‘Arry replied with a hint of sadness and hint of pride in his voice.

 

“Well that certainly fits,” he smiled, “but do you know the first thing about real combat?”

 

“Stick them with the pointy end,” ‘Arry replied, drawing the sword and performing a surprisingly good thrust into the air.

 

Gendry laughed to himself, the slight boy he walked with probably knew more about swords than half the men who had bought ceremonial armour from him back in Fleabottom. “That is the essence of it, I guess,” he replied but was surprised to see his comment met with silence, when he turned to look at the boy he had a furrowed brow as though he was remembering something, caught in the same troubled horror he had seen on ‘Arry’s face the night before.

 

They spent the next couple of hours in silence with ‘Arry walking in front of Gendry, he watched the boy wondering what it was that he was remembering, what was haunting him. Figures, Gendry thought to himself exasperated, all the recruits I could have befriended and I get him. ‘Arry was strange, that much was clear, most of the people around him were strange, but ‘Arry in particular seemed to be hiding something more important. He remembered the boys grey eyes, how they burned with anger and hatred, how they were full of darkness and the promise of death, how they had seemed somehow familiar. The whimpering, crying boy was only a part of ‘Arry, the subconscious part that rose only as he slept, the steely, hardened and fiery part now walked just a few feet in front of him with a will of iron. He caught himself being caught watching the way 'Arry walked, drawn in by the roll of the youth's hips, seven hells.

 

Lunch was a dull affair; stale bread with stale cheese and water from another nearby stream, Gendry figured that he’d just have to get used to this and that it probably wouldn’t seem too bad after a while. It was only after he’d finished that he realised ‘Arry had disappeared again, same as before breakfast, he scanned the treeline for him, even checking further down the column to make sure he hadn’t gone and eaten with other people but the fat boy and Lommy were on their own, seeming slightly too jovial, and ‘Arry was nowhere to be seen. He was just considering asking Yoren when the boy popped back into view from behind a nearby tree adjusting his belt.

 

“You shouldn’t wander so far off,” he joked, “they execute deserters you know.”

 

“Only after you’ve sworn your oaths,” ‘Arry shot back.

 

He couldn’t place it, something was off; something was different and yet familiar about ‘Arry. He looked at the youth from top to bottom, noting that the boy wore breeches that were too big for him, had short roughly cut dark brown head of thick matted hair and yet, despite seeming old enough to be able to grow some, had no facial hair at all. He looked past the age where his voice should have broken and whilst some boys did have a softness to their features, Gendry remembered hearing about listening to stories about some of the Lords in Kings Landing and the young boys they hired, ‘Arry’s features were less soft and more elegant, though admittedly that could just have been how gaunt the boy looked… that wasn’t what it was… perhaps it was the eyes? He felt like he recognised those grey piercing eyes from somewhere, but where from? He watched the boy’s hair as parts of it fell over his ears while others were cut short enough that the skin underneath could be seen – there was quite a stark contrast between the tanned skin of her face and the bright white skin at the back of her neck, the boy used to have longer hair. He kept watching, thinking about the way the boy spoke, the words he chose and the way he had walked and sat against the rocks. What kind of a boy would name his sword after a sewing instrument? His eyes travelled across ‘Arry’s face, along the small of his neck and down across the youth’s chest before being drawn yet further down to the boy’s curved legs, too curved.

 

Seven Hells!

 

It dawned on him.

 

Arry was a girl.

Chapter Text

What in the name of seven hells is a girl doing here? Gendry thought to himself looking from the small, half-eaten crust of bread in his hand to ‘Arry, who was seated at his side on the back of a wagon, seemingly lost in her troubles. The Night’s Watch don’t take girls, everyone knows that, so why is she here? Who is she? He furrowed his brow in frustration, wondering if he should just straight out ask her what she was doing with him and the other recruits and if Yoren knew about her being, well, a her. Who is she?

 

It had been vexing him for the past hour; he had even opened his mouth several times with the intention to speak but, with words failing him, he settled for running his tongue over his teeth to dislodge a piece of cheese that had got wedged in his gum, and spitting it off the edge of the wagon – much to the dismay of Hot Pie who was walking nearby. He knew he couldn’t very well ask her while they were travelling, it would be too risky what with some of the recruits walking within earshot. He resolved to wait and to ask her when they made camp; something about the idea of sleeping next to ‘Arry sent a rush of blood through him and a slight shiver down his spine. Seven hells.

 

He couldn’t deny his eyes were drawn to her, her hips were already wide enough to stretch her muddied breeches and the rough stitching of her jerkin was pulled tight over her bust. Looking at her now, at the steady rise and fall of her developing breasts as she breathed, it seemed unthinkable to Gendry that he’d thought she was anything but a girl. Even as pale and thin as she was, her boy’s clothes did little to conceal her form now he was looking for it; she would not be able to fool the others for long. He found his gaze lingering on the small of her neck, on the way the glistening beads of sweat that formed there seemed to dance in the shimmering sunlight; the shadows constantly changing shapes under the rustling leaves of the trees above. She was likely only a few years younger than him; he was just seven and ten with his nameday only recently having passed.

 

She was staring at something in the distance, past the great, towering trees that framed the Kingsroad as though expecting somebody to be following them. He hand was unknowingly rested on the pommel of her sword and she appeared oblivious to everything that was going on around her. Deep in her grey eyes he could see that same haunted look he’d caught glimpses of before, only now the rest of her face was as if it had been made of stone: still and cold, she betrayed no emotion; it was as though she her mind was elsewhere. Were it not for her breathing and the soft movement of the breeze on her messy hair she was so motionless he felt as though he could have been staring into a most intricate sculpture – he’d never really had an appreciation of art before, not outside of fine carvings and engravings on armour and weapons, but the way she sat frozen and silhouetted in front of him was enough for him to never want to look away. Who is she?

 

“Where are you from?” he asked after what felt like the longest time, his voice, caught in the back of his throat, was surprisingly dry and hoarse.

 

For a moment he wondered if she’d heard him, she made no signs of having registered that he’d said something, he was about to ask again when she turned to look at him with unfocussed and disinterested eyes, shrugging as she replied, “Flea Bottom, you?”

 

“The same,” he answered, not bothering to point out that he knew she was lying. He looked back towards Kings Landing – they had travelled far enough that they were long out of sight of it, but the Kingsroad headed north in a completely straight manner until it reached the Neck and at their pace it could be weeks before they’d get there. He knew, even without being able to see it, that he was looking towards the capital, towards home, the closest thing to a home I’ve ever had, “I’ve never left King’s Landing before,” he blurted out, “you said your father brought you to the North, what’s it like?”

 

He watched her carefully as she paused, concentrating as she remembered something that seemed to both elate and anguish her. After what felt like a lifetime she said “it is harder in the North, it’s colder, but…” she stopped herself before she could finish her sentence. Gendry couldn’t have known that she wanted to tell him that it’s home, instead she simply said, “I do remember the snow.”

 

“I’ve never seen snow before; I should like to see it,” Gendry replied smirking slightly, calling back what people had said of it to him in his past before shooting her a wide grin, “though I expect once we reach the Wall I’ll regret saying that.”

 

A voice interrupted their conversation, “I hate the snow,” Hot Pie stated with a snivel from nearby the wagon, as if more to himself than either Gendry or ‘Arry.

 

“You’ve never even seen snow,” Lommy interrupted, cutting across Hot Pie, “how’d you know you’ll hate it when you ain’t seen it yet?”

 

“I think I will, it’ll be too cold and wet.” The rotund boy frowned, wiping his nose on his leather sleeve, somehow he had already managed to get a cold and they hadn’t even entered the North yet.

 

“Don’t know what you’re worried about; you’ve got more padding than the rest of us!” Lommy teased before giving the fat boy a playful push. Hot Pie scowled back and, seeing that he’d offended him, Lommy consoled him more seriously, “besides, you and Gendry are going to be fine – you’ll be in the kitchens by the fires and Gendry will be manning the forge,” before adding jokingly, “it’s me and ‘Arry you want to be worried about; we’re all skin and bones and they’ll have us out on the wall! You’ll be all snug in Castle Black while we freeze our cocks off – it’ll probably feel like Dorne for you two.”

 

“You think so?” Hot Pie mumbled, warily but somewhat hopefully, to his straw haired friend.

 

“I know so,” Lommy said, “there’s no way you’ll be a ranger, you won’t have to go north of the Wall, chances are you won’t have to leave Castle Black, it won’t be too bad for you, you’ll see.” He said, offering up a wide, assuring smile.

 

“You’ll be alright too,” Hot Pie told him hopefully while watching as Lommy ran his hands through the messy curls of his blonde hair, “they dye all the clothes black, there’ll be plenty for a dyer’s apprentice to do inside the castle, you won’t need to be a ranger either.”

 

Lommy smiled at him, before turning to look at ‘Arry, perched on the edge of the wagon, “what did you do, before?” he asked her.

 

Gendry looked over to ‘Arry as well, studying her face as she chose her words. He hadn’t asked her what she did before, he had been an armourer’s apprentice – she knew that, he knew that, Hot Pie had cooked and Lommy had dyed clothes but he didn’t know anything about ‘Arry’s life. I don’t even know her name, he thought grimly to himself. For a moment Gendry thought she was never going to answer Lommy’s question, both him and Hot Pie were looking impatiently at her, he felt himself tense up slightly before she finally looked at them and said “After my father died, I went from orphanage to orphanage in Flea Bottom and, when I was too old for them, I stole things, tried to sell them, but… I wasn’t good at it, obviously,” she told them and, when the answer failed to convince she added, “I did steal this sword though.” She looked to Gendry cautiously as she said the last detail, aware that she'd told him the sword was a gift.

 

“How’d you get caught?” Lommy asked; surprising Gendry that he had bought ‘Arry’s story. Gendry wondered how it could just be him to see through her, he might have believed it if she hadn’t added the detail about her sword, Needle, he still had no idea how she came to have castle forge steel but he just didn’t believe she’d stolen it anymore. She treated it like he treated his helmet, it meant something more to her.

 

“Got spotted by a Goldcloak,” ‘Arry said calmly, shrugging as she spoke and then looking away to indicate she wasn’t going to say anything else.

 

The remainder of the day passed without much conversation between them, or rather, between ‘Arry and Gendry, Lommy and Hot Pie wouldn’t stop talking. Hot Pie would recite recipe after recipe for all number of breads, cakes and, of course, pies. By the time they reached an area to camp Gendry found himself thinking cruelly, I swear, if he mentions how to get the gravy right in a pie one more time I’ll bake him into one myself. It wasn’t that he particularly disliked Hot Pie, even if he had when they first met, it was just that he was trying to think about what he would say to ‘Arry and couldn’t concentrate while he babbled on and on about the perfect thickness of his bloody gravy.

 

The order to set up for the night was well received, everyone had their tasks and they all set about to them. For such a ragtag group the efficiency which Yoren was able to command from them was impressive. For his part, he had to collect firewood and, honestly, he was grateful for the chance to be on his own – and for the fact that Hot Pie was nowhere nearby, he had been told to help prepare the evening’s stew. As he trawled through the undergrowth searching for broken branches he suddenly had a thought, does she know the danger she’s in? They had murderers, thieves, rapers… men… As men of the Night’s Watch they would not be able to take women as wives, it could take months to reach the Wall and he had little doubt what they would do to ‘Arry if they found out she was a girl. Even Yoren wouldn’t be able to stop it, he noted grimly as his eyes scanned the forest looking at his soon to be brothers. Another few weeks and he doubted many of his companions would have fewer qualms than himself at imagining what was hidden under ‘Arry’s clothes.

 

By the time he walked back into camp, arms bundled with sticks, he heard the sound of metal being struck. Seven hells! ‘Arry was hitting the bars of the cage housing the murderers inside with one of the logs she’d picked up for firewood. He could hear one of the men shouting out in a loud growl “come closer, I’ll shuv that stick up your bung hole and fuck you bloody!” Gods, what in hells is she doing? Doesn’t she know what they’re in that cage for a reason? He walked over to her, looking at the men inside the wagon for the first time since they’d set out – the man who was shouting had a beard and matted brown hair and was reaching out the of the wagon with his arms, by his side was a bald man, gnashing his teeth at ‘Arry with a look of wildness in his eyes but by and away the strangest of the three was the foreign man with long red and white hair. He was unnervingly calm, his posture perfect and he was muttering something that Gendry couldn’t hear to her.

 

“Yoren said none of us were to go near those three,” Gendry told her when he got close, listening while the bearded man shouted for ‘Arry to come here at the top of his voice.

 

“They don’t scare me,” she replied indignantly.

 

He let out an exasperated grunt before replying, “Well then you’re stupid, they scare me.”

 

Gendry half expected her to say something smart back but, when she was silent, he turned to see that she was looking past him at approaching horses. He dropped into a crouch midway across a small wooden bridge, putting his firewood in front of him as he watched the gold clad men ride up to Yoren. He heard ‘Arry’s voice from behind him where, despite trying to sound calm, there was a definite fear as she asked “what are the Goldcloaks doing so far from Kings Landing?”

 

She dropped down and hid behind the little wooden bridge, her eyes bright and wide with fear. When he asked her what she was doing she replied simply “they’re looking for me.” Who is she? What has she done? This was the first completely truthful answer he suspected she’d given him since they met, with the exception of when she spoke about her sword. Whatever that horror was that had made her cry on the first night he was in that instant convinced it had something to do with the arrival of these Goldcloaks.

 

He turned back to look at the arrived horsemen in time to hear one of them boom out to Yoren, “You in command here?”

 

Yoren didn’t answer him, instead commenting “You’re a long way from home,” in such a way that it was unclear if it was a question or a statement.

 

The horsemen was not amused and coldly stated to him “I asked you a question.”

 

“Aye, you did,” Yoren replied, resting one hand on the saddle of the Goldcloak’s horse, “you asked without manners, and I chose not to answer.”

 

The man produced a sealed piece of paper before explaining, “I have a royal warrant, for one of these gutter rats you’re transporting.” Gendry could hear the sharp intake of breath from behind him; he didn’t have to turn around to know that ‘Arry’s palm would be on the pommel of her sword.

 

Yoren looked at the sealed scroll, turning it over in his hands, before handing it back to the horseman and telling him “thing is, these gutter rats belong to the Night’s Watch now, that puts them beyond the reach of Kings and Queens.”

 

A sound of steel rang out as the horseman attempted to draw his sword, stopping with it halfway out of its sheath as Yoren placed his knife against the man’s thigh. “It’s a funny thing,” Yoren said, “people worry so much about their throats that they forget about what’s down low, now I sharpened this blade before breakfast – I could shave a spider’s arse if I wanted to!” He used his left hand to pull the mail of the Goldcloak further back from his thigh and spoke softer, soft enough that Gendry could barely make out what he said next “or, I could nick this artery in your leg, and once it’s nicked there’s no one around here who knows how to unnick it.” Yoren proceeded to disarm the man, pulling the sword from its sheath and continued talking much louder, so everybody could hear him, “we’ll just take that, good steel is always needed on the Wall. It seems you have a choice, you can die here at this crossroads a long way from home, or you can go back to the city and tell your masters you didn’t find what you were looking for.”

 

There was a moment of brutal silence; the recruits of the Night’s Watch had begun to surround the horsemen, holding whatever was to hand as weapons in case things turned bloody. Yoren stood perfectly still; ready to react to whatever he needed to, blade pushed against the man’s thigh. The Goldcloak looked to his partner, before turning to the fellow recruits and calling out, “we’re looking for a boy named Gendry. He carries a bull’s head helmet; anyone turning him over will earn the King’s reward. We’ll be back, with more men,” before leaning in to Yoren and adding, “and I’ll be taking your head home along with that bastard boy.”

 

Gendry’s heart was pounding through his chest, his head began to spin and he felt sick. He could feel the eyes of everyone bearing down on him, judging him. What in seven hells did they want with me? Yoren was staring at him, his expression grim but his face otherwise unreadable, ‘Arry was caught up between waves of confusion, concern for him and relief, why did she think they were after her? He stood up, trying and failing to think what he could possibly have done so wrong that the Goldcloaks would come looking for him. Perhaps Tobho Mott wants me back? He allowed himself to hope, knowing that the Goldcloaks wouldn’t have made all that effort on behalf of a blacksmith, they had mentioned the King’s reward – what could the King want with me?

 

His stomach began to lurch as he realised what he’d been suspecting for some time, what he’d been trying to convince himself was just his imagine; whatever killed Jon Arryn, whatever killed Lord Stark, I had something to do with it…

Chapter Text

“What are you sons of whores looking at? Back to work!” Yoren roared to the recruits once the two horsemen had gone before heading straight towards Gendry. Yoren closed the gap between them with great urgency and in only a handful of strides before grasping Gendry by the shoulder and steering him to walk with him forcefully enough that Gendry almost tripped. As he drove him forward Yoren muttered into his ear “With me lad.”

 

They walked in silence until they were well past the edge of camp and out of sight from the others. Gendry did not stop moving until he felt Yoren’s hand on his shoulder ease up and turned to look at him. The man of the Night's Watch wore a grim look on his face, more so than usual; and from this close up Gendry noted he looked older, the greys of his hair and the lines of his face more apparent. Yoren's usual calm, nonchalant demeanour had gone and he looked on edge.

 

“You want to tell me what that was about lad?” Yoren asked in a hushed manner, as though afraid anyone would hear them.

 

“I don’t know,” Gendry said, unsure of whether he should mention the visits from Jon Arryn and Lord Stark.

 

“They don’t send the Goldcloaks all the way out here for no reason and the King doesn’t issue royal warrants without cause, why do they want you?” He asked, impatient and frustrated. When Gendry didn’t reply Yoren stepped closer to him and lowered his voice to barely more than a growl, asking, “Who are you? I’ve been doing this for thirty years, moving the worst scum from here to Castle Black from all over Westeros, in all that time I’ve only ever lost three recruits. I’ve had rapers, murderers, raping murderers and worse and the most interested in me the Goldcloaks have ever been is in how quickly I can get rid of the rats from their dungeons, but you’re not from the dungeons, someone paid good money for me to take you so I’ll ask you again, boy, why are they after you? What do they want?”

 

“I don’t know what they want; I don’t know what any of them wanted,” Gendry blurted out and, noticing the confusion evident on Yoren’s face and his silence, he continued, “The Hands of the King visited me; Jon Arryn came a few weeks before he died and Lord Stark, a few weeks before he died. They asked me about my family but they didn’t say what they wanted and I didn’t ask.”

 

Yoren squinted at him, studiously shifting his gaze from the boy’s feet to his face as he digested the information, “and that’s it?” he asked.

 

“That’s it,” Gendry replied, looking up at the furrowed browed man and watching as Yoren deliberated on a course of action.

 

After an uncomfortably long period of silence Yoren nodded to himself and then turned to leave, heading back towards camp. The light was fading fast and Gendry could see the specks of light in the distance where the fires were lit. He was surprised by how far they had walked. Gendry stood still for a moment, watching Yoren striding away – though he was not a tall man, even if he was taller than Gendry was now, he cut out an impressive figure. It was only then that Gendry realised this could be their only chance to speak alone and called after him, “Yoren!” The man heard and turned to face him, “’Arry thought those men were after her, why?”

 

Yoren froze, deep in thought, his expression unreadable. Gendry cursed as he noted he’d just said her and hoped to himself that Yoren hadn’t heard that last bit. It was evident from the speed with which Yoren strode back towards Gendry that he had. He stopped just inches in front of him and spoke in a voice so low Gendry could barely make out the words. “If you get any ideas bastard, you’ll pray that I handed you to the Goldcloaks, you’ll–”

 

“I won’t,” Gendry cut across him, feeling the crushing weight of Yoren’s eyes searching him, judging him, “but… who is she?” he asked, curiously.

 

“It’s enough to say that I knew her father well, he was good to me and my kind, and I owed him a debt. If any harm comes to her–” he began, startled as Gendry cut across him again.

 

“It won’t. I won’t let it.” Gendry said flatly, his voice a promise. When Yoren didn’t say anything he added, “I swear.”

 

“Does anyone else know?” Yoren asked, anxiously. Every muscle on the man’s face seemed pulled taught with concentration. He looked visibly relieved when Gendry shook his head, letting out a deep breath. They stood together for a moment, eyes locked, before Yoren slapped Gendry on the arm and said “look out for her, boy, you scare some of the other lads, stay by her side.” This time Gendry nodded and when Yoren left to walk back to the camp, he followed him.

 

The bright blues of daylight were yielding quickly to the first murky hues of the night sky and though it was not yet dark the dense tree cover had cast long shadows that even the dotted blazing fires could not fully light up. Even without looking he could feel people staring at him as he made his way through the campsite to find ‘Arry. All his life he was used to blending into crowds, this much attention made him feel uncomfortable. He found himself wondering how many of his “brothers” might be considering turning him over for the King’s reward; the chance to avoid a life sentence to Castle Black must be appealing. He had no doubt that Yoren could use that sword he wore, but against all of them, he doubted Yoren could protect him. He put it to the back of his mind as he started to scan the faces of the other recruits for ‘Arry and was relieved to find she wasn’t nearby the caged men again; when he had said to her earlier that they scared him he wasn’t lying.

 

There was a familiar madness to two of them; the kind you expect in murderers and rapers. One was a man of no words that just gnashed his teeth at everybody; and the other, bearded with long unkempt hair, of too many words shouted threats and insults at most, if not all, passers-by. True, he wouldn’t want to meet them outside of that cage but he’d seen similar kinds of people in Flea Bottom, grown up around them. He could have sworn he even recognised the bearded one from somewhere, mayhaps he was from Flea Bottom too? It didn’t matter to him that much, he was far more concerned with the other cage occupant. By far the scariest was the foreign man, he looked intelligent and was unnaturally calm and collected; he held himself so gracefully it was unnerving. There was just something off about the man, Gendry couldn’t place it, but he knew something was wrong. He felt like the man’s eyes were hiding things, dark things, secrets that weren’t his own. He felt a shiver run down his spine as the man caught sight of him watching through the bars, those eyes glinting in the light of the nearby fires.

 

He finally stumbled onto Hot Pie and Lommy; when he found them Lommy was attempting to find an area of the ground to spread out his furs that wasn’t covered in roots and Hot Pie was downing the last mouthfuls of his stew, the bowl practically in his mouth and a little of its contents dribbling down his chin. When Gendry asked them both where ‘Arry was Hot Pie simply shrugged at him before putting down his now empty bowl and wiping the stew from his face with his grubby sleeve. Lommy more usefully gestured over towards the woods and, sure enough, Gendry could just about make out ‘Arry’s figure walking towards them, adjusting her belt. She sat down opposite him; her right leg bent and left leg flat against the ground. She rested her right hand on her right knee and her left instinctively found its way to the pommel of Needle, lazily pressing against it.

 

“We saved some for you both,” Hot Pie spoke up at last, passing a bowl of stew to Gendry and ‘Arry. They both mumbled their thanks to him and accepted. It was only after he took a drink of it that he realised how hungry he was, his mind had been racing since the horsemen turned up and he had barely noticed the toll the day’s walking had taken on him. It didn’t matter that the edge of the bowl was rough or that the stew itself was lumpy, only slightly warm and that whatever meat had been used had had the flavour boiled out of it so as to make its origin unrecognisable – probably for the best – it was food, and it would have to do.

 

Something about the sight of ‘Arry bringing the stew carefully to her lips made him hungrier still and in the soft flickering light of the fire, the usual greyness of her face was subsumed by an orange glow. In that moment the idea that she was anything but a woman seemed unthinkable to him; even with her messy short hair, her gaunt cheeks and her shabby clothes she was a vision of beauty, nay perfection. Her grey eyes brimmed with the colour of the fire; promising and full. A few strands of her brown hair dropped down in front of them; she wasn’t like the women he’d grown up around, they had worn provocative clothing and spent hours prettying themselves up for customers and yet in that instant, ‘Arry, whatever her name is, was the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen. Her clothes seemed to cling to her as they held back the obvious form underneath. He could have sat there forever admiring her were it not for the incessant ramblings of Hot Pie.

 

“Trouble is, we didn’t have any decent herbs or spices to add for flavour, we pretty much only had a few off vegetables, the meat and water. We didn’t even have anything to make a nice thick gravy to go with it–” Hot Pie had been saying, looking at his empty bowl of stew before being interrupted by Lommy.

 

“If we have to hear, one more time, the trick to getting gravy right I swear I’ll stab you with ‘Arry’s sword,” Lommy teased, leaning forward from his furs and giving Hot Pie a playful push.

 

After a brief huff of indignation Hot Pie took the empty bowls from them all and waddled away to wash them up. It didn’t take Lommy long to drift off to sleep and soon enough ‘Arry came and sat next to Gendry. They didn’t say anything for quite some time, both looking into the fire in front of them. He could feel himself beginning to get tired and when she eventually broke the silence by curiously asking “what do the Goldcloaks want with you?” he was in no mood to talk about it. The night was beginning to set in now and they only had precious few hours before dawn and the new day, he could feel he needed sleep.

 

“Not tonight,” he said to her, noting her obvious disappointment at his lack of an answer. After a few moments of silence he added “go on, get some rest,” as she unsuccessfully stifled a yawn. As he got up and crossed the largely silent campsite, punctuated only by snoring, and a few muffled conversations, he grabbed their furs from the back of one of the wagons and by the time he returned to her she was already asleep. He trod lightly so as not to wake her up before unrolling her furs and lying them gently over her, tucking them around the tops of her shoulders and the bottoms of her feet. She murmured appreciatively as he rolled out his own furs and lie next to her, whispering to him “goodnight Gendry,” as he shut his heavy eye lids and let the blackness surround him. He was just able to whisper back “Goodnight ‘Arry.”

 

By the time Hot Pie returned from washing the bowls, both Gendry and ‘Arry had drifted off to sleep.

Chapter Text

Gendry woke early the next morning in a cold sweat, his heart pounding and head spinning. He had dreamt he was back in King’s Landing; walking up the busy Street of Steel to speak with his old master Tobho Mott. He passed sellswords and knights, pickpockets and merchants all bustling past one another in the heat of the summer sun. When he saw Tobho, standing not more than ten strides away, there was a flicker of recognition in his old master’s eyes, but Tobho did not smile. The man’s face was grim, tinged in sadness; the armourer turned to someone in the shadows before pointing towards Gendry from across the street. Within moments Gendry was surrounded by Goldcloaks, surging forward from the markets stalls and the store fronts, swords raised to strike. He was holding his bull headed helmet, the source of his pride and condemnation. Afore he could either throw it away or put it on the first sword struck him hard in the back. When he awoke he was surprised his teeth didn’t break from how hard he had clenched his jaw and he found himself trying to steady his ragged breathing.

 

He kept his eyes shut and listened to the sounds around him; aside from Hot Pie’s snoring and quiet birdsong it was almost silent. He stayed completely still as memories from the previous day flooded back to him, what in seven hells do the Goldcloaks want with me? What did the Hands want with me? He felt foolish for the hope he had had that he could leave his old life behind in King’s Landing and begin anew with the Night’s Watch. He had thought at least in the North he wouldn’t be noticed, nobody would come with their fucking questions. Can I outrun them my whole life? What type of life would that be? How far is far enough? The Wall!? Essos!? he considered bitterly. His bitterness was increased by the knowledge that half the men around him were probably thinking of ways to ensure he’d never reach the Wall. Fuck the seven! He cursed inwardly at his misfortune, wondering who he could trust. Yoren, certainly, and ‘Arry… probably Hot Pie and Lommy – if he couldn’t trust those two to help him, they didn’t have the balls to stand against him. But he had barely said a word to any of the other recruits, what reason would they have to not to hand him over to the Goldcloaks?

 

It was then he noticed his arm felt heavy, and only after he tried to move it that he found it was pinned down. He panicked, wondering if some of the recruits had already restrained him for the Goldcloaks in the night. He slammed his eyes open as images of Yoren soaked in blood raced through his mind and he bolted upright. He heard a loud, surprisingly high pitched yelp from next to him as he wrestled his arm free, his eyes open searching for his aggressors… but there were none to be seen. He scanned all directions for signs of movement, but he was the only one awake. For a moment he let out a sigh of relief but it was swiftly interrupted by a sharp pain in the arm he had just freed. He rounded on the source of it to see what looked like a very annoyed ‘Arry. She was lying next to him, glaring at him through unfocussed eyes, both hands screwed into fists. She went to strike him again but in her tired state the punch was poorly aimed and lacked any real power or determination; he easily blocked it, pulling himself backwards and out of her reach. Fuck! He cursed as the truth of the situation dawned on him; at some point in the night he must have put his arms around her and, having just yanked his arm away, he’d just woken her up particularly abruptly, no wonder she’s pissed.

 

He held both his hands up in front of him as a gesture that he didn’t want to fight and, to his surprise, she stopped trying to hit him almost immediately, settling instead for scowling before rolling over and facing away, showing her back to him. He suspected she was far too tired to really know what was going on; with any luck she wouldn’t even remember he’d had his arms around her. She looked small, against the woodland floor, lying on her side with her knees pulled close to her chest – she was practically curled into a ball. It was only when he heard her start snoring softly that he realised he must have been just sitting there for several minutes, staring at the curved arch of her back and the way her hair fell across her neck. Seven hells, he thought to himself as he felt the familiar morning tightness of his cock against his breeches and found himself hoping she hadn’t felt that pushed against her tailbone all night. He tried to calm himself down, telling himself that if she remembered he would say it had simply been for warmth but he doubted that would convince her; he would just have to pray to the seven she would forget by the time she woke up again.

 

Despite the commotion between him and ‘Arry nobody had stirred; the ground around them lie covered in the prone forms of sleeping recruits. His heart was still racing too fast for him to sleep again, first from his dream – then from ‘Arry, so Gendry rose to his feet, brushing the mud from his knees, and stretched up to full height intending to get some fresh air and some space from the column before the day’s marching. He trod carefully over Hot Pie and walked towards the edge of the campsite, careful not to wake anyone, before stealing one last glance at the curled up ‘Arry. She looked peaceful, he reflected, as he continued walking. One of the recruits watched him briefly as he passed but seemed to pay him no interest, immediately closing his eyes again. When Gendry crossed by the caged wagon, the bearded man and the one who snarled all the time were both asleep, snoring loudly, but the calm one, the man with streaked white and red hair who scared him, eyed him carefully, his pupils narrow and focussed. It unnerved Gendry and he found himself picking up the pace until the wagon was far behind him.

 

There was a stream by the very edge of the camp forded by a small wooden bridge; they had chosen to break for the night here because of the access to water. He leaned against a large oak tree a few feet from it, feeling the bark crack slightly as he did and he listened to the soothing sounds of the gentle splashes as the stream softly cascaded over pebbles and stones like a series of miniature waterfalls. All at once he forgot about the scary man, about the Night’s Watch, even the Goldcloaks. All that mattered was the white froth of the bubbling stream in front of him. This stream, he thought, had likely been flowing long before his birth and would continue to flow long after his death. He wondered how many people had washed here, had drank from the stream. How many lives had the freshwater saved over the years? How many more would it continue to save after they were gone? How many bastards would stand here and look at it? The idea gave him some comfort, though he didn’t understand why, and for a few moments he felt genuine peace. He surrendered himself to the sensation entirely.

 

A rough voice cut through that peace from behind him, bringing him back to reality, “its beautiful isn’t it.” Yoren said, in a statement of fact rather than a question and more to himself than to Gendry. When Gendry turned to look at the man of the Night’s Watch he was surprised to see Yoren sitting down not more than half a stone’s throw away, clutching a skin of wine in his hands and looking out across the stream as Gendry himself had been. Yoren shot him a wry smile that did not reach his eyes and pulled himself to his feet before walking over and handing the skin to Gendry, “go on lad, you need it more than I do.” There was a vulnerability to Yoren Gendry hadn’t seen before, a sincerity that aged him and made the man seem almost frail. Whatever Yoren had been thinking about had clearly affected him, his eyes held a horror in them that Gendry had seen in few others, but no sooner had Gendry taken a swig of the wine and given the skin back, all signs of the man’s weakness were hidden behind Yoren’s usual steely mask.

 

They stood for a moment looking out across at the view in front of them: above the stream blue and white headed flowers erupted from the muddy banks and behind them rose grasses of different heights and shades of green and brown, interspersed with golden buttercups and red petalled plants and others with dark lilac buds that Gendry didn’t know the name of. The ground seemed to shine and shimmer as though underwater as the light of the morning sun fought through the dense canopy of the tree leaves above. It was perhaps as perfect a moment as Gendry had ever witnessed, a beige crested butterfly was dancing across the tops of the buttercups, but all too soon the man of the Night’s Watch patted Gendry on the shoulder before walking back to the campsite. Barely a minute passed before Gendry heard him yell out his usual wake-up call to the recruits, “get up you bastards and sons of whores, get up while it’s still summer – it’s still a thousand leagues from here to the Wall and I’d like to get there before the first snows!”

 

Gendry returned to the camp slower that he had set out, only reluctantly leaving the stream behind, his sense of apprehension was building again as he got closer to his soon-to-be brothers. When he reached them most of them were already about their tasks; people were headed to gather water and wash from a different part of the stream to where Gendry and Yoren had been, where it was wider and shallower. Fires were being lit for breakfast and furs rolled up and packed up into the wagons for storage until the following night, tents were being pulled down and stored alongside the furs and nearby Lommy was shaking Hot Pie awake to go help with the morning broth. All the while Yoren kept barking out orders. When Gendry collected a bucket to fill he was relieved that he didn’t bump into ‘Arry. He knew they would have to speak eventually but he really had no interest in doing so now.

 

The part of the stream they gathered water from was much less interesting than the one Gendry had been at earlier, years of people camping there and letting their horses graze meant the grass was cropped shorter and the many coloured flowers far fewer and less vibrant. By the time the morning food was ready he had already taken four buckets to water the horses, pausing by them to stroke their manes as they drank, and was midway through filling the fifth when Lommy passed him a bowl of crushed oats and grain, only partially stirred in with warmed water. He sat down to eat it, taking the coarse wooden spoon he’d been given to mash the oats further and really stir the mixture until it came at less stodgy and congealed. It didn’t much help the taste, but it at least meant it looked a bit better.

 

It was then that he caught sight of ‘Arry, she was sitting atop a small rock about half her height with her back leant against a tree pushing the porridge in her bowl around with the spoon. After a few tentative mouthfuls she put the bowl down next to her before seeing Gendry and then abruptly walking away. Seven hells, Gendry cursed, why does everything have to be so fucking difficult? He handed his empty bowl back to Lommy, who was collecting them, and continued on filling the buckets with water. After the fifth bucket was given to Yoren’s personal horse, a great black beast with a temperament that matched the old man himself, he brought water to put out the fires from the morning meal, and then after that he just poured the filled buckets of water in the centre of the camp into a larger container for people to drink or wash from. He’d learnt a long time ago that it is more important to look like you know what you’re doing, than to actually know what you’re meant to do. As far as he was concerned he’d keep filling it until he was told not to.

 

He had lost count of how many buckets he’d filled by the time he saw ‘Arry, Lommy and Hot Pie sitting by the river. ‘Arry and Lommy were washing an assortment of cast iron pans with wire brushes and Hot Pie was struggling to clean an enormous cooking pot. He could hear Lommy and Hot Pie were having some sort of argument over armour and battles, he very much doubted either boy had a clue what they were talking about, half the men I’ve sold armour didn’t know about battles, what would these two know? Gendry found himself remembering the dream he had had, all the knights and sellswords that strutted through the Street of Steel like peacocks, he was only shook from his thoughts when he heard his name.

 

“Gendry’s an armourer’s apprentice, Hot Pie tell Gendry what makes a fight into a battle,” ‘Arry said. Gendry had expected her to be angry with him, especially after she’d walked away at the mere sight of him, but there was no hint of bitterness in her voice. She seemed calm, even agreeable.

 

“It’s err… when they’ve got armour on.” Hot Pie said nervously, looking as though he was about to run away.

 

“And who told you that?” Gendry asked, calmly. Gendry couldn’t have cared less who had told Hot Pie that, he half suspected Hot Pie had made it up.

 

“A knight.” Hot Pie asserted, taking a moment to compose himself before he did so. Do I frighten him that much?

 

“How’d you know he was a knight?” Gendry questioned him.

 

“Well… it’s… ’cos he got armour on…” Hot Pie stammered while his friend Lommy rolled his eyes in despair.

 

“You don’t have to be a knight to have armour. Any idiot can buy armour.” Gendry said, reassured to see ‘Arry smiling across from him.

 

“How’d you know?” Hot Pie asked a little petulantly, finally finding some courage and puffing out his chest slightly. Gendry figured he’d wounded the boy’s pride.

 

“’Cos I sold armour,” Gendry said, feeling a little sorry for Hot Pie as the boy got up and wandered off with Lommy, waddling somewhat as he carried the heavy cooking pot in one arm. Under normal circumstances Gendry would have thought the rotund boy could do with a little deflating, but for some reason he felt harsh here. How would he know any better?

 

He was aware ‘Arry had got up and was walking towards him but only spared a passing glance at her before busying himself with filling the bucket. She was balancing on the balls of her feet as she jumped from stone to stone. He found himself hoping that the smile she’d shot at him a moment ago meant she didn’t remember he’d put his arms around her, and her mannerisms didn’t strike him as those of someone angry with him. He was relieved when she chirpily asked “what do the Goldcloaks want with you?” If nothing else, she’s more curious than annoyed.

 

“No idea,” Gendry said flatly and cautiously, before walking back towards the centre of camp with the water.

 

“You’re a liar,” she called out over his shoulder, and you’re not, he wanted to reply. He didn’t know anything about her; he didn’t even know her name.

 

“You know you shouldn’t insult people that are bigger than you,” he teased her slightly, his fears that she might be angry with him slipping away.

 

“Then I wouldn’t get to insult anyone,” she said. He could almost have laughed, if he wasn’t still frustrated with her. Who is she? I don’t even know her name.

 

“Well I don’t care what any of them want, no good’s ever come of their questions.” He said; he didn’t understand why he felt so at ease around ‘Arry. For his whole life he’d kept himself to himself and yet here he was just telling her whatever she wanted.

 

“No good’s ever come? Who asked questions before?” She asked curiously. It had taken Yoren threatening him for Gendry to tell him and here he was, about to tell someone he didn’t even know his secrets.

 

“How can someone so small be such a pain in my arse?” He blurted out, his frustration evident in the tone of his voice. He finished pouring one of the buckets of water into a larger container from which people could fill their flasks.

 

“Who asked questions?” ‘Arry persisted. Gendry rounded on her and saw in her face that she was not going to let this go. He sighed, relented and told her.

 

“The Hand of the King… Hands of the King, Lord Arryn came first, a few weeks before he died, and then Lord Stark came, a few weeks before he died.”

 

He barely heard her response, sheepish and quiet. There was a dark look across her face as she muttered “Lord Stark.” He passed it off as surprise, it’s true he had told her Lord Stark praised his helmet but he hadn’t said that the man was looking for him specifically.

 

“You see, asking me questions is bad luck… you’ll probably be dead soon,” he said, walking back to the stream to get another bucket.

 

“What did they ask about?” ‘Arry inquired, she’s too curious for her own good.

 

“My mum,” Gendry replied, coolly.

 

“Who’s your mum?”

 

“She was just my mum, worked in a tavern, died when I was little.” He said flatly, they were just words to him now. He had said them enough times to enough people that he no longer felt any emotion when he said them.

 

“Who was your father?”

 

Gendry sighed and turned to look at her, the weight of his now filled bucket pulling on his arms, “he could’ve been one of those gold hearted bastards for all I know,” he said embittered. He put down the bucket and took a jug from ‘Arry to fill. He didn’t want to talk about him anymore and changed subjects, “what about you anyway? You thought they were after you. Why? Did you kill someone or is it just because you’re a girl?” He asked, surprising himself. He hadn’t meant to say it but he was tired of not knowing anything about her, he had told her everything there was to know about him, everything he knew about himself, and he didn’t know her name.

 

Something triggered in ‘Arry as she defensively told him, a flash of temper in her voice, “I’m not a girl.”

 

“Yes you are.” He was in no mood for more lies. He had been told he was stubborn as a bull; he would make sure he earned that reputation. Who is she? “You think I’m as stupid as the rest of them?” He called back to her a little louder than he’d intended to as he walked to pour more water into the container. One of the nearby recruits gave him a black look.

 

“Stupider!” She protested defiantly, “the Night’s Watch doesn’t take girls everyone knows that!”

 

“Yeah, that’s true, but you’re still a girl.” He would not back down. Not this time.

 

“I am not!” She asserted, her steel eyes showing a mixture of fear and fire.

 

“Yeah, well pull your cock out and take a piss then!” He dared, catching her off guard. She froze for a moment and Gendry thought he’d finally hear the truth from her but within seconds she found her resolve and managed to recover.

 

“I don’t need to take a piss.” She said, but even as she said it Gendry could see she knew he was unconvinced. When she had asked him about the Hands of the King she wore a face that showed she would not be content with anything other than the absolute truth, this time it was Gendry’s turn. His brow furrowed and, after a long pause, she continued, quieter, her voice fearful and yet slightly threatening, “Lommy and Hot Pie can’t know. No one can know.”

 

“They won’t. Not from me.” He promised her. As he busied himself with the final bucket he waited for her to continue. He could see she was debating something within herself; she’s trying to work out if she can trust me. Whatever it was, whatever secret she was keeping, it meant everything to her. He knew it was serious enough for her to believe the Goldcloaks were hunting her down and it had something to do with the horror he’d seen in her eyes the first time they met. There was pain all over her face as she weighed up the consequences of telling him and, when she finally spoke; her voice was soft and her words true.

 

“My name’s not ‘Arry… its Arya, of House Stark. Yoren is taking me home to Winterfell.”

Chapter Text

Arya Stark.

 

Gendry froze. He could scarcely believe what he had heard and yet he did not doubt the truth in her words for a moment. That he believed her surprised him but as he stopped to look at her, to really look at her, he was filled with a strange sensation. Despite the shock of her revelation and the storm of questions that erupted in its wake, everything began making sense to Gendry. He stared deep into her steel grey eyes, Stark eyes, he realised, the same as Lord Eddard’s. It was not coincidence he had felt she looked familiar; more often than not she wore the same worried expression as her father had when he had visited Gendry. The idea that she could have been anyone’s daughter but Lord Eddard’s already seemed mad, and yet standing there; armed with a sword, dressed in boy’s clothes and muddy with shorn hair, the idea she was born to one of the great houses seemed madder still.

