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The Brightness

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The announcement of her father’s death came just in time for Brienne and Jaime not to hurt each other beyond the bounds of manageable –daily– forgiveness that married life entails. It was she who would hurt him, it was he who had hurt their daughter. It was their daughter who had hurt their son. It was their son who would give everything for all of them to reconcile and move on. 

Arthur was a quirky boy. Brienne was sure he would grow far  brighter than either she, Jaime or Joanna were; but being bright was not the same as being cunning, and cunning he needed be if he was to survive and thrive in this House. He had Jaime’s heart but none of his strength or quick temper; and he loved his older sister, no matter how unkind she could be when things didn’t go her way, but he was lost on how to defend himself. Hiding was his method of choice. And hiding he did more often when his sister began demanding him more and more for training. She was not as good with the sword as the other girls her age and she was making it a habit to take it upon her brother, whom, of course, she could beat easily.

Joanna was growing tall like Brienne, but unlike Brienne, she was also growing to be extremely beautiful. She inherited her father’s eyes and handsome features, it was no use to fool themselves into thinking she did not look a lot like her late aunt. She liked fighting in imitation of her mother, whom she revered, and her unskillfulness drove her mad. She had a temper and was prompt to jealousy. She also had a lot of pride. The relatives and workers at Casterly Rock didn’t help. Little Goddess, they began calling her as she grew tall and lean, no matter her parent’s protests. She felt safe the most when imposing her will on them all.

They were just eleven and eight but already so well traced it sent Brienne shivers. Jaime loved them, unconditionally, but as they became more their own selves and less a response to their father’s jokes and orders, her husband had found it harder and harder to form a bond, especially with Jo. He could not help it, he became harsh and distant whenever Jo was “showing the signs”. Whatever “the signs” might mean. It was hard for Brienne to provide love for both parents, and Jo was not blind to notice the way in which her father increasingly looked at her with alarm in his eyes. Brienne was convinced this was a circle: the more Jo resented her father’s distance, the more vicious she became in front of him, the more distance he would take, and so on. Jo would show her softer side to her mother alone, and Brienne feared that Jo was taking this, once more, as a competition, this time against her father, with the goal being to win all of her mother’s love.

The debacle of that day had come as they both arrived from Kayce. It was stressful enough to leave them alone for a week, but the Draining had gotten worse, the fishing reduced now to a quarter of the previous year, and they thought it better to split the tasks and return quickly than to leave all the work to one of them. They gave orders, checked the numbers, planned for provisions and interrogated the merchants and the fishermen; there was no apparent cause for the lack of fish, and it was happening all across the Western coasts. Some, the superstitious ones, related the singularity as a sign of the Brightness: the supposed day when the Sun would stop in the sky and night would be no longer for a hundred years. Neither Jaime nor Brienne had time for any of that nonsense; they did not even know when was it exactly that the story came to be. They had first heard about it, of course, through Arthur, who already at the age of six had a knack for inquiring around about these and other such types of eccentric prophecies.

Exhausted they came at night to find Joanna peacefully asleep and Arthur nowhere to be found. The servants had no idea as to where the boy could be so Brienne had no choice but to wake up her daughter to make inquiries.

“Ah, in his hiding place, probably.” Jo said sheepishly.

“He has many.” Brienne said.

“Try the library.” And she closed her eyes again as if she could not help her somnolence.

Brienne intuited, of course, something was off but proceeded to the library with Jaime, who had stood at the door. To their horror, a table had been pushed over one of the book cabinets: husband and wife immediately knew what had happened. Jaime rushed into moving the table to liberate their son. They found him curled up in a ball, fast asleep. Jaime was livid, his face red. He rushed out of the library and Brienne either could have chased him down or pick up her son and take him to bed. She chose the second and she came to regret it.

“You are being hateful, Joanna, when will this stop? Are you going to be this hateful for the rest of your life?”

She got to hear as she hurried back into her daughter’s chamber. Jaime was standing next to her bed, Joanna’s fixed glare on him made Brienne tremble: a mixture of anger, sadness, and hate. She spotted her mother and her gaze changed as if saying: ‘save me from this monster’.

Curse this day, Brienne thought, these words will be hard to forget.

 

Jo felt asleep in her arms, still, the time was approaching when she would no longer hold her daughter like a child. ‘It was a game, she had said sobbing, but he hates me, he cannot stand the sight of me, that is the truth’. Brienne had only hushed her and held her. Once again, Jaime’s overreaction had forced her to underreact in compensation. She kissed Joanna’s forehead and left the room for the second time that night. All she wanted was her bed, but she knew one more hard conversation was pending.

“This cannot continue on.” Brienne said. She was sitting at the edge of the bed, looking at Jaime look at the fire. He had been waiting for her, still dressed.

“You think I don’t know that?”

“Well, something needs to change”.

Jaime breathed and turned to face her.

“I was thinking I could go to Kings Landing to report on the fish shortages. Ask for help…”

Brienne could not believe this.

“Jaime, that would make it far worse.”

“You are the one who is always saying how my presence just irritates her.”

Her? She wanted to say but contained herself.

“I didn’t say that, I said that your serious and harsh demeanor in front of her…” But Jaime was only half listening. Brienne sighed; maybe this was not the time for complicated arguing. “Jaime, she is eleven and you are her father.”

Her husband gave her a helpless look. He, both of them, had managed somehow to keep on adding, on and on, year after year, to the weight they could carry upon their shoulders. Ruling the Lannister state was a lonesome task. Unlike Winterfell -or even King’s Landing- a steadfast, intransigent hold on everything and everyone was constantly required. Their life was as much as running the lands as was about looking behind their shoulders, always, to figure out who was plotting to grab more power, take advantage, get their way. Remembering how free they had been on their wedding day and the days and months that followed, Brienne rose from the bed to grab her husband’s face, caress his lips with her fingers.

“I am boring, nasty and irresponsible, that is what you are saying?” He said softly.  

“Is that what I am saying?”

“No.”

But he turned, losing her hold on his face.

“Where are you going?”

“My room.”

Naturally, no castle in Westeros lacked a separate room for the Lord and the Lady. Jaime never used his.

“Arthur hides from swordfights, what are you hiding from?”

Jaime turned again.

“You, being mad for hearing what I really think.”

Gods, since when did we begin withholding our thoughts.

“It’s my problem if I get mad.” She said firmly.

“You take her side, all the time, I am left to look like the villain.”

“And how would she grow up to be with both parents constantly scolding her?”

“It’s confusing. As long as you are there to comfort her right after I tell her off, she will keep on believing she cannot do anything wrong. That it’s personal, me against her. ”  

Maybe not all, but how much of it is in your head, my love? The past few years Brienne began reflecting that their marriage was presently standing on three pillars. The first one was love, and she was convinced this one was unbreakable: it would last forever, no matter what happened.  The second one was mutual trust: insecurities, adaptation, House Lannister petty fights, and children -especially the last year and especially in terms of Jo- made this pillar subject to tiny daily erosions that needed tiny daily repairs. It was doable, they even enjoyed doing it.

The third pillar, though, was feeble and yet untouchable.  Perhaps they would never have needed it had Jaime not become Warden of the West. She did not have a name for it because it precisely entailed all those things they would leave unspoken, unnamed for the time being.  At some point Brienne and Jaime decided that life was already too tough as it was for them to keep on pondering and remembering and bringing old wounds –healed or not- into their and their children’s present. Someday, they liked to say, they would talk to Jo and Arthur about their former lives, better than them finding things out somewhere else. In the meantime, though, they would make sure that no stories or histories would be passed to them by those living in or around the Castle. It was a dictum meant for everyone else, and Brienne could not point out exactly when it was her and Jaime the ones living more bounded to it. ‘How did you lose your hand, father?’ ‘Defending your mother.’; ‘How did you get those scars, mother?’ ‘Defending your father’. Barely the whole truth if the truth at all, but like with many other answers of the sort, they became too accustomed to them, almost believing for themselves that was all there was to know. And Jo, wild, uncontrollable Jo, is such a constant reminder that this is false. It is false that the past is past, over and done with, it is false that all our wounds are completely closed. Our daughter is the reminder of the blood still dripping -from time to time- from our scars.

Each parent in its own way was hurting her because both of them were too coward to recognize what she was bringing to the light: ashes of wildfire.

Adding and adding more weight, each day, and burying and burying things deeper into the ground. Brienne was too exhausted not to be angry, too exhausted to have a conversation both of them had sadly lost the shape to have. You are right, if we are going to have this sort of talks in the bedroom, maybe we should sleep separately more often. She hated herself for thinking, and she would have hated herself more for saying. Mad as it sounded, though, she was at the point of preferring such straining between them rather than opening up the ground with both of them utterly unprepared for the fall.

It was the knock on the door that saved her.

“My Lord, my Lady; a most urgent matter.” It was Maester Golwyn on the other side.

“Come in”. Brienne said.

The old, bald Maester came in, carrying a sullen face.

“I just received a Raven,” he said, “it’s your father, My Lady, I am deeply sorry.”

The Maester handed the parchment to Brienne.  She and Jaime read from it at the same time.

He held her tight as she made a ball with the paper on her fist. She buried herself in his neck, and her tears began to flow as refreshing rain.

Thank you father, she thought, for everything. Please make us strong, if you are listening, from wherever you are now, please, look out for us.

Chapter Text

Whenever they were in Tarth, she smelled and sounded like seawater... One more item along the list of things he resented himself for taking away from her. It was her choice, she chose me. More often than not, Jaime would think about his mother and the way his father fell apart after he lost her; how much he understood now, how less judgmental he had become. Jaime and Brienne had been able to conceive their first child only after three years of happily trying.  It was a joy when Shyla was born, Brienne even let him get away with the name. It came from a song he remembered his mother singing, Shyla, Shyla the bravest and yet so sweet. Maybe it was not Shyla at all, but Shyra or Shyna. But it was Shyla what he remembered and continued to sing to himself some days, sometimes, even all the way into adulthood whenever he deemed it was better to go away inside. It was a welcomed, very blissful surprise to find that Brienne was expecting again only three months after Shyla was born. Jaime wondered how much a child could feel a mother’s sorrow inside a womb. Shyla was nine months old the day they found her in her crib, eyes rolled to the back of her head, not breathing. For the first time after they had gotten married, Jaime began fearing things again. He realized he had been living, unaware, under the superstition that having Brienne by his side provided “magic” protection from all kinds of evils. But bad things happen to good people if the Starks were ever proof of that. By what right were they exempted from toil and grief? What made him think nothing of the sort could ever happen to him, again? Brienne was devastated but had another child to think about; this was, Jaime thought, the beginning of her bond and partiality for Jo. They both had eaten, swallowed the pain for her. She would have benefited from someone older, a closer example to follow and look up to. In his head, Jaime had made of Shyla perfection personified, the one who would have fix it all if only. His other children, the ones that got to grow, also got to show their humanity and limitations. His baby girl got to be an embodied angel in compensation.  

