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Winter Heat

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Arya Stark of Winterfell knew it was her duty to be there to greet the King and his host upon his arrival. The problem was that she didn't care. Mother had come to her chambers last night to tell her that the King would arrive in the morning, and had laid out a gown for Arya to wear to greet the King, Queen, and the four Princes and the Princess.

And because Mother had done so, Arya was up with the dawn and climbing out the window of her chambers. She might now be a maid of five-and-ten but that age had not changed her ways. Dressed in a grey pair of old breeches Bran had outgrown and an oversized white shirt she had stolen from Father, Arya Stark headed straight for the stables of Winterfell. She had the bow Jon had made for her hooked over her body and her quiver of arrows strapped to her back over her heavy black cloak. Nymeria was at her heels, the dire wolf more than accustomed to following Arya out the window and making the leap from the roof to the ground. When she'd been a pup, Arya had carried her down, but Nymeria was as fearless as her mistress and soon learned to copy Arya, first jumping into Arya waiting arms, and as she'd gotten bigger, jumping straight to the ground.

In spite of the impending arrival of the King, Winterfell had yet to stir and it was a bleak looking day. She noticed when she glanced at the grey clouds attempting the hide the dawn's sunlight that it would probably rain later. Arya didn't care. Winter was in her blood and Arya did not mind the cooler days, especially when the heat of Summer had been so warm of late. The change would be welcome as far as Arya was concerned.

Tip-toeing past the stable boys Arya saddled the horse Father had gifted to her on her last name-day. Storm was a mare with a coat the colour of storm clouds, swirling shades of grey intermingled with black. She was easily sixteen hands, but that suited Arya, who had grown to be almost as tall as Ned Stark. Father sometimes commented that Arya looked just as Lyanna had done when she was Arya's age, regularly waving away Arya's indiscretions and urge for freedom as being a trait of the Stark women of Old. Arya knew it was her resemblance in both appearance and personality to her lost Aunt that drove Father to indulge her interests even when Mother chastised her and rebuked him.

Arya watched in fascination as her mount and her faithful companion touched noses. Nymeria was almost as big as Storm, and a fierce predator, but Storm showed no fear of the Dire Wolf. Trying to keep from drawing attention to her departure, Arya led Storm out of the stables and into the main yard before mounting, smirking to see that the gates of Winterfell were already open as they anxiously awaited the arrival of the King. Arya took shameless advantage of the situation, nudging Storm into an easy jog, finding her seat easily. Nymeria bounded ahead of them as they burst through the gates and headed for the forests and rolling hills that were almost more of a home to Arya than the castle was.

Exhilaration at her freedom flowed through Arya as they galloped across the open plains, up and down the hills, walking almost silently through the forests. There was nothing better than this as far as Arya was concerned. She never felt truly at peace unless she was riding in the forests, galloping the land, breathing in the crisp cold air of the North. Sometimes Arya ached to ride down the King's Road so she could take the road to the Wall. Jon had been promising for moons now that she could visit him, but Mother strictly forbade it, not at all liking the idea of sending her maiden daughter off to the Wall where she might associate with murders, rapists and thieves. Arya rolled her eyes to herself as she thought about it, and about the way mother was forever insisting that she act more like a lady.

It had only gotten worse when she had flowered two moons ago. Arya had never been so angry than when she'd woken with blood staining her thighs and her small clothes. She hated that she was now a woman by right, having prayed to the old gods to prevent her from ever flowering so that she would never be sent off to marry some useless Lord. Ever since it had happened, Lady Catelyn Stark of Winterfell had renewed her efforts to train her wayward, wild daughter in the ways of being a lady. The Septas had long since given up on trying to teach Arya sewing and needlepoint.

Arya sighed as she thought about it. She had finally learned dancing, but only when father had agreed to personally teach her how to swing a sword, insisting that she would learn to Water Dance. Catelyn was beside herself, but learning to fight from her father was the only way any of them could convince her to learn to dance. Jon had also encouraged her to learn how to play the harp before he left and every time he sent a raven to her. Arya had refused until he had pointed out that it would not be so different from using her bow.

Riding felt like second nature to Arya and she did it subconsciously as she, Storm and Nymeria stalked prey. The sun had risen and was already almost at it's highest point in the sky. She knew she was going to be in trouble when she returned to Winterfell, and Arya was surprised her mother had not insisted on tying her up before bed last night to keep her from running off. Especially after Mother had hinted that having finally flowered, Ned was hoping to talk his old friend Robert Baratheon into a marriage between Arya and one of his sons.

Needless to say Arya was not pleased about the idea. She knew she would not be shipped off with the first-born son Steffon Baratheon. Steffon was heir to the throne and so would not be given the second-born, less appealing Stark daughter. But King Robert had three other sons beside his first-born, as well as a daughter. It was rumoured he had several unacknowledged bastards through the Seven Kingdoms as well.

The idea of marrying anyone turned Arya's stomach, but the idea of being forced to marrying one of the princes made her feel nauseas. She had heard that the Courts of King's Landing were rife with traitors and liars, where ladies were expected to hold their tongues and dress in finery and simper over newborns babes and silly things like embroidery and matchmaking. All of the things Arya had never been able to do and had no interest in.

Arya snapped out of her musing as she heard the crackle of dry leaves, her head lifting to search for the prey she had been trailing. Arya narrowed her eyes when she spotted him. The buck was of average size, perhaps not more than a yearling, but Arya was undeterred. As far as she was concerned he would taste wonderful as a side of venison or even in a nice stew. Nymeria growled very softly as Arya reached for an arrow, knocking it into her bow and raising it. She did it very slowly so as not to startle the creature that was already watching them uneasily. Closing one eye to aim, Arya sighted down her arrow until the point aligned with the exposed throat of the animal.

She exhaled as she loosed the arrow, and Nymeria sprang forward as she did so. The buck jumped in surprise to have an arrow lodged in his windpipe but Arya was already urging Storm after her wolf and the buck, not bothering with anymore arrows, knowing Nymeria could bring the beast down easily. When she came upon them, Arya smiled to see the wolf with her fangs imbedded in the throat of the animal, having pulled it to the ground alone.

Nymeria growled as Arya approached, but Arya fixed the wolf a glare that had her releasing her prey and stepping back, waiting for her mistress's approval to return. Pulling her arrow free Arya cleaned it and returned it to her quiver, before pulling her dagger from her belt so she could gut the animal, intending to take it back to the kitchens of Winterfell.

She threw the entrails to Nymeria, cleaning out the stomach cavity entirely. The wolf snapped and chomped on them happily while Arya sheathed her dagger and rallied her strength. Storm stood patiently as Arya staggered forward with the beast in her arms. Arya laid the buck across Storm's withers, stopping again to slit the buck's throat and watching the way the blood trickled down Storm's side and dripped to the ground. Smirking to herself even as she brushed back the strands of hair that had blown loose of the long braid that hung down her back without noticing her bloodied hands, Arya swung back up into the saddle and guided Storm on the path back to Winterfell.

In spite of her prize, Arya couldn't resist the speed of horse riding and just about swallowed her own tongue in surprise when she loped into the courtyard of Winterfell. Caught up in the thrill of the hunt and the flush of success, Arya had forgotten all about the King and his subjects coming to visit. Skidding to a stop on Storm in the middle of the yard, Arya felt a blush creep up her cheeks.

The entire party was there, staring at her. It was immediately clear to her that her family was in the process of welcoming the King to Winterfell, and when Arya met the eyes of Ned Stark she saw his surprise and a touch of worry at the situation. Mother and Sansa looked positively furious with her, while the Queen and Princess looked disgusted though they probably didn't even know who she was.

King Robert was staring at her with his mouth open and such a look of shock on his face that Arya almost wanted to laugh. Nymeria trotted up next to her as Arya dismounted, a string of entrails trailing along as she chewed them. Arya glanced down at her clothes before looking at the gowns her mother and sister wore.

She looked a frightful mess.

The left leg of her breeches and her left boot were dark and sticky with the blood of the buck as it trickled from the slit in the creature's throat; and the white shirt she wore was crimson with blood splatters and smears on the front and at the sleeves from where she had reached in to gut the deer and pulled all the entrails and things out. In fact her hands and forearms were sticky and red with blood as well and Arya had no doubt she had it smeared on her face, since she had just reached to brush hair out of her eyes again.

Tentatively, Arya stepped forwards in the utter silence of the yard, all eyes fixed upon her, supposing she ought to welcome the King. Glancing at her hands again, Arya realised that covered in the blood of a stag- the Baratheon house sigil- was probably not the most diplomatic way to do that. Glancing around, she tried to spot anyone carrying water, since the only barrels she knew of where she could wash otherwise were over by the Forge across the yard. Normally she would have Nymeria lick them clean but the wolf was covered in just as much blood as her mistress

Seeing nothing that would be suitable, Arya tried to scrub them against her breeches, but they came away just as sticky. And then Arya decided that since she had already caused quite enough of a stir to properly offend the King and Queen, Arya did the only other thing she could think of to clean her hands.

In front of the whole lot of them, from those glowering furiously to those staring in shock, disgust and surprise, Arya Stark held her hands in front of her and spat on them three times before scrubbing them together and against her already bloodied clothing. Trying not to laugh at the impropriety and the swoop of embarrassment she felt in front of the King and the Queen, all the Princes and the simpering little Princess, along with the mortified Stark family Arya strode forward, plastering a big smile on her face; holding her now spit-covered and still bloodied hands out in greeting.

"Welcome to Winterfell, your Grace. I'm Arya Stark."

Chapter Text

The King's mouth snapped closed, though his eyes were a wide as those of a terrified rabbit upon spotting Nymeria.

"Arya! How dare you address the King like that?" Her mother snapped coldly, Tully-blue eyes glittering dangerously.

"You go and clean yourself up this instant and come back to greet the King properly as well as apologise when you are decent!" Catelyn Stark looked like she wanted to stride right over and rip stirps out of her daughter's hide, but before she could King Robert began to chuckle.

"You dare to greet your King like this girl?" he chuckled, eyes roaming up and down her figure which was completely drowned inside her Father's shirt.

"My apologies if I have offended you, Your Grace," Arya replied, trying to look sincere and not feeling it at all. "I was unsure as to whether it would be more offensive to greet you now, as I have, or to ignore you completely while I washed up."

Arya heard several people titter nervously, but she ignored them as the King strode towards her. He was rather fat, with a thick beard and a belly that preceded him.

"And you thought greeting me covered in the blood of an animal that is my house sigil was the best option, did you?" he said. His voice sounded sinister, but Arya could see the mirth in his eyes. Many people gasped when Arya Stark shrugged her slim shoulders.

"I had heard you were a fan of hunting yourself, Your Grace, and assumed you would understand the effects of the sport."

Behind the King, Arya saw her mother bury her crimson face into her hands, utterly mortified by her daughter. Ned had a little amused twinkle in his grey eyes, though he was doing his best not to smile. Her brothers made no such efforts and were all openly smirking at her.

"Arya Stark, is it?" the King said, chuckling again "The wolf daughter who greets her king covered in stag blood. Ned it would seem you have a true child of the North on your hands, have you no control of her?" King Robert chuckled some more, winking at Arya before turning back to her family.

"None at all," Ned Stark told his King. "She is wilder even than Lyanna."

The King turned back to look at Arya for a minute, Baratheon-blue eyes scanning her from head to foot.

"As beautiful as her, too," the King responded. "Get on and wash up then girl, else my queen's face might get stuck in that horrid expression of contempt and I'd hate for you to be the one to have it stay that way when I've worked so hard for the honour."

Arya grinned at him, doing her best not to glance at the Queen though she could see the woman scowling fiercely with disgust and now anger on her otherwise beautiful features.

"Yes, your Grace," Arya said, curtsying clumsily.

Just as she was about to turn away, Nymeria stepped towards the King and dropped the string of entrails she had been chewing right onto the king's boots. Trying very hard not to laugh at the gesture and the king's look of surprise Arya spoke to her beloved pet.

"Nymeria, I don't think the King appreciates your gift, though I'm sure he is honoured and grateful that you have welcomed him and offered him the food from your table."

All of her brothers laughed, as did several of the servants and Arya saw two of the princes, the elder two with dark hair, laughing heartily. The King lifted his surprised and laughing blue eyes to meet Arya's, making a small motion with his hand that Arya took as a request to pet Nymeria. She nodded imperceptibly.

"What is her name?" the King asked, slowly offering his hand to the dire wolf. Nymeria eyed it for a moment before leaning the top of her head into his palm and allowing herself to be scratched.

"Nymeria," Arya supplied helpfully.

"Well then, Nymeria, I thank you for the welcome, but your gifts are unnecessary and I insist upon returning them." The King said, making Arya smile to hear him addressing the wolf as though she were just another subject of his vast empire.

Nymeria looked up at Arya. Arya nodded, pointing at the entrails on the king's boots and then motioning for the wolf to follow her before turning her back on the whole lot of the King's party and swinging back into the saddle, turning Storm towards the butchers, calling Nymeria to her heels with a low whistle.

 

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"What in Seven Hells is wrong with you Arya?" Sansa screamed at her, bursting into Arya's chambers even though Arya was still trying to bathe the blood off from her hunting foray.

"I've never been so embarrassed in all my life! How am I supposed to make a good match with Prince Steffon or Prince Gendry when my wildling urchin of a sister rides around offending all the King's people, showing up covered in blood and dressed like a boy with a poorly trained wolf splattering him in blood and guts?"

Arya let her hair fall forwards to hide her smirk as she snorted into her knee and went back to scrubbing herself. Sansa raged at her, screaming like a banshee until Lady Catelyn arrived and ordered her away. Arya tried not to flinch when her mother gripped Arya's jaw tightly, forcing her to look up into her angry blue eyes.

"I know you think you've won the battle by making yourself so unappealing in the eyes of the King and Queen and all the princes to keep yourself from a marriage, but you just remember this Arya. The more you embarrass yourself and your father, the more likely you are to wind up married to some fat old lord of low status, thrice your age who will beat the spirit out of you!" Catelyn told her, her voice low and dangerous.

Arya did her best not to pale at the idea.

"Father would not let that happen to me, and if he did I would flee Winterfell. I would go beyond the Wall and live like the Wildling you all accuse me of being." She told her mother, squaring her shoulders and getting to her feet in her bathtub, glaring at her mother whose jaw had apparently unhinged to see her daughter standing naked with the door to her chambers wide open while threatening to run off and be a wildling.

"You would do no such thing! Imagine the dishonour on your father!" Catelyn scolded as though she did not believe the threat, though Arya could see in her mother's eyes that a small part of her believed her wild daughter would do just that rather than marry anyone.

"I know you did this on purpose Arya. I knew I should have made you sleep in my chambers last night!"

"But you didn't, Mother," Arya told her, getting out of the bath and drying herself, not at all caring that she was naked with the door open.

"Oh for the sake of the gods Arya, cover yourself while I close the door!" her mother snapped. Arya shrugged and began scrubbing herself dry with wolf skins and the towels she could find.

"You will wear the gown to the feast that I picked out for you last night" Catelyn said, dragging Arya over to the dresser and forcing Arya onto the stool while her mother attempted to dry and style her hair. Arya scowled but suspected that if she complained she might begin losing her possessions. Mother had threatened to keep her from riding in the past, and Arya could not bear the thought of it.

"Now," Catelyn said much later after she had forced Arya into the fancy northern style dress she'd had made for Arya. "When you go before the King and the Queen you will apologise for your behaviour earlier, you will fall on your knees and beg their forgiveness and then you will greet them in the proper fashion of a high born Lady of Winterfell. You will discover all the refinements and manners I have forced into your silly little head and eat with dignity. If the Princes or your brothers or anyone else asks you to dance you will accept the invitation graciously. If you waver in any way from the actions of a proper lady, you will be banned from riding and not allowed to see Nymeria or any of your brothers for three moons. Is that understood?"

Arya scowled darkly.

"Mother, you know as well as I do that no matter how hard I might try to be and how hard you might try to make me one, I will never be a lady. I am not Sansa who can smile politely and simper about the prettiness of a feather in someone's hair for hours. If you would like to discuss war tactics, running a castle or weaponry, I'm your girl. But threatening me with such a punishment will not help you. You will try to enforce those punishments, I will inevitably disobey you again and it will become a never-ending cycle of anger and disobedience until you go quite mad from it all. Accept that I am not destined for the life of a high-born Lady and be done with it."

Catelyn scowled at her.

"You think not trying will help you?"

"I think that actually trying will just result in me making a fool of myself, and by extension, a fool of Sansa, you and Father. I cannot be something I am not mother. And I am not a Lady. I could be a warrior queen, a spear-wife, or a knight, but I cannot be a Lady."

Catelyn sighed, looking into the cool grey eyes of her youngest daughter and Arya knew that her mother had resigned herself to the truths she told. Arya couldn't be a lady. It was not in her. Father claimed there was too much wolf blood in her, too much of winter's ice like the Stark queens of Old. Until Arya had flowered, her mother had all but given up hope and Arya knew her mother only wanted to make a good match for her daughters, but Arya knew she would never find one.

"Please try," Catelyn implored. "Your Father and I will do everything in our power to see you happy Arya, to see you married to a lord that will treat you well. But you will make it awfully hard for us to find one that will take you if you run around acting like a savage. You are not a child anymore, and so must put away childish tendencies. You are a young woman, an example of your Father's honour as a lord and as the Warden of the North. Your behaviour reflects on him."

"I am sorry, Mother. This morning I did purposely go riding to avoid greeting them all, but I did not mean to arrive in such a fashion and embarrass Father" Arya admitted, feeling guilty at having made her father look like an inadequate lord who could not even control his maiden daughter. Catelyn knew her daughter was only sorry for making Ned look bad but she graciously accepted the apology anyway.

"He wants to see you in the Dining Hall before the feast," Catleyn told her daughter before leaving the girl alone in her chambers.

Arya bit her lip, feeling bad for having embarrassed father. She didn't really believe the offense was all that bad, the king seemed to be amused by her, but Arya knew that it would look bad. Sighing she turned back to the mirror, trying to see herself as the King and Queen would see her now.

Her dress was pretty, though Arya hated to wear it and would not admit the beauty of it. It was cerulean silk, hugging her curves like a second skin before flowing into a full heavy Northern style skirt. It had sleeves that extended to her elbows, wrapped snugly around her lean arm muscles. Her mother had insisted they stop there and be fitted snugly else Arya was likely to end up covering anything longer in food or wine or something else. The neckline dipped suggestively towards the cleavage that had been blossoming of late and Arya grimaced as she caught sight of the tops of her breasts.

Sansa was always insisting that having pale creamy skin was more desirable, but Arya's skin was anything but. Her skin tone was naturally an olive shade, but the time she'd spent outside in the hot sun recently had added a tan to her skin, even at her breasts since it had been so hot she had been running around in the clothes of a dothraki woman.

Her mother had tried to paint rouge onto her face as well, but the tone of it was far too light in comparison to her tan skin and so Arya had washed it all off. Unlike the fancy hairstyles Arya had seen on the Queen and the Princess earlier, Mother had done Arya's hair in traditional northern fashion, leaving it long and loose but for some braids to keep it back from her face, parted down the middle. Arya glared at her reflection, not liking how she looked when she was dressed like this.

Knowing her mother would be furious, but not really caring, Arya pulled all the painful hairpins loose, watching the way her thick wavy brown hair tumbled loose. Narrowing her eyes again, Arya swept the heavy hair mostly to one side before weaving it together in a single braid as she sometimes did to Storm's mane until it swept away from her face in a little braid on the side where most of the hair was. Using just one pin, she captured the strands of the braid and secured them.

Arya smirked to herself. There. Now let them complain that she was a savage. She could do her own hair. Maybe she might even start a trend, she thought as she admired the way the little side braid made her look exotic and a little mysterious since it was weaved loosely, leaving hair to curl around her face, framing it nicely.

Arya rolled her eyes at herself, wondering if being near Sansa had somehow turned her into a girl suddenly. Without looking back Arya strode through the castle, set on finding her father who apparently wanted to speak to her.

"You wanted to see me father?" Arya said, hearing his voice in the dining hall and calling out before she had even entered the room. She nearly blushed when she saw that her father was sitting with her brothers as well as the King and the Princes and the Queen's brothers.

He looked up at her, frowning for the interruption before his eyes widened to see her looking so much like a lady. He wasn't the only one wearing the surprised expression. All of her brothers were too and Arya thought very much about smacking Theon who was openly ogling the cleavage she had on display.

Deciding the best course of action was to continue on towards them all as though nothing was out of the ordinary Arya strolled right over to them all, subtly noticing that two of the princes, the older ones, seemed to take after the King both with thick dark hair and bright blue eyes. The younger two took after the queen, their hair gold and shining. She realised as she glanced at them that she was clearly breaking some kind of courtesies or etiquettes.

"Your Grace" Arya said, pausing to curtsy for the King who winked at her again, Arya turned her eyes to the princes and the queen's brothers, trying not to make eye contact "My Lords." She said, dipping her head to all of them.

"Where were you this morning?" Ned asked her once she had walked all the way across the dining hall and stood in front of them all. Arya wanted to roll her eyes and didn't even think about it as she reached for a cup, filling it with sweet wine and sipping it before responding. She saw her father and brothers raise their eyebrows and Arya blushed when she realised that being snuck wine since she was small by her other brothers and especially Theon was clearly having a bad influence.

