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Jaime didn’t understand why Cersei suddenly insisted on trimming his hair and shaving his beard, but he also didn’t care to fight her on it, even though he’d just as soon have kept the beard: it was bitterly cold in the small tower room with its arrow-slits. At night, even curled together under the two blankets they’d been allotted, it took the better part of an hour before their bodies could warm the bed enough to sleep. In the mornings, when their jailer brought up their porridge, Jaime left Cersei still huddled in the bed and got it and brought it back and fed her by hand, dragging the process out so she’d stay in until mid-morning, when the room had warmed a little bit in the weak sun, because otherwise she would shiver all day, unable to get warm no matter how he held her or breathed onto her hands.

But once Cersei got up, she insisted on dressing and then refused to get back in the bed until evening, her own personal defiance, and he couldn’t bear to force the issue. He was afraid winter would break her soon enough: even in the two weeks they’d been here, the days had grown noticeably shorter, and there was fresh snow blown in on the floor every other day. It was terrifying to think about how much worse it was going to get; when they’d been riding here, surrounded by hard-faced Stark men, one of them had said to the other, on a day so cold that Jaime’s fingers had been half-numb even being held to the fire, “Ah, it’s sharp today. It’ll be a bad winter when it come,” in all apparent sincerity.

“How much worse does it get than this?” the woman had asked, the massive tow-headed one from Tarth. Jaime still hadn’t found out how she’d ended up in service to the Starks, although he didn’t much care; she was going to die in the North, at his hands, and it wouldn’t matter after that.

One of the men had snorted. “This? It’s a brisk autumn day, m’lady.” He jerked his head towards one of the big heavy pines around their campsite, a massive one well over a hundred feet tall. “See that line, there, under yon last big ring of branches? That’s where the snow’ll be if it’s a winter like last, nice and mild. If it’s a bad one—well, they say this forest was buried once, in my great-grandad’s time.”

These Northerners didn’t mock the woman for feeling the cold. The ones in the boat had mocked her, the whole way sailing to King’s Landing on Robb’s half-mad rescue mission; Catelyn Stark had insisted on her going along. They’d all made exaggerated attempts at seduction, leering her up and down. Tied to the mast like a rabid dog at wrists and waist and throat, Jaime had watched it idly like a play; he’d had a private bet with himself on how many nights it would take before one of them finally raped her. But after a week at sea, one of them had got up and gone over, while she’d been sleeping wedged between two heaped cables in the stern. And then Robb’s direwolf had raised its head from where it lay nearby and growled, deep and dangerous, and the man had hesitated long enough to find himself staring down the length of her blade. She’d been sleeping next to it. “Robb Stark sent you, so he thought you’d be some use getting his sister out of the Red Keep,” she’d said flatly. “If you don’t mean to be, I’ll kill you now and save your weight in the boat. Otherwise, go back to sleep.”

They’d rowed into Blackwater Bay in the dark of the new moon, sail down and oars dipping silent and careful, all the way to shore. Three of them had stayed in the boat with him, good enough odds he would have given his left hand for a sword and taken them, if only he’d had the chance. Instead he’d sat there in his chains, staring up at the lights of the Red Keep: painfully close, and all the more vivid because there wasn’t a single light showing on the boat. They’d gagged him before they’d gone anywhere near the shore, too, or he’d have started howling like a wolf himself.

He’d fought for calm. He’d told himself they hadn’t a prayer. Three men and a woman trying to sneak into the Red Keep to steal Sansa Stark out of it: they weren’t going to find her, direwolf nose leading them or not; they were going to be caught, and when they were—when they were, they’d do what Robb Stark had told them to, if the rescue attempt failed. They’d tell his father they had his son, not far away, and if he’d hand Sansa over, they’d give him back in her place.

Jaime had waited and waited, every minute unbearable, and then—and then the bells had started to ring, a wild clamoring in the distance, and he’d been straining against the ropes in horror even as he saw them coming back, six shadows moving in the dark, the bulk of the direwolf making seven, and he’d moaned like an animal into the gag when the woman had heaved a gagged and sobbing Cersei into the boat almost at his feet. The woman had said sharply, “Push off!” and turned away, her sword still wet with blood, to help a white-faced Sansa Stark climb in, her gown spattered across the front with a line of crimson, as the direwolf leaped in behind her.

He’d still been gagged through hearing all of it, the lights of the Keep sinking into the sea behind him like stars going out as the men rowed with desperate haste. “They’ve killed him,” one of the men who’d come back said to the others savagely. “They’ve murdered King Robb, the foul fucking butchers. At the wedding, them and the Freys and the Boltons. That whoreson bastard Joffrey was there bragging of it to Lady Sansa in her rooms when we found her. Bragging of how they killed Queen Talisa, how they’d carved the babe in her belly; of how they cut Lady Catelyn’s throat.”

“The king? Why the fuck d’you not bring him?” one of the men said, and Jaime had looked down at Cersei, curled on herself—

“Oh, we brought him,” the other said, jerking his chin forward, towards a sack he’d thrown in the prow. A sack not quite as large as a full bag of potatoes, with a dark stain spreading around the bottom. “Brought his head, to go on the gate at Winterfell. Lady Sansa ordered it.”

The others had drawn breath, and then they’d nodded, savage. “No guards?” one of them said, and the three men who’d gone had all of them looked over at the woman, then, where she was sitting with Sansa in the stern, and putting a cloak around her shoulders.

“Her and the wolf killed them,” one of them said, jerking his head towards her. “Three of them Kingsguard. Wolf killed the first, she took one of them straight through the heart from the back, then cut the other’s throat when he turned round. Put a blade at that cunt Joffrey’s throat and told him and his whore mother she’d cut him if they made a noise.”

They hadn’t mocked her on the way back.

And later—when they’d gotten out to sea, clean away with the sail up, running easily before a northerly wind, like a mocking goodbye kiss of warm air blown in Jaime’s face—the men had shipped their oars, and almost as one, they’d looked at Cersei, down in the bottom of the boat. Jaime hadn’t been able to wrench his wrists loose, although he’d burned his skin twisting in the ropes, knowing, knowing what was going to happen. But before it had happened, abruptly the woman had come forward, a hand resting on the pommel of her sword—a sword she hadn’t been carrying before, with a golden lion’s-head pommel of gilded steel and red-jeweled eyes. She’d bent down and pulled Cersei up by her bound wrists, and then she’d taken her back to the stern, where Sansa was still sitting with the direwolf, and put her down there among the cables. And she’d kept watch over her, the whole way sailing north.

In return for that, Jaime would give Brienne of Tarth a clean death when he killed her; he’d decided on that privately, though he hadn’t told Cersei. “She killed him in front of me,” Cersei had told him flatly on the boat, when they’d been ungagged finally, and yoked together at the wrists in the stern. She hadn’t been looking at Brienne, though; she’d been looking at Sansa, who had gone to sit in the prow in her grey cloak, her hand buried in the fur of Robb Stark’s direwolf and her red hair streaming out behind her, like the figurehead of a war ship.

“That yellow-haired bitch told her that Robb and Catelyn had sent them, and she was Lady Stark now, and asked her to command them. I told Sansa to order them to surrender and they’d be allowed to live. She was weeping over that monster.” Cersei jerked her chin towards the direwolf. “It was still dripping gore, and she was hugging it like a toy. And then she stood up and told Joffrey—told him—that she sentenced him to die.” Her face crumpled in a little, her eyes wet. “He was so afraid,” she whispered. “I tried to go to him—” She did look at Brienne, then. “She wouldn’t let me. She made the men turn me away. Before she—” She shut her eyes, and the tears slid down her face.

So Jaime knew Cersei would want Brienne to die slowly—not as slowly as Sansa, but slowly enough. But Brienne had spared her, so he’d make it quick anyway. When he finally got his hands on a sword, and managed to get them free.

He hadn’t allowed that when to turn into if yet, but it had been—more than two months, since then; three by now, maybe? Jaime wasn’t entirely sure. The days blurred together, all of them grey and cold. They’d sailed from the Red Keep straight into White Harbor, where Sansa had talked Lord Manderly into sending his household guard with her to avenge his son, murdered alongside Robb Stark. They’d ridden hard, Jaime and Cersei tied together on the back of a horse, and they’d caught up to the Northern forces falling back in disarray. Sansa had rallied them, and she’d also somehow got a message to the Blackfish, who’d escaped the slaughter. They’d caught Roose Bolton by surprise on the Kingsroad, pinned between them and the Tully forces. The direwolf had ripped his throat out, and the remnant of his men had bent the knee to her in front of its snarling teeth.

Brienne had been in the fighting there, too. Jaime had heard one of their guards telling another she’d killed seven men with the lion sword that Sansa had given her off Joffrey’s corpse; the one that had been forged out of Ned Stark’s blade.

They’d ridden straight on to the Twins, hard and fast, to outrun the news. Jaime had been able to watch from the trees himself when the Freys opened the drawbridge for the dozen men waiting outside their gates, in Bolton tabards, and he’d recognized the woman among them, even wearing a helm, from the set of her shoulders.

They’d gone back to Winterfell after the sack of the Twins, and Bolton’s bastard had opened the gates for them and knelt to the Queen in the North: Jaime had heard him in the courtyard, swearing he hadn’t known anything about his father’s treachery, offering her the keys. Sansa had spared his life, and told him he’d be lord of the Dreadfort in his father’s place if he served her and stayed true all winter, and otherwise his head would go on the gate, next to the three already there: his father and old Walder Frey on either side, and in the middle of it Joffrey, hair still golden in the sunlight, although the face was rotting all away. It was visible from their cell.

A week after that, Sansa had come upstairs to see them. There wasn’t much left of the girl Jaime vaguely remembered coming south with them from Winterfell, or even the one he’d last seen in the boat sailing north: her beautiful face had hardened, like soft metal hammered on an anvil, and the direwolf stood at her side and bared its teeth, growling. Cersei had raised her chin and said, regal and cool, “Well, little dove, how fierce you’ve become. Have you decided what you’re going to do with us? It’s one thing to scratch in the barnyard with Boltons and Freys. It’s quite another to face a Lannister army. You could buy peace with us, you know.”

“I do,” Sansa said. “But I need the Karstarks back, too, and they still want your brother dead.”

“You know our father won’t stop until you’re dead if you kill us,” Cersei said.

“If I kill him, you mean,” Sansa said, with a nod towards Jaime, and Cersei stiffened. “But you’re too old to have any more children. I don’t think your father cares about you as much.” Jaime had curled his hands into fists, staring at her; Cersei’s face had become a brittle mask. “Ramsey had the idea of feeding you to his dogs alive, in front of your brother,” Sansa added, as calmly as if she was talking about the weather, and Jaime lurched up, taking a step forward to the limit of the chain, as if he could put his body between them. Sansa didn’t even look at him, only at Cersei. “He thinks the Karstarks would agree that would punish him worse than dying. And your father would still make peace with us, to have his son back, because he’s not getting him for a long time otherwise. Not once the deep snows come.”

She stood there looking at them for a long moment with her smooth face and her clear eyes, clear as the eyes of the wolf beside her, and then she looked out the window of their room, towards the gate with its flicker of golden hair going in the wind, from atop the spikes. “Joffrey would have liked doing that, wouldn’t he,” she said. “Having me ripped apart by starving dogs.” She looked back at Cersei. “And you’d have sat there and watched. Like you watched him cut off my father’s head.”

She turned and left them. The next morning, the woman from Tarth had come to the cell and gone for his chain. Jaime had snarled at her savagely, “You’ll have to kill me first,” but she’d just paused and said with a hint of mild impatience, “No, I’ll just have to get six men up here and then we’ll carry you both down and tie you on the horses. I’m guessing you’ll change your mind about cooperating sometime in the next seven hundred miles.”

“The horses?” he’d said, his heart pounding. “Seven hundred— Where are you taking us?”

“I’m taking you to the Wall,” she’d said, frowning at him, as if she had no idea what he’d thought was happening.

What had happened was bad enough. Jaime didn’t know what castle they’d even been brought to; it wasn’t Castle Black, because it was deserted, and it wasn’t Eastwatch because there wasn’t an ocean on the east, and it wasn’t Westwatch because there wasn’t a massive gorge on the west. That left sixteen equal possibilities with no way to guess among them. Snow had drifted down half of every day while they traveled, the world bleached of color and sunlight, and once they’d crossed the Last River, the countryside had flattened into barren snowfields, already being packed into ice, and he had no idea how much ground they’d covered from one day to the next. The Kingsroad might have still been somewhere under their feet, but he had no way of knowing.

