The night before the joust, Arya struggled getting to sleep . It wasn’t just exhaustion from three days of having to play the lady at the tourney, nerves about competing worrying about getting caught. She couldn't rid the Bull from her mind. She hadn't seen anymore of him again - at either the tourney events during the day or the mummers shows and singers playing in the evenings - but for some reason he still lingered in her mind.
(“I know the smith here. He’s a good man.”
“I was laughing because the idea of you not being pretty was so stupid!”
“A knight then – a mystery knight.”
“Then horses in the North must look different from down here then. Because I think you’re the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen.”)
Arya groaned and rolled over, flumping her feathered pillow. Nymeria grumbled from her spot by the fire, shooting Arya a disgruntled look.
“I know, I know.” Arya muttered, “I’d like to get to sleep too.”
Looking thoroughly unimpressed with her mistress’s agonizing, Nymeria heaved herself up and padded across the room, pausing at the foot of Arya’s bed. Arya patted the blankets in invitation.
Nymeria bounded up at once, making the bedframe creak alarmingly – for a second Arya wondered if she was going to have to explain a broken bedframe to her parents and Queen Cersei. But then Nymeria settled down beside her and the bed held. Arya exhaled, burying her hand in Nymeria’s fur.
(“I think that the position people are born into, trueborns and baseborns, lowborns and highborns, whatever their sex, should matter a lot less than it does.”)
She stared at the darkened ceiling, running through the Bull’s words.
She’d never met any noble men who thought like that. Well, apart from Jon – and that was because he’d grown up a bastard, on the outside of everything like her. He saw the injustice in the world. And hardly any men apart from her brothers would help her enter a tourney to humiliate the Crown Prince. The Bull was different.
Although…Arya chewed her lip. What if he was only doing all that to woo her? Everyone knew she was here to find a match – maybe the Bull was just one of the many lords who wanted her for her title, and was craftier than the rest in how to get it. Maybe the moment he settled his cloak over her shoulders, she’d never been allowed to hold a blade or wear breeches again. Her fingers tightened in Nymeria’s fur at the thought.
But then she remembered the anger burning in his eyes when he talked about Joffrey. His steady hands managing her armour. The gruffness in his voice when he called her beautiful. No. If he was that good at acting, then he should join a mummer’s trope.
And if he wasn’t acting…
Arya had arrived in Kings Landing close to despair at finding a husband. She’d thought there’d be no way in seven hells she’d find a Southerner she could stomach for an hour, let alone her life. She expected to watch the men compete in the tourney with a forced smile (which she certainly had so far), dance with them woodenly at the feast and then confess miserably, desperately to her parents that no – no she hadn’t found anybody – but please, please could she have more time. Her mother would sigh and her father would look at her with his stern eyes and by the time they were home, a Northerner lord would be waiting for her to wed him, scowling at her sword.
The last thing Arya expected to find was a Southern bull, who not only didn’t scowl, but grinned and found armour to go with her blade.
Could she marry a man like that?
As she’d done with all the men who’d come to Winterfell to court her, Arya imagined life with the Bull. Saying their vows in front of the heart tree, riding with him through the villages…lying together in their chambers.
Instead of the usual sensation of cold dread, her stomach squirmed pleasurably, a warm glow filling her chest. Idly, she scratched behind Nymeria’s ear, making her wolf rumble happily. Arya smiled. Perhaps…just maybe…
Abruptly, her grin faded. What if she thinking about this all wrong? The real question was, did he want to marry her?
For most men, her titles and land would be all that mattered. But somehow, Arya knew that the Bull – with his refreshing ideas of people’s character mattering more than their birth – felt differently. He’d want more than just status and wealth from a wife. He’d appraise her views and principles – how she acted and treated others.
Arya had originally assumed he was already betrothed. How could a lord that strong and kind and handsome not be? She still had to consider that. Probably the Bull was with his intended wife now, a demure Stormlands bride he’d chosen for love. Maybe he was telling her to look out for the mystery knight, while she sat sedately in the stands tomorrow.
