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The Cowardly Lion

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Tommen knows Joffrey was lying. Everyone knows Joffrey was lying. Tommen bets Mother even knows it. But of course he doesn’t get in even a little trouble. He never does.

To amuse himself, Tommen repeats the girl’s version of things in his head, over and over, imagining how it must have been. Joffrey teasing the poor dead butcher’s boy. Arya Stark striking him for it. Then when Joff kept on it, her direwolf jumping to her defense.

Tommen bets Joffrey screamed like a baby. He’s equally as certain Arya had been strong about all of it. He watches her sometimes, and he can’t imagine she’d be scared of anything.

He wants to be like that. He knows he isn’t. Mother and Father both tell him so. But life would be easier if he learned how. When Joffrey is being mean, he doesn’t want to stand and let it happen. He wants to protect himself. He wants to protect all the people and animals Joffrey wants to hurt.

It’s evidence of how brave he isn’t when he can’t bring himself to speak to her. She’s frightening. He follows her and begins to learn where she goes and what she does, so he can talk to her at the best time. But no time feels like a good time. She’s always running about or chasing poor kittens or standing on one toe on top of the stairs. Sometimes she speaks with her father or her sword teacher or the soldier called Jory Cassell. They all seem scary too.

In the end, he does not find the courage. Instead he stubs his toe and cries out while watching her walk blindfolded. She stops.

“Who’s there?”

Tommen falls still. His tongue sticks in his throat. Arya Stark takes off her blindfold, then looks around a while before her eyes rest on him, where he stands clutching his foot and hobbling about not five yards from her.

She does not do any of the things people are supposed to do when they come across a prince. She says, “Oh, you.” Her eyes narrow and she comes nearer. “You’ve been following me.”

Tommen tries to open his mouth. But she’s glaring at him. She has a horrible glare.

“Why have you been following me?” she says, now slowly, like she thinks he might be stupid.

He puts his aching toe down and wipes sweaty hands on the side of his breeches. Words. He can use words.

“I know Joffy lied,” he says. “About what happened by Darry. He lies all the time.”

She narrows her eyes. “What of it?”

She is very pretty. She has a long face like a pony. He likes ponies. And her eyes are gray like clouds when it’s rainy. He likes rain too, as long as there is not too much of it or it’s not too cold out.

“You — you fought him. Joffy. You beat him.”

“Are you going to yell at me?”

Tommen backs away, not liking the look on her face. “I think it was brave.”

This makes her happy. She smiles, looking satisfied, like a kitten who has just killed a mouse.

He likes kittens also.

“Of course it was,” she says.

Yes, of course. Everything Arya Stark does is brave.

He is not like her. He needs to ask now, before she tires of him and leaves.

“I — I want to be brave too,” he says. “When Joffy hurts me, or cats or baby deer, or anyone else. I want to know how to make him stop. Can you teach me to be brave?”

She comes closer to him. So close he can smell her. She smells like dirt and sweat. That is not so nice, but it is okay. She leans down, because he is shorter than her. Her eyes come near his. “I could teach you water dancing. Syrio gives good advice about how to be brave. And it’s easy to be strong when you can fight. But I won’t teach you for free.”

“I don’t think I can pay,” says Tommen. “I would have to go to Mother, and she would not like it.”

“No, no. Don’t go to Cersei. I don’t want you to pay like that. But Joffrey is going to marry my stupid sister. If I teach you, you have to use all the the things you learn, and you have to be brave and keep him from hurting her too, okay? I bet you wouldn’t get in trouble for it, since you’re a prince too.”

He smiles. It sounds heroic when she puts it like that. Yes, I will learn to be brave, and I will protect the lady from Joffrey like in the songs.

There is one problem.

“What is water dancing?”

Tommen has never liked sword fighting. He has never been good at it either. It is a miserable thing, to go out and bundle himself in padding and then get whacked again and again with a heavy stick while the other boys laugh. But he wants to be a knight like Uncle Jaime. He wants to be better.

It’s just hard, is all.

Arya finds him a practice sword and they swat each other. There is no padding. It still hurts. And she is meaner than the other boys dare to be. But if he becomes upset or comes near to crying, she stops and shuffles her feet and says, “Don’t be stupid,” in a way that actually sounds nice. Sometimes she pats his arm, or says, “You aren’t so bad, really,” which none of the other boys or the master-at-arms have ever done.