Tyrion would have known, once they reached the castle; he’d have looked at the color of the stones and the layout of the chambers and he’d have said, we’re in Long Barrow, not sixty miles from the sea; or we’re at Sentinel Stand, so four days would get us to the western coast, and from there two weeks sailing to Casterly Rock with a fair wind. Jaime had tried asking one of the men, but the shaggy cunt had only grinned at him with all his teeth, or at least the ones he had left. “Somewhere you’ll be staying a long while, Kingslayer,” he’d said, and brayed a laugh. “Aren’t you lucky you’ve got your whore along.”

Except he wasn’t. If he were alone, he could just take the first chance and run. East or west, he’d toss a pebble and let the wind decide, and if he had to walk three hundred miles in the wrong direction before he reached the coast, he’d do it. But Cersei wouldn’t last three hundred miles on foot in the far North; he wasn’t sure she’d last twenty. By the end of the journey, she’d gone silent and dull with cold, and during the last week, she’d almost fallen from her horse. Even as Jaime tried to lunge from his own, despite his chained hands, Brienne had trotted forward and caught her. She’d lifted her like a child to sit on the withers of her own big horse, heavy cloak thrown over her, and Cersei’s golden head lolling half unconscious against her shoulder, lips purple-blue.

Brienne was the only one who ever came up to their cell now, though Jaime could hear men’s voices below during the day: he thought five of the escort had stayed. She brought them their food twice a day, with a bucket of melted snow in the morning. She was careful every single fucking time: she opened the door still standing inside the corridor, beyond the limit of the chains attached to their collars, and then she waited until they were both in the bed or sitting on it before she came into the room, and then only just far enough to put the bowl of food and the bucket down into their reach. She shut the door again before they were allowed to come and get them. The one time Jaime had tried to get up while the door had been open, she’d stood up and drawn her sword instantly and said, “Stay on the bed, or I’ll take it back outside until you do.”

But she wasn’t a bitch about any of it, only firm, and she even told him to put the chamberpot by the door along with the empty bowls each evening, and took it herself to throw into the privy down the stairs, instead of making them try and dribble it out the high arrow-slit, which was more courtesy than he would actually have expected. So she was entitled to a quick death, twice over, and he’d give it to her just as soon as he had the chance.

And in the meantime, he’d let Cersei shave him if she wanted to; he tipped his head back with a sigh for the scrape of the small fruit-paring knife she’d managed to slip off a table somewhere along the way, now whetted sharp on the stone wall. He’d have tried to use it to cut open his collar, if she’d let him, however unlikely the chance, but she’d said sharply, “Don’t be stupid,” and kept it away.

It took her an hour to shave his whole face with it, having to sharpen it every few strokes, and then she hacked off most of his hair and made him wash it in the snowmelt, his whole scalp cringing away, and when he’d finished, she picked out every last knot with the toothed comb she’d been wearing in her hair, when they’d taken her, and got it smooth.

He put up with all of it, but after she took a rag strip she’d torn off the bottom of his tunic and dunked it in the bucket and said, “Take off your clothes,” finally he said, “All right, no.”

“You stink,” Cersei said.

“I’m sure I do, but one wash with a few rags isn’t going to fix that for long.”

“You don’t have to fix it for long, you have to fix it for now,” Cersei said. “You smell of shit.”

“I’m so very sorry. You see, the accommodations here are much more palatial than my last cell. We have an actual chamberpot! Unheard-of luxury. No. In this cold, I could get a lung chill in ten minutes just standing here naked, much less being wiped down with half-frozen slush. You’re going to have to put up with the stench.”

“It’s not about me, you idiot,” she said, through her teeth. “It’s about her.” He had no idea what she was talking about, and then Cersei stepped up to him and thumped her hand on his chest. “If we were being guarded by a man, I’d have had him in a week,” she hissed. “If we so much as saw a man, I’d have him by now; but we don’t, because that little bitch Sansa is too clever, so we’re being guarded by a woman. So you’ve got to get her instead. And you’re not going to do it when you stink like a rotting corpse.”

“What?” he said, blankly.   

Cersei pointed furiously at the arrow-slit window. “Father’s not getting an army this far north; he’s not even getting a single man up here. He probably has no idea where we are at all, and the only thing he does know is that Sansa has told him if he comes north of Moat Cailin, she’ll send him my head, and if he reaches Winterfell and takes it, Brienne will send him yours. No one is coming to rescue us. And we’ve just had a nine-year summer, so if we don’t get ourselves out of here before the deep snows come, chances are we’re going to spend nine years of winter buried in this tower, and I’ll die, do you understand me? I’ll cut my own wrists with this knife and die.”

“So what, you want me to—to—” He didn’t even know.

“I want you to start thanking her when she brings our food,” Cersei said. “I want you to ask her questions about herself, where she’s from, as if you’re actually interested in some stupid little island on the edge of the Narrow Sea. I want you to smile at her, and make her look at your handsome face, and I want you to make her understand that she can have you, any time she wants. Don’t stare at me like you think I’m mad,” she added icily. “Do you think a woman like that has had many handsome knights making love to her?”

She stepped in closer and reached for his ragged cloak, starting to pick out the knots he’d tied at the neck to keep it from falling off. He didn’t stop her, staring down at her, fascinated as by a viper two inches from his face. “And the first time she lets you touch her,” she went on, softly, deadly, “you’re going to be as tender as a dove. You’re going to give her only as much as she wants of you, and nothing more. You won’t press her even a little. And the second time, and the third, and all the times after that; even once she’s letting you put your cock into her,” and she’d unbuttoned the handful of buttons remaining on his shirt, and pushed it down off his shoulders.

“And then, when she’s yours,” Cersei went on, as she untied the ragged strings of his trousers and shoved them down his legs, “you’ll promise her your hand in marriage if she gets us out of here. Not as a bargain: you’ll tell her you long to marry her; you’ll beg her to be your wife, to become the Lady of Casterly Rock, the mother of your heirs, and speak wistfully of how you want to make her known to our father. And then, she’ll get us out. Do you understand me? That’s what I want you to do. That’s how you’re going to save us. Not by somehow defeating with your bare hands a woman who butchered Meryn Trant and Mandon Moore in the span of a minute.”

“Because she’d taken them by surprise!” Jaime said, with a gasp as Cersei put the wet rag on his bare skin and started to scrub him clean. It hurt where the water touched him.

“And you’re chained like a dog,” Cersei said, flicking her finger against the collar around his neck to make it ring as she rubbed the rag around it, wiping away the grime. “No. I watched her behead our son, I’m not going to watch her kill you, too.”

“You’re asking me to fuck the woman who did that!” Jaime said.

 “She swung the sword, but she didn’t kill Joffrey,” Cersei said. “Sansa killed Joffrey. And that wolf bitch is going to scream for it for a year if I have anything to say about it—which I won’t, as long as we’re entombed in this tower.”

He was shaking with cold by the time Cersei was satisfied; at least she let him get back into the bed and climbed in to warm him afterwards, and when his breath finally started to calm, she wrapped her hand around his cock and stroked him, the first touch of pleasure he’d had in a year and more; she hadn’t let him so much as kiss her, the whole time before now, and he was almost instantly panting for her, sweat breaking out on his skin, when abruptly she stopped and pulled back the covers and said, “It’s almost time for dinner, she’ll be here soon; go put your clothes back on,” and he realized appalled that she’d done it on purpose; she wanted him—running hot.

But he’d never tried to seduce a woman in his life, and he hadn’t the slightest idea how to go about it. When Brienne came up and put down the bowl of stew and grain, he fumbled it; he couldn’t help staring at her incredulously. She really was a beast of a woman, towering and broad-shouldered with a brute unsmiling face under her ruthlessly cropped hair. He couldn’t imagine it. The best he could do was blurt out, before she finished, “Wait. Lady Brienne. Are there any spare clothes?” 

She straightened up and frowned at him as if she’d just noticed he’d shaved and washed. “There might be some old stores,” she said, after a moment. “I’ll look,” and she took the chamberpot and went away again. Twenty minutes later she brought it back emptied, along with some hose and trousers and shirts, coarse black wool but warmer than his rags by far, and probably even enough to keep Cersei a little warm under her petticoats and gown. Brienne put them down inside the door, along with the empty chamberpot.

“That’s kind of you, thank you,” Jaime said, inclining his head as she straightened.

She just nodded. He was about to ask her about her family, who she was, but before he did, she said, “I need to see it.”

“What?” Jaime said.

“The knife,” she said. “The one you used to shave. If it were anything you could use to kill me, you’d have tried it already, so I can probably let you keep it, but you have to show it to me. Otherwise I have to bring the men up here and search both of you and the room for it.”

He glared at her, all gracious words gone straight out of his head, and then Cersei said, “He doesn’t have it. I do,” and Brienne glanced over—carefully, without taking her eyes off him completely, to look at the small paring knife. “It dulls if you look at it for too long. Will that do?”

“It’s fine,” Brienne said, and then she took the empty bowl and bucket and was gone while he stood seething, his hands clenched. And then when he turned around, Cersei was glaring at him. She gave him her back for the night, pointedly.

The next morning, dressed all in black—Cersei hadn’t let him put his own loose rags back on over the clothes; he would have, for the warmth, but she’d shoved them out the window when he wasn’t looking—he said, “Lady Brienne, we’re grateful for the clothes, but it’s only getting colder. Leave me up here if you must, but put Cersei in a room with a fireplace. If you brought her here to kill her, you might have the mercy to slit her throat and get it over with quickly.”

Brienne paused in the doorway. “I’m not keeping you here to torment you. The only way to get to this room is by the stair, and I sleep at the foot.”

“You really think we’re going to escape and run out into the wilds of the North with no idea of where we are and with five thousand miles between us and our nearest help?” Jaime said.

She paused yet again, looked at Cersei, and then said to him bluntly, “You’re not going anywhere; you’re chained. I’m there to stop them from coming up.”

“If they haven’t tried by now—” Jaime said, and stopped, because she frowned at him, and he understood, running cold, that of course—they had. “How did you stop them?” he said, after a moment. There were five of them, she couldn’t have—

“I told them they’d have to kill me to do it,” she said, as easily as if that was something ordinary to have done, “or they could get hold of themselves and behave like decent men instead of wild beasts. And they are decent men, so they listened to me, but they’re bored, and they’ve all got reason to hate you.”

“I haven’t strangled that many Northmen,” Jaime said.

She glared at him, disapproving. “All of them lost close family at the Twins, and they all know it was your father’s doing. It’s why Sansa trusted them to keep you prisoner instead of selling you.”

“If it gets much colder than this, I’ll take my chances with them,” Cersei said. She’d sat up in the bed, with the blankets pulled around her as if she was huddling from the chill.

“I won’t,” Brienne said flatly. “I gave Sansa my word I’d keep you safe, and I’d keep you prisoner. That means I’m not letting those men at you, and I’m not letting you at them, either. She said you’d have any one of them on a leash in a week.” Cersei didn’t flinch, but her mouth thinned a little bit, all the rage that she’d let show. “I’ll bring you more clothes, and more blankets. And I’ll have the men sort out one of the chambers set against the Wall, as best we can. It’ll take a week or two, but once it’s done, I’ll move you there. It’ll be warmer out of the wind.”

Cersei jabbed him in the side as Brienne bent down to leave the bowl of porridge, and he glared back at her furiously: what did she want him to say? Why not let me put you on a leash instead? This didn’t have a chance in all seven hells of working. “Lady Brienne,” he started anyway, because Cersei would probably bruise her own hands hitting him if he didn’t at least try, but he hung there without the slightest idea of what to say.

She sighed as she straightened up. “Brienne will do. I’m no lady.”

“Aren’t you the daughter of Selwyn Tarth?” Cersei said, instantly.

“I am,” Brienne said, a little shortly.

“Then you are a lady, whether you want to be or not,” Cersei said.

Her mouth tightened a little. “I suppose I am,” was all she said, and with that, she backed the two steps out and pulled the door shut after her.

“She cares about that,” Cersei said, after she was gone, her eyes narrowing. She threw back the covers and got out of bed before he could stop her. “Move the table and the chairs against the wall.”

“Why?” he said, baffled.

“I want enough room cleared to dance,” she said.

“To dance?

Cersei whirled on him. “I want her to come up here tonight and find us dancing, with you the handsome prince out of every romantic story her nurses told her when she was a little fair-haired girl, the daughter of a lord, before she grew into a hulking beast that men snigger at. Come over here; I want to see where the limit of your chain is.” She made him stand to one side of the room, as far as it would go. “Good. We’ll be there when she opens the door. Keep dancing for three more turns, then notice her and be surprised, and try to move so the chain jerks at your neck. Make it look like it hurts you.”

