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Arya’s stitches were crooked again.

She frowned down at them with dismay and glanced over to where her sister Sansa sat among theother girls. Sansa’s needlework was exquisite. Everyone said so. “Sansa’s work is as pretty as she is,”

Septa Mordane told their lady mother once. “She has such fine, delicate hands.” When Lady Catelynhad asked about Arya, the septa had sniffed. “Arya has the hands of a blacksmith.”

Arya glanced furtively across the room, worried that Septa Mordane might have read her thoughts,but the septa was paying her no attention today. She was sitting with the Princess Myrcella, all smilesand admiration. It was not often that the septa was privileged to instruct a royal princess in thewomanly arts, as she had said when the queen brought Myrcella to join them. Arya thought thatMyrcella’s stitches looked a little crooked too, but you would never know it from the way SeptaMordane was cooing.

She studied her own work again, looking for some way to salvage it, then sighed and put down theneedle. She looked glumly at her sister. Sansa was chatting away happily as she worked. Beth Cassel,Ser Rodrik’s little girl, was sitting by her feet, listening to every word she said, and Jeyne Poole wasleaning over to whisper something in her ear.

“What are you talking about?” Arya asked suddenly.

Jeyne gave her a startled look, then giggled. Sansa looked abashed. Beth blushed. No oneanswered.

“Tell me,” Arya said.

Jeyne glanced over to make certain that Septa Mordane was not listening. Myrcella said somethingthen, and the septa laughed along with the rest of the ladies.

“We were talking about the prince,” Sansa said, her voice soft as a kiss.

Arya knew which prince she meant: Joffrey, of course. The tall, handsome one. Sansa got to sitwith him at the feast. Arya had to sit with the little fat one. Naturally.

“Joffrey likes your sister,” Jeyne whispered, proud as if she had something to do with it. She wasthe daughter of Winterfell’s steward and Sansa’s dearest friend. “He told her she was very beautiful.”

“He’s going to marry her,” little Beth said dreamily, hugging herself. “Then Sansa will be queenof all the realm.”

Sansa had the grace to blush. She blushed prettily. She did everything prettily, Arya thought withdull resentment. “Beth, you shouldn’t make up stories,” Sansa corrected the younger girl, gentlystroking her hair to take the harshness out of her words. She looked at Arya. “What did you think ofPrince Joff, sister? He’s very gallant, don’t you think?”

“Jon says he looks like a girl,” Arya said.

Sansa sighed as she stitched. “Poor Jon,” she said. “He gets jealous because he’s a bastard.”

“He’s our brother,” Arya said, much too loudly. Her voice cut through the afternoon quiet of thetower room.

Septa Mordane raised her eyes. She had a bony face, sharp eyes, and a thin lipless mouth made forfrowning. It was frowning now. “What are you talking about, children?”

“Our half brother,” Sansa corrected, soft and precise. She smiled for the septa. “Arya and I wereremarking on how pleased we were to have the princess with us today,” she said.

Septa Mordane nodded. “Indeed. A great honor for us all.” Princess Myrcella smiled uncertainly at the compliment. “Arya, why aren’t you at work?” the septa asked. She rose to her feet, starchedskirts rustling as she started across the room. “Let me see your stitches.”

dskirts rustling as she started across the room. “Let me see your stitches.”

Arya wanted to scream. It was just like Sansa to go and attract the septa’s attention. “Here,” shesaid, surrendering up her work.

The septa examined the fabric. “Arya, Arya, Arya,” she said. “This will not do. This will not do atall.”

Everyone was looking at her. It was too much. Sansa was too well bred to smile at her sister’sdisgrace, but Jeyne was smirking on her behalf. Even Princess Myrcella looked sorry for her. Aryafelt tears filling her eyes. She pushed herself out of her chair and bolted for the door.

Septa Mordane called after her. “Arya, come back here! Don’t you take another step! Your ladymother will hear of this. In front of our royal princess too! You’ll shame us all!”

Arya stopped at the door and turned back, biting her lip. The tears were running down her cheeksnow. She managed a stiff little bow to Myrcella. “By your leave, my lady.”

Myrcella blinked at her and looked to her ladies for guidance. But if she was uncertain, SeptaMordane was not. “Just where do you think you are going, Arya?” the septa demanded.

Arya glared at her. “I have to go shoe a horse,” she said sweetly, taking a brief satisfaction in theshock on the septa’s face. Then she whirled and made her exit, running down the steps as fast as herfeet would take her.

