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Runaways

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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.

 

Chapter Text

The thwack of sturdy oak branches slapping against one another was occasionally interrupted by childish laughter or a yelp of surprise. They’d begun by using their regular swords, but a mistimed dodge on Brienne’s part resulted in a light graze to her shoulder. Jaime apologized until she shoved him for making too big a deal of it, but thereafter he refused to spar with her using anything more dangerous than sticks.

The sessions still did good service to break the monotony of travel. Jaime discovered she hadn’t exaggerated her skill. He allowed himself a few excuses due to her longer arms and stride. However, he was forced to consider the radical possibility that some of his father’s men at arms had taken it easy on him in training. She was proving more of a challenge than any of them, and she plainly had no mercy. He loved it.

A huge grin spread across Brienne’s face. She held her newly whittled stick-sword at full extension. She’d broken the last one against a tree trunk while swinging at Jaime. He had such excellent footwork! She enjoyed learning from him almost as much as the game itself.

A heavy hand fell onto her shoulder. She spun around to see a powerfully built man with wavy auburn hair that was starting to fade to grey. He wore the red and blue tabard of a famous house over his chainmail. Tully. Family. Duty. Honor, Brienne recalled from her lessons.

“What are you lads doing in the Tully woods?” he asked.

Brienne counted herself fortunate to still be dressed as a boy. A girl traveling the countryside would have required much more explanation. She said, “Our fathers sent for us. We’re to join them in, um, Maidenpool.” She cast a glance at Jaime who was generally less reserved about talking to strangers. His eyes were wide and his mouth open in an ‘o’. “We were just having a bit of fun after our lunch. Sorry if we were making too much noise.”

“Well, you scared off all the game, make no mistake. Best you boys come with me, and I’ll see you have a proper supper and place to sleep tonight.”

“You have our thanks, Ser.” Brienne positioned her legs to curtsy then quickly turned it into a bow. Luckily she’d never been very good at curtsying, so she didn’t think he noticed. “J – Jonas?” she prompted.

Jaime finally found his voice. “You’re the Blackfish!” he cried. “The hero of the Stepstones! You killed the Ebon Prince in single combat! You were there to see Ser Barristan Selmy end the line of the Blackfyre Pretenders!”

Ser Brynden swatted like he was knocking Jaime's words out of the air. “‘Twas a long time ago, boy. Now I’m just a simple second son, trying to keep interlopers off my brother’s land. Come along, then. You two will need to wash up before dinner.”

 

Brienne had never seen an estate as massive as Riverrun. Her home of Evenfall Hall, situated on the edge of a cliff, was by necessity much more compact. Riverrun spread out to encompass almost the entirety of the area between the Tumblestone and the Red Fork of the Trident river.

“Do you lads know how to present yourselves to Lord Tully?” Ser Brynden asked.

“Yes, Ser,” they chorused.

He led them into Hoster Tully’s solar. The Lord of Riverrun seemed perturbed for a moment, having been drawn away from this letters, but soon put on a more pleasant face.

“Brother, look what scalawags I found sneaking around your woods.” The Blackfish nudged them forward to introduce themselves.

Brienne bowed low. “Greetings, Lord Tully. My name is Galladon Caron, son of Lord Bryen and heir to Nightsong.” Brienne struggled to keep her voice even. Though she doubted that word of her disappearance had traveled this far inland, she chose the furthest castle from Evenfall Hall that she had ever visited. “I give thanks for your kind welcome and hospitality.”

Jaime also bowed, but Brienne misliked the mischief in his eyes. “Jonas Sarsfield, of Sarsfield Hall,” he said. “And begging Ser Brynden’s pardon, but we were hardly sneaking, as he himself said at the time.”

Lord Tully looked surprised, but Brynden laughed. “Such cheek. The outsized confidence of a first-born son. You surely recognize the type.”

He grunted. “Indeed I do. Welcome to Riverrun, boys. Please join us for dinner. You may sit with my own children at the high table.”

They bowed and hurried off to prepare. Brienne’s stomach already growled at the thought of being invited to eat her fill after a lean week of travel.

 

The members of the Tully family were easy to pick out from the high table. All three children had similar appearances – thick auburn hair, blue eyes, and a slender build. Fourteen year old Catelyn acted as the lady of the manor since her mother’s death in childbed years ago. She elegantly bid the travelers welcome and invited ‘Galladon’ to sit next to her. Ten year old Lysa might develop into a greater beauty than her sister someday but was still a girl yet. She and Jaime sat together on the opposite side of the table. Jaime largely ignored her, however, instead choosing to attempt to pry war stories out of the Blackfish. Eight year old Edmure and the family’s ward Petyr sat at the end, involved in a low key food fight. Edmure ended up the messier, though no one ever actually saw Petyr throw anything.

Brienne luxuriated in the well-prepared fish and fowl from the Riverrun kitchens. She wouldn’t have admitted to refined tastes before, but too many dinners of half-burnt, half-raw rabbits and poorly roasted tubers had opened her eyes to the importance of cooking technique.

“It’s good to see a hardy appetite in a growing boy,” Lady Catelyn said. Her gentle manner and kind words made Brienne feel like they’d known each other for years.

“The meal is excellent, my lady. Makes me glad we were caught trespassing.”

Catelyn covered her smile with her hand. Galladon had better manners than most boys, but still managed to blurt out some inappropriate statements. Though, before her mother died, her father hadn’t always considered humor out of place.

Embroidered fish of different colors lined the borders of Catelyn’s dress. Their stitches looked fairly simple. Brienne thought that even she could execute them if she stuck to one color.

“Dear me, please don’t judge me by that,” Catelyn said, following her guest’s gaze. “I wouldn’t have worn this if I knew we were having company. I did it on a silly challenge from my sister.”

“Oh?” Brienne asked.

“I’ve sewn so many fish over the years that I said I could do it with my eyes closed,” Catelyn confessed in a whisper. “Lysa told me to prove it. I started out acceptably, I think, but by the end…” she rolled her eyes in embarrassment. Brienne examined the needlework carefully. Perhaps the eyes of the latter fish were a little off-center.

“It’s excellent work, my lady,” Brienne said.

“Catelyn’s engaged to Brandon Stark, so you can save your flattery,” Lysa broke in, hating to see her sister receive compliments over something intended to shame her.

“No, truly. I could never imagine possessing such skill.” Brienne looked down at her hands, so talented with a sword but clumsy with a needle.

“You’ll never have to,” Catelyn smiled. “By the time you’re my age, you’ll be well on your way to earning your spurs. Not long after, you’ll find a lady wife who will learn to stitch you thousands of songbirds. That’s House Caron, is it not?”

“Yes, my lady. Your memory for heraldry is as exceptional as your embroidery. Could you excuse me for a moment?”

Catelyn nodded, and Brienne briskly made her way out of the room.

Jaime’s gaze followed her. He’d noticed the thickness in her voice as she made her apologies. Lysa tried to interest him in some nonsense about a new love ballad, but she couldn’t hold his attention.

“I should find my friend,” he said after a while. “He may have missed a turn on his way back from the garderobe.”

Jaime exited by the same door Brienne had used and checked each room until he found her. She’d taken refuge in Lord Tully’s solar, sitting alone in the darkened room. She wiped at her flushed face when Jaime entered.

“What happened?” he asked. “You were sitting next to the nice one.”

“Nothing,” she said, pulling her face into a mulish expression.

“Come on. A big, tough girl like you, crying. That’s not something that happens easily, I imagine.”

“No… I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be rude. She’s just so… perfect. She sews and dances and always knows what to say. She’s beautiful and poised. I bet she makes her father so proud. Next to her – literally next to her – I’m a joke.”

“Don’t take this the wrong way, but yes, you are very different.”

Brienne laughed cynically. “An understatement-”

“But!” Jaime carried on, “Think about the Blackfish. He refused a marriage that didn’t suit him. It angered his lord brother so much he threatened to cut him out of the family. Ser Brynden didn’t bend. He just made his own sigil, went off to war, and came home a hero. Looks to me like he and his brother are getting along again now that some time has passed. Maybe you’ll find another way to make your father proud.”

“Maybe.” Brienne looked into his eyes, seeing none of his customary teasing. She hugged him, resting her chin on his shoulder. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” he mumbled. “Now can we go back? They’re serving peach cobbler for dessert.”

Brienne sniffed one last time. “Race you.”

 

After dinner, the youngsters were led away to their own guest rooms. The accommodations were generous, but Brienne felt unsettled. She listened at her door until she was sure no one was outside. Swiftly gathering her things, she crept down to Jaime’s room.

“What are you doing here?” Jaime yelped. He was half-undressed, readying for bed. Fortunately, his covered half was the more indecent one.

“I have something important to tell you.”

“Something else? What, are you half-unicorn?”

“Jaime please be serious for a moment,” Brienne said. “Earlier, when I was in Lord Tully’s solar” - her speech sped up, not wanting to dwell on this moment of weakness - “I saw a letter I wasn’t meant to see. I wasn’t snooping, honestly. Your name just leapt out at me.”

“My name?”

“Yes. It looks like your father and Lord Tully are negotiating marriage for you and Lysa.” Jaime’s face paled in profound shock. “Of course, I didn’t read it that closely,” she added righteously, “but ever since dinner I’ve been thinking. Lord Tully may have met your father. He may even know what you look like. They could be planning to keep us here while they send a message to Lord Lannister. They’ve been awfully hospitable to a couple of random boys, if you think about it.”

Jaime couldn’t deny the logic in her line of reasoning. It was all too plausible that his father would seek stronger ties with the Riverlands, as they were crucial to Westerlands trade routes. Lysa wasn’t bad looking, he supposed, though she was a bit of a brat. He curled his lip.

“Looks like we’re both running from engagements now. What do you say – should we borrow some horses and sneak away in the night?”

“I would suggest a boat rather than horses, but otherwise, yes. We can travel along the Trident much faster and more stealthily than the roads. I can sail and row with the best the them, I assure you,” she said.

“I believe you; you’re really strong.”

Brienne’s heart melted a little that he hadn’t added ‘for a girl.’ “I’ll miss our sparring sessions, though,” she said.

“We’ll have to tie up on shore at night. I think we’ll find the time. If there’s one thing I’ve learned so far, traveling with you is never dull.”

Brienne smiled at first, then looked askance. “Are you implying that I cause more trouble than you?”

“Well, you’re the one who can’t so much as take a piss where anyone can see.”

“I can’t help that! You could keep a better rein on your tongue from time to time.”

“Oh, what fun is that?”

“It’s not supposed to be fun!”

“That’s where we disagree.”

“You know what, let’s talk about this when we’re on the water,” Brienne relented.

“Fine.”

“Fine.”

They shook on it, both suppressing grins for all they were worth.

 

Chapter Text

“Be quiet!”

“I’m just saying, actual fishermen don’t have such good posture. Slouch more.”

“Will you shut up?”

“They’re not so fair-haired around here either. Pull your hat down.”

“You’re supposed to be a sack of trout. Stop. Talking.”

“You’re the one who’s talking now.”

Brienne shifted her foot onto Jaime’s windpipe, finally getting her point across. She pulled in her shoulders and lowered her head, trying to look like an exhausted fisherman at the end of a long day.

They had intended to leave the Trident behind at Lord Harroway’s Town, rest there for a few days and plot how best to approach King’s Landing. That idea went by the wayside when Jaime spotted Tully soldiers patrolling the surrounding riverbanks. The plan was apparently more predictable than he’d realized. To pass by, they disguised themselves with materials found on the boat. Brienne discovered that her broad shoulders did her a favor for once, giving her the appearance of a man when she covered up with a cloak and straw hat. Jaime flattened himself onto the deck underneath a pile of sacks whenever anyone neared. It worked from a distance, but would be inadequate to a close challenge.