 

Although his mind was racing with a flood of different thoughts and feelings all of his questions yielded to a much stronger, guttural emotion that slowly coursed and surged through him; rising up from the pit of his stomach, stealing the air from his lungs and spreading all the way to his fingertips. It was a suffocating feeling of pain and… loss. Had he not still been stunned he could have cursed the gods for their cruelty: the prospect of life at the Wall had seemed unbearable until he met ‘Arry – no Arya, and even though, at the back of his mind, he had known she wouldn’t be able to join the Night’s Watch, it hadn’t felt real until now. He felt a stab of loneliness at the fact that at some point they’d have to say goodbye and, despite being surrounded by other recruits, he’d be on his own. He found himself wishing she could’ve stayed as just ‘Arry, the orphan boy. He didn’t want any of the others as his brothers, not the men in the wagon, not even Lommy or Hot Pie, and yet somehow he also knew he didn’t want ‘Arry as a brother either. He wanted more than that I’m a bastard… She’s a highborn… He felt sick with confusion and dread.

 

Since he’d set out from King’s Landing he had been surrounded by all manner of persons: bastards and lowborn, pickpockets and thieves, rapers and murderers and amongst them, unnoticed and inconspicuous, was just ‘Arry, the missing daughter of the beheaded Lord Stark. It was hardly a surprise she had been so miserable most of the time, grieving for her father and surrounded by the likes of him and worse. Guilt rushed through him as he remembered the conversations they’d had about her father, about snow and the North – her home. Most of what she had told him was lies. He recalled his first encounter with Lommy and Hot Pie, how they had pushed Arya to the ground and Hot Pie’s boast he had kicked a boy to pieces – Gendry wouldn’t have believed then that Arya was the best liar amongst them.

 

All the while Arya watched his face; the look of worry on hers told him she regretted revealing her secret. He had just told her that the deaths of Lord Arryn and Lord Stark, her father, had something to do with him. Will she blame me? When he finally spoke his words came as an incoherent tumble of jumbled thoughts and questions.

 

“Your father… the Hand, the traitor–” He began, instantly cut off by Arya.

 

“He was never a traitor – Joffrey is a liar!” She practically yelled, surprising Gendry twice over: both as she called the King by his first name and also by the sheer hatred in her voice for him. It was a personal hatred, Gendry reflected, having difficulty trying to reconcile the idea that the messy, dirty and armed girl in front of him must have met and known the King.

 

“So you’re a highborn then, you’re a Lady?” Gendry asked, thinking out loud. He immediately imagined what she would look like in a silk dress but had to push the thought to the back of his mind after he felt a slight stirring in his breeches.

 

“No. I mean yes. My mother was a Lady; and my sister–” Arya said, stumbling over her words before Gendry interrupted her.

 

“But you were a Lord’s daughter and you lived in a castle and…” He stopped, exasperated. Men were expected to act a certain way around Ladies and as a baseborn bastard in any other circumstances he would have had to bow his head to her. If he hadn’t been so panicked he might have found the idea funny but he had heard of lowborns losing their hands for just touching Ladies and his had been around Arya the night before. He doubted Arya was like that, frankly looking out the way she was now he doubted she was Ladylike at all, but years of social conditioning meant he stammered out, “all that about cocks I should never have said that – and I’ve been pissing in front of you and everything… I should be calling you milady.”

 

“Do not call me my lady!” She insisted, her face flushed and screwed up in annoyance.

 

And then Gendry understood. There is a difference between who somebody is, and who they actually are. His whole life he had been told he was nothing compared to the Lords and Ladies of King’s Landing; he was unwanted, irrelevant. On the Street of Steel he had served pompous knights at the armoury and thought them all craven and arrogant but Lord Arryn had been different, he had been kind and sincere – he was at once the Hand of the King and a good man. He could see this was the same even now for Arya Stark, she was at once a Lady and just ‘Arry. The girl he had grown to know in such a short space of time was not different; the only thing that had changed between them was a handful of words. He knew that soon enough they would part ways and that outside of these woods a lowborn bastard and a highborn Lady might never speak to one another. Here, right now, they were not bastard and Lady but just a boy and a girl, both running away from their lives, for their lives.

 

Gendry broke into a broad smile as he looked at her from head to toe, taking in the sight before him. She wore a jerkin made up of strips of common brown leather, hastily bound together with large, fraying stitching and thrown over a beige rough spun tunic. To anyone who glanced at her, who couldn’t see her form underneath, she was barely recognisable as a girl let alone a Lady but to Gendry, there had never been a greater sight. As the image of her dressed in fine silks raced back into his mind he almost laughed this time at the idea of Arya gossiping with all the Southron noblewomen and banqueting at court; that was not Arya. She was different. He felt himself practically beaming as right now, no matter what would happen in the future, the rules of their society applied to neither of them. Amongst the recruits he was alone in knowing ‘Arry was not only a girl, but was also a Lady. Right now, she was Lady to him only and before he could stop himself he said to her “As milady commands.”

 

Her response was to push him, forcing him to take a step back but failing to knock him over. Something about the way she screwed up her face in irritation sent blood rushing towards his loins, seven hells. “That was unladylike.” He teased, grinning even as it earned him a second, harder, push which impressively managed to knock him to the ground. He let out a loud guffaw as he landed flat on his arse and she stormed away in frustration. He had to distract himself from watching the roll of her hips as she walked away, gods why couldn't she be just a little bit older? 

 

 

He didn’t see her again until the day’s walking began whereupon she appeared from behind one of the wagons as they were about to set off. To Gendry’s relief she seemed relaxed; he had half expected she’d still be angry with him. When she approached him she passed him an apple she’d picked from a nearby tree, taking a bite from one of her own as she did so. Gendry took a deep mouthful of the fruit, enjoying the sensation as his teeth broke through the skin and some of its juices trickled down his chin. After days of stews, stale bread and hard cheese the taste was overwhelming and a welcome change; he closed his eyes, enjoying the sweet flavour as he took another chunk from the apple, spitting out one of the pips.

 

As they marched further up the Kingsroad Yoren led the column, as usual, followed by the caged murderers, then the storage wagon and then everybody else. Lommy and Hot Pie were walking close to the carriage with the tents and furs in it; Gendry suspected that Hot Pie intended to hop aboard it later in the day after he’d spent half the morning complaining about his blisters. As big as geese eggs, the boy had told him earlier, gods that boy could spin a story. Being honest, Gendry was pleased to get some distance from Lommy and Hot Pie. It meant he could walk with just himself and Arya at the back of the group, they were far enough behind so as to be out of earshot from the nearest recruit; he didn’t want anyone hearing what they were discussing.

 

“I don’t believe them, about your father.” Gendry said to her after he’d finished the apple, chucking the core of it into nearby shrubs. In truth Gendry didn’t quite know what to believe; as they had left King’s Landing the death of King Robert had ignited the imaginations of the cityfolk; rumours and stories about the treason of Lord Stark, once the King’s greatest friend and ally, spread like wildfire.

 

“He could’ve been King once,” Arya said as if to no one in particular. Gendry had heard the story told a thousand times about the King Robert’s rebellion. Robert was wounded at the Battle of the Trident so Lord Stark pushed ahead to King’s Landing without him. He arrived after the Lannisters sacked the city and made Jaime Lannister, the Kingslayer, give up the throne. He would’ve made a better King. After a while Arya continued, thinking out loud, “He didn’t want any of this, he didn’t want to be King, or the King’s Hand; he didn’t even want to leave Winterfell.”

 

Her voice failed her and for a moment it looked as if she would burst into tears, the sight of her fighting them back prompted Gendry to place his hand on her shoulder, squeezing it slightly, until she offered him up a weak smile. Gendry let his hand drop back to his sides and said to her, “When he found me, in the forge, I heard him tell my master that if the time ever came when I’d rather wield a sword than make one, I was to be sent to him. The gods only know what he saw in me but in another life I might’ve served your father.”

 

As he had been speaking, Arya had wiped one of her eyes on her grubby sleeve and regained her composure. She smiled at him, tilting her face upwards to meet his gaze and this time, the smile was stronger; it seemed to light up her face. Gendry couldn’t help himself and grinned back at her. He had a deep admiration for the courage she had shown since she met him; his whole life he was told Ladies were weak, they gossiped and they strolled leisurely through gardens and made dresses and yet, he thought, as he looked down at her, Arya is the strongest person I know. She was braver by far than any man who he’d ever served armour to in King’s Landing.

 

They walked for a long time in silence, enjoying the summer’s day and the company of one another. With the strong beams of sunlight piercing through the tree cover you could almost have been forgiven for thinking the long summer might never end, his lips twitched into a smirk as he thought about the girl to his side, sooner or later the Starks are always right. Looking in front of them Gendry could see Hot Pie’s head bobbing up and down in the distance over those of the other recruits: sure enough the boy had found his way onto the back of the wagon.

 

It was Arya who spoke first.

 

“Gendry…” she said, turning to look at him. Her face was wracked with indecision; she opened her mouth and closed it again several times without uttering a single word. After everything she’d already been through, after the courage he’d praised her for in his head not moments ago, he was surprised she was nervous.

 

“Yeah?” He asked slightly impatiently.

 

“You don’t have to go to the Wall…” she began but trailed off almost immediately. The enormity of what she had said, what she had offered, was lost on him until she continued. “We have a good forge in Winterfell…”

 

Seven hells, Gendry thought as it dawned on him. She wants me to serve House Stark. The last few weeks he had been preparing himself for life at the Wall thinking that was his only option and yet here he was being given another chance.

 

Arya continued; her words faster and rushed now, “My brother Robb is Lord of Winterfell, he could find you somewhere to live, and you could work with Mikken, our Blacksmith – he made Needle. You wouldn't have to swear any oaths and you'd be able to take a wife and have a family. You’d be safe from the Goldcloaks – I could show you the Wolfswood, and the great Weirwood tree, you’d meet my mother and Bran and Rickon and Hodor and Old Nan and Ser Rodrick – he’s our master at arms, you'd be welcome in the Keep if you want and could dine with us-” Gendry began to lose track of all of the people she could introduce him to and all the places he would see and found himself fixed on her; she looked so excited as she conjured up images from her childhood, summoning them from her memories. She told him that warm springs bubbled through the walls of the castle so it was warm even through winter and that the walls were over eight thousand years old and had been made by Brandon the Builder with the help of giants. Her face was a picture of joy as she described her home, where she had felt safe and happy and loved. She wasn’t just asking him to serve House Stark; she was offering to share her home with him.

 

He became aware that she’d stopped talking and was looking at him, her face eager, waiting expectantly for an answer. She twitched her lips into an impatient frown and was practically bouncing on the balls of her feet before she finally asked him, “What do you think? Would you leave the Night’s Watch and join House Stark?”

 

Gendry didn’t know exactly when he made up his mind but, as he looked forward at the rest of the recruits and then back to his side at Arya, the choice was easy. To the seven hells with the Night’s Watch, he thought to himself, he had not been sent here for breaking laws and had said no oaths of servitude – he was not bound to them. Deep down he suspected his choice was less about the Night’s Watch and more to do with the young girl that stood in front of him, her eyes full of promise. He doubted it would’ve mattered where she suggested they go, he would follow her; even if it meant going back to King’s Landing. Gendry was no fool, he knew there could be nothing between them, he was just a bastard and she was a Lady; even if she felt a fraction of what he was beginning to feel for her, her family were unlikely to be as accepting of him as she was. But standing there as she was in front of him, invitingly, and offering him what he had wanted most for as long as he could remember; a place to call home, Gendry couldn't refuse. Besides, he had sworn a promise to protect her to Yoren and himself, a promise he intended to keep; she was his Lady.

 

After what felt like a lifetime to Arya, Gendry flashed her a broad smile, while flinching from what he assumed would garner him a punch, and said “aye, milady, I will.”

Chapter Text

“Aye, milady, I will.”

 

Far from the punch he had been expecting she practically leapt at him, wrapping her arms around his chest and pulling him into a tight embrace. Seven hells, he cursed to himself as he took a step backwards to keep his balance and avoid falling on his arse again. He wasn’t sure if it was the shock of what she had offered or the force of her hug but he felt the air escape from his lungs as her arms squeezed tight around him. She buried her head against his tunic before looking up and meeting his gaze, his blue eyes locked with her grey ones as she stood, beaming at him; an infectious joy spread across her face. For a moment Gendry was utterly lost and didn’t know how to react, he felt a heat rushing through his body at the feel of her against him and only then realised his arms were still hanging limp, pinned by his sides. By the time he went to put an arm on her back she slipped away from him, the joy fading from her face as she checked to make sure none of the recruits had been watching.

 

They had dropped some distance from the back of the column; far enough they could barely make out the shapes of the wagons ahead. Content nobody had seen them Arya offered him another smile before walking towards the rest of the men. Gendry, however, remained still, rooted to the spot. Everything had taken him completely by surprise; not just their embrace but everything. A year ago he was just a bastard from Flea Bottom; the closest he’d come to a highborn was the knights he served armour to. He hadn’t thought much about the future but he suspected he’d never leave King’s Landing; the best he had dared to hope for, if he worked hard and the gods gave him favour, was that he might take a wife and that Tobho, in the absence of any sons, might have gifted him the armoury when he got too old to run it. Even then that had only been a faint hope. When did everything get so fucking confused? He thought to himself, watching the faint roll of Arya’s hips as she walked away.

 

Then the Hands came, Lord Arryn and Lord Stark, and before long Tobho sold him off like he was nothing and after that he had prepared for the long, hard life of a man of the Night’s Watch. He had made his peace with the fact he’d take no wife, father no children and inherit no lands; it had been tough, but he had come to terms with it. He was baseborn anyway, so he had nothing to inherit, and as for the rest well, that was his lot, he told himself. Whether by the attention or apathy of the gods it made little difference; that was his lot. At least in the Night’s Watch no one would look down on him for being a bastard; not compared to the rest of the recruits. At Castle Black even the lowest man could rise through the ranks; even a boy with no family name. If he kept his head down, forged decent steel, and worked hard enough he could earn himself a title, mayhaps even a position in the leadership.

 

But who would I be at Winterfell? He thought to himself as he began walking towards the rest of the column. He’d spent his whole life serving people; even if he joined Mikken at the forge he’d be another bastard looked down on by the Northern Lords and Ladies just like the Southron ones. Worse, in King’s Landing nobody had cared about him; he could lead a life of relative quiet, but in Winterfell he’d always be Arya Stark’s bastard friend, the boy she met on the Kingsroad and took pity on. He frowned and furrowed his brow, frustrated; Arya wasn’t like the other Ladies, he knew that, she didn’t care that he was a bastard, but the Starks were an honourable and proud house, and the Tully’s own words were Family, Duty, Honour. He felt his throat tighten slightly as he realised, no matter what Arya said, his very life was testament to an act of infidelity and dishonour; he would not be welcome at Winterfell. He would find no home at Winterfell.

 

And yet, even with all that, he had accepted her offer instantly. In truth it alarmed him how fast he had made up his mind, he barely knew the girl who walked in front of him and yet already he was prepared to follow her. All his doubt, all his concerns and worries about what life in Winterfell would be like faded away as he began to catch up with Arya. He couldn’t explain the feeling but somehow he just knew wherever this girl went was where he wanted to be, no matter what happened. Whatever the gods had planned for him, if they even cared, he was sure she must be a part of it. For a single and fleeting instant he felt like there was something greater than himself happening here, that he was at the centre of an ever changing board with a thousand players. But the feeling was all to brief; he couldn’t shake a slight feeling of foreboding, a twinge of sadness at the knowledge that one day Arya would no doubt be wedded to some noble Lord from a fancy castle and, as he had many times in his life, found himself cursing the fact he was lowborn.

 

He was shaken from his thoughts when he caught up to her; she’d stopped a little more than a stonesthrow away from the rest of the group. The wagons ahead were also motionless and many of the other recruits had sat down by the edge of the Kingsroad. He could just about see Hot Pie was giving out handfuls of bread and the straw-haired by Lommy was sat down near him trying to pull thorns from the sole of his foot. He couldn’t see Yoren, he was probably right at the front, but he could see the outlines of the caged prisoners. The sight of them made him feel uncomfortable; even though both him and Arya were still some way away from everybody else he got the sensation that the red haired man was staring directly at him. He told himself he was imagining it, but he still felt uneasy.

 

He looked to his side to see that Arya had been watching him as he stood and thought. He smiled down at her and she smiled back. Joining the rest of the men meant that she’d have to go back to pretending she was just ‘Arry, the orphan boy, and Gendry would go back to feeling the eyes on him from the other recruits, knowing most of them would hand him over to the Goldcloaks given half a chance. Instead they both stood there, out of earshot from the others, and enjoyed another few moments where they could both just be themselves. Yet there was a doubt in his mind that he couldn’t shake; a lifetime of deference to Westerosi customs meant that even if it didn’t matter that he was a bastard and she was a Lady while they travelled together, it couldn’t be like this in Winterfell. Gendry couldn’t help but wonder whether she would treat him the same there, will she look at me differently? He tried to tell himself that it didn’t matter; the life she offered him was better than the one he would have had at the Wall, but it was to no avail, you can’t lose what you never had.

 

“Arya…” Gendry began, unsure of how to say what had been on his mind.

 

“Yes?” She asked, noticeably upbeat. It made a pleasant change from how miserable she had been when they first set out. Her smiled dropped slightly when she saw the concentrated look on his face.

 

“How do they treat… bastards… at Winterfell?” He practically flinched as he asked her; no longer sure he wanted hear the answer.

 

She put her hand on his arm and offered him another smile; in other circumstances he might have laughed at the image of the young girl giving support to a boy near two head’s taller than her, or at least he might have if he hadn’t appreciated the gesture. He felt a surge of warmth rush through him at her touch and looked down at her, his eyes dark with lust as she spoke. “My brother Jon, he’s a…” she paused and checked her words, “Lady Stark is not his mother… but he’s no less a brother than Robb or Bran or Rickon.”

 

Her touch filled him with some small measure of comfort though it was not enough to dispel his concerns. When he spoke, his voice was low and barely more than a whisper, “Why me?”

 

“Because my father trusted you,” she answered, taking her hand away from his arm as she did so. His arm instinctively moved towards her hand slightly at the loss of her touch.

 

“I only met your father once,” he protested, “He asked a few questions and then he left and that was that.” Frustration rose deep from within him, he had so many unanswered questions. When he asked her why me it could have been for any number of reasons; he didn’t know what the Hands had wanted with him, what the Goldcloaks want him for and why a Lady would share her home with a bastard. He asked her again, “why me?”

 

She hesitated before she answered, staring at him. The smile she had worn had vanished and her expression became unreadable. She tilted her head slightly to one side as she looked up into his face. After what felt to Gendry like the longest time – long enough for him to consider walking away – she replied with just four words, spoken quietly, but firmly, as if she valued each of them. “Because I trust you.”

 

Their eyes locked and Gendry knew she was telling the truth, he could not say how he knew… he just did. She had told him everything about her, she had entrusted her secret with him; she had offered him a place in her home. He didn’t know what he could say to her; no matter how hard he tried he couldn’t choose the right words. He had to admit he felt a slight relief when the voice of Yoren came booming towards them both.

 

“‘Arry! Help your friend hand out the bread – if he doesn’t hurry up we’ll starve before we get to the fucking Trident!” He bellowed gesturing behind him to where Hot Pie was fumbling with a basket before adding, slightly quieter so only Gendry and her could hear, “and make sure he don’t eat more than his fair share.” Arya stole one last look at Gendry before heading off to find Hot Pie, her smile returned to her.

 

Any relief that Gendry had felt at the interruption swiftly turned to dread as Yoren wheeled around on him, “What in the name of the old gods and the fucking seven is wrong with you, lad? You told me you’d protect her, you swore, and yet when I go to check on you both you’re nowhere to be found. Half the country’s looking for her and the gods only know who’s after you and yet you’re both walking alone, unprotected, out of earshot. Suppose you got attacked boy, I’ve no doubt you could swing a hammer but you’re unarmed, you and ‘Arry wouldn’t last five minutes even with her sword.”

 

Gendry ignored his wounded pride and met Yoren’s eyes, saying calmly, “She asked me to go to Winterfell with her, to work in its forge and live in its walls.”

 

Yoren looked taken aback and paused for a moment, studying Gendry’s face carefully. “She told you who she is?” He asked, cautiously, his lips forming a frown.

 

“Aye.” Gendry replied, nodding his head slightly.

 

“If you tell anyone about her–” Yoren began but was swiftly cut off.

 

“I won’t, I made a promise, remember,” Gendry interrupted. An awkward silence fell between them as the man of the Night’s Watch squared up to him and studied the boy, face to face. After it became clear Yoren would not say anything else Gendry continued, “I said yes… to Winterfell.”

 

Yoren looked visibly disappointed at the news, his lips twitched as though he were about to say something but thought better of it. Instead he turned from Gendry and looked across the woods to Arya and the recruits in front of them, “you owe nothing to the Night’s Watch, not ‘til you say the vows. If Arya wishes you remain with her in Winterfell I won’t stop you…” he paused for a moment before looking back to Gendry, “’Tis a bloody shame, we really do need good steel at the Wall.”

 

“Mayhaps if the Starks allow it, I could forge some weapons for the Watch from Winterfell, send them to you,” Gendry offered, but if Yoren heard him he showed no signs of it. Instead Yoren leant close and spoke to him in a voice little more than a growl.

 

“Winterfell is hundreds of leagues away and damn near every Lord in Westeros has called their banners. War is coming lad, in the Riverlands it’s already began; if anything happens to me you may be all Arya has. You said yes to her offer, Winterfell is your home too now, get her there safe. You’ll need to act smarter than you did this morning.”

 

Gendry nodded and promised, “I will.”

 

“And if the Goldcloaks come again, lose your helmet,” Yoren instructed him before drawing one of two swords strapped to his belt and handing it to Gendry; it was the Goldcloak’s sword. “Think you can use it?”

 

Gendry nodded again and, after a moment of silence, Yoren turned on his heel and walked back to the wagons leaving Gendry to follow. He held out the sword in front of him, the blade was made from folded steel but was otherwise not especially impressive in itself. The pommel, however, was impressive he admitted to himself as he admired the craftsmanship and the engraving of the gold adorned hilt. He tried a practice cut through the air and the sword made a satisfying whoosh as he struck down an imaginary foe. He twirled it in his hand and tried a few more slashes before finishing with a firm thrust; it felt good. He may never have fought with a sword before but he’d forged enough of them to know their balance and he was accustomed to the weight of one. Gendry could’ve laughed in spite of himself as he attached the sword to his own belt, sliding it through a leather loop thrown around the buckle, and walked back towards the wagons; remembering what Arya had said about swordsmanship: stick them with the pointy end.

 

He thought on his promises, resting his hand on the pommel of his new sword and muttered to himself, “to Winterfell.”

Chapter Text

Gendry walked back to the main column with his new sword strapped to his belt and bull’s helmet resting under one arm. The weight of the blade felt good against his leg; even without training in swordplay just the knowledge it was there made him feel safer, somehow. Since the Goldcloaks had come the morning before he had kept as much distance from everybody else as possible; sleeping at the edge of camp and only speaking with Arya, Lommy and Hot Pie. His conversation with Arya meant he had spent most of the day walking well behind the others and, he reflected as he reached them, this was the first time he stopped to look at his… would-have-been brothers. As his gaze passed from face to face his sense of anxiety increased; their eyes were unfeeling, uncaring and Gendry found himself having to resist the urge to draw his new weapon. The dark stares they gave him told him everything he suspected. Half of these men will betray me the first chance they get. He felt more reassured about Winterfell; whatever awaited him there couldn’t be worse than what surely awaited him if he stayed here.

 

He looked ahead to Yoren who was standing not further than a stone’s throw away, concentrating on a folded piece of faded parchment that Gendry assumed was a map. It occurred to Gendry how… small the man seemed even if, truthfully, Yoren was half a head taller than him. This man was the only thing between Arya and the recruits and Gendry and the Goldcloaks, everything rests on him. Looking at the man of Night’s Watch, hunched and pale, the ex-armourer’s apprentice thought him almost sickly and could see clearly how much danger they were all in. Everywhere Gendry turned he was utterly surrounded by criminals and wretches, and whilst he didn’t doubt that Yoren could use his sword, it would not likely be enough to save them. Even without the presence of Goldcloaks there would be little hope of winning against a rebellion from within the column, and with the help of the Goldcloaks… well it didn’t bear thinking about.

 

As he passed by one of the recruits he was greeted by yet another in a long series of grim expressions and stares. He’d spent the majority of his life going unnoticed in Flea Bottom; nobody cared about the comings and goings of a bastard there. Gendry had never expected to be wistful about being ignored; he must have imagined himself as a knight a thousand times and more, standing tall and above the crowds and drawing all eyes, as he forged the armour for the nobles and Lords of King’s Landing. Being unobserved had never held such an attraction for him after the Goldcloaks had ridden and named him just the day before. His skin crawled at the weight of a dozen pairs of eyes on him, he had to fight to resist the urge to draw his sword as one man with a chiselled face, round belly, unruly greasy hair and a blacksmith’s apron with a hammer sticking out stood up and spat a mouthful of bread towards him.

 

Another bald man, over a head taller than Gendry, stepped in front of him, looking down at the boy with grey eyes – not the kind Arya had that seemed to shine and shimmer like freshly gleamed steel, no, they were lifeless and dull like two grubby coins set too deep into his skull. Though Gendry was reassured to be within reach of a blade he didn’t believe he’d actually be any good at swordplay if it came to that, it would serve him much better as a threat. They don’t need to know I’ve never fought with even a wooden sword before. Instead he sidestepped the man and walked briskly to find Lommy, ignoring everyone else on the way – even the red and white haired prisoner in the cage. When he reached the straw haired boy, Lommy was still pulling out the thorns in his feet, wincing as each removed thorn left a small circle of red in its wake. Gendry sat down next to the boy, offering him a smile that didn’t reach his eyes and placing his helmet on the ground next to him, before continuing to plan how to prepare for what would come next. He was so lost in thought he barely noticed as Lommy picked up the helmet to look at it.

 

What do I have? Gendry reflected bitterly, who can I trust? His stomach turned slightly as he worked through what little was in his favour; he had one good fighter, a sword he didn’t know how to properly use, two cravens – a baker and a dyer – that he doubted he could rely on if it came to a fight and Arya… against how many, a dozen, twenty, more? He took little comfort in the knowledge that Arya was armed too, that Needle of hers might cut through leather but against decent plate armour, it’d probably shatter. The boy knew he was not safe there. All around him men were eating their bread and cheese, seemingly relaxed, and yet Gendry’s heart was pounding through his chest. Beads of sweat rolled down his forehead, his hands felt clammy and his eyes instinctively flicked over to one of the horses attached to the wagon with the prisoners, lingering on the harness that attached the animal to its burden. If he ran he suspected he could unhook the horse and ride before anyone could stop him, he’d be safer on his own. But where would I go? And what would happen to Arya?

 

He cursed, suddenly feeling childish for considering riding away, and looked back towards Yoren. The man of the Night’s Watch was still staring at the scrap of paper, looking noticeably worried as he rotating it, turning it this way and that, then grimacing and looking up frustrated. More than once Yoren turned to look directly at Gendry before frowning and stroking the wiry beard on his chin. Gendry thought at first that they must be lost but it became swiftly apparent that they were not; it had been a straight shot on the Kingsroad from King’s Landing and they couldn’t have taken the wrong path as there hadn’t been any major turnings on the path; even Gendry could have navigated the journey. Yoren didn’t have the look of a man trying to work out which way was North either, his expression and the way he kept looking at Gendry was unnerving to the ex-armourer’s apprentice.

 

Lommy interrupted him his from his thoughts by asking, with the bull’s head helmet in his hands, “Did you make it?”

 

“Aye,” Gendry said, nodding and looking towards the slight boy he was sat next to. He hadn’t really warmed to Lommy, not since he had seen him pushing Arya, but he couldn’t help but smile at the childlike zeal with which the boy looked at his helmet. The straw haired boy couldn’t have been much older than Arya, Gendry reflected.

 

“How long did it take?” Lommy asked, running a grubby finger along one of the seams where Gendry had joined together two plates of steel.

 

Gendry didn’t actually remember how long it took, he hadn’t made a note of when he started making the helmet; he just remembered the many nights working with only the light of the furnace to see by. He found himself grinning at the memories; everything was so much simpler. Remembering he needed to actually answer he mumbled “I don’t know, months.”

 

“Why a bull?” The boy asked him, surprising Gendry with his curiosity.

 

“They used to call me stubborn and bull headed so, I don’t know, I guess it just seemed to make sense,” he answered truthfully before asking back, “why’d you join the Night’s Watch?”

 

Lommy didn’t say anything in return; he just stared into the empty eye sockets of the helmet before handing it back to Gendry, standing up and walking off without a word. The ex-armourer’s apprentice realised as the boy left that he knew next to nothing about him save that he was a dyer’s apprentice. He supposed everyone had different reasons for being here, an interesting story to tell; some simple like his, some not so simple like Arya’s. He was busy wondering to which group Lommy’s tale would fit. Gendry felt a little guilty for having paid so little attention to anyone else except himself and Arya; he didn’t even know anything about Hot Pie. He found himself cursing at the back of his mind, if I’d have been even a bit less selfish, I might have made more allies.

 

Almost immediately after Lommy left Yoren’s voice rang out through the woods; whatever worry he had been feeling was hidden by his usual strength as he shouted, “Alright you sorry bastards on your feet! We’ve a long way to travel and the days aren’t getting longer!”

 

Yoren’s words were immediately followed by a number of quiet groans and complaints but before long everybody was on their feet and walking. It was only as Gendry pulled himself up he realised he hadn’t eaten anything; he had been too lost in thought when the food was being handed out and as such had to bite his top lip hard to distract him from his growling stomach. He forced himself to ignore it and began walking, his head already spinning and feeling sick from hunger, he had no idea how he managed not to notice how ravenous he was. As he trudged on he was relieved to see Arya join him; it was nice to have at least one person he could trust.

 

“Here, I saved you a bit.” she said chirpily, handing Gendry a crust of bread. He probably would have kissed her in response had he not been so busy burying his teeth into the loaf. They walked in silence for a few moments, punctuated only by the sound of Gendry chewing and swallowing his food, before Arya asked, “you’ve got a sword?”

 

“Yoren gave it to me,” Gendry replied between mouthfuls of bread, “it belonged to the Goldcloak.”

 

“All the best swords have names,” she said before asking him, “What’ll you call it?”

 Gendry wanted to reply that only noble Lords, or in Arya’s case Ladies, named their swords. He didn’t even have a second name himself, how could he give a name to a sword? Especially a sword as plain as this one; true it did have a nice pommel but he had made far better weapons at Tobho’s forge; if he was to own a named sword it would be one he made, Gendry thought, his mind already filling with different ideas for what he would forge given the chance. He doubted this would be enough for her though he couldn’t think of any ideas. He shrugged his shoulders in response and they continued walking in a friendly silence.

 

After a while they were joined by Hot Pie and Lommy, both were limping slightly – Hot Pie from his blisters and Lommy from all the thorns he’d pulled out; Gendry still wasn’t sure how he’d managed to get so many of them stuck in him. They whiled away the long afternoon in conversation, Hot Pie talked about the many differences between preparing a sweet and a savoury pastry crust and Lommy described the many ways to make colour pigments for dyeing clothes – lamenting as he did so that the Night’s Watch only wore black. Even Arya joined in, laughing at Lommy’s detailed account of when him and the other apprentices accidently mixed the wrong dyes and ended up turning a whole unit of Goldcloak’s cloaks a very dirty brown colour. Gendry wondered if that was why the boy was sent to the Wall.

 

By the time they set up camp that evening Gendry felt a little more relaxed than he had been earlier; he’d spent half the day with the main column and nothing had happened worse than some of the recruits had shot him the odd dark glance. It didn’t alleviate any of his fear; he was still outnumbered by men who would likely turn him over to the Goldcloaks as soon as they could and Yoren, himself, Arya, Hot Pie and Lommy would stand little to no chance of being able to win against a rebellion of the group, but at least during the afternoon the immediate threat had been lifted. After an unfortunately bland stew prepared by Hot Pie and a few other recruits Gendry unbuckled his sword and unrolled his furs next to Arya’s.

 

He stole one last glance at her, bathed in the orange glow of the dying fire, before letting sleep overcome him, whispering out “goodnight ‘Arry,” before it did so. He barely caught her mumbled reply.

 

In the last moments before he lost consciousness he thought to himself, no matter what happens when the Goldcloaks arrive, no matter how outnumbered we are, for the first time in my life I’m not alone, for the first time I belong somewhere. His lips twitched into a smile at the thought of his mismatched companions and how hopelessly unprepared they were: a highborn girl dressed as a boy fleeing the capital with a wanted armourer, a fat cook and a straw-haired dyer protected by a grizzled man of the Night’s Watch. He knew the odds were stacked against them but for a fleeting instant he didn't care. Right now, I belong, and I'll hold on to this moment, no matter what comes next.

 

Chapter Text

It was still dark when Gendry was roughly shaken awake; the night was late enough that the fires had burnt low into faint embers but it was not so early as to be near dawn. His hands made his way to the pommel of his sword and the boy bolted upright into a sitting position, trying to listen over the sound of his own heart pounding. His mop of coarse hair hung heavy against his clammy forehead, blocking his vision; he had to wipe it from his eyes with the back of his free hand, though he still couldn’t see. Gendry’s eyes stung from sweat as he squinted into the night; trying to make out who had stirred him but so thick was the blackness that at first it seemed to make little difference whether he opened or closed his eyes. He gripped the handle of the sword tightly, the heat from his palm warming the steel.

 

It was only after a few moments that he started to make out the shapes around him. Pale moonlight fought its way through the dense cloud and tree cover to form ghostly silhouettes. The faint light reflected on the sharp edge of his sword, making it glint silver. Unable to see whoever had roused him and aware that he would be unable to defend himself sat down, he scrambled to his feet; blade extended in front of him, and turned on his heels slightly as he tried to make out and searched his surroundings. He scanned the treelines and listened carefully for any sounds; over his own rough breathing and the occasional crack of the twigs he stood on he could hear the snoring of Hot Pie, Lommy and Arya from nearby, Hot Pie’s was the loudest by some margin. A shiver ran down his spine, his blood ran cold and his whole body froze when at last he made out the outline of a figure of a man, stooped low and hooded, leaning against a nearby tree.

 

“With me lad, now,” Yoren’s voice commanded from the shadows inside the hood. The urgency in the man’s voice startled Gendry, who didn’t understand why Yoren had waited so long to reveal himself, “Bring your blade.”

 

The man of the Night’s Watch turned and left at a brisk walk, his silhouette melting into the darkness. It took everything Gendry had to keep up as his eyes still struggled to adjust in the low light. They walked in silence for a long time; long enough that the blurred outlines of shapes and shadows began to become much clearer and more distinct. It did not stop the ex-armourer’s apprentice from twice tripping on logs; losing his balance and almost falling. More than once the boy caught himself on low hanging branches – he could feel one of the nastier scratches stinging in the cold air and the warmth of blood as it trickled lightly down his arm. All the while Yoren continued striding ahead, they were some way away from the camp when Gendry found himself almost convinced he’d lost Yoren altogether. It was only when he stumbled upon the orange glow of a lit fire that he relaxed, content he must be in the right place.

 

“I didn’t mean to frighten you, boy.” Yoren told him as Gendry walked into a small, natural clearing in the woods where the small fire was shining brightly; casting long ghostly shadows in all directions. “The time will come, and soon by my reckoning, when you’ll need to use that sword,” the man of the Night’s Watch said, indicating to the blade as he did so, “and when you do, you’d best know how to.”

 

Gendry could see Yoren’s own sword in the man’s aged hands; reflecting the dancing oranges and yellows of the nearby fire; at first glance one could be forgiven for believing the sword itself was actually ablaze. “How soon?” Gendry asked; his voice small and almost lost against the force of the gathered winds.

 

He wasn’t sure whether Yoren had heard him or not and was just about to ask the question again before Yoren continued, more to himself than Gendry “Two riders, travelling light – it’s a week’s ride from here to King’s Landing, it’d take them a day to gather enough men and horses to form a fighting party and then, if we’re fast enough, we’d have maybe nine more days. They wouldn’t reach us ‘til the quarter moon…” The man trailed off into thought, looking up into the sky at a near full moon.

 

Seven and ten days, Gendry thought to himself, turning his sword over in his hands and wondering if he could learn how to use it in that time. He didn’t doubt he could swing it hard enough after a lifetime of practice with his hammer, but he’d never so much as sparred with a wooden stick so the idea of fighting trained soldiers filled him with dread. Seven and ten days is a long time, he reassured himself, switching the sword from his right hand to his left hand, testing the weight and its grip. I can learn. He twirled the blade in a full rotation to check its balance, much the same way he had done with dozens of swords before.

 

After what felt like the longest time Yoren spoke, “Only… they didn’t ride south on the Kingsroad…” The man of the Night’s Watch looked frustrated, his face wrought with concern. Gendry’s heart skipped a beat as Yoren added more, “they rode north… why? Why would they ride north? There’s nothing of import before the Crossroads save Harrenhal…”

 

Gendry remembered how Yoren had been pouring over what looked like a map the day afore and wondered if this was what he had been thinking on. The ex-armourer’s apprentice was relatively familiar with the story of Harrenhal, or at least with one of the versions of it. Harrenhal was cursed, Tobho had told him once while they repaired the armour of Ser Danwell Frey after the knight was unhorsed at the Tourney of the Hand for Lord Stark. Upon the breastplate they had forged a new coat of arms to represent the wedding of Ser Danwell Frey and Wynafrei Whent, whose houses held the Twins and Harrenhal respectively. Thinking back the boy realised it seemed a lifetime ago. The crest was a number of black bats, Gendry couldn’t remember exactly how many, over the towers of the crossing.

 

“Harren the Black, King of the Iron Islands and the Riverlands, took forty years to build Harrenhal. He laid the countryside bare gathering the resources for it; he called it impregnable – the greatest fortress ever built. It’s said he even sealed it with magic – mixing human blood into the very mortar that held the stones together,” the words and voice of his old master surged forwards from his memories, amongst other details Gendry could no longer recall, “he and his sons were burnt alive by Aegon the Conqueror and his dragons.”

 

After a while Yoren broke into speech once more, as though he had found an answer to his own question, “Harrenhal is held by Lady Shella Whent, she’s always been an ally to the Night’s Watch – one of the few we have left in the South, but Westeros is at war, and war changes everything. You see Harrenhal is a ruin; it’s unmanageable and expensive to upkeep – in peacetime it doesn’t matter who owns it, most believe it brings bad luck, but with the Starks marching south and the Riverlands in rebellion that ruined fortress guards the road to King’s Landing. If the Goldcloaks are headed there then I’ve little doubt Lord Tywin Lannister or his bannermen must have come east and garrisoned it… If they have, then we’ll find no warm welcomes.”

 

The weight of Yoren’s words dawned on Gendry; Harrenhal was much closer than King’s Landing. We won’t have ‘til the quarter moon, he thought, a knot forming in his stomach as his heart began to race, there’s not enough time. He gripped the handle of his sword so hard his knuckles turned white to try and stop the blade from shaking. Gendry could feel the life, the future, he’d envisaged, whether at the Wall or Winterfell, crashing down around him and had to fight back the urge to be sick. I’m going to die. He closed his eyes, listening to the sound of his breath rasp against his dry throat, trying to think of something else, I’m going to die. His legs were trembling so much it was all Gendry could do to stand. The boy realised he’d suspected this would happen for a while, that it was only a matter of time before they caught up with him. Whatever I’m part of, they killed two King’s Hands for it; they’ll hunt me forever. He didn’t feel how he expected he would; he felt almost… ready... mayhaps that’s why I so readily accepted life at the Wall… because I’ve never really expected to get there. He swallowed to wet the back of his throat.

 

He began wondering why Yoren had told him all this, whether when Yoren had agreed to defend him it was because he thought that they could shelter at Harrenhal if needs must. But if Harrenhal belonged to the Lannisters then they were caught between it to the North, King’s Landing to the South and the growing war in the west. It was as though they were at the very centre of the storm. If Yoren meant to give me up he wouldn’t have given me a sword, Gendry reassured himself; but was unable to shake the feeling that perhaps everyone else would be better off if he wasn’t there. Mayhaps I should just hand myself over? He thought, resignedly, even if every recruit fought together we wouldn’t win the fight. Lord Arryn, Lord Stark, how many more people will die over me? He found himself studying Yoren; the slightly hunched figure with eyes that blazed in the firelight. Yoren. Hot Pie. Lommy… He swallowed again, unable to add her name to the list. If she gets killed because they’re looking for me… he cursed to himself for putting everybody around him in so much danger, I wish I’d never met her, he reflected bitterly, though even as he thought it, he knew it was untrue.

 

As he imagined her, with her messy short hair and toothy grin, a strange sensation washed through him; it stilled the pounding in his chest and relaxed his muscles, rolling over him like a calming breeze. In truth Gendry would have liked nothing more than to just run into the woods and forget about everything like the green boy he thought he was, but he knew better than that. His whole life he told himself that he had fought against the world; to be accepted, to be a smith, to have a future… only he’d never actually had to fight for anything. He’d worked hard to be a good smith, sure, but that was not the same. Now, he had something to fight for, he had something to protect. When he was around Arya it felt like he was more than just him. He would fight for her. He had made up his mind; he would leave before dawn with one of the horses but not to run and hide, no – those are the actions of a foolish boy; rather he would find the Goldcloaks. They can have me, he told himself, resolute, she will not share her father’s fate, and I will not lead them to her. He allowed himself a grim smile afterwards, I might finally find out what in seven hells they want me for, anyway.

