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War of the Queens

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“My Queen,” Petyr’s voice was low behind her. Catelyn did not turn, but allowed him to approach. Outside the window, she could see Jon Arryn’s head on the spike she’d had it mounted on. The lords of the Vale would be waiting below, along with Lysa, and Catelyn knew that a condition of their cooperation would be the return of Lord Arryn’s body. Still, seeing him on that spike gave her great satisfaction.

And so she stared, as if she could burn the view into her memory.

Petyr touched her elbow, and Catelyn withdrew her eyes from the gate.

“Lord Arryn arranged my marriage to Robert,” she told him, almost absently. The weight of anxiousness and fear she’d felt all throughout her marriage was replaced with an anxiousness and fear of a different sort, a fear for her children and her throne, but she was still happy to be rid of two great enemies; Robert and Lord Arryn.

“I remember,” Petyr tells her, and a small smile graces his lips. “But you shouldn’t have killed him like that.”

Catelyn’s eyes close and her head feels light. “He had to die. He was plotting with the Lannisters.”

“The Starks, you mean. Cersei Stark, not Lannister anymore.”

Catelyn smiles grimly. “There is no distinction between the two. They are both our enemies.”

Petyr’s green eyes cut into her like a knife, but Catelyn has never backed down before him, and she never will. “Let’s go make you some allies, then. My Queen.”

Catelyn nods, and allows him to escort her down to the chamber in which Lord Nestor Royce and Lysa wait. Lysa would come to her side, Catelyn hoped. Lysa had hated her husband with a passion, and she loved Petyr well. If not, Catelyn knew she could get little Robin away from his guards and hold him here in the Red Keep to assure the Vale’s cooperation. But she would rather have willing allies.

 

 

“You killed Lord Arryn,” Lord Royce tells her. “You say he was plotting with Targaryens, but I’ve not yet seen proof.”

Catelyn looks down on Lord Royce from her seat on the dais. “He approached me with threats to my children, Lord Royce, and actively kept informations about the Stark rebellion from me. King Steffon’s life takes precedence. I loved Lord Arryn well, and as a good brother and advisor and friend to my husband, Robert. But it was only mere moments after my beloved died that Lord Arryn was found in his room, writing letters to Lord Stark about information that should never have left the Red Keep.”

“What information?” Lord Royce demands. “You evade every question, spin your tales. Why have we not met with King Steffon yet?”

Catelyn regards Lord Royce coolly. “Because King Steffon did not order Lord Arryn’s execution. I did. My son loved your lord. He is King, but still young. He would not have done what needed to be done.” She waves forward Varys, and he scuttles forward with Arryn’s correspondence. “It is because of Lord Arryn’s letters that we have found the real traitors, Lord Royce. The Starks.”

Lord Royce takes the letter from Varys as though it will burst into flames, but Catelyn thinks that he just does not want to get too close to the Spider. His eyes scan the page.

“Ned. The King is dead. We haven’t much time. I know you love the Targaryen boy well,” he reads aloud. “You must hide him from the throne if there is ever to be peace.”

“What do you make of that, my Lord?” Catelyn muses. “He loves the Targaryen boy well. And who, if not Viserys Targaryen? In Essos, raising a Dothraki army to savage these seven kingdoms?” Catelyn leans forward, grips the arms of the chair. “My son’s seven kingdoms.” Her voice softens, and she allows herself a moment of weakness, knowing that Lord Royce is too shocked from the revelation that Jon Arryn was not the saint he’d always worshipped. “You must help me protect my son, Lord Royce. I killed Lord Arryn only to protect the rightful king of Westeros.”

Lord Nestor’s eyes are red when he looks up at the Queen. “My Lady—Your Grace. Your son is the rightful king. We cannot allow the Targaryen madness back into Westeros.”

