The Battle to End All Battles
She had her dragonglass weapon but wished only for Needle, though she'd outgrown it. She was ready- fight and die. Protect Jon. Save Gendry. Stop the end of all mankind. Kill the witch.
Everyone was in their places, everyone was tense, gripping steel tightly, straining their eyes toward the coming horde.
She saw Jon and his most trusted men heading toward the wood. She was meant to be among them. But she had a different kind of evil to fight.
The unearthly glow of the Red Witch almost outdid the flames licking at Gendry's feet. Though it pained her to leave her brother's side, her gut told her to face Melisandre, the real danger.
Melisandre knelt in the snow, chanting passionately. Over and over again Melisandre chanted, her voice growing deeper, and louder. Lightning crackles above her, but she doesn't flinch.
Lightning booms in the distance and more Walkers advance, cutting down men in swathes.
Jon is in the thick of it, The Night King is studying his every move. He fights his way forward to confront this great evil.
It's then she knows.
Melisandre is controlling them, guiding them forward, she's sure of it. Jon's battle with the Night King is well-matched, designed to distract him while thousands of men died.
This was what she'd meant, she believed Arya would come to see her side of it.
She was wrong.
Arya would stop this here, with her.
Arya runs full-tilt toward the witch, only to bounce off the bright light surrounding the chants.
The witch looks up at her now, furious and irritated.
Arya tirelessly fights to get through her barrier, but it burns and it's solid. Melisandre's necklace glows in unison with the flames.
Jon deftly cuts a swathe through the Wights, not a blade or frigid digit reached him. He felt an extra layer of protection surrounding him.
He was cornered by a Weirwood. The White Walkers surrounded him, sensing his importance, or at least the trail of dead ones left in his wake. Five of them attacked, in sync.
He fought with all his might, got slashed at a few dozen times, sword tips cutting into him but not too deep. He dodged but their speed was past human, he killed one. Another knocked the wind out of him. He rolls out of the way and avoids the heel of its armor clad boot on his face. He kills another.
With many of the White Walkers down, her attention split by Jon's attack, Melisandre has lost some of her steam.
There's an opening in her barrier, Arya reaches through it.
It burns, flames licking at her skin. The pain radiates along her flesh, but she doesn't pull back.
Melisandre locks eyes with her but never stops chanting.
Arya can barely feel anything up to her elbow, will alone allowing her to grasp hold of the necklace and pull.
Jon faces the Night King, his icy face displays his pleasure at killing the King in the North. He thought it an easy kill. And it should be.
But a strength guides his hand. Practiced smooth moves beyond his ability, an almost choreographed dance in the fighting.
He loses his sword, the Night King smiles wider in anticipation of his imminent victory.
At the last second he pulls the dragon glass dagger free and stabs for the Night King's throat.
The unholy creature grabs his wrist easily, knowing he'd won.
Smooth as a river Jon drops the blade into his other hand and stabs the Night King down low.
An instant of surprise before the Night King disintegrates.
There's a quiet calm in the air as the undead horde all turns to dust. He stands in shock and awe, not believing it was over, not believing he had won. But it wasn't just him, he'd had help.
Men are cheering, out of breath, but jubilant at their win. The threat had passed. Many lay dead. Victory had not come easily.
He hears screams. Female screams of pain and rushes back with his last surge of energy.
Arya pulls the necklace free and stares at it in her smoldering palm. Unbelieving that she'd managed it.
Out of the corner of her eye she sees the flames cease.
She knows Jon has been successful as well, she just does.
She hears cursing, enraged and haggard.
She looks up to see an ancient woman in Melisandre's place. So decrepit she can barely recognize her. Her fiery red hair is bone white. Her smooth unblemished skin is creased and papery thin. But she recognizes the look of fury and hatred on her wizened visage.
Still coming down from the heady sensation of her battle and Jon's combined, she isn't ready for what happens next.
