Chapter 1: What is Past is Prologue
Arya had scampered with breathless excitement into Jon's chambers, beaming with pleasure when her gaze found him lying on his back, arms cradled behind his head. He had been staring off at the stone ceiling above, lost in thought, until a loud squeal erupted from his right and something red and brown streaked across his floor like a bolt of lightning and catapulted itself onto the far side of his bed.
"Oompf," Jon gasped, the wind being knocked out of his stomach as the form laid itself down and snuggled up next to him.
"Aren't you supposed to be at needlework lessons?" Jon asked, looking askance and forcing his tone into one of mocking contempt.
Every time she rushed into his room brimming with news, this was the customary question.
It was widely acknowledged amongst the denizens of Winterfell that for all the winds of Winter could not dissuade the youngest female Stark from effecting her will once resolute. Thus when captivated by a novel thought or idea (the latter typically of the mischievous sort), she would promptly abandon the task at hand and scurry away in a frenzy.
Her recurring sojourns to his room, curiously enough, transpired precisely around the time she had sewing lessons with the Septa.
"I'm called 'Arya Underfoot' for a reason, stupid. Septa Mordane was prattling on about how awful my poetry was so I gave her the fig and ran away," Arya replied.
He could feel her smile from here. Suddenly he wished he could have borne witness to Septa Mordane's face at the sight of a scrawny little thing like Arya proudly showcasing to all present company of ladies, one of the most vulgar hand gestures in all of Westeros.
At this image, Jon could not help but burst out into laughter.
He could feel her wrinkling her nose against his side in an attempt to stop a pleased smile from spreading across her face at his reaction. She rolled over onto her back with an exasperated sigh and mimicked his pose. Her burgundy wine colored dress wore battle scars of dried dirt and mud streaked generously across her bodice. As she lay there, he swore he could see a twig tangled in her hair.
A tiny grin almost threatened its way onto Jon's face when he saw this and tried to stifle it to the best of his ability; he was told not to condone her wild ways by his Lord father and Lady Catelyn.
A pity, that.
Her antics were much and more of the reason why daily, sporadic bouts of laughter would erupt from the kitchens or the stables.
He glanced at her from his peripheral vision as she turned to her side, his grey eyes meeting her own.
She was tucked away against the crook of his arm, her face gazing somewhat down at him from being slightly propped up by her slender hand.
At the age of three, Arya (though now she would vehemently deny any such accusation that called her bravery into question) had been terrified of sleeping alone in the midst of a storm. She would waddle into Jon's quarters during the middle of the night as fast as her small, chubby legs would carry her, chuck herself onto his furs, and curl up against him in fear, thumb in mouth. Sometimes, when the storm was a particularly unpleasant one, Arya would shake him awake and demand to hear a story in order to soothe her nerves. Every so often during these occasions, Jon would feel a little less than generous and try to scare her half-way through his tale (which would always be a frightening one) by making a loud noise or by abruptly clutching onto her arm. Jon had stopped shortly after he had discovered that Arya's first reflex, when startled, was a sound punch in the face.
Strangely, over the years, Jon found himself increasingly drawn to Arya out of all his brothers and sisters. True, he preferred Robb's company as they both were of the same sex and age, but it was always- to some initial surprise- his little sister he was closest to in mind and spirit. They shared a natural, intrinsic bond that was either due to both being cognizant of the fact that they never quite seemed to fit in with those around them, their shared solemn features, their love for riding horses or something else entirely, Jon did not know.
He had learned never to expect winning whilst racing his little sister on horseback; she would mercilessly outpace his own steed and then trot little victorious circles around them both. It was difficult to be sullen at her for too long, as she would invariably wriggle back into his good graces much to his amused chagrin. After he and his brothers and oddly, Sansa, had gifted Arya with a new chestnut courser on her last name day, they had sealed her fate as the most competent rider amongst them. Arya was half-horse herself; something that he had once heard his Father say about his own sister, Lyanna Stark.