"I went riding early this morning," Arya told her father. "I was hunting and with the clouds so low today I did not realise how late it had gotten…. By the time I gutted that deer the sun was high." Arya watched the elder of the blonde princes choke on the swig he'd taken from his cup at her words while the two black haired princes chuckled quietly, looking amused at her unladylike language. The dwarfish brother of the Queen had an amused twinkle in his eyes and did not attempt to hide his smile.

"I see, and you went hunting when you knew the king would be arriving today because…?" Her father asked her though Arya could tell he was trying not to laugh at the shock of these southern men.

"Erm…" Arya said, shifting from foot to foot since most any explanation she could offer was likely to a be a lie and her father and brothers would know it. She held her breath, trying to think of some reason other than the truth. She sighed when she couldn't come up with anything decent.

"Because I am not now, nor will I ever be the model of a highborn Lady fretting about what dress I should wear to greet guests I will no doubt see on a daily basis for the next few moons," she admitted.

Ned Stark looked amused, though he hid his smile in his wine cup while her brothers sniggered.

"Don't you think you ought to apologise to our guests for your indiscretions?" Ned chided her still looking stern but amused now. Arya glanced around the room.

"But Queen Cersei and Princess Myrcella aren't here yet, Father," Arya said.

"And what of our other guests? Did you perhaps consider that you might have offended them and ought to offer them your deepest apologies?"

"No, I didn't," Arya replied, watching when Bran choked on his sip of wine.

"No? You don't think that King Robert and his sons deserve an apology to have you arrive covered in blood and dirt having just slain the sigil of their house?"

Arya glanced around the room again, feeling a little frustrated to be being chastised in front of everyone, not because she was embarrassed of her actions but because she didn't like to be called out on them. She saw Rickon smirk when Arya pursed her lips and raised her eyebrows challengingly at their royal guests.

"I was under the impression that these men were the leaders and defenders of our realm, Father," Ayra offered, failing to keep the sarcasm of her tone.

"And as such they don't deserve an apology?" Ned asked her, scowling a little now.

"Frankly, no," Arya said, losing control of her frustration now. "If these men are so easily offended that the sight of a woman covered in a little blood after a hunting trip turns their stomachs, then it would be my opinion that they have no place being in the North and even less among the ranks of those who lead and protect the Seven Kingdoms. If hunting and a little blood so upsets them, they have no hope of ever leading an army to war and even less for ruling the people. I see before me a King who led a Rebellion, a Knight of the Kings Guard, a Lord of the Realm and Princes who are the heirs to the Iron Throne. Surely they are not so easily squeamish that a woman dressed in hunting garb marred by the results of a successful kill offends their royal sensibilities?"

Arya saw the King smirk a little. Tyrion Lannister laughed out loud and Ser Jaime looked amused.

"Seven Hells, Arya!" Ned Stark groaned as he watched his daughter cuss them all out and then throw back the rest of the wine in her cup.

"You have a lot of nerve to speak to you king and princes like that, my Lady," Tyrion Lannister told her, looking impressed.

"I would hate to be construed as being a Lady, Lord Tyrion," Arya smiled at him.

"You're despicable! What kind of woman addresses men like that?" the elder of the blonde princes spat at her. Arya turned her cold grey eyes on Prince Joffery, her face losing all expression of amusement and Arya watched her father and brothers pale slightly at her fierce expression.

"The kind of woman who would clearly be more suited to leading an army than you Prince Joffery" She replied coldly, wondering why he didn't get frostbite from her tone alone. The prince leapt to his feet, outraged. Fists clenched as though he was preparing to strike her. Arya lifted her chin and met his gaze.

"How dare you insinuate that you are better than a prince of the realm?" he screamed at her like a small child having a temper tantrum and Arya failed to hide her smirk.

"I did more than insinuate it, Your Highness" Arya stated, scorn dripping from every word as she offered him a fake curtsy. "I stated it blatantly. It takes a strong man to rule the realm Joffery Baratheon, one who is strong enough perhaps to graciously accept the insults of a woman, even one clearly more of a man than he."

"Arya!" Ned barked at her angrily.

"Yes, Father?" Arya said, turning a bright smile on her father as though she had not just picked a fight with the boy third in line for the Iron Throne.

"Have you no fear for your life, girl? You think you can speak to a prince like that?" the King growled at her. Arya watched Ned Stark close his eyes in horror even as she turned her grey eyes on the High King of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros.

"Why would I need to fear for my life, Your Grace?" Arya asked him, watching the way everyone's eyes went wide. "Would you like me to fall upon my dagger for Prince Joffery's wounded honour? Cut out my tongue for speaking truths? Perhaps have me whipped for my insolence?"

"I've a mind to if you can't hold your tongue, girl," the King informed her and Arya caught the gleeful look in Prince Joffery's eyes at the idea of seeing Arya in pain. Ned's fists clenched when Arya laughed out loud.

"Then by all means, Your Grace, do what you must. If speaking truths is a crime I'm to be punished for, I shall bear that punishment gladly."

"And if I were to call for your death?" The King challenged her and Arya could see he was now utterly intrigued by her brazenness.

"Shall I fetch you Ice and lead the way to the block where Father beheads traitors and deserters from the Watch? Would you like to borrow my dagger and open my throat here in the Hall?" Arya asked him, bending forwards to retrieve the dagger she had strapped to her calf muscle beneath the skirts of her dress only to straighten and offer it to the King. Ned snatched it off her immediately.

"Have you no fear of death or pain, Lady Arya?" Lord Tyrion asked her and even he looked intrigued now. Arya knew she would likely wind up in trouble for this but could not find it within herself to care having decided already that she hated Prince Joffery.

"Why would I fear either of those things, Lord Tyrion?" Arya asked him. "Why would a woman like me fear death when all I have to look forward to in life is being married off to men and expected to birth their children? Especially now that I have seen an example of the type of… boy… I could end up with" she eyed Joffery with disgust, not missing the amusement on his elder brother's face.

"Arya, that is enough!" Ned insisted finally. "Apologise to Prince Joffery and to the King this instant."

Arya eyed the entire gathering of men.

"Your Grace I apologise that you did not see to it to warn your sons that this is the North. The women here are not like the pathetic, simpering little things of King's Landing. You are in old country now Prince Joffery, a place where Stark women were Queens and ran their Kingdoms with a ready sword and sharp tongue; where they led their bannermen to war and gutted the likes of weak Southern born boys who still feel the need to cower behind their father's power and their supposed superiority for being born of the seed of the man currently sitting a throne."

"Arya!" Ned growled at her warningly and Arya failed not to roll her eyes in frustration.

"Father, if I had known that having the King visit would result in you expecting me to waltz insincere apologies off my tongue for delivering some simple truths I would have packed my tent and camped in the forests until they had departed," Arya told him levelly.

"You have no fear of Wildlings, either?" Lord Tyrion asked. He had been laughing into his cup since the minute Arya had told Joffery he had less right to lead an army than a girl and looked as though he utterly enjoyed her company.

"What is there to fear of Wildings my Lord?" Arya asked him, smirking now as Joffery had begun to turn very red and had his fists clenched.

"Are they not wild, savage beings who would murder you as soon as they laid eyes on you?" he asked her still chuckling.

"You dishonour me my lord, for surely they would seek to rape me first," she told him coyly while Jaime Lannister spat his wine all over the table as he laughed in surprise.

"There is little to fear from the Free Folk my Lord. They operate beyond our laws, they take what they want and kill what they don't without fear of cowering High Lords and Ladies in their finery a thousand leagues away. Especially those offended by a woman who gets a little bloody."

"You're a no good little cunt who needs to learn some manners," Joffery Baratheon finally lost complete control of his temper, springing over the table with his fists raised ready to strike her.

He faltered suddenly when he realised that neither her father nor her brother's had moved to defend her. She raised her chin expectantly and Arya smirked as she realised that Nymeria, who had been sitting at her feet was now standing and snarling. Grey Wind, Summer, Lady and Shaggy-Dog were also on their feet and across the Hall, standing at her back awaiting an attack on one of their own.

"What's the matter, your highness?" Arya tormented him. "Go on and hit me if you think it will soothe your pride. What are you waiting for? I can see the way the blood fills your cock at the idea of causing me pain."

"Arya!" Ned snapped, and she knew he was ready to spring on the prince and keep him from attacking Arya since Joffery would come off worse for wear. The other men looked disturbed to have heard a high-born lady discuss the Prince's cock.

"Do it, Joffery," Arya goaded him further. "Or are you too afraid? Is that what they teach you in the South, to fear women?... Or is it something else you fear perhaps? The wolves? They are excited by your fear, Your Grace. Can you see the way Shaggy-Dog is bearing his teeth at you? Of all these wolves he's the one to watch. He's the one who would drag a man from his bed and devour him in the night."

Arya grinned as the Prince paled, stepping back slightly which only made the wolves hungrier. She narrowed her eyes on the prince and Arya heard Bran gasp slightly.

"Or perhaps, my Prince, it is me you fear. You know it will bring you pleasure to hear me cry out in pain. Do it if you must…. But be warned, if you ever think to so much as lay a hand on me or mine, the next rush of blood in your body will be when I open your throat."

Arya watched the way the threat pushed the prince over the edge, seeing everything that was happening behind him even as he tensed to spring.

"Joffery!" The King barked even as Robb grabbed the prince from behind so that he would not hurt Arya. His knighted Uncle was a step behind and Joffery was handed off to Ser Jaime who marched the raging prince out of the hall even as he screamed abuse at Arya.

"What are you even doing here Arya?" Her father snapped at her and Arya knew she had pushed him a little too far.

"Mother said you wanted to speak with me."

"Why are you not with her and Sansa preparing for tonight's feast?" he interrogated her, words shooting out like rapid fire.

"Sansa is a little put out with me," Arya replied, smiling sweetly. "She seems to think my behaviour is ill-befitting a Lady and that I am sabotaging her chances of making an agreeable match with men."

Arya Stark watched her father bury his face in his hands at her unrepentant expression.

"You may well have done," he told her without looking up.

Arya looked up and met the eyes of the three remaining Princes. Tommen, the youngest was only ten years and so his opinion did not matter. Prince Steffon looked mildly amused though somewhat disapproving of his brother's lack of control. Prince Gendry was watching her with a smile on his face and a strange look in his blue eyes. The King was staring at her wearing an unreadable expression. Lord Tyrion on the other hand was roaring with laughter.

"Come now, Lord Stark, it is no true crime to tell a boy that he is no man when compared with such a fierce she-wolf of the North," he dropped into the conversation, clearly trying to lighten the mood. Arya winked at him.

"Would you like me to offer her my apologies, Father? It seems I will grow used to lying through my teeth about remorse for the duration of the King's stay, though I'm sure that as a prim and proper lady, Sansa will accept them graciously each time," Arya asked her father.

"Gods be good girl, what am I going to do with you?" Ned Stark said, lifting his head to stare at her as though she were not of this world but some demon brought forth by the gods to test his patience. Arya smiled at him kindly.

"You already know the answer to that, Father," Arya told him, stepping closer and dropping a kiss to the top of his head. "Allow me the freedom to ride when I will, to hunt when I choose and to fight when I must. Perhaps keep Mother from tearing her hair out while I do it."

Arya jumped when the King began to roar with laughter. When he was finally able to control himself he was red in the face and pounding his heavy hands on the table with glee.

"Seven Hell,s Ned! She is wilder even than our sweet Lyanna." King Robert said.

"You have no idea," Ned Stark replied darkly.

The King waved his hand dismissively.

"There is no harm in teaching that boy some control. I might be a king now but we were no more than warriors once and I'll not raise my sons to be weaker than women," Robert announced. "Where is he? I've half a mind to have him thank the girl."

Arya blushed at the very idea while everyone else looked uncomfortable at the idea of a Prince apologising to a woman, especially one who had so insulted him.

"Mother said you wanted to see me about something Father?" Arya reminded him as she watched the servants scurry away now that the commotion was over.

"I had a mind to scold you for your behaviour but it has never done any good," Ned told her, eyeing her as though she vexed him.

"So you don't need to see me any longer? Shall I be on my way and leave you men to your wine?" Arya asked, edging towards the door, itching to run off and wrestle with Nymeria who was still snarling under her breath even though she now lay at Arya's feet.

"Don't even think about it." Ned Stark warned her. "Your mother will have your head when she finds out about this and if you destroy another gown wrestling with that wolf I'm afraid even I will not be able to keep you safe from her wrath."

Bran, Rickon and Robb laughed loudly when Arya's shoulders slumped.

"I'd tell you to get yourself another glass of wine but I fear for us all should we loosen your tongue any further," Ned told her, eyeing her with a touch of pride in his eyes now that he knew the King at least would not see her killed for her lack of manners. Arya smiled at him charmingly until he waved his hand at her indicating that she should go ahead a refill her cup.

For the first time in a long time Arya didn't mind so much having to sit around in her gown and make small talk with high-born folk, enjoying the animated discussion she had with Lord Tyrion, Bran, Rickon and Prince Tommen about Wildlings, Wargs, Giants and all manner of other fierce creatures that were supposed to dwell in the North and beyond the Wall. She didn't even mind that every time she looked up she caught Prince Gendry watching her with that strange look in his eyes.

Chapter Text

Arya knew she was a little tipsy. She could tell because she had begun to hum along with the singers as they sang the song about the Bear and the Maid. She had supped with her mother and sister, both of whom had yet to find out about her almost getting into a fight with Prince Joffery since the men were all doing their best to keep the issue hushed. Princess Myrcella had kept Sansa's attention focused away from Arya and the Queen had been scowling and smiling slyly all night as Lady Catelyn attempted to entertain her.

But now the wine and ale were flowing freely and tongues had begun to loosen. Sansa was of course sitting with her back straight and a bright smile on her face, utterly a Lady of class. Arya was less inclined to such nonsense and had deserted her seat at the high table in favour of drinking and speaking with her brothers and the others in the Dining Hall. She had beat Lord Tyrion in a game of cyvasse, and been asked to dance with her father.

Arya was surprised that Ned Stark had seemed in such good spirits since he had been worrying for almost a moon about the King's visit but she supposed that to have the company of one you considered a brother again would be a relief for even the highest Lords and Kings. The King was fondling one of the serving wenches while the Queen looked on wearing a bored expression. Arya smirked as she watched Sansa blush and press her hand to her chest delightedly when Prince Steffon asked her to dance and had just opened her mouth to sneer about it to Bran when someone stepped into her view, clearing their throat loudly.

"Might I have this dance, Lady Arya?" Prince Gendry Baratheon asked her formally, offering her his hand. Arya smirked at him. He was part of the reason she felt so tipsy, because he'd challenged Arya and her brothers to a contest to see who could down their wine the fastest. Lord Tyrion had won.

"I would be delighted, my prince" Arya feigned courtesies, watching the way his blue eyes laughed as she mimicked Sansa's expression and actions derogatorily.

Gendry nearly pulled her right off her feet as he helped her out of her chair and Arya giggled when she collided with his chest and he held her there for just a moment too long. The wine was definitely going to her head, Arya decided when she felt the strange rush of heat throughout her body as Prince Gendry wrapped one of his hands around her to rest on her lower back a little lower than was customary. He clasped her other hand tightly and waltzed with her, all the while grinning down at her.

"You and I should play a game of cyvasse," he told her. "I'd wager I could beat a girl like you."

Arya laughed at him.

"I beat your uncle at it earlier."

"Everyone beats Uncle Jaime at cyvasse" Gendry said.

"I didn't play against Ser Jaime," Arya replied. Lord Tyrion had warned her he was one of the best players around and still Arya had beaten him.

"Then perhaps we should wager on a different competition." Gendry grinned at her. "Perhaps we could have a race tomorrow when you show me around Winterfell?"

"You'll be riding out with Father and my brothers and the other Lords tomorrow to see Winterfell, my Prince," Arya grinned. "Not with me."

He laughed.

"Mayhaps I will be, but I doubt they will show me the sights of Winterfell the way you could my Lady."

"Don't call me that," she scolded him, socking him in the arm before returning her hand to his shoulder.

"Then what might I call the Lady?" he asked her, eyes twinkling at the idea of tormenting her.

"Arya or nothing at all."

"Very well then, Nothing At All, will you do me the honour of showing Winterfell to me?"

"What do I get out of it?" she asked him playfully, having no idea what the wine had done to her but suspecting she might be making a fool of herself.

"What would you like to get out of it?" he murmured into her ear when he leaned in close to her. Arya felt little thrills race across her skin at the way his lips brushed against her ear while he spoke to her and she found herself gripping his hand and shoulder just a little bit tighter.

"If I didn't know better I might think you were trying to get me alone Prince Gendry" Arya teased him, leaning her head back a little so she could look at him. He flashed her a wicked little smirk and Arya suddenly realised that the strange look she had seen in his eyes all night was the same one she had seen Theon wear when he saw a pretty maid he'd like to fuck.

Gendry didn't reply, he just kept on giving her that hot look that made her stomach do a little flip with excitement. Realising that he actually had been trying to get her alone Arya threw her head back a laughed, enjoying the way he spun her around. She knew that if she were a lady like Sansa she would be expected to act offended at the idea of a man trying to get her alone. But Arya Stark was no Lady and nothing at all like her sister who was smiling serenely as Prince Steffon waltzed her around much more carefully and gracefully than Arya and Gendry waltzed.

"Now, what would a well behaved and honourable prince like yourself want with getting a woman like me alone, my Prince?" Arya smirked as she went up on her toes so she could murmur it into his ear. The heat in his gaze scalded her when Arya met his eyes again and she loved the flush against her skin as her body responded to the man's look

"If I'm to call you Arya rather than addressing you by your title, it is only fair that you do the same and address me by my name," Gendry told her.

"Well then Genrdy Baratheon, what will we be wagering? I'd like to know what I win when I beat you in a horse race," Arya smirked up at him, knowing that she was flirting with him and for the first time not feeling any worry at all about it.

She had flirted before, of course. Theon was notorious for it and loved to torment Arya into flirting with him, though she knew that he would never actually try anything on her. She had tried flirting one other time with one of the stable boys, but he hadn't seemed impressed by her manly attire or the fact that she had a streak of mud smeared across her cheek.

"What would you like to win?" Gendry asked her.

Arya thought about it for a moment.

"Father is holding a tourney in a few day's time…. If I win you have to help me to appear as though I am an anonymous knight and not tell a soul that a girl rode in the tourney." She told him. Arya watched his eyes widen in surprise and she was sure he was going to tell her it was too dangerous for a woman to ride tilt but he didn't.

"And what if I win, what do I get?"

"What would you like to win, if you were to do so, Gendry?" Arya asked him, peering into his eyes curiously. She felt his hand tighten where he held her, pulling her closer until her body was pressed against the length of his. Arya could see Queen Cersei frowning at the lack of space between them, and caught Robb and Theon scowling at her too as Gendry turned them. His lips pressed against her ear and Arya felt the warmth of his body radiating into her, making her feel like she was melting.

"If I win, I get you, Arya" he said into her ear.

Arya's eyes widened even as her heart skipped a beat. What could he possibly mean by that?

"You'll have to be more specific than that, my Prince" Arya murmured back to him, suspecting that from the hot gaze he'd had trained on her all evening he was asking her to surrender her maidenhead to him. Arya might not be much of a lady but she would not shame herself or her father by doing so until she was married.

"If I win, you have to give me the chance to get to know you, and if we are agreeable… consider marrying me."

Arya's breath caught in her throat as she pulled back to stare up into his eyes. They were an impossible shade of blue. The colour she had seen when she had looked into the ice of the Wall when Uncle Benjen had taken her to see it long ago. His black hair hung over his forehead and into his eyes. His cheeks and jaw were dusted with stubble of the same shade. He was impossibly handsome, more so than his older brother and even more so than his blonde haired uncle whom everyone claimed was the most handsome man in all Seven Kingdoms.

As she stared at him, Arya knew it was her Northern upbringing that made her feel that way. Gendry was taller and broader than his Uncle, built more like his father. His chest was not as deep and full as his father's yet and he retained leanness from a life of training to fight in wars and become a knight. Arya could feel the strength in his hands where he held her to him and knew that if he had wanted to he could lift her off her feet and dance around with her perched upon his shoulders in the way her father used to carry her when she was still a girl.

"Do we have a deal?" he grinned at her though his eyes were serious. Arya thought about it. On the one hand the idea of marrying anyone terrified her. On the other everything she knew of the prince so far had been agreeable. She found him amusing and liked that he did not seem to judge her from her lack of manners or decidedly unladylike behaviour. She also had little doubt that she could beat him in a horse race over any terrain of Winterfell and had complete faith in Storm's speed. Besides, if she won he'd have to help her ride in her first ever tourney disguised as a man.

Arya smiled at him slowly, eyes sparkling with mischief as she opened her mouth and vowed.

"Deal."

The smile he flashed her made her heart skip a beat and then it skipped several more when he suddenly dipped her low as though the intense moment of staring was all in a lead up to such dramatics.

She heard a few of the servants and commoners cheer when Arya Stark of Winterfell, their fierce she-wolf warrior blushed pink and giggled before socking the prince in the chest and wandering off laughing.

~O~O~O~O~O~O~O~O~O~O~

The feast and following festivities raged on late into the night and Arya had a hard time keeping her eyes off Gendry Baratheon. He was not as boisterous as his Kingly father, who had gotten particularly drunk and stumbled away with a serving wench under each arm, but was not as serious as her own Lord father who preferred to remain in control of himself.

