The woods absorbed the sounds of blades being drawn and horse’s hooves pounding the cold winter ground, but the tall evergreens could not drown out the rush of Jaime’s ragged breath as he hissed through his teeth. He was not sure if the bright moonlight that sliced through the forest, glinting off of steel and armor, was an advantage for his men or the enemy’s. It allowed him to see through the tall, rough trunks of the trees, catching sight of riders darting on the outskirts of his forces, pushing against the boundaries of their formation and trying to find a weakness to exploit. Hearing the clear snap of banners cracking the frigid air would force Jaime’s eyes from his group, from the gap in the dense foliage that could give him the edge he was seeking. We are surrounded by a sea of fish, he thought, spotting another Tully sigil marching in the distance.
It made little matter, really, who had come across his men in the dead of night. They would be defeated like every other harried band that had tried to bring down the Kingslayer. Jaime had been rather disappointed that the Riverlands was so easy to take, but he hoped that by conquering Catelyn Stark’s home, he may rouse the wolves from their den. He longed to sink his teeth into the young pup, the King of the North, and send the rest of the pack whimpering back to Winterfell, tails between their legs. They would pay for capturing his brother and for sending Jaime into these cold, lonely woods when he could be warming Cersei’s bed, now that it was no longer occupied by the hulking form of her late lord husband.
Yet, there would always be a part of Jaime that sang only for this thrill of battle. His lust was not simply for his sister alone and he found an almost carnal satisfaction in the song of steel and in the warmth of blood staining forged metal. Here is where he truly belonged, where he felt the most alive. In the cover of soft moonlight, surrounded by the smell of horses and death, with a blade in his hand that felt like an extension of his being, Jaime Lannister was not the Kingslayer, nor the son of Twyin. He was a member of the Kingsguard, the youngest ever to have served, knighted by Ser Arthur Dayne. He was feared. He was undefeated. He was the Warrior himself.
The Tully forces moved deeper into the woods, avoiding the clearing that Jaime had hoped to make use of, and heading towards a stream that slashed the forest clean in half. They would be slowed down trying to move their mounts through the water, leaving the Lannister party following them enough time to overwhelm their small numbers and cut them down in the confusion. Perhaps this time the Blackfish would be amongst their ranks. If Jaime could not face Robb Stark tonight, then Ser Brynden would still be an acceptable prize.
As the trees began to thin, he drew his sword, cleaned and freshly sharpened, letting some of the front ranks rush before him. The light blue Tully banners appeared up ahead, but they were no longer flapping behind the soldiers as they rode. They hung limp as the enemy’s forces simply waited for them, unmoving and fearless. Jaime felt his stomach drop as he realized that he had been lured to this spot. But who could have known that he would follow? The lords of Riverrun knew nothing of pride and bloodlust so they could not have predicted what would drive the Kingslayer willingly into a trap. Before his mind could grasp what he knew would be waiting at the edge of the stream, the sound of a lone wolf, howl renting the silence of the forest, sent adrenaline pumping through his coiled body.
Spurring his horse towards his front line, Jaime strained to pierce through the darkness, searching for the direwolf and its owner. Now he could see the other banners, the dozens of other banners, which lined both sides of the stream. White Stark sigils drifted like ghosts before him and, as he peered over his shoulder to glimpse his rear guard, he saw that the Lannister lion had become swallowed up in the maw of the wolf. In an instant, the enemy closed in and chaos erupted.
Despite the desperation of their situation, Jaime knew that it did not matter how many of his men would never live to see the light and the world beyond these woods; the legacy of this battle would live on as a victory for the South if the King of the North’s head rolled amongst the detritus of this ethereal forest. Jaime gnashed his teeth against the thought that his party was being torn apart around him and set himself to finding Robb Stark. This may end up being Jaime’s last night alive, but the pup would pay the debt of having Tyrion captured and, before he took his final breath, Jaime vowed that he would rid Westeros of this nuisance of the North once and for all. This was how he was supposed to die, after all, battling against his sworn enemy, sword in hand, muscles churning from wielding his blade, striking any who stood in his path. He only hoped that Cersei would be proud and that she would forgive him for leaving her alone.
