Arya felt like death when she woke up. It was dark in her room, but for the flickering of the hearth fire. Squinting, she tried to sit up slowly and she whimpered when the attempt sent a shooting pain through her wounded shoulder.
"Arya?" a low voice, rough with sleep, asked her and Arya felt a small smile pull at the corners of her mouth.
"Gendry?" she asked, blinking as she turned her head far enough to see that there was someone stretched out on the bed beside her.
"You're awake," he grinned, looking half-asleep himself.
"How long was I out?" Arya asked, trying to work out how long she'd slept. Her body felt stiff and sore, like she'd been in the same position for a long time. The ache of her wound began to grow the more conscious she became, and she would very much have liked another dose of milk of the poppy to numb it.
"Two days," Gendry admitted. "You woke up briefly, yesterday, writhing and moaning in pain and trying to claw at your wound, so the Maester gave you another dose of milk of the poppy."
"Have you been here the whole time?" she asked, frowning at him and shuffling about on the bed until she could lay facing him.
"Yes," Gendry said quietly. "Our mothers have been screaming about it, too."
"The scandal this must be," Arya chuckled softly.
"The whole castle is talking about it and everyone who came for the tourney has been flapping their gums. Steffon was in here earlier, claiming news has already reached King's Landing and Storm's End that I've gone and gotten myself tangled up with the wild and wayward daughter of the Warden of the North."
"So much for keeping this between us," Arya muttered.
"Did you imagine I wanted to keep it a secret that you're mine?" Gendry raised his eyebrows. "Now that you're awake and not in danger of dying, I'm inclined to climb the tallest tower and shout from the rooftops that the people of Winterfell better get used to me as your husband."
"I agreed to court you," Arya sniffed at him. "I don't recall actually saying I'd go so far as to tie the knot."
"Stark, you'll marry me if I have to cart you to the heart tree and restrain you, forcing you to say your vows," Gendry scolded, and Arya grinned at him.
"That desperate for me, are you?"
"Yes," Gendry admitted boldly, holding her gaze. "So, forget any ideas about going back on your word or running away, wolf-girl. You're mine from here on out."
"Bossy, aren't you?" Arya teased.
"I'm a prince, I'm supposed to be bossy."
"Who'd you have to pull rank on to be allowed into bed with me, out of wedlock?" Arya wanted to know.
"Everyone. Mother's furious. She had plans to wed me to a Tyrell, it seems," Gendry rolled his eyes. "She disapproves the wayward wolf-girl who greeted her king covered in blood."
"She'll get over it," Arya sighed, glancing around the room and finding that they were alone. "Where's everyone else?"
"I've been asleep, too. Must've dozed off. Steffon was here before I fell asleep. Sansa, too. Uncle Tyrion came by, offering his congratulations on our courtship. He seemed pleased. Robb's been by your bed almost the entire time since the tourney, worried out of his mind that he's killed you. I had to punch him when he kept prodding you and touching you to make sure you were still breathing."
"You punched my brother?" Arya laughed.
"He was putting his hands on my woman," Gendry replied, and Arya rolled her eyes.
"Possessive, are you?" she asked.
"No," he smirked. "I'm not worried you'll run off with another man. I doubt I'd ever have to worry about that with you. You might just run off on your own, but I'd hunt you down and drag you back."
"You think I'd be so easily controlled?" Arya challenged.
"I think you're slight enough that I could throw you over my shoulder and spank you all the way back to the castle, if I had to," Gendry smirked.
"You wouldn't dare."
"Oh, I would," Gendry promised sinisterly. "You're mine, Stark."
"I'm certain I didn't agree to this."
"Well, the whole castle thinks you did, else they wouldn't let me sleep in your bed, unchaperoned," Gendry retorted. "Your mother seems relived that I'm intent on wedding you, but she's furious that I let you enter the tilt and doubts my usefulness as a husband to keep you from embarrassing her further."