"Might I ask you to dance, my Lady?" A voice asked Arya as she threw back another glass of wine and Arya opened her eyes and frowned for a moment when she saw no one before lowering her gaze slightly to land on the figure standing before her. Lord Tyrion smiled at her politely and Arya found herself smiling back delightedly. All evening he had been wonderful company, seeming intrigued by her fierce nature and her lack of regard for rules, courtesies and all the people who frowned at her.

"I would be delighted, Lord Tyrion," Arya announced, swaying as much as he was as she took his hand. She had never danced with a dwarf before and Arya could tell that the otherwise un-rattle-able man did not dance with women often. She could see it by the way he smiled up at her nervously and moved with uncertainty.

"Would you be terribly offended and shamed if I were to twirl you, my Lord?" Arya asked him in a soft teasing voice, her eyes smiling at him.

"We might become the laughing stock of the feast should you do that, my Lady," Tyrion told her, and Arya knew his lack of height bothered him.

"I suppose then that you would be utterly mortified if I were to pick you up and dance with you?" Arya grinned, smiling gently to let him know she was only teasing.

"You believe you could lift me?" he asked her doubtfully.

"I hoisted that buck onto the back of my horse, my Lord, I could so the same to you," Arya grinned.

"I would prefer it if you did not," Tryion told her, clearly uncomfortable with the idea.

Arya grinned.

"Well then, my dear Lord Tyrion, if we are to make this a proper dance befitting lords and ladies of our standing, then I suspect I must display some movements my mother will not approve of."

Tyrion Lannister was not the only one who was surprised when Arya Stark displayed some impressive demonstrations of flexibility as she lowered herself in an incredibly graceful spin to twirl beneath his dwarf sized arm. Arya caught the look her mother threw her when Arya began to display some of the techniques a true water dancer of Braavos had showed her when he happened to stop in with Uncle Benjen, destined for the Night's Watch.

Balancing on her toes Arya conducted the rest of her dance with Lord Tyrion swaying and moving gracefully between her full height and his, twirling under his short arm several more times in addition to brushing her cheek against his as was a traditional part of the dance. Arya laughed and twirled happily at the freedom she felt dancing with the man of restricted height. For others such a dance would be embarrassing or uncomfortable, but for Arya Stark twirling and revolving through the motions of the dance in a way that tested her drunken balance and used more of the muscles she would use in a fight was delightful.

By the time the song ended Arya and Lord Tyrion were the only two left dancing. Everyone else had stopped to stare at the sight of the flexible girl performing the traditional dance with the dwarf. Arya smiled when she saw the way Lord Tyrion's eyes shone with the emotion he felt and Arya suspected that was the first time he had ever truly danced with a woman as though he were just another man.

"You are a wonderful dance partner, Lord Tyrion" Arya told him with a bright smile. "I will always be delighted to accept an invitation to dance with you."

"Thank you, Lady Arya. It was my pleasure to partner such a skilled and enchanting young woman" Lord Tyrion replied and Arya smiled as he led her back towards her seat, everyone else suddenly realising they were staring.

The music resumed and everyone went back to pretending they had not just seen the intriguing sight of a fiercely independent young woman dancing with a dwarf of a man who had known only ridicule, as though they were of equal height and equal worth as human beings. When Arya was seated, Lord Tyrion held onto her hand for a moment longer, looking into her grey eyes with his mismatched set and a soft smile on his face.

"Arya…. You are truly the kindest, and most graceful woman I have ever had the pleasure of meeting and in my humble opinion you are more of a High-born Lady than even the most prim and proper simpering little lass in all the world. You are fierce and honest, beautiful and enchantingly lovely but above all you are compassionate. Thank you from the bottom of my heart my lady for the kindness you have shown me this night." Tyrion pressed a gentle kiss to the back of Arya's hand and she felt her heart give a little squeeze at his heartfelt words. He walked away with his back stiff and shoulders square, not once swaying or stumbling in spite of how much he had to drink.

"You have given my uncle a rare and unexpected gift, Arya Stark," Gendry Baratheon told her from his seat beside her "One he will never forget and one that no amount of ridicule, torment or abuse will ever be able to take away from him."

Arya smiled when the prince took the hand Tyrion had not been holding and threaded his fingers with hers before lifting it to his lips and pressing a kiss to the back of that hand as well.

"He is a wonderful man," Arya told the prince, still smiling as she thought of Tyrion's parting words.

"He is, but there are few who take the time to know him and even fewer who would state it so boldly," Gendry replied.

"If you're going to get sappy on me, I'm going to need another drink," Arya told him, feeling pleased at the pride shining in Gendry's eyes.

"You mean to tell me you want to challenge me to another contest to see who can down their drink the fastest?" Gendry grinned as he said it loudly. Theon perked up his ears even though he had been nuzzling his face into the cleavage of a serving girl. Robb too glanced away from his conversation with some of the common men and lord's sons, all of them looking interested in a contest. Bran and Rickon must have heard them from across the room because they too came barrelling over.

Arya laughed as everyone filled their cups with wine or ale depending on their preference and just as they were all about to skol their drinks Ned Stark stopped at their table. Arya grinned up at her Lord father who was eyeing her suspiciously.

"Would you care to join us in a little drinking match, Father?" Arya asked him sweetly, looking up at him with the puppy-dog eyes she had used on him at six when she'd wanted to spar with the boys. Ned Stark watched his wayward daughter sternly for a moment before he glanced at his cup.

"Just this once," he whispered. "Don't tell your mother."

Everyone cheered as Ned Stark, the stern and honourable Lord of Winterfell held out his cup to be refilled.

"Alright then," Gendry Baratheon boomed, never taking his eyes of Arya Stark's grinning face. "On three, lads….. One…. Two…. Three!"

Arya could feel the effects of the wine even as she chugged it down and though she'd been getting pretty good at it she sputtered in surprise when she turned to see that her lord father had drained his cup and now had it balanced upside down on his head proving that he had clearly won the race.

"I thought I taught you boys better than this," Ned admonished his sons playfully when they all finally finished drinking. They all bantered together though Arya was very aware of the heavy hand he had placed on her shoulder and Arya realised that most of the other High-born women had retired to their chambers for the evening. Arya rolled her eyes at the idea, instantly regretting it when she swayed dizzily in her chair. Ned Stark squeezed her shoulder gently as he made to depart.

"Oh, and lads… we ride out with the King at dawn."

All around the table both Northern and Southern men alike groaned at the idea of such an early start after so much wine. Arya wondered if her father had squeezed her shoulder especially to tell her that would be when they were riding out. Was he subtly giving her permission to join them? To avoid mother and Sansa and the Queen?

Arya had no idea if he actually was, but she was damned sure going to argue it tomorrow when the men caught a woman amongst them all.

~O~O~O~O~O~O~O~O~O~O~

Arya groaned as she got up from her seat. Almost everyone had retired for the night. The music having ended hours ago and the supply of wineskins running low. The only people still at the table were Theon- who had fallen asleep- one other lord's son who was so drunk he had been singing to himself and grossly shoving food into his mouth for almost an hour. She knew it was probably close to dawn already and Arya regretted having stayed up so late when she wanted to get up and ride out in the morning. She raised her eyebrows when she noticed that the prince she had been flirting with all evening was squatted next to Nymeria, petting her large head as though she were a puppy. Arya had never seen such a thing. No one petted Nymeria.

Of all the dire wolves belonging to the Stark children, Shaggy-dog was the most volatile, followed by Nymeria. Arya's wolf had little tolerance for anyone but Arya and while she would mind Ned's orders no one but Bran and Arya dared to try to control her and especially no one but Arya tried to pet her. Arya didn't know why she and her wolf were so closely bonded, though Arya could command all six of the wolves, the wolves would not obey the others in the same way. All but Shaggy-Dog obeyed Ned, but Shaggy obeyed only Rickon and Arya.

To see her direwolf calmly accepting the attention of Prince Gendry Arya felt a swirl of emotions. The most noticeable was surprise, followed a little by betrayal and a strange flush of happiness to see the pair getting along. Gendry looked up, feeling her eyes on him and flashed her a smile. He came towards her slowly, as did Nymeria and Arya smiled when they stopped in front of her.

"I'm going to bed, dawn is going to come awfully early" she told him, grinning and feeling more than tipsy. Gendry grinned back at her and Arya was pleased to see that she had managed to significantly rattle the young prince. He looked about as drunk as she felt, his eyes a little bloodshot and a big goofy grin plastered on his face.

As she spun towards the doors Arya stumbled a little, her feet refusing to cooperate the way they should and she gasped as she started to fall forwards.

Strong arms caught her around the middle and Arya quivered when she felt herself jerked back against a hard, warm chest.

"Careful, my lady" Gendry whispered in her ear. "Else you might fall."

"Thank you, my Prince," Arya replied, bristling at her title.

"I think it would only be gentlemanly of me to see you safely to your chambers, we wouldn't want you falling down any stairs or anything," Gendry told her, slurring the word stairs in a way that made Arya giggle.

"It is me who knows this castle, my lord, and I fear we would set tongues waggling should you find yourself unable to locate your chambers in the dark," she told him, hating to step away from his warm hold but knowing that even at this hour the King's host might have spies about.

"Then, my Lady, it simply must be your duty to see your prince safely to my chambers elseways we could besmirch your honour," he told her gallantly.

"Come on, you fool" she giggled, tugging on his hand until he walked beside her with her arm linked through his. She led him through the dark castle, not needing a torch even though she was rather tipsy indeed. They both sniggered like fools when they tripped up the stairs, almost falling on their own drunken faces.

"Are you sure you know where you're going, my lady?" Gendry asked her for the fifth time as she led him through the darkness.

"Have you no faith in my ability to see you safely to your door Prince Gendry?" Arya challenged him before dissolving back into giggles.

"I've complete faith that you, my dear Arya, will steer me right into the path of trouble," Gendry informed her.

"You're an idiot," Arya giggled as he tried to overshoot the door to his chambers and she had to tug hard on his arm to keep him from striding off down the corridor in the marching steps he had taken up, picking his knees up high and murmuring some marching war chant to himself.

He stood in front of the door staring at it for about a minute as though expecting it to speak to him before Arya lost patience and flung the door open, revealing the hearth fire glowing brightly and illuminating the bed where he would be sleeping.

"Well then, my good Ser," Arya began, trying to extricate her arm from his as he sprang into the room as though expecting an intruder. "Now that I have gallantly delivered you to your chamber, effectively making you feel like a blushing maid, I will bid you good night and see you upon the morrow."

Gendry wasn't listening to her; he still had hold of her, having unlocked their elbows but captured hold of both of her hands. Arya tried to protest as he dragged her further into the room, kicking the door almost closed with his foot and almost falling on his face for his trouble.

"You are beautiful, you know?" Gendry told her, his eyes fixed on her face. Arya felt herself blush at his praise and drunkenly cussed herself for being the blushing maid she was.

"Thank you, my Prince" Arya replied, finding she had far more manners drunk than she'd ever had sober. She looked at her feet to keep from seeing the glitter of desire in Gendry's blue eyes.

"It seems very ungentlemanly of me to allow you to escort me to my chambers while leaving you to find your way alone in the dark," he told her and Arya sighed at the light tone in his voice. For a moment she had been fearful he would try something with her.

"I could navigate this castle blind, being a little tipsy is no issue and I am never alone. I have Nymeria," Gendry and Arya both looked over at the wolf who had stuck her head in through the opening in the doorway, as though she was supervising them.

"She is a noble creature," Gendry said, "Much like her mistress."

"Nymeria cares more for compliments than I, Gendry." Arya told him, blushing again.

"Then I shall shower you in them until you believe them for the truth and come to accept and enjoy them as much as your wolf," Gendry told her.

Arya lifted her head and peered into his eyes. He was smiling at her.

"You ought to rest, dawn comes earlier than you'd believe in the North."

"Then I shall bid you goodnight my fierce lady, and see you on the morrow," Gendry replied, taking the hint that the compliments made her uncomfortable. "Mayhaps we ought to postpone our race as I fear tomorrow will result in a nasty headache for me."

"I would not want to beat you having you believe you had not been at your best, your highness," Arya smirked at him cheekily.

He laughed at her.

"I would not want you to feel you had been cheated into our deal were I to best you when you are not at full strength, my lady," he told her, tormenting her with her title as she had done to him.

"Goodnight, Gendry Baratheon," Arya whispered, pulling away from him with a smile and turning for the door.

Arya gasped when he kept hold of one hand, holding it until she turned to stare at him.

"Goodnight, Arya Stark of Winterfell, may your dreams be sweet," he murmured back to her before lifting her hand to his lips and pressing a soft kiss to her skin.

Chapter Text

Arya groaned as she heard Nymeria scratching at the door to get out and she almost cried out in protest when she opened her eyes to the bright sunlight streaming into her room. Even as she tried to bury her head under the covers she felt the heavy weight of Nymeria who had jumped up onto her bed and padded over to her.

"What time is it, Nym?" Arya groaned. "So much for riding out at dawn."

Arya opened her eyes slowly and peered into the yellow orbs of her pet dire wolf who was standing over her looking down into her face. Reaching up, Arya wrapped her arms around her large pet, pulling the heavy dire wolf down on top of her and nuzzling her face into Nymeria's fur.

The wolf did not protest since Arya liked to cuddle her every morning and Arya grinned when she received a wet-tongue lick of good morning, swiped up the side of her face.

She couldn't stay like it for long though. The sunlight streaming into her room bathed her bed in heat and Arya felt the warmth of the morning prickle sweat from her skin. Arya staggered out of bed and unbolted her door, but left it closed, padding around the room naked. Her head pounded uncomfortably but Arya ignored it. She raided through her chest of clothes, searching for something she could wear swimming. Normally she would sneak off and swim naked, but with her father showing off the lands of the North, Arya would not risk letting anyone catch her doing so. Realising the best she could hope for was going to be something she fashioned herself Arya found one of her most hated gowns and pulled out her dagger.

First, she cut the sleeves off before removing the section that would cover her stomach, she looked at her reflection as she pulled on the midriff and arm revealing garment, showing off her tanned skin since she wore something similar when she wore her Dothraki outfit to train in. She grimaced at the idea of swimming in breeches. Eyeing the remnants of her butchered dress Arya picked it up again. She could swim comfortably in a skirt if it was light enough and short enough she supposed. Hacking away the midsection of the dress altogether Arya sliced one of the sleeves into a thin strip and cut holes in the skirt before threading the strip through them and pulling the skirt tight around her hips. It fell to mid-thigh revealing even more skin than her training outfit, but it was light weight and allowed her the freedom to move her legs without getting them tangled in material when it would get wet.

Nodding to herself in spite of the way her hair hung down her back in a wild tangle, Arya knew there was no way she could traipse through the castle like this. Mother would murder her. Fixing her belt so it rested on her hips where her skirt sat, Arya replaced her dagger in its sheath and whistled for Nymeria, hopping out the window and creeping along in the shadows on the roof, trying to avoid being seen for as long as possible. There seemed to be very few people in the yard and so when she jumped down from the roof no one noticed her.

Arya crept into the stables again, breathing in the scent of hay and horses as she went to Storm. Deciding it was too hot for a saddle, and knowing Storm would swim with her if she wasn't saddled, Arya leapt aboard the mare bareback without so much as a saddle blanket or a bridle; Using only her legs and body movements to guide the mare. She urged Storm into a lope straight away, knowing that anyone who saw her would probably try to stop her from running around dressed this way.

They blew through the gate with Nymeria on their heels and Arya whooped for joy in spite of the way it made her head throb, kicking Storm into a gallop. The dire wolf galloped along beside them and Arya clung to Storm's mane, squinting into the wind as they raced for the river. Arya had never felt freer than when she rode bareback. And being dressed in so little felt strange but oddly freeing.

The wind whipped her hair and Storm's mane into Arya's eyes but she didn't care, the rolling hills were green and purple with weeds and wildflowers and they danced in the breeze as Arya raced past them. She had no idea where the lords were, but Arya felt glad she'd not risen with them to ride out, feeling much freer riding like this as she headed for the river.

Storm didn't even stop when they arrived, slowing to a lope before she bounded into the river and Arya hissed at the bite of the icy water in spite of the warm sunshine. After all, the days may have grown hot but this river was fed by the snow melt of the high north and the Wall. Both horse and rider adjusted to the temperature quickly and Arya paddled easily in the current while Storm retreated to the bank to roll in the grass enjoying the freedom of having no saddle on.

"Come on, Nym!" Arya urged, seeing the dire wolf standing in the water, wet to her knees. She managed to coax the wolf in but Arya regretted it when Nymeria decided Arya would make a wonderful island and dug her claws into Arya's exposed shoulders, stomach and thighs, trying to climb her mistress in an attempt to keep her head out of the water, dunking Arya in the process.

"Ouch, Nymeria!" Arya gasped when one claw dug in hard over her stomach. She shoved the wolf away from her, paddling for the shore, already knowing she would be bleeding.

Arya barely noticed that the icy water had turned her skin a bluish colour, staring at the gash on her stomach. Blood trickled from the wound but it didn't look too deep. Sighing and wiping at the blood Arya looked up to see both her wolf and her horse rolling in the grass trying to dry themselves. Storm grunted happily as she did it, as though it felt good and Nymeria kept rubbing her muzzle against it, seemingly frenzied. Shrugging her shoulders Arya Stark threw herself down and rolled over in the grass a few times but didn't get any drier.

Then she narrowed her eyes on the hill across the meadow from where she'd been swimming. Arya felt a foolish, child-like grin blossom across her face and she jumped up, racing towards the hill excitedly. The wolf and horse ran along with her and Arya laughed when Storm bounded ahead, kicking up her heels and pigrooting, enjoying the feel of running without a rider. Nymeria's tongue lolled out of her mouth as if she was saying to Arya, can't you go any faster?

Arya ran all the way to the top before lying down on her side and staring down the hill. She was so focused on what she was about to do that she didn't see the party of lords on horseback across the way, but they had caught sight of her. Taking a deep breath Arya flung herself forwards, setting her body in motion. She rolled over and over herself down the hill, laughing and squealing with glee, barely feeling the knocks of each hit as she rolled again. Nymeria was confused by the fun, bounding along beside her and even on top of her at one stage though the wolf seemed to quickly decide that hill rolling was not for her. Arya hit the bottom with a crash, still laughing when Nymeria leapt on top of her, clearly excited and ready for a wrestle.

She kept her claws retracted and though she growled ferociously she did not bite her laughing and snarling mistress. Arya climbed to her knees, wrapping her arms around the wolf and hanging on, trying to pull her to the ground while Nymeria tried to shake her off. Still laughing and playing neither the girl nor wolf noticed their audience and so they did not see the gobsmacked expressions at the view they made.

Gendry Baratehon held his breath in awe, wonder and a little fear as he listened to the fierce snarls and laughter combining as he watched the lean young woman wrestle with a fully grown dire wolf. She did it with practised ease, trusting Nymeria not to turn on her or hurt her even when she hung her body weight around the wolf and pulled her to the ground.

Arya had her hands buried in Nymeria's thick ruff, shaking her from side to side and managing to lever herself from beneath where the wolf had pinned her and she cried out triumphantly when she managed to get her arms around the wolf's middle, hoisting the giant creature up into her arms, lifting Nymeria completely off her feet and cradling the heavy wolf in her arms on her back like she had done when Nymeria was just a puppy. In spite of her size and ferociousness, Arya knew the wolf loved the position. Recognising it as a position of affection from her mistress, she whined happily, wrapping her front legs over Arya's shoulders and bathing Arya's face with her tongue to return the affection.

The girl laughed as she lowered Nymeria's back legs to the ground, supporting the full weight of the wolf by her front paws which rested on Arya's shoulders. Wrapping her arms around the wolf in a cuddle Arya buried her face in the thick grey fur which was still damp from their swim.

Gendry stared as he saw how tall the wolf was when it stood on its back legs, easily clearing Arya's six foot height and possibly reaching ten feet tall. He gained a new respect for Arya to realise that moments ago she had cradled the massive wolf like a babe.

Arya was oblivious to her audience as she wrestled the wolf again, twisting them both sideways and crashing to the ground again. She had just pinned Nymeria when she was set upon by three more of the wolves. Grey Wind and Summer both leapt into the fray wrestling with Arya and Nymeria. Shaggy-Dog hung back a little. He was the roughest and wildest of the Stark wolves and had the least control not to snap and bite when he got pinned. Arya laughed as she wrestled with them all, holding one arm out to Shaggy to beckon him in, telling him he was invited. He immediately pounced on Grey Wind who had managed to pin Nymeria down.

Arya played with Summer rolling amid the heavy wolf bodies as she was drawn into a wrestling pile with Summer, Grey Wind, Shaggy-Dog and Nymeria. The growling and snapping grew more intense and it took a nip from Shaggy before Arya rolled away from the wrestling wolves. She nearly screamed when she stood up and caught sight of the many lords astride their steeds watching her from about ten meters away. She was still waving her nipped and bleeding hand, trying to relieve the sting when it occurred to her that of course the wolves of her brothers would not just show up randomly where she was.

"Shaggy bit you, didn't he?" Rickon asked her from his horse, clearly unsurprised to find his sister clad in a midriff revealing butchered dress. Arya was surprised when none of the lords said anything though some of them looked disapproving. Others, she noticed, were looking on with an appreciation at the sight of a young woman's supple body.

