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One of Them

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Helpless rage flooded through Theon, but the first vestiges of fear were beginning to grow and replace the anger. He knew it was stupid, no one was going to behead him for a stupid row with Robb, but the feeling of being worthless to every single person here was there nonetheless.

‘Take that, you stupid arse,’ a shrill voice screamed, echoing his inner monologue. For a moment he wanted to ignore it, but then his curiosity got the better of him, and he hurried to the courtyard.

She was at least as angry as he was, that much was obvious. With burning fury Arya was slamming a wooden sword into a corner of the wall again and again. It was completely erratic, of course, but for such a small girl there seemed to be a lot of power in her assault on the castle. Sure enough, at a particularly vicious strike, her weapon broke. Arya flung the rest into the wall, from where it rebounded to land before Theon’s feet. ‘Careful,’ he said. She spun around and flushed crimson. ‘Not supposed to be here, are you?’ Arya shook her head. ‘Where should you be? With your Septa?’ A small nod. ‘Doing what, exactly?’

‘Crochet. But it’s pointless, I’m no good at anything.’

Theon picked up the remnants of the wooden blade and inspected them. ‘I believe this sword wouldn’t agree with you. Or the wall, for that matter.’

Arya looked up at him. ‘Why can’t I learn to fight?’

Theon sighed. Indeed, why shouldn’t she? ‘I’m sure you know why.’

‘I don’t understand it! Nymeria knew how to fight! I asked Ser Rodrik, but he said no.’

His fury forgotten, Theon sat down on the ground. ‘Have you tried asking Lord Eddard?’

Arya scowled. ‘He said Ser Rodrik is right. Theon … Can I ask you something?’

He grinned. ‘You just did, didn’t you?’

Arya grinned back but sobered quickly. ‘Why’s Sansa afraid of you?’

Theon’s eyebrows shot up. ‘Is she? There’s no need. Why indeed?’

Arya shrugged. ‘I don’t really know. She said you might get ideas because you’re a hostage. What is a hostage?’

Theon frowned. ‘Without wanting to repeat myself, have you asked your father that?’

Arya glared at him. ‘He said I’ll understand when I’m old enough. I am old enough, I’m not a child! Try me!’

Despite the subject, Theon laughed. ‘You’re almost a woman grown, right? Very well, I’ll explain. And, from one adult to another, I tell you that I don’t like talking about this very much, as I’m sure you’ll understand when we’re done. How do I … Oh, let’s see. Sansa likes her dolls, doesn’t she?’ Arya nodded. ‘Well, let’s say Sansa does something to make you angry. Now you take one of her dolls and tell her that if she makes you angry again, you will rip its head off. That’s about it.’

Arya looked at him. ‘Well, that’s stupid, then. There’s no way you’re a hostage.’

‘How do you work that out?’

Arya frowned. ‘You’re not just someone’s doll. They cannot just kill you if someone else makes them angry.’

Theon wasn’t sure what he wanted to do. Standing up and waking away was an option, telling her to leave him alone with her stupid questions until she’d grown up was another. Instead, he looked at her squarely. ‘I may not be a doll, but I’m someone’s son. And I am here to make sure that he stays in line.’

‘And if he doesn’t?’

Theon took a deep breath. ‘I die.’

‘But that’s not fair, you didn’t do anything.’

Theon shrugged. ‘It’s how it is. And I guess if you’ve got to be someone’s hostage, you want to be Lord Eddard’s. And because hostage is such a nasty word, they call me a ward to make it sound nicer.’ Arya nodded slowly. His next words were out before he could stop them. ‘Sometimes I wonder how long I’ve got before Balon Greyjoy decides a son is more easily replaced than his dignity.’

Arya stared at him. ‘But he wouldn’t … You don’t think he’d risk that they hurt you, do you?’

Theon shrugged and swallowed. ‘I don’t know. I really don’t know. Arya, please forget what I just … I should never have said that.’

Arya tilted her head. ‘Said what? I didn’t hear anything.’

Theon looked at the broken wooden sword again. ‘Who are you that angry with, anyway?’

‘Sansa,’ Arya said darkly. ‘She’s better at everything, and she likes it. I wish there was one thing I can do better than her.’

Theon looked at her. There was a small bow he knew Robb had used to practice years ago. He was certain it was somewhere still. ‘How would you like me to teach you something more interesting than crocheting?’

Arya stared at him. ‘Won’t they hurt you?’

Theon grinned. ‘For that? No. They’ll ask me if I’m out of my mind, at the worst.’

ϡ

‘Wait. Not yet.’

‘What?’

‘Think. Where are you? How far from the target? Where do your fingers have to be?’

‘Oh! Yes. Sorry.’

‘Don’t be. Looks much better. Concentrate … hold your breath … loose. Good.’

‘Now what do you think you’re doing?’

Arya dropped her bow and looked guilty.