It wasn’t fair. Sansa had everything. Sansa was two years older; maybe by the time Arya had beenborn, there had been nothing left. Often it felt that way. Sansa could sew and dance and sing. Shewrote poetry. She knew how to dress. She played the high harp and the bells. Worse, she wasbeautiful. Sansa had gotten their mother’s fine high cheekbones and the thick auburn hair of theTullys. Arya took after their lord father. Her hair was a lusterless brown, and her face was long andsolemn. Jeyne used to call her Arya Horseface, and neigh whenever she came near. It hurt that the onething Arya could do better than her sister was ride a horse. Well, that and manage a household. Sansahad never had much of a head for figures. If she did marry Prince Joff, Arya hoped for his sake that hehad a good steward.

Nymeria was waiting for her in the guardroom at the base of the stairs. She bounded to her feet assoon as she caught sight of Arya. Arya grinned. The wolf pup loved her, even if no one else did. Theywent everywhere together, and Nymeria slept in her room, at the foot of her bed. If Mother had notforbidden it, Arya would gladly have taken the wolf with her to needlework. Let Septa Mordanecomplain about her stitches then.

Nymeria nipped eagerly at her hand as Arya untied her. She had yellow eyes. When they caught thesunlight, they gleamed like two golden coins. Arya had named her after the warrior queen of theRhoyne, who had led her people across the narrow sea. That had been a great scandal too. Sansa, ofcourse, had named her pup “Lady.” Arya made a face and hugged the wolfling tight. Nymeria lickedher ear, and she giggled.

By now Septa Mordane would certainly have sent word to her lady mother. If she went to herroom, they would find her. Arya did not care to be found. She had a better notion. The boys were atpractice in the yard. She wanted to see Robb put gallant Prince Joffrey flat on his back. “Come,” shewhispered to Nymeria. She got up and ran, the wolf coming hard at her heels.

There was a window in the covered bridge between the armory and the Great Keep where you hada view of the whole yard. That was where they headed.

They arrived, flushed and breathless, to find Jon seated on the sill, one leg drawn up languidly tohis chin. He was watching the action, so absorbed that he seemed unaware of her approach until hiswhite wolf moved to meet them. Nymeria stalked closer on wary feet. Ghost, already larger than hislitter mates, smelled her, gave her ear a careful nip, and settled back down.

Jon gave her a curious look. “Shouldn’t you be working on your stitches, little sister?”

Arya made a face at him. “I wanted to see them fight.”

He smiled. “Come here, then.”

Arya climbed up on the window and sat beside him, to a chorus of thuds and grunts from the yardbelow.

To her disappointment, it was the younger boys drilling. Bran was so heavily padded he looked asthough he had belted on a featherbed, and Prince Tommen, who was plump to begin with, seemedpositively round. They were huffing and puffing and hitting at each other with padded wooden swords under the watchful eye of old Ser Rodrik Cassel, the master-at-arms, a great stout keg of a manwith magnificent white cheek whiskers. A dozen spectators, man and boy, were calling outencouragement, Robb’s voice the loudest among them. She spotted Theon Greyjoy beside him, hisblack doublet emblazoned with the golden kraken of his House, a look of wry contempt on his face.

Both of the combatants were staggering. Arya judged that they had been at it awhile.

r-at-arms, a great stout keg of a manwith magnificent white cheek whiskers. A dozen spectators, man and boy, were calling outencouragement, Robb’s voice the loudest among them. She spotted Theon Greyjoy beside him, hisblack doublet emblazoned with the golden kraken of his House, a look of wry contempt on his face.

Both of the combatants were staggering. Arya judged that they had been at it awhile.

“A shade more exhausting than needlework,” Jon observed.

“A shade more fun than needlework,” Arya gave back at him. Jon grinned, reached over, andmessed up her hair. Arya flushed. They had always been close. Jon had their father’s face, as she did.

They were the only ones. Robb and Sansa and Bran and even little Rickon all took after the Tullys,with easy smiles and fire in their hair. When Arya had been little, she had been afraid that meant thatshe was a bastard too. It had been Jon she had gone to in her fear, and Jon who had reassured her.

“Why aren’t you down in the yard?” Arya asked him.

He gave her a half smile. “Bastards are not allowed to damage young princes,” he said. “Anybruises they take in the practice yard must come from trueborn swords.”

“Oh.” Arya felt abashed. She should have realized. For the second time today, Arya reflected thatlife was not fair.

She watched her little brother whack at Tommen. “I could do just as good as Bran,” she said. “He’sonly seven. I’m nine.”

Jon looked her over with all his fourteen-year-old wisdom. “You’re too skinny,” he said. He tookher arm to feel her muscle. Then he sighed and shook his head. “I doubt you could even lift alongsword, little sister, never mind swing one.”

Arya snatched back her arm and glared at him. Jon messed up her hair again. They watched Branand Tommen circle each other.

“You see Prince Joffrey?” Jon asked.

She hadn’t, not at first glance, but when she looked again she found him to the back, under theshade of the high stone wall. He was surrounded by men she did not recognize, young squires in thelivery of Lannister and Baratheon, strangers all. There were a few older men among them; knights,she surmised.