"Not too hard, and I deserved it. I nipped his ear first," Arya admitted before she realised that it was not just her brothers and her father but also all four of the Princes, along with Ser Jaime and the Hound and the King and many of her Father's banner men who sat there watching her.

"Why were you rolling down the hill, Lady Arya?" Tommen asked her innocently. Even though he was ten years he seemed incredibly naïve. "Did you fall?"

Arya smiled at him.

"Of course not, Your Highness, I merely noticed that after swimming both my horse and my wolf seemed to enjoy rolling in the grass as a means of getting dry. I tried it on the flat grass but it didn't help to dry my skin and I thought perhaps if it were to roll faster it might work…. Would you care to try it for yourself? It's quite fun."

"Could I, Father?" Tommen appealed to the King. King Robert was too busy ogling the curves of the girl who looked so much like Lyanna Stark to be paying proper attention and waved his hand dismissively. Tommen grinned, handing the reins to Steffon and dismounting. He approached Arya cautiously, eyeing the way the wolves were still wrestling and fighting.

Arya offered the young prince her hand as they climbed the hill again. He began to look more and more terrified as they neared the top.

"Would you like me to hold your hands and roll with you, Your Highness?" Arya offered kindly.

"Holding hands is for children," Tommen said stubbornly.

"That is not true, my Prince, lovers hold hands too and I feel you will love this adventure. If you don't want to hold my hands you don't have to, but I fear you may be too slight to retain full speed rolling down the hill."

Tommen laid down on his side, staring down the hill and Arya laid across from him, staring into his face.

"If you want to stop, turn your legs towards the bottom of the hill, okay?"

Tommen nodded, looking terrified now.

"Tommen?" Arya asked gently, stretching both hands above her head towards him. Slowly, and a little sheepishly, he reached up too. Arya clasped his wrists and told him to do the same to her.

"Are you ready, my prince? On three, I want you to throw your weight forwards and try to keep your body tense so you don't hurt yourself when we roll. Let go of me before stopping if you're going to, okay?" the prince nodded and Arya grinned at him. "On three your highness…. One…. Two…. Three!"

Arya and Tommen both threw their weight forwards, rolling much faster because they were joined together. Tommen screamed when they were only halfway down and to make him feel better Arya did too before bursting into giggles. After a moment she heard the prince copy her, laughing and giggling as he stopped being afraid and instead enjoyed himself. They knocked heads only once, and hit the bottom with a crash. Many of the lords were chuckling, especially when the four wolves leapt on the pair again, licking them and whining for attention.

Arya got to her feet, signalling the wolves away and offered Tommen a hand up. He staggered dizzily and Arya had to catch him and hold him still for a moment, peering into his face as she held him by the shoulders. When his head began to clear the youngest prince smiled at her happily.

"Can we do it again?" he asked her excitedly.

"My prince, I could do that all day if you'd like, mayhaps some of your brothers or mine might like to join us?" Arya grinned at the lords and she could see Rickon itching to roll down the hills with them as he had done when they were all younger. He looked as though he didn't want to appear childish, but wanted to do it anyway.

Lifting her eyes to meet those of her father Arya smiled at him coyly.

"When was the last time you rolled down a hill, Father?" she asked him, seeing his smile. Many of the lords smiled and Arya had no doubt that the men from the North had all rolled down hills in their youth.

"Your Grace, Father used to tell me stories of the afternoon you and he spent rolling down hills together as boys, mayhaps you'd like to revisit such a childish pleasure and grant some of these men the permission to throw off their responsibilities for just a moment or two?" Arya appealed to the King of the Seven Kingdoms sweetly.

"Don't go lookin' at me with those puppy eyes, girl" The King laughed and Arya knew he saw not just her but also her aunt as she turned on the full effect of her charming pleading expression.

"I'll swear to the old gods and new that I will never tell a soul of the time a King rolled the hills of the North if you will, Your Grace," Arya coaxed him gently, watching the lords, many of whom looked as though they could not resist Arya's pleading.

"I'm going to do it, Father," Gendry said, swinging down off his horse.

"I think I will too," Steffon chimed in. "What of you, Rickon? Joffery? Bran? Robb? Care to join us?"

Arya didn't take her eyes off the King and she could see his resolve weakening.

"Ned, my old friend, I see now why you've raised yourself such a wild daughter. No one can say no to that face. Not even the King of the Seven Kingdoms. Will you join an old friend in foolishness?"

"It has been a long time since you and I rolled hills, my friend," Ned laughed but he too dismounted his horse and Arya grinned, bounding off up the hill with more energy than any of the men. She watched from the top as the entire riding party ground tied their horses and climbed the steep hill.

"Those of you in armour may wish to remove it unless you wish for a painful experience, my Lords," Arya called to them, noticing some of the Southern men clad in chain mail.

"You have a way about you, Arya Stark," the king told her when they all reached the top of the hill.

"Your Grace, I believe as King it is your duty to lead the attack," Arya grinned at him with a wave of her hand to the hill.

"Oh no, Girl. This is a big hill and I do believe that racing is a speciality of yours. Spread out, men. We're all going at once." The King ordered.

"Put a fair distance between yourselves, my lords, for if you roll sideways you may find yourself colliding with someone else." Arya called out to them all as she watched the proud and stern lords of Winterfell, the North, the South and even King Robert himself all lie down on their sides facing the bottom of the hill.

"Will you hold my hands to roll down the hill Lady Arya?" Gendry teased her.

"If you are fearful, my prince" Arya smirked at him.

"Seven Hells, Ned! What are we doing? Me -the King of the realm, and you -the Warden of the North, and yet we might as well still be children!" Robert complained good-naturedly. "Arya Stark, word about this better not get back to the rest of the realm or I'll have your head, girl." 

"I will personally silence them should that happen, Your Grace," Arya called from the other end of the line of people, grinning into Gendry's face as she prepared to roll.

"Alright, lads," the king cried with a battle yell. "Forward!"

Arya was almost sad as she threw herself forwards wishing she could stop at the top and watch all these proud men rolling down a hill like little children and she shrieked happily as she shut her eyes and let the feeling of the motion take over her. When she opened them it was with a shout of surprise as her body rolled onto something that did not feel like the ground.

"Wasn't it you who told us to spread out so we wouldn't hit each other?" Ned Stark asked his daughter as she rolled to a stop on his chest.

"Hello, Father," Arya beamed at him happily, feeling like she was four years old again. Ned laughed when Arya kissed both of his cheeks and got to her feet, offering him a hand up. He took it gratefully.

"Your Grace?" Arya grinned, standing over the King who was lying on his back at the bottom of the hill roaring with laughter.

He was too busy laughing to take the hand she offered and Arya smirked to see Gendry looking very dizzy, sitting up with his legs stretched out in front of him. Some of the men were groaning as their aged bodies adjusted to the shock and Arya watched as many among them tried to climb to their feet, realising suddenly just how much some of these men had sacrificed of their reputations to have rolled like children. She saw Ser Jaime Lannister stand and smirk. Saw the Hound who looked surprised at himself for having done that.

"Need a hand, your Highness?" Arya smirked down at Gendry who was shaking his head, trying to clear it.

"Much obliged, Lady Arya," Gendry said, reaching for her hand. Arya shrieked when he jerked her down on top of him instead of letting her pull him to his feet.

"You're a bad influence," Gendry told her moments before Nymeria leapt upon the pair.

Father was watching her with a strange look in his eyes when Arya ordered the wolf away and Arya blushed suddenly when she realised that clad in next to nothing she was sitting on the ground between Gendry Baratheon's spread legs, laughing.

"You're the bad influence, Gendry," Arya muttered to him. "As if I need you getting me in any more trouble than I get myself into."

She pushed herself to her feet as she laughed, not offering to help him a second time.

"Does your Mother know you're out here alone, Arya?" Ned asked her. Arya glanced at her bare feet and then back at her father.

"No, Father," she murmured.

"And I'd wager she hasn't seen your lack of attire either?" He asked her. Blushing a little, Arya shook her head.

"Gods be good, girl you get me in as much trouble as yourself!" Ned admonished her "You were supposed to meet with you mother and sister to accompany them to lunch with the Queen and the Princess."

"No one told me, Father" Arya told him, lifting her head knowing that even if they had she would have snuck off to swim anyway.

"Is there any particular reason you've destroyed one of your gowns?" he asked her, eyeing the scratch on her stomach which was still oozing blood. Arya tried not to grin.

"Well I was aware the lords would be about the country side today father, and so deemed in to be inappropriate for me to swim naked" She drawled at them.

"You've been swimming?" Gendry asked her, shocked. "Isn't it freezing?"

Arya laughed and looked at him to find him standing next to her.

"Maybe for your southern-born blood it would be," she teased him.

"Hold it, girl, not another word or the next thing, you'll have forty naked lords leaping into the river," The King stopped her with a laugh as he slowly got to his feet, having finally stopped laughing.

"Well it was incredibly refreshing in this heat, Your Grace," Arya grinned at him, eyes laughing.

"Oh no. Those puppy eyes won't work again. Not for all the food, wine or whores in the world will this King be jumping in a river of snow melt from the Wall" He sounded amused and Arya noticed the Princes and the King's men looking at him as though they were unsure it was really him.

"I understand Your Grace…. For now. I'm going back in if anyone would like to join me?" Arya offered, eyeing her brothers who had always loved to swim.

"Oh, no you're not! You were due for lunch with the Queen. I suggest you make your way back there and try to think of an excuse as to why you were not in your chambers and so were unable to meet with your mother and sister and the Queen." Ned told her sternly.

"Yes Father" Arya grinned before opening her mouth and issuing a high pitched whistle to call Storm to her. The mare trotted over to her, bearing no saddle, blanket or bridle and her father eyed her suspiciously.

"Where is your riding gear?" he asked her.

"I didn't use it, Father," Arya told him before she turned and tangled her fingers into Storm's mane, swinging aboard with practiced ease even though she was bareback.

"Would you like me to warn the cooks that you'll all be returning for lunch?" she asked Ned Stark.

"Do that," he nodded, frowning at his wild daughter "Oh and Arya, don't let your mother see you in those things or she'll wring all our necks."

"Don't worry, Father, she never sees me," Arya grinned wickedly before she looked at Gendry who was once again astride his large black horse. "Race you back?"

Gendry laughed at her.

"I would not want to put you at an unfair disadvantage, my Lady," Gendry grinned.

"It's you who has the disadvantage, my Prince, weighed down with all that equipment." Arya teased him.

"Then we shall race another time when we are evenly matched," he shrugged his wide shoulders.

"Afraid you'll lose?" Arya challenged him with a grin. Gendry's blue eyes held hers for a moment.

"Yes" he admitted boldly. Arya smirked before she shrugged at him and turned her eyes to the King.

"With your leave, Your Grace," Arya appealed, attempting some form of manners before a King. He laughed again and waved her off with his hand.

Ned Stark watched the way the mare his daughter rode bareback leapt into a rear, pawing at the sky, and the way his wild daughter clung to her as though horse and girl were one being. When Storm's hooves touched the earth she bolted for Winterfell at a gallop and they heard Arya's sharp whistle call Nymeria to her heels. He shook his head as he watched her go, wondering if anyone could ever tame her and fearing for the life of anyone who ever tried.

"Your daughter would make a fine Queen, Ned," Robert told him, watching her go and no doubt thinking of Lyanna. Before Ned could disagree Gendry Baratheon beat him to it.

"No, she wouldn't, Father. A woman like Arya would be too much of a distraction. You think you could divide your attentions between the Realm and a woman like her?"

Ned had no doubt that every man there was thinking the same thing. Steffon voiced his opinion as well.

"I know I couldn't and it would be the Realm that would go wanting, even if only for the fear of what trouble Lady Arya would stir up when I wasn't looking."

Even Ned laughed at the Prince's words.

"Making a girl like Arya a Queen of the Seven Kingdoms would be the worst thing to ever happen to the realm," Gendry said before adding cheekily "Unless of course you tried to marry her off to Joffery first."

"Perhaps she would not make such a good Queen, after all," Robert mused.

"No, but she'll make a fine wife," Gendry stated boldly and Ned glanced at the young man. There could be no doubt that he meant Arya would make a fine wife for himself and Ned realised that he had as good as stated to his father and to Ned himself that he would seek to make a match with her if they were all agreeable. Ned wondered if the lad knew what he was getting himself into.

Chapter Text

Two days later Gendry and Arya had yet to have their race and Arya was beginning to grow anxious. The Tourney was just four days from now and while she felt certain she could ride tilt effectively, she needed Gendry to help her pull it off, but she had to win their race before he would help.

She was in the yard dressed in her training clothes and sparring with Rickon, both of them whacking at each other with wooden swords, but she knew that the princes had wandered over to watch them spar.

"Would you care to join in, Steffon?" Robb offered the prince and Arya smirked even as Rickon raised his sword high above his head. She stepped straight into him, miming running him through if she'd a real sword.

"You're dead," Arya told him, whacking him lightly but with enough force to sting so he would learn from the mistake.

"My turn," Bran grinned, throwing Arya a second wooden sword and taking up two for himself.

"Are you sure you want Princess Myrcella to see you bested by your sister, little Brother?" Arya teased him, twirling her swords as she tormented him.

"You will not best me," Bran challenged. Arya laughed, leaping into the attack, wielding both swords as Father had taught her.

Bran challenged her more than Rickon and Arya knew that had they been sparring with real blades they would both need a Maester and several stitches. Switching from simple sparring to her water dancing Arya began to twirl and dance, whacking Bran every time he stepped out of form. He caught her across the knuckles with a sharp rap and Arya hissed, leaping forwards and raising both swords. Bran wasn't quick enough and he stilled when he found her wooden swords crossed over one another and pressed to either side of his throat.

"You're dead, Little Brother," Arya grinned at him.

Bran smiled back good naturedly and offered a sword to Tommen. The young Prince took it and hefted it, looking a little apprehensive to take on a girl who had just bested two of her brothers.

"I'm not very good," Tommen warned her quietly as he stepped forwards and Arya knew it was his way of asking her to teach him a little.

"Show me," Arya instructed him, forgetting amid the sparring grounds that he was a prince. He stepped forwards, swinging his sword high and Arya pointed hers at his chest.

"Do not leave your body exposed unless you know your opponent is weak enough not to run you through," Arya told him.

The next time he came at her he kept his arms across his body, striking by twisting his body instead of raising it high for leverage. They began to spar and Arya grinned. He was a very agile sword fighter, his small stature giving him an advantage. Their wooden swords cracked together repeatedly and Arya encouraged him, showing him how to block some of her fancier attacks. He was a fast learner and Arya found she enjoyed teaching him. He took her advice faster than Bran or Rickon did, both of them at an age where they believed they knew everything.

Tommen reminded Arya of herself at ten and she smiled when he made a mistake stepping in and holding her sword against him.

"You're dead, my Prince," Arya told him "but you are very skilled with that sword. It is not your weapon though."

Tommen looked at her curiously.

"You are agile and quick, you strike not for the fun of sparring but with the intent to kill. I could see you assessing me for some way to kill me. That side swipe you do with your sword will not be as effective with a sword when you are a man grown, but if you remain as agile you would reap carnage on a battlefield with an Arakh."

"The Dothraki weapon?" Tommen asked her. Arya nodded, moving over to dig into the box of wooden fighting tools until she found a wooden replica of the weapon and handed it to him.

"A real one is a dual sided blade like a sword but the curve is designed for hooking." She showed him how to hold it. "To gut an opponent you would slice in here like this," she poked the wooden weapon against her exposed abdomen. "And then slice it sideways like your side swipe, gutting them and leaving them defenceless to die tangled up in their own entrails."

Tommen did it of his own accord, dragging the wooden tip across her flat stomach and leaving a red line against her skin.

"Did that hurt?" he asked her apologetically.

"Only a little," she assured him. "When you grow tall like your brothers and your father you will be able to behead men using the other side of the blade, usually it is sharp enough to cleave through bone and remove limbs too, if one knows how to use it effectively."

"Thank you, Lady Arya," Tommen told her softly while her brothers were all busy. Joffery had refused to join in, while Gendry and Steffon were sparring with Theon and Robb.

"What for, my Prince?" Arya asked him softly.

"For teaching me. Father and my brothers and our Man-At-Arms, they are impatient with me because I am still so small and they prefer to fight each other so they do not have to go easy on me. Joffery often spars with me, but he is cruel. He ridicules me and hurts me. You are kind and do not strike hard enough to leave bruises as Joffery does." Tommen told her softly, playing with the Arakh while he talked to her.

"I spar everyday when I can, Tommen. You are welcome to spar with me whenever you would like to," Arya promised him solemnly.

"Will you show me how to fight with this weapon against different ones?" he asked her hopefully. Arya smiled.

"First you must learn to fight with it against an opponent carrying the same weapon," Arya told him. "That way you will learn from watching me use it and instinctively based on the shaped and dimensions of the blade."

Arya laid down her sword, picking up an Arakh of her own.

For almost a half hour she sparred with Tommen while the other boys rotated with each other but it was when she began to show him some of her water dancing moves that she had found useful while carrying an Arakh that she noticed Gendry, Steffon, Theon and her brothers watching them. She pretended not to notice as she showed Tommen how he could twirl with the weapon, subtly crooking her finger at Rickon and beckoning him forwards to join in with them so she could teach Tommen how to effectively kill two opponents at once if he could learn to perfect it.

Rickon stood behind the small Prince and Arya bent slightly to allow his to reach up to drag to point of the weapon across her neck as he twirled. Tommen reacted instantly when he saw Rickon behind him moving to swing a sword at him and he perfected the movements instinctively as he missed Rickon with the first slice, stilling his movement and reversing it instantly as Rickon stepped back in to try and hit him. With the dual blade, had it been a real fight and a real weapon, he would've effectively killed Rickon.

Tommen grinned triumphantly and looked up at Rickon as he said, "You're Dead."

Gendry chuckled.

"Would you like to try practising what I've shown you on Rickon?" Arya asked Tommen. He nodded and Arya handed her brother the Arakh she held. She eyed Robb, Theon, Steffon and Gendry.

"Who's next?" she asked them.

"What kind of fight are you looking for?" Gendry asked her and Arya noticed he carried a dagger and a hammer. Both wooden, but both lethal in the right hands.

"Should we pretend this match is amid a war where you might meet anyone with any obscure weapon?" she asked him as she went to the box and dug out a dagger of her own as well as a rapier in a wooden version of Needle.

"Are you sure you want to do this?" Gendry asked her as he eyed her weapons of choice. She heard Theon laugh at the Prince. He had asked the same thing two moons ago and his pride was still recovering.

"Bring me your best, Prince Gendry," Arya smirked at him as she took up position on the sparring field.

She watched him come towards her, a much more imposing opponent because of his height and broad shoulders and he swung his hammer menacingly as he watched her. Arya waited, knowing that against a hammer it would be foolish to leap in.

"Do not presume to go easy on me because I'm a girl, Gendry," Arya warned him. She watched him smile, knowing that he'd been thinking of doing just that since she had no doubt that in his eyes she was probably some scrawny little thing with weapons that would be no match for the large wooden hammer he was hefting.

Gendry Baratheon fixed his eyes on the woman he had every intention of marrying as she watched him, waiting for him to make the first move. It was a smart thing to do since any move she made to attack him would result in him clobbering her with a swing of his hammer and he found himself secretly pleased that she knew enough about weaponry and fighting that she could do so.

When he stepped towards her she started to move in such a way that if he hadn't been watching her all afternoon he'd have gasped in surprise. He swung his hammer towards her and felt the biting little stab of the wooden dagger she carried hit his wrist. He knew that if they were fighting for real she'd have just stabbed a blade through his wrist and probably would have made him drop his hammer.

As it was the wood bit against his skin and his hammer connected with her shoulder. He tried to soften the blow and regretted it when she kicked him hard in the shins.

"That's not fighting fair," he laughed even as he hopped on one foot for a moment.

"A true fight never will be, my Prince," Arya Stark smiled at him, mischief in her grey eyes.

He narrowed his, moving in on her much faster this time and she narrowed her eyes back on him as her dagger met his while she blocked his hammer blow with her rapier.

Arya lost track of the blows they landed on each other though she knew that if they had been fighting with real weapons they would both be in very poor shape. Arya leapt forwards when she saw an opening, stabbing her rapier forwards as though it were Needle and hearing Gendry grunt in surprise. But before she could look up and smile triumphantly, Arya discovered the reason Gendry had left his stomach unprotected and the air whooshed out of her lungs as her feet left the ground.

The actual blow of the hammer took a moment to register even as she flew through the air and Arya realised slowly that having been as caught up in the sparring as she had, Gendry had just clobbered her with his hammer, striking her hard in the chest, right between the breasts she had firmly strapped to her chest to keep them from jiggling around while she fought. Pain radiated through both breasts and across her chest even as the hollow thudding sound seemed to echo in her mind. She felt like it was in slow motion as she stumbled backwards and Arya knew that had they been in a real fight, had he been using a real hammer, such a blow would have caved in the chest of his opponent.

Arya stumbled back, trying to keep her feet beneath herself and having a hard time of it. As her back collided painfully with the wooden fence rail around the sparring yard Arya felt pain bite into her, winding her further. She watched Gendry's face turn to a mask of horror as he realised what he had done. Arya narrowed her eyes on him, refusing to let the prince feel any kind of remorse for having hit her as though she were a male opponent instead of female. Gritting her teeth against the pain even as she sucked a breath in through them, Arya stormed forwards before the prince could panic.

