(“Arya? Arya? You- you don't know me at all, do you?”)
She sits up abruptly in bed at the sound of the door slamming into the wall, dagger in hand and eyes wide. Rickon gives an annoyed huff from the doorway, sneering.
“Come on! Breakfast already!”
He leaves the door open when he stalks back downstairs, and Arya scowls and reaches under her pillow for the sheath as her heart continues to gallop in her chest.
Stupid little brother.
But from the way sunlight is streaming through the gaps in the shutters, she really has slept late.
It's not like her- she's a sword, with a disciplined, keen edge. And she rolls out of bed in one smooth motion so she can kick the door shut again for the privacy to get dressed.
The dream she'd been having must have caught and held her under. It was strange: like a wolf dream, as if she were running around in somebody else's skin.
But it wasn't Nymeria. And even now she can feel the details of it slipping away, although she remembers heat and strength and the smell of iron and sewage...
She frowns when she goes to do her toilet. Her smallclothes are tied on wrong. As if she had done up the ties backward, so she can't just pull them open one-handed as usual.
But she chalks it up to the odd start to the day, quickly relieves herself and then changes into her tunic and trousers before heading downstairs for breakfast.
She is late- the men have already left the table- doubtless they're already out in the yard training or with Father and the other lords they're currently hosting. Mother sends her a frown from where she's speaking to Maester Luwin and jerks her head towards the table, and Arya ducks her head in apology and walks a little faster. She really wishes she hadn't slept late- she prefers eating in relative peace with the men and getting first crack at the hot food and freshly baked bread. Makes her feel less a stranger because that, at least, hasn't changed in the time she's been gone.
The ladies always take second shift at the dining tables with the children because they take more time to get dressed, fix their hair and then socialize endlessly over the meal. Sansa's upcoming wedding to Lord Steffron Frey's son and heir is the usual focus of conversation now and Arya would really prefer not to be dragged into arguments over what she should wear or how her manners have suffered.
Case in point: Sansa greets her with an outraged glare and sniff. “Well, thank heavens you've remembered how to use a fork today! I expect you to work hard to re-learn the dance: the ceremony is at twilight. This will be my last one, so I need you to do a decent job even if Braavos seems to have scraped it from your head somehow. I'll practice with you once I finish mending the robe, but you need to get it right. ”
Arya gives Sansa a look of disbelief as she stabs cold bacon, sausages, and bread for her plate. “What are you on about? Might not be good at any lady-like pastimes, but I've always been better at the dance than you.”
Sansa's blue eyes blaze with recrimination. “You don't remember what an absolute disaster you were yesterday? Couldn't even remember how to get to the Godswood and you just turned around and kept apologizing like an idiot. I had to spend all afternoon mending what you ripped! I'm glad you had to practice all evening too, though I feel sorry for the Reeds. And you, Bran.”
“Arya! You're back.” Bran smiles at their older sister while Jojen gives Arya a bracing smile from beside him and gives his head a slight but urgent shake: stop protesting. “Thank you for mending the robe, Sansa--” Bran continues, “your stitching is so beautiful that I know it'll be good as new.”
Sansa sighs and rolls her eyes, but the flattery obviously mollifies her. “...I'll do my best, of course. And she's been back for a month, so stop giving her special treatment! You could at least be grateful, Arya! If it was left to you, the whole thing would still be a wreck.”
Jojen gives Arya a prodding look and Arya, baffled, complies. “I am? Grateful, I mean-- I'm glad you're sewing it for me. I'll practice the dance, I promise. Really don't know how I forgot it- we've been doing it since we were girls.”
She can think of the steps in her head even now, dagger in right hand, bundles of newly harvested barley, wheat and oats in the other, grey wool robes embroidered with weirwood leaves swirling around their bodies as they turn, turn, turn, stepping carefully in pattern. Arms up, swishing the grain in every direction, round and round the godswood, before using their daggers to offer blood to the gaping mouth of the heart tree. Stark maidens have performed the ceremony (and Reeds have provided both instruments and music) to renew the bond with the old gods for thousands of years, as her father had reminded her once, when she was ten.
“It's not fair that I can't use my hand properly after! Can't Jeyne Poole or Beth Cassel do it if Bran can play the pipes too? I think Sansa would like to dance with them better anyway.”
Father had looked bleak. He'd smoothed her hair back, eyes solemn. “I know it seems barbaric and unfair, these old traditions, and I'm doubly sorry that you favor your left hand. But when we break the bond, our land and people bleed instead. The last time that happened, we had years of war, not just here, but all over Westeros. I need you to understand how important this ceremony is. We're Starks: wardens of the North. Bran cannot fight wildlings with his damaged knee; but he can play. You must do your part too, and neither Jeyne nor Beth have been marked for this as you and Sansa have.”
“I'd rather fight than just dance with a dagger.”
Father had smiled grimly then, much like the smile Meera gives her from across the table. “Well, you must feel better after a good sleep,” she says pointedly, and then gives Jojen a questioning look after cocking her head at Arya. Jojen nods and Meera relaxes, obviously relieved.
Arya looks between them, bewildered.
What in Seven Hells did she miss while she was sleeping?
Bran pulls her aside after breakfast and explains as best he can.
“I think you were warged ...in a fashion. It seemed like your soul changed places with another, actually. Jojen and Meera and I helped him where we could, but we couldn't exactly tell him how to dance properly and Sansa was frantic when you --he-- tripped and ripped a big hole in your robe.”
“There was a boy using my body?”
“He didn't do it on purpose- he thought this was all a dream, but he couldn't wake from it like a proper warg could. Sounded like he was lowborn, the way he talked. Said he was from King's Landing, and I believe it- acted like he'd never even seen a field before,” Meera adds.
“I thought skinchangers couldn't take control of thinking beings easily. Why didn't I fight him off? And how could he warg me from so far away?”
Bran frowns. “I don't know. It was like you were gone, not like you were trapped in there with him. Jojen, Meera, what do you think?”
They both shake their heads and shrug, and Jojen tilts his head. “Bran's the strongest warg we know, and warging a person isn't supposed to be possible.”
Bran nods thoughtfully. “Even with the wolves, Summer is easiest because we're bonded. And you obviously don't even know this Gendry-”
“Gendry? That's his name?”
“He quite liked being you. Said he'd never eaten so well in his life, and he walked around the castle and through the fields like this was a wonderful dream, feeding the horses and handling your weapons. You –he-- was quite excited when he realized you had a Valyrian steel dagger. But he was surprised when he woke up here as you yesterday. We figured out quickly that something was awry from the way you wandered down gawping at everything and kept quiet and didn't help yourself to food. Might have managed to keep out of trouble if Sansa hadn't insisted on practicing, but we got him to talk once she left with your robe.”
Arya hesitates, considering. “This morning, it did feel like I'd warged in my dreams. And it was strange because it wasn't a wolf dream, although I guess I remembered that it stank like King's Landing and I felt... tall and strong.” She makes a face. “You'd think I'd remember warging all the way there...?”
“You've warged Nymeria from Braavos,” Bran reminds her.
“But she's my direwolf, and it's always just in dreams- I'm still me in the morning. How could this Gendry boy and I warg each other for a whole day?”
Bran shrugs. “Honestly, I don't know. Not supposed to warg that long, or you can lose yourself in the other. Maybe once I find the-” he breaks off and gives Jojen a look and then shakes his head. “Anyway, if it happens again, perhaps you can find out? No lasting harm seems to have come from it, at any rate.”
Arya has to agree- what else is there to be done? The Red Witch might have been able do some spell to prevent it in future, but she'd left while Arya was in Braavos, confused and conflicted by visions of a figure emerging from flames unburnt. She'd taken Jon with her too, which Arya wishes hadn't happened, though she can guess that must have made Mother happy.
Still, Bran and Jojen are greenseers- if they say this Gendry was in her by accident and neither seems particularly worried, then she shouldn't be either. Maybe it's just one of those peculiar things that happens, like how Billy had hiccups for three whole days once, even while he was sleeping, and they stopped as mysteriously as they had started.
So she goes through her usual drills with bow and staff before heading out to the Godswood with Bran and the Reeds to practice. Sansa brings her mended robe out in the afternoon, but she refuses to let Arya wear it until they practice one last time.
There's no mistaking the relief on Sansa's face when they dance in circular unison as they've done for years, and Arya moves with sure-footed precision.
“Well thank goodness! It was like you were a whole different person yesterday!” Sansa exclaims, and she gives her a genuine smile. “You've always been so good at the physical things; I couldn't understand how you could forget it so completely. But I'm glad. You'll be doing this alone until Roslin has a girl, and that girl turns eight.”
Arya shrugs. “I could end up like the Blackfish: a warrior who never married. Which means I might be doing this until I'm old and gray like Berena Stark.”
Sansa gives her a look that's a bit like pity. “Well, I'm looking forward to never having to cut my hand again, anyway. Father made me wait until you were back to betroth me, and I've been a woman grown for years.”
That makes Arya feel sorry, but only a little. “A clean cut hurts less than pushing out a baby, I'm sure. ...You really want to marry that Frey? He's so much older. And you've never even met him.”
