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A Dornish Wolf

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When the city came into view, she felt both relief and dread in equal measure. They’d finally arrived, after weeks of travel. Daenerys yearned for a hot bath and a soft bed but as it was with most things, she didn’t get to do as she pleased. If she’d gotten a say she would still be at home. The fact that she’d been dragged along on a trip that didn’t concern her showed just how little her opinion mattered to those around her.

Sitting on the horse next to her Missandei leaned in and whispered to her friend. “This must be Sunspear.”

All her life she’d heard tales of Dorne, but this was her first time seeing it for herself. The stories didn’t do it justice. She thought back over her time on the boat, then on horseback, trying to recall the exact moment they crossed into this new, different world. Nothing she saw looked familiar not the walls, the buildings, the farms, the houses, even the people were unique to this region.

 

R-C

She woke with a jolt, gasping for the air she apparently wasn’t getting in her dream. Her normally steady hand wavered a bit as she reached to wipe the cold sweat from her skin. It had been months since she’d had a dream like that. She thought she’d gotten past them.

As quietly as she could she sat up and threw her legs over the side of the bed. She took slow, deliberate breathes in an effort to calm her racing heart. At the same time, she closed her eyes and worked to keep her mind empty. If there was ever a day where she couldn’t afford to be plagued with thoughts of the past, this was it.

She stayed like that until she felt like herself again. Only then did she risk opening her eyes. It took time to adjust to the darkness. The large room had a high ceiling, small circular windows and rows and rows of beds with barely any space between them. The minimal light came from a series of candles arranged at intervals – one candle for every three beds.

She wasn’t the first one awake. She heard whispering on her left, snoring and heavy breathing on her right. Still, she did what she could to act as though she had some privacy, as if there weren’t two-hundred and twelve other men and women sharing the room with her.

The Gods alone knew how long she sat there, doing everything in her power to avoid thinking about the dream that unsettled her. Eventually she decided that attempting to get back to sleep would be either pointless or too potentially dangerous. She couldn’t risk another dream like her last. Taking advantage of the fact that almost everyone else was occupied, she collected her things and headed off down the hall toward the bath.

R-C

Her smile was fake, and she was certain anyone who paid it enough attention could tell. That said, it never faltered, not once as she moved from one person to the next, down the never-ending line. This was what was expected of her and so she’d endure.

It was always the same. Introductions accompanied by insincere smiles and trivial, repetitive compliments. They praised her hair, her dress or her beauty as if she had control over any of the three. After years of painstaking practice, she developed a pattern that worked. She’d forgot the name as soon as she heard it, wait for the person’s lips to stop moving and then thank them. They’d engage in meaningless conversation for a few torturous seconds and then she’d get a nudge from her guard to move along. Two shuffled steps later, she’d be in front of someone else and it would begin again.

After a particularly painful thirty seconds with a distant member of Prince Doran’s family Daenerys was thrilled that Jorah urged her to move along. Her excuse for needing to go was as fake as her smile but the woman didn’t seem to notice. ‘Thank the Gods for small mercies,’ she thought privately as she prepared for the next encounter.

The laughter was so out of place that Daenerys couldn’t help but seek out the source. A man and women stood together, their eyes very clearly on the Targaryen. They didn’t look away when Daenerys spotted them, rather they smiled openly and laughed louder. In a moment of panic Daenerys feared that she’d accidentally shared her personal opinions aloud. Had she spoken what was meant for only her? Had that woman heard what Daenerys thought of her? Had everyone? Her cheeks and neck showed her embarrassment and her eyes snapped back to the woman she left, expecting to see an offended glare. She was oblivious to Daenerys’s internal turmoil, already locked in conversation with one of her father’s advisors.

Why had those people been laughing at her? Was it something she did or said? She looked down at her red dress and compared it to those worn by the locals, a little different perhaps, but not extreme enough to prompt such ridicule. She went over her entire conversation with the annoying woman in her mind looking for something that might be humorous, and she came away with nothing. She didn’t know why they were laughing, but she supposed it didn’t matter. With a determined shake of her head she squared her shoulders and prepared to forget it. There was a lot of people she needed to address.

It was Jorah who brought it to her attention first. He was behind her, as he always was, within arms reach in case of trouble. He’d been silently observing, moving when she did, until he was suddenly there, standing between Daenerys and the couple that had laughed at her. “We mean your Princess no harm,” the man said in the common tongue, albeit with a thick accent. “I am Prince Oberyn Martell and this is my woman Ellaria Sand.”

So, the man who had taunted her was a Prince? She didn’t know if that was better or worse. After ensuring her smile was firmly in place, she laid her hand on Jorah’s arm. “It’s alright Ser,” she said, stepping around him to greet the Dornish Prince directly. “It is a pleasure to meet you, I am Daenerys Targaryen.”

He smiled and unlike hers, it was natural, easy and comfortable on his face. “The Dragon Princess,” he acknowledged with a formal bow. “The pleasure is mine, I assure you.” When he reached for her hand she didn’t refuse, she was used to it. He raised it to his lips and kissed her knuckles gently. “It’s rare that someone is actually more beautiful than the stories we hear.” He released her hand and shrugged his shoulder as if he were commenting on the weather. “I suppose there is a first time for everything.”

She blushed under his compliment, though she couldn’t say why. She had lost count of the number of times she’d been called beautiful that day and yet something about his words felt real, as if he truly meant them. “That is very kind, Prince.”

“Don’t you think she’s beautiful love?” Oberyn asked the woman with him. Daenerys’s blush burned even brighter when she realized this man had been commenting on her looks in front of his wife. What should she say? Should she apologize or was it more proper to act as if nothing was wrong? She didn’t know! She’d never been in this particular situation before.

“You’re right my love,” she agreed without hesitation, “even better than the stories.”

When she was brave enough to look, she sought out Ellaria. She was an attractive woman with bronze skin, and a curtain of dark hair hanging to her shoulders. Her dress was expensive and colored to match the Martell sigil. She didn’t appear annoyed by her husband’s words, in fact if Daenerys was reading her correctly, she was amused.

Oberyn looked to Ellaria and when their eyes met, they both smiled. He stepped back and waved her forward with an exaggerated movement of his hand. “Meet the Princess, my dear,” he urged, “she’s come all the way from King’s Landing.” With her focus almost entirely on the approaching Ellaria, Daenerys nearly didn’t hear Oberyn say, “I’ll find us some wine.”

“Wine?” she repeated back idiotically, hating the way her voice sounded unsteady. She was a Princess and a Dragon.

Clutching her hand Ellaria smiled. “Of course,” she said with a roll of her dark eyes. “You’ve already endured the worst,” she said, looking suggestively toward the small portion of the receiving line that Daenerys had passed through. “The rest will be better, but you’ll definitely need wine.”

Maybe it was an after effect from weeks of travel, maybe she could blame the lack of sleep she received in recent nights, or perhaps it was just the strangeness of everything that was happening, whatever the cause, she couldn’t contain her chuckle. “That is very kind of you Lady Martell.”

“Sand,” Ellaria corrected without malice.

“I don’t understand,” Daenerys admitted weakly.

“I am a Sand, Oberyn and I are not married,” she clarified.

Daenerys was immediately repentant, trying to remove her foot from her mouth. “Oh, I’m so sorry…”

Once again Ellaria’s soft hand touched hers. “Don’t worry child, it happens all the time. It is no problem.”

She said it so convincingly that Daenerys almost believed her. Luckily for the awkward Princess Oberyn returned with wine for the women and a kiss for his lover. “Thank you, Prince.”

“Call me Oberyn,” he insisted. “Your visit will be boring enough without getting drowned in formality.”

She appreciated the sentiment. “Thank you,” she said after she finally took the offered glass. With one of his hands now free he snaked his arm around Ellaria’s waist and pulled her to his side. She went willingly.

Ellaria leaned closer to Daenerys so they could whisper together. “You looked like you needed that earlier.”

She blushed again, this time because she understood why they had been laughing. “Was it that obvious?” she wondered before she could stop herself.

The seconds she waited for an answer felt far longer than they really were. “Only to me,” Ellaria assured her kindly. “I remember thinking I could use a drink the first time I had to meet everyone too.”

Her smile became just a little bit more genuine all the sudden. She hadn’t wanted to come along, she would have been content to stay in the Red Keep, or to visit Dragonstone. It was only because her father demanded she join him, that she did. Now though, after meeting Oberyn and Ellaria, Daenerys held out a small flicker of hope that maybe, just maybe, the trip wouldn’t be as bad as she feared.

“I’m sorry Princess,” Jorah said, “but we really should move along.”

She didn’t want to. She wanted to remain with Oberyn and Ellaria and have a real conversation, but she was the King’s daughter and that meant she didn’t get to do what she wanted very often. Obligations to the Realm came first. “Of course,” she said to Jorah formally, before she addressed her new acquaintances. “Thank you for the wine, and the company.”

“We shall see you again,” Oberyn promised.

He backed away to allow her to pass, but Ellaria remained. “Good luck,” she said to Daenerys when it was just the two of them.

Before she picked up where she’d left off, she paused and looked over her shoulder at Jorah. No words were exchanged, but she told him with an expression how displeased she was to be rushed. She was the Princess, not him. It was up to her to decide who she spoke to and for how long. He got the message, ducking his head in submission and talking a half a step back. Honestly, she liked the old knight but that didn’t mean she didn’t wish she could have a tiny measure of independence. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d been allowed to do anything outside of her bedchamber without Jorah or someone like him standing in her shadow.

As far back as she could go in her memory, the guards were always there. Barristan for Rhaegar, Trant for Viserys and Jorah for her. The King’s safety was left in the hands of the Lannister, Tywin’s son. It didn’t seem strange when she was young, but as she grew, she began to hear more and more things that weren’t necessarily meant for her ears. Once she had all the information, she began trying to fit the pieces together in a way that made sense. Jorah had one of the most interesting stories. He was born and raised in the North. When Robert’s rebellion took root and Ned Stark rallied the Northmen for his friend, House Mormont joined with them. After many battles fighting next to Robert and his rebels Jorah had a change of heart. He deserted just days before the Battle of the Trident and rode for the capital to switch sides. It was chance that a young Daenerys happened to be in the throne room that day. She saw the exhausted soldier, kneeling before her father with many of his recent wounds still in need of tending. In addition to the standard pledge of loyalty, service and sword, Jorah brought stolen documents detailing the size of Robert’s army, maps showing what troops were stationed where, their strengths, their weaknesses, he gave her father everything. As part of Robert’s War Council, he was privy to how the rebels planned to defeat the larger, stronger, better equipped Targaryens. She was only a child when she listened in on Jorah’s betrayal, too young to truly understand the importance. It would be years before she realized Jorah’s true contribution to their victory. The man from Bear Island could have murdered Robert Baratheon single-handed and his efforts would have paled in comparison to the crumpled pages he carried under his dented armor.

It wasn’t an exaggeration to say the war was won because of Jorah’s shift in allegiance. Within weeks of Jorah bending the knee, Robert was dead, and her father had proclaimed the traitor a knight. Months later, he was assigned to guard the Princess, a prestigious post, given to the man as a reward for betraying his people in a way that led to thousands of deaths.

R-C

The castle and the city were abuzz with the arrival of the Targaryens. It affected almost everyone in Sunspear, except perhaps her. For her, where she was, her day was just like any other. The fact that the King and his family were nearby didn’t matter in the slightest.

Since she couldn’t sleep, she got an early start and had more than an hour of practice under her belt by the time the sun was making its appearance. She stayed in the yard training alone until slowly men and women like her, began tricking out. By the time the bulk of the others joined her, she could tell they’d eaten breakfast, some were still chewing, and others were cleaning crumbs from the corners of their mouths.

By midday, the heat was intense, deepening the tan she already had. After a morning working on her sword-skills, she moved on to a favored weapon of the Dornish, the spear. She’d been practicing for years and still had much more to do if she wanted to be as talented as some of the experts.

While not worldly, she had seen several distinct regions of Westeros in her lifetime and none of them prepared her for what was waiting in Dorne. It was special, not just the colors, smells and flavors she’d never experienced elsewhere, it went deeper than that. Their individuality was at the core of what separated the Dornishmen from everyone else and they liked it that way. It was a source of pride. Their laws, their views, their beliefs, all affected every aspect of their day to day lives, from how they spoke to one another, to how they interacted with outsiders. Although sworn to the King, there was no love lost between the nobles in Sunspear and their King’s Landing counterparts. There was deep distrust on both sides. Dorne it seemed was perfectly content to remain on the fringes of the Realm’s politics, involving itself in affairs only when absolutely necessary.

Dorne had a long list of quirks that provided constant proof that it and the people who called it home, were different from all others. This was never more evident than when discussing the subjects of sex. Generally speaking, as long as it took place between willing participants, no one really paid it much attention. Dorne’s many brothels were visited by men and women alike and offered just as many men for sale as women. Nobles were just as likely to frequent such establishments as the lowborn. In fact, it was not uncommon for a Dornish nobleman to have a male lover in addition to his wife and children. It was simply accepted as reality. Contrary to anywhere else in Westeros, the Dornish didn’t worry about the embarrassment of being caught, or the threat of potential blackmail, because everything was done out in the open. If you never hid your actions, then you didn’t need to fear them being exposed.

The opinion of bastards was equally unique. Named ‘Sand’ in this part of the world, they weren’t looked down on or mocked because of how they came to be. In fact, she knew plenty of Sands who held significant and important positions throughout the city. They were appointed on their merits, and not dismissed outright because of their parentage. Such things, she knew, would be almost unheard of in any other kingdom.

Another quirk, and one that drastically altered the course of her life was the Dornish people’s views on war. Unlike anywhere else she’d been, or heard about for that matter, the Dornish didn’t immediately disqualify half their population from military service just because they didn’t have a cock between their legs. If a woman wanted to train to fight, they were welcome. Few were willing to even consider it, fewer still could meet the rigorous requirements, but each time a group of recruits finished their training, there was usually one or two women among them. Was it fate or something else that brought her to the one place in the world where she’d be allowed to follow her dreams?

A shrill whistle commanded her focus. She continued the turn she was in the middle of and buried the tip of her spear into the center of the man-shaped target. As soon as the strike landed, she pulled the spear free and hurried into formation. All around her men panted and tried to gather themselves as they waited to be addressed by their instructor. She slipped into the second row, between two much larger men, exactly where she belonged. After almost a year of lining up in exactly this way, it was second nature.

On her first day, before their first lesson or drill, they had been lined up just like this. On that day they chose their own spots at random, but were told to remember them, because they would be expected to be in the same place each time they were called to order. There had been over three hundred of them that day. There were fewer now, some failed to reach the necessary goals and others quit. Regardless she remained in the designated spot between the sixteenth and eighteenth recruits. This was more than just where she was required to stand, it was also a way to be distinguished from the rest without anyone needing to learn her name. The abuse was near constant at the beginning. During the day it came from the instructor, trying to break her so she’d quit. “Seventeen, run until I get tired,” he’d call. “Seventeen, I know you weren’t born here but you could at least pretend, put down that sword and pick up a fucking spear.” Weeks later when she’d made vast improvements with the traditional Dornish weapon she was ridiculed for that too. “Seventeen are you trying to compensate for not having a prick?” All around her the others laughed, but she kept her head high and her back straight. His words didn’t offend her, they didn’t make her uncomfortable and they certainly didn’t create the slightest hint of doubt. She survived much worse than taunts and teasing.

When they were dismissed the abuse didn’t stop. In fact, without the instructor to oversee, it grew worse. Their barrack was one massive room with rows and rows of beds arranged in neat lines. Each bed was small, uncomfortable and accompanied by a single box to store a recruit’s personal belongings. She had to purchase a lock to ensure her few possessions weren’t stolen. It was money she didn’t have to spend, but in the end was worth a few hungry nights.

In those early days she was constantly being propositioned, sometimes politely, other times less so. She never said a word to any of the men who asked, regardless of their manners. It progressed beyond words less than two months after the start of her training. One night as she tried to get a few hours of sleep a pair of recruits joined her on her bed. One tried to hold her down, while the other tried to force her legs apart. If she hadn’t been expecting this, if she hadn’t prepared herself for it, she might have been overwhelmed. A small knife was hidden inside the case of her pillow, if only she could get it. Two sets of lips descended on her, one starting on her mouth and working down, the other on her knee and inching up. “Let my hands go, and I’ll make it feel even better,” she promised.

Why he let her go, she never learned. Maybe he was an idiot, maybe he already thought he’d won, or maybe he was too aroused to think clearly. He released his grip on her wrists and she immediately reached for the hidden weapon. While the man working on her top half was tasting her breasts for the first time, she produced the blade and jammed it into his neck. His partner, too distracted by what was in front of him to notice his dying friend, pushed harder on her thighs to widen her legs. She responded by slamming them closed as hard as she could against his ears. He groaned and staggered back, momentarily dazed. Unbothered by her nudity, she jumped off the bed and onto her opponent. He was beaten but alive. She could have subdued him, but the thought didn’t even occur to her. She slit his throat slowly, ensuring he’d feel it, wanting it to take a bit of time for him to die.

When it was over, she returned the knife to its place and laid back on her bed with her bloody hands folded behind her head. She watched just long enough to ensure both would-be rapers were dead and then she closed her eyes and tried to sleep. They had a long-distance run in the morning, and she’d need her energy.

At daybreak when the instructor came in to rouse them, he found two of his recruits dead while their murderer sat on the end of her bed, fully dressed, wide awake, and ready for the upcoming run. She watched as he squatted down and checked the wounds she left on her victims. When the instructor was done, he stood tall, gave her a firm nod and then went back to his task of waking the others. From then on, she was free to sleep alone.

R-C

With her father and brother in meetings Daenerys was left to occupy herself. She found a stone bench outside the Water Gardens and Missandei joined her. In addition to being her handmaiden, the woman from Naath had also grown to become Daenerys’s dearest, and only real friend.

Her arrival in Westeros, and her addition to Daenerys’s service hadn’t been something either girl planned. Several years ago, during a Small Council meeting her father heard a tale of the Unsullied from his spymaster. The erratic King insisted on going to see them for himself and took off the following day. According to what she’d learned from Missandei and others since their return, her father was impressed with their skills, commitment and obedience. He purchased eight thousand men from the slave master and then before leaving asked for a woman, claiming he needed a handmaiden for his daughter. Unprepared for this turn of events, Missandei his translator, was the only female slave he had on hand. Unwilling to risk angering the King and potentially upsetting their agreement the Master sold Missandei too.

She’d been stunned when her father told her he brought her a gift from his journey. It had been years since he bothered to remember her nameday. Any pleasure she felt vanished when she realized the gift he brought her was a person, purchased for a handful of gold dragons. Daenerys wanted to refuse but she couldn’t. There was no telling how her father would respond to such opposition. Would he yell or would she end up in the throne room while his pyromancer carted in a barrel of wildfire? What would happen to Missandei if she rejected the gesture? She didn’t know, but she didn’t think the King would simply dismiss her and set her free.

More than once she offered to help Missandei escape, so she could go and begin a life of her own, but each time she refused. At first, she thought Missandei was too frightened to run, but as time passed and she got to know the other woman better, she began to doubt that assessment. When pressed Missandei would say, “I’ll go when the time is right,” but never said when that would be.

Selfishly Daenerys hadn’t suggested it in a while. When she was being ignored by her father, harassed by Viserys, and overlooked by Rhaegar, Missandei was always there to comfort her. When advisors, guards and nobles made her feel like an object, Missandei made her smile. Never in her life had she done anything to be worthy of a friend like Missandei, yet she was smart enough to be grateful.

Regardless of the disgusting route she took to reach Daenerys’s service, the Princess couldn’t imagine her life without Missandei in it. She was the one person Daenerys could relax with, be honest with, share her true feelings with. That was a commodity rarer and more precious than any gem.

She was pulled from her thoughts by Missandei’s voice. “It’s tense here,” she said quietly, speaking in High Valyrian.

As casually as she could, Daenerys took a look around. It didn’t take long for her to see what Missandei did. She could feel the eyes on them. As always, Jorah was there with her, along with a pair of Targaryen guards she couldn’t identify through their helmets.

Daenerys smiled at the vast understatement. “Things between my family and the Martells are strained,” she said diplomatically.

After a quick look at their surroundings to make certain they wouldn’t be overheard, Missandei sought clarification. “What happened?”

She didn’t mind the question. The rift between the Martells and the Targaryens began years before Missandei joined them. Now it was a subject rarely discussed, so it wasn’t surprising that she didn’t understand. It wasn’t exactly her story to tell, but she felt Missandei deserved the truth. Like Daenerys, she’d been dragged along and now they’d been left behind while her father and brother negotiated with Prince Doran and his family. The tension was thick enough to cut and Missandei was owed an explanation. Daenerys knew she could keep a secret.

“Rhaegar was married years ago to one of the Martells,” Daenerys explained, avoiding the common tongue even though they were whispering. “They had children.”

It was obvious Missandei hadn’t been expecting that. Since the day they met, there had been so much Missandei needed to learn, about her new home. Any extra time was devoted to ensuring Missandei knew how to avoid the King’s volatile temper, and Viserys’s petty vindictiveness. She simply hadn’t had the chance to delve into the history between the two families, though in hindsight perhaps she should have. “Really?”

She nodded to confirm that she’d heard it correctly. “Yes,” she admitted after a brief delay. “I don’t know all the details myself, I was very young, but something happened and now the Martells are upset.”

“Is that why Rhaegar didn’t come?” Missandei asked, wisely making sense of the new information.

“It took months to negotiate this meeting,” Daenerys acknowledged. “According to what I heard, the Martells threatened to bar the gates and refuse us entry if Rhaegar made the trip.”

“Can they really refuse your father?” she wondered, lowering her voice even further. “He is there King!”

She admitted her lack of understanding with a dainty shrug of her shoulders. “I don’t know. The children are my family, but I’ve never seen them. I don’t know what happened, but can it really be worth keeping a father from his children?”

Missandei decided to try and brighten the mood with a change in the conversation. “If the meeting goes well, Viserys will wed the Martell girl and then maybe you’ll get to meet them.” Daenerys appreciated her friend’s effort. “If nothing else, your brother will need to remain in Dorne for a time, won’t he?”

The statement was so innocent that it took Daenerys a moment to comprehend the meaning hidden inside. She felt her lips curling into a smile and next to her the handmaiden did the same. That was why she liked Missandei, she found the best in any situation. If there was a bright spot to this, it was that Viserys would likely be too busy to cause trouble, at least for the time being.

R-C

Sweat soaked her clothes and her skin while each panting breath she pulled into her burning lungs felt as if it had glass in it. They had been running for hours with no water or rest. It was the final day of her training and the last chance for the instructor to weed out the weakest of them. She was determined to survive.

As the destination appeared in her blurred eyeline she noticed the instructor standing there with his arms folded over his chest. He didn’t look impressed. “Come on, Seventeen, you can do better than that. Don’t tell me those little legs can’t move any faster!”

Was it his taunt, or the sound of footsteps and heavy breathing at her back that propelled her forward? She didn’t know or care, whatever the reason she found a reserve of energy and used it to push herself past the spot where her tormentor was standing. As she passed, she could have sworn she heard him mutter, “Not bad,” but it was likely an illusion caused by exhaustion and heat sickness.

All she wanted was to sit and rest for a few minutes, but she didn’t get the chance. Immediately upon ending the run, she was directed to another instructor for a combat lesson. She limped her way over on unsteady legs.

“I hope you didn’t forget how to fight,” he said with a dark, predatory laugh. “Win and you might finish your training, lose and you’ll have wasted the last year of your life!”

Tired and thirsty or not, he suddenly had her full attention. As he spoke more recruits were finishing their runs and staggering over. Was he being serious? They’d just run for miles and now if they lost a sparring match they’d be forced to leave, on the last day? If that was true, half of them would be failing the final test.

Silently she hoped she wouldn’t be chosen to go first. Every match she got to watch from the side would allow her muscles a chance to recover and increase the probability she’d succeed. She should have known better than to think she’d be that lucky. After drawing a circle in the dirt with his spear the instructor called the first two forward. “Seventeen and Fifty-Two!”

This wasn’t accidental. Fifty-Two was one of the strongest recruits. He won almost all his bouts and scored top ranks in nearly every category. He was one of the few who beat her in the morning’s race, meaning he had more time to rest than she did. Someone wanted her to lose and they were pitting her against the best recruit to try and make it happen. They called her a foster, but that was just a pretty lie. People with power use words like ‘foster’ because it sounded better, cleaner than calling her what she was, a highborn hostage. The custom of fostering children in other houses was meant to be a barbaric deterrent. She was sent to Dorne at the age of eight, to punish her family, specifically her father for crimes he committed against the Iron Throne long before she was ever born. It had nothing to do with her, and yet she was paying the price for it everyday. Stripped of her name and title she was forced to leave her home and family behind to go to a new land to serve people who thought so little of her she could often go days without speaking. She spent years as a servant, sweeping floors, scrubbing pots, shovelling shit and emptying chamber pots. She did everything and anything they asked, because she didn’t have a choice. When she saw the army was looking for recruits, she jumped at the chance to be considered. Life as a soldier may be dramatically shorter than life as a servant but they both killed you eventually in their own way. She preferred the quick slash of sharp blade to sixty years spent cleaning up after smug pricks who never bothered to learn her name.

As she approached the circle, she could see her opponent was pleased with his draw. He thought she’d be easy to defeat and although she knew her odds were slim, she refused to go down without a fight.

A chest of weapons was open and waiting, giving each recruit the chance to pick whatever tool they wished. Not surprisingly Fifty-Two took a spear. He’d likely been training with that weapon since he was old enough to stand. She’d improved but knew better than to do battle with him spear to spear. The sword was tempting, and the hatchet too. She’d spent hours practicing with each and thought they’d suit her well. At the last moment she found a small curved dagger with a golden handle. She twirled it in her hand and pretended not to hear the snickering laughter of some of the onlookers when they noticed her selection.

“You’re going to best me with that?” Fifty-Two asked. With a grunt he stabbed his spear into the dirt and then peeled his shirt over his head, exposing his broad chest of well-defined muscles. She rolled her eyes in response. Was that meant to intimidate her? He pulled the spear from the ground and raised it over his head.

His comment got a reaction from the others but not her. She was confident in her choice. Using the spear properly required the one wielding it to take advantage of the distance it provided and keep the enemy back. With his feet planted he could thrust the spear through her chest before she and her dagger got close. On defence the spear’s best attribute was the thick shaft that could be used to block or deflect incoming strikes. She’d watched as Fifty-Two and countless others worked tirelessly to perfect this skill and she thought she could exploit it. The tactic they were taught was to put the shaft against the blades edge and then use the momentum to push your opponent one way or the other. She hoped that Fifty-Two would have trouble getting direct contact with the dagger’s small surface. If he missed just once, he’d leave himself vulnerable and she could capitalize on his error.

The match started without fanfare and slowly they began circling one another. She watched him closely, on guard in case that long spear came at her. She studied his steps, noticing he seemed steadier on his legs than she felt on hers. Still, she was determined to give this her all. If she failed, she’d be going back to the life of a servant. That was more than enough reason to push past her exhaustion and pain.

After three passes neither one had struck but that was about to change, she could feel it. Just as Fifty-Two pulled back his spear, her grip on the dagger tightened in anticipation. Before the blow came however the instructor raised his hands. “Stop!” he demanded.

Both of the recruits did without delay. The spear fell to the ground at Fifty-Two’s feet and she turned her dagger over, so the blade wasn’t pointed at him any longer.

“Drop the blade,” he ordered. She did and then he bent down to retrieve it. Without explaining what was happening he walked to the spear and took it. Before he turned away from Fifty-Two, the instructor handed him the dagger she’d chosen. He brought the spear back to her. “You don’t always get to choose the weapon you’re best suited for,” he said, speaking to all of them now. “Sometimes you must fight with any weapon available. For your final test, you must fight your opponent, using his or her selection.”

“I can’t use this!” Fifty-Two protested, looking at the small blade with contempt.

“Why not?” the instructor challenged. “She was going to.”

She picked up the spear and threw it back and forth from one hand to the other, testing its weight. She didn’t like the idea of being forced to use a spear, but she acknowledged she’d rather be in her place right now, than his. Her opponent looked furious and she could tell he was going to rush her with all the finesse of a charging bull. She doubted he saw the same benefits in the dagger that she did, and suspected he’d be too aggressive to wait for the right moment. That said, she’d need to be careful.

When the fight started Fifty-Two didn’t disappoint. He rushed straight at her, holding the dagger like an extension of his large fist. She used the spear to keep him back, twisting it and then giving a thrust to force him to retreat.

He was quick, but angry and his anger clouded his mind. He took wide sweeping arcs with the dagger, trying to use brute force to break her guard. She kept moving, stopping only when necessary to push the spear in his direction.

Years of mastering the spear had taught Fifty-Two how to defend against it as well, and he did that well. Again, and again they traded attempts, causing the match to drag on longer than anyone thought it would. No one looked away, the size of the crowd watching increasing as more recruits finished the run.

She knocked him off balance several times, but he was always quick to recover. When she became too predictable and attempted the same move a second time he was waiting, his dagger lined up with her throat. Jerking back wildly she pushed the spear up toward the underside of his wrist. He saw it coming and leapt back too, providing her with the necessary space to compose herself. She expected he'd be ready for her when she moved forward but he wasn’t. For the first time, he was showing signs of fatigue. Sensing an opening she pointed the spear’s tip at him and approached hard and fast. She aimed for the upper part of his chest, and he dodged it, as she expected he would. She moved right, and pushed him left, trusting him to do exactly as they’d been taught. He did. With another quick attempt, she had him shifting his body weight from one foot to the other. As he was doing that, she twirled the spear in a circle and brought the shaft down hard against the side of his knee. He cursed as he staggered but she barely heard it. She continued rotating the spear and used it to knock his legs out from under him. When the move was finished, Fifty-Two was flat on his back and the tip of her spear was pressed against his throat.

Beneath her the beaten man refused to blink. She knew what he was doing, he was waiting for an opening so he could get back into the fight. She wasn’t going to give him one. If he raised that dagger at her again, she’d push the spear into his neck, and he’d be dead before his blood wet the sand.

The instructor likely saw the same thing she did. “It’s done,” he declared loudly, looking pointedly toward the man who’d lost. To the victor he said, “Return your spear to the chest and take your leave. Return to the barracks and prepare for tonight’s celebration. The others will join you if they too can pass the test.”

She couldn’t believe it. It was a long walk back to the city, but she didn’t mind. Her legs were screaming for a rest but there would be plenty of time for that later. She’d done it. She’d gone from being a foster to becoming a soldier for Dorne. She couldn’t control the smile that crossed her face, she didn’t even try.

R-C

She’d just climbed out of the bath when she heard the footsteps. She expected to see another recruit, the next winner of the afternoon, but it wasn’t a recruit or any soldier for that matter, it was a member of the ruling family. Prince Oberyn Martell stood before her in his fancy clothes, with a sword on his hip. He had his hands behind his back and a smirk on his face. In contrast she was naked, covered in only a towel, and still recovering from the shock of seeing him there. “I hear you did well,” he said.

She bowed her head. “Thank you, Prince.”

He laughed and she felt herself smiling in return. “None of that. We are alone here, no stuffy nobles or arrogant asses, just friends. How are you?”

She smiled at him more sincerely. Her trip to Dorne wasn’t her choice. She went because she had to, not because she wanted to. As such, she didn’t expect that she’d grow to like it or any of the people she met, but without her knowledge or permission that was exactly what happened, at least with Oberyn. If she was going to choose her first friend in years, she likely wouldn’t have picked a son from Dorne’s most prominent family. More shocking than even that, was the realization that under all that power, the titles, the money and the fame, he was a good man.

They met when in her duties as a servant she was tasked with bringing items to him and his lover Ellaria. Over time they got to know a little bit about one another. Eventually he’d ask for her by name when he needed something and once the job was done, they’d spend time together as equals. Their friendship was real, and it was one of the few good things in her life.

It was Oberyn who made it possible for her to serve in a way that didn’t involve chamber pots. He practiced with her, early in the morning or late at night to help her prepare and when Doran refused to allow his foster to join the army, Oberyn spoke up for her and convinced his brother to allow it. It was because of him and him alone, that she’d have a life that was closer to the one she wanted. “I’m finished,” she confessed.

“The last test is difficult,” he remembered. “I almost lost.” She thought he was thinking back to his own training and perhaps he was but slowly his eyes returned to the present and he reviewed the empty room. “How many fought before you?”

She didn’t understand his question, or its significance, but she answered anyway. “None,” she said. “When the run was over, I barely had a chance to catch my breath before I needed to fight.”

“And you won?” he confirmed.

“Yes.”

He was grinning when he spoke. “You don’t know what that means do you?”

She felt as if she was being led into a trap. “It means I’m finished training?” she replied. The uncertainty he was making her feel had it coming out more like a question and not the firm statement she intended.

“Yes, but it also means you were the best in the group.” In any other situation his smug superiority would have annoyed her, but she couldn’t worry about that now.

She was speechless. Surely that couldn’t be possible. She could think of a half dozen men who were better at almost every skill than she was. Fifty-Two was one of them, but he wasn’t alone. “That can’t be…”

“In the final match you’re pitted against the recruit who is closest to your skill level. As soon as the first pair are finished running, the fighting begins while the others catch up.”

“He was faster than me,” she recalled, “and better at everything. I must have been second,” she realized, speaking more to herself than him.

“Not anymore,” Oberyn chimed in from the background. “Now he’s nothing and you are a soldier of Dorne.”

“Thank you,” she said, knowing the words weren’t enough to convey her feelings. “I know they wouldn’t have let me train if you hadn’t fought for me.”

“I just told them the truth,” he explained. “I said you’d be an asset, and I was right, as I usually am.”

They laughed together for a moment. “Don’t let Ellaria hear you say such a thing.”

His posture changed at the mention of his woman. “She knows it’s true, even if she won’t admit it.”

She chuckled darkly and layered her words with obvious sarcasm. “Yes, I’m sure that’s exactly what she would say if she were here.”

For the first time since he entered, he moved his hands from behind his back and revealed what he’d been holding all along. “I was coming to leave this on your bed, but my meeting ran long, and I was delayed.” He held out the gift. “Since you’re here, I can give it to you personally.”

Her hands shook as she reached for the armor. She was grateful Oberyn didn’t comment on it. “This is for me?”

He said nothing until she took the impressive armor in her hands. It was light, but strong. It had been many years since she owned something so finely made. She wasn’t carrying it for someone else now, this was hers. Unshed tears burned the back of her eyes. “The instructor usually passes out the armor once the final match is complete but why wait?” he asked with a cocky smirk. “He can give you your boots and your helmet.”

“You didn’t have to…” she started but she was quickly cut off by the Prince.

“Whoever you were before, whatever you had to do to survive, forget it. Today, and every day forward you are a daughter of Dorne, a soldier, a warrior, a hero. I’m proud of you.”

She threw the armor carelessly onto the nearest bed and leapt into Oberyn’s arms, hugging him tight. She’d grown up thinking she had no future and now everything was changing. She’d never have to worry about emptying a noble’s chamber pot or scrubbing a stain from his clothes again. She was on a different path now and she owed that to Oberyn. “Thank you so much,” she said, hoping he could tell she meant it. “Thank you.”

R-C

A servant escorted Missandei, Daenerys and Jorah toward the hall where they would be dining. Dozens of people were there already, clustered in small groups discussing Gods knew what. Passing a group of middle-aged soldiers, or commanders she heard one say. “There was some real talent in the last batch. Some of the finest we’ve produced since Prince Oberyn himself.”

As she did with all matters of warfare she turned to Jorah for an opinion. “Did the Dornish just finish training new men Ser?”

“I believe so Princess,” he said with a kind smile. “It’s a common practice in every kingdom. King’s Landing would be training now had your father not chosen to bring the Unsullied from Astapor.”

She ignored the majority of what Jorah said, dismissing it as unimportant. What she was much more interested in was the name she heard one of the soldiers say. “I met Prince Martell earlier, do you recall?”

“Yes, Princess.”

“That man suggested he was a fine fighter, is that true?” she asked, while her eyes searched for the noble in question. They’d been required to cut their conversation short, but he was the only Dornishman who seemed genuinely pleased to see her, and as such she wasn’t opposed to another opportunity to talk with him.

“One of the best,” Jorah admitted, “they call him the Red Viper of Dorne.”

While she conversed with Jorah about Oberyn the servant led them to the head table. Her brother and father were already there, along with Tywin Lannister, Jaime Lannister and a handful of her father’s most essential advisors. She didn’t know what they did, or how vital their assistance. All that was asked of her was that she remember their names and smile at the appropriate times.

Opposite them were the Martells, including Oberyn and Ellaria. Doran and Tristan were there, along with many more she didn’t know. She assumed one was to be her brother’s wife, though she couldn’t say which.

In the heat of a negotiation or discussion of some kind neither side addressed her as she took her seat. Missandei and Jorah stepped back once she was settled, retiring to a respectable distance. They were close enough to aid or protect their charge if necessary, without being in the way. She wanted to call them back and ask someone to find chairs for them, but she couldn’t. Apparently, the fact that they were her friends as well as being her guard and her handmaiden mattered little. Making things worse was the fact that on this trip to strengthen the relationship between the Targaryens and the Martells, Daenerys was little more than a prop. She didn’t have the authority to make a request of anyone and if she tried it would likely infuriate both sides. The Dornish wouldn’t approve of her demands and her family would be enraged that she interrupted their important business with her trivial concerns. It made her sick that Missandei’s welfare wasn’t classified as important by her own father.

Relaxing into her padded chair she took a moment to look at the faces of both the King and his son, neither looked pleased. Aerys seemed to his daughter’s trained eye to be annoyed, Viserys on the other hand was angry. Having spent years suffering the brunt of Viserys’s outbursts, she learned how to spot the warning signs and she could see all of them now. The vein in his neck was throbbing as he clenched his jaw to keep from saying something. His hands were under the table, likely in his lap, but she guessed if she could see through the wood, she’d find them balled into fists. Most telling however was the arrogant smirk, or more accurately the lack of it. From experience she knew that Viserys wasn’t the type to keep his opinions to himself. He was entitled and outspoken, a poor combination for anyone, let alone a Prince. He demanded rather than asked and was used to getting his way. She leaned forward and listened a little closer to the marriage negotiation.

“… that seems agreeable, Prince Doran,” Tywin was saying on behalf of the King. “I think they make a fine pair.”

Her eyes flashed to Viserys to witness his response. Regardless of the Hand’s contention, she could see her brother disagreed vehemently. What was more surprising was that he didn’t say so out loud. It made her wonder what she missed.

She listened while the logistics were hammered out and although Viserys’s face heated with obvious rage more than once he said nothing. Daenerys kept waiting for an outburst that didn’t come. While she tried to understand what could have happened to silence her brother, she could come up with only one potential explanation, and it fit all the facts.

The meeting was little more than a formality. Emissaries and representatives from both families had been working out the details for months. This was supposed to be just a finalization of all their hard work. If Viserys was unhappy with the bride chosen for him, he wouldn’t hesitate to say so, in front of the Dornish, their father, and his future wife. If he’d done so frequently enough to spark their father’s ire, it was possible he reprimanded Viserys for his behavior. If he did so vigorously enough it might have forced the middle child to mind his manners.

Logical as the theory was, her father wasn’t known for being a concerned parent. Usually she and Viserys were free to do whatever they wanted, as long as they stayed out of Aerys’s way. There were more restrictions on Rhaegar since he was the heir and actively working to help their father rule. When her father locked himself in his room whispering about fires, betrayals and dragons, the business of the Realm was left to Rhaegar and Tywin. Sometimes the King’s isolation lasted hours, sometimes days, it was impossible to predict.

Having missed a large portion of what was being proposed, she rejoined the conversation in the middle. “… that is non-negotiable,” Doran was saying. “We have customs, and they require the outsider to live in the city until the wedding. It will give the Young Dragon a chance to experience the life his wife will be giving up when she returns with him to King’s Landing.”

Finally, Viserys found his voice. “I am not an outsider,” he protested with acid in his words. “I am a son of the King. Dorne is one of my father’s kingdoms. I already know it.”

Doran was diplomatic and quick to mediate. “Of course, Prince Viserys, I didn’t mean to imply otherwise, it is merely a tradition. The custom exists so that before you and your wife leave to begin your new life together, you may get a brief taste of what her life was like for her here.”

Privately Daenerys thought the custom was rather sweet. Men rarely considered how difficult it was for their wives to uproot their lives and move to a new city, a new kingdom, often to marry a man she barely knew. This practice gave the future husband, Viserys in this case, the chance to see the world his wife would be leaving behind. If only he was smart enough to appreciate the experience. She knew better than to say that though. Viserys lacked the ability to empathize with anyone. He didn’t care how difficult it would be for his potential wife to leave her home and family. All he cared about was the inconvenience to him if he was required to stay.

Tywin was putting up a fight on this. He laid out a series of articulate, reasonable arguments explaining how important Viserys was to the continued success of King’s Landing. It was all shit, of course, Viserys was a spoiled ass who spent his days tormenting the staff, belittling her and fighting with Rhaegar. He whined like a child every time he didn’t get his way, but to hear Tywin tell it, the Capital would crumble without Viserys’s valiant and wide-ranging contributions. Aware that someone might be watching her she resisted the urge to roll her eyes and scoff.

The decision came from someone Daenerys suspected wasn’t even paying attention. The King undercut all of his Hand’s arguments with a single sentence. “He should stay.”

Suddenly all eyes were on Aerys and none found him faster than Viserys who was sitting right beside him. “Father, I have business at the Red Keep…”

“It can wait,” he replied dismissively. Daenerys was surprised and she wasn’t the only one. Apparently, her father was having a good day. He was lucid enough to reprimand Viserys when he needed it, made a logical ruling to settle a real dispute and hadn’t started mumbling about the voices only he could hear.

In typical Lannister fashion Tywin wasn’t willing to let the Dornish have a win, without getting some form of compensation. “Your Grace Viserys has many obligations back in King’s Landing. His duties as a commander…”

This time Daenerys’s eyes may have rolled a little. Viserys didn’t have a role within their father’s army, unless you counted ordering anyone in a uniform around. He’d been trained to fight but felt it beneath him to actually do the job. Tywin was a skilled negotiator and a better liar, and those two traits together had Doran offering a concession. “It is only temporary of course. After the wedding both Viserys and his wife will return to the Capital permanently. In the meantime, perhaps a compromise is in order.”

“What compromise?” Tywin asked. Daenerys noted he didn’t sound too eager, almost like he was forcing himself to wait a respectable amount of time before accepting.

“A new class of recruits just finished their training earlier today,” Doran said. “I’ll let you have your pick of a soldier. He can assist with things in King’s Landing until Viserys returns.”

It was a fair offer, one Daenerys would have accepted but Tywin wanted more. “Three men!” he countered.

“Two.”

“Agreed.”

Tywin kept pushing, trying to milk their arrangement as much as he could. “I want the best two.”

Based on his facial expression alone, Daenerys expected Prince Doran would have accepted the terms. Before he could Oberyn spoke up in opposition to Tywin’s proposal. “Brother,” he said, “don’t do this. I’ve seen the recruits. I know the recruits you are giving away. They are the future commanders that will lead all of Dorne’s armies.”

Daenerys was riveted by the drama playing out in front of her. It was strange seeing the jovial, funny, smiling man she met on the receiving line suddenly so serious. It made her wonder just who had finished first and second in the training? Was it one of Oberyn’s sons? Was that why he didn’t want his brother to do this?

“It’s only until the wedding,” Doran reminded him. “The men will return and be available to lead Dorne’s troops just as you want. Only now they’ll have more experience when they do. This is good for all of us.”

Oberyn appeared to have more to say on the subject, at least until Ellaria leaned over and whispered into his ear. She couldn’t hear what was being said but it calmed him considerably. “Very well,” he said turning in his chair to face Ellaria more directly.

“I’ll send for the recruits as soon as we’ve finished eating,” Doran said, earning a nod of agreement from the Hand of the King.

R-C

The newest soldiers and guards in Dorne’s formidable army were dressed in their armor, preparing to celebrate their success. The final test had cut the number of recruits by half, trimming many from the final tally.

After months of only training, everyone was eager to go out. Half the group wanted to start with drinking and a decent meal, the others wanted to hurry straight for the nearest brothel. Decisions had yet to be made, and the girl who finished first was sitting on her bed with her helmet in her lap, adjusting her breastplate as she listened to the spirited debate half-heartedly.

Suddenly the yelling stopped and those nearest the door stood at attention. Knowing only one cause for such a response she jumped off the bed and onto her feet, setting the helmet in place as she did.

A brave man spoke for the room. “Prince Oberyn, how can we be of service?”

“Congratulations one and all!” he yelled loudly, clearly wanting to ensure everyone heard. “I remember my training and I remember how relieved I was when it was finally over. Go and have a good time tonight.” To emphasize his point, he retrieved a pouch of gold from his belt and set It into the man’s hand. “The first drink is on me.”

“That… that is very kind. Thank you, Pr…”

All around her, the soldiers were looking at one another, questioning their luck. Was it possible that a Prince had shown up to give them gold? It didn’t seem likely, but she knew Oberyn Martell better than they did, and she knew that was just the sort of thing he’d do.

Oberyn didn’t let him finish. “Unfortunately,” he said, “not all of you will be able to celebrate quite yet.” He walked down the aisle between two beds and stopped when his eyes found her. “The two recruits who finished their final test first need to come with me. Prince Doran requests your presence.”

His smile didn’t falter but his disapproval was in his dark eyes. He didn’t want to do this. She stepped forward, again adjusting the armor she was still getting used to. She didn’t know who fought second, all she knew was who was the second to arrive back. Ninety-Four, met her and Oberyn outside. He was a beast of a man with a bald head and thick black beard. He easily weighed more than twice what the girl did and had an extra foot in length. He was imposing and skilled, it wasn’t hard to believe that he finished right after her.

They were more than halfway between the barracks and the castle when Oberyn slowed his steps and fell back to walk beside her. “When we get there,” he said quietly, barely moving his lips, “don’t speak unless necessary, keep your helmet on and under no circumstances are you to tell anyone your name.”

In the years they’d known one another she couldn’t recall seeing Oberyn uneasy or nervous, not once. It made her wary about where she was going and why. “They know who I am already,” she pointed out. It was true, she’d been presented to Prince Doran when she arrived at Sunspear, she served in and out of the castle at his instruction and it was Doran who allowed her to leave for training. Even with the helmet covering part of her face she didn’t think it would take him long to realize who she was.

“It’s not my brother I’m worried about,” Oberyn said seriously, before he once again took the lead.

R-C

Her stomach dropped when they reached their destination and she saw the Mad King waiting. He was beside Prince Doran with two of his children. The male seemed annoyed and his sister bored. She took a small measure of comfort from the fact that Rhaegar wasn’t there. It wasn’t much of a relief, but it was something. It had been a long time since she’d seen any of the Targaryens, but they didn’t look all that different, older of course, in each case, but still very much the way she remembered them, in her memories and her nightmares.

She stood at attention, next to Ninety-Four and waited to be noticed. She purposely avoided meeting Oberyn’s eye, not wanting to know what she’d find there.

“These are them?” Aerys asked, holding out one of his wrinkled hands in the direction of the young soldiers.

“Yes, your Grace,” Doran said. “These are the two recruits who performed best in their training.”

Aerys got up from his seat and approached them. Her heart was pounding in her chest. The Mad King was standing in front of her. Everything that had happened, not only to her, but her entire family was his fault. Suddenly the sword on her hip felt heavier than usual, as if it was reminding her it was there. She could kill him. She could end his reign with one swing of her sword. She’d be murdered instantly, but that felt like a small price to pay for ridding the world of the Targaryen.

“They’re not good enough,” the Prince decided. “End this nonsense father. Call off the marriage and let us return home.”

She didn’t know what marriage was being arranged, nor did she care. The sooner the Dragons went back to King’s Landing the better it would be for all of them.

“My boy may be right,” Aerys noted. “This one, I understand,” he said, holding out a hand in front of Ninety-Four, “but this one,” he said gesturing to her, “did you forget to feed her?”

The annoyed son laughed at his insane father’s joke, but she noticed from the corner of her eye that the Princess looked almost sad. Oberyn rushed to her defense. “Actually, your Grace, Seventeen finished first, over those who were bigger, stronger and more experienced.”

“Seventeen?” the King repeated, seeking clarification.

“We number the recruits, your Grace,” Doran explained. “It’s easier than remembering their names.”

He laughed, as if something about reducing people to numbers amused him. It was the same laugh she heard in the Red Keep’s throne room as the King sentenced a terrified girl to a life in Dorne. This time it was louder, without the cries of her family members to dull the sound. “Clever.” There was an awkward silence in the room for a time, before Aerys spoke to her directly. “Are you truly better than him?”

For the second time since she saw him, she considered killing him, consequences be damned. Her hand twitched as it itched to draw the steel. The King kept looking at her expectantly, awaiting an answer. Remembering Oberyn’s instructions she replied with a nod. The Targaryen watched her for a moment, staring straight at her partially covered face. She wondered if he could see past the steel of her newly acquired helmet, right through to the truth of who she really was. The helmet provided cover, hiding her hair, and stretching down past her ears on both sides. The center of her face was obscured by a protective strip down the middle that fell between her eyes and stopped at her nose.

“Prove it,” he demanded, “if you can.”

She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. He wanted her to fight, for him? That was never going to happen. She wouldn’t risk her neck to entertain the man who destroyed her family. This time when her hand twitched, she shifted it closer to her weapon. She could kill him before any of his lazy guards could interfere. She didn’t doubt that -- her concerns were about what came after. Not for her, she’d be killed, and if she wasn’t, she’d be tortured for weeks before her execution, she was okay with that. Her worry was for the remaining members of her family. What would become of them if she murdered the King? Would they be punished for her crimes? She didn’t want to be the reason any of them suffered, they’d already been through too much. She didn’t even know how many of her siblings were still alive, she could be the only one left, but if she wasn’t, she didn’t want to condemn the others. She’d get her revenge, but not like this, not today.

With little in the way of choices she drew her sword and backed away from Ninety-Four. He didn’t look any more pleased by this turn of events than she was but had just as few options.

He took the first swing and as she danced away, she noticed the armor that she wore made her a touch slower than she was used to. She shifted her sword from one hand to the other and shook out her legs one at a time, getting a feel for the boots.

Ninety-Four came at her again and again she dodged his strike. This time as she slipped around him, she took a swipe at his outer leg. He got his blade down in time and used his superior size to push her away.

While preparing for the next attack her eyes landed on the trio of Targaryens. The smug Prince was sitting on the edge of his seat, leaning forward, eagerly anticipating the violence. The King had returned to his chair and was watching, albeit with less enthusiasm than his son. His daughter sat at his side, looking horrified. The soldier didn’t need to know the Dragon Princess to see she was bothered by the idea of men fighting for sport. She said nothing but held her breath each time their swords came together. At least one of the royals didn’t want to be there. She could relate.

Each time she tried to seize the victory she failed. She couldn’t put him on his back or even knock him off balance because Ninety-Four was too heavy. In contrast each time he swung at her, she felt like she was being hit by the trunk of a tree. If she was going to have any hope of winning, she would need to use his size against him. She’d need to capitalize on the fact that she was quicker and more accurate than he was. It also occurred to that this would not a be a match decided by one decisive blow. If she was going to win, she’d need to take him apart one piece at a time.

They danced together for the entertainment of people who didn’t care if they lived or died. Around and around they tested one another without either of them making progress and then finally she saw her opening. It was almost identical to her first attempt at his outside leg. She slipped past him as his momentum carried him in the opposite direction and she took a swipe. The difference this time was that she made contact. She cut into his leg, just above the knee. It wasn’t deep but drops of blood spilled onto the stones beneath them. The injury staggered him just as Ninety-Four twisted to try and face her. She hurried away hoping to force him to limp after her.

They continued on this way and she verified firsthand that Ninety-Four earned every bit of the high rank he received. He was second among the recruits for a reason. Wounded as he was, he kept coming. She managed to give him a matching cut on his other leg, and another on his upper arm but they weren’t all successes. One of Ninety-Four’s slashes struck her breastplate and got through. She could feel the slow, steady stream of blood warming her skin. Another time, when she strayed too close to her opponent, he delivered a punch to her face, denting the divider between her eyes and pushing the steel back against the bridge of her nose with enough power to break the skin.

The end came when her sword cut into Ninety-Four’s right leg for the second time. This cut was deeper, and she immediately regretted how hard she swung. With a grunt of pain, he dropped to a knee and she pounced, eager to end this senseless spectacle. She brought her sword down directly on the bracer he wore. She only struck hard enough to make him release the weapon, not hard enough to create another injury. The sound of the sword clanking off the floor was echoed by the Mad King’s applause. “You did it,” he said in a sick gleeful tone. “Kill him, you’ve proven your worth.”

There were several gasps, one she was sure came from her, and another from the man she’d beaten. The third, if she had to guess was from the Princess who wanted to be somewhere else.

All at once many voices tried to quell their King’s murderous impulses. “Your Grace,” Doran said with a sliver of authority, “that is not what we agreed.”

“Agreements change,” Aerys replied coldly. “He’s too injured to be of any use to me now anyway.”

“He’ll recover,” Oberyn pointed out accurately. She couldn’t help looking down into Ninety-Four’s eyes. He was a brave warrior and a good soldier, but she could see the fear there. She understood it, she too had once been at the Mad King’s mercy, and it was a horrible place to find one’s self.

“Your Grace,” Tywin Lannister tried, approaching the King’s seat from where he’d been standing, “although he lost the boy is still of value.”

“Kill him,” the King said again.

Oberyn had moved closer to her but was still several feet away. She asked him wordlessly for advice and he gave her a subtle nod, approving of what she’d have to do. His smile was gone, replaced by a grim look of resignation. She didn’t even consider it. She wouldn’t kill for him. If that meant she had to forfeit her life, then so be it. She gave Oberyn a sad smile and then turned her gaze on Ninety-Four who was still kneeling in front of her. He too got a smile from the woman who defeated him. Lastly her grey eyes landed on the Targaryens. If this was going to be her final act of defiance, she wasn’t going to die cowering.

The Princess looked ill as she waited to see what would happen next, her brother was perversely pleased and between them their father was impatient, waiting for his order to be carried out. “No!” she said flatly.

There were more gasps now, from all quarters of the room. Several of the Targaryen guards approached from various angles. She paid them no mind. “What did you say!?” the King shouted with fire burning in his eyes. Oberyn took another step toward her, as if he was preparing to intervene. She shook her head at him, not wanting him to join her in death. This was her choice and she was at peace with it.

Her mouth was dry, and it took an extra second to wet it. The entire time she was trying to coax her tongue to work she was expecting a sword to fall. Several of the Kingsguard were standing around her now, anticipating the kill order. “This man is a solider of Dorne,” she said as steadily as she could manage. “He is my brother and I won’t kill him for coming in second.”

All around her mouths hung open, stunned by her audacity. She used all her energy to remain still, to keep her back straight and her eyes on the tyrant in front of her. “Who are you?”

That question, so simple and so complicated brought Prince Oberyn another step closer. She remembered his advice and understood now what she didn’t then. If the King was willing to kill Ninety-Four for losing a sparing match, he wouldn’t hesitate to have her executed for being her father’s daughter. She reached up and removed her damaged helmet, revealing her bloody face for the first time. “I am a Sand,” she said, lying without guilt. “Arya Sand.”

R-C

Daenerys didn’t know what she was expecting when the winner of the pointless game addressed her father, but it wasn’t this. No one who valued life defied the Targaryen King. Friend or foe, loyal or traitorous he was as likely to burn you as speak to you and everyone knew it, including her. They called him the Mad King behind his back, when they thought she couldn’t hear. It was a title that used to upset her. As a girl she’d been offended on her father’s behalf but now she was older and wiser. She sat in a chair near the throne and watched as her father ordered men killed by the dozen for one perceived slight or another. She heard their pleas before they died, she heard their screams as they died, and she heard her father’s laughter after it was over. Each sound was haunting in its own way and all three together plagued her.

She no longer got angry when she heard the staff discussing who was burned or why. in those moments all the Princess felt was shame. It was shame she was feeling when her father ordered one soldier to kill his partner for no reason, at least it had been until the King was refused, then she was overcome by surprise.

Her emotions only multiplied when the solider removed his helmet. It was only then that Daenerys realized it wasn’t a man she’d been watching at all. Recruit Seventeen, the person they just watched defeat a man who was both bigger and stronger, was a woman. Daenerys studied her with genuine curiosity. Her eyes were dark and intense, and her face was angular and long but still distinctly feminine. Not even the blood from her damaged nose could take away from her unique attractiveness. Now it made sense, why she was so much smaller than the man she’d beaten. Her eyes slid down the woman’s body. Her armor did a good job of hiding her curves, even when Daenerys knew what to look for. Still, she couldn’t believe she’d missed such a critical detail.

Viserys arrived at the obvious conclusion several seconds behind his younger sister. “It’s a woman,” he stated idiotically. “She can’t possibly serve you while I’m away father, end this,” he implored.

Aerys ignored his son and turned to the leader of Dorne. “Explain this!” he demanded.

Prince Doran was diplomatic but firm. “In Dorne we do not forbid women from fighting.”

“It’s not their place,” Viserys added. “They do not…”

“You let them fight?” Aerys asked Doran.

“Why not?” Oberyn inquired. “If a woman is holding the sword that cuts you, the wound still bleeds.” As proof he tilts his chin toward the kneeling man, who was indeed bleeding onto the floor.

“She can not replace me!” Viserys roared. “I am a Prince, a Dragon, she’s a bastard.”

Daenerys was embarrassed. Her brother was acting like a child. She watched the woman in question carefully and noticed she didn’t flinch under her brother’s fury. She didn’t even look at him. If she didn’t know how difficult it was to ignore Viserys she might think the soldier hadn’t heard him at all. Secretly it made Daenerys like this stranger more.

Whether his motivation came from a desire to prove he was more important than a woman or if he was just determined to oppose this wedding at every turn, she didn’t know. Either way she had never hated her brother’s exaggerated sense of self worth more than she did right then. She also felt empathy for the woman who unknowingly got caught in the center of it.

“Viserys may be right,” the King started. “You can train all the women you like, if you want, but I’m not sure this one can fulfill the duties of my son while he is preparing for the wedding.”

Doran bowed his head in submission to Aerys’s point and Viserys looked entirely too proud of himself. She couldn’t say why she did it; maybe she was still impressed that someone had the courage to stand up to her father, maybe it was a desire to see that smirk wiped off her brother’s face, maybe it was the fact that she’d been completely ignored all day by almost everyone, or maybe she was seizing on the opportunity to show Viserys, her father and every other arrogant man in the room that women were their equals. Whatever the reason she lifted up out of her chair and spoke for the first time since dinner. She cleared her throat and then summoned all the confidence she could. “She can serve me!”

Everyone was watching her with a wide variety of expressions. “What’s this now Daenerys?”

She tried to give her father her most innocent smile. “She can serve as my guard,” she said to justify her interruption. “I don’t mind that she’s a woman, and she’s clearly capable.”

“Mormont is your guard,” Viserys pointed out. He looked furious, glaring at her with his jaw held so tightly she wondered how it didn’t crack. His reaction was worth whatever punishment he’d devise later. She chose to relish the moment and enjoyed putting him in his place for once.

“Jorah is one of our most experienced guards,” Daenerys reminded them. “He is surely capable of filling in for Viserys until the wedding.” She turned away from her brother and found the woman who was being overlooked by almost everyone. She was watching the Princess with an unreadable expression. Her mouth said nothing, but her eyes were a stormy mix of confusion, gratitude and frustration. “In the meantime, Arya can serve as my personal guard.”

Jorah moved until he was at Daenerys’s side. “Princess, please…”

She placed her small hands on his larger, rougher one. “It’s only for a little while.”

It was obvious he didn’t agree with her suggestion but there were too many people nearby for him to openly question her. In the end, his loyalty to her won out. “As you wish.”

Like all aspects of her life, the final say didn’t belong to her. It was her idea, but the choice was her father’s. If he didn’t approve, it wouldn’t happen. Arya may have been willing to do the exact opposite of what he wanted, but Daenerys wasn’t that strong.

“Pack your things,” the King announced, “you’ll be joining us when we depart for King’s Landing.”

Daenerys quietly thanked her father before she went to meet her newly appointed protector. Instead of gratitude for her position, or relief that she’d been spared, Arya Sand appeared furious and for reasons the Princess couldn’t understand, that rage was aimed at her.

R-C

Chapter Text

She paced the room’s length like a caged animal. “Can you believe her!” she raged. Her hands flew up in a physical manifestation of her frustrations. “Looking at me, like I should fucking thank her for taking my life from me, again!”

How was it possible for things to change so drastically and so suddenly? Her final test and the pride at completing it felt separated by a century from what she was experiencing now. History was repeating itself. First, she’d been forced to leave Winterfell for Dorne and now, as soon as she accomplished something and is happy, that was snatched away from her too. She’d need to give up everything again, as if once wasn’t enough. Her pains and sacrifices weren’t even for something noble. She wasn’t suffering hardship to become a Maester, a Septa or a member of the Night’s Watch, she was doing it to please the man who destroyed her once already. As she walked, her shaking hand skimmed the grip of her sword and she briefly considered drawing the blade and falling on it. Was that the only choice she truly had, to live as a slave or die on her own terms?

“You need to remain calm,” Oberyn cautioned.

“Calm?!” she screamed. “Are you fucking serious?! They’d have me guard the Princess, walking her from appointment to appointment, standing outside her bedchamber and listening to her whine.”

“Lower your voice!” the Dornishman insisted, “the Targaryens do not realize who you are.”

His words reminded her of another problem. The King didn’t realize who she was, but how long could that be relied on to last? Once he discovered the truth, she’d be summoned to the throne room where an accusation and a barrel of wildfire would be waiting. “Yet,” she amended. “It was one thing to be Arya Sand when he was staying for a few days or weeks, but in King’s Landing it will be harder to maintain the lie.”

He stepped up and grabbed her shoulders roughly, finally putting an end to her pacing. “They mustn’t ever learn who you are.”

There was genuine concern in his eyes, and in the way he implored her to take this threat seriously. It softened her fury to see there was one person in the world who would notice if she was gone. “I can’t do this.”

In a blink the worry on Oberyn’s face was replaced by something grim and severe. “You are a Wolf!” he proclaimed intently. “You were but a girl when you came here, alone and so far from home. Most in that situation have two choices, they become angry and bitter or meek and compliant. You chose neither. You did not let what was done to you and your family break you, you remained strong, you grew and made your own life here.”

Under other circumstances she might have been touched by the sentiment Oberyn was trying to convey but her anger burned too fiercely for her to think of anything else. “It was fucking pointless! I never should have asked to be a soldier, if I were a servant in the Water Gardens the Mad King wouldn’t have bothered to ask for me.”

“It isn’t forever,” Oberyn promised. “Before long the Prince and his new wife will go to King’s Landing and you will return.” After a brief pause, he added, “When you do, you’ll take the place you earned, in our army.”

For the first time since he followed her away from the royalty his words reached her. “Can I really do this?” she asked, working to keep her voice steady.

“You are strong, to them you are a fatherless girl from Dorne. No one will ask for your past, they won’t care. Keep the Princess safe and your secrets will stay hidden.”

“Let’s hope so, I won’t leave the Capital alive if the truth is revealed.”

R-C

“Why did you do that?” Missandei asked her gently.

They were in her the chambers she’d been assigned. The room was nice and well maintained but Daenerys paid it little attention. She and her handmaiden sat together at a small table. She didn’t know how to explain exactly. She hadn’t intended to cause a commotion, things just got away from her and by the time it was done, she’d invited a woman she didn’t know into her service. “I don’t…” she started before she stopped and tried a different route. “They were so dismissive of her, acting like her talents were meaningless, just because she’s a woman.”

Missandei nodded along with Daenerys’s point. “Woman or not, she bested that man.”

She felt herself smile as she recalled the elegant way she moved. “She did, and my brother still acted as if she wasn’t worthy of dying for him. It made me so angry, I don’t know, I just wanted to show them that not everyone felt that way.”

Missandei offered up a smile. “I’d say you did that.”

Although she appreciated her friend’s efforts the Princess wasn’t sure how to feel. She was proud that she spoke up to defend a stranger in need, she was confident that was the right thing to do. That she voiced her opinion to an audience that included her father and brother made the accomplishment all the more significant in Daenerys’s mind. Any exhilaration she felt however was quickly dwarfed by the cloud of uncertainty that hung over her. What would happen next? The most immediate concern was Viserys. He’d been trying to convince their father to call off the wedding when she interrupted. It wasn’t a stretch to imagine that he would hold her accountable now that the wedding was going forward and his stay in Dorne was extended. It would be months before he returned to the Crownlands, but her spiteful brother was not the sort to forgive or forget. He’d nurse his grudge and bide his time and then at some point in the future he would find a way to punish Daenerys for involving herself in his business. Knowing the retribution wouldn’t come for a while made her more anxious, not less. The delay only ensured the knot in her stomach would remain firmly tied for the foreseeable future.

Her father’s reaction depended largely on his mood. His temperament was so varied and unpredictable it was almost not worth consideration. He might be angry, but it was just as likely that he’d forget all about the events of their dinner by the next time they saw one another. The longer she could avoid the King, the better the chance something else would catch his attention in the meantime. If that happened, it might distract him from the conduct of his only daughter.

Unlike her father, there was little chance Tywin would forget what she’d done. She’d involved herself in a negotiation he was having without an invitation. He was too set in his ways, too comfortable as Hand of the King to let that pass. In the coming days, likely before they returned to King’s Landing, he would pull her aside and remind her that her role was to be seen and not heard. He’d say nothing of the fact that her father intended to have an innocent man killed. He wouldn’t acknowledge that his son, the Kingsguard would have carried out the order without hesitation if it came. He’d act like there was nothing unusual about any of it. To him, the deaths of Arya and her fellow soldier were meaningless. If that was what it took to keep the King happy and in favor of the marriage they’d come to arrange, then the Lannister would welcome it.

Lastly there was Jorah. He’d be less than thrilled with the change in his responsibilities. He took his role as her protector quite seriously. She could count on him not to argue in a crowded hall, but she wasn’t foolish enough to think he’d let the matter drop completely. He’d find her alone and try and sway her from her course. He should be thanking her, though he never would, because of her he’d been temporarily reassigned to do what Viserys normally did. Since Viserys did nothing, Jorah wouldn’t have too many pressing issues to deal with. Whether he acknowledged it or not, Daenerys had arranged a break for the old knight.

“Have you seen her since?” Missandei asked, ending her worrying for the moment. The awkward conversations she was destined to have couldn’t be avoided. She’d just have to endure them as she did so many other things she didn’t want to do.

“No,” she admitted quietly, “I wanted to, but she and Prince Oberyn took the injured man to the Maester.”

Missandei’s constant smile slipped for a moment as they remembered the match they witnessed. “His wounds didn’t look severe,” she noted.

“No, they didn’t,” Daenerys agreed without much enthusiasm.

“She was strong, skilled and quick, she’ll make a fine guard.”

The Princess didn’t doubt that. “She’s brave too,” she said, adding to the list of attributes. “She defied my father.”

She heard the awe in her words and Missandei must’ve too. “I’ve never seen anyone refuse him before.”

She hadn’t seen it, because it never happened. Most people were too fearful to disobey the Targaryen King. His temper and the cruel methods of punishment he employed were legendary. Daenerys had been there the day a trader was brought before her father’s throne. She didn’t know him, or what he’d done to incite the King’s rage, but the outcome was something that would stay with her until her dying day. After a brief discussion in which the trader denied the accusations against him, the King ordered the man’s wife and child brought to him. Hours later, Daenerys watched in horror as her father gave the man a terrible choice, asking him to pick which would die. In an abrupt change, the trader fell to his knees and pleaded that it should be him, for he was the guilty one. He confessed and begged for a mercy that never came. When he refused to condemn either his wife or his son to death, the King had them both killed, then he sent the man home with the bodies to grieve.

“I think I spoke for her because I didn’t want her to die,” Daenerys realized all at once. “She was fearless. She wasn’t going to kill that man, not even if the King told her to.”

“Do you think she knew what would happen?” Missandei wondered.

That was a thought that Daenerys hadn’t considered. Dorne was a long way from the Red Keep, both literally and figuratively. Was it possible that Arya didn’t understand the consequences of her refusal? She wasn’t sure, but she struggled to believe there was any corner of the Seven Kingdoms that didn’t know of the King’s madness. Then she remembered the way Arya had stared defiantly at Aerys when she refused to obey. She couldn’t say for sure, but Daenerys got the sense that she knew the risks and opposed him anyway. “I think she knew. She knew and she still wouldn’t kill her friend.”

“Well, I’m sure you’ll have the opportunity to ask her in the coming days.”

Privately the thought unsettled her. She didn’t know how she could discuss her father with a woman who nearly lost her life at his hand. Should she apologize? Were any words enough, even sincere ones? No, they weren’t. Outside of an apology, she had surprisingly little to offer the wronged woman. Since anything she tried would seem fake and hollow, she decided not to broach the subject at all. Unless Arya brought it up, she and Daenerys would not speak about the way they met, regardless of how long Arya guarded her.

R-C

She put it off for as long as she could, by busying herself with other things. She escorted Ninety-Four to the Maester, raged and complained with Oberyn and then went for a walk to clear her mind. Finally, the time had come, she needed to track down the Targaryen Princess and meet the woman she would pledge to protect. It was all so damn poetic. The Gods had a sense of humor. How else did she end up risking her neck for the daughter of a man who hated her?
She carried her damaged helmet under one arm. She’d need to find a smith and have the center-piece straightened and reinforced before she travelled. She didn’t care what the Targaryen thought of her, but she could acknowledge that she probably hadn’t made the best first impression, defying her father like that. She took the time to clean herself up, washing her hands and face. She wasn’t a savage and it wouldn’t benefit any of them if she arrived for the introduction still covered in blood.

If there was a bright spot to all this, it was that both she and Ninety-Four survived. The Maester and Oberyn both predicted he’d make a full recovery. She was pleased by that. She didn’t want there to be any lasting effects from their match. He was a gifted warrior and it would be a waste, if their bout to impress a King prevented him from reaching his potential.

He wasn’t the only one with injuries. Arya had taken a blow to the chest, though the breastplate prevented the worst of it. She could attest that her new armor was well made, if It wasn’t, she’d be dead. In the end, Ninety-Four’s strike amounted to little more than a scratch. It bled but not enough to cause concern. The damage to her face was equally minimal. She’d have some bruising and swelling in the coming days, but the thin gash across the bridge of her nose had already stopped leaking.

She stood outside the Princess’s chambers and tried to find the courage to knock. While she delayed the inevitable, she was granted an opportunity to overhear part of the conversation happening inside. “… I don’t think this is a good idea Princess,” a man said. “It is my job to protect you, not some stranger’s. You don’t know her. Your safety is too important to give her this responsibility.”

They were talking about her. Should she go and come back later? It was a tempting idea. If she knocked now, it would be obvious that she heard them. A grim smile settled on her face. Maybe she should make herself known, she’d get to see the Princess squirm a little when she realized she’d been caught.

To her surprise, the Princess came to her defense. “I didn’t know you when you were named my guard either,” she replied. “I gave you the chance to prove capable and I’ll do the same for Arya. I won’t assume the worst just because it’s possible. Until she does something to lose my confidence, she will have it.”

The guard at the door was momentarily speechless. It had been a long time since she heard someone speak about her with such passion.

“That was different,” the man resisted. “I was sworn to your father before he made me your guard. This woman has barely finished her training, she’s loyal to no one, including you.”

She didn’t even have time to consider the claims being made against her before the Princess was speaking for her again. “You should have a little faith Ser, I have a good feeling about this.”

“You see the best in people Daenerys, it’s one of the things…” he caught himself and quickly changed direction. “Don’t allow your good heart to be taken advantage of.”

“I’m right about this,” she said with confidence, “you’ll see.” Arya thought that was all there was to hear, but the Princess wasn’t done. “I expect you to treat Arya with respect when she joins us.” Without warning there was an authority in the last statement Arya wasn’t anticipating.

The guard heard it too. “Of course, Princess.”

Arya slipped back into a shadow and disappeared down the hall. Now was not the right time to present herself to the Targaryen. A few minutes longer wouldn’t make a difference, not to anyone but her.

R-C

From the moment she opened her mouth to defend Arya, she knew her brother would be upset. No matter the subject or the circumstance he always talked down to her. As if being a few years older and male somehow made him superior to Daenerys in all things. While she waited for the inevitable fight, she reminded herself that Viserys wasn’t a King and he wasn’t the boss of her. He was a Prince, just as she was a Princess. She didn’t need to relent just because her arrogant brother got his feelings hurt. She hadn’t done anything wrong. If there was a mistake made, it was Viserys’s for overlooking Arya just because she was a woman. Daenerys had been in the right. She’d done a good thing.

All her rehearsed arguments went out the window when Viserys marched in without knocking and slammed the door behind him. She didn’t think it was an accident that he arrived right after Jorah left. The knight’s affection for Daenerys was well known and even Viserys knew he wouldn’t be permitted to disrespect Daenerys in Jorah’s company.

“What were you thinking?!” he screamed as he took two long strides in her direction.

Her every instinct was begging for her to retreat, to put some distance between her and Viserys’s anger but she buried those feelings deep and faced her brother with as much courage as she could. “Hello to you too.”

Her words, with their fake innocence and exaggerated calm only served to make things worse. “Don’t Daenerys!” he demanded, “Father was about to call off this ridiculous wedding and let us return to King’s Landing. He was about to…”

As far back as she could remember Viserys had the habit of only hearing the parts of a conversation he liked. He’d ignore a dozen facts contrary to his own and seize on the lone detail that supported his point of view. It was the same now. He actually thought their father was seconds away from giving him everything he wanted when she got involved. “No, he wasn’t,” she disagreed. “Viserys, be reasonable, Father and Tywin were never going to come thousands of miles and then leave without agreeing to the marriage.”

Her argument was logical but Viserys didn’t care. “Tywin,” he began, saying his name with disgust, “doesn’t decide anything. He serves our father. He’s no different than your slave-girl or the one from the kitchen I take to bed.”

She was appalled to hear him speak about people so crudely, especially Missandei. She didn’t care much for Tywin Lannister, but she’d never dismiss him or his contributions the way Viserys was doing. “Tywin is the head of a wealthy…”

“This isn’t about him!” Viserys shouted. “This is about you and what you did!”

“I didn’t do anything,” she tried. Despite her best efforts her reply sounded weak and tentative, the opposite of her intention.

“You spoke up for that woman, just so Father wouldn’t agree with me!” he accused, raising his voice louder than before. “You shouldn’t even be here! I told Father not to bring you along, but he insisted.”

Was he actually suggesting it was her fault for being there? She hadn’t wanted to come anymore than he wanted her to. She hadn’t been given a choice. Her mind filled with a handful of retorts that ranged from witty and clever to sarcastic to downright furious and although she would have happily uttered any one of them, she couldn’t get the words out. The siblings stood opposite one another and Daenerys wilted under Viserys’s stare. When he realized she wasn’t going to justify her actions, he chose to fill the silence. “Are you trying to Wake the Dragon?”

She couldn’t stop her physical reaction to those words. ‘Waking the Dragon’ was what Viserys called it when he lost his temper. Some of her earliest memories were of the pain he inflicted on her in their younger years. As they aged, so did his torments. He progressed from pinching her arm and pulling her hair to techniques far more brutal. The last time she upset him, he twisted her arm so violently she thought the bones might break.

She saw a sick smile spread across his face. “Rhaegar isn’t here to save you, sweet sister, no one is.”

There was a sad truth in that taunt. Rhaegar had always protected her, from their father, from Tywin, from Viserys. Daenerys rarely felt safe, but the closest she came was when her eldest brother was nearby. He’d never allow Viserys to speak to her like this. If he were there, he’d demand Viserys stop and if he didn’t, Rhaegar would create the opening Daenerys needed to leave. “I… I… I didn’t do… any…thing.”

Pleased as she was to be able to reply, she was disappointed her words lacked the authority of a Princess. “You invited that woman to King’s Landing, to serve as your guard!” He said the final word like a curse, his face twisting up in a grimace.

One more time, she took offense on Arya’s behalf. She was a capable woman who finished first amongst her peers. She was due Viserys’s respect and he still refused to give it, even after seeing her best a huge man in combat. With her emotions burning hot, she managed to sound a little more natural. “I was just taking advantage of your mistake. If you hadn’t dismissed her, I wouldn’t have needed to say anything.”

“She’s a woman!” he spat, as if that in and of itself was a disqualifying trait. “You can dress her up anyway you want, you can put a sword in her hand, but she’ll never be good enough.” He was done then chose to push further. “If there was a real threat, she’d die, and you’d follow right after. You’re a fool if you think otherwise.”

“If there was a threat,” Daenerys rebelled, “I’d rather have Arya there than Trant. When was the last time he used his sword for anything other than beating serving girls?”

She knew immediately she’d gone too far. By belittling Viserys’s personal guard, she had started the fire that would ultimately burn her. His cheeks heated in embarrassment and he covered the distance between them in a flash. This time when Viserys reached for her she didn’t stand her ground. She backed up and he stalked closer. He forced her into one of the room’s corners and towered over her. Already significantly shorter than him, she squatted down to make herself a smaller target. In a dominant position, he challenged her to repeat her previous insult. “Say it again!” The smirk on his face made it clear he had her exactly where he wanted her, as if she didn’t already know. “Go on, say that that stupid bastard girl could beat my guard!”

The fear that had been sufficiently buried by her outrage was back and stronger than ever. She felt weak and pitiful as she tried to think of a way to escape. She could push him and run, but how far was she likely to get? Her best and quite honestly only hope would be if someone came looking for her and interrupted Viserys. She thought of Jorah first, because she knew he was capable of handling her brother. Unfortunately, he had just left, and before he did, she told him she had no plans to leave for the remainder of the night. Missandei was busy too, she’d gone to wash the Princess’s clothes. Since her father couldn’t be relied on to remember her existence, it seemed she was out of luck.

Viserys was coming to the same conclusion. “Not so tough now, are you sister?” As he spoke, he reached down and brushed a tendril of silver hair away from her face. The touch was almost gentle, but she knew better than to trust it. Summoning the last of her bravery she steeled herself for what was coming. Whatever he did, she would not to cry or beg. She refused to give him the satisfaction.

R-C

When she couldn’t think of another reason to postpone, she made her way back to the Princess’s bedchamber. Her wish was that she’d be too busy to talk, then Arya would have a suitable excuse to delay the introduction until the morning.

Without warning she heard her father in her head. “You’re a Wolf!” he told her with pride. “Wolves don’t run and hide, they face their fears directly, no matter what. That’s what I’ve tried to do, what I taught your brothers to do, and what I hope you’ll do.”

The message from another life served its purpose. Her father was right. Hiding away was beneath her. What did she need to fear? She refused to show weakness to some spoiled Princess. She’d be strong, like her father would want her to be. Arya hadn’t broken when the Mad King sent her to Dorne. She survived years in the Water Gardens, and she could make it through this too.

The yelling caught her attention first. Was this the same conversation from before? If it was, things had escalated dramatically in her time away.

It wasn’t her business and she didn’t want to get involved, but something kept her from leaving. She was surprised by the rage she heard. Who was in a position to speak to a Princess so rudely? The King came to the front of her mind, was she listening to a Targaryen family disagreement?

She was standing at the closed door debating the best course of action when she heard the man say, “Not so tough now, are you sister?”

Sister, the man screaming at her was the Princess’s brother? She had only a few faded memories of life with her siblings, but Arya doubted she had ever done anything to make any of her kin treat her so harshly. A nagging voice pointed out that whatever was happening between the royals wasn’t her business. She was just a guard, and a temporary one at that. Still, leaving felt wrong. How could she look the Princess in the eye tomorrow if she didn’t help her tonight?

Her instincts were proven right when she opened the door and found the elder Targaryen standing over his terrified sister. He looked to be enjoying her torment. She knocked loudly on the already open door and moved straight into the room without waiting for permission. “Princess, I’m sorry I’m late.”

When he turned on her the Prince’s anger didn’t dull in the slightest. “Get out!” he demanded.

That was never going to happen. She didn’t need to like the Targaryen to know staying was the right choice. “Apologies Prince,” she said with as much false sincerity as she could manage, “but I’m afraid I need a word with the Princess.”

There was an audible gasp from the corner where the Princess cowered. Arya paid it little attention, keeping her focus on the more immediate danger. “Do you know who I am?”

How typical, as if his name alone could command obedience. She refused to back down from the challenge. “Yes, Prince.”

“Get out!” he shouted again, his face reddening as he struggled to make her yield. “You serve me, so do as I say and leave!”

They were opposites then, him screaming, pointing suggestively and glaring and her calm, and soft-spoken, with her hands tucked neatly behind her back. “I am sworn to your sister, not you,” she reminded him bluntly.

He faced her fully for the first time, taking a step toward her before he thought better of it. He looked to the Princess for help. “Send her out Daenerys,” he urged. “Send her out!”

She wondered idly what she’d do if the Princess did her brother’s bidding? Would she go? Could she refuse? She didn’t have to worry long. “N…no…” she stammered quietly. Unhappy with the results, she cleared her throat and tried again. “No, Viserys you should leave.”

Already furious, now he was embarrassed as well. First his mouth hung open and he looked at his sister in obvious surprise, then he closed his lips, flexed his jaw and scoffed as he looked between the women. Briefly, he considered taking his anger out on the guard but for one reason or another he decided his sister was a more suitable victim.

Any progress the Princess had made in standing up for herself vanished when he pulled his hand back to hit her. Without worrying about the consequences, Arya grabbed the Prince by the wrist before he could follow through on his plan.

Both Targaryens were stunned by how far Arya was willing to go. She could relate, she was shocked too. The Prince tore his arm free, taking a step back as he fought to break her grip. She could have restrained him easily enough but didn’t. As he moved away Arya placed herself in front of the Princess. “How dare you put your hands on me! I am a Prince and you’re a bastard. I’ll have you hung!”

Not the least bit frightened by the prospect of an execution she kept her eyes locked on the bigger man. “I’m sworn to the Princess,” she said, “I can’t allow anyone to strike her, even you.”

He didn’t respond and she knew why. he didn’t have an argument, at least not a good one. As a guard, it was Arya’s obligation to protect the Princess from any threat, no matter who or what it was.

With a dissatisfied grunt he threw up his hands. On his way out he took a detour to bump Arya roughly with his shoulder. She swayed slightly but didn’t stumble or fall. She followed him with her eyes, right to the door. When he was gone the mood in the room changed instantly. “Thank you,” a soft voice said from behind Arya’s back.

She ignored it for now, choosing to go to the door instead, closing it after checking the hall to make sure the Prince wasn’t lingering about.

“Are you alright?” she asked the Targaryen. When the answer was delayed, she worried. Had she arrived too late? Had he harmed her before Arya got there? She was hit with a wave of guilt. She’d avoided the Princess earlier, maybe if she hadn’t, none of this would have happened. She hated the King, she wouldn’t deny that, but the Princess hadn’t done her any harm. Yes, she inadvertently involved herself when Arya was just seconds away from being dismissed and returned to the barracks, but she meant well. If Arya blamed the daughter for the crimes of her father, she’d be no better than Aerys who sentenced her for acts committed by others. Determined to be nothing like the King she despised Arya vowed to give the Princess a fair chance.

R-C

She saw Arya’s lips moving but couldn’t hear the words over the blood pounding in her ears. She’d been trapped, she’d been helpless, and Arya intervened. Arya saved her. She put her hands on Viserys to stop him. There were so few people in Daenerys’s life who would go to such extremes, that it made her wonder why the guard had? They were strangers and she hadn’t been happy with Daenerys at dinner.

She was still lost to her disjointed thoughts when she felt a calloused hand take hers. The touch was firm without being rough. It brought Daenerys back and she found Arya standing in front of her. She was in the same place Viserys had been but displayed none of her brother’s threatening mannerisms. Contrary to Viserys, Arya appeared concerned. “Are you hurt?” she asked, gently tugging on their connected hands to bring Daenerys out of the corner. “I can summon the Maester, Prince Doran has one of the best.”

The prospect of being vulnerable to another attack from Viserys had her fearful. “No!” she said too loudly. “No, no, I’m fine, he didn’t…” She stopped short, unable to say the words. The truth was Viserys hadn’t hit her, but he would have, if Arya hadn’t grabbed his arm to prevent it. All at once her deeply engrained manners came to the surface. She was a mess, frightened and reeling but she was also a Princess and as such she had responsibilities. “Did you need something Lady Arya?” she asked formally.

Arya didn’t reply until she’d successful helped Daenerys stand straight. Slowly, cautiously she backed up, bringing the Targaryen with her. Under Arya’s guidance she left the confines of the room’s corner. “I’m no Lady Princess.”

“Very well, Arya then,” Daenerys amended, “and since we are going to be spending time together, I implore you none of this ‘Princess’ talk. My name is Daenerys, and you are free to use it.”

She watched as Arya’s sharp features contorted in confusion. “But you are a Princess,” she noted.

“Yes, unfortunately.” The words were out before she could catch them, a novice mistake. Immediately she tensed and hurried to try and salvage the situation. Though she spoke the truth, she knew it wouldn’t be well received. She was the only daughter of the King of the Seven Kingdoms, she lived a life of privilege and excess. Tonight, all over the Realm little girls would be going to bed, saying their prayers and wishing they could have her life. They wanted the gold, the pretty dresses and the expensive gifts but they didn’t understand. They didn’t know she was constantly overlooked, repeatedly ignored and frequently dismissed. When she was included it wasn’t for her opinions or insights it was as window-dressing, a pretty thing to be admired. “I just meant…” she started without any clue how to finish. She meant exactly what she said, most days she wished she wasn’t a Princess, but couldn’t say so. “I meant that in here, I’d rather not use formal titles. They get tiresome.”

For a fraction of a second she thought she saw a fleeting smile on Arya’s face in response to her ramble, but it was gone quickly, if it ever existed at all. “As you wish, Daenerys,” the guard said, emphasizing her name for effect. “I came to introduce myself properly, I wasn’t going to interfere, but it seemed you needed it.”

The uncertainty in Arya’s voice sounded strange. She’d been confident with her father, under penalty of death, she’d been unyielding with Viserys and yet she looked uncomfortable all the sudden. She did her best to correct that. “I’m pleased you did, though I’m sorry you had to. I’m afraid you’re seeing us at our worst. We’re not making a very good first impression, are we?”

Something about her apology had Arya wincing, though Daenerys was struggling to understand what. Just like the phantom smile, her pain was temporary. When it was over, Daenerys once again saw the sure soldier she’d met at dinner. “Don’t apologize for him, or your father,” Arya said with feeling. Daenerys’s hand, which she hadn’t let go of, got a squeeze. “You aren’t to blame for their actions. All we can control is what we do. What you’ve done, requires no apology to me.”

She appreciated the sentiment. She spent a large portion of her life apologizing for her family. It was nice to know that with Arya she wouldn’t need to. In an effort to lighten the mood she asked, “Are all Dornish so wise?”

Arya chuckled lightly. “My father taught me that, actually.”

“Aren’t you a bastard?” Daenerys replied without thinking. She cursed her inquisitive nature. Yes, that was her first thought when she heard Arya’s admission but that didn’t mean she should ask. She needed to act with restraint and care, or she’d end up like Viserys. She didn’t want that. “I’m sorry, that was beyond rude, please forgive me.”

Arya nodded but didn’t get the chance to say anything before Jorah Mormont burst into the room. His face was red, and he’d clearly been running. He looked between Daenerys and Arya and then drew his sword. “Unhand the Princess now!”

Jorah had always been overprotective. Normally that was a trait Daenerys could tolerate but this time he was wrong. Arya wasn’t a threat, in fact she’d scared away the real danger and had been nothing but kind since, even when Daenerys didn’t exactly deserve it. “Ser…”

Arya dropped her hand for the first time since taking it and stepped forward. Daenerys foolishly thought she did this to calm the situation, to appease Jorah and greet him properly, but she couldn’t have been more wrong. As soon as her left hand was empty Arya was reaching for the sword she wore. The steel was still colored with blood from her last battle. “Wait,” Daenerys tried again.

Neither combatant listened. “You intend to fight?” Jorah wondered, visibly surprised. It was widely accepted that her guard was one of the finest swordsmen in the Capital, regardless of how infrequent he had made use of those skills in recent years. “You’ll never win, lay down your weapon and surrender.”

Arya was supremely confident. “Why not? You’re a guard for the Princess, so am I.”

Jorah remained dismissive. “We are not the same, I’m a knight.”

“Congratulations,” Arya spat sarcastically. “I spend most of my days teaching men who don’t think I’m capable. You’ll learn as they did.”

The time for talk was done. Jorah moved from inside the door to a spot closer to Arya. The purpose was clear, and Daenerys couldn’t believe it. They were going to fight, and for what? Some miscommunication that neither one would bother clearing up. Well, if they wouldn’t, she would. She moved from her place at Arya’s back and stopped strategically between the two idiots. She extended one arm in Arya’s direction and the other in Jorah’s. “Stop!”

“Step aside Princess,” Jorah advised her.

“It’s okay Daenerys.”

No, this was the very definition of something that was ‘not okay.’ It upset her that her guards, the people tasked with her safety appeared just as inclined to ignore her as everyone else. The anger gave her next order more weight. “Ser,” she said starting with the man who’d caused this mess, “put down your sword, now!”

He hadn’t looked like he was going to comply, but the last word did its job. With an eye on Arya, he cautiously returned his sword to his belt. “Princess?”

“Arya is no threat.” He didn’t appear convinced, but he wasn’t armed, and that was something. To the woman she said, “Now is not the time to prove your worth. Put your sword away, please.”

Arya did, much to Daenerys’s relief. “Thank you,” she said sincerely when the risk of violence had passed. The two women shared a look before she turned back to Jorah for an explanation. “Why would you assume Arya meant me harm?”

“I was outside,” Jorah remembered, “one of the servants was saying they heard yelling coming from your room. I came in and saw her grabbing your arm.”

She couldn’t help it she clicked her tongue on the inside of her cheek and shook her head in disapproval. “Arya wasn’t the one yelling at me, Viserys was.”

At mention of her brother Jorah’s entire posture changed. He softened and gave his focus to her completely. “Are you hurt? Did he…”

“I’m fine,” she said beginning with the good news. “He was upset about dinner, he felt I was the reason we weren’t already on our way back to King’s Landing.”

“That’s madness,” Jorah said, reaching for and taking her hand. Like Arya’s it was bigger and rougher than hers, but his hold felt entirely different. “We didn’t travel thousands of miles to not agree to the marriage.”

She smiled indulgently at the knight. “I know,” she confirmed, “and I tried to tell him that, but he was too angry. I fear what would have happened if Arya hadn’t seen fit to come in and make Viserys leave.”

He forced his eyes from the Princess to the guard. “You…” He didn’t finish but he didn’t need to. Arya nodded. “Thank you. If you’re going to act as a guard, even temporarily, we’ll need to speak, tomorrow perhaps, so I can inform you of your duties.”

As she listened Daenerys bristled a bit. The way Jorah spoke and the words he used made it obvious he was sending Arya out. He didn’t have that power. Since she noticed, she was sure Arya did too, yet she didn’t move an inch. She let the strange standoff continue longer than she should’ve. “Well, it’s been an exhausting day, so I think I’m going to retire.” She addressed Arya first. “Thank you,” she said, walking up and taking the younger woman’s hand, “for everything. I am in your debt. I’ll see you in the morning and we can continue our conversation.”

“As you wish Daenerys.” She was moving for the exit when she stopped herself and looked over her shoulder. “Goodnight.”

“Rest well, you’ve had a trying day.” She waited until Arya was at the door before moving on to the knight. “Jorah, can I trust you to use your words and not your sword when you and Arya meet?”

He ducked his head and had the good sense to look embarrassed. “Of course, Princess.”

She expected to hear the door close behind Arya when she left, but it was quiet, so she peeked. Arya stood, frozen in the doorway as if something was keeping her there. Daenerys was curious and concerned. “Is everything alright?” she inquired.

“Y…yes,” Arya said unconvincingly. “Have a good night.” This time she succeeded and was gone.

R-C

Chapter Text

She’d been eager to get out of there, to escape and find the nearest drink but that was before she heard Daenerys call the man by name. Ser Jorah? The arrogant man she’d nearly cut was the knight, Jorah Mormont? Could she be that lucky? It wasn’t beyond the realm of possibility that there was another knight in the King’s employ named Jorah, but if such a man existed Arya had never heard of him.

She hurried away from the room, hoping distance would make it easier to think. How many times had she heard the story of Robert’s Rebellion? One of her favorite memories was a time she’d skipped her lessons with the Septa to practice using a bow in the yard. She thought she was discreet, but her father caught her. Rather than being angry, he smiled and gave her tips on her form. Later, she sat with him for hours. He went through the required speech about the importance of her education, how she shouldn’t make life difficult when the Septa only wanted the best for her. Arya listened and apologised quickly, promising to try harder. It was then he told her of the aunt she never knew. “You remind me of her,” he said fondly. “I’ll always love that about you.”

Countless times she listened to her father speak about his defeat at the Trident. The ‘rebels’ met the Targaryen armies on the field after days of marching. The Dragons were fewer in number than they predicted, increasing their chances of success. They were hopeful, if they won, there would be nothing standing between them and King’s Landing.

To hear Ned Stark tell it, the battle was lost nearly from the first. “We should have known there was a problem,” he recalled in hindsight. “They had thousands less than we were expecting, that should have served as a warning.” Arya could feel the pain radiating off her hero as he continued. “We traded arrows a few times, and when all of our attention was on the men in front of us, they sprang the trap from behind. Those absent men weren’t missing at all, they were waiting for the right time to strike.” The old soldier shook his head. “It was over before we realized it was happening. They cut down the archers first, then moved on to the rest of us. They attacked in groups, each seeking out a specific man from our side. Some went after Robert and Stannis, others came for Reed, Rodrick and I. They were trying to cut the head off our rebellion.” Each and every time he got to this point, he’d pause and take a deep breath. “We were surrounded. Rhaegar Targaryen had beaten us and there wasn’t a man among us who didn’t know it. Those of us who survived rode out into the field, to get distance from the ambush but in doing so we moved closer to the bulk of the enemy. They came at us from both sides and though we fought bravely, we never stood a chance.”

Arya was older when she was permitted to know the reason the Targaryens knew where to wait and who to strike. It was only during her last year in Winterfell that she learned of Jorah Mormont, the Northern man from a proud house who betrayed them. “We thought he tired of fighting,” her father told her in a private confession under the Weirwood tree. They were alone and he was sharpening Ice, the same sword he’d used that day to try and avenge his family. “Not all were as committed as Robert and I,” he acknowledged, “not everyone had lost people as we had. The longer the fighting went on, the more concerned many became. Some left, fleeing in the night like cowards, but most remained, even if they had their doubts. The North is nothing if not loyal. It was a surprise when Mormont wasn’t with his men one morning, but we had little time to worry. We were leaving for the Trident and our whole plan hinged on getting there first to prepare for the larger army. Maybe, if we’d stopped to think about where he’d gone or why, we might have been able to avoid everything that came after.” Arya could hear her father’s deeply held regrets. “As it was, Robert ordered me to name a new commander for the Mormont forces and we started marching.”

“He betrayed you?” she’d asked naively, not understanding why anyone would abandon the North when their cause was so just.

