This is mainly Gendry POV. The rating may change to E later on, once Arya gets old enough.
Original one-shot can be found here: https://archiveofourown.org/works/19948231/chapters/54631129
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“What are we going to do about the girl?” Thoros’ voice drifts through the quiet wood, causing Gendry’s steps to slow. What girl?
“What girl?” Lord Beric’s voice speaks Gendry’s thoughts, and now he completely stops, lurking unseen in the shadows, silently thanking Arya for teaching him how to move more quietly.
“Our little Lady of the North,” Thoros answers
Arya! What are they doing with her? Gendry thinks, anger rising in his chest. His fingers tighten on the armor clutched in his hands.
“What are we going to do about her once she finds out he’s leaving? You’ve seen them; they’re quite attached to one another,” Thoros continues.
Are they talking about me? Am I leaving? Gendry’s brows furrow. Just last night, he swore to be one of their band and was knighted for it. Now he’s going somewhere else, away from Arya?
“Once she finds out her mother and brother are dead, she’ll forget all about her little crush on the young smith.” A third voice joins the conversation. It sounds like Anguy.
“You’re certain that information is true?” Beric asks.
“I intercepted the raven myself. The message came straight from the Twins, headed for King’s Landing,” Anguy answers. “Poor girl.”
“Now is not the time for sentiment,” Beric replies. “We need to find another place to take her that will pay a ransom for her. We need the gold.”
“We’ll get plenty of gold from Lady Melisandre for the boy,” Thoros says. “She has been more than generous in her offer.”
“Wars are expensive, my friend,” Beric says. “The gold from the Red Priestess for Gendry and whatever ransom we can get for the Stark girl will help tremendously, but it is just a start.”
“If Lady Melisandre is correct about the boy, the war should be over quicker than we hope,” Thoros says. “And I have no reason to doubt her.”
Correct about what? I’m not special.
“We can take the girl to Riverrun. Her mother is – was – a Tully. They would pay for her safe return,” Beric muses. “When will our Red Lady be here to collect the boy?”
“In the morning,” Thoros says.
“I don’t like this,” Anguy comments. “It seems unfair to Gendry. He’s a good lad, and has sworn to be one of us.”
“And as one of us, he must make sacrifices for the greater good…”
With shaking hands, Gendry turns and stalks away as swiftly and silently as he can. All he can see is red and all he can think is Flee. Grab Arya and flee.
Gendry leaves the repaired armor by the fire. He thought about leaving it in the forest where he had been standing, but decided he didn’t want them to know he had heard their conversation. The more confused they are by our disappearance, the better. If they don’t know I heard, they won’t look for us, and if they don’t look for us, we’ll be able to get further away. His thoughts are an angry buzz as he makes his way over to where Arya is already asleep. She usually waits for him, but today was a long day and she was still mad at him for telling her he was going to be staying with the Brotherhood instead of going with her to Winterfell.
Now, as he looks down at her tiny sleeping form, the shocking conversation he wasn’t meant to hear fresh in his mind, he chastises himself for choosing the wrong side.
He doesn’t linger long though; he doesn’t know how much time he has.
They have a few belongings, things that all fit easily into a bag. A bag which Gendry steals from one of the horses. He puts everything they have in it: a few items of clothing, a small dagger that Arya stole from one of the men (it was under the blanket beneath her), and half of the loaf of the wolf bread Hot Pie made for her, wrapped in a cloth.
Gendry quickly looks around, trying to see if there is anything of value he can grab; anything they can sell or trade for some coin. He knows Arya won’t part with the dagger, but he lifts an additional one off of a sleeping man. He runs back to the horses and a quick check of their bags produces a few coins.
Not much, but better than nothing. He unwraps Arya’s bread, shoves the coins into it, and re-wraps it. Then, thinking they’ll need more than half a loaf of bread, he rummages as quickly and quietly as he can until he finds some dried meat, apples, and some more bread to steal.
Then he slings the bag over his head and one shoulder so it is hanging securely across his body. He bends down and picks up the sleeping form of the person who is apparently his only friend in the world, praying to whatever gods who will listen that she won’t be too angry with him still.
She’s a solid sleeper, and only stirs a little as he hoists her into his arms, her limp body dead weight, but she weighs so little that she is no burden at all.
He knows he is strong. He has been bigger and stronger than other boys his age his whole life, and his years working in the forge only made him stronger. But Arya feels so small and light in his arms he wonders if she has been getting enough to eat.
Gendry heads into the forest, neither knowing nor caring about the direction. He just needs to get away. He thinks he can hear voices as he hurries away, but he’s not sure.
He doesn’t care either.
He tries to move swiftly and smoothly so as not to jostle Arya too much. It isn’t easy in the darkness, and after about 15 minutes, he trips on a tree root and almost drops her.
She flails and cries out, her body immediately tense.
“It’s just me,” he urgently whispers. “It’s Gendry. Go back to sleep; you’re safe.”
“Oh,” she answers, settling back in against his chest.
Half a minute later she stirs again, as if his words and her situation finally register with her sleepy brain. “What the seven hells is going on?”
“We’re fleeing,” he tersely answers. “I’ll explain when we’re far enough away.” When she says nothing, he asks, “Do you still trust me?”
“Yes,” she answers with little hesitation. “I can walk if you want to put me down.”
“You don’t weigh anything,” he replies. “Try to go back to sleep if you can. One of us should try to get some rest, and it’s not going to be me, even if we stop.”
Arya is uncharacteristically quiet, even for having just been roused from sleep. “You’re really angry.”
“Yes,” he grits out. “Try to sleep.”
He feels her head lean against his chest again and assumes she is closing her eyes. Somehow, her small form in his arms is a comfort to him, the only anchor he has right now in a world that he never imagined could be harsher or crueler than being an orphaned bastard on the streets of King’s Landing.
When the sky starts growing light in the east, the adrenaline fueling Gendry’s feet begins to wane, and he slows down and begins taking in their surroundings.
He has no idea where they are. But he’s going to need to rest soon, and Arya is owed an explanation as to why he basically kidnapped her. He begins looking for some form of shelter.
Trees. Trees. Trees. He’s sick of trees. He never thought he’d miss King’s Landing, that hard, smelly, dangerous place where people will smile to your face while slipping a dagger between your ribs. But right now, weary in mind and body, surrounded by nothing but bloody trees, he would happily step over a pile of shit in the street to get to a bowl of brown served by an impolite old woman with more eyes than teeth.
Arya, seeming to sense his disquieted state, stirs in his arms. “Aren’t you tired of carrying me yet?” she mumbles, blinking her eyes open. “Where are we?”
“No idea. I don’t even know which direction I started walking,” he admits.
“Stupid,” she mutters, shaking her head. “Put me down.”
He does. “I just had to get us away.”
She takes the blanket that had still been wrapped around her and folds it, slinging it over her arm. “It’s morning,” she says, surprising him by not asking him why they fled. “We need to find shelter before you fall over. You’re dead on your feet.”
“That’s what I was doing: looking for shelter,” he says. “It’s all trees.”
“You’re not looking hard enough,” she insists. “Men are never good at finding things,” she says as they start walking again.
“I’m plenty good at finding things!” he protests. “And that’s an unfair statement.”
“I have four brothers,” she reminds him.
Three, he immediately thinks, but keeps that to himself for the time being. He merely grunts in reply.
“There,” she says a moment later.
She huffs and grabs his hand, marching them off the path.
The remains of a building seem to materialize before his eyes, and he swears she must be magic. “This was a house,” he says, spotting a fireplace, some old cooking pots, and a circle of stones indicating where a well once was.
“And it has part of a wall we can use for shelter, with a little work,” she agrees.
“Are you too tired to tell me?” she asks once they have settled down in the crude lean-to they built out of fallen logs and the largest pieces of brick they could find, covered over with leafy branches. Gendry is lying on the blanket, but his eyes are still open, staring unseeing at the tangle of branches over his head.
“No,” he answers, sitting up. He tells her everything he heard. He played and re-played the conversation in his head all night, so he’s able to recount it very clearly and accurately.
“So even though I had planned to join them and become one of them, I was only worth some coin to them,” he concludes. “And so were you.”
“My worth to them was never a secret,” she says, and he nods. Then she surprises him by crawling over to him and wrapping her small arms around him in a tight hug.
Because he had been expecting an “I told you so” or, at the very least, a smug expression of satisfaction, he is so stunned at her actions that it takes him a little bit to react. When his arms find their way around her narrow back, she simply whispers, “I’m sorry.”
“No, Arya, I’m sorry,” he says, and she pulls away from him, looking up at him in confusion. “They intercepted a raven. Anguy shot it out of the air himself. It was headed for King’s Landing from the Twins.”
“My mother and Robb were supposed to be at the Twins,” she whispers as she sits back, dread pooling in her stomach.
“They were. Lord Frey, he…” Gendry doesn’t know how to tell her this news. He’s never had to impart this kind of news to anyone before, much less the closest friend he’s ever had. And while Arya is probably the strongest person he knows, she’s still a little girl. “He… your mother… and brother. They…”
“No,” she gasps, understanding dawning. “He couldn’t.”
“He did,” Gendry quietly says. “I’m so sorry, Arya.”
He hasn’t seen her cry very often, but she does now. Hot, angry tears spill from her eyes, and she swipes them away. “I’ll kill him,” she says, her voice low and menacing. “I will find a way to kill disgusting old Walder Frey and his whole family.”
He reaches out towards her, intending to comfort her, but she shrugs him away. Gendry is not unfamiliar with death and grief, and knows that everyone needs to feel what they feel in their own way, so he is not put off.
“What can I do, Arya?” he hesitantly asks. “Is there anything?”
Many girls Arya’s age might answer that question with something unattainable, like “bring my family back” or “kill Walder Frey.” But Arya simply looks at him with red, bleary eyes, and says, “Get some sleep. I’ll keep watch, and maybe try to figure out where we are.”
Gendry hesitates a moment before nodding and lying back down on the blanket that had been wrapped around her during their overnight journey. This was Arya’s way of telling him she needs to be alone now, and he will honor her wishes.
The title of this fic is from a song by the band Morphine. The fact that it is very close to a line in the traditional wedding vows in the GOT/ASOIAF universe is just a handy coincidence.
Gendry isn’t sure how long he has slept when he wakes again. The sky is overcast, so he can’t even see how high the sun is.
He sits up and looks around, looking for Arya. He doesn’t see her. He has a brief moment of panic, thinking she left him in her grief, but he knows deep down she wouldn’t do that. Not after he took the time and effort to bring her with him. He could have escaped on his own; it would have been easier. But he didn’t.
Because it wouldn’t have been easier.
“Arya?” he calls only as loudly as he dares. “Arya, are you there?”
There is no answer, so he waits. He is hungry, and thinks about the food he stole. But he waits for Arya. He’s still a bit tired, so he decides to lie back down and try to go back so sleep, but now his mind is too active, wondering where she is, so sleep eludes him.
When he crawls out of the low shelter to empty his bladder, she returns, scaring him so badly he nearly wets himself.
“Arya!” he exclaims, jumping in surprise. “Where were you?”
“Hunting,” she answers, holding up a rabbit. “I set out a snare, did some exploring, found water,” she holds up a skin he doesn’t even remember grabbing, now filled with water, “and a village. When I came back to my snare, there was a rabbit, so I took it and reset it.” She looks at him. “What were you doing?”
“Was going to take a piss,” he answers. “You nearly scared it out of me with those silent feet of yours.”
“Not all of us stomp around like an angry bull,” she counters. “Well, don’t let me stop you, go have your piss,” she says, waving an arm at him.
He heads a short distance away and turns his back to her, emptying his bladder against a tree for a minute or so. When he finishes, he turns around to see her sitting and staring off into space.
He had thought she seemed a little too cheerful. She was forcing it.
He sits beside her, careful not to crowd her. It seems what she wants right now is distance, but he has a feeling what she needs may be different.
“I’m fine,” she says, reading his mind again.
“You’re not,” he counters. “Nor should you be. It’s all right to be not fine.” He looks down and sees her hands anxiously scratching and picking at each other, so he carefully takes one of them in between his.
“How…” She stops, like she’s not sure if she should ask.
“You can always ask me anything, Arry.”
“How old were you when your mum died? Do you know?”
“I don’t really know,” he says. “I’m not even really sure how old I am now, to be honest. How old are you?”
“Thirteen,” she says. Looking up at him, she adds, “I would guess you’re probably about the same age as my brother Robb. He’s 17.” She knows Gendry knows his numbers. He would have to in order to sell armor.
He nods. “All right. So then… my mum would have died about 10 years ago. I think. Maybe 12. It’s hard to keep track. I know I was younger than you are now.”
“Do you remember her at all?”
“Not much. My memories of her are more like… like a dream you’re trying to remember. Images just on the edge of your mind, refusing to come into focus,” he says. “She was very kind and pretty. Or at least that’s how I’ve chosen to remember her. She had yellow hair, but her eyes were brown. She would sing a lot, but I can’t for the life of me remember any of the songs.” He looks down at Arya’s small hand still in his, and says. “I don’t even know what her name was.”
“My mum and I didn’t always get on,” Arya replies. “I always felt like I disappointed her because I wasn’t like my sister Sansa.” Gendry turns and looks at her, brow furrowed in concerned confusion. “I didn’t like doing the things that proper little ladies were supposed to like. Needlepoint. Singing stupid songs about princes and princesses while playing the stupid harp or lute. Wearing dresses. Staying clean.”
Gendry can’t help but chuckle at that, and he gives her hand a reassuring squeeze so she knows he’s not laughing at her.
“But even I’m not sure she always liked me, I know she loved me,” Arya says, looking up at him. “Does that make sense?”
He nods. “It does. And I’m sure you weren’t a disappointment to her. Maybe a… a surprise, but never a disappointment. How could anyone be disappointed in you? You’re the bravest, smartest person I know, Arya.”
“I don’t feel very brave or smart right now. I feel like I want to crawl into a hole and die. Or at the very least, hit something really hard again and again until whatever I’m hitting either feels or looks as terrible as I feel. I feel like… like I’m a little girl who has lost her fam—” Her words break off now as she finally lets the tears come. She collapses against Gendry, who holds her fast and steady, determined to be strong for her right now because she cannot be.
Her tears turn into sobs, which turn into heaving breaths and shouting. He can’t make out everything she shouts, but he still holds her. She punches his chest a few times, and while she is much stronger than he expected, he still holds her and lets her pummel him.
Eventually the tide ebbs and she slowly settles down, pressing her face into his chest, into his shirt that she has wet with her tears.
“I got your shirt all wet,” she mumbles. “Sorry.”
“You also punched me quite a bit,” he answers, his arms still around her. His one hand moves up and strokes her hair. “My shirt and I will both recover.”
She pushes against him and he loosens his grasp. “Thank you, Gendry,” she says.
He simply nods as she settles beside him again, this time leaning her head against his shoulder. “Does the offer of being your family still stand?” he asks.
She gasps so softly he’s not quite sure he heard it. “Yes,” she whispers. “But only if you want.”
“I wouldn’t have asked otherwise,” he says.
“We need a plan,” Arya says once she’s collected herself again. “We need to find out where we are so we know which way to go to get to… wherever it is we want to go.”
“We can ask at that village you mentioned,” Gendry suggests.
“That was my thought,” she replies, standing. She looks restless now. “We can’t stay here too long. We’re still too close to the camp.”
“Agreed. But where should we go?” he asks.
“We can go to Riverrun,” she suggests, biting her lip and pacing. “My grandfather is there, if he is still alive, and if not, my uncle might be. I’ve never met him, but…”
Gendry shakes his head. “Not Riverrun. Beric said that’s where they were planning to take you. They may anticipate you going that way.”
“The Eyrie, then,” she says, stopping so abruptly he swears she may have stomped her foot. “My aunt—”
“Arya, don’t you see? We can’t go anywhere you have a connection! They’ll look for you there, and if they find you…”
“They’ll find you,” she finishes.
“I was going to say you don’t know what they’ll do to you, since they probably think you left voluntarily with me,” he says, scowling at the thought that she assumed he was worrying about himself. “I’m… not important.”
She stomps up to him and punches him on the arm. “Yes you are! Don’t ever say that, Gendry! You are important. Otherwise, why were they selling you to that… witch?” she yells.
“I don’t know!” he yells back. “I don’t know what she wants with me! All I know is that I had to get away from there, and I wasn’t going to leave you behind!”
“You were going to leave me behind before,” she quietly reminds him. “You were going to stay with them and not me.”
He exhales heavily. “I know. Things were different then, but I regretted it the minute I said it. I thought I was being honorable, but I… I made the wrong choice. I know that now. I know what true loyalty is now,” he says. “I’m sorry, Arya.”
“I forgive you, Gendry,” she says after a heavy moment. “That’s what families do.”
They eat some of their dried meat and bread, then decide to make for the village, hoping someone there will take pity on a couple of orphans and give them a place to rest for the night.
“How far is it to this village?” Gendry asks when they start walking, thinking it can’t be that far if she found it and came back while he was sleeping.
“Not far,” Arya answers. “I need to check my snare before we go. It’s this way.”
“It isn’t on the way to the village?”
“It is, sort of. A bit off the path, but it’s not like it’s in the opposite direction or anything.”
A few minutes later, they find the snare and discover not one but two squirrels caught in it.
“You’re really good at that,” Gendry says. “I remember when you caught that rabbit on the road with Yoren.”
“That was harder because I didn’t really have anything useful with me,” she replies, ducking her head to cover the fact that she is blushing because he remembered that.
“That was one of the things that made me know I could trust you. That you were special,” he admits, mumbling it a bit as he watches her undo the snare. “You got a whole leg and you shared it with me. You didn’t have to do that.”
“I know,” she answers, standing. “I did it because I wanted to. Because you were – are – my friend. My only friend, now.”
He nods. “Yeah. I… I never really had friends before. I was always too busy working, and when I wasn’t working, I was usually too busy thinking everyone else was a twat.” He looks at her, tying the squirrels to the same leather thong as the rabbit. “Except you. You were never a twat.”
“I appreciate your saying that,” she replies, laughing a little.
“Well, if I had known you were a Lady when I first met you, I probably would have thought you were a twat,” he counters. “Every other highborn I’ve dealt with has been.”
“Most of them are, yes,” she agrees. “Why do you think I protest being called a Lady so much?”
“Fair enough,” he assesses with a shrug and nod, then holds his arm out. “Lead the way, m’lady.”
“Shut up,” she retorts, trying not to smile, as she stomps ahead of him. He follows, chuckling.
A few minutes later, he speaks up again. “Who taught you how to hunt? Isn’t that something Ladies aren’t supposed to be doing?”
“Not a Lady,” she reminds him. “My brothers taught me things sometimes. Other times I would watch their lessons, usually hiding. Jon was always willing to teach me anything I wanted to know. He was the one who gave me Needle,” she breaks off with a sigh. “I could shoot an arrow better than Bran, before he was crippled. But I learned how to make snares from R—”
Her words and feet both stop at the same time.
“Robb,” she whispers. “Robb taught me how to catch small game like this. He taught me how and now he’s dead and won’t get to teach me anything else.”
Gendry slowly, carefully, approaches her. He opens his arms, just a little, a hesitant invitation if she wants it.
She takes it this time, crumpling into him, letting his arms wrap around her, letting him stroke her hair.
“I’m sure he’s very proud of you, Arya,” he says. “I can’t imagine why he wouldn’t be.” Without really thinking about it, he leans down and kisses the top of her head. “Your parents and brother live on in you, in the things they’ve taught you.”
She lifts her head and looks up at him, her eyes wide. “That’s… really comforting.”
“I’m glad,” he says as she eases her way out of his arms. “It’s… not my own. I heard someone say it once. There was a lot of death in Flea Bottom.”
She nods, then a sly smile slowly crosses her face. “And here I was beginning to think that you aren’t stupid after all,” she teases, then turns to walk towards the village again.
The village is tiny and quiet. “We’re going to stick out. This is one of those places where if you so much as fart, everyone knows,” Arya whispers to Gendry as they study the village, hidden in the forest.
“Wonderful,” he replies. “What do we do?”
“Find a kindly-looking old lady? I don’t know; I’ve never done this before either,” she answers. “Come on; we can’t lurk in the bushes forever.”
“All right,” he says.
“Think of a fake name.” She tosses the sentence at him as they walk into the village.
They are hailed almost immediately. Thankfully, it is indeed a kindly-looking old lady who calls to them.
“Are you children lost?” she asks, slowly standing from where she was seated, snapping the ends off of beans with her gnarled fingers.
“A little,” Arya answers. Gendry immediately decides to let her do most of the talking. She’s better at it. “Can you tell us the name of this village?”
“This place is nothing more than a pimple on the Stranger’s nose, Child,” the woman says. “But we call it Riverside.” She lifts her arm and points with a crooked finger. “Blue Fork river is just there. Can you hear it?”
“Yes,” Arya answers with a nod. Gendry nods beside her.
“You dumb, boy? Or does this one talk enough for the both of you?” the woman asks.
“She does, ma’am,” he answers.
“My brother doesn’t talk much,” Arya says. “Will you tell us, please, is there a city nearby? I’m afraid we lost track of our whereabouts.”
“Fairmarket is a day’s walk to the northwest. Riverrun is a bit further afield, to the southwest,” the woman answers, pointing in the directions she names. “Nearest Inn is a ways away, on the Red Fork to the south.”
“I’m afraid we don’t have enough coin for an inn,” Arya says. “But if you know of a place we could stay the night, we have these.” She gestures to Gendry.
He holds up the rabbit and two squirrels. Arya suggested he carry them to make it look like he caught them. He had protested, saying it was unfair because he didn’t, but she reminded him that most people didn’t think like they did and the less attention they drew to themselves, the better.
“They fresh?” the woman asks, peering at the game.
“Caught today,” Gendry says.
“You can keep the pelts, too, if you like,” Arya offers. “It’s all we have to offer. That, and work, if you need help. I’m small, but I’m strong and smart, and my brother…” she simply gestures to him, indicating his general size.
“Yes, he’s a big lad all right. Are you as strong as you look?” she asks.
They both answer at the same time.
“What are your names?” she asks.
Gendry pauses as he looks at Arya, and when she doesn’t answer, he does. “Bart. This is my sister…”
“Nan,” Arya finishes.
The woman raises her eyebrows. “You don’t look much alike,” she assesses.
“We have different fathers,” Arya quickly explains. “His da died when he was a babe. Our mum married my da a few years later. Then she died a moon’s turn ago.”
“And you left your home?”
“No money to pay Bart’s apprentice fees anymore. And I’m too young for most people to find useful. He didn’t want me to go to the orphanage—”
“Or worse,” Gendry interjects, intentionally making his tone low and gravelly.
“Yes. Or worse, so we left, hoping to find a place where we wouldn’t be pitied. Or separated. We don’t have anyone else,” Arya finishes.
“Where are you from?”
“Seagard,” she answers, already having come up with her answer. “We’re heading south, hoping for warmer weather. Maybe Dorne, where they say people are kinder to orphans.”
“Well, Child, I am always kind to orphans. Especially orphans who bring their own dinner,” she answers. “My name is Salla. My son Teren has a small barn. You can spend the night in the loft there.”
“Thank you, ma’am,” Gendry replies.
“I’ll take you,” she says, walking towards them, her steps slow and careful, as if she has difficulty walking. Gendry quickly meets her, offering his arm. “Aren’t you a kind lad?” she says, taking his arm.
Arya joins them and they walk a short distance to another small house. They can see the barn behind it, their lodging for the night.
“What trade were you learning, boy?” Salla asks.
Gendry glances at Arya, who gives him a pointed look that clearly says lie. “Stonemason, ma’am.”
“That’s a good trade. Were you any good at it?”
“I like to think so,” he answers.
“He was. Is,” Arya pipes up. “His master didn’t want him to leave.”
“Pity. Big strong lad like you could have had a good life at it,” she says. As she approaches the house, three children come running towards her, clamoring for her attention. She warmly greets them, then asks where their father is.
“In back,” the oldest child says, pointing. “Who are these people?”
“Visitors, looking for a place to rest. Can you do your old gran a favor and make sure the barn loft has clean straw?” she asks.
“Yes, Gran,” they answer. “I’ll get some blankets too!” the youngest one exclaims, then they run off to see to their task.
