Jaime leans his head back as the sun, filtered through the canopy of the stretch of woods they had decided to make their camp for the night, rains down on him in droplets of warmth.
They are closer to King’s Landing now, which means a most definite improvement in climate.
Having been born a creature of the West with its vast coasts, mild winters, and hot summer air, Jaime feels his body stretching to the sun like a flower leans to the light after a long winter.
Soon enough, he will be back in King’s Landing. The weather there was pleasant enough when Jaime left, even though nothing comes anywhere close to a summer at Casterly Rock, as far as he recalls from childhood memories long since faded over the years of service for Kings not deserving it.
What Jaime remembers rather clearly, however, are the moments he spent as a lad by the coast, breathing in salty sea air tingling his tongue, warmth clinging to him like a coat he could only shed if he jumped down into the azure waters below. Or lying in the sand until the sun had dried it on him and he just had to shake off the remaining grains before climbing back into his clothes to make it back to the Rock before his father could lecture him for slacking off his reading lessons.
So, while King’s Landing is not the Rock, the weather will likely make up for some of it, if only small fractions compared to the price he paid, now left to rot at Harrenhal.
And of course… Jaime will finally get to come home.
He blinks up into the sky, ignoring the prodding of Qyburn’s skilled, long, bony fingers as he tends to Jaime’s stump. Jaime to focus on the dancing dots of color before closed eyelids instead of the absence of his hand, and the pain that still hums dully beneath the marred flesh every time he moves too fast, too rashly, too much.
Or at all.
“The healing goes very well, Ser,” the master without chains tells him.
“All thanks to your skill,” Jaime says, making his ignorance no secret. He doesn’t need that man to tell him how well his stump does.
It’s a bloody stump. That is a contradiction to anything going well altogether.
“Oh, no, I would not mean to take those laurels for myself, Ser. You see, it is about the man’s vitality. The will to fight. Some patients will fade away because they gave up in their minds, and that means that the flesh soon follows.”
“I bet you told your little subjects the same stories to make them hold on even when they just wanted to die,” Jaime huffs.
That man should make no mistake. Jaime knows if something evil glares back at him, well, most of the time. But this man with dark hair and dark thoughts has this aura bleeding out of him that Jaime makes sure that he only stays within the man’s periphery for as long as is required.
“Save your breath to spare us both the shame, hm?” Jaime tells him, cocking an eyebrow at him, but then allows his gaze to wander round. “Will you tend to Brienne once you are finished or have you already done so?”
“I did not, but I didn’t see her in a longer while, I must admit, Ser. But rest assured, once Lady Brienne comes to me, I will treat her, of course.”
“You better do that,” Jaime huffs humorlessly.
It’s not that he can blame Brienne for trying to sneak away from the dark-haired man with likely a bit too much curiosity. Brienne told Jaime a while back that she doesn’t like Qyburn and his touches, especially after the stories Jaime shared with her about that maester without chains and his little experiments.
That doesn’t mean that she gets to slack off the treatment, however. If Jaime has to sit through having the man with cold eyes poke at his stump, then so Brienne can have him poking at the cuts from the bloody bear.
Because sure as the Seven Hells burn will Jaime not have the wench perish from infection after he jumped down a damn bear pit to save her.
“There, done,” Qyburn announces, helping Jaime to put his arm back into the sling. Jaime stands up at once, turning around on the heel to go look for the tall woman with the stubbornness of a mule, leaving the maester to his own wicked business.
Something is up with her, Jaime is certain of that. And he is set on getting to the bottom of it.
After a quick conversation with Steelshanks and the other men, Jaime gets at least a general direction, and so he is off, wandering around the woods to look for the woman who has been his one constant in this everchanging world as of late. It’s not like Jaime has much other to do these days.
That woman always means trouble, as it appears. Though then again, Jaime can’t say that he is not a cause of trouble in his own right.
However, gladly for him, Brienne is tall in frame and therefore not hard to spot, even amongst the trees and bushes towering above him.
Yet, to see her up a tree does come as a surprise even to Jaime, who thought he’d seen quite a few of her odd habits by now. That is something he can’t remember having seen her do… ever. No, in fact, he is fairly certain of that. After all, the woman would always sleep just inches from him, holding the leash close to herself to recognize even the slightest of his movements to snarl at him with eyes closed that he is supposed to keep still.
And Gods know how much he loathed her for it.
“My lady?” Jaime calls out, expecting Brienne to turn her head to him with a scowl, if not a hint of a blush, but instead an arrow flies past him with a whooshing sound.
“Hey!” he hollers. “So that is how you treat the man who saved your life, wench?!”
