The blasted, horrible cold has toughened Winterfell’s ground to the point that it feels harder than diamonds, so Brienne has been hours at digging this bloody grave –
But she’s going to dig it if it’s the last thing she does, and it may as well be.
If anything, she knows Jaime appreciates the irony of being buried here.
“Look at that, my lady”, he had said as he coughed blood, “it’s only fitting that I should die where I committed my most nefarious act.”
Brienne had wanted to tell him that he had to live and that he wasn’t going to die, but she hasn’t been in the habit of lying to herself since the Long Night fell upon them all.
“You know he doesn’t blame you,” Brienne had said, her fingers grasping Jaime’s, his left hand keeping such a weak grip on her right one, she had wanted to cry.
“I know, I heard that tree when it talked to me, but it’s still fitting.” Then he had spat some more blood.
She had figured the two of them would have an honorable death fighting against the Others, and that it’d have been sooner rather than later, given that there are not many people left in the castle anymore, nor in Westeros, and the sun hasn’t risen in two moons.
She hadn’t imagined he’d die of bloody pneumonia before being given a chance of ending his existence on the battlefield.
She breathes in icy air, raises the shovel again and imagines that the piece of ice under her feet is a wight she needs to kill, and then slams it downward – it finally breaks, thank the gods, and she crouches down, throwing it outside. At least now after four layers of ice she’s reached a piece of ground that’s not frozen over. Maybe she can make it deep enough now. He told her, bury me deep because if I happen to wake up again I don’t want to come back in this world as a bloody wight.
Since she couldn’t even die with him, she might as well pay him a last favor and bury him properly before she goes back to the castle and to their useless resistance. There’s no Stark left here anymore, they’re all dead except for Bran who is – well, no one knows where he is, exactly.
(But he has talked to them through trees. This, she knows. She was here for it.) There is no king or queen – the dragons arrived, but too late.
Everyone was too late. The Wall fell a long time ago and she had only been here to bring Sansa Stark back where she belonged along with Jaime – she can feel the scar around her throat as sharply as she can remember her steel piercing through Lady Stoneheart’s chest, and then they stayed because there was nowhere else to go. She doesn’t know how many other people have survived, but –
They haven’t seen the sun in two moons.
They’re doomed, and there won’t be any new songs for the knights of summer, she thinks bitterly.
“I would ask if you needed help, my lady, but I fear that task is beyond me.”
Brienne looks up, to her left.
Well, indeed Lord Connington would not be able to help her digging, not when his arm ends just under his elbow.
(Grayscale. He cut it off before it could spread, hoping it would buy him time to see Rhaegar Targaryen’s other son on the Iron Throne.
Turns out, he outlived the lad.
Brienne understands how he feels, even too well.)
“Do not bother, my lord,” she shrugs. The weirwood tree looms above them and Brienne doesn’t even bother to glance at the red on its bark. “I am done with the worst part of it. But if you would be so kind to help me lower him down when I am finished…”
“Of course. Anything to have something to do while waiting for our inevitable demise.”
At least, Brienne thinks, the few people left have taken their situation with the necessary irony.
Once she wouldn’t have appreciated it.
Seems like I’ve grown on you, wench, Jaime would have said –
She wipes away a few stray tears that were already threatening to freeze on her cheeks.
“Thank you,” she replies politely, and shovels away some more dirt.
By the time it’s deep enough, her hands are full of red blisters but she can’t even feel them.
Not that it’s going to matter. Even if she lost her fingers to frostbite, it wouldn’t matter.
She climbs out of the hole, shovel in her hand, and turns towards the white sheet wrapped around the body laid next to the tree.
“I think,” she says, trying to keep her voice steady, “that if I get the shoulders –”
“Of course. I will take the feet.”
Gods. She does, and Lord Connington does the same, and a moment later she has let Jaime’s corpse fall into the grave. She put two coins on his eyes before wrapping it in the white sheet.
(He joked about dying in Kingsguard white, but she couldn’t bear to bury him in any other color.)
She’s not sure she believes in such things anymore, but it can’t have hurt, not that anyone needs gold dragons these days.
She says nothing as she shovels dirt back inside the grave again and she can only think, no flowers will ever bloom here, will they?
As she finishes, she considers just sticking Oathkeeper in the stead of a gravestone, but then again, it’s the only sword in the entire castle that can kill wights. And as hopeless as their survival is, she can’t quite bear to get rid of it yet. Instead, she picks his sword from the ground, the one he used until he could hold one, and plants that instead in the cold, hard ground.
