"Tell me a story," Arya asked, propping her head on her hand as she watched Jaqen as he stoked their fire back to a gentle crackle.
He glanced back over his shoulder at her, all stretched out in his bed with a dark black fur wrapped around her. The fire caught in her eyes and through some weird trick caused them to look even darker than usual. Smirking at her, he tossed another chunk of wood on the fire and pushed himself up from a crouch, "Why does a man always have to be the storyteller?" he asked, making his way back to the bed.
Any proper lady might have averted her eyes out of decency, but Arya watched him unwaveringly, her eyes trailing up a scar that ran from his hip all the way to the middle of his chest. She thought to ask about it countless times, but it never seemed important when she finally mustered the courage to. "Because I don't know any of your stories," she replied with a tilt of her head, shifting over so he could slide into bed on the side closest to the fire.
"A man does not know a girl's stories either," he countered, hitching the linen sheets up over his waist first and then tugging the furs away from her to tangle his long, dark limbs in them as well. "Perhaps a girl should take a turn and entertain a man for a change?"
A smirk flicked across Arya's face, "I thought that's what I'd been doing."
Jaqen bit back a laugh, curling towards her to draw her back across the bed to him. "A girl speaks the truth," he hummed softly, sliding his fingers through her dark hair. "But a man would like to hear a story from the North. Tell him one, lovely girl, and you'll have all the stories you desire for the rest of the night."
Arya drew in a thoughtful breath, folding her arms across his chest and resting her chin on top of her hands. "The only stories we were ever told were by our Old Nan," she said, "who wasn't really our Nan at all, but our grandfather's or our great-grandfather's or something, no one really remembers." She glanced up at him to see he'd folded his arms behind his head and was listening to her attentively, a faint smile playing on his lips. She continued, "My brother Robb and our father's bastard Jon were too old for stories and the baby was too young, so it was just me and my sister and my little brother Bran. Bran liked the scary ones, Sansa liked the ones with knights and ladies falling in love," Arya playfully scrunched her nose and Jaqen leaned forward with a chuckle to kiss away the wrinkles on the bridge of her nose. "And I liked the ones with fighting, of course..."
"Of course," Jaqen repeated, already amused.
She didn't know how much he actually knew about her family or where they'd come from. Sometimes he knew the strangest things about her and it made her curious, but everyone in King's Landing thought they knew something about the Starks. There were more mad rumors than truth floating around there, but he'd known her for a lady once, without asking, so she figured he didn't need much more background on her family than she'd already given him.
"She always had one that would make all three of us happy, which is saying something since Sansa and I have never agreed on anything. I'm not sure how much of it I really remember, but I'll try..."
Arya shifted next to him again, abandoning the dark fur wrapped around them to sit up, crossing her legs in front of her and draping a corner of the sheet across her lap. She could tell a story lying down, but it wouldn't be the same without being able to move her hands and body the right way.
"They say Bran the Builder, who was the first Brandon Stark," she started, "built the Wall to ward off the Others during the Long Night."
That was history everyone knew, Arya thought, but there was a look on Jaqen's face said that all this might be new to him. It was odd to think that there was anything he didn't know, but Arya had been so used to everyone in Westeros, even the wildlings, knowing the history of the kingdom that she hadn't even considered that people here in Essos might be unfamiliar with it. They had their own history to learn. It made her all the more determined to tell the story right. He unfolded one arm and settled his hand on her knee, twisting the sheet around his fingertips as she went on.
"My brother Bran was named after my uncle Brandon, who was probably named for some other Brandon and on and on until you get back to the first Brandon. But there was another Bran, called the Night's King, who was the thirteenth Lord Commander of the Night's Watch and a brother to the reigning King of the North - which was the title the Starks held when there were really still seven kingdoms. He was handsome and fearless, and a Northman to his very bones.
"One night, Bran - the Lord Commander, that is - one night he rode out north of the Wall with a scouting party to see about reports of wildlings, and while he was riding his party got attacked and all but Bran died. Why they spared him, no one knows, but it's said that night he saw a beautiful woman with skin like snow, cold and white and luminescent, and eyes as bright as stars. He fell in love with her immediately and pursued her until she finally gave herself to him. Some say that night she stole his soul from him," Arya said, canting her head gently to the side as something uncertain passed across Jaqen's gaze. Surely he wasn't moved by a scary story... "But I think that you give part of your soul to someone when you fall in love anyhow, so who's to say if she really enchanted him or if it was just men being men and painting a woman in a bad light," she continued with a faint shrug of her shoulders.
