The thundering of hooves could be heard across the plains of the Valley of the Moon as the Princess and her retinue sped across the meadows on their sand steeds.
Princess Maia Black, the younger child of King Sirius Black the first of his name was a child wilder than any the Black Family had ever seen.
Many said that she was her Aunt Bellatrix recreated, only wilder and more powerful.
For years the Queen had tried to mellow her daughter but it seemed that the Princess had a mind of her own. She was like a lioness of the Dornish Marches, fierce and solitary by nature.
"Your Grace", Maia heard someone shout from behind her.
Maia didn't care to listen and continued to sprint her steed across the meadows at the head of the column.
She loved how the wind blew through her hair. She loved the fragrance of the meadows and the hint of fresh mud, evidence that it had rained only shortly before they had begun their march.
Maya continued to sprint her steed until she came to the edge of the Mountains of the Moon. Whilst here, even she knew that it made sense to have an extra few swords behind her back.
It didn't take long for her retinue to catch up with her. Most of it was still way behind trying to ride their desteriers as fast as the Princess' sand steed. However there were others in the retinue that possessed sand steeds much like the Princess.
First to reach the Princess amongst them was Lady Zoya of her mother's Queens Guard.
Zoya was the same age as the Princess but everyone who cared knew that she was the best sword's person in the whole of Seven Kingdoms. Even Lord Alastor Dayne of the King's Guard had acknowledged as much of her.
With hazel brown eyes, set in almond shaped eyes Zoya was fair too look upon with her light colouring, tender lips and dark hair that fell down her back in waves. She wore the white and gold armour as was expected of her and carried the standard of House Black with her, A Grey Mountain Lion wearing a red crown on a field of black.
The Standard imposed fear, or rather the morose colours of war, blood and danger did.
"Your grace, we can't protect you if you won't allow us to do so." Zoya huffed, gasping for breath as if she had been galloping instead of her horse.
"I agree with Zoya your grace." Chimed in the voice of Lady Hena from behind her, she too was breathing deeply but not much. She was instead tending to her sandy coloured mare.
Hena like Zoya was a member of the Queen's guard. She was the youngest in the history of the order of the Queen's Guard. There was a time when Zoya had been the youngest but a year later Hena's ability of pyromancy gained her a place on the Queen's guard.
She knew her way around a sword and a dagger but she was hopeless with a bow and arrow but then one can't be good at everything.
They'd all be Princess Maia Black then, a smile grew across Maia's lips as the thought came to her.
Maia knew she was vain. Seven Hells! It seemed everyone knew that but then again she was a born Sorceress, a powerful mage, a Princess and foremost a Black. She was meant to be a leader; a queen, she thought to herself.
"I didn't ask for protection. You chose to follow me." Maia said with a smirk growing on her lips.
Zoya couldn't help but smile but Hena's face mirrored her disgust.
"My Lady, such wildness doesn't befit your station" Hena said, her voice turning grave with seriousness.
"And why Hena would you not destiny lead you?" The Princess countered, "Why must you live by the knight's code? Why don't you let your heart lead you?" Raising her brow to the much younger Queen's guard Maia turned her steed and started on the trail that led into the Mountains of the Moon.
"Keep up you two. The royal escort will surely catch up now that we have slowed down." She said as she broke her mare into a slow trot. Zoya looked over her shoulder and saw that the soldiers had caught up already.
There were but twenty soldiers, all of them loyal to the Princess and the Princess alone and had been rightly named the Princess' vanguard.
"What might be our destination My Lady" Zoya asked the Princess, "Surely you don't plan on visiting your cousins in the Eyrie."
Maia laughed, "You know me well Lady Zoya. We aren't going to the Eyrie but we are going close enough."
"Wouldn't have it been advisable to travel by the King's road then." Hena asked, finally catching up to the Princess and Lady Zoya.
"Had we taken the King's road then we wouldn't have been able to meet with the wildings. The Guards of the Bloody Gate wouldn't have allowed me to pass." Maia said with seriousness in her voice.
"Wildlings, My Lady? You wish to treat with the Magnar of the Ice Cap?" Hena asked, surprise written across her face with fear etched in it.