 

He straightened his posture; shoulders spread apart, and announced his intention to Yoren. This time his voice came with a guttural strength that projected his words across the clearing; the boy couldn’t have known it, still frightened as he was, but in that moment Gendry seemed every bit a man to Yoren. “I’ll give myself to them,” Gendry’s words cut through the winds, much deeper than usual.

 

Yoren grimaced, his forehead furrowed, and did not say anything for a while. The man of the Night’s Watch pondered over Gendry’s offer, before shaking his head slightly and replying, “You know, it’s a funny thing when people swear oaths – it’s just words really. Oaths are easy to keep when you’re safe and warm; when I first said my vows I never realised what it meant, I didn’t for a long time. I’m bound by duty to defend those recruits,” he gestured with his free hand into the darkness towards the camp before continuing slightly slower, “even if it means my death – which it most likely will… that’s what it means to be a man of the Night’s Watch.”

 

“But if I go–” Gendry started but was immediately cut off.

 

“Then you think we’ll all be safe? Mayhaps you missed the part when that Goldcloak promised to come back for my head?” Yoren gave a slight, and somewhat surprising to Gendry, chuckle at the idea before stepping towards the ex-armourer’s apprentice and adding, more seriously, “you gave me your word you’d see to it Arya came to no harm, you can’t very well do that if you’re dead. The Goldcloaks are coming whether you’re here or not and if it comes to a fight she’ll want to join in with that silly sword of hers. You were a smith, what do you think will happen when that blade hits plate armour?”

 

Gendry was silent, he knew well what would happen – if she were lucky it would bounce off, if not the blade would likely shatter; either way it would serve her little use. Yoren continued, “A battle’s no place for a lady, even one like her... And the Goldcloaks aren’t the only threat, there’re hundreds of leagues from here to Winterfell and you’ve seen the sorts of people we’re travelling with, half of them would hand her over to the King faster than they would you, and the other half would too but they’d rape her first. You can’t protect her from the grave, lad, and I can’t protect her alone.”

 

Gendry was silent; he looked down at the sword in his hand aware that he couldn’t likely protect himself with it let alone anyone else. The only words he could find were ones he’d already used, “how soon?”

 

Yoren scratched his beard nonchalantly and bobbed his head slightly, weighing up the matter in his mind in much the same manner one might weigh up something trivial, like which of two punnets of fruit were more ripe, or which type of cheese to buy, “If Harrenhal is under Lannister control; it is a surprise they haven’t arrived already…” After Gendry said nothing the man continued, “It’d take us more than a week to get there on foot and with the wagons, but two men travelling light could cross that distance in a few days, probably less.”

 

“What can I do?” Gendry asked firmly with a force that surprised Yoren. The boy, though he barely looked like one anymore, cut a striking figure in the woods bathed in the orange light of the fire, the usual blue of his eyes replaced with orange.

 

“When they come, chances are we won’t beat them,” Yoren said flatly, frowning as he did so, “have you ever been in a battle, lad?” Gendry shook his head, “I gathered as much, battles are loud, bloody and confusing, if things go wrong you’ll take Arya and whoever else you can and run but chances are you’ll need to know how to fight.”

 

Gendry nodded and raised his sword in front of him, gripping it with his right hand and pointed it towards Yoren. Without saying a word the man of the Night’s Watch immediately lunged forward with a straight thrust, Gendry just managed shield himself by driving the blow to the side but lost his balance and stumbled. The clang of metal rang loud in the air as Yoren brought his sword back around for a second strike. Gendry couldn’t react fast enough and felt the flat side of his opponent’s blade crash down on his exposed right shoulder. The blow struck hard; sending a bolt of pain shot through Gendry’s arm and forcing him to recoil, dropping his sword in the mud.

 

“Pick it up, lad, this time hold it with two hands,” Yoren barked at the boy, taking a few steps back to give Gendry a chance to pick up his weapon.

 

Once the boy was armed again, Yoren stepped forward this time slashing from left to right; Gendry jumped back in time to hear the sound of the metal whooshing through the air in front of him. The ex-armourer’s apprentice took the chance to strike, leaning forward and swinging with all the strength he had, aiming the flat side of his sword at Yoren’s shoulder. Yoren sidestepped and, quicker than Gendry thought possible, drove the attack away from him and into the ground. There was a loud thud as Gendry’s sword struck the earth; the force of the hit shook his arm and staggered him slightly. The man of the Night’s Watch immediately took advantage of the situation and, with a practiced ease, swung his sword upwards, catching Gendry off guard and grazing the boy’s cheek with the tip of his blade. The warm blood that ran down Gendry’s face stung against the cold night air and caused the ex-armourer’s apprentice to curse loudly and swing wildly; with each swing Yoren slipped back into the darkness, just out of reach.

 

After a number of failed lunges Gendry stepped backwards, panting from exhaustion. Beads of sweat rolled down his forehead into his eyes; his sword felt heavy in his hands and his arms burned. The moment Gendry’s weapon was lowered Yoren stepped forwards and attacked. Instinctively Gendry raised his sword up and sparks flashed in the night as the blades met and locked against each other. Yoren had underestimated Gendry’s strength, expecting to sweep his defence aside but years of smithing leant power and stamina to the boy. If Yoren was surprised he did not show it, instead opting to step around Gendry and bring the flat side of his sword down against the boy’s shin. This time, though, the man of the Night’s Watch realised too late that he had gotten too close to make the attack and, while he was able to block Gendry’s counter swing, he was hit by its full force. If Gendry hadn’t been so concerned with putting a reasonable distance between himself and Yoren he might have been able to seize an advantage but, as it happened, Yoren quickly recovered and began a series of fast attacks meant to tempt Gendry’s defence away from his chest.

 

“The strength of both a decent attack and defence,” Yoren grunted between lunges, “comes from your stance,” he threw Gendry off balance by following three successive high strikes with a low thrust; pushing the boy’s sword aside and ramming into him with his shoulder, knocking the lad on his arse, “get your opponent of his feet and you’ve won the fight.”

 

Yoren instructed the boy how to stand; his left foot towards his opponent and right foot behind at an angle for support. With each swing of the sword Gendry was told to draw power from the ground, to twist his entire body into the attack not just his arm. He had to bounce of his toes, never stay rooted in one spot for long – a moving target is harder to hit and flank. The man of the Night’s Watch showed Gendry how to block properly; to hold the sword diagonally in front of him at shoulder height so he could better defend his neck and stomach just by angling the blade. By the time Yoren was satisfied they’d done enough the fire had long since burnt to ashes and the blackness that had surrounded them had retreated and been replaced by a greyish first light. They ended the session the first time Gendry landed a strike on Yoren; the flat edge of his sword caught Yoren’s thigh at the same time Yoren’s sword struck Gendry’s ear. Even some time after they finished he struggled hearing on that side.

 

As they walked back to the others at camp tiredness rolled over Gendry. The boy was covered in sweat, mud and bruises; his muscles were sore and he ached all over; not even a lengthy swig from Yoren’s wineskin did much to ease the pain. As he scratched at the dark stubble that lined his cheek, scraping away the dried blood there with his fingernails, Yoren told him to rest in the storage wagon for the duration of the day’s march before the man of the Night’s Watch began waking up the recruits to get ready. Gendry winced as Yoren patted him on the shoulder, the area being tender from fighting, before he pulled himself onto the wagon, threw himself amongst some of the spare furs, and fell immediately asleep. He barely heard Yoren mumble that he did well.

 

 

When he awoke the column had already began moving; the jostling of the wagon did nothing to help the not-so-dull pain he felt from the night of training. His vision was blurred at first and his head pounded both in response to his tiredness and the clout he had received against his ear. Even so, he couldn’t help but grin as the image of Arya came swimming into focus; she was poised, sitting, by the edge of the wagon at his feet, looking away. One of her legs was straight and the other bent so that her knee pointed upright; she rested her elbow on that knee. She looked utterly beautiful to him; mayhaps it was his sensitivity to the bright daylight but she seemed perfect, washed in light as though she were one of the seven’s chosen, or maybe chosen by the old gods, he thought, remembering the Stark traditions. He found peace watching her; she was lost in her own thoughts. He would have happily kept staring the whole day at the curve of her arse and soft swelling of her bust but a particularly rough jolt of the carriage prompted him to grunt in pain, alerting her that he was awake.

 

She turned to him and smiled, though it did nothing to dispel the concern in her eyes for him. He must have looked quite a state. Her gaze lingered on Gendry for a moment before she seemed to remember something and reached for a bowl near her feet. “I saved some for you,” she said, offering Gendry what he realised was porridge.

 

As if triggered by the sight of it his stomach growled with hunger and he accepted it gratefully, tucking in immediately. It was cold and stodgy and though not entirely without flavour it would have been distinctly underwhelming had he not felt so ravenous. In that moment though he tackled the food with the same fervour one might a nobleman’s banquet feast. Once he had finished he put the bowl down next to him and pulled himself up into a seating position, grimacing as his body protested. He offered her a grim smile and said “Yoren tried to teach me how to fight… I was slow to pick it up.”

 

Arya laughed, Gendry was never tired of seeing her with a smile. She told him “I looked just as bad after my swordplay lessons with Syrio Forel, first sword to the Sea Lord of Braavos. He said every hurt is a lesson, and every lesson makes you better.”

 

Gendry chuckled and joked, “I should be pretty good already then.”

 

She tilted her head slightly, smirking at him, before saying, “More than once my father tried to convince me to train with someone else, he didn’t like to see me so grubby and bruised. Septa Mordane was worse,” she said, putting on a higher pitched voice, “Little girls should not play with swords!” The idea made Gendry smile; Arya Stark, a highborn lady, learning to swordfight with a Braavosi, he wondered what the noblemen and women at court made of her. She was unlike anyone he had ever met afore.

 

A silence past between them; it wasn’t an unpleasant silence, Gendry just couldn’t think of anything to say. He was still exhausted from the night before and found himself fighting the urge to go back to sleep. After a while he slowly pulled himself up into a standing position, stretched out his aching muscles, and then sat at the end of the wagon, letting his legs dangle of the edge. He was thankful the wagon was at the back of the column today as it not only gave Arya and him a little space to be themselves rather than who they had to pretend to be around everyone else but also meant the view of the Kingsroad was uninterrupted by the other recruits. It wasn’t long before Arya came and sat down next to him and they looked out at the countryside together, both lost on their own thoughts.

 

He wasn’t entirely sure when it happened but next thing he knew Arya was resting her head on his shoulder. He felt her messy brown hair pressed against his cheek and automatically slipped an arm around her. A warmth and slight longing spread through him as he turned to look at her. Arya’s grey eyes locked with his blue ones and for a glorious moment the empty space he’d felt for as long as he could remember was filled. He had everything he could ever want sitting right in front of him. Wherever she goes, I’ll follow her. All of a sudden he was nervous, he felt himself leaning in slightly as his eyes broke from hers and dropped down to look at her lips but before he could plant a kiss on her she flushed crimson and jumped off the back of the wagon, dropping to her knees at the impact of the fall.

 

He was instantly gripped with fear, concerned she would be angry with him for forgetting his place, but as she brushed the mud off her breeches from where she had landed, she shot him a smile, allbeit a bit nervously, before running on ahead of the wagon. Gendry went to follow her but felt instantly light headed from pain and tiredness as he rose to his feet and had to sit back down. The last he saw of her before he felt sleep begin to encircle him again, she had caught up with Lommy and Hot Pie. The boy had been surprised and more than a little confused by the strength of his feelings towards her and wondered, as he drifted off again, whether she felt the same way about him. Had she blushed? He couldn’t help but remember how she had looked at him as he bathed, before he knew she was a girl… She offered me a place in her home… He dismissed it all as wishful thinking; he was seeing what he wanted to see, she was a Lady whereas he was just some baseborn bastard, and yet... despite all that he found himself hoping, even with the impossible odds, that he was wrong.

 

Gods, he cursed, I’m falling for Arya Stark.

Chapter Text

Thick black blood gushed from between the mangled red armour of the Lannister soldier; it spewed out from the wreck of twisted flesh and split metal that made up all that was left of where his shoulder plate had been. The man’s life-blood rolled down the front of his breastplate, blotting out and drowning the proud gold lion that glinted in the moonlight. The sight of it made Gendry sick; watching the ink-like liquid surging from the gaping wound that he had inflicted. His stomach turned as the Lannister soldier dropped to his knees in front of him, the man was pitifully trying to stem the flow of his escaping blood with his hands but couldn’t. Gendry watched as it slipped through the Lannister’s shaking fingers, rolled down his arms and pooled in a dark patch on the soft grass, disappearing into the ground as the thirsty earth lapped it up. The man’s face was a horror under the helmet; his teeth clenched and features contorted from the pain, dark trickles escaped his lips, ran down his chin and joined the rest of his blood on the grass.

 

Worse than the sight was the noise; the gasping, spluttering and wailing of the hunched figure at Gendry’s feet. Gendry knew the sound would haunt him for the rest of his life, though admittedly, the boy doubted that would be very long. There had been a sickening crack when Gendry’s sword struck the shoulder of the Lannister; the armour had buckled immediately against the force of the blow and Gendry had buried his blade deep into his opponent. The sword met no resistance once it had split the armour, cutting through the many muscles, tendons and sinews underneath as though he had been dipping a warmed knife into butter. His weapon landed with a dull thud as he struck the man’s collarbone, which shattered on impact; the strength of his hit shook Gendry’s arm so hard he almost dropped let go of the sword. Instantly the man had collapsed afore him as though all the bones in his body had turned to water, by the time Gendry had withdrawn his sword he knew that he had killed the man in front of him… truly, the Lannister wasn’t dead, but it would be but a matter of moments before the wound claimed him.

 

Around Gendry the battle raged fiercely; most of the recruits had taken up whatever weapons they could to defend themselves, but even though they outnumbered the enemy host almost two to one, the fight was already lost. The recruits were clad in light leathers and whatever clothes they had brought with them from King’s Landing, they had no armour and pitchforks would do little against steel. Many of his companions had already turned to run, realising the futility of the defence, and bodies were strewn here and there – some crying out ghastly screams into the night, offering prayers to the gods with outstretched arms, others were silent and still. At some point one of the wagons had caught ablaze, casting a deathly orange over the fray of fighting men and boys. Gendry cursed as the familiar whistle of a crossbow bolt shot near him and crouched low to the ground, surveying the situation; their attackers had training, proper weapons and a commander, most of the recruits had not so much as held a weapon before and the only man amongst them who could’ve rallied them was dead. Gendry didn’t look – in truth he suspected he couldn’t – but he knew not far from him the body of Yoren would be hunched over, pierced by spears and swords in a crumpled heap on the edge of the field.

 

Yet in all this chaos there was only one person Gendry was looking for. The ex-armourer’s apprentice cursed himself as he crept low, stepping over the body of one of the recruits and using the storage wagon as cover. Gendry you bloody fool, he thought to himself, sword clenched so tightly in his hand his knuckles glowed white against the pale light of the moon. The boy’s eyes scanned the field for her, praying to the seven that she wasn’t amongst the many bodies that littered the earth. Yoren told you to take Arya and run. But Gendry hadn’t listened; he had led the charge forward to avenge Yoren and fight the Lannister bannermen, aware even as he ran that Yoren was already dead. A soldier ran past the wagon, caught sight of him and raised his crossbow at Gendry. The man had a clear shot, Gendry realised too late, and even as he went to duck he heard the sharp twang of the bowstring being released and the whistle that followed, only one thought passed through his mind. You’ve lost her, the ex-armourer’s thought, waiting for the impact that he knew would kill him, you’ve fucking lost her. After what felt like a lifetime, the bolt struck him, and the ex-armourer’s apprentice dropped to the ground.

 

---

 

Gendry awoke to the warmth of the sun against his face and smiled at the soft jostle of the wagon underneath him; he didn’t know why but it gave him some comfort to be moving, perhaps it was just the feeling of heading into the unknown after so many years of staying still in King’s Landing? Regardless, he didn’t stop to think about it but instead stretched out his limbs lazily amongst the furs of the storage wagon before pulling himself into a sitting position and looking forward to the column of recruits. At the head Yoren was mounted on one of the horses not being used to pull the wagons; they travelled with more horses than were needed to lead the wagons so some could rest while the others pulled; it meant that those pulling the carriages were always fresh. Nearby Yoren, Lommy and Hot Pie were side by side chatting and laughing though after a few moments Lommy must have said something to annoy his friend for the straw head boy suddenly ran out of the line and sprinted towards the trees with Hot Pie in pursuit. Gendry knew Hot Pie wouldn’t be able to catch Lommy; the straw haired boy was too fast on his feet, and sure enough he could see Hot Pie leaning against a tree, panting and out of breath – though it wasn’t long before Lommy came back and, after receiving a jab in the ribs from his rotund friend, they both burst out laughing.

 

Instinctively Gendry scanned the rest of the recruits for Arya; Yoren had been easy to spot because he was on horseback, Lommy had his distinctive blonde hair but damn near half the recruits had unkempt, short brown hair – spotting Arya was significantly trickier. After a minute or so of being unable to spot her he pulled himself to his feet, wobbling for a moment as he held his balance on the jolting wagon, and, content that whatever pain he had felt from his training session had turned into just a series of dull aches, jumped off the back. As his feet hit the ground he realised he’d leant forwards too much and tripped, landing face first in the ground. The feeling of his cheek against the earth triggered a ripple of pain that caused his face to twitch involuntarily, the cut Yoren had given him still stung like the seven hells. As he brushed the mixture of dirt and dust from his breeches he heard a childlike laugh from behind him. His annoyance that he had tripped immediately melted and he found himself grinning.

 

“I was just looking for you,” Gendry said, turning to Arya with a smile, brushing the dry clay like dust from his hands and walking over to her.

 

“Strange place to start?” She mockingly questioned, indicating to the patch of mud he had, until moments ago, been sprawled out upon. He laughed and gave her a playful push, an action she returned with more fervour than he had expected and almost knocked him over.

 

“Well, milady has made habit of turning up in strange places,” Gendry jested and paused while Arya rolled her eyes in protest, “I wonder, what would all your highborn friends say if they saw you now? Aren’t ladies supposed to wear dresses,” He joked, looking at her attire, his eyes admittedly lingering on her tunic for a little too long.

 

“I couldn’t care less what they would say,” Arya protested, oblivious that Gendry had been staring at her bust and frowning petulantly before adding, somewhat aggressively, “and I don’t wear dresses.”

 

Anger flashed across her eyes and her brow furrowed when Gendry started laughing, she presumably thought he was laughing at her, but, after a few moments, her resolve softened and she joined in with him, realising he’d just been poking fun. As their laughs died down into wide smirks and then just into slight smiles Gendry knew he would never tire of hearing her laugh or watching her smile.

 

---

 

You’ve fucking lost her.

 

The bolt clipped the edge of Gendry’s forehead, nicking him in the temple just above his eyebrow before glancing off and landing somewhere behind him. He dropped to the ground, feeling the warm liquid run down the side of his face and into his left eye, stinging as it did. For a split second Gendry was frozen, unable to move and braced for death, he scrunched his eyes shut and waited for a second bolt to hit him before he heard a voice from his memory shout out I always hated crossbows, take too long to load! In an instant, faster than he thought possible, Gendry found himself on his feet charging towards the soldier, possessed by sheer instinct and a blind rage. You almost lost her, he told himself; in truth he didn’t know if she was still alive but if she was, he couldn’t help her if he got killed. In that moment all that mattered was staying alive. He stormed towards his opponent with all the strength he had, closing the gap in a matter of moments and reaching his attacker before the man had even pulled the string of the crossbow taught. When Gendry went to strike him the ex-armourer’s apprentice realised too late he had left his sword back where he fell; but it made little difference. His only chance to stay alive, to keep his promise, was fighting – he would be killed if he turned back for the sword.

 

The ex-armourer’s apprentice screwed his hands into a ball and swung hard against the red and gold helmet in front of him, hitting it with such force that the metal guard that protected the soldier’s cheek dented under his attack. Blinding pain shot through Gendry’s clenched fist as his knuckles split against the metal, sending sharp twinges up his arm. The soldier in front of him dropped the crossbow and stepped backwards, staggered by the punch. Unwilling to lose his advantage Gendry ignored the agony in his hand and punched the helmet again, his raw knuckles cracking against the cold steel and driving the soldier to the ground. Gendry gritted his teeth so hard he thought they’d break in his mouth before grabbing the man’s breastplate with his left arm; as much to steady himself as to line up his next swing. Tears of pain welled in Gendry’s eyes; he felt sick and light headed from the burning in his arm and he could barely see his target as he struck the helm again with his bloodied fist. One after another Gendry let out a barrage of savage blows until he had crumpled the cheek piece into the soldier’s face and made the Lannister bannerman to spit blood. With each hit he thought of Yoren, of Arya, of Hot Pie and Lommy, of everyone around him who had risked and lost their lives because of him. He thought of the life he could have had, the life he should have had. He released all his anger and hatred and guilt into every swing, the torment of each blow not half as painful as the anguish in his soul. He became more beast than man; striking the helm furiously, harder than he ever had metal in the forge. He gave out a guttural roar, yelling in the face of his enemy louder than any lion ever could.

 

Gendry kept pounding against the helmet until the burning in his arm became so unbearable he thought his fist would shatter with the next hit, his breathing was ragged and short and bile rose in his throat. He struck and he struck and he struck in blinded furor until he felt nothing at all, until he thought of nothing at all. A great darkness swept around him, claiming him and lifting him up. He rose, weightless, as though he had begun to fly, for a brief moment he felt peaceful, the throbbing in his hand distant and remote; he closed his eyes and relaxed… that was until he noticed an uncomfortable, vice-like grip around his arms. Panic flooded in as he realised he was being dragged; even as he struggled he knew it was hopeless, he didn’t have the strength to break the hold of the man behind him. The Lannister bannerman Gendry had been hitting struggled to his feet, coughing, and removed his battered helm, revealing the swelling and bruising that Gendry had inflicted. The pounding heart of the ex-armourer’s apprentice stopped beating when he saw the man pick up his crossbow and walk towards him. He waited for the Lannister soldier to cock the bow, drop a bolt against the string and take aim but instead the man turned the weapon around, walked towards him and struck Gendry hard with the wooden stock in the chest, winding the boy and knocking him to his knees.

 

Gendry’s vision was blurred from pain and blood and sweat, he wasn’t prepared for the soldier’s second attack; bringing the stock of the crossbow down on the side of his head, catching his ear and knocking him down into the mud. The fight left Gendry, all around him the muffled screams and clashes of steel were blotted out by intense ringing. A great tiredness fell upon him, pinning him to the ground, dulling his senses to such an extent that he barely noticed when the Lannister soldier’s steel boot kicked his stomach. He drifted in and out of consciousness, barely able to keep his eyes open and surprisingly ignorant of the sustained beating he was receiving. With his last exertion of his strength he tried to focus on his surroundings, to find Arya, he had to make sure she wasn’t hurt. He made out the shapes of the enemies dragging prisoners back into the field from the trees and he felt a slight smile creep across his lips when he saw what, based on his size and bumbling figure, could only be Hot Pie walking unharmed amongst them. His slight relief quickly turned to horror though when he spotted Arya’s thin sword, Needle, on the belt of a bald soldier, strutting smugly towards him.

 

Gendry tried to pull himself to his feet but fell immediately, pushed down by the soldiers around him. Feelings of loss, grief, guilt and despair surged through him, racking his body. Tears of desperation burnt in his eyes as he made another failed attempt to escape his captors. The pain that he had felt was nothing to the anguish that gripped him, tormented him. He’d given his word that he’d protect her, he’d sworn to the seven new gods and the old gods beyond counting he’d keep her safe but it hadn’t made a blind bit of difference. The bastards had got to her anyway. In sheer, unbridled panic and denial he tried to call her, to shout out her name but the word stuck to the back of his hoarse throat. He struck his hands against the dirt in front of him, oblivious to the wave of agony it triggered. His second chance at life, everything he had dared to hope for, came crashing down on him. The ex-armourer’s apprentice was pinned to the earth, unable to move, every breath caught in his lungs. He shut his eyes, welcoming the shadows that greeted him. He stopped struggling.

 

---

 

Yoren had set a fast pace for the march and it had long passed midday when they broke for food. Gendry strolled over to Hot Pie, giving him a hand unloading the bread from the storage wagon and passed it around. Strict instructions had been given that they weren’t to stop for long so they had no time to prepare a broth; rather it was the same monotonous meal of stale bread and hard, and rather disconcertingly slightly sweaty, cheese. Hot Pie wore a slightly nervous look as he distributed the food, revealing to Gendry that they were nearly out of provisions. The rounded boy said to him that Yoren had told him to only slightly decrease people’s amounts so they wouldn’t panic, but they only had food for another few days and the food that they did have had seen better days. Yet, after the gruelling training the night afore and several hours on the road chatting with Arya, Gendry’s hearty appetite meant he had little trouble getting through his portions, forcing himself to ignore the small blue specks that had appeared in the cheese. He even had some of Lommy’s after the straw-haired boy had had his fill and left spares. Gendry did feel a little guilty afterwards; the scrawny ex-dyer’s apprentice could use more fat on him. Gendry thought much the same of Arya, who he noted didn’t finish her meal either; he knew better than to say anything, but he grimaced and promised himself he would pay more attention to what she was doing, the least he could do was make sure she was eating enough. The gods know, he thought as he realised she was staring off into space amongst her dark memories, with everything that’s happened to her she probably isn’t thinking straight.

 

He went to walk over to her but was intercepted by Yoren; Gendry’s heart sank a little as he saw the man of the Night’s Watch wore as black a look as Arya. “You should be resting.” Yoren called out, “you’ll need your strength.”

 

“I’m good,” Gendry assured him, but even as he said it he knew Yoren didn’t believe him. As the two of them started walking away from the column for some privacy Yoren broke the silence first, frowning and scratching the greying hairs on his chin.

 

“Truth is, we’ll be lucky if we’ve got ‘til nightfall… there’s an old holdfast another nine miles down the Kingsroad, afore the turning to Gods Eye, if we’re to make a stand, that’ll be the place to do it.” The man told him, the reality of their situation only then beginning to dawn on Gendry.

 

“What are our chances?” Gendry asked, instantly regretting his decision to when Yoren said nothing and the black look on the man’s face returned.

 

“If anything goes wrong–” Yoren began, but was cut off by Gendry.

 

“I know, take Arya and run.”

 

They stood for a moment looking out at the woodlands all around them, Gendry couldn’t help but remember the last time the two of them had stood together by the river and how peaceful everything had seemed compared to now; his heart ached a little at the memory. The river had been awash with birdsong and colour, here all Gendry could see was the entwining and twisting branches of the gnarled trees as they locked together like the bars of a sprawling cage. More time, Gendry thought to himself, realising afterwards it was more of a prayer than a thought, we need more time. The idea of the impending encounter made Gendry feel sick and trapped; he could feel his heart pounding and the air escape from his lungs. He would have given anything for the peace he felt looking out at the river but a few days afore.

 

After several few moments Yoren turned back to look at the boy and patted Gendry’s shoulder, offering the ex-armourer’s apprentice a smile that didn’t reach his eyes, and did little to comfort Gendry’s growing nerves. Gendry watched Yoren turn back towards the column, barking out orders that they’d be marching again shortly. A very dark and sombre sensation rolled through Gendry as he realised he was already preparing himself to say goodbye to that man of the Night’s Watch, the closest thing he’d had to a father. He tried not think much on it, I haven’t lost him yet, he reflected bitterly, I haven’t lost any of them yet. Arya, Yoren, Hot Pie, Lommy; my family, the word felt foreign to him, the only family he’d ever had was his mother; while there had been a time when he would have considered his old master Tobho family, that time has passed. Family, he repeated to himself, not noticing he’d said it out loud. It felt right somehow, it was the only word that could possibly describe the rag-tag group of outcasts he had found himself part of. My family; Arya, Yoren, Hot Pie, Lommy… I haven’t lost them yet; right now they’re all still here.

 

Gendry didn’t know it then as he watched the man of the Night’s Watch walking away, he couldn’t have known it, but that would be the last time that he and Yoren would ever speak alone.

Chapter Text

Gendry tasted the tangy mixture of warm blood and sweat as he lie prone on the ground, his face pressed against the cold earth. With his eyes still closed he retreated to the safety of the darkness that surrounded him; to his relief, a wave of exhaustion rolled through his body so all-encompassing that it blocked out much of his pain, reducing it to a dull, and oddly distant, sensation. It was as though he were leaving his body, losing touch with his limbs one by one and rising above himself, weightless and suspended in an ocean of blackness. Gendry didn’t fight it, he couldn’t even if he had wanted to; the boy’s energy was spent. And yet the darkness that numbed his physical pain did nothing to ease his anguish; he was unable to shake the endless progression of memories and images that burnt in his mind’s eye, torturing him.

 

He remembered the wild look in Arya’s steel eyes when he first met her, threatening Hot Pie with her sword. He remembered them walking on the Kingsroad together discussing his helmet and her Needle before he knew who she was – or even that she was a she. He remembered that night by the fire, where her features glowed and she looked his very vision of perfection. Then when she sat next to him on the wagon, offering him a wide smile and Hot Pie’s stodgy porridge, when he leant in to brush his lips against hers, that feeling of loss when she turned away. He remembered the joy she expelled when she talked about Winterfell. Yet what haunted him most was what he couldn’t see, he didn’t want it to be real, he didn’t want to remember her that way. Gendry feared what he would find if he open his eyes, pulled himself to his feet and searched for her. Arya’s small frame would be laying crumpled in a heap, face up on the dirt, her body as cold as the earth beneath it and the lifeless skin on her face coloured the pale grey of her eyes.

 

You’ve fucking lost her.

 

Whether it was his wounds or the thought that he’d let her die and broke the only promise he’d ever made he didn’t know, probably both, but he felt sick. Salty tears escaped his eyes for the girl he knew, and the life he might have lived in Winterfell by her side. His head was ringing and thoughts confused, as he rose higher and sank deeper into his fatigue he could just about make out the distorted, muffled high pitched yelps of a panic-stricken Hot Pie, calling out “I yield, I yield!” It surprised Gendry how quiet everything was; the loud battle cries and clashes of steel of just moments earlier had ceased, replaced only by the low moaning of the wounded and the soft crackling of the burning wagon. It all sounded so faint, so far away from him. He didn’t have to open his eyes to know that the fight was over, and that they had lost.

 

“Round up any survivors, we’ll take them back to Harrenhal,” the cool voice of Ser Amory Lorch rang out, echoing slightly and bringing Gendry back from the brink of his own oblivion.

 

 

All at once Gendry fell back into himself; the pain from his wounds ignited and awoke him, lending him a fierce strength. The pressure on his back was gone; the Lannisters that had held him down had eased their assault, seeing that the fight had left him. His first attempt to pull himself up ended disastrously when he put pressure on his bloodied hand – he almost passed out as his arm protested under his weight. Fuck the seven, he cursed, rolling on his side before lifting himself to his knees with his other arm, keeping it pressed against the mud even after he was kneeling to stop himself from collapsing again and steady his balance. The ex-armourer’s apprentice squinted, light-headed, in front of him, his vision blurred and unfocussed from the beating he’d received, he was unsure of whether he wanted to see Arya or not – it would mean knowing for certain if she was alive or dead.

 

The smug, bald headed man with her sword buckled at his belt called out “you heard him, you’re coming with us,” and pushed a scrawny young figure forward, hope surged through Gendry at the sight but with his vision as poor as it was he couldn’t tell if it was Arya or not.

 

“I yield! I yield!” Hot Pie’s squeals cut across his thoughts, if he can make it through this, Arya could.

 

Let it be her. Gendry found himself thinking, watching the figure the bald man had pushed walking towards Ser Amory Lorch. Let it be her. He realised it was a command, to whom he didn’t know. Gendry didn’t particularly care for the gods, he didn’t know if they were there or whether they were just a story to make the children behave. If they did exist, he doubted they cared for him and the lives of the simple folk but in that moment he found himself calling on them all at once. The seven new gods and the old gods beyond counting, the gods of the Starks – her gods, he commanded them all with every bit of strength and power left in him, everything he could muster, Let it be her!

 

---

 

They reached the Holdfast about an hour after nightfall; Yoren had driven them hard until they got there leaving them tired, dispirited and exhausted. The Holdfast itself was not much wider or deeper than a barn, but thrice the height and made from a dull grey stone. Against the night sky it loomed above them menacingly. Yoren strode towards the gate first, sword unsheathed and a flaming torch in one hand, seeming tense before he disappeared inside the building. The moments that passed next were some of the longest in Gendry’s life. Gendry’s heart hammered against his breast and he felt sweat coating the hand from where he gripped his sword so tightly. It had occurred to Gendry that this would be a great place for an ambush, if the Goldcloaks had got there first, they wouldn’t stand a chance. The absence of any fires did little to reassure him; truthfully, he hoped it meant that the Holdfast was abandoned, but at the same time he couldn’t shake the feeling they were being watched. He let out an enormous breath of relief when Yoren emerged back from the Holdfast and sheathed his sword, telling them all to bring the furs in and ordering the wagons, including the one with the prisoners, be left outside.

 

Though Gendry could see a few archways and alcoves leading in different directions the Holdfast was primarily made up of one large room, with a number of wooden posts to hold up the floor above. They lit the hearth that stood in the corner farthest from the door and used a number of candles discovered in one of the alcoves to shed light on their surroundings. Against one wall he could see a rotted staircase, fallen out of use and replaced by a ladder to get upstairs – based on its poor condition, Yoren gave orders that nobody was to use either, they would all sleep on the ground floor. As the rest of the recruits made it inside one by one Gendry noticed Hot Pie in particular looked pale and grey; like he was about to collapse, though in fairness, most of the recruits were in a similar state. Despite most of them wanting to sleep, Yoren insisted that a light supper was prepared for everyone and sent two recruits out to search for tools and weapons they could bring to Castle Black. A general air of unease ran through the column when he had asked that, most aware that it meant he was anticipating a fight, so it came as some relief when the recruits brought back an entire shed’s load of tools to work the land including sickles, axes, pitchforks and hoes. They were kept in a bundle by the door.

 

By the time they had eaten what Hot Pie confirmed to Gendry were almost the last pieces of meat they had brought from King’s Landing Gendry was in no great mood for conversation. Nobody was. Even as Gendry took his and Lommy’s empty bowls back to Hot Pie he realised his hands were shaking, unsure of what was to come. When they did finally lie down to sleep he couldn’t drift off; he was simply laying there with his eyes shut frustrated. His mind raced with fear and doubt, the idea of fighting soldiers terrified him – he was still just a green bastard boy, and one practice session with Yoren hadn’t changed that. Hearing the hearty snores from Hot Pie and the soft nasally breathing from Lommy infuriated him further; he knew he’d be no use in a fight at all if he didn’t at least get some rest first. He was utterly convinced he was the only one aside from Yoren, who had gone outside – presumably to check for more weapons, that couldn’t sleep until he heard the familiar sound of rock scraping against metal. Who the fuck’s sharpening their sword at this time? He thought, irritated, but realised he already knew the answer. He rolled onto his side and opened his eyes; sure enough, Arya was leant against one of the wooden posts wearing a grim expression and sharpening her Needle.

 

“Seven hells; get some sleep ‘Arry,” he said, immediately relieved that he had remembered not to use her real name around the others, just in case there was anyone else unlucky enough to be unable to sleep.

 

She jumped slightly as he said it, broken from her thoughts. The dark expression she had worn melted though when she tried to smile warmly at him, the smile didn’t reach her eyes. “I can’t,” she explained, before turning away and bringing the rock from the very base of her blade to its length in one smooth movement.

 

After a few moments of silence he jested “if you sharpen that thing much more you’ll wear the blade too thin - and then you’ll have nothing to skewer your fat boys with,” recalling the conversation from when they first met.

 

She mock scowled at him, but broke into a slight smile nonetheless. When it became clear that she wasn’t in the mood to speak Gendry simply reiterated, “Try get some sleep,” before he rolled onto his back again and stared at the ceiling, closing his eyes and attempting to get some shuteye of his own.

 

After a while he heard the gate open and Yoren sit down nearby, the man of the Night’s Watch’s boots scraped across the stone floor as he sat nearby. After a few moments Yoren spoke, but not to Gendry, to Arya.

 

“You should be sleeping. Tomorrow's a long march; 30 miles if it don't piss on us.” Yoren told her.

 

“I can't sleep,” her small voice came back, muffled in the large room. After a few moments of silence Gendry heard some kind of flask being unscrewed before she added, “I don't like the taste.”

 

Yoren let out a slight laugh, “Well, you don't drink it for the flavour, to be honest.” Gendry sneaked a peak at the two of them, sat opposite each other. Somehow it felt rude to listen to their conversation but he didn’t want to interrupt. Yoren had shut his eyes and looked as though he were about to sleep but to Gendry’s surprise he opened them abruptly and asked “What?” Yoren looked at Arya intently. Gendry shut his eyes again, trying to get drift off so he could leave them to their conversation.

 

“How do you sleep?” She asked the man of the Night’s Watch, her voice weaker than Gendry had heard it before – a vulnerability there that she usually covered up.

 

“Same as most men, I think.” Yoren deflected nonchalantly, obviously tired.

 

“But you've seen things… horrible things.” She said, as though asking a question.

 

“Aye. I've seen some pretty things, too, but not nearly so many.” The man of the Night’s Watch replied, somewhat wistfully – a hint of sadness hidden in his voice.

 

“How do you sleep when you… when you have those things in your head?” She asked; a slight desperation in her voice that chilled Gendry to his core. He couldn’t stop remembering the tortured look he’d seen on her face, he’d never asked her about it, he assumed she’d tell him if she wanted him to know. The ex-armourer’s apprentice felt uncomfortable and oddly guilty at overhearing their conversation.

 

“You didn't see that. I made damn sure.” Yoren stated with a force that surprised Gendry, whatever it was they were talking about had been haunting her since she left King’s Landing.

 

“I close my eyes and I see them up there. All of them, standing there - Joffrey, the Queen, and - and my sister.” Arya said slowly and weakly; bitterness and sadness both mixed in her words. She spat out Joffrey’s name as though it were poison.

 

She saw them execute her father, the realisation struck Gendry. He immediately felt stupid; he’d known Lord Stark had been beheaded but the idea that she’d seen her own father’s beheading had never dawned on him what with all the jokes and the smiles between them.  That she’d been dealing with that on her own for as long as he’d known her and he hadn’t noticed made his insides turn. No wonder she cried. He wanted to sit up and put his arm on her shoulder, to reassure her, but to do so would let her know he had been listening, so he kept still and attempted, once again, to sleep.

 

There was a long pause before Yoren spoke, weighing up what to say carefully, “You know, we've got something in common, me and you. You know that?” The man said, evidently trying to reassure Arya, “I must have been a couple of years older than you. I saw my brother stabbed through the heart right on our doorstep. He weren't much of a villain what skewered him; Willem, the lad's name was. He ran off before anyone could spit and I just stood there, watching my brother die.” He paused slightly before continuing, “But here's the funny part; I can't picture my brother's face anymore. But Willem - oh, he was a nice-looking boy; he had good white teeth, blue eyes, one of those dimpled chins all the girls like. I would think about him when I was working, when I was drinking, when I was having a shit. It got to the point where I would say his name every night before I went to bed. Willem. Willem. Willem.” His voice had grown huskier and quieter as he remembered, “A prayer almost. Well, one day Willem came riding back into town. I buried an axe so deep into Willem's skull, they had to bury him with it. Willem's horse got me to the Wall and I've been wearing black ever since.”

 

It occurred to Gendry how little he knew about Yoren; the man was willing to risk his life for him and yet Gendry knew nothing about him. When Yoren continued Gendry was transfixed, he knew he wouldn’t sleep now – not while the man of the Night’s Watch discussed his history. “Well... that'll help you sleep, eh?” The man said to Arya, laughing to himself before taking a swig from his flask. Whatever Yoren had meant to say next Gendry would never know for a loud horn interrupted them from somewhere outside the Holdfast. Gendry bolted upright immediately as Yoren rose to his feet and yelled out at the recruits “Ho! Get up, you lazy sons of whores! Arm yourselves.” The man roared as people rose groggily to their feet and scrambled for the pile of weapons by the door. Yoren himself had left his sword hanging against the wall and retrieved it.

 

Gendry instinctively moved towards Arya as she told Hot Pie and Lommy to get up, leaving his helmet by his furs. His heart began to race again as he heard a second blast of the horn. When the man of the Night’s Watch returned from the door with his sword he leant into Arya and Gendry saying quietly, “Keep out of sight, both of you.”

 

They both spoke at once, Arya immediately protested saying, “No, I'm not afraid.” while Gendry told Yoren he could fight. The truth was, all of this was happening because of Gendry, of course he would fight.

 

“Keep out of sight.” Yoren hissed, cutting over them, “If things go wrong, you run. Do you hear me? You run along North and don't look back.” They both nodded, watching as Yoren then turned to the rest of the recruits and yelled “Hey, there's men out there who want to fuck your corpses. Outside, now!”

 

There was a feeling of panic as they headed outside the Holdfast, armed with not much more than a few swords, axes and farmer’s tools. Amongst all the chaos Gendry could hear one of the prisoners yelling to open the cage. Gendry and Arya ran to one side, away from the recruits, and watched from the treeline. It was only after they got there that they noticed Hot Pie and a number of the younger boys had followed them, attempting to find safety. In the field ahead a number of soldiers clad in red plate armour surrounded a man on horseback; two of the men glinted gold in the moonlight. It was the man on horseback that spoke first. “Where's the bastard, Crow?” he commanded, his voice unnervingly calm.

 

Yoren stormed towards him, the recruits at his back, holding the scabbard of his sword in one hand, “Got more than a few bastards here. Who's asking?”

 

The horseman answered him just as calmly, his deep voice ringing across the field, “Ser Amory Lorch, sworn Bannerman to Lord Tywin Lannister. These men from the capital requested our assistance,” the man gestured towards what Gendry now made out to be two Goldcloaks before looking at the group of armed recruits, “Drop your weapons in the name of the King.”

 

Yoren stopped in front of their opponents and spat out, “Now, which King would that be?”

