Jaime watched as the tall boy hooked a leg onto the ship’s mooring line and shimmied his way along its length while hanging upside down. He must be a stowaway, doing his best to sneak off the ship quietly. It was a tricky maneuver and took strength and guts to pull off. If he slipped, he’d fall into the harbor and probably be pulled straight to the bottom by the bags strapped to his back. Jaime admired his technique but resented his timing. He had planned to use the very same rope to sneak onto the ship.
Well, a Lannister should look for the advantage in every situation. Jaime dug through his coin purse for a copper piece. “Hey, you,” he called when the boy was safely on the dock.
The newcomer’s head whipped around, impossibly blue eyes widening in surprise at being addressed. He stood head and shoulders taller than Jaime, but his smooth facial features said he was probably no older. Jaime had recently passed his twelfth nameday and knew he was due a growth spurt. Some lucky boys got theirs early.
“What’s your name?” Jaime asked.
“Um, G-Galladon,” he replied.
Jaime cast a skeptical glance at the ship whose most recent port was Tarth. “Come now, you can’t be so obvious when you’re making up a name. Galladon, like the warrior from the Age of Heroes who hailed from Tarth? I’m sure no one there actually names their son Galladon anymore.”
“They do too!” he retorted, pale cheeks flushing with anger.
“Alright, fine, Galladon. How about I give you this shiny copper and you tell me about the layout of the ship, especially the best places to hide and how to scavenge food.”
Galladon look Jaime up and down. “You’re a Lannister. Surely you can afford more than a copper.”
It was Jaime’s turn to be startled. “Not everyone in Lannisport is a Lannister. My father is a tailor,” he said.
Galladon ran a long, rather artistic finger down the emblem stitched into Jaime’s shirt. “Rather bold of him to dress you in their clothes, then, isn’t it?”
Jaime sighed. He’d worn his family sigil for so long he barely even noticed it anymore. “A silver?” he offered.
“How about a good meal?” Galladon asked. “I’ve been surviving off hard tack and jerky for a week. Even barley stew would be welcome at this point. We can talk over dinner.”
“I think I can do better than that,” Jaime said, starting to warm to the Stormlands boy. He seemed to have a clever enough mind and a noble bearing. Besides, Jaime could use a hardy meal himself. In the excitement of carrying out his plans today, he’d forgotten to eat.
They ended up in the common room of a small, upscale inn. Jaime knew he ran the risk of being recognized anywhere in Lannisport, but at least here there would be fewer mercenaries who might abduct the Lannister heir for some quick coin. He bought them each a thick cut of lamb from the roasting joint over the fire, fresh bread, and a pint of ale. Galladon required two helpings and an after dinner plum to be ready to talk.
“So, about the ship-” Jaime began.
“What do you want to go to Deepwood Motte for anyway? I wouldn’t have thought the wilds of the North would hold much appeal for someone like you.”
“Deepwood Motte!? I thought it was turning back for King’s Landing!” Jaime tried to keep his voice under control, but this spelled disaster for his plans.
“It will eventually, but first, it’ll travel two weeks up the coast of the North to load in lumber. Then it turns around and makes the reverse journey. There will be other ships to King’s Landing in the meantime,” Galladon added, hating to see the Lannister lordling looking so distraught. “Though it might be quicker to travel overland.”
“That’s no good. My father’s men are all over the Goldroad. I wouldn’t make a mile.”
Galladon considered. “Go north along the Riverroad then, and turn south at the Trident.”
“Hmm, sounds like you know your maps. Where are you headed anyway?”
“I’m not really sure, other than inland. My father has many friends in the ports, but fewer in the landlocked regions. I thought I would travel and pick up what work I could along the way.”
Even Jaime recognized that to be a dismal, desperate strategy. “You’re more running away from something than towards, then?” he asked.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Galladon replied. “What about you? What’s in King’s Landing that’s so important it’s worth angering Lord Lannister?”
“Who,” Jaime whispered. “My sister, Cersei. My twin. Father brought her to court so he could find her a good marriage, and he left me in the Westerlands to squire for Ser Crakehall. As if I could learn anything from that fat pig. I’m better than any squire and most knights already.”
“You could learn humility. Obedience, perhaps.”
Jaime scoffed, “You’re one to talk. C’mon, what is you’re fleeing? Squiring? Apprenticeship? Marriage?”
“Betrothal,” Galladon admitted, eyes glued to the table.
“What, was she ugly? Too young? Too old? Merchant class?” Jaime was clearly most scandalized by the last option.
“Too old,” Galladon said. “Over thrice my age.”
“Gods that’s terrible! Sorry to say it, but your father’s an idiot.”
Galladon smiled. Selwyn Tarth deserved more respect than that, but it felt redemptive to hear someone else say he’d erred on the marriage arrangements.
“You know, I shouldn’t stay in Lannisport long, and neither should you. If you want, we could get a room for the night and then travel north together. It might be nice to have company for the trip and safer as well. I’m more than fair with a sword myself,” Galladon said.
“Really? If you’re so good, why is your father marrying you off rather than setting you up as a squire?” Jaime asked. It was the first he’d heard of a Stormlord keeping his son from a life of glorious battle.
“You’d have to ask him,” Galladon said, mouth twisting into a deep scowl. Jaime saw he’d touched a nerve there.
“Your lady’s not in a family way, is she? Not very noble to run away from that.”