The sea breeze was entering the room, his wife laid peacefully asleep and he was going to wake her up because he wanted to make love. The children were by now on the way to visit an abandoned castle on the other side of the Isle, supervised by two septons. Jaime had come to rue his and his wife overconfidence, arrogance even, about how easy it would be to write the rules of raising children all by themselves. None of them had much trust in traditional upbringing, as both had suffered from it. They hatted cruel septas so Jo and Arthur did not have one; Ser Jayn would tell them how to fight in the yard and Maester Golwyn would teach them the letters and the numbers, but all the principles would come from Jaime and Brienne. They would be encouraged to be free and explore and discover things on their own, their parents would not even try to arrange their marriages; mad, foolish or naïve as it sounded.  If only we had known that opening new roads would turn out to be way much harder than learning how not to stumble on the bumpy ones, already laid.

Jaime began trailing kisses on his wife’s shoulder, he would be soft in waking her up, even for that he would take his time that morning. The sun on them highlighted his wrinkled hand tracing Brienne’s face, he would be fifty in a year, father already had three grandchildren at my age. It was exhausting to think about what still lay ahead. Setting examples, perpetually, being the ones who woke up first, who worked the hardest, who would turn fear into respect, crooked into fair, twisted into straight; what kind of fool supposes to turn in a few years the ways and style of a thousand-year-old House? Turn it into an unquestionably honorable house. Modeled after what? Winterfell? Ned Stark? All gods be blessed Brienne was no Catelyn, his own wife had so much more common sense. But he had stopped lying to himself about how much he really, desperately, wished to be the good fool, the honorable Ned.

Even the Blackfish would have sufficed.

 “Morning.” His sweet wife said.

He was caressing her hair, they both loved it long as she had let it be since she had gone with him to the West.

“Morning.”

Jaime moved in the bed to make his intentions clear.  

“We are free until noon… I promise I’ll be generous.” Jaime said.

“You always are.”

Chapter Text

They all had eaten crab cakes, smoked fish and butter bread on the Castle terrace by the seaside. It was a custom they had taken whenever visiting Lord Selwyn. Both his children always adopted a more tranquil behaviour whenever their grandfather was, had been, around. The past three years it had been him who had come to visit, but before the recent turmoil in the West, the family would go to Tarth every year and stay at least for a month. Jo could run out of all her energy far more easily in a place where she could climb, swim, dive and stroll freely. Arthur, as with anything involving physical effort, never actually tried any of those and was happy to stay put and talk to frogs, trees or people - Jaime had the impression he considered all of the above equally interesting conversational partners. 

Arriving two weeks after Lord Selwyn had passed away, Jo had put on a tantrum when she found out her grandfather had already been cremated before she could say goodbye and Arthur claimed he had talked to him in any case and that he had said his goodbyes all right. Nothing out of the ordinary.  Jo went to his room, searched for her grandfather's cloak with the Tarth coat of arms and asked her mother if she could keep it and wear it. Arthur was far more interested in a seagull standing at Lord Selwyn's room balcony while the negotiation was taking place. Nothing out of the ordinary.

But the sea was something all three of them had in common.  Arthur could sit in the sand looking for seashells, Jo could try and "beat the sea" by swimming against the tide, while Jaime could get drunk in sunlight. Brienne knew this was a chance for all three of them to be together in peace, so, after their meal, she left them there and went to attend matters regarding her father's state. 

And drunk in sunlight he would begin his fantasizing. All of it involved, naturally, escaping Casterly Rock with his family. There was the one about them living like commoners in the free lands and the one about Jaime exchanging places with Tyrion and letting himself be once again the one following orders, this time under a fair and acute King. There was the one, his favorite, in which he traded Casterly Rock for Highgarden with Bronn. He was rejoicing in imagining Bronn's greedy but surprised face as Jaime came with such a fantastic offer when he spotted Jo struggling to get out of a sea swirl.  

Arthur was entertained with another seagull, this one walking in the sand, and his son never touched the water in any case, so Jaime stood up and began swimming towards his daughter, fully knowing she would be displeased about him aiding her. 

“You need to swim a little bit less straight." 

“I know," Jo said as she struggled. "But I don’t become stronger if I do so”

A wave pulled her completely down. 

Jaime dived to look for her, she had already pulled herself out, so he swam to rise exactly where she was floating. 

"Let me teach you a better way, all right?" 

She looked annoyed but accepted as if she was making him the favour. He took her hand and dived with her so they could be in a place where he could touch the soil. 

"Now, I am going to hold you while you stroke" His daughter gave him the irritated look. "Trust me." 

She began stroking, all right, and not getting the point at all until Jaime let go of her and she could see how little she moved from her spot. 

"You see?" 

"Yes." She said conceding defeat. 

"Now listen carefully..."

But Jo wasn't, she was staring instead at the shore. Arthur was lying there still, arms and legs extended like a starfish. 

“What did you leave Arthur doing?”

“He was talking to a seagull,” Jaime said as a matter of course. 

Jaime spotted both panic and anger in his daughter's face.  She began swimming to the shore however she could. Jaime was not understanding so he stayed where he was for a moment. Then he saw Jo arrive at the spot where Arthur was lying, kneel, murmur something and begin punching his son's stomach. He swam back fast right then and there.  

“Toad. Castle. Duck. Harp. Eggs. Chicken.” She was saying to his brother as she punched him.

And how much he would have intervened had he not been paralyzed by the sight of his son's eyes, they were completely blank, the white spheres in his sockets shaking frantically. 

It lasted just for seconds, though, soon enough Arthur's eyes were back to normal. He was smiling to his sister, then his smile eviscerated as he saw his father. Jo punched him once more, this time, Jaime intuited, unnecessarily. 

“What is going on here?" He said with a raspy voice.

His daughter gave him a long examining look. She was calculating. Jaime knew she felt cornered. 

“He is an idiot." She finally said. " He gets inside animals’ bodies, why do you think he hides all the time? What do you think he does? He doesn't listen." 

“Why didn't you tell us anything?" Not only his voice, his whole body was also stiff now. 

“My mom..., you two are already taking care of too much as it is. I was handling it; I was teaching him not to hide..."

Arthur was looking at Jaime with an apologizing look. The little smile in his face appearing again. 

Jaime tried to breathe normally, once more. 

You have been caught; haven't you pal? 

His eyes then turned to his daughter. She was fixing her stare on him, not smiling at all. 

And you... You decided to take matters into your own hands, however you could, even if so damn clumsily, even if everyone would think the worst of you for it… 

Jaime closed his eyes for a moment as he could feel them watering.

When he opened them again, he saw, in those green eyes, his own glare staring back at him for the first time.

Chapter Text

"So, essentially, what you are saying is that just like every parent who was ever lived, lives and will ever live, you two didn’t have the hell of a clue of what was really going on with your own children?"

"That summarizes it." Her husband said defeated to his brother. 

They had not had a choice but to set sail straight to King’s Landing from Tarth the very next day they had discovered what Arthur's favorite pastime really was.  The children were happy. They would be pampered by their uncle. Besides, Podrick and Ser Davos adored her daughter and Jo did not found them that faulty. Arthur, on the other hand, revered King Bran and liked to use him as an example of the needlessness for movement whenever Ser Jayn would pressure him to give a little bit more in the training yard. Witty and sneaky was her boy just like his uncle, she was coming to realize. Brienne was always glad to see her brother, though. Only he had the talent for making everything lighter.     

"If you want to be more tranquil. " Tyrion continued. "This has been spreading around the Realm for some time, now.” 

Husband and wife looked enquiringly at Tyrion. 

"Just in King’s Landing alone, we had a squire four years ago engaging in similar trips. The daughter of a baker as well; that was two years ago. And we received ravens informing of other children in Dorne and the Riverlands… The King has not been struck by greensight in years, so the first thing we assumed was that the Three-Eyed-Raven was looking for another host…”

This did not sound good at all. Why is it that no one told them? But, of course, why would they? They had been apart from Realm matters almost since her first child was borne. Jaime and Brienne had settled the foundations for the Six-Kingdoms to be replenished by knights, but after Podrick, her boy, had become seasoned enough to become Lord Commander, Brienne and Jaime came to be primarily focused on the West. 

"When was the first occurrence of this, do you know? When was it that the Raven left Bran alone?”

Oh… Brienne understood where her husband’s thoughts were heading. Shyla…  

"I have never asked the King to give me precise dates, I know it has always been an intimate struggle for him” Jaime's expression turned even more serious. “In any case, we found about the baker’s daughter because her father told us himself, saying along she had a ‘special message’ for the King…  The girl claimed there was a weirwood tree in the Isle of Faces that was communicating with her, asking for the King ‘to find the place for eternal healing’…”

Tyrion paused. Much as she had come to appreciate him, Brienne sometimes became exasperated by her brother’s fondness for storytelling and theatricality .

“We are listening.” She said.

“The girl claimed there was a place at the heart of the Mountains of the Moon where a hidden spring laid, there one could find holy waters in which 'anyone could be restored'. This, of course, raised our attention, and we decided to send an expedition… One of our finest, Ser Galloway of the Riverlands, along with a group of twenty. We sent them following the girl’s indication... And none of them came back… We were considering sending yet another expedition when we received a raven. The message was written in blood, it was signed by Ser Galloway himself.”

“What did it say?” Asked Jaime.

Tyrion took another moment, this time, Brienne noticed, not out of theatrical impulses. His face was disturbed as if just by the memory.

“The time of reckoning has come, await for the Brightness, where no stone will be left unturned and we’ll see each other as we truly are.”

“Was he…” Brienne began asking.

