The elation Davos felt upon seeing the dead fall down once more was quickly and brutally undercut by stumbling upon the body of Lyanna Mormont, fierce in death as she was in life—and so heartbreakingly small. It was the Princess Shireen once more, only the guilt felt even sharper for he had recruited the lady to Jon’s cause. He had put her on the path that had led her here. Just like Matthos. Just like his poor boy.
They had won the biggest battle of them all, and somehow he had survived yet again. But his heart was heavy as a stone. The old smuggler’s surroundings were mostly lost to him, consumed as he was by the maelstrom of thoughts swirling through his head, but the cry of a familiar name pierced through the din.
“Gendry?” a woman’s voice called. “Gendry!”
Davos turned to see none other than the younger Lady Stark pushing her way through the courtyard, shouting the armorer’s name to be heard over the cries of all those others doing the same. He had figured the two must have met—he had seen the boy working on the weapon she had wielded so impressively on the battlements—but he had had no idea that they were close. He found his own eyes searching the wreckage, hoping against hope while trying to steel himself for yet another heartbreak.
But, this one time, the gods proved kinder.
The young smith scrambled around the corner of the wreckage that had once been the smokehouse, bruised and bleeding as they all were, but very much alive. He raced past in a gust of wind—lad really can run, Davos thought idly—and the brief glimpse he caught of the younger man’s face told him that whatever was between the unexpected pair was more than mere infatuation, at least on the boy’s side. And then he saw the look on the Stark girl’s face when she saw the lad racing towards her and knew that the same was true for both.
It had been a long time since a surprise had brought him anything but pain, and though Davos knew such a match would face a tough road, he banished thoughts of the future from his head and allowed the sight of one young and hopeful thing to warm his battered old heart.
The dead were finally sleeping as they were supposed to, and yet Jaime Lannister saw ghosts.
Robert Baratheon and Lyanna Stark were standing below below him in the courtyard. It was them, he was quite certain, even though it was not: the lad was clean-shaven, and he had never known the late king not to wear a beard, and the girl, he knew, was not the tragic winter rose of Winterfell, but her equally wolf-blooded niece.
He had seen the armorer before, and even spoken to him a few times making preparations for the battle. But while Jaime had always felt there to be something unsettlingly familiar about the lad, he had been unable to place the feeling until now, covered in the gore of battle and looking every bit the conquering hero as his father did in his prime—for Jaime had no doubt in his mind that the young man kissing Arya Stark was one of the whoring old king’s bastards. Quite possibly the only one left standing.
Jaime wondered, momentarily, if he might benefit by revealing the presence of the Usurper’s son to the dragon queen through no longer being her most despised person in Winterfell. But destroying a boy for his own benefit was the sort of thing he would have done all those years ago when he was a different man, two-handed and proud and all the worse for it.
And besides, he thought, glancing to the knight who sat at his side, looking dazed and exhausted as he felt, Brienne wouldn’t like it.
They gathered the dead and burnt them all before finally retiring to sleep, and sleep they did. An observer might have commented a quieter day had never been seen at Winterfell, only there was no one awake to observe it. But as evening fell the castle rose from its stupor, ready to celebrate that they had lived, even though they still mourned the many who had died.
And Sansa Stark found herself attempting, for the first time in many years, to convince her sister to wear a dress—or at least something a bit nicer than the unadorned tunic and trousers she had chosen for herself.
“You are the guest of honor tonight, Arya,” she said once again, hoping that this time it might finally get through. Sansa had often heard she looked like her lady mother, but never had she so much felt like her before.
“I don’t want honor or glory,” Arya insisted, growing frustrated. “Tell them it was Theon.”
Sansa resisted the urge to start pulling at her own hair in frustration. “Even if I had a mind to do so, too many people heard Jon shouting about it in the courtyard.”
Arya narrowed her eyes at her sister. “I killed the Night King. I should be allowed to wear what I want.” A different tactic.
“Would you at least wear that nice tunic I made you, then? The one with the direwolf on it.”
Arya considered the offer. “Fine.”
Sansa nodded curtly. Neither party was truly happy, the sign of a fair compromise. She went to drape the rejected gown over the back of a chair to free her hands to retrieve the direwolf tunic from the wardrobe when she noticed the cloak already hanging there.