"Is that wise Princess" asked Zoya. Maia smiled upon hearing the stern tone the Queen's guard had taken with her.
"We aren't going to war and I'm not going as a Princess." Maia said.
"That's madness." Hena said, "As a Princess they'd dare not cause you any harm but if you approach them as a traveller then who knows what they might do." Hena said in an alarmed voice.
"If it be madness, then so be it." Maia said in a calm voice, "This is my decision and I wouldn't have you change it for me Hena." She further added and continued up the goat's trail that led further up the mountains.
Lady Zoya followed her but Hena had brought her steed to a halt.
Sighing, Hena broke her horse into a trot. It had been her decision to follow the Princess, and on that thought she started to follow the Princess, determined but terrified.
An eerie silence rang through the winter forest.
As the summer snow turned the green forest floor to mush, the crack of a twig was all that it took for the predator to bring down in prey.
Like clockwork, Arya of House Lupin notched an arrow on to her bow and let it loose in the direction from where the sound had come.
Ravens took to the sky raving and moaning the loss of another forest being, a great elk mayhaps from the sound of the fall.
Silent as a shadow, Arya and those in her hunting party made their way to where the animal lay dead or rather undead. Just to be certain, Arya shot at the animal once again but this time she aimed for the animal's head.
She saw the light leave the innocent eyes of the doe that she had brought down but then again if she let innocent eyes melt her several families would die of starvation.
"A fine kill My Lady" said Ser Rodrick Cassel as he examined the fallen elk up close.
Arya simply nodded and handed the bow back to Beth, her companion and Sister in Arms.
"Ser Rodrick, Beth and I are going back to the Castle we'll see you there" She said turning on her heel.
"Aye My Lady" she heard Ser Rodrick call from behind.
The two women walked through the forest to the spot where they had left their horses. It wasn't long before they reached them and when they did, they saw the other hunters hauling their kill to the carts.
The hunters bowed when they saw the Lady of Winterfell arrive.
"Jory" Arya called out, summoning the captain of the guards from the far end of the clearing.
Jory Cassel was a northerner through and through. A tall man with a lean built, dark hair and sharp features to complement his grim eyes.
"My Lady summoned" asked the man, falling in step beside Arya Lupin.
"I'm leaving for Winterfell with a few hunters and the day's kill. Make sure you accompany the stragglers. I want all heads accounted for." Arya said in a serious voice, "The hunters and the hunted." She further added with no jest in her voice.
"Understood Lady Arya" the Captain replied.
With a simple nod directed at the Captain, Arya reached for the reins of her horse and swiftly mounted her. Without giving as much as a second glance, Arya gently dug her heels into the side of her steed and broke into a slow gallop.
She rode slowly as she meandered through the forest trail, picking up speed as the density of the junipers and the pines thinned out. It wasn't long before she had broken her horse into a full gallop as the forest gave way to the grassy plains wet with the melting summer snow.
It was past sunset, when Arya saw the walls of Winterfell come in sight.
She sighed in relief as she drew close to her home. Even from a distance she couldn't help but get intimidated by the old-stone castle which had stood for millennia. As she drew near, she saw the tall foreboding outer walls several feet thick in width glare down upon her.
The torches burning on the walls cast a grim picture before her but Arya for once knew that behind the grim exterior was home and it was that feeling that made her feel warm inside.
The Moon was high in the sky, when Arya and her party entered the Castle through the hunter's gate on the Western wall.
As soon as Arya dismounted she made her way to the Great Hall where she knew she'd find her father and A'dora sitting for their evening meal but before Arya could take another step she was thrown to the ground forcefully and the next thing she knew was that she was being licked all over by her familiar, her direwolf Nymeria.
A direwolf unlike an ordinary wolf on reaching full maturity grew to the size of a horse in height. Direwolves were all but extinct in the North but several of them still lived beyond the wall and the veil of Aurora in the far north.
"Nymeria Heel" Arya shouted, gasping for breath.
At once the direwolf moved away from its companion and bounded away like a forlorn puppy. Back on her feet, Arya summoned Nymeria to herself and after scratching the wolf behind the ears led her to the Great Keep at the centre of the castle.
