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A Royal Circus

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JAIME

Tyrion was the first to arrive in Tarth, a full month before the wedding. Jaime could have wept for joy. Tyrion loved to tell people what to do, and Jaime was at wits end with wedding planning. He had underestimated the work involved. He was determined to keep Brienne well clear of it as promised, so Lord Selwyn had been Jaime’s primary confidant and co-planner. He liked to think that he and his future goodfather had become friends-- but Lord Selwyn had work as the Evenstar, so he was not as much help as Jaime required.

Tyrion brought Podrick with him. Almost immediately, Podrick declared his desire to move from Tyrion’s household to Brienne’s. This was not a surprise; Podrick knew no one in the Westerlands anymore, and only a handful of people in King’s Landing. Brienne was truly his family.

By the third day of Tyrion’s arrival, basic tours and introductions were over and Brienne set about apprenticing Podrick to Ser Goodwin, the Castellan. She spent most of her time with the two of them, and Jaime locked himself in his solar with Tyrion, pouring over poor-ly written charts and lists as though finishing battle plans. Jaime wished it were as simple as a battle, but Tyrion seemed to delight in the thorny politics of it all.

“You’ve left off The Lady of the Crossing,” Tyrion mused, laughing.

“The Crossing? Who holds that?”

“Come, brother. You have to do better at keeping up with events. Willem Frey holds the Crossing now.”

“Aunt Genna’s youngest?”

“Tywin died in King’s Landing fighting for Cersei. Willem is yet unmarried but of a promising age for it. She will want him here. And I don’t doubt that she will accompany him.”

Jaime sighed. “Who else?”

Tyrion rattled off a dozen names and titles, lesser lords or fourth cousins twice removed. Finally, pouring himself more wine, he asked, “I imagine you invited the Lord of Winterfell.”

“I couldn’t very well not invite him.”

Tyrion smiled coyly. “I find it amusing that you forgot your own aunt, but remembered the broken boy you pushed out a window.”

Jaime pursed his lips, surveying their work. “I find it amusing that you would think I’d forget to invite a Lord Paramount, and the Queen’s brother, to a royal mess like this.” He found none of it amusing, in truth. He was annoyed at Tyrion for bringing it up. Jaime had pushed Bran Stark out a window, yes. How many times was he expected to admit it? Bran Stark had said he felt nothing with regards to that act, and though Jaime would carry his guilt until his death, he didn’t need a reminder of it. He was not like to forget.

“How many rooms do you have here?” Tyrion changed the subject. “It’s a pretty keep, but smallish.”

Jaime nodded. “We’ll give over this room and the nursery, bringing us to thirty.”

“Not enough, but--”

“There are two inns in town. I’ve bought them out for the wedding. And beyond that, the men will have to camp afield.”

“Yes…” Tyrion tipped his head. “I’ve yet to see a field. Everything here is either uphill or down.”

Jaime knew this well. “There are a few farm fields and the tournament grounds.”

“You won’t be holding a tournament, then?”

“I couldn’t plan one in time even if I wanted to, and I don’t.”

Tyrion set down his wine glass. “Let’s go for a ride,” he said suddenly. “I’ve brought my saddle, you like riding. It will get you out of this room and maybe I can see the lay of the land a bit.”

Jaime agreed, and within the hour, he and Tyrion were riding out of the gate of Evenfall Hall and down the steep curve of the street towards Evenfall town. Jaime pointed out each inn as they passed it, and turned Tyrion down market street. It was starting to swell, vendors spilling out of its corners and into nearby avenues.

“This is really very wise of you,” Tyrion said, and not without the air or surprise.

“What is?”

“This big wedding. I wondered what you were playing at, but you can feel it, can’t you?”

“Feel what?”

“Watch the way people look at you, Jaime. Watch.”

Jaime did, then. He saw awe and excitement in eye after eye. A few older men, likely old enough to remember King Aerys, spit on the ground as he rode past, but more shook out their hats or tried to smooth the banners around their stalls. Not all of these vendors were from Tarth, either. A man was selling high vintage Dornish wine. Another was selling Dothraki-designed blankets. He saw exotic fruits and northern pastries.

Tyrion was grinning like a madman “I imagine this market will spill over into the main street and out into the woods beyond within a fortnight. By the time of the wedding, anyone who has a boat will be on this island.”

Jaime had understood when Lord Selwyn said the people needed joy. Now he saw that the people also needed a boost in their economy. Tarth was more lively than Jaime had ever envisioned. Its water was truly the bluest and clearest he had ever seen. He worried and hoped in equal measure that it might become a holiday spot for the elite of the Seven Kingdoms, with all that money going into the coffers of the good people of Tarth. His people.

Later that night, while Brienne was still out with Podrick and Ser Goodwin, Jaime had the singular joy of watching Tyrion play with Alys. She was only a few months old, old enough now to recognize Jaime and smile at him. When Tyrion tossed her up and down, her head would turn to seek out Jaime, to seek out reassurance. If she cried, Jaime could calm her simply with his touch. It was a miracle, truly. Every moment of it was new, and Tyrion seemed to sense it as well.

“Her eyes are looking a little green, brother,” Tyrion said, tilting Alys towards the light.

Jaime nodded. “Brienne continually insisted that they would change color, and you can start to see that, yes.”

“Do you ever feel… how do you feel?”

Jaime smiled at his brother’s discomfort. He couldn’t guess what Tyrion had been about to say, so he met the charge head on. “You may ask when you like, Tyrion. I’ve no secrets from you. I’m not fragile enough to break if you ask what’s on your mind.”

Tyrion nodded, his face sober. “Do you regret that Cersei is not alive to enjoy her?”

“No.” Jaime felt very little need to elaborate, but he did. “I regret many things, but Cersei is not one of them. I don’t regret loving her, and I don’t regret holding her down while Arya sliced her throat. All of her children died. She made the world an unkind place for a Lannister. By killing her, I hopefully have made a good world where this little Storm can grow into her own person.”

“Lady Brienne doesn’t mind you raising Cersei’s daughter a door down from her rooms?”

Jaime laughed at the ludicrous statement. “Truth be told, most times I think my lady and I both forget Alys did not come out of Brienne’s body. It seems to me that Alys was always destined to be Brienne’s. From her conception onwards, she was Brienne’s babe.” Though he still had nightmares about that night, and about his part in it, killing Cersei was the only way to be sure Alys could go home to her true mother.

The babe in question had wrapped her hand around Jaime’s finger as he, Tyrion, and Alys all lay across the floor of the nursery.

There was a sudden cough at the door, and Jaime turned to see Brienne, he eyes shining and wet, Podrick behind her.

Jaime was practiced at scooping up Alys with one hand, especially now that her head needed less support. He disentangled his finger to do so now, turning the baby towards Brienne. Alys’s delight was plain for all to see as Jaime whispered, “Who is that? Is that mama?” Alys smiled her gummy, drooly smile, and Brienne took her from Jaime. Alys, who had a one track mind when mama was around, immediately began tearing at Brienne’s shirt. She took a seat in the chair by the hearth and began to nurse.

It feels like we are a family, Jaime thought, until he realized they were one. This was his brother, his wife-to-be, his child, and Podrick had been Tyrion’s squire before he was Brienne’s. Jaime was so unused to this homey feeling. He had been by the side of members of his family his whole life, but never felt more at-ease, more relaxed than now. This is the family I have chosen. The four of them together reminded him so much of the first few nights in Winterfell. And Podrick, seven bless him, was watching Brienne nurse with naked admiration. Brienne had once worried that Podrock might see her as a woman. Podrick always had seen her thus, and her being a mother now did nothing to diminish her knighthood in Podrick’s eyes. If anything, it made her more impressive. She was, by the maester’s estimation, a moon’s turn away from giving birth to one child, nursing another, and she still trained daily. True, her chestplate didn’t fit any long, but the rest of her still armor did.

“Jaime, can you--” Brienne started, and Jaime moved before she finished asking the question. It was a routine. In the evening, Kelsa arrived just before supper. Brienne would sit in the chair to nurse Alys and Jaime would start a fire. It was cold at night still, and Jaime didn’t want Kelsa to have to do it. He stacked the logs in the hearth and added kindling and tinder, then reached into his belt. He remembered the road to Winterfell, trying to make a fire one-handed for the first time by holding down his steel with his knee. It had been a tricky mess and the first night had been cold and damp, but the smith at Evenfall had made Jaime a new steel. It was smooth on one side and mail on the other, and he wore it over his gold hand. He could then easily position the hand into the tinder. It had probably made him better at starting fires than Brienne had ever been.

Leaning down to blow on the infant flames, Jaime heard Tyrion exhale behind him. “That’s really remarkable. Let me see that.”

Jaime passed over his steel and Tyrion inspected it. “What other gadgets have you made?”

Jaime smiled. “You should have been an inventor.”

“I wager it would have been a more peaceful life, if not half so exciting.”

They sat by the fire, Tyrion and Brienne (and Alys) on the two chairs, and Jaime and Podrick on the floor, all looking into the crackling hearth. Finally, a knock on the door alerted them to Kelsa. Brienne handed over Alys, and they went to find Lord Selwyn for what would be, in truth, a pleasant family dinner.

*****

TYRION

Every day, Tyrion and Jaime met to plan. Jaime was in charge of provisioning the household, nearby inns, and the encampments in farmers’ fields. It was most in line with Jaime’s experience. Tyrion volunteered to monitor responses by raven, decide seating arrangements, and take charge of the menu.

Lord Selwyn was also working on the wedding in addition to his normal duties. Selwyn and Tyrion had taken an immediate liking to each other, a camaraderie that Jaime was visibly jealous of despite his amicable relationship with his future goodfather. Selwyn was working on ceremony details and on getting Jaime new armor. Plus, he had his usual duties as the Evenstar.

Five days after Tyrion arrived in Tarth, a raven brought a reply from Winterfell. Tyrion unrolled it and saw that Lord Stark was sending his regrets. There was another scroll within it, one marked for Jaime. Tyrion, always more curious than was healthy, brought it to Jaime immediately, congratulating himself the entire way on not having opened it yet.

Jaime looked up at his brother’s entrance. “Brandon Stark sends his regrets,” Tyrion said.

Jaime nodded, and Tyrion could not tell if Jaime felt disappointment, relief, what? His expression was blank.

“He did enclose something for you, though.”

Tyrion passed the small scroll over. Jaime opened it with practiced ease, holding one end down with his metal hand. He smiled.

“What?” Tyrion was itching to know.

“Read it yourself,” Jaime said, passing it over.

The scroll read: “This is what happens after. Marriages and children. The living won, and now we shall.”

“The living won, and now we shall…” Tyrion mumbled. “Shall what?”

“Live, I expect,” Jaime said, still smiling.

*****

One day, a young girl came to Tyrion’s chambers and let him know the presentation he had asked for was ready. He grinned. He had taken charge of the wedding feast menu for one reason, truly-- he knew Jaime was too proud by half to admit that there were considerations to make in addition to taste. Tyrion followed the girl to the kitchens and took a seat at a long table. He folded his left hand behind his back as the cooking staff served him one dish and then another and another. He knew it wasn’t quite fair that he was using his right hand, but Jaime seemed to get along quite well, and Tyrion couldn’t even piss straight with his left hand.

Tyrion would not have Jaime embarrassed on his own wedding day because of his maiming. He knew too well what it felt like to be embarrassed, and he had seen Jaime avoid ham steaks or cutlets in Winterfell, pretending he didn’t like them simply because he couldn’t cut them. The soups and stews and rolls were all obvious enough. Cheeses, fruits, all good. Tyrion was surprised by how easy it was to slice through meat pie with just a spoon, though he did ask the cooks to cut the meat smaller for the pies at wedding time. He wondered in the back of his mind if he might one day make Jaime something to help with cutting. A blade for his golden hand? It seemed an obvious solution, but now was not the time to pursue it.

*****

JAIME

The next to arrive were their liege lord and lady, Gendry and Arya Baratheon of Storm’s End. Jaime had difficulty conceiving of them as such. He still saw Arya Stark, and knew her as both the girl who brought him water to wash his face after he’d been chin deep in Euron’s spend and the girl who had split his sister’s throat and worn her face. He kept away from her, and she from him, and it was best that way. She spent most of her time with Brienne, Podrick, and Ser Goodwin in the training yards, and it was the first time Jaime had not wished he could shirk wedding planning to go train as well. He also kept Alys nearby. Brienne came in to nurse her every few hours, seemingly alerted to the time by her own body. Previously, Jaime and Brienne would switch off caring for her days. In the past fortnight, Tyrion was also taking shifts. Now, though, Jaime wanted Alys with him. She lay on a blanket on the floor of his solar or he had a maid wrap her onto his chest to sleep. Her warm weight soothed him.

One day when Brienne came to nurse her, Arya followed. Jaime felt himself stiffen.

“Oh calm down,” Arya snapped. “I’m not going to kill your babe. If you don’t remember, I already had the chance.”

Jaime knew it was the truth, but it did not help him sleep better at night. At least he didn’t insist on Alys sleeping with him and Brienne. He had tried, but Brienne assured him that Kelsa wouldn’t let anything happen to the babe. Even so, Jaime added a guard to Alys’s door at night. He knew it was unreasonable to suspect one’s liege lady this way, but he allowed as he was permitted to be a little unreasonable about his liege lady being the Faceless Man who had killed his sister while he was under her and then cut his living babe from her body. There was nothing reasonable about this situation.

Gendry spent all his time in the forge. Jaime wandered there one day to speak to the lad, thinking they had been at the very least acquaintances in Winterfell, but Gendry rapidly covered up whatever he was working on and sounded very snappish. He did come to dinners along with with Arya, Tyrion, Podrick, Brienne, Jaime, and Lord Selwyn. If any more guests arrived, they would have to move these family dinners into the Great Hall.

And more guests would arrive. Jaime was too aware of the looming date of the wedding, now a fortnight away. Tyrion was absorbing most of the work now, but he did not complain. Jaime had to ride out almost daily to greet shipments arriving in the port or to have discussions with vendors or farmers. In those times, he left Alys with Tyrion, and always with an extra guard. Tyrion would look at him with pity then. Jaime didn’t want to see it. He knew the guard was not warranted, but he had guards to command so command them he would.

Selwyn had been cool to the babe. Maybe that was to be expected. He was never hostile or angry, but Jaime worried about whether he would treat Alys differently from her sibling. I will not let him. If Selwyn didn’t want to treat Alys and her sibling as equals, then it was within Jaime’s powers to deny his goodfather access to either child. He hoped it would not come to that, hoped Brienne would handle it more diplomatically first, but knowing he held that cyvasse piece soothed Jaime’s nerves on the matter.

He also ached for Brienne. They saw each other so little these days. There were some evenings in the nursery, but fewer as Jaime felt the race of the deadline looming. One fortnight until they were married, and then he could spend some time truly doing nothing with her by his side. It’s also no more than a moon before the babe comes, he remembered. His mother had died in the birthing bed. So had hers. He decided not to think on it. Brandon Stark must know something, and Brandon Stark had said they would live.

*****

BRIENNE

The afternoon was warm and sunny as Arya taught herself and Podrick some water dancer’s footwork, and in return she taught them how to fight with a morningstar. Sweat ran down her back and milk leaked into her gambeson with each lunge. When she moved quickly enough, her hair flung a halo of sweat outwards, each drop sparkling in the sun. Her legs ached and her right hand occasionally went numb for no apparent reason. Brienne was in heaven. But also thirsty. She motioned for a rest and approached the pail, drinking long and dousing a ladle over her head.

“Is this what you do all day in Storm’s End?” Brienne asked.

“Maybe,” Arya said.

“Does Lord Gendry still smith then?”

Arya laughed. “No, he’s a proper lord now. The maester is teaching him to read and write and learn all the houses. It’s a lot of work. He also hears petitions. I don’t think he’ll ever learn to do the books, though.”

“He’s been smithing a lot here.”

“It’s a special project. A kind of surprise from your father. For the Kingslayer.”

A sennight, Arya had been on Tarth, and she never called him by his name, nor his title. Always ‘Kingslayer’. At first it had rankled Brienne, but now she heard that there might be affection in it. After all, hadn’t Arya also killed a ruler? If he was a kingslayer, she was a queenslayer. Arya seemed to be hinting at this connection. Once she even said, “The Kingslayer is so sure I’ll kill his babe. Maybe now he knows how the dragon queen felt about welcoming him to Winterfell.” Thankfully, Arya didn’t take any offense to Jaime’s newfound paranoia. If anything, it seemed to delight her.

Brienne was touched that her father would ask Gendry, and that Gendry would agree, on some special project. She immediately suspected it was armor, as Jaime was giving up his Lannister name, and his Lannister armor had been left in King’s Landing. Her father had said he was having armor made for Jaime, though, so why would that be a surprise?

“In truth,” Arya interrupted, “I’m a little bored at Storm’s End. I was thinking I’d travel around. See the Stormlands. Get to know all the lords and ladies. Before I end up like you.” She poked Brienne’s belly playfully with the wooden sword (as that was all Brienne would train with).

“You intend to shock all the lords and ladies.”

“If I shock them, it’s not my fault. I’ve got the right name, the right family. That’s all this lot cares about, isn’t it?”

Brienne smiled. “You’re part of this lot.”

“That is my... point.” This last was meant as a double entendre as Arya twirled her wooden sword.

“Maybe you could scare up a squire.”

She made a face. “I’m no knight, and I’ll not take a squire.”

“I could make you a knight,” Brienne observed. “You certainly deserve it.”

Arya’s face resembled a child’s who had been asked to eat their vegetables. “Knights have duties and honor and shit. Fuck that. Uh, no offense.”

“None taken.”

“You sound like the Hound,” Podrick added unhelpfully.

Arya’s face seemed to fall for a second, and she said, “Fuck him, too. Selfish asshole, getting himself killed.”

Brienne steered the conversation back to Arya’s plans. “If you need company, I might recommend Podrick for your journey. He’s new to the Stormlands too and might do well to see some of it.”

“I could do with company. You know who else is new to the Stormlands?,” Arya said, raising an eyebrow.

Brienne guffawed out loud at the prospect of putting Jaime on a boat with Arya. “I rather like him, and I’d like to keep him. You would kill him within a week.”

“Mayhaps that was my plan.” Arya was laughing now, and looked her age, a woman only just leaving girlhood. Peace had not tamed her, but it had softened some of her edges and made her see things less seriously. One day she would be ready to embrace her position, but for now, let her enjoy the frivolity she had so lacked as a child.

At that moment, a horn sounded. Guests at the gate. Brienne had thus far blocked the idea of a large wedding from her mind, though she knew Jaime, Tyrion, and her father were working tirelessly on it. But she had here all the guests she could want to see-- barring Sansa, and the Queen was definitely not arriving yet. Her stomach lurched at the prospect of entertaining countless faceless lords and ladies. She felt the memories of being laughed at in her own home. They bubbled to the surface of her mind like blood from a wound. Arya, Podrick, and Brienne stood in the training yard, facing the gate across the wide stone courtyard. They could be a unified front for whatever would happen next.

Sensing her thoughts, Arya hissed, “Well if they expect me to stop training to put on dresses and prance around, they’ll wake up with shit on their pillows.”

The statement was so ridiculous that Brienne laughed again and almost felt sorry for her guests. Then she saw Jaime and her father, both clean and well-dressed and proper lords, descending the wide stone steps to greet the new arrival. She was blessed, truly, to be loved by two men who didn’t expect her to put on a dress or prance, but she felt a twinge of guilt that she wasn’t at least trying to help them.

Podrick leaned towards her. “Ser, if we keep practicing, they’re not like to look at us twice. They’ll assume we’re knights.”

“We are knights,” she said stiffly. “But I’m afraid I can’t hide well these days.” She motions to her belly. Then she racked her sword, washed her hands and face, and slicked back her sweaty hair. It was all she could give right now, but it was something. She turned towards the gate as it opened, ready for the nightmare of this royal circus.

Chapter Text

BRIENNE

The first round of guests was the lords of the Westerlands. They arrived courtesy of the Greyjoy fleet, and picked up Prince Trystane of Dorne on their way. Yara herself personally captained them to Tarth at the request of Queen Sansa. All these things, spoken as truths, would have been inconceivable a mear year ago. A boat containing Lannisters, Greyjoys, and Martells… it sounded like a joke. Or the start of a bloody war. Sansa and Jon were truly bringing peace and cooperation to the realm.

Jaime seemed to turn into a child when surrounded by some of his oldest friends. They were Ser Addam Marbrand, Ser Kennos of Kayce, Ser Melwyn Sarsfield, and Sers Lyle and Merlon Crakehall. In bed at night Jaime daydreamed aloud about watching Brienne trounce each in turn, laughing as he imagined it. But she knew her days in the yard were over for a bit. She was having persistent pain in her low back, constant heartburn, complete absence of sleep, and a need to catch her breath if she did anything more strenuous than sneeze. Seeing the yard each day brimming with Jaime’s friends as they fought cheerfully and spoke freely-- it filled her with regret that this chance would likely never come again and she could never fight these, the best knights the Westerlands had to offer.

He was still speaking of it. “I could beat them all, once. Two at a time, as well. You would beat them now. I’m sure of it.”

“Not now,” she amended, placing his hand on her belly where their child was wedged under her ribcage uncomfortably.

“Well, not now. I mean…,” he rolled over to look in her eyes. “Between babes. You would sweep the field.”

“I still don’t know what toll this--”

“You will,” he pressed. “Lords go to tourneys all the time. One day, someone will hold a tourney, and you will go and beat them all to dust.”

She smiled. “Would my lord husband like me to claim his favor?”

“Always.”

“What favor would a husband give his lady knight?”

“What could I give you, if not my hand?”