Quicker than she would have thought possible, Melisandre reaches out and grabs onto Veronica's face, grip so strong, Arya can barely even struggle.
The white heat takes over every sensation until all she knows is pain. It seems the agony is all she's ever known.
He approaches the rubble and commotion. And there he sees her. Veronica, Arkeen, whatever her name was. She was kneeling beside a pile of ash, clawing at her own face, scratching so hard she'd peeled skin beneath her nails.
He grabs her wrists to stop her from mutilating herself further, clutching a little too tightly in desperation.
She doesn't fight him.
She stops and he wills her to look at him, blood streams down her face, jagged edges along her brow and cheek. She must be in agony, but seems peaceful as she looks him in the eye, somewhat out of it.
"Father?" She asks, bewildered, looking right through him.
He shivers. A ghost of a sensation he can't name creeping over him. She passes out in pain or exhaustion, he can't be sure. Whatever she was, there would be time to ask his questions. She was unconscious, but Sam could heal her, and they would talk fully.
He carries her to his chambers to rest, knowing the next task of rebuilding the North could prove as challenging as the battle.
Not Quite Healed
She awoke quite groggy and stiff. She felt warm and numb, tucked tightly into a comfortable feather bed. How, was the question. She couldn't remember. She'd faced Melisandre as Jon had faced the Night King. And then what? She had survived, but by all accounts she should be dead. She'd been ready, she had felt relieved even, but here she was.
She opened her eyes slowly, light streaming in between the curtains, enough to see by, but not enough to burn her eyes. She can see the fine embroidery on the bedding, the tapestries lining the walls, and the ornate mirror across from the bed. These are Jon's quarters.
She tries to move, and finds her limbs heavy. After some effort, she manages to shove off the covers. Her right arm almost to her elbow is wrapped in layers of bandage. Bits and pieces come back to her. She remembers sticking her arm through Melisandre's fiery shield to remove her power source, that garish necklace. The flesh of her hand had singed nearly clear off as she ripped the jewelry from the sorceress' throat.
It's then more comes back to her. The image of Jon defeating the Night King in her subconscious. Gendry falling unburnt from his restraints from the periphery of her vision.
Her fingers fly to her face, more bandages tied tight. With her last breath, Melisandre had grasped Arya's face with her newly withered flesh, defeat eminent, the last remnants of the witch's power searing through Arya's cheek and brow, the eyeball near sizzling. As Arya broke free from her clutches, the truly ancient woman fell and crumbled to dust.
Arya smells the aroma of medicinal herbs deep in her nostrils, her tongue brushes her lips and the edges of the bandages. She has a terrible urge to see what's beneath.
With shaky feet she gets out of bed. She had underestimated her own sluggishness; her knees buckle and she lands in a heap on the floor. She crawls to the vanity and pulls herself up to look in the mirror.
She's startled at the effect of her bandages, she seems inhuman. Her greasy hair hangs loosely around her shoulders, the dull brown she'd been born with. Her figure too is her own, not as buxom as Veronica, but well-muscled, strong, though she doesn't feel it at this moment. Her fingers shake as she reaches for the knot at the back of the bandages, terrified of what face will be there, or if there will be any face at all.
Her arms tire quickly as she unwinds the knot and peels away the first layer. On and on she unwraps. On the last layer, the bandage sticks to the flesh, there's a slight sting as she pulls the wrapping free.
What she sees makes her stomach flip and she is thankful there's nothing to cough up. Where Melisandre's hand had met her flesh, the skin is blistered and red, raised and uneven. Arya herself had caused serious damage with her frantic scratching. There's a clear outline where the witch's palm and fingers dug in, a section of her brow scalded off, the eyelid thick and heavy. It takes effort to open the lid wide. The eye beneath is grey, making Arya gasp out loud. It was her eye. The unscarred face surrounding the burn was Veronica, but the eye beneath the disfigured lid was her own. Something in her face she recognized. The scorched flesh would never heal completely she knew.
