“She’s not taking any visitors.”
The statement rang like a deafening bell in Gendry’s ears; an echo with a numbing effect. He blinked, unsure of the accuracy in his perception. He’d spent nearly two fortnights on the King’s Road and it was not the answer he’d expected to hear when he arrived to Dragonstone and inquired about Arya. It was especially difficult to understand when put into the context of his own travels: if he understood correctly it had been three weeks since the Battle at King’s Landing and Arya still had yet to leave her chambers.
Ser Davos did not waiver, offering no other explanation as he sized the newly administered Lord up one last time before heading further into camp, knowing the boy would follow. Gendry was predictable at best, and although Ser Davos had often credited him for being quite clever, his involvement with Arya was rather simple-minded. Though, Davos rationalized, most matters of the heart were.
“I don’t...has anyone tried?” Gendry managed.
Davos turned, giving him a narrowed gaze that almost seemed stern. “Are you asking me if anyone has tried to get Princess Arya from her room? Yes, of course they have.”
Gendry blinked. “Princess?”
“Aye. Things are changing around here...have changed. It’s time you catch up.”
“You mean the King? Only emerged from his own chambers last week. We sent a raven to Winterfell going over all of this, though I suppose you missed it if you were traveling here.”
“You did write me.”
“And I didn’t expect you to move so quickly. I just thought you’d want to know. I know you care for the lass so I figured—”
“You figured right,” Gendry assured, now with eyes that took in the castle before him.
Beyond the bridge they stood on, various huts and makeshift encampments were set up upon the perimeter of the intimidating castle. Soldiers, all of them still wounded and tired, moved slowly, most of them sitting around as if still waiting for orders from their Queen. Like ghosts they were, considering she was gone now.
Sansa was right; they shouldn’t have ascended upon King’s Landing so soon after their fight with the wights. Now Gendry wondered how they’d ever move past where they were currently. It seemed all of Westeros was perched on this small island, the weight of which already seemed to be sinking back into the earth from centuries of battering waves and winds.
An entire lifetime had played itself out in Gendry’s absence and selfishly he was thankful for Jon’s insistence that he stay in Winterfell. If he had accompanied these men he’d be dead now; if he accompanied these men the most recent night he spent with Arya would have been their last.
“How can I see her then?”
Davos turned to him once more. “You can’t. Not right now. I’ve got enough to take care of without sneaking you into the castle.”
“I never said anything about sneaking.”
“I know,” Davos called over his shoulder. “I did. It’s not proper for you to be visiting a Princess in her chambers. Even if she had called upon you, it’d be hard for me to do anything without King Jon—”
“But you’re a smuggler.”
“Actually, I’m currently the Hand of the King.”
With wide eyes, Gendry swallowed. “What?”
“I know. Now go and make yourself useful.”
“Where have you ever been useful, Gendry?”
“I’m plenty useful!”
“Well you’re particularly useful in the smithy.”
“No. I want to speak with Jon,” Gendry gave strongly, now with eyes affixed to the top of the castle as if he knew where the newly appointed King existed.
“It’s His Grace now.”
“Right,” Gendry nodded swiftly. “Of course. I want to speak to His Grace.”
“It seems we’re all getting used to our new titles, Lord Gendry.”
Gendry scoffed. “Hardly.”
Davos sighed. “What do you need to speak to the King about?”
“I want to ask him what he needs assistance with. Winterfell was kind to me because of our friendship. I owe it to him to return the favor...if an interruption would be welcomed, of course,” he corrected swiftly.
“Of course,” Davos returned flatly. “Why don’t you go wash up and help yourself to something to eat? They’ve got rations and fresh bread just beyond the barbican. If you don’t mind eating with the common folk then I’m sure they’ll be plenty for you.”
Gendry eventually made his way to the smithy where a few men had done very little work, concentrating instead on repairing the forge. The space hadn’t been used in many years and the salt in the air had toughened the forgotten tools into uselessness.
“Lord Gendry!” one of the men called out, causing Gendry to turn toward the voice and smile, comforted by the mere thought that he’d know someone on the island. When he caught sight of the lad his smile remained. Umfrey, a boy from White Harbor, nearly barreled him down with a hug. A gruff “oof!” escaped Gendry as the teenager let go. He couldn’t have been more than sixteen but he looked far older than Gendry last remembered. Thankfully he appeared to be unharmed.