Father never talked about his younger sister but there had been one occasion, on Arya's last name day, when both he and Uncle Benjen had indulged the Stark children about the mystery that was their Aunt, a woman-grown who had died so tragically young.
It had all started innocently enough a few months back when Arya turned a year older…
Chapter 2: Preparations
The story begins with Arya's name day; the day when Eddard and Benjen Stark are incessantly pestered as to tell Jon, Robb, Sansa, Arya, Bran and Rickon about what happened to Aunt Lyanna...the mysterious woman-grown their father refuses to speak of until today.
Hey everyone, just to clarify, the tags are correct. The romances implied will be seen in future chapters to come. I'm just setting up the scene here, but I promise you we'll get to Ned and Benjen's re-telling of the events at Harrenhal to the little ones soon!
Much to her annoyance, Arya found herself being fitted into a grey-blue dress by Lady Catelyn as her sister Sansa greedily attacked her hair. By the end of the struggle, Sansa's own immaculately braided tresses were tousled and unkempt whilst Lady Catelyn donned a light pink scratch on her wrist. Arya's eyes were wrought with an unyielding stubbornness, yet a satisfied smile adorned the corner of her lips as she studied the destruction left in her wake.
This satisfaction, however, was short-lived.
Sansa, who had howled at her little sister for being such an "animal", managed to persuade their lady Mother to compel Arya ("At the very least!") to brush her hair properly. With a resigned grunt, Arya submitted to her fate when threatened with extra needlework lessons.
At long last, her Mother and stupid sister ceased fussing and Arya was prodded to look upon her reflection in Sansa's mirror.
She wrinkled her nose in distaste.
The girl who stared back was not one Arya recognized, for she seemed to grow increasing uncomfortable in her raiment, pulling at her stupid scratchy bodice and wearing an expression of bemusement. It was an instant later when Arya spotted, slightly above her right ear, that either Mother or her sister had woven a pale blue rose into her nut-colored hair. As Arya ventured to tear it aside, Sansa, (who had once more neatly re-arranged her own hair to perfection) screeched and slapped her hand away.
"Arya, would you for once allow yourself to look presentable?"
"Why, stupid?" Arya retorted angrily. "It's not as if everyone isn't aware I always wear breeches!"
Sansa turned pleadingly to her Mother, who had been silently surveying her youngest daughter with a creased brow.
"Mayhaps..." Catelyn trailed off. "Mayhaps she is right Sansa. The Winter rose may be...uncharacteristic for our Arya."
Sansa gaped open-mouthed at their Mother as Arya flashed her sister a victorious smirk. Seeking to wrest the bauble off her hair once and for all, Sansa revealed her trump cyvasse piece.
"You're right Mother," Sansa professed, a dubious smile gracing her lovely face. "Mayhaps Arya isn't worthy of wearing a blue rose of Winter in her hair."
Arya eyed her sister suspiciously.
"After all, only true lady daughters of the North are said to have worn such a rare flower, and Arya," Sansa said, exaggeratedly widening her azure eyes, "is assuredly not a lady. Isn't that true, sister?"
Catelyn shot her eldest daughter a reproachful look while Arya crossed her arms over her tiny chest and glared menacingly at Sansa.
"I could wear the stupid rose if I wanted to!" Arya said loudly.
"But you did not desire to do so a moment ago," responded Sansa gravely.
"I can be worthier than anybody!"
Sansa exhaled dramatically and slumped her shoulders in mock defeat. "Mayhaps you can, little sister. We shall see. "
Lady Catelyn abruptly stood and nodded. "We should make haste. The guests will be arriving in time and your Father requires both of you present in the Great Hall much before then."
Sansa turned lightly on her heel and sashayed away.
Arya huffed, gathered her skirts, and stomped after her sister.
