“How long have you been Lord Beric’s squire?” she asked, to take his mind from his misery.
“He took me for his page when he espoused my aunt.” He coughed. “I was ten, but when I turned thirteen he raised me to squire. I won a prize once, riding at rings.”
“I never learned the lance, but I could beat you with a sword,” said Arya. “Have you killed anyone?”
That seemed to startle him. “A few.”
I killed a boy when I was eight, Arya almost said, but she thought she’d better not. “You’ve been in battles, though.”
“Yes.” He did not sound very proud of it. “I was at the Mummer’s Ford. When Lord Beric fell into the river, I dragged him up onto the bank so he wouldn’t drown and stood over him with my sword. Lord Beric seemed dead but that didn’t stop them trying to come over and finish the job. I had to protect him, dying or not. He deserved a proper burial. I lost count how many came over, I guess I’m just lucky they didn’t come over in a group or I’d have been overwhelmed. When we regrouped, Green Gergen helped pull his lordship back onto a horse.”
Arya was remembering the stableboy at King’s Landing. After him there’d been that guard whose throat she cut at Harrenhal, and Ser Amory’s men at that holdfast by the lake. She didn’t know if Weese and Chiswyck counted, or the ones who’d died on account of the weasel soup . . . all of a sudden, she felt very sad. “My father was called Ned too,” she said.
“I know. I saw him at the Hand’s tourney. I wanted to go up and speak with him, but I couldn’t think what to say.” Ned shivered beneath his cloak, a sodden length of pale purple. “Were you at the tourney? I saw your sister there. Ser Loras Tyrell gave her a rose.”
“She told me.” It all seemed so long ago. “Her friend Jeyne Poole fell in love with your Lord Beric.”
“He’s promised to my aunt.” Ned looked uncomfortable. “That was before, though. Before he . . .”
. . . died? she thought, as Ned’s voice trailed off into an awkward silence. Their horses’ hooves made sucking sounds as they pulled free of the mud.
“My lady?” Ned said at last. “You have a baseborn brother . . . Jon Snow?”
“He’s with the Night’s Watch on the Wall.” Maybe I should go to the Wall instead of Riverrun. Jon wouldn’t care who I killed or whether I brushed my hair . . . “Jon looks like me, even though he’s bastard-born. He used to muss my hair and call me ‘little sister.’” Arya missed Jon most of all. Just saying his name made her sad. “How do you know about Jon?”
“He is my milk brother.”
“Brother?” Arya did not understand. “But you’re from Dorne. How could you and Jon be blood?”
“Milk brothers. Not blood. My lady mother had no milk when I was little, so Wylla had to nurse me.”
Arya was lost. “Who’s Wylla?”
“Jon Snow’s mother. He never told you? She’s served us for years and years. Since before I was born.”
“Jon never knew his mother. Not even her name.” Arya gave Ned a wary look. “You know her? Truly?” Is he making mock of me? “If you lie I’ll punch your face.”
“Wylla was my wetnurse,” he repeated solemnly. “I swear it on the honor of my House.”
“You have a House?” That was stupid; he was a squire, of course he had a House. “Who are you?”
“My lady?” Ned looked embarrassed. “I’m Edric Dayne, the . . . the Lord of Starfall.”
Behind them, Gendry groaned. “Lords and ladies,” he proclaimed in a disgusted tone. Arya plucked a withered crabapple off a passing branch and whipped it at him, bouncing it off his thick bull head. “Ow,” he said. “That hurt.” He felt the skin above his eye. “What kind of lady throws crabapples at people?”
“The bad kind,” said Arya, suddenly contrite. She turned back to Ned. “I’m sorry I didn’t know who you were. My lord.”
“The fault is mine, my lady.” He was very polite and attractive in a solemn way.
Jon has a mother. Wylla, her name is Wylla. She would need to remember so she could tell him, the next time she saw him. She wondered if he would still call her “little sister.” I’m not so little anymore. He’d have to call me something else. Maybe once she got to Riverrun she could write Jon a letter and tell him what Ned Dayne had said. “There was an Arthur Dayne,” she remembered. “The one they called the Sword of the Morning.”
“My father was Ser Arthur’s elder brother. Lady Ashara was my aunt. I never knew her, though. She threw herself into the sea from atop the Palestone Sword before I was born.”
“Why would she do that?” said Arya, startled.
Ned looked wary. Maybe he was afraid that she was going to throw something at him. “Your lord father never spoke of her?” he said. “The Lady Ashara Dayne, of Starfall?”
“No. Did he know her?”
“Before Robert was king. She met your father and his brothers at Harrenhal, during the year of the false spring.”
“Oh.” Arya did not know what else to say. “Why did she jump in the sea, though?”
“Her heart was broken.”
Sansa would have sighed and shed a tear for true love, but Arya just thought it was stupid. She couldn’t say that to Ned, though, not about his own aunt. “Did someone break it?”
He hesitated. “Perhaps it’s not my place . . .”
He looked at her uncomfortably. “My aunt Allyria says Lady Ashara and your father fell in love at Harrenhal—”
“That’s not so. He loved my lady mother.”
“I’m sure he did, my lady, but—”
“She was the only one he loved.”
“He must have found that bastard under a cabbage leaf, then,” Gendry said behind them.
Arya wished she had another crabapple to bounce off his face. “My father had honor,” she said angrily. “And we weren’t talking to you anyway. Why don’t you go back to Stoney Sept and ring that girl’s stupid bells?”
Gendry ignored that. “At least your father raised his bastard, not like mine. I don’t even know my father’s name. Some smelly drunk, I’d wager, like the others my mother dragged home from the alehouse. Whenever she got mad at me, she’d say, ‘If your father was here, he’d beat you bloody.’ That’s all I know of him.” He spat. “Well, if he was here now, might be I’d beat him bloody. But he’s dead, I figure, and your father’s dead too, so what does it matter who he lay with?”
It mattered to Arya, though she could not have said why. Ned was trying to apologize for upsetting her, but she did not want to hear it. As she pressed her heels into her horse to leave them both, she felt a strong hand on her horses reign keep her in place. She turned and found her eyes locking directly with Edric’s dark blue, almost purple, eyes.
“My lady,” Edric said, an sincere tone in his voice. “I am sorry if I offended you. And I just want you to know, with everything that is going on……..should you need my help at any time, come find me. Once the Brotherhood’s job is finished, I will return to be Lord of Red Mountains and Starfall. You will be able to find me there, and I’ll do everything I can to help you.”