“He was one of the most balanced, even-tempered men I have ever known, dear sister.”   

At that moment Ser Podrick came to the room.

“Ser Jaime, the King is ready for your audience.”

Jaime gave Brienne a long thoughtful look, the placed his hand on her leg, caressed it for a moment and pushed himself up to rise from his sit.

“We’ll talk more about this.” He said before leaving with Podrick. Every time they came to King’s Landing Jaime would take the time to visit the King alone. It was a deep bond the two of them shared, one in which she never liked to intrude.    

"How are you, my dear?" Said Tyrion now alone with her.  

She was going to answer ‘I’ve been better’ if not by the fact she heard the door open again. This time it was Jo coming in; Brienne immediately suspected she had been waiting half hidden in the hallway for her father to leave the room so she could come. Tyrion beamed immediately, it was no secret the love he had for his niece. 

"Mom, Ser Davos is inviting me to one of the ships, he wants to show me the workings of a new type of rudder. Can I go?”

“Why are you asking for permission?" Brienne said instinctively with a mistrustful tone. Tyrion smirked. Jo looked a little bit perplexed.

"Because Ser Davos asked me to ask you."

"And why didn't you tell him you had already asked?" Tyrion enquired teasingly.

Joanne gave her uncle a reproachful stare and a conceding smile.


"Because lying is wrong, sweet uncle." 

"Are you feeling well, sweet niece?"

“What about your brother?” Brienne said interrupting the game.

“He is with all the young Tarly boys,” Jo replied.

“Oh, I spotted one of them drooling over you when you got here,” Tyrion said to Joanna.

“What idiots boys are, aren’t they? I wonder…, will they all continue into men like that?”

Brienne rolled her eyes. Tyrion, of course, could not let the opportunity pass.

“If you care to elaborate a little bit more, maybe I’ll be able to answer the question.”

“He is the only one fit to fight among that flabby pack, but he was not interested in my friendship two years ago, he wouldn’t even look at me, too occupied with more important matters. Now he seems willing to teach me anything I want, all his time suddenly mine, all kinds of favors he is willing to do; nothing has changed except that I don’t look much like a child anymore. I am pleasant to his eyes. That wasn’t my merit, was it? I just ate and I grew. You never grew, sweet uncle, that wasn’t your merit either. If we are not to hold that against you, why should this stupid boy hold this for me?”

Tyrion gave a loud proud laugh.

“Excellent! This is music to my ears, how well raised you are… But tell me now, unfair as it is, why shouldn’t you benefit from it?”

Brienne decided not to intervene, becoming curious about what her daughter would answer.

 “Oh, maybe I should…, and he would be all the more idiot for that. I don’t have any esteem for him now, yet he wouldn’t care how bad I treat him. I could be hateful towards him and he wouldn’t know any better. That is not someone to trust…” Brienne closed her eyes, that was a wording she did not like at all but Tyrion wouldn’t know the place from which her daughter was surely speaking. “Now tell me, sweet uncle, will all men be the same?”

“I am afraid most will, sweet niece.”

“Then I’ll have nothing to do with most, if at all.”

Tyrion rose his eyebrows, inclining his head to look at Brienne, surely expecting the mother to make a statement on such a determined and singular remark.

“You can go, Joanna, don’t make Ser Davos strain himself much, all right?” Was all that Brienne said.  

“All right, mother, thank you.” She gave each a kiss and went out from where she came.

“Maybe she likes girls better?” Tyrion said as they heard Joanna’s steps walk away.

“I wish it was that simple…” Brienne sighed. “Girls are also stupid in her eyes, but for other reasons. You should be counted amongst the lucky few.”

“Ah, it’s mutual. She is a force to reckon with, she reminds me of Sansa Stark… after she became queen.”

“You know Sansa offered me to foster her a year ago?”

“I am not surprised. It’s a northern practice, they like children tough and rough, Eddard Stark was fostered at the Eyrie when he was eight… Wolves have a high value for self-reliant cubs.”

 “Not only northeners, it seems,  Jaime loved the idea. I didn’t, of course..., it was a fight.”

“And as I can surely assume, Sansa came first to you alone with her offer… So at least you had the trust to spill it out, must wives would have shut up about it and let it pass.”

“When it comes to my husband, I’ll take a difficult truth and a certain fight over an easy lie and a possible resentment… any day.”

Only when it comes to your husband?”

Brienne knew what Tyrion was implying.

“Not the time, please.”

“Ever since the Galloway incident, I have been reflecting, sister, on the Brightness menace… How would we all live if everything came to the light? Imagine a life in which all of us were carrying our sins in our foreheads… You, of course, would have few… if any.”  

“What nonsense are you talking about, I married your brother!” Brienne said jestingly. 

And as she heard Tyrion's loud laughter she could feel her heart warming. It felt good to be surrounded by a pack of people she loved and trust. It was just the briefest of moments in which she felt thankful for Arthur’s secret and their discovery.  Westeros was such a big place… The lone wolf dies but the pack survives. It was a Stark motto.

But it was a Stark Realm in which they were all living now.

Chapter Text

“You are growing a beard?” Jaime said after properly kneeling and greeting Bran as a Lord should toward his King.

“What, do I look absurd?” His King replied as Jaime began pacing what had come to be called the Smaller Throne Room, taking a look at the new banners, stained glasses, and tapestries.  

“On the contrary, you could finally pass for a King now.” He responded.

King Bran smirked.

“You are passing less and less for a Lord though, more like an ill-tempered sailor I would say.”

“Don’t tell me… Ser Davos? Is that how low I have reached?”  Jaime had stopped at one of the tapestries, at the center of it a strong bearded man was portrayed on his knees, his head bent down, a sword about to cut it. The legend below read: The execution of Lord Eddard Stark by King Joffrey Baratheon. Bran was not answering so he turned to see the King’s fixed stare on him.

“I had that made some months ago, an exact representation as I remember it.”  

“Here I was hoping you would never finish with the 300 years of Targaryen ruling...”

“There is one more tapestry coming, the one culminating that collection I wanted your approval on.”

“Let me guess, a seventeen-year-old boy sitting on the Iron Throne, a bloody sword on his hands, a bloody King at his feet…”

Bran nodded sovereignly.

“If you had a chance, what would you said to that boy, Lord Lannister?”

This will get far worse before it gets better. Jaime thought, but that boy would have not believed in either prediction.

“I am more curious to know what you would say to that boy, Your Grace.”

“Oh, for me that’s easy…, Jaime,” Bran said changing his serious glare for a playful grimace, “whatever you do after this… please don’t fucking push kids out of windows.”

Jaime roared with laughter.

“Maybe I should let you tell my children the whole story.”

“Weren’t you supposed to do that already?”

“We are clumsy parents, Brienne and me, we do as best as we can. We thought everyone would be as easy as Podrick.”

“Your boy might begin seeing things on his own soon enough…”

Jaime breathed heavily, saddened that they were moving out of the lighter mood.

“Do you have a better idea of what’s going on? Your Hand, as custom, provided much entertainment but little help.”

“It was a mistake to send Galloway on that wild goose chase, I sincerely assumed it would ultimately turn to nothing, I am afraid he found exactly what the girl promised.”

“Losing his mind in the process?”

“I put the Master of Whispers to enquire everything he could about this Brightness the knight spoke of, I am afraid I have put some of the pieces together. It is not good... I fear I now understand the Raven’s plan from the very beginning. The Night King wanted an eternal night, where all memories would be eviscerated; the Raven wants an eternal day in which everyone will come to know everything about everyone else. A Judgment of sorts… I was set up to be The Judge of Men… No need to strike and slay, just to see and expose.  I escaped that destiny; the Raven did not rest, though. I heard about the fish shortage in the West…”

“We are being judged already, is that what you are saying?”

“And finding favor perhaps, if you are already receiving a punishment of sorts… But if those are simply atoning preparations for the Day to come, I dread, most men and women in the Realm will suffer Ser Galloway’s destiny, unable to live in the light of who we all really are… Hence… You should really let me place that tapestry, Ser Jaime, and many other more.”  

“Exposing all of our crimes by ourselves won’t stop this, though.”

“Perhaps sending to the Mountains someone less confident of his own value would have made things turn different. My father worshiped the old gods, I still do. The weirwood trees made that offer to me. I am hoping, perhaps, there is still something to negotiate…, we wouldn’t be having such an outbreak of messengers if there was no intention to warn before striking.”

“If I understand correctly then, you think this is fair.”   

“What, Lord Lannister, you wouldn’t?”

 

 

Just as the King reported to him so did Jaime report to his wife, adding Bran’s concluding request. They were at the balcony of their room, he was drinking red wine, she was drinking nothing.

“I want a bath,” Brienne said after Jaime had asked for her opinion. Jaime laughed.

“The Isle of Faces is quite close to Harrenhal, you could have a bath there before we go.”

“You…” Brienne said looking shadily at him “you are excited about this!”

Jaime had been caught; even to himself, this was a surprise.

“When was the last time we had an adventure… of sorts? Full of danger and mystery and knightly things to do…”

“Tax collecting has all its dangers all right; trying to negotiate with some trees the postponement of the end of the world on behalf of the King sounds more ludicrous than knightly, in my opinion.”

“And as if we couldn’t have it any more knightly I was thinking of bringing the kids along on the trip.”

“What would be the reasoning for doing so?!”

“It is a perfect time to speak to them, or at least to Jo.”

That, he knew, would take Brienne completely by surprise. But the reemergence of sudden ideas was a sign he was getting back to himself, what some weeks away from Casterly Rock could do. “Back home we will be too drained of all energy to deal with a potential crisis, is a good chance to get over and done with…”

“What over and done with, Jaime?” Brienne interrupted him. “Over and done is what we have been settling for, doesn’t work that well.”

“I am not following.” Jaime was, though, more than he would like to recognize.

“Your brother asked me this morning how would I live with my own faults written over my forehead, assuming I had few. But I have many… I have been the one most benefited from all this silence. I don’t know how ready I am to give it up”.

Now Jaime was truly not following and he noticed his wife could tell.

“All she sees in herself is me, as strange as that sounds.”