The rest of the water dancing training is better, mostly. It is fun to run about wearing a blindfold or to hop around on one foot. He is not so certain about chasing poor cats, but catching them is usually nice. He takes them to the kitchens and gets them saucers of milk in apology for the trouble, and sometimes they stay and let him pet them.

Sometimes they scratch him or run away. That is okay too. He would not like being chased very much in their shoes.

Arya gives him a lot of advice. About being quick and looking and seeing. She also says things like, “Fear cuts deeper than swords,” and “Every hurt is a lesson, and every lesson makes you better.”

She says she repeats all of them in her head again and again so she doesn’t forget.

Tommen begins to do it too. It isn’t learning to be brave like he thought it would be, but it makes him feel braver. He has things to say to himself when he’s scared. And waking up with aches and bruises makes him feel strong, and feeling strong makes him feel brave also.

Best of all, he has a friend who is pretty and nice in a mean way. He hasn’t had any friends unless Myrcella counts, and she only sort of does.

Knowing Arya likes him makes him feel bravest of all.

He begins to go to her lessons with Syrio. The man spares little attention for Tommen, but that doesn’t matter. Arya always tells him what he needs to know, and he likes watching. Syrio hits Arya with his sword as often as Arya hits Tommen, and Arya hits Syrio as little as Tommen hits Arya. But Arya does not cry or complain, and only keeps trying harder.

I will do that next time, Tommen thinks each time he sees, and he takes his hits a little more bravely every time.

Mother notices his bruises, but Father and Uncle Renly and Uncle Jaime all laugh when she expresses concern.  

“He’s a boy, woman. About time he starts acting it,” says Father.

“Dear Robert is right, this once. Let him be, your grace,” says Renly.

“Those are from sword practice,” says Uncle Jaime. “He’s sneaking out to train. Remember? I’m sure I spent half our childhood bruised from practice bouts.”

Tommen is not sure what to do with their approval. It does not feel like any of them actually approves of him. It feels more like they are disapproving of him and glad he is doing something not like himself.

He tells this to Arya, because she is easy to talk to. She scowls when he’s done speaking.

“People are stupid,” she says. “Don’t think about it. My septa and my mother and even my father don’t approve of me.” Her face falls. She says, miserably, “I asked Father the other day if I could build things or run a keep, and he said no — that I would be a lady instead. I had thought he might understand.”

“If I had a keep, I would let you run it,” Tommen says. “I should not want to, and you are smarter than me and everyone would respect you.”

“I would have to marry you,” Arya says.

“That wouldn’t be so bad. You listen when I talk, and I like it when you say funny things.”

She squints at him. “You are a prince. Princes take ladies for their wives.”

It is scary to contradict her, so he does not point out she is a lady also.

“Well I should like you better than any lady.”

She shrugs. “Maybe. If I have to marry someone, at least you would not yell at me for wearing breeches and having a sword. But I’ll see if I can get out of it altogether. Maybe I’ll go to the Free Cities.”

He doesn’t want her to go so far. She’s his only friend.

“Could I come with?” he says.

“Yes,” says Arya. “I think I should like that.”

Everything becomes horrible not so long after. Uncle Jaime attacks Arya’s father. Tommen’s father dies, and then Arya’s father comes into the throne room with Ser Barristan and a piece of paper. Tommen doesn’t know much about anything, but everyone says Lord Stark is honorable.

Tommen knows with all his heart he is not lying, that the paper is what he says it is. He knows his mother is lying when she takes it from him and tears it to bits, and if he hopes otherwise for a moment, that hope dies when the gold cloaks come forward and people begin to die.

He runs afterward and hides in his room. It’s a long time before he thinks to find Arya.

When he looks, she isn’t anywhere. No one is supposed to know they are friends. It would’ve upset Mother and it might’ve made Joffy hurt him. Tommen asks about her anyway. With everyone dying, he fears -

He can’t think of it.

No one will tell him about Arya. But when he goes to the Hand’s tower to the place Arya practiced with Syrio, there is blood on the ground. When Tommen asks Myrcella if she knows anything, she tells him Sansa Stark is locked away far up in the tower, because she is the daughter of a traitor. Arya slipped away, and no one knows a thing of where she went.

She’s brave, Tommen thinks. She’ll be okay.

He isn’t nearly as sure if he will be. 

He tries not to think about what has happened, but it is very hard. Everyone is quiet around the Red Keep, and Joffrey is king. How can he ignore that Joffrey is king?

Then comes the day of Lord Stark’s trial. They all go to the Great Sept of Baelor, and Tommen sits near Mother and Joffrey, where he’s in the middle of everything.