Sansa lifts an elegant shoulder, matter-of-fact. “I've always wanted to move south, where the climate's milder and there's more of everything- you know that. Roslin says he's a good man- handsome, too. He's kind enough in his letters. And he'll be heir to the castle and lordship, in time. Lord Steffon is so old that it's probably going to be sooner than later.” Her face softens. “Besides, babies are sweet. You haven't been around to help with Robb and Roslin's babe much, but you have to admit he's adorable.”
Arya smiles warmly at the thought of little Ben before she hesitates. “I'm never going to be a lady like you and mother. How many ladies do you know who've been wards of the First Sword of Braavos? Who have prophecies hanging over their heads?”
Sansa gives her a pensive look. “Maybe it won't come true.”
Arya flips her dagger into her hand. A priceless relic from lost Valyria, presented to her on her thirteenth nameday, when everything had changed.
The ceremony goes smoothly at twilight, the eerie tune from the pipes spanning the time between day and night exactly, and Arya doesn't hesitate when she cuts her palm neatly at the end, dribbling the blood into the carved weirwood bowl set before the heart tree. As she tips her blood into its carved mouth after Sansa, she strives to ignore the pain, but she can't help but wonder what life as this Gendry would be like, without any of what's expected from Arya Stark of Winterfell.
House Stark's bannermen are all gathered in the growing gloom to witness. They've been arriving for about a week- some have to ride far to get to Winterfell, and many have come with wagonloads of their taxes and their families. This winter is supposed to be cold and hard after such a long summer and they need to discuss preparations with Father and Robb. Arya has noticed that both Mormont ladies and Alys Karstark carry swords, and Meera Reed wields both spear and bow and carries a hunting dirk. It seems more things have changed for girls than she had thought, and she plans to find out what she can at the feast. It fills her with pride though, to hear them all reaffirming their fealty to House Stark and smell all the good Westerosi food cooking. She loved Braavosi seafood, truly, but she's been looking forward to having Old Nan's kidney pies and roast goose and venison all day.
She's made friends with both Lyanna Mormont and Alys Karstark before she finally heads up to her room, slightly tipsy from ale that she's finally old enough to drink. It's the most fun she's had at a feast in her memory- the ale sure helps to make things feel friendly and relaxed. Maybe it's also easier without having to worry about Jon hunched brooding and alone at the servant's table, though she feels guilty for even thinking it.
As she's getting undressed for bed, she notices that her travel journal has been left open on the desk instead of being neatly bound and tucked in the drawer. On the open page is writing that isn't hers with carefully printed words:
Bran and Jojen and Mira are nice.
Your sister thinks I'm crazy. Maybe I am? This is the realest dream I ever had.
You have a nice life, Arya.
It's funny, the pang that goes through her when she reads it. She'd completely forgotten about the odd warging-switch during the feast. The note feels almost like a goodbye.
Strange to think they've never actually met.
It's especially ironic when she wakes the next morning. Her eyes snap open when she hears the bustle of a city stirring outside. Realizes how hard the bed is; that she's in a windowless room.
No, it can't be...
She looks around warily-- it's not Braavosi style stone or any room in Winterfell, although the cramped, dark space doesn't tell her much else. She's on a pallet too small for her body.
Her big, masculine body that is naked under the thin, holey blanket. She lifts up the blanket experimentally and--
Well, Bran was right and Gendry is definitely a boy. Why in hells is he hard like that for no reason? Still, she can't help but admire the shape of him as she runs a tentative hand over his –her?-- defined pectoral muscles before she lifts his arm and flexes. He seems strong, probably works some kind of laboring job. Belatedly, she wishes she had found out more about him but she's more conscious of the gnawing emptiness in his belly- he must have gone to bed hungry.
She turns over his hands. To her surprise, there's a smooth, circular scar on the palm of his right hand- looks like an old burn. Funny to look down and see an unblemished left palm- she's had the ritual scars on her palm as long as she can remember and she went to bed with the fresh cut aching, despite the ale, her mother's careful stitches and Maester Luwin's good numbing balm. His hands are big and callused from work, with black ingrained around the nails and into the skin. She inspects more closely and decides it's not just dirt- it's more like coal dust or soot.
Maybe Gendry sells coal? He's not built like a chimney sweep.
She pulls on his leather tunic, tucking his stupid boy parts into his pants before searching fruitlessly for socks and reluctantly shoving his bare feet into his boots. She feels so awkward, like she's a little girl dressing in her brother's clothes for play but the clothes actually fit, and she has to laugh at herself a little. This is no wolf dream: she's in full control and everything feels completely real, even the way she fumbles the bootlaces with his bigger fingers and the growl of his empty stomach.
She's not used to standing so tall and being able to bare her chest and arms like this. Meera said he was from King's Landing, which has always been warmer than Winterfell- it practically feels like midsummer. Plus his hair doesn't require tying up although it feels thick and dirty and –she pulls out a strand-- black.
She pulls aside the curtain hanging over the doorway cautiously and spies weapons and armor hanging on the walls, an anvil and a big forge, coals still glowing.
So he's a smith. An apprentice, probably, as it seems they're of an age.
Mikken's apprentices eat at his table in the dining hall in Winterfell, but she's sure it can't be the same here for Gendry. This looks like a shop, so there's no lord providing food for those who work at his castle. She turns back and rummages under his sleeping pallet, smiling when she finds a little leather bag of coins tucked against the frame.
Her eyes widen when she cracks open one of the shop's big double doors and realizes that she's in the shop at the top of the Street of Steel, right next to the Sept of Baelor. When she'd come to King's Landing with Father years ago, he'd said it was much more dangerous in the capital than Wintertown or White Harbour, so they'd always been surrounded by his men whenever they'd had to traverse the streets. They'd hardly gone anywhere interesting, coming up to see the wares on this famous street just the once, and Arya had spent most of the trip only able to look down at the city, safely protected in the Red Keep while Father had conducted business for Winterfell. She'd only protested occasionally: she'd filled her time finding secret passages and better, exploring the big dragon skulls in the dungeons with Princess Shireen before Father had hired Syrio Forel as her instructor.
Since then, her life has followed one unswerving path. She's trained and ready. And winter is almost here.
So it's a truly unexpected windfall, this chance to explore King's Landing hidden in the body of a tall, strong boy who can wander the streets without restrictions.
She grins as she opens the door wide and strides out confidently.
Well, Gendry. Let's get some breakfast, then.
I think Japanese Shintoism is actually a lot like the animistic worship of the old gods, so the ceremony I described is a mix of the two. My first crossover ever, so if I'm doing it all wrong etc. do let me know.
I've got about a third of this fic written, and the rest outlined, so I'm hoping to stick to weekly updates! I'm nrgburst on tumblr if you ever want to send an ask or see WIP snippets. :D
Chapter 2: Ply
Invisible threads are the strongest ties. (F. Nietzsche)
Just a reminder to mind the rating! They are horny teenagers so normal horny teenager things are going to happen in this chapter. It's a running gag in KNNW too, but if that isn't your cup of tea, drop me a line and I can post an edited version. Not sure if I should tag this as dub-con too?
There are going to be a couple implied minor/background ships in this- I'll tag as they are added!
(“That's beautiful. Did you make it?”
“...Yes. I made it for... you, I think.”
“For me? Truly?”)
Gendry wakes with tears in his eyes and the inside of his nose burning, not sure why a dream of big grey eyes and a beaming smile makes his heart ache so painfully. There were other parts to the dream too: constant pain in his left hand; how it felt to bite into roast goose: tender, juicy, flavorful meat under crispy skin. The easy smiles of friends and family, the smell of medicinal balm and books and the soft furs on her bed. The Septa had ordered him to take a bath before bed and so he'd had a good look at her naked body, washed her carefully...
He quite likes these vivid dreams of being a highborn girl. He's starting to remember more from them now that they've happened a couple times, though the details go to mist and vapor like any dream when he tries to think about them during the day.
But he's not totally awake yet, so he lingers on that image of her perfect tits in the water --the rosebud pink nipples, how soft and sensitive they were as he soaped them-- and he reaches down and quickly jerks himself to release with a groan.
Maybe one day he'll be able to afford to be with a girl, have a family. Until then, he'll happily picture his dream lady.
He relaxes in the sense of satisfaction for a couple minutes before he forces himself to roll to the side. Morning bells haven't rung yet, which means he has time to try to grab a bite from the kitchen. He opens his eyes and blearily realizes he's wearing his tunic to sleep again.
Odd. Then he spots words written in charcoal on the wall out of the corner of his eye and he startles, instantly, unwillingly wide-awake.
He knows that smudged writing. He leafed through her journal just earlier, in his dreams.
Mother's mercy, this can't actually be happening. He must be going mad.
Can't afford paper or ink, so this'll have to do? I'm so sorry but I don't know much about smithing and I had no idea you started work so early so Master Mott was angry most of the day until I sold a bunch of things. Lucky for you I know plenty about weapons and armor and how to tell when customers are bluffing! He also said that you have a lesson at the Sept today so you'd better not miss it.
Put the balm on your feet before you go to bed and always wear socks with boots unless you want to lose your toenails to Whitetoe! I thought everybody knew things like that!
Hot Pie was nice- he helped me out with some old bread yesterday, so maybe thank him again? And I think Marna the serving girl fancies you. Helped carry water from the well for her and she was really pleased- do you like her back?