Catelyn leans back into her chair, doesn’t allow him to see her relief. “We mustn’t,” she assents, at once the demure woman she’s had years to perfect. “Lord Royce, I confess… I fear for Steffon’s life. He’s betrothed to a traitor’s daughter. Who knows what Joanna Stark will do when they are married?”

“Can you not break the betrothal?” Lord Royce asks, as she’d hoped he would. He is no longer concerned about avenging Lord Arryn’s death, but about the wellbeing of Catelyn’s son.

“No,” Catelyn says. “It was a betrothal before the Seven. I would not break it. I can delay, however. And keep Joanna Stark prisoner until this is over. Once they are married, she is under Steffon’s protection and cannot be hurt. Until then, though…she will be used to keep her father in line.”

“I cannot believe Lord Stark would betray the throne,” Lord Royce says, but she can hear the conviction in his tone. She’s convinced him, or at least planted a seed of mistrust and doubt, painted herself as an honorable, pious mother. “He and King Robert grew up together. They fought together, conquered the Seven Kingdoms from the Targaryens. Why would he betray everything he loves for the dragon spawn he hates?”

Catelyn stands, and makes her way to Lord Royce. “We shall ask him when we meet on the battlefield,” she declares. “Will I have the aid of the knights of the Vale?”

Lord Royce’s eyes burn with indecision, but then he nods. “You shall, Your Grace.”

Catelyn’s heart skips a beat. She’s done it, by the gods. Petyr told her that Robert’s greatest gift was the ability to turn enemies into friends, and if she hasn’t done that here, she’d be damned.

Catelyn allows Lord Royce to clasp her hands. The letter is still between them. “Then let us go together,” she tells him. “Let us go swear fealty to the new king.”

 

 

“You got Lord Royce to listen to you?” Lysa asks. She takes a deep pull of wine. “I’d like to know how. He never does listen to me.”

“You’re never diplomatic,” Catelyn tells her sister, and touches Lysa’s hair. “I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you before it was done. I’m sorry you had to deal with the lords of the Vale yourself.”

Lysa sighs. “Only for a time,” she says. “What are your plans, dearest sister?”

“Protect my son,” Catelyn says automatically. “Kill the Starks. Keep the throne.”

“In that order?” Lysa asks.

Catelyn nods, and takes a sip of wine herself. “I know I have the knights of the Vale,” she says. “But I want to know if I have you on my side.” She makes her voice quiet, vulnerable, and knows Lysa will gobble it up. Her sister likes being needed. “I can’t do this without you, Lysa. Please, help me.”

At Catelyn’s helplessness, Lysa smiles. “Oh, Cat,” her sister says, and comes around to embrace her. She smells of the sickly sweet scent of summerwine, and her embrace is loosely held. “All you had to do was ask,” Lysa whispers in Catelyn’s ear.

 



Joanna has not been allowed outside her rooms for nearly a sennight, but tonight she must. Jocelyn had visited, and so had the queen, one of the most uncomfortable hours of Joanna’s life. But so far as Joanna knows, Steffon has not tried to see her yet. And she cannot allow him to forget her, stuck in her rooms as she is. Men are fickle, her mother had told her once, smiling at Joanna’s father. You have to remind them what they want.

Joanna intends to. She does not know what her future will entail, but she will not allow herself to rot away, forgotten in a corner of the Red Keep. She must remind Steffon of how much he loves her.

Lord Varys came to visit her, on her first night here. Joanna believes he’s fond of her, because she treats him nicely. When he shows up tonight, Joanna nearly kisses him right there and then.

“Thank you,” she whispers. He will not smuggle her out of the Keep, but he will help her out of her rooms.

Her hair is loose, and she has chosen only a loose shift and dress robe. She must look innocent and pure to Steffon, because it is that which will appeal to his imagination. Joanna has had days to plan every moment of this encounter, every iteration of what may happen, from bitter rejection on his part to his clumsy declarations of love. She cannot be alone. She must know where she stands with him.