“This isn’t yours,” Sansa commented. She lifted up the cloak to inspect it. The hem reached the floor—it would be a little long for her, and therefore definitely too large for Arya. It appeared warm enough, but the quality was middling.
Sansa glanced around her sister’s quarters as if seeing them for the first time, her gaze eventually falling upon a discarded pair of boots in a shadowy corner that, even from a distance, were also clearly too large to be her sister’s.
“Where is he?” Sansa asked mildly. Like many, she had seen Arya’s reunion with the armorer after the battle. Having just faced the reanimated corpses of her ancestors had left her capacity for surprise somewhat dulled, though even in her exhausted state she had firmly sworn to both interrogate Arya on the subject and get a proper introduction to the smith who had somehow caught her fancy.
Arya glanced down briefly, and Sansa had her answer. Feeling something of a sense of déjà vu, Sansa lowered herself to the ground. However, instead of a bag of faces this time there was just the one, and a pair of striking blue eyes looking back at her that seemed oddly familiar though Sansa could not place why.
“Gendry, is it?” she asked politely, although she full well knew the answer.
“Yes, Lady Stark,” the smith replied, his ears bright red.
Arya had looked decidedly uncomfortable when Jon’s announcement of her achievement had inspired people to begin a chant of “bringer of the dawn” so loud she would not have been surprised if they heard it all the way down in King’s Landing. But thankfully it came to an end after a few minutes, and then the Dragon Queen said her piece about honoring the dead, and then, finally, a small army of servants and recruited smallfolk finally entered the hall with the food—along with the finest casks of wine their stores had to offer. By the time the feast got started in earnest, no one was paying much attention to Arya Stark—well, except for one man, seated at one of the lower tables beside Ser Davos, but she liked the feeling of that one particular blue-eyed gaze, so it suited her just fine.
“You should invite him to join us at the high table, Lady Arya,” Daenerys said kindly, following the younger woman’s gaze. While the immediate aftermath of the battle had been lost to her as she mourned the loss of her poor Ser Jorah, Missandei had mentioned Arya Stark’s noteworthy reunion with the armorer who had visited Dragonstone and traveled north of the Wall with Jon.
Hearing Daenerys’ offer, Arya imagined Gendry’s discomfort at being surrounded by so many highborns and smiled impishly before going to do just that. Admittedly, she did not ask him to join her family and the dragon queen at the high table so much as grab him by the arm and start pulling, caring little for the fact that he had actually been listening to Tormund’s story about that one time he single-handedly killed two Thenns armed with nothing but a broken arrow. Did Gendry believe the wildling? Not even a little, but it was a good story—that he would never hear the end of, now.
To tell it true, though, Gendry’s irritation was minimal. He had come to realize that his fate was to go through life dragged about by Arya Stark, and gods help him, there was nowhere in all the known world he would rather be.
For a brief moment, with the attention of several lords and ladies and a queen with two full-grown actual dragons all focused on him, Gendry wondered if fighting another army of wights might be a less daunting prospect, but that thought quickly left him. At least if the queen fed him to her beasts, he’d die warm.
Instead, Daenerys Targaryen just gave him a polite smile, thanked him for his efforts in arming her soldiers, and had a servant add a chair for him at Arya’s side. Her hand, Tyrion Lannister, also greeted him politely, as did her other advisor—a bald-headed, sharp-eyed man Gendry could never recall the name of—leaving only one person seated at the table who he hadn’t met yet: Brandon Stark.
Gendry had been told the young Lord Stark’s gaze was unsettling, and experiencing it for the first time he decided all the tales were utterly true.
“The seed is strong,” the young lord said in lieu of a greeting, the cadence of his voice odd and unwavering.
Gendry had no idea what that meant.
“Bran is the Three-Eyed Raven,” Sansa interjected, seeing the smith’s confusion. “He knows many things—but communicating them… well. Do not worry yourself over it.”
Gendry nodded as if he understood. He did not understand even a little, but somehow, he doubted that any further attempts at clarification would help. He took the seat offered to him as a serving girl handed him a full goblet of wine. He took a large gulp, hoping the liquid would ease his nerves.
