Saturday, May 19, 2012

a dark world aches (for a splash of the sun) part 1

split into four parts because I think there’s a word count limit on text posts! all four parts total roughly 14,000 words :)

AU. when she is three, Lady Arya Stark is betrothed to wed Prince Gendry Baratheon.

The story she is told repeatedly never fails to make Arya despise King Robert.

He came to Winterfell, bringing his whole family with him, and announced his intention to  join House Baratheon with House Stark. He declared that his daughter would wed Robb Stark as soon as their ages allowed, “and your daughter shall marry my son,” he added, clapping Lord Stark on the shoulder.

He beckoned forward his six-year-old son.

Lady Stark held Sansa close to her skirts, but she smiled, and everyone knew that Lord Stark would not deny his friend, that their houses would be joined when the oldest sons married the oldest daughters. King Robert was about to introduce his son to Sansa, only for Arya to emerge suddenly from the stables.

She ran gleefully to where her family stood, her childish laughter ringing out to announce her arrival, an exasperated woman trailing behind her. Her father swung her up into his arms, trying to wipe the mud from her cheeks, to smooth out her dark, tangled hair, and she blinked curiously at the king. He started to smile, which made her smile, a toothy grin under bright, steel eyes.

"My younger daughter, your grace," Lord Stark introduced, apologetic, "Arya."

When her septa tells Arya the story, this is the part the old, awful woman relishes most.

King Robert pointed his finger at Arya.

"Her!" he declared, laughing. "My son shall wed this girl!"

It wasn’t as simple as that, and Lord Stark needed to agree to the betrothal, but King Robert left Winterfell after a fortnight with exactly what he wanted, a promise to unite House Baratheon with House Stark. His daughter was betrothed to Robb Stark, and Arya Stark was betrothed to his heir.

Arya doesn’t remember the visit herself, but she is told the tale until she imagines she must.

Her most desperate wish is that she could change the story, that she could have a second chance to stay in the stables when King Robert arrived, or to wear a dress, staying quiet, or to kick, to spit, and to scream until he changed his mind. But her wish remains unfulfilled.

As soon as she bleeds, she will be wed to Prince Gendry Baratheon.

—-

Her septa reminds Arya at every chance that a future queen should not misbehave.

It makes Arya burns with the injustice. She doesn’t understand why she needed to be betrothed as a babe; it isn’t as though Sansa is yet betrothed. But her septa says that questions are not for Arya to ask, and her parents never properly answer when she asks anyway.

"How can I wed him when he is mean and stupid and doesn’t like to do anything that I like to do?" Arya asks, because she knows he is mean and stupid and doesn’t like to do anything she likes to do.

She stabs her dinner unhappily.

Her father assures her that Prince Gendry is neither mean nor stupid, that he will treat her well. Her parents brush aside every argument she makes. She says she does not want to leave Winterfell, to which she is told that she will leave Winterfell whether she marries Prince Gendery or another lord. She tells them that she does not want to wed anyone at all, and she is told that she must marry someone.

"What if I want to marry myself?" she asks.

Robb muffles his laughter, and Sansa, exasperated, tells Arya not to be stupid. She cannot wed herself, and Arya should appreciate how fortunate she is to be betrothed to the handsome future king.

"Why should it matter whether or not he is handsome?” Arya replies, scrunching up her nose.

Sansa rolls her eyes. “You are such a child.”

"Am not!" Arya replies hotly. "I am six, and I am better at riding than you, and at fighting, too!"

"I don’t care to ride or to fight." Sansa sniffs. "I am a proper lady.” She straightens in her seat.

"If you’re such a lady,”  Arya says, “why don’t you marry Prince Gendry?”

"Because he is not my betrothed,” Sansa snaps, “and I am not so insolent as to demand that I should be wed to whomever I want, even if I would be a much better wife to the prince than —”

"That is enough!" Lady Stark says. "Arya, you are betrothed to Prince Gendry, but you’ve several years yet before he is your husband, and, as time passes, you may realize that you do, in fact, wish to wed him. Sansa, you shall be betrothed, too, when a fitting match is found."

It is quiet for a moment, and Lady Stark sighs, satisfied.

"But how do you know that Prince Gendry is a fitting match for me?” Arya asks.

The Baratheon words are ours is the fury. Stupid. She is a Stark, not a Baratheon.

Her father chuckles before her mother can muster a reply. “Arya, should Prince Gendry prove not to be a fitting match, should he prove to be cruel, or to be dishonorable, we will not force you to wed him. But do not concern yourself with the matter, not tonight, not tomorrow, and not until you are a few years older.”