Ah. Her name sometimes would come inside of him, as if emerging from a rotting massive grave. So deep below, so little air, it had decomposed, the name, to the point of giving him nausea and shivers. He did not remember the last time he had said it loud. He wondered if he spoke it out, right then and there, he wondered if worms would come out of his mouth. He was about to do something very brave.

“She is fucking Cersei, I sometimes think.” He didn’t know what else to say, this was a scenario he wouldn't have rehearsed in his head.

“I know.” Brienne said as if a big rock covering the flow of a river had finally been removed. And with that flow something else came, so deep inside of him, it was beyond his control to stop it.

 “Back then, had I been given the chance, I think I would have chosen to die with her… I don’t hate her Brienne, I just wished I had learned to love her in a sane way since the very beginning. It would be easy to tell the story of how evil she was. That is not my story, it is not the story as I lived it, even if her hatefulness became the truth... And now I see this is making me not love my own daughter in a sane way either.”

“That makes two of us, my love.” His wife said.

"Perhaps we need to give her a place, a fucking grave, for fucks sake..."

 

Otherwise, where has her body been rotting this whole damn time? 

 

 

Chapter Text

They had the bath brought to the room.  Jaime was holding the mirror, his head reclined on Brienne’s left shoulder, his body engulfed by her. She was about to finish shaving his unkempt beard.  

“Bran told me I am getting closer to Ser Davos by the minute.”

“I am aging far better than you, this is true”.

 “Fuck you!” Her husband said laughing.

“There, you look almost handsome now,” Brienne said placing the razor on a table next to them and bringing water to his face. Jaime looked at himself in the mirror.

“Someday we should do a mustache,” he said.

“Please no.”

“Long and ridiculous.” He placed the mirror next to the razor and turned to brush his lips with hers. She held the back of his neck and passed her fingers through his hair. It felt as if five thousand knots had been untightened all over their bodies in the past hour. There was a softness to their being together she had not experienced for a long while. The softness of sweet scar tissue that has been longing to be finally uncovered... to be kissed and caressed.

She kissed him fully, searching with her tongue all those places left still for them to discover. As if by tracing and dancing together with their tongues in a certain way, a door would open for them, granting them access to the vault holding the treasure of their love. A treasure they had been adding on to, year after year, a new piece of gold each and every time they had chosen truth, trust, patience, kindness, forgiveness and acceptance in the long and bumpy road on their journey through time. They were contained, embraced by the hot water: delighted by the fruits they could buy with all that gold.

She didn’t know at what point they had moved to the bed. She didn’t know at what point she stopped feeling singular things in her body and became immersed in a tender, constant heat.

Eyes wide shut she could see herself gracefully heading  towards a flame. She knew this flame was Jaime so she kept on going, floating, she would merge with him. Soul and soul were about to feel each other in a way she thought it was not possible. Soul and soul were going to become one and dance together. She was close, flames were touching.

 

Soul tissue, infinite, unfolding, extending forever anew, forever awaiting touch and forever being touched. 

 

They were alive living in one... 

 

...She was on a clearing inside a forest, dressed in white, resting in Jaime’s chest. Her husband laid peacefully asleep, clothed the same as her. She lifted herself up with one  arm to capture her surroundings. There was no cold, nor heat, nor wind. The light in the forest was not coming from any sun in the sky but the forest itself was light. Soft light. Violet and red leaves were on the floor and a sense of fresh, clean ether circled her face. Some feet far away she could spot a man clothed with heavy winter clothes. Tall, handsome man. He was in front of a tree that reached up to the sky. The sky… there was no sky but fog; she had the impression she was under the earth, those trees below maybe roots of the trees above. The man was pouring the contents of a small vase into the trunk as if the tree had a mouth and he was providing it drink.

She raised curious, leaving Jaime to sleep in the clearing. The man turned to face her, she recognized him though she never met him in his lifetime.

“I salute you, Brienne of Tarth” Eddard Stark said.

“It’s Lannister, Brienne Lannister” She corrected him immediately. Eddard Stark nodded and gave a long look to the tree he was watering. He signaled her to come close by, pointing with his head at the trunk. As she approached she could see the trunk, indeed, had a face, not carved like the weirwood trees in the Isle of Faces or Winterfell, though. This was a human face with human skin, blended, netted inside the trunk. The eyes were closed and still covered by a thin layer of wood. The mouth was fully out as if sprouting from it; moving. Brienne would have felt disturbed if not by the peacefulness of the place and Eddard’s Stark calm demeanor.  Somehow, she understood that the person was not being trapped inside the life of that tree but being nurtured, restored through it, as if inside a womb of wood.  

“Those of us who have chosen to share in the life of the Stranger are tasked to assist all those souls that have asked for mercy. The weirwood trees above take on to themselves, adsorb,  all the consequences of their evil actions... but there are too few trees left.”

Brienne’s head would have filled with thoughts and questions had a part of her not reasoned she was in a dream. She turned to check if Jaime was still at the clearing. He was. Eddard Stark moved his eyes to where Jaime laid as well.

“I’ll speak with your husband when the time comes, there is nothing to fear Lady Lannister, nothing that wants to live will ever be denied life.”

Brienne turned once again to the tree, a small branch was moving freely as if it were a limb, it was poking her, softly. One poke, another poke, the face of Eddard Stark was disappearing, the clearing as well, it was only the soft poke, again and again…

 

She opened her eyes to find a pair of green and a pair of blue staring back at her. Arthur was holding a stick, softly poking her back with it. She was in her bed, naked, the blanket reaching up to the mid of her back; her chest pressed against Jaime who was still sleeping.

“You are not under a spell!” Her son said. Jo rolled her eyes.

“You have been sleeping the whole day!” Her daughter then said. Brienne could feel Jaime’s body awakening.

“Do you become one in the night?” Arthur said.

“What?” Jaime replied with a sleepy tone.

“Do you blend into one person during the night and then are back into two during the day, is that what you do?” He continued, Jo gave a snort.

“Er… Yes? That is what happens.” Jaime responded his son still half asleep.

 Arthur nodded as if he knew exactly what all of them were talking about. Brienne imagined her son imagining two bodies actually merging into a single one as if they were made out of clay.  Jo did not look pensive or satisfied at all, though, she gave a long theatrical breath to denote exasperation and began walking away from the bed towards the door.

“What is up, darling?” Brienne said.

“Nothing. You had us worried.”

“Don’t worry” Jaime said, “we can all have breakfast in the balcony.”

“It’s four hours past noon!” Joanna retorted.

“We can all have dinner then,” Jaime said calmly.

“Good idea,” Brienne said. “Why don’t you two go ask to have something brought here?”

Jo shrugged and exited the room, Arthur gave them a small smile and then followed his sister out.

“Four hours past noon! What the hell happened?” Jaime said now alone with his wife.

“I had a very unusual dream,” Brienne replied.

“Well that was a very unusual blending we had, in a good way, I mean.”

“Ned Stark was in the dream.”

“Fuck you!” Jaime said laughing for the second time in the past day.  

“You were also in the dream, don’t worry, sleeping. You looked handsome. We were under the Isle of Faces… I think.”

“Right… So we are going, yes?”

“We are going. I don’t know what we will find there. But let’s go.” Brienne said, rising from bed to get dressed.

Chapter Text

Immersed in the steamy waters of the Harrenhal baths, Brienne was combing her daughter’s hair.

“I am happy, mother, now I know I wasn’t crazy. He is the stupidest man that has ever lived.”

They had chosen to bring Podrick with them, they were traveling under the King’s commission so bringing the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard along on the trip would not look insensible. He was coming, though, mainly because someone needed to look out for Jo and Arthur in Harrenhal while Brienne and Jaime took the boat to the Isle of Faces, and -most importantly- because they did not trust themselves with holding Jo’s reaction competently. Harrenhal was isolated enough to contain a potential breakdown, but just knowing they had backup had made them breath more calmly as they all took their rides and began the short journey. They decided that Arthur would get a ‘children version’ of the story for the time being, but Jo was old enough to take it all in, Jaime’s relationship with Cersei included. Neither of them had been in Harrenhal since… Harrenhal.  It was the place Jaime had confessed his crimes to Brienne, it was the place where Brienne’s eyes on him had finally changed. That was the motive with which they had started the conversation with their daughter while Podrick was taking Arthur for a walk.

This is a special place for us because here is the place where I explained to your mother why I broke my oaths and slain King Aerys…

… Back in those days, everybody called me Kingslayer behind my back. Your mother did as well. We were enemies, you see, but she was entrusted to bringing me back to safety in exchange for Sansa and Arya Stark…

…I was hated by the Starks for many reasons, the most important being that I had crippled their most beloved son…

…I crippled him because he discovered that I had a married relationship with my sister. All her children were not King Baratheon’s but mine…

…I wanted to protect them, still, all of them died...

Jo had stayed put, listening, taking it all. Her expression unreadable.  Just as when he had confessed to her, Jaime stated the facts without adding any moral lesson or interpretation to the story. It was not for him to do that. It was not his style to do that.  When he was done, Jo did not retort with any questions. Addressing only Brienne, she simply asked if she could go to the baths. She wanted her hair combed.

 

Her daughter had silently got into the water and Brienne had followed, hairbrush in her hand. Jo had let her mother do in silence for some time until she had finally spoken out her verdict.

“Is that what you get from all this?” Brienne replied calmly.

“How come King Bran forgave him?”

“Not only King Bran, all of us.”

“Why is it that you picked him?”

“You don’t get to choose the ones you love, my darling”

Her daughter changed her expression, pondering something.

“Do you also have stories on your own, crimes?”

Brienne wanted to answer that question earnestly.

“I did not get a chance to commit many crimes. But everybody looked at me in a different way back then, I was demoted for not looking like a woman, I was mocked for being ugly.”

“What!?”Her daughter turned to face her. “You are not ugly, you are a Lady Knight! That is how Lady Knights look like.”

That is how Lady Knights look like… Of course, idiots, our girl has been brought up in a very different world from our own. For fuck’s sake… They had put so much effort in leaving the past behind that they had also let drown, along with the terrible memories, the one memory that she cherished as the most precious moment between her and Jaime just after their wedding and the birth of their children. Idiots. If you bury the bad you will bury the good. How in all hells they could have forgotten to tell them this?

“It was your father who knighted me. Back in those days women were not allowed to be knights. I was the first. Your father did it on the eve of the Battle Against the Dead.”