"Oh, well that's nice of her," Arya sniffed. "I'm so pleased to know she's concerned for my safety."
"How are you feeling?" Gendry asked quietly, reaching for her bandaged shoulder.
"Sore," Arya admitted. "It aches, and it's itchy."
"The maester said it would be," Gendry nodded. "He left more milk of the poppy for you, but I'm not supposed to let you have it until he checks to make sure you're not too affected by it."
"I can hold out on it a bit longer," Arya shrugged. "How have things been? Was my father furious?"
"He punched the wall," Gendry nodded. "He wasn't happy, and he's not thrilled that I let you do this, though he recognises there wasn't much I could do to stop you that wouldn't have seen you refusing to ever speak to me again."
"Yeah, well, I wouldn't have done, had you ratted me out."
"I know," Gendry sighed. "You promised you wouldn't get hurt."
"I lied," Arya shrugged, gasping at the pain when the movement sent bolts of agony shooting down her arm and into her chest.
"You're not supposed to move too much," Gendry told her, wincing as tears leaked from the corner of her eyes with the pain of it. "Do you feel dizzy? Hungry? Thirsty? Need the privy? I can give you more poppy-milk after I make sure you're not going to starve."
"I could use some wine," Arya admitted, rolling carefully back onto her back before sitting up slowly, intent on seeing to her needs.
"I'll get it," Gendry said. "Not too much movement. Let me do it."
"You can't go to the privy for me," Arya pointed out.
"There's a chamber pot around here somewhere."
"I'm not taking a piss with you in the room, your highness."
"Prince or not, everyone shits, Arya," Gendry rolled his eyes.
"That'd be a nice way to remember me," Arya said.
"Remember you?" Gendry said sharply. "Woman, you're not allowed to die on me until you're a crotchety old crone after I've fucked an army of children into your belly. You better still be alive when I go, and you better believe that in the next hundred years or so, I'm probably going to see you do worse than squatting over a chamber pot."
"Are you always this romantic?" Arya rolled her eyes, getting gingerly to her feet and tottering a few steps, her head swimming thanks to the medicine she'd ingested.
"I thought you said romance was for fools," Gendry teased, rounding the bed and shadowing her to make sure she wasn't going to fall. "In fact, I seem to recall having to remind you about giving me a token of you favour for the tilt."
"Favours and tokens and all that rubbish is silly," she replied. "But it's a sight better than discussion of chamber pots."
"Just do you business, Stark," Gendry said, helping her down the hall in the direction of the privy.
"Not with you standing there," she shook her head.
"Fine. I'll fetch the maester. If you leave that privy before I come back to help you, I'm going to redden your arse, wolf-girl."
"You just want to get me naked," Arya teased.
"Too right, I do," Gendry grinned wickedly, leaning down and stealing a kiss from her lips.
Arya sighed, reaching for him with her uninjured arm and tangling her fingers into his black hair. He kissed her back hungrily, his tongue sweeping into her mouth, though she didn't doubt that she tasted as awful as he did, neither of them having bothered with oral hygiene over the past two days while she'd been unconscious. Not that Gendry seemed to mind when he sucked on her tongue and nibbled her lower lip before pulling back and resting his forehead against hers.
"Gods, I didn't think I'd ever get to do that again," he whispered, his eyes closed. "I thought you were done for when you fell from your horse."
"You think a little fall is enough to stop me?" she asked.
"The splintered joust impaling your tiny frame certainly made me think you might be on your way to the Seven Hells, Arya," Gendry said, looping one strong arm around her waist and pulling her close to his body, embracing her snugly. It twinged her shoulder a bit, but Arya didn't complain.
"Yeah, well," she sighed. "You're not getting rid of me that easy, Baratheon. You're the only lad in the Seven Kingdoms stupid enough to want to marry me. I'm not about to let you off the hook, now."
"Good," he grunted, stealing another kiss before pulling back. "Now, do your business and I'll get the maester. You're eating something before you pass out again, too."
"Bossy," Arya accused.