She imagined he meant his golden one, but then he smiled devilishly and slipped his living hand into her soft woolen breeches, and teased her open with his clever fingers.
“That hardly…” She gasped. “Seems fitting for… a tourney.” She arched and rode his fingers until her cries echoed through the room.

He withdrew his hand and kissed her temple, looking impossibly smug. “My knight.”

“But… you.”

His smile was tender. “I want to wait.”

“For what?”

“Our wedding.” It was now less than a sennight away.

“I think I can safely say no one is worried about my virtue. I’ve a flock of midwives sneaking around every corner as if I might drop this child while walking to the solar.”

“Ah, you’ve discovered that, have you?”

“How many of them are there?”

“Only four.”

Only four. He is truly scared for me and the babe. “So why wait?”

“I should have waited from the first. I never should have dishonored you.”

“Is that what you think you did in Winterfell?” The man was an idiot. “I was the one who took my own tunic off. And yours, if my memory stands. Or were you planning on chewing mine off after you’d eaten your own?”

He laughed. “I was rather desperate. Mayhaps I would have eaten your breeches off too.” He nipped at her sleep shirt.

She pushed him away, laughing.

He suddenly became serious. “But I do want to wait. I want to remember not to take you for granted. Not to assume you will always be here.”

Brienne saw through him, though. She could go to childbed any day, and it so often was a battle women lost. “If our time together is to be short, wouldn’t you want to fill that time with good memories?”

It was that last encouragement he needed. She rolled away from him so he could take her from behind in the way that was best for making love with a nearly grown babe in the way. And, for the second time that night, their cries echoed through the room, out the latticework windows, and across the grounds.

In the morn, Jaime took to the practice yard with the Westermen, and Brienne found herself at a loss for what to do. She strolled in the sunlight with Alys for a bit, then when the sun was too warm, she found her way to Tyrion. He was still hard at work on wedding planning. She had avoided it as well as she could up until now, but at least here she might be useful.

She scanned the lists, some written in Jaime’s poor scratch and others in Tyrion’s fine and clear hand. “Colliff Ashford?” she asked. “I thought the Ashfords fought on the Rose Road.”

Tyrion looked up. “He bent the knee to Daenerys. He’s in need of a wife, which is why I suspect he would make the trip all the way up here. Many of these petty lords need wives for their sons or husbands for their daughters. It’s well known that a wedding is a lucky place to find one.”

“We don’t even know half these people.”

“That’s not the point,” Tyrion said. “The point is that, in fifteen years when they tell their children about how they met, the story will start something like, ‘We both had come to the sapphire isle to see the wedding of Brienne the Beauty and Ser Jaime Goldenhand.’”

“You do know that Brienne the Beauty was always meant in jest? You have eyes.”

“I know it, but it will lose its irony with the retelling. I would be surprised if you didn’t go down in history as one of the fairest women of the realm. Brienne, the Evenstar’s daughter, the only woman in all of Westeros beautiful enough to lure Ser Jaime from his sister’s side. And a knight besides.”

She frowned. She felt irritation mounting in her blood. She had no beauty, no charms, and she didn’t need history to record any such trifles. She wasn’t to be remembered as the Evenstar’s daughter, but as the Evenstar in her own right.

“Oh don’t,” Tyrion said, as if she had spoken. “I know what matters to you. But Jaime needs everyone to know that his love is genuine. He wants history to record you as the great love of his life. He got you with child first, and I think he worries that people will think this is a marriage of necessity. Please, for his sake, let the smallfolk see that you are happy.”

Performing for anyone went entirely against her nature, but was it performing if she truly was happy? She was simply used to hiding how she felt. But she needn’t any more. The harsh words of others mattered less than sand on a beach to her. It grated sometimes, but it meant nothing. Those young knights who had insisted she would never marry, or who had bet over her maidenhead, they had been in the wrong. They were nothing like Ser Jaime. He had said it himself. There are no men like me, only me. At the time she had taken it as pompous blustering, which it may also have been, but it had nevertheless been the naked truth.

She nodded. “I am not outwardly expressive, and I will never be one of these simpering maidens--”

“Nor would I want you to be--”

“But I will try. I… I will try.”

Tyrion smiled at her. “You know, the knights of the Westerlands quite like you.”

“I’ve barely met them.”

“Your reputation precedes you. More to the point, they like the Jaime they have found here. Some of these men have known him since he was a boy. You can’t understand because you have never seen Jaime when he is not with you, nor did you know him before he met you, but he seems… younger around you. Carefree. He’s never been particularly carefree. He was always under the thumb of our sister, and before her our father, always being asked to do things that ran counter to his notions of nobility. He is more himself with you. They see it. They like you for it.”

Brienne felt her cheeks redden. She didn’t know how to reply to this. Luckily, Alys saved her from needing a reply, as the roaring sound of wet bowels filled the solar, following by the unmistakable smell.

Tyrion began to laugh, and Brienne could hardly help herself. Laughter peeled out of her as well, even as Alys began to squirm and fuss.

Brienne calmed and stood, Alys in her hands. “Thank you for the talk, Lord Hand.”

“Seven hells, Brienne, it’s Tyrion! Now get out of here before we pass out from that stink. But then do bring her back. Assigning sleeping arrangements is dull work, but less dull with my baby niece around.”

Brienne smiled and left, but was surprised to realize that she enjoyed spending time with Tyrion. He was acerbic and could be much too forward, but that made him very like Jaime. He was a keen observer of others, too. And a good conversationalist. She returned that afternoon, lending her limited political talents to deciphering who should be included in the head table and whether children of ten and five should have separate rooms from their younger siblings-- and whether they had enough such rooms to grant. It was exhausting, and she thought she would have hated it, but Tyrion made it tolerable enough.

*****

GENDRY

Gendry felt his palms dampen with unaccustomed nerves when the royal party arrived. He was hard-put to explain why; he’d fared well enough with Jon when they were both bastards, but now they were a Targaryen and a Baratheon, houses that shared blood. Yet it was not Jon that made Gendry quake in his boots. He saw the way Queen Sansa looked at him when he greeted her: she wanted him to know that she had ice in her veins and a sword to command. Some whispered that Arya was the wild Stark sister, and Sansa the well-behaved one, but the glint in Queen Sansa’s eye made him wonder whether that was true.

After greeting the royal host, Gendry made himself scarce once again and returned to Evenfall’s forge. He still had some work to do before the wedding. He worked through dinner, hoping it was not considered rude. Finally, a throat cleared behind him.

“I was wondering why you weren’t at dinner,” an affable voice boomed as Gendry turned to see Ser Davos.

“Is it past dinner time?” Gendry muttered unconvincingly. “I forgot.”

“Gendry,” Davos said, rocking back on his heels. “You wouldn’t be avoiding the King and Queen now, would you?”

“I simply have to finish this armor. It’s a wedding present.” He gestured to the metal he was working now.

“Yes, I see that. I’m quite sure he’ll like it.”

Gendry rubbed one tired eye.

“But it looks nearly done.”

Gendry shrugged.

“I’m also happy to see you are as much a conversationalist as you ever were.”

“I know what you’re here for, and I don’t want to talk about it.”

“I’m here for a wedding.”

“I mean why you’re here at the forge. Yes, I missed dinner. Yes, I’m avoiding Queen Sansa. But I’ve good reason.”

“Oh? And what reason is that?”

He sighed. “Things aren’t going well with Arya.”

“Do you wish you hadn’t married her?”

“What!? No!”

“Has she asked you for an annulment?”

“Not in so many words.”

“Well? Which words did she use?”

“She wants to spend a few moons sailing the Stormlands and meeting the lords of all the houses.”

“That sounds right sensible of her.”

“She wants to spend a few moons away from me.”

“Is that the reason she gave?”

“No.”

Ser Davos nodded slowly. “I do understand you, Gendry. You see it as a rejection that she wants to spend time away from you.”

“It is a rejection!”

“Is it, though? Think. She trusts you enough to spend time away from you. She wants to spend that time meeting the lords of the Stormlands, your bannermen. That doesn’t sound like someone who is looking for an opportunity to run away. That sounds like someone who understands that she will be in the Stormlands for a long time to come. That her children, and her children’s children, will be Stormlanders.” Davos laughed. “Besides, with a lady like Arya Stark, I have a feeling if she wanted to be rid of you, you’d know it. The knife sticking out of your belly would be a sure sign.”

Gendry laughed fondly at this.

“I think…” Ser Davos paused. “Odd as it is to say, Jaime Lannister has the right of it.”

“The right of what?”

“He gifted his lady with a sword and armor. He let her go fulfill her oaths. We men are taught that we know a woman loves us when she devotes herself fully to us, when she waits by our hearth, when she cries at being parted. Some women do, yes. My wife Marya, though… she never shed a single tear for me while I was away. She shows her love in another way-- by tending our lands and raising our lads and never faltering in her loyalty, and never asking me to come home. Ser Jaime is like Marya, I think. He shows his love by letting his lady have her freedom. I think you would do well to learn from that.” Davos tapped Gendry’s shoulder. “Another thing Ser Jaime does, is he comes to dinner even if half the people in the room would prefer him dead. I should think you would be strong enough to handle a few uncomfortable stares from the Queen.”

Gendry hung his head, seeing the sense in Ser Davos’s words.

“Now don’t stay up all night. You need your sleep so you can impress the Queen when we break our fasts in the morning.”

Gendry heard it as a command, and he nodded. He could pack up here, then maybe find Arya and talk to her. And he wasn’t going to hide from his good-sister, because he would not let the Kingslayer show him up.

*****

JAIME

Jaime was tired after a full day. In the morning, the party from King’s Landing had arrived, including the King and Queen. Afterwards, there had been dinner, which hadn’t felt as tense as he’d expected. He had come out to the practice yard to work off the overlarge meal while Brienne fed Alys and bathed and was just now taking a quiet moment to polish his sword. Tomorrow he would return to the droll duty of wedding planning and greeting lordlings, but the evening air was cool and sweet and he didn’t want to go in just yet.

A voice interrupted his thoughts. “So you are the man who fell so far.” The voice was teasing. He stood to see who had spoken in the dim light, his hand ready on his sword hilt. He misliked something in the voice. “Name yourself, ser.”

The man put his hands up. He was of average looks, with red hair and a huge mass of red beard. It reminded him too much of Tormund Giantsbane for his comfort. “I meant no offense, ser,” the man said. “Just that you went from the jewel of the west to… this.”

“You disparage Tarth, then?”

“Tarth? Gods, no, it’s lovely. I meant from your sister to the beast you have to marry. How did you even get her with child? The prospect alone made me nauseous.” He was still smiling affably and with a camaraderie that bespoke an inside joke. Jaime saw no joke.

“You mean to imply that Lady Brienne is too ugly.” It was not truly a question, but if Jaime was about to run a man through with his sword on the doorstep of his own wedding, in his betrothed’s practice yard, he wanted to be sure.

“I don’t think I need to imply anything. I was engaged to her before you, but I extracted myself before I was forced into bedding her.”

Jaime’s vision swam with red, and a name floated from his mind. Brienne had told him the story. He had been able to laugh at it, that a man who might have become lord of an island instead was content with Griffin’s Roost. That the man’s blindness to her true beauty had left him penniless and deserving to be so. Ser Ronnet Connington.

It was not funny now, not within the walls of Evenfall Hall. How had this man been invited to the wedding? How had Jaime not checked Tyrion’s added guests thoroughly enough to catch this one?

The man went on. “I heard she fought a bear in Harrenhal. She was the uglier and more harry between the two, I’d wager. I’m surprised the bear didn’t run off screaming.” He laughed. “Tell me true, does she have a woman’s parts between her legs? I suppose she must if she’s with child.”

Jaime wanted to kill him. He believed he could. He was not the fighter he had once been, but Connington would be easy enough to trump in combat, and Jaime was still better than most. Suddenly, he knew he would not kill Ser Ronnet. He could not give Connington the power. He did not want his wedding to be forever mixed with this man in his mind. He did not want Brienne to have to see him again, alive or dead.

Instead, Jaime sheathed his sword and slipped past the man, headed to the forge. Connington followed behind, maybe thinking they were becoming friends. The man is a bigger idiot than I thought.

Jaime was gratified to see Gendry still at work in the forge. Ser Davos was walking away, and Gendry was staring after him with a thoughtful look on his young face. “My lord,” Jaime interrupted.

Gendry looked up and, seeing Jaime, immediately covered his work table with a cloth.

“I already know it’s armor,” Jaime said. Ordinarily, he might tease the boy for all this secrecy, but at the moment he had real work to attend to. “I know I cannot ask you for a gift in addition to the armor, but I wonder if I could ask you for a gift for my lady wife?”

“Huh?”

Jaime smiled. “I need a favor.”

“What is it?”

“This man,” Jaime gestured to Connington, still standing idiotically beside him, “has come into my lady’s house for my lady’s own wedding, approached her bridegroom, called my lady a beast and questioned her sex. He was once engaged to her and treated her poorly. For her, I would like you to remove this bannerman of yours from Tarth. For me, I would like you to also remove him from Griffin’s Roost and his knighthood.”

Gendry’s eyes darted back and forth between the two men. Connington at least had the sense to blanch white. “Now,” he huffed, “you can’t strip a man of his lands and title for calling a woman ugly.”

“Lord Gendry would not be stripping you of your lands and title for such a trifling reason,” Jaime said. “He would be doing so to save your life.”

“What?” Connington said.

“Huh?” Gendry asked.

“Otherwise, I will be forced to strip you of your lands and title through the only means available to me.” He wrapped his hand around the hilt of Widow’s Wail and drew it out a few solid inches. The Valyrian steel glistened in the moonlight. Connington stumbled backwards, his heel catching, and he fell to the ground.

“Ser Jaime,” Gendry whispered.

Jaime turned back to Robert’s bastard. He thought he had been overall quite kind to the boy. Not near fatherly, but at least a bit friendly. Gendry had no experience with lordship, though, and one thing Jaime knew about such men was that they could be easily swayed, so lacking in self-confidence were they. He hated to use it against the boy, but in this case he would. He stepped close to Gendry.

“My lord,” Jaime said slowly. “If I have to see this man’s face any day after today, I will not be able to restrain my sword hand. I am begging you to spare his life. For the sake of my lady wife and the lovely white marble of the courtyard, don’t make me spill his blood here.”

Gendry nodded once, and Jaime walked away before he lost his temper and murdered Connington just to see the look in his eyes as his life left him.

At that moment, Jaime could only think of one place he wanted to be. He felt powerful. He felt like the man his father had always dreamed he would be, but better, because he’d wielded that power for noble reasons and towards an honorable end. He wanted to celebrate in only one way. The need was surprisingly strong. They had danced around this, and he had been afraid, but he was not afraid any longer.

He tried to walk back to his lady’s rooms, but might have jogged a bit. He threw open the door and was met with her shocked wide eyes.

“What has happened?” she asked stiffly, struggling to rise from her chair.

He slammed and locked the door and turned back to her, feeling as though he was seeing her for the first time. She was beautiful and graceful to him, though she had a crooked nose and large teeth and wide eyes and freckled skin and was still struggling to stand up from her chair with the weight of their babe holding her down. He wanted to laugh, but not at her struggle-- at his own joy. The world saw her as ugly, as brutish. She was taller than he was, and broader in the shoulders. Her neck was corded in strong muscle, and her chest was still nothing special despite her full entrance into motherhood. If she had been one bit more plain, one bit shorter or her hair a bit shinier or her nose a bit straighter, Ronnet Connington would have stolen her away from him before he had ever met her. She was perfect. He would be dead in the Stark camp, or if not, on the road to Harrenhal. In a world where so few could count on protection from any quarter, she had protected him time and again. And for her work, what prize had she won? A one-handed Lannister with shit for honor. But, by the gods, he was the prize she wanted. He would not deny her a single thing that she wanted. Not a single thing.

He was on her in a moment, pushing her back onto the bed while his mouth devoured hers. Her crooked, perfect mouth. When she sat heavily onto the edge of the bed, he began pulling the pillows behind her, holding up her back. Then he started wrestling with her trousers.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“I should think it would be obvious.” He finally got them off and threw them to the floor before kneeling between her strong, muscular legs. Her perfect legs. From here he could see her white-blonde thatch beginning to darken with wetness.

“Jaime, you don’t have to--”

“You’re wrong, I do have to. I feel I might die if I don’t taste you.” And then he did, her honey sweetness on his nose as he held her folds apart with his left hand so that he could reach as far into her as he could with his wicked tongue. He kept his tongue there, feeling her wetness increasing, feeling her body relax.

“Gods,” she sighed, and her hips fell open, and he could see her hands unclench on top of her belly and fall to her sides.

This was where he wanted to be forever. It would make running the island difficult. Perhaps she could simply start sporting large skirts, so as to hide her lord husband beneath them. He laughed, and she whined at the movement, so he started to slide his tongue in and out of her, wetting her nub, and then entering her again. Deeper, she wanted him deeper, and he wanted to be there. Too soon, her back was arching against the bed. He felt and tasted a splash of wetness on his tongue as she came, and then she sagged down.

“Come,” she said breathlessly, pulling on him. “Come up on the bed so I can hold you properly.”

He smiled. “No, Ser Brienne. My place is kneeling before you. I will stay here and wait until you are ready again. For this day and every day to come.”

She huffed in a sound that was all fond exasperation. “What brought this on?”

He joined her on the bed now, sighing. “Someone invited Ser Connington to our wedding.”

Her eyes widened. “Ser Ronnet Connington?”

Jaime nodded, but he felt his own smile growing playful. “He decided to seek me out in the yard to insult my intended.”

She looked ash-pale. “Did you kill him?” By the gods, she meant the question. There was no jest here.

“Think better of me, wife. I simply asked his liege lord to see to him. The blacksmith lord was kind enough to accept my advice on the matter.”

“Which was?”

“I asked Lord Baratheon to strip Connington of his lands and titles.”

Her eyebrows bent together, her forehead wrinkling in judgement. “Does that not seem excessive? I’m sure all he did was state the obvious. No one sees me as a beauty, Jaime.”

“It is not excessive. He is a landed knight of the Stormlands, and I’m to be a lord consort. That puts us on a level, and I refuse to bring myself to the level of such a one. So either he needed to vacate that level, or else I needed to vacate his head from his body.”

“Jaime.” Her voice sounded tense with warning.

“I may be many things, milady. But I am afraid I will always be a lion, too. Anyone who comes into a lion’s home to taunt it must expect to be bitten.” If she thought he would feel sorry for his actions, he did not. No one had forced Connington to travel to Evenfall, and no one had forced him to approach Jaime, and no one had forced him to say those things. Connington had made a series of poor decisions. Let him suffer the consequences.

There was more he needed to say. “I want you to know that what happened here in bed, though, was not because of Connington. It was because… if you were a beauty, or if I had any outward semblance of honor, we never would have found each other. I like us as we are.”

She smiled tenderly. “I like us as we are, too.”

“And you need to know that it was only us two in the bed, this time.” By which he meant, no thoughts of Cersei (and there had been none!) and no thoughts of Connington.

“Not just us,” Brienne said, pulling Jaime’s hand against her ribcage. Their child had taken to kicking her almost incessantly in the ribs, and he could always count on a little foot to be lodged here. It was here now. He fancied he could almost feel the toes.

“Not just us,” he agreed, and he wrapped his arms around his fledgling family.

Chapter Text

BRIENNE

Each day was remarkable for the sheer volume of guests arriving. The harbor was full to bursting and no one could tell where the market street even was any more-- there were vendors everywhere. Or so Brienne heard tell, since she was no longer able to mount a horse. The pain in her back was growing more pronounced by the day, and she was desperately hoping this babe would just come, even if it ruined the wedding.

But the child did not oblige, and so each day she sat in her father’s solar with him, usually with Tyrion and Jaime as well. Occasionally, she waddled on Jaime’s arm down to the courtyard to bow to a few more new arrivals before waddling back to the solar. Her father had found her a soft settee and covered it with pillows, and Jaime put her feet on a stool and brought her blackberry wine. They had lunch brought into the solar so she wouldn’t have to move overly much, and though she hated being treated as an invalid, she allowed that her pain was much less if she sat still.

Soon, Brienne’s waddles to the courtyard were cut off altogether, and she received guests in the solar. The delegation from the Riverlands was the last to arrive, only two days before the wedding. Lord Edmure was dour-faced and refused to speak to Jaime. He brought with him his wife Roslin, as well as their two young boys. Also among the Riverlords were Hendry Bracken and his five young, unwed female cousins; Tylan Ereford, in search of a wife himself; Arwood Harlton with his unwed niece Marianne; and finally Genna Frey and her maiden grandson Willem, young Lord of the Crossing. Jaime’s eyes danced and his mouth quirked when the page introduced him to the stout and buxom Frey woman with cascading blonde curls. She took her small satchel and slapped him on the shoulder. He laughed harder.

Lady Frey turned to the page, who had gone pale. Lord Edmure glowered. “Please excuse Lord Jaime. You are a young thing, what, twelve? You must not be aware that I’m his father’s sister, and he knows me well.”

The page turned red and bowed. Brienne felt herself turn red as well. Jaime had also failed to mention to her that his aunt was present matriarch of house Frey.

“Oh go on, Edmure.” Genna made a shoo-ing motion. “None of you need to pretend to want to stand in the presence of the dreaded Kingslayer if you don’t want. I’ll stay awhile and see for myself the future of the Lannister line. Willem, go or stay, it matters naught to me.”

The boy was thin and pale and hesitant. He seemed to run from the room as soon as given leave. Lady Genna harrumphed and turned to Tyrion. “I’ve come to find a strong woman for him. If he’s left to rule The Crossing on his own, we might as well hand the bridge to Edmure.”

