Ten years had passed since King Bran the Broken began his rule of the Six Kingdoms from King’s Landing. Ten years since the horror of The Long Night, and the Dragon Queen’s destruction of King’s Landing. Ten years since Sansa Stark was crowned Queen in the North, and Arya left for western lands unknown, and Jon Snow returned to the Wall and took the black again.
For ten years, Ser Brienne of Tarth had served King Bran loyally as the Lord Commander of his Kingsguard. At first, she had been honored to sit on the Small Council, to serve the king and help rebuild the kingdom. She still was proud, ten years on, to be the first woman in this role; but truth be told, something had begun bothering her in recent years.
Brienne was bored.
There simply wasn’t much in the way of conflict under Bran the Broken. Doubtless this was a good thing – the people of Westeros deserved a season of peace after the chaos of the wars – but as a soldier, Brienne preferred action. These decidedly quiet times were trying her patience, but she had no idea how to resolve the conflict within her. She had always done her duty, and would continue to do so as long as Bran required it of her; she never broke her oaths, but sometimes her mind wandered and she found herself longing for adventure.
What exactly did she want? To go chasing after Arya, seeking her fortune in unknown lands? To venture north and give her allegiance to Sansa instead? She doubted either of these options would please her any more than her current situation.
So she filled her days with drilling the Kingsguard, meeting with the other members of the Small Council, and any other menial task that could keep her busy, even if she was restless and unsatisfied.
She had loved Jamie Lannister, for all the good it had done her – she still thanked the old gods and the new that she hadn’t fallen pregnant during their brief interlude. But he was ten years dead and buried, and before he died he had left her bed for his sister; he did not deserve any more of Brienne’s tears, and she had, after some time passed, been able to gradually let go of that hurt and appreciate the beauty of the few moments of happiness they’d had together.
But at night, her dreams didn’t feature the golden one-handed lion; in her dreams, the nights were cold and snowy, and the lover that warmed her bed was the flame-haired Wildling. She hated that he haunted her dreams. That obscene grin he used to give her whenever he caught her eye in Castle Black or Winterfell should have offended her – and it usually did, but in the sterility of her current life, she sometimes wondered what opportunities she had missed out on by not taking him up on his advances.
These thoughts were silly, and useless, and she tried not to give them much of her mental energy. What was the point? Tormund Giantsbane had gone North to his homeland after The Long Night, and he probably didn’t even remember her. It’s not like they would ever see each other again.
* * * * *
Ten years had passed since the night the dead came to Winterfell. Tormund still found it hard to believe they had defeated the Night King, that he no longer had to worry about his people’s villages being overrun by armies of undead in the night. The North was still cold, and he liked it that way – but his people were free to hunt and fish, and even farm and build more solid communities than they’d been able to for generations.
He had been glad for the return of Jon Snow. He had known his friend was not meant for the politics and subterfuge that thrived in the Southron climate. Tormund had rejoiced to see him enter the gates of Castle Black, but he had to admit his heart had fallen when he realized Jon was alone. He hadn’t realized until that moment that he’d secretly hoped the Big Woman would change her mind about him and decide, for some unknown reason, to come north in search of him.
But ten years had passed, and although the years had been kind to Tormund and the Free Folk, he continued to be restless. This surprised no one, as he was a true Wildling at heart, but they didn’t comprehend the reason for his ongoing agitation. He’d hardly been visibly pining for Brienne – that just wasn’t in his nature – but though he’d on occasion taken women to bed, he’d never taken one to wife, and he knew he probably never would. Who could compete with the memory of the woman he’d wanted to have great, big monster babies with?
He hadn’t begrudged her the dalliance with the pretty Lannister; it was evident even to an outsider like him that they had a history together, though he didn’t understand why the smaller man hadn’t courted her in the Southron custom before The Long Night. He would have jumped on that opportunity, had she given him so much as a second glance. But long nights with Jon around the fires north of the wall had led to some interesting discussions, and he now knew about Jaime and his bizarre relationship with his sister, Cersei the queen. He was aware that Jaime had left Brienne’s bed to chase after his doomed twin, eventually dying in her arms beneath the keep in King’s Landing. He could only hope his blonde beauty hadn’t suffered too greatly from that loss, but he was sure her stoicism and strength had served her well and helped her recover.
He still wished for her, late at night when he burrowed in his bed of furs, and he knew in his heart that he would never meet her equal. But bygones were just that, and there was no point wishing for something that could never be.
* * * * *
Bran the Broken was a very successful king. Being the Three-Eyed Raven, keeper of the knowledge of his and all people, certainly didn’t hurt. He knew his manner was off-putting to many, if not most, of his subjects and counselors, but this didn’t bother him; he was able to ensure loyalty and deter the kinds of intrigue that had previously plagued the rulers of King’s Landing by maintaining his air of detachment and mystery. Furthermore, he had found that a level, unblinking gaze at just the right moment worked to maintain his reputation as a chilly, if effective, monarch.
Because of his aloofness, those around him assumed he was not much interested in their personal lives or happiness. This was not entirely true. In recent years, he had particularly noticed that the Lord Commander of his Kingsguard was growing restless; no doubt her years of service during the wars had given her a taste for adventure that made a peaceful kingdom less than appealing. Everyone had relished the peace and quiet initially, but a quiet court could be somehow more challenging for a warrior such as Ser Brienne.
While he had met Brienne at Winterfell, their interactions had been somewhat limited before he became king and asked her to serve as Kingsguard. He knew she was a fierce, loyal fighter who had served Renly Baratheon before swearing to his mother to secure the safety of her daughters. She had fought bravely during The Long Night, and he’d heard rumors of her dalliance with Jaime Lannister before the Kingslayer left to return to his sister’s side. He wondered what else she had encountered in the great white north.
Bran practiced the skills that made him the Three-Eyed Raven quite frequently, and one evening as he set out to greensight, his Lord Commander crossed his mind and his idle curiosity got the better of him. Stepping back in time, he found himself watching as Brienne and Sansa arrived at Castle Black; as he took in the scene, he couldn’t help but notice the red-haired Wildling man who couldn’t take his eyes off Ser Brienne. Coming back to himself, he chuckled as he recalled seeing the man trailing in Brienne’s footsteps at various times around Winterfell. She seemed nothing but annoyed by him at the time, but that level of attention could be intriguing, even if the interest wasn’t reciprocated.
Maybe what his Lord Commander needed was a visit with an old admirer? She certainly hadn’t any of those in King’s Landing. At any rate, a trip to the north would provide a nice change of pace.
By the next morning, Bran the Broken had decided on a plan. As his Small Council met to discuss the goings-on of the Six Kingdoms, he surprised them by announcing, “I have decided it is time for me to pay a visit to the Cave of the Three-Eyed Raven. I haven’t been there since the Night King fell, and I am curious if anything changed. I believe the nation is stable enough for me to go now, and I will leave Lord Tyrion to handle the business of the kingdom in my absence.”
Turning his gaze to Brienne, he added, “Lord Commander, you and Ser Podrick will accompany me. We can send ravens to my sister in Winterfell and my brother at Castle Black to let them know we will be stopping there along the way.”
For a change, everyone on the Council was silent, clearly stunned by his sudden proclamation. Evidently no one could think of a valid objection, so after a moment he said, “Preparations should begin immediately. We will leave early next week.”