“What good is any of this going to do?” he said, somewhere between resigned and baffled; he wondered if all women did this sort of thing, planned out where they’d be standing when the next person walked into a room.

“Don’t worry your pretty head about it,” Cersei said, viciously, catching his chin in her hand, and pulled her thumb down over his lip in a parody of a caress. “Just do as I tell you and leave it to me.”

He’d planned on faking the stumble, except when it was time, Cersei shoved him, hard and fast, and it wasn’t a fake at all when he went down in a painful choking gasp with a wrenched neck, coughing badly, even bleeding: the collar had cut into the already-raw skin it had galled. “Jaime! Jaime, are you all right?” Cersei said, straining to reach for him with one hand, the other at her own collar which was at its limit, putting him beyond her grasp.

He dragged himself a little way towards the chain to put some slack into it, and then he picked himself up and shot Cersei a fast glare before turning it on Brienne. “You could knock,” he said to her, reproachful.

“In case you might be dancing?” she said, eyeing them both incredulously, exactly the way you would stare at a lunatic cavorting in a prison cell.

Cersei wheeled on her instantly. “What’s that supposed to mean? Do you think you’re going to find us doing something else instead?” Brienne’s eyes went wide and round, shocked; Jaime gawked at Cersei, feeling more or less the same.

Cersei just smiled at Brienne. “Yes, of course you do,” she said, with a savage, mocking edge. “Because the enemies of my house say I’m a whore who fucks my own brother, and my golden-haired children are his bastards. And they’re such honorable people, so of course it must be true. It’s nothing to do with the Tyrells scheming to put their daughter on the throne in my place. It’s nothing to do with Robert Baratheon wanting to cast me aside, after I’d given him my hand and my vows and my body for seventeen years, because the children I gave him didn’t look like him, and my boys, my little boys, weren’t mighty swordsmen. As though Jaime wasn’t ten times the warrior that fat drunken pig was. I should have cuckolded him.”

She actually took a straining step towards Brienne, her hands clenched, even though her collar dug into her flesh. “Don’t you dare knock,” she hissed, glittering at the end of it. “Don’t you dare.”

She whirled away and stalked back to the bed and climbed on it and pulled herself into a knot, her knees drawn up and her arms wrapped around them, facing away into the corner. Brienne stared at her with a completely stricken expression. Jaime managed to close his gaping mouth, but he had no idea what was on his own face. It didn’t matter. Brienne didn’t actually wait for him to go back to the bed, for once; she just bent and put the bowl down so quickly some of the stew slopped over the side, and then she backed out and yanked the door shut after herself.

The instant she was gone, Cersei looked back around at the door, satisfied and triumphant. “What was that even about?” Jaime said, somewhere between alarmed and bewildered. “What difference does it make what she thinks of us?”

“It makes an enormous difference, my darling brother,” Cersei said, “if she thinks she’s the only woman around here you might possibly want to fuck, instead of imagining you’ve already got me. And to have her feeling sorry for us.” Cersei’s mouth curved in a smile, hard as a blade. “She’s obviously a decent, honorable woman. Telling a bunch of rapers she’ll die before she lets them have me, giving us warm clothes. And that was when she was sure we were guilty incestuous whores.”

“You think she’ll actually believe you?” Jaime said.

“Why not?” Cersei said. “I didn’t try to tell her that Eddard Stark lied. I told her he was tricked by a bunch of slimy courtiers.” She looked at his incredulous expression and shook her head, impatient. “And what’s far more important is, the more she wants you, the more she’s going to want to believe it.”

#

Cersei kept laying him out for Brienne over the next two weeks with a somewhat appalling degree of success. She made him exercise himself into a sweat on the floor of the room, stripped to the waist even though his hands were numb with cold from the floor and all the hair on his arms was standing on end, and when Brienne came in, she blushed and then carefully didn’t look at him, which made Cersei smile with vicious pleasure. She made him ask Brienne for some wooden scraps to play chess with, and a charred stick so they could draw the board on the table; when she came later that evening, Cersei complained that she didn’t know very well how to play, and asked Brienne for the next move.

It was a reasonably good one, and within three days, Cersei had gently eased herself out and he and Brienne were playing each other instead. At the pace of two moves a day, at first, but then, sprawled on the bed watching, he said, “Move for me: knight to king’s bishop three,” and she did a few in a row for him and herself, to speed things along. After a week, he said, “I can’t get it in my head. Go back to the door a minute,” and swung himself off the bed and went to the board and studied it, making sure to let her get his profile against the light from the window, letting his hand stay poised on a piece before he moved it, the way Cersei had told him to.

After that, Brienne began to stay in the room a little longer, and they’d just go back and forth to the table in turn. It was mortifying to be putting himself out like a ripe fruit for her picking, and it made him angry, but at the same time there was a kind of satisfaction in it, seeing that he’d caught her eyes, that she couldn’t help but look at him.

And Cersei was making it worse. She’d wake him in the hours of the morning while it was still dark with her hand on his cock, bringing him to heat, and then she deliberately left him unsatisfied, and any time he tried to touch her, she’d shove him away. After Brienne gave them more blankets, Cersei started wrapping herself completely up in a thick wool one at night under the rest of their covers, so it didn’t even feel like he was holding her, she was only a shapeless sausage mass in the bed. “She’s the only woman here who’s going to fuck you until we’re back in King’s Landing,” she said. “Stop trying to get your cock into my cunt and think about how you’re going to get it into hers.”

And he still didn’t want his cock in Brienne’s cunt, but he was starting to forget that once in a while. When Cersei had just finished rolling the palm of her hand back and forth between his legs long enough to bring him to the panting edge, and then Brienne opened the door, he would find himself looking at her and thinking if she took another step into the room, I could just, as if he did want to. Yes, she was ugly and squarish, but most women were ugly next to Cersei, and yes, she was bigger than him, but that was hardly an insurmountable obstacle. Tyrion had certainly never let it stand in his way.

They were moved to the new room at the start of the third week: Brienne came and stood guard over them, her sword drawn, while the other men got the chains moved. They had a pair of heavy tongs and a blacksmith’s hammer that they used to open the chains; he eyed them hungrily, even with two men holding his arms, and that night he was kneeling by the wall in the new room studying the links they’d worked on, still a little bit warped even after they’d been bent back together.

“They weakened them. I’ll be able to bend each link enough to get us loose,” he said, intently. “I’m almost sure. Give me the knife. I can get us out before she gets here with dinner—”

“And then what?” Cersei said.

“What?” He looked up.

Cersei was sitting in the bed looking down at him, an irritated gleam in her eye, making no move to get out the little knife. “And then what?” she said again, coldly. “Do you know how to get us back to King’s Landing from here? We don’t have a map, we don’t have horses, we don’t have provisions, we don’t have furs. We’re not getting home without her. Now pretend you didn’t realize what time it is, and let her catch you washing.”

He sat back on his heels, swallowing a flare of rage. But it was true; he knew, with savage bitterness, that it was true. He couldn’t save her, he couldn’t get her home. All he could do was—take his clothes off, and stand naked wiping himself down over a bucket, so Brienne could see his cock, and want it in her cunt enough to be made stupid and treacherous. The room here was warmer enough that it wasn’t the same kind of punishment to wash, and while he rubbed a wet rag over his skin, he vengefully, savagely, imagined her putting her mouth on him, which Cersei almost never did. Brienne seemed less likely to care about whether it injured her dignity. She had a sword to defend her dignity with, as he didn’t. At the beginning at least, she’d be cautious of him; she’d probably order him to lie down and tie him to a bedpost and then smile at him as if she was doing him a favor before she started to suck on him greedily, and at least he wouldn’t have to look at her face, and then Brienne came in, gave a startled squawk and nearly dropped the bowl of stew.

“Don’t be shy at all, just pretend you didn’t notice the time,” Cersei had said, so he glanced back at Brienne with mild surprise and said, “It’s not already that late, is it?”

Brienne was staring at him open-mouthed, then she jerked her eyes down to the floor as if she’d noticed herself staring, gone mortally red as if he’d stabbed her; she mumbled something that wasn’t words, and for the second time forgot to make him go back to the bed before she put down the bowl and fled. It thoroughly destroyed the smirking in his imagination.

“Perfect,” Cersei said, with satisfaction. “You’ll have her in a week,” and Jaime turned away to get his clothes back on, so she wouldn’t see his cock stir. That night he lay with Cersei only a warm lump of coarse wool beside him and he couldn’t help thinking of Brienne staring up at him wide-eyed and startled as his cock sank into her, and how wet she’d be, and how it would feel to have those endless legs wrapped around him.

He wondered, a little savagely, if Cersei had ever felt that way about Robert; if she’d ever been glad to have him in her bed, after all, before he’d gotten greasy and fat; if she’d ever liked having his cock pushing into her with his massive strength behind it, his bull’s shoulders and his deep boom of a laugh reverberating through her body, and he wanted to wring her neck for making him wonder.

Brienne hurried through their meals, afterwards; she wouldn’t look him in the face straight on at first, only giving him darting sideways looks as if she couldn’t help them, and it took three days to coax her back into playing chess with him. “At last we’re done with the maidenly blushes,” Cersei said, that night, after Brienne had finally given him another game. She held out the knife. “Open the chains tonight, if you can.”

“What?” he stared at her. “You said—”

“We’re not using it to get away,” she said. “We need to convince her that we’ve given up, and she doesn’t need to keep you chained to the wall like an animal. What were you planning on doing, fucking her in the bed lying next to me? Maybe putting your cock in each of us by turns?” He stared at her in outrage that somehow didn’t keep his cock from twitching, and Cersei smirked at him meanly. “I’m sure that would be very exciting for you, but she doesn’t seem that adventurous.”

The next morning when Brienne opened the door, he was standing beside it, and he said, “Brienne,” when she came in. He’d expected the sword to come out, and he was standing close enough to be inside her guard so he could grab her wrist if she swung at him, but actually he had to jump away with a jolt, because a dagger came out first, in her left hand, aimed for his throat. The sword followed after. He had to fight down the desperate instinct to engage, to try and get something away from her, and just stood there and held his hands up without moving towards her. When Brienne halted, he said, “I got them open the night after you moved us,” and held out the two opened links on his palm.

She stared at him, darting one quick look at Cersei, who was sitting on the bed, out of the way, and he dropped his hands. “I’d be gone already if it was just me,” he said. “But—I won’t leave my sister. And…” He shrugged a little. “What odds would you give me of getting her back to King’s Landing?” She straightened, taking a step back, her blades lowering; there was even a little sympathy in her face. He took a deep breath and let it out, made his shoulders sink in yielding, surrender; Cersei had made him practice the movement for her, until it was perfect, and he looked at Brienne and said wearily, “Could we have the fucking collars off?”

She looked at him, and she was sorry for him, and she wanted to take his collar off, he saw it, and then she said quietly, with sincere regret, “I can take hers off. But I have a duty to Sansa, and the men here, and I can’t leave you unchained. You killed two men escaping last time, and ten when you were first taken; it’s not a risk I can ask them to bear.”

He stared at her, trying to think quickly, and then he said, “But you’re still sleeping in the hall.”

“If you waited until I was soundly asleep, you could take me before I could get my arms, and maybe even before I could raise the alarm,” she said, with a hint of impatience.

“That wouldn’t be much payment of the debt we owe you, would it?” he said.

She stared at him. “What debt?”

“You’ve saved Cersei from being raped at least twice that I know of,” he said. “You gave us clothes, moved us to this room—” 

“You don’t owe me a debt for behaving like a decent person,” she said, just bewildered, and on the bed Cersei gave a sharp laugh.

“Don’t be cruel, Brienne,” she said, a little bitterness in her voice. “He’s been free for five days, and he still hasn’t killed you and tried to escape; don’t take away his excuse. Men are so fragile about these things,” and Brienne looked at him in sudden confusion, wide-eyed, and he glared at Cersei, not entirely insincerely, because it felt—sour, suddenly; a different kind of lie.

But it—half-worked; Brienne frowned and said, slowly, “We could bind you at night with leather cuffs instead, but it would have to be hands and feet both. And you’d have to sleep in another room.”

“Cersei’s half frozen all the time as it is,” he said.

“I’ll share with her instead,” she said. “That’s what I can do,” and it was final, he heard it in her voice.

He looked over at Cersei, who said, “Oh, of course. As long as you won’t steal the covers,” as though she didn’t care, either way; but after Brienne was gone, she actually laughed softly and said, “How clever of her. When she takes you there tonight, make sure to pause when you go inside and notice that you’re alone in a bedchamber with her. Let her see you noticing it. Maybe ask her for a kiss while she’s tying you down.”

