Weese is dead for three days.
The castle and its occupants settle, already indifferent. Weese was only an understeward, after all. No one worth lasting concern.
Arya has one person left to name. So many options, so many people deserving of death and suffering. No choice comes immediately to mind as she ambles around the castle, catering to her duties under the guise of a servant named Weasel. This last life must be worth the trouble, she thinks, mulling her candidates over onion soup. The last victim must be important, influential, meaningful. It must create a mess. It must create disorder.
Jaqen waits, a lurking shadow within the burned walls of Harrenhal. He, too, is uneasy.
Arya troubles and frets, cursing under her breath for her shortsightedness. A single name in her retinue and a dozen villains to pick from, yet she selected two maggots instead of two giants.
Ser Gregor Clegane's name is on her lips one day, King Joffrey the next. Queen Cersei ascends as her first choice and stays for three days in a row. She's halfway to Jaqen at dusk of one evening to whisper the Hound's name in his ear but stops in her tracks and turns around, suddenly uncertain. Two nights pass without a decision and when she's sure it will be Ser llyn, it isn't, and she's back to reciting her list before she falls asleep.
Only death may pay for life, Jaqen says, but which death will satisfy her entirely and leave her in content, not regret?
Hot Pie seems frightened when she asks his opinion (replacing her list with food and demanding that he pick one to last him for the rest of his life), and he takes to hiding in the kitchens, avoiding her with admirable stealth. Gendry is no help either--he barely hears her over the racket in the forge and isn't on speaking terms with her anyway, for saving Jaqen, Rorge, and Biter from the fire.
"A girl must ponder faster," Jaqen reminds her in a whisper, dropping by every so often. "A name. No more, no less."
"I know," she always answers.
Four days of scrubbing the same spot on a wall grant her a memory, not a name. Sansa is chasing her around Winterfell's corridors, giggling instead of scolding. Bran is outside, watching Robb and Jon in the training yard. Rickon is squealing in their lady mother's arms. Lord Eddard is wearing his lord's face, however, when he finds Arya and Sansa flat on their backs and howling with laughter, having tripped over a puddle of water belonging to a servant cleaning the floors.
Arya aches at the thoughts of home. They could've been centuries ago, not several years. What she wouldn't give to see them all again. Jon. Lady Catelyn. Bran. Robb. Rickon. Even Sansa. Sansa is so close too. King's Landing sits further away than Riverrun but the city is not a great distance away, like the North is.
If only she can see Sansa, just for a moment. She could curtsy and recite all the apologies she could think of and hug her sister, for one thing. Two years apart in age made them as different as the sun and the moon but they are Starks. Both of them.
Arya returns to her tasks, grim and sad.
A fortnight draws to a close since Jaqen spoke to her last, nearly a month since his original proposal. Gendry seeks her out for nods before he disappears into the forge again. Harrenhal has not changed aside from fresh heads on pikes, numbers increasing by the day, courtesy of the Bloody Mummers. Lord Tywin is still in war councils, conspicuously loitering instead of marching. Soldiers continue to squabble amongst themselves, and a feeling of restlessness lingers upon this Lannister host.
Arya's frustration heightens. Jaqen will not wait for much longer.
Then, one day, when she listens to complaints about the northmen imprisoned at the castle as hostages, she's hit with a sweet stroke of inspiration. At last, to her upmost relief, she has her name. Arya all but skips back to her duties, earning sniggers from the guards.
She waits patiently for Jaqen, sitting up in her straw bed and listening to the snores of her companions. At midnight, he appears.
"A man sees. A man knows," he says as he slinks into view, swift as a deer but silent as a shadow. "A man must pay his debts, yes?"
"A man fulfills his promises. He requires a name from Weasel, Arry, Arya. One more name, and all is done."
"I need you to help me save my sister," she announces.
"A girl speaks a jape. A debt of death is to be paid."
"I need you to help me rescue Sansa," Arya reiterates, standing her ground. "Or I'll ask for you to be my third name."
The room seems to drop in temperature. Outside, a wolf howls.
Jaqen's eyes glitter with something akin to unease as he draws a dirk from his tunic, fingers closing around the hilt. Arya suppresses panic. He wouldn't go that easily, would he?