Instinctively his arm holding the dagger came up to protect himself as she struck out at him with her rapier. It whacked against his flesh with enough force to leave a red welt, and though Arya knew she was going to have a bruise on her chest tomorrow, she didn't stop. She could see Gendry and all the other boys frowning at her while she kept fighting him, but he had stopped trying to attack her, instead he was only defending and Arya felt herself becoming frustrated. He was going to be covered in bruises if he didn't fight back but he didn't seem to care.

She snarled like a wolf when Gendry dropped both his hammer and his dagger, catching her wrists in his large hands.

"Arya, stop!" he commanded her.

She didn't want to, but she didn't have much choice when he pulled her arms up above her head. The movement opened her chest, allowing the pain to stab against her nastily as she opened her abused lungs. He grunted in pain when she kicked him in the shins again, wiggling her wrists and trying to force her to let go of her weapons.

"You're hurt. Stop it!" he snapped when Arya kicked him again.

"I'm fine," she snarled back at him, kicking at him with both legs and trying keep hold of her weapons.

"Stop it, you're going to hurt yourself!" Gendry told her fiercely, his face very close to hers as he glared at her. Arya grew impatient with him, instantly regretting it when she threw her head forwards, slamming her forehead against his with a painful crack as she head-butted him. He dropped her in surprise.

"Arya!" he snapped at her.

"If I had known you were going to act like a woman the first time you landed a decent blow, I wouldn't have bothered with you at all," Arya spat at him. "Talk to me when you relocate your balls."

She spun on her heels away from him.

"Your prince did not grant you leave, sister," Robb told her, eyeing her dangerously. Arya glared at him, spinning back to face Gendry who was rubbing his forehead.

"Forgive me, find me when you regrow a cock, Your Highness," she spat nastily, bowing low even as she walked backward away from him before deserting him and the rest of them in the yard, storming off to the stables so she could get away from all their idiocy.

She heard him call her name as she and Storm exploded from the stables, nearly knocking the prince to the ground as she loped through the yard and out of Winterfell. She had her quiver of arrows strapped to her back, riding Storm bareback, holding onto her reins with her left hand while she clutched her bow in her right. She'd been forced to hide them in the stables after her hunting trip on the King's arrival, Mother having lost her temper when Arya had missed the luncheon with the Queen and the Princess since she had used hunting as her excuse for missing it rather than swimming to keep mother from finding out about her swimming attire.

Arya cursed when she heard pounding hooves behind her, scowling angrily when she caught sight of a black haired rider galloping towards her on a black horse. She knew it was Gendry, knew that he was no doubt mad at her for having insulted him and attacked him after having hurt her. She glanced down at her chest. The stiff leather of the vest she wore for a shirt had no doubt protected her from some of the damage of the hammer blow, but Arya could see the large red and purple bruise blooming against her tan skin.

Having no doubt that Gendry would probably follow her all over the North if she didn't stop and face him, but not really caring Arya clapped her heels to Storm's side, pushing the mare faster, swerving towards the forest. She shivered in the afternoon shadows as she entered it, cold in the tight fitting leather vest that exposed her stomach and left her arms bare. Her legs were warm enough in breeches, but Arya could feel a cold change coming and she knew that soon she would need to dig out her winter clothing.

Moving deeper and deeper into the forest, Storm and Arya began to slow, picking their way through to keep from colliding with trees or stumbling over fallen logs.

"If you don't stop, I'm going to chase you until both our horses fall down dead, and then I'm going to wring you damned neck, Arya!" Gendry yelled at her and Arya glanced back to see him crashing through the forest behind her.

"Of the two of us, it's me who is armed," Arya threatened him darkly, scowling at him.

"What is wrong with you? You wouldn't shoot me!" Gendry growled at her. Arya narrowed her eyes and pulled an arrow from the quivers, notching it on her bowstring and holding it loosely.

"I could put this right through your eye and the wolves would eat you before anyone ever found your body," Arya told him, turning to glare at him. His horse was breathing hard as he slowed it to almost a walk when he was perhaps three horse lengths away.

"Why are you mad at me?" he asked her, baffled and wary as he eyed her bow.

"You treated me like a girl!" Arya snapped at him. Growing fed up with having to glare at him over her shoulder Arya reined Storm to a stop in a clearing deep in the forest.

"You bloody well are one, Arya!" Gendry yelled at her as they both dismounted. His horse shied violently at the sound, especially since he accompanied it with a frustrated flinging of his arms.

Arya watched feeling somewhat appeased and very amused as his horse - which wore only a bridle - wheeled and trotted away, heading back toward Winterfell. Gendry cursed foully when he realised it since he had dropped the reins the minute he dismounted, too focused on yelling at Arya.

"That's what you get," Arya told him childishly, crossing her arms to fight off the shiver that raced across her skin in the cool forest.

She glared up at the man who was now cursing her, his horse, his own stupidity for hitting her, and the whole of the North. He cursed it even more colourfully when a fox darted from the place it had been hiding, no doubt curled up and asleep in a log, scaring the life out of him and almost making him stumble backward over the fallen log in surprise.

Arya had begun to laugh by the time he stopped cursing, which was right around the time Gendry caught sight of the bruise forming on her chest and peeking out from the top of her vest. She had fashioned it out of hard leather like the men made their light armour from, lacing it up at the front, making sure the leather was thick, tight, form-fitting - to keep her breasts from wobbling - and double layered should the first lacings come loose. When Gendry saw the bruise he cursed some more, this time much more foully. So much so that she almost blushed.

"And you think you're just fine, do you?" he demanded, getting in her face as he glared at the bruise he'd left on her chest.

"I know I am. I'm not some weak little princess who can't take it, Gendry," Arya snapped at him, very much aware of the fact that they were all alone in the forest, no one knew where they were and this time there damn sure weren't people to see them and whisper. After the feast on their arrival, whispers had swept through the castle of Lady Arya having been in Prince Gendry's chambers late at night. Mother had been furious and even father had looked on disapprovingly while Mother riled at her for being so stupid and careless.

She was also very much aware of the whispers that had reached even her ears on the second day of their visit, claiming that Gendry had apparently commented that she would be a very distracting but fine wife, and an awful Queen.

"Maybe not, but you're still a girl, one who's a lot smaller than me. I shouldn't have hit you that hard."

"I'll get hit harder than that in the tourney," Arya told him.

"You'll be wearing the Kingdom's worth of armour in the tourney, if I let you compete at all," he replied hotly.

Arya felt her lip curl back in anger and disgust at being addressed like he owned her.

"If you let me?" she demanded coldly and he realised his mistake instantly as he froze.

"You're going to get hurt, Arya," Gendry told her reasonably. "My Uncle Jaime and half-a-hundred other lords and knights are coming to compete in the tourney. You think they're going to go easy on you? If they have no idea you're a woman, they'll unhorse you and you'll be lucky if they don't kill you."

"I've never been unhorsed in my life," Arya snapped at him. "And the whole point of competing without the realm knowing I'm a girl is so that when I win I can take off my helmet and let the whole world see that just because the lot of you have cocks and like to hit each other with lances, does not make you superior."

Gendry stared at her for a moment in shock before he started to laugh. Arya punched his chest, taking offence.

"Hells, woman," Gendry chuckled as he caught her hand in his and held it against him. "You have no idea how glad I am that I came to Winterfell."

Arya glared at him indignantly.

"You don't think I can win?"

"You think you can beat me, and Steffon, and Uncle Jaime? All the knights of the North?" he asked her sceptically.

Arya snorted at him. "You couldn't even hang onto your horse, and nearly fell over when you got down. I'm not exactly worried."

Gendry glared at her.

"You haven't even won our wager yet and already you think you can unhorse me in a tourney." He shook his head at her, eyes sparkling with mischief even as he pretended to pity her.

"I won our wager the minute your horse ran off, and even if he hadn't, it wouldn't matter. You will be helping me to enter the tourney as an anonymous knight, because if you don't I'll do it without you anyway." Arya told him.

"Oh, and what would stop me from declaring who you are in front of the realm at the tourney?" Gendry tried to poke holes in her theory.

"Would you dare accuse a knight of being a woman before the entire realm without knowing for certain it was me? You've no idea of my sigil or my armour, nor even which horse I will ride in the tilt. And dressed in men's armour and a helm, none will know me from any other anonymous knight."

"You'll not be riding under the banner of house Stark, then?" Gendry asked.

"I'll not be telling you anything until I've your word you'll not reveal me," Arya replied.

"So you're just throwing our wager away, then? What of my winnings, seeing as you have demanded yours?" he put to her cunningly. Arya glared at him drolly.

"Did you think the birds would not be whispering of your declaration to the king that I would make a finely distracting wife?" Arya asked him. She watched Gendry's cheeks turn pink before he smiled slyly.

"I've not heard an objection from you, Lady Arya," he told her. Arya stared up at him, realising he had not stepped back after coming so close to look at her bruise.

"By all means, my prince, attempt to get to know me during your visit. We did not agree to anything but that. I've no objection to you following me around like a lost pup" she grinned at him.

He was still holding onto her hand and it felt warm in his grip, making the rest of her shiver in the cold forest, realising suddenly that darkness had begun to fall.

"We should return to Winterfell," Arya whispered to him. "Else you and I will start even more whispers and my lady-mother might cry."

Gendry smiled at her wickedly and she noticed the heat had returned to his gaze as he watched her. He had clearly heard the less than favourable things the folk of Winterfell had been whispering about Ned Stark's wayward daughter and the handsome young Prince. Arya could tell by the look on his face that they didn't bother him a bit and she suddenly knew that Gendry Baratheon had every intention of wedding her and so cared little that the small folk whispered that perhaps he had already bedded her.

A strange feeling swept through her, making her stomach swoop excitedly and her cold skin suddenly felt flushed and warm with some inner heat. She knew within herself that Gendry was the cause of it and Arya caught herself as she slowly lifted her hand to rest it against his stubbled cheek. She watched the way he closed his eyes slowly and leant his face into her soft touch. Arya was surprised at herself. She had often seen her mother rest her hand against her father's cheek in this way and she knew it was a gesture of affection.

Right then, standing there in the cool dark forest all alone with a man second in line to the Iron Throne until his brother could produce an heir, watching the way he leaned into her touch the way the wolves did when they wanted to be scratched Arya felt some subtle shift inside herself as she realised that he had every intention of attempting to sway her into marrying him. It unsettled her greatly, that knowledge, because she had no doubt that Gendry Baratheon could charm his way into her icy heart. She liked the way he so easily accepted her wild ways. In the short time she had known him Arya had come to realise that he not only tolerated her unladylike behaviour, but seemed to prefer it.

Standing there dressed in a leather armoured vest that exposed her flat stomach and men's britches Arya Stark felt a little fearful for her heart, and wondered what would become of the wild young woman who so disdained the idea of marriage now that she had given Gendry permission to attempt to sway her to it. Feeling warmth and something else flutter through her, Arya looked at his handsome face and came to a decision, the rash kind of decision she often made that earned her names like 'Wayward'.

While his eyes were still closed as though he savoured her gentle touch, Arya rolled up onto her toes, leaning toward him until her lips met his in a soft kiss.

Gendry Baratheon almost swallowed his tongue in surprise when she kissed him. It was a light caress against his lips, as light as if she had run a feather over him but he felt it through his body as though she'd simultaneously run him through with her sword at his cock and at the heart within his chest. It surprised him that she had kissed him at all when she had been raging at him and tormenting him just moments ago, and it surprised him even more that she did it so shyly.

In the few days he'd spent at Winterfell in the company of Arya Stark, he had come to see many sides of her. Almost all of them were brazen and fearless, fun-loving and so unladylike that she truly seemed wild to him. He was used to women who whispered about dresses and graced him with doe-eyes before giggling behind their hands to one another. He wasn't used to the kind of woman who would discuss weapons with him, nor the kind who could almost put him to shame when it came to understanding how to run a kingdom. He was even less used to a girl who looked more at home in boys britches and one of her father's shirts or a revealing scarp of a garment than a full dress, especially one who walked with such confidence and assuredness that Gendry knew she had no idea of her beauty, nor of the way the sight of her body displayed such set many a man's loins afire.

Before she could pull away from him, Gendry slid his arms around her narrow waist, his hands brushing tantalisingly against her cool, exposed flesh as he pulled her body to his. Now that he had her kissing him he wasn't about to let her get away; not when he'd been itching to do so since she had spat on her bloodied hands before her King and then offered them to his father with a bright smile. Covered in blood spatters and a little dirt, dressed in a man's clothing with her hair falling free of the restraining braid she wore it in, Gendry had thought he'd never seen a woman so wild and never seen one so appealing.

He'd been wrong though. It seemed that every time he laid eyes on her, he was just as enchanted as he had been the first time. He'd nearly spat out his wine in surprise when she'd marched into the Dining Hall, calling out brazenly for her father's attention as though she were the most important person in the castle. The sight of her in the dress that displayed the curves her previous attire had hidden had sent a spear of desire straight to his cock and he'd never wanted a woman so much as he watched the way she addressed her father, her brothers, her King and especially his spoiled snot of a brother. Gendry knew he would never forget the sight she had made as she'd lifted her chin and defiantly dared an enraged prince to strike her. Nor would he forget the way she had thrown her head back and laughed as she had danced with his dwarfish uncle as though he were a man of equal or greater height to her. He would not forget either, the sight of a grown woman rolling down a hill as though she were still a child before wrestling with a pack of monstrous wolves as though she had been born their litter mate.

Gendry kissed her back deliberately, lifting one of his hands and capturing the back of her head to keep her from pulling away from him even while he wrapped an arm around her, pulling her against him until there was no space between them and the heat of her body seemed to burn against his.

As he kissed her he thought of the way she had worn the scraps of the dress she'd destroyed in front of all the lords and her King as though she were the most regal and wild Queen to have ever lived. Of the way the sight of so much of her body on display had him clenching his fists tight around his reins to keep himself from leaping off his horses and taking her there in the grass. He thought of the way he had watched her this morning as she bounced out the window of her chambers with her wolf at her heels dressed in another oversized shirt, creeping across the roof and down to the stable before her mother could find her. He thought of the strange feeling he'd experienced as he watched her, dressed in her fierce warrior princess attire as she taught his smallest brother how to use a weapon he had no doubt his father would declare to belong to a savage.

Gendry nearly growled when he felt her tongue sweeping against the seam of his lips and could not restrain it as he tasted her for the first time. Never had he tasted anything as exotically spicy, as sweetly addictive as the flavour of his Wild Queen. He felt her hands slide into his hair and he longed to lay her down on the ground right there in the forest and fuck her until she was groaning his name and pregnant with his children.

She was breathing hard when she jerked back from him, hands fisted in his hair to keep him from diving for her lips again, as he tried to do.

Arya felt her heart hammering inside her chest and enjoyed the little throb of it against the abused bone structure beneath her bruise. Never before had she kissed a man, but Arya knew now why it was that well paid whores kept their jobs. There was something addictive about being clutched so close in a man's strong arms; an incredible feeling of power that she had never before experienced as she realised the effect of her body and her actions upon men. She had been somewhat aware of such things as she had grown, noticing the way Theon eyed anyone who had a cunt with a hungry look in his eyes. She'd caught Robb wearing the same kind of expression when he looked at his wife. On some subconscious level she'd been aware of the way a woman's body could affect a man, but as Gendry reached for her lips hungrily again she realised the power of it.

Arya held him back even as he tried to guide her face back to his and his arm around her waist pulled her impossibly closer. She smirked at the hungry expression on his face as he looked at her, enjoying her newfound weapon. A part of her wanted to pick it up and spar with it until she was an expert, as she had done with every other weapon, but Arya knew that if she did she would let Gendry fuck her here in the dirt of the forest.

"We should return to Winterfell," Arya told him again, her voice husky with how much she wanted to kiss him again even as she began to pull herself reluctantly from his embrace "Else I might devour you and truly break my poor mother's heart."

As she turned away from him, whistling for Storm, Arya heard Gendry curse under his breath and knew that he was having a hard time keeping his hands to himself. She swung easily onto her mare's back and looked down at Gendry.

"And how are you getting back to Winterfell, my Prince?" she asked him coyly. Gendry glared up at her and Arya knew he was too proud to ask her nicely if he could ride with her.

Gendry bit his tongue to keep from begging if he could ride her rather than the damned horse, not wanting to scare her. Arya took pity on him when he just stared up at her, and guided Storm over to a log so he could climb up behind her since he could not swing up behind her without the grip of her mane and her whole back to land on.

"Some sight we'll make, a Prince riding behind a Lady," Gendry murmured into her ear and Arya quivered as he wrapped his arms tightly around her stomach. She knew he did not do it to keep from falling from the horse but because he liked to pull her against himself.

"You are in the North with the wildest woman this side of the Wall, they will expect nothing else," Arya told him, enjoying the feel of his arms around her and the way it made her stomach flutter.

"Your father will have my head when he sees that bruise," Gendry told her as Arya guided Storm out of the forest at a walk.

"You think you are the only one in the North to have bruised Ned Stark's daughter?" Arya asked him, laughing. "Knowing Father, he will demand to know what I did to you in retaliation."

Gendry laughed along with her.

"Shall I show him all the bruises you left on me, or instead show him what else you have done to me?" he murmured into her ear, making Arya painfully aware of his hard cock pressing against her backside.

"You can show him whatever you choose, but I suspect the latter may have him locking me in my chambers with the Septas until I am old and grey," Arya smirked, liking the way his warm hand splayed against her flat stomach.

Before he could reply they had reached the edge of the Forest and Arya nudged Storm into a lope, finding that it felt strange and changed her seat to have Gendry pressed up snugly behind her. She heard him cursing softly to himself as they rode at that speed and had no doubt that the newfound weapon her female body had become was causing him to do so.

In the grey light of evening Arya Stark rode into the yard of Winterfell with Prince Gendry Baratheon's arms wrapped around her and she cringed internally when she caught sight of Lady Catelyn pacing up and down furiously, her eyes fixed on the pair that had just ridden through the gate.

"Shit," Arya cursed when she saw the rage bloom in her mother's Tully-blue eyes and she made sure to lope Storm right on past her.

"Well…. It was nice knowing you," Arya said to Gendry as they both dismounted and she handed Storm's reins to one of the stable boys.

"As if you won't climb right back out the window once she locks you in your chambers" Gendry chuckled when he saw the fearful look on her face.

"She's been threatening to lock me in the dungeons since I was a nine-year," Arya admitted in a whisper. "And if she thinks I surrendered my maidenhead anywhere but my marriage bed….. she will lock me so deep in the dungeons below the crypts that I shall never again see the light of day."

Gendry stared at her and she saw the heat bloom in his eyes as he imagined taking her to the marriage bed.

"I would set you free, Arya," he vowed. "Though I doubt there is any cell in all of Westeros that could hold such a wild Stark she-wolf."

Arya smiled at him as the exited the stables and Lady Stark descended on them furiously. "We may be about to find out."

Chapter Text

Arya woke to the sound of Nymeria growling softly combined with the soft tapping of someone knocking on her window. She could tell without even opening it that it was the middle of the night. Her hearth fire had died down and a chill had crept into the room. The snow had been falling steadily since the evening two nights ago as Arya and Gendry had made their way back in from being in the forest together. As they had stepped out of the stable a light misting of it had begun to fall and Gendry Baratheon had stared at her as though she had taken leave of her sense when she had tipped her face up to the cold powdery flakes and laughed even though she was dressed scantly and her Lady mother looked as though she were about to breathe fire over her.

She had been locked in her chamber for the last two days, Mother refusing to let her even attend meals. She suspected the woman was making excuses that Arya was unwell, or gods forbid – suffering pain from the flow of her moon blood. Arya had no doubt that such a lie would keep the Queen from prying, though as far as Arya could tell, the woman had little taste for Arya and preferred to be as far as possible from her company. It was no secret within Winterfell that Queen Cersei thought Arya to be a nasty little savage, though Arya knew she had seen a flash of grudging respect in the queen's eyes when the woman had watched Arya sparring with the men.

Arya feared she might die of embarrassment if mother had indeed used such an excuse to punish Arya away from prying eyes.

Arya had no doubt that Mother was incredibly upset with her. Catelyn Stark had even dragged Ned away from the King and had him interrogate Arya. Though she had convinced father that she had, in fact, not given Prince Gendry her maidenhead, Mother refused to believe her. Arya was still snapping mad about it, but she was not surprised that her mother had so little faith in the idea of Arya exerting control over herself, and that Arya would not hold any regard for rules or what was considered proper for maidens, ladies and even women.

Since she had little basis to argue, Arya had been locked in her chambers for days, Maester Luwin and mother routinely forcing Moon Tea down her throat despite the Maester having examined her and confirmed that her maidenhead was still intact. She was furious that they did so, but resigned herself to the fact that drinking the tea was the only way to keep herself out of a dungeon, or at the very least from being shackled. And since she had not fucked Gendry Baratheon like a common whore, had never fucked anyone at all, Arya figured there could be little harm in drinking it just to prove to her mother that she hadn't.

The soft rapping sounded again and Arya snapped out of her grouchy musings, sitting up in her bed and dragging her dagger from beneath her pillow as she swung herself out of bed. Arya didn't think beyond arming herself, still half asleep as she crossed to the window and unlatched it. Nymeria was still standing in front of her and she watched the wolf lower her body, ready to spring on the intruder. As the window slowly creaked open a drift of snow blew into her room, sending a chill across her skin and Arya raised her eyebrows to see the dark figure silhouetted there in the blackness.