His mouth was dry that night when Brienne stood up and said, “All right, let’s go,” except it didn’t go exactly to plan: Brienne drew her sword and marched him into the other room at the full reach of her sword-arm—a highly discouraging distance—and made him bind his own ankles and one wrist to the bed with the cuffs, before she came over and secured his last wrist with her left hand, the sword aimed down at his throat the whole time, and only then did she put it down, to more efficiently tighten up all the bindings until he was lying there trussed as a feast dish. It really wasn’t conducive to flirtation.

“Do you have to make it that tight?” he said, possibly a slight complaining edge in his voice.

“Yes, I do,” she said, firmly. “And you’d do the same in my place, so don’t whine.” She pulled the ropes tight, and he didn’t say anything, because he wouldn’t have done the same in her place; she was an ugly, awkward woman who wouldn’t have dreamed of trying to seduce a captor, and if she had tried, he’d have laughed at it. So if he’d been in her place, she’d still be securely bound in chains, and if she weren’t in a half-frozen cell, it would be because he wouldn’t have paid enough attention to how easy it was to get at her. He’d have told his men not to rape her, and punished them if he caught them at it, but—he didn’t think that he’d have been sleeping at the foot of a cold stairwell, and putting his life on offer, just to save an enemy’s pain. She even put three blankets on him before she left him for the night, to go sleep with a woman who wanted to see her dead, just so she could show him as much mercy as she possibly could reconcile with her duty, and he lay awake and angry under them, not sure what he was angry about, but angry anyway.

But he knew Cersei would ask him how it had gone and what he’d done, so the next day when Brienne came to unbuckle him—she only did the one wrist, partway, and then stood back to let him do the rest himself—he asked, “Would you take me outside? Just to get some air? Cersei’s locked in, you know I won’t leave without her—”

“If you like,” she said. “There’s not much scenery,” and he had to agree, when she took him out. The castle was half-buried under snow and ice. There wasn’t any sign anymore of their arrival: pristine snow covered the ground of the gates and the courtyard. There was a thin thread of smoke rising out of a single chimney, wherever someone was doing the cooking; two men were drilling half-heartedly in the courtyard. The only thing of note was the Wall itself, which was too unnatural to like looking at it, the massive rearing slab going straight up and up and up. But when he asked, she took him over to look at it more closely. The old tunnel going through had been filled with rock and snow and ice to block it up, but deep fissures had opened up in the ice around the sealed mouth: he could comfortably have stood inside each one, and he did climb into one for a moment, looking deep into the passage of cloudy deep-blue ice that twisted in, impossible to follow the edges. It was like standing inside a cloud, a frozen fog. He came out quickly, with the hair on the back of his neck trying to stand up.

“We should probably fix those, as long as we’re here,” she said, frowning into it. “I’m only not sure how. Do you know anything of how the Wall was built?”

“Only the usual fairy-stories, magic and White Walkers and all that nonsense,” he said. “I’m sure it’s just ice and snow.”

She looked at him with a raised eyebrow. “Are you? I’m sure it’s not. Look at it!”

“Fine, it’s a lot of ice and snow,” he said. “I’m not saying it’s not impressive, but do you really believe magic came into it?”

“Yes,” she said, and there wasn’t the slightest hesitation in her voice. “I’ve seen sorcery done, with my own eyes. And if there’s magic in the world anywhere, it’s here, too.”

“You’ve seen sorcery,” he said, halfway between delighted and almost indignant: of all the people in the world to suddenly erupt at him with absurdity. “What did it do? I’ve seen some, too: balls vanished, handkerchiefs changed colors—”

He stopped, because of her face, and then she said, utterly flat, “It killed Renly Baratheon.” He stared at her, still wanting to laugh, but he somehow couldn’t. She looked away from him and shook her head a little. “You can tell yourself I imagined it if you like. I know what I saw. Catelyn Stark saw it too. There’s a red witch who serves Stannis, and her power’s real. She used it to kill him.”

He had no idea what to say. Dark magic and murder and red witches—it sounded absurd, but she was absurd, after all: a woman from Tarth in the service of the Starks. How the hell had she ended up with them, and how had they known to put her on that boat, going south, to rescue Sansa out of the Red Keep? Tarth answered to Storm’s End; it at least made some sense for her to have been with Renly Baratheon, and it made sense for Catelyn Stark to have gone to him. And Renly was dead, and Stannis hadn’t beaten him.

And Jaime was trying to get her to fuck him, so instead of mocking her for it some more, he said, “You could write to the maester at Castle Black. I’m sure he could tell you how to do it.”

She gave the fissure one last brooding look, then shook her head and said, “They don’t know we’re here. There’s too many people at Castle Black who might owe allegiance to your father, or just want his money.” She sighed. “I suppose it wouldn’t make it worse to fill them with snow and rock. The Night’s Watch did it for the tunnels, after all.”

“Have you been up to the top?” Jaime asked her.

“No; it’s a half-day’s ascent, at least,” she said, gesturing, and he followed her arm and squinted against the glare to make out a set of narrow walkways and lines rigged back and forth in a zig-zag pattern going up the side, all the way to the top. “I didn’t want to be away that long. Come on, we should get your sister her breakfast.”

“I don’t suppose you’d eat with us, for once?” he said. “We could use someone else at table: we’ve had all our conversations too many times. I realize we’re wicked Lannisters, but I’m reasonably sure we’re more entertaining than the rest of your company.”

She gave a snort, but she did eat with them, only it all went rather disastrously wrong afterwards: five minutes after she left, he and Cersei overheard a voice from the courtyard, saying, “M’lady, I’d like the favor of a word.”

“Of course, Daven,” Brienne said, and what followed was several minutes of hemming and hawing and dancing around and hinting until Daven finally said, bluntly, “M’lady, there’s some of the fellows worrying. He’s—a fine looking man.”

Jaime traded a grim look with Cersei, and then Brienne said, slowly, as if there were something obvious being missed, “He’s our prisoner. Exactly as she is.”

“Aye, m’lady, only,” the cocksucking twat whined on, “well, we reckon he might—make you an offer.”

Jaime waited for her to stammer, to defend herself; over breakfast, he’d carefully let himself loll back in his chair, grinning: you look especially charming when you’re smiling, Cersei had told him, and Brienne’s eyes had caught on his face like a girl looking at jewels she couldn’t afford.

But instead she said, matter-of-fact, “And if he does, I’ll say no, and that’ll be the end of it. I told you it wasn’t decent when I stopped you going at her, and it’s no better for me to go at him, even if he’d pretend he wanted to. What else is he supposed to do?”

There wasn’t even the slightest hesitation in it; not the least possibility of yielding, and when their footsteps had gone crunching away from the window, Jaime looked at Cersei and said flatly, “It’s not going to work. Not if I try for a thousand years.”

#

Cersei tried to argue with him. He didn’t take up the gauntlet; he didn’t really want to convince her that there wasn’t any chance. What was the use of that? So he kept up the flirtation, doing whatever she told him to, collecting Brienne’s glances and the way her throat moved in a swallow when he brushed his hand against hers as if they were something other than fool’s gold, until three days later, he woke up in grey darkness with a shrill whistling at his window, shivering despite his covers: a snowstorm, but like nothing he’d ever seen in his life before. When Brienne came and unbound him, her face serious, he put his hand outside the window, just up to the elbow, and couldn’t see his own fingers; by the time he pulled them back in only a few moments later, they were already numb and coated in icy snow to the thickness of sausages. He had to break the crusts off.

“We need to bring Cersei down to the kitchens to keep warm by the fire,” she said. “Try not to be provoking.”

For once, Jaime wasn’t tempted to make a single clever remark, coming into the cellar kitchen with the five Northmen there, all of them glancing up at Cersei when she came in, her golden hair catching the small firelight, loose on the blanket she’d kept wrapped around her shoulders; she wore it as proudly as ermine.

It was a big room, but it needed to be, because they’d brought the horses inside, all twelve of them; they’d been tied head to tail in pairs along a rail that was clearly meant for it, and were munching oats in nosebags. All of the men were crowded around a single wooden table set before the fire. Jaime would have liked to put Cersei in a chair set apart, but the instant they reached the room, Cersei swept forward and immediately took the largest chair at the head of the table and demanded, “How long will this storm last?” her chin up and imperious.

The Northmen shrugged; most of them had a little work in their hands, some kind of mending or whittling. “It’s only an early-winter blow,” Daven said. “Not like to last more than two, three at most.”

“Two hours all like this?” Cersei said.

Soft snorts and chuckles went around. “Days, m’lady,” another one said.

One of them started to sing a little, an hour or so into it, a deep unfamiliar song, a song of mountains and dark pines, half-chanted, and the others joined in. It went on a long time, rising and falling, fading away to one or two voices and coming back again. Once in a while one of them would put another stick on the small fire.

They ate only one meal. It grew dark early. When they all went to sleep on bedrolls laid around the room, Jaime put Cersei between him and the wall, and his back to the room, painfully tight with tension. He expected to lie awake all night, and then Brienne lay down with her back against his, the faint metallic ringing of her sword being laid down on the floor next to her, and he slept, abruptly and unexpectedly.

The storm blew out midafternoon of the next day. When they went back upstairs to their room, he and Cersei looked out to find a world blurred beneath a layer of snow at least two feet deep. Cersei stood by the window with her arms wrapped around herself and said savagely, “Try,” before she turned away, and he felt the sharp painful desperation in his chest of her demand.

But he knew it wasn’t going to work; he knew, even before he went out and found Brienne. And he could just go out and find her, because none of the others had bothered to lock them in again. The Northmen were all busy digging out a path to the stables so the horses could go back into it. Brienne was working alongside them, as hard as any of the men. It was just painfully beyond absurd: get Brienne aside so he could try to kiss her, to fuck her? She wouldn’t even refuse, she’d just lean back and stare at him like he was an idiot who couldn’t see there was work to be done.

He went down and picked up a spare shovel and started helping instead. He’d never dug through snow before, and he was a little surprised at the weight of a shovelful, but it was an easy, oddly satisfying task, with no rocks for the blade to hit. It felt good using his body hard again; he could tell he was going to be sore for the next three days, but it would be the pleasurable burn of well-used muscles, the kind of pain he could stretch into, feel his body coming loose.

None of the others seemed to think twice of his joining in. Halfway to the stables, Onry, one of the older men, with a long grizzled brown beard, stopped and stretched with a noisy groaning and then brought out a small winesack full of spirits that burned hot and clear going down. They passed it to Jaime in his turn and grinned when he coughed over the first swallow; another one of them, Alfric, gave his back a thump, not unfriendly. It was at once comforting and terrifying; they couldn’t have said more clearly that everything he understood of the world was simply about to be buried away by something more implacable and irresistible than armies.

Winter is coming, their smiles said, and he’d thought he knew what that meant and he hadn’t, not remotely. It should have meant wagons bogged down in snow and armies kept at home; staying indoors with a mug of hot wine and singers performing in the vaulted hall of Casterly Rock. It should have meant, he wanted it to mean, a bright cold morning’s hunting in the Kingswood, chasing thin deer with the urgency of actual appetite in his belly, wanting fresh venison and having to go get some. He didn’t want it to mean this: sitting around a fire with his mortal enemies, his jailors, and suddenly finding their lives in his hands and his in theirs, a trust he wouldn’t have given before to anyone but his closest kin. He’d never realized before that all Ned Stark’s honor had only been fucking practicality, because you couldn’t afford to be a cunt when winter came every five years, and people would remember what you’d done the last time around when they were deciding whether to let you sit by their fire.

Cersei came out and watched them all digging for a while, her golden hair a single unnaturally bright point in the cold world, before she went back inside. When he went back to their room later, sweaty and tired and carrying her dinner, she was standing by the window gazing out, and when he put the bowl down, she said, “So that’s it. You’re just giving up,” and turned on him in a blaze of accusation. “Forget our lives, forget everything, let the snow bury it all—”

“What do you want me to do?” he said, and meant it; his chest ached, looking at her. “You said it yourself, we’re not getting out of here—”

“I don’t care what I said!” she said. “I don’t care! I’m not staying here! I won’t do it, I won’t—sit here and rot while I’m still breathing.”

“So what the hell do you want to do?” he roared at her, desperate with her misery. “Do you want to run for it after all? We’ll flounder along for a mile or two, and in the morning they’ll just follow the trail and find us and ask if we’re ready to come back in and have a hot drink, like we’re stupid shivering children who stayed out too long, playing in the snow. Will it make you feel better if we’ve frozen off some fingers and toes to prove that we tried?”