“He rode straight to King’s Landing and presented himself to the Mad King, giving not only his allegiance but details about us. Without Mormont we would’ve met the Targaryens on the battlefield fairly. We may have won, we may have lost but it would’ve been honest.” His voice turned hard then, revealing anger for the first time. “Mormont could have left, we wouldn’t have demanded he stay, I wouldn’t have demanded he stay. He could’ve gone home to Bear Island, to his wife and lived his life in peace. Instead he single-handedly ended the war and caused the deaths of thousands, including his own men.”

“What happened to him?” she asked. “Do you know where he is? You could lead the army to go get him!”

“He’s in King’s Landing, guarding the King I hear. He got knighted, a title bought with our blood.” To make his point perfectly clear Ned drew her attention to the scar he had on his chest, a permanent reminder of the cost of betrayal. “There are worse things than death Arya,” he told her, “being a traitor is one of them, remember that.”

She hadn’t forgotten. Outside now she looked up at the starry sky. Earlier she’d promised herself Aerys would die, by her hand if possible and now she added another name to her List. Jorah Mormont would pay for his crimes too, she’d see to it.

R-C

Later, after Jorah and Arya had both gone, Missandei brought Daenerys tea. The Princess recounted everything her handmaiden had missed, from Viserys’s fury to Arya’s rescue and finally the almost fight between her guards. Missandei listened intently without interrupting, somehow knowing Daenerys needed to get it all out. Once she had, her friend summarized it down to a single salient point. “So, Arya will make a suitable guard then?”

Arya had showcased her abilities in the hall, then revealed her strength when she didn’t kill as soon as her father demanded it. Arya could have ignored the siblings all together, but she didn’t. She put herself in danger and defied Viserys, for Daenerys. Even her compassion was evident, an attribute she didn’t think was beneficial for a soldier. She recalled the way Arya had worried over her after Viserys was gone, she was tender and gentle. She didn’t need to stay after the danger had passed, in fact many wouldn’t have, but Arya did. “I think so,” she agreed. “Perhaps she could teach me a thing or two as well.”

“Such as?”

“She stood up to my father and when Viserys meant to hit me, she grabbed his arm to stop it,” Daenerys repeated, even though she knew Missandei was already aware. “She was fearless. I think I could stand to learn a few things from Arya Sand while she’s close.”

R-C

Oberyn had her drink waiting when she arrived. “I thought you’d be here sooner,” he noted wryly.

“I would’ve, had it not been for the Princess and all the men around her,” Arya responded bitterly.

“Men? I wasn’t aware she had a lover, although she’s certainly attractive enough. I know many who would sacrifice much for the chance to share her bed.”

“Not like that,” Arya clarified, “at least I don’t think so. I went to meet her and found her brother ready to beat her. After he left, I nearly had to fight her knight when he thought it was me who upset her.

Oberyn, who had been amused up to that point was suddenly serious. “What did she do wrong?”

“Spoke up in my defense, I think.” She wasn’t exactly sure. “If I hadn’t come, he would have hit her. Even when I was there, he still meant to.”

“Viserys is vile, worse than his brother even,” Oberyn said coming from near the window and motioning for her to sit. She did, taking her rum with her. “Be careful around him.”

“It’s you who should be careful,” she countered lightly. “In a few days I’ll be going to the Capital, while you and Viserys remain here.”

“Perhaps,” the Prince allowed, “but Dragon or not, he would be a fool to challenge me.”

Few could compete with the Red Viper of Dorne and Viserys Targaryen wasn’t one of them. She knew his skill firsthand, she spent hours marvelling at his speed and accuracy. When she couldn’t hope to defeat him, she tried her best to slow him down, and she was rarely successful. She and many others had seen him act as champion when raiders were attacking farms and raping women on the outskirts. What was supposed to be a trial by combat devolved quickly. Three of the bandit’s friends joined the fight and Oberyn still won easily. “I get the impression the Prince prefers his victims smaller, weaker and afraid. I’m not sure you qualify.”

“I do not, but I worry for his wife.”

Arya could understand that. If Viserys was willing to punish his sister for speaking out of turn, it didn’t bode well for the woman who would wed him. “Why is Doran doing this? He’s too smart not to see what Viserys is.”

“He sees just fine,” Oberyn remarked coldly, “he just pretends he doesn’t.” He paused to take a drink and then continued, “I met with him about you, he understands the need to keep your identity hidden.”

“That’s something.”

“It’s the least he can do since he refuses to call off the wedding.” Arya knew the brothers were close, but she was also aware that Oberyn wasn’t opposed to disagreeing with Doran when he felt it necessary.

“Why though?” Arya wondered, bringing them back to the original question. “If he knows what Viserys is, why would he want that in his family?”

“My brother wants to improve relations between Sunspear and King’s Landing.”

“A goal you don’t share.” It wasn’t a question just a fact. In the earliest days of their friendship, their bond was forged over a shared hatred of the Targaryen King and his heir. Like Arya, Oberyn felt the royals wronged his family by acting as though his sister and her children didn’t exist. In contrast to Doran, Oberyn had been urging the leadership to reduce their reliance on King’s Landing, not expand it. Arya was locked away in training when word spread that Viserys would be marrying a Martell, but it wasn’t difficult to imagine Oberyn’s reaction.

“Of course not. They can’t simply use people and then throw them away. My sister was a Princess long before she married Rhaegar. She didn’t need him. My niece and nephew are in line for the throne, even if the King and his Hand pretend otherwise.”

“At least you don’t have to go along and keep the Princess safe.”

“Daenerys seems nice. I met her when they first arrived. She is unlike the others.”

Though she wanted to reject the notion that there was anything redeemable about a Targaryen, she couldn’t. Not only because Oberyn wasn’t the sort to lie, but also because Daenerys hadn’t been especially rude. Her one misstep was the unintentional comment about Arya’s father. Even then, she was quick to apologize and managed to sound sincere. The comment itself hadn’t bothered Arya since she wasn’t actually a Sand. She had a harder time swallowing the quip about the family making a bad ‘first impression.’ Whether she realized it or not, her family made a less than favorable impression on Arya long ago, and nothing, not even a decent Princess would be able to change that.

“You’d be dead if she hadn’t spoken in your defense.” It was true, but it was a shock to hear Oberyn say so in no uncertain terms. “She didn’t have to do anything, she could have let it happen.” Again, he was right.

“I know,” she assured him. She really did. Given the choice, she wouldn’t have asked the Targaryen to defend her, but she’d done it, and as a result Arya was spared. That debt was real. She promised she’d give Daenerys the chance to prove she was different from the rest of her bloodline and it seemed Oberyn was advocating for the same thing. In the end, she answered with an uncertainty that reflected her mixed emotions. “Maybe. When I was fighting Ninety-Four, she looked uncomfortable.”

“It must be hard to have a good heart in that place,” Oberyn guessed, “like Doran sees what Viserys is, Daenerys must too, and she also has Rhaegar and the Mad King to contend with.”

His point was valid. If Daenerys was a good person, she must suffer greatly in King’s Landing, surrounded by all those schemers and liars. “I doubt this was the first time her brother used force against her.” It was evident in the way she cowered. He hadn’t struck her yet, but she knew enough to be afraid. Such a reaction came from experience.

“Men like him are quick to violence but only when there is no real danger.” He took another drink. “The Princess is your only concern. Keep her alive until the wedding and then you can leave there and come home.”

‘Home,’ the word sounded foreign. Odd as it was, it occurred to her that it didn’t unsettle her. Her instincts weren’t begging to correct him, she didn’t feel the indignation that she used to when discussing her life. She knew Oberyn didn’t mean anything negative by it, but beyond that, she saw there was some truth in his statement. She could never return to the North. Even if she wanted to and Doran permitted it, where would she go? Winterfell belonged to the Bolton’s now. The Starks were but a memory, fading more with each passing year. While that reality still saddened her some, it wasn’t as crippling as it had once been. She did have a place in Dorne, a good place. It may not be where she was born but with time, she could make a life for herself. If it wasn’t her home yet, there was still a chance for the future.

“It can’t happen soon enough,” Arya agreed, taking a long pull from her rum. Given the choice between King’s Landing and Dorne, she knew which one she’d choose.

R-C

The next morning when Arya made the trip from the barracks to the Water Gardens, she found Daenerys sitting on a bench, under an orange tree, looking into the nearest pool of water. With her was a woman Arya didn’t recognize. She had dark skin, matching curls and wore a dress that complimented the Princess’s. It was evident they were friends, it showed in their posture, in the frequency of the smiles and laughs exchanged and in the way the Targaryen took her hand as they whispered together. In addition, there was Mormont. Like her he was dressed in armor, though hers didn’t depict a three-headed dragon. She had little interest in interacting with the traitor, but Arya was smart enough to know her limitations. She was capable in combat but had never been a guard to anyone or anything before. Beyond the basics of keeping her charge alive, she didn’t really know her duties. She could learn as she went, but that was a path filled with peril. If harm came to the Princess, she’d be held accountable. Likewise, any act that drew attention to her was dangerous. The best course of action was to keep Daenerys safe and get back to Sunspear as quickly as possible. Every day in the Capital was another day someone might learn the truth. If that happened, she’d die in the place she hated most. With that in mind, she’d suffer through her meeting with Mormont and learn what was expected of the Princess’s guard. With luck she’d learn how to be invisible within the walls of the Red Keep.

Arya’s presence caused the women to look away from one another. “Arya,” Daenerys called happily, “there you are, I was beginning to worry.”

“Apologies Princess,” she said ducking her head slightly, “I would have arrived sooner had I known you planned to begin your day early.”

Daenerys smiled warmly. “I didn’t plan anything, but it is far too beautiful to remain inside, regardless of the hour.” During her years as a servant Arya had seen Daenerys’s expression regularly enough on the faces of visitors to understand its meaning. She was taken aback by all the unique things to see and do, by all the ways this differed from her home. “Oh,” Daenerys said abruptly, looking to the woman beside her, “Arya, come and meet Missandei.”

Arya stepped up to the other woman. “Pleasure to meet you, m’lady.”

Missandei and Daenerys laughed together quietly. “I thought we agreed to dispense with the titles, Arya?”

She remembered their conversation clearly. “We did, but we are neither in your chambers nor alone, so I assumed…”

“This is Missandei, she’s my handmaiden and best friend,” Daenerys declared happily. “She will be around a lot, so you shouldn’t feel the need to be formal in her company either.”

She did her best to control her expression, not wanting her shock to be obvious. Working in the Water Gardens taught her that most nobles thought of their servants as little more than breathing furniture. They were ignored and rarely considered until they were required. Apparently, Daenerys had a different view.

While Arya was distracted by her mind, Daenerys and Missandei continued the conversation Arya interrupted. “I wonder how long it takes to get used to all this,” Missandei wondered.

“I wish I could have one of these outside my window,” Daenerys said, looking up at the tree providing them shade.

Without thinking about it, Arya reached and plucked a blood orange from the lowest branch. “I can’t let you take this tree home, but I can ensure you sample all of Dorne’s delicacies while you’re here.”

Missandei watched in silence as Daenerys gasped. “Can you do that?” she asked, taking a look around for any witnesses to Arya’s perceived crime.

“Who’s going to complain?” She knew from experience the fruits were regularly picked, whether it be by Martells, servants, or random passersby.

“Prince Doran,” Daenerys stated simply.

Arya could only shrug. Doran wasn’t her favorite person, but she’d never known him to get bent out of shape over a piece of fruit. Rather than saying so, she went a different way. “If anyone says anything, you can tell them Prince Oberyn gave you permission.”

“Did the Prince really say it was okay?” she asked. She still hadn’t touched the orange, afraid of the repercussions.

“No, but he would if he were here.”

Missandei stifled a giggle with her hand while Daenerys stared at her in shock. “You know the Prince?”

She needed to choose her words carefully, or risk exposing too much. “He helped train me.”

That was enough. Finally, Daenerys took the orange and began peeling it. “Thank you,” she said, while her fingers kept moving. “Ser Jorah told me Prince Oberyn is one of the best fighters in all of Dorne, is that how you came to be so talented?”

With no desire to address the compliment, she avoided it all together. “By the Gods,” she complained, “please don’t tell him that. His ego is big enough already. If he hears the Dragon Princess is impressed by him, he’ll never shut up about it.”

Her joke caused Daenerys’s hands to stop momentarily. Many nobles would have expected their handmaiden to peel it for her, but Daenerys didn’t seem to mind. As soon as she was done laughing, she picked up where she left off. If she needed more proof that Daenerys’s relationship with Missandei wasn’t typical for a royal and her handmaiden she got it when Daenerys was done. Rather than handing the garbage to Missandei to deal with, she set it on the opposite side of the bench, to be disposed of later. Then she split the orange in half and handed one side to her friend. The dark-haired woman took it with a polite ‘thank you’ but didn’t seem as surprised by the generosity as Arya was. From her portion Daenerys broke off a piece and offered it to Arya. When she refused by shaking her head, Daenerys held the orange out with more emphasis. “I wouldn’t even know I could try one if not for you, take it.”

She did, if only to avoid a prolonged disagreement. Jorah too accepted a piece when offered, likely for exactly the same reason Arya had. “Thank you,” she said to the Princess when she was done chewing.

Daenerys smiled brightly and busied herself with her snack. Arya stepped away to speak to Jorah. “You wanted to talk to me?”

He looked suggestively to the women nearby. “Not here.”

“Where then?”

“Inside,” he suggested, before he thought better of it. “Is it safe here?”

“There is no safer place in all of Dorne.”

He said nothing while he contemplated his options. “Princess, Arya and I are going to have our meeting, will you and Missandei be okay here or would you like me to find another member of the guard?”

“We’ll be fine,” Daenerys assured them, “hurry back.”

Arya was unsure if that comment was directed at her and it seemed Jorah was equally confused. “Why? Our conversation can wait if you prefer.”

“No, you should do it now, while you have the chance. I want Arya to take us sightseeing, though I suppose I can wait until you get back.”

It was clearly a joke, but Jorah didn’t get it. “You can’t leave until we return.”

“I’ll be here, enjoying my breakfast with Missandei,” she promised. “Play nice!”

R-C

Daenerys’s parting comment made her smile until she realized she was doing it, then she worked to adjust her features. “What do I need to know?” she asked before they’d stopped walking, eager to get this over with.

“The Princess is generous and caring,” Jorah began with feeling. “Her safety is of the upmost importance.”

Arya was still waiting for something worthy of a private meeting. “What do I need to know?”

“Her safety is important to me,” he said again, with a slight distinction. “I’m not in favor of you guarding her, but it isn’t my decision. If you allow any harm to come to her, you and I are going to finish what we started last night.”

Arya could only hope her time in King’s Landing ended with Jorah lying dead at her feet. “I’ll be looking forward to it,” she remarked grimly.

“I know you’ve already met Prince Viserys,” Jorah said cryptically.

“If by ‘met,’ you mean physically restrained him so he wouldn’t pummel his sister, then yes, we ‘met.’”

Jorah took a moment to review their surroundings. Satisfied he elaborated, “Viserys is a second born son, a fact he hates. He takes that hate out on anyone who gets too close, be it the staff, his brother, his nephew or his sister.” Nephew? Since it didn’t appear Daenerys had a child, that must mean Rhaegar did. She immediately thought of Oberyn’s niece and nephew, Arya met both children on multiple occasions. They were well-mannered and quick to laugh. Given the volatile history, she knew the kids hadn’t been to King’s Landing for years, and that left only one possible explanation, Rhaegar had another child. Jorah had been talking, while Arya organized her thoughts. “… since Rhaegar won’t stand for it, he is in the habit of taking out his frustrations on Daenerys.”

For the first time she was glad Jorah suggested this. She was at a loss for how to protect Daenerys from her brother. Should she ensure the Princess avoid him all together or just try and minimize the damage when he grew angry? “What do I do? I doubt she can avoid the Prince.”

“I do what I can to limit the amount of time they spend together, especially alone. Viserys tends to save his worst behavior for when no one is around to see it.”

“Typical,” Arya mumbled more to herself than the knight.

“When it can’t be avoided, just stay close to try and discourage him. If the Princess looks distressed, make up an appointment and escort her out.” Jorah showed her a smile for the first time. “I like to use her visits to the orphanage as an excuse, Viserys would never accompany her there, and so it’s a suitable lie.”

By the Gods! Her new job required lying to a Prince to keep him from abusing his sister. Only the Targaryens! Her morbid thoughts directed her to the next problem she had to tackle, Rhaegar. She’d never seen the heir. He wasn’t there the day her family was brought before King Aerys and he didn’t accompany them on this journey either. This left her with woefully little information about him. Did she need to protect Daenerys from him as well? “What of the heir? Do I need to limit her time with him too?”

The question was one that Jorah wasn’t anticipating, it showed on his face. “Rhaegar? No, the Princess loves him and he her. If he’s nearby, you’ll find him an ally in your quest to protect Daenerys from Viserys. He also does his best to ensure Daenerys is not around their father on the worst days, although she doesn’t know this.” He was done speaking before deciding to clarify a bit. “She believes her father doesn’t wish to involve her in politics, the reality is Rhaegar claims she’s busy, so she isn’t exposed to her father’s madness.”

Arya had to actively push back the memories of that madness. She remembered the fear she felt in the presence of the Dragon King. The boys went first, then the sisters, by age, leaving her for last. Her family was already destroyed by the time it was her turn. One was dead, one battered, everyone else ruined. She was no longer a Lord’s daughter – her father having been stripped of his title, his lands and house. After seeing what passed for justice, she was truly terrified when he waved her forward. Blood wet the stones she was forced to kneel on. She slammed that particular memory into a box and buried it deep, for no other reason than to try and forget the sounds of her surviving family crying over her shoulder. It was the last time she saw any of them.

“Do you know of the King’s habits?” Jorah asked, back to being cryptic.

She rolled her eyes. As they moved, she wondered if she reminded him of anyone? Did he see grey eyes and think ‘Stark’, as so many Northmen did? “Even in Dorne, we hear tales of the Mad King.”

“Avoid calling him that in front of the Princess,” Jorah said seriously, as if she was actually stupid enough to do so. “It pains her to be reminded of it.”

“So, she isn’t present when he burns them?” she heard herself ask.

The question made Mormont uncomfortable. “Sometimes, when he insists, she is there. Those days are thankfully rare. Usually between Rhaegar and I, we keep her separate from that.”

Arya wasn’t sure how to feel. On one hand she was pleased she wouldn’t have to stand by and watch the Mad King butcher his subjects, on the other she was annoyed Daenerys was protected from it. She should be made to see, everyone should be made to see, maybe then they’d do something about it. “Anything else?” Her inquiry was meant to end this gathering. She’d had her fill of Targaryen drama.

“Not really,” Mormont replied. “You need to be with her anytime she leaves her chambers. If she’s upset, find Missandei, she’s likely the only one the Princess will want to see.” One final time he was done and then thought of a final point to make. “It’s a pretty easy job actually.”

Yeah, it did sound like a good post, what bothered her was that Jorah Mormont earned it by betraying her father and getting countless Northmen killed.

R-C

“What do you think they’re talking about?” Missandei inquired not long after Jorah and Arya left.

“I don’t know, I just hope they’re using words and not swords this time.” She punctuated her statement with a laugh, but she was genuinely concerned.

“Princess Daenerys, lovely to see you again.” She followed the voice to its source and found Oberyn Martell standing in front of her with a warm smile. In his hand he had a small collection of fresh flowers which he presented to her. “These are for you.”

She raised the colorful blooms to her nose and inhaled. “Thank you, Prince, how beautiful.” It was a kind and sweet gesture, but it left Daenerys suspicious. Usually people didn’t give her gifts unless they wanted something. Normally flowers accompanied a proposition but given that she met Ellaria and saw how in love the two were, she doubted that was the reason this time.

“Had I known you’d be in the company of another, equally gorgeous woman, I would have stopped to pick more flowers.”

“Don’t worry, I don’t mind sharing.” To prove it, she divided the flowers in half and passed some to her handmaiden. “Prince Oberyn, allow me to introduce my dearest friend Missandei of Naath.”

“Charmed.” When Missandei offered her hand to the Prince he kissed it, just as he’d done to Daenerys the day before. After the introduction, Oberyn focused entirely on Daenerys. “May I steal you away for a moment, there is something I’d like to discuss.”

“Of course.”

“If you’ll excuse me,” Missandei said, standing up. She walked around the bench, picked up the forgotten orange peel and carried it away. She nodded to each before she left. “Prince, it was nice to meet you. Princess, I’ll just be over there.”

When they were alone Oberyn took Missandei’s seat. He looked at the tree. “Did you enjoy the orange?”

She was torn. She could claim ignorance or admit what she’d done. If he was asking, it was probably too much to hope he hadn’t seen what Missandei took away. She could tell him Arya said it was okay, but that might get her new guard in trouble and she didn’t want that. In the end she decided to risk upsetting the Prince to spare Missandei and Arya. “It was delicious,” she admitted honestly. “I hope it’s alright that I tried one, I just couldn’t resist.”

He laughed then, setting her at ease. “It’s more than alright, I’d insist upon it. What good are such trees if not to sample from time to time.”

She appreciated his generosity but remained wary. “I imagine you didn’t ask to see me to discuss fruit.”

He laughed again. “As smart as you are beautiful, you really are everything they said.” There was a slight pause where Daenerys could only wait. “I wanted to speak to you about your newest guard.”

This was about Arya? “I am very lucky. I understand she finished at the top of her training and received personal lessons from a Prince.”

“She told you about that?”

Still not wanting to tell him the story of the orange, she settled for a simple, “Yes, she told me you helped train her.”

He smiled and shook his head gently. “You are lucky,” he confirmed, “more than you realize, but I want you to know the whole truth. I did not just train Arya, we are friends. She is important to me.”

Daenerys wasn’t sure what she was supposed to say. It made her sound tentative when she did speak. “I know you didn’t agree with Prince Doran’s decision to let her serve in King’s Landing.”

“I worry about her,” Oberyn said bluntly. “I have daughters, and I love each of them very much. I could not love Arya anymore if she were my child, do you understand?”

She didn’t, not really. Why was he telling her this? She nodded anyway, hoping to get more information.

“I did not want her to go to King’s Landing, just as I would not want any of my daughters to go without me. I’m telling you this because I want you to understand, I am trusting you with someone I cherish.”

There was a lump in her throat that prevented her from talking. Eventually she swallowed it and managed to say, “I understand.”

“Arya will guard you well, she will protect you from anyone or anything that might harm you. In return, I ask that you do what you can to protect her. King’s Landing is a dangerous place, as I’m sure you know. Not all the threats come from outside the Red Keep.” He stopped speaking and waited for her to nod in agreement. “Not everything can be killed with a sword or a spear. It is these things I need you to guard Arya from.”

It took time, but eventually she came to understand what Oberyn was asking of her. She felt ill and wished she could go back to being ignorant. He wanted her word that she’d keep Arya safe inside the castle, from her father, and her brother primarily but likely from all the other dangers that lurked there.

He was right, she did know about the threats within the castle and he was also right that those things couldn’t necessarily be kept at bay by Arya’s blade. She didn’t want to deny what was obviously a heartfelt plea, but she did wonder if she was up to the task. She didn’t want any harm to come to Arya, especially not from within her own family, but what could she do? If Viserys or her father were determined to hurt Arya, could she step in? She’d want to, but could she actually do it?

“I don’t want anything to happen to Arya either, but things are different in the Capital. Here a woman is equal to a man, it is not so there. I would try…”

Oberyn had heard enough. “That is all I am asking,” he assured her. “You are stronger than you think you are Daenerys Targaryen, you already defended Arya once. When she refused to kill, you spoke to keep her safe. Did you know what your father would do to her?”

She swallowed hard and nodded. She did know, maybe not the specifics but she definitely knew the end result. Without his pyromancer and his wildfire, he may have had to go about it a different way, but dead was dead no matter how you got there. “I knew. She was right to refuse him, though few would’ve.”

“Arya is special,” he told her, his affection shining through. “I just want you to do as you did last time, to try and keep her safe, as she would you.”

Daenerys thought of the previous night, Arya had already proven willing to face danger in the Princess’s defense. She shielded Daenerys from an enraged Viserys. What kind of Princess would she be, what kind of person, if she wasn’t willing to do the same? “I will do everything in my power to ensure she’s returned safely.”

“Thank you,” he said, “and thank you for allowing me the chance to speak with you. I’ll leave you in peace to continue your conversation with your friend.”

She could have let him go, but she chose instead to try and end things on a lighter topic. “I was hoping to have Arya take me around the area. Is there anything I must see before I leave?”

“You could exit here and find majesty in any direction,” he predicted. “Sometimes when I want to get away, I simply climb atop my horse and let him lead me where he will. You can find beautiful blue waters, vast deserts and plenty in between. I trust Arya will make an exceptional guide, before she began training, she spent much of her free time wandering. She’ll have plenty to show you, I’m sure.”

Daenerys listened closely. It wasn’t difficult to imagine Oberyn just picking up and disappearing for days at a time. How great it must be to be that free, to be able to come and go like that. “If that’s true, I’m looking forward to it all the more now.”

With a smile Oberyn stood. “I hope you enjoy Dorne, Princess. If possible, could you not mention to Arya that we spoke? She’d be embarrassed to have me watching out for her.”

“Of course." When he left, he didn’t go back the way he’d come, or disappear off in the direction of his next appointment, instead he went to Missandei, who was sitting at a nearby pool and directed her back to Daenerys. They spoke briefly and if Daenerys had to guess she’d say he was apologizing for interrupting their day.

R-C

Chapter Text

Arya walked several steps ahead of Jorah, in a hurry to put some distance between them. She didn’t want to be close to him and everything he represented. She found Missandei and Daenerys on the same bench, unchanged from when they left.

Just as it had earlier, Arya’s arrival caused a break in the conversation. “You’re back.” She deliberately looked past Arya to locate Jorah. “Both of you. Did you manage to speak without bloodshed?”

Jorah’s long legs made it easy for him to catch up to Arya, coming to a halt beside her. “Our swords weren’t needed Princess.”

“Good, now that that’s settled, shall we go?”

Before she knew it, Daenerys had popped up onto her feet and was bubbling over with excitement. Whatever was going on, she could hardly contain herself. “Where do you wish to go Princess?” Jorah asked.

“I’m not sure,” she admitted, “I don’t know what’s nearby. I was hoping Arya would be willing to show me a little bit of Dorne before we leave for King’s Landing.”

The two guards wore similar expressions for different reasons. Arya wasn’t expecting to be thrust into the role of Dornish guide. Jorah was equally surprised, likely because despite posing the question, Daenerys hadn’t mentioned him at all.

Bouncing from foot to foot she put Arya on the spot. “Will you take me sightseeing?”

Why was she asking? If she wanted to see Dorne, she could order they do it and Arya would be obligated to comply. “If you want to, we can.”

That was obviously the wrong answer. Daenerys’s smile disappeared and she stopped her bouncing. “I don’t want you to say yes because I’m a Princess, I want you to say yes because you really want to show me a little more of your homeland.”

Without meaning to her eyes shifted to Mormont. He had more experience with the Princess and her moods, maybe he had some insight. He provided no guidance. She didn’t understand why her feelings mattered but realizing what Daenerys wanted to hear, she tried again. “I wouldn’t mind escorting you.”

She was evidently transparent because although her lips curled up slightly, Daenerys said, “Not terribly convincing but I’ll take it. What would you recommend we see?”

“You’ll be expected at dinner tonight Princess,” Jorah reminded her pointedly.

“Gods forbid I miss one meal,” Daenerys whined. She seemed to realize she’d spoken out loud too late and was instantly repentant. “I’ll make sure we’re back in time,” she said to the knight. With Jorah placated she looked to Arya again, “Where should we start?”

“Have you seen Sunspear?”

Daenerys’s lips opened but Jorah was quicker. “We passed through it on the way here,” he responded for the Targaryen.

In a blink Daenerys changed, from a relaxed young woman engaged in a pleasant conversation to something else entirely. The new Daenerys stood taller, spoke louder and left no room for argument. She’d been apologetic for snapping at Jorah moments earlier, but that was forgotten. She spoke with an undeniable authority when she said, “Since I’ll have Arya with me, you can take the afternoon off, Ser.”

Jorah was visibly hurt by this. “Princess, I should join you, we’ve still not seen if Arya is a capable guard.”

“I disagree, but even if I’m wrong, wouldn’t it be better to find out now, before she travels with us to King’s Landing?”

“I’ll join you, in case…”

“No, I won’t be able to assess Arya’s capablility if you’re there.”

“Perhaps a lone guard, especially an inexperienced one is not enough,” Jorah tried. “I’ll remain in the background, so you can determine her skill, but I should still come along.”

“It’s just going to be Missandei and I, I don’t think that warrants a second guard.”

“I could remain here Princess,” Missandei offered.

Daenerys reached out and took her friend’s hand. “You’re coming. Watching two people is not a hardship for a single guard, Jorah does it all the time.”

Since they met Arya had learned a lot about the woman she would be protecting. She was quiet and soft-spoken in groups, generous to her friends and now she could add stubborn to the list. It was obvious in the way they went back and forth that this was a common occurrence, not this particular argument but the pattern, with Jorah pushing for something and Daenerys resisting. She wouldn’t have guessed the woman she found cowering in the corner of her chambers could be stubborn, but the Princess appeared a bit more complicated than Arya originally assumed.

She was brought into the discussion directly when Jorah tried to use her to support his baseless claim. “Maybe Arya would prefer having me there in support.” Clearly, Jorah wanted her to side with him. He didn’t know who she really was, didn’t know her hate ran deep enough that she’d refuse almost any of his requests on principle alone.

In this case though, they were discussing her abilities and opposing Jorah wouldn’t even require her to lie. She was quite capable of guarding two women. “We’ll be fine.”

Daenerys was bouncing again and since she was still clutching Missandei’s hand the movement was shaking them both. The handmaiden didn’t seem to mind. “Great!” Daenerys cried. “Which way was the stables?”

Jorah was trying to catch her eye, likely so he could urge her to reconsider. She avoided all of his attempts to get her attention. “Follow me, I’ll take you there.”

R-C

Without a horse of her own she was riding on a borrowed one from the stable. She would have been fine to walk to the city but doing so would have slowed down Daenerys and Missandei.

Their route was going to take them very close to the barracks. A lone change of clothes and her handful of personal belongings were inside. A majority of the recruits had already moved out, some into their own homes, while others returned to their families nearby. Only those with no place to go stayed behind. Soon enough they’d be assigned to a specific unit and start receiving pay, then even the poorest among them would be able to afford a roof over their head.

It was hard not to feel a little bit disgruntled as she thought about it. She should be in the barracks celebrating with the new brothers, but instead she was guarding Daenerys. Instead of fretting over where she’d be stationed, and complaining about the wait, Arya would have to wait much longer. Her first commander wouldn’t be a trusted Dornishman, it’d be Daenerys. Only after her time serving the Princess was done would she return to Sunspear and get detailed to a unit like everyone else.

“Princess, would you mind if we make a stop on our way to the market?”

As they travelled, she had listened half-heartedly to Missandei and Daenerys speak about what they wanted to see. They both agreed they should visit the shops and the merchants, so that would be where they would begin.

“Is something the matter?”

“No, we are just going to be passing the barracks and I’d like to gather my things.” It occurred to her too late that she shouldn’t have mentioned it. “I could stop on the way back or while you’re eating, forget I said…”

“I don’t mind stopping.” It was quiet for a few steps and then she said, “I’ve been meaning to ask all day, but there has always been other people around. How is the other soldier, the man my father made you fight? Is he going to recover?” The far away look in her eye was one Arya recognized – Daenerys was reliving the events again.

“He’ll be fine. His injuries weren’t severe and there are few tougher than him.”

“Tough or not, you still beat him.”

“I got lucky, it could have just as easily been me kneeling with a sword at my throat.” Admitting that brought neither shame nor guilt. She wasn’t embarrassed by the idea that Ninety-Four could have won, and it didn’t feel like a lie to say so.

“I’m glad it wasn’t.”.

Arya let that be the end of the discussion. She pulled her horse ahead and led them off the main road, heading toward the barracks. The two friends stayed back, speaking quietly in a language Arya didn’t know. She let them talk in peace. She stopped them in front of the non-descript, unimpressive building. “You live here?” Daenerys asked as Arya climbed out of the saddle.

“For the last year I have. My training is over now, so even if I was staying, I wouldn’t be here much longer.”

“Where will you sleep tonight? Why are you getting your things now? We aren’t leaving for the South right away.”

She tied her horse to the available post and then replied. “I’ll get a room at the Water Gardens, I don’t want to be late again, if you decide tomorrow is another day where you can’t possibly stay inside.”

“Is that a problem?” Daenerys wondered. “I could remain indoors tomorrow until you came, if it were easier…”

Arya felt it was a kindness to end her rambling early. “It’s fine, I won’t miss sharing my room with dozens of men.”

“You all live together, the men and the women?”

“Yes, though in this case it was men and woman.” She noticed Daenerys rising up out of her saddle, like she intended to follow her guard. Arya put a hand on her wrist to still her. “Stay on the horse,” she instructed. “If there is trouble, yell. If you can’t wait, ride hard and fast in that direction.” She pointed to specify which one she meant and then added, “I’ll catch up.”

“You think something will happen while you’re gone?”

“I doubt it, but I wouldn’t be a very good guard if I didn’t give you a plan, in the event it did.”

“Oh okay.”

“Continue your conversation and I’ll be back in a minute.”

She walked to the door and paused to confirm neither woman looked like she intended to flee.

All over the large room clusters of soldiers were gathered together. Some were gambling, some were drinking, others were talking amongst themselves. She noticed a few lying down, likely to recover from last night’s festivities. One man appeared to be writing a letter. Everyone looked up when she entered, that wasn’t surprising, what was, was that nearly everybody stopped what they were doing and immediately stood at attention. “What’s this?” she asked halfway to her bed.

“They heard what you did for me,” an unseen man explained.

She had Missandei and Daenerys waiting but a slight delay wouldn’t matter. She went to Ninety-Four’s bed and found him lying down. Her eyes swept his body assessing his injuries. “What are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be with the Maester?”

He shrugged. “They did what they could, now I just need to rest.”

When it looked like he meant to stand up like the rest, Arya was quick to put a hand on his shoulder and keep him in place. “Are you mad? Lie down, before you ruin all that Maester’s hard work.”

“It’s not that bad.”

“You did this?” she asked, gesturing to the men still standing at attention for her.

“I just told them what happened, they did that on their own.”

She raised her voice. “Well, I appreciate it, but I’m still the same recruit I was yesterday.” When no one moved she tried again. “You’ve made your point.” She counted to ten and still nothing. “Sit down!” she yelled loudly. “Do whatever you were doing before I came in.” Finally, they relented, and Arya breathed a sigh of relief. As they returned to their activities Arya stayed with Ninety-Four. “Are you alright?”

“I should be dead,” he said seriously. He seemed content to stay in bed, so she reluctantly let her hand fall away, ready to raise it again if he tried to stand.

“I didn’t cut you that bad.”

His expression hardened. “That’s not what I meant, and you know it. What you did for me, I owe you a debt…”

Arya was pleased Ninety-Four was recovering well, and she didn’t mind discussing this with him, but she couldn’t allow him to finish that thought. “You don’t owe me a damn thing! If you landed one more punch it’d be you visiting me. I’ve had a headache all day.”

Her attempt at humor didn’t work. “I don’t think so,” he disagreed, lowering his voice to a whisper. “I’d like to think I’d have refused the order in your place, but I’m not so sure I would’ve.”

“I hope you never have to find out.” That was the truth. She was haunted by her first meeting with the Mad King and she’d be haunted by her second too. Hours after the event she dreamt of it, only this time she obeyed the order and killed Ninety-Four only to be revealed as Arya Stark and executed. Three times she tried to sleep and three times she had the same dream. The only variation was in the method that killed her.

“Why didn’t you do it?” he wanted to know.

“I got no problem killing,” she confessed openly. “If a man makes it him or me, I’m fine with it being ‘him.’ If someone wrongs me or harms someone I love, I’ll gladly take revenge. Some people got death coming to them, they deserve it. What happened last night wasn’t that. Killing you like that, would have required me to change what I believe, change who I am, change everything, and I wasn’t willing to do that for him.”

“I thought they were going to kill us both.”

“So did I. I need to go, but when I get back from the South, I’ll find you and you can teach me how you punched hard enough to dent my helmet.”

“Only if you teach me how you move so fucking fast.” He gave a short but real laugh. “Every time I thought I had you, you were gone.”

“You’ve got a deal.”

She’d already left Daenerys and Missandei far too long. The Princess would probably agree that she was a poor guard after this. Luckily, she didn’t have many things to pack; a cloak, a change of clothes and her box of personal items. She gathered everything quickly. Her last act was to remove the knife from her pillowcase and tuck it into her boot.

As she made her way to the door some of the men gambling stopped. “Don’t you dare!” she warned, fearing they were going to stand at attention again.

“We won’t,” a recruit with a babyface said. He didn’t look old enough to shave. “Show those bastards in King’s Landing how tough we Dornish really are.”

A few more echoed his sentiments with, ‘Yeahs.’ Another yelled, “Make us proud.”

“I’ll try my best,” she told them all.

The man with the dice in his hand smiled at her. “I’ve seen your best, those fuckers in the South don’t stand a chance.”

R-C

Daenerys was worried. Arya had said it would only take her a minute to collect her things, they’d been waiting nearly ten. She considered going to check, but she didn’t want to embarrass Arya. She also didn’t want to rush her, even if the Princess was impatient.

The yelling she heard from within almost propelled Daenerys off her horse. Missandei knew her friend and was quick to reassure her. “She’s fine, I’m sure.”

She nodded without actually agreeing. Her plans to see Dorne, to shop in the market, and taste some exotic food all faded to the background. All that mattered was Arya’s safe return.

She released the breath she’d been holding when her guard appeared. Daenerys couldn’t resist jumping down and hurrying to meet her. “Are you…”

“Forgive me Princess,” Arya interrupted. “I didn’t think my request would delay you that long. Some of the others wished to speak to me, and I likely should have refused them, but I didn’t want to be rude and…”

It took a moment for Daenerys to catch up. What was Arya apologizing for? Yes, the wait was longer than she predicted but that was hardly a crime. In fact, it was barely a hardship now that Arya was back, and Daenerys could confirm her welfare. “It’s fine Arya, it gave Missandei and I more time to plan our trip into Sunspear.” She was exaggerating slightly, but it was for a good cause. “Shall we go?” she suggested, eager to end Arya’s guilt.

“Yes, of course, just allow me a moment to pack my things into my saddlebag.”

When she mentioned her property. Daenerys looked away from Arya’s face for the first time to see what she carried. Daenerys was shocked by how little there was. Unaware of Daenerys’s feelings Arya hurried to her horse and began securing her belongings. Daenerys went with her, to get a better look. She hoped that on closer inspection there would be more than what she noticed at first glance. She was disappointed. There were a few folded items that Arya stuffed into the bottom of her saddlebag. Daenerys couldn’t quite tell but her guess was they amounted to one change of clothes, two at the most. Over her arm was a black, threadbare cloak with at least one visible tear in the fabric. Lastly Arya had a wooden box with an iron lock attached to the top. It was obviously important, given the way Arya set it carefully into her bag, resting it on a bed made of the clothes. Was that everything Arya owned? All told, it fit into one saddlebag with plenty of room to spare. How was it possible to survive with so little?

She’d always known she had too much. Golden trinkets, fancy jewelry, expensive silk dresses and so much more. Her time at the orphanage of King’s Landing taught her that there were many who weren’t so lucky. She spent most of her time in the castle, a place of privilege. The people she encountered there were almost all wealthy, to varying degrees maybe, but none would be going hungry anytime soon. Missandei hadn’t had much when she arrived, mainly just spare dresses but her limited possessions eclipsed what Arya had by a wide margin. She felt a knot tie in the pit of her stomach. Soon Arya would be with her in the Red Keep and she’d see just how much Daenerys had, how much was wasted on her. What would Arya think of her then?

When she finished burying her anxiety about the future, she found both Arya and Missandei looking at her expectantly. She knew that meant they were waiting for her to say something. “I’m sorry,” she said as her face heated, “I was lost in thought.”

“I just asked if you like being followed by a guard?”

She was fluent in the common tongue and yet Arya’s words didn’t make sense. What did her opinion matter? She looked to Missandei for clarification and was met with a smile. Whatever Arya’s reasons for asking, Missandei wasn’t bothered. “I suppose not,” she said carefully, “I don’t really have a choice.”

Arya smiled briefly. “Except you do.” She held up her tattered cloak. “If you want me to remain as I am, I will, my presence is likely to draw attention to us but also deter anyone from getting too close.”

Still not seeing the larger point, she prompted Arya to continue with a single word. “Or?” she asked, knowing instinctively there had to be more.

“Or I could put this on,” she said waving the cloak a bit. “I’d remove my helmet, conceal my armor and we could just be three women passing through the city.”

When she understood Daenerys was touched by the sentiment. All her life, she had guards, and none had ever offered what Arya was. She was giving Daenerys the chance to live as a common woman, if only for the day. Arya would still be with her, still be close enough to intervene if necessary, but by hiding her purpose Daenerys wouldn’t feel watched by every stranger. “It is likely hot in that helmet,” she joked with a wide grin. “It would be a kindness for you to not have to wear it.”

Arya caught the joke and played along. “Very considerate Princess.”

“If you don’t have to be a guard,” Daenerys said, unwilling to let the lighthearted banter end, “then I don’t need to be a Princess. Just Daenerys, please.”

“You’re the boss,” Arya said, reaching up to remove her helmet, giving Daenerys a chance to recover. She knew Arya was still teasing her, but nonetheless she said the words. To someone listening it might seem trivial to have a guard tell the royal she was in control, but to Daenerys fewer statements could have been more meaningful. Just as no one in her life had ever offered to hide her guards in plain sight, no one had ever told her she was in charge. Even Jorah who was unquestionably loyal to Daenerys, still followed the orders of Rhaegar and her father. If her wishes didn’t align with what they wanted her to do, she was quickly overruled. Arya viewed her role differently. She’d said as much to Viserys the night before, she told him she served Daenerys. Could she have meant that quite literally?

For a second time, she was too busy thinking to hear what was going on around her. Two sets of eyes were looking to her for comment again.

Arya realized her state of confusion and saved her the indignity of having to apologize for being distracted twice. “We can wait all day,” she said, “but I did promise I’d bring you back for dinner, so if you wish to see more of Dorne than my barracks, we best get started, Daenerys.” She said her name with emphasis, drawing attention to her use of it instead of her title. It made Daenerys smile. Next to her Missandei was grinning almost as brightly, likely because she knew how significant Arya’s contributions were, in word and deed.

“Y…yes.. of… course.” She paused in an effort to end her pathetic stammering. “Of course, I’m sure there is much to see. Lead the way, Arya.”

R-C

Having been to Sunspear plenty, she didn’t see much of interest this visit, at least not in her surroundings. What she found much more compelling was the wide-eyed awe and the finger pointing of her companions. She lost count of the number of times she heard Missandei or Daenerys say, ‘look at that,’ or ‘over there.’

As they browsed, Daenerys proved to be as generous as she had that morning. In a dress shop she divided her time between shopping for herself and Missandei. She purchased only one dress but encouraged her handmaiden to get multiple. She complimented her friend often, noting which colors she felt would suit Missandei best. The dark-haired woman didn’t buy any dresses but did purchase silk in several colors with intent to craft garments of some kind.

Daenerys even brought Arya into the conversation, asking if the guard wanted something. She responded with a polite, “No, thank you.” Saying nothing of the cost, she’d rather gargle broken glass than wear such things. Seeing all the options however did remind her of her lost sister. Sansa would have loved shopping in such a place and she definitely would have taken Daenerys up on her offer to get a dress or twelve. Her heart hurt, as it always did when she thought of her family. Sansa had been fostered to Highgarden while Arya went to Sunspear. All she could do was hope that Sana’s experiences were better than her own. With a smile, she remembered Sansa’s fondness for stories of knights, it was one of the few things the sisters could agree on, though for different reasons. While Arya liked to hear about their prowess in battle, Sansa was more interested in their lives and loves. She wanted to hear how a man of humble origins rose up to become a favored knight, respected and admired by all. She loved the honor of it, and the romance, especially if the knight found everlasting love along the way. Unlikely as it was, she liked to imagine that Sansa had found herself a knight in the Reach, one who would elevate her station as so often happened in the stories.

After the dress shop their walk around the Shadow City took them past a popular brothel – an establishment called ‘Titles.’

Not surprisingly there were girls outside, trying to lure customers in. Arya saw no fewer than four men accept the various propositions. “Is that…”

“A brothel?” Arya finished for her. “Yes, it is. The most well-known in the whole of Dorne as a matter of fact.”

Daenerys blushed to have it confirmed but her embarrassment was short lived. She looked rather mischievous when she asked, “Have you been?”

Any shyness she felt on the subject of sex had been lost long ago. Years in Dorne had all but beaten it from her by the time she was old enough to care. When she tried, it was a struggle to reconcile how she felt now, to the teachings of her father. Ned Stark wouldn’t have approved of the idea of his daughter visiting such a place, but she had no such reservations. She answered honestly, “This is for Princes and other highborn. Purchasing even a drink in such a place would likely cost me a week’s wage.” As she spoke, a potential reason Daenerys was asking occurred to her. “While it may not be appropriate for a soldier, a Princess would surely be welcome.”

Unsure of the protocol she tried to think fast. How could she guard Daenerys and still avoid being in the room? If necessary, she decided, she could search Daenerys’s selection for weapons and then stand guard at the door until she finished.

“Unfortunately, there are no Princesses among us today,” she reminded Arya.

Across the street a woman in a fine dress entered Titles. She had a servant with her and two guards in full armor. “Who is that?” Daenerys wondered in a quiet voice. Recognizing the plate first, it took longer to identify the woman. When she did, she chuckled. Daenerys misinterpreted the sound. “Do you not know her?”

As a rule, Arya despised gossip and all those who traded in it, but she got the distinct impression that Daenerys was asking more out of honest curiosity than a desire to discover a secret. The truth was, Arya did know her, she waited on Sylva during her yearly visits to the Water Gardens. She omitted that detail in her retelling. “That’s Spotted Sylva,” Arya explained, “the head of House Santagar.”

“Spotted Sylva?” Missandei repeated incredulously.

“Her home is called ‘Spottswood,’ hence the name.”

“That’s a better reason than the one I was imagining,” Daenerys confessed in a whisper.

It was probably inappropriate for a guard to laugh at her charge, but she couldn’t help it. She wasn’t alone either, Missandei’s poorly contained amusement mixed with Arya’s. Not the least bit offended, Daenerys looked pleased by their reactions.

They begin walking again and as they went Arya made a casual inquiry. “Would you ladies like to hear the story of how that brothel got its name?”

Daenerys didn’t pass up the chance to try and tease her. “For a woman who claims she’s never been, you know much about that business and its customers.”

She rolled her eyes but didn’t otherwise complain, as they laughed again, this time at her expense. “Everyone from the area knows the story. If you don’t want to hear it however I can…”

She didn’t get to finish her threat. “Tell us!” Daenerys implored, gripping Arya’s arm and turning to face her completely. To Arya, she appeared more like an anxious child eagerly awaiting her nameday and less than regal, composed Dragon Princess.

“When I first walked this street, it was called something different, named after the owner, I believe. Then he unknowingly hired a woman to work for him and she became the most famous whore in all of Sunspear, and believe me, that is a fiercely contested crown.” Her quip earned the desired response from her audience and she continued on, “It’s said she used to tell her customers that for a few handfuls of coin she could make even the lowliest man feel like someone of privilege, wealth and title. The owner heard that and took a liking to it, changing the name to Titles.”

Daenerys was smiling when Arya got to the end. “Does she still work there?”

She shook her head. “If you listen to the rumors a rich man from Essos visited on business and went to see her. He was so taken with her, he purchased her contract and moved her across the sea to be his mistress. That was the last anyone heard of her, to the best of my knowledge.”

“It’d be nice if she got a happy ending,” Daenerys remarked.

“Do you believe in such things?”

“Believe in them? Sure. Expect one? No.” She clarified, “Even if they’re rarer than flawless diamonds, it’s still better to have an ounce of hope than none at all.”

Arya looked at the Princess thoughtfully. So far, her day with the Targaryen had been nothing like she expected. She was beginning to wonder if it was wrong to lump Daenerys in with her siblings and father just because they shared a name and some blood.

“Are you hungry?” Arya asked, as they came to a line of food vendors.

“I wasn’t,” Daenerys admitted, “until you said something, but Gods, it smells wonderful.”

“Go on,” she urged, waving the women toward the stands. “I promise you won’t find food like this anywhere else in Westeros.”

She stayed back and let the women explore. She shadowed them from a distance and kept a close eye to ensure they didn’t have any trouble. There was little danger nearby, unless she counted the burn of the spices used on the foods Daenerys seemed tempted to try. With clarity she remembered her first time eating authentic Dornish food, she’d been just as unprepared as Daenerys. Arya wandered to the far edge of the square. A lone woman stood behind a wood counter. There was no sign, just rows of jugs and bottles in varying sizes. She pointed to the smallest size and then reached under her cloak for her admittedly few coins. She wandered back toward Daenerys and Missandei carrying a bottle in each hand. She arrived just before the women did, carrying their purchases. Missandei had chosen a simple sandwich. A thick slab of meat was trapped between two pieces of freshly cut bread. Daenerys had opted for something more adventurous, further damaging Arya’s assumptions about her. She held a skewer in one hand. On the spear were several pieces of spiced meat, some onion, tomato and what looked to be a pepper.

“What’d you get?” Daenerys asked cheerfully when they were all together.

“You got the food, I got the drink.”

Daenerys’s smile dimmed slightly as she reached to take hers. “These are for us?”

“You’re going to want them,” she foretold.

“Milk?” Missandei asked after sipping hers.

“Milk is better than water for easing the burn on your tongue.”

“My tongue doesn’t burn,” Missandei resisted.

“Finish your sandwich,” she encouraged, “then see if you can say that.” To Daenerys she said, “You, will definitely need it. You picked the cook who uses the most spice.”

“Aren’t you getting anything? We can wait,” Daenerys proposed, “or we can come with you.”

“Eat, before it gets cold,” Arya instructed. “I’m not hungry.” That wasn’t exactly true, she was very hungry, especially after seeing what they were having, but she couldn’t afford to buy anything after paying for the milk, so she’d just need to wait until later. She didn’t doubt that Daenerys would purchase her lunch if she learned the real reason Arya wasn’t eating, but Arya steadfastly refused to tell her. She didn’t want charity and her pride wouldn’t allow her to take a handout from a Targaryen, no matter how small.

“Where are we going after this?” she asked, hoping to distract from the fact that she wasn’t eating.

Although the answer didn’t come, everyone quickly forgot about Arya. Daenerys stole the moment by biting into her skewer and immediately gasping. “Ow, ow, ow!” she cried as she chewed. “So hot,” she added when most of it had been swallowed. She endured by breathing heavily through her nose. Missandei comforted her by rubbing circles onto her back. When her mouth was empty, she set the milk down and used her free hand to fan her face. “Wow, you weren’t kidding when you said we have nothing like that back home.”

“Would you like me to go get you something else?” Arya offered. She was unsure how she’d pay for it, but it felt like the right thing to do. The alternative was to stand by and watch her suffer.

“No, no,” she said shaking her head in time with the denial. The movement sent her silver hair, styled in a braid swinging from side to side. “I just need a minute.”

Arya had to admire the Targaryen’s commitment. Most Southerners would spit the bite out and give up but Daenerys persevered. “If you’re serious about finishing, I recommend you do more than leave that milk on the ground.”

Daenerys looked down at the bottle between her feet. “I forgot what you said.” She bent to get it and then straightened up. “It’ll really help?”

“Try it and find out.”

She drank greedily from the bottle and sighed dramatically when she finally lowered it. “Well?” Missandei wondered. She was quietly eating her sandwich while she continued to comfort Daenerys. “Is it better?”

“I fear my tongue will never work the same again, but it doesn’t feel like wildfire is burning inside my mouth anymore either.”

“That’s better than most, their first time. You’ll earn the respect of any Dornish who hears that on your first trip to Sunspear you were brave enough to eat at Enid’s stall.” In addition to being accurate her words had another effect, emboldening Daenerys to take another bite from the skewer. This time she chewed quicker, while her eyes kept darting to the remaining milk. Apparently, she would not make the same mistake twice, a quality Arya admired.

R-C

Her mouth still burned, many minutes after she finished eating. She’d been skeptical when she heard Arya claim milk better than water for combating spice, but there was some truth in the advice. Although the milk helped, it didn’t erase the discomfort, a fact she could attest to with confidence after drinking all of her bottle and a portion of Missandei’s. Any pain was worthwhile when her typically stoic guard rewarded her with a smile and a compliment as she carried the empty stick to the trash. Daenerys was only too happy to consider that a victory.

They were discussing their next destination when Missandei brought it up. “Would you like to go to the docks Daenerys?” She hadn’t thought of it, but it was a great idea. One of her favorite pastimes was to sit down by the water and watch all the ships coming and going.

“Can we?” she asked her guide.

“Sure, if you want,” Arya agreed.

Daenerys’s smile grew. “I’d love to.”

“To the docks then,” Arya called.

Daenerys and Missandei responded with a cheer. Well, actually she cheered and Missandei joined in, echoing Daenerys’s excitement after a brief delay. She was a great friend in that regard, always supportive, and fiercely loyal.

“It’s a much smaller port than you’re used to,” Arya warned as she spied the first of the ships out on the horizon. She didn’t care if the port was big or small, if it had ships, she wanted to see it, grateful for any time she could spend there.

“Does Dorne do much trade by sea?” she inquired.

“Some, though most is with Essos and not the Realm.” This information only made Daenerys more eager. In her humble opinion, ships from Essos were crafted with more care and style than the majority of the vessels from her homeland. They were like floating works of art.

She hadn’t had the opportunity to spend much time on the coast after their arrival. As soon as she was off the boat and on dry land, someone was fetching her horse and getting her moving toward the Water Gardens. They wouldn’t have postponed, even if she’d asked, so she didn’t bother wasting the words. Now though, with Arya and Missandei, she could take her time.

They started off several dozen feet from the water, watching the various crews load and unload cargo. Daenerys commented on the ships, guessing where they were coming from, and where they would be going next. She and Missandei made a game of trying to predict the cargo in the crates they saw. Some were obvious by their size and shape, but the unmarked, square crates were always fun to speculate on.

“Can we get closer?” she asked after a while, looking to Arya for approval.

She thought about her answer briefly then shrugged. “We can get as close as you want, this is Martell land, I’m their soldier, and you’re their guests.”

Daenerys was pleased by the permission granted, but she was much more impressed by Arya choosing to include Missandei instead of claiming Daenerys was the only guest. It was a sharp contrast to the night before when Missandei couldn’t join her for dinner. Happy with the way things were going, she grabbed her friend’s hand and pulled her along, desperate to get a better view.

Oddly enough, the largest, grandest ship in sight was the only one Daenerys didn’t have any desire to inspect. Her father’s ship, with its Targaryen sails, and the gold dragon accents, was no match for the smaller, weathered crafts that looked used and loved. In Daenerys’s mind at least, those ships could have been coming from anywhere, and going anywhere. Realistic or not, she liked to pretend they were on their way to the farthest corners of the world.

“I bet that ship is from Lys,” Daenerys said without proof, as they watched a new vessel come into port. The deck was lined with busy men, throwing ropes, and yelling orders. Others were at the rail, looking over the side, trying to estimate the captain’s course, calling out if he needed to steer them in one direction or the other.

Missandei gave the approaching ship more consideration before she countered Daenerys’s guess. Whether she believed the ship was really from Meereen or not, Daenerys couldn’t say. The game worked better when they were on opposing sides.

Arya hadn’t participated in the sport Daenerys created, rarely speaking without getting impatient. She also didn’t say or do anything to rush or stop their fun. Daenerys hoped it was because Arya was as content in the moment as she was.

“That ship is from Braavos,” Arya said with confidence.

Both women turned to look at her. She was sitting on the ground, as they were, but she was behind them slightly, having insisted they occupy the area closer to the water and the ships. “I still think it’s Lys!” Daenerys said in challenge, thrilled that Arya was getting involved.

“But you’re wrong and I’m right. That ship’s from Braavos, I know it. It’s called the Titan’s Daughter.”

If she was partaking in the game that was a very specific attempt. Slowly it dawned on her that Arya wasn’t playing at all, she was correcting their errors. She turned away from the ships for the first time since sitting down, giving Arya her whole focus. She held Daenerys’s eye without wavering. Her confidence wasn’t born out of arrogance, it was certainty. “How?” she asked, wishing she could be more articulate.

R-C

Arya could admit, at least to herself that she quite enjoyed seeing Daenerys flustered. She’d been amused when they started their sport. She listened carefully and made guesses of her own, though she kept them to herself.

She hadn’t expected to recognize any of the vessels, but she did. She had fond memories of going out on that ship with Ternesio, the captain, Oberyn, and a small crew. She’d always remember the bow’s shape, and the way the sails would accommodate the wind. She remembered jumping in surprise the first time the Titan of Braavos announced their arrival, much to Ternesio and Oberyn’s delight. There were some things in this life that were unforgettable, and for Arya her days spent aboard that ship and others like it with the Red Viper of Dorne qualified.

He’d taken her away from her duties in the Water Gardens under the pretense that he needed a capable servant to accompany him as he handled his affairs in Essos. Arya believed he brought her along for that purpose and early on their first day aboard a ship with a Martell sigil on the sails, she made the mistake of bringing him a glass of wine. He poured it out over the side and then invited her to spar with him. With a spear, with a sword, with his bare hands, he beat her so thoroughly and so repeatedly that she needed to stop and regain her strength. He stood over her then and said, “Until we return to Sunspear you are not my servant, you are no one’s servant, you are my friend and travelling companion.”

True to his word he treated her as his equal in all things. They shared meals, laughed and drank together. Often the only hours they spent apart were when they slept. He invited her to join him, him and whatever combination of willing men and women he already planned to entertain, but she was quick to refuse. She liked Oberyn a great deal but had no desire to see the man naked. Some things were just too much.

Outside of that, she joined him everywhere his business took him. When they met others, he introduced her as ‘Arya, my friend,’ whether they were speaking to his former allies in the Second Sons mercenary company or complimenting the owner of a fighting pit Oberyn hoped to gain entry to. It wasn’t an exaggeration to say those days were some of the best she ever had. For years she’d been a servant, and she would be again, but for a moment she’d had freedom. Oberyn asked her opinion, he sought her advice and when she gave it, he listened, often heeding it. She knew now that the trip was extended much longer than was needed to hold a few meetings. Oberyn was constantly adjusting the date of their return, always claiming he had one more person to see, one more place to go, and she wasn’t about to argue. One of the places was Braavos and one of the people was Ternesio.

As they zig-zagged across Essos together, she slept soundly, never once having a nightmare of her past. Not even the knowledge that she’d soon return to the Water Gardens could dampen her mood. She would deal with the future when it came, in the meantime she chose to savor every second of adventure with her friend, a friend who just happened to be a Prince.

When it couldn’t be avoided any longer, Oberyn ordered the crew to begin preparations for their return to Sunspear. Arya understood but was disappointed all the same. Oberyn chose then to find her, he handed her a drink and said, “You could go, I could report you died a tragic but all too common death on the sea.”

She knew what he was offering, and she knew the risks involved for the both of them. “I don’t want you to lie for me.”

He smiled at her in that way of his. “And I would anyway.” He let that sink in briefly before he made his next point. “What happened to your family was wrong, just as what happened to my sweet Elia was wrong. Whatever debt you owed the Targaryen, you paid it and then some. I think it is he who now owes you, he owes you a good life.”

She doubted the Mad King would see it that way, but she’d be lying to say she wasn’t tempted. She was aware that the chance Oberyn was giving her would never come around again. It was now or never. “Where would I go?”

He held out his hand toward the vast open water. “Anywhere,” he said. “You’ve seen but a fraction of the world, my friend. There is so much more. There are places where even the long arms of the Mad King can not reach you, places where he has no eyes, no ears and holds no power.”

What he was describing sounded almost easy, and she was sure it wouldn’t be. Fleeing a King and staying alive was no small task. Many in her place had tried and failed, but she knew Oberyn and he wouldn’t have suggested it if he didn’t think she could do it.

“My only regret,” Oberyn told her, “is that I won’t be able to go with you. If I were young again, free to do as I pleased, I would be by your side every step, but I have responsibilities, I have my family, my brother, my sister, Ellaria, my girls.”

“I’d never ask you to abandon them for me,” Arya insisted, feeling emotional. Her vision blurred slightly as she spoke. “What you did for me, bringing me here, giving me this. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a friend, and I’m not sure I’ve ever had a better one.”

When he embraced her, it was possible that a tear might have landed on his shoulder. When the hug was over, he smiled sadly at her. “Just because I can not go, doesn’t mean you should not. There is no shame in wanting more from life than cleaning up the Water Gardens.”

If she was going to do this, if she was going to leave Oberyn and disappear she needed to be clear on the details. “Is that all that waits for me there? Is there no hope Doran would let me do something else?”

“Like what?”

She didn’t know, she hadn’t thought that far ahead. “Anything really.”

Oberyn came at the problem a different way. “What would you do if you could do anything?”

He waited patiently while she decided how to respond. She’d given up any dream of being granted her freedom long before, so it took a minute to organize her thoughts and feelings. As a girl, she’d wanted to ride next to her father and brothers, to serve the Realm with a sword in her hand. A lot had changed in the time since, but that she discovered remained the same. “I’d join the army.”

“To fight for Dorne?”

“If they’d have me, sure, but I doubt Doran would let the daughter of a traitor fight for him.”

“Are you sure?” When the answer wasn’t immediate, he pushed harder. “Is this what you want?” he asked her bluntly. “You can go, be a soldier anywhere, the Second Sons would welcome you.” He provided her more time to think it through. “If you choose to accompany me to Sunspear, I’ll speak to Doran about letting you join the next of the recruits.”

“Really?” she asked, needing reassurance. She knew it was a long shot, but it was a shot she never expected to have. She was grateful that Oberyn was giving her a choice, because her life to that point had remarkably few. She didn’t want to grow old a servant, cleaning sheets and clothes until the day she died, but she wasn’t keen on the idea of uprooting her life and starting over either. She’d done that once before and it was beyond difficult. Then there was the matter of Oberyn himself. He was her friend, and she didn’t want to abandon him. If she left, there would be no second chance. She could never return, never find out if any of her siblings survived. She’d never see any of them again.

“I can not promise he will agree, my brother is his own man, but I swear I’ll use my considerable charms to try and make him see that you are being wasted in the Water Gardens.”

In the end, it was Oberyn’s pledge that convinced her. If he kept his word and used all of his talents on her behalf, she didn’t think anyone alive would refuse him. She hated to admit it, but he was a hard man not to like. “Let’s get back then,” she decided.

He laughed at her urgency and put an arm around her shoulders. “We will begin training right away. You’ll need to get much better with a spear if you are going to wear armor marked with the sun.”

She knew she was being granted a great gift, receiving lessons from Oberyn Martell, but she couldn’t shake off the hurt either. “I’m not good enough?” She never beat Oberyn when they sparred, but few did. That alone didn’t seem like enough to disqualify her. If soldiers needed to defeat Oberyn in battle to earn their place, Dorne would employ only a handful of warriors.

“It’s not enough to be good. To show Doran and everyone else they’re wrong about you, you need to be great. I can help you, if you want it.”

Arya had heard enough. “When do we start?”

Daenerys and Missandei were still waiting for an answer. She thought around the flood of memories to recall the question. How? How had she known The Titan’s Daughter was the Titan’s Daughter before they could read the name painted on the side? How had she known that ship came from Braavos? There wasn’t enough time or words to properly explain how Oberyn and that trip to Essos changed her life. She chose to simplify things more than a little. “Prince Oberyn asked me to accompany him on a trip he took to Essos. While we were there, he met with a Braavosi Captain he had business with. The man took us out on his ship,” she pointed at it, “that ship.”

“That’s incredible,” Daenerys said.

“Where did you go?” Missandei inquired.

She listed a few of the cities in no particular order. “Braavos, Meereen, Astapor, Lys.”

It didn’t escape her notice that when she mentioned Astapor, Daenerys took Missandei’s hand. She saw the serious look Daenerys gave her handmaiden and the softer one she got in reply. There was a story there, but Arya didn’t mind not knowing it. She’d been acquainted to Daenerys for less than a day, she met Missandei only that morning, if it didn’t diminish her ability to keep them safe, they could keep their secrets.

“We should probably get back.”

“Do we have to?”

“Don’t you want to say hello to your friend?” Missandei asked, having recovered from whatever was distressing her.

“You should,” Daenerys urged. “Do you think he’d let us aboard?”

She stood and brushed some sand from her clothes. “Only one way to find out.”

R-C

Chapter Text

Dinner was a torturous affair with lots of speeches to commemorate the upcoming wedding. Mercifully, she didn’t have to say much. Occasionally one of the Martell women would ask her a question and spend a few minutes trying to make Daenerys feel involved, but it was always brief, and afterward she faded into the background again.

Her body may have been there, eating, talking, listening but her mind was still on the waterfront with Arya, Missandei and Ternesio.

Arya appeared anxious as she led them toward the Titan’s Daughter, adjusting her cloak over her armor a bit, and resituating her sword on her hip. She also squatted down, as if to tie her boot but did nothing more than tap her ankle in an act Daenerys didn’t understand. Given Arya’s unease she wondered if she made a mistake suggesting they meet him. She’d done so hastily, after learning Arya knew a real ship’s captain. She’d never been on a ship that didn’t belong to her family. In Daenerys’s opinion, those didn’t count.

Ternesio was on the deck, reviewing documents and barking orders. Arya gestured for the women to wait before she stepped onto the plank that connected the ship and the dock together. Like a form of ancient magic, the captain somehow knew there was an uninvited person on his vessel. He looked up from his work to see who it was.

His hard expression lasted only a fraction of a second before he was grinning widely. “Arya, my friend!” he called. His papers forgotten, he left them on a crate and moved to meet her.

They embraced and words were exchanged on both sides, though Daenerys couldn’t hear what they were. When the hug was over her guard stepped back and waved the Princess and her handmaiden forward.

She stepped off the stable, but flexible plank and onto the deck of the Titan’s Daughter. An impressive ship from a distance, it was better up close. She couldn’t decide where to look. Should she watch the men lowering the sails that were no longer needed, or the crew of men moving crates, both on the ship and off? Then there was Ternesio. He was older than she expected, with greying hair he kept short and a face and arms that had been battered by both the sun as well as the wind. He was laughing at something Arya said while the soldier smiled along.

“Ternesio Terys, Captain of the Titan’s Daughter, these are my friends Daenerys and Missandei.”

“Had I known I was going to find three beautiful women on my ship when I made port in Sunspear I would have cleaned myself up a bit,” he joked, “and arrived much sooner.” He took Daenerys’s hand first with a smile, and then Missandei’s.

“It wouldn’t have helped,” Arya spit back.

Although he tried to act offended by her comment, when he clearly wasn’t. He went so far as to punch Arya in her nearest arm lightly. It was a strike Daenerys knew Arya could avoid or block easily, but she did neither. “Where is Oberyn?”

“His business keeps him,” Arya explained. “Daenerys and Missandei are visitors to Dorne, I was showing them the city when we stopped to admire the ships.”

Daenerys chimed in then. “You have a beautiful ship, Ser.”

Ternesio smiled. “She’s seen me through many tough times,” he remarked wisely. She didn’t have any trouble believing that. The ship was clearly well-maintained and widely used. She yearned for a ship very much like this, one of her own, so she could see the parts of the world she’s only read about and others still that she didn’t know where out there waiting for her.

“How is your family?” Arya asked him.

“Good, good,” he assured her quickly. “The boys are here, they just left to deliver our cargo.”

Arya laughed and looked up at the sun. “I remember going with them when we reached Meereen. I had to carry crate after crate up all those fucking stairs to the Great Pyramid.”

“If you didn’t want to carry it, you shouldn’t have lost your match,” Ternesio countered.

Aware they didn’t know what happened, Arya filled in the missing pieces for Daenerys and Missandei. “When we met Ternesio in Braavos, he invited Oberyn and I to accompany him to Meereen. We went and when we arrived, he asked for our help delivering his goods to the Masters who purchased them. Oberyn and I sparred to see who would be required to help and I lost.”

“You did well, after so long at sea, the boys were due some entertainment. You and the Viper provided it. Many of my crew won or lost their entire profits from the voyage on that bout,” he recalled.

Daenerys smiled at the obvious affection she heard. With every hour she learned more about her guard and the interest Daenerys felt at their initial meeting remained. In truth, it was stronger now. Daenerys couldn’t wait to see what she’d learn about Arya next.

“Send them my best. Oberyn will be sad to learn he missed you.”

“Stay,” the Captain proposed, “my sons will return soon. I’ll send a courier to the Gardens with a note for Oberyn, he can join us when he’s finished. We’ll eat and drink and laugh, as we have before.”

Desperately Daenerys wanted to accept and spend her evening with a man who was likely filled to the brim with stories she’d love to hear, but she couldn’t. She was expected at dinner and her absence would not be tolerated. She and Missandei shared a disappointed look, knowing they’d need to decline.

Before she could speak, Arya did. “I’m afraid we have another appointment that can’t be avoided,” she said, “I wish it could.”

For a moment the captain looked as saddened as Daenerys, but it didn’t last. With recognition and understanding Ternesio’s smile was back. “Last time I was here,” he paused and rolled his eyes up as he thought, “eight, maybe nine months back, Oberyn visited me, when I asked about you, he informed me you were training for the army.”

Arya’s face heated. “I was in training. I’m sorry I missed your visit.”

By expression alone Daenerys could tell the apology was unnecessary. “He told me you couldn’t leave the barracks.” He left a pause for Arya to comment and when she didn’t, he pressed on. “You’ve left now, does that mean you’ve finished?”

Reaching up she took the collar of her cloak and pulled it down, exposing the armor hidden underneath. “I did,” she confirmed simply.

Ternesio clapped her on the shoulder and smiled. “I’m proud of you. Dorne will be a better place with you protecting it. I’ll feel safer when I visit going forward.”

“Thank you,” Arya said quietly.

She waited for Arya to say more, but it never happened. Since she wasn’t willing to tell her friend the full extent of her triumphs, Daenerys acted in her place. “Arya didn’t just complete her training, she finished first.”

With a critical stare he studied Arya, in search of the truth. She confirmed the claim with a nod, and he laughed. “You can not stay, that I understand but we must celebrate your victory.” He turned away from the women. “Amid!” he shouted in the direction of his crew. “Find me a bottle and some glasses!”

They toasted Arya’s success, their continued friendship and finally their future endeavors. Daenerys understood why Oberyn and Arya liked Ternesio, he was kind, funny and charming. When their visit neared its end, Arya asked Ternesio for permission to show Missandei and Daenerys around the ship. He happily agreed, encouraging them to take all the time they needed. Daenerys barely spoke as she explored below deck. She stayed as long as she could, not wanting to miss a single detail between the bow and the stern.

She was pulled from her memory by a hand on the back of her chair. Startled, she jumped slightly. The presence behind her moved the hand from the chair to her shoulder to steady her. She looked up and saw Arya there, looking down at her. The cloak was gone now. She was once again a guard, just as Daenerys was again a Princess.

All around her people were moving. Her confusion must have been obvious because Arya lowered her head in the direction of Daenerys’s ear. “Dinner is over,” she said, “everyone is retiring to the sitting rooms.”

Dinner was over? She’d been daydreaming a lot longer than she realized. She nodded that she understood, and Arya’s hands returned to the chair, pulling it out for her. “Thank you,” she said for more than the manners. She’d have embarrassed herself and angered everyone else if she remained at the table after all others had gone.

As she moved away from the table, Daenerys took comfort from the fact that a few stragglers remained. She was less likely to be reprimanded if she wasn’t the last one to the sitting room.

Without any real enthusiasm she said, “We should probably get in there.” Arya was a step behind her going down the hall. Daenerys would have preferred they walk side by side but didn’t say so.

“Don’t worry, I’ll make up a reason for you to excuse yourself in a few minutes.”

“You don’t have to…” Daenerys tried, the words coming on reflex.

“Once everyone is seated, holding a drink and locked in conversation, I’ll come get you and we can find some other way to fill the evening.”

She didn’t know what Arya had in mind, but whatever it was, it couldn’t be worse than sitting around while the Martells and Targaryens pretended to like each other. When they arrived in the sitting room, Arya escorted her to her seat. Missandei was already there, holding the tea that would be hers. Normally the prospect of hours spent like this would be daunting, but not this time. This time Arya would rescue her. She just had to hold on until then.

R-C

Stomach growling, she stood against the wall between Missandei and Mormont observing the dinner taking place. Since he was no longer Daenerys’s guard, the Northman didn’t really need to be there, but he was. Arya, for one wouldn’t have missed him if he ate someplace else. The speeches were both needless and long-winded. They took an hour-long meal and stretched it to more than two.

Arya wasn’t the only one growing frustrated. Midway through the second speech Oberyn caught her attention and rolled his eyes dramatically. By the third, he was openly talking to Ellaria and ignoring the Lannister speaking. Arya understood it for what it was, a challenge – he was daring someone to say something about his behavior. No one did.

If someone asked her last week if she’d ever be capable of feeling empathy for a Targaryen, she would have said ‘no’ with certainty, but things were changing. For the most part Daenerys was ignored by her side of the table. Neither her family nor any of her father’s loyalists spoke to her. The Martells weren’t much better. Oberyn was too far away to engage Daenerys in conversation and none of the other men tried. A few women spoke with her but it never lasted and always seemed rather forced.

The new guard was beginning to understand why Mormont said he sometimes needed to invent appointments to give the Princess an excuse to escape. She didn’t know if Daenerys needed a break, but Arya felt like she did. It was painful to watch. She could only assume it was worse for Daenerys.

When the meal was finally done, and people began moving to the nearby sitting rooms Arya expected Daenerys to be among the first to get up. If it was Arya at the table, trapped between nobles, she would have been on her feet before her plate was carried away. The trickle of people became a stream and Daenerys was still in her seat, staring straight ahead. The chair across from her was empty but she didn’t seem to notice. With limited experience she looked to Missandei for help. Was it normal for Daenerys to act like this? The handmaiden looked as troubled as Arya. “Is she okay?” she whispered.

“I’m not sure,” Missandei admitted. “They’ll expect her in the sitting room. If she’s late…”

“I’ll get her.”

“I need to go and prepare her tea.”

Mormont finally made himself useful saying, “I’ll try and buy you some time.”

On her way to the table she couldn’t help but wonder, was everyday like this for Daenerys? If it was, it was a minor miracle that she wasn’t as damaged as her father. She thought back on her afternoon with Daenerys, how happy she’d been, how relaxed, she was a different person since their return; distant, tense and anxious.

By the time she reached the Princess, she’d made a decision. She would find a way for Daenerys to retire early from the post-dinner congratulatory back-patting going on down the hall. Should she let Daenerys rest in her chambers, or would she be happier somewhere else? There was still much of Sunspear Daenerys had yet to enjoy.

R-C

She couldn’t believe Arya had really done it. They’d be talking and drinking for hours and usually Daenerys was required to be present for most of it. She’d just finished a conversation with Ellaria when Arya came up and claimed there was an urgent matter that needed her attention. Oberyn’s lover saw through the ploy but said, “You best go, it sounds important.”

Now Arya was leading them down a long, empty corridor. “There you go, no one will miss you for a while Princess.”

“Thank you, Arya,” she said, meaning it.

“Would you like to go to your chambers and rest. or would you rather experience Sunspear’s nightlife?”

She was sure her shock showed on her face. “We can go out?”

The guard shrugged. “If you want, I serve you. remember.”

She glanced sideways at Missandei, just to make sure she was hearing the same thing Daenerys was. The former slave looked impressed by Arya. “I’d love to see more, but what if someone comes looking for us?”

“I know every corner of this place,” Arya replied, “if anyone asks, I’ll say you weren’t feeling well, so I took you to rest in a quiet, rarely used place.”

The same nervous excitement she felt while touring Ternesio’s ship was bubbling up inside her again. “Lead the way.”

Arya guided them around one corner and then the next. It was hard to tell, but Daenerys guessed they were near the kitchen. “Do you have a coat, or a cloak at least?”

“Do we really need one?” she asked.

“The sun set while you were eating,” Arya informed her. “It’ll be much colder now.”

“Your cloak is in your closet,” Missandei answered. “I can go get it.”

“Are you sure?” she asked her friend.

“I’ll be right back.”

She hurried off in one direction while Daenerys and Arya continued on in the other. “Do you remember the way to the stables?”

Why was she asking? Wasn’t she coming along? “Why?”

Arya gripped her shoulder and turned her slightly. “Go through that door and turn left, you’ll be able to see the tree you got the orange from this morning. From there, can you get to the stables?”

She thought back, trying to remember the route she took to get her horse. “Yeah, I think so.”

Arya nodded. “Good, head the way, and I’ll catch up.”

“I can wait,” she offered.

“I’ll just be a minute. Go on,” she said giving Daenerys a nudge toward the door.

She was nervous as she walked away from Arya. She was certain that at any moment someone was going to pop up and catch her, be it her father, Viserys or Tywin.

Outside the sun was gone and the temperature had dropped significantly when compared to that afternoon. The breeze wasn’t cold exactly, but she bet that would change over time. She was suddenly glad Missandei had gone to fetch her another layer.

She passed several patrolling guards, but none said anything to her. She did her best to retrace her steps, her eyes constantly sweeping the landscape for any hint of the stable.

Arya startled her when she appeared at Daenerys’s side without warning. She likely would have fallen had Arya not provided extra support. She raised a shaking hand to her chest and tried to calm her breathing. “Shit you scared me!”

“Shit?” Arya repeated with a mischievous smirk. “Would that fancy tutor of yours approve of you saying such a word?”

Immediately she pictured the strict woman who taught her in her formative years. Reading and writing first, then lessons about being a proper Lady. She definitely would not be pleased to hear the Princess curse. “She’s not here, so I can say what I want.”

Arya chuckled as she lowered her arms, trusting Daenerys to stand on her own. “Yes, you can.”

They made it only a few steps before Daenerys’s hand reached out to stop Arya from going further. “How did you know I had a fancy tutor?”

“Lucky guess.”

Upon further consideration Daenerys could see how it was a pretty safe wager to make. If not her, then who would have an expensive instructor, she was royalty after all. “Did you get what you needed?” she asked, more than a little curious what was important enough to send her off alone. She produced an apple, holding it up for Daenerys to see. “Hungry?” she questioned quickly, without thinking.

Arya blushed as she returned the fruit to it’s hiding place. “A bit.”

Only then did Daenerys realize how rude she was being. “Gods, you and Missandei haven’t eaten yet, have you?” She didn’t wait for confirmation because she didn’t need it. How horribly inconsiderate of her. Missandei and Arya had to stand off to the side and watch her eat. They’d gone from the hall, to the sitting room and now outside. “What are we doing? Let’s go back and get you two some dinner.”

“It’s fine,” Arya assured her, though that did little for Daenerys’s guilt. “I’ll be fine with an apple and I got Missandei one too.”

“She’ll appreciate it,” Daenerys predicted. “We can go get you a proper meal, I don’t mind.”

“We can eat later. The kitchen leaves food out for the servants, there will be plenty left when we get back.”

Unconvinced Daenerys vowed to pay better attention to the needs of her friends. They spent all day making sure she had everything and anything she desired, be it clean clothes or protection, the least Daenerys could do is make sure they were properly fed.

R-C

Daenerys wasn’t expecting the market to still be open, but it was. It appeared Sunspear never closed. Not far from where they ate their lunch, Arya stopped walking. “Do you think you two would be okay for a few minutes?”

Still feeling bad about Arya and Missandei missing dinner, she overcompensated. “Is everything alright?”

“I need to visit a smith and have my helmet fixed,” Arya told them.

“What’s wrong with it?” She was far from an expert, but her helmet seemed like any other she’d seen.

Arya took it off and held it toward the friends for closer inspection. With a finger she directed their attention to the divider that hung between her eyes. “It got bent,” she explained. “I need to get it repaired.”

“Oh,” Daenerys said in response. She never would have noticed the flaw. “Want us to join you?”

“No need,” Arya assured her. “Stay together, look around, and I’ll be right back.”

They did as Arya instructed and browsed the various goods for sale. Every book she ever read about Dorne promised that she’d found unique items not available anywhere else in the Realm and she wasn’t disappointed. She purchases a few spices and the ingredients for a tea Ellaria mentioned.

While they waited for Arya to return Daenerys approached the food vendors. She wasn’t hungry but she guessed they were, even if neither Arya nor Missandei would admit it. She told Missandei to purchase herself something and then went in search of an option Arya might like. She wanted to wait until her guard got back and give her gold to choose her own meal, but she didn’t think Arya would accept it. She’d probably say she wasn’t hungry or that she was fine to wait. Daenerys didn’t want to give her the chance to refuse.

She followed her nose, taking time to catch the scents coming from the various stalls. She remembered Arya commenting that Missandei made a good selection earlier, so she hunted for someone making sandwiches.

Shopping done, Daenerys stood with her back against a low, stone wall, watching the city pass. Her purchases were between her feet and Missandei was holding Arya’s dinner as well as her own while they waited. She was tempted to wander but feared getting lost. No, she’d stay within sight of where Arya left them.

Laughter drew her attention and she watched as a group of young boys kicked a ball while they weaved among the adults. A lone girl chased after them but quickly fell behind. She had long black hair and dark skin that was dotted with dirt. She wore pants instead of a dress and the knee was torn on the left side. Her shoes had a hole in the front, leaving several of her small toes to peek through.

Having given up on the game the girl took a look around the square. Her eyes landed on Daenerys and the elder smiled warmly. The little girl blushed before she looked away. Taking one last look around for Arya, Daenerys pushed herself off the wall, picked up her things and approached. “Let’s go say hi,” she said to Missandei.

The girl’s shyness faded quickly when they got close. “Hi,” she said, giving the strangers a big smile. She was missing one of her front teeth, the baby tooth having fallen out and the replacement not coming in yet.

“Hello,” Daenerys replied, “what’s your name?”

“Emma,” she answered.

“Hi Emma, I’m Dany, and this is my best friend Missandei.”

“You new?” Emma guessed correctly.

“Yes,” she acknowledged, “we just arrived a few days ago.”

“You got coin? If you do, you shouldn’t stay here.”

Next to her Missandei chuckled at the girl’s blunt assessment. Daenerys bit down on her bottom lip to remain silent.

“You should go over there,” Emma informed her seriously, pointing with a small, dirty finger.

Daenerys squatted to put herself on the same level as the girl. “What’s over there?” she wondered.

“Lots of stuff. I can show ya.”

Charmed by the enthusiasm Daenerys fully intended to take the girl up on the proposed tour. “That sounds…”

“Don’t do it,” Arya said, jogging until she reached them. In a flash, and to Daenerys’s horror, Arya held Emma by the back of her shirt.

“Arya what are you doing!?” she shouted as she straightened up. “Let her go, she was just giving me directions.”

The dark-haired woman shook her head. “No, she wasn’t, she was distracting you while her friend there stole your gold.”

Hearing this Missandei gasped and reached for the coin purse she carried for Daenerys.

She punctuated her point with a hard stare that Daenerys followed. Sure enough, a young boy a few years older than Emma was doing his best to look innocent. She hadn’t heard him approach and didn’t feel his presence at her back.

“I wasn’t going to take nothing,” the boy said in his defense.

“We was just talking,” Emma added, “honest.”

Arya let go of her shirt and held up a pair of inexpensive coins. “Tell the Lady the truth and I’ll give you these,” she bargained.

“We was going to steal,” the boy said without hesitation. “She’s right.”

His confession wasn’t enough for Daenerys. She still had her doubts. Had she been fooled so severely? “Emma?”

She looked down, avoiding Daenerys’s eye. “She’s ‘xactly right, we was gonna take your gold.”

As promised, Arya passed each child a coin for their candor. “Go on now,” she urged, “and be more careful.”

As the they ran away, they were whispering together, peeking back more than once. They were likely relieved to have both coins and their freedom, but Daenerys was only embarrassed. She’d been bested by children, perhaps she should have remained in the Water Gardens. She felt the need to explain herself. “I thought…”

“It’s alright,” Arya promised. “They’re good, and they’ve had lots of practice. He would have been gone long before you noticed.”

“How did you know?” She wondered how Arya had been able to spot the scheme so easily when Daenerys failed.

“I’ve seen them work before,” she said, changing her tone on the word ‘work.’

“She looked so sweet and innocent,” Daenerys noted.

“That’s why they’re good.”

“Did you get your helmet fixed?” She studied the steel tab stretching down between grey eyes. As she scrutinized that section of Arya’s face, she noticed just how bruised Arya’s nose and cheek had become. The colors were much more vibrant than even that afternoon, making Daenerys worry that the corresponding pain had increased too.

“Not yet. I just had to see how much it would cost.”

Daenerys had no experience worrying about that. The price of a purchase had never been reason enough to delay buying. Arya wasn’t that lucky or spoiled. Her past was likely more akin to Missandei’s than Daenerys’s. “Come on,” she said leading the women back toward the stall where she bought her tea. She was sure the merchant would have the required ingredients necessary to make a drink to decrease Arya’s discomfort and hasten her healing.

Arya gestured to her bags. “What did you get?”

Remembering what she bought she turned to Missandei. “A few things,” she summarized, “and dinner for you.”

Missandei handed her the paper wrapped sandwich and Daenerys quickly passed it to Arya or tried to. “You didn’t have to…”

“I wanted to,” Daenerys insisted. “I had to pick for you, since I knew you wouldn’t decide for yourself.”

“That’s…”

She didn’t finish, but Daenerys wasn’t looking for thanks. “It’s me who should be thanking you, you’ve given me a day I’ll never forget. I didn’t even want to come when my father told me of the trip, but now I’m glad I did.”

It took a moment. but Arya relented and took the offering, with a polite ‘thanks.’

Daenerys hadn’t been lying either. At some point, after eating the orange that morning, Ternesio’s ship that afternoon and a stroll through the market under the moon, she’d really begun to enjoy herself. She was glad they still had a couple more days before they needed to leave. What would tomorrow bring? If it was anything like today, she would welcome it.

R-C

The next morning, they left the Water Gardens right after breakfast. This time Daenerys made sure both her companions got the chance to eat before they departed. Once again, Arya removed her helmet and wore her cloak over her armor, concealing her true nature from passersby.

After two trips into Sunspear Daenerys expected more of the same. They did return to the city and the market, but only to pass through. The conversation was light and easy as they rode together. Arya was a few steps ahead on her horse but remained close enough to not only guard the Princess and handmaiden but also contribute to the discussion.

They rode for hours that felt like minutes. When they came upon a town, village or settlement Arya would slow and tell what she knew of the place. The beauty of Dorne was on full display. The sun was shining high above them, the weather was warm and inviting, hotter than most summer days in King’s Landing without being unpleasant. The sand-colored buildings she saw were not only crafted from different materials, but with a unique design when compared to anything she was used to.

More than once Arya apologized for the time it was taking, but neither of her companions were bothered. In fact, they were both enjoying the freedom a day on horseback could bring. Her life was usually so regimented, so scripted – her every move was decided for her and kept on a strict schedule, but not this. She had no idea where the day would take her, and she loved that.

It was late morning or perhaps early afternoon when Arya suggested they stop and rest. Daenerys couldn’t help questioning if she heard her right. They were miles from the last town and hadn’t seen another person in well over an hour. “Here?”

Arya dismounted before responding. “Trust me,” she said, holding out a hand in initiation. Daenerys took it and allowed herself to be helped down into the sand.

As soon as Daenerys was safely down, Arya rushed to Missandei and aided her as well. The woman from Naath was nearly on the ground already, but Arya provided assistance anyway. It made Daenerys curious about where she learned her manners.

From her saddlebag Arya produced a blanket and three skins of water. She handed out the drinks first, setting hers down before spreading out the blanket. “Sit, relax, enjoy the view.”

The cool water was a treat after hours in the sun. She sighed and sank down onto the blanket. “There is no view like this anywhere else in Westeros, I can promise you that.” The conviction in Arya’s words caused Daenerys to look at her surroundings with new eyes. At first glance she’d only seen what wasn’t there, too focused on the fact they were in the middle of nowhere. Now however she realized that was precisely the point. They were miles from everything and everyone. She squinted to try and extend her field of vision and their circumstance didn’t change, there was nothing. Arya had stopped them on top of a mound, providing a better vantage of the area. The sprawling desert stretched out in front of them, vast and intimidating. It reminded her of being on her father’s ship, sailing for Sunspear. In the center of the water, miles from land in every direction, she felt small. It was like that now, only this time it was sand making her feel insignificant.

Missandei was next to her, drinking her water slowly, looking at the way the clear sky met the desert on the horizon. “It’s beautiful,” she remarked, “it reminds me of Essos.”

“Maybe you’ll choose to come back here,” Daenerys supplied quietly, “when you take me up on my offer.”

It wasn’t necessary to specify which offer she meant, Missandei knew. “Perhaps,” she agreed, “when the time is right.”

She put a hand over Missandei’s on the blanket. “You don’t need to stay for me. You’ve done enough, too much. You deserve…”

“Snacks.” Arya’s arrival with food interrupted what she intended to say, but her message was received anyway. Missandei added her second hand to the pile, trapping Daenerys’s. In her dark, deep eyes the Targaryen saw gratitude. She was glad that Missandei knew she could have a life, glad she knew that Daenerys wanted her to taste true freedom. She’d miss her, but she couldn’t be selfish. Missandei had suffered enough.

As Daenerys bit into a piece of fresh fruit, Missandei asked, “When did you gather this?” She lifted the water to her lips and took a sip before setting it back on the blanket. “The water too.”

“You wished to see Dorne. You can’t return to King’s Landing without seeing the desert.” While she justified her choices, she busied herself with the horses. There was nothing to tie them to, so they wandered, but Arya took the time to remove their saddles, and unburden them. “You can’t spend hours in the sun without water, and I couldn’t bring a full meal, but it was easy enough to pack some fruits and cheeses.”

It didn’t escape her that Arya hadn’t exactly answered the question. “When did you do it?”

“You and Missandei were feeding the horses, whispering about where you thought we’d go today. I snuck back inside to get us a few things.”

Daenerys was appreciative of the kindness and knew from Missandei’s face she was too. “We’re grateful Arya, thank you.”

She shrugged. “I couldn’t very well return the Princess and her handmaiden dehydrated and malnourished,” she retorted. “I’d lose my lofty position as guard.”

It was a joke but one she couldn’t laugh at, because she knew it was true too. If Arya brought her back in less than perfect condition, there would be consequences and they’d likely extend far beyond Arya losing her job.

“You aren’t my guard anymore, remember!” Daenerys pointed out when Arya continued to find reasons not to join them. “You’ve done more than enough, please come sit.”

“Usually it’s me she says that to,” Missandei added with a smile.

A breeze blew across the sand just after Arya arrived. She heard Daenerys’s sigh and misinterpreted its meaning. “I probably should have told you where we were going or asked if you wanted to come. There isn’t much out here, and it was a long ride…”

She found Arya’s rambling quite endearing. “Are you kidding? I would have hated to miss this, and the ride was great. Normally I don’t get to travel very far.”

“Before my training, I’d come out here when I had the chance,” Arya recalled, finally taking her first drink.

“I can see why.”

“Mmhmm,” Missandei agreed as she swallowed a cube of cheese. “It’s so peaceful.”

“No one would find me out here,” she noted.

Arya snatched a pear and raised it to her mouth. “If they tried, it would take them hours or days. Even if they knew where to look it could still take forever.”

The Targaryen was cheered by the idea. It made her feel younger, knowing there was a place in the world where she could disappear. She didn’t have any difficulty believing Arya either. Her father, Viserys, Jorah, Tywin, all the judgemental Ladies who critiqued her every move, none of them would find her here.

R-C

It happened as they were packing up their things. Content as she would have been to remain in the desert, Arya said they needed to begin the journey back. She was pleased it would take several hours to reach the oppressive Water Gardens and all the people there.

They were all busy. Missandei was wrapping up the leftover food for transport, Daenerys was folding the blanket and Arya was further away, replacing the saddles on their horses.

Missandei’s yell caused Daenerys to drop the blanket and take a step toward her friend. She froze in her tracks however when she saw the problem, a pair of snakes were popping their heads up from the sand. Their posture was undeniably threatening as they grew in length and hissed, revealing their fangs. What was one to do when confronted by a snake? She didn’t know. Was it poisonous? Even if it wasn’t, she doubted a bite would be pleasant.

Missandei’s panic grew the longer the standoff went on and knowing her history, Daenerys could understand why. She steeled herself for what she was planning. She had to help. She couldn’t allow Missandei to be tortured by her fears this way. She’d move in front, try and get the snakes focused on her and hopefully buy Missandei the opportunity to flee. Maybe, if she was quick, she could save Missandei and extract herself without getting bitten. While a reasonable goal, she acknowledged how unlikely it was. She amended her hope to something more realistic, with luck maybe she could save Missandei and get bitten only once… or twice.

R-C

Arya’s relaxed mood died the instant Missandei’s scream reached her ears. She took off running, without knowing what the danger was, drawing her sword as she went. She’d been wrong to bring them out here. It was a stupid idea and now she would pay for it. If anything happened to Daenerys and Missandei, she’d be blamed and rightly so. She stood before the Mad King twice and survived, a noteworthy achievement few people could claim. If and when it came, she expected her third time would break the run of good fortune. Would it be today?

Her training took over as she got close. Instead of rushing straight in and making things worse, she stopped and took stock of the situation. Missandei was clearly terrified. She had her hands up near her face and was shaking, staring down at her feet. The food she’d been gathering was lost, dropped, spilled and tainted by sand. Daenerys was about three feet away. Like Missandei she’d emptied her hands, but that’s where the similarities ended. If Missandei was scared, Daenerys seemed determined. She recognized the expression the Princess wore. She’d seen it once before when she stood up in the Water Gardens to defend a soldier she didn’t know. She was going to try again, placing herself at risk in the process. As her guard and a decent person, Arya couldn’t allow that. She was the one who brought them here, the risks were hers to take. If something happened to her few would care, but the same could not be said of Missandei or Daenerys.

Crouching down she crept closer, moving as quickly as she dared. Thankfully Daenerys caught sight of her and stopped whatever scheme she had concocted. Arya pressed a finger to her lips to indicate the need for quiet. Daenerys nodded but pointed to the threat.

The two tan snakes were growing agitated. When the frequency and intensity of the hissing increased, Arya knew she couldn’t wait any longer. Killing the first snake would be easy, they were too busy with Missandei to worry about her approach. The challenge would come in trying to slay the second snake before she was bitten. And she definitely did not want to get bitten, because her opposition was filled with poison.

Just before she made her attempt, she remembered the existence of the knife hidden in her boot, the same knife she used to murder two of her fellow recruits. With a smile she retrieved it and gripped it in her right hand. Now she could kill both snakes at once, if she timed it right.

She heard Missandei scream a second time as Arya threw herself onto the snakes. They sensed her presence and poised to attack but Arya was quicker. She cut the first snake in half with a clean stroke of her sword. The second was trying to get his fangs around her hand when she drove the knife down through the top of its head.