After the last landing to Lord Harroway’s Town was behind them, the Trident’s banks were again deserted. Jaime emerged from concealment to relieve Brienne at the oars. “What’s the next town on the map?” he asked.

“Maidenpool.”

“That’s no good. You told Ser Brynden we were headed there. Great thinking.”

“We weren’t at the time,” she protested.

“Well, he probably considers us dumb enough to go through with it. What else is there?”

“Not much… though there is a large inn where the Riverroad meets the King’s Road.”

“Alright, that might do. We could get a change of clothes, traveling supplies, maybe even some horses. I fear speed will become important if Lord Tully notifies my father. I can plead my case if we make it to King’s Landing, but if I’m taken back to Casterly or Crakehall, I may never get the chance.”

 

After sunset, they pulled the boat onto the riverbank and crept toward the Inn at the Crossroads. Every sense on alert, both pointed out the soldier standing at its entrance to the other.

He addressed some merchants attempting to enter, “A moment, gentlemen. Lord Tully is searching for a pair of thieves. Two boys, fair of hair, traveling together with about twelve namedays apiece. One is notably taller than the other. There is a reward for their capture if you’ve seen anything.”

“No, I’ve not come across such lads, but I’ll keep my eyes open. I trust Lord Tully will be generous in the bounty?” the fattest merchant asked.

“He is treating the matter with some urgency, yes,” the soldier replied. Brienne and Jaime exchanged frightened glances. How much further would they have to go before they were safe? “We don’t believe they’ve made it this far east yet, but we’d like everyone to be aware,” he concluded.

Brienne smirked with pride. They’d underestimated her rowing skills. Jaime pulled on her arm to lead her around back.

“We should keep going before they realize we’re ahead of them,” she said.

“I agree, but it will be at least another week of travel to King’s Landing. We need supplies. Your stomach growling will give us away if nothing else.”

“I did most of the rowing,” she grumbled. He had to mention food. Her mouth flooded with water as she caught the scent of roast meat on the air.

“We should disguise ourselves better. Some coal dust in our hair will make us stick out a bit less.” His eyes fixed on something nearby, and a wicked grin crossed his face.

“What?”

He gestured grandly to the dress hanging on the clothesline. “They’re looking for two boys.”

She nodded, giving the matter due consideration. “Put it on then.”

“Brienne!”

“I’m taller. You can be my little sister that I’m escorting to the city. It will seem odd if it’s a younger boy escorting his older sister.”

“They’re looking for a tall boy. Besides, anyone who knows me also knows my sister. When I’m wearing a dress, I look just like her.”

Brienne did a double-take at that. However, no matter how they tried to arrange it, the dress was too long for Jaime. It was made for a fully-grown woman and would drag on the ground beneath him. She donned it with a mighty sulk and tucked her short hair into a kerchief.

“You look positively peasanty, my lady,” Jaime teased. “Go on in and hire a room for us. I’ll sneak in the back and join you. Order whatever you want for dinner.” The last bit drew a smile from her, and she accepted the silver coins he slipped into her hand.

Brienne passed by the solider at the door with her head respectfully lowered. He tried to speak with her, but she blurted out, “Mother says I mustn’t talk to boys,” and dashed inside. The soldier didn’t seem to consider that remarkable; rural maidens could be quite skittish around men.

Jaime made sure she successfully passed inside before returning to the rear of the building. He reflected that she did a passable job at pretending to be a girl but he probably could have done it better.

 

Inside the Inn, Brienne beheld a homey atmosphere. The common room held several large tables with sturdy wooden benches, though they were mostly deserted. The few patrons left drank ale and picked over the remains of their dinner.

An amply-proportioned young woman waved to her. “Greetings, young miss. Are you here for a room? I’m afraid you’ve missed supper, but there’s a few leftovers I can part with.” She winked. Anyone from the surrounding area knew that Masha Heddle made more custom from the excellent tables she sat than from renting rooms.

“Thank you ma’am. I’m traveling with my younger brother. We would like a room and some supper if it wouldn’t be too much trouble.”

“Look at you, so polite. Tell you what, help me clear the tables of their dishes and you and your brother can eat for free of what you find in the kitchens.” (Masha also had a well-known soft spot for children).

Brienne bobbed a sloppy curtsy and immediately went to work. She didn’t want to give the proprietor any time to rethink her bargain which, knowing herself and Jaime, they would get the better of. She worked efficiently and managed not to drop any of the towering piles of plates onto the floor. One of the drunks even tipped her a copper piece when she helped him walk to the door.

The only interruption came due to Jaime. Brienne nearly burst out laughing when she saw him sneaking in from the storerooms. He’d far overdone it on the coal dust. His hair was now quite dark, but so was much of his face. His hands were pitch black.

She pointed him toward the entry to the kitchens. “Go back there and wash your face and hands. You look like a beggar who’s been sleeping in a pigsty.”

“You’re not thinking I’m the scion of House Lannister though, are you?”

She manhandled him towards the back. “Go or she’ll kick us out. I’ve got us a room and free dinner.”

“Sounds like you’re a natural at tavern wenching.”

“Shut your mouth and get cleaned up. There’s a good third of that ham left, and I think I can eat the whole thing.”

 

By the end of the evening, Brienne and Jaime had both more than eaten their fill. They put away ham, greens, cornbread, pheasant, baked apples, and just when they thought they could take no more, Masha presented them with sweet cakes soaked in honey. Upstairs, they found their room to be on the sparse side but clean enough to suit them.

Jaime reclined on the bed and rested a hand on his stomach. “I’m fairly certain we’ve fallen into a trap,” he said. “She’s stuffed us so full we won’t be able to squeeze out the door in the morning.”

“She’s lonely, I think. She tends to her infirm father and doesn’t have a husband. She enjoys talking with travelers and hearing about the world. The food is sort of a bribe to keep them around.”

Jaime sat up and smiled in Brienne’s direction. “You try to hide it, but I believe you’ve got a bit of a soft heart.”

“I don’t,” she replied unconvincingly.

“How did you learn these details about her life then?”

“We were chatting while you washed the dishes… which wasn’t even part of the bargain, by the way. Seems like you’re nicer than you let on, too.”

“Preposterous,” Jaime said. “I’ll be pushing on towards King’s Landing in the morning. Will you be coming along or staying here?” Brienne shot him a confused look. “Well, you have such a talent for tavern wenching, after all. It would be a shame to waste it.”

“I think I’ll risk it. I do have other skills.”

“You’re fair with a sword; I’ll grant that. But I’ve never seen a woman carry so many plates. You’re a prodigy.”

“You’re insufferable. Maybe I should stay.” A moment of doubt crossed Brienne’s face. Her plans for King’s Landing were uncertain at best. She could easily end up a beggar in Flea Bottom. Or.. or… a fallen woman on the Street of Silk.

Jaime saw the unintended result of his teasing take hold. His companion was occasionally struck by a mood of dourness or a lack of confidence that he himself never faced. Fortunately, he’d devised a method to break her out of it. His fingers wiggled and he pounced, bowling her over and struggling to break through her defenses.

“Wench. Wenchy, wenchy, wenchy, wenchy, wenchy,” he chanted as he tickled her. She was so incredibly sensitive that he barely needed to touch her once the battle had begun. She would erupt in giggles just from seeing his fingers twitch, sometimes from half-way across the room.

They wrestled, broke apart and came back together, rolling all around the floor. Brienne's laughter became more and more helpless. It was a war she was destined to lose from the beginning. Jaime had many fewer tickle spots and protected them with devious strategy. Finally, she collapsed, trying to contort herself to cover a dozen different areas. He gave her a moment to catch her breath.

“No more talk of staying behind, Wench?”

“Alright; very well. We’ll stick together, Knave.”

“Hmm, I don’t think that’s quite as catchy. Wenchy, wenchy, wench.”

“No!” she squealed, as round two of the tickle tournament began.

 

Chapter Text

Jaime and Brienne found themselves walking more slowly as they approached the gate where the Kingsroad entered King’s Landing. They had used their wits to stay ahead of their pursuers and arrive safe and sound. It didn’t feel as triumphant as they’d assumed it would.

“We usually enter by Lion Gate,” Jaime said. “From the Goldroad. I like its decoration better than the Gate of the Gods.” He knew this wasn't the sort of matter she would care about, but he was stalling, not eager to face the tender mercies of his family just yet.

“You would,” Brienne chided, but she too felt distracted. They would need to part ways soon, and she didn’t look forward to it. She gazed at the face of each god carved into the gate, lingering longest on the Warrior. “Do you really think the City Watch will take me?”

“Of course they’ll take you! A strapping young lad with his own castle-forged sword? They’ll be thrilled to have you. I bet they make you a sergeant within three moons so long as you behave yourself. Think you can keep a handle on the drinking and the wenching? You’re going to fare much better than me, I wager.”

“Don’t tell me Lord Jaime “the Wench-slayer” Lannister has found something to fear,” Brienne teased, even using his self-appointed nickname as the undefeated tickle fight champion to make him smile.

“It occurs to me that there might not be much I can do to help my sister. What if Father won’t listen to reason? He will probably be angry at me from the start.”

“There’s no point in trying to solve every problem before you see the situation at hand. Know this though: if your sister loves you as much as you love her, just your coming here will help her feel better. That amount of love is rare and precious, even if you can’t change her circumstances.”

“Thank you for saying that. So, do you know what to tell the Watch captain? Their barracks is the first big building you’ll see once you’re through the gate.” They’d been over this; he was dawdling.

“That I’d like a job with the Watch. I’m sixteen; my father is a landed knight; I’m his second son, and I left the Stormlands to make my fortune in the city.”

“And your name is?”

“Brien. Because no one names their son Galladon anymore,” she quirked a teasing scowl - an expression of her own invention as far as Jaime knew - “even if they do.”

“Perfect. Shall we meet up in a week, right here, to see how things are going?”

“I will look forward to it. Good luck, Lord Jaime.” She bowed, trying to fake a carefree smile. She would rather have hugged him good-bye, but she was afraid it would make her cry. She’d only known him a few weeks, and yet their friendship felt deeper than any she’d had with the children she’d grown up with on Tarth.

“Good luck, Brien,” Jaime gave her a little wave. He couldn’t put words to why their farewells seemed so unfinished. Next time, he promised, he’d not let her go without a hug.

 

Jaime hadn’t considered how he’d get into the Red Keep. No one had ever barred him from entry anywhere before, excepting his father’s rooms. He jumped back as the burly guard stepped into his path.

“Where do you think you’re going, boy?”

Jaime drew himself up straight. He prepared to say something scathing but was struck mute when he saw his reflection in the guard’s breastplate. He stood there dirty and ungroomed, wearing no noble sigil, and was trying to enter the grounds of the royal castle.

Jaime thought fast. “My father works in the kitchens. He told me to come and help him this afternoon.”

“Get out of here. I’ve had enough of you urchins trying to beg or steal food. Just because Queen Rhaella has a soft heart doesn’t mean you can come and go as you please.”

Jaime turned to leave. He’d have to come up with a better story once the guard shift changed.

“Wait. You the baker’s boy?” the guard asked.

“Yes,” Jaime agreed.

“He didn’t tell you to come help him. You knew he’d be dead drunk by now and are trying to keep him from getting the sack. You’re a good lad. Go on in. Hurry. Tell him he’s not fooling anybody.”

Jaime uttered copious thanks, bowed, and dashed through the towering bronze gates. He knew the wisest course of action would be to go straight to his father before anyone else let Lord Tywin know he was there. His heart pulled him in a different direction, however. He missed Cersei too much. They’d been apart for weeks; it wasn’t natural.