King's Landing is way more fun as a boy. Thanks, and sorry again if I ruined what you were making. I hope you can fix it,
Gendry just gapes for a solid minute, heart pounding in his ears, blinking in hopes that the words on the wall will fade to vague impressions like the dreams do.
He frowns with increasing panic as he reads and re-reads. Since when has living in King's Landing been fun? Unless...
His eyes widen and he automatically slides his fingers between the straw pallet and bedframe. The relief when he finds the small leather bag is short-lived: a quick tally reveals that it's missing ten copper pennies.
“Seven hells, Arya!”
The whole day is like that: righting one disaster she's created –sometimes with his own hands-- before dealing with the next. He fixes poorly hammered steel and re-smelts ore as his master glowers; avoids going near the Laughing Cow, where Marna works, and tries not to feel annoyed that Hot Pie and the other smiths and even the coal seller, for fucks sake, all seem to have some funny story about him from yesterday. It's a relief to go to the Sept for his lesson, if only because she couldn't have messed with anything there.
Septon Vernon gives a bunch of lowborn young people reading and writing lessons- probably some kind of church charity, and Master Mott has had him go since last year so he can read orders and write receipts. They don't spend the whole time copying holy texts or hymns like he'd first expected, though. Instead, they write answers to the Septon's questions and then he helps clarify and correct them, things like which houses are buying arms, what goods are in short supply in the markets and whether people are happy with the king.
They all relish the sweet bread he hands out after the lesson, enough to give careful attention to the writing tasks the Septon sets them, but Gendry also enjoys the reading part, when they get to touch and read from actual books. The stories transport him away from King's Landing for a few peaceful minutes, like his dreams, but with no unpleasant consequences.
Such as the shock he gets in the privy, which makes him curse- Arya had obviously bought some spicy food.
He still can't get over that she used ten whole pennies in a single day, but at least the balm, socks, and writing charcoals aren't ending up in a hole in the ground-- and he has to admit that they need to communicate somehow if they're going to manage to get through this.
It also gives him a way to tell her off, which he wishes he could do in person, but, well.
STOP USING MY MONEY. I get a ration from Mott's kitchen, from the stone house behind the shop, in the morning before first bells and at night after seven bells. Whatever your eating burns on the way out and IT'S MY BODY and MY MONEY! Not highborn, I can't just get more without working for it
Also, stop talking with Marna! I don't need or want a girl so don't give her ideas!
Maybe do accounts or polish armor in the shop if there's no custom. Highborns can figure, right? If you waste more good ore, Mott is going to sell me to the Nights Watch.
I know you can't help being here, but please don't ruin my life. I've not got anywhere else to go.
He hopes it's enough to stop her from messing things up at the forge again, at least. He hides his money above the doorframe before he goes to bed, although he grudgingly puts the balm on his feet as directed.
When he wakes up as himself again, he's actually surprised. And he wonders if the notes scrawled on the wall show that he's actually losing his mind. Maybe those street beggers that rant and argue with themselves started out by having dreams like this.
He hopes not.
At least nobody ever looks into the space where he sleeps. Still, Gendry volunteers to work on smaller pieces instead of the bigger orders like suits of armor, just in case. Most of those he can finish within a few hours, so unexpected interruptions won't mean having a big project ruined.
Who knows, maybe the dreams will stop and things can just go back to normal.
He should have known better: it's not like any of them ever have a choice once a highborn gets involved.
Gendry wakes up in Arya's comfortable bed, and there's a gigantic wolf pinning down half the covers next to him.
It's dizzying, going from cozily asleep to heart-pounding terror in a second. He reflexively scrambles away from it, his horrified shout frozen in his throat, falling out of her bed backwards before scrabbling to get away across the floor.
What in seven hells is a wolf--?!
Even in a panic, he struggles to think as the enormous wolf yawns and lazily shakes itself, regarding him curiously. Bran's Summer has trotted up to join them a few times, and in her journal, she's mentioned her direwolf-
Her ears flatten suspiciously and she growls low, and Gendry stays there, frozen on the floor, wishing he'd remembered to grab Arya's dagger from under the pillow.
They're both surprised when the door bangs open. A lanky teenage boy with wild curls and an annoyed expression looks from the wolf standing on the bed to where he is on the floor with surprise.
“What in blazes are you doing, Arya, playing?! The Mormonts and Manderlys are taking their leave, remember?”
“...Sorry, milord,” Gendry says automatically, and the boy sneers.
“Well, everyone's already in the courtyard, so get dressed quick! C'mon Nymeria, let's get you in the kennels with the others,” he says, slapping his thigh, and jerking his head. The direwolf gives Gendry one more suspicious huff and stare before following the boy out and Gendry scowls after them.
How was he supposed to know how to say such a fancy name?
He looks down at Arya's body. She's got the white gown on again and her left hand is bandaged and still hurting real bad. He has a dim memory of a septa shouting at him for trying to walk downstairs wearing this, and he still doesn't see what makes this fit only for sleeping in when it's made of finer cloth than most of the dresses he's seen girls wear.
He'll have to ask about that. He can't yell at her for her messing up things for him if he's gotten her in worse trouble.
He hopes Bran can get him through this courtyard thing- it sounds official. Now he just has to get changed and get there without getting lost in the castle again.
Arya's day clothes are slung over the chair at her desk, as usual. And he notes with relief that her journal is purposely open on the desk. He bends over to read it as he dresses in her tunic and trousers hurriedly before slinging the heavy furred cloak over her shoulders. The cloak is different from before- must be for the occasion.
I didn't think this was real but here I am again. I'm sorry your hand is hurt so bad but Bran says it's good because I can pretend to be you easier that way. Maester Luwin said I should rest your hand so I been reading some of the books in your room. I like the ones with the dragons. Also, Sansa said she wanted to make you a gown for her wedding and I didn't want to argue with her so I agreed and she measured you for it. I hope that's all right.
Hope your hand heals quick.
He vaguely remembers writing that. It's his handwriting, and it sounds like himself, anyway. He struggles with her socks and well-worn boots while reading her reply.
Thanks. I suppose we really are switching places? I got some of my old books from Rickon's room for you. There are lots of dragons in them, and the tales are epic. I hope you like them.
Not surprised Bran and the Reeds are helping you out- I'm sure neither of us are doing this on purpose. Bran and Jojen are greenseers, so they can see things normal people can't. If this were some evil magic they would sense it, I'm sure, and if it isn't some kind of hex, there's probably a reason for it. This only impacts my training time, and I can only do stealth and blindness drills until my hand heals anyway. Make sure you go to Maester Luwin to change the dressing once a day if he doesn't come find you. His numbing balm will make the pain easier to bear, too.
Well, I was asking for new leather armor, but it doesn't matter. Sorry you had to get measured for me; I know it's tedious. Hope Sansa didn't stick you “by accident” with pins either, but I don't think I've done anything to annoy her recently except the robe ripping, and that was you, so. I hope it's not too annoying with all the siblings all the time- at least Jon and Theon have left, so you have a couple less people to deal with!
Best of luck today and I'll try to stay out of trouble as you too,
He doesn't understand parts of it, but there's no time to try to figure them out- he hurries downstairs right after.
“That way to the courtyard?” he asks a serving maid, and she blinks, obviously confused.
“Yes, milady, they're all in the courtyard?”
“Through that door?”
He hopes her baffled look isn't because he's done Arya's clothing up wrong, and he's relieved to see Bran there in front of several lines of people, all dressed fine, beckoning him towards the space between him and Sansa. He gives a hasty bow to her lord father and mother out of habit and winces internally-- maybe Arya wouldn't have done that.
Robb's bemused smile confirms that she wouldn't have. Oh well.
“Arya! Your hair!” Sansa murmurs, and Gendry scowls. Right. Of course he'd missed something.
“Sorry! Was already late.”
“Well, you don't need to apologize to me, idiot! It's the Mormonts and Manderlys we're supposed to be showing our respect to.”
Gendry looks anxiously at Bran, who gives him an encouraging smile. “Morning, Arya. You're just in time.”
Then the courtyard goes silent and the lords and ladies speak to each other with warm, formal goodbyes while everybody looks on. He'd thought there'd be more to it, but it seems all Arya had to do was stand there like a witness. On time. With a fancy cloak on and properly done hair.
So he's surprised when the little Mormont girl approaches him with a friendly smile. “Thanks again for showing me Braavosi waterdancing and your Needle. You're welcome any time on Bear Island. Once your hand is better, I'm sure you can teach me a lot more.”
Gendry tries to smile. “...Right. That was... really good.”
The Mormont girl frowns, obviously puzzled, but she inclines her head and he does the same back, and then she goes back to mount her horse with the rest of her house.
Gendry exhales with relief when none of the Manderlys come up to bid personal farewells to Arya, although he notices that Sansa and Robb, in particular, both give and receive plenty of warm wishes.
Right. Robb's the heir and Sansa's to be married soon.
Once all the highborns are mounted, they ride out the gate, banners fluttering high. He thinks one is a bear and the other is some fish man holding a fork. He knows Arya's house is some sort of scaly wolf, because those banners hang all over the castle, but he doesn't think he's ever seen any of these in King's Landing. 'Course, he doesn't really know many of them except the important ones, like the yellow stag of the King hung all over the city and the Lannister Lions who buy plenty from Mott's shop.