Riverside is a nice enough village, but not prosperous enough for Arya and Gendry to make some money, and not large enough for them to stay longer than the night.
Still, Gendry helps Teren with some chores on the farm and Arya helps Salla and Teren’s wife Jennet clean and prepare the rabbit and squirrels for dinner. She even runs around with the children a little bit, momentarily forgetting the tragedy her life has become while she pretends to be a dragon so the brave knights can slay her.
Gendry sees some of this revelry and feels a smile pulling at his lips, glad Arya can be a child again, at least for an hour or so.
After a dinner of roast rabbit and squirrel, Teren and Jennet can tell that Arya and Gendry are exhausted. “If you’d like to retire early, we won’t be offended,” Teren says.
Jennet nods and asks, “When was the last time you had a decent night’s sleep in a proper bed? Not that we have a proper bed to offer you, mind.”
Arya and Gendry look at each other. “A while,” Gendry finally says. “I think we’ve both lost track of the days.”
Arya nods. “Not since our last night in our old home,” she confirms.
It isn’t a total lie. Since they left King’s Landing, they’ve mostly slept on the road, and even when they were indoors, they weren’t safe. They had sleeping mats in Harrenhall, but they fitfully slept every night knowing that it could be their last night alive.
“Oh you poor dears,” Jennet says.
Teren stands and takes a candle. “I’ll show you to the barn,” he says.
“Thanks,” Arya says.
Gendry doesn’t really think they need an escort, but he can’t think of a way to say no without seeming rude. So they follow their host out of the small house and back to the barn.
The barn is as clean as a barn can be. It doesn’t smell too pungent, and as they ascend the ladder, they see the children did indeed do a good job with the clean straw and blankets.
It’s quiet and dark and has a roof. To Gendry, it looks as luxurious as a featherbed inside the Red Keep.
“Thank you, Teren,” Gendry says.
“You’re welcome,” Teren answers. “What are your plans, if I may ask?”
Gendry glances at Arya. “We’ll be leaving in the morning,” she says. “Your family has been lovely, but we need to continue on our way. If we don’t see you, thank you so much for your hospitality.”
Teren nods in reply. “Safe travels,” he says. “I’d leave the candle for you, but it’s too dangerous with all the straw.”
“Understood. We’ll be fine,” Gendry replies.
Their host gives them a final nod and leaves them alone. It is dark, but they’ve spent so much time in the dark that their eyes adjust quickly now.
“I’m exhausted, so you must feel dead on your feet,” Arya says, pulling her boots off and settling down on one of the blankets.
Gendry can only hum a reply. He doesn’t really have the energy to remove his boots, but he does so anyway, then lies down beside Arya, curling behind her, her small shape familiar and comforting as he pulls the blanket over them.
“This feels so nice,” she says after a minute. “Almost like a real bed.”
“Mmm,” he agrees, barely awake. “G’night Arry,” he mumbles, then succumbs to slumber.
Gendry and Arya stand outside their host’s house early the next morning, looking around.
“Which way?” Gendry asks.
“The only choice we have is south,” Arya says, pointing. “I think this is the way Salla pointed yesterday.”
“You think?” he echoes, eyeing her.
She sighs, looking up at the sky, which is not yet fully lit. “The sun is coming up over there. So this way is south,” she declares. “If we stay that way, we should reach the Red Fork River, and then we can follow that. Or better still, cross it and then follow the River Road.”
“But won’t that take us to Riverrun, which we want to avoid?” he asks.
“Yes. But we can still avoid it. I think if we can get to Pinkmaiden, we’ll be safe for a little while. It’s a larger town… I think… so we might have a little better luck hiding. And maybe making some coin,” she says.
“Are you sure?”
“No, but we don’t have a lot of options,” she says.
“How do you know all this? Where these places are, I mean?”
“My lessons. Geography was something I was actually pretty good at. Come on. We’re not getting anywhere standing here.”
She starts walking and he has no choice but to follow. Realistically, he knows he will follow her anywhere, even if she does decide to go to Riverrun or the Eyrie or back to Winterfell or even to King’s Landing, right into the Lion’s Den. He has grown to not only like his tiny companion, but realizes he has a great deal of respect for her has well. She’s wise beyond her years and has a way with people that he could never pretend to understand.
“Thank you,” he suddenly says, falling into step beside her.
“For what?” she asks, looking up at him.
“For being here with me. For not giving up on me, even though you had every right to,” he answers. “I’m… I’m not used to that.”
“Well thank you for not leaving me behind when you decided to flee. I would have had to add your name to my list as well,” she says.
After a minute, he carefully says, “I noticed you added a few names.” He heard her last night, in the loft, whispering her names as she was curled on her side with her back against his chest.
She scowls. “They were going to sell you like a piece of livestock.”
He doesn’t have the words. Instead, he reaches out and squeezes her hand, holding it for a few paces, hoping she understands.
When she gives him a small, sad smile, he knows she does.
The reach the Inn of the Kneeling Man, on the Red Fork River, just after noon. They had already eaten their lunch, which consisted of some things that Jennet and Salla insisted they take along.
Still, they went into the inn for a rest and to glean whatever information they could.
A serving girl quickly attends them. She is very friendly, but Gendry hardly notices as he sits with his shoulders hunched, trying to look as small an inconspicuous as possible.
“Stop that,” Arya hisses at him.
“Stop what?” he asks.
“Stop trying not to be noticed. The more you try, the more noticed you get,” she quietly says. “Especially by that serving wench.”
“Oh gods, she was fawning all over you. Maybe you should offer to ring her bell when she gets back. Might help your mood.”
“There’s nothing wrong with my mood,” he grumbles. “I’m just uncomfortable in crowded places.” He tries to relax a little, but it mostly consists of squirming in his chair. “Was she really—”
“Yes. It was pitiful. Girl needs to learn some self-resp—thank you,” Arya’s criticism of the serving girl shifts quickly when she returns with their drinks.
“Let me know if you need anything else,” the girl says.
Gendry does notice the smile she tries to throw his way this time, but he ignores it, taking a long drink of his ale. “All right, yeah, she was,” he agrees. “Not interested.”
“Why not? Don’t you like girls?” Arya asks. She takes a drink and tries not to make a face at the bitter taste.
“Of course I like girls!” Gendry replies in a whisper-yell. “But we need to keep moving. I won’t be comfortable until we’re past Riverrun.”
“All right, all right,” she concedes, holding her hands up. “But if you ever need to… you know…” she breaks off, her cheeks flushing slightly at the embarrassing topic, “Don’t feel like you have to babysit me.”
“Won’t be a problem,” he nearly growls. “People are after us. I don’t know what that witch or whatever she is wants with me, but it can’t be good if she was willing to pay them to give me over. So you’ll have to excuse my not being in the mood for fucking when my bloody life is in danger.”
She looks down into her cup, her face contrite, lips slightly pursed. She actually looks defeated, and he starts feeling bad for snapping at her.
“Look, I’m sorry,” he starts.
“No, I am,” she stops him. “I was trying to tease you… because you had no idea she was… but I must not be very good at it… teasing… and you’re right, it’s not appropriate, given our circumstances… and—”
“I heard they lopped off his head and his wolf’s head, then sewed the wolf’s head on his body and paraded him around on the back of a horse.” The voice is loud and coarse and his words make Arya’s face pale. She stares, wide-eyed at Gendry, who reaches across the table for her hand.
“Slit his Lady mother’s throat right open, too. Dumped her in the river, they say. Not even a proper burial for a highborn lady. Disgraceful.”
Arya clutches Gendry’s hand, and he’s surprised at the strength in her small fingers. Her nails bite into his skin, but he bears it for her, because she must be hurting far more.
“If you ask me, Lord Frey is going to burn in the deepest pits of the seventh hell for that. He broke the rules of guest rights. They were welcomed in his home, eating at his table. He just married one of his daughters to Lady Stark’s brother. He killed his guests and kin, by marriage.” The man spits on the floor of the tavern in disgust.
“I’ll kill him,” Arya whispers. It’s the second time she’s made this threat in as many days.
“Yes, and I’ll help you, but… not now,” Gendry replies. “We have to think of ourselves right now. If you’re dead, you can’t kill him.”
Her big gray eyes snap to his face, and he knows she’s heard him. “We need to get out of here,” she says. “You’re right. We need to get past Riverrun.”
Gendry summons his nerve and waves the serving girl over, ignoring her coquettish smiles and obvious way of leaning down to show her bosom. “Is there a way across the river nearby? A bridge or a ferry? Preferably a bridge.” Ferries cost money.
“Yes,” she says, slowly getting the idea that her handsome customer is only interested in a drink and moving on. “There is a bridge not far from here. Where are you headed?”
“South,” Arya repeats, her tone sharp.
“No need to get cross about it. It’s your business, that I can see. The bridge will take you across, south, and if you keep on straight, you’ll run right into the River Road. You can follow it west to Riverrun and then the Red Fork will take you south that way, on towards Pinkmaiden. Or if you can find a path straight south, you’ll pass just east of High Heart. There are some villages between here and there if you need a rest, but this is the only inn you’ll find for a while if you go that way,” she answers. Clearly, she has answered this question many times. “If you take the River Road east, you’ll eventually get to the Crossroads Inn, just north of Darry.”
They exchange a glance, knowing that the Crossroads Inn is definitely not a place they should be going.
“Thank you,” Gendry says.
The bridge is well-traveled but sturdy, and they debate their route the entire way across. On the south shore of the Red Fork, they stand and stare at one another.
“We should avoid the River Road,” Gendry says, not for the first time.
“Yes, but it we forge our way south through the forest, there’s no telling what we might encounter. At least on the road we can keep our eyes and ears open and duck off the road if someone comes,” Arya argues.
“Yeah, because that worked so well in the past,” he counters, rolling his eyes. “That’s how we got caught up with the Brotherhood in the first place. We can’t hide from them.”
“We can,” she insists. “You just have to learn how to be quieter.”
“Me? I’m not the one who insists on chattering on all the time.”
“Well, I’m not the one who constantly stomps around like… like a bull.”
They glare at each other, each silently willing the other to bend.
Arya sighs. “I can teach you how to be silent-footed.”
“We can’t risk getting that close to Riverrun,” Gendry says, but he already feels his will bending.
“We must. Because if we head due south past High Heart, guess what we’ll run smack into?” she asks, putting her hands on her hips.
“Acorn Hall. We absolutely cannot be seen anywhere near there.”
“Shit,” he quietly curses.
“Exactly,” she agrees. “Let’s go find this road. And practice keeping your footfalls soft. Don’t stomp.”
“Yes, m’lady,” he sarcastically answers, his mood turning foul again as they willingly march towards danger. The fact that it is less dangerous than Acorn Hall is not a comfort.
They find the road easily enough, and it is thankfully empty of other travelers.
“So if we were walking south, then we need to go… this way, right?” Gendry asks, pointing with his right hand.
“That is generally how directions work, yes,” Arya answers, stepping onto the road. “No stomping.”
He huffs but falls into step beside her. After a few minutes, he says, “Since you insist on teaching me how to move about more quietly, I’ve got something for you to work on.”
“Oh really?” she asks, raising an eyebrow at him.
“Really,” he answers. “You talk too much like a highborn.”
“What do you mean, I talk too much like a highborn?” she demands, stopping.
“Keep walking,” he says, tugging her elbow. “And what you just said there, how you said it. ‘What do you mean, I talk too much like a highborn?’” he copies her enunciation as he repeats it. “You say every word exactly how it’s supposed to be said.”
“So, if we’re supposed to be lowborn brother and sister, you can’t talk like that. Especially because I talk the way I talk,” he says.
She is quiet for a moment. “How would you say that then?”
“It’d be more like ‘What d’ye mean, I talk too much like a highborn?’” he says, his inflection returning to what is normal for him. “It’s like the difference between ‘m’lady’ and ‘my lady.’ I know I should be addressing you as ‘my lady,’ but it always comes out ‘m’lady.’”
“You know you should be addressing me as Arya,” she grumbles. “But I’m not having that argument with you again.”
Gendry chuckles. “I was mainly making a point.”
“I know,” she sighs.
“And besides, aren’t we still going to be using false names?” he asks.
“Yeah,” she sighs again. “I hate it, but there’s too much risk. At least when I was going by Arry it was close.”
“I still think of you as Arry sometimes, in my head,” he admits.
“You still call me it sometimes, out loud,” she points out.
“Just last night, when we were going to sleep.”
He huffs a small laugh. “I probably don’t even realize it.”
“Well, you had better start realizing it.”
Gendry and Arya begin noticing more and more people on the road, so they decide to duck into the forest, walking parallel to the road, trying to keep it in sight. They speak to one another in whispers and only when necessary.
As they draw closer to Riverrun, they cease speaking altogether. They are also losing daylight quickly as evening draws near. At one point their hands brush against each other and they both find themselves absently chasing the contact until they are joined.
“How are we going to gain access?”
“I told you already. We tell the steward…”
They stop in their tracks. Those voices are familiar, and Gendry feels Arya’s small hand squeeze his hard. Then she pulls, and they duck down into the shadows and underbrush.
“We don’t even know for certain that they’re here. And if she’s even with him.” That voice belongs to Anguy, Gendry is certain of it. He mouths the name to Arya, and she nods her agreement.
“Lady Melisandre said she saw them heading towards Riverrun, together, when she looked in the flames,” Lord Beric answers.
Anguy makes a derisive noise. “The Red Witch has been wrong before,” he says.
“And so have you, and much more often. In any case, the only other place they would have gone is north to Winterfell. Or perhaps to the Eyrie, to her aunt. Either way, Riverrun is closer, so it made more sense to try there first,” Lord Beric replies. “And if she hears about what young Greyjoy has done to her home, she won’t be in any hurry to go there.”
“Or she might. She has fire in her,” Thoros chimes in.
Gendry looks over at Arya and sees her staring up at him with wide, questioning eyes. He knows she is wondering the same thing as he: What did Theon Greyjoy to do Winterfell?
Beric chuckles, and that is when Arya and Gendry can actually see them. “She has wolf blood, not fire,” Beric corrects. “She is half wild, that one. From what I understand, she always has been, even before.”
“Only half?” Anguy asks with a chuckle.
Gendry moves from a low squat to a kneeling position, because he is beginning to lose feeling in his feet.
“What was that?” Anguy’s voice now has a hushed, slightly alarmed tone, and when he looks in their direction, Arya glares at Gendry. The sounds of horse hooves slows but doesn’t completely stop.
They stay as still as death, not even risking breathing.
“What was what?” another voice asks. They can’t tell who it is.
“I saw movement in the underbrush, just there,” Anguy answers.
“Yes, there is a breeze today, and there are animals in the forest. You grow paranoid,” Beric replies, dismissing the other man’s concern. The horses pick up speed again, and he continues talking. “Now, to our task. I will…” His voice drops lower and since they are moving and on horses, Gendry and Arya can no longer hear his words.
They sit a while longer after the Brotherhood is out of sight. Gendry waits for Arya to speak first. He continues to hold her hand, if only to reassure her that he is still there.
“What the fuck has that cunt Theon Greyjoy done?” Arya hisses in a harsh whisper.
“I don’t know, but it doesn’t sound good,” Gendry replies, guiltily thankful that she has chosen to concentrate on that tidbit of information rather than how he almost exposed them. “Something that will either make you want to stay away at all cost or immediately rush there.” He peers at her, brows furrowing in the dark as he tries to see her. “Is this Greyjoy a good man?”
“Yes. No. Well, I thought he was. He was always a bit of an ass. Likes fighting and fucking. Always seemed like he had something to prove,” she answers. “Shit. I know it has to be something horrible. I can feel it.”
“Let’s go a little further into the forest and set up camp for the night,” Gendry suggests. “We’ve been walking all day, we’re hungry, and we’re too close to danger to keep moving right now.”
She nods. The road is empty of travelers now that it is dark, and they hear no voices, so she stands. “I need to find out,” she says. “When we get to Pinkmaiden, maybe.”
“How do you intend to do that?” he asks, leading her a short distance into the forest. He doesn’t want to lose sight of the road.
“I’ll listen,” she answers. Then, softly, almost to herself, she says, “I will hear with my ears. Then comes the thinking, afterward, and in that way knowing the truth.”
“What?” he asks, coming to a stop at a small clearing.
“Something my old dancing master used to say. About paying attention to your surroundings,” she explains.
“For dancing?” Gendry asks. He pulls their blanket out of the bag, along with some food.
“Braavosi Water Dancing,” Arya explains. “It’s a style of sword fighting. It’s good for people who are small and fast.”
He stares at her. “All right.” He doesn’t even know what to ask or say about that. Arya taking sword fighting lessons from a Braavosi master makes no sense, yet it somehow makes perfect sense as well. “Here, eat something.”
The next morning, they debate between moving closer to Riverrun to see what they can find out about the Brotherhood and simply following the Red Fork south to their planned destination of Pinkmaiden.
Arya wants to go closer. Gendry thinks it is too dangerous. Arya says they could possibly gain important knowledge about the Brotherhood’s next move. Gendry says they could possibly be caught.
“And if they catch us, she will come for me. And you’ll be left there with kin you don’t even know while I’m carted away to the gods only know what kind of fate, but the main point is we’ll be separated,” he says, playing his trump card.
She frowns. “Damn you. All right. We follow the river and head south,” she concedes. As they start walking towards the sound of rushing water, she says, “You know, we’re still not safe. They could decide to go this way, too.”
“To go where?” Gendry asks. “Assuming they have already learned we haven’t been to Riverrun, they were talking about heading north, probably to the Eyrie next. They have no reason to think we’d go south.”
“But what if they figure out that we are intentionally avoiding the obvious sanctuaries?” she asks, pausing to stand and stare out over the river.
“Then their options are as limitless as ours are. They have all of Westeros to pick from, just like us. And they know you were eager to return to your family, so to your family they will turn first,” he says, moving to stand beside her.
She crouches, cups some water in her hands, and drinks, then splashes her face with the cold water. She scrubs it over her skin with her palms a bit in a vain attempt at cleanliness. When she stands again, her face is pink from the friction and chill of the water.
“What’s left of my family,” she says with a sigh. “I have a bad feeling about Winterfell. Bran and Rickon, my two younger brothers were still there. I would like to think that Theon would be kind to them, but…”
“I don’t think I like this Theon Greyjoy,” Gendry says, his eyes narrowing.
“He fostered with us. He was like another brother,” Arya replies, tugging his sleeve to indicate they should start walking again. “But he was always… trying to prove himself. Like he felt like he had to measure up to Robb and Jon. And if he went home to his father, there’s no telling what that insane old man convinced him he should do. He might be eager to please his father. Most boys are.”
“I wouldn’t know,” Gendry matter-of-factly says. “But somehow I doubt I would be eager to please a man who couldn’t be buggered to stay around and provide for his infant son.”
“I did say ‘most,’” she points out. “House Greyjoy has always wanted more power,” she continues. “I can’t even bring myself to speak my thoughts about what possibly could have happened. I need to find out.”
“We’ll try,” he says. “How far is it to Pinkmaiden?”
“Um, I’m not entirely sure. I hope we can get there by nightfall though,” she answers.
Their conversation wanes for a while as they walk, but by now they are comfortable enough in each other’s company that silence doesn’t trouble them. However, Gendry notices Arya seems deep in troubled thought, and while he is curious as to her theories about Theon Greyjoy and Winterfell, he doesn’t press. She will tell him in her own time.
The sun is high in the sky, but it isn’t terribly warm out. Winter is coming. He supposes those words are true; things have seemed to be trending that way lately. Trees are losing their leaves, the days are not as warm as they have been, and some of the nights have been downright cold.
The cold air doesn’t seem to bother Arya, he notices. Since she is from the north, she’s much more accustomed to the cold than he is. This morning there was frost, and they could see their breath until just a short time ago.
“How do you stand the cold all the time?” he eventually asks.
“I don’t know,” she answers. “It was all I knew until a few years ago. I had never left the north until my father was made Hand.”
“I had never left King’s Landing until Master Mott sold me off to the Watch,” he replies. “Still a bit sore about that. He never complained about my work once, and then one day it’s ‘Pack your things, lad, you’re leaving’ without any explanation.”
She is quiet for a few minutes. “Did you ever think that maybe there was a reason he sent you away?” she asks. “Like, a good reason?”
“What do you mean?”
“The Gold Cloaks were looking for you. Now some woman wants you and is willing to pay to get you,” she says. “You’re someone important, Gendry. I’m not sure why, but I think my father and Lord Arryn knew something about you, and I think they told your master what it was.”
“So bloody important I needed to be sent away? That doesn’t make any sense,” he says.
“So bloody important that they had to get you out of King’s Landing,” she counters. “The Gold Cloaks clearly had orders to kill you or take you, and I don’t think it made much difference which.”
“But why? I’m nobody,” he insists.
“Gendry, look at me,” she says, stopping and turning towards him. “First, you’re not nobody. Never say that. Even if you feel unimportant, you’re somebody to me.”
“Thank you,” he quietly says.
As he waits for her to continue, she narrows her eyes at him, studying him hard. Looking at his face, then down to his chest and back up again. Her eyes widen. “You could be a Baratheon,” she whispers. “Maybe you’re one of King Robert’s bastards.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
“I’m not! You have the blue eyes and black hair—”
“Lots of people have blue eyes and black hair.”
“Lots of Baratheons have blue eyes and black hair. Who else do you know like that?”
He thinks a minute, gently pushing her shoulder to start walking again. “The one barmaid at the Crossroads Inn did. The one who was trying to get me into her bed.”
Arya snorts. “Probably your sister. Good thing you didn’t.”
“Eurgh,” Gendry exclaims, making a disgusted noise.
“You’re also very big and strong, and King Robert was that way before he got fat. Or so my father said,” she continues. “You’re stubborn and grumpy, too, which Baratheons are famous for.”
“Fuck,” he whispers. “Fuck,” he repeats, growing angry now. “If he was my father, fuck him. He was the bloody king and he couldn’t give my mother anything but his seed? Fuck him.”
“Absolutely fuck him,” she agrees. “If he wasn’t already dead, I’d add him to my list.”
“I appreciate the thought,” he says. After a moment, he asks, “Didn’t Robert have brothers? Maybe I’m one of theirs.”
Arya laughs. “Not bloody likely. There’s no way anyone would fuck Stannis unless they were married to him, and Renly… well, Renly just isn’t a possibility.”
“Why is that?”
“Rumor has it Renly prefers the company of men. Specifically, Ser Loras of House Tyrell.”
“Ah. Perhaps not then.” He is quiet for another few minutes, then asks, “But if I am Robert’s bastard, why were the Gold Cloaks sent to kill me?”
“That sounds like Cersei’s doing. She would want to eliminate any potential threats to her power, whether they’re aware of it or not,” Arya answers.
“How do you know all this?” he asks.
“When you’re small, people don’t always notice you,” she answers.
“And you listen with your ears,” he says.
She smiles, nodding once. “Speaking of listening, do you hear that?”
Gendry stops and listens. “I hear the river.”
“You hear the old mill,” Arya corrects. “Stone Mill is one of the places to cross the Red Fork.”
“Do we need to cross?”
“No, but there might be people there. Maybe even an inn or something.”
“We can try to get information,” he says. “And possibly some food.”
“Do we have any coin left?” she asks.
“Some. We’ll need to find a way to make some money when we get to Pinkmaiden,” he answers, digging into their bag. “We’re also getting low on our own food.”
“We can try fishing,” she suggests. “But once we get to Pinkmaiden, I should be able to find someplace to set some snares.”
“How long are we planning on staying there?” he asks.
“I don’t know. As long as we can, I guess,” she answers.
Sure enough, there is a very small inn near the crossing. It looks like it has seen better days, but they’re not going to be choosy when their food has been largely consisting of what they can carry.
They head inside and find a table. The service is slower than at the previous inn, but at least the serving girl isn’t eyeing Gendry like she wants him to be her next meal. She’s not even a girl; she’s an older, matronly woman, likely the innkeeper or his wife.
They order drinks and a couple of bowls of stew, then sit down to listen. Unfortunately, there isn’t much chatter.
When the woman returns with their food, Gendry decides to be brave and speak up. “We’ve been traveling for some time, my good lady, and yours is the first inn we’ve stopped at for a while. What news is there?”