Off to his right, Jaime caught the sound of screams rising over the rumble of a deep, thunderous snarl. A hulking gray blur prowled amongst the trunks of the trees nearby, lunging at any Lannister man that came too close to the pack while keeping a distance from the skittish northern mounts that reared nervously. Jaime took his chance while the direwolf was occupied, tearing the limb from a knight whose crimson armor disguised some of the blood that was freely flowing from the gaps in his plating. Jaime circled the group, coming upon them from the opposite side of the beast, running his sword into the first Stark he came across.
The sudden break of men and the shouts to “Protect the King!” attracted what was left of Jaime’s forces, giving him time to push further into the fray, relying on the panic to mask his approach. He continually cut down the knights that tried to stop him, so consumed by rage at himself for allowing his men to fall into this trap and at the young wolf who thought to kill him so easily. He hardly registered the roars and cries of the Stark bannermen as he ruthlessly sliced through as many enemies as he could, barely recognizing how much like boys some of the dead sounded in their last moments.
One more circle of his prey brought Jaime finally to where Robb Stark was battling one of the Lannister lords. He could have easily run his blade through the young man while he was distracted with his current battle. The realization only sent a wash of red into his vision as he found himself clearly in reach of the northerner. This child thinks to best me and yet he leaves himself vulnerable to attack. He knows little of how to fight and he has too much faith in his men. Unfortunately for the wolf, he would never live to learn to guard his rear himself.
Something stopped Jaime from taking the killing blow, though. He grimaced at himself as he called out to make his presence known, to force the King of the North to face him. “Just finished suckling your mother’s teat, pup?” he hollered just as the boy plunged a short sword cleanly into the neck of his foe. He whirled his horse to face Jaime, sneering confidently through a patchy beard that made Jaime want to laugh at how terribly young his enemy looked. The moment before he spurred his horse forward, he worried that he had once looked just as ridiculously prideful as the face staring back at him. But then, he thought, he still felt just that way.
The meeting of their blades sent Jaime’s heart soaring, the world around him fading to a silent haze, centered around the blue spark that lit the night as their swords clashed. The feel of the strength and speed behind Robb Stark’s attack shocked Jaime almost as much as the throbbing in his arm did at having to bring up his weapon to keep from being carved through. In only a few seconds, Jaime realized that for the first time his age may be his downfall. The boy’s moves were sloppy and too aggressive, but his stamina and the swiftness in which he delivered each blow would, eventually, be enough to overpower Jaime. There would be no one to help him, as all of his men were currently being dragged off to become hostages or were bleeding their life into the earth, the silent woods drinking in the souls of hundreds of men who would haunt the forest for eternity. As his fight continued, it was allowing more time for his forces to dwindle in number before the young wolf’s bannermen could reach them, joining to bring the Kingslayer down. Jaime could only hope that Robb Stark’s arrogance would force him to forget about the advantages of negotiating with King’s Landing. A Lannister son locked in a Stark cell could be a valuable weapon, but Jaime would rather die before he would rot under the King of the North’s hand.
A few more hits and Jaime would not be able to keep back the blade that would end him. He was huffing just as hard as his horse, which was trying to scoot away to bite at the Stark mount. It was only a small comfort that Robb Stark was also wheezing heavily through his helm, though it was clear that he was as aware of the inevitable outcome of this fight as well as Jaime, brandishing his sword grandly, expecting to put on a show for any that could see them. Jaime had no intention of being made a fool. He may die from the sword. He may be a tasty, handsome morsel for that infernal beast that was looming closer. But he would not be a mockery. So, he raised his own sword to meet what would have been the final slash and reared back his other gauntleted fist to punch the intolerable Robb Stark right under his chin.