“No!” she snarled at him. “I’ll feel better when we’re home! When we’re where we belong, with our son, our last son, who’s all alone—”

“Father’s with him, Tyrion’s with him—stop it,” he said, when he saw her draw breath. “I know you don’t like Tyrion, but he loves Tommen, you know he loves Tommen, and if Father doesn’t look out for him, Tyrion will. I’m not asking you to be happy about it, I want to be back home too, but we can’t! If there were something to do, I’d do it; what do you want to do? Sprout wings and fly?”

“I don’t know!” she said. “I don’t know how to get out of here, I don’t know what there is to do, I only know what I won’t do, and I won’t do this. I won’t sit here and watch you go over to them.” She came at him in a sudden rush and shoved him, both her hands on his chest, hard. “Before this winter’s half begun, you’ll be one of them. You’ll drink with those men and learn their songs and they won’t bother locking you in, because they won’t be afraid of you anymore, and then she will fuck you, won’t she. You won’t be her prisoner anymore, so she’ll fuck you, and you wouldn’t fuck her to get away, but you’ll fuck her then—”

He caught her by the arms, held her back from shoving him again. “Stop it,” he said, his voice cracking. “I’ve let you whore me out to her—”

“Yes, how awful it’s been for you,” she spat. “Do you think I’m stupid? Do you think I’ve missed it, the way you look at her?”

“The way I—you made me!” he said. “I didn’t want to, I wanted to get out of here—”

“But you will want to, soon enough,” Cersei said. “She’s so brave, isn’t she? So honorable. A woman for winter, one who keeps your bed warm at night and can shovel snow like a man—”

“She seems like a woman for all seasons, really,” he snapped, before he could think better of it, and he was wincing the instant the words came out. “Cersei—I love you, I want you—”

But she was wrenching herself loose and shoving him again, back away from her. “Do you think I want to hear you bleat at me like I’m some sort of jilted peasant girl?” she spat. “I don’t want you. What would I want you for? You couldn’t stop them killing our son, you couldn’t stop them taking me. If it’d been left to you, they’d have raped me to death in front of your face, and you wouldn’t have done a thing. She saved me. I should have seduced her, I could get her to take me away and leave you here. I’d rather have her. She saved Sansa, she saved me, she’s more of a knight than you are, you pathetic joke—” and he couldn’t breathe, the knife dragging up through his belly straight to his heart, and Cersei shoved him out the door and slammed it in his face and left him out in the hallway gasping and gutted.

 He knew she’d said it to hurt him back, but it didn’t help; she was right, all of it was true, so the words burned in his head like hot coals. He went to the other room, the one where he was tied at night, and just sat there waiting in silence until Brienne came in, frowning a little, and looked at him, and then he did the only thing he could do; when she came over to him, he caught her hand and stood up and kissed her, as deeply as he could. And he pulled her close against him so she could feel his cock hard against her, lying to her with his body instead of his words, so she could feel as if he wanted to put it in her; he’d worked himself hard with his own hand, ten minutes earlier, and kept himself that way, so he could do it when she came.

And he had to, he had to, it was the only thing he could give Cersei, and he hadn’t been able to do anything else, he hadn’t been able to save their son and he hadn’t been able to save her himself, so he had to be able to do this. He thought for a moment it would work; Brienne’s whole body shivered against him, a gasp trapped in her mouth beneath his lips, and when he pressed her harder into him, his hand in the small of her back, and pushed up into her, he felt her quiver where his cock moved against her, her hips shifting towards him, welcoming. Cersei had been right, of course: sleeping next to him last night had probably been the closest Brienne had ever gotten to lying with any man at all, much less a good-looking one; she’d never had a lover, and of course she wanted one, for curiosity if nothing else, and he’d made her want him.

And then she had her hands between them and she was shoving him back, firmly, and her face was red and flushed and her voice was pitched a little high, but she said, “I’ve taken an oath,” as if that was an answer to what he was doing, as if she knew perfectly well exactly what he was doing, and he shut his eyes and said, desperately, “Brienne, she’s going to die,” because he knew Cersei had been telling the truth: she wouldn’t survive this.

His lioness couldn’t hunt in this kind of snow, even though she was as brave as any of those fucking bearded cunts; she was, and that was why she would slit her own wrists, because there wasn’t anything else for her to be here but helpless. Everything she could do, her wit, her cunning, her guile, all of it was useless in the midst of a Northern winter. She couldn’t dig, she couldn’t work; she wouldn’t mend and she couldn’t cook or clean, and she wouldn’t do any of it even if she could learn, because it would be giving up what she was, who she was, yielding.

Brienne didn’t tell him not to be silly, and she didn’t tell him she didn’t care; she stood there, frowning a little, sorry, an honorable, decent woman who wasn’t cruel to her enemies, even if they tried to take everything from her, tried to trick her into handing over her honor and her heart for their benefit, and he dragged in a raw breath and said, “Please. Leave me here, I won’t go anywhere. I’ll swear any oath you want, have them chain me again, it doesn’t matter. Just—please. Take Cersei back to Winterfell. She doesn’t need to be kept here anymore. No Lannister army is coming north into this winter, and even if she somehow managed to escape south, Sansa would still have me, and you know I can’t get away, not now the snows have come. Please, I’m begging you—”

“Yes. I can do that,” Brienne said, breaking in, simply, and he breathed out a swell of relief as wide as oceans in summer, and then he took her face in his hands and kissed her. She gave a small muffled yelp of surprise into his mouth, and then pushed him back with a sort of resigned, half-amused question on her face, why are you still trying? and he stared at her waiting for the answer to come to him, why had he, and then his stomach was sinking out of him, appalled: Cersei saying, you will want to, soon enough, and oh, fuck him.

The amusement fell off Brienne’s face, and she was staring at him, her eyes wide and shocked, and he said, strangled, “Brienne—” and stopped without going on, but her face went as red as if he had, and she dropped her eyes and didn’t look at him, and he couldn’t help it, he asked, “Will you come back?” and after a moment, she said, very faintly, “Yes,” and his eyes were stinging and he was—he was—ashamed, and guilty, because he had no right, only he was happy, too; he had no right to be happy, but he was. Cersei was going to live, because Brienne was going to keep her promise and take her to safety, and then she’d come back and keep his bed warm all winter, and he’d have something to show for the years he’d spend buried in this castle, because when the snows melted, he’d take his wife home, and make her known to his father and his kin.

“I’ll take her in the morning,” Brienne said, still without looking up at him. “It’s been a long day; we should get some sleep,” and she went quickly out of the room with her head ducked, and he just barely, with an enormous effort, managed not to leap on her from behind and drag her to the bed to devour her instantly: he couldn’t, Cersei was still here, and he wouldn’t make her ride to Winterfell with his name written on Brienne for her to read, even if she’d somehow already known, even before he had.

So he let Brienne leave, and instead he fell backwards on the bed and shut his eyes and put his hand on his own cock again, not quite sure if he actually wanted to bring himself off or just feel his own lust running alive through him; in the end, he just luxuriated in the slow throb of desire, in the comfortable ache already warm in his muscles, and then there was a banging on the door and he jerked his hand out of his pants and sat up as Onry stuck his head in and said, “Your sister’s gone up the Wall. Brienne’s after her.” 

 “What?” Jaime said, blankly, and then he got up and pulled his boots back on and ran outside into the still, cold air, looking up—and up, and up, his eyes following to where Onry was pointing at the line of the walkways and zig zag up along them until he finally spotted Cersei, an impossibly tiny moving figure with hair glinting a little in the risen moonlight, head bent and toiling, already almost halfway up.

Brienne was on the ramps too, far down from her but moving faster, gaining. The other men were gathered around the start of the walkway with torches, looking up. Jaime ran over; the wind was bitter, and he said desperately to them, “Can you give me a cloak? Anything—” and Daven swung his own cloak off his shoulders and gave it to him warm from his body, and Alfric gave him his gloves, and Jaime started up.

The wood was rickety underfoot, slippery with snow and ice; it would have been nerve-wracking as a slow careful climb in daylight. At night, trying to go as fast as he could move, his hands numb on the ropes even with the gloves, it was a horror he’d live in his dreams the rest of his life: endlessly climbing with death breathing on the back of his neck and Cersei ahead of him as a small will-o-wisp gleaming. He couldn’t actually see her as he climbed, but he felt her danger, a candle he’d left standing in a draft; her footprints and Brienne’s were marked in the snow, leading him onward after them.

It went on too long. He couldn’t help thinking about what would happen at the end. It would take the rest of the night to make the climb; dawn would be breaking or nearly, when Cersei reached the top. And he knew—he knew if he didn’t catch her climbing, she’d wait for him there; she’d wait until he was there, and then she’d throw herself off in front of him, so he didn’t want to get there, but he couldn’t slow down and he couldn’t stop, either.

It was just barely still dark when he finally made it up. A terrible wind whipped along the top of the Wall, not whistling but whispering in hideous voices, with tongues of ice licking at his skin. There was a spreading line of pink and orange edging the world to the east, long and curving, limning the edge of the world where the sun was about to come up, with a widening band of light beginning to stretch out towards them over the ground, and crawling along the top edge of the wall towards them.

Most of the battlements had collapsed, but the ones nearest the walkway were still intact, and one of the enormous beacon fires still stood out on the edge, a vast bonfire with a deeply slanted roof over it to shed snow and ice and rain, although the wood looked half-rotten anyway. Cersei was standing on the edge of one of the platforms jutting out over the edge, her golden hair streaming like a banner in the wind, and Brienne was near her, talking to her in a low voice, a hand outstretched, telling her, “—Winterfell; and chances are your father will negotiate a peace long before winter’s over. As soon as he can be sure it won’t be a short winter, it’s the sensible thing to do, and then you’ll go home—”

But Cersei was looking past her, straight at him, and then she said, deliberately clear and carrying, “And where will you spend the winter, Lady Brienne?” and Brienne paused, and Jaime knew with a sickening lurch that she couldn’t possibly hide it; Cersei would see it on her face, the instant that the sunlight hit her, and the sun was coming for them, a racing line of light, fire climbing over the edge of the world, and then he’d have killed Cersei: he’d have killed her, with faithlessness, because she’d look into Brienne’s face and know that he’d asked her to come back and be his.

The sunlight struck, a golden wash, and he said, “Cersei. Cersei. Think of Tommen—”

“But Tyrion’s with him,” she said, mocking, vicious. “And he’ll have a new aunt soon, won’t he, Lady Brienne?” and looked at her.

But Brienne wasn’t looking at her anymore. She had gone strangely still, her shoulders locked, and was staring past her. Jaime couldn’t see her face, but whatever was on it made Cersei dart one quick wary look over her own shoulder, and Jaime lunged as fast as he could, but Cersei wasn’t even trying to get out of his grasp by the time he reached her; she was staring down, blank. Brienne had come to stand beside her at the edge of the platform too, looking down at the snowfield beyond the Wall, the snowfield that was filled, everywhere the sunlight touched, with an endless mass of people.

Or—they looked like people, men and women and children, thousands on thousands of them, but there was something wrong with them. They didn’t move, they didn’t make a sound, and they weren’t dressed for winter. Here and there, there were people bundled in furs secured with cords, or the remains of rotting ones, but most of them were in blowing rags that exposed gleams of—something too pallid for flesh, beneath.  

They looked like dolls from this height, dolls or small beetles; not like anything real. But they were real; they were there. Jaime had never seen half so many people together in his life, and he’d seen the full Lannister armies mustered for annual review. They made a vast dark swarm, and near the middle, a single ant-line of them crawled away from the mass and all the way to the base of the Wall, to a single place right near the ancient mouth of the tunnel, an open crack, and the figures were climbing into it, very slowly, but going inside. Right where the line snaked off from the rest of the mass, two figures sat on very thin horses, figures with blowing white hair. One of them looked straight up towards them, and its eyes were burning blue.

Brienne was turning and running back to the half-ruined battlement on the other side, where an antique massive war-horn stood, the kind you had to blow with bellows, and she was pulling on it: one blast, two, and a third: three blasts for White Walkers, like in all the fairy tales of the Long Night, the ridiculous ones that no one believed because there was no such thing as magic anymore, no White Walkers anymore, except there were two of them down there on the ground, at the head of an army of dead men, a hundred thousand strong.

Jaime turned and ran to the beacon and started trying to strike the flint and steel, blowing on the sparks; it didn’t catch, and he tried again, at another place, and then again. Brienne was already trying on the other side; somewhere between the fourth and fifth tries, they both finally got the thing to catch, wispy trails of smoke going, and then little tongues of flame began to start eating into the protected wood beneath.  

He heard a faint ringing of metal below as he turned away; Brienne was already at the top of the walkways, looking down with a stricken face. Below, the men were already gathered around one of the fissures, swords rising and falling, hacking furiously at the figures coming out. It seemed to be taking them more effort than Jaime would have expected, with five men to hold a crack only wide enough for one to pass at a time, and then he saw the top half of a ragged corpse go flying, and when it landed, it began to claw its way over the ground back at the defenders.