The thought of the Bull and some faceless girl made Arya’s chest clench. She imagined him caressing her auburn or perhaps golden head – so much prettier than Arya’s plain brown; holding the girl’s soft hand in his big one; her lips brushing against his cheek.
Arya forced the vision from her mind.
If he was betrothed, he was betrothed. She could not do anything to change that.
But if he wasn’t….
Even if he wasn’t…would he want her? Could he want her?
Septa Mordane and Jeyne Poole had always told her no man would be happy being married to Arya. What self-respecting husband would want a girl who ran around covered in dirt and fraternised with lowborns? Arya’s stomach twisted.
But, she reminded herself, not every man was like that. Jon once told her he’d like a wife who’d explore beyond the Wall with him. He even joked that he needed a woman who was as good with a bow as he was with a sword so they could fight together. Bran often said that having a girl who could run and fight and throw as good as boy would be more fun than a girl who sighed over kissing stories.*
Could the Bull be the same? He’d called her a warrior and seemed interested enough in fitting her armour. And if everything he’d said about lowborns and highborns was true, then he maybe wouldn’t mind if his wife was more comfortable eating in the kitchens with servants than at the high table with ladies.
Arya rolled over and curled closer into Nymeria. Nymeria licked her cheek, nuzzling gently.
She was ignoring the glaring point in all this.
Every man wanted a beautiful wife. Arya had heard enough of Sansa’s songs and her mother’s lessons to know that. And while, for all her other suitors, having Princess Arya Stark at their side by day would make up for having Arya Horseface lie beside them by night, for the Bull it wouldn’t.
And if he didn’t care about titles, Arya thought bitterly, what could she offer him to compensate for her face? The Bull may be unconventional enough not to want a wealthy wife, but even he must want a comely one. And she could never give him that.
Although…her traitorous mind whispered. He DID call you beautiful.
She gritted her teeth, hands curling under the covers. He was just being stupid. Sweet, but stupid. Everyone knew Arya was ugly. A thousand jokes about Northern horses couldn’t change that. The Bull had seen she was upset and wanted to make her feel better, the way Jon and her father used to when Sansa and Jeyne sneered at her. One kind hearted man’s placations wouldn’t make her beautiful all of a sudden.
Still, he’d looked so sincere that she wondered if, in time he could find her – not truly pretty – but at least tolerable enough to wed.
Sighing, Arya burrowed further into her pillow, nestling up against Nymeria. She couldn’t think that far ahead. She had to focus on the joust tomorrow and beating Joffrey. At the most, finding out if the Bull was betrothed. And then…then maybe she could start to hope.
Gendry had been busy the first few days of the tourney, rushing around every morning to help set up the pavilions before all the highborns arrived to watch the competitions. The entire tourney lasted five days, with the jousting on the fourth and fifth. The first day had been the melee, the second the axe throwing and the third the archery, with mummers shows, singers and dancers in the evening. (During which he - naturally - had been stuck down in the kitchens).
He'd caught a couple of glimpse of Princess Arya, seated up in the royal tent or at the high table with her family and the Baratheons, her bright eyes taking in every detail. However, he'd avoided her seeing him - the last thing he needed was her wondering why an alleged Stormlands lordling was working with the servants instead of sitting up in the stands. Today, when he went down to the tiltyard, the Princess's spot beside the King and Queen of the North was suspiciously empty. Gendry smirked and ducked behind a passing horse, heading over to the armoury tent.
Not long later, citizens from Kings Landing crowded into the standing space, jostling each other with excitement. King Robert’s booming voice welcomed everyone, speaking of his delight at another day of celebrations for his dearest friend and fellow King joining them. Musicians, carrying flutes and drums, marched in the tiltyard.
That was Gendry’s cue. Making sure no one was watching, he slipped away from the tiltyard and pavilions and ducked into the surrounding woods. He’d hidden the armour and the lance in the clearing he and Arya had met in a few days ago, deep in the trees and far away from everyone.