"But Bran brought her back to the Wall and started calling himself the King of the Nightfort. They ruled there for thirteen years until the King of the North and the wildling king Joramun joined together to overthrow him. They say that he was sacrificing men to the Others for years - both men on the Wall and wildlings. But they struck his name from the records and forbid that anyone ever speak of him. People say that he was a Bolton or a Flint or a Woodfoot, but if he was a brother to the King of the North, there's no doubt that he was a Stark. I suppose that's why people say that we're not entirely human," she finished, curling her fingers around his hand.
Jaqen was silent for a long moment, the firelight casting orange shadows over his face, glinting in his blue eyes and making the streak in his hair shine silver. Arya sat in silence and watched him, his chest rising and falling slowly.
"The red priests say their god gives them certain blessings in exchange for the life of their lovers," he said. "A girl's Queen of the Night sounds like she has similar gifts." He worried the inside of his lip for a moment. "Did they have children?"
Arya shrugged and shook her head, watching the tension in his gaze grow steadily. "If they did, they probably killed them all. Though he ruled for thirteen years, so I suppose it's possible that some fled North and lived with the wildlings or rejoined the Others, if you believe in that sort of thing."
"A girl doesn't believe?" he asked.
"I'm not sure," Arya replied, sliding her free hand through her hair and leaning back, propping herself up with one hand behind her. "I'm not really sure I believe in anything. My father prayed to the old gods and I watched him die a man who'd done everything right according to his honor. But I prayed once to the old gods myself and they gave me the thing I asked for. Sometimes I wonder if I should have asked for something else, but I'm not sure they would have given it to me if I did, and I'm not sure I would have preferred it in the long run either."
"Gods are fickle," Jaqen murmured, his voice softer than before. He let go of her hand long enough to push himself up again, bracing his shoulders against the headboard behind him. "Sometimes they take without reason and it's years before a man - or a girl," he nodded to her, "knows why."
Arya drew her knees to her chest and wrapped her arms around them. "What do you believe?" she asked, though he'd never been shy about his faith.
"A man believes," he shrugged, trying to force a grin. But Arya's gaze honed in on him and refused to let up. She wasn't going to let him get away with not answering her. He sighed, "A man believes in the Red God, as he was taught to, but a man believes in darkness as well as light, there is not one without the other."
"The Other?" she asked, tracing idle patterns in the fur with her fingertips. He nodded. "If the Red God is fire and light," she said, "the Other is ice and darkness. Warmth and cold." East and West, her thoughts supplied.
There were more correlations she could draw, but she didn't know how to put words to the feeling spreading through her chest just yet. She understood now the hesitance that had appeared in his gaze when she spoke - it had been fear, fear of the darkness that followers of the Lord of Light warned against. The night is dark and full of terrors, she remembered reading once. She wondered how a man like Jaqen could be afraid of darkness, but maybe it wasn't too different from the way she edged away from flame and insisted on sleeping on the side of the bed next to the cool wall and away from the fireplace. It was just what flowed through their veins.
Her ancestor Bran had called himself King of the Night and made love to woman made from cold and ice. Some said the Starks had ice in their veins, and that much was true of her and Jon and Bran at least. But she always thought that Sansa and Robb were too much like their mother, too much warm Tully rivers instead of blood, instead of ice. Some bitter part of her said they weren't really of the North at all, which was why they lost their way, but Arya couldn't really bring herself to think harshly of either of them.
Instead, she drew her gaze back up to catch Jaqen staring off towards the fire. She reached out and turned his face towards her again, brows knit in faint concern. "You want to know what I believe?" she asked, voice firm.
"If a girl knows, a man would like to hear," he replied softly.
Arya chewed her lower lip. She hadn't just been raised with the old gods, but the new gods as well, and she knew that their stigmas and superstitions as well as anything. She swallowed thickly, "I believe in the Stranger," she said, "I believe that's the true face of god; not as a part of the Seven either, but by itself. The Strangers looks forward and back at the same time," she explained, "it looks to the future and the past, sees into light and darkness both. It's no coincidence we have a god of many faces here, or the seven facets of the Faith, Lords of Light and Darkness, the Drowned God and the Storm God. Because no one being can look in all directions or be in all places at once, it has to have two faces, two sides... How would you even know light without darkness to compare it to," she offered, "or warmth without cold?"
She watched his gaze soften and a smile slip slowly across his lips. When he reached out for her, she went easily, fitting her body against his side to look up at him. The fear had mostly left his eyes, replaced by that sly look he wore so well. "A man understands," he said, sliding his fingers up the back of her hair and tangling them tightly again. "A girl has ice and darkness in her, and a man was born of fire."
"A Stark and a-" Arya trailed off, squinting at him. "Who are you, anyway?"
Jaqen lowered his head to hide a smirk, "A man will keep his secrets for just a little while longer."