For Generations, Lupins had been bonded with Direwolves at birth. Magic still flowed strongly amongst those of the North and it was a common belief that those who could bond with a direwolf would become powerful sorcerers or sorceresses.
Arya was one such sorceress. Powerful and dutiful, much like her father had raised her and her brothers to be.
Walking through the dimly lit but warm hallways, Arya soon reached the Great Hall with Nymeria at her heels hesitant to enter the room where her father's direwolf Black Moon was present.
As Arya entered the hall, Nymeria stopped outside hesitant to enter the hall instead she sat at the doorway waiting for her mistress to return.
"The summer snows have melted father." Arya announced in a cheerful voice as she approached the Great Table in the middle of the hall.
Lord Remus Lupin looked up from his plate and smiled when he saw his daughter.
"That they do child." He said, with a warm smile lighting his lined face.
As Arya reached the table she bent to kiss her father on the cheek and then took a seat beside him.
She might wear men's breeches and armour, carry a sword and even behave in a boisterous manner but when she was with her father, she was a daughter; her father's little girl.
"I presume the hunt went well" He said as he a poured half a goblet of wine for Arya.
"It did actually." She said, taking the goblet from him "We might make do for a couple of weeks without hunting." She further added.
"I don't think that'd be possible Arya." A sweet voice chimed in from behind her.
Whirling on the spot, Arya got up from her chair and engulfed her mother in a tight hug.
"I missed you" she whispered in her mother's ear.
"And I you" Her mother replied as she held her at arm's length and sat beside Arya on the great table.
Lady A'dora Lupin was Lord Remus Lupin's second wife but was nothing less than a mother to Lord Remus' children with Lady Neila of Riverrun.
"Why isn't Venya with you?" Arya asked her mother as she took a swig from her goblet.
"She was training late." Lady A'dora said helping herself to some wine "I'm sure she's gone to get ready for dinner."
"Like a Lady?" Arya scoffed.
"And what's wrong with that?" said another voice from behind her, a tinge of annoyance marring the words.
A smile crept on to Arya's face, "You know what I mean sister." Arya said, turning her head to greet her sister who was walking towards the table.
Venya was Arya's twin, and as much as they looked alike the two couldn't have been any different.
Arya got out of her chair, to greet her sister with an embrace which Venya returned.
"Why didn't you come to the training pit?" Venya asked, "I thought that's where you'd come directly."
Arya sighed, "I was thinking about it but then I thought it was nearly time for the evening supper so I'd rather meet all of you in the Great Hall"
"And it's high time that we sup" Lord Remus Lupin said, beckoning his daughters to the table.
The girls obeyed and took their seats on the table.
As soon as they took their seats, the servants laid the food and filled the goblets with sweet red wine from the shield islands.
"Why aren't any of my brothers here?" Arya asked of her parents as she took a bite from her plate, "They are never late for supper."
"You already know that Welk is with the Prince" Venya said, drinking Wine from her goblet.
"And in lots of trouble" Her father added, "I have already received a message from Marlene which says that she knows that Welk is with Prince Aries and that they are somewhere in the North."
"How can the Queen be so sure of them being in the North?" Lady A'dora asked.
"It's what Lady Varya thinks." Her father replied.
"Varya" Arya said, scrunching her brows, "Isn't she the Spymistress."
"The best I have heard" Venya said sounding appreciative.
"That she is" their father affirmed as he returned to his meal.
"What about Jared and Sean?" Arya asked, "They were here when I left."
"You left three days ago Arya" Lady A'dora spoke up from beside her, "You think those two can stay that long in one place."
"Sean can't for certain" Venya chimed in with a smirk on her face, "Jared…"
" is father's mirror image" Arya cut in.
"I really don't appreciate the two of you completing each other's sentences." Remus said from the head of the table, with half a smile tugging at his lips.
"Let me repeat the question. Where are Jared and Sean?" Arya asked, this time she directed the question to her mother.
A'dora shrugged, "They said something about going to The Long Lake."
"They left a few hours after you did." Venya added.
Arya simply nodded and the family resumed their meal in silence.
It wasn't after the table was cleared that any of them spoke again.
