They’d been deep in the woods when the wolf had appeared, just metres away. Arya had barely been able to breathe, keeping as still as she possibly could, she waited.
Shireen had crept up behind her, and her hand had found it’s way to Arya’s gripping it so tightly her fingers prickled with pins and needles.
The wolf had sniffed the air, taking a step forward before it stiffened—ears pricked and turned its head, listening intently, before loping off through the trees, picking up speed as it went.
“Arya wait!” Shireen Baratheon’s call was distant, she had fallen behind in Arya’s mad chase but she didn’t understand. None of them would. When they returned to Winterfell later she was sure to be told off for leading her cousin into the woods so far from the castle. But Arya couldn’t care less—any punishment was worth seeing the wolf again.
Arya’s boots were caked in mud and her dress was torn and wet from snow. Her once neat hair was a mess of tangles and her skin flushed from the exertion, looking more like a Wildling than the high-born lady she was meant to be. This, Arya decided, was a lot more exciting than needlework and songs. Her mother had put the braids in that morning in an attempt to make her look presentable to Aunt Lyanna and Uncle Robert. Not that either would care whether she wore breeches and left her hair loose. They’d probably find it amusing how she would look when they returned.
“Slow down!” Shireen called.
“Hurry up!” Arya yelled back hiking her dress up around her knees to move quicker, teeth bared in a wild smile as she tried to catch up with the wolf. She could hear Shireen panting behind her as she ran, surprised that the girl could keep up.
Arya would apologise later, but for now, she had to catch her wolf.
The first time she’d seen it was when she had been out riding with Rob and father—a glint of dark golden eyes and blur of grey fur as it dashed away into the forest, so quick that only Arya had noticed. They had laughed when she told them later—a Direwolf this far from the wall? No. She must have imagined it. Only Arya knew what she saw, and that didn’t account for all the very realistic dreams she’d had afterward…running through the woods, hunting with her pack, the taste of blood in her mouth when they’d brought down a buck together.
Arya jumped over fallen trees, ran through thorny bushes and frozen puddles all in an effort to keep up with the wolf she was following, and then in the space of one blink, the wolf was gone. She skidded to a stop and swung around, letting her dress drop to form a soggy mess around her boots. No grey fur, no tracks, no dark gold eyes. There was no sign of the wolf anywhere.
Arya let out a growl of frustration and stamped her foot. She couldn’t believe she’d lost it! She heard Shireen run up behind her, face red with exertion and breathing heavily.
“Did you get it?” she panted, wheezing a little.
“No.” Arya huffed. “And there’s no tracks either.” she kicked a nearby root in frustration and cursed behind gritted teeth when her toes throbbed angrily in response. Shireen pressed her lips together in a frown as she always did when Arya did something rude.
The cracking of a branch behind them made Arya want to swear again. She squashed down the hope that it was her wolf, because it wasn’t — her wolf was quiet.
“What was that?” Shireen whispered, her hand slipping into Arya’s with practiced ease, though neither could tell whose grip was tighter.
“Dunno,” Arya murmured back, her other hand going for the small dagger she’d pinched from Rob weeks ago. He hadn’t missed it and Arya was careful to keep it out of sight, tucked into a sheath in her boot.
“Should we go back?”
Arya hated to admit it but she agreed. She nodded.
Casting her gaze about the forest Arya realised with an unsettling lurch in her stomach that she didn’t recognise it. Running after her wolf had led them away from any place she’d been before. As Arya hadn’t immediately led them back, it was clear they were lost.
Unfortunately, they were also not alone. The sound of twigs underfoot was the last straw. Arya yanked the dagger from her boot and held it out the way she’d seen her brothers do when they trained.
Shireen gasped at the sight of it and Arya shushed her, nudging her with her arm to head back the way they’d come. They’d only taken around ten steps when an arrow whistled by Arya’s ear and buried itself with a thunk in the nearest tree.
Arya whirled around, heart beating fast, and shoved Shireen behind her.
Two wildlings emerged from the forrest, their furs dark enough to blend in with the fading light. They hadn’t been gone that long surely?
The Wildlings moved to stand ten feet in front of them, dressed in grey furs, one with a bow, the other a long blade at his hip, both of them were smirking.
“What’ve we got here? Two little girls out on their own?” his hand came to rest on the hilt of his sword.
Arya held her dagger tighter, painfully aware of how small it was and wishing desperately she had been taught to fight or shoot or do something other than sing songs and sew.
“No. Not alone. Now best you go about your business and we’ll go about ours.” She had intended to sound threatening but her voice shook and Arya knew they heard it from the way their grins widened. Behind her, Shireen whimpered.
“Two little ladies!” The archer crowed. “What do you reckon? Shall we keep them?” he looked to his friend with eager eyes.
“Bit young, even for you” his friend sneered, wiping his nose on the sleeve of his fur and sniffing loudly.
“Fuck off,” he spat back, “nothing wrong with a bit of tender meat, eh?” The archer kicked him in the leg and while he was distracted used his hand to yank on his friends thin brown hair — to tease or harm him it seemed an odd sort of game. The Wildling weilding a sword took a swing at his friend and then the two were scuffling.
With Shireen’s death grip on Arya’s arm it was hard to shake her off, to get her to understand that she should go.
Get help. she wanted to whisper to her cousin. Get help so my father and brothers can chop these bastards into little pieces. Arya would hold them off as long as she could with her little knife. If she could get the sword or put an arrow in their eyes…somehow, she might just be able to win.
Shireen slipped away and Arya was glad that her cousin was smart enough to understand.
She stood stiffly watching the scuffling men who now seemed more like boys for their roughhousing, tense and waiting the right moment to strike. If she moved quickly—
A scream broke the silence and the scuffle at Arya’s feet came to a halt. She leapt back to her tree, knife out again, just in time for a third Wildling to appear. His eyes were cold and smile sharp, furs a little darker and clearly the leader of the two shit heads in front of her if the way they straightened their spines and held up their heads was any indication. “I found this one…” he pulled Shireen in front of him, hand clamped down on her shoulder, “trying to escape.”
Then his grey eyes settled on Arya and she felt a shiver race down her spine. His hand loosened on Shireen’s shoulder and she took that moment to race over to her and latch onto her arm again, shivering in fear.
“Oh! I know who you are,” he said in a delighted voice. “You’re a little Stark! It’s been a while since I’ve seen one of you…”
The hope of rescue before something terrible happened slipped quickly from her mind, but in its absence anger rose quickly to fill the void.
She was a Lady, but the Old Gods be damned, she would not end up like her sister.