Odd as it may seems, it all began with a letter that should not exist. Even Bran was startled with it and angry to some degree, but what was done was done and it was her prerogative to decide her own fate.
She read it again, as if there was something to be deciphered in the lines of Jon’s harsh calligraphy. If there was any chance that it might be a joke, but king or not she doubted that Jon would ever jape about such a thing.
“Sweet cousin, my dearest Arya,
Will there ever be a day when I shall get used to this new nomenclature, I wonder. I have no idea, nor do I know if you find it to be as awkward as I do.
I write to you with the feeble hope that you might enlighten me about the path that as king I must follow. I trust you to not speak of this matter with anyone until you have made up your mind. I trust you and you are far too dear to me, therefore I own you the truth about my current situation and the reason why I’ll ask you a difficult question.
I must marry and find myself a queen. I never thought I would ever be someone’s husband, or father, or king for that matter. Now I must be all of this for the sake of the realm. I still don’t know why I am bothering you with these futile complains, but here I am. Expecting for the worst and hoping for the best.
There are a number of candidates I should consider. Ladies from all parts of the country and beyond, but most of them I’ve never seen. I cannot chose someone based on some qualities conveniently appointed to me by ambitious councilors, especially when I should come to love and respect the woman by my side.
Among the names presented to me, yours was mentioned with insistent reminds of how valuable such an alliance would be. I cannot tell you in words how much it shocked me to realize that we are no longer brother and sister. I knew it, of course. I just never realized how much this change of familial status could affect my life and yours, if you are to agree with what I have in mind.
Forgive my lack of talent for refinement. You know me. I’ve never been good with words. This letter is both my marriage proposal to you as it is the most practical way for me to know about your thoughts on the matter. Here I am, on my knees asking you to be my life companion and my most trusted advisor, to be the friend you had always been to me back when times were simpler and we were happier.
If I know you at all, you’ve just bit your bottom lip. I hope you haven’t changed in that. I’m aware that we are no longer those children engaged in snowballs’ fights. We have grown and done things we would rather not in order to survive. Things I dare not name, nor will I ever ask you to do so unless you want to tell me. Still, you are the only one I already love and respect, perhaps not as man loves a woman, but my feelings are no less powerful.
You are within your right to refuse my proposal, if so you want. Forget that I ever sent you this letter or sent me your reasons to refuse and we will never talk about it again. I ask you only to think about it, and consider what I’m offering you.
We both know that Bran will think about a marriage to you soon or later. He needs to and there’s little to be done about it. You will always have a friend in me, someone who bares the deepest affection and respect for you. I’m far from being a prince from songs, but I’m still young and closer to your age than most of the suitors might be. I’m offering you a familiar place, a home, and all the comforts you might desire. I bet this is something that might weigh your decision after so many years wandering without feeling safe and craving for a place to call home. The gods know that I’ve missed those simple things and odd as it may sound, your face smiling at me was my idea of home.
I’m aware of the things you would have to sacrifice and how life at court can be tiresome. I know how difficult it would be for you think of me and accept me as your husband. If only we all had the Targaryen name to ease our consciences. I wonder if there’s any other man that already seized your affections. If there is, I hope he treats you as the queen you should be.
Take your time to think about what I’m offering you. Regardless to what my advisors might say, I can be refused and in this matter my ultimate priority is not the kingdom, but you. You, Arya of House Stark, have the power to deny the king if so you wish.
Nevertheless, if by some sort of miracle you accept my offer and have me for your husband, I vow to you that your happiness will always be my aim. If that is your decision, talk to Sam and he will take care of the formalities.
Think carefully, my dearest.
Those words have been hunting her dreams since Sam arrived at Winterfell. For days she wasn’t able to sleep, or think properly, therefore Arya Stark had no answer to give. Jon’s words made little sense to her hyperactive mind.
She had never been the kind of person that takes a lifetime to make up her mind. Time was far too precious to be lost with endless thinking. She could not give Jon an answer, at least not without understanding fully what he was asking. She needed good reasons and more than a cold piece of parchment before she could ever come up with a good answer.