It was then that Arya remembered something, "A'dora, you said something about the game not lasting us long enough."
Arya's mother exchanged a glance with her Lord Husband before she answered Arya's question.
"We received another Raven over the past few days when you were on the hunt." She said, taking another deep breath she continued, "Lord Castor Black is dead. It seems a fever burned right through him."
Arya was shocked and it seemed that her shock was easily visible on her face.
"Arya" Venya said, bringing the girl out of her thoughts.
"When did he pass away?" Arya asked her voice barely more than a whisper.
"A week ago" Venya answered in A'dora's stead.
Venya could understand what was going on in Arya's head. They had known Lord Castor well. He had been their Master of Diplomacy at Dragonstone and they had been his only apprentices along with Humaira Longbottom and Hermione Granger.
A tear streaked across Arya's cheek but before anyone could notice it she brushed it away.
"Dark wings bring dark words" Venya whispered.
Lord Lupin sighed, "Indeed child" he said, agreeing with his second daughter, "dark words indeed." He further added.
"What other news did the Raven bring?" Arya asked her father.
"The King is travelling to the North with his family, nobles and court." A'dora said, knowing that Arya wanted answers to her questions immediately.
Venya sneered at A'dora's words, "Family, right."
"We'll have to keep an eye on the LeStranges." A'dora said her voice serious and cutting. "They'll all need to be watched." She said, looking at every member of her family.
"That's not possible." Remus said, "We need to ensure the Royal family's safety as well. We can't have something unfortunate happen to them in Winterfell. Leave Winterfell, until they are in the north their safety is our responsibility."
"I'm confused." Venya said exasperated, "Who are we to keep an eye on?" she asked, "The LeStranges" she said looking at A'dora "or the Blacks" she said turning her head to meet her father's steely gaze.
"Both" Arya said in a dreamy voice, as if lost in a trance.
"We keep an eye on both" she said meeting her sister's icy gaze, conviction returning to her voice.
"The LeStrange bastards outnumber us two to one." Venya scoffed, "How many of them do you expect me to keep an eye on?" She asked, arching her brow.
Arya's lips curved upwards as she opened her mouth to speak, "Keep an eye on the one who seems to be impervious to your art of seduction."
Venya blushed, but Lord Lupin banged his fist on the ancient table, "Not a chance." He shouted, at the top of his voice and his eyes livid with anger.
"It is a good idea." A'dora commended, "but it's highly risky" she added after meeting her husband's angry gaze.
"I agree with Arya." Venya spoke up, "Everyone knows women were Rodolphus LeStrange's undoing. The same has to be true for his bastards."
"We already know a few of them from Dragonstone." Arya added to her sister's observation, "That'll help us to prioritize the ones we need to look out for."
"Aedan and Awayn Hill need to be shadowed at all times." Venya said her voice acid and her eyes on fire, "I so wish we could deny them entry into Winterfell itself." She said seething with anger.
"On the other hand, we don't need to worry about Callum Hill." Arya told the other member of her family, "He's the black sheep of the family. His honour could easily challenge ours." She added as she took a swig of wine from her goblet.
"No wonder he's a King's guard." Lord Remus said his voice full of admiration for the young knight.
"Who else do we need to worry about?" Lady A'dora asked sounding concerned.
"We need to keep Hazel Lestrange occupied at all times." Venya said, drawing wine from her own goblet.
"That won't be necessary." Arya said, "Last I heard she was travelling to the free cities with the LeStrange's trueborn daughter Talia."
Venya nodded and seemed to relax at the thought of having one less person to spy on.
"What of Rodolphus' youngest son? Quillan his name is, I believe." A'dora asked.
At the mention of the name both girls grew slightly tense and shared an awkward glance with each other before Arya turned to A'dora and said, "I'll handle him" with a finality in her voice.
Lady A'dora shared a concerned glance with her husband who averted his gaze. The Lord and Lady of Winterfell realized that their daughters were no mere ladies but women who knew how to play the game of power. They were warrior women who knew how to play the game of thrones.
Author's Note: Thanks for the reviews, putting this story on your favorite list and for following it. Means a lot to me. Review.