His smile is kind, and Arya nods. Agrees.

She prays to the old gods that night, begs them to make Prince Gendry the cruelest, vilest, most dishonorable man. She prays that he is as stupid as a cow and as ugly as a bull. She starts to pray for his despicableness every night.

—-

"I will say his name, and I’ll look straight at him,” Arya explains, “and you must growl. He will be frightened, and he will tell his father that he does not want to wed me. Do you understand? Growl, and look very, very terrifying.”

She stares at Nymeria, and Nymeria stares at Arya.

"Gendry," Arya says. She repeats it. "Gendry.” She waits. “Do you understand? As soon as you seem him, growl.” She imitates a growl, which makes Nymeria growl, too, before, playful, she butts her head against Arya. “Yes, like that,” Arya says, “but don’t be playful. Gendry.” She growls. “Gendry.”

Nymeria growls, too, baring her teeth. Arya smiles. This is her best plan yet.

The last time King Robert brought his family to Winterfell, Arya was betrothed to Prince Gendry.

But during this visit she will convince the prince that he does not want to wed her, and he will call off the engagement. Arya will be free to do whatever she wants, to explore the world, to have adventures rather than to be married off to make babies for him.

She steals into the kitchen for garlic, and she chews on the clove until she is certain that her breath reeks. She smears mud into her hair, hiding to keep somebody from dragging her off for a bath, but she cannot escape having her face scrubbed thoroughly before she is hauled to the castle yard to stand with her family. King Robert arrives.

All she really wants is to make sure her betrothed can be disgusted. That’s it.

She wouldn’t mind seeing the dwarf, too, but the imp isn’t with them, and King Robert stares at her for an endless moment before he touches a hand to his stomach, throws his head back, and laughs. He taps her nose with his finger, winks at her, and says she is as wild as the North. He waves his hand in the air. “Boy!” he calls.

Arya looks at the pale, thin boy who stands beside Queen Cersei, looks at his small mouth, yellow hair, and unpleasant eyes, and she thinks she might already have repulsed him. She hides a smile.

But he does not move when his father shouts; instead, another boy steps forward.

Her head tilts up, because he is tall, and he is broad. Her stomach churns. He is like King Robert; his hair is the same dark hair, his eyes are the same blue eyes, his stature is the same heavy stature. King Robert touches the boy on the shoulder, and he beams at Arya. “Lady Arya,” he says, “I present my son, your betrothed, Prince Gendry.”

Her betrothed takes her hand.

He looks strong, his brow straight, serious; he looks like she imagines a prince would.

He bends to kiss her knuckles, and she watches his face as his eyes land on the mud caked around her nails. He stares for a moment. His eyes flicker to her face, and he smirks. She wants to kick him.

She can’t do that, though. All she can do is let him smile, let him kiss her hand, let him be a stupid, ugly prince.

It seems as through Prince Gendry will not be as easy to frighten away as she hoped.

—-

"Don’t sit close to me," Prince Joffrey tells Arya. "Your breath smells terrible.”

No one really responds for a moment as Robb bristles, Sansa frowns, and Myrcella flushes in embarassment. But their parents are at the high table, and Arya only smiles at Prince Joffrey.

"My apologies, my lord," she says, before she coughs wetly, spraying her smelly spit right at his pale, disdainful face. His eyes widen, murderous, and he looks ready to leap across the table to kill her. But before Joffrey can as much as open his mouth, Gendry hands Arya a kerchief.

"Nasty cough you have, my lady," he says. "I’ve heard tell that a little garlic helps with a cough like that. But you seem already to have tried that remedy." He smiles.

"I like garlic," she replies, breathing noisily at him. "I eat a clove every day.”

"No, you don’t," Rickon says.

Gendry nods. “Me, too. Garlic might be my favorite food, in fact.”

Arya thinks she might hate Prince Gendry with every bone in her body.

—-

She complains to Jon as soon as she can. “He is awful. The absolute worst.”

"He doesn’t seem terrible to me," Jon replies.

Arya shakes her head. “But you don’t know him, Jon. I do. He is the worst.”

"I don’t think he is the worst,” Jon says. He lowers his voice. “I would say Prince Joffrey is. It’s fortune you aren’t betrothed to him.” He raises his eyebrows, as though to ask whether she agrees. She does, and she doesn’t bother to try to hide it. Jon laughs at the expression she makes.

"I still don’t want to wed Gendry," she says. "I don’t want to leave Winterfell."

