a dark world aches (for a splash of the sun) part 3
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.
She isn’t sure when she starts to wear dresses, what occasion starts it.
She keeps to cool, dark colors, and the material is always more practical, even if light and airy as all dresses in King’s Landing are. And she wears her boots, too, and keeps Needle on her hip, but she looks a little more like a lady, like a princess. Gendry asks, once, about the change. She is sprawled across the bed, her dress hiked up around her waist, and he is between her legs, his thumb tracing the edge of her silk stockings, and he tilts his head as he asks. She shrugs. She doesn’t want to talk about it.
She curves her other leg, slides her foot against his back, asks if he doesn’t like silk.
He smiles, kisses the edge of her stocking, and starts to trail his kisses higher.
Lady Margaery is the first to say it. She touches Arya on the arm at dinner and leans close to Arya.
“Are you with child?” she asks.
Arya chokes on her quail, alarmed. Why would Margaery think that? She shakes her head, and she looks around the table to see if anyone else heard. But no one else did, and Margaery simply raises her eyebrows at Arya. Are you sure? Arya doesn’t respond, but she finds she can’t eat another bite.
She excuses herself from dinner as soon as she can, and she tries to remember when she last bled.
She can’t. She touches her stomach. No. She can’t be pregnant. She can’t. Her hands slide up to her breasts, though, and she realizes that they are larger, heavier. Seven hells. She is pregnant, isn’t she?
And half the ladies in court probably already suspect it; Margaery is simply the first to say it.
She feels sick, because she never really thought about it, the idea of a child. It isn’t as if she didn’t expect to have children, but she is five-and-ten, and it seems so absurd, her with a child. She held the chubby little boy that Sansa birthed only once, when he was a few months old, dusty brown hair on his fat head, and he cried so loudly, so shrilly, that Arya quickly returned him to her sister.
Her baby will have a head of thick black hair, a Baratheon child. Ours is the fury. She bites her lip.
She will be a terrible mother. What if she drops the child? What if she can’t make it stop crying?
What if it is a little girl who wants to wear pretty pink and yellow and cream dresses, who wants to play with dolls when she wakes, to cross-stitch all day, to hear stories about valiant knights who rescue beautiful maidens before bed? What if it is a little boy who turns out as terrible as Joffrey?
But, no, her son will be like Gendry, or like her own brothers, like Jon and Robb. Her son will not be cruel, or stupid, or cowardly. He will have a head of thick black hair, and he will be the fiercest fighter in all Westeros. But that is if his sister doesn’t best him, a fighter herself. And if she isn’t, if she is like Sansa, fine. Arya will play with dolls, will sew until her fingers bleed, will recall the stories her septa used to tell. Arya will let her child be herself, whoever that is. She nods to herself.
She waits until Gendry is asleep beside her to say it aloud, to test how the words sound.
She thinks he is asleep. He isn’t.
He peppers kisses all over her face, his hands warm and heavy on her stomach, and she smiles.
King Robert dies when she is is heavy with child.
Her back is sore, her ankles swollen, her body slow, but she stands tall as Gendry is crowned the king, is crowned King Gendry Baratheon, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, Protector of the Realm.
Her father looks so tired, so old, even with her mother beside him. Arya thinks about the secret.
She looks at Queen Cersei, at little Tommen, at Joffrey beside Margaery, and she thinks about Myrcella, Lady of Winterfell, married to her brother. What would it reap to reveal the truth at last?
Her eyes return to her father, and she finds his eyes on her. He shakes his head. She understands.
Some secrets are better left kept secret.
But winter is at its worst, and the delicate, pleasant life at King’s Landing ends.
A war is on the horizon, the Mother of Dragons at its helm, and Gendry is with her father, plans for battle between them, when Arya awakes to a knife at her neck. She feels a blade cut her flesh, and she hears bones break and flesh tear, a strangled shout cut short as Nymeria kills her attacker.
She stumbles from bed. Her neck twinges with pain, and every breath she takes is strangely sharp. Nymeria bounds to Arya and starts to lick the wound, but Arya feels her knees collapse under her, her thighs sticky, and she whispers for Gendry, needs Nymeria to understand, to find him for her.
