Rickon ducked underneath the swing of the elder Prince, feet crunching the gritted ice. Edric grunted. He was bigger than the Stark boy, and stronger, but Rickon was quick, small. His eyes narrowed as Rickon span, laughed, goading him on. The men were watching. His Uncle's men. And he was the son of a King. He couldn't be laughed at. They had laughed at him, when he died.
He charged at Rickon, but it was clumsy, full of irritation.
"Dammit!" He spat, losing his footing, cheek hitting the black ice. Rickon helped him up, Edric gloomily accepting his help. He liked Rickon. He hadn't been able to play with another boy in so long. Shireen was all right, but frail, and a girl. Rickon liked to play jokes on the guards and play at knights like a proper boy.
"Another victory for the Starks." A voice rang out. "Not surprising, though."
He knew whose voice it was. It was the voice of the only woman in the training yard, sat as she always was atop a barrel near the entrance to the forge. Edric knew from his study of decorum books that Lady Arya never behaved the way a highborn lady was supposed to behave, but she didn't seem to care, even when his Aunt Selyse went pale in the face at her behaviour.
"She's more of a spearwife than a Lady." She would always mutter. His Uncle Stannis said nothing, but Edric knew he disapproved just as much, would rather have Arya like Shireen, in a tower all day sewing and studying etiquette. But Arya had come here with the Brotherhood, dressed in men's clothes, a sword swinging by her side, eyes bright with the promise of adventure.
"It was a lucky move." A voice replied. Gendry wiped away some of the dirt from his face.
Edric had been wary of his brother at first. He was taller than him, stronger, but no Lord. But underneath that coarseness was a good man, he knew, much like Davos. A few times he had watched Gendry bend white, molten steel, and let him explain the science of it. And he was not skilled in sword so a few times Edric had shown him his training drills, and felt giddy with pride when his new brother told him how skilled he was, because Gendry had seen battle, seen the world outside.
"Luck had nothing to do with it." Arya replied. "The Starks have always been the best in battle."
"Why don't you come practise, Arya?" Rickon shouted out.
"Because it wouldn't be fair on poor Edric there. I've had more experience with a sword."
"Fight me then." Gendry said.
She looked him straight in the eyes, a smile playing across her lips. "I'd beat you senseless, Baratheon."
"I was Waters before I was a Baratheon, m'lady." He said, putting mocking emphasis on the title. "And bastards fight hard."
"And I thought knights were supposed to protect fair maidens." She teased.
"Well, if you see one, let me know. In the meantime I'll fight you."
She shot him a look, and the air crackled between them for a moment, before she hopped down off her perch. Gendry smiled and watched her stamp towards the training yard. Rickon watched, smiling at his sister. Edric drew in a breath. If his Uncle had found out Gendry had duelled Arya in the sight of Castle Black he'd be furious. Would he be angry at him too? But it was happening, he realised, no matter what he said.
Edric watched beside Rickon. It was a graceful dance, though Arya was more skilled. She had told him once about the water dance, but Edric had never been able to see it with his own eyes. Gendry meanwhile was untrained but still deft. He looked so much like Father, Edric thought glumly, even more than I do, and he's older and stronger too. Gendry was so at ease with the hammer. He remembered the gift of the warhammer his Father had sent him on his nameday, and wondered if he'd ever be able to look like that, like a man made for war.
Eventually Gendry managed to catch her by the ankle, and she had to steady herself, and he launched in to tickle her. Soon laughter burst out from her, and they were on the ground wrestling, trying their best to tickle one another breathless. Edric watched, dumb.
"Yield!" Arya ordered, straddling him and jabbing Gendry with her fingers. "Yield you stupid bastard!"
"No!" He laughed back, struggling between breaths. She tried to pin his arms down, but he managed to flip her gently on her back so he sat atop her.
"Yield." He chuckled.
Arya shook with laughter. "N-no."
He was about to launch in to tickle her again when Arya launched upwards and kissed him on the cheek. He shot back, blinking, and she managed to escape his grasp and pin him to the floor.
"That was a dirty trick!" He said.
"I know, but it worked." She said, grinning. "Yield."
He paused a little, watched her face, and then sighed. "I yield, then."
She swung back onto her feet, lending him a hand upwards. "See, the Starks win, again."