Once the last of the procession is off, the lines of people standing at attention scatter to get on with the day. Bran tugs him along and the Reeds fall into step on either side, as if they'd prearranged things.
“That was perfect,” Bran assures him, keeping an anxious eye out as they weave through the crowd, “Arya's never on time or properly dressed for these sorts of things. We should ride off before Mother hunts you down for a reprimand, though.”
Jojen holds up a cloth tied with a knot at the top. “Got you some bread and bacon and a plum to break your fast.”
Gendry blinks with dismay as they steer him along, thinking longingly of the books stacked on the desk in Arya's room; of the rather larger meal he'd been looking forward to. “I've never ridden anything but the backs of wagons. And she's already hurt without me trying new things with her body again,” he protests.
Bran smiles dismissively. “Don't worry. Her body remembers how to move on a horse, even if you don't.”
Gendry gives him a disbelieving look. “How can you think that? I couldn't do the dance.”
“Muscle memory is different than the kind of memory you consciously recall. I'm a skinchanger- what you might know as a warg. And I've never caught an updraft with wings or prey in my jaws with this body, but it's second nature when I'm warging a bird or a direwolf. If you think back, you'll realize you knew, somehow, to turn in circles in Arya's- you were just thinking too hard about the details. This will be a much simpler motion.”
Gendry's mouth falls open, still stuck on the first part of Bran's explanation. “...You can change bodies with animals?”
Bran crinkles his nose thoughtfully and shakes his head. “Not exchange bodies like you and Arya- more like... help control. Arya can too --all of my siblings can-- to a degree. The blood of the First Men runs true in us.”
Meera tilts her head curiously. “Gendry, are your parents Northerners as well?”
Gendry shrugs. “I dunno. My mum died when I was little. She had yellow hair, which I don't see 'round here. Never knew who my dad was.”
They all exchange disappointed looks before Bran sighs. “This is all such a mystery. If we had more training, proper training, we might be able to see why or what is actually happening,” Bran says, wincing and putting his hand out. They all stop so he can rub his knee.
Gendry frowns. “Should we ask the Maester? Maesters have written down things for centuries, right? Maybe he's read about something like this.”
Meera shakes her head. “Maesters don't believe in magic or visions or wargs. They're trained not to, even when it's right in front of them. He'd think Arya had an affliction of the mind, or was merely acting like a player in a show. Because those things are more likely than something happening that he can't sense.”
Jojen puts his hand on Bran's arm and speaks softly. “The time will come soon enough.”
Bran puts his hand over Jojen's and they smile at each other in a way that makes Gendry flush and look away. Oh.
Meera gives him an anxious, searching look before she smiles with forced cheer. “Well, you liked feeding the horses well enough. This is your chance to learn how to saddle and ride them, in case you ever get the chance to in future.”
Gendry scoffs. “Yeah, I doubt that. Can't even feed my real self as well as you do your horses. 'sides, it's hard remembering what happens once I wake up- this all just...” he gestures vaguely, “like any dream. But I suppose if Arya would do it, I should try while I'm here.”
He frowns, thinking back to her note. “She said something about missing training- stealth and blindness?”
They all hesitate before Meera shrugs it off with a smile. “She trains every day. Many of us do. To be ready.”
Gendry blinks when she doesn't elaborate. “...Ready for what?”
Bran looks north. “Haven't you heard our house words?” he says lightly, “Winter is coming.”
Bran was half right: once he gets on the horse, Arya's body knows exactly how to move. Unfortunately, he's still not Arya, and the horse can sense how nervous he is. He can see the whites of its eyes and it shakes its head and fights the bit more than he thinks it should.
“Don't hold the reins so tightly, but don't let them go slack either. You're directing the horse, not pulling it along,” Meera advises. Gendry tries to relax and do as she says, and when the horse seems to settle, he actually finds riding rather pleasant. There's a soothing rhythm to it, and the castle looks nice as they ride away from it, if rather lonely, standing by itself. He's so used to seeing buildings crowded up close.
He's looked out the docks towards the sea before, at the naked sky and restless waves stretching to the horizon. It just made him uneasy, all that water deep enough to drown in. The wind blowing through the yellowing grass makes similar looking waves, but there are occasional rabbits bounding around and birds fluttering up out of it searching for food and scolding each other. A wood in the distance is in pretty shades of red and gold, and the horse clop-clops steadily under him towards it.
His first ride is all right until they're climbing the rocky hill to the wood.
The first warning they get are howls. Gendry looks back and shouts when he sees two huge wolves streaking towards them.
Bran calls a warning even as the horse wickers and stamps with agitation under him. “Relax, Gendry! It's just Shaggydog and Nymeria.”
“She doesn't like me! She knows I'm not Arya!” Gendry shouts back, frantically trying to restrain the horse.
Then it rears and he goes flying.
Two things happen then that he doesn't expect: he curls into a ball automatically as he hurtles through the air. He rolls when he hits the ground and comes up on his –Arya's-- feet with unexpected grace and agility.
He gapes at himself, unhurt in her agile little body, and then looks up to see that Bran is limp in Jojen's arms on the back of their horse, his eyes white and unseeing.
And Arya's horse is now suddenly calm and quiet, walking placidly towards him.
It takes him only a moment to understand.
“...Bran? Is that you?” Gendry gasps. The horse nods once, and then kneels so he can mount again easily.
“You highborns have crazy lives,” he says faintly. Jojen snorts with laughter and Meera huffs impatiently.
“Just get on the horse! Shaggydog likes knocking people over for fun and he's not a pup anymore- he can kill you just playing. You need to get off the ground until they're less excited,” Meera explains.
Gendry obeys, and the horse –-who is actually Bran, now-- stands up again and they climb to the top of the hill and wait patiently for the direwolves to arrive.
Shaggydog and Nymeria yip and growl, running circles around them, and Gendry is grateful that Bran is in control of his horse because he is utterly terrified, and he can see Meera struggling to keep her mount steady out of the corner of his eye. The wolves stand almost as high as the horses themselves, and they are all predator; sleek fur and muscle with sharp teeth.
“You found us, you found us! Now settle, Shaggydog! Down, Nymeria! Sit! Sit! Yes, you're very clever!” Jojen assures them, grinning and unafraid.
To Gendry's surprise, both direwolves do as bid and sit after making another energetic lap around them, although he cringes when Nymeria catches his eye and snarls. They all stand there, Shaggydog's tail thumping happily and his mouth open in what looks like a grin until Nymeria's snarl dies and she lays her head down.
Gendry can feel it happen: his horse suddenly shakes its head, as if dizzy, and a moment later Bran suddenly takes a breath again in his own body, his eyes back to normal.
“I'm fine,” he assures Jojen quietly, and then he dismounts clumsily, limping over. “Come. I'll introduce you properly.”
They both approach Nymeria, who growls and then whines.
“I know,” Bran soothes, “but Gendry is Arya's friend. They're bound too, so you have to get used to him.”
Gendry frowns a little- what is that supposed to mean?
“Hold out your hand towards her. Flat, palm out.”
“Won't I just smell like Arya?” he says, but he complies reluctantly.
Nymeria's ears are flat against her head, but she edges forward and sniffs.
Then she licks his palm, which tickles. She moves suddenly then, straightening so that she can start licking his face, almost like she's trying to stick her tongue in his mouth.
“Nymeria! Okay, we're friends, but back off!” he protests, huffing a laugh. He gives her a tentative scratch behind the ears when she settles back on her haunches.
This she seems to like immensely, and Shaggydog shoves in to demand his own share as well, knocking Gendry over.
Bran looks pleased. “It seems they like you.”
He says it like he's relieved, as if it's confirmation. Gendry doesn't ask why- he'd be suspicious of some stranger magically in his sister's body too. And he's glad Nymeria has decided he's all right.
Gendry starts guiltily and tries not to wince. Well, Bran had warned him that a reprimand would be coming from Arya's mother. He should just be glad that he got a good supper first.
“Well, I suppose I should just be thankful you were there this morning at all, although you might thank Rickon as well.” Her eyes widen suddenly. “Have you not been to Maester Luwin's today?” she gasps as she takes Arya's hand.
“Arya, you really need to learn to take better care of yourself! Look at how it's seeped through, how much dirt is on this! You need to keep the wound as clean and dry as possible or it might fester- you should know this by now! How many years have you done this barbaric-”
She cuts herself off, lips pressed in a grim line. Then she jerks her head and Gendry follows as she walks briskly out of the dining room.
“Was mostly using my right hand today,” Gendry says weakly. He's not used to being able to pay for a Maester's services, but this is Arya's body and she's an important lord's daughter. What's worse is she'd reminded him and he'd just favored the hand and ignored the pain.
She takes him straight to the Maester, who glances at the bandage and then gives him a dry look that makes Gendry both feel guilty and want to roll his eyes. “I'm sorry, all right? Went for a ride with Bran and the Reeds and I forgot.”
Her lady mother sighs. “Well, at least you spent a single day quietly reading and resting your hand. I thought Syrio Forel had taught you to be more aware of yourself. There's only one of you, Arya, and the people who love you worry when you're careless,” she admonishes.
“I know. I'll do better, I promise,” he says. He's surprised when she smooths Arya's tangled hair and presses a kiss to her head. It brings a lump to his throat.