"Get used to it, Stark."
"Or you'll what?" Arya challenged, laughing as he began backing down the hall to fetch Maester Luwin.
"Or I'll redden your arse until you squeal."
"As though you could make me squeal?" she taunted.
Gendry smirked at her. "Don't push me, Arya," he warned. "I'll gladly call your bluff."
"Idiot," she accused, laughing.
"Bitch," he retorted, still grinning.
Arya shook her head and waved him away with her uninjured arm, before hurrying into the privy and closing the door behind her. She didn't want to admit it, but she might just be falling for the idiot prince. Charming bastard that he was.
She almost wished he didn't have to fetch Maester Luwin. She wanted the milk of the poppy because her shoulder throbbed and burned like she'd been doused in dragon-fire, but she didn't fancy having Mother, Father, or her siblings fussing over her. She especially didn't want the queen lecturing her and trying to warn her away from marrying Gendry – which she surely would do. She would've preferred to just spend the afternoon curled up against Gendry, pain free and safe in his embrace.
Arya wondered when she'd turned into a soft-headed fool, nattering on about romance and cuddling, and claiming to want no one's company but that of the boy she'd gone and developed feelings for. This was probably Gendry's fault. Charming bastard. Next, he'd have her wearing pretty dresses and simpering with the other ladies of the court, giggling over who was shagging who, and whether Sansa would make a good Queen and what the deal was with Queen Cersei and Ser Jaime.
Shaking her head to herself, Arya finished her business and left the privy, muttering to herself the whole way back to her chambers about stubborn princes who stuck their noses into her life and upset all her apple carts. She was supposed to be wild and free, and refusing to marry, yet Gendry had her thinking about what it might be like to have his babies one day and this surely wouldn't do. But Seven Hells, he was handsome, and sweet, and he made her laugh, and he didn't at all object to how wild she was.
Grumbling as she entered her chambers, Arya made a beeline for the table in the corner where some bread, and wine, and fruit awaited consumption. It was no hearty stew or tasty venison steak, but it would take the gnawing ache of hunger from her belly, and the wine might dull the throb of her shoulder a little, if she was lucky. Nibbling the bread before realising how hungry she truly was, Arya sat in the chair under the window and peered around the room.
Mother had obviously been by, making a wreath to the Seven to watch over her. Arya spied a branch of the heat-tree resting on the windowsill, too, evidence that Father had been by and worrying the old Gods about her plight. She imagined he was out there now, sitting in the snow and sharpening Ice, muttering to the Old Gods about his reckless wolf-daughter who'd begun falling for a southern prince. Nymeria padded in through the open door as she sipped the wine and Arya smiled at the wolf.
"And where have you been while I've been suffering?" Arya asked of the direwolf.
Nymeria yipped at her, trotting over and wagging her tail, obviously pleased to see her awake.
"Terrorising the servants again, Nym?" she asked, stroking the soft fur of her companion with her good arm and smiling when Nymeria licked her cheek, sniffing at her as though to ascertain her wellbeing.
"Arya?" Gendry's voice came from the hall and Arya chuckled, listening to the sound of his stomping down the corridor, searching for her.
When he appeared in the doorway and found her sitting by the window, snacking, he narrowed his bright blue eyes on her.
"What did I say about moving without my help?" he demanded even as Maester Luwin appeared over his shoulder.
"I think you promised to redden my arse," she teased.
"You think I won't?" Gendry challenged.
"Not in her condition, you won't," Luwin said. "Hello, Arya."
"Maester," she dipped her head in greeting, wincing when the movement pulled at the muscles in her shoulder.
"In pain?" Luwin asked, frowning at her when Nymeria laid her head in Arya'a lap while she went back to crunching on chunks of bread she'd been dipping in wine.
"Yes," Arya admitted truthfully, knowing better than to bother lying to the Maester. "It's itchy and it throbs down my arm and into my chest."
"Can you move it, at all?" he asked.