 

Unamused, Ser Amory spoke with a deadly force, slowly – as though speaking to a child, “This is your last chance. In the name of King Joffrey, drop your weapons.”

 

There was a moment of silence before Yoren spat on the grass in front of the Lannister men, cocking his head towards Ser Amory and taunting him, “I don't think I will.”

 

“So be it.” That deep voice replied as Ser Amory raised his hand. One of the soldiers closest to him raised up a crossbow, pulled the trigger and struck Yoren just above his heart. Gendry saw Arya make to run towards Yoren and stopped her, catching her in his arms and watching Yoren drop to his knees. Hatred filled him as he watched the Lannisters begin to move forward, the only man who’d ever cared for him at all was dying in front of him and there was nothing he could do.

 

The man of the Night’s Watch stumbled and yelled between gritted teeth, pulling himself to his feet and unsheathing his sword “I always hated crossbows. Take too long to load!” He swung the sword sideways, cutting straight through the Lannister’s breastplate and drawing blood from deep within him. Despite his injury Yoren moved impossibly fast against the men around him, striking two more down before being pierced by a spear. Even then, he managed to knock that man away with a strike to the chest, though it was too late for Yoren – two more spears struck his flanks. Gendry could feel rage building inside him as he watched the Lannisters lift Yoren to his feet, hoisting him up with their spears, in order to allow Ser Amory to ride forward on his white mount, and finish off part of Gendry’s family by driving his sword through the back of Yoren’s neck. The man of the Night’s Watch spat blood, collapsed forward, and remained kneeling, dead, as the Lannister’s withdrew their spears. Before Gendry knew what was happening he found himself sprinting towards Yoren’s body in sheer fury with the other recruits, letting out a savage roar as he ran.

 

There was a savage clash of steel when the two sides met; the recruit immediately next to Gendry was impaled by a spear in the immediate impact. Gendry himself ran past the first Lannister he saw, stepping sideways to dodge the swing, and charged as far as the storage wagon before being stopped. He lunged forward in a stabbing motion, anchoring his feet on the ground like Yoren had taught him, but the thrust was deflected. Gendry stepped back in time to avoid his opponent’s counter swing and took the advantage that the wide strike had given him, moving in and bringing his sword down on the soldier’s exposed shoulder. There was a sickening crack as the sword split through the armour, then sank deep into the flesh below. The man crumpled into a heap before him, pitifully trying to stem the blood loss of what they both knew was a fatal wound. With the battle raging around him Gendry searched for Arya, she’d been with him when they ran but he’d lost track of her – every wounded or dead figure silhouetted on the grass could’ve been her. You’ve fucking lost her.

 

He turned to head back realising too late he’d been spotted by a Lannister soldier with a crossbow. The bolt caught the side of his head before glancing off and landing somewhere behind him. As he waited for the impact of the next bolt that would surely kill him he found himself remembering Yoren’s words and sprinted towards his opponent before the man could reload the bow. When they met Gendry struck the side of the man’s helm with a barrage of brutal blows, his bloody fist crumpled the cheek piece. As agony surged up his arm as though it were on fire he was dragged away from behind, the man in front of him struck him with the stock of his crossbow before holding him against the ground where the subsequent kicks and punches rendered him almost unconscious. It was only when he saw a smug, bald-headed man with Arya’s sword at his belt that Gendry finally gave in and stopped fighting…

 

Until...

 

Survivors. 

 

Let it be her!

 

The figure turned, catching sight of him, and walked toward him quickly, leaning down to look at him closely. Thank you, he practically screamed as his vision began to return and Arya came into focus, unharmed. She crouched beside him and looked him up and down from his bloodied arm to his beaten face. He whispered hoarsely “I didn’t think I’d see you again,” trying to reach out to her with his good hand but losing balance and slumping forward slightly. She gripped his shoulder to steady him, and went to say something but was overcut by a pitiful yell from behind them. Gendry’s heart froze, he didn’t need to be able to see to know that the voice that the high pitched voice that called out in the darkness was Lommy’s. Sure enough, when Gendry turned away from Arya to look, still on his knees, he made out the straw haired boy lying gripping his leg nearby, a tuft of white feathers sticking from it.

 

“Help! Help me!” Lommy called out into the darkness, thick blood trickling through his fingers.

 

The bald man walked over to him, holding Needle in his hand, and slowly cocked his head, asking him teasingly, “Something wrong with your leg, boy?”

 

“Look at it!” Lommy’s voice cracked as he told him, Gendry could hear he was close to sobbing.

 

“Can you walk?” The bald man asked casually, crouching next to Lommy.

 

“No. You got to carry me.” The straw haired boy pleaded meekly.

 

“All right.” The man agreed and for a moment Gendry felt slight joy, watching as Lommy gripped the bald man’s shoulder and hoping his friend might pull through. But his joy turned to bitterness as the bald man stuck Arya’s Needle through Lommy’s throat. In front of him, Gendry could see Arya’s hands curled into fists as thick black blood oozed from the pin sized hole her blade had left in the boy’s neck and from between Lommy’s lips. The boy shook and spluttered for a moment, choking, then went still, his lifeblood seeping into the thirsty earth like Yoren’s before him.

 

The bald man stood up, turned to the Lannister host and laughed, “Carry him, he says,” before walking towards Gendry.

 

Arya leant down next to him and whispered urgently into his ear, “Get up!” He felt her hand’s slide underneath his armpit, and turned to see Hot Pie’s on his other side as the two of them lifted Gendry to his feet. The amount of effort was tremendous to stop him falling over but, as he regained his balance, he brushed off their hands, standing as tall as he could with one hand over his stomach cradling where he had been kicked.

 

The bald man stopped in front of him, turning Needle over in his hands, “What about you? Can you walk?”

 

Gendry wanted nothing more than to launch himself at this man but he had promised Yoren he would stay alive as long as he could. He knew there was nobody left to protect Arya now, not that he was in much of a state to do so, but he wouldn’t throw his life away so rashly. “I can,” he answered coldly. The bald man smiled at him through crooked teeth.

 

Across the field the cool voice of Ser Amory called out to the survivors, “We're looking for a bastard named Gendry. Give him up or I'll start taking eyeballs.”

 

Panic rose in the ex-armourer’s apprentice as the other recruits started looking towards him. He attempted to flex his right hand into a fist to see if he could defend himself, but the thing was so swollen he could barely move it at all. He felt like he was going to be sick as the remaining Lannisters and the two Goldcloaks watched them all, studying each of them. His heart beat yet faster when he heard Arya speak out, both for her sake and for himself.

 

“You want Gendry?” She said; her voice surprisingly powerful. Gendry felt faint. “You already got him. He loved that helmet.” She added, gesturing to a glinting object next to Lommy’s still form.

 

Ser Amory nodded, pushing the still kneeling body of Yoren forwards against the earth with the tip of his bloodied sword and turning his horse around and calling to the two Goldcloaks. “You may return to the Capital or join us North,” he then addressed everyone, “the rest of you, to Harrenhal!”

Chapter Text

They didn’t stop walking until long after dawn had swept away the darkness of the night and the bluish hues of the early morn gave way to the dull, greyish light of daybreak. With each passing step Gendry found it harder and harder to stay awake. Black dried blood had crusted and congealed around his swollen face, his battered right arm hung limply by his side and every ragged breath the boy drew filled his lungs with icy cold air. A wave of tremors assaulted him as a chill took root deep within his being, more than once Gendry threatened to topple over, gradually losing the fight against the exhaustion of the march and the agony of his injuries. The pale sky above did nothing to lighten his mood and the sounds of soft birdsong and the rustling of leaves in the trees were blotted out by the endless squelch of wet mud underfoot. His body protested at every slight movement, he could barely put one leg in front of the other without stumbling, several times Arya and Hot Pie had to stop him from falling over, lifting him up and taking turns staying close by his side for support. Gendry was uncomfortably aware that the eyes of the smug bald bastard that killed Lommy followed his every move; the man’s fingers idly playing with the handle of Needle as though daring him to stop walking. By the time Ser Amory called for the company to halt Gendry practically collapsed to the floor.

 

Hot Pie sat to his right, though Gendry would have described it as falling rather than sitting as the rounded boy had landed on the ground with almost as much force as himself. The boy set about tending to his blistered feet, carefully sliding both out of the stitched, rough spun leather housings that protected them. Gendry felt a pang of sorrow for him; Hot Pie’s eyes were red and sore from crying. Tears had dried down the boy’s round face, leaving long streaks across his cheeks that made him look pale and strange to Gendry; his usual mannerisms and enthusiasm were lost as he grieved for his friend. The death of Lommy had taken its toll on them all but none more so than Hot Pie; the ex-armourer’s apprentice was more than aware Lommy was to Hot Pie what Arya was to him – they had been inseparable and, having come close to losing Arya last night, he had nothing but admiration for the way Hot Pie was coping. Despite the boy’s craven nature Hot Pie had found a hidden reserve of strength that radiated off him in waves, a silent rage. Gendry doubted that, had the roles been reserved and it had been Arya they left behind for the crows; he would have been able to keep going as Hot Pie did now.

 

Arya sat on Gendry’s left, every bit as pale as Hot Pie but whereas Hot Pie burned with anger and grief she seemed cold and withdrawn, as though she’d shut herself away from another loss. Her grey eyes that usually burned bright as wildfire were extinguished like shining steel tarnished, dull and lifeless; set back in deep, dark circles from the sleepless night. They gazed, unfocussed, at nothing in particular; towards the middle distance. The sight reminded Gendry of when he first met her and filled him with unease; she was grieving, again, but this was not like before. The horror he had seen so clearly on her face as she fled King’s Landing was hidden now behind a mask of stone; no tears wet her cheeks, her wild nature was tamed. She seemed so far from the excited young girl who had described Winterfell to him; its histories, its people. After everything they’d been through, even after the joy he’d felt when he found her still alive, the girl that sat next to him now was lost to him. For what felt like the hundredth time since the night had begun that dark voice whispered into his ears, taunting him, you’ve fucking lost her.

 

Her breathing was quick and ragged, but it slowed when Gendry reached out with his left arm and placed his hand against one of hers. Her trembling hand felt so thin, frail and cold under his touch though the inside was calloused and rough – not unlike Gendry’s own hands. He pressed their skin together softly and for a moment she didn’t react, as though she hadn’t noticed him at all, but as he went to withdraw, dispirited, her fingers tentatively and absentmindedly entwined with his. She seemed a little more at ease, but didn’t turn to look at him, still staring vacantly forward. He squeezed her hand slightly, if nothing else to tell her that he was there and to offer what little support he could give. After a few seconds she squeezed him back. No words were needed between them: Gendry had just told her he was there for her, and she had told him she was there for him too. Even as Gendry turned to check on Hot Pie he didn’t let go of Arya’s hand, softly running his thumb across her knuckles the way his mother had done to him when he was but a boy.

 

A lump formed in his throat at the thought of what was left of his family. Lommy and Yoren were dead, Gendry had been beaten half way there himself and the likelihood that any of them would make it out alive was slim. The ex-armourer’s apprentice’s eyes locked with Hot Pie’s and he realised now, for the first time, how much younger the boy was than him. This was likely the first time Hot Pie had ever experienced death, Gendry wished he could say something to ease the pain, but he knew there was nothing to be said; no words of reassurance that would hold any real meaning. All those years ago, when Gendry had lost his mum, he was inconsolable – nothing quite prepares you for the realisation that you’ll never see that person again; you’ll never see them laugh or laugh with them. They would never see Yoren again, they wouldn’t see Lommy again. When his mum had died the women she worked with hid the body from him, he didn’t have to see her… afterwards… but Yoren and Lommy, both lying for the crows – it made him sick with grief and fury. A bile rose in him every time he looked at the killers of his family; that smug faced bald prick and Ser Armory. He looked back to Hot Pie and offered the boy a weak smile; nodding his head slightly for what little support it gave; Hot Pie grimaced back, dipping his head too. It wasn’t enough to comfort either of them, though they took some measure of solace that they had both survived, if only just. That simple action told them what neither could say out loud but what both needed to hear, we stick together, no matter what.

 

Gendry turned swiftly back to Arya when he felt her hand slipped from his grasp suddenly before feeling a sharp and stinging twinge from the sole of his foot; it had been kicked by the steel boot of a soldier, standing in front of him. Gendry grunted at the pain but made no effort to retaliate; he was not so foolish as to think there was any way out of this. Instead he looked up at the Lannister that towered over him; it was the one that he had punched repeatedly. The man’s face was a twisted horror of bruises and cuts, his left eye was hidden underneath the heavy swelling from Gendry’s assault and hatred seeped from his every breath. In the man’s hands he carried crudely made black iron shackles of a kind not dissimilar from ones Gendry had forged in King’s Landing. There’ll be no breaking those, he thought coldly, but knew he had no choice but to put them on. Looking to the left he saw that Arya was already being cuffed by another soldier and so, somewhat reluctantly, he offered his own arms up to his captor, wincing as he lifted his wrecked one. The disfigured Lannister clamped the irons around Gendry’s wrists savagely, locking them so tightly that Gendry cursed out loud in response to the rough metal pressing against his bad arm. The Lannister grinned at Gendry’s anguish through his split lips, missing several teeth, before he proceeded to handcuff Hot Pie.

 

The ex-armourer’s apprentice turned the chain connecting the cuffs over in his hands, looking at the quality of the joints between links for any sign of weakness. There were none. He tried to lift his arm up, testing the weight of the chains against it, but had to stop immediately from the ensuing agony. He cursed, realising he wouldn’t even be able to strangle someone with the shackles without enduring more pain than he could handle. As Gendry looked back towards the Lannister bannermen he saw the man handing a flask of water to the recruits to share from, barely enough to quench two men let alone the dozen of them that survived the attack. As Hot Pie handed it reluctantly to Gendry, no sooner had the ex-armourer’s apprentice lifted it to his lips – cursing the weight the chains placed on his right arm – than it was wrested off him by the Lannister he’d fought, a mouthful of it dribbling down his chin. The Lannister laughed a grotesque laugh as he leant close to him and poured the water into the dirt nearby; much to the dismay of the other recruits. Seeing Gendry ball his one good hand into a fist the Lannister hissed through gritted teeth, “go on boy; give me a reason.” Gendry’s heart hammered against his chest, his lip curled into a snarl as he stared his opponent in the man’s one visible eye. Gendry’s felt his body tense as though getting ready to attack but he relaxed as he felt a soft touch against his back.

 

The touch spread warmth through him and calmed his nerves; it slowed his breathing and even numbed his pain a little. He didn’t dare confirm it while the Lannister stood in front of him, but he knew that small hand supporting him was Arya’s. The touch only lasted a few moments, if she held it there much longer it would’ve been noticed, but it had been enough. Even when the bruised Lannister made certain that none of the pitiful amount of stale bread that was handed out made it to Gendry, he didn’t rise to the bate, rather he just looked at the soldier’s boots in deference. Gendry knew he had to stay alive and, it seemed, he could for as long he kept in line. Ser Amory’s orders to escort the captives to Harrenhal served as some modicum of protection for them, though the gods only knew what awaited them there. Gendry had heard Ser Amory introduce himself as Lord Tywin Lannister’s bannerman, and the whole seven kingdoms knew Lord Tywin’s reputation. Gendry shuddered slightly, for the first time not from the cold. He was not particularly learned, as a baseborn from Flea Bottom he couldn’t read, but Tobho would tell him stories while they smithed together – it helped pass the time. Of Lord Tywin, Gendry had heard plenty; there was a reason people were feared him. The destruction of Houses Tarbeck and Reyne, and the sack of King’s Landing stood as testament to his ruthlessness and power.

 

After an uncomfortably long amount of time his opponent, infuriated and still clearly aching to kill the ex-armourer’s apprentice, thrust what was left of the flask of water into Arya’s hands, evidently trying one last time to incite a fight before storming off towards the rest of their captors. In truth, if it wasn’t for Arya the ex-armourer’s apprentice would’ve have lunged at him there and then. Gendry watched as the man strode back to Ser Amory and the rest of the Lannisters; the two Goldcloaks had both rode back to King’s Landing before daybreak, taking with them his bull’s head helmet as proof they’d completed their task, so it was just Lord Tywin’s bannermen escorting them now. The ex-armourer’s apprentice counted ten of them altogether, including Ser Amory. A number of them had cuts and bruises from the battle but only two were wounded to any great degree: the first was the man now stomping away, the soldier Gendry had fought, and the second was propped against a tree being tended for a serious gash across his thigh. It was to this last man Gendry shifted his focus; thus far the wounded soldier had been mounted on Yoren’s horse but, even from a distance, it was evident this man would not be able to ride any further. His skin had turned a greyish-green, thick black blood clotted around his thigh and the man slipped in and out of consciousness, high with fever. Raised voices came from the Lannisters; it was apparent now why they had stopped. Ser Amory wore a strained look on his face as he talked with a Lannister whose hands were soaked in the injured man’s blood, gesturing towards the wounded man and shaking his head. Good, Gendry grunted to himself while trying to adjust one of his shackles to be less painful against his swollen arm, I hope the fucker dies.

 

As if to answer his hope Ser Amory whispered something to the man with the bloodied hands, they both nodded, and a large flask of wine was brought over to the dying man. One of the nearby soldiers crouched by man’s side put an arm on his shoulder, evidently trying to keep him distracted while the man with the blood soaked hands strung and loaded a crossbow behind a nearby tree. When it was ready the execution was swift and sudden; the soldiers pinned down the wounded man’s limbs and, before he could protest, the now familiar sound of a taught bowstring being released and the ensuing thud echoed across from them to the prisoners. The bolt passed straight between the injured man’s eyes, cracking the forehead open and lodging itself into the trunk of the tree behind him. Ser Amory turned from the body and walked towards Gendry and the recruits, calling out in his deep voice, “On your feet, we’re leaving!”

 

It was Hot Pie who rose to his feet first, wincing as he trod on his blisters and stumbling slightly off balance as a result of having his hands bound. He was followed by Arya who stood up remarkably gracefully and then the rest of what was left of Yoren’s recruits. Before he quite knew what was happening Gendry realised he was the only one not standing; the ex-armourer’s apprentice panicked as he tried and failed to get up, tripping over his feet and landing hard on his side. He attempted to push off the ground with his unhurt hand but moved it too quickly and pulled the chain of his shackles taught; the steel biting into the wrist of his now ghastly looking right arm. Blinding pain hit him in waves as he dropped to the ground again, biting his teeth together so tightly he thought they’d shatter in his mouth. Ser Amory noticed and began walking towards him, his hand reaching for the pommel of his sword. Looking up Gendry saw Arya; the girl’s eyes shone bright with concern. She nimbly crouched next to him, grasping him under one arm to help him up again and whispered fearfully into one ear, “Get up Gendry. They’re going to kill you if you don’t get up.”

 

As Gendry shakily rose from his knees to his feet he leant too heavily against Arya for support and knocked them both down; hitting the earth hard. Ser Amory advanced, sword now drawn in front of him, less than half a stone’s throw away from them. Gendry’s head was heavy, like his skull was too small, he shook from exertion and exhaustion and at every moment he had to fight the urge to close his eyes and embrace the darkness of a sleep that would inevitably mean his death. Sweat poured down his forehead, his stomach roared from hunger and his throat was dry from thirst as he became aware that the Lannister with the crossbow had notched another bolt and was also striding towards him, Gendry’s heart threatened to break his ribcage. Arya pulled the ex-armourer’s apprentice onto his knees in time for him to watch Hot Pie stand in front of Ser Amory, protecting him, only to get immediately pushed to the ground. Hot Pie let out a high pitch grunt when he landed. Gendry felt Arya’s hot breath against his ear as she tried once again to pull him up, this time when Arya spoke her voice was a desperate plea, quivering, “Get up Gendry, please. Please!” He knew she was not ready to lose someone else.

 

With an enormous groan of effort Gendry straightened his legs, pushing himself upwards to full height just as Ser Amory reached him. He had to take a couple of steps backwards to catch his balance and even once he was standing still the world seemed to tilt and spin around him. His entire body trembled as Ser Amory stood opposite him, looking over him from his face to his feet. The man was silent for a few moments, looking into Gendry’s eyes and clearly weighing up whether or not to leave him. Without warning Ser Amory jerked out and seized Gendry’s painful right arm in a vicelike grip, the ensuing wave of burning agony dropping the blacksmith to his knees. When Ser Amory let go Gendry cradled his throbbing arm and hung his head low, his mop of black hair hanging from his head. Gendry could feel Ser Amory’s eyes against the back of his head and knew that if he didn’t stand back up this was the end. His thoughts turned to Yoren and the promise he made, to Hot Pie who had just tried to defend him and to Arya. Even afterwards Gendry would never know how he managed to find the strength to stand again but he did, violently shaking and almost throwing up as he defied every urge in his body to give up and stay down. He stared Ser Amory in the eyes as he drew himself once again to full height and, after what felt like a lifetime, Ser Amory turned away, looking towards Hot Pie and Arya. The man’s words were short and sharp, “If he falls behind, he’s dead.”

 

They both nodded, understanding the responsibility they had agreed to take on. When Ser Amory turned away and mounted that white mare he rode. The ex-armourer’s apprentice watched Hot Pie brush the mud from himself before the round boy offered a worried smile that Gendry guessed was supposed to be reassuring. Having never had anyone he could rely on, not since his mum died anyway, Gendry looked on Hot Pie in surprise and with a newfound respect for the boy’s strength. Whatever else he might be, the boy was kind. Gendry had used the word family several times now but he had never felt more strongly about his companions than he did in that moment, be them living or… gone. Gendry felt Arya lean close to him one last time, resting her hand against the small of his back to stop him swaying. He felt himself melt against her touch, warmth rising in him and chasing out the lingering damp that seemed to have settled deep in his bones. For a long time she just stood there before eventually she muttered quietly, “I thought I lost you.”

Chapter Text

Step, clink, step, clink, step, clink.

 

The journey would have been gruelling had Gendry been a peak fitness but in his state, threatening to drop to his knees after each tentative step and barely able to stay standing without swaying uncontrollably, Gendry struggled more than ever. His ears rang with the repetitious sounds his shackles made as they rattled with each step. His muscles burnt with fatigue and his mouth was dry and swollen with thirst. Beads of salty sweat dripped down his forehead and stung his bloodshot blue eyes; he had long since given up trying to rub them clear as his throbbing right arm hung limp, heavy like lead, and his chains pulled taught if he used his other hand, biting into the blistered raw skin on his wrists. Gendry had his head drooped in exhaustion, condemning him to mindlessly watch each reluctant step his feet made, his vision half obscured by the mess of unkempt matted black hair that clung against his brow and encroached his eye line. More than once he had simply stopped, unable to go any further, until he was nudged forwards from behind by Arya, drawing some small measure of strength from the knowledge she was with him. But as the day drew on he found himself increasingly downhearted, seething with rage and frustration, mayhaps Lommy was the lucky one? What could be worse than this?

 

Step, clink, step, clink, step, clink.

 

Gendry, Arya and Hot Pie had not spoken to each other since they started walking again, the sound between them was broken only by occasional whimpers from Hot Pie and, of course, the ever present rattle of their cuffs. At one point Gendry believed he heard Arya muttering under her breath but her words were scattered to the wind before he could catch them. It was an endless trudge of mud and pain, Gendry thought to himself as he meekly lifted one unsteady foot in front of the other, again and again, until the half hidden sun had passed its midday mark and began its descent across the horizon, sinking below the trees. Only when the orange shafts of light faded, subsumed by the first blues of the night sky, did Ser Amory order the exhausted company to stop for the night. Looking around him Gendry noted the Lannister soldiers looked as tired and worn as what was left of Yoren’s recruits did; the pallid grey hue of their faces seemed even paler against the bright crimson and gold of their armour. While Hot Pie collapsed to the floor almost immediately, Gendry stayed on his feet.

 

Ser Amory had chosen where to stop well; they were stood on the top of an unusually high natural ridge with a clear vantage point in all directions. Compared to the relatively flat nature of the rest of the Crownlands the ridge served as a strong defensive position and gave an unprecedented view of surrounding area. It had taken them the better part of an hour to climb and from its high crest Gendry could see the Kingsroad to the east, snaking northwards and beyond it the faint blue line of the Trident, glinting in the soft glow of the sun’s dying light. Further still the dark green trees appeared to thin as the soft earth became littered with sharp rocks. In the distance, so far so that Gendry had to squint to see, the ground grew steeper and rockier, rising into great jagged cliffs and then mountains that looked to him not bigger than the nail of his smallest finger. Without thinking he instinctively turned to face south, curious as to whether he might get one last glimpse of King’s Landing, searching for that deep red brick that made the Capitol keep stand out. When he saw no sign of it he at last looked ahead of him, to the west.

 

In the west lay Harrenhal. Even though the fortress was little more than a small grey smudge in the distance, only just larger than the faint mountains to the northeast, the sight filled him with dread. Harrenhal. Just the name was enough to send a cold shiver through him, stealing the air from his lungs. It was the biggest castle in the seven kingdoms, greater by far than the Red Keep of King’s Landing. That was what frightened him; as a boy Gendry had spent years in Flea Bottom and the Street of Steel looking up, marvelling, at the great crimson castle walls that seemed to reach the clouds. He had thought back then it must have been made by giants, back when he still believed in giants and the old magic. How could men make something so large? He had asked his mother. Tears began to weigh heavy against the lids of his eyes at the memory; how she had smiled, ran a hand through his black hair and cupped the side of his face. It was so long ago he couldn’t remember what she had told him, it pained him to admit it but he struggled even to summon the image of her face properly, but he did remember a feeling of warmth that radiated off her in waves.

 

Gendry felt remarkably childish, he was a boy pining for the protection of his mother and of a life he could scarcely recall. He was no longer even sure if the memories he did have were real; of his mother he could only recount the way her blonde hair seemed to shine in the sunlight as though fire danced in every strand. The thought made him swallow against his rough throat, fighting back the urge to cry, ablaze with a silent rage and bitter sadness. Gendry turned his thoughts back to his situation and towards that grey speck in the distance; the ex-armourer’s apprentice feared Harrenhal more than he thought possible; it made his blood run ice cold. He knew it dwarfed King’s Landing – Tobho had told him as much. It could garrison a million men and its stables could fit a thousand horses, the voice of his old master called to him from the past. No fewer than five houses have held it in recent memory and they all met with misfortune. Every one of their lineages has died out. Gendry was certain Tobho had told him which houses they were but he’d long since forgotten; it wasn’t something he’d ever thought he’d need to know though somehow he was sure House Harroway had been amongst them. The castle is cursed. Tobho had told him, and as Gendry looked across at the single dark stain amongst a landscape the endless fields and forested woods that made up Harrenhal’s fertile attendant lands, he believed him.

 

“We make camp here tonight,” Ser Amory instructed, dismounting from his white horse, his voice rough and low.

 

As Gendry finally sat down against the cold earth, even if he did so with less grace than he’d intended, he studied Ser Amory. It was the first time Gendry really took the time to look at him; the knight was not a tall man. True, he was still almost a head taller than the ex-armourer’s apprentice and the knight did strike an impressive figure on horseback, but when Ser Amory had approached him before Gendry had barely been able to see and had looked up at him from his knees. Now, his vision largely restored, Ser Amory seemed shorter, even smaller, somehow. Grey hairs sprouted in tufts amongst the black of the man’s beard, his face was worn deep with age lines and his greasy slicked back hair served to highlight the beginnings of an early receding hairline. His eyes were dark and set back, he was a confident man but his confidence did not seem misplaced; his men reacted to his every order with such speed and efficiency that Gendry half suspected they were more fearful of him than they were respectful. In all Ser Amory bore the stature of an experienced soldier and yet the man seemed older than his years.

 

Whether it was his years as a smith or him searching for weak spots Gendry’s eyes instinctively fell upon Ser Amory’s armour; it was unlike the standard Lannister gear that Gendry had seen, made or repaired in King’s Landing. It was simpler and more functional than that of a standard foot soldier; if it hadn’t been for the red cloak draped around Ser Amory’s neck Gendry would not have guessed it belonged to a knight. The traditional upper arm guards that bore the decorative proud lion were still there, but a number of small scratches and dents could be seen against the tarnished gold. In place of the folded steel that usually made Lannister breastplates Ser Amory wore simple lamellar armour overlaid on chainmail; it was little more than a series of leather strips riveted together that favoured movement over protection. It would almost certainly defend him from glancing hits by swords and spears, but Gendry doubted it would withstand a straight thrust from a strong lance or stop a well-aimed crossbow bolt. Overall the armour showed signs of wear from use; Ser Amory was not some noble knight who’d bought it for ornament like the men Gendry served on the Street of Steel, he was likely a tried commander of men who could hold his own. He won’t be easy to kill.

 

Ser Amory handed out orders to his men to light fires, gather water and unroll furs. They responded to his commands immediately and the campsite was awash with activity. The horses were led down the edge of the ridge to a small bubbling stream that frothed and pooled not much farther than two stone’s throws away, while the rest of his men erected two small tents and behind those, a much larger one. For the largest tent they unpacked and stretched an aged leather canvas taught across a frame of thin wooden beams constructed in a circle; Gendry guessed that the coloured leather had originally been dyed a deep crimson but years of use and dirt had faded it to a muddy purple. Nonetheless, with a small brasier burning inside to serve as a hearth, he eyed it enviously. As the sun set further cold winds rolled over the hilltop, easily seeking out the gaps in his jerkin and rough spun tunic and biting deep into his skin. He screwed his good hand into a fist to stop it shaking but winced in pain as he flexed the ripped knuckles of his other one. Fresh blood oozed out from between the cracks in his fingers, mingling with the dry scabs and dark bruising that surrounded them, he cursed himself for his lack of forethought, fighting had seemed like a good idea at the time. Despite the satisfaction he felt every time he saw the marks he’d made on the Lannister, he found himself wishing he hadn’t hit him quite so hard and with so many strikes. He was shaken from his thoughts by Arya, who was crouched opposite him.

 

“You need to clean that,” her quiet voice drifted towards him, her eyes shining in the gathering darkness of the evening and fixed on his wounded arm, “before it gets infected.”

 

He mustered a weak smile to try and reassure her, immediately regretting it as the smile split open his chapped lips, afore joking meekly, “Shall I order a bath, milady?”

 

She didn’t laugh, her pale face bore a tortured and harrowed expression; a mixture of grief and repressed fear. Her grey eyes flashed when they met his, revealing deep wells of emotion and that fire he had come to love in her in such a short space of time. More than once she opened her mouth to speak but said nothing, looking away, unable to find the right words. It crushed Gendry to see her like this; a caged wolf, her wildness subdued and contained. Dark circles had grown under her eyes from tiredness and exhaustion making her appear gaunt and too thin by half; it occurred to him that her eyes themselves seemed aged beyond her young years somehow; weighed down by a wealth of experiences he wished she’d never had. After a considerable pause, she seemed to regain herself and simply said, “Don’t die Gendry.”

 

Under the softness of her words he heard a hint of concealed anguish, as though she were about to break into tears, but Gendry knew she wouldn’t – she was harder than that now. Gone was the frightened orphan ‘Arry that wept in the night; here she was, Arya Stark, as fierce and strong and tough as newly tempered iron with a gaze sharp as a freshly forged blade. And yet, something in the way she had spoken still rattled him; she was hundreds of leagues from home and surrounded by enemies, and only he knew her secret. I’m all she has, he realised, now Yoren’s gone I’m the only one who knows who she really is. Gendry titled his head to one side as if he were looking on her for the first time and offered her a genuine, albeit tinged with pain, smile before saying through his dry throat,“I’m not going anywhere milady,” he stopped to cough slightly, his lungs aching from the effort, then added, “I promise.”

 

It was a promise he fully intended to keep, not just for himself or for her but for Yoren. I owe him that much. Gendry reached forwards and placed his good, though trembling hand on her leg in an attempt to back up his words and offer her some support. He half expected her to push it away but to his surprise she took it and covered it with hers; both their hands trembled at the touch. An intense heat ran through them where their skin met that chased the cold from his body and stilled his nerves, instinctively he brushed his hand sideways slightly until their fingers tentatively interlocked. Fire surged between their rough hands, their eyes never left each other and for the briefest of moments it felt like they were one shared person, that he wasn't so alone. Amongst the Lannisters as they were Gendry needed her as much as she needed him; he took solace in her company and under her touch he felt swept away by a wave of pained euphoria, his body ached and stung but his mind soared free; swirling and twisting like a wisp of smoke lost against the wind. Nothing else mattered but him and her to her and him, and in that moment the rest of his fears and worries and the world seemed distant and far away. As his grasp tightened she sharply withdrew her hand from his and turned away, leaving him still resting his palm against her leg, missing the warmth and security of her skin against his. Arya busied herself with the lacing of her leather shoes. After a couple of more moments he reluctantly and regretfully removed his own hand and pushed himself backwards a few paces to lean against a tree, grunting at the exertion. Nearby Hot Pie was snoring softly.

 

“Polliver,” Ser Amory’s voice rang out after some time had passed, distracting Gendry from picking the dirt from his fingernails with his thumb, “take the prisoners to the spring, I won’t have them dying before we reach Harrenhal.”

 

The bald headed man with Arya’s sword responded immediately with a savage grin, getting up from his perch by a small fire and smugly striding towards them. As he neared what was left of Yoren’s recruits he kicked the sleeping Hot Pie in the foot. Hot Pie awoke with a high pitched yelp, fear set deep in his eyes.

 

“You heard the man; we can’t very well present you to the Mountain looking like this!” The bald man called out before giving a satisfied laugh; one which was echoed by some of the other Lannister bannermen.

 

Rough hands lifted Gendry to his feet, clamping tightly against his shoulders and making him gasp. Gendry wheeled around as if to fight but stopped himself, aware he wouldn’t stand a chance until he was better healed, and settled for glaring at his opponent. The man who had pulled him up was not, in fact, a Lannister soldier as he had expected, but was one of the prisoners from the wagon – the one that didn’t speak but rather would growl and gnash his teeth as though he were a caged animal rather than a person. An uncaged animal now, Gendry reflected grimly, uncomfortable at the absence of bars between them. When Gendry had first seen him in the wagon he had thought the man to be bald but he realised now he just had very thin grey hair. His teeth were crooked and curved too far forwards and his eyes bore a madness and glee at their newfound freedom that unnerved the ex-armourer’s apprentice and made him wish he still had his sword. More unnerving though was the knowledge that if one was free, the other two prisoners were likely also free – not just the one that had threatened Arya, but the quiet one with the streaked air and ever alert eyes. He shuddered at the thought but turned his attention back to the situation in hand as he was pushed into line with the rest of the prisoners and led to the spring.

 

It was not a large pool of water; scarcely wide enough to fit four men abreast and long enough for maybe six. At its deepest the water could reach Gendry’s waist which suited him just fine, allowing him to crouch down and submerge his wounded arm, gently tracing the fingers of his good hand across the skin and watching the surrounding water turn a brownish-red as layers of mud and dried blood washed off. The majority of the other recruits gathered around the edge of the water and cupped water to their mouths calmly but not him, he waded straight in to try and clear as much from his arm as possible; he doubted he would get a chance like this again. The water itself was unpleasantly cold, especially with the strong breeze, but after a while it seemed to soothe his aching muscles. Once he was finished he allowed himself a slight smile; although his arm still bore a large number of dark mulberry marks and deep red cuts, especially around the knuckles and wrist, Gendry was genuinely happy to see the arm clean with all the grime and filth taken off – it looked much better than he had expected; though it was more swollen that it had been before, the metal ring now pulled very tight against the skin. The cold water seemed to help there too, taking some of the sting out of the inflammation.

 

As he splashed water across his face, taking deep long sips from it as he did and relishing the quenching feeling as the water soothed his roar throat, he hoped that the cold would have a similar effect on the bruises to his head; with any luck he sought to at least look less weak than he actually was – his strength and size had helped him through situations before but they served him no use if he could barely stand. When at last he was content he’d drank enough and washed enough he turned to Arya, who he could see crouched by the edge of the water, busying herself trying to clean the red marks from where her chains had rubbed against the skin of her wrists. After she realised he was watching him she looked him up and down before giving him a short smile; her sigh of relief presumably meaning that now he’d cleaned himself up he didn’t look quite as badly hurt as he had beforehand. He shot her a smile back, this time enjoying the fact that his lips were wet enough to move without them cracking and splitting open.

 

The rest of the evening past in a bit of a blur; a lukewarm broth was given out to them when they climbed back to the top of the ridge – it wasn’t much but they were so hungry they ate it without complaint. Gendry didn’t even know what meat had been used to make it; though in honesty, he had been starving enough that he didn’t care. It was only when darkness set in fully and the temperature dropped yet further that Gendry really began to struggle again, leant against a tree as though he had taken watch for the night. The howling and bitter wind cut straight through him; chilling him to the very marrow of his bones and causing a continuous soft chattering noise as he ground his teeth together. Arya must have noticed because almost immediately she came and sat next to him, resting her head against his shoulder for more warmth and placing her arms across his chest. She was trembling as much as he was without furs and more than once he found himself distinctly jealous of Hot Pie’s natural insulation. Gendry in turn lifted his own arms up, chains rattling as he did so, and brought them around Arya, so that his hands rested against her stomach and the chains of his imprisonment pooled in her lap and pulled her closer to him. Without thinking he rested his stubble ridden cheek against the top of her head and into her messy auburn hair, welcoming that surge of heat that ran between them every time they touched. As if by instinct their hands found each other’s, fingers entwined slightly as they had earlier, but it wasn’t long until the powerful grip of sleep claimed them both; at last he was allowed to give in to the exhaustion that had gripped him since the start of their march the night afore and the battle with the Goldcloaks.

 

Gendry drifted off with Arya by his side; her sleeping form lightly pressed against him, surrounded by his protective embrace that she surprisingly did not pull away from. Gradually, the cold mattered less and less and, like Arya, despite all the terrible things that had happened since they left King’s Landing and afore, Gendry managed to fall asleep that night with a slight smile fixed upon his face.

Chapter Text

The familiar warmth of the soft summer sun washed over Gendry’s face as he lazily strolled up the Street of Steel to Tobho Mott’s shop. This morn, as ever, King’s Landing was full of its usual crowded comings and goings; the noise of the everyday bustle of merchants and traders that quarrelled and haggled amongst the many cluttered market stalls, stands and store fronts that littered Flea Bottom was soothing to Gendry. The great crimson Red Keep towered above the many twisting alleys and winding paths that made up this portion of the city. Here and there were sellswords in drab dark clothing and knights; their armour resplendent and glistening in the daylight as though freshly forged in the heat of the fire. Noblemen and normal men, paupers and peasants, Lords and lowborn, all strutted the Street of Steel going about their day to day business, wrapped in their own anxieties and worries, oblivious to the concerns of anyone else. Nearby, the smell of roasting salted meat and brazier smoke lifted Gendry’s spirits, as it always seemed to do; no matter how bad things seemed to him, there was something reassuring about home…

 

He found himself stopping when he was within eyeshot of Tobho, who was standing at the edge of his shop talking to men Gendry couldn’t make out. His master’s usually kind and sparkling eyes seemed tinged in sadness as he looked towards Gendry, they were set in shadow; far back into his skull giving him the appearance of a man of a much more advanced age than he was. Gendry’s breath caught in his throat and his heart began to race as his old master recognised him and he remembered what came next. It was the same dream he had been having for weeks, the same nightmare. Tobho raised one of his pallid, trembling hands and pointed Gendry out to the soldiers Gendry couldn’t yet see, but knew were there; the old man’s face was contorted into an unreadable pained expression. Around Gendry, the nearby crowd of bystanders dispersed as the ex-armourer’s apprentice awaited the inevitable; for the men in their glinting gold armour to burst out from the darkness of the shadows and make straight towards him, cutting him down in a single swing of the sword. Fear froze the ex-armourer’s apprentice as he tried to run and found himself rooted to the spot, unable to move.

 

Only this time something was different, Tobho’s frail hand pointed past Gendry, not at him, and rather than Goldcloaks it was Lannister bannermen who rushed forward, clad in their plated red armour and led by Ser Amory on his great white mare. Gendry turned to follow the line of Tobho’s shaking fingers, heart sinking when he saw what his old master was pointing at, who his old master was pointing at. Steel grey eyes flashed towards him from behind a messy tangle of shorn brown hair. Arya. Needle rested in her hand but against the Lannister armour he already knew it would do her no good. A ring of steel assembled around her as the soldiers closed in, swords and spears outstretched, their sharp tips seeking blood. He willed himself to intervene but was held in check by some invisible force, made to watch but unable to help her. He cursed his powerlessness as he saw her pivot on one foot before lunging forward with a firm thrust; her blade struck into one of her opponent’s breastplates but glanced off, having left little more than a slight scratch in its wake.  

 

Arya wheeled round, bringing Needle low towards the feet of a nearby soldier but her second assault yielded no greater result than the first. As the ring tightened Gendry saw her eyes flash wide with panic, like an animal that realises for the first time it has been trapped. It was the same look he remembered on the man he had killed. She snarled and snapped with a beastlike ferocity. She is every bit a direwolf of the North… but it won’t save her, he thought grimly.Gendry’s heart skipped a beat when she disappeared from view, obscured by the circle of men as they pressed inwards. His feet were still stuck firmly to the ground, as though deep roots descended from him and anchored him in place. The sounds of swordplay rang out loudly as steel met steel in bitter, unseen combat. He burned in his desperation to break away from the imperceptible vicelike grip that contained him, sweat dripping off him from the exertion of attempting to run to her aid. He found that he savoured the sound of each clash of metal and prayed that it wouldn’t be the last he heard; that somehow, somehow, she’d manage to escape.

 

But his prayers were met with a deafening silence; in less than a minute the fight was over. The soldiers dispersed, and thick, dark crimson oozed across the cobbles of Flea Bottom from the prone body of Arya Stark. All at once the power that had held him was released and he flung forward to her side so fast he scraped his knees as he knelt down and held her. He placed one hand on her stomach and the other under her head, lifting it up and trying to ignore the viscous warm liquid that slipped from her hair and through his fingers. Her eyes were glassy and unfocussed and as he pressed his forehead against hers he felt tears well up inside him. His arm trembled under her weight as he pulled her towards him, once again powerless to do anything to help her. He had promised to defend her, promised to stay alive but even then he suspected he had always known that it was foolish – I’m just a bastard who wanted to be a knight, I should’ve known better.   