While she recovered Daenerys rushed to Missandei and escorted her away, whispering what Arya could only assume were comforting words. She stayed still a moment, checking her limbs one at a time for any signs of fresh injuries. She didn’t think the snakes got her, but there could have been a third she didn’t see. When she was satisfied that she hadn’t been poisoned, she was hit with a wave of relief. No matter how noble her motives, getting bitten so far from Sunspear would have been a death sentence. The odds she’d remain able to ride all the way back to the city with venom in her veins were poor.

She returned her weapons to their respective homes and then hurried to the women. “Are you alright?” Arya asked the both of them.

“I… I…” Missandei stammered.

“Shhh,” Daenerys soothed, “you’re okay now. There are no snakes, no Masters, you’re safe.”

Masters? What was that about? She thought Missandei’s reaction was a general fear of snakes. In most of the Realm they weren’t so prevalent or deadly, meaning few got as familiar with them as the Dornish. Now, Arya had to consider if Missandei’s anxiety was rooted elsewhere. Either way, she knew it was not the right time to inquire. “The snakes are dead.”

“Thank you,” Daenerys said, holding Missandei tightly.

Arya stepped away to give them some privacy. “I’ll go prepare our things. We can leave whenever you’re ready.”

She left the food where it was, knowing it’d be of no use to anyone covered in sand, the snakes could keep it. She did retrieve the blanket and secured it to her horse. Since Missandei still needed time, Arya approached the dead snakes. She was careful, aware there could be more. It was a worthwhile risk, especially since she knew the value of venom. Oberyn was an expert in poisons and he’d given her a rudimentary understanding. It was because of this that she knew the snakes were poisonous and where to slice to remove the relevant glands. She cut carefully, not only to avoid damaging the goods, but also to prevent accidental exposure.

She was just finishing when Daenerys arrived. “What are you doing?”

“The poison is valuable,” she explained, leaving out how desperately she needed the money. The cost to get her helmet fixed was higher than she could afford, and she’d given two of her last three coins to those thieves last night. “Prince Oberyn studies poisons and is always looking for supplies.” In addition to being a suitable justification, it also had the benefit of being true. She planned to sell one snake’s venom for herself and gift the other one to Oberyn. “Is Missandei okay?”

“She’s not fond of snakes,” Daenerys said simply. “Thank you for what you did.”

“I’m happy to help, especially since it was my fault. I shouldn’t have brought you…”

“Don’t do that!” Daenerys insisted with feeling. “Don’t let something you can’t control taint what was until very recently a perfect day. I don’t regret coming here and I know Missandei doesn’t either.”

“We should probably head back. When we get closer to the city, you can tell me if you’d rather return to the Water Gardens or make our next stop.”

“There’s more!?” Daenerys wondered with poorly concealed excitement.

“If you two are up for it,” she clarified, “there is always tomorrow, if Missandei would rather rest.”

“I’ll ask her.”

R-C

Chapter Text

The long ride back to civilization did Missandei well. With every mile she returned to herself a little more. Daenerys had always admired her friend’s resilience, appreciating the strength necessary to persevere through everything that had happened to her. It was evident again, as she worked to put the event with the snakes behind her.

She offered and even recommended they return to the Water Gardens but Missandei opposed the idea every time Daenerys brought it up. She didn’t want to be the reason the day ended early. Daenerys reminded her they still had tomorrow, but she remained stubborn.

Their next stop was in Sunspear. Arya guided them away from the market, away from the Tower of Sun and its twin the Tower of Spear, deeper into the parts of the city known only to locals.

Daenerys smiled when she realized what the building was. The running children gave away Arya’s plan. It was reminiscent of the orphanage she frequented in Flea Bottom. She climbed off her horse with urgency. After Arya tied up their mounts, she removed her cloak, revealing the Martell armor underneath.

“I heard you make trips to the one in King’s Landing and thought that perhaps the children of Dorne would enjoy meeting a Dragon.”

That was too sweet. Not only would it be a treat for the children, but also for Daenerys. Her time in Flea Bottom was some of her most cherished. She hadn’t thought to ask about making a trip while in Dorne, but she wished it occurred to her sooner. She didn’t know who told Arya of her habit, but it was kind of her to make this happen.

On their way through the doorway Arya stepped close enough to whisper to her. “Sorry,” she said, “you’ll need to be a Princess for a few minutes.”

“Don’t apologize for this, I’ll be whatever I need to, for as long as I can stay.” It wasn’t an exaggeration either. She loved the innocence of children. They asked questions about her castle, about her dresses and if her ancestors really had dragons. They asked for nothing more than her time and she’d gladly provide it. Her interactions with the orphans were a sharp contrast to most others in her life. The vast majority of those she met in the Red Keep would never be described as innocent.

The woman running the orphanage was surprised to see the Princess, but she was welcoming and gracious, nonetheless. Arya stayed back, letting Missandei and Daenerys meet and talk to the kids. She was quickly overwhelmed by the large number of small hands reaching for hers, and the varying voices demanding her attention but even as she went to play, she knew the only reason any of this was possible was because of Arya Sand.

R-C

Her decision to bring Daenerys to the orphanage wasn’t a selfless one, at least not entirely. Unable to trust Mormont’s opinion, she wanted to see Daenerys and the children together with her own eyes. She predicted it would tell her a great deal about who the Princess really was, especially since this hadn’t been an appointment she planned for. Would she be terse and short, eager to leave or would she jump in and embrace the experience fully? She couldn’t deny that she’d seen sides of Daenerys that were unexpected. It was hard to reconcile her thoughts on the Targaryens with her memories of Daenerys in recent days. Which Daenerys was the real one? Was she a Targaryen like any other or an outlier in her family, the one good apple when the rest were rotten to the core? Was it possible for a Dragon to be good? She’d yet to catch Daenerys in a lie, and the Princess appeared sincere in most things. She had a distaste for politics that rivaled Arya’s, but she played her part well when required. She’d bought Arya dinner the night before, not because she had to, not because Arya asked, but because she could. It had been delicious, she’d admit, even if it felt wrong taking a gift from her. In the desert, she’d comforted Missandei without complaint, remaining with her until the tears had stopped and the fear faded. Just like with Arya, she hadn’t had to do that. She could have left Missandei to recover on her own, but she didn’t.

Now she was sitting under a tree in the yard with no care for the damage to her dress. She was reading a story to the assembled collection of children and Arya couldn’t tell who was enjoying it more, Daenerys or her audience. Not far away Missandei had an infant in her arms, rocking the babe back and forth, while she kept a trio of dark-haired girls hanging on her every word.

Everything she saw and heard was leading to the same conclusion -- Daenerys really was grateful that Arya brought her here. She and Missandei both appeared comfortable and happy.

“Can I get you anything?” a woman asked as she continued to observe.

Arya turned toward the speaker and smiled. “No thank you, I’m fine.”

The elderly woman was introduced to her when they arrived, though she couldn’t recall her name. She ran the orphanage for Prince Doran and the Martells who Arya knew funded the place nearly singlehanded.

“She’s made so many very happy today,” she noted, as she looked toward where the Princess held court.

“She wanted to be here,” Arya said. She may not have known that Arya planned this visit in advance, but once she learned of it, she didn’t hesitate to move ahead. She could have stayed a reasonable amount of time and then made up an excuse, but she remained. Arya had a feeling she’d need to pry Daenerys away when the time came.

R-C

“I like your hair,” a young girl said to the Princess. After several hours tending to a large group, most had gone to get washed up for dinner, giving Daenerys the chance to speak privately with the few that lingered.

“You do?” she asked, squatting down to look at the girl. She had on a purple dress, and though it had some dirt on it, it was far from the messiest she’d seen. “I like your hair too,” she said, pointing to the black locks that went just past her small shoulders.

“Yours’s bett’r.” she mumbled.

“You like the braids?” she guessed.

The girl nodded emphatically. “Uh-huh.”

“My friend Missandei did my hair for me this morning. She’s over there,” Daenerys said turning a bit to point her out. “Want to go see if she’ll braid your hair too?”

At the proposal dark eyes widened and she couldn’t stay still. She was bouncing at the thought of it. Daenerys silently wished everyone she dealt with could be so easily be impressed. She held out a hand for the girl to take. “What’s your name?”

“Corrinne,” she said, clinging to the royal.

“Hi Corrinne, I’m Daenerys and it’s nice to meet you.”

Missandei was only too happy to help. She passed the baby to Daenerys and pulled Corrinne into her lap so she could braid her hair. Once the girls nearby learned what she was capable of, Missandei became even more popular. Before long they had secured a promise from the handmaiden that she’d braid all of their hairs, Corrinne first, then the other three. One look at the smile on Missandei’s face made it clear she didn’t view the extra work as a hardship.

As she cooed to the baby in her arms Daenerys doubted anything happening in the Water Gardens could compare to this. It was exactly what she needed, and she’d find a way to thank Arya for allowing it.

R-C

Arya hated to force Daenerys away, but they were already late. If they didn’t leave now, and hurry, they wouldn’t be back at the Water Gardens when everybody assembled for dinner.

Missandei and Arya went ahead, leaving Daenerys to say goodbye to the elderly woman. Arya was standing next to her horse when Missandei called out to her. She turned and saw the handmaiden staring at her intently. Before she could inquire about the reason, Missandei said, “Thank you for saving me, I meant to say so sooner, but…”

“I’m glad I could help. I hope it didn’t ruin your opinion of Dorne,” she teased, only half in jest.

“It didn’t,” she verified, “and thank you for bringing Daenerys here, it means a lot to her.”

Daenerys joined them to say as much. “Thank you, Arya, that was incredible.”

“Did you enjoy yourself Princess?” Missandei asked as they all got settled on their horses.

“It was great,” she confirmed. Her wide smile faltered a bit. “Spending time with those children though makes me miss my niece and nephew even more.”

“You still aren’t permitted to see them?”

“I tried to ask my father about it, but he didn’t hear me. When I asked Tywin, he said it wasn’t worth endangering the negotiations to bring it up to the Martells.”

Arya listened without comment. Daenerys wished to see Rhaegar’s children? She could certainly understand that. She’d gone so long without seeing her family that she couldn’t even say if they were alive anymore.

“I’m sorry,” Missandei said sympathetically. “Maybe tomorrow, when the negotiations are finished, they’ll consider it.”

“Maybe.” Though she agreed, Daenerys’s tone made it clear she wasn’t holding out much hope.

It wasn’t the worst thing in the world, if Daenerys wanted to meet Elia’s son and daughter. Maybe she could ask Oberyn about it, when she delivered him the venom from the snakes she killed.

R-C

Spirits were high as they crossed the yard on their way to dinner. She was relieved to see people talking quietly, confirming they weren’t late. When Tywin spotted her and immediately turned, she knew he wasn’t bringing good news. She hid her smile behind a more neutral mask and waited for the onslaught. He’d find fault with something she’d done, many somethings she suspected, and he wouldn’t hesitate to point out every one of her shortcomings. It occurred so frequently it wasn’t even surprising anymore. What was more unexpected was when she went a week without receiving one of his lectures.

“What’s wrong?” Arya asked her, likely reading the change in her mood. She noticed the Lannister and took a fraction of a step forward, angling her body slightly toward the Hand. “Where have you been?” he hissed. The lack of volume did nothing to take the accusation from his question.

“A…Arya took us on a tour of Sunsspear,” she informed him. She hated that she stuttered in front of someone so intimidating. He was nearly as bad as Viserys at seizing upon a weakness.

At mention of Arya he turned his attention to her. She didn’t know what he was looking for until he asked, “Are you healing well?” He gestured to her face to make clear what he was asking.

“It’s nothing,” she said dismissive of her injuries.

“I spoke to the Maester, he says your friend will make a full recovery. I’m pleased by that. You were both quite skilled.”

Arya ducked her head slightly. “That is very kind m’lord,” she said formally.

With their exchange over he returned to Daenerys and picked up where he left off. “You can’t just disappear. What if you were needed here?”

She wanted to scoff. She wouldn’t be needed. She wasn’t important enough to be summoned. “I… uh… went to the orphanage,” she told him, leaving out the part about seeing the desert and nearly getting bitten by a snake. Revealing that wouldn’t help her any.

“I heard the Princess likes visiting the less fortunate and I thought it would be good for the people of Dorne to see how generous she is,” Arya said, sounding confident and proud. With a stab of jealousy, she hated that Arya seemed more like a Princess than she did. She quickly pushed that thought away. It wasn’t Arya’s fault she wilted in a confrontation.

“Yes, well that was kind of you,” he said falsely, “and I understand you’re new to the Princess’s service, but she has obligations to the Realm. She needs to remain close at hand, in case she is required.”

This was normally the point where Daenerys would offer a quick, quiet apology and promise to do better in the future. Arya did no such thing. “Was she needed today?” Arya asked him, putting him on the spot. He’d either need to let the matter drop as unimportant since she hadn’t really missed anything, or he could lie and risk Arya challenging him.

He ignored her question outright. “Please ensure you’re here tomorrow afternoon to meet with the Martell girl who will be your sister.”

Arya wasn’t done. “I’ll have her back by midday then,” she said with a nod.

Afraid of what would happen if Arya instigated a fight with her father’s Hand, she hurried to try and smooth the waters. “I’ll be there, I promise.”

“Very well then,” he finished, looking at Arya more often that Daenerys, “you should go get ready, dinner will be served soon.”

“We will,” Daenerys said quickly. “Thank you.” He walked away then, leaving all three women unsure of quite what to say.

R-C

It was hours later, and she was still upset as she made her way to Oberyn’s chambers. Who did Tywin Lannister think he was? Sure, he was rich and powerful but that didn’t give him the right to talk down to Daenerys like that. If Aerys was any kind of man, father or King he would intervene and put an end to that, but he either didn’t know or didn’t care. Arya wasn’t certain which of those options was preferable to her.

She hadn’t planned to involve herself in the conversation, but then Tywin spoke to her directly, so she was obligated to respond. It was strange to hear Daenerys struggle to get words out. She never had that problem when it was just Missandei and Arya nearby. It didn’t happen when they were wandering the city or visiting the orphans. She hadn’t even done anything wrong. Yes, they went outside the Water Gardens but that wasn’t a crime. Daenerys knew her father, brother and everyone else would be busy, so she took the opportunity to see a bit of Dorne. He hadn’t even needed Daenerys for anything, he just wanted her on a leash. It would be laughable if it wasn’t so offensive.

She wasn’t sure what she’d find when she reached Oberyn’s door. More than once she called on him late in the evening like this and found him already engaged, with Ellaria or others, and on one memorable occasion, both.

She knocked and waited. In her hand she had the snake’s venom. It was wrapped in a cloth to protect it and the person holding it. He opened the door fully dressed and she breathed a sigh of relief. “Arya Sand,” he said loudly, exaggerating her bastard name. “Come in, come in.”

She knew from his greeting they weren’t alone. She walked in carefully and tried to read his face for any hint of who she’d meet.

Tywin Lannister sat at the table, with a glass in front of him. “I can come back,” she proposed.

“That’s alright,” Tywin said, standing. “I should be going. Thank you for the drink Prince, I hope you’ll consider what I said.”

He sized Arya up as he passed, not unlike how he’d done in the yard. Oberyn walked him to the door and closed it once he was through. “Sorry to interrupt,” she said when they were alone.

“We were done anyway. He came to inform me that Elia’s children would not be considered when deciding who leads after Rhaegar.”

Arya could certainly understand why Oberyn wasn’t happy about that, but it was hardly a surprise. “Did you think they would be?”

“Of course not, the Prince has a son he favors.”

This reminded Arya of Mormont mentioning Daenerys’s nephew. She had questions about him but didn’t think this was the appropriate time to seek clarification. “Daenerys’s terrified of him. She could barely speak to him earlier.”

“They call us Snakes,” Oberyn said going to his wine and taking a long drink, “but we spend less time slithering than any Lion or Dragon.” He set his empty cup down and immediately got started refilling it. He also made one for her. “Be wary around him, and never trust him. He’ll stab you in the back the first chance he gets, if you don’t turn, he’ll stab you in the front and claim you deserved it.”

“He just came here to tell you something you already knew?” That didn’t make sense.

“No,” Oberyn corrected, “he came to me because Doran already refused him. He thinks he’ll have better luck.”

“What does he want?”

“He wants Elia to state publicly that Rhaenys and Aegon are denouncing their claims on the Iron Throne. He wants them to lie, so Prince Rhaegar and his bastard can save face.” He separated his points with a drink. “He says it’ll bring instability to Westeros if people think my niece and nephew want to rule.” His tone made it clear what he thought of the argument.

“So, refuse him as Doran did, or tell him it’s not your decision. It’s done.”

He showed his anger then, on his face and in his eyes. His words matched. “It’s not over! My sister was his wife and he sent her away, he sent his children away. No Targaryen has even asked to see them!”

On that subject, she had more information than him. “Daenerys wishes to meet them actually, she told me so today. She asked her father and Tywin to arrange it, but they wouldn’t. She fears Elia won’t permit it.”

“My sister is not spiteful. She would not blame Daenerys for things she had no hand in. She’s stayed away because she knew she was not welcome. She wanted to keep her children from that. If any Lannister or Targaryen asked to see her, she’d agree.”

“Could you arrange it?” she inquired. “The Princess would appreciate it.”

He nodded to confirm he would and then asked, “Is that why you came?”

She smiled. “I came for the drink,” she said, raising it to her lips, “and to give you these,” she finished after swallowing. She laid the venom on the table and waited for Oberyn to peel back the cloth. “I took the Princess to the desert today we ran into some friends.”

“What kind?”

She told him of the snakes, their coloring, their aggressive nature and the what she could remember of their eyes.

He assessed the amount of venom and correctly estimated the number. “Two?”

“Yeah, turns out my first act as Daenerys’s guard is to protect her from Dorne’s wildlife,” she joked.

“Can I take a sample?” he asked. She knew him well enough to know he was already planning all manner of devious uses for the poison.

“I brought you one, the other I was hoping you could help me sell. I need some coin to travel and I would like to get my helmet fixed before then. Ninety-Four dented it during our fight.”

Oberyn reached out and traced the bent steel with his finger. “I hear he’s already training,” Oberyn said of the big man. “He’ll be assigned his post on schedule.”

“Do you know anyone who would buy the venom?”

“Of course,” he responded with a smirk. “Me.”

“No,” she disagreed. “I don’t want to sell it to you, I’ll give you half and sell the other.”

“I’ll gladly pay,” he told her.

This was not a negotiation. She wouldn’t take Oberyn’s money, she owed him too much already. “No, just find me someone who might want it.”

“Leave them,” Oberyn instructed. “I’ll find you after the sale and pay you.”

“That’s fine,” she said, “and thank you.”

“Thank you. My enemies will not be expecting this.” Oberyn was famous for coating his weapons with deadly toxins. Some prepared for it, when they knew they would be facing the Prince, forcing Oberyn to find rarer and rarer poisons to counter their preparations.

“I’ll let you return to your business,” Arya said as she stood, “I’m sure you have many things to do.”

With a grin he answered, “Only one and she isn’t here yet.” She chuckled at her friend’s sense of humor. With comments like that, one might be forgiven for thinking Oberyn didn’t care for Ellaria, but Arya had seen them together and she knew the truth. Oberyn would do anything, give up anything, risk anything for Ellaria and she’d do the same for him. They were the only couple Arya knew who reminded her of her parents. “Leave your helmet,” he said before she could get to the door, “I’ll have the smith take care of it. We can’t send you to King’s Landing with a faulty helmet, what would those pricks think?”

R-C

The first thing she saw the next morning, was her repaired helmet next to her on the other half of the pillow. She didn’t know how Oberyn found her, she picked her place to rest because it was in an unused section of the servant’s quarters. She could only imagine Oberyn’s smug smirk as he snuck in to make his delivery without waking her. She’d hear about it for sure. Wiping the sleep from her eyes she sat up and massaged a kink in her shoulder. She carefully studied the cut to her chest left by Ninety-Four, it was healing well, and most importantly, showing no signs of infection. In addition to the helmet, Oberyn had left other gifts, chiefly a purse of coins that he used to hold down a letter. He must’ve found a buyer for the snake venom. As she lifted the gold to get at the page beneath, she realized just how heavy it was. It was too much, even without looking inside she knew that. She’d need to speak to the Prince, once she was sufficiently ridiculed for letting him sneak up on her.

Arya,

Elia will meet the Princess after breakfast. She and the children will be upstairs in the sitting room, where you’ve found me so many times before. Make sure you aren’t followed.

O

You must be tired to not stir as I lie next to you in bed composing this note. I think it possible to pleasure Ellaria here and not have you wake until she screams out my name for the third time.

Arya shook her head. Oberyn was nothing if not creative. He painted an all too vivid image with the words added below the signature. Her embarrassment wasn’t enough to overshadow the success she was feeling. Her helmet was fixed and knowing Oberyn it was by the best smith in Dorne. He wouldn’t take her gear to just any forge. She had gold for her trip and would be able to tell Daenerys that she could meet her niece and nephew.

She got up and hurried toward the bath. After only two days, she knew Daenerys well enough to know she’d want to hear this news right away.

R-C

Arya was being intentionally vague as she steered Daenerys and Missandei up the staircase after breakfast. Daenerys thought they’d be leaving again, but the opposite appeared true. Her guard was a woman of few words, Daenerys usually had to prompt her to hear what was on her mind. This was something else. Now she was avoiding Daenerys’s direct questions, something she hadn’t seen Arya do in their short time together. She was typically very direct, sometimes too direct.

She silenced all Daenerys’s inquires with the words, ‘trust me.’ So far trusting in Arya had worked out well. Daenerys would do so again.

Her resolve lasted only until she saw a giant of a man guarding a door. “Who is that!?” she wondered aloud. He wasn’t doing anything especially threatening, yet he still managed to appear menacing.

“Areo Hotah,” Arya informed her. “He’s Captain of the Guard and Prince Doran’s bodyguard.”

“We’re meeting with Prince Doran then?” she guessed. She didn’t know why that needed to be a secret, she’d just seen the man at breakfast.

“No, our meeting is not with the Prince.”

Before she could give Arya the opportunity to evade her question again, they reached Areo and he stepped aside without delay, nodding in respect to the soldier.

Arya opened the door and waited for Daenerys and Missandei to go first. People were already waiting. Was this who they’d come to see? In addition to Oberyn and Ellaria, there were three young girls, who looked remarkably similar. Beside Oberyn was a woman who was close to his age, she had dark hair and wore an orange dress. She looked almost nervous, until Oberyn put a hand on her leg and calmed her. The final two guests were an attractive young man with light hair and dark eyes and a striking beauty who was most certainly Dornish, she had the dark hair, tanned skin and dark eyes she’d grown accustomed to seeing during her time in Sunspear.

Arya entered last, closed the door behind her and then went to the middle of the room to make introductions. “Princess, allow me to introduce Princess Elia Martell and her children, Princess Rhaenys and Prince Aegon.”

She heard a gasp that probably came from her. She smiled at her family and then turned to look at Arya. She had done this for her? This was an even better surprise than the orphanage. She’d all but given up on the idea that she’d get to meet them.

Realizing how strange she was behaving, she pivoted to them quickly. “It’s a pleasure to meet you all. I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time.”

Elia rose from the couch and approached. “That you asked to see us is a testament to your character, Princess.”

Once things had calmed a bit, Arya finished what she’d started. “These girls,” she said gesturing to the ones near Ellaria, “are some of Oberyn’s daughters, I’ll let them introduce themselves, they aren’t big on formality.”

She couldn’t help it, she looked at the Prince and raised an eyebrow. “Only some?” Three seemed like more than enough children for a man of his age.

“Actually, there are eight, all told,” Ellaria clarified with a laugh.

Daenerys’s shock was humorous and eased some of the tension in the room. She wanted to find the seat nearest her niece and nephew and begin to learn about them, but she needed to do something first. She saw Arya trying to fade into the background and she grabbed her for a hug. “Thank you!” she said fiercely as a startled Arya slowly and awkwardly hugged back. “I’ll never be able to repay you for this.”

“Go on,” a blushing Arya instructed as she pulled away, “we can stay as long as we want.”

With a bright smile she hurried off to meet her family. Yesterday was good, but today was already better.

R-C

She waited until Daenerys was busy with her family and then slipped over to see Oberyn. He was regaling his daughters with a story from his youth in Essos. She smiled along. It was a grand tale, one she would have thought more than a little embellished, except she heard it told exactly the same way by a man named Mero.

The story stopped when they noticed her. All three girls began talking over one another, each trying to get Arya’s attention. Best she could tell Obara wanted a repeat of their last sparring match. It was more than a year earlier and still she held a grudge, upset that Arya defeated her while she was wielding her favorite spear. Nym had questions about her training and Tyene wanted to talk about the snakes she killed the day before and the venom she took from them.

“Let the girl breathe,” Ellaria cautioned.

“Yell louder,” Oberyn said in contrast. “Believe me, she got plenty of rest last night. She can take it.”

She rolled her eyes at her friend. It had begun. “You’re never going to let me live this down, are you?”

“Most certainly not. It was glorious. You were snoring there, naked as the day you were born. I even dropped your helmet once and you only grunted.”

“Horseshit,” she objected. She would have woken up if Oberyn made that much noise.

Father, daughters, and lover all laughed at her misfortune. She didn’t mind. Ellaria was always kind to her, and Oberyn’s girls had enough of their father in them for Arya to appreciate each one for a unique list of reasons. “Don’t tell me your training made you lazy,” Nym said in mock horror.

“Be careful child,” Ellaria warned, “she finished first in a group that started with more than three-hundred.”

This got Obara’s attention. “Truly?”

“Yes.”

“Then you must grant me another fight,” she said, already on her feet and prepared to go retrieve her spear. “It’s been a long time and you should want to test yourself against me!”

“I can’t,” she explained, “I’m acting as Princess Daenerys’s guard. I can’t leave her.”

Obara wasn’t interested in her excuse. “She’s in no danger here. Areo has the door. The Gods themselves couldn’t get past him.”

“Keep practicing,” Arya suggested. “When I return, I’ll spar with you until you’re too tired to try and kill me again.” Tyene laughed at Arya’s joke, earning a glare from her sister.

Curses were fired back and forth as each girl promised death to the other. Oberyn said nothing, watching with a proud smile.

Obara wasn’t ready to give up on the idea. She bypassed Arya all together and went straight to the really authority. “Princess Daenerys?” she called, interrupting whatever Aegon was saying to his aunt.

“Yes?” she asked, a tad warily.

“Can I take your guard outside and kick her ass?”

It was difficult not to like Obara’s confidence. Unsure of the right answer, she looked to Arya for guidance. She shrugged. She wasn’t opposed to sparring, in fact it’d be fun, but she was working. Daenerys’s ruling provided another source of amusement for the Sand Snakes. “Don’t do any permanent damage!”

With all of them working together, Arya knew she had little choice. “Go get your spear,” she said to the eldest. “I’ll meet you in the yard in a few minutes.”

It wasn’t just Obara who moved, Tyene and Nymeria were up too. “Where are you two going?” Ellaria asked so Arya wouldn’t have to.

“I want a turn,” Tyene said.

“Me too,” Nym added right after.

She shook her head. “I’m not letting you within ten feet of me when you’re holding that whip of yours.”

Nymeria pouted, an expression taught by her father no doubt. “It’s only eight feet long,” she countered, as if that made it less dangerous.

“I know,” the guard assured her. “I need one foot of space to avoid getting hit, and the second foot is because I know how much trouble you have counting and well, it’s better to be safe than sorry.”

Mother, father and child all laughed. True to her nature Nymeria held a measure of control. “I’ll remember you said that when you’re bleeding at my feet.”

Arya was unrepentant. “It’s good to have a dream.” She’d had her fun, knowing Nym could take it. “Go get your whip, I’ll let you kick my ass too, just remember what Daenerys said, no permanent damage.”

“Me too?” Tyene inquired, sensing victory.

She addressed the father instead of the daughter. “You didn’t give her any of that venom, did you? If she gets a lucky slash with that dagger, I don’t want to start frothing at the mouth.”

He laughed at the idea of her being poisoned. “You should be safe.”

“You too then,” Arya told Ellaria’s eldest. When all three were gone Arya went to Oberyn. “You gave me far too much.”

“I negotiated a higher price on your behalf. You don’t realize the value of what you had, but I do. You were paid fair market value.”

“And then some,” Arya amended. Since she suspected the venom never left his chambers, she flashed him a smile. “Thank you.”

“Are we going too love?” Ellaria asked him.

“I’d never miss a chance to see my daughters best a brave soldier of Dorne!”

Arya had to chew on her lip to keep from grinning. “Thank you for the confidence.”

“You’ll be fine… I think.”

Ellaria giggled at her lover’s antics. “I’ll be out in a minute,” she told them as she went to make sure Daenerys was okay with her going. Obara had twisted her arm to get her to agree but if Daenerys didn’t feel safe without her there, the girls would just need to accept it.

“I need to fight all three of them now, thanks for that,” she said as she approached where Daenerys, Missandei, Elia, Rhaenys and Aegon were.

“I didn’t think you’d want me telling them you’re too frightened to face them,” Daenerys quipped back good naturedly. The woman talking now was a far cry from the one who could barely string two words together to answer Tywin. Arya liked this Daenerys better.

“Are you alright with me going?” she asked seriously. “I can wait until Jorah is watching you, I don’t mind.”

“We’re safe here, go have your fun.”

“Thank you,” she said to Daenerys. As she moved away her eyes landed on Elia. “Princess, enjoy your visit.”

“Can I join you outside?” Aegon asked. “I’ve been trying to learn the sword, though I still have a long way to go.”

Arya remembered feeling similar once, before Oberyn began training with her. “There is always more to learn. If you keep trying, you’ll get better.” Remembering the question, she answered it. “Of course, you can come along Prince. Once I’ve been sufficiently humbled by the girls, if I can stand, I’ll give you some tips.”

Aegon jumped up and went in search of his weapon. When he was gone Elia said, “That was kind of you, he regrets waiting so long to learn, feels he’s already behind.”

“It’d be an honor to train him, Princess.”

“Perhaps we should go see the show too,” Rhaenys considered. Arya smiled at the young Princess. Since Arya was a servant in the Water Gardens Rhaenys had taken a liking to her. In recent years she started flirting when their paths crossed. She was as straightforward as Arya would expect any member of Oberyn’s family to be. Though she made her feelings known quite explicitly on more than one occasion Arya hadn’t taken her up on any of her offers, despite her obvious beauty. She feared damaging her relationship with Oberyn and was also bothered by the discrepancies in their stations. Arya was a foster – a soldier at best, a slave at worst – and Rhaenys was a Princess. If King’s Landing wasn’t prejudiced against women Rhaenys would be in line for the throne, after her father. She wasn’t meant for the daughter of a traitor like Arya.

R-C

“How do you know Arya?” Daenerys asked the Princesses as they prepared to go outside.

Rhaenys was first. “She’s been around since she was se…”

“She’s been a friend of the family for years,” Elia finished. “She’s close to my brother Oberyn. He’s very proud of her.”

She thought to her talk with Oberyn under the tree, how he’d asked her to keep Arya safe. “With good reason,” she remarked, complimenting her guard’s talents. “I understand they travelled to Essos together.”

Elia laughed – a pleasant sound that made her look younger. As she listened it was easy to see the Elia Martell her brother loved and married. Realizing this only created more questions that begged to be asked about the whole situation. Perhaps when she returned to King’s Landing, she’d demand her brother answer some of them and try to learn the truth behind the end of the marriage and her exile.

“Oh yes, we’ve been hearing about their adventures since they returned,” Elia recalled with an indulgent smile for the Targaryen. “Each time we hear one it’s more outlandish and death-defying.” She shook her head. “I believe it’s a game between them now, to see who can craft the most unbelievable story for them to play the hero in.”

Rhaenys backed up her mother’s claim. “First, they went to see a fight in the Pits, then Uncle Oberyn told us they fought in the Pits. Last time, the number of men and beasts they defeated was up to a dozen.”

Daenerys was developing a new appreciation for this side of Arya’s character. Around Oberyn and his family she was seeing a more relaxed, carefree woman. She teased and made jokes, laughing along when she was the brunt of them. Daenerys even thought she detected a hint of flirting going on between Arya and Rhaenys. It made Daenerys wonder if Arya would be leaving a lover when she joined her in King’s Landing. She hadn’t mentioned anyone, but that wasn’t proof. They’d known one another only a couple of days, maybe she just didn’t want to discuss it.

The sun was warm, and the sky was dotted with big fluffy clouds. The combatants were already prepared. Oberyn stood nearby with his arm around Ellaria. Nymeria and Tyene were bickering over who would fight next, after Obara was done. Aegon was standing separate from the rest, sword in hand, taking swings at a man shaped target.

Arya stood on one side of an open space while Obara occupied the other. They were opposites. Obara was moving, twirling her spear so fast it blurred. At seemingly random intervals she stopped spinning the weapon and would thrust it out in Arya’s direction. With more than twenty feet between them, she wasn’t in danger of being hit, in fact Arya didn’t even twitch. She just stood there with her hands behind her back waiting.

“Are we going to do this?” she asked Oberyn’s daughter.

“You’re unarmed,” she noticed. Daenerys gasped and beside her Missandei did too. Now that she mentioned it, they could see Arya had removed the belt that held her sword.

Arya smirked. “Do you still wear that dagger strapped to your leg?”

Stabbing her spear into the sand she pulled the blade in question free. “Would you like to borrow it?”

Arya’s expression grew more devious. “Keep it, I’ll take it from you when I get over there.”

Obara scoffed and tried to feign disinterest but Daenerys could see anger was bubbling up below the surface. “You’re going to come over here, not get stabbed and take my knife off my leg, then beat me with it?” she clarified.

“I’m ready when you are,” Arya said, poking her again.

“Fine,” she said picking up the spear and approaching the guard.

“I hope she knows what she’s doing,” Missandei commented in a whisper.

She didn’t take her eyes off the match, but she responded. “Me too.” Daenerys was anxious to see what would happen. The last time, the only time she saw Arya fight she didn’t know who she was. She didn’t even realize it was a woman until after she’d won. She wasn’t religious but she considered saying a prayer to try and ensure Arya’s safety. This was only happening because she allowed Arya to participate, was that a mistake?

Arya didn’t move until Obara’s spear was thrusting toward the center of her chest. She twisted gracefully and then jogged away to put distance between them. Once she had it, she stopped and returned her hands to their place behind her back.

Three times they went around and around. Obara would attempt, Arya would dodge it and then she’d go just far enough away that they could do it again. Not much was changing, except Obara getting annoyed with Arya’s unwillingness to fight. Her fourth try was angrier, a swipe at Arya’s neck. Arya ducked under it and before running away delivered a punch to Obara’s leather-covered ribs. She swung her spear in a wide, wild arc as she tried to catch Arya before she could escape. Daenerys held her breath until she was certain the guard made it out unscathed.

The fifth attempt was when things got interesting. Arya sidestepped the spear as she’d done before, but this time she didn’t run, she stayed there, right beside the spear that nearly impaled her, grabbing the shaft with both hands. They struggled over the weapon, grunting with effort as they wrestled for control. Their hands were constantly moving, sliding up and down the spear’s long shaft to try and find a grip that provided them the advantage. As the bout continued Arya moved closer to Obara, gripping the spear closer to where her hands were every time. Rather abruptly Arya was in front of Oberyn’s daughter, close enough to reach out and touch her face. Without warning Arya pushed the spear sideways, away from her. Since she was grasping it so tightly Obara was forced to go with it. As they separated Arya’s quick hands reached out and stole the dagger from her leg, just as she said she would.

The onlookers responded. Oberyn whistled, Elia clapped, Rhaenys cheered, Nym laughed and Tyene yelled, “What did you say happens after she takes your knife?”

Daenerys couldn’t deny she was impressed. She looked to Missandei and saw a dark eyebrow raise in silent question. Could it really happen just as Arya foretold? All she knew was that Arya had a better chance now than when they began.

Once Arya had her weapon. They went back to the pattern from before. Obara would attempt, Arya would avoid and then pick a spot in the sand to wait for the next attack.

As it happened the change occurred right in front of where Daenerys was standing. When Arya sidestepped the spear, Obara immediately began twirling it, hoping to catch Arya with the fast-moving stock. It was hard to see much, even up close. The spear was spinning, Arya was somehow dodging it, and then Arya was gone. She passed through the spear unharmed and came out on the other side. Obara realized it too and changed direction, sending the spear rotating the other way, she pivoted too but it was too late. Arya had the dagger up against Obara’s neck. She threw her spear down in defeat, cursing as she did.

Arya lowered her weapon and stepped back. “There were three-hundred-and-twelve recruits in my group,” she said loudly. “You fighting like that would have beaten three-hundred-and-eleven of them.”

“Too bad I was going up against the one that mattered,” she whined, picking up her discarded spear.

“You’ve gotten better over the last year. If you’d been able to do that last time, you would have won for sure,” Arya said, continuing to praise the other woman, “but the training made me better. Keep practicing with your father and sisters and when I come back, I’ll let you try again.”

“I’ll be ready,” Obara vowed as she carried her weapon off toward her father. He greeted her with a hug, a kiss on the head and words of encouragement. Daenerys idly wondered what it was like to have a father like Oberyn. It looked quite idyllic.

The remainder of the morning was spent like that. Arya gave each of Oberyn’s daughters a match and she defeated them all. Even in defeat Daenerys could see each woman was uniquely gifted. When Nymeria revealed her whip, Daenerys didn’t know what to think. After she saw the skill with which she used it, she understood even less. That match took the longest, with both fighters waiting patiently for the other to make a mistake. It was Nymeria who made an error first, if you could call leaning a little too far in one direction a mistake. That was all Arya needed to step inside the whip’s long reach and put Obara’s borrowed knife to her throat. “Her mother taught her to use that,” Elia explained as they watched.

“Ellaria?”

“No, she’s only mother to my brother’s most recent children. Tyene is her oldest, the others have different mothers.” The way she said it, without judgement caught Daenerys off-guard. She remembered Ellaria saying she and Oberyn were not married during their initial meeting. Obviously in Dorne marriage wasn’t required to make a family. Even without knowing anything about her Daenerys was in awe of Nym’s mother.

When it was Tyene’s turn she pulled out two long daggers and wielded one in each hand. “You going to insult me too?” she asked, clearly referring to the pre-match exchange between Arya and Obara.

Arya only smiled and tossed her dagger from one hand to the other. “Wouldn’t make a difference if I did,” she said, “you’re going to run straight for me either way.”

She was right too. Tyene did charge her immediately. That was the hardest for Daenerys to watch. They stood close and used their small blades to fend off one another’s attempts. There were punches, there were kicks and there were vicious swings of daggers that seemed far too serious for a friendly test of abilities. Oberyn tried to end the match when Arya cut the back of Tyene’s left hand and forced her to drop one of her daggers, but she refused to yield and they fought with one blade each until Arya knocked the weapon away and threw her to the ground. She dropped on top of her, landing with her dagger against Tyene’s chin.

After they were done, Arya praised the girls for their talent. Oberyn and Ellaria were beaming with parental pride. Even in defeat, it was obvious they respected Arya and would heed her advice. When there was no one left to fight Arya summoned Aegon and after watching for a few minutes, gave him personal instructions. She changed his posture slightly, cautioned him against wasting too much energy on the big, heavy swings and then showed how quick, precise cuts could be more effective. They remained in the yard until it was time for lunch.

As she went back inside Rhaenys hurried to walk beside her. “You’re so lucky to have Arya as your guard. I wish Uncle Doran would have assigned her to guard me.”

“Enough now,” Elia chastised gently. “You’ll embarrass Arya if you talk like that.”

“She knows how good she is,” Rhaenys said in opposition to her mother’s point. “She has to.”

Daenerys tried to placate her by agreeing. “I think I’m lucky too,” she whispered.

R-C

Elia and the children took their leave while the others went to eat. Daenerys could say she genuinely liked his brother’s former wife, and his children. Rhaenys had a quick wit, an observant eye and a keen intelligence. They spent much of their time together comparing the books they read. She didn’t have the interest in swords her brother did, but she did enjoy riding her horse, sewing and music. That last attribute she definitely got from her father.

Aegon was the quieter of the two. He was thoughtful, sincere and far too smart for Daenerys to keep up. More than once as they spoke, she was forced to admit she didn’t know what he was saying. When it happened though, he’d go back and explain it in a way she could understand. Elia told her that he switched hobbies regularly but only after he mastered his current one. His recent obsession, swordplay had his mother nervous, but he was stubborn and determined to learn.

Before they parted Elia thanked her for asking to see them. Daenerys thanked her for allowing it. After meeting Elia, she was no closer to understanding why Rhaegar ended their marriage and sent her to Sunspear with the children, but she did think she could say she knew why Elia had avoided their party since they arrived. She was a proud, strong, independent woman, she was a Princess before she married Rhaegar and a Princess after. It likely wounded her pride to be sent away. It wasn’t unreasonable to want distance from people and things that would remind her of that. She did manage to get assurances from all three that they would receive and reply to Daenerys’s letters, so she’d be able to stay in contact once she returned to the Capital.

For a day that started so well, the afternoon was quite painful. She was forced to attend a stuffy, boring, formal affair to celebrate the wedding. Daenerys was pleased to get the chance to finally meet the woman who would be her sister. Eliza Martell was a relative of Doran’s, but where exactly she fit on the Martell family tree, Daenerys couldn’t say. She was polite, soft-spoken and shy. Daenerys understood, she wouldn’t want to be in the center of attention like this either. She was petite, a little taller than Daenerys, but not much. She looked like the majority of the Dornish, she wore her black hair neatly styled and pushed back away from her face. She had dimples in her cheeks when she smiled, and perfect bronze skin. What set her apart was her big green eyes.

She enjoyed her time with Eliza, but before long she was taken away to meet with a person of minor import, leaving Daenerys alone, and unable to leave. Mercifully Missandei kept her cup full of delicious wine. People came by occasional to ask a question or comment about one matter or another, but Daenerys only gave a minimum of her attention. She was much more focused on all the things she’d rather be doing. Dorne was a place that seemed teeming with possibilities. She’d already seen and done so many things she never experienced before. She was confident there were untold amounts more she’d yet to try and instead of filling her last day with as many as she could, she was stuck listening to people talk about their clothes, a recent trade deal, or an exceptionally good crop that was due. There was only one thing that made it tolerable – she realized it when she saw Viserys ignoring Eliza’s attempts to get his attention – since there was still so much of Dorne she hadn’t seen, it would demand a repeat visit. Maybe when Arya returned, she could come along and see more of the region without her father, Viserys, and Tywin to interfere.

R-C

Chapter Text

It was unavoidable, trapped on a ship surrounded by Targaryens she was flooded with memories from her past, her first time sailing on a ship and her last. It was strange for them to be so similar and so different. Sailing to Dorne had been one of the worst experiences in her life. Joining Oberyn on his trip to Essos was one of the best. They overlapped and mingled together in her mind.

On this voyage she was accompanied by the Targaryens and a collection of their loyalists. She hadn’t seen the King since he stepped onboard. She heard that he retired to his cabin. Daenerys, Missandei and the Mormont were spread out across the deck. Missandei was reading, while the knight was talking to Daenerys. On the opposite end, literally as far away as they could get Tywin and his Kingsguard son spoke privately. The crew ignored their passengers for the most part and tended to the needs of the vessel. An assortment of guards strolled about, either watching for dangers or stretching their legs, it was hard to tell.

Only when she was confident she had her memories contained did she approached Daenerys. She intended to stay back and guard her from a distance, but the Princess had other ideas. She hopped up when she saw Arya coming and hurried over, effectively ending whatever Jorah was trying to say to her. “Arya, there you are!” she gushed.

Missandei looked up from her book and gave the soldier a tight, but real smile. Arya replied with a nod before the handmaiden turned her attention back to the pages in front of her.

“Don’t you love it out here?” Daenerys asked rhetorically. The words forced Arya to give up her quest of guessing which language Missandei was reading in. It probably wasn’t the common tongue, but apparently it could have been one of many others. If she did in fact know nineteen languages, she had plenty to choose from.

Daenerys inhaled the salty air deeply and smiled, angling her face toward the sun. “I wish we could just stay out here forever,” she noted wistfully.

The way she said it, with genuine wonder caught Arya’s notice. How was it that the Princess wasn’t free to do what she wanted? Unlike Arya she wasn’t a foster or a servant, there was no reason she couldn’t explore the little-known corners of the world. Recent days made it clear Daenerys wasn’t active in governing the Realm, so why didn’t she travel? The answer came almost as soon as she considered the question. Tywin. She reviewed one of their admittedly few interactions, where he made it known he wanted Daenerys close by in the event her presence was required. Could the Hand have the power to keep her in King’s Landing for the rare occasions she would be invited to join them? If Arya was right, then maybe Daenerys wasn’t as free as the guard initially assumed.

Uncomfortable with the direction of her thoughts, Arya tried to joke. “Are you certain you aren’t Ironborn? They’re the only ones I know who enjoy their ships as much as you.”

Instead of laughing Daenerys gave her question undue consideration. “Maybe,” she said with a smirk settling on her lips, “that would explain a great deal actually.”

“Now that the King has allowed you to travel to Dorne, it’s possible he’ll permit you to go other places as well,” Missandei offered from nearby. She closed her book and stood, going to Daenerys’s side.

It was clear to Arya that Missandei was trying to find a bright spot in their circumstance. Daenerys must’ve known too. “Maybe,” she allowed without meaning it.

She could have left it. She was a guard, barely an acquaintance after a week together. Missandei and Daenerys were closer and as such it would have been reasonable to let Missandei tend to the Princess’s emotions. She didn’t. “I wouldn’t mind that,” she said. “We’ve got a few months until the wedding. We could see a lot before then.”

Her instinct to involve herself was proven wise when Missandei and Daenerys flashed her matching smiles for her efforts. Missandei picked up where Arya left off. “Where would we go Princess? Would you want to see the edges of the Seven Kingdoms or someplace beyond?”

“Everywhere,” Daenerys replied. “I’ve always wanted to see everything in the Realm, from Dorne to the Wall.”

“I’ve only seen the Wall in books,” Missandei continued. Her obvious intent was to keep Daenerys talking about it.

Daenerys got a faraway look in her violet eyes. “On my thirteenth nameday I asked my father if we could take a trip North. I had dreams of seeing snow.”

“Did you?” Missandei asked gently.

Going to a bench she sat down and encouraged the others to do the same. Missandei sat while Arya remained standing. “No, my father didn’t hear my request, he was too distracted.”

The sudden change in Daenerys’s tone and volume said more than her words. She didn’t want to be overheard speaking about her father, it was obvious this was not a happy memory for her. Arya was uncomfortable with the topic too. She didn’t want to think about the snow, about the North, about the life she had there.

“Oh, I’m sorry.”

With an appreciative smile for her friend, Daenerys went on. “I was stubborn though and went to Rhaegar to get permission. I was so sure he would say yes, but he didn’t. He told me it wouldn’t be safe for me to travel in the North, when I asked why he told me the story of Jorah’s origin.”

Since she didn’t need elaborate further, Missandei must’ve known who Jorah was before he was a Dragon Knight. It was also easy to understand why Daenerys moved further away from Jorah and lowered her voice before telling that particular story. She wanted to limit the number of people who overheard her speaking about her father, but she also wanted to ensure Jorah didn’t know they were discussing him.

Luckily, Missandei was focused on Daenerys, and Daenerys was lost to her recollections. It gave Arya the chance to rage in private. She was furious and suddenly wished she had someone to kill. She wanted to swing her sword and spill blood. How predictable that Rhaegar would use Jorah’s past and not his own to discourage Daenerys from seeing the North. The crimes the Prince committed against her family and all Northmen were just as inexcusable as Jorah’s. Arya wondered if the avoidance was his or Daenerys’s. Was it Daenerys who didn’t want to reveal to Missandei that her brother kidnapped an innocent woman, or was it Rhaegar who hid his crimes from his sister? She studied the Princess intently to try and learn which was more likely.

She must’ve stared too long. “Is something wrong?” Daenerys asked her.

“No,” she said simply. There was a long delay before she managed a more coherent response. “No, I’m fine, I just need to check on something below deck.”

“Want us to join you?”

No, she didn’t. There was no mystery errand, what Arya truly needed was space to clear her mind and regain control of her anger. She couldn’t do that near the Mad King’s daughter. “No,” she said a little too forcefully. Daenerys flinched slightly and Arya tried again, “No, you stay here and keep talking. Make a list of all the things you want to do when you’re back on dry land, I’ll be right back.”

“Oh…okay…” Daenerys replied. She was unconvinced but Arya couldn’t worry about that now. She’d find a way to apologize for her rudeness later. The only thing that mattered in that moment was getting some much-needed distance.

R-C

Sitting alone Arya recalled the scene in Sunspear. The dock was crowded with people who made the trip from the Water Gardens to see the Targaryens off. Arya stayed to the side, near Daenerys but distinctly separate. She’d tried to find Oberyn before they headed for the ships, but he hadn’t been in his room or at any of his other most frequent hiding places. She was disappointed thinking she wouldn’t get to see him before she left for King’s Landing.

Her difficulty tracking him made more sense when she saw him standing on the dock waiting for her. He bypassed a King, multiple Princes and Princesses both from his family and the Targaryens, as well as a couple of Lions and went directly to her. “Ready to go, Arya Sand?” he asked, very aware of their audience.

“Don’t really have a choice,” she muttered. “I’ll be fine,” she said with more confidence. “I’ll be back before you can miss me.”

He reached out and tapped the sword she wore. It came with her uniform, after her final test, a sword that was hers, one she could keep and not just use temporarily. It was the first she’d ever had. “Keep practicing. Don’t let your time in the Capital dull your skills. A Snake keeps her fangs sharp always, because she never knows when she’ll need to use them.” He caught her off guard by pulling her into a hug. With his mouth over her ear he whispered, “Wolves keep their teeth sharp too.”

“Yes, they do,” she confirmed grimly after they separated. “Don’t get into too much trouble while I’m gone, listen to Ellaria, and…”

She never got to finish. “Listen to Ellaria?” he repeated through a laugh. “Did she ask you to say that?”

As they teased one another it was easy to forget everything happening around them. It didn’t last. “Be careful,” Oberyn told her.

“I’ll do my best,” she promised knowing his worry for her was real. “Thank you for everything,” she said grabbing his hand and squeezing it to try and convey her feelings.

He scoffed but didn’t allow her to retract her hand. “You shouldn’t thank me, I couldn’t stop this, I tried but…”

It was her turn to cut him off early. Just as he’d done, she hugged him to afford them the chance to speak privately. “This isn’t your fault!” she told him with certainty. “I don’t blame you and I never will, no matter what happens next.”

He held her a moment longer than usual before letting her go. “Stay safe,” Oberyn implored. Moments later the King finished his talk with Doran and climbed aboard his ship. “Time to go,” Oberyn said. His usual smile was firmly in place, but Arya could see a sadness in his eyes. She wished she knew how to rid him of the guilt he was suffering, but no words seemed adequate.

“They can wait,” Arya said bravely. She couldn’t go until she made Oberyn understand. There was a reasonable chance they’d never see each other again and so their farewell demanded an extra few seconds. “You were my friend when I had none,” she remembered, “there was nothing in it for you, but you took a scared, lonely girl and gave her a purpose.” She touched her armor, resting a hand over the Martell sigil. “What I am, who I am is because of you. When you think of me, remember that, not this.” On the last word she waved her hand dismissively at their surroundings.

With a glassy quality to his eyes Oberyn nodded to confirm he heard. She was relieved. She couldn’t stop him from worrying about her, but she didn’t want it to consume him. They’d had many more good times than bad together. She’d much rather Oberyn think of them.

“I’ll be standing right here with wine when you return, whenever you return.” She appreciated Oberyn’s attempt to ease the tension.

Only a few remained on the dock now. Their time was at an end. “After weeks on a ship, I’ll need it,” she said trying to match his lighter tone.

His final message came with none of the humor. It was deadly serious. “You can do this Arya. Do whatever you must and then return home.”

Her throat was suddenly thick, and she wouldn’t have been able to talk even if she knew what to say. She turned away first and took a long step toward the ship. Her path was blocked by a concerned Daenerys who was watching her closely. “Are you alright?” she asked, echoing the first words spoken between them.

“I will be,” she said, knowing anything else would be a lie. She moved past Daenerys and onto a ship bound for the place she hated most.

R-C

It was late. Arya was lying on her bed in the cabin she shared with Missandei. Daenerys was next door, in her larger quarters, private but still close in the event she had need of her servants overnight.

The knock on the door compelled her eyes to open. She looked at her surroundings and realized Missandei wasn’t with her. The handmaiden said she was going to prepare tea for Daenerys but that was before she fell asleep. How long ago was it and why hadn’t she returned? Missandei wouldn’t knock on her own cabin door, but Arya couldn’t think of anyone else who would be calling on her. Daenerys was resting and even if she wasn’t, they were miles away from the world in every direction, she doubted there was a danger worthy of her guard.

She got up and walked to the door barefoot. Daenerys was waiting in the narrow corridor, smiling warmly. “Princess,” she said formally as she tried to think of the reason Daenerys had come. “Are you looking for Missandei?” she guessed. To Arya it was the most logical explanation she could come up with for why Daenerys was knocking on her door.

“Missandei is relaxing after a long day, I came to see you.”

Her? Why? She was immediately on edge, anticipating trouble. “Did you have need of me?”

With a shake of her head she responded. “Need, no, but I was hoping you’d want to join me anyway.”

Join her? Where exactly did Daenerys plan to go? They were at sea. “Okay,” she said warily.

“No,” Daenerys countered suddenly, her smile gone. “No, I don’t want you to accept just because you think it’s what I want you to say. If you choose to join me for a drink, I want it to be because you want to, not because you’re sworn to me.”

She had no idea why this was so important to Daenerys. She almost refused. It wasn’t a lie to say she was tired and though a drink sounded pleasant, she worried about Daenerys’s motive for suggesting it. As was becoming habit when she thought negatively of the Princess her brain reminded her that Daenerys had never done anything to earn her contempt. “Are we going to your cabin then?”

Her smile returned when it became clear Arya planned to accept her proposal. “I hate being confined,” she admitted, “can we go up onto the deck? I’m sure it’s beautiful this time of night.”

She was working awfully hard to convince Arya. It was needless. “Sure, I’ll meet you out there in a few minutes.”

“I’ll go get the wine,” Daenerys announced cheerily, already moving away from the door.

She shook her head, knowing Daenerys wouldn’t see it. This was going to be interesting.

R-C

She had everything set when Arya arrived on the deck. Two small stools with an overturned crate between them to serve as a makeshift table. There was wine and two glasses on their ‘tabletop.’ If she was uncomfortable with the accommodations the Princess didn’t show it. She looked content as she gazed at the star-filled sky.

“Shall I pour the wine?” she suggested as she made her way over.

“I’ll do it,” Daenerys said reaching for the bottle. “You sit and get comfortable.” She did as she was told. “Try it,” Daenerys urged as soon as the glass in front of her was full. “Let me know if it’s any good.”

She didn’t know who stocked the King’s ship for this journey, but she doubted they packed anything that wasn’t high in both price and taste. “I’m not an expert.”

“Sample it anyway,” she encouraged, “I trust your judgement.”

Arya took a sip and learned her instincts were strong. It was flavorful and most assuredly out of her budget. “I think you’ll like it,” she guessed.

Daenerys smiled. “I’m glad we’re doing this.”

“Is there something in particular you want to talk about Princess?”

She shook her head and Arya waited patiently until she swallowed the wine she was enjoying. “None of that, I’ve been ‘Princess’ all day.”

“Anything in particular you’d like to discuss, Daenerys?” she amended.

“Anything,” she said before pausing, “everything. I want to know more about you. We are going to be spending a lot of time together and I think that’ll be easier if we know more about one another.”

That was why she came to her cabin to get her and invited her for a drink? She wanted to learn more about Arya? “I’m not really that interesting,” she confessed to buy herself a moment. The more she talked to Daenerys, the greater the chance she accidentally revealed too much. If that happened, Daenerys would realize her identity and she’d be killed. If she refused to answer anything, it would only make her more curious. She’d need to tread carefully.

“I doubt that. You are a woman who succeeds in a man’s world. Few women would want to serve in the army, fewer still could do it. Of those, I’m not sure any others would aspire to finish first.”

“I didn’t set out to be first,” she clarified. “I just wanted to finish, to earn a place in the army, that was my only goal. Finishing first, in the middle or dead last, didn’t matter to me as long as I was still there at the end.”

Daenerys sipped her wine and nodded her head. “Was being in the army always what you wanted to do?”

She shrugged before the words came. “It’s hard to explain, I was always interested in it. I always cared more about swords and warfare than I did for sewing or dresses. I didn’t think it was possible for me to be considered.”

“Was the objection that you’re a Sand or that you’re a woman?”

She took a drink to delay having to answer. She couldn’t tell the truth, couldn’t say the main obstacle to her joining the army was her role as a foster. She kept it vague. “There were a lot of reasons. Oberyn convinced his brother to give me a chance.”

“I’m sorry you had to leave him. I can’t imagine how hard that must’ve been. I didn’t know him very well, but he seems like a good man. I like him.”

Since her glass was empty, she reached for the bottle, topping off Daenerys’s first and then refilling her own. Talking about Oberyn was bittersweet. Since they were on the subject though, she told the truth. “He thought highly of you too. He’s one of the best men I’ve ever known, he was kind to me when he didn’t have to be. I wouldn’t be who I am today were it not for him.”

“He is very proud of you,” Daenerys said leaning forward a bit. “Even when you were sparring with his daughters, I think he was secretly hoping you’d win.”

She knew Oberyn was proud of her, he told her often, but it still made her uncomfortable to hear someone say so. She preferred when her feelings were felt and not discussed. “He will be just as proud on the day one of them beats me,” she predicted.

“Does he truly have eight children?”

“Yes,” she confirmed. “All girls.”

“That’s a lot. Ellaria told me she isn’t the mother of all of them.”

If he’d been private about his personal life, she would have changed direction to avoid discussing Oberyn, but it was no secret he had his girls by different mothers. If he were here, he’d gladly tell Daenerys all the details, so she didn’t feel guilty for expanding her knowledge. “Oberyn roamed. As a young man he learned the spear, then trained to become a Maester. He gave up his lessons before finishing and went to Essos where he earned gold as a sell-sword. Obara’s mother was a commoner he met while travelling. Nym’s was a noblewoman, Tyene and all the one’s after are Ellaria’s. One of the others was born to a ship’s captain.”

“That’s amazing,” she said, hanging on every word. “I can’t imagine what it’s like to live such an interesting life.”

“It’s not too late for you. You’re still young. You’ll have many more years to see all the places in the world.”

“I wish that were true,” Daenerys said, “but between my father and Tywin, they won’t allow me to travel. Maybe once they marry me off, I’ll get to see another kingdom but that’ll likely be it.”

She was working to hide it, keeping the mask in place, but Arya could see that the conversation and Daenerys’s mood had turned. She knew a bit about not being happy in the life you have. She and Daenerys were undeniably different, yet they had some things in common too. “Your father won’t be King forever,” Arya reminded her. “You said your brother and you get on well, right?” She waited for an affirmative nod. “When he’s King maybe he’ll permit you to travel.”

“You’re right,” she agreed. “Just because this is my life now doesn’t mean it has to be my life forever.”

“So, what would you do, if you could go anywhere and do anything?”

“If I could do anything, I’d start by getting my own ship,” the Targaryen decided.

“What is it with you and ships? We haven’t known each other long, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen you happier than you were on the Titan’s Daughter.”

She brightened at mention of their afternoon at the Sunspear port. “That is the happiest I’ve been in a long time,” she admitted.

“Why ships?”

With a rosy blush on her cheeks she said, “You’ll think I’m mad.”

“You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to,” she said, trying to reassure her. She was curious but she didn’t ask in an effort to pry into Daenerys’s business.

“It’s not that, I’m just afraid it’ll sound foolish.”

“Try me,” Arya challenged.

“I feel trapped,” she said quickly, rushing to get through her confession. “I always have, I know I’m a Princess and I am spoiled, it probably doesn’t make sense, but…”

“It makes perfect sense,” Arya promised. “Go on.”

“Oh, okay. Thanks.” She paused, sipped her wine and then tried to explain in more detail. “When I was a little girl and I felt lonely, I’d dream about all the places I’d go, all the people I’d meet, the friends I’d make. For hours I’d imagine it, until I didn’t feel alone anymore.”

She had never considered how isolating it must be to be the Mad King’s only daughter. Just since she’d been accompanying her, it was obvious Daenerys was largely ignored by both her family and her father’s men. “When did the fascination with ships start?” Arya asked gently when it seemed like Daenerys was done talking, once again without actually answering the question.

Daenerys wasn’t looking at her anymore, she was staring off into the distance. “Young, I used to draw pictures of the ship I was going to make one day.” She laughed lightly at the memory. “I didn’t really understand what it meant to be a Princess, so I thought I could be a ship-builder too. I’d stare at pictures of ships for hours, imagining all the different pieces that I’d need to craft one.”

She tried to imagine a miniature Daenerys drawing picture after picture of ships. “I sincerely hope you get the chance to realize that dream Daenerys.” She meant it too. She’d gotten the chance to achieve her dream and it was better than even her most extravagant fantasy. Daenerys deserved to feel that too.

“Maybe, someday.”

It was clear from her tone that she didn’t hold out much hope. That bothered the guard more than she cared to admit. Why didn’t Daenerys get to pursue her dreams? Was it because she was a woman or the daughter of a King? Neither seemed like a valid excuse to confine her to the Red Keep for the majority of her life. “I can’t take you to the Shadowlands or to see the Great Pyramid in Meereen but while I’m serving as your guard, we can try and sneak you out, when you want to get away.”

Her mouth hung open and she stared at Arya for a few long seconds. “Really? You’d let me go…”

She couldn’t allow her finish. “Let you? I work for you. My job is to guard you, to keep you safe. Where we do that, whether it’s the Red Keep, the streets of King’s Landing or in the middle of the Kingswood, that’s entirely up to you.”

Something about her words had Daenerys tearing up. “Thank… you. You have no idea how much it would mean to me to not feel stuck all the time.”

“I’ll make sure you’re in the keep when you’re needed there, the rest of the time, it’ll be up to you to decide where we go. I’m your guard, not your jailor. My job isn’t to keep you in.”

“That would be great,” she said, likely as she built a list in her mind of all the things that were suddenly possible. “So, that’s why I like ships.” She emptied her glass of its wine and then shook her head when Arya went for the bottle. She left it on the crate. “That’s what I’d do, what about you? What would you buy if you had all the money in the world?”

In her mind she pictured an old, familiar castle, with grey banners hanging from the walls and snow piled up on the sloped roofs. If she had an endless supply of money, she’d buy her family home. She’d return Winterfell to the Starks and settle there. Since she couldn’t tell that to Daenerys, she chose a less extravagant prize to admit to out loud. “Weapons. A sword, maybe a dagger, definitely a spear.”

“You already have a sword and a dagger, I saw you use them in the desert.”

“You have more than one dress, right?”

Daenerys did not see the connection. “Yes,” she acknowledged slowly.

“Right, because one isn’t enough, it’s the same with swords.”

The Princess laughed at her logic. “I’ll take you at your word.”

Arya stood and drew the sword off her belt. She held it out for Daenerys to see. “This sword is nice, but it’s not special, every recruit got one just like it. I’d love to have something unique, a one of the kind blade, maybe something made of Valyrian steel,” she fantasized.

“You’ll have to show me what sort of sword you’d like sometime,” Daenerys said, visibly amused by Arya’s wish.

Unrepentant she returned her sword to its place. “Sure, if you tell me about your ship.”

“Deal,” Daenerys agreed, getting up and stretching her back. “I should probably get some rest.”

She reached for the glasses, but Arya held out a hand to stop her. “I’ll clean up.”

“Are you certain?” she asked, sounding conflicted.

“Get some sleep, I’ll see you in the morning.”

“In the morning then,” Daenerys responded, barely getting the words out before a yawn struck.

“Thank you for the wine Daenerys.”

“Thank you for agreeing to join me.”

R-C

Guarding the Princess on a ship was a painfully dull task. There was no danger, real or perceived. The plentiful guards and the daunting sails depicting a three-headed dragon scared away even the most brazen raiders. By the end of the first week at sea Arya was restless. She’d spent the last year training. Lessons began at sunrise and she didn’t stop until well after sunset, it was vastly different from her current circumstance where there was little to occupy her. She felt lazy and bored.

She did what she could to burn off excess energy. She ran laps around the perimeter of the ship, she climbed up to crow’s nest only to climb back down again. She did push-ups, sit-ups, and pull-ups, losing count of the repetitions she’d continue until her body collapsed from exhaustion.

When asked she struggled to explain to Daenerys why she felt the need to keep training. “It’s what I’m used to,” she said after an extra long delay. “Before I was assigned to guard you, my days included running for miles, and hours of combat training, it’ll take some time for me to get used to the way things are now.”

If she thought she’d done a good job of justifying her conduct, she learned the truth when Daenerys replied. “Sounds to me like you’re due a break. After training so much, do you not want the chance to recover?”

That was just it, she didn’t. The mere thought of doing nothing all day, of just standing around and getting lazy like Mormont was unappealing to say the least. “I’d rather feel productive,” she snapped a little too quickly. “I just want to be of use.”

“You are useful,” Daenerys contended. “You keep Missandei and I safe.”

She rolled her eyes. “That’s not the most challenging task at the moment,” she pointed out. “I know it’s important,” she added, trying to soften the blow a bit, “I just don’t want my skills to dull while I’m away.”

“The Red Keep has an impressive armory and designated yards for training. The Unsullied are incredible warriors and they train almost as tirelessly as you do. They’ll welcome your presence.”

“The Unsullied?” she verified in disbelief. She encountered the famed eunuchs in Essos. They were prevalent around Slaver’s Bay, used to keep their Masters secure. They were slaves and slavery was illegal in Westeros, wasn’t it? How was such a thing possible?

“They are warriors from Essos. My father brought them to King’s Landing several years ago,” she said, misunderstanding the root of Arya’s shock.

“I know, I saw them when I was with Oberyn.” She looked at their surroundings before she asked what she really wanted to know. “Is slavery not illegal in King’s Landing?”

The question made Daenerys uncomfortable. She leaned closer and lowered her quiet voice even further. “It is. Exceptions were made to bring the Unsullied from Astapor. They are no longer slaves, they are soldiers like any other.”

She didn’t know what to make of Daenerys’s response. It was said with feeling, as though she believed it, but the discomfort in her eyes remained. Something about all of this troubled her and Arya couldn’t comprehend why. If the King had given the Unsullied their freedom, then what was the problem? “I doubt it’s that simple,” she remarked, hoping Daenerys would contribute more information.

“Few things are,” she affirmed. “Rhaegar and I insisted our father grant all the slaves their freedom. He says he will.”

Now she understood. “It isn’t freedom, if they can’t actually leave,” Arya said vehemently. She knew that well. No one called her a slave while she was in Dorne and yet, she was, because she couldn’t choose to go.

“Believe me I know,” Daenerys assured her, still looking pained. “I’ve offered to help Missandei escape, but she won’t and…”

Missandei? She’d always wondered how a woman from Naath ended up in King’s Landing and serving Daenerys and now she knew. Other things were clearer too. She remembered Daenerys comforting Missandei as Arya spoke about Essos, and after their trouble with the snakes Daenerys said something about the Masters. “Missandei was a slave?”

“I didn’t ask for her!” Daenerys said loudly. “I didn’t want her, he just brought her back and presented her to me.”

With her history that was not a distinction that Arya felt mattered. “You took her!” she accused.

“Yes, the same way I accepted you, because I didn’t want to see what happened if I didn’t.”

Her righteous anger burnt out without warning after hearing Daenerys’s reasons. She couldn’t deny the validity of the point. She was almost certainly about to be killed when Daenerys intervened to save her. It wasn’t hard to imagine Missandei in a similar situation. “I’m sorry,” she said after she’d considered the predicament Daenerys was placed in. “It was unfair of me to judge you.”

“I hate slavery. I hate that my best friend was someone’s property, I hate that technically she belongs to me now. I hate it and every time I think about it, it makes me sick.”

It had hard not to believe Daenerys when she heard the passion and saw the hurt the topic was causing her. “As I said, I’m sorry I assumed the worst.”

“You’re right to think it. I would too in your place. I speak to my brother about it regularly and he promises that he’ll keep pressing our father to release them.”

“What if he doesn’t? Just how many slaves does the King have?”

“Eight-thousand-and-one,” she confessed, her words colored by her shame.

Arya understood. “Eight thousand Unsullied and Missandei.”

“Rhaegar says if my father won’t agree, then he’ll make freeing them his first act when he is King.”

Unlike Daenerys, Arya had no faith in the goodness of Rhaegar Targaryen. “You think he’ll keep his word?”

“Rhaegar would never lie to me.”

She thought of her Aunt Lyanna then. Rhaegar may not lie but she doubted he was telling Daenerys everything. “I guess that will have to be enough.”

R-C

Later that night when Missandei retired for bed Arya was waiting. She didn’t want to cause the handmaiden any distress, but they couldn’t rightly discuss her freedom without acknowledging she was a slave directly. “I, uh, there’s something I want to ask you about.” Arya said sitting on her bed and looking down at the wood beneath her.

“Daenerys told me that you two spoke about my past.”

To Arya’s relief, she didn’t sound angry. “We were discussing training and she mentioned the Unsullied. I wasn’t trying to pry,” she said, doing her best to justify her knowledge.

“It’s alright, I should have told you after the snakes, I wanted to, but I was afraid.”

“You don’t need to be frightened of me Missandei, I promise.” She’d liked the handmaiden from the start and didn’t want her to be scared.

“No, I don’t mean afraid that way,” she corrected. She stopped talking and took a deep breath. Arya waited as patiently as she could. “Daenerys wishes for you to be her friend and so do I.” She looked across the cramped cabin at Arya and smiled. “We were beginning to become friends and I was worried that if you knew the truth about me, that would stop.”

Without thinking through the meat of Missandei’s explanation she sought to set her at ease. “You don’t need to worry about that. What happened to you, it wasn’t your fault! I understand that, better than you think, and I’d never hold you responsible.”

Instead of cheered, Missandei gave Arya a sad smile. “Daenerys told me you blame her for not setting me free.”

Too late she understood what was really guiding Missandei’s doubt. She didn’t fear Arya would be angry at her, she resisted telling her because she didn’t want the guard to think less of Daenerys. “I did,” she admitted.

“The first time she offered me my freedom was the same night I met her. She took me to her chambers, gave me gold, clothes and supplies and told me I could go.”

Arya didn’t know what to say. Daenerys had said she offered to help Missandei escape, but she dismissed it. If Missandei was confirming it, it was accurate. She stayed silent, staring at the slave, listening.

“I said no,” she remembered. “She thought my reason was fear. She was so kind to me. She bought me clothes, paid me gold I know came from her own purse and gave me jewelry that was meant for her. She told me later she expected me to disappear every night after she fell asleep. She thought I’d take the gold and my new clothes and the jewels and run. She gave me the jewelry so I could sell it and fund my escape.”

“That was good of her,” she said dumbly, unsure what else there was to add.

“It was,” Missandei agreed. “At least once a fortnight she’d suggest I go. Before long I had more than enough to begin my life.”

“Yet you stayed, why?”

“Daenerys had no one. She was entirely alone. Even Jorah who loves her, controls her. She has gold and titles and pretty things and she’s every bit the slave that I am. The difference is I’d known I was a slave since I was a young girl, Daenerys slowly had to realize it, as she grew.”

After seeing the way Daenerys was treated by the people in her life, she could relate to Missandei’s point. She’d wanted to help Daenerys too, it was why she spoke for her when Tywin was bullying her but what Missandei did went above and beyond common decency. “I think the way Daenerys is treated is shameful,” Arya began, “but that’s not your fault. You shouldn’t have to forfeit your life for Daenerys or anyone else.”

“You did,” she said in challenge, “you didn’t want to leave Sunspear, but you did.”

“That’s not the same thing. I serve Dorne and Prince Doran ordered me to go. I did. You…”

“It is the same for me,” Missandei insisted. “I serve Daenerys as you serve Dorne. I don’t stay because she’s my Master, I stay because she’s my friend. For once, I serve because I choose to. She was willing to set me free because she is a good person. The fact that I have yet to accept changes little, she is still the only person to offer me my freedom.” Obviously Arya didn’t appear convinced because Missandei tried to explain it another way. “Imagine you were me,” Missandei suggested, “what would you give for your first real friend, for the person who was willing to put herself at risk to do what was right? Would you not wait a little while, to make sure your friend was going to be okay after you were gone?”

It was far easier to put herself in Missandei’s shoes than she cared to admit. She’d once been offered freedom by her only friend too and she chose to return to Sunspear anyway. She couldn’t fault Missandei for deciding to remain with Daenerys either.

A few hours removed from the revelation that Missandei was a slave it was easier to think clearly. She’d seen the relationship between the women up close and from the start Arya noticed the depth of their bond. “If you want to escape,” she proposed, “I can take you with me when I return to Dorne. From Sunspear you could go to Essos, you could remain in Westeros, or you could make the journey to your homeland.”

“You are kind, Daenerys was right about you. I will leave when the time is right.”

Sensing she wasn’t going to change her mind, she left her with one final piece of information. “When that time comes, if you have need of me, I’ll be there, no matter when it is.”

“Thank you,” she said, visibly touched by Arya’s offer to help.

R-C

Chapter Text

As she ran around the ship her route took her past the Kingsguard. Jaime Lannister was considered to be one of the most gifted swordsmen to ever breathe. She’d heard about his talents from her father first, then later Oberyn. She didn’t know how much was actually true, but if even half was accurate he’d make a formidable enemy to anyone who opposed him. “Don’t you tire of going around in circles?” he asked as she got close on one of her rotations.

“Nope!” she yelled as she passed him, continuing on without breaking stride.

The next time she neared him he was ready with his reply. Surprisingly it was a compliment. “You’re good. I thought only Brienne of Tarth could fight.”

She didn’t know who Brienne of Tarth was, but if she was good enough to illicit praise from the smug Lannister, Arya very much wished to meet her. She ran another lap of the ship before coming to a stop near where Jaime sat. “I don’t know her,” she admitted as she stopped running and dropped to the deck to begin a round of push-ups.

“If you’d met her, you’d remember,” he predicted. “She’s big. Only a fool wouldn’t be wary if she approached with a sword in her hand. You though, you’re different.”

She kept on with the push-ups. Up and down. Up and down. “Thanks, I think.”

He chuckled. “I just mean you’re deceptive, easy to overlook. The King nearly did.”

Actually, the King did overlook her. He fully expected her to fail when he ordered her to fight. The fact that she was more talented than he thought didn’t make his miscalculation any less severe, actually it made things worse in her mind. She didn’t bother sharing her point of view with the Kingsguard. She just kept working. Up and down.

R-C

“I have a request,” Daenerys said as their destination became clearer on the horizon. It wouldn’t be long now. With favorable winds it would only take a few more hours. She seemed to sense this and pulled Arya aside, wanting to discus something before they arrived in the Capital.

“Okay,” she replied. The way Daenerys deliberately separated herself from Jorah and Missandei to discuss her request had Arya wary.

“I know you didn’t want to come here. I know you said it’s not my fault, but it is, and I’m sorry.”

It took considerable effort to avoid sighing dramatically and throwing up her hands. They already had this particular conversation. “Daenerys, we talked about this. I understand why you did it, and believe it or not, I’m grateful. You don’t need to carry the guilt. In a few months your brother will marry Eliza Martell and I’ll return to Sunspear.”

“I know,” Daenerys admitted, “it’s just that I know how hard it was for you saying goodbye to Oberyn and I’m responsible for that.”

“If that’s what you wanted to talk about, it’s not necessary.”

“It isn’t,” she said suddenly. She rushed to clean up her mess. “I mean it was, I did want to apologize to you again for my part in you coming here and I wanted to do it before we reached King’s Landing, but my request is something else.”

“Go ahead,” Arya encouraged when more information wasn’t provided.

“You’re my guard, I understand that, and I know that means you’ll protect me, but the other night you told me that you work for me and I was thinking…”

“Just ask Daenerys!” Whatever it was, it wasn’t going to get any easier to ask for. Arya’s anxiety was growing the longer this dragged on.

“I’d like you to protect Missandei too, if you can. I know it’s not your assignment but she’s important to me and if anything were to happen to her because of me…”

That was the private favor she needed to ask Arya for? She’d always assumed her role as Daenerys’s guard included Missandei too. She’d protected the handmaiden already, from the snakes in the desert. She’d do it again if required. “Daenerys,” she said, “I’ll do everything in my power to keep the both of you safe until the wedding.”

She threw herself into Arya’s arms and squeezed tight. “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” she chanted as she clung to her guard. “I won’t worry quite so much if I know she has you watching out for her.”

Arya pulled away to end the extended embrace. “It’s going to be okay. I give you my word.”

R-C

She didn’t know how to feel as she stepped off the ship and onto the dock in King’s Landing. She adjusted her lone bag on her shoulder and had a look around. Despite being small, her bag held everything she owned with room to spare. Seconds passed slowly and her nerves frayed. A large part of her wanted to flee back to Dorne, even if she had to swim to get there, the rest of her was eager to get this over with. All those years in Dorne, she’d been haunted by King’s Landing, the Red Keep and the evil that had lived there for too long. Now she was going back. Her frantic emotions warred for control; fear, anxiety, and panic against hate, vengeance and determination. The road to the rest of her life went through the Red Keep and she’d need to face it all directly if she wanted to survive.

Daenerys was standing next to her, looking at the Red Keep in the distance. “It’s a shame we had to come back, but I guess it was bound to happen sooner or later.”

“Seems your prayers for less wind weren’t answered,” she teased.

“I wouldn’t say that,” Daenerys countered. “The return trip took four days longer than when we were going the other direction, so someone must have heard.”

Jorah arrived clutching the reigns for both Daenerys’s and Missandei’s horses in one hand, while he led his horse with his other. The animals had been carried on a different ship. Mormont had been the first one off to locate and prepare them. “Ready to go Princess?” he asked.

“Are we?” Although she was in charge Daenerys looked to Missandei and Arya for approval.

Missandei readily agreed. Arya on the other hand had a slight problem. “You two go ahead with Mormont, I’ll follow when I can.”

Daenerys who had been petting her horse turned on her quickly. “What? Why? What’s the matter?”

Arya studied her surroundings for an escape. There wasn’t one, she was fenced in on all sides, by people, animals and water. She shouldn’t have waited so long to confess, now any conversation she and Daenerys had would be far from private. Shame burned her face as she was forced to admit how pathetic she was in front of a group that included Mormont and others. “I don’t have a horse,” she said quietly, willing her eyes to stay on Daenerys. “Please just go with Jorah for now.” She hated how feeble she sounded, pleading to postpone her embarrassment by a few extra minutes.

“Of course, you do. We went all over Dorne, you rode it to the dock, I remember you by my side the entire way.”

The longer this went on, the larger the audience became. Every minute brought more people off the ships. As they wandered toward the keep, they inevitably passed Daenerys and Arya, most stopping to listen in. Hadn’t she been embarrassed enough? She addressed Mormont directly, guessing he’d be more amenable. “Take them to the Red Keep and I’ll get there when I can.”

The soldiers shared a nod. “Follow me Princess,” he instructed, leading them away from the water.

“What? No, I’m not leaving her like this,” Daenerys continued defiantly.

Even Missandei tried to tempt her. “She’ll be along soon Princess,” she said. “By the time you’ve visited with your brother, Arya will be with us.”

She was stubborn and unwilling to heed the advice. “What happened to your horse?!” she wanted to know.

At her wit’s end she threw her hands up. “It wasn’t my horse! It wasn’t mine to take, so I left it in Sunspear where it belonged.”

Daenerys’s posture shifted and she moved closer to the guard. “What? How is that…”

It was too late to stop. She’d already revealed the truth. She could hear the laughter coming from the nearby guards and advisors, but she refused to look and see which of them was amused by her misfortune. “I borrowed it from the stables at the Water Gardens. Doran allowed me to use it, but it was always his.”

Her shoulders sagged in defeat. “Oh… I’m… “ She paused and then tried again, “Arya I’m…”

She didn’t want to hear it. She asked the Princess for one thing and she couldn’t bother listening. Her words were cold as she brushed off the attempted apology. “I trust Mormont will see you to the castle safely.”

“Arya,” Daenerys said, lowering her voice to a whisper. It annoyed her that after the damage was done, after she’d embarrassed a woman she claimed she wanted to be friends with, now she was careful about her volume and the crowd of people close enough to overhear.

“You should go.”

As Jorah led Daenerys away, Missandei remained. “You can ride with me,” she offered privately.

She couldn’t even manage a smile for the thoughtful handmaiden. “It’s better this way. I need a few minutes.”

Understanding what was left unsaid, Missandei turned away and hurried to catch up to the Princess and the knight.

Many wanted her attention after Daenerys was gone, some offered sympathetic glances, others were rude, but Arya hated them all equally. She kept her head high and walked away from the dock, eager to get lost in the massive city.

R-C

Daenerys was sick as she rode back toward the castle. She hadn’t meant to embarrass Arya, but she had. It was a misunderstanding but one she’d take the blame for. She just couldn’t understand why she was being so difficult. She knew Arya didn’t really want to come to King’s Landing, but she thought she’d make the best of it once they arrived. When she claimed she was incapable of acting as Daenerys’s guard, immediately after stepping off the ship, she assumed it was a trick of some kind. Until she heard Arya’s reasons and the accompanying laughter, she didn’t realize what the problem truly was. By the time she did it was too late. She couldn’t fix it, not with so many people around. She’d apologize later, profusely if necessary and she’d find a way to make it up to her. “She hates me,” she said to Missandei, not even bothering to use High Valyrian.

“She doesn’t,” Missandei swore. “She’ll forgive you, once she calms down.”

“I didn’t understand,” she said, aware just how weak that excuse really was. “She had a horse in Dorne.”

“I know, I thought it was hers too.”

Jorah reminded them he was there by sharing his opinion. “She’s a bastard, maybe she was poor.”

Daenerys frantically tried to disprove Jorah’s argument. “She has a beautiful sword, I saw her sharpening it and her armor, I don’t think…”

“The sword and the armor would have been given to her,” the knight explained.

She was clueless about such things. “Really?”

“When she finished her training, she would have been given both. If she didn’t have a horse, I doubt she had a weapon or armor of her own beforehand either.”

None of this was making Daenerys feel any better. With a gasp her hand flew out to grab Missandei’s arm. “The barracks,” she remembered, before she let her hand fall away. It had been so quick, so inconsequential when compared to all the other things she saw and experienced in Dorne, that she’d largely forgotten about their brief stop at the barracks to pick up Arya’s things.

“What happened?” Jorah pressed.

“When she took us into Sunspear we stopped at the barracks so she could gather her things.”

“And?” Jorah asked, not understanding the reason for Daenerys’s pained expression and teary eyes.

“She came out carrying a change of clothes, a small box and a cloak with holes in it.” She ticked off the items she remembered on her fingers as she went. “Could that really be all she has?”

“It’s possible,” Jorah said simply.

Daenerys was afraid he’d say that. She tried to think back, to recall any time she saw Arya spend money. There hadn’t been many. She bought the milk on their first visit to Sunspear, she paid the would-be thieves on her second and that was it. She remembered buying Arya dinner because she didn’t have money and recalled how she put off getting her helmet fixed too. The facts were starting to pile up. “Do they let the poor join the army?”

“Sure,” Jorah replied. “Many with no other prospects serve to get a hot meal and a bed. Most bastards end up on the Wall though, pledged to the Night’s Watch.”

She was having trouble keeping up. “The Night’s Watch doesn’t take women.”

“No, Arya was lucky to be born in Dorne. I don’t know anywhere else a woman and a bastard would be permitted to fight for a noble house.”

“That’s not fair!” she resisted on Arya’s behalf. “She’s more than capable.”

“That’s just the way it is, Princess,” he told her as they made their approach to the keep.

Maybe it was that way, but it didn’t have to be, and Daenerys definitely didn’t need to accept it. Arya was living proof that it was possible for a woman to be successful in a profession typically reserved for men.

R-C

The long walk from the ship to the castle served her well. She blended in among the people and allowed herself to forget how angry she was at Daenerys. Once her anger was in the back of her mind, it was easier to push aside the shame too. Sometimes when she was being honest with herself, she wished she hadn’t been born noble. Yes, her birth afforded her certain luxuries and privileges in the North, but it also made her a target for Aerys. If her father had been a soldier and not a leader in Robert’s Rebellion, she wouldn’t have been punished as she was. Even if the Mad King singled out her family, it would have been easier to accept the sudden change in her circumstance if she was just a normal girl. As a noble, she had a much longer way to fall, and it made the landing especially unpleasant. One day she was a daughter of Northern royalty, a member of a proud, honorable family and the next they were ruined, and she was on a ship bound for Dorne to begin her life as a foster. It was quite the reversal of fortune.

Her plan to walk to the keep made sense when she let Daenerys and the others go without her, but she should have thought it through. It wasn’t until she neared the gate and saw the guards stationed there that she realized her error. They weren’t just going to let her walk right in because she said she was the Princess’s new guard.

She purposefully kept her hands away from her weapons, but it was a pointless concession. As soon as they saw her coming, the four men armed themselves. Three came forward while one stayed back.

“Stop! State your business.”

“I’m Arya Sand,” she said clearly, “I accompanied Princess Daenerys from Sunspear. She asked that I join her after I settled my business on the ship.”

She knew before the words were out, they weren’t going to believe her. She was right. With an idiotic laugh, one of the men nudged his partner. “Hear that, she’s got business wit’ the Princess. Yeah right, and I shit gold dragons.”

“I dunno,” the nudged man said, “she’s wearin’ Martell armor.”

“My arse,” the rude one objected, “she probably bought it off a merchant in the market, looks cheap.”

Arya ached to defend her honor. She wanted to show these pricks just how real the armor was. If she killed them with their own weapons, would they believe her? Even if they didn’t, there’d be no one left to block her entry. Tempted as she was to use violence, she still managed another pass at diplomacy. “Summon Princess Daenerys,” Arya tried, “she’ll confirm I am who I say I am.”

“We ain’t gonna summon the Princess just so you can stare at her tits.”

Arya’s patience was running thin. “As I said, she’s expecting me. Do you really want to delay me?”

“I’m sure,” one said dismissively. “We’ve heard it all b’fore.”

“Go on. You heard’em you ain’t getting in.”

“For fuck sakes!” Arya cried. “Take me to the Princess, in chains if you have to. She will tell you who I am.”

“You an idiot? You that eager to see the inside of a dungeon?”

“We can defiantly help you out there,” he promised through a laugh.

Arya tried to save herself, taking a step back. “I didn’t say anything about a dungeon. Take me to Daenerys, she’s waiting to see me!”

“I’m sick of this,” one of the guards decided, growing frustrated. Arya could relate.

When a hand grabbed her upper arm, Arya tore it free. “Don’t touch me!” She wanted to go for her sword, but then what? Even if she could defeat all four of them, she doubted the Mad King would be happy to hear she killed his people. The only way she was going to live to see Sunspear again was if she could avoid him as much as possible. Committing murder on her first day wouldn’t benefit her in the least. The dungeon was equally unappealing. How long would it be before someone who knew her identity learned she was there? “Don’t touch me. I’m a soldier of House Martell and I’m here on business…”

“With the Princess, aye we heard. We just don’t give a shit.”

His friends laughed and together the three of them came at her. She managed to avoid the first two attempts to hit her, but her second dodge ran her straight into the third fist thrown her way. She didn’t fall but he knocked her into his allies. Together they pummelled her into submission. She could taste blood on her lip and in her mouth as she laid in front of the Red Keep and waited for it to be over. She never should have fucking come here. Just another glorious day in King’s Landing.

R-C

“You must be tired after your trip,” Rhaegar said. “Come on, let’s find you something to eat and you can rest.”

She smiled at her eldest brother. He’d been waiting for her when she arrived, along with his son Aemon. She felt guilty when she saw them, because she hadn’t wanted to return, and they were eagerly awaiting her arrival. They were happy to see her, peppering her with coordinated questions about her time in Dorne.

They were as different as any father and son could be, at least in appearance. Rhaegar looked Targaryen from head to toe with his light hair, pale skin and indigo eyes. He was tall and imposing despite his injuries. Aemon was tall too, though that was where the similarities ended. The son was leaner than the father, and he had dark hair and grey eyes. On the rare occasions he was willing to speak about it with her, Rhaegar told Daenerys Aemon had the look of his mother.

“I’ll wait,” she said looking around her brother’s shoulder to check if Arya was coming. “Arya should be here by now,” she said to Missandei. “I know she’s mad, but…”

“Who is Arya?” Rhaegar asked, confused.

“My guard.”

“Jorah is your guard,” he said slowly, as if she was suddenly too stupid to understand the common tongue. He shifted his focus to the knight. “Aren’t you?”

“It’s a long story,” Jorah supplied.

“What happened?” Aemon wondered.

She gave up looking expectantly toward the door and asked a question of her own. “Did you know they let women into the army in Dorne?”

Her inquiry gave her brother pause. “Uh, yes, I did know that actually, though I don’t think many women actually care to try.”

“Arya did,” she declared proudly. “She finished first in her training. They started with hundreds and she was the best.”

“How does that make her your guard?”

She sighed and took one last look for Arya before diving into the whole sordid tale. “Tywin told Prince Doran that Viserys couldn’t stay in Sunspear until the wedding because he was too important to the Capital.” Father and son shared a look of disbelief. Daenerys agreed. “I know, but that’s what he said.”

“And then what?”

“Tywin wanted compensation for the loss of Viserys,” she remembered, trying to use as many of the exact words as she could recall.

Rhaegar rolled his eyes. “Of course, he did.”

“Doran agreed to lend father the use of the two best recruits from their most recent training.”

“And this Arya was among them?” Rhaegar guessed, when he was finally beginning to understand.

“She finished first, so she and one other were brought in,” Daenerys said, feeling dread as she prepared for the part that came next. “Father didn’t believe Arya capable, so he ordered her to fight the other man, to prove she could beat him.” By look alone Daenerys tried to convey what had happened, what she wasn’t willing to say in words. She wanted her brother to understand that their father in his madness forced them to fight to the death. “Arya won, and Father was impressed.”

“So, he named Arya your guard?” Aemon guessed.

Daenerys had been willing to let the story end there. She didn’t want to relive the chaos that came after the match. Jorah had no such reservations. “Oh no, he didn’t, he ordered her to kill the other soldier and when she refused, he was going to kill them both.”

Rhaegar was looking to her for confirmation and she could only nod. Her brother gave her a sad smile and reached out with his free hand to touch her shoulder in a comforting way. Few knew how deeply it pained her to see their father so wild, but Rhaegar understood, it troubled him too. “I spoke for her, requested she be my guard until Viserys returns. I was trying to save her.”

“That was very brave sister,” Rhaegar acknowledged, “she’s lucky you were there.”

Remembering the exchange with Arya on the dock she couldn’t appreciate his opinion. She didn’t think Arya was overly grateful for her intervention at the moment, nor should she be. She looked toward the door again, while she tried to calculate how long it would take Arya to walk from the waterfront.

The clinking of steel and iron drew their attention. “Bring’er then,” an unknown voice said from the opposite end of the long hall. “She wants to see the dungeon so badly, we’ll show’er.”

“What was that?” Rhaegar asked. Her brother tried to turn, to face the noise but it was slow, even with the aid of the cane in his right hand. Daenerys supported his other side and did her best to assist him in rotating his body.

She was so focused on helping her brother she didn’t really see what was going on. Missandei noticed first. “Princess,” she said. Daenerys looked over her shoulder at her friend and saw a single finger pointing.

Two men were dragging a figure down the hall. Where the halls converged, they became visible to her. She couldn’t see the person’s face, their head was down, but the armor she recognized. Only one person she knew in the city wore Martell armor. “Arya!” she called.

She took off running, forgetting about her role aiding her brother. He staggered and she barely slowed, choosing to believe Jorah, Barristan and Aemon would keep him from falling. Rhaegar had plenty of help, it was Arya who needed her.

“What’s going on here!” she yelled as she closed the distance between them. When she was close enough, she saw that not only were they dragging Arya away, they had her in chains. What in the name of the Gods had happened? “Stop!” she demanded.

She squatted down to get a better look at Arya and what she saw turned her stomach. Her helmet was missing, her hair was messed, her face was bloodied, and the armor that had been pristine just minutes earlier was scuffed and spotted with dirt and blood. Most alarming was her eyes, they were closed, like she was sleeping, unconscious or dead. A rock settled in the pit of her stomach.

“Princess, welcome home,” one of the guards said when he recognized her. “Don’t mind us, we’re just escorting a prisoner to the dungeons.”

“For what crime exactly?” she asked hotly.

She was vaguely aware of the others catching up to her. They moved slower because of Rhaegar’s injured legs. Normally she would have walked with them, but this was a situation that demanded urgency.

“Unlock those chains!” she ordered. Neither man moved so she got louder and more insistent. “Now!”

“What’s going on?” Rhaegar inquired.

“Prince,” one of the men said before he ducked his head. “We was just taking this mouthy girl to the dungeons. She tried to get in but when we said no, she refused to leave!”

She waited for the order that Arya be released but it didn’t come, not from her brother or Jorah. Fine, if they weren’t going to do it, she would. “Release her at once.”

“Daenerys what’s going on?” Rhaegar inquired from behind her.

“What did she say she’d come to the keep for Ser?” she asked as neither of the men moved to do as she instructed.

“Well,” he said rubbing his neck with the hand that wasn’t holding Arya under her arm, “she said she was comin’ to see you, Princess.”

“Because she was!” Daenerys snapped.

“She was lying,” his partner disagreed. “She was just trying to get inside to steal! Thieves are all the same.”

She couldn’t believe this. Why was everyone acting like she wasn’t speaking? She was using the common tongue. She ordered Arya released, she’d ordered her unchained and she’d confirmed that she was a valid guest and yet she was being treated like a criminal. These men served all Targaryens, and last she checked, she was a fucking Targaryen.

The anger filled her small body from head to toe. It was so hot and so intense she felt like she was on fire. In the background she heard her brother asking the idiot guards more irrelevant questions about their encounter with Arya. “I said release her!” she screamed as loudly and as forcefully as she could. The men dropped their prisoner as though she was suddenly too heavy to carry another instant. The chains collided with the floor, reminding Daenerys they were there. “I told you to unchain her already! If you refuse me again, it’ll be the two of you who see the inside of the dungeon, I swear it!”

The fools looked at one another in shock and then started arguing over who had the key. When they found it, one man set to unlocking the irons. “You,” she said pointing to the other, “when you accosted her at the gate, I’m sure she had a sword and helmet with her, go find them.”

He scurried away quickly and just seconds later Arya was truly free from her binds. Daenerys knelt on the floor in front of her and brushed back her dark hair to get a better view of her face. “Arya? Can you hear me?” she asked gently, running her hand down Arya’s cool cheek.

It took a moment, but her eyes fluttered and then opened. Daenerys was beyond relieved. That relief only multiplied when she coughed, winced and then said, “I told them you were waiting for me.”

She chuckled. “I was, and I’m sorry about before. Come on, I’ll help you up and we’ll find the Maester.”

Arya appeared compliant for the length of a heartbeat, then she stopped allowing Daenerys to guide her. “Wait, my sword…”

“I’m having it brought to you, your helmet too, I promise, just come with me for now.”

