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The Descent

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They had dressed her in cloth-of-gold, an iridescent gown with crimson inlays that rippled like fire when she danced. Candlelight flickered across her skirts with the warm mystery of a campfire, and the dying cast of the sun glinted merrily along the rubies inlaid in the lion on her cloak. Matching rubies glittered atop her hair, caught in a net gifted by the king himself.

Had the lady but matched the beauty of her garments, the polite smiles and mocking gazes of Casterly Rock and her constituents might have held merriment Jaime could appreciate. But he knew as well as they that Lord Selwyn had drawn deeply from the coffers of Evenfall Hall to dress his daughter in so lavish a fashion. It was a gesture he would have been well to do without. The golden cloth leeched more color from the maid’s skin than it leeched from her father’s purse. The Maid of Tarth—Maid of Casterly Rock now, Jaime supposed, if only for an evening—escaped a sallow complexion only by the uncomfortable flush creeping down her neck to disappear beneath the crimson scrollwork of her flat bodice.

His own attire suited him ill, he would admit. The seamstresses had attempted to blend the rose of Tarth’s quarters into the rich crimson of House Lannister. The effect on his tunic was hardly short of distasteful.

But nothing could suit anyone less than Lannister colors suited the Lady Brienne.

She looked about as pleased with her gown as she had been with the rest of her wedding. Her broad homely face had shifted between discomfit and stoicism as he lay his cloak across her shoulders and brushed his lips to hers. Once the feast was underway, her features had settled into a dull mask. Jaime could not decide whether to be relieved or affronted.

Truth be told he was oddly aware of the how vastly her behavior diverged from that of any other bride. Each maiden of his acquaintance had approached her wedding as the culmination of life’s great adventure. Even Cersei, who had come to him in secret before her public nuptials, had been outwardly delirious the day she wedded the prince. But this hulking maiden shrunk into herself when faced with well-wishers and festivities alike.

A solitary glimmer of affection had swept into her when her father clasped her hands for a customary blessing and seemed to seep away when Lord Selwyn stepped back for the king to kiss her fingers. By the time the queen slid past Jaime to caress her cheek and murmur, “Blessings, sister,” Brienne’s visage was as tedious as it had ever been.

As pleased as a horse-thief facing the headsman’s axe, he groused. And less comely than a stolen horse at that.

She danced well enough, he supposed. Her movements were fluid, oddly graceful for one who had so clearly been denied partners since her first feast day. But whenever he noted a particularly deft turn of foot she would suddenly stumble, and it was all Jaime could do to preserve the dance.

He found himself irritated by how quickly she begged off. Three dances, and suddenly her own wedding celebration is beyond her.

Any other maid would dance until they were both breathless and the stars twinkled in grey predawn. Trust his lord father to wed him to the one maid in all of Westeros not smitten by Jaime Lannister the Goldenhand.

Jaime escaped to the dais where Tyrion soon found him, a quip, as ever, on his tongue.

“Only wine,” he said, “will dull the onus of your particular marital duties, dear brother. The homeliest woman’s beauty can be found in the sweet dregs of an Arbor red.” Tyrion punctuated his words by tipping a pitcher over Jaime’s goblet. Wine sprinkled across the linen tablecloth as he set it aright.

But even Tyrion, unsteady as he was, could tell that wine would not make Jaime a fit companion. He soon wandered off to beg drink and company from a cluster of serving wenches, leaving Jaime to contemplate his wine.

It might ease the task before him, as Tyrion suggested. But it might also make his tongue flow freer, and insulting his lady wife in front of their guests would be an ill start indeed.

His wine sat untouched on the red-dotted tablecloth.

Jaime realized of a sudden that he had not seen the woman in question for some quarter of an hour. He scanned the hall and caught sight of her in a dim-lit alcove. Brienne seemed to be accepting chastisement from a pinched-faced woman in a septa’s robes. Her wide shoulders looked awkward as she seemed to turn in on herself, and Jaime had the odd thought that he might step between them, but soon Brienne was moving towards him, shoulders set like no woman he had ever known, and he dismissed the notion.

As if anyone needed saving from a septa.