“Oh, gods, what news isn’t there?” she replies, then launches into the latest gossip from the surrounding area. A lot of it is things they’ve heard already, including the news of Arya’s mother and brother. Gendry carefully watches Arya during this retelling, making sure she is all right. She keeps her face carefully neutral, at least to someone who doesn’t know her as well as he does. He’s sure the hand she has under the table is clenched into a tight fist.
“Any news from the north?” she asks, trying to sound as casual as possible. “We overheard some vague words about a Greyjoy in Winterfell?”
“Oh, that, what a terrible state of affairs that is,” she says, but then is hailed by another customer. “Won’t be a moment, dears,” she says, then scurries away to refill some drinks.
“Of course,” Arya grumbles.
“She does have a job to do, and she said she would be right back,” Gendry carefully says. “But I understand your frustration.”
“Do you?” she asks, cocking her head at him.
“I—” he starts, then abruptly stops. “No, I don’t. There’s no way I can understand at all. But I’m always here for you if you want to try to talk it out.”
She sighs and deflates. “I know. Thank you.”
A moment later, their hostess returns, this time plunking down in an empty chair at their table. “Winterfell,” she says with no preamble. “Word is that upstart Greyjoy they took from Lord Balon years back left Winterfell to go ask his lord father to aid the Young Wolf in his rebellion. Don’t know what happened while he was away, but when young Lord Greyjoy returned to Winterfell, he managed to seize control over it.”
“How did he do that? Weren’t there any Starks there?” Gendry asks, knowing Arya is wondering, but he also knows she is likely trying very hard to maintain her self-control.
“So sad…” the woman says, shaking her head. “The two little ones… just boys. Burnt to a crisp, both of them. Even the cripple.” She spits on the floor. “Disgusting and dishonorable, killing children, especially a child who can’t even walk. He should burn in the deepest pits of all the hells for that.”
“He will,” Arya darkly says.
“Oh, goodness, you’re just a child yourself!” the woman exclaims. “And here I sit, telling horrible stories that will give you nightmares.”
“Don’t worry about me,” Arya replies. Under the table, Gendry reaches over and places his hand on her knee and gives a reassuring squeeze. A second later he feels her hand seeking his out and he turns his hand to grasp hers.
He knows she has seen and experienced enough for a lifetime of nightmares, but the serving woman is still correct: Arya is still just a child.
“Thank you for the information, missus,” Gendry says, hoping she takes the hint. “The stew was excellent, too.”
She stands again. “Of course it is. I made it meself,” she says. “You’re a brawny lad, look like you could be useful to have around. Where are you headed?”
“My sister and I are heading for King’s Landing. I need to find work to support us, and a big city like that is bound to have some,” he answers. He knows he’s not the best liar, but he hopes she believes him.
“Well, if that doesn’t work out, come on back here. Like I said, you look pretty useful, and I bet I could even find something for Little Sister to do, too,” she offers. “I’m Lorine and this is my inn, and what I say goes,” she declares with a nod.
“We’ll keep that in mind, thank you,” Gendry says. He puts some coins on the table, then stands. Arya follows suit, mutters a word of thanks to Lorine, and follows him out.
“King’s Landing, eh?” Arya says once they are well on their way and away from everyone else.
“Was it believable?” he asks.
“It was. And good thinking. That way if anyone starts snooping around, that loose-lipped innkeeper will unknowingly give them incorrect information,” she says.
“That was the idea.”
They walk in silence for a while, both in their own heads.
“I know this is a silly question, but are you all right?” Gendry asks after a while.
“No, I most definitely am not all right,” Arya answers. “But we need to keep moving so we can reach Pinkmaiden. I don’t care if we sleep on the outskirts of the town, but we have to get there tonight.” She takes a large, shuddering breath and says, “My anger will keep. I can mourn later.”
I'm going to be picking various things from book canon and show canon both to suit my needs. Probably more show canon though, because I'm still reading the books.
Pinkmaiden Castle seems to appear suddenly and without warning on the horizon, causing Gendry’s feet to stumble.
“Still need to work on keeping your feet quiet,” Arya comments, stopping beside him.
“It’s big. The castle,” he comments.
“Didn’t you grow up in King’s Landing? The Red Keep is bigger than this,” she replies.
“Why would I ever go near the Red Keep? I’m a lowly nobody.”
“Stop saying that,” she sighs. “You seriously never saw it though?”
“Yeah, I suppose, once or twice. Just a big, ugly fortress. Not impressive, really,” he answers.
“Pinkmaiden isn’t that impressive,” she says, plucking his sleeve to start him walking again. The sun is very low in the sky and she wants to get as close as possible before it’s too late.
“Maybe to m’lady high it isn’t,” he counters. “I suppose Winterfell is far grander than this lowly pile of stones.”
“Winterfell is bigger than this, yes,” she answers, shoving him sideways. He hardly moves. “And of course it is better, but only because it is… was my home.”
“I’m sorry,” he apologizes, cursing himself for reminding her of what has become of Winterfell. “Who is the lord here?” he asks, trying to redirect.
“Well, Maester Gendry,” she teases, “Pinkmaiden Castle is the seat of House Piper. The head of House Piper is… Clarence… no, Lord Clement Piper. His heir is Marq Piper. My grandfather is their overlord.”
“Would we be safe if we asked them for sanctuary?” Gendry asks, but he isn’t terribly hopeful.
“It’s a nice idea, but… probably not. Just because he is loyal to my grandfather, who is ancient if he even yet lives and certainly does not remember me because I was a babe when he last saw me, doesn’t mean he wouldn’t give us up to anyone who asked about us,” Arya answers.
“Right,” he agrees with a nod. “Do we want to continue into town now, or do you think we should wait until morning?”
She looks up at the sky. It’s very nearly dark now. “Let’s wait until morning. Strange people arriving after dark might seem suspicious,” she answers.
“Oh good. I’m not quite ready to pretend to be someone else yet anyway,” he says, sounding relieved. “Let’s find a place to camp.”
Arya nods and moves deeper into the forest, but closer to the river.
“Arya?” Gendry asks, following her.
“I want to bathe,” she explains.
“It’s going to be freezing!”
“I don’t care.”
Gendry has to admit that bathing does sound like a good idea. He may not be used to lavish tubs filled with enough hot water to submerge yourself in, but he does like to be clean. That was always his favorite part of the day when he was still with Master Mott: splashing water from the clean water bucket over his face and hands, running a cloth over his skin to reveal the true color from beneath the black soot. On the hottest days, it would be pleasantly cool, even cold, and on cooler days, Mott would keep it close to the coals so it would be just warm enough to feel nice.
“Do you think it’s safe to build a fire? I don’t want you catching ill from being wet. It’s not exactly warm out,” he says.
“I think so,” she answers, carefully picking her way towards the river’s edge.
“You can swim, can’t you? That river is pretty big.”
She turns to face him, and even in the dark he knows she’s rolling her eyes at him. “Of course I can swim,” she answers. “There are lakes and small ponds all around Winterfell, and hot springs, too. I grew up swimming almost every day.”
“Must be nice,” he darkly comments, then wishes he could snatch the words back because he hadn’t noticed her sad, wistful tone until it was too late. “Sorry, Arry. I didn’t mean—”
“I know you didn’t,” she quietly answers. “Don’t look. I’m taking my clothes off.”
“All right,” he replies with a chuckle. You’re a skinny 13-year-old girl. What could you possibly think I would want to see on you? He goes about rummaging for dry wood to build his fire, taking care to keep his back to the river.
He can hear her splashing around as he sets the small twigs and dead leaves on a flat spot, then stacks larger logs over the top, leaning the top ends together to form a sort of pyramid. Then he sets about getting his flint to catch.
“I wish I had some other clothes,” Arya calls. “Because then I could wash these and wear something else.”
“Soon, hopefully,” Gendry responds, leaning back to smile at the small flame he got going. Starting fires is one of the first things one learns as an apprentice blacksmith, and it was something he quickly became quite adept at.
The fire is going quite well by the time Arya returns. Her face is clean and her hair is wet, but she’s still in the same dirty clothes. “How did you get that started?” she asks.
“I had a small flint and steel in my trouser pocket,” he answers. “It’s always there, so I don’t even think about it most of the time.”
She furrows her brows at him as she sits. “Do all blacksmiths carry around means to start fires with them?”
He shrugs. “Master Mott did, so I did as well. Can’t speak of any others,” he answers.
She nods, seemingly mollified. They haven’t even tried to have a fire for cooking or warmth since they fled, because there was too large a chance of them being found. He hands her a hunk of bread and a piece of dried meat.
“I thought about trying to catch some fish, but it was too dark,” she says, sitting beside him on their blanket. “Maybe in the morning, for breakfast.”
“Fresh meat of any kind would be welcome,” Gendry agrees, chewing his food without any real enjoyment. “You should teach me about hunting and trapping. I feel like I’m kind of useless.”
Arya leans to the side, nudging him with her shoulder. “You are definitely not useless. When we get into the town, you’ll most likely be the one earning money for us and I’ll be the useless one because you actually have a marketable skill.”
“Yeah, about that… is it safe for me to work as a smith here? I’d really like to… I actually miss it. I was good at it. It was the first thing I was ever good at. But I’m afraid,” he says.
“Afraid of being discovered because you’re a smith or afraid to do something else and find out you’re no good at it?” she asks.
He turns to her with a look of wonder on his face. He’s not sure why he is surprised at how deeply and accurately she knows him at this point, but every once in a while, it really catches him. “Both,” he admits.
“I think you’ll be all right to work in a smithy,” she says. “Maybe we should… I don’t know, cut your hair or something. Or mine.”
“Maybe. But let yours grow. The brotherhood isn’t used to seeing you looking like an actual girl. It would be a good disgui—ow!”
This time she punches him on the arm for his teasing. “You should definitely shave that… thing on your face,” she says.
“What thing?” he asks.
“This,” she answers, tugging the short growth of facial hair on his chin.
“It keeps my face warm. And it looks manly.”
“It is an identifiable characteristic that the Brotherhood could use to describe you to other people.”
He sags. “Yeah, you’re right. I’ll take care of it in the morning.”
Arya yawns, and that makes Gendry yawn.
“Let’s see if we can get some sleep,” she says.
He nods, and they both rearrange themselves on the blanket, Arya’s back against Gendry’s chest, her head under his chin. He brings the other half of the blanket over them, leaving his arm draped over her.
They lie in silence, listening to the fire crackle.
“I have a forgotten item I carry in my trouser pocket, too,” Arya quietly says after a time. She says it so softly that he wonders if she was trying not to wake him if he had already fallen asleep.
“Oh? What is it? A token from home?” he asks, knowing she wouldn’t have mentioned it if she wasn’t prepared to tell him.
“Do you remember Jaqen H’ghar? The man in the cage?” she cautiously asks.
He knows that she is well aware that he remembers that frighteningly unsettling man. “Yes. Did he give you something? What could he have possibly given you?”
He almost sits up. “A coin? You’ve been carrying money around all this time, and—”
“It’s… not that kind of coin. It’s not gold or silver, or even copper. It has no value to anyone in Westeros.” She shifts around a little and pulls the item out of her pocket. Then she takes his hand and presses it into it. “Look.”
He takes the coin and brings it up to his face. It is well worn, not overly large, and not even perfectly circular anymore. And, from what he can see, it’s ugly besides. He scratches the metal with his thumbnail, then brings it to his mouth and carefully bites it.
“I think it’s steel. Or iron,” he says, passing it back to her.
“Iron,” she confirms.
“Why did he give it to you?”
“He said I could use it to go to Essos. I have to give it to a ship’s captain from there, say ‘valar morghulis’ to him, and he’s supposed to just give me passage on his ship.”
“What does that mean? Valor mor…”
“Valar morghulis,” she repeats. “I don’t know. He didn’t tell me.”
He hands her the coin back. “But why, Arya? Why would he want you to go to Essos?”
“I told him I wanted to learn how to be an assassin, like him,” she answers in a whisper. “He said he would take me to Braavos and teach me, but… I told him no. I wanted to find my family first. So he gave me the coin in case I changed my mind.”
“And now?” Gendry carefully asks. “Do you regret not going with him? Do you want to go now?”
Arya is quiet for a minute. “No. I don’t regret staying with you,” she says, and he doesn’t miss her clear qualification in the statement. “And,” she pauses, yawning again, “I wouldn’t mind going to Essos, but not to learn to be an assassin from Jaqen.”
“Why would you go then?” he asks, almost whispering.
“To start over,” she says. “Start a new life, in a land where no one is looking for us or knows who we are. Where we stand a chance of being safe, for once.”
Us. We. The feeling of relief that he is included in her daydream of running away to Essos is a little unexpected.
“It’s something to consider,” he agrees. “But first, Pinkmaiden.”
“Yes,” she says, and he can feel her settling back in and getting comfortable again, earnestly ready for sleep now.
Pinkmaiden is a bustling, busy town that rises with the sun. By the time Gendry and Arya reach the gates, there is already a small line of vendors and travelers making their way in.
“We are orphaned brother and sister from Seagard, looking for work,” Arya whispers to him, and he nods.
“I’ve got that part down already,” Gendry confirms, reaching up to absently stroke his now-smooth chin. Arya had helped him shave that morning, and he still feels a little strange and exposed without his growth of facial hair. “I wish I could just follow your lead, but it might look odd if I let you do all the talking.”
“People are so stupid,” she says with a sigh. “I’ve wished I was a boy many times. Boys at least get some say in their lives.”
“Not always,” he counters. “I didn’t.”
“I’m sorry. You’re right. I didn’t think…”
“It’s fine. You only know what you know, right?”
“Women should be given the same freedoms and choices as men,” he says. He wishes he could say he’s always felt that way, but, if he is completely honest, he never even gave it much thought until he met Arya. Partly because he was too busy worrying about keeping himself alive and out of trouble, but partly because he simply didn’t care.
Because he didn’t have to care about anyone but himself before he met Arya.
“Yes, they should. I should have been allowed to become a squire and then a knight, like my brothers, not expected to learn to sew – with my wrong hand, by the way – and be a silly, simpering little empty-headed wife to some fat old lord,” she says.
“Why were you learning to sew with your wrong hand?” he asks, and then yelps when she hits him. “What?”
“That’s the detail you chose to comment on?” she asks.
“Sorry! You already know I agree with the rest of what you said! I can’t even begin to picture you acting like a proper lady. It just wouldn’t suit you at all. And I don’t mean that in a bad way, neither,” he says. “I think you’re just fine how you are.”
“Thank you,” she replies, looking up at him.
He looks down. He’s never seen her face looking that soft before, and it almost makes him angry, because that means that no one has ever told her that before. “There is nothing wrong with you, Arya,” he insists. “Never forget that.”
“Shut up,” she says and quickly looks away, her voice sounding a little watery. After a moment, she says, “The septa couldn’t teach me to sew with my left hand because she wasn’t left-handed.”
“That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,” he says, but the subject is quickly dropped because they are at the gates.
“What business do you have here?” the guard asks.
“Looking for work, ser,” Gendry says. “My sister and me,” he adds, placing his arm around Arya’s shoulders.
The guard eyes them. “Your sister is looking for work? At what? She’s too young to be a whore.”
Gendry squeezes Arya’s shoulder, hoping she’ll keep her mouth shut for once. “Very well, I’m looking for work to support me and my sister. That do?” he snaps.
“What kind of work do you do?”
“I’m trained as a smith,” Gendry answers. He can feel Arya growing indignant beside him, so he knows he needs to get them inside as quickly and easily as possible. He gives her shoulder a light squeeze, hoping to encourage her to hold her tongue.
The guard looks him over. “You certainly look like one,” he assesses. “Straight on, then left at the fountain with no water in it. Smithies will be a short way along.”
“Thank you,” Gendry says, then ushers Arya inside.
“He was a nosy git,” she mutters.
“Yeah, well we don’t want him to remember us, and the best way to do that is to not cause a fuss,” he replies.
“I know. That’s why I didn’t say anything, because everything I wanted to say was rude,” she says.
“Only because you’re a highborn,” he points out. “To us smallfolk, that’s just how it is. People who think they’re better than you like to question our every move.”
“Don’t even bother saying it’s unfair. Life ain’t fair and you know it all too well, m’lady,” he interjects. “Is this the fountain with no water?”
“Looks like it to me. Funny, I expected there to be a fountain with water somewhere else so we would know the difference,” she says.
He doesn’t even know how to respond to that, so he simply gives her a brief puzzled glance and turns down the road to their left.
The guard had said “smithies,” plural, and while Gendry doesn’t know if that means two or ten, he does take heart knowing that there is indeed more than one. That will help him be less conspicuous. As they walk, he can already smell the smoke.
“Do you hear that?” Arya asks. “I think I hear hammering.”
“I don’t hear anything yet, but I can smell the smoke,” he replies. They walk a little farther on. “All right, I hear it now.”
There are three blacksmith shops he can see in their immediate vicinity. He stops walking and stares.
“Which one?” she asks.
“I don’t know if we can afford to be choosy,” he answers. “We find the one that needs an extra set of hands.”
She dips her head and extends her arm, indicating that she will follow his lead now.
He resumes walking, deciding to walk past each of the three shops to see what he can see. The first one appears to be very clean. Almost too clean. Clean to the point where he’s skeptical that the owner actually does any smithing.
The second shop is a bit run down, but the weapons he can see through the doors appear to be of good quality. Nothing fancy or ornate; just solid, utilitarian blades and armor.
The third shop is across the road. It has fancier goods, but as they pass, Gendry hears someone cursing loudly at someone else, really heaping verbal abuse on them. He turns around and heads back to the second shop.
Out of his peripheral vision, he can see Arya nodding her agreement.
They walk inside, and he is able to more closely inspect the things on display. They are indeed well-made. No Valyrian steel here, but Master Mott never got around to teaching him how to work with it anyway. He had promised Gendry he would one day, but that day never came.
“Can I help you?” A female voice startles him, and he turns around. He wasn’t expecting a woman.
“Oh. Um. Yes,” he stammers, slightly flustered. He vaguely notices Arya eyeing some small, thin swords that look similar to the little blade she had when he first met her. “I’d like to talk to the smith, please.”
“He’s busy. What do you want?” she asks. She is brusque but doesn’t seem unkind. And Gendry can hear the clanging of metal coming from the door behind her.
“Work,” he answers. “I have training as a smith. Our parents are dead, and I need work to support us,” he adds, waving a hand in Arya’s direction.
“You just arrive in town this morning?” the woman asks.
“Yes, ma’am,” he answers.
“You try any of the other smithies?”
She narrows her eyes at him. “Why’d you pick this one then?”
“Didn’t like the looks – or sounds – of the other two,” he truthfully answers.
She grunts what could be a small laugh. “I’ll get him,” she says, then disappears through the door.
Gendry exhales heavily and runs his hand through his hair. “I hate this.”
“I know. But you’re doing well,” Arya says, laying a hand on his forearm.
Just then a large man walks into the front room, followed by the woman. “Tyla tells me you’re lookin’ for work?”
“Yes,” Gendry answers with a nod.
“You look young, but you’re big. How long have you been training?”
“Who was your master?”
“I’d rather not say, if it’s all the same to you.”
That gives the man pause and Gendry holds his breath. He just knows Arya wants to kick him right now.
“I’ll find out if yer lyin’ soon enough, I guess,” the man finally decides. “It just so happens I am in need of a second set of hands in the forge.” His eyes flicker towards Arya. “Is your sister useful at all?”
“I’m very useful!” Arya answers, anger rising at his disdainful appraisal. “I’m not some silly little girl who is afraid of getting dirty!”
The large man blinks in surprise, looking down at the tiny girl glaring up at him. “I… should say not,” he slowly pronounces, a wry smirk crossing his face. “I suppose you’ll be wanting to start straight away?” he asks, and they nod. “You probably don’t have a place to stay either, do you?”
“We just got here and this was our first stop,” Gendry answers.
“There’s a room upstairs you can use. Me and Tyla live behind,” he says, pointing in the direction of where their home must be. “The room isn’t big and it’s not fancy, but—”
“We’ll take it. Thank you very much,” Arya answers.
“You got names?” he asks.
“Teren,” Gendry immediately says. He made his decision to use the name after they left Riverside. He knew he’d need a new one, and had enough trouble coming up with Bart, which he didn’t even like.
“Salla,” Arya answers. Gendry tries not to laugh. Of course she would pick the old lady’s name over the wife.
“I’m Kallen, and you met my wife, Tyla. You got anything besides that bag? No? All right then. Teren, you come with me. Salla, Tyla will show you the room and help you get things settled there,” Kallen says.
As Tyla and Arya disappear, Kallen ushers Gendry into the forge, where he throws a leather apron at him and promptly commands, “Make me a blade. I want to see what you can do.”
Gendry is bone-tired in a way that actually makes him happy when he finishes work. It has been too long since he’s gotten to bend metal to his will, so he was a little bit nervous about his trial with Kallen. Thankfully, as soon as the tools were in his hands, it all came rushing back. It was like his body knew what to do without him having to think that hard about it. His muscles ache now, but they sang earlier.
He trudges up the ladder to the upstairs room he is to share with Arya. It is his first glimpse of his new home, and he is curious to see what is there.
Kallen was correct, of course. It isn’t big or fancy, but he can see that Arya and Tyla have at least made sure it is clean.
Arya was practicing some sort of strange movements with a stick in her hand when he came up, and had abruptly stopped when she heard him. “How was it?” she asks.
“Good,” he answers, flopping down on what he assumes is the bed. “Really good.”
“Really good?” she repeats. “That’s all you can say?”
He sighs. “He put me to the test straight away. Wanted to see what kind of skill I had. I made a large hunting knife.”
“Just that?” she asks, sitting beside him.
He turns his head to look at her. “Yes, just that. In fact, it’s not even completely finished yet. I still need to finish polishing it, and the handle needs a little work.”
“I guess I never gave much thought to how long it takes to make a weapon,” she admits.
“It depends on the weapon, really. But he seemed pleased with what I had done. Tomorrow he’s going to give me something to repair.”
“Did he ask any more personal questions?” she asks. “Just so we can keep our stories straight?”
“He did say we don’t look much alike. I think I messed up the story, though. I told him we had different mums. Then I remembered later that you said we had different fathers before.”
“Yeah, but it’s fine. Actually, it’s better. Causes more inconsistencies between people that might be questioned.”
He nods, still looking up at her. “What did you and Tyla do today?”
She flops down beside him on the bed. Their room is not large, so there really is only room for the one bed. And while the bed is little more than a pallet on the floor, it’s still better than most of the sleeping accommodations they’ve had in a while. And they’ve grown accustomed to sleeping huddled together anyway, so it’s not really an issue.
“I cleaned up here while she saw some customers. Then I went back down and we washed everything we could in our bag, including the bag. Our blanket is still drying. Then another customer came, and I stayed and observed to learn, in case I can help some day. Then we started making dinner, which should be ready soon,” she answers.
“You were busy, too, then,” he assesses. They are both staring at the ceiling above them, probably both feeling the strangeness of having a roof over their heads again.
“Yeah. Felt good,” she replies. “I like being useful.”
“I know you do,” he says with a nod, reaching blindly to pat her hand. He turns his head to look at her. “So they’re feeding us, too?”
“Tyla and I agreed that it would be simplest if we shared meals. I told her that I was good at hunting and would contribute everything I caught to the household meals,” Arya answers. “She was impressed when I told her I could hunt. Wanted to know where I learned it. I told her our father taught me.”
“Good to know,” Gendry says with a nod. “Did she ask any other personal questions?”
“If I knew my age, and yours. If I know my sums and letters.”
“What did you tell her?”
“I told her I was good with sums and had some letters. Can you read?”
“A little. Probably not as good as you can.”
She snorts a small laugh. “I don’t know about that anymore. I can’t remember the last time I had to read or write something. And my handwriting wasn’t good even when I was getting regular lessons.”
“Were they trying to make you write with the wrong hand, like your sewing?” he asks.
“At first,” she answers. “Then Maester Luwin noticed I favored my left hand instead of my right and then everyone stopped trying to make me do everything backwards.”
“Except for that awful septa,” Gendry guesses.
