Old Nan sat by the fire with little towheaded Prue dandling on her knee. The little girl had asked for a story and Nan was searching her long memory for one she hadn't told already.
"Have you ever heard the tale of your great-aunt Arya's knight?"
Prue's little face scrunched as she thought about it. "Arya the Fierce, first female ruler of Winterfell?"
"The one who vowed to never marry?" Allister said from the floor where he was playing with the dog. He looked skeptical, which made Old Nan laugh.
"Aye, that's where all the trouble started," she began.
Arya was fuming. Somehow in the middle of the night an army had slipped close to the castle in Riverun. Her castle. The dawn had broken and as the sunlight fell on the host laid out before her, Arya had cursed so furiously that her steward had winced and he was used to Arya.
She squinted now, trying to make out who would have the audacity to attack her stonghold. It was supposed to be peace time. Her efforts were for naught; the host flew no banners and there were no distinguishing colors. All she saw was a muddle of browns and grays.
"Who are they?" She asked her captain of the guard. He just shrugged, making her want to pummel him in his large florid face for the third time that morning. The first had been when he'd awakened her to tell her they were under siege. "We were unable to determine that, my lady."
But it turned out that she did not have long to wait. As she discussed battle plans with her captain and the others, a messenger arrived.
Arya took the scroll from the young man who had come as messenger. She was scowling when she started reading and her look became darker as she looked up. "They ask that I have a champion fight their champion for right of the castle or they'll wage war on us."
"Who are they," her captain asked the messenger and he just shrugged sheepishly, which made Arya's teeth grind together.
The lord was sitting in his pavilion drinking a flagon of ale when the messenger returned.
"What did she say?" He asked coolly, although his large hand squeezed the handle of the tankard hard.
"She's sending her own messenger to discuss terms."
The lord stood, setting down the tankard and turned to his squire. "Better put my armor on."
The squire, as usual, looked confused. "Why would my lord need armor if the lady is just sending someone to parley?"
"She's not. If I know her, she'll come down here as fierce as a wolf protecting her pups."
"I hardly think a lady of her station..." the messenger began, and the lord cut him off with a look. "You don't know Arya."
The lord and his men stared silently as a retinue of twenty knights rode toward them on war horses; the standard bearing the direwolf of Winterfell snapping over their heads as their armor glinted in the morning sun.
The lead horse broke into a gallop leaving the rest of the company behind. The person sitting the horse was petite, and long hair streamed behind her as she rode. They watched as a young women, her wolf-head helm tucked neatly under her arm, dismounted a few feet from where they stood. With cold grey eyes she surveyed the men until her eyes landed on the lord.
"You," she snarled stalking forward.
He smiled at her and this prompted her to shove her helm down over her head and unsheathe her sword. The lord had just enough time to put on his own helm and lift his shield before she was on him.
His shield shook as she hit it and hit it and hit it. He moved to the left trying to evade her blows and this made him lose his grip on the shield, which went rolling away. She swung and he parried, laughing at her fury.
"See what you made me do," He shouted at her and she stopped swinging just long enough to grunt "What?" at him.
"You wouldn't answer my ravens. What was I supposed to do?" With a deft move she swatted his sword away and hit him in the breastplate with the flat of her sword, making a dull thud noise as the metals collided.
"Ah yes, invading my land and scaring my people... sounds like a brilliant plan," she said sarcastically.
"Got your attention didn't it?" She slashed down on his arm, but he was covered in mail and it only hurt a little.
"You left me and now you want to take what is mine," She said, her voice raw with emotion.
"No," he said and she could see how wounded he was by her words; the pain streaked across his eyes.
She swung her sword at him, wanting to erase the hurt. She'd rather he was angry with her because it made it so much easier for her to continue being angry with him.
He had moved too slowly and Arya's sword cut under his armor and into where the mail met on his left side.
The lord fell; surprise on his face as if he'd never expected her to actually hurt him. It was his wide blue eyes that scared Arya at that moment.
"Gendry", she cried dropping her sword as if she'd been burned by it. She moved to his side quickly, rolling him so she could look at where she'd wounded him.
"You're still no lady," He said jokingly. She ran her fingers over the ragged cut and he winced. "Shut up, stupid."
As the knights looked on, Arya removed his helm and settle onto the ground with his head in her lap.
"You're so stupid. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid."
"I'm glad you still remember me," Gendry joked, but there was pain in his eyes and she knew he was trying to put on a brave face for her.
"Someone send for my maester," Arya ordered noticing the knights milling around them for the first time. Two knights gently lifted Gendry and a third took off in the direction of the castle. They moved him to his pavilion and laid him on a cot. Arya had wanted to take him into the castle, but realized it was better not to move him so far.
