“Morning, where’s father? FUCK! It’s 10:30? I mean...sorry, I...I know I set my alarm. I really did! Why didn’t you wake me when you heard it going off? Did you at least call the school and tell them that I was feeling sick,” asked Arya, biting her lip. Father said that if I overslept again, I’d have to walk to school. They’re not really going to make me walk all the way there, are they? It’s on the other side of town. I bet they drove Sansa to school whenever she slept through her alarm.
“Arya, I shut off your alarm. Don’t worry about oversleeping; I already called Highgarden Academy and told them you were ill. You don’t have to go today,” Is this a dream? Why is mother being so nice to me? What’s going on? “Sansa said she’d watch Rickon for the morning and your uncle Edmure was happy to drive Robin to school once I explained the situation to him. Since Joffrey stayed over last night, he even agreed to drop off Bran on his way home. I don’t like that boy any more than you do, but you really should thank him for that the next time he comes over. He said that he knew how hard this day was going to be for you and wanted to do whatever he could to make your life easier. Mayhaps he’s like this more often than we notice and that’s what your sister sees in him,” Catelyn replied sadly. If you only knew what half of what he did while you and father were on vacation in Braavos... Sansa made Bran and I swear not to tell anyone, but we both saw the whole thing. It was bad enough that Joffrey was snorting cocaine off the kitchen table two hours after Sansa told him he could come over, but then he beat her when she tried to make him stop. At least Rickon was asleep; if he’d seen Joffrey sucker-punch Sansa, he’d have attacked the bastard. Who knows what that stupid cokehead would’ve done to him if that had happened, Arya thought to herself, glancing nervously at the set of kitchen knives on the counter.
His stupid grandfather would’ve gotten him out of it, most like. Everyone knows that Mr. Lannister owns half of the police in Winter Falls. That stupid capitalist pig doesn’t own Jon though and he never will either! Everyone always acts like Joffrey is some sort of golden boy who can do no wrong because Tywin fucking Lannister is his grandfather. Sansa pretends he loves her because she wants to be a stupid Lannister and have everyone treat her like a stupid queen. Wasn’t it enough that everyone always liked her best at school? Father looks the other way because Tywin heard him arguing with mother about Jon.
Mother pretends Joffrey isn’t just some stupid, drug dealing creep who beats her daughter whenever he drinks too much because she wants her favorite daughter to grow up to be a proper little Lady. Apparently being Tywin Lannister’s granddaughter-in-law is a golden ticket into polite society or whatever it is that the two of them are always going on about. Maybe mother really doesn’t know what Joffrey’s done and just puts up with him because she thinks that he makes Sansa happy even if he is a prick...maybe. No, that’s stupid! How could she not know what a monster he is? I wish Jon were still here; he’d know what to do.
Bran’s too scared of Joffrey to say or do anything, Rickon’s too young, and Robb’s useless just like always. No, he isn’t completely useless...not really. At least he tried to tell Sansa that her stupid golden lion was fucking her best friend. Of course, Sansa didn’t believe him; she’d never hear a bad word about Jeyne Poole. Simply thinking about Jeyne filled Arya with a murderous rage. I hate her! I hate her! I hate her! If it weren’t for that...that...stupidhead, no one would’ve ever called me “Arya Horseface.” Someone else would’ve probably thought of “Lumpyhead” though, Arya realized, frowning.
At least Joffrey’s afraid of cousin Robin. No, he’s not afraid of him, he just...gets creeped out by the way Robin talks sometimes is all. Robin’s not so bad...not really. Sansa shouldn’t make fun of him; he means well...usually. And we had to adopt the poor kid besides. The state wasn’t going to let him just stay with Uncle Petyr. Not after Aunt Lysa got sent to the looney bin for putting rat poison in his milk because she liked the attention. And he was a child from Aunt Lysa’s first marriage besides. I can’t believe they let that psycho out last year; Uncle Petyr must have bribed someone to give her a clean bill of health. I don’t care if Lysa is my stupid Aunt, she better stay away from Robin! He’s part of our pack now, even if mother only wanted to adopt him in order to get back at father for making her tell everyone that Jon was her son.
Of course Robin’s a little fucked up; who wouldn’t be after something like that? And if Sansa was nice to him then maybe...just maybe Robin wouldn’t follow me around ALL the time, Arya fumed. No, I have to be patient and understanding; I must needs be a good older sister to him, even if he can be really annoying. Robin doesn’t have any other friends and I know what that’s like.
