A Better King, A Better Man
Author's Note: So this is a slightly alternate universe. Arya, wild only daughter of the Starks, betrothed to her sickly cousin Robyn of the Vale, is sent to a Sept as a girl to be educated as a lady. When the old Hand of the King dies and her father is named the new Hand, she goes to protect him, but only ends up digging herself deeper into lascivious court politics as she tries to set the kingdom to rights. To do that she must uncover secrets, fall in love, lie, steal, sacrifice, and kill. But can she bring honor and justice to her family name and still get a happy ending?
What Kind of Life, What Kind of Lady?
She grew up in the North, closed off from the rest of the world, hidden away. Her father was Lord Ned Stark, Warden of the North, and her own personal hero. To her, and many who met him, he was the most honorable man that ever lived. He was a busy man, running Winterfell, raising her brothers to follow in his footsteps, and so she never saw him as much as she'd like. While he was teaching her brothers archery, sword fighting, proper riding, and hand to hand combat, she was stuck inside studying and learning courtly manners. She studied history and geography harder than any of her other subjects, and could almost picture herself in Bravos, Essos, or Dorne.
She spent most of her formative years with her mother, a stern woman who insisted her daughter be perfect. Arya learned to be a proper young lady, tutored to be courteous, graceful, supportive, submissive, and beautiful. Well, she was taught, but it didn't really sink in. She was pretty, with a heart-shaped face, freckled pink skin, grey eyes, and dark brown hair. They said she would be more beautiful than her mother, and that she took after her aunt, but talk like that always made her uncomfortable. And her mother would quickly change the subject if she was within hearing. Eventually she was told the truth, about the promise made, the one that would eventually bind her to her sickly little cousin in The Vale. She had never met Robyn Arryn, or been to The Vale, but that didn't seem to matter at all. Because of that, she dreaded becoming a woman and receiving her moon's blood. She claimed openly that she hated being a lady, would never marry, and that no power in The Seven Kingdoms could make her.
But, she was a happy child all in all, and couldn't dwell on the future forever. Eventually she figured out how to avoid her lessons and sneak out of unpleasant tasks, usually in favor of spending time with Jon, her favorite brother. Admittedly, she had more freedom than most highborn ladies were allowed, but always to a point. While she could ride horses, she had to ride sidesaddle and she couldn't go anywhere alone. She did it anyway. She was allowed to read, except the more bawdy poetry. She could play in the mud, but only until her clothes got too dirty. Which was always. She could stay up late and sit with the men in the hall, but only until the jokes got too rowdy. She heard quite a bit though.
She grew up stubborn, prone to tantrums, and hopeless at the womanly arts. But she was kind, clever, and treated everyone the same unless given reason otherwise. She was endlessly curious, and never backed down from a challenge if provoked. She could barely sew a basic stitch, let alone embroidery; she couldn't cook, and her High Valyrian was stilted at best. She had a decent singing voice though, was natural on a horse, and was second best only to Bran when it came to climbing. Despite the general disapproval, everyone would laugh upon retellings of her misadventures, in between stuffing roast chicken down her throat and gulping great mouthfuls of the ale she'd stolen from her brothers' cups.
She ate with her family and was watched like a hawk by her septa. Maester Luwin taught the siblings the important subjects; always from a different perspective, encouraging his students to put clues together and make their own conclusions. He singled out Robb a lot, which made sense because he would be Lord of Winterfell, but he was quite impressed with Arya and challenged her when he could. Theon usually said something stupid or gross, which had no bearing on the conversation. And Jon when he spoke, which wasn't often, was very insightful.
She had fun exploring Winterfell, reading, teasing and tickling Bran, playing with the direwolves, and following Robb and Theon around. Whenever she saw her father, he'd have a warm smile for her, ask her about her day, andlaugh at her antics. She loved him dearly, but she always felt he was more distant with her than her brothers.
But most often, she was with Jon. With Jon, she could talk about all the adventures she wanted to go on, all the things she wanted to experience. They made up new stories, some of which they would go on together, pretending to be brave knights, rangers, dragon riders, witches, and wildlings.
Her mother didn't approve. Well, she didn't approve of anything Arya did. But all ties with Jon were met with a deep scowl.
The day she finally received her moon's blood, a month before her thirteenth year; everything changed.
Catelyn, on a rare emotional outpouring, confided in her only daughter.
"So many men. Everywhere I look. But only one daughter. When I first had you, I knew the Gods had finally answered my prayers. Don't get me wrong, I love my boys, and thank all that will listen for their health and happiness, but a daughter. You are my blood, the only one who can understand... It's a heavy burden, I know. But I love you no less." That was the moment she felt closest to her mother. It would also be one of the last.
She saw her brothers practicing with wooden swords out through the window, and snuck out to watch. She couldn't run as fast with her dress, but she made it over in record time. Suddenly Jon and Theon started fighting, with Robb waiting nearby. And it was over quickly, not more than a minute after she arrived, Theon was flat on his back, with Jon breathing heavily from exertion and anger, his back tensed.
"Jon?" She looked to him and touched his arm, he relaxed slightly. Robb helped Theon up.
"For fucksake! I didn't mean nothing." Theon said, rubbing blood from his nose. "Can't you take a joke?"
"Relax, Jon. He's not saying anything that isn't true." Robb stated amiably. At that, she could guess exactly what the fight had been about. Jon ran off as he usually did, and Arya trudged after, but not before giving the other boys a reproachful look that actually looked a bit like Catelyn.
He had run to the Weirwood, it's where one or the other usually ended up when upset.
Once inside, she immediately felt the holiness of the ground, how ancient everything was. There was power here, omniscience.
He looked up when he saw her enter, then away. She sat down beside him.
"Robb was right, you really do get too sensitive about it." She said, but thought better of the tack as soon as she said it.
"What would he know about it? Or Theon? Or you?" And he wouldn't look at her, the same grey eyes staring at some invisible point on the ground.
"Nothing. But I don't see what the big deal is. It doesn't matter a whit to me. The only person bothered by your being a bastard, is you."
"Really? You think Lady Catelyn isn't bothered by me?"
"Well." She had noticed her mother's attitude towards him and found it unfair, how could the woman be so warm to her own children, and sweet kind Jon simply an annoyance? "Father loves you, just the same as Robb and Bran."
"That's not true." He says and kicks a pebble with his boot.
"Well, he loves you a hell of a lot more than Theon, so there's that." He laughs at that.
"Stop trying to make me feel better." He says, a hint of a smile remaining on his face.
"I won't then. I'll tell you how stupid you were for getting into a fight with Theon of all people. You're better than that. I mean at least pick someone who is more a challenge. Me, for example."
"If I fought you, little sister, I would surely lose." His smile is bigger. "I kicked his ass though."
"You did." She agrees with a smile. "Hey, maybe you broke his nose permanently." And they both laugh to imagine it.
He says he's ready to go back and apologize, but she opts to stay there, enjoying the peace of the Weirwood, liking the sensation of protection. It would all be ripped away that very night.