There was one single moment of hope as the boy tilted on his horse, body and saddle sliding away from him, while Jaime willed him to topple. It was gone as soon as he had lost sight of the direwolf, though, for when he saw it again, it had leapt over its master and right into Jaime’s chest. Its paws forced him to the ground violently, his head slamming against the frozen dirt. Stars and spots of white searing light blinded him temporarily before a darkness, deeper than the night, closed in on him. The last images and feelings he experienced, before welcoming the black, were the pressure of the immense wolf keeping him to the floor, its breath reeking of blood and decay while it snapped its jaw above Jaime’s nose, growling low in a throat that had probably swallowed its fill of meat for the night. But what was one more scrap? The lion eaten by the wolf. Literally. How romantic.
The world slipped away from Jaime, saving him from the terror of having to feel the first bite of his demise.
It was an unfortunate and painful truth that Jaime Lannister had yet again survived. He awoke just in time to be dragged before the King of the North, bloodied, weak, and annoyed. One of his charming, sardonic smiles only provided him a harsh grimace from his captor. The Starks were all so boring and it seemed the young wolf had adopted his father’s honorable, stolid demeanor. It meant that even if Jaime did not live much longer, the boy would not meet the Stranger much further after him. If it was not by his own hand, however, Jaime had little care for how Robb Stark died.
As he was forced to his knees, bound hands making him struggle to keep himself from continuing down into the mud, Jaime tried to sound nonchalant. “I suppose you would like to take my head, pup, now that you are in a better position to do so.”
The muscles in Robb Stark’s jaw clenched as he fought against the angry words rising from his chest. “As much as I would have liked to have killed you in the Whispering Woods, you are much more valuable as a hostage-“
“He cut down my boy!” came a shout from the crowd that had gathered. “The Kingslayer must pay for Torrhen.”
Jaime watched the king carefully as a murmur of assent rose from his men. Why not force the wolf’s hand… or paw, as it was? “Tell me, since when are armed men in battle supposed to be spared because they are sons? Should I not also be let go? I am a son as well as a brother!”
“You are a murderer,” Robb Stark hissed before he could swallow down the comment. The flash in his cold eyes told Jaime that he realized his mistake as soon as the words flew from his inexperienced mouth.
“Ah, so is that my final sentence…Your Grace?” Jaime replied, enjoying the realization on Robb Stark’s face as he lost control of the situation.
“No. You will be confined to the cells and beg for the mercy of the honor of my bannermen. You may know nothing of loyalty, Kingslayer, but they will not harm you unless I order them to and there is no one to stop me from changing my mind about that.”
Jaime spent the next weeks pacing a hastily made cell that was surrounded by trusted Stark soldiers. He was exposed to the elements, shivering through frigid cold and icy rains. They fed him sparingly, keeping him at the edge of life so that he wished every day that the direwolf had simply closed its jaws around his neck in the woods. That same rotten beast paced outside his cell daily, waiting for death to finally take him so that it would feast on his body, though Jaime doubted he would be as delicious a snack as he had been before his imprisonment.
As the days wore on and he lost count of how long he had been held, Jaime resolved that if he had been able to live this long that he would continue to do so. The camp moved frequently, but the men were becoming restless, easily breaking up small skirmishes that they came across, but dreaming of more heroic battles. The desire to put an end to this monotonous war sent many to the cages of his cell, hungrily eyeing him, hoping that executing the Kingslayer would stop their long, chilly nights away from their homes and their families. Jaime had no desire to allow them the satisfaction, however, as he thought of his own woman who was waiting for him back in King’s Landing. He would live tonight and every night after, fighting his way back to the only woman he ever wanted to love.
But he was no stranger to the hunger in the eyes of the Stark bannermen. He would not survive much longer if their bloodlust was not fulfilled and, as the time passed by, he suspected that even another large clash with Lannister knights could not quell the desire for his head.