"I shrugged, and it hurt like Seven hells," Arya offered.
Luwin crossed the room, jostling Nymeria aside so that he might examine her properly. Arya watched with some amusement as her direwolf companion huffed and moved over to lay her head in Gendry's lap instead when he sat in the other chair, watching her worriedly. He stroked the wolf's head absently, scratching behind her ears and making Nymeria groan in delight.
"I'll need to examine the wound to make sure it hasn't festered," Luwin said, obviously intending to have her disrobe.
Arya nodded, setting down her food and pulling at the ties on the shirt she'd been dressed in.
"Arya, what do you think you're doing?" Mother asked from the doorway just as Arya was peeling open the front of the shirt to reveal her bare, if bandaged, chest.
"What's it look like, Mother?" Arya rolled her eyes, not entirely thrilled to see the woman. She was in too much pain to tolerate a lecture from Lady Catelyn about reckless behaviour.
"Prince Gendry is currently in the room," Catelyn scolded. "You can't disrobe in front of the prince."
Arya glanced over at Gendry, who was eyeing the bloodied bandages around her chest with obvious concern.
"Why not?" Arya asked, letting Maester Luwin begin to unwind the bandage, unconcerned that Gendry might see her tits.
"He's the prince!" Catelyn scolded. "And secret betrothal agreement or not, you cannot disrobe before a man, not your husband."
"Hear that, Gendry?" Arya smirked at him.
"I'll be your husband as soon as you're in good enough health for me to drag to the heart tree, Stark," Gendry said.
"You just want to see my tits."
"Who wouldn't?" Gendry grinned at her.
"Scoundrel," Arya accused before wincing as the Maester had to peel the bandage loose where it'd gotten stuck to her skin. "Ouch!"
"Sorry," Luwin apologised. "There's some oozing, and the bruising is terrible. You're more purple and black than you are unblemished."
Arya glanced down at herself, realising he was right. No wonder she was so sore.
"Will it take long to heal?" she asked, frowning.
"Yes," Luwin nodded. "You won't be able to use the arm or move without pain for a few moons, I expect. And you will have to work on keeping it active, despite the pain, otherwise the muscle and sinew with heal in the wrong places and restrict your movement."
"Oh, goody," Arya rolled her eyes.
"This is what you get for foolishly entering a dangerous joust," Luwin scolded gently, though he smiled when she made a face at him.
"Arya, cover up," her mother nagged, and Arya sighed, using part of her shirt to hide her nipples from view while the maester bathed her wound with some concoction.
"You hungry?" Gendry asked when she went back to stuffing bread into her mouth to keep from crying out.
"I'll ask the cook to fix you something," he offered. "What do you feel like?"
"Stew?" she suggested. "Or roast meat and vegetables. I'm starving."
Gendry grinned. "I'll be back. Don't bite anyone while I'm gone, Stark."
"Again, with the bossiness?" Arya chided, though she smiled, just a bit.
"Don't pretend you don't enjoy it," Gendry teased, nodding to her before he left the room, intent on keeping her well-fed.
Arya shook her head, wincing again when Luwin prodded and poked about the wound on her shoulder for a few more minutes before he bandaged it with fresh cloth.
"You'll need to keep the limb active," he said. "Nothing too strenuous, but moving it slowly back and forth by rolling your shoulder and lifting your arm is important or the tendons will heal incorrectly."
"Hurts when I move it," Arya admitted, ignoring the way her mother was fussing with the bed, directing servants to change the sheets and straighten it up.
"It's not looking infected, which is good. It should heal well enough as long as you keep it moving. You can have some more milk of the poppy after your meal. Knowing how active you are, the best medicine will be knocking you out so that you can't injure it or rip your stitches by trying things you're not ready for until it's healed," Luwin told her.
"Thank you, Maester Luwin," Arya said politely, dreading having the man leave when it was clear her mother planned to lecture her.
He bid her farewell, knowing better than to irk Lady Stark by lingering just to keep her from being scolded.