Tyrion hoisted his wine glass, as if this demanded a toast. “Aunt. Let me think on it.”

She nodded, and turned towards Brienne’s father. “Lord Selwyn, thank you for welcoming us to your home. Lord Edmure was less than cordial, I’m afraid.”

Brienne’s father waved this off. “I was less than cordial when Ser Jaime showed up on my doorstep, so I can’t fault it in others.”

Genna smiled. “Are you more taken by him now? Has he worked his charms on you? Sometimes his manners are wanting--”

“On the contrary, Ser Jaime has been the model of a lord and knight.”

At this, Genna leveled her gaze at Brienne. “Then he must really love you, dear, to act a lord.”

Brienne saw Jaime’s brows lower unhappily. “I’ve committed to acting the lord for the rest of my days, aunt. And I would do more, were it required of me to wed Lady Brienne.”

Genna was still staring at Brienne in a way that made Brienne feel naked. She felt her cheeks heat and was angry at herself for that. Why did she have to be such a blushing fool. She hated that she was sitting on her ass, feet up. This was a battle, and she should be standing for it.

“They say you’re a knight,” Genna said, “but you look like a woman from here.”

“I’m both, if it please you.”

“What idiot knight would knight a woman? Don’t tell me, I already know. Jaime always was an idiot when it came to love.”

“He didn’t knight me for love,” Brienne objected. She knew without a doubt that her knighthood was not merely a token of affection. She trusted Jaime’s honor enough to count it as a true knighting.

“No?” Genna said, “Then you must be everything the smallfolk say about you and more, which makes you a truer knight than he will ever be.”

“Ser Jaime is a true knight--”

Genna interrupted at this. “Ah, there it is. Now I understand. He loves you because you really believe that about him, don’t you? I’m afraid there is much you don’t know about the man you are marrying.”

Jaime laughed, and met Brienne’s eyes, and she smiled, and she knew they had won.

“In point of fact,” Jaime said, “there is not a thing Brienne does not know about me.”
Genna’s eyes widened at this. At that exact time, a timid knock sounded on the door. From around the frame poked Alia. She was employed to watch Alys during the days when Brienne was busy or tired, and after the second babe came she would need to recover. Alia’s pale red hair and white skin reminded Brienne of Sansa Stark, and her nose came to an odd point.

“Milady,” Alia whispered. “Alys is hungry.”

“Well, bring her here then,” Brienne said, and Alia slipped into the room, passed off the babe, and ran away as though frightened.

Brienne unlaced her bodice. Alys was now old enough to be distracted, and she tried to nurse while also trying to look around the room at all the people. Brienne hissed as Alys popped off her nipple time and time again.

“Well, now, who is this?” Genna asked. “You clearly are not delivered of your babe.”

No one answered for a long, empty breath. Brienne knew this was a woman’s battle, and hence her own to fight. “You asked what I know of Jaime. I know everything. This is Alysanne Storm, his bastard daughter, and my daughter by choice, if not by blood.”

Genna blanched. “They said-- they said the babe was cut out of her.”

“And here she is,” Brienne said, as Alys popped off once again to look around.

Genna nodded solemnly. Her energy seemed to have run itself out. To Jaime she said, “You have done well, to find someone who loves and admires you as you are.”

Jaime smiled and caught Brienne’s eye. “We are a good match. My lady is strong enough to put me in my place, and gentle enough to make me wish to stay there.”

“And your place is Tarth, now, is it?”

“It is.”

Brienne felt the weight of his words like an oath.

Tyrion broke the tension suddenly. “Bracken has a lot of cousins,” he suggested.

Genna waved this off. “Oh, those Riverland girls. They are too soft and sweet.”

“Jesmyn Clifton is a war-hammer,” Tyrion suggested.

“The Cliftons are naught but landed knights. I’ll not elevate such.”

“Anicia, of the Lannisport Lannisters?”

Genna tilted her head. “Was that Chrestan I saw in the yard?”

“Most of the household is here.”

She smiled. “A delight to match wits with you, Tyrion.”

“Always, aunt.”

Genna curtsied once and left the room. Brienne felt the tension ease out of her shoulders. Genna’s words were all kind, but it had been no less exhausting than matching wits with Tywin Lannister. The sentiment did not seem to be shared by Tyrion, who looked oddly pleased with himself.

“What?” Jaime asked him.

Tyrion grinned. “I already convinced Chrestan to betrothe Anicia to Willem. It will be a good match. She is indeed a lion, but also a wit.”

“You enjoy this far too much,” Jaime smirked.

“I do. I really do.”

*****

ARYA

It was the last free day before the wedding, and Arya had found a secluded wood near the beach in which to practice with a blunt longsword. She hated longswords. It was a bulky, slow weapon. Nevertheless, she knew she should learn to fight with one. They were a common weapon in Westeros, and widely available. If she was ever without a weapon and needed to grab whatever was closest, it was likely to be a longsword.

She swung it as well as any squire, but she knew she needed to be better than that.

After practicing footwork for several hours, sweat dripped off her brow, and she set the sword down before slipping out of her clothes and into the salt water of the sea. It was cool and refreshing. She heard a rustle in the bushes, perhaps some boy taking a peep. She did not care what he saw, for she had very little to hide, and most of that was covered by hair. Even without a blade in her hand or armor on her body she knew she could kill any man who tried to take her.

The person who emerged from the bushes was not a man, though. It was Yara Greyjoy, looking as sweaty as Arya had been moments before. She had a smirk on her long face.

“I’d challenge you, Stark, but I’m afraid it’s not a fair fight right now.”

Arya kept her face expressionless. “You’re right. I’d beat you.”

“Would you now?” Yara laughed. “You’ve no clothes, no weapon.”

“My hands and the water are weapons enough.”

“I’m Queen of the waves.”

“I only know one Queen, whose name is Stark.”

“Aye, Queen of the Kingdoms she may be, but she’s no kraken.”

Arya thought Sansa might have been, if Theon had lived. He seemed keen on her, cock or no. But he’d died to give Arya time to kill her very own king.

“No,” Arya answered, “She’s a dragon, now.”

“Are you a stag?”

“I’m Arya Stark. That’s who I’ll always be.”

Yara had been wandering closer as she spoke. She licked her lips now. “You’re a slip of a thing, aren’t you. All muscle though. You seem like you would be… good with your hands.”

The statement dripped with innuendo, and Arya felt a flash of heat in her core. She’d never lain with a woman, but in that moment, she truly wanted to. She wanted to see the Driftwood Queen come undone, to see how it felt to wield a new and different weapon. Cersei’s weapon. The thought made all the heat leave her body. She didn’t want to be Cersei. She wouldn’t be anything like Cersei, even if it meant sheathing the only weapon she had on her: her cunt.

Yara laughed. “I almost had you. What made you go away, little wolf?”

“You reminded me of someone,” Arya looked across the water.

“Did you desire him? I mean, when he had a cock.”

She’d mistaken Arya’s meaning, believing Arya meant Theon, but Arya didn’t correct her. “I wouldn’t have lain with Theon even if he had a cock the size of an aurochs.”

“Then if you won’t fuck me, get out of the sea and fight me. I want to see the famed prowess of Arya Stark, Slayer of Monsters.” She withdrew a long, crooked knife from her boot.

Arya smiled. This, she could do.

*****

GENDRY

That night at supper, Gendry found himself sitting next to Arya and across from the Imp. He understood why Tyrion had that nickname, watching the smirk on the lord’s ugly face.

“What?” Gendry said, perhaps a bit too snappishly.

“I heard the tale of Ser Ronnet Connington,” Tyrion said. “That was well done.”

“What’s he on about?” Arya asked.

Gendry sighed. “Some arse insulted Ser Brienne to Ser Jaime and I stripped the arse of his land and knighthood. If I hadn’t, Ser Jaime was going to kill the man.”

“Might have let him,” Arya shrugged.

“And violated guest rights?” Tyrion asked. “I promise you, it would have gone over poorly to have a Lannister murder a guest on the eve of a wedding.”

Arya’s eyes flashed to Lord Tyrion and back to Gendry. “Did you think of that?”

Gendry ducked his head. “No.”

“Me neither,” she admitted. “I don’t remember my father ever stripping someone of their land.”

“It’s a tactic best used sparingly. You’ll need to seat someone at Griffin’s Roost now.”

Gendry’s forehead wrinkled. “I don’t know of anyone.”

“No? It’s a good bounty to keep in your back pocket, should you need to reward anyone.”

“Reward?” Gendry asked.

“You can’t be that dense,” Arya huffed. “Like if someone saves your life or you need someone to go on an important mission or in the very unlikely case that you make a friend.”

He elbowed her.

“Why’d you decide to depose him?” Arya asked.

Gendry shared a glance with Tyrion. “Ser Jaime suggested it.”

Arya rolled her eyes. “Do you do everything Ser Jaime tells you to? You can’t let him be lord of you.”

“I didn’t!” he said defensively.

“Lady Baratheon is correct,” Tyrion said carefully. “Not about my brother, per se. It was a wise decision, even if it wasn’t, strictly-speaking, yours. And he is much too content here to bounce about abusing his power. But you are new to the game. People will try to pressure you into making decisions that personally benefit them.”

“I won’t be pressured,” Gendry said resolutely.

“You already have been, dimwit,” Arya groaned. “That’s just what the Kingslayer did. He pressured you into making a decision that benefited him.”

Gendry’s mouth went dry. He had felt pressured. Now he felt a fool.

Tyrion interrupted his thoughts. “It was the right decision, but you need to be more wary. Make decisions for the good of the Stormlands. Others will focus on their own houses, and many will try and sway you this way and that. For what it’s worth, my brother will deal faithfully with you, I believe, if you have need of an opinion. Most will not be so selfless.”

Arya snorted. “The Kingslayer? Selfless?”

Tyrion eyed her flatly and she shrugged. “I mean, he’s a bit selfish. If he were selfless he wouldn’t be hiding on some island with his lady love. He’d be in King’s Landing helping run things as your sister wanted, wouldn’t he? Shall we say, he may be selfish, but not hungry for power. Jaime’s ambitions are more heartfelt than that. He will always put his family above yours, though. If you make little Baratheons, you could do worse than betrothe them to his cubs. They won’t carry the Lannister name, but they will carry the loyalty of the Westerlands. And of the Stormlands, and of the King and Queen. A powerful marriage.”

“Fuck off,” Arya hissed. “I’ve got not little Baratheons coming any time soon, and Brienne’s already popping them off like it’s her job.”

Tyrion laughed. “Don’t worry, I am confident there will be many more to come, and at least a few that will be of age with your own children when you choose to make them. If I were to bet, I’d guess Jaime’s eager to give Walder Frey a run for offspring. Only he’ll have just the one wife so they’ve got to work quickly.”

Arya rolled her eyes, and Gendry tried to imagine her round with a babe. He confessed that he couldn’t see it, though if anyone had asked him the same of Lady Brienne, he also would not have seen that. Arya didn’t say never. She said not anytime soon. Gendry took it as a promise. Tyrion cared about them building a dynasty. Gendry cared not a whit about that, but building a family sounded nice.

*****

ARYA

She stripped her sweat- and salt-strained clothes and turned to watch Gendry do the same. He had arms like logs, and she loved to feel his muscles tense under her fingers. She felt she could count each muscle on his chest and back. He was iron.

“I almost fucked Yara Greyjoy today.” She wasn’t sure why she said it. Maybe she was testing him. Maybe she was testing herself.

He looked up. His eyes wide, his eyebrows drawn together. “Is that what you want?” he asked.

“Maybe.” She shrugged.

He simply went back to undressing, but his back was turned to her now, and she could see the tension in his shoulders.

“I’m your wife. You’re supposed to be mad when I say I want to fuck other people.”

He turned back to her. “I’ve… been with other people. I can understand if you wanted that for yourself.”

“It doesn’t bother you?”

She saw anger flash in his eyes. “Of course it bothers me, but I won’t tame you, Arya. If I tried, you’d be gone within a fortnight.”

“And you want me to stay?”

“I want you to do whatever it is you want to do, and to let me have my little place in it, is all.”

“You’re stupid,” she said. He smiled. His stupid lips were smiling and his stupid shirt was off, and his stupid pants were untied. Quietly, she said, “If I turn into Queen Cersei, kill me in my sleep.”

He laughed. “And you kill me if I turn into King Robert.”

“Deal,” she agreed, closing in on him. He was smiling down at her, and she jumped, launching herself at him. As she expected, he caught her easily, hefting her up to kiss her neck. She wrapped her hands around his overlarge biceps. Gods, he was hot.

He walked them back towards the bed and sat, pulling her down on top of him. Then she did something she had not expected to do, something she didn’t know she ever would do, something she had never done before. She slipped underneath him. They’d not made love this way, not even once. His eyes were wide, and she nodded, and in moments both were naked and he was moving against her.

Her first thought was panic. He weighed a ton, he had the muscle to overpower her, he was holding her down. She had no weapon, she was naked as her nameday. Her pulse raced. Fear cuts deeper than swords. She was able to calm her stuttering heart, her rapid breath. She let him take this power, to enter her, and when his mouth found the bud of her breast, his name escaped her lips. She said it over and over again, and she knew she would never be Cersei. The place between her legs was not a weapon. It was a weakness. She was showing her underbelly. Gendry could kill her with a snap of his thick arms. But of course, he never would. He would never, ever hurt her. In that moment, she knew she could never do this with anyone else. There was no one she trusted enough. He thrust and she gasped and he spilled in her. She shrieked his name a moment later.

“You still want Yara Greyjoy?” he asked, smirking.

“Only if she has a bigger cock than yours.”

He laughed and flipped them so she was back on top. “You’re wearing that dress for the wedding tomorrow?”

“Gods, yes.” She rolled her eyes. “Sansa said she’ll have my hide if I show up in breeches.”

“You’re taking moon tea, right?”

“‘Course, what’s with all the questions?”

His grin was feral. “I’m going to fill you so full of my seed tonight that it will be dripping down your thighs all tomorrow. You won’t even remember who Yara Greyjoy is by then. Milady.”

She found she was looking forward to his challenge. Perhaps it was the only good reason to wear a dress. It would be their secret, and she could swish her skirts at him when he was near. She knew he would stutter at her if she did, and she found she truly could not wait for this wedding.

*****

TYRION

When supper was cleared away, Tyrion stayed behind in the great hall, his feet swinging from the chair. He was close to the fire, but the night was crisp enough. He looked up when he heard footsteps.

“Ser Davos.” He raised his wine glass.

“Lord Hand,” Davos replied, his mouth twisted in a smile. “How do you suppose King’s Landing is faring in our absence?”

Tyrion shrugged. “Well, I imagine Bronn is whoring his heart out, to the distress of his little lady wife.” He’d recently been married to Taliya Bigglestone. Tyrion had not made good on his promise of Highgarden. The Reach would have objected and began a war, as Queen Sansa so reasonably put it to Bronn. Ser Olymar Tyrell was lord of Highgarden now. Bigglestone was sworn to the Tullys, and the castle itself was massive and well-situated. Tyrion made Bronn Master of Coin to prevent being murdered in his sleep as an oathbreaker. Bronn seemed happy enough. He was able to remain in King’s Landing-- and on the Street of Silk-- while Taliya sat home, her first child cooking in her belly.

Davos laughed in his sarcastic way. “And I imagine Guyne and Varys bickering about every damned thing.”

Tyrion nodded. The new Grand Maester and the Master of Whisperers were inseparable and fought like a married couple. In point of fact, they reminded him of Jaime and Ser Brienne. Guyne’s proclivities were known, and had kept him from higher station under Pycell. Luckily, Jon Snow knew no such biases. Good King Jon didn’t see as it made a difference in the job one did. Tyrion quite liked the idea of appointing the person with the most merit as opposed to the most political capital. And Guyne had been a good Grand Maester thus far.

Tyrion tilted his head. “You know, it’s a convenient way for Guyne to keep his vows to the Citadel-- to desire a man without a cock.”

“I’ve been a seaman for many years, m’lord, and I can assure you that one cock between two men is all that’s needed.”

Tyrion raised an eyebrow. He was trying to think of a ribald response when he heard muttering by the door. He turned to see Jaime standing beside Brienne. Her head was lowered, and he rubbed her back.

Tyrion hopped up immediately. “Is something wrong?”

Jaime looked up, his mouth set in a tense line. “She’s having pains.”

“It’s nothing,” Tyrion’s almost-good-sister insisted. “The midwives say pains like this are a normal part of preparing to deliver a babe.”

Jaime’s eyes were full of fear, but he sounded confident when he spoke. “They suggested a stroll would ease the pain.”

“I’ve strolled quite enough,” Brienne answered snappishly. “Help me to a chair.”

Jaime, tasked with something to do, scurried away to draw a chair near the fire, and then back to help his betrothed to sit before it.

“Why do we have a fire going? It’s a hot night,” Brienne complained.

It was a chilly night, but everyone could see the sheen of sweat on Brienne’s brow. Jaime jumped as though burned and called a serving boy to douse the flames, but not before censuring the boy for starting them in the first place. Tyrion and Davos exchanged smirks, Davos’s eyebrow quirking. Tyrion’s brother was clearly beside himself with nerves.

Once Brienne was sitting in the chair, her head tilted back and her eyes closed, Jaime relaxed into his own chair. Their hands were clasped between them.

“Do you think we best postpone the wedding?” Tyrion asked quietly.

Brienne’s head snapped up, her eyes jolting open. “No.”

Jaime frowned and nodded. “This child cannot be born a bastard. If her water breaks tonight, we’ll head directly for the septon.”

Tyrion nodded. “I’ll speak to him on the morrow, see that he keeps the ceremony short at the very least.”

“Ser, ser,” a flustered Podrick rushed into the great hall then, seeming to address everyone and no one, though certainly not Tyrion, as he was the only person here without the title.

“Calm now, Pod,” Tyrion said. “What is the emergency at this hour? Your lady knight is having pains, and doesn’t need to be bothered. Let myself and Ser Davos help you.”

“I just caught Roland Waynwood and Harwood Stout beating each other bloody outside the bailey.”

“Surely that’s something the gate guards can handle,” Davos said.

“Yes, ser, they are, but they asked me to inform--”

“Yes, alright,” Brienne snapped. “Consider me informed.”

Podrick nodded and Tyrion stood to draw over another chair. “Come, have a seat.”

Podrick’s eyes flickered to Brienne’s, but she nodded, so he sat.

“Well, would you look at us,” Davos said. “We are one Wildling short of a regular reunion.”

Tyrion smiled. “I told you we would live.”

“You did,” Jaime agreed, slumping into his chair. Tyrion noticed Brienne’s hand was clutching Jaime’s firmly, her knuckles white. She was still having pains, though her face betrayed nothing.

Podrick, seven bless him, chuckled and said, “Pity there’s no giant’s milk to share.”

All five of them burst into laughter, though Brienne’s was muted, and Jaime’s short.

“Let’s play a game,” Tyrion said suddenly.

Jaime shook his head. “None of us has had enough to drink for one of your games, Tyrion.”

“No, this one is easy. All you have to do is retell Tormund’s story, but each person adds a sentence. But you must keep a straight face. This is a very serious story.”

They went around twice, by which time no one was able to keep from laughing. Tyrion was gratified to see Brienne smiling freely, Jaime laughing so hard that tears stung his eyes, and Podrick wheezing for breath through his own sniggering. Davos was grinning like a mad fool. Tyrion had done his job. They would all sleep with smiles on their faces tonight.

“Well,” he said, hopping down from his chair. “That about does me in. Sleep well. Brother, that goes double for you. I truly never thought I would see you wed. And Ser Brienne.” He stopped by her to take her hand in his. He kissed it and, in his most serious voice, said, “Please don’t drop any babes tonight. We’ve planned what I hope is a pretty little party for you. It would be a shame if you couldn’t attend.”

Brienne’s answering smile was almost sweet and maidenly, her cheeks a bright rose. In the dancing candlelight, with the blush of pregnancy on her pale skin, she was a true beauty. Yes, and he had been a king once, on the Blackwater. But she didn’t need to be a beauty to be worthy of love. Tomorrow, she would be his good-sister, gods willing. And they best be willing, because the gods had put Brienne and Jaime through too much to not give them some fitting reward at last.

Chapter Text

JAIME

The morning of the wedding, a maidservant woke Jaime from a deep slumber. His first thought was concern for Brienne and the babe. He reached over and found her still in bed, asleep. She’d been having pains in the night, and neither of them had slept well. Jaime felt as he often had on the eve of battle, where any noise broke his slumber. The low moaning from his lady had hurt his heart, and he held her until fatigue had claimed them both. Now, though, Brienne slept peacefully. He would not wake her. The servant whispered that Queen Sansa had requested Jaime, and he nodded the girl out of the room. Jaime dressed quietly and slipped out behind her.

He knew the apartments in which they’d set up the King and Queen. At the door, he found Ser Symond Botley, one of the new brothers of the Kingsguard that he himself had made. Botley was ironborn, and somehow Sansa had won the hearts of the ironborn as fully as she had the hearts of the northmen, the Vale, and the Riverlands. She was well on her way to owning half the realm. King Jon had won the throne, but Sansa knew how to keep it.

Ser Symond admitted Jaime without delay, and Jaime found himself in the small, dim sitting room. He could hear movement beyond, and then Queen Sansa stepped through a doorway. She looked like Catelyn Stark reborn, or like a statue of Catelyn carved from ice. Her red hair was worn plainly, and her dress was a deep grey-green.

She gestured him into her solar without speaking. When he had been helping rebuild King’s Landing, he’d worked extensively with Sansa Stark, but never comfortably. He had been little better than her prisoner there, and he’d worked tirelessly in hopes of freedom.

