Summer Ship: The Ballad of Dany and Yara (Part 6)

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Summer Ship

The hooves of a great roan destrier tore into the dirt outside Bartok’s Inn. A dozen eyes turn to take in the fair haired, mail-clad Knight astride the muscular warhorse. Half a dozen paces behind cantered a nimble white courser, smaller and better suited to its rider: a slim Squire in brown trews. Two young stable boys scampered up to help the travelers dismount.

“Treat them well,” Brienne instructed the boys, patting her companion fondly.

“Yes, M’Lord,” the older of the boys stuttered timidly, taking the reins.

Behind her, Arya dismounted, sniffed the air, and looked longingly at the Inn. “I’m starving. Can’t we eat right away?”

Brienne shook her head.

“I’d rather bathe and get settled.”

“Please, Brienne? We haven’t had a real meal since we left King’s Landing. Scrawny game and nettles are not suitable food for a growing girl like myself. Or a strapping Knight such as you.”

Brienne smirked down at Arya. At 6’3 to Arya’s 5’6, Brienne towered over her young Squire.

“I hate to break it to you, Arya, but you’re done growing.”

“Nonsense. I feel my ankles lengthening at this very moment.”

Brienne laughed. She’d laughed more during these last few weeks on the road with Arya than she had her entire life. The girl reveled in cracking her mentor’s stony exterior. It had become a private game: how often could Arya make Brienne laugh? As a result, the journey West had thoroughly enjoyable for both travelers.

“Very well. But we should eat quickly and retire early.”

Arya grinned and open the Inn door, releasing the mouthwatering aromas of roast chicken, fresh bread, and rich, bubbling stew.

“Absolutely.”

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One hour and several courses later, Brienne and Arya groaned with sated satisfaction. Arya mopped the last bits of stew up with crusty brown bread and washed it down with a deep flagon of spiced ale.

“That’s enough. I can’t eat another bite.” Brienne said, beckoning to a pretty serving girl with long auburn braids and hazel eyes. She accepted Brienne’s payment with thanks, but her eyes lingered on Arya. Arya met her eyes and smiled. The girl walked away nonchalantly, turning several times to give Arya a flirty smirk. Brienne rolled her eyes.

“We should get to bed.”

“I think she likes me.”

“No matter. We’ll be gone by daybreak.”

“But it’s barely nightfall! Just a little longer, please?”

Brienne sighed.

“I have no interest in playing nursemaid for my bumbling squire and some tavern girl who’s no better than she ought to be.”

“But-“

“But you’re young and stupid. As long as you can ride come Morning, I don’t really care how you spend your time.”

“Thank you, Brienne! I’ll just stay for a quick drink.”

Brienne climbed the dark wooden staircase into the upper level where patrons lodged overnight. She’d secured a room at the very end of the hallway, a narrow, simple chamber with two pallets and a small table.

Slightly tipsy, Brienne fumbled in her pocket for the little brass key.

A floorboard creaked. The candle at the end of the hallway sputtered out. Brienne looked around, suddenly alert. She couldn’t make out anyone else in the corridor. Was it the wind? Brienne grasped for her sword but before she could draw, an enormous fist slammed into Brienne’s right eye. She gasped. Another fist, this time to the mouth. Brienne grabbed her assailant’s neck and twisted. The neck broke with one piercing crack. His body slid onto Brienne, pushing her to the ground. She struggled to break free. Another hand came out of the dark, wrapping a vile smelling cloth over Brienne’s mouth. Brienne’s eyes fluttered, and she fell.

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Arya tiptoed through the empty tavern and up the stairs. Her hair was mussed and lips swollen. Brienne was going to take one look and know exactly what she’d done with Nia the serving girl. Her cheeks flushed in anticipation of Brienne’s scathing diatribe. Brienne…

Arya caught sight of the crumpled corpse at the end of the hallway. Her stomach dropped. She ran forward and pulled back the face. Two glazed, unseeing eyes stared back at her. But they didn’t belong to Brienne. Arya looked closer. The dead man was some sort of sell-sword. His head, half ripped from the body, dangled at a jarring angle. Clotted matts of blood, hair, and tendons covered the wound.

The room was empty and in disarray. Whoever had taken Brienne had also stolen all of their food and money. Arya ran to the stables and breathed easier when she found their mounts unharmed. Wary of cutpurses, Brienne had stashed a hidden pouch filled with coins in her horse’s saddle. Arya weighed her options. She could return to King’s Landing, tell Dany and Yara what happened, and return with reinforcements. Or she could test those tracking skills Brienne had been teaching her. Arya saddled up.

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