Gendry ran down the winding path from the Red Keep, the sun already high in the sky. He’d been due at the tourney grounds before noon to help set up for the joust, but King Robert had summoned him to his chambers to see how he was faring.
His “father” occasionally made such efforts, grasping at feeble attempts to inquire into his son’s wellbeing and giving Gendry fine gifts to assuage the guilt of the Queen’s actions.
Today it had been a luxurious tunic of black wool embroidered in silver thread around the sleeves and across the chest. It was fine and tastefully cut but Gendry had to resist from rolling his eyes. Didn’t his father realise a servant could never wear something like that? The other boys would mock him and the Queen and Prince would be furious. And it would be Gendry, not King Robert, feeling their wrath.
/You can give me fine clothes but cannot stop your own wife from ruining my life,/ he thought bitterly, glancing down at the tunic. /Fat lot of good you are as a King./
Then again, he shouldn’t complain given the King’s guilt might help him escape out of the palace after all. Over the years Gendry had sold off many of his father’s “gifts” in hopes he’d make enough coin to pay off his own apprentice fee. Tobho Mott, the royal armourer, said he had a talent for smithing and Gendry enjoyed the work. Mott knew smiths and armourers throughout the South and Gendry hoped when he had enough coins, the man would persuade one of them to take him on. (Gendry would have liked to apprentice with Mott himself but knew the Queen would never allow it). He’d be older than most apprentices of course, it had taken several years of gifts to raise the money – his meagre wages alone never would have given him enough – but perhaps this could tip him over.
So, he had put the tunic on at the King’s command planning to change it as soon as he got to the tourney grounds. That is, if he ever got there in time. Gendry looked at the sun again and sped up, focusing on the cluster of tents and pavilions just ahead. However, before he could reach them someone stepped out onto the path, blocking his way.
“Well, if it isn’t the bastard. Aren’t you wearing clothes a little too fine for your blood there Waters?”
It was Prince Joffrey, surrounded by several of his personal guards. Gendry gritted his teeth, a familiar wave of anger building in his chest.
“My Prince.” He spat, dipping his head briefly in the barest attempt of a bow.
Joffrey surveyed him, a cruel smile playing on his lips. “Well?” He said. “I asked you a question. What would a bastard serving boy need with such clothes?”
“His grace gave them to me.” Gendry ground out. “As a gift for the tourney.” He eyed the pavilions, wondering if there was anyone who might call on him to get to work.
But his half-brother continued to smirk, laughter dancing in his green eyes. “Well then you should have refused,” he said, “Otherwise it looks… suspicious. As if you’re getting ideas above your station.”
I just want to get to bloody work, Gendry thought. And you really think I want to be a Baratheon after seeing what you’re like?
Sighing, Joffrey shook his head mournfully. “I am afraid I must teach you a lesson.” He said, “for your own good.” He jerked his head at his guards, “men – show the bastard why he should be less eager to accept such gifts next time.”
The guards moved forward and Gendry clenched his fists, bracing himself for the all too familiar beating. Someday I’ll just give up, he thought, the guards circling in. He raised his fists. But not today. The first guard swung at him and he twisted sideways, punching the man straight in the face. He reeled around to face another man coming from behind, grabbing their arm and yanking them to the ground, then spun to kick a third. Even as he dodged another blow, Gendry knew it was a failing battle. He was strong but there were four of them of them against one of him, and they all wore heavy armour making it hard to land hits. Still, he thought – launching back at them – if they were going to beat him the least he could do was bloody them up doing it. He landed another punch, relishing in the satisfying crack of a nose breaking under his knuckles, but then a mailed fist slammed into his back, knocking the breath out of him. Gendry gasped and pitched forward, a painful kick sending him face first into the ground. A foot slammed into the side of his face, making him groan with pain, blood trickling down his cheek.
“Hey!” A voice yelled from behind, “What in seven hells are you doing?” Breathless, Gendry rolled over to see a slender girl whipping out a narrow blade and charging at the guards. Beside her a giant – wolf? – bounded into the fray, knocking one soldier down and leaping on another, pinning them to the ground. Gendry gaped but jumped to his feet and rammed into the third solider, sending a him sprawling while the girl lashed him across the back with her sword.
In less than a minute, all four guards were down and the girl and her wolf stood over them, expressions curled in hauntingly identical snarls. Gendry glanced over at her, trying to catch his breath. The girl was small and slight, dressed like a man in breeches and grey tunic and the sword in her hand made of castle forged steel. Who was she? Didn’t she realise what Joffrey could do to her? His wounded hand throbbed, as if sensing the punishment coming for her.