She gestured for him to sit, and she sat across from him. A desk between them was draped in dark cloth. Sansa began unwrapping the dark fabric, and, from within, withdrew a cloak. It was red with gold embroidery. A Lannister cloak?

“You will cloak Ser Brienne, and she will cloak you as well,” Sansa said. “You will wed as equals.”

“That suits me.”

“This is the cloak you shall pass to her.” She unfurled it and spread it upon the table. It was Lannister red, no doubt, but the golden sigil in the crimson field was not a lion, but a sunburst. The embroidery was perfect, and he knew immediately that she had done it herself.

“You are the sun of Tarth,” she said. “You are bright, and bold, and you burn the unwary.”

That seemed fitting. For surely Brienne, in her stillness, was the moon. “The colors--”

“Lord Selwyn will unveil this at the reception, but it’s best you know now. He has agreed to alter the sigil of Tarth, so that the rose quarters will be crimson from now on. It is the only acknowledgement your house will see today.”

“It is more than I thought likely.”

“It is more than you deserve.” Her voice was sharp but not unkind. If she believed he deserved little and less, why would she embroider his cloak?

“Your grace, this gift is beyond my expectations. What is the reason for it?”

Her smile was small, but genuine. “Do you wish to have the pretty lie, or the truth?”

“From you, your grace, always the truth.”

She nodded. “You and Brienne are uniting the East and West in the same way that Jon and I have united North and South. There are more Westernmen in Tarth for the wedding than Stormlanders, more Westerman than delegates from any other kingdom. Your people in the West love you, and in their eyes your actions are beyond reproach.”

“I’ve never tried to earn their affection.”

“No, you never did. Instead, you fought steadfastly for them, you commanded their sons and brothers with heart. They do not love you because you begged them to-- that was Cersei. They love you because you love them, nothing more or less.”

He was speechless. Was the Ice Queen complimenting him?

“Tarth adores Brienne for much the same reason. Their own home-grown savior. You must make this marriage work.”

“It will. It does.”

She passed him another smile. “I know.”

“What was the pretty lie?”

Her smile grew. “That I admire you.”

He laughed. Sansa Stark played the game, but always admitted it. Her reason for playing was that she wanted to protect the smallfolk. Jaime didn’t much like the smallfolk, but they were innocent and powerless and didn’t deserve half of what came to them. Whenever lordlings fought, it was the smallfolk who died. Sansa saw this was well, and for that reason alone, Jaime and Sansa would be forever on the same side. So many lords thought power came through war. It was what Tywin Lannister had thought, what Cersei and the Dragon Queen had thought. But causing wars-- whether you win or no-- creates famine and death and people as eager to stab you in the back as fight for you. Sansa understood that only in peace could you wield true power-- the power of being beloved of the people. Jaime had never sought that power. He was just tired of seeing corpses.

“You know,” she pressed her lips together, “I envy you. I think that’s why I kept you in King’s Landing so long.”

“Yes, most people want to be a one-handed oathbreaker.”

Her eyes were laughing. “You get to move to this beautiful island with your love and raise little children and enjoy the fruits of peace. Jon and I have to live in King’s Landing and engineer that peace so that ungrateful lords like you can enjoy it.”

“Do not think me ungrateful.” He tried for a mocking tone, but it came out deadly serious. “I know what it is to give up happiness for the realm.”

“I hope to reap the happiness I sow, Ser. My septa used to say that a little work at the start can save more at the end. Before your son put her head on a stake.”

It was meant as a slap. He had grown used to them in King’s Landing. She peppered her conversations with thinly veiled reminders of his various crimes. To keep him humble, he supposed.

Sansa continued. “I hope that when peace is secured, I too will get to raise little children, and that they will be safe to live and grow in King’s Landing.”

“They and you will always be welcome on Tarth, your grace.”

She smiled. “Yes, though not because you say so.”

He nodded. “Not because I say so, no. My lady wife will rule the island after her father, and she is uncommonly devoted to you. But even if that weren’t so, I’d welcome you. You keep me humble, your grace. I thank you for the groom’s cloak.”

She stood, solid and cold. “If you sully that cloak as you did the white one, I’ll have Jon take your head.” Then, as if she hadn’t just threatened his life, she sighed and said, “Please go see Lord Selwyn from here. He has some other matters to discuss with you.”

Jaime bowed out of her rooms and turned towards his goodfather’s apartments, carrying the crimson cloak over one arm. He would not sully the cloak of Tarth, he would not. For it was his life’s blood now, and could no more sully it than will his heart to cease.

Lord Selwyn opened the door to his personal quarters to allow Jaime inside. His eyes were unfocused and he was still in his sleeping clothes. Rubbing his head, he spotted the crimson cloak hanging across Jaime’s right arm. “I see you have been to the Queen already.”

Jaime half-bowed. “She bid me come see you.”

“Yes, yes, good. Come with me.” Selwyn gestured Jaime through to another room, a smallish private parlor. In the middle, a sheet was covering armor on a stand. Lord Selwyn uncovered it without ado, and Jaime saw who he was meant to be to Tarth. Sansa had said it true. You are the sun of Tarth, she had said.

The armor was shining gold, with sunbursts on the chest and shoulders, and flames licking up the tassets. In hidden corners, filigree had been worked, matching exactly the scrollwork on his hand. He reached out to test the metal, to feel its cold beneath his fingers. The decor was delicate, but the plate was strong. “Gendry made this? It’s the finest armor I believe I’ve ever seen.”

“The boy is talented, no doubt.”

Jaime nodded. “He may be the best in Westeros.” That was no exaggeration. It was almost a waste to set him as a Lord Paramount. He would serve the realm better in the forge. It was not just strong nor useful, but beautiful.

Lord Selwyn took the red cloak from Jaime’s elbow and fastened it at the back of the armor. The red silk streamed down, the golden sun flashing. Jaime now saw that the edges of the cloak were embroidered with filigree again-- the same as his hand. He was lost for words. His queen and his lord, a Stark and a Baratheon, had sculpted a masterpiece for him with their own hands. His throat tightened.

Selwyn placed a hand on his shoulder. “Go back to bed. I had no idea the Queen would call for you this early. I’ll have someone bring the armor to help you dress when the time is right.”

Jaime wanted to say more, to thank Selwyn for commissioning the armor, to go back to the Queen and kiss the hem of her skirts. I admire you, she had said. She had said it was a pretty lie, but the filigree spoke louder. He felt indebted, and he thought maybe that was the point.

Lord Selwyn smiled, looking like nothing more than an indulgent father. Jaime had never had an indulgent father, but he imagined this was what it would look like. Selwyn gripped Jaime’s shoulder and steered him towards the door. “Go. I’m going back to bed.”

Wordlessly, Jaime obeyed. He took a long way back to Brienne’s room-- their room-- and stopped in the nursery to see Alys asleep in her crib, Kelsa asleep in the chair. He didn’t disrupt them, but continued to his own room. There, he saw Brienne asleep still. He stripped off his shoes and tunic and slid into bed behind her. She needed to rest, so he would not be the one to wake her.

*****

BRIENNE

After breaking her fast with Jaime in private, Sansa’s handmaiden-- a girl named Lilliyan Chambers from the Riverlands-- dragged Brienne back to the Queen’s apartments. Brienne’s armor was waiting for her there, as well as Podrick. Sansa had Lilliyan work on Brienne’s hair. Nothing much could be done with it, as short as she kept it, but Sansa had a crown of woven white stars set atop her gently tousled blonde mop. Brienne didn’t like how it itched her scalp, but she kept silent in deference to the obvious delight in Sansa and Lilliyan’s eyes. Brienne also suspected that Sansa had embroidered the little stars herself.

Once, a servant brought a plate of nuts and berries, but otherwise, this primping was hungry work. Twice, the new nursemaid brought Alys to nurse. Podrick was shining her armor to a mirror finish in the corner of the room while Sansa, Lilliyan, and three seamstresses fussed over what to do in place of the chest plate. One of the seamstresses seemed terribly unhelpful, and Brienne knew her to be one of the midwives that had been skulking about after Brienne for a full sennight now. Even here she could not escape them.

In the end, they fashioned a solution. It was styled after a simple maternity dress, but cut off at the thighs so as not to hide her armored legs. The neckline was a scalloped v-shape, and Sansa and the two competent seamstresses worked feverishly to sew tiny pearls onto it. Once they’d slipped Brienne into it, they belted it with white lace. The effect was to make Brienne seem to have a true woman’s shape, though perhaps she did now. There could hardly be a more womanly shape than that of a babe about to burst forth. The person Brienne saw in the looking glass was a beauty, and not her. They had put blush on her cheeks and dye on her lips. Finally, their work done, they gave her over to Podrick. He fit her into her armor in such a usual fashion that it calmed her nerves.

“You know, you are not my squire anymore. You are not required to dress me in armor.”

His smile was tilted playfully. “I’m not doing it because I’m required, Ser.”

“Yes, nevertheless, I’ll need a new squire for next time.”

Pod laughed. “Next time? Were you planning a second wedding already?”

“You’ve been spending too much time with Lord Tyrion. You’re picking up his knack for clever turns of phrase.”

He smiled fondly.

“Podrick, acquaint yourself with some aspiring lads, and recommend one to squire for me.”

His fingers paused. “You want me to find your next squire? But I don’t even know what to look for in a squire.”

“Trust your instincts. They are good. Honor and respect for the knighthood are the only traits I require, and you already know how to spot these.”

“Yes, Ser,” he said unsteadily.

Finally, she was done. She felt like herself with her armor on and Oathkeeper at her side, regardless of the white beaded lace thing she wore over the babe or the stars in her hair.

Sansa placed her two hands on Brienne’s shoulders and turned Brienne to look at her. “I need you to understand a few things,” Sansa said quietly.

“Your grace.”

Sansa’s lips quirked. “You have been relentlessly faithful to me, and to my family. I would support any decision you made, because I trust in your judgement. It has truly… It was never harder to trust in your judgement than when you stood up for the Kingslayer, but that above all shows that you see the things that others can’t.”

Brienne felt her cheeks warm, and she looked down, embarrassed by the compliment.

“Brienne. You shine a light in the darkness, just as your house words say. It’s a quiet light. It waits. It’s a candle in a window.” She turned then to a dark package on a table, unfolding it to reveal an azure cloak. Brienne’s breath felt stolen away when she saw the silver moon embroidered on it.

“Today, you and Ser Jaime will cloak each other. You will wed as equals. This is your cloak, you will lay it on his shoulders.”

Brienne felt her lip quiver. “Your grace, did you…” She stopped talking, not wanting to be too forward.

“I embroidered it myself. It was truly the least I could do.” The queen’s eyes shined. “You saved my life.”

“I was fulfilling an oath--”

“To my mother, yes, I know. My mother... “ Sansa winced. “She would hate to see you marry Ser Jaime.”

Brienne knew that, but what could she say to it? Should she apologize?

Sansa nodded. “She would also have raged against me for marrying Jon Snow.” Her blue eyes met Brienne’s.

“Your grace, someone once told me that we don’t get to choose who we love.”

Sansa’s mouth quirked. “If we did, I would still choose Jon.”

“And I would always choose Ser Jaime.”

Brienne could have sworn she head Podrick say something terribly close to “aww” at this. If she hadn’t been in a conversation with the Queen, she might have hit him.

Sansa unfolded the cloak further, and Brienne saw that the edges were filigree-- a familiar pattern, a pattern commissioned from some forgotten metalworker in King’s Landing. Seeing it, Brienne was reminded of her dark night ride back to the reedy river. She’d told the Glover men to toss Jaime’s hand in, but she’d known not where. She’d had to disrobe and wade into ice cold waters. Three hours, she had searched. At last, the moonlight illuminated flashing gold in the weeds at the river’s edge. Thereafter she had kept his hand under the foot of her cot mattress. Now, the self-same filigree danced on the edges of her bridal cloak. It was shorter than most bridal cloaks, she noticed, and she knew without asking that it was only a half-cape because Sansa meant for it to be worn, not put away in a chest until their daughters found husbands. She means for Jaime to wear it. It would at the very least mark him as a Lord of Tarth. There was nothing golden about the blue and silver cloak. She breathed deeply and bowed.

“Thank you, your grace. This was beyond my expectation.”

Sansa’s responding laugh was open and carefree, though Brienne had said nothing funny.

They were interrupted by a knock on the door. A serving girl said, “It is time,” and the room flew into a flurry of activity. Podrick fastened the cloak on Brienne, Lilliyan stuck her fingers into Brienne’s hair for some reason, the seamstress who was really a midwife forced a glass of water on Brienne, and Queen Sansa turned to the looking glass herself, fixing stray hairs from her sleek braid. Then they all spilled from the room like water from a broken damn. Brienne barely had time to think, to realize, to understand-- they were running to the Sept. The Sept where she had prayed and played as a child, where she had first imagined her wedding, and then where she had cursed the Maid of Spring for forsaking her, and pledged herself to the Warrior. And in that Sept, she would wed, and not just any man. She was to wed the Golden Lion of Lannister, Tywin’s eldest son, the youngest Kingsguard ever appointed, the Kingslayer. He was all of it, but most of all, he was to be hers.

*****

JAIME

He felt nerves racing up and down his spine. He’d never thought to marry, but the day had finally come. Despite his agitation and eagerness, he knew how to stand as still as a statue. He waited by the Septon. He locked eyes with King Jon-- who categorically rejected titles and surnames. And then with Tyrion-- who now carried almost as many titles as the Dragon Queen he had once served. Jaime cared nothing for titles. He wanted only the life he was building on Tarth, and Brienne, its cornerstone.

All eyes were on him. His new armor gleamed blindingly. Widow’s Wail adorned his hip. His cloak of crimson, his red sun rampant. His hair washed and combed and oiled. He must have looked every inch the Golden Lion.

All eyes turned when Queen Sansa and Arya Stark entered. Someone had managed to cram the little wolf into a dress for the day. It was excessively simple, a flax linen dyed black, with a belt for Arya’s dagger. The Queen’s dress was plain as well, and grey. Both wore dull dresses, he was sure, so as not to distract from the bride.

When Brienne appeared on her father’s arm, it was clear they needn’t have bothered. She shone, her blue armor-- the armor he had gifted her-- seemed to glow. A blue cloak flowed from her shoulders like water, and her hair was a halo of light around her pale face. There were stars in her hair, and pearls on her flowing bodice gave the illusion that she was made of stardust. The bodice was belted under the bust, delineating her teats from the growing babe, and he felt his cock stir against the hardness of his armor.

And then she was before him. He could hardly think, could barely hear the Septon’s grisly voice as prayers were read. He had enough practice by now with one hand to release the crimson cloak from his shoulders and lay it across hers, even as she had taken off her own azure. She then cloaked him in blue, and he swore to himself that he would never wear this golden armor without the blue cloak, never. Then someone took his hands, and hers, and bound them in a cord made of gold and silver intertwined. She put his gold hand on the top to help him hold up the weight of it, and he was possessed of the urge to rip it off, to wed her with only his own flesh against hers. But then the Septon was speaking, keeping the ceremony blissfully short as Tyrion had promised. Jaime could not hear the man’s words over the strumming of the blood in his own ears. I am hers, I am hers, I am hers, his heart seemed to repeat endlessly. He joined his pulse and spoke the words. When he kissed her, it was scandalous and unchaste. He lived to see the hot crimson blush race up her cheeks. Then the crowd, come from all corners of the kingdom, was cheering wildly. Only then did it occur to him-- he was wed. He was wed to Brienne the Beauty, Brienne the Blue. He might have kissed her again, but he didn’t think he could stop at a kiss and they had a feast to attend.

He caught her eyes and saw the smile she was trying to restrain.

“I know I’m only half a prize, but you are allowed to smile on your own wedding day,” Jaime japed.

He was rewarded; she stopped trying to hold in the smile, instead releasing it into the exuberant air. She had taken his sun-cloak and now she was radiant as well. I am not the Sun, she is. Before her, he had been hidden in darkness, unable to see. A light in the darkness. The words of her house, and now of his house as well.

Chapter Text

BRIENNE

Brienne allowed herself to be swept with the crowd, losing Jaime among the revelers. The tide of lords and ladies deposited her obligingly in the marble courtyard of Evenfall Hall. The high table was set against the western side of the courtyard. There was no shade, no trees, just marble whiteness. Jaime’s eyes caught hers and she breathed more deeply for knowing where he was. She mounted the small dais and sat in the seat reserved for her. Jaime mounted the dais on the other side so as to meet her in the middle, sitting with his left arm against her right. At the tables spread below, others were being directed to their seats. Jaime and Tyrion had conspired to seat the lords and ladies of Tarth closest the dais, in a position of honor. When all the denizens of the various lands of Westeros went home, the lords of Tarth would be here still.

Brienne should feel carefree; she was married to Jaime, with the babe still in her belly. Instead, she was nervous. She remembered that Jaime insisted on a bedding. His reasoning was less than convincing. They could leave early for a bedding, yes. They could also leave early for any other reason. They were sovereign here, after her father.

“Are you still insisting on a bedding?” She asked him. Her tone made it clear she did not like the idea.

His smile was slow and feral. “Oh, yes.”

“You’re planning something.” She felt sure. She didn’t even want to think of the humiliation of a bedding. But he knew her. Surely he would not submit her to anything humiliating.

His only response was to continue on with that infuriating smile.

“You’re not going to tell me what it is.”

“Not to worry, you will find out.”

“You know that I do not like surprises.”

He seemed to think for a moment, then leaned close to her ear. She moved towards him to hear what he would say, but yelped when he didn’t speak at all. Instead, he closed his teeth around her ear lobe. She batted at him and he relented. Brienne could see that some of the lords and ladies had caught this flagrant display of debauchery, and her face turned a shade to match her new crimson cloak.

He was smiling. Of course he was. “Red’s a good shade on you,” he said. “The Westerlands have a peculiar bedding tradition that I think you will not find too objectionable. Trust me,” Jaime implored.

She nodded stiffly. She was afraid of a bedding, but she did trust him. She took his hand under the table.

There would be speeches and gifts, but first the crowd was hungry, so they would feast. Brienne had to drop Jaime’s hand so they could eat, and she felt the absence of it like a winter chill.

There were eight courses, and enough of each to feed an army. There were pies of eel, pheasant, beef, and chicken. There were stews of oysters and pork sausage. There were crusty breads spread with all manner of rillettes and pates. Through it all, Jaime never needed to ask her for help-- a fact he seemed to notice as well. The feast had been prepared by Tyrion, not without thought for his brother’s missing hand, it seemed. Dessert was small candied fruits, sweet cakes, and Tarth butter cakes, served amid beds of fresh berries. Brienne ate what she could, but her stomach felt full after just a few bites. She skipped the wine, opting for the crystal clear water of Tarth, but saw Jaime pass through an entire carafe of a sweet Dornish red. His lips matched the color, and his eyes sparkled when he looked at her. And he looked at her quite often.

They had lain together in all the ways a man and woman could, and had already made a babe. Yet, here on her wedding day, she felt a blushing maid again. She felt like a girl of six and ten, wedded to the most handsome knight in all the land. All he had to do was turn his green eyes to her to make blood rush to her cheeks and pool between her legs. It was discomfiting.

When the meal was winding down, Brienne’s father stood to give the first speech. The crowd quieted. In the silence, his voice was deep and melodic.

“Welcome, those of you who are not from our fair isle. I hope you enjoy the beauty and bounty we have to offer here on Tarth, and I beg your leave to speak principally to the people of Tarth.” He raised a glass to indicate the nearby tables. He paused, seeming to gather his thoughts. Then, he turned towards Jaime. “Jaime Lannister,” he sighed, “I think everyone in the Seven Kingdoms has heard of you. Your deeds proceed you, and most not favorably.” Turning back to the crowd, he said, “I will admit, I had formed a strong opinion of my good-son long before I laid eyes on him. I would wager there are others who have their opinions. I doubt there is a man or woman older than eight and ten who does not have an opinion on him. Most have not had the good fortune I have had in meeting the man.” He turned back towards Jaime, raising his goblet. “Lord Jaime is a man of honor. He loves our Brienne dearly, exactly as she is. I now think back to the matches I made for her in vain, and wonder if the Gods had not a hand in running them so poorly. Perhaps she was meant to meet Ser Jaime, to take him as a husband.”

Turning back to the lords and ladies of Tarth, he continued, “I ask of you to reserve your judgement until you, too, have met the man. I thought to find him desperately wanting, and in that I’ve been disappointed.” He paused to take a sip and then caught the eyes of someone on a rampart, raising a finger. “In honor of the joining of the small but noble house of Tarth with the ancient line of Lann the Clever, I have declared the sigil of Tarth to be henceforth quartered in crimson.” His finger pointed up, and from all sides large banners fell in unison, flashing azure and crimson in the bright sun. A set of flags were run up above the gatehouse. The lords of the Westerlands were the first to erupt in cheers, but their joy was contagious, and soon even the more skeptical lords of Tarth were applauding. Brienne’s hand found Jaime’s again and he squeezed.

“Now,” her father said, “I would like to defer to our King, who was kind enough to grace us with his presence today.”

King Jon stood, nodding to Brienne’s father. He stepped to the front of the high table, and a pair of servants brought a large wooden crate up behind him. He didn’t mind that he stood lower than others, or that no one had announced his proper titles. He never bore power easily. It made him all the more trustworthy. He opened the crate, and Brienne was briefly reminded of the meeting in the Dragon Pit, whereupon he had brought a crate with a dead man inside. Now, there seemed to be only fabric covering something else. When he spoke, it was to Jaime and Brienne and not the crowd. “Ser Brienne,” he nodded to her, “You defended my Queen when no one else would. You saved her and brought her to me. You protected her, and us all, against the Army of the Dead. You were pivotal in defeating the self-styled queen who stole the Iron Throne. I know of no truer knight than you. Ser Jaime.” Here he seemed to pause rather longer. Half-turning towards the crowd behind him, he nodded at Lord Selwyn. “I will admit I had my own opinions before I met you, but I met you at a time when you only confirmed and deepened my misgivings about you. I am glad that time is well past. You fought valiantly against the Army of the Dead, and played a crucial role in ridding King’s Landing of a tyrannical ruler. You have earned your respite. I know you will not squander a second chance.”