“Mother,” she whispers, unsure if she’s praying to her own mother or the Gods, “forgive me for what I must do to survive.”

When Varys lets her into Steffon’s solar, Joanna is shaking. She’s never been so fearful in her life. He could call the guards, he could tell his mother. Joanna won’t be killed yet, but she could be locked in her rooms forever.

She calms herself, slowly. Her hands cease shaking, her back straightens. She hears her mother’s aunt Genna tell her, Your mother used to say she was a lion of the rock to keep her courage strong. She calls upon her mother’s courage now, upon her father’s honor, upon Arya’s strength and Robb’s charm. She armors herself in Jon Snow’s skin, in Myrcella’s innocence, and in Bran’s love of the unknown.

“I am a lion,” Joanna says, trying out the words. And then she pushes the oak door, and lets herself into Steffon’s chambers.

“Steffon?” she calls, quietly. She wants him to wake gently, with her on the other side of the room. Once, he’d told her he was a light sleeper. She hopes he’s sleeping lightly.

She says his name again, and watches him wake.

He’s a beautiful boy. At fifteen, he’s tall and strong, if still a bit skinny. His eyes are the color of the sky, and when they’d met as children, he’d kissed her hand so shyly she knew he would be easy to like.

You must train him, her mother told her. Make him into a man you’d want to marry.

Joanna intends to.

“Joanna?” Steffon’s voice is rough. “Is this a dream?”

She does not move closer, even though she aches for the touch of another person. She has barely felt another’s skin in seven days.

“No,” she tells him. “I’m here, my King.”

He sits up, and the covers drop. He’s not wearing a tunic, and Joanna can see him swallow. “What are you doing here, Joanna?” he asks, unsure. “How did you get here?”

Joanna lets her voice shake, “You didn’t come,” she says, “You didn’t see me for seven days, Steffon. I—” she breaks off, and twists her hands. “I don’t know what’s happening anymore. No one will tell me anything, and your mother told me that she wants to find a way to stop the wedding.”

Joanna stifles a sob. She’s not really crying, but she knows that Steffon cannot bear to see her cry. And he cannot, even now. Suddenly, he is out of his bed, crossing the room to her, pulling her into his arms. He’s gotten tall over this past year, and Joanna’s head fits under his chin.

“Don’t cry, Joanna,” he soothes, rubbing her back, stroking her hair. She sobs harder. “Joanna, Jo, please don’t cry.”

“You didn’t come to me,” she hiccups, and real tears come now, fear and frustration and desperation leaking from her eyes. She presses her face against his collarbone, so he can feel them too, feel guilt. “You said—you said you love—you loved me.” Her breath hitches. “Don’t you love me, Steffon?”

“I do!” Steffon insists. She feels his lips on her hair. Although his arms are around her, he really doesn’t know how to comfort a woman, Joanna notices. She can hear panic in his voice. “Joanna, I wanted to come, but mother said that I shouldn’t see you until your father surrenders, and I’ve been so busy as King that I…”

“Forgot about me?” Joanna says, and rips herself out of Steffon’s arms. He stands, blinking his eyes owlishly in the moonlight, arms still stretched out to her. “I’ve been so scared, Steffon. I know my father couldn’t have betrayed you. He loved your father, he knows I love you.”

It’s the first time Joanna’s told him she loves him, and she can see the effect immediately. He wants to please her, and he takes her hand. She allows him to draw her back.

“Don’t you want to marry me?” She asks.

“I do,” Steffon says. “More than anything. But my mother…”

“You’re the king, Steffon. Not her. If you really wanted to marry me, your mother wouldn’t make a difference.”

“I’m not the regent until next year, Joanna,” Steffon says, his hands wiping her face. His fingers always shake when he’s this close to her. Joanna leans into his touch, and places a hand over his.