"A man hears a jest...no more," he murmurs, expression unfathomable. "A girl would lose her only friend."
"A friend would help me," she argues. "I'll give you a name after you bring Sansa to me."
"To Harrenhal?" Jaqen asks despite himself, incredulous. "To a castle with a mad goat and a lion with a thousand underlings in his pride?"
She hadn't considered that yet. Sansa at Harrenhal would be like throwing a mouse into a snake pit. Arya can walk around unnoticed with her shorn hair and long Stark face and ability to disregard her identity, but a girl--a lady--like Sansa wouldn't last for more than a day. Lord Tywin would never let her leave, either. And the soldiers...Arya shudders. She's seen the horrors Ser Gregor's men can do, heard terrible stories from the servants, and believes them completely. If anything happened to Sansa, Arya would never forgive herself.
Riverrun, however...Riverrun is close, ruled by her lord grandfather. The three of them may be able to escape in time before someone notices their absence. Vargo Hoat and the Brave Companions have not returned yet. Lord Tywin won't return to the field anytime soon, if disgruntled westermen are anything to go by. Eluding pursuers will not be simple, but it is possible.
"You can take her to Riverrun," she answers finally. Jaqen wrinkles his nose.
"The journey is too long, girl."
Faintly, she remembers that he was a prisoner from the black cells of King's Landing when Yoren got him--going back to the city would not be on of his highest priorities. Heedless, she presses on.
"You have to."
Jaqen only peers at her in disapproval.
"I can bring Gendry," she volunteers desperately, a last resort. "The smith. He can help us."
His lips curl at the corners in a mocking smile. Then, after a long while, he nods. Arya's shoulders sag in relief.
"A man can...stall his debts," he admits, reproachful. "The Red God will be displeased."
"Tell him I'm sorry," Arya offers. Jaqen H'ghar barks out a laugh.
"He knows, Arya of House Stark. He knows."
"A man hears your prayers, girl. A man speaks. A girl listens."
Sansa flinches at the voice, turning away from the heart tree and to the stranger standing nearby in the godswood. Can't she have one moment of privacy without being harassed by Joffrey's knights? No, she supposes not. The king is not of the charitable sort. His whims must always be obeyed.
He is a Lannister guardsmen, not a man of the Kingsguard, and watches her intently. His helm rests in his left hand, allowing his hair to hang long and uncovered, one side red and the other as white as snow and his thin face to be exposed. His armor is buckled wrong and is a little too big for his body, but the man seems comfortable in it. His stare is not the bleak and empty eyes of an obedient soldier, but a clever and knowing one of an intelligent man, a free man. Momentarily distracted by his appearance and spark of life in his eyes, she rises to her feet.
"I...have not had the pleasure, ser," she greets, careful. He hasn't ordered her anywhere, she notes. Odd.
The intruder inclines his head. "A man has the honor to be Jaqen H'ghar, once of the Free City of Lorath."
He is not one of the queen's men, Sansa realizes. Cersei Lannister entrusts the safety of King's Landing to westermen and knights from the South, men of Westerosi birth. His accent and style of speech reveals little to his purpose. What would a man of Lorath and Essos want with her, a traitor's kin? Why bother adorning armor in Lannister colors to speak to Sansa Stark, a lady of a family rebelling against the Iron Throne?
"A man has a gift for you," Jaqen remarks after a long pause. Sansa watches, wary, but he doesn't reach for his sword or raise a hand to strike her--it isn't one of Joffrey's lessons. "A man has a debt."
"A debt?" She repeats, puzzled. Curiosity nags at her. Unlike the Kingsguard, Jaqen H'ghar is a mystery in mail. What is his purpose here, of all places and all people? Does he plan to kidnap the king's betrothed?
"Your sister has a debt to the Red God. A man has nearly returned it. She requests a man to save you."
Sansa blinks, more preoccupied with his way of speaking than the message.
"M-my sister?" She squeaks, suddenly understanding. "No, she's--"
"At Harrenhal, my lady," Jaqen interjects. "A man must bring you to Riverrun."
"Riverrun," she echoes. "But Joffrey, the queen...I can't go there. They'll catch me," she adds, fearfully. "They'll punish me."