“I beg to differ, my lady. You worry about all your children, regardless,” Maester Luwin says.
She gives a short laugh. “Still, some more than others,” she concedes, giving Gendry a fond, resigned smile.
Gendry turns his head- his eyes and nose sting. He'd forgotten how nice it was to have a mother.
He's still feeling rather guilty when he writes using Arya's quill and ink.
I think Nymeria isn't going to bite me now, but she scared the shit out of me this morning- not funny at all waking up with a pissed off wolf in your bed.
I got thrown off your horse and tumbled like a circus player and didn't get hurt. Bran said your body remembered from things you learned in Braavos. We went riding and fishing and the wolves caught rabbits and shared with us. Had a whole apple tart after supper.
Thanks for getting the books for me. Your family has been really nice. Sorry my life isn't like this.
Her hand really does feel a lot better with the balm and fresh bandage on it, and Gendry guiltily hopes she doesn't find out he'd neglected it. He's extra careful to comb out her hair and wash off all the dirt he'd gotten on her today while keeping her left hand dry, although he can't help but touch her pretty tits for awhile after he takes off her tunic. He wonders how they'd feel cupped in his own hands.
Not that he's ever going to get the chance to do this for real: even without all the miles between them, he's just some bastard smith. But he can admire her body while he's here, and he's rather regretful when he pulls on her white sleeping gown, knowing exactly what's underneath.
Still, he's been looking forward to her books all day, and he settles into bed with one happily.
The note inside the front cover makes his eyes widen.
To my dearest friend,
Because you can't borrow my copy anymore, I thought you'd like your own!
Wishing you a wonderful Nameday, Arya, with hopes that we shall meet again in future~
Princess Shireen Baratheon
Of course Arya is friends with an actual princess. It's sobering, seeing written confirmation of just how different they really are.
He reads until his eyes can't stay open any longer, not sure if he'll be waking up or dreaming once he falls asleep. Despite every day being full of shocks and scrambles here, he wishes he didn't have to leave.
Chapter 3: Warp/Weft
その手を壊さずに どう握ったならいい？ (How can I hold your hand tight without breaking it?)
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
(“You were born here? In King's Landing?”
“And your father?”
“...Was always just me and my mum until she died.”
“I'm sorry to hear that... You're what? Seventeen? Eighteen, maybe?”
“Eighteen on my last nameday, milord.”)
Arya wakes up with a start. Her hand aches with pain, and she grimaces.
So she's herself again. And with these forced interruptions her body is getting soft, especially in comparison to how strong and muscular Gendry is from working every day. Whereas she needs to get as much training in as she can before Sansa's stupid wedding drags them all away from Winterfell for weeks.
She rolls out of bed and makes for the desk. Surely Gendry has left her a note.
She can't help but chuckle when she reads it.
Right. Oops. Sorry, Gendry.
Then her smile turns wistful.
She quite likes the freedom away from her family, without the bickering and nagging and expectations. She supposes she's never really been lonely like him.
I'm glad you liked the books- they're some of my favorites. And I actually quite like your life- you make things, beautiful things. I've never had a talent for that. Maybe I should try using your right hand to see if your body remembers, too. And living in a city is exciting- things move so slowly here and everybody knows who everybody else is. It's nice to just be no one in a crowd, to not have to carry any responsibility for anybody but yourself.
Anyway, I'm afraid my moonblood is due soon, and the first day is always the worst. In case you're here for it, I keep the rags in the bottom drawer: fold one into a pad and tuck it in my smallclothes. Change it every couple of hours, or if the blood goes all the way through. Put the used rags and soiled smallclothes into a bucket of water so the stains don't set- the maid will wash them and return them. Let her know if the blood gets on the bedding too. I had to do all the washing myself, by hand, in Braavos, so consider yourself lucky! I know it's annoying, but it can't be helped. One of the joys of being a woman.
Best of luck as me,
“What do you see when you look at him?”
“Your face, but his too, and a thread of sorts going to the Heart Tree. Sometimes he has bulls horns turning into a stag's- I don't know what that means and neither does Jojen. He walks differently than you, and he's quiet instead of talkative. Robb and Rickon think you've picked up a Braavosi accent, but it has to be the way they talk in King's Landing.”
“So... it's like me speaking with a Flea Bottom accent?”
“It's really funny to hear you call me milord.”
“Oh, shut up!”
“...He never tells me to do that either.”
“Brandon Stark-- !”
“It's all in the timing and temperature, actually. Some places would put sawdust in, just to give it bulk, but all dough needs is a bit of time to rise proper, is all. Overnight will do it. Keep a bit as starter in a warm place, and you're good to go for the next batch. The ones that cut corners; that's what gets the fines comin'. Them Goldcloaks don't like to find a bit of wood in their teeth at all, do they? Still, if they're takin' shortcuts like sawdust, plain stupid not to sift it. More custom for us in the end, I suppose, but it's a waste of good flour, really.”
“...You only ever talk about baking?”
“You're grumpy again today, huh? You know, I always liked that you're a good listener, but it's nice when you ask questions more. I think you're actually handsome when you smile.”
“You going to go walking with Marna again?”
“Marna. From the Laughing Cow.”
“I know where she works- what do you mean walking?”
“Didn't you have a cup 'o stew there and then go out walking after last night?”
“...Gods, I told her not to!”
“Well, I'm sure she don't mind givin' you the stew when you bein' nice and chatty like. It's the surliness you got to cut out, is what I'm sayin'.”
“That's not who I'm- ! Bloody blazin' hells.”
“I'd watch the language, too, if I were you.”
“Shut up, Hot Pie!”
You might of mentioned going walking with Marna again when I told you NOT TO. STOP! I don't know what to say when she comes up smiling and touching my arm!
Thanks for doing the books for Mott, anyway. He's real pleased and I think he's forgiven the ore.
Is it always this cold up here? You could of told me about the cramps! I thought you'd eaten a bad bowl but Sansa said it was just the moonblood and she got me some tea for it. Nymeria felt bad for me too. Or maybe she just wanted to sleep in your bed and get petted all day. Anyway, I got to read lots and Sansa taught me to embroider. I only ever sewed patches before this, but it's like making a picture out of thread.
Bran and Jojen- is that all right up North with your old gods? I guess I don't know why it's so wicked but men get dragged before the Sept for buggery all the time. We can hear them wailing even when the steel's singing. I'm glad that will never happen to them- I never met anybody real gentle like they are, you know?
Well, since you hid your money, I have to feed your poor body somehow! What you call a ration is just scraps and not enough to sustain anybody. Besides, Marna's nice and she likes you! Well, maybe she likes you more when you are me? People are more generous when you're friendly, you know. And she told me all about different places in King's Landing- she knows lots of working folks in the area.
Just talk to her like a regular person. Ask about her day. Ask her what things she likes. Tell her what things you like. Ask her if she's tried them before. Be interested in people and they'll be more interested in you. Maybe scowl less. Hot Pie says you do that too much.
I can't believe you stayed in bed because of the cramps! I usually just chin up and get on with things. I never thought a blacksmith would be such a bookworm- you surprise me, Gendry.
Thank you for doing another dress fitting too- I appreciate it. Sansa is delighted I've learned to stand so patiently and take up “womanly pastimes”. I wonder what she would think if she knew you were really a a big, strong boy. She's not as snipey as I remember, anyway. I don't know- maybe we both grew up while I was away.
My hand is starting to heal, so I've been warming up with my staff a little. Don't want the scar tissue to end up hard and stiff, so please don't just read all the time! Meera can show you how to use the bow. I've been trying to learn some things from Mikken too, so I'm not so bad at pretending to be you, so if you want to go to our forge, that won't look too strange either.
Bran and Jojen were born on the same day, hundreds of miles apart. Old Nan thinks they were two halves of the same soul and were bound to find each other. I think maybe that's true? Greenseers are even rarer than wargs, and to have two born in the same generation is a miracle nowadays.
Stand in front of the Heart Tree and try to lie, I dare you. And you'll see why the old gods don't care about Bran and Jojen- they're just holding true to who they are. They don't have all the rules the new ones do, anyway. I think Mother turns a blind eye because he's not the heir and Robb's already had a son, even though it makes her nervous. She's from the South, so she follows the Faith and brought Septa Mordane here to teach us so we wouldn't be “heathens”. Honestly, I don't understand why they pray to gods they can only feel in their own hearts. But I guess I don't understand how our gods could let men cut down all the Heart Trees down south either.
Give Nymeria a pat for me,
P.S. It's “could have” by the way, not “could of.” And you're welcome, not your.
Gendry groans when he wakes up. Arya's bed is so soft and warm- there's such a chill in the air that he's reluctant to get out. Why do Northerners live where the weather can kill you? It's sad watching leaves fall, leaving their branches shivering and bare in the wind, but he's looking forward to seeing snow for the first time despite the deepening cold.
Nymeria isn't here either, so she must have gone out at night. Gendry's grateful for the privacy, and he cups Arya's breasts with a sigh, gently tracing the nipples until they harden.
He starts guiltily when the door bangs open and jerks his hand down as Rickon gives him a sneer of disgust. “What are you touching your own tits for?”
Gendry flushes, glad he's wearing Arya's nightgown, at least. “...As if you never jerk off!”
Rickon turns red. “...Shut up, Arya! What do you know?!”
