As Loud as Lions
"How dare you," she said, with a wrathful glance, "climb into my garden and steal what is mine like a common thief? You shall suffer for your foolhardiness."
The woman stood in the centre of the room, shaking and barefoot, clad only in a shirt and breeches, her face bloodied and bruised from her capture. The smallness of the room seemed to make her appear even larger and she loomed easily a head and shoulders above the Queen. From the stories Cersei had been expecting a confident, powerful warrior but instead she stood like an overgrown child, cringing and uncomfortable in her own skin.
Lady Brienne of Tarth.
That was a joke unto itself, if this thing was a lady then she was a beggar’s daughter.
The men who’d brought the woman to her had been common outlaws and had certainly not spared their fists when capturing the giantess. Her clothes had been ripped and blood stained, her face so swollen she scarcely looked human. Maybe they had raped her Cersei thought; finding herself rather pleased at the idea Maybe even now she has some outlaws bastard growing her in belly.
How would you like that Jaime? To see your precious, pure maiden brought so low as to have a base-born bastard swelling her stomach.
She had sent Ser Osmund to Jaime with the tidings. Given him the bloodied armour and sword to present as proof… the noble Brienne of Tarth slain by outlaws in the Riverlands. How tragic, how worthy of song, she would be nobly remembered...
Lady Briennes’ face was even uglier than Cersei had recollected.
She had been expecting the woman to be a great wit, or perhaps quick of tongue. Something had to have drawn Jaime to her after-all. But thus far she had simply stood mute in the centre of the room, staring at her distrustfully with her beseeching cows eyes.
Why had Jaime been so enamoured of this ponderous, dull-witted creature?
This thing had taken her brother, her other half, her one constant and stolen him away. In his place she had left some oaf who cared more for honour than sense and who mooned about like a lovestruck child. It had taken her too long to realise it was not losing his hand that had changed Jaime but this thing being by his side.
And by the time she had realised it, the Lady Brienne had already slipped away to the Riverlands to find that ungrateful, murderous Stark girl on Jaime’s bidding and to keep her safe. To return her to her home, after she had committed treason, after she had assisted her wretched little brother in cravenly murdering Joffrey. To rise her to a Queen maybe, another one to defy her and try and steal what was rightfully hers.
Cersei didn’t want to believe it but it was possible that even her own twin plotted against her. She needed to understand how this woman had taken him before she disposed of her.
“Thank you for gracing us with your presence, Lady Brienne. I do hope you find the accommodations to your liking.”
Noble captives were always kept in towers, and she had graciously followed through with that tradition- choosing the highest, narrowest tower in the Keep in which to house her guest. Its walls were so thick the slit windows barely let in any sunlight and the door was as solid a piece of oak as could be found, at least ten inches thick. There was one window that opened, set far too high in the wall for any man to reach without aid of a pole…designed to let ravens fly back and forth, should the captive noble be allowed to communicate with their kin, most likely to beg for ransom money. It did not matter anyhow, Lady Brienne would be sending no ravens.
“Why am I here?” Brienne spoke haltingly, as if she had to weigh each word “You’re Ser Jaime’s sister… the Queen… why am I here?”
Cersei considered the other woman’s homely, confused face. Her eyes were that of an innocent, it was true…almost pretty in their own way. Had Jaime been caught by them? Could he have possibly have overlooked the hideousness of her other features for those eyes?
The words that Kettleblack had spoken to her when she’d first heard of the creature’s existence came back to her then sharply.
“You know what they call her? The Beauty, cruel nickname on account of her being ugly as a painted pig.”
Queen you shall be, the old woman had told her that night, until there comes another, younger and more beautiful, to cast you down and take all that you hold dear.
No one would call this creature beautiful except in jest but…prophecies were not exact and some undeniable part of her had whispered that it could not be a coincidence not when this creature had twisted Jaime to her will, taken him away. It was unlikely though that she was the younger queen the mad old woman had spoken of…how low would the Seven Kingdom’s have to sink for a Lady of a backwater like Tarth to take the throne? If the prophecy were anything more than the ramblings of a deluded old crone then it was Margaery with which she needed to concern herself.
I must not take chances. Margaery will be dealt with and then my brother’s whore can join her in whichever of the Seven Hells is deepest.
Besides, even though this woman was no threat to her, half the Kingdom it seemed had begun to whisper of her and Jaime. It was doubtful he’d actually touched the creature but still she would not let him bring down shame upon their house by running around with this… thing.
Brienne took a step forward, not menacingly but the guards Cersei had brought with her tensed nonetheless, hands on the hilts of their swords. They would take no chances. The woman brought herself up short, eyes flickering worriedly to their swords, before asking again,
“Why have you brought me here?”
Cersei didn’t answer, choosing instead to gesture for the guards to see her to the door. She would leave the Lady Brienne to torment herself with the possibilities for a while, she deserved to worry after all the trouble she had caused.