He then stepped to the side, unveiling from within the crate two shining metal shields enameled with the new sigil of Tarth. He handed them off to servants, revealing that the crate was full of wooden shields painted with the new sigil. He took the metal shields and spoke loudly. “It would please the crown if these would be wielded by these two knights. You have worked together for years, even when on opposing sides, keeping your oaths when possible, and honoring justice when not.” He gave the first to Brienne, saying “Ser Brienne the True.” Then he turned to Jaime, passing over the other shield. “Ser Jaime the Just.” The crowd erupted in applause again. Jon waited patiently for it to fade, then motioned to the wooden shields filling the crate. “The others are for your household, that they would remember to be proud of whom they serve.” He went back to his seat. Brienne swallowed against the tightness in her throat. She did not look at Jaime, afraid she would see how much it meant to him to be publicly named Ser Jaime the Just by the Mad King’s grandson. If she saw it in his eyes, she would not be able to contain her tears for him. She looked straight ahead, willing herself to wait until later.

Next, Tyrion rose to his feet, and then to his chair. He smiled and told a few bawdy jokes before presenting them with a map of Tarth. It was lovely and detailed. Brienne saw several places on it that she thought only she knew of, and wondered how it had been made.

A few other lords presented gifts before the dais. There was a gift of new tourney swords for the household, several gifts of exotic or expensive foodstuffs or wine, one lord gave her an ornate fan as thought she might ever use it, there was a necklace shaped like a star and inlaid with diamonds from the Tyrells, a silver bowl from the Martells, and Yara Greyjoy presented them with matching pelts “lest winter ever come again”. Some of the presents acknowledged the coming child, with a few small blankets and prayer wheels. During the endless gift-giving, Alia snuck in with Alys, and Brienne begged Queen Sansa’s help in pulling down her dress bodice well enough for Alys to nurse. Alys, of course, popped on and off like drunkard’s wine cork, goggling at the great array of people before her. She was a curious child, always aware of her world.

Finally, the gift-giving seemed done, when one more man stood. He was unkempt and young. He had to announce himself to the Southron crowd as Lord Braddish Stout, Lord of Goldgrass from the North. Brienne looked over to Sansa, and saw irritation cross the Queen’s lovely features. If Brienne’s memory served, the small house of Stout had supported the Boltons against Jon Snow. Lord Braddish’s father Lord Harwood had been killed in the battle. Lord Braddish had been but six and ten and at home at Goldgrass, and thus an innocent.

“I have no gift,” Lord Braddish continued, “But a question. The Lady of Tarth is clearly not yet delivered of her babe, so who is the babe she has at the breast?” He was possessing no discernable self-consciousness. Once, as a shy maid on Tarth, Brienne had been jealous of men like him, men like Ronnet Connington, who felt no fear when speaking. Now, she thought their missing sense of self-preservation was a curse. And yet, the question was fair. Perhaps she should have hidden Alys away, but then Alys would always be hidden. Her presence wasn’t well known, though, and Brienne or Jaime or Tyrion-- someone should have anticipated this. All these thoughts raced through Brienne’s mind as her body turned to ice. Jaime’s hand clenched hers almost painfully. No one spoke for a heartbeat. Perhaps no one breathed.

Then Queen Sansa stood. “The babe is an innocent, no more guilty of the crimes of her parentage than you are of yours.” She sat.

It was a scathing retort for Harwood, who immediately sat with a lowered head, but possibly the other lords did not know Harwood and did not understand the Queen’s verdict. Another lord stood, and all present knew him as Balman Byrch, with one eye and a limp and a slowly-smoldering hatred for Cersei Lannister.

“Begging your pardon, your grace,” he said in his stutteringly soft voice. “But I think we all can guess the child’s parentage. How can we be sure someone from the Westerlands won’t try to put this child on the throne?” He sat quickly, as though all the eyes on him caused him physical pain.

Next to rise was old Gareth Clifton, a landed knight of the Westerlands. “If you mean to imply something unseemly about Lord Jaime’s child--”

Another voice shouted (the bearer of this one too cowardly to identify themselves), “No one said it was Lord Jaime’s child. Do you admit that, then?”

A few people spoke at once. Brienne’s father stood, and all the throng quieted slowly. “The babe is Lord Jaime’s, and motherless. Brienne has a kind heart, and will raise the child as her own. I claim the child as my own grandchild by marriage, and I will not hear any speak ill of her in my house.” He sat. Brienne thought his words rich, as he had once begged Brienne to let him throw Alys into the sea. Yet, if he could change his mind, so too might others. Here and now, his pronouncement had only made matters worse. This was confirmation that he babe was Jaime’s bastard. She felt her own cheeks burn, wondering if the lords thought her too meek or too desperate to object to having Alys in her home. She thought to stand and defend Alys and herself, but Jaime shook his head. He was about to stand when a sharp whistle was heard in the fray. Genna Lannister stood. Everyone stopped talking. Her presence was commanding.

“Lord Jaime has just this day wedded a woman with whom he is very much in love. Together, they are expecting a child that may come at any moment. Do we really need to waste such a lovely event on hateful rumors? Why do such hateful rumors persist? Cersei Lannister has been in her grave for months. Let her rest.” She sat down heavily. A few people nodded as though this was enough for them, but Brienne thought it only meant they would let the rumors rest for now. Tomorrow, or next week, they would be whispering them again.

Her hand was unceremoniously dropped from Jaime’s as he stood.

“Aunt,” he said, nodding to Genna. “Lord Selwyn,” he nodded to her father. “Queen Sansa,” to the Queen. “Your words in defense of my natural babe are appreciated, but I am reminded of something my dear brother once said.” His eyes caught Tyrion’s, and Tyrion nodded to him. “He told me, rumors grow in the dark, but perish in the light of day. Aunt, this rumor persists for two reasons. One of those reasons is that we have all kept it hidden in the dark, excepting my lady wife.” He turned to Brienne, and she knew where he was headed. She reached up to take his hand, the only support she could give. He looked back up at the crowd. “So let me bring it out into the light. The second reason the rumors about myself and my twin persist is that they are, every one of them, true.” The crowd gasped quietly. “Alysanne Storm is my child. She is a bastard. She has no claim to any throne, and I will not abide seeing her set upon one. I am tired of losing children for some useless chair. Meaning no offense, your grace.” He sat. The hush that followed was as thick as summer storm clouds and just as ominous.

“Was that wise?” Brienne whispered.

He shrugged. “Tyrion advised it, so I am tempted to think so.”

Ah, so Tyrion had anticipated this turn of events. She was relieved, but also annoyed that no one had thought to warn her.

Jaime grasped her chin in his hand and turned her fully to face him. Quieter than a whisper, he said, “You do know that no matter her mother, I will not stand for anyone to tell you she is not yours. That night--”

Brienne pressed her fingers to his mouth. She didn’t want Cersei here. “You do not have to assure me, Ser. My body and heart both will not let me forget.”

He dragged her face to his, but instead of kissing her as she expected, he pressed their foreheads together, sighing deeply.

The rumble started small, and she could almost ignore it. The sound grew like that of rolling thunder, though, and Alia plucked Alys from her arms. It was chanting. Jaime’s display of affection had lit a fuse. The entire crowd, even down to the Lords of Tarth, were crying, “Bedding! Bedding!” They banged on tables or clapped their knees as they yelled. Brienne realized only then that she still had a breast open to the world, and she scrambled to cover it, to try and pull her bodice back up. She felt once again like the butt of a joke. Were they expecting Ser Jaime to refuse to bed her?

But then he stood, the sharp lion’s grin back on his face. He pulled her up to her feet, and then with a grunt of effort, he lifted her from the ground. Her armor clanged brightly against his as he took her into his arms as a man might a dainty lady. Instinctively, her arms closed around his neck. He hauled her off the dais, and immediately she found them flanked by half a dozen of the knights of the Westerlands wearing full armor. They kept her and Jaime away from the grasping hands of the revelers as he carried her from the courtyard and up the wide white steps into Evenfall Hall.

Just as soon as they were inside the hall, though, he placed her on her feet. His face was red and he was gasping for air. “Gods be good, I knew it was strong armor, but how in the seven hells is it so heavy?”

“The weight is not all armor.” She felt embarrassed by his comment.

“You’re wrong,” he purred. “I toss you around our room nightly. For that, I know I am strong enough.”

A throat cleared and they turned to see Ser Lyle Crakehall. His impressive size was foreboding, but his eyes danced.

Jaime turned back to her. “I think I am supposed to be tossing you around our room now, milady. Shall we?” He held out his right arm.

She laced hers through it, her cheeks aflame. She leaned heavily on him, her back throbbing, as they made their way back to the room they called theirs. She noticed the Westermen following at a distance.

“They’re supposed to protect us the whole way,” he clarified. “You never know when assassins or rapers may be hiding in the halls.”

“The Westerlands seem a great deal more savage from your description than I was led to believe.”

“Gold makes monsters of men,” Jaime said simply. “Many lords of the Westerlands have been killed over less than a nugget.”

“Then I am glad we don’t have sapphires.”

“Only small men think the value of a land is in its rocks.” He paused and opened the door to their rooms. “It’s always been the people. Your presence alone makes Tarth richer than Casterly Rock ever was.”

She turned to face him. “You needn’t try to woo me, Jaime. We’re already wed.” She pushed him into the bedroom and avoided the faces of the Westermen as she closed and barred the door behind them.

*****

JAIME

They started in silence, each removing their own armor. Both had armor stands now. The room was beginning to feel full, and Jaime wondered whether they shouldn’t transition their little family-- once it was fully a family of four-- to the quarters currently occupied by the King and Queen. That would give them four rooms to themselves.

Brienne sat heavily on the bed and groaned. Jaime quickly stripped off the rest of his armor, leaving it to clang on the floor, to sit by her on the bed. All the standing and walking today must have been tiresome for her.

“My back,” she began, but no sooner had she spoken than Jaime was pressing the fingers of his left hand into the muscles of her low back, where he knew she’d had the most pain recently. He used his gold hand, still on his arm, to brace her shoulder as he massaged her muscles. Her grunts betrayed how much she ached. Finally, she relaxed enough to ease back onto the bed. He piled pillows behind her so she could sit comfortably. The late afternoon was growing hot and stagnant and he would have welcomed a cooling storm.

She turned to look at him, her eyes tired. “Will the knights wait outside until they can confirm a bedding?”

He laughed. “They’re keeping guard, not eavesdropping.”

“Yes, of course. What else could be the purpose of tasking a half dozen knights to stand outside a maiden’s door during her bedding?” Brienne’s words dripped with sarcasm.

“They know I’ve bedded you.” He rested his hand on her swollen womb. “We need not do anything but rest.”

She looked up at him under nearly-white lashes. “What if I want to do more?”

His heart skipped a beat. Nothing was more beautiful to him than a greedy Brienne, a Brienne who asked for what she wanted without shame.

“Tell me,” he whispered. “Anything. Tell me what you want, wife.”

She bit her lip, and he saw her timidness. He wanted to swat it away, but he didn’t know the right words to ease her mind. She shook her head. “I’m sorry,” she whispered.

That did worry him. “Whatever for?”

“I… what I want is jealous and beneath me.”

Jealous. He knew he needed to steal that word away from her, to make sure she never spoke it again in her lifetime. He had put it in her mouth, and he needed to find a way to take it out. What an idiot he was, to think he could marry a good and honorable woman and not drag her down to the dirt.

He dropped his head to the headboard, feeling defeat. “Then I am sorry. I don’t want you to ever think you have something to be jealous of.”

She shook her head. “It’s beneath me. I can’t be jealous of someone you fell in love with long before you ever met me. But sometimes… it feels like…”

“I know,” he said quietly. “It’s like fire under your skin. I remember the sensation well enough.” He’d stood outside the door while Robert rutted into his sister, night after night. Sometimes, he thought only jealousy sustained him from day to day.

The silence between them was long, and surprisingly comfortable despite the topic. It was a silence of two broken beings trying to understand how they had gotten here. Jaime knew, though. He knew he had broken Brienne. He still remembered doing it. I rode away from her, towards Cersei. Who can blame her for being jealous?

Then, from the corner of his eye, he saw her hand movement: she was wiping away a silent tear. His heart about broke in half.

He rolled over to look into her eyes. “No, no. Brienne. Look at me. I love you.”

“I know.” She contained a sob. “But people see me as the second choice.”

“You’re not my second choice. You know that, right?”

She sniffed and tried to speak through rising sobs. “I… They think I am the only one desperate and ugly and ruined enough to tolerate your bastard.” She was suddenly crying so hard that she gasped for air.

He held her. He didn’t know what else to do.

“Tyrion--” she hiccuped-- “Tyrion thinks I will be-- remembered as the one-- who stole you away-- from her.”

He nodded, holding her close, pressing them together with all his strength. “You may be,” he whispered, “but I would rather you be remembered on your own, without any connection to her or to me. You do not serve me, milady. You are not desperate. Everyone knows it. Even the smallfolk know it. You have won honor and glory in your own right. The king made it clear everyone knew, Brienne. Everyone knows. Everyone knows.” He dropped a kiss to the top of her head as she clung to him. He had so rarely seen her cry. It made him feel helpless and worthless.

“Sorry,” she hiccuped again.

“I can’t imagine what you might be apologizing for.”

“My-- I am not used to-- I’m sorry for-- the tears. I’m not-- usually like this.”

“I think I know what you are usually like.”

She laughed weakly. “I think it’s the babe.”

He stroked her hair gently. “Then I love this babe already, for insisting its mother let her feelings known. You don’t need to hide them from me, wife. I won’t judge your tears.”

“Jaime.” She turned to look at him them. There was a light in her eyes. “You are the best man I have ever known.”

“Don’t,” he sagged. “Not after you just stopped crying over my dead sister, don’t sit there acting like I’m some paragon of knightly virtues. I’m a wretch, and the sooner we agree on that, the faster we can move past it.”

She sniffled and wiped away her tears. Something teasing came into her eye. “Ser Jaime the Just.”

He groaned theatrically. “Did you notice he was afraid to name her? ‘Ridding King’s Landing of a tyrannical ruler’, he said.”

“Maybe he didn’t mean her,” Brienne supplied. That did give Jaime pause. Tyrion knew, and Tyrion was hand of the King. The thought made his shoulder blades itch as though there was a target on his back. That was a story only meant for Tyrion and Brienne. He couldn’t have others secretly believing him noble. He might try, but he was not noble, not after everything he had done for his sister.

“One noble act cannot erase the rest,” he supplied.

“I don’t understand why you insist on being known as a dishonorable man.”

“It’s a much easier a reputation to live up to,” he said cheekily. He looked into her eyes. “I’m weary of disappointing people.”

“Most lately, Ser Crakehall,” she nodded to the door.

He rolled his eyes. “That’s the least of my worries. I’m afraid I’ve disappointed you by causing that mess at the feast.”

“Oh, I didn’t know you caused it. Did you pay Lord Braddish, then?”

Jaime laughed. “I’m like to pay him something, after today.”

“I think Queen Sansa has him handled.”

“More’s the pity for him. I think I would be gentler.”

Silence fell between them again, and he turned back to her. “What was it?”

“Hmm?”

“The thing you wanted, but wouldn’t tell me. The thing you considered so far beneath you?”

“I really… the moment passed.”

“Then there’s no harm in saying what it was.”

“It would not have been to our mutual satisfaction,” she said obtusely.

“I told you in Winterfell, I’m honored to serve beneath you.”

“Under my command. You said, under my command.”

He grinned. “As you say. Then command me, Ser.”

Her face turned red, the flush traveling under her gauzy bodice.

“Come, I know you are not this shy on the battlefield.”

“This is a bed, not a battlefield.”

Jaime’s hand spread over her womb. “Right now, it is both, and this is the eve of battle. Unlike Winterfell, I cannot stand at your back. I cannot save you if you are overwhelmed. But I can send you off to the field with my favor.” Quietly, he whispered, “Let me bestow my favor on you, Ser.”

Her pupils were wide, and he knew he had turned the tide of their conversation.

“I--” She bit her lip.

“You forget, I am a wretch. I didn’t come to you a maiden. There is nothing you can ask that would make me blush or shy away.”

“That was different. You--”

“It wasn’t different,” he said. “It was this, just this, only she never hesitated. She always asked for what she wanted, and I always gave it.”

“I don’t want to be like her.”

“You couldn’t be like her if you trained for it. But in this, you could stand to be a little more like her. You’ve been taught this shyness, but I know it’s not your true nature. Speak. Command me.”

She rubbed her lips together and dropped her head. “I want the only part of you that was never with her.”

He understood that, and raised his right arm, still adorned with the golden hand. “That is nothing to be shy about. It’s already yours.” They had done this in Winterfell, and since. It was one of her favorite things, and he was not surprised she would want it on her wedding night.

She unclasped his golden hand, baring the arm beneath. “I want it in me, Jaime. If it will fit.”

He felt his breath stolen from him. “I can make it fit,” he whispered.

“Yes,” she sighed. “Stretch me for your child.”

He scrambled to pull down her tights one-handed, then used his left hand to spread her wetness over her. The bent to the nearby lamp and poured its oil on his arm. His heart thundered in his chest. He could hear his blood rushing through his ears. He positioned his empty wrist at her entrance.

“I lost this hand for you,” he reminded her. It was not, strictly-speaking, the truth. He had lost it because he was an arrogant fool who’d believed no harm would ever come to him. But it had served the purpose of slaking the blood lust of their captors, and they had left Brienne to herself after that. “It gives me pleasure to see you enjoy it.”

She bit her lip and laid back. He used his left hand to part her folds as he pressured his wrist into her tight canal. For a moment, he thought it might not fit.

“I’m not delicate,” she whined. “Put yourself inside me, ser. I have given the command already.”

His cock leapt. He increased the force behind his wrist and felt it slide past her entrance, inside of her. She gasped, her legs spasming wider. He was utterly, glacially slow. Her head dropped back and her legs relaxed open. The room was silent except for their breathing. Her hands reached down to help him part her folds, to help his arm enter her. He looked down and saw that he was almost up to his elbow in her. Gods, what a beautiful sight. “Brienne,” he panted. He remembered the first time she had taken his over-sensitive wrist and placed it at her lower lips, how he had messed himself like a green squire. He remembered how he had touched Cersei with it, and she’d recoiled. Cersei could tell it belonged to Brienne, that he belonged to Brienne.

Her eyes were glassy and her lips wet when she looked down at him. Then, she nodded and began to rock. He didn’t dare move his arm, but simply held steady so she could rock herself. He pressed his left hand to her nymph, and her back bowed as she tried to press herself onto his arm. Her unfocused eyes were staring straight at the ceiling. She came with a thunderous cry, and Jaime felt her insides clench down on his entire arm as if to hold him there. She continued to rock afterwards, and cried out a second time. He still did not withdraw his arm, and she continued rocking. Her leg rubbed against his cock as she bucked and spasmed. It felt right. He wanted her to know every kind of pleasure. He wanted her to put her pleasure above his own, always. When she arched a third time, screaming her release and clenching his arm with her strong woman’s muscles, Jaime spilled inside his trousers. Her movements lost their rhythm after that, until she fell still. Only then did he slip his arm from her.

She sighed and looked to him, her eyes meeting his. He smiled. “I would certainly say that was to our mutual satisfaction.”

She rolled her eyes, but her lids were dropping already. He leaned over to kiss her nose. “Sleep, wife. You’ve had a long day. And I believe Ser Lyle is gone.”

She nodded obligingly, her chin dropping onto her chest. He draped the blanket over her, not bothering to remove her bodice or find her tights. She watched him with half-lidded eyes as he changed out of his soiled clothes, dipping his shirt in a basin of water and using it to wipe her essence from his arm. Naked as his name day and sticky with sweat, he crawled into bed beside her. It was not yet evening outside, but the day had been full and he thought he would love to sleep through til dawn.

Alas, he did not get the chance.

Chapter Text

JAIME

Jaime awoke in the middle of the night, his battle reflexes singing. He was on his feet in an instant. There was no fire, as the night was warm. No moon shone through the window. He could scarcely see in front of his face. He had no way of knowing what had woken him.

Until he heard a noise from the bed: heavy, rasping breaths. Brienne. He ached to light the lamp but could not. He could not find his flint and steel, could not even find the lamp or a candle. He slid back onto the bed.

“Brienne?” he whispered.

“It’s… I’m fine… It’s.”

“I’ll get Kelsa.” He knew he could navigate to Alys’s room in the dark, and Kelsa would be able to light a lamp.

“Wait,” she rasped. Her hand closed around his arm. Her breath hitched, then she released it. “Go,” she whispered.

He moved. He needed clothes. His hand found trousers and he slipped them on. In moments he was bursting into the nursery. Kelsa was asleep on her cot, Alys in her cradle. He could see all of this by the low fire flickering in the hearth despite the heat. He shook Kelsa’s shoulder.

She jolted awake, and the first emotion that flickered across her face was panic. She saw it was him. She looked into his eyes, and then brought her hands up to shield her face. They had known each other moons now. He trusted Kelsa with his daughter. But waking with The Kingslayer towering over her in the middle of the night, she hid. If he were here to kill or rape her, what good would covering her face do?