"A man knows ways to escape, Lady Sansa."
"How?" She presses. "The guards are everywhere. I'm always watched."
"You will not be Sansa of House Stark on the morrow," Jaqen promises, extending a hand to her slowly, as if approaching a wounded animal. "Take my hand, girl. Take my hand and a man will bring you to your sister. A man will pluck you from the lion's den, each never to return. That he promises, on a vow to a girl's sister and a sister's debt to the Red God."
She has no friends in King's Landing. She is not safe or loved. She trusts no one.
Jaqen seems too confident to be playing a trick, however, unless Cersei is using him as a catspaw and his intentions are to deceive Sansa into a false sense of security. But the queen is far too busy organizing defense against the armies and fleet of Stannis Baratheon, so this man is mystifying.
Arya went missing before their lord father lost his head. The chances of it are slim but her sister adored making friends with all sorts of people, especially on their journey to court. Could Arya have encountered this Lorathi man and sent him along in her stead?
Sansa inhales a breath, sidling a glance at the setting sun, at Blackwater Bay, in the direction of the ramparts where she stood to stare up at her father's head, and further still, where the residents of King's Landing roared for Lord Eddard to die a traitor's death, and takes Jaqen's hand, interlocking their fingers--placing her trust in him, small and apprehensive as it is--and feels calluses under the digits.
A vial slides into her palm and she holds it up to her eyes, studying the murky contents.
"Drink this before bed, sweet girl," Jaqen whispers, half-cloaked in shadow as the sun sets. "You will awaken with a new face. Dress simply, stir early, and stand outside the sept. A man will escort you to Riverrun, at once."
Uncertainly, hopefully, desperately, Sansa manages a nod.
Jaqen vanishes into the night, bound to her orders and promising a speedy reappearance. Arya is not idle in his absence.
Hot Pie and Gendry are petulant but soon surrender under her glares, threats, and cajoling. She organizes an escape route for her and the boys, unable to leave either one behind.
It's almost too easy, to find and saddle horses, to dispose of the sentries, flee from an unmanned gate, and canter away from the sleeping soldiers. Harrenhal's towers loom behind at her back, dark and shapeless in the rain. The host fades from hearing range.
They must move quickly. Vargo Hoat enjoys hunting down outlaws. Lord Tywin Lannister might send soldiers after them or march into battle at any day, undoubtedly in this direction. The faster they get to Riverrun, Arya decides, the better. Even Hot Pie urges his horse to hurry, hurry, hurry, nervous as Arya. Gendry is sullen, but she can sense his dismay, as if he is expecting trouble to occur, and soon.
Depending on her stolen map, Arya goes west.
Sansa awakens with pain on her scalp, her eyelids, her ears. Something is burning, something is frosting, something is prickling against her flesh. A phantom grip tugs at the roots of her hair and scratches at her throat. Her tummy spasms and swells, recedes and stings, and Sansa can only stifle her cries into a pillow and wait.
The malady ends at dawn, when sunlight is just beginning to creep across the sky. Sansa inspects her face and the skin is rough, coarse...old. She leaps out out bed and snatches the looking glass from a table. Her fingers lift, hesitantly, tracing a shriveled cheek. Dull brown eyes stare at her from the mirror and a rat's nest of gray hair sprouts from her head. Her colorless lips part in shock and reveal two yellowed teeth. She is a hag. She fell asleep a maiden and rose as a crone.
This is a nightmare, she thinks, lowering the mirror in horror. She is not this ugly.
Underfoot, in her haste, she crushes a flask and jumps at the noise. Sansa stares down at the shards in surprise, sluggish to remember how it got there. A vial...Jaqen! Jaqen H'ghar! Her savior! He promised to bring her to Riverrun only yesterday. He was telling the truth, she realizes. He is who he says he is. She will see Arya again, and soon.
Sansa sifts through her gowns in a frenzy, a hysteria of dread and agitation making her clumsy, yanking the oldest one from a chest and forcing her arms through the sleeves. The cloth is withered, roughspun, and the hemmings are frayed, but she must look plain and unseemly, so it has its uses.
She leaves her possessions behind, dresses, hairbrushes, gowns, all, and speeds from her chambers.
