“Not wine,” Lord Tywin’s stern voice stops her dead, freezing the blood running through her pulses and her whole body tense. “Water. We’ll be here for some time.” He continues in the same tone, only with a hint of tiredness in it. Arya nods quietly before dragging her feet toward the feasting table when the same cold stern-voice of the Lannister cuts her short.
“Girl.” Tywin Lannister says, and she is forced to turn around and look at him straight in the eye. He speaks like a King, Arya thinks, more so than Joffrey. She doesn’t know what to expect when he looks down, frowning, while pointing a finger at her way.
“Where are you from?” the question is simple and straight forward, but it catches her off-guard all the same. Her brain processes for information of the Lannisters’ territory within the King’s Landing, where she and the others are taken for the Night’s Watch, then tells him with unwavering courage, flat-toned and expressionless of the lies she comes up with; “Maiden Pool,” she says, then adds “My Lord” before she forgets herself. Lord Tywin doesn’t seem convinced, though with him she cannot be sure, as he always wears the same facial expression whether he’s angry or impressed; it’s all the same with him.
She knows that he knows she’s lying when he asks her the next question.
“And who are the Lords of Maiden Pool, remind me.” He says in half-disgust half-mistrust, and Arya cannot help but read between the lines. Amuse me, she hears him saying, dead blue eyes glint sadistically. Arya swallows as she tries to make her voice as emotionless yet respectful as possible.
“House Mooton.” A sharp intake of breath into her nostrils, a silent exhale through parted lips, before she adds; “My Lord.”
Lord Tywin breaks through her lies as easy as Joffrey commanding Ser Illyn Payne to behead her father.
“And what is their sigils?” he counters back, doesn’t even look sympathetic in the least at his assault toward a twelve-year old girl, while the other nameless Lords hold their breaths as they stare at her in pity. This time, she knows she’s doomed no matter what she’s going to say. Her brain works and works, spinning around in circles as images of sigils from the other houses flash through her mind, to no avail. Lord Tywin sees everything. He already knows, she observes, it’s done.
Her nails, sharp and dirty, pierce the skin of her palm. Her stomach twists and lurches sickeningly as goose bumps break all over her skin. She waits and waits for the inevitable doom, praying to the Old Gods that her cover hasn’t been spoiled yet as her blood literally freezes throughout her small lanky frame. She swallows once more and doesn’t look away.
“A red salmon,” he explains in a firm victorious voice that she loathes and gives her a cruel smile. “I think a Maiden Pool girl would remember that.”
She has nothing to say at that, so she finally looks down and stays quiet.
“You’re a northerner aren’t you.” The old man doesn’t even try to make it sound like a question, more of a statement like he knows everything, which makes Arya nod in silent defeat.
“Good.” A sigh follows the word that states his annoyance before he continues his assault. “Then one more time, where are you from?”
This time, she doesn’t hesitate to answer.
“Barrowton. My Lord. House Dustin. Two crossed longaxes beneath a black crown.” She explains firmly, and Lord Tywin looks more than pleased with himself. He takes a deep steadying breath, looks at her straight in the eye; looks at her deep into her soul. Arya shivers but doesn’t look away.
“And what do they say of Robb Stark in the North?”
She frowns slightly at his question, knowing full well that he already knows the answer, and hesitates. Wrong answer and she might get her leg chopped off; lying and she might just lose her life. Lord Tywin, as she fears, is a much better liar than she ever is or will be. She decides to give him an honest straight-forward answer instead.
“They call him the Young Wolf,” Arya starts, unafraid. “They say he rides into battle on the back of a giant direwolf.” Grey Wind, she wants to say, that direwolf’s name is Grey Wind. “They say he can turn into a wolf himself when he wants.” She’s growing bolder, she knows. The other Lords exchange uneasy looks with each other, while the one she fears the most observes the table in a deadly silence that can either mean his wrath or something else entirely, like amusement perhaps. “They say he can’t be killed.” A smile creeps up to her face as she says this, a smile that eerily similar to the one Lord Tywin has at the moment. The corner of his lips tug upward (definitely amusement then, she thinks) before he asks, “Do you believe them?”
Her smile wavers a bit, but doesn’t quiet disappear when she answers with a simple ‘no’, and another ‘My Lord’. Her stomach twists again, more painfully this time, when the smile curves into an impressed wide grin. Her blood howls loud in her ears; howls like a cornered blood-thirsty angry wolf in a den of wrathful lions, howls in wrath and fury, howls so loud that she—fuck, she can’t—
“Anyone can be killed.”
In an instance those dead blue eyes, pale and cold are locked with hers. This time, Arya keeps her gaze and doesn’t even try to hide it all; the hatred she bears for him and his family, the threat dripping in each and every word, threat that vibrates through her voice in amazing coldness that might rival Lord Tywin’s own threat, and mostly, the burning iciness radiating through her snow-silver eyes. It’s a threat that is clearly directed at him; a threat made by a cup-bearer northerner girl that has been spoken in a cold-blooded iciness enough to make him glares at her and impressed by her boldness at the same time.