‘Teaching,’ Theon said simply.

Ser Rodrik shook his head at them. ‘This isn’t what a young lady should learn. You should know that. Both of you.’

Theon grinned. ‘My sister would disagree.’

Rodrik scowled at him. ‘I will talk to Lord Eddard about this. About that cheek too, Greyjoy.’

ϡ

Arya jumped at the soft knock at her door. She got to her feet and crept towards it, heart racing. Another soft knock followed, and she jumped again. ‘Are you awake?’

She let out the breath she’d been holding and opened the door. ‘You scared me, Theon. Come in.’

Theon entered and sat down on a chair at her window. ‘Was your father angry?’

Arya shrugged. ‘He never said a word. Funny, I was waiting for him to tell me off all evening.’

Theon laughed. ‘You sound like you’re complaining. He didn’t say anything to me, either.’ He leaned forwards. There was a slight gleam in his eyes and a conspiratorial tone to his voice. ‘Are you too scared now, or do you want to continue?’

‘Well, I want to, but he said he would watch me.’

‘He being Ser Rodrik?’ Arya nodded. ‘Well, Ser Rodrik is an old man, and old men need a lot of sleep. More than you or I.’ Arya cocked her head at him. ‘I think it’s about time you learn to shoot at night, now you have the basics and can estimate the distance to your target when you remember to do so. Today was good before we were rudely interrupted.’

Arya leaned forwards. ‘I’m always uncertain about the position of the fingers, Theon. It feels so … I don’t know, like I want to make a slighter difference in the angle, but I can’t.’

Theon nodded. ‘There’s another method, too. You can try that, if you like. You don’t shift your fingers on the string, but you use a different anchor. Like, you don’t pull your hand back under your chin but further up or down. It’s easier to show than to tell. If you want to.’

A mischievous grin spread on Arya’s face. ‘It’s too early now, half the castle is still awake.’

Theon nodded. ‘Agreed. I’ll come back in a couple of hours.’ He stood up and winked. ‘See you then.’

‘Wait … Why are you doing this? What do you get out of it?’

Theon rubbed a hand over his face. ‘Well, of all the castle you and Robb are the most fun. And apart from that … Why, perhaps one day I will need a friend here.’

ϡ

The Godswood was always her refuge from the castle. It was quiet here, and the most likely people to run into were her Father, Jon, or Robb. Right now she was hiding, because the Septa was angry with her. Again.

When she heard voices, Arya disappeared behind the trees. She really didn’t want to see anyone today, no matter who it was.

‘There is another thing I want to talk to you about. Something mysterious happened in the courtyard. One of the targets seems to have caught fire.’

‘Yes, indeed. Luckily the fire was extinguished quickly. The target is scorched, but other than that nothing is damaged.’

‘Yes … I know that, but the question remains what happened. No one seems to have any idea, Jory says yesterday in the evening all was normal, and this morning … well.’

‘It isn’t such a big mystery, Vayon. What I believe has happened is that someone used the target at night and wanted to get back into the castle in a hurry. They hurried a little too much and had an accident. At least they didn’t bolt but put out the fire at once.’

‘Yes, but who would be using the target at the dead of night in the first place?’

‘Theon and Arya.’

‘Excuse me?’

A rare laugh followed the confused voice of the steward. ‘Oh, it’s been going on for quite a while. Ser Rodrik disapproves, and so would Septa Mordane, no doubt. I don’t know. I’m glad Theon gets along with her and Robb. I’m not going to stop that.’

‘You don’t think Theon could harm her? He seems a little unbalanced sometimes.’

‘Small wonder, if you think about it. Keep an eye on him, if you like, but it won’t be necessary.’

‘And Arya?’

‘Vayon … What do you think how long I can keep Theon here? And what do you think will happen if I send him back to Balon as if nothing had ever happened?’

The answer came after a short time of hesitation. ‘I see the potential for trouble.’

Eddard huffed. ‘I’ve been worrying about this for a while. And now it occurred to me that there’s Arya. With that in mind as an option, I have a reason to have him stay here longer.’

‘Has he asked to leave?’

‘No. You know, I told Robb to inform me of anything indicating he gets restless, and I asked him again not too long ago. But apparently, Theon never does inquire when he can go home. Robb swears that’s because he doesn’t really want to, and if that is true, we have less to worry about when he finally does leave.’

There was a short pause before Vayon Poole spoke again. ‘Why Arya, my lord? Why not Sansa?’

‘Because Arya will survive there, thrive, even. More than she might in the south, for example. Concerning their archery lessons, they’ve been at this for half a year now. Half a year in which Arya has had much fewer fights with Sansa and was generally easier to handle. Theon, too, seems less … restive. I don’t think they should be stopped, but I’ll tell them I know what they’re doing as soon as Arya comes out of the shrub she’s crawled into. Who knows what they’ll burn next time?’