"Seven Hells, woman," Gendry Baratheon breathed as though she were mad and Arya could hear the lust in his husky voice.

Blushing a bright shade of red Arya realised as the man climbed through her window, gaping at her with hungry eyes that she was naked as the day she'd been birthed. In her sleepy state Arya had forgotten that she slept naked and became painfully aware of it when Gendry stared at her through in the dimly lit room.

"What are you doing here?" she asked him, lowering her dagger. She'd been working on a theory since she had kissed him days ago. One that involved her body being as much of a weapon to use against men as the dagger she held and decided it was time to test the theory. She had come to believe that men had very little concentration and even less control at the sight of a naked woman or a woman scantily clad, especially one who used her body for pleasure.

Gendry was too caught up in staring at her hungrily to reply and Arya smirked as she turned around, walking away from him confidently so she could stoke up the hearth fire of her chambers which had almost gone out.

"You shouldn't answer an unknown knock at your window in the middle of the night, naked as a newborn babe, Arya," Gendry told her and Arya knew he had followed her across the room. She felt a flush of desire race through her even as she laughed, wondering if her laughter had that sultry quality that she had noticed some of the whores and serving wenches had when they flirted with men. Without turning around, even when she had stoked the fire and straightened back up Arya smiled into the darkness.

"As a maiden highborn lady, I shouldn't be answering a knock at my window in the middle of the night at all," Arya told the man whose body heat she could feel radiating against her back, he stood so close.

Gendry Baratheon was having a hard time unsticking his tongue from the roof of his suddenly dry mouth. She was naked. He'd seen her dressed in many things from the gown of a highborn Lady to the scraps she had worn swimming some days past. By all accounts he had a very real conception of her sinewy feminine figure. He'd even held that body against his, but he could not control his reaction at coming face to face with the reality of how much more desirable she was utterly bare.

"Arya," he breathed, finding he had no restraint whatsoever as he let his hand trial down her proud straight spine. Her hair was gathered over her shoulder in a braid, exposing the back of her neck and the skin of her back to his gaze. Her body was warm from sleep and he was surprised at the muscle he felt beneath her silky soft skin as he lightly ran his fingers all the way down her spine.

Gendry clenched his fist. He could swear she had arched into his touch and he wondered if it was his imagination. Surely this must be a dream. The gods knew he dreamt of her almost every night so why should tonight be any different.

"What are you doing here, my prince?" Arya whispered without looking at him, still standing there staring into the flames as they licked hungrily at the logs she had fed them.

"I hadn't seen you in two nights," Gendry responded and Arya quivered as his fingers trailed back up her spine. She wondered what it would be like to have him pull her back against his chest as he had done when she stumbled on the night of his arrival, wondered how it would test his restraint to have her bare body within his gaze and within his warm rough hands.

"And if anyone were to find out that you were here I would be locked in the dungeons where no one could ever see me again," Arya told him softly. "Mother and the Maester have been forcing Moon Tea down my throat."

"But we didn't…." Gendry trailed off, not trusting himself to say out loud the words that would describe all of the things he wanted to do to her.

"Mother refuses to believe me," Arya admitted. "Father is convinced, but Mother is taking no chances."

"Make an awful fuss, Mothers, don't they?" Gendry murmured. "My mother felt the need to warn me away from you and attempted to inform me that I would not under any circumstance be having anything more to do with you."

"The Queen doesn't like me," Arya smirked, liking that he had obviously defied the Queen's wishes by coming to her chambers.

"She's not overly fond of you, no," Gendry confirmed, making Arya chuckle. "Arya…. Please put some clothes on, elseways you're going to have need of that Moon Tea."

"Something wrong, my Prince?" Arya grinned, playing with her newfound weapon a little and knowing she was tormenting the prince by standing so close and so utterly naked.

"Arya," he warned softly, his hands coming up to rest on her hips either side of her body. Arya giggled when she felt them tighten reflexively as she stepped out of reach to fetch her night gown. She donned it quickly, very much aware of his eyes on her body as it disappeared beneath the folds of the dress.

"What are you really doing here Gendry?" Arya asked him when she turned back to look at him.

"I missed seeing you, my Lady" he told her quietly "How long are you to be locked away?"

"Mother hasn't told me yet, but I doubt it will be for much longer. She is expecting me to attend the Tourney like a good little highborn lady."

"What of riding in it?" Gendry asked her when he saw the twinkle in her eyes.

"Are you going to keep your word and help me to do so?"

"I will" he vowed softly.

"While I have been locked away I've been painting my sigil onto my shield. But I fear I will need your help to enter. What do I need to know?"

Arya didn't know how long they sat awake together on the wolfskin rug in front of her hearth fire, discussing tourney tactics and everything she would need to know to effectively fool everyone into thinking she was an anonymous knight. The sigil she had picked and painted was one that none would recognise and so she hoped to pass herself off as being some foreign knight.

However the actual sigil was a lost image that belonged to the Starks of Old, to Queen Adalia Stark, a fierce and noble queen who had reigned over the North long before the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros declared allegiance and united under a single throne. Arya had found it etched into the shield the woman had carried, deep within the crypts of Winterfell, so deep that even her brothers would not recognise it.

She showed it to Gendry so that he would recognise her at the Tourney since she intended to attempt pulling a fast one over on her mother and would be appearing at breakfast dressed in her finest, but would slip away and don the armour and helm of a knight. Gendry worried that she would get hurt and had instructed Arya to stuff her amour with some kind of padding to ensure a cushion of the blows she would receive in the joust.

"Are you really sure you want to do this?" Gendry asked her when he had realised he ought to be going for the night lest they be caught in the light of dawn.

"Yes. And don't you acknowledge me at the tourney, Gendry, else you will be questioned on how you know the anonymous knight and blow my cover," Arya warned him sharply.

"As my Lady commands," he replied, grinning at her. Arya whacked him on the arm as they headed for the door to her chambers since it would be foolish of him to go back out the window.

"You're an idiot," Arya told him with her hand on the latch. The handsome prince just smiled at her winningly and Arya felt her heart skip a beat in her chest. He stood very close to her again, comfortable in her company after spending the evening speaking with her quietly.

"I hope I get to see you on the morrow," Gendry replied. "The halls are not so warm without your fiery presence."

Arya felt a pink blush creep up her cheeks when he took another step closer, resting his hand on her cheek as she had done to him two days past before she had kissed his lips. She had not been able to forget her first kiss these past days and Arya tilted her head back a little to look into the dancing blue eyes of the prince. She wanted to kiss him again but felt strangely shy as she looked at him. The familiar heat she had become accustomed to glowed in his eyes and he looked at her so long that Arya began to feel a little foolish.

When his free hand slowly reached out, snagging her waist and using the grip to pull her body close to his again as she had yearned for him to do while she'd still been naked, Arya had to bite her lip to keep from moaning.

"You are too beautiful for your own good, my wild queen," he murmured to her. Arya held her breath as he began to lower his face towards her and felt a strange rush through her body when he pressed his lips to her forehead instead of her lips, cuddling her close to him for several long moments and then stepping back again.

He reached for the latch on the door, eyes feasting on her even as he slipped through the opening and pulled it closed behind him.

Arya stood in her chambers staring at the door he had departed, her body aching with the need to be pressed against him again and Arya began to realise why it was that Theon was always able to sweet talk the kitchen maids and other girls of Winterfell into bed with him. Arya had always assumed he said things to them, but as she felt the yearning pulse of her body to have Genrdy's hands on her, his arms around her and his lips on hers again, Arya realised it was much more than sweet talk that lured women to the beds of men and vice versa.

It was an addiction of the soul to the heat and warmth of another, an obsession with the feelings of power and delight at eliciting such a response in someone, an infatuation with the heady feeling of drunkeness at being intimately alone together.

When Arya returned to her bed that night, she spent many a moment caught up in the ideas of what it might be like to have Gendry lying beside her.

When she'd been younger, a twelve year, Arya had once come upon Theon and one of the kitchen maids fucking. Curious as to what all the fuss was about, hiding in the ceiling and peering through the vent, Arya had watched them. She had felt strangely intrigued about what they were doing and why they would want to do such things to one another, wondering why the maid had let Theon press her down without fighting back, choosing to pull him closer instead.

Laying there in bed and thinking about the kiss she had shared with Gendry in the forest, Arya wondered what it would be like to have him hold her so closely and to do those things to her. She fell asleep dreaming about it.

~O~O~O~O~O~O~O~O~O~O~O~O~

When Arya woke the next morning it was still snowing heavily and she smiled at the sight from her window the see Winterfell blanketed in a heavy white layer of the cold substance. The wolves were loving it and Arya watched the way Nymeria jumped from the roof to the ground, frolicking with her pack mates in the now. Just like the wolves that so loved the cold, Arya felt as though she had been made for the life of a wild woman of the North. She longed to follow her wolf out the window and to wrestle with the pack in the snow, and Arya frowned knowing that today she would not have the opportunity.

If she wanted to attend the tourney upon the morrow, she would need to prove to the entire North that she could maintain some dignity as was befitting of a highborn lady. Arya sighed to herself as she dug out one of her heavy winter gowns. It was a deep shade of purple with a long flowing skirt that swished around her as she walked. Arya hated wearing it, but she gritted her teeth and donned it just the same. No doubt father would see straight through her plot to be allowed to attend the tourney if she behaved well, but if it would get her there, then she would do it.

She looked in the mirror, frowning at her reflection. The dress seemed restrictive when she moved, but as she gazed at herself, Arya began to wonder if it wouldn't be possible for her to experiment with her newfound weapon of being able to tempt a man while she suffered this torment. She thought about styling her hair to match that of the Northern women as her mother had taught her, but Arya found she preferred the single sweeping-side-braid she had done on the arrival on the royal host because it framed her face nicely, detracting from the obviousness of her somewhat long face that had earned her the cruel nickname Arya Horse-face from Sansa when they'd been younger.

When she had pinned it nicely, Arya consider scrubbing some rouge onto her cheeks before deciding that she would save that particular exercise into pointlessness until tomorrow to prove to her sceptic family that she could be a lady when it was called for. Dressed warmly and in the attire of a proper lady, Arya made her way silently through the halls of Winterfell until she entered the Dining Hall, utterly startling Ned Stark.

Ned was not the only one in the hall to look up at her and stare in surprise to see her dressed like a lady when there was no function or special occasion and Arya caught the way Robb's wife Margret smiled secretively to see her dressed so. The girl was heavily pregnant and Arya suddenly realised that Margret thought she was trying to dress nicely to impress Prince Gendry, very much aware of all the rumours flying about the pair of them.

Sansa had somehow lost all sense of propriety at seeing her sister dressed nicely and was foolishly dripping grease from her bacon onto her dress while holding it poised between her mouth and her plate in surprise. Among the party gathered at the table was the entire Stark family -excluding Jon of course who was at the Wall - along with the four princes, the King and the Queen, and the princess. The Queen's brothers were also present, all of them enjoying their morning meal, or they had been until Arya had strolled in.

She was standing in the doorway, feeling strangely trapped in the gaze of so many people and not at all liking the way they were looking at her. Arya knew that her mother had told the queen and the princess that she was suffering the pains of moon time, however everyone else had been told she'd not been feeling well. Gendry of course, was smirking a little to see her dressed up nicely after having snuck into her room last night while she was naked, and Arya was aware of the way Queen Cersei's eyes were narrowed on Arya in hatred, no doubt because of the way the King Robert's were fixed on Arya longingly. Catelyn was looking at her daughter in surprise to see her in a dress, though she looked like she was about to object to Arya having left her chambers.

Just as she was about to move out of the doorway, something solid collided with Arya's back and she gasped, stumbling forwards even as strong hands shot out to catch her hips, keeping her from falling.

"My deepest apologies, my Lady," a rough, low voice immediately blurted. "I was not paying attention. Forgive me?"

Arya turned to look at the man stuttering out apologies behind her.

"Gods be good! Arya?" a familiar smile graced the man's heavily bearded face. Arya stared at him in surprise for a moment before she recognised his Stark grey eyes and his familiar curly dark hair.

"JON!" She cried excitedly, leaping into the strong arms of her brother and enjoying the way he lifted her off her feet and squeezed her hard, happy to see her.

"What are you doing here?" Arya asked him, peering into his familiar face even as her brothers began to descend upon them.

"I came with Uncle Benjen in search of more men for the wall that might arrive at the Tourney tomorrow" Jon told her, having wrapped his arm around her slim shoulders and tucked her comfortably against his side just as he had always done when they were younger before he'd gone off to be a man of the Night's Watch.

"Jon!" Rickon and Bran both descended on their brother, trying to jostle Arya to the side in the exuberance but Jon wouldn't let her go. Robb followed close behind, along with Theon. All of the men embraced Jon Snow.

"Uncle Benjen!" Arya cried, spotting her uncle lurking in the dimly lit corridor Jon had come through, where he waited for the family to greet Jon. Arya raced towards him, liking the way her favourite uncle stepped forwards ready to embrace his niece, catching her against his chest in a warm embrace.

In the chaos that followed, Catelyn Stark forgot all about needing to punish Arya for her behaviour as she became distracted by the idea of having Jon back in the castle, something she had never been happy about. Uncle Benjen quickly took up the attention of the king, her father, Lord Tyrion and Ser Jaime. Arya also caught the narrow-eyed look Gendry threw at her, making her wonder what in seven hells his problem was.

"So, little sister," Jon addressed Arya, drawing her attention back to him. "What have they been doing to you while I've been gone that you're all dressed up like a lady?"

Arya smirked at him, Jon had always encouraged her to do as she wanted rather than to follow Catelyn's orders.

"Arya's learning about feminine wiles," Margret piped up, rubbing her pregnant stomach while her eyes darted between Arya and Prince Gendry. Arya couldn't hold in her incredibly unladylike snort at the idea, even if she had been.

"More like Arya's trying to get in Mother's good graces after all the trouble she's caused," Sansa said coldly, glaring at her younger sister. Arya rolled her eyes at Sansa's silliness, not at all worried or intimidated to have her sister tell Jon all about the ruckus she'd been causing.

"You don't even know the half of it," Rickon growled at Sansa, leaping to Arya's defence. Arya smiled at her youngest brother. He was very much like his wolf in personality, quick to defend those he cared about and always ready to bite.

"No she's right, Rickon," Arya smirked at her sister's shocked and angry face "How will I be allowed to watch the tourney if I'm cooped up in my room being punished for things I've not done? Though now that you're here Jon, I think mother will forget all about my indiscretions." Arya winked at her brother, who grinned back at her. Jon had long ago accepted that Lady Catelyn did not like him and knew that Arya got away with more when he was around to give the woman grief just by existing.

"You and I ought to take a walk in the Godswood, Arya," Jon smiled, and Arya knew he wanted to hear all about what she'd been up to.

"Whenever you're ready," Arya grinned at him before munching on a piece of bacon.

Chapter Text

Arya was on her way across the yard at Winterfell surrounded by the buzzing voices of hundreds of people. It seemed as though everyone in the North had descended upon Winterfell for the Tourney, all of them excited to be attending such a rare event within Winterfell castle.

"Lady Arya!" a loud voice called and Arya paused to look around in surprise. The Tourney would be starting soon and she really needed to get out of her dress and into her armour so she could enter the joust. Jogging towards her, already in his armour was none other than her favourite prince. Arya tried not to show her pleasure at seeing him, having missed him at breakfast and been distracted most of the previous day by Jon's return.

"Prince Gendry" Arya greeted him, pretending to be a highborn lady since she still wore the outfit of one. Many people had turned to look at the pair of them. His blue eyes laughed at the way she shifted uncomfortably in her dress.

"How are you this fine morning my Lady?" he asked her formally, clearly waiting for the onlookers to grow bored of them.

"Very well my prince, and you?" she enquired feeling very silly indeed to be addressing him so formally and regally as though they were better than the commoners around them, many of whom Arya had grown up around.

"In need of something from you I'm afraid" Gendry responded, eyes twinkling as he stepped a little closer to her.

"What can I do for you my prince?" Arya asked him, aware of the way everyone had turned to stare at them all now because he was speaking loudly and asking her for something. Arya eyed him suspiciously as he smirked at her.

"Might I have a token of your favour my fierce lady?" He appealed, setting puppy-dog eyes upon Arya and smiling sweetly. He asked her very loudly, ensuring that all would hear him ask her for a token from her to display the favour of a lady to have her hero win the tourney. Arya gaped at him for doing it when he knew she was going to be entering the tourney as well.

"You believe you can win today, my Prince?" she asked him, narrowing her eyes on him a little.

"I believe I will my Lady, and then I shall name you my Queen of Love and Beauty," he vowed solemnly, though the corners of his mouth twitched with a smirk.

"What are you doing?" Arya hissed at him, stepping a little closer and lowering her voice so none but Gendry could hear her.

"Begging for you favour my lady" Gendry informed her "Else all these north men might think you are available for marriage to them when you are not."

"I don't recall entering into any courting process or engagement my prince, leaving me very much available," she replied, liking the way his eyes narrowed on her.

After all it had been part of their bargain that in return for his help with entering the tourney, Arya would consider him as a husband.

"Ah, but you did my sweet she-wolf, the minute I laid eye on you, you entered into a courting process that will see you and I wed 'til the end of our days," Gendry informed her.

"Do you always spout such silly nonsense?" Arya asked him, looking revolted by his attempt at romance.

"Are you always this dense?" he countered playfully, making Arya laugh.

"Dense? Why your highness, you wound me!" she pretended to be offended the way a frivolous female like Sansa would be at being called dense.

"If the helm fits" Gendry's eyes twinkled before he shuffled a little closer so he could whisper in her ear "Give me a favour so they all think you are firmly rooting for me to win the tourney and can draw attention away from any connection between you the lady and you the anonymous knight."

Arya felt realisation dawn on her, her eyes widening as she realised he was already in the process of trying to help her enter the tourney without getting caught.

"Only if you promise that when I go up against you out there in the tilt, you will not go easy on me," Arya countered in a whisper, narrowing her eyes at a pair of scullery maids that were walking by them very slowly trying to listen to what they whispered.

"Depends on the favour you bestow on me, my wild queen," Gendry grinned at her, making Arya narrow her eyes on him.

"I don't have anything to give you except my dress," Arya hissed at him pulling out the pockets of her dress to show him that she carried not even a handkerchief.

"Then you best find me something, elseways you'll not be an anonymous knight with me around," Gendry told her manipulatively. Arya subtly stomped on his foot, making him wince.

"Walk with me," She commanded in a whisper, linking her arm through his and leading him across the yard into the castle and all the way up to her chambers. Many stared after them and Arya knew that they would no doubt set tongues waggling again at the idea of Gendry being anywhere near her chambers.

"What do you want from me?" Arya asked him as she led the way into her chambers, leaving the door to her chambers open. She sort of liked the way Gendry wandered in right behind her and propped his hip against her daybed.

"You just love tormenting me with loaded questions like that don't you?" Gendry grinned. Arya raised her eyebrows at him for a moment before realising that it was probably not the best idea in the world to invite a man into her chambers and wantonly ask what he wanted.

"You're not funny," Arya told him, fixing him a droll stare.

Gendry shrugged, smirking now and said, "What do you have that you feel like giving me to show off the idea of you favouring me to win the tourney?"

"Nothing because I'm going to win," Arya replied smugly.

Gednry rolled his eyes at her.

"You've never ridden before and you think you're going to best some of the best tilters in the kingdoms? Besides, you need to give me something so no one will know that you're the anonymous knight. Stop being so stubborn and find something fancy coloured that everyone will know is yours, then walk with me down there, sit in your seat with your Lady mother and everyone while you give it to me as I plead you for something again so you can sneak away on a 'privy break' and join the knights."

"Bossy, aren't you? Arya grumbled, digging around in one of her chests for something to give him. "Why do you want something bright or fancy?"

"So everyone will know you're mine," Gendry smirked at her. "As per our agreement. I help you enter the tourney and you let me court you. Since you already kissed me it's only logical that you're going to."

"You think you're so clever, don't you?" Arya said, glaring at him.

"I know I am" he responded, watching her with an amused expression on his handsome face and dancing in his impossibly blue eyes. Arya grumbled under her breath while she finally found a hideous scarf that she didn't care about having ruined because it was an awfully bright shade of pink.

"No one will know that's yours," Gendry argued as he caught sight of it.

"The only things I have that people will know are mine aren't even mine. They're Bran's old breeches and Father's old tunics and shirts. I'm not giving you my bow."

"What about one of your handkerchiefs or something?"

Arya scoffed "Do I look like the type of girl who carries handkerchiefs?"

"Well then what can you give me that people will know is yours?" Gendry asked looking mildly irritated now.

"What's wrong with the scarf? You announced to the world that you wanted a favour from me in the yard, and you're making me give it to you in front of everyone. People will know it's mine when they see me wring your neck with it."

"How is it that the least feminine woman I've ever met is going to give me a pink favour?"

"If I were you I'd be grateful to be getting anything at all. If you want something more noticeable you could let me blacken your eye" Arya said snottily, cracking her knuckles and looking fierce.

"Yes milady" Gendry replied patronisingly, rolling his eyes at her. Arya made to move for the door again but before she could get there Gendry sprang forwards, caught her arm and pulled her to a stop.