“Know enough about boys to know that!”
“Just- ! Get your lazy bones up for breakfast already!”
Rickon slams the door shut angrily and Gendry realizes Arya's left hand hurts with how hard he's clenching it. He relaxes it immediately, giving it a gentle rub.
He hopes Rickon doesn't tell Arya. He shouldn't be messing with her body like it's his.
He suddenly wonders what Arya thinks of his own body.
It strikes him then that she's had to hold his cock, if only to piss.
That thought leaves him rather breathless all over again.
Arya wakes up, aware of the tension in Gendry's body; how the blanket tents over his hips. Gods, every single morning.
She's seen plenty of naked men- she'd had to prepare dead bodies in Braavos while learning under the Waif and The Man-- but none of the bodies were ever in this condition. She'd learned many things from the cadavers: where organs were; which blood vessels to cut and how and where; how to slip a blade through the weaknesses in armor into the flesh beneath. But she wasn't taught anything about these parts beyond how easy the flaccid, sad-looking wrinkly things were to hurt.
It's strange to suddenly be in possession of one that doesn't look sad and wrinkly at all. That feels so good when she touches it.
She wonders if he's ever stuck it in a girl. Marna sure seems eager for Gendry to stick it in her, but she can't tell if Gendry is so belligerent about it because he really does like Marna or if he's more interested in boys and that's why he was asking about Bran and Jojen.
Impossible to play the Game of Faces when she's looking through his eyes all the time; when they can only talk through notes and letters.
From the foggy reflection off the armor in the shop, she thinks he's handsome too.
Her heart aches a little when she thinks of tall, pretty Marna, with her golden curls and big bosom, putting her arm around Gendry's like he belongs to her.
You can leave the grammar to the Septon, milady high!
How can someone so small in real life be such a huge pain in my arse? I hid the money for a reason and I already told you to stop buying whatever it is that burns! Stick to the ration already!
Can you quit the sewing already? Sansa is starting to expect me to! Just when I thought we were getting better at this!
There's a feast for Sansa in a few days, to bid her farewell. In case you're here for it, you should practice eating with the fork. Mother will notice if you use your hands at the head table, and you won't be able to sneak off for that. Before you get all annoyed: there will be lemoncakes, which are Sansa's favorite. Father had the lemons shipped up especially and they are really good. I'm actually sad that I might miss them, but make sure you try one before she eats them all! (She will. I'm serious.)
“Thought you liked Marna. What you givin' her the cold shoulder for again?”
Arya shrugs, mouth full of the old crusts Hot Pie has brought. “Maybe I prefer a girl with more brains than boobs.”
Hot Pie looks scandalized. “Why would any man in his right mind prefer that? You could have had a good thing going with her! I heard the Laughing Cow has real beef in their stew sometimes!”
Arya can't help scowling.
“You sure you don't want me to make that for you, milady?”
“No, I got it. For my sister, after all. And it's soft enough that I can work it easy.”
Gendry can't help feeling jealous over how easily he'd gotten this silver as Arya. Hells, Master Smith Mikken had offered it when he'd heard who it was meant for. He has more silver than he'd earn in months in Arya's little hands. There are so many tools at his disposal too, and he's working slowly and deliberately- control is the key when the metal is this malleable.
“You learned how to craft jewelry in Braavos, then?”
Gendry shrugs and smiles to himself. He usually only does a bit of embellishing on sword pommels and guards with brass. “Something like that.”
I'm just trying to help you write correctly- you don't have to be angry about it.
And it's just Dornish curry. You told me to stop talking to Marna, so I did, and it's far less dodgy than bowls of brown! It's YOUR BODY that I'm feeding! Besides, I'm working for that money too!
Thanks for the warning. Bran and the Reeds helped me practice. And I saved a lemoncake for you- it's wrapped in cloth next to the journal. I know it's probably better fresh, but since you said you like them.
“Hello, there. Wondering if it would be possible to have a custom weapon made within a couple of weeks? I know this isn't a Braavosi shop, but heard tell you do custom work.”
At the word Braavosi, Gendry looks up from the shield he's hammering. It's odd, but the man seems familiar. He's sweating heavily and he has long, dark, wavy hair.
Mott unfurls the piece of paper the man gives him, and frowns. “A Water Dancer's sword? Might be best to try the import shops near the docks.”
“Already have. Need one with a smaller pommel, and less heavy. Suitable for a young... lad.”
“We don't make toys here.”
“Nor is it meant to be one. Needs to be made properly, just smaller to learn with.”
Gendry speaks up. “A slender steel sword, edged and balanced, 'bout a foot long? I could do it, Master.”
Mott gives him a surprised look, but he's not about to argue when a commission for custom work is at stake.
The man inhales as he looks Gendry up and down, as if sizing him up. Gendry ignores the skepticism and points to the sketch as he thinks.
“I'd make the finishing and guard from brass to keep it from rusting, and cover the hilt with leather so it's easy to grip. Need a scabbard too?”
“Can you do it all for twenty stags?”
“Can't do it for less than forty. We use good steel, fine as castle forged. That ore comes at a premium here. Good leather that will last isn't cheap either,” Mott says.
“Fair enough. You sure you can make this, boy?”
“Sure. I handled a similar sword enough.” Gendry doesn't mention that it's been in his dreams. And that he could finish it faster if he wasn't forced out of his own body every couple of days. “You can come by in a week to check on it. By then I should have both blade and pommel done.”
The man nods. “This is a gift, so it had better be well crafted.”
“Of course, my lord. We take half upfront, half upon completion. Refund you the deposit if it's not what you want, but then we keep the sword to sell as we wish,” Mott states.
“It's a bargain, then.” They grip forearms and then the man continues. “You can make out the receipt to Jon Snow. I'm buying this on his behalf.”
Gendry blinks in surprise. “That a Northern name?”
“That it is.”
He's about to ask if he might know of his Arya when he realizes he's never learned her last name. Startling to realize he's never felt closer to anybody, but they've never actually met.
“How's the Bringer of the Dawn doing?”
Arya rolls her eyes before she brings the staff down decisively and the assumes resting pose. “Don't call me that.”
Robb chuckles. “All right, then. How's the hand?”
Arya holds it up and flexes it experimentally. “Better. Still sore and stiff and itchy, but the stitches are out. Should have full function back in a couple weeks- I do this every year, Robb.”
“I know. Don't have to like it, though.” Robb gives it his own inspection and nods with satisfaction.
“What are you looking for?” Arya asks, resuming her drills.
He smiles charmingly- the way he always has when he wants something. “Ah- just wanted to see if you were healed enough to hunt for the kitchens. Be nice to have another decent bowman now that Jon and Theon are gone.”
Arya stops and grins, utterly pleased. “Truly?”
Robb nods. “Fall's setting in properly, so game is starting to get harder to find. Would like to get some more meat stocked before winter now that it'll stay frozen for certain, and Mother wants the furs and feathers too.”
Arya hesitates, considering hard before making a face. “I do need to practice with my bow, but I should do it from the walls. I've lost whole weeks of training to this stupid injury.”
“And Winter is coming.”
“And Winter is coming. Thanks, though. I'd love to go another time.”
Robb smiles easily and dips his head respectfully. “Absolutely. You've been a crack shot since you were eleven- we've missed you.”
That makes Arya's eyes and nose sting a little, even though she smiles. “Thanks.”
He turns to leave and Arya calls after him. “Wait- Robb? Can I ask you a question?”
She chews her lip for a second before she continues. “Just- hypothetically. Do you think Father would let me marry someone lowborn if he had a good trade?”
Robb inhales with consternation and gives her a searching look. “That... is an oddly specific question. And you might be a second-born daughter, but I know he'd want to make a better match for you than just some common tradesman, Arya. You're a Stark.”
He frowns and his eyes narrow. “You've been spending more time than you used to at the forge, haven't you?”
Arya scowls. “It's not anybody at Mikken's! It was just a question, Robb!”
“Still. I do believe my sword needs a whetstone,” he muses aloud, striding off towards the forge.
She scoffs and rolls her eyes again and keeps on practicing. Robb can make his stupid vague threats and interrogate all the smiths in Winterfell he likes.
The one who she's trying not to think about is hundreds of miles from here anyway.
Two settings, three timelines, this is fine. *is actually sweating* LOL
Hope this made sense! (Zenzenzense?) Thanks especially to lyrawhite for all the support!
Chapter 4: Snag
What is the life of one bastard boy?
Well, it isn't Game of Thrones if people aren't in danger of dying, so... sorry?
That was smart, trading sharpening for the leather and keeping the coin. I guess I don't mind eating curry if I can trade for it too- which shop do you go to?
And what do you mean Hot Pie and the miller have a thing? What thing?
Rhaenys was the better rider so she must have killed more people, even if Visenya was the better warrior. Do you know what happened to Dark Sister after she died though? Please don't tell me some idiot melted it down for the throne.
Finished the bracelet for Sansa. Made you something too- they're supposed to be armor piercing. Wanted to try it since you have great quality steel up here. I hope you like them.
He's always going on about their cornmeal, and he blushes when he talks about her. Don't you think?
Head down to Fishmonger's Square, near the River Gate. None of them have name placards, but you can smell the spices. Most of the curries have fish or squid in them but it's as good for your body as meat, I promise. They make them fresh every day, as is Dornish custom.