Jaime entered the castle by the servants’ passageway, and as quickly as he could, climbed to the second floor. It should be largely deserted at this hour, so he could travel the corridors with little risk. If he knew Cersei, she’d be outside on a beautiful day like today, having finished her lessons early. He thought he heard… yes, floating on the air like sweetly ringing chimes was Cersei’s laugh. He realized it was so different than Brienne’s which often ended in a snort. Jaime smiled, remembering prying those reluctant laughs out of her.

Cersei’s bell-laugh rang out again, and Jamie crept onto a balcony to look down at her. The scene he took in filled him with confusion. Prince Rhaegar Targaryen held an audience in the garden courtyard below. He was a beautiful man with long silvery hair and an elegant manner. The garden was filled with courtiers, servants, and several maidens all vying for his attention. They watched in apparent delight as he picked individual blossoms from the trees and arranged them just so in the laughing maiden’s golden tresses. Cersei had changed a great deal in the time they’d been apart. Surely it couldn’t be all physical, but she appeared much more womanly now. The adoring expression on her face as she gazed up at Rhaegar inspired strange feelings of anger and jealousy in Jaime. She’d never looked on anyone but Jaime (and her looking glass) like that!

Jaime must have made more noise than he realized scrambling down the stairway toward the garden. Before he reached it, he found himself flanked by two implacable knights wearing the white armor of the Kingsguard.

“Boy, you have until the count of three…”

The jig, it was up. “Sers, my name is Jaime Lannister, eldest son of Tywin Lannister, Hand of the King. I would like to see my father, please.”

They obliged him, far more to their pleasure than his.

 

Ser Barristan entered the small council chamber and informed Lord Lannister that his son would like a word. Observing the shock displayed by his usually imperturbable Hand, King Aerys II ordered Jaime to be brought into the chamber. “Surely whatever is of such importance to cause him to travel here can be no secret from his King and most trusted councilors,” he said. In truth, the seed of paranoia had already begun to sprout in Aerys, and he feared some Lannister scheme was in play.

Jaime marched in, head held high. His mind blanked at seeing the full power of the court gathered in one room: King Aerys II, Lord Lannister, Grandmaester Pycelle, Ser Gerold Hightower, and the rest of the small council, each the premier power in their field. They all looked down on him, and for the first time in his life, Jaime felt insignificant.

Lord Lannister stood, waiting for the king’s permission to speak. Aerys did not seem inclined to grant it. He enjoyed watching his Hand’s face turn red with constrained rage.

“Young Lord Lannister,” Aerys said, “what brings you before our exalted company? An urgent message on behalf of your smaller and younger brother, perhaps?” Aerys’ eyes sparkled with a mad mischief.

“I… I… no, Your Grace. All is well at Casterly Rock.”

“I see. Perhaps you’ve heard of some treason to the Crown. A message you felt was unsafe to send by raven?” Aerys saw Tywin’s knuckles turn white with the force he used to grip his chair.

“No, Your Grace. Everyone great and small loves you,” Jaime replied, doing his best to get in some flattery if nothing else.

“Lord Tywin, do you know why your son is here?”

Finally free to speak, Tywin paused for the merest second to banish the emotion from his voice. “I do not, Your Grace. I do have reports from Lord Crakehall and Lord Tully telling me he was not where he was supposed to be. May I inquire?”

The king nodded his permission, amused enough for now at Lord Lannister’s discomfort.

“Jaime. Explain yourself.”

Jaime, oddly, did not feel afraid. He may end up punished, even severely so, but his personal moral compass said he was in the right. Mayhap it was the influence of the wench and her peculiar standards of honor. “I had not heard from Cersei. She said she would write me every day, but after I received a message saying she’d arrived, I heard nothing else. I became concerned for her welfare.”

“How did I sire such a foolish boy? Lady Cersei is a companion to Queen Rhaella. I will not have her wasting her time writing pointless letters to her wastrel of a brother. How dare you” – Tywin lost the battle to remain calm here – “defy my orders and leave your post? You’ve undermined my stewardship of the entire West! If you’d rather not train as a knight, I can arrange that. You can wed as soon as your intended flowers. Is that more to your liking?”

“Lord Tywin, no. Surely you see you are in the wrong,” Aerys said, barely concealing a cackle. He’d never seen anyone get such a rise out of his Hand. The boy was too useful in that way to be allowed to leave. “His concern for his sister is touching. It shows a real loyalty. Nothing is more important to me than loyalty. Perhaps I judged too hastily in saying he would not squire for Rhaegar. Consider the matter resolved. He shall remain at court, seeing to Rhaegar. In time, he will earn his knighthood. Even Kingsguard may be within the reach of such a resourceful lad.”

Aerys could scarcely name a greater pleasure than the slow torture of his Hand. Tywin would suffer every day knowing Jaime was at the mercy of the Targaryens, and the reward for his endurance would be to see his heir invested with a high honor that would disqualify him from inheritance. All Tywin’s careful schemes were well and truly devastated.

 

“Wench.”

“Wench.”

Brienne looked around frantically, eventually locating the whisperer hiding behind a drum of salted fish newly arrived from the Riverlands. She was on hand to prevent theft as goods were transferred from the docks to the warehouses. Her new gold cloak shone brightly over her admittedly patchy armor.

“Don’t call me that,” she whispered. “What are you doing here? I thought you said we’d catch up in a week.”

“I couldn’t wait a week,” Jaime said carelessly. “I missed you.”

Brienne couldn’t say why she found that so embarrassing, but her cheeks flushed in acknowledgment. “Well, here I am.” She cast her eyes around, trying to figure out what to say. “My first week in the City Watch is going well. I’ve broken up a few fights but nothing dangerous. It’s mostly a lot of standing around, really. The other lads in my squadron say that once we get our wages, they’re going to take me for a treat and let Chataya make a man of me. I think I know what that means. I’m not entirely sure how I’m going to get out of it.”

“Maybe you should be elsewhere.”

“If they don’t find me on payday, they’ll just wait. It’s fine. It’s nice actually, that they’re trying to make me part of the group. I’ll figure something out.”

“No. I meant, maybe you should be far away.” He took her hand in his. “I’m learning nothing from my squireship, and you’re doing little but standing around. Life was a lot more interesting when we were together.”

“Fleeing from your father and Lord Tully. Stealing boats and living under false identities.” She chuckled at the memories.

“Exactly.” His eyes looked up to hers, earnest for once. “If I stay, I’ll just be a way for King Aerys to torment my father. Prince Rhaegar will never fight in a battle; all he does is play his harp. I can’t even train in the yard. Rhaegar wants me there to hear him play and fetch him wine. And you! How long do you think you can fool them? A year, maybe? Eventually they’ll notice you don’t shave and have a habit of doing your necessaries in private. And that’s assuming word of the tall tow-head doesn’t get back to your father.”

“What about your sister?”

Jaime examined his boots. “She’s changed. She didn’t need me, it turns out, but she wants to use me. Every day she pulls me aside and asks me to speak of her virtues… to Rhaegar. She thinks it’s wonderful that I’m his squire, that he’s beginning to trust me. She’s sure that between the two of us, we can make him fall in love with her.” The prospect sickened Jaime. Rhaegar wasn’t good enough for his sister. He couldn’t think of anyone who was, but certainly not Rhaegar.

“What are you considering?” Brienne asked, curious in spite of herself.

“A representative from the Iron Bank of Braavos has been meeting with the royal family. He’ll depart on the morrow in a nice Braavosi passenger ship. If we buy passage, and pay extra to travel privately, then I don’t think word will get out. You can trust the Iron Bank to keep its bargains.”

“You want to go to Braavos? Together?”

“For a start. We can go wherever we want after that. Join a mercenary company, a pirate crew, or just travel as wandering knights.”

“You’re not a knight.”

“Neither are you. I don’t think that really matters there. In all seriousness, I have a pouch full of gold, and I’m ready to leave tomorrow. I want you to come with me. I’ve never felt so alive as I did in the weeks we were together. Please.”

“You know, at some point we’re going to have to stop running away from our problems.” She fidgeted, indecisive.

“Oh, I promise you, Wench, once we’ve found our place in this world, nothing will be able to make us back down.”

He still held her hand. How could she say no?

 

Chapter Text

The pair of Westerosi twelve year olds held tightly to the rail of their ship as it passed beneath the legs of the Titan of Braavos. Neither of them had seen anything like it before. King’s Landing featured admirable architecture, but nothing to rival a fortress in the shape of a giant warrior. They took it as a promising omen.

The Titan roared as their ship entered the harbor. Brienne laughed in surprise, and Jaime smiled at her.

“I didn’t expect the roar! Have you been across the Narrow Sea before?” Brienne asked.

“No, but I’ve read all about it.”

“Really? I wouldn’t have taken you for an avid reader, no offense. I figured boys got to spend all their time in the training yard. Girls mainly just read The Seven Pointed Star and sew.” She stuck out her tongue in frustration at the unfairness.

“My father made a point of forcing me to read a lot because I was less than perfect at it. I had to memorize some new passage every day before I was allowed out into the yard. I’d made my way through the history of the Seven Kingdoms and moved onto geography before I was finally old enough to squire.”

“It still sound better than sewing. Can you imagine these hands ever handling anything delicate?” Brienne held out one of her hands, and Jaime matched his up with it. Hers was notably larger.

“Well, knowledge of sewing might prove valuable for stitching up battle wounds. Always look for what you can use to your advantage, that’s what my father says. Besides, a big hand makes for a firm grip, and yet you still manage a rather deft and gentle touch.” He interlaced his fingers with hers and squeezed her hand in encouragement while the ship docked in the Purple Harbor.

Brienne and Jaime did not know their luck in arriving aboard a Braavosi passenger ship. Foreign ships were forced to dock at Ragman’s Harbor in a much rougher area of town. The young Westerosi disembarked at the city’s center of power and wealth, with the Sealord’s Palace and the Iron Bank within sight.

“I suppose we should… look for work?” Brienne put forth. She suddenly felt provincial and out of her depth. Had she really just traveled half-way across the world without a plan? Maybe women were as whimsical and short-sighted as Septa Roelle had suggested. She was glad of Jaime’s reassuring grip; otherwise she feared she might become paralyzed.

“Not yet, I don’t think. We have plenty of money. Let’s explore for a bit and get the lay of the land. What, have you never heard of a vacation?”

Brienne pushed her uncertainties down. He was right. As Maester Solnus wrote in Battles and Sieges, a forbidden book she’d kept hidden under her bed and read by moonlight, ‘knowledge of terrain is oft more important than multiplicity of forces.’

 

Jaime may sometimes come across as unserious, but he took to exploring Braavos like he’d been sent by King Aerys to spy. They stayed at a different inn each night and investigated every place people gathered, from mummer’s playhouses to midnight duels of bravos at the central fountains. Brienne refused to enter the brothels, and she noted with some relief that he didn’t insist on visiting alone. He agreed that few enough conversations worth hearing probably occurred there. In truth, he was striving to find them a stable situation, feeling entirely responsible for dragging his best friend across an ocean. She’d left her livelihood and family ties behind so that they could stay together; he had to make sure she didn’t suffer for it.

He told her what he recalled of the history of Braavos, how it was founded by slaves from many different lands who rebelled against the captains of their slave ships. Brienne spotted the First Law of Braavos carved into a massive stone arch over the Long Canal: ‘No man, woman, or child will ever be a slave, thrall, or bondsman.’ She appreciated the sentiment. Slavery of any kind was abhorrent to a Westerosi, especially one who’d given up a noble life to keep from being forced into a role she was unwilling to play.

