Jaime had sensed that something was wrong as soon as Brienne had picked him up, but he had put it down to the habitual apprehension she experienced before taking on a position of responsibility. Determining that a little music was just the thing she needed to take her mind off things he diligently searched for an appropriate station, hurriedly bypassing Radio 4, which was, for some inexplicable reason, programmed into Brienne’s car radio. (It was early enough that the Today Programme was still broadcasting, and that normally left Jaime wanting to kill something even more than usual.)1
“...I need a hero! I’m holding out for a hero til the morning light, and he’s gotta be strong and he’s gotta be fast and he’s gotta be fresh from the fight...” He warbled happily as they turned into the school car park, but he was brought to an abrupt halt as Brienne stabbed the off button with considerable force.
“Oh don’t you like that one?” He enquired innocently.
“You are the only person I know who does Jaime, or at least, the only one who will admit it, and besides, I would’ve thought that you would want to avoid anything connected to the second Shrek film frankly.”
Jaime looked at her blankly, “why would I do that?”
Brienne stared at him for a long moment. “Err nevermind...Anyway your worrying taste in music is beside the point. Before we head out and take charge of a bus full of kids I think we ought to agree on a few...guidelines for the trip first.”
Jaime sighed, “if this is about that little shit Loras Tyrell...”
“Yes it is precisely about him! I want you to promise me that you won’t turn this trip into another episode of your little vendetta.”
“Look, if he provokes me.”
“He provokes you by existing! He is our student Jaime, not our competitor! Nor is he the only person on this trip. We’ve got almost a full deck of Starks and I promised Catelyn that I would keep them safe this time.”
“Oh seven hells, you’re never going to let me forget the Cornwall trip are you.”
“No I bloody well am not! Bran Stark almost fell to his death because you and Loras were too busy posturing to belay him properly! Do you know how hard I had to work to cover your arse on that one!”
Fortunately, Jaime was saved from the potentially painful consequences of making one of the various crude comments that swam into his head by a tap on the car window.
“When you two have finished your little domestic,” Jaime’s brother drawled, “can we please get into the bus? I’m freezing my arse off out here.”
“Tyrion! What the hell are you doing here?”
“The same thing as you, escorting a troop of bright young minds into the wilds of Yorkshire for no discernible reason at an obscene hour of the morning.”
Jaime folded his arms, “there’s no way you’d have volunteered for this, we had enough trouble getting you to supervise History trips until you managed to twist the curriculum enough so that it became relevant to take the sixth-formers to Amsterdam every year. But this? You hate the countryside. You hate PE. I don’t think you are actually able to hate activity holidays because they are so far outside the limits of your experience”
Tyrion took a mournful gulp of his coffee. “All this is true, dear brother. However in this case the alternative was much more terrible than the prospect of fresh air and healthy exercise. Father started making noises about a ‘family dinner’ this weekend, I believe the phrase ‘just you me and Cersei’ was used, no doubt he had a nice, intimate family dinner and a couple of sessions of light psychological torture in mind. So you see...an urgent, non-avoidable activity taking up all my time for the next few days had to be found.”
“I see,” said Brienne, “erm do you have any more suitable clothes?”
“Isn’t this appropriate?” Tyrion asked, gesturing down at his purple skinny jeans.
Jaime used the opportunity provided by Brienne’s attempt to diplomatically explain the problem with Tyrion’s attire in the context of an adventure holiday to sidle purposefully towards the bus. Alas the wench knew him too well by now and he had only got a few yards before he heard her shout.
“Jaime! If you even think about trying to drive that thing with umpteen points on your license I swear I will handcuff you for the duration of this trip!”
“Kinky,” muttered Tyrion, as he wandered off to purchase some of of the gamekeeper, Sandor Clegane’s, supply of ‘cigarettes’ before they headed off.
The first two days of the holiday were curiously incident-free, though as Jon Snow put it, sounding unnervingly like his father, Ned ‘OFSTED is coming’ Stark, this was almost certainly the calm before the storm2.
The first rumblings of thunder were heard on the Monday when Jaime, who had been becoming increasingly twitchy after watching Loras’ effortless success at all the activities on offer, insisted, with a manic gleam in his eye, that he and Brienne, as staff members, try out the white-water rafting course first ‘just to show everyone how its done’.
“We might also see about setting the pace for them,” Jaime grinned at Brienne as they trudged up to their boat.
She rolled her eyes. “I had a feeling you might say that.”