Brienne’s face remains unreadable for him as she swings her insanely long legs on either side of the thick branch – only to jump down to the ground below, landing surprisingly swiftly for a woman her size.
Now that her armor is gone, as are the ropes the Brave Companions bound her with, Brienne moves very differently… almost elegantly, at times at least. Not always. Most of the time, she trots around like a horse refusing the spurs, but there are those small fragments of time when her body seems to move as though it was made of water alone, instances when her awkwardness is overtaken by a certain amount of self-consciousness and confidence that gives bounce to her step, a swing to her thick hips, a fluidity Brienne often seems to lack otherwise.
Or perhaps knows better to conceal than I tend to give her credit for it.
Jaime watches as Brienne walks up to him, her chapped lips a thin line as she presses them together.
“Sorry,” she mutters. “I couldn’t wait.”
“For what? Shooting me dead?” Jaime snorts, only to frown as she walks past him to where the arrow went. And only at that instance does Jaime see that the arrow solidly sits in the flesh of a small now dead boar, no older than a juvenile.
Brienne bows down by the animal’s side to check if it is dead before removing the arrow to bind its feet with a rough-spun rope.
“How comes you have taken the duty of hunting upon yourself? I thought that this is usually the job of what’s his name? I tend to forget? The one with the muddy hair and dumb smile?” Jaime questions, though that description applies to pretty much all of them in his opinion.
“He normally does, but I am fed up with squirrel for dinner,” she replies bluntly.
“Ha, I couldn’t agree more to that. Though I have good hope that we will reach some tavern by the next day or so, so we can finally eat properly… and sleep in a proper bed of straw rather than forest ground, leaves, moss, and likely feces here and there.”
He has to try hard not to moan gleefully at the idea. Jaime’s body is aching for some small comfort, if only one of a hard bed in a stinky tavern. At this point, all of this sounds heavenly.
But that seems to be the thing: You only learn to appreciate those small comforts once you don’t have them anymore, once they are taken away from you, ripped out of your hands, now hand. And Jaime can say that without a doubt – he didn’t have them for an achingly long time.
Instead, he was dragged along, only to sit in a muddy pen, wrapped in chains, then put on a leash as Brienne pulled him along, and after a brief visit at Harrenhal he’d rather erase from his memory altogether, only to now repeat the process on the rest of the way to King’s Landing, finding no rest on dry leaves, moss, and feces whatsoever.
“… Yeah,” Brienne replies with an odd grimace as she walks back to the tree to retrieve her stuff.
“What? You can’t tell me that you are dreading to finally spend a night without the threat of having a Bolton man kill us, well, granted that Steelshanks and the rest don’t start to act stupid all of a sudden, which I dare doubt, and the small comforts of a bed, a good meal, some ale, and a fireplace.”
“I already said that I agreed,” Brienne replies bluntly, not meeting his gaze.
Not that this is particularly uncommon for Brienne. Nevertheless, of that Jaime is certain, something is most definitely not right about this situation.
“Well, once we make back for camp, you should see to it that Qyburn takes a good look at your cuts. The darker it gets, the more he’ll have to prod, and I would advise you to keep the contact as small and short as possible.”
“You don’t have to tell me twice.”
“Apparently, I seem to have to, because you keep wandering off without having the maester without chains have a look at you. I told you, it’s not acceptable that you earn yourself an infection from being bloody well stubborn,” Jaime points out to her.
“I will see him. But first I wanted to get something to eat,” Brienne says, barely moving her jaws apart. She rounds the tree. Jaime cranes his neck to catch a glimpse of her, impressed in all earnest once he sees that on the other side of the tree, looped over one of the branches, is another rope, with some more squirrels and rabbits.
“My, my, you really want to put that man to shame by showing him how it’s actually done,” Jaime chuckles, amused.
“I don't care for that man’s shame,” Brienne argues. “Or for anyone’s. If he can’t hunt properly, that’s hardly my problem. And I won’t make it mine by eating the little yield he gets us for a meal.”
“It’s always good to know that your concern is not to pet men’s egos,” Jaime says with a lazy smile.
“Neither do I think men do care if the likes of me were to pet their egos,” Brienne replies with a short huff, if a slightly bitter one. “We should head back now. I think that should do for a day or two.”
“Most definitely,” Jaime chimes. “You can give me one of the ropes.”
Brienne frowns at him.
“Now don’t look at me like it’s most outrageous that I don’t let you carry all of it,” Jaime grumbles. Brienne studies him for a longer moment before she hands him the rope with the rabbits and squirrels attached.
“You think I can’t take the heavier one?” Jaime questions, narrowing his eyes at her.
“You think I let you carry the heavier one when you are the one who is still healing from a major wound?” Brienne retorts.