Brienne shook her head fiercely and looked around, in desperation, and then he saw her eyes catch on a jutting pulley line hanging from the edge of the wall, straight down to the courtyard below, meant for hauling up supplies; a heavy loop of it was coiled on the top of the wall. “That thing could be rotten to the core!” Jaime said, going after her as she ran for it.   

“Do you have a better idea?” she said, already shifting her swordbelt around so it hung down from the middle of her back. She bent and got a loop of the rope and looked up at him. “Listen to me. If they take the castle, go west along the top of the Wall: it’s twenty miles to Castle Black. You can make it there, even without food, just don’t stop walking—”

“I’m not staying up here,” Jaime said savagely. “Give me your other sword.”

“Are you mad?” Cersei said, grabbing at his arm.

“That fissure’s less than three feet wide, my sword can make the difference between holding the castle and losing it,” he told her sharply, and looked back at Brienne, a demand, and she gave him a sharp nod and then took the second blade off her belt and held it out to him; he hooked it onto his own belt.  

“Don’t be stupid, look at them!” Cersei said, and pointed over at the dark mass of the wights. “You’re not keeping out that army with one more sword! And even if you do, if they don’t make it through here, they’ll make it through somewhere else! No one’s been guarding most of the Wall for centuries, and you think that’s the only crack there is?”

Brienne started, “The others—”

“Are already dead!” Cersei spat at her. “Go ahead; drop yourself a thousand feet onto their heads if you want: it isn’t going to save them. The three of us should go for Castle Black now. What if they don’t see the beacon? The sun is up, and there’s no one at the castles in between to pass the signal along. We have to go and warn them!”

Brienne paused, and then she said, “You should go. I have to try and hold them here.” She turned and put her body into the rope.

“Wait, I’m going first,” Jaime said, reaching for her. “I weigh more—”

She gave him a raised eyebrow. “I don’t think you do.”

“You’re both behaving like such idiots, you’ll be lucky if I don’t untie it and drop you myself!” Cersei hissed. Jaime turned on her, indignant, and as soon as he did, Brienne went, the infuriating wench, just let herself right over the side and started rappelling down the face of the Wall in enormous bouncing leaps, letting the rope go flying through her hands. He stood watching her, his fists clenched, his heart in his throat, until Cersei caught him and turned him. “Jaime! We have to go!” she snapped at him. “You heard her, we’ll be at Castle Black in a day, it’s our chance, do you understand? There’ll be someone there we can bribe, someone who’ll take a royal pardon and Lannister gold to get off the Wall and take us home—

He gripped her by the shoulders and shook her. “Cersei. If there was somewhere else the Walkers could get through the Wall, somewhere easier, they wouldn’t be here, at a castle where they have to feed themselves through one at a time, and there’s at least some chance of opposition. And if they take the castle before the Night’s Watch get here, they can pour that whole army through. By the time we get to King’s Landing, it’ll be full of corpses. We have to stop them here.”

“No, listen to me,” she said, her face bright with fury and frustration, and he caught her face in his hands and kissed her, hard. “I love you, go,” he told her, and then he turned back and saw Brienne on the ground already, running into the fight with steel in her hand, and he seized the rope and went over the edge.

It wasn’t like any other fighting he’d ever done. It wasn’t enough to kill the wights; they were already dead. Their bodies had to be hacked to pieces to stop them, and his sword was going dull before he’d taken ten of them. The only thing keeping the leak plugged was the lion blade in Brienne’s hand: the Valyrian steel dropped them with any cut, any stab. Fire stopped the wights, too, and the other men were flanking them and setting them alight with their torches, but it didn’t work quickly enough. For once in his life, Jaime would have given a great deal to have Robert Baratheon at his side, or at least Robert fifteen years ago with his war-hammer swinging.

The only saving grace was the wights were mindless: each one just wriggled out of the crack and came flailing for them in almost the same exact way. But they just came and came and came, and then one of them on the ground hadn’t been cut apart enough, and grabbed Onry by the ankle and pulled him off balance, and the one after that stabbed a blade down between his neck and shoulder and blood gushed, red and steaming in the air, and he went down in a heap.

Jaime smashed that wight apart grimly, and Alfric clubbed apart the one on the ground with a howl of fury, but it was too late: Onry’s eyes had already gone empty. They fought standing over his body while more of the scuttling-crabs kept coming out, and Jaime didn’t even think of it until suddenly he heard a gurgling cry behind him, and he turned just in time to stop Onry’s blade taking Brienne in the back, his empty eyes blank and the wound in his neck making his head loll to one side. One of the other Northmen was already down.

Onry was harder to take down than the wights coming out: his clothes and his flesh were still strong, and all their blades were dull. They had to leave Brienne to hold the fissure alone while they hacked and clubbed him, his wet clothes steaming instead of catching on fire, and he managed to get one more man in the leg and made him bleed out before Jaime finally took off his sword-hand along with the blade. Alfric got the wineskin off his belt and doused him and the two other dead men in it, and finally got them to catch on fire; they shoved what was left of them into the fissure after Brienne cleared out the next two wights, and they let the bodies burn in there, to get a few minutes of respite.

“You’re going to have to go and eat and sleep,” Brienne said, panting, wiping her forehead. “Take Alfric. I’ll have Daven wake you in five hours and hand the Valyrian blade off to you. We’ll have to take turns holding them until the Night’s Watch gets here.”

If the Night’s Watch got here. If they got here in time. If they somehow saw smoke from a beacon twenty miles away, if they believed a woman appearing out of nowhere along the Wall, telling them she was the queen of Westeros and there was an army of the dead attacking a neighboring castle. Otherwise, he’d spend the next three days, if he wanted to be optimistic, seeing Brienne twice for a moment in passing as they handed off the blade, before they finally couldn’t hold any longer, and someone would come wake him and hand him her sword when she was dead.

He looked at her, and she looked back, the same knowledge mirrored in her face, and he caught her head and kissed her, desperately, and said, “I love you,” raw, before he turned to go, and then there was a sudden terrible roaring somewhere overhead, a noise like dragons or a trebuchet strike much too close by.

He felt the ground and the whole Wall trembling for long minutes. But then it passed, like an earthquake, and was gone. He traded a single wild look with Brienne, with no idea what had happened, and then she was back to fighting the dead as the next wight pushed the smoking remains out of the fissure. Jaime uncertainly backed away the way they’d originally planned; Alfric fell back with him. There was a small shed nearby where they’d meant to rest, close enough to hear a shout for help, but before they’d gotten there, the dead stopped coming out of the crack at all. Brienne and Daven stood waiting, breathing hard, but no more came.

After ten minutes, Brienne went inside, the lion blade out in front of her. The rest of them stood around waiting, torches ready; Jaime fought down the impulse to go after her. If there were more of them in there, he didn’t want to block her retreat, and that was all anyone at her heels could do. The wait was agonizingly long, minutes creeping by; it was half an hour at least before he saw a shadow moving in the depths again, and another ten before she came out and said, “It’s blocked. I don’t know how, but the other end’s been closed off. Maybe it was magic of some kind.”

They spent the next two hours stuffing the fissure with everything they could find, stones and wood stolen from the crumbling walls of the keep, while they built a bonfire and melted heaps of snow in the biggest cauldron they could find in the kitchens. They ladled the water out into buckets, let them cool until the first crust of ice formed on the top, then took them inside and poured it over the rubble, over and over. Jaime was dull and aching with exhaustion, staggering; he hadn’t slept, and his body was worn down after a year of poor eating and worse shelter. He was only confused when he came out of the crack with his emptied bucket and found Cersei in the courtyard sagged into a heap beside the bonfire, her lips blue and her eyes shut, shivering violently in the cloak and holding her shaking hands out to the flames, breathing in the warm air in small gulps, pressing the warmed-up palms to her face and holding them there before she held them out to the fire again.

“What are you doing here?” he said stupidly, standing over her, and she grabbed at his belt and hauled herself up along his body to slap him across the face, not very hard. He didn’t even flinch back; he just caught her and then had to hold her up sagging against him.

“Saving your idiot life,” she snarled, in a voice still thready with cold. “Were you going to just keep hacking at them until they overran you? You’re as mindless as they are.”

You did it,” Brienne said, standing beside them with her own emptied bucket; he stared at her blankly, but she was looking at Cersei. “Whatever stopped them. What was it?”

Cersei was breathing hard, but after a moment, she pushed herself straight to face her. “There was—some sort of iron claw, tied up against the Wall, at the top. There were ropes holding it. After I untied enough of them, it swung down and carved slabs of ice loose, all along the surface.”

Brienne nodded. “Get her inside and warmed,” she said to Jaime. “We’ll finish closing the crack.”

He got Cersei into the kitchens and under blankets, and gave her a mug of hot water to sip. There were sacks of dried meat and grain and onions and potatoes against the wall; he threw some of everything into the cauldron over the fire and filled it with water, as much as he knew about cooking anything. By the time the others staggered back inside, it was at least edible, and they were all hungry as wolves; no one spoke while they ate bowl after bowl until it was empty to the last groat.

Cersei had put her armor back on, by then: she’d eaten before the others came back, and she’d warmed enough to wash her bruised hands and even rebraid her hair, if loosely. She waited until they were all done and half-sinking into the stupor of unconsciousness, and then she said, “I know you’re all tired, but we can’t just sit here.” They looked up at her slowly; she was sitting upright, speaking with all the authority Jaime had ever seen her put on, cool and regal. “We have to go to Castle Black at once. We don’t know how long the blockage will hold them, and if they can’t get through here, they’ll try there. The tunnel there is still open, and what did Tyrion say there were, a few hundred men? A thousand? That’s not enough to hold against that army. We need to get there, and we need to send ravens at once, to Winterfell, to King’s Landing. All of Westeros has to rise to meet them.”

No one spoke for a moment, then Daven wiped a hand over his mouth and looked at her and said, “I got my son’s head back, off the wall at the Twins, after we did for the Freys. His body they’d given to their dogs. Queen Talisa’s body, we got it out of the ditches, there were fourteen stab wounds in her belly. Fourteen. Her no more than a lass. Lady Catelyn, they carved her neck ear to ear, so deep you could see the bone gaping through. They hadn’t rotted much, the weather’d been cold. Guests at the Freys’ table, welcomed before the gods. And that was your father’s work. Now you want us to send and ask him for help? More like, you want him to know you’re at the Wall, and then we’ll have to watch every man coming to fight, in case he’s bribed them to get you loose.” He looked at Brienne. “I’ll go to Castle Black in the morn. I’ll tell them that I’ve come to take the black; they’ll let me in. Soon as I get the chance to be private with him, I’ll tell Stark’s bastard, that’s Lord Commander there now, what happened. He’ll get word to Queen Sansa, and send men here to help you.”

Jaime felt Cersei stiffen, next to him, and under the table, her fingers stole over his right hand, and touched the hilt of his sword, a message and a demand. Jaime felt a knot tightening in his belly. He’d been sitting, resting, longer than the others. He could see their hands still shaking with work, the way his had been shaking, for a good two hours after he’d come inside. There were only two of them left. The two of them, and Brienne.

“Daven,” Brienne said quietly, “I know what you’ve lost. I want justice myself, for Lady Catelyn, for what was done. But you’re wrong. And she’s right.” Jaime stared at her. Beneath the table, Cersei’s hand went still on his. But Brienne was looking only at the Northmen. “You didn’t see the Walkers and their army. There’s not enough people in all the North to stop them, not if we stripped every holdfast and keep and village of everyone who can so much as lift a dagger. We need the south to have any hope of defeating them.”

“M’lady, you can’t believe Tywin Lannister’s going to send aid to the north?” Daven said, half incredulous.

“He has to, unless he’s a fool,” Brienne said. “The White Walkers will raise us up to fight for them even as they kill us, and as soon as they get south of Moat Cailin, everyone we’ve lost in our war, the tens of thousands scattered over the Riverlands, will come back on the side of the enemy. By the time they reach King’s Landing, there won’t be an army in the world that can stop them.”

“But he’ll not believe it,” Alfric said, and Daven nodded.

“He will if it comes from us,” Cersei said, coolly. “A message written in our hands—”

“About White Walkers and dead men walking, and how he has to send us armies and food?” Daven said, cuttingly.

“He’ll believe it,” Brienne said with finality, “when he hears it from their lips, and they’re safe and free and standing right in front of him.” Daven and Alfric froze staring at her; Jaime supposed he had, too, his head gone too blank to have any feelings. Brienne only drew a deep breath and let it out. “We’ll take three hours’ sleep. Daven, you’ll go to Castle Black. Alfric, you’ll ride for Last Hearth, send a raven to Winterfell from there, then ride on yourself. Sansa will want to speak to someone who was here.”