“Oh come on,” he wheedled, “surely there must be part of you that wants to wipe the smirk off of Loras’ face.”
She sighed, ‘he is being a little insufferable,” she allowed, “but...”
“I knew it!” Jaime crowed, “come on wench, let’s set a record that even he can’t beat!”
“I wish you’d stop calling me that,” Brienne muttered, though she found it hard to surpress a smile.”
They had rounded the first few corners of the course in good time and for a minute Brienne allowed herself to relax and enjoy the swiftness of the water beneath them and the pleasant exertion of pulling her oar in time with Jaime. The shouts of the students running alongside faded into the background until she heard Robb Stark cry out.
“Oh for fuck’s sake Theon, there’s no way you’re going to be able to seize their boat. Stop it! Oh crap, he’s gone in.”
“Shit!’ Brienne drove her oar into the water, bringing the boat about.
“What the hell are you doing wench?” Jaime cried.
“We have a student in the water!”
“Oh for fucks sake...oh its only Greyjoy, can’t we..?”
“We are not leaving him!”
“But we were so close to victory!”
“You see, this is what I was talking about before we left, this is not a war and the students are not ‘collateral damage’ ok?”
Jaime grumbled but reached into the water, pulling Theon into the boat. He took one look at his face and scowled furiously.
“The little shit’s off his face on something, can we just throw him back?”
In the bottom of the boat Theon giggled, “we do not sooooow.”
From the bank Brienne distinctly heard Tyrion’s furious voice.
“The little shit! I wondered who was pilfering from my stash!”
With the benefit of long experience Brienne knew that this was probably only the first of many disasters that could befall them, and she was grimly proved right when she came to take the register that evening.
“Ok we appear to be missing Jon...again. Sam, do you have any idea where he’s gone?”
Sum shuffled his feet nervously. “I think he’s still out in the forest Miss Tarth, he’s trying to test his survival skills to the limit see. He says it’ll be necessary after the collapse of western civilisation.”
Robb smiled dreamily, “I saw him when I went out to commune with the trees before dinner, he was making flint arrowheads and muttering about fire being ‘the only way to stop them’. I can go and fetch him in if you want.”
“No, its best you stay in here Robb, I’ll go out and look for him. Are you coming Jaime?”
“Oh gods do I have to?” Jaime whined. “Why can’t we just leave him out there? If he wants to learn to fend for himself then that’s all to the good surely” His winning smile faded somewhat in the face of Brienne’s disapproving look.
“We can’t have a student missing overnight,” she said stiffly, “but you are, of course, free to stay in here while I look for him.” She donned her coat and grabbed a torch before heading out, radiating displeasure.
“Not very chivalrously done brother,” Tyrion remarked lightly, dealing the deck of cards.
“What? Oh Brienne doesn’t need looking after,” Jaime scoffed, though he began to look rather uneasy.
“Oh certainly, I can’t think of many beasts of the forest that would care to mess with her,” Tyrion remarked wryly, “however, she might have appreciated your company nonetheless.
Jaime gave him no answer, though Tyrion noted that as the minutes slipped by, he grew increasingly fidgety and frequently glanced at the door of the communal cabin.
The low buzz of conversation was broken by a cry from Sansa. “Oh Robb! You’ve got to show them it now!” Sure enough Robb was shortly dragged over to Jaime and Tyrion, weilding his iPhone, that curiously, had never lost signal throughout the entire trip.
“Tell them now!” Sansa demanded. “Jon and Miss Tarth could be killed!”
“What?!” Jaime barked.
“I was just browsing the local news,” Robb explained, “and there was a warning from the police saying that people should be cautious wandering around in the woods. Apparently a bear has escaped from ‘The Circus of The Brave Companions’ and it might be wandering around this area.”
“Brienne!” Jaime yelled, leaping over to the door and dashing off into the night without stopping for his shoes, a torch or his waterproof.
Needless to say, he left a rather stunned silence behind him.
“Does that count?” Theon enquired muzzily, “cause if so, then the stash is totally mine. I bet on tomorrow.”
“Hold your horses young Mr Greyjoy,” Tyrion drawled, “though suggestive, that does not count as a declaration of affection, therefore the pool remains open. You were a fool not to bet that they’ll get together around Christmas anyway, Jaime gets terribly romantic around that time of year. Also there’s the increased likelihood that he’ll end up drunk on her doorstep after escaping a family gathering.”