If Jo had seemed not disturbed at all after hearing all of her father’s crimes, she looked definitely distressed by this new piece of information.

“He left his crazy sister for you?”

“He left her because he was not a part of her, and their differences could no longer be maintained. Even if they should have never gotten together in that way, the most important lesson is that sometimes you have to make choices against those you love the most.”

“If his love was sick why is his love for you not sick?”

“His love might have been sick but he wasn’t sick, for a long while they only had each other” As she explained to her daughter, Brienne was beginning to fully understand as well, living in the brightness for the first time.  “There are many things you will put together as you grow older and begin having your own experiences and disappointments…  But what I want you to see right now are the reasons why he sometimes fears for you… you see, one of his sons was very cruel, his sister was very cruel, his father was very cruel, not like my father at all. He was afraid of you having traces of those things…” It is a superstition, Brienne was to continue, but Jo interrupted her.

“He should be.”

“What?”

“You should not make dreams of me. I am not sweet. I am what I am. If I turn evil and cruel and crazy, so what? Will you stop loving me?”

“No! But Jo…”

“They are all dead, crazy mean people die. If I become like that I’ll die and the problem is solved.”

 “It would hurt us!”

“You are hurt. You live hurt. You’ll get over it as you have done before. He could love me as he did all that hateful people, why is he being so rough with me? He should have been nice from the very beginning. At least I would have had that in case I turn like them…”

Her daughter was lucid and hard and was making her cry.

“You are right”, Brienne said, “not about you turning like them, you are right that he could have dealt with his fears in a different way…  But how could he know? No one taught him how to be a parent. I wouldn’t know either, I have been too much in love with your love.”

She could see Jo had not understood the last thing she said. Brienne did now, though. By the time Jo came into her life, she was too tired of the long, tough process of her having to gain and prove her worthiness to be loved…, including the love of her own father, including, yes, the love of Jaime at the beginning. She became attached to Jo’s reverence; she was unwilling to break the spell. She could insult Jaime all she wanted all right, he could take it. She couldn’t. Not anymore. That cup had been topped already too many years ago.  

“You are a pain in the ass Jo. You are spoiled as hell. I have spoiled you. I couldn’t take you not loving me.” And Jaime was fucking right.

Jo stared at her mother, fixedly.  

“If you say so… I’ll believe you.” Jo responded shrugging.  Unbelievable. “I just wish you all would only see me, not little goddess, not the sister, not him, or you… I am Jo, just Jo...”

Jaime, the name is Jaime.

It's Brienne, you call me Brienne.

She is so our daughter.

“…I will never stop being me.”

“You shouldn’t.”

The voice came from a few feet away, for how long had he been listening.

“I don't hate you, father, I cannot wait until Arthur gets all of this explained; he will explain in turn you were possessed by the spirits of the Toad Kings living in the skies and he will show us all the evidence.”

It was Brienne who laughed the loudest.

Chapter Text

They became worried when three hours had passed without hearing anything from Podrick and Arthur. They were about to go out of the Inn when the scrawny boy came. His breath was agitated, it showed he had been running all the way to get to them. 

“Ser Brienne, Ser Jaime… The Lord Commander sent me, it’s your son. He is at the edge of the Gods Eye Lake. A tree has taken hold of him.”

“Lead us to where they are!” Neither Brienne nor Jaime had time to make sense of anything else.

“I’ll go with you,” Jo said and they also did not have time to tell her no.

They took two horses, mounting Jo and the boy with them on each. The place was only two miles away, they saw Ser Podrick on his knees next to Arthur. Their boy was lying on the floor, paralyzed. Approaching with the horse Jaime could spot two living roots coming from the ground, encircling his legs. He got down the horse jumping, leaving the boy to take care of the mount.

Arthur’s eyes were shut, his chest lifting and dropping calmly, thank the gods.  

“He has been like this for a while now”, said Podrick with shaking voice “I could not leave him alone, I shouted at the boy when I spotted him, so that he could get you.”

His wife had dismounted and was already kneeling next to Arthur with Jo behind her.  

“What happened?” Brienne said.

“He was playing with a stick when the twigs came, I was throwing stones, we were telling stories and the things just dragged him to the ground, I was about to cut the wood with my sword but he shouted ‘no!’, that’s the last thing he said before entering a profound sleep”.

Podrick’s face was disfigured with shame. Brienne touched his cheek to calm him. He was a man already, but still her boy.

“It’s ok.” She said softly. “Stay with him… Jaime, we need to get to the Isle. I… I think I know where he is.”

They told the boy to get them a boat.

“Is this about your dream?” Jaime asked, impatiently looking at the direction of the Isle.  

“I hope with all my heart it is.”

He could not have any more questions, he was too busy containing the need to dive into the lake and swim to the Isle right away.

“What did the King tell you?” Podrick asked, surely wanting to make the wait bearable.

Bran had not been very specific. When he confirmed they were going, Jaime had told him about Brienne’s dream, even giving the details of whom she had saw in those woods. Bran told him that in the Old Faith it was believed that the souls of the dead were below the earth, inside the trunks. Giving that neither Jaime nor Brienne knew about this, Bran took his wife’s reverie as a real message from the world below and a confirmation that she and Jaime were the right persons to send. What to do once they would get there? He confessed he could not know that much.

“Not much, Pod,” Jaime said overwhelmed.

The boy was approaching rowing on a boat.

“Want me to row you,” he said as he reached the shore.  

“We can do that, all right”. Said Brienne. She kissed Arthur’s forehead and took Jo’s hand, indicating her to take Brienne’s place next to her brother. Jaime was already in the boat, there was only a pair of oars and she was the faster rower, so he handled them as she got in, Podrick stood up to give them a push from the shore and they set to go.   Jaime remembered the first time they had been on a boat together, ages ago when he was her prisoner.  Back then, there was nothing, nothing that would have made either of them guess where the stream of life would take them. How much had it been their choice? What would he tell that man? Nothing. You cannot speak to the dead. His wife had reached the Isle in no time.

“Where are we going?” He said getting off, realizing he had little clue.

“The center, I guess, there should be a Heart Tree at the center like in any godswood.”

“Aren’t there supposed to be Green Men in here?”

“If there are, so much better, better than talking to trees.”

Brienne began walking, he was following behind, the sun was setting, the light was dim. They had entered now deeper into the woods, no longer able to see the shore. The forest was getting darker, but the carved faces in the weirwood trees could still be distinguished, some of them were pouring some red content as if dripping blood from the eyes. He stopped for a minute to take a closer look at one of them, then he saw Brienne had gotten too much ahead. He rushed his steps, then he stopped again as he began hearing the whispers.

Oaaathkeeper

Widow’s Waaaail

“You hear that?”

But Brienne was walking even faster, not turning.

“Brienne do you hear that!?”

She still wasn’t turning.

He rushed his steps even more to catch her, she had turned into a narrower path, where the vegetation was thicker.

Oaaathkeeper

Widow’s Waaail

He felt something sliding up one of his legs, then the other. Grabbing him. Circling him entirely.  

Fuck no.  He thought as he felt into the ground.

*****

She was on the clearing again, the same one of her dream… only that, this time, Jaime was nowhere to be found… and she was wearing armour.  It was a strange one, shining like silver, on the chest plate two crossed swords were engraved. Oathkeeper and Widow’s Wail. Neither she nor Jaime had used those swords in a long while, they had them hanging in their room, above the Lannister coat of arms, preferring the swords Gendry had given them as a wedding present, the ones only bearing their names.

Arthur...

Just as she had found Ned Stark watering the tree when she had the strange dream, so she found her boy, dressed in his own clothing. He was struggling to reach the tree’s mouth, though, letting some liquid drip into the trunk as he tried to water it. He must have heard her approaching because he stopped with his pouring attempts and waved his hand for her to come.

“The tree lady is thirsty, mother,” Arthur said before Brienne could ask him anything.

Unlike her dream, this time, the sight of the tree terrified her. There was no longer the thin wood layer covering the eyes of the face…, and the eyes were open. Green eyes, Jaime’s eyes. Brienne’s stomach clenched. She did not feel peace anymore by seeing a person bounded inside the wood, but a visceral sense of horror she had no control of. The eyes were not looking at her but at her boy, sadness in the glare if it was possible to pin down an expression on them. Brienne wanted them shut. She could not look. She wanted to take Arthur and run, absurd as it was, the tree could not chase them down anywhere.  

“You have a beautiful boy, it has your eyes” The words did not come from the mouth, it was not a voice emitting sounds. She felt the words in the ground, on her feet, reaching up to her stomach. It was a deep rumble… Not Cersei’s voice. Yet Cersei it was. “It gives me peace”.

You are alive, Brienne thought, I would have prefered seeing you as a walking corpse under the Night King’s command rather than this. Please, shut your eyes. The moment was taking hold of her, she was not assuming to be in a dream anymore. If they were -indeed- in the underworld, Brienne would not want any lessons taught from there, from them, she would like out. Panic began raising up her body, paralyzing her nerves.

“Could you help me out?” Arthur’s voice pulled her out of her shock. Her son was extending the vase.

She wanted to drop it from his hands but instead, she picked it up and began doing as she had seen Ned Stark doing. A quick move at first, her hands shaking. There was not much of the liquid left, she noticed. She poured more softly, with all the care she could manage given the circumstances.

“What is this place!?” She said to no one in particular when she was done.

 “This is no place, sister”, the ground on her feet spoke, “this is a sentiment.”

“A song,” her son said nodding, “the song that sings below.”

The tree closed her eyes.

“She doesn’t suffer, but she is not free to live yet,” Arthur said, then took his mother’s hand. He led her a few feet away to another clearing, “let’s put the vase back now,” he continued, extending his hand to pick the vase back from her. Brienne handled it to him, then watched Arthur take a few steps and kneel, kneading the earth, as if looking for something there. The spot to place the vase, Brienne supposed as she saw her son touching his middle finger with his thumb and finally placing the vase in the ground.

“You need to figure out where the drops are falling.” He said after sitting next to the spot and lifting his head up towards the sky made of fog.  Brienne walked to sit next to her son.  

“Have you been here for long, my sweet?” Brienne asked, resigned to the situation and caressing Arthur’s face.