Lord Connington is still there.
When Brienne looks at him inquisitively, he shrugs. “He still was a knight of the Kingsguard. He probably deserved better send-off than this, and Aerys was not the Targaryen I cared for.”
Brienne hasn’t talked to the man more than a handful of times, and never in depth, but she thinks she could kiss him for that. But it wouldn’t mean anything, not now.
“I – I never was the best with words,” she says. “He deserved far better than this.” He deserved far better than most of what he got, truth to be told. “He was a far better man than most people assumed. He was – he was indeed reviled for his finest act, not that anyone but me knew. He tried his best. And he was the one person who ever thought for real that I had any merit at being a knight.” She thinks she might stop here, but when she looks over at Lord Connington, she sees that he looks… understanding?
And even if he wasn’t, does it even matter now?
“I loved him,” she sobs, wiping at her eyes. “And I know he didn’t believe in it, and I don’t know if I do, but I honestly hope he’s in a better place. May he rest in peace.”
She throws away the shovel and turns her back to the grave.
“I – I think I am done,” she says.
“I have seen worse funerals.”
“You must have seen many horrible things, my lord.”
“Too many, but it hardly matters now, doesn’t it? That said, having buried the man you loved isn’t something all of us can claim to have done for ourselves.”
He turns his back at her and heads back to the castle after that, and Brienne doesn’t run after him to ask, who do you mean.
He never said out loud, but it was obvious since they saw Aegon die and Brienne is hardly going to be the person berating him for loving someone he shouldn’t have, not when she’s done it herself twice.
There’s not much talk around dinner, that evening. Not that there’s much of it lately. It’s about fifty people in the entire castle right now, and none of them are lords except for the two of them, it’s all Night’s Watch recruits – all that’s left of the Night’s Watch, truth to be told.
Brienne doesn’t know why they’re even pretending that this has a point, but she knows that it’s because they’re all scared shitless of what’s coming after. She eats her hard beef stew and thinks about the grave she’s left behind her, and curses her exceedingly good health, or so the maester at Evenfall Hall used to say.
Later, she goes to sleep on the ground in the main hall – all of them sleep there at this point – and goes to sleep not knowing if she should hope to wake up or not.
She’s standing in the snow, in front of a cave. She doesn’t know where it is or how she got here, but it’s cold. Cold in ways she had never imagined the world could feel, even in the chilliest of winters. The entrance is barely visible, but it’s also because there’s a blizzard all around – the air is freezing and she can barely see where she’s going.
It’s night, but some stars are bright enough that something is visible. She heads for the cave, wanting for shelter, and then she hears a horse running by, straight in her direction –
She moves out of the way, but the horse trips against a tree root and the rider crashes on the ground, or better, he would have if Brienne hadn’t caught him.
“My lady…?” Lord Connington asks her as she drags him to his feet.
“My lord,” she answers, as courteous as she can manage. Then she looks down at him.
He has both arms.
It has to be a dream, hasn’t it?
She feels for her neck. The rope burn is gone. She touches her cheek, and the scar is gone, too.
If only it mattered now, and if only it were true.
She nods towards the cave, and he follows her inside. It’s dark, too dark to see anything, but then her hand touches something that feels quite like a weirwood, and –
You have to come, an ethereal voice that she hasn’t ever heard in person but that she’s heard from a tree says. You both have to, now, it repeats, and then her entire sight is filled with light and –
Brienne wakes up at once, cold sweat plastered all over her forehead. She looks towards the other side of the hall, and –
Yes. Lord Connington is also awake and doing the exact same as she is.
Well then. She takes care to be silent as she stands up, takes her sword and heavy cloak, and walks towards the end of the hall where he’s already heading.
“We had the same dream, didn’t we?” Brienne whispers when they’re close enough to talk without disturbing the others.
“I suspect so. Or better – I woke up as I fell from my horse, but I remember I had both hands and I remember seeing you at the end of the road.”
“I – no. I started dreaming as soon as you fell from it. We walked into a nearby cave.” She takes a deep breath. “I heard Bran Stark’s voice.”
“How do you know?”
“I – I heard it before,” she chooses to reply. It’s the safest answer she has to give him. “It said – we both had to go, but I don’t know where.”
“I do,” he answers. “I dreamed the way there.”