The Red Keep is drowsing and silent as she totters haphazardly to the sept, legs ungainly and uncooperative, chest seizing with exertion. Guardsmen are lethargic at their posts, but none seem to notice her or pay her any mind. She isn't herself anymore, though. The notion is oddly exhilarating. If the queen happened upon her, she would slip by unnoticed and may even be scorned at. She's used to mockery, but that was as Sansa Stark. No one will think twice about an frail shrew waddling out of the castle, an elated, somewhat crazed smile on her face.
Sansa is out of breath and panting by the time she reaches the sept. A man approaches, unfamiliar to her except for red and white patches of color located near his temples. Perhaps that was intentionally done, she muses, so Sansa can distinguish him from similar looking old men. Nonetheless, Jaqen H'ghar has also made a dramatic transformation, she sees, as he places a kiss on her unkempt hair--unexpected, but sweet--and resumes his hunched posture.
"A man sees," he declares in an undertone, smiling a toothless grin. He is aged and foul and unrecognizable, adorned in rags and dilapidated leather boots. "A man knows."
We match, Sansa thinks, stupefied. She entered this city as a proper lady and will leave it as a mummer's elderly counterpart, undetectable to her captors and departing right under the king's nose. A knight is not her hero, nor is it Robb as she expected for so long, but it is someone worthy. A friend. Arya's friend, surely, but an ally to Sansa as well.
"A girl wishes to go," she mimics, admonishing him in a sardonic croak, words out of her mouth before she can stop them. Jaqen chuckles, vaguely amused.
"A man understands."
"We've been riding for ages, Arry," Hot Pie whines, shivering. "How much longer?"
"I don't know," Arya snaps what seems to be for the hundredth time, consulting her map again. She feels Gendry's gaze on her back but makes no acknowledgement of it.
They've traveled far, quite a ways from the castle, for hours and hours until she was swaying in her saddle and unable to keep her eyes open. Gendry insisted on rest, but it was brief and unsatisfying. He rides beside Hot Pie at the moment, watching for trouble. Only able to procure two daggers, one for himself and one for Arya, both weapons amount to little in a land of dozens of outlaws, so Gendry takes majority of the scouting responsibilities.
Arya is the self-appointed leader and guide, but a poor one. By her count, they should've reached High Heart at this point, or at least veered south and gone toward Rushing Falls. So why haven't they yet? How many miles are left betwixt them and safety, or worse, betwixt them and capture?
Even more distressing to her is the chance of pursuit and unpleasant end of this jaunt if chased and caught. Arya intends to avoid such a fate, but some things are inescapable. If they are being followed, they will not elude Vargo Hoat indefinitely, nor Ser Gregor Clegane, if he too is to search.
Feeling her stomach twist into knots, Arya regrets not helping Hot Pie squirrel more food for the three of them. He could only scavenge so much from the kitchens on such short notice and the rations of fruit and stale bread are running dangerously low. Resorting to a hunt would cost the precious time of a week and what sanctuary they've gathered since fleeing Harrenhal's lands.
Gendry commands a rest after night falls (Hot Pie is unapologetically eager to assent). Arya volunteers for the first watch, stubbornly refusing a compromise until Gendry relents. Hot Pie is snoring a foot away within minutes; Gendry grumbles for a few moments before turning his back on Arya and lying still. Sliding a finger along the blade of her dagger, Arya sits against a tree and stays quiet.
The horses snort once or twice, breathing softly, mingling with the sounds of wildlife in their midst. Above Arya's head, owls hoot and leaves rustle in the wind, an autumn chill sinking down on their camp. Arya draws her knees up to her chest, the breeze sending shivers up her spine. Her eyelids are drooping and are just about to close when she hears a low rumble in the distance.
Her eyes snap open; Gendry sits up immediately, not as deep asleep as he seemed to be just moments ago. Hot Pie takes a kick to rouse, and he rounds on Gendry to complain until he sees the look on Arya's face, and chooses to remain silent. The horses whicker nervously, stomping their feet and flicking their tails. Another echoing rumble brings Arya to her feet.
"Sit," Gendry urges. "Someone might see you."
The noise nears and deepens in pitch. Closer still, almost upon them, the noise becomes a growl.