 

He couldn’t say how long he sat with her; certainly long enough that her warmth and colour faded away beneath him. Gendry was utterly spent, his strength sapped. A bastard who should’ve known better.

 

---

 

“Gendry!” Arya panickedly hissed in his ear as he blearily came to, she spoke quietly enough so that he alone could hear her, “wake up!”

 

He grunted as he struggled into a sitting position against the tree he’d slept by, heart pounding as he looked around and took in his surroundings. It was still dark though the very earliest signs of daylight were beginning to show; the night sky had shifted from black to dark blue and the coldness of the air had lost some of its sting. Something hard pressed against his stomach and it was only as he looked down at Arya, lit by the pale light of the moon and lying half on top of him, her elbows resting on his chest and her back arched so she could see his eyes, that the weight of his dream came crashing down on him. He found his arms still wrapped around her from where she had lain against him the night afore and without thinking he pulled her roughly into a tight embrace, ignoring the throbbing protest that came from his wounded arm. She let out a small squeal of surprise as she fell forward against his chest and shook slightly as he buried his head into her shoulder.

 

“I thought you were… gone…” he mumbled, his bad arm pinning her to him while he traced his other hand from the small of her back to the back of her head, wrapping his fingers in her tangled auburn hair as he did so. The smell of sweat and earth and her filled his nostrils and forced back the memory of his nightmare. As he pushed his face against leather jerkin she wore he noticed his cheeks were wet with tears. He never wanted to let go.

 

For a moment Arya said nothing, caught in shock and melting into the heat of his rough hold on her, but as if afraid she suddenly pulled away from him, distancing herself by leveraging her arms against his chest. Gendry practically thanked the gods that she sat on the ground next to him, seemingly oblivious to the growing bulge in his breeches. “You were… crying…” she muttered to him, repeating his own words back from what already felt like so long ago.

 

She leaned in slightly, as if out of curiosity, and tentatively reached forward and touched his wet cheek, tracing the route of his tears with shaking fingers to the edge of his jaw and jolting away as her fingertips brushed against his sharp stubble. Gendry had felt his skin tremble under her soft touch and instinctively moved his head forward when she withdrew. He knew what he wanted, and he knew he could never have it. You’re just a bastard, she’s a Lady – you don’t deserve her. He turned his face away from her and looked up towards the sky, watching the many lights so far in the distance, twinkling and free. After a while Arya turned around too, leaning against him once again so his arms rested on her waist. Gendry had no interest in drifting back into another nightmare and so they simply stayed in that position, her propped against him, both just staring up at the limitless ocean of dark blue until the stars seemed to ail and fade at the breaking of first light.

 

He had been lost in thought for what felt like hours, a deep fatigue seemed to have burnt through him and sweat dripped steadily off his brow. His mind’s eye kept showing him Lommy’s death, Yoren’s death and his dream of Arya’s body, stone cold in the streets of King’s Landing; more than once he tightened his arms around her just slightly as though to remind himself she was still ok. Each time he thought on what was left of his family, he felt enraged, ready to throw himself at Ser Amory and that bald-headed bastard with Arya’s sword, Pol- something, he struggled to remember. Yet his own vengeance had been less than enjoyable – those terrified eyes and pitiful splutters of the Lannister he’d murdered, desperately and hopelessly trying to stop his lifeblood pouring out of the mortal shoulder wound Gendry had inflicted haunted him. He should have revelled in the death of his enemy and the small justice he had claimed for his family but instead he felt cold and detached and yet also melancholic. His whole life he’d made armour for knights to wear in glorious and noble combat and yet there had been nothing noble or glorious about his own experience of battle at all. He found himself wondering whether the great and valiant heroes people talked about ever felt the same; what of Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning, or Barristan the Bold, Lord Commander of the Kingsguard? What did they feel when they killed? What did they feel when they heard the great songs of their deeds recited to them? After so much death did they feel anything at all?

 

It was still early when Gendry next spoke; early enough that neither the other prisoners nor the Lannisters were awake save Arya and himself. “Arya…” Gendry whispered so only she could hear, grimacing slightly as he adjusted his arm against her stomach, gritting his teeth against the ensuing pain, “Back at the holdfast… I killed a man…”

 

She didn’t look at him, but nodded to acknowledge she’d heard him before saying in a low voice, “I know.”

 

“You said you killed someone, when we first met.” The question was obvious in his voice. After everything he’d seen and learnt about her he didn’t doubt she could do it, though at the time she’d said it, he’d thought she was just trying to intimidate Hot Pie. Now he wasn’t so sure. She abruptly went still under his arms after he’d finished speaking, and when she did speak her voice was low, and timid.

 

“A boy,” she muttered so quietly he could scarcely make out the words. When Gendry said nothing she eventually added, “just a stupid stable boy.”

 

“How do you… forget?” Gendry asked her, his voice barely cutting through the thick air as his words seemed to stick in his throat. A heavy silence weighed down on them both and, as it became clear she was not going to answer, he continued, “I killed a man Arya, and I think… I think that… mayhaps…” he paused, struggling to explain himself properly, in the end he settled simply for, “my arm’s not getting any better Arya.”

 

She turned to face him; bringing herself into a sitting position as her grey eyes locked with his blue ones. When she spoke her words were weak, tinged in fear. “Why are you telling me this?”

 

Gendry furrowed his brow, the deep burn in his arm a constant reminder of his own frailty. Finally he said what he had suspected for some time now, but had tried to deny; “I don’t think I can keep my promise.”

 

For a moment she didn’t react at all, they just stared at each other, but soon he watched as she had to close her eyes to blink back tears; screwing up her fair, pale face and wrinkling her skin slightly to keep her composure. She only relaxed from that position when Gendry placed his good hand on her arm, giving it a slight squeeze for support. The move pulled his shackles taut behind her back causing the metal to bite at his bruised wrists savagely, but he fought through the pain, even as his vision began to blur. A single tear escaped her left eye and rolled down her smooth cheek. Gendry’s insides lurched uncomfortably at the sight and he, like she had, instinctively brought his fingers up to her wet skin; resting the chain between his hands across her shoulder as he wiped the tear to the side with his thumb before staring softly into her eyes, cupping her face against his palm and attempting to give her a reassuring smile. Even as he tried he knew it was empty and unconvincing, he had confessed he was preparing to die; what hope could he inspire in her when he had none?

 

He had tried to make sense of it all but ultimately failed, he didn’t know why all the terrible things that had happened had happened, he didn’t know why all the people he cared for had left him or died, he didn’t know how any of them could possibly survive this. Not himself, not Hot Pie, and not Arya… As she pushed her face against his hand, enjoying the warmth that seemed to flow between their touching skin; Gendry spoke again, only half believing his own words. “I killed a man, Arya…” he repeated, “mayhaps this is my punishment, from the gods–”

 

“There is only one god,” she cut across him, her voice cold, pulling her face away from his hand before muttering in an almost reverent tone, “Death.” It was her surety that made Gendry uneasy; several times he opened his mouth to speak, but no words came. He couldn’t say whether or not Arya wanted an answer from him; he wasn’t sure what he could say. It therefore came as some relief when she broke the now uncomfortable gaze between them and turned around, leaning back into his shoulder, adding as she did, “and there’s only one thing we say to the god of Death.”

 

“And what’s that?” Gendry asked, resting his head against the trunk of the tree behind him as she practically whispered back.

 

“Not today… Not today…”

 

---

 

The ex-armourer’s apprentice must have drifted into a dreamless sleep as when he awoke the camp was a hive of activity; the fires had already been lit and stamped out, water was packed in the wagons and the Lannister tents had been taken down. Arya was on her feet nearby and even Hot Pie had risen. Upon seeing Gendry, Hot Pie immediately rushed over to help him to his feet, brushing the mud from Gendry’s shoulders as he timidly asked, “How are you feeling?”

 

The ex-armourer’s apprentice answered truthfully, swaying on the balls of his feet as he gained his balance, “Like all the seven hells just erupted in my forehead, and you?”

 

Hot Pie grinned, seeming to think Gendry was jesting, “Much the same… in my feet anyway,” the round boy said in a bitter tone before he left to brush down the leaves and mud from his clothes having slept against the dirt. Gendry didn’t doubt that his own clothes were probably in the same poor state. He attempted to brush the legs of his breeches down but strained under the effort, unable to properly flex his wounded arm. He was almost certain he’d managed to make them worse but was forced to give up trying to sort them out as Arya walked over to him slightly shyly with deep circles around her eyes that made her seem gaunt. She looked exhausted.

 

“Thank you, for last night,” Gendry said with a grim smile, repeating the words from that first night they met each other, when he had woken her from her nightmares. The memory was not lost on her it seemed as a fleeting smile flickered across her face though it disappeared almost as soon as it had arrived. “Did you get any sleep?” He asked, knowing before she shook her head that she hadn’t.

 

She tilted her head slightly, her messy brown hair tumbling from one side to the other, “I left you as long as I could – you needed rest.” Concern shone from her and yet her words were oddly restrained, as though she were holding back.

 

“Thank you,” he grimaced, bowing his head slightly.

 

“About last night,” she said hesitantly, clearly in two minds as to whether to continue, “and your promise–”

 

He cut her off midsentence, “I don’t think I can keep my promise,” he told her, to her obvious disappointment, but offered her a slight smile as he summoned all the energy he could muster and drew himself to full height, a little more than a head taller than her, and added, “Not forever anyway, but I’m not going anywhere, milady… at least not for today.”

 

Her eyes seemed to sparkle as she broke into a wide smile, the first he’d seen from her since before the Goldcloak attack, and as they began the day’s walking he felt a slight hope burning in him. He had stopped thinking of the likelihood of their impending deaths, he had all but given up all thought of ever having a life at Winterfell or at the Wall; for now all that mattered was that he was alive, now. She was alive, now. He didn’t know what lie in store for them at Harrenhal; he didn’t know how long he could keep his promise for, but there was real strength in Arya’s words, her message to her Death; that awed Gendry, and as they travelled further towards Harrenhal, and that small smudge in the distance grew ever larger and more threatening until it cast long shadows across the surrounding landscapes, he found himself repeating her words again and again. The words gave him a small measure of comfort, even in the knowledge that death would almost certainly follow shortly at the end of the long road to Harrenhal.

 

But not today. Not today. Not today.

Chapter Text

They were still a little more than a league from the nearest gate into Harrenhal but even from that distance the fortress was the largest thing Gendry had ever seen. Huge black outer walls climbed higher than any that surrounded King’s Landing and behind them, five great towers reached upwards like the outstretched fingers from a ghastly gnarled hand, rising from deep within the darkness of the earth. The air hung thick and heavy around the castle, threatening to unleash a storm at any moment, and the fortress’ dark enormity stained the otherwise fertile countryside like a pestilence. At the top of the towers Gendry noted that the tips of the fingers were misshapen, making the reaching hand seem twisted and contorted, as though recoiling from daylight. He didn’t know why but Gendry felt the urge to look down at his feet, to focus on the muddy path before him, but somehow he couldn’t tear his eyes from the monstrous castle.

 

Blood magic, he heard the voice of Tobho rasp from the back of his mind as his eyes passed over the black outer walls. Gendry’s blood ran colder with each passing step forwards; he had to force his legs to keep walking when every part of him wanted to turn the other way and run as fast and as far as he could. He had taken some solace from Arya’s phrase, not today, but the closer they got to the end of the track the greater Gendry’s dread. He could still barely stand, dehydration, hunger and the deep pains from his arm and head held him back as though he was walking through water rather than air. Neither did it help his nerves that from deep behind the high, outer fortifications he could hear the sounds of faint screaming and the ever present cawing of crows. Looking around at the state of his companions; pale, thin and gaunt, he couldn’t help but remember the collective term for those damned birds; a murder.

 

There were more of them in the column now, there had been for most of the morning. They had long since joined the main track into Harrenhal and there group had merged with a trickle of other prisoners and soldiers – all trudging through the upchurned mud on their way to whatever came next. Gendry found himself wondering bleakly if this was where his journey ended; after everything, after he’d come so far, he still didn’t even know what the Goldcloaks wanted with him. Each time he walked forward his feet slipped and stuck in the brown mire beneath him; sometimes it yielded, other times it felt like the earth itself was trying to stop him going forward. Puddles formed in the ruts left by wheelhouses alongside small pools of water from hoofprints and metal boots. The thin leather wrappings Gendry had on his feet did nothing to keep them dry or clean, though in a lot of ways it was a relief; amongst the fatigue and dizziness the coldness of the water kept him… present… It felt good to have his feet firmly, or infirmly, planted on the ground. Having been feverous since the fight with the Goldcloaks, he was also appreciative of the cool temperature.

 

Although they had been walking for hours, the sickness came without warning, whether it was fear or simply that Gendry had pushed his body as far as it would go for too long it didn’t matter; all at once his muscles protested – his vision blackened, his knees gave out and thick acidic bile crept up his throat and into his mouth. He spat the putrid liquid out into the mud, coughing and spluttering, and instinctively curled up so that his forehead pressed against the unfeeling, wet earth beneath him. His coughing was rough and pained his lungs; his whole being shook from exhaustion. Even as it started to rain and a cold wind began tearing at him his body was a blaze of heat and sweat. His skin felt raw and stung, turned red, and underneath, it was as though someone had sapped the strength from him. Try as he did, he could not pull himself to his feet again, instead he slumped further to the ground. He felt truly and utterly spent as he heard his mind’s voice say what he had been trying to deny, I’m not getting better. I’m not coming back from this.

 

“Get up Gendry,” her familiar voice rang behind him as it had several times before, but she sounded so small and distant. She had all the strength of a candle; flickering and overwhelmed in a powerful gale. “Please, Gendry!” she repeated, only just louder than the sounds of the heavy raindrops around him. This time, though, the voice was accompanied by a sudden pressure around both armpits. “Gendry…” she pleaded, but even still the voice was faint – Gendry knew he should stand, he knew he ought to get up and push on for her sake if not his own but the reality dawned on him that this, what they were going through, was not living. What was the point? Why push on to get to Harrenhal, everybody knew what awaited them in there. Mayhaps it might even be better to die outside the ghastly fortress, than inside. At least here it was his choice; he was free – or freer.

 

It took two goes for both Hot Pie and Arya to pull him to his feet this time, and even once he was on them he almost brought Hot Pie crashing to the ground from his weight. The ex-armourer’s apprentice could barely see let alone stand; he had to use Hot Pie’s shoulder as a support to have much chance of avoiding falling straight back down. The ground twisted beneath him and sky spun above him, his limbs alternated between feeling heavy, like lead, and light as air in rapid succession. He felt himself wretch again but hadn’t eaten enough to be sick; coughing a dry wheeze and gasping for air. Arya’s eyes bore a haunted expression as she watched him, her steel grey eyes could see it, she knew. I’m not getting better. It struck him harder than he’d have thought possible, he even tried to give Arya a reassuring smile but failed miserably in his attempt; from her pale and feared expression he guessed she had reached the same conclusion he had. I’m done. Whether now, or a couple of days, without a maester, I’m done… He heard his own voice echoing around his head. I’m not coming back from this…

 

The low, drawling voice of Ser Amory sounded from somewhere behind them about the time Gendry noticed everyone in the column had stopped around him, “What’s the holdup?” The knight rode forward on his white steed, pressing the horses’ flanks with his boots until he reached the three of them. His small eyes passed over each of them in turn, studying them, before resting on the barely conscious Gendry and saying icily “your companion doesn’t look so good.” His voice was loaded with malice and an unspoken threat.

 

“He’s fine… He’s just tired, we all are… ser.” Arya answered back in Gendry’s stead, clearly only just remembering to address the man as a knight and while she tilted her head slightly in expected deference, she stood in front of Gendry protectively in defiance. Murmurs of agreement struck up from other equally fatigued and hungry members of the column but Ser Amory ignored both them and her and spurred his horse onwards, brushing Arya aside in order to reach Gendry. Arya hit the ground with a grunt.

 

“Can you stand on your own, boy?” The knight asked him, cocking his head to one side as he watched Hot Pie shifting uncomfortably under the larger boy’s weight.

 

Gendry honestly didn’t know if he could, but one look at the sheer terror present in Arya’s eyes as she scrabbled to her feet made him nod his head. Even through vision blurred by burning tears, the sight of a scared Arya Stark unnerved him more than all the horrors of Harrenhal ever could. The highborn Arya Stark, he thought to himself, risking herself for the life of a bastard from Flea Bottom, for my life. It was almost enough to make him laugh hysterically – though he conceded that might have been the toll his wounds were taking from him – her wet hair; though short, was matted, unkempt and clinging to her; it made her look like anything but a Lady. Her clothes were filthy and worn and the assortment of small bruises and cuts across her face made her fortunately barely recognisable as a girl. He was supposed to protect her, I swore, he could barely protect himself. I have to keep going, he told himself, for her.

 

He took a couple of shaky steps forward on his own, swaying a little but just able to keep balance. He noticed Hot Pie shadowing him closely, just in case he fell and from the corner of his eye he made out Arya, her fist closed around what looked like a large rock so hard her knuckles shone white. What with the way her hands were tied, Gendry doubted she’d be able to throw it even if she wanted to. In front of him, Ser Amory had his fist closed around the pommel of his sword, head still tilted towards him as though daring him to fall. Gendry concentrated on staying upright with every bit of strength he could, if this turned south he wouldn’t be able to do a thing to stop what would inevitably come next – especially if Arya was stupid enough to use the bloody rock she held onto. He wouldn’t let her die over him; he wouldn’t let her die at all if he could help it. His teeth were gritted tightly and his muscles shook from the tremendous effort of holding himself still, he could barely breathe and it felt like a lifetime had passed before Ser Amory was finally satisfied Gendry wasn’t going to topple over. The mounted knight simply said, “if you slow us down again, I shall have one of my men take your head,” before riding towards Harrenhal.

 

They paused for a moment while Gendry got his bearings, opening and closing his eyes in attempt to restore the vision fully to them. His eyes had been fine focussing on a specific thing, Arya and then Ser Amory, but it only occurred to him how compromised his sight was as he looked around and was greeted largely by blurs. When at last his eyes readjusted he noticed the walls of Harrenhal seemed even larger than ever before, they had walked much further than he’d thought – they were close enough to make out the blurs of Lannister red outside the gate, escorting the prisoners ahead of them inside. Looking up he noticed that the tops of the walls weren’t lined with crenellations as the ones in King’s Landing were or indeed one would expect of any castle, but they were curved and distorted like dripped candle wax – as though the battlements themselves had been melted. Without thinking he found himself asking, even though he already knew the answer, “What kind of fire melts stone?”

 

“Dragonfire.” Arya replied calmly, walking forwards to look more carefully at the walls in front of them, ghosting her fingers across his upper arm as she did to offer some sense of support and companionship. Her light touch calmed him slightly and he immediately missed it after it had gone; he would have sworn it did something to lighten the pain.

 

Gendry watched as Hot Pie tensed up, a fear rolled over the large boy and when he spoke, his voice trembled slightly, “there’s dragons here?”

 

“No, all the dragons are dead,” Gendry assured him, trying to imagine what it must have been like to watch the dragons of the stories setting Harrenhal ablaze – half hoping it would happen again in front of their eyes. He wished he could see the flames licking the black walls, the molten fire turning Ser Amory and his men to ash. He could practically feel the warmth on his face as the blaze engulfed them and spat what was left of the bastards out as embers and dust. Vengeance for Yoren, vengeance for Lommy. What with the sounds of screaming echoing from the great fortress, it wasn’t that difficult to picture.

 

“What’s that smell?” Hot Pie interrupted after a few moments, looking around him as if expecting to find some rotted piece of food as the explanation for the source of the foul stench.

 

“Dead people.” Arya stated in a cold, emotionally disconnected manner that made Gendry uncomfortable before walking forwards.

 

Gendry stood looking at the path ahead, lost in thought, until a firm hand struck his shoulder and pushed him forwards, almost knocking him over. He caught himself just in time to hear the soldier that pushed him call out “move” to both himself and then to Hot Pie.

 

The walk towards Harrenhal was undoubtedly the most terrifying moment of Gendry’s life; more terrifying than realising he was a hunted man, even more terrifying than fighting the Lannister bannermen had been. With each pained, dreary step towards the now looming gate the reality that he would never leave this place once he entered it stifled the air from his lungs. He was walking towards his death, with each movement the chains rattled in his arms; their clinking orchestrating his final journey. The closer they got the muddier it got and by the time they were approaching one of the outer gates, which was so large a man thrice Gendry’s height would still feel small in front of it, they constantly had to wrest their feet from its icy brown grip.

 

About a stone’s throw away from the gate the Lannister bannermen had been trying to firm the path with long pieces of wood, rocks, and whatever else made it easier for the carriages to pass through. It didn’t do them much good but inside the gatehouses’ antechamber that the floor was laid properly with smoothed flat stone the same colour as the walls; Gendry smiled grimly – although every part of his body screamed against him walking into the castle, in fact it urged him to run the other way, he would be lying if he didn’t say he was a little bit relieved to be walking on steady ground. There was a surprisingly high step to get into the gate, or rather mud right outside was unusually deep, but he found himself breathing a sigh of almost contented relief when his feet made a reassuring thud as they pressed on the cold stone. What with enormous vaulted roof the gatehouse above them, it was also a relief to be out of the rain, he realised, as he straightened his posture a little before turning back to help Arya and Hot Pie out of that sludgy mire that had developed outside the gate from constant use and the rain. His feeling of dread returned quickly though as he looked up and saw the huge wrought iron spikes of three enormous portcullises hanging over them menacingly and the small holes in the roof that soldiers could pour scolding pitch through or shoot arrows from.

 

He wasn’t exactly sure when he had started walking in front of Arya and Hot Pie but as he turned to help them up out of the mud he realised his added height and leg length had made it easier for him but his companions – especially Hot Pie – were struggling. He offered his good arm to the rounded boy – who was now decidedly not as round as he had been when they left King’s Landing – and flinched when the boy took it. Hot Pie’s weight made Gendry jolt forward and pulled the chains tight around the wrist of his swollen arm, he probably would have collapsed from the pain had Arya not given the not-as-round-as-he-once-was-but-still-weighs-a-tonne boy a firm push from behind, easing the pressure for Gendry. Hot Pie pulled himself up from his hands and knees while Gendry helped up Arya, who probably didn’t need his help as she had done fairly well of avoiding getting stuck, but took his hand anyway. She held on to it for a few moments longer than she needed to and squeezed it tight before letting go and walking forward with Hot Pie, into one of the myriad of courtyards that lie ahead.

 

Within the walls the Lannister red armour shone brightly against the drab pallet of muddy browns and obsidian-coloured battlements that greeted them as they entered the legendary fortress of Harren the Black. A mixture of the poor weather and the shadows cast by the even taller parts of the castle made it dark enough to warrant the use of flaming torches, though Gendry suspected it couldn’t be much later than midday. It was truly an awful sight; Gendry found himself wondering what had happened to Lady Shella Whent, the noblewoman Yoren had spoken of as an ally to the Night’s Watch. He had found himself hoping that she might intervene on their behalf but then again, with this many Lannisters stationed on the walls and without Yoren to vouch for them, there was nothing to mark any of them out as friends of the Night’s Watch. The thought of surviving the bleak citadel was quickly driven from his mind upon passing an enormous pile of emaciated bodies, the skin rotting away and clouds of flies dancing and darting across the lifeless collection of tangled limbs. He shuddered as he tried to shake the thought that some of the people in that heap looked like they might still be alive. Had he been able to, he would have thrown up at the sight and smell.

 

“Arry,” he said as the shadow of a second impossibly large gate engulfed them; his voice so small it was almost lost in the howling wind. She turned to look at him, cocked her head to one side slightly and waited for him to continue. “The rock…” he started but she immediately cut him off.

 

“I wasn’t going to let him kill you,” Arya whispered, the emotion flooding back into her voice. Gods she was beautiful. The rain lashed them both in the open courtyard.

 

“Aye, well, if it had come to that you should have,” he told her, surprised at the hint of anger in his no longer small voice and the flash of defiance in her steel eyes. She recoiled from him in surprise before he added, quieter, “Arry, it’s only a matter of time before I… before you’ll be on your own.” He gestured to his arm, “this is not getting any better, seven hells I can barely walk Arry.”

 

He wasn’t lying. The truth was he had never felt so weak in his entire life; it was even worse than the illness that passed through Flea Bottom when he was a child, the one that made him so sick he couldn’t move his head and made him cough so hard he spat blood. He looked to his arm in disgust – he could barely feel it at all now, where before he had at least been able to flex his fingers, albeit painfully, now it hung off him like dead weight or some kind of piece of rotting meat. The skin was so discoloured and swollen it didn’t even look like it belonged to him; it reminded him more of waterlogged wooden fixtures than human flesh and the dull burn that ran through it made him want to tear back his skin with his finger nails until he reached the bone. It was literally killing him.

 

“You are getting better Gendry,” Arya told him, stepping close, though it was clear she didn’t believe her own words. She unconvincingly added, “You’ll be fine,” resting her hand against his shoulder as she did. Water had streaked her cheeks, though whether from the rain or tears Gendry couldn’t tell.

 

“Arya Stark.” He said in little more than a whisper so nobody around would hear, raising his good hand up and cupping her cheek with it, “You’ll go on for the both of us.” She shook her head but he continued, “Promise me, you won’t risk your life for mine Arya.” His voice was low and resolute; he would not accept anything less than her word and when she didn’t answer he repeated himself more firmly, “Promise me.”

 

“I promise.” She said quietly and the pained expression on her face went numb. He traced her cheek bone with his thumb before dropping letting his hands drop in front of him again and continuing the long trudge forwards. As he walked past her and was pushed through the second gatehouse by overly zealous guardsmen he heard her voice from behind him speak with a strength he didn’t expect. What she said, she said to him alone; firmly, but not loud enough for anyone else to hear it.

 

“Gendry Waters.”  His heart stopped. He was a bastard from Flea Bottom, the seven gods probably couldn’t remember who his father was and only claimed bastards got second names, highborn bastards. Nobody had ever claimed him, he was baseborn. He turned to her and her grey eyes locked with his blue ones.

 

“It’s just Gendry.” He said slowly, the words catching in his throat. “Only highborn bastards get second names, ‘Arry. I don’t– I’m not… I’m not allowed– I’m… just Gendry. ” He trailed off.

 

There was a pained silence between them as she stared at him with an unrecognisable emotion plastered across her face – pity maybe? He had heard her talk about having a half-brother back on the Kingsroad, the one that was with the Night’s Watch, but he couldn’t remember his name – someone Snow. The bastard name for the North; he found himself wandering if the reason she didn’t look at him like the rest of the nobles was because of her half-brother.“Gendry Waters,” She repeated quietly, her eyes never leaving his for a moment, “Being highborn, it’s not everything, Gendry. You’re better than the lot of them.”

 

Her words struck him, hard, but not as hard as what she said next. Her command was simple, powerful, and practically tore him apart. Tears brimmed hot in his eyes, rolling down his cheeks and merging with the cold droplets of rain.

 

“Fight, Gendry.”

 

 

I don’t think I can.

Chapter Text

The pens reeked of piss, blood and human decay, yet even in the open, exposed air of Harrenhal Gendry was relieved to have been led away from the gaol. It was early evening by the time they were finally located to their current holding space, little more than a converted set of stables, they’d already been moved twice due to mass overcrowding within Harrenhal’s cells. If ever there was a more horrific sight than the gaol Gendry prayed he wouldn’t see it for what he had seen would haunt him for what the rest of what he suspected would be his short life. Rows on rows of gated rooms packed tightly with the frail, sick and ghastly figures of the living and the dead. There was no room to sit or lie down; the rotting bodies of the dead were held in place by the living and amongst the accumulated filth of human remains the rats weaved and chewed at the infected feet of the inmates without preference for whether they had died or not. Gendry had tried to hold in bile as he thought grimly, not one of them has a chance, and found himself gripping Arya’s arm firmly with his good hand. The reality of Harrenhal set in around them.

 

Gendry shuddered as he thought back to the seething twisted wreck of human limbs pressed against the wrought iron bars, their bodies wrecked from malnutrition and blistered from disease. He had always known the world to be a brutal place but this was beyond anything he had ever imagined. The true horror of war surrounded them; Arya, Gendry and Hot Pie, and he had never felt so small or so powerless. The sky was still pale above them but the dark walls gave the feeling of perpetual night, torches were lit long before the sun set as they were chained to whatever the Lannister soldiers could find – stumps, fences, paddocks, it made no difference. The cold air cut was funnelled through the layers of great walls, resting in his breast and making his bones ache but even still he felt only relief to have been led away from the cells. He already knew they were all dead, as did Hot Pie; it was only Arya who seemed to hold on to the belief that they would escape, and even then, he had watched her tense in terror at the sight of the gaol. Brave knights and grown men would have trembled at such a scene; he wished Arya had never witnessed it. Gendry seldom noticed the age gap between them, after all it couldn’t be much more than four name days, but she was too young to have seen that. He was too young.to have seen it.

 

As the true darkness of the night set in, the torches around them struggled to permeate the oppressive blackness that encircled them. He really didn’t mind that much, if anything it helped – he didn’t want to see his surroundings, it was easier that way. The Lannister soldiers had chained him to a post in the centre of one of the paddocks, he didn’t have much freedom of movement but at least he could stretch his legs in front of him, he tried to stop himself thinking about the standing prisoners in the cells. Hot Pie sat on the other side of the post, close enough to take comfort in one another’s company but far enough so as to not actually be touching whereas Arya had pushed herself against Gendry, her back against his chest. His arms had absent-mindedly closed around her and held her as she leaned into him, for warmth more than anything else. In the great black abyss they could almost imagine they were back on the Kingsroad, that night where they shared furs by the fire. Lommy was nearby, complaining about cleaning the pots after Hot Pie’s cooking, and Yoren, Yoren was drinking heartily from his flask, no doubt griping to himself about the slow pace they’d made. Tears ran down the blacksmith’s cheeks. He wasn’t really sure if his eyes were open or shut as he tried, and failed, to push his memories backwards, conjuring up images of his old room in King’s Landing – his cot in Tobho’s shop. He pictured the Street of Steel, and how far you could see out across Flea Bottom from the battlements, past the Sept of Baelor and even to the many harbours beyond. In the gloom of the night he could almost hear the sounds and smell the smells of the city, the closest thing he’d ever had to home.

 

Before the pitch darkness had set in they were given a pitiful amount of water to drink and stale, tasteless bread to eat – worse even than what they’d had on the road. He took one sip from his water before giving the rest to Arya, one of us should get enough. She in turn and against his wishes used her water to gently wash his wounded arm, applying only the lightest pressure to it to avoid him passing out from the pain. It still felt fleshy and sodden, like a waterlogged branch, and despite trying his best to ignore it he couldn’t forget the deep itch that burned under the battered flesh. Even hours later, Arya’s hands still mindlessly traced up and down it, her fingers making small, soft patterns on the skin. He was almost certain she was no longer really aware that she was doing it, lost in her own thoughts as he had been in his, but her touch did much to soothe some of the deep ache and he hadn’t the heart to ask her to stop. She had long since run out of water.

 

He pressed his head into her messy hair, unthinkingly ghosting a light kiss into it and tightening his grip around her waist. She shifted slightly before lying back more fully against him, her legs running alongside his. Nobody could see them in the thick shadows of the starless night. After what felt like hours of silence, her small voice cut through the air, more childlike than he had ever heard it.

 

“We’re not getting out of here.” She half said, half asked, her voice a mix a twisted mix of hope and despair. When he said nothing she added, “Are we, Gendry?”

 

“I don’t know ‘Arry.” He replied, lying. He had never met anyone as strong as Arya but in Harrenhal all the strength in the world wouldn’t do them any good. He continued, trailing off, “I don’t know.”

 

“I can’t sleep.” She said simply. After everything that had happened to them both in the last few weeks not being able to sleep seemed like the very least of their worries and yet, sitting there as they were, she so perfectly summed up everything he was feeling – the fear, the restlessness, the inability to escape from his own mind as his memories jumped between the gaol cells and Flea Bottom.

 

He said the only thing he could say, “Me neither.” It was so much of an understatement it almost made him laugh.

 

A limitless amount of time passed before she spoke again. “Do you have anybody, Gendry… to remember you?” The tone of her voice told him she was less asking him than thinking through who she knew that would remember her afterwards.

 

“Tobho I suppose,” The boy said, leaning his head back against the wooden post and thinking, “mayhaps a few of the boys at the forge.”

 

“No family?” She asked him and the words stung. He hadn’t really realised how lonely he was until then, on the Street of Steel he spoke to dozens of people a day, he was constantly busy coming and going in the throngs of King’s Landing and yet, when it came to it, he didn’t know anybody – even Tobho would probably forget him in time.

 

“It was only ever m’mum and me, and she’s gone.” He said, there was a numbness to the truth.

 

“Nobody?” She asked, her voice soft with care and concern.

 

“I’ve got you haven’t I?” He joked, attempting to alleviate the mood, giving her waist a playful squeeze with his good arm. A lengthy silence passed.

 

“You have,” she said after a time, her hand rested on his arm. “Gendry?” She asked.

 

“Huh?” He grunted, weariness creeping through him.

 

“I won’t forget you, I promise.”

 

He grinned, not that she could see it in the dark, and quipped, “You’d better not.”

 

It should have worried him that Arya was essentially saying her goodbyes but it didn’t. After all, if whatever the dawn brought didn’t kill them then it would surely be only a matter of time. At this point they were both too weak to fight, and it was hardly as though Hot Pie would be of any use in an escape, not that they had anywhere to go or any means to get there even if they could break free. His grin faded, mayhaps it is time to say goodbye.

 

“I’m very pleased to have met you Arya Stark.” He whispered into her ear, just loud enough so only they could hear. He was surprised at how formally he spoke, most unusual for someone from Flea Bottom but he had wanted to say it right. She instinctively pressed her cheek against his and they held their heads against each other for support, warmth spreading between them where they touched. He couldn’t help but smile at her wolf-like behaviour, she as Northern as they came.

 

“This isn’t the end. It can’t be.” She said, sounding like she was only partially convinced.

 

“Not yet,” Gendry replied, not wanting to get her hopes up, his heart hammered in his chest at the thoughts of dawn, “Get some rest ‘Arry.”

 

Neither one of them slept as the hours crept by; the void that surrounded them gradually receded, the sky lightened and before long the fortress was awash with movement. Guards rushed to their posts, bodies were piled, carts were unloaded and the stench of death ebbed and flowed through the great dark walls and quads of Harrenhal. Arya helped Gendry to his feet as the guards began an inspection – even without sleep the night resting had restored some of his strength after the continuous march they’d been put through on the way in. He still couldn’t move his arm but he managed to hold his balance marginally better, swaying less. Despite how cold he felt from the night of being exposed the frigid air had done nothing to cool his fever, which still burnt high. He once again passed what scraps of food he was given to Arya, they received less than the measly amount they received just the day before.

 

“You.” A deep voice broke Gendry from his thoughts; he turned to look around to find it had come from the tallest man he’d ever seen. In King’s Landing the man would have towered a giant amongst others but here, under the great stature of Harrenhal, the impossibly tall man still felt dwarfed. Even so, Gendry knew who he was. There was only one man in Westeros he could be, The Mountain. The huge figure pointed towards a young, nervous boy stood nearby with tufts of light auburn hair.

 

An older woman sat by him, her face lined and weathered, stood up in front of the boy and screamed out, “Not him, please! Take me! Take me instead, please!” She threw herself towards the monstrously tall Knight and begged, but he ignored her. Two Lannister soldiers entered the pen to grab the young boy and pushed her to the floor when she tried to stop them. She screamed and screamed as they dragged him away, she screamed until her voice gave out and her weak frame wracked itself from exertion as the boys hands were fastened into leather straps and he was mounted onto a wooden contraption displayed in front of them all.

 

The next hour was a blur, as a blonde haired Lannister interrogated the prisoner in front of them the older woman eventually fell quiet, her face a twisted horror of pain and grief. Soon her face was utterly emotionless, the fire in her eyes seemed to fade and a hollow shell of the defiance she had exhibited just moments earlier existed. It was as though she no longer saw or felt anything. The shouts and desperate pleas of the boy with brown hair grew steadily louder and louder, Hot Pie couldn’t watch but Arya and Gendry were transfixed in a mixture of terror and shock. After everything they’d both done to escape King’s Landing, Gendry began to wonder if he wouldn’t receive a kinder death simply by revealing who he was, and it crossed his mind that Arya would be taken as a hostage to be used against her family – she might even survive, she certainly had more chance of doing so than by staying here. It was all he could think of, the only thing that might save her, to be used only in their most dire moment. It was his last hope of keeping his oath to Yoren.

 

A sudden crack followed by silence signalled the end of the torture of the boy. The brief absence of any sound was more awful than the screaming, a feeling of emptiness descended over the pens. After the initial shock passed Gendry conceded the suddenness of the death after so much agony was as much a relief as it was terrifying. When the guards dragged the blood soaked remains from the wooden frame he turned away, trying to hold back his sick. He only dared to look back when the older lady spoke, her face calm and voice flat. Arya, he noted, fixed her eyes on the body of the boy.

 

“He's dead.” The older lady said, her spirit broken. She spoke slowly and without emotion, she hesitated for a moment, as though saying the words out loud somehow made them more true. “He was my son. My sister was three days ago. My husband, the day before that.” Her eyes were glassy and unfocussed and something about the untold misery in her voice made Gendry’s gut wrench. She was so still, too still. She was almost as still as her son.

 

“They take someone every day?” Gendry asked, voice low and hoping he was wrong. She nodded ever so slightly, the only sign she was still alive.

 

“Does anyone live?” Arya asked from his side, unable to hide the distinct flicker of fear and disgust in her voice.

 

The older woman didn’t answer, confirming Gendry’s worst suspicions. He instinctively put his better hand on Arya’s shoulder as though somehow he could shield her from what was to come, they both knew he could not.

 

---

 

In the failing light of the early evening Gendry found himself watching his foot get steadily drenched by the rain, resting it in a puddle. The droplets bouncing off the surface of the muddy water reminded him disconcertingly of the sewage pipes coming down from the Red Keep in Flea Bottom, the smell of death didn’t help with the image. Despite everything the day had seemed to pass faster than usual – what little light reached the pens was dulled further by the heavy storm clouds gathered above them. The rain was a relief; it cooled his arm and let them clean themselves, if only a little bit. Even with the image of King’s Landing sewage in his mind, there was something faintly reassuring about watching the droplets bouncing off the water in the puddle around his feet, it reminded him that outside Harrenhal everything was still normal – it rained here as it would for the rest of Westeros. It would be raining for leagues in each direction, he wondered if it was raining in King’s Landing, or in the North – it would probably be snowing there. No matter what horror took place within the dark black walls that entombed him and Arya and Hot Pie, some things were above the control of Kings and armies, some things belonged to the gods. It gave him hope to remember the rest of the world still out there – from the Wall to the Reach to Essos and whatever lies beyond. Even the mighty castle and attendant lands of Harrenhal were but a single blade of grass in an endless forest in the wide vastness of the world.

 

Arya’s soft voice cut through his thoughts, she was lying next to him, her back to him, curled on her side against the ground. He felt guilty to admit it, stuck as they were, but his eyes instinctively flicked over her form and he felt a slight yearning to be beside her, to hold her in his arms and tell her everything would be alright. He grimaced, knowing it wouldn’t be.

 

“Joffrey. Cersei. Ilyn Payne. The Hound. Joffrey. Cersei. Ilyn Payne. The Hound. Joffrey. Cersei. Ilyn Payne. The Hound.” She said, repeating the names under her breath. It still surprised him to hear her say the King and Queen Regent’s first names, forgetting she had likely dined and broken words with them at Court.

 

He knew why she was saying the names; he’d overheard her conversation with Yoren after all. The gruff voice of the man of Night’s Watch came back to him, “I would say his name every night before I went to bed… a prayer almost.”

 

She was such a small thing, he found himself thinking as his eyes traced up her back, resting on the tumble of shorn messy brown hair at the top. It was hard to picture her dressed like a proper lady in fine silks, curtseying and being waited on. He’d spent his entire life being looked through as though he didn’t exist, the soldiers at Harrenhal weren’t that much different from the ones at King’s Landing when it came to it; he wondered what it must be like for Arya. The fall must have been hard.

 

“Ser Amory Lorch.” Gendry said slightly louder than he expected. Arya rolled over to face him, her grey eyes glinting in the low light. She studied his face, her expression unreadable as she did so. After a few moments she rolled back on her side, looking away from him, he looked down at his hands, feeling sick at how much more swollen the blackened fingers of his right one were. “What did the Hound do?”

 

She didn’t say anything for what felt like the longest time, so long in fact that he thought she’d fallen asleep. When she did answer her voice was quiet but strong. “He killed my friend.”

 

“I’m sorry.” Gendry said, placing his hand on her shoulder, not knowing what else to do. She flinched for a second as he rested his fingers against the rough leather of her jerkin before relaxing against his touch. He rubbed his hand up and down slightly before letting go and leaning back against the post he was chained to.

 

The darkness wrapped around them as they drew deeper into the evening, plunged once more into the infernal darkness of a starless night. Hours passed and as the cold set in Arya pushed herself once more against Gendry, sliding under his arms so that the chains from his cuffs draped around her waist. The guards came and went, shining the torch over the pens from time to time to check nobody was trying to escape. To them Gendry looked like Arya’s older brother, just one boy trying to keep another one safe and warm. As the long black of night once more ailed to the lighter grey of a bleak dawn Arya whispered so quietly Gendry almost missed it.

 

“Gendry?” She asked, and waited for him to grunt an affirmation that he’d heard her (and therefore was awake) before she continued. “What happens if either of us gets picked?”

 

He looked up at the pale morning light above them, wishing that just this once it would get darker again – that they wouldn’t have to go through another day of torment. Sick and weak as he was, even with his arm a disturbing colour and width, he felt a little stronger than he did the day before. “We won’t be,” he told her, praying to the seven new gods and the old gods beyond counting as he did, “Not today.”