Bran turned to Arya then. “You once said you could be his family. The gods listen, you know,” he told her.
Arya showed no particular reaction to her brother’s words at first. It was only as she took another swig from her goblet that understanding dawned on her, and the Bringer of the Dawn swallowed her wine the wrong way.
Gendry could only stare in shock at first, seeing Arya fully lose her composure for the first time since their reunion, coughing and spluttering as a panicked look flashed across her face.
What could possibly startle Arya Stark?
Sansa attempted to pat her sister on the back, but Arya swatted her arm away even as the coughing fit continued.
At least I know she’s all right, Gendry thought.
Bran opened his mouth to say something more, but Arya, her coughing finally subsiding, shot him a glare so fierce Gendry felt himself shudder despite it not being directed his way. Though Bran no longer seemed to function as a normal person would in most regards, even the Three-Eyed Raven was apparently not immune to an Arya Stark death glare, for his mouth snapped shut once more.
When it became clear that Bran had no more to add, and that Arya had no intentions of elaborating on what had just transpired, Daenerys began to regale the table with a story of her travels in Essos, and the jovial atmosphere quickly returned. Certain the dragon queen had fully enraptured the rest of the table, Gendry turned to Arya with a questioning look of his own, but only got a milder version of the glare she had directed towards her brother, not now instead of open your mouth and I’ll kill you. He heeded the warning nonetheless, even though he wasn’t happy about it.
And then Arya took his hand beneath the table, interlacing his fingers with hers, and his concerns melted away. She would be the death of him, of that he had little doubt, but he would die a happy man.
Tyrion sought Varys out after the feast.
He had noticed something familiar about the armorer the day they had first met, but only now had the pieces finally come together. He found himself affronted on behalf of his own supposed intellect that it had taken him so long. Only as the man took a seat next to Arya Stark had the truth hit him over the head like the hammer the smith wielded. So the Baratheon line hangs on by a bastard thread.
He had made idle small talk with Daenerys and the Starks for the remainder of the feast while his thoughts wandered, wondering who else knew. Davos Seaworth, he supposed. He knew the Baratheons well, having served Stannis for so long, and had even gone all the way to King’s Landing to recruit the smith for Jon Snow.
Regarding the Starks, it was hard to say. Arya more likely than Sansa, though both women were difficult to read. Jon Snow was not known for keeping secrets, but he also clearly felt indebted to the other man for saving his life north of the Wall. If there was one thing that could convince a Stark man to keep his mouth shut, it was their sense of loyalty.
But it was Varys who Tyrion was most curious about. Turning to him, he had found the other man already watching him with interest. So he did then. How interesting.
It was so interesting, in fact, that Tyrion found himself unable to pay much attention to anything else for the rest of the feast, and cornered the Spider the first moment he got a chance.
“Is something the matter, Lord Tyrion?” Varys inquired as soon as the door to the nondescript but conveniently located store room had closed.
“How long have you known about the armorer?” Tyrion had spent the better part of the past two hours dying for answers. He was hardly in the mood for witty repartee.
Varys clucked his tongue, taking a seat on the edge of a large crate and stretching his legs, getting comfortable. “You’ll have to be more specific than that.”
“Very well. How long have you known that Jon Snow’s armorer is a Baratheon bastard?”
“The very last Baratheon of any kind, as far as I am aware,” Varys specified. “Though when I first learned of him, he was but a small child, and one of several half-siblings.”
“And why were you keeping such a watchful eye on the king’s bastards? Out of the goodness of your heart?”
“Do not ask questions that are beneath you, Lord Tyrion,” Varys said, inspecting his nails.
“So you knew the whole time?”
“I heard the first whispers before your sister and the king exchanged vows in the Sept of Baelor, but it was only after Joffrey’s birth that I investigated the matter thoroughly.” He folded his hands together primly on his lap. “Of all the bastards I kept a special eye on him. How do you think a tavern wench’s boy from Flea Bottom became apprenticed to the most respected smith on the street of steel? From a very young age he was clearly a Baratheon through and through. He’d be the key, should the truth ever need to come to light. But it was never in the best interest of the realm, and so I left sleeping dogs lie.”