"Or something," Gendry amends hastily. Hot Pie is wide eyed and aghast, inching to the horses.
"Don't," Arya warns before he can take another step, staring into the gloom. "They want to eat the horses, not you."
"What does? What wants to eat--" Hot Pie squeaks.
"The wolves, stupid."
An entire pack, she guesses, scrutinizing the darkness, feeling curiously calm. Or many more. Harrenhal men frequently complained of an upswing in wolf activity, claiming they no longer feared the scent of man and attacked anyone they came across.
Gendry and Hot Pie shuffle to her side as the horses fidget and fuss. Snarls erupt in every direction, surrounding their campsite in seconds. Arya sees a dozen muzzles curling back to reveal sharp white teeth and lolling tongues as the pack continues to approach.
"Arry," Hot Pie whimpers.
"Quiet," Gendry implores.
The largest wolf pads forward, head tilted to the side, staring at Arya with bright yellow eyes.
"Nymeria," Arya breathes, dumbstruck.
"Where are we?" Sansa queries with a glance at Jaqen. He holds the reins, opting to walk beside her and the mare this morning instead of sharing a saddle again.
Jaqen's lips quirk up. "Blackwater Rush, Lady Sansa. The Stony Sept lies ahead of us."
"King Robert won a battle at the Stony Sept," Sansa remembers absently, stifling a yawn.
They fled King's Landing several days ago and abandoned their disguises about three leagues from the city, when no one was in sight. Jaqen created new masks, willing Sansa to seem stout and plain, with tangled chestnut hair and a dimpled face. Jaqen wears a lean, sunburnt visage and looks tall and lanky while his cheeks are covered with a straggly beard.
Sansa studies the countryside as they walk through copse after copse of trees. Farms are ravaged, villages are deserted, and scavenger birds circle the skies. The war has been harsh, Sansa realizes sadly, when they meander past an overturned fruit cart. Its owner is nowhere to be seen, but a flock of crows rest on the wagon, watching Jaqen and Sansa with hungry eyes. Sansa draws in a breath when she sees a body suspended from a tree, legs and arms dangling bonelessly. Its eyes are gouged out, a small feast for the crows of days past.
"Valar morghulis," Jaqen murmurs, and senses her confusion. "A saying from across the Narrow Sea, my lady. All men must die."
"But so cruelly?" She whispers. Jaqen considers it.
"A girl understands...war is always cruel. War endures, war causes suffering. War is never merciful. It does not forgive, it does not forget, and it does not end. It only rests and quiets, sometimes known as peace, but is to be carried on again in a different age by different men. More will hang. More will die...and this man," Jaqen adds, turning to look at the corpse, "is only the first of many, Lady Sansa of House Stark."
"What did he do?" Sansa wonders.
Jaqen H'ghar only shrugs, squinting a little in the sun. "A man will never know."
A moment of quiet passes before something jumps to Sansa's mind.
"How did Arya meet you?" She blurts out, turning to look at his borrowed face. Jaqen laughs.
"The Night's Watch. A man was recruited, so to speak, along with sweet little Arya...or Arry, as she is now."
Arya never lacked wits unless she was required to be ladylike, Sansa muses.
Stony Sept is a resting place, where they linger for two days. The residents are inquisitive but courteous, sharing their food and drink after a handful of coins are passed between an innkeep and Jaqen H'ghar. No one bothers to ask much of what looks to be a farmer and his wife, passing through the town without intent.
On the third day, under a gray sky threatening a storm, they start north.
Hollow Hill and Sherrer are also stops on their trek. Acorn Hall is welcoming to 'their sort', although Sansa doesn't understand what Lady Smallwood is insinuating until the woman mentions outlaws and the Brotherhood Without Banners. The queen seemed especially angry with them, Sansa recalls. Beric Dondarrion is the leader, according to rumors, and the man Jeyne Poole fell hopelessly in love with at a tourney. Unsettled at the memory, Sansa says little else that night.
It's a long day of riding before the hill of High Heart looms just ahead. It stands solemn and eerily empty, not a soul in sight. Weirwood stumps circle the area, bloodred sap still caked in the cores.