He dreamed half of it, and I dreamed the other. It’s no coincidence.
“Shall we go?” He asks after a silence that lasts she doesn’t know how long.
“Mayhaps we’ll die on the way.” It sounds fairly likely. “But on the other side, what do we have left here?”
“… That is an extremely fair point, my lady. I think there are still a few horses left in the stables.”
“Then we’ll see to them. I – I will take my armor and I will be with you.”
“Do you wish to leave now?”
“Does it make any difference?”
“… It does not,” he agrees with a certain reluctance.
She knows he visits his son’s grave (prince Rhaegar’s, not his) every day, and that he might have wanted to see it once again, but –
But she had a sense of urgency from her own dream, and the prospect of seeing Jaime’s grave while Lord Connington pays his last respects makes her want to throw up because she could barely stand its sight not even twelve hours ago.
“If you wish to visit the graveyard while I saddle the horses –”
“Thank you, but I think there’s no point in doing it. Not just now.”
“Are you sure?”
“It would just make things worse. I will meet you in the stables.”
It’s obvious that he doesn’t want to have this conversation anymore, not that Brienne can’t understand why, and so she goes to get her armor. She dons it easily, it’s not as if having a squire for a while (and she won’t think about that lest she loses it here and now, and she can’t afford it) has made her forget how to put it on without help. She checks that Oathkeeper is at her side (useless now, isn’t it?), ties her cloak around her shoulders and leaves the corner she had claimed for herself in Winterfell’s former main hall.
No one even asks where she’s going, out of the few people who are still around.
She’s not surprised.
When she gets to the stables, they are empty save for her and Lord Connington. He has managed to saddle his own, and she provides to hers – she can see he’s tired already, and doing it with half an arm missing can’t have helped.
She makes a quick work of it, and when she’s done she mounts on the mare. Lord Connington has done the same a short while ago and now he’s fixing his cloak around his shoulders, but it’s still not tied properly. Brienne wordlessly trots closer and helps him with it, resolutely not thinking of when she did the same for Jaime not too long ago, and then leaves it be.
“Thank you,” he tells her. “Shall I lead the way?”
“I will follow,” she replies, and goes after him into the dark night.
She doesn’t spare a glance for the castle they’re leaving behind even if she knows it’s unlikely they’ll ever see it again.
She has the distinct feeling that it should have taken longer.
Or maybe it’s because it’s always night and Brienne’s completely lost sense of time, which is the most likely explanation. They do stop a few times to catch a bit of sleep and eat what food they brought from Winterfell (not much, not when there are others in there who might not want to starve until it’s not something that can be delayed anymore), and no one stops them at what used to be the Wall – now, in place of Castle Black, there’s just rubble and the entire section of the Wall it manned is torn down.
“Was it much far from here?” Brienne asks as they ride on.
“In that dream, it looked – about a day’s ride,” Lord Connington tells her. “But I don’t know how long it would be, if we cannot count how long a day is anymore.”
They have two more portions of salt beef.
Just enough for a day’s ride, she thinks.
“Very well. Then we should move on.”
They leave the Wall behind as well.
It’s so cold that her hands have become numb.
If a White Walker showed up now, I don’t know if I could even hold that sword, she thinks, but then again, it’s highly unlikely it would happen. She has a feeling that if anything, they will get as far as that cave.
She doesn’t even dare imagine what’s waiting for them inside, though she remembers the light and how rough the weirwood had felt under her fingers, and she remembers that voice –
She shakes her head and rides on.
She almost wants to tell Lord Connington that she’s in awe of his resilience – not many people would have survived what he did and still be here pushing through snow and hail and cold to reach… a cave, but the words lay heavy on her tongue and she can’t manage to get her out.
She only ever got the hang of teasing and speaking freely without thinking too much about it with one person only, and that person’s dead.
“I think that’s all I recall,” Lord Connington says a while later, and – yes. Brienne recognizes the place. It’s all covered in snow, and they’re caught in a small blizzard that makes the sky look white and everything around them as well, but – but she thinks the rock on the side was something she had seen in her dream, wasn’t it?
She turns there and then her horse trips into something and crashes to the ground – she jumps off it, and… there it is. The weirwood root.
Her mare’s leg is definitely broken, though.
Hells. She knows what she has to do, even if she’d rather not, and it’s just the last item in a list of things she would rather not do, but –
“My lord,” she says, “we should follow that root. And I should – please let your horse go.”