“But your lords will listen to you, my love.” She pulls his face down to hers and kisses him deeply. They’ve only kissed twice before, both quick and sweet. This one is a clash of teeth and tongue. “We can stop this before it begins, Steffon,” she says, between kisses. He bears her down onto his bed, and Joanna lets him touch her over her night shift. That’s all she will allow for tonight.

“I love you,” he tells her, and he kisses her again. She can feel what she does to him through thin cotton, and it sends a surge of power through her. “I won’t let anything happen to you,” he pants against her mouth, and that’s the last thing Joanna registers for a long time.

Chapter Text

Cersei has just woken when she hears a soft knock on the door of the carriage. Through the slats, she can see that it is night, but the sun has just begun to rise.

“Lady Stark,” a voice says, from outside the carriage. “Stay here. We’ve spotted a band of men not too far from us.”

Cersei is awake in an instant, pulling her cloak tightly around her and sweeping aside the curtain. It is Jon Snow, looking grim and tight-jawed. There are shadows under his eyes. The night air carries a chill that had not been there a moon past.

“What is happening?” She demands quietly. Bran sleeps on, but she can see him stirring. It will not be long before Jon’s voice wakes him.

“Your father is deciding, Lady Stark. I’ve been told to guard the carriage and wake you. Bran, too.”

Cersei nods, and reaches back to wake her son. “Bran, my love, you must wake,” she tells him, and turns back to Jon. “Bandits?”

Mutely, Jon shakes his head. “I don’t believe so. They have no sigils, but they are well-armed. Castle-forged steel, it looks like.”

“Edmure Tully has sent them, then.”

The chill has crept into Cersei’s very bones now. She has never minded the cold, not since the first moons of her marriage living in Winterfell. But this is fear, she realizes.

“Edmure Tully, or some other lord eager to collect us for the Queen. Bran, take your bow. I need you on top of the carriage. Awake, Bran.”

Cersei feels a stab of panic. “He cannot fight. He’s too young.”

Jon hesitates, but shakes his head. “He won’t be, my lady. He will just watch for us.”

Still blinking blearily, Bran grabs his bow and quiver. Jon helps him out of the carriage. Cersei can hear his feet scurrying above her.

“Lord Tywin is calling me over,” Jon says. “I’ll be back.”

Cersei will not wait to be told what is happening in false, soothing tones. She hates being kept in the dark. Instead, she follows him. It’s too dark for her to see very far, but beyond their campsite, she can see the flickerings of fire through the trees.

Her father is being armored, and Cersei can hear the low rumble of his voice just before she sees him.

“Snow, I told you to keep her in the carriage,” Lord Tywin says.

“We are two days from Stony Sept,” Cersei says, ignoring him. “So close to the Westerlands, and your waiting men. We are nearly to safety. Can we not leave now, without conflict? Leave before sunrise, and have them wake to find us gone?”

“Our horses are too loud,” Jory says. “They would hear us.”

Jory is being too kind. The horses are not the issue, Cersei knows. It is the blasted carriage, with its wheels that cannot travel more than three days without breaking.

“We shall leave the carriage behind,” she says. “They will not hear us, not now that the stream has overflown. It will mask our noise.” She turns to her father. “We cannot blindly fight everyone who we think is following us. Think of the bodies we leave behind. If Catelyn Tully did not know for sure we were here before, she will once they are found.”

“We are a long way from Riverrun,” Lord Tywin says. “The closest castle with a raven, other than Stony Sept, is a hard four day ride. News will travel so slowly, we will be gone by the time they hear. She will know where we were, to be sure. But not where we will be.”

“There will be other soldiers in the area,” Cersei hisses. “They will not travel so slowly once they see the bodies.”

Jory finishes with his armor, and Lord Tywin nods to him. He turns to Cersei. “We are going to attack before they do. Go back to the carriage. Jon Snow and three of my men will watch you.”