R-C

The first thing she saw when she returned to the world was Daenerys kneeling in front of her. The second thing was a man who had to be Rhaegar, he was definitely a Targaryen, there was no denying that. After a moment her vision cleared enough for her to notice his cane, then she knew for certain exactly who he was. She knew the story of why the Dragon Prince needed a cane by heart. She’d heard it her whole life, how Robert Baratheon smashed his legs with his Warhammer when they met at the Trident. Perhaps things would have ended differently if Robert hadn’t savored his victory too long and left himself vulnerable to attack. If he’d struck the killing blow immediately after crushing Rhaegar’s legs, who would she be now?

He gasped when he saw her, and she was perversely glad. She’d been told many times she looked like her aunt. She hoped she reminded him of the woman he kidnapped and raped each and every time their paths crossed. It wasn’t justice, but it was something.

Daenerys was looking at her expectantly, waiting for her to say something. She went with the first thing to enter her mind. “I told them you were waiting for me.”

Chapter Text

Poor Missandei was left with unenviable task of trying to keep her calm while Grand Maester Pycelle checked Arya’s injuries. In the face of such a daunting challenge, the handmaiden didn’t hesitate. She stood at Daenerys’s side, holding Arya’s helmet and sword, both of which had been recovered. Arya’s bag was also there. It was brought with the rest of her gear, likely as a peace offering to the furious Dragon. As he presented her with her guard’s belongings, he mumbled something about the tragedy of the unfortunate situation. She sent him away without acknowledging his attempt at making amends.

“I can’t believe they hurt her! She told them who she was, told them she was invited, and they hit her anyway.”

“Arya is strong,” Missandei noted, “we’ve known it since we saw her stand up to your father. She will recover.”

“She better or I’m going to find those stupid guards and make them wish they never met her.” The threat was out of her mouth before she could stop it.

Missandei smiled indulgently. “I have never heard you speak to anyone in the way you spoke to them.”

She was right, because to the best of her recollection, she had never spoken to anyone like that, ever. It wasn’t as if she planned it. She was just standing there, looking at Arya, getting angrier and angrier the longer it went on. The next thing she knew she was shouting, making demands and issuing threats. “I don’t know what came over me, but they were blaming her, and I just couldn’t take it.”

A soft hand touched Daenerys’s bare arm. “You tried to tell them. It was they who did not want to listen.”

Missandei was nothing if not a faithful friend. She’d take Daenerys’s side no matter the situation. “It was like hearing someone else using my voice.”

Aemon joined them then. Her nephew chuckled as he approached them. “You couldn’t even wait until tomorrow to cause trouble?”

He was teasing her, she knew that, and yet she couldn’t contain the vehement defense of Arya that was on the tip of her tongue. “It’s not my fault the guards were too lazy to come and check to see if Arya was permitted. This is their fault, not mine! If they didn’t attack her, none of this would have happened.”

Aemon leaned back and raised his hands in a show of surrender. “I believe you,” he said, no longer joking. “Is she going to be okay?”

Daenerys had always been close to her nephew. Their bond was forged due to the closeness in their ages and the fact that they both suffered at the hands of Viserys and Aerys. Though Rhaegar and Aemon lived sporadically at Dragonstone over the years, she and Aemon practically grew up together. He was a quiet man, talented with a sword, who like Daenerys, often felt ignored by the King and his advisors. She was dismissed because she was a woman, Aemon’s crime was apparently his birth. For reasons she didn’t understand her Father despised Aemon, preferring to pretend he didn’t exist. He was quick to mock him for looking nothing like a traditional Targaryen and would refuse to acknowledge his grandson when Rhaegar tried to bring him into a conversation. In their younger days Daenerys and Aemon would hide away together in one of the keep’s rarely used rooms and whisper their plots. They had many grand, elaborate, childish ideas about how they could get away and all the things they’d do once they had. Daenerys’s favored scheme was a fantasy where she’d hatch dragons and use them to facilitate her escape. Aemon was more practical. He wanted to join the Night’s Watch. “Not even a King could reach me there,” he’d say. Over time Daenerys’s hope of reviving dragons died, but Aemon remained convinced the North was where he belonged. In recent months he had been bringing it up frequently, saying he’d be welcomed on the Wall in a way he never would be in King’s Landing.

Missandei picked up the slack, answering for her when she was elsewhere. “We’re unsure, but she was awake and speaking when we took her in, so we are hopeful.”

He tried again to coax Daenerys into conversation. “Sounds like a lot happened in Dorne.” He paused to give Daenerys a chance to respond, she didn’t take it, so he continued. “And Viserys had to stay, I bet he loved that.”

“It’s custom,” she explained. “Before the Dornish wife leaves her home and goes to marry, the would-be husband spends time there, to experience what her life was like.”

“That’s,” he thought carefully about his choice of word, “interesting. I’ve never heard of such a thing.”

“I like it,” Daenerys retorted. “It’s a shame Viserys won’t learn from it.”

“That’s…”

The door opening nearby caused Daenerys to forget about Ameon and whatever he was saying. She rushed to the grey-haired Maester. “Is she alright?!”

“Princess Daenerys,” Pycelle said slowly. “Lovely to see you, how was your visit to Sunspear? Did you enjoy yourself?”

Was he serious? He was asking about that now? What was wrong with him? “It was fine,” she said. “How is Arya?”

“Who?”

She considered striking him. He spent nearly twenty minutes with her and never bothered to ask her name? “My guard,” she snapped, on the verge of being rude. “The woman from Dorne…” She trailed off to give him a chance to provide some sort of reply.

“Oh yes, well she’ll be fine,” the Maester said with a note of disinterest. “The lads at the gate were a little rough perhaps but there will be no lasting effects.”

“Thank you Grand Maester,” she said formally, remembering her manners. “Is it alright if I go and see her now?”

“She’ll be available to serve after a good night’s sleep,” Pycelle predicted, misunderstanding the reason for her request.

“Thank you,” she said again, and then she stepped aside to let him pass. It took her limited self-restraint to avoid knocking the old man down as he lingered, blocking her path to Arya.

“Daenerys, my father wishes to speak with you,” Aemon said. “He asked that I find you and let you know.”

She nodded but didn’t turn. Whatever Rhaegar wanted to talk about, it could wait until after she confirmed with her own eyes that Arya would indeed be okay. “I’ll see him when I’m done here.”

R-C

“Fuck,” she groaned and then immediately regretted it. Her head felt like an overripe melon about to split. The long-winded Maester had done little more than hand her a damp cloth to clean her face and comment on the shade of her bruises while writing in the book he carried. The rest of the time he talked. After realizing she was from Dorne he proceeded to tell her all of his opinions on the region, its people and their many faults. After the second sentence she wasn’t ashamed to admit she stopped listening. This wrinkly old prick and his views carried little weight with her.

Once he was gone, she set the goal of putting her armor back on. The Maester insisted she remove it so he could assess her for injuries. She wanted to refuse, the steel held up and even if she was bruised, what difference would it make? Nothing would heal her except time. She relented in a weak attempt to get him to stop talking. She already had a headache and he was only making it worse. In the end he said what she already knew, she’d need to rest. The pounding in her head and the ringing in her ears would fade first, after a few days, while the litany of cuts, scrapes and bruises would take longer. He offered her a tonic that would help with the pain, but she refused to take it. If she was going to survive as a Stark in the Red Keep, surrounded by Dragons, Lions and all other manner of deadly predators, she was going to need to be thinking clearly. He left the glass vial in case she changed her mind. The green liquid wasn’t the least bit tempting. It wasn’t worth the risk.
The drumbeat inside her skull made it difficult to focus. When she lifted the armor, she was struck by a wave of dizziness. Her eyes were suddenly too heavy to keep open and she put a hand flat on the bed to try and stabilize her wobbly legs. “Fuck,” she cursed. How hard did they hit her?

She was too busy staying upright to notice the door opening behind her back.

R-C

Daenerys was so desperate to get in to see Arya, that she hadn’t given much thought to what she’d find. That made her woefully unprepared when she rushed in and saw Arya standing with her back to the door nearly naked.

She was wearing only the thin garments that typically went beneath armor. Calling them clothes would be a generous description. Her upper body was bare except for a stained shirt that had been strategically cut and trimmed to Arya’s unique specifications. It didn’t start at her neck as most shirts did, the collar had been removed, along with the sleeves and a large portion of the bottom. What was left was little more than a band of fabric that stretched across her chest, covering her breasts but little else. Her arms, stomach, neck and shoulders were all exposed. Her bottom half was shielded by a modified pair of what had once been pants. They didn’t extend past the middle of her thighs anymore, leaving the majority of Arya’s legs bare. She knew she was staring but couldn’t help herself. Her tongue was suddenly too large for her mouth, making speaking impossible. She just kept watching. She’d known Arya was strong, but her lean build and the constant layer of armor she wore hid how powerful she truly was. She was bent over the bed, a pose that caused the muscles in her back to contract as she held herself up. She felt guilty when her eyes strayed from her back to her barely covered ass. Like the rest of her, it appeared firm and strong without losing its distinctly feminine shape. Her guilt aside, she didn’t tear her eyes away. Arya’s legs were the most telling, each individual group of muscles was sharply defined. She recalled Arya mentioning she ran often as part of her training. That wasn’t hard to believe given the evidence on display before her. From the first time she saw Arya without her helmet, she was attracted, now it was clear the armor hadn’t been doing Arya a kindness, it was merely concealing how stunning she really was.

Arya grunted, and wobbled slightly, relying on the bed to keep from falling. That simple sound ended Daenerys’s admiring early. “Arya!” she exclaimed. “What are you doing?” Jumping into action she rushed to Arya’s side and ducked her head under one of Arya’s outstretched arms, so she’d be in the best position to support her weight.

“Daenerys?” she replied. The word was slurred more than spoken but she still sounded like the Arya that escorted Daenerys and Missandei all over Sunspear. When she peeked up at her face, she could see her eyes were barely open.

“You shouldn’t be standing. What did the Maester say?” Only after she asked, did she realize how irrelevant the answer would be. Who cared what Pycelle said? What mattered was getting Arya back in bed, so she didn’t collapse. “Lean on me,” she instructed.

Her practice with Rhaegar was invaluable. She was able to support Arya a little and assist in slowly rotating her body. Arya proved to be just as firm as Daenerys’s time staring suggested she would be. “What you doing?” she mumbled.

She didn’t answer until she had Arya standing at the side of the bed, with her back to the mattress. “I came to check on you. We’re just going to sit you down, then we can talk.”

Arya might be smaller than Rhaegar, but the process was the same. Slowly, she guided her toward the bed.

When she was sitting Daenerys finally felt like she could breathe. “You shouldn’t be getting up. Someone should be here to get you whatever you need.” She looked around for a servant, but they had the rooms to themselves. Was it common for Grand Maester Pycelle to leave the injured alone? Regardless, she was here now, and she could ensure Arya was properly cared for. “What was it you were looking for?”

“I was trying to get dressed.” She spoke into her hand as she held the bridge of her nose.

“You were leaving?” A knot tied itself in her gut. They still hadn’t had the chance to talk about their argument at the docks. but Daenerys remained committed to fixing things between them. She would have done it already had it not been for the inappropriate way Arya was received at the gate. Now their earlier fight was pushed to the background and Daenerys had a whole other thing to apologize for. As the list grew, she acknowledged that she wouldn’t blame Arya if she chose to return to Sunspear at the earliest opportunity. She’d support her, even if it meant standing up to father and Tywin and ruining the wedding in the process. Arya had suffered enough. Daenerys wouldn’t make it worse by holding her against her will.

“I’m the Princess’s guard.” That was her clearest sentence yet. Daenerys could only hope that foreshadowed a quick recovery.

She had been getting up to go back to work? That was oddly kind of sweet. Still, there was no rush. “I want you to rest Arya. I’m not leaving the keep for the rest of the night, I’ll be safe here, you don’t need to worry.”

Daenerys wasn’t going to budge on this. While they spoke Arya would regularly wince or hiss through gritted teeth. Sometimes she closed her eyes and massaged the spot where her nose connected to her face with two fingers. She was in pain and Daenerys refused to let her pretend otherwise.

Neither woman spoke for a while after that. Daenerys watched closely for any chance to be of use, but Arya didn’t ask for anything, didn’t move, she just stared down into her hands and took slow, measured breaths.

“I wish Oberyn was here,” Arya said tentatively. “He would have made a terrible Maester, but I trust him.”

Mentioning Oberyn reminded Daenerys of the promise she made the Prince. Less than an hour in the capital and she’d already failed to keep Arya safe. That she was hurt by men loyal to her family only made her transgression worse.

“I find it hard to believe that old guy is the best in the Realm,” Arya went on.

Daenerys chuckled. When alone, she and Missandei said the same thing and they weren’t alone. A strong majority of those who interacted with him felt Pycelle stopped being useful ages ago. “I hear he was a talented Maester once,” she said, passing along what she’d learned from the gossips. In addition to his abilities, he was also favored by those in power, a group of men that included the King and his Hand. Daenerys wasn’t stupid enough to think it was his skill and not his connections that kept him in his highly respected position.

“I’m sure he was more than just talented, I bet he was the best at one time. Unfortunately for us, I think that time was long before either of us were born.”

They laughed and Daenerys was thrilled Arya was up to making jokes. Her joy was short lived, however. The act of laughing had Arya stopping abruptly and groaning. “Lie down!” she insisted. She wasn’t going to comply, so Daenerys kept up her onslaught. “Please Arya, I’ll stay with you. I’ll let you guard me from the bed, just lie down.”

The effect of her offer was the opposite of the one Daenerys was trying to achieve. Instead of lying back onto the pillow and resting her head, she again tried to stand. “Arya what are you doing?”

“Yo… you shouldn’t need to be stuck here, just because I’ve got a headache.” Her face contorted in pain, but she pushed through and carried on. “You said you wanted to get out of the keep more. You shouldn’t have to spend your first night back in this room. You deserve….”

While she appreciated not only that Arya listened when they spoke, but also that she seemed committed to helping Daenerys get more freedom, there would be a time and a place for that, and she was certain it wasn’t now. Arya’s health had to be the priority. “We will go out soon, just like we planned, but first you need to get better, so you can join me.”

“Go with Mormont,” she said after almost a minute of nothing. The way she said his name, made it known Arya wasn’t over their almost fight. They were behaving like children. “Don’t let me slow you down.”

It was kind, what Arya was doing, but there were things she didn’t know. Even if Arya was perfectly healthy, they wouldn’t be going anywhere at this hour. After weeks away from home, all she wanted was a hot bath and to sleep in her own bed. She’d gladly see as much of the world as she could before Arya returned to Dorne but not tonight. As for Jorah, her feelings on her former guard were complicated. She liked Jorah, he was easy to talk to, kind to her and didn’t yell or bully her to ensure compliance but it was far from a perfect relationship. Although he told her many times that she was his highest priority, he never missed an opportunity to side with Tywin or her father against her. With all three of them united, she didn’t stand a chance. Jorah would listen to her complain about being trapped, he’d offer to help and then nothing would change. His words, comforting as they were, meant little, because the King wanted her close and Aerys always got what he wanted. Lastly, Daenerys couldn’t just leave. Not when there were apologies she needed to make. She didn’t care where they were or what they were doing as long as she got the chance to fix the mess she made.

“Will you lie down? It’d make me worry about you a little less if you’d actually using the pillow.”

“I’m fine, really. It’s just a few scratches.”

She resorted to begging when she couldn’t think of another way to convince her. “Please, Arya.”

Daenerys waited right there, ready to help but Arya appeared in control as she lowered her top half and lifted her legs up onto the bed. “Better?”

“Thank you, now we can talk without me worrying you’re going to fall over.” While Arya was finding a comfortable position, Daenerys tried to pick an easy topic for them to start with. She smiled when she discovered the perfect one. “Missandei has your things. Your sword, your helmet and your bag are all safe.”

“Thank you and please thank Missandei for me.”

“I will.” She took a deep breath and brought up the fight at the gate. “Can you tell me what happened Arya?”

She opened an eye and watched the Princess. “When?”

“At the gate,” she clarified. “What happened? Why wouldn’t they let you in?”

“They didn’t believe me.”

Didn’t believe what? She showed up on the day they King returned from Dorne, in Dornish armor. “They said that?”

“I asked them to let me pass, told them you were waiting for me, but they didn’t believe me,” Arya remembered. “I asked them to bring you out or to send for you, but they said no.”

Since her outburst at the guards, Daenerys’s fears about Arya’s health and wellbeing kept her rage from reaching the surface. She was too worried to feel much else. Now though, with Arya in front of her, that worry shrank to a manageable level. She was going to be okay, both the Maester and Arya herself said so, leading Daenerys to concur. Without the fear to serve as a distraction, her fury raced to the forefront. None of this should have happened. It was absolutely avoidable. Not only was it wrong, it was entirely unacceptable for someone the Princess cared about to be treated that way.

Arya wasn’t done. “They thought I was a thief I think, one accused me of wanting entry so I could steal.”

Daenerys was horrified, but vaguely recalled one of the idiots making a similar claim to her and Rhaegar. “I doubt many thieves have armor like yours.”

She shook her head and then groaned in pain almost immediately. Once the worst was over, she provided a response. “They told me my cheap armor didn’t fool them and speculated that I got it from a trader.”

She was almost afraid to ask, but she needed to hear it all. “And then?”

“They wanted me to leave, I wouldn’t, and they threatened to throw me in the dungeon. One grabbed me, I broke free and backed up but by then it was too late.”

“How many were there?”

“Four,” she recounted, “but only three came to me, the other stayed back to man the gate.

“Only two brought you in,” Daenerys said, finally feeling like she had an accurate version of the story. Unfortunately, with understanding came disgust. Why couldn’t they listen? Why not take two minutes and check to see if she was welcome? Arya hadn’t done anything wrong and she got attacked. “Did you injure the third one?” It was the most probable explanation for why only two came in.

“I didn’t touch any of them,” she replied bluntly, surprising Daenerys some. She’d seen Arya fight multiple times and knew how capable she was. She doubted the dim-witted men who dragged her in would be enough to detain her if Arya resisted.

She tried to hold her tongue, she really did. She still hadn’t repaired their friendship, she didn’t want to make it worse, because she was curious. In the end the words got out all the same. “Why not? They attacked you without cause…”

“Imagine I did fight back,” Arya said fiercely, opening her eyes fully and looking at Daenerys directly. “Imagine I beat or killed all four of them and then walked right into the Red Keep to find you. How would you feel if the first thing I told you was that I just murdered four of your father’s men?”

She did as Arya requested and considered it. “I wouldn’t care!” she decided. She meant it too. Arya had tried to remain civil it was the guards who got physical. If Arya killed or maimed the lot of them, she wouldn’t care. “They attacked you, you would be justified if you defended yourself.”

The sad smile on Arya’s face was one she didn’t understand. She thought Arya would be pleased to have her support. “You might be willing to overlook it, forgive me even but do you think your father, your brother or the Lannister would feel the same way?”

She hadn’t considered that. She could see Arya’s point. The King had almost killed her once. She’d seen her father’s method of problem solving enough to know, eventually luck runs out. How many times could Arya go before the King and survive?

“You’re right,” she said sincerely. “I wasn’t thinking. You did the right thing, though I’m sorry you had to go through that.”

Grey eyes found violet and there was a seriousness there. “Stop that, you aren’t responsible for everyone who wears a three-headed dragon on their chest. Life is hard enough without you taking burdens that aren’t yours to carry.”

“I’ll try,” she hedged, “I’ll try to remember that.”

Arya decided to finish her story since she was nearly at the end. “After I broke free of the one guy, the other two joined in. They knocked me down and were kicking me for a while. I must have blacked out at some point because the next thing I remember is you talking to me.”

It was difficult to hear, but she was glad she knew. “That won’t happen again. I’m going to have those men demoted.” She said demoted, but she was privately thinking of demanding an even higher price for their misdeeds.

“Can you do that?” she asked, clearly skeptical.
Probably not. Daenerys didn’t have the authority to make decisions related to the army, but Rhaegar did and she could speak to him, she could make him see it her way. “I can’t, but I’ll ask my brother to do it. He was there when they brought you in.”

“I saw him,” she confirmed, “but I don’t think he’ll help.”

“Why not?” Once I tell him what they did to you, he’ll agree with me.”

“I don’t think you should mention me to him at all.”

“Why not?”

“It’s probably nothing, but when he saw me, he looked upset. I don’t think he’s happy that you brought me back from Dorne with you.”

She tried to think back. She didn’t see what Arya did. By the time Rhaegar had made it down the hall, Daenerys’s sole focus was Arya. She helped her stand, escorted her upstairs and she hadn’t seen her brother since. “He was likely just upset his men attacked an innocent woman.”

“Yeah, I’m sure you’re right. Forget I said anything.”

“Feeling better?” Daenerys wondered.

“Yes, thank you. I am grateful for the company, but you don’t have to stay. I know you’ve missed your brother, why don’t you go and see him?”

She couldn’t leave until they finished. Her cheeks were coloring even before she started speaking. “Arya about what happened on the dock, I’m sorry…”

“It’s okay,” the injured woman assured her before she got the words out. “I should have told you sooner, I was embarrassed.”

Hearing Arya confess that she was embarrassed only made her Daenerys feel worse. “No, it’s not okay,” she disputed. “I’m ashamed of the way I behaved. I was confused and I didn’t understand and by the time I did, it was too late.”

“We need to trust one another,” Arya said. “For me to be your guard, you need to trust that I’ll be able to protect you. If you can’t trust me, this’ll never work. If you’d rather Jorah be your guard…”

She couldn’t let this happen. She made a mistake, but she was determined not to let it undo everything. “No, no, I don’t want Jorah and I do trust you!”

“Do you really?” she asked. “This is your safety we are talking about, it’s important.”

She took time to think about it. She hadn’t known Arya long, but she reviewed what information she did have. Arya protected her from Viserys, Arya saved Missandei from the snakes, Arya stopped her from being robbed. There was still so much she didn’t yet know about Arya, but she’d already proven worthy of Daenerys’s trust. “I trust you, I do, I’m sorry for what happened.”

“I was going to tell you, I just wanted to do it in private.”

What more did she want to hear? “I said I’m sorry and I do trust you,” she summarized, hoping they were the magic words Arya needed to hear before granting her forgiveness.

“You say you trust me, but when I asked you to go on without me, you refused.”

That wasn’t fair. Yes, she had refused, but only because she didn’t know why Arya was sending her away. She thought she didn’t want to serve as guard anymore. “I didn’t know what was going on, I just wanted to understand.”

“I know that, and I regret not telling you sooner. We could have avoided all of it, if I’d been braver.” Daenerys didn’t know what to say to that, so she kept her mouth closed. It didn’t sit right, hearing Arya take even a portion of the blame, when Daenerys knew she deserved it all. “In the future, if I ask you to do something you don’t understand, can we agree that I probably have a reason? Just trust me and then I will answer all your questions when it’s safe.”

That seemed reasonable. “That’s fair.”

“Good,” Arya said after a yawn, “then you’re forgiven.”

She smiled as she grabbed the bottom of the blanket and pulled it up over Arya’s body. “Get some rest.” She must have been sore and tired, because she didn’t put up any fight at all. She just yawned a second time and said, “Thank you Daenerys.”

She stood off to the side and watched Arya for a few minutes, thinking about their conversation. She did trust Arya, but she could recognize that it might not be obvious to the Dornishwoman. Daenerys vowed to do better, to show Arya through her actions that she understood.

She didn’t know how long she remained there, but by the time she was ready to leave, Arya’s breathing had evened out. Daenerys walked over to her slowly, taking care not to make any noise. She adjusted the blanket a little and then smiled at her guard. “I’m sorry you got hurt. I’m going to fix it.” She placed a light kiss in the center of her forehead. “Feel better,” she whispered.

R-C

After setting Arya’s sword, helmet and bag so they’d be among the first things Arya saw when she woke, Dani slipped back into the hall where her handmaiden was waiting. “How is she?”

Beautiful was the first word that came to mind. She thought about what she walked in on, what she’d seen, and her list of adjectives grew. She swallowed them down and managed a more appropriate response. “She is better, I think. She was drowsy and slurring when I got there. She could barely stand, but the more we talked, the more clearheaded she became.”

“That’s great.”

“Yes, it is,” she agreed.

“Why is she not with you?”

“She still has a headache, I told her to rest.”

“I’m surprised she listened,” Missandei admitted.

“Me too, I think she’s in more pain than she says,” Daenerys speculated. “When I said goodnight, she didn’t even try and argue.”

Missandei’s lips turned down. “Is she resting now?”

“Yes.” She neglected to mention how difficult it was to leave, how she stood there watching her sleep, just to steal a few extra moments with her. “Come on,” she said reaching for Missandei’s nearest hand. “Would you like to join me for tea?”

“I would, but the Prince is waiting to see you.”

Daenerys was dejected when she realized her plan for the evening wouldn’t become real. She was glad Missandei was there. She had forgotten Rhaegar wanted to talk to her. “Oh yeah, I should probably do that.”

“I’ll make the tea,” Missandei proposed, “and I’ll meet you in your chambers when you’re finished.”

“You don’t have to do that.” Tea sounded good, but Missandei was owed a rest too. Whether they were in the Water Gardens or on the ship, the handmaiden was always working. “Go relax. I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Thank you. Until tomorrow.” Her dark eyes showed her obvious gratitude and Daenerys couldn’t help but notice the difference between Missandei and most other people in the castle. When Missandei said ‘thank you’ she meant it, unlike the vast majority who only said it because it was expected or polite.

She let Missandei start to go before she attempted to get the last word in. “Say hello to Grey Worm for me!” she called after her friend. She was rewarded by Missandei’s musical laugh just before she rounded the corner. Daenerys stayed where she was after Missandei had gone. Eventually she turned and went the opposite way.

R-C

Selmy wasn’t at the door, so she knocked and waited, knowing it would take time for Rhaegar to get up and answer. Tywin had tried assigning a servant to the Prince’s chambers multiple times, but within a day, Rhaegar would dismiss them. He claimed he needed one place where he could be alone. Daenerys understood that.

“Daenerys,” he said as he leaned on the cane with one hand and pulled the door open with the other, “there you are.”

“I’m sorry it took me so long I was with Arya.”

“How is she?” he asked as he crossed the room to a high-backed chair. Out of dozens tested, he found this style provided the right mix of comfort and design to meet his specialized needs. Since his injury, Rhaegar couldn’t stand for long periods of time without his cane. He preferred sitting in chairs with plenty of support, especially around the lower back. He could no longer run, and he felt unsteady on a horse, though it was possible for him to ride. “Please sit. Would you like something to drink?”

She wasn’t opposed to a drink but didn’t want her brother to worry about serving her. “No, thank you. I’m fine.” She dropped down onto the long, padded bench across the table from where Rhaegar would be. “Arya is alright, she’s strong. She’s got a headache and she’s covered in bruises.”

“I’m glad she’s going to be okay,” he replied, just after he laid his cane down next to the chair. Once he was sitting his handsome face looked much more natural, his speech no longer separated by labored breathing.

“It never should have happened,” she reminded him. “Arya didn’t do anything wrong! She told them I was waiting for her, they should have brought her in.”

Rhaegar nodded in agreement but then his words revealed how he really felt. “It was an honest mistake Daenerys. They can’t let in every person who arrives at the gate and says they have business.”

“I don’t think attacking an innocent woman without even trying to verify her story is an honest mistake,” she contended. “They dragged her in, unconscious and in chains. If we hadn’t been there to stop them…” she trailed off, not wanting to think about what would have happened to Arya if she hadn’t been there.

“The men were just doing their jobs.”

“Do we pay them to beat innocent women who come to the keep to serve?” she inquired.

He sighed heavily. “No, but they probably aren’t used to women serving in such ways.”

Why was he making excuses for them? “Go see her,” she encouraged. “See the bruises and the cuts and then you tell me if you think they were justified.”

“It’s over,” he said, using his tone to make clear it was the Prince and not the brother saying so. “She’ll recover and it can be forgotten.”

Was he joking? If it was Viserys and not Rhaegar Daenerys would assume he was saying exactly what he knew would get under her skin, but Rhaegar wasn’t the sort to do that. “It isn’t over,” she countered intently, “not for Arya, it isn’t.” And not for her either.

“What would you have me do?” Unlike his last remark, this was a genuine query from a concerned brother. He wanted to know how to help her past this.

“Punish them!” she said without delay. Since Rhaegar was making an effort to discuss this rationally, she did the same. Instead of claiming Arya’s injury alone warranted repercussions she went another way. “They represent our family, they serve and fight in our name, do you really want the men serving us to think beating women is okay?”

He shook his head, and she expected the words to match, but they didn’t. It wasn’t a shake to convey a negative feeling, it was a shake of disbelief, and it was aimed at her. “You’ve never seen a war, you’ve never been within a thousand miles of one, you have no idea. There isn’t an army in the world that doesn’t beat women, even ours.”

Was she hearing him correctly? Though he rarely talked about his time fighting Robert Baratheon, Daenerys had never heard him speak so crudely. “And that makes it okay?” she spat. “She came to help, on my order and on Father’s and she got attacked, but it’s forgivable because everyone else is doing it?”

He sighed again and tried to calm her in the process. It wouldn’t work this time. “That’s not what I meant. I only want you to understand those men did exactly what any other in their place would do.”

“Fine,” Daenerys allowed, “then we don’t need four new guards, we need a whole new army.”

Rhaegar threw up his hands. “Daenerys be serious.”

“I am serious,” she assured him. “Forgive me if I think we should live in a city and a castle where the men sworn to protect us aren’t so eager to show their strength that they’ll pummel a woman without cause.”

Sensing they were not going to agree on the larger point, Rhaegar took a moment to gather himself and then repeated his original question. “What would you have me do, Dany?”

“Punish them,” she said again, though she went further this time, “demote them, send them to the dungeons, take their pay, I don’t care.” She took a moment and then summarized, “Something that shows what they did is not acceptable.”

“Those men have families, sister,” he told her, “they have wives, and children and homes. Do you wish to punish all of them too? If we take their pay, demote them, or throw them in the dungeon, the families will suffer.”

She hadn’t thought about that and it gave her pause. She had no interest in punishing wives and children for the acts of a few but doing nothing felt equally wrong. “What would you suggest?” she asked Rhaegar. He had experience leading men, and soldiers, so he’d know.

There was a delay before he replied, in which Daenerys hoped he was giving her question due consideration. She was disappointed. “Nothing,” he finally said. “I won’t punish entire families just because the girl got a few bruises, it’s not right.”

Where was his concern for what was right when they were beating her friend? “What about Arya?”

“She’s one person,” he explained, “what was done to her was unfortunate but not worth harming a dozen people.”

Loathe as she was to admit it, she could see his point. Her instinct was to insist that Arya was worth more than two dozen people, to her at least, but she knew that argument wouldn’t sway her brother. Instead she searched her mind for a more moderate solution that might satisfy everyone. She found it rather quickly and admonished herself for not seeing it sooner. They should assign the guards to new posts. That would inform them that their behavior was inappropriate while not inadvertently punishing their entire families. As an added benefit it would spare Arya the indignity of having to see her abusers each time she entered the keep. She was confident this idea would meet Rhaegar’s approval. “What about…”

“I said no Daenerys!” he said rather forcefully.

“I know and I understand what you’re saying, but…”

“But nothing. I said no, and that’s final.”

Why was he acting like this? Yes, she’d gotten a little excited before, but they’d been speaking about it calmly without difficultly. Why was he angry all the sudden? “What’s wrong?”

“This girl shouldn’t even be here. You shouldn’t have invited her here and Father shouldn’t have agreed to bring her. That’s bad enough, but you’re taking her side over your family, over the men who have protected you and watched over you your whole life.”

That was not what she was doing, and it stunned her to hear Rhaegar accuse her of it. She didn’t blame every guard or every soldier, she blamed the four men who actually committed the crime. Likewise, her decision to support Arya wasn’t rooted in a desire to go against her family, she supported Arya because she was the victim. “That’s not…”

“It’s done! I won’t speak of this anymore!”

He was dismissing her. Using his title as Prince to simply disregard anything she might have to say. She’d been in the room when he did it to other people, but she’d never been on the receiving end before. What was going on? What happened while she was away to change her loving, kind brother into a man who snapped at her and was okay with allowing an innocent woman to be hit? Arya deserved justice, in fact it was one of the reasons Daenerys postponed her plans and paid Rhaegar a visit. She thought he would help her, and even after Arya predicted he wouldn’t, she still gave him the chance. The guard was right, he didn’t want her here and he was upset at Daenerys for bringing her.

Well that was fine, he could be angry all he wanted, because she was angry too. She was angry he wouldn’t listen, angry he wasn’t even trying to resolve this fairly. She’d been willing to accept a more measured response but that was before Rhaegar started acting like an ass. If he could do it, why was she still restrained by her manners and what was proper? If he could dismiss her ideas and feelings, then she could do the same to him. He wasn’t the only one in the capital with the authority to replace some guards. “Fine, we won’t talk about it.”

He had the audacity to smile, like he was winning. Daenerys’s smile matched his, but only because she knew what he didn’t. He wasn’t going to get his way this time. Arya was due justice. “Thank you, I think in time you’ll see this is for the best.”

“No,” she promised, working to appear calm when she was anything but, “I won’t. I didn’t mean I’ll let the matter drop. I believe those men are vile and should be reprimanded for what they did, but as you said, you won’t discuss it any further, and I’ll accept that.” She stopped there and watched him try and reconcile her comments. If he had any doubts about where she stood on the subject, she erased them when she said, “I’ll speak to Father in the morning, I’m sure he’ll agree what happened today was unacceptable.”

Rhaegar was silent. She took a perverse pleasure from her success, likely the same feeling her brother had moments earlier when he thought he was seconds away from getting her to give up on this all together. It was exhilarating and it overshadowed the gravity of her words. Bypassing Rhaegar and going directly to their father would lead to only one place and they both knew it. It was likely this knowledge that left Rhaegar speechless. He knew Daenerys well, and he knew how much it upset her when their father resorted to violence to solve every problem. Never in her life had she ever threatened or even jested about using the King’s illness for personal gain, but that was exactly what she was threatening.

There would be guilt later, for fighting with her brother, for arranging the deaths of four men, for manipulating her father, but now there was only Arya. Arya, who had been wronged and deserved compensation.

“You can’t be serious,” Rhaegar began when he found his voice. “You know what he’d do, that’ll be even worse for the families.”

“Then perhaps you should have listened to my other idea instead of declaring the discussion over.”

He rubbed one of his large hands down his face, as if intending to scrub through the skin to get at something beneath. “I don’t want to talk about this.”

“Fine,” Daenerys said, standing up. “We won’t. I’m fine going to Father for help.”

It didn’t take long for the Prince to adjust his attitude. “That won’t help anyone, least of all you. Sit down and tell me your idea sister.”

“Assign them to new posts, less prestigious ones, they’ll keep their jobs, their wages, and their families won’t be burdened but they’ll know they can’t do such things without consequences.”

This time she trusted he actually was giving her suggestion its due. “I’ll take care of it,” he said, “they’ll be moved far away from the keep. Neither you nor the girl will need to see them again, would that be satisfactory?”

She nodded.

It was quiet for nearly a minute before Rhaegar asked, “You really would have done it, wouldn’t you?” When she didn’t immediately respond, he clarified, “You would have gone to Father and told him about the four men, even knowing what he’d do.”

“Yes,” she admitted.

“Why? Who is this girl? Why do you care?”

“Her name is Arya,” she said to start with. It didn’t escape her that he kept referring to her as ‘the girl.’ “I told you what happened, Father was going to kill her because she refused to execute her friend.”

“Yes, I know, but who is she? Where is she from? Who are her parents? Where is her family? Why do you care about her so much?” He fired the questions off quickly, leaving no time for Daenerys to respond. Something had her brother on edge, he was leaning forward in his seat, gripping the arms of his chair tightly.

“She’s a soldier,” she began, struggling for the appropriate combination of words to describe Arya. “I care because it’s the right thing to do. She’s a good person and she didn’t deserve to be attacked like that for trying to do her job.”

She provided plenty of information, but obviously not the things her brother wanted to know. “Where did she come from? Who is she? Where is her family?”

“She’s a Sand, I don’t think she has any family left,” Daenerys noted sadly.

“She’s from Dorne? You’re sure?”

“Her name is Sand,” she said again, “she’d have to be from Dorne to get that name, right?”

“I’ve never seen anyone from Dorne who looks like her.” It was a poorly concealed accusation and one that made Daenerys uncomfortable. “What else do you know about her?”

She thought for a moment, searching for the best way to make her brother see Arya was a good person. “She’s a soldier,” she said, repeating her original point, “she finished first in her training and Prince Oberyn thinks she’ll be a commander one day.”

“She knows Oberyn Martell?” More accusations.

“They are friends, Oberyn helped Arya train. She’s close with his lover and his daughters too,” Daenerys recalled, thinking back to how proud Oberyn was when Arya won all her matches against his children.

“What!?” Rhaegar shouted. For a moment she thought he was going to rise right out of his chair, but he didn’t. “I’ll speak to Father tomorrow, we need to send her away, back to where she belongs.”

Now it was Daenerys’s turn to be outraged. She did actually abandon her seat. “Absolutely not. Arya is my guard, and my friend and you can’t just dismiss her.”

“Yes, I can,” Rhaegar pushed back. “Oberyn Martell hates me, if he sent that girl here, he did so with malicious intent. I won’t have them hurting you to get their revenge.”

There was a compliment in there somewhere, or at the very least a concerned brother but Daenerys let it pass without acknowledgement. “You’re wrong,” she declared with certainty. “Oberyn didn’t send Arya here, he didn’t want her to come at all, he opposed Prince Doran when he suggested it.” Rhaegar opened his mouth to make his next unfounded claim, but Daenerys wasn’t done. “Arya didn’t need to spend weeks on a ship to hurt me, she had plenty of opportunities in Dorne.”

“Oberyn is devious and methodical. If he trained that girl, it was not with good intentions. She isn’t here by accident. You can’t trust her. I’ll see that Jorah is renamed your guard and we’ll send her to Sunspear.”

She couldn’t believe this. When Arya said Rhaegar looked upset earlier, she was quick to defend him, to assume Arya was mistaken but maybe the guard was right. Why couldn’t he trust her judgement? He was her brother, and she was his sister, her opinion should matter to him. Why wasn’t he listening to her? He hadn’t listened when Arya was in chains either. It wasn’t until she started screaming that people paid attention. If that’s what it took, she could arrange it. “No!” she yelled loudly, moving to stand right in front of Rhaegar. “You don’t get to do that,” she pointed a finger at him, “you don’t get to spend two minutes with her and decide you know everything about her.”

“Dany wait…” he said, trying to raise a defense. She loved her brother, but she didn’t want to hear it. He was judging Arya unfairly.

“No, you know what, you can think whatever you like but I know who Arya is and I do trust her, even if you don’t.”

Rhaegar’s posture and toned softened as one. “I’m sorry.”

She didn’t know if she persuaded him to change his mind or if he was just attempting to calm her. “You don’t know her, but I do. I’ve seen her fight and I know that if she’d wanted to, she could have killed all four of those fools at the gate. She didn’t, because she didn’t want to upset you and Father.”

Her contention that Arya was capable of defeating four Targaryen soldiers singlehanded, had Rhaegar upset again, stealing weight from his prior apology. “How well do you really know her after only a few weeks?” he challenged.

She was getting angrier with every word, just like she had in the hall when she threatened the guards who hurt Arya. “I know enough!” she insisted hotly.

Rhaegar tried again to reign her in. “Dany.”

“You weren’t there when Viserys was angry, when he had me trapped and was seconds away from beating me. It wasn’t you who came in, refused to obey a Prince and then grabbed his arm to stop him from hitting me. That was Arya. Just like it was Arya who kept Missandei and I from getting bitten by two poisonous snakes when we were in the desert.” Making a list of all the things Arya had done for her reinforced Daenerys’s feelings. She was right to defend Arya, she was right to trust in her, and she wouldn’t let anyone accuse her when she wasn’t guilty, not even Rhaegar. “Arya stood up to Tywin when he was upset with me, and without her cutpurses would have taken my gold in the Sunspear market.” She felt like her skin was on fire as she continued. “One of us is wrong about Arya, but it isn’t me.”

Furious, she left the room without another word, slamming the door behind her. She heard him calling her name, but she kept going, even after he said, ‘please.’ She fumed as she marched down the hall to her bedchamber. Yanking on the door with slightly more aggression than was standard, she entered without looking. It took several seconds for her to realize she wasn’t alone. Missandei and two cups of tea were waiting. “Why aren’t you with Grey Worm?”

The shoulders inside Missandei’s silk dressed shrugged in a display of uncertainty. “He’ll understand. Come now, before your tea gets cold, then we’ll talk.”

R-C

Chapter Text

The pounding in her head reminded her of the Titan of Braavos and how it released a warning to any who got too close. Ternesio told her many that heard it would turn and seek a different harbor, too afraid to continue on to the Titan’s city. She didn’t have that option. She was in the Dragon’s lair now, living among them. Her head and her instincts agreed there was danger all around, but she couldn’t seek out another place. Her future, the life she built for herself in Dorne was waiting and the only way to get back to it was to survive the coming months.

The sky was still dark on the other side of the window, but Arya knew it was time to get up and prepare for the day. She smiled when she saw her sword resting on an unused chair. Her helmet was also in view, on a nearby table. Daenerys had kept her word and found the items lost during her assault.

She made it three steps before the throbbing grew more insistent. She closed her eyes tightly and tried to push her discomfort away with slow, rhythmic breathing. She’d been through much worse than a few punches and kicks. She refused to let the pain keep her from her duties. She’d come to guard the Princess and that is what she intended to do. It would have been easy to use her injury to postpone the start of her new job for a day or two, but she didn’t want to give anyone the impression she was incapable or lazy. Just as she had with the recruits and instructors during her training, she needed to be the best to earn their respect. She couldn’t prove them wrong from her bed. She recalled her last visit in the barracks, when a large number of her fellow recruits stood at attention to honor her. That memory was proof that she could change minds. The end result would be worth all the extra effort and temporary hardships.

With determination she opened her eyes and went to where her armor was. It weighed more than she remembered or maybe her arms were just weaker. It was akin to how she felt after a long day of strenuous training, when even the simplest of tasks was a trial. How long had she been sleeping? Not long enough for her entire body to turn soft, right? She decided a bath would do wonders. She dressed quickly and prepared to go and find the servant’s quarters. Her headache flared but the potential of relaxing in warm water helped her persevere.

R-C

“I want to do something nice for Arya,” Daenerys said as Missandei stood behind her, styling her hair.

“That’s nice,” the handmaiden said without stopping her work.

“It’s the least I can do, after everything that happened yesterday,” she lamented sadly. She hated that she’d unintentionally upset her friend. That alone was bad enough but said nothing about Arya getting pummelled by Targaryen troops upon arriving at the keep.

“I thought you said Arya forgave you, that you agreed to trust one another,” Missandei clarified.

“We did but shouldn’t I do more?” She felt like she owed Arya more than an apology and a promise to do better. “She doesn’t have anything. I can help her.”

Missandei’s hands stopped and she moved to a place where Daenerys could see her. She squatted down until her eyes were in line with the sitting Princess’s. “You are a good person, that’s why you helped me when I came here, and why you want to help Arya now, but you must be careful.”

By tone alone she could tell the importance of Missandei’s message. She didn’t understand her reasons, however. “I have so much,” she explained, “too much and I would gladly…”

“Do you remember when I came here?” Missandei asked, interrupting what the Targaryen planned to say. “You offered me my freedom as soon as you learned who I was. I said ‘no’.”

“You always say no,” Daenerys remarked with a smile.

“I do, but my reasons were different then,” she admitted.

“They were?” This was something she didn’t know. “Why?”

“I didn’t trust you,” she confessed, breaking eye contact for the first time. “In Astapor slaves who try to escape are taken to the Walk of Punishment. Sometimes the Masters hire actors to offer help, just to see if a slave would be interested. I didn’t know if your offer was genuine.”

As with every time she heard of Missandei’s life before King’s Landing, Daenerys was horrified. For a woman born and raised in a castle, in a place where slavery was outlawed, it was hard to imagine the world her friend came from. “I meant it,” she said passionately, “I did then, and I do now.”

Missandei smiled. “I know, but it took time for me to believe that. It wasn’t until I got to know you that I saw you were a woman worth trusting.”

She was pleased Missandei’s original opinion of her had changed. Hair half-done she threw her arms around her friend, hugging her tightly. “You can trust me,” she said, echoing what she told Arya the day before.

Missandei answered without releasing her. “I know.” She waited until she was back behind Daenerys, once again braiding her hair before she brought their talk back to her predicament with the guard. “You need to give Arya space, as you did for me. Let her see that she can rely on you before you ask her to accept your help.”

Daenerys wanted to proclaim that her motives were honorable, because they were, but she knew Missandei had a valid point. She offered up what she knew was an easily defeated argument instead. “Arya already knows me. We’ve spent weeks together.”

“But you just learned she doesn’t have money yesterday,” Missandei pointed out accurately.

“That doesn’t matter. Arya is still Arya, whether she has gold or not.”

“Yes, she is,” Missandei agreed, “but if you buy her things now, it’ll seem like charity.”

It wasn’t charity. Arya was her friend and she wanted to do nice things for her. The fact that she needed them, only made Daenerys more eager. She was about to say so, when Missandei added, “I know it’s not, but consider how it’ll appear to her.”

Missandei had proven wise beyond her years, so Daenerys did as she asked and tried to consider things from Arya’s point of view. She hated to admit it but she could see how her gifts might be misinterpreted. “What should I do?”

“Start small,” Missandei advised. “Provide her with a horse to use temporarily.”

She was going to do that anyway. That wasn’t a gift. “That’s not…” Missandei stopped braiding, a sign that Daenerys’s latest objection was unwelcome. She took heed. After a deep breath she reigned in her emotions. “I’m sorry, go on.”

“Allow her to borrow a horse, then when she prepares to return to Dorne, inform her that she can keep it, as a gift from you. By the time she’s due to leave, she’ll have learned to trust in you, just as I did.”

“Missandei, you’re a genius,” she exclaimed. That was a great idea! Arya wouldn’t refuse that, if only for the sake of practicality. Her duties required her to accompany Daenerys and sometimes that would involve a mount. She wouldn’t want to limit Daenerys’s travel to distances they could walk, and she’d be of little use if she was always chasing after her charges, so she’d have no choice but to agree. Once she had a horse, Daenerys could go about the process of proving trustworthy. In time she’d convince Arya her kindness was a genuine act of friendship rather than pity. Now that she had a plan, her excitement bubbled over and she turned her head, forgetting the need to be still. “Anything else?”

She thought for a moment, humming to tell the Princess she was considering it. With gentle pressure she adjusted Daenerys’s head, picking up the incomplete braid. “With Arya, I suspect one practical gift would be better received than many smaller ones.”

She managed to avoid turning this time but couldn’t hold her tongue. “But she needs so many things. Did you see her clothes? She barely has any!”

“Okay,” the handmaiden allowed, “let us assume that you could convince Arya to accept new clothes, nice ones, what do you think would happen when next week you wanted to give her a new saddle or a chest to store her clothes?”

By the time Missandei finished her question, she could see the flaw. “She’d refuse,” she predicted.

“Yes, but if you give her one meaningful gift, one item she could use, she’s more likely to accept it.” She let that sink in before she inquired, “Do you know what she’d like?”

She did in fact. “A weapon,” she said proudly, pleased she knew what her friend would appreciate. “Apparently soldiers can never have enough.” She was sure her disbelief was evident to Missandei. “She told me she’s always wanted a hand-crafted weapon made just for her.” She thought back to their conversation on the ship. What else had she said about it? “Oh,” she jumped slightly in her chair, “Valyrian steel, she likes Valyrian steel.”

With endless patience Missandei settled Daenerys back down and then picked up where she left off. “That’ll be very expensive.”

“I don’t care about that,” she insisted. “If that’s what she wants, then that’s what I’ll get her.”

“It will take time to have something made, and you’ll need to secure the gold.”

As badly as she wanted to refute the objections, she couldn’t. “Yeah.”

“But that works in your favor,” Missandei informed her, “because you’ll need time to earn Arya’s confidence. By the time the gift is ready, hopefully she will be willing to take it.”

She didn’t deserve Missandei. With just a few words she’d completely reversed the way Daenerys viewed her situation. Instead of being disappointed with the delay, Missandei gave her a task she could implement immediately, one that would lead her to where she eventually wanted to be. “You’re right,” she said, “thank you.”

When the knock on the door came, she was dressed and ready to go. She smiled and called for her guest to enter, expecting to see an attractive, albeit bruised woman. For once she wouldn’t be sad staying inside the castle, especially knowing Arya had to be hurting from her injuries. An easy day talking and getting to know one another sounded ideal.

When the door opened and it wasn’t Arya Sand, Daenerys couldn’t be bothered working to keep her smile in place. If Jorah noticed, she couldn’t tell.

“Good morning Princess,” he said warmly. When he spotted her handmaiden, he gave only a nod and a stiff, “Missandei.”

She’d grown accustomed to Jorah’s kindness, but it didn’t escape her that his tone changed markedly when he addressed Missandei. The difference annoyed her and soured her previously good mood. After all this time, people still treated Missandei like a slave. His position afforded him an opportunity to really get to know her and yet Jorah wouldn’t give her his respect. Maybe it was because of Arya that the discrepancy bothered her so much. Arya had always acted as if Missandei was as royal as Daenerys.

She was pulled from her thoughts about Arya by Jorah’s large hand touching her shoulder. “Well,” he inquired, “what do you think?”

What did she think about what? She hadn’t heard anything he said. “I’m sorry, I got lost in thought. Good morning Ser.”

His smile dimmed a bit but didn’t disappear. “Imagining all the places we are going to go?”

What? Where was he expecting her to go? Did he say, ‘we?’ She looked to Missandei for clarification and saw a sad expression on her friend’s face. It said, ‘You missed a lot.’ She punctuated the silent message with a slight, reassuring smile, as if trying to pass a reserve of strength through the gesture.

She focused on Jorah and started with an apology to smooth the waters. “I’m sorry Ser, as I said, I was in my head, so I confess to being a bit behind.”

Jorah’s smile shrank further. “Oh, well that’s okay. I was just saying…” he stopped abruptly without filling in the information she lacked, changing direction instead. “What’s on your mind this morning?” His hand stayed on her shoulder and he was plenty close already, but he leaned in all the same.

“I was thinking about Arya,” she said truthfully, seeing no reason to be ashamed of that fact. “We were talking about going to check on her when you knocked.”

“Oh,” Jorah responded simply. That response did what her earlier missteps couldn’t -- it removed the smile from his face completely. “I’m sure she’s fine.”

“Have you seen her?” she asked quickly, standing up a little taller. In her excitement she nudged his hand off her shoulder. Did he have more information than she did? Had Arya been able to rest? Was her pain manageable? What did the Maester have to say? How long before she would be back to her old self?

Jorah appeared uncomfortable when he answered. “Well, no but…”

If he didn’t know, there was one way they could find out. “I appreciate you stopping by for a visit, but…”

She was already moving to the door before Jorah’s body blocked her. “Princess, I did not come by to visit, I am your guard and since the Sand is unable, I’ll be happy to…”

Really? Was he trying to use Arya’s beating to steal her job? “That’s quite alright Ser Jorah,” she said emphasizing his title for added formality, “I have a guard and as I said, we were on our way to see her.”

His posture softened and his voice matched. He reached for her arm, but she crossed it over her chest in a not so subtle show of her disapproval. “Daenerys, she can’t guard you, she can’t guard anything. She was off the ship for an hour before she got herself sent to the dungeon.”

Did he think he was helping himself with these comments? What happened wasn’t Arya’s fault, in fact Daenerys thought she displayed incredible restraint not killing the pigs who detained her. “She is my guard and she is quite capable I assure you. I’ll be safe in her company. I have no plans to leave the keep today, so Arya can recover and protect me from the bed Grand Maester Pycelle gave her.”

From the corner of her eye she caught sight of Missandei, trying to urge caution by mouthing the word, ‘no.’ It was already too late.

Before she could wonder why, she learned the reason. Jorah pounced on the opening. “That’s just it,” he insisted, “I spoke to your brother and we agree that you’ve been cooped up too long; the ship, then the Water Gardens, then the ship again, since you don’t have any appointments until this afternoon, we can spend the morning in the city.” He was done until he wasn’t. “Missandei can join us as well, if you want,” he added as an afterthought.

She couldn’t say what it was, whether it was the tone he used or the words he chose, but whatever it was, it had all of the hairs on the back of her neck standing on end. Her mind was sounding alarms and waving banners to get her attention. Something about this felt wrong.

Normally her joy at leaving the castle would have outweighed anything else she was feeling, but not this time. She repeated Jorah’s words in her head and listened for what had her unnerved. He sounded kind, as he always did when he spoke to her, so nothing unusual there. She noted that his decision to include Missandei was a cheap tactic to try and earn her favor but that too was common. The only lie she could find, was really more of a misrepresentation. He implied that she’d been trapped while in Dorne, but her memory was full of her adventures with Missandei and Arya outside the Water Gardens. She hadn’t felt confined at all, quite the opposite actually.

Was that the reason her instincts were screaming? She didn’t know, but Jorah was looking at her strangely, awaiting a reply. She had to say something before the silence stretched too long. “Ser,” she began, but that’s as far as she got.

“So where would you like to go first?”

Finally, she understood why Missandei had tried to warn her, it was because she knew what Jorah planned to suggest. The knight’s original confusing question also made more sense. She opened her mouth with no clear idea what she’d say, that is until a realization rushed over her like a bucket of ice water. It chilled her to the bone in the same way as well. He was manipulating her. It couldn’t be any more obvious. The way he was framing things, as if he’d travelled miles and negotiated for hours to get Rhaegar’s approval. He’d probably passed her brother on his way to her room. Also, why were Rhaegar and Jorah discussing her day without including her? She was a grown woman not a child and it was past time the people in her life treated her accordingly.

She always interpreted Jorah’s tenderness toward her as a sign of his affection, now it appeared more sinister now. It wasn’t familiar or comforting, soft or sweet, it was too much, too false, like he was trying too hard. How had she never noticed this before? Was it always like this?

It was the last detail she noticed that tipped the scale, however. Jorah had presented her with an idea for how they might spend some of the day, then when she tried to respond and share her thoughts, he cut her off and assumed her compliance. He didn’t care what she had to say, it didn’t matter what she wanted to do. It was as if he and Rhaegar had already made up her mind for her and they expected her to go along with it and be grateful.

“Thank you for the offer Ser,” she said, calling on her years of practice being thrust into uncomfortable conversations. “I think that I’d rather stay in today.” She managed a smile, but it was empty, as was her gratitude for his effort.

Jorah was momentarily taken aback. Though her arms were still crossed, he held out one of his hands with the palm up, an open invitation that she didn’t take. He turned his hand over, balled it into a fist, then opened it, placing it on her forearm. “Daenerys,” he said, “think about this. You know how rare it is that you are not needed here.” He paused to give her a chance to reflect. “How long will it be before you get this chance again?” He answered for her, which she was starting to see was a pattern. “It could be weeks or even longer. It’s been a while since you’ve seen the children at the orphanage, and I know we saw the port yesterday, but the Targaryen ships will be cleared out by now and it’ll be bustling with activity. All the ships that couldn’t get in yesterday, will be trying to find a berth, add to that the ships who are due in today and I’m sure they’ll be working tirelessly to get them in and out. The capital never has a backlog like that, are you sure you want to miss it?

Jorah made a compelling argument. She did love going to the waterfront and since her father’s ships occupied most of the space yesterday, it was bound to be busier today as a result, perhaps busier than she’d ever seen it. She wouldn’t mind being there to witness that.

“If they’re that busy, they probably don’t need us getting the way.”

Jorah was smiling again, and that simple change set off more alarms. She rationalized that the unease would continue until she sat down and sorted her feelings. She’d need to dedicate some time to her revelation about Jorah manipulating her. Did he do it often? If not, how many of their days together were tainted? She’d need time, wine, and a long talk with Missandei to sort everything out, but that would come later.

In the immediate, she had a choice to make. What was best, should she stay with Arya or venture out? Jorah was right about one thing, it could be a while before the opportunity presented itself again. Could she handle that? Could she miss it and not be overwhelmed with guilt? If she did go, could she enjoy it knowing Arya was hurt? Would Arya be angry they went without her? She’d likely be happy for Daenerys but what if she wasn’t? Would it upset the fragile peace between them?

She remained undecided until Jorah tried to tempt her with another plea. “Come on, you won’t regret it. You’ll have a great time, I promise.”

He was trying awfully hard. why was that? Why would he care if they went strolling through the city? She couldn’t recall too many times Jorah persisted after Daenerys made it clear she wasn’t interested. So why was today special? What did it matter if they left the castle? There’d be nothing in it for him, he’d just have to follow her around, through the market, in and out of shops, up and down the waterfront. Why would he want to do that?

When the answer dawned on her she was angry, angrier than any other time she’d quarrelled with the knight. This wasn’t about doing something nice at all, that was just a pretty lie to cover more manipulation. He didn’t care if she was happy, he wanted her with him, away from the keep and away from Arya. What this was all about, she was beginning to understand, was that Jorah wanted to be her guard again.

How long had he been working on this? Since Arya got hurt? Before that? Was it Jorah who told the guards at the gate to be wary of anyone trying to gain entry to see her? It was possible, but she chose to believe Jorah wasn’t that malicious. No, he probably began plotting when he heard what happened.

If she had agreed, how long would he have waited before he started trying to convince her that Arya was unsuitable, that he and no one else should protect her?

His generous offers hadn’t been for her benefit, everything was about softening her up and making her more receptive to his arguments. His goal was to be renamed Daenerys’s guard. In hindsight she could see he’d been trying to accomplish that since the night Arya came into their lives.

She wasn’t sure how to feel. On one hand she was pleased she discovered his reasons before falling for his lies, but there was embarrassment too, for not catching on sooner, and rage, she had plenty of rage.

Jorah was one of the few people she truly liked. She was happy to spend her time with him, and now this. Had he been manipulating her for years or was it an occasional occurrence? Even if this was the first and last time, it didn’t really matter, the damage was done. One day soon, after she had time to comprehend everything, she and the knight were going to talk, and she was going to get her answers.

In the meantime, she’d made up her mind. Jorah’s self-serving offer to take her into the city was about to be declined.

It was Missandei and not Jorah she heard first. “Give her a minute,” she was saying.

Obviously, they’d been talking again, without her. It was fine. She didn’t need to know what was said. She smiled sincerely for her handmaiden. “Thank you Missandei, why don’t you go see if you can find the Grand Maester, I’d like an update on Arya’s condition.”

Without delay, Missandei was obedient. “At once, Princess.”

As she walked past Daenerys set a hand on her arm and stopped her from continuing on. “Thank you Missandei, for everything.”

The handmaiden hugged her and while she always enjoyed a hug, she knew Missandei had a motive beyond the embrace. She was proven right when almost immediately she felt warm breath against her ear. “Are you going to be here when I get back?”

“Definitely, meet me and we’ll go find Arya.”

The hug ended and as Missandei backed up, Daenerys noticed a spark in her eye. She looked happy. Was it because she knew what Daenerys had to say to Jorah?

Alone with the knight, all the kindness in her face seeped out and she again folded her arms over her chest. “Sit down,” she directed.

“Princess are we not…”

“I said sit! We need to talk.”

He wanted to object, she could see, but he didn’t. Smart decision. “Princess…”

“I understand you are unhappy with how things happened in Dorne,” she said, feeling no guilt for not letting him finish.

“It isn’t right,” he replied, “you’re far too important to be given an inexperienced guard.”

It was by design and not luck that she was standing. and he was sitting. For once she was the taller of the two. She moved closer so he’d have to look up at her. “That was not your decision to make. I chose to speak for Arya, and everyone agreed, Tywin, Doran, even my father.”

“They shouldn’t have!” he said emphatically. “I’m your guard!”

“You’re not my guard!” she fired back. He had been looking down, but his eyes snapped up to meet hers.

“Princess…”

“Arya is my guard, my only guard. You may not like it, you may not approve, but that is how it is.”

“It’s too dangerous…”

“We spoke of this in Sunspear and I thought you understood and then you come here today and try and step in as my guard.”

“She’s hurt,” he said in his own defense.

That argument was growing weaker by the minute. “And what of tomorrow?” she inquired. “If Arya is healthy and ready to serve as my guard would you not find another excuse to disqualify her?”

“Princess, I just want…”

She’d heard enough. That was a yes or no question. She let him have four words and none of them were remotely close. “Oh right, what was I thinking? You wouldn’t need to, because after a day with you, doing all my favorite things, I wouldn’t hesitate to reinstate you to your rightful place. That was what all this was about, wasn’t it?”
He kept his head down, hiding his face, but she saw some extra redness on the parts of his cheeks that were visible. “I only want what’s best for you, I always have. It was kind of you to try and save the Sand, but she doesn’t belong here. You should not need to suffer with a substandard guard, just so she doesn’t have to admit her limitations.”

Daenerys was furious. How dare he? Arya was the best guard she ever had, up to and including Jorah Mormont. Arya had done nothing to deserve Jorah’s scorn. Daenerys had two choices, she could continue this argument and try and educate Jorah, or give up on this ignorant, bullheaded man and join Missandei to check on Arya. It wasn’t a difficult choice.

“As much as I am enjoying this debate Ser,” she said through a thick layer of sarcasm, “I have somewhere else to be. Worry not, I’ll be with my guard. You, I’m sure are equally busy.”

He stood up. “There is nothing urgent,” he said. “Daenerys please, I only want to help you.”

She reached her limit with all of this. This wasn’t even a real argument. She was Daenerys Targaryen, a Princess and he was a member of the Kingsguard, sworn to her father. He didn’t get to hold her in a pointless conversation against her will.

“We are done!” she told him plainly. “You serve my father Ser. As I understand the arrangement, Arya acts as my guard, while you fulfill duties normally completed by Viserys. You should go and do those, whatever they are.”

“There’s nothing, you know there is nothing.” He was growing frustrated by his inability to calm her. He threw up his hands before saying, “Why are you being like this?”

Why? Maybe because she realized he had been manipulating her. She thought they were friends but were they really? That was a question for later, now she just wanted to leave. “If Tywin doesn’t have anything for you, check with Rhaegar or the King, I’m sure someone has need of you Ser, but it isn’t me.”

As she marched past, avoiding his eye, he grabbed her arm. “Daenerys, wait!”

“Unhand me!” she roared. It was a command and not the polite requests he usually heard from her.

After his arm dropped, he wasn’t quite ready to give up. “I’m sorry if I upset you Princess, I’m just trying to understand…”

He was still talking as she continued out into the hall. Soon enough the faint unintelligible sounds he was making faded to silence.

R-C

A helpful servant pointed her to the Princess’s bedchamber. As she headed in that direction, she felt the eyes on her. More than once she heard fragments of a hushed discussion. She heard words like; ‘guard, Dorne, Princess; and ‘saved.’ Obviously, people knew about her less than welcoming reception at the gate. Gossip it seemed wasn’t a hobby practiced only in Dorne. Word of her spread through the Red Keep just as quickly as it would’ve the Water Gardens. She walked with her head held high, even as it throbbed.

While she knocked on the door Arya prepared herself for the next few hours. She’d guard the Princess, just as she had in Dorne. She’d stay back and do her best to avoid anyone and everything else. Her obligations were to Daenerys and Missandei alone. She’d keep them safe, she’d do her duty, the rest didn’t matter. She didn’t care about politics or courtly intrigue. The King, his Hand, the Crown Prince, none of that was important to her. One of the benefits of agreeing to support Daenerys’s desire to leave the castle, was that it would limit the amount of time Arya had to spend there as well. That was a win for Daenerys and a win for her too.

Missandei answered the door, smiling when she saw the guard. Unseen, behind the handmaiden Daenerys was speaking. “Where do you think she is? The Grand Maester didn’t seem to know. She promised me she’d rest, she couldn’t have gone too far, could she?”

Missandei stepped back and motioned Arya in. The two servants shared a look, deciding which of them would reply. Arya took the lead. “I did rest, as promised. I assure you, I’m fine.” Her line was delivered with confidence and Arya was relieved. How many times she had to stop and rest while getting cleaned and dressed was a secret she’d take to her grave.

Daenerys leapt from her seat as if lighting struck it. “Arya!” she shouted, a sound that worsened her discomfort significantly. She steeled herself as Daenerys rushed over. “How are you feeling? Why aren’t you resting? Does the Maester know you’re up? Missandei would you summon him please.”

Arya chewed on her lower lip to keep from laughing as Daenerys’s concern teetered dangerously close to panic. When she planned to summon Pycelle, Arya had to intervene. “I don’t need the Maester, he said I would feel better after a good night’s sleep, and I do.”

“Maybe you should lie down anyway.”

“I’m fine,” she exaggerated. “Now, what does the Princess have on her schedule today?”

Her transparent attempt to change the subject failed. “Are you sure?” Daenerys pressed. “It’s okay if you need the day to recover, we have other guards you know.”

The prospect of lying in the servant’s quarters, staring at the ceiling wasn’t the least bit appealing. “Do you wish to replace me already?”

“What? No, of course not. I just want you to heal.”

“I’m nearly good as new,” she lied.

“Arya, I don’t think…”

Seven Hells, she was stubborn. With no desire to extend this argument and her headache, she changed tactics. “Missandei handmaiden to the Princess, since my question remains unanswered, I turn to you, where will you be accompanying the Princess today?”

Daenerys scoffed and rolled her violet eyes. Missandei responded, matching Arya’s formal tone perfectly. “Well, Guard Sand, protector of the Princess, we will be attending a meeting this afternoon. Until then the Princess has no obligations.”

“Enough,” Daenerys complained through a chuckle. “I get the message, you’re fit for duty, I’ll try to control my worry.”

Arya cracked a smile. “I’d appreciate that.” She waited to make sure the topic of her injury was truly closed before moving on. “So, a meeting?”

“Yes,” Daenerys confirmed after a sigh. “My father is gathering everyone in the throne room, where he plans to tell the court of his successes in Dorne and learn what happened in the capital while we were away.” It was obvious she wasn’t looking forward to it. “We’ll have to sit there and listen while they congratulate each other for preventing the collapse of the Realm.”

With little interest in returning to the throne room, she plotted an escape for the both of them. “Are you required to be there?”

“Unfortunately.”

“Would anyone notice if you weren’t?”

“Unfortunately,” she repeated. “Tywin sent word that I’m expected to be in attendance.”

She couldn’t avoid the Iron Throne and the King who sat there forever. She knew she’d need to face her fears at some point, but she was about as happy as Daenerys that it would be today. The Gods wanted to test her right from the start, it seemed. She’d have to stand there, in the same place her family was destroyed, surrounded by some of the same people who were there that terrible day. If she showed any outward signs of her emotions, if she was anything other than Daenerys’s Dornish guard, if anyone learned the truth, she’d be the next in a long line of Starks to die in that room. She tried to appear casual when she said, “Meeting in the throne room, got it.”

“Afterward, we’ll see about getting you some armor.”

It was undeniable Daenerys was talking to her, but the words didn’t fit together quite right. “I have armor,” Arya pointed out, bringing a closed fist down on her breastplate and creating a clang for effect.

“I should have thought of it sooner,” Daenerys commented. “If you had Targaryen armor yesterday, you would have been allowed entry. What happened to you was my fault.”

She didn’t want to hear Daenerys blame herself again. They’d spoken about it already and it was done. “Do I have to?” she wondered.

Daenerys looked at her, confused by the question. “Do what?”

“Do I need to wear Targaryen armor?” The mere idea made her sick. She was glad she hadn’t eaten breakfast she didn’t think she’d be able to keep it down if she had.

“It would prevent any misunderstandings,” Missandei contributed.

“Exactly,” Daenerys agreed. “No one would question you, you’d be one of them.”

That was the problem. Arya didn’t want to be one of them. She thought of her father. What would he say if he saw his daughter wearing a dragon? “Do I have to?”

This time her question got through. “Do you not want to?”

She hadn’t planned for this conversation, she hadn’t organized her words and prepared carefully crafted statements. She worked frantically to do that now, checking every phrase to make sure it didn’t reveal too much of her history. How could she explain her reasons without admitting her hate for Daenerys’s family? “I worked hard to earn this,” she said rapping her knuckles on the armor again, “wearing the Sun of the Martells is a show of respect for the people who let me fight for them.”

“I’m letting you fight for me too,” Daenerys retorted, sounding hurt.

She hadn’t wanted to offend Daenerys. She was the one Targaryen Arya didn’t despise. If it was important to her, she’d wear the armor. “Yes, you are, which is why if you want me to wear a Targaryen sigil, I will.”

Her willingness to abide by Daenerys’s ruling had a direct impact on the Princess’s mood. She said nothing for a moment and then decided. “You’re right. The Martells let you train, they supported you and I will too. You can wear Martell armor, if you’d prefer.”

Relieved she sought to show Daenerys how grateful she was. She reached out and took her hand. “Thank you.”

R-C

Arya was behind Daenerys and Missandei by half a step. There wasn’t likely any real threats lingering around the Red Keep, but she remained vigilant anyway. Grey eyes swept from side to side, studying each face in turn, determining their purpose. Did they belong where they were, doing what they were doing? So far everyone did.

It was a short walk to put herself in the mindset of someone who meant the Targaryens harm. She considered how she might strike the heavily protected Princess and was careful to watch for those who approached with similar ruses. She tried to think like an assassin, how would she do it, if her target was Daenerys? She’d wear Targaryen armor, the very kind she was so opposed to accepting. It would provide cover and allow her to be sufficiently armed. The castle guards were permitted to get close to Daenerys, it would only take one moment of inattention for the deed to be done. An assassin in a guard’s mask could slip a dagger or a sword into Daenerys’s chest as he walked past, and no one would notice until it was too late. As she thought about it, she realized the real problem wouldn’t be in reaching Daenerys, it would be escaping afterward. Once the Princess was slain, once everyone was looking for the killer, getting outside the Red Keep would be the true challenge. She quickly ended that thought and circled back to the beginning. She didn’t care how an assassin might avoid detection after it was over, her job was to prevent him from getting close enough in the first place. Jorah made it sound like the job was easy, but Arya was coming to doubt his assessment. The large number of people Daenerys interacted with daily meant Arya would need to be constantly on guard, ready to intervene in an instant if danger presented itself.

With her newfound realization about the fragility of the Dragon Princess fresh in her mind she tensed when she saw a three-man patrol moving in their direction. Her left hand shifted subtly to her sword while her right brushed against Daenerys’s back. It was a light touch, a grazing of her fingers on a silk-covered spine to steer her to the side ever so slightly. She didn’t have to wonder if Daenerys felt the contact because the muscles under her fingers tensed in response. Daenerys was watching her, looking for an explanation, but the guard didn’t dare divide her focus. Her eyes moved from face to face, checking for anyone overly interested in Daenerys or Missandei. She reviewed their hands, confirming none were preparing to draw a weapon. As the groups met, Arya stepped up, coming parallel to Daenerys and blocking the royal with her body. Now if anyone wished to harm her, they’d need to go through Arya, literally. The men continued on down the hall and around the corner, passing Daenerys without an issue.

She tried to fall back but Daenerys’s hand grabbed hers with surprising speed and strength. “What was that?”

“I’m sorry,” she said quickly. “I know they’re loyal to your family, I just want to be careful. They had weapons…”

“It’s okay,” Daenerys assured her, squeezing her hand. “I don’t mind. You have my permission to do whatever you feel is best to keep us safe.”

That was good to know. Protecting Daenerys would be much easier if she was committed to following instructions. “Thank you. I’ll try to minimize the interruptions, but when men with swords are nearby, I may guide you away or move closer.”

There was a spark in her eye when her lips curled. “I don’t mind when you’re close.”

What was she supposed to say to that? Luckily before she had to decide they were required to separate. “Daenerys,” a voice called out.

When she turned, she was stunned silent. Standing there was a young man roughly Daenerys’s age. She hadn’t seen him before, and she was confident she would’ve remembered. The man was tall and lean, he wore expensive well-made clothes and had a longsword attached to the belt around his waist. Arya wanted to be ready in case he had ill-intent, but she couldn’t move. She was frozen, left staring at a face that was entirely too familiar. It was like seeing one of her memories brought back to life, the sharp features, the grey eyes, the dark hair. He looked like a member of her lost family, a mixture of her brother Robb and her father Ned. If she’d ever wondered what her father looked like in his younger years, before Arya was born, she would have guessed it was a lot like this man.

She heard incoherent, distant sounds as Daenerys greeted him and began a conversation. She could see lips moving but couldn’t understand any words. She tried harder, forcing his appearance to the back of her mind. With effort, the conversation became clearer. “I heard you and Father got into a disagreement.”

Daenerys looked at her and moved closer. Her companion followed a second later, with Missandei. “It’s not important now,” she said. “I’d like you to meet someone.” With a bright smile she brought them together. “Arya Sand, this is Aemon Targaryen. Aemon, this is my new guard, Arya.”

“Pleased to meet you, glad to see you’ve recovered.

She raised an eyebrow in unasked question. Had he been there when she was brought in? She remembered seeing Daenerys and Rhaegar, but no others. “Y…” She cleared her throat and tried again. “Very kind m’lord.”

He laughed, and Daenerys followed. “Aemon’s fine, no one calls me a Lord around here.”

Daenerys smiled and touched Arya’s covered arm. “Aemon’s like us, not big on titles.”

She forced a tight, likely unbelievable smile and nodded dumbly. Aemon was unbothered, addressing Daenerys. “I can use titles if you prefer Aunt Daenerys.”

Missandei, Daenerys and Aemon all laughed. Arya couldn’t because she was too busy assessing how drastically her world had changed with those two words – Aunt Daenerys. She searched for another plausible explanation, one that didn’t involve her family, but they were few and far between. Daenerys spoke of having a nephew, but Arya erroneously assumed it would be a young boy, not a man older than her. If the child was Rhaegar’s and it appeared he was, then his mother could be only one person. She tried to deny it. It could be anyone. Grey eyes and long faces weren’t exclusive to Starks, but her logic died early. Rhaegar was married to Elia Martell. He remained married until after he kidnapped Arya’s Aunt Lyanna. When her grandfather and uncle were killed by the Mad King, Robert Baratheon and her father went to war. It was hard to imagine Rhaegar found the time to bed another Northerner and father a child while all of that was happening. Given Aemon’s age and features, it only made sense if his mother was Lyanna. Arya had always dreamed of finding out what became of her family, but she never imagined it like this.

“Arya, are you alright?”

She smiled a little more honestly, pleased to have something to distract her from her thoughts. Missandei and Aemon were looking at her too. “I’m sorry, what were you saying?”

“Is your head okay?”

“It’s fine Princess, I promise.”

“If you’re sure…” She waited to see if Arya would elaborate. “Could you escort Missandei inside, I need to speak to Aemon privately for a moment.”

She was uncomfortable with the idea of leaving Daenerys alone, but nodded anyway. “Of course.” She avoided Aemon’s grey eyes and took her leave with Missandei by her side.

“How badly does your head hurt?” Missandei asked once they were away from the Targaryens.

“Not too bad,” she said, giving the handmaiden a more truthful answer than the one the Princess received.

“She’s worried about you.”

“I know, but it’s getting better.” She waited as long as she could before she asked, “What are they talking about?” She looked over her shoulder to see Daenerys and Aemon locked in a debate of some kind.

“Daenerys had a disagreement with her brother last night, I suspect Aemon wishes to talk to her about that. He’s often in the middle when the Prince and Princess argue.”

Arya opened the door and held it for Missandei to pass through.

She intended to ask what the siblings had fought about, but her surroundings stole all thoughts from her. She couldn’t be bothered by such trivial inquires, not when she was standing in front of the Iron Throne for the second time in her life. Her gaze shifted from the throne to the spot several feet away where she’d once knelt. A shiver stronger than any she felt since leaving the North shook her.

The throne itself was empty, just a collection of swords forged into a chair by dragonfire. She remembered how scared she’d been the first time she made this walk. Her father had her under one arm, while his other was wrapped around Sansa’s shoulders. Her mother was holding Rickon, while Robb tried to reassure Bran.

The seats were already arranged, staggered in tiers, on both the right and left of the throne. Some chairs had none behind them, others had as many as three. On the floor, between the door and throne were rows of chairs that were meant for the audience, be it the court or other invited guests.

Missandei waited until she took it all in and then provided guidance. “We’ll be over here,” she said, pointing with a finger and then taking them there. “As Daenerys’s guard and handmaiden, we’ll remain behind her, in case we’re needed.”

“Anything else I need to know?”

They were in front of a chair on the level right below the throne. “Daenerys will sit here,” she said, touching the third and last chair on that tier. “We’ll be back there,” she continued, moving to demonstrate where they fit in this highly organized puzzle.

She tried to mask her nerves with humor. “All I have to do is stand here? Even I can’t fuck that up.”

“Don’t speak unless spoken to,” Missandei advised. “It’ll be hard, but no matter what happens, don’t get involved unless Daenerys is in danger. Do you understand? Say nothing unless Daenerys is at risk.”

She did understand. Missandei was trying to warn her about the things she might have to witness. The slave didn’t know it, but nothing the Mad King could do would surprise her anymore. After last time, she was immune to his depravity. “I know all about what happens here.”

When she turned, Arya saw a glassy quality to Missandei’s eyes. “You do?”

“Yes,” she confirmed. She was all too aware.

Missandei’s next words kept the memories at bay for the time being. “Luckily, Daenerys rarely needs to attend meetings like this.”

She could only nod. She wouldn’t complain if this was her last time in the Mad King’s throne room.

R-C

“What happened?” Aemon asked her. She told him not to worry, she tried steer the conversation elsewhere, but he kept circling back to it. She knew Arya was gone, but she peeked over her shoulder just to be sure. She’d done as Daenerys instructed and accompanied Missandei to the throne room in advance of the meeting. This meant she could speak to Aemon and keep the fact that she and her brother had disagreed over Arya hidden from the Dornishwoman.

“I told you, it’s not important.” She tried one more time to get him to drop it.

“If that were true,” Aemon replied, “Father wouldn’t have been up all night.”

She was annoyed by the stab of concern she felt for her eldest sibling. She didn’t like seeing him distressed, but she wasn’t in the wrong this time. He was the one who overreacted and misjudged Arya. “We disagreed. We’ll get past it soon.”

“About your guard?” Aemon guessed.

“How did you…”

“You wouldn’t have sent her away if it wasn’t about her.”

Damn him for being smart. Aemon and Rhaegar had always been close. She chose to discuss it with him in the hopes that he’d have insight into the reason Rhaegar was so hostile. “He thinks Arya has unkind motives for helping me.”

“Could he be right?” he wondered. Her face must have shown displeasure because her nephew backed up raising his hands as he went. “I just mean he wouldn’t say that without a reason.”

That was a large part of why Daenerys, like Rhaegar hadn’t slept particularly well. His reaction to Arya was unusual. Her brother was typically a generous, fair man. “He’s wrong,” she declared confidently. “I just wish I understood where this comes from. Did he tell you anything?”

Aemon shook his head and inadvertently knocked some hair into his eyes. He wiped it away promptly. “He never tells me anything,” he remarked under his breath, and Daenerys knew they weren’t talking about Arya anymore. All his life Aemon had asked questions about her mother, and all his life Rhaegar refused to answer them. When Daenerys asked for him, he was equally evasive. Even the staff, who were quick to gossip about almost anything were mum about this. Aemon was desperate to know who he was and where he came from, but all Rhaegar would say was that his mother loved him very much. She apparently died tragically just hours after giving birth. For her part Daenerys didn’t understand why Rhaegar kept the secret, why no one in the castle would tell them? Whatever the story was, it couldn’t be worse than the pain Aemon felt not knowing, could it?

“I’m sorry,” she said gently. “I’ll try asking him about her again, the next time I have a chance.”

“Maybe it doesn’t matter. Whoever she is, she’s gone, and I’m here.”

Daenerys didn’t buy it. She knew this mattered to Aemon. He would have given up asking long ago if it didn’t. “I’ll ask anyway.”

“Thanks, and I’ll talk to him and see if he’ll tell me why he hates your new guard.”

She smiled at him. They’d been like this most of their lives, working together to survive. There were things she could do that he couldn’t and things he could accomplish that she was incapable of. It was their way to swap as necessary. “Thanks.”

“He can never stay mad at you. He’ll forgive you before your nameday celebration.” He smiled proudly, pleased with his ability to insert her nameday into a discussion that was in no way related to it. By mentioning the upcoming occasion, he was trying to get a reaction out of her. One of the many things they talked about and agreed upon was their dislike for how the royals in the keep celebrated such events. In their opinions the feasts with hundreds of people were a bit much.

The way she was standing granted her a clear field of vision starting at Aemon’s back and extending to the corner. Many had come and gone while they’d been talking and Daenerys didn’t let it interfere with their conversation, until she spotted Rhaegar. The Crown Prince was walking with his guard Ser Barristan Selmy on one side and Varys, the Master of Whispers on the other. “We’ll finish this later,” she said.

They’d been using that phrase since childhood anytime one wanted to inform the other that they were no longer alone. He understood the meaning right away. “Ah, he’s coming?” She confirmed it with a look. “Let’s get you inside then.” He held out an arm for her to take. She did not want to have another fight with her brother, certainly not with so many people watching. She linked her arm with Aemon’s and headed for the door.

Aemon was reaching for the handle when they heard it. “Dany, wait!” Rhaegar was asking her to wait and he was doing it publicly, so she couldn’t refuse. By using her name, he made it impossible for her to claim she thought he was speaking to someone else.

“I can stay,” Aemon offered.

“No, it’s okay. He won’t yell in front of all these people. Go ahead. Tell Missandei and Arya I’ll be right in.”

He delayed a moment, giving her the chance to change her mind. She waited where she was, making Rhaegar come to her. It was a petty expression of her annoyance. “What are you doing out here?” he asked as he limped up to her.

“You wanted me to wait,” she reminded him coldly.

“That’s not what I meant.” He and Varys shared a look that Daenerys couldn’t make sense of. “Where is your guard? Varys wishes to meet her.”

What business did he have with Arya? “She’s inside. I’ll introduce you, if you like.”

“I’d appreciate that Princess, I’ve heard many things.” Given he had an army of spies gathering secrets every hour of every day she imagined Varys heard more than most. She also knew that if her brother had been the one doing the telling, Varys likely heard a skewed version of how Arya came to be there. The bald man leaned toward her and lowered his voice. “I’d like to meet her and decide for myself.”

As a Princess with few official duties, she had little interaction with Varys. She could count on her hands the number of conversations they had that went beyond meaningless pleasantries. That said she knew enough to wary of him. While there were many within the Red Keep’s walls that thought Tywin Lannister was the real authority in King’s Landing, there was a smaller number who felt Varys ruled from the shadows. Daenerys was of the opinion that both wielded power, more than most thought, but in each case, less than they wanted.

“Why is she in there?” Rhaegar snapped. “She’s your guard. She can’t guard you if she’s in there, while you’re out here.”

She thought about telling the truth, explaining that she sent Arya away because Aemon was pestering her with questions about their disagreement. She would have enjoyed seizing the upper hand for once, but she couldn’t, or more accurately wouldn’t. Bringing up their fight in front of Varys would embarrass her brother and she didn’t want that, even if it was what he deserved.

She decided to ignore Rhaegar completely. “Follow me, Lord Varys, I’ll take you in to see Arya.” This time when Rhaegar tried to stop her, it didn’t work.

R-C

She was standing with Missandei while the handmaiden listed all the people she knew. Arya didn’t need to know their names to know who they were, Lords and Ladies who were desperate to get ahead, the sort wiling to do anything to get what they felt entitled to. It was rather pitiful actually, these were some of the most influential men and women in the Realm and instead of doing something meaningful they sat around here feeling important. Some faces she recognized, others by name and reputation only. The most troubling were the few that sparked a memory. A handful in attendance were there the day King Aerys sent Arya Stark to Dorne. She didn’t know how to feel when it occurred to her that they likely didn’t remember. What Arya would never forget, what was burned into her as the single most important day in her life, was to the men and women watching, just another in a series of days in which the Mad King dispensed justice.

Her stomach twisted when Daenerys entered with one of the men who stood by and said nothing as her family lost everything. He, and all the others never said a word in defense of her father not even when the Mad King’s attention fell to the children.

When Daenerys waved her over, she looked to Missandei for permission. Could she go without offending anyone? She smiled in approval. On the walk over Arya wondered if the man would recognize her. Would the armor fool him, or would he connect the Sand to the Stark she’d once been? If that happened, she knew her end would be violent, but quick. Wildfire was said to burn so hot, the victims rarely felt it. She didn’t believe that, but it was a nice dream to have.

“Arya Sand, this is Varys, he’s the Realm’s Master of Whispers.”

He ducked his head and a thick. pale hand emerged from the wide sleeve of his robe. She took it, when it was extended, and he trapped it between both of his. “I hope you don’t mind, I asked the Princess to introduce us. I’ve heard many great things about you, the Sand-girl said to train with the mighty Oberyn Martell.”

“It’s a pleasure,” she said as she took back her hand. “Prince Oberyn would enjoy hearing you describe him in such terms.”

Varys’s laugh was a little too perfect and it had Arya on edge. “Well, I saw him fight in the Pits once, and I can attest to his skill, as I’m sure you can.”

“It was an honor to learn from him.”

“And now you’re here watching over our Princess. I heard what happened,” he paused and lowered his voice a little, “quite a bit of nastiness if you ask me, forcing you to fight your brother in arms.”

She felt like she was being tested, but the right answer wasn’t clear. “It ended well,” she said simply, hoping he’d move on.

“If you know Oberyn, you must’ve met the lovely Lady Sand.”

“I consider Ellaria a friend.”

“She’s a remarkable woman. I admire her.”

“Admiring her is a wise choice. She’s strong, smart and resilient.”

“I can see why you’d get along,” Varys said casually. “You embody many of the same qualities.”

Another test, Arya treaded carefully. “That is very kind, but I assure you Ellaria is far stronger, smarter and tougher than me. I’m just a soldier.”

“Oh, I think you’re much more than that,” Varys disagreed. The door behind the throne opened and the King and his party filed in. “Time to go,” the Spymaster said. “I do hope we get the chance to speak again soon. I think we’d have a lot to discuss.”

He added a quick ‘goodbye’ for the Princess and was off to take his seat. His place was on the opposite side of the throne from Daenerys’s. As Arya accompanied Daenerys to her chair, the Targaryen commented on their encounter with Varys. “That was odd.”

Arya didn’t disagree, she’d need to be careful around the Master of Whispers, or it’d be her secrets he shared with the King. Once Daenerys was seated, she retreated quickly to her designated spot beside Missandei.

R-C

Chapter Text

The first portion of the meeting happened exactly like her father’s minders designed it. Tywin spoke at length about the King’s trip to Dorne and the successful strides they’d made improving relations between the capital and Sunspear. The Lannister made it sound much more dramatic and inspiring than it was, and Daenerys would know, she was there. He acted as if her father had paddled their ships to Dorne singlehanded and then fought legions to impress the Martells enough to get their agreement on the marriage. It was nonsense. The bargain was struck long before the King announced his proposed trip. Their journey and everything about it had been a formality and little else, but Tywin was making it out to be quite the ordeal.

She didn’t correct him, didn’t scoff or roll her eyes. She maintained the mask of an interested Princess and counted the seconds until it was over. If there was anything about Tywin’s dramatic retelling that nearly got her to break character, it was when he told of Arya and how she came to be in Daenerys’s service. In what Daenerys could only describe as a political masterpiece the Hand somehow shared the story without mentioning the King’s murderous desires. He claimed the fight between Arya and her friend was merely a ‘test of ability’ and neglected to mention how Aerys ordered her to kill the beaten man once it was finished. He said nothing of Arya’s refusal and the deaths that were on the horizon when Daenerys decided to intervene. No, in just a few sentences Tywin took what was a harrowing, terrifying experience and made it sound civilized and almost routine.

When they moved on to the state of the Realm, Daenerys took it as permission that she no longer needed to pay attention. She’d been ignoring almost everyone around her for nearly an hour when the man on the throne said, “Is there anything else?”

It wasn’t what he said, but the way he said it that made Daenerys sit up a little straighter. From his tone she could tell the King was no longer interested. He’d run out of patience for the important meeting he required them to have.

“Just one last thing, your Grace,” Tywin snuck it slyly. “As you know Lord Baelish, who has served as Master of the Coin will be leaving King’s Landing to attend to some personal business in the Eyrie.”

Misunderstanding, what the Hand was getting at Aerys maintained his level of disinterest when he said, “Safe travels Lord Baelish, the Realm thanks you for your years of service.”

From the seat next to Varys he nodded politely to the King. “It is I who thanks you, your Grace. I learned much while I was here, and I am grateful I had the opportunity to serve.”

It was all shit. Daenerys had plenty of practice telling when people were just saying what they felt they were supposed to. He wasn’t even being subtle about it. The only person who didn’t see through Baelish’s empty sentiment was the man it was aimed at. Her father ate it up, his mood improving as suddenly as it had fallen. This was what life in the Red Keep amounted to, managing the wild, swinging emotions of Aerys Targaryen. She couldn’t speak for anyone else, but Daenerys tired of it.

“Yes,” Tywin agreed, “we do wish Lord Baelish well, but in addition, we need to name a replacement. The post of Master of the Coins is too important to leave vacant.”

“Very well, spread word that we are looking for a capable man to serve…”

The King’s ruling was cut short. “Actually, your Grace, as we discussed we already have a replacement in mind.”

With a glare that would’ve made the Princess wilt, Aerys stared at Tywin. He did not like being interrupted. “Who?”

“Tyrion Lannister your Grace, my son.”

As Tywin tried to seize control of the treasury by using his son, Daenerys had to wonder if her father had forgotten he agreed to give Tyrion the job, or if Tywin was just taking advantage of his illness to make everyone think he did.

It wasn’t surprising that he would choose a member of his bloodline, it didn’t even come as a shock to learn Tywin had another son, what surprised her was that she hadn’t noticed him before now. Although they had never met, she was aware of his existence. The youngest Lannister was rumored to have little in common with his father and was infamous for being a dwarf. To the best of her knowledge, Tyrion had been in the West, at Casterly Rock while the remainder of his family served in the Red Keep.

Behind Tywin were three chairs where usually there were only two. The first one was empty, as it always was. It was set out for Jaime but the Kingsguard never made use of it, choosing instead to stand near the King. In the second chair was Cersei. There was little debate within the castle, Cersei was her father’s daughter to the core. She was intelligent, cunning and clever, using Tywin’s position and her family name to get almost everything she wanted. The one notable exception just happened to be the one thing she coveted most – Rhaegar.

To prove Daenerys’s point Cersei looked past her father and the King and settled her attention on the Crown Prince. It was no secret that both Cersei and Tywin wished to connect their family to the Targaryens through marriage. The lack of success wasn’t just because Rhaegar refused to entertain the idea, Aerys too remained adamantly opposed.

“I assure you your Grace, Tyrion is up to the task. He’s been handling Lannister business in Casterly Rock…”

It would have been understandable for Tyrion’s focus to be on the exchange happening between the King and his Hand since it was entirely about him, but when she set her eyes on him for the first time, Tyrion was already looking back at her

While his father continued to laud his accomplishments, Tyrion rolled his eyes and shook his head as though he disagreed with every word. It was too much and Daenerys couldn’t contain her laugh. She caught it quickly, covering her mouth with her hand and trying to hide her amusement with a forced cough. She doubted anyone was fooled, least of all Tyrion. When she was brave enough to glance his way again, he was grinning proudly.

She focused on the King and regained her composure. He had agreed to give Tyrion the job and now they were just working through the logistics.

Tyrion’s appointment was supposed to be the final piece of business, but the temperamental King was no longer bored. Before the audience was granted their leave, Aerys commanded everyone’s attention and began speaking about the upcoming wedding. He talked for ages about the grand feast he envisioned for when his son returned to King’s Landing with Eliza.

“The wedding of the Dragon Prince will be upon us soon and that makes this the perfect time to make changes.”

“Changes your Grace?” Tywin said carefully. He was working to hide it, but Daenerys heard uncertainty. If her father was bringing up an issue that he hadn’t discussed with Tywin first, that didn’t bode well for anyone.

“When Viserys is married, he and his wife will need a place to live,” Aerys declared loudly.

Time passed as they waited to see what the King had in mind, but he wasn’t forthcoming, making it necessary for the Hand to nudge him along. “OF course, your Grace.” While he was addressing Aerys, his eyes were elsewhere, looking for someone who had more information than he did. Had the ruler sought counsel elsewhere? It wasn’t uncommon for Tywin and her father to disagree, so this might just be the latest example of their differing opinions. The more alarming possibility was that the King had made this decision, whatever it was, all on his own. If that was true, there was no telling what would come next. “Do you have a particular home in mind for the new couple?”

“Dragonstone. It’s the ideal location for them to begin their lives together.”

Daenerys gasped. Was she dreaming? She wasn’t the only one taken aback by her father’s sudden decision to name Viserys Lord of Dragonstone. That title and the accompanying lands had belonged to Rhaegar since before either of the younger Targaryens were born. When Aemon was upset about his limited role in the capital, or in their family, Rhaegar calmed him by keeping his focus on the future. For years, he endured his grandfather’s scorn and Viserys’s abuse by reminding himself a better life was coming. When Rhaegar sat on the Iron Throne, Aemon would ascend to his rightful place. He’d finally be respected as a Targaryen and an heir. Once that happened Rhaegar would name him Lord of Dragonstone and he’d finally be invited to learn from the King in a way he never was under Aerys.

That plan, as far in the distance as it seemed at times, was what helped Aemon survive the day to day struggles. Now, her father had taken that away from him. She tried to add her voice to the others trying to change the King’s mind, but no one heard her.

As soon as Tywin called an end to the meeting, Aemon was gone. Daenerys rose too, to chase after him and make sure he was alright. Halfway to the door she knew she’d never reach it. There were too many people, and a large percentage seemed to want to talk to her all of the sudden. She’d need to find Aemon later. Among the people clustered around her was the newly appointed Master of Coin. holding a glass of wine. He was finishing a conversation with a noblewoman when he took a step toward her. “Princess, lovely to meet you.”

She gave him her standard, Princess smile, fake as it was. “You as well, Lord Tyrion, congratulations on your new position.”

He flashed her a mischievous smirk. “Oh yes,” he began, “citizens of the Realm can sleep soundly tonight, a dwarf of no particular talent is minding the gold.”

She didn’t know what to say. Was he serious? She tried to steer them back to a more stable topic. “Well, I’m sure your father wouldn’t have chosen you, if he didn’t think you were capable.”

He barked out a humorless laugh, before he took a drink. “My father thinks me many things Princess, but capable is not one of them.”

While she was busy trying to decide how to respond, Tyrion saved her the trouble. “He’s quite an ass, my father,” he remarked casually. Daenerys’s eyes snapped to his face and she found the youngest Lannister smirking proudly. “standing up there, proclaiming me the greatest Master of Coin that ever was. The only thing I know about gold is how to spend it.”

“Oh,” she said dumbly, when all articulate responses failed her.

He offered her his arm and she took it, out of a sense of obligation. He led her away from the crowd so they could speak more privately. “There are benefits to moving to King’s Landing,” he confessed.

“I imagine,” she said. “Did you enjoy living in Casterly Rock?”

“Your beautiful city,” he said with a grin, “is blessed with some of the greatest brothels in all of Westeros.”

Her face heated in embarrassment, not unlike how it had when she and Arya stood outside a Dornish brothel analyzing its patrons. “I suppose it does.”

Tyrion continued on, unaware or unbothered by her embarrassment. “The girls in the West are talented, but after so many years, they become a little…familiar.”