 

“But if we are?” She persisted, but he cut her off before she could continue.

 

“If anything happens to me,” he said, preparing himself for her reaction, “then you tell them who you are. I doubt what awaits me at King’s Landing is much different from what awaits me here but you, you’re valuable to them. They’ll take you as a hostage, feed you, protect you – you’re only useful to them if you’re kept alive. Promise me Arya, promise me you’ll hand yourself over when the time comes.”

 

“Gendry…” She began, but he interrupted.

 

“Promise me.” He hissed louder than he expected, “I swore an oath I’d protect you and the gods know I’ve not been good so far so please ‘Arry, I don’t know how long I’ve got – even if that great bastard doesn’t choose me, I can’t get this wound to heal. They’ll keep you safe, safer than here, to use against your brother, when the time comes please... just…” he trailed off.

 

“Ok.” She said in a small voice, it surprised him – he’d expected her to refuse, to say she’d never surrender to the Lannisters, but this was Harrenhal. The most noble of men would sell their children for the faintest hope of freedom from the wretched castle. “Alright, Gendry.” She affirmed.

 

“You have to make it Arya.” Gendry told her, pressing his head into her hair, “For the both of us.”

 

She nodded, and he brought his arms tighter around her, drawing her into an embrace. In what was left of the remaining hours before Harrenhal awoke they found some small measure of solace in the company of each other, the warmth between them just enough to stave off the cold. Gendry had no idea what the day would bring but in that moment, his arms around the only person in the world he cared for and the fever he was fighting beginning to lift, he allowed himself a brief smile. In the midst of all the carnage around them, he had managed to find a brief moment of happiness, though even then he wondered if the day would be his last. It couldn’t be “not today” forever, after all.

Chapter Text

As the sky above them gradually lightened, Gendry drifted in and out of restless sleep. He slipped between dreams of his warm cot in Flea Bottom and the bitter reality of the place he considered his tomb. Faces swam towards him in the dark: Lommy, Yoren, his mother. Gendry wondered what death would feel like, he had been told once it was much like the moments before you fall asleep, but he doubted that. The world was crueller than that. His good arm tightened around Arya instinctively, they were still huddled together for warmth. As he pulled her slightly closer to him she relaxed into the embrace, letting out a small, peaceful sigh as she too wandered between sleep and consciousness. His wounded arm rested limply on her shoulder. If not for his aching stomach and the cold wind stinging his face Gendry wished the night would last forever; that the day would never come and that the nightmare of Harrenhal would remain hidden in darkness. He pushed his head into Arya’s wild hair, more to shield his raw cheeks from the wind than anything else and closed his eyes.

 

“Get up you dogs!” A gruff voice called from nearby, followed by loud banging. Gendry forced his tired eyes open and felt his heart skip a beat as his arms closed on nothing – Arya was gone.

 

His panic was short lived as he saw her already standing just a couple of paces away. He groaned and scrambled to his feet, cursing the extra effort it took to do so with the use of just one arm. Once he was up he offered his good hand to Hot Pie and lifted him to his feet, noting as he did that either Hot Pie had lost weight (not improbable given the meagre rations) or he had regained some small measure of his former strength. Even with the slight rest they’d had in the pens the exertion of pulling Hot Pie forced him to lean against the post he was tied to in order to stay standing, his legs were visibly shaking though whether from cold or fatigue he couldn’t say.

 

“That’s him, the one who picks.” Hot Pie muttered to Arya and Gendry, indicating the arrival once again of the tallest man Gendry had ever seen, rapidly approaching them from across the courtyard the pens were attached to. Against the great vastness of the castle walls he still seemed small, not that that made Gendry any less afraid of him.

 

Arya whispered from behind him, “The Mountain,” and then turned around to face the opposite direction. As ludicrous as the idea seemed given their current circumstances, it dawned on Gendry that they Arya and the Mountain may well have met at Court – he instinctively stepped in front of her to block the Mountain’s view. As the monstrous figure drew closer Gendry instinctively looked to his feet; attempting to make himself seem smaller. He practically jumped when Arya hissed from somewhere by his side, “What are you doing?” Gendry followed her eye line and saw she was talking to Hot Pie, who had puffed out his chest confrontationally and had refused to lower his eyes.

 

“He told me he stares at him every day and that’s why he doesn’t get picked.” Hot Pie said indignantly, his voice trailing off as the Mountain approached. He gestured briefly to a man standing nearby, the only other person in the pens who hadn’t turned the other way.

 

Gendry went to protest but before he could the Mountain that rides was upon them and Gendry had no choice but to make himself scarce – with his arm wound he didn’t want to give the knight any further reason to pick him. Even so, he didn’t know that he could watch Hot Pie be put onto the rack, but what could he do to stop it? His hands were bound by chains and even if they weren’t one of his arms was unusable, he could still hardly stand let alone fight and Ser Gregor was renowned as one of the best swordsmen in Westeros. Gendry knew he would be utterly powerless to intervene – if needs be he could out Arya’s secret, it would spell death for him but protect her but for Hot Pie, there really was nothing he could do. Why won’t he just look at the floor like the rest of us?

 

“You.” The powerful voice rolled across the pens as the harbinger of death made his selection. Gendry lifted his eyes up to see who had been selected, immediately relieved that it wasn’t either himself, Arya or Hot Pie but at the same time fearful of what horror they were going to be forced to witness. Try as he might he couldn’t stop hearing the sickening crack of the man’s limbs from the day afore, the knowledge that sooner or later that fate awaited them all sat uncomfortably in his stomach.

 

Soldiers, including the bastard with Arya’s sword – Polliver – burst into the pen and seized the man that Hot Pie had gestured at just moments earlier; the man who had claimed he would not get chosen. As the Lannister bannermen pushed past them one of them struck Arya, loudly ordering her to get out of the way. She gasped and stepped backwards, clearly not expecting to have been hit and when Gendry turned to check she was alright he saw a look of hatred on her face that would strike fear in the heart of the greatest of men. After only a few moments that look melted into one of serene determination and he panicked as he watched her step towards one of the soldiers. It only took him a second to work out what she was going to do; her eyes were fixed on her sword, Needle, poking from the belt of the bald Lannister soldier that killed Lommy. With both his arms around the man the Mountain had marked for death Gendry realised she would be able to reach the sword before Polliver could do a thing to stop it; clearly the idea that one of the prisoners might take Needle had not occurred to him, but it had to Arya. She reached forward, hands outstretched and practically touched the pommel of the weapon before Gendry intervened and stopped her, shoulder barging Lommy’s killer in the process. Gendry wanted with every part of his being to watch Arya unsheathe her sword and sink it between the plates in the bastard’s armour, to watch the thick blood come springing from the gap, but doing so would mean certain death for them both, Stark or not, and he would not let anything happen to her while he could stop it. He cursed to himself, reminding himself he wasn’t saving the bastard Polliver, but he was saving her.

 

The next moments were a blur. Having rammed the man with his shoulder – knocking Polliver, and therefore her sword, out of her reach – Gendry felt a brief sense of relief, but retribution for his action was swift. Stricken with sudden concern for his safety Polliver wheeled round on him, drawing his longsword and pressing it to Gendry’s chest with enough force that a small trickle of blood dripped from the sword’s tip. As Gendry instinctively stepped back he slipped in the mud and fell roughly to the ground. He raised up his hands in supplication, the weight of the chains biting in on his wounded arm.

 

“Want to be questioned too?” Lommy’s murderer spat out, taunting him, “Afraid you’ll miss out on your turn?” Polliver laughed, revealing stained and crooked teeth. “I wouldn’t worry.”

 

“I’m sorry.” Gendry mumbled, looking away in deference, “I didn’t mean to.”

 

Lommy’s killer struck Gendry’s face hard with the flat side of his sword, the edges still drawing blood across his cheekbone and above his eyebrow. Gendry cursed loudly and fell fully prone – his face half warm from blood, and half cold from the freezing, upturned earth beneath him. Polliver grinned at the effectiveness of his swing, crouching down and gripping Gendry’s collar, lifting him up so their faces were next to eachother. “Didn’t mean to do what?” Lommy’s killer hissed in his ear, before growling quiet enough that nobody else could hear. “You killed one of my friends, bastard, just because you wasn’t chosen today doesn’t mean you won’t be tomorrow.” He let go of Gendry’s jerkin and savagely gripped his wounded arm, yanking it in the air and squeezing the swollen flesh so tightly Gendry almost passed out from the agony. Tears of anguish spilled from him as Polliver the sword-thief gleefully inflicted the punishment.

 

Through his blurred vision Gendry saw Arya rush to strike Polliver but before she could Hot Pie grabbed her and closed his arms around her chest. She struggled and protested against his heavy handed hold on her but, after a few quiet words Gendry couldn’t hear, she relaxed and nodded, her face grim.

 

“Polly...” A teasing voice cut across them, originating from a small blonde man outside the enclosure with eyes that seemed too glimmer too bright. Gendry couldn’t help but crack a slight smile as Polliver flinched under the nickname the blonde haired man had fashioned for him. To Gendry’s surprise Polliver let go of his arm, letting it drop heavily to the ground, and proceeded to drag the man the Mountain marked out of the pen. Whoever the golden haired man was he was clearly higher ranking than Polliver, Gendry wondered if he was a Lannister.

 

He didn’t have time to react before Arya’s arms flew round him, first in a sort of hug and then in an angry sort of push. As the victim was being dragged towards a chair by a clearly dishevelled Polliver, Arya angrily half-whispered into Gendry’s ear, “What in seven hells is wrong with you Gendry? I could have killed him, I could have… for Lommy.”

 

“Aye you could have, and then what?” Gendry snapped back more aggressively than he’d meant to. He’d just gone through all that pain to protect her and she was still too stubborn to see that he’d just save her life and all but given up his. She seemed to understand because she didn’t say anything, standing up petulantly and leaving Hot Pie to help Gendry.

 

“You did right,” Hot Pie said to him as the boy checked the cuts on his cheek and brow, “to stop her – she knows that, she’s just being childish.” At that Gendry turned to Hot Pie, fear now evident in his face.

 

“Her?” Gendry asked him, trying not to betray the sudden concern in his voice.

 

“I know you all think I’m slow but I’m not that slow, yeah her.” Hot Pie said, tilting his head and looking at Gendry disapprovingly, “Don’t act so surprised, I did say it didn’t I? She looks like a girl.” When Gendry didn’t say anything and just watched him warily Hot Pie continued, “I won’t say a thing, I swear.”

 

“How long have you known?” He asked. This whole time Hot Pie had been with them Gendry had continually underestimated him – the boy in front of him was no longer the same bully he’d met in King’s Landing, nor indeed was he the scared boy that had run from the fight at the Holdfast – after all, he had just stared into the eyes of the Mountain. Not to mention it was in no small part thanks to Hot Pie’s efforts on the road to Harrenhal that Gendry had got this far and, for what he shamefully realised was the first time, Gendry wondered exactly how Hot Pie was faring facing the same horrors as Arya and himself. Perhaps I shouldn’t be so surprised, he found himself thinking, he’s made it this far too after all.

 

“Couple of weeks,” Hot Pie answered, wiping his nose on the sleeve of his dirty shirt before gripping the underneaths of Gendry’s armpits and giving him a hoist to his feet, “Besides, she looks at you funny – not the way a boy looks at another boy, well I guess some boys do…” Hot Pie trailed off, his usual awkwardness returning in full force. “But you were right… to stop her, I mean, I wanted her to kill that bastard, for Lommy, but then you know, we’d all be dead. ‘Arry knows you did right too.” It felt surprisingly good to hear Hot Pie agree with him, the gods knew Arya could be stubborn and he appreciated having someone on side.

 

“Thank you.” Gendry said, realising it was the first time he’d had cause to say those words in what felt like a lifetime. Hot Pie grunted an acknowledgement as their eyes turned towards the man being tied up in front of the pens. “What did you say to her, to get her to stop?”

 

“I told her that they weren’t going to kill you, but that they would if she tried to stop them.” Hot Pie said quietly, bracing himself for what they were about to witness, Gendry didn’t comment on the fact that in all the commotion Hot Pie had pissed himself, greater men have done the same to less.

 

“How did you know that?” Gendry asked, watching as the blonde haired man sat opposite the prisoner, getting ready begin the interrogation.

 

“I didn’t.” Hot Pie admitted.

 

“Well you saved all three of us.” Gendry told him, giving him a slight nod and a smile. Hot Pie’s chest swelled with pride and for the briefest of moments a smile crossed his mouth. His happiness was short lived though as the blonde man began his questions.

 

“Is there gold and silver in the village?” The blonde haired man asked while taking a bite from a pear, as disinterestedly as though he were asking about the weather.

 

“I don’t know.” The prisoner replied, rightfully fearful.

 

“Gems?” The blonde haired man asked, an air of familiarity in his questioning.

 

“I didn’t see any.”

 

“Where is the Brotherhood?”

 

“I don’t know.”

 

The blonde haired man looked annoyed by his comments and impatiently nodded to a bearded man nearby dressed in rags and not a soldier. The rugged man grinned slightly, limping over to a rusted cage and picking out a rat before throwing it into a bucket.

 

“Where is the Brotherhood? The blonde haired man repeated, leaning forward.

 

“I don’t know. Please.” The prisoner cried out, panic and fear and desperation in his voice evident as he saw what awaited him.

 

“Where is the Brotherhood?” The interrogator asked once again, louder.

 

“I don’t know!” The prisoner repeated, whimpering as the bearded man ripped his shirt up and pressed the bucket against his bare skin, fixing it to him with leather straps.

 

“Which of the villagers aided them?” The interrogator asked, taking another bite from the pear and watching the scene with a faint air of amusement.

 

“I don’t know.” The prisoner said, his breaths coming out in short gasps.

 

“Who?” The blonde haired man asked and when he got no answer nodded to his bearded colleague before repeating, “Who?”

 

Gendry felt his own heart hammering against his chest.

 

“I never saw.”

 

The bearded man pulled a flaming brand from a nearby brazier and pressed against the bottom of the bucket.

 

“Who?”

 

“I never saw!” The prisoner cried out as the flames licked around the bottom of the bucket and the rat squealed within. “Please. Please, stop. Please – it’s starting to…” He begged and pleaded but the blonde man looked on with indifference.

 

“Who?”

 

“I didn’t see anyone help him. Take it off! Take it off!” The man screamed out in pain and terror.

 

“Who helped him?”

 

“Ganes the butcher – and his son!” The prisoner shouted out in sheer panic.

 

“That’s better. You’ve been very helpful.” The blonde haired man said with a grin, taking another bite out of his pear. His colleague smiled and continued heating the bottom of the bucket, rat clattered inside.

 

“No, stop, please! What are you doing? Please, stop! Please, stop! No! No! I told you everything! No! - No!” The man’s protestations fell on deaf ears as the rat ripped its way through his stomach. Hot Pie turned away and leant against the post they were chained to, evidently trying to stop himself being sick. Arya too turned away, her face contorted in disgust and hatred but Gendry couldn’t bring himself to stop watching. He felt cold rage building up inside, as though nothing more that could be said or done to him could affect him anymore than what had already been done.

 

He watched as they dragged the still shaking corpse to a bench, he watched as the bearded man drew a sword and lined it up with the dead man’s neck, he watched him swing again and again as he hacked off the man’s head before grinning as it finally dropped off. He watched the blonde haired man whisper something into his ear and then them both laughing. He watched as they fixed the head above the pens with a row of others, driving it through a spike. And all the while he gritted his teeth and clenched his fists, his horror had turned to an incredible rage strong enough to overpower the pain in his right hand as he flexed his knuckles. Arya had laid down nearby next to Hot Pie but he couldn’t bring himself to sit and wait for death. As she softly repeated the names on her list he took some pleasure in imagining killing the lot of them himself.

 

“Joffrey, Cersei, Ilyn Payne, The Hound…”

 

Nearby the grieving mother interrupted, calling out to Polliver, “Please, Polliver – some food. Just a crust of bread!”

 

“Polliver, The Mountain.”

 

Gendry half wished he’d let her stab the bastard Polliver to death, he pictured him, her and Hot Pie being struck down in a hail of swords like the great knights of the old stories – pierced by a hundred arrows and still fighting for their lives. He remembered how ferociously he had fought back at the Holdfast, how the steel of the helmet’s cheek guard had crumpled and bent under the power of his fist. He could have died there a knight’s death, a proper death – fighting for something, someone. He sighed, resigning himself, hating just waiting to be tortured for information he didn’t even know – not that it would have mattered even if he did know something. The hours dragged by, the meagre portions of water and food were passed around, less still than the day before, and the constant cawing of crows feasting upon the flesh of the fallen rang loudly in his ears.

 

In the early evening Hot Pie and him exchanged a few words, he told the boy about his oath to Yoren, he said that he would have to protect her if anything happened to himself. He made Hot Pie promise, and as the cold day gave way to the colder night they eventually sat down, unable to keep himself upright from exhaustion and malnutrition. Hot Pie put his pudgy hand on Gendry’s shoulder for support before the large boy went to sleep. Arya said nothing at all, eventually sideling over to him and pressing herself into him for warmth like they had done the nights before. Smoke from the many braziers obscured the stars – even the gods above weren’t welcome here, Gendry thought. He didn’t sleep that night, the pain from flexing his knuckles in his wounded hand kept him awake, he watched as the scabs opened and closed with each slight movement, desperately trying to regain the use his fingers – he would need them. And yet hours of practice did little except to increase his tolerance for the pain, he could just about screw the hand into a fist but came undone attempting to outstretch his fingers so they were flat. Eventually he used his leg as a surface to push against, biting his teeth so hard he was surprised they didn’t break in an effort to straighten his hand fully. By the dawn he had made some measure of progress, but not enough.

 

“Did you get any sleep Gendry?” Arya asked him, wiping her eyes and then watching as he curled and then uncurled his fingers slowly, she focussed on the layers of dried blood around his knuckles. Gendry shook his head and she placed her hand over his, holding it for a moment. “You’ll get there.” She offered him in a surprisingly optimistic tone, but the optimism was short lived as a hush fell across the pens.

 

The Mountain had arrived.

 

“You.” The voice rang out across the pen. Before Gendry looked he already knew he had been chosen, Polliver had all but assured it.

 

He spared one last sideways glance to Arya whose face was white with terror before the soldiers grabbed his arms. Arya’s fists clenched and she went to step forward and fight but Gendry shook his head mouthing it’s okay, before he turned to Hot Pie and gave him a stern look, hoping Hot Pie would protect her better than he had. The boy nodded in understanding and put his hand around Arya’s arm as Gendry was led to the seat the prisoner had been killed in the day before.

 

“Is there gold or silver in the village?” The blonde man asked him as he was fastened to the chair, Gendry’s arm was yanked behind him painfully.

 

“I'm not from the village.” He answered honestly, doubting the truth would save him. He shot a concerned look towards Arya, hoping she’d look away – he didn’t want her to see this.

 

“Where is the Brotherhood?” The blonde man asked, taking a seat across from him and meeting his gaze with those glinting eyes.

 

“I don't know what that is.” Gendry said back, watching in fear as the bearded man picked up a rat and stuffed it into a bucket. He struggled against the fastenings that held his arms behind his back but couldn’t get free, feeling a surge of panic rise up through him as the bucket was strapped to his chest. Through the thin fabric of his jerkin he felt the rat scurrying around. Gendry looked once more towards Arya and mouthed for her to look away, she defiantly shook her head and kept her grey eyes on him.

 

The blonde haired man asked another question but Gendry didn’t hear it, instead focussing everything on Arya – her messy brown hair tumbled over her fair face, neither mud nor the strained boys clothing could hide the developing figure of her four and ten year old self. If he had to die for something, he could die for her – he was buying her at least one more day. He would give his life so she could say “not today” if only just one last time.

 

There are worse sights to die to. He thought, his lips curving into the faintest of smiles. She’ll be alright – they’ll keep her safe as hostage against her family. She’ll be alright. You did your best, kept your oath for as long as you could.

 

Tears welled from Arya’s eyes as they prepared for what was about to happen and yet her expression remained resolute. Gendry’s own heart and mind was surprisingly still – he’d been through so much pain since the Holdfast he’d already crossed every threshold of tolerance he had – how much worse could dying really be than living? As a dark curiosity about the unknown filled him he mouthed a few words to Arya. As they came tumbling out he was surprised at his choice, but then he hadn’t known what to say. He had mouthed the first thing that came to mind as he studied every detail of her face, committing it to memory. “Winter is coming.”

 

He closed his eyes before the bearded man could pick up the flaming brand and prepared himself as best as he could for the ensuing agony. It had only take the prisoner a few seconds to die the day before, with a grim thought Gendry acknowledged that at least it would be over fairly quickly. He waited, and waited, and waited for the telltale warmth of the fire against his skin, the squealing of the rat and the laughing of the bearded man… but nothing happened. The blonde man didn’t even ask questions. He opened his eyes in curiosity as the bucket was taken off his chest, wondering if it was some trick when he heard voices from behind him – the deep, growling voice of the Mountain and another he didn’t recognise, it was quieter but held authority and a certain surety.

 

“We weren't expecting you till tomorrow, Lord Tywin.” The Mountain said from somewhere behind him. Gendry peered across to the pens to see everybody kneeling, except from Arya. Why in the seven hells is she still standing?

 

“Evidently not.” The man who was presumably, therefore, Lord Tywin replied with a chuckle, before adding more seriously, “Why are these prisoners not in their cells?”

 

Every boy in the seven kingdoms knew who Lord Tywin Lannister was, and knew to be afraid of him. He had served the Mad King, sacked King’s Landing, destroyed House Reyne.

 

“The cells are overflowing, my Lord.” The Mountain replied.

 

As Lord Tywin walked within Gendry’s eyeline he was surprised to see the man so utterly dwarfed by the Mountain. Tywin Lannister was not a small man by any means, but his hair was white and thinning slightly and despite his proud stature his age was evident. None of this did anything to undermine the sense of power he exuded.

 

“This lot won't be here long – we don't need no permanent place.” Polliver offered by way of explanation, when Tywin looked at him and said nothing he continued, “After we interrogate 'em, we usually just…” He indicated towards the spiked heads above the pens.

 

Lord Tywin was silent for a moment before he turned to the Mountain and asked, “Are we so well-manned that we can afford to discard able young bodies and skilled laborers?” Polliver stepped backwards sheepishly and even the Mountain appeared almost embarrassed. As Tywin turned around to face the blonde haired man, who immediately bowed his head in deference, and Gendry himself, Gendry got his first good look at the richest if not most powerful man in Westeros. He wore a red sash of cloth draped across his ornately crafted Lannister armour, thick plate steel embroidered with gold adornments; a good mixture of decorative and practical. The Lord spoke to him, “You, do you have a trade?”

 

“Smith, My Lord.” He answered truthfully and Lord Tywin spun around to the Mountain, seemingly satisfied his point had been made.

 

The silence was broken next by Polliver who shouted out across the pens, “What are you looking at?” He had his sword drawn and pointed towards Arya – seven hells why wouldn’t she just act like the rest of them – “Kneel!” Polliver ordered, and for once Gendry found himself agreeing with the murderer – hoping she would do just that, “Kneel or I'll carve your lungs out, boy.” Polliver threatened, leering forward with his sword.

 

“He'll do no such thing.” Lord Tywin cut across them all, talking directly to Arya not Polliver. He then turned on Lommy’s killer and said in a powerful and mocking tone, “This one's a girl, you idiot, dressed as a boy.” He turned back to her. “Why?”

 

“Safer to travel, My Lord.” She answered and Gendry felt a wave of relief roll across him.

 

“Smart.” Lord Tywin declared and for a moment Gendry thought he saw a flicker of pride run across Arya’s face. The Warden of the West then looked directly at Polliver and said dryly, “More than I can say for this lot. Get these prisoners to work!” Just as he turned to walk away he added something that made Gendry’s heart stop beating, “Bring the girl… I need a new cupbearer.”

 

He panickedly fixed his eyes on Arya who looked understandably nervous. Their situation had just dramatically improved but before at least they were all together. To be separated from each other in the vastness of Harrenhal was to be alone. Judging by the sombre looks on Arya and Hot Pie’s faces, they thought the same. As Arya was marched off in the direction of Lord Tywin he felt the chains behind him be let free and the blonde haired man stood him on his feet.

 

“You can’t smith with that arm.” The blonde haired man said in a voice that struck sudden terror into Gendry’s heart - he wondered if he should attempt to make a run for it but to his enormous surprise the blonde haired man looked past him to his bearded companion, “Take him to Qyburn, he’ll get him fixed up – or he’ll send him back here.” The blonde haired man laughed and patted Gendry on the shoulder before turning around and walking away, whistling as he did. The bearded man stepped in front of Gendry and gestured for him to follow.

 

Without any choice Gendry was led by the bearded man towards one of the great shadowy towers that rose up out of the castle like crooked fingers on a hand unable to fully extend. Reluctantly he left Hot Pie in the pens and hoped to the old gods and the new that Arya would be ok as they were separated from one another in the monstrous sprawling castle that was Harrenhal.

Chapter Text

 

Qyburn’s quarters were large but dimly lit: a series of aged drapes hung across the chambers serving both to screen the more seriously wounded from view and to cover the great holes in the stone left by the Targaryen dragonfire centuries earlier. The braziers at the foot of each bed were flameless and a cold chill kept the few lit candles flickering weakly, their light lost to the oppressive darkness of the melted stone walls. Gendry found himself thankful for the shadows though, he dared not think about what horrors they hid. It had been enough to see glimpses of the other peoples that were brought in: their flesh gangrenous and riddled with pox. Despite his aching legs he stood, wary of the dark stains on his assigned cot. All around him he heard low groaning and coughing sounds and as his eyes adjusted in the darkness he made out he shapes of men – not all of them moving.

 

Heart racing he focussed his eyes on the nearest candle, using the light to dull the sensitivity of his eyes and let the ghastly forms of his fellow wounded fade back into the shadows. He couldn’t help noticing the similarity between the dripping wax of the candle and the scorched outer walls and for the briefest of moments he wished history would repeat itself if only to watch the great fortress of Harrenhal ablaze, brought to rubble. The fire fought hard and danced meekly in the gloom, each cold breath of air threatening to extinguish its life. Gendry grimaced, not that anyone could see in the low light of the room, and cupped his good hand around the wick – shielding it. Almost immediately the fire stabilised and brightened against his palm, he could almost feel its warmth.

 

“It’s for the fever.” A voice from behind him said as a man shuffled forwards, his dark robes blending into his surroundings. The man’s eyes were sharp and glinting, his face was narrow and he seemed aged beyond his years.

 

“What is?” Gendry asked, not really understanding.

 

“The cold.” The man said, his eyes piercing into Gendry’s skin in a manner that made the ex-armourer’s apprentice shift uncomfortably under the strength of the gaze. The man stepped closer and looked around the dim environment as though addressing an audience, before adding, “It helps cool the fever.”

 

“Are you the maester… Qyburn?” Gendry asked, the man was a little less than an arm’s distance away from him.

 

“Yes and no.” The man replied, cracking the faintest and most wry smile, “I am Qyburn and for all purposes I do fulfil the role of maester at Harrenhal, though I have not actually been one for many years.”

 

“Why not?” Gendry asked, something about Qyburn unnerved him, the man’s eyes seemed too sharp by half.

 

“Tell me,” Qyburn said in a surprisingly powerful but yet slightly amused tone, “is it customary where you’re from for the patient to ask questions?” Gendry thought he saw another smile play across the man’s lips but in the flickering light it was hard to be sure.

 

“Sorry, my–” Gendry began, realising he didn’t actually know what to call Qyburn – he certainly wasn’t a Lord or a Knight.

 

“It’s alright.” Qyburn interrupted, waving a hand through the air nonchalantly to silence Gendry, “They tell me you’re a smith.” He stated, his demeanour seemed to change in a moment as he stepped forward and began inspecting Gendry’s arm.

 

“Aye.” Gendry replied, reluctantly allowing Qyburn to touch his hurt arm. The man had a surprisingly light touch as he turned his wrist one way, then the other and traced the outlines of Gendry’s knuckles.

 

“Where did you trade?” Qyburn asked as he applied pressure to Gendry’s fingers – testing each one.

 

“King’s Landing – on the Street of Steel.” Gendry replied, gritting his teeth and trying, and failing, not to let the pain be heard in his voice.

 

“You’re a long way from home.” Qyburn said questioningly, his sharp dark eyes flicking up from Gendry’s wrist to meet the boy’s own blue ones, “What brings a boy from the Capitol to Harrenhal?”

 

“War.” Gendry answered, grunting as Qyburn tried to flex his wrist. Gendry had been thinking of what he would say if asked on the way to the chamber and gave his prepared lie. “My master thought there coin to be had repairing soldier’s weapons, he said ‘there’s plenty metal to be made – steel and gold.’”

 

“War is a great and terrible thing. It has extraordinary power to change a man’s lot in life – in war the lowliest beggar can rise to heights unimagined while the most mighty and powerful men may be humbled in a single blow.” The man mused aloud, again almost as though to an unseen audience, “Where is he now, your master?”

 

“I don’t know, King’s Landing I expect.” Gendry answered truthfully.

 

Qyburn paused as he looked at Gendry’s arm closely, his mouth drawn tight and thin. “What’s your name?” The man asked him, his sunken eyes glinting from deep within the shadows of their sockets.

 

Gendry panicked for a moment, it hadn’t actually occurred to him he couldn’t use Gendry until then. He cursed himself for not thinking and answered guardedly, “Lommy… Lommy Greenhands.” As far as anybody save himself, Arya and Hot Pie knew, Gendry was dead – he had no intention of drawing more attention to himself, he hadn’t come this far simply to be taken back to King’s Landing.

 

“Greenhands? Not a family name, not one I’ve heard anyway...” Qyburn questioned him, Gendry didn’t know why but he found something about the man threatening.

 

“A nickname.” Gendry said, hoping that would be enough to satisfy the man in front of him.

 

“Curious nickname for a smith?” Qyburn’s eyes flashed against the pale colour of his skin.

 

Gendry tried to still his racing heart and hastily made up another lie. “I didn’t choose it – it was sort of, given to me. The other apprentices, in the forge, they used to call me it after I was asked to help prep the master’s supper and I got soot all over the kitchen vegetables – the cook shouted at me, ‘come back when you’ve got green hands’ and, I don’t know, I guess it stuck.” He shrugged, hoping that Qyburn would believe it. Truthfully Gendry wasn’t sure the man did but he hoped so. Something about the hunched figure unnerved him, told him that this man was not to be trusted.

 

Qyburn paused, studying Gendry intently. The air in between them was thick and heavy and the silence threatened to go on forever before the man said in a monotonic voice, “There is no obvious corruption to the flesh – it’s swollen, yes, but there seems no sign of infection – keep it clean and it should heal without problem. In the meantime I hope you are as good a smith with your left arm.”

 

“I am.” Gendry told him, relieved at both the news and that Qyburn had appeared to buy his lie.

 

“Were you a highborn I would suggest rest and milk of the poppy, unfortunately I can offer you neither - I can however give you this.” Qyburn said as he knelt down and removed a leather sleeve held together with a series of buckles from a case Gendry hadn’t even noticed the man carried with him. “It should ease some of the pressure.” The man said as he strapped Gendry’s arm into the brace.

 

Gendry winced as he pulled the buckles tight, watching as Qyburn looped the top strap around the palm of his hand so it rested against his thumb before the ex-maester fastened what appeared to be a leather sling over his shoulder. He had to admit, it did feel better – it allowed for him to hold his arm against his stomach when tightened, supporting it, while giving him free movement when relaxed. The stitching was rough and even in the dim light Gendry could tell the construction was rushed and what little of it was metal used low grade slack steel. Nonetheless it held under light strain; and if it meant he could leave the chambers far behind him he would make do – he didn’t know what the forge would be like but he guessed it couldn’t be worse than here.

 

“How do I get to the forges?” Gendry asked him, realising he had no idea where they were and the darkness and endless corridors on the way to Qyburn’s chambers had completely thrown what little sense of direction he had in the labyrinth that was Harrenhal.

 

Qyburn let out a slight chuckle, “It is not an easy thing to learn one’s way around these walls. Ask the guard in the corridor to escort you there.”

 

“Thank you.” Gendry replied, and made his way towards the door, trying not to look at the ghastly forms the darkness of the room only barely hid.

 

“If your arm gets worse, come back and see me.” Qyburn said as Gendry left the room, promising to himself that he would never come back, no matter what happened.

 

Gendry was actually relieved to see the courtyard he had almost been tortured in as it meant an escape from the labyrinth of internal tunnels and darkness. An enemy force would not only have to win the walls of the castle, but be able to navigate inside the vast fortress as well, he thought grimly – though his own circumstances had changed for the better since Tywin Lannister’s arrival, he didn’t care much for his life, only Arya’s. The idea of Arya serving Lord Tywin all day made Gendry feel sick to his stomach. On the one hand, it would keep her away from the Lannister soldiers – most of whom would have fewer qualms than Gendry in seeing what was beneath her tattered clothes – but on the other hand, she would be at the absolute mercy of Lord Tywin every day. Gendry frowned as he remembered the many tales about what lecherous Lords would do to their attendants during his time in Flea Bottom, he hoped they would prove untrue.

 

Even after everything she’d been through, Gendry knew Arya had only a taste of what it was like to be lowborn – she had never had to worry about being forced against her will while she grew up in a castle under guards. Lowborn girls were expected to comply with the highborn in everything, fighting back could get them killed or worse. All the thoughts of what could happen to her, what he would be utterly unable to stop, flooded his mind – he wanted to be sick. He wanted to run and find her and take her away from this awful place but in this castle he had no chance of finding her on his own, and if he didn’t show up to the forges it would likely mean his own life – the losing of which would make him even less capable of protecting her than he currently was.

 

Stopping to ask directions twice more he eventually heard the distant but familiar sounds of metal being struck, the sounds of a forge. With each step he made out more and gradually he could even hear the soft hiss of a hot blade tempered in water. He closed his eyes for a moment, trying to imagine that he was back in King’s Landing, that the bustle around him was the Street of Steel, that he would find his own cot by his own tools – but try as he might, he could not blot out the wailing of prisoners, and the Tickler’s screaming victims. The walls around the castle rose so high he had no idea if he was walking further into it or closer to the way out – his sense of direction routinely reversed but the great mass of turns through half ruined gates and melted halls. Throngs of soldiers came and went, sometimes returning from duty, covered in mud and sour faced, sometimes exchanging patrols. All around the smell of death lingered in the mouth and nose, he flexed his strapped arm and pushed forward towards whatever awaited him.

 

“Gen!” Hot Pie shouted, interrupting Gendry’s thoughts – the smith was relieved Hot Pie had remembered not to shout out his full name.

 

“Hot Pie?” Gendry called out, trying to work out from where his friend’s voice had come from.

 

“Here.” The round boy said, scurrying out from behind a half melted doorway, face covered in sweat and hands white with flour. “You’re alright? And that Qyburn guy… He helped?” Hot Pie asked, relief and concern passed across his face in equal measure as he wiped some of the sweat from his brow – leaving flour stuck to his forehead and hair.

 

“Yeah.” Gendry replied, deciding not to mention Qyburn or the quarters he’d just come from – Hot Pie had seen enough already, he didn’t need more fuel for his nightmares. “You?” Gendry wished he hadn’t asked Hot Pie quite so casually but the boy in front of him gave a slight smile, clearly happy Gendry cared enough to ask at all.

 

“The cooks beats being in chains, there’s food and it’s warm.” Hot Pie offered a slight grin, “It’s not King’s Landing but…” He trailed off, the boy’s mind clearly returning to their experience in the pens.

 

“Have you seen Arya?” Gendry asked, eyes scanning for any sight of her short cropped hair amongst the many holes and exposed arches in what appeared to be another courtyard around them. Had he have been more aware he would have realised that despite the mud the great open space had at one point probably been a hall, the remains of ghostly unlit hearths sloped like candle wax.

 

“She’s alright.” Hot Pie answered, surprising Gendry. He hadn’t actually expected the boy to know anything.

 

“You’ve seen her?” He asked in disbelief.

 

“Yeah, she came down for Lord Tywin’s supper about an hour ago.” Hot Pie answered, cocking his head to the side slightly as he tried to reassure Gendry, “she really was alright.”

 

“And Lord Tywin, he didn’t–” Gendry began hoping Hot Pie would get his meaning without having to give voice to the words that were stuck in his throat. When the rounded boy stared blank faced at him Gendry added, “try anything?”

 

Catching Gendry’s drift Hot Pie’s eyes widened slightly, “Gods no, or I don’t think so – she seemed in good spirits Gen. She asked after you, I didn’t know where you were so I told her to try the forges.”

 

“The forges… Where are they again?” Gendry asked him, knowing that she wouldn’t still be there but also knowing that he had no idea where he was going – he’d just been following the faint sounds of metalwork but it could just as easily have been a training yard as a forge.

 

“That way,” Hot Pie pointed out surprisingly resourcefully. Whatever else the boy was he was smart enough to memorise the layout of at least this part of the castle. Gendry was about to ask him to be a bit more specific when shouts from inside the arch Hot Pie had come from told them that more help was needed in the kitchens. “That’s me. Good luck Gen.” The boy said with a nod and rushed off, disappearing from view as fast as he had appeared and leaving Gendry with only a slightly clearer idea of where he needed to go.

 

The direction of men rushing to and throw the source of the metal noises channelled Gendry towards the forge and, pausing briefly in front of it to marvel at the sheer size of what had no doubt once been a magnificent building he realised he had no idea what he was supposed to do or who he was supposed to see. The great building was largely exposed to the air like the hall he had been standing in previously, where parts of the ceiling remained awnings had been positioned so as to keep the fires sheltered from rain but even so the floors were wet and muddy in the gaps between stones. There were about a dozen smiths running from anvil to anvil desperately hammering out chinks in battered swords and his eyes were drawn towards a man in the centre, carefully inspecting the pommel of a blade with a stance and concentration that immediately reminded Gendry of Tobho.

 

Gendry walked forwards into the forge towards an empty work station and picked up the hilt of a sword that one of the other smiths had clearly attempted to mend. The blade looked to have been snapped in half and at the point where the two pieces had been fused back together, there was significant warping in the metal where the two edges hadn’t been shaped properly before they were rejoined. He lifted the sword up to his eyes following it with his gaze, the blade would need to be reheated and cast or else it would break again – he noted with some curiosity imperfections running up half of the blade where a different type of steel had been used and the blade had been tempered incorrectly. He frowned at the poor quality of the sword, some part of him had missed smithing – it was all he had ever known – but he would be unable to complete anything good here.

 

“Lommy!” A man shouted, shaking Gendry out of his thoughts. The man, the same one who had been inspecting a sword in the centre of the forge, approached him – he was not a tall man, not indeed did he seem particularly cruel, but he had a natural power that came from the strength of a smith. “Qyburn informed us you’d be coming.” The man said, answering Gendry’s question about how he knew who he was before he even asked it. The smith looked him up and down before reaching out and gripping Gendry’s right hand, watching as he flinched in pain, without meeting Gendry’s eyes he turned to a Lannister soldier positioned nearby. “Send Lommy back to the pens, I don’t need a one armed smith.”

 

“Please.” Gendry called out, immediately filled with fear – it hadn’t occurred to him he could be turned away. Instinctively Gendry grabbed the sword he had been looking at a moment earlier, pointing the tip towards the man in front of him. The Lannister soldier reached for his own weapon but the smith, when it became clear Gendry wasn’t going to attack him, bid the soldier step back a pace.

 

“Put that down boy.” The smith said, cocking his head slightly as he studied Gendry. The reason for picking up the sword had been twofold – it demonstrated that he could use his right hand, even with the pain, and also caught his attention.

 

Gendry lowered the sword and walked over to a nearby anvil, picking up a hammer from the anvil in his left hand. Apparently capturing the curiosity of the smith the man followed, signalling for the Lannister soldier to stay back. As Gendry positioned the sword on the anvil he explained, “This sword, this has been repaired?” The smith nodded, looking to one of the other forge workers, presumably the one who had made the repair.

 

With one swift strike from the hammer the blade shattered into three, not two, pieces. Gendry noted that the smith didn’t flinch at the noise while the Lannister soldier had taken a step backwards. All around Gendry the forge fell silent as the other workers turned to him. Gendry straightened himself up and handed the hilt of the sword to the smith, offering by means of further explanation, “This blade was reforged at the wrong temperature – the new steel wasn’t hot enough to mix properly and warped making it thinner above and below the joint, ser.”

 

The smith suppressed a wry smile and stared at Gendry with an intensity that showed he had caught his interest. After a few moments the smith said simply, “Where did you trade?”

 

“King’s Landing. Tobho Mott’s shop.” Gendry replied, he resented giving out information that could link him back to King’s Landing but he knew he needed to persuade this man to give him a chance or he’d be dead either way.

 

“Mott? A damned crook if ever I met one, asked double the price for half the steel…” The smith trailed off, his lips twitched upwards into a slight grin, “But, whatever else he is the man’s talented.” He admitted, as though it pained him to say. Gendry guessed that there was some envy present.

 

“He taught me well.” Gendry said, before adding hastily. “I can smith good enough with my left hand for now, and  Qyburn said it shouldn’t be long before I get the full use of this one back.” He lied.

 

The man paused and gazed at him searchingly before extending his hand out in greeting; Gendry grasped it firmly with his right hand, forcing himself to show no sign of the pain that the shake caused. “I knew Mott, I spent some time in the Capitol. My name’s Lucan – you smith for me now. May I trust from your demonstration you know your way around a forge?” Gendry nodded. “Then get to it – the work you’ll do depends on what needs doing, you’ll repair armour and weapons or forge them anew if that’s what needs forging as well as all manner of other things – locks, buckles, keys, hoofguards, shackles, braziers – if it’s made of metal you’ll make it, clear?”

 

“Yes ser.” Gendry answered.

 

“Call me Lucan boy, I’m not a knight – though many a knight would be nothing if not for me.” Lucan told him, finally breaking into a full smile as he turned and addressed the whole forge, “looks like I finally have someone save old Ben and myself who knows what he’s doing!” before turning back to Gendry, “prove me right boy.”