Cersei wants to march away from him, but forces herself to walk slowly, dignified. Three weeks of hard riding, and she has not been outside the carriage for more than an hour at a time since they left Maidenpool. Back into it she goes. She is aware of Bran merely a few feet above, can hear him shifting about, getting his footing. He is but a boy of one and ten, she thinks. A half-remembered prayer springs to Cersei’s lips, a prayer for the Warrior.

“Lady Stark?” Jory says. Cersei peers out the window. The first rays of dawn throw his face into a cold light. Beyond him, she can see Jon Snow pull his sword from its scabbard.

“Yes?”

“I’m closing the curtain, my lady. Don’t come out unless I tell you.”

She wants to tell him not to, that she cannot bear being blind, not knowing what is going on about her. But she presses her lips together and nods.

Jory looks relieved that she does not argue. He eases the fabric off its hook and Cersei is in darkness once again.

There is silence for a long while. Cersei’s ears strain to hear the sounds of fighting beyond the birds and chirping. There are none. She has just decided to try and pray again when she hears Bran scream.

“JON, LOOK OUT!”

There is an unmistakable sound of swords meeting, and a grunt. Cersei sits, frozen. She cannot see what is happening, and panic rises in her throat.

The carriage shakes as Bran shifts above her, and she can hear the thwak of an arrow flying.

The swords are so loud, Cersei could swear they are in the carriage with her. She hears a shout, but she cannot tell who gave it, and there is a thump above her. In the dark, she can only imagine what is happening, and so imagine she does. An image of Bran comes, unbidden, bleeding. Jon Snow, Jory, her father, dead. Cersei is aware her breathing has sped, but she cannot stop gasping for air. Still, she does not open the curtain to check what is happening.

A body slams into the carriage, rocking it. Cersei does not move other than to catch herself before she falls.

And as fast as they started, the sounds disappear. Too long passes before Cersei hears anything else.

“My Lady?” One of her fathers soldiers say. She recognizes the voice, and composes herself. When the curtain is pushed to the side, Cersei has straightened her spine and smoothed her face. If her chest rises and falls faster than before, no one says so.

“Are they dead?” She asks.

“Yes,” the man says. “It seems they were planning on attacking us as we planned to attack them. Lord Tywin’s band fell on the biggest group, but some managed to get through the trees and find their way here.”

“And my son?” Cersei fights to keep her face blank, her voice even.

“I’m here, mother,” Bran says, and that is when Cersei breaks, scrambling out of the carriage. There is dirt on his face, and his bow is broken. She clutches him to her. “When Jon shoved that man into the carriage, I was thrown off. I landed on my—Mother, I’m fine! Ow!”

“Bran,” Jon says, and Cersei nearly starts at the proximity of his voice. “Get your mother into the carriage.” Jon has blood on his sword, and a cut on his face. He is breathing heavily. “We have to leave, Lady Stark. Now.”

Cersei nods, face white, and asks, “My father…?”

“He is fine, my lady,” her father’s captain, Ser Morys says, and Cersei can see him wince as he tries to place weight on his left leg. There is blood in his beard. “They were not ready for us,” Ser Morys continues, and gestures to the carriage. Cersei looks at the box that she has been confined to for too long, hesitates, and climbs in.

Bran is sniffling when he gets in behind her. “I hurt my arm,” he tells Cersei. “After I shot one of the men, I was trying to nock another arrow, and one of them saw that I was shaking, so he tried to pull me down. Jon shoved him into the carriage, and I fell.” Through the weak light, Cersei can barely see his face when he says, “I think I killed a man.”

Cersei holds him until he falls asleep again.

 


 


Margaery is sitting with her cousins when Loras bursts into the room. His face is flushed and his eyes are wide. Margaery can see there is something on the tip of his tongue.

“Excuse me,” Margaery says smoothly, and takes her brother’s arm. He tries to lead her quickly, but she forces him to slow, until she has led him to the garden.

“What has happened?” She asks, keeping the excitement from her voice.

Loras clutches her hand, and whispers, “Father got two letters today. One from the Queen, and one from Lord Stark.”