“And them?” Alfric said, a jerk of his head, never taking his eyes off her.

“The three of us will ride to Eastwatch. The Night Watch kept boats there, in the histories. There should be some still seaworthy, if we’re lucky. If not, we’ll make our way south along the coast until we find a fisherman and can get one. Then I’ll sail them back to King’s Landing.”

“But m’lady, you killed the king!” Alfric said. “They’ll cut your head off!”

“Can either of you sail?” Brienne asked. Alfric and Daven both slowly shook their heads, and she looked over at Jaime and Cersei. “Can you?

“No,” Jaime said, his throat almost closed, in a slow, climbing horror.

Brienne turned back to the Northmen. “So I have to take them. And if Tywin Lannister chooses to cut my head off when I could be defending his grandson’s realm instead, so be it. There isn’t any other choice.”

#

They rode out barely more than three hours later: with maps, horses, provisions, furs, and Brienne; and Jaime wanted to be glad, and instead he felt sick to his bones, because Alfric was right. Brienne had led three men into the Red Keep, and she’d killed Tywin Lannister’s grandson, taken his daughter, freed his hostage, and stolen his victory laurels along with them: he wouldn’t forgive that debt just because she’d be fighting on their side now, and not even because she was bringing back his children. And Jaime had no idea how to stop it. If she’d been his wife all winter, if she’d borne him a child, Father would put aside everything else for that, but she wasn’t, and she hadn’t. And now she never would.

And it only hurt worse to see her walking into it, knowingly. When Alfric rode out, just before they did, she even told him, “When you speak with Queen Sansa, tell her what I’ve done, what I said; I hope she’ll understand, and agree with it. Ask her to send a raven to Lord Tywin to let him know I’m trying to get his children back to him: most likely we’ll only find a small boat, and I’ll have to hug the coast. It won’t be fast sailing. If he can get a decent ship north to Widow’s Watch, flying Lannister colors, we’ll look for it, and reach him that much quicker. You’ll remember?”

Alfric looked at her, and then he bowed his head deep, not just a nod but a salute, a farewell to someone going to their death, and in the stables, when Jaime was saddling their horses, Daven, getting his own saddle on next to him, said without looking at him, “If you let your father kill her, Lannister, I hope your gods know what to do with you when you meet them,” before he led his horse away.

And Jaime wasn’t going to be able to stop it, he knew he wouldn’t be able to stop it, and when she was dead, he’d have to turn and go straight back north himself, and die fighting dead men, because the only chance he could think of was that he’d swear an oath to his father that was what he’d do if Brienne was put to death, even though he already knew his father wouldn’t listen.

He rode with his head bowed, plodding after her. It was slow going, and he was glad; it was a relief when Brienne halted them a little early for the night, to keep from tiring the horses out. They’d come to a clearing; together he and Brienne shoveled the snow clear and put up the tent, while he tried to drag himself out of despair enough to think of some way to get her clear.

“You need to use another name,” he said to her, around the campfire that night. “He doesn’t know what you look like—”

And he knew it was useless hollow flailing, he was only scrabbling in the dirt after the smallest fragments of comforting straw. But Cersei didn’t let him have even that much. “Don’t be an idiot,” she said. “A six and a half foot tall woman who serves the Starks? How could he possibly guess. And our little spider Varys will know who she is without even having to ask.”

He bent his head, his mouth tight. Brienne said quietly, “If I can get you safely to him and get away, I will,” only that was a joke: there wouldn’t be one Lannister ship waiting for them at Widow’s Watch, there would be a fleet, twenty, and they’d put her in chains and lock her in a brig, and he’d have to sleep in front of the cage to keep her from being raped before she was put to death.

“You can teach me how to sail,” he said. “You don’t have to—”

“It’s not something you learn in a few days,” Brienne said. “Not in northern waters.”

“We can find a Northern fisherman who’ll take us for money.”

“Will you shut up?” Cersei said. “We’re seven hundred miles north of Winterfell. No one lives in this country, and if they do, they’ve gone south for the winter by now. Brienne’s taking us to Father, and she’s not going to run away somehow, and we’re not going to tell him some stupid lie. We’re not doing anything like that.”

“Then what are we doing?” Jaime snarled at her in a burst of heat, feeling like his heart was a fraying leash.

Cersei stood up and smiled at him, cruel as ice, and said, “We’re going to bed.” She picked up the small lantern, and ducked into the tent. He shut his eyes, and Brienne got up and put her hand on his shoulder and said quietly, “I’ll see to the horses. Go in: it’ll be a while for the tent to warm.”

He sat a moment clenching his jaw in rage, and then he got up and went in. Cersei was taking off her boots and curling up under the covers along the left side. “Take the middle,” he said savagely, pulling off his own.

“Oh, did I hurt your feelings?” Cersei said, without moving. “Don’t you want to tell me the rest of your terrible, noble ideas? Are you going to tell Father you’ve fallen in love with her? He’ll have her gang-raped before he kills her, like Tyrion’s whore. What else? Will you swear an oath to jump off the Red Keep if he doesn’t spare her? No, I suppose you’ll just promise to ride north and hurl yourself at the Night King. Father will decide your mind’s been addled by captivity and put you in a cell to cool your brain.” She shook her head and laughed, laughed at him. “It’s like a bad joke.”

“Cersei, I swear,” he grated.

“Yes, what do you swear?” she said. “Do you swear to save her? You know there’s only one way to do that.”

He paused and stared at her. “What?”

Cersei propped herself up on her side, looking at him with glinting eyes. “Do you really need me to tell you? There’s only one thing that she can give Father that would pay him back for what she’s taken from him, and that’s your heir. You’ll have to fuck her the whole way there, every night. It should work. You have no idea how careful I was, and even so we’ve got three. Even if she isn’t pregnant by the time we arrive, you can tell Father there’s a good chance, and then he’ll let you marry her.”

It was all true, everything Cersei was saying, but he didn’t understand why she was saying it, except maybe to make it hurt more, that there was a way, there was the one way to save Brienne, only it was as out of reach as the stars. “She’s not going to let me get a child on her just to save her neck!”

Cersei smiled at him, almost glowingly, and said soft and vicious, “Are you going to let her stop you?”

He stared at her. “What?”

“Are you going to stop just because she bleats no at you, like a frightened goat that doesn’t want to be devoured?” Cersei said. “And are you going to be glad you did when there’s four men holding you back as Father has them bend her over and cut off her head, when you watch it go rolling over the deck to your feet and see her eyes staring up at you one last time?”

His breath was coming in small, choked gasps. He saw it when Cersei said the words, and he couldn’t—it was worse than his own imagination; he hadn’t seen it that far, that clearly. He hadn’t been able to bear seeing it. But he couldn’t bear seeing the other, either: Brienne struggling beneath him, begging him not to, trying to fight him off with all her strength, and she was strong, terribly strong, so it would be a fight; he wouldn’t be able to control her body easily the way he could when Cersei hit him in a temper, and he’d be fighting her knowing that she didn’t want his violence back.

He was still sick with the horror of his choices when Brienne crawled in, on the right side of the tent, all unsuspecting. She took off her own boots, and then she tied up the opening of the tent, carefully: all the ties along the bottom, all the ones going down the middle, and then she folded over the fur-lined flaps to cover them, and then finally the inner layer after that. He was painfully, agonizingly aware of her body the whole time; of her, and of Cersei, curled and radiating malicious pleasure on his other side, waiting.

And there was only one other way, except he knew it wouldn’t work; he knew, the way he’d known before, that Brienne would say no, but he had to try. So he waited until she had wriggled herself into the covers and was settling into sleep, letting a last deep breath out and going under quick, a soldier used to campaigning, and when he heard it, he eased towards her in the dark and put his mouth on her ear and whispered her name, and when she turned towards him he caught her mouth with his, kissing with all the hunger of months in it, sliding his hand down her body and catching her wrist, bringing her hand over between his legs, where he was hard for her, for her.

At first she was only shocked; he felt her trying to pull back so she could stare at him, but he stayed with her; he moved with her, onto her, let his weight bear him down into the cradle of her hips, pressing her thighs apart around him, never letting her mouth go; he kept kissing her, catching her hands when they came for his shoulders to push him off and bringing them gently over her head as he moved against her: a slow, coaxing undulation of his body, as far from a threat as he could manage, just letting her feel how he wanted her, how desperately he wanted her to let him in.

She quivered under him, her mouth moving, trying to say something, but he devoured the words and moved his hands over her palms and her wrists again, caressing, then he pinned both her hands with one of his and moved fast to slide his other between them, lifting his hips just enough he could get his hand in and tug loose one the ties of her placket, just enough in turn so he could slip two of his fingers in and stroke her cunt, so quickly he was there before she knew what he was doing. She jerked against him in convulsive surprise, making a muffled squawk against his mouth, but he was there; he stroked her again, rubbed her clit with his fingertip, and when he touched her again she was already starting to be wet and slick, so his fingers went gliding back and forth easily.

But she wrenched her head away and hissed, very softly, “Have you lost—stop it, no,” and he shuddered all over and said, his voice cracking, “Please. Brienne, please,” and in the dark of the tent she stared up at him and said, “What are you—” and then she stopped, and understood, and then she said quietly, “No.”

He dragged in a breath and kissed her again, again, the last time, the last time she’d ever—and whispered, “Forgive me,” and clamped a real hold on her wrist, pinning the other under his forearm, and he took his hand out of her trousers to get the rest of the ties open.

She head-butted him straight in the forehead, hard enough he saw stars, and while he was shaking it off, she brought up a knee between their bodies, got her other foot on his hip and heaved him sideways, twisting her hips out from under him. He lost the pinned wrist, and as soon as he did, she grabbed his ear and wrenched it painfully enough he yelped. He grabbed for that hand, automatically, and when he did, she wrenched her other one loose and instantly shoved it between his legs, and seized his balls in a tight grip.

She gave them a hard warning squeeze, to the edge of pain, and he froze even as she said flatly, “That’s enough, or I’ll twist them so hard you won’t think of fucking anyone for a month. Do you think you’re the first man who’s tried, when I’ve spent half my life with soldiers? I’ve killed two men for it before now.”

His cock jerked, involuntarily, a shudder of fresh desperate lust going through him. She was—she was—magnificent, his ferocious darling girl; of course she had, of course she’d killed the idiots who’d tried, and he let go of her and said, raw, “Brienne, my father’s going to kill you.”

The anger faded from her face, and—she believed him; he saw it, and he saw agonizingly that she was afraid, she didn’t want to die; but there still wasn’t any shred of yielding in her, any more than there ever had been. She let go of him and pulled herself back, sitting up with her knees drawn against her, and looked away. “That’s not enough of a reason. Not for this. I’ll try my best to get away, I’ll do whatever I can, but—”

“Oh, shut up, you stupid bitch,” Cersei said savagely, and Brienne jerked and stared over at her. Cersei had sat up, her face hard and furious, the thin slit of the lamp making lines of reflected fire in her eyes. “Not enough of a reason? How’s this. You’ll do it, or we’re not going. We’ll stay right here until we freeze to death or the dead find us, and then so much for your hope of Lannister armies to save the North.”

Brienne darted a shocked look at him and back and stammered, “What—why would—why would you—he’s yours, why—”

“That’s right,” Cersei hissed. “He’s mine, and I’m not going to let you take him. I know my idiot brother. I know him, and that’s exactly what you’d do, marching yourself straight to your death and putting your own head on the block like a martyr: you’d take him with you. And then our father will turn his face to the wall, and the vultures will be picking their teeth with the bones of my other children before the snows reach the south. Do you think I’ll care, then, if that army of dead men drowns the world? I won’t care, I don’t care; if my brother is going to die, if my children are going to die, everyone else can die too. That bitch Sansa and all her Northmen, everyone you love back on that miserable rock you’re from, the whole world can die as far as I care.”

Brienne was staring Cersei up and down appalled, something she couldn’t make sense of. “You’d let the whole world die, but you expect me to—to—”

“Well, you’re the one who does care, aren’t you?” Cersei said, coolly, in a glitter of triumph. “The lady who would be a knight, flitting around saving helpless girls and women left and right—at least for as long as you’re in earshot,” mockery sharp in every word. “Did you think if you were good enough with a sword, you’d get to decide for yourself, when the rest of us don’t?”

She reached out and yanked back the tangled covers from the middle of the tent, baring the smooth pad of Jaime’s bedroll beneath. “Well, you don’t. You're going to lie down, and spread your legs for it, and stop whining. Poor little you, forced to endure being fucked by the man you love. Robert whispered the name of Ned Stark’s dead sister in my ear as he drunkenly raped me for seventeen years. Do you think he stopped when I said no?”