They could see the variety of cultures reflected in the city’s people. While Valyrian was the official language, many other tongues were spoken. Most shopkeepers even knew enough of the common tongue of Westeros for Brienne and Jaime to trade without serious confusion. Still, they made a solid effort to expand their Valyrian vocabularies to be more easily understood.

They were also forced to adapt their wardrobes. Essos was warmer and more humid than Westeros. Brienne tried to make a go of wearing her armor, but the wool, leather, and metal proved too exhausting for hours of walking around the city each day. Jaime’s brocaded and quilted tunic also stuck out amongst the citizenry. Neither of them looked particularly remarkable – people wore all types of unusual attire here – but their clothing marked them as foreigners.

A quick little tailor sized them up and prepared them each a suit of street clothes in light, colorful linen – blue for Brienne and maroon for Jaime. After some consideration, Brienne decided to continue to dress as a man. She’d seen more women carrying weapons here than in Westeros but felt she’d be safer and more anonymous if she disguised her sex.

“What do you think?” Jaime asked, admiring himself in the looking glass.

“It’s a dress,” Brienne said, unimpressed.

“It’s a fustanella, a shirt, and vest. That’s what young men wear around here. Besides, I don’t know what you’re complaining about with dresses. The ventilation is a gods-send.” He swayed, enjoying the freedom of movement. The many pleats gathered attractively around his bare knees as he switched directions.

“You look very pretty,” she mocked.

“I look like a daring bravo, and so would you if you’d give it a try. It will keep you from collapsing of heat exhaustion at the very least.”

Brienne felt a bead of sweat run down her back and had to grant his point. “Couldn’t I have my… fustanella cut a little longer?” she asked the tailor. Wearing men’s clothing was one thing; showing her knees quite another.

“If it’s any longer, it would look like a woman’s dress. You wouldn’t want that, would you lad? You’re nearly a man grown. It’s time to tantalize the ladies a bit. Show off those corded muscles.”

“Yeah, Brien. Give us all something to look at other than your face,” Jaime taunted.

Brienne grabbed the garment and stepped behind a dressing screen. She changed, reluctantly leaving her pants behind, though she kept her smallclothes. “Happy?” she asked Jaime as she emerged.

“Amazing! You’ve got great legs. They’re even more muscled than I thought. All the way up to your thighs!”

Brienne turned away abruptly so that Jaime wouldn’t notice her face flushing past pink to red at his compliment. The brisk motion made her skirt flare up. When he exclaimed, ‘even your butt!’ her blush trended toward purple.

 

Now blending in better with the locals, they started to notice some of the underlying dynamics of the city. Actual bravos would nod at them during the day, but Brienne and Jaime were not interested in participating in the nighttime duels. They learned that even wearing a sword after dark was grounds for a challenge if someone was bored enough. Fighting for the honor of a courtesan they’d never met seemed strange to their sensibilities.

“It’s not that different than fighting for a lord, I suppose. At least the courtesans don’t actually try to kill each other or levy taxes,” Jaime said.

“Maybe it’s more like worshiping a god. They seldom let you know whose side they support. The arrangement here is rather nice, isn’t it? All the temples are side by side on the Isle of the Gods, and there’s no conflict. We should go by the Sept-Beyond-the-Sea and light a candle to the Crone for guiding our way safely here.”

“Sure,” Jaime said. The Isle of the Gods was one of the most scenic parts of the city. Most of Braavos was built from dull grey stone with few natural touches. There were almost no trees or green vegetation to break up the monotony. The gardens and sacred groves on the Isle of the Gods were a balm to his soul, even if he did have doubts about the gods themselves.

The Sept-Beyond-the-Sea featured colorful stained glass windows and rich fabric drapings on the walls. The altars were made from finely grained marble, and incense in the air constantly reminded everyone they were in the presence of the gods. The expense of these trappings was not lost on Jaime. The worship of the Seven may be uncommon in Essos, but seemed to have gained some generous patrons. Westeros and Braavos were forging strong ties due to increased trade and a prosperous summer.

After praying before the Crone, Brienne also visited the Father, the Maiden, and the Warrior. Jaime wondered it she would do the entire cycle. He wandered into the courtyard and paused in amusement at hearing flat King’s Landing accents from a nearby bench.

A small group of men sat there talking in the common tongue. Their tunics and pants marked them as Westerosi, though Jaime could see no House badges. He meandered closer to listen.

“Lord and Lady Baratheon were loyal to the core. Their loss is a blow to the Crown. Of the new lord, Robert, I’m not so sure. He’s a young man, hot of blood. Once he’s done grieving, who knows where he’ll turn his aggression. We don’t need anything interrupting the long peace. War is good for shipbuilders and armorers, but spice merchants like stability.”

“What were the Baratheons doing in Essos in the first place?”

“King Aerys sent them to find Prince Rhaegar a wife of true Valyrian blood. Not only did they fail, but on returning home, they got caught in Shipbreaker Bay by a surprise storm. I heard there were no survivors.”

“I heard they pulled a fool out of the sea days later, crazy as a loon.”

“Well, in any case, it looks like Rhaegar will have to make do with one of the second choice maidens now. Princess Elia of Dorne or the Hand’s daughter, Cersei.”

“Sounds like the prince is landing on his feet all right. Why would he want to marry a Valyrian anyway? Silver hair and purple eyes – it’d be like marrying his sister.”

“I hear that’s what they’re into. Ha!”

“Ha! Yes, too bad he’s got a brother instead of a sister. If Viserys was Visenya, then they could have tied it up with no loss of life.”

 

Jaime backed away, his face pale. Brienne caught sight of him as she emerged from the sept.

“What’s the matter?”

“I just overheard some startling talk of home. It looks like my sister may get her wish after all. Apparently she’s on the short list to marry Prince Rhaegar.”

“You disapprove,” Brienne stated. She could tell from his unusually serious expression that this news had knocked the wind out of him. “Might it not be for the best? She will be queen some day. Surely that will make her happy.”

“Rhaegar is… strange. In the short time I squired for him, I could see that he’s melancholic, prone to wild fancies, obsessive. Let me say it more plainly: he’s crazy, like all Targaryens. People call Aerys ‘The Mad King’ openly now, though of course not to his face. The king is paranoid and delusional, imagining conspiracies behind every spilled salt cellar and misplaced shoe. I fear Rhaegar is headed for no better, and he’ll drag down anyone nearby as well.”

“Do you know who else is in the running?”

“Elia Martell of Dorne. I’ve met her before. Cersei is much more beautiful.”

“I’m sure… but politically Dorne may be preferable. The king doesn’t need to cement your father’s loyalty any further, whereas Dorne has always been a bit separate from the rest of the kingdoms, with its own laws and titles.”

“Yes, but my father has stood surety for the Crown’s debts. He may use that as leverage. Certainly he’d want Cersei as queen. Whatever cruelties she had to endure would be worth it if he got a half-Lannister grandson on the throne.”

“Women are accounted for so little.” Brienne looked down at her (allegedly) masculine dress, feeling oddly ashamed at having deserted her gender.

Jaime put an arm across her shoulders. “Only by those who can’t see what’s in front of them.”

“That’s most people.”

“Yes, most people are idiots. Is this news?” He gave her a companionable squeeze.

He would always be terribly arrogant, she supposed. How unfortunate that she was growing deeply fond of him.

 

Chapter Text

“Wench! I got us a job!” Jaime exclaimed as he burst into their room at the inn. Brienne startled awake, disoriented at first and then upset to have overslept. She usually woke before Jaime and had her clothes donned by the time he stirred. The warm climate of Braavos did not necessitate them sharing a bed, but they still did. For safety, they agreed; neither admitting that the closeness was its own reward.

“What did you say about a job? And why didn’t you wake me before you left?” Brienne tried to rush herself into alertness. With Jaime you never knew what was coming around the corner. Best to make ready for anything.

“I found us work on a ship that’s sailing tomorrow. I let you sleep in because I could tell last night you were having woman trouble. You were grumpier than usual, and you wouldn’t so much as tickle fight.” Well, it was true. She didn’t have to blush about it.

“Oh. That’s… good. Nothing illegal or scandalous, I hope.”

“Not scandalous. Or illegal, only slightly… disfavored.” Finding steady, decently paying work was proving more difficult than Jaime had anticipated before making the voyage. Braavos turned out to have a tightly controlled guild structure that swept up all the respectable jobs. Joining a guild would help, but that required finding a sponsor, which in turn demanded more connections than he was able to exploit at present. The only opportunities for non-guild work were cheap day labor positions and better paying but clearly shady dealings.

“What is it then?”

“A Westerosi ship needs a couple of local lads to load on some cargo here, off load it in Norvos, and help transport it to an estate there. I volunteered us before the Dockers Guild heard about it. I thought while we were in Norvos we could have a look around and see if the employment situation is any better there.”

“That sounds fairly reasonable considering that it’s a plan of yours,” Brienne grumbled. She wished he’d leave her alone for a minute to get dressed and tend to her necessaries, but she could tell he’d forgotten all propriety in his eagerness to talk. “What do you know of Norvos?” she asked, figuring it was best to let him get it out of his system.

“It’s the one that the theocracy, I think. With the bearded priests and the temple warriors married to their axes.”

“Married to their axes?… I think you must have read that wrong.”

“No really! It’s like the Kingsguard where they’re forbidden to marry, just taken to another level.”

Brienne hummed skeptically. “What religion do they follow?”

“I don’t remember. It’s not the Seven or the Red God or any of the others I’d heard of before.”

“Anything else?”

“Lomas Longstrider listed the Bells of Norvos in his Nine Wonders Made by Man, though I never understood what could be so special about bells. The city is on a major trading route, so we can move on if we don’t like it there. And… they do allow slavery. So prepare yourself for that.”

“Right.” Brienne felt a drop in the pit of her stomach. Essos had seemed welcoming so far, with a vibrant mix of people all sharing a city in peace. Family names and birth order were of little consequence here, and even gender roles were allowed some fluidity. Especially talented citizens could amass fabulous wealth and power despite coming from nothing. However, Braavos was the only city on the continent that fundamentally rejected slavery. The others seemed to regard it as somewhere between an unfortunate necessity and a social good.

 

Loading the ship proceeded smoothly and presented no surprises. None of the cargo was unbearably heavy or blatant cover for illicit goods. It seemed to mainly consist of citrus fruit, dyed cloth, and bags of grain. A few packages were carried into the captain’s cabin before Jaime could inspect them, but if this was a smuggling operation, it seemed a very modest one.

Jaime’s suspicions were heightened when he realized that, aside from the captain and his first mate, he and Brienne would be only crew on board. There were passengers below decks, but they were forbidden contact with them. Since the captain had specified local crew, Jaime spoke to Brienne only in Valyrian in hopes that their Westerosi employers would grow careless about the common tongue.

Brienne worked steadily and happily, always at home on a sailing ship. She endeared herself to the first mate due to her strength and quiet competence. She kept up the male disguise, of course, knowing how superstitious sailors could be about having a woman on board.

By the time they arrived in port, the captain referred to them as helpful if somewhat slow-witted young men (mainly because all parties involved were trying to communicate in a language none had mastered). All along the way, he had spoken about the importance that the cargo arrive according to strict time tables. He seemed awfully fretful about it, but Jaime could never find a way to search his cabin or sneak below decks.

Brienne and Jaime unloaded the ship onto a waiting ox-cart and prepared for the overland part of the journey. When the goods were secured and the oxen watered, all was ready for the passengers. A plumb woman in modest Westerosi dress disembarked carrying a young child in her arms. They sat in the rear of the cart, tented inside a large wrapping against the non-existent cold.

Brienne and Jaime walked alongside the cart as it entered the city of Norvos. Their present duty was to watch for bandits, but the precautions seemed hardly necessary. The upper part of the city, home to temples and wealthy citizens, proved quite well-regulated. A pair of guards armed with ceremonial long-axes admitted the cart through the gates of a walled estate. The house within was plainly ancient and had seen the rise and fall of not just kings but entire dynasties.