"We aren't camping here, are we?" Sansa whispers, remembering the smallfolk of the Stony Sept calling this place cursed and evil. Jaqen shakes his head, suddenly smiling, and points to the trees. Sansa follows his gaze. Three boys emerge slowly, accompanied by a large wolf that stays close to the smallest one, almost protectively.
"Sweetest girl," the man answers, drawing a hand from his forehead to his jaw. His features transform, coloring his hair to his signature red and white. His skin softens a fraction and his face thins out slightly. His shoulders broaden, lean figure becoming muscled and strong. Before he stands Jaqen once more, showing his teeth in a grin.
"How did you do that?" Hot Pie gasps. Gendry scoffs, unimpressed.
"Was it hard?" Arya asks.
"No harder than taking a new name," Jaqen replies. "If you know how."
"Can you teach me?"
"You must come with me, if you wish to learn."
"You can't," the girl beside Jaqen exclaims, speaking for the first time. "We need to go to Riverrun."
Arya's eyes narrow. The voice is half forgotten but has not changed, although her appearance has. Her sister looks nothing like herself.
"Sansa?" She inquires softly, not daring to believe it.
The girl nods. Jaqen takes a moment to ghost a hand near her face and immediately, it begins to change in shape and size. The eyes lighten from brown to the infamous Tully blue; the chin, cheeks, and nose recede, returning Sansa's comely features; the hair suddenly burns bright red, curls of auburn from their lady mother resting on the shoulders; and her posture straightens, bestowing Sansa's diminishing facade with her real height, nearly six inches taller than she was before. Arya has not seen her since the day Lord Eddard was beheaded, last spotted fainting beside the king and queen. The sight is bittersweet; what has happened to Sansa since Arya was nearest to her so long ago?
Her sister smiles in thanks to Jaqen, who bends to kiss her hand, charming as a courtier.
"You're a lady," Gendry says suddenly. Hot Pie goes laboriously to one knee. Arya kicks his foot.
"She's not a queen," she grumbles, feeling an abrupt, puzzling flare of annoyance at this spectacle.
"Almost," Sansa counters. Arya manages to not roll her eyes.
"Come on, stupid. We need to go."
Sansa flits to them at once, smiling tremulously when Nymeria pads over to sniff her hand. Jaqen remains where he is, one hand on his horse's reins.
"Aren't you coming, Jaqen?" Arya asks. "Riverrun is this way."
"A man has no place at Riverrun."
"Why?" Sansa questions, looking just as upset as Arya is. "You saved me, ser."
"Under a bargain, my lady," Jaqen answers, though he too looks despondent at the thought. "But for now," he adds, gaze settling on Arya expectantly, "a man needs a name. The Red God has waited long enough."
Arya shifts from foot to foot, anxious, knowing this will be her last chance to make a difference. But who? Who would cripple the Lannisters and give Robb and his northmen more incentive to win and more heart to believe in it? Not the underlings, as Jaqen said. Every army has its dogs, Arya knows. But this name must be as destructive as removing a serpent's head--without it, the body cannot function. Her list does not have such a name, but one option jumps to mind, someone she had not considered before.
"Tywin," she says quickly, firmly. "Tywin Lannister."
Sansa gasps. Gendry's expression is unfathomable but holds a hint of dark approval.
Jaqen's smile is wolfish. She likes it.
He clambers into the saddle and changes his face again, now resembling a dirty scrub from the Flea Bottom than a man of Lorath. Arya finds she is sorry to see him go.
"Wait!" She calls, striding to his horse and looking up to his new identity. "Will you teach me how to do that?"
"If you wish to learn, you must come with me."
"Where?" She queries.
"Far and away, across the Narrow Sea."
"I can't," Arya admits, regretful. Saving Sansa from King's Landing would've been in vain if she does--Riverrun is too close and long awaited (for Robb and Lady Catelyn must be there) for her to go on an adventure with Jaqen H'ghar. Gendry's glare and Sansa's silent disappointment would be too much to bear. Even Hot Pie's crestfallen look would be an obstacle.
"Then we must part," Jaqen answers. "For I have duties too. One more death, and all is done. Three names, three deaths, upon the request of lovely Arya of House Stark, and a man shall appease the Red God."