Brienne had instinctively curled herself up a little more, her arms wrapped around her knees, but she hadn’t looked away from Cersei, her face wounded by an unwilling sympathy. Her mouth was a hard line, fighting it. “And in return—you betrayed him. You broke your vows, lay with your own brother—”

“And why shouldn’t I?” Cersei hissed. “Who else in this world should I love? Who else cared at all, ever, for me? My father, who was delighted to trade me for a crown? My drunken husband, who would have butchered me and my children for my betrayal, even though he fucked every tavern whore and serving girl in Westeros who’d hold still long enough? Sansa’s honorable father, who was ready to hand us over to him? All those courtiers and smallfolk who praised my beauty, who rejoiced to have Lannister gold in their pockets and peace they bought on my back, they’d all have spit on me on the way to the scaffold, because I took what little I could for myself. Why should any of them matter to me? Fuck them, fuck all of them, and fuck you, too.”

Cersei suddenly went for Brienne, caught her head and kissed her, full on the mouth. Brienne made a muffled squawk and caught her by the shoulders, but Cersei darted her hands between them and pulled up Brienne’s shirt and slid her hands under it. Jaime jerked back and then forward again, but stopped with no idea what to do; then he had to settle for grabbing for the lantern to keep it from dousing them both in burning oil as Brienne made another yelp and dragged Cersei’s hands out from under her shirt and wrestled her down.

Cersei still managed to snake one of her legs out from beneath and wrapped it around Brienne’s waist, pushing up against her, rolling her hips; Brienne tried to arch away without letting her up, going red and furious, and Cersei laughed up at her. “Shall I fuck you? We can do it that way if you like it better. I’ll put you on his cock and make love to you and not let him touch either of us,” she said, jeering. “He’d only get to watch—I’m sure that would be more than enough to do the trick. Does that sound better to you? I’m not unreasonable. You can choose how you’ll pay your debt.”

My debt!” Brienne said, and twisted her way out of Cersei’s entwining leg, pulling her back up onto her knees and holding her off.

Cersei didn’t try to break free this time, just leaned in against Brienne’s grip. “That’s right,” she said, soft and savage, through bared teeth. “You owe me a child, Brienne of Tarth, for the one you took from me, and you’re going to pay. You’re going to pay, or the whole world dies, and it’s all on your head.”

Brienne stared into Cersei’s face. Her hands on Cersei’s wrists were showing white lines across the knuckles. For a long moment she didn’t speak, and then she said, very low, “No.” Cersei stiffened in place, staring back. Brienne said, “A child is what I don’t owe, to you or the world. I’d give my own life to bring your armies, to save the North and everyone else. But I won’t bear a child, an innocent child, and give that child’s life. No one has a right to ask that of me. Not you, not the gods themselves. If that’s what it takes to save the world, then the world will have to end.”

It was as final as her saying I’ve taken an oath, a line drawn not in sand but in steel, going nowhere, and Jaime felt thick-throated with despair. Brienne and Cersei were still locked facing each other, and he knew with terrible clarity that in a moment Brienne would turn and ask him to help her instead of Cersei, ask him to help her drag Cersei along, all the way to the Lannister fleet if need be. She’d ask him to help her give her life, the thing she could give, to save the world.

Cersei said a little waveringly, “You’re being foolish. No one’s going to hurt your child. You’ll be lady of Casterly Rock—”

“I’m not a fool, so stop talking to me as if I am,” Brienne said. “I know what you want. Your brother, your children, your crown. That’s what you’ve ever wanted, and it’s what you’ll do anything to have and to keep, because you don’t care about anyone else in the world. You don’t care if I die. But you do care that I have a part of Jaime’s heart now, and you think if he watches me die doing my duty, you’ll never get it back. So you’d save me to buy yourself time, the same way you’d whore him to me in the first place to get away, but the moment you feel safe again, you’ll do everything you can to destroy me and my child. And I can’t stand against you, not in the south, not in the royal court. I know I can’t.”

“My father would never let—”

“Your father, who sold you to a drunkard?” Brienne broke in, sharply, and Cersei stopped, her mouth thinning. “Who you’re both certain will have me killed, even as his own son begs for my life? Now you want me to trust in him, when his own children can’t? No. I can’t do that either.”

Cersei was trembling in Brienne’s grip, and then her mouth formed into a mirthless, seething smile that came and went. “No. No, you can’t. But after all—you don’t need to take me south. My father will believe Jaime. He’ll come north on Jaime’s word. So you can leave me behind, and go on with him, and then you can spread your legs for him with joy, and you and your child will be perfectly safe in the south.”

Jaime turned to Brienne, desperately; he felt as if someone was dragging a knife through him down the middle. She was staring at Cersei with wide eyes and her mouth screwed up over some sharp, bad taste. “No,” she said. 

“But if it’s the only way to save the world—” Cersei said, mockingly, almost lightly.  

“No!” Brienne said again, more loudly, then added, “And you’re only suggesting it because if I would do that, if I’d ask Jaime to do that, he wouldn’t care what your father did with me, and shouldn’t. But I won’t. I’ll ask him to help me carry you, not abandon you,” exactly the way he’d known she would, and Cersei’s face twisted in rage.

She tried to lunge at Brienne again, almost managing to wrestle her wrists free. “I’ll stab myself if he tries it,” she spat.

“Cersei,” Jaime said, his voice cracking, but she only shot him a look of savage accusation, and when he said, “Brienne, please,” she only looked back at him helplessly, wanting to give him something, only she couldn’t give him what he was asking for. There were words ready on his lips: I’ll protect you, I won’t let her hurt you, only he knew they were lies. Cersei would shred Brienne to pieces in the south, and it wouldn’t be something he could stop until it was too late. He’d never been able to stop Cersei.

“What can you do?” he asked instead, in desperation. “Brienne. There has to be something you can do. If—I’ll go away with you, with you and the child; to Tarth, to Essos—”

Cersei had stiffened, her eyes on him burning with fury, but Brienne shook her head in frustration. She was still holding Cersei by the wrists. “What can I do? I’d give my life to save you and your children,” she said to Cersei. “But you’ll hate me and mine, even if we’re your brother’s. You won’t let him belong to anyone else.”

“You want that too,” Cersei spat at her. “You want him to be yours, and if he’s not, you won’t fuck him, even if it means you’ll die, so stop trying to pretend you care about me or my children when you want to take all we have.”

Brienne paused, a slow frown creasing her face as she looked at Cersei: a puzzle she had to solve, like one of those stupid tests Jaime had always hated as a boy, his maester lecturing on how to find the correct, the honorable answer to an impossible situation according to the code of chivalry, as if that was something true, something that meant anything in the world, and then she said slowly, “You’re right that I won’t do it, I won’t lie with him and bear him a child, if he’s not mine. I do need that. But—I don’t need to take him from you. Would that make a difference?”

Cersei gave a short laugh. “What did you have in mind? Will you send him to my bed two nights a week, and every other festival? I’ll agree to that, if you like.”

“Stop making a joke of it,” Brienne said, impatient. She pushed Cersei back onto her heels, and then let go of her and looked her squarely in the face. “I’m asking if you can be a sister to me. Because that’s what I can do. You don’t care for others, for anyone in the world, because they haven’t had care for you. Well, I can care. But only if you can do the same for me. I can be a sister to you, and care about you and your children as a sister should. I’ll give you my word to do that, and keep it, if you’ll give me yours to do the same.

“But don’t lie to me about it,” Brienne added. Cersei had drawn back a little, gone wary. “Because I’ll know it’s a lie before the child’s born. And the instant I know, I’ll take Jaime and go, forever. That’s what I need him to promise me: to come away with me and the child if I need him to, so you won’t gain anything if you lie. But I don’t need him to give you up. Because if I tried to do that to you, take him from you—then I’d be the one lying. It would mean I didn’t care about you. So I won’t do that. And I won’t parcel out his time; what difference does it make to me, one night or another? If you’re my sister, I won’t count small coin between us. But if you can’t do the same for me, if you can’t be my sister, then I can’t be yours, and I can’t marry your brother. And that’s for you to say.”

She stopped there, with finality. Cersei was staring at Brienne fixedly, almost unblinking, and Jaime held his breath, desperate, in the clear understanding that she’d finally struck against Brienne’s steel, the way he had himself, back in their prison, hard enough to convince herself that it was there, a thing she couldn’t bend or twist. She hadn’t believed him, all this time, but now she did. And he’d fallen in love with Brienne’s bright cold unyielding metal, the same way he’d fallen in love with the sword as a boy: he wanted it in his hands, he wanted to be worthy of it. But he didn’t know if Cersei could see it as anything other than a threat, aimed at her throat.

And then Cersei said in an oddly low voice, “Yes.” Then she raised her chin, leading the rest of her body straight and proud, and reached out and cupped Brienne’s cheek. “Yes,” she said more strongly, brightness coming back into her face like a low fire stirred up. “I do give you my word. We’ll be lionesses together, you and I. Sharing our golden lion and hunting for our pride. I bore him princes, and you’ll bear him shining knights, to defend Tommen’s throne and realm. And I’ll love your children, protect them, as you’ll love and protect my own.”

And Brienne looked a little grim, as if she was half sorry with the answer, but she firmed her jaw and gave a single sharp nod. Cersei held there another moment looking at her, and then she leaned in across the space and kissed Brienne full on the mouth again, and reached for the ties on her shirt. Brienne gave a muffled squeak and caught Cersei’s hands, leaning back with her face red, and Cersei laughed at her, differently, a kind of laughter that Jaime couldn't remember hearing from her for years, not since she’d been a girl; there was a light of challenge in her face. “What other way is there?” she said. “It would be small coin, otherwise.”

Brienne now had a completely different stricken expression: appalled because she quite clearly didn’t have an answer for that argument, and Cersei laughed again and reached for the ties more slowly and deliberately, and Brienne, her cheeks flaring, stared down at her hands moving with a helpless baffled look, as if she couldn’t entirely believe she wasn’t stopping it, and yet was powerless, and Jaime didn’t need to see the victorious smile curving Cersei’s mouth to know how much she’d like that.

Cersei let the ends of the last tie slip out of her fingers and reached down to pull her own shift off over her head, coming out of it with her hair snaking gold after, and she caught Brienne’s face in her hands and kissed her again, cupped Brienne’s breast in her hand through the fabric and brushed her thumb over the nipple, and Brienne gave a small quivering jump and made a noise. 

“Don’t I get to have any say in this?” Jaime said, mesmerized, but with the strong feeling that as a matter of principle, he should get to have a say.

“Don’t make me laugh,” Cersei said, without bothering to turn away for an instant, her voice smoky with excitement, and to be fair, as he watched her hands go sliding underneath Brienne’s shirt, he couldn’t think of a single thing in the world he wanted beyond what he was about to get.

Brienne did throw one last half-hopeful look over at him, as if she thought he might yet save her from being devoured. But he only grinned back at her unmercifully and prowled in to join the feasting instead: after all, he was also a lion, and he could see her nipples already deliciously peaked beneath the shirt. He pulled it up and off her and pressed himself up against her back, letting her feel his cock hard and ready to sink into her. He cupped his hands over Cersei’s soft ones on her breasts for a moment, and then he slid his hands down over Brienne’s flat belly to start unlacing her trousers.

Brienne shivered all over, blushing again, and then she bit her lip and looked at Cersei, who curved a smile of triumph at her, bright and cruel. But Brienne took a breath into her belly, deep enough to lift his hands, and then she firmed up her shoulders and reached out. She cupped Cersei’s face in her hands and brought her in and kissed her, very carefully, as if she weren’t quite sure she was doing it right, and she meant to do it right, and then she did it again. Cersei had a flush of her own rising after, and her eyes on Brienne’s face were hard but somehow stricken, fighting against feeling. Jaime knew with an ache of relief that she’d forgive him after all, because she had to, now: she’d committed the same crime, for the same reason. She’d needed to seduce Brienne too, and there was only the one way to do it.

Not that she wouldn’t keep fighting it off as long as she could, but perhaps he could hurry things up a little. He reached down and drew his own shirt off over his head, and then deliberately stretched himself out on his back in the middle of the tent and started undoing his trouser laces. “Well,” he said, tilting his head back towards Cersei and letting a lazy grin take his mouth, artfully casual; she gave him a half-irritated and speaking look that said she saw what he was doing and yet he could go right on doing it. Brienne’s eyes were just fixed rather wide on his hands. “How should we arrange ourselves, do you think? I’m entirely open to suggestion.”

# End