Gendry had never been particularly close with Umfrey and he certainly didn’t find him to be a good smith but the Northerner was motivated. His time spent in the forge at Winterfell was useful if not for the boy’s positive outlook. Looking back on it, the only time Gendry had a distaste for his presence was when the boy made a passing comment about Arya’s smile.
“Enough with the titles,” Gendry insisted, now with his hands on his hips. The stance pushed out his already broad chest, establishing the same power he had only just failed to accept. If they hadn’t before, the other men in the smithy were definitely noticing Gendry now. Nearly all of them had stopped to stare at Gendry and watch this apparent Lord’s interaction with the peasant boy.
“Did they send for you? We’re a useless lot! And this forge is—”
Gendry had already been looking around. “In rough shape. I see that.”
“You’re here to help?”
Gendry paused for a moment. “Aye,” he lied, though his response felt like a proper one. “This...this might take us days.”
“Good thing we have time,” one of the other men muttered, chiming in.
Gendry looked to him. “What’s the plan?” he questioned casually.
“The plan? With what?”
“With everyone. The war’s been won. No one has any reason to fear the King...to not be loyal to him. What do we do now?”
With an innocent shrug, another boy answered: “We wait.”
They all began to stand around Gendry and for a moment Gendry wondered if this was what lorddom felt like. If the King wasn’t handing down orders, did the task fall onto his shoulders? “What have you been instructed to do?”
“Not much, really,” Umfrey explained, clearly upset at the thought as if it had only just occurred to him. “Ser Davos suggested working on some nails but we don’t have enough tools and we can’t make any if we can’t make steel and we can’t start making steel—”
“Without tools. Right.” Gendry leaned back, taking stock of the items near the hearth. “You have a hammer. It’s enough.”
Umfrey's eyes widened and he looked to the rest of the makeshift crew with hope and, in Gendry’s opinion, the right amount of ignorance. Everyone craved blind faith and the sad crew of blacksmiths was no exception.
It was well past nightfall when Gendry found Davos again. Gendry had skipped dinner, taking advantage of the empty smithy to complete his best work. By the time the rest of the men returned, a full set of tools was laid out on the nearby workstation, wet from their recent time in the slack tub but drying quickly due to their proximity to the roaring fire.
Gendry rubbed his hands on his makeshift apron - an uneven piece of leather he’d found amongst all the broken armor. It was a task for tomorrow, Gendry concluded. His body ached, both from the ride and sail to town and now his more recent duty of running the forge.
“See,” Davos hummed. “Useful.”
Gendry rolled his eyes and began to walk with the older man, noticing still how eyes seemed to be on him. He was unsure of the reason: whether it was because he was with the Hand of the King or because he was a new face. Everyone seemed to be exiting Dragonstone lately, most of them off to find a new life or to even perhaps return to their old one. Gendry’s arrival was a rarity, especially now as he followed Davos through the Bailey and toward the Keep. His assumption that Jon was hidden away from everyone in the highest tower seemed to be a correct one.
“The King may be short with you. If he wants to see you at all,” Davos explained as the pair began ascending the twisting stone staircase.
Even inside the air smelled of salt but it was warmer here, perhaps falsely so. As they walked by various closed doors Gendry couldn’t help but to wonder if Arya existed behind any of them. He imagined Jon wouldn’t have allowed her to be too far from him. He knew the affection the King had for his youngest sister, the fact of which made his current journey up the steps far more treacherous than his ride from Winterfell.
“You didn’t tell him I was coming?”
“No, I did. I told him you requested his attention and he actually sounded relieved to hear you were here. Then, as he often has, he nodded and moved on. Lord Tyrion has been—”
“We’re still trusting him?”
“We have no reason not to. He’s loyal to Sansa, you know. He’d never do anything to betray that friendship. Helping the King only makes sense. You’ll be comforted to know that Tyrion cares about the people almost as much as His Grace does.”
“After what Jon’s seen…” They were standing outside a closed door, the only one in this particular hallway. Four knights stood on guard, and Gendry was so stunned by all the information Davos was stowing upon him that he nearly missed their appearance.
Davos sighed. “Just be smart. If His Grace wants you gone you bow and exit.”
Gendry did not move to nod or give any gesture to show his compliance. Only when Davos pushed open the door did he move, shuffling behind him to enter the room. A large table stood in the center of the circular room, that of which was flanked by several arched windows, none of them covered with glass or shutters, causing quite a draft. Actually, it seemed as if there was more window than wall as Gendry could look past where King Jon and Lord Tyrion sat to the angry ocean far beyond. The men looked to the door. Lord Tyrion stood, nodding toward Gendry in a way that made him uncomfortable.