Jon smiles sadly. “You can’t stay at Winterfell forever.” But his voice is sympathetic, almost wistful, as though he wishes the same as she. “He is a decent man, Arya. He will treat you well. If he doesn’t, I’ll run him through myself. But I think you’d probably be the first to do that.”

Arya smiles.

"Seven Hells, your breath really does reek.”

She shoves him for that, but, a moment later, she hugs him as tightly as she can.

—-

Her attempts to repulse Gendry are continually dashed.

The stupid boy refuses to be repulsed.

He isn’t bothered that she steals clothes from Bran to wear for as long as she can before someone hauls her inside to force her into a dress. She chews her food with her mouth open, and his lip twitches as he politely eats his food. She challenges him to spar with her after he watches her thrash Bran, and he laughs, breathless, when she soundly defeats him. He says he is not very deft with a sword.

"I am,” she replies, sword poised at his neck.

"I can see that, my lady."

"Don’t call me that."

"As my lady commands."

She wonders how much King Robert would mind if she stabbed his son.

She lets the sword fall to her side, and Gendry starts to sit up, laughing a little, which infuriates her. She can’t help shoving his chest with all her might, and he tumbles backwards. He laughs harder. She kicks him in the ribs. “Stop laughing at me!” she shouts. He starts to apologize, but his smile doesn’t waver.

She storms off.

He finds her a few hours later. He tries to apologize properly, but she pretends she can’t hear him, and finally, finally, he becomes frustrated with her. “I didn’t intend to insult you, my lady,” he says. She doesn’t respond. He sighs. “I have bruises from your attack, should that make you feel any better.”

It does. “A little,” she admits.

At least he doesn’t mind having a girl best him, she thinks. Most men do.

But he smiles, and she remembers that she hates him, that he is supposed to hate her.

—-

She finds it unendingly irritating how Gendry always seems to know where to find her.

The moment Mycah sees the prince, he drops his sword, backing away from Arya, and she can’t stop him. “It was my idea,” she tells Gendry, who doesn’t seem to care one way or the other, but Mycah runs off as soon as he can, and Arya could strangle the prince, always ruining absolutely everything.

She tosses her own sword aside, refusing to acknowledge him as she sits in the dirt.

She doesn’t care what he wants, why he sought her out.

Nymeria growls. “I don’t think your wolf likes me,” Gendry says.

"She is a good judge of character," Arya says. She wishes Nymeria would chase him off, but the wolf only moves to sit beside Arya.


He sits on her other side. He tries to catch her eye. “I did not intend to frighten your friend.”

"But you did," she replies. "Go away. I don’t want to talk to you."

He doesn’t listen, the stupid, stubborn bull.

"My lady, I understand that you do not wish to wed me," he says, "but have you ever thought that mayhaps I do not wish to wed you? I was not offered a choice any more than you were."

She is startled, because, yes, she hoped to convince him that he did not want to wed her, but she had never really considered that this wasn’t about whether she smelled, or smeared dirt in her hair, or acted as unladylike as possible. She had never really considered that mayhaps he hadn’t wanted to wed her to start, but the decision wasn’t in his hands.

"I did want to try to disgust you so much that you wouldn’t want to marry me," she admits.

He smiles. “It wasn’t unnoticed,” he replies. “Queen Cersei finds you particularly repellent.”

"Well, I think Queen Cersei is particularly repellent," she snaps.

He tilts his head towards her a little. “Do you want to know a secret?”

She hesitates, and she nods.

"Me, too," he whispers, smiling. He stretches out, arms behind him, palms to the cold earth. "I tolerate her. I understand why my father married her, but she might be the worst —” He stops, sighing, and his gaze lands on Arya. “I don’t want to force you to wed me, my lady. I can tell my father that I do not wish to marry you.”

She is stunned. “But would your father really allow that?” she asks.

He shrugs. “He might have a few unkind words for me, but he lets me do what I want. Mostly. It might not work. He might not listen; I cannot promise you that he will. But if you wish, I will try to convince him.”

She finds she can’t look at Gendry. She looks at her knees.

"But for what this might be worth," he continues, "were I to choose who I wanted to wed, I would choose you." She glances at him in amazement, and he chuckles a little. "I mean it. I wasn’t sure what to expect from you, and, to be honest, I thought that you might be like the ladies at court, like Queen Cersei, but you weren’t. Aren’t. It really doesn’t seem a burden, marrying you."

She is at a loss. “I’m not pretty,” she murmurs.