Fortunately, the joust was large, over a hundred men entered so he and Arya had time to get ready. The joust had two rounds: The open class and the Knights. Only sworn knights – whether landed, hedge or household – could enter the knightly class. The open class, the one today, was open to any man who could pay the fee. Of course, in practice Gendry knew only wealthy highborns or perhaps men with generous patrons, could afford to compete. But it was a fine opportunity for squires and aspiring knights to compete, as riders who performed with notable skill in the open class may be knighted. The Knights joust was tomorrow, on the final day of the tourney, with the feast and dance in the evening.
To ride against Joffrey, they’d entered Arya in the open class. Gendry had heard Joffrey complaining that he wasn’t allowed to ride against the knights, claiming that the Crown Prince should override any common Ser. Thankfully, Cersei insisted he only enter the open class so Arya wouldn’t be facing any experienced jouster or have to fake a knighthood on top of everything else. After paying the fee, Gendry had been given a wooden token to prove her entry.
He clenched his fist around the token now and sucked in a deep breath, steadying his pulse. Everything should be fine. There was no reason for anyone to suspect anything. He pressed the token harder into his palm.
He didn’t have to wait long for Arya. The musicians had barely finished when she rushed into the clearing.
She’d changed into an even plainer tunic than normal to fit under the armour, and clutching a crumpled gown. But she beamed at him, excitement glinting in her eyes.
Despite himself, Gendry grinned back – he was sure he’d smiled more in the past two days than he had in the past four years.
“You managed to escape then?” He asked, taking her gown and stuffing it in the sack.
“I know how to fake a fevered brow.” She shrugged. “And I've been very well-behaved these past three days at all the other events.”
“Shall we then?”
“Let’s knock him into the dirt.”
He and Arya put on her armour even more swiftly than the day they'd practiced, checking everything was tightened and she was comfortable. Gendry passed her the shield.
“I um, didn’t recognise the sigil.” He admitted, “I’m not sure if you do, hopefully it’s not any house that’s attending and might wonder who in their family is riding.”
Arya gazed down at the shield, an indecipherable expression flitting across her face. She reached out and traced round the laughing tree with her finger tip.
“I recognise it.” She said quietly. “It’s a weirwood tree. But we don’t have to worry about any Southern family.”
Gendry frowned. “What do you mean?”
She glanced up at him, eyes soft and faraway. “My friend Meera told me that years ago, at the tourney of Harrenhal, there was a mystery knight who competed. The Knight of the Laughing Tree everyone called them, because of their unusual sigil.” Her gaze flicked back to the shield in her hands. “They challenged three knights to defend Meera’s father – the knight’s squires had been bullying him. The knight beat them all but then disappeared before anyone could discover their identity. The only thing they left behind was their armour and shield.”
Gendry watched her trace the tree design again, certain Arya knew more of the story. “Who was it?”
A smile hovered at Arya’s lips and she met his gaze, her grey eyes sparkling. “Lyanna Stark.”
Gendry felt as if Joffrey’s men had just punched him in the stomach. “The Lady Lyanna? Your aunt?” The perfect woman my father has spent his whole life in love with? Gendry wanted to say. Who all of Westeros remembers as a fragile maiden carried away by a tyrant? That Lyanna?
Arya nodded. “When she was only fourteen.”
Gendry swallowed, trying to equate the story of this spirited girl Knight with his father’s drunken ramblings that Lyanna never would have fought him like Cersei did. Somehow, he couldn’t make it fit.
But glancing at the small figure in the shabby armour before him, he knew one thing did match. “She sounds like you.”
Arya shrugged, avoiding his gaze. “My father says I remind him of her. She was meant to be wild and wilful as well. But…” She trailed off, staring at the shield again.
“But?” Gendry prompted, recalling yesterday’s conversation and suspecting what she was going to say.
“But Princes fought wars over her beauty.” Arya said defiantly, raising her chin. “And no matter what nice things you said about Northern horses yesterday, I’m not blind.” Before Gendry could respond, she grabbed the helm and slotted it over her head. “Now come on stupid, we’ve got a Prince to humiliate.”