The door opens and she hastily wraps the bandages back around her face. Not quickly enough, it seemed. The large figure freezes in the door frame with an audible intake of breath.
She looks over while tying the fabric back in place, it's Sam staring in at her.
At her stare, Sam manages a self-deprecating smile and begins talking.
"You're awake. Amazing." She just stares at him. "I treated your wounds already. I think they will heal nicely. And I've brought fresh bandages and some healing ungent. Are you hungry, I could..."
"Thank you. I can change the bandages on my own." She croaks out, her voice completely unrecognizable.
"It's no trouble, I'm really quite skilled. I was trained in the Citadel and..."
"I know. And you did fine work. Just the same, I prefer to do it myself." He nods in understanding.
He walks in further, and hands her the supplies, she takes it with her good hand and puts the concoction to her nose.
"Aloe vera, honey..." She recognizes.
He looks surprised at her acumen before remembering her background.
"And egg whites." He adds. She nods, impressed.
"Jon's alive. He defeated the Night King." She says, she doesn't need to ask. She'd seen him stab the Night King, as though she'd done it herself. She'd felt the dragon glass dagger in her hand. She'd looked the dead fucker in his icy blue eyes. As it grabbed Jon's arm, she willed him to drop the dagger with one hand and grab it with the other, making the final fatal blow. She'd felt the Night King die and the others disappear, just as she'd defeated Melisandre. Their movements in sync.
"Yes. He saved us all. He'll want to see you once he knows you're awake, I expect." Sam reasons agreeably.
"I'm sure he's too busy for the likes of me." Her scalded face made her feel bare and shy.
"He's grateful to you. I know that." What did that mean? Did he feel it too? "He'll come when he's able." He assures her with a kind smile.
"And Gendry's alright." She changes the subject. She'd seen him come down from the pyre, unscorched.
"He's..." Sam starts but can't quite finish. This gets her attention. She'd seen the flames extinguished, she'd seen him helped down by the others.
"He's alive, I saw..." Now she's not sure what she saw.
"He's alive, but he breathed in a lot of smoke, too much smoke. We flushed his lungs as best we could and set him near fresh air, but he hasn't yet woken. In time, I'm sure he'll..."
"He hasn't woken?!" Her voice is near a fever pitch. She hadn't thought of that, she'd been too slow.
Gods let him live.
Why should she awaken and he not? It made no sense, so unfair, so cruel.
"He will, we are seeing to him. Many more perished, but I'm confident with a bit of time..."
With still clumsy steps she makes her way to the window to rip open the curtains, row after row of the dead lain on pallets, ready to be burned for their last funeral rites. Their victory had been hard-won.
She grips the curtain hard, closing her eyes against the sight of all that death, too much, she'd finally drunk her fill. Finally.
"He will live, I will make sure of it." Sam sighs. "Get some rest now, Jon will be by when he's able." He walks to the door and opens it. He stands still in the door frame. "He owes you a debt. We all do. Not sure how, but… We know." On that note, he departs to see to his other patients.
She regroups herself and goes about cleaning her burns, spreading the thick healing paste, and wrapping the new bandages. It's a bit painful, but necessary. The smell blocks out the stench of death wafting through the windows.
The entire process exhausts her and she climbs back into bed, leaving the blinds wide open, falling into a fitful sleep.
She wakes to a throat clearing. With a start, she sits up to see Jon's bruised and battered face before her, he's perched on the side of the bed.
Why hadn't she heard him enter? Had she lost some of herself?
"Are you alright?" He asks her, voice gruff. She is glad to see him.
"Yes. Are you?"
"Yes. I'm fine, nothing a week's rest won't cure." He jokes badly. He manages a small smile before it falls from his face. It seemed such pleasantries exhausted both of them.
"I heard you defeated the Night King. Congratulations are in order, you're the hero that was promised, our King. But of course that was always so." She praises sincerely to break the tension.
"You already knew, you were there, guiding my hand." He says matter of factly. So he knew.
"I..." She starts.