It appeared that Robb Stark was also sensing the discomfort amongst his ranks. He would occasionally visit his hostages, as Jaime learned that there were at least a dozen other lords and knights held within the camp. The young wolf would study the old lion, a deep frown tearing his unmarred, soft face. They would regard each other without saying a word, for once Jaime did not need to speak to make his point or to cause discomfit in his audience. Robb Stark was as aware of his fate as Jaime Lannister was and it was rather satisfying to see the stubborn boy suddenly doubt the faith of those he surrounded himself with.
The only real bright point in the dull monotony of being shuffled from one camp to the next was the moment when he thought he could escape. Two guards had been standing next to him, waiting for the men to lazily set up the bamboo bars to his traveling cage. No one seemed particularly disturbed by the Kingslayer’s presence, ragged and gaunt as he looked, clanking merrily as the chains that connected his cuffed wrists twisted with his movements. He was not particularly perturbed by his state, no, his father would ensure that he be freed any day now and all this would be forgotten the moment he settled himself between Cersei’s legs. What truly angered him was the nonchalance that the Stark men now portrayed around him. It appeared the young wolf had been right about the loyalty of his men, for none dared to approach or harm him. But as he became a permanent piece of the camp’s erection and dismantling, the men had begun to ignore his presence. There were no more sidelong glances or sneers or the hissing of a blade being threateningly drawn from its scabbard. A squire had actually tripped over the edge of his enclosure the other day, seemingly not even realizing it was there. Jaime could have none of that. He did not enjoy being the Kingslayer, though he embraced it well enough, but he had pride in being a Lannister. And Lannisters always paid their debts.
So, as Jaime and his guards waited for his warm and cozy home to be completed, he took the opportunity given to him as, for once, the blasted direwolf was off hunting, leaving him with only men to deal with. The young boy to his right was picking his teeth with his dagger while the larger, stronger knight on his left was distracted by a rather buxom camp follower that was tending to a stew nearby. Without much thought, Jaime reached over and snatched the dagger from the boy’s hand. He was not the greater threat, so Jaime used the blade to sink it into the neck of the man on his other side, effectively bringing him to his knees. When Jaime turned again, he found the lad gaping, too shocked to raise the alarm, though the workers at his cage were doing that just fine. The knife was still embedded in the knight, so Jaime looped his chains around the boy’s throat and pulled from behind. He dodged flailing limbs, following the body down to the earth as the boy choked out his last breath. Then Jaime ran.
It was not a successful escape and apparently the boy had been yet another son of some loyal Stark bannerman and the knight turned out to be a hero from one of the King of the North’s victorious battles. These truths only served to further enrage the camp and satisfy Jaime slightly, as his escape had left little doubt that his head would adorn a spike within the fortnight. He planned to try to run again, just to be sure Robb Stark was more occupied with keeping his enemy alive than his own men. But, perhaps it was luck or perhaps the young wolf was smarter than other northerners, as the problem of Jaime Lannister was quickly solved in the following days.
To much fanfare and a horrid display of lascivious colors amongst the dreary landscape of winter in the Riverlands, Renly Baratheon arrived at the Stark camp. Jaime had spent little time with the youngest stag, finding the man to be less talented with the metal sword in his hand as he boasted, though Jaime was certain he handled other kinds of swords much better. He also detested Renly’s childish obsession with his brother Robert. He had always openly fantasized about being more like the former king, making Jaime wonder if it was the drinking or the whoring that had fascinated Renly so much. Despite disliking the man, Jaime was thrilled to see him now. Though he was no less an enemy, he was the lesser of two evils.
It appeared that Renly was just as eager to see him because after only a cursory tour of the camp and the forces that Robb Stark controlled, the retinue came to a stop in front of Jaime’s cage. The young wolf motioned for his men to step back, out of earshot, leaving Jaime to have an intimate conversation with the two kings, while his manacled hands rested casually on the bars between them.