The lady of the manor greeted the ship's captain and the woman with the child, while waving the rest toward the servant’s entrance. Brienne and Jaime spent the remainder of the day unloading the cart and delivering its contents to various areas of the far-flung estate. Their job finally complete, they were paid their wages. Jaime also managed to negotiate them a servants' portion of supper and an invitation to sleep in the stables for the night due to the lateness of the hour.

 

“You’re terrible at being a mercenary,” Jaime whispered harshly to Brienne as he struggled to keep up with her long-legged stride. She would be far ahead if she’d sprint, but that would risk disturbing the bundle she carried.

“You heard what they were going to do,” she whispered back.

Jaime supposed he should have known better. Mercenaries were meant to be loyal to whomever hired them, but she would always put her principles first.

“Well, what are you going to do with him?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” she replied, sounding helpless for a moment. “I’ll start with not killing him; how’s that?” she firmed up.

Earlier that evening, overwhelmed by curiosity she claimed, though Jaime suspected hunger, they had snuck into the manor house. The child’s piercing cries drew them out of the kitchens.

“I want Mama! Mama! Papa!” the child yelled. In Westerosi.

The woman from the ship held him to her breast, but he would not be soothed. The child balled up his tiny fists and struck her. “Mama!” he shrieked.

“For God’s sake,” the lady of the manor said, “I’ll have to use the sleeping syrup or he’ll wake the whole house. I thought you could control him.”

“I’ve been his wet nurse for more than a year now, but he’s a willful little chap.”

The child’s cries cut off abruptly as the lady pinched his nose shut and poured a dose of liquid into his mouth. He choked, then swallowed so he could cry again.

“Listen to me, runt. You’re never going to see your mother again. You’ll live here from now on. I suggest you learn to like it.” Her voice was cold and ruthless. She was plainly used to commanding slaves, not dealing with children.

He wailed for a few more minutes, his voice gradually growing less and less lusty. Eventually, he slumped over, and the wet nurse sighed with relief.

“I’m sure the first night will be the hardest, m’lady. Pretty soon he won’t remember anything but your lovely home.”

“He’d better adjust quickly. Otherwise I’ll slit his throat and do the swap right away. There are a score of boys who could take his place. In a year or so no one would be able to tell the difference. Now take him to the nursery, and pray he behaves better in the morning.”

Brienne didn’t even discuss it with him! Not so much as a raised eyebrow! She just stalked behind the nurse and made off with the sleeping boy as soon as he was left alone. It was all Jaime could do to pack away their belongings from the stables, steal some food, and plot a path around the guards while waiting for her to come back down. Which made him a more than willing accomplice, now that he thought about it.

 

One of the bells of Norvos sounded. The fleeing pair looked at one another.

“I have no idea,” Jaime said. “The bells supposedly govern every part of their lives, but I don’t know the code.”

“We should get off the streets in case it’s an alarm,” Brienne said. She looked around, but there were no inns to be seen. Travelers didn’t visit this part of the city except to stay with friends, she supposed. The best they could do would be to sneak through the gates of a different estate and hope they could hide until dawn.

The next manor they passed had a servant standing dutifully behind the gate. She smiled at them, a bit overly friendly in Brienne’s opinion.

“Are you lads lost?” she asked.

“Indeed we are,” Jaime replied with a charming smile. “We’re foreigners, and we seem to have gotten ourselves turned around and misplaced our host’s home. Would you be so good as to allow us to sleep in your stables for the night? We’ll be no trouble. It’s just too dark to wander around now, and bells we don’t understand are ringing…”

“Well, I understand them.” Her grin spread and lit up her eyes. “One pell of Narrah past dark means marital relations. Or if you’re not married, then a kiss, in hopes it leads to a marriage.”

Jaime thought he comprehended her motivation. He and Brienne appeared to be young men, dressed well and probably drunk. They’d make excellent marriage prospects for a manor servant. (Or was she a slave? He didn't know how to tell).

“I will help you with your obligations if you’ll open the gates,” Jaime said. His smile threatened to hurt his cheeks, but this could be life or death. The longer they were in the open, the more likely the child would be discovered missing.

“Hmm, no, sorry. Not you. Your tall friend. I like his eyes.”

“No problem,” Jaime said with an even faker smile. He stepped back to lead Brienne over by the hand.

“No, no, no,” she muttered, barely moving her lips.

“C’mon, it’s nothing,” he whispered back, trying to subtly pull his balking friend forward. Sure, everyone was supposed to obey the bells, but he suspected that a kidnapping would soon bring those axe-wed guards out in force.

The maid opened the gate and waited expectantly for her toll.

“Alia? Where are you, girl? I need my robe!” a voice shouted from the manor.

The maid threw a consternated look at Brienne and Jaime. “Wait here. I’ll only be a minute.”

“Let us through first and we’ll both kiss you as much as you want later,” Jaime bargained desperately.

“Oh, all right. The stables are that way. Stay away from the big house,” Alia said as she waved them through. She shut the gate, shot Brienne one last longing glance, then dashed off.

 

Horses nickered and stomped in the stables, annoyed at being disturbed after dark. Jaime tried to calm them while Brienne lay her bundle in a pile of hay and unwrapped the sleeping boy. He did not stir, but seemed to be breathing easily in his deep slumber. She thought he looked clean and healthy enough, though his skin was pale and his head completely bald.

“Well come on,” Jaime said impatiently. “We have to find her.”

“No! She told us to stay away from the main house. You’ll get us all in trouble.”

“A Lannister always pays his debts. I want to have this one settled before dawn.”

“We can’t leave him. What if he wakes up and cries?”

“He’s not going to wake for hours. Haven’t you ever had sweetmilk before?” Jaime walked to the stable’s entrance and cracked open the door.

“Wait. Wasn’t it clear that I don’t want to kiss her?”

“You’ve just read too much of The Seven Pointed Star. It doesn’t have to mean anything.”

“No, but it…” suddenly bold, Brienne stood and marched over to Jaime. “It will be my first kiss, and I don’t want it to be with her.”

Jaime had begun to gain his adult height, but she still stood a head taller. He was forced to go up on tip-toes. Her lips were fuller and softer than he’d imagined, and he hadn’t really known that he’d been imagining it.

She melted into the kiss, appreciating the Norvoshi traditions for all she was worth. It made her knees feel weak and yet gave her strength and confidence at the same time. Gods, was it always this confusing or was it just Jaime?

When they finally broke apart, he said, “Problem solved. Now let’s go find that maid and see whose kisses she likes best.”

Brienne grumbled a bit but couldn’t entirely wipe the smile off her face. She checked the boy once more and tucked his blanket around him. He seemed to be sleeping soundly, just like Jaime had said. She met Jaime at the door and cast a worried glance over her shoulder.

“He’ll be fine, Brienne. No one knows we’re here. He-”

Silver moonlight shone though the open door and fell onto the face of the sleeping boy. The bottom fell out of Jaime’s world.

“Oh gods, it can’t be.”

He ran over to the boy and lifted up one of his eyelids. The whites of the eye slowly swiveled around to bring a violet iris into view.

Jaime’s face was now as pale as the boy’s. He looked to Brienne and gasped, “This is Prince Viserys.”

 

Chapter Text

“Okay, okay. Don’t panic.”

“I’m not panicking,” Brienne said testily.

“I wasn’t talking to you. Okay. So we kidnapped Prince Viserys-”

“Rescued, I’d say.”

“We stole him from the kidnappers, and they’ll surely be searching high and low for him by now. They’ll certainly have no scruples about killing us to get him back. So, next we should…”

Brienne raised her eyes expectantly.

“Now’s where you jump in. What was your brilliant idea when you took him?”

“Get him back to Braavos and find his parents? I figured they’d be looking for him. I thought there might even be a reward.”

“Oh, they’ll be a reward all right. An all expenses paid trip to the headman’s block. Aerys II is as crazy as a privy rat, and Viserys is his favorite. He keeps him under such tight supervision that he has tasters for the wet nurse’s milk.”

“Seems like it was the wet nurse who swiped him.”

“She was involved to be sure, but I don’t think she was the mastermind. We’re going to have to figure this out. If we show up in King’s Landing with the prince, there’s a very good chance that the king has our heads off as conspirators if we don't have a satisfying explanation.”

“Not a lot of gratitude,” Brienne grumbled.

“Well, that’s kings for you. So who would hate the second born son?”

“The first born? You said Viserys was the king’s favorite. Maybe he was thinking of disinheriting Rhaegar.”

“Damn. I was hoping you’d have a different idea than mine. That’s exactly what I think, and Rhaegar is approaching crazy enough to do it. But we can’t accuse a prince of the blood with no evidence.”

“Here's another theory, then: they were talking about killing him and replacing him with another boy. Maybe it’s a plot to get one of their own on the throne. They’d kill Rhaegar sometime after the switch was done, making their Viserys the heir. Maybe they’d use those one of Braavosi assassins we heard about, the Faceless Men.”

“Ooh, another Blackfyre rebellion, but by stealth this time. That’s pretty good. Barristan Selmy killed the last Blackfyre, though.”

Both Brienne and Jaime had been avid students of history where the thrilling battles of the Blackfyre rebellions were concerned. The bastard son of Aegon IV, Daemon Blackfyre, very nearly took the throne for himself in 196 AC before his defeat at the Battle of the Redgrass Field. The struggles continued on and off for decades as various heirs to the Blackfyre title came forth from exile in Essos. The last, Maelys the Monstrous, was slain in 260 AC by Ser Barristan during the War of the Ninepenny Kings.

“Blackfyres are extinct in the male line,” Brienne said. “However, the daughters and granddaughters of Daemon Blackfyre may still have left issue. Tracking the female line can be more difficult.”

“Nicely reasoned, wench! It’s a very good theory, but again, we have no proof.”

“We wouldn’t have to accuse Prince Rhaegar of being in league with them. And… if Aerys is as paranoid as you say, he’ll probably be receptive to the idea of a shadowy conspiracy brewing against him on another continent. I just hope this doesn’t plunge us into war.”

“You’ve put the cart before the horse, I’m afraid. First we have to get safely back to King’s Landing with the boy, which will be no mean feat. We probably shouldn’t even stay the night here, in case that maid has loose lips in more sense than one.” Jaime looked a bit pained. “I hate to skip out on paying our debt. How much does a companion from the Street of Silk cost? I can leave her some coin.”

“How should I know?” Brienne asked, scandalized.

“That’s right; your guard friends never had a chance to treat you. Two stags sound reasonable?”

Brienne shrugged. “I suppose so, if we can spare it. Use the local money so it’s less memorable.”

“I like it when you’re clever,” Jaime said. His compliment and charming smile made Brienne’s stomach flip almost as much as the kiss earlier. She wondered if he had the slightest idea of the effect he had on her.

 

Brienne bundled up Prince Viserys to conceal his face more than to protect him from the damp but temperate night. She and Jaime snuck their way out of the stables, through the gates of the estate, and down the Sinner’s Stairs that separates upper Norvos from lower. The lower city proved to be much more lively than the area above. The wealth and religious propriety of upper Norvos was largely absent in lower, and they could mingle with the crowds more easily. Laughter spilled out of taverns even in the middle of the night.

No longer jumping at every shadow, Brienne and Jaime were able to share a greasy late supper at a rough inn. Viserys slumped between them in the darkest corner of the room, still insensate. Fortunately, and possibly thanks to the Bells’ earlier demands, the patrons did not seem to be in need of a bar fight this evening.