Lord Stark does not look scary anymore. He looks hurt. He cannot properly walk because his leg is bad.

Tommen cannot look at Lord Stark, because Lord Stark has done nothing wrong, and it’s Mother and Joffrey who are doing bad things. It’s like what happened with Joffrey and the direwolf all over again, except now it isn’t a wolf that is in trouble, but a person. A good person.

Lord Stark admits to all of them that he’s a traitor. But Joffrey has made Tommen say things he doesn’t mean by threatening Myrcella or his animals or threatening Tommen himself.

The way Joffrey smiles says that is what this is.

He will be okay, thinks Tommen when Mother offers him the chance to take the black. Lord Stark is strong, and his brother is at the Wall. Tommen remembers that from Winterfell. He’ll live with his brother, and the Wall isn’t so far from Winterfell. He could still see his family every now and again.

Then Joffrey says, “Bring me his head.”

Tommen pinches his nails into his hands. That is Arya’s father, he thinks. He did nothing wrong.

He nearly throws up, he is so scared. “Fear cuts deeper than swords,” he says under his breath, so soft no one else hears. He says it again.

He is a prince. He will be okay. It will all be okay.

Tommen stands. “They’re lying!”

Mother tries to grab him. But Tommen has learned to be quick. He darts from her grasp, swift as a deer, and runs to Lord Stark and stands in front of him, his knees quaking, his stomach threatening to heave. People gasp and whisper and point.

Ser Ilyn Payne is ten times scarier even than Arya, and he looks at Tommen as if might cut his head off too, just to be done with it.

I am a prince.

Tommen yells loud as he can about the paper and how Mother ripped it up and how Lord Baelish looked at Lord Stark and said, “I told you not to trust me.” He looks right at Ser Barristan and says, “You were there. You saw. You knew!”

Ser Barristan stands still. So very, very still. Joffrey is screaming and everyone else is silent, even Mother, who looks so horrified it makes tears come into Tommen’s eyes. He doesn’t want to upset her. But she’s being bad, and she would’ve let Joffrey hurt someone who didn’t do anything wrong.

“Ser Barristan,” Tommen says, when he says nothing. “Please, you know. You’re a knight. You have to tell the truth.”

Ser Barristan inclines his head. It is not much of a nod, but everyone sees.

The crowd begins to surge. There are people everywhere. Ser Barristan rushes to his side, lifting Tommen into his arms. “Come with me, prince. We need to get you out of here.”

Lord Stark comes to him that afternoon. He tells Tommen, in a soft, sorry voice that there was a riot. The crowds surged and Joffrey did not get out. Mother did, but she is in the dungeons now.

“What of Myrcella?” Tommen says, so scared the words hardly came forth.

Lord Stark brushes his hair from his face. “Your sister is safe.” He then lowers his voice and looks very seriously at Tommen. “Your… that is, Lord Stannis has been sent for. He will come to rule as king. I am going back north with my family. I think it best you and your sister come with.”

Tommen frowns. “But if Joffy is — if Joffy is dead, then I would be king next. Would they let me go?”

“You wouldn’t be king,” Lord Stark says softly. “Your father, Robert… he was not your father by birth. You are not in line for the throne. Stannis knows this.”

Tommen’s heart wrenches. “Not my father?”

Lord Stark tells him about Ser Jaime and Mother.

Tommen does not know what to think of it. He does not want to be a king, but he does not want to be a bastard either. Now I will not ever marry Arya. This is what I get for being brave.

“I will come with you,” Tommen says. He does not think is has a choice.

“My daughter will be happy to hear it. She has been asking about you.”

Tommen perks up. “You found Arya?”

“She found me. Would you like to see her?”

“Please, Lord Stark.”

Tommen’s heart warms when he sees that she has been waiting straight outside the door. She is skinnier than she’d been before, and grubby, and she smells awful — he knows this because she rushes at him and throws her arms around his neck in an embrace so tight he can hardly breathe.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” she says. She’s crying. He hadn’t known Arya could cry. She says it again. “Thank you. You’re the best person I’ve ever met.”

“I’m not going to be a prince anymore,” he says stupidly.

“You’ll be better for it, I promise, and you’ll like Winterfell, and we can practice swords together. It will be okay, you’ll see.”

Tommen bites his lip. He does not want to go. He does not want to leave Mother. But what Arya says doesn’t sound so bad.

He does not regret it, he decides, scared as he still is. It was right. He did what was right.

He clings to Arya and thinks maybe everything will be okay.