“Give me a break,” replied Arya rolling her eyes. “You know how much Joffrey hates me. He probably got drunk and threw up in my closet again or deleted another paper from my stupid computer. Seven Hells! I think I left it online last night. If he used my account to make some sort of racist tweet, I’ll –”
“You’ve harassed him too, young lady.”
“MOTHER, I told you not to call me that. I’m not a stupid Lady!”
“Mayhaps not, but you were the one who cut the tires on Joffrey’s car.” Fuck me!
“You...you knew that was me?” I would’ve cut his stupid breaks instead if Bran hadn’t caught me. Don’t you hear that snorting sound the stupid junkie is always making? Joffrey is going to really hurt Sansa someday! Why does no one else care? I hate that bastard! Him and his stupid family. He’ll never be part of our pack...not really.
“I do now.”
“Hey, that’s not fair! You tricked me!”
“I didn’t tell anyone, just...don’t do it again. In truth, he deserved it for leaving the bathroom that night and throwing up all over your clothes.” I’m definitely dreaming. Mother would never be this nice to me, especially not when she seems so sad. She’d treat Sansa like this even if she’d just flunked out of Citadel State, but not me. Father and her never loved me as much as Sansa or even any of my brothers...not really. It can’t be that something happened to Jon; she’d be happy about that.
“Mother, you look like you’re trying not to cry. Why did Joffrey and Uncle Edmure need to drop Bran and Robin off at school? Father normally does that on his way to work. What’s going on?” Summer wandered over to the kitchen table and sat down right next to Arya’s chair, plainly hoping that she would give him a piece of breakfast bacon.
“Wait...where’s Nymeria?” Arya had always loved her dog more than any of her siblings loved theirs. In truth, Nymeria oft felt more like a daughter of sorts than a pet. No one else ever liked me better than Sansa...except Jon, but he moved out years ago and never visits us besides. Robin doesn’t count...not really. Nymeria can’t be sick; she’s only six years old. She wouldn’t run away like Ghost did either. Lady got killed by coyotes when she was still a puppy and Jaime Lannister hit Shaggydog with his car, but Nymeria and Summer usually stayed indoors. And she was on my bed when I went to sleep last night besides.
“Your father found Nymeria lying in the hall by Bran’s room earlier this morning. She was convulsing and foaming at the mouth. Your father drove her to the vet and –”
“NO! She can’t...is she still alive? Why didn’t you wake me? Why didn’t...why...I...I should be there...I should be with her,” Arya sobbed. “Wait...we...we don’t even...don’t even have a...a...vet in Winter Falls. YOU DIDN’T –” They wouldn’t just kill her...would they? I didn’t even get to say goodbye.
“Of course not. Do you truly believe that your father and I would kill Nymeria? Seven Hells, Arya, some old man opened a veterinary clinic last week. His name was Dr. Ryburne...Dr. Qyburn...something like that.”
“I want to go there now! Please, I have to...I –”
“Arya, I’m sure Nymeria will be fine. Mayhaps it’s best that we –”
“Please, if...if anything happens to her and I’m not –”
“Fine,” sighed Catelyn, plainly dreading the trip more and more with each passing second. “But I want you to listen to me very carefully, Arya. No matter what happens, no matter what you hear or see, you must promise me that you won’t cry like this once we get there. I won’t have you making a scene at the vet’s office.”
“I won’t cry when we get there, not even once! I swear on my life! Can we go now! Please, mother, Nymeria needs me! She must be so scared and...and –”
“We...we can go as soon as you get dressed,” replied Catelyn, sounding as though her worst nightmare were unfolding right before her very eyes. She rubbed her forehead and forced herself to set aside the anticipatory anxiety as her youngest daughter raced up the stairs.
As usual, Arya didn’t put on any makeup; she didn’t even bother combing her hair since there plainly wasn’t any time to waste on such things. She simply threw on her combat boots, two mismatched socks that were lying on the floor, a pair of gym shorts, and a Sanders ’16 t-shirt, and began one of the longest car rides of her life. Nymeria must be really sick, Arya realized, biting her lip. Else mother never would’ve let me dress this way in December.
It was only a five minute drive to the vet’s office, but by the time they arrived, Arya’s eyes were so pink and swollen that she looked as though she’d been crying for hours. She wiped away her tears with her left sleeve, blew her nose, and opened the car door.
Arya glanced inside her father’s car in the parking lot and had to bite her lip to keep herself from screaming. There’s so much blood, it...it’s everywhere. The back seat of her father’s Buick looked as though it had been painted a strange reddish-brown color. It’s okay, Nymeria, I...I’ll be there soon. I’m so sorry I couldn’t be there when father brought you to the vet; I should’ve noticed when you got out of my bed. I would’ve come with you if mother or father had woken me up. I really would! Please don’t hate me!