“If I didn’t know better, I’d say these men were sailors,” Brienne said. She’d grown up on an island and could trivially spot the gait and bearing of sailors. However, Norvos was dozens of miles from the sea in every direction.

“The Rhoyne!” Jaime exclaimed. “Norvos is right on the Rhoyne. The Great River is not as fast or direct as the roads, but it goes all the way to Pentos, and I’m sure we can catch a ship to King’s Landing there. Also, you can trust that Rhoynish sailors won’t be part of any Valyrian plot. It’s perfect, wench!” The great cities of the Rhoynar were destroyed over a thousand years ago in wars against the Valyrians, and the cultural wounds had never healed over.

“All right,” Brienne said, “but be careful about calling me ‘wench’ if you want us to continue to pass as a pair of young swordsmen out to find our fortune.”

“Why? Everyone will think it’s just a japing nickname. You’re nothing like a woman.” A spike of pain crossed Brienne’s brow, and Jaime wondered if he’d said something wrong. He’d meant it as a compliment. Women were silly. They liked things like flowers and sewing. Brienne knew the value of a good sword and could eat a cut of meat as big as her head. Being around her was exhilarating, even if he did seem to keep finding himself in peril.

Brienne cleared some blockage from her throat. “What about the boy?” she asked quietly.

“You could say he’s your bastard; you look old enough because you’re so tall. Or you could dress in skirts and say you’re his mother. You did an okay job pretending to be a woman before,” Jaime said, trying to make it better. Brienne winced again instead.

“I’ll stick with my disguise,” she said glumly. “Hire us a cabin to ourselves and maybe no one notices him. If they do, I’ll claim he’s my little brother.”

“They probably won’t believe you, but they also probably won’t care. Rhoynish refugees settling in Dorne are the main reason the Dornish culture is as free-spirited as it is.”

 

Though Brienne began the morning in a sour mood, she soon found herself charmed by the Rhoynish sailors. They were an eclectic mix of people speaking a blend of several different trading tongues. The captain took pride in his elaborately decorated poleboat and made time to point out several of his favorite carvings once they were underway.

Brienne didn’t even have to lie about Viserys. He perked up and started to wail shortly after dawn. Before she could calm him, the first mate (and wife of the captain) came by to insist that he’d feel better on the deck watching the shoreline go past. She proved correct. She also slipped Viserys sweet treats and a straw hat for his bald head. Suspicious at first, Brienne gradually allowed herself to believe in the kindness of strangers again.

They stopped for the night in the ruined city of Ghoyan Drohe. Once a modest Rhoynish trading city, it had been devastated in the Valyrian wars. Its scorched and melted walls gave evidence of the power of dragonfire even hundreds of years later. Few people now lived in the city built for thousands, but a small community had sprung up among the remains of the great stone buildings.

The young travelers bought stew from a woman cooking over a cauldron in the open air and goat’s milk and mushed grain for Viserys. The young prince was obviously hungry, but ate the common fare with plain skepticism.

Brienne found with some relief that Jaime seemed to have some experience taking care of children Viserys’ age. She knew how to change a diaper and wrap swaddling blankets, but sadly neither of her younger sisters had lived long enough to walk or talk. Jaime proved skillful in jollying Viserys out of tantrums and distracting him from anything scary.

King Aerys had kept his second son so isolated from the outside world that he was finding much of it alarming. He shrank away from friendly dogs, curious children, and anyone with a loud voice. Jaime put the scabbard from his dagger into the prince's small hands and pointed out the lion etched thereon.

“Lions are the bravest of the animals. Give it a squeeze whenever you feel afraid, and it will lend you some of its courage,” Jaime told him. He looked so confident and matter-of-fact when he spoke that even Brienne believed him for a second.

 

Brienne left Jaime and the prince alone to see to her necessities. Out of habit, she walked far into the woods before attending to her bladder. On the way back, a sharp voice called to her.

“Girl! Young maid! Come sit with me and talk,” a crone said to Brienne. She couldn’t be speaking to anyone else, yet Brienne still looked around wondering how she’d seen through her disguise.

“Most people know very little of true sight. Would you have me cast my inner eye on you?”

Brienne relaxed. The old woman was merely a hedge witch trying to sell her services. She deserved credit for the noticing the disguise, but she posed no threat.

“I have very little coin I’m afraid, mistress.”

“Pay me with your time, then. The tales of such that pass here grow dull to one as traveled as myself. I would know of the west.”

Brienne sat, mostly out of politeness, but with some curiosity mixed in as well. What had given her away as a Westerosi? She began, “Our king, Aerys II and his able Hand-”

“No girl,” the crone laughed. “What kind of soothsayer would I be if I needed you to tell me? Show me instead.”

“Um?”

“Prick your finger and let a drop of blood fall into my tea. No, four drops. One to show me what I want to see and three for the three questions you can ask of me. Doesn’t that seem fair?”

Brienne was not wholly ignorant of this type of magic. Her septa had warned her in no uncertain terms about the dangers of heathen blood magic practiced by infidels and witches. Unsanctioned by the Seven, their power could not be trusted. She felt rebellious at the moment, however. Call it Jaime’s influence, but somehow concerns about living the way society wanted faded away the more they were together. She may not be a woman to him, but she was his boon companion. She could be happy with that for a while.

Brienne nodded her assent, trying not to show any misgivings. She did use her own dagger rather than the witch’s black blade to puncture her skin, though. She wasn’t foolish.

The drops plopped in, sounding louder than they should. The witch swirled her tea around and took a deep drink. Brienne bit her tongue not to show her disgust. Her host gave a hearty smack of her lips, looking for all the world as if she savored the taste. She closed her eyes for a long moment; they shifted rapidly back and forth beneath her eyelids. At last, she roused from her trance.

“Very nice. And very interesting times you’ll see. I’ll tell you this for free: I’d stay here if I were you. That’s not in your nature, I suppose. What answers would you have me delve from the realm of mists?”

Brienne looked down, brow furrowing in concentration. To her shame, her mind filled with questions about herself – Will I ever marry? Will I have children? Will I find happiness? She pushed all those away as too selfish to voice aloud. There were more important matters at hand.

“Will we see the boy home to be safe with his family?” she asked.

“Hmm. That’s two questions really, but I’ll only charge you for one. Yes, you should be able to return him home, assuming you remember who you are in Pentos. As to whether he’s safe there… it’s a complicated time with much and more left to chance.”

“Will we be punished?” Brienne paused. “More than we deserve, I mean?” Her honest nature forced her to accept that they’d committed many discipline-worthy offenses, but she’d taken to heart Jaime’s warning about the king’s mercurial temper.

“You will give the king more amusement than he’s had in years. He’s cannier than most realize, and appreciates a bit of irony. You may indeed consider your punishment onerous, but it will be no more than you deserve. The young lion’s future will largely depend on how you handle it.”

Brienne swallowed. She’d said nothing of royalty or Lannisters yet the witch had referred to both. There was clearly dark power at work here, and she grew more fearful. Her mind clouding, a question from her heart slipped out. She loved traveling with Jaime but felt guilty about not providing for her family. “Will my father ever have an heir he can be proud of?” she asked.

“Of course he will,” the witch said with a pitying nod of her head.

Brienne was both relieved and disappointed to hear it. Her father had a new paramour every year. Naturally one of them would eventually bring forth a son.

“In his old age though, it will be the twins who bring him the most joy. Ungovernable scalawags both of them, but he will love them fiercely just the same. Runs in the family, you know.”

 

Jaime had built them a campfire by the time Brienne returned. Viserys was sound asleep, clutching his empty scabbard tight.

“I thought we’d sleep beneath the stars rather than on the boat. He seems to like solid ground best,” Jaime said.

Brienne stretched out beside Jaime. “That’s fine.” She tried to rest, but found her mind unsettled. After a while, she looked to Jaime and saw him looking back at her. Evidently her restlessness was keeping him awake as well. “Jaime, if someone could tell you the future, what would you ask?”

He shrugged. “Good health for my family, I suppose. Our mines full up of gold. Knighthood sooner rather than later.”

“Not wishes, Jaime. Just knowledge of the future.”

“Oh. I don’t see the point, then. What will happen will happen. Best not to think about it too hard. You’ll tie yourself in knots.”

Brienne half smiled/half scowled, envying his ability to live only in the moment. “No, I suppose not.”

“Are you worrying about marriage again, wench?” Jaime sounded sympathetic. “Remember, when we met you were fleeing a betrothal. Have you found anyone you would actually like to marry?”

Brienne had never felt more wrong-footed before in her life. Rather than open her mouth and have a long “uhhhhhhh” come out, she shook her head.

“No one, really? You can’t think of one person in the world you’d like to marry?”

She swallowed and stuttered, not able to meet Jaime’s eyes, “P-perhaps I should marry my weapon like those warriors in Norvos. Or throw my handkerchief into the ring for the hand of Prince Rhaegar.”

“Be serious. I’ve already said he’s not good enough for Cersei. That goes for you, too.”

Her heart fluttered, and in the moment she blurted out. “Well then, maybe I should marry you.” Shocked at her own boldness, she put a hand in front of her mouth. “Wait. I just meant, you’re very kind and, and you’d let me fight-”

“Do you know, I feel the same way?” Jaime asked.

“You… you would marry you as well?” Brienne said, making it into a joke. “I can’t say I’m surprised. I’ve seen how much you admire yourself.”

“Play it off if you like, but it’s true. I’ve realized, I don’t want a beautiful wife with whom I’d make beautiful Lannister babies. I want someone who loves adventure, always has the purest instincts, and never takes the easy way out. Besides, I bet our babies would be plenty beautiful enough anyway, thanks to me.”

There was a lot to untangle there, but Brienne decided it could wait. She was lightheaded with joy.

 

Chapter Text

By the time the Rhoynish poleboat arrived in Pentos, Brienne was reluctant to leave it behind. She’d enjoyed the journey, seeing much of the bucolic Esson countryside that travelers to the Free Cities often missed. She provided the crew with free labor as a deckhand and, in return, they taught her much about Rhoynar culture with some side lessons on how to care for small children. Her sex didn’t seem to matter to anyone – some figured out that she was a girl while others still thought her a boy – they treated her the same regardless. She wondered which option Merigo, a bookish boy who tended to blush and stammer in her presence, was hoping for.

Viserys came out of his shell, toddling around the deck and making lordly demands of everyone. He looked positively silly in his roughspun tunic and floppy straw hat. As the youngest child on board, his behavior was indulged with good humor. Most of the crew and passengers found him so amusing that they didn’t realize he fully expected to be obeyed. Viserys would miss having a boatload of doting subjects to tend to his every whim.

Only Jaime kissed the ground at the Pentos dock as soon as both his feet were back on dry land. He’d been greensick nearly the entire voyage. The choppy progress down the river had been so different from the relatively smooth ocean journeys that he never managed to grow accustomed to it. He’d pared back his diet from lamprey pie to bacon to salt beef, and finally eliminated meat altogether to settle for some of Viserys’ grain mush. Brienne had praised him for keeping it down; that was what rankled the worst. No, second worst. The worst was seeing her prance around on deck like a deer in spring. Actually, third worst; mustn’t forget about Merigo’s persistent attentions.

Jaime gained his feet again and hoisted Viserys onto his shoulders while Brienne grabbed their bags, which were heavier but less squirmy.

“My good wench, I can think of two tasks we should accomplish before sundown. Would you like to explore these fascinating and lively docks in search of a ship bound for King’s Landing, or would you rather look into the drab inner city with its boring inns, one much the same as the next?”

Brienne could tell Jaime had spent about as much time around ships as he was able today. “You’re better at getting the boy to sleep, so you take the inns. Come back down to the common room when he’s settled; hopefully that’ll let me find you with little difficulty. I’ll choose us a ship, a nice big one that sails a smooth route.”