He shook her shoulder, probably harder than he had to on account of his anger. “It’s Lady Brienne. The babe.”

Kelsa’s eyes cleared of whatever nightmare she had been entertaining. She sat up.

“Get the midwives,” Jaime hissed.

Kelsa staggered to her feet, taking the maddening time to curtsy first. Jaime wanted to scream at her to run, but Alys was asleep. Once Kelsa left, Jaime lit the nursery lamp from the fireplace and sat. He dared not leave Alys alone with a keep full of strangers, even as his gut told him to run back to Brienne.

Soon enough, Kelsa returned. She barely had time to say she had got the midwives before Jaime rushed back to his room.

Once there, he found one of the midwives sitting against the door. She saw him and stood.

“Miss Lendsey thought you would try to get in. I’m afraid I must inform you that the birthing bed is no place for a man. I could retrieve a tunic for you, though, ser.” She sounded calm. Her eyes lingered too long on his naked chest. War was so much easier. He could have cut her down. This was not war. What she said was common sense. Jaime had been at Joffrey’s birthing, but not as the father or even as a brother. Robert said the queen and her coming babe needed a guard, whilst Robert himself wanted to head to the Street of Silk unencumbered by his good-brother. Jaime had been in Kingsguard white, in the corner, unmoving as an armoire, as his sister thrashed and cried and was delivered of their golden son. Afterwards, many men commended him on not fainting. Ser Barristan admitted he had almost lost his lunch during Aegon’s birth. Jaime knew them to be weaker men. It had been no challenge, but a privilege to see Cersei’s naked strength, to be admitted into this secret space of women.

Now that it was his wife and not his sister, the door was barred to him. The fight had not left him, though. He exchanged harsh words and harsher threats with the midwife in front of him-- a woman in his own employ-- but she was entirely unmoved. And calm as fuck. Her lack of response, her smile and knowing gaze, wore him down. She said, “Ser Jaime, you are not the first father to threaten me, and you will not be the last. You must know it’s bad luck to have the father at the birthing.” He did not know any such thing.

“She is birthing, then? Shouldn’t you be in there?”

The midwife tilted her head. “She is on the road, yes.”

“The road?” She was speaking in riddles.

“It’s her first babe, as we’ve been told. First babes…” She shrugged. “They come in their own time. Right now what she needs is rest. We’ll see to it that she gets rest so she is able to finish this. You should rest too.”

Defeated, he asked for that tunic after all and went back to Alys’s room fully clothed. He found Kelsa sitting, staring blankly at the fire. She stood when he entered.

“How is she?” Kelsa asked.

“They say she is resting. They won’t let me in.” He looked at Kelsa earnestly, considering that she could gain entry. But then, she was needed here to nurse Alys.

Without asking her leave, and still angered with her, Jaime dropped himself into Kelsa’s cot. He did not sleep. Eventually, dawn lightened the room, and Kelsa left. Jaime thought she was leaving for the day, and he wondered how they would expect Brienne to nurse through labor, but Kelsa returned shortly with Ser Davos in tow.

Jaime sat up. “What time is it?” he asked Davos.

“Early enough that no one else is awake. Come, Ser Jaime, let’s walk.”

Jaime turned to Kelsa for an explanation, but Kelsa would not meet his eye. Seven hells, I’m not getting sleep regardless. He followed Ser Davos from the room.

They walked the hallways in circles, and Jaime soon realized Davos had truly meant a walk.

“Your wet nurse is an interesting one,” Davos said after a very long silence.

“She mistrusts me.” Jaime felt it still.

“Maybe. But I found her pacing the Great Hall. As soon as I entered she set upon me. She was apparently waiting for someone-- anyone-- to awaken. She told me Lady Brienne’s labor started and you were hanging listlessly about Alys’s room in your lady wife’s clothes.”

Jaime looked down. They were, in fact, not his trousers. He shrugged. “Brienne is in my room. Alys is my child. There’s no reason I shouldn’t sleep in her room.”

“No indeed. No one is suggesting you should not have been there, though locking yourself up with the wet nurse is… unorthodox.”

“No one was locked anywhere,” Jaime clarified.

“I know.” Davos stopped walking. “Have you ever seen a birth?”

“I have. Have you?”

Davos nodded. “Several. When you’re a smuggler, there are times you smuggle people. You’d be surprised how often as not those people are near to giving birth. Some are escaping the father, others running towards him, and some want their children born in the lands of their forebears.” Davos shrugged. “How came you to be in a birthing room?”

“How quickly everyone forgets that I was a member of the Kingsguard.”

Davos laughed heartily. “I didn’t know it was part of the duties of Kingsguard.”

“Now you know,” Jaime said flatly.

Davos stopped and looked at Jaime. Then he nodded at some unspoken question and turned to the window, nodding again. Finally, he turned his feet down another hallway, his pace quickening.

Jaime followed. He knew the direction in which they walked. “Why are you bringing me to the King?”

Davos chuckled. “I’m not. I’m bringing you to the Queen.”

Jaime stopped walking. “Why?”

Davos turned to him. “Because the midwives can certainly ignore an order from you. But they’re a matriarchal sort, aren’t they? They won’t disobey the Queen.”

Jaime’s mouth worked, trying to form a question.

“Do you want to attend your lady wife in her birthing bed, or do you not?”

“I do,” Jaime said.

“Then it seems I am doing a different sort of smuggling today. Come on.”

Ser Symond admitted Davos and Jaime to the Queen’s sitting room, where she joined them presently.

“Your grace,” Davos stood, bowing. “Lady Brienne has gone to her birthing bed. Ser Jaime wants to ask a favor of you.”

Jaime didn’t have it in him to bow and genuflect like Davos. The man was low-born and it came to him naturally of long practice. Jaime forced himself into a stuff bow, the sort he might have given Robert once. He then stood, lost for words.

Everyone was looking at him.

He cleared his throat. “My place is by her side. Even now. Especially now.”

“The midwives have barred him,” Davos clarified.

Sansa nodded solemnly. “Understand, Ser Jaime, that if Ser Brienne does not want you within, I will not be able to help you.”

“I would not go against her wishes.” He bowed this time, and meant it.

Sansa took his arm, and it was a strange sensation, rather more like being pulled on a lead than escorting a Queen. Ser Symond stayed with King Jon, meaning that Jaime was trusted. He remembered Kelsa’s waking face and wondered if he would ever feel himself secure in how others thought of him.

It was a small matter for the Queen to ask the midwife on the door to step aside and allow Ser Jaime entrance. Brienne’s agreed to let him stay, but she looked more troubled to see Jaime than relieved. He thought for a moment Sansa would refuse him, but instead she spoke in whispers to the midwives attendant, and left.

Jaime took in the room the room, seeing it all as it had been the afternoon before. His armor was on the armor stand. His clothes were on the floor. But now, Brienne lay sweating on their marriage bed. She had changed into a sleeping gown. Her pregnant girth, her height, and the width of the gown combined made her seem a giantess occupying the entire bed. He sat beside her.

“It’s bad luck--” she whispered.

“So people keep telling me. Maybe there’s truth to it, but somehow I think it was more than my presence in the birthing room that led Joff to a bad end.”

Brienne’s eyes widened. “I didn’t know.”

He shrugged. “That was different. I was on guard. Now I am free to be as restless and anxious as you. How has it been?”

“I hate this,” she hissed. “All this woman stuff. I hate that you have to see me like this.” Ah, so that was why she had not been relieved to see him.

“I rather like all the woman stuff. Without it, I have trouble guessing how you’d be carrying my child. The septon might reject our marriage.” He tilted his head. “As I’ve heard tell, the thing we did last night would still be possible, though.”

She flushed red. “Do shut up.”

“I know you despise weakness. I know you hate to be laid low in bed.” He licked his lips and leaned close to her ear, his breath rusting her hair. “I know you are used to others thinking less of you because you’ve a golden bush between your thighs and little rosebuds on your tits. But I will never think less of you because your body pleases me as thoroughly as does your heart and your sword.”

Brienne was about as red as she could turn, and then she gasped. At first he thought she was overcome with desire at his mere words, but then her face twisted in pain, and he understood it to be a pain of childbirth. She reached out blindly. He made sure her hand found his. Her grip was tight enough to hurt.

“Do make sure not to crush my other hand,” he said playfully. She did not laugh, but she did roll her eyes. Gods, he loved her.

He stayed with her that day, into the night, and into the next day. Her pains came and went, sometimes worse and sometimes better. Her water still had not broken. He argued to no end with the midwives, insisting Brienne be brought food when she was hungry, water when she was thirsty. At one point, she was trying to sleep and the midwives kept poking her. Jaime barred them outside the door and said he would let them in if they were needed. They were not. Twice, only twice, Alys was able to come nurse. The midwives insisted on that, saying Brienne should not go so long without emptying her breasts. Through it all, Brienne paced the room, rocked in the bed, or slept fitfully. Jaime’s short naps were rather deep, but filled with feverish nightmares. He preferred to stay awake. He paced and held her and paced again, wondering when this torment would end, and whether there would be light at the end or the darkness of the grave.

*****

GENDRY

The wedding was over, but no one had left, nor would they. They were all awaiting news from Brienne’s birthing room. No one had much news, though Ser Jaime had been seen coming out to converse with Lord Selwyn and Lord Tyrion once, and another few times to beg food in the kitchens, looking rather worse for the wear. It was a far cry from how he’d looked in the wedding ceremony. There, he had been golden. Gendry was proud of the armor he’d made. High lords commented about it, wondering who had fashioned it. Once, Gendry would have wanted everyone to know. How else could he gather new customers? Now, though, it felt equally important that none should know. Surely he would be seen as merely a blacksmith and not a Lord Paramount.

But it also meant his days in the forges of Tarth were over. Arya was still training night and day with the knights gathered from all Seven Kingdoms. Gendry couldn’t keep them straight. There was Ser This and Lord Whatnot and his castellan Ser Whatshisname, or his oldest son, a squire for Lord Whoever. Arya could hold all of this in her head. But then, she’d been born to it.

Unsure what to do, he walked the castle walls, where he could be reasonably sure of not being noticed much by the courtiers below. He could also see from the walls whether Arya was training still. After his latest round of the castle, he noticed that she was no longer in the training yard. She was also not in their rooms, or the hall, or any of the likely places. Finally, he guessed where she might be. He swallowed his trepidation and knocked on the royal apartments.

A Kingsguard admitted him-- a Ser Someone-- and then stood without. The Queen was there, but no Arya.

“Can I help you?” Sansa stood before him.

“Uh. Is Arya here?”

“No, I haven’t seen her lately. I thought she was training.”

“She iddn’t-- she’s not there now.”

“I’m sorry, I--”

The door behind Gendry burst open, and Gendry heard the tyrade explode from King Jon. “All these fucking lords with their noses up my arse--” Gendry turned and Jon looked up. Jon looked to Sansa and back to Gendry before a cringe passed his brooding face. “Sorry--”

“Honestly, Jon,” Sansa snapped. “You could at least see who is in a room before you start yelling at them.”

“It’s just Gendry,” Jon said defensively.

“The Lord Paramount of the Stormlands, you mean.”

“Aye, and one of the few lords around here without his nose up my arse!”

Sansa sighed. “You’re the King now, Jon. Everyone will want things from you. Just tell them you’ll entertain their proposals in court, but you’re here for the wedding.”

“You told me I had to act interested in what they say.”

“That was in court. You--”

“Why don’t you just be King, then. If you know so well how it’s done. You know, I Commanded the Night’s Watch. I’m not new to this.”

“They killed you!” Sansa exclaimed. “I’m trying to keep you from repeating that mistake.”

Darkly, King Jon approached her. “I saved the lives of every one of the Freefolk I let through the wall. It wasn’t a mistake, and I’d do it again, knowing what it cost.”

Sansa’s eyes misted over. “You’re so much like father. A noble idiot. He got himself killed, if you forgot. Just like you did.”

Jon stared at her, stiff as a stone, then his face warped into something soft and anguished. “You’re not a little girl anymore, Sansa. If they kill me, you’ll have power. You can protect yourself.”

“No one can protect anyone,” she whispered.

And with that one utterance, he pulled her towards him and pressed a kiss to her forehead. “I’m sorry. I’ll try harder.”

“I just want to keep you safe.”

“I know.”

Jon turned halfway to see Gendry, and Gendry tried very hard to find somewhere to look that wasn’t the King or Queen. Jon laughed and said, “I saw her climbing trees outside the North Gate. I had half a notion to join her.”

“You wouldn’t--” Sansa said.

“I wouldn’t,” he affirmed, squeezing her shoulder. “I’m going to change. My arse reeks of too many lordly noses. Maybe if I wear something dirty they’ll keep away.”

Sansa rolled her eyes, and Jon left the sitting area through a side door into what must be their bed chamber.

“I’m sorry you had to see Jon in a mood,” Sansa said.

“I’m not,” Gendry answered. “I thought that Jon Snow died somewhere on the wight hunt, to be replaced by a Targaryen dummy. He hasn’t seemed that much himself since he slept with the Dragon Queen. Begging your pardon.”

Sansa’s smile fell, but she simply said, “He did what had to be done to ensure she would bring her dragons to our aid. What had to be done to save the living.”

He nodded. “It’s just a relief to see that even Kings and Queens have disagreements. I thought it was just me and Arya who were constantly at each other’s throats.”

Sansa did laugh at this. “I don’t think Arya can live without being at someone’s throat. Most men are too insecure to tolerate someone like her.”

“Don’t think there is anyone else like her, milady-- I mean, your grace.”

“Likely not. But at least Jon did solve one problem of ours. It seems the Lady Paramount of the Stormlands can be found in some trees outside the North Gate. Put that way, it would make little difference if the King of the Seven Kingdoms joined her.” Sansa sounded hurt, somehow. She smiled as if to brush off the mirror of pain and looked back to Gendry. “Are you having any trouble with the Lords of the Stormlands? Many expected to be raised to Lord of Storm’s End before you, and some do not like that you were put there by the Dragon Queen.”

Gendry ducked his head. “Arya is going to travel--”

“Oh, right! She and I discussed that a few moons ago. She was reticent to leave you unsupervised,” Sansa’s lips flattened into a smile, “but I do think the stability of your position would be helped by it. She’s not ladylike and will affront many of the lords, but she’s the King’s favorite sister. They’ll want to please her.”

Gendry wondered if that was the pain he had seen on Queen Sansa’s face. “I’m sure you’re the King’s favorite sister, too,” he said, trying and be polite.

Sansa’s eyes sparkled. “I am not the King’s sister, Lord Gendry. I am his cousin, and wife, wedded and bedded. Arya is… she will pull a dagger on anyone who names her his cousin. They were so close growing up.” Sadness passed across her fine features again.

Gendry bowed his head. He kept putting his foot in it here. He’d best go before he made things worse. “Thank you, your grace.” He turned to leave.

“Gendry?”

“Yes?”

“It would be permissible if you were to be seen climbing trees with your lady wife. Boys are supposed to learn those sorts of things.”

“Not many trees in King’s Landing, your grace. I never learned.”

“Not many trees in a septa’s classroom either. Have fun watching from the ground, then.”

He nodded and left, wondering what Sansa did all day aside from meet with Lords and Ladies and sew. Perhaps in a way, she was stuck always watching from the ground herself.

*****

SELWYN

He’d been up half the night fretting for his only living child. His best comfort was his buxom new companion. He wrapped her more tightly in his arms. It would be complicated and difficult to keep an on-going liaison with her, but she had comforted him through the night at least.

She stirred next to him. “Are you still worried?”

He didn’t answer. His worry was probably plain on his face.

“Oh, don’t. Your girl is a giantess. She’ll have less trouble than most. It’s a wonder someone didn’t notice her before, for that alone. My brother would have loved that about her.”

“That’s she’s tall?”

“That she could birth a passel of cubs. He wouldn’t have stood the swordplay, though.”

“Luckily, I don’t care what he thinks.”

“Only because he’s dead,” she said. “You’d care enough if he came knocking when he was alive. I daresay you would have chained your daughter to a septa if it meant the chance to marry her to the Lion of Lannister.”

Selwyn sighed. “No one could have foreseen this. Them. It’s all so unlikely.”

“She’s an unlikely one. I like that about her.”

“I suppose.”

“Hush,” she said, pulling him more tightly to her. “Your daughter will be fine, the babe will be fine. Let’s not waste this time. I’ll have to go back to the Twins before long, back to many cold lonely nights with an empty bed.”

“You’re welcome to visit. No one would suspect you for visiting your nephew.”

“Oh, I intend to. I do like babies, as it happens. And I’d like to get to know your daughter, too.”

Selwyn kissed her on the head. “I think the more you know of her, the more you will like her.”

“And once my grandson is set at the Twins, I wouldn’t be remiss in entertaining a prospect of marriage from a highborn widower, would I?”

“You get ahead of me, Genna.”

“Indeed. I have a habit of being several steps in front of everyone. Just let me know when you catch up.”

*****

JAIME

Nearly two days after the exact time they had been wedded, the sheets rushed with her waters and the midwives moved in suddenly military precision. After this, he endured hours of Brienne screaming, calling for him, calling for help from the Mother and the Warrior. Cersei had been all fury when she was delivered of Joffrey, but Brienne was nothing but determination. He felt his own fear like a tangible thing, but he saw none in her eyes.

Finally, a babe was laid on her chest. Led by either instinct or instruction, the mother and child came together as it gaped and crawled up her chest, and she opened her gown to allow its hungering mouth to close on a red nipple. Milk sputtered out of the sides of the babe’s mouth as the afterbirth was delivered. One midwife jumped atop Brienne-- who now looked calm, though shocked-- and fear raced through Jaime again. “What’s wrong?” he demanded.

She looked up, blank-faced. “Nothing, milord. This helps stem the bleeding.” Upon seeing his face she said-- “Bleeding is perfectly normal, milord. Healthy, as long as there’s not too much.”

Then another midwife was clamping the child’s cord and-- a boy, it was a boy. “A boy, milord,” one of the midwives noted, as though Jaime was blind to see so himself.

He turned to Brienne. “A boy.”

She smiled. It was all teeth, her ugliest smile, and he was helpless in the face of it. He grinned back.

“Galladon,” she whispered, her throat hoarse from hours of yelling.

“Galladon of Tarth,” Jaime added, getting used to the name. He imagined himself using it as he yelled at the boy to stop shouting, as he taught the boy sword fighting, as he scolded the boy for being rude to his sister. When Galladon was finally placed in his arms, he saw his own tears dropping onto the boys’ head like an anointing oil. He pressed a kiss to the child’s scrunched face. Gally. I dreamed of you.

Chapter Text

JAIME

Jaime lay awake in the semi-darkness. He kept a small fire burning. Brienne had dropped off to sleep immediately after Galladon’s last feeding. During this first night in the world, Galladon had nursed every hour. Brienne produced ample milk, but the midwives thought this itself might be the problem. Galladon gagged and vomited an exorbitant amount after each feeding. The midwives assured Jaime and Brienne that this was not unheard of, and that they should have no worries about the little lord, who showed every likelihood of being a healthy newborn.

The little lord. To Jaime, this was his son, but others saw him as the future lord of Tarth. Did all great lords start so small and wrinkly? Had Arthur Dayne once looked like this? Prince Rhaegar? The Mad King himself? Even Aerys had once been someone’s tiny, helpless babe. Hells, Joffrey had been his own newborn son once.

Gally was asleep in Jaime’s arms. “I will do better by you,” he promised. “You, and Alys, and all who are to follow. Let it not be said I didn’t learn from my mistakes.”

*****

BRIENNE

When the sun broke through the high windows of their chamber, Brienne forced herself to rise and stretch. Jaime was sprawled across the bed, asleep. Galladon was in his basket, also sleeping peacefully. Brienne changed the giant bloody pile of rags between her legs, and resigned herself to wearing a skirt in order to conceal the bulk of the new, clean ones. A dark colored skirt. She left to break fast in the Great Hall before Jaime woke. Before he could complain or beg her to rest.

As soon as Brienne entered the hall, people whispered and gaped. It was traditional for women to stay secluded for several weeks following the birth of a child. She could not understand how those women didn’t go mad. Maybe they did-- it would certainly explain a lot of the highborn women Brienne had met. Instantly, her father and Podrick were at her side, trying to convince her to go back to her babe. Podrick listened when she refused, but her father insisted. She turned her eyes on him. “I am not infirmed. I am hungry. Is this not the place to break your fast?”

He relented and made a place for Brienne at the high table. Truly, she did feel fine, other than suffering from a lack of sleep.

When she got back to her room, Jaime was just rising. He had not noticed that she was missing. She tried to excuse it. The night had been long, and the days before it as well. He gaped at her. “I thought you were in the privy.”

“No, breaking my fast in the great hall.”

His face slowly moved through emotions-- confusion, shock, admiration, delight. It settled on pure joy. He laughed. “I bet you scandalized every lord in the Seven Kingdoms.”

Within moments, a knock sounded on their door. Jaime sprang to open it and then admitted Brienne’s father, Podrick on his heels. Brienne locked eyes with her father and then smiled. There seemed to be no words that were right for this moment. She lifted Galladon from his basket, hating to wake him, and handed him over. “Galladon, heir to Tarth,” she whispered.

Podrick craned to see around her father’s arm. Jaime laid his hand on Pod’s shoulder and whispered something in the young knight’s ear. Pod nodded and slipped back out of the room. Jaime’s eyes met hers, and she understood that he was going to slip out as well to let her have this moment alone with her father. She didn’t want that. She reached out to grab him, to keep him here. He was not some stud who had given his seed to make an heir, regardless of how she may have framed this in Winterfell. He was the babe’s father, and did not have to make himself scarce.