“Septa Mordane,” Arya supplies. “Yeah. She had this odd notion that using your left hand was wrong and that was somehow the reason I was also wrong in everything I did. Like I was cursed or something.”
“And your parents allowed this?” he asks, surprised.
“I don’t think Father knew about it. Mother probably agreed with her,” she answers, frowning. “No, that’s not fair of me. Mother might not have known either.”
“Why didn’t you tell them?”
“I was too young to know better. And maybe I was afraid they would agree with her.”
“Well, she’s wrong, your old septa. I told you this morning: there’s nothing wrong with you.”
After a hearty dinner of a very delicious stew, Gendry and Arya helped clean up, then excused themselves to return to their room. They were both tired, didn’t feel like pretending to be other people, and didn’t want to be an imposition on their hosts, who have already been far too generous and accommodating.
“That was good thinking, telling them we had to sell all of our belongings to cover our father’s debts,” Arya says, lighting a candle on a low table beside the bed.
“I thought so at first, but then they picked up on ‘our father’ and Kallen remembered I said we had different fathers,” Gendry sighs, pulling his boots off. He stretches his long legs out and wiggles his toes so the joints crack. “Thank the gods you were able to save that one by saying I was a baby when mine died. Brilliant.”
“I have my moments,” she replies, her tone uncharacteristically quiet and serious. She heavily sits on the bed beside him and yanks her boots off. Then she seems to slip away from him for a minute or two, staring off into the middle distance, her face strangely blank but a little sad. He is just about to ask what’s wrong, but then she speaks. “They were just little. Children. Rickon was practically a baby.”
Oh right. How could I have forgotten? He wraps his arm around her shoulder again. “I don’t have the words, Arry,” he says, then unthinkingly turns and kisses the top of her head.
“I don’t want any words from you, Gendry,” she replies. “I don’t think there are any anyway.”
He squeezes her shoulders in what he hopes is a comforting manner, then gently releases her. Without talking they begin to prepare for their first sleep indoors in months; removing layers instead of putting them on, lying down on a pallet instead of a thin blanket on the hard ground, not worrying about being set upon by bandits in the night.
It is nice, but feels so strange.
“Do you mind if I take my shirt off?” Gendry quietly asks. “It’s warm up here, over the forge, and I’m afraid I might get too—”
“It’s fine,” Arya answers, not seeming to care one way or another. In fact, she is peeling her breeches off her legs. Her shirt is long, reaching to mid-thigh, so she is still mostly covered. Without another word, she crawls onto the bed, moving all the way to the wall, and lies down facing that wall.
Gendry once again feels helpless, knowing his friend is hurting but not knowing how to help her. So he simply moves to the bed as well, blows out the candle, and lies down with his back to her.
There’s no need to huddle together for warmth.
But it feels so different. He’s gotten so used to the reassuring contact of her in front of him that now he actually misses it. Still, he stays put, knowing it might seem odd if he curled up behind her when they don’t need to.
“Gendry?” Her voice is so small. He hates that her voice is so small.
“Would you hold me? I’m not cold, I just…”
He doesn’t need her to explain. He immediately flips over and pulls her towards him, returning to their usual position. He feels her small body relax against his and it relaxes him as well.
“I used to watch them at their lessons. The lessons I didn’t get because I’m a girl,” she says after a time. Her voice is still quiet, but there is less sadness in it.
“Did they know?” he gently prods.
“Bran and Rickon? Yeah. So did Jon and Robb. Father did, too, but he looked the other way and didn’t tell Mother.”
“Let me guess: you used to copy what they were doing.”
“I was better with a bow and arrow than Bran was,” she confirms, drawing a soft chuckle from him. “He hated that.”
“Of course you were,” Gendry says. “You’re good at everything.”
“I definitely am not,” she argues, then yawns.
“Perhaps not sewing, then,” he allows. “But I bet if you could use your left hand you could have been.”
“I was never interested in it either,” she says.
“Tell me more about them.”
“Bran looked like me and Jon. Like Starks, but his hair was red, like Mother's Rickon looked like Mother’s side, same as Robb and Sansa. Mother said Rickon looks – looked – exactly like Robb did at that age.” She goes quiet for a second. “Bran liked to climb. He wasn’t scared and never fell. Ever. Until he did.”
“What happened?” Gendry whispers.
“He couldn’t walk anymore. Maester Luwin said his back had been broken, so his brain couldn’t tell his legs what to do.” After a heavy moment, Arya says, “I think he was pushed. He wouldn’t fall.”
“Who would push a child from a height great enough to break him?”
“I don’t know, but if I find out, I will kill him.”
“I know,” he says, and she falls quiet for another minute.
“Thank you. Again.”
The days turn into weeks, and before Gendry and Arya realize it, they’ve been in Pinkmaiden for three moons. Kallen is very happy with Gendry’s work, and Gendry has started to gain a little bit of recognition in his own right. As Teren, though, not as Gendry.
He’s not sure how he feels about living and working under a false name. He wants to have his own worth as his own person, but he’s not sure if he’ll ever be able to do that. Not anymore.
Arya seems to be having a similar conflict. Tyla has really taken her under her wing, teaching her things that a lowborn girl her age should be learning, even helping her with her sewing, using her correct hand, by sitting across from her and having her mirror what she is doing. And while she is doing all this, she still indulges Arya’s more unorthodox interests, like hunting and swordplay. Gendry knows Arya would rather be out living her life as herself, doing what she wants to do, but he can see that she is starting to thrive having a positive female influence in her life again. Especially one who seems to understand her more than her mother did.
Which is another cause of confusion for Arya. She confessed to him one night that she feels a bit guilty about enjoying her time with Tyla more than she did with her mother, and feels like she is dishonoring her mother’s memory by feeling that way.
“I’m sure deep down, your mother probably wanted to let you learn to fight and shoot. But her job was to try to make you the best Lady you could be,” he said, unsure of his words but trying his best. “Maybe she felt as trapped as you did. Who is to know?”
Arya had nodded and gone silent for a long time after that. Eventually, she admitted she never thought about it from her mother’s point of view.
After that conversation, Arya seemed to be a little better, even happy, and it made Gendry happy to see her that way.
When Tyla and Kallen discovered how good Arya actually is at hunting, they encouraged her even more, enjoying the free meat she would bring in for them.
It wasn’t long before Arya asked if there were any furriers in town that might like the pelts of her kills. Tyla not only agreed that it was an excellent idea and brought Arya there herself, but allowed her to keep the full payment from the pelts.
She’s become a regular visitor at the furrier’s, and he’s always happy to see her. It also gives her an opportunity to get out into the city and listen for the latest news and gossip.
Most of it is pretty innocuous, almost boring. Someone is fucking someone else, someone else died, someone else shortchanged a customer.
Until one cold, bright afternoon when she returns home from the furrier’s looking white as a sheet. Gendry had just stepped out of the forge for lunch and as soon as he sees her, he knows something is wrong.
“Arya, what is it?” he immediately asks, crossing to her and placing his hands on her shoulders. “Arya? What did you hear in town?”
“Upstairs,” she whispers.
“All right,” he agrees. “Kallen, I’ll be eating upstairs if you need me,” he calls, grabbing his food and following Arya up to their room. He vaguely hears the older man’s reply.
“My sister,” Arya says, heavily sitting on the bed.
“Oh no, gods, n—”
“She’s alive. It’s not that,” she interrupts. “She’s married.”
“To Tyrion Lannister.”
“The Imp? I thought she was betrothed to the king.” Gendry’s brow furrows in confusion.
“Word is he’s now going to marry Margaery Tyrell instead, because it is unseemly for him to marry the daughter of a traitor,” Arya explains.
“But… but he’s not a traitor.”
“Everyone in King’s Landing thinks he is.”
“Right. So why did the make your sister marry Lord Tyrion? Can they even do that?” Gendry asks.
“Of course they can,” Arya answers. “Joffrey may be king, but Cersei is the one doing the ruling. She probably wants to keep Sansa under her control. And humiliate her by making her marry Tyrion.” She sighs. “He’s not a bad man, actually. Tyrion. Seemed to be much better than Cersei and Jaimie, anyway.”
“You met him?”
“Yes, years ago, before my father was made Hand. They all came to Winterfell,” she answers. She looks over at Gendry, and sees he hasn’t yet touched his food. “You need to eat,” she reminds him.
“Right,” he absently answers, blinking a few times, then nodding and reaching for his food.
“There’s more,” she says.
“Apparently I have been sent north to marry Roose Bolton’s bastard son,” she says. Now it is her brow that furrows in confusion. “He’s been legitimized, and is being sent to Winterfell. I… I’m not sure what they hope to achieve there, since Theon has Winterfell.”
“But how are you being sent to marry…”
“How are you being sent to marry this Ramsay Bolton if you’re here in Pinkmaiden with me?” he asks.
Arya gives him a look. “Clearly they found someone to impersonate me,” she answers, as though it should have been obvious. “Probably found some skinny little orphan with brown hair they could buy with the promise of living indoors.”
“Yes, but who are ‘they,’ and why?” Gendry asks.
“Lannisters, probably. More control. Ramsay Bolton can take Winterfell from Theon Greyjoy with what appears to be a Stark at his side, when he’s really just Tywin Lannister’s pawn,” she says. “I did a lot of listening when I was working as Tywin’s cup bearer. He’s crafty. Always plotting, always staying three steps ahead of his enemies. And I know he had communications with Roose Bolton.”
Gendry frowns, looks down at the chunk of bread in his hand, then looks back at her. “Arya,” he starts, speaking slowly, speaking his thoughts as he thinks them, “if everyone thinks you’re headed to Winterfell to marry the Bolton bloke, no one will be looking for you here. You’re safe.”
“But the Brotherhood—”
“The Brotherhood isn’t completely sure you’re with me. And for all they know, we could have separated, voluntarily or not. You might have been recognized and taken.”
Arya seems to ponder that thought for a moment, then says, “Perhaps. But the Brotherhood and the Red Woman will still be looking for you.”
He sighs, deflating. “Right. I guess you’re safe now, but I’m not.”
She turns to fully face him. “Gendry, if you’re not safe, then I’m not safe. We are family, remember?”
He feels a smile tug the corners of his mouth, then he nods. “I remember.”
Three more moons pass. Long enough for Arya and Gendry to start feeling rather comfortable.
Gendry realizes they should have known better one late afternoon when Arya comes walking through the back entrance of the forge with a look on her face he knows only too well. It’s a look somewhere between grimly determined and scared shitless.
“Arya? What’s wrong?” he asks, able to use her real name because Kallen stepped out a minute ago to use the privy.
Arya’s wide eyes dart to his for just a second, but she says nothing, instead striding straight for the doors to the shop. She stands there and peeks through the crack between the doors.
Gendry sets his work down and moves to join Arya, standing directly behind her, pressing close to look through the same crack, over her head. She’s taller, he absently notes when he feels the top of her head right under his chin.
“Kallen’s work has gotten better,” he hears a somewhat familiar voice. It’s not Anguy, Thoros, Tom, Lem, or even Beric, but he recognizes it all the same.
“Shit,” Gendry whispers, softly enough for only Arya to hear. He can feel the tension radiating off of her. She must have either seen or heard him and that’s why she came around the back instead of into the shop to help Tyla.
“His new assistant is very good,” Tyla says, and Gendry can’t even enjoy the unsolicited praise because he sees the man – Jorge. His name is Jorge – look up sharply.
“New assistant? When did he get a new assistant?” Jorge asks, and Gendry holds his breath.
Tyla seems to hesitate before answering. “A few moons ago.”
He breathes again, but his fingers dig into the wood of the door because he knows more questions are coming.
“Really? Just showed up, did he?”
Another hesitation from Tyla. “Yes.”
“What’s his name?”
Gendry feels Arya’s small hand groping for his, and he takes it. She squeezes it much harder than most people would think her capable, but not him.
“Why are you so curious about our new man?” Tyla sharply asks.
“Oh, I’d just like to know who is responsible for this excellent work, so I can spread the word, Jorge says. Gendry rolls his eyes. He’s worse at lying than I am. The small snort from Arya in front of him indicates she is thinking the same thing.
“His name is Teren,” Tyla says. Gendry wishes he could see her face, but her back is to them.
“Teren, eh? I knew a Teren once. Over in King’s Landing,” Jorge unconvincingly says. “Wonder if it’s the same one.”
“Well, he’s not from there,” Tyla says, crossing her arms across her chest.
“Where’s he from, then?” Jorge presses.
“Not King’s Landing,” Tyla responds, and Gendry could kiss her.
“Wouldn’t mind meeting him, if I might,” Jorge tries one last time. Gendry presses even closer to Arya as she clutches his hand even tighter, and he’s sure she can feel the pounding of his heartbeat.
Tyla uncrosses her arms and leans forward, her palms on the counter. “He and Kallen are very busy working on a commission right now and can’t be disturbed. You gonna buy that blade or continue to stand here and waste my time?”
Gendry allows himself a small smile. He has been repairing a yoke for an ox a farmer brought in, and Kallen was working on a new knife for the butcher. Tyla is a much better liar than Jorge is.
“Lord Beric ain’t gonna like the raise in price,” Jorge says, but hands over the coin anyway.
“If Lord Beric don’t like it, he can come talk to me himself,” Tyla counters. “Tell him if he wants cheap steel to go see Yahn, but he’ll get exactly what he pays for.”
Jorge grumbles, then Kallen’s voice gives them a jolt.
When they turn around, it’s clear the older man can see the fear and panic on their faces, and he relaxes. “Sorry… I saw you pressin’ her against the door, and…”
“She’s my sister,” Gendry weakly says.
Kallen narrows his eyes. “No, she ain’t.”
Gendry sighs, not surprised. He and Arya have talked about the fact that their hosts seemed to have figured out that they aren’t who they say they are but haven’t called them out on it, for whatever reason.
“No, I’m not,” Arya says, stepping forward. “But we need to leave Pinkmaiden, and soon. It’s not safe for us here anymore.”
Kallen gives them a hard look, then nods. “Just tell me one thing.” He’s speaking only to Arya.
“Depends on what you ask,” Arya answers.
Kallen picks up a hammer, then takes a step towards them. Gendry instinctively moves to protect Arya, but she pushes him to the side, annoyed. “Are you staying with him willingly?” Kallen asks, looking directly at her.
“Yes, I am,” Arya answers, lifting her chin to meet his steely gaze with her own. “He’s my best and only friend, and the only family I have left.”
“You’ll leave before first light,” Tyla says after dinner. Neither she nor Kallen had pressed them for more information until dinner, when they said that they would be discussing the matter after they eat the fine pheasants Arya had caught that morning.
“We can show you a hidden way out of the city,” Kallen says. “Provided you tell us who you really are and why you’re running.”
Arya and Gendry look at each other.
“We know it has something to do with the Brotherhood,” Tyla says, “and we know you were spying when Jorge was here.”
“Why did you cover for us?” Gendry asks. “We could be bandits.”
“If you were bandits, you would have robbed us and left already,” Kallen says.
“I covered for you because we have no love for the Brotherhood,” Tyla explains. “They are trying to help, yes, but sometimes the cost is too dear. They leave destruction in their wake when things don’t go according to their plans.”
“Our son joined them,” Kallen quietly adds. “He wound up dead.”
“I’m so sorry,” Arya quietly says, reaching over to place her hand over Tyla’s. “I… I don’t know what it’s like to lose a child, but I know what it is like to lose family.”
“So you said,” Kallen says. “Explain.”
Arya withdraws her hand and sighs, then looks at Gendry, who gives her a very slight nod.
“My name is Arya. Of House Stark.”
“Arya Stark has gone to Winterfell to marry that Bolton cunt,” Kallen says.
“I assure you she has not,” Arya says. “I have no way to prove to you who I am, but—”
“The Brotherhood was going to ransom her back to her family at the Twins before Lord Frey killed them,” Gendry says. “They’re in this area because her grandfather is the old Lord Tully, so they thought she might have gone there. We even saw them near Riverrun.”
“That’s still no proof,” Tyla says. “Though I am inclined to believe you over Tywin Lannister.”
“All I can say is I truly arm Arya Stark. And if they sent me north to marry Ramsay Bolton, he’d be dead before he could touch me,” she darkly says.
“I have a feeling he would be,” Kallen replies. “You are one scary little girl sometimes, I’ll grant you that. And you do have the look and sound of the North about you.”
“Have you been there?” Arya asks.
“No, but I’ve been around a fair amount and met enough travelers from there to know a Northerner when I meet one,” he answers. “People assume that you’re thick when you’re big and strong. I’m not, and I use that to my advantage.”
“People ignore or dismiss small girls, and I use that to my advantage,” Arya says by way of agreeing.
Kallen nods and huffs a small laugh, then looks hard at Gendry. “Who are you then? Not another Stark,” he says. “You’re a Baratheon if you’re anybody.”
“I’m nobody,” Gendry says. Arya hits him on the shoulder, hard, and he takes a deep breath. “My name is Gendry. I was indeed an apprentice smith, but in King’s Landing, training under Tobho Mott.”
Kallen’s eyebrows shoot up. “Well that certainly explains a lot,” he says. “I should have known you didn’t train with one of those glorified tinkers up in Seagard, especially when I saw you fold that steel again and again. It was so close to the technique used for Valyrian steel that I thought I might have been dreaming. Master Mott is… nearly legendary. You are lucky to have gotten to train with him.”
“Kallen,” Tyla says, bringing him back to the topic at hand with a gentle touch to his arm.
“Why are the Brotherhood interested in you then?” Tyla asks.
“They were going to sell me to some… witch. Some priestess for the Lord of Light. I don’t know why,” Gendry answers.
“Because you’re one of Robert Baratheon’s bastards,” Arya says. “I told you already.” She looks over at Tyla. “I met King Robert once. He came to Winterfell and asked my father to be his Hand. He was old and fat and crass, but… his eyes are the exact same blue as Gendry’s. Same shape, too, if I remember correctly. Once I started seeing the similarities, it became pretty obvious who he is. And that red bitch wants him for some reason. We don’t know what it is, but it can’t be a good reason.”
“Those people practice blood magic,” Tyla says, almost whispering it.
“Aye. Luckily, I overheard them discussing it the night before she was to arrive. I grabbed Arya and fled,” Gendry says.
“What do you mean you grabbed her?” Kallen asks. Gendry hadn’t realized until today how protective of Arya Kallen has gotten, and it warms his heart a little, even if he keeps throwing his suspicion at him.
“She was already sleeping. I scooped her up – she weighs almost nothing, you know – and ran,” Gendry says.
“So you kidnapped her.”
“No! Well, sort of,” Gendry admits. “I only did it because I know she would have found me and killed me if I left without her.”
“That’s true,” Arya says, nodding like they were discussing something quite reasonable. “Like I said, we’re the only family we have now.”
“How are you family, exactly?” Tyla asks, giving them a suspicious look.
“We’re family because we have chosen to be,” Arya explains. “We’ve been together for a long time, since just after my father was killed. We take care of each other. He is the only person I trust.”
“Arya is the first person who has ever really cared about me,” Gendry quietly says. “And she may be small and annoying, but she’s the bravest, kindest, fiercest person I’ve ever met.”
Arya feels her cheeks heat and notices Kallen is giving Gendry that suspicious look again. “Gendry has never behaved in an inappropriate manner with me, ever,” she tells him. “I’m just a girl, and not much of one at that.”
“Arya,” Gendry says in a low voice barely edged with warning. He hates it when she talks down about herself.
“Now, now, none of that kind of talk,” Tyla says. “You are a very pretty girl, Arya. Your behavior and interests are a little… unconventional, yes, but there’s nothing wrong with them. And, more importantly, you’re very smart. That's the most important.”
“Thank you,” Arya whispers, clearly unused to these sorts of compliments.
“If the Brotherhood comes sniffing around again, you’ll keep our secret?” Gendry asks.
“As Tyla said: we have no love for the Brotherhood. We do, however, have love for the two of you. So yes, we will keep your secret,” Kallen answers. “We only still sell to them because we can’t afford not to,” he adds. “Otherwise I would have told them to piss off long ago.”
“Thank you both so much for everything,” Arya says. “We can’t begin to say how much your kindness means to us.”
Gendry can only nod and wish he could find words as easily as Arya can. Instead he stands. “We should head up to our room. If we’re leaving before dawn, we’ll need sleep.”
“Of course. We’ll come get you sooner than you realize,” Tyla says.
He nods, and Arya follows him back to the shop. But instead of going up to their room, he hesitates. “You go on up. I have something I need to finish in the forge,” he says.
“What? Can’t Kallen finish it up for you?” she asks, confused.
“Not this. I won’t be long, but don’t wait up. You need your rest,” he says.
“So do you, Stupid,” she counters, but heads up the ladder anyway.
Gendry doesn’t sleep. When he went up to their room an hour after Arya, he found her curled on her side, sleeping deeply, and he was glad. But when he laid down beside her, sleep didn’t come. Even when he turned and wrapped his arm around her, which usually helps when he has trouble sleeping, his mind was still whirling and worrying.
So when Tyla’s head popped up through the floor to wake them, he was waiting for her.
“Did you sleep at all?” she asks.
“No. But Arya did, and that’s more important,” he quietly answers, glancing down at her still-sleeping form.
Tyla gives him a soft smile. “You really care about her, don’t you?”
“She’s all I have. Has been for some time,” he answers, knowing it’s not a very good answer.
“It’s more than that, and you know it,” Tyla knowingly replies. “She really cares about you, too. Thinks the world of you, and I understand why,” she adds. “We’ll be waiting downstairs when you’re ready.”
“Thank you, Tyla.” Gendry turns to Arya and gently wakes her. He has learned that when she needs to be woken, it is safest to do it gently. Her reflexes are lightning-fast and generally violent upon being startled awake.
“Arya,” he whispers, his hand on her shoulder. He gives a gentle squeeze, and she stirs. “We need to get going.”
She blinks awake and sits up. Another good thing about her is when she wakes up, she’s awake. Any grogginess or lollygagging to which she may have been previously inclined were beaten out of her at Harrenhall.
“They’re waiting for us downstairs,” he says. “But I have something for you first.”
“Now?” she asks, but she is already out of bed with her trousers on and walking towards him.
“It’ll only take a minute,” he says, handing her a long item wrapped in a cloth. She takes it, and when she unwraps it, she gasps. “I know it’s not Needle, but…”
Arya’s eyes are wide and wet as she looks over the small sword. “Gendry…”
“I never really got a good look at Needle, so I hope it’s good enough. I think it’s a little bigger, but so are you,” he says, knowing if he concentrates on the details of the sword he won’t start crying with her.
“It’s perfect,” she whispers, stepping back and holding it aloft in what he now knows is her water dancing stance. “It’s beautiful and perfect.”
Gendry watches her with it, proudly noting how the handle perfectly fits her small hand and the blade is straight and true, and looks like an extension of her arm. It was worth the coin he left in the forge with a note of explanation to Kallen.
“Thank you,” Arya says, dropping her stance. She sets the sword down and hugs him tightly, even quickly kissing his cheek.
“You’re welcome, Arry. What are you going to name this one?” he asks.
She picks it up and looks at it. “Maiden. For Pinkmaiden, a place where we got to be happy for a little while.”
In the forest, Tyla fusses over Gendry and Arya like they were her own children. She had packed them as much food as they could carry in their bags – so much that they have two bags now – and made sure they had enough clothing, blankets, and supplies for their journey.
“I wish we had horses for you,” Kallen says, yawning. “Or even one horse for you to share.”
“It’s all right. We’re used to walking,” Gendry says as he sees Tyla pull Arya aside. He assumes she wants to speak privately with her, and tries not to listen, busying himself with checking the supplies in his bag.
Despite his efforts, he hears their conversation. It’s too early and too quiet in the forest, and Kallen doesn’t seem awake enough yet to really hold a true conversation.
“Arya, have you gotten your moonblood yet?” Tyla quietly asks.
“No, but I imagine it will happen soon,” Arya answers.
Tyla hands her a small bundle. “Take these then. For your blood when the time comes.”
Arya nods her thanks and takes the rags, stuffing them deep into her bag. “I’m not looking forward to it.”
“It is something every woman must deal with, even those who think themselves not very ladylike,” Tyla says. “Why did you say that, by the way? About not being much of a girl?”