 

The rest of the day passed in a blur: it ashamed Gendry to admit it but he actually enjoyed smithing for Lucan, the man had almost as good an eye for detail as Tobho and as much enthusiasm. He looked over each item that Gendry smithed and gave a soft grunt of approval, watching with interest as Gendry applied all the techniques he’d learnt in King’s Landing – many of which were not common knowledge. As the day went on Gendry became more accustomed to using his right hand for smaller tasks while doing most of the work with his left, he managed to fix three swords, two spearheads and create seven arrowheads as the light began to fade around him. A new lease of life ran through his veins – the strength that had been sapped by his arm returned to him and darkness had long since fallen when Lucan at last patted Gendry on the shoulder and bid him goodnight, pointing him towards a cot in the back where he could stay. It wasn’t much but Gendry had slept on the floor ever since he’d started upon the Kingsroad with Yoren. He collapsed into it, muscles aching but feeling surprisingly upbeat – holding his right hand in front of him and flexing his fingers – the scabbed cuts across his knuckles did not even bleed as he did so. He had to hope that Arya was granted quarters just as himself and Hot Pie had been, he had to hope that she was alright and, although he lay sick and wracked with worry and guilt, sleep eventually claimed his weary form, though it granted him no rest.

 

Morning light brought much of the same and Gendry lost himself in his work bending metal into shape for a set of new cages intended to house the Lannister hounds. It was simple work really, he hardly noticed he was doing it, taking some joy in being able to apply his skill – he had no idea how much he had missed the heat of the forge fires, the feel of shaking steel when struck and hiss of a tempered blade. Gendry had no illusions about where he was and what was happening around him but he would be lying if he said he did not find at least some distraction in work. With Arya at Lord Tywin’s side almost all of the time he didn’t know what else he was supposed to do. In what little time he was granted off from the work in the day he managed to sharpen a small splinter of steel into a makeshift pin – he had wanted to carve a wolf in so that Arya could wear it in her hair, but also have a small blade on her – but the wolf would draw too much attention so he settled instead for a flower, something that would no doubt annoy her. He grinned as he made it, gently tapping at the metal with a hammer and chisel, it would be enough to know that she could keep herself safe and, with the sun past its midday mark he went to get food from Hot Pie in the kitchens and to give him the sharpened hair pin to hand to Arya if he saw her.

 

As he made his way through the ever more familiar maze of archways and ruined corridors that made up his prison, guiltily ignoring the pleas and cries of the unfortunate prisoners and victims of plague, he found Hot Pie standing outside the servant’s entrance to the kitchens talking to the one person he wanted to see more than anyone in Westeros.

 

Chapter Text

 

Crossing the space between them in a mere handful of strides he broke into a broad grin as she caught sight of him. It was a rare to see the young Stark girl smile but smile she did, immediately rushing towards him, relief and joy spread across her face in equal measure. She threw her weight against him with enough force that he almost tripped backwards and, to Gendry’s great surprise, held him in a tight embrace, her hands around him pressing her face against his bare chest. He returned the hug with a similar enthusiasm, lifting her off her feet for a moment as he wrapped his arms around her and brought her closer to him. He brought his bad hand up to her face and ran his fingers through her hair – noticing as he did that the new parting that one of Lord Tywin’s attendants had no doubt forced her to put in meant her days of masquerading as a boy were long past. There could be no doubt that the fierce Northern girl in front of him was anything but a young woman, his stomach tightened at the thought recurred to him that Harrenhal was no place for a woman – it was no place for anyone really, but definitely not a woman – even one as courageous as Arya.

 

After a few moments Hot Pie awkwardly coughed, indicating they should probably stop holding each other so tightly in public. Reluctantly, Gendry obliged and withdrew feeling a sudden jolt of loss as their skin stopped touching and, as they stepped apart, became oddly self-conscious he wasn’t wearing his shirt. He hadn’t paid his shirtlessness any thought in the forges – the fires were hot and the work was sweaty – but out here he was exposed in front of her. He would swear later he thought he caught her eyes trace up and down his torso, though he wasn’t sure. In a desperate bid to break what was fast becoming a slightly awkward tension between the three of them he remembered the small piece of steel in his pocket, the flower-blade he had made her, and promptly handed it to her.

 

“I made you this,” Gendry said to her, himself a little crestfallen when she looked at the flower disappointedly.

 

“What do I need with a flower pin?” She asked, realising only after she’d spoken that she’d upset him and adding a smile.

 

“I figured you could use it to protect yourself,” Gendry said, before adding slightly sheepishly, “only if you wanted to, of course.” She turned the pin over in her hands, eyeing it carefully as though assessing its ability to be used as a weapon. Her expression changed to one of curiosity before changing again to a slight look of pride. “It obviously won’t cut through armour but it should be good against skin, cotton and maybe thin leather.”

 

She nodded, looking at her hidden blade and pressing it against the tip of her finger, cursing out a loud “Fuck!” as blood dripped from the cut she had just made.

 

“Careful; it’s sharp.” Gendry told her too late and she frowned at him in annoyance and then admiration.

 

“Thank you Gendry.” She shot him a grin before, looking back at the metal in her hand, she furrowed her brow and asked guardedly, “Why a flower?”

 

“Does m’lady not like flowers?” He teased against his better judgement and earned himself a kick from her. She pouted petulantly and crossed her arms as he laughed. After a few moments he said more seriously, “I thought a wolf would be a bit… conspicuous, don’t you?”

 

“Fancy words from a boy from Flea Bottom.” She mocked, stepping a little closer to him and tilting her head so that her hair didn’t fall in her eyes.

 

“You’re one to talk, I don’t know many highborns who use the word ‘fuck’” He leaned towards her, dropping his voice low enough so nobody - even Hot Pie, who stood shifting his feet uncomfortably a dozen paces away at their intimacy – could hear him.

 

“That’s because you don’t know many highborns.” She said playfully, looking up at him with a sense of satisfaction at her jibe.

 

“Thank the gods.” He answered, earning him a half-hearted punch from her and realising just how close to one another they had become, he could feel her soft warm breath against his stubbled jaw.

 

She handed him back the pin, bidding him put it on her. Noticing the fine crafting that had gone into the head – he may only have had steel to work with but he had even carved individual petals – she asked again, “Why a flower?”

 

Gendry sighed, taking the pin from her hands and turning it over in his. She flinched slightly as his calloused fingers brushed against her skin. “Do you know the history of this place? What happened here?” He asked her, looking around at the melted walls.

 

“Dragons.” She answered, grinning as she followed his gaze towards the ruined towers as though picturing the thrill of the attack, with none of the horror.

 

“Aye, they did. But I’m not talking about that.” Gendry said softly, putting his thumb against her cheek and smiling at her, accidently leaving a touch of soot on her skin from where he’d been smithing. She looked up at him inquisitively in a way that would have made her Septa jealous as he explained. “When the Mad King sat the Iron Throne, before King Robert’s rebellion, there was a great tourney here. The Mad King was here and his son, Rhaegar Targaryen, a young Robert Baratheon, your father, and your Aunt – Lyanna Stark.”

 

Arya looked around the ruined walls, clearly wondering what her father must have thought of them when he was there all those years ago. She wondered if he had stood where she stood now. “How do you know about all that?”

 

“Most likely Tobho told me sometime, he used to talk the stories of Westeros while forging – said it helped him concentrate, I doubt he thought I was listening.” Gendry said smiling at her, “But every child in the south knows the story – Rhaegar Targaryen won the jousts of course, but when the time came to crown his Queen of Love and Beauty with blue winter roses he rode straight past his wife and mother of his children Elia Martell and gave the honour to your Aunt, Lyanna – herself betrothed to Robert Baratheon. Rhaegar later kidnapped her and started a war that brought down the Targaryens – your father’s war. I expect you know more about it than I do, but… it all started here.”

 

She looked at him surprised, of course she remembered the many mornings where either the Septa or Maester Luwin would try to teach her the histories, asking her to repeat sections of dusty books and write down endless chronologies of old houses but they always left out the wars and the interesting bits – it wasn’t fit for a girl to learn about battles. She knew that Lyanna had been taken by Rhaegar, that her grandfather and Uncle had been burnt alive in the throne room by the Mad King, but the few times she had worked up the courage to ask her father about the war he simply went quiet and told her it was grown up stuff, that he had been in Harrenhal gave her some measure of encouragement though it didn’t shake the question growing in her mind. “So… the flower?”

 

Gendry wanted to tell her that he had crowned her his Queen of Love and Beauty from this day until his last, he wanted to say that she was the most incredible woman he’d ever met and that he’d fight for her with everything he had, but some he couldn’t. He just… couldn’t. In the end he gave her a faint smile and said simply, “A winter rose… Or at least, I think it is, I’ve never actually seen one – they don’t grow this far South, but I’ve mended enough Highgarden armour…” He trailed off, struggling to find the words, voice sticking in his throat. “Well…”

 

“Yes?” She asked, bidding him to go on, trying to act disinterested as she did so.

 

“Y-You’re… You are… a Stark.” He concluded rather lamely, adding hastily by means of explanation, “A Northern flower for a Northern, gal.” He said, grinning as he put the pin in her hair – Arya probably would have struck him if she knew how ridiculous she looked with a flower on her head.

 

A look of confusion passed across her – she was at once grateful for what he had said but also seemed to have hoped for more. Gendry suspected she probably didn’t know what she wanted, it had been a long time since anyone had done anything nice for her – a long time since she had something to be thankful of. He turned and walked past her to see Hot Pie, bringing him into a hug which the boy happily returned. It was a good feeling to have the three of them reunited, their circumstances drastically improved in such a short space of time. Of course, they were still all prisoners of the Lannisters, and they were still unlikely to make it out of the Castle alive – but for the first time in a long time Gendry felt hope. His work at the forge could get them weapons, Hot Pie’s job in the kitchens could get them food and Arya’s position as cup-bearer could grant them information. If they could just keep their heads down long enough, maybe they could escape. His thoughts were interrupted by the deep voice of a Lannister soldier, muffled slightly by his helmet.

 

“What’s a pretty girl like you doing in a place like this?” The Lannister leered towards Arya, he was stood a little under a stone’s throw away but his words were strong and menacing but his tone was one of idle boredom more than malice. Unlike many amongst the guards he carried himself well with a strong posture and spoke with a surprisingly posh accent. Gendry looked across his armour, noticing how well polished it was and guessed this was an officer.

 

“Serving Lord Tywin, same as you.” Arya shot back, squaring up to face the man.

 

Serving, eh?” The Lannister officer joked, cocking his head intrigued and taking a few steps towards her. He stopped to take a swig from a horn of ale held tight in his hand and as he spoke his voice was playful, as though he were mocking her naivety. “And do you like serving?”

 

“Of course,” Arya said coldly and antagonistically, the officer’s smile clearly lost on her. To Gendry’s enormous surprise and relief the Lannister seemed not to care for her sarcasm.

 

“You look like you’d be good at it.” The man grinned, the gap between them and him getting smaller. As he came almost within an arm’s reach Gendry instinctively stepped in front of Arya. His demeanour barely changed though the amusement is his voice was gone when he said, “Out my way lad.”

 

“She’s my sister.” Gendry pleaded with him, wishing he still had a sword from the armoury to hand. Unarmoured and unarmed as he was he could only appeal to the officer’s sense of decency, a trait in short supply amongst the soldiers of Harrenhal. War makes monsters of men.

 

The Lannister officer’s face was still as he studied Gendry, eyes passing from the smith to his sister. After a few agonising moments the Lannister broke into a broad smile and took a deep swig of his ale afore placing a hand on Gendry’s shoulder and squeezing it tightly. “Best look after that one, there’s not many noble men left round here.” He gave Gendry what seemed like a genuine smile before patting his shoulder one last time and walking on past them without a second glance, pouring out the dregs of his ale into an open brazier and enjoying the crackle and rise of the flames.

 

“Why did you tell him I was your sister?” Arya asked him with an anger in her voice that caught Gendry off guard. She had no idea what he had tried to spare her from.

 

“Gods sake Arya,” Gendry half growled, the frustration in his own voice evident, “You need to be more careful, I’m not always going to be here you know.”

 

“I can handle myself. I don’t need you.” She shot back at him.

 

“How, how are you going to handle yourself?” He said, watching a flash of stubborn, childish defiance play across her face. “That man was twice your size and you’ve got no sword.”

 

“I’ve got your blade.” She said proudly, the irony that she was already relying on the concealed knife he gave her lost on her.

 

“I told you, it won’t pierce armour… and I didn’t give you it so you could be reckless – it’s a last resort Arya.”

 

“Syrio Forel–” Arya began, once again beginning a word for word recitation of something her dancing master had told her with a precision Gendry found tediously dull.

 

“Would probably say something about speed or silence or some other such shit, but he is not here, I am.” Gendry cut across her, the reality of what he had tried to stop happening from her still not set in, “And for as long as I am you could at least act grateful.”

 

“Grateful?” Arya spat, offended both that he had insulted her beloved Syrio and that he had belittled her. “For what?”

 

“Seven Hells Arya! I almost died fighting for you against the Goldcloaks.” Gendry began, surprised at just how angry he was.

 

“The Goldcloaks weren’t there for me, they were there for you!” She argued back, still in public they had to keep their voices quiet but the venom in her words was clear.

 

“Before that, I knew you were a girl and I didn’t say anything to anyone else – since King’s Landing I knew and I kept your secret, kept you away from the other men as best I could then just as now, just as in the pens.” His own words breathed just as much venom, voice low and strong.

 

“I didn’t ask you to do that for me!” She bit back.

 

“You didn’t have to, even before I promised Yoren–” Gendry started but she cut across him.

 

“Everything that’s happened since we left King’s Landing is your fault Gendry, if you weren’t there then the Goldcloaks wouldn’t have come, Yoren and Lommy would still be alive – I’d probably be halfway to Winterfell by now.” Arya’s eyes brimmed with tears as she rebuked him.

 

“You think I wanted any of this?” Gendry asked, hurt and recoiling from her, “You think I would have stayed if I knew what was going to happen? I don’t even know what they want with me.”

 

“I know.” She said quietly, looking away from him and breathing out slowly. “I know…”

 

It was Hot Pie who broke the silence between them, speaking with an authority that seemed odd coming from him, “It doesn’t matter. What might have happened, what we could have done. We’re here now and what happened happened. For now, it’s enough that we’re together – we can’t fight each other, not here – in this place. I swear Yoren would’ve smashed both your heads together if he could see you now.”

 

It made Gendry deeply uncomfortable to be so strongly rebuked by a boy several years his younger, he knew Hot Pie was right. Many of the people around them were watching with curiosity at the hushed arguing, if they were going to survive this place they needed to be unseen. When he next spoke, his voice was level and almost calm, “Have they found you decent quarters?” He asked both of them.

 

They had, Hot Pie was situated near the kitchens in a room with four of the other cooks – two of them he liked. Arya had a small room to herself inside the tower Tywin conducted his war councils from, it made it easier for her to be summoned. That gave him a small measure of comfort, it was better that she was there than down in the main courtyards with the ordinary soldiers. Of course, highborn men could be just as if not more evil than lowborn – the gods knew Gendry had no love of the elites – but still, it was better that she was indoors and away. He had to hope she’d be safer there than he could keep her. By the time they all returned to their various tasks and to sleep the rifts between them were mended. It wasn’t until Gendry was lying in a small cot in the forges that he replayed her words through his mind, wondering if she really blamed him for Yoren’s death, for her separation from her family.

 

Over the next few days they didn’t see much of each other – the Stark forces had engaged a Lannister patrol not far North of Harrenhal which meant the forges had to be worked all day and all night to repair arms and armour. Even so, it was probably Hot Pie who had the most work to do – maintaining the garrison and the prisoners required an enormous amount of food and the kitchens too were busy baking all day and night. The few times Gendry had seen him he looked exhausted, deep bags under his eyes, but then this was his trade as Gendry’s was forging and despite the enormous amount of work the boy seemed oddly content. He was able to smuggle away a few choice bits of food for Gendry and Arya out of the scraps from the noble tables – Gendry had been able to enjoy a crust of cherry pie one evening; he had forgotten what good food tasted like.

 

Arya was the freest of them, although Tywin rose early and kept working late into the night, she wasn’t obliged to attend him as he walked the battlements – which he did every day to make his presence known to the soldiers, a reminder to them of the strength of Lannister power despite the humiliating defeats inflicted by Robb Stark. She sometimes came to watch Gendry smith in her time off and would ask him how he forged the swords, how he knew they were hot enough to shape and when to cool them. He explained as he smithed but suspected that she was mainly just interested in making conversation rather than actually engaged. He appreciated having her there, and as neither of them mentioned Yoren or Lommy it seemed things had gone back to normal between them, or almost normal. The first time it had happened Gendry thought he’d made a mistake, but several times he’d caught Arya staring at him, her eyes tracing his chest and resting on his breeches – she even appeared to blush when she noticed he’d spotted her.

 

Harrenhal was a place of routine, and each day played out almost the same – changed only by what Lucan demanded he smith and what food Hot Pie could bring them. Gendry slightly ashamedly settled into the lifestyle of Harrenhal, it was not all that dissimilar to the life of King’s Landing. This was, until the pox broke out again. Gendry had seen it before, back in Flea Bottom; the fever had claimed his mother. Age had made it no less savage and as it swept through Harren the Black’s legacy, originating from the cramped and squalid cell conditions, it claimed Lannister and prisoner indiscriminately. Rumour spread across that it was the ghost of Harrenhal, that it was the old gods of the North, that Robb Stark himself had started it to break the Lannister morale before an attack. It was only a matter of time before it struck the forges…

 

---

 

In the days before the outbreak Gendry had become accustomed to carrying swords around Harrenhal – if he wasn’t bringing them from the forges to the armoury then he would be moving blunt or broken blades from the piles Lannister soldiers left when returning from raids. He was so used to moving swords that more often not he bore two blades strapped to his belt to make it easier to move them. The redcloaked eyes that had at first held him in suspicion had long since accepted the sight and barely glanced his way when he passed – Gendry had even taken a sword into the kitchens when seeing Hot Pie before. Of course, the blades he carried were seldom sharp and wouldn’t be able to pierce Lannister plate armour – especially since he was so good at making it to defend them, something Arya wouldn’t let him forget – but the weight of some steel at his hip felt good. For the first time since the attack on the Kingsroad it gave him a sense of control over his own fate.

 

By the time the pox struck the forges the death toll had been catastrophic, huge piles of bodies were thrown from the walls and burned, the stench of charred flesh pervaded every nook and cranny of the castle. It had already claimed three of the smiths – the rough blankets that made their beds were burnt, the cots were off limits and the remaining smiths were forced to sleep outside in the courtyard to try and stop the further spread. In the days Gendry wore a rag around his mouth while forging. If it struck the forges hard it hit the kitchens harder, food had to be brought in from outside the castle after the outbreak left seven of the workers dead and almost a dozen more in Qyburn’s quarters – including, to Gendry’s horror, Hot Pie. He didn’t doubt Qyburn’s skill, but his own memories of those quarters still filled his dreams. Gendry hadn’t seen Arya in days, castle staff were kept separate from those outdoors – he had no way of knowing if she was alright, he just had to hope. Each night before he slept he prayed, not to the seven, but to her Gods, to the North that she be spared the fever. He had to purge thoughts of her wasting away the same way his mother had.

 

“Get off of me!” Arya screamed, her high voice piercing the air and Gendry’s light sleep.

 

He bolted upright, hands instinctively closing on the pommel of the dull blade he kept by him and squinted in the darkness to hear from where the noise came. His heart pounded in his chest, each beat sounding over his ears and the wailing, terrified cries of prisoners still stuck in the cells. For the briefest of moments he hoped that he’d been mistaken, that it was someone else, someone that didn’t matter – the admission that he cared only for the lives of Arya and Hot Pie in this place would make him feel guilty for days to come. Somehow he had adjusted to life in the castle and within the great walls of Harrenhal, there was nothing to do for the prisoners that were unfortunate enough not to be tradesman or were too weak to practice their craft.

 

“Let me go!” Arya shrieked again, the sound of her distress stinging as much as the cold night air against his face. He thought briefly how fortunate it was the blacksmith boys had caught pox and, until they were certain there would be no further spread, Gendry was forced to sleep outside – had he been inside his usual cot in the forge, he might not have heard her call. He regrettably noted that such noises were so commonplace here had it not been her voice, he might not have woken up at all or worse still, would have simply gone back to sleep. The thought made him sick.

 

But it was her voice.

 

Resolving to deal with his newfound sense of guilt later he rose to his feet so swiftly he almost stumbled in the darkness, her second shout had given him some idea of the direction she was in, but not quite where she was exactly. Breathing short sharp gasps his feet led the way instinctively and he crossed the courtyard in great strides. As he got closer towards where she had called he heard too the sounds of a man cursing loudly. With each step Gendry felt his anticipation grow, rape was commonplace in Harrenhal and Arya’s clothing did little to conceal her budding femininity. Gendry didn’t doubt the guards would have fewer qualms stripping her of her clothing to see what she hid underneath than he himself would.

 

As he approached a small archway still almost twice his size on the posterior courtyard wall he tried unsuccessfully to push back the thought that kept playing through his head; the idea of Arya alone at the mercy of some redcloak. Impossibly the corridor he entered was colder than the outside quad and yet his veins ran hot, desperate to find Arya, desperate that he not find her hurt. When at last he came across them, led by the sounds of a violent struggle, he saw a brutish, drunk Lannister bannerman attempting to pin a fighting Arya to the wall, Gendry’s heart skipped a beat as he saw her tunic torn in two exposing the white skin of her neck and stomach, her breasts hidden only by the thin bindings she used to tie them to her chest.

 

“Stay still you little cunt.” The man shouted, pushing her against the wall with a force that made Gendry want to throw up. The brute tried to turn her over so that her back faced him, hand fumbling at her belt. She lashed outwards with a kick in protest, catching the man’s ankle and making him stagger, but at near twice her size he swiftly recovered and wrested control back from her. Gendry saw something shiny glinting from the very outside of the man’s neck surrounded in red, she had stuck the man with the Northern Rose pin but judging from his fighting spirit, she had likely just pierced muscle.

 

“No!” She practically screamed as the man pushed her again, she veered wildly like a cornered animal, eyes ablaze and a fear present in her voice that Gendry hadn’t heard before. She spun against her aggressor and grabbed at his face, her fingernails sinking in and drawing forth streams of blood from under the skin.

 

“Fucking bitch!” the man roared – punching her in the stomach, hard. The blow struck with a sickening thud and, winded, the man seized the upper hand from her again, savagely throwing her against the stone wall. As her head struck twisted black stone, dark crimson bubbled up from somewhere beneath her tangled hair and the fight left her in an instant, legs buckling under her own weight. As the man reached to pick up her crumpled form and press her against the wall, Gendry realised that he was running and the cold steel of his blunt blade was borne towards Arya’s aggressor. He did not even remember unsheathing the sword.

 

“Stop!” Gendry shouted with as much confidence as he could muster, his sword heavy in his weaker hand. In the near two weeks since Qyburn’s quarters it had healed significantly from where it was but the constant use of in the forge slowed progress. The sight of the dazed, bruised Arya though helped him fight his own pain, he held the handle tight.

 

The man wheeled round on him, “You come to join us?” He said with a hearty, sickening laugh, pushing Arya as he did. Gendry’s knuckles whitened around his sword and, when it was clear to the man Gendry would not take up his offer, the Lannister’s expression changed, “what’s wrong, are you gay boy?” He sneered through his beard.

 

“I’m her brother.” Gendry said, thinking on his feet and trying to find a way to resolve this without violence. Somehow he doubted that it would work this time. True, he wanted to kill the Lannister bastard in front of him desperately, but to do so would mean his own death and likely Arya’s just for being present – not to mention the man afore him was armed with a sharpened blade and wore full armour, Gendry had a useless weapon and no armour. If Gendry fought him, and lost, Arya wasn’t in a position to run and it would be the worse for her. He gambled in one last bid to prevent escalation, “She is Lord Tywin’s cupbearer.”

 

“That right?” The man replied, his face darkening. “I suppose your sister thinks she’s too good for the likes of us common lot, then! But I found her sneaking round the corridors in the dark – tell me, what’s a pretty girl like her doing running ‘bout in the hour of the wolf?” He asked in a way that would almost have seemed jovial in other circumstances. The threat in his words, nonetheless, was ever present.

 

“Doubtless Lord Tywin sent her on an errand, he will likely be expecting her.” Gendry said coldly as his hand trembled – not from the pain of holding the blade steady, but the pain of holding his blade back.

 

“It doesn’t matter whether she scrapes the shit from Lord Tywin’s chamberpot or not, she belongs to the Lannisters – all the Lannisters, and I’m as much Lannister as the rest of them.” He sneered, squeezing Arya’s bruised shoulder possessively as he did so. She whimpered in protest, but it seemed all she could do just to stay awake – a shudder ran over Gendry as he realised she would need to see Qyburn.

 

“I don’t imagine Lord Tywin will be best pleased to find–” Gendry said through clenched teeth, but he was cut across before he could issue a threat.

 

Lord Tywin, can go fuck himself.” The Lannister laughed, cocking his head maliciously, “I’m sure the dirty old man can find himself another whore to fuck.” Gendry furrowed his brow, he had counted on Arya’s aggressor being afraid of the repercussions of crossing Lord Tywin, but whatever alcohol the man had drunk and the thrill of his crime had clearly loosened his inhibitions. He turned away from Gendry, still gripping Arya’s shoulder, and the man’s lips parted to form a sickening grin as he asked, “Would you like to watch?”

 

Gendry lunged at him in anger, his sword striking the man’s breastplate hard. Had he been holding a sharpened blade Gendry would’ve cut him in two with such a blow but as it was his sword glanced off the armour, staggering both Gendry and the Lannister soldier. Judging by the size of the dent he left behind and the sharp gasp the man gave, Gendry had probably broken at least one of his ribs. The man dropped Arya to the floor and cursed loudly, stepping back in a mixture of surprised panic and pain. Gendry launched a second blow at him, aiming for his opponent’s upper arm at the thin gap between the shoulder and arm guard but the Lannister had drawn his own sword in time to parry the attack, the look of amusement that had played across his face had subsided, subsumed by the concentration of having to make an unexpected defence.

 

Gendry pressed forward again; while his lack of armour made him more vulnerable if hit, it also made him faster. The man he faced was taller than Gendry and though his movements were sluggish and slow, they were not inexperienced, even dulled by wine he was far from incompetent. He was far more skilled than the men Gendry had faced during the Goldcloak attack, every moment the soldier survived turned the odds in his favour: Gendry’s early strike gave him an initial advantage but with each subsequent clash of swords Gendry could feel his own arm protesting, and his opponent recovering. Gendry’s breaths came in short and sharp, as he threw everything he had at what few weak spots were present in the crimson plating. Even as the man retreated backwards after each swing it was soon no longer from weakness or fear, he was testing Gendry, outlasting and exhausting him. He could see Gendry’s growing discomfort, the sweat that poured from the boy as each attack became wilder but weaker. In just a few moments he had given enough ground that Gendry had to step over Arya, still lying prone cradling her stomach and gasping in pain. The blood kept dribbling from her forehead like the source of a mountain spring through rock.

 

Gendry stopped pushing forwards, holding the territory in front of Arya like a wolf guarding a cub – he allowed himself a slight smile, figuring if he lived through the night, she’d appreciate the sentiment. Even as his arm grew gradually more fatigued and his breaths were reduced to ragged grunts it wasn’t long before Gendry landed another strike, this one on the man’s calf but once again, the blade bounced off. The force of the hit resonated up Gendry’s arm, igniting the tender flesh in a fresh wave of agony. He wasn’t prepared for a counterattack. His opponent swung back at him wildly, catching Gendry’s left arm with the tip of his sword and drawing blood. Gendry cursed, presenting his right side to protect the wound and keeping his sword at arm’s length to stop any further attacks. Seemingly relieved at the momentary break in fighting, and this shift in fortune, the man took a few steps backwards himself, allowing the hand that didn’t hold his sword to rest above his broken ribs.

 

“You know, I could have made this worth your while,” The man jibed as he caught his breath, his cool demeanour couldn’t hide his shortness of breath – in all likelihood Gendry had punctured his lung. “I would’ve given you a little silver for her trouble.” He teased, his eyes never leaving Gendry’s sword. “What say you put down that sword and we talk about it, boy?” Even as he said this, they both knew they were far past the point of talking.

 

“Go find something else to stick your cock in.” Gendry shot back, all pretences gone. “She’s not a whore.” There was no way they could go back from this – unless Gendry killed the man in front of him, he would be hung or worse in the morning. He grimaced as it occurred to him even if he killed the man, he would probably be hung or worse regardless.

 

The man laughed, exposing his blackened teeth and taking a few steps sideways to try and inspect the wound he’d inflicted on Gendry, who turned to hide it accordingly. “There’s not a girl in the seven kingdoms tha’s not a whore lad – young, old, highborn, lowborn – it don’t make no difference, it’s just most have the good sense to know what they are.” The man took a sudden step forward to test Gendry’s reactions, clearly impatient and disappointed the wound he’d dealt wasn’t sapping Gendry’s strength like he’d hoped.

 

Gendry held his gaze towards his opponent’s stance, only acutely aware of the stinging pain in his arm and warm blood rolling under his sleeve. Gendry could smell the metal of his blood in the air mixed with the ale on the Lannister’s pungent breath. Facing his own diminishing strength he had to trust his adversary would make a mistake he could somehow exploit, drunk as the man afore him was he showed little signs of it save a slight swaying. The blacksmith frowned, it would not be enough to turn the fight in Gendry’s favour.

 

The soldier lashed out with a surprising speed of such force that Gendry barely managed to block it. He countered, swinging high at the exposed skin above the man’s breastplate but his adversary raised his weapon to protect it just fast enough. They parried for a few moments, one man pressing forward, the other blocking then striking back. Even though Gendry could see the sweat roll down the cheeks of the Lannister soldier, struggling to fight encumbered with his heavy armour, Gendry was forced to give up a little more of the ground he had made. For every second the duel went on, the more Gendry feared other guards would stumble across them and that he would be overwhelmed and Arya would be… His string of thoughts almost cost him the fight as the tip of the soldier’s blade dipped lightly into the skin of his cheek. Striking back hard he earned himself a brief respite, hoping that in the amount of noise in Harrenhal even at night, the sounds of metal striking metal would be attributed to the night shifts at the forges, and the grunts of pain to the prisoners in the cells, striking the bars that held them. On all counts though, time was every much his adversary as the man attacking.

 

Making one last effort to end the fight quickly Gendry struck low, aiming for the Lannister soldier’s ankle, hoping to render him immobile and press for a quick advantage. The more experienced soldier predicted the move, easily pushing away Gendry’s weapon before forcing the ex-armourer’s apprentice backwards. Forgetting Arya was still lying on the floor Gendry tripped over as he was forced back, landing painfully on his arse and dropping his battered sword. He barely had time to scramble backwards from the blade of his enemy, a second being the difference between the soft thud of the blade hitting flesh, and the hard stone it actually struck. Gendry crawled backwards not once letting his eyes away from the soldier and tried to draw him away from Arya who was lying uncomfortably still. The man did not follow him though and paused, letting Gendry catch his breath as the Lannister knelt over Arya, lifting her up by her hair slowly and pressing a kiss against her neck. She winced visibly in pain as the man support her by only her unkempt hair bunch into a fist with his swordhand, and used his other one to pull down the back of her trousers and expose the round cheeks of her arse to the air.

 

Rage and hatred blotted out Gendry’s pain, it substituted his need for rest or air and without thinking he sprung to his feet, picking up his sword, and launched himself at his opponent. Fury gave strength to his strikes, his first diagonal cut down almost caught his enemy unprepared, when their blades met Gendry’s attack was so strong that it dragged his opponent’s sword to the ground. Their steel locked his opponent tried to break wide, sparks shone in the night light as the tips of their weapons dragged across the black stone beneath them. Alarm shone in the soldiers eyes as Gendry, his blade on the inside, broke the stalemate by swinging horizontally and leaving a nasty scratch across his breastplate – had the soldier have been unarmoured the blacksmith’s attack would have left him disembowelled. Fuelled by the same power that saw Gendry pound his own fist into oblivion in the Goldcloak battle he lunged forward with all the strength and force he could muster, the tip of his sword aimed directly into his adversary’s stomach. The man reacted with enough speed to push Gendry’s sword sidewards and into the wall before bringing his own blade back across and into Gendry’s thigh. But even as the steel bit hard into Gendry’s flesh the Lannister couldn’t escape the momentum of the blacksmith’s previous attack, Gendry’s shoulder struck him hard and rammed him backwards, prompting him to trip over his own feet at Gendry’s unexpected recklessness.

 

“Wait!” He shouted out as he dropped to his knees, realising he’d lost his advantage and faced the very real prospect of losing to Gendry. He scrambled backwards from the smith and held his sword in front of him. As Gendry stepped after him his wounded leg gave out underneath him, warm blood rolling past his knee.

 

It made no difference; the man couldn’t get away fast enough to avoid Gendry’s attack. Gendry raised his sword with two hands, ignoring the pain from the cut that had been dealt to his left arm, and brought it crashing down on his opponent. The man managed to raise his own sword to block the blow but he could not stop its force – the power of Gendry’s strike drove the Lannister’s sword into the man’s own shoulder. There was a sickening crack as the metal plate split and the sword plunged into the soft flesh below, black blood immediately rising up from beneath the blade. The man gasped and gave a whimper, his eyes were aghast and face a horror, Gendry raised his sword again and brought it down once more – driving his adversary’s sword further into his flesh until it struck the bone. The strength of the Lannister soldier failed and he crumpled into a heap, rasping out his last pathetic breaths and trying to stem the flow of his life blood.

 

Rage still driving Gendry he dropped his battered sword and threw himself onto the Lannister, striking the man hard in the face with his hand, reopening the closed scabs on his knuckles. The man’s head struck the cold stone and the fight left his eyes, he was limp under Gendry and, after withdrawing the rose pin from the soldier’s neck, Gendry crawled over to Arya to check her head wound – dragging his leg after him. As he pulled himself across the stone floor tiredness and lightheadedness fell upon him in waves, draining the power in his arms. His vision clouded around the edges and acidic bile crept up his throat as he entered shock, by the time he reached Arya he could barely pull himself into a seated position, let alone support her. He cursed at the long, dark trail of blood that followed him from his leg – the Lannister’s sword had cut deep, too deep.

 

“Arya?” Gendry half whispered, turning his attention away from his throbbing leg to her, cradling her head against him and brushing her matted hair, stiff with clotted blood, from her eyes. “It’s alright Arya, you’re safe, you’re alright… Arya?”

 

She murmured, eyes flicking open and for a brief moment her lip curled into a faint smile. It faded almost as soon as it had come when she took in Gendry’s appearance – her pupils widened when she saw how pale he was, and the dark blood dripping from his cheek, over his stubble and down his neck. “Gendry?” She struggled out, her barely focussed grey eyes brimming with concern as she attempted to lift herself up into a sitting position.

 

Relief swept through him that she was still conscious - he told himself that that had to be a good sign. Giving a pained grimace he leant his shoulder against the cold wall for support, hardly able to move from the open wound in his thigh. “I’m here,” he said meekly, closing his eyes for a moment as he tried in vain to fight the fatigue he felt from blood loss.

 

“You’re hurt.” She said, rising to her knees and turning to get a proper look at him. Her eyes focussed more fully and looked him up and down, lingering on his arm and his wounded leg.

 

“He’s worse.” Gendry jibed with a grunt, indicating with his head to the body of the Lannister he had just killed. The young smith leant his head back against the stone, tilting his wind pipe up in an effort to swallow back the sickness he felt. He held out the bloodied pin he’d retrieved from the soldier’s throat and placed it into Arya’s hands, the rose stained red. His hands trembled as she held them.

 

“They’ll kill you.” Arya’s voice was little more than a hoarse croak, terror and shock both tore at her vocal chords – at what almost happened to her, and at the prospect of losing Gendry.

 

“Aye...” Gendry resigned, wincing as he spoke, his breeches were soaked crimson – he suspected that the soldier already had killed him, but that it would take a while. His arms and legs had become heavy and unresponsive, the skin laden like tight clothes that had soaked up too much water. He swallowed and struggled out, “What were you… doing here?” His whole body seemed to shake from the inside.

 

“I was looking for you…” She answered honestly, tears streaming unbridled down her cheeks. “They said the pox had reached the forge, I thought… I had to know…”

 

Gendry tried his best to reassure her, placing his heavy hand on her shoulder and pushing his thumb against her cheek. He knew she’d realised that if she hadn’t come searching for him, he wouldn’t have gotten hurt – that she blamed herself. “It’s not your fault.”

 

“It is.” She answered him, her voice trembling as much as the rest of her.

 

“No… it isn’t.” Gendry said with as much authority as he could find, his hand falling limply away from her cheek and resting in his lap. The only words he could find weren’t his, “What happened, happened Arya…” As she managed to pull herself up shakily onto her feet, holding on to the wall to steady herself, he continued quietly, “You need to go Arya.”

 

“No! Don’t be so bloody stupid!” She spoke with surprising strength, her Northern fire seemingly reignited, “I’m not leaving you here.”

 

She tried to pull him up by but her own balance was still unsteady and her knees buckled under his weight. She ended up toppling forward and landing on him unceremoniously. Rather than try again she simply held herself there, above him, her arms instinctively wrapping around him in an embrace. Gendry tried to lift his unhurt arm up to place it around the small of her back, to pull her against him, but he couldn’t. He could hardly move the arm at all. “You’ve got to, Arya… You have too.”

 

When she at last pulled away tears were streaming down her cheeks, he would’ve given anything to be able to reach forward, cup her face and brush them away but he simply couldn’t. He was too weak. He gave her a small smile, trying to make her feel better – to tell her it was ok, that she’d be ok. She shook her head defiantly and said, “We’ll get you to a maester, it’s not far.”

 

Gendry laughed in spite of himself at her stubbornness, “Don’t you worry ‘bout me,” He mumbled, his breaths shallow and increasingly infrequent, “I’m good, right here.”

 

Fresh tears spilled from her eyes and it took Gendry a moment to realise he was crying too, he was leaving the young girl in front of him, the person he cared about most, almost utterly alone in such an unforgiving place. In all likelihood Hot Pie would never return from Qyburn’s quarters, he would breathe his last alone and far from friends. “Not today…” Arya pleaded, the words spoken like a prayer. “Gendry don’t.”

 

“It couldn’t be tomorrow forever…” Gendry rasped, barely able to keep his eyes open, coldness seeped through every part of him – he wondered if this was what it would feel like to be dead, an endless everlasting cold. In spite of everything the thought game him some comfort and he found himself thinking of the Northern words, Stark words, her words. It wouldn’t be so bad. “Go.” He commanded; his voice so quiet she could barely hear him.

 

“No, you can’t, not you.” She whined, but in her heart she knew she was powerless to stop what was about to happen. She looked on at the boy in front of her: her smith, her friend, hers. She had seen death enough to know what it looked like.

 

“Arya Stark.” He said simply, not knowing what else to say, his lip curled into the faintest of smiles – in his wildest fantasies he had dreamed of dying held by a highborn lady, this was closer than most got. “Go.”

 

At last she nodded slowly, much to Gendry’s relief, finally understanding what had to happen next. Leaning forward she brought her face so close to his he could feel her breath against his lips. She hesitated there for a moment, confusion at the rush of events and the emotion of the past hour, before closing the gap between them and pressing a soft, chaste kiss against his cracked lips, the taste of metal shared among them. Gendry’s face relaxed as the heat of her kiss chased the cold from his body and for a singular moment it felt like everything would be alright. Arya pulled her lips reluctantly away, scared and confused, unsure of herself and of what this meant. As the realities of their world crashed down around them she ran her hair idly through his messy black hair and pressed her forehead against his. “Thank you, Gendry.” She said without really understanding why before drawing away and running down the stone corridor as fast as her feet would take her without her falling over, sparing just one last glance at her smith slumped against the wall next to the man he had given his life to defeat.

 

As she slipped into the main courtyard the warm wet of her tears and his and her blood against her cheeks stung in the bitter night air, and the cold swelled in her breast as much from within as the chilly night air of Harrenhal. Goodbye Gendry.

Chapter Text

Blood ran freely from Arya’s hands and knees as she scrambled up the broken remains of a long disused staircase to one of the many parapets that fortified the inner courtyards of Harrenhal. In other castles the parapet would have been tall enough to be considered as a sentry tower but amongst the great height of the mighty walls of Harrenhal it seemed no greater than a granary hut. By the time Arya reached the top, hands shaking and tears dripping unimpeded down her cheeks, she curled into a ball holding her rapidly scabbing knees and letting out soft, muffled whimpers. She couldn’t feel the burning of the skin on her palms and grazed legs, nor the chill from her tunic still torn in two – now held together only by Gendry’s flower pin. Her fingers idly ran over the forged petals, and her thoughts were every bit as dark as the stone she leant against. She cried for him, for herself, for the home she couldn’t get to and the home he wouldn’t see.

 

By the time the sun had risen enough to pale the sky above, her cheeks were raw and eyes bloodshot, the salted taste of her tears poisoning the taste of Gendry now cold upon her lips. In the weak light she noticed her cut hands for the first time, wondering what Bran would say if he could see her – he had always been by far the better climber, not that she would have told him, and not anymore. She tried to convince herself she was back in Winterfell, that she had found yet another ancient and private walkway in the castle, but even with her eyes shut she couldn’t. She couldn’t remember the sounds of Rickon and Bran playing, of Jon and Robb laughing or even Sansa’s endless recitations of this song or that. She struggled to hear her parents’ voices, a great sadness swelling within her at the idea she never would again. Arya knew she couldn’t go back, too much had happened, but through everything she had never actually been as utterly alone as she felt now – not since fleeing the Red Keep.