Lord Connington nods and dismounts, grabbing his meager pack from the horse and sending it on its way. Brienne doesn’t know how long it will survive or if killing him would have been kinder, but –
She brings out her sword.
I’m sorry, she thinks, and then lowers it downwards.
The weirwood root brings them to a cave.
They look at each other before walking in – it’s dark, but they can see some light coming in from far ahead. She doesn’t know how, because It’s about to turn dark outside, she knows it, but never mind it. They’ll find out, she supposes, and walks forward.
The clearing they reach is fairly large, and the light comes from a few small fires lightened in the corners of the cave. Dry leaves crack as she and Lord Connington walk over them, and for a moment she thinks, there’s no one here, but then –
“Welcome, my lady. My lord, too,” a voice says, coming from the direction of the large weirwood tree standing in the middle of the cave, the one whose root they’ve been following until now.
Wait a moment –
There is someone over there, sitting on a throne carved in the weirwood, unmoving legs touching its base, and she’s horrified at seeing that it’s a boy, not older than four and ten, with –
With white eyes and the same hair as Lady Catelyn.
And – is there a skeleton of a direwolf crouching at his feet?
“What –” Lord Connington says, but Brienne shakes her head. She thinks she knows who this is.
“Well-guessed, Lady Brienne,” Bran replies, tiredly, “though I’m more than Bran Stark right now, all things considered.”
“More than?” Lord Connington asks.
“Three-eyed crow would be more accurate,” the boy says, “even though I wish I was not. However, this is not the reason why you’re both here.”
Three-eyed crow? Brienne heard a few wildlings talking about a mythical greenseer known as such, but she hadn’t realized –
That it might’ve been him. She clears her throat.
“You – you called us?” Brienne asks, taking a step forward.
“I did,” Bran says. “You are both wondering why, I suppose, and it was because there is a way to – to undo all of this.”
“This?” Lord Connington asks. “You mean, the Long Night?”
“Not that, sadly,” Bran says. “But you should be explained from the beginning.”
Brienne nods, even if looking at the boy is making her skin crawl – why the white eyes? It’s just – it’s unnatural, and he’s too young for this, whatever it is, and why are roots growing through his legs?
“You see, being what I am, it gives you… powerful greensight. It goes way beyond warging. It lets you see the past, and – and also the future, if you choose to do it. When I realized that the war was about to be lost, and now it is… I might have done a few things that I was told were forbidden.”
“By whom?” Lord Connington asks. Good question.
“By the previous three-eyed crow. We can see the past. We are not supposed to meddle with it, or worse, try to change it. However, I also happen to be more powerful than he was, and who was going to stop me from looking into the future, too?”
He shrugs minutely, his tiny fingers grasping at the roots on the throne’s arm.
“I looked into a lot of possible futures, to see if there was some way to prevent this from happening. And I have reached a conclusion.”
“As in?” Brienne asks, feeling somewhat hopeful in spite of everything. After all, if there was nothing to be done about this, then he wouldn’t have summoned them here somehow, right?
“As in, there is one future where the White Walkers are defeated immediately, the Long Night is merely a passing shadow and we are spared most of the senseless deaths that came upon Westeros since Ned Stark died. But it’s not a future I can try to turn into a reality,” Bran says with a long sigh.
“What – what do you mean?” Lord Connington doesn’t sound too convinced, but he’s listening intently, or so it seems from his expression.
“That in order for us all to live, Aerys Targaryen must die not sooner and not later than he did, but Rhaegar must live,” Bran says tiredly, “along with Elia Martell and her children. Whether Lyanna Stark does or not is irrelevant, as long as all three children live and know they are the heads of the dragon. It’s no job for someone like me – I can only walk if I visit the past or the future, not if I want to live in it. How useless it is that one has such powers but then cannot even walk, isn’t it?”
“You – you mean to – send us to the past?” Brienne asks, barely audible.
“My lady,” Bran says, nodding, “it was, in truth, a turn of luck that the two of you did not perish. Because you are two people who could turn that tide around. Yes, I mean to send you both to King’s Landing, in the past. It will be before the Lord Connington of the past loses his position as Hand of the King, and the fact that you, my lord, are here, will be your luck because you only can convince yourself to help the two of you, which should make you things plenty easier.”
“And – what it is that we should do, exactly?” Brienne asks.