“Look at the arms on his surcoat,” Jon suggested.

Arya looked. An ornate shield had been embroidered on the prince’s padded surcoat. No doubt theneedlework was exquisite. The arms were divided down the middle; on one side was the crowned stagof the royal House, on the other the lion of Lannister.

“The Lannisters are proud,” Jon observed. “You’d think the royal sigil would be sufficient, butno. He makes his mother’s House equal in honor to the king’s.”

“The woman is important too!” Arya protested.

Jon chuckled. “Perhaps you should do the same thing, little sister. Wed Tully to Stark in yourarms.”

“A wolf with a fish in its mouth?” It made her laugh. “That would look silly. Besides, if a girlcan’t fight, why should she have a coat of arms?”

Jon shrugged. “Girls get the arms but not the swords. Bastards get the swords but not the arms. Idid not make the rules, little sister.”

There was a shout from the courtyard below. Prince Tommen was rolling in the dust, trying to getup and failing. All the padding made him look like a turtle on its back. Bran was standing over himwith upraised wooden sword, ready to whack him again once he regained his feet. The men began tolaugh.

“Enough!” Ser Rodrik called out. He gave the prince a hand and yanked him back to his feet.

“Well fought. Lew, Donnis, help them out of their armor.” He looked around. “Prince Joffrey, Robb,will you go another round?”

Robb, already sweaty from a previous bout, moved forward eagerly. “Gladly.”

Joffrey moved into the sunlight in response to Rodrik’s summons. His hair shone like spun gold.

He looked bored. “This is a game for children, Ser Rodrik.”

Theon Greyjoy gave a sudden bark of laughter. “You are children,” he said derisively.

“Robb may be a child,” Joffrey said. “I am a prince. And I grow tired of swatting at Starks with aplay sword.”

“You got more swats than you gave, Joff,” Robb said. “Are you afraid?”

Prince Joffrey looked at him. “Oh, terrified,” he said. “You’re so much older.” Some of theLannister men laughed.

Jon looked down on the scene with a frown. “Joffrey is truly a little shit,” he told Arya.

Ser Rodrik tugged thoughtfully at his white whiskers. “What are you suggesting?” he asked theprince.

“Live steel.”

“Done,” Robb shot back. “You’ll be sorry!”

The master-at-arms put a hand on Robb’s shoulder to quiet him. “Live steel is too dangerous. I willpermit you tourney swords, with blunted edges.”

Joffrey said nothing, but a man strange to Arya, a tall knight with black hair and burn scars on hisface, pushed forward in front of the prince. “This is your prince. Who are you to tell him he may nothave an edge on his sword, ser?”

“Master-at-arms of Winterfell, Clegane, and you would do well not to forget it.”

“Are you training women here?” the burned man wanted to know. He was muscled like a bull.

“I am training knights,” Ser Rodrik said pointedly. “They will have steel when they are ready.

When they are of an age.”

The burned man looked at Robb. “How old are you, boy?”

“Fourteen,” Robb said.

“I killed a man at twelve. You can be sure it was not with a blunt sword.”

Arya could see Robb bristle. His pride was wounded. He turned on Ser Rodrik. “Let me do it. I canbeat him.”

“Beat him with a tourney blade, then,” Ser Rodrik said.

Joffrey shrugged. “Come and see me when you’re older, Stark. If you’re not too old.” There waslaughter from the Lannister men.

Robb’s curses rang through the yard. Arya covered her mouth in shock. Theon Greyjoy seizedRobb’s arm to keep him away from the prince. Ser Rodrik tugged at his whiskers in dismay.

Joffrey feigned a yawn and turned to his younger brother. “Come, Tommen,” he said. “The hour ofplay is done. Leave the children to their frolics.”

That brought more laughter from the Lannisters, more curses from Robb. Ser Rodrik’s face wasbeet-red with fury under the white of his whiskers. Theon kept Robb locked in an iron grip until theprinces and their party were safely away.

Jon watched them leave, and Arya watched Jon. His face had grown as still as the pool at the heartof the godswood. Finally he climbed down off the window. “The show is done,” he said. He bent toscratch Ghost behind the ears. The white wolf rose and rubbed against him. “You had best run back toyour room, little sister. Septa Mordane will surely be lurking. The longer you hide, the sterner thepenance. You’ll be sewing all through winter. When the spring thaw comes, they will find your bodywith a needle still locked tight between your frozen fingers.”

Arya didn’t think it was funny. “I hate needlework!” she said with passion. “It’s not fair!”

“Nothing is fair,” Jon said. He messed up her hair again and walked away from her, Ghostmoving silently beside him. Nymeria started to follow too, then stopped and came back when she sawthat Arya was not coming.

Reluctantly she turned in the other direction.

It was worse than Jon had thought. It wasn’t Septa Mordane waiting in her room. It was SeptaMordane and her mother.


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