What she needed, what she wanted, was to look at him in the eyes and see the truth behind the nonsense. Jon had never been able to lie to her, no matter what. Although the war had changed them much, Arya doubted that he would ever become a good liar.
She decided to go to the capitol and no one would ever stop her of doing so. To her surprise, Bran never presented any kind of obstacle.
“So he told you.” He had said in an annoyed tone, as if it wasn’t on his plans to deal with her reaction to that letter.
“You knew it?” She had asked out of surprise.
“That he would tell you and ask your opinion on the matter? I feared it. About the proposal, the choice was quite obvious, really. He needs support from old families, it happens that we are blood connected to four important houses now and you are my only unmarried sister. His advisors must be pestering him for months now.”
“Never crossed your mind to ask about my opinion? To tell me about it?” It had been hard not to feel betrayed by him, although Bran looked at her with blunt concern.
“I didn’t know how to approach the subject. Anyway, I found out that maybe I shouldn’t be the one you tell you. It is not my favorite solution to Jon’s need of support, but I admit that it’s a pretty practical one. As much as it hurts me sometimes, I am Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North. I need to think about what is best for our people even when one of my own kin must be sacrificed in the process. I haven’t said anything to you because it was not decided yet. Jon was reluctant, but now he seems to have made up his mind.”
“Do you agree with it?” She had asked plainly.
“Not all of us have the power to deny a king. I would not be able to oppose to the union if he had decided to have you. I would be able to negotiate terms, but that would be that. He asked you, though. He is concerned about your happiness and your feelings, as he had always been. It’s infuriating sometimes how he and father had always granted you whatever you wanted.” Bran had looked at her carefully. “If you haven’t decided yet, I beg you to think about the big picture. How important it would be to our family. Politics aside, unless you are already in love with some peasant or something just as rebellious, Jon is the best suitor you could wish for.”
“Because he is king? Because we know him since forever and literally grew up calling him brother?”
“No. Believe me, I understand your indignation. I don’t want to send you to the bed of a man we called brother, but he is trustworthy and honorable. More than that I’m convinced that he loves you to the point of putting the politics of the realm in jeopardy for the sake of your happiness. This is exactly what his father did. I just hope you to be smarter than Lyanna were, to think about what happens outside these walls and prevent future conflicts. Since he gave you such an amount of power, you are free to pretend that he is nothing but a man. Even without a crown, he is someone you respect and adore since you learned to talk. What else do you want, sister?”
She had no answer for that either. What she wanted from a man? She didn’t even know what she wanted to do with her life now that the war was over. She went from a noble girl, to an orphan, to a wonderer, to an assassin, to a general, to…a lady again. She had no purpose, no distraction, and no aim. Arya was forced to live a day at time, without much enthusiasm or expectation.
That was probably the main reason for her to endeavor on a journey to the capitol. Although a part of her feared that Jon might have lost his mind after the coronation, she had to hear the reasons for the proposal from his own mouth if she was to consider it seriously.
Sam agreed to take her with him. Actually, he was pretty excited with the perspective of a royal wedding and all the things that such an event implicated. Arya never told him that she hadn’t decided what to do yet. She was not even prepared to face Jon after so many years separated. What kind of man proposed to a woman he hasn’t seen in nearly seven years?
The journey brought up all the sad memories of the last time she had traveled the King’s Road. She cried at night, thinking about Mycah, Lady and her own innocent heart that she had lost at such a young age at the Inn Of The Cross Road. At least this time Jon would be at the end of her journey, and that made her remember of something he had said to her when they parted. “Different roads sometimes lead to the same castle.”
Almost a month traveling the King’s Road and the effects of the war could still be seen everywhere. Food was still at short supply, but with spring upon them, there was a sense of hope in the air. Maybe in one year, there would be a bountiful harvest, at the common people would once again find a way to rebuilt their lives.
At King’s Landing the scenario was totally different from the once she remembered. The city was gloomy and austere under Jon’s reign. Septons and septas could be seen everywhere, feeding the poor and tending to the sick and wounded. Widows and elder children from Flea Bottom had been employed by the crown to help in the city cleaning, strong man that hadn’t been affected by the war were busy rebuilding houses, and the city walls. It allowed them some income to provide their sustenance and avoid robbery and prostitution. Even the Red Keep seemed much more severe in its looks.