Was he suggesting he bedded the entire Westerlands? He seemed as open about his trysts as Oberyn was. Perhaps they were friends.

“You’d think a man as smart as my father would know better than to bring me to a place like this. It’s a recipe for disaster.” To emphasis his point he raised his glass to his lips and emptied the remainder of the contents. “Expensive, great tasting wine, beautiful women, warm weather, I really think I could like it here.”

Still fumbling around for a foothold in this odd conversation, she made another futile attempt. “Maybe your father wished to have you nearby,” she proposed, “he’s been in the Crownlands for a long time, and you were in the West.”

“Yes, and maybe tomorrow I’ll grow wings and shit gold dragons,” he fired back, with a straight face and a false sense of sincerity.

For the second time Tyrion made her laugh, really laugh. She was amused by his bluntness, his boldness and the vivid imagery he described. Few cursed in her presence, thinking she was too delicate to hear such vulgar terms. It endeared her to Tyrion that he didn’t seem to hold the same view. All at once she decided trying to return the conversation to something more traditional had been a mistake. The proper course would be to try and match Tyrion’s attitude. She searched her brain for a reply that would show him she could play his game too. “It could happen,” she said, “but I think we can do better. Everyone has gold dragons, a man of your status should aspire for something rarer than coins.”

He said nothing for a moment, providing Daenerys the time to worry she’d misjudged the situation. An apology was on the tip of her tongue when Tyrion raised an eyebrow and licked his lips. “I think you’re right. I deserve to shit something as special as I am. What would the Princess recommend?”

She laughed again. She couldn’t believe they were talking about this. It was pointless and crude and so very different from what the people around her usually discussed. “Diamonds?” she tried, her uncertainty bleeding through and making it seem like a question.

Tyrion responded like it was. “No,” he resisted, shaking his head. “Diamonds would hurt coming out.” He said it seriously, as if he was running down a list of valuables in his mind to see if which was most appropriate. She couldn’t take it anymore.

The tight grip she maintained on her emotions in public loosened and she folded over in a fit of laughter, clutching her stomach. By the time she was done, there were tears in her eyes. She wiped them away. “That… thank you Lord Tyrion, I think I needed that.”

With a bow, Tyrion was the picture of gentlemanly manners. “Anytime Princess,” he said, “after a meeting like that, I thought we deserved a chance to lighten the mood.”

“You did that,” she confirmed. A realization came to her. “You didn’t enjoy the meeting? A large portion of it was about you.”

“I know,” Tyrion gushed, “and usually I enjoy talking about me, especially the good parts.”

There had been plenty of that, Tywin spoke for several minutes about Tyrion’s qualifications. “I thought your father made you sound quite distinguished.”

“Exactly,” he said, throwing up his hands. She was glad the cup he was holding was empty, otherwise she would’ve been covered in wine. “I like when people praise me for things I’ve really done or traits I actually have, not that crap.”

“What would you have preferred he said?”

Clearing his throat, Tyrion mimicked his father’s voice. “Tyrion has historically been and continues to be a disgrace to the Lannister name. He is woefully unprepared to serve as Master of the Coins, but he is my son, so give him the job anyway.”

She chuckled but only after checking that Tywin was far enough away not to catch them. “That was a pretty good likeness,” she admitted, impressed he could sound so much like his father. “That version was a little limited on your many accomplishments, however.”

He shrugged. “It was, but at least it was honest.”

She told him the truth as she saw it. “Well, regardless of how anyone else feels, I’m glad you’re here. I think this place could use someone like you.”

“Someone ruggedly handsome, charming and intelligent?”
Daenerys marvelled at the speed with which he could take what she said and turn it around. She snickered into her hand. “Yes, that’s precisely what I meant.”

“I knew it!” he shouted, raising his empty hand in a display of victory. Daenerys envied his ability to yell in a crowded room, with no care for the people who turned to investigate the disruption. Whoever it was that told her Tyrion had little in common with Tywin was underselling the contrast between them.

“Tyrion,” Tywin called loudly, “there is someone I’d like you to meet.”

It was more command than suggestion and yet Tyrion didn’t rush to comply as Daenerys was prone to do. Instead he stayed where he was and gave his eyes a roll for her benefit. “I was hoping he’d forget I was over here.”

“Good luck, I think you’ll need it.”

“What I need,” Tyrion informed her, “is wine.” She thought it was another joke, but he meant it, moving further away from the throne. With her father and his both waiting, Tyrion dashed into a crowd and emerged with a filled cup.

Ready now, his route took him past Daenerys, “There,” he said to the Princess as he snuck a sip.

“You should probably get over there,” she suggested. “Your father doesn’t look happy.”

“Does he ever?” Tyrion asked aloud.

She stayed where she was and let him continue alone. Once, just before he reached Tywin, Tyrion looked back, caught her watching him and winked. Daenerys could only shake her head and smile.

Normally she was wary of strangers. It wasn’t that she didn’t like meeting new people, she did, but she also understood that the face they presented, especially in the beginning was rarely who they truly were. Most who met her were full of false words and empty compliments, eager to earn her friendship and favor. It often took days or even weeks to discover a person’s agenda. It was a treat when someone revealed their true self right from the start. Tyrion, like Arya appeared comfortable enough in who he was to forgo the pretense and get right to it. She appreciated that.

R-C

When the meeting broke up Arya was unsure of what to do. Should she go to Daenerys or let her mingle without a guard listening in? She relied on Missandei for guidance. Since she was staying back, Arya would too.

“The King is taking Dragonstone from Aemon,” Missandei said quietly.

She thought of the young man who was most likely her cousin. “He was Lord of Dragonstone?”

“Not yet,” she explained, “Prince Rhaegar was the formal Lord of Dragonstone. When he was King, he intended to name Aemon his successor.”

“Not anymore.”

“This will be hard for Daenerys,” Missandei acknowledged. “She is close to both Rhaegar and Aemon. She relates to Aemon and understands his reasons for wanting to leave.”

“Where does he want to go?” She didn’t care about the Targaryens or their family disputes, but she couldn’t deny she was curious. If Aemon was who she thought he was, then they shared blood and she wanted to know more about him.

“The Wall. He’s been asking his father for permission to join the Night’s Watch for years,” Missandei told her.

“He’s heir to the Iron Throne, why would he give that up and go North?” she asked, working to keep her voice as soft as Missandei’s. The last thing she needed was to get caught talking about the Targaryens.

“The King never accepted him,” Missandei said, moving closer so they could whisper with ease. “By the time I arrived, Aemon was rarely included in decisions. Daenerys is more involved that Aemon. Prince Rhaegar and Daenerys try but to the rest, it’s as if he doesn’t exist.” She finished with a chilling realization, “I don’t think I’ve ever heard the King call Aemon by name.”

That sounded terrible. If true, she could understand why Aemon and Daenerys bonded. It was likely they both felt trapped, it made sense for them to support one another.

She searched the room for Daenerys and found the silver-haired Princess talking to the Imp. “You should go to her,” Missandei advised.

Should she? She didn’t want to draw attention, but she was equally determined not to embarrass Daenerys by acting in a way that was outside the norm for a guard. “Really?”

Missandei nodded in Daenerys’s direction again. Tyrion was walking away, and Daenerys remained behind. “She’s likely bored.”

Okay then, she’d walk over, check on Daenerys and see if the Princess was ready to leave. That seemed reasonable enough. She could do that.

R-C

After Tyrion, Daenerys intended to escape. She’d return to Missandei and Arya and then slip away while everyone else was occupied. There were enough people, moving about that no one would notice her missing. Clever as her scheme was, it didn’t account for Rhaegar coming back to continue their fight. What was wrong with him? He was usually so even-tempered. Typically, a disagreement between the siblings lasted only minutes before they traded apologies. She knew he could be tough and curt but never with her, Daenerys was the exception. She didn’t understand what it was about Arya that upset him so fiercely.

She had Arya coming at her from one side and Rhaegar the other. She knew which one she’d rather meet first and took a big step toward her guard.

“You survived,” she said when Arya was standing in front of her. For the length of the meeting, Arya had been behind her, out of her line of sight. She took a moment to appreciate having her close again. She looked regal and strong in her armor. In a castle full of black banners of three-headed dragons, Arya’s sun marking set her apart. Assessing the armor caused Daenerys to think back to what she now knew was beneath it. Again, she was struck by just how well the steel and fabric combined to hide her curves. She could hardly be blamed for not realizing Arya was a woman at first, not when all the telltale parts were concealed so effectively. Even her boots were unique. Tan leather, with thick soles, extending higher up her legs than was customary for Targaryen soldiers. She tried to count the laces and gave up almost instantly. How long did it take her to tie her boots every morning? To complete the outfit, she wore her helmet. Daenerys focused on the steel divider and tried to pick out the dent Arya showed her. The castle had a forge, she could have the helmet repaired easily enough. Her study of the helmet ended when she became distracted by Arya’s eyes. They were so intense. The only other person she knew who had grey eyes was Aemon and his weren’t the same shade. Looking into Aemon’s eyes never made her feel the way she did now.

“Are they always that long?”

She chuckled. By King’s Landing standards, that was relatively short. She didn’t think Arya would appreciate knowing that, so she kept it to herself.

“How’s your head?” Regardless of Arya’s assurances, Daenerys wasn’t convinced her guard shouldn’t still be in bed.

“All that talking didn’t help, but it’s getting better.” They stared at one another for a moment. Daenerys was trying to decide if Arya was being truthful and Arya appeared to be waiting patiently until she was done. “What’s next?” she asked, adjusting her position so they were side by side and no longer face to face.

She didn’t really know. “Nothing, I suppose.” There was nothing else on her calendar for the day. Another afternoon spent sitting in her chambers, at least she had Missandei and now Arya to help her pass the time.

“Nothing?” Arya lamented. “It sounds to me like you’re free to do anything and that’s much better than nothing.”

Was she imagining the devious gleam in her eye? It was hard to be certain. “That’s true,” she said trying to supress the smile she felt coming.

“You did the Princess-y bit, for your family, for the Realm, now I think you should do something for you.”

Excitement was bubbling up inside her. Arya was right. She really could do anything. She sat through the meeting she had no role in, she played her part of the dutiful Princess, why should she just go upstairs and wait for the next time someone wanted to use her? She tried multiple times to get Jorah to allow her to leave the castle in moments like this, but he always refused. He justified it by whining about potential risks and her non-existent responsibilities. It was so repetitive and infuriating that she eventually stopped asking. Until Arya brought it up, she never considered that she might be able to go out into the city for a few minutes. Jorah wouldn’t approve, but he wasn’t her guard anymore. He was in the room, standing at a post not far from his usual one. .

“I’ll go get Missandei,” she said as she was overwhelmed by the potential the day suddenly held.

Right on time, someone arrived to fuck everything up. “Dany, how are you?” Why was he bothering her? Shouldn’t be he with Aemon or at least looking for Aemon?

She turned to her brother and gave him her fakest smile, the kind she had never needed to use with him before. “I’m fine thank you. We were just leaving.”

“You can’t leave,” he said leaning forward on his cane to invade her space.

“Yes, I can. I was asked to attend, and I did. I’m require elsewhere.” She was pleased with how confident she sounded.

“Where?” he inquired.

“Shouldn’t you be with Aemon instead of doing whatever this is?” she asked him plainly.

He sighed and showed a bit of real emotion. “You know him, he doesn’t want to talk right now anyway. He needs space, so I’m going to give him some.”

“I need space too,” she said, “if you’ll excuse us.”

“You can’t leave,” he said again. “Have you said goodbye to Lord Baelish? He is expecting you.”

She did her best to muffle the Valyrian curse she couldn’t contain. “Fine, I will say farewell to Lord Baelish and then we are leaving.”

Arya nodded and put a hand on her back, as she had in the hallway when the guards were approaching. Daenerys didn’t mind, in fact, she quite liked it. “Why don’t you leave us to speak, we haven’t had the chance to get acquainted yet.”

How dare he!? Who was this man and what had he done with her loving brother? “No!” Arya didn’t deserve an interrogation. “She’s my guard, not yours.”

Arya’s hand remained where it was, but her thumb brushed back and forth. Daenerys felt it through her dress. If the purpose had been to calm her it didn’t work. She was still angry at her brother, but that was secondary to the way Arya’s touch seemed to ignite her entire body. She sucked in a deep breath as she tried to regain control of herself. Her hands itched to do something, her mouth was dry, her toes curled in her shoes and goosebumps popped up all over her arms.

“It’s okay,” Arya said, granting her a slight smile to reassure her. Her hand dropped, leaving Daenerys feeling cold and disappointed.

That was all the encouragement Rhaegar needed. He raised his free hand over his head and seconds later Jorah joined them. “Ser Jorah will escort you to Lord Baelish and I’ll keep your guard company until you return.”

She looked to Arya one more time, to confirm she didn’t mind. She was as fearless as she’d been when she refused the King’s command. Daenerys was not. She didn’t like this one bit. Jorah presence was too convenient. Had they coordinated this in advance? Why should Rhaegar get to make demands on them? He wasn’t King yet. “You look beautiful Princess,” Jorah told her as they walked away from Arya.

“Uh-huh,” she responded, not caring if it was petty. She wasn’t going to pretend their earlier argument hadn’t happened. Jorah may want to forget it, or move past it, but Daenerys wasn’t nearly as forgiving. Why did she have to be polite and proper when everyone else behaved like children? It was rude of Rhaegar to say she couldn’t leave when she wanted to. It was rude to send Daenerys on an errand so he could question Arya without her there. It was something else entirely when Jorah involved himself. She thought she made herself clear earlier, but he was still there, ready and willing to fill a void the second it presented itself.

R-C

“There,” Rhaegar said as Mormont led Daenerys away. “Since you’re going to be protecting my sister, I’d like to learn more about you.” When she didn’t say anything, he tried to explain it in another way. “I’m just going to ask you a few questions.” Did he interpret her silence as stupidity?

“Okay.”

“Okay,” he repeated back. “My sister tells me you know Oberyn Martell.”

Was he serious? Why was he acting as though she was the dumbest person in the room? Was he toying with her, trying to encourage her to open up without asking what he really wanted to know. It wasn’t going to work and if it was games he was after, she could oblige. She reached up and removed her helmet, tucking it under her arm. With her free hand she ran her fingers through her dark hair, brushing it away from her eyes.

It was subtle but his eyes widened, and he put more weight on his cane when he saw her face unobstructed. He kept waiting and she kept staring straight at the man whose cruel choice led her family to ruin. The longer their stand-off went, the paler the Price became.

Finally, he tired of the silence. “Nothing to say for yourself?” he barked harshly.

She smirked at him. “You haven’t asked me a question yet.”

“Okay then, do you know Oberyn Martell?”

This was pointless. “You know I do.”

“Do you know all the Martells?”

“Most of them,” she said vaguely. She knew what he was getting at, but why should she make it easy for him.

He changed tactics without learning anything. “Daenerys is very important, not only to the Realm but to me…”

She felt no guilt for not letting him finish. Prince or not, this was Rhaegar Targaryen. He kidnapped her Aunt that started the Rebellion. Today may not be the day she got to kill him, but it also wasn’t the day she let him bully her either. “Get in line,” she said coldly.

“Excuse me?”

“You were going to threaten me,” she clarified. “You were going to tell me how important Daenerys is, how special she is and then how if anything happens to her while I serve as her guard, I’ll be sorry. Did I miss anything?”

“How…”

Whether he was going to ask how she knew that, or how she felt brave enough to speak to him that way, it didn’t matter. “You’ll need to get in line behind Mormont,” Arya said pointing him out. “He already promised me a painful death if anything should happen to Daenerys.”

Whatever he expected when he came over to talk to her, she could guarantee it wasn’t this. He was used to people being awed by him. To them, he was the handsome Targaryen, the brave warrior who sacrificed his legs for the people of Westeros. He was their Prince and their future King. To Arya all he’d ever be is the fucking bastard who kidnapped her aunt.

“Daenerys is a Princess, you should address her properly and with respect, using a title,” he declared in an attempt to demonstrate his superiority.

“I would, in fact I did, but then the Princess explicitly requested that I abandon all titles.”

He didn’t know what to say to that and she enjoyed his discomfort much more than was healthy. “I should really be getting back to Daenerys,” she said pointedly.

His empty hand was suddenly filled by her forearm. “Wait!” he commanded.

She considered pulling away, wanted to, but didn’t think the crowd of witnesses would side with her if she knocked their beloved Prince to the floor. “Yes?”

“The Martells do not like me.” It was the plainest and most sincere thing she’d ever heard him say. “There is a history there and most of their reasons are valid.”

She hadn’t anticipated that. She defiantly didn’t think she’d see the Crown Prince of the Seven Kingdoms standing before her looking ashamed of his behavior. “That has nothing to do with me,” Arya said. “The Hand of the King requested guards, I was chosen, so I came.”

Rhaegar took his hand off her and shifted to put his weight more fully on the cane. “You didn’t want to come?” he realized too late.

“No,” she said simply. How was it that the Prince hadn’t heard the story? Aerys, Tywin, Daenerys, Jorah any number of them could have told him how it happened. To clarify things, she elaborated. “Prince Doran ordered me to, and I serve him. When no one else wanted a woman, Daenerys accepted me.”

“When I last saw Oberyn he vowed revenge. I thought you came for that purpose, as his agent.”

“I’m no one’s agent,” she assured him, “I’m nobody. If Prince Oberyn was seeking aid, I doubt he’d choose a girl fresh out of training.”

She thought she made a compelling argument, but Rhaegar wasn’t buying it. “Where did he find you? Not too many people in Sunspear look like…” he paused and sounded almost pained when he finished with a weak, “you.”

“We met in the Water Gardens,” she told him vaguely. While he focused on her connection to Oberyn, Arya was much more interested in what she learned.

So Rhaegar was hostile because he feared she’d come to exact House Martell’s vengeance. She could also guess what he meant when speaking of her appearance too. ‘Not too many people in Sunspear look like Lyanna.’ He was giving Oberyn a lot of credit, assuming he picked her, possibly because of her resemblance to Lyanna, then trained her and manipulated events to get her invited to King’s Landing. That was a lot of moving parts, but then again, few men were more devious and deadly than Oberyn Martell, especially when the Viper felt wronged.

“That’s it, you just met him in the Water Gardens?” Rhaegar poked, hoping she’d give up more.

“You’d have to ask him why, he just said he saw potential in me and offered to help me train.” It was strange condensing her relationship with Oberyn to those few words. They had met in the Water Gardens and he had offered to train her, she was just overlooking the long years between the two events.

“So, he didn’t send you here?” he asked directly, finally realizing it was easier and more effective than any other approach. “You’ll give me your word Daenerys is safe with you?”

“Oberyn didn’t send me and you have my word, I won’t let anything happen to Daenerys.” He seemed satisfied and she probably should have let it go, but she made one final point. “For what it’s worth, if Oberyn or I sought revenge Prince, we wouldn’t use an innocent woman to achieve it.”

R-C

There had been a line of people waiting to see the man known across the Realm as “Littlefinger,” but she waited without complaint. She even tolerated Jorah’s repeated attempts to engage in a conversation. He greeted her warmly when it was her turn. “Princess, what a lovely surprise.” Hadn’t Rhaegar said he was expecting her? Yes! That is exactly what he said, but it was a lie, so he could be alone with Arya. She seethed under the surface while she made small talk, asking about his destination and his plans for the future. “You’ll see me again,” he promised before they said goodbye.

With her obligations met, she was ready to put an end to this. She crossed the room with purpose. Jorah’s longer legs allowed him to keep pace easily, much to her annoyance. “How’s it going with the Sand?”

She didn’t want to do this again. They’d already spoken about Arya and she wasn’t interested in a repeat performance. He said her name like it was an insult. Daenerys wasn’t impressed. She wished more of the world viewed unwed parents the way the Dornish did. She happily recalled how Oberyn spent time with each of his daughters. Was his love for them any less real just because his affection for their mothers wasn’t everlasting? It didn’t seem that way to the Princess. Arya couldn’t control who her parents were and in what situation they had her. Daenerys had never married, though there had been plenty of interest. In her younger years she was eager to have a suitor take her away. Now she dreaded the day her father was lucid enough to decide to marry her off. Most of the marriages she saw were carefully crafted for political benefit. None looked particularly happy. She saw lying, she saw violence, and most betrayed their union with alarming frequency. If that was what it meant to be married, she could wait. Daenerys wasn’t a fool, she knew that when the day came, her father would have more say in her husband than she did. She was too important to wed for love, and not powerful enough to choose for herself. Given a choice, she’d gladly take a relationship like Oberyn and Ellaria’s over a typically King’s Landing marriage.

“Daenerys?” Jorah asked, pulling her from her thoughts.

“I’m sorry what?” she muttered, rising up onto her toes to try and spot her brother and Arya.

“Are you okay? Are there problems with the Sand?”

He did it again, saying her name like a curse. “Must we do this here?” When Jorah didn’t apologize or relent, she sighed. “Everything is fine, Arya is great. Happy now?”

“I’m sorry if I upset you earlier,” he said a little too sweetly. “I was concerned for you.”

Daenerys knew his motives had little to do with her welfare and a lot more to do with his status. “Yes, well as I said, everything is going well. Arya’s recovering quickly.”

“About what happened to her,” he began. Hadn’t they said all they had to on this matter? She didn’t think he’d bring it up again so soon. “That never should have been permitted.”

She stopped her search temporarily and looked at Jorah. At least they could agree on that. Perhaps she’d gotten through to him with her outburst. “I know, three guards attacking one woman, how proud they must be.”

The knight’s cheeks reddened, and he looked down at the floor between them. “Yeah.”

Why was he suddenly uncomfortable? There was only one reason she could think of. Her weary frustration shifted to anger. It wasn’t just Rhaegar she was furious with anymore. She crossed her arms over her chest. “What did you mean? What shouldn’t have been permitted?”

“Oh nothing. You’re right, this is not the time or the place for this discussion. It’s not important, forget I said anything.”

To Daenerys it was important, very important. “Tell me Ser, speak freely. What about Arya’s situation did you think was handled poorly?” If he wanted to make baseless claims, and somehow hold Arya at fault for the attack, then she was going to force him to own it. She hadn’t wanted to talk about this, but he insisted, and she was going to make Jorah regret his inability to let the matter rest.

“As you said,” he tried cautiously, “three men shouldn’t be needed to apprehend one woman.”

He was more confident by the end, looking at her again. “And?” she prompted.

It took a moment, but Jorah’s original point came out. “She never should have come here. She should have admitted she didn’t have a horse before she got on the ship, then you could have selected another guard. She should have stayed in Sunspear.”

It was probably advisable to say nothing and continue her hunt for Arya, but she just couldn’t. “So, if I understand your position correctly Ser, you are fine with the gate guards pummelling her for asking to see me, but Arya is an unsuitable guard because she’s isn’t wealthy?”

“Wealth is not the issue.”

“Neither is the horse, Arya and I are going to the stables as soon as we are done here to find her the perfect mount.”

“It is not your responsibility to buy her things.” He reached for her hand and she let him have it only momentarily before snatching it back.

“She didn’t ask for it, and probably won’t accept it, but she’s my friend and a great wrong was done to her by men loyal to my family.”

“That doesn’t mean you owe her anything.”

“You’re right,” she confirmed, and he smiled, thinking he won. “I don’t owe her anything, but if I choose to buy my friend a gift, there is nothing wrong with that.”

Jorah was becoming exasperated. “She is your guard, not your friend.”

He had some nerve. It was Jorah who said he could be both her protector and her friend. In fact, he claimed that him caring for Daenerys made him better at his job. Now he was standing there and saying Arya had to be one or the other. It was absurd. “Were you not my guard, and my friend Jorah?” she asked, putting him on the spot.

“That’s not the same,” he whined. “You’ve known me for years. It’s different with her.”

“It doesn’t have to be,” Daenerys contended, stopping short of telling him she already preferred Arya.

“What happened at the gate wouldn’t have happened if she remained with you. She never should have left you, guarding you is her only responsibility.”

Every word he uttered made her angrier. “You know I was always protected, because you escorted me to the castle!” she reminded him. “At the gate, Arya did nothing wrong. She presented to the guards, identified herself and told them I was waiting for her, and they refused her entry. When she tried to explain further, they beat her and wrapped her in chains!”

“It wouldn’t have happened if she stayed with you, as she was told to do.”

Did he think one of his weak arguments was going to sway her? Did he expect her to abruptly change her opinion and agree with him? He must, otherwise why continue? Maybe he just couldn’t help himself. “Perhaps the fault is ours,” she countered. “If we hadn’t left Arya, she wouldn’t have gotten knocked unconscious.”

Jorah remained determined to find Arya guilty of something. “If she followed the soldier’s instructions, they wouldn’t have needed to subdue her.”

“Subdue her?” she repeated bitterly. “They beat her, and their instructions were to leave. Tell me Ser, if it had been you at the gate, ordered to leave, while I was inside, would you have done as they instructed?”

He was finally beginning to see he was on the losing side. “I think I would have found a way to explain myself without causing a fight, so it’s not a fair comparison.”

“It’s exactly the same thing! I told Arya to meet us in the castle when she was ready. When she tried, she got a beating.” She’d had enough of this. “You know what, thank you for upsetting me for a second time. I appreciate the escort, but I’ll be fine from here.”

“Princess, I…”

She wasn’t going to waste any more time on this. The whole argument was needless. She knew how he felt about Arya already and he knew she didn’t share his view, so why did he bring it up again? Was he trying to anger her?

“Daenerys I’m sorry…”

She was curious what exactly he thought he was apologizing for, but if the price to find out was prolonging their time together, it was too high. “Good day, Ser.”

When she stepped away, he came with her. She turned back to him and before she could speak, he did. “At least let me return you to your brother?”

“Do you no longer follow my orders?”.

“Of course, Princess, always,” he pledged.

“Then prove it.”

R-C

“Daenerys said you two have somewhere else to be, where is that?” He was making more of an effort now that they’d spoken. For the time being, he seemed willing to accept that she hadn’t come to hurt Daenerys on Oberyn’s orders. It would be a shock when she found him guilty for his crimes against the Starks instead. He didn’t like her and probably never would but was less hostile. She also detected a distinct change when he mentioned his sister. Her gut told her his affection for Daenerys was genuine.

“I’m her guard, I go where she goes.”

“But where are you going this time?”

“I have no idea Prince, I guess I’ll find out when we get there.”

“You can’t let her do that,” he said too loudly. Several of the nobles nearby looked their way. “She can’t just roam the streets.”

“Am I her guard or her jailor?” When no answer came, she made another point. “She is a Princess, not a prisoner. I don’t see a reason she can’t do anything she wants.”

“It’s not safe!” Rhaegar complained.

“I’ll be there to keep her safe.”

“She may be needed here. She’s a Princess and urgent matters often require her contributions.”

He wasn’t going to change his mind, and neither was she, so Arya tried to spin this a different way. “Do you want her upstairs in her chambers, feeling trapped, bored and lonely?”

The question caught him off guard. “Of course not, but she can’t just go wherever she wants, when she wants. She’s needed here.”

What they needed was to get their lies straight. Jorah made it clear Rhaegar tried to keep his sister separate from the King and his advisors. “We both know you don’t involve Daenerys in politics, so I doubt she’s needed here all day, every day.”

It took longer for him to respond. He wasn’t prepared for her to be so knowledgeable, making no attempt to clarify or correct any of Arya’s assumptions. “She still has responsibilitie.”

That was the crux of the problem. Daenerys wanted to come and go, while the King and the Prince wanted her close in case they had use for her. “Do any of those responsibilities require her to remain in the keep today?”

He was quiet for nearly a minute. “The King is holding meetings for the rest of the day.”

“Is Daenerys invited?”

He bristled a bit at that. “She’s my sister and a Targaryen. She’s always welcome.”

“Fine,” Arya allowed, “if she goes, will anyone listen to anything she has to say, or will it be like everyday in Dorne when she was expected to sit there, look pretty and shut her mouth?”

“That’s not fair.”

Arya scoffed. “Not fair? In Sunspear Tywin Lannister berated her for leaving the Water Gardens. He wasn’t upset because she missed a meeting or because they were deprived of her counsel, he was mad she wasn’t exactly where he put her.”

He swallowed hard. “I didn’t hear about that.”

“Did you hear about the night I walked in on your brother about to punch her? “

“Daenerys mentioned a fight,” he admitted. “I’m sorry, Viserys is…”

“This isn’t about him,” she snapped, forgetting the need for caution, “it’s about Daenerys. She’s stuck here and you dictate when she can leave, who has to go with her, and when she will be back. She has no control over any aspect of her life.”

“She’s royalty. I know how she feels, believe me, I know she wants to do more, to see more, I was just like her once. I wish I could give her that, I do, but the King likes having her close.”

“Give her something,” she pleaded. It went against her every instinct to ask the kidnapping Prince for anything, but Daenerys did save her life. If she got sick every time she remembered this moment, it’d be worthwhile, to begin repaying the debt she owed. “Daenerys tells me you’re close, that you care about her.”

“Of course I do. I love her.” She believed him. “I try to involve her when I can, I invite her to meetings when I know the topic is something she’ll enjoy or if it includes people she’d like.”

“That’s good, but what about the rest of the time?”

“It’s not safe,” Rhaegar said quietly. “I know she hates being upstairs, but it’s better than being here.” He looked toward the throne, making sure she understood what he meant.

“If I guarantee Daenerys is at every appointment, every place you need her, ready and on time, will you help?”

He didn’t refuse outright which is what she was expecting. She didn’t blame Daenerys for not wanting to be stuck here, she’d been in the Red Keep a day and she was already aching to leave. “She needs to be at dinner, every night. People will notice if she’s not.”

“No matter what is going on, I’ll have her at dinner,” the guard promised.

“Find me before you leave the castle, I’ll make sure she isn’t going to miss something vital, that’s the best I can do.”

“Thank you,” she said, swallowing her own feelings and trying to be polite for Daenerys’s sake. She needed this and if Arya suffering through the occasional conversation with Rhaegar helped her get it, she’d manage. “I know this will mean a lot to her.”

She thought they were done. He moved his cane but turned back. “You’ll protect her?”

“With my life,” Arya swore.

“I hope you’re as good as they say.”

“I’m better.”

He chuckled. “You definitely know Oberyn.”

R-C

She found who she was looking for not long after Jorah wisely gave her the space she asked for. She intended to rescue Arya by force if necessary. She’d been gone a fair amount of time between Baelish and Jorah. She didn’t want to think about what Arya had been subjected to while she was away.

When she got close enough to hear snippets of their exchange her feet stopped moving without permission. “… safe,” Rhaegar was saying. He didn’t sound angry not like he was with they discussed Arya the night before. “I know she hates being upstairs, but it’s better than being here.” What were they talking about? He wasn’t accusing Arya of anything.

“If I guarantee Daenerys is at every appointment, every place you need her, ready and on time, will you help?” It wasn’t surprising that they were speaking about her, she was what they had in common, the shock was how Arya appeared to be trying to get Rhaegar to allow her to leave the castle. She held her breath and waited for the answer. The longer it went before he said ‘no’ the more Daenerys began to hope. Was he really considering it? What had Arya said to him?

She could feel the tension from several feet away. “She needs to be at dinner, every night. People will notice if she’s not.”

Only the large number of people nearby kept her from squealing like a girl and jumping up and down. He was agreeing.

Arya’s agreement was immediate. “No matter what is going on,” she said, “I’ll have her at dinner.”

She wanted to run over and hug them both, but she didn’t know if that was the best idea. Perhaps it would be better to let them think they had their talk in private. Rhaegar wasn’t finished. “Find me before you leave the castle, I’ll make sure she isn’t going to miss something vital, that’s the best I can do.” It wasn’t the best he could do, it was better. It was so much more than she ever thought he’d allow.

“Thank you,” Arya said. “I know this will mean a lot to her.” She was right about that.

Rhaegar looked ready to leave before he stopped. “You’ll protect her?”

Her eyes were focused on the Prince when she replied, “With my life.” The speed of her answer and the sincerity packed into those few words made Daenerys shiver. Even if she hadn’t wanted to come to King’s Landing, there was no doubting Arya’s commitment.

“I hope you’re as good as they say.” Rhaegar remarked as he walked away.

One last time she was quick with a retort. “I’m better,” she told him, her claim dripping with confidence.

Her brother laughed lightly, and that sound covered whatever he said back to her. Having heard many things that weren’t meant for her, she dropped back and tried to decide her next move.

She wanted to throw herself into Arya’s arms and thank her for everything she did. but she was afraid doing so would embarrass her friend. She went to Missandei first. “Are you alright?” the handmaiden asked when Daenerys got close. “I saw you with Jorah and the Prince was with Arya.”

She clutched her hand. “Everything is fine, I promise, better than fine. Arya did the impossible.”

“What did she do?” Missandei asked as Daenerys dragged her toward the guard.

“You’ll see.” She wanted to tell Missandei how sweet Arya was, but there wasn’t enough space between where they were and where they were going to fit it all in. Rather than tell her half of the story, she elected to share none of it. She wondered how long it would take Arya to reveal the new arrangement. Would she keep it a secret, or would it be the first thing she told the Princess when they reunited?

When there was about fifteen feet between them, Arya saw them and smiled as she took a long stride in their direction. “There you are.”

“Here I am.” With those three words Arya returned her helmet to her head and spent a moment keeping her eyeline clear. Why had she removed her helmet?

“How was Rhaegar?” she asked.

“I’ll tell you everything but what do you ladies think about getting out of here first?”

She was asking, because she really wanted Daenerys’s opinion and Missandei’s too. She had no doubt that if either woman wanted to stay, Arya would’ve been accommodating. It was a such a small, trivial decision, but it was profoundly important because it was hers to make. She looked to Missandei first. With a bright smile, she nodded her approval. “Where do you want to go?”

“I think the question is where do you want to go Daenerys?” By the end, Arya was smiling, not the short, slight smiles she was used to, but a full smile that stayed on her face. Daenerys thought she looked amazing. “Let’s go someplace quieter and I’ll tell you everything, I think you’re going to like it.”

Daenerys assumed they’d stop in one of the alcoves where they could talk but Arya went all the way down the hall, turned a corner and kept going. When they stopped, they were in a small sitting room, one Daenerys had never been in and didn’t know existed. “No one will bother us here.”

The room, if it could be called that, had one door, no window and was barely big enough to house the table. It was a long rectangle of wood, but unlike most of the furniture in her home, it had no engravings, it wasn’t polished and appeared to be finished in a very bland brown color. There were chips in the paint and the wood, and when she sat, she noticed a visible knot in the tabletop. To sit on, there was a matching brown bench that ran the length. She couldn’t see it, but she imagined the other side had one too. “Have you ever been here?” she asked Missandei. “I didn’t know this was here.”

Missandei sat on Daenerys’s side of the table but Arya went around to the other, confirming that there was a bench over there as well. “I’m not surprised,” Arya said as she was lowering herself down.

“I knew it was here,” Missandei admitted, “but I don’t think I ever came inside.”

How could that be? She spent many more years in the castle than the two of them combined. “What is this?”

A place for the servants, Princess,” Missandei explained. “When they are done for the day, they meet in out of the way rooms like this.”

Now she understood why she didn’t know about it and had never been invited. She was glad the staff had a place of their own, but she did wish there was more than just a table and benches. “How did you learn about it? You’ve only been here a day,” she asked pointing across to Arya.

“When I was looking for your chambers this morning, I met a couple of servants. One of them told me about this place. Said it was usually empty during the day and was good if I needed to rest.”

She was embarrassed to realize there was a whole second world happening right under her nose. There was the royalty and the nobles with their politics and their power struggles, and then there was the staff. They had lives, families, passions, hobbies, interests. It felt wrong sitting in their space. Should she leave? What if someone came in and found her there?

“So,” Arya prodded, lifting out of her seat to poke Daenerys’s hand with her finger. “Do you want to hear about my conversation with your brother?”

She really did. “Yes, I’m sorry I was just thinking about something else. Please tell me he was nice to you.”

“He wasn’t rude, but I think we understand each other.”

Well that was something, wasn’t it? “No violence?” she verified, even though she was confident they traded only words.

“He thought Oberyn sent me here to get revenge for the Martells.” She knew of Rhaegar’s suspicions but didn’t expect he’d come right out and ask Arya directly. He was usually more diplomatic. “Once I explained that I only came because Tywin wanted a guard, he seemed to ease up a little.”

Daenerys hadn’t heard any part of that. It must’ve happened when she was busy with Baelish. “I’m sorry Arya, I don’t know what’s gotten into him lately.”

“Don’t worry about that,” Arya said dismissively. “In our conversation I was able to confirm you won’t be needed for anything else today. Sooo?” She was smiling again as she stretched out the last word.

“So what?” Daenerys tried, feigning ignorance.

She thought she was teasing Arya, but things turned quickly. “It’s tragic how forgetful the elderly can be, isn’t it Missandei?”

The handmaiden giggled and Daenerys gasped in shock. “Did you just call me old? You are only a few years younger than me.”

Unrepentant, Arya kept going. “True, but I remember what we were talking about.”

She thought back. The last thing they talked about was Rhaegar and Arya. There were no pending questions left over, so she went further back. She remembered being temporarily distracted by the room and asking questions about it, but they were answered. Before they came in here, whatever Arya was talking about happened before. What were they talking about in the throne room? It took time for her to find the right memory, but neither woman complained. She grinned proudly when she was prepared to answer. “Where do I want to go? I don’t know, where do you two want to go?”

“Nope,” she said shaking her head, “Nope, we don’t get to pick today, today we’re celebrating and that means Daenerys chooses.”

She’d seen Arya’s softer side on occasion, but never like this. As she was setting the rule that Daenerys had to choose, she smiled apologetically at Missandei. “Sorry,” she said, “you can pick the next one.”

“I think Daenerys should pick too.”

That wasn’t fair, they were teaming up on her. She’d have no chance now. “Anywhere?” she clarified, wanting to understand the limitations.

“Anywhere,” Arya validated. “As long as I get you back here for dinner, you’re free to do what you want in the meantime.”

Arya hadn’t made her wait long to learn of the concessions she bargained for. Missandei understood how significant that was and she grabbed Daenerys’s hand, interlocking their fingers. “That’s great, think of all the places you could go.” It was great and they were only scratching the surface of what Arya had done. In one day. she achieved more than Daenerys had in years. “You could spend time at the port, or visit the orphanage, or both.”

“I talked with Prince Rhaegar,” Arya began, “and we agreed that it’s unfair to have you locked away in your chambers, unable to leave, just because something might come up and it might need your attention.”

“Daenerys, did you hear that, that’s wonderful,” Missandei said, gripping her hand tighter.

“We reached an agreement,” Arya told them.

Since Daenerys wasn’t asking any questions, Missandei did. “What sort of agreement?”

“When there is nothing happening in the keep, when your schedule is clear, he’s willing to let you leave.”

Hearing it a second time was no less emotional. This time she could do something. She got up and rounded the table. By the time Daenerys was on her side, Arya was standing and had taken several steps to shorten Daenerys’s walk. When she was close enough, she did exactly what she wanted to the first time. She threw her arms around Arya’s neck and hugged her. Arya ducked a bit to accommodate her and Daenerys took advantage rising up onto her toes. “Thank you,” she said quietly, for only Arya to hear. “I’ll never be able to repay you for this, ever.”

When the hug ended, she heard the rest of the details. “When we want to go, I need to check with the Prince first, he’ll let me know what’s happening and if we can sneak you away. We can go wherever you want. provided we always make it back by dinner. Those are the rules.”

Missandei was vibrating she was so happy. She knew how meaningful this was. She’d witnessed Daenerys’s struggle up close, usually when Daenerys was confined so was Missandei, because she stayed to keep the Princess company.

“I know it’s not perfect,” Arya continued, “I know we won’t be able to travel too far since we’ll have to be back by dinner every night, but…”

Daenerys took both of Arya’s hands and then sat down on the bench, pulling Arya with her. “This is perfect, I don’t care if there are fifty rules, it’d still be perfect, because I can leave the castle sometimes.”

“I’ll still have to come along,” Arya informed her.

“I’d want you with me anyway, so…”

“So,” Arya said, squeezing her hands, “all that’s left is for you to tell us our first stop. We’ve got hours to fill before dinner.”

She was right about that. “Let’s decide on the way. Arya can you go get your cloak, and leave your helmet?”

She answered with a nod. “Anything else?”

“Nope, Missandei and I will go get ready and we can meet at the stables.”

She wanted to stay in that moment, but time was wasting, and she had years to make up for. She reluctantly released Arya’s hands and headed for the door. Arya said goodbye and disappeared toward the barracks. “Do you want to change your clothes?” Missandei wondered.

“I can take care of that. I have something special I need your help with.”

That was all Missandei needed to hear. “Anything I can do, I will.”

“I want you to go to the stables, ahead of us. Speak to the stablemaster and let him know that I’ll be coming with my new guard to pick out her horse. Give him the small purse you’re currently carrying for me and explain that I’ll return in the next few days with gold to settle the outstanding balance. He is not to discuss the price with Arya under any circumstances.”

“I’ll take care of it.”

Before Missandei could get away Daenerys was by her side, whispering. “I heard the end of her conversation with Rhaegar. She asked him to let me leave the keep sometimes. I’ve asked countless times, I’ve begged, and he always says ‘no’. I don’t know how she changed his mind, but she did.”

“She cares about you. You go prepare for your ride. I’ll take care of everything at the stables.”

“Thank you!” she yelled out before Missandei got too far away.

Just before she got to the stairs, she heard the reply. “Your Welcome,” yelled louder, and from further away. Missandei was one of a kind.

R-C

Despite being the fastest of them, she was last to arrive at the stables. Her quarters were on the opposite side of the keep from Daenerys’s. The Princess was already petting her horse while Missandei fed him from a basket. She noticed that they were preparing only one horse but assumed there was a reason.

“Ready?”

Not wanting a repeat of the last time, they discussed it, she broached the subject directly. “Can I borrow a stallion while I’m here?”

Daenerys left her horse with a final stroke of its mane and then jogged the few steps to Arya, taking her hand. “Absolutely, let’s go find you the right one.”

“Any horse is fin…”

She didn’t get to finish. “Your horse needs to suit you. Something strong and quick, like you.”

The stablemaster was a middle-aged man with dirt on his pants and hands. He nodded politely to the guard when she was dragged in by Daenerys. “See any you like?”

“They’re all great Princess, any available would be fine.”

At least she got to complete the sentence, but it had as little effect as her interrupted one from earlier. “I want you to use a horse you really like, so pretend you are shopping for yourself.” She was sure her face showed her confusion. Daenerys poked her with an elbow. “Try it,” she pleaded with a pout. “If you were going to purchase a horse, which of these would you like.”

“We’re wasting time,” she noted, thinking that Daenerys would be eager to get their adventure started.

“I can wait all day,” Daenerys declared. “Thanks to you, we can see the city whenever my father doesn’t need me.”

“We should still go…”

“We should get this right,” Daenerys adjusted. “We have plenty of time.” Her expression softened, “Give it a try,” she urged. “Pick a horse, please.”

As she went to give the mounts a better look, she told herself it was because it would speed things along. She did it so they could leave, so Daenerys could get out of the castle, and it had nothing to do with her saying “please,” or the scent of her perfume that Arya could smell when the Targaryen moved too close.

R-C

She was proud of herself. She’d gotten Arya to choose her horse. Arya still believed it was a loan, but Daenerys had no intention of taking it back. She wanted Arya to pick because this would be her horse, in King’s Landing, Dorne or anywhere else she went.

After some back and forth Arya selected a tan stallion, one that would fit in well in Sunspear. Having spoken to the stablemaster before Arya arrived, she knew the particular breed was often used as warhorses by soldiers. It would be everything Arya might need.

“That was unnecessary,” Arya said as she led her horse out of the stable to stand next to Daenerys’s. “Any horse would…”

“Do you like it? I think you made a great choice.”

“He’s incredible, thank you Daenerys.”

‘He’s yours,’ she thought privately. That would remain a secret for now. “Let’s take him for a ride.”

Arya nodded, rewarding Daenerys with a smile that made all her effort worthwhile. The guard hesitated and looked to Missandei. “Where is your horse, can I get it for you?”

“I have things to do around the castle, so you’ll be going alone.”

She knew this already, because she and Missandei had discussed it. She told her handmaiden that whatever work there was could wait, but she refused. Their last exchange before Arya came into view echoed in her mind. “I think you and Arya will enjoy the chance to be alone together.”

Time with Arya wasn’t the worst thing she could think of. Rather than deny it, she accepted the truth in it. She smiled at her meddling friend. “You can still join us.”

“Have fun, relax, let her see the Daenerys few people do, the real you.”

Arya was moving quickly, meaning Daenerys had only enough time to say ‘thank you’ before they had to stop. She didn’t think this would be the last time Missandei brought up the subject of Arya. however. Strangely, Daenerys didn’t mind.

Back in the present, Arya was double and triple checking that Missandei didn’t want to come. Once she was convinced, she climbed up onto her new horse and waited for Daenerys to do the same. She was already wearing her cloak, covering her armor. Daenerys’s decision to ask her to wear it didn’t take into account that it would be another layer obscuring Arya’s form. On the upside, without the helmet Daenerys got a chance to see her face. Her hair was a little too long, and she had some bruises, and cuts but she was undeniably attractive, a fact Daenerys caught herself realizing more and more frequently. “Where do you want to go?” she asked Arya, since she didn’t have a firm destination in mind.

“Take me on a tour of your city. Show me your favorite places and then we’ll find some new ones.”

Daenerys grinned. She could do that. She caught sight of Missandei stepping back from the corner of her eye. Have fun,” she called to them as they trotted away.

She didn’t know where they’d go, or what they’d do when they got there, but she knew she’d have Arya with her, and they’d be free. Free of her father, her brothers, the guards, the servants, Tywin and the whole Red Keep. She didn’t think it would be hard to follow Missandei’s instruction.

R-C

Chapter Text

She didn’t think she’d ever be comfortable in the Red Keep, at least not while a Targaryen occupied the throne, but she was able to develop a routine. By the end of the first week she knew what to expect. Her days began early. She was given a bed in a barrack filled with the Unsullied. She didn’t mind it. They were quiet, respectful and were often up even before her. It wasn’t uncommon to see a large group of them training in the yard when she was on her way to meet Daenerys. She wanted to join them, to spar and test her skills against them, but so far, she hadn’t had the chance. She had to be ready and waiting when Daenerys left her room. Once they were together, she typically remained with the Princess until she retired for the night, which was often late into the evening. By that time, she was too tired to think about finding a partner to spar with.

The keep itself never slept. It was constantly busy. There were always people coming and going. Servants rushed around, cleaning up after one guest or preparing for another. Arya remembered what that was like and didn’t miss it. Daenerys’s and therefore Arya’s mornings were often filled with meetings. Most were of little consequence and none required a guard, but she went anyway. People came from all over Westeros for an audience with the King and his advisors. When they did, they typically brought wives or daughters with them. One of Daenerys’s primary duties was to meet these women and keep them entertained while the men were handling their business.

The conversations themselves were dull. Daenerys would ask about their journey and their life in whatever region they lived. Afterward, Missandei would bring a tray of snacks and they’d share tea. That was usually when the women would praise Daenerys’s dress, or her hair and compliment the Red Keep’s décor. It was formal, predictable and boring. Although Arya wanted to stick a knife in her ear just so she didn’t have to hear the same inane questions again, Daenerys never faltered. She was polite, charming and well-prepared. She knew in advance where the women hailed from and knew enough about each area to tailor her questions specifically for them. She was an attentive listener, asked intelligent follow-up questions and did a good job of making the women feel welcome. She didn’t hesitate to take them on a tour and accepted each time someone asked for permission to write to her. If that was all there was, it would be fair to assume Daenerys loved being a Princess, but Arya saw more. Daenerys’s smile vanished as soon as her guests were escorted out. Her shoulders would sag. and she’d let out a long, uneven breath as she covered her face with her hands. Missandei was always there, with a glass of cold water and a few words of comfort in Valyrian. They’d stay like that until the glass was empty and when it was, without fail Daenerys’s smile would once again be in place and she’d be ready for her next exchange.

With a little practice Arya learned to detect which of Daenerys’s smiles were genuine and which were fake. The distinction was in the eyes. When she smiled at some noblewoman’s joke or while complimenting a woman’s clothes, it was limited to her lips. They’d turn up, she’d show some of her straight, white teeth and then it was over. The real smiles were something else entirely. In addition to stretching wider and lasting longer, Daenerys’s sincere smiles caused her nose to twitch and her eyes to sparkle. More than once she had to remind herself not to stare.

After that first day the King hadn’t summoned his daughter or her guard back to the throne room, but that didn’t mean Daenerys wasn’t busy. Many appointments on her calendar had to be rescheduled when Aerys decided to take her to Dorne. As such, there was a long list of people eager for Daenerys’s attention and time. This was the reason they hadn’t been able to leave the keep for more than a few minutes since the day Daenerys took her on the tour. That day they spent hours together, just wandering. They went down to the water to look at the ships, then at Daenerys’s insistence they rode into the Kingswood to test the speed of Arya’s mount. Her horse was fast, but Daenerys kept pace easily. It was evident she was comfortable in the saddle, and really seemed to enjoy it. As they passed through Flea Bottom Daenerys pointed out the orphanage she frequented, but declined when Arya suggested they stop in. “We will soon,” she said as they carried on. On the Street of Steel, she encouraged Arya to stop and admire the goods. She tried not to linger too long, but it was so easy to get distracted with so many quality pieces on display. Rather than get annoyed Daenerys stayed by her side and offered her opinion on the different weapons. She thought about buying something, she had a little money now that Oberyn bought the venom, but it felt greedy to purchase a blade so soon after receiving her sword. She didn’t know what else she’d need while living in the capital, so she was reluctant to waste her gold on an unnecessary purchase, even a beautiful one.

They returned to the castle early to ensure they weren’t late. The change in Daenerys was immediate. As soon as they were back behind the high walls, she smiled less, no longer laughed and her eyes lacked the vibrance they had as she explored the city. To try and cheer her up, Arya promised they’d escape again as soon as possible. She meant it too, but so far it hadn’t happened. With each day, the Princess became a little more withdrawn, a little quieter and a little more reserved. Arya had tried to locate Rhaegar and seek his permission to leave but he’d been in meetings each time. She considered taking Daenerys out anyway, but she’d given the Prince her word. He may be a kidnapping raper, but Arya still felt bound to honor the terms of their agreement.

R-C

Daenerys found Aemon in the yard, practicing with his sword. “Are you alright?” The rest of the castle was enjoying an after-dinner drink, but Daenerys had felt brave enough to sneak away. She hadn’t even told Missandei or Arya where she was going, too afraid she’d encounter someone on the way that might stop her. This was a conversation that needed to happen between her and Aemon anyway. He’d been noticeably absent for days. In fact, she hadn’t seen him since her father decided to give Dragonstone to Viserys. More than once she knocked on his door, choosing a variety of times to maximize the chance he’d be inside, but he either was out, or he actively choosing not to answer.

“I’m fine,” he said unconvincingly. If his tone didn’t betray him the extra hard swing of his sword would’ve.

“I’m sorry about what happened. I’ll try and talk to my father, to make him see that you should be Lord…”

“Don’t!” Ameon interrupted, finally looking at her. “I always knew he hated me I should have seen this coming.”

She wanted to refute the statement, to say that her father despite his many flaws did not hate his own grandchild, but she couldn’t. Her father did hate Aemon and Daenerys had long since given up lying for him. “It’s wrong. Dragonstone belongs to Rhaegar, and you’re his heir, it should go to you.”

“It’s fine,” he said again, this time with more conviction. “Now there is nothing preventing me from joining the Night’s Watch.”

“You still want to go?” she asked him, even though she already knew how he would respond. He’d been talking about the Night’s Watch for years, usually when he wanted to be anywhere other than the Red Keep. She could hardly blame him.

“Nothing to stay here for,” he said, confirming her fears. She must’ve winced or shown her feelings because he was quick to try and smooth things over. “No Dany, I didn’t mean it like that. I know I have you, and my father, but I don’t have Dragonstone anymore. There is no place for me here.”

“You’re an heir,” she reminded him. “Are you really prepared to give that up?”

“I’m in line after my father, who is in line after the King,” Aemon clarified. “Your father will be King for many more years, and my father for many more after that. I’d be an old man, if I ever saw the throne at all.”

Daenerys was conflicted. Due to the closeness in their ages and the fact they grew up in close proximity, they’d always had a strong bond. Aemon knew much more about her than Viserys or Rhaegar. She wanted Aemon to be happy of course, but she didn’t want him to go. There was no denying he wasn’t happy in King’s Landing, and still she was reluctant to give him her blessing. She knew if he left, she’d likely never see him again. Selfish as it was, her life would grow harder if she didn’t have Aemon to talk to. Was that reason enough to ask him to stay? Would he if she did? “What does your father say?” she inquired, to buy time to organize her thoughts.

“He told me to wait,” Aemon noted, “but that was before this. That was when he told me I would be Lord of Dragonstone and once he was King, he said he would name me an advisor.”

“He can still do that. He still will, if you leave, you’ll never come back.”

His eyes softened, and he offered a smile as he set down his sword. “I love you Daenerys, I’ll always love you and I’ll miss you, but I can’t stay here. I can’t spend the rest of my life waiting for something that might never come.”

She wanted to argue against him leaving but the words tasted like acid on her tongue. How could she oppose him when what he described was so similar to her own dreams? He was as trapped as she was, the only major difference was that he found a way out and she was still stuck. Was that justification enough to disapprove?

She took too long to speak, and Aemon filled the quiet. “I’m going to ask Father for permission to go North.”

She needed to say something. She’d miss him, and she didn’t want him to go, but she couldn’t fault him for wanting more from life than he had. In the end, she couldn’t bring herself to stand in his way, not when she knew she’d do the same thing in his place. “If it’s what you really want,” she said, pushing the words out, “I’ll support you, I’ll even talk to your father, if you think it’ll help.”

His face broke into a smile and he wrapped her in a hug. “Thank you, Dany you’re the best. Thank you for understanding.”

She chuckled at the rare show of emotion. “You’re welcome, but if you’re really leaving, you have to spend as much time with me as you can before that.”

“I will, I swear.” When he let her go and she got a good look at his face, she knew she’d made the right choice. Aemon deserved a life, even if she’d never get one.

R-C

She was tired, having spent most of the night lying awake with the memory of an unusually vivid nightmare flashing through her mind. That said, she made a real effort to pay attention as Daenerys met with Lady Olenna Tyrell. The old woman was shrewd, intelligent and clever, Arya liked her immediately. It was rare for a woman to hold so much power outside of Dorne, but everybody knew Olenna was not to be underestimated. Her word held sway from one end of the Reach to the other. Instead of the trivial conversation that was commonplace Olenna asked Daenerys’s opinion on real issues, including Viserys’s wedding, her father’s choice to bring the Unsullied to Westeros, Rhaegar’s health and the King’s intentions for Dragonstone, just to name a few. Daenerys tried to be diplomatic at first, but it was apparent the elderly matriarch had no desire to hear the Princess’s practiced responses. She pressed Daenerys for her true feelings and in time got her to open up a little bit. By the end of their meeting, Daenerys’s smile was real, and the discussion was the most authentic Arya had heard since her arrival. It was refreshing and she suspected Daenerys felt the same.

While the nobles talked Arya watched the servants. She knew it was unlikely that Olenna would bring a foster with her and risk upsetting the King, but she checked for signs of Sansa’s red hair anyway. It occurred to her that if the Tyrells had any fondness for Sansa at all, they’d keep her as far from King’s Landing as they could. None of the girls with Lady Olenna bared even a passing resemblance to the Sansa of her memories, or their mother, who Sansa favored in looks. She was glad she hadn’t been made to come, but she was sad that she couldn’t at least confirm her sister was alive and well. It didn’t take long in Olenna’s company to learn she was honest and straight-forward. It was for this reason Arya was tempted to ask about Sansa, she just didn’t know how. She was confident Olenna would tell her the truth, but in order to learn it, she’d need to admit her relation to the Tyrell foster. Doing so would endanger both of the sisters. The more time she spent with Daenerys, the more Arya was starting to think she would be understanding if Arya chose to reveal her identity. Daenerys didn’t share her father’s bloodlust or the callous disregard of her siblings. Arya believed she was a good person, and one deserving of trust, but she wasn’t certain enough to risk her life yet. Until she was, it was too dangerous to admit to being Arya Stark. She waited years to see Sansa again, she could hang on a little longer. Before she left Olenna invited Daenerys to visit her and her family at Highgarden. It was a long shot, but if Daenerys accepted and the trip took place before Arya returned to Dorne, perhaps she could learn something about her sister.

R-C

Arya walked through the city with Missandei at her side. They were alone. The handmaiden had business outside the castle and Daenerys was reluctant to send her alone. Arya hadn’t wanted to leave her, but she promised she’d summon another guard if Arya wasn’t back by the time of her next appointment.

As it was when she went out with Daenerys, Arya left her helmet in the barracks and hid her armor under a cloak. She wasn’t a soldier of Dorne or a guard for a Targaryen royal, she was just another nameless citizen.

Although she enjoyed Missandei’s company, she couldn’t ignore the knot in the pit of her stomach. She worried that something would happen to Daenerys while she was away. The thought unsettled her enough that she tried to hurry Missandei along. If the handmaiden knew what Arya was doing or guessed at her motive, she didn’t say so.

“Just one more stop,” she said for the third time. “I need to look at something for Daenerys’s nameday.”

It took a moment, but she dissected that combination of words and got to the relevant portion. “Daenerys’s nameday is soon?”

“Yes, though she’s not looking forward to it.”

“Why not?” she inquired without thinking. Namedays were usually fun. She had fond memories of celebrating hers and that of her siblings in Winterfell. Her mother would arrange for their favorite meals, there would be gifts, games and a grand feast. She doubted the Mad King would care enough to have his daughter’s favored meal prepared but she presumed there would be presents for the Princess, lots of them, coming from across Westeros most likely. Didn’t Daenerys like receiving gifts?

“There will be a big feast,” Missandei foretold in a quiet voice. They were weaving through a crowd and Arya made a point to stay within reach. “Guests will come from all over the Realm and beyond.”

“That doesn’t sound so bad,” she noted.

“She doesn’t want it. Her father and Tywin will force her to meet with every visitor. She’ll spend most of the day in a receiving line, accepting their gifts and making conversation.”

“Oh, yeah that doesn’t sound as good.”

Missandei looked over her shoulder and smiled sadly. “She asked her father to have a smaller celebration last year and he invited more people, not less. Most who come won’t be there to see her, they’ll be there to talk to the Prince, the King or the Hand. She’ll be overlooked again, on the one day she should be recognized.”

She was beginning to understand why Daenerys wouldn’t be excited for her nameday. It sounded like a horrible way to spend what was meant to be a happy occasion. “Is there anything I can do?” After a moment she amended her question, “To make it better I mean.”

Missandei stopped walking and looked at her companion. “Just be there for her,” she advised. “Listen to her, talk to her, ask her opinion and care about the answers, not enough people in her life do that.” She started walking again once she’d finished her list of ideas. Arya tried to memorize them, simple as they were, she would do what she could to improve Daenerys’s nameday.

It was offensive to her the way Daenerys was treated. She was a Princess, and while Arya didn’t think that alone should be her only accomplishment, Daenerys was more than just her title. She was well spoken, intelligent and thoughtful. People should be lining up to seek her counsel on a wide range of topics, but they weren’t. She was dismissed for being a woman, forced to have meaningless conversations with other women while men discussed the important business somewhere else. Daenerys hadn’t said so, but Arya imagined the sting of it was made worse by the fact it was her family and those closest to her that were dismissing her. The Realm would benefit from having Daenerys involved in governing, but she wasn’t given the opportunity to even try. It was shameful.

They reached their destination, and Arya stepped ahead to open the door. Missandei thanked her before adding, “I’m going to make certain Daenerys has at least one gift that was chosen with affection, given to her because I care and not because I’m trying to impress her father.”

Missandei had a point. All those gifts Daenerys was going to receive would come with strings attached. She could only guess at how depressing it would be to have to receive gifts, thank the bringer and know, it wasn’t given with good intentions. The more she thought about it, the more she was starting to come around to Daenerys’s way of thinking. Celebrating a nameday at the Red Keep sounded like more work than fun. No wonder she wasn’t looking forward to it.

R-C

Desperate to remain busy, she sat down to draft a letter to the orphanage, informing them she planned to visit soon, asking if they had need of any specific items that she could bring? With her mind on the things the children might appreciate she was struck with an idea. She moved to the closet and began going through her clothes, particularly the older items. She had so many dresses, too many in fact. She couldn’t remember the last time she wore the majority of them. Her size although small, would be too big for most of the orphans but a few of the older girls might be able to wear them. The remainder could be sold to raise money, the silk alone was worth thousands. She also hoped a talented seamstress might be able to take one of her garments and turn it into three smaller dresses, ones more suitable for the younger girls, most of which had only one or two sets of clothes to their name.

Those tasks, while important only took minutes, forcing her to continue her search for a distraction. She opened a book to read, got through several pages before closing it and returning it to the shelf. She stood there in front of all her literary options and saw nothing that appealed to her. She huffed and looked around the familiar space, hoping something would catch her eye. When nothing did, she started at the bed, first making sure the corners were neatly tucked in and the blankets straight. Once they were, she moved higher to the pillows, ensuring each one was in its proper place. She knew her room had been cleaned that morning, but she went through it anyway, wiping away non-existent dust from the table, pulling out then resetting the chairs at a more appropriate angle, nearly identical to where they’d been when she was reading.

She gave her bedchamber the thorough cleaning it didn’t need, and when it was over, she could point to little she actually accomplished. Worst of all, it hadn’t been as time consuming as she hoped. All told she’d been in her room just over an hour. She didn’t know the extent of Missandei’s errands, but she doubted they were on their way back yet.

Upon learning of Missandei’s appointments outside the castle Daenerys immediately directed Arya to accompany her. Her idea was so disapproved of that both women pulled her aside to speak in private. Missandei went first, assuring Daenerys that she’d be fine on her own. She reminded the Princess she’d been into the city many times with no difficulty. Daenerys wasn’t too proud to admit her handmaiden had a valid point, but how long would that hold? King’s Landing was a dangerous place, especially for a woman travelling alone. Since Missandei came to Westeros Daenerys had always disliked sending her out unescorted. She asked Jorah to accompany her once and he refused, insisting his duty was to her and not a handmaiden. She even brought the subject up with Rhaegar, and he promised he’d ask their father for permission to expand her guards, but nothing ever came of it. She didn’t know if Rhaegar asked and was refused or if he just dismissed her request as unimportant. She wasn’t sure she wanted to know, so she hadn’t brought it up again.

Now, for the first time, she had a guard loyal to her and not her father. Arya would keep Missandei safe. For once when her friend was away, Daenerys wouldn’t have to worry. She’d promised Daenerys she’d watch over Missandei and now she’d get to prove worthy of the growing trust and admiration between them.

“I’ll feel better knowing she’s with you, and it’ll give her a chance to see a bit more of the city too. We’ve all been cooped up a lot lately.”

“No one more than you,” Missandei pointed out.

“I know,” Daenerys admitted quietly, “I’m hoping that after the Tyrells depart, we’ll be able to get away again.” Just the suggestion brought a smile to her face. “I think a few hours outside of the keep would do us all a lot of good.”

“Are you sure Princess?”

“I insist,” Daenerys replied confidently. “I’ll be safe here, and Arya will make certain you’re safe there.”

Maybe her arguments were persuasive or maybe her friend could tell this was one battle she wasn’t going to win. Either way, she relented. “Thank you, I’ll be as quick as I can.”

“Take your time.” She meant it too. Just because she had to be locked up didn’t mean Missandei and Arya had to suffer with her.

As Missandei left and Arya stepped up to take her place, they stopped and spoke briefly. She couldn’t hear it all from where she was, but she made out the words, “horse,” and “stable”. She guessed they were making arrangements about where to meet.

“Are you sure this is wise?” Arya asked bluntly. Before she could answer, the guard continued. “What about you? What if…”

She reached out and put a hand on Arya’s arm. “I’m not leaving the castle.” When Arya didn’t look convinced, she added, “I won’t leave, I promise.” Feeling like she might lose, she went with her biggest concession. “I’ll stay in my bedchamber, if it’ll make you more comfortable.”

Arya’s hard features softened. “You don’t have to do that,” she said quietly. “It’s bad enough you can’t come with us. I’ve been trying to get a meeting with the Prince, so we can plan another trip, but every day this week, I’m told to try again tomorrow. I think his guard tires of seeing me.” By the end, she wore a smirk. It was clear the idea that the knight Barristan Selmy was annoyed pleased her far more than it should. It would’ve been proper to reprimand her guard for pestering the Crown Prince, but she couldn’t. Everything Arya had done was for her benefit. She hadn’t realized she’d been checking daily for another time when Daenerys wouldn’t be missed. She was touched Arya was going to that much trouble for her. Few in her life would. With Arya, it was becoming so common, it was almost easy to overlook the gestures or to discount them as ‘just what Arya does,’ Daenerys vowed to never let that happen. She refused to take Arya and all that she’s done for granted. No matter how numerous the examples, each one was a kindness she was grateful for.

“I hate when she goes by herself,” she explained. “No one else thinks she’s worthy of a guard to protect her. Please, I won’t leave this room, I’ll do whatever you want, just…”

“Daenerys, breathe,” she instructed, looking in her eyes, “I gave you my word that I’d watch over Missandei and I will. I just want to make sure you’ll be okay here.”

It was such a relief when she realized Arya didn’t intend to fight that she let out a chuckle. “I’ll be fine.”

“Good. Do you want me to send for Mormont or…”

She left her words hanging there, waiting for Daenerys to provide another suitable name. She didn’t have one. She’d known from the start that Arya’s posting was only temporary, yet lately she willfully omitted that detail as she thought about the future. More than once she considered mentioning to her father or brother that perhaps Arya’s position should be made permanent but each time something held her back. She knew what it was too, Arya didn’t want to stay. She wanted to go back to Dorne as soon as possible. Regardless of how seamlessly Arya fit into her life, no matter how talented a guard she was, Daenerys wasn’t quite selfish enough to request Arya forfeit the rest of her life just so Daenerys would have another friend. After all she’d done, Arya deserved to choose where she’d be, and Daenerys refused to use her title and authority as the King’s daughter to keep her against her will.

She shook the thoughts away and remembered that Arya was waiting. “I don’t think I’ll be going far.” She saw Arya’s eyebrow arch up and her thin lips parted as if to speak, so Daenerys rushed ahead. “If I do though, I promise I’ll have a guard with me, be it Jorah or someone else.”

“Are you sure?” she asked again, bringing them back to the start.

Daenerys didn’t resent Arya for asking again, she took her job seriously and she wanted to make certain Daenerys was comfortable in her choice. It was just another piece of evidence to confirm how important her obligations were to her. “I’m sure, just make sure Missandei is safe.”

“I’ll bring her back to you,” Arya declared seriously. Daenerys was reviewing the words in her mind. Arya was going to bring Missandei back to her? Before she could decide what the Dornish woman meant by that, she was distracted by the door closing. Arya had gone.

She’d originally planned to stay in her room alone until Arya and Missandei returned but she quickly ran out of tasks to keep her occupied and was eager to escape. She was tempted to just leave. It would be nice to go for a walk around the castle alone but doing so would disappoint Arya. She still had a long way to go in earning Arya’s friendship and developing trust was a major step along that road. She wanted to show Arya that at least one Targaryen could be counted on to honor an agreement. She told her she wouldn’t leave her room without a guard, so she wouldn’t.

Jorah was the obvious choice. She knew little about what the knight was doing now that he’d been reassigned but she predicted he’d welcome a chance to step back into his former role. It was a shock to realize she’d prefer to stay in her room alone instead of allowing Jorah to watch her. Sure, she’d grown to like Arya’s casual approach to guarding, and she was actively trying not to think about after the wedding when she’d go home to Dorne, but that didn’t mean Jorah was no longer acceptable, did it? He didn’t need to be her first choice to effectively keep her safe. They hadn’t spoken much since Arya’s arrival and each time was a disagreement. Maybe that’s why she was reluctant, she didn’t want another fight. She walked back to her bed and sat down, determined to examine her feelings more closely.

Jorah had been around for most of her life. She liked and trusted him, often enjoying the conversations they’d have. He was willing to give her space, even if it was just inside her chambers. He didn’t yell as some guards were prone to do, and he didn’t get angry when she proposed another in a long line of unscheduled delays. She’d known for several years that Jorah’s willingness to indulge some of her more random requests was born out of feelings he had for her that went beyond what was typical of a guard and their charge. Missandei was the one who brought it to her attention, asking one night if there was a relationship between her and Jorah. She didn’t understand what she meant and said so. Missandei was quick to apologize and tried to change the subject but Daenerys wanted to hear what she had to say. Only when her friend brought them to light did Daenerys see the signs for what they were, the smiles, his gentle approach, even the way he spoke to Daenerys was different from the way he addressed any other person. For the next several weeks she paid close attention to Jorah’s every action and word and when she was finished her study, she could see what caused Missandei to ask.

She was flattered by the interest and more than a little lonely, but Daenerys only ever saw the Northern man as a friend. She dreaded the day he’d decide to broach the subject, knowing she would hurt him with her refusal. So far, it hadn’t happened. Missandei thought it never would, saying it would be improper for a knight to proposition a Princess. She added helpfully that it only works that way, not the other way around. Since Daenerys knew she would never proposition Jorah, she hoped that would be the end of it.

Before Arya, they developed a good system that worked well and wasn’t obtrusive or overbearing. Daenerys was protected without feeling smothered too frequently. That was how she felt before, but how did she feel now? In recent days she became aware of Jorah’s inclination to manipulate her, did that change anything, and if so, how much? She’d been too busy to give the topic the time and attention it deserved.

After thinking about the past and the present, she turned her focus on the future. What would happen if she asked Jorah to fill in while Arya was away? She closed her eyes and tried to picture it. She’d have to listen to him complain and whine. He still hadn’t gotten over being replaced and was holding a grudge. It allowed him to find fault with Arya in any situation. He’d be upset that Arya left her ‘unprotected,’ ignoring all the reasons why she’d done it. It wouldn’t matter to him that Daenerys ordered her to protect Missandei or that she agreed to be confined to her chambers until a guard was available. All he’d see was Arya doing something he didn’t approve of. He’d hold her solely responsible and Daenerys doubted her ability to make him see logic. If it was just Jorah, she probably would have summoned him and endured the lecture, but she couldn’t be certain it would be it. Was he willing to report Arya leaving to her father? Would he tell Rhaegar? Normally she wouldn’t have to worry about her eldest brother harming someone she cared about, but he showed an immediate dislike for Arya. Would he use Jorah’s claims as proof of Arya’s nefarious intentions and send her away?

There on her bed she came to a startling, unsettling truth, a trip back to Sunspear was the best outcome available. It was just as likely that any complaint about Arya would lead to her being dragged to the throne room in chains and charged with a crime? If that happened… No, she stopped that thought before it was finished. She refused to even consider that. It wouldn’t happen to Arya, it couldn’t. Daenerys wouldn’t let it.

 

She didn’t want to believe Jorah would do that to her or Arya, but just to be safe, she’d need to be more careful around the knight from Bear Island going forward. Luckily Arya wasn’t scheduled to return to Sunspear for a while, and that would give Daenerys time to decide what was best. In the meantime, she still needed an escort. Unwilling to ask Jorah and equally unwilling to stay in her bedchamber, she opened the door and waited for a guard to pass. When a trio of men walked by on a patrol, she stopped them and asked for one of them to accompany her to an appointment. The men were surprised. She noticed that while the youngest of them couldn’t look away from her, the other two, were looking deeper into the room, as if checking for her assigned guard. “My guard is performing an errand for me,” she explained. “When I sent her, I forgot I had to meet with Lord Tyrion. Would one of you men please escort me?”

“Of course, Princess,” the leader said, “at once.”

“That is very kind, thank you,” she replied with a smile.

As she was led toward the Master of Coin, she couldn’t help but feel proud. She’d managed to leave her chambers without violating any rules or breaking any promises. She also did it in a way that would absolve Arya of any guilt. She felt excitement as they neared her destination. She really did have business with Tyrion and after their initial meeting, she was looking forward to getting the chance to speak to him again.

R-C

Missandei found what she was looking for and produced a small purse of coins to pay for it. Arya smiled as the handmaiden appraised her selection carefully. At least Daenerys had one friend who really cared about her. Arya knew from experience one was enough to make all the difference. Oberyn was her only friend and he changed her life, except Oberyn wasn’t her only friend anymore. Now she had Daenerys and Missandei too, and since Daenerys was her friend and her nameday was approaching, she should buy her a present too, so she’d have more than just Missandei’s.

As they stepped out into the sun, she voiced her idea. “I’ll get her something too,”

“You don’t have too,” Missandei said quickly. “If you support her that’ll be plenty.”

She knew what Missandei was trying to do and why. She worried Arya didn’t have the gold to spend. She may not have enough to afford a horse, but she could buy Daenerys a present of some kind, a small one and that was surely better than nothing, wasn’t it? If someone told her a year ago that she’d be spending her own gold to make a Targaryen smile she wouldn’t believe it, but Daenerys wasn’t like her family. The truth was, she wouldn’t regret losing a few coins, not as much as she’d regret letting the day pass without showing Daenerys it wasn’t only Missandei who cared. “I think I’ll get her something,” she decided.

Missandei who was in the process of returning her purse to its place, smiled wide, obviously pleased. “Daenerys will appreciate that more than you’ll know.”

It was fast, too fast for her to stop it. Missandei was smiling at her, fussing with her purse and then suddenly a thin, sickly man with tattered clothes and stringy hair bumped into her. His body blocked Arya’s view of things, which is why she didn’t know there was a problem until she heard Missandei shout, “Hey, wait!”

It was instinct more than anything else that caused her to reach for and grab the man. He resisted and tried to pull away, but Arya was stronger. “Unhand me,” he demanded.

“Arya, he took my money,” Missandei informed her. Sure enough, when he turned, he was holding Missandei’s purse of gold dragons.

“Give the Lady back her gold!” Arya advised as menacingly as she could.

Slowly his beady eyes took in the surroundings. They were in front of the store, a safe distance from any escape route. He didn’t appear to have any allies or partners, and alone he wasn’t enough to best Arya. He realized this after she did. “I didn’t mean to,” he said, holding out the purse to its owner. Arya watched, maintaining her grip on the man, as Missandei took back what was stolen. The thief kept his eyes down, looking sufficiently repentant. She didn’t think he was a professional thief rather he saw Missandei with the gold and couldn’t help himself. It was a crime of opportunity. He thought he could bump into her, lift the gold and be gone before they could catch him. He was a fool, but not a threat.

Once he was free, he grabbed for Missandei, producing a knife with his empty hand. She cried out in pain as he pulled her back against his chest. He let go of her just long enough to wrap his arm around her waist, binding her to him. The coward was using her as a shield. He pressed the small, cheap knife to the side of her throat and held it there. “Don’t move!” he screamed.

How had she misjudged things so severely? She made a stupid mistake. She released him when Missandei had her coins but before she’d stepped away. She should’ve kept watch of his hands in the event he was armed and had a taste for violence. She’d fucked up and now Missandei was paying for it.

Shaking, Missandei tried to appease him. “Take the gold,” she said, working to keep her voice steady. “You can have it.”

“Fucking snobs, you think you’re so much better than me. Grabbing me, ordering me around, you’re not so tough now, are you?” He took a step back, putting space between them, pulling Missandei along.

This was all her fault. She’d promised Daenerys she’d protect Missandei and now some bastard was threatening to kill her. She had to fix this. Daenerys would never forgive her if she didn’t.

“Take me,” she proposed hastily.

R-C

Tyrion was behind his desk when she entered. She looked over her shoulder and asked her three guards to wait outside until she was done. They did without comment. By the time she turned Tyrion was on his feet and moving around the desk. “A Princess come to visit a humble Master of Coin, I’ll be the envy of dwarves everywhere.”

“If that’s true,” she said taking the seat he gestured to, “then I’m especially glad I stopped by.”

Tyrion went a nearby cart and selected a bottle of wine and two glasses. He poured as he spoke, not needing to look to avoid spilling. “Why did you?” he asked. Daenerys didn’t mind the question, but Tyrion didn’t like the way it sounded. He rushed to add a compliment on the end. “Not that I mind, I never turn away a beautiful woman, I just wasn’t expecting you.”

As he finished, he smiled in a way that certainly got him out of trouble with almost anyone. Long before he was employed in the keep, she heard stories about the youngest Lannister. Over time she learned not to believe gossip, but he appeared just as charming as advertised. “I wanted to see how you were settling in. We haven’t seen much of one another since you ascended to your new position.”

“Yes,” he agreed, passing Daenerys one of the glasses of wine. Only after she tasted it and nodded her approval did he continue. “I’ve had little time to entertain, my new duties involve long hours and endless amounts of paperwork.”

Beyond the basics of manning the treasury, she would be the first to admit she didn’t know the specifics of Tyrion’s job, but then again, she was in no danger of being named to the post. “If you didn’t want the job, why’d you take it?”

He laughed as he set down his half-empty glass. “I didn’t ask for it, and I didn’t want it, I was told to be there on the day and when I showed up, this is what I got.” He held up the royal ledger as proof.

Daenerys felt a little foolish, because she didn’t understand. “Who…” The answer came to her before she could finish the question -- Tywin. She remembered how he was the one to put Tyrion’s name forward. “Your father,” she acknowledged.

He smiled then and raised his glass as if to toast. “I got this job much the same way you got yours as Westeros’s Princess, I was born and one day without much warning my father told me where to be and what to say.”

He was making light of it, but she felt empathy for him. If his father was someone else, maybe she’d question if he had done it as a kindness, but Tywin Lannister didn’t do anything without a self-serving motive. “Is the job difficult?” she wondered.

He shrugged a bit. “It could be worse. As I said the hours are long, which is likely why my father chose this out of all the vacancies in King’s Landing for me to fill.”

“Why would he care how busy you were?” She didn’t doubt that Tywin had an agenda, she just couldn’t see what it might be. Tyrion had much more experience with the man.

“My father summoned me here because I was apparently embarrassing the Lannister family name with my childish behavior.” As he said the final two words, his tone shifted to an imitation of his father’s voice. “Seven Hells, I’d swear the man just doesn’t want anyone to be happy. He detests my presence almost as much as he does my absence.”

In an attempt to find the good in the situation she took a moment to think. “At least your siblings are here.”

He smiled in appreciation of her effort. “Yes, I will get to see Jaime more frequently. I am happy about that. It’ll be a nice change I hadn’t seen him in almost a year. We have plans tonight as a matter of fact.”

“That’s nice,” she admitted, happy that there was at least one bright spot in his new life.

“You probably see him more than I do, being the King’s daughter.”

“Sometimes,” she exaggerated, “though he mainly guards my father, and I have a guard of my own.” In truth her interactions with that member of the Kingsguard were rare, but when they did occur he was always polite, quick to laugh and charming.

“Oh yes,” Tyrion said, showing visible signs of excitement. “I heard you brought a Sand home as a souvenir from your trip.”

“It’s only temporary and she’s not a souvenir,” she fired back intently. She was overreacting but even in jest, she didn’t like what Tyrion was implying. He was making it sound like Arya was her property and not her own person. She had to correct him.

Tyrion sensed he struck a nerve and apologized. “Of course, I meant no disrespect. Where is your guard anyway? If any of the three that brought you here are a woman, I may need to reconsider my opinion of the gender.”

The horrified look on his face was amusing and she chuckled. “Don’t worry, Arya is running an errand for me, which is why I have the others.” She could have told him the truth, she didn’t think Tyrion would reveal her secrets, but she maintained the lie she’d started with the guards. Mentioning Arya did remind her why she sought Tyrion out. “In addition to seeing how you were, I did come for a more official reason. I have need of gold.”

Tyrion moved his wine off to the side and leaned forward in his chair a bit. “Alright, how much do you need and for what?” he asked, taking her request seriously.

“I purchased a horse from the stable, I want to ensure the owner is paid,” she explained, thinking of the stallion Arya chose. She’d told the stablemaster that she’d handle payment later and he agreed. This was the first time since where she could arrange it without Arya listening in.

“The stables here?”

“Yes,” she confirmed.

“Those horses already belong to the Crown, and as a Princess, you’re entitled to have your pick.”

“It wasn’t for me,” she clarified, expecting that would change his outlook.

“Doesn’t matter,” he countered, “if you wanted to pick a different horse everyday you could, you’re a Targaryen, they’re technically are all yours anyway.”

She understood what Tyrion was trying to say, but she didn’t like it. That horse would be going back to Sunspear with Arya someday, the man who bred it, raised it and trained it deserved to be paid. “I want to pay him,” Daenerys insisted.

“Why?” Tyrion wanted to know.

“Can you do it?” she pressed.

“Of course, but…”

“Thank you. I’d appreciate it. If you tell him it’s from me, he’ll know which horse I’m referring to.”

Tyrion wrote himself a small note and then looked up. “I’ll take care of it. Is there anything else?”

There was something, but she wasn’t sure how to ask for it. She felt her face warming in anticipation of her next inquiry. “You control the treasury, right?”

“You might even say that’s my job,” he teased.

“I want to make a purchase, and it’ll be more than the amount I’m generally allotted, how exactly does that work? Can I get more, or do I have to wait?”

Tyrion stopped whatever he was writing and appraised Daenerys’s face for a moment. She didn’t know what he was looking for, or if he found it, but he answered after a slight delay. “It depends how much you need and how quickly you need it. Most amounts I can arrange in a couple of days.”

“I need to purchase a gift for someone,” she said. She was being intentionally vague. Like the horse she wanted it to remain a surprise and she didn’t want word of it to reach Arya before she was ready to present it. She also feared that if her brother or father learned of it, they’d prevent her from carrying out her plot.

Tyrion raised an eyebrow and watched her again, waiting to see if she’d add to her statement. “Okay,” he finally said, “and how much do you need?”

Oh, she didn’t really know. She hadn’t thought about the price beyond knowing it would be more than she typically had access to. “I’m not sure.” She felt foolish for not checking first. “I mean, I could find out, but I don’t know exactly.”

“Who is it for? What were you hoping to buy?” When she didn’t immediately respond he tried another joke. “I have years of experience spending money, if you tell me what you want to buy, I likely know the price.”

Daenerys didn’t want to tell him, but she needed his approval. She didn’t think her father or Rhaegar would help and that left Tyrion as her only source of gold dragons. “It’s a surprise, I want it to remain a secret until it’s ready.”

Tyrion smiled at her kindly. “I won’t breathe a word of this to anyone Princess, I promise.”

This was only their second conversation and for reasons she couldn’t explain she found herself willing to trust him. To achieve her goal, she’d need aid beyond Missandei, perhaps Tyrion was the right choice of ally. “I want to have a sword forged,” she began.

For the next ten minutes she detailed what she wanted as thoroughly as she could, hoping to impress upon Tyrion how important this was to her. When she’d run out of things to add, he cleared his throat and closed the book he’d been taking notes in. “I’ll speak to the smith at the forge and get him started on it right away,” Tyrion said as they finished their business. He’d been beyond understanding of her request and accommodating to her lack of experience and knowledge. “I don’t know if he has the materials in stock or not, but I’ll make sure he knows this is a priority.”

“Thank you, I appreciate your assistance and your discretion.”

“Please don’t mention to anyone that I’m capable of either, I have a reputation to maintain,” he quipped with a playful smirk.

“If you hold my secret, I’ll hold yours,” she pledged. “So, will your sister be joining you tonight as well or is this a brother’s only outing?” She didn’t want Tyrion to think she’d come only for the gold she needed. She genuinely wanted to speak to him again. She hoped ending their meeting on a personal note would make that clear.

Without warning Tyrion nearly choked on his wine. Daenerys blushed as she reached for him, her hand halted as she realized she didn’t know how to help him. “Are you alright?” she asked, as she debated calling her guards.

He swallowed awkwardly and then coughed, turning away to hide his face until he was done. “I’m fine,” he said slowly. He cleared his throat one final time and then tried again. “I’m fine, I just wasn’t expecting that.”

Why not? What had she said that was so unwelcome? If she rarely encountered Jaime, her dealings with Cersei were even more uncommon. She was always around though, usually lingering near Rhaegar, trying to gain his attention. She had desires to be Rhaegar’s Queen. “I’m sorry,” she said when no other words seemed appropriate.

He smiled in a way that looked sincere and then took a tentative sip of his wine. She watched closely for any signs of distress, but he swallowed without difficulty. “I enjoy my brother’s company,” Tyrion said, “but Cersei is more of an acquired taste, one I never took a liking to and trust me, the feeling is mutual.”

Daenerys took a sip of her drink to hide the fact that she had nothing to s. Actually, she was strangely comforted by Tyrion’s comment. It was nice to know hers wasn’t the only damaged family in the Realm. The Lannisters were no healthier or happier than the Targaryens it seemed.

R-C

The thief turned kidnapper was stunned by her offer. “Huh?”

Brave and selfless Missandei didn’t like her strategy nearly as much. “Arya, don’t…”

“Shut up,” he hissed in her ear. She squirmed against him and Arya didn’t like the way his hand was leaving her waist to wander closer to her chest.

“You want gold right,” she tried, “that’s my handmaiden. If you take her, you’ll get her purse, but if you take me, you’ll get a ransom. I’m noble, worth a fortune.”

Her ploy worked she could see the pig practically drooling at his sudden windfall. He was still suspicious though. “You’re noble? Why you wearin’ a sword then?”

She had to think up a lie and quickly. “All nobles in Dorne wear swords, its tradition, to honor Nymeria the Warrior Queen.”

It showed in his eyes that he believed her. “Take it off,” he directed. “Take it off and kick it away.”

She didn’t delay. She unclasped her belt and let it fall to the ground. She kicked it away, making sure to send it far enough away to put him at ease. “There, release her and I’ll go with you.”

He wasn’t stupid enough to agree to that. “Come over first. Slowly!”

Missandei looked frightened and Arya knew she was entirely responsible for that terror. She ignored the attempts to try and dissuade Arya from her course. If one of them was going to be in danger, it wouldn’t be Missandei. “It’s going to be okay,” she told her friend before she began moving.

He kept one arm around Missandei but the other, the one holding the knife was extended waiting for Arya to get close enough to be within reach. She’d only get one chance and she’d have to be perfect. Just before she was close enough to grab, she squatted down and made like she was tying the laces of her boot. “What you doing?”

Her right hand toyed with the laces while her left went to the knife she carried. “My boot was undone,” she justified. “I’ll move much faster if it’s tied proper.”

“Hurry up,” he spat, eager to claim her and collect his reward. The knife had worked once, this wasn’t all that different from the recruit rapers. If she could catch him off guard, and get his throat, he’d be dead before he knew what was happening and Missandei would be safe.

“There we go,” she said in hopes of distract him. She adjusted her grip on the blade and then popped up, lunging for him. Missandei realized what was happening and began struggling, trying to break his hold. All at once he didn’t have enough hands to do everything necessary to control them. He fought to keep a firm grip on Missandei and brought his knife up near his face to protect against Arya’s assault, but she was too well trained for that to work. Ideally, she would have killed him slow and made it hurt. She pushed the knife into the side of his neck, applying pressure until the entire blade was lodged in his throat. His arm loosened enough for Missandei to escape and Arya used her free hand to pull the handmaiden to safety.

He died with a quiet gurgle and a pathetic attempt to swing his knife. She pulled her blade free and shoved his body away. She waited for a moment to confirm he was dead and then she pocketed the bloody weapon, kneeling in front of Missandei. “Are you alright?”

“You saved me,” she acknowledged, with dark eyes glistening.

“Did he hurt you?”

She took time to assess her body, “N…no,” she said unconvincingly. “I’m okay.” She wrapped her arms around the guard and held on tight. “Thank you,” she said passionately. “You saved me, again.”

She thought about mentioning it was all her fault, but it didn’t seem like the best time. All that mattered now was getting Missandei back to the castle. “Ready to go home?” Arya asked, as she leaned back to look at her face.

“Yeah.”

The city guards arrived just as Arya was reclaiming her sword. “Stop, murderer!” one yelled. A step behind his partner drew a sword.

Arya sighed. Now they’d show up. Where were they when Missandei had a knife to her throat? “My name is Arya Sand, I’m Princess Daenerys’s guard, this is Missandei of Naath, her personal handmaiden.”

The talking guard wasn’t swayed. “A Dornish guard?”

Before she could reply, the other man did. “Wait, I heard bout this, she’s the one the King brought back from Dorne, the gate guards roughed’r up awhile back and pissed off the Princess somethin’ awful. I heard she threatened to toss’em in the dungeon for hurting her.”

Arya was captivated by the story. She looked to Missandei and expected to see an expression that matched her own, but she was calmly waiting to learn their fate. She didn’t seem bothered or even surprised by the exaggerated tale of her arrival at the Red Keep.

One of the men remained uncertain. She attempted to reassure him by removing her cloak and revealing the Martell sigil she wore. “He’s right, I’m a soldier from Sunspear.”

“What happened?” he asked, looking at the corpse.

“A thief grabbed Missandei’s purse. When I stopped him, he tried to take her hostage,” she summarized.

The guard chuckled darkly. “Didn’t work too well for him, did it?”

“No, it didn’t.”

“You can go back to the Princess,” he decided.

They didn’t need to tell her twice. “Thank you, Ser.” She doubted he was a knight, but a little formality, could be useful at times. She put a light hand on Missandei’s back. “The Princess is probably waiting for us,” she said, more for the guards benefit than Missandei’s.

R-C

Daenerys and her contingent of guards had been all over the castle. She’d gotten far more accomplished than she thought she would. Missandei hadn’t been clear about what she needed to go and buy, but she predicted they would be home by now. Still, she was pleased with the progress; the smith was working on Arya’s sword, Tyrion would ensure he was paid, and a courier would deliver gold to the stablemaster later that day.

Before long she was back where she started, busying herself to avoid watching the door. She went up to her chambers again, made another valiant attempt to read an uninteresting book and then gave up. Although she didn’t ask them to, her guards were lingering outside in the hall, even after she dismissed them. When she tired of her room one more time, they were ready and waiting to escort her elsewhere.

What was taking Missandei so long? Had something happened to delay them? The thought made her so uncomfortable she considered seeking out Rhaegar and asking him to start a search. Then she remembered Arya. Arya was with her. She wouldn’t allow anything bad to happen, but Daenerys was momentarily distracted by another wave of panic as she considered that maybe they were late arriving because Arya had protected Missandei and gotten herself injured while doing so. Arya threw herself into danger without hesitation, whether it was the snakes in Dorne or allowing the guards at the gate to abuse her to avoid angering the King. It wasn’t hard to imagine Arya putting herself at risk to shield Missandei, in fact she promised do exactly that when she told Daenerys she’d bring her back safe. She went to entrance Missandei would return through, placing herself where she wouldn’t miss them.

R-C

She never thought she’d be relieved to see the Red Keep, but she was. She’d nearly allowed Missandei to get killed and the guilt was crippling her. They hadn’t said much to one another since. Missandei seemed to understand Arya needed space and gave it to her without prying.

She was surprised by the handmaiden’s strength and composure. She’d nearly been murdered by a petty thief while under Arya’s care and yet she didn’t cry, and she didn’t appear as rattled as the guard was. If she hadn’t been there to witness it, she never would have guessed Missandei had a knife to her throat minutes ago.

Distracted by her thoughts, she didn’t notice Daenerys there. “There you are!” she said, sounding relieved. She rushed over and hugged Missandei tightly. Did she know what happened to them? Had those city guards already passed the word of her failure? She was silently impressed they managed to inform the Princess so quickly, but she couldn’t dwell on that, not when she had an apology to give.

She heard Missandei speaking and the Princess responding but the words didn’t reach her. Normally it would have offended her to have to take a knee before a Targaryen, but Daenerys put her faith in Arya to keep Missandei safe, and the Stark had failed miserably. She dropped to one knee in front of Daenerys and bowed her head, waiting to be punished. If she had to die to make it right, she wouldn’t resist. She thought of her father then, the way he’d bowed before the Mad King and awaited his fate without complaint. Perhaps she was more like Ned Stark than she realized. The thought cheered her.

When Daenerys spoke, it wasn’t the words Arya was expecting. “Arya, what are you doing?”

She looked up at the royal. “I’m so sorry Princess, I tried to honor my word, I did, but I was too slow, I didn’t see he was a threat until it was too late. It was all my fault.”

Daenerys tried to make her stand with a wave of her hand, but Arya didn’t move. Finally, she sighed and issued her command verbally, “Arya, stand up!”

This time she did. She met the Princess’s violet eye bravely, wanting to retain a measure of dignity. “I’m sorry,” she said again, meaning it. “I tried to keep her safe.”

Without warning Daenerys was in her arms, hugging her just as fiercely as she had Missandei. Unsure of what to do, Arya’s arms remained at her sides awkwardly. “You did keep her safe,” Daenerys said, “she told me you’re the only reason she’s alive.”

Arya couldn’t believe this. How had she become the hero in the story? She backed up, ending the embrace. “I nearly got her killed,” she confessed.

“But you didn’t,” Daenerys replied. “You brought her back, unharmed just as you promised you would. You didn’t fail anyone Arya, you did your duty and I’m beyond grateful.”

Not yet prepared to let this go, Arya made another point. “If I’d been smarter…”

Daenerys stopped her with a look. “Did you truly offer yourself to the man to save her?”

The extent of her knowledge was a bit unsettling. She looked to Missandei and saw her smiling kindly. She nodded to Arya, as if to say she told Daenerys everything. She evidentially missed more of their conversation than she initially thought. “If one of us was going to die, it wasn’t going to be Missandei.”

“You risked your life for her.”

“It was my job.”

“No,” Missandei said, “your job is to protect Daenerys, you chose to protect me.”

She took her eyes off the Princess and met the slave’s. “I’d do it again,” she vowed intently, “all of it.”

“That,” Daenerys said, pulling her attention back, “is why I’m not upset with you. Now come, you’ve had a trying day and you need to rest.”

R-C

The morning after her disastrous trip into the city, Daenerys informed her she’d need to escort the Princess to the Unsullied at some point, when her schedule allowed. Arya agreed without comment but as the morning wore on, she began to wonder why. She held her tongue until they were crossing the yard. “Why are we going there?”

Daenerys’s smile didn’t falter as she said, “Grey Worm wishes to speak to you.”

She pictured the Unsullied commander in her mind. She knew of him by reputation only, the Unsullied she lived with spoke of him highly. He was said to be a fine warrior and a man of few words, both qualities Arya respected. “About what?” she asked carefully.

“I’m not sure,” Daenerys admitted. It was quiet for a moment before she added, “It’s about Missandei most likely.”

Mentioning Missandei helped Arya notice her absence. She hadn’t seen the handmaiden at all that day, now that she was thinking of it. “Where is Missandei?”

“You’ll see her, I’m sure,” Daenerys predicted. “I gave her the day to recover after yesterday.”

Arya was hit by a surge of guilt. That Missandei and Daenerys didn’t actually blame her wasn’t enough to prevent her from blaming herself. She intended to apologize again but they arrived at their destination before Arya could muster the words. Missandei was there, standing off to the side watching the Unsullied train. Grey Worm stopped what he was doing when he saw them. He stabbed his spear into the ground and said something to the man he was sparring with in Valyrian. “What’s happening?” she asked Daenerys.

“Relax,” she replied, “it’ll be fine.”