Galladon snorted laughter, more than the joke deserved really. “No. No, we only met once, and nothing happened other than us developing a mutual distaste for one another. I would never propose anything unworthy, I swear it.”
The untainted earnestness in those clear, blue eyes made Jaime feel that he could believe him.
They snuffed the candle soon after sunset, agreeing that turning in early would allow them to get a quick start in the morning. Jaime wanted to be clear of the city before he was seen by anyone who knew he was supposed to be at Crakehall. He pulled off his clothes and got into bed naked. It was narrower than his bed at home, and he’d be sharing with Galladon. Oh well, he supposed he would have to get used to living as a peasant, at least until he arrived in King’s Landing.
Galladon joined him in bed. His big-boned frame was going to make Jaime feel crowded, no question about it.
“You’re going to sleep in your clothes? That’s nasty. You’ll get all sweaty,” Jaime complained.
“I’ve learned it’s best to be prepared to make a quick getaway, just in case. I’ve been sleeping in my clothes all week.”
“You smell like it. No one is going to bother us here. Get undressed so we’ll both be more comfortable.”
“No. I think I’ll carry on being cautious,” Galladon replied in a tight voice. No doubt he was rightfully self-conscious about his odor, Jaime thought.
“Gods. At least have them bring you up a bath then. I’ll pay.”
“No. Just go to sleep, Jaime.”
“Who turns down a free bath? I thought you were noble. I’m going to tell the innkeeper to send up a bath and soap, and you’re going to use them.” He got out of bed and picked up his discarded clothes.
“You’re prissy as a girl!” Galladon cried, fastidiously looking away as Jaime laced up his pants.
“A man of good breeding has self discipline and mastery over his temper,” Jaime quoted his father, “He does not smell and act like a beast.”
“Do you suppose I could have some privacy, then?” Galladon asked.
Jaime smirked, ready with a mocking retort, but something in Galladon’s eyes had turned sad and even frightened. Jaime had a pretty good idea about what it must be. “Do you have… marks? Is that it; your father beats you? There was a houndmaster at Casterly Rock who used to beat his boys with a whip ‘til their shirts were in tatters. It’s nothing I haven’t seen before.” Jaime smiled encouragingly, adding, “It’s best to keep them clean.”
Too loyal to lie, Galladon replied, “No, my father is a kind man. He’s never raised his hand to me. Can’t you just let it alone?”
“Why won’t-” a new possibility occurred to Jaime. He felt the blood drop out of his face. “Is it greyscale?!” Gods, greyscale was almost always fatal, but first it turned you into a mindless monster. Was it contagious by air? Jaime couldn’t remember. He finished dressing in a panic, caught between the urge to flee and the desire to overpower Galladon to check for himself.
“No! I’m fine. I’m perfectly healthy!”
“Well, you’re obviously hiding something! You can’t expect me to trust you enough to travel together if you’re keeping secrets from me.”
“I – alright… if I tell you, do I have your word that you won’t repeat it to anyone else? Even if you decide that you don’t want to travel together after all?”
“Yes,” Jaime said. That seemed fair, and it was unlikely that Galladon would confess to being a murderer or slaver or anything truly unforgivable.
Galladon took a deep breath. The eyes that connected with Jaime’s were so full of hope and trust that he felt the gravity of the moment in the pit of his stomach. “You were correct that my name isn’t Galladon. He was my brother. My real name is Brienne.”
Jaime’s brow furrowed. He looked for a moment like his father when presented with news of a failure so unexpected that even he hadn’t developed a contingency plan for it.
“I’m a girl.” Brienne swallowed, then corrected herself. “No, I’m a maiden now since I’ve flowered. The boy I was betrothed to in my youth died of a fever, and my father has been searching desperately for someone else. He found a landed knight of nearly two score namedays who promised to wed me. He has a bastard daughter older than me! It would have been a miserable household.”
Jaime looked on her with sympathy. He couldn’t help thinking about Cersei, the same age and under the same threat. He had no illusions that his father would shy away from a marriage advantageous to the family even if the man in question was a lout. It made him all the more eager to hurry to King’s Landing.
“Also,” she continued, “it’s not the life I desire for myself. Can you understand? I don’t want to give up swordplay, sailing, and everything else I enjoy to become someone’s wife and have children.”
Jaime examined her closely. He couldn’t count himself too foolish for having been deceived. There were scarcely any hints she was a girl, much less a flowered maiden. Her hair was shaggy; she’d obviously cut it short herself and without benefit of a looking glass. Her sturdy frame and plain features looked to be developing more like a man’s than a woman’s. There was only perhaps the slightest curve to her hips. He pursed his lips.
“I’ll go ask the innkeeper about that bath, then. Girl or not, you still stink. While you work on that, I’ll see if there’s a tailors open that’ll make you a shift to sleep in. If we’re going to be together for a while, we may as well be as comfortable as possible.”
“G-get yourself a new shirt, too,” she said, gesturing at his lion insignia.
“My father always says the best women are the practical ones.” Jaime mock-bowed as he left the room.
Brienne felt her heart speed up in a sudden outpouring of emotion. Lord Jaime Lannister, the heir to Casterly Rock, was treating her with unbelievable kindness. He seemed to respect her. He’d even made her laugh. She hoped she would have the mysterious blushing under control by the time he returned.