It is bloody and painful, and she drifts in and out. Her mother kisses her forehead, Gendry holds her hand, Nymeria nuzzles her leg. She screams until her throat is raw, and she drifts in and out.
But loud, angry cries ring through her ears, and Gendry holds her to his chest as she reaches out.
Her father places the child against her breast, a small, pink, squirming child, a little boy.
A fine layer of black hair is on his head. She smiles. “Eddard,” she whispers, and the pain makes her woozy, but Gendry holds her clammy hands in his, holds their son with her. She passes out.
They try to keep her from it.
She won’t have that. She is not supposed to speak, but she will scream until her voice is lost if they try to hide the war from her, hide what they discover about the man who tried to kill her. Gendry thinks it is the Mother of Dragons who is at fault, but her father says someone inside the castle must be to blame, because no one else would have been able to reach her. Arya feels so helpless.
She is not a fainting lady, unable to defend herself, yet she would’ve been killed without Nymeria.
Her wolf is always at her side, and she is afraid to let Neddy from her sight.
He is a small child, but his hair is thick on his head within a week, and his eyes aren’t blue; they are the color of winter, a shining steel, because he is of House Baratheon and of House Stark, her boy.
But if there is to be a war, she will fight, whether it comes from outside or from within.
She is Arya Baratheon, and she will fight to defend herself, her family, her home. She will fight.
Her mother accuses Tyrion Lannister of trying to kill her. It was his knife, after all.
He insists it was not he. If he were to try to kill Arya, he says, he would not be so stupid as to send an assassin with his own blade. Arya must admit that Tyrion always struck her as smarter than that, too, and she always liked him; she thought he liked her as well. What reason would he have to murder her in her bed? Her brother rallies the North for war against the Mother of Dragons, and her mother accuses Cersei Lannister, because she would have very good reason to try to kill Arya.
Because if Arya died, if her child died, it would position Joffrey to take the throne next should anything happen to Gendry, perhaps in war, perhaps with a knife in the back from a king slayer.
“But your son shall never be king,” her mother snarls. “A bastard cannot take the throne.”
Arya is stunned, and she looks to her father to see that he is stunned as well.
How did her mother find out?
Gendry imprisons Jaime and Cersei and Joffrey, and no one says a word when he, voice hard, agrees with Catelyn Stark that Myrcella and Tommen are legitimate Baratheons, a lie everyone realizes is told to protect the Lady of Winterfell and a confused little boy, a lie everyone accepts.
Tywin Lannister demands that his son and his daughter be released, as they were falsely accused, and he threatens to meet House Baratheon on a battlefield. Gendry refuses, and Arya can see that he will not yield, not to the Lannisters, not to the Mother of Dragons, because he is a Baratheon.
Ours is the fury.
The North stands with House Stark, and House Stark stands with House Baratheon, and Renly rallies armies to fight, as does House Tyrell, and Gendry is expected to ride into battle with them.
Arya cannot. She is injured, she is a mother, she is the queen. She cannot fight.
“I can still rally troops with you!” she insists. “I can still accompany you to the battlefield!”
Gendry shakes her head at her. “And what if we are slaughtered? I cannot risk having you —”
“I was unaware you planned to be slaughtered, Gendry,” she snaps.
His jaw locks. “What about Ned?” he asks. “Do you want to bring him to the battlefield as well?”
“I can leave him with my mother,” she says, but he shakes his head, and it infuriates her. “I am not a woman who will stay behind in a castle,” she says, “locked safely away like a child, as my husband and my father and my brothers fight!” Her voice rises. “That is not the woman you wed!”
“The woman I wed,” Gendry roars, “and the son she bore me are the only two people that matter to me, and I will not watch you killed in battle so you might prove to yourself that you aren’t a lady!”
She hates him.
She starts for the door. She needs to ride, or to shoot, or to do something, anything at all —
But Gendry catches her arm. “We’re not finished, Arya!” His anger is carefully controlled.
She spins on her heel and shoves him as hard as she can, makes him stumble, and she storms for the door, but his arms are around her waist next. She flails wildly, kicking and punching and biting, but he is too strong for her, and he stands, still as stone, while she screams and fights.