"What did you think you were doing, entering the joust?" Catelyn asked when Luwin was gone after waving the servants out of the room and closing the bedchamber door.
"Having a bit of fun," Arya sighed. "Mother, must you lecture me? I'm in enough pain that I'm likely to snarl at you, more than I usually would, and I'm too tired to fight."
"You could've been killed," Catelyn said sternly.
"But I wasn't," Arya shrugged, wincing when the movements made her shoulder throb again. "So, it's fine. I'm sore, and I'll be infirmed for months, so you won't have to worry about me embarrassing you by going hunting or riding or anything else until after the King and Queen go home."
"If they ever go home," Lady Catelyn said darkly. "They're not entirely thrilled by the idea of leaving two of the crown princes here at Winterfell."
"Two?" Arya frowned. "Is Steffon planning to stay, too?"
"You don't doubt Prince Gendry plans to stay, then?" Catelyn frowned at her.
"Not if I'm staying, which I obviously am," Arya admitted.
"You just decided to organise your own betrothal, then? Without consulting your father or me? Without seeking permission from the King or Queen? What did you plan to do? Sneak off and swear you Vows in the Godswood and just notify the rest of us, later?"
"I'm not getting married for ages, Mother," Arya rolled her eyes. "All I did was agree to courting Gendry. I thought, with how you bleat on and on about needing to be married and doing the proper thing as a highborn lady, that you'd be pleased?"
"I'd have been more pleased if you'd gone about all this in the proper manner. The whole city is talking about how you must surely already be with child, out of wedlock, after sneaking off with the Prince."
"Well, they wouldn't be if you hadn't made such a big deal about forcing Moon-Tea on me just because Gendry and I rode the same horse before the joust," Arya told her. "And everyone else can bugger off and mind their own business."
"You've surrendered your maidenhead, then?" Catleyn asked, frowning fiercely.
"No, actually. I haven't. But if I had, it would've been by my choice, rather than after some big festival to bind my life to his and with everyone making a fuss about a bedding ceremony and tearing me out of my clothes. I'm not asking you to be happy for me, Mother, since I doubt you can actually be happy at all, where I'm concerned, but by the Gods, I thought you'd at least approve that Gendry and I are agreeable to a match. It's what you wanted. You've been bleating on for moons about making me a match and seeing me married, no matter my objections. And then here comes Gendry – a prince and a good man – and all you want to do is nag me about not letting him see my tits, and to force me to drink Moon-Tea I don't need. How can I win, with you?"
Lady Catelyn pinched her lips into a scowl and looked away, frowning and obviously biting her tongue on the urge to scold Arya like she was still just a cheeky child, back-talking when she wasn't supposed to.
"I just want you to understand that no matter your objections, you are a highborn Lady, Arya. The small folk take their cues from you and me and Sansa. It is not the proper way of doing things to just decide on your own betrothal and it certainly isn't appropriate that a young woman be tilting in the joust. Prince or no, Gendry should've prevented you from entering, rather than assisting you to do so. If he had, you would not have been hurt."
"And if he hadn't let me, I might not have agreed to courting him," Arya argued. "If you think I want a man whose only interest in me revolves around getting his cock inside my cunt and making sure I sit pretty and simper whenever he's not fucking me, then you know me even less than I had imagined, Mother."
Lady Catelyn scowled at her crassness and her foul language but refrained from scolding her for it as she tried to remain calm and discuss things rationally, rather than letting the talk devolve into another fight.
"Regardless of that, and regardless of the fact that your father and I might very well have approved of a match between you and Prince Gendry, the proper thing to do would've been seeking our permission and allowing us to make the arrangements for you, Arya. You cannot just wildly agree to marrying the Prince without permission."
"King Robert approves," Arya said stubbornly.
"Queen Cersei doesn't," Catelyn told her. "She is furious with Gendry and with you for thinking you have the right to marry one another without her permission."