He absorbed the teasing with a smile that didn’t entirely hide his misgivings. King’s Landing. Aerys. His father. The singers’ tales say that the struggle between duty and fear is no real conflict at all. A true hero does what is right and faces the consequences. Songs can make any dire punishment sound noble when endured in the name of righteousness. Jaime didn’t want a hero’s reward or punishment. He just wanted to stay with his friend and have adventures. He wished they could leave Viserys on the steps of the Red Keep and run off, but Brienne would insist on telling all they knew of the kidnapping plot. Whatever Aerys did next, Jaime doubted the result would be neutral. Either they’d be feted with high honors or convicted as accomplices to treason. No hope for a middle ground and yet no choice but to do their duty.

 

Brienne found Jaime in the common room of an inn known as the White Charger. She could almost see Viserys pointing at the ‘horsie’ on the sign and insisting on the place. Jaime would make a good father she noticed, then shunted the thought to the side. He seemed to have recovered his appetite, asking “All right, wench?” around a mouthful of meat.

“All set. We leave in two day’s time.” Brienne ordered her own hearty dinner, with a strong emphasis on the delicious-smelling meat roasting over the fire. It might be quite a while before she tasted Esson spices again. She hoped Jaime would be satisfied with their accommodations aboard ship. She’d spent much of their remaining coin on a private cabin in the most stable part of a large galley. She’d concluded (in unknowing parallel with Jaime) that after arriving in King’s Landing, they would have little use for money, one way or the other.

Once they’d eaten their fill, they went upstairs busily talking of how they’d spend their time in the city tomorrow. They could take Viserys to see the Prince’s Palace (not that it was likely to be as impressive as the Red Keep) or explore the famous spice market. Jaime wondered if he could trick Brienne into eating some of the local delicacies like honey roasted locusts or dog brains basted in saffron sauce. Brienne wondered if she could convince Jaime to dye his clothes bright scarlet, a color the sailors said was reserved for women of the night. Thus distracted, neither noticed the man in their room until he drew his sword.

The bravo already had Viserys bundled up and slung across his back. He had apparently entered through their second story window and was preparing to leave the same way. His rich dress and ornamentation marked him as a successful mercenary. He had plain features, but his curly hair was oiled back into eye-catching waves, and jewels glinted from the pommel of his thin sword. A grin spread across his face as he beheld his opposition.

“Lads, I suggest you back away. You’ve gotten yourselves involved in something much bigger than you know. I’d hate to carve up that pretty face.” He directed his last remark at Jaime. Even under the circumstances, Brienne noticed the singular.

“You can’t have him,” she said simply.

“Ah, but I must. So you will meet your gods tonight. I will give you a moment to make peace with them if you like.”

Brienne and Jaime drew their swords. “Words are wind,” Jaime said.

The bravo inclined his head with respect and took his stance. To a Westerosi, it looked odd and sideways, presenting a small target and requiring accurately placed blows. Brienne and Jaime had seen such a style in Braavos; the fighters called it water dancing. It could change from aggressive to defensive in a heartbeat and then back again. The two realized they might well be out of their depths, facing a man grown skilled in a style unfamiliar to them.

Jaime stepped forward first to cross blades with him. Brienne moved to flank the bravo, but the dimensions of the room and his wariness kept her at bay. He was quick enough to parry both their blows and sneak in some frightening stings of his own. He backed toward the window one calculated step at a time. If he made it out, they had little doubt that he could disappear instantly into the city once he left their sight.

Brienne dropped her shoulder and charged. He met her with a quarter turn and disarmed the sword from her hand. She dodged his reverse stroke, but he kicked her in the chest, sending her tumbling to the side. He turned his focus back to Jaime with a nod as if to say ‘one down’.

Jaime attacked with blind aggression, not entirely needing to fake his loss of self control. Some of it was acting, however, because Brienne’s easy dismissal had been a feint. Now further to the side than she’d been able to maneuver on her own, she ran low at the man’s legs and caused him to stumble.

He fought on, matching blows with Jaime while trying to recenter himself. He truly possessed the balance of a cat. Brienne was forced to make a quick choice: she could either pick up her sword and rejoin the melee or grab Viserys while he was within her reach.

Jaime was lost in the fight, showing depths of natural talent she’d never witnessed in one so young. He’d forgotten everything but the song of the blades as they rang against each other. Each shift of position was anticipated and met with a counter move. It was a dance, but with deadly stakes. Brienne’s blade could make the difference… but then, the bravo might decide to use Viserys as a shield. She couldn’t take that risk. She rolled suddenly to end up behind the man. She grabbed the prince and pulled, wrenching him free from the secure bundle and into her arms.

The bravo roared in outrage, turning his sword on her. Jaime slashed viciously at his swordarm to remind him of his peril. He twisted around to face Jaime again, but his advantage had been lost. Brienne backed away to protect Viserys from any desperate, wild attacks. Jaime adopted a broad stance, placing himself squarely in the path of their foe.

A stalemate reigned for a moment as they all reassessed their positions. Brienne broke it first by bolting for the door. The bravo lunged at her with a swift stabbing strike. Jaime parried the blow and nearly disarmed the man. He cursed, seeing the battle slipping away. Defeating the young man before him would now be an empty victory since the other had escaped with the boy. He snarled in Jaime’s direction and made a feint at an aggressive jab. Jaime was still braced for attack when the bravo turned on his heel and dove out the window. As predicted, he vanished into the crowd before anyone could give chase.

 

“Do you think we should stay the night?” Jaime asked. He and Brienne shared a pot of tea in the common room while she checked Viserys over for injuries and rocked him back to sleep. He was none the worse for the experience, only irritated at being awakened and in need of comforting.

“It seems foolish to stay, but it also seems that they had no trouble finding us here.”

“We can change rooms. Bar the window,” he suggested.

“Yes, plus let’s never be out of one another’s sight.”

“Agreed. And we’ll set watches instead of sleeping at the same time. We can do this, wench. We drove him off before, and now we’ve got our wind up.”

Brienne nodded, knowing it was going to be a long two days.

The three of them spent every moment together, traveling in a group to the common room for meals and sacrificing any talk of exploring the city. Jaime made up games to play with Viserys who, for his part, did not seem overly put out about being cooped up in one room. His overly-protective upbringing was doing them some favors.

Still, Brienne was left with plenty of time to think about the skirmish and ponder her actions. She surreptitiously watched Jaime as he bounced around with Viserys. He possessed a physical grace that she’d never seen in anyone, not her master of arms at Tarth or even the knights in King’s Landing. He balanced lightly on the balls of his feet and moved with a fluid economy she could only dream of.

“Why are you looking at me like that?” Jaime asked, breaking her reverie.

Brienne glanced down at herself and felt humbled in comparison. “I was remembering the battle and watching how well you moved. I suppose you must think me a coward, scooping up the boy and running like that. We could have defeated the man together, I know it. I did not act the part of a valorous knight like you.”

“No! I was thinking just the opposite. I got caught up in proving my skills against an expert swordsman of Pentos. Gods help me, I was enjoying myself. You kept your mind on your duty and protected the helpless little prince. You were the truer knight, not me.”

Brienne’s mouth fell open and tears came to her eyes. She couldn’t bolt from the room as her instincts screamed, so she merely whispered, “Thank you,” and looked away. Jaime grinned, nodded, and resumed his role as ‘horsie.’

 

After what felt like a week but was in fact closer to 36 hours, Jaime and Brienne made their way to the docks. Though their possessions were fairly meager, they sent them ahead with a porter, choosing to keep themselves unencumbered in case of an attack. Brienne carried Viserys tightly in her arms. He looked cross about it, but her grip was implacable.

Frantic activity surrounded the ship as trade goods and provisions were loaded into the hold. Passengers had their own boarding ramp leading to the upper decks. As they approached, Brienne paused and handed Viserys to Jaime so she could dig through her pouch for their tokens of passage. She ducked her head slightly, so the thrown dagger that might have slashed her throat, opened her cheek instead.

Jaime heard her cry of pain and glanced over. His first instinct was to drop Viserys and draw his sword, but he’d learned enough to know that was exactly what their attacker hoped. The bravo from the inn had returned, lying in wait for them near the next ship bound for King’s Landing. Jaime shifted Viserys to his left hip and drew his sword. He angled his body to distance the boy from danger as much as possible.

Brienne drew her sword as well. Blood streamed down her face, but she barely felt any pain. She took the lead, allowing her training to guide her arm. Ser Goodwin had told her many times that striking decisively was more important than landing a perfectly aimed blow or a crowd-pleasing flourish. ‘Half the fight is attitude, girl, show them you mean business!’ Her mistake the other evening had been trying to fight like a bravo. She was not built for delicate swords or artistic blows. If she had to be a brute, so be it. She would keep her charge safe.

Her surprising strength forced their opponent to give ground, far more than he’d intended to cede. He tried several different attacks to gain the advantage, but repeatedly had his sword swept aside as if it was nothing but a nuisance. He found himself backed into an alley too clogged with debris to escape. Now desperate, he slashed with all his might to drive them back, but to his left was a berserker with the strength of a gorilla, and to his right was a boy whose sword seemed to always know where he’d step next. He feinted an attack, fooling neither of them, and tried to climb over the piles of trash. Twin blades penetrated his back, and the struggle was done.

“We had to,” Jaime said. The bloodiness of one side of Brienne’s face could not hide the pallor of the other. “He would have reported back, and they’d have had assassins waiting for us in King’s Landing. We had no choice.” It was Jaime’s first time taking a life as well, but he’d known it was nearly guaranteed for his future. Brienne had never truly contemplated what the life of a warrior might mean.

“Come on, let’s have the ship’s surgeon stitch your cheek shut. Else it’ll be even…” he trailed off, realizing this was not the moment for teasing. “Please. This scene is upsetting the boy.”

That got her moving. Brienne wiped her sword clean and tucked it away. She tried to wipe her face as well, but her handkerchief became sodden within seconds. She pressed it hard against her cheek and followed Jaime onto the ship.

 

Chapter Text

Brienne’s face was swollen and freshly scarred. The stitches on her cheek looked hideous, sewn in tight loops of black thread. Thanks to the liberal application of rum, however, the wound did not become infected, and she was not all that upset about it. Every time she followed the surgeon’s instructions about washing out her mouth with the sharp tasting drink, she would feel calmer and even a bit silly. Sometimes she pretended to be a dragon for Viserys to ride. He would whoop as she pounded across their cabin, his legs locked around her neck and wielding his hat like a whip.

“It’s not fair you get to be a dragon and I’m stuck being a horse,” Jaime complained. “He’ll end up liking you better. Blatant favor currying.”

“What would you have me be?” she grinned, running in place to keep her passenger happy.

“I don’t know. How about a bear? You’re as big, strong, and shall we say, tender as a grizzly… and as protective with your cub. You have just a bit less fur on your body is all.”

Instead of laughing along, Brienne’s mouth pulled into a scowl. Her lowered inhibitions allowed some of her inner concerns to spill out. “All right! I know I was never pretty, even before…” she gestured to her damaged face. “You don’t have to be an ass about it. If you regret what you said before we left Essos, have no fear. I’m sure your father would forbid it anyway.”

“What are you talking about?” Jaime wasn’t sure why his teasing kept missing its mark lately. Surely she wasn’t making the dire mistake of taking him seriously after all this time.

“Our bantering about marriage. It’s understandable if you want to back out now.”

“Oh please. It’s not like I ever chose you for your looks.” Surprisingly, this did little to smooth things over. “I don’t want to change my mind,” he said more sincerely.

She looked mollified. “I doubt it will matter. Your father will only agree to a union with a great house. Mine does him no real favors.”