Once outside in the courtyard, Arya stumbled over a half-submerged pebble in the stupid new slippers Jeyne Poole had gifted her that morning. Windmilling her arms in an attempt to regain balance, she teetered dangerously to the side until Lady Catelyn grasped Arya's small hand in hers, and gently steadied her daughter. Wrapping her nail-bitten fingers around her Mother's immaculate, spidery ones, Arya heaved a sigh of relief. She tilted her neck up to give her Mother a childishly grateful smile. Catelyn's cerulean eyes were alight with something ineffable that Arya was not able to determine, for it was the inimitable happiness exclusive to mothers alone and could only be evoked by their children.
At first, no one perceived Arya upon her arrival into the Great Hall. As she ambled down its length after her Mother and sister, she felt eyes beginning to train on her. Determined to not trip over her own skirts, she kept her eyes downcast until she noted she had reached the steps to the high table near the front of the Hall.
Upon lifting her head, she was greeted with five pairs of eyes all staring at her in mild amusement. Two more pairs, the most odd ones, were full of...something Arya couldn't quite discern at that particular moment.
Suddenly, she was reminded of the time she had tagged along with Robb, Sansa, and a baby Bran to see the crypts underneath Winterfell. As they made their descent down the perilously steep stairs, Robb recounted stories of monsters, ghosts, and large spiders that lurked in the dim shadows of the crypts and fed off the souls of children. She remembered Bran's eyes the size of robin's eggs and Sansa jumping in fright at every chill or phantom spider that crawled onto her dress; even Arya had felt a bit skittish.
They passed the tombs of Lord Rickard Stark- their grandfather, Lord Brandon Stark- their Uncle, and Lady Lyanna Stark- their Aunt, until they had finally reached a corner shrouded in darkness containing five unfinished tombs- their tombs.
Robb had been going on about the ghosts of the old Lords of Winterfell, who were as cold and cruel as Winter itself. Bringing his voice down to a whisper, Robb confided the reason steel swords were placed across the tombs, was to lock the restless spirits inside. He then cheerfully pointed out that since a few of the tombs were so old, their swords had all but rusted away.
As he finished the tale, an un-earthly sound filled their ears and a pallid, white apparition emerged in their path.
In the swiftest half minute of Arya's little life, she heard Sansa emit a bloodcurdling shriek and run for the stairs while a baby Bran howled with terror, clutching Robb's breeches against his tear-stained face.
Bran's eyes had reflected a strange mix of emotions, perplexing Arya; she'd never seen him in such a state.
She had stood her ground and given the spirit a punch only to find it was stupid Jon covered in flour. Bran, despite his choked laughter at this revelation, still seemed alarmingly unsettled. It was as if he'd witnessed something else entirely when Jon emerged from the tomb, something none of the others had perceived, something that wasn't quite...right.
Ruminating on the memory afterwards, she finally registered what it was that she'd exactly seen mirrored in his eyes: he had looked haunted. It wasn't a look more so than it was a hybrid of fear and despairing, bottomless grief.
Pushing aside her thoughts, Arya cautiously approached her brothers, Uncle Benjen, and her Father- Eddard Stark, the Lord of all Winterfell.
Chapter 3: Peculiarities
"Let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we shall die." [Isaiah 22:13]
GUISE, you have NO idea how sorry I am for getting this update out so late. Work has been consuming my life along with other depressingly boring things. The other reason for this alarmingly late update is that I've been possessed by the ASOIAF plot bunny and I'm writing FOUR stories (excluding this one) at the same time. I'm calling this a social experiment right now though it's probably the worst social experiment ever since I'm pretty sure the results will be…well, that there won't BE results.
If anyone's curious, the first is Arya/Theon (A romance? Don't know if I want to head that direction yet), the second an Arya/Aegon, the third is focused solely on Sansa (I have entirely too many Sansa feels, okay?!), and the fourth is a rather weak attempt of events post-ADwD from the POVs of the Stark children (also Theon because it's Theon).
Anyways, thank you for all your support and feel free to leave questions, comments, suggestions, critiques, etc!