Gendry hears Arya hesitate before answering. Now he actually is listening, because he’s curious about this matter himself.
“My sister Sansa is everything a Lady should be. Pretty, sweet, ladylike. Likes stories about courtly romance. Singing songs and sewing,” Arya answers. “That’s not me at all.”
“Of course not, because you’re you,” Tyla says. “And that’s a good thing. We all can’t be the same.”
“Then why did everyone want me to be like her?” Arya asks, raising her voice. “Even my father, who I thought understood me, told me I was to marry a lord. I wanted to be a lord. Or a knight.” She shrugs. “My mother never understood that I wasn’t happy doing the things Sansa did. Gendry said she might have wanted to let me do what I wanted but didn’t feel she could.”
“There may be something to that. Being a mother isn’t easy,” Tyla says, bringing her arm around Arya’s shoulders.
“My sister and her friend used to call me ‘Arya Horseface’ too. Because I’m not pretty like Sansa,” she says.
“No, you aren’t, because you’re pretty like Arya,” Tyla says. “I’m sorry your family didn’t understand you, and I’m sorry people made you feel like you were ugly and strange. But I promise you, you’re not.” She moves around to face Arya, placing her hands on both her shoulders. “If I had a daughter, I’d want her to be like you. Smart and fearless and very much herself. Don’t ever try to become something that makes you uncomfortable. In a cruel world full of people who lie to others and themselves, that’s a rare thing.” She leans down and kisses Arya’s forehead. “Now. You two had better get moving before I decide to adopt you both,” she says, louder now.
Kallen, who obviously knew his wife was going to have this little talk with Arya, clears his throat and gives Gendry a pat on the shoulder.
“Thank you both,” Gendry says. “For everything. I doubt we’ll see each other again, but please know that we’ll always remember you.”
“You’re very welcome,” Kallen says. He stretches and seems to wake up a bit more while Tyla wipes her eyes beside him, then moves forward to hug Gendry and Arya. Then Kallen does the same, making Arya laugh as he lifts her off her feet.
“All right. Head that way,” Kallen says, pointing. “That will take you to Stoney Sept. Take care though, because you’ll pass very close to the Brotherhood’s territory. You might be able to rest the night at the Sept, but it is still too close for you to be safe for long. From there, you can head due south and meet up with the Gold Road, or follow the Blackwater Rush. Both will take you towards King’s Landing.”
“We don’t want to go to King’s Landing,” Gendry says. “We’ll be recognized for sure.”
“You still want to go South, yeah?”
“Then I would follow the river. It’ll cross the Gold Road at one point, but keep going. Then, just before the fork, turn south towards Tumbleton, just into the Reach. There’s not much between Stoney Sept and Tumbleton, I’m afraid, so you’ll be making camp to sleep.”
“That’s fine,” Arya says. “I’d rather follow the river than use the road anyway.”
“We will pray that the gods watch over you both and keep you safe,” Tyla says, her voice wavering as they see tears gathering in her eyes again. “Now go. The sky is just starting to grow light.”
“Thank you,” Arya says one last time. It comes out as a whisper as she struggles to keep her own tears at bay. Gendry says nothing, not trusting himself to speak, but he smiles and nods his agreement.
Then they turn away from their friends and head southeast, towards their next home.
“I wish we hadn’t been blindfolded when they took us inside Hollow Hill,” Arya quietly says. “Then we might know when we were close to it.”
“I know. I hate this,” Gendry agrees. “And I hate this bloody land.”
“What, the hills?” she asks, and he nods. “They certainly slow us down.”
“Why can’t it just be flat?” he grumbles, and she laughs. “Oh, I suppose you know the answer to that, Lady I-Have-An-Education?”
“No, I don’t,” she snaps back at him. “Gods, how much sleep did you get last night? You’re acting a right twat today.”
“None,” he mutters.
“I didn’t sleep at all last night,” he says, louder.
“Were you… were you working on my new sword all night?” Her voice is small now.
“No, I finished it fairly quickly. It just needed polishing and I had to finish the scabbard,” he answers, her humble demeanor quenching some of his annoyance.
“You didn’t have to make me a belt and scabbard,” she says. “Thank you though.”
“I didn’t want you to have to tuck it through your belt like you did with Needle,” he explains. “If it has its own scabbard, it’s harder for someone to steal it.”
“Like what happened with Needle,” she whispers.
“Yeah,” he confirms, keeping his eyes trained on the ground. He’s not used to a soft, grateful Arya, and he doesn’t quite know how to react to this side of her.
They walk in silence for a bit. “Why didn’t you sleep?” she finally asks.
“Too anxious about leaving,” he admits. “I liked it there, even if I was living under a false name.”
“I did too,” she agrees. “It was… it was nice to be understood for once.”
He knows what she means, but he still feels compelled to say, “I understand you, Arya.”
“I know you do, Gendry,” she tells him, reaching out to pat his arm once. “What I meant was—”
“I know what you meant,” he interjects. “I don’t remember what it’s like to have a mother, but I know you do.”
She can only nod. “I—wait. I recognize this place,” she says, her voice dropping to a whisper again. “We must be close to Hollow Hill.”
He absently reaches for her hand, and they walk in silence, eyes and ears on high alert for what feels like a long time.
“There it is.” Arya’s whisper is so quiet he barely hears it. She can whisper more quietly than anyone he knows, which is quite impressive considering how loud she can also be.
“The camp,” Gendry whispers back. They can see a few men walking around, the remains of a fire, still hot with a small tendril of smoke lazily drifting upwards, and some odds and ends scattered around. One man walks away, towards the side of the hill, and disappears. “That must be the cave entrance.”
He lightly tugs her hand and pulls her towards a large tree, using it as a hiding place in case anyone comes walking up the small path they had found.
“Now we know where the path came from,” she says, and he nods. They watch for a bit, trying to figure out the best way to either pass through or go around.
“We could wait till nightfall,” he suggests. “Just… creep through.”
“That will take hours,” she counters, looking up at the sky. “It’s not even noon yet.”
“We’ll have to go around,” he says. “But how?”
Arya looks around. “We can’t let ourselves get too far off course,” she says. “We don’t want to lose our bearings.”
“Right. Shit.” He grabs her shoulder and pulls her down to the ground with him. He’s thankful that she trusts him enough to not question him, but when she gives him that look, he mouths, “Someone’s coming,” and she nods.
The someone turns out to be two someones who start talking and laughing as soon as they are within sight of the camp.
Gendry doesn’t recognize the voices, but he finds he doesn’t really care anymore. They were going to sell him off to some unknowable fate, so fuck them. They aren’t his brothers; the only family he has now is the girl crouched on the forest floor beside him.
The voices diminish and they risk standing again. The camp is empty.
“One of those men said something about being late,” Arya says. “I wonder if they’re having some sort of meeting in the cave.”
“We could try passing through now,” Gendry suggests. “It’s risky, but it would save us time. And we won’t have to worry about losing our direction.”
“It’s very risky,” she says, gnawing her lower lip. “But you’re right. It’s probably the best option.”
“Kallen warned us we would be passing close to the Brotherhood’s territory, but he didn’t say anything about going right through it,” Gendry says.
“That’s because this place is supposed to be a secret,” Arya replies. “He probably doesn’t know exactly where it is.”
“He said he’s passed through here before though.”
“Yes, but how long ago was that? The Brotherhood is still fairly new. I saw Lord Beric compete in the tournament celebrating my father being named Hand,” Arya says. “And he had two eyes then.”
“Right,” Gendry replies. “So. Do we risk it?”
“If we do, we had better go soon, before their meeting is done,” she says. “We could have gone through and back twice by now.”
“Do we run?”
“I don’t know. There may be lookouts posted by the cave entrance.”
Arya steps out of their hiding place, surprising Gendry. “Follow me,” she says. “And keep your feet quiet.”
He nods and follows, trying to remember the words she told him from her dancing master. Quiet as a… what? A shadow. Quiet as a shadow. Swift as a…
Arya stops short in front of him, scattering his thoughts. She tugs his hand and pulls him to crouch low. She points to the cave and holds up one finger.
One man on guard.
He nods, but doesn’t know what to do. He shifts his feet, ankles and knees starting to grow a little sore from all the crouching. As he looks down, he sees a large rock next to Arya, and he taps her shoulder.
She turns to face him. He points to the rock, then to the forest across the camp, directly opposite the cave entrance. Then he makes a small throwing motion, and her eyebrows rise in understanding.
She hands him the rock, and he lightly tosses it in his hand a few times, gauging its weight, as he shifts to his knees to give himself better balance to throw. She turns back to face the cave entrance, watching the guard, her hand extended behind to signal him.
He watches her small hand, hovering in the air by his leg, waiting for her moment. He knows she wants the guard to be looking away or, better still, growing lax in his attention.
He finds another rock and places it beside him, just in case he needs a second one.
Gendry hears Arya’s small, sharp intake of breath just before she gives his thigh a firm pat.
He throws the rock, and the sound of it crashing into the thicket does the trick. He can see Arya poised to run, bouncing on the balls of her feet, and he rises from his knees.
The guard hurries across, sword drawn. He doesn’t raise any alarms or call out to the possible intruder, and once he is into the forest, Arya takes off.
Without even thinking, Gendry picks up the second rock before following right behind her.
Swift as a deer.
Once they are almost through, he spins around and throws the other rock back in the direction from which they came.
Quick as a snake.
They don’t stop running until they are well away, and when they do, they collapse in a heap, gasping for air, shins and sides burning.
Once their breathing slows enough for them to be able to hear anything else, they listen.
The forest sounds like a forest. There is no sound of pursuit.
“Did we do it?” Arya asks, leaning against Gendry from their spot on the forest floor.
“I sure as fuck hope so,” he answers, digging the water skin out of his bag. He takes a long, grateful drink, then hands it to her.
She drinks her fill as well, then hands it back to him with a word of thanks. “We need to keep moving. I won’t feel even a little comfortable until we’re past Stoney Sept,” she says, hauling herself to her feet again.
“We’re not going to stay at Stoney Sept?” he asks, standing as well.
“Why, do you want to give your half-sister another chance to ring your bell?” Arya asks, smirking up at him.
Gendry’s brow furrows. “That was at the Peach,” he says.
“Yes, and the Peach is in Stoney Sept,” she answers.
“Stoney Sept is a town?” he asks. “I thought it was… a sept. Because it’s called ‘Stoney Sept.’”
“Yes, it’s a town, and we’ve been there,” she answers. He can’t see her, but he knows she is rolling her eyes at him.
“So no stopping there then,” he says.
“Nope,” she confirms.
A few minutes later, he says, “We don’t know for sure that she’s my half-sister.”
“Gendry, she looked just like you.”
The walls of Stoney Sept appear more quickly than they expect, and they attribute that to how far they ran earlier.
“Too bad we’re not stopping,” Gendry laments. “I could do with some proper food and a drop of ale.”
“Me too, but we can’t risk it,” Arya says. “We should get to the river soon. Maybe we can catch a fish or something to eat.”
“Can we risk making a fire?” he asks, looking down at her. He sees her wince slightly. “You all right?”
“Yeah,” she answers, placing her hand on her abdomen. “It has been a long time since I ran for that long.”
“We’ll rest soon,” he says. “Or I can carry you for a bit, if you need.”
“No,” she immediately answers, and he smiles. He knows she is far too proud to let him carry her again. He just hopes that she won’t be too proud to ask for help if she really needs it.
“Let me know if it gets worse,” he simply says, and she nods.
A short time later, Arya hears the sounds of the river, and they would have started running towards it if they hadn’t run so much that morning.
They both drop to their knees at the bank, scooping water into their mouths and on their faces like they haven’t had water in days.
“It’s cold,” Gendry says, wiping his hands over his face..
“It’s good,” Arya replies.
They sit, just watching the river for a minute or two, then take a look at their surroundings.
“Can you see the walls of the town?” Arya asks, pointing.
“No. Do you want to follow the bank a bit to get a little further away?”
“I think so. We’ll need to cross it at some point too. We’re going to need to be on the south bank to get to Tumbleton.”
“Is there a bridge somewhere?” he asks.
“I have no idea,” she answers. “But I think this is just the start of the river, so it’s small and probably shallow here. We could try to cross.”
“Can you swim?” she asks.
“Of course not! When would I have had time to learn to swim?” he blusters.
“Right. Sorry.” She turns back towards the river. “It’s really not that far. I bet you’d be able to touch the bottom the whole way across.”
“What about you?”
“You know I can swim. I told you ages ago,” she says, turning to face him. “I think we need to try it. The gods have been in our favor so far today.”
“How is your side?” he asks.
“Comes and goes,” she answers. “Look, the longer we stand here debating, the longer we aren’t moving towards our destination.”
“Fine,” he huffs. “But if I drown, I’m going to kill you.”
“Fair enough. Here, take my bag. Try to keep them out of the water so our supplies stay dry,” she says, handing him her bag.
“Um, all right,” he says. “I’ll do my best.”
“It’s going to be cold,” she reminds him. “So it would be to your benefit to keep our stuff dry.”
“Yes, m’lady,” he answers. She is already walking towards the river, so he is spared her ire for once.
“Wait.” She stops, bends down, and removes her boots and socks. “If you don’t want to have wet boots, take them off,” she suggests, reaching for her bag again so she can stuff hers inside.
“Great, more for me to carry,” he mutters, but yanks his boots and socks off as well. He has to admit she is right. They would take forever to dry.
“All right,” Arya declares, standing barefoot on the north bank of the Blackwater Rush.
Gendry realizes she is hesitating because she is actually more nervous than she has let on. “I’m ready,” he says, stepping up beside her.
She reaches for his hand, but he is holding both bags, so he can’t even give her that comfort.
She takes a deep breath. “Now or never,” she says, then steps into the river. She takes two more steps. “The current doesn’t feel too strong. That’s good.”
He follows her into the river, stubbornly not making a sound when he feels the cold water swirling over his bare feet. She acted like it was nothing, and he can’t let her best him. He clenches his jaw and bears the discomfort. It’s only temporary.
She continues on, walking further in, and he follows, the water growing deeper with each step. By the time the water is mid-thigh for him, it is nearly to Arya’s waist, and she has yet to make a single complaint about the coldness of the water.
Gendry wonders if his toes are still attached, because he can no longer feel them.
He quickly forgets about his toes when the water reaches his groin and this time he yelps.
Arya’s head whips around, her face a mask of concern, to see why he cried out. “What’s wrong?”
Gendry simply looks down at where the water is swirling around his hips. “Fuck, it’s cold.”
“Southron,” she snorts and starts moving again.
“You wouldn’t be saying that if you had a cock that was currently being frozen off,” he replies. He decides to move faster, wanting to get this crossing over with as soon as possible.
“You say that like I don’t have body parts that are uncomfortable in the cold water,” she says.
“Yeah, but at least yours aren’t trying to crawl up inside your body,” he counters.
She turns and looks at him, her face puzzled. “They can do that?” She doesn’t remember any of her brothers ever mentioning something like that, but they did spend most of their time swimming in the hot springs instead of the cold river or one of the ponds around their home.
“Well, they are, that’s all I know,” he answers, powering past her. The water is nearly to his chest now, and he decides to slow a bit so he stays with her, because she’s nearly up to her neck. He knows she said she can swim, but he’s sticking close to her anyway.
“I think if my tits could, they would right now,” she says.
He snorts a laugh as surprised thoughts barrel through his brain. You have tits? When did you get those?
The river is getting shallower now, and Gendry sighs in relief. They hurry the rest of the way across, but the south bank is a little rockier than the north, so he climbs out first, drops the bags, then returns to reach a hand down for Arya.
To his surprise, she takes the offered help.
He tries not to look at her chest to see if she was speaking the truth or not, but he doesn’t completely succeed. Her shirt is stuck to her body, and he can see the silhouette of a pair of small breasts that had been hidden there, slowly growing all this time.
He turns away, grabbing her bag and handing it to her before taking his and walking away.
“Where are you going?”
“I’m going to change clothes.”
“Not now. We’ll change when we find a place to camp.” He makes a face, and she explains. “Where do you expect to carry your wet clothing? You can’t put it in the bags you just worked so hard to keep dry.”
“Shit, you’re right. I’m putting my boots on though,” he replies, and she nods her agreement.
“I had to walk barefoot for a while when we were traveling with Yoren. And after,” she absently comments as she pulls her boots back on. “It hurt for a long time, but eventually the bottoms of my feet got to be like leather.”
“I remember that. Are they still that way?” he asks.
“They’re not leather hard like they were before I got shoes again, but they’re not exactly soft,” she says. “It was cold, being barefoot all the time.”
“You always tucked them between my legs,” he comments. “Still do.”
“Habit,” she shrugs. “Come on, let’s move. I’m hungry.”
They start walking, staying with the river, keeping it on their left side now.
“Were you going to catch us some fish?” Gendry asks after some time.
“Shit, I was,” Arya answers. “I still can, when we stop. I can try, anyway.”
“How are you going to do that? We don’t have a net or anything.”
“I’ll figure something out.”
He has no doubt she will, but he does doubt that she’ll actually catch anything, much less anything big enough to eat.
The sun is high in the sky, but the air is still cool when they reach a nice open spot that still manages to be secluded by the side of the river. There are a few large pines on one side and some thick undergrowth, sheltering them from view, and the riverbank isn’t as rocky as it was where they crossed. They don’t know how close they are to the Gold Road, but they’d prefer not to be seen.
“This might do,” Gendry says, stopping to look around.
“Yeah,” Arya agrees. “I’m going to see about some fish. You can start a fire.”
“As m’lady commands,” he retorts, but his tone is teasing and she simply makes a noise of derision and walks back to the river. “I’m going to change clothes,” he calls after her.
“I won’t look,” she says. “Wait… give me your shirt.”
“My shirt? Why?”
“I’m going to use it to try to catch fish. I would use mine, but unless you want me standing here with my tits out…”
He quickly removes his shirt and hands it to her. Then he turns around and walks away, refusing to think about Arya’s tits again.
He knows she is busy, but he moves to a spot where she can’t see him anyway. He digs into his bag for some dry clothes, grateful that he even has any and pleased that he managed to keep their bags dry on crossing the river.
He doesn’t take long to dress, but apparently it was long enough for someone to happen upon them, because he hears a voice that is most definitely not Arya’s when he starts walking back out. He automatically wills his feet to be silent, even as he curses himself for leaving her alone.
“I’m just fishing,” he hears Arya say. “And I don’t have any coin.”
She doesn’t. It’s all in his bag. But she does have a couple of other things a bandit might want. A dagger. A sword. And she’s female, which opens up a whole other unpleasant prospect.
The man is, thankfully, alone, and he’s swaying a little, so he might be drunk. That could make it better or worse. Arya sees him walking slowly towards them and keeps her face carefully blank. She’s scarily good at it.
By the time he reaches them, the man is looming over Arya, who is standing barefoot on the bank with nothing in her hands but Gendry’s shirt. She hadn’t even made it into the river yet.
“You’re not much to look at, but you’re a girl, which means you got a cunt,” the man slurs.
Gendry bends down and picks up Maiden, which was lying beside Arya’s bag. He also makes sure his dagger is easily accessible. Now that he’s close, he can see he is much bigger than this drunken assailant, and that gives him hope.
“You had better not try it,” Arya warns, lifting her chin in that defiant way she has.
The man laughs. “You threat’nin’ me, little girl? Who’s gonna stop me from breaking in your tight little cunt and fucking you raw?”
“Him,” Arya says, nodding towards Gendry, who is now right behind the man with two blades drawn.
The man turns around and looks up into Gendry’s stormy face.
“Me,” Gendry confirms. Instead of using the sword, he tosses it to Arya, who catches it with no trouble. Then he punches the man hard in the face.
That’s all it takes for the drunk to go down. He collapses in a heap, unconscious.
“Fuck, I leave you alone for two seconds!” Gendry yells, shaking his hand.
“It’s not my fault!” Arya yells back, immediately assuming he’s mad at her.
“I know it isn’t!” he answers, still yelling. “I’m not mad at you, I’m furious that that’s all it took for something bad to happen! I was just changing my fucking clothes and some drunk fuckwit decided to come and try to rape a child! Fuck, why is everyone so terrible in this bloody fucking world?”
“Gendry,” Arya says, her voice softer now. “You can be mad later, I promise. Right now we have to decide what to do about him.” Her demeanor is scarily calm, and Gendry realizes he might have startled her with his outburst because she’s talking to him like he’s a wounded animal trapped in a corner.
“I’m sorry,” he says, deflating. “I… yeah. You’re right. We don’t know how long he’ll be out.”
“What do we do? We can’t just let him wake up.”
“We should kill him,” Gendry says, anger rising again as he stares at the man’s body.
“We could tie him to a tree and leave him there,” Arya suggests.
He sharply looks up at her. “You don’t think he deserves to die? He was going to rape you!”
“Of course I do! I was just… offering another suggestion in case you didn’t really want to kill him.”
“Well, I don’t want to kill anyone, but he—”
“Yes, I know what he was going to try to do,” she interjects, and he wonders if she cut him off because she didn’t want to hear him say it again. She’s being brave because he lost his temper and doesn’t want him to keep being mad.
“Hand me Maiden,” Gendry says, holding out his hand.
“I can do it. I’m the one who has killed before, not you,” Arya says.
“No. I need to do it.”
She still hesitates. “Look, if this is your way to feel like a big man—”
“Gods damn it, Arya, let me kill this fucking rapist for you!” he yells, then immediately stills again. “I know you don’t need me to do this for you. Or even really need me to protect you. But if I can rid the world of just one piece of shit man who thinks women are only here for him to stick his cock in, I can say I have done one good thing in my miserable life.” His words are quiet and measured, and he keeps his eyes trained on the unconscious man the entire time.
She hands him her sword without another word.
He takes it, then nudges the man with his foot. He groans. Gendry pokes him again, harder. “Wake up, twat.”
“Why are you waking him up?” Arya asks. “Because it’s not honorable to kill an unconscious man?”
“Fuck honor. I want him to see my face. And yours,” he answers. “To have the last thing he knows be that he’s a piece of shit.” He kicks the man now. “Yeah, I’m talking about you, shitface.”
Arya turns towards the river, where she bends down and scoops some water up using Gendry’s shirt. She manages to get enough collected in it to dump on the man’s face.
He sputters and wakes, flailing, then groaning again and reaching for his broken nose.
“Good, you’re awake,” Gendry says, leveling the sword at him. “Don’t get up. You’ll be back on the ground in a minute anyway.”
“What the fuck?” the man asks. “You broke my nose!”
“Yeah, I did, because you were going to rape my best friend,” Gendry replies. “And now I’m going to make sure you don’t ever try something like that ever again.”
Misunderstanding, the man places his hands over his groin. Gendry laughs.
“You wish,” he threatens, moving the tip of the sword to the man’s neck.
“The dagger will work better,” Arya says. When he looks up at her, she shrugs. “Just saying.”
“Fair enough,” Gendry says, handing her sword back and drawing his dagger. “Any last words?” he asks as he crouches down.
Gendry cuts his throat from ear to ear. “I don’t care.” He wipes the blade of the dagger on the man’s shirt, then puts it away.
“We can push him into the river,” Arya suggests. “Let him float away. So we won’t have to look at him.”
“Yes,” he agrees, then moves towards him.
“Wait,” she says, stopping him. “Let me try to get us some fish first. Once we dump him in, I won’t be able to catch anything.”
Arya managed to catch a couple of smallish fish, which they cooked over the fire Gendry made. They ate it with some of the bread Tyla gave them. The fish were small and full of tiny bones, but it was food. They largely ate in silence, each reviewing the events of the day in their own heads.
“We should just camp here for the night,” Arya finally says. “I know it’s early and we haven’t gotten that far, but—”
“I completely agree,” Gendry cuts in. “It has been a terrible day, and I didn’t sleep at all last night.”
“Oh gods, I forgot about that!” she exclaims. “You must be exhausted.”
“I am, especially now that we’ve stopped moving,” he confirms.
“I’ll go set some snares to see if we can’t catch something for our dinner,” she says, standing. He stands as well. “You stay here and rest,” she says.
“If you think I’m letting you go alone after what just happened, you are sorely mistaken,” he counters. “I’ve seen you set snares. They don’t take long. I can sleep after.”
“Fine,” she sighs, her hand absently going to her stomach again.