He leans down to lower a coin into her palm, iron and weathered with age. "Take this, sweet girl, but do not spend it. It is not meant for idle purchases, like horses or food. If you are ever in need to find me again, give this coin to any man from Braavos, and say 'valor morghulis'."
"Valar morghulis," Arya repeats.
"All men must die," her sister murmurs, still waiting on the other side of the clearing with Gendry and Hot Pie. Jaqen smiles at her a look Arya does not understand, and her sister reddens a little.
"Please don't go, Jaqen," Arya begs, reclaiming his attention, a lump in her throat. Jaqen's smile becomes sadder.
"Jaqen is as dead as Arry and Weasel. and I have promises to keep. Valar morghulis, Arya Stark. Say it again."
"Valar morghulis," she repeats once more, and the stranger in Jaqen's clothes bows to her and gallops off, disappearing as quickly as he had come.
Arya would've stood there for hours if Gendry did not speak up.
"Come on," he announces gruffly. "Time to go. This way, milady," he adds to Sansa, offering his arm a bit shyly. Arya nods to Hot Pie to follow. Nymeria trots at their heels, more insistent than ever to linger at her side since parting on the kingsroad.
"Does Riverrun have a kitchen?" Hot Pie asks hopefully. Ahead, Gendry laces his fingers together as a step, allowing Sansa to climb into the saddle.
"I reckon it does," Arya replies, dragging her eyes away from them and to the boy she had once threatened to kill. "Maybe they'll let you be a cook."
Hot Pie's answering beam cannot fix the feeling of loss from Jaqen's absence or the irritation from Sansa's smiles with Gendry--seven hells, Gendry is her friend, not Sansa's--but it's enough to make her return the gesture.
"Thank you," Sansa murmurs.
Sansa tugs at her sleeves, nervously. The boys and Nymeria are searching for firewood in the forest beside the Tumblestone; Riverrun is barely an hour's ride from their camp.
"I wanted to thank you for saving me," her sister admits.
"I didn't. That was Jaqen."
"But it was your idea."
The old Sansa would've insulted her and thrown a fit by now before flouncing away with Jeyne Poole. This Sansa, the new one, the one from King's Landing that is still unfamiliar to Arya, is oddly patient, and even quiet. She--being as much of a stranger as the man that rode away from the identity of Jaqen H'ghar, and quite similar to Arya acting as Arry and Weasel--continues to tug on the roughspun sleeves of her dress, searching for right words.
"I would've never left if it wasn't for you, Arya," Sansa answers softly. "I'm glad you sent Jaqen."
"Oh," Arya acknowledges awkwardly. "Well...you're welcome."
Sansa nods and fiddles with her gown, closed off again. Despite sharing a horse with Gendry, she was not conversational with any of them on the way here. Preferring to keep silent, she made as much noise as a mouse up to this moment.
"Why haven't you called me any names?" Arya asks, curious. "Arya Horseface...Arya Underfoot...why haven't you said anything yet?"
"There are worse things to call someone," her sister responds slowly, looking older than she is. "And worse things to get angry about."
She doesn't elaborate further; Gendry and Hot Pie return, arms laden with sticks. Even Nymeria has two wedged in her jaws.
Later on that night, as Sansa sleeps on Arya's left, huddled close like in the old days of Winterfell, Arya retrieves the iron coin from her pocket and runs a finger along the indented surface. She wonders when Tywin Lannister will drop dead at Jaqen's hand. Poisoned soup, an arrow gone awry, a wrong step on a flight of stairs...he could die tomorrow, or within the year. Sooner, most likely, if Jaqen's insistence is any indication.
Good, she thinks.
Arya tucks the coin safely into her pocket and interlocks her fingers with Sansa's, allowing the relief at her sister's presence to take hold of her at last. She is fine. Sansa is fine. They are together again and their lady mother is not an hour away, and perhaps Robb, too, if they're lucky. The war is not over and her list remains, but tonight, she will sleep untroubled.
"Ser Gregor," she begins, tiredly, vowing to finish her list one day. "Dunsen. Raff the Sweetling. Polliver. The Tickler. Ser Ilyn, Ser Meryn, Queen Cersei, King Joffrey..."