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Winter Heat

Chapter Text

Arya Stark of Winterfell knew it was her duty to be there to greet the King and his host upon his arrival. The problem was that she didn't care. Mother had come to her chambers last night to tell her that the King would arrive in the morning, and had laid out a gown for Arya to wear to greet the King, Queen, and the four Princes and the Princess.

And because Mother had done so, Arya was up with the dawn and climbing out the window of her chambers. She might now be a maid of five-and-ten but that age had not changed her ways. Dressed in a grey pair of old breeches Bran had outgrown and an oversized white shirt she had stolen from Father, Arya Stark headed straight for the stables of Winterfell. She had the bow Jon had made for her hooked over her body and her quiver of arrows strapped to her back over her heavy black cloak. Nymeria was at her heels, the dire wolf more than accustomed to following Arya out the window and making the leap from the roof to the ground. When she'd been a pup, Arya had carried her down, but Nymeria was as fearless as her mistress and soon learned to copy Arya, first jumping into Arya waiting arms, and as she'd gotten bigger, jumping straight to the ground.

In spite of the impending arrival of the King, Winterfell had yet to stir and it was a bleak looking day. She noticed when she glanced at the grey clouds attempting the hide the dawn's sunlight that it would probably rain later. Arya didn't care. Winter was in her blood and Arya did not mind the cooler days, especially when the heat of Summer had been so warm of late. The change would be welcome as far as Arya was concerned.

Tip-toeing past the stable boys Arya saddled the horse Father had gifted to her on her last name-day. Storm was a mare with a coat the colour of storm clouds, swirling shades of grey intermingled with black. She was easily sixteen hands, but that suited Arya, who had grown to be almost as tall as Ned Stark. Father sometimes commented that Arya looked just as Lyanna had done when she was Arya's age, regularly waving away Arya's indiscretions and urge for freedom as being a trait of the Stark women of Old. Arya knew it was her resemblance in both appearance and personality to her lost Aunt that drove Father to indulge her interests even when Mother chastised her and rebuked him.

Arya watched in fascination as her mount and her faithful companion touched noses. Nymeria was almost as big as Storm, and a fierce predator, but Storm showed no fear of the Dire Wolf. Trying to keep from drawing attention to her departure, Arya led Storm out of the stables and into the main yard before mounting, smirking to see that the gates of Winterfell were already open as they anxiously awaited the arrival of the King. Arya took shameless advantage of the situation, nudging Storm into an easy jog, finding her seat easily. Nymeria bounded ahead of them as they burst through the gates and headed for the forests and rolling hills that were almost more of a home to Arya than the castle was.

Exhilaration at her freedom flowed through Arya as they galloped across the open plains, up and down the hills, walking almost silently through the forests. There was nothing better than this as far as Arya was concerned. She never felt truly at peace unless she was riding in the forests, galloping the land, breathing in the crisp cold air of the North. Sometimes Arya ached to ride down the King's Road so she could take the road to the Wall. Jon had been promising for moons now that she could visit him, but Mother strictly forbade it, not at all liking the idea of sending her maiden daughter off to the Wall where she might associate with murders, rapists and thieves. Arya rolled her eyes to herself as she thought about it, and about the way mother was forever insisting that she act more like a lady.

It had only gotten worse when she had flowered two moons ago. Arya had never been so angry than when she'd woken with blood staining her thighs and her small clothes. She hated that she was now a woman by right, having prayed to the old gods to prevent her from ever flowering so that she would never be sent off to marry some useless Lord. Ever since it had happened, Lady Catelyn Stark of Winterfell had renewed her efforts to train her wayward, wild daughter in the ways of being a lady. The Septas had long since given up on trying to teach Arya sewing and needlepoint.

Arya sighed as she thought about it. She had finally learned dancing, but only when father had agreed to personally teach her how to swing a sword, insisting that she would learn to Water Dance. Catelyn was beside herself, but learning to fight from her father was the only way any of them could convince her to learn to dance. Jon had also encouraged her to learn how to play the harp before he left and every time he sent a raven to her. Arya had refused until he had pointed out that it would not be so different from using her bow.

Riding felt like second nature to Arya and she did it subconsciously as she, Storm and Nymeria stalked prey. The sun had risen and was already almost at it's highest point in the sky. She knew she was going to be in trouble when she returned to Winterfell, and Arya was surprised her mother had not insisted on tying her up before bed last night to keep her from running off. Especially after Mother had hinted that having finally flowered, Ned was hoping to talk his old friend Robert Baratheon into a marriage between Arya and one of his sons.

Needless to say Arya was not pleased about the idea. She knew she would not be shipped off with the first-born son Steffon Baratheon. Steffon was heir to the throne and so would not be given the second-born, less appealing Stark daughter. But King Robert had three other sons beside his first-born, as well as a daughter. It was rumoured he had several unacknowledged bastards through the Seven Kingdoms as well.