"I felt you beside me, the victory is as much yours as mine." He offers graciously.
"I only care that you survived. I am thankful I was able to see it so."
"How is it I was able to sense you beside me?" He asks.
"I don't know." It's an honest answer. Things had stopped making sense some time ago.
"I think I might. But then I think I'm going mad. It's not possible, it can't be." He trails off.
She stays silent.
"Either I'm mad, or I've been very very stupid."
"You're not stupid." She immediately defends.
"Not stupid, blind then." And he studies her more closely, making her uncomfortable. Could he see through her bandages? Impossible. She touches her wrapped face nervously just the same.
"It doesn't really matter now, does it?" She counters.
"I saw what the witch did to you. You screamed in pain, clawing at the burns, do you remember that?"
She swallows, she didn't remember fully. All she remembered was the searing pain. The agony.
"You called out, do you remember that?" He's looking at her intently.
"What, what did I say?" She asks cautiously.
"I pulled your hands from your face to keep you from scraping the flesh clean off. You looked right at me and calmed, you called me Father." He reminisces with some pain.
She looks down, she must have been out of her mind. But she believes him, he did remind her of Father. If she'd thought she was dying, perhaps she'd even seen him standing before her.
"I was out of my mind with torment. I didn't know what I was saying."
"Or perhaps it was what you've been trying to say all along, the curse stilling your tongue no more." The curse didn't feel gone, but she couldn't know unless she tried to form the words. It may have been her own doing.
She shakes her head.
"You still can't say, but you can answer." She hesitates, but then she nods. She can barely breathe with the longing.
"Are you..." He laughs, and it's almost manic, before regaining himself. "Are you Arya?" He no more than breathes the last.
She chokes in air, tears getting stuck between her lids and the bandages, and nods again.
He gasps in a mixture of joy and sickness, grabbing her so hard it bothers her wounds, but she doesn't care.
She cries in earnest, snot gathering on her lip beneath the wrapping.
"My little sister. It's been you all this time." He cries out into her hair.
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry." She gasps out. Though what she's apologizing for she can't be sure.
He pulls away to look at her.
"Why didn't you tell me?" He asks her sincerely.
"I couldn't, the curse..."
"You could have found a way, you're too clever. You could have used riddles or given me some clue. You could have..." She could have. It had been an excuse even to her own ears.
"I was a coward. I didn't want you to see me this way, to know what I had become. I was ashamed." She admits.
"There is no shame, Arya. You are my sister, and you made it home. Nothing else matters." More tears stream down his cheeks.
This time she reaches out to hold onto him, she sobs as hard as she ever has.
"I'm home." She repeats, feeling it was true for the first time. "I'm home."
"And there will be time to hear everything. There is much I need to tell you as well. And we will. I still have much to do." He wipes his face off with his sleeve and composes himself. "I have urgent matters to attend to. But you will be here. To help me." He wants to reassure himself, he's asking. She nods, not wanting to be anywhere else. "My sister will always have a place by my side and a seat at the table." He reminded her of Robb in that instant.
"Whatever I am, whoever I am, I will stay by your side." She assures him again.
"Thank the Gods." She smiles and she imagines the sight must be grotesque. He kisses her forehead through the bandages and promises to return when he's able. Her heart is still beating wildly in her chest. He knew her, he'd seen her through everything. She didn't need to feel so lost.
There was only one wrong left to undo.
The room Gendry was in was private, lit only by candle light. It was not difficult to sneak in unheard, footsteps making not a sound in the night.
He lays in a soft bed, windows open wide. A wet cloth is placed atop his eyes, his breathing is labored but steady. He's not conscious, so he's not in pain. A small mercy.
Water is set to boil by the fire, herbs diffusing their essence into the air. She smells thyme and lavender, meant to reduce the swelling in his lungs. Smart. Sam really was quite talented.