Let me know when I'm allowed near your workbench again. I promise I won't ruin anything!
Arya hates resenting Bran for anything, but sometimes she wishes she could have been born a boy.
There must always be a Stark in Winterfell, so even though the rest of the family is travelling down to the Frey's for Sansa's wedding, Bran gets to stay home.
It feels wrong to resent somebody as inherently kind-hearted as Bran too, which makes it doubly annoying.
But Robb must go as well to pay respect to Roslin's family and introduce them to little Ben, so Ned Stark's second trueborn son must remain at Winterfell to listen to patrol reports and send aid if it is called for. Wildlings are coming around and over The Wall in ever increasing numbers lately, and Starks must always ward the North.
It feels frivolous to be travelling instead of staying and training after she's already lost weeks, but Autumn should hold for a few more months. It's just that her fate is on the horizon now too, like the comet that's appeared.
Sansa thinks it's auspicious. Maester Luwin has calculated that it should be right overhead around the time for the wedding, a comet the color of love streaking across the sky, so bright and close that they can see it during the day.
She's glad Sansa will be further south once winter comes anyway, and she thinks that is part of why Father agreed to the match. The Freys are wealthy and strategically important for a lower house, to be sure, but Robb had already married Roslin Frey years ago. Arya had always thought Theon would ask for Sansa's hand, but there's been no word from the Iron Islands since he returned there after his father's death. She wonders if he will come with the Ironborn to support them if war actually comes to Winterfell as prophesied.
But it's not just the prophecy hovering in the back of her skull; the fear that all the years of honing herself might have been for nothing. What would be worse is faltering before the end.
Especially now that she's thoroughly distracted.
She can't stop thinking about him even when she isn't him. Wondering how his day is going down in King's Landing; what unexpected things he'll notice in his next letter.
If he might feel like she does.
She's never had presents from a boy before. Well, that isn't exactly true, but a present from a brother isn't the same at all.
She'd asked him to help make a wedding present for Sansa, and he'd made a beautiful silver wolf bracelet-- but he'd made her something too. Beautiful, deadly arrowheads.
Her heart skips giddily when she looks at them. She's not sure what to write back now that doesn't sound stupid and sentimental.
Father finds her in the stables checking her gear and the legs and hooves of her mare. The whole castle is getting ready for the trip, it seems, and they are hauling not only all of Sansa's things, but presents, food and wine for the wedding as well.
“Arya, there you are. I want to talk to you about something. Something important.”
Arya takes one look at his expression and groans. “Robb was making assumptions! It was just a question.”
He lifts a brow in acknowledgment before giving his head a slight shake. “The fact remains that you're of marriageable age. And we need to start thinking about your future.”
Arya shrugs uncomfortably and focuses on checking her reins instead. “I'm supposed to 'cease to be', remember?”
“The same prophecy says you'll rise again before you defeat death. You know I have to believe that.”
Arya sighs and looks at her father. He hasn't always looked so worried and grim. “...I'm listening.”
“One of Roslin's brothers, Waldron, will be at the wedding-”
“...You want us all to marry Freys?”
He gives her a reproachful look and starts again calmly. “What I want is simply for you to get to know another lad around your age. See what he's like. We could go down further south as well… perhaps in spring. I can write to the other houses, see what other prospects there are.”
“I'm no lady like Sansa.”
“And I would make that clear. But I fear we've focused so much on preparing for what's been foretold that we haven't paid enough heed to what comes after. We might have wed Sansa more favorably- to Prince Joffrey or perhaps Loras Tyrell-- if we'd been willing to entertain offers sooner.”
Sansa had said as much, but not so bitterly, which means either she had no idea that she missed out on a crown prince -- unlikely-- or something else. Arya frowns over that odd puzzle even as she exhales with frustration. “They don't really care what happens in the North down south! Have they sent any more men to help at The Wall or with all the wildlings? Are their armies ready to march if the dead really come?”
Father frowns. “I'm sure King Robert has a great many more things to worry about-”
“He called Bran a raving doomsayer!”
“-and we will do our duty as wardens of the North, regardless,” he continues sternly. “Politics can be a dangerous game, and perhaps I've done us all a disfavor by staying mostly clear of it. But just because you aren't aware of the whole picture does not mean the protectors of the realm have stood idle, Arya. Stannis is sending us dragonglass from Dragonstone. And they've been sending regular wagonloads of prisoners to serve at the Wall the entire time you've been away. I'll not have you speaking ill of our King, and my friend, is that understood?”
Arya lowers her head in acknowledgment but says nothing. Father may not bode any criticism for him, but it's an open secret that King Robert just whores and hunts and drinks while Prince Stannis and the other members of the Small Council run the realm.
They both look up in surprise when the bells start ringing and make for the hall. The only time the bells ring non-stop like this is when a new Stark is born, and Roslin isn't due for months yet. Or--
Her eyes widen with comprehension when Mother rushes toward them through the courtyard, a scrap of parchment in her hand, her eyes full of regret and sympathy.
“I'm so sorry, Ned,” she starts, as if hesitant to go on.
“...But Robert is dead,” he finishes for her, bowing his head and covering his eyes with his hand. Everybody in the courtyard is solemn and silent. The bells continue tolling.
“...How?” His voice sounds strained, like he's crying, and Arya feels a pang of guilt for being so uncharitable earlier.
“On a hunt. A boar. Prince Renly said he'd had too much to drink, and well...”
Arya can picture the drunken king they'd had feast after tedious feast with in the Red Keep. Too fat and too slow. That it hadn't happened sooner is the only wonder.
“Queen Cersei, and the children? Gods, I suppose Joffrey is our King now. At least he's a man grown.”
Mother hesitates then and gives her father the scrap of paper rather than answering. “We received a second raven. From Prince Stannis.”
Even with his eyes wet and red with grief, the news makes him blanch and recoil in a way that Arya's seen only once. He raises his eyes to her mother's with shock.
She meets his eye with equal trepidation, but tilts her head at Arya and gives a slight shake of her head before speaking. “Arya, run and tell Robb to meet us in the Lord's chambers, please.”
Arya does immediately as bid, knowing better than to ask why. They need to decide things- how to pay their respects; whether Sansa's wedding needs to be delayed and so on.
It's easy enough to find Robb, who's already anxiously in search of Father upon hearing the bells. But she can't help but overhear Mother when Robb opens the door.
“-when the crown is now Joffrey's! We should burn it and be done with it! It wouldn't be the first time somebody has pressed their own claim for the throne!”
“Stannis has always been a just man. Hard, but fair, and Princess Shireen is no liar. Robb, you-”
Arya's eyes widen at the sound of her friend's name even as Robb shuts the door behind him.
She puts her ear to the keyhole immediately. And it's not long before she hears her brother exclaim- whatever is on that scrap of paper must be something truly terrible.
Her father speaks bitterly. “I should have suspected! Every natural born child of Robert's has always had the black hair and blue eyes of the Baratheons, from Mya Stone to that smith in King's Landing-”
Her heart seizes painfully for a moment before it starts tripping faster. Gendry has black hair and blue eyes like the king.
She frantically searches her memory for any other black haired, blue eyed smith working on the Street of Steel as he continues.
“-and the baby girl one of his favorites bore him while we were there. While the children we thought Cersei gave him were all golden haired and green eyed as lions! Her and her brother have always been as thick as thieves- we all thought they were unusually close because they were twins. Perhaps we should have expected no less from that oathbreaker, but to pass off those conceived out of incest as Robert's trueborn heirs is... truly an abomination.”
Arya's eyes get wider still, but she doesn't make a sound, frozen against the door. Her heartbeat is loud in her ears when her mother speaks again. “Well, you know what their next act will be then, to destroy any evidence for Stannis' claims! Tywin Lannister has no qualms putting even women and children to the sword. Just ask Houses Reyne and Tarbeck.”
Arya's heart stops completely. Her face feels fuzzy and numb and she can't breathe. No, no, no...
Her father sounds angry, decisive. “I'll write to Lord Varys. He might get them smuggled out of the city before the Lannisters can kill them- Stannis will already have his hands full. I just hope he has enough loyal men with him or I dare not think of the consequences. Cat, that smith was Robert's spitting image! I regretted not offering for his contract then, and now I feel twice the fool. He seemed a good lad.”
“Father, what's done is done. And if the Lannisters get that raven instead, those bastards are guaranteed a death sentence.”
“...You'd have me do nothing?!”
“What else can you do? They might not know these children even exist! And if they do, you're likely already too late. Ned, please. What is the life of one bastard boy? It's best if we pretend the raven was lost, at least until we know how the other houses stand.”
Arya inhales, suddenly angry. Mother isn't just speaking about Gendry. But that resentment gives her resolve, too, and she slips away from the door.
A raven can fly to King's Landing in a week, but if their switching pattern holds, she can probably be there by tomorrow, or two days at the latest.
She just hopes she's not too late. And that Gendry will understand.
She's going to have to ruin his life to try to save it.
She's at a loss at first, despite her resolve. The main problem is money: he's lowborn; he can lose a hand or get flogged if he's caught stealing, but she can't see any other way to get him enough funds to get out of the city. Last she checked, he had only two silver stags and the rest is copper stars and pennies.