Uncle Benjen stood, propped up against the stairs descending from the High Tables, eyes twinkling with a wry amusement at something Jon had blurted out. Benjen Stark had made his descent from the Wall a fortnight ago and at long last, reached his destination. His journey was a wended one; snow littered the landscape and threatened to do so for days, making the already onerously weary garrons more sluggish if even possible.
Arya was notified of his presence earlier that morning. The slender girl had been preoccupied with devouring the corn-muffins she had pilfered from the kitchens a few minutes previous. She had felt quite proud of herself for being able to steal away a few from underneath the baker's vigilant gaze. Unbeknownst to her, Jon had dickered with the cooks the night before to prepare an additional batch especially for Arya. He then proceeded to strategically position them in such a manner as so an individual with small limbs could smoothly swipe a few without detection. As she licked the crumbs off her fingers, Sansa all but floated over to her younger sister with a stupid smile on her face. Immediately Arya suspected Old Nan having indulged her sister with another stupid story of sweet maidens and noble knights and other stupid people. When Arya started speak in order to bring the stupid fixed smile to Sansa's attention, she immediately regretted doing so. The moment she opened her mouth, a rather involuntary belch found its egress. Simultaneously, albeit unfortunately, Arya accidentally spit a crumb into her unsuspecting sister's eye while dissolving into a fit of hysterical laughter after the initial shock (felt by both sisters) of her belch wore off. As her sister's violent diatribe on the subject of manners and propriety winded down to close and an appropriate decibel, she had managed to catch the words "don't you dare", "behave", "guests" and "Uncle Benjen tonight!"
Arya barely noticed when Catelyn's hand found her shoulder and gave it a reassuring squeeze. Broken out of her reverie, Arya ponderously plodded forward once more, the weight of her skirts anchoring her slight form to the stone floor making each step a tedious task. Upon advancing closer, Benjen noted her presence and raised his steely grey eyes to meet hers. At the very same instant his elder brother broke away from his deliberations with Vayon Poole and lifted his own.
Eddard Stark froze.
Her father's animated face had immediately stiffened upon glimpsing her, his face transforming from one of breezy effervescence to one of horror, giving away to a visage wracked with evident distress. She had never seen her father look upon her in such a manner. Her Uncle, too, ceased japing with Jon when she tentatively stepped towards them. Like her father, his face was twisted into one of shock. Unlike her Father, however, his eyes gave away to warmth that increased with every passing second as he gazed upon her – almost as if he couldn't decide if he should embrace her fiercely or back away, overwhelmed.
Arya's confidence faltered and she came to a stop.
Clearly like Arya, none of the Stark children had any idea what was occurring and all wore expressions of bewilderment as they studied the scene before them.
The room exploded with muffled murmurs. Though the guests had yet to arrive, the Great Hall was a frenzied cloud of activity when Arya entered, teeming with cooks, members of the household guard, and serving girls and boys.
Arya tensely shifted her weight from one foot to another, all too aware of the whispers that nipped at her heels as she had walked down the great hall. She had not anticipated them to continue- nor did she anticipate the reactions of her Father and Uncle, for that matter. Laughter, teasing, grins…that she had expected, but not this.
She dropped her eyes to the floor. Why, she didn't know. She felt anxious, hesitant, and terribly guilty for no apparent reason. Before she could recollect her emotions, she found herself panicking. Absurdly, she found herself worrying what to do with her hands as she stood; they hung uselessly at her sides, so she clasped them together, holding them low in front.
She bit her lip then released it.
Why are they looking at me like that? Don't they know how stupid they look?
In truth, what Arya felt wasn't impatience or awkwardness, but a nascent fear. Why were they looking at her like that?
Have I done something wrong?
She furrowed her brow, replaying the day's events. She couldn't think of anything particularly horrid she had done recently.
Is it this stupid dress? She knew she never should have surrendered to the whims of her Mother and sister.
Was it because she looked like a stupid lady for once?
Arya eyes widened in alarm as a thought struck her. Do they not recognize me? She knew that Robb and Jon would laugh at her if she voiced something as silly as that, yet…
Arya worried her lip once more.