"Don’t say that," he counters, "you might become pretty yet. Besides, I have met half a hundred pretty ladies, but you’re the only lady I know who isn’t afraid to best me in a race, or to insult me, or to fight me with a sword." He smiles. "And I do enjoy garlic. There’s that, too.”

"I will not be allowed to race you or to insult you or to fight you when I am made queen," she says.

"A queen can do as she wishes," Gendry replies, shrugging. "Mine can, at least."

He makes everything sound simple, but she knows nothing is.

She thinks about how she always despised Prince Gendry, because he represented everything that she did not want; he was the reason that she, from three years old, was defined as the child who would one day be his wife. She wasn’t simply Arya Stark. She was Arya Stark, the girl betrothed to Prince Gendry.

It made her hate him, or the idea of him.

She bites her lip. ”I don’t — you want to marry me,” she says, “but, should I want, you’ll tell your father that you do not?”

He nods. “That’s right.” He pauses, watching her. “What is it you want, Lady Arya?”

She will have to marry someone, won’t she? Maybe that someone should be strong, stupid Prince Gendry, the first person who ever actually asked what Arya herself wanted. “Fine.”

He raises his eyebrows.

Ours is the fury. She possesses plenty of fury.

"I’ll marry you, my lord."

—-

She didn’t imagine that she would return to King’s Landing with him.

She is stunned. Wasn’t she supposed to have a few more years left in Winterfell?

But her father is to be Hand of the King, and he wants his daughters to accompany him to King’s Landing. It only makes sense, especially for Arya. She can spend more time with the prince, and Myrcella will stay at Winterfell with Robb.

This is it. A daughter for a daughter. Just like that.

Jon presents her with Needle before she leaves, Rickon hug her, squeezing tightly, and her mother kisses her forehead, her eyes strangely sad. That’s it.

Arya Stark leaves Winterfell.

King Robert agrees to let their direwolves accompany them to King’s Landing. Nymeria still growls at Gendry whenever she is with Arya, but Arya sees Gendry feed Nymeria food secretly whenever they eat, and she is outraged that he would try to bribe her direwolf.

She is forced to remind herself that she chose this. She agreed to marry Prince Gendry.

"You’re still supposed to like me more," she whispers to Nymeria. "Traitor."

—-

It isn’t too difficult to adjust.

Arya misses Winterfell like a stomach ache, but her father finds Syrio for her, and Gendry orders that clothes be sewn special for her, tunics, shirts, and breeches that are as light as southron clothes should be, feminine enough for a lady, yet is able to ride, to shoot, and to spar in them.

Gendry treats her like Bran does, like an annoying sister who can fight as well as he can.

He laughs the first time he sees her shoved into a dress, a stupid, silky southron dress, and she shoves him off his feet, but he pulls her down with him. They wrestle, and she is determined to wipe that stupid smirk off his face. Her dress is torn in the tussle, and her septa turns absurdly purple when she walks into the stables to find Arya, panting, with Gendry pinned beneath her.

He presents her with a Dornish sand steed, white as snow, for her name day, and she thinks Gendry might be her best friend.

She explores the city whenever she can, chasing cats, learning her way around the crowded, smelly streets; when Gendry catches her, he doesn’t try to stop her. He doesn’t bother to reprimand her. He hands her a small knife, shakes his head, and tells her to be careful.

He might be her only friend in King’s Landing, besides her father.

The ladies at court are much friendlier with Sansa than with Arya, but she is glad for that. The ladies at court are stupid. She likes sweet, little Tommen, though he is always with his mother, and Arya cannot stand Queen Cersei.

The awful woman actually tries to have Nymeria kept in a cage.

Arya protests, nearly crying, and King Robert, drunk, slams his wine on the table as he snarls at Queen Cersei to let Arya keep her pet, before he stumbles to his feet, pats her cheek, and staggers from the hall.

Queen Cersei looks at Arya with hateful eyes, but Arya doesn’t cower from the stare.

—-

"I won’t look very much like a lady after you tear my hair out!" Arya whines.

Sansa is to be wed to Willas Tyrell, and Arya doesn’t try to refuse to wear a dress, but she cannot bite her tongue when they try to twist her hair to make her look like a proper southron woman. A moment later, gentler hands take the brush, and Arya tilts her head to see that Sansa stands behind her.

"Look forward," Sansa murmurs, and Arya obeys. "I think Prince Gendry likes your hair braided."

She feels Sansa start to braid her hair. It is quiet for a few minutes. They are alone.

Arya bites her lip. “Are you nervous?” she asks. Her sister is to marry that very night. This is what Sansa always wanted, but the prospect terrifies Arya. “I would be.”