"What now?" she demanded, feeling impatient and needing to get her armour on before the tourney began.

"I don't like the idea of you entering today Arya" Gendry told her honestly staring down into her eyes "If we were in King's Landing and I knew every knight competing I might feel better about it. I've never tilted with Northern knights…. I don't want you to get hurt."

"You don't have a say in the matter" Arya replied sharply "I will be competing and even if I lose on the very first tilt, at least I will have entered."

"And what if you get hurt?" Gendry demanded, releasing her to kick the door to her chambers closed so they could speak privately. Arya stared up at him, not at all pleased by him thinking that he could tell her what to do.

"I won't get hurt" Arya stated as though it were a certainty. "You could get hurt just as easily as I could."

"But I've done this before and you haven't. What if you get hurt? Willas Tyrell, the heir to Highgarden got hurt and he'd been in half-a-hundred tilts." Gendry argued with her.

Arya shrugged at him "If I get hurt, then I get hurt Gendry. That's the way of it. I could get hurt every morning climbing out my window and jumping off the roof. I could get hurt riding Storm all over Winterfell by myself, or when I go hunting or wrestle with the wolves or a hundred other things that I do that have a potential risk that I have so far managed to survive unscathed for the most part. I'll be fine."

When he just stared down at her for a while longer, clearly trying to decide whether or not to out her and keep her from entering, Arya sighed.

"Look Gendry, this is who I am" Arya told him "I'm not a precious little lady to sit pretty and gobble up the shit men shovel about the dangers of things like the tilt or sword fighting, when I know first-hand that it's actually fun…. If you really are serious about the idea of courting me and trying to convince me that I should marry you – especially given that I have spent my five-and-ten years railing against the idea of ever marrying anyone – then you need to accept that I'm never going to sit on the sideline and cheer watching you do something that I could be doing too. I'm not going to play it safe on the risk that I could get hurt. Do you really mean to marry me?"

"Yes" he replied sternly as though she was foolish to think she even needed to ask.

"Of all the men I've met you are the most tolerant of my wild ways and less than ladylike behaviour. You even claim to prefer it…. Don't ask me to change it. Because if you do, I won't care if we fall head over heels in love with each other, I'll not have anything to do with a man who can't or won't accept me for who I am."

Gendry stared at her for a moment longer, his face an unreadable mask of indecision about whether or not he wanted to risk the idea of having her never speak to him, just on the off chance that she might get hurt today. Arya watched the resolution in his eyes as he made his decision, and before she could do anything to stop him, he took a quick step towards her, grasping her by the shoulders and planting his lips on hers in a hot, furious kiss.

Arya sank into the feel of having his lips on hers again, tangling her hands into his black hair and whimpering in delight when he pulled her body tight against the hardness of his, pressing her against him firmly. His mouth was hot and demanding as his tongue plunged in to spar with hers, and she could tell from the slight roughness to his actions that he was annoyed that she had put him in the position of wanting to keep her safe but not wanting to lose his chance with her by acting on the impulse to keep her safe. His hands kneaded her flesh through her dress and Arya groaned at the way the movement caused her body to press against his very intimately indeed. She could feel his cock hardening for her in spite of the armour he wore and she quivered as she felt her body respond in kind, desire racing through her veins and going to her head, not to mention making the area between her legs tingle madly.

When she felt a strange sensation down there Arya wondered what was happening even as her mind conjured memories of hearing men ask if they made a woman wet. Instantly she realised that Gendry was making her wet and Arya felt a strange ache begin beneath her pelvic bone and at her cunt. She liked the way his hands slipped down until they clutched at her arse, clenching the fabric of her dress again and somehow managing to pull her even closer.

Her heart was racing inside her chest and Arya felt so intoxicated by his touch and by his kiss that she almost forgot all about the tourney in favour of staying here and letting Gendry Barratheon do whatever he wanted to do with her. She gasped when Gendry used his grip on her arse to hoist her up his body and instinctively Arya wrapped her legs around his waist, the skirts of her dress falling away. She felt a little thrill race through her at the cold bite of his armour against the bare flesh of her thighs and another when his hands slid up the back of her thighs beneath her skirts as he pressed her into the wall of her chambers.

Gendry groaned when she wrapped her arms tighter around him and wiggled a little, creating friction between her throbbing cunt and the hard cock she could feel pressing against her through his britches. He broke away from her lips, kissing his way roughly along her jaw and down the side of her neck, licking, nipping and suckling at her flesh hungrily. Arya moaned at the way it made her feel hot and needy, making her realise that she wanted him to fuck her. He thrust against her and Arya cursed breathlessly at the offending fabric between them that was dulling her sense of pleasure and keeping her from what she wanted.

Arya tangled her hands into his soft black hair.

"Gendry" she whimpered, breathless with how much she wanted him to tear her out of her dress and how much she wanted to tug his armour off him until they were both naked. Her whole body tingled at the feel of his scratchy stubble brushing against her collarbone and he buried his lips against her skin, nudging her dress aside and suckling hard on her flesh below her collarbone. She could feel herself getting wetter as his rough hands kneaded her arse and he kept thrusting his hard cock against her throbbing cunt. Arya had never hated britches and small clothes so much before in her life.

"If you don't stop" Arya whimpered, feeling like she was going crazy "Neither of us will be entering the tourney."

Gendry froze against her, lifting his head to stare into her lustful eyes. He could see the same yearning he felt reflected back at him from Arya and he realised in a heartbeat that she was right. If he didn't stop now he was going to fuck her right here in her chambers against the wall. There would be no courting process between them, no seeking the permission of their fathers to marry. No wedding and no waiting for the marriage bed. Instead there would be fast, hard fucking, dishonour on both of them for their lack of restraint and probably Arya winding up pregnant with his babes.

He hated himself a little for how much he wanted to fuck her right now in spite of the trouble it would cause. Glancing down at her, Gendry became aware of their position. He had her legs wrapped tight around his waist, and her sweet little body pressed against the wall. He could feel the heat of her radiating against his cock through her smallclothes and his beeches and he didn't even need to touch her cunt to know she was wet. His hands gripped her arse tightly, having delved beneath her skirts and her smallclothes, better manoeuvring her for each dry thrust he'd been giving her. Her lips were swollen and dark with the pressure of his kisses and her throat was dotted with tiny red spots from the stubble rash he'd given her.

He felt a fierce sense of pride when he caught sight of the purple blemish he'd branded to her collarbone with his lips, the little love bite temporarily marking her as his. Gendry liked seeing his mark against her skin and he had to fight to keep from diving back in to give her another. Gritting his teeth, Gendry slowly took his hands from her warm flesh and lowered her back to her feet.

Arya knew it was wrong of her to feel disappointed when Gendry released her. She just couldn't help it. Her body ached for his touch the minute he moved away from her and she bit her lip to keep from pulling him back to her.

"We should go" Gendry murmured to her, looking down at her hungrily as though he wanted to tear her out of her dress, carry her to her bed and fuck her until he was old and grey. Arya nodded, not trusting herself to speak since she suspected she would say something foolish, like begging him to take her to bed.

"You'd better not get hurt, Arya," Gendry warned her as they made for the door to her chambers.

"It's not like I would do it on purpose" she told him.

"Maybe, but I fear for the life of any man who hurts you, anonymous knight or not."

Arya felt her breath catch in her throat as she realised what he was saying.

"Come on, else mother will screech at me about not being where I should and might tie me to my seat at the tourney. Then I'd never be able to sneak away." His expression told her that Gendry thought that was a fine idea indeed.

Just as they made for the door, a thought struck Arya.

"Are you coming?" Gendry asked her, turning back to look at her when Arya stopped and stalked back into the bowels of her chambers.

"You go on," Arya told him, smiling secretively.

"You know that you can't change into your armour yet," he warned her.

"I know. Just go on. I'll see you down there" Arya prompted, pointing him out with a smile.

Gendry raised his eyebrows, wondering what she could possibly be doing but he knew that if he was caught leaving her chambers with her when she looked so ravished with her lips swollen like that he'd never hear the end of it.

"You better be there, Arya" Gendry said, narrowing his eyes on her, but she wasn't paying attention. As he turned to walk away he wondered what on earth she was doing climbing onto her bed and prying back the metal grate over the air vent in her rooms.

Chapter Text

Arya fidgeted in her seat as the knights riding in the tourney began parading in front of the highborn ladies, begging them for tokens. Mother had once told her that the giving of a token indicated a woman's favour of the knight to win the tourney and that they were considered lucky. She'd gone on to tell that the more intimate the token given, the higher the knight was held in the lady's esteem.

In her chambers Arya had thought little about the idea of giving Gendry something simply because it was a silly feminine tradition, something Sansa was wont to giggling about and so believed by Arya to be stupid. She'd intended to give him the pink scarf she'd dug out of her trunks, but just before leaving, Arya had had a better idea of what to give the prince. Something much more personal and much more intimate to Arya. She smiled in amusement as she watched some of the knights begging for things.

When Prince Steffon arrived astride his huge bay stallion, they pranced for the watching crowd.

"Lady Sansa" Prince Steffon called out loudly and the crowd cheered to hear the prince addressing their favourite highborn daughter. Sansa blushed pink as the crowd began to catcall and whistle suggestively "Might I have a token of your favour to win this tourney?"

In spite of herself and how silly she believed Sansa to be, Arya could not help feeling pleased for her sister and when Sansa turned to the other ladies blushing and giggling, Arya nodded her encouragement at her sister. Sansa looked taken aback to see Arya smiling and engaging with her but she smiled back just the same. Arya was among those who cheered when Sansa got to her feet and met him at the railing.

"Your beauty is beyond compare my lady" Steffon told Sansa, who blushed again. Shyly she offered him her handkerchief and the crowd crowed with delight. Steffon beamed as he gently took the favour, capturing Sansa's hand as he did so and bringing it to his lips. As he kissed the back of her hand he smiled at her.

"I will win this tourney for you my lady" He solemnly promised as he secured the handkerchief around his neck proudly. As he loped away on his horse the crowd was still cheering.

"Oh Margret did you see?" Sansa practically swooned.

"He fancies you. Arya isn't it wonderful? Just imagine, perhaps someday Sansa will become Queen."

Arya saw the way Sansa glanced at her, clearly expecting Arya to tell her to stop being such a ninny and stop believing in hopeless dreams. In spite of the many years of animosity between them, Arya smiled gently at her sister.

"Sansa would make a fair and beautiful queen" Arya said softly "And Steffon would be the kind of loving, adoring husband she has always hoped for."

All around the highborn box people stopped talking to turn and stare at the solemn words of praise Arya offered her sister, many of them surprised by Arya's announcement and by her being there at all, dressed in her finery like a proper highborn lady.

"Thank you Arya" Sansa replied, seemingly the most stunned of all but never forgetting her manners.

"I know we do not always get on" Arya said to Sansa quietly, "But I've always wanted you to find happiness. I think Steffon could be the one to bring you that happiness. He's kind and honourable and all those other knightly things you've dreamed of having in a husband. I'm sure that Father would be more than agreeable to see you married to such a man, and I have heard whispers that the King is very open to the idea."

Sansa stared at her incredulously. Arya wondered how she must appear to Sansa, for they were as different as Fire and Ice.

Where Sansa was refined, feminine and ladylike, enjoying singing, and dancing and needlework and gossip; Arya was wild, willful, disobedient and ferocious, preferring to spend her time riding and running and hunting and discussing fighting and war tactics. Where Sansa was delicately beautiful, her skin creamy, her hair a rich shade of red and her eyes a bright Tully-blue; Arya was wildly beautiful much like the wolf she was so often compared to. Her hair was a deep dark brown and her eyes were an icy shade of grey, her skin olive toned and tanned from her times spent out of doors.

Arya found herself looking at her sister and trying to imagine Sansa ever wielding a sword or dagger the way Arya could. She tried to imagine her sister sitting astride a horse like a man and not immediately falling off. She smirked a little to herself as she tried to imagine the idea of Sansa ever allowing one of her precious gowns to become dusty and dirty the way Arya's so often did.

"Are you toying with me Arya?" Sansa asked her suspiciously, knowing Arya was prone to fibbing to her sister to make her look stupid.

"No" Arya replied "Gendry told me that Steffon is rather taken with you and has been hinting to the King that you would make a fine future Queen of the Seven Kingdoms. According to Gendry the King likes the idea of joining the Stark and Baratheon houses."

Sansa looked like she might faint in delight and Margret smiled widely.

"And what else did Gendry have to say on the idea of two of the Princes wedding Ned Stark's daughters?" She asked, seeming very pleased with herself.

"What do you mean?" Arya asked evasively while Robb's wife smirked at her.

"I mean that while you were discussing Sansa and Steffon did Gendry hint at all to the prospect of marrying you, wilful girl?"

Arya opened her mouth, though she was unsure as to whether she meant to deny such rumours or to confirm that Gendry had asked her if he could court her and Arya had agreed. Before she could reply, the sound of hooves drew her attention and Arya didn't like to admit even to herself that she felt a particularly girly flutter inside herself as she saw Gendry Baratheon trotting towards her on his black stallion. She felt herself begin to smirk at the sight of him.

Dressed in his heavy metal jousting armour, he had to open the visor window on his helmet in order to look at her with those blue eyes she suspected she was falling in love with.

"Lady Arya!" He called out, his voice booming across the jousting arena and drawing the attention of all. She couldn't hide her blush when Lady Catelyn and her father both turned to stare. Arya rolled her eyes when she saw her mother begin to glare, thinking Arya was in some kind of trouble again before raising her eyebrows and narrowing her eyes to see Arya actually sitting and looking like a highborn lady being begged for a token of favour. Father was chuckling at the blush on Arya's cheeks.

"I told you not to call me that" Arya scolded Gendry before she could stop herself.

"But my lady that is your title" Gendry smirked at her and Arya knew he was antagonizing her because she had to give him a token if she wanted to enter the tourney herself.

"Then what is it you want with me, My Prince?" Arya asked him, still seated next to Sansa.

"Might I beg a token of your favour, my wild queen?" He grinned at her and Arya felt another flutter to hear him call her that again.

"You think you can win?" Arya asked him, smirking now.

"Of course" Gendry told her, grinning back when Arya rolled her eyes.

"You're not going to do something sappy like naming me Queen of Love and whatever else it is, are you?" she asked him.

"Of course, my lady, I will win the tourney in your name and crown you Queen of my Heart for all of our days."

Arya heard the intake of breath from all the other women in the highborn box to hear him declare such and she glared at him, wanting to punch his smirking face for the way he was manipulating her. Getting to her feet so she could give him the bloody token before he embarrassed them further, Arya stalked closer to the railing leaning forwards to glare at him some more while he reined his horse closer.

"I'm going to kill you" She told him in a whisper, leaning down so only he would hear her.

"No you won't, my fair lady. You'd miss me too much."

"You just announced to practically everyone that you intend to court me and marry me!"

"That's because I do, stupid" Gendry chuckled to her just as quietly.

"I hate you" Arya told him snidely.

"No you don't, you're just mad because you have to play at being a lady when you want to already be wearing your armour. Now give me the bloody token so we can get on with it before our mother's glare us to death."

"You're so paying for this. I'll never get away from the gossip-ninnies now."

"I know" Gendry smirked at her "And the longer it takes you to sneak away, get ready and enter the competition, the less chance there is of you getting hurt."

When Arya went to hit him Gendry dodged the blow before catching her wrist and dragging her closer.

"I don't see that awful pink scarf you were going to give me" He whispered "You better not be backing out on a deal Arya, or I'll out you to everyone the minute you show up in your armour."

"Well maybe I found something more personal to give you like you bloody wanted, but since you've just pretty much guaranteed I'll never get away from these ninnies I might as well just not give you anything." Arya told him, not missing the way he looked surprised and then pleased at the idea that she was planning to give him something personal.

"What have you got for me?" he whispered and Arya found herself staring at his lips, remembering the way he'd kissed her in her chambers. Arya blinked when she realised that the wrist he'd caught to keep her from hitting him was still in his grip and he was holding her hand against his cheek.

"I hate you Gendry" Arya told him quietly still annoyed with him in spite of the way she wanted to kiss him again. Even as she said it, Arya began to fiddle with the wrist he clutched, digging beneath his fingers and loosening the laces on her wrist guard.

It was a part of the armour she'd been secretly hoarding for the tourney, engraved with the sigil she'd chosen for herself.

The crowd gave a collective gasp as Arya jerked the guard off her wrist.

"Give me your wrist you big, stupid, bull-headed idiot" Arya demanded. He offered it to her even as people began to whisper about what she was giving him and Arya didn't miss the look of horror on her mother's face when she wrapped the cuff around Gendry's wrist, lacing it up tight.

Gendry brushed his hand over it, his fingers exploring the howling wolf symbol she'd carved into the leather herself. When he looked back at her the hot look he'd been giving her on and off since he'd arrived glittered in his eyes and they flashed with something else as well.

"You better stay safe today Arya" he warned her again, whispering to her. Arya nodded, and felt a strange tingle inside herself as she whispered to him.

"You too."

Gendry grinned at her, nodding silently before he reined his horse away, winking at her over his shoulder as he trotted away from her.

"What did you just give him?" Sansa asked her curiously, looking utterly befuddled when Arya came back over to drop into her seat.

"One of my training cuffs" Arya replied, showing her sister and Margret the other one she still wore.

"My and isn't that a personal token coming from our wayward Arya?" Margret smirked, looking pleased and smug.

"Did you hear what he said to her?" Sansa asked Margret, also eyeing Arya "He means to name her Queen of his heart for the rest of his days."

"Not just Queen of Love and Beauty, but Queen of his heart" Margret agreed with a nod "And I wonder what would spur such a statement from a handsome young prince."

"You're both being ridiculous" Arya replied, squirming uncomfortably, aware of the way her mother, the Queen and everyone else in the lord's box was listening to them.

"Ridiculous?" Margret asked smugly "It would seem the ridiculous one here is you and the way you are trying to deny that Prince Gendry is more than passingly interested in you."

"It's not my fault he spouted stupid nonsense to please the crowds" Arya defended, growing more uncomfortable and annoyed by the minute.

"Actually I would say it's entirely your fault" Ned Stark replied from down the row, causing everyone to laugh. "Seems to me the young Prince is intending to court you."

Arya closed her eyes in frustration as the whispers grew to excited and shocked murmurs.

"Is it true Arya? Has Prince Gendry indicated to you that he means to court you into marrying him?" Margret asked, her hand resting on her heavily pregnant belly as she watched Arya's cheeks turn pink. Arya pretended not to hear them all as she glared evilly down the length of the jousting arena to wear she could see Gendry still astride his horse, looking in her direction and smirking smugly while he fingered the cuff she'd strapped to his wrist.

"Arya? Has Prince Gendry indicated an interest in marrying you?" Lady Catelyn asked, looking so hopeful and intrigued by the idea of actually finding someone who might be willing to marry her wayward, wild daughter.

"I'm sure that wouldn't be the case" Queen Cersei said nastily, sounding entirely miffed about the whole situation. Arya felt a prickle of irritation at the Queen's words, knowing the woman didn't like her and realising suddenly that the old harpy might make things difficult should she and Gendry pursue some kind of relationship.

"Arya?" Sansa asked, growing impatient with the girl's lack of response.

"You are all incredibly nosey about things that have nothing to do with giving favours at a tourney" Arya told them evasively.

"I'd say that's a yes if I ever heard one" Margret grinned "And I think the more important question than whether or not Prince Gendry hinted at marriage with our dear Arya, is what Arya said to him in response to such a request."

Arya laughed when she saw both of her parents and her sister pale at the idea of what she could've said to a request for her hand in marriage. She got to her feet quickly and began to walk away from them all.

"Where are you going Arya?" Lady Catelyn asked her sharply.

"I've a need for the privy, Mother" Arya replied before turning and taking her leave as she went she could swear she heard her father say;

"More like a need to avoid these questions and escape what she calls 'stupidity'."

Chapter Text

Arya held her breath as she arrived on the new horse she'd bought from a farmer down the road. Dressed in her armour, which Gendry had insisted she had to pad with pillows from her bedchambers, Arya felt like an armoured marshmallow. The armour she'd snavelled for the tourney was men's armour and much too big on her so she'd had no choice but to pad it in order to keep it from shifting and rattling around.

She'd looked in the mirror in before she'd come down, and knew she looked nothing like Arya Stark of Winterfell. Her hair was braided and pulled into a knot beneath a hat inside her identity-hiding helmet. Her amour enveloped her lithe body, making her looking thrice as wide. Her height leant her an advantage to pass as an average heighted man rather than a tall young woman.

She smudged some dirt and soot from the fire on her cheeks, just in case anyone peered through her visor, so that I would appear that she had some kind of stubble-shadow at the very least. Her amour was heavy and she felt awkward on her horse. She'd already caused a stir as people began to notice an anonymous knight in their midst, no-one recognising the sigil she had painted on her shield and her armour.

They whispered and pointed speculating about who she could possibly be and Arya smiled when she rode over to the registry table, and the Mikken grunted.

"Another anonymous knight, eh?"

She gave a curt nod, not trusting herself to be able to speak in a voice that would fool Mikken.

"Right, you're first tilt will be against…. Ser Torias of House Dustin."

Arya nodded again, feeling the nerves begin to affect her as she rode over to wait for her tilt to be called. She felt strange to be astride a horse that wasn't Storm.

