|World of Westeros - People|
|Wednesday, 14 April 2010 19:24|
2nd Level (Knave 1 / Noble 1)
One day she came back grinning her horsey grin, her hair all tangled and her clothes covered in mud, clutching a raggedy bunch of purple and green flowers for father. Sansa kept hoping he would tell Arya to behave herself and act like the highborn lady she was supposed to be, but he never did, he only hugged her and thanked her for the fl owers. ... Then it turned out the purple flowers were called poison kisses and Arya got a rash on her arms ... Arya laughed about it, and the next day she rubbed mud all over her arms like some ignorant bog woman just because her friend Mycah told her it would stop the itching.
To the despair of her Septa, and occasionally of her parents, Arya Stark is just not like other girls. At nine years old, Arya is a scrawny little thing, frequently mistaken for a boy with her scraped knees and dirty hands. Her embroidery is awful, her hair looks as though a bird died in it, and from nick-names like “Arya Underfoot” and “Arya Horse-face,” it can be deduced that she is neither conventionally pretty nor polite — the very anti-thesis of what a young lady should be. If Sansa Stark is the daughter every mother can be proud of, Arya Stark is the child parents always worry about. What future can there be in the genteel courts of Westeros for the kind of girl who prefers sword practice to sewing?
Like most nine-year-old girls, Arya rarely gives a thought to her future. She lives in the now, and while she has an active imagination, the key word is defi nitely “active.” She is more likely to take part in a fi ght than dream about jousts. Arya likes movement; when she stops to watch, it is always with a view to what happens next.
Possibly because appearances are seldom on her side, Arya never falls into the trap of relying on them as Sansa does. Her judgement of people is inevitably based on what they do, not who they are or where they come from, as demonstrated by her friendship with the butcher’s boy, Mycah, and her bastard brother Jon Snow. She loves Jon irrespective of issues of blood or status because he is kind to her and because they are so alike, even in looks. Though Arya strives to please Eddard and make him proud, she has no airs and graces on her own account. Arya instead has the common touch, and loves to listen to the talk of squires and grooms, servants and freeriders. She is at the stage of childhood where instinct still outweighs social pressure, though the battle between the two begins to wage fierce.
Eddard is very patient with his little girl, perhaps because she is so like his long deceased sister, Lyanna. No one, least of all Arya herself, would guess she has the makings of a pretty woman, but her father recognises her similarity to her aunt, a lady once famed for her beauty. More important, Eddard recognises other qualities Arya shares with Lyanna, such as her passion and wildness of heart.
No more than a couple of years separate the scrawny tomboy from her well-behaved sister, but they might as well be worlds apart. Apart from debunking her older sister’s romantic visions, Arya doesn’t mean to irritate Sansa. She just wants to be left alone to enjoy what she likes. The world’s inevitable approval of everything Sansa does, however, puts Arya in a poor light whenever they are together. The comparison is hard to avoid — the reminders are endless — and it signals how Arya can never seem to fi t in in terms of Westeros’ culture. Noble women are expected to sit attentively, be pretty and keep quiet. Arya can’t keep still or quiet for more than a minute. All her raw, sharp edges and her natural energy make her a tough little wolf, but by no means a proper lady. Arya is created for survival rather than ornament, except to those who fi nd beauty in wild things.
Arya’s wolf pup is called Nymeria after a famous queen of the Rhoyne, who brought 10,000 ships over the narrow sea. Nymeria and Arya are very alike. Nymeria is the hardy instinct within Arya: resourceful, cunning, warm in affection and fierce in time of need. After Nymeria sets upon Joffrey, Arya knows that her wolf’s life will be forfeit, so she throws stones at the pup to drive her away. This may be heart breaking, but at least Nymeria will survive. There are worse things that could happen to one’s wolf, as Sansa could testify.
While Arya is very fond of all her brothers, the relationship between the two Stark sisters is never strong ... and the death of Sansa’s wolf shatters it entirely. Arya is furious with her sister for lying about Mycah and Joffrey’s conflict, but she still protests against the killing of Lady in Nymeria’s place. She doesn’t see why either wolf should be punished. Her anger is fierce and deep, but she deals with it very differently than the other Stark women. Both Catelyn and Sansa find themselves in situations where a more powerful individual causes them pain. Neither can face it and both take their feelings out on available scapegoats: in Catelyn’s case, Jon Snow; in Sansa’s, Arya. In direct contrast to these two, Arya never misdirects her anger. She knows exactly who she hates and why she hates. She is undaunted by status, and perfectly ready to express her feelings. If anything, controlling her rage is the problem.
If Nymeria is an embodiment of the fierce instinct in her soul, Arya’s sword, “Needle,” exemplifies her will to fight. At fi rst, she has no real idea what to do with her gift. She receives her first, and most important lesson from Jon Snow, “Stick them with the pointy end.” By the time her father learns of Needle’s existence, he is aware that King’s Landing could become dangerous for his family. He lets his daughter keep her unladylike gift and organises training for her with Syrio Forel, a master of weapons from Braavos. Syrio is the kind of instructor with whom Arya can empathise, because he teaches her not only how to fight, but how to survive in a hostile environment — a skill Arya has felt she lacked for most of her life.
Syrio teaches Arya more than the rudiments of swordplay. He has no intention of teaching her the heavy hack and hammer technique of a knight, so totally unsuitable for her size and blade. Instead, he teaches her what he calls “the water dance,” the liquid skill of a bravo with a slender blade. Weapon and warrior are dancers with death; mastering the steps requires the perfect combination of skill and focus. From Syrio she learns self awareness, balance and concentration, how to move and how to stay still, when to seize the moment, and when to wait. He sharpens her wits and harnesses her instincts. Syrio apparently loses his life defending his pupil, and she repays him in the best way she can: by putting his lessons to good use.
Syrio’s training helps her escape the Red Keep and stay hidden in the city slums. This young wolf, unlike her sister, retains plenty of pure gut instinct. She can survive in conditions that are unthinkable for a young lady. Arya will do what it takes to stay alive, whether it means eating maggot-ridden meat, pretending to be a peasant boy, or sleeping in lice-ridden rags for weeks. Anger is Arya’s main fault, not pride. It is her anger that nearly kills her on the day of her father’s execution.
The only thing that matters more to Arya than survival is love — her father’s love, specifically. She barely knows what she is doing, as she fights her way through the crowd towards Eddard, ready to stand by him, defend him, or just die fighting as close to him as she can. In the end, it is Yoren who saves her for her father’s sake, dragging her away by her hair.
Those who encounter Arya may not be even be aware of it, for she is a nondescript child, more likely to be mistaken for a stable boy than to be recognised as a Stark of Winterfell. Arya is good at staying hidden. If revealed, she is quick, fierce, cunning, and difficult to catch! She feels love and loyalty for her family, with particularly deep feelings for her father and Jon Snow. The characteristics which baffled her parents, made her septa scold, and made the other girls laugh are becoming skills which will help her survive. At the moment she can only hide and run, but she is a resourceful young woman with skills she has yet to fully recognise. Those who underestimate her do so at their peril.