“We could establish a dynasty that will last a thousand years...or we could collapse into nothing.”
- Tywin Lannister, Lord Paramount of the Westerlands
I am running. Running through snow and my limbs are feel so heavy and the snow is so deep that every few strides I fall, my face smashing into the hard, icy crust. The snow blows fiercely all around and pelts like thousands of tiny daggers into my face and eyes...my feet are numb and I wonder if i'll lose my nose to frostbite, but I know it is crucial that I press on. In the distance there is a fence and a house that seems so, so tiny. A woman cloaked in wool head to toe stands in the yard, unaware of my presence. I wave my arms and take another step. I've sunk further into the snow so that it is level with my waist. Trying with all my might, I am unable to move any further. I cry out toward the woman.
Jaime Lannister sat straight up in his bed, a single plank of wood with a lumpy mattress stuffed with rags. The fire in his quarters had long burnt out in the night and his extremities were every bit as numb as they had been in his dream. He still dreamed of her nearly every night, most of them nightmares, occasionally being granted with a pleasant one which would recall the first and last night they lay together. He couldn't decide which type of dream was worse, but prayed neither form ever left him. Eventually he had stopped thinking about his mother after her death. He was determined not to have the same thing happen with regard to his beloved Brienne. It had only been five years so far, however.
Five years? Or was it six already?
The clanging of swords in the yard woke his reverie. Rising from his bed, he went to the window to observe how many boys were already down there. A few more recruits had arrived at Castle Black the day before and Jon Snow charged Jaime with assessing and developing their fighting abilities. Apparently the dream had made him miss the first meal and late for training.
Jaime scratched at his beard and combed his hand through the knots in his hair. Then, throwing on his many layers of cotton and leather and practice armor, wondered if he'd need so much extraneous clothing today. The sun had actually made an appearance during the previous day for a few strange, brief hours, raising the temperature outside so much that some of the men ran through the yard with bare chests, soaking up the rays. The talk at dinner that night had been focused only on this anomaly, theories ranging from winter's end to a minatory omen from the gods. One of the new recruits said to Jaime, “This place isn't so gloomy as everyone tells.”
“Wait until the morrow, and the one after next. It will change,” Jaime advised him. “This is merely extraordinary.”
“Perhaps the sun shone especially for my arrival,” had been the short boy's proud response and Jaime chuckled a little in appreciation of his bravado.
In the yard Jaime noticed a group of experienced boys gathered round that same boy from dinner. As far as Jaime could assess, they were merely comparing cock sizes and pissing on one another rather than getting down to the business of any sort of skill building.
Apparently this new recruit felt he could take any one of them immediately.
Normally Jaime would keep his distance from these situations, stepping in only to correct form, or when, such as instances like this, the chest-beating got out of hand. Many of the stewards seemed to derive pleasure from shouting at the top of their lungs at the soldiers, and particularly at the new pledges. Jaime had neither the energy or inclination to do the same. As a result, the boys had learned that when Jaime Lannister did approach them, he was earnest, and for that reason they feared him.
Many of them knew next to nothing of the Kingslayer. And if they did, they didn't dare to say it in his presence. However, it did not seem as though they were afraid of his wrath on that account, but rather it mostly seemed they did not care. Many of these boys were essentially prisoners. They had no place to judge anyone, and Jaime was a steward.
A steward and a prisoner himself. Banished here because the Queen had agreed at his brother's behest to allow him to live out his days on the wall. He should have let her execute him as she had wanted, as she had done to his father and his sister, but at the time Brienne still lived and he was desperate to devise a way of being with her again, which would be quite difficult were he killed. The plan afforded him a stay while he and Tyrion might arrive at another alternative.
Then word came from Lord Tarth. The ship on which Brienne had traveled succumbed to the stormy conditions of Shipbreaker Bay. She had wanted so badly to go home once more but never even made it to shore. Neither she nor the crew aboard survived. The ship had sunk into the bay.
At that news, Jaime no longer cared to renegotiate his sentence and left for Castle Black. Now he would merely abide his time, even if it did mean submitting to the leadership of Jon Snow. Suicide wasn't an option. Not only would he not have that be his legacy, but on the chance there was an afterlife in which he might be blessed meet up again with Brienne, Jaime was certain he'd receive a tongue lashing from her for giving up without honor.
Perhaps winter would kill him.
“No straws, this dwarf needs to learn his place.”