 

When the sounds and general din of Harrenhal grew louder, indicating the start of the day’s work, she at last pulled herself to her feet and looked out across the vast enormity that was her prison. Wiping her eyes on her bloodied tunic she slowly descended from the ruined bastion, propping herself up on one of its remaining supporting buttresses and wondering how she managed to climb up to it in the first place. When she unceremoniously hit the ground at the bottom, stumbling on her feet and landing in the churned up mud of the courtyard, it took all her effort to drag herself upright and start walking. Gendry had given his life for her; she wasn’t prepared to repay that by giving up on herself. Flashes of the night before played in her eyes like living dreams, of Gendry standing between her and her assailant swinging wildly as though the very spirit of the old gods breathed through him. And then he was holding her, thick blood bursting out the sinews of his breeches as his end overcame him. She felt herself weaken at the final memory, of her lips against his, the way he said her name in little more than a muted whisper…

 

It wasn’t until she had stepped into Lord Tywin’s makeshift council chamber that she realised how late she was for the day’s work, usually she would arrive before he did to light the fire and fetch breakfast from the kitchens but as she pushed open the heavy oak door she found the council already in session. There were half a dozen men around the table – some Arya recognised: The Mountain, Ser Amory and Tywin’s brother Kevan Lannister and some she did not. Lord Tywin tended to reshuffle his council regularly, dismissing his underlings for failures with ruthless efficacy. Tywin himself stood by the gaping hole in the wall that served as a window, looking out across Harrenhal from their vantage point in the greatest of the five towers. When he turned to look at her his face was inscrutable, though he said nothing. It was Kevan Lannister, a man Arya believed every bit as shrewd as Tywin though ever in his shadow, that spoke first.

 

“By the seven.” The Lord Lannister said as he took in her rough appearance, it was only as she looked around the faces of the room that she realised how messy she was, her tunic bolted together only by Gendry’s pin and her pale skin marked with dirt and clotted blood. Feeling suddenly exposed she tried to cover the clearly visible skin of her stomach.

 

Kevan Lannister rose to his feet immediately, striding across the chamber to pick up one of the many blankets that were kept in the corner for the long, cold evenings Lord Tywin worked. Almost Tywin’s equal in strategy and authority he was both a dangerous and a powerful man and yet, Arya noted, he held himself with a kindly if often over cautious disposition. If there was such a thing as a good Lannister, something Arya doubted, he would be it whereas Tywin himself stood motionless. None of the men in the room were strangers to warfare nor did their knees weaken at the sight of blood; so familiar were some of them with the face of war that some, including Ser Amory and The Mountain, seemed hardly to notice the girl’s presence at all, let alone the state in which she stood afore them.

 

“I am sorry for the intrusion, my lords.” She hastily said in an effort to break the silence. “I–” She began but was cut off by Kevan Lannister who threw one of the blankets over her shoulders to cover up her exposed skin.

 

“Take yourself to my steward, tell him you are to be fed and washed.” He commanded; his voice as strong as it was compassionate. He then turned to one of the Lannister guards posted by the door, “See to it she arrives there safely.”

 

As the soldier placed a hand on her back to lead her out of the council she twisted back to give Tywin one last glance, he remained as still as he had done since she walked in. She mumbled out “Sorry, my Lords.” one last time.

 

“Go.” Tywin said, breaking his silence. It was not said in the manner in which she had heard it so many times before when he dismissed a subordinate, nor did it carry any of the evident care that his brother’s words seemed to. She had no time to consider it further before she was whisked away from the room and up a series of narrow staircases.

 

The next hour passed in a blur – she had never been led so high in the tower before and found herself in a part of Harrenhal not completely obliterated by dragon fire. She had guessed it would be well decorated and well kept, after all she was being led to the chambers of one of the most important men in Westeros, and for a brief moment could imagine the sheer splendour the castle must have held in its prime. Lord Kevan’s steward greeted her with little regard; he was a wiry man with a wispy blonde beard and thinning hair. When the guard explained the orders laid out to them the steward simply called to one of the maids to bring up a bucket of warm water and some cloth before continuing with his tasks which mainly seemed to involve writing copies of letters. Sure enough, it was not long before an elderly woman appeared with a bucket and sat Arya down near the chamber’s hearth. The young Stark girl barely noticed as a copper pot was placed above the fire and gradually heated, or as the elderly maid fretted about trying to pull the knots out from Arya’s cropped brown hair, trying to clean some of the blood and dirt with what began as a white cloth but swiftly appeared a soiled and fetid rag.

 

The maid returned to the copper pot and carefully lifted it from the fire, for a lady her age she had surprising strength though her whole body seemed to shake from the exertion. As the maid busied about pouring the contents of the pot into a shallow bowl Arya caught sight of her reflection in a large vanity across the chamber: she did not recognise the girl that stared back at her. Under the bruising, the blood and the thick layer of grime she could see her own image had grown so thin and pale. The last time she had looked upon herself was back in King’s Landing, back then her hair grew long past her shoulders and her face was full and well rounded, she appeared now a shadow of her former self. It was little wonder Lord Baelish had failed to identify her when he had visited not less than a week before; those once shining eyes had sunken deep into their sockets, her cropped hair was tangled and uneven, the spoilt tunic she wore was that of a common boy. Even as the old maid began gently wiping away the dirt from her face with the cloth dipped in water Arya doubted even her own mother would recognise the gaunt, feral girl that stared back at her.

 

As the cleaned water turned a reddish brown and the many days of dirt lifted from her skin her true complexion was gradually uncovered. The parts of her skin that were not mulberry coloured were white and paled. She knew she’d lost weight since leaving King’s Landing but the extent to which it showed surprised her; the girl on the other side of the glass was a stranger. When the maid had finished with her face she set to work on Arya’s hands, stained crimson with her own, her aggressor’s and Gendry’s blood all mixed into one. The cloth thirstily soaked up the colour until it matched the Lannister drapes hanging around the walls. The maid had to stop several times to switch the water from the bowl and, by the time she had finished with Arya’s exposed skin the liquid had long since cooled. For her own part Arya didn’t care, she barely reacted to the stimuli around her, she didn’t even bother to fight when the old maid unpinned her torn jerkin – or at least, Arya only responded to take the pin back from her, holding it tight in her hands under her knuckles shone white.

 

As the maid peeled Arya’s tattered jerkin from her body, the young Stark did nothing. Back in Winterfell she would have struggled and squirmed if anyone, even her mother, tried to undress her but in the dark chamber of Harrenhal the fight had left her. The maid frowned at the state of the soiled leathers, turning them over in her hands, before disappearing off into some small side passageway leaving Arya in only her breeches with her chest covered only by the thin bindings she used to hide her budding femininity. Walking over towards the vanity Arya undid the knot that held her pert breasts to her; they stung as the bindings dropped to the floor though the room’s air was not cold. Bruises crossed her torso where she’d pulled the cloth tight and without really understanding why she slipped out of her breeches and shift, standing in front of the vanity and judging the scrawny girl that stared back. The maid returned after a few minutes with a blanket and threw it over Arya’s shoulders, covering her up, before taking the rest of her clothes and providing the young Stark with a couple of handfuls of bread and some kind of apple and parsnip soup.

 

Despite her hunger and the fact that this food was better than Arya had eaten in weeks she found herself only nibbling idly at the bread. The soup had long gone cold by the time she finished it. The tears that had flowed so freely hours earlier had dried leaving her eyes sore and skin raw. She sat alone in the tower, wrapped up in the blanket as her own washed clothes hung near the fire to dry. She shook, but she wasn’t cold, she doubted very much she would last a long time without Gendry or Hot Pie – not because she couldn’t, because she didn’t want to. The Starks were scattered to the four corners of Westeros: her father dead, Sansa trapped in King’s Landing, Jon at the ends of the world, Rickon and Bran missing, Winterfell a ruin and Robb and her mother riding to war. For as long as she had Gendry she hadn’t felt as alone as she truly was, without him…

 

Impossibly, fresh tears rose forward.

Chapter Text

It had been four days since Arya had left Gendry slumped against the wall and she had never felt so alone, not even that first night on the Kingsroad. She could still see him when she closed her eyes, his mop of black hair plastered to his forehead, his piercing blue eyes and the lopsided grin he wore. The thought made her stomach turn. After she had been fed and washed by the attendants of Lord Kevin Lannister she was sent back to her own quarters but even with the weight of emotional exhaustion and her injuries she could find no rest. That first evening, cradling her bruised stomach with one hand she took Gendry’s pin and struck the wall to check the concealed weapon’s edge; satisfied when it left a thin white scratch against the black stone. The thick oak door to the room with her cot was heavy, heavier than her certainly, and it took her using her shoulder to open it.

 

She had to know.

 

Ignoring the fierce protestations from her aching and battered limbs she stepped quietly into the stone corridor, careful not to alert anyone to her presence. Slipping cautiously past the Lannister soldiers stationed at the juncture between the staircase up to the highborn quarters and the gateway to one of the quads she welcomed the cool air of the early evening on her face. The sky above was unusually clear, the sunset’s bronze streaks made the tops of the black stone glint as though it were still burning from Aegon’s dragons three hundred years ago. As the sun dropped lower the guards could already be seen lighting additional torches – some parts of the castle were so constantly in shadow the fires were kept lit.

 

Her feet led her where she needed to go, giving her rest to pause as she passed each cluster of heaped bodies. Arya’s eyes scanned the grey faces among them, her breath held as she desperately hoped his wouldn’t be there. It was a child’s hope – even if she didn’t find him he could still be there either buried too deep in the twisted pile of limbs to see or else in some other heap around the castle. Somehow she couldn’t stand the thought he would be left unmourned; his body left as carrion for the crows like Lommy’s or Yoren’s or so many others. She wanted to be there one last time for him, even if he would never know that she had been.

 

The bronze sky had faded to near black when she was forced to abandon her search; she didn’t have enough light to see more than the first few faces amongst each mound of deceased and a mixture of cold, grief and hunger finally wore her past the point at which she could keep looking. Weakly heading back to her quarters she paused when she saw a face she recognised staring back at her from one of the piles, the soldier Gendry had killed. Her heart skipped a beat as she ran to the nearest brazier drawing from it one of the longer sticks to serve as a torch. She cast the light over the dead faces, ignoring the way the twisted shadows it created as she searched out for his blue eyes. She didn’t know how long she was standing there, making her way around the edge of the heap, before a familiar voice spoke out from behind her.

 

“A girl should not be here.” Jaqen warned from the shadows, his crimson armour glinted in the light of her torch. When she kept searching in spite of him he continued, “A girl will not find what she is looking for in there.”

 

“And what is a girl looking for?” Arya snapped back, rounding on him. He had a playful smile across his thin lips that told her he knew exactly what she was looking for.

 

“A girl owes a man two more names.” He said calmly, the terms of their arrangement not forgotten on her.

 

She had saved him and two others – Biter and Rorge – from burning in the Goldcloak attack and denied the many faced god three deaths. He had promised her three deaths to make up the balance to the deity – the first she had used on the Tickler, largely for what the monster had almost done to Gendry. Not that it made a difference in the end.

 

“A girl will give two more names when she is ready.” Arya shot back coldly, dropping her makeshift torch on the ground between them and walking back to her quarters with what strength she could muster.

 

When she made it into the tower from which Lord Tywin ruled she headed straight to her quarters but before she could even get to the corridor that led to her door she passed Lord Kevin Lannister. As the man looked down at her Arya though he seemed tired; likely just leaving a war council with his brother even at this late hour. When his eyes fell on her he seemed to soften slightly, evidently content his staff had done a good job cleaning her up. She suspected she looked as tired as he did. After a moment she thought she saw his lips curve upwards faintly before he kept walking away, turning at the end of the corridor to climb the staircase to his chambers. She too continued to walk intent on throwing herself in her cot and resting her weary frame but cursed when she realised too late that the route she was taking would bring her straight past the room Tywin held his councils in. Her hope that the door would be closed and she could slip past unnoticed was quickly dashed when she heard Lord Tywin’s voice from inside just as she stepped into his view. The door was ajar.

 

“Girl.” His voice was strong and commanding, but without malice.

 

She turned and took a few steps into the war chamber, “My lord.” She said with a small smile that fooled neither of them.

 

Tywin put the papers he was holding onto the table and studied her for a moment, his eyes flicking down briefly to take in her full appearance. His gaze lingered on the side of her face where she knew a bruise must surely have formed but if he was thinking something he never said it. Instead he turned to look in her hair, clearly noticing the flower pin – she guessed it probably glinted in the light. “From an admirer?” He asked, seeming to take a genuine interest.

 

“A friend.” She answered coldly, not wanting to think about Gendry.

 

“This friend,” Tywin said, rising to his feet and walking to the table in the corner to pick up a pitcher of wine and two goblets, “Did he…?”

 

Arya was confused to see him look at her with an expression that could only be described as protective. True, they had had conversations before she doubted other cupbearers and their Lords would have but this was by far the strangest – stranger than when he had talked of his own father and teaching his son – the Kingslayer – to read. Noticing he was waiting for an answer she hastily said, “No my Lord.”

 

Although he seemed to accept her answer, he didn’t seem to believe it. Nonetheless he placed the two goblets on the table in front of him, filling them both with red wine. He picked one up and held it out to her, “Drink.”

 

“I don’t like the taste.” She answered without thinking, before realising what she had said and immediately accepting the goblet, “I’m sorry, my Lord.”

 

Tywin seemed more amused than annoyed and went to sit in his chair by the fire. He brought his own goblet up to his lips and took a drink, she instinctively did the same. The wine burnt her mouth at first but when she swallowed it she did actually feel a bit better – it seemed to warm her up from the inside and took the edge off of the aching she felt. She wondered if this was what Yoren had meant when he said he didn’t drink it for the flavour and took another sip.

 

Tywin turned to look at her, he was silhouetted by the fire and seemed to relax a little, she had noticed before he was always different with his own company to when in front of his men. “Sit.” He commanded, gesturing to a chair opposite him. When she hesitated he said calmly but authoritatively, “It is impolite to refuse a Lord’s request.”

 

She nodded and sat across from him quickly, bringing the wine to her mouth for a third time. It really wasn’t as bad as she thought it would be – once she got over the initial taste she found it made her head feel quite light, in an oddly good way. It did, though, make her more tired. After a few moments she sensed Tywin was waiting for her to speak; not because he did anything to make her think that, but because he said nothing himself. The old man simply stared into the fire. It crossed Arya’s mind that despite the strength with which he held himself and the fact that he had clearly once been a military man, he seemed oddly weak now.

 

“Can you…” she began; he turned his face towards her sharply with a frown tugged across it. She knew she wasn’t supposed to ask questions but couldn’t think of anything else to say, swallowing and continuing, “Would you thank your brother, Lord Kevin, for me?”

 

He held her gaze for a moment before giving a slight nod, she let out a breath she didn’t realise she had held in and relaxed back into the chair. The wine had made her brazen, or more brazen than usual anyway.

 

“Your friend,” Lord Tywin said with an asking expression, “is he one of my captains?”

 

Then she understood. Lord Tywin wasn’t asking about her injuries because he was worried about her, but because if one of his captains had struck her it could be taken as a personal slight against him. Lord Tywin was just making sure none of his men were expressing dissention. Some part of her was oddly disappointed. “No, my Lord.” When Tywin looked like he still didn’t believe her she realised that the skilled work on the pin probably made him think it was too valuable to be owned by anyone other than one of his captains, and since she was by his side most of the day she had close contact with many of them. “He was a smith.” She added, answering Tywin’s question.

 

The Lord Lannister seemed to lean back a bit further, content none of his men were making a statement against him. She didn’t know if it was because she needed to talk to somebody or because of the wine loosening her inhibitions but she continued, “You saved his life.”

 

He arched his brow up in a mixture of surprise and curiosity, asking her in a questioning tone, “and how did I do that?”

 

“The day you rode in, he was about to be tort- questioned.” The faintest flicker of a smile passed over his face though whether it was because he remembered the event or because of her correction she didn’t know. She kept going, “You asked his trade and when he said he was a smith they let him go.”

 

Tywin took a sip from his goblet, “and he made you that?” There was an accusation in his voice, one that suggested he thought the pin a waste of steel and time.

 

“With slack steel my lord, when he couldn’t sleep.” She answered quickly, eager to defend Gendry. It occurred to her only afterwards he didn’t need protecting anymore.

 

Tywin grunted in approval and leant back into his chair. He, like his brother, looked tired. There was a not unpleasant silence between them as Arya looked into the fire, remembering the way the light of the forges lit up Gendry’s chest when he didn’t wear a shirt. The memories of his body glistening from sweat as he focussed on whatever project he was working on made her blood run hot; she hardly noticed when she touched her lips, remembering the kiss she gave him. She had always thought the idea of kissing boys repulsive and stupid – something Sansa and the girls from the songs would do – but something was different about her last moments with Gendry, it felt right. It scared her.

 

The silence was broken only when she yawned, failing to stifle it in a less than ladylike manner with the back of one hand; Tywin looked over at her seemingly surprised she was still there – he too had been looking at the fire. “Go on.” He told her, nodding to the door and clearly suggesting she should get some sleep.

 

She stood up shakily and looked down at her goblet, at some point she had finished the wine. She placed it on the central table carefully and walked towards the exit. Just as she reached the door she heard Tywin speak once more, “Girl.”

 

She turned, yawning again and saying a very sleepy, “My Lord.”

 

He was walking towards her; she hadn’t even heard him get up and cursed the wine. She looked up at him as he stood in front of her and realised too late what he was going to do – he took the pin from her hair and turned it over in his hands. She felt fear shoot through her and all of a sudden as tiredness slipped away from her. If Tywin knew its true purpose as a concealed blade he would undoubtedly take it from her, but as the lord inspected the petals of the flower he showed no signs of thinking it anything other than what it was. Gendry had done a good job of making it look as much like a simple pin as possible.

 

“This is good work.” Tywin said; surprise evident on his voice before he handed it back to Arya. He walked away from her to put his goblet on the table and added, “Your smith has a good future here.”

 

“Had.” Arya corrected before she could stop herself.

 

Tywin turned to face her and asked, “had?”

 

“He’s dead, my Lord.” She told him coldly, the words feeling like poison in her mouth, “He died this morning.”

 

She knew Tywin Lannister was not the type of man who was easily shocked, nor was he a stranger to death or blood – if he felt anything at all at her revelation he certainly didn’t show it. He paused for a moment and looked away, before giving her a very thin smile and saying “Off to bed.”

 

She hadn’t needed telling twice.

 

It had been four days since that night, four days in which she continued to serve Lord Tywin and the others in his council chamber, in which she searched the heaps of bodies as best as she could for any sign of him and in which she sought out news from the kitchen’s about Hot Pie. Although she hadn’t found a body for either of them and part of her wanted to hold onto hope the other part knew that she could’ve missed them, they could’ve been burnt or dragged elsewhere in the castle. The thought made her sick. She missed them, both of them, but most of all she missed Gendry – more and more she missed him in a way that made her stomach hurt, that stole the breath from her lungs.

 

She kept thinking back to everything that had passed between them, that morning on the Kingsroad she had woke up with his arms around her, the way he held her in the Pens between his chest and his chains, the way he grinned every time he saw her and always tried to protect her even when he needed protecting more than she did. She thought about the way he had squeezed her hand to tell her everything was going to be alright, how he had hugged her tightly when he first saw her after they were separated and the horror in his eyes as he thought he’d lost her to the Lannister. Being around him had been doing something to her she couldn’t explain; her heart beat faster when he smiled, her glances lingered too long and he just made her feel more alive… and now he was gone.

 

What did that mean for her?

 


 

 

Though the warm rays of a surprisingly clear sun shone lazily through the holes in the room, all the warmth in Dorne would have done nothing to relieve the coldness that had settled in Gendry’s body. He ached from the constant effort of shivering and lay stricken between exhaustion and sickness; a thick layer of perspiration coated him and, beneath several uncomfortable blankets, he felt the great weight of a singularly bitter and icy grip baring down on him. He could not feel his left leg at all save a dull and distant throb, as though the limb didn’t belong to him. The rest of his body seemed in an equally poor state – if he managed to open his eyes his vision was blurry, unfocussed and useless, his mind felt hazy and oddly quiet and every time he tried to move a wave of agony burnt through him.

 

Gendry couldn’t say how long he’d been in the chamber, he could barely think and had scarce knowledge of the comings and goings around his cot. He had seen Qyburn skulking, he even remembered Qyburn talking to him but the words were lost from his mind. His waking memories had all the clarity of a dream; the harder he tried to remember details the further away they slipped from him. He was sure others too had visited him but their faces disappeared, for a moment he believed he’d seen Hot Pie but dismissed it, after all, Hot Pie was likely long dead by now. The pox did not leave many prisoners, for all Hot Pie’s resilience Gendry doubted he would make it through; and while he hoped that he would, he just couldn’t believe himself to trust for it.

 

It was tough to tell how many days had passed, even though he could make out the outside world through the great cracks in part of the ceiling and furthest wall which, admittedly, was less than two of his arm’s reaches away. The room was cramped and barely longer than the cot he lie in though he was thankful at least he wasn’t back in Qyburn’s other chambers. It was only when an attendant, a young boy not older than Lommy had been, lit a candle and brought up food that Gendry realised it was night again, the rays that had graced his face just moments earlier had faded and fled from sight. The bowl of water the boy provided him tasted of iron and the bread was akin to what they had eaten in Yoren’s company, hard and stale. Gendry stopped eating after only a few moments, the pain it took to lift his arm to his mouth was too much, he tried calling out to the boy for help but his throat was weak and the boy had already slipped into the darkness.

 

The candle had burned low enough that the dripping wax had flown over the edge of its terracotta holder when Gendry was next disturbed. Out the door of his chamber he could make out two silhouettes, lit by a single torch held between them. Even in his near feverous condition he could tell them by their voices, Lucan and Qyburn.

 

“How is he?” Lucan asked, Gendry couldn’t tell

 

Qyburn answered in his surprisingly small, but strong, voice, “I have done all I can, I have stitched and cleaned his wounds, gods permitting the rot is kept away he might even recover fully one day.”

 

“How long?” Lucan questioned, placing a hand on the door frame and observing the prone form lying in the darkness.

 

“That I do not know,” Qyburn said truthfully, “A great many men would have died from his injuries, I must confess I am still quite surprised he hasn’t.” There was an air of playful curiosity in his voice. “His blood is strong.”

 

“He is one of the best smiths this castle has had in years, even if he can’t smith himself the younger lads could learn from him.” Lucan said openly. “It’s been too long since I had a man with a decent eye for steel under my command, I wouldn’t mind keeping him on after you and your companions have moved on. The gods know this castle was less miserable before you all arrived.”

 

Qyburn laughed a hollow laugh and placed his hand on Lucan’s shoulder, “I was lot less miserable before I arrived,” He paused for a moment and looked back at the cot, adding more seriously. “I will have someone tell you if his condition changes.”

 

Lucan nodded and thanked him, turning on his heel and heading away down the corridor. As he left, the light left with him.

 

When Gendry next blearily opened his eyes Qyburn was sitting in front of him inspecting the wound on his leg. Seeing his patient was lucid Qyburn’s expression mellowed somewhere between idle curiosity and amusement as he looked Gendry over. After a few moments his thin lips cracked up faintly and he said, “Do you remember what happened?”

 

Gendry pushed back thoughts of his violent altercation and shook his head, feeling sick the moment he did so – in part because of the movement, but also the fear that even if he left this cell he would simply be killed for murdering the Lannister bannerman. He gritted his teeth and swallowed dryly, waiting for the pain to abide and wishing that if they planned to execute him that they would just get it over with.

 

“There are some members of the guard that don’t believe the man you killed was – how was it put by your smith friend – addled by pox?” Qyburn flashed another smile as Gendry’s stomach writhed uncomfortably at the thought of Arya – both out of fear for her and something else.

 

He remembered the softness of her lips against his, the taste of their sweat and blood and her; it was everything he had wanted, more than he had hoped for, in circumstances he couldn’t have wanted less. In his dreams he used to imagine himself rising up to be a knight; wearing the armour he had made and marrying a good woman in the eyes of the seven; he had both hated and envied the highborns. Looking down at his leg covered as it was by stained bindings, he doubted he could be a knight anymore and he knew he could never take a wife – not now – but in his own way he had come closer to his childhood fantasies than most others ever would. He had fought to protect a highborn lady that he cared for and that cared for him back... Arya Stark, a highborn from one of the oldest houses in Westeros… and she had kissed him. He thanked the gods she wasn’t like the rest of the highborns and prayed she was safe, he wondered if she knew he’d survived and how she’d react when she saw him. His heart hammered in his chest at the thought of scooping her into his arms and placing another kiss against her, or several, but even in his moment of elation he knew that although his whole world had shifted, the rest of Westeros hadn’t: here, in the walls of Harrenhal – they were both lowborn, they could be whatever they wanted to each other, but outside… He groaned, it didn’t bear to think about it.

 

Qyburn was still talking, “Of course without a body to check against I can’t say.” He paused, letting the air linger heavy between them. “Were you not a smith I doubt you’d have been sent to me at all, and I can’t guarantee that if you do survive you won’t just be put to death anyway.” The man looked intently at Gendry’s leg, prodding the swollen flesh with a gangly finger and frowning, “Perhaps the safest course would be to cut it off, it’s a wonder you’ve not succumbed to infection already…”

 

“No.” Gendry growled, his voice low and threatening. The strength in his reaction seemed to catch Qyburn off guard and he eyed his patient with a new appreciation.

 

“Then again,” the man said calmly, “I suppose it is possible it will heal… Your hand appears to have mended itself after all.”

 

“How long ‘til I can get out of here?” Gendry grunted out groggily, he hated being trapped in the dingy room and the longer he was stuck down here the longer Arya was on her own.

 

“You are rather putting the carriage before the horse,” Qyburn quipped, “How long you’re here,” he said, emphasising the word in a way that made Gendry uncomfortable, “depends entirely on whether you can hold off an infection.”

 

Gendry looked up at the vaulted ceiling and gritted his teeth, now he was awake it wouldn’t do to die tucked away and unknown already in a stone coffin. He had to make it, he had to survive. After all, he loved her.

Chapter Text

Arya didn’t know how long it had been since she had last seen Winterfell but however she expected it to be, whatever memories of her childhood home she had harboured from before; nothing prepared her for the blasted ruin that stood dark and silhouetted against the snowy countryside. Even from a distance she could see signs of fire damage blackening the walls that she and Bran had once climbed as children. More chilling still was the deafening silence – in her youth the city had been a hive of activity and noise but now, staring at the lifeless wreckage of her former home, she heard nothing – not the whinnying of horses or bustling of traders and craftsmen or the sparring in the courtyard. The walls were unpatrolled, fires left unlit in empty towers; Winterfell was held only by a heavy stillness.

 

If she closed her eyes she could almost hear Ser Rodrick scolding Jon and Robb or her mother fretting about something the Septa had said. Arya could almost capture the shadow of her past but it slipped away like smoke in the wind. The oppressive noiselessness was enough to remind her she was different; older, stronger, freer and yet more alone than she had ever been. Exhaustion and the savage wind tore into her and the air was colder by far than anything she’d felt before. In the grim darkness of the storm-laden clouds the snow and ash were blended seemlessly. This was no longer her home. The very air she breathed stung in her lungs, threatening to rip her apart from the inside. It was a cold like she had never known; harsher, more primal and older. Above it all she couldn’t shake the feeling she was being watched; she may not have been as alone as she thought.

 

Her feet sunk in the fresh fallen snow as she pushed against the battered great wooden gates to what remained of her home. The door was heavy and the rusted fastenings from which it hinged resisted her attempts at first, only yielding after some difficulty on Arya’s part. The innermost court outside the Keep was as empty as it had seemed from the outside but that unbearable heaviness in the air was worse here; it was as though the old gods she wasn’t sure she believed in were watching her from every shadow. Her heart hammered in her chest and in her fatigued state she dropped to her knees ready to scream into the snow if only it would break the soundlessness of the world around her until she heard the sharp striking sound of metal on metal. She rose to her feet immediately, hand instinctively reaching for Needle as she stepped towards the source of the noise. Her fingers closed on nothing, her sword was not there.

 

Ahead a small warm light glowed against the raw darkness that sieged the landscape, Syrio’s old words about fear echoed through her mind from a distant past as she got closer – she could hardly remember his voice at all. It was only when she pushed through the burnt out debris of the forge that she saw him, staring into meek embers in the fire pit and standing faced away from her. A different her had seen the life fade from his eyes and yet even at a distance she knew it was unmistakably him and somehow he was there. It was impossible.

 

“You’re here.” She spoke, the sound of her voice loud in the utter stillness around them. When he didn’t acknowledge her presence she took a step towards him, willing him desperately to turn and face her. Arya feared after all this time she wouldn’t recognise his face, it had been so long. “How are you here?”

 

At long last he turned to look at her and his aged face broke into a broad smile, “Look at you.” He said softly, warm affection rolling off him in waves as he appraised her with a sad grin. Stubble grew across his jaw in a way it hadn’t done when they had first met and her stomach twisted uncomfortably as she tried to remember the last time she had seen him look happy or if she ever had at all. The smile, even sad as it was, suited him – made him look alive.

 

“This isn’t real.” She said and he flinched at the coldness in her words. The space between them felt vast even in the charred husk of a small room.

 

“Yeah, and how’d you figure that?” He shoots back, seemingly offended and turning towards the fire pit to stoke it absentmindedly.

 

“You’re dead.” Arya states matter of factly, gritting her teeth to try and divorce the emotion from her voice. Her body screamed at her to run but she held her feet firm.

 

“I missed you too.” His obvious attempt at humour hangs heavy in what’s left of the forge and as he draws away from her she feels like she’s lost him all over again.

 

“Why are you here?” She asks, stepping closer to him as he throws a frosted log into the fire pit. A shower of burning ash rises and for a brief moment the ghostly hue of the room rescinds.

 

“The fire’s almost out.” He curses as the log he added stifles the small flames he had managed to get going.

 

Gendry.” She mouths, the word painful to say aloud even as she stares directly at him.

 

He pauses and rests his hand against a frosted anvil; thin white scars line the surface of his knuckles. When he spoke his voice was cracked and rough, “You told me I had a home here… do you want me to go Arya?”

 

Tears ran hot against her cheeks; it had been so long since she had cried. Crying was something silly little girls did and yet her eyes burned anyway. “No…” She choked out, “I want you to come back.”

 

He turned to look at her, a deep sadness weighing heavy on his features and his blue eyes lacking their usual vividness. “The fire’s out Arya.”

 

It was twenty one days since she dreamed of him, it was twenty one days since she dreamed at all.

Chapter Text

The courtyard air of Harrenhal still reeked of smoke and death yet to Gendry it smelled almost sweet when compared to the dingy room Qyburn had kept him in for weeks. He closed his eyes as the first breath of a cold breeze brushed past his face and through his matted hair – the freezing nights that had been so unbearable in the pits seemed preferable to sweating feverish and bedbound deep underground. Even the black stone that had made the walls look so daunting before held little in the way of fear now that he could see the sky and not some vaulted ceiling, however overcast it was. Some part of him knew he was in no less danger than before but even so he took a brief moment to enjoy his newfound freedom – he felt less like a prisoner than he ever had.

 

Walking was still slow and painful and to get up the tower stairs Gendry had gripped the wooden pommel of his stick so hard he was sure it would splinter. Even as he crossed the courtyard his knuckles shone white and sweat gathered on his brow, limping and grunting his way towards the forge. With every day he had gotten stronger and walked further; he reached out tentatively with his wounded left leg then caught it up quickly with his right so as to barely test Qyburn’s stitching with his weight, he used the stick for both balance and support. Lucan had already pointed out that it’d be some time before he could comfortably smith again but when Gendry offered to advise and teach some of the lesser skilled workers while he recovered more fully, Qyburn agreed to release him – and if he got to enjoy the relative daylight that Harrenhal afforded, all the better.

 

But Gendry hadn’t spent weeks writhing in pain as Qyburn cut, drained and treated his wound so that he could smith again or simply for the chance to breathe clearer air; no, he had done it for her. Everything he endured, suffered and overcame was for her and as he wandered through the various ruined courts and corridors his eyes scanned the face of every guard and prisoner, praying to the old gods and the new that Arya was still alive and well; the same prayer he had prayed every day since he woke up. He had never really believed but more than once while fighting infection in his cot he offered his life in return for hers to whatever gods were out there. As yet no god seemed to have taken up the trade, something he’d be thankful of only if she was ok. Dragging himself forwards he kept on searching as he shuffled towards the forges – trembling a little at the effort of holding himself upright.

 

He had almost made it there when he saw her, sitting on a small stretch of wall a stone’s throw away from where he had worked as a smith. She was looking away, chewing absently on a small crust of bread and swinging her legs slightly the way a child would for fun. But she was not a child, and the dark circles lining her eyes were a clear sign that she was anything but happy – he’d never seen her looking so worn. He went to call out to her but her name stuck in his throat; he felt almost afraid she’d disappear, that he was seeing things. He thought he’d seen her several times in Qyburn’s cell and yet as he watched and waited for her to slip away from his sight, to be proved just another delusion or wake up and find himself back in that room, she pushed herself off the wall and caught sight of him.

 

She froze, the remains of the bread slipping from her fingers and landing in the mud below her feet. Confusion and hope mixed with some kind of grim despair as all manner of emotions flashed across her face until she began walking his way. She approached tentatively at first but with every step she seemed surer and surer until she threw herself into him with such speed that he immediately dropped his cane, falling back against the wall with a not inconsiderable force – not that he cared in the slightest. He grunted in pain but didn’t hesitate in flinging both arms firmly around her back, pulling her into a hug tight enough for her feet to leave the floor for a moment. She was real, she was in his arms and she was real.

 

“Arya,” He breathed into her ear, pressing the side of his cheek into her messy brown hair and rocking her slightly as he held her close to him. His grin threatened split his face as he burst out, “Thank the gods you’re alive.”

 

“You’re… I thought you were dead.” She muttered against his shoulder, her voice shaking. He could feel damp tears on his neck.

 

“I’m here. I’m so sorry.” He whispered, pressing a kiss to her forehead and lifting one of his hands to cradle the back of her head, his fingers weaving through her hair. “I missed you… I missed you so much Arya…” He said, his own voice trembling and not only from pain.

 

“I missed you too.” She repeated back firmly, her grip on him tightening as though she thought he might disappear at any moment. “I… I didn’t think I’d see you again.”

 

“Myself neither.” Gendry said lightly as she pressed herself into him, seeming to hum a contented sigh.

 

He backed away slightly and reached down to cup her face and to properly look at her; she had glistening, bloodshot eyes, her cheeks were hollowed and sunken, jaw sharpened but even so she had never looked more beautiful to him. From this day, until my last day, he thought idly, I am hers if she’ll have me. He wondered how it had taken him so long to figure out that he was hopelessly devoted to her; that he always would be, for as long as the seven gods or whatever other gods were out there allowed him to be so. He smiled as his eyes drifted to her lips, remembering their soft feel against his own and wondering what they would taste of without the metallic tang of blood and the cold touch of his nigh fatal wound draining all sensation.

 

“Arya…” He said quietly, searching her expression for some sign that she felt what he was feeling, that their stolen kiss wasn’t just a gesture of goodbye.

 

She stared at him intently, opening her mouth to say something afore stopping; her grey eyes seeming still to be reading him in disbelief. Her hands that bunched the cloth of his blacksmith’s apron loosened their hold as a light smile played across her face and she relaxed against him. Tilting her head she dropped her gaze down to his mouth and when her tongue unconsciously slipped out to wet her lips he was not only sure she remembered, but sure that she felt the way he felt. Stroking his thumb across her cheek and shifting his weight fully onto his strong leg he leant forward to catch her in a firm kiss.

 

Arya’s lips parted in surprise and for a brief moment he felt the warmth of her mouth on his, it was intoxicating. Almost as soon as it had happened though it was over; she wrinkled her nose and drew away seemingly horrified. His heart plummeted when he saw what looked to be disgust writ clear across her face and he cursed the stupidity that made him think kissing her was a good idea – he was a bastard and she was a highborn and no amount of wishful thinking would ever change that. It didn’t matter that she was different to any other highborn he’d ever met there was a line they couldn’t cross, even if they both wanted to. He set his jaw and prepared for whatever rant was coming his way but she said nothing, just eyed him with something akin to fear and curiosity.

 

“Arya…” Gendry began after a few seconds of uncomfortable silence, ready to apologise in earnest.

 

“What… What was that?” She asked in a tone that suggested she wasn’t angry at him, but little else besides that. Her expression was clouded, unreadable.

 

“I… I kissed you.” Gendry stated, unsure of how to act and suddenly nervous. He was prepared for her to yell at him, push him, storm off or a combination of all three but not for her to just stand there calmly and seemingly impassively.

 

“Oh.” She said quietly and took a small step backwards. If Gendry didn’t know better he’d have said she was almost shy, but Gendry did know better: this was Arya Stark - he’d seen her taunting murderers and fighting soldiers, shyness was something he wasn’t sure she was capable of.

 

“I’m sorry.” He said, inwardly cursing the fact that he’d probably ruined the only friendship he had left in Westeros; with Hot Pie only the gods knew where and Yoren dead he’d just fucked up his main reason for fighting to survive in the first place.

 

“I’m not…” She mumbled in a distinctly un-Arya-like fashion, catching him off guard. It occurred to him briefly that the kiss he’d just given her may have been her first – or at least her first one without the threat of death hanging over her. He pushed the thought away though, jealous at the idea she might have kissed someone else.

 

She continued eying him strangely, when it became clear she wasn’t going to say anything else Gendry frowned, confused, gripping the wall for support next to him and asked, “Then why’d you stop?”

 

She looked at her feet and, to Gendry’s surprise, actually blushed – or at least he thought she did, her face was sooty and shadowed so it was hard to tell – “You erm…” She took a deep breath, lifted her head back up to meet his gaze and, with squared shoulders and the confidence he had come to expect from her, said firmly. “Your breath is really bad.”

 

Gendry stopped stunned for a moment as he took in what she’d said. In Harrenhal – the castle that smelled of pox and death and human refuse – she broke the kiss away because his breath was somehow worse than all that. Another grin crept across his face as he burst into laughter, made all the more mirthful by the scowl she threw at him.

 

“It’s not funny.” Arya stated slightly childishly but didn’t put up a fight when he pulled her back into a hug.

 

“Is my breath too bad for milady high?” He teased, laughing as she gave him a half-hearted punch but feeling her start smiling into his shoulder.

 

They stayed like that for a short while, leaning against each other under some forgotten archway in Harrenhal before Arya’s smile faded and she said quietly. “I looked for you… after… I searched for your face in the piles…”

 

“You shouldn’t have,” Gendry warned her softly, the idea of her scanning the carcasses for him twisting his gut uncomfortably, “It isn’t safe near them, the pox is serious Arya – I’ve seen what it does, here and before… my mother...” He trailed off, not allowing himself to reopen the past.

 

“It wasn’t right,” she protested after a few moments, her tone wistful and distant and breaking a silence between them, “You deserved so much more than being left in one of those heaps, than this place... You were better than that…” She pushed her forehead against his neck and rocked slowly in his embrace before continuing, “There are crypts under Winterfell; I used to go there to hide from the Septa, they’re where my family are buried – where you should’ve gone… so I couldn’t not search for you.”

 

Gendry sighed and leant into her further, “As long as I’m able I’ll be there for you Arya… but I am a bastard, I couldn’t be buried there… and I’m not your family.”

 

She flinched, evidently hurt, “I told you Winterfell is your home too.” She said stubbornly, “You are my friend Gendry, you’re family and I’m yours and I couldn’t let you rot here.” Fresh tears threatened to slip down her cheeks as she moved her hands across his chest.

 

“Arya I’ve never seen Winterfell, maybe if we’re lucky enough to get out of this shithole and get north it’ll be my home someday…” Gendry began but she spoke over him.

 

 “You belong with me in Winterfell Gendry… if you still want to.” There was a worried question in her voice.

 

He held her and asked simply, “Milady… how could I not?”

 

She let out a relieved sigh and smiled at him, her fingers reached up to trace the thick stubble on his jaw. She closed the distance between their faces until he felt her breath against his chin. Unsurely, afraid, she reached upwards and pressed a light soft kiss on his mouth, withdrawing quickly and skin colouring. He smiled down at her to let her know it was ok, they were ok and that he was happy. “Gendry…” She said after a few moments, “I don’t want you dying for me.”

 

“I promised–” Gendry began to protest but she cut across him.

 

“I don’t care,” She stated coldly, “I can’t have you die for me, I won’t.”

 

“Arya…”

 

“No.” Her voice was lined with the ferocity he had come to admire and love in her and yet still he hadn’t been called bull-headed for no reason, he too had an iron will.

 

“I almost lost you.” Gendry blurted out, “That night, in the corridor with the guard. I almost lost you… I made a decision and you’re alive, somehow thank the gods we’re both alive. I wouldn’t change what I did.”

 

“I didn’t need you to protect me!” She spat at him, anger flashing in behind her eyes.

 

“You’re an idiot if you believe that.” He countered, knowing that he’d provoked her further but unable to stop himself saying it.

 

She thumped him hard on the chest and almost shouted, “I’m not going to lose you too!”

 

Gendry stopped and looked at her, how tired and thin and terrified she appeared to be. “Hey,” he said in his most reassuring tone, noticing they’d drawn the attention of a few prisoners nearby, “I’m still here… You’re not going to lose me if I have anything to say about it... and I’ll not lose you.” He cupped her face with his hands, “Don’t ask me not to look out for you, I promised Yoren that I would.”

 

She paused and seemed to slump as the fight left her, left them both, “Just promise me you’ll be careful.”

 

He gave a thin smile and replied honestly, “I promise.”

 

She lingered in his hands for a moment longer before gradually drawing away and explaining, “I have to get back to Tywin… I’ll see you later?” She said, the question implicit as though she still didn’t believe he was alive and in front of her.

 

“Later.” Gendry confirmed, running a hand through her hair and swatting her on the arm before grimacing as he reached for his stick. “Stay safe.” He added as she began walking away, smiling when she nodded and set off with a spring in her step.

 

As Gendry slowly approached the forge, hearing Lucan yelling inside even from across the courtyard, he breathed a deep sigh of relief and thought for perhaps the first time in his life that if there were gods above – maybe they weren’t all bad.

Chapter Text

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."

 

"Your brother?"

 

"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.