Lord Tywin takes another long steadying breath, jaws clench shut in silent fury mixed with twisted amusement as he studies her face, cold and passive yet it hates.
“Fetch that water.” This time, when he speaks, Lord Tywin doesn’t sound firm or emotionless. He speaks through gritted teeth blazing with anger, low and deep and rough and obviously threatening, and it vibrates through her skin and sends shivers of horror to the other participants but her and Lord Tywin himself.
Instead of being afraid, Arya feels her something inside her crawls at her skin; her hands itch to grab the nearest fork and her body screams to kill. It makes her blood howls; makes the hair on the back of her neck stand, makes something inside her sings violently against her flesh. Her face is still cold and impassive, and her eyes are still burning with ice (not fire, never fire; they’re not the bloody Targaryens for Gods’ sake; burns with ice because she’s a Stark, and the ice—its bites are frosty and deadly and hurt) and obvious hatred as she turns around to fetch the water.
The first thing she notices after she left is that her legs are numb. Second is that she’s sweating. Third is that she’s panting after holding her breath for so long.
Despite all the bravery (or more like idiocy for common people) and threat she has shown, Tywin Lannister is a frightening man, and Arya doesn’t have enough pride to swallow or become ignorant of the fact that she’s afraid of him. She does fear him, so much that she wants to rip his throat with a blunt knife for a slow torturous painful messy death. She imagines with a slightly satisfied smile of his blood on her hands, running down the tips of her fingers and the length of her wrist, before brushing it off and quickens her pace. It’s impossible now, with Needles no longer in her grasp. If she were to have it, then perhaps...
Once again, Arya shakes the thoughts off and looks down at her boots tiredly. She has to leave the castle, somehow. The only question is how. There are too many guards that will surely be on her back once she fled, and no matter how good of a horse-rider she is, it’s impossible to escape with an army chasing after her. And Lord Tywin is sure to remember her after that; increasing the possibilities of her being caught and found out, which could be the death of her. There’s Gendry who’s also running from the Queen, but until now, he’s completely useless and might turn out to be a burden on the way.
A turn to the left. Arya raises her head just in time to see three Lannister guards coming her way. Two of them have unfamiliar faces, but one—one of them has a face that she will surely never, ever forget, even if she wants to. After all, who could forget a man with white-streaked dark blood hair, a handsome face and a foreign accent like him? He’s too bloody easy to recognize even for a blind man, and although her appearances have changed a little, a possibility of her being recognized by the Lorathi is not far from ninety percent. Instinctively, Arya turns around and looks down at her shoes.
The beating of her heart increases painfully quick that she’s practically out of breath. Something inside her stomach flips, a different kind of flip from the one she experienced back with Lord Tywin, and a strange warm sensation pools at the pit of her stomach. Panic courses throughout her being, but there’s also something else—something akin to relief of some sort, gnawing at her heart and catches deep in her throat. Thump, thump, thump, she hears, loud and clear in her ears as the beating increases and decreases erratically. Her head buzzes and she bites her lower lip, covering her face with her bangs as she waits with her back against the wall.
The stones are hard and cold. Even with the clothes she’s wearing, she can still feel the tip of the stone grazing through her back, threatening to pierce the thick material and her skin. It’s nothing, she convinces herself as the sounds of footsteps are getting closer to her, he won’t recognize me, he won’t.
Strong scent of lavender invades her nostrils as Jaqen H’ghar passes by without so much as to look at her. His two companions too, don’t seem to notice her presence. Quiet as a mouse, she thinks, then walks quickly as soon as they’re out of sight. Quick as a snake, swift as a deer. She chants the words Syrio Forel taught her in her head. Arya feels glad and disappointed at the same time, but she decides to push the disappointed feeling far back into the deepest, smallest corner of her heart.
She quickens her pace again, skipping over some dirty pool of mud and bones before finally reaching her destination. The cup in her hand clanks loudly every time it hits her thigh. The soles of her shoes make loud noises as she hurries down the steps. Instead of feeling relief, confusion washes over her like a wave when her eyes find a polished helm of gold and green on top of the water barrel. She studies it for a moment, contemplating on whose helm it could possibly be when a deep voice whispers softly from her side, catching her completely off-guard.
“A girl says nothing,” the voice whispers, low and soft and throaty and she gasps. Her survival instinct makes her step back a few steps as the form of Jaqen H’ghar come into view, smiling as he does. “A girl keeps her mouth close.” He continues, “No one hears, and friends may talk in secret... yes?”
There’s something about the way he emphasizes the word ‘friends’, like he’s not sure what to call them, what to call her. Arya stays silent for a second, before hesitantly nods her head in response. The smile on the Lorathi’s face widens a bit as his mismatched eyes, a deep dark blue and pale silver, rake over her features in a way that one might call ‘predatory’; sending a somehow pleasant shiver down her spines and makes her mouth dry. His eyes find hers again, and he tilts his head in appreciation.