Margaery forces her heart to slow. “Both asking for our armies, no doubt.”

“Aye,” Loras affirms. He looks around, and lowers his voice, “But Lord Stark offered you something Queen Catelyn did not, and now Grandmother is pressing him to join the Starks.”

“He made a better offer? And what was it?” Margaery asks. She knows the answer, in her heart of hearts, but she must hear him say it.

Loras’s grip loosens, and he steps back to regard his sister. “Marriage,” he says finally. “He offers a marriage.”

Chapter Text

They meet Lord Frey outside the Twins.

Robb shifted on his horse, and watched as Walder Frey was lowered from his litter. It was a wobbly thing, and he’d heard Lord Frey cursing in before he’d even seen him.

Robb shot a look at Theon, and in a fluid movement he was off his horse. “Lord Frey,” Robb greeted, all smooth courtesy. “Thank you for meeting with me.”

Walder Frey was an old, ugly man. He had a sour look on his face. “You’ve hardly given me a choice, have you? ‘Thank you for meeting with me’,” he mocked. “You’ve been camped outside my walls for a fortnight, making a bloody racket. I’m old, Robb Stark. I have to get my sleep, or else I’ll make my children happy for once when I die of agitation.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Robb can see Theon tensing. Two of the Frey soldiers have their hands resting on their swords. Robb knows they won’t do anything, not with the might of all the North just behind him.

“The noise can end,” Robb tells Lord Frey. “The attacks upon your walls can end. The siege can end.”

Lord Frey gives a rattling laugh. “You think I’m an idiot, boy? Don’t look at me that way. When you’ve lived long as I have, you’re all boys. Yes, the siege can end, can it? When I commit treason to the throne and let you pass the river.”

Robb regards him. Lord Frey spoke like a loyal bannerman to the throne, but his eyes told another story, glittering as they were. “If you were truly loyal to the Queen,” Robb told him, eyes narrowed, “then you’d stay in your towers and wait out the siege. You could hold us off until we finished our catapults, Lord Frey, and we’re not even halfway done. Once we’d finished and started attacking, you’d have to cede the Twins to us. By then, though, Lord Edmure and his forces would be waiting for us on the other side.” Robb stepped closer and lowered his voice. “You’re not in your tower, though,” he said, almost thoughtfully. “Wonder if it’s because you’ve decided to see if it’s worth throwing your lot in with the Starks.”

There is quiet, for a moment. Then Lord Frey throws his head back and laughs. “Gods, boy,” he coughs when he is done, “You’re nothing like your father, are you? Go on, then. What would I gain by siding with the Starks?”

Robb keeps the distaste off his face, keeps his jaw from clenching. He is, despite Walder Frey’s japing, his father’s son.

“What you really want,” Robb says, face still, watching, always watching. His next words are met with silence, as he knew they’d be.

“The Riverlands.”

 

The Northern army moves as fast as an army can, once the bridge opens to them. The Frey soldiers are placed in the middle of the procession, by the Umbers. Robb knows the Greatjon will keep a close eye on them.

“Father,” he calls, when they have crossed. He sends his destrier into a trot, and in seconds, he’s by his father’s side.

“Robb,” Ned Stark says, his face clouded. He turns away from Lord Karstark. “You did well, Robb,” his father says, and turns to watch the men behind them.

“Thank you, father,” despite himself, Robb feels the warmth spread through his chest. No matter the distaste of dealing with Walder Frey, he’s proud of himself. Robb thinks his mother would be too.

“We’ll be meeting the Riverland forces soon,” Olyvar Frey says from besides Robb. He’s been hanging by Robb’s side since before they left the Twins. Part of Robb’s deal was taking a Frey on as a squire, though Robb’s no knight.

Lord Stark regards him. “When did you last hear from Lord Edmure?” he asks.