“You will open your throat,” he warns, voice infuriatingly calm and hard.
She stills, tense in his arms, teeth gritted. “Let. Go. Of. Me.” He doesn’t. But Neddy starts to fuss from his bassinet. “I need to nurse your son,” she snarls, and it isn’t a lie. She forgot that it was half past eight, that Ned was due to be fed. No, I didn’t forget, she thinks. Gendry distracted me.
“If you leave Ned with your mother,” Gendry says, “you will need to find him a wet nurse. I thought you didn’t want to use a wet nurse.” She doesn’t respond, but he lets go of her at last.
She moves to Neddy, and she can feel Gendry watching her. She hears him sit on the bed.
“Arya.” His voice is softer. “Arya, I leave tomorrow at first light. I don’t want to fight tonight.”
She stares at Neddy, watches his eyelids flicker. His eyelashes are so dark.
Her throat is sore. “Fine.”
“Thank you.” His voice becomes a murmur. “Arya, c’mere.”
She keeps her back to him, and she wonders what it was like for her mother when her father went to help King Robert fight. Was it like this? It couldn’t have been. Her parents hardly knew each other; her mother was with child, but she did not already have a strong, beautiful boy in her arms.
Her father returned with Jon.
It’s the first time Arya understands why her mother never liked her favorite brother.
“Don’t come back with another woman’s baby,” she says.
“Arya.” A sad smile is in his voice. “I will come back to make another baby with you.”
She scoffs. “You should be so lucky.” But she turns to him, and she walks slowly to the bed. His arms open, and she lets him have what he wants. She sits in his lap. He wraps his arms around her.
“It is all I want in this world,” he whispers, forehead on her shoulder.
“I’ll never forgive you if don’t come back,” she tells him. “I will hate you until my dying day. House Baratheon will never have known such fury as my hatred for your stupid, stubborn self.”
“And what about now?” he asks. “Do you love me now? Or must I return for that?”
“Don’t be stupid,” she says. “Of course I love you.” And he smiles against her shoulder, and she almost wishes she could’ve stayed furious, because she does not want to cry when she is furious.
It is the first time he is inside her since Neddy was born. His hands hold her hips; her hands are on his shoulders to steady herself as she rocks forward, as she sinks onto him. Her hair falls around his face as they move, his eyes never leaving hers. She manages not to cry until they are finished.
The sobs wrack her body, and he tries to cuddle her against his side, but she doesn’t want that.
She pulls him over her, wants to feel his weight, no matter how much, needs to feel it.
They don’t sleep that night. The sun starts to rise, and they lay together, and she refuses to cry as she watches him leave with her father. Her mother touches her shoulder. She clutches Neddy close.
Her mother leaves for Winterfell.
“Robb took Bran with him into battle,” she says. “It is only Myrcella and Rickon at Winterfell, and Myrcella is with child.” Her eyes are apologetic. “But, Arya, I can stay in King’s Landing if you need me.” Arya shakes her head. Her mother belongs at Winterfell. Arya can survive without her.
Arya starts to spend her time in the kitchens, because she is more at ease with those in the kitchens than with those left at court. She hears their talk when she isn’t supposed to hear it, their talk about the war, their talk about starving children, and she tells them to ration food in the castle, so that the rest can be sent into the city. She might not be able to fight, but she can still do her part in this war.
She will not sit idly by as people starve.
Tommen starts to follow Arya around, and she offers to teach him the water dance.
Nymeria sits beside the Iron Throne, Neddy cuddled against her furry stomach, and Arya raises Needle, tells Tommen to stand side face, tells him to step left, to step right, tells him to watch her.
Sansa sends a raven to tell Arya that her second child was born, another healthy boy.
Arya misses her sister more than she thought possible. It seems another lifetime that they were children together at Winterfell, two little girls with different dreams, and now their lives are the same, wives left at home with their children while their husbands fight, but they are not together.
The ravens from the battlefield are fewer and fewer.
She hasn’t received word from Gendry or from Robb in over a month when King’s Landing burns.
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