Brienne watched her father coo and whisper at the babe, her hand still firmly fixed around Jaime’s bicep to hold him there, until she felt her husband relax and relent, and then she sat on her bed to watch her family knit itself together.

*****

PODRICK

He knew he shouldn’t feel put out, but he did. Ser Jaime had told Podrick to give Brienne and her father a few moments, so Podrick had slipped into the hall. He stood, unsure whether it was rude to simply wait outside the room. How long would they take?

Within minutes, Alys’s day maid Alia came down the hallway, her thin arms clasped around the wriggling girl.

Alia wordlessly raised an eyebrow at him.

“The babe’s been born,” Podrick said.

“I heard from Miss Kelsa. Have you seen it yet?”

“Just for a moment. A boy.”

“Did they name it?”

“Galladon.”

Alia’s face lit up. “How lovely. It’s terribly romantic, don’t you think?”

He didn’t know what was so romantic in a name, though he did know it was once Ser Brienne’s brother’s name.

“After the perfect knight.” She sighed. “Everyone on Tarth loves tales of Galladon of Morne.”

“Sorry, I’ve not heard the tales.”

Alia made a clicking noise with her tongue, and Alys made a surge to escape her arms. “Well, no need to stand in the hallway. Come in the nursery while I change Alys and I can tell you about the Just Maid.”

He hesitated, though he was not sure why. Finally, he nodded and followed her into the chamber. She set Alys down and forcibly pushed Podrick into a chair, tying up her red hair in a knot at the top of her head before turning back to Alys and her soiled diaper.

“Ser Galladon hailed from Morne, a small town on the eastern coast of Tarth. It is said from the time he was a very young child, he understood the difference between right and wrong, between justice and vengeance. He defended innocent children when he was but a child himself, and he trained daily to get stronger--”

Podrick found that her voice was pleasant, her Stormlander accent rich and deep. He hardly heard the words she was saying, but he wanted her to keep speaking. When she was done changing Alys, she sat with the girl in her lap to continue the tale. Her words wove themselves into stories. Soon Podrick found his eyelids closing.

*****

Pod was awoken by a laughing Alia. “I guess my story was not as exciting as I thought.”

Pod shook his head. “No, it was, it was! I just…”

“You’re tired. I understand.” And her eyes said that she did understand. Then she whispered, “I hope you aren’t partial to that scabbard.”

He turned to where he’d set down his sword to hear Alia’s story, only to see Alys chewing away on the leather. He tried to come up with a jape just to hear Alia’s pretty laugh, but he didn’t have Ser Jaime’s quick tongue. He was saved by the door opening.

“Ah, here’s where you’ve gone to,” Ser Jaime said.

“I can go.” Alia curtseyed.

“No, stay,” Jaime said. He held the door open, and Ser Brienne entered behind him, a tiny babe in the fold of her arms.

“Podrick.” Her head was high. She set the babe confidently into Podrick’s arms, and a frisson of fear rushed up his spine. He didn’t know anything about babes!

Then Alia was helping him. “Hold up his head,” she whispered. “There you are.”

The babe’s eyes were screwed tight. He was nearly bald, with the merest suggestion of blonde fuzz across its scalp. He looked uncannily like an old man. “I--” He didn’t know what to say. “I would be honored to… to protect… or, I mean, to serve--”

“Save it,” Ser Brienne said. “The nursery is no place for oaths, and a two day old babe can’t accept any made to him.” She picked up Alys, who was tugging at her skirts, babbling “Ma ma ma ma”. Ser Brienne sat and motioned Podrick to bring the babe.

He passed Galladon over to Ser Brienne, one babe in each arm. The girl didn’t seem to notice the tiny boy. Her arms flailed and she tried to stretch up to pull on Brienne’s hair. Drool ran down her chin in a sodden river. Alia swooped in to wipe it off, whispering, “She’s teething terribly.”

Ser Brienne nodded. “Believe me, I’ve noticed.” Both women laughed before Podrick understood that his liege lady was referring to being bitten on the breast. He never ceased to be amazed at her strength-- her strength as a knight and as a woman. She was truly the Perfect Knight, and her small son could only dream of living up to his mother.

Soon enough, Alys grew restless, and Ser Brienne set the girl on the floor. She deftly crawled to Ser Jaime and began clapping her hands. Even Podrick knew this was Alys’s way of asking to be picked up. Ser Jaime obliged, and proceeded to bounce Alys on his elbow. She giggled fitfully.

Podrick saw Ser Brienne watching Ser Jaime, something distant and unreadable and happy in her eye. He turned to Alia, suggesting maybe they should leave for a moment, but was struck when he saw Alia looking at him with fondness as well. She blushed daintily and looked away, having been caught staring.

That blush was mesmerizing, almost as much so as her sweet voice and her flame-red hair. Her father was from a landed house, though. He could not bed her, as much as he might want to.

At least, not unless he wed her first.

*****

BRIENNE

At first, Jaime could hardly be prevailed upon to set Galladon down. Brienne tried not to be jealous of her own child. Jaime was awakened to Brienne’s needs by an angry midwife. Brienne had required many stitches in parts she didn’t know could tear, and needed to sit in a bath daily to keep the area clean. She had not bothered, but when one of the midwives found this out, Jaime bore the brunt of the lecture. After that, Jaime made sure she took her baths. He also procured mountains of rags for her bleeding, and ran to the maester for tree bark tea when her pains were bad.

Her own life had suddenly grown both tiring and dull. She had forgotten what nursing a newborn was like. Perhaps on the ship to Tarth, or being alone on Tarth, it had simply been easier. Galladon ate every two hours around the clock. Kelsa was paid only to take care of Alys, so thus far Brienne was nursing Galladon night and day, and Alys during the day. It felt like all she did was nurse babes. For that reason if for none other, she needed to take her meals somewhere she could speak face to face with adults.

“You know,” her father said at supper when Galladon was two days old, “We’d best present Galladon at court now, while all the court is here.”

Brienne hated the idea of entertaining visitors. At this point she ached for all the strangers to leave her be. But if they presented Galladon, people would start to disembark. She sighed and traded a glance with Jaime. He was watching her with wide green eyes.

“Fine,” she hissed.

“Excellent!” Her father exclaimed. “Tomorrow we’ll announce that you’re prepared for visitors. We’ll ask the King and Queen to go first, of course.”

Brienne dropped her head and focused on her soup. She could not wait to be done with all this courtly nonsense. She felt a mummer in her own life. Jaime rubbed her shoulder, perhaps seeing something of her thoughts in her face.

“When the children are older,” he whispered to her, “promise me that you will show me this island of yours, how you know it. Just us, our horses…”

He knew her too well. She smiled at him gratefully, and freed herself to daydream of such a time. “I give my word.”

*****

SANSA

When the babe was three days old, Lord Selwyn announced that the new parents would be open to visitors just as soon as the King and Queen met the Heir to Tarth. Sansa waited a day to give Brienne time. Once Lady Brienne looked more well-rested, Sansa took Jon’s arm in hers and steered them both to Brienne’s chamber. They left their guard outside the door as Ser Jaime admitted them with an absent-minded bow.

“Your graces,” he said. Ser Jaime had a particular way he sounded and moved when he had disengaged his actions from his emotions. It was well-practiced and smooth, no japes or sneers. He’d learned it under the tutelage of the greats of Aerys’ kingsguard, Sansa was certain. She did not like to see it, because it gave nothing away, not even loyalty or joy. Luckily, she had become practiced at pulling Jaime out of it.

“Ser Jaime. I heard a rumor that your lady wife has borne a son. I know she is healthy, as she insists on dining in the Great Hall. I hope the child is healthy as well?”

Jaime moved to the side and gestured to the bed, where Brienne sat nursing two children-- one newborn, and one girl who had become too distracted by the guests to nurse anymore.

Brienne struggled to stand, as was proper when addressing the King and Queen, but Sansa approached and held Brienne’s shoulder down. “Let’s not stand on ceremony here.”

Alys’s drooling mouth closed around a fist full of Sansa’s finely made dress, and Jaime jumped to get her. The horror in Ser Jaime’s eyes amused her. She scooped Alys up before Jaime got to her.

“I apologize, your grace. Let me take the--”

“It’s only fabric. It can be cleaned.” Meanwhile, Alys had buried her fists in Sansa’s hair and was exclaiming repeatedly “ba ba ba ba ba” while yanking on a braid. It was quite endearing. She brushed back the older babe’s blonde curls. They were feather-soft and the color of spun gold. “Do you like my hair?” Sansa whispered to Alys. “Well I quite like your hair, Lady Alys.” Jaime was still trying to get her to pass over the girl, looking troubled. For that reason alone, Sansa passed Alys on to Jon instead.

Jon looked more horrified than Jaime to be holding Alys. She began to drool prodigiously onto his doublet.

“I’m sorry, your grace, she’s teething,” Jaime said.

“That’s…” Sansa laughed at Jon’s discomfort.

“Ba ba ba ba ba!” Alys exclaimed. Then she turned and lifted her arms to Jaime, clapping. “Da da da da.” Jon looked immeasurably relieved to pass the babe back to Jaime.

“She’s quite adorable,” Sansa said. She knew she was smiling and she knew she couldn’t help it. Alys was smiling back at her. She had come to see the newborn, but Alys was at this perfectly fun age, whereas a tiny babe--

And then Brienne was handing her the tiny babe, whispering, “Galladon, the heir to Tarth, your grace.”

Sansa’s breath left her. Galladon was so small, no bigger than Lady had been as a puppy. His eyes wandered around without any sense of focus, and his face contorted. And then he was wailing. Sansa swiftly handed the tiny child back to Brienne. “I think he prefers his mother,” she whispered.

Brienne rolled her eyes. “He prefers milk.” She set him back on the breast. “Alys was no different when she was but a few days old. She never wanted to leave my breast. It will be weeks yet, if I recall, before a nursemaid would even be helpful.” She turned to Jaime. “We’ll have to get another. Kelsa can’t be asked to do this much.”

Sansa’s eyes turned back to Jaime. Alys was clinging to his chest, trying to chew through his golden hand. Ser Jaime nodded.

“You are presenting Galladon? Or so I hear from your father?” Sansa asked.

“Yes, your grace,” Brienne answered. “The sooner, the better, as I am eager to have my home back to my family. Present company not included,” she added hastily.

“I understand. Your island is beautiful, but we cannot be too long from King’s Landing.”

“Of course.”

“I will let you rest some more, or as near as you can get with this little one around.” She threaded her fingers through Alys’s velvet hair one last time. “She’s a lively one.”

“She’s like her father in that regard,” Brienne said quietly.

“Perhaps,” Sansa’s mouth thinned. “I hope I will know her long enough to know her as her own person, and not in comparison to her parentage.” She turned towards Alys more fully. “Good day, Lady Alys.” With a kind smile to Jaime, she pulled Jon out of the room.

“You know,” she whispered to him under her breath as they walked the corridors, “You could learn to use your tongue.”

“Thought I used it quite well last night,” he murmured.

“I mean, to speak,” she blushed. “Lady Brienne has been one of our dearest supporters. You could show her some affection.”

He stopped walking. “She is one of your dearest supporters. I hardly know her.”

Sansa conceded this with a nod as she entered their apartment. Ser Symond held the door for them, and both she and Jon thanked him before retreating inside.

“Still,” she said, “you were once quite good with children, if I recall.”

“I was?”

“With Arya, and Bran, and little Rickon.”

Jon sighed. “That was different.”

“It vexed mother to no end,” she smiled. “The more the young ones loved you, the harder she pulled me away from you.”

“I’d noticed,” he said, but he said it with a smile. In his place, Sansa would be made of bitterness. She would hate her mother. She halfway did already, for seeing her mother through Jon’s eyes. Jon was better than she was, clearly.

“Weren’t you angry about it?” she asked.

“Maybe.” He shrugged. “But I can’t be angry now. I don’t suppose I could have made you my wife if she hadn’t kept you from being my sister.”

“She was trying to keep you from Bran, too.”

“Aye, and she tried to keep me from Robb, but you know him. He wouldn’t have it.”

She smiled. “I remember more than a few rows between her and Robb. He meant to legitimize you, did you know that?”

“He did?”

“There’s no way to know, but perhaps he even did so, before he died.”

Jon shrugged.

“I want one.”

Jon looked up at her. “One what?”

“A child. Galladon is… precious, but it’s Alys… she is so happy, every time I see her. I want to watch my children take such joy in the world. Perhaps it would increase my own.”

“Sansa…”

“I know, I said the time was not right, not with Dorne still chafing, and rogue ironborn reavers, and before the Lord of Storm’s End has all his letters.” She sat and pulled her current embroidery project from the basket next to her chair. She needed something to do with her hands, somewhere to look besides at Jon’s bewildered face. “But what if the time is never right? Certainly I would have advised Lady Brienne to be more careful in Winterfell, and Lord Jaime to… well, it wouldn’t matter what I would have advised him. But here are two children, and a world filled with happiness. And even if the time is right when a child is conceived, who can say what the world holds ten moons down the road?”

Jon sat opposite her in his own chair. He hardly sat during the day, always meeting with lords or honing his skills with sword or in the saddle. He was so delightfully determined to be different from Robert, from Cersei, from his own grandsire and even his father-- determined even to be different from her father, though thankfully not much.

“Sansa,” he said. The earnestness in his voice drew her attention. “I love you and I trust you.”

“I trust you,” she echoed. It had more meaning than love. Love came and went, but in this wild world, trust was everything.

“I don’t want to wait for the time to be right. You know I never did.”

“I know,” she whispered.

“I don’t like letting the prickly Dornish or Gendry’s maester control what happens in our bed. In our family.”

Sansa smiled at this, ducking her head to hide her blush. He did have a point. “The kingdoms need an heir.”

“Aye, but I’m not asking you to give me an heir. I’m asking you to give me a child. Our child. This is not about the kingdoms. This is about us.”

Sansa looked up and held his steely grey eyes-- her father’s eyes. Jon would be an amazing father, as good as her own had been. He would be fair and just and loving and tender.

“I like us,” she whispered.

“Is that a yes?”

“Yes,” she laughed, feeling as though a weight had been lifted off her chest. She never let herself forget the kingdoms and their problems and expectations, but Jon was right. The kingdoms were not in their bedroom. She needed to learn to forget all seven of them, to remember her family and her heart. “Yes,” she repeated, tears swimming into her eyes.

Jon was off his chair and kneeling before her, his lips on hers, before the first tear fell.

*****

JAIME

The day after the King and Queen met Galladon, there was a procession of curious eyes. Many passed through with only an introduction. Tyrion came and made a few japes about Galladon’s bald head-- the baby was too perfect to find much else to tease him for. Gendry and Arya, as their liege lord and lady, made a pass through. Gendry looked scared half to death and Arya looked scared all the way to death, as though babes were catching. When Aunt Genna entered, she unceremoniously told Jaime to get lost. He didn’t want to leave Brienne alone with his aunt, aware that Genna had a personality larger than her bosom. Brienne was not used to the skirmishes wrought by Genna’s tongue. Jaime remembered back to their first meeting, though. Brienne had held her own then. He hesitated, but when Brienne nodded to him, he agreed, removing himself to the nursery.

He was still there, with Alia and Alys, when a hesitant knock sounded on the door. Jaime answered himself, sure that whoever was without was not searching for the nursemaid. He was surprised to come face to face with Trystane Martell.

“My lord?” Jaime asked. Trystane Martell was the Prince of Dorne, a position that ranked far above Jaime’s own.

“Ser Jaime, I…” His dark eyes rested on Alia, and he continued. “If I could have a moment in private?”

Jaime’s eyes met Alia’s, and the girl simply said, “Should I take Alys with me, milord?”

Jaime shook his head. “She’s too young to eavesdrop.”

Alia curtseyed and left, shutting the door behind her. Jaime could not imagine what the Prince of Dorne would need of him. They had met only once, and Jaime strove to forget about most everything that had happened on his trip to Dorne.

“Ser. Milord. Ser.” Trystane wiped his hands on his flashy golden jacket. His stuttering words served to remind Jaime that Trystane was very young to govern a whole kingdom. No older than Myrcella.

Alys broke the tension by screaming “Ba ba ba ba ba,” at Trystane, and reaching for him. The lad laughed but backed away from the babe.

“She does…” Trystane started. “She looks a bit… like Myrcella”

“Yes, well, they would have been sisters. They had the same parents. It’s natural they would look similar.” He eyed Trystane to gauge his reaction.

Trystane only nodded solemnly. “My… Ser Jaime, that’s… why I wanted to speak to you. She… I… I need you to know that I truly loved Myrcella. Your daughter. I did. I would have wed her, even if… I wanted very badly to wed her.”

Jaime was not terribly surprised by this. Bastardry was not viewed the same in Dorne as it was elsewhere. Women were valued for their intelligence. Myrcella had been strong, smart, and beautiful. Her parentage mattered little in comparison.

“I do believe you,” he told Trystane. “She was a remarkable young lady.”

“I miss her every day,” Trystane whispered. “But… as you know, I’m now Prince of Dorne.”

“Yes, I’d heard.”

“Dorne will need me to marry.”

“That’s to be expected, yes.”

“I’ve met… I have this friend. Her name is Sava Uller. And we, well, I… We’ve grown close, and I think I’d like to ask her to wed me.”

Jaime nodded. “Uller… is she related to your uncle’s paramour? If I recall, she was a natural daughter of house Uller.”

“Uh, yes.” Trystane nodded. “They would have been related, but… distantly. Sava did not know Sarella. And she would not have condoned… killing an innocent.”

“I wasn’t accusing her,” Jaime clarified. “I was simply checking my memory of the houses of Dorne.”

“Oh. uh.” Trystane shrugged.

Silence dragged on between then. “Why did you come here to tell me this?” Jaime asked at last, disentangling Alys from a tapestry on which she had started to chew.

“I… I know it doesn’t make much sense, but I need you to know. I need to know if it’s fine for me to wed Sava.”

Jaime felt his jaw drop. “Are you asking my permission to wed? I’m not your father, nor hers.”

Tystane nodded. “I know, but you would have been my good-father. My father is dead. So is hers. I just…”

Jaime took pity on the boy. “I do not expect you and all of Dorne to waste away into the sands because you once had eyes for my bastard daughter. Wed your lady. Make children with her. Who knows, perhaps one day one of yours will wed one of mine.” Jaime smiled tenderly at the lad. “Or maybe not. But we can still remain on peaceful terms, even if not. I should thank you at any rate.”

“Thank me?”

“You’re actually the very first person, aside from Myrcella herself, to acknowledge me as Myrcella’s father without some ulterior motive.”

“Oh. Um.”

“My lady wife aside,” Jaime added as an afterthought.

“Of course.”

Jaime tapped the boy on the back and steered him towards the door. “Don’t spend any more of your youth asking old men for their permission to do the things you want to do.” He opened the door and pushed Trystane out. “I wish you as much joy in your marriage as I have found in mine.”

“Thank you, ser.”

“Thank me by keeping peace between Dorne and the other six kingdoms.”

Trystane bowed and left. Jaime closed the door behind him and turned to see Alys crawling towards him across the rug. “You know, Alys, I think that boy was really in love with your sister.”

“Da da da,” Alys exclaimed.

“Yes I am. Come over here and give dada a kiss.”

Alys complied, and Jaime wondered if the little girl understood his words. He thought it likely. How smart you are, my little Storm. He leaned back to wait for Genna to leave his wife alone.

Chapter Text

BRIENNE

Jaime closed the door behind him, leaving a deafening silence between Brienne and Genna.

“I’m sleeping with your father.”

Brienne’s eyes sought Genna’s. She felt nothing at the revelation. In fact, she would have been more surprised if all of court came to Tarth and her father had found no one to warm his bed among the crowd. Her father had women before. True, none of them had been related to her husband before, but she also hadn’t had a husband until last week. Regardless, she didn’t expect it would last.

“Nothing to say?” Genna asked.

“Lady Frey, I--”

“Don’t call me that. I may be a Frey by marriage, but they’re known as a spineless, humorless lot. And deservedly so. I go by Lannister since my husband died, and I’d go by Genna with you.”

“Lady Genna, is that not something that would concern Jaime? Why send him away?”

“Oh this wasn’t why I came here, dear. I just wanted to judge your reaction. Oddly, you didn’t have one.”

Brienne shrugged. “My father has had many women.”

“I intend to be the last.”

Brienne might have thought this an admission of ambition, but Lady Genna was a Lannister. She did not need Lord Selwyn, or Tarth. Perhaps she had other motives. “Do you expect you will need to keep an eye on Jaime?”

“What? No, no… I just rather like your father. Plus, your island has fine weather. It doesn’t ache my bones like the Riverland nights.”

Brienne could always appreciate someone who appreciated Tarth.

“Is this the little lion, then?” Genna gestured to Galladon. He had finally fallen asleep.

Brienne didn’t want to wake him up, but she started to regardless. Genna held out a hand to stop her. “He’s sleeping, dear. Let him rest. I intend to meet him many more times in my life. What did you name him?”

“Galladon. It was my late brother’s name, and a hero--”

“Galladon of Morne, yes, I am familiar with the story. I’m sure your island would love to finally call a Galladon their lord.”

Brienne nodded.

“Has anyone else commented on your Dornish twins?”

“Pardon?”

“I mean, besides that fiasco at the wedding.”

“I’m afraid I’m not familiar with the term ‘Dornish twins’.” Is it meant to be an insult?

“When two children are born to the same father but a different mother within the year.”

“Oh. No, there have been no untoward comments.”

“That’s good.” Genna sat on the bed near Brienne as though they were friends already. “You do love Jaime, don’t you? And he says you know everything about him. As much as his brother knows?”

Brienne’s chin rose. “More than his brother knows.”

“I confess, I didn’t think there was more.”