The imp headed for the door but Gendry turned to stop him. “You don’t have to go, mi’lord. I’ll only be a moment.”
It often looked as if Lord Tyrion knew a secret but the way he smirked at Gendry had the bastard believing perhaps he knew his secret. “Don’t flatter yourself, Lord Gendry. I simply need to take a piss and this seems like an opportune time.”
The door shut behind him, leaving Davos standing furthest from the door, another knight beside him. Even Queen Daenerys hadn’t had this much protection, causing Gendry to awkwardly look around and silently begin planning his escape. The windows and the parapet beyond them made much more sense now.
“Lord Gendry, how was your trip?” King Jon stood but did not advance toward the blacksmith. He looked smaller in stature without his usual furs and his eyes, Gendry saw, were red and his cheeks pale. Whether it was exhaustion or sorrow that caused the sallowness in his cheeks, Gendry was unsure.
Gendry looked up, almost shocked to be called upon. “I...am I really a Lord, Your Grace? The—”
“My rule does not negate all the laws set out by my predecessors. Especially those laws that are worth keeping.”
“Even if I don’t want the title?” Gendry challenged, instantly regretting his choice to do so. He even winced at the sound but was soon comforted by the King’s answer.
“They still call me King Jon, so yes, the title of Lord is yours to have and yours to keep. Actually,” Jon began, taking a step back toward his makeshift desk, “that's what I wanted to talk to you about.”
“Oh?” He looked to Davos, wondering now if the Knight had lied to him and if Gendry had only been granted access to the King because the King had plans of his own.
“We need your help here in the smithy. Ser Davos explained to me that you’ve already worked to set those men in the right direction. I don’t mean to make you work but the effort is greatly appreciated.”
“Of course, Your Grace.”
“Once things have settled down here, I’d request that you head to Storm’s End. From my understanding, that castle also needs work but I doubt it’s something you can’t handle. I have a few of your uncle’s men who once called that place home. Others wish to stay near the capital but don’t wish to return to King’s Landing. I figure it wouldn’t hurt to have some women and children accompany the men, so you’ll be taking them as well. If you wish to have time before their arrival that can be arranged though—”
“I do,” Gendry mumbled out in interruption. Davos coughed, causing Gendry to step forward. “Your Grace,” he corrected. “I do need time.”
“Of course. Ser Davos and I will see to it that your departure is well prepared for. It’ll be of great importance that I have an ally so close. We need to start planning for a calmer, more peaceful future. The people of Westeros have seen far too much destruction and I can hardly take them all back to Winterfell.”
“Winterfell, Your Grace?”
“Temporarily. This island can hardly sustain a large family, much less all of King’s Landing.”
“The city is completely cleared out then?”
“Mostly. A few citizens have chosen to stay, though I worry for their survival, mostly because any supplies - food or otherwise - were lost to the fires.”
Gendry decided it was a rather tame way to refer to the Dragon-imposed genocide: fires — as if they were natural, wild, and free. “That’s admirable, Your Grace. Do you suspect their loyalties lie elsewhere?”
Before Ser Davos could intervene, Jon let out a hearty laugh. “Certainly not with their old queen or her usurper. I don’t suspect, I know that their loyalties lie with no one. They’re finding it hard to trust one another, let alone a ruler they barely know. As far as they’re concerned, I’m still a bastard.”
“Me too.” This time it was just Davos’ eyes that warned the Baratheon boy of his standing. “Your Grace,” he added once more, now with irritation in his voice, clearly aimed at the man that was meant to be his friend.
At one point, Gendry looked to Jon as a friend too. The world had changed since then and while Jon was thrust into his role as King, Gendry still found himself wanting to run from his title.
“Actually, Your Grace, if I may…”
“Yes, what is it? Ser Davos had mentioned you wanted to speak with me. Have a seat. Have you eaten?”
Gendry’s eyes narrowed. “No, Your Grace, thank you. I’ll be short. I know you have things to do and—”
“I...well I suppose I don’t have time because I have things to do.”
“No, Your Grace. Arya. Ser Davos tells me she’s against having company.”
Jon looked away. “It’s true.”
“I was wondering, if I may, Your Grace, go see her perhaps?”
“Go see...Arya?” Jon finished, as if learning a simple phrase in a foreign language. “Whatever for?”
“We’re...she likely didn’t mention it to you but we were friends once.”