When she arrived at the Red Keep the sun was almost setting on the horizon. She asked where the king was almost immediately.
“Maybe my lady should change clothes before meeting with His Majesty. Jon is probably at the Throne Room, listening to petitioners.” Sam said while trying to recover his breath.
“How long those audiences usually take?” She asked sourly.
“The whole day mostly. Jon generally resumes the audiences when the sun had been gone for a while. After that he takes a light supper and goes straightly to bed. Lord Tyrion admires his determination, but often says that the king is trying to kill himself.”
“No surprises here. Jon had always been obstinate somehow. I must see him now. He can complain about my clothes and attitude as much as he wants later, but I can not afford waiting indefinitely for him to talk to me.” Arya sounded resolute when she started to make her way to the Throne Room, with Sam following her steps exasperated.
“Please, my lady! Wait until tomorrow! I shall have an audience settled by then.” Sam almost begged.
“The sun is setting already. He spent the whole day locked up at that room as you said. I’m doing the secretaries and petitioners a favor, releasing them from this endless meeting so they can go home to their families and get some rest.” She was adamant. “He can blame it on me later, but I haven’t come here to be locked up in a fancy room and only set eyes on him when Jon thinks it’s convenient.”
When she got to the Throne Room there were still a small crowd composed of secretaries and minor noblemen, tired and grumpy, impatiently waiting for the king to make a decision in a final case involving a group of farmers and some minor lord of the River Lands.
Arya had to open her way among the other lords that looked at her with strangeness given her masculine clothes and disarranged looks. She looked like a stable boy, or maybe an innkeeper, but that was something she would think about later. She had more important matters to discuss.
“Lady Arya Stark of Winterfell!” Sam shouted somewhere behind her and since she was the only woman in the room, it didn’t take much for the other to notice who she was and allow her to get close to the king. The petitioners silenced and the secretaries looked at both her and the king with astonishment.
It was the first time she set eyes on him since she was nine years old. Arya had this foolish idea the he wouldn’t have changed much, but how she had been wrong! There was no sign of the smooth faced boy she adored. On the Iron Throne stood a long dark haired man, with an unshaved face and fine dark clothes. He stood above the others, wearing a simple crown and looking tired.
“I believed I’ve heard enough about this case.” The king’s voice sounded in a definite tone. “I’ll analyze the details and give you my final word in the matter by the end of the next week. Until there, Lord Piper cannot take you out of your lands as he threatened. If so he does, he’ll risk paying a substantial fine to you. This audience is dismissed. I would rather talk with Lady Stark alone, so you can all leave us now. You too, Sam.”
It took a few minutes for them to be alone in the room. Jon took of his crown and let it resting on the Iron Throne before he came down to look properly at her.
The sever expression upon his face suddenly vanished, being replaced by an expression of awe and joy. He walked toward her as if he was a young boy again, anxious to be reunited with an old and dear friend.
“Why nobody told me you were coming to the capitol?” He asked sounding just too happy to actually care about his lack of information.
She tried to answer it with some amount of dignity and formality since he was the king, but Jon seemed to have forgotten about his rank. Before she could speak he hugged her tightly and warmly, as if they were still those children at Winterfell.
“I can't believe it’s you. I would have gone to Winterfell to escort you personally if you had just sent me your answer.” He said joyfully while Arya tried to decide if she should or not hug him back. She finally decided to embrace him awkwardly until she felt a bit more relaxed. “I have no words to say how happy you’ve made me. I’ve missed you so much.”
“I’m happy to see you to, Jon. Or is it Your Majesty now?” She asked when he finally released her. Jon smiled shyly.
“You can call me whatever you want when we are alone. In front of other, I’m afraid it will be only by my title.” He answered immediately. “But you don’t have to worry about it. Not now at least. We have so much to talk about.”
“Since we are alone, I guess I can say it without much of a fuss.” She said before taking a deep breath. “Are you mad?!”