It was even worse once they entered the small brick building. There was no one else there except for father and some old man in a white lab-coat. That must be the veterinarian, only...why does he have blood stains all over his clothes? “Is Nymeria okay? What’s wrong with her? Can I see her? Where is she,” shouted Arya. Her father turned and looked as though he were about to have a stroke.
“Damn it, Cat, I told you not to bring her until I called,” barked Ned. “Do you have any idea of much harder this is going to be for her now? Seven Hells! Why is our daughter wearing shorts and a t-shirt? It’s snowing outside for fuck’s sake.”
“I’m not cold! Where’s Nymeria? She’s still alive, isn’t she?”
“Eddard Stark, don’t you dare swear at me! If you’d seen how devastated your daughter was when I told her, you’d understand why –”
“You told...what were you thinking? Cat, we went over this; you weren’t supposed to tell her that it was anything more than a routine check-up until we knew whether or not the bloody dog could be saved.”
“How stupid do you think our daughter is? She knows there wasn’t a veterinarian in Winter Falls until last week. What would you have had me tell her when she asked if Nymeria had been killed while she was asleep?”
“In truth, I almost wish I’d done that. At least that way, this would be happening at home instead of in Dr. Qyburn’s waiting room.” Ned glanced at his youngest daughter who was suddenly looking at him as though she didn’t even recognize him. The girl’s sad, grey eyes were growing wider and wider like two rapidly inflating balloons. “Oh fuck me! Arya, I didn’t mean –”
“YOU WHAT? I HATE...wait...what do you mean ‘whether or not she could be saved?’ Nymeria...is she...is she deh-dead? But...no...she...sh-sh-she can’t die! I never even got to say goodbye to her. She...” No! No! No! No! No! No! No! No! No! No!
True to her word, Arya did not cry the way she did at her parent’s house...this was far worse. It became impossible to think, much less speak coherently as bitter tears poured down her cheeks and she grew so congested that she could only breath through one nostril. In that moment, she was not Arya Stark, the sixteen year-old daughter of Ned and Catelyn Stark; she was just a sad, frightened little girl who hated herself for failing to save her best friend.
If it didn’t take long for coherent thoughts to start racing through Arya’s mind again, the same could not be said for rational ones. Nymeria was my only...my only friend. Mother made Jon swear never to come back and visit or even speak to any of her children ever again after he moved out. Bran and Rick...Rickon probably wouldn’t be my...my friends if...if I wasn’t a Star...Stark. Sansa was much...was...was much nicer when I got...got older, but she never says anything when Jeyne bullies me. She’s probably...probably just pretend...pretending to like me better now because...because she’s stuck with me. Even Robin probably doesn’t want to be my friend...not really. He probably just follows me around because no one else is nice to him. Even Uncle...Uncle Petyr calls him a retard when he’s had...had too much...too much to drink. Nymeria...were her...were her last thoughts wondering why I wasn’t there with her when she died? It didn’t matter if any of this was true or not. It didn’t even matter that Nymeria – being a Siberian Husky – was plainly incapable of such thoughts. All that mattered was that Arya had no one except Nymeria who was truly her own and that she was sound asleep when her best friend needed her most. It was as though someone had cut her heart out and buried it six feet underground.
“Look what you did now, Cat!”
“What I did? Don’t you dare blame me for this; you’re the one who insisted that we let the poor girl sleep through that mess.”
“WHAT ABOUT NYMERIA,” shouted Arya. I’m here for Nymeria; stop making this about you! Who cares which of you screwed this up? The two of you are worse than Robin and Rickon sometimes.
“And you would have had our daughter sitting in the backseat next to Nymeria while the god damned dog vomited blood all over the place? Is that the way of it?”
“See? That’s exactly the sort of thing I’m talking about! How do you think she’s going to react when the vet tells her that we had to put the bloody dog down before the two of you even got here?” Put her down...they...they didn’t! They wouldn’t! I...I never even got to say good...goodbye, I...I...
“I can’t imagine why our children always came to me whenever they weren’t getting along with one of their classmates; you have such a way with words, Ned. I’m certainly glad we didn’t say anything that would upset Arya.”
“WILL THE TWO OF YOU JUST SHUT UP!”
“I don’t ever want to hear you speak that way to your mother and I again, young lady!”
“SEVEN HELLS! For the last time, I am not a stupid Lady; stop calling me that! Do either of you have any idea how embarrassing it is?”