Missandei arrived a step behind Grey Worm and the soldier reached for her hand with his turning away from Arya to smile at the dark-haired woman. The love on their faces and in their eyes was obvious. Arya was speechless. She looked to Daenerys for some clarification and found the Princess smiling happily at the couple. They were together? How was that possible? The Unsullied were eunuchs. How could Missandei be with him when Arya always assumed she and Daenerys were together? She thought back to all the interactions she’d seen since she began guarding Daenerys, the touching, the smiles, the handholding, and the hugs. She guessed it was romantic at the time, but she’d been wrong if Missandei was looking at Grey Worm like that. Could it be they were just close friends? She supposed it was possible but if Missandei wasn’t Daenerys’s lover who was?

Grey Worm took a step toward her without releasing Missandei’s hand. “You save her life?” he asked in the common tongue.

“Saved,” Missandei corrected, “Arya saved my life.”

“You saved her life?”

“I did, though I think she would have been fine, even if I wasn’t there.” She didn’t want to restart the debate with Daenerys about her mistakes, so she chose to distance herself from the compliment by suggesting she wasn’t really needed.

Grey Worm didn’t understand so Missandei translated. She couldn’t help wondering if Missandei was repeating just her words or adding her own commentary on the events as well. “Thank… you,” Grey Worm said, separating the words for an unnaturally long pause. “You can train here.”

As he finished, he made a fist with the hand Missandei wasn’t clinging to, and pressed it against his chest in what she knew was a sign of respect. She nodded in understanding. “I’m glad I was there to help. It’d be an honor to train with you.”

For this he didn’t need a translation and Arya marvelled at how talented Missandei must be, teaching him such a complicated language. “Now?” he wondered, looking toward the sparring fighters.

Daenerys gave permission by smiling indulgently. “Go on,” she said through a laugh, “you know you want to.”

She definitely did want to. The last thing she wanted was for her skills to dull while she was in the capital. “Now,” she agreed.

The commander stood up a little straighter when he heard that. She saw a fire in his eyes she recognized, he thirsted for the challenge as surely as she did. He stopped long enough to kiss his lover, ending any question Arya had about the nature of their relationship, then he walked to his spear. Arya took one last look at Daenerys before she followed. It was going to be a good afternoon.

R-C

Chapter Text

She held off for as long as she could after Olenna left King’s Landing to return to Highgarden. Her internal doubts kept her quiet until she felt bold enough to bring the subject up to Daenerys. They were alone while Missandei was off handling something for the Princess. “Lady Tyrell invited you to visit,” she reminded her friend gently, hoping she wasn’t being too obvious, “do you think you’ll go?”

With bright eyes and a smile, she responded. “I’d love to. I haven’t seen Olenna’s granddaughter Margaery in ages.”

Daenerys’s positive reaction to the not so innocent question gave her a burst of confidence, one she desperately needed. “I wouldn’t mind seeing Highgarden, if you wanted to go before the wedding.”

Arya feared she’d realize something was wrong and call the guard on her strange behavior, demanding to know why she’d make such a statement. It didn’t happen, Daenerys’s was thrilled by what she was suggesting. “Really?” she verified. “I was going to put it on the schedule, and ask my father for permission, but only after the wedding, when things settled.”

“You shouldn’t wait,” she advised carefully. “Olenna seemed excited to have you visit, and I doubt she’s the only one.”

“I do want to go,” Daenerys confirmed unnecessarily. Arya was getting better at reading the other woman and no longer needed words to guess her emotions most of the time.

“Me too, we’ve explored Sunspear together, King’s Landing, why not Highgarden next?”

“Why not Highgarden?” Daenerys repeated, talking to herself. It took a moment, but she met Arya’s eye with a new sense of determination. “You’re right. I’d enjoy travelling a lot more if you were there, and it’d be rude to make an influential noblewoman like Lady Olenna wait.”

She smirked when she recognized what Daenerys was doing, she was justifying her choices, likely in preparation for when she made a similar argument to her father. Arya was just practice. “It would be very rude,” she agreed, boosting Daenerys’s mood and widening her smile.

“Well, we wouldn’t want to be rude, would we?” she asked rhetorically. “I’ll speak to my father later today about our trip to the Reach.”

Arya was grateful she had such practice hiding her feelings, or she probably would have revealed just how meaningful this was to her. She did her best to match the Princess’s enthusiasm, so she didn’t appear unusually excited, even though she was. If she got to Highgarden, there was every reason to believe she’d find Sansa. She’d have days to look and listen, to gather information and seek her out. For years she dreamt of seeing her sister again, but never thought it was actually possible. No matter how badly she craved a reunion, she was in Dorne and Sansa the Reach. If this worked, it would be one more thing she owed Daenerys her thanks for.

R-C

Arya had just left Daenerys for the night and was on her way to the barracks to get some much-needed sleep. She also planned on taking a long, hot bath. The Unsullied had always treated her well, a little distant in the beginning but that was understandable. After her sparring match with Grey Worm however, they began to view her as an equal. They respected the fellow soldier, as she did them, and when word spread that Arya had saved Missandei’s life, their admiration for the foster from Dorne multiplied. The men in her barrack would greet her when she entered and occasionally engage her in conversation about her weapon of choice or preferred fighting style. It was a nice change from how she spent her days. Not only because weapons and combat were things she enjoyed discussing, but because when Daenerys was in her meetings, Arya was rarely acknowledged. When it was Daenerys, Arya and Missandei she was frequently brought into the conversation but when they were with others, Arya had to fit into the mould of a traditional guard and that meant staying quiet and pretending she didn’t understand the common tongue. One of the hardest requirements of her position was maintaining a blank expression while listening to someone whine or complain about something trivial. She wanted to scoff and roll her eyes, but she couldn’t. Lately she’d taken to chewing on the inside of her cheek to avoid letting her opinions out. She’d never been one for meaningless talking, and that was a large part of what Daenerys’s day-to-day life consisted of. None of Daenerys’s visitors ever addressed Arya and although she was grateful for that, it did seem to make the hours pass slowly. Headaches were a common occurrence and each night after Daenerys retired Arya was pleased to have her bed amongst the quietest group of men she’d ever encountered. They were a welcome reprieve.

Everything she intended her evening to be faded to the background as she watched Daenerys’s nephew Aemon practicing his sword, taking swings at a training dummy. Bigger than her, he was wielding a blade far more impressive than the one issued to her by House Martell. He was good she noted quickly. He followed through with every strike, wasn’t overly aggressive, and had clearly been well trained. It was obvious he had a strategy in mind. Each strike served a purpose, preparing his opponent for the eventual killing blow.

In addition to following the movements of his sword, she also studied his face. Every second spent in his company reassured her that her initial belief was right, he was her cousin. Confident as she was, she still kept an eye out for anything that might disprove her theory. At this point it would’ve been more shocking to learn he wasn’t related to her by blood. He looked more like her father than Robb or Bran ever did.

Her mind raced. Did Aemon know who he was, who his mother was? Did he know how he came to be? She didn’t blame him, the fault for what happened was Rhaegar’s alone, he was the one who kidnapped and raped an innocent woman, but Arya was curious how much of his own history Aemon actually knew?”

“Who taught you?” she asked as she approached him.

He finished a smooth slice across the center of the man-shaped target before turning to greet her properly. “One of my father’s friends trained me,” he recalled casually, “Arthur Dayne.”

That made sense. Given his injury Rhaegar couldn’t’ teach him personally and if he was intent on his son learning warfare who was a better instructor than the Sword of the Morning? As a girl her father spoke of Dayne’s Gods-given talent ending lives. A member of the Kingsguard, he was undoubtedly one of the best warriors in the Realm.

Her time in Dorne provided her with a much more detailed description of Arthur Dayne than the one her father gave back in Winterfell. Despite having been in the capital for years, Dayne remained a favorite of the Dornish, a hero of sorts. He was often mentioned in the same breath as Oberyn, when listing off the greatest fighters their kingdom ever birthed. While Arya was partial to Oberyn, there were many far away from Sunspear who felt Dayne was a more impressive figure. Arya had never met him personally, but Oberyn mentioned him once, saying that his reputation was well-earned. That was high praise coming from the Red Viper and Arya chose to trust in his judgement.

“You’re lucky,” she told Aemon, “he’s one of the finest swordsmen in all of Westeros.”

“I was, when my father agreed to let me learn, I began my lessons with the Master at Arms but once I had the basics, he said he wanted me to learn from one of the greatest he’d ever seen.” For the first time she saw him smile and matched it with one of her own. He sheathed his sword and wiped the sweat from his neck. He was looking around, but for what she couldn’t say. She waited for him to finish. “Is Daenerys not with you?”

“She and Missandei are sharing a bottle of wine in her chambers,” Arya explained. “Since she won’t be leaving tonight, I’m no longer required. I was walking to the barracks when I saw you and thought I’d say hi, I probably shouldn’t have interrupted but…”

“I’m glad you did,” he said, putting her at ease. “I’ve wanted to talk to you, but we haven’t had the chance until now. The first time I saw you, you were in no condition to converse.”

She was confused. The first time she’d seen Aemon was the day Dragonstone was taken from him, right? She tried to recall an earlier meeting, but she couldn’t think of any and certainly none where she was incapable of saying ‘hello’.

“You probably don’t remember,” Aemon said, “you were already unconscious when the guards dragged you in.”

Oh, of course. The bruises had faded, and Arya had allowed herself to forget about it. Rhaegar was with Daenerys and Missandei when she came back to the world, so it wasn’t beyond reason that Aemon would be there too, somewhere in her foggy memories.

He chuckled, “I’ve seen Daenerys mad plenty, I’ve heard her yell, but she’s never threatened anyone before.”

“She threatened them?” Arya heard herself ask. “Why?”

Aemon was clearly pleased he’d get to tell this story. He didn’t waste time before diving right in. “She ordered you released, and they ignored her.” He paused and then elaborated. “Guards not heeding her direction is pretty normal, especially when my father is around.” It must’ve been obvious that she didn’t see the connection because he helped her find it. “They tend to defer to him, regardless of what Dany or I might say. When she ordered they unchain you, they looked to him for instruction.”

Not that she’d given her welcome to the capital a whole lot of thought, but it a shock to learn just how much she’d missed in the few minutes she was knocked out. “Then what?”

“The longer they didn’t obey her, the angrier she got. Usually Daenerys backed down at the first hint of resistance, she’d cower and apologize before making a quick exit, or bottle all her feelings just under the surface and hold her tongue until she was allowed to leave. Neither happened here, because for what might be the first time in her life, Dany spoke up for herself, threatening to toss the guards in the cell you wouldn’t be needing any longer.” He was laughing by the end. “I always knew she has a temper, but I’d never seen her lose control like that.”

Arya wasn’t sure what to say. As she tried to make the pieces fit in her mind, she was reminded of something one of the city guards said when she and Missandei were standing over a corpse. One of the men was reluctant to believe who she was, but his partner had heard of her and rushed to smooth things over. She thought he was exaggerating when he said Daenerys had threatened to throw her abusers into the dungeon, but now Aemon was confirming it did in fact happen.

In recent days it stopped being strange when she counted Daenerys and Missandei among her friends. It also was no longer hard to separate Daenerys from all the others she shared her name with. She was different from them, just as Oberyn described before she left Dorne. She could vividly imagine the smug look on her mentor’s face when she admitted he was right all along. She’d never hear the end of it.

“I had no idea, she never mentioned it.”

“I’ve never seen her that upset or that worried before either. I’m glad you’re okay.” He hesitated and then looked her up and down. “You are okay, aren’t you?”

“I’m fine, that was nothing.”

“Good, I’m glad.” His expression changed from relief that she wasn’t permanently maimed to something she could only guess was nervousness. “There was something I wanted to ask you, if you have the time, and if you don’t mind, of course…”

She didn’t know what he’d ask her for, but if possible, she’d try and oblige. He was family, even if he didn’t know it. If it accomplished nothing else, it’d give Arya more opportunities to speak with Aemon and maybe learn a little more about his character. Before arriving at the Red Keep, she would have thought it impossible that anyone in the Seven Kingdoms did not know about Robert’s Rebellion and the reasons for it. Now though, after seeing how isolated Daenerys was, it wasn’t so farfetched to think Aemon was told a different story about why Robert declared war than the one Arya and her siblings were raised on.

“If it’s in my power to provide it Prince, I will do my best,” she told him formally.

He bristled at this title the way she used to when the staff of Winterfell called her Lady Stark or even worse, Princess. “Just Aemon, please,” he implored.

“Alright Aemon,” she said giving him a smirk. “What can I do for you?”

“Dany tells me you’re skilled. Would you be willing to train with me, if you aren’t too busy?”

“I’m sure there are many in your grandfather’s armies far more qualified…”

“They won’t spar with me, too afraid they’ll injure me and get in trouble.” He scoffed and knocked a dark curl away from his eyes. “As if I’d go running to the King, if I lost a match.” He lowered his voice before he finished. “He probably wouldn’t listen if I did.”

“I’ll train with you. I guard the Princess during the day, but by this time most nights she’s in her chambers resting. I can meet you here to offer advice or spar as often as you want.”

Looking down, it was obvious he was expecting a refusal. When she agreed his eyes snapped up and he grinned, looking so much like a member of her family that it was hard to focus. “Really?”

“Sure, I need the practice too. I’m used to training hours everyday and now all I do is stand around.”

“Thank you so much. If I’m going to Take the Black, I need to be as ready as I can,” Aemon rambled, his familiar eyes shining with excitement.

“You’re joining the Night’s Watch?”

“I hope to,” he said, his smile remaining. “I’ve wanted to for some time, but my father resists the idea, maybe if I can show him I’ll succeed there, he’ll be more inclined to let me go.”

“You’d give up your claim on the throne and all you have here just to join the Night’s Watch?” Arya couldn’t help but feel intrigued by this. She wanted to know if Aemon was just upset and blowing off steam, the way Arya would when she’d tell her parents she intended to run away and live in the Wolfswood, or did he truly mean it?

“Gladly,” he said at once. “The King doesn’t even consider me a real Targaryen. The other nobles aren’t much better, they don’t treat me the way they do Viserys or Daenerys. I’m in line for the throne but that alone doesn’t mean I belong here. I can belong on the Wall. They don’t care who my parents are or where I came from, they’ll accept me there regardless.”

She didn’t think she’d get a better chance to inquire about Aemon’s past, so she dipped her toe in carefully. “Why doesn’t the King treat you fairly? Is it because your father had children before you?”

The smile he wore discussing the Night’s Watch was gone and a more sombre expression replaced it. “I don’t know exactly I just know he refuses to see me as his grandson. He’s giving Dragonstone to Viserys and I’m glad, because I didn’t want it.” Well that didn’t provide much information, other than to remove all doubts about whether Aemon knew how he was conceived. Arya was prepared to move on, when Aemon said, “I think the reason he hates me has something to do with my mother.”

“Does your mother live here?” she asked, hoping to ease him into it.

“She’s dead,” he replied sadly. “She died just hours after I was born.”

“I’m sorry,” Arya said sincerely. “I lost my parents too and I know how difficult that can be. If you ever need anyone to talk to, apart from all,” she paused and rotated to wave a hand in the direction of the castle, “all this, let me know.” The way her parents were taken from her was different, but they were just as permanently gone as Aemon’s mother.

“Thank you,” he said, forcing a slight smile, in appreciation of her efforts. “I don’t know much about her, my father refuses to talk about her, and not just with me either, Daenerys has asked too, and he still won’t say anything.”

“You know nothing about her?” Arya was suddenly weighed down by all the things about Aemon’s mother she knew. She could tell him plenty and in doing so she’d be removing a burden that was very clearly causing him pain. It was probably the right thing to do, but she didn’t know how she could tell him about Lyanna without revealing who she was. Would he be so grateful for the information that he’d promise to keep her secret? That wasn’t a risk Arya could afford to take. She did hope the day came when she could tell Aemon the truth, but it wasn’t today.

“I know I look like her, I think that’s why the King hates me, and I know that she and my father were deeply in love, but apart from that, he won’t say such else.”

It took all of her self-restraint to not correct Aemon’s misconceptions. It wasn’t his fault he didn’t know. He’d been lied to his whole life. When she was confident she could part her lips without screaming, she shifted them to safer ground. “Members of my family are in the Night’s Watch. It’s an honorable choice, especially for a Targaryen.”

“I can’t explain it,” he confessed, “but I just feel like it’s where I’m meant to be.”

“Well, I can’t speak for anyone else, but I wish you luck either here or on the Wall.”

“Thank you.” Aemon was visibly touched. Arya guessed he didn’t get much encouragement. “Thank you very much.”

“Daenerys will miss you terribly, but if it’s what will make you happy, I’m sure she’ll understand.”

“I hate the idea of leaving her here. All our lives we’ve looked out for one another and it feels wrong abandoning her like this, but what life can I have if I stay?”

It was a rhetorical question, but she answered it anyway. “There comes a point when you need to do what you want and say, ‘fuck everyone else.’ It’s your life, the only one you’ll get, you can’t live it for other people.”

“I’m sure your parents would be proud of you,” Aemon commented. “Even without them, you rose to become a guard, overcoming all the obstacles in front of you.”

“I hope they are proud, wherever they are. When I began training to be a soldier, many didn’t agree, it’ll be the same if you choose to join the Night’s Watch, but that doesn’t make it a bad idea.”

Maybe it was wrong to be encouraging him to leave his family, but it wasn’t some petty, vindictive attempt to hurt Rhaegar by getting his son to go. The only reason Arya was supportive of Aemon was because he was so unhappy with his life as it currently was. She could relate to that all too well. When she felt trapped, Oberyn fought for her. Arya wanted to show Aemon the same kindness, becoming the one voice telling him it was okay to chase his dream.

“If we’re going to get you ready for Castle Black and whatever is waiting beyond the Wall, we best get started right away.”

He was smiling as he drew his sword. She still needed sleep and a bath, but those things could wait. Aemon was family and that made him a priority.

R-C

While Missandei helped Daenerys get ready for the day, Arya made her daily pilgrimage toward the throne room hoping to catch Rhaegar before he began his first meeting. On the way she noted privately, and not for the first time how easy it would be to just sneak Daenerys out of the keep. The harder it was to get a meeting with the Crown Prince, the harder it became for Arya to live up to their agreement.

She was initially pleased when she saw him in the hall, engaged in a conversation. It wasn’t until she got closer that she realized who he was speaking to. Cersei Lannister had her back to Arya and was leaning close to Rhaegar as she spoke. Inching closer she was able to hear what was being said.

“… dinner tonight,” Cersei proposed, placing a hand on Rhaegar’s arm. “I don’t know about you, but I tire of eating in the Hall with everyone. We could go for a walk after and…”

“That is a very kind offer m’lady,” he began diplomatically. He was smiling kindly but in Arya’s opinion it looked a little stiff. “I’m afraid it’s unlikely this evening however, I’m not sure how late I’ll be. I have many appointments and wouldn’t want you to be left waiting if my business kept me.”

His logic was plausible, but Cersei wasn’t ready to admit defeat. “I wouldn’t mind, I prefer eating later anyway.”

Right before her eyes Rhaegar had to work a bit harder to maintain that fake smile of his. “Aemon and I usually spend our evenings together.”

Again, his reason made sense, but she wouldn’t or couldn’t relent. “One night, that’s all I’m suggesting. He is a grown man. He can entertain himself for a few hours.”

“Cersei,” Rhaegar tried, using his tone to try and coax the Lannister into submission.

Rather than the guilt he was trying to invoke, Cersei was growing frustrated. Her volume rose as she said, “I don’t understand why you won’t give us a chance? We could be great.”

“You are my friend, and I value that friendship,” he countered, maintaining his even composure. “I think we should remain friends.”

“You’ll be King soon, do you intend to rule alone?”

“If and when I become King,” he said with some feeling, “I am not opposed to doing it unmarried.”

Her final argument was her least persuasive. “The people will expect their King to have a wife, to bare children.”

“I have children,” he said, his tone growing firm, “beyond that, if I’m a good King, it shouldn’t matter whether I’m married or not.”

Cersei’s father decided to intervene walking over to them. His presence was met with different reaction, Rhaegar looked relieved that their conversation wouldn’t continue, while Cersei was defiant. She looked to Tywin for help in swaying the Prince and he glared in response until she excused herself. Arya had to wonder, was Tywin upset his daughter propositioned Rhaegar so insistently or was his problem that she failed? As Cersei fled, she was quickly met by her brother Jaime. Like Tywin he looked unimpressed by what he’d just witnessed. She couldn’t hear what they were saying, but it was obvious from their body language alone the siblings disagreed.

After his children disappeared around a corner, Tywin informed Rhaegar that their meeting would be starting soon. “I’ll join you shortly,” he said to the Hand and Tywin nodded. His route to the throne room took him past Arya’s position. He didn’t acknowledge her, but she paid him careful attention. Separate from his daughter and the Prince, his anger remained, even though the issue had been settled. Without proof, it was only an educated guess, but Arya got the impression Tywin’s anger, unlike his son’s wasn’t aimed at Cersei. It was more probable that he took offense because Rhaegar hadn’t jumped at Cersei’s offer. Joining his family to the royals was just the sort of thing Arya assumed Tywin would be in favor of. If it happened, Cersei would become Queen and Tywin’s power within the keep would reach new heights.

Standing alone, leaning on his cane, Rhaegar was quickly joined by his guard Ser Barristan. Arya didn’t want to interrupt, but this would be her only chance to secure Daenerys an escape from the castle that day. She approached as confidently as she could.

Rhaegar saw her coming and sighed. “You too, by the Gods, it isn’t my day,” he complained.

The knight turned toward her and was already moving to intercept Arya before she could reach her target. “The Prince is very busy, I’m afraid…”

“We made a deal,” she reminded the cowardly Prince as he hid behind his guard. “You told me you’d let me know if Daenerys was needed.”

“As I told you yesterday,” Selmy began, only to be stopped when Rhaegar’s free hand gripped his shoulder.

“It’s alright,” Rhaegar ruled. “She is right, I did make that agreement, I just wasn’t aware when I did that you’d show up as faithfully as the sun every morning.” While he spoke, he walked around the Selmy to Arya. His words were finished before his short, uneven steps.

“I gave Daenerys my word that I’d help her leave the keep as often as her duties would allow,” she explained, justifying her actions.

“If I permit her to leave the castle today, will I be spared from further visits?”

She couldn’t prevent her cocky smirk from making an appearance on her face. “Whether or not you allow her to leave, you’ll have peace, until this time tomorrow.”

Off to the side Barristan looked ready to involve himself but before he could Rhaegar shook his head, sending a band of light hair in front of his eyes. “You’re as fearless as they say,” he remarked after a humorless chuckle.

“I keep my word, to Daenerys and to you. I won’t take her into the city without your approval, but I will return tomorrow to ask again, unless you can tell me now if Daenerys’s presence will be required.”

Something happened she couldn’t explain. Suddenly Rhaegar’s features darkened and although he wasn’t angry, he was much more serious than he had been. It wasn’t only the Targaryen either, Barristan wore a similar grim expression.

“Forgive me Prince, but tomorrow is…”

“I know what tomorrow is, Ser thank you,” Rhaegar snapped. To Arya he continued, “There is nothing today that will require Daenerys’s attendance. As long as she’s back for dinner, she’s free to do as she pleases.”

“Thank you,” Arya said. She was pleased to have such good news to deliver to the Princess.

Rhaegar wasn’t done. “Tomorrow will be a busy. The King will be holding trials for a number of men in our dungeons.”

This information had the potential to ruin what was otherwise looking like a good day. She knew how the King’s trials usually ended. Was he going to recommend Daenerys attend? If Daenerys had to be there, Arya would too. That was something she was hoping to avoid if she could help it. “Is Daenerys expected to be there?” she asked as evenly as she could, while inside she hid a raging storm of emotions.

At her question he looked as pained as she was. “Absolutely not, in fact you have my approval to take Daenerys into the city tomorrow as well. The trials usually run long, so for tomorrow only, she won’t be missed if she’s not at dinner.”

Arya was grateful for herself and for Daenerys. She didn’t think Daenerys would enjoy observing murders committed to appease her father’s madness, anymore than Arya would. “Thank you, Prince,” she said politely. “I’m sure Daenerys will say the same when she sees you, but until then, allow me to express gratitude on her behalf.”

The mere mention of Daenerys brought out a smile. “Tell her to enjoy herself.” As quickly as it arrived it was gone, and he was once again painfully severe. “You,” he said pointing directly at Arya’s chest, “keep my sister safe.”

“I will.”

R-C

“Where do you think Arya is?” Daenerys asked as she and Missandei waited for the guard. She was bathed, dressed and her hair was styled. She was ready, the only thing missing was Arya. “She’s usually here by now, isn’t she?” Had something happened?

“I’m sure it won’t be long,” Missandei said calmly. It was quiet for a few moments before she went further. “I don’t recall you fretting this much if Jorah was running late.”

Her head whipped around to look at her friend and she found the handmaiden smiling mischievously. “What do you mean by that?” she asked, even though she had a pretty good idea.

“I mean you care about Arya,” Missandei said bluntly. “I’d go so far as to say you care for her more in only a few weeks than you do Jorah who has been watching over you for years.”

That was true, and moreover Daenerys had no desire to deny the accusation. She did enjoy Arya’s company and she didn’t see any harm in that. She’d be going back to Sunspear before long, so Daenerys could be forgiven for wanting to spend as much time as she could with her friend before it was too late. “I do,” she admitted quietly. “She’s so different from anyone else around here. It’s a nice change.”

“Yes, she is,” Missandei agreed, “but is that all it is?”

This time Daenerys was less certain of the point Missandei was trying to make. “What are you saying?”

“I mean that Arya is quite attractive, if you are interested in that sort of thing, and I’ve noticed you watching her.”

She was sure she was blushing without checking in the mirror. She did appreciate Arya’s beauty, she had right from their initial meeting. It was also true that as highly as Daenerys thought of her physical appearance, it paled in comparison to her opinion of the young woman’s character.

“It’s been a long time since Daario was last here. It would be understandable if you developed feelings for someone else, especially someone who spends as much time with you as Arya does.”

Her blush intensified as Missandei mentioned her only past lover. He’d come with his cohorts in the mercenary company the Second Sons and sought an audience with the King under some pretense. She learned later that the real reason for the visit was to perform reconnaissance. What she didn’t know then, what no one knew apart from the three sell-swords was that the Second Sons had taken a contract to kill the King’s only daughter.

To hear Daario tell it, he decided the moment he laid eyes upon her that he would not and could not fulfill his contract. They’d been approached by a man in Essos who claimed to be from an area around the Vale. He went before Daenerys’s father on a day Daenerys wasn’t there and offended him in some fashion. Whether the insult was genuine or a figment of the King’s imagination, Daenerys never learned. Either way Aerys had the man’s daughter killed as punishment and then exiled him to Essos to wallow in grief.

Eventually, grief melded into anger and then resolve. The man became obsessed with revenge, killing Daenerys to make Aerys feel the same pain he felt. Daenerys was horrified when she heard the story, not at the man for wanting vengeance but at her father. She didn’t have children, but if she lost one, especially in such a terrible way, she would likely kill anyone and everyone she held responsible.

The part she found saddest of all, was that the man’s scheme was flawed. What he didn’t know was that Aerys didn’t care enough about his daughter to mourn her. If Daario had done his duty and killed her, Aerys wouldn’t have felt the same pain the desperate father did, because he didn’t love Daenerys the way the man had loved his child.

After their meeting, Daario and his friends gathered to discuss their next steps. Apparently, they disagreed. Daario wanted to return the man’s gold and refuse to complete the task, the others wanted to proceed. She didn’t know all the details, but words were exchanged, blades drawn and at sunrise the next day Daario appeared at the gate holding the heads of the two other sell-swords.

Thrilled with the unexpected but always welcome severed heads Aerys forgot all his pending business and met with Daario instead. He insisted everyone be present, including Daenerys. She watched as her father praised him for rooting out a betrayal and protecting his family. He offered Daario a place in King’s Landing and although he pledged his sword to the Targaryens. Daenerys simply didn’t notice he was looking at her and not the King as he said so.

As she watched Daario become a member of her father’s army, she had no idea how close she’d come to being killed. Daario informed her, when he arrived that night at her door. He told her in no uncertain terms that although he knelt before the King and swore obedience, his true loyalty was to her. He called her beautiful and stunning and Daenerys was quite taken with his overt affection. The idea that someone, anyone would choose her over the King made it easy to accept when he suggested they go to bed together. It was a bad idea, she knew, but she was an adult woman with needs, she was lonely, and Daario was there, willing and saying all of the right things.

Over the next four months, they got together as often as they could, usually two or three nights a week. For Daenerys, Daario offered a distraction from the confines of the Red Keep and the obligations of her family name. Daario complimented her frequently but was just as likely to speak of his past conquests, be it battle or women. With her lack of experience, it wasn’t obvious that Daario felt strongly for her until he said the words one night, as they laid side by side. Daenerys who had been on the brink of sleep was suddenly wide awake and feeling ill. He loved her? How had she let that happen? She didn’t need to search inside herself to know she didn’t feel the same way. She liked Daario and enjoyed his company, but she felt no love for him. That night she feigned sleep and vowed she’d end things between them as soon as she could. She didn’t want to hurt him but couldn’t allow things between them to continue when they wanted such different things.

It took several days and multiple conversations with Missandei to decide how to tell him. In the end, all of her preparations were meaningless. Before she found the courage to say what was on her mind, Daario was gone, off to fulfill one order or another. Daenerys didn’t know if it was his oath to the Second Sons, or the one he gave the Realm that called him away, but it didn’t really make a difference. She walked in, intending to finally tell him, and he was packing a bag. Did he sense they were over? Is that why he was collecting his things? He smiled, marched straight to her and gave her a passionate kiss. By the time she recovered, he was gone. She vaguely remembered him saying, “I need to go, but I’ll see you soon,” on his way out. That was months ago, and she hadn’t seen or heard from him since.

Since he’d been gone, nothing gave her cause to change her mind. She didn’t love him, it had never been about love for her. If further proof was required, Daenerys could say that while she missed companionship in general, and missed having someone to spend her time with, she had never missed Daario specifically. She couldn’t think of a more telling sign that their relationship was over.

“I’m sorry,” Missandei apologized, “I shouldn’t have…”

“You’re right,” she said, admitting it out loud for the first time. “I am attracted to Arya, but she’s my guard and…”

“And nothing, if you’re interested, you should tell her before she leaves.”

Arya’s return to Dorne was only one of the reasons she hadn’t acted on her feelings. As far as the Princess could tell, her attraction and interest was entirely one sided. “I don’t know,” she whined when no other words came to her. She really didn’t. Would Arya be receptive? Would attempting to seduce her ruin their friendship? Daenerys had hoped they would remain friends even after they separated. If she had to refuse Daenerys’s proposition, she’d likely never hear from the soldier again. It was a risk either way, she just hadn’t decided which one was more tolerable.

“I think she feels the same way.” Missandei said it so casually, though there was nothing casual about how Daenerys felt hearing it.

“What? She’s never…” her brain stopped and started again, “I don’t think…”

“I see her watching you just as often as I catch you watching her.”

She wasn’t ready to accept Missandei’s opinion as fact, but she couldn’t deny being cheered by the possibility. “I’ve never seen Arya staring at me,” she noted, reflecting back on their many hours together.

“She hides it, just as you do,” Missandei explained. “You only look when she’s busy and she does the same. I see it all.”

“We’re friends, and only just barely. If I…”

“Think of how far you’ve come in only a short time.”

Her mind was only too happy to think about her history with Arya. Missandei was right about one thing, what they had now would have seemed improbable if not impossible on the day they met. Arya had been angry with her then, but still protected her from Viserys. Since, they had slowly developed a mutual respect and friendship. Daenerys might have been open to something more intimate, but would she undo all their progress if she moved them in that direction? “I don’t know,” she repeated, it was an even more feeble response the second time. Daenerys was at a loss. She knew what she wanted, but that couldn’t be the only factor she considered. Worse than never exploring her romantic feelings would be unintentionally hurting Arya with her confession. Her brother already didn’t like Arya, what would he say if he learned she and Daenerys were lovers? His reaction wouldn’t be pleasant, and it was still favorable to what her father would do if he knew she took a bastard guard as her consort.

Just thinking about everything had Daenerys nearing her breaking point. Somehow Missandei knew. She took Daenerys’s hand and pulled her from her spiraling thoughts. Even without a firm decision one way or the other, she was glad to have Missandei to talk to about it. “Thank you.”

“You don’t have to decide now,” she noted calmly, soothing Daenerys’s nerves more with each word. “Just don’t hide from it. I know it’s scary but trust me, it’s worth all the anxiety and fear.”

She was talking about Grey Worm and the love she held for him was on full display. She never said so, but she was envious of her friend’s relationship. As unlikely as the pair might seem, they made it work. Daenerys loved seeing them together. After everything they’d been through, Grey Worm and Missandei were able to find possibly the truest love Daenerys had ever seen. They did it without arranged marriages, overbearing fathers or meddling brothers. Their bond wasn’t to strengthen an alliance or unite thousands, it was for them alone. In Daenerys’s eyes that made it all the more significant. “I hope one day I can experience what you and Grey Worm have.”

“You will,” Missandei decreed with supreme confidence. “If not with Arya, then with someone else.”

“What should I do?” she asked shamelessly, desperate for the wise woman’s advice.

“Keep spending time with her, as you have been. Don’t deny yourself happiness Daenerys, you are as entitled to it as anyone.”

“What if Arya isn’t interested?”

“Then she’s not,” Missandei replied simply, “but I think you’ll regret letting her return to Dorne without finding out for sure.”

They were interrupted by the woman they were discussing knocking on the door. Arya’s distinctive short, hard, strikes against the wood were sounds she’d come to recognize and anticipate. Arya’s presence would force the friends to postpone the rest of their conversation, but nonetheless knowing Arya was close made her smile. “Come in Arya,” she shouted.

She poked her head in first, checking to make sure it was safe. Daenerys angled her body toward the new arrival. The guard was wearing her typical armor, with her dark hair neatly combed and tied back away from her face. Was it because of the discussion they were having or the blinding smile on Arya’s lips? Whatever the cause99999, it was making it hard for Daenerys to focus. Arya looked gorgeous.

It took Missandei clearing her throat to cease her staring. Her cheeks warmed and she found two sets of eyes watching her in anticipation. Swallowing what remained of her pride, she admitted defeat. “I’m sorry what?”

She couldn’t recall ever regretting speaking more. As soon as it was evident that she hadn’t heard, Arya’s smile faltered, and Daenerys immediately missed it. Missandei and Arya looked at one another as if deciding who would repeat themselves to compensate for Daenerys’s incompetence. “We were asking what you wanted to do today Princess,” Arya said after rolling her eyes.

Though spoken clearly, Daenerys didn’t understand the question. What she wanted to do? She didn’t have anything of importance upcoming, at least nothing she was aware of. “I don’t know.”

“We have a whole city to explore,” Arya continued, unbothered by Daenerys’s pitiful response. “We can go to the orphanage and deliver the clothes you gathered up, or we could go to the dock and watch the ships…”

At last she understood. They could leave the keep! With a squeal that was most certainly not fit for a Princess she threw herself into Arya’s arms. Whether the guard was expecting her or was just blessed with extremely quick reflexes, she didn’t know. Arya caught her with minimal effort. “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” she chanted as she extended the embrace longer than was standard.

When they separated, it was Arya’s turn to blush. “You should thank your brother,” she explained, taking none of the credit.

“He may have agreed, but you are the one who sought him out.”

“I try and catch him everyday,” Arya admitted, avoiding meeting Daenerys’s eye as she spoke. Daenerys couldn’t comprehend what about this had Arya shy, but either way she was moved by the generosity. “Today I just happened upon him before he began his meetings.”

She wanted contact with Arya to try and express how much this meant to her, but she was determined not to squeal like a child and launch herself at Arya in excitement. She settled for a rather restrained taking of her hand. She waited until Arya looked at her before she said, “Thank you Arya, not only for this, but for all the other times you tried too.”

“You shouldn’t be forced to stay here like a prisoner,” Arya noted. “There is no reason we can’t spend the day in the city.”

When Arya initially asked what she wanted to do, she had imagined the day going very differently. Now they had hours laid out before them. Her mind was bombarded with so many ideas she couldn’t choose just one. “What should we do?”

“You ladies can decide,” Arya began, managing to avoid looking at the Princess’s face again, “but before you do, you should probably know that your brother not only granted us leave for today, but tomorrow as well.”

It wasn’t common for Daenerys to be rendered speechless. More frequently she wasn’t allowed to speak or subtly discouraged from sharing her true opinions, but that was not this. “H…how?” she sputtered idiotically. How had Arya managed to secure not only one day of freedom but two? Given Rhaegar’s dislike for her guard, she struggled to imagine the exchange between them that led to Daenerys being allowed to leave the castle on two consecutive days.

It was challenging enough to fill the time when it amounted to only a handful of hours. Now, she knew whatever couldn’t be crammed into today’s schedule could simply be postponed until tomorrow.

“It’s a beautiful day,” Missandei said glancing out the window. “I bet there are many ships in the harbor.”

She grinned at her handmaiden. “I suppose we’ll have to find out.”

“We’ll start at the docks then,” Arya added, looking first to Daenerys and then Missandei for the required approvals. “I’m sure by the time we’re done there, you’ll have decided where you want to go next.”

She was biased. After the gift Arya had just given her, it would be hard for Daenerys to disagree with any suggestion her protector made. Still, beginning with the ships sounded like a solid plan and a great first step. She turned to find Missandei just as thrilled by this turn of events as Daenerys. “I’m sure we’ll think of something.”

“Shall I go ready the horses while you two collect your things and discuss our future?”

“You don’t have to do…”

She didn’t get to finish. Arya smiled again, not as brightly as before, but still beautifully. “I don’t mind. You can take your time and finish here and then I’ll meet you.”

Her day kept improving. First Arya arranges a trip into the city and now she was going to be allowed to walk to the stables without a guard. Arya hadn’t left yet, waiting to see if either woman had an objection they cared to raise. “We won’t be long,” the Princess promised.

Daenerys had thought she was ready to go, when her day would consist of moving about the castle, but if she was venturing out, she’d need a few more items, not the least of which would be gold. She went to her desk and opened the third drawer, where she stored a small fortune in accumulated wealth.

“That was very kind of Arya,” Missandei said once they were alone.

She was understating things drastically, but Daenerys agreed. “What do you think she said to Rhaegar?”

“Does it matter?”

She turned away from the desk and grinned happily at her best friend. “Not even a little bit.”

They chuckled together and Missandei offered to carry the coins Daenerys was bringing. As she handed over one of the two purses an idea came to her. It was risky and not something she would have dared to contemplate six months ago, but she was feeling emboldened. “Do you want to leave?”

“Leave?” Missandei clarified as she hid the gold away.

“You’ve always said you wished to see more of Westeros than just King’s Landing. After your recent scare, I think you’re owed a rest. Why don’t you and Grey Worm sneak away for a couple of days. You wouldn’t be able to go far,” Daenerys acknowledged, “I’d need you back here the day after tomorrow, but I don’t see any reason you can’t travel a little.”

Missandei’s chocolate eyes were wide and she studied Daenerys intently. “Are you serious?”

“Absolutely. Go Missandei, I want you to. You deserve it.”

Logical and prepared, she wasn’t the sort to leap without looking. She thought it through methodically. “What if you need anything?”

“The keep has other servants,” Daenerys reminded her. “None I like as much as you, but I’ll survive.”

That got a smile out of the conflicted woman, although it didn’t last. “What if someone else asks for me?” She didn’t wait for Daenerys’s response. “Your brother, your father, they could summon me, Tywin maybe, and I wouldn’t be here.”

She raised a valid point, but Daenerys wasn’t about to let this go. She meant it when she said Missandei deserved this. Daenerys had always intended to help her escape. Now, she stayed out of loyalty and not fear. A couple of days wasn’t much of a reward when she considered all that Missandei had done for her, but it was better than nothing. “If anyone asks, I’ll tell them I sent you on an errand for my nameday.” The lie came easily. and Daenerys couldn’t be happier with it. It was just the kind of thing that would stifle any concerns. “After what happened to you and Arya in the city, I’ll tell them I insisted you take an escort with you. If you happen to choose the man you love out of the thousands of Unsullied available, I’m sure that’s just coincidence.”

“I could stay.”

“I could order you to go,” Daenerys retorted.

“I’m happy here, you don’t have to do this for me.”

“I want to. Go and enjoy yourself.”

Missandei opened her arms for a hug and Daenerys went. “Thank you. You are the best woman I’ve ever known.”

When they parted Daenerys gave Missandei the second purse of coins. “Take this too,” she said.

“I can’t. I shouldn’t take any, I don’t need…”

“It’s not much,” she lied. “Keep it, in case you and Grey Worm decide that two days isn’t long enough. You may feel compelled to see more of the world.”

She knew the unspoken message reached her target when Missandei stopped weighing the gold and her eyes snapped to Daenerys. “I’ll be back, in two days.”

“You’ll always be welcome here, but you also have my blessing if you want a different life.”

“I’ll be back in two days to hear about all your adventures with Arya,” Missandei insisted, shifting the topic to something less likely to make both women cry. “Have fun and try not to get caught staring too many times.”

In other company she would have denied and minimized until her cheeks returned to their natural color, but with Missandei and only Missandei she could be honest. “I’ll do my best, but when she smiles like that, I forget the common tongue.”

“She’s probably waiting for you,” Missandei guessed accurately. “We’re up here wasting your day.”

Daenerys was eager to get going, but she couldn’t let that comment pass uncorrected. She gripped Missandei’s hand in hers. “We aren’t wasting anything. Do you have everything you need?”

On the way to the door Missandei grabbed a cloak for each of them. Daenerys noticed the handmaiden chose one for herself that would provide a little more protection from the elements. “I have more than enough. You don’t need to be quite so generous.”

“Consider it the first of many long overdue payments.” At the mention of gold, Daenerys realized she’d given away both purses she retrieved from the desk, so she hurried back to raid her supply again. “Shouldn’t you be on the way to fetch Grey Worm?”

“I’ll walk you to the stables first. It’ll attract less attention than if you’re seen wandering alone.”

A seemingly valid excuse. Daenerys chose to cling to it and steal a few more moments with her friend before they parted ways for the longest period of time since they were introduced.

R-C

Arya had the horses ready and there was no sign of her companions. She knew how Daenerys felt about her guards, she tolerated them, but wished they didn’t have to shadow her everywhere. A short walk within the castle walls was an ideal chance for Arya to give her a small amount of independence. She expected the women would join her before she finished with the saddles, but she’d been wrong. Now, all three horses were ready, and the Princess and her handmaiden still hadn’t arrived. She tried to think of what could’ve delayed them. Logically she knew the Red Keep was one of the safest places in the world, but if anything harmed Daenerys because Arya wasn’t there to protect her, she’d never forgive herself. She was just about to begin her search when Daenerys came into view, with Missandei half a step behind. As she went to them, her eyes moved over their bodies, checking for injuries. When she was satisfied that they weren’t physically hurt, she shifted her focus to their posture, their faces, their mannerisms. They were happy. Arya was relieved. Her choice to give Daenerys a taste of freedom wouldn’t haunt her. Despite the long wait, it didn’t seem the women had any trouble in the minutes Arya wasn’t there to watch over them.

“Sorry we’re late,” Daenerys said when they were close enough to converse without yelling. “Can you ready Grey Worm’s horse as well?”

Grey Worm, would he be coming too? Arya certainly wouldn’t be sad to spend the day in the commander’s company. It’d give her someone to talk to when Daenerys and Missandei were whispering together. “Of course.”

“You don’t need to do that,” Missandei said. Arya had never heard her contradicted Daenerys before. “I can do that after you leave.”

Arya tried to keep pace with the new information. So, Missandei wasn’t going with them, but she was definitely going somewhere, with Grey Worm apparently. “I don’t mind.”

“Thank you, Arya” Daenerys said before turning her attention back to Missandei. “Arya can prepare Grey Worm’s horse and you and I can go and get him.”

Before they went separate ways, Daenerys met her eye and tried to convey a message without words. Hopeful is the only way Arya could describe what she saw. Arya understood. She wanted to go to the Unsullied training grounds without a guard. She wasn’t hurrying away or trying to sneak she was waiting patiently for Arya to decide. If she refused, Daenerys wouldn’t whine or argue, she’d accept it and obey Arya’s rule, even if she didn’t like it. What she was asking for wasn’t all that different from what they’d just done. Sure, they were outside, but they were still on the grounds of the Red Keep. Between the patrols, the guards stationed at various posts and the men training, she’d probably be better protected than usual, even without Arya there.

Not for the first time, she put herself in Daenerys’s shoes, and imagined how she’d feel if her father wouldn’t let her leave the castle, if her father insisted her every waking hour included a guard accompanying her everywhere she went. She’d hate it and she didn’t blame Daenerys for hating it too. There weren’t many opportunities to give Daenerys space without sacrificing her safety, but this time, she could. “That sounds like a good idea.”

Violet eyes lit up, and Daenerys’s smile blossomed into a wide grin. “Thank you,” she said to the guard. She grabbed Missandei’s hand and pulled her toward the barrack. “Come on, you’ve got an adventure to begin.”

Arya could only stand and stare at the space where they’d been. What was going on? Where were Missandei and Grey Worm going? Why did Daenerys seem more excited about it than Missandei? She didn’t know, but she pushed all that to the back of her mind and got to work. With a little help from the stablemaster, she found the right mount and led him out to where the others were tied up. Unsure of where Grey Worm and Missandei were going, Arya fed each of their horses from a basket and then tucked another couple of apples into Missandei’s saddlebag.

By the time they came back with Grey Worm in tow, Arya’s questions were burning her tongue. “Where are you going?”

Missandei smiled at Arya, before she replied. “Daenerys is giving Grey Worm and I today and tomorrow to travel, to see a little bit more of the Realm.”

That wasn’t what she was expecting to hear, especially since Missandei and Grey Worm were technically slaves. Could they just leave? Would Daenerys’s permission be enough to protect them if they were discovered? She didn’t know, but she didn’t want to ruin this for them either. She swallowed her concerns and forced a smile. If Missandei was going out into the world, without Arya, there was one thing she needed to have before she left.

Arya dropped to a knee in the dirt and when she straightened she was holding the same knife she used to kill the recruits who almost raped her and the thief who had threatened Missandei. “This has always brought me good luck,” she explained as she flipped it over on her palm, so the handle was angled to the handmaiden.

“Arya, I couldn’t…”

“I want you to have it.”

“Grey Worm will be with her,” Daenerys noted.

“A woman should always be able to defend herself. I’m sure Grey Worm can show you how to use it, or I will give you some lessons when you get back.”

Missandei took the offered gift and immediately handed it off to Grey Worm so she could wrap her arms around Arya. “Thank you, you are a true friend.”

“Enjoy your trip,” Arya whispered in her ear before they both stepped back.

R-C

Chapter Text

Her morning was going better than she could have hoped. After seeing Grey Worm and Missandei off Arya and Daenerys went to the dock to begin their own adventure away from the Red Keep. The sun was shining brightly, warming her skin. Just before they arrived at the waterfront Daenerys glanced to her side, where she assumed Arya would be, but she was alone. Panic built in her chest as she pulled up on the reigns to slow her horse, angling her neck to survey her surroundings. It didn’t take long to find her, Arya was there, riding about ten paces back, directly behind the Princess.

By the time Daenerys’s stallion came to a complete stop Arya sensed she was needed and closed the distance between them. “Still want to start here or have you thought of somewhere else you’d rather go?”

Being reminded of their plan helped her forget her questions about where Arya had been. “Here is great,” she said, inhaling deeply she could already taste the salt in the air.

“Why don’t you go find a place to sit, I’ll secure the horses.”

She already knew where Arya could get a post in the shade and pointed it out.

Sitting in the cool grass, under a large tree Daenerys stared out at the water and couldn’t contain her glee. Here, the Red Keep and all the burdens there felt so very far away. They couldn’t reach her now, and that was exactly how she liked it.

Many ships were there, including several with her family sigil on the sails. They were the largest and most expensive ships in sight, but Daenerys dismissed them outright. She’d been on a ship just like that all the way to Dorne and back. While at sea she explored every inch and made it her mission to understand the inner workings of the floating city. She started by watching the captain steer one afternoon and then spent the two days after studying the men who worked the sails. By the time they made landfall Daenerys had dedicated time to every sailor and every nook, confident she knew all the ship’s secrets. Without an underlying sense of mystery there was little to intrigue her about her family’s vessels. Without a story to tell a ship was just a pile of curved wood and some a few scraps of colorful fabric.

It took more than an hour of sitting and watching for Daenerys to choose her favorite. The ship was about a third the size of her father’s flagship, but where Aery’s ship was immaculate and rarely used, the smaller ship appeared worn and loved.

Men were unloading their cargo and Daenerys stood up and smoothed a wrinkle from her dress. She wanted to get a closer look.

Arya was beside her in an instant. “Going to see that trader?” she guessed accurately.

“How…” Daenerys began, before she trailed off.

With a smug smirk Arya shook her head. “It’s the one you admire most isn’t it?”

Lacking a suitable response, she just smiled. “Do you know what they’re hauling?” she wondered. While she was genuinely curious about the cargo, her main motivation was to get them speaking. Since they left the castle Arya had said no more than a handful of words and only when Daenerys posed a direct question. At first, she thought little of it, Arya wasn’t overly talkative, and Daenerys didn’t mind that, in fact the quiet was nice. Her concerns came later, when she invited Arya to join her under the tree and was refused. Fearing that Arya was bored, she suggested they move on. She asked her guard what she would recommend for them next and Arya responded, “You can decide, I wouldn’t mind spending all day here.” Since then she’d been scouring her mind for a reason to explain Arya’s distant attitude. If it wasn’t boredom, what was it?

It was a compelling enough problem to take priority over the ships in front of her. She went back in her mind to pinpoint the exact moment Arya’s mood had changed. She had been happy when she told Daenerys of Rhaegar granting her request to leave. She was calm when she readied their horses and said goodbye to Missandei and Grey Worm. She wanted to reject the notion, but it seemed Arya was fine until after they were alone together. Had she done something to offend her? She couldn’t imagine what, but it was possible.

“I’m sorry,” Arya said as they walked slowly down the dock. Arya was a half a step ahead of her now, with grey, vigilant eyes sweeping from side to side, searching for danger.

She had been considering apologizing to Arya and now the soldier was asking for her forgiveness instead? She put a hand on Arya’s arm and stopped walking. “What do you have to be sorry for?”

“I know you want your independence, from your father, your brother, the castle and the guards and I want to give you that, as much as I can, but I can’t stay back while you meet with strangers.”

Of all the things she thought Arya might say, she wasn’t prepared for that. Suddenly she saw the events of the morning in a new way. Everything from the moment she met with Rhaegar to now, became clear, Arya was trying to give Daenerys freedom.

“Arya, I don’t mind having guards,” she said to begin setting things straight.

“You told me you hated that they,” her attractive face contorted in a grimace and she amended her statement, “that I have to follow you around all the time, that you can’t ever get even a moment to yourself.”

She cursed under her breath because she had said that once. For the first time since they met Daenerys was disappointed Arya actually listened when she spoke. How could she make her understand that when she said ‘guards’, she didn’t mean Arya? She’d stopped being a guard in Daenerys’s eyes a while back, if she ever was one. In recent days she remembered Arya was her guard about as frequently as she recalled that Missandei was actually her handmaiden and that is to say, not very often. To Daenerys, Missandei and Arya were her friends. “I didn’t mean…”

She raised an eyebrow as if daring Daenerys to finish that thought. “You did mean it, you hate having guards and I don’t blame you, I would too.”

As she listened to Arya, she saw her opening and leapt without looking, “You’re not a guard Arya.”

Rather than clearing things up, she muddled things worse than they already were. “I am a guard, your guard.”

She resisted the urge to groan in frustration only just. How could she explain how she felt about this? She grinned when she found what she thought was a winning strategy. “When you look at me, do you see a Princess, or Daenerys?”

“I’m not sure, I see you.”

Daenerys caught herself smiling at the obvious honesty she heard. Arya was acting quite cute without realizing it as she fumbled around. “Don’t think just answer, who am I?”

“Daenerys,” Arya replied quickly, clearly making an effort to heed the instructions

“Exactly, because I am more than just my title or my royal blood. I’m more than just a Princess and you are more than just a guard.”

“Okay,” she said slowly, stretching out the word as she waited for further clarification.

Exhaling deeply, she tried again. “Arya one of my favorite things about having you as my guard is that when we’re alone like this, when it’s just the two of us, I feel like everybody else. The people we pass, they don’t know us, to them we’re just two friends spending the day together, and that’s how I feel too.”

She saw the instant Arya began to comprehend her point of view. “I just didn’t want to get in the way. I thought for one day at least, I’d try to give you as much space as I could.”

Just as it was sweet to arm Missandei before they separated, it was adorable of Arya to want to make Daenerys’s day special. “I don’t want space from you Arya. What I want is to spend the day in the city with my friend.”

“I can do that.”

That was all she needed to know. She gripped Arya’s hand and then took off running, pulling the bigger woman along. “Come on then, the ship’s waiting.”

R-C

“Can we stop for lunch in the market?” Daenerys asked as they walked away from the dock.

Slightly taken aback, it took Arya longer to reply than usual. “The food vendors?”

“Yes!” she gushed. “I love going there, and I rarely get the chance.” She seemed to notice her exuberance and tried to contain it. “If you don’t want to…”

“I like it too,” Arya confessed, “I just didn’t think you would.” How could a woman who had access to the royal kitchen prefer the poor-quality food sold in the market? She supposed it was an example of wanting what you didn’t have.

Daenerys didn’t appear hurt by the criticism that was implied. “Most days I’d rather eat here than in the castle.”

When she felt shock at the admission, she realized she probably shouldn’t. Daenerys constantly did or said things that showed her deeply held desire to be her own person, to make her own choices and live her own life. It was stunning to discover Arya could relate to those feeling well. For many years she was trapped in a life she didn’t ask for and didn’t want, not unlike the Princess. The more time they spent together the more she developed a certain level of respect for the woman. Sometimes it was hard to see, since she was every inch a Targaryen with her violet eyes and silver hair, but Arya had made a pledge to judge Daenerys on her actions and not her blood and she meant to honor it.

“Me too,” Arya agreed. “Sometimes I come down here after you’ve retired for the night.”

Her companion turned thoughtful. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen the market at night. I probably passed it on my way to one place or another, but I never got to stop.”

For the second time in as many minutes she considered how Daenerys’s life of privilege and wealth was nothing more than a prettier prison than her years as a servant in Dorne. “Maybe you can come with me one night,” she proposed, hoping to bring back Daenerys’s smile.

For an instant she thought she was successful, Daenerys who had been focused on the upcoming market abruptly turned to Arya and grinned. It didn’t last. By the time she spoke, she was once again saddened by her reality. “I’d love to,” she said first, to make that point clear, “but Rhaegar would never allow it.”

She was tempted to say she could sneak Daenerys out of the castle and return her back before her brother or anyone was the wiser, but she’d entered into a bargain with the elder Targaryen, and it would’ve been wrong to violate that. Even years removed from their final day together, Ned Stark’s lessons loomed over every decision she made. She tried to live by his example and make him proud, even if he’d never know it. By following his teachings, Arya was forging a bond to her father that couldn’t be weakened by anything, not years or miles. It was her small way of keeping his memory alive and with her no matter where she went. She knew he wouldn’t approve of her friendship to Daenerys, but if they could talk, Arya was confident she could make him understand that Daenerys was different. Oberyn saw it, Arya saw it, and she was sure if he was given the chance, her father would too.

Daenerys misinterpreted the extended quiet while Arya was lost in thought. “It’s okay, it’s not your fault. I don’t mind the keep so much.”

The obvious lie brought Arya back to the present and she snapped a little too harshly at the Princess she was meant to protect. “Don’t do that!”

Daenerys stopped walking. “Do what?” she asked timidly.

Arya made an effort to soften her tone. “Don’t lie to me.” One look at Daenerys’s face and she knew that wouldn’t be enough to explain her blunt reply. “You do mind being locked up in the castle and I don’t blame you, I’d hate it too.” She had more experience in Daenerys’s shoes than the Targaryen knew. During her earliest years in Dorne she wasn’t granted the freedom to come and go as she pleased. Later, before she joined the army, thanks largely to Oberyn she was permitted to leave the Water Gardens when her workday was done, but it hadn’t always been that way. “You have to lie to other people, your brothers, your father, the Hand, nobles, everyone you have meetings with, but not me. You can be honest with me and know that I’d never repeat a word to anyone.”

Her emotions showed on her face as she made sense of Arya’s message. “Thank you.” Without warning, she reached for and claimed one of Arya’s hands, just as she’d done by the water. She’d seen Daenerys do the same thing to Missandei but hadn’t expected to be on the receiving end, let alone twice in one day. Daenerys pulled the bigger woman along easily as they weaved through the crowds to get to the line of vendors selling their delicious smelling food.

R-C

Arya had gone straight for a middle-aged woman who sold some form of meat on a stick. Daenerys went up and down the row twice before deciding she wanted to try what Arya was almost done enjoying. It excited her to think how disapproving everyone in the keep would be to learn the King’s daughter was eating unidentified, slightly overcooked meat off a stick. She compared every bite to her first meal in Sunspear, when she ate something similar. Without the aggressive seasoning she didn’t feel the burn in her throat or wonder if her tongue would ever work properly again, but it was still very good. She guessed it was pheasant she was enjoying but didn’t know for sure. It didn’t matter. Whatever it was, it was fresh and tasted great.

“What kind of ship would you want, if you got to travel?” Arya asked as they ate their meals.

She was chewing, which afforded her the chance to really stop and think about her answer. What kind of ship would she like? Nothing as big as the Targaryen ships, that’s for sure. She immediately pictured the vessels she spent much of the morning admiring, making a list in her mind of her favorite attributes from each. “Nothing too big,” she decided, “I’d much rather something simple, that could be worked by a small crew, as long as it had a few extra cabins in the bottom.”

“For what?” Arya inquired sounding genuinely interested. Jorah had never asked about her interests, choosing instead to lurk nearby while Daenerys and Missandei talked.

She willed her cheeks not to turn as Arya unknowingly hit on a sensitive topic. She felt a little stupid to have to admit what she wanted the extra space for, but Arya asked, and no one ever had before, so Daenerys would push down her embarrassment and tell the truth. “I always dreamed of traveling to the far corners of the world, to see the things with my own eyes that I’ve only ever read about in books from the library.” She paused and took a deep breath. “I’d stay a while, immerse myself in the culture of far away lands, experience how they lived and make friends among the people.” She looked away from Arya’s face when she finished by saying. “I’d always hoped some might choose to accompany me when I finally set sail again.”

When she finished it occurred to her that for the first time Arya knew something about her that no one else did. Missandei would have gladly listened to anything Daenerys wanted to tell her, including any details about her future ship, but she never brought it up. She was aware it was a fantasy and little else. It was highly unlikely she’d get to experience that particular dream and that made it easy to keep it private. In truth Daenerys’s friends were few and far between. She was close with Aemon, but he was family. Missandei was a given but outside of her, there weren’t many. Daenerys had liked several of the handmaidens she had before her father’s fateful trip to Astapor but while kind, they remained formal, chained by the differences in their positions. As a girl she played with the children of visiting nobles, but few meaningful bonds came of it, and she was frequently excluded. At the time she didn’t understand why, but now she was older and knew the reason, they kept their distance for fear of upsetting her and angering her father. Children were not exempt from the King’s worst impulses and if Daenerys ever complained that another child had been mean or rude, it wasn’t hard to imagine Aerys’s reaction. Daenerys shivered as she thought about it. It had been hard growing up and feeling alone, but she’d suffer it again, a million times over to ensure none of her playmate’s lives ended in the throne room surrounded by green flames.

“I bet they would,” Arya said. “I’d want to.”

It took effort to remember what they were discussing but when she did, Daenerys was delighted. Without thinking she released the first thought that came to mind. “You could, I’d need a woman of your skill to keep us all safe.”

Arya was looking for a place to dispose of the empty stick she’d eaten off of, but she stopped and gave Daenerys her focus. When she smiled Daenerys noticed how beautiful she was and not for the first time either. “I’ll be returning to Dorne and the army.”

That was true, but she had allowed herself to forget Arya’s posting was only temporary. She’d been living in the moment, desperately trying to enjoy the woman’s company for as long as she could, determined to make the most of their time together, no matter how brief. She wanted to ask her to stay but always found a reason to postpone uttering the actual words. Although she may have wanted to keep Arya in her life, and close, the guard’s opinion differed. Arya wanted to return to Sunspear and begin her life as a soldier. “Don’t worry,” she said, working to keep her voice light and steady, “getting a ship of my own is about as likely as getting to see the market after dark. I don’t think you’ll need to decide if you wish to join me anytime soon.”

Arya smirked and her grey eyes sparkled with some hidden feeling. “Yesterday, I think you would have said getting permission to spend two days in the city would be impossible too.”

She certainly had a point. It just went to show how drastically different Arya was from any other guard she’d ever had. Arya listened to her, heard what she wanted and worked to make it possible. Jorah was willing to commiserate with her when she felt trapped, but it rarely went beyond words. He wasn’t committed to making things better in the way Arya was. Likewise, none of the other guards seemed to care how she felt, to them keeping her safe was just a job. “You’re right about that, and thank you, in case I haven’t said so.”

“You did,” Arya assured her, “and you’re welcome. I’m glad to do it.”

“What are we doing this afternoon?”

“We can do anything you want, but I was thinking since we have to be back in time for dinner maybe we’d go get those clothes you want to donate and take them to the orphanage.”

It was clear what Arya was doing, she was giving Daenerys the chance to do all the things she missed when she was confined to the castle. She could feel the smile stretching her face as she agreed. “That sounds wonderful.” She likely would have agreed to anything Arya suggested, but an afternoon with Arya and the children at the orphanage was beyond ideal. She turned her attention to the sky and tried to estimate the time. “Let’s go now, I want to have time to visit with the kids before dinner.”

“I’m right behind you,” Arya promised, falling in step behind her as they hurried to their horses.

R-C

When she escorted Daenerys and Missandei to the orphanage in Dorne, she got her first real glimpse into what made Daenerys special. She couldn’t imagine Viserys, Rhaegar or Aerys sitting on the dirty floor without a care for their clothes just to play with a wooden horse, but the Princess did it with no regard for the expensive silks she was likely ruining. She’d been happy on the dock and in the market but that was nothing compared to now. She clearly loved the children and by all accounts the feeling was mutual. A small group ran when they saw her coming and she took time to speak to each and every orphan individually, calling many of them by name. Arya stood back, but was close enough to listen in. She heard Daenerys asking one little boy about his lessons and he spent the next five minutes regaling her with all the things he’d learned since the last time they saw one another.

She’d been around a lot of nobles in her life, in Winterfell, then Sunspear and now King’s Landing. She saw good deeds done frequently, but most didn’t give themselves as freely as Daenerys did. This was the one place she could go where she didn’t need to worry about playing the part of a Princess. Here she could be herself. The real Daenerys wasn’t the one who spent hours acting proper and speaking softly, if at all, the true Daenerys was the woman who could look at ships for hours and wonder about the stories the crews might tell. She shared her many blessings, whether it was half the orange she gave Missandei in the Water Gardens or when she bought Arya dinner because she didn’t have the coins to do it herself. That kindness, that generosity, that yearning to be different, that was who Daenerys was. The rest was just an act she portrayed to avoid upsetting a castle full of arrogant pricks. In Arya’s opinion it was a travesty. The world didn’t need more proper nobles, it needed more people willing to compliment a little girl’s dirty dress and read her favorite book to her just to make her happy.

These children didn’t like her because she was royalty, they liked her because she came often enough to build relationships with them. Unlike some, who gave a bare minimum to the needy, once or twice a year, Daenerys was committed to try and help these kids in any way she could. The longer they stayed, the larger the crowd around Daenerys grew. They peppered her with questions, about the castle, about how uncomfortable it was to sit on a chair made of swords, even how big her bed was. She answered them all easily with a warm, inviting smile taking time to address every boy or girl in attendance. When one of the older boys asked her about the famed dragons her ancestors kept, she had an answer ready for him too.

She delayed as long as she could, before she intervened. Daenerys was in the process of reading a story to a group of assembled orphans. They were happy but their smiles paled in comparison to hers. Daenerys looked content and at peace. It made her hate what she needed to do all the more. She put her mouth next to Daenerys’s ear so she could whisper without alarming the kids. “I’m sorry, but we’ll need to go after this.”

Daenerys tensed and the guard was stabbed with guilt. She hadn’t meant to scare her, she just wanted to inform her of the time without upsetting the fragile calm she built with her audience. They were sitting quietly, hanging on Daenerys’s every word, a couple of them were already sleeping. One little girl with dark hair and chubby cheeks had her thumb in her mouth as she dreamed, likely imagining her own ending to the story Daenerys was telling.

Arya slipped out of the room to find the Septa, knowing Daenerys wouldn’t want to leave without saying goodbye to her. She hoped she could locate her while Daenerys finished the book, because they didn’t have time for a prolonged search. If there was good news, it was that Daenerys hadn’t stopped smiling since lunch and their horses were impressive. They could push them on the ride back and with luck, they’d make it before the deadline.

While Daenerys was in the doorway with the Septa Arya prepared their horses. As soon as the door closed between them the Princess was holding her dress up and running as quickly as she could toward her stallion. “I’m so sorry, she wouldn’t stop talking.”

“I know, and if I had my way, I’d let you stand there all night, but I promised your brother we’d be at dinner tonight and if we want his blessing for tomorrow, we need to hurry.” She neglected to mention what she learned about the King’s plan for the next day, seeing no reason to upset Daenerys needlessly, internally however Arya was motivated to make certain nothing prevented she and Daenerys from leaving the following day. Arya had no desire to witness the King hold a trial that would surely end in death, so she was willing to do whatever it took to keep Rhaegar happy, even if it meant angering Daenerys.

She looked over her shoulder as they trotted out onto the road. She made sure Daenerys was comfortable in the saddle before she said, “How about we put these guys to the test and see who is faster?”

Daenerys flashed her the smile the bards sang about and tightened her hold on the reigns. “You’re on.”

Arya thought she’d have to slow down long before the Red Keep to let Daenerys catch up, but even in her dress she managed to stay level with the hind quarter of Arya’s horse the whole way. The soldier was more than a little impressed. It wasn’t an exaggeration to speculate that if she hadn’t had to worry about keeping herself covered as she passed the citizens of King’s Landing, she could’ve and likely would’ve gotten to the stables first.

Their race didn’t stop when they abandoned their mounts. They rushed down one hall and then the next trying to catch their breath and stifle their laughter. They joined the tail end of the procession moving into the dining hall. “Made it,” Daenerys whispered, still grinning as she had on horseback.

She couldn’t say what possessed her to do more than nod, but she heard herself whisper back instead, putting her head closer to Daenerys’s so they wouldn’t be overheard. “Not bad, Princess, not bad at all.”

The physical reaction to her words was immediate. Daenerys’s smile got impossibly brighter, revealing tiny dimples on her cheeks, she stood up a little straighter, and puffed out her chest proudly. Arya was glad they weren’t talking because she didn’t think she’d be able to hear anything being said. She was entirely distracted by the woman next to her.

R-C

Arya stood against the wall to watch the royals and their guests eat. There wasn’t any danger, but just like Jaime Lannister and Barristan Selmy, she stood guard over her Targaryen. The space beside her felt wider than it really was without Missandei there. She was glad the handmaiden was getting the chance to leave the castle, even if it was only for a couple of days. She imagined the travellers miles outside the city, cuddled together under the stars and it made her smile. Missandei was one of the kindest people Arya had ever encountered, she more than most deserved the respite she’d been given. No words could accurately explain how significant Missandei’s contributions were, she was the single largest reason Daenerys’s world turned. She filled the bath, made the bed, cleaned the room and braided the hair and that was all before Daenerys stepped out into the hall.

Normally the dynamic of an entitled Princess and her servant would have annoyed Arya, but with Daenerys and Missandei it was easier to tolerate. There was an obvious affection between the two that softened their interactions. When you knew what to look for it was possible to see Daenerys’s repeated requests less like orders and much more optional.

In her early days as guard, she paid careful attention to Missandei, waiting for the mask to fall and for her eyes or her face to reveal how she really felt. It never happened, not once and Arya came to see that it never would, because Missandei didn’t help Daenerys because it was her job, or because Daenerys was her Master, she did it because their friendship was authentic. It wasn’t all that different from how Arya stopped lumping Daenerys in with all the other Targaryens she hated.

She thought Missandei’s absence was overlooked by everyone until the King looked up from his chicken and addressed Daenerys. “Where is your girl?” he asked harshly. His eyes were darting around the room, seeking out the one face that wasn’t there. There had been a lot of hard moments since she joined Daenerys’s service; she had to converse with Rhaegar, listen to the Mad King mutter, she even had to interact with a man she believed was her cousin and she couldn’t say a word, but none of that rivaled having to stand silent as Aerys turned his irrational anger on his only daughter. Her fork was halfway to her mouth when he called to her and she set it on her plate without getting a taste. All around the long table everyone was suddenly interested in what the Princess had to say. The vibrant, happy woman she’d been all day was gone. Her hands slid into her lap and she struggled to collect her thoughts. It was uncomfortable for Arya to watch. When Daenerys looked to her brother and nephew in a clear attempt to gather allies it took all of her restraint not to say anything. She wanted to help but couldn’t. If Arya involved herself it would only make things worse. “Wh…who do you mean?” Daenerys asked meekly. “Arya is right there.”

She knew what she was supposed to do, she was a guard and nothing more, her role was to protect in silence, but what was expected and what was right didn’t align very often. She couldn’t just bite her tongue and wait for this to be over, not if she wanted to be able to look Daenerys in the eye later without guilt. She couldn’t just leave her for the snakes to feast on. With her mind made up she raised a hand and gave a slight wave, showing the King she was there. “I’m right here your Grace,” Arya said loudly. As quickly as all the eyes turned on Daenerys, now they were on Arya. She stood her ground and refused to back down. She hated the ten or so seconds the whole room was focused on her, but it would be worth it if it gave Daenerys a chance to think and craft a response. It wasn’t much, but she hoped it helped.

“No, not the ugly one,” Aerys raved, throwing his hands up in frustration. “Where is the other one, the pretty one.”

The Water Gardens taught her to hide her emotions, to bury what she felt down deep to be dealt with later, she made use of that now. It was willpower alone that kept her from looking down or blushing. She remained stoic and unwavering, with her eyes locked on the Mad King, not flinching when she heard the Hand’s twins and others laughing at the insult.

Making the most of her hard-fought moments Daenerys cleared her throat and took command of the room. She sounded perfectly relaxed, as if she hadn’t been too scared to speak just moments ago. “Oh, I’m sorry Father, I misunderstood who you are asking about. Missandei is running an errand for me,” she said convincingly. “I needed a few things picked up for my nameday celebration and so I sent her to fetch them for me.”

Arya knew the truth and still, she found herself wondering if maybe she misunderstood the reasons Missandei left. Daenerys could lie well when properly motivated, a necessary skill if one hopes to survive in the Red Keep no doubt. All thoughts of how glad she was Daenerys recovered disappeared when the King asked, “Do you think she’s loyal to us?”

She felt sick. That’s how it started right? One accusation of betrayal and then sudden she’s standing near the throne with a barrel of wildfire crackling, close enough to make beads of sweat form on her skin. She made a rash decision as she waited to hear if Daenerys could salvage this. She wouldn’t let harm befall Missandei. If she had to help her escape or fake her murder and set her free, she would. What she wouldn’t do is let Missandei be the next name added to the long list of people the King killed unjustly. If she died in the process, she would meet her end for a good cause, giving Missandei and Grey Worm the headstart they needed to disappear. In her mind she was already wondering if she could pay Ternesio to smuggle them out. He would, if she could get word to him, she knew he would if she asked him to.

Based on her rapid breathing alone she could tell Daenerys was struggling just a few chairs down from the man who wanted to murder her best friend. Oblivious to his daughter’s pain, Aerys went on to justify his theory. “She’s outside the keep, she could be talking to anyone, doing anything, conspiring with anyone. I hear them you know, my enemies, I know they’ll be coming for me soon.”

If Aerys was lowborn he’d be homeless and destitute but since he happened to be born into the royal Targaryen line, he gets servants and advisors all of whom had to try and tiptoe around his illness or risk inciting his rage. Without every person in this room, he couldn’t function, take away Tywin, Rhaegar, the Kingsguard and all the staff and he’d be unable to get out of bed in the morning. How could this man be King of anything? The Realm was functioning but how much of that was a result of Aerys’s contributions? It was a tale of two rulers, in her time there she’d seen him go days and not mention the whispers once, other days they were his primary focus. It was the nature of madness she guessed, the ebb and flow of the good and the bad. Today was one of the bad, if he could look at a space where a woman usual stands, see she’s not there and assume she’s out plotting his demise.

Daenerys actually turned in her chair slightly, as if to confirm that Missandei was in fact absent. She caught Arya’s eye looking for encouragement and she tried to give it. Aware people were watching she settled for a slight nod, hoping to convey that Daenerys could do this.

Maybe it worked, or maybe it was random, but Daenerys rediscovered her voice. “Of course, she’s loyal,” she confirmed, “she had a horrible life in Essos, you saved her from that by bringing her here to me. She tells me how grateful she is regularly.”

As quickly as it bubbled up it cooled. The King was satisfied by his daughter’s reassurance and went back to his food. Arya watched the faces of those around Aerys and saw several relaxing as they breathed sighs of relief. They were likely pleased with themselves for managing to spare an innocent woman from an agonizing death, but they weren’t seeing the bigger picture. What those advisors failed to understand was that harming Missandei would not only upset Daenerys, it would cause an irreparable divide between the Unsullied and their King. They were trained to obey their Master no matter what, but if anything could cause Grey Worm to question his beliefs it would be his love for Missandei. He’d want revenge against anyone who hurt her, and his men would follow him, even if he led them to certain death in the throne room. If it came to that, they’d be eight thousand and one, because Arya would fight beside them.

The rest of the meal passed quietly but there was tension in the air as everyone tried to avoid provoking another outburst. Daenerys excused herself at the earliest opportunity and Arya stepped forward to go with her.

R-C

She was mortified. Dinner had been awful. If it wasn’t bad enough that her father called Arya ugly in front of everyone, he also openly questioned Missandei’s loyalty. Everyone around the King knew there was only one punishment Aerys found acceptable for those he deemed disloyal. She was glad she sent Missandei away, but felt for Arya, who had involved herself only because Daenerys was failing. She wilted under her father’s question and couldn’t muster a reply, so Arya stepped in, distracting everyone temporarily. It was just long enough for Daenerys to recover and think up an appropriate lie, but it came at a high price for the guard.

She waited until they were inside her bedchamber with the door closed before she said, “Arya, I’m so sorry. I’m sorry you had to go through that and I’m sorry I didn’t say anything.”

Arya was dismissive, shrugging her shoulders. “It’s fine,” she said simply. “It’s not the first time I’ve heard I’m ugly and it won’t be the last.”

She said that in her usual straightforward, confident way and it had Daenerys’s mouth hanging open. How could anyone think Arya wasn’t gorgeous? Her father’s comments could be dismissed as ranting, but who were these other people who claimed Arya unattractive? She couldn’t let it go, she had to know. “Who else would say such a thing to you?”

Chuckling humorlessly Arya began ticking off the people on her fingers, “Other children, my sister, my sister’s friends…” She stopped counting abruptly and looked away from Daenerys’s face. “It doesn’t matter, it doesn’t bother me.”

She had so much to say she wasn’t sure where to start. Arya had a sister? She’d never spoken of her before. She approached the guard and reached for her hand, waiting until Arya’s grey eyes met hers before taking it. “Well whoever said it, they were wrong, they are wrong.”

Visibly uncomfortable Arya mumbled something that sounded like a ‘thank you’ before she backed up and forced Daenerys to release her. She tried to move them to a happier subject. “Does your sister live in Dorne as well?”

Arya was suddenly busy making sure her armor was clean. “I had a sister,” she clarified, “she’s gone now, like the rest of my family.”

Daenerys was making things worse not better, “Oh, I’m so sorry Arya, if I’d known I wouldn’t have…”

“It’s fine,” she said again. “You didn’t know, it’s not your fault, I just don’t really like to talk about it.”

Of course, she didn’t, who would in her place? “That’s okay, we can talk about anything you want.”

“You did well,” Arya said after a moment, “your reason for where Missandei had gone and why was believable and you defended her when your father had doubts.”

Daenerys was sure Arya was just trying to be polite, but the compliment made her feel good regardless. “I’m sorry I struggled at first and dragged you into it.”

“We talked about this,” Arya reminded her. “You didn’t need to apologize for other people, not to me.”

She did remember that, and she appreciated it, but this time was different. Daenerys was actually trying to apologize for her pitiful attempts to answer her father when he first posed the question. “I’m not apologizing for him, I’m apologizing for me, I should have had an answer ready.”

“You did well,” Arya repeated.

Since neither of them seemed to want to talk about the events of dinner, Daenerys tried again to put them on a safer path. “What will you be doing tonight?”

Arya responded without delay. “Whatever you ask of me.”

She wasn’t expecting that. “What do you mean? I’ll likely be here most of the night.” She paused to consider how she might spend the evening. “I do need to see Aemon and Tyrion, but I can ask another guard to accompany me.”

Arya gifted her with a smirk. “Trying to get rid of me?”

“Absolutely not!” she said a little too forcefully. “I just want you to rest, we had a long day.”

“Not tonight, tonight I’ll be here to help with whatever you need.”

“You don’t have to…”

“Missandei isn’t here,” Arya reminded her pointedly, “she usually remains in your chambers after dinner and helps you with things, right?” It wasn’t a question in the truest sense, Arya knew she did, because she was often there to see it.

“We have other servants Arya you don’t need to do that.”

Her eyes foretold of mischief before her mouth delivered it. “I’m a little hurt Princess,” she said emphasising the title they rarely used these days, “you don’t think I could do it, do you?”

There was an undeniable challenge in her words and Daenerys felt a smile spread across her face. She liked this side of Arya, the playful one. “Well have you ever been anyone’s servant? Do you have the necessarily qualifications to fill in for Missandei?”

She meant it as a joke, but Arya’s reply was serious, too serious. The smirk fell and she answered with quite possibly the last words Daenerys would have predicted. “Yes, and yes.”

Normally Daenerys could tell when she was being teased, but Arya was so difficult to read. “Really?” she prodded, expecting Arya to confess she was joking.

“After I lost my family Prince Doran took me in and gave me a job as a servant in the Water Gardens,” she said as though she was recounting yesterday’s weather. “I served there for years until Oberyn arranged for me to begin my training.”

“Did you enjoy it?” she asked just to fill the quiet that was becoming awkward.

“I hated it,” Arya admitted freely.

Knowing Arya as she did, it was hard to picture her as anything other than an immensely talented guard and soldier. “Well then, I won’t ask you to do it for me. I’ll summon someone else if I have needs while Missandei is away.”

She thought that would be the end of it, but Arya wasn’t ready to accept that. “I hated it because I didn’t get a choice, I do now, and I’m choosing to help you.”

“Arya you don’t have to do that.”

When she made a move for the door Daenerys actually believed she’d be leaving. She was conflicted over whether or not to stop her. She wanted Arya to remain with her but didn’t want to make her a servant or a handmaiden. Daenerys just wanted her friend. She stopped at the door and looked at Daenerys expectantly. “Where are we going first, Aemon or the Imp?”

And just like that she was excited about what her evening might bring. She popped onto her toes and then adjusted her dress on the short walk to Arya, “Aemon first,” she decided.

R-C

Chapter Text

They found the young man bent over his desk studying a map. Blocks in the shape of numbers were sitting at various intervals. Arya knew immediately what he was calculating, she watched Oberyn do the same thing before they left for Essos. He invited them to enter but finished his current measurement before turning to greet them.

He smiled when he saw Daenerys and it didn’t falter much when he noticed Arya was with her. “Dany, come in, sit down. To what do I owe the pleasure?”

“What are you doing?” she asked, bypassing a chair to get a look at the map.

Arya voiced a far more interesting question. “Where are you going?”

Daenerys was suddenly unsure of where to set her eyes, so she rotated them between the map, Aemon and Arya? “You know what this is?” She traced the wooden ‘2’ with the tip of her finger before continuing. “What do these numbers mean?”

She filed another detail about the Princess away for later, she didn’t like to be the only one who didn’t know something. “If I had to guess I’d say Aemon is planning a trip,” she explained, “the blocks represent where he’d like to be by the end of each day of travel.” She pointed and drew Daenerys’s attention to the ‘1’ block, it was situated just North of King’s Landing.

Once she understood Daenerys looked at the map with renewed interest and tried to deduce the eventual end point that Aemon had yet to reach. It wasn’t difficult to guess. His path was taking him North, toward Arya’s former home and beyond to the Wall. Daenerys understood this too. “He agreed to let you go?” To Arya’s ear, Daenerys sounded both excited and devastated.

“Not yet, but soon he will. He knows I have no reason to stay and I can’t wait forever.”

For a second time he offered them a seat and this time Daenerys accepted. Although she could have occupied the chair next to them Arya chose to stand back and let them have some privacy. “I want you to stay, but I don’t blame you for wanting to leave. I’d go too if I could, but I don’t think the Night’s Watch takes girls.”

“I’ll miss you everyday,” he promised.

“You better write too,” Daenerys decreed with authority.

Unbothered by her tone Aemon chuckled and agreed he would.

“I’m sorry about dinner,” Aemon said, after they hugged and returned to their places. “I wanted to say something, but you know it would’ve only made things worse.”

Daenerys patted his leg with her hand. “It’s not your fault. There is nothing you could have done.” One look at Aemon made it clear his aunt’s forgiveness was important to him.

They talked for nearly an hour before Daenerys broached the reason for her visit. “I need some of your clothes,” she told him bluntly.

“Oh, okay, why?” he asked, already getting up to comply.

“Just the old things that no longer fit, or that you don’t wear anymore.”

He got to the closet and opened the door. “There is plenty of that in here,” he assured her. With his head hidden he asked again, “Why do you need them?”

“I took some of my old things to the orphanage today, but I realized I didn’t bring nearly enough for the boys, so I was hoping you’d donate some of your things.”

“I’d be happy to, but my clothes will not fit any of the children.”

Arya went to the closet and offered to hold the items Aemon was willing to give away. In no time, her arms were full.

“They won’t,” Daenerys agreed, “but one shirt of yours could probably make two or three for the children and the same with your pants.”

He stopped working and looked at the elder Targaryen. “That’s a great idea.”

With their bounty stacked up near the door to take when they left Arya went back to the map and waved Aemon over. “Be careful once you’re in this area,” she said using a thin finger to point to the area North of Winterfell. “Depending on the weather, your horse could be slowed by heavy snow and it could extend your journey by days or even weeks. Make sure you have enough supplies to last, they’ll certainly have need of them on the Wall if you don’t use everything.”

Aemon’s brow wrinkled as he concentrated and then he nodded in agreement. “You’re right, I’ve been reading a lot, trying to find information about the towns and castles in the area, but there is still a lot I don’t know.”

“Have you ever been to the North?” Daenerys asked her, coming to stand opposite Aemon.

That was a dangerous question. She made one error already when she mentioned her sister to Daenerys. It was out of her mouth before she knew it, and there was nothing she could do to take it back, so she told a half-truth. She did have a sister, and she was gone. She knew Daenerys assumed Sansa was dead, and she let her, it would be easier than trying to explain. Still, she didn’t enjoy lying to her friend, even if it was for a very valid reason. She was walking down a treacherous road and she needed to be careful, lest she made another mistake. “A long time ago,” she said vaguely. To prevent Daenerys from asking the follow up questions that were surely burning her tongue Arya engaged Aemon. “Have you been to the North yet?”

“No, never. I’ve always wanted to, but Father wouldn’t allow it.”

Arya didn’t doubt that. The North may be under Bolton control but the North Remembers. He had a long list of faults and sins, but being stupid wasn’t among them and therefore, it was unlikely that Rhaegar Targaryen would permit his son to travel freely in the Realm’s largest kingdom. There was simply too much that could go wrong, with deadly consequences.

“Well if your father agrees, you’ll get your chance,” she said, providing subtle encouragement. “You’ll get to see much of the North on your way to the Wall.”

Cheered by the idea he gave Arya a smile. “I’m sure Dany here keeps you busy, but if you ever have the time and would like to spar again…”

Arya could see he was struggling so she interrupted him and sought to put his mind at ease. “I’d love to, as long as Daenerys doesn’t have need of me, I’m happy to help.”

When they were done, Arya went first, carrying the clothes, letting the Targaryens say goodbye. In the hall Daenerys fell in step beside her guard. “That was very nice of you, he’s really excited about all of this. He told me you’re the best sparring partner he’s ever had.”

It would be a lie for her to say it didn’t feel good to hear that, but she still directed the conversation back to Aemon, where it belonged. “He’s very good, a little too impulsive sometimes, but when he stays calm and thinks before he strikes, there isn’t much I can teach him.”

“He’s been learning the sword for years,” Daenerys recalled. “Rhaegar says he’s a natural.”

“He is,” Arya said stiffly, not liking having to agree with the Prince. She moved on quickly. “Where to next?”

Daenerys thought for a moment. “We’ll start with my chambers and put those clothes down, then we’ll go see if Tyrion is still in his office.”

That sounded reasonable. Arya almost asked why Daenerys needed the Master of the Coin, but it wasn’t her business and she’d find out soon enough anyway.

R-C

Tyrion was in his office, despite the late hour. He was behind the desk with a book open in front of him. Instead of reading from it, he was holding a scroll in one hand, while his eyes moved across the page. Although he had a goblet of wine within reach, he didn’t seem to be enjoying it.

“Another one,” he muttered to himself as he set the lone page down off to his right. He hadn’t noticed them yet, so he was clearly talking to himself.

“Problems Lord Tyrion?” Daenerys inquired from just inside the doorway. Arya was a full step behind, still in the hall.

“Princess Daenerys, please come in.” She couldn’t see him, Daenerys was blocking her view, but he sounded genuinely happy she interrupted his work. As she moved deeper into the room Tyrion kept talking. “I received word earlier today, your order will be ready by the end of the week.”

“Oh,” Daenerys responded, tensing and looking down. “That’s great Tyrion, but it’s not the reason I came.”

There was a tension in the room that Arya couldn’t make sense of. She didn’t know what package Tyrion was referring to, but then again, she was just a guard. If Daenerys needed something it was likely Missandei and Tyrion working together that procured it.

“Oh, and you’ve brought your new guard with you, how wonderful.”

“Do you know Arya?” the Princess asked him.

“Not nearly well enough,” he answered. Arya struggled not to find him endearing and charming, very easy to like. “My brother Jaime tells me you’re quite talented, and he isn’t easily impressed, so it must be true.”

“Arya is quite talented,” Daenerys confirmed, emphasizing the word ‘is’ in order to second the Kingsguard’s opinion.

“Well then, I know who to hide behind if there is trouble,” he comments casually. With a wave of his hand he beckons them closer. “Sit, I’ll fix the drinks.”

Once all three were seated with a fresh glass in hand, Daenerys brought them back to her original question. “Having trouble?”

“Nothing serious,” he guaranteed her, “just a Septon requesting more donations. I just met with one of them last week, and the week before that, but there is always another heartfelt plea I must address.”

“Does the treasury not have enough money?”

Tyrion flashed her a smile before his goblet hid it. After his sip he replied. “The money isn’t the issue, we have more than enough to satisfy his needs, I just don’t have the time to meet with him.” He paused for a moment and then decided to elaborate. “He won’t just arrive, take the gold and go, he’ll insist on talking for at least an hour, about all the good deeds he’ll accomplish with the new surplus of gold, and then once he has the coin, he’ll spend another half hour thanking me. I won’t have an opening in my schedule until next week, but enough about me, how are you two? What brings you to my little corner of the Realm?”

Though Tyrion was speaking, Daenerys looked at Arya. She seemed uncertain all the sudden, likely because she intended to ask for gold, just like the Septon and after hearing Tyrion’s frustrations, now she was doubting her course. She nodded slightly, hoping to provide reassurance. It must have worked because Daenerys turned her focus to Tyrion and spoke with confidence. “We can talk about that in a moment, first would you like me to meet with the Septon?”

“Wh… what?” he sputtered as he set his wine down. He could be forgiveness for his less than articulate response, after all it wasn’t everyday that someone walked into your office and offered you help while asking for nothing in exchange.

“I could meet with him for you,” she proposed.

“Really?”

“Sure, I have plenty of time and you’re right, he probably will want to talk to you at length before and after he has the money. If you provide me with the purse, I could present it to him.”

“Are you certain she has the time?” He was speaking to Arya for the first time since their negotiation began. She understood why she was being consulted but that didn’t make her hate it any less. Daenerys was intelligent enough to make her own decisions on how she wanted to spend her time. She’d be doing Tyrion a much-needed favor and still he felt obligated to check with the guard before he accepted. If Arya said no, Daenerys’s generosity would be for naught, because the Targaryen had little say in her own life.

She tried to answer in a way that still left the final decision up to Daenerys. “If the Princess wishes to meet the Septon on your behalf, I’ll come by and pick up the gold for her the morning of the appointment.”

“I’ll have it ready,” Tyrion said, “and thank you both.”

Daenerys wasn’t done extending a helping hand to the busy Lannister. “Do you have many similar meetings?”

Tyrion smiled. “More than a few,” he admitted. “Unless there is a cancelation, I’m currently scheduling as many as three weeks in advance.” Flipping a page in his book he showed the women a chart of his upcoming meetings, there was writing in almost every square with very little open space.

“That’s a lot to do,” Daenerys noted accurately. She said nothing, but privately Arya agreed. She had no idea that the Master of the Coin was so busy, but it made a certain amount of sense – gold made the world spin and Tyrion held the purse strings for all of Westeros. Surely that made him popular . “I’d be willing to meet with others too,” she offered, “if it would allow you to spend your time on more important matters.”

Arya wasn’t surprised by her willingness to do something to improve someone’s day, she’d come to expect it. Tyrion wasn’t as used to Daenerys as Arya was and his surprise was visible before he corrected his expression. “You don’t need to do that Princess, I’m sure you have affairs of your own to keep you occupied.” As he said this, he glanced at Arya to silently verify that Daenerys was too busy to take on an extra burden. She subtly shook her head and there was another flash of shock on his face before he buried it. Daenerys was a Princess and a member of the ruling family of the Seven Kingdoms, she should have been struggling to fit the many claims on her time into the limited hours of the day, but she wasn’t. Since she wasn’t involved in many aspects of governing, it afforded her plenty of time to assist others. “You don’t have to do this,” Tyrion made perfectly clear, “the Realm will not crumble if there is a slight delay dispensing donations.”

Daenerys laughed at his tone. “I know, but I’m in the castle anyway, with little to do, there is no reason I can’t help you.”

Arya jumped in to try and prevent the back and forth she could feel coming. “I can stop in and see Tyrion each morning on my way to meet you,” Arya suggested. “If he has anything that requires our attention, I’ll collect the money and the names of people you’ll need to meet with.”

“That sounds perfect, thank you Arya,” Daenerys gushed.

“Thank you both,” Tyrion amended, “with your help I may be able to get out of here at a reasonable hour. You’ve made many women and one dwarf incredibly happy.”

She tried to swallow down the laughter she felt bubbling up, but she was unsuccessful. Beside her Daenerys didn’t even make an effort, she chuckled and blushed while Tyrion showed off a devious smirk. He seemed beyond pleased that he’d gotten a reaction out of them both.

They spoke for a few minutes about nothing in particular. Daenerys asked him how he liked life in the Red Keep, and he made a comment about how it had more variety than living in the West. Aware of his reputation, she read between the lines and guessed he was speaking about the whores he had available to him. Arya paid little attention to rumors, but the whispers about Tyrion were so prolific and so consistent, she tended to believe they were accurate, exaggerated most likely but rooted in some truth.

When the time came for Daenerys to make her request, she explained that she needed gold so the orphanage could hire a seamstress. With passionate she spoke about how with a minimal contribution, they could take the donated clothes she collected and convert them into things the orphans could wear for years to come. Tyrion didn’t hesitate, he flipped a handful of pages, wrote a short note and then opened a drawer on his desk to retrieve the coins.

They stayed until long after their wine was gone. “Shall I schedule the meeting with the Septon?” he asked as he walked them to the door.

Daenerys looked to Arya for confirmation. It wasn’t up to her, but if the Princess wanted her opinion, she’d provide it. “Not tomorrow, unless you wish to postpone your…”

She didn’t even get to finish. “No!” Daenerys said a little too intently. Obviously, she didn’t like the idea of anything delaying her day outside the castle. Arya didn’t blame her. She thought about it a moment and calmed. “Anytime except tomorrow,” she ruled, “you can ask the Septon to visit the keep at his leisure, I’ll meet with him then?” It was her choice to make, but uncertainty had it sounding more like a question, and she was once again waiting for Arya’s permission.

“I’ll make sure I have the gold with me before your first appointment,” Arya said, committed to helping Daenerys make this work.

Pleased by the agreement the Princess smiled accordingly, while Tyrion watched them closely. “I’ll have it waiting.”

Daenerys went out the door first and when it was Arya’s turn Tyrion stopped her by asking, “How do you like your new job? Is it better than training?”

“Different,” she said simply. She was finding it easier to guard Daenerys than she predicted. She still yearned to be out swinging her sword, practicing her technique, but life in King’s Landing wasn’t torture either. “In training, that was all there was. We woke before the sun and didn’t stop until long after it was gone, there were lessons, conditioning and sparring, day after day. It’s different now, I spend a lot of time standing around.”

“I understand,” he confirmed with a nod. Tyrion leaned toward her and lowered his voice to a whisper that wouldn’t make it to Daenerys. “Now all you have do is follow the beautiful Princess around and keep her from harm, what a terrible hardship,” he teased. “I’m sure the reason I saw Mormont pouting was because he missed how boring his duties were.”

After some internal debate, she decided it was probably safer to end the conversation there rather than risk prolonging it with another comment. She wouldn’t admit it to Tyrion, or anyone else, but in her mind, she was able to acknowledge that Daenerys’s company was probably one of the main reasons she didn’t hate her time in King’s Landing so far.

R-C

Daenerys was standing over her bed picking through the pile of clothes Aemon gave her. She wanted to see exactly what she had, so she could make certain she took enough for every child to receive something.

“Why did you agree to meet the Septon?” Arya asked her from her spot just inside the closed door.

She heard the question perfectly but needed time to try and organize her thoughts. Why she had done it was quite complicated. She set down an old shirt she bought for her nephew and rotated her body. “I’m sorry, what?”

“Why did you agree to meet with the Septon? Why agree to take some of Tyrion’s meetings?”

When it was happening, Daenerys believed Arya was on her side. She was supportive and offered to act as a courier between Daenerys and Tyrion. Now that they were alone, would Daenerys learn how Arya really felt about the new job she’d committed them to? She would regret her attempt to help, if it resulted in Arya being upset with her. “I’m sorry I agreed without speaking to you about it, I was just trying to do Tyrion a kindness. If you don’t want to do it, I’ll inform Tyrion that he’ll need to take the meeting himself.”

She shook her head slightly, though it seemed to be more involuntary movement and less message. “I don’t mind, I think it’s a good idea. I’ll meet Tyrion, Rhaegar and whoever else you need me to, I was just curious why you wanted to do it?”