“Five days ago,” Olyvar Frey replies. “He’s been gathering his banners, preparing to travel North. But the Queen has also demanded soldiers search the Riverlands for Lord Tywin and your lady wife, as well as guard the Westerlands border.”

“They’re going to be spread thin,” Lord Stark says. To anyone else, his voice would be grim, but Robb can hear the hope in it.

“Until the Eyrie and the Stormlands can rustle up their men,” Robb interjects. “Or the Reach chooses a side.”

Lord Stark nods, his eyes far away. “We must move quickly, then.”

When they camp for the night, Robb and Theon make their way to the war tent. Lord Stark’s plans unfurl in front of before the map, big Northern lords crowded around the table.

“We stay west,” Lord Stark tells them all. “Take Seagard and Oldstones if we can, and meet Lord Edmure’s forces in the Whispering Wood.”

“We can’t go east, that’s for sure,” Lord Manderly’s fat son Wendel says. “We’d be caught between two great armies, that of the Eyrie and the Riverlands.”

Rickard Karstark guffaws around his ale. “Two great armies? That Edmure Tully’s green as a babe. He’s never fought in a battle before in his life!”

“No,” Robb says, “But his uncle the Blackfish has, you can bet on that. And he’s soon to be Lord Tully, if Hoster’s condition is truly worsening.”

There is a moment of silence in the tent, the only sound coming from Maege Mormont sharpening her ax.

“I sent a letter from the Twins,” Lord Eddard says, breaking the silence. “Soon we will find out if Lord Tywin and my wife have reached Casterly Rock. Lord Kevan has already called the banners. We will not be alone in this fight long.”

“What of the Reach?” The Greatjon asks. “And Dorne?”

“We will have to see,” Robb’s father says. With that, his bannermen file out.

When Robb and his father are alone, Robb can see the strain of war on his father’s shoulders, weighing him down, and not a single drop spilled yet.

“Robert was my greatest friend,” his father says wearily.

“I know,” Robb tells him.

“I’m betraying that friendship by going to war with his children.”

“I know, father.”

“It’s truly begun today.”

Robb has felt so helpless this whole time, since the moment his mother saw him off to the ship, back in King’s Landing. He’d been unable to do anything but sulk and keep watch after Myrcella during the voyage, only to hear that war had broken out days after they got home, to Winterfell. To watch as his father called his banners, as they left little Rickon and Myrcella North, as they heard less and less about Joanna, about Arya, about Bran and Jon.

“We have to protect our family,” Robb tells his father. “They have Joanna. They have my sister, my twin sister. Father, whoever Robert Baratheon was to you…his children and his wife are not our allies.”

“I know,” Lord Eddard says, and rubs at his eyes. In the firelight, his father’s wrinkles cast shadows, make him look far older than his age. Robb wonders how many wars his father must fight in before he has peace.

“Robb,” his father says, finally breaking the silence that has stretched between them. “My son, I have to tell you something.”

Robb meets his father’s eyes.

“The queen was not wrong,” he whispers. Robb does not understand, for a moment. He searches his mind, thinking about what it is the queen was right about, but before he can think, his father continues. “I have kept a Targaryen hidden from the crown, but it is not Viserys Targaryen, I swear it, Robb. I made a promise, my son, the last time I went South to rescue family.”

There is only one thing that makes sense.

“Jon,” Robb whispers, mouth dry.

“Jon,” Ned Stark repeats, and Robb can feel his world turned on its head.

“What will we do, then?” Robb asks, and it is almost angry, the way he says it. His father is the most honorable man Robb knows, and relief is marred with disbelief in Robb’s heart; relief that his father has not dishonored his mother, disbelief that his father could lie to them all for seventeen years.

“We win this war,” his father says firmly. Before his eyes, his father becomes a lord again. “We get Joanna, Jon and Arya and Bran and your mother and we go home.”

“Grandfather will never let it go at that,” Robb warns him. “If there is a way to win the throne, he will take it.” In a quieter voice, he asks, “Does he know? About Jon?”