“My lord husband.” She curtsied stiffly as she reached the top of the dais, waiting for his nod of acknowledgement before seating herself beside him.

Jaime had half risen to help her gain her seat, and was left hovering above his cushion for several graceless moments. He sat more heavily than he intended and took a swill of wine to cover his unease.

The wine was another gift from the king and queen, though Jaime suspected his sister played the larger part in its choosing. It was remarkably similar to a vintage they’d shared one golden summer day, Jaime a green squire fresh off his first tourney and Cersei glowing with the first bud of womanhood. They’d spent the afternoon hiding away in sunlit rooms and, intoxicated by Arbor red and each other, had finally done more than play at being a man and a woman.

Jaime’s eyes flickered to where his sister sat. The royal dais was raised, as was his, so Jaime had an unimpeded view of Cersei, whose mouth was pinched tightly as she ignored her young daughter giggling at Rhaegar’s legitimized bastard.

Jon Targaryen was the fly in the cream pitcher for Cersei; that had not changed over the years. She had grown better at concealing it, true, but anyone who knew her could see disdain painted in the high arch of her brow and nestled at the corner of her lips.

On the day Rhaegar had welcomed his ill-gotten son into his keep, Cersei had come to Jaime in a flurry of silk brocade. Her crown had rested atop her head as he fucked her against the wall, and Jaime felt its rubies watching him like Rhaegar’s eyes. Perhaps they were, for not two hours hence Rhaegar had strode into Jaime’s quarters, his voice soft and his eyes glinting dangerously, and ordered him off to resolve the Blackwood-Bracken dispute. Jaime had not held quarters in the New Keep since.

Rhaegar’s eyes were suddenly fixed on Jaime, as if he could sense his good-brother's thoughts. The king had always been disconcertingly astute; Jaime’s years away from King’s Landing had not changed that.

Uncomfortable beneath King Rhaegar’s gaze, Jaime turned to the woman beside him. “Have you tried the mutton?” were the banal first words of his marriage.

Dutifully, Brienne filled her mouth and chewed. Jaime drummed his fingers on the table and chanced a look at his good-brother. Rhaegar had turned to his wife. Another moment and Jaime did likewise.

She chews more thoroughly than I hone my blade.

When at last she swallowed, Brienne jerked her head in Jaime’s direction. “Thank you, my lord.”

She speaks more slowly than she chews. Who would have thought it possible?

“That was your septa?” he asked, merely for something to say.

“Septa Roelle,” Brienne answered hastily, glancing down at the woman in question, who seemed to be watching them.

“She seems quite intent on our performance,” Jaime noted wryly.

Brienne missed the nature of his quip. “It is the duty of a lady to do service to her lord father by pleasing her lord husband,” she said by rote.

Jaime grimaced, barely biting back his jest about the likelihood of him finding pleasure this night, or any night hence.

“Surely she has nothing to fear, now that you’ve successfully wedded into a rich and powerful House,“ he said instead.

Brienne blinked, and half raised her eyes from the table before her gaze darted back to her septa. She seemed unable to gauge the sincerity of his words, or the proper response under the circumstances. Her mouth worked soundlessly for several long moments, but in the end she said nothing.

Unable to disinter Septa Roelle’s tutelage from his wife’s thoughts, Jaime gladly shifted his attention to the arrival of the second course, a braised goose stuffed with goat cheese and minced pears. They were well into the third course before Brienne could bring herself to comment.

“I would not bring you dishonor, ser.” Her words were calm, her voice calmer still, though she announced it to her plate rather than her husband.

Jaime studied her. She was altogether too steady for a maid at her wedding feast. She should be giddy with delight, or tremulous with anticipation, or quaking with nerves, or . . . or something.

Her calm was unnatural, but it suited him well enough.

“I would not expect it, my lady,” he assured, though part of him wished to observe that her mere appearance might shame the Lannister name, with naught she could do to remedy it.

“I will behave as is fit of the Lady of Casterly Rock,” she continued as though she understood what he had not said.

“I am not Lord of the Rock yet,” Jaime said. “Though my father forgets often enough.”

“You are his heir,” Brienne insisted. “I will not shame you.”