"Queen Cersei is a pompous bitch who doesn't understand her own children. It seems to be a common trait among highborn ladies," Arya sneered.
"Don't talk about the Queen that way, Arya," Catelyn scolded.
"Look, Mother, I'm likely to marry Gendry with or without your permission. Either be happy for me and begin making the arrangements to see it happen, or go away and leave me be until I'm in better health and can more effectively tell you to shove your prissy highborn rules up your arse."
"Arya!" Catelyn gasped, horrified by her rudeness.
"Oh, leave me alone, Mother!" Arya moaned. "I want to eat and sleep until my shoulder stopes throbbing, and I'd prefer to do it with Gendry present, and no one else."
"I can't just allow you to be alone with him in your private chambers, Arya," Catelyn put her hands on he hips, narrowing her eyes in frustration.
"We were alone when I woke up," Arya frowned at her.
"Yes, well, you shouldn't have been," Catelyn huffed.
"What does Father have to say about all this?" Arya demanded, rapidly losing her temper.
"He's just relieved that you weren't killed and that you might actually end up married, one day," Lady Stark huffed, never thrilled with her husband's habit of overlooking Arya's wilfulness and wildness when she needed back-up to try and control her daughter.
"Reacting reasonably, then" Arya sneered. "Can't you just be happy that I'm alive, and that I've gone a gotten myself injured enough to prevent me from embarrassing you for a time? Can't you just be happy that despite my constant insistence that I would run away beyond the wall before ever considering marriage, I'm actually agreeable to marrying Gendry? Is it so hard for you to look at the positive parts of this mess?"
Lady Catelyn opened her mouth, looking like she might scream at her daughter, but before she could utter and sound, she suddenly closed her mouth again. She took three slow, deep breaths and Arya watched her with narrowed eyes, just knowing she was probably plotting something that would annoy her all the more.
"It's not that I am not happy for you, Arya." Catelyn said eventually. "I never thought I'd see a day where I'd hear you defending the choice to be married. But I beg you – I beg you – to use the brain inside your head before making some of your decisions. Your actions reflect upon this family, and upon the smallfolk. You are the example some of the girls in this Kingdom look to, Arya. Can't you see that?"
Arya raised her eyebrows at her mother before taking a deep breath of her own.
"I have always been aware of that, Mother," she said quietly. "Just as I have always known that most of them look to you, and to Sansa, for how they should act, I know there are other girls in the North, and in the world, who are like me. The ugly sister. The girl who can't sew. The girl who is more interested in hunting and fighting than in needlework and gossip. Can't you see that? Can't you see that there are women in this world who want more out of life than a husband and children? Some of us want war and the glory that comes with it. Some of us want freedom and independence and the right to choose our own husbands and engage in activities that are predominantly ruled by men because they're fun. There are girls in this kingdom like me, mother. Girls who aren't pretty enough to lure a handsome knight to their side without having to spread their legs for the privilege. Girls who have to do unladylike things just to survive. We can't all be prim and proper princesses with pretty dress and perfect manners."
Catelyn frowned at her, looking like she would very much like to disagree with her. Arya wondered if she meant to refute the claim that she wasn't pretty, but before her mother could speak, her father appeared in the doorway, his boots heavy as he strode into the room.
"Ned," she said quietly in greeting when he put his hand on her shoulder and gave it a light squeeze, silencing her.
"Give us a minute, eh?" Ned asked, his eyes fixed on Arya.
Arya knew the look. He was going to lecture her. Sighing and slumping backward in her chair, she wondered how far away Gendry was with her meal. She was going to need her strength and a full stomach if she was going to get through a lecture from her father when he shoulder was aching so badly.
Catelyn looked like she didn't want to be dismissed, but they all knew that if she stayed, it would just turn into another screaming match between her and Arya. They never could help it, it seemed, and Arya looked away as her mother nodded before she turned on her heels and left the room.
When she was gone, Ned Stark slowly closed the door and Arya braced for the disappointment and potential fury she expected she was about to face.