“Yes, you’re probably right about that,” Jaime conceded.

Brienne nodded briskly. It was nice to put the matter behind them. Sure, she was disappointed, but had she really expected-

“We’ll just have to elope.”

“Jaime!”

“I’ve given it some thought.” (A whole second’s worth). “The next time one of us has a match that looks unavoidable, the other will enact a daring midnight rescue plan. We’ll ride for the next town, wake the first septon we pass, and have the issue resolved before anyone knows aught is amiss.”

“Jaime.” Brienne was enchanted by his romantic fantasy. Her face turned a telling shade of pink as she tried to hide how much it pleased her. “You’d be disinherited.”

“I don’t care. Haven’t we already shown we can take care of ourselves just fine?” He glanced at little Viserys, clinging to her back. “I think you’ll make a good mum, too. Maybe not entirely typical, but when has that been in the cards for either of us?”

“Go!” Viserys commanded. So she did, bounding off with a honk and a snort. Soon they’d be back in King’s Landing and their pleasant little interlude would have to come to an end. Until then, she would bask in it.

 

Viserys’ hair had started to grow out during the voyage to King’s Landing. The distinctive silver-gold color was practically a house badge. Brienne and Jaime discussed shaving it again, but neither of them wanted to risk nicking his scalp with a razor, and they were unsure if the surgeon/barber could be trusted not to spread rumors. They decided to keep his straw hat on his head and hope for the best.

On arrival at the King’s Landing docks, Viserys pointed excitedly to the Red Keep in the distance and asked, “We going home?” His eyes were wide, showing their vivid lilac irises. At least they should have no trouble establishing his identity.

“That’s right,” Jaime replied. “But we need to be quiet about it while we move through the city. We’ll creep through the alleys like Lann the Clever until we reach the castle.”

Viserys nodded solemnly and allowed himself to be bundled up. Brienne felt a spike of sympathy for the poor little prince who’d never known a day of unsupervised freedom.

They traveled through the Fishmonger's Square and toward the palace with alternating caution and nonchalance. Caution by instinct and nonchalance when they realized that looking timid was more likely to draw attackers than acting like they belonged. They were dressed in the mixed Westerosi garb they’d managed to cobble together from their bags and some disadvantageous trades with other passengers aboard ship. Brienne still looked like a young man, especially with the fresh battle scar. An observer would probably place them at about merchant class, but fallen on hard times.

The guards at the gate of the Red Keep were unimpressed at first glance.

“We need an audience with the Hand of the King,” Jaime demanded. “We may not appear much now, but I promise he would want to see us, and we’ll make it worth your while.”

“Save your pennies, boy. The Hand isn’t in the city.” The guard didn’t seem angry; if anything he saw Jaime’s audacity as an amusing break in his boring day.

“Where is he?” Jaime asked. His hopes – uncertain as they were – that his father would mediate for them dashed onto the rocks of reality.

“Dunno. Headed to the Stormlands, last I heard. Chasing a rumor about the missing prince.”

Jaime looked to Brienne. Her eyes returned his gaze, scared but resolved.

“This missing prince?” Jaime asked, stripping off Viserys’ hat.

 

The Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, Ser Gerold Hightower, stood at attention beside the king, Four of the other kingsguard were also stationed in the throne room. Jaime concluded that either Aerys’ paranoia had grown to demand the constant attention of his finest knights or, perhaps more likely, he did not even trust them and kept many on duty at once to cut down any traitors from within their own ranks.

“Approach, young lords,” the king said. He cast a baleful eye around his throne room never resting for long on any one man but seeming determined to paint them all with menace. His appearance was alarming. Far from the richly appointed and proud ruler they’d expected, Jaime and Brienne saw a man with unkempt hair and beard, dark circles under his eyes, and loose skin hanging from a gaunt frame. The only ornamentation he wore was his elaborate dragon-emblazoned crown which looked like it might soon be too heavy for his frail head to support.

The prodigal Westerosi knelt low before his throne to await their fate. Viserys had eventually been taken from them and returned to the royal apartments, though Brienne hoped it would be a mark in their favor that he had resisted. The guards allowed him to ride on her shoulders until they entered Maegor’s Holdfast. They then waited for several hours with no hospitality provided before being harshly ushered into the throne room.

“So you are the children who located my son when my entire Kingsguard and Crown army could not. How did that come to pass?”

Brienne and Jaime explained the recent events as cautiously as they could. When they mentioned Norvos, Ser Hightower whispered something in the king’s ear. Jaime thought he heard ‘Doran’ or perhaps ‘Dorne.’

“Mere good fortune, then. Is that what I am to believe?” Aerys continued to regard the pair with marked skepticism. “State your names again.”

“Brienne of Tarth. Heir of Lord Selwyn Tarth.” Her voice seemed to disappear in the cavernous room.

“Jaime Lannister. Heir to Casterly Rock.”

“The Hand’s son. Surely that’s no coincidence,” the king remarked to his Lord Commander.

“Lord Tywin has been searching for him with increasing urgency, Your Grace. They have not been in contact for many months,” Ser Hightower replied.

“Did you see anything of Prince Rhaegar in your travels?” Aerys asked.

“No, Your Grace,” the two replied together, plainly confused.

“It would surprise you to learn that he disappeared shortly after Viserys?”

“We heard not a whisper of Prince Rhaegar,” Jaime replied, frightened badly now. Betrayals and counter-betrayals seemed to abound within King’s Landing. He wished they’d never returned. If they ended up sharing a prison cell, he'd be sure to let Brienne know.

“Hm.” The king seemed disgusted and ready to dismiss or possibly detain them. The Lord Commander whispered in his ear with significant nods towards the pair. Aerys looked down on them, donning a paternalistic smile.

“Ah yes, as a token of my appreciation, you may each claim a charger from the royal stables and arms and a suit of armor from our smiths. I may also be willing to grant you each a boon. Lannister, what say you?”

Jaime started, but he had been well trained to take advantage of every opportunity. He eagerly set his mind and manners to the task. “Your Grace, I fought my best for your family and would like only to continue to do so. In this effort, I ask for the honor of knighthood.”

Rather than absorb the flattering words, Aerys’ brow clouded. “You flee your duties as a squire to Rhaegar – treacherous Rhaegar – then presume to ask for knighthood? If you fought so bravely, why is Tarth marked and you are not? I ought to have your tongue out for daring to speak such a request. Consider it my boon that I do not.”

His ever-changing mood seemed to settle into a new state. He addressed Brienne as if nothing had happened. “Tarth, what would you ask?”

Brienne clenched her muscles so her trembling would not be obvious. “Nothing, Your Grace. I was only doing my duty as I saw it.” Please may we go? She didn’t dare voice the question, but it was all she wanted, just for her and Jaime to walk out of the throne room under their own power.

“Ser Hightower, knight young lord Tarth. He has truly demonstrated the loyalty and humility the Crown enjoys seeing in its knights,” Aerys commanded.

Brienne assumed her lifespan was now measured in minutes. The lord commander was perhaps the best reputed knight in the realm as well as the fiercest protector of King Aerys. Certainly, he treated the vows of knighthood as a sacred trust. He’d heard her give her name, even if the king hadn’t. There was no possibility he would knight a woman. Honor would compel him to point out the error, and if the king felt embarrassment at being corrected, he could decide to have her executed instead. He didn’t need to give any reasons; he was king.

“Y-your Grace is too generous,” she said. “I do not deserve such a title. I’ve never even been a squire. All I ask is to be counted a friend of the Crown.”

Aerys turned to Ser Hightower, “Humble.”

“As you say, Your Grace. Knowing one’s place is important.” Ser Hightower cast a sympathetic eye onto Brienne where she still knelt praying for dismissal. “The youth has served you well.”

“Yes, Tarth the Humble. I believe I like that.” He nodded, looking amused, through growing less so as his lord commander did not carry out his orders with promptness.

Brienne heard Ser Hightower approach and draw his sword. She hazarded a glance upward and met his eyes. She tried to communicate that she understood the terrible bind of duty. She looked down again and waited for his words.

She felt the sword touch her right shoulder. “In the name of the Warrior I charge you to be brave. In the name of the Father I charge you to be just. In the name of the Mother I charge you to defend the young and the innocent. In the name of the Maid I charge you to protect all women.” Brienne thought she heard the hint of a chuckle in that last one. Ser Hightower concluded the formal ceremony by asking her to affirm, “Do you swear before the eyes of gods and men to obey your king and do such tasks as are laid upon you, however hard or dangerous they may be?”

“I do,” Brienne said in disbelief.

“Then rise… Ser Tarth the Humble.”

“Very good. Well done,” Aerys said. “As for you young Lord Lannister, I believe you still require some seasoning before you are ready for the responsibilities of knighthood. What good fortune it is that we have a freshly made knight before us who is in need of a squire. You will serve Ser Tarth, with particular attention to the idea of learning humility.”

Jaime knelt so low as to tap his forehead on the stone floor. “Yes, Your Grace.”

“My good Ser Tarth, understand that you will now be held responsible for the actions and behavior of your squire.”

Brienne’s eyes glazed over in terror at the prospect. She could see Jaime grinning even from his stooped position. “Yes, Your Grace,” she croaked.

“Do let us know how it goes,” Aerys dismissed them from this chambers with a wave and, Brienne would swear, an impish glint in his eyes.

 

“I’m to squire for Ser Tarth the Humble. My father will not miss the irony there, assuming he survives hearing the news about it. Are you really going to stick with that title?”

“I can hardly be known as Ser Tarth of Tarth. There will probably be… questions anyway.”

“He was smart having Lord Commander Hightower knight you instead of doing it himself. No one is going to call Ser Hightower crazy.”

“Well.”

“And you’ll prove him right anyway, even if you are the youngest knight on the field. What’s your sigil going to be?”

“I thought I’d use the Tarth coat of arms.” She sounded a bit numb. The events of the day hadn’t entirely sunk in yet. She wasn’t even sure where it fell on the spectrum of dream to nightmare.

“Boo. That’s boring. How about a dragon with a young child on its back?”

“How about a bear whipping a lion?” she countered in annoyance.

“A stubborn mule wielding a greatsword?”

“I’m fully authorized to clout you on the ear, you know,” she grumbled.

He laughed, but not too hard. Tarth the Humble she may be, but Tarth the Even-Tempered she was not. “As my Lady says. I will polished whatever device you choose until it gleams. And keep your mail free of rust and your sword sharp as a razor.”

Brienne felt her face heat up, feeling strangely put in her place by her squire. “I don’t imagine this will last long. I can knight you soon.” Any knight could make a knight, and he already outpaced her in training at arms. It was only fair, really.

“Eh, you don’t want to anger the king. He’s doing this to make a point to my father. Besides, while not sworn to any lord, knights and their squires can travel together wherever they like. We can explore the length and breadth of the kingdoms, righting wrongs and protecting the innocent.”

“You're sure you'll find it tolerable to be under my command?”

“Because you’re a woman? I should probably get used to it if we’re to be married, right?” He flashed her his best roguish grin. “Oh! This will make it simple to elope. Whenever you receive a message from my father saying I must return home for marriage, you can write back with your regrets. Then we tag along with the messenger and hide so I can see the look on his face when he learns the truth.”

She chuckled. Gods, how did he manage to keep from dwelling on the past? Minutes ago she thought she was going to die; now he's already looking to the future. “Maybe I shouldn't restrict my options to a lowly squire,” she teased.

“Ah wench, you know there are no other men like me.”

“For me?”

“Yes. And in general.”

So it was now her duty to teach Jaime Lannister humility. The woods witch was right, the king had delivered an onerous punishment indeed. If she wanted to accomplish the task in this lifetime, she'd better get started right away.