“I don’t know, there are no days here. But the Stranger has explained things to me. Now I know that the blood we spill and the lies we tell cannot just go away, disappear, wrong things are something, they are not nothing… The weirwood trees were meant to breathe and eat that unfairness and cry for it so that it would not spread into the life above, wearing down every living thing... That was the alliance between the First Men and the children of the forest. And mankind was not supposed to cut down the trees. That was the alliance. But they cut the trees. It was stupid. Who cuts the trees? How stupid it is to keep on cutting the trees. You cannot do it on your own, righting the wrong, you need all the help you can, life should help you. Now instead of the trees taking it on them, this unfairness bounces and bounces and bounces and we are surrounded, it takes so much for this vase to fill...”

Arthur held his knees and fixed his eyes on the vase. Brienne put her arm around her boy lost for words. She looked at their surroundings, suddenly remembering the tales of old, centuries-old knight tales talking about journeys to the underworld. Being a knight had had nothing to do with that for her, being a knight had been about killing people and shedding tears of despair and being hungry and lacking sleep and riding for hours and having to do the hard thing without breaking vows and honor, as much as she could in any hopeless, disheartened situation. There was nothing fantastic or mystical about it… And the few encounters she had had with the uncanny she would rather have wiped out of her mind: the shadow she saw over Renly, the Dead Army, and dragons… She did not want to see anymore dragons ever again.  Yet her boy was so at ease with all of this. They had named him Arthur after the great Arthur Dayne, a true knight, but a fierce, down to earth one, just like Jaime and her. It was ironical there was nothing fierce, stout or down to earth about their Arthur, but maybe their son was a true knight in his own very brave way.

She was the one who was dressed in armour, though.

“We should look for a way out of here. Your father must be worried.” She said not knowing what else to say.

“He is already here, mom.”

“Let’s look out for him, then.”

The boy gave her a long, contemplative look and stood up, cupping her face with his hands.

“I know the way out of here mom, don’t worry, but you and dad must find your own way out. I’ll wait here just a little bit more to check if that’s the spot where the drops will fall this time, then the Stranger will take care of her again and I’ll go back up. But you can go and look for dad, it’s ok.”

“How did this Stanger look like?” Her boy must have seen Ned Stark.

“I know the Stranger has many faces, this time the Stranger was the face of a blonde lady, very beautiful, dressed in Lion Red.”

*****

He had been walking gods know for how long, he had shouted Brienne’s and Arthur’s name to no result, he was dressed in shining silver armour, a coat of arms of his and Brienne's twin swords in his chest and he had his right hand. It was a strange thing to feel it, he felt it alien in him, he wanted his son and wife, not a right hand long gone. Was he dead? I am dead, he thought when he spotted the woman. She had long blonde hair and a slender figure, she was on her early thirties, dressed in Lannister red. She was standing next to a dark -extremely dark- tree made more of shadow and void than wood.

Mother.    

 “You are not dead, son.” His mother said, turning to greet him.

He would have thrown himself into her arms in tears, that would have been the natural thing to do. He had seen her many times in his dreams, he dreamt about her when Shyla was born, he had dreamt himself presenting Shyla to her, so that she could hold and rock the baby. The night dream did not repeat for Joanna and Arthur, but he daydreamed it often enough for each. And as they grew, he daydreamed all of them playing and running at the skirts of Casterly Rock. Dreams, from day or night, were manageable as they were his own, this vision wasn’t. He lowered his gaze, it was Joanna who came close and touched his cheek.

Do the dead have touch? Yes. And the dead were not cold, or at least not all.

“But you are, mother. So why am I here with you?” He said softly.  

Joanna’s answer came as a tender, motherly gaze on him; then it came as a warm hand passing through his hair, bending his head gently for him to rest on her neck. It came then as a whisper in his ear, as he surrendered into his mother’s arms.  

“You are here because you are a good man, Jaime.”

It was that what brought him to his knees, those words, coming from her voice, were too unbearable to hold while standing. Do the dead shed tears? Maybe he wasn’t dead if they don’t. But it didn’t matter anymore. He let them free into the ground, pressing his head hard against his mother’s midriff, resting in her hold. This was real and absurd and real. He was a crippled turned whole and a man turned boy, holding into a ghost. And he needed that hold like air. He believed it because Brienne believed it. Mother agrees, he would tell his wife soon enough. What mattered now was for the tears to fall, there was no rush. They were pouring like gentle dew, almost with a life on their own. Who was he crying for? Only himself? He could have sworn that, at some moments, the tree made of void and black was giving subtle jolts.

Time, or whatever time was in that place, went on. Joanna would be there holding him forever if he needed it so. Would it ever be enough?

A boy knelt; a knight rose.  

“You will not run the fate of your father, Jaime,” his mother said, now turning back to face the dark tree, “but you cannot do this all on your own. It’s too much for both of you. We will help.”

“Mother, for the love of all the gods, speak straight to me now.  I love you, but it’s heart breaking to see that real ghosts are just as the ghosts of stories. So riddling and hushed.”

Joanna gave a long laugh. Can the dead laugh?

“I am no ghost, my son. I live in the stream of the Stranger.”

“Again, the riddles.”

“Precisely, those are no riddles to me, but how much do you know about my world? If I tell you all about it you’ll understand as little as if I were speaking in mumbles. It will be worse, for there is a chasm between us that should not be taken lightly. We are bridging it now for your own sake, but here only the words that heal matter.” Joanna paused to give him a wide loving smile. “I couldn’t let the chance pass if you were to speak with Lord Eddard in any case.”

 “Speak with Ned? That sounds ominous and grave. I am happy then that you could sneak into most official Underworld Realm affairs to say hello.”

The roaring laughter came from behind them.

“Can you take anything seriously, Lord Lannister?”

“Can I have some privacy with my mother, Ned?” Jaime said not needing to turn and put a face to the voice. The instinct to snap back was stronger than any sense of uncanniness still left in him.

“We come as we are called.” Eddard Stark said, Jaime was still not turning to face him.

“We go as we are no longer needed.” His mother said, with an apologizing but serene look in her face. She caressed his cheek for a last time, and as all damn ghosts are supposed to do, vanished in front of his eyes. The tears were to come again, he knew. He waited non-moving until he was certain he could withhold them fully.

The things love does for me, Jaime thought as he finally turned to confront who had been his oldest, most admired and most beloved enemy.  

 

Chapter Text

“Follow me,” Ned said as soon as Jaime turned.

Yeah, I am happy to see you too, Ned”, Stark had already begun walking and Jaime had no choice but to follow “would not have expected to see you still dressed in that, though… Winter does not seem to be coming here, my dear old foe.”

“The gods that reign in here know our souls well and they dress them accordingly, my dear old friend, I am on duty…” Ned passed his eyes through Jaime’s chest plate, “you as well… most official Underworld Realm affairs.” He said the last thing not concealing a little smile.

“It’s been eons since I was wearing such a gorgeous thing like this, let alone a complete armour, let alone with a complete body.”

“Your wife looks better in it, it’s true.”

“You don’t get to ogle my wife, sweet spectre.” But Jaime smiled on the inside, death suits you Ned, you were far more the grave, portentous, judgemental spectre in the world above. “You are taking me to her?”

Ned denied with the head and continued walking. Fine, more mystery… More friendly conversation it will be then.

“Why is your head not chopped? Who put it back?” Jaime wanted to know why in this world he had his hand back.

“I am not a body.”

“This means I am not a body also,” Jaime said raising his right hand “Yet, unlike you, I am alive?”

“Your boy helped us out, he can be joint here, like mine, come and go without much consequence yet, the Heart Three called him as soon as she sensed him close. You two could get drawn in turn, you got in through the rope he sent you, but you’ll get out through a rope on your own…,” Ned paused, the lines of his old sombre self suddenly drawing themselves back in his expression, “I would not have chosen to put such toil on you two, but the swords picked you.”

“These things?”, Jaime said looking at his chest place, “you can thank my father for the idea of splitting apart your precious sword, from what I figured he’s the dark tree we just passed behind.”

“He will not be so dark, nor the West such an agony to rule if the alliance is forged back. It was not the sword in itself but the pact it represented: Ice was named after that pact. Things are not getting worse, Lord Lannister, they are finally getting better, it was only in the North where the pact was still being respected after centuries; so much for our own well-being, the children of the forest are sensing it can finally be kept in the rest of the Realm. They will plant weirwood trees again, that being the case.”

“If that is the most official Underworld Realm affair we are here for, I can tell these children it doesn’t feel like friendly renewal of peace treaties up above. Your son has been fighting against the Raven’s control for more than fifteen years now…”

“What you call the Raven is nothing but the knowledge of the Realm. The knowledge the old gods own as their right by sustaining all life above. Life talks to life, to warn and nurture, it gives the light of all truths and all facts. I can see why this light may feel like a judgement…to most.”

Jaime did not know for how long they had walked already, exhaustion does not exist if you are a walking soul, he guessed, they could have been going in circles for all that he knew, everything looked the same.

“But we all eventually will pass through the Brightness,” Ned continued, “for me, it felt like a reckoning, indeed. I felt to be a sinful, wretched man when I saw all the things I didn’t really know… The man I sentenced to die before deserting the Night Watch, even my harsh judgement on you... I thought I was always just, I always cared to be just…, an arrogant pretence unless you are an all-knowing being... and all-knowing gods show mercy, precisely because they know.

“Don’t judge your own self then, Ned.”

“Oh, I don’t anymore. Exactly. I left judgement behind, instead of choosing the path of the Father like my ancestors, I chose to path of the Stranger, Warden of the Underworld, half-animal, half-man, link between the old gods and new ones.”

And so did my mother, Jaime was finally making some sense of things.

“Up above we fear the Stranger, we seldom pray to him. Had I known I was praying to my own mother, even to you, I would have been a man of faith…” They had walked already too much. “But faith discussions can take forever, why would the all-seeing powerful gods, new and old ones, would have a need for two knights turned tax-collectors? The messages they sent were meant for your son.”

“It was a fortunate and unfortunate collision of affairs. The knights my son sent to pick his own reward were not fit for the test, other’s might have been, though, we would still have had a need for you two on its own right. It’s not only the fact Ice ended up in your hands or that you eventually sworn Ice to the protection of the entire Realm by throwing it at the feet of the Queen and the King… You are two, Ice was two now, yet you are -or at least seem to be- two who are also one.”