Sansa only bled a few months ago.

"I am," Sansa admits. She finishes with the braid, and she pins it in a pretty twist, giving Arya a braided crown. Arya turns around to face her sister at last, but she doesn’t know what else to say. She wraps her arms around her and buries her face in the silky dress that Sansa wears.

A handmaiden appears, and Arya steps away, trying to smile at her sister.

Sansa kisses the top of her head, her own smile soft. 

An hour later, Arya watches Sansa kiss her husband, the Tyrell cloak over her shoulders.

Her sister is Lady Sansa of House Tyrell.

Arya dances with Robb, and he tells her she looks beautiful. She steps on his foot, and he chuckles, twirls her around, and kisses her forehead. She will never be as pretty as Sansa, but she isn’t oblivious to the way eyes follow her tonight, because she is no longer a child, and the silky dress possesses a tight bodice, tight enough to make her small breasts look like more than they are.

Eyes will always follow her, because she is betrothed to Gendry. Everyone wants to stare at the wild little girl from the North that King Robert picked for his son.

She wonders if this is the first night they approve, the watchful eyes.

Robb kisses her hand when the dance is finished, and another hand takes hers. Gendry.

Arya pretends not to see Robb wink at her as Gendry rests his hand on her hip.

"I am amazed that Lady Sansa convinced you to wear a southron dress," Gendry says. She rests her own hand on his shoulder, lets him lead. He sniffs her hair. "Is that rose water I smell?" His voice is mirthful.

"I didn’t have time to visit the kitchens," she replies.

He laughs, squeezing her hip. “It doesn’t matter what you wear, or how you smell,” he says, and he stands suddenly nearer to her, near enough to whisper against her cheek, his head bent. “You are a lovely girl, Arya Stark. Such a fierce, lovely girl.” Her face flushes, and she can’t look at him.

"Don’t be stupid," she mutters, annoyed that her face feels hot.

"But you wouldn’t like me half as well if I weren’t stupid," he says.

She starts to reply, but she sees Sansa dancing with Rickon. She hears her father laugh softly when Rickon trips, when Sansa patiently corrects his posture, and she watches her parents. Her father holds her mother close to his side, smiling against her forehead, and Arya shivers a little.

Gendry holds her like that.

"That’s right," she says. "Don’t try to be smart."

"As my lady commands."

She rolls her eyes. “Stupid.”

He smiles against her forehead, and her heart stutters.

—-

She bleeds when she is three-and-ten. Her handmaiden fetches her father.

She is terrified; she didn’t think there would be this much blood, and this means the wait is finished. She will be expected to marry Gendry within a few months. She likes Gendry, but the idea that she will soon be expected to lay with him, to have his children, makes her stomach turn.

She is not ready to be a wife, to be a mother, to be a queen, to be anything other than Arya Stark.

She doesn’t understand why any woman would want to lay with a man, but she was always told to hush when she said as much. She once asked her septa, who replied that laying was something a woman did for her husband. It wasn’t something that should concern a young lady like Arya.

But it concerns me now, Arya thinks, doesn’t it?

Her father arrives, and his eyes are soft as he looks at her, knees drawn to her chest, sitting as far as she can from the splotch of blood that stains the sheets. He kisses the top of her head. ”You are a woman grown, Arya Stark,” he says.

"I’m not ready to marry," she whispers. She doesn’t think she has ever been this terrified.

"I will talk to Gendry," he replies. "You are young yet. I think he will be happy to wait."

She slumps against the headboard, smiling to herself, because she forgot that this was about marrying Gendry. She needn’t worry about Gendry. He will wait.

—-

King Robert doesn’t see why they should wait.

"I would hardly say that Lady Arya is ready to be a princess," Queen Cersei murmurs.

Robert scoffs, dismisses the comment without a word. “Do you want to wait, boy?”

"Yes, I do," Gendry says, nodding. "I would like to wait until she is at least four-and-ten."

Arya hides her smile.

"Fine," Robert says, beckoning a servant for more wine. "Do as you like. Wait."

Arya doesn’t really know what to think about King Robert, but she thinks he might love his son when he isn’t too drunk to remember that Gendry exists. She thinks about what her brother told her, about her aunt, how King Robert loved her, only to lose her. Arya acts on impulse, acts as though he were her own father. She walks up to the Iron Throne, to the king, and kisses his cheek.

"Thank you, your grace," she says, and she smiles.

He is startled, but he chuckles, and he pats her cheek.

part 2. part 3. part 4.

Notes

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