“Renly!” he started jovially. “My gods, you look terrible! War is not your color, I’m afraid.”
“I see that months in captivity have not stilled your tongue, Jaime,” Renly replied airily. He brandished a parchment in front of his face. “I suppose your sister will be glad to hear that since she seems to utilize it often.”
There had been whispers in the camp of a letter sent out by Stannis to all the lords in Westeros, claiming his right to the throne and lambasting Cersei’s children as bastards, products of incest. Since it was all true, Jaime saw no need in denying the situation, but he was not foolish enough to ignore the consequences to his sister and her children if he paraded around the Riverlands, renouncing Joffrey’s hold on the crown. Still, he could control himself only so much. “Oh, we all know now that she uses more of me than just that. I would offer to be of assistance to you, but I am terribly faithful to one and only one.”
Robb was shaking slightly next to Renly, face red and fists clenched, but neither Jaime nor Renly feigned to notice his quiet rage. “Let’s get to the point, My Lord. I am beyond tired of having the Kingslayer in my presence.”
Jaime laughed, enjoying the thought that though he was the one caged, the boy was the one actually trapped. He was caught by honor and duty. He was held down by the people he was supposed to protect and by the vows he had made. Jaime would take his physical bars any day over such responsibilities. He tsked, “I thought you and I were becoming fast friends, wolf. I was hoping I could replace the brother you lost-“
“You didn’t kill Bran, you monster!” the King of the North shouted. He slammed his fists into the cage, shaking Jaime’s chains and the posts. “I should kill you for enjoying murdering children.”
Jaime had enough of Robb Stark. He sounded so much like his self righteous, ignorant father that he thought it might be worth a beheading to reach out and swipe at the boy. He growled low, moving closer to the pair. “You have killed your fair share of children in battle, too, pup. Your blood sings for steel just as the next man’s. What does your mother’s sigil say…family, duty, honor? Hmph, you would have done the same thing I did if that boy had not been your brother. We are not so different in that.”
“Seven hells, Jaime, just close your mouth for once,” Renly interjected as he placed a calming hand on Robb Stark’s shoulder. “You are lucky you are such a useful hostage, otherwise you would have been long dead because of it. As it is, Robb can barely ensure your safety even right under his nose.”
“Are you jealous? I can’t help it if I have charmed every man in this camp.”
That jibe finally sent Robb Stark huffing, turning on his heel and stalking back towards his tents, his knights falling in line behind him. Renly stayed, watching the retreating wolf with Jaime. “He would be such a gloomy king,” the stag seemed to mutter to himself.
“He is more lively than your dear brother…either of them,” Jaime said, impatiently trying to draw attention back to himself. “None of you will unite your men completely and none of you will garner enough support to take the Iron Throne from the rightful heir. People will hardly take anything Stannis preaches as truth and that parchment might as well be blank for all Westeros cares. You are wasting men’s lives for nothing.”
“Robb Stark and I have enough men to put up quite a fight and since he has no interest in the throne, we are more than willing to make an alliance. This parchment will distract Stannis long enough and when he finds proof, it will only aide our cause. Ned Stark was a blind fool, but my single minded brother is relentless and he will find what Lord Eddard almost grasped.” Jaime had nothing to say to that since he feared it to be the truth. However jovial and witty Renly may be, though, he was a terrible strategist and he hated getting his hands dirty. This stag and wolf alliance may appear troublesome for King’s Landing, but Robb Stark’s pride and Renly’s laziness would tear them up from within, well before the Mud Gate ever came into view.
Renly shrugged at him. “Perhaps by the time we sack the south, you will be back in your white cloak. Hopefully this time you are willing to die for your king. Robert found you entertaining and though I doubt you had anything to do with his death, I am sure you are bedding the one who did. For Robert and my honor, I plan on treating you a little better than the Starks, but I can just as easily throw you back to the wolves should you try to escape.”