Deciding to argue his point later, Gendry picked up the lance and another helm he’d taken from the smithy. It wasn’t an enclosed helm like Arya’s, but it would stop people from recognising him at first glance.
The third bout was starting when they arrived. Arya was competing in the fifth bout, against some green squire from the Vale. Going by the scheduled arrangement, Gendry and Arya had worked out that she had five competitors to eliminate before she and Joffrey would face each other. (Providing no one else had a change of heart and decided not to let their Prince win after all. Having had to resist punching Joffrey on a daily basis, Gendry wouldn’t be surprised).
They fetched the Northern horse Gendry had taken to the makeshift tourney stables that morning, and saddled it. Arya mounted and Gendry walked beside her to the edge of the tiltyard. He showed the attending page their wooden token and the boy nodded them through.
They watched the fourth bout, one of the riders fell from his saddle and his horse dragged him halfway across the tiltyard ground before he could free his legs. The tell-tale crack of bone echoed through the stands and Gendry grimaced, blocking out the man’s screams.
He glanced up at Arya, tempted to check she was still alright, but stopped himself. No. This was her choice. If Arya Stark didn’t want to do this then she wouldn’t be. Instead Gendry stepped closer and pressed his shoulder against her leg, offering wordless support.
Her face was hidden by the helmet and she stayed silent – but he felt her mail-clad knee nudge against him.
The injured rider was carried off and the herald motioned them forward. Across the tiltyard the Vale squire was mounting. Gendry took a deep breath and handed Arya the lance. “Ride well.” He whispered under this breath.
She brushed his fingers in acknowledgement and then secured the lance under her arm.
“The rider of the Laughing Tree.” The herald boomed, and Arya rode in.
Gendry needn’t have worried. The two riders cantered towards each other, lances pressed forward and within seconds the squire’s lance was shattering into splinters. Gendry felt things had barely started and Arya was already trotting back to him, the crowd whooping. He took her lance and they retreated away from the tiltyard.
Joffrey rode two rounds later, and as expected, his competitor threw the bout. The Prince crowed with delight, smirking as he soaked up the applause.
Gendry rolled his eyes, and from her helmet, Arya snorted.
They didn’t recognise the sigil of Arya’s second opponent, maybe another independent rider, unaffiliated with any House. Either way, the bout went much the same as Arya’s first. She didn’t even have to break the man’s lance this time, knocking it from his hand like it’s only a twig.
Joffrey won his next bout and jeered loudly at his rival, oblivious to the experienced knights exchanging knowing looks.
Arya’s third bout against some lord’s second son from the Westerlands, was slightly harder for her, both riders keeping hold of their lances and a firm seat in the saddle for the initial tilt and having to circle back for a second go. On this attempt, Gendry saw Arya lean further forward on her horse and strike her opponent with deftness that seemed almost impossible for such an unwieldly weapon. The other rider rocked backwards, unable to keep both his seat and his lance. The lance clattered to the ground and the crowd gasped in genuine admiration, breaking out into applause. Gendry grinned, relief and pride mingling in his chest.
“He still thinks you ride with your hands,” Arya commented, when Gendry took her back to their clearing at the noon day break. “Clinging onto the reins like they were his life. Any boy past three namedays knows all the control is in your knees.”
“Maybe you do.” Gendry retorted. “Not all of us were born on horseback m’lady.”
“Did you ride much?” Arya asked, uncorking the waterskin with her teeth. “Growing up?”
Gendry’s throat went dry, remembering Flea Bottom where everyone was wading through horseshit rather than riding the damn animals. “Not much.” He said gruffly.
Arya nodded. “I’ll have to teach you sometime.” She said casually.
Gendry swallowed, throat tightening. Was she suggesting they’d still be…. friends after all this? He’d only expected this strange comradery to last during the tourney. Then Princess Arya Stark would return home with a fine, upstanding husband, and never know that the surly man she’d schemed with was a bastard servant rather than a Stormlands lords.
He glanced at her. She was chewing her lip, seemingly watching for his response.