She felt unreasonably frightened.
She desperately hoped that someone would do something, say anything or even just stop staring at her in that way.
She had broken her mid-afternoon fast earlier on in the day with her Father and the world was as it should. She craved the familiar, recognizable reactions that had once constituted the world a few hours prior.
Why isn't it going back to the way it was?
Arya Stark was a girl of nine going onto ten and still very young in the matters of reason.
The air fraught with a thick, palpable edginess, Arya could suddenly bear it no longer and was overcome. A violent storm of thoughts plagued her mind, appearing then dissipating to make room for others far more jarring.
Would it always be like this from now on? Would her father never look at her with admiration and love ever again? Would she not be Uncle Benjen's favorite anymore? Would she feel this helpless, this frustrated, this guilty and this stupid, forever?
Before she could realize it, Arya's eyes filled with tears.
All of a sudden, she felt arms slide around her thin waist and pick her up as if she was naught but a doll. She wiped at her tears angrily and found herself in the arms of her Father.
"Sweet one, do not cry."
Arya rubbed furiously at her eyes, willing her tears to retreat in submission which served only to further redden both along with her cheeks.
"I'm sorry," she choked out, but she didn't know for what. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry. Whatever I did I shan't do it again, Father. I promise. I'll apologize to whomever you want me to. Please don't be angry with me," Arya said miserably.
Ned looked at her, his face filling with surprise. "Child?"
Then she saw the understanding dawn upon his face as he realized his gaffe. She found the disconcerting look waxing off his face and replaced with one of contriteness and shame.
Felling utterly wretched, Arya threw her skinny arms around her father's neck and burrowed her head in between his neck and shoulder.
" No. I should be the one who is sorry, sweetling. Not you," Ned mumbled into her ear. "You have done nothing wrong."
Arya pulled herself away from his neck and sniffed.
"You don't hate me?" she whispered.
At that, Ned's eyes further softened and brought his lips to his daughter's brow.
"I could never hate you, Arya. You are my blood and a brave, fierce little thing," he said against her forehead.
He pulled away and smiled at her, a happy smile, but a glint of sadness once again reappeared in the grey eyes that were so like hers.
"You reminded me of someone, that is all." He hesitated. "Are you alright, sweet daughter?"
Arya nodded, now feeling stupid for crying and making such a scene yet she couldn't help but acknowledge the other part of her was vastly relieved.
She scrambled out of her father's grasp and went to hug Uncle Benjen who immediately swooped down and hoisted her up from under her arms and twirled her around. Arya's childish laughter pervaded the air and finally the somber mood lifted.
"Well," said Robb, chuckling softly. "This is the oddest name day fete I've seen since Rickon's after he fell fast asleep at the table and into his pie."
At that pronouncement, everyone found themselves laughing merrily at the fond memory of the youngest Stark who sat glaring angrily at everyone in his Mother's arms, sucking his thumb.
Jon slipped his warm hand into Arya's cool one and they ascended the steps together. She grinned impudently up at him and watched him raise one black eyebrow in amusement.
"Any idea what that was about?" he ventured quietly, lowering his head slightly towards hers. Arya cringed.
"No, do you?"
Jon pulled his head back and gave her a curt shake of the head. Frowning, Arya was led to her perch.
Of the High Tables, there were but two. The smaller was where her Father, Mother and Master Luwin sat, with the members of their household guard or esteemed guests alternating through an extra seat reserved to Father's left.
His words from a long time past echoed in her ears: "Know the men who follow you and let them know you. Don't ask your men to die for a stranger." Due to this, her Father made sure that all men had at least once sat to his left.
The second table was reserved for her brothers and sister along with Septa Mordane. Arya made a face; she hoped the Septa would not be present tonight.