It seemed like ages before her maester appeared, he was middle-aged and one of the wisest men Arya had ever met and when he swept into the room she felt infinitely better about Gendry not bleeding out. He stripped Gendry of his armor and his tunic, tut-tutting as he went.
Only once did he stop and turn to her to ask, "What happened?" Arya looked guiltily at her hands as she answered, "I play too rough." A shirtless Gendry guffawed behind the stricken maester, but he stopped quite quickly with a yelp of pain.
As the maester continued to work on Gendry, Arya stood forlornly to the side. Her shining armor was no longer clean. There was grass and mud on her knees where she had kneeled and Gendry's blood was across her front from when she'd helped maneuver him onto the cot.
She had cut him quite deeply and he was lucky she had not broken his rib the master said. He sewed the wound closed and spread a foul smelling paste over it before wrapping his side in bandages. Once he was done, Gendry sat up and slid his tunic back on, being careful not to touch his side.
Gendry hadn't lost too much blood, but he still seemed confused as Arya moved to his side once the maester had left saying that Gendry needed to rest.
"Are you going to say yes now?" He asked hopefully.
She gritted her teeth. He was so bull-headed! She almost admired him for it, but it infuriated her. "Are you serious?"
"Of course, I'm serious. I didn't get stabbed by you for a lark."
Arya didn't answer. She didn't know what the answer was and she wasn't ready to give him one. Gendry seemed to sense this so he didn't push her.
She pulled up a wooden chair to the side of the cot and his eyes widened, "What are you doing?"
" I haven't seen you in three years, Lord Gendry. Surely you've been doing something interesting in that time and I want to hear about it."
He grinned and lay back on the cot. "My life has been relatively boring up until this morning when a lady knight tried to end my life." He said looking at Arya for her reaction.
Somehow she knew that he was going to tease her about cutting him for a good long time. She sighed.
"That must be why you have become so slow."
"Gods I've missed you." He said and she swallowed the lump that immediately formed in her throat. "I missed you too." She said in a small voice. "I was being serious. What have you been doing in the last three years."
"Well I rode with the Brothers for a time. A knight with not much of a mission. I kind of lost myself when we heard what happened at the Twins and the rumors of you marrying Bolton," Gendry admitted.
"Is that why you became a lord?"
"No, that was after."
"I became a lord by helping Tommen rebuild some of the Kings Landing and re-forging some things of his." Arya knew he was being humble by the way he mumbled the words to make them seem less important. "And I became a lord so that I would be worthy."
There it was again, the uncomfortable truth between them. It made Arya feel warm and not in a good way.
"That reminds me," Gendry said; moving off the cot, but not without a huge groan. He went to a chest and opened it using the arm on his un-injured side and retrieved something from inside. "I brought you something."
Gendry laid something heavy, wrapped in a length of cloth on Arya's lap. "If you were another lord I'd know that this is a gown," she quipped as she unraveled the fabric.
As she pulled the last fold free she sat there dumbfounded as the light from outside made the object in her lap sparkle. It was Ice. Her father's sword that had been taken and last she heard, made into two swords. But there is was; whole and sitting in her lap like a fine jewel. Her eyes misted over and she hugged the sword to her chest, it clinked faintly against her breastplate.
"Thank you," she said and he just nodded. He'd never understand what he'd given her and she didn't think she could explain either.
Arya had fallen into a routine. Every morning she rose, made sure everything was taken care if in the castle and then she rode her horse, Winter, down the grass field to spend her day near Gendry. They had once spent every day together in the Riverlands and now she wanted to hear everything he'd done.
And for once , she felt safe telling him what she had been doing, which is some thing she hadon't talk to anyone about since returning to Westeros. Although Gendry's eyes had widened as she told him about the house of White and Black he hadn't treated her any differently. It probably helped that he had laid beside her many a night, listening to the names of the people she wanted to kill. Her own bedtime prayer.
That morning as Arya strode into Gendry's tent her eyebrows furrowed in worry. It had been six days and Gendry should have been getting better, but he seemed to be getting worse. He was sleeping, but his brow shone with sweat and he had a sickly pallor to his skin.
Despite that, when he awoke he smiled at her. "Good morning, m'lady'. "Good morning, My Lord," Arya teased and he sat up wincing as he brushed his side with his arm.
"How does it feel?" She asked this every day and she always got the same answer, "Like I've been run through by a small assassin." As he looked sicker and sicker the comment stung a little more.
"I fully blame you," She said settling on the chair beside his bed, her legs folded under her neatly. Besides some of the darker parts of their pasts, they had kept their conversations light and Gendry hadn't brought up why he was there. Somehow Arya knew it was only a matter of time and unluckily for her it was as if he read her mind.