“One of these days, we’re going to have a serious talk about your language.”
“Yes, father,” sniffled Arya, rolling her eyes.
“Cat, mayhaps this could have been handled better and I’m sorry about –”
“You should be after what you made me –” Not this again... I hate both of you so much right now!
“We’re not going to have another fight about Jon. The last time we did that in public, Tywin Lannister heard everything and he’s been holding that over my head ever since. Half the arguments we’ve ever had were really about that poor boy. He didn’t ask to be –”
“Pardon me for interupting, Mr. Stark, but mayhaps you and your wife would like a moment alone. Far be it from me to cut short such a fascinating look at the subconscious spousal resentments that have doubtless caused a lifetime of passive-aggressive behavior over the course your marriage, but I fear it might be best for all concerned if the two of you sorted this out privately. There is no one in room 12A at the moment. All of the rooms at my clinic are soundproofed...although I believe Lord Bolton was more concerned with the screams of children when he made that suggestion,” said the old man in a tone that made it plain that he was only phrasing it as a suggestion to be polite.
“Of course, my...apologies, Doctor,” muttered Ned.
“Mr. Qyburn will serve, I think. I believe I already told you that I have no wish to be called ‘doctor,’ not while medical science limps about like a wounded animal begging to be put out of its misery. I fear that if there is anyone among my colleagues who shares my curiosity, I have yet to meet him.”
“Or her,” Arya grumbled, wiping her eyes with the last unused tissue left in the waiting room.
“Yes, yes, of course; you are quite right. There are plenty of female doctors these days and if just one of them is truly willing to do whatever she must to satisfy her curiosity, then she will be worth a thousand of the meek, timid souls hell bent on choking the life out of the medical profession.” I knew there had to be female doctors somewhere! Maybe they just all work in Braavos or Dorne...maybe. Why would anyone want to work here if they could go somewhere else?
“Mr. Qyburn, if it isn’t too much trouble, would you mind telling our daughter the details; I fear my wife and I must needs take you up on that offer.”
“Third door on your left, Mr. Stark. You can’t miss it; it’s the only one in that hallway that isn’t locked.” Mr. Qyburn may be a bit strange, but he’s not so bad...not really. At least he’s not trying to make this all about him like mother and father did. I’d rather hear about it from him than my parents if they’re going to keep acting like this. Arya sat down on one of three large crates that were lying on the far right side of the room and shivered. There’s nothing to be afraid of...not really. Mr. Qyburn is just some kindly old man is all. Why is this stupid crate so cold? She tried the other two crates, but they both felt the same as the first one. What could possibly be in there?
“Did you hear him, Ned? That man said we’re arguing like little children,” whispered Catelyn as she and her husband walked through the door separating the waiting room from the main hallway.
“I’m sorry about earlier, Cat. I’ve been dealing with that man, the damn dog, and when you showed up with Arya...it just caught me off guard. That girl is going to be the death of me.” You know we can still hear both of you, right? Seven Hells! Can’t you at least wait until you’re in that stupid soundproofed room. When her parents had finally left the waiting room, Mr. Qyburn approached Arya with a speed that would be unusual in a man two decades younger.
“You must be Arya. Your father told me...well...he mentioned you once or twice.”
“I’m sorry about mother and father; they really do love each other though. They just...fight a lot is all.” Mr. Qyburn gave an understanding nod and smiled sadly.
“As you say. Some couples are just like that, I suppose. I fear it is always the children who suffer the most in such households.”
“Nymeria...did she...she didn’t suffer, did she,” asked Arya, biting her lip nervously.
“Suffer? Oh yes, I fear she suffered a great deal. That’s why your father told me to put the poor dog out of its misery. In truth, I’ve never seen a creature in such pain during my regular office hours. Lord Bolton on the other hand...”
“Who?” Even though she wanted to hear more about Nymeria, Arya found that she was simply too exhausted to hear another word about her friend without changing the subject for a few minutes. Fortunately, Mr. Qyburn didn’t seem to mind keeping her company while her parents argued.
“Lord Bolton is an old and dear friend of mine. He moved here shortly after I did.”
“Why do you call him ‘Lord Bolton?’”
“He comes from a very old and wealthy family. Technically, he is a Lord and at his age, one oft develops a certain fondness for tradition. We met a few years ago and since then, he’s provided me with the money to travel through the small towns of rural Westeros and set up animal shelters. Whenever I’m in town, I also try to open a veterinary clinic since there seem to be so few of them in the area. We don’t leave until there are enough dedicated employees to keep things up and running after we’re gone. We’ve visited a few towns not too far from here: Dragonstone Heights, Twin Crossing Village, Skagos, and so on.”