Her emotions were all over the place. Making matters worse, Arya was still waiting for an answer. Why had she done it, what compelled her to take on additional responsibility? The truth was whether she knew it or not, Arya was to blame for this.

“You,” Daenerys said, before she was ready, the lone word slipping out between barely parted lips.

Arya stood a little straighter. “Me? I don’t think I said more than two words before you and Tyrion…”

Daenerys cursed internally. She knew Arya would need more information than that to understand. She abandoned the clothes and went to where Arya was. When she noticed Daenerys approaching, she took a step to make the trip shorter. They met in the middle, closer to the door than the bed. “No,” she amended, taking one of Arya’s hands and savoring the warm, rough feel, “no, it’s nothing you said, I was just thinking about what you would do, and that’s what made me offer.”

“I wouldn’t have agreed to meet with Septons,” Arya countered.

She said it so plainly, that there was no refuting it. Daenerys chuckled. She was doing a terrible job of explaining herself. She took a deep breath and made another attempt. “No, you don’t meet with Septons, but you do track my brother down each morning and ask for permission to leave the keep.” In her rush to justify her feelings she left shortened pauses between each word, until there was almost nothing.

One look at her grey eyes and Daenerys could tell Arya didn’t make the connection between Arya’s visits to Rhaegar and Daenerys’s sudden willingness to dispense donations from the Crown. “I gave you my word I would help you,” Arya remembered.

“You’ve done great,” Daenerys insisted, “better than anyone could have expected of you, better than I expected of you. Most people would promise to help me and then do nothing or make one half-hearted attempt before giving up forever.”

“I’m not most people,” Arya noted, stating the obvious.

“I know,” Daenerys promised, unable to keep from smiling. “How many times has Rhaegar refused you? How many times did Barristan send you away?”

There was an extended silence stretching out between them. Daenerys tried to coax a reply from Arya with a comforting look. Finally, she admitted, “A lot.”

“Exactly, and you kept going anyway, for me. You wanted to help me, and you did. Thanks to you, we had a great day in the city and tomorrow will be even better. That only happened because you kept trying.”

“Oh… I… “

Arya’s stammering was as unusual as it was cute in Daenerys’s opinion. Part of her wanted to say nothing just to see how she’d eventually respond, but there was a question she still hadn’t answered, and she wanted to, because that was the whole point of telling Arya all this. “I was thinking about you when he was telling us how busy he was,” she confessed, “I was thinking about how kind it was of you to get Rhaegar’s approval and how because of you, I was going to get to spend another full day outside the walls. That never would have happened if you didn’t keep pushing. I realized that if you want something, sometimes you just have to take it.”

Her features settled into a smirk that was even more attractive than seeing Arya flustered. “That’s not a bad lesson to learn. The world isn’t going to give you what you want just because you ask for it.”

“Exactly!” Daenerys exclaimed, pleased someone else got it. “I have always tried to be so proper, to do what was expected of me, to be polite and quiet. I speak only when spoken to and never cause trouble and look where it’s gotten me.” She took a deep breath and enjoyed the way the air tasted. “If I want things to be different, to be better, I’m the one that needs to make the change, because no one else is going to do it.”

“How does meeting the Septon and delivering Tyrion’s gold accomplish this?”

“I’ve always wanted a bigger role here,” she explained slowly, looking down at her hands as she spoke. “I want to be the kind of Princess that does some good. I know I’ll never sit on the throne and I’m fine with that, I don’t need to be Queen to improve people’s lives.” Her mind was suddenly filled with countless memories, all the times she tried to get a foothold in the business of the Realm, only to be rebuffed. Most often, she was told ‘no’ outright, but on a few occasions, she was permitted to attend a meeting or two. Somehow those were worse, because no matter how intently she studied before hand, no matter how well prepared she was, no matter how logical or relevant her points, she was marginalized and overlooked. Eventually she gave up, deciding she’d stay in the background, where she belonged.

Foolishly she thought that if she obeyed all instruction and proved compliant then eventually someone would notice and give her a position of importance. It was a childish dream, a girl’s dream, and she was done with it. If she remained in the background much longer, she’d never leave it. She needed to make a life for herself. It may not involve leaving the keep as often as she would like, it wouldn’t include sailing her own ship or filling a prominent post, but she could still find ways to do her part, if she was willing and committed to seek them out.

Arya had worn Rhaegar down with perseverance. She imagined it was much the same when she went from being a servant to a soldier. Once, early on, Daenerys told Missandei there was a lot she could learn from Arya and she’d been right. If Arya could teach her to bend Rhaegar’s will, Daenerys would gladly soak up all the wisdom Arya was willing to pass along.

“Thanks to you, the Septon will get the gold he needs much sooner than if he had to wait for an opening in Tyrion’s calendar. That’s going to help a lot of people, Daenerys.”

That made her smile, but she needed to confirm one final detail. “And you’re sure you don’t mind, checking with Tyrion and bringing the gold? I could ask Miss…”

“I don’t mind.”

That lifted a weight off her chest. She wanted to do this, but she wasn’t sure she could without Arya. Not only because Arya’s dedication helped birth the idea, but also because she needed someone to oversee things, someone who could provide advice when necessary, someone she could trust, someone who wouldn’t be afraid to speak her mind even if she disagreed with the Princess. Given the long list of requirements, Arya was the only suitable candidate.

Once the business with Tyrion was settled, Arya moved them to something they could talk about more easily. “So, what are we going to do tomorrow?”

R-C

Arya sat up a little straighter and like a jolt realized she hadn’t been paying attention. It took a moment for her to place her location. She was in the Princess’s bedchamber. In a rush all the memories came back; getting Rhaegar’s permission to take Daenerys into the city, the docks, the orphanage, dinner, Aemon, Tyrion. She knew why she joined Daenerys in her room, when usually she’d have left by now, Missandei had been given a break. She wasn’t there to assist Daenerys, so Arya remained.

“Is everything okay?” Daenerys asked, her voice dripping with concern.

“I’m sorry, I got lost in thought.” That wasn’t entirely truthful, but it did sound better than admitting that she dozed off in the middle of a conversation. “Did you say something?” she asked, hoping it would encourage Daenerys to repeat whatever she missed.

The smile didn’t falter. “I just said that you don’t need to stay. You must be tired.”

“I’m not that tired,” she exaggerated.

When she stood up without comment Arya thought she meant to send her away, forcibly if necessary. She didn’t, instead she went to a rolling cart and poured two glasses of wine. “If you’re going to stay,” Daenerys said on her return trip to the chair, “do so as my friend and not my guard. Have a drink.”

She couldn’t deny that she was tempted. Wine wasn’t her favorite drink, but she’d take it. It was like fire under her skin when Daenerys’s fingers brushed hers. Her touch was unlike anything Arya had experienced – warm, soft and inviting. She sipped her wine in an effort to hide the blush she couldn’t keep off her cheeks. “Thank you.”

Once she was settled Daenerys sampled the wine too. “Mmm,” she purred as she licked her lip, “not bad huh?”

She had to swallow down the moan that threatened. The combination of the sound and the stroke of a pink tongue wetting her upper lip had the hairs on the back of Arya’s neck standing up. Did she even realize what she was doing? She tried desperately to not be attracted to Daenerys, but the longer she acted as her guard, the more time they spent alone, the harder it was to convince anyone, especially herself. Her beauty was obvious, but that wasn’t what kept Arya balancing on the edge of a sword. What really held her was Daenerys’s inherent goodness. She was a Targaryen, so it stood to reason that she should be evil and cruel. Despite her name, Daenerys was kind, generous and fair. In her early days watching the Dragon, those words would have felt like treason to consider, but she’d come to accept them. It was just how things were, like the sun rising and the wind blowing, Daenerys was good. When necessary she reminded herself that this wasn’t her first time handling an attractive, disarming Targaryen who seemed to show an interest in the unworthy foster. She’d managed to fend off Rhaenys’s affections easily enough, yet it was harder with Daenerys, everything was harder with Daenerys. At this point, it would have been more unexpected if Arya didn’t catch herself wondering about the flavor of Daenerys’s lips. She would never find out, for a whole host of reasons, not the least of which being that Daenerys believed Arya was a Sand and not a Stark. Her desires would remain hidden, just like the truth about her identity. It was the only way. She took comfort from the knowledge that it wasn’t forever. It would be easier to ignore her longing once she was back in Dorne, thousands of miles from the Princess, or at least she hoped so.

She rudely ignored Daenerys’s question, leaving it unanswered, asking one of her own instead. “Why have you never married?” Arya couldn’t stop the curse that escaped as she heard the inquiry in her ears. She had wondered about that but didn’t intend to ask. “Forget I said anything,” Arya pleaded quickly. She took a quick sip, realizing too late that more wine was likely the last thing she needed when she was already struggling to keep her private thoughts inside. How much wine had she had? A glass with Tyrion and another with Daenerys, that was hardly enough to explain her behavior, but she had no other excuse. She hadn’t eaten since lunch, but that too didn’t justify anything. Since arriving in King’s Landing she’d grown accustomed to eating late, after Daenerys was safely in her room for the night. With one meal already in her stomach, she could go until morning without anything more if required.

With a light laugh Daenerys shook her head. “Maybe I don’t want to forget,” she replied, placing her empty hand on Arya’s forearm. Incapable of speaking, she stared dumbly and waited for Daenerys to continue. “I don’t know really,” she admitted, “Tywin and my father have brought it up several times, but they lose interest before they begin trying to pair me off in earnest.”

It was uncommon for a woman of Daenerys’s age to be unmarried, but upon closer examination Arya could see that finding a match for a Princess might be more difficult than the standard. Daenerys couldn’t marry just anyone, it’d need to be someone respectable, from a good family, probably with lots of money and a flawless reputation. It occurred to Arya that she possessed none of those qualities herself, one more reason she could never tell Daenerys of her feelings. “I shouldn’t have asked,” she said, trying for a second time to apologize.

“I don’t mind,” she assured her worried guard. “I’ve never wanted to be married, so I’m not in a hurry.” She thought for a moment and then picked up where she left off. “There have been offers but none my father gave serious consideration to.”

Arya didn’t doubt that Daenerys had suitors. An ugly Princess would still attract all manner of men who wanted to improve their own standing by attaching themselves to royalty and Daenerys was not ugly by any definition of the word. She hadn’t encountered any men seeking Daenerys’s hand during her time in the Capital, but it hadn’t been that long. “Marrying someone from outside the Crownlands might provide you with the excuse you need to leave,” Arya pointed out.

“It might,” Daenerys confirmed quietly, “but it’s just as likely that my father will insist my husband move to the Red Keep, and then I would have married for nothing.”

“It’s custom for the woman to move to the lands of her husband.”

“it is, but my father isn’t the sort to bend in the name of tradition.”

That was true. As it was with most things, Arya found Daenerys’s opinions on marriage to be articulate and well thought out. “You’re right.”

She was prepared to let the matter drop but Daenerys had more to say. “My dream is to marry for love one day, but as long as I’m the King’s daughter, I doubt I’ll get the chance.”

Again, she agreed with Daenerys’s logic. She doubted Aerys would let a minor detail like love sway him when it came time to bind his only daughter to another house. That said, she felt compelled to try and give Daenerys some hope, however brief. “Who knows, you might get lucky. Perhaps the husband you want to marry will be the same one your father selects for you.”

“Who knew you were an optimist,” Daenerys teased. Never had anyone accused her of that. Arya smirked at the Targaryen and raised her glass to her mouth. She tilted her head back farther than usual to get the last of the liquid from the bottom. As she was doing so, Daenerys posed a question the guard wasn’t prepared for. “Why have you never married?”

She rejected the premise entirely. Unlike Daenerys, Arya was not a Princess, nor a prime candidate for marriage. She was the daughter of traitors and a ward, there wasn’t a long line of men eager to attach their name to hers. Without permission she tried to respond, to oppose Daenerys vehemently, and it caused her to choke on the wine she’d been drinking. Shaking violently, she coughed, using an arm to protect her stomach as she struggled to retake control of her body.

By the time she finished coughing Daenerys had one hand rubbing her back tenderly while the other hung in the air, looking for a place to rest. “Are you okay?”

Confident the worst was over, Arya lifted her head and met Daenerys’s eye. She intended to apologize, and to ensure the Princess that she was alright, but she didn’t get that far. A single drop of wine had leaked from her mouth as she coughed and while Arya hadn’t noticed it, Daenerys had. She leaned closer and with a swipe of her thumb, collected the wine from its place just below Arya’s lower lip. She shivered and instinctively took a deep breath, trying to steady herself, but it was counterproductive. Inhaling deeply only reminded her that Daenerys was close, filling her nostrils with the unique scent of her perfume. Not long ago she was thinking about what it would be like to kiss the woman she guarded and now, it appeared she was going to find out. Daenerys leaned in, and her eyes fluttered closed as her lips neared Arya’s. What was going on? How much had Daenerys had to drink? More than Arya, certainly, since she had wine with her dinner as well. Did the alcohol explain what was happening? She didn’t want to stop it, but she probably should. She was in Daenerys’s service and she needed her trust. If she took advantage of her and allowed this kiss to proceed, especially when she suspected Daenerys was intoxicated, she could damage their friendship. Just before she reached a decision it occurred to her that if Daenerys wanted to kiss her, and Arya refused her, she’d likely damage things just as severely. She hadn’t made up her mind, but she was out of time. Indecision was a decision, and Arya was about to kiss Daenerys Targaryen.

The door swung open wide and slammed against the wall. The two women leaned in different directions, leaving a distinct void of open space between them. Daenerys straightened up and rotated to the door at the same time Arya wiped her face with her sleeve to make certain there was no more wine, then she was on her feet.

The Mad King was red-faced and enraged as he looked past his daughter to the guard. “Who are you?” he demanded to know, using a finger to point.

The lie was on the tip of her tongue. ‘Arya Sand’ she meant to say. Before she could, she was overrun with memories of sitting on her father’s knee, learning of their failed rebellion. An instant later, she was walking the hall of the Red Keep, in the center of a formation that included every member of her family. They were surrounded by Kingsguard, on their way to meet the Dragon King. She was terrified and knew it was visible to any who cared enough to look. From a step ahead Robb glanced back and gave her his best attempt at a reassuring smile. She couldn’t copy it, she didn’t even try. The fear that consumed her then was nothing compared to what came later, when she was kneeling in Stark blood, before a King determined to punish every Wolf he could find.

Reliving that moment again, she was back in the throne room again, avoiding his eye just as she’d done that day. She did her best not to see the blood under her, not to feel it pooling against her legs, staining her skin. That was when it dawned on her that she was wearing a sword. It was strange, but not unwelcome. Her brow furrowed as she tried to recall where the weapon came from? She hadn’t had a sword on the day she was sent to Dorne, had she? When the Mad King stepped down from his throne to pass judgement on her, Arya was ready. With bared teeth she reached for the sword and lunged at the Targaryen. His lazy guards were too far away to interfere. She’d die soon, but she wouldn’t go alone. The King’s reign would end, by her hand and her last act would be avenging her family.

She was proud of her actions as she lined the sword up with the center of Aerys’s chest. Just before the blade pierced his thin skin the form in front of her changed shape. The next thing she knew it wasn’t the Mad King who stood before her anymore and the sword she was wielding was gone. Her hands suddenly empty, as a voice called her name. “Arya!”

The ground beneath her shook and her body followed. The voice calling her grew more frantic. With repetition came clarity and Arya realized it wasn’t her mother’s voice she was hearing, or Sansa’s. She blinked hard, working to clear the fog in her mind while she tried to source that soothing sound.

“Arya! Arya! Please wake up!” Daenerys chanted.

Her vision was blurred, so much so that she couldn’t see anything beyond a figure she assumed was Daenerys directly in front of her. There was so much she wanted to know she couldn’t decide where to start.

Daenerys didn’t have the same impediment. “Can you hear me?”

“Where am I?” she asked, her voice scratchy and raw.

“You don’t remember?”

On the word ‘remember’, she clamped her eyes closed as tightly as she could. The problem wasn’t that she didn’t remember, it was that she did, too well.

“You wanted to stay in my room tonight, since Missandei isn’t here.”

Now that she mentioned it, that did sound familiar. She had wanted to stay with Daenerys, partially because Missandei wasn’t there, and also because Arya planned to begin her day early. Staying in Daenerys’s room, sleeping on the floor would allow them to leave earlier than if she returned to the barracks.

Her eyes remained closed as she thought back to the beginning of the dream, if that’s what it was. That exchange with Daenerys had really happened, the wine, the talk of marriage, the choking and the almost kiss. It hadn’t been Aerys that prevented their lips from meeting, but Arya. She made up a weak excuse and retreated before Daenerys could make contact.

“You ha d a nightmare,” Daenerys confirmed, “one minute you were sleeping, the next you were thrashing and screaming.”

“Did I say anything?” she asked, as the knot in her stomach became painful. Had she revealed the truth to Daenerys in her sleep? Capable of opening her eyes now, she didn’t want to. She was afraid of what she’d see. Would it be pity or knowledge that decorated Daenerys’s features? She didn’t know which she’d prefer.

“Not really, just a lot of yelling, it sounded like you were in pain or upset or something.”

“I’m sorry I woke you,” Arya supplied in a whisper. “I get nightmares sometimes. I should have thought of that before I asked to stay.”

Daenerys’s hands which started on her shoulders, were now rubbing lazily into her arms as they moved up and down. “Don’t worry about that,” she insisted. “I just want to make sure you’re okay.”

Finally, she cracked her eyes open again, seeing clearly for the first time since she woke. There was minimal light, but it was more than enough, especially with Daenerys so close. The fog that blurred everything was gone and she almost wished for it back when she tried to reassure Daenerys and was too startled to form a coherent statement. There, kneeling in front of her, close enough to touch was a very naked Princess. Conflicted she didn’t know whether she should look away or seize her only opportunity and memorize every detail. Actually, that was a lie, she knew what she should do, she just didn’t want to. She tried to force her eyes away from Daenerys’s body as she responded. “I’m fine, I promise.” She punctuated the words with an unnatural smile while she peeked at Daenerys’s bare breasts.

Relaxing a little, she leaned back, sitting on her heels. “Are you sure? Does that happen often? Is there anything you need?”

In an effort to placate Daenerys, she rested one of her sweaty hands on top of Daenerys’s. The contact caused them both to freeze. Still waiting for answers, Daenerys looked expectantly to the younger woman. She did made an effort to keep her eyes on Daenerys’s face and nowhere else. “I’m fine,” she repeated. She let that sink in, before she tackled the second question. “It happens sometimes,” she admitted softly, neglecting to acknowledge that her nightmares had been more prevalent since she came to King’s Landing. “And no, I don’t need anything. You can go back to bed, I’m sorry I woke you.”

“I can stay, if you want. Do you want to talk about it?” She didn’t let Arya reply, choosing to answer for her. “Probably not,” she guessed accurately. “Well, I can still keep you company, if you want to talk about something else.”

With every passing second it became harder to ignore Daenerys’s exposed skin. She had a remarkable figure. Arya had admired it through her clothes almost daily in recent weeks but stealing glimpses at Daenerys without the dress made it clear that even Arya’s most elaborate fantasies paled in comparison to the real thing. From head to toe she was flawless. “Aren’t you cold?” she asked a bit too harshly as she clung to her limited restraint.

Confusion came first, and Arya would have laughed had she not been using all her strength to keep from acting on her desires. After a moment that felt like years to the frayed soldier, Daenerys looked down at herself and seemed to notice for the first time how little she was wearing. “Oh,” she said, jumping back, out from under Arya’s touch. “Oh,” she said again. She hurried to the bottom corner of the bed and pulled the blanket off, using it to cover herself.

Arya was both relieved and annoyed when the masterpiece she’d been trying not to appreciate was taken from her. Even mostly covered, Daenerys was still gorgeous. The blanket covered her breasts and hung down to the middle of her thighs, but there remained a sinful amount of her cleavage and legs on display.

With a little bit of distance, it was easier to think. Arya glanced down at her own body, checking to see what she’d been caught in. Although she typically slept nude, she chose to remain covered since she was sharing the room with Daenerys. She’d taken off her armor and had gone to sleep wearing only the thin, makeshift garments she wore to prevent the steel from rubbing directly on her skin. On her top half there was a band of fabric across her breasts and the bottoms had once been pants before she cropped them to stop above the knees.

Red faced and embarrassed Daenerys wouldn’t look her in the eye. “When I heard you yelling, I didn’t even think, I just wanted to help.”

She wasn’t going to complain about the unexpected treat she’d been given. She searched her brain for a way to show Daenerys she’d done the right thing, without admitting how much she enjoyed it. In the end she settled on one of those remarks that may or may not have been the truth. “You likely saved me from suffering far longer,” she said, “if you hadn’t shaken me like that, I probably wouldn’t have woken up.” She waited a moment before finishing. “Thank you, Daenerys, and again, I’m sorry to have disturbed you.”

“Stop apologizing,” Daenerys pressed, after a short chuckle that seemed only slightly forced. “I’m just glad you’re okay. Would you like to talk, about the nightmare or anything else?”

She looked out the large window to assess the time and then she stood up, stretching her muscles. There, on top of the borrowed blanket she’d been using as a bed, she felt Daenerys’s eyes watching her every move. Suddenly the large room felt too small and she needed to escape. “No thank you, you should go back to sleep, it’s still early.”

“Where are you going?” Daenerys asked. For an instant it looked as if she intended to drop the blanket she was using as a shield and physically prevent Arya from leaving. She settled for just extending an arm in Arya’s direction.

“I’m going to go clean myself up,” Arya explained, “I need to be ready when the Princess decides she wants to begin her day among the people.”

“That isn’t for a few hours yet, is it?”

With a shrug she took another step toward the door. “That’s up to you. Once we’re awake and dressed, we can leave as early or as late as you please.”

The hour not withstanding, Daenerys was immediately overflowing with energy. “Really? I didn’t think we would leave until after breakfast.”

“We could find breakfast in the city I’m sure,” she predicted.

With a wide grin, Daenerys lowered her outstretched arm. “In that case, you should probably hurry.”

“I’ll be back soon.” She wanted to go, needed to, but before she left, she repeated one point to make it abundantly clear. “Thank you, for your help.”

R-C

Usually the Targaryen Princess’s life was tightly controlled. Someone always told her where to go, who to meet with and what to do when she got there. She didn’t enjoy the lack of freedom, but she understood it, it was oddly comforting because it was familiar. With her unwavering determination Arya Sand flipped her highly regulated schedule on its head. Nothing felt normal now and it had Daenerys’s skin prickling while her heart raced. She wondered if this was how everyone else felt all the time? So filled to the brim, with possibilities and potential.

Arya had gone to wash up and prepare, and Daenerys was supposed to be stealing a few more minutes of slumber. How could she sleep after everything that happened? The night had gone almost perfectly in Daenerys’s estimation. After productive meetings with Aemon and Tyrion they retired to Daenerys’s chambers. Once there, they shared a few drinks and laughed frequently as they discussed a wide variety of topics. Even when Daenerys suggested she leave, the guard remained. Sometimes it was difficult to tell how the people around her were feeling. Her position as Princess combined with theirs as staff created an almost unbridgeable divide. Most held their tongue to avoid upsetting her and the rest were quick to agree with anything Daenerys suggested, regardless of their own opinions. That said, she didn’t think Arya stayed because she was sworn to the Princess, she did it because she wanted to, and Daenerys preferred that. Arya appeared content as they traded stories. Daenerys told of life in the Capital while Arya supplied tales about Dorne, Oberyn and the Prince’s many daughters.

For a moment Daenerys thought her pleasurable evening would continue improving. She and Arya were side by side on a padded bench with a high back, each sipping wine. When talk turned to marriage, specifically why Daenerys wasn’t wed, she was surprised to find she didn’t immediately want to change the subject. Arya wasn’t the first to ask. The older Daenerys got without being paired off, the more questions people had. Generally Daenerys’s responses were vague and brief, something along the lines of ‘I haven’t met the right person,’ or ‘it isn’t the right time.’ With Arya she wanted to clarify.

After she shared her deepest feelings on the idea of married life, Daenerys posed a sincere question of her own, asking why Arya had never married. She knew her friend was a bastard, but that alone couldn’t be the only reason, could it? She was skilled, funny, kind, intelligent and undeniably stunning, any man or woman would be lucky to have Arya’s affection, Daenerys included.

When she nearly choked and began coughing, Daenerys was panicked. Arya kept her head down, hiding her eyes from the Princess who was desperate to confirm she was okay. She sat there like a fool. Should she summon someone? Did Arya require water or the Maester?

Their eyes meeting was a memory Daenerys would cherish. Arya was always beautiful, but in that moment, it was nearly overwhelming. The close proximity, the wine, the light pink color the vigorous coughing had brought to Arya’s cheeks, it was all too much. When she saw a drop of wine hanging there just below her bottom lip, Daenerys knew she needed to act fast. Any second now Arya would realize the wine was there and wipe it away, Daenerys was determined to be quicker. She reached for it and felt a spark when her thumb made contact with the Dornish woman’s skin. Once Arya’s face was cleared of wine, Daenerys’s pretense for touching her was gone, but she couldn’t bring herself to stop. She kept her thumb moving, left to right, right to left, stretching it up closer to Arya’s lip. That lip, had she ever seen anything more appealing? Daenerys didn’t think so. Before she knew it was happening, she was leaning in. Her brain was sounding alarms, trying to caution against her current course but Daenerys continued. The prolonged lean only served to heighten Daenerys’s need. She cared about Arya and wanted her around for as long as possible. She knew kissing her might cause irrevocable damage to their relationship, but it seemed like a worthwhile risk to discover if she tasted as good as she looked.

At the last moment Arya pulled away, mumbling something about wanting to wash her face after her cough. Daenerys was disappointed. What did that mean? Did Arya stop because she didn’t want Daenerys to kiss her? That particular line of thought unsettled her, so she arranged a more favorable counterargument, maybe Arya was just worried because she was Daenerys’s guard. She was probably hesitant because she didn’t want to make things awkward between them. As she waited for Arya to return Daenerys noted that she’d gladly take some awkward tension if it meant she could get the occasional kiss.

She likely would have stewed in her doubts for the rest of the night if Arya hadn’t come back and pulled Daenerys into an intense conversation. They picked up right where the left off. Neither brought up marriage again, but Arya was calm, relaxed and engaging. She gave no indication that the almost-kiss made her uncomfortable, leading Daenerys to speculate that she hadn’t known what the Princess was going to do.

When she gave Missandei and Grey Worm their well-earned reprieve, Daenerys expected she’d be spending a lot of extra time alone. Typically, Arya returned to the barracks after Daenerys was in her chambers for the night. Sometimes Aemon would visit, or Rhaegar but more often than not, it was just her and Missandei. She intended to keep to their pattern.

It was a welcome surprise when Arya informed her that she planned to stay. Daenerys would happily take an evening with Arya over one alone. She learned quite a bit about Arya as the hour grew late. She did what she could to memorize every detail, wanting to keep them for later.

She expressed her wish to go to bed only when it couldn’t be delayed anymore. If the coming day was one where she’d be confined to the keep, Daenerys would have stayed up all night, but since she needed to be alert and awake to make the most of her day in the city, she’d need some rest.

She thought Arya would leave but instead she only went as far as the closet. “What are you looking for?” she asked after a yawn.

“A pillow or a blanket,” Arya replied without further explanation, she just kept rummaging through Daenerys’s belongings. Other nobles or royals might have been annoyed that a member of the staff was messing up their things, but not Daenerys. If anything, she took it as proof that Arya was comfortable with her, aware she wouldn’t be doing it otherwise.

She spent a few seconds trying to visualize the layout of her closet, to recall where Missandei and the others stored the specific items. “Top shelf, I think,” she guessed. She watched as Arya lifted up onto her toes to try and reach the desired height. “What do you need them for?”

She turned toward Daenerys with two folded blankets and a single pillow in her arms. “You aren’t the only one who needs sleep Princess.”

Daenerys smiled at the use of her title. Over their hours together, Arya had called her ‘Princess’ only a handful of times and always with a tinge of humor or teasing. Had she not been focusing on her choice of words she might have understood the underlying message sooner. “You’re staying?” She hadn’t meant it as a question, but her uncertainty made it come out that way.

“I can go to the barracks, if you’d rather…” she started.

“No!” Daenerys insisted. “I don’t mind, I’m just surprised,” she confessed, “I thought after spending all day and night with me, you’d be eager to go.”

Arya moved to the foot of the bed and dropped the items she was carrying. Daenerys got up from the bench and walked in that direction. In the process of spreading out one of the blankets on the floor, Arya said, “I’ll survive.” Her tone made it sound like she was suffering a hardship but her sly and oh so sexy smirk made sure Daenerys didn’t take it too seriously.

“How very generous,” Daenerys replied sarcastically. Arya was positioning the pillow where her head would be when Daenerys decided to venture into dangerous waters. “You know, the bed is big enough for two.”

She dropped the pillow carelessly and pivoted to Daenerys. “The floor is fine,” she assured her.

She meant to make another attempt, to try and coax Arya into her bed, even if it was only to sleep but she was distracted by Arya standing next to her ‘bed,’ unstrapping her armor. When she lifted it away from her body, Daenerys was treated to more of her flesh than she’d ever seen before. She knew she was staring but couldn’t stop. When she was done, her armor was neatly piled on one side with her sword in its scabbard on the other. Daenerys said a silent prayer that Arya would keep stripping, but she didn’t. She wondered if the guard normally slept in clothes or if it was being done for Daenerys’s benefit. If so, it was utterly unnecessary.

Daenerys was going to return the favor and give Arya a display of her own to watch, but she waited too long. By the time she pushed the straps of her dress off her shoulders, Arya was already lying down, with her back to Daenerys. She huffed quietly and pulled back the covers. Arya broke the silence, but only after Daenerys was resting comfortably. “Goodnight,” she said.

Daenerys responded in kind. She didn’t know how she’d be able to sleep with Arya just feet away, she just knew she needed to try. She refused to waste her day by sleeping half of it away. Although she struggled to calm down, Arya had no such problem, within minutes of Daenerys saying goodnight the soldier was breathing evenly. She listened and tried to match the speed. She smiled as she waited for sleep to come. They hadn’t kissed and Arya hadn’t joined her in bed, but she had stayed, and Daenerys liked having her nearby. That was the last thought she remembered having.

She slept soundly, with pleasant dreams of life aboard her very own ship. Missandei was there, along with Arya, Aemon, Grey Worm and Rhaegar. She thought it was a part of the dream when she heard Arya whimper. She didn’t comprehend what was happening until she heard her friend cry out for her father. Daenerys awoke with a start, not in the belly of a ship surrounded by the people she loved most, but in the Red Keep, alone.

Except she wasn’t alone. That became clear when she heard Arya muttering. She followed the sound, pushing off her blanket and crawling down the bed. What she saw made her heated blood run cold. Arya was thrashing wildly. Closer now, she could make out some of what Arya was saying. Daenerys didn’t know who she was talking to, but heard something that sounded suspiciously like, “I’ll kill you.”

Without thinking she left the safety of her bed and went to Arya. She laid one hand gently on her shoulder, hoping to calm the violent spasms. She assumed she was successful as Arya stilled under her touch, but it didn’t last. With her teeth closed tightly, Daenerys heard what she could only describe as a growl. What was she seeing? Was this a dream or something else? Unwilling to find out what would happen next, she said Arya’s name gently, trying to rouse her. When it didn’t work, she took hold of her second shoulder as she had the first. She lifted Arya partway off the blanket and shook her. Again, she tried to be gentle, but grew more intense the longer it went without Arya responding.

By the end, Daenerys was half yelling, half pleading for Arya to wake. When she finally did Daenerys was overcome with relief. She felt the urge to cry and likely would have given into it, had Arya not seemed so confused. Seeing the confident guard so vulnerable was unnerving, and it forced Daenerys to focus on Arya and not her own feelings.

Thankfully Arya recovered quickly. Before long the dream faded and she returned to herself, reverting back to the woman Daenerys couldn’t get enough of. Just as things were calming, Arya pointed out her lack of clothes and the strain was back.

She’d wanted Arya to see her naked the night before, but that was when it was by choice, when it would’ve been her decision. This was accidental and not at all the way Daenerys wanted it. She grabbed for a blanket to cover herself. As she did, she felt more than saw Arya watching her. Embarrassed, she hid her body. They tiptoed around one another, trying to talk after such a strange turn of events. Daenerys watched Arya’s eyes, making note of each time they strayed below her neck. As her tally grew, she felt braver than she had in a long time. Perhaps getting caught naked wasn’t the worst thing.

Alone now sleep was impossible, regardless of Arya’s instructions, she had too many questions. What was Arya dreaming about? Who did she want to kill? Also, she wondered what Arya was thinking now? Had she left because of the dream or because she was uncomfortable in Daenerys’s presence? Did she like what she saw, because she definitely saw everything?

They were about to spend the whole day together. Daenerys hoped it could be like last night and not this morning. She wanted to see the happy relaxed Arya who could laugh and tease, not the one who was pained by a nightmare, who fled at the first opportunity.

She assumed they’d wake up, eat breakfast as usual and then leave, but Arya mentioned they could depart as soon as she wanted to. If that was true, then Daenerys was wasting valuable time. It would likely take longer than normal to get ready since she wouldn’t have Missandei’s assistance, but Daenerys didn’t mind. She’d done a good thing by rewarding her friends with time away, she hoped they were enjoying it. If she had to fetch her own bathwater and style her own hair to give Missandei her first taste of freedom in far too long, so be it.

R-C

Chapter Text

The first rays of sunlight warmed her skin as they made their way down the street. Despite the early hour, many were already out. Most were hurrying from their homes to begin a day of work. These people were easy to detect by their clean clothes, clear eyes and rapid steps. A rarer sight was to find someone stumbling in the opposite direction, leaving a tavern or a brothel and finally starting the overdue journey that would end in their beds. Unlike the workers, their clothes were wrinkled and unkept, they staggered frequently and one man Daenerys saw actually needed the support of nearby buildings to keep from falling. She drank it all in gladly, even the parts she found revolting, because good or bad, she couldn’t see any of this from her room in the Red Keep.

They secured their horses at the first available post and continued on foot. Arya insisted on carrying the clothes. Daenerys had suggested they divide the large pile, but Arya wouldn’t allow it. Although it was common for guards to carry things for her, she got the impression that Arya wasn’t doing it out of a sense of duty. It was more likely she wanted to and that made it better in every way.

She took her eyes off the merchant who was opening his store and turned her attention to the sky. It was bright, with vivid colors. How many mornings had she watched the sunrise through her window? Dozens, hundreds perhaps? It felt like the first time again. Today, she wasn’t just seeing it, she was living it.

As usual, Arya covered her armor and left her helmet behind, allowing Daenerys to feel like just another woman in the city. She loved it. “Look at that,” she remarked casually.

“It’s beautiful,” Arya agreed. Daenerys did her best to memorize all the colors and the way they melded together. She knew her best recollection would be pitiful in comparison to the real thing, but she tried anyway.

They went another block in easy silence, before Arya said, “Daenerys, wait!”

Daenerys froze instantly. Arya never issued orders, never gave commands. She searched their surroundings for danger, for something that had the guard on alert, but she found nothing. The only thing unusual was that Daenerys herself was three steps ahead of her guard, when they were typical side by side. She backed up. “What’s wrong?”

“I’m sorry,” Arya said immediately, “my hands are full or else I would’ve redirected you with a hand.”

Daenerys’s cheeks warmed as she remembered how Arya steered her in one direction or the other with a hand on her arm or back. She cursed Arya’s sweet willingness to carry all the clothes. If Daenerys had persuaded her to share the load, she would have gotten to experience Arya guiding her again. It wasn’t the way she wanted Arya to touch her, but it was better than nothing and she’d take what she could get.

“The orphanage is this way,” Daenerys explained feebly. Surely Arya knew where the orphanage was, they’d gone there the day before.

“It’s still early, the kids probably aren’t even awake yet and there is something else I want you to see.”

She punctuated her point with a smile, one that did things to Daenerys’s stomach. She didn’t need know where they were going or why. It was enough that Arya mentioned it. “Sounds interesting.”

Given how their day began, Daenerys was nervous that things would be strained between her and Arya. The nightmare combined with the nudity would be a lot for anyone. Arya seemed unbothered by it, at least outwardly. She was relaxed and the conversation flowed easily. Arya apologized for not feeding the Princess before they left the castle, and promised they’d make a stop to ensure she got breakfast. Daenerys happily and honestly replied that a little hunger was worth their early departure. She made a point to thank Arya for thinking of it.

When she realized where they were going, she slowed her steps and met Arya’s eye. “There likely won’t be many new ships. One or two could have come in overnight I suppose, but…”

“For once,” Arya interrupted gently, “we didn’t come here so you could admire the ships.”

“We didn’t?”

A handful of steps later and Daenerys understood why they’d come. She thought the sunrise was beautiful in the city, decorating the sky, and warming the good people, but that was nothing. The way the light reflected off the water was breathtaking. She didn’t have words for how perfect it looked, so she just stared dumbly.

Daenerys forced her eyes away from the spot in the distance where the water and the sky met. Over her shoulder Arya waited patiently, adjusting the cargo. “Thank you so much for this,” she said. “I had no idea I was missing out on this every morning.”

“You’re welcome.”

R-C

The Septa was surprised to see them. It was a forgivable reaction given that the Princess had provided donations just yesterday and said nothing about returning. That said, she was gracious and invited them in. “Princess Daenerys, I wasn’t aware you’d be returning so soon.” She gasped when she heard her own words and made the appropriate amendment. “You’re welcome anytime of course, please take a seat. The children are just starting to wake, and they’ll begin trickling out shortly.”

Daenerys smiled warmly, unbothered by the Septa’s comment. “Yesterday after I left, I realized how inconsiderate it was of me to only bring dresses for the children.” Arya could tell the Septa was going to interject, to claim her generosity was more than enough but she didn’t get the chance. “Last night I spoke with Prince Aemon. He asked that I bring some of his clothes as well, to be modified to fit the boys.”

“That is very kind. Please thank the Prince for me, and for all of us here.”

Daenerys drew attention to the clothes Arya was carrying. “Where can I put these?” the guard asked.

“Anywhere is fine,” the Septa assured her, “and thank you again. This will help so many in need.” Arya found a small table off to the side. It was low to the ground and she guessed it was where orphans gathered to play games, but it was a fine spot to temporarily store the clothes.

“I want to help. If there is anything else you require Septa, please do not hesitate to say. I’ve recently taken over a portion of the charitable giving on behalf of the Crown and I’d be more than happy to put you on the calendar if you wish.”

This caught the Septa by surprise. “That’s great. Traditionally such requests go through the Master of the Coin.”

“Usually yes, but Lord Tyrion is quite busy with other matters, causing a delay in dispensing charity.”

The Septa smiled and reached for Daenerys’s hand. “That is great. Now all the people of King’s Landing will learn you are selfless and generous, just as I have.”

From where she was standing Arya bit down on her bottom lip to keep from smiling too broadly as she listened to the older woman heap praise on the Princess. In this case, Arya actually agreed with the Septa. Many nobles gave money or donated their time, but Daenerys seemed genuinely committed to trying to improve things for people who were less fortunate. Unlike most highborn, she cared more about doing her good deeds than being acknowledged for them. It was a rare combination.

When she rejoined the conversation, the Septa was still going. “With these clothes, we’ll be able to make several new pieces of clothing for each child. This will make a big difference in each and every one of their lives, Princess.”

“I’m happy to help.”

While they spoke, a little boy made his way out of his room. His hair was wild, he was topless, and he was wiping sleep from his eye as he approached. Since the Septa and Daenerys were occupied, Arya set to intercept him before he reached them. She couldn’t do much, but she was capable of making sure the boy ate. She squatted down in front of him. “I’m Arya, what’s your name?”

He lowered his hand from his eye. “Wil.”

“Are you hungry Wil? I bet you’re hungry.”

He was wary of the guard, but the promise of food won the day. He nodded. Straightening up Arya held out her hand for him to take. When he did, she went with him to one of the three large tables used for meals.

He was a little too short to get into the chair by himself, so Arya provided a helpful boost. Once she was confident he wouldn’t fall, she asked, “What would you like?”

The Septa answered for him. “There is oatmeal in the kitchen and bowls in the cupboard.”

“I’ll take care of it.” To Little Wil, she whispered, “You stay here, and I’ll get you something to eat, sound good?”

He nodded again and rewarded her efforts with a smile. He was missing one of his front teeth but even Arya could see he was cute.

In the next room everything was as the Septa said it would be. She scooped oatmeal into a bowl for Wil and then spotted pitchers of juice and milk. She carried as much as she could at once and set it all on the table near Wil’s chair. She presented him with his breakfast first and then positioned the juice nearby. On her second trip to the kitchen she collected an arm full of empty cups along with the milk.

In addition to a lot more children, several of the adults who cared for them had also emerged. Most were already in action, pouring glasses or settling orphans. It was busy, but not chaotic. The children despite their hunger were well-behaved, and the staff worked seamlessly to make sure all their needs were met.

After she set the milk down, a pretty young girl of about nine smiled and thanked her. The sentiment was echoed by a young woman about Arya’s age, who was on her way from the kitchen balancing more bowls of oatmeal than Arya would dare to try and carry.

She decided to make herself useful by putting the oatmeal into bowls. It was an easy job and one she could do quietly and alone, while still contributing. Before long they fell into a routine that worked. The bowls were ready when the staff came to get them.

Midway through, Daenerys appeared at Arya’s side. “How can I help?”

“I’m not sure actually,” she admitted. “I don’t know who needs what. The children would probably like to say they had breakfast with a Princess. Why don’t you go and sit with them?”

She hadn’t meant it as an insult but that was how Daenerys took it. “I will not go and sit when everyone else is working tirelessly to feed all these children. Put me to work.”

A glance to her right revealed that she was running out of empty bowls. “That cupboard there,” she said pointing, “bring as many bowls as you can and then run and tell me how many people still need oatmeal.”

Before she did as instructed Daenerys paused directly behind Arya and leaned into her, pressing her breasts into the guard’s back. “See,” she teased, “that wasn’t so hard, was it.” She laughed lightly, and then continued to the cupboard. “Now you’ll get to tell people you ordered the Princess around.”

She took her eyes off the pot she was stirring and tried to match Daenerys’s smile with one of her own. “It was less of an order and more of a polite request.”

“Either way, here are your bowls.”

“Much obliged m’lady,” Arya said with a bow. Daenerys was already moving toward the dining area, but she wasn’t too far away to prevent Arya from hearing her laughter for a second time.

R-C

By the time the children were finished eating and began to leave the tables to go and play, Daenerys felt like she was in need of a nap.

She always suspected the Septa was overworked but now she had confirmation. Even with two extra sets of hands, the adults never stopped during breakfast. From the moment Arya helped the first boy into his seat, until the last girl who ate the final bite, there was always more to do.

While some wiped down the tables, Arya and several others were in the kitchen, doing the dishes. Daenerys meant to join them but was stopped by the Septa before she could. “Thank you so much Princess, you returning with more donations was beyond kind, choosing to stay and assist us, I’m not sure ‘thank you’ is enough.”

“It’s more than enough,” Daenerys contended. “Hopefully my schedule will allow me to visit you and the children here more often.”

“They’d like that and so would I. You are always welcome here.”

“I appreciate that.” And she did. She didn’t know if Rhaegar would allow her more frequent outings, but she could hope. She also knew Arya would be returning to Sunspear soon and that would likely limit the number of opportunities she had to spend her mornings like this.

“May I ask a question Princess?”

“Of course, anything.”

“Your friend, I do not recognize her. Who is she? I only ask because a number of the others have told me what a big help she was to them.”

Daenerys grinned. “That sounds like Arya. She is my guard and my friend.”

“Oh, I wasn’t aware… Oh, well please thank her for all of us.”

“I will. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to spend a few minutes with the children before I have to go.”

“Of course,” the Septa said, stepping back and letting her pass. “I think they’d like that.”

“So would I.”

R-C

Arya stood off to the side watching Daenerys read to a group of orphans. She may have been looking at the Princess a little too intently, actively trying not to remember what the red dress was hiding. If she’d been more alert, she would have noticed the boy’s approach. “Is that a sword?”

He was about ten, with dark brown hair and matching eyes. “Yes, I’m Princess Daenerys’s guard.”

“You’re a girl!”

“I am, and you’re a boy,” she retorted gently.

“Girls can’t be guards!” he said, his loud voice drawing the attention of some of his peers.

Arya wasn’t sure how to respond. It was true that in this part of the Realm girls could not be guards, but in Dorne things were different. How could she explain that to a child?

Luckily, she didn’t have to, a pair of girls who had been enjoying Daenerys’s storytelling got up and raced over, rushing to Arya’s defense. “Why not? Girls can do anything boys can, and they can do it better.”

“Yeah,” her friend chimed in.

“They can not!” the male resisted. His face turned red as aggravation set in.

“Princess Daenerys is a Targaryen,” one of the little girls explained logically, “I bet she gets the best guards. If she chose her, then she must be the best.”

“You’re both right actually,” Daenerys said as she came to stand between the warring factions. She ruffled the boy’s hair. “Usually in King’s Landing guards are men, so you’re right.”

“See!” he called as soon as his point had been validated. He went so far as to stick his tongue out at the girls opposite him.

“But you two are also right,” Daenerys continued, addressing the females. “Arya is my guard and I chose her because she was the best out of hundreds of others.”

All the children looked at the soldier with wonder. “Really?” the boy verified. “You?”

“How many were in your training with you?” Daenerys asked, though Arya was sure she remembered.

“I was the only woman in a group of more than three hundred.”

“And you finished first?” one of the girls clarified, her voice filled with youthful awe. Arya guessed she would have sounded the same if she’d been given the chance to speak to an unfamiliar soldier, especially a woman, at that age.

“Yes, in my final challenge I had to spar with a man who was bigger, stronger and faster. He beat me in every test we’d ever been given.”

“What happened?”

“He was tough, and he almost had me, but I won,” she recited fondly.

“No wonder you picked her,” a girl with blonde hair said to Daenerys.

“She’s a great guard,” Daenerys confirmed. “She’s kept me safe and become one of my dearest friends.”

Arya was just about to thank Daenerys for averting a disaster when one of the girl’s asked a question that had the potential to destroy the fragile peace. “Can I be a guard too?”

The adults looked at one another. How could they respond? It wasn’t possible in the Crownlands, telling her otherwise would be a lie, but shattering her dreams felt worse.

Daenerys squatted down to look the girl in the eye. “You can be whatever you want to be, a guard or a merchant, a wife and a mother. Just because someone tells you that you can’t do something doesn’t mean you have to listen.”

“Okay,” she said, cheered by Daenerys’s encouragement.

“You just keep practicing and working hard and one day, maybe I’ll make you my guard.”

“I will, I will, thank you Princess!” she gushed.

As they walked away Arya whispered. “That was kind of you. I would have loved to have heard that when I was young.”

“You found a way, so can she.”

“She’s happy now,” Arya pointed out, “but when she’s older, she’ll learn the truth, that women aren’t allowed to take up arms here.”

Daenerys looked back at the young girl they were discussing. “That may be the King’s law now, but by the time she’s old enough to begin her training, my father may not be King, and the rules may be different.”

She almost reminded Daenerys that it was Rhaegar and not her who would lead after the Mad King, but she held her tongue. Who knows, maybe Rhaegar would be willing to permit women into the city guard. Stranger things had happened in Westeros.

R-C

They were preparing to leave when Arya pulled her aside. Daenerys immediately assumed the worst. “Is something wrong?”

“I still have the gold you got from Tyrion, did you want to give it to the Septa or…”

The gold?! She’d forgotten all about it. “Yes, absolutely. We were talking about it when the kids started coming out of their rooms and we got distracted.”

“Understandable,” Arya supplied reaching under her cloak to produce the pouch of coins.

The Septa was thanking Daenerys and Arya for a third time, when Daenerys was finally able to get a word in. “I have one more gift for you,” she began. “I imagine that few among you here have the time to tailor the donated clothes into items for the children, am I right?”

“That is true, but I’ve already spoken to a local seamstress. She’s going to come by in the next several days and is willing to give some of her time.”

“That is very generous of her. Now you’ll be able to reward her properly for her kindness.” She held out the money for the older woman to take. “This should be enough to hire that seamstress and others like her to do the necessary work.”

The Septa was at a loss. “Princess…” she said before trailing off.

“If there are unforeseen expenses or if something comes up that requires attention, please come to the keep and make an appointment. I’ll do everything in my power to aid you in the good work you do here.”

With tears in her eyes, the Septa replied. “Thank you, Princess, thank you so much. I’ll make sure all the children know who to thank for their new clothes.”

Daenerys blushed and looked down. She wasn’t doing this for gratitude. “That’s not necessary. I’ll come back as soon as I can, but in the meantime, you take care of them, and yourself.”

Holding the purse in both hands the Septa nodded. “We will, you be well Princess.”

Outside the sun was much higher in the sky than the last time they’d seen it. “Not a bad way to start the morning eh?”

That was quite the understatement. “Not bad at all. Makes me wonder what’s next?”

Arya shrugged. “I have no idea, let’s go find out.”

That was a tempting offer if Daenerys ever heard one. For the rest of the day, they didn’t have any plans, they could do as much or as little as they pleased. There was no schedule, no obligations, just pure freedom. Not knowing what was in store for them was exhilarating. Having Arya to share it with multiplied those feelings tenfold. With so much unknown there was one thing the Princess was certain of – today was a day she wouldn’t soon forget.

R-C

They wandered without a clear destination in mind. The streets were much busier now, so they added themselves to the sea of people and just went along with the tide. That suited Arya fine. When she was permitted to leave the Water Gardens she’d often roam without purpose, just to see where she’d eventually end up. Given how many years Daenerys had been caged in the castle, she could hardly fault her for wanting to get lost in a crowd.

As they turned down random streets, she kept a close eye on Daenerys’s face. She was smiling. Arya was no expert, but her expression appeared content. The guard hoped she was, she deserved it.

They passed the sign in step with one another. She read the message hastily painted on a plank of wood and then disregarded it. Even if the sign was accurate and it was ‘Harvest Time’ that had nothing to do with her, she was no farmer.

Daenerys’s squeal had her senses heightened. She reached her right arm across Daenerys’s body to stop her from going further, while her left went for the grip on her sword. She studied her environment for dangers but found none. None approaching appeared interested in them, no one avoided meeting her eye when she stared. Best she could tell, she was the only one in her immediate area that was armed. If there wasn’t a problem, why did Daenerys yell?

She kept her hand on her sword as she pivoted toward the Princess. “What’s wrong?” she asked, keeping one eye on the background.

“Wrong,” she repeated, “nothing’s wrong. In fact, it just might be my lucky day.”

The happiness in her voice reinforced what Arya’s eyes were telling her, there really was no threat. She took a deep breath and tried to order her body to relax. The hand that was keeping Daenerys in place dropped and she shifted her dominant hand off her weapon, though it didn’t go far.

Next to her Daenerys was oblivious to Arya’s inner turmoil. She was up on the tips of her toes looking between the sign and the guard. Arya read the words a second time and still didn’t understand. “You wish to go?” she guessed after a delay.

Daenerys squealed again, reaching for Arya’s hand. “Can we?”

She shrugged. “There are plenty of farms, I’m sure one of them would welcome some extra help.” As she said the words she wondered if the Princess was ill. Why would she, why would anyone want to labor on a farm during their first day of real freedom in Gods knew how long?

Daenerys’s laugh was almost musical. The people who tired of waiting were beginning to walk around them. Some eyed them curiously, in an effort to comprehend why they suddenly stopped in the middle of the street. Arya empathized. She was wondering the same thing. “Not that kind of harvest. Do they not have Harvest Time in Dorne?”

“They do,” Arya assured her, “I took you past several farms when we were there.”

Daenerys inched closer. “I remember,” she said looking up into Arya’s eyes, “but this Harvest Time is different, it’s a celebration.”

Finally, things were beginning to clear up. “A celebration?”

She nodded with a widening smile. “I didn’t know it was happening now, I’d given up asking to go.” By the time she finished, she sounded sad for the first time since seeing the sign. Arya didn’t like it.

The mystery of the shriek was solved. Arya also heard what Daenerys left unspoken. She wanted to go to this celebration, but was told ‘no’ probably by Aerys, Rhaegar or both. Well today they weren’t in charge, today Daenerys got to choose. “Harvest Time?” she suggested.

Daenerys bit her lower lip as she hesitated. She studied the sign, then repeated her earlier question. “Can we?”

Arya chuckled, “Today Daenerys, we can do whatever the fuck we want.”

Her arms raised like she was going to pull Arya in for one of her deceptively strong hugs, but she stopped short. Arya banished the disappointment she felt to the back of her mind. “We don’t have to stay for long,” Daenerys said quickly, actively working to temper her excitement. “I have always wanted to go but…”

For once, Arya initiated contact. She made the bold decision to take Daenerys’s hand instead of just laying it on her wrist. As soon as she did, Daenerys laced their fingers together. “We can stay for as long as you’d like.”

“You really wouldn’t mind?”

She had no idea what Harvest Time would entail, but she’d survive. With a smirk on her lips she tried to set the Princess at ease. “I was going to take you to Harvest Time when I thought we’d spend the day in a field, I’m certainly not going to back out now that I know there will be drinking.” She waited until Daenerys was smiling and then confirmed, “There will be drinking right?”

That was all it took – Daenerys was in her arms. “Thank you so much, none of this would be possible without you.”

Arya was careful when she slid her arm around Daenerys, brushing her fingers against her back. “Thank Rhaegar, he agreed.”

“I’ll thank him too,” Daenerys promised as they began moving again, “but he only said yes because you kept asking.”

Unsure of what to say, Arya shifted the conversation to something she liked far more than praise. “So, drinks?”

Daenerys reclaimed her hand as soon as they separated, swinging it between them as they walked. “And games, and food, and dancing and music.”

“Where is it? Will we need our horses?”

“It’s not far, I don’t think. We could get the horses, but I wouldn’t mind walking.”

Arya hoped the decision was made but Daenerys’s inclination to seek approval was deeply engrained. As a pre-emptive strike Arya agreed, “A walk sounds nice.”

R-C

Her day was going great. She and Arya left early enough to avoid seeing Tywin, Rhaegar or Aerys and her visit to the orphanage was a huge success. Now she was on her way to Harvest Time, something she’d given up hope she’d ever get to experience. That she was doing it with Arya only made her appreciate it more.

They walked in favor of horses and were passing the time by trading questions. They started out simple and meaningless, things like Daenerys’s favorite color, or Arya’s preferred style of armor. Before long, they were engaged in a deep discussion about real topics and Daenerys hung on Arya’s every word. While she tried to keep the conversation going, she also desperately wanted to ask the right questions, inquires that would allow her to learn significant things about her companion.

Arya was finishing up a story in which Oberyn took all of his daughters and Arya hunting together. Daenerys laughed sincerely as she recounted the intense fight over who would hunt their dinner. The competition was so fierce Oberyn had to permit the older girls to hunt for themselves while he took the younger ones and taught them to track and kill a deer. No one starved that night, but insults were traded around the fire over the results. The bickering continued until Oberyn suggested the older girls spar to settle their differences. Naturally, they were eager and willing to settle their differences through combat.

Daenerys had seen the eldest three fight during their matches with Arya, so it wasn’t difficult to imagine the scene being described. In addition to making her laugh and letting her feel closer to Arya, it also reinforced Oberyn’s message from before they left Sunspear, he really did consider Arya to be one of his daughters. He wouldn’t have included her in his father-daughter bonding trip if he didn’t. She was reminded of the promise she made the Prince that day and looking to Arya, she silently made the same pledge a second time. She wouldn’t let any harm come to her. Not because it would upset the Prince, but because it would destroy Daenerys. It would break her heart if something happened to Arya.

The next question pulled her from her thoughts. “If you had a ship and could leave and go anywhere, where would you go?”

She took a moment to imagine it. To be free to do as she pleased, to have a ship under her and the wind in her hair, it sounded glorious. She liked the Daenerys her mind conjured up far more than the one she was within the Red Keep’s walls. “Everywhere,” she said simply. “I’d want to take Missandei back to her homeland, so she could see it again. She has only vague memories of it now.” A smirk curled her lip when she continued, “But we’d probably start in Dorne, my last guide told me there was still much I have yet to see.”

Arya’s expression mirrored Daenerys’s and it had her heart speeding in her chest. “She sounds smart,” Arya quipped, “you should probably listen.”

“The smartest,” Daenerys confirmed, before she bit back a laugh. “I’d be a fool not to heed her advice.”

Daenerys liked this, it felt natural, being with Arya, talking with her, not as Princess and guard or Targaryen and Sand, but two friends who enjoy each other’s company. They walked in a peaceful quiet for a few steps and then Daenerys realized it was her turn to ask something. Without consideration she took Arya’s question and sent it back. “Where would you go?”

She was watching a bird, so she only saw Arya’s pained expression briefly from the corner of her eye. “Home.”

It had been the perfect day, so naturally Daenerys had to find a way to ruin it. How stupid did she have to be to ask Arya something like that? She hadn’t wanted to come to King’s Landing, she wanted to stay in Dorne. Her face felt redder than it ever had, and she welcomed the burn of the blush and the embarrassment that accompanied it. She’d truly earned both this time. “Arya,” she said, as she stopped walking. They’d been holding hands since Arya agreed to take her to the celebration, but she feared that was at an end. “I’m sorry that was beyond rude and I don’t really have an excuse other than to say I wasn’t thinking, and I didn’t mean to upset you. I know that is the poorest of poor excuses but it’s true and I’m truly sorry.”

She stopped walking when Daenerys did but that was the extent of her concessions. She didn’t turn or speak, and Daenerys was beginning to worry she wasn’t breathing. Her grey eyes stared off into space and seemed empty, leaving Daenerys to contemplate what she was thinking, feeling, remembering or reliving.

She had such high expectations for the day and now she’d gone and caused pain to the last person she wanted to hurt. Why couldn’t she behave normally, just once? Was it her Targaryen blood that poisoned every good thing in her life or was she just defective?

When the silence ended, it wasn’t with a violent jerk to free her hand or harsh, angry words. Unshed tears were welled up in Arya’s gorgeous eyes and she smiled ever so slightly when she said, “If I had a home left, or a family, I’d go there.”

Given that she started all this with her thoughtless, ignorant question it was plausible if not likely that Arya wouldn’t want to be close to her, but she couldn’t help herself. She wrapped Arya in an embrace. It was awkward and strained, though Arya didn’t complain. “I’m sorry Arya,” she whispered. As the hug progressed with no sign of stopping Daenerys wound her free arm around Arya’s neck. In response the taller, stronger, tougher woman brought Daenerys even closer. “Maybe you can,” she said after a prolonged quiet. “If you want to go back, to see it again, I’m sure we could.”

She hadn’t meant to include herself in that, but like her stupid question, it was out before she could catch it and impossible to take back. Correcting herself now would only draw attention to her original statement. That, she decided, was worse than leaving it as it was. Besides Arya’s focus was on other things, she probably didn’t even notice.

Time stood still as they did, just holding one another. Arya stepped back first, putting a very distinct space between them.

She cleared her throat and looked away as Arya wiped under her eyes subtly. “That was careless of me and I’m sorry,” she said, hoping to convey the depths of her regret.

“You did nothing wrong Daenerys,” Arya countered, fussing with the frayed edge of her cloak. “You asked a question, I answered it and then I started blubbering.”

She didn’t really want to do this, get into an argument over who was at fault. Daenerys knew it was her. She should have been more considerate. “We can go if you no longer feel like attending a celebration,” she allowed. She’d be disappointed to miss it again but another year without getting to go seemed like a minimal price for her rudeness.

“What? No! We aren’t leaving, I was promised drinks.” She sounded better, but Daenerys recognized a fake display of happiness when she heard one.

“You don’t have to,” she insisted. “I wouldn’t blame you if I was the last person you wanted to spend your day with right now. We can return to the castle and I’ll ask Jorah to serve as my guard for the remainder of the day, longer if you need more time.”

How had she let everything get so fucked up? After the night before and their near-kiss she had hoped the day would provide more opportunities for she and Arya to get closer, but she’d wrecked it before it began by being selfish and thoughtless. How many times had she thought herself better than Viserys, how many times had she looked down on him for the things he said and did? Too many to count surely and here she was behaving in a way he’d be proud of. It turned her stomach.

She was preparing for all the negative responses she might get, so she was knocked off balance by the positive one. Arya reached for and took her hand, returning their fingers to the positions they’d been in before her question. “It’s fine, I’m fine, I am just not used to talking about them. It’s been a very long time since someone asked.”

“I shouldn’t have…”

“If you didn’t, I probably wouldn’t have spoken about them to anyone for the remainder of the year.” She was more like herself when she stood a little straighter and said, “Pretending they don’t exist isn’t honoring their memories or appreciating their sacrifices.”

Wow! Arya was constantly giving her reasons to be impressed. It began when she beat the bigger man in the dining hall, when she defied the King and refused his order to kill, when she grabbed Viserys’s arm to keep it from hitting her, those were just some of the many examples she had. Now there was one more. She stood there idiotically, marvelling at the strength in front of her. It was beyond beautiful. She had so many questions. She knew very little about what happened to Arya’s family, except to say they were gone. She knew Doran took her into his service at a young age and that she worked as a servant in the Water Gardens before training to become a soldier, but most of the details were missing. She really wanted to know, feeling in her bones that learning about Arya’s past would fill in many of the largest pieces of the puzzle, but she couldn’t ask, wouldn’t ask. If Arya ever told her about her family, she wanted it to be because Arya chose to let Daenerys know.

She selected her words carefully, practicing in her mind first before setting them loose. “I think they’d be happy to know you’re thinking about them,” she said slowly, watching for any hint that her words were doing more harm than good. “Should the day come that you want to talk to someone about them, I’ll be here.”

“Thank you.”

She should have left it alone, but it upset her to think Arya didn’t really have anyone to share her burdens with. Daenerys could relate to that. Before Missandei, she’d been alone too. “It’s no one’s business but yours Arya. You don’t have to tell me or anyone else unless you want to, but if you do, I’ll listen.”

She cursed herself for not shutting up when she had the chance. The long seconds before Arya’s reply were painful. When it finally came it was the same two words, the same tone, the same sincerity. Daenerys breathed a sigh of relief. “What now?”

Arya’s attractive face provided a fraction of a smirk as warning before she said, “I believe it’s Harvest Time Princess.”

Daenerys chuckled and felt lighter. As Arya dragged her toward their destination Daenerys said a silent prayer of thanks to whatever God was watching over her. She’d made a stupid, careless mistake and somehow, she and Arya were still alright. The Targaryen had never felt quite so lucky.

R-C

Not for the first time Daenerys found herself wishing she lived a different life, one with more friends, more experiences, more normalcy. She wasn’t asking for a lot, just enough to know how to help Arya now.

It was clear that her guard opening up about her family was significant and traumatic. She wanted to ease her discomfort but didn’t know how. She had little practice reassuring someone she cared about and even less consoling them, regardless of how badly she wanted to. She stayed silent, too frightened of saying the wrong thing, to say anything at all.

They added themselves to the masses and approached the border of the celebration. Daenerys wondered if she should change the plan. Would Arya prefer to go back to the castle? She probably didn’t feel like spending the next several hours in a festival. Even though she said it was fine, it didn’t feel that way to the Princess. It was a mercy that Arya didn’t hold a grudge, but Daenerys wasn’t quite ready to forgive herself. She had always wanted to attend Harvest Time, but for once it couldn’t be about her. She needed to put Arya first, to show her that she was cared for.

Admittedly Daenerys didn’t have the best relationship with the majority of her family. Her father was distant and dismissive, Viserys was cruel and cold, she had no memories of her mother and it wasn’t uncommon for her to catch Rhaegar only pretending to listen when she spoke. She knew he loved her, so she was quick to forgive, but it hurt nonetheless. The Targaryen heir had a habit of getting lost in his thoughts, distracted by something he refused to share, whether it was the future, the present or the past, she didn’t know. Honestly, Aemon was the only one she didn’t need to make allowances for. He was kind, friendly, and treated her well. Their bond was real and the older she got, the more important her nephew became to her. Over time she developed a keen appreciation for their relationship, aware it was unlike any other in her life.

Her family wasn’t the easiest group to like but Daenerys did love them, and she was grateful to have them. She couldn’t imagine how hard it had been for Arya, to lose all of her family, to have no choice but to grow up alone. She wanted her to know that she wasn’t on her own anymore. She had Daenerys and she could trust her. If that meant she had to skip Harvest Time for another year, or forever, then so be it.

“We don’t have to stay,” she said without a preamble. She didn’t bother working her way to the larger point, she just threw It out there like a fool.

They were passing the first booths, one selling fruit and the other wine. Arya turned to the Princess, confused. “What? Why? I thought you wanted to come here.”

“I did,” she admitted, deciding the truth was best, “but it’s not really important.” She was done, until she saw Arya’s thin lips part as she prepared to respond. “After everything, if you wanted to go somewhere else, do something else, or go back to the keep even, I’d understand.”

When she understood Daenerys’s reasons Arya appeared more troubled instead of less. “No,” she ruled, “I told you I’m fine and we’re already here.”

Daenerys fully intended to make another argument, but the words died on her tongue when Arya marched ahead, leaving Daenerys to chase after her. Her heart was pounding but she didn’t think it was from the exertion or the speed. Apparently. Arya decided they might as well spend at least a few minutes at the festival.

R-C

What was wrong with her? What was she thinking, bringing up her family in a casual conversation, and with Daenerys of all people? It was rare she discussed her former life with anyone. When it did happen, it was exclusively Oberyn she confided in.

Now she was trying to prove she was fine, steering Daenerys along with the flows of people, past the food vendors and the merchants selling trinkets, toward the games, just waiting for something to catch her interest in the hopes it’d keep her brain from dwelling on the past.

What would her father say if he could see her now? He’d be ashamed of her most likely. She had befriended a Targaryen and was opening up to her. She immediately rushed to Daenerys’s defense, even if only in the privacy of her mind. She arranged her thoughts into the arguments she would make, if she could actually see and speak to her father again. She’d try and make him understand what she did, that Daenerys was special. She wasn’t Aerys and she wasn’t Rhaegar, she cared about people, she cared about Arya. Wasn’t that what truly mattered? Wasn’t that more important than Daenerys’s relation to the Mad King and his raper son?

Still in the process of coming to terms with her conflicted feelings, Arya was barely paying attention to the world around her, at least until Daenerys began veering to the left. She gave her head a violent shake to try and clear it. Arya loved her father and she always would, but he was gone, while she was left behind. She couldn’t live for him, the best she could do was to try and honor his memory while building a happy life for herself. It would probably upset Ned Stark to learn his daughter was friends with the Dragon Princess, but now was not the time to obsess over it. She could do battle with her father’s disappointment later, when she was alone. For now, she owed it to Daenerys to try and give her the best day possible, especially since she didn’t know when or if they’d be permitted to leave the Red Keep again.

She forced her attention to the present and took note of the nearby merriment. The first thing she recognized was a boar roasting on a spit. “Hungry?” she asked her companion, hoping to restart their conversation and push Arya’s moment of weakness to a forgotten, distant memory.

R-C

She declined when it was suggested they leave. She said she was fine, but Daenerys knew better than to believe that. She felt she understood her guard fairly well and she knew that ‘fine’ was what Arya said when she wanted to deflect from how she was really feeling. Hearing that Arya was fine was the fastest way to convince Daenerys the opposite was closer to the truth.

For a very long five minutes, as they strolled through Harvest Time, neither woman said anything. As the silence persisted, so did Daenerys’s concern. She was trying to choose the best way to broach the subject of leaving when Arya looked at her with eyes of melting steel and asked if she was hungry. She wasn’t, food was the last thing on her mind, but if Arya wanted to eat, then they would. “Sure, but you’ll have to share with me.”

“Agreed,” Arya said, gifting Daenerys with a smile. It was tense and gone almost immediately but Daenerys saw it and knew Arya was trying.

She smiled back at her friend, holding the gesture for much longer than Arya did. “Alright then, what are we having? Everything smells so good.” It was a slight exaggeration maybe, but not an outright lie. It did smell good and she could probably take a bite or two before leaving the rest for Arya. She was making an effort, so Daenerys could too.

R-C

By the time she threw away the paper wrapping from their snack, things were much more natural. She’d successfully contained her feelings and the tension from her unguarded admissions about her family was beginning to dull. The embarrassment she felt exposing her secrets to Daenerys would take longer to forget, but she hoped that alone wouldn’t taint their day.

When she heard a loud voice calling out to her over all the others, Arya saw another opportunity to correct her earlier mistake. “Games!” a man yelled. She slowed her steps slightly and waited to see if she could interest Daenerys in a little sport.

“Games,” the man yelled again, “win gold and prizes!” Standing several feet closer this time, in the center of a large crowd she noticed Daenerys lifting up onto her toes, as she tried to peek over all those who were taller.

Arya smirked. She wouldn’t have guessed that Daenerys would be interested in childish games for cheap prizes but at least she wasn’t trying to get them to leave anymore. Even if Arya didn’t have plenty of practice overcoming her past, the last place she’d want to go today was the Red Keep, especially given what she knew was happening there. So far, she’d managed to avoid the King and his madness, but Arya knew better than to tempt fate too directly. “Want to play a game?”

“What game?” she asked, following Arya’s eyeline to find the right one. She doubted the Princess could see with so many people obstructing her view.

“Want me to give you a boost?” Arya teased without bothering to hide her amusement.

She slapped her guard in the arm but couldn’t maintain her disgruntled pose. In short order a smile broke through. “Don’t you dare, it’s bad enough I get confused for a child, I don’t need you drawing attention to it.”

She was prepared for more jokes, but Arya’s stare turned intense instead and her tone shifted to something deathly serious. “You may be short, but no one would mistake you for a child.”

R-C

Her blood heated more than usual in response to the unexpected compliment. She looked away from Arya’s face and studied the dirt under her feet. Before she recovered enough to reply, Arya had her hand in hers again and they were going.

Where they’d end up or why was insignificant. All Daenerys could focus on was Arya’s comment. Did she mean that in the way Daenerys hoped she did? She wanted to think Arya meant she was all women despite her height, but maybe that was just wishful thinking. She was attracted to Arya and it wouldn’t be beyond her to read into every word to find proof that Arya felt the same way.

Arya cut through the crowds easily, using a glare, a polite ‘excuse us’ or in one instance a hard shove to clear space for her and Daenerys to slip by.

When they stopped, they were in front of a stall where a lone middle-aged man worked.

The game was set up in such a way it reminded Daenerys of an alley. A wooden plank that served as a counter prevented the participants from getting too close. At the other end of was a purposefully arranged pyramid of bottles. It didn’t take a scholar to realize the point of the game.

Arya said nothing as she produced a few coins and laid them out. The man swept them off the wood and tucked them away before he bent down and picked up three leather balls. They were small but hard-looking. He set them in front of Arya and nodded to the bottles.

When the guard picked up the first ball and tested its weight by throwing it into her air and catching it, Daenerys took half a step back to provide her more room. She’d never seen Arya throw anything, but she didn’t think the bottles stood a chance.

“Knock down five or more and you get a prize,” the man told her. “Knock down all the bottles and you get to pick from our special items and claim a bonus paid in gold dragons.”

Arya nodded to confirm she understood and then just when Daenerys thought she’d finally release a toss, she turned, extending her arm and the ball to Daenerys. “Five bottles, think you can do it?”

Wait! Was she serious? Arya wanted her to throw? “Um…”

She moved closer and physically placed the ball in Daenerys’s palm. “I think you can do it.”

“Are you sure?” She glanced at the bottles and then back at her friend. “Arya, I’ve never…”

“Just try,” she encouraged, coming closer and lowering her voice so they could speak privately. “We didn’t come over here so I could throw a ball, I’ve done it before.”

Her anxiety was temporarily dwarfed by the sweetness of the moment. She knew now why they were doing this, it was so Daenerys could try something she’d never been allowed to before. She wanted to thank her, but before she could, Arya gave her a gentle push toward the counter. “Go on, you can do it.”

She had her doubts but regardless of success or failure, she wanted to try. She did her best to recall all the times she’d seen items being thrown about, trying to break down the act into something she could emulate. When she was confident in her approach, she pulled her arm back and tried to launch the ball with as much power as possible.

Pride was her primary emotion as she released the ball and watched it arc toward the bottles. What had started with so much promise faded rapidly as the ball dropped abruptly less than foot in front of the pyramid. There was snickering coming from both sides. She ignored the man running the game, choosing instead to face Arya and apologize for wasting her money. Her apology died on the vine, because Arya wasn’t the one laughing at her, it must have been someone else, further back. The guilty party was likely the man Arya was glaring daggers at.

She noticed Daenerys looking at her and stepped up. “That wasn’t bad for a first shot,” she lied.

“You don’t have to say that, Arya.”

“Try again, you’ve still got two more,” she reminded the dejected Princess.

“I can’t do it,” she acknowledged, wishing she had her earlier confidence back.

“You can,” Arya disagreed. “Use your whole body this time, not just your arm.”

“What?” she couldn’t help but ask. How could she throw with anything more than her arm?

“I’ll show you.” Together they walked up to the counter and Arya handed her the second ball. Once she had it. Arya slipped in behind her. She shivered when she felt Arya’s body against her back. The sensation of Arya’s rough hands on her hips, altering her stance, had her biting down on her lip to keep from saying or doing something inappropriate. It was easier to think without Arya touching her, but Daenerys wouldn’t complain no matter how long they stayed. A foggy brain seemed like a fair price for having Arya so close. “Show me how you’d throw,” Arya directed.

Daenerys pulled her arm back as she’d done the last time and Arya reached out to correct the motion. Before she could the man objected. “No, no help, she has to do it on her own or not at all.”

Daenerys planned to obey but Arya wasn’t as repentant. “Shut your mouth!” she demanded.

“My game, my rules. You paid for three balls and one thrower.”

With a sigh Arya retrieved more coins from her purse and set them down. “Happy now?” she asked him sarcastically.

Daenerys was stunned. “Arya don’t,” she hissed, “it’s not worth wasting all your money.”

She shook her head, dismissing Daenerys’s point and then returning her attention to the bottles. “Okay, this time I’ll guide your arm, you just hang on to the ball and then let it go when your arm’s coming forward, okay?”

“Okay.” She fixed Daenerys’s posture and then guided her arm through the act of throwing. She released the ball just an instant late, too distracted by Arya to remember her one job within their conspiracy.

Her delay aside the ball soared through the air with real velocity this time. Daenerys watched it, mesmerised, unable to comprehend how that could have come from her. There was a clanging when the ball hit the bottles, knocking several of them out of their original positions. In the end only one fell off the table and qualified as a hit. The man running things probably thought she was mad when she squealed in excitement and dove onto Arya for a hug. “I did it!”

“You did,” Arya confirmed squeezing her, “and that is how you throw with your whole body.”

She’d forgotten about her third ball until Arya retreated and retrieved it for her. Surprised that Arya didn’t fall into place behind her, she looked further back. “You aren’t going to…”

“You don’t need me, you can do it.”

She didn’t think so. She’d only knocked down one bottle so far. She’d need four more on her last throw to win. “Any advice?”

“Aim for the bottom row,” Arya advised. “If you knock out those ones, all the bottles above them will fall too.”

Of course! Why hadn’t she thought of that? She took a moment to try and select the most vulnerable bottles, lining herself up to strike there. She closed her eyes and pretended Arya was behind her again, adjusting herself as Arya might. Then she opened her eyes and threw the last ball with all the strength she had.

She held her breath until the ball hit the exact bottle she was aiming for. It was a little higher than she intended, but a hit was a hit. She watched as the bottle was pushed clear off the table, causing the whole pyramid to crumble. As it fell, Daenerys waited to see how many additional bottles might spill over. Before she could, Arya was there with another hug and more heartfelt congratulations. “I knew you could do it!”

They parted when the game-master yelled her results from the other end. “Four knocked down!”

She was a little disappointed to have gotten so close, but it didn’t erase the smile on her face or the memory of Arya holding her. Even if she didn’t get a prize, it was still wonderful.

“Thank you, Arya,” she said, watching from the corner of her eye as the man reset the bottles. “That was great.”

“I’m glad you liked it. Worth the wait?”

“Definitely!” She couldn’t believe she’d never played such a simple game before. “It was exciting.”

They didn’t go back the way they came, rather Arya stepped up to the counter and laid out the coins for another try.

“What are you doing?” Daenerys whispered as she hurried to the counter and tried to cover the coins with her hand before the greedy man could see them.

“I think you’ll win this time,” Arya explained.

“No, Arya that’s madness, I wanted to try, and I did, but you’ll go poor if you keep paying until I win.”

“I don’t think so,” she disagreed, “you got four bottles down in only two throws last time. You’ll keep getting better.”

The man was back, and the bottles were ready. He gathered his money, working around Daenerys’s fingers without comment. “Who’s throwing?” he asked them.

Arya looked to Daenerys. “She is.”

The ass snickered again, louder and more openly then after her first throw. “Whatever you say, it’s your gold.”

Since they arrived Daenerys had appreciated the fact that no one recognized her. None of these people were the sort to frequent the Red Keep, and because she was often confined, there wasn’t a lot of opportunities for common folk to meet her. She was tempted to tell him who she was, just to wipe the smirk off his face, but she knew that was a bell she couldn’t unring. Once word spread that Daenerys Targaryen was at Harvest Time, they’d need to leave to avoid being swarmed.

Arya turned her, gripping her upper arms while staring straight into violet eyes. “Don’t listen to him,” she said, making no effort to control her volume. “He’s a fool who thinks what he’s got between his legs makes him better than you. Prove him wrong.”

Not only did she agree with Arya’s assessment of the man, there was something empowering about hearing Arya say it so plainly, loud enough to be overheard by the smug idiot. She wanted nothing more right then than to fulfill Arya’s instructions and win a prize to put a permanent end to his arrogant remarks.

When she was ready to accept the first ball she noticed that the man wasn’t looking at her, or his game, he was watching Arya with poorly concealed rage.

Building on the lessons she received from Arya, Daenerys’s first throw went for the base of pyramid. She knocked over a large section of the structure, but only one bottle was struck with enough force to leave the table.

Her second throw was better. With so many already close to the edge Daenerys’s ball knocked three bottles onto the ground beside the first.

Before her third throw, Arya was there with reassurance. “One throw, one bottle left,”

Although she knew the score, having Arya accurately state the situation did nothing to calm her nerves. “I’m sorry in advance for all the money you spent.” She was trying to lighten the mood while secretly hoping to prepare Arya for disappointment in the event she failed.

The guard wasn’t having it. “Stop. You are a warrior, a Dragon, you can do this, you will do this.” When she didn’t look properly motivated, Arya pressed on. “Close your eyes, imagine that prick having to let you choose a prize, imagine him forced to congratulate you on your victory, do you want that?”

“Yes,” she confessed quietly. She’d never won anything before, not really. Everything she had was given to her because she was a Targaryen or a Princess. This was different. If she won this game, it’d be because she succeeded using the same rules as everyone else. She knew if she could somehow manage to knock one more bottle off the table, she’d have a real accomplishment, perhaps her first.

She took an extra few seconds, once again deciding the most opportune place to aim. Then she needed a moment to calm her heart. When she was as relaxed as was likely, she threw the ball as hard as she could.

While it was still in the air Arya was already clapping and cheering, as if she knew what the outcome would be. Daenerys held her breath and chanted, “Please, please, please” inside her head as the ball made contact. She was no expert, but it seemed her last throw was her best. It was by far the most natural she felt since she began.

When not one, but three more bottles fell from the table Daenerys couldn’t believe her eyes. She turned to Arya for confirmation and Dorinshwoman hugged her again, bathing her in more praise and affection. Her smile was so wide her cheeks hurt and yet she was struck by how right it was, being in Arya’s arms. She could get used to this. After she’d sufficiently complimented Daenerys’s bottle-knocking abilities, Arya’s demeanor changed. “Told you so,” she teased, making Daenerys laugh.

She really had. Not only had she paid for Daenerys to play the game more than once, she provided the help and support needed to ensure success. Awash with pride and countless other positive feelings, she remembered that without Arya she wouldn’t have any of this.

R-C

“We have a winner,” the man running the game announced without enthusiasm.

Arya stayed back and enjoyed the way he had to bring his chest of prizes to Daenerys and make them available to her. They were junk really, certainly nothing befitting a Princess, but if the look on Daenerys’s face was any indication, she didn’t care.

As she searched for a suitable reward, Arya was more than a little curious about what she’d choose. She moved closer so she could peek over Daenerys’s shoulder and see.

She picked up a few items to admire them in the light before setting them back where she found them. Not surprisingly there was a large amount of poorly made, dragon items. She guessed the prizes were either crafted or purchased before each stop, to ensure they had enough Golden Suns when in Sunspear, enough Roses in the Reach or in this case enough Dragons in the Crownlands.

She didn’t think Daenerys would choose anything with a dragon on it, especially since she had no shortage of dragon pendants, dragon bracelets, dragon chains, dragon pins, and pretty much dragon everything else back at the keep.

When she finally selected something, it was one of the simpler pieces. A thin square of copper with a flying dragon stamped on it. “I’ll take this one,” she said, cradling it carefully in her hands so not to damage it.

It annoyed her that Daenerys had chosen the last thing Arya would have predicted. Just when she thought she was getting better at understanding her. She couldn’t resist asking, “Don’t have enough dragons at home Princess?”

The last word caught the man’s attention. “Pr…Princess?” he stammered weakly. He looked at the silver haired woman with new eyes and came to a very different conclusion about the kind of woman she was. “By the Gods, you’re…” As he spoke, he was looking around, probably for a member of the Kingsguard or some other clue that would confirm his suspicions.

Daenerys gave him a tight smile but didn’t say anything.

“Ready to go?” Arya wondered.

Daenerys nodded, reverting back to the meek young woman she became when faced with an authority figure.

“Oh Princess, no, you can’t take such a prize. Allow me to show you our special stock, I’m sure you’ll find something there more to your liking.” The man was struggling to repair Daenerys’s opinion of him. Arya didn’t think it would work, but she’d been wrong before.

“No, I don’t want anything I didn’t earn. Thank you, Ser,” she said formally, “have a fine day.”

He wasn’t prepared to let her go. “Please Princess,” he said, sounding almost frantic, “please tell the King how pleased we are that he allowed his daughter to visit us here. Thank you for gracing my humble game with your presence and I’ll tell others of your victory.”

Arya wanted to roll her eyes. He was trying too hard. When she was just a common woman who thought herself capable of trying his game, she wasn’t deserving of his time or courtesy. Now that her father was the Mad King, he was desperately trying to leave her with a favorable impression.

“Time to go,” Daenerys whispered. Arya couldn’t argue with that. She could feel the stares and hear the whispers. Word was already spreading that Daenerys was near.

R-C

Chapter Text

Back inside the walls of King’s Landing, Daenerys was still basking in the glow of her victory. It had been more than an hour since they left Harvest Time with their winnings, but she couldn’t stop talking about it.

“That was incredible. I mean I always wondered what it would be like, but wow. I wasn’t expecting all that.” -

“You did good.”

“Thank you for taking me there, I’ll never be able to repay you.”

“You don’t have to repay me. I had a good time too.”

Daenerys watched her face closely for any sign that she was exaggerating, but she didn’t see any. “All the money the treasury has, all the space in the yards, and the Red Keep has nothing like that, it’s such a shame.”

“Most nobles wouldn’t consider throwing balls at bottles fun, it’s more of a smallfolk pastime.”

“Then I think I prefer smallfolk to nobles,” she admitted in a moment of unguarded honesty.

“Me too.” She chuckled darkly. “Did you see that prick’s face when I called you ‘Princess.’”

Daenerys laughed too, but it was a little less authentic. “I’m glad I got to prove him wrong,” she began, “but I hate when they do that.”

“Do what?”

She took a moment to collect her thoughts, to decide how she would try and explain. “When they act different. When I was just a random woman, he was mocking me, but as soon as he realized I was a Targaryen, he was apologetic and considerate.”

“He was an ass,” Arya said simply, as if maybe that really was the long and the short of it.

She laughed again, for real this time. “He was, I just don’t like how people become afraid when they learn…” She trailed off, not wanting to actually finish the sentence. She trusted Arya would understand what was being left unsaid.

“I told you the night we met you aren’t responsible for your family’s behavior. Strangers might fear you when they learn who you are, but it’s different for people who know you.”

She hoped Arya was right, but the game-master’s abrupt change unsettled her, making her wary. “Is it? You can’t know how other people feel.”

She wasn’t trying to be difficult, she just worried that there would be one more person telling their family and friends a story about their run-in with a Targaryen tonight. She didn’t like being included with the rest when commoners spoke of the royals.

“I know how I felt,” Arya justified. “Your father was going to kill me, if anyone had a reason to be a little upset, it was me.”

She was afraid to hear the answer, but she asked the question anyway. “Why didn’t you blame me?”

“Because I saw your face when your father ordered me to kill, you didn’t want to be there anymore than I did. I didn’t have a choice and after I met you, I realized that you didn’t either, not really.”

“I wanted to stop it,” she admitted, “I hated it.”

“You did stop it,” Arya said, laying a calloused hand on her smooth arm. “You saved me that night, because it was the right thing to do. Most wouldn’t have, but you did, that’s how I know you’re different.”

Daenerys set her hand over Arya’s trapping it against her forearm. “Thank you, it’s nice to be reminded of that from time to time.”

“That’s what I’m here for Princess.”

R-C

Bells were ringing to mark the hour. Daenerys and Arya had been wandering the city at random, laughing and talking. Aside from Daenerys ducking into a couple of shops to make quick purchases, they didn’t have a plan.

They stopped walking and glanced toward the bell. “Do we need to head back?” she asked, assuming they’d be expected at dinner.

“Not tonight. Your brother said business will keep he and the King late, so we are free to remain where we choose.”

“Really?” She felt like she was going to overflow with excitement. This whole day had been amazing. The orphanage, being with Arya, Harvest Time, and now she didn’t even need to rush back. .

“You did tell me you wanted to see the city after dark, didn’t you?” Arya questioned gently, already aware it was true.

She thought back to their conversation. “Wait, you knew when I told you that, that we would get the chance.”

Arya shrugged. “As always it’s up to you. We can go to the keep for dinner if you like. I’m sure they’ll have enough food for us.”

Daenerys enjoyed this, having someone in her life who could joke with her, who didn’t shy away from the difficult things. “And if I choose not to return?” she wondered, unsure if Arya had something specific in mind.

“Well, in that case I guess I’ll have to find you something to eat. I can’t let you starve they’d never let me guard anyone ever again.”

She said it with such conviction that Daenerys almost forgot Arya didn’t especially want to be a guard. “What a burden that would be for you. I’d hate to taint your future like that.”

Arya’s serious expression didn’t crack. “Very kind of you, I’ll be forever grateful.”

It was Daenerys who laughed first, unable to hold back, but to her delight, Arya joined in almost immediately. “Can we walk around a while more, I’m having fun.”

“Sure.”

That is what they were doing when the bell tolled again. Why was ringing if not to signify the time? They got their answer, gruesome as it was. In the distance, past the bell was the keep. Nothing appeared amiss until Daenerys spotted the distinct green clouds billowing up into the darkening sky. She hung her head and the smile she’d been wearing most of the day disappeared. “By the Gods,” she gasped as thick columns of smoke continued to rise.

“Are you okay?” Arya asked her, resting a comforting hand on her back.

She wasn’t. He was killing people. That’s why Rhaegar had let Arya and Daenerys leave, it’s why she didn’t have to attend dinner. All the things she enjoyed about the day were purchased with a life. She didn’t know who or why, she didn’t know if they were guilty or innocent, but it didn’t really matter, not to her and not to Aerys. If her father didn’t have enough guilty men to burn, he’d find innocent ones to fill the void. He just wanted death. Daenerys’s opinion was the opposite. She didn’t care who had done what or how vile they were, she’d tired of it. The occasional execution could be tolerated and understood, but that wasn’t what this was. Didn’t anyone in the castle realize there were other forms of punishment that didn’t include indiscriminate murder. Since Arya was still waiting for a response, Daenerys blinked back tears and tried to provide one. “Y…yeah, I’ll be okay.” She hoped she wasn’t lying.

“If you don’t want to stay, I’d understand.”

Honestly, Daenerys’s mood had sharply declined, and she didn’t feel much like enjoying the remainder of the day, but her only alternative was to return to the keep, the same place where the stench of charred flesh would be thick in the air for days. “Can we keep walking?” she asked, hating how fragile she sounded. No one would mistake her for a Dragon now.

As if she understood all of the reasons why Daenerys wanted to keep moving, Arya took her hand and led her down the nearest side street, carrying the only Targaryen Princess away from the evidence of her father’s madness.

R-C

The first few minutes after they saw the plumes of green smoke, Arya feared Daenerys was lost to her. She was staring straight ahead without seeing and didn’t acknowledge multiple attempts by the guard to engage her in conversation. Not for the first time, it became evident that she wasn’t equipped to handle the Princess’s emotions. She scoured her mind for a safe topic they could discuss, for something, anything that might take her mind off the King’s murderous acts. When she finally found something with a reasonable chance of success, she was so eager to get started that she didn’t ease into the conversation as she should’ve.

“Tell me about the ship!” she all but begged.

Daenerys turned her head in Arya’s direction and raised a thin eyebrow. “What?”

“The ship you want to own one day, the one you want to build, tell me about it. How big will it be?”

The intervening seconds were some of the longest in Arya’s life and that was saying something. When Daenerys looked more confused than intrigued, Arya provided what she hoped was a reassuring nod. “You promised you’d tell me about the ship you wanted.”

For the first time since the Mad King murdered one of his subjects, Daenerys cracked a smile. “I remember.”

Far from an expert, Arya considered this progress. “So how big?” she tried again.

“Big enough to see the distant corners of the world, but small enough that I wouldn’t need dozens of crewmen to help sail it.”

Help sail it, so Daenerys planned to do more than just sit back and allow someone else to sail her ship. That made sense. Although she knew exactly what Daenerys had in mind, she posed another question, just to keep her focus on the future and not the past. “So as big as the ship we took from Dorne, then?”

She shook her head vehemently. “No, no, smaller than that. That ship was much too big.” She paused briefly and then clarified her opinion. “Ternesio’s ship was the perfect size.”

With a hand on the small of her back Arya nudged her to the right, to avoid an approaching trio of drunks. “What about the sail?” she asked. “Do you want to sail under the three headed dragon?”

“No, when I’m out there, I don’t want to be Daenerys Targaryen , daughter of the King, I just want to be Daenerys.”

Having spent enough time with Daenerys the Princess, Arya could understand why she wanted something separate, something of her own, untouched by the throne, her blood or her title. “Out there you wouldn’t just be Daenerys,” Arya noted, “you’d be Captain Daenerys.”

A slow, easy smile spread across her face. “Captain Daenerys,” she repeated, testing it out.

“What about the crew? Who would you trust enough to let sail your ship?”

When she stopped without cause, Arya feared she had unintentionally brought about a return of Daenerys’s sombre mood, but instead of frowning the Princess just said, “I was hoping you’d be available.”

Standing there stunned, it took a moment or two for Arya’s mind to connect the response to the prior question. Daenerys wanted her to be there? It was strange, the way she thought she’d feel was not how she actually did. She expected to be enraged that another Targaryen was trying to keep her from realizing her dreams. From the moment she was given to Daenerys and ordered to serve as her guard, Arya had been counting the days until she could return to Sunspear and take her rightful place in the army. That’s what she wanted, or it’s what she thought she wanted. Now she was imagining a life with Daenerys, aboard a ship, sailing across the vast open water, going in whatever direction the winds or fate propelled them. She remembered her trip to Essos with Oberyn and all the meaningful memories she made. She guessed that travelling with Daenerys would be much the same, and that had her intrigued. It was unlikely that Daenerys would ever get a ship of her own, or the freedom to use it, but Arya still caught herself hoping that if that day came that they’d get to experience it together. “We’ll need more than just me and you to sail a ship that big,” she pointed out.

“We won’t be alone,” Daenerys assured her. “Missandei will be with us, and if she comes then Grey Worm will too. If he comes, his men will follow.”

Arya assumed it was idle fantasy they were discussing but by her tone alone she could tell Daenerys had given this a lot of thought. For the first time since the Mad King summoned her, and definitely for the first time since reaching King’s Landing Arya wasn’t in a rush for the wedding between Viserys and Eliza. If some unforeseen disaster delayed things and forced the Martells and the Targaryens to postpone, she for one wouldn’t be cursing the Gods.

R-C

After an hour of aimless walking, chatting about the ship of Daenerys’s dreams, Arya was confident she would be okay. She was relaxed and engaged, talking fast, waving her hands in wild gestures to emphasize her points. It was a marked improvement when compared to the woman who was distraught at the sight of dark green clouds and everything they represented.

Arya was just about to propose they find a place to eat when a familiar set of dark, bouncy curls caught her attention. Missandei had decided to return after all, just as she said she would. She and Grey Worm were hand-in-hand, talking quietly and rarely looking away from one another. It was chance that had them approaching Arya and Daenerys. She stopped walking and decided to wait, wanting to surprise Daenerys with an unexpected reunion. She’d wager Missandei’s return would improve Daenerys’s mood in a way Arya hadn’t been able to.

The Princess looked at her quizzically when she stopped without warning. “What’s wrong?” she asked, assuming the worst.

“Nothing’s wrong, I actually have a surprise for you.”

“A surpr…” she stopped, and her nose scrunched as she tried to make sense of things. She studied the guard closely. “How is that possible? I’ve been with you all day.”

She wanted to peek, to make sure Missandei and Grey Worm were still on the same course, but she was afraid if she did, Daenerys would notice and realize what was happening.

“What is it?” Daenerys pressed when Arya wasn’t forthcoming.

She strategically placed herself in Daenerys’s path, blocking her view of Missandei’s approach. “Have patience Princess,” she teased, knowing the use of her title would only annoy her further, “all you have to do is stand here and wait.”

“Wait for what?”

“Daenerys?” Missandei called when she spotted her friends. “Is that you?”

Arya stepped to the side and revealed the handmaiden and her lover. Her choice to surprise Daenerys with Missandei’s presence proved a good one. A hand moved to cover her mouth but stopped before reaching its destination. “Missandei, by the Gods, what are you doing here?”

The friends hugged and Grey Worm and Arya both stood back and watched with matching expressions. “We were on our way back to the keep,” she explained.

Daenerys released Missandei and then moved on to Grey Worm. When the reunion was done, she pinned Arya with an intense stare. “How did you know she’d be there?”

“I didn’t, I just saw her coming and guessed you’d appreciate the surprise.”

Her eyes made clear how grateful she was. “Thank you,” she said sincerely before dedicating her focus to Missandei. “How was your trip? Where did you go? Did you have a nice time?”

She didn’t want to interrupt but having this conversation in the middle of a busy street didn’t seem like a great idea. “I was just about to suggest to Daenerys that we find a place to have dinner, would you and Grey Worm like to join us? I’m sure after two days spent with just me, Daenerys is more than ready for someone else’s company.”

While Missandei and Grey Worm communicated wordlessly about the offer Daenerys put a warm hand on Arya’s wrist. “I could never tire of you,” she said passionately, “ever.”

Unsure of how to respond to that comment, Arya was relieved when Missandei spoke. “We would love to join you, if you’re sure you wouldn’t mind us intruding.”

“Of course not,” Arya assured her.

“You still have to tell us where you went and what you did on your trip!” Daenerys added, breaking her contact with Arya so she was free to grip Missandei’s hand.