"Why did you ignore my letters?" He asked, his tone was neutral but Arya could see in his face how much it bothered him.
She sighed and stood up. She felt more comfortable moving if she was going to have to face this and she also didn't want to look on his face anymore, not when it tortured her. She stared out the tent flap for a moment, trying to find the best way to communicate what had happened.
"I didn't know what to tell you."
"It killed me. I though you were dead so many times and then you weren't..." His voice trailed off as it cracked and Arya sighed. She wished it could just always be easy between them. None of this hurt and disappointment and difficulty.
"I received similar offers from the Redwynes, Dorne, the Tyrells... and Edric Dayne." Even as she said it she closed her eyes knowing how the last name would hit Gendry. She turned to see his face darken.
"I understand, what could a base born bastard from Flea Bottom give you." He said coldly.
His words felt like a slap, but she forged on. "I'm only going to talk about this once with you. So let me tell it without you being stupid about it."
"As you say, m'lady." He was scowling; not liking the rebuke and it made her voice go up when she answered as she lost her temper. "You are not too wounded for me to punch you," she warned.
"I had been in the North for a few months. Finding out who was still alive, refuting all the rumors that I had died or been wed to Ramsay Bolton. I had all the power of the North around me, but no family. They were scattered to the wind, what was left."
She moved across the room and sat by Gendry again. She looked at her hands as she talked, feeling all the emotions she had felt then clawing through her chest. "I had been trained to be no one, but I wasn't no one. I was Arya Stark of Winterfell and they expected so much of me. At first it was overwhelming, but as time went on it became empowering. If my father had lived, I'd have been sold off to the highest bidder to be some old lord's wife, but I had my own forces and they valued my opinion, something I had not expected at all. They were starved for leadership, even if it came from a small wolf girl.
I took back the North. Piece by piece, castle by castle. It was hard work and I lost more men than I ever wanted to, but I made her whole again. The only thing I couldn't do was rebuild Winterfell and still hold the North, so I took my uncle's castle, which wasn't too damaged and made it my stronghold.
And then the offers came. Everyone in Westeros had taken note that I held a lot of land and power and they all wanted it for themselves. I had just allowed myself some time to finally grieve for my family and I was being harassed by offers for my hand that didn't give a damn about what I wanted at all. Unfortunately, I received your letter among all the others and I was so angry at you."
She swallowed hard, allowing herself to look up at Gendry for a second. He didn't look sullen anymore, he was just listening to her now his face blank.
"You were the one person I had trusted and the person who had turned their back on me. And suddenly when I had it all you wanted a piece. At least that's what I told myself. Old habits die hard. I started saying your name before I fell asleep. My prayer for revenge."
Her voice had been strong, but there were tears in her eyes and Gendry reached out to take her hand in his. That's all it took for the tears to brim over her eyelids and down her cheeks. Gendry leaned as much as he could towards her; stroking her hand and whispering endearments. "Don't cry, sweetling. I'm so so sorry, Arya."
He let her cry herself out and then she sniffed and wiped her eyes on the back of her hand that wasn't being held. "I will never leave you again."
She snorted and said, "Lucky me." It broke the spell and they spent the rest of the day reminiscing.
The next day, Arya had to shake Gendry awake and even then his eyes were glazed. She walked to the entrance to the tent where Gendry's guards stood at attention. "Bring the maester," She told them and one of the younger knights took off towards the castle.
In the end, they had decided to move him into the castle. Arya had a room made up for him and she had helped sponge him down with cool water, but still his skin felt like the forge he used to work in. The maester told Arya infection had set in.
Arya was racked with guilt, as she sat by Gendry's bedside. He wasn't conscious she thought, but she had his big hand cupped in her small ones. If he died she would never forgive herself.
"I'm so sorry," she whispered sorrowfully.
"I know," Gendry rasped to her surprise.
She pressed his fingers to her cool lips and his brow furrowed even though he kept his eyes closed.
Later as the fever seemed to break, he awoke to find Arya half slumped on his bed, when he tried to pull his arm out from under her she bolted awake, looking around widely.
"Water, please," he croaked.
Arya hurriedly went to the side board and scooped some water from the basin there into a tin cup. She gently held it to Gendry's lips making sure not to spill it all over him.
He drank the entire cup and she rushed to get him more. Once he'd finished the second round of water, he put his hand on her arm holding her in place.
"Marry me," he said and her eyes narrowed into a glare, that actually made him smile.
"You stubborn ass." She said, but she didn't pull away from him and he pulled her closer.
"Arya," he said his deep voice made her close her eyes as a chill went down her spine.
"Are you dying on purpose to force me to say yes?"
"All part of the plan," Gendry said with a weak smile.