Nervously, she walks over to the bedside to be closer to him. With a reluctant hand, she brushes his dark locks aside, sweat smearing the side of her palm. She feels his forehead, warm but not too hot. The cloth on his eyes is soaked in tea made from nettle bark, she can see his lids beneath are not too irritated, the swelling not as bad as she might have imagined. He's still beautiful, even now. She carefully replaces the cloth. She bends down to listen for his heartbeat, light but still there.
She breathes a sigh of relief, but still worries for him. She had lost track of time, but the longer he lay asleep, the harder it would be to heal fully. He needed to breathe fully to break up the char which had settled in his lungs.
She takes out the remedy she had mixed, a blend of garlic, lemon, and elderberries, boiled and mashed into a paste, double sieved for potency. This was not something she'd learned from the Faceless Men, this was from her training so very long ago now.
With newly sure hands, she pushes his nightshirt aside, she rubs the mixture on his chest, pressing down harder when she hears a wheeze or a catch in his breath. She spreads more in a circular motion, covering every inch of his chest, letting the warm substance do its work and open up his lungs, releasing the toxins. She'd caused so much pain, but his calmed breathing assured her she had eased some of it. The rest she could never make up for.
Deciding she'd done all she could, she checks his pulse. It's strong enough, she believes he will pull through. She wills it so. She will miss him.
She makes to leave but a hand grabs her wrist.
It's not as strong as it should be, but it's enough to hold her still.
A cough and a painful swallow.
"Veronica?" He asks.
She doesn't answer, nor does she make to pry his fingers off.
"You're alright. I thought the witch killed you." He struggles to sit up and open his eyes, it's painful for him.
"I'm fine." She's careful to tilt her bandaged face away from him, the low candle light doing much of the work. "You should rest now." He reaches toward her face and she backs up.
"I've rested enough. I dreamed of you." His eyes are so blue, so deep.
"I don't remember my dreams." She couldn't remember, but she always felt an unease when she woke.
"Do you remember what I asked you before the battle?" He asks. He swallows before soldiering on. "Do you remember what you said?" She nods.
"I was sure I would die when I made that promise." He manages a half smile at that.
"Well we lived, somehow." She returns the smile, and it hurts a bit.
"Barely." She counters. He actually chuckles at that.
"And what is your answer now?" He asks more seriously. She's taken aback, she hadn't expected him to be so forthright.
"You don't want to marry me. You don't even know me." He looks at her sideways, tilting his head to study her.
"I don't. You made sure of that." That makes her gut clench. It was true.
"I know." She admits.
"Let me see your face." She gasps at the request.
"I don't want to give you nightmares." She counters.
"I can handle it." He insists.
Gendry was a drunk, a smith, not as bright as some, and beautiful, but he wasn't cruel. She decides to oblige. Better to let him see now, to get it over with. He'll be done with her. It was for the best. It would hurt though.
Since she'd tied the bandages, it's easy for her to remove them. With a few revolutions, her face is bare, grotesque. She stands there near shaking. She feels bear naked in a storm, ankle deep in slow, skin goose pimpled and pink. He takes her in carefully, never grimacing or flinching.
"So this is you. Finally." She swallows, not expecting that response. "You're more beautiful than before."
"So you've lost your mind then?"
"Maybe. But it's the truth." He meant it. "So, will you marry me or no?"
"Are you joking?"
He laughs and it turns into a cough. She feels sorry.
"I'm not much in a joking mood these days."
"Good, because I've never had much of a sense of humor."
"That's true." He agrees. "Well, answer my question."
He is mad, she's sure of it. Mad and wonderful.
"Alright." She finds herself saying. He looks taken aback.
"Does that mean yes?"
"Yes. I mean yes." She confirms. He smiles warmly. Forgetting that he's still in pain, he scoots over and pats the space next to him in his bed in invitation.
She squeezes in beside him gingerly. She puts her arms around him and presses her scarred face against his chest. He holds her in turn and breathes in her hair. This felt like the right thing, the right choice. She didn't know who she was becoming, but she was no longer no one.