Gendry rubbed his cheek nervously, as if trying to get a dirty mark off of it. "It's still not a fair competition."
"I agree." Edric added, sliding down from the fence where he had sat. "The honour of our house is at stake, brother. We mustn't be defeated."
Gendry shot him a curious look. He found Edric harmless enough, but odd. The words that came out of his mouth always seemed rehearsed, stiff.
"Then what do you propose?" Arya said, arms folded.
Edric tilted his chin upwards. "Hunting."
Arya blinked. "Hunting?"
"Yes, it's the sport of kings. Suitable for my brother and I. And our Father was a famous hunter, renowned throughout the land." He said.
Rickon looked to Arya hopefully. "Arya, are we going hunting?"
She looked at Gendry, who shrugged. But their two brothers had already started making plans, the way only young boys could, with hurried breaths and eyes big and bright as the moon.
"So whoever brings the biggest catch wins." Edric said, his voice projecting clear and crisp in the bitter cold.
"What's the forfeit?" Gendry asked.
Edric turned to him. "Forfeit?"
"You've got to have a forfeit, otherwise it's not a competition."
"Very well." Edric said, keen to get started. He'd get the biggest catch, to be sure. King Robert's blood was in his veins. Then tonight he, his Uncle and his brother would feast on stag, and his Uncle would be proud of both of them. "What do you suggest?"
"Spending a night in the ice cells!" Rickon shouted.
"No chance." Arya said.
"What, is the Lady Stark frightened of a little cold?" Gendry wriggled his eyebrows.
"No." She pouted. "I just don't want to be stuck in some stupid prison."
"Fine then." Edric said, frustrated and wanting to get going. "Whoever loses has to give up their bread provisions for the week. How does that sound?"
"And." Gendry said, looking to Arya. "You have to wear that new dress Selyse had made for you. The pink one with the flowers on it."
Her mouth dropped open. "How did you know about that?"
He just smiled. She bristled a little. "Fine. And if you lose you have to help me saddle my horse all week, and bring me my wine."
"Fine." He answered.
Both parties seperated.
Everything around them was snow and the blackened limbs of trees. Edric shivered underneath his furs. He kept his fingers poised still on the limb of his bow and tried his best to silence his breaths. Beside him Gendry looked bored, occassionally yawning.
"Maybe we should go back." Gendry suggested.
"And lose to the Starks?" Edric whispered. "And you saddle Arya's horse all week? Serve as her squire?"
"There are worse things." He murmured.
"It's beneath you." Edric said, more harshly than he intended, but he wanted to win.
The horses treaded gently forward. Edric tried to listen for the rustle of dead limbs, for the muffled footsteps of the deer he knew sparsely populated this forest. He imagined the rich, sweet meat and his stomach rumbled. He had grown tired of salted fish and watered down beer. The sun began to settle over the expanse, fringing the snow with a line of gold.
"Father was a great hunter, you know." Edric said, giddy and excited to tell Gendry the tales he knew so well. "He would go hunting for weeks and return with enough game to feed the whole court."
"Did you go with him?" Gendry asked, but he didn't sound as interested as Edric.
"Did you go with him?" Gendry repeated.
Edric could feel the blush cover his neck, and he had to look forward in order to try and keep the strain out of his voice. "No, I didn't."
They carried on in silence for what felt like hours. For the first time in years Edric felt like crying. Because he had failed. Because he wasn't a hunter like his Father. Because they weren't Baratheons, not truly, only shadows of a dead King killed by a pig.
His head snapped up. There, in the distance, a stag stood watching them, serene and graceful and still. Edric stopped breathing for a moment. The moon shone, silvering the stag's antlers, and his eyes were the deepest, most beautiful black. Even Gendry was still, stunned at the otherworldy creature. Quietly Edric strung his bow, feeling the tension all the way to his fingertips, and released the arrow, letting it slice through the air.
Edric really didn't know why his brother had made Arya agree to such an innocent forfeit. He didn't really see much humiliation in a woman having to wear a dress. Edric thought Arya even looked pretty, almost, with the flowers braided through her hair. She frowned whenever she looked at Gendry, but he would only laugh, and when she was distracted he would watch her properly, quietly.
"We did honour to our house, Gendry." Edric said.
Gendry smiled at the little lord, moving forward to ruffle the messy black hair that was so much like his own.