“Is it bothering you again?” he asks.
“Again? No. Still? Yes,” she answers. “It’s possible I just need a good shit,” she dismissively says as she walks towards the edge of the clearing.
He chuckles at her and follows. After years of close association, there isn’t much embarrassment between them about bodily functions anymore.
She sets three snares around the clearing before they return to their campfire. “How long do you think it’ll be before someone finds him?” Arya asks, looking towards the river.
“Depends on whether or not someone’s looking for him,” Gendry answers, sitting on the ground.
“Lie down and take a nap,” she suggests. “I promise I won’t go wandering.”
“What are you going to do?”
“Going to try to shit, if you must know.”
“Right,” he replies with a disinterested nod. He spreads one blanket on the ground and lies down on it. The ground is covered in thick, soft grass and it doesn’t feel awful under him. There aren’t even any rocks poking him. “Keep the fire going,” he reminds her.
“I will. I’ll go just past the edge of the clearing, so I won’t be too far,” she says. He merely nods, his eyes already closed.
He hears her footsteps retreat but falls asleep before she returns.
Gendry’s not sure how long he was sleeping, but when he wakes again it’s still light out and Arya is scowling as she works on polishing their weapons.
“I know why my stomach was hurting,” she grumbles.
“Mmm?” he asks, sitting up.
“I got my moon blood,” she says, her tone flat. She keeps her eyes trained on her work. “So that means I’m not a child anymore.”
“Oh,” Gendry says, not exactly sure what to say. “Congratulations” doesn’t seem right, but neither does “I’m sorry.” Instead, he asks, “Does it still hurt?”
“Yes,” she answers, finally looking at him. “If I was still in Winterfell with my family, this means I’d be available to be married off to some twat I don’t even know.”
He gives her sad smile. Most of her family is dead now, so he absently wonders who would even be around to try to force her into marriage. He is trying to figure out how he wants to reply to her when she speaks again.
“Not that it matters now. My family is dead or far away, and I’ll never see Winterfell again,” she says.
“I’m sorry, Arya,” he replies.
“I’ve made my choice,” she says with a sigh. “If I thought it was worth the risk to go back to Winterfell, I would. But now… it wouldn’t even be home anymore. I don’t know that I’ll ever have a place to call home again.”
“I don’t really remember having a home at all,” he says. “Not that that helps you, but… I guess I’m trying to say I know how you feel.”
“I know you are,” she says, setting her dagger down. She curls her legs up against her body, looking so impossibly small that Gendry is struck with the realization of how young she actually is. She seems so much older most of the time, having had to quickly grow up during her time on the road, but this is one of the rare times in which she lets him see the scared, angry little girl she was the first time he met her, the scared, angry little girl who is still very much alive inside of her.
He stands, stretches, and walks over to her, placing his hand on her shoulder. “I’m going to go have a piss, and I’ll check the snares. It’s your turn to rest.” He gives her shoulder a small squeeze, then walks away.
A second later, she is at his side. “I thought you didn’t want to leave me alone,” she reminds him.
He groans and closes his eyes. “Shit, I’m sorry,” he apologizes, and she just laughs at him.
Dinner consisted of squirrel and some apples they carried from Pinkmaiden. Gendry did all the cooking, insisting that Arya rest so she would hopefully feel better the next day.
Darkness comes earlier each day, but neither of them mind today. Arya lies down, curled on her side, still uncomfortable.
“Any better?” Gendry asks, an idea starting to form in his head. It’s more of a memory than an idea, and when she tells him she still hurts, he grabs one of their water skins and goes to the river, filling it nearly full and then dunking the entire thing into the water.
“What are you doing?” Arya asks when he returns and crouches by the fire.
“Heating this water,” he answers, then sets the entire water skin directly into the fire, carefully balancing it so the opening stays upright. He leaves the cap off.
“That’s going to burn,” she says.
“No, it isn’t,” he counters. “Not full of water. I saw Master Mott do this once or twice.”
“What is it for?”
She huffs and curls tighter into herself. “It’s so stupid,” she says after a time.
“What is?” he asks.
“Tyla asked me about my moonblood just this morning. If I had gotten it yet,” she explains.
“Maybe she knew. Some people are like that. Master Mott’s wife always knew when it was going to rain or when a customer was lying to us,” he says.
Arya shrugs. “I guess I’m grateful she thought to give me some supplies for it, even though it hurts like a bitch.”
“What does it feel like?” Gendry asks, checking the water on the fire. It’s nearly ready.
“It feels like… a dull ache, like you’ve been doing hard work for hours and you’re sore from it, front and back. But then it has moments when it’s sharp, almost a stab,” she answers. “And it makes me feel like I have to piss – or shit – when I don’t.”
“That sounds awful,” he responds, brows furrowing. “Is it like that for every girl?”
“I have no idea,” she says. “I don’t think Sansa had hers yet when I last saw her, and my lady mother was far too proper to complain about such base things.”
He takes the water skin from the fire and puts the cap back on so it won’t leak all over her. Then he walks over and gently lifts her arm from where it is holding her stomach. “Here,” he quietly says, tucking it against her belly.
“Oohhhh,” she sighs, hugging the heated bladder. “Oh, that’s nice. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” he replies. “I can heat the other one if you want it for your back.”
“No, just… lie behind me? You’re usually pretty warm,” she shyly requests.
He nods and tosses a few more logs on their fire before lying down behind her, making sure to make contact with her back. “This help?”
“I think so.” She is quiet for a little while, then says, “Gendry?”
“Hmm?” He didn’t realize how tired he still was until he let himself lie down and close his eyes.
“You’ve done more than one good thing in your life,” she says. “You defended a dirty little street urchin you didn’t know just because some bigger boys were picking on her, to name one.”
“Thank you,” he answers, her words bringing a small surge of unexpected emotion. “You weren’t a street urchin though.”
“You didn’t know that at the time,” she says.
“No, but I knew you weren’t a boy,” he informs with a chuckle.
She turns her head to look over her shoulder at him. “Even then?”
“Even then, m’lady. Now try to sleep. It’s been a very long day,” he says.
Their journey was much smoother after their first eventful day. They saw very few other people, which was just fine with them.
When they reached the Gold Road, there were a few travelers, but they stayed out of sight until it was clear.
Of course there was a bridge where the road crossed over the river. At first, Gendry was a little annoyed at both of them (mainly her) for having waded across when they did instead of waiting, but when he saw that the bridge was large and full of travelers and also required coin to cross, he decided that Arya’s insistence that they cross back when they did was a good idea.
“How much longer do we follow the river before we turn south?” he asks once they are past the Gold Road.
“I’m not entirely sure, to be honest,” Arya answers. “Let’s go a little further along.”
“All right,” he agrees.
The river winds due east for a bit, then curves more towards the south, and when this happens, Arya takes it as a sign.
“How do you know we’re heading south now?” Gendry asks.
“Because we were going east and then we started to veer to the right. That’s south,” she says. “I feel like it’s pointing us where we should go.”
“You feel like?” he echoes.
She raises an eyebrow at him. “You’re choosing now to lose faith in me?” she asks.
“Never,” he obediently replies. “I just don’t want to get too close to King’s—”
“Shh,” she cuts him off, holding her hand out.
“What is it?” he whispers as quietly as he can.
“I heard something,” she replies.
They stay still and quiet, and a second later, there is a rustling in the underbrush not far away. He grabs her hand on instinct. They don’t know if it’s a person or an animal or nothing, but the rustling is getting closer.
A juvenile boar comes running out of the bushes a moment later, startling them both. The animal seems slightly crazed or confused because it runs straight at them.
Without thinking, Gendry picks up Arya and runs.
“Wait! We should try to kill it for food!” she yells, struggling against him.
“With what?” he counters.
“Stop and put me down!”
He stops, again without thinking, letting Arya down. She spins around, drawing her dagger, and braces herself against the approach of the boar. Gendry holds his breath, drawing his dagger as well, and moves to stand beside her.
All this happens in a matter of seconds. The boar is on them in no time, and Arya, being faster than him, lunges first, stabbing the young boar in the neck.
It squeals and tries to keep going, but that’s when Gendry adds his dagger. The boar falters, and the two of them watch, breathless and wide-eyed, as it struggles for a few steps before falling, blood pouring out of the two large wounds.
Gendry swallows hard, withdraws his hammer from his bag, and puts the animal out of its misery.
“Holy hells,” Arya says after a long minute.
“We did it,” Gendry agrees. “Let’s just hope its mother isn’t around.”
“She would have been here by now if she was with him,” she says. “He’s young, but not that young.”
He looks over at her as the realization of what she just had them do fully settles over him. “You are a crazy person, do you know that?”
“Yes, and I’m still your best friend. Come on, let’s take care of this thing.”
“Are we camping here tonight then?” he asks. “It’s getting late.”
“Might as well. It’ll give us enough time to deal with this boar,” she says, kneeling down beside the animal. “If I had a bow, this would have been over much quicker,” she says.
“Oh, you’re that good with a bow?” Gendry asks, kneeling beside her to help.
“Better than my younger brother Bran,” she says. “He used to hate that,” she says, her voice amused and wistful at the same time.
“I’m sure he was secretly impressed and proud of you,” Gendry says. When Arya just stares at him, he asks, “What?”
“You obviously don’t have siblings,” she answers, then turns her attention back to the boar.
Gendry walks through the forest, Arya at his side. She is chatting away like she used to when they were a little younger and had fewer concerns on their shoulders. He can’t see her, but he knows she’s there, her small form a comforting presence at his elbow.
The forest is familiar but not, and they seem to have either turned away from or lost sight of the river. It feels slightly off in a way he can’t quite identify. He opens his mouth to say as much to Arya, when she speaks over him.
“I will find you, Young Stag. And when I do, there will be no escaping me; you will be mine.”
He startles. The voice is no longer Arya’s. It’s a deeper voice, the voice of a more mature woman. It’s almost seductive, and he feels compelled to turn and look at his companion.
He looks down to where Arya’s face usually is and immediately sees it is not Arya beside him. He quickly lifts his gaze to see an older woman. She isn’t old, just older than he is. She is pale and beautiful in a cold sort of way, with dark red hair and eerie red eyes. She is clothed all in red, and she gazes at him with an expression that somehow manages to be impassive and interested all at once.
“You are better than everyone thinks, better than any of the Brotherhood will ever be,” she intones, her unsettling eyes fixed on him. “You will make kings rise and fall.”
“At what cost though?” His voice sounds strange and foreign to him, like he is hearing it from the outside instead of in his head.
“There is power in king’s blood,” she replies as though it is an answer. “And you have the blood of a king running through your veins.”
“Leave me be,” he says. “I don’t want any part of your game.”
“It is no game, I assure you. And, Young Stag, I will find you.”
“Leave me be!”
“Leave me be!”
“Gendry!” Arya’s voice is urgent as she shoves at him. “Wake up!”
He blinks awake, immediately sitting up and looking around, his eyes searching their surroundings. It isn’t yet dawn, but it is close, the sky already growing lighter in the east.
“We need to get going,” he says. He’s breathing hard and his heart is pounding.
“Okay,” she immediately agrees, standing up. They cooked as much of the boar as they could yesterday, and carefully packed it all away so they would be able to get moving quickly in the morning.
“You’re not going to ask?”
“I trust you,” she answers. “You start shouting in your sleep and then immediately wake up and say we need to go, then we need to go,” she nonchalantly adds. “If you want to tell me, you can, but you don’t have to.”
“When we start walking again,” he assures her. “I need to settle down first.”
“All right,” she replies.
In minutes, they are walking again, now heading due south, hopefully towards Tumbleton. They are pretty sure they’re safe from the Brotherhood now that they’re well out of their territory, but they cannot yet rest easy since they are very close to King’s Landing.
They eat while they walk, nibbling bits of boar and bread and taking small sips from their water skins, which they filled nearly to bursting from the river before parting ways with it. They don’t know when they’ll have access to fresh water again, so they need to make it last.
Gendry had been feeling good last night, belly full of good fresh meat that he and Arya had caught and killed together. Knowing they were heading away from the river at last, they took what might be their last opportunity to bathe for a while. They learned from their previous experience that separating can be dangerous, so they took turns, one keeping watch while the other bathed.
Gendry felt clean and well-fed, and Arya was in good spirits as well.
Then his dream had to go and ruin his mood.
He takes one more small sip of water to wash the last of his breakfast down, then says, “I had a dream about her. The Red Witch.”
“What?” Arya exclaims. “I heard you, but…”
“It had to have been her. I’ve never seen her, but… there’s no one else it could have been. She looked straight at me and said she would find me. Called me ‘Young Stag,’ which I don’t really understand—”
“House Baratheon’s sigil has a stag on it,” Arya interjects. “That’s what she’s referring to. The fact that you’re a Baratheon.”
“She also said I had king’s blood in my veins and that I would make kings rise and fall,” he says. “The way she was talking to me… it almost sounded like she was trying to… you know, ring my bells.”
“That wasn’t a dream,” Arya says. “She was using magic to reach you.”
Gendry doesn’t say anything for a long time. He wants to be furious at the intrusion, but he doesn’t know if that’s the right way to feel. “I… I don’t know how I feel about that,” he finally admits.
Arya stops walking. “She invaded your head, without your permission, and seductively threatened you,” she says, looking up at him. “I can see that you want to be mad. So, be mad. She violated you and that is not acceptable.”
He huffs a humorless laugh. “You make it sound like she raped me,” he says.
She raises an eyebrow. “Didn’t she?” she challenges.
He closes his eyes, his hand clenching into fists. “Fuck,” he finally swears. “I’m never going to sleep again.”
“Yes you will,” she assures him. “Do you remember what you were yelling when you woke up?”
“When you woke me up, you mean?”
“Your eyes were already open.”
“I was yelling ‘Leave me be.’”
“Yes, and you were able to break away from her. I bet she wasn’t expecting that. I bet she wasn’t expecting you to have a strong mind,” Arya says.
He nudges her and they start walking again. “You think I have a strong mind? You, who are always calling me stupid?” he asks, smirking down at her.
“I said ‘strong,’ not ‘smart,’” she retorts. “But even though I may call you stupid, we both know you’re not. And you’ve always been a stubborn bull. That is probably more important when dealing with something like what happened to you this morning. You’re not just going to let someone inside your head.”
“Nice to know it comes in handy for something,” he mutters.
“Did she say anything about knowing where you are?” Arya asks.
Gendry thinks. “I don’t think so,” he answers. “So we might be safer than I at first thought.”
“Perhaps she was just trying to scare you,” she suggests. “Good thing she doesn’t know how much you’ve already been through.”
“Yeah, I don’t scare that easily,” he agrees. “Not after Harrenhall.”
They start seeing signs of other people late in the afternoon. They’ve been walking all day, really hoping to get to Tumbleton. They are now on a proper path, almost a road, and there are even occasional posted signs.
Arya had pointed and nearly danced with glee when she saw the first sign indicating that they were indeed headed the correct way.
“Yes, yes, very good. Can we proceed, please?” Gendry had sighed, crossing his arms over his chest.
She simply grinned and resumed walking. Once she was ahead of him, he smiled and fondly shook his head at her. She didn’t need any encouraging.
They spy Tumbleton in the afternoon, but once again opt to wait until morning to enter.
“This place isn’t as big a Pinkmaiden,” Gendry says when they are close enough to gauge the size of the place.
“It used to be bigger, I guess,” Arya says. “It was burned to the ground by dragons during some battle and rebuilt. But when they rebuilt it, it became smaller.”
“Oh. More lessons?”
“Yeah. I guess more things stuck than I thought.”
He absently nods, turning from the path to find a place to make camp. They like to be out of sight of any roads.
“We won’t be able to stay here as long. People will notice us sooner,” he says, ducking under a low tree branch. He doesn’t have to turn around to know that Arya will be able to easily walk under it.
“You’re probably right. Maybe it’s best you not be a blacksmith here,” she suggests. “This will do,” she says, indicating the small open area they just reached.
“What will we do for money then?” he asks.
“We’ll think of something. We’ve gotten good at surviving,” she answers.
He nods, then sighs. “I wonder if we’ll ever get to stop surviving and start living,” he comments, almost to himself, but the wistful look on Arya’s face tells him she was thinking the same thing. “Come on. Let’s get some firewood. It has been a clear day, so that means it will be cold tonight.”
“You need to shave again,” Arya says, settling beside him by the small fire they built. She had just wandered off to tend to her personal needs, and Gendry realizes that she hasn’t complained about her moonblood all day, so she must be feeling better.
He rubs his face. “Yeah, probably. Be nice when I’ll be able to just leave it be again. I kind of liked the beard.”
“I do, too—what? It looked good on you,” she replies, shrugging when he gives her a surprised look. “Not that you look bad without it, it’s just…” she stops talking, her face growing red. “Never mind.” He smirks at her, raising an eyebrow. “Shut up, Stupid,” she says. “Do you want my help shaving or not?”
“Since we have no looking glass, I suppose I do,” he agrees, letting her off the hook for now. “I trust your blade is sharp?”
“Have you ever known me to not have a sharp blade?” she asks, pulling her dagger out. It is the same one she used to kill the boar, but he can see that it is once again spotless and shining.
“We’re doing this now?”
“There’s enough light yet. And what else have we got to do?”
“All right,” he says, moving to sit on a nearby boulder that puts his face at a good height for her.
Once she has gathered everything she needs, she stands in front of him and helps him lather his face. He eventually drops his hands and just lets her do it, since she can see.
She raises her blade, then hesitates. “This doesn’t bother you? Me coming this close to your face with a very sharp blade?” she asks.
He looks right into her eyes and says, “Arya, you are literally the only person in the world I trust with anything sharp anywhere near me.”
That seems to please her a great deal. She smiles and says, “Good,” then gets to work.
He watches her face as she works, her brows furrowed in concentration, lips pursed. She did a good job the first time she did this, but this time she is more confident, even softly giving him instructions to turn his head this way and that or lift his chin.
Head tilted back as she scrapes her blade over his neck, he allows his eyes to close. He can feel the gentle press of her small fingers on his skin. The careful scrape of sharpened metal over his face. Even her warm breath puffing against his cheeks.
It’s nice, he thinks, having someone take care of you. It’s something he has never had in his life, not really. Master Mott was good to him, and apparently liked him well enough to save his life by sending him away, but Gendry has had to see to his own needs since his mother died, which is basically as long as he can remember. His memories of his mother are more like shadows or dreams: vague and blurry, and he no longer knows which things about her were real and which things he made up as a way to comfort himself.
Not that it matters now. She’s dead and he has managed to stay alive despite multiple attempts to prevent that from happening. And he knows he owes a debt of gratitude to the girl currently shaving his face with a stolen dagger she used to kill a boar the previous day.
“Hey.” Her voice is soft but clear, and he opens his eyes.
“You fall asleep on me? We’re done,” she says, patting his chest. Then she tilts her head to look at him. “You look so much younger without facial hair.”
“That’s why I like to have it,” he says, grinning.
She rolls her eyes and walks away from him. “Stupid,” she mutters, and he just barely hears it.
“What are you going to call yourself here?” Gendry asks. They had just settled down to go to sleep and he remembered that he was going to ask her this earlier but forgot when she mentioned shaving his face.
“Why do you want to know now?” Arya returns.
“Thought it might be a good idea to get our story sorted before we get there, instead of making it up as we go,” he answers.
She pauses a second before saying, “Charlett.”
“Charlett?” he repeats. “Isn’t that the name of the baby the tailor and his wife in Pinkmaiden had a few weeks ago?”
“I thought it was a pretty name,” Arya quietly admits.
Gendry ponders it for a moment. “It is.”
She turns her head and looks back at him, unsure. “Too pretty for me?” she asks, misinterpreting his hesitation.
“What? No!” he exclaims. “Gods damn it, Arya, I know you think you’re ugly, but you’re not, all right?” he huffs, exasperated.
She actually turns over to face him, looking at him with an expression he’s rarely seen, if ever. In the dim, flickering light of their fire, he can see her face is soft and open, vulnerable, but there’s a hint of something around the edges, and he thinks it must be caused by the damage her sister and that other girl did by calling her cruel names when she was younger.
“Thank you,” she quietly says. Then she bites her lower lip and flips back over. After a few minutes, she asks, “Have you picked a name yet? Is it Kallen?”
He laughs, his arm unconsciously tightening around her waist just a little. “No, Kallen is too well-traveled for me to use his name. He used to tell me of his travels when we were working. He’s been a surprising number of places for a lowborn blacksmith. I think I’m going to go with Max.”
“What’s wrong with Max? Good, solid name, Max,” he declares.
“There’s nothing wrong with it,” she replies. “It’s better than Bart, anyway.”
He snorts a laugh. “That one was kind of a moment of panic,” he admits. “I don’t even know where it came from.”
“Well, you only needed it for a day, so that’s good anyway,” she replies, yawning.
“Go to sleep,” he says, giving her another squeeze.
Gendry wakes from a thankfully dreamless sleep shortly after dawn. The air is chilled and he can tell it got quite cold overnight because Arya has moved to face him, curled against his chest.
He needs to empty his bladder and his hip is getting uncomfortable on the hard ground, but he doesn’t move. He wants to let her sleep. He worries about her sometimes, still being so young. She must be nearly to her fourteenth year now, and she’s flowered, but she’s still so small that he wonders if she is getting proper sleep and nutrition.
Not that he really knows anything about that. Not that he is in any position to correct that problem even if he did.
But he can let her sleep. She pushes herself so hard that he marvels at the fact that she doesn’t collapse from exhaustion every night.
She stirs a little, mumbling something in her sleep. Then she presses her face into his neck and settles again, her soft sigh puffing against his skin.
Gendry’s brow furrows, the sensation a little nicer than he expects, causing unconscious stirrings deep inside him that he’s not sure he should be feeling.
She’s too young, part of him says, chastising.
If her family was still together, she would be eligible to be married now, another part of him points out.
He can’t even fathom how Arya would react to being told she was to marry some stranger. Even harder to imagine is the type of man she would agree to wed.
Would she agree to marry you, if circumstances were different? He’s not sure where that thought came from, but it gives him pause.
Because he thinks she would.
That thought ensures his wakefulness until she finally rouses a significant time later.
She rolls away from him and stretches, same as always. Clearly she is not bothered by troubling thoughts about her companion.
Gendry mutters something noncommittal and then heads to the thicket at the side of the clearing to empty his now very full bladder.
He needs to get it together or she’ll know he’s out of sorts. And if she knows he’s out of sorts, she’ll demand to know why and he knows she will badger him until he breaks. And that cannot happen.
“Ready to go?” she asks him when he returns. She has their bedding packed up and appears to be waiting for him.
“Yeah. Is the fire all out?” he asks.
“Of course,” she answers, not offended. She knows he’s a blacksmith and is used to having fires be his responsibility.
“All right. Let’s go see what fortunes await us in Tumbleton,” he says.
She merely snorts a small laugh and they head out towards the small road.
Gendry and Arya are nearly to the gates of Tumbleton when the cart in front of them hits a rock embedded in the road, jerks, and settles crookedly, the sound of splintering wood sharp in their ears.
The jolt to the cart must do more damage than they can see, because the noise and upheaval sends the horse bolting.
“Help him with the wheel,” Arya says, shoves her bag at him, and takes off after the horse.
“A— Charlett!” he yells, lauding himself for having the presence of mind to use her fake name.
There’s nothing for it now, he thinks, then hurries over to help the man who is now standing beside the cart and cursing.
“Need a hand?” Gendry asks. “My sister went after your horse.”
“Good luck to her,” the man says. “That mare is as skittish as a maiden bride on her wedding night.”
“She’ll get her,” Gendry replies. “She’s got a way about her.” As he says the words, the truthfulness of them settles over him. She really does.
“You look like a strong lad,” the man appraises. “You any good with your hands?” he asks, gesturing towards the cart.
“I’m pretty good at fixing things,” Gendry says, walking closer to assess the damage.
The supplies in the back have shifted but not spilled. He sees barrels of something – likely ale – along with some produce and a butchered, cleaned hog. No tools or weapons.
He sets his bag down and goes to the edge of the road, looking for a sturdy branch they can use to lever under the cart to free the broken wheel.
“They should make sure large stones like that aren’t on the road,” Gendry says, returning with a long, thick branch.