The idea of marrying anyone turned Arya's stomach, but the idea of being forced to marrying one of the princes made her feel nauseas. She had heard that the Courts of King's Landing were rife with traitors and liars, where ladies were expected to hold their tongues and dress in finery and simper over newborns babes and silly things like embroidery and matchmaking. All of the things Arya had never been able to do and had no interest in.

Arya snapped out of her musing as she heard the crackle of dry leaves, her head lifting to search for the prey she had been trailing. Arya narrowed her eyes when she spotted him. The buck was of average size, perhaps not more than a yearling, but Arya was undeterred. As far as she was concerned he would taste wonderful as a side of venison or even in a nice stew. Nymeria growled very softly as Arya reached for an arrow, knocking it into her bow and raising it. She did it very slowly so as not to startle the creature that was already watching them uneasily. Closing one eye to aim, Arya sighted down her arrow until the point aligned with the exposed throat of the animal.

She exhaled as she loosed the arrow, and Nymeria sprang forward as she did so. The buck jumped in surprise to have an arrow lodged in his windpipe but Arya was already urging Storm after her wolf and the buck, not bothering with anymore arrows, knowing Nymeria could bring the beast down easily. When she came upon them, Arya smiled to see the wolf with her fangs imbedded in the throat of the animal, having pulled it to the ground alone.

Nymeria growled as Arya approached, but Arya fixed the wolf a glare that had her releasing her prey and stepping back, waiting for her mistress's approval to return. Pulling her arrow free Arya cleaned it and returned it to her quiver, before pulling her dagger from her belt so she could gut the animal, intending to take it back to the kitchens of Winterfell.

She threw the entrails to Nymeria, cleaning out the stomach cavity entirely. The wolf snapped and chomped on them happily while Arya sheathed her dagger and rallied her strength. Storm stood patiently as Arya staggered forward with the beast in her arms. Arya laid the buck across Storm's withers, stopping again to slit the buck's throat and watching the way the blood trickled down Storm's side and dripped to the ground. Smirking to herself even as she brushed back the strands of hair that had blown loose of the long braid that hung down her back without noticing her bloodied hands, Arya swung back up into the saddle and guided Storm on the path back to Winterfell.

In spite of her prize, Arya couldn't resist the speed of horse riding and just about swallowed her own tongue in surprise when she loped into the courtyard of Winterfell. Caught up in the thrill of the hunt and the flush of success, Arya had forgotten all about the King and his subjects coming to visit. Skidding to a stop on Storm in the middle of the yard, Arya felt a blush creep up her cheeks.

The entire party was there, staring at her. It was immediately clear to her that her family was in the process of welcoming the King to Winterfell, and when Arya met the eyes of Ned Stark she saw his surprise and a touch of worry at the situation. Mother and Sansa looked positively furious with her, while the Queen and Princess looked disgusted though they probably didn't even know who she was.

King Robert was staring at her with his mouth open and such a look of shock on his face that Arya almost wanted to laugh. Nymeria trotted up next to her as Arya dismounted, a string of entrails trailing along as she chewed them. Arya glanced down at her clothes before looking at the gowns her mother and sister wore.

She looked a frightful mess.

The left leg of her breeches and her left boot were dark and sticky with the blood of the buck as it trickled from the slit in the creature's throat; and the white shirt she wore was crimson with blood splatters and smears on the front and at the sleeves from where she had reached in to gut the deer and pulled all the entrails and things out. In fact her hands and forearms were sticky and red with blood as well and Arya had no doubt she had it smeared on her face, since she had just reached to brush hair out of her eyes again.

Tentatively, Arya stepped forwards in the utter silence of the yard, all eyes fixed upon her, supposing she ought to welcome the King. Glancing at her hands again, Arya realised that covered in the blood of a stag- the Baratheon house sigil- was probably not the most diplomatic way to do that. Glancing around, she tried to spot anyone carrying water, since the only barrels she knew of where she could wash otherwise were over by the Forge across the yard. Normally she would have Nymeria lick them clean but the wolf was covered in just as much blood as her mistress

Seeing nothing that would be suitable, Arya tried to scrub them against her breeches, but they came away just as sticky. And then Arya decided that since she had already caused quite enough of a stir to properly offend the King and Queen, Arya did the only other thing she could think of to clean her hands.

In front of the whole lot of them, from those glowering furiously to those staring in shock, disgust and surprise, Arya Stark held her hands in front of her and spat on them three times before scrubbing them together and against her already bloodied clothing. Trying not to laugh at the impropriety and the swoop of embarrassment she felt in front of the King and the Queen, all the Princes and the simpering little Princess, along with the mortified Stark family Arya strode forward, plastering a big smile on her face; holding her now spit-covered and still bloodied hands out in greeting.

"Welcome to Winterfell, your Grace. I'm Arya Stark."