“Just so long as you don’t try to hurry things along with the strategic application of mistletoe Mr Lannister,” said Arya, eyeing him narrowly while polishing her ‘decorative’ katana.
“Now would I do a thing like that?” Tyrion enquired woundedly, “no don’t answer that you little shits, why the hell did I decide to go into teaching again?”
“Because you wanted to nurture the next generation sir,” Robb said gravely.
“The next generation can go to hell, now will someone help me search Theon’s pockets? I want to see if he’s smoked his way through the whole lot the little bastard.”
Meanwhile, out in the forest, Brienne had been marching through the rain for a steady ten minutes fuelled by the claims of duty and a sense of righteous anger. She finally came to a stop in a clearing and while catching her breath, she gradually became aware of a rather ominous rustling sound.
Brienne frowned, the noise appeared to be coming from above her, which either meant that the squirrels in the area were larger than she had previously thought, or that someone was trying to play ninja again.
Shrugging, she reached up into the branches, grabbed an ankle and yanked.
Jon came tumbling down, bringing half the tree with him, he then made the mistake of trying to kick himself free from Brienne’s grip.
Some minutes later, drawn by the whimpers of “I yield, I yield Miss Tarth” Jaime came crashing wildly into the clearing, wielding a stick in a threatening manner.
“Its ok I’ve got it covered Jaime, someone was trying to be ‘one with the night’ again,” said Brienne, “I thought you were staying in the cabin!”
“Are you alright?” Jaime enquired sharply.
“What? Oh I’m fine,” she said, releasing Jon from her headlock, “Jon and I just had a little misunderstanding, that’s all.”
Jon wheezed his assent.
“So there’s no bear?” Jaime said with evident relief.
“What bear?” Brienne asked. It was therefore almost inevitable that the silence that followed was broken by an ominous growling coming from the trees in front of them.
“Now I need you to think,” Brienne whispered, as they slowly backed away. “There are grizzly bears and black bears and I know that with one you’re meant to play dead, and with the other, you’re meant to run away very fast. Can you remember which is which?”
“Errr shit, I should know this,” Jaime murmured. “Do we know what type of bear this is?”
“Well its a bit bloody hard to tell in pitch-darkness!” Brienne hissed.
“Can’t you shine your torch on it?”
“I don’t want to anger it!”
The bear gave a bellow and swiped at a tree-branch.
“I think that ship might have sailed wench,” Jaime murmured. “Maybe we could try hitting it with sticks?”
“Well I don’t think that will help much, but I can’t say that I have any better ideas.” Brienne admitted.
“I suppose this is where I try to persuade you to make your escape while I distract the bloody thing.” Jaime said.
“And this is where I tell you to piss off and get behind me,” said Brienne, and Jaime couldn’t help grinning at her, even though he knew she couldn’t see it.
The moment was somewhat spoiled by the eruption of a white ‘something’ from the undergrowth behind them, though later both Jaime and Brienne would vociferously deny shrieking at its sudden appearance. Paying them no mind, the creature bounded off into the forest, with the bear in shambling pursuit.
“Its ok,” Jon whispered from behind them, “Ghost will give it the run-around for a while, I told him to lead it to the other side of the forest.”
“Of course you did Snow,” Jaime grumbled, dropping his stick rather disconsolately.
Brienne cast him a sharp look, “of course we’re both relived that Ghost was...able to intervene Jon, but could you please tell me how in the seven hells you managed to smuggle your pet direwolf up here?”
Jon shrugged as he began to wander back to the cabin, “Ghost comes everywhere with me.”
‘Oh for fucks sake,” muttered Jaime, “all that’s missing is the sodding eerie panpipe music.”
Brienne smirked, “you’re just pissed that you didn’t get to play white knight for once.”
“Oh sod off wench, or next time I’ll let it eat you, if that is, it doesn’t find you too tough.”
“There won’t bloody well be a next time,” Brienne declared grimly, “next year we’re only going on trips where there is absolutely no risk of bears.”
“Oooh can we go to the dry-ski slope again?” Jaime asked, “I bet I can beat Loras at snowboarding.”
“Seven hells! No!”
And so it was that a goodly chunk of the school budget was saved due to a fall in expenditure on trips by the PE department, (Much to Petyr Baelish’s delight.) and its two staff members gained a, not entirely undeserved, reputation for badassery.
Ghost was eventually retrieved from the forest, though it took most of the morning and an entire pack of Markies to get him back on the bus.
The pool remains open on Jaime and Brienne, it is rumoured that the pot contains over a thousand pounds.