“If only Jon Arryn and Ned Stark had known your restraint.”
“If only.” Varys smiled wanly.
“Ah, that is the question of the hour, is it not?” Varys said, some of his careful nonchalance finally slipping. “I will admit I did not expect the matter to become the complication that it has. The lad never showed any particular interest in anything beyond swinging a hammer until the Arya Stark matter came along—”
“I’m pretty sure ‘swinging a hammer’ still applies,” Tyrion interjected because he simply couldn’t not.
Varys raised an unimpressed brow, but continued on without comment. “We shall have to address it sooner, I imagine, rather than later.”
“And why would that be, exactly?”
The only response the other man gave was that irksome wan smile again, and Tyrion knew there was definitely something else Varys knew about the situation that he did not.
A little over a moon’s turn had passed since the Battle for the Dawn, and Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen’s surviving forces sat in Winterfell, waiting for a turn in the weather to begin their march down the King’s Road. The wounds sustained in the fight against the Night King’s army had all healed as much as they ever would, so Sam found himself spending most of his days in the library tower, searching for anything about the Golden Company or King’s Landing that might help Jon.
Though visitors were not uncommon, Sandor Clegane was easily the last person Sam expected to see when he heard footsteps coming up the stairs of the library tower. The fact that he dragged a clearly reluctant Arya Stark along with him only deepened Sam's confusion.
"Let me go, you miserable old cunt," Arya demanded, trying to pull away.
"Do you take me for an idiot? You'll run," Sandor replied. "I know better than to trust you, don't I?"
Sam supposed he could intervene, but as he was mildly terrified of both the Hound and Jon's youngest sister, he decided against it, instead pretending his attention was still devoted to The Histories of Five Great Westerosi Cities by Maester Bryen Wylde. He could feel Gilly’s eyes boring a hole in the back of his head, wondering why he was acting such a coward. But then again, she had always been braver than him.
Arya snarled at the man grasping her arm. The Hound was unmoved.
"Well go on, tell him then," he demanded. "Or we can go to the Maester instead." Arya made a face at the prospect.
"And then you'll let go?"
"Aye, and then I'll let you go, little bitch."
"Fine," Arya hissed through clenched teeth. She settled then, though she was still clearly far from pleased.
Sam finally closed his book then, sensing it was finally safe to speak.
“Can I help you with something, Ser Clegane, Lady Stark?”
“No,” Arya said shortly, before nodding her head in the Hound’s direction, “this fool’s just turned into a mother hen in his old age.”
Sandor growled like the dog some called him and turned to Sam. “She fainted in the training yard. When I tried to drag her to the Maester, she nearly clawed my eyes out, so I figured you’d do.”
Sam frowned. “Have you been feeling out of sorts, Lady Arya?”
“No!” Arya protested, “I am fine.”
“When we passed the brewery she turned greener than a new squire,” Sandor continued, unmoved by the murderous glare Arya shot him.
Sam’s frown deepened. With Daenerys’s surviving forces still camped outside the gates, and so many sharing such close quarters, he had often thought it a small wonder illness had not proven more of an issue since the Targaryen queen arrived.
He reached out to feel Arya’s forehead. “May I?” he asked, having no desire to lose a hand in the process.
Arya nodded tersely. He pressed the back of his hand to her skin and was relieved to find no indication of fever. He proceeded to feel her pulse for good measure, and once again found it normal. He checked a few other signs of more common illnesses, but everything suggested Arya Stark was in perfect health.
“Well, you seem all right to me, Lady Arya,” Sam concluded with a smile.
“I told you.”
Sandor just rolled his eyes, his only reply a noncommittal grunt as he finally released the young woman’s arm before turning around and stomping off down the stairs.
“You won’t tell Jon about this,” Arya said. In a sense it was a question, but Sam knew better than to think she was asking.
“No need to worry him over nothing,” Sam assured.
Arya nodded her agreement and proceeded to leave.
The unexpected visit concluded, Sam turned to Gilly and found her already regarding him with a look he knew well—equal parts fondness and exasperation, usually reserved for when he did something obtuse—and furrowed his brow in confusion. All in all, he had figured the situation had gone as well as it possibly could have.