Not mentioning the fact that Gemment stood nearly a foot taller than the younger boy and carried probably fifty pounds more muscle, it was obvious who would win this battle. Gemment was the strongest and possibly one of the most skilled fighters in the Night's Watch currently. He'd been there nearly ten years and for five of those Jaime had taught him the skills he'd acquired since losing his hand. Jaime only hoped he wouldn't have to intervene. He didn't think he could abide a disciplinary discourse from Jon Snow without compromising the unobstructed existence he'd managed to establish there.
“Come on, Cunty,, show us what you're made of,” Gemment cajoled the boy and the rest of the group followed suit, cheering on the challenge.
“It's Kenton,” he corrected, “and I'm made of steel and cock and balls. And I'll fight the whole lot of you and you'll be collapsed in a pile in the snow until the bears come have you for supper.”
Jaime sniffed at the horrible posing. This ought to be entertaining, at the very least.
Kenton's first several motions were impressive from the outset, though it was hard to determine whether Gemment was intending to lull the other boy into complacency (a skill Jaime had taught him). They circled around another several passes and their audience called out for someone to make a move. Gemment struck low, near Kenton's legs.
Jaime cringed. Not the boy's legs...
But to everyone's surprise, Kenton caught the move and countered every bit as quickly with a high motion, setting into play a quicker paced match. Kenton was spry and quick, seeming to be several motions ahead of Gemment, who was quickly becoming breathless. But not so winded that he wasn't able to propel Kenton backward with a strong shove.
Kenton ran in reverse four or five steps and it seemed clear he was going to fall onto his backside. Just as Gemment was closing the space between them, preparing to force Kenton to the ground to yield, the boy regained his balance and raised his sword up. Gemment met the move and Kenton kicked him in the shin, hard. His giant opponent lost his own balance and toppled backward, hitting his hand hard on the ground and losing grip of his weapon.
Kenton picked it up before there was a chance for Gemment to retrieve it and held both swords at his neck. Putting his foot on Gemment's rapidly rising and falling chest for good measure, he asked with a sly smile on his lips “Yield?”
“Get the fuck off me, ya smarmy little prick!”
Their audience roared with laughter as Gemment reached up to shove Kenton's leg away. Kenton offered his hand and Gemment scowled as he shoved that away as well. Kenton handed him his sword and he grabbed it with a growl.
Best bit of entertainment in a long while.
Dinner was called and everyone scattered to the mess. Jaime called Kenton to come over to him. Kenton's proud smile immediately straightened.
“Yes, Ser?” He looked a little concerned Jaime might scold him.
“How old are you, boy?”
“And what did you do to end up at the Nights Watch?”
“Do, ser? I traveled here.”
Jaime smirked. “Right. What transgression forced your travel?”
“None, ser. I came here of my own accord.”
Fifteen...Why are boys allowed to make such decisions?
“Well, isn't that noble of you.”
“My father died when I was very small and mother died a few months past. I asked a woman in my village if she would marry me, but she refused.”
Ah, for love's refusal. Jaime wondered if he was seeing a ghost of his past self.
“Well, that's very surprising. You're a handsome man and skilled fighter. I can't believe any young maid would refuse you.”
Kenton shrugged. “Turns out she weren't in as love with me as I was with her. And also, she weren't a young maid.”
Jaime knit his brow and turned his head quizzically. “Really...you prefer the company of crones, then...?
“She were a young widow. Ser, I beg pardon, but I'm very hungry, I don't wish to miss the meal.”
“So you're fifteen years old,” Jaime ignored him. “How does a boy from a small village with no father learn to fight with such skill?”
“The widow,” he answered with a smile, seemingly proud of the admission.
“The widow...? A woman?” Jaime matched the boy's sly smile. “Are we still speaking of swordfighting?”
“'Course!” Kenton laughed. 'She said her father were a knight and taught her. And she taught me. Though it always seemed to me she coulda been a knight herself.”
Jaime's heart began beating a little faster as he willed himself not to entertain the thought. This child was a mere fifteen years of age...Women can be widowed at any age....There could be other women who knew how to fight...
And she was currently laying at the bottom of the bay.
“I think maybe she refused on account of being so much taller than I am.” The boy looked longingly toward the mess hall. “May I be excused, ser?”
Jaime grabbed his arm. “No!” He was breathing as heavy and sweating as much as Kent had caused Gemment to be moments earlier. Kenton's smile was replaced with fear. Jaime let up on his grip and took a breath. He could feel himself shivering internally. “Please...what … what was her name?”
“Enna. Enna Lannis.”