His father hesitates. “Yes,” he admits.

“Will he try to put Jon on the Iron Throne?”

“I don’t know,” his father says, but his voice is less certain.

“And marry him to Joanna, is that his plan? So his great grandchildren will be kings?” Robb’s voice has risen. “She needs to come home, father, not be a piece in his game of thrones!”

“I know,” his father says, and suddenly, Robb is in his father’s arms, distantly aware that he has begun to shake. “Robb,” he hears. “I’ve been so proud of you. We will get through this, and we will all be together again.”

Robb can, for a moment, believe him.

 


 

Arya wakes up to a buzzing in her ears. When she opens her eyes she can see why; the remnants of the dog carcass she and Gendry stripped the night before has been surrounded by flies.

“There goes supper,” she grumbles.

“We weren’t going to eat it anyhow,” Gendry tells her, stirring the fire. He is sitting across from her, his face sooty and dirty and somehow, Arya’s heart squeezes at the sight.

Arya nicked a bit of steel from one of the villages they passed earlier. Gendry had scoffed at it, calling it scrap, but the feel of it sends a thrill up Arya’s arm. When she stands, she buckles it onto her belt.

“There’s a breeze today,” Arya says, pulling her tunic from her sweaty skin. She can feel it against her neck, where she’s chopped her hair to.

“Thank the gods,” Gendry replies, standing. The pack is already over his shoulder, and it takes them a few moments to cover the traces of their camp.

“How long do you think we’ll be able to stay on the Gold Road?” He asks her later, when they’ve begun their hike through the forest. Arya strains for the sounds of the second fork of the Blackwater.

“Dunno,” Arya mumbles, swatting a fly away from her face. “If we find the river, there might be a boat to take us up to Stony Sept.”

“And what’s at Stony Sept?” Gendry asked, holding a branch away from her. She looks up to thank him and looks away just as fast, face burning.

“It’s near the Westerlands, I think,” Arya says, trying to sound sure. The map she’d studied before they got out of King’s Landing had been dark, and the ink had been runny.

“You think?” Gendry repeated. “Arry…”

“I know where I’m going!” Arya insisted. “My mother’s people live in Lannisport. They’d take us in, I swear!”

“Arry,” Gendry said, and stopped. She huffed, only to have his hand come down on her shoulder, stilling her movements. “Why are we hiding, then?” he asked, his voice soft. “Why have we ducked every soldier we’ve seen, and why are we tripping through the woods when the Gold Road is ten paces that way?”

“It’s more than ten paces,” Arya tells him, “I wouldn’t be stupid enough to walk in view of any travelers.”

“Why?”

Arya bites at her lip when she realizes he wants a real answer. “All the servants, all the soldiers, everyone from Winterfell,” she tells him. “They’re all dead, if they stayed in King’s Landing. I saw them with my own eyes, rooms full of people killed by the Queen. I can’t let her find me too.”

Her hand has tightened on the sword. She can see their faces, when she thinks about it, and Jon’s face, his bloody hand. She can’t go back, she won’t, unless there’s a way to get Joanna out and kill the Queen.

“I hear you saying her name at night,” Gendry admits, his face screwed up in sympathy.

That’s because I’m going to kill her, Arya thinks, but does not say. “We need to go,” she says instead. “Before these flies decide to make us their supper.”

Gendry’s eyes are clouded, but he lets go of her.

Arya does not know how much time passes before she hears it, but suddenly it is all she can hear. The rushing of the Blackwater river fills her ears, and she stops to grin at Gendry. “We made it,” she tells him.

She can see through the leaves, and there it is, a ship. She’s nearly giddy, and is almost out of the trees when Gendry grabs her arm and pulls her back so hard she nearly screams.

“Stop, Arry,” he whispers, hand over her mouth. And only then does Arya truly look, and see what she has missed.

The port is full of Tully Soldiers.