“You have to make sure Rhaegar Targaryen doesn’t die, at the Trident or wherever else, and that Ser Jaime does replicate his previous feat,” Bran says.
“But – if Rhaegar wins the war,” Brienne protests, “why would he need to kill Aerys, or why would Aerys try to burn King’s Landing?”
“That’s for you to make sure of,” Bran says, sounding – sorry about it? “He has to die. And Rhaegar has to live. And no one else would kill the Mad King, and we all know that.”
Of course, Brienne thinks, resigned. Jaime was the only one who’d do it in the past, after all, so who would do it when the Targaryens actually might have won the war?
“The moment both deeds are done, this new future will be set,” Bran goes on. “As for the two of you – if you both live to see those deeds accomplished, you have to go back at once to the place where you will find yourself at the beginning. There, if I am still here, which should happen – I will bring you back to your future selves. In that world.”
“Not – not in this one?” Connington asks.
“No. This future is done and over. There is nothing for either of us here. But if you live, you will find yourself in that world, at the age you have right now. And I know that it won’t be one where the Long Night has prevailed.”
“If we live?” Brienne had noticed that.
“You might die in the attempt,” Bran confirms. “If you do – you will be dead and another version of you will exist and go on in that future. But if you don’t die there, you will die now for sure.”
Which is – a fairly valid point.
“So,” Connington says, “the lady should make sure Lannister kills Aerys and I should make sure Rhaegar doesn’t – doesn’t die?”
“Something,” Bran says, sounding somewhat sympathetic but at the same time detached in a way that makes Brienne’s skin crawl all over again, “tells me that it’s a task you would take extreme joy in performing, my lord. Wouldn’t you?”
“Of course,” Connington says. “It’s – it’s everything I have wanted since I heard he died. I’m not so sure that the lady is so enthusiastic about her part.”
She laughs. Of course she’s not. The idea that she should somehow force Jaime into doing what he spent his life being loathed for when he’d have no reason to do it is honestly abhorrent, but she can see they have no choices here, and –
And if she goes, she’ll see him again, though not the Jaime she knew and grew to admire and love and whose loss still makes her feel like someone carved a hole into her heart and tore it out with enough force to rival the strongest whirlwind, and maybe she’ll find a way to make sure it doesn’t turn out sour, and Bran is right.
If they stay here, she dies for sure. If they go – maybe there’s a chance they’ll live.
And that Jaime will, she thinks, feeling like she could cry.
“I don’t relish it,” she says, “but I’ve always done my duty and I will do it again.”
Except that you would have let Stoneheart kill you for him. Are you sure you will be able to lie to him or force him into doing the one thing that ruined his life?
She honestly hopes Bran cannot read thoughts, but he just looks at the two of them with a nod, his lips stretching in a thin smile.
“Very well. Then, I am ready whenever my lord and my lady wish.”
She looks at Connington, shrugging. “I don’t think we have any business to attend to here now, do we?”
“No,” he agrees, “we don’t. I am ready now.”
“Then do come closer,” Bran says.
“I need the both of you to take one of my hands and touch the weirwood with the other. Lord Connington, for you is fine to just lean against it as long as you’re touching it somewhat.”
They both do, and Brienne shivers at how cold Bran’s hand is.
What did he say before?
I am the three-eyed crow, even though I wish I was not.
He’s younger than four and ten, she thinks in anguish, and he’s talking with the voice of someone who’s lived for centuries.
Of course he doesn’t want this future either, would he?
“My lord, my lady,” he says tiredly, “we won’t likely see each other again in this world, and I don’t know if I will remember it in the new one. I kind of hope I don’t, but regardless, I hope you succeed and I wish you the best of luck. May we meet again in a better place.”
Brienne had figured she should say something, but suddenly Bran’s hand is burning hot rather than freezing cold, and she meets Connington’s eyes as her entire vision fills up with a blinding, white light and she feels like someone just punched her in the stomach with an iron gauntlet – Bran’s hand disappears from under hers and she immediately moves it to grip Oathkeeper’s hilt, feeling unreasonably reassured to find it still there and hoping it doesn’t disappear when she arrives in the past, because she couldn’t bear to live without the last thing she has left of her Jaime, and then she closes her eyes before the white light completely blinds her and braces herself for what she has to do.
Of course she’ll do her duty, she thinks despairingly, but she knows –
She knows she will hate every moment of it.