It was only then that Jon realized that Arya wasn’t there to promptly accept his proposal. He put a respectable distance between them and his face was once more taken by a sober expression, while she looked at him in confusion.
“I’m sorry. I thought that your presence at the capitol could only mean that you have accepted my offer.” He said calmly. “You have all the right to be angry at me.”
“I’m not angry at you, stupid.” She answered in a way that made him crack a shy smile. It sounded just like when they were kids, but she noticed it too late. Arya took a deep breath before continue. “I’m not here to accept your offer either. I’m here to understand. Your letter gave me more questions than answers. If I am to consider your proposal seriously, you better start to explain yourself.”
“What exactly you want to know? Ask me and I’ll answer in the best way I can.” Jon said it.
“Why me, for gods’ sake?” She almost spat. “I’m not a good lady, you know that. I could never be a good queen, despite of my family connections.”
“I guess I’ve told you my reason, but I’ll answer you anyway. I have to take a wife and the reasons that make you an ideal candidate are quite obvious. It was Sansa to suggest it, as shocking as it may seem. Bran wasn’t exactly happy with the idea, but even he had to agree that the advantages evident.” Jon replied honestly. “Most of my advisors agree, but of course they never knew you as I did. You never had much talent to the role of a lady, but I disagree when you say that you are not suitable to be a queen. You have all the qualities I seek in a companion and your sudden appearance here just gave me more reason to believe so. You had always been honest with me and I trust you. I don’t care about how well mannered, or fashionable, or accomplished the candidates can be. I’m not seeking a woman to play the lute for me, or simply be a fertile ornament at court. I need help. I need someone able to cope with difficult situations, someone I can see as equal and that would never coward when confronted with a crisis.”
“You paint me with terribly romantic colors, Jon.” She sighted. “Assuming that everything you said is true, it would still be a troublesome arrangement. We haven’t seen each other in ages and as you said, we have done terrible things in order to survive. Will you be able to accept that I am far from being the innocent girl you once knew? Are you ready to deal with the bloody woman I’ve become?”
“As long as you are ready to do the same for me.” His voice was serene and also resolute, she noticed. Jon seemed to be painfully aware of what he was asking. “I cannot afford entering in a marriage without knowing what kind of woman I’ve chose to be my queen. I’ve done my research, Arya. I know a thing or two about Braavos and your efforts during the war are impressive. Are you aware that a bard composed a song about you? The She-Wolf Under The Moon. It’s about your nocturne assault to recover Moat Caillin, the way you fearlessly smuggled into the castle and conquered it for your brother. Was the moon as bright as the song says?”
“There was no moon that day.” She answered out of impulse. Truth be told, Arya was a bit shocked with all that conversation. “By all gods, there’s really no aspect of this plan that bothers you?”
It was when Jon took a deep breath and considered what she asked for a second. His face showed no sign of reluctance or second thoughts, just the careful analysis of what words he should use next.
“Nothing about this is pleasant. Nothing about this choice was easy, but you are by far the best option for all the reasons I’ve numbered. I don’t know if it will work as expected and the gods know that I look at you and I still can see something of the girl I used to call sister.” He sighed. “Sometimes we have to make difficult choices. I’ve made mine and now I’m waiting for you to do the same.”
Jon came closer to her and kissed her forehead tenderly. Arya closed her eyes and took a deep breath, while feeling the warmth radiating from his body.
“Take your time to think about it.” He whispered. “Meanwhile, you stay here at court.”
“So you can make your case?” She asked with a high brow.
“Something like that.” Jon muffled a laugh.
“You should at least try to look more presentable.”
“What do you mean?”
“You look like an old crazy bear with all this hair.” Arya laughed lightly.
“If I knew you were coming I would have give my looks a second thought. You want me to shave?”
“Not really. Just cut it a bit so you’ll look less messy.” She suggested.
Jon took some distance and offered her his arm with a polite smile playing on his lips.
“Perhaps we should leave this conversation to another time. I’m desperately hungry.” He confessed with a hint of humor. “Would you have dinner with me, my lady?”