Even the saddest old nag of a horse will be fifty stags. And it needs to survive a trip of several hundred miles, the last of it through snowy conditions. She's done the trip before, but that was in the height of Summer- it's Autumn now and they've all been advised to prepare accordingly.
The gulf between their stations has never been more painfully clear. She has a well-bred mare standing ready in the stable now, and a saddlebag full of warm clothing and silver in case she finds anything she fancies in a shop on the way. They're not even bringing much in the way of provisions because they'll buy it on the way down south to the Frey's, stopping at holds of bannermen and inns.
She stops. Maybe that's the key. If she can just get him out of the city, maybe to the Crossroads. Too far for Lannisters to travel from King's Landing in random search, but not too far for her to go after the wedding. They'll already be in the Riverlands, after all. She can use her own money to get Gendry a decent horse and saddle then.
She can already picture Gendry's furious words though, the thick black charcoal, all in capitals. He hates it when she makes impetuous decisions for him. And this is huge. She'll be forcing him to give up his apprenticeship and place at Mott's, and everybody and everything he knows.
She wishes they had the time or means to discuss this even once, that she could warn him. But she's more terrified that she'll not wake up as him at all, the connection between them already severed by Lannister blades.
Surely he wants to meet in person too; he'll understand that she's doing this to save him and not just uprooting his life on a selfish highborn whim. She knows Gendry likes living in Winterfell, that Mikken already admires the work he does, that Father wanted to offer him a place years ago.
And maybe once he's here, she can see if all of these feelings welling up have any place at all.
So she packs another saddlebag, with extra clothes and a cloak she pilfers from Jon's room. She puts more money in her purse, and adds her bow and staff to the pile, pondering all the while what to say to him and how. She can write Gendry one final letter and pack it in the saddlebags for him to find. Take a bath, go to bed early, and pleasure herself so that sleep can claim her quickly.
A thought makes her pause though, and she abruptly leaves her chambers, heading for the Godswood.
It's pitch dark, but she's done enough blindness drills to be comfortable walking through the grounds anyway. She knows where every raised root is; the slope of the soil; the slippery surface of the frozen pond.
She stops before the Heart Tree, hesitating as she looks on its mournful face before she dares to speak aloud.
“This is the right thing to do.”
And though tears well up in her eyes, she smiles with relief when the words spill out unhindered.
She cries again when she wakes up on Gendry's hard sleeping cot. She hugs his body, smiling at his stupid, heedless erection, his big feet sticking out the end of the ratty blanket, the familiar scar on his right hand.
She can save him. Maybe that's the whole reason for this.
Her mother has to be wrong.
She looks around automatically to check for his latest note, ignoring all their old conversations, and blinks with disappointment when she realizes he's not replied.
She swallows, suddenly unsure, scanning the walls carefully. It's not like him to have nothing to say.
His stomach growls though, so she rolls out of bed. Ration first. There's a lot to accomplish today, and she needs every hour so that he can't just furiously undo what she's done like he used to.
“Gendry. You're up early today.”
“Yes, master. “
Mott smiles without humor and roots in his pocket. “Got your week's wage here. That was a fine commission you made for that lord, boy. More of those, and we can talk about getting to journeyman. Now make sure you get to the Sept for your lesson this morning. Get the coal from Orn's after, then see to the shop.”
Arya blinks when he hands over three copper coins. “Three pennies? For a week's work?”
Mott narrows his eyes. “You think your room and board are free, boy? This is King's Landing! I have rent to pay. Ore and coal to buy.”
She nods numbly. “Of course, master.”
No wonder Gendry just goes to bed hungry all the time.
She calms as she bolts his morning ration of bread and soup, using the bread to scrape up every last drop. Once she gets him to Winterfell, he won't have to live like this.
She thinks, anyway- she actually doesn't know how much apprentices earn. Or how he's supposed to get to Master.
But she's sure at least he'll never be hungry like this again.
“Have you always favored your left hand, Gendry?”
Arya swallows guiltily and glances up at Lord Varys, dressed in Septon's robes. “I... hurt my right hand at work. But I didn't want to skip the lesson, Septon.”
“Odd that you're able to write at all. Most cannot with their non-dominant hand.”
She smiles weakly and shrugs. She hadn't expected the Master of Whisperers to be the one teaching this group of lowborn kids to read and write. She'd just been meaning to steal some parchment out of a book and grab the sweet bread.
She has to admit it's a clever way to get information, though. This must be how Lord Varys builds his network of “little birds”.
Father said he might actually be able to help get Gendry out of the city though. So she hangs about after the lesson, pretending to re-shelve the books until the room has emptied.
“Was there something else you needed, my child?”
“I know who you really are,” Arya says boldly, lifting her chin. “I saw you at the Red Keep dressed fancier.”
Lord Varys doesn't seem particularly bothered. “People are often dressed well when they are asked to the Red Keep.”
Arya frowns, flushing. “Just... is the reason I get these lessons because of my father?”
Lord Varys shrugs a shoulder noncommittally. “I thought it best to keep an eye on you.”
“So I really am one of King Robert's natural born children?”
Lord Varys pauses, his forehead wrinkling with consternation. “Gendry, it matters little. He did not and will never acknowledge you as such.”
Arya hesitates and then plunges forward. “But is it true, that the queen and her brother are lovers? That Prince Joffrey and-”
Lord Varys cuts her off with an outstretched hand and a nervous shake of his head, glancing at the windows and doors before lowering his voice to a whisper. “Those are dangerous things to say aloud, child. How did you...?”
“It doesn't matter. I'm in danger here, aren't I?”
Lord Varys regards her face --Gendry's face-- thoughtfully. “There are some who still remember Robert in his prime. And your resemblance to him is truly uncanny. But noblemen rarely shop on the Street of Steel when they can send the Masters of their Guard instead. You're quite safe and learning an excellent trade, I assure you.”
“Would you tell the Lannisters about me if they asked you though?”
Lord Varys sighs. “...I would have to inform them of your existence, yes.”
“And if I wanted to get somewhere safer now, could you help me?”
“...What is it you want, Gendry?”
“Can you get me out of the city? I don't have enough to buy a horse, but I can work.”
Lord Varys tilts his head. “King's Landing doesn't sustain itself- people bring our food and cloth and coal in the gates, or to the docks via ship. Farmers and fishermen and shepherds travel to the capital with their goods, sell them, and then return home with their profits and empty wagons and ships. It's very likely a stag or two would mean somebody would agree to haul something or someone back in an otherwise empty wagon or ship's hold.”
Arya inhales with understanding. “I should ask at the gates then as they're leaving? Or the docks?”
Lord Varys smiles, obviously rather befuddled. “If that is truly your wish. You'd really give up your position at Tobho Mott's? He's one of the most skilled smiths in Westeros and you've already learned a good deal under him. There's no need to run until you are in real danger, Gendry.”
Arya gives him a disgusted look- how can he say that with what's just happened? “He also takes most of my wages for room and board. I can earn a better living in a lord's castle. But thank you, my lord. You've been most helpful.”
Lord Varys inclines his head, obviously rather perplexed.
It's easy enough to pack up Gendry's things- he doesn't have much to wrap up in the blanket, just his precious bullshead helmet, the balm she spent his money on, a little brass pendant that she thinks must have belonged to his mum, and the one remaining bit of charcoal to write with. The only other things he owns are the clothes on his body. Once that is done, she walks up the Street of Flour to the bakery at the end.
“Hey, Hot Pie. I've decided to leave King's Landing. Headed up north, so. Thought I should say good bye.”
Hot Pie's jaw drops, although he doesn't drop his baking tray. “What?! Are you crazy? Why?”
“...I can make journeyman there faster, I think. Won't have to pay as much just to stay alive anyway.”
“How d'you know that?”
“I just do. I'll miss you though. Appreciate how much you helped me out with all the old crusts and things.”
“Was it those fancy Northern folks that came through yesterday? You goin' with them?”
“What? No, I just- it's time for a change, you know? If I stay here, I might not ever get out.”
Hot Pie nods mournfully before he glances back at the bakery and takes one of the fresh rolls off his pan. “Here. Something to eat on the way. Don't forget me, okay?”
Arya inhales with surprise and gives him a fond smile. “Couldn't even if I wanted to. Thanks, Hot Pie. You take care of yourself, okay?”
“Don't have to worry about me. I'm a survivor. You be careful not to get eaten! I hear there's bears up north, and wolves.”
Arya smiles. “There's definitely wolves. But they're all right.”
Arya grips the man's forearm in a shake, hands over both silver pieces, and then stows the tied up blanket before she clambers onto the back of the wagon. It still smells of cabbages, but she doesn't mind. She's always loved the excitement of travelling, seeing new places and meeting people.
She looks up, wondering why she can't see the comet. Maybe it isn't visible this far south yet. Funny, Maester Luwin had seemed certain the whole of Westeros could see it.
Doesn't matter. She's taken the first step to getting Gendry safely to Winterfell. By tonight, they should camp near Hayford Castle. She plans to stay awake instead of sleeping, so they should be at Brindlewood or even Ivy Inn before Gendry gets his body back. That far away, it'll make more sense for him to just go on to the Crossroads like she'd bargained for, no matter how angry he'll be.
Forgive me for kidnapping you, Gendry. But I'm glad I get to see you soon.