“Who should? Our liege lord? The knights that act like they’re guards but mainly drink and whore? Should our brand new King Tommen take his thumb out of his mouth and order the bloody Kingsguard down?” the man asks, clearly still agitated.
Gendry stops, stunned. King Tommen? What happened to Joffrey? “I… sorry, I’m not from around here. I’m unfamiliar with how this town functions. I shouldn’t have made assumptions.”
His sincere tone seems to register with the man.
“Sorry, lad. I shouldn’t have snapped at you,” he apologizes. “I’m not angry with you.”
“I know,” Gendry replies. “Here, let’s try wedging this under here…”
They work on the wheel, taking turns sending dirty looks to people who pass and dare to make comments about their situation.
By the time Arya returns with the horse, they have the wheel repaired and are working on the hitch.
“This is faulty,” Gendry says, looking at a bent and broken piece of metal. “It should never have broken like this.”
“Oh, are you a smith?” the man skeptically asks.
“I’ve had some training, yes,” Gendry says, trying to sound casual about it. “Ah, here comes your horse,” he quickly says, redirecting.
“Thank you, girl,” the man says, taking the reins from Arya. “Did she go far?”
“Not very. She found a clump of tall grass that was still alive and it rather distracted her,” Arya answers.
The man snorts a short, humorless laugh. “You have my gratitude. She’s not much, but she’s the only horse we have.”
“Then I’m glad I was able to bring her back to you,” Arya says. “I see you got the wheel fixed.”
“Thanks to your brother,” he says.
“I hardly did anything,” Gendry protests. “But I did just fix your hitch. At least temporarily. It should get you home, provided home is in the town here.”
The man walks over, nodding. “Yeah, my wife and I run the inn here. I was just coming home with supplies from King’s Landing. Name’s Ellit,” he says, finally introducing himself.
“I’m Max, and this is my sister Charlett,” Gendry says. He thinks he’s getting better at lying. He’s not sure how he feels about that though.
“Half sister,” Arya adds, seeing the man looking back and forth between them. “We have different fathers.”
“Our mother wasn’t a whore,” Gendry quickly adds, making sure to sound indignant enough to sound like it’s a misconception that has come up in the past. “She was married to both of them. My father died before I was even born, and Mum married her da a couple of years later.”
“I wasn’t thinking ill of your Mum,” Ellit says, hitching the mare back to the cart. “But I assume your parents are all gone now if you’re here, and so young.”
“Yes,” Arya answers. “We’re looking for work. Do you know if anyone in town would have a need for two young but hard-working people?”
Ellit looks at them. “Come with me to the inn. Alvira, that’s my wife, and I have been talking about bringing on some help. My bones are getting old and achy, and I can’t always do the things that need doing. Could use your brawn.” He looks at Arya. “And you’re good with skittish horses, but are you smart?”
“Yes,” she answers. “I’m very good with sums and I even know some of my letters.”
“Could use a serving girl that has a brain in her head. And if you can keep your attention on your work and not the young male guests, even better,” Ellit says.
“Oh, I think I can manage that,” Arya declares. “Do you have a room to spare for us? We don’t have a place to live, and you can count it as part of our wages.”
“Oh, bargaining, now, are you?” Ellit says, his lips cracking into a small smile for the first time since they met him. “Yes, if you need a room, we can spare you one. But just one, so you’ll have to share.”
“We can take the smallest room you have, and we have no trouble sharing,” Gendry answers. “We’ve been sleeping on the road, so any bed is better than the cold, hard ground.”
Ellit nods. “Follow me then.”
Gendry can’t help comparing Tumbleton to Pinkmaiden as they ride through. It is definitely quieter and smaller. Nearly everyone they pass greets Ellit like he is an old friend.
“Everyone knows everyone else,” he murmurs to Arya. They are squeezed onto the bench beside their host, but Gendry is careful to speak quietly.
“I noticed that, too,” she replies. “You’re right. We won’t be able to stay here too long. It’s too close to King’s Landing anyway.”
He nods, then turns towards Ellit to ask how far away the inn is. As soon as he opens his mouth, he sees it.
It’s a modest place, clean but not extravagant.
“Here we are,” Ellit says, bringing the horse to a stop. “You can start your new jobs by helping me unload the cart.”
Between the three of them, the cart is unloaded in no time, Gendry demonstrating his strength by hoisting the hog onto his shoulders and easily carrying it all the way to the kitchen in the back, where he sets it on a table for a very surprised Alvira.
“Who are you?” she demands. She is a tall woman who looks like she does not put up with nonsense of any kind.
“He’s our new help.” Ellit’s voice saves him. Arya trails in after, carrying a basket of vegetables. “Alvira, this is Max and Charlett.”
“Where’d you find them, then?” Alvira aks.
“Had a spot of trouble with the cart on the road just outside the gates. These two helped me out without my asking, and the only thing they want in return is honest work and a room to sleep in,” Ellit says.
She considers that a moment, then turns to Gendry and Arya. “You together?”
“He’s my half-brother. Our parents are dead,” Arya answers.
“How old are you, girl?” she asks, her voice softening. “Do you know?”
“Nearly 14, missus,” Arya replies. “Max is 17. He’s very strong and knows how to fix things.”
“And what can you do?” Alvira asks.
“Whatever you need me to do,” she answers. It must be the correct answer because the woman finally smiles a little.
“Very well. I’ll be wanting your help with all this soon enough,” she says.
Arya nods. “All right.”
“Charlett, there’s a small stable out back. Would you take Clover and give her some food and water?” Ellit asks, and Arya nods again, then leaves. “Max, you can help me with the barrels.”
“Yeah, sure,” Gendry agrees, following Ellit back out.
When they have everything settled, they head back inside to find that Alvira has put out some bowls of porridge for them.
“I’m betting none of you have eaten this morning,” she says.
“We had some dried meat and some apples that were about to turn,” Arya says. “But we’ll never turn down food.”
“Good. You’re too small,” Alvira declares. “Probably malnourished. We’ll take care of that.”
Gendry digs into his porridge to hide his laughter. Lady Arya Stark of Winterfell. Malnourished. Right.
“You need to remember to leave enough food for your sister,” Alvira says to Gendry.
“I always make sure she eats her fill. Our mum was a little thing, too,” he replies, improvising again.
“You must have split her nearly in two,” Ellit says with a chuckle.
“She always said I was a tiny babe,” Gendry says, and it is true. Or at least he thinks it is true. One of the few things he does remember about his mother. “She said my da was a big man though. I must take after him.”
“Our children are like that,” Ellit says. “One looks like me, the other like Alvira.”
Gendry sees Arya smile to herself, and he wonders if she’s thinking about her real siblings. He remembers her saying that she and her sister were as different as night and day both in personality and looks.
“Where are your children?” Arya asks.
“King’s Landing. Grent wasn’t interested in staying here and taking over the inn for us when we get too old, and Lucia went with him to find a husband. She said Tumbleton was too small and all the marriageable men were idiots,” Alvira answers. “Grent is a carpenter now and Lucia found herself a nice butcher.”
“Both solid professions,” Gendry remarks. He wonders if he ever encountered either of them before he left. Master Mott was as popular with butchers as he was with knights. He isn’t going to waste his energy wondering about it now, because the mention of King’s Landing gives him the opportunity to ask the one question that has been ready to leap from his mouth since he first encountered Ellit.
“Speaking of King’s Landing, you said ‘King Tommen’ before,” he says, looking at his host. “What happened to King Joffrey?” He glances at Arya and sees her trying to hide her shock. Joffrey is one of the names one her list.
“How is it possible you haven’t heard?” Alvira asks.
“We’ve been traveling,” Gendry answers. “You’re the first people we’ve spoken to in a few days.”
“Of course. King Joffrey was murdered at his wedding to the Tyrell girl. Word is his uncle the Imp did it,” she says.
“I doubt that,” Arya mutters, just loud enough for only Gendry to hear.
“He was poisoned. Rumor has it that it was quite the horrific sight. They’re saying his whole face turned purple,” Ellitt says.
“Some people are saying he choked on his wine. Others say it was food he choked on. I say that regardless of how, that little inbred monster got what he deserved,” Alvira adds.
“Inbred?” Gendry asks.
“Where are you from, exactly? There has been talk for a while now that Joffrey wasn’t King Robert’s son, but the Kingslayer’s sinful get with his own sister,” Ellit answers.
Gendry makes a face, and Arya says, “I wouldn’t be surprised. That whole family is awful.”
“What would you know about it?” Alvira asks, curious.
Arya shrugs. “Same as everyone knows, if they pay close enough attention. Corrupt, hungry for power, stopping at nothing to get what they want. Ser Jaime is arrogant and has been given more power than he has brains for. Queen Cersei spoils her children. Lord Tywin wants the Iron Throne for himself.” She sees the way their hosts are staring at her, and adds, “Those are just some the things I’ve heard.”
“You hear a lot of things,” Ellit says after a moment.
“People tend to forget I’m around because I’m young and small, so they don’t watch their words,” Arya answers.
Alvira smiles. “I think you’ll do just fine working here, Charlett.”
Arya returns her smile, but it drops when she hears Ellit’s next words.
“Lord Tywin definitely won’t be sitting the Iron Throne now,” he says. “He’s dead, too.”
“What? How?” Arya asks.
“They say the Imp killed him, too. While he was taking a sh—”
“In the privy,” Alvira interjects. “Shot him with a crossbow.”
Gendry covers his laugh with a very fake-sounding cough. He has no love for Lord Tywin, and the idea of someone shooting him with a crossbow while he was taking a shit struck him as rather funny. But he doesn’t want to offend their hosts, so he at least made an attempt to stifle his coarse reaction.
When Ellit gives him a small, sly look, Gendry knows he was caught. He picks up his mug and drinks to hide his face.
“Lord Tyrion did all that?” Arya asks.
“That’s the rumor,” Alvira answers with a shrug. “I find the idea of him using poison to kill someone more believable than the dwarf wielding a crossbow, but I suppose stranger things have happened.”
Like a dead man being brought back to life, Gendry thinks, remembering how they saw Lord Beric run through by the Hound’s sword, only to return to life minutes later.
He doesn’t remember Arya ever saying Lord Tywin’s name when she recites her list – something that has been happening with less frequency of late – but he is certain she feels no sadness over the man’s demise. She said the stern lord was not cruel to her, but she never said he was kind to her either.
When he looks over at her, she is pondering her nearly-empty bowl, and somehow he knows she is thinking about her list. But he’s not sure if she is wishing that Cersei had been killed instead of or in addition to Tywin.
Alvira warms up considerably more after their breakfast conversation, even asking them if they’re sure they want the smallest room.
“Whatever you’d like to let us use is more than enough. We’d even sleep in the stable if that was the only thing available,” Arya says.
“Now, now, let’s not be ridiculous,” Alvira replies. “I’ve got a small room in the back corner which might suit. I rarely have people stay there because it’s small and farther away from the main room than the others.” She sighs. “An unfortunate aspect of owning an inn is drunk patrons needing to stumble back to their rooms, so the closer, the better.”
“Far away from everything is fine with us,” Gendry says, and Arya nods. “It will be safer for my sister that way too,” he adds.
“Precisely,” Alvira agrees. “Pretty little thing like you will have to look after herself,” she adds.
Gendry sees Arya trying to hide her surprise. He also can tell she wants to refute the compliment out of habit, but all she says is, “I know how to take care of myself.”
“I’m certain of that,” Alvira says, opening the door. She drops the key in Gendry’s hand. “There is only one other key to this door, and I have it,” she says. “You’ll likely be wanting to lock yourselves in at night.”
“Why?” Arya asks, looking like she is suddenly unsure about their safety.
“Guests can lose their way in the middle of the night. You don’t want any unexpected bedmates,” Alvira explains.
They look around the room, assessing their surroundings.
It’s slightly bigger than the little attic room they shared in Pinkmaiden, and it also has more of an actual bed than a pallet on the floor. It’s stuffed with straw, not feathers, but will still be the most comfortable thing they’ve slept on in months. Possibly years.
“It’s very nice,” Arya says. “Very clean.”
“I pride myself,” Alvira replies. “This little inn isn’t much, but it is clean for certain.” She runs her finger along the fireplace mantle, then shows it to them. “Not a speck.”
Gendry smiles as he sets his bag down on the small table.
“I hope you don’t mind my asking, but one bed is acceptable?” Alvira asks.
“We’re so used to sleeping close together on the road for warmth that I don’t think we’d know any other way,” Arya answers, glancing at Gendry.
“It’s completely fine. The bed looks very nice, thank you very much,” he adds.
“I’ll leave you to get settled in. There’s a small wardrobe behind the door, but let me know if you need anything at all,” Alvira says. “We start serving lunch at noon. Charlett, if you could be out in the main room an hour before, we can discuss your job as a serving girl. Max, you can report to Ellit and see what he needs you to do.”
“Yes, ma’am,” they both reply.
Alone again, Arya looks up at Gendry. “She’s very… brusque,” she says. “I like her.”
“We’ll always know where we stand with her,” he agrees. He watches as she walks around the room once, then plops heavily on the bed. “You all right? I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to tell you about Joffrey before I brought it up with them, but I saw the opportunity to ask, so I had to take it.”
“Of course. And I’m glad you did,” she says. She bites her lower lip, then answers, “I don’t know how I feel, to be honest. I’m glad he’s dead, and it sounded like it wasn’t an easy death. I’m glad about that, too.” Her expression clouds. “But…”
“You wanted to kill him,” Gendry supplies.
“Yes. I mean, I did, but did I really?” she asks.
He’s not sure if he’s supposed to answer.
“It wouldn’t bring my father back,” she quietly says. “I could kill every person on that list and my father would still be dead. So would my mother and brothers.”
“You’re right, but that doesn’t mean that their deeds should go unpunished,” he comments.
Arya looks up at him and her eyes nearly break his heart. “I’m glad Joffrey suffered. He was a horrid person. You have no idea how truly evil he was. So I don’t care if it makes me a bad person, but he deserves whatever pain he felt before he died, and more,” she says.
Gendry sits down beside her on the bed and wraps his arm around her shoulders. “You’re not a bad person at all,” he reassures her. “You’re a better person than Joffrey, the Hound, Cersei… everyone on your list. Because you actually care about other people, no matter who they are. You value kindness and justice, and none of them do. They only care about themselves.”
Her breath unexpectedly hitches and she turns her face into his shoulder. He draws her against himself and lets her cry into his chest.
Arya is a natural with customers at the inn. Gendry admires how easy it is for her to talk to customers, charming them with her quick wit and the way she treats every customer like they are an honored guest. She also is much smarter than the other serving girl, Ronlyn, and makes far fewer mistakes. In fact, Gendry isn’t certain Arya has made any mistakes at all with her customers. And she doesn’t flirt with them the way Ronlyn does, either.
She has come a long way from the angry little girl he met so long ago. She still has (quite understandable) moments of anger, when she remembers what happened to her family and why she is where she is instead of at home, with them. And she is most definitely not a little girl anymore.
This becomes abundantly clear to him one night about three weeks into their stay in Tumbleton. Arya was serving customers, chatting easily, even laughing with some of the ones she’s gotten to know.
Gendry watches all this from his place near the door, where he is repairing the hinges that got damaged recently courtesy of an over-zealous and drunken knight that was passing through the previous day.
Arya has taken to wearing dresses when they aren’t on the road, partly because they are easier to acquire than trousers of a size that fit her, and partly because it makes her less conspicuous. People would remember a young woman wearing breeches and tunics instead of simple dresses.
Gendry tries not to think about how nice she looks when she is clean and dressed like a girl. Her hair is getting long, and she has it styled in two braids down the back of her head to keep it out of her way.
He huffs and turns his attention back to his task, driving new nails into the door frame to affix the new hinge to the wood. Then he hears it.
“Oi! I’m not telling you again!” Arya’s voice is distinct, but he would know it regardless. He stands, hammer gripped in his hand. She is a few tables away from him, holding a rounded blade to the neck of a man he has never seen before.
“You gonna stab me with a cheese knife?” the man asks with a laugh.
“It doesn’t have to be sharp if it’s moving fast enough,” Arya responds. “And I’m pretty fucking fast.”
“Oh, that’s what I’m counting on, sweetling,” the man replies.
That’s when Gendry slams his hammer down on the table beside the man. He doesn’t even remember approaching the table. “She said to leave her be,” he growls, taking great satisfaction when the man has to keep looking up to see his scowling face.
He also immediately raises his hands in a gesture of innocence. “You her man?” he asks. He sounds concerned now.
“Her brother,” Gendry answers, lifting his hammer and spinning it in his grip. “And I think it’s time you left.”
“You don’t have the nerve, Boy,” the man sneers, standing. He’s half a head shorter than Gendry and swaying slightly with drink.
“Don’t I?” Gendry challenges while Arya starts laughing.
“Oh, he doesn’t know you at all,” she says. “My brother is as strong as a bull. And about as reasonable, when it comes to my safety.”
“You’d better go, Ranulf,” another man says, stepping in, carefully eyeing Gendry. “I’ve seen that look before, and it never ends well. Come on.”
Ranulf allows his companion to lead him out. “I won’t be coming back here,” he loudly protests, as if it was a threat.
“Good,” Gendry says, then stomps towards the back, heading outside for some fresh air.
He runs into Ellit in the yard, who stops him. “You look fit to murder someone,” he says, laying a gentle hand on his shoulder.
“Almost did,” Gendry replies. “One of the drunks was getting handsy with my sister. She told him no and he didn’t listen.”
Ellit slowly nods. “So you had to step in,” he guesses. “You’re a good brother.”
“He’s still alive and uninjured, thanks to a friend of his who stepped in and got him to back down,” Gendry replies. “That’s the only thing that saved him.”
“Is Charlett all right?”
Gendry nods, then chuckles. “She already had a knife to his throat by the time I got there. It was a cheese knife, but it was better than nothing.”
“She’s a little spitfire, isn’t she?”
“You have no idea.”
Ellit gives a knowing smile and nods. “You’ve met my wife?”
Gendry snorts a laugh. “Right. Oh, the man said he wouldn’t be back, so I’m sorry for costing you a customer. His name was Ranulf.”
Ellit rolls his eyes. “He’ll be back. That’s the fourth time he’s threatened to never come back, but we’re the only inn in town,” he explains. “Wish he would make good on the threat though.”
Just then Alvira’s head pops out of the back door. “You gonna finish fixing that door, Max? I’d like to be able to lock it up proper tonight.”
“Right, sorry,” Gendry apologizes. “Just had to clear my head.” He nods at Ellit then heads back towards the door.
“I saw what you did, lad,” Alvira says when he is close enough. “Charlett is lucky to have you.”
“We’re both lucky,” Gendry immediately answers. “She looks out for me just as much.”
“I bet she does,” Alvira approvingly pronounces as they walk back into the main room. “Ronlyn! Get off his lap and refill those drinks!” she yells.
Gendry walks past Arya, wondering if she’s going to be mad at him for coming to her rescue. But she merely reaches out and gives his arm a squeeze as he walks past, and he takes it as her way of thanking him.
Later that night, in their small room way in the back of the inn, Arya is uncharacteristically quiet as she prepares for bed.
Gendry waits for her to say something. He knows she was a little rattled by the episode with Ranulf earlier, but he’s not sure if it’s because the experience unsettled her or because she probably wouldn’t think herself attractive enough to draw that sort of attention.
And therein lies the beginnings of a new problem, at least for Gendry. He keeps finding himself noticing Arya. Noticing things about her he had never noticed before. Some things he simply never really gave any conscious thought to, like how musical her laugh is and how she always seems to know exactly what to say, especially to him. Other things are new, like the way her hips have begun to flare out from her waist and how her face has started to lose its childish roundness, transforming her long oval face into a becoming heart-shaped one.
Dressed only in a pair of soft breeches, Gendry pads behind the small privacy screen Alvira thoughtfully provided to empty his bladder into the chamber pot, letting Arya finish changing clothes. He tries not to wonder how her blossoming curves might look beneath her clothes. He doesn’t completely succeed.
He lingers behind the screen until he hears her slide into the bed. She’s facing the wall, and he crawls in behind her. He hesitates a moment before moving closer, suddenly unsure if he should.
“What is it?” Arya asks without turning her head, sensing his hesitation.
“Are you upset?” he asks in return.
“With you or in general?”
“Yes. No. I don’t know,” she answers with a heavy sigh. “There’s so much in my head right now.”
He still doesn’t move and isn’t even sure what to say. “Anything you want to talk about?” he finally asks.
“Will you get over here?” she demands, finally looking over her shoulder at him. She is scowling, but he can see in her eyes that she needs his comfort right now.
He kicks himself for not realizing it, turning onto his side to wrap his arm around her waist.
“I could have taken care of that man myself,” she finally says.
“I know. That’s not why I stepped in,” he replies. “I did it because even though I know you could have, you don’t need to think that you must.”
“It’s all right to let people help you, Arry. It doesn’t make you weak or useless,” he explains. “I knew I could be of assistance in that situation, and I wanted to help you, so I did.”
She is quiet for a long moment. “So it wasn’t… it wasn’t you trying to be a dashing hero coming to the aid of a damsel in distress?”
Gendry chuckles, his head falling forward against hers. She had bathed that morning and her hair still smelled nice. “No,” he answers. “Not really, anyway.”
“Well, it’s sort of the same as that rapist by the river. Men like that… they only really only understand one thing, and that’s the biggest, toughest man wins. They don’t care about anyone apart from themselves and what they want. They think with their cocks instead of their brains. Yeah, you could have shoved your little cheese knife into his neck, but if you had somehow killed him, you would be to blame. Even though he was the one behaving inappropriately.”
“That’s the way things are for us smallfolk, Arry,” Gendry interjects with a heavy sigh. “And you know this, because it’s not much better for highborns. Women aren’t truly seen or heard when they need to be.”
“I knew I could get him to stop without potentially killing him, or at least without spilling blood on Alvira’s floors that she would make me mop up later. Even though I really wanted to,” he explains. “And, to be completely honest, the thought of any man pawing all over you like that makes me furious. No woman should have to put up with that, but you’re my friend. My best friend. And I wasn’t going to sit idly by while that cunt tried to do… whatever it was he was trying to do. Not when I am bigger and meaner than he is.” Telling her all this is making his anger rise again, and he realizes he is squeezing her rather tightly. “Sorry,” he softly says, loosening his grip.
“You’re bigger than most,” Arya says, “but I’m not sure about meaner.”
“Oh, I am,” Gendry confirms. “You just don’t see it much because you’re the only person I like.”
She is silent for a while, and he stares down at the top of her head, wondering what is going on inside that fascinating brain of hers. Just when he thinks he has her figured out, she throws something new at him and he finds himself off-balance once more.
“Thank you,” she quietly says, drawing him out of his thoughts.
“Any time, Arry,” he replies. And he means it. Any time. He intends to always be there for her, for as long as she will allow him to be.
“There you are,” Alvira says late the next morning as Arya comes hurrying back into the Inn. Their hostess and employer had sent her to the cobbler when she noticed that her boots were nearly falling off her feet, and too small besides.
“Sorry,” Arya says, slightly breathless. “What do you need me to do?” she asks. The midday crowd will be showing up in an hour or so, and the two of them need to finish their preparations.
Gendry, ever at Ellit’s beck and call, is currently surrounded by a sea of stools that he is repairing. Arya gives him a significant look, and he nods, acknowledging that she has something noteworthy to tell him. He knows he’ll have to wait until they are alone again to find out, so he bends his head over his work again.
Lunch comes and goes in a flurry, and he doesn’t get a chance to talk to her alone until mid-afternoon. Alvira had just sent him out to help Arya with buckets of water for cleaning and cooking.
“What happened while you were out this morning?” he asks. He thinks about taking the handle from her as she draws the bucket up, but knows that she will tell him no.
“I sent a raven to Kallen,” she says.
“You did what?” he asks in a shocked whisper-shout.
“Calm down; I didn’t write anything that would give us away,” she calmly replies. He takes the bucket from her, empties it into the basin, and passes it back. “I was walking back from the cobbler’s and saw a septon sending a raven.”
“You always walk around looking up?” he asks.
She rolls her eyes. “I caught the motion out of the corner of my eye and looked up, Stupid,” she says. “Then I went inside. Impulsive, I know, but I was careful.”