The vehemence in her words made Jaime seek out the septa once more. She no longer observed them, listening instead to one of the many bannermen the Evenstar had acquired in the ruin of Storm's End; whatever her words might have been, they seemed to hover over the newly wedded pair like a descending noose.

She is as fraught with expectations as I am, Jaime realized as his eyes found Brienne once more. His foot moved of its own accord to press flush against her own.

Brienne started, knocking over the heavily watered wine she favored. As liveried servants rushed to sop up the red pool before it stained, Jaime fought to keep his face mild.

My lord father has taken leave of his senses, he thought as he carefully shifted his boot to its original position and rescued his wine goblet from an overeager kitchen lad.

Brienne folded her hands in her lap. She did not stir upon the arrival of the cakes, nor motion for wine or water to fill her goblet. Every bit of her was aflame—even her fingers looked heated. Jaime imagined she was quite literally shamed to her toes.

May my marriage bring the Lord of the Rock the advantage he seeks, and the heirs he desires, he thought. And may I find some small refuge from it as well.

Brienne settled into disconcerted silence, and Jaime spent the remainder of his wedding feast amusing himself with thoughts of each occasion he had defeated one of his guests, in battle mock or elsewise.

Though faced with singers and revelers and a fire eating pyromancer who Jaime ordered sharply away, Brienne scarcely blinked. She studied the food, her freckled hands, the slash of crimson silk clinging like a wound to her thigh. Not once did she look past the lion clasp of his cloak, and only glanced so far when his father arrived to make veiled insinuations that the new Lady of Lannister take care to uphold her family name. Jaime, occupied by thoughts of glories long past, whittled the time by watching her watch the table and wondering if she was indeed capable of looking someone full in the face.

How odd that I am wed to a woman and have no idea the color of her eyes.

Jaime was broken from his thoughts by a familiar voice.

“We must have a bedding!” Tyrion called from some far corner of the room. He was very drunk. “Else the night will flee us.”

He may have placed Jaime in the role of the knight, or may just as soon have meant Brienne. She was as like to flee as he was. 

The flush had mercifully receded from Brienne’s cheeks, but Jaime had no time to observe her fully as he was pulled indecorously from his cushion and shuffled toward the stair. Aunt Genna twisted his ear and unclasped his cloak, and suddenly the corridor was awash in laughter. He let it slip over him, hands and bodies and his undone doublet, comments veiled and vulgar, several wine-laden quips about Lady Brienne that bordered on outright insults. Jaime saw nothing until the world brightened and the gaggle emerged into a torch-lit hallway, the ladies heavy with drink and mirth, and he lighter his boots and breeches.

“Let the princess have her sport,” he heard, and Daenerys was in front of him, hand hesitating before the remaining cloth. Aunt Genna snorted, and Dany blushed and skittered away, and suddenly Cersei was at his side, unlacing his smallclothes with sure fingers.

She toyed with the last knot and spoke just loudly enough to make her words known. “I shan’t rob Lady Brienne of the pleasure.”

When her mouth edged close to Jaime’s ear, her voice became a blade dripping honey. “And, oh, what pleasure.”

A sharp push and Jaime found himself alone with his wife in a dim-lit chamber. The bed was large and Brienne looked somehow small, bare as she was but for the rubies in her straw-colored hair. Her breasts were slight, her shoulders broad. Her short waist only hinted at a curve before easing into wide hips and legs long and muscular.

Jaime felt himself stir.

You might never realize she was homely, he thought, with the moonlight lending her softness.

Bawdy suggestions tumbled through the muffling wood of the door, but Jaime barely heard them. Brienne did not seem to hear them at all.

He moved toward her slowly, so as not to disquiet her. She glanced up at him then, and he stopped.

Her eyes were blue and startlingly acute.

“You have done this before?” The query was blunt, with none of her earlier reticence. Her countenance held no hint of the envy or fear or resignation he might have expected had he thought to look for it.

“Yes.”

“You must show me,” she said.

I am alight with nerves, he realized in the same wry thought as, this is absurd.

Her eyes were determined, more than any foe he’d faced in the yard or at tourneys or on the battlefield.

Jaime swallowed and reached for his last tie.