Her chosen steed to hide her identity was a buckskin gelding that stood at seventeen hands. He snorted when a pack of dogs belonging to others that had travelled for the tourney began to snap and snarl at one another off to Arya's left. Arya petted his neck, murmuring soothing words, pleased when the gelding calmed enough that he stopped dancing in place and stood still beneath her.

When Gendry was called to tilt against Ser Willem of Torrhen's Square Arya held her breath, reining her horse towards the jousting arena and watching as the tilt began. Gendry cut a fierce and regal picture astride his huge black stallion, all dressed in his amour, his visor closed to hide that handsome face and those laughing eyes. As he settled the lance into place, the flag was dropped and Arya felt her stomach tie up in knots to watch the two fierce men gallop towards one another, aiming their lances, intending to strike and unseat their opponent.

She felt the rush through her system and the strangest sense of… concern… when Ser Willem's lance struck Gendry's hard chest, followed by pride and pleasure to see that Gendry was much stronger than he looked. In spite of the strong blow, the prince remained in his saddle while Ser Willem looked properly rattled when Gendry's lance shattered against his helm.

Arya looked on as they began preparing for the next tilt that would continue until three lances were broken or one of the knights was unhorsed. And she felt a momentary sense of dismay when she realised that she hadn't remembered that as a 'knight' she would be in need of a squire. Glancing around, she realised she was going to need one in a hurry and tried to spot someone who might be of some use to her. She was tempted to ask Rickon, or perhaps Prince Tommen, but suspected that neither would be allowed to depart the Lord's box were they watched with the King and the Lord of Winterfell.

She waited until Gendry's joust ended when on the third tilt, Gendry managed to finally unhorse Ser Willem before reining her horse away from the yard to search for a boy who might be useful as a squire. Through her helmet, Arya scanned the faces of many, trying to find someone who would be storng enough to hoist each lance up to her on the horse.

Finally her eyes landed on the familiar red hair of her friend Micah, the butcher's boy and Arya smiled wide. Wouldn't he feel special to learn be squire to an anonymous knight?

"You there!" she called out gruffly, watching the way Micah turned to investigate the sound in spite of the busy, crowded yard.

"You, boy!" She called again, pointing at him when he raised his eyebrows. Arya beckoned him closer, smiling behind her helmet.

"Ser?" Micah asked, looking up at her with a hopeful, awed expression to actually be being addressed by an anonymous knight.

"I seem to have misplaced my squire," Arya told him gruffly, "And need a replacement. Can you help me?"

"Ser… it would… be my honour," Micah breathed out and Arya felt good for having thought of him as squiring for her, knowing the boy was of age with her and did not look forward to spending his life as an unglorified, common butcher's boy.

"Good then, let's get going. My joust is up soon," Arya said, reining her horse an indicating for the boy to run along next to her as she led him over to the area she'd set up to keep the lances she needed.

"Have you ever squired before?" Arya asked, knowing he hadn't but keeping up the facade of not knowing who he was.

"No Ser," he answered.

"Right. Well, it's your job to hand me my lances when one breaks. Only you are allowed to talk to me during the joust, and only you may help me if I should fall from my horse. When the joust begins you are only allowed to talk to me whilst resetting my horse for the next tilt." Arya explained the rules quickly, "Think you can do that?"

"Yes, Ser," Micah answered.

"Good, well, I'm up next," she told him, reining her horse over towards the arena when she heard the announcement that she would be up next against Ser Torias Dustin.

Arya felt butterflies begin to flutter in her stomach as she sat at the end of the jousting arena, waiting for the joust to begin. Micah handed her the lance she would use and Arya wondered if all this was going to be worth it if Ser Torias unhorsed her on the very first tilt. She felt nervous and excited when the crowd began whispering as they caught sight of the anonymous knight for the first time and Arya rolled her eyes. She could just imagine that there were empty-headed girls in the crowd who fancied themselves the next lover of an anonymous knight and she chuckled to herself to imagine Sansa and Margret up in the Lord's box along with Jean Poole and all the other highborn girls who had travelled to Winterfell for the joust, whispering and giggling to each other about what sort of face might be behind the visor of her helmet.

She outright laughed as she imagined the outraged expressions they would likely wear when they learned it was her if something should happen. If she could get through this without having to reveal her identity, that would be ideal. Taking a deep breath, Arya hoisted the lance up, supporting it in order to ride down the length of the arena and hopefully unhorse Torias Dustin.

Just as the flag was about to drop Arya caught Gendry watching her and she knew that if she did anything wrong and somehow got herself hurt, he was going to go berserk at whoever hurt her.

Arya jumped as the crowd cheered while the flag dropped and she kicked her horse into a gallop, finding it was much harder to balance the lance and hold it straight than the other knights made it look.

When she actually managed to strike Torias hard enough to shatter her lance on his chest, Arya knew it was entirely a fluke that she hadn't somehow impaled his horse since she'd only managed to haul the tip of the lance up high enough just seconds before impact. She was grateful for the layer of cushioning inside her armour when he struck her on the chest as well, also shattering his lance. He hit hard and she wobbled precariously in the saddle, trying to maintain her balance. If it wasn't for the years she had spent learning to cling to Storm bareback, Arya knew she'd have fallen from the back of her steed.

She'd made sure to get a replacement horse for the tourney, knowing that if she lost her opponent had every right to demand her horse or her armour as their winnings. Just as she managed to regain her balance and keep herself from falling form the saddle, Arya became aware of the crowd cheering and she reined her gelding to a stop, glancing back over her shoulder in shock to see that though she'd managed to keep her balance, Ser Torias Dustin had not been so lucky.

Though Arya had only managed to even hit him as a fluke, apparently she'd hit in a spot that tested his balance. The knight was afoot, his horse trotting back to him as he picked himself up off the ground. Her mind reeled as she realised she'd just entered and won her first ever joust and she couldn't hold back the shout of joy that escaped her lips. Luckily the roar of the crowd drowned her out as she suspected it was less than manly.

"You won Ser!" Micah cheered when Arya trotted her steed back over to him, "You progress to the next round. Well done!"

"Thanks," Arya said gruffly, playing the part. She caught Gendry grinning in her direction and felt pleased even though her victory was somewhat bittersweet with the knowledge that it had only been a fluke that Ser Torias had fallen from his horse.

Arya suspected Lady Luck must be on her side when she managed to strike her next opponent on the helmet in the first tilt, and again the second tilt, knocking his from his horse with a bent up helmet. She had no idea how she'd managed it since she'd almost dropped to lance entirely when she'd lost her grip on it as the flag dropped. In fact the good Lady Luck seemed to be smiling on her when by her sixth opponent she had yet to be unhorsed or disqualified.

It was a miracle, she knew, because more than once she'd almost tumbled back off her horse and landed on her head.

When it was announced that her next opponent would be Robb, Arya smirked behind her helmet. Her brothers and the princes had been practicing tilting for days in the lead up to the tourney and she'd seen some of his tricks. She'd been using a few of them herself, recalling the way he'd been trying to explain to Rickon how it was done.

As the flag dropped, indicating the beginning of her tilt against her brother, Arya kicked her horse hard, spurring him forwards, her arm aching from holding the heavy lance so many times and from the impact that rocked through her muscles every time she struck her opponent. She knew before he even struck her that she was going to lose. Her horse sidestepped awkwardly, spooked when something fluttered in the breeze in front of the Lord's box, and the perfect shot she'd had lined up, glanced off her brother's chest without shattering.

She braced herself for the impact as Robb's lance struck her and she heard the indrawn breath of the crowd as the hit slammed into the middle of her chest. The lance shattered, but the momentum of their galloping horses shoved the lance sideways. Arya was barely aware of the pain as a long, narrow sliver of wood slid between her protective armour at the right shoulder, impaling her right through the protective leather and the pillow beneath.

She felt the sting of it as the splinter pierced her skin and drew in a sharp breath as the pain began to register even as she felt her body falling. Arya wondered if she heard screaming as she tumbled from the back of her horse to land flat on her back on the hard dirt of the jousting arena, or if she was the one screaming. One thought consumed her mind even as her head hit the ground hard and she felt the sliver of wood poking through her shoulder forced part-way back out as she hit the ground, and that thought was Mother's going to lock me in the dungeons for all of time.

Chapter Text

"ARYA!" Gendry Baratheon shouted watching as though in slow motion as she fell from her horse with a stake through her chest. He was hardly aware that he was moving until he found himself on his knees beside her, hauling the armour off her body, slashing at the straps holding the too-large chest plate in place.

He yanked the helmet from her head and he could see that she looked to be in a daze. Dimly he was aware of other people all around them screaming and shouting. Lord Stark was hollering for the Maester, Lady Catelyn was crying in horror. Lady Sansa looked to be shell-shocked, staring limply at her sister's prone form as though she didn't understand what had happened.

Gendry worked tirelessly as he yanked all the armour and padding off her body until her slim feminine form was revealed. He desperately wanted to pull the stake from her chest, but he didn't know if doing so would cause her to bleed out or not, so he didn't dare. Hoisting her limp frame into his arms, he tried to get her attention.

"Don't you dare die on me, Arya!" he growled as he ran with her in his arms towards the direction of the Maester's chamber in the castle, "You promised! You promised you wouldn't get fucking hurt!"

"G-Gendry?" she whispered weakly before a coughing fit wracked her fragile frame.

"In here, my Prince," Maester Lewin commanded, and Gendry carried her to where he was instructed.

"You knew about this?" Lord Stark asked of him, looking beyond furious in his worry over his daughter and his rage over the idea of anyone knowing what she'd planned and not stopping her from doing it, "You knew she'd entered the tourney as an anonymous knight?"

Gendry could only nod as he set Arya down on the bed where the Maester instructed.

"Hold her down, my prince, while I remove the stake. Drink this, Arya," the man commanded, forcing milk of the poppy down her throat. Arya gulped it down blindly, tears of pain leaking form the corners of her mind. She whimpered every time her body was jostled and Gendry could tell she was in terrible pain. Guilt washed through him to combine with his terror over the idea that she might not survive the day.

"Gendry…?" she whispered again, her grey eyes searching for him.

"I've got you, Arya," Gendry told her reassuringly, putting his hands where the Maester commanded to hold her in place before he yanked the stake from her flesh. Blood began to pour from the grizzly wound.

"Don't… go," Arya whispered, clutching at him as though she couldn't feel the pain of her wound, talking as though she hadn't just had a hunk of wood imbedded in her flesh and then ripped out again. She must be delirious, Gendry decided, else she would be screaming in agony, not asking for him.

The Maester was busy taking to her shirt with a knife to remove all the fabric from the area to better tend the wound. Gendry wondered if talking to her might help keep her mind from the pain and might better distract her. It couldn't hurt. After all, it was better to give her something else to think about, and besides, he was furious with her. She had promised she wouldn't get hurt. She'd promised!

"Don't you dare die on me now, you little bitch," Gendry growled at her threateningly, not at all caring that he ought not to speak to a lady in such a manner, "We had an agreement. You weren't going to get fucking hurt."

"S-surprise," she muttered weakly reaching for his hand where the cuff she'd given him was now stained crimson with her blood. Gendry took her hand fiercely. His heart was pounding in his chest.

"You're not bloody funny," he informed her.

"I am," she disagreed, looking like she was tired. The Maester was fishing splinters from her skin and bathing the wound with herbs and other medicinal things cleanse it.

"What the hell were you thinking, Arya?" Ned Stark was demanding, looking furious in his worry over his daughter. Gendry could hear his own father talking from the doorway, holding everyone else at bay. Lady Catelyn and Lady Sansa had been ushered away, their hysteria too distracting.

"W-wanted to joust," Arya sighed tiredly, clinging tightly to Gendry's hand as the Maester continued to work. Gendry could tell that it was out of pain over the wound and the treatment and that she didn't want to show it.

"You…" Ned began, his eyes crossing in frustration.

He roared in fury, one of his fists colliding with the wall by the bed in his rage over her answer and Gendry knew the man would never forgive himself for allowing her to be so wild if she died now. Gendry would never forgive himself either.

"I'm never letting you do anything this stupid again, Arya," Gendry warned her, smoothing his free hand over her sweat dampened brow and brushing back her hair where it had begun to clung to her face, "When you're better, I'm going to lock you in a bloody tower and never let you out."

"Y-you w-won't," Arya contradicted him, trying to smile teasingly but grimacing in pain instead. Gendry gripped her hand tighter, leaning closer to her so he could peer directly into her eyes.

"Get better and we'll find out, woman," he retorted.

"Don't g-g-get b-bossy," Arya choked out, tears leaking form the corner of her eyes as the master bathed her skin some more before he began stitching it up from the inside. She writhed in agony at the pain of the stitching and Gendry had to hold her down. He felt wretched doing it. He felt like he was contributing to her torture, but the more the writhed the more it would hurt her, so it was better to hold her still. As soon as she was better, Gendry was going to take it out of her hide that she'd gotten hurt at all and the minute he laid eyes on Rob Stark, Gendry might just hit the man.

It wasn't Rob's fault. Or Arya's. It had been an accident. But that didn't alleviate his anger or his worry for the woman currently lying under his hands and gritting her teeth against the pain of what had to be done to better heal her.

"Or you'll what, wolf-girl?" he demanded, pinning her so that she stayed still and trying to distract her from the pain by talking.

"Or I w-w-won't m-m-marry you," Arya growled weakly, her eyes flashing with the pain she suffered.

"Oh, you'll marry me. If I have to crawl through all seven hells and drag you kicking and screaming to the alter, you'll marry me, you little brat," Gendry argued, not at all caring that both their fathers could hear him or that Ned looked shocked by his daughters words.

"Bossy," Arya retorted, laughing weakly in spite of the pain she was in. It turned into another pained cough.

"Maester Lewin?" Ned Stark asked of the man when Arya's eyelids fluttered as though she was losing consciousness

"She'll live," the Maester told them grimly, "The milk of the poppy is kicking in. The stake didn't hit anything vital, it's just a flesh wound really."

"Went… all the way… through," Arya muttered, pressing up against Gendry's grip on her with a whimper to show the master her back too.

"No it didn't Arya, there's a bone there that the stake hit but did not pierce," the Maester assured her, "You'll be sore for a long while, but you'll be fine. With time you will regain full use of your arm."

Arya didn't seem to be listening. Her fingers released their tight grip on Gendry, stroking over his hands instead in a way that he expected was her version of comforting while she smiled wanly from the bed.

"Father?" she whispered, her eyes searching the people gathered around her until they landed on Ned, "I'm sorry… Don't be angry with Gendry… It's all my fault. He t-tried to t-talk me out of t-tilting… I didn't listen. T-tell Mother… I'll b-be fine."

Gendry cringed at her words, recalling that when the terror of her near death died down, he was most likely going to be interrogated on why he'd let her participate when he knew the risks. Seven hells, they were going to kill him. She was growing delirious with the milk of the poppy, Gendry could tell.

She patted his hand softly, looking as though the movement cost her more than she could spare.

"K-kiss me, idiot," she breathed to him, her eyelids fluttering some more as she began to drift.

Gendry did as she asked of him, leaning in and kissing her mouth softly. She moved her lips against his in the softest caress, like the flutter of a butterfly's wings against his skin as she sighed gently. She swatted at him once he'd pulled away again and Gendry flinched.

"What was that for?" he asked her.

She managed to crack one eye open just a bit.

"For c-calling m-me Queen of your h… in f-front of everyone…" she told him, her lips twisting towards a smirk even as Gendry felt his own mouth quirk up just a bit at her words before she surrendered to unconsciousness.

Gods, if she didn't make it he'd never forgive himself. He never should have let her tilt. He should've insisted that it was too dangerous. Hells, he had insisted. If he'd insisted any harder, she'd have told him to go bugger himself with his ideas of marrying her and Gendry hadn't been willing to risk that. With the different perspective, knowing it could have cost her life, Gendry was thinking that in future he'd have to be harder on her.

He didn't want to crush that wild wolf spirit, but he did want to make sure she stayed alive until they were old and wrinkled and grey. He was falling for her, curse it all and he would marry her. He'd held up his end of the bargain and let her tilt, against his better judgement.

"She will rest for a time now, with the milk of the poppy in her," the Maester was saying while Gendry reach to smooth back a strand of hair where it had fallen over Arya's face, "Barring inflammation and the fever, she should fully recover."

"She'll have a bad scar?" Ned Stark wanted to know, eyeing the sleeping girl on the bed with worry glittering in his grey eyes, identical to those of his daughter.

"She will," the Maester nodded, "Though I have done what I can to prevent it from being horrific."

"She'll be alright?" Gendry asked, sitting beside the bed and clutching Arya's limp hand in his. He wanted to make sure he would be there when she awoke. He felt like she was his responsibility now. He'd let her make this stupid mistake. He felt like it was his fault she'd gotten hurt.

The Maester nodded.

"You knew she was signing up for the tilt as an anonymous knight?" Ned Stark turned to him, eyeing him angrily.

"I knew," Gendry nodded his head guiltily, "She'd already been planning it, mind. She just needed to know some things before entering and I told her. When I realised what she planned I tried to stop her but she'd very stubborn."

"You asked her to marry you?" Robert asked from the doorway, having managed to shoo everyone else away before closing it.

"I did," Gendry nodded his head, "And I mean to, if she'll have me."

"You sought no permission from me?" Robert asked him.

"Nor me," Ned growled.

"I asked her," Gendry nodded at Arya, "And I've made no secret of my intentions to wed her since or arrival."

"She agreed to it?" Ned wanted to know, looking like he doubted it.

"She agreed to letting me court her," Gendry offered, shifting guiltily beneath their combined, intimidating gazes.

"My daughter? She actually verbally agreed to the idea of courtship and marriage?" Ned asked, deflating slightly as his concern that she might die began to ebb, "She gave you that token for the tilt… she… what have you done to her?"

Gendry got the feeling he wasn't supposed to answer that question. He didn't think Ned Stark would appreciate hearing about how Gendry had been kissing his daughter and grinding himself against her. He didn't imagine it would do anyone any good for him to blurt out that both almost missed the tourney in favour of staying in her chamber and fucking, going about this entire mess ass-backwards.

He was almost sorry he hadn't, actually. It might have been a shit-storm should they have been caught fucking or should she have gotten pregnant before he could wed her, but that would be better than having her get injured in the tilt instead.

"Am I to take this silence as your agreement, should she accept me?" Gendry asked the pair of them, still sitting on the edge of the bed next to the unconscious young woman he'd become so enamoured with.

"Everyone already thinks you're fucking her," Robert mused.

"Are you?" Ned demanded, narrowing his eyes on Gendry.

"No. And I won't until we're wed," Gendry answered, "Been kissing her, though."

Gendry caught the way his father began to chuckle behind Ned over his honesty.

"She…" Ned began, his brow furrowing in confusion over the idea that his wayward daughter, so against marriage, might have been kissing anyone and might've even entertained the notion of going against everything she believed and everything she argued by consenting to court him.

"We had a deal," Gendry offered by way of explanation, "I'd help her enter the tourney and keep quiet about who she was while she did it, and in agreement she would let me court her. You didn't think she just gave me this on a whim, did you? She might've agreed to the courting, but a woman who's scorned the entire courting and marriage process since birth doesn't just decide to give out favours. I had to remind her."

Ned looked relieved to hear it.

"You want to marry her?" he asked, "Knowing she's wild? Knowing she'll never fit into the life in the city in King's Landing?"

"I wasn't intending to take her to King's Landing when she marries me," Gendry retorted, "I'm not the first born prince, so I'm no heir to the Iron Throne."

"Storm's End?" his father asked, raising his eyebrows.

The Baratheon castle in the Stormlands was currently manned by his uncle Renly, but it was no secret that Renly preferred spending his time at High Garden. As second son of the Baratheon line, it was his place to one day run Storm's End while his brother ran the Seven Kingdoms.

"Eventually," Gendry nodded his head seriously, "But I see no reason not to stay in Winterfell awhile. I'm not ready to run the Stormlands on my own. I have much to learn still, about being a Lord and a husband."

Ned and Robert looked at one another for a long moment.

"We already planned to join our houses," Robert offered, scratching his chin thoughtfully, "Steffon and Sansa are agreeable to their match. What's another Stark and Baratheon alliance? You know you'd have trouble convincing her to wed anyone else with the way she mouths off."

"Do you realise what you'll be signing up for with her, Gendry?" Ned asked of him, still frowning, "She's not some obedient lass who will do as you ask and smile prettily or pay nicely with the other women of the Stormlands – or anywhere else for that matter."

"Why do you think I didn't interfere when she wanted to tilt in the tourney in the first place?" Gendry asked, "I know she's wild. I… prefer it. I prefer her over any other simpering, silly lass I've met in the South."

The King of the Seven Kingdoms and the Warden of the North looked at one another again, seeming to consider it carefully. Gendry suspected they would allow it. There was truth to the fact that Ned would have a hard time marrying Arya off to anyone else. Besides, Gendry wouldn't accept any outcome but their agreement. He'd disavow his title and run away with the little urchin currently unconscious on the bed if he had to.

"Your mother's going to screech like a bloomin' banshee when she hears about this," Robert growled as he crossed the room and helped himself to a wineskin. Gendry didn't know how to react when Ned Stark threw his head back and began to laugh.

Chapter Text

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.

Gendry laughed.

"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?"

Gendry shrugged.

"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.

Curse him!

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.

Arya grinned.

"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.

Arya nodded.

"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.