Joffrey was gazing at his downed men in disbelief, body shaking and eyes burning with wild fury. “You!” he shrieked, marching towards her. “How dare you? Those were my men!”
“And I apologise for their injuries your grace.” The girl snapped with considerable fire. “But I’m afraid all I saw was four guards beating an unarmed man! I thought I should step in to even the fight a little.”
“They dispensing the King’s justice! He had to be punished!”
“Really?” She laughed sardonically. “Punished for what? Was he running away with stolen goods? Making an attempt on your life? If so, he can be arrested and brought for a trial. Because I wasn’t aware the King’s justice involved stalking around the Red Keep looking for men to beat bloody.”
Joffrey took another step forward, face twisting more than Gendry had seen for a long time, raising his trembling fists. “You little wolf bitch I’ll –”
Instinctively Gendry stepped in front of her. It was foolish he knew; the girl had more than proved she could defend herself. But she didn’t know Joffrey, she didn’t know what he could do to her. “My prince, please – just leave her.”
“I’d listen to him.” The girl said, seemingly still unaffected by the Prince’s rage. “We wouldn’t want any more trouble.”
To Gendry’s surprise, Joffrey paused, eyeing her with hesitation and hand hanging awkwardly in mid-air. “I’ll – I’ll take this before my father!” Joffrey threated, waving his fist instead. “King Robert won’t be happy to hear you attacked my guards!”
“And I don’t think King Eddard would be happy hearing you threatened his daughter!” The girl fired back, thankfully not noticing Gendry’s breath cataching at the title. “But by all means swing at me and I’ll show him the beautiful bruise you make.”
Joffrey growled, looking as if he wanted the throttle her, King Eddard be damned. Instead he glanced at his guards and jerked his head. “Let’s go. Leave this wolf-bitch to fuck her sword.”
He stalked off, gold hair glinting in the sunlight. Gendry watched him go, chest loosening in relief.
He felt a touch on his arm and jumped, amazed to see the girl – Princess? – looking at him with kind eyes. “Are you hurt?” She asked. “Do you need anything?”
“Your grace,” he stuttered, swiftly bending his knee and dipping his head in submission. “I’m sorry I – I was –”
The Princess huffed in annoyance, tapping him on the shoulder. “Don’t do that. I much preferred you fighting by my side rather than bowing before me. Are you hurt?”
He risked a glance at her, head still reeling from the revelations. “No your grace.”
“Your knuckles say differently” she said, eyeing his blooded fist. “Let me patch you up.”
“Your grace I couldn’t ask you –”
“You’re not asking I’m offering stupid.” She snapped and her wolf growled. “Now come on.”
She turned on her heel and marched towards the nearest tent, so – her wolf’s terrifying stare fixed upon him – Gendry followed.
Somehow the Princess managed to get some salve and a rag, and led Gendry to the side of the tourney grounds, ordering him to sit on a log. She knelt down and dabbed the salve over his torn knuckles, spreading it with gentleness that surprised him.
Gendry, still trying to understand what was going on, studied her covertly as she worked. The Princess was short and slim in stature, her head barely reaching his shoulder, her breasts small and hips curving neatly under her tunic. Her features were striking, a long face and strong jaw tempered by wide grey eyes and dark eyebrows. Her brown hair was pulled back in a Northern style braid but a few strands had escaped and hung loose framing her face. Although her skin looked smooth, her fingers were calloused as they caressed his knuckles. The clothes, although like nothing he’d ever seen on a woman, looked well made, the breeches fitted, sturdy boots made of fine leather and the tunic was grey edged in white fur – the colours of the Stark royal family – with the direwolf embroidered on its chest.
As if to remind him of the dangers of wolves, Gendry heard a growl and jerked up, seeing her companion’s golden eyes staring at him suspiciously. The wolf narrowed its gaze, titling its head on one side and Gendry almost drew away, suddenly realising how incriminating this all was. The Princess of the North couldn’t be kneeling before him, tending to his wounds like a common healer. Cersei would have his head if she saw.
“Princess –” He said, quickly trying to extract his hand. “Princess, I don’t –”
She glanced up at him, eyes brimming with amusement. “Just call me Arya, believe me I’m no Princess.”
Was this girl actually mad? If she was Gendry didn’t want to get dragged along with her. “You’re a King’s daughter, aren’t you?” He said irritably. “That makes you a Princess. And I know my courtesies your grace.”
She glared at him for that, her deft touch becoming more aggressive. “Stop that stupid.”
“At least let me call you m’lady.”