Jaime has no reply to that, so he just shoulders the rope and the two make their way back to camp mostly in silence. At some point Jaime feels reminded of the days where it was just the two of them, off the usual paths.
Just that he still had both his hands back then, if wrapped in chains.
Just that the leash is missing now – as is her armor.
Just that both now bear scars they didn’t have in the beginning of their journey.
Just that it’s not at all like it was, or so Jaime has to realize. Something is entirely different, and it’s not even about the missing hand, armor, leash, or the greater amount of wounds still healing.
Because back then, he would spend every minute of the walk teasing her, jesting with her, getting Brienne to a point where she’d be distracted enough for him to slip past her defenses, to steal her sword and attack, get away.
Now, they walk next to each other in silence, without a need of his to slip away or, Gods forbid, kill her – he’s well moved past that stage by now. However, also the light moments seem gone as they trot next to each other, the small distractions from the reality of their situation fading away. Because that is what they were to Jaime, so he realizes now that he finds them missing. There simply were those moments when Jaime would not necessarily tease Brienne for the sake of slipping away, but just because he wanted to forget about his state as a prisoner, wanted to forget about the chains chafing against his wrists, about reality beating him to the ground over and over. And then, talking to Brienne was perhaps the one true distraction.
It’s like it is with the beds. It seems to be the case indeed that you only learn to appreciate something once you no longer have it.
And Jaime grows increasingly aware of that very circumstance. He grows to hate how the woman keeps her gaze averted, away from him, and tries her very best not to look him in the eye.
As though Brienne was suddenly the one trying to slip away – from him.
What does she fear will he see in her big blue eyes that gets her almost sheepishly scared?
Which is odd enough because there seems to be nothing to truly scare that woman. If a bear won’t do, then what will?
The thoughts drift away from Jaime once they reach camp and Brienne puts down the animals she hunted, the men giving her a quick look-over once they heard the yield hit the ground with a thud.
Some teases are thrown at the man normally responsible for the hunt, the one with the most forgettable face, but Brienne says nothing, just turns and walks away without speaking another word to the men as they already make plans for dinner that night. She walks over to the maester without chains to ask him if he has the time to see about her wound now, which Qyburn obviously does.
And even if not, Jaime would most certainly make sure of that.
Soon enough, with darkness flitting across the sky with fast if silent strides, the fire boils some rather well smelling stew and Jaime reckons that it can’t harm to accept the ale handed to him from a worn skin, the prospect of some fleshy boar seemingly having heightened the Boltonmen’s spirits considerably.
Obviously, Jaime knows these men are not his friends, and neither does he have intention of making them such, but he also reckons that it’s best to have them stay in good spirit. It can’t harm to have the people meant to see you off safely to King’s Landing in good enough spirit so they don’t get their daggers out for some japes thrown at them. After all, Jaime is aware that he throws those out about as often as his little brother tends to do it.
The ale is not the almost bad, if a little strong, he realizes after the first few tender sips, so that Jaime’s mind is soon humming as the sky fades from violet to blackness.
He is not surprised that Brienne is having none of the ale once she returns from Qyburn’s ministrations. The wench just silently sits there, on Jaime’s side of the fireplace, but still a bit further off, as though she was sitting alone even when surrounded by quite a few people. Her vibrant eyes glower a foreign shade of jade in the shine of the flames as she runs her long, callused fingers over a blade of bluegrass about the length of her forearm again and again and then another time again.
After a surprisingly savory meal, well, however tasty it can be with as little as they have to toss into the stew beside the meat Brienne provided, more ale is emptied from the skins as Brienne goes on playing around with the blades of bluegrass making up her one concern as the men go on chatting, jesting, and humming.
Jaime counted. Nine blades by now.
First smooth over them, again and again.
Then twist them, again and again.
Repeat with the others, again and again.
Brienne went ahead to make a loop around a small twig and now seems to braid the twisted bits of bluegrass like young maidens braid each other’s hair before a banquet. Though she doesn’t even seem to bother to look as she goes on braiding, smoothing out the bumps of grass, over and over. Her gaze remain set on the fire, draining the sapphire blue from her eyes to paint them this foreign shade of milky jade.
Jaime shakes his head.
Just why do I bother? Shall she braid grass if it pleases her.
What does it concern him? The wench does whatever she wants anyway.
Oh oh, glorious Florian
He was the first who had opened her thighs
Oh oh, glorious Florian,
Run from thousands of lies
To the happiest day of their lives
Jaime whips his head around to the Boltonmen with flushed cheeks from the ale.
Six Maids in a Pool? Really?