“I know you were,” he responds. “You’re better at this than I am.”
“You’re doing just fine,” she assures him. “I asked the septon if it would be possible to send a message to the sept in Pinkmaiden. I know the septon there knows Kallen.”
“Everyone in Pinkmaiden knows Kallen,” Gendry agrees.
Arya nods. “And I know Tyla can read, so—”
“Kallen can, too, but Tyla does it more, so she’s better at it,” he interjects.
“I had to give him a few coins, but I thought they would like to know that we are safe. That’s all I wrote,” she says. “I said, ‘We are safe. Thank you for everything.’ Didn’t even sign our names. Not even Teren and Salla. Nothing. I figure they will know who it is from.”
They empty another bucket into the basin, which is now full enough for Gendry to carry inside. “I think I’m glad you wrote to them. I still feel a bit bad for up and leaving them. I really liked working with Kallen, too.”
“I know you did,” Arya quietly answers. “Maybe at our next home it will be safe enough for you to do it again.”
“Maybe,” he allows.
A moon and a half later, Gendry wakes up with a start, sweating and feeling… needy. Thankfully, his back is to Arya, because his morning erection is being particularly demanding today. Waking up hard isn’t anything new, but waking up hard and wanting this intensely is unusual. He groans softly, clenching his fists to stop himself from shoving his hand down his pants and jerking himself to completion.
He can’t do that with Arya curled up around his back. He won’t.
He squeezes his eyes shut, thinking back to the dream he was having, trying to remember the details of it. All he can get are flashes, images. Images of creamy skin and soft lips and firm but yielding breasts and warm wetness surrounding his cock.
Gods, he groans internally. He’s had these kinds of dreams before; they’re nothing new. He’s even woken up a few times having spent himself in his pants. But this is different somehow.
And his cock doesn’t seem to want to settle down.
He sighs and eases himself out of the tangle of sheets and Arya’s small, skinny limbs. He doesn’t know how early it is, but he can see the sun is not yet fully up.
Where can I go? I can’t deal with this here. She might wake up.
Then he remembers the small stable where Clover is kept and thinks he could duck behind it. There’s nothing there and no other houses within sight.
He throws on a shirt and some shoes, then grabs his cloak and creeps out, hoping not to run into Ellit or Alvira.
Walking is almost painful, and he has to press his hand over his cock as he quickly walks outside. The shock of the cold morning air does nothing to dissuade his desire like he had hoped.
He slips around the back of the stable, and there in the dying weeds, standing on the frost-covered ground, he shoves at his trousers and smallclothes until he frees his cock.
His eyes slip closed as he spits in his palm and fists himself, sliding his hand up and down, pumping, letting more of the images from his dream reappear.
Long, dark (thankfully, not red) hair. Pouting lips. Alluring eyes. Slender waist.
He doesn’t know who she is. He figures she probably isn’t even a real person. But he distinctly remembers kissing her in his dream, her perfect lips molding to his as she seemed to melt under him. He remembers small, strong hands groping his body. Pert breasts with nipples that responded to every touch of his hands and mouth.
Just when he thinks he can almost smell, almost taste her skin, he comes with a long groan, spilling his seed on the ground.
He pants, his head hanging, feeling slightly ashamed of himself, but he knows it would be worse if he hadn’t come out here.
Once he’s more settled, he kicks at the ground, trying to cover the evidence with dirt and grass. Then he creeps back inside. He hears someone in the kitchen, but they don’t come out and investigate because he is being quiet as a shadow.
When he slips back into their room, Arya is awake but still in bed.
“Where were you?” she demands.
“I woke up early and was restless so I went out for a walk,” he answers, avoiding her penetrating stare.
She huffs and flips over, facing away from him.
“What?” he asks, not understanding why she’s mad.
“You can’t just leave like that,” she mutters. Then she sits up and faces him. “I woke up and you were gone!” She looks stricken, but he’s getting angry now, too, so he ignores her hurt for the moment.
“And where would I go?” he asks, his voice rising. “I don’t know this area, I can barely fucking read, and maybe it escaped your notice, but my things are still here!”
She flies out of bed, her small feet slapping onto the floor. “You could have been taken! She could have found you and had you kidnapped!” She is standing right in front of him now, her face angry as she looks up at him. “For all I knew you were bound hand and foot in the back of a cart, on your way to only the gods know where for only the gods know what!”
His anger fizzles in an instant and he takes her face in his hands. “Arya,” he softly says, “first, I would never willingly leave you. You know that.” She slowly nods, and he continues. “And second, I know you’re a heavy sleeper, but if you think someone could have broken into this room and pulled me out of that bed when you were clinging to my back like a bug on a tree and not woken you, you’re sorely mistaken.” Impulsively, he leans down, kisses her forehead, and releases her. “Besides, I would have kicked you on purpose to wake you up,” he adds with a small smile.
She blinks up at him, her eyes wide and wet. “Good,” she replies.
“I left because I didn’t want to disturb you. You need your sleep,” he tells her, walking over to pour himself some water.
“So do you,” she says, going behind the screen where the chamber pot is.
He sets about straightening the bed. Alvira made it clear that she isn’t their maid. “You need it more.”
“Why is that?” she calls back.
“Well, you’re still growing. Hopefully,” he answers.
“Fuck off!” she says.
Gendry just chuckles and goes to sit facing the dying fire while Arya dresses. He could leave, but he knows he still has some time before Ellit will be needing him. He mentioned going to the market today, which means Gendry will be going with to carry things.
“My nameday was last week,” Arya quietly says.
“What? Why didn’t you say something?” he replies, fighting the urge to turn around. She hasn’t told him he could yet.
“I didn’t know it was at first. It’s hard to keep track of the days. Then Alvira said something in reference to the date, and I realized that my nameday had just passed.”
“You should have said.”
“I didn’t want to draw attention. Then it just seemed… unnecessary. Or some sort of sad ploy for gifts.” She pauses, then says, “I’m dressed.”
He turns around. “Why did you mention it now then?”
She shrugs, walking towards him. “Because you said something about hoping I am still growing, I guess. I’m ten and four now, nearly a woman grown.” She sits beside him. “I might have been married by now, or at least bethrothed, if my world hadn’t crumbled.”
“I guess that’s… one positive out of all of this. You weren’t forced into a marriage to some stranger just to cement an alliance,” he says.
“I suppose,” she agrees. “That and getting to meet you are really the only good things that came from the death of most of my family.” She leans her head against his shoulder and he wraps an arm around her shoulders.
“I’m glad I made that list,” he replies.
“When is your nameday? Do you know?” she asks after sitting in silence with him for a minute or two.
“You can share mine then. That way we won’t miss either one.”
He ponders this for a moment, and can really find no fault with her logic. “Very well,” he agrees. “So I am eight and ten now then.”
“Happy nameday, Gendry.”
“Happy nameday, Arya.”
Gendry’s outing with Ellit was productive, but Gendry couldn’t help returning in a rather dour mood. He helps the older man unload the cart, then stomps away without a word.
As he walks off, he hears Alvira ask, “What’s wrong with him?”
He doesn’t hear Ellit’s answer, but knows there is no way he can know what is bothering him. Because Ellit doesn’t know that their visit to the blacksmith for nails and a new saw made Gendry realize how much he missed his trade.
Ellit couldn’t have known not only because he didn’t know Gendry was a smith, but also because Gendry didn’t even anticipate it hitting him that hard.
Not surprisingly, Arya finds him after a short time. He feels bad because he knows he should be doing something useful, earning his keep, but right now he is too upset. And he’s mad at himself for being upset. So instead of doing his job, he is sitting on a large rock by the river, throwing small rocks into the water.
“Your day hasn’t gotten any better has it?” Arya asks from behind him. “What happened while you were out?”
She sits beside him, shoving him with her hip to make him move over a little.
“We went to the town forge,” he says, then flicks a rock into the water.
“Oh,” she answers, understanding. “You miss it.”
“More than I expected to,” he confirms. “It’s the only thing I feel I’m really good at, and I have to hide it.”
“Just for now,” she says, reaching over and squeezing his hand. “You’ll get to do it again, I promise.”
“You can’t promise that,” he counters, then adds, “and what if I lose my skill, not getting to practice it?”
“Gendry,” she says, turning slightly to face him. “I’ve seen you work. Smithing for you is like… breathing. And you can’t forget how to breathe.” When he opens his mouth to argue, she doesn’t let him. “How long were you away from it before Harrenall?”
“You hadn’t forgotten how then, and you won’t in the future either,” she finishes, not letting him answer her question.
He can’t help it; he chuckles, looking down at his hands, one still holding hers, the other full of rocks.
“Was he any good?” she asks.
Gendry shrugs. “Better than Yahn in Pinkmaiden, but not as good as Kallen or Master Mott,” he answers. “O’ course no one is as good as Master Mott.”
“So he’s not as good as you either then,” Arya says.
“I didn’t say that.”
“Thank you,” he says, finally smiling a true smile. “What would I do without you, Arya?”
She grins. “Well, you’d definitely be dead by now, for one thing,” she answers.
He snorts a laugh, but has to agree. “Yeah, you’re right.”
She slides down from the boulder and he follows, tossing the handful of small rocks into the river all at once.
“I’d be dead by now if it wasn’t for you, too,” she reminds him as they walk back towards the inn. “No one else will take care of us, so we have to take care of each other.”
“Because we’re family,” he agrees. After a few seconds, he asks, “What am I going to tell Ellit?”
“You don’t have to tell him anything,” Arya answers.
“He’ll probably ask.”
“Yes, but you’re not obliged to answer.”
He looks down at her. “You’re thinking like a highborn again,” he tells her.
She huffs an exasperated sigh. “Fine. If he asks… be vague. Tell him you woke up in a bad mood and we quarreled, and then the trip into town… I don’t know, got you thinking about our parents and all we lost or something. Play the orphan angle.”
“Maybe he won’t ask,” Gendry says. Then, “Who am I kidding? He’s going to ask.”
Gendry’s mood is back to normal by mid-afternoon, thanks to Arya’s words and the fact that Ellit had simply looked at him and said, “You better now?” And when Gendry had said he was, he simply nodded, muttered something about it not being his business, and set him to work chopping firewood.
Gendry likes chopping firewood. It’s good, hard work, and close enough to hammering metal that he is very good at it. He never misses, the blade never slips or bounces off the logs, and he gets a clean cut every time.
He is just taking a break for some water when he sees something that threatens to send his mood back down into blackness.
Arya is hanging up laundry a short distance away. She is in his line of sight, but also visible from the inn and the road. He smiles, watching her stretch up to reach the clothesline, barely able to reach. She has gotten a little taller, he thinks, but she is still a tiny thing and will likely always be.
Just as he is thinking that her small size just seems to add to her peculiar brand of charm, he sees a young man approach her from the road. He recognizes the boy from the bakery down the road, but doesn’t know his name.
From the looks of things, Gendry isn’t the only one charmed by his peculiar companion. This baker boy has grown more and more red as he attempts to talk to Arya and appears to be tripping over his words quite a bit.
Arya seems to be listening politely but saying very little. He can see her nod a few times, which makes him frown some more, but then she shakes her head “no” and his frown fades a bit. Then she says something else, and the boy steps closer.
She drops the sheet in her hands into the basket. Gendry grinds his teeth. The boy produces a bunch of sad wildflowers from behind his back. Gendry’s grip tightens on his axe.
The boy holds the flowers out to Arya. She stares at them a moment, just long enough for Gendry’s heart to feel like it has stopped beating.
She smiles sadly, lightly shakes her head again, and holds her hand out, palm forward in a gesture of gentle refusal.
Gendry breathes again. He picks up a log, and it finally occurs to him to wonder why watching this young man clumsily attempt to court Arya, his friend, his little sister (as far as anyone here knows), raises his ire so much.
I don’t want to think about that right now. I cannot think about that right now.
He plunks the log down on the block with a loud thump. The boy has started walking away, but the sound caught his attention.
In one last act of petty anger, Gendry stares hard at the boy and maintains eye contact with him as he deftly splits the log with one smooth chop.
The boy turns and practically runs away.
Let him think it is merely brotherly protectiveness, Gendry grimly thinks. Because that is what it has to be.
Gendry is exhausted, flopping face-first onto the bed at the end of the day. Ellit ran him ragged all day, probably to keep him busy enough that he doesn’t have the time or energy to be in any kind of mood, good or bad.
Arya joins him a few minutes later, just as knackered, flopping on her back beside him. It had been a busy night in the inn, which is excellent for business and their pockets, but with Ronlyn being as useless as ever, Arya had to run her behind off.
“So,” Gendry grunts, turning his face to the side so he can speak, “the baker’s son?”
“Don’t start,” Arya replies. “Besides, I turned him down. I’m sure you saw.”
“Yeah,” he answers. “Why?”
“Why’d you turn him down?”
“Jealous?” she goads, turning her head to look at him.
“Curious,” he answers, trying not to sound defensive. He’s not sure he succeeds.
She rolls off the bed, grabs her sleep shirt, which is actually a stolen one of Gendry’s, and shuffles across the room to go behind the screen to change.
Gendry knows he should change while she’s back there and groans as he slides off the bed.
“I turned him down because we’re not staying here permanently. Because I’m not Charlett the orphan from Seagard or wherever we’re currently saying we’re from. I’m Arya Stark of Winterfell. Everything about me is a lie right now, and that wouldn’t be fair to him,” she answers.
“Is that the only reason?” he can’t help asking. “I’m done changing if you are.”
He can hear something going on back there and assumes she must be using the chamber pot. She steps out a minute later, and he can’t help noticing her legs look a little longer and a little shapelier then the last time he took note of them. “I also turned him down because he is a scrawny weed with the personality of a damp cabbage,” she says. “I was polite, but nothing more.”
He grunts and takes his turn behind the screen to use the chamber pot. He’s pleased she had the common sense to not lead the baker’s son down a path that leads nowhere, but he seems to be more pleased that she didn’t like him as a person.
In any case, he needs to figure out what he is feeling, why he is feeling this way, and how to get control over it.
When he emerges again, Arya is in bed, but still sitting up.
“I’ve noticed Ronlyn making eyes at you,” she leadingly says.
“Ronlyn makes eyes at anyone with a cock,” Gendry answers. “And I’m definitely not interested in someone like her anyway.” He turns towards his wardrobe and pulls something out.
“Who would you be interested in?” she asks.
Why is she asking me that? Is she…? No. She’s too young.
But he has flowered. Technically, a woman grown. She even has proper tits now. They’re small, but definitely there. He knows he’s not the only person that has noticed them. And the gentle flare of hips that weren’t there a year ago.
“No one,” he answers. “For the same reasons as you. She wouldn’t be getting me, she’d be getting the lie.” He sits on the bed, thrusting a small bundle wrapped in a cloth at her. “Here.”
“What is this?” she asks, taking it.
“I… got you a gift for your nameday. In the market today,” he says. He can’t look at her; his cheeks are aflame and he feels incredibly stupid for some reason.
“Gendry, you… why did you do this?” she demands. She stops unwrapping the bundle to glare at him. “You shouldn’t be spending your coin on me! And I don’t have anything for you!”
“Just… stop complaining for once and open it, Arya,” he huffs.
She makes a noise like a small growl that might be adorable if he wasn’t irritated at her and finishes unwrapping her gift.
“Gendry...” Her voice is uncharacteristically soft as she looks down at the small carved wolf in her hands. She blinks rapidly a few times, trying to stave off the tears that are threatening.
“Happy nameday,” he says. “I saw it and… I couldn’t pass it by. I know we are saving our coin but—”
His words are cut off by her small, surprisingly strong arms around his neck in a tight hug. He brings one hand up and rests it on her back.
“Thank you,” she whispers, then pulls away, avoiding his gaze.
He’s not sure, but he thinks she brushed her lips against his cheek in a brief, soft kiss. “You’re welcome,” he softly replies.
“I still feel bad that I don’t have anything for you. You made me a sword already and now this,” she says, still turning the small wolf over in her hands.
“You’ve given me plenty, Arya,” he assures her. “Not gifts like this, but… I wouldn’t have gotten this far without you. The Brotherhood and that witch would have caught me for certain. I probably would have starved to death and definitely gotten lost. You’ve always been smarter and faster than me, and I am always grateful for it, even when it’s irritating as fuck.”
She laughs and looks down again. “I’m glad you took me with you when you fled. I don’t know if I’ve ever truly said,” she tells him.
“Best decision I could have made,” he responds. “And it wasn’t just because I knew you would kill me if I didn’t. I brought you with me because… well, because you are my family. You always were. You’re the only person who I can stand being around for any amount of time, so that must mean something, right?” The words come spilling out of him as he looks down at his own empty hands.
“Yeah,” she agrees. “I’m sorry I was cross with you this morning.”
“No, don’t apologize. I didn’t even think about what you might think if you woke up and I was gone. It won’t happen again, I promise,” he assures her. If he ever wakes up in that predicament again, he’ll either find a way to make it go away or leave her a note. He can write well enough for that much.
“All right,” she answers, yawning.
“I’m glad you like your gift,” he says, watching as she carefully, almost reverently sets it on the bedside table before sliding back under the covers.
“I love it,” she says as she lays her head down, curled on her side, facing away from him.
He douses the lights and joins her, lying behind her the same as always. “Good night, Arya,” he quietly says. When she doesn’t answer, he realizes she is already asleep.
Another moon passes, and the weather continues to get colder. They are set on with rain for a solid week that keeps them inside more often than not and also keeps a lot of customers away.
With fewer customers, news and gossip grows a bit scarce. There wasn’t much to hear even when there were patrons in the inn, though they did finally hear about the death of Arya’s Aunt Lysa in the Vale and the horrible death of Oberyn Martell at the hands of the Mountain.
“Just goes to show how much power the Lannisters have managed to claim for themselves, that we heard about Lord Tywin’s death first, even though Lady Arryn and Ser Oberyn died before he did,” Gendry had observed when Arya told him.
Arya felt no sadness over her aunt’s death. She never met the woman, who was, by all accounts, quite mad. After mourning most of her immediate family, she found she had no energy left to feel sadness over a woman she did not know, blood or no.
They have already stayed longer than they expected to. Despite the proximity to King’s Landing, they have managed to stay unnoticed by anyone who appears to be important. Every once in a while a knight will pass though, and once a couple of Gold Cloaks came in. Gendry made sure to stay out of sight when that happened, and if Alvira and Ellit noticed, they didn’t let on.
After their experience with Kallen and Tyla, Gendry wonders if their current hosts have also figured out that they aren’t who they say they are.
Naturally, because they have grown comfortable, it is time for Gendry to wake up with a gasp, covered in sweat, his heart pounding.
“What is it?” Arya asks, sitting up. Of course he woke her when he jolted upright.
He looks over at her, his hand still on his chest. “We need to leave,” he says.
“All right,” she replies. “Now?”
He furrows his brows. “You’re not even going to ask why?”
“I’m guessing you had another dream. About her.”
“Does she know where we are?”
He takes a deep breath. “Perhaps,” he finally says. “She was… talking in riddles, like usual. She did rather pointedly say that she can almost reach me, which might have been a reference to us being in the Reach. She kept calling me ‘Young Stag’ again and I swear she was trying to…”
He looks away. “Seduce me,” he finishes. When she says nothing, he takes another deep breath and says, “That means—”
“I know what it means,” she interrupts. “I was just trying to figure out how that would even work.”
“Well, I would never let her, so it doesn’t matter,” he snaps.
“Did she touch you? In your dream?” she softly asks, reaching over for his hand.
Gendry shakes his head. “I wouldn’t let her. I remembered that I can push her away, push her out of my head, and that made her mad,” he says. “Every time she tried to get closer to me, I would push her farther away. Then she said that she needed me to make false kings tumble, and I screamed at her to get out of my head. That’s when I woke up.”
Arya quickly gets out of bed and begins tugging breeches on. “We need to leave now,” she says. “Get dressed and get packed.”
“I want to leave a note,” Arya says, stepping behind the bar to look for a scrap of something, anything to write on.
“Sneaking away?” Ellit’s low, soft voice startles them and they both jump, but neither cry out. He is standing in the doorway to the kitchen, regarding them with curiosity.
“Sorry,” Arya answers, speaking first. “Something has happened and we need to leave. We weren’t going to just disappear…” She shows him the piece of parchment she just found. “I was going to write you a note.”
“We can’t really give you any details, but… yeah, we have to go,” Gendry says.
“Why are you up?” Arya asks, cocking her head at him.
“I don’t sleep much. Happens when you get old, sometimes,” Ellit answers with a shrug. “What were you going to write in your note?”
“Just what Max just said. We also wanted to thank you both for everything,” Arya says. “We don’t want to leave, but…”
Ellit holds up his hand. “It’s all right, Charlett.” He stops. “That’s not your real name, is it?”
“No, it isn’t,” she answers, but doesn’t elaborate.
He simply nods. “Well, I hope whatever or whoever the two of you are running from doesn’t catch up with you,” he says.
“Thank you,” Gendry replies. “I hope I’m not leaving you in too much of a lurch… we are really sorry.”
“We stayed longer than we thought we would,” Arya quietly adds. “It’s nice and quiet here.”
“Go,” Ellit urges them. “I’d let you take Clover, but Alvira would have my head,” he adds with a chuckle. “But I can give you some food. Wait a moment.”
He returns shortly with a sack containing as many things as he could grab and fit into it. A loaf of bread, some meat, some apples, and even a few potatoes. He hands it to Gendry, who gives him a nod of thanks.
“Thank you again,” Arya repeats, hesitates a second, then strides towards the door, not looking back.
Gendry gives the older man a tight smile and follows her out into the early morning dark.
“Where to now?” he asks once they are at the edge of town.
“Let’s follow the river some more,” she answers after a minute. She closes her eyes, thinking. “I think we’ll eventually reach Cider Hall if we do.”
“One of the branches of the Fossoway family. I think they’re supporting Stannis Baratheon, if what I heard is to be trusted,” she answers.
“So no stopping there then. That red bitch is with Stannis,” he says.
“How do you know?”
“You’re not the only one who knows how to listen. Plus, she must like the sound of her own voice, because she tells me a lot when she busts into my head. Come on. I think the river is that way,” he says, pointing.
They walk for hours. Gendry tells Arya a bit more about his dream, including why he woke up gasping.
“I don’t know what she was doing, but just before I woke up, I was having trouble breathing. I think she was fighting me when I was trying to push her out,” he says.
“Maybe she thought if you were distracted by not being able to breathe you would be more pliant to her will,” Arya suggests.
“Maybe,” he allows with a shrug. “I’m getting sick of that bitch shoving her way into my head.”
“I am too,” she says. “It’s not even my head and I want to stick her with the pointy end of Maiden until she’s in a pool of her own red blood.”
Gendry looks sideways, down at his companion, surprised at the venom in her voice. He hasn’t heard her that angry in a long time. “I haven’t heard you recite your list of names in a while,” he ventures. “Have you given it up?”
“For the most part,” she answers. “Like I said, killing them won’t bring my family back. But her? That witch? If I ever meet her, I will kill her.”
“Not if I get to her first,” he says. What surprises him is that he means it. She has no right to pursue him like this, no right to invade his unconscious mind.
She looks up at him. “You’re right. She’s yours to kill. But I’ll help in any way I can.”
“I know you will,” he says with a nod. He spies a large stone bridge up ahead. “What is that?” he asks, stopping.
“I don’t see anything,” Arya answers.
Gendry bends down to match her height. “Oh. You’ll see it soon. It looks like a bridge. A big one.”
“I wonder if it’s Bitterbridge,” she says as they start to walk again. “I think that’s along the way.”
“Do we need to cross it?”
“I don’t think so. That’s where the Roseroad crosses the Mander, so the bridge is for the road. Which we aren’t using.”
“I wouldn’t mind stopping for a bite to eat there, if we can,” he says.
“Yeah, that sounds good. That apple I ate at sunrise is long gone,” she agrees. “I don’t think we should go to an inn or anything though. Let’s just eat some of what we have.”
He nods and as the bridge looms large in front of them, Arya says, “Yeah, that’s probably Bitterbridge.”
Yes, I know, it's been a minute. But I sprained my back and then my whole family got Covid, so I've had a Month.