“Oh really?” he said, surprised his voice came out light and teasing. “Even if I’m as useless as a boy of only three namedays?”
She smirked, her sweaty face shining. “I’m sure even you’re not that stupid.”
“Flattering as always m’lady.”
“Shut up stupid.”
During their noon day rest, King Robert had food brought down from the Red Keep kitchens. Although – Gendry noted derisively when he checked on the tiltyard– it was only served to the noble guests not the standing smallfolk. At least with the wooden token, he could get some bread and fruit for Arya, which she tore into like she was a wolf herself.
After noon, the jousting resumed and they returned to watch the next few rounds. Joffrey won his third and fourth bouts, pointed face alight with glee. After his final win, he hurled insults at his defeated rival loud enough for everyone in the stands to hear. The other rider – finely dressed in the colours of some Reach House – looked mutinous, no doubt wondering if it had been worth forfeiting the round after all. Gendry didn’t blame him.
Arya’s fourth bout against a Dornish rider went smoothly and she moved on to face a rider from the Riverlands, the heir to House Smallwood. Gendry could see his mother, Lady Smallwood, in the stands.
“This is it,” Gendry murmured, checking her saddle, “If you beat him then your next opponent is Joffrey.”
Arya just nodded, staring out across the tiltyard. The atmosphere was tenser now; the crowd recognising riders from previous bouts and the competition getting fierce.
Gendry passed her the lance, resisting the temptation to squeeze her hand.
The horns blew and Arya and the Smallwood rider baralleled towards each other. Gendry could instantly tell the boy was better than the previous riders, moving with ease. He and Arya’s lances collided, battering into the other’s shield. Both swayed in the saddles, tightening their knees but remained upright.
They cantered back around for another go, but the result was the same. So, they rode again. And then once more for a fourth time.
As Arya circled back for the fifth tilt, Gendry could see her arms were trembling and he noticed anew how small Arya was – even clad in armour. The Smallwood boy looked at least a year older than her, with broad shoulders and long legs. And while Arya had said she practised jousting, Gendry suspected that what training she could get sneaking out after her brothers was much less than a lordling had from years with a Master of Arms.
Nerves curled in his stomach and Gendry wondered dimly how King Eddard would kill him for injuring his beloved daughter. Did they hang people much up in the North? Or did they burn people like those Lord of Light followers? Some of the maids had said the deceased House Bolton flayed people alive. Gendry shuddered. He should have shut his mouth the moment a Princess started going on about jousting.
However, as the riders lined up again, Arya straightened, rolling her shoulders back and settling the lance. Gendry could practically see her angular jaw lock under that helmet, her gaze taking on that familiar steely-eyed determination. The crowd was silent, air crackling with expectation.
This time, when they rode towards each other, Arya waited until the last moment and aimed her lance low – far lower than Gendry had seen any other competitor go – and simultaneously ducked against her horse’s neck. Her lance slipped under the boy’s shield and she gave a final thrust, knocking him aside. He slammed into the sand, lance falling with him.
The audience exploded into cheers, the lowborn crowd whooping in delight and even some of the noble spectators leaping to their feet to applaud. Gendry couldn’t stop from laughing aloud, a fierce pride roaring in his chest.
Arya rode back and dismounted swiftly, barely pausing to toss Gendry the lance and reins before running back to check on the Smallwood rider.
The boy was crumpled on the ground and struggling to stand – Gendry couldn’t see any broken limbs, but it was hard to tell under the armour. Arya offered him her gloved hand and pulled him to his feet. Leaning against the railing, the rider yanked off his helmet appearing in a puff of brown hair – Gendry was surprised to see him grinning broadly, looking at Arya with an impressed expression.
Gendry watched him tell Arya something that looked like a compliment. Arya gestured back, obviously asking if he was injured, but he only waved her off, nodding to the still cheering crowd and then her helmet. Was he asking her to reveal herself? Gendry clenched the horse’s reins, the leather biting into his palm. What the bloody hell was she doing?