The Great Hall was a flurry of activity as guests began to trickle in. Much and more were her Father's loyal bannermen or friends, but Arya was delighted to note the attendance of a dozen or so freeriders, their wives and children that Arya had befriended. The remarkable fact was that Arya had befriended not just the children, but also the freeriders themselves, as well as gaining favor with their wives. She relished sitting amongst the men on the benches, away from observed propriety at the High Tables. From hardened freeriders to courtly knights to brave young squires, they would all regal the little lady of Winterfell with largely exaggerated tales of their lives. When underfoot about Winterfell, she'd play with their children, entertain the babies, challenge the men to swordfights much to their amusement, and steal scones for the women. In doing so, Arya had learned an evident truth about herself that many other ladies of such noble birth would perceive as horrifying. She found that she had more in common with the plebeians than those like herself in the gentry.
She sat near the edge of the bench across from Sansa and next to Bran. Opposite Bran sat Jon while Robb sidled into the seat on Bran's other side, facing Theon Greyjoy. Rickon was mobile somewhere, hefted from one lap to another and passed around much like a meal course.
Arya gleefully noted Septa Mordane's absence and knew she had her Mother to thank for that; Catelyn, though disapproving of Arya's behavior with the Septa, had pardoned the Septa's attendance for Arya's name day.
The spread of food laid out on the table had literally made little Rickon salivate (now on Sansa's lap) as he eyed a peach cobbler, his spittle swaying dangerously and threatening to fall onto Sansa's dress. With a squeak, Sansa all but threw the alarmed toddler across the table to Arya.
Bowls of venison swimming in butter and garlic, fresh neeps dipped in a buttery sauce, a thick, sweet pumpkin soup, were only a sample of the dishes to come. Wineskins of Dornish Red and Arbor Gold were littered throughout the Great Hall, where shouts of laughter or bawdy yells would surface frequently. Roasted sweetgrass duck basted with honey, lemoncake pastries with iced frosting, apple and blood orange pies, topped by an enormous cake of chocolate and soft vanilla biscuit all followed in the remaining hours.
The feast was a boisterous and hearty affair with Theon indulging Arya of the crude jokes he had overheard at the brothel, Robb conflicted whether to cuff Theon upside the head to deter him from exposing his baby sister to such language or to urge his friend on because his own interest was piquing, Jon kicking Arya underneath the table while donning a mask of cherubic innocence, Sansa greedily heaping one lemoncake pastry after another onto her plate and occasionally placing one or two onto Arya's as to make it appear that she herself was not consuming her weight in sweets, and Rickon gurgling with laughter at all the sights until plummeting face-first into his strawberry tart, asleep.
As the evening wound to a close, Arya compromised with Catelyn to pause before each respective table in the Great Hall to offer her thanks so she could visit the tables where her friends sat. Upon returning to the High Tables, Bran had taken it upon himself to determine that now was the opportune moment to tease Arya about her dress. In a bold move of effrontery driven by only an annoyance a younger sibling can provoke, she reached across the table, grabbed Robb's goblet of Arbor Gold, and overturned it on Bran's head. As Brandon sputtered helplessly and everyone in the Great Hall roared with laughter at the spectacle, she turned away only to glimpse her Mother's glare and Sansa stumbling backwards with a shrill shriek to avoid the wine spreading across the table in case, Gods forbid, it stained her dress.
She overheard her mother state something sternly to both Jon and Robb, but was distracted by Uncle Benjen. On the far side of her Father's table, Uncle Benjen was considering her thoughtfully, his expression puzzled. When she caught his eye, he winked at her and his mouth spread into a wide, beatific smile. Her Father's face was stolid, a sight she was much used to, save for the brief fleeting trace of grief his eyes had held whereupon her entrance. Before she could think much more of it, she felt strong arms encircle her waist and haul her out of her seat. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the same happen to Bran. Instinctively, Arya began to squirm and flail, loosening herself from her captor's grasp. Without another thought, she spun around and punched her attacker in the stomach and a familiar "oof" echoed in her ears.
She winced. Turning sheepishly to face Jon, she offered him a weak smile. "Sorr-" she had started to say when Arya found herself being flung over her brother's shoulder and carried out into the courtyard.