“You mean we love each other? Brienne and me? We do. That’s sweet these old tree gods can see that. I appreciate it.” Jaime cut, he could see Ned was enjoying his irreverence, in any case.

“They sense the souls… As I told you, indeed.” Ned said with a satisfied expression. “It was a good omen, an indication of growth, of a seed finally sprouting after centuries of lying dormant under ice and winter snow. True Spring might not be a dream anymore.”

 As he said true spring he finally halted. It still felt to Jaime they had not been heading to anywhere in particular and yet the landscape was beginning to shift, softly, until they were in front of a huge tree, ten times bigger than the Heart Tree planted in Winterfell, and ten times more beautiful. The tree was casting light from within, sometimes soft violet and sometimes blue. The leaves were painted with all the colours in the rainbow. He wished it was his son having this sight, Arthur would have taken so much more from it.

“Swords are nothing without the hands and the hearts yielding them, though, if you agree to become the portents of a renewed alliance, the children will know, and the seed will continue growing. If you don’t agree, they will also know... Now I have stated the facts.”

Jaime expected Brienne to finally appear then, waiting for them from behind the tree or something. As if he was the one being late. This wasn’t happening.

“I cannot know if we agree if she is not here with me.”

“If you go back above taking different paths, it will mean you did not agree.”

“Oh fuck, please don’t just vanish after saying that.”

For the second time in Jaime’s life, he heard Ned Stark laugh at one of his jokes.  

“Is there anything more I can be of help, Lord Lannister?”

Was he really offering? He could have a potential million questions beginning with how to rule a house with honor or how to raise children good and noble, he could ask protection from the gods maybe, and yet, a single thing burst into his mind, abruptly, taking priority over anything else.

“No… Just…, tell your own wife I am very sorry. I guess you can. Tell her I will be forever thankful toward her for handling me to Brienne. I was her biggest war guarantee, yet she let me go, trusting or not my worthless oaths… I got to live and it ended up costing her and her son’s life.”

Can the dead be moved and surprised? They can, Jaime thought observing Ned’s expression.

“I am afraid I will just have to vanish after you saying that, Lord Lannister, I wouldn’t want that message waiting”

“It’s been an honor, Ned.”

“Same here, Jaime.” For all he had loosen-up thanks to death, that was old solemn Ned speaking.

He vanished, then, again, like all fucking ghosts are supposed to do.

Jaime turned to look at the Heart Tree. Should he wait for her where he was, or should he move and look for her?

Chapter Text

She was wondering if she should just wait for Jaime sitting at the spot where Lord Eddard left her or if she should go and look out for him. Was this a test of some kind? This is not a place, sister, but a sentiment. She still felt shivers remembering the soundless voice coming from the ground. Was she supposed to feel something? The Heart Tree was so beautiful, the Heart of the World, she thought. As she looked up its rainbow leaves, she saw a single purple one falling, dropping in her lap. She did not expect it to feel so smooth as she touched it, it felt more like a rose petal, so soft, yet shaped like a leaf all the same. There was… something else, as she began tracing it, she began feeling kindness inside her belly. Kindness? How does kindness feel like?

“How does it feel, you like it?”

Jaime? Brienne turned her head to see where the voice was coming from.

“It feels great.”

No. That was her own voice.

“Why is it that we man have nipples?”

All right. The voices were coming from the ground this time as well, but it was their voices. A memory? Brienne knew this conversation. This had happened soon after Arthur was born.

“You would like to breastfeed? We almost have the same size of chest in any case.”

Sitting at the feet of the Heart of the World, Brienne began laughing.

“I am envious, I must confess.”

“Of your son?”

“No, of you.”

Brienne remembered Jaime had sat next to her on the bed, observing Arthur suckle, his bright blue eyes already open and curious.

“I want to participate. I have always wanted to, somehow.”

“Well, you could have said something before, idiot. Come here, get behind me.”

Jaime did, enclosing mother and child from behind. Brienne shifted Arthur from hers to Jaime’s encircling arms softly, so that their son wouldn’t notice the change.

“Jaime, are you crying?”

“No.”

“You are crying.”

“I am not.”

They had stayed like that until their son felt asleep.

Brienne smiled broadly remembering. The firsts years of their marriage and until they lost Shyla,  she had kept their own version of a White Book. It was something she had never shown Jaime, waiting for a supposedly special occasion to do so. Instead of writing great knightly deeds she began recounting tiny, happy, perfect moments between them.  The shock of Shyla’s death had made her first postpone then stop writing altogether. She had found the book collecting dust in its hidden place years later, around the same time Jaime took into breastfeeding assistance, and she felt so guilty. It was a perfect life, he had given her a perfect life, in which not a single day would pass without him letting her know in some way or another how much he appreciated her. She retook to writing right where she had left off. Writing the sad along with the joy. And to this day, Jaime still had not a clue. It was a sad habit of hers, to be mostly strong for him, not to show how soft her heart was in an explicit, blunt and brave way.  

I should stand up and go look for him, Brienne thought, if only because I want to kiss him so softly and tell him I have written a silly book that embarrassingly shows how happy he has made me all these years. He needs to know.  

 

***

He had had enough with staying put and he didn’t want to get lost in the forest either.  Ned Stark, for all his new charges, wouldn’t let two parents be separated from their children for too long, in any case. He was about to stand up when a single red leaf began falling from the rainbow tree. It felt right on his face, caressing his cheek. It was soft. He picked it up and instinctively brought it to his nose. It smelled like... red… love? How can anything smell like red love?

“She finally went to sleep."

What? Brienne? 

"Brienne!"

Jaime stood up and began looking in all directions. 

“Babes are so well behaved and so tender, their cries so sweet. We are trading places tomorrow, you'll be better with this cursed numbers".

No. That was his own voice. Someway, somehow their soundless voices were coming from the ground. 

“What is up?"

“This is never going to be easy… They are never going to give in, the only reason they listen is that we have the King behind us but it’s not sustainable. They don't respect us, and we need them. We cannot keep owing to the crown...  Edward Lanster, you know what the fucker told me today? 'It really shows how much you are not your father, Kingslayer' ... I am not my father, all right, he should be fucking grateful, I would have gutted him on the spot"

"Kingslayer..." 

… Brienne said, coming next to him, reclining on the edge of the desk. Had Jaime looked up from the record book he was checking, he would have noticed she wasn’t sharing in his frustration.

“Yes! Can you believe this? We need to put some policy around this, I don’t want Shyla asking questions before time and in any case…" Jaime exhaled, finally looking at her. "These numbers are bad Brienne..." 

"Who told you to speak, Kingslayer?” 

Looking at the Heart Tree, Jaime smiled, remembering. 

"I am sorry?" 

"You are my prisoner. I tell you when to speak."

She closed the book Jaime was working on, pushing it aside to sit on the desk. 

"What is this..."

"Silence," she said, grabbing his neck, pressing her thumb almost to the point of pain but not quite. "You do as I say."

He would have shown concern if the years had not taught him that his beloved wife had a cracked, wild side she reserved for trying circumstances. A savage force living within her she let unleash whenever there was no other way out. The force that makes you suddenly climb up a rock and throw a huge boulder over your enemies or lead an entire front against ten thousand dead men in a pitch dark night. It was precious, always an event when it happened. He loved it and she knew it, and she was offering that part of herself that night because she could read through his creeping desolation.

All the exhaustion, all the annoyance was gone, dragged out by the stream of arousal and anticipation overtaking his entire being. He looked her in the eyes hungry. He was suddenly ten years younger. 

"And what will you make me do… wench?" 

Alone in those enchanted woods, Jaime laughed out loud like a mad man remembering that wild sweet night. It had been the only time they had the nerve, had been bold enough to go and explore -carelessly and freely- into their former selves; instead of regretting, covering up, avoiding or simply forgetting. The dare to save and rescue all the things that had been truly good in the midst of such darkness; to take that precious thing with them and bring it up to the light in order to make something wild, beautiful and splendid out if it.

Jo. That must have been the night that we made Jo.

I should turn around this tree and go look for her, Jaime thought, if only because I want to kiss her so roughly and tell her we should play ‘Kingslayer and Wench’ again, and play it regularly from now on. I have loved it, all of it, from the very beginning. She needs to know.  

 

***

“Where were you?” Jaime said.

“I was right here, where were you?” Brienne said, relieved to see him.

“I was right here as well, on the other side, you didn’t hear me…? I was laughing.”

“I was laughing as well.” She said smiling, she intended on kissing him and yet… she waited. “You spoke with Ned Stark?”

“Yes, did you?” he said.

She nodded.

“All right,” Jaime came close to place his hands on each of her arms.

“You look quite disturbing with two hands,” she said.

Thanks. You, on the contrary, look quite alluring in that armour”. Right on that one, Ned.

“Thanks.” She said, raising her eyebrows. “So…, we need to find a path of sorts… I take as given you agree with this alliance with the trees and the children…”

“Sure. I only understand half of it, in any case.”

“Me too.”

It was as if it had been ages since the last time they had seen each other. Brienne was feeling something drawing her closer and closer to him, as a pull from a sea current coming from within her. She came close, to caress his face.  She wanted to tell him all the things she had thought about, things he would love to hear. Instead, there was something a little bit more sad and a little bit more urgent she could have kept quiet about. She would not have been able to live with herself if she did, though.

“Before anything else, I think you should know… I saw your sister.”

“Oh... all right.”

“You never had a chance to say proper goodbye to her, so if you want to…”

A part of her expected him to assent and be gone right then and there. Instead, Jaime went out to another place only with his eyes.  

“In reality, it was my mother I never got a chance to properly said goodbye to, my love.” He said  when he came back from that place in his mind. “Now I have. With Cersei… I had a thousand chances, I didn’t take them and that is that.  It’s alright. The sooner we get out of here, the better she’ll be from what I took… But I love you so much for letting me know.” He said, raising his hands to touch her face like she was doing with his.  

“Well, I had to.”

“I know.”

This alliance could wait, the kiss could no longer.

It was so soft. It was so rough. And the leaves, so many of them began falling. She could feel them. They both could. They could feel all the colors even with eyes wide shut. Green like the way grass feels, lying down together in an open field. Blue like the waves and the breeze of Tarth. Yellow as joy and laughter and perpetual sunlight.  They pulled out to see what was going on. The leaves halted their falling, they kissed again and their fall continued. They stopped again.

