Arya glared at the gnarled root by her feet. She realized that the pretense was done. Gendry knew, and she had nothing in her pants to convince him otherwise. She could draw Needle and kill him where he stood, or else trust him. She wasn’t certain she’d be able to kill him, even if she tried; he had his own sword, and he was a lot stronger. All that was left was the truth. “Lommy and Hot Pie can’t know,” she said.
“They won’t,” he swore. “Not from me.”
“Arya.” She raised her eyes to his. “My name is Arya. Of House Stark.”
“Of House …” It took him a moment before he said, “The King’s Hand was named Stark. The one they killed for a traitor.”
“He was never a traitor. He was my father.”
Gendry’s eyes widened. “So that’s why you thought …”
She nodded. “Yoren was taking me home to Winterfell.”
“I … you’re highborn then, a … you’ll be a lady …”
Arya looked down at her ragged clothes and bare feet, all cracked and callused. She saw the dirt under her nails, the scabs on her elbows, the scratches on her hands. Septa Mordane wouldn’t even know me, I bet. Sansa might, but she’d pretend not to. “My mother’s a lady, and my sister, but I never was.”
“Yes you were. You were a lord’s daughter and you lived in a castle, didn’t you? And you … gods be good, I never …” All of a sudden Gendry seemed uncertain, almost afraid. “All that about cocks, I never should have said that. And I been pissing in front of you and everything, I … I beg your pardon, m’lady.”
“Stop that!” Arya hissed. Was he mocking her?
“I know my courtesies, m’lady,” Gendry said, stubborn as ever. “Whenever highborn girls came into the shop with their fathers, my master told me I was to bend the knee, and speak only when they spoke to me, and call them m’lady.”
“If you start calling me m’lady, even Hot Pie is going to notice. And you better keep on pissing the same way too.”
“As m’lady commands.”
Arya slammed his chest with both hands. He tripped over a stone and sat down with a thump. “What kind of lord’s daughter are you?” he said, laughing.
“This kind.” She kicked him in the side, but it only made him laugh harder.
You still won’t take me with you. You gad about while I trudge
through the centuries, day by day, hour by hour. Do you ever think or
happens after you’ve flown away? I live in the world you leave behind,
because you abandoned me to it.
“I hate them,” Arya confided, red-faced, sniffling. “The Hound and the queen and the king and Prince Joffrey. I hate all of them. Joffrey lied, it wasn’t the way he said. I hate Sansa too. She did remember, she just lied so Joffrey would like her.”
“We all lie,” her father said. “Or did you truly think I’d believe that Nymeria ran off?”
Arya blushed guiltily. “Jory promised not to tell.”
“Jory kept his word,” her father said with a smile. “There are some things I do not need to be told. Even a blind man could see that wolf would never have left you willingly.”
“We had to throw rocks,” she said miserably. “I told her to run, to go be free, that I didn’t want her anymore. There were other wolves for her to play with, we heard them howling,and Jory said the woods were full of fame, so she’d have deer to hunt. Only she kept following, and finally we had to throw rocks. I hit her twice. She whined and looked at me and I felt so ‘shamed, but it was right, wasn’t it? The queen would have killed her.”
“It was right,” her father said. “And even the lie was … not without honor.” He’d put Needle aside when he went to Arya to embrace her. Now he took the blade up again and walked to the window, where he stood for a moment, looking out across the courtyard. When he turned back, his eyes were thoughtful. He seated himself on the window seat, Needle across his lap. “Arya, sit down. I need to try and explain some things to you.”
She perched anxiously on the edge of her bed. “You are too young to be burdened with all my cares,” he told her, “but you are also a Stark of Winterfell. You know our words.”
“Winter is coming,” Arya whispered.
“The hard cruel times,” her father said. “We tasted them on the Trident, child, and when Bran fell. You were born in the long summer, sweet one, you’ve never known anything else, but now the winter is truly coming. Remember the sigil of our House, Arya.”
“The direwolf,” she said, thinking of Nymeria. She hugged her knees against her chest, suddenly afraid.
“Let me tell you something about wolves, child. When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives. Summer is the time for squabbles. In winter, we must protect one another, keep each other warm, share our strengths. So if you must hate, Arya, hate those who would truly do us harm. Septa Mordane is a good woman, and Sansa … Sansa is your sister. You may be as different as the sun and the moon, but the same blood flows through both your hearts. You need her, as she needs you … and I need both of you, gods help me.”
He sounded so tired that it made Arya sad. “I don’t hate Sansa,” she told him. “Not truly.” It was only half a lie.