She rolled her eyes, glancing down at her muddy breeches and the sword at her hip. “Oh, and you really think I look like a lady? That’s not what men normally call me.”
“I think you look like a warrior.” Gendry said, before he could stop himself. Her grey eyes widened with surprise, and for the first time he felt her hands falter.
“Even fewer men say that.”
“After seeing you fight, how could they not?”
Her lips quirked and she looked at him almost appreciatively. “You’d be surprised.” She said. “Men in the South don’t seem to think a woman can hold a sword, much less swing one. Though I suppose many in the North aren’t much better.”
“Well, all I know is I was being beaten into the mud and within seconds you and your wolf had them all on the ground.” Gendry said. “I’m not going to deny that.”
Princess Arya finished binding his knuckles and met his gaze, true and steady. “Well – thank you,” she said quietly. “I don’t think any man would admit to that.” Before Gendry could reply she stood up and turned her attention to the gash on his cheek, holding his chin to keep him in place. Gendry flushed at the contact, but realised it was pointless to resist. This girl is never going to give up. He talked hastily to distract himself.
“So – who taught you to fight?”
“My brother Jon at the beginning.” She said, wiping away the blood. “After he gave me Needle he started doing the same exercises with me that our master at arms did with our brother Bran. When my father found out he hired Syrio, the first sword of Braavos, to teach me Braavosi water dancing.” A touch of laughter entered her voice. “I could tell mother and my Septa I was having dancing lessons without even having to lie.”
“Well I’m glad Syrio did such a good job.” Gendry replied, wondering what it would be like to have a father who loved his children so much that he’d have a man come all the way across the Narrow Sea to make his unconventional daughter happy. He brushed that thought away and swallowed, an obvious question throbbing in his mind. “I have to ask, why – why did you help me? I’m certainly grateful, but those were Prince Joffrey’s men.”
“Because Joffrey’s a cunt.” Princess Arya said angrily. “I haven’t needed to be here a week to realise that. He humiliated the Imp – his own uncle – in front of everyone last night and taunted Lady Shireen. And no one does anything because he’s a Prince. Attacking an unarmed man for his own amusement is exactly the type of thing he’d do. I’m one of the few people he doesn’t have power over, I couldn’t not do something. It’s just a shame I only managed to punch his guards and not him. A broken nose would vastly improve his pissy blonde face.”
Gendry burst into laughter at that, feeling more amused than he had in years. It was rare to find someone who’d insult Joffrey so openly, the servants were too scared and the highborns too busy arse kissing. Gendry seldom found an ally in his open distaste of the Prince. But this scrappy, wild girl was voicing what he’d been feeling since he met his half-brother. “Well thank you,” he said sincerely. “I’ve been waiting for someone to do that.”
“Glad to be of service.”
Arya smiled at him, eyes crinkling and Gendry grinned back, a warm feeling blossoming in his chest.
“At least we’ll see him humiliated at the tourney.” She said cheerfully, “I’ve heard he’s not much of a jouster and the Queen didn’t even want him to fight for fear he’ll accidentally stab himself with his own lance. So at least he’ll embarrass himself without us doing anything.”
Gendry grimaced. “Not likely m’lady, none of the other competitors will dare to touch him. Too scared of hurting their future king – or trying to curry favour with him.”
Arya pulled abruptly away. “What?” She snapped. “They’ll just…let him win?”
“Of course. They won’t risk harming the Crown Prince.” He glanced at her, darkly amused to see the look of fury on her face. “Isn’t that the way it’s done in the North?”
“Of course not!” she cried, sounding offended at the thought. “None of the other men or any knight would dream of letting Robb or Jon or Bran win. How can their own forces respect them if they don’t prove themselves?”
Gendry laughed harshly, “That’s definitely not how it works in the South. Or at least not for Prince Joffrey.”
“So you’ll go easy on him?” She demanded furiously, “Even after what he did to you today? Even if you dishonour your house?”
“My – what?”
“Your house.” Arya repeated, glancing over him. “I don’t recognise your colours – black and silver? Sorry, I’m terrible at remembering Southern families.”
A leaden weight sunk in Gendry’s chest, sucking all the air out of him. /She thinks I’m a highborn/. Well of course she did. He was wearing a tunic far too fine for any servant. And he’d been down at the tourney grounds – probably looking like a knight scoping out the competition.
That explained everything. Why she’d defended him, why she’d tended to his wounds, why she shared stories about her family, why she told him to call her Arya. She thought he was a highborn, one of them. She’d never treat a lowborn bastard that way, no matter how kind or unconventional she was.
