Once upon a time there were two faraway kingdoms ruled by two powerful families.
The King and Queen of the North were kind, just rulers, beloved by their subjects and adored by loyal vassals. The winds of the North were cold, but the people were happy and the royal family’s castle was filled with laughter.
But in the Southern kingdom, despite endless summer days, the King and Queen did not have such happiness. The Queen was vain and cruel, and the King fat and indolent, wanting only to drink and lay with women. He dishonoured his wife and had many illegitimate children scattered throughout the city.
One of these children was a little black-haired, blue-eyed boy christened Gendry. He was not born in a palace but to a tavern girl in the dirtiest, lowest part of the city known as Flea Bottom. Life was hard for the mother and son, the other woman calling her a whore and the children taunting him with cries of ‘bastard.’ But the woman loved her boy and little Gendry grew up strong and kind, never knowing who his father truly was.
But when he reached his twelfth name day his mother fell sick. She was too poor for medicine or any healer, and grew sicker each day – her son knelt by her bedside, begging all seven gods to let her stay with him. But no god listened and she drifted away, her last kiss gentle on his cheek.
The boy would have been put out onto the streets, however one of the King’s advisers had been watching him and decided it was the time the King acknowledged his son. Gendry, shaking and angry, was brought before the King and presented as his bastard son. King Robert – his careless heart softened by the boy’s plight – offered him a room in the Red Keep and planned to arrange for him to learn a trade or receive respected position in the palace household as a steward or guard.
However, Queen Cersei – bitter that her husband would shame her with his bastard son’s presence – demanded the boy be made a servant, and wait upon her trueborn children. The King protested but she insisted, cruelty running deep in her blood.
“If that boy stays here, he will know his place. I will not have you dishonour me Robert.”
And because the King was a weak man he gave in.
So, Gendry was acknowledged as the King’s son and bore the bastard name Waters but lived as a servant, spat upon by the highborns. The Queen delighted in giving him the most menial and dirty of tasks and punishing him when he displeased her. Her son, Prince Joffrey, was a cruel as his mother and bullied Gendry daily, never hesitating to remind him of his lowly place.
Gendry grew reserved and quiet, slow to trust anyone and often surly from his unhappiness, but underneath his kind heart remained. He liked to help the royal smith in his forge when he was able and the children of the palace adored him. Despite the Queen and Prince’s cruelty, Gendry was stubborn and refused to let them break him.
When Joffrey gave him the name ‘bull’, taunting him that he could never bear his father’s true sigil, the Stag, Gendry took the bull as his own. He forged a bull’s head helmet and bore the name proudly. And as the years worn on he plotted ways to escape his servitude in the palace.
In his eighteenth year, the King arranged for a tourney to be held. The men would joust, and the winner would crown a lady the Queen of Love and Beauty. The week would end with a magnificent feast and dance for all the competitors to attend. Guests came from far and wide - lords from great houses, noble knights and eager young men who saved up to be able to enter the tourney.
The King invited the rulers of the North, seeking to strengthen bonds between the families. King Ned and Queen Catelyn accepted the invitation and with them came their children, including their younger daughter: Princess Arya, as beautiful as the winter roses she adored.
All the lords in both kingdoms wanted to wed their sons to the daughter of the King, but Princess Arya was wild, with the blood of wolves running through her veins. She rode with her direwolf, donned breeches and wielded a sword as well as a man. There were whispers she had saved House Stark from the treacherous House Bolton when she was only fourteen years, rumours father had given her lands of her own despite her weak gender and stories of her fierce defence of the smallfolk.
Her father humoured her wild ways when she was young, but the She Wolf knew she could not be free forever. Her older sister was already wedded and most of her brothers were betrothed.
On her fifteenth nameday, her mother and father announced she would accompany them to the Tourney to find a suitable match among the men. The Princess fought and begged them not to make her – the thought of a Southern husband who wanted her only for her title filling her with dread – but they held firm. They were loving parents and would allow her to find a man among the lords of her own choosing. But still, she must wed as all ladies do. So, the She-Wolf travelled South with a sinking heart, feeling as though her claws were blunted and fangs muzzled.
And that is where our story begins.