Fortunately, Arya seemed to have realised how conspicuous she was and shook her head, backing away. The boy frowned but she just bowed quickly to the crowd and marched back to Gendry.
“Quick.” She hissed when she reached him. “Before anyone else gets suspicious.”
Feeling the spectator’s eyes boring into his back, Gendry led the horse away, trying to walk at a normal place. Beside him Arya was tense, breathing heavily inside her helmet. They melted into the bustle, slinking over to the stables.
“Seven hells, that was close.” Arya muttered. “He was demanding I show myself to the crowd.”
“You shouldn’t have gone back.” Gendry pointed out irritably. “If we get discovered you’ll never be able to face Joffrey – no matter how well you ride.”
“I had to check he was alright.” Arya protested. “I’m not trying to kill everyone on my way to Joffrey.”
Gendry just grunted, skimming the crowd for anyone giving them curious looks. Luckily everyone seemed to have lost interest in the mystery rider and was watching the next bout.
They watched the next few bouts far back from the tiltyard, staying out of view. The shadows were lengthening now, drifting into late afternoon.
Joffrey’s next opponent didn’t even compete. The rider forfeited, allegedly due to an injury, but Gendry suspected he couldn’t take the humiliation of the Prince crowing over him if he threw the bout. Joffrey crowed anyway, laughing about cowards and halfwits.
“You know what this means.” Gendry said under his breath, watching Joffrey preen to the stands.
Arya raised her chin. “I’ll be facing him next.”
There were only six riders left now: Arya, Joffrey, a rider from the Vale, another from the Stormlands and two from the Reach.
The herald called the next bout: The rider of the Laughing Tree versus Prince Joffrey of House Baratheon and Lannister.
Gendry heard Arya suck in a breath.
“You’ll be fine.” He said, trying to be reassuring. “You’ve beaten riders far more skilled than Joffrey today.”
Arya chuckled, an odd raspy sound under her helmet. “Oh, I’m not worried about that part. It’s just getting out before Cersei or Joffrey catch me.”
“I’ll be right here” Gendry promised her. “Ready to run with you.” He’d already figured out an escape route in fact.
She looked up at him, eyes shining through the narrow slits. “I’ll be quick.”
They walked to the tiltyard together, Gendry flashed the wooden token one last time and Arya mounted. Opposite them, Joffrey bounced in the saddle, his poor beast whinnying in distress.
The atmosphere in the crowd was odd: Some of the audiences were riveted on the mystery rider, whispering over who he could be. Others looked bored and eyeing Joffrey irritably, knowing how it would end now the Crown Prince was riding.
Gendry chanced a look at the royal pavilion, Cersei looked as smug as always, sipping her wine and smirking down at her son, while Robert was already deep into his cups. On the Stark side, Queen Catelyn and Lord Willas Tyrell were talking quietly, while Lady Sansa’s gaze was fixed on the jousters, leaning forward in her eagerness. King Eddard was leaning forward to, but in contrast to his daughter’s shining face he stared at Arya with narrowed eyes, gaze drifting to the Laughing Tree shield. Gendry’s stomach lurched. Surely the King couldn’t….?
Then the horn sounded, and Arya rode forward.
Gendry through that after everything they’d gone through to get there, the moment itself was anti-climactic. Arya rode like she was half horse herself, back upright, shield raised and lance straight, Joffrey moved clumsily, kicking at his mount and making it clear to everyone that his lance was off-centre.
And then – in front of half the lords and ladies in Westeros – the rider of the Laughing Tree collided with the Crown Prince, knocking him off his horse in a single swipe. Joffrey hit the ground with a wail of fury, spluttering against the dust. The crowd gasped, several women squealing and one lord even breaking out in surprised laughter, many of the men who had looked so bored earlier were smirking now.
Gendry stared down at his half-brother and satisfaction swelled in his chest. Not caring if anyone saw, he grinned, broad and open.
(You finally got what you deserved brother).
Arya circled around and looked out at the onlookers, surveying them from her seat.