He couldn’t tell her. While Arya – Princess Arya – didn’t seem likely to punish him for his insolence the way Joffrey or Cersei would, she’d still be angry and humiliated that he’d tricked her. (Accidentally or not). He didn’t want to imagine what would happen if this story got out and reached the royal family.
And a small part of him admitted he didn’t want to see the revulsion in her eyes when he confessed he was just a bastard servant. He liked this now, the ghost of her touch lingering across his cheek. Their shared comradery over Joffrey. Few people were normally this kind to him. Stupid, stupid Gendry.
“Well?” She said impatiently.
“Oh, just a Stormlands House. You probably won’t know it.” He stumbled, panic taking control of his tongue. “And um, I’m not jousting tomorrow, I’m a terrible rider, much better fighting on the ground. I’m just here to watch. My father arranged for me to attend.”
Gendry held his breath and waited for her reaction, heart pounding. He wasn’t technically lying – what he’d said was all true. Arya looked disappointed and he wondered if it was because he made it sound like he was a minor noble.
“That’s a shame,” she sighed. “You’d probably be one of the few people who wouldn’t have let Joffrey win.”
“Believe me,” Gendry laughed nervously, “I’d beat him if I could.”
She let out a huff and slid to the ground, leaning back against the log. “Well I could beat him.” She said. “If he’s as terrible as everyone says I’m sure I could do it.”
“You can joust?” At this point he didn’t know why he was surprised.
She nodded, a tender look softening her face. “Jon taught me that too. I was jealous when he and Robb and Bran got to learn while I was stuck inside sewing, so he used to sneak me out and give me lessons. It’s three quarters horsemanship anyway and I’ve been in the saddle before I could walk.”
“You could certainly beat Prince Joffrey then,” Gendry said, “He’s shit on a horse. And cries at the smallest bit of pain.”
There was a long silence. Arya chewed on her lip, expression twisted in thought. “I mean…I could enter.” She said slowly. Gendry’s eyes widened and she shrugged at him. “I wouldn’t have to be good enough to best every man in the tourney – just beat enough to face Joffrey.” She said. “Though of course I’d need to disguise myself.” She paused, still considering. Gendry was busy wistfully imagining Joffrey being thrown to the ground in front of the crowd.
“But I don’t have my armour here,” she said suddenly, sounding defeated. “Jon had some made for me but it’s back in Winterfell.”
Gendry watched her slump against the log, sharing her disappointment as the vision of Joffrey hitting the dirt dissolved. “I can get you armour.” He blurted out.
She looked at him. “Really?”
“Yes,” he said, trying to sound confident. “And a shield and a helmet that will fit you. They’ll be mismatched but…it will be enough.”
“More than enough! And I could pay the tourney fee.” She straightened, her pretty eyes lighting up. “We could really do this!” Gendry grinned, feeling strangely proud at how happy she looked. “Though – no wait – I’d need a squire as well.” Her shoulders dropped.
“Are you sure?” He asked. “We’ll put your armour on beforehand, I thought squires were mostly for decoration and making knights feel self-important.”
“Ha mostly.” She admitted. “But I do need someone to pass me the lance, I won’t be able to manage it without help. Ugh.” She curled in on herself, pulling her knees to her chest, “If Jon was here he’d help, but he’s not…welcome.” Disappointment twisted across her face, making Gendry’s stomach clench.
“I can be your squire.” He said before he could stop himself.
She looked up at him, her whole face filled with hope. “What?”
Seven hells Gendry, what have you done, he cursed, panic flooding through him. Still he couldn’t stop himself from raising his chin and meeting her gaze, his resolve hardening like steel in the forge. “I can be your squire.” He repeated firmly. “I was only going to be watching anyway. I’m sure even I can handle handing you a lance.”
She leaned forward, resting her hands on his knees. He willed himself not to start at the contact. “You’d truly help me?”
“Hey, I want to humiliate Joffrey as much as you do.” Gendry shrugged. More than you can imagine.
The widest smile split across her face, glowing with mischief. “Then we have a plan.” She held out her hand to shake. “And what should I call you?”
“Um…” Gendry paused, hesitant to give his own name in case it got back to Joffrey and Cersei. “The Bull.” He said carefully, taking her hand. “Everyone calls me the Bull.”
Arya squeezed his hand, still grinning. “The Bull and the She Wolf then.” She said. “Taking down the cowardly lion.”
And probably dying in the attempt. Gendry mused to himself, not even able to imagine how much trouble this could get him into. But with Arya’s hand held tightly in his, he couldn’t help from grinning back.