“A boy becomes a girl.” It’s nothing more than a low murmur, soft-spoken and barely audible, but Arya wants to hear more—more of his voice, sweet as sugar and soft as silk—rings in her ears better than any of the songs she has ever heard.
“I was always a girl.” She snaps, a bit edgy more than usual.
“I was always aware.” Jaqen counters with another smile, this time playful, and her breath catches. The look on his face changes a bit serious, then.
“But a girl keeps secrets...” he pauses, and she doesn’t stop him like she usually does, because all she can hear is the melodic rhymes of his voice buzzing inside her head. Arya swallows hard to bring herself back to reality and absorbs every word that comes spilling from his lips. “It is not for a man to spoil them.”
A long pause fills between them as her mind tries to accumulate coherent words at his straight-forward statement. He doesn’t look like he’s lying with her despite the sparks of mischief shining in his eyes. I was always aware... that means he already knew that she’s a girl from the beginning, before Gendry and Lord Tywin, before anyone else. The thoughts comfort her one way or another, but her feelings are all torn up in a split second and hurt fills replaces the comforting feeling inside her chest.
“You’re one of them now.” Arya spits the words in accusation and anger, taking a hold of the helm, digging her nails hard in hope to crack the steel even if just a little to subside her anger. “I should have let you burnt.” She finishes, shoves the helm into his grasp, turns around to continue her task at hand.
Jaqen falls silent for a moment as she opens the barrel, and there’s mocking in his voice as he counters back; “And you fetch water for one of them now.”
There’s anger in his voice, small and slight as it was, but Arya hears it all the same. She stops in her track because it’s true; her condition is much more pathetic than he is, and perhaps it’s jealousy that makes her so angry at him.
“Why is this right for you and wrong for me?” he asks her again, just like how Lord Tywin did back then, and she looks at him straight in the eye even though she knows that further argument will only lead her to defeat.
“I didn’t have a choice.” She replies weakly.
“You did.” He cuts her off immediately, smiles, and then adds, “I did. And here we are.”
Jaqen’s smile doesn’t waver even as he makes a dramatic sigh that makes her knees tremble (must be the tiredness, catching up to her, nothing more). When he walks down toward her, Arya’s feet move on its own. She steps back, as far away from him as possible without being seen by anyone that they’re talking together, but close enough to hear what he says next.
“A man pays his debts. A man owes three.” Jaqen says and raises his right hand to his chest, sticking three fingers up against his breast plate.
“Three what?” Arya asks warily. The Lorathi smiles (fuck, fuck, fuck, she curses, gritting her teeth) and rolls his eyes.
“The Red God takes what is his, lovely girl,” he says softly, watches as her lips part and close, watches as her fists clench tight and her eyes burn in understanding. “And only death may pay for life.”
“You saved me, and the two I was with. You stole three deaths from the Red God.” Jaqen explains patiently, pauses, and then walks up to her again. This time, she doesn’t step back, even as her senses are being invaded once again by the scent of lavender mixed with what she can only identify as jasmine when he’s close enough. “We have to give them back.”
The pulse on the crook of her neck flutters visibly at the suggestive smirk he gives her at the end of his sentence. Arya stares at him in awe, exhaling a breath that she doesn’t realize she’s been holding and shifts uncomfortably under his gaze. Jaqen’s lips curved down slightly into a soft smile at her discomfort.
“Speak three names, and a man will do the rest.” He tells her softly, melodically, so soft and beautiful that one might mistake he’s singing. “Three lives I will give you... no more, no less.” She stays quiet and keeps staring at him in uncertainty and awe as he speaks, before she regains her wits and gives him a half-smirk.
“I can name anyone, and you’ll kill him?” the words sound strange and impossible even in her ears. Jaqen smiles lightly, bows his head a little, promises that ‘a man has said’. Arya stares at his face for a long while, looking for lies and deceptions, but strangely, finds none. She decides to go with his... vow and searches in her mind for someone that she wants to die.
Her father has told both Robb and Jon that if they want someone to die, they must kill him themselves. That means her prayer—the names she whisper every night before her sleep—doesn’t count. Arya remembers the man who commands the big half-wit that tried to torture Gendry the morning before, the man with ash-blonde hair and baby blue eyes. She grits her teeth and clenches her fists.
“The one who tortures everyone.” Arya says, earning her a confused frown from the Lorathi.
“A man needs a name.”
“I-I don’t know his name.” The girl frowns, furrows her brows and tries to recall the name that everyone gives him. “They call him ‘The Tickler’.” She says hesitantly, and the smile is back on Jaqen’s face.
“That is enough.” His smile turns playful then, and the insides of her stomach flipstwistslurches against her flesh. “Go now girl. Your Master’s thirsty.”
Arya ignores the sarcasm dripping in his voice, gives him one last uncertain look, then leaves. His gaze feels hot on her back even as she starts running, and she hates it.
She turns her head one last time, but when she does, the Lorathi is already gone, leaving nothing but the abandoned helm behind.