The soldiers shared a knowing look, which Arya punctuated with a roll of her eyes. They walked behind the two excited friends, listening to the fast-talking women in front. As she kept a look out for a place to eat, Arya couldn’t help wondering how this had become her life? She was going to dinner with friends. Not too long ago, such a circumstance would have been unfathomable to her. A lot had changed since the night she was called before the Mad King and forced to fight.

R-C

Spirits were high as the foursome entered the keep well after sunset. Missandei and Daenerys were walking hand in hand, whispering in what Arya could only assume was some dialect of Valyrian. The guard and the commander were a full two steps behind. It amused Arya the way Daenerys and her handmaiden discussed their time apart. If she hadn’t known better, she would have assumed the separation was months if not years instead of only days.

Although he surely understood what was being said, Grey Worm remained stoic and contributed nothing to the conversation. Like Arya he seemed content to blend into the background. Some she met would bristle at not being the center of attention. Many others wouldn’t want their lover to be distracted by anyone but him, Grey Worm was bothered by neither of these circumstances. He appeared accepting of Missandei’s friendship to the Princess and the visible affection between them. While they most often walked in amicable silence, occasionally one of them would ask a question of the other, usually about weapons, tactics or combat. They were in the midst of comparing the methods with which they were taught the spear when the women in front of them stopped suddenly.

The warriors halted their discussion, and each took a purposeful stride forward. Narrowed eyes searched for danger but found none. There wasn’t a threat, but it was also no mystery what had stopped Daenerys in her tracks.

There up ahead, at the other end of the long corridor they were walking, was a collection of familiar faces. They appeared to be locked in a heated exchange of some kind. it was Aerys, with Rhaegar, Selmy, Tywin, his three children and one man Arya didn’t know. She intended to ask the identity of the last man but before she could she noticed the far away look that had taken up residence in Daenerys’s eyes. She hurried to the Princess’s side and touched her shoulder. “Should we use another gate?” she wondered. If there was a mercy to their situation it was that the group down the hall was too busy with whatever was going on to notice their approach. “It’s not too late to slip back out, they’ll never know.”

Daenerys looked tempted, but it didn’t last. With a surge of determination, she squared her shoulders, raised her head and marched forward, leading the other three toward the collection of Targaryens and Lannisters. “No,” Daenerys said when it was already clear she’d made up her mind, “I refuse to scurry and hide, this is my home too.”

More than a little impressed, Arya glanced to the side and saw Missandei smiling proudly. “Yes, it is,” the handmaiden agreed.

As they got closer it became easier for Arya to make an educated guess about what they were witnessing. Cersei was standing next to Rhaegar and though he was expertly avoiding meeting her gaze, she couldn’t keep her eyes off him for long.

The Prince was more interested in the back and forth between the King and his Hand. Even when they were still too far away to hear the exact words, it was clear Rhaegar had an opinion about whatever Aerys and Tywin were debating.

The knight said nothing, but stayed close to Rhaegar, watching and waiting to be use. It was as if he expected the cane to crumble and the Prince to fall at any moment.

Opposite Barristan were Tywin’s sons. If most seemed angry or annoyed to varying degrees, that didn’t apply to Tyrion. The Master of the Coin stood next to his Kingsguard brother, grinning as his eyes bounced from face to face. He seemed particularly interested in his sister’s reaction and that of Daenerys’s brother.

If Tyrion was getting some joy out of any of this, the same could not be said for Jaime. The elder Lannister male looked livid. His sole focus appeared to be catching his sister’s eye and conveying some sort of message.

The final man, the one Arya didn’t know was a short, fat man wearing a faded green cloak. He had unkept hair the color of rust and dark, beady eyes. Unlike the agitated Lions and Dragons this man was the picture of calm. In fact, he looked utterly bored.

The knight charged with Rhaegar’s safety was the first to notice them. He pointed it out to the Prince and Rhaegar seemed only too happy to make his escape. “Dany!” he shouted dramatically, moving as quickly as he could on damaged legs..

As he limped away, Barristan went with him. Cersei scoffed and rolled her eyes, grumbling under her breath. Once the space next to her was empty Jaime rushed to fill it.

Arya who had moved up to walk at Daenerys’s side, fell back as they neared the Prince. “How was your day?” he asked as they embraced. Daenerys snaked both arms around him, while he cradled her gently with only one of his.

“Great!” Arya heard her reply, she was speaking into his chest. “It was perfect. We had a great time.” She released a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding after Daenerys confirmed their day was pleasant. When did it become important to her that Daenerys enjoy their time together?

When she released him, Daenerys did so with care, making sure she didn’t upset his delicate balance in the process. Rhaegar gave his sister a sincere smile before he turned his eyes to the rest of their party. Arya resisted the urge to slink back, not wanting to show weakness. “Missandei,” he said, “welcome back.”

With a respectful bow of her head, she responded. “Thank you, Prince.”

“What’s all this about?” Daenerys asked, using her chin to point to the scene they’d walked in on.

Rhaegar rolled his eyes to emphasize his true feelings before he said, “More of the same. We were leaving the throne room, and before we could separate Cersei cornered me.”

Daenerys’s expression was an odd mix of horrified and amused. “Again? I thought she got the message last time.”

“Apparently not. Tywin was there and overheard my refusal. He didn’t take it well and tried to get Father to see reason.”

She took a quick peek over Rhaegar’s shoulder toward the King, before she inquired. “Did he?”

He answered with only a shake of his head. There was a pause before he continued, “I am glad you came along when you did, you likely spared me another twenty minutes of that.”

“Always happy to help.” Daenerys joked cheerfully. “We were just going to my chambers for a drink, would you care to join us?”

She bit her lip to keep from speaking out of turn. She had no interest in sharing a drink with the man whose greed and selfishness caused so much pain but suffering through it was preferable to drawing attention to the depths of her hate.

“Thank you, but no, it has been a long day and I want to spend some time with Aemon.”

With an understanding smile Daenerys didn’t press the issue. “Tell him I said ‘hi’.”

“I will, enjoy your night.”

Rhaegar and Selmy went one way while Daenerys, Arya, Missandei and Grey Worm went the other.

Things remained intense despite Rhaegar’s departure. Tywin and Aerys were whispering together, obviously disagreeing if their facial expressions were any indication.

Cersei was watching Rhaegar leave, while Jaime valiantly tried to regain her attention. The man Arya didn’t know had escaped too at some point, and that left only Tyrion. He was strategically placed between the siblings and the fathers, dividing trying to hear everything. When he was angled toward Aerys and Tywin he seemed amused, like he was anticipating the end to the funniest joke ever told.

If asked Arya would have said it unlikely that they would be able to pass without being stopped by someone. She didn’t like their chances of getting to the stairs unbothered, but she was pleasantly surprised. Cersei glared while Jaime whispered to her, trying to improve her sour mood. Likewise, The King and his Hand were so focused on whatever had them at odds, a pack of direwolves could have run past and garnered barely a second glance.

Tyrion was the exception, though he provided only a smile and a nod for each of the four as they passed.

“What was that all about?” Missandei asked Daenerys on the staircase.

“Cersei Lannister making another attempt to try and seduce my brother,” she explained.

“Does this happen often?”

Arya probably should have left it for Daenerys, but she shared what she knew. “The other morning when I went to see the Prince, they were engaged in a similar disagreement.”

Daenerys looked back at the guard and smiled. “That’s not surprising. She’s been trying to win his affection for years. She is just unwilling to admit he’s not interested.”

“That is…” Missandei stopped and took time to choose the appropriate word, “persistent.”

Daenerys laughed. “That’s one way to describe it. I’m just glad my father didn’t side with Tywin and try and force Rhaegar into a marriage he doesn’t want.”

She waited until they were inside Daenerys’s bedchamber before she asked the question that had been on the tip of her tongue. “When we first saw them, there was a man in a cloak standing with the King, who was he?”

She didn’t miss the serious look that passed between Missandei and Daenerys. All good humor was gone, and Daenerys hung her head. Missandei answered for her. “Rossart is his name, he’s from the Guild of Alchemists.”

Understanding struck like a punch to the gut. There was only one reason the King allied himself with the Guild and it was because they provided his favored weapon. So that fat little man was the King’s pyromancer? Oddly enough neither Rossart nor any of his order were there when the Starks came before the Mad King. On that day, Aerys used more traditional weapons to exact his revenge. As bad as it had been, she wasn’t above admitting it could’ve gone far worse for the surviving members of her family if Rossart and his wildfire made an appearance.

“Wine?” Daenerys asked, hoping to redirect things.

Missandei agreed quickly with Grey Worm joining in shortly after. They all turned to her. Daenerys’s bright violet eyes were the hardest to look away from. “Sure,” she agreed. For the second time that day it occurred to her that she wasn’t especially eager for the wedding that would precipitate her return to Dorne. She was quite content where she was for the time being.

R-C

Her heart was pounding in her chest as she walked Grey Worm and Missandei to the door. The day was beyond successful. Apart from a couple of bumps in the road, she couldn’t complain. She got to spend the day with Arya, who was rapidly becoming one of her favorite people, she got to go to the Harvest Time celebration and then she had dinner with Arya, Missandei and Grey Worm, in the city. Not even the tension they walked in on between Rhaegar and Cersei could dampen her mood. In fact, she probably owed Cersei since it was the awkwardness that prompted Daenerys to invite everyone for a drink.

Now Missandei and Grey Worm were gone for a walk and that left Daenerys and Arya alone. She hadn’t realized how long she’d been lost in thought, until Arya was suddenly standing right next to her. “I should probably go,” she said gently, “you’ve had a long day and you probably want to rest.”

Go? Rest? No! That was the last thing she wanted. Her cheeks felt warm and she avoided the mirror so she wouldn’t have to see the blush on her cheeks. “Wait!” she called a little too loudly.

In a flash Arya was by her side again, this time looking at the Princess with concern. “Is there something you needed? I can stay until Missandei gets back if you’d rather…”

Daenerys did want her to stay, but not because she had need of a servant. She liked Arya’s company. The guard was waiting for her to explain her outburst, but her mouth wouldn’t cooperate. Suddenly there were so many things she wanted to say, and it was as if all of them were trying to get out of at once. The clog in her throat kept her mute and made her look foolish, she was certain.

With panic bubbling up she grasped Arya’s hand and forced her best approximation of a smile as she pulled her away from the door and back toward the table and chairs. On the way she recovered her voice. “Let’s sit, I’m not quite ready for today to be over.”

Her words sounded idiotic in her ears and she resisted the urge to cringe, but somehow Arya understood. She smiled and let Daenerys steer her back to the table. At the last moment the Princess spotted a padded bench and thought it more suitable. She went there instead. Big enough to sit three with room to spare, Daenerys sat in the middle and then patted the space on her left to invite Arya to do the same.

When Arya’s lips parted, likely to ask what was wrong with her, Daenerys felt compelled to save her the trouble. Without releasing Arya’s hand, she tried to explain herself. “I had a good day,” she began, minimizing things severely. “It never would have happened without you. I want to thank you, but the words alone aren’t good enough.”

She was beginning to ramble, so she was relieved when Arya squeezed her hand and made speaking temporarily impossible. “You don’t need to thank me,” she disagreed, “I had a good day too. I’m glad you enjoyed it.”

“I have dreamt of having a day like that, for as long as I could remember, and somehow it managed to surpass any and all of my expectations.” She didn’t say so, but secretly Daenerys knew why the reality was so much better than her fantasies, it was because she was ill-prepared for Arya Sand.

An idea came to her and she popped up off the bench and hurried to the desk where she set her things. “Is everything okay?”

Daenerys looked back at her friend and saw her looking down at the hand Daenerys had been holding. Was she missing the contact between them as much as Daenerys was? That didn’t seem likely, but what other excuse could there be for the way her empty hand was now her entire focus? “I just thought of something, I’ll be right back.” That promise was as much for herself as it was for Arya. And, she decided, when she was close enough, she’d take Arya’s hand again too.

It wasn’t difficult to find, the small piece of copper with the mark of a dragon on it. It was the prize she won for knocking over the bottles, the first thing she’d ever actually earned. With care she picked it up and brought it back to the bench. As she crossed the room, she traced the outline of the winged beast with her thumb. “I know it’s not much,” she said in warning, “but it would mean a lot to me if you’ll accept it.”

“Accept what?” Arya asked, rising up off the bench.

She held out an empty hand and motioned her back down. She reclaimed her seat next to Arya and immediately reached for her hand, just as she told herself she would. She savored the rough feel against her smaller, softer skin. It was all she could do not to melt into Arya’s touch.

It was probably a stupid idea, but it was too late to stop. She’d come too far. With one deep breath and then another she extended her closed fist toward Arya and slowly unwound her fingers. “I know it’s cheap and you didn’t even get to pic…”

“Daenerys,” she said, stopping what was sure to be embarrassing, “this was your prize, don’t you want it?”

She did want it, but she wanted Arya to have it more. “If you don’t want it, I’ll keep it,” she said, forcing the words out in a rush. “I just…”

She had been looking into her lap as she spoke but made the mistake of glancing up to assess Arya’s emotions and got lost in her eyes. “Don’t you want a keepsake of your victory?”

She couldn’t say what compelled her to tell the truth in that instant, but the words were out before she could catch them. “I’ll always remember today,” she admitted openly. “For as long as I live, regardless of what happens in the years to come or how old I grow, I’ll remember every detail. I don’t need a trinket for that. I could never forget.”

“You won this,” Arya reminded her, picking up the copper dragon from her palm. “You should keep it.”

“I’d rather you had it,” she confessed sincerely. “Soon we’ll be thousands of miles apart. When you’re gone back to Sunspear and the army, I’d feel better knowing that you had something to remember me by, even if it’s junk.”

There was a gasp that Daenerys was powerless to identify, was it her, or had her heartfelt admission struck something within Arya? When the guard leaned forward, without releasing her hand Daenerys had to wonder for a moment if her dreams were coming true. Was Arya going to kiss her?

It wasn’t to be. Arya just adjusted her posture slightly and then sat back. She held up her the token and studied it by firelight. She was treating it with much more reverence than the cheap copper deserved. She passed her thumb over the engraving as Daenerys had done when she brought it over. “Are you sure? Like you, I’ll remember today with or without a keepsake.”

She was tempted to ask what about the day was memorable to Arya, but she got the distinct impression that she’d pushed far enough for one day. “I’m sure,” she confirmed. “I want you to have it, so you can remember me and the time we spent together when you’re off with your fellow soldiers.”

Arya had been looking down at the copper, but her head snapped up about midway through Daenerys’s speech. “You need not worry about that, I’ll always remember you,” she promised. “Thank you, Daenerys,” she said with feeling. “I’ll take this with me wherever I go and I’ll cherish it.”

Something about the way Arya said that, made Daenerys believe with certainty that she was telling the truth. It was what she wanted, to know that Arya would remember her after they parted, so why did she try and turn it into a joke? “Don’t get too excited, it’ll probably break in half before you ever see Dorne again.”

Arya didn’t appreciate her attempt at humor. “Don’t do that,” she insisted, “It’s great. Thank you, Daenerys, truly.”

“Like I said, I know it’s nothing special…”

“It is special,” Arya disagreed, “because it came from you, and because I know how significant it is.” Daenerys thought that that was all there was, but Arya had more. “It doesn’t matter what anyone else sees when they look at it,” she said holding the copper dragon, “when I look at it, I’ll see today and you and how happy you were when you won.”

She chuckled and tightened her hold on Arya’s hand for a moment. “Thank you for everything Arya, today wouldn’t have been as memorable without you there.”

“We aren’t done yet. It’ll be a few more weeks before your brother returns, I think we can have at least one more day like today, don’t you?”

She didn’t know, didn’t know if Rhaegar would approve of more outings, didn’t know if anything she and Arya did could top the day she just had, but she was hopeful and willing to find out. No matter what the future did or did not include, no one would be able to take her memories of Arya.

R-C

Long after she blew out the candle nearest her bed, she remained awake. She squinted through the darkness until she could make out the raised edges of the dragon’s spread wings.

She held the gift Daenerys gave her and lost track of time. How long had she been staring? She couldn’t seem to put the thin square down. She’d been stunned when Daenerys expressed her desire to give the token to Arya. It had been a long while since anyone gave her a gift, and even longer since it had been for no real reason at all. Sure, Oberyn gave her things occasionally, but when he did, it was more practical in nature. He gifted her with things she needed, but couldn’t afford, like when he had her helmet fixed. The present from Daenerys was different, there was no logical reason to give Arya her prize, except that she wanted her to have it. That it wasn’t given out of pity, or to satisfy a need made the trinket more meaningful somehow.

It had taken a year before Arya permitted Oberyn to buy even the most basic things on her behalf. She appreciated that he wanted to help her, she just didn’t want his gold. Oberyn was the first friend she’d made since losing her family. She didn’t want to corrupt their bond by benefiting financially from their friendship. After all, she wasn’t friends with the Prince because he had lots of gold, she was friends with him because he was sarcastic, good with a blade and better with a joke. Her instincts were deeply engrained, and they almost demanded Arya refuse Daenerys’s generosity on reflex, but she stomped out that impulse before she could hurt the Targaryen’s feelings.

She hadn’t known Daenerys very long, not really and yet she allowed her to give her a gift and not for the first time either. Arya let Daenerys purchase food for her in Sunspear once too. Trivial as the concessions might seem, Arya knew they were anything but. So, the question remained, why didn’t she lash out at Daenerys? Why not rebuff her kindness? She didn’t know exactly, but she had plenty of theories. For one thing Daenerys was generous with everyone she cared about. Arya didn’t need to feel guilty because she wasn’t being singled out for special treatment. When she scoured her mind for a second reason, her brain unhelpfully reminded her just how beautiful this particular gift-giver was. Once she was thinking about that, it was a short walk to remembering how flawless her body was. She’d seen all of it when they shared a room. With effort she worked to stifle those thoughts before they could multiply. Spending her days with Daenerys was hard enough without being able to recall what she looked like naked. Desperate for a way to change the play being acted out in her head she searched for another more suitable explanation for why she allowed Daenerys to give her things. It was her eyes, she decided, her whole face really, and the arrangement of those attractive features when she was trying to justify giving the copper dragon to Arya. She was so sincere, so vulnerable, the guard just didn’t have the heart to refuse her. She also didn’t want to, but that was a secret would take to her grave.

With the upmost care she tucked her newest possession under the corner of her pillow. In the morning she’d add it to the wooden box that held the remnants of her former life that she managed to hang on to. Daenerys’s prize for knocking over bottles would be the fifth item to gain entry.

Thinking about the box inevitably led to thinking about her father. She felt guilt when she remembered him tonight. He would be appalled to hear she was accepting things from a Targaryen. His hate ran deep and rightly so. Ned Stark had suffered more than most at the hands of Aerys and his kin; first a sister, a brother and a father and then later, he lost his family a second time. He would be disgusted to learn she counted Daenerys among her friends. He wouldn’t understand and she didn’t know how she’d explain it. How could she make him see that Daenerys wasn’t Rhaegar and she wasn’t Aerys? Daenerys was kind, sweet, honest and fair.

She tried and failed to articulate what it was about Daenerys that set her apart from almost all others who shared her name. It wasn’t just one thing, more accurately it was everything, all of it combined that told Arya she was worth of the foster’s trust, even if she was a Dragon. In truth she would have preferred it if the Princess was spiteful and cold, as Arya originally expected she would be. Then it would be easy to overlook her beauty and dismiss her goodness as an act. Unfortunately, she had little in the way of excuses to fall back on. Daenerys wasn’t cruel, nor was she rude or entitled. As surprised as she initially was, she accepted it as fact now. She’d given up expecting Daenerys to stoop to her low expectations and stopped being shocked when each day she found another trait to add to the growing list of admirable qualities she possessed. There were so many at this point, Arya was able to overlook her place on the Targaryen family tree – a feat Arya would have thought impossible six months ago.

Ned Stark’s disapproval wasn’t enough to create doubt anymore, especially since she’d never have to confess to him. It would never be her favorite topic, and she hated feeling like she was letting him down, but she’d make her peace with the guilt and get past it. This night she chose to believe her father would understand if he met Daenerys. If he spent time with her, he’d see the same things she had, right? He’d agree with her, once he realized Daenerys had nothing in common with the Targaryens she’d been raised to despise. Whether it was true or not, she hoped it would be enough to satisfy her chaotic brain. She needed some sleep and morning would come early.

R-C

Chapter Text

Fresh from a bath Daenerys was sitting on her recently made bed in a silk robe while Missandei was in the closet hunting for the perfect dress to wear on the first day of her new job. She was supposed to be paying attention, to rule on the garments Missandei held out with an extended arm but she was much more interested in the story she was telling. “I thought she was going to kiss me,” Daenerys admitted. The disappointment was just as profound as it had been the night before.

Instead of just a dress and a hand being made visible Missandei’s deep, dark, understanding eyes peeked out too. “You don’t sound especially horrified,” she teased.

She was certain she was blushing. “I’m not, I’m sad that I misread things so drastically.” Almost as an afterthought she added, “Not that dress.”

Missandei returned to rummaging and came out holding a pale blue dress, with white trim. “Perhaps you didn’t misread her at all,” the helpful handmaiden supplied.

“I thought she would kiss me, and she didn’t, what other reason can there be?”

“Maybe she wanted to.”

Daenerys appreciated her friend’s efforts, but she disagreed. “You know Arya, if she wanted to kiss me, she would’ve.”

The dress she was holding jiggled as Missandei shook it to redirect Daenerys’s attention. “This one is nice,” she observed.

She knew she was being childish. They needed to get ready and Daenerys was too busy whining about things she couldn’t change. “I’m sorry Missandei, you’re right, it’s radiant.”

She carried the dress over to the bed and gave the Princess a smile. “No need to apologize, but if we don’t get you dressed before Arya arrives, she’ll see much more of you than you intend to show her today.”

It was meant to be a joke, a way to lighten the mood and make Daenerys smile, but it hit a little too close to home, calling forth a recent memory from when Missandei was away. Her cheeks burned for a second time as she confessed. “She’s already seen everything.”

The normally composed handmaiden faltered briefly. “What?”

Daenerys enjoyed seeing her flustered. She smiled and savored the moment as she stood up and untied the knot at her waist. She shrugged out of the robe and let it drop as she explained. “Arya insisted she stay with me, since you weren’t here.” Only as she watched Missandei digest this new information did she recall Arya had a second, more logical reason for sleeping on the floor. “She wanted to get an early start on our day in the city, so we didn’t waste any of it needlessly,” she said weakly.

Missandei smirked knowingly as she handed over the dress. “Yes, because the walk from the barracks would have ruined everything,” she opined sarcastically. “She does know I don’t typically sleep in your chambers, doesn’t she?” Daenerys’s face must have betrayed her because with a quiet laugh Missandei shook her head. “I’d wager you didn’t try overly hard to send her away.”

It was scary sometimes, just how well Missandei knew her. She avoided her friend’s eyes when she said, “It was nice having her here, even if she stayed on the floor.”

Sensing her discomfort, Missandei moved on. She was behind the royal now, helping her secure the dress in place. “How did that lead to her seeing all of you. Her tone turned suggestive on the word, ‘all.’

“She had a nightmare,” Daenerys explained. They moved to the mirror to begin styling her hair. “It was horrible, she was thrashing and mumbling.”

“What happened next?” Missandei wondered, appearing fearful of the answer. She wasn’t asking to be polite, she truly wanted to ensure Arya’s well-being. They were friends too.

“I didn’t know what to do.” She quickly amended her statement. “I mean, I did, I wanted to help, but I didn’t know how. When she started moaning in pain and whimpering ‘no’, I couldn’t do nothing anymore. I got out of bed and went to her.”

“I’m sure she appreciated that.”

“I don’t think so,” Daenerys noted sadly. “When I got close to her it was like she knew I was there. Without warning she became angry, she started thrashing again, and this time I heard her say ‘die!’”

Missandei smiled sadly through the mirror. “That sounds terrible.”

“It was,” she confirmed, “I hated feeling like there nothing I could do.”

Missandei provided immediate reassurance. “I’m certain that you helped.”

“Do you know what she could have been dreaming about?” She hadn’t meant to ask that, but it occurred to her that maybe Missandei knew. They shared a cabin on the ship, so it was possible that Missandei was aware of the nightmares already. She also couldn’t discount the idea that maybe Arya chose to confide in the woman from Naath instead of her. Remote as the chance was, she felt obligated to check. “Has she mentioned anything to you, about her past?”

“Very little, she’s as skilled at avoidance as she is with her sword.”

The relief she felt was unfair, but undeniable. If Arya wanted to open up to someone, Daenerys wanted it to be her. Satisfied, she finished her story. “I didn’t realize I wasn’t dressed until after Arya woke up.”

“That must have startled her.”

She laughed, forcing Missandei to stop braiding until she finished shaking. Her friend had a talent for understating things. Startled wasn’t quite the word for it. “No more than me,” she said as she reflected on the past, “I hadn’t thought to grab the robe, I just wanted to help her and then I’m suddenly naked, grabbing her, trying to jostle her awake.”

“Perhaps you were right not to pick a dress,” Missandei joked, “we could have tempted her into action.”

All too easily her mind followed the path being laid out, imagining everything that might happen next if Arya was tempted by her. “I doubt it would work,” she lamented, “she didn’t seem interested.”

One of Missandei’s hands stopped working in her hair and slipped to rest on her shoulder for a moment. “Take it from me, nightmares can be painful and vivid. She probably wasn’t thinking clearly.”

That was probably true, Arya had seemed confused when she woke, going so far as to ask where she was? “I wanted to ask about it…”

“It’s best you didn’t,” Missandei interjected. “If it was a memory, it likely isn’t the sort of thing she’d want to talk about.”

Once again Missandei’s words rang true. “You’re right. We better finish getting ready, we have a meeting with a Septon this morning.”

“We do?”

“Yes,” she replied happily, preparing to tell Missandei about her bargain with Tyrion and the newfound responsibilities she’s undertaken.

R-C

One of the things she noticed about the Red Keep was how drastically things could change in a short amount of time. In the span of minutes an empty room would fill to capacity. It wasn’t just the nobles either, a hall empty one moment could be lined from end to end with servants the next, as they rushed to fulfill their appointed tasks.

So, it wasn’t all that odd when the empty courtyard she crossed to reach Tyrion’s office was bustling with activity on the way back. Dozens of Unsullied were paired off, sparring with one another using all manner of weapons. Separate from them and much less enthusiastic was a handful of the Kingsguard. They were talking more than training and didn’t appear motivated. The lone exception was Jaime Lannister. He was wielding his sword with a determination and dedication that could rival Grey Worm or Oberyn. Arya was impressed.

With so many roaming about she almost didn’t spot Aemon. He was standing between the Unsullied and the Westerosi, as if he didn’t belong with either group. His focus was on the man-shaped target directly in front of him. He had his sword out and was imagining an epic battle. Rather than attacking the unmoving dummy at full-speed, he was perfecting his technique, moving with an exaggerated slowness, guiding the blade with care to precise parts of the target’s frame. He pierced the heart with one thrust then followed it up with a quick slash across the side of the neck. Aemon wasn’t solely focused on offense. He’d also freeze at random intervals and take a distinctly defensive posture. It was clear to Arya what he was doing, he was imagining a suitable counter to his attempt, and then wondering how he might protect himself against such a strike. His form was good, and he had plenty of Gods-given talent.

Aemon never took his eyes off the enemy and yet he somehow knew she was there. He shouted her name before he sheathed his sword and jogged over to meet her.

Daenerys and Missandei were probably waiting for her, but she still stopped. She liked Aemon and not just because he was likely a member of her family. He was straightforward in a way that seemed out of place in the capital. He wasn’t the sort to smile while he stabbed you in the back. Arya could respect that. She hadn’t had many opportunities to spend time with him. They sparred a few times, and shared casual conversation when their paths crossed, but that was the extent of their interactions.

“Come to train?” he asked with undisguised hope in his voice.

“Afraid not,” she responded. “You were looking good though. Have you been out here long?”

“I wasn’t hungry, so I skipped breakfast and got an early start.”

Arya understood. More often than not she would forgo the first meal of the day in favor of stealing a few extra minutes with a weapon in her hand. “I used to do the same thing.”

The comparison made him smile. His eyes, her father’s eyes, shined with pride. “Got time for a quick match?”

She didn’t. She’d just come from visiting Tyrion, picking up the gold for not only the Septon, but also another smaller purse for a family who appealed for the Crown to assist in paying for their son’s burial. Tyrion had scheduled one after the other. He made it clear that he was willing to handle anything Daenerys wasn’t, but knowing how excited the Princess was to be useful, Arya assured him the extra work wouldn’t be a problem. “I wish.”

He wasn’t ready to give in. “Dany wouldn’t mind,” he tried.

From the corner of her eye Arya saw Jaime had stopped swinging his sword and was wandering aimlessly in their direction. Was he waiting to hear her answer? That seemed unlikely. Chastising her overactive mind, she gave Aemon her full attention. It didn’t matter if the Lannister wanted to watch her spar, she couldn’t. She was already late. “The Princess has several appointments this morning.”

By the time she took note of Aemon’s disappointment Jaime was back with his brethren, showing off his many abilities. Was it a coincidence he’d stopped listening as soon as she made clear she couldn’t fight? Was he interested at all in their conversation or was he just taking a break and happened to do it closer to Arya?

Aemon flashed her one of his rare smiles, the kind reserved for his father or his aunt. “She’d hate to hear you call her ‘the Princess’.”

That was true. “She would, but she’d hate it more if I made her late for her appointment with the Septon.”

“Yeah,” he acknowledged, “you’re right.” Before she could step away, he had more to say. “Can you come back later if you’re not too busy?”

“To train?” she guessed.

“Yeah,” he repeated, “and I, I have a question I’d like to ask you too, when you have the time.”

She could have gone, he was giving her an escape, but her feet wouldn’t budge. “I don’t have time to spar, but I can answer your question, if you want.”

Nervous all the sudden, he wasn’t sure how to reply. “Oh, I didn’t mean now, I…” he paused and made another more successful attempt. “You’re from Dorne right?”

“Yes,” she said simply, aware she was nearing a battlefield littered with traps. Why was he questioning her about her origins? Did he suspect something? Was the question his or his father’s?

“I don’t know if you noticed,” Aemon began looking at the ground beneath him before he caught himself and adjusted his gaze, “but you and i look a little alike.”

A little? They could pass for brother and sister easily. It wasn’t just the eyes either, it was the hair and the structure of their faces. Nearly everything about Aemon Targaryen reminded her of the family she had. “I did,” she finally said, wary of where this was leading.

At the first opportunity he rushed ahead to finish his point. “Yeah, me too, and that got me thinking. Maybe my mother was from Dorne too, that would make sense, right?”

Since she met Aemon and saw the similarities he had to her father and brothers Arya had wondered how much he knew. If he was asking her, it confirmed that Rhaegar hadn’t been forthcoming about his mother. What should she tell him? How much could she without revealing her own secrets? Her own feelings for Rhaegar aside, Aemon seemed to love him, and Daenerys did too. Apart from petty retribution, what would she gain from damaging one of the few meaningful relationships in her cousin’s life?

While she was debating her options, Aemon was filling the silence. “Does that make sense? Are there many people who look like me, us, in Dorne? When I read about Dornishmen, it’s always dark hair, dark eyes and bronze skin.”

The risks not withstanding, she would never have a better chance to inquire and learn the extent of Aemon’s knowledge. She’d need to tread carefully. “Do you not know your mother?” she asked, not needing to try very hard to sound empathetic.

“No, not even her name. Father won’t speak of her and not just to me, to anyone. Daenerys has asked about her too, and he refuses to discuss it.”

Her knowledge made it difficult to craft a reply. She understood why Rhaegar didn’t want to tell his son the truth. It wouldn’t benefit Aemon to discover he was the product of a kidnapping. “I’m sorry,” she finally said. She meant it, she regretted that he was distraught about this. That he was willing to bring it up at all suggested that it was on his mind frequently. It’d have to be to compel him to ask her of all people.

“It’s not your fault,” he said quickly in a well-practiced way. “I was just thinking that maybe she is from the same place as you.”

She took an extra moment to review her response before she said it aloud. “I think you’re right. I don’t think I ever met your mother, but it’s likely that she and I were born in the same place, that would explain the similarities we’ve both noticed.”

Aemon was so pleased to have his theory validated that he missed the way the words were arranged. Lying to him about this would’ve tormented her, so she danced around the truth instead. She couldn’t tell him everything, not without exposing herself but at the very least, she could give him small pieces of the puzzle he’d been obsessing over. She hadn’t met Lyanna and they were from the same place, though she never specified Dorne.

“I knew it!” he said loudly. “I knew it couldn’t just be a coincidence. Do you know anymore about her, could you put me in touch with someone there?”

“I didn’t remain where I was born for long. I moved to Sunspear young, so I wouldn’t be able to help. I’m sorry.”

“That’s okay, you’ve given me more information in a few sentences than I’ve ever had.” He paused just long enough to take a breath and then steered them to another topic. “Do you think I could join you when you return? If it’s where she’s from, I’d like to see it, and maybe the people there have more information.”

Could she take him to Dorne with her? Sure, if his father permitted it, but he wouldn’t find what he sought there. In truth if he wanted to find his roots, he needed to head North. “I wouldn’t mind a travelling companion, but you’d need to ask your father.”

Aemon’s high mood fell sharply. “He’d never allow me to go.”

In an effort to cheer him up, she called attention to the one place he wanted to go above all others. “You’ll probably be on the Wall by the time Viserys returns anyway. Last time we spoke of it, you told me the Prince was close to allowing it. Do you no longer wish to take the black?”

“Of course, I do,” he said without hesitation, “it’s where I belong.”

“I need to go, Daenerys is waiting for me, but I’ll try and come back if I can. We need to get you ready if you’re going to be a Ranger.”

Mentioning the Wall and his potential as a Ranger served its purpose, he was smiling again as he nodded and stepped back. She admired his commitment and his willingness to serve the Realm, even if it wasn’t in the way Targaryens traditionally did it. “I’ll let you go, thanks for everything Arya and please apologize to Daenerys on my behalf for keeping you.”

She pointed to the target he’d been practicing on. “Keep going. Try and imagine an enemy just as smart and strong as you. How would you defend against your own attack? How would you beat that defense?”

With renewed purpose Aemon went back to the target and Arya broke into a run as she hurried to make up lost time. As she weaved through the busy hallways she thought of Aemon. He didn’t know it, but she’d given him more than guidance in combat. Dorne didn’t hold the answers he wanted, but if he went to the Wall, he’d be much closer to finding them. Maybe her Uncle Benjen would have the courage to say what she couldn’t. One way or another she hoped he learned the truth. She just needed to make certain that she was back in Sunspear before that happened.

R-C

She stood with her back to the wall, three feet behind Daenerys’s chair. This position wasn’t random, it afforded her a clear line of sight of the room’s only door, she could be at Daenerys’s side in an instant and most importantly she could look over Daenerys’s slim shoulder and see the face of the man or woman sitting opposite her. If the person she was meeting had less than pure intentions, Arya would take action.

Her first meeting, the one with the Septon had gone so well it made Arya question why Daenerys hadn’t been taking such appointments already. She certainly had a knack for it. She asked Missandei to bring juice and snacks and she spent the first half of their hour discussing the wide-ranging programs offered to the citizens of King’s Landing. Daenerys listened intently and asked intelligent, relevant follow-up questions.

The Septon was only too happy to talk about all the people the Crown’s donation could help and Daenerys hung on every word. The Septon was reluctant at first to give anything beyond the basics. Arya guessed he developed a script after Gods knew how many requests for funding. How many times had he been encouraged to stop talking and just take the gold? She couldn’t fault Tyrion or any other Master of the Coin if that was their approach. They had a lot to deal with. They didn’t have time to sit and listen to the Septon’s grand plans, but Daenerys did. More than that, she wanted to hear all of his ideas. She opened him up with a few innocent sounding questions and before long he was telling her everything.

The more they talked, the more relaxed Daenerys became. She really listened, and complimented the Septon on his commitment, when many others might have given up.

When it was his turn to thank her, Daenerys brushed it aside. “You’re the one doing the hard work. The least the Crown, the least my family can do is make sure you have the resources you need to succeed.”

The actual giving of the money only happened at the end. The meeting had run long, and their hour together was up. Daenerys gave him the gold and then encouraged him to make another appointment if and when he needed assistance with his future projects.

Daenerys stood when the Septon did but didn’t exit. Missandei was the one who helpfully offered to escort him out. She maintained her composure until the door closed and they were alone and then she shrieked in delight and threw herself at Arya.

Arya caught her in a hug and held a little tighter than usual. “You did great,” she said honestly. “A lot of people will be getting help now, thanks to you.”

The hug was over, but Daenerys didn’t retreat. They remained face to face, the only major difference was that their arms had returned to their sides. “I didn’t really do anything. It wasn’t my gold, I just…”

Going back to when she was Arya Stark, she never really liked being praised. There were exceptions of course, when the compliment was coming from her father, for example, then she couldn’t get enough. When she was being singled out for her talents as a soldier or a warrior, that too she could tolerate, but all other praise aimed at her made her uncomfortable, especially when she felt it undeserved. Therefore, she could relate to Daenerys’s habit of downplaying her achievements, but in this instance Arya couldn’t allow that. Only a few people were even aware Daenerys took on this job. Unless Tyrion told someone, the list was limited to him, Arya, Daenerys and Missandei. In such a small group, Arya couldn’t rely on others to adjust Daenerys’s point of view, she’d have to be the one to make her see how meaningful an impact she was having.

She waited for the anxiety to come, but it didn’t. Whether she was Arya Stark or Arya Sand, the fastest way to make her uneasy was to force her into a conversation about feelings. There weren’t many people Arya cared enough about to try and provide reassurance in a moment like this, but Daenerys was one.

With a deep breath she thought about her mother and how she’d comfort her youngest daughter when Arya was upset about one thing or another. She’d sit down on the edge of the bed where Arya was lying face down, crying into her pillow. She’d take Arya’s hand and trap it between both of hers. “It’s going to be okay,” she’d promise. “I’m here.”

No matter what had Arya distraught, Catelyn Stark always managed to make it better. She’d need different words, but she could at least try to do that for Daenerys.

She took her hand, an easy feat given how close they were. Daenerys looked down at their linked fingers and then up into Arya’s eyes. Unasked questions were written all over face. Arya took the plunge before the Princess could find her voice.

“You did do something!” she said with passion. “You heard what Tyrion said, it would be days if not weeks before he could meet with the Septon. How many people would have suffered or worse in that time? The only reason people will begin to get help today is because of you.”

When Daenerys didn’t say or do anything in the wake of her comments, she feared she’d make a mistake. It sounded okay to her ears, but maybe Daenerys disagreed. She never should have tried, she’s not Sansa, she’s not made to have deep, meaningful conversations, her place was swinging a sword, she should’ve stuck to that.

While she was contemplating the best ways to apologize to Daenerys the limited space between them vanished. Daenerys was hugging her again, even more vigorously than before. “Thank you,” she said, leaning in fully.

After a delay that stretched beyond what was proper, she managed to convince her arms to hug back. She tried not to notice the way they fit together, or how she felt warm in every place Daenerys’s skin brushed hers. “I mean it. The people of King’s Landing will never know what you did for them, but I will.”

“How do you do that?” Daenerys asked. She leaned back so she could look at Arya’s face.

Unsure of what she was being accused of, she needed to clarify. “Do what?”

“Know exactly what to say. I was happy before but now…” she trailed off.

This was why Arya didn’t talk about feelings, once that door opened, it led to this. What sort of reply would get her out of this?

It took an unusually long time, but she eventually settled on, “I just told the truth. The Septon is lucky you were here, or he’d still be waiting.”

With some extra color in her cheeks Daenerys smiled sweetly and rocked back and forth, going from the tips of her toes to the back of her heels. Arya recognized the habit as one Daenerys engaged in when she was too excited to remain still. That said, she was clueless about what exactly had the Princess nearly bubbling over.

Before she could take another stab at solving the riddle, Daenerys rocked even harder, going as far back as she could without falling and then surging forward, using her momentum to carry her to Arya. The guard lifted her hands, anticipating another hug, but that wasn’t what Daenerys had in mind this time. She pressed her lips into Arya’s cheek, suspiciously close to the side of her mouth, while the soldier just stared. She’d been trained for war, to kill, to fight, to defend and die if necessary but none of her lessons covered this. All her swords, spears, daggers and bows left her woefully unprepared now. She couldn’t recall ever feeling more vulnerable than she did right then.

It was such a strange circumstance. To have so many thoughts in her head one instant and then for them to be gone the next. She had been thinking about Daenerys, questioning her behavior, trying to select the right strategy to show her she was valued, even privately taking delight from seeing Daenerys excel at something and then suddenly it was gone. In its place was a very different collection of details about Daenerys, everything from the smell of her perfume, to the softness of her lips. She spent more time than she’d dare admit wondering what it would be like to kiss Daenerys, and although it wasn’t a real kiss, it was sufficient to assure Arya’s most detailed fantasies were cheap forgeries of the real thing.

Slowly the world expanded beyond Daenerys again and she noted other things, for one the incessant pounding in her ears. It was just a kiss on the cheek and her heart was threatening to break through her ribcage all the same.

Arya wasn’t the only one coming to terms with their kiss. In front of her Daenerys looked to be on the verge of panic. Why? Had she not meant to kiss her? If that was the problem, it was no reason for distress, it was a kiss, not a marriage proposal.

The long awkward quiet came to an end when they both spoke at the same time.

“Arya.”

“Daenerys.”

Their dueling attempts to restart the conversation eased some of the tension and Arya saw a brief but real smile on Daenerys’s face. “You go ahead,” Daenerys encouraged.

She wasn’t sure what to say, she just knew she had to say something. She didn’t want Daenerys to feel guilty. It was a kiss, in the heat of the moment, when emotions were high. Even if Arya may have wished otherwise, it didn’t mean anything. They were friends and that was enough. Arya just needed to keep her safe and bury her affections for the older woman until the wedding.

Aware that Daenerys was still waiting for her to respond, she opened her mouth to try. She had no idea which words to use or in what order.

Mercifully Missandei arrived and brought with her a middle-aged woman, a girl of about twelve and a boy of six. They were obviously a family, with matching blonde hair and light green eyes. “Princess, this is the Whitley family, Bren, and her children Ava and Thom.”

Daenerys was visibly conflicted, looking between her guests and Arya, unsure of which to choose. Arya tried to help. She retreated to her place against the wall but not before whispering, “We’ll talk later.”

Instantly relieved, Daenerys’s smile became more genuine. Arya relied on the wall to hold her up as Daenerys approached the mother and children. They took a knee before the Targaryen.

Daenerys encouraged them to stand and then hurried them to where they could all sit comfortably. She asked rather than ordered Missandei to get another round of drinks and snacks.

Once everyone was seated, Daenerys started her second meeting of the day. “I’m so sorry for your loss, I can’t imagine losing my child,” she said to Bren, “or one of my brothers,” she continued, looking each sibling in the eye as she spoke to them. “You have my sympathies.”

With glassy eyes and an unsteady upper lip Bren replied. “Thank you, Princess.” The gratitude was divided by sniffling.

Arya didn’t need to see Daenerys’s face to know her smile was a little less real now. “Please call me Daenerys.”

Missandei returned and began passing out the food and drink. “Thank you,” Bren said politely.

Daenerys waited until both of the children were occupied with their snack before she addressed the mother. “So, Bren tell me about your son.”

R-C

She would have been content to spend another evening with her closest friends in her room, enjoying wine and stories, reliving their favorite moments from the past few days, but she couldn’t. There was an urgent matter that needed her attention. She postponed it long enough.

It was why she released Missandei early, and dismissed Arya, why she spent the next hour alone going over the various things she wanted to say. When she was sure she had her thoughts properly arranged she slipped out of her room and headed down the hall. She knew Arya would be disappointed that Daenerys put herself in danger, but this was one appointment she needed to have alone.

Barristan Selmy was at the door. The fact that he was in the hall and not the room suggested that her brother was in one of his moods. That was fine, Daenerys was confident she could match any of his emotions tonight, the hurt, the pain, the outrage. She didn’t even consider leaving and trying again later, this needed to happen, and it couldn’t wait. Missandei was back now, and Daenerys needed to do everything in her power to ensure her friend was safe.

“Princess, is everything al…”

“Is he in there?” she asked bluntly, cutting the kind, old knight off.

“He is, is something the matter?”

She ignored the question and took a step toward the door. Understanding her intent, he opened it for her. “Prince,” he called, “your sister wishes to speak to you.”

He set down his drink and stopped staring into space. He provided a smile but it was clear whatever had been on his mind before she entered, remained. “Dany,” he said, just as Selmy closed the door behind her back. “What brings you at this hour?”

She moved directly in front of her brother’s chair. “First, I wanted to thank you. Arya told me that our time in the city wouldn’t have been possible were it not for you, so thank you.”

“I’m… glad you enjoyed it. Did you have a good time?” By the end he had fully recovered from her unexpected gratitude, sounding more like the confident Crowned Prince she knew he was.

“It was two of the best days of my life,” she admitted without exaggeration. “It was incredible.”

His smile reminded her of her youth. When she was a girl and she’d receive a new toy or decide a particular dress was her favorite, when she learned a new random fact about the Realm and wanted to share that knowledge, she’d always run to Rhaegar. She’d inevitably interrupt a conversation of some kind, but he’d listen intently anyway and compliment her with the same smile he wore now. It was indulgent and real, like she was important to him. It warmed her heart, but the sensation didn’t last, not tonight.

“That’s great Dany,” he said, gesturing for her to sit. She did. “You deserve it. So, what did you do?”

She was tempted to launch herself into a retelling of the monumental experiences she’d had, but she refrained. That wasn’t why she’d come. She rose out of the chair she had just settled into. “What happened at dinner?” she asked, unable to keep the scorn from her voice.

“Dinner?” he repeated dumbly. “What do you mean?”

“I mean with Father,” she snapped, “the other night he accused Missandei of being disloyal and you didn’t correct him.”

Understanding passed over his face and that familiar smile became a distant memory. “You had it under control,” he contended.

No, no she didn’t. In fact, she’d been too afraid to even speak until Arya stole everyone’s attention and gave her time to think. She didn’t want a meaningless compliment from her brother, she wanted an explanation. “I didn’t. I didn’t know what to say or do, I was frozen.”

Rhaegar took her hand. In years past his touch would have brought her comfort but it felt as hollow and insincere as his words now. The older she became, the harder it was to overlook his intentional ignorance. He was no fool and yet he pretended not to see all the horrible things happening around him. She used to give him the benefit of the doubt, insisting, believing he was trying his best to make things better, but it was difficult to convince herself of that lately. It was more likely that Westeros’s next King favored doing what was easy over what was right. How else could he justify allowing their father to misjudge Missandei like that?

“It worked out,” he said, diminishing the horror of what had almost been.

She yanked her hand free. “You know what he would have done!” she screamed. “He would’ve killed her or burned her or both and for what? She didn’t do anything!”

“Calm down!” her brother demanded, though his words did nothing to ease her fury. “Nothing happened. Father didn’t hurt her, Missandei is fine.”

She didn’t want to hear it. “Nothing happened this time. She’s fine for now, but what about the next time he gets it in his head that she’s disloyal?”

As she grew more and panicked, Rhaegar remained largely unmoved. His indifference multiplying her pain. “There won’t be a next time,” he stated simply. “It’s over.”

She scoffed. “You don’t honestly believe that, and even if you do, you can’t mean it. He’s not in control of himself. There is no way for you or I or anybody else to predict what he’s going to do. No one else hears the whispers he does, so we can’t know what he’s thinking and that scares me.”

With every negative word spoken about their father Daenerys watched Rhaegar’s face shift into an angry mask, but it changed back just as abruptly when she admitted her fear. “I’d never let him harm you,” he swore.

Although she knew her brother meant to help, his promise proved he was missing the larger point. “It’s not me I’m worried about.”

Rhaegar tried again to placate her. “I’ll do everything in my power to ensure no harm comes to your handmaiden.”

She was tempted to remind her brother that Missandei had a name, that she was more than a handmaiden but there were more pressing matters to discuss first. She steeled herself for what was coming, knowing it would be the most difficult conversation she and her eldest sibling ever had. “Thank you,” she said, forcing a smile to start them out on the right foot, “but even if he never accuses Missandei again, he will accuse someone.”

“What are you saying?” he fired back, his concern for her covered completely by his frustration.

“Isn’t it time Father stepped down?” she asked carefully. She knew Rhaegar wouldn’t want to hear it, but the facts remained.

“Absolutely not!” he roared, gripping the arms of his chair tightly. “How can you even suggest such a thing, he’s your father and your King!”

“He is my father,” she agreed calmly, “and he is the King, but he’s also sick.”

“This is treason!” Rhaegar cried. “I shouldn’t even be listening to this. I demand that you stop this at once and never speak of it again.”

For a girl who worshipped her brother and spent a large portion of her life seeking acceptance, those words nearly hit their mark. A part of her – and it wasn’t a small part – wanted to abide by Rhaegar’s wishes and submit, but she couldn’t. It wasn’t about her anymore. Her long-held desire to be viewed as an equal, her overwhelming urge to forge a strong bond with her brother, those things weren’t quite so important today. There were other considerations that needed to be taken into account, things far more valuable and irreplaceable than an insignificant Princess or her feelings. “Someone needs to speak of it,” she countered, “and if not us then who?” She was glad she’d practiced ahead of time, she never would have been able to get those words out otherwise.

“No!” he said, as if that would be enough to silence her.

“He can’t help himself, he can’t control it, he needs to step down before any more innocent people die.”

“No, our father is the King and that’s the way it’ll stay.” He infused his words with a finality that he likely expected to subdue her. Unfortunately for Rhaegar she was no longer a scared little girl too afraid to speak her mind. She still had a long way to go to be as confident and self-reliant as she wanted, but she was strong enough to withstand her brother’s disapproval.

“And how many people will die before the end of his reign?” she wondered. “How many of your people? How many loyal subjects will you allow a murderer to kill before you stop him?” It hurt calling her father a murder, and she could see Rhaegar was as pained by the label as she was, but it was true, and they couldn’t continue to hide from it. It was time for change. It may have started as a quest to keep Missandei safe, but it went beyond that. This was for all the people who would be summoned to the throne room for a meeting with their King, this was for Westeros.

“Enough!” he screamed, rising up out of his chair slightly before the pain in his legs became too severe to continue. “We aren’t talking about this anymore.”

“You can’t ignore it any longer,” she pressed. “You’ll be King after Father, wouldn’t you rather there still be a Realm to rule by the time you get there?”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Rhaegar said after a dismissive, hurtful scoff. “The Realm will be fine, and Father will be fine. I’m sorry about your friend but you’re overreacting.”

She wasn’t. If anyone was at fault it was him and everyone else for underreacting. “If he wasn’t your father, you’d have killed him already,” Daenerys predicted darkly.

“How would you know that?” Rhaegar spat bitterly. “Is that your expert opinion after so many years mastering politcs and leadership? Leave ruling Westeros to the rest of us, you just go back to your tea and cookies with wives and children.”

She knew what was happening, he was retaliating, pushing back after she pushed him too far. He was taunting her to try and direct their argument to a safer subject. She knew he didn’t mean it, but the words still hurt. How many times had she gone to him, asking, pleading, begging for the chance to be involved in the Realm’s business? He always refused her and now he was using her lack of experience against her, when the only reason she didn’t have it was because of him. “You’re right,” she said with a cold, detached calm, “I don’t know anything, I’m just a woman, but consider this, men have been fucking up the Seven Kingdoms for centuries, maybe an opinion like mine is exactly what you need.”

“Dany, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean…”

She was at the door when she looked back in her brother’s direction. “Think about what I said, if you need me, I’ll be enjoying my tea and cookies, with the wives and children.”

“Dany!” he tried again, louder this time.

In the hall Barristan was there, unchanged from when he let her in. The walls were thick, but she and Rhaegar had gotten pretty heated, neither concerning themselves with their volume. Had he heard all of that or some? She didn’t know and right now she didn’t care. It was obvious he wanted to speak with her, but she dodged him and walked away.

She’d done the right thing, she knew that, but it didn’t absolve her of the guilt that came from betraying her father. Rhaegar wasn’t wrong, she was condoning and actively encouraging treason, but it seemed like the lesser evil. If she could convince her brother to ascend to the throne, it would have a significant, and calculable effect on not only King’s Landing but the whole Realm. The change could be measured in lives saved. What she was suggesting might make her a terrible daughter, but it made her a good neighbor and a good person and wasn’t that more important? If she had to carry the burden of ‘bad daughter’ to save untold lives, she’d do it, especially if Missandei was among the rescued.

R-C

She’d just finished in her morning ritual. She met with Tyrion and Rhaegar to learn what the Princess’s day would hold. The dwarf had no meetings for Daenerys to take, and Rhaegar refused to allow his sister to leave the keep. The castle would be receiving visitors and Daenerys needed to be on hand for their arrival.

Arya was nervous. The Musgoods of Storm’s End were coming to visit King’s Landing. After the rebellion failed Aerys gave all Baratheon lands and titles to families loyal to him. Storm’s End ended up in the care of House Dayne. Dornish by birth the house was led by Arthur Dayne until he accepted a post as one of Aerys’s Kingsguard. Presumably, that was when Arthur and Rhaegar’s friendship began. It was even rumored that Dayne was given a special assignment by the Crown Prince himself before Rhaegar led the army to the Trident. it was just speculation really, but no survivor could confirm seeing the Sword of the Morning on the battlefield that day. Maybe he wasn’t there, but it was just as probable that all those who saw him didn’t live to say so.

Since the Kingsguard are prevented from holding titles, the spoils of the war fell to Dayne’s only kin, a sister named Ashara. Aery’s decree not withstanding, Storm’s End wasn’t Starfall and they wouldn’t follow a woman. Within months of Robert’s death Tywin Lannister had a solution for that particular problem. He arranged a marriage that would satisfy everyone. The beauty Ashara Dayne would be wed to the Lord Jon Musgood. Based in the Stormlands the Musgoods were an inconsequential house. They had so few men at the time Robert was gathering his forces that he didn’t even stop marching long enough to ask for the Lord’s troops. That decision would prove significant, because by being the only house in the region not aligned against Aerys’s son, it put tiny House Musgood in the King’s good graces.

Jon was moved from his family home to the much larger and more impressive Storm’s End where he ruled the whole of the Stormlands for the Targaryen King. Most of the Lords who fought for Robert kept their lives and their titles, the exceptions being Robert himself, the Starks and Jon Arryn. Everyone else was allowed to keep their lands, although the capital did impose a crippling tax on each and every house from the losing side. For each of the next ten years the King punished those who opposed him, taking from men and women who had very little to give. The financial hardship was enough to cause the end of more than one formerly great house.

When Ashara learned what had been arranged, she left Sunspear where she was serving Princess Elia, and went to Storm’s End to join her husband. As a girl Arya was required to learn about every house in the Seven Kingdoms and the Musgoods were no exception. It’s how she knew Ashara gave Jon three daughters lauded for their beauty before they were finally granted a son. It also made her aware of the fact that while Jon may hold the titles, the real power resided in his wife. Few considered Jon Musgood anything more than the lucky prick who got to marry the true ruler of Storm’s End.

Although she tried to remain calm, she worried Ashara would know who she was. The future Lady Musgood left Dorne long before Arya was sent there, so their paths didn’t cross but just two years before the King sailed to Sunspear to barter away his son, the Musgoods returned to Ashara’s homeland and stayed in the Water Gardens as guests of Prince Doran. She came to seek forgiveness for abandoning Elia and leaving without permission. It was a formality since Doran couldn’t take revenge without risking a war with the Targaryens. It amounted to little more than a tense week-long visit, but one Arya had been present for. She delivered food to both Ashara and her husband on more than one occasion. They never spoke, but that didn’t mean they wouldn’t remember her face. It was also possible, if not likely that during her stay in the Water Gardens someone told the Musgoods about Doran’s Northern foster. Any one person with that much knowledge about her past was dangerous. If they put the pieces together, Ashara would tell Arthur, who’d tell Rhaegar, who’d tell Aerys. From there, she knew what would follow – her death in Fire and Blood.

What choice did she have? She could flee, but how far could she rightly expect to get? Could she make it to Dorne or Essos before she was cut down? How many others would be killed in the Mad King’s hunt to locate and murder her? If she knew where Ternesio was she could go to him and begin a new life as a deckhand on his ship. He’d take her on gladly and it wouldn’t be the worst outcome, unfortunately without knowing where he was going next, it was hopeless. It could be months until he returned to Westeros. All she could do was minimize the amount of time she spent with the King’s guests. If she stayed in the background and began wearing her helmet again, maybe they’d never associate the soldier guarding the Princess to the servant who waited on them years before.

With that problem resolved, another reared its head. Daenerys’s nameday was fast approaching and Arya had yet to get her a gift. She knew what she wanted. she just hadn’t had the opportunity to go and get it. Long days with Daenerys had been keeping her occupied. She needed to make this a priority. If she didn’t place her order soon there was no guarantee it would be ready on the date. The situation demanded haste, but Arya remained reluctant. She almost turned back twice. Sneaking into the city to buy Daenerys’s present would demand her to swallow her pride and ask someone she hated for help.

She knocked on the door of his bedchamber hard and fast, before she could lose her nerve. She heard him moving around and seconds later the door opened to expose a topless Jorah Mormont. He looked at her in surprise, but by the time he was ready to speak it had shifted to anger. “What do you want?”

She fought the urge to look away from his contempt, staring him down instead. “I have an appointment in the city,” she explained, “it’ll be brief, less than an hour.”

Jorah continued to glare. “Go then, why are you telling me?”

She wanted to roll her eyes. How had a man this slow bested her father? “Daenerys can’t join me, she’s needed at the castle for the arrival of the Musgoods.”

Recognition flickered in his eyes. “Oh,”

“It’ll be quick, but could you watch over Daenerys and Missandei until I get back?” The words tasted like acid on her tongue, but her cause was just. She was doing a good thing and that made her discomfort bearable.

“Does the Princess know about this?” He stepped back from the door, but didn’t close it, allowing Arya to see through the opening. Jorah was already putting on his Targaryen armor.

“No, I haven’t seen her yet. I spoke to Rhaegar and Tyrion and neither have anything for her. She’s required to stay in the castle, so she’ll be available when the visitors arrive, but…”

“I get it,” Jorah snapped, stepping out into the hall and closing the door behind him, “I don’t need you to tell me how to guard the Princess, I was doing it for a long time before you got here.”

More than anything she wanted to ask why if he was such a superior guard did Daenerys prefer her to him? She wanted to remind him Daenerys had all but exiled him, but she held her tongue. Jorah, despite his many flaws was doing her a favor and so she gagged on all her rude comments and nodded.

They parted ways at the crossroads of four connected halls. Jorah went toward the royal quarters, and Arya headed the opposite way, looking for the first available exit.

She promised Jorah she’d be quick, and even with Mormont guarding them, Arya wouldn’t be able to relax until she was back with Daenerys again. Before she got too far away, she reached under her armor and found a collection of tattered pages. She flipped through them quickly, counting them in her mind to ensure she had them all. Confident that she did she returned them to their hiding place and took off running for the stables.

R-C

“You kissed her!?”

Daenerys had told the handmaiden everything, she needed to tell someone before she burst and Missandei was the obvious choice. Still, did they need to discuss it at such a high volume? The Princess looked behind her to make sure they were alone. “Yes,” she confessed in a whisper. “On the cheek,” she amended after too long.

“Then what happened?”

“Nothing, you returned with the Whitley family and that was it.”

Missandei’s dark eyes were filled with sadness. “I’m so sorry, had I known…”

This wasn’t Missandei’s fault. Daenerys patted her hand gently. “You couldn’t have known. Arya said we’d talk, we just haven’t yet.”

“Perhaps today.” Missandei was a bright light of optimism in Daenerys’s life. Her friend could always be counted on to find the good in a situation.

“Maybe.”

“What made you do it? Why then?”

Daenerys thought back. It was everything, how Arya had been so accommodating and helpful. She was the one who went to meet with Tyrion, to pick up the gold and it was Arya who agreed when he suggested Daenerys meet with the Whitley’s. She’d been so happy listening to the Septon talk about his plans for the Crown’s money and that was before she was bathed in Arya’s approval. She was overwhelmed. “She was so sweet,” she remembered, aware Missandei was still awaiting an answer, “she made me feel like I had just saved the Realm singlehanded. She was hugging me and then we were standing so close together, I just couldn’t help it.”

“How was it? Better than you dreamed?” By the end Missandei was wearing a knowing smile, one that made it clear she already knew the truth.

“It was just a kiss on the cheek,” she said, even though it felt like so much more. “It was great, but I think I scared her.”

“I don’t think Arya gets scared,” Missandei noted, “but it was probably a surprise. I’m sure now that she’s had some time to think about it…”

Maybe that’s why they hadn’t talked about it, maybe Arya did think about it and she didn’t want to do it again? In the moment, when she was pressing her lips to Arya’s cheek, she considered herself to be cautious, restrained even. She wanted to push Arya against the same wall she spent the meeting standing against and kiss her senseless, not on the cheek but on the mouth, she wanted to slip her tongue past her lips and taste her. She wanted to see how their bodies would fit together without their burdensome clothes in the way. She was dying to hear the sounds she might be able to coax out of the quiet woman and she was aching to feel her strong hands moving over every inch of her body.

When Arya said they’d talk about it, Daenerys assumed it was a good thing. She thought they’d talk and she’d be able to make Arya see how good it could be for them, but what if that wasn’t the script Arya was planning to follow? What if she wanted to remain friends, or worse yet didn’t want to be friends anymore? In just a matter of weeks Arya had become an integral part of Daenerys’s life. She was happier and that was due in no small part to Arya. She knew she’d need to return to Dorne eventually, but that was why Daenerys didn’t want to waste the time they had.

She been lost in her mind too long, so Missandei brought her out. “It’s okay,” she said, she sounded much closer to Daenerys than she’d been when she began worrying. Her instincts proved true when she focused her eyes and saw the handmaiden kneeling on the ground, holding each of Daenerys’s hands. “It’s okay,” she repeated, “and it’s okay to be happy. You deserve to be and all the people who love you, we want you to be.”

When had she begun crying? She didn’t know but the evidence was clear. She had tears running down her cheeks. Missandei released one of her hands, produced a cloth and wiped them away. “I’m sorry,” she said, as she tried to manage her emotions by willpower alone.

“Does Arya make you happy?” Missandei inquired without advanced warning.

Arya’s face popped up in her mind. She thought of her smirking and laughing, and how proud she’d been when Daenerys won that stupid game with the bottles. The memories flashed rapidly but left her with an overwhelming realization – Arya did make her happy. “Yes.”

The tears gone, Missandei looked her in the eyes. There was a kindness there that never left. Daenerys was awed by it. After everything she suffered in her life, after everything she endured, Missandei remained at her core, a good person. “Tell her,” she encouraged gently, “I think you’ll regret it if you don’t.”

She nodded not only to confirm she understood, but also as a sign of agreement to Missandei’s larger point. She would regret if Arya left King’s Landing and they never spoke of what they had. If it was entirely one-sided and Daenerys was the only one with romantic feelings, it would hurt, but at least she’d know. She wouldn’t be left to wonder forever.

It would be hard to talk about her feelings with Arya, she’d struggle with the words, aware none she knew did justice to how important the other woman had become. If she did as Missandei advised and told Arya, she’d probably embarrass herself more than once, but the alternative was equally unappealing. Doing nothing would mean that nothing would change. Arya would remain with her for a while and then leave, never knowing that Daenerys felt the way she did. That option may spare her pride the awkwardness of confessing, but it also ensured they would never be more than friends. That was the crux of it, if Daenerys wanted more than friendship, she’d need to act like an adult, be brave and take a chance. She had no experience with such things, Daenerys was traditionally the one refusing affections, not the one declaring them. She had a newfound sympathy for all the suitors she rejected. Was Arya worth the potential pain? As soon as her brain posed the question, Daenerys knew the answer. Yes, Arya was worth the risk. She didn’t know if Arya felt the same way, or could learn to in time, she didn’t know what would happen next, but she was convinced Arya Sand was worth just about anything.

R-C

The sky was dark with a drizzling rain when Arya finished her business and stepped out onto the street. The wind was just strong enough to bite at her through her thin cloak. Poor weather notwithstanding she was pleased with her progress. Daenerys’s present would be ready in a few days, if not in time for her nameday then immediately after.

She expected to only be ten or fifteen minutes. She thought she’d explain what she wanted, he’d listen to her idea and that would be that. It wasn’t quite so simple.

Bevin, the man she entrusted with this task was older than her but significantly younger than she thought he’d be. Beyond that, he was tall and thin without appearing frail. He was already beginning to lose some hair and squinted frequently as he reviewed the notes she brought for reference.

Arya had become a good judge of character. It was a skill she never needed as a Stark but one she acquired quickly as a servant. She learned to pick out who would be amenable and friendly and which guests to avoid as much as possible. When interacting with the volatile ones she made a point to be prompt, well-mannered and to slip away the second they were distracted. It was a habit she couldn’t stop, but one that had benefits in her current line of work as well. As she made the short walk to her horse, she considered Bevin. He was undoubtedly intelligent, gruff, a little rude and set in his ways. The only other person in the shop was a young man and although he appeared to work for him, Bevin didn’t give him instructions or ask to be assisted in anyway. He spent a few minutes early on reviewing the documents she brought, squinting but saying nothing as he struggled to read her messy writing. After that, he wrote near constantly in a leather-bound book. Arya couldn’t confidently say the color of his eye’s because she saw them only momentarily before he opened his book and began writing. He rarely looked up after that. If he memorialized every word she said between hello and goodbye twice, he wouldn’t have needed half the pages he filled during their hour together.

She hoped the price for his services reflected the quality of his work. His fee was significantly higher than she estimated but she paid it nonetheless. She had only a handful of coins left from the money Oberyn gave her. What remained would need to last until she got back to Sunspear. It was okay, she had far less once and she survived, she could do it again.

As if for no other reason than to try and ruin her good mood, the sky opened up and the trickling water became a downpour. She cursed as her horse trotted down the road. Her cloak was useless as a means of protection and her hair matted to her head with the edges hanging just low enough to irritate her vision.

Of course, something had to go wrong! She’d been awake for hours and wasn’t completely miserable yet, naturally the Gods couldn’t allow that to continue. The fates preferred it when Starks were angry, defeated or afraid.

She squeezed her thighs and tried to urge her horse to move faster. He was a remarkable animal. She’d need to remember to thank Daenerys for allowing her to choose one from the Targaryen stable.

Thinking of Daenerys brought their predicament to the forefront. She’d been working tirelessly not to think about it. It wasn’t a reasonable long-term solution, but it had worked so far and petty as it was, Arya intended to milk it for as long as she could.

What else could she do? Daenerys had kissed her. It was just on the cheek and probably didn’t mean what Arya secretly hoped it did, but what was she supposed to do now? Initially she thought it was just a friendly gesture. She couldn’t recall Daenerys kissing Missandei’s cheek, but that didn’t mean it didn’t occur from time to time. After all, Arya wasn’t all knowing, especially on a topic like friendship. She was shocked but prepared to accept it as a one-time, pleasurable albeit meaningless occurrence, until she looked at Daenerys. In that single moment she knew it meant more. Her original shock returned tenfold. After she corrected her expression she was face to face with Daenerys, standing there, looking into those eyes, wearing one of her heart-stopping smiles and all Arya could think was how badly she wanted to kiss her again, properly this time. She said they’d talk later, because she had to say something. She thought that with time and space she’d be able to think clearly. She’d get the smell of her perfume out of her nose and the soft touch of her lips off her skin, and all the reasons they could never be together would become obvious. It was a solid, logical plan with only one flaw – it didn’t happen. Even now hours removed from the kiss, she could still feel it, like it was happening again. All those arguments she was expecting never came, and she would know, she stayed awake most of the night waiting for them.

This thing with Daenerys, whatever it was she was feeling, it couldn’t be allowed to proceed. It didn’t matter if Daenerys was willing, in fact it made it worse if she was, because it would end badly, and Daenerys would get hurt. She didn’t want that. Daenerys was a kind, honest person and if by some joke of the Gods she was interested in Arya, then she was destined for pain. She’d be hurt when Arya left for Dorne, she’d be hurt when her father or brother found out and forced her to end it, she’d be hurt when Arya inevitably fucked up and made a mistake, because she would. She had a pitiful amount of experience being someone’s friend and even less as a lover.

If this were anybody else, she would rely on the vast differences in their statuses to justify not acting. It had worked when Rhaenys had shown an interest in her, and would be a sufficient excuse with most partners, but wouldn’t deter Daenerys. The last thing the Princess wanted for her future was a noble partner her father approved of, or worse, handpicked. Arya’s unsuitability would only make her more appealing to Daenerys, not less. She’d jump at the chance to swim against the tide, to do the opposite of what was expected of her.

A more compelling argument involved her work. As the Princess’s personal guard, her only responsibility was to protect Daenerys and keep her alive. It was a job she took seriously, not because Jorah and Rhaegar threatened her, but rather because she liked Daenerys and didn’t want to see her harmed. Those feelings were deeper and more intense now. She couldn’t be watching for danger if her eyes were glued to the swaying of her hips. Daenerys would be vulnerable to a threat if her guard’s hands were too busy tracing the curves of her body to grab her sword. It couldn’t happen, if it did, it wouldn’t just be a failure of Arya the soldier. If Daenerys were hurt on her watch, it would be a failure of Arya the woman too and that woman had already been unable to protect so many people she loved. She refused to add Daenerys’s name to the list of apologies she whispered to the Gods each night.

In addition, it wasn’t like everyone else would be accepting. Most nobles in the King’s court had a brother, nephew, son or cousin they wished to wed to the Princess. They wouldn’t take kindly to Daenerys inviting the help into her bed, and that was also true of her family. It wasn’t hard to imagine how her life would end if Rhaegar or Aerys learned Daenerys had feelings for her.

It hit her like a bolt, she yanked the reigns and brought her stallion to a halt, she barely noticed. Although she’d been swarmed with valid points, she’d missed the most glaring one. She was a Stark. Worse than that, she was a foster. She was removed from her family and sent to Dorne so she could learn from a non-traitorous Lord, in the hopes she might be rehabilitated. She went to Sunspear to live under Doran’s care because her father was deemed unfit. The stain of her father’s crimes bled onto her and everything she touched. The fact that she elevated herself to the position of soldier didn’t matter, to most, she’d always be a traitor’s daughter and little else. A commoner might be able to get away with engaging in a relationship with a foster, but not a noble, and certainly not royalty. Though she didn’t act like it, Daenerys was a Targaryen and a Princess. There would be outrage if she chose a Stark. She’d be mocked, ridiculed and berated. Members of noble houses would avoid her as if she had Greyscale and she’d become even more isolated within her home. As bad as that would be, that was the second half of a much larger problem.

Before Daenerys could choose to be with Arya Stark, Daenerys needed to find out that Arya was a Stark. She wasn’t sure of much, but this was absolute, if Daenerys was going to be with her, she was going to do it knowing everything. Whether it lasted a day, a year or the rest of their lives, Arya refused to build it on a lie. She’d need to confess that she wasn’t Arya Sand. When that happened, Daenerys would hold her life in her hands. She’d know that Arya lied to her, not only the day they met, but everyday since. She’d have to tell her everything, about why she hid the truth, why it mattered, who her father was, his role in the rebellion, Robert, Rhaegar, Lyanna, her Uncle Brandon and her grandfather, even her suspicions about Aemon. She couldn’t do this halfway she’d need to tell it all, including what happened to a little girl from the North who was summoned to the Red Keep’s throne room. She’d need to talk about things she hadn’t discussed with anyone, not even Oberyn.

If she was going to offer her heart to Daenerys, she’d first need to give her some deadly, volatile information. She’d need to put her faith in Daenerys, that no matter how hurt or angry she became, she’d hear Arya out before revealing the guard’s secrets. She’d be asking a lot, too much, trusting Daenerys to not only understand and forgive but perhaps more importantly to not share the information with anyone. She’d be asking Daenerys to lie, to her father, her brother and everyone else. She’d worried earlier that morning about Ashara Dayne’s visit and how she might possess knowledge that could condemn Arya to death, but what she was contemplating now made serving Ashara a few drinks seem like child’s play. Her entire future would be Daenerys’s, to cradle or crush. Was it fair or cruel to share her story?

Maybe it was better for the past to stay where it was. Was knowing nothing better than being fully aware? Arya knew too much and was haunted by it. She knew the stories of all seven of them, the man, his wife and their children. She knew who they were before that day and she knew which of them never got to be anything else. Arya knew and there was nothing she could do to change that, but it wasn’t too late for Daenerys. She didn’t know anything, and no law said she had to learn, but if she didn’t, they could never be together.

She sat on her horse, blocking the road, unmoving, getting pelted by rain she could no longer feel. What was the right thing to do? Did Daenerys deserve the truth? Would she be glad Arya shared it or resent her for spreading the pain around? Was there even a right thing in a situation like this, or was it about choosing the lesser of all the bad options?

R-C

Chapter Text

Daenerys was only too happy to put her book down when she heard the knock on her door. She hadn’t really wanted to read - it was a bargain she struck with herself in a less than successful attempt to keep from counting every second until Arya arrived.

She was anxious, wondering if they would finally get the opportunity to talk, about the kiss and everything else. Missandei had offered to busy herself elsewhere so they could be alone. She hated the idea of sending her friend away but agreed anyway. Arya wouldn’t open up to her if there was someone else listening. Seven Hells, there was the distinct possibility Arya wouldn’t open up to her if they were the last two people left in the world.

Her emotions swung from excited to frantic with moments of utter terror thrown in for good measure. Was this normal? If it was, how did anyone confront the person they were interested in? The longer her conversation with Arya loomed on the horizon the more Daenerys considered crawling back into bed and hiding under the covers until tomorrow. Behaving like a child felt safer than what she was contemplating.

Since she couldn’t get her mouth to cooperate, Missandei made an invaluable contribution. “Come in,” she said for the panicked Princess.

Her heart increased its speed as she prepared to see Arya again, her dark, slightly overgrown hair, those expressive eyes, that body concealed by immaculately maintained armor. When she originally offered to get Arya Targaryen gear, she’d been thinking of it only as a practical matter. She hadn’t considered the underlying significance. Why would she? To her armor was armor regardless. After hearing Arya’s reasons for declining however, she gained a new perspective. It showed the guard’s loyalty and character that she didn’t want to wear another house’s sigil, even for a short time. Although she still felt that way, Daenerys couldn’t deny her desire to see Arya wear a Dragon, so everyone would know she was marked as Daenerys’s.

Her wayward thoughts, which were unhelpfully comparing Arya in her armor and out of it, stopped the instant the door swung open. It wasn’t Arya at all. Since their disagreements, she kept her interactions with Jorah to a minimum. They saw one another of course, but when they did, Daenerys was terse, slightly cold, and formal. They limited themselves to pleasantries, unimportant issues like the type of day she was having, or his opinion on the cook’s last meal? She steadfastly avoided all of Jorah’s attempts to talk to her alone, not wanting to provide him another opening to try and manipulate her. She was confident she would see it coming this time but wasn’t in a rush to put her newfound observation skills into practice.

He hadn’t come to her chambers like this since the morning after their return to King’s Landing. “Ser Jorah, hello.”

He ducked his head. “Princess.”

Whatever he’d come for, be it new business or old, he wasn’t earning himself any grace. He ignored Missandei completely, his eyes never leaving Daenerys.

She provided a chance for him to explain himself, but he didn’t so she was forced to ask. “Is there something you needed?” A little pointed maybe, but she was still angry with Jorah. He tried to use Arya’s injury to take back the job he wanted and when that failed, he conspired with Rhaegar to corner her in the throne room. It came back in flashes, blaming Arya for being attacked, then his arrogant presumption that only those of means were suited to be guards, and finally leading her away so her brother could question Arya. She remembered everything and she wasn’t ready to forgive.

“I thought you knew,” he said, moving deeper into the room. “I thought she would have told you.”

Daenerys peeked at Missandei to see if the handmaiden had any idea what he was going on about. She appeared equally confused. “Who would have told me? Known what?”

“Arya,” he answered and suddenly Daenerys’s anger melted into fear. What was wrong with Arya? Why would she go to Jorah of all people if she had a problem? Arya was too smart not to notice the contempt Jorah held for her. She was hurt too, though she tried not to dwell on it. If something was happening, why hadn’t Arya told her, come to her?

Missandei was there, providing support with her presence. She took Daenerys’s hand and with a squeeze reminded her that she wasn’t alone. It helped. Fears and exaggerations weren’t required, Jorah had to have more to tell. She turned to the knight and braced herself for what was coming. “What about Arya? What is going on Ser?”

Jorah moved to stand beside her. She could see he was eyeing her empty hand, the one Missandei wasn’t holding, but he didn’t reach for it. She was glad, she didn’t want his comfort, she wanted his information. “Arya came to see me this morning,” he explained, “it was early. She said she had business and would be unable to act as your guard. She asked that I serve in my old post until her return.”

Just like that, her debate over what to say to Arya, about their kiss and the future was insignificant. Arya was gone! Where would she go and why would she leave without telling Daenerys about it? With a brick in her stomach she wondered if kissing Arya the day before had propelled her to leave? If that was the cause, Daenerys didn’t think she’d be back.

Missandei asked one of her many questions. “Did she tell you where she was going, Ser?”

He answered without looking away from the Princess. “She did not, she seemed to be in a rush however and last I saw, she was going in the direction of the stables.”

Just like that Daenerys was paying more attention. The stables? The horse, her first gift to Arya, although the Dornishwoman didn’t know it yet. Arya was honorable and fair. She believed the horse was a loan and as such wouldn’t steal it. If the horse was missing from the stables, then Daenerys could reasonably expect Arya would be coming back at some point.

Missandei was still trying to gather the facts. “And she said nothing about the reason for the trip, or when she expected it to finish?”

“I’m sure she’s fine.”

Daenerys erupted, living up to her dragon blood. “Answer her!” she demanded of the knight. “What do you know of this?”

His eyes flickered to Missandei for the first time but didn’t stay there. They bounced back to Daenerys a moment later. “I know very little Princess, she was vague, almost intentionally so. She mentioned some business she had to attend to.”

What business could Arya have? She didn’t know anyone in the capital. “That’s it?” she verified.

Jorah nodded and tried to redirect them. “She will return, until then, I will act as your guard, so what would you like to do today?”

If that was all the information he had to share, then she would discover more on her own. Where would she like to go? To wherever Arya was, but in the meantime, they’d start at the stable. “The stables,” she answered, already moving toward the closet where she kept her cloak.

“Princess, it’s raining quite hard and although the grounds are vast, do you really want to risk falling ill before your nameday?”

“Yes,” she lied. She had no intention of going for a rain-soaked ride but telling Jorah her true intentions would take time she wasn’t willing to waste. Every second she was there with him, was another she had to wonder about Arya.

From the closet she grabbed two of her thickest fur-lined cloaks, one for Missandei and one for herself. She was putting hers on when Jorah responded. “Daenerys, be reasonable, you’ll catch your death if…”

“I am going to the stables,” she declared with finality, “I may be confined to the castle, but that doesn’t mean I must remain locked in my room.”

“I was not suggesting…”

She didn’t feel obligated to let him finish. “Ready?” she asked Missandei, checking to make sure the woman from Naath was sufficiently bundled up to protect her from the elements.

While they were speaking, Jorah was still trying. “There are many things we can do indoors today and then tomorrow if the weather clears…”

Tomorrow? He was already planning to make his reassignment permanent. She’d correct his error later, for now she had something of the upmost importance to do. When the women turned for the door Jorah was positioned directly in their path. “You should probably find a cloak Ser, I fear it’s raining.”

He stared at her dumbfounded and in other circumstances Daenerys might have been amused. He was taken aback by her blatantly sarcastic comment. She never spoke that way to anyone and certainly not him. “Princess,” he said, “it is not safe for you to be going out in a storm like this.”

She’d had her fill. “I’m going,” she told him, “whether you come along is your choice, but with or without you, I’m going.”

“You can’t leave your chambers without a guard,” he reminded her. She could see he was growing exasperated with her defiance. “You promised the King and the Crown Prince you’d abide by the rules.”

How dare he?! Telling her of the rules she was required to follow, using them as weapons to control her. Invoking the titles belonging to her father and brother as if he himself could wield the corresponding authority. She didn’t care if he didn’t like it, she didn’t care if he didn’t understand, she didn’t care if he came along or not, but she was going to the fucking stables and she was going to find Arya, no matter the cost. “You are not the only guard in this castle,” she noted aloud.

He flinched at her words but didn’t relent. “You can’t simply choose to show your independence by going for a ride in the rain. You have obligations to the Realm and you’re too important.”

He was doing it again, telling her what she couldn’t do. That wasn’t for him to decide. She felt taller as her anger burned every inch of her. She stepped forward, away from Missandei and toward the knight. She had to look up to meet his eye, but she didn’t mind. “Unless I’m mistaken you Ser are a member of the Kingsguard, sworn to obey and safeguard the King and his family.” Her volume rose as she continued, “I am Daenerys Targaryen, a member of that family.”

He made a feeble attempt to calm her. “I know that Princess.”

“Do you?” she pressed. “You are a knight. You don’t get to say where I can go, or when I can go there. I’m done! Are you coming to the stables, or are you leaving?”

“Daenerys,” he implored.

“Which is it? I’ve been delayed long enough.”

“What about Missandei?”

So typical, he ignores Missandei until she’s useful and then he treats her like a tool to achieve his goal. Daenerys was prepared to give her friend the choice, she could stay inside and remain dry or join her. She didn’t get to even make the proposal.

“The rain reminds me of home,” she said plainly, as if the two people she was speaking to weren’t in the midst of the worst fight they’d ever had. “I’m going with the Princess.”

Missandei was always saying or doing something remarkable, something inspirational and this was no exception. She was fully willing to march out into the rain without knowing Daenerys’s plan.

With the handmaiden’s allegiance clear, Daenerys levelled Jorah with a single word. “Move,” she commanded, and he did. She paid Jorah no mind, having wasted too much energy on him already. While descending the stairs it become obvious that he was going to be accompanying them. There would be consequences for this, Jorah wouldn’t stay silent for long, but that knowledge didn’t give her pause. She meant what she’d said, she was done, and she didn’t just mean with the conversation or Jorah, she was done with all of it. She was done living like a prisoner in the nicest castle in the Seven Kingdoms. She was done doing her best to be perfect, done trying to earn her father’s attention, Viserys’s respect or Rhaegar’s approval. She was done living a life where hers was the only opinion that didn’t matter.

R-C

“What is the plan?” Missandei asked as they walked toward the stables. The wind was blowing in their faces and the rain was every bit as unpleasant as Jorah warned, but Daenerys knew she was doing the right thing. There wasn’t even a shred of doubt anywhere in her. She needed to solve the mystery of where Arya had gone. To do that, she needed to know if she planned on coming back. If she wanted to go why hadn’t she said goodbye? Did she fear Daenerys would try and stop her?

“Plan?” she tried, hoping to sound more casual than she felt. “I just want to take my horse for a ride around the grounds.” They were conversing in High Valyrian, a language Jorah did not understand.

They looked at one another for one moment and then two. Daenerys cracked first, smiling. “I know you didn’t come out here without a plan.”

That was true, but the bond they shared went both ways. Just as Missandei knew she was lying, she knew her handmaiden hadn’t exactly been honest either. “And I know you,” she countered, “I know for a fact rain does not make you think of home, because the rain here is nothing like the rain you remember from Naath.”

Missandei’s smile became a smirk. “Whatever you’re doing, I want to help.”

“Thank you,” she said sincerely. “I just need to know if Arya’s coming back. That’s why we are going to the stables.”

Missandei caught on right away. “Her horse.”

“She doesn’t know it is hers yet, so she wouldn’t take it.”

Instead of nodding along with the Princess’s logic, or grumbling about the cold, Missandei beamed with pride. “That’s clever, Princess, you’re good at this.”

“Let’s hope I don’t have to be for much longer, maybe Arya is already back.” It was wishful thinking, but Daenerys felt entitled. She cared about Arya and didn’t want her to be gone.

Missandei knew exactly what Daenerys needed to hear and provided it. “She wouldn’t leave without saying goodbye to you.”

“I don’t think so either, but what else explains this? She doesn’t know anyone in the city.”

As they neared the stable a young boy came running out, passing right in front of them. He had his head down and something in his fist, sprinting for the warm, dry castle.

Daenerys wanted to hear what Missandei thought, but they reached their destination, so the High Valyrian stopped and they slipped inside. The handmaiden sighed in relief and one drop at a time puddles began forming under all three of them. They were soaked. Jorah was in the worst shape since Daenerys didn’t stop long enough for him to get a coat or a cloak. His armor could withstand swords, arrows and all manner of deadly tools, but it provided only minimal protection against the downpour. She’d never worn armor but guessed the excess water would only make the plate harder to carry. Daenerys herself felt ten pounds heavier and was certain she looked ridiculous. Her shoes squeaked against the floor as she tried to shake off a fraction of the accumulated water. Missandei’s usually bouncy curls were substantially flatter.

Daenerys was still gathering herself when the stablemaster addressed her. “Princess, how are you? Should I ready your horse? It’ll just take a minute, we’ve been busy today despite the rain.”

She gave up trying to separate her waterlogged clothes from her body and turned to reply to the kind man. When she did, she was stunned to find Arya standing next to her horse, calming petting his mane. She was drenched in a way that the others were not. She’d definitely been out in the elements far longer than the time it took to go from the keep to the stables. She looked miserable and beautiful.

A gasp came, likely from her and then she was gone. “Arya!” She was going to hug her, was looking forward to it actually but before she could Arya’s arms extended, grabbing Daenerys by the upper arms and keeping them apart. That did not bode well. Arya had never refused to accept an embrace before. Sure, she didn’t seem to like them as much as Daenerys did, but she didn’t typically refuse them outright.

“Don’t,” Arya said quietly, looking deeply into Daenerys’s eyes. “I’m soaked.”

A humorless laugh escaped her lips. That was why she stopped her? As reasons go, it was one she could live with. “Me too,” she promised, leaning in and trusting Arya would understand.

With a dramatic huff she allowed Daenerys to get closer. Had she not spent a considerable amount of time watching Arya, she might have missed the subtle lift in the corner of her mouth. She was supressing a smile.

When their chests came together Daenerys’s arms wrapped around her and held on as though her life depended on it. This was good. This felt right. Moments like this made everything else worthwhile. “Don’t do that to me again,” she mumbled. “I thought you left.”

The hug was abruptly over, though Arya didn’t go far. She placed her hands on Daenerys’s arms again and separated them just enough to see the Princess’s face. “What? I told Jorah I had an appointment. He agreed to watch you until I came back.”

With a little distance and low volume, they didn’t need to worry about anyone listening in. “You told him you were coming back?” she verified.

“Daenerys what’s going on? What are you doing out in the rain?”

“Looking for you!” she said a bit too loudly. “I didn’t know where you’d gone or why, and I wanted to see if your horse was here.”

Was it to prove the stallion was in his place, or to provide them more privacy? Either way Arya waved Daenerys over and they moved down the horse’s body to stand near its hindquarter. “I’m sorry,” she said to start, “I didn’t want you to worry, I thought I’d be back before now. It took longer than I planned.” She was petting her horse but turned her head toward Daenerys. “I would never do that,” she said seriously, “I wouldn’t leave without telling you.”

Her sincerity was undeniable, and it eased much of what had been plaguing her since Jorah appeared. They still had a lot to talk about, but it was nice to know she’d been right one thing – Arya wouldn’t’ just disappear like that. “Where did you go?”

“I had to order something, like I said I thought it’d only take a minute, but he had a lot of questions.”

Curiosity burned her. She wanted to know what Arya wanted to buy, she wanted to know, so she could get it for her. It must have been obvious how she felt because Arya said, “It’ll be ready in a few days, and I’ll show it to you then, okay?”

That was more than fair. Did she purchase a weapon for herself? Daenerys hoped not. Tyrion assured her that the blade she had commissioned for her guard was on schedule and due to be finished any day. She hoped her gift wouldn’t be a duplicate of the one Arya ordered herself. Then she remembered how much gold she needed to pay the smith and that worry faded. There was no way Arya could have bought a sword similar to the one Daenerys had forged for her, not unless she had access to the royal treasury too.

“I’m sorry,” Arya said again as they prepared to rejoin the others.

Daenerys took her hand, needing the contact. She overreacted when she learned Arya was gone, but now she was back. Daenerys could see her, talk to her, touch her, it was going to be okay.

Daenerys wasn’t the only one happy to see Arya returned. Missandei greeted her warmly and Arya surprised them all when she gave the handmaiden a hug.

Just as everyone was preparing to step out into the storm the door to the stables swung inward, forcing Jorah to take a step back to accommodate the new arrivals. Daenerys recognized them at once, Ilyn Payne and three members of the Kingsguard. Unable to speak Payne went from face to face, looking at each of them in turn. He made a motion with his hand, one Daenerys didn’t understand. He held up one finger and then pulled it through the air as if drawing some sort of circle.

One of the men spoke for Payne. “Apologies Princess,” he said to her, “but the King requests your presence in the throne room.”

Four men had to come to tell her that? Strange but okay. “Very well,” she said, only to have Arya release her hand and take half a step forward. “Do I have time to change into dry clothes?” she asked. The prospect of spending hours dripping was unappealing.

“I’m afraid not, it is urgent, you’re needed at once,” the guard clarified.

Resigned, she nodded. Surprisingly Jorah of all people rose in her defense. “Surely the King can wait long enough for the Princess to put on dry clothes.”

“It’s okay,” Daenerys assured him, managing a smile for the man who tried to do her a kindness, “I’ll go.”

“You all need to come,” he clarified, “the King is waiting.”

“All of us?”

“That is what he said Princess, I’m sorry.”

The tension around them multiplied. No one complained on the walk back, not about the wind or the rain, no one said anything. Arya was on her left, with Missandei on her right. Jorah was behind her with one of Payne’s men, and the stablemaster. When he said everyone, he really meant it.

Something was wrong. Her father rarely summoned her, but when he did, he didn’t take the time to mention Missandei or Jorah, he typically just sent for her and expected they’d come along.

She went through her most recent sins, searching for the one most likely to have been exposed. Did her father discover she lied when she said she sent Missandei on an errand? If it was about that, why had they collected the stablemaster too?

To the best of her recollection, today was the first time they’d all been in the same room at the same time. Did that mean whatever was happening was related to today? She hoped not.

Every step carried her closer, to her father, to the throne. She dreaded being the center of attention, despised the way the court treated her, like an object more than a person. She hated it and she’d submit to it a thousand times if it meant the King’s focus stayed on her and her alone.

It was an odd circumstance to have to admit you’re frightened of your own father. Not of his disapproval or disappointment, not of a slap or a cruel word, but of the very real possibility that he might murder you. As a girl she believed anything her father did, he did for the Realm and with the best of intentions. She heard what people said about him, but that was just because they didn’t understand his burden. They didn’t know what it was like being King, being a Targaryen. She assumed those she heard gossiping were bitter, jealous or both and she paid it little mind. With age came wisdom and clarity. The first time she watched her father burn a man alive she was sick for days. The second time, she cried so hard Rhaegar had to take her out. It wasn’t until the third wildfire execution she witnessed that she remained composed enough to hear the King laughing as his victim screamed. That was when she knew, her father wasn’t the good, decent, deeply misunderstood man she believed him to be, he was everything they said he was and worse. Unfortunately for Daenerys, whatever he was, he remained her one and only father. She couldn’t just snap her fingers and stop loving him. It would’ve been easier if she could.

By her tenth year she understood why the people called him ‘The Mad King.’ It wasn’t a permanent, all-consuming madness, but it was madness, nonetheless. He could be asking her about her studies one minute and whispering about betrayals and fire the next. She loved him in spite of the things he did, but she stopped trying to justify them. There was no excuse for the crimes he committed, yet no one objected because he was King, and his word was law. She cherished the good times, rare as they eventually become. In her youth, he’d summon her to a sitting room near the library and ask about the book she was currently reading. Aerys would listen to her opinion on the author, sharing his own if he had one. He’d ask for tea and snacks and they’d sit like that the remainder of the afternoon, allowing Daenerys to fool herself into thinking they were just like any other father and daughter in the Seven Kingdoms.

Once when she was almost fourteen, Aerys strung together nearly a full month of lucid, logical governing. Daenerys was thrilled, and she knew Rhaegar was too. More than once as she walked around the castle, she heard whispering voices. Instead of discussing who the King burned and why, they were asking ‘is he cured?’

Until the first time she heard it, Daenerys never considered such a thing might be possible. Afterward though, she could think of little else. When her father smiled at her one evening and invited her to join him later to talk, Daenerys thought she was the luckiest girl in the world. He claimed he wanted to get to know her. It was as if everything she ever dreamed of was becoming real. She accepted and spent the rest of the day preparing, wanting to make a favorable impression, to make him proud of the young woman she’d grown into.

There was no guard, and the door was slightly ajar when Daenerys got there. She didn’t think much of it to be honest, her focus was on Aerys and the evening they were going to spend together.

When she pushed open the door slightly and crept inside, it hit her like a wave, an immediate, inexplicable sense that something was wrong. For one thing the room was dark, not just poorly lit, but pitch black. To this day, Daenerys wished she had it to do over again. She would have refused the King’s offer, or run from the room the moment she saw it dark, she would summon a guard, or ten, anything and everything except say the words, “Father are you here?” If she never said it, he’d never light the candle and the room’s secrets would have remained hidden by the shadows. In a dark room she could’ve overlooked the body of the Kingsguard lying dead between her and her father. Perhaps it was her youth, her naivety or the shock of finding a man with a breadknife sticking out of his neck, but for whatever reason she felt compelled to offer her father the chance to explain himself. Maybe there was a logical reason, maybe he was defending himself. “What happened? Father are you alright?”

Aerys was sitting on the floor next to the victim’s head. The pool of blood under the wound was large enough that the King was sitting in it, yet he made no effort to move. His fingers played with the blood as if it were paint, marking the floor randomly. “Everything is perfect. I stopped him.”

“Stopped him from what?” she asked through tears.

“Killing you,” he declared simply.

She looked at the man’s face, at least the parts visible. He meant her harm? If he did, then the King was justified in his violent resolution. That delusion, however pleasant didn’t last long.

“I heard him,” Aerys said, no longer talking to her. “I knew what he was going to do, he was going to kill me, kill us all, he was a traitor and he deserved the fire.”

Daenerys recognized the signs and she knew what they meant. Her father wasn’t cured of anything. She cried and cried, for the dead man and his family, for her father, for the future she’d never get to have, one with a loving, rational father.

All at once he was in front of her, holding the candle dangerously close to her face. “You there,” he said, poking Daenerys in the center of her chest, “go find the pyromancer. Tell him we have a body to burn.”

He backed up then, taking the candle with him. Daenerys didn’t need further encouragement. She ran and went straight to Rhaegar, telling him through sobs what happened.

A lot about that night haunted her long after the blood was cleaned, and the body laid to rest. She was tormented by nightmares in which the dead man asked her for help. No matter how strenuously she tried, she never managed to save him. After the nightmares came the disappointment. It took a long time for Daenerys to make peace with the fact that there was no cure for what afflicted her father. His illness would get worse not better. Most troubling of all though was the painfully accurate moment when Aerys addressed her and didn’t realize she was his daughter. As his sickness grew more powerful, it happened with increasing frequency. but Daenerys never forgot that first time, the finger in her chest and the blank stare.

If she was just another random woman in the castle to him, was it inevitable that one day she’