“No, she didn’t mention it to me.”
“She’s private, you know,” Gendry tried in an attempt to be supportive of the absent girl. “It doesn’t matter much but she helped me and I just wonder if...maybe she needs a friend right now.”
“What are you requesting, Gendry?”
“Just the ability to knock on her door. Maybe she’ll let me in.” His voice effortlessly changed tone. “I’m sure that sounds crazy,” Gendry began quickly, fumbling through the words with urgency. “I just have this feeling…”
“It does. Sound crazy,” Jon clarified. “And altogether inappropriate.”
“It’s not like that,” Gendry managed all too quickly. The lie fell from his lips with such finesse that even Ser Davos took note, clearly just as shocked as he was impressed.
“That still doesn’t mean it’s appropriate,” Jon sustained. “With all due respect, Gendry, if my begging can’t beckon my stubborn sister out of her chambers I don’t know what else will.”
“She is stubborn, Your Grace. I know that more than anyone. I just feel...it would mean a lot to me if you allowed it. I just need to talk to her for a moment. I think it’ll help her. At least I hope it will.”
Jon looked to the ocean then back again. “If Ser Davos does not mind accompanying you, I will allow you to knock on her door,” he emphasized. “But let it be known that I’m allowing it with the knowledge that she simply won’t open it for you. She must do this on her own terms. The things she’s seen and gone through—”
“Yes, Your Grace, and I wish to hear about those things... from her. ”
Jon almost laughed again - perhaps he had, but he turned away, back to the ocean before Gendry could bare witness. “It seems you share in my sister’s stubborn nature.”
“She’d agree with you, Your Grace.”
This time Jon did breathe out a chuckle. “Ser Davos, do you agree to accompany Gendry to Arya’s room?” It was refreshing, Gendry decided, to hear the King drop pretenses when it came to his own family. It was what Arya would want, and what she’d request had she been here.
“If that is what you wish, Your Grace.”
“I’ll allow it,” Jon said, almost in jest. “Afterward, I believe there’s an empty chamber down on the lower level. Ask a handmaid to prepare it for Lord Gendry.”
“Oh, Your Grace, I couldn’t. I’ll sleep out in the smithy.”
“Nonsense. It’s not proper.”
“But, Your Grace—”
“Listen, Gendry, all of these titles and rules mean little to me as well but I am playing along because believe it or not, the people crave stability and if a hierarchy provides that stability then it is my duty as their King, happily or not, to provide that for them.” He inhaled sharply. “If I am a King then you are a Lord and it’s not acceptable for a Lord to sleep outside with his help.”
“My help? Your Grace, I—”
“You wanted to knock on my sister’s door, did you not?” Jon offered, gesturing to the door. “Ser Davos…”
It was an invitation to leave so Gendry followed. Outside, Lord Tyrion rested against the wall taking a long swig from a wine bag.
“How was your piss?” Gendry joked.
Tyrion grinned in response. “By the look on your face it went far better than your meeting with the King.”
Gendry couldn’t respond. Already Davos was heading back down the steps. His silence was unnerving and the longer it continued the more restless Gendry became.
“That was foolish,” Ser Davos finally let out when they were far enough away from the King’s solar.
“Which part of it?”
“All of it,” he tossed back quickly. “If I had known that was what your request truly was, I wouldn’t have allowed it.”
“If you were that concerned, you should have asked.”
“I didn’t think you’d be so stupid,” Davos finally stated, turning quickly to face Gendry so the boy fumbled and struggled to regain his balance.
“If you all think I’m so stupid then none of this should worry you. I’ll knock on Arya’s door—”
“No. That’s one I won’t compromise on. Jon didn’t—"
“His Grace,” Davos insisted, annoyed he still had to.
Gendry exhaled. “I’ll knock on Arya’s door and nothing will come of it.”
Davos took a step back, revealing a rather simple door, one that looked much like the others. Their walk away from the King’s meeting room seemed far longer than it actually was. They had only gone down one level and turned. Only two knights stood outside the door. They looked confident but Gendry still outranked them in size. If he was truly a Lord now, he outranked them in other ways too. None of it mattered though; Arya didn’t need anyone’s protection.
With skeptical looks, some of them downright amused, each knight watched Gendry approach the door. He had a rucksack slung over his shoulder as if making a delivery or, much more boldly, planning to stay. Gendry looked back to the men as if to ask for more space. When they did not move he turned to the door and raised a clenched fist.
Then he knocked.