Apparently, Renly had already begun negotiations with the Lannisters about exchanging Jaime for some of the Stark hostages and a retreat of forces near High Garden. Considering that escape had been useless, Jaime figured that months as a political prisoner in Renly’s boisterous camp were much more preferable to being treated like a stray cat amongst the wolves. With Renly, Jaime was given a large tent to himself and two of the king’s knights, on rotation at all hours. He was dressed finely, though he was denied even protective mail to wear, and he was warm, clean, and well fed. With his guards always following, he was also given freedom of the camp. It was larger and more spread out than the Stark camp, but while the northerners were on the move regularly, Renly enjoyed being comfortable in the same spot. Compared to the nightly silence of the wolf camp, which allowed only a few fires to be lit even in the coldest evenings, the Baratheon party could have been mistaken for a traveling mummer’s show, so lit up by fires, rowdy songs filling the air, and wine and ale always at the ready. It was obvious to Jaime how Renly had attracted his bannermen, just as it was clear how poorly they would do if faced in an actual battle. It seemed that Renly’s strategy was to simply wait until all the other kings had killed one another so that he could sneak in to snatch up the crown without the bloodshed of his own men. Jaime wanted to tell him that it was a dishonorable plan, but then, who would listen to the Kingslayer?
The weeks passed much more comfortably as a political prisoner, though Jaime still kept an eye on any weaknesses in the camp in case a glaring opportunity to escape came up again. The Baratheon men held no grudges against him really, either as a Lannister or as the Kingslayer, but Renly took to ignoring his presence. The king drank with the men and joined to watch the entertainment for the evening, always with his radiant and sensual bride on his arm. Margery Tyrell was not as beautiful as Cersei, but she carried her own grace and flaunted her sexuality enough to turn the eye of most of the men in the camp. She could not attract the attention of all of them, Jaime noted, for there were a few that lingered on her lord husband and his constant companion, Loras Tyrell, but it was hardly a secret in King’s Landing of the youngest Baratheon’s proclivities. It appeared that the stag had decided to pick a pretty rose as consort, just not the one he had married.
While it seemed that Jaime had a clear notion in his mind of the makings of Renly’s army, one day he spotted something, or rather someone, that gave him pause. What caught his eye at first was a broad figure that loomed over even the tallest of knights and for a moment, Jaime wondered if the Clegane clan contained a third, younger brother. He seemed like a strange follower to be in the Baratheon camp, as Renly enjoyed surrounding himself with beautiful people and he clearly fought a grimace every time one of his more robust bannermen, especially Randyll Tarly, presented themselves. In order to lessen the insult of unattractive lords, the king had taken to “gifting” his men with the finest suits of armor, no matter how useless they were in battle, and the most expensive clothing that he could procure. Jaime imagined that the simpering stag would have a fit if he came across such an ugly beast tarnishing the majesty of his camp, which caused Jaime to enjoy the sight all the more.
As the brute stomped away from the training yard, still gripping a heavy sword in his massive hand, Jaime received a shock as he was able to look properly on the man’s face. The figure that was plowing through the camp like an aurochs, wearing breeches and a tunic that hung loosely under a jerkin that enclosed a broad, flat chest, was, in fact, a woman. Perhaps it would be better to term her a female as “woman” was rather forgiving. It was not her body or her masculine face or short hair that helped him determine her gender, but rather the magnificent blue eyes that could have only belonged to the Maiden herself that convinced him, though it took him a couple glances to finally accept it. How cruel the gods would seem, if they existed, to have given the most striking gaze Jaime had ever seen to the ugliest creature he had ever come across.
However unbecoming her appearance, Jaime found that his time as a prisoner of Renly’s might not be so dull after all. He had never hoped to have found something more amusing than himself to occupy his time away until he found his chance to escape or was returned home, but the female warrior might well be the distraction he needed.