“I’ve never heard of Dragonstone Heights, but the other two are ghost towns. Everyone knows that; why would –”
“As you say. But I can assure you that there were once people living there; I’ve met some of them. Of course, even if those towns are dead today, Lord Bolton still considers the money he spent during our time there to have been well spent. Both he and his sons have a great fondness for pets and Lord Bolton is nothing if not sentimental. An animal lover through and through,” said Mr. Qyburn with a gentle smile.
“Can I...I mean...would it be alright if I met Lord Bolton? I want to be a veterinarian someday and I might be interested in volunteering here...if that’s allowed. It’s a Friday, so there’s no school tomorrow and I –”
“I’m sure Lord Bolton would be delighted to meet you and any friends of yours who might wish to come along. He loves children.” This time the old man’s smile – though still gentle – had a strange, mischievous quality to it. For a moment, he looked like a man who had just told a friend some sort of secret inside joke.
“I’m not a child.”
“My apologies, when you get to be as old as I am, I fear that everyone seems like a child.”
“I know my cousin Robin will want to and I’ll try to get my younger brothers to come along too.”
“That would be wonderful; I’m sure Lord Bolton will be able to find plenty for you and your friends. The more the merrier, I always say. I fear that he is often out of town during the day and he’s always kept odd hours besides; we all have our eccentricities. The earliest he could drop by would be 6:00 PM, I think.”
“That seems pretty late. Does anyone even come here at that time of night?”
“You’d be surprised at how many stray animals are running around. Some shelters simply euthanize them on the spot, but we treat any of their medical conditions at a discounted rate and work to find good homes for them. In truth, this place is far busier at night.”
“And Mr. Bolt...I mean...Lord Bolton, he doesn’t care that he’s losing money on places like this?”
“Lord Bolton feels that since towns like yours have given him so much over the years, it’s only fair that he give something back to them. He may be a wealthy man, but he lives a fairly simple life and has far fewer expenses than most. And when you’re as rich as he is...well...no, I don’t think he cares too much about the money. That’s never been what motivated him.” That’s the difference between a good man and crooks like Tywin Lannister, Chief Slynt, and Uncle Petyr, Arya decided.
“What about 6:30?”
“How did Nymeria die?”
“Arya, I’m sure Dr. Qyburn is very busy. Why don’t we let him get back to work,” asked Catelyn, glancing at the exist as she re-entered the waiting room. Her husband followed behind her wearily; his haggard face was the very picture of exhaustion.
“That’s quite alright, Ms. Stark; we’re almost finished here. I should mention that your daughter expressed an interest in volunteering here, but I wanted to make sure that is alright with –”
“Fine...I mean, I’m sorry, doctor. Of course, Ned and I don’t mind, we’ve just had a very tiring day and need to get home.”
“I completely understand, Ms. Stark. As for your question, Arya...well...I’m afraid you can’t give dogs chocolate.”
“I didn’t! That can’t be right...I mean...I never gave her chocolate, not even once.”
“Arya, how many times have I told you not to give Nymeria human food,” groaned Catelyn, giving her daughter the sad look of disappointment that only a mother can give her children.
“I really didn’t! I swear!”
“Well...someone certainly did; that dog plainly ingested a great deal of dark chocolate. In truth, she had the worst case of theobromine poisoning that I’ve ever seen.”
“Are you certain, doctor,” asked Catelyn. Is she calling him that because she’s angry about what he said earlier?
“I would prefer that you didn’t...never mind. Yes, I’m quite certain, Ms. Stark.” How? We were always careful not to leave chocolate lying around. Unless...mother said Joffrey was being nice this morning and...THAT BASTARD! I’ll kill him...I’ll...I’ll...it had to have been him! I knew he’d do something after Nymeria bit him last night, but I never thought...
I can’t say anything to mother and father, they’ll never believe me. I don’t care if Sansa loves that stupid junkie or not. If she wants to let Joffrey beat her and is in denial about what he’s doing with Jeyne, that’s her problem; but he’s gone too far this time! I’m not going to scream or cry or lose my temper. I just need to wait patiently for him to come over to our house again. He probably won’t for a few weeks, but that just means I’ll have more time to prepare. I don’t care if Tywin Lannister is his stupid grandfather and I won’t let Bran stop me this time either. I...I’ll put industrial-strength bleach in his cocaine or I’ll cut his breaks or...or I’ll...I’ll... I’m going to kill that bastard!