“A contest is a contest.” She called, in a strange booming voice completely unlike her own. “If anyone, man or woman, ever wants respect from their people then they must earn it fairly. No one – ” her voice took on a derisive edge as she glanced down at Joffrey, “– not even a Prince is exempt from that. Remember that next time you humiliate someone below you.”
She turned back to the crowd and bowed, inclining her helmed head. A rumble spread through the spectators, confusion on many of faces and disgust on some. A few looked like they were holding back grins. Gendry chanced a glance at Cersei, she was clutching her wine goblet in knuckled hands , gaze fixed on her son whimpering in the sand,. But then her eyes flickered to Arya. Gendry’s chest tightened.
Before anyone could react, Arya rode out of the tiltyard, sweeping past the herald. Gendry grabbed her outstretched lance, letting her dash by him and plough a path through the loitering riders and squires. He threw one last look at Cersei, tossed the lance to one side and ran after his knight.
He got beyond the edge of the pavilions by the time Cersei and Joffrey started wailing for someone to go after the rider. Gendry ducked into the woods, weaving his way through the trees until he reached their clearing, relieved it was fairly deep in the trees. Arya was already half out of her armour.
“They’re coming after us.” He said.
She looked up at him, face flushed. “I know.”
He helped her strip off the rest of her armour, tossing it to the ground.
“I jumped off the horse behind the armoury pavilion.” She said, “some stable boy will have put it with all the others by now so it will be harder for them to find us.”
Gendry jerked his head in agreement, tearing off her breastplate while Arya freed her legs. Voices drifted through the trees – people were starting to search the woods. Gendry grabbed the sack with her gown in it.
“Let’s go.” Arya said. She glanced down at her suit of armour all gathered in a pile.
Gendry followed her gaze. “Leave it.” He said. “Let it be a reminder of the knight that defeated Joffrey Baratheon.” Arya nodded and went to place the shield in the heap, but he stopped her. “But take that with us.” He paused. “A memory of your aunt.”
Arya looked as is if she was about to say something, but they heard voices coming even closer, and she grabbed his hand instead. “Come on!”
While Gendry was trying to process the feel of her small fingers laced between his, Arya dragged him deeper in the woods. He shook himself to attention, realising that she had no idea where they were going. Luckily, Gendry knew the Red Keep almost as well as the forge and servants quarters.
The Red Keep was built on a peninsula, shaped roughly squarish with four sides. The front side faced straight towards Kings Landing with a road leading from the castle gate to the city. The left and back sides fell to sheer cliffs, jutting above the water below. The right side sloped into an open grassy area and woods before rolling down to the beach. King Robert had built the tourney stands and tiltyard in the grassy area, pressed up against the forest – outside the walls of the castle tiself.
Gendry knew the woods stretched past the front side of the Keep, running alongside the road and reaching the edge of the city. If he and Arya got through the woods fast enough, they could slip into the city and lose themselves in King Landing’s streets.
So, he concentrated on their route, glancing around the trees and calculating which direction the city was in. “This way.” He hissed, pulling ahead of Arya.
She gripped his hand tighter, letting him guide her. They dashed through the trees, running parallel to the road. Behind them, they could hear shouts and the tell-tale clank of armoured feet – Cersei had sent the royal guard after them.
Realising they could move faster separated, Gendry released Arya’s hand – considering how frantic the situation was, he felt stupidly unhappy doing so.
They’re gaining on us. He thought.
Arya sped up, weaving through the trees like a shadowy forest spirit. “Come on you stupid bull!”
Gendry sprinted after her, breath rasping and a sharp pain piercing his side. Distant whinnying echoed through the trees, ground shaking with hooves beating against the dirt. The pain sharpened and Gendry almost tripped.
Arya glanced over her shoulder, hair flying around her face. “Hurry up!”
With sweat burning his eyes, Gendry at last saw the trees thinning ahead. In a burst of energy, he pounded forward and unthinkingly grabbed Arya’s hand in his again. Together they hurtled on, breaking through the trees and at last onto the streets of Kings Landing.