“Seriously?” exclaimed Arya. Then she balled up the messages and threw them on the fire in disgust before storming from the room.
Sansa glared at Jon who held his hand over mouth to suppress his mirth while Sam stared open-mouthed at the mounds of paper as they twirled and twisted in the flames.
Sansa sighed when she realized that she was going to have to deal with this one.
“Sam, please inform these men that my sister is not entertaining any offers of marriage at this time nor for the foreseeable future”, she said. Sam nodded and issued a curt bow before exiting the room.
Then she turned to Jon who was still chuckling.
“Really, Jon?” she said, quite exasperated. “You need to have Sam reissue the notice that Arya is not for sale. I don’t understand why these men are so persistent”.
“It isn’t often that a marriageable woman with connections to a royal house comes on the market”, he replied. “Maybe they are hoping I might change my mind”.
“She is not a cow that is up for auction”, she retorted. “Please ensure that the message is clearer this time or she may decide to leave sooner than expected”.
Jon was still smiling.
“And”, she added, “I’ll remind you of this when they come sniffing after your daughters”.
That sobered him up quickly she noted with satisfaction. Then she shooed him from the room and told him to go make amends with his good-sister.
Initially, Jon’s reunion with Arya was more joyous and lacking in subtext compared to Sansa’s. But then Jon and Arya’s relationship had always been different.
Growing up in Winterfell, they were both keenly aware that they were the outliers in the Stark household. Jon was the bastard son who was in line to inherit nothing while Arya refused to conform to the ideal of the dutiful, well-bred daughter. It seemed from the day Arya was born that they were bonded for life.
She found them both perched on the fence that bordered the archery range. They were watching Val instruct her young charges, their dark heads so close together that they appeared to be almost intimate. Sansa felt a twinge of jealousy but shook it off. She knew they needed this time together to repair their relationship and she was prepared to share him for a while.
When Arya finally confessed to him her deepest, darkest secrets he told Sansa he felt as if his soul had been scorched. And then he lapsed into despair.
“Maybe if I had stayed at Winterfell then I could have done something to prevent all this from happening”, he brooded.
“Hush”, she said soothingly. “We’ve been through all this…she was gone by the time they clapped Father in irons and I was being watched too closely by the Kingsguard. There is nothing you could have done so stop torturing yourself. The past is over and we have to focus on the future. Don’t desert her now that she is finally reaching out to us”.
But it still took him time to reconcile his memories of the lively little girl he left behind with the image of the young woman who had returned to Winterfell as a stone cold killer.
Arya was stung by his reaction. She was accustomed to Jon’s aloofness but it had never been directed at her before. So they passed like ships in the night upon meeting in the corridors. And they ensured that they were unfailingly polite while taking their meals with the rest of the family. The children were blissfully still too young and self-centered to notice the air of frostiness that surrounded their father in regards to their newly arrived aunt. That is…all except for Rickon who picked up the whiff of discord between his good-brother and sister.
He tapped Sansa on the shoulder during breakfast and leaned over to whisper in her ear.
“They’re all wrong”, he stated simply.
“Who?” asked Sansa absently as she wiped Aysane’s chin.
Rickon’s eyes darted in Jon and Arya’s direction. Jon was trying to coax Edwyn into taking a bite of mashed sweet potato while Arya ate slowly and deliberately, clearly trying to ignore the shoving match that was starting between Torrhen and Lyra.
Sansa held up a finger as a signal for Rickon to wait for a minute.
“Torrhen and Lyra…if you cannot behave like civilized people at the table then perhaps you would prefer to take your meals with the animals out in the yard”, she said sternly.
Torrhen and Lyra lowered their hands and eyes and sat in cowed silence before Sansa nodded at them to resume eating.
“Honestly”, muttered Sansa, shaking her head, “there is no excuse for such bad behaviour during meal time”.
And then she caught the look of understanding that passed between Jon and Arya. It was the look of two people sharing the same joke. In that brief moment, they smiled at each other as if they had both recalled a shared happy memory from the distant past.
Sansa glanced at the two of them suspiciously.
“What’s so funny?” she asked.
The two of them exchanged guilty looks before Arya spoke up.
“It’s just…you reminded us of Mother. She used to say the same thing when we started acting up at the table”, she explained.
Sansa flushed and smiled as she dipped down to press a kiss on the top of Alysane’s silvery head.
“I come by it honestly, don’t I, sweet thing”, she murmured as she watched Jon and Arya carefully from beneath her lowered eyelashes.
As the table was being cleared by the servants, Jon rose and passed Edwyn to his nursemaid. As he turned to leave he suddenly stopped and caught Arya’s arm as she brushed past. He cleared his throat before speaking.
“I plan on doing some training later on this morning and I…I wondered if you cared to join me?” he asked hesitantly.
Arya glanced at Sansa briefly before replying.
“I would love to”, she answered warmly.
“Good”, said Jon briskly. “I’ll fetch you when I’m ready”.
After Jon left, Arya lingered in the room as Sansa issued instructions to the servants and deposited kisses on the children’s upturned faces before they were herded off to the nursery and the library where Rickon was scheduled for a lesson with the new maester.
After the din had died down, Arya sidled up to Sansa and took her hand and raised it to her lips.
“Thank you”, Arya whispered.
“For what?” replied Sansa. “He came back to you of his own accord”.
“I know”, said Arya. “But I also know that he wouldn’t have without your encouragement”.
Sansa patted her hand.
“Give him time to thaw, Arya”, said Sansa. “He loves you deeply but he’s having difficulty accepting the path you have chosen. It certainly wasn’t the future he envisioned for you”.
“War changes everything”, whispered Arya as she stared into the middle distance, her eyes taking on a haunted quality. “Either you adapt or you die”.
Then she turned back to Sansa.
“So I chose to live”, she growled, “and then make my enemies pay for their transgressions”.
That initial sparring match soon became the first of many. The yard became their middle ground, a meeting place of sorts where they could sort out their differences and air their grievances.
Sansa watched Arya produce Needle that morning. Jon looked at her in astonishment when she brandished the small sword, battered and slightly bent but still lethal. He ran his fingers along its length and admired Mikken’s workmanship once more.
“I’m amazed you’ve kept it all this time”, he said with a low whistle before passing it back to her.
She carefully wrapped it up in a soft cloth before setting it aside. It was meant for a child and was no match for Longclaw.
“Until now it was my only connection to home, to family…and especially to you”, she said as turned towards him. “It has always been a token to remind me of who I really am…Arya Stark, a daughter of Winterfell…sister to Robb, Sansa, Bran and Rickon and, most importantly, to you, Jon. Because no matter who they say you are, you will always be my brother”.
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