If not for her, Jaime would never behave so insolently toward me…
Ser Osmund Kettleblack was waiting for her outside the beast’s door and he fell easily into step with her as she swept past.
“How did my brother take the tidings of Lady Brienne’s death?”
“Just went quiet, didn’t really say much.” Kettleblack scratched at his face “You’re sure she was the one? I mean…”
He didn’t have to finish the thought. Lady Brienne was an ugly creature and it was difficult to comprehend any man having such regard for her. Some of the tales that had reached her ears spoke of what a mockery she’d been made at Renly’s camp, how they’d attempted to woo her for sport…really she was rather surprised no one succeeded, a woman like that should have been salivating for any man who did not run screaming from the room when she removed her clothing.
“It’s her, I’m sure of it.”
Cersei waited for three hours before she made her way to Jaime’s chambers. It would not do to display unseemly haste in going to him, she must not let him know that she knew anything at all of Lady Brienne. It felt strange to make her way to the Lord Commander’s chambers rather than Jaime’s old ones though she had not spent much time even there, it would have been too suspicious.
He had always been the one to come to her.
She knocked and then pushed the door slowly open, greeted only by soft firelight and stillness.
Her brother was sat by the fire, as unmoving as if he had been carved from stone, staring down at the sword that was in his hands. His eyes were dry though, if he were truly passionate about the woman surely he would have wept.
He would weep for me, if he thought me dead. He cares little for her, Cersei decided It was nothing but rumours after-all. Her heart was a little gladdened by it.
“You are upset about the Lady of Tarth I take it. I was saddened to hear of her passing.”
She paused by the door, waiting for Jaime to look up, to acknowledge her in some way but he just kept his gaze fixed on the sword. The flickering light on his face made him suddenly remind her of father, highlighted the lines around his eyes. It was that ridiculous beard, she decided, father had never worn one but it made Jaime look old, older than his years certainly. She wondered what it would take to make him shave it off.
“We will always be grateful to her for returning you to us,” Cersei continued, growing annoyed at his stony faced silence, “Perhaps a raven and a donation of gold to her family.”
Her generous offer was met by more silence and she was forced to grit her teeth in order not to speak harshly to him. She must be warm, open, a sister offering comfort…or a lover if he so desired… to a grieving brother who had lost a friend. But as the minutes ticked on in silence he never once lifted his gaze.
She wasn’t sure if he even heard her when she finally took her leave.
The straw pallet was itchy and uncomfortable but Brienne had slept on worse. What kept her awake wasn’t that, nor the frigid cold that was seeping slowly into her bones. It was the low thrum of fear in her stomach, the one that made her feel unworthy.
She had not feared on the road, not even when it would have been sensible to do so. So why did she fear so greatly now?
Maybe it was the uncertainty.
Brienne supposed she was lucky that they hadn’t poisoned her or stabbed her, thrown her in the nearest ditch but…why not? It had to mean that she had more value to them alive than dead but that simply didn’t make sense, what value could she hold for the Queen?
She turned over, the sackcloth scratchy against her skin. Sometimes faintly, she could hear the sounds of King’s Landing through the slitted window…the guards indistinctly calling to each other, the sounds of the great doors of the keep being opened and closed, the sounds of horses and carts, of people going about their business, even this late. But they were all distant, unclear, as if they came from a very long way away.
Brienne thought of the last time she was here, of the last cell she had been held in…it had been for her protection that time, Ser Jaime had been ensuring her safety. This couldn’t be about Renly’s death again could it? Jaime had released her once, did his sister have the power to seize her again for the same supposed offense?
Ser Jaime was the only thing she had in common with the Queen and she failed to see what that had to do with anything at all.
Brienne had been expecting the woman to look like Jaime, everyone always said how they looked alike and when she had glimpsed her from a distance during her first stay here she had agreed. They were both beautiful, sculpted and golden. But now she’d seen her up close, nothing could be further from the truth.
While Jaime’s eyes were warm, the Queen’s had been burning.
It was dark in the Great Sept of Baelor when Jaime entered, save for the candles flickering at the altars. In a few hours the septons would file in for their midnight ceremonies but for now the sept was quiet and still, his footsteps echoed loudly in the cavernous expanse as he made his way across the deserted floor.
He didn’t even have her body but with great care he laid the few twisted parts of her armour at the feet of the forbidding statue of the Warrior. The High Septon might complain, only the very important or rich were honoured in this sept. Let them, he thought, let them bleat about it till the end of days. Brienne had been important and if not for him she would still be alive. If the only thing he could do was see that her memory was honoured then he would do it.
He would have to find out if someone had told her father, send a raven if not. Had she mentioned other family? He’d asked her once he was sure but he could not remember if she had siblings or a mother. Or was it just her father left to mourn her?
It had been mere weeks ago he had stood vigil for his own father. Another death that he had caused.