“I want to feel this with all my body. Can we take this off?” He said.

“We can try,” she said, “but let’s not stop kissing as we do.”

Their armours came off surprisingly easy as if they were alive and waiting for their command to be out of their way. White clothes were beneath the armours, they took them off too.

They had never been each other like this, glowing naked, their bodies pressed, kissing,  being showered by thousands of soft rainbow leaves, all of them carrying a different sensation, a different memory, in their lifetime first; then in everybody’s lifetime, then in lifetime’s lifetime. So many of them had fallen, they were now standing over a bed of gentle, happy Life.

Brienne could not wait, she needed to feel it all, she needed to be all.  She separated herself from him with a last, sweet kiss and threw herself backward into the foliage.

And as soon as she landed she turned into a thousand colored leaves herself.

She could hear Jaime’s laughter right before he jumped into the spot where she had been. To become all life as well, so that he could be unbounded and be with her.

Chapter Text

"You have not touched this thing."

"I am tired of shitting green, Jo." 

Jo made a gagging gesture. Jaime smiled.

"I don't care, I really want to get off this island, it's been ten days." 

When Jaime and Brienne had come back from their improbable journey, they found themselves surrounded by a circle of strange-looking men, crowned by antlers, armored in green. It was hard to know if those antlers were growing from their heads or if they had put them there, fixing them with golden headbands. It wouldn’t be polite to ask, anyhow, given how kind they had been with them. Arthur had already woken up from his own journey when they found them, it had been him who instructed Jo and Pod to row the boat into the Isle to fetch the green men settlement at the other end of it. Jaime and Brienne were out for an entire day. When they woke up, they could not walk. The green men explained that, unlike Arthur, their bodies were not fit for such journeys and they needed to eat weirwood tree leaf potage every day in order for ‘the spirit to solidify in the skin again’. The thing was disgusting, but the men would not let them out until they knew they were healthy. 

It was Brienne who put Jo on the mission of feeding her father, surely wanting them to bond a little more. It had worked, they discovered they loved ranting and complaining together about every single thing these strange men did and say. Jaime was, effectively, the one slowing them all down. That day Brienne was already sparring with Podrick, Jo and Jaime were watching them while sitting under a tree.

“Maybe if these nutcases had an actual table you would not be required to sadly stay with me holding that bowl while your mother has fun.”

“As if these fu...”

“Language.”

“…Funny people would ever dare to use even a normal tree for that.”

“What if these kooks are reusing my shit to…”

“Dad! Stop it, I am going to vomit.”

 “I dare you to see if those antlers are fake.”

“How?”

“Try pulling one out when they come back.”

“I am not going to fall for that, mother will toast me.”

That was music to Jaime’s ears. Brienne, indeed, had managed in the span of ten days to softly switch her permissive attitude towards Jo into something more similar to what she had with Podrick when he was Jo’s age. Like Podrick in those days, their daughter respected her so much she would obey without much of a struggle.

“You can go train, come on… It’s almost done.”  

“It’s almost full! I am not good like them, anyway.”

“Yes, because you are eleven and they are the former and the current Commanders of the Kingsguard…” Gods, Jo.

“I know… Maybe I should just settle for becoming the next Hand of King.”

Settle?” Jaime looked at her steadily then impetuously grabbed a mound of the thick potage and threw it right into Jo’s face.

Ah! MOM!”

Jaime began laughing hysterically, Podrick and Brienne stopped what they were doing to see what had happened.

“Jaime that’s for eating!” She said approaching.

Jo was about to throw the whole bowl into Jaime’s head but Brienne ran swiftly and took it away from her hands.

“Enough.”

He was still feeling weak, it was true, he had no strength yet to stand up by himself, but he had enough strength to grab Brienne’s arm and pull her right into his lap. The bowl with the green soup spilled over in all directions, Brienne’s clothes and Jaime’s hair included. Jo was the one now uncontrollably laughing. Resigned, Brienne moved away from Jaime’s lap to sit next to them, with Podrick coming to join them right after.

“You can take all the days you want, Ser Jaime, I am having the time of my life.”

“Really?” The three of them said at the same time. Brienne rolled her eyes and began taking out the green thing from her clothes, smearing it into Jaime’s face.

“This is the kind of quest I could only have dreamt of, it’s peaceful, yet so out of the ordinary… I feel like the child I never got to be.”

“We should be glad that our lives have been gracefully boring ever since Bran got crowned.” Said Jaime.

“I know, but I was becoming restless. I wanted to be the one sent on that Galloway mission, but of course, council duties called. The more you are needed the less enjoyment you have.”

“Did you hear that, Hand of the King contender?” Said Jaime looking at Jo.

Jo shrugged and stood up to pick up her mother’s sword, absurdly swinging it but seriously trying.

“Pod, you do realize you have mostly played the part of childcarer in this expedition,” said Brienne looking at her daughter.

“Right!? Imagine what my usual life is like…”

 “And what was this Galloway like?” Said Jaime.

“He was… a good man,” Pod meditated for a second, “he was one of the Blackfish’s men at the siege of Riverrun, I know this because he hated your guts and told me how you were entirely to blame for House Tully’s downfall.”

“Not the first, nor will be the last to say something of the sort, what else?”

“He was extremely competent, highly respected by his men. That is the thing I am fearing, in fact, whoever comes next to get what is hidden in those mountains, might not be facing only this test the dead talked to you about, but twenty rabid, insane men.”  

Jaime gave Brienne a quick look. The things the dead told us, maybe Galloway and his men were not the only ones having lost their senses a little.  

“What would be your plan, Pod?” Brienne asked.

“We know nothing of that thing, I could go there alone and get a hold of the situation, I fear to be adding more to the problem if I bring a larger company, of course, all of us -except for the King himself- was expecting these secret ‘spring of restoration’ to be the cure for his broken back.”

“Being that or not, I can understand why the King wouldn’t want that,” said Jaime.

If this reward were legs for himself, he would use it, immediately, to walk out of being a King, responsible son of his father he is, he would never give himself that temptation.

“But we cannot just let it pass, right? Not after what you just lived through as well. Eternal Spring is Coming.”

“Pod,” Brienne said, “please be discreet with that, we barely know ourselves what is going on, and we were…” Brienne passed her fingers through Jaime’s green stained face, “right down there with the gods.” She showed Podrick her tainted fingers to make her point.

“Speaking of…” Jaime said. The green men were finally returning with Arthur, they had taken him for ‘council with the children’ who would not usually let themselves be seen. As they approached one of the antlered men shook his head in disapproval at seeing the green mess Brienne and Jaime had made.

 “How did it go this time, darling?” Brienne said when Arthur walked to where they were.

“They like you.”

“That is all?” Jaime said.

“Yes, they know you have agreed and now they say they like you.”

“You see, Pod,” Jaime said, “mysterious are the creatures that were here before us... Oh, shit…”

Jaime saw how in no time Jo had climbed up a tree and was about to pull out one of the antlers of the green man.

“Joanna!” Everyone looked up, Jo shifted her position in the branch as if all she wanted was to hang upside down from it, she did not miss the chance to give her father an annoyed look, rightly so, Jaime thought.

“I, er… can you fetch me more of this?” Jaime said to one of the green men to diverge the attention, picking the empty bowl, “I am sorry, deeply sorry, it was an accident.”  


***

 

Five days later Jaime was reasonably ready to go and Brienne felt healthier than she had in years. Both were sitting a few feet away from the circle the green men had formed to play instruments and share stories with their son for the last time.

“I cannot watch. He wants to stay so bad, I am broken-hearted.” Brienne said.

“Yes, that is exactly the future I imagined for him, a life in the wild woods, playing jarring tunes and wearing fake antlers.”

“You are positive they are fake?”

“Your daughter.”

Brienne smiled.

“This expedition has been so good, right?” She said.

“Right”

The full moon was shining bright in the sky, Podrick was already sleeping, Jo was lying on her back, resting her head on her hands, looking up, surely dreaming about her own future. Neither she nor Jaime had been able to put words into what they lived at the feet of the rainbow Heart Tree. Something that was a little bit out of place was put back in place, that was all she could say. She felt harmonized with Jaime, this was also true, but in a subtle way. No matter their swords, their supposed worthiness or how much the children of the forest ‘liked them’ or not, she was still struggling with the fact of having been singled out.


“I don’t want to query how bad we certainly smell, though, all of us.”

“We make another stop in Harrenhal, for sure.”

“Harrenhal, oh gods… What are we, Jaime?”

“Husband and wife.” 

She smiled and laid on the ground, Jaime came to join her.

“I mean…”

“Somebody had to be picked, right? And whoever they were they would also ask why. If you want to know why we are here, right now, with all these oddballs and our own two peculiar children then I’ll tell you why, it is because back in the day you gave me an erection.”

 “We are here, fulfilling destiny, renewing ancient pacts, being taken care of by legendary guardians and communing with magical creatures because you had an erection?”

“I said something mean, you stood up to threat me, I saw you naked, you gave me an erection and suddenly I needed you to like me so I confessed all of my crimes in that bath... The rest… is history!”

“You are fucking kidding me.”

“Exactly, my Lady, no matter what you believe about destiny… there is no way, no way in all hells that the future of the Realm could have depended solely in Jaime Kingslayer Lannister getting a hard cock at the right time. I have resolved that from our perspective everything looks like a whim, and that is how it is supposed to look. Let the ones who see and know take care of the senses and the meanings, there is a chasm between us and them. We relax into it and all shall be well.”

 “The years have made you wise, my Lord.” She rested her head on his chest, preparing to sleep.

“Come to think of it… That would be a most effective way to keep this alliance unbroken if and when they plant the trees back.”

“Which one?”

You cut this tree your cock won’t ever get hard again, you have been warned, we put a sign below, no man will take such chances.”

“Goodnight, Jaime”

She dreamt about the colored leaves and the sea breeze in Tarth and the sunsets at Casterly Rock and the way Jo would sneak in their bed in the middle of the night when she was four or five. All those things were connected for her.

The rest was still uncertain. 

Chapter Text

Jaime and Brienne knew something was off the moment they saw the letter was addressed to both her parents. Jo usually