“Jaime needs Tyrion to look up to him. But he and I were adversaries for a time. He rejoiced in scandalizing me.” She blushed a little at the memory.

“That didn’t scare you off, though?”

“He accidentally told me all the good with the bad, so it had… a different effect than he had intended.”

Genna laughed heartily. The room filled with the sound. Galladon didn’t even stir in the crook of Brienne’s arm. “Gods love you, child. I think you’ll do him well.”

They sat in silence a while longer, both watching Galladon sleep. There was nothing uncomfortable about the quiet now.

“When my sons were babes, they would wail to no end.”

“Alys was a loud one.”

“This one looks quiet.”

“So far. He’s quite young yet.”

“Indeed. Well, I’ll leave you to it. If I don’t see you before my boat leaves… well, write to me. Your father will, at any rate, and one raven can carry two scrolls as easily as one.”

“I’ll tell Jaime.”

“You can, but I mean you. Young men don’t ever remember to write. I complained to him, and he said his writing hand was gone, so he couldn’t. As though he couldn’t find a scribe anywhere in the world.” She tutted fondly.

“He’s not as young as he used to be,” Brienne supplied unhelpfully.

“At my age, they all look young. Plus, he has an energetic young wife and two young children, so I think that counts, dear girl. You’ll be keeping him young for a while yet, that’s my bet. And you seem a natural mother. I’m sure you’ll be filling this empty keep soon enough.”

Brienne’s cheeks pinked. It was an honest compliment. Lady Genna had not once called her beautiful, but young, energetic-- both true things. And a natural mother. Was that also the truth? She hadn’t been a mother long enough to know what it even meant.

Unbidden, Brienne remembered drinking green sludge in the bowels of the Red Keep to make her milk come in for Alys. The smell had mad Arya sick. Even delivering Galladon amid pain and blood had been nothing compared to those dark days, already knowing that Arya would be cutting the child out of Cersei, already knowing that her own body held the only key the babe’s survival or death. Every time Brienne saw Alys, her drooly smile or her wide green eyes or her feather-soft blonde hair, she knew. I saved her, with my own body, only because I was determined to. It was a heady feeling, a powerful feeling. She looked down at little Galladon. I made him of my own flesh. She could understand why women wanted to make children. It was the greatest power in the world, a deeper magic than anything Bran Stark could do. Perhaps she was a natural mother after all.

Genna touched her hair fondly. “Get your sleep, dear. Don’t let your babes or your husband take it from you. That’s the best advice I can give.”

Brienne nodded her genuine thanks. No one seemed to be giving her any practical advice these days, and she realized that she knew so few people with children. Suddenly, she ached to ask Genna to stay, to help. She pressed her lips together and said nothing, though. Would a truly natural mother need to beg for help?

Genna slipped out of the room and Brienne breathed deeply. She suddenly felt very alone in the world, with two tiny lives depending on the decisions she made. Lives have depended on me before. Yes, Renly and Catelyn Stark and Jaime Lannister. Two dead, one missing a hand. She looked down at Galladon. There was also Sansa Stark, Queen of the Seven Kingdoms. There was Alys. Galladon was delivered in a soft bed on Tarth after traveling half the length of the Seven Kingdoms and surviving the Last War from inside her body. I am getting better at protecting those I love. At least her early failures had not deterred her from trying. If they had, Jaime would be dead, Sansa would be dead, Alys and Galladon would not even exist. I learn from my mistakes. She could write Genna for help, at least. That was a surprisingly soothing thought. Galladon whimpered and gaped, his body stretching stiffly and his neck turning towards her breast. She offered it and he settled back to nurse. He was doing better at keeping down the milk. She drifted with her son on feelings of mutual beguilement.

*****

JAIME

The door to the nursery swung open. Genna entered and closed it behind her.

“Have you heard of knocking?” Jaime asked, less annoyed than amused.

“I’m leaving in two days with the delegation from the Riverlands.”

“So soon?”

“Oh, I’ll be back. But first, I’ve secured Tyrion’s suggested bride for my grandson.”

“Anicia, of the Lannisport Lannisters?”

“You have a good memory.”

“Do you expect me to come to the wedding?” Jaime asked.

“Oh, I know you can’t. It will be within the year, but your Galladon will hardly be old enough to travel, and you may have another on the way by then, who knows?”

“Another?”

“Come, Jaime. I’m no fool.”

“Within the year is much too soon,” he said feebly.

“Well, it depends on the lady.” She shrugged.

“I hope you didn’t just come from telling my wife that she’ll be with child again within the year.”

“No, no. I came from asking her what she sees in a rogue like you, as it happens.” Genna’s eyes were laughing.

“Shadows of virtues,” he answered honestly.

“Virtues in shadows, mayhaps. What are those Tarth words? Bringing a light or something?”

“A light in the darkness.”

“Yes, that.” She nodded. “I suppose that’s on account of being on the eastern side of Westeros. From the Stormlands, the sun would appear to rise in Tarth. And anywhere on Tarth the sun would set in the West, over Evenfall.”

“And the Evenstar.” Jaime added.

Genna nodded. “It’s an old island, occupied since the First Men and on the front lines of every invasion thereafter.” Her vision strayed to the tapestry behind Kelsa’s cot, the very same one Alys was currently trying to chew on. It was pretty, but Jaime had never paid it any mind. It was an image of a setting sun-- yellow and orange-- sinking into the ocean. On either side, waves of blue water were painted by the pink rays of sunlight and the white froth of spray. Above the sun hung seven stars. Jaime had seen it many times, but had never really looked at it.

Her aunt’s eyes turned back to him. “If you’re not careful, your wife and her father will turn you into a myth on this little island. Or perhaps that’s what your after?”

“Nothing would please me less.”

“Then you be mindful not to do too good a job as their lord.” She tapped the tapestry. “They like their sky symbolism, these islanders. Stay on the ground.”

“I’ll do my best.”

She smiled brightly. “Your lady wife will write to me. You’re welcome to include a note, though I don’t expect you will. Once we all leave, this place will be pretty lonely for a girl nursing two babes. There’s a reason women stick together, you know. It’s because raising children is hard, boring work.”

“She won’t be raising them alone. I want to put in the work. And I hope she will want to go back to her swordwork. She’s too talented to put it aside for children. My talent is gone,” he held up his gold hand, “But she's still young and could easily become the best Westeros has ever seen.”

Genna patted him on the arm. “I can see you have ambition for her. You just make sure she has ambition for herself before you push her off on some tourney circuit.”

It had never occurred to Jaime that Brienne might not want to continue her swordwork. Of course she would. Still, he heard his aunt. It was Brienne’s life and he had to give her space to live it as she would.

“You should consider taking a squire,” Genna continued. “Someone from the Westerlands so they know you haven’t forgotten them.”

“Tyrion is there--”

“No, Tyrion’s in King’s Landing. He may be Lord of Casterly Rock, but the great place is empty as a tomb these days. Gods willing, he’ll fill it with children soon enough. Do you suppose his children would be normal size?”

Jaime bristled at the question. “I can’t imagine I’d care.”

“You might not, but others will. Don’t be so dim, Jaime.”

“I can’t help what other people think.”

“I’m just asking you to think about fostering a boy or two to squire, not changing the opinions of the world.”

“What about taking a girl to squire?”

She shrugged. “You’ll do as you will regardless of what I say. Just-- too much change all at once can be vexing for people.”

“The lion does not bother itself with the opinions of sheep,” Jaime parroted.

“Oh, your father may have talked a big game, but if he truly didn’t care, he would have been a gentler man. No, your father cared very much about the opinions of sheep. The lion can only feast while the sheep slumber at his gates.”

“Brienne doesn’t care what others think of her.”

“Everyone cares, Jaime. It’s human nature.” She patted him on the shoulder. “You’d do well to remember that when this little one gets older.” She gestured to Alys, who was standing, gripping a chair and bouncing up and down. Sometimes she would let go and balance for a moment before falling on her rear. She always got up and started again, though.

“What do you mean?” asked Jaime.

“People will say things to her. You can command her not to care all you like, but she’ll be a young lady like any other. No one cares what others think more than a young lady.”

Jaime thought of Brienne’s distaste for roses because a stupid young knight threw one at her once. He heard the truth in his aunt’s words. Gods, he did not want to think of Alys as a budding woman yet. She couldn’t even walk! One thing at a time, he told himself. To his aunt he said, “Well, you’ll be around then to help, won’t you?”

“Perhaps more so than you imagine.” She winked and left the room. Jaime could only wonder at her meaning.

*****

BRIENNE

Within a week of his birth, Galladon seemed to wake to the world. His eyes were open now. Seemingly all the time, including in the middle of the night. He was quieter than Alys had ever been. He discovered his thumb, and that helped. Mostly, he insisted on nursing nonstop and did his best to keep Brienne awake for every moment of it.

This drudgery was punctuated by solemn goodbyes. The goodbyes did not sadden her; she was ready to be alone in the quiet with her family. She and Jaime would be moving to the royal apartments as soon as King Jon and Queen Sansa returned to King’s Landing. Their departure came much too quickly, though. Brienne hugged Sansa but was particularly surprised to find that she desperately wished Tyrion would stay. He had been on Tarth so long now that he had become part of the household long before there had been a wedding. He also kept Podrick company. This was in addition to what he seemed to do for Jaime, who was considerably more carefree in the presence of his brother. Even Alys loved Tyrion, and he held her close as he hugged a kneeling Jaime goodbye. When Jaime stood, Brienne foisted Galladon onto him and kneeled herself to hug Tyrion. She rarely hugged anyone, but it might be years before Tyrion could find time to return here. He laughed as she awkwardly closed her arms around him and Alys. She rose quickly, embarrassed at his laughter, but his face showed no malice. Perhaps he was just surprised. He handed her back Alys, and Jaime and Brienne watched the delegation from King’s Landing ride down to the boats and sail into the sunset.

The following day, the delegation from the Riverlands left, bringing with them many of the guests bound for other parts of the Stormlands. The day after that, the Ironborn ships sailed for Dorne and the Reach. They would return to the Iron Islands by way of the Westerlands, so when the kraken flags no longer flew in the harbor, Evenfall Hall was empty.

Maester Coelum came to her after the last boats had departed and asked her to spread her legs so he could tell whether to take the stitches out. He tutted at her from between her thighs.

“My lady, have you been taking twice daily baths as you ought?”

Brienne rearranged her undergarments and sat up. “Two baths a day is a waste of water.” Tarth didn’t have the luxuries of Winterfell or Harrenhal-- there were no hot springs running water through the walls, or large baths filled by underground water sources. Evenfall Hall’s water was hauled across a gully from a waterfall that cascaded down the nearest mountain. It was rain that had percolated through rock. There were also large catchment basins, but this water was used for livestock mainly. Brienne had grown up aware of her water use; if she used too much, someone else may have to go without. At the worst, if the keep ran dry, carts would take skins down to a marsh where the freshwater ran into the Narrow Sea, and have to haul the water back up through the town. Brienne had seen this happen five or six times in her life. It was hard work for all involved, and always followed by careful water rationing.

“One, then? I don’t think you’re even taking one,” Maester Coelum supplied.

She frowned. She also considered a bath every day-- especially when you were not exercising much-- to be a waste.

“The catchments and reservoir are full. Even the wedding did not deplete them, my lady. The winter touched Tarth, and snow fell on the mountains. It’s melting now, and the streams are swollen.”

“Fine,” she answered, “I will take one bath a day.”

“Good, though I worry you will also need to pour some wine or vinegar over the stitches. The bath won’t be enough at this point.”

“Vinegar! On my… in…”

“Sorry, my lady, I only want your stitches to heal enough that I can take them out. I’ve a duty to your father to make sure you don’t die of a fever.” He smiled, and she thought it was the first time she’d ever seen him joke. He seemed dull and sterile usually. She admitted that his lack of personally made it easier to be naked before him. Now, though, there was some amusement in his eyes. He cleared his throat. “I think it best if I administer the vinegar.”

“No.”

“Milady, you can’t reach--”

“I’ll reach well enough.”

He paused for a long moment, then nodded. “Very well. I’ll have a maid bring it.”

She was happy to see the door shut behind him.

That night, she took a bath as ordered. Jaime sat nearby, chattering on at Galladon and Alys. She wondered if she was fated to always have an audience for her baths. She didn’t mind, but she couldn’t very well pour vinegar over herself with an audience. Her bath grew long as she waited for them to grow tired and leave. Eventually she couldn’t put off getting out of the water any longer. It was growing ice cold.

She stepped out and wrapped a towel around herself. She hesitated. Finally, she turned to Jaime. “I’m a bit hungry, do you think you could go to the kitchens and fetch something?”

“I’ll call for a maid.” He stood, Galladon still in the elbow of his currently handless right arm. The babe cried when the cold metal touched his skin, so Jaime left the gold hand off more now. The sight of his stump used to cause heady flutters between her thighs, but at the moment, all she felt between her thighs was the ache of stitches.

“No. Just something small. Don’t bother a maid over an apple.”

He tilted his chin. “Something so small is even easier for a maid to fetch.”

“But... only you know how I like it.” She was truly desperate to get him to leave the room, but it sounded ridiculous even to herself.

His eyes narrowed. He was suspicious. “How you like it? The apple? I think the maid can figure out you want one without worms, Brienne.”

She blushed as red as the fruit she had requested. “I just… I’d like a moment to dress. In private.”

Jaime’s eyebrows rose. He seemed to guess her problem, though, because he refused, instead saying, “Wife. I don’t expect that childbirth has left your body unchanged. Any battle will leave marks. Soldiers carry scars. I won’t be less attracted to you because there’s some skin around your belly.”

But that wasn’t it. She found herself biting her lip, a habit she had tried to break herself of. Finally, she could see that he would not relent. “I assure you I’m not speaking of vanity. I have a medical issue I’d like to see to in private.”

It was a miscalculation. His eyes turned hard, his chin flexed. “What?” he asked. There was no more joking in his voice.

“That’s between myself and Maester Coelum.”

“So, you tell me. Otherwise I’ll have to scare it out of the maester. You know I can.”

She did know. He could terrify anyone. He was the Kingslayer. All of Tarth seemed to be holding its breath, waiting for him to slaughter some other sacred vow. Killing a maester was nothing to killing a Targaryen King. Aerys was his ‘Rains of Castamere’, the thing he could always bring back to terrify his foes. He hated to do it, loathed to do it, Brienne knew. It made him sick to lean on his own false identity in such a way, to pretend his most honorable act was the reason none should trust him. But she had gone and told him that she had a medical issue. He would threaten the maester without a second thought if he thought Brienne was in danger of illness or death. He would. Seven hells.

She sighed. For his own sake, she gave in. “My stitches are not healing as they should, and Maester Coelum wants me to pour vinegar over them after my bath. It’s… I’d just as soon not have you… it can’t be pretty. Down there.”

His eyes softened and he nodded. He scooped up Alys in his left arm and opened the door. Brienne felt relief wash over her, but it was premature. Jaime turned back to her and said, “I’m taking the children back to Alia. I’ll be right back to speak about this properly.”

But when he came back empty-handed, he did not speak. He draped a clean blanket over the bed and bundled up some towels, then insisted she lie down.

“Jaime.”

“Lie down, Brienne.” He looked up and her eyes caught his, but they weren’t his at all. This was a Jaime she had rarely seen-- someone dull and dead to the outside world. His eyes were empty jewels, his jaw set. The last time he had directed this absent glare at her, he’d been leaving Winterfell. The time before, he’d had his hand hanging around his neck. She felt terror rise in her unbidden. She obeyed meekly, too scared to fight this stranger in her husband’s skin.

The bed shifted under her, and she spread her legs as Jaime poured vinegar into a basin. He set a chair at the foot of the bed. She watched as he dipped a rag in the vinegar and squeezed it out with one hand. He held her legs open with his stump as he slowly dragged the damp cloth across her womanhood. She bit her lip at the sting, the sour scent mingling with another smell-- something foul and familiar. Rotting flesh. The maester had not lied. She swallowed hard.

Despite the emptiness of his eyes, Jaime was gentle and methodical, trying to open her outer lips to wipe the cloth across her inner lips, closer to the stitches. She’d tried to feel them-- a jagged line that was more numb than pain. Even now with the vinegar, the sting was muted.

Jaime took a deep breath, steeling himself, then said “Cersei--” He paused, shook his head, and continued. “She was never anything but perfect. Do you understand?”

She nodded. She understood well. Cersei was beautiful, with a full bosom and long soft hair. Perhaps he was trying to tell her that Cersei had never torn like this. Cersei was always perfect.

He shook his head again. “You don’t. I need you to understand. She was never-- she never let anyone see her weakness, least of all me. She needed to be seen as perfect. It makes one feel… terribly inadequate to constantly be told you mirror such perfection. I felt that, had I any flaws, I must keep them as far from her as humanly possible. I sometimes felt like an imposter in my own skin, trying to be who she saw. When the Mummers took my hand, my own mummery was put to bed, though. Without a sword hand, I could be nothing but weak. She said the stump disgusted her, but that wasn’t it.”

He had continued to wipe her the entire time he spoke. She didn’t want to break the spell of his words, so she tried to be still and quiet. He looked up and met her eyes and she saw that her Jaime was back. “Brienne,” he sighed needfully. “She was disgusted by my imperfection. By the knowledge that I was only a mere mortal. It might mean she was only flesh and blood as well.” His smile was sharp and devoid of joy.

He returned to his ministrations, his eyes focused between her legs. He shook his head. “That’s not love. You taught me that. You waded into a cold stream and cleaned my own filth from between my thighs and thought none the less of me for being human, for dying as easily as any other man. Though at the time, one wonders whether you could think less of me. Your opinion was quite low as I recall.” He smiled fondly at this.

“Jaime,” she interrupted, but he would not let her.

“Shhh. Let me finish. When you--- I need you trust me enough to be vulnerable with me. Do you understand?”

Considering he was speaking of Cersei while pouring vinegar over her newly-mangled womanhood, she felt she could not get much more vulnerable than he had her now. She tried to answer, but he did not give her time.

“Let me love you as you are, an imperfect creature made of flesh and blood-- or else I’d rather not love at all. I can’t feel love for someone who hides from me. I won’t.

She bit her lip, and fought against the lump in her throat. He finished his ministrations and helped her into rag-filled undergarments. Next, she pulled a flimsy and low-cut night dress-- something fit for nursing-- over her head. She sat carefully. Her hands shook.

“Jaime,” she started again. “I’m so afraid you’ll wake up one day and find me wanting, that you’ll go.”

“I know, and I know I’m the cause of that.” He sat closer to her, wrapping his right arm around her back. “What I did was unforgivable--”

“It wasn’t.” She shook her head. “Alys--”

“I could have told you. I should have. Instead, I broke your heart, and worse, your trust. I understand I may have to earn it back. I do. And I know it’s hard for you to let down your guard, as it is for any soldier. Mayhaps that’s why it’s so dear to me when you do let me see your weakness.”

“I’m sorry,” she whispered meekly. Trusting Jaime in battle came to her as easily as breathing. Trusting him in her bed had been harder, but that battle was won. Trusting him with her wound-- with the knowledge that she was in some way as fragile as any other woman, and perhaps more so than most-- was agony. She had too much pride, perhaps.

“Don’t be sorry,” he whispered. “This is not your fault, none of it. I didn’t come to you a young and untried boy, but a broken man. It’s not your fault that my sister twisted me up in knots and you find yourself having to untangle them.”

She ran a hand through his hair. “I wouldn’t know what to do with a boy.”

“Nonsense. You trained Pod well.”

“I mean, in my bed.”

He smiled at that. “Yes, you are far too much woman for anyone less than Ser Jaime the Just, I think.”

“Don’t tease.”

“Oh, I’m not teasing. I very much mean it.” He laid a kiss at the side of her neck.

“Jaime… I can’t… I’m not able to lie with you for a while yet.”

“Don’t you think I know that? I’m trying to kiss my wife, not make another babe.”

“But you do think you’ll want another? Even though I… even with this wound?”

He pulled back at this and looked in her eyes. She did not turn away. She was brave enough for this.

“Brienne, do you think this makes you less of a mother? Less able to bear children?”

“Doesn’t it?”

Jaime huffed. “I’m no maester, but I’ve heard most women tear with their first. Cersei did, certainly, not that I ever saw her wound until after it was well healed.”

Brienne’s stomach turned at the thought of Jaime-- her Jaime-- staring into Cersei’s womanhood. He loved Cersei for many years. Of course he would compare our womanhoods. In that case, he certainly found Brienne’s wanting.

“Don’t do that,” he hissed.

“What?”

“It’s like I can see you piling insecurities upon yourself, wife.”

“I can’t compare to her--”

“I didn’t marry you for what is between your legs, but it is terribly beautiful and lesser men might have done. I thought so even in Harrenhal. And with the wound that comes from giving me a trueborn son, it’s only more beautiful. I do understand if you are happy with one child--”

“Two,” she interrupted. “Please. Never leave Alys out.”

“Two children is quite enough for most people,” he continued. “If you want no more, I am happy. But don’t think you are in some way broken.”

“What if I do want more?” Her voice was more or less a whisper, but when she turned to him, he was smiling like the sun.

“As long as I am whole, I will never deny you a thing.”

She jostled his right arm and raised an eyebrow.

“As long as my cock can stand, I mean.”

She blushed as she chanced to look towards his trousers. It appeared to be standing even now.

He caught her gaze and dipped his head to kiss her neck again. “What can I say, I love my wife.”

She let herself drift into the haze of his well-practiced kisses. She was finally believing that she need not expect this happiness to end, not until the Stranger took her world-worn husband. And even then, the Stranger best hope he had trained well, because Brienne would not relinquish Jaime without a fight.