I loosed Tyrion and he put a crossbow bolt through my father’s stomach. I entrusted my last chance for honour to a noble, naïve young woman and sent her out into the war-torn countryside. She died trying to right my wrongs.
He had talked to his father almost without meaning to on those long nights he had stood vigil over his corpse. It had seemed so odd to him that his father had not answered back, had neither berated nor guided him. To stand in Tywin Lannister’s presence and hear his own voice so uninterrupted… well it had not happened in life.
Would it be easier if she were here, laid out on the dias? Easier to convince himself she was really dead? Would he have spoken to her corpse as well, told her things he never had in life? Like how he admired her, how she had made his path clear to him again…
A septon was making his way slowly but purposefully across the echoing hall toward him. Come to throw me out, thought Jaime, the Faith of the Seven seemed to look less than benevolently on the crown as of late. Cersei was fuming because they would not bless Tommen and because of the camp of ‘Sparrows’ that covered the square, seemingly convinced they existed merely to spite her.
The little man shuffled up beside him, but Jaime barely spared him a glance until he cleared his throat and said, “I was informed the Lord Commander had entered, I thought I should greet him.”
He’d not been aware he’d been observed.
“You are the High Septon then? Forgive me, I did not know.”
Tradition dictated he should have knelt before the man but as he was already kneeling perhaps the transgression would be overlooked.
The new High Septon was an unassuming little man who looked more like a beggar than anything, barefoot and in clothes that were little more than rags really. There was a clarity, a purpose to his gaze though. Different to his predecessors who had all been as over-indulged and ineffectual, as pompous as the members of court.
“We are requesting that members of the Kingsguard do not come armed into the High Sept.”
Jaime hesitated for a moment, hand lingering on the hilt of his sword. A Kingsguard was never without their sword and since his return his had never been far from his side even if he was little capable of using it currently.
The High Septon stood patiently before him, hand outstretched, waiting.
He unbuckled his sword swiftly before he could change his mind and thrust it into the Septon’s grasp. What good was it anyway? He couldn’t use it, maybe if he’d been able to then he could have fixed his own mistakes rather than sending Brienne to her death in a failed attempt.
“And the other…”
Rather than leaving, the High Septon peered curiously over his shoulder at where he had laid out Brienne’s sword and armour. He could see the little man’s face reflected in Oathkeeper’s blade.
“No. This one stays.”
They could take his sword but Oathkeeper would remain here.
“Whose armour is this?”
The little man reached down and laid his gnarled hand on it. Jaime bit back the urge to snap at him not to touch it.
“A good woman’s.”
The septon removed his hand but if he was surprised that it belonged to a woman then his expression did not give it away.
“And how did she die?”
Jaime grit his teeth, wondering why this pious oaf persisted in asking him questions when it was clear he wished to be let alone. Was he not to even to be allowed time to mourn?
“Trying to find and protect an innocent girl, trying to restore my honour.”
The little man dropped to his knees beside him, regarding the statue with a reverent expression that set Jaime’s teeth on edge. Did he mean to stay and pray with him? How sanctimonious, this little priest had not known Brienne therefore he could not mourn her.
“Then she deserves to be here as much as anyone. Quite tragic…women were not meant to take the path of the Warrior, this much is obvious.”
“She was a more noble and capable warrior that most of the Kingsguard combined.”
No doubt there were those who would decry him for claiming a woman rivalled the abilities of his sworn brothers but he spoke only truth. Brienne of Tarth had been a remarkable fighter.
Finally the little man got to his feet and left him to his own devices in the dark and the quiet. It seemed he must have given orders because after that Jaime was thoroughly ignored by the devout who conducted their business within the Sept. They simply moved around him in much the same way they had done when he’d kept a vigil for his father.
Hours passed before he got to his feet again, light already beginning to trickle into the Sept from the high windows. At fifteen when he’d finally finished the vigil he took before the Warrior when becoming a Kingsguard his knees had been scrapped bloody by the stone. Now, a man grown, they ached fiercely after only a few hours.
Do you mean to stay here, to make a wreck of yourself over her death?
He stayed standing for a moment, as much to allow his knees a moment to recover as anything, picking up a taper and lighting a candle to place before the Warrior.
After some hesitation he picked up another and walked stiffly over to place it at the altar of the Maiden. He did not pray much these days, had long since stopped caring much for the Faith of the Seven. And when he had prayed as a younger man it had always been, without fail, to the Warrior.
Jaime stood for a moment, staring up into the serene face of the statue above him. It was a blank face, carved to reflect the kind of vapid inoffensive prettiness that seemed to define maidenhood for some.
Had Brienne died a Maid? Or had these outlaws taken that from her as well as her life?
Getting back down onto his aching knees, he bowed his head and prayed to the Maiden for the first time in his life.
Please, if it is true, let her be at peace. Let her not have suffered too greatly.