There was no pleasing everybody, he supposed.
Gilly was taking little Sam on a walk through Wintertown when Arya Stark found her. Gilly had never spoken to the younger Lady Stark directly before—had only seen her close the one time a few days prior when she had been dragged to the library tower by that one scarred knight they called the Hound.
It took Gilly a few moments to recognize the woman who stopped her in the road as none other than the Bringer of the Dawn, her face half-hidden in shadows by the nondescript grey cloak she wore.
“May I speak with you?” Arya Stark asked.
“Could we take a detour to the Godswood? There are so many ears and eyes about here.”
Gilly just nodded again. Little Sam looked up to his mother in question, so she told him they were going on a walk to see a very special tree. Sparing a quick glance to his mother’s new companion, he deemed this plan acceptable and nuzzled into her side once more.
Arya Stark did not speak to her again until they were deep in the Godswood, seated near the base of the heart tree. It struck Gilly that this was the place where the Night King died—where the woman sitting next to her had killed him once and for all—but it hardly felt real. Little Sam, for his part, had plopped down in the snow nearby after taking a moment to inspect the bleeding face of the heart tree and was playing with a carved wooden wolf Davos Seaworth had gifted him.
“When Sandor Clegane made me talk to Sam the other day, you suspected something. Something that did not occur to him. But you said nothing,” Arya said suddenly, just as Gilly was beginning to worry that she might have to be the one to break the silence. “Why?”
Gilly shrugged, keeping an eye on her son to make sure he did not stray too close to the hot spring’s edge. “Wasn’t my place.”
“Have you shared your suspicions with Sam?”
Gilly shook her head. She wasn’t sure what southron folk considered proper when it came to addressing the savior of the realm, but she was no longer the timid creature she had been when she escaped Craster. “Are you?” she asked.
Arya Stark did not respond for several moments, or even give any indication she had heard the question at all. And then:
“I think so.” It was so quiet Gilly could barely hear. “How did you know? With your son.”
“Well my bloods stopped, of course,” the wildling woman answered after considering it for a moment. “And I got dizzy sometimes. Certain foods started tasting strange, certain smells started turning my stomach. I only got sick in the mornings a few times, but I’ve known women to have it far worse.”
Arya grimaced slightly and Gilly suspected that she might belong in the “far worse” category.
“I knew women who said peppermint helped,” Gilly suggested.
“Peppermint?” Arya repeated.
“The smell of it,” she clarified, and Arya nodded.
“Could this stay between us?”
It was Gilly’s turn to nod. Arya responded only with a small but grateful smile.
When Sansa responded to a knock on her solar door to find her sister waiting on the other side, she knew something was almost certainly amiss. Arya was usually difficult to track down when Sansa wanted to find her, and she certainly never came seeking her out. She seemed to be possessed of the notion that Sansa was on a mission to make her clothes (while not Sansa’s top priority, it was, admittedly, on the list), and standing still to be fitted was one of Arya’s least favorite things, so she usually avoided the risk. As such, she knew the moment she saw Arya waiting in the hall that the matter was serious.
That said, her sense of foreboding did not make her sister’s news any less surprising.
“You’re with child,” Sansa repeated, as if saying the words might make them easier to comprehend. (It did not.) “The armorer’s?”
“There’s only ever been Gendry,” Arya said somewhat hotly.
“He only got here a little more than a fortnight before the battle—”
“I met him the day father died.”
That stopped Sansa short. What?
“I told you about the Night’s Watch, and how the recruiter disguised me as a boy. Gendry was there—his master sent him off to join the Watch, didn’t know why until much later. And there were these two other boys, and they were taunting me. Threatening to steal Needle. Gendry saw and scared them off. He figured out I was a girl soon enough, and he protected me. I told him I was Arya Stark, and he kept my secret. We travelled together for years,” Arya said. “I saved him too, a few times. And then the red witch took him away.”
She glanced away towards the fire, blinking furiously. Sansa could see the glassy sheen of tears attempting to rise in her sister’s eyes in spite of her efforts but knew better than to draw attention to the situation.