Well, at least it is not The Bear and the Maiden Fair, Jaime reckons. He glances back over to Brienne, a small smirk creeping up his lips at the prospect of seeing her so deliciously growling and scowling, boiling beneath the surface at such improper song sung in the presence of a lady, but… no such luck. Brienne doesn’t even seem to see them as she goes on glancing at the flames or the braid in her big hands, which make her work of the evening seem even more incredibly small and filigree.
Oh oh, glorious Florian
He was the first who had stolen her bud,
Kissing her petals and
Green grass had colored with blood.
Jaime shakes his head.
Seemingly, all those bawdy songs are about sex.
His eyes wander back over to Brienne to see if that coaxed a reaction out of her at last, but again, the wench stubbornly keeps her eyes away from the men getting more and more drunk on the ale, the soft breeze, the taste of good stew, and bawdy songs.
Jaime shifts over the log he sits on, closer to where Brienne took her seat on an ash stump. He leans closer, almost mischievously happy to finally see the reaction he long since expected from Brienne for the sake of the songs as she whips her head around, blinking.
“Is it troubling you if they sing such songs? I can make them stop at once if you want me to?” he suggests, his mouth making the words sound as though they were coated in tar, a soft drawl from the ale binding down in his tongue.
Why exactly does he ask?
Jaime can’t seem to remember now.
Damn the ale.
A small yet strong “ha” escapes her lips, shooting out like an arrow.
And for some reason, Jaime starts to feel uncomfortable at the sound. It’s no true laugh, he’s never heard Brienne earnestly laugh at this point, though he wonders what that would sound like. Instead, the laugh Brienne let escape her lips just now sounds strained, like a bow’s string overstretched, begging for release.
“What now?” Jaime frowns.
“You are aware that I spent a good amount of time in Renly’s camps, yes? You think the men never sung these songs? Or that they politely would have stopped in my presence, of all people? If that were to bother me, I never should have left Tarth in the first place,” Brienne snorts, the men hollering yet another round of Six Maids in a Pool so loudly that it swallows her voice almost completely.
To Jaime’s liking, it surely would have been best for her if Brienne had never left her home isle. That would have saved her quite some trouble, to say the least.
Though then again… the taste on his tongue turns instantly stale at the thought.
Bitter, almost. Curious.
He never would have met her. Jaime takes another sip from the skin at once, feeling his throat parched all of a sudden.
“I just… meant to offer,” Jaime replies with a grimace, searching her eyes, which are almost black in the darkness, now that her gaze retreated from the flames.
“And I appreciate it, Ser, but there is no need. If it brings them pleasure, who am I to judge? No harm is done. It's only just a song,” Brienne argues, not meeting his gaze. “And we shouldn’t make our protectors angry with us, right?”
“Right indeed,” Jaime agrees.
They do seem to think alike.
The Dornishman's wife would sing as she bathed,
in a voice that was sweet as a peach,
But the Dornishman's blade had a song of its own,
and a bite sharp and cold as a leech.
“Well, just say something if they go too far,” Jaime chuckles, leaning back to take another swig from the skin filled with ale, enjoying the sensation of warmth spreading in the pit of his stomach.
His mind starts to drift back to the songs while his eyes keep watching Brienne’s fingers threading the grass over and over until all of it blurs into a sort of gray mass before his eyes. Jaime only vaguely registers the warm hand on his shoulder as suddenly the music seems to have ceased.
“You should lie down, Ser,” he can hear Brienne say before she makes him stand, or rather stagger.
“I can do that myself,” he mutters, though even in his addled mind, the words rather dribble out of his mouth than they are well-spoken, swallowed ends and a completely off intonation.
“You are drunk on ale and almost keeled over,” Brienne replies bluntly, having none of it as she walks Jaime over to his bedroll, unceremoniously letting go of his arm once it’s safe enough for him not to fall.
Jaime grumbles as he twists his body so not to put weight on his stupid stump, burying half of his face in the bedroll’s rough fabric. A small shudder goes through him.
They are still too far from King’s Landing. The nights are still not warm enough.
At least the ale makes him feel somewhat warm – and for the first time in a long time, somewhat happy, though that is likely an overstatement, still. But the songs and the ale took Jaime’s mind off his stump for a little while.
He wriggles around a bit, shaking out his limbs, hoping that the wench will finally get going to lie down next to him, as she usually does. She always provides the last bit of heat it takes to hush the shudders from the cold away, but… Brienne apparently has different plans as she starts to walk away.
“Where ye goin’?” Jaime drawls, but Brienne doesn’t answer, instead walks away from the camp, the moonlight shining down on her, smoothing out all edges.
In this light…
But Jaime doesn’t get to finish the thought as darkness clouds his vision, pooling in his stomach until even the last of the warmth of the ale fades away into a pleasant nothingness of his dreams.