“I thought he was dead until I saw him ride into Winterfell,” Arya concluded, still avoiding eye contact by staring into the fire. But Sansa saw anyway—saw so much more than she had anticipated. Finding the smith hiding under her sister’s bed had made it perfectly clear that Arya was fond of the man, but to be entirely blunt, she had considered the attraction was most likely more physical than anything.
She had certainly never expected love. Sansa might not have been an expert on the matter herself, but nonetheless, she was quite certain her sister was properly in love with the armorer, although she highly doubted Arya would admit it aloud.
She felt a little cruel for feeling so, but Sansa wished that it had just been lust. Love made things messy. She had spent many a night worried about how Jon’s emotional entanglements might end up causing problems, but not once had she anticipated Arya complicating things in such a manner.
“How could you be so careless?” Sansa chastised, knowing it was useless but unable to help herself.
“Well, I was quite certain we were all about to die the first time, so I wasn’t exactly thinking too far ahead!” Arya hissed, remembering even in her frustration that doors were only so thick and even friendly hallways were full of wandering ears.
“And what about all the other times?”
“I’m pretty certain it happened the first time, so it hardly matters, does it?”
“How could you possibly know that, Arya—”
“Bran,” Arya said simply, and Sansa’s racing thoughts finally paused as it dawned on her.
“That’s why you nearly choked on your wine at the feast."
Arya just nodded.
“There are still options, you know.” Sansa thought of the tea Wolkan brewed for her the one time she had missed her monthly courses, even though Ramsay would have flayed the maester should he have ever found out.
“I know. I considered them.” I rejected them was left unsaid but communicated clearly.
Sansa remembered the girl who railed against anything so much as vaguely romantic or feminine, who fought tooth and nail against even the slightest suggestion that she might one day go on to marry or mother children. If someone had asked her that very morning, she would have said Arya was still possessed of those fundamental notions.
Evidently, she was wrong.
“Have you told Jon?”
“I will as soon as I’m done here,” Arya promised.
Sansa gave a terse nod as the full weight of the situation hit her. And then, going over everything that Arya had said, something else hit her, too.
“You said Gendry’s master sent him to join the watch for reasons he only learned later. What were they?”
“He’s one of King Robert’s bastards,” Arya said.
Sansa felt her heart skip a beat. She had sensed that she was not going to like the answer to her question, but she still hadn’t expected that. She thought of Daenerys, and how well she had taken Jaime Lannister’s arrival—who had then had the audacity not to die fighting the Night King’s army.
There was no way any of this ended well.
“Oh, Arya,” Sansa sighed, not knowing what else to say.
“…I’ve already told Sansa,” Arya concluded, as Jon stared at her in stunned silence.
“And Gendry?” Jon asked, finally regaining the use of his tongue.
“It’s not his fault, Jon,” Arya said quickly. “I seduced him, I swear it.”
Jon let out a rather humorless bark of laughter at that. “I figured as much.” He had gotten to know the smith well enough since Dragonstone, and having seen the two of them interact now once or twice, it was very clear to him that it was the direwolf who had hunted down her prey—although her prey was admittedly very enthusiastic about being caught. “Just… I need a moment.”
Jon Snow had seen many things he had once thought impossible. Had had his understandings of both his own identity and the world around him repeatedly dismantled and remade anew. And yet somehow, it never got any easier.
He looked at the woman sitting across from him, so the same and yet so different from the girl who had idolized him so, who held him in higher regard exactly because the world around her said that bastards were supposed to be regarded with lower esteem.
His sister-cousin Arya Stark, Bringer of the Dawn, slayer of the Night King, expecting a child with the only surviving son of Robert Baratheon, a man who had coveted his mother, and killed his father in her name. His mother, who had also found herself with child in the middle of a war. And Jon considered the father of Arya’s unborn child— a Baratheon, who loved a Stark, like his father before him—and a bastard, like the founder of his house. It was like the past in a mirror, the same and yet backward, all tied in so many knots Jon’s head started to ache.
“Well,” Jon said, after finally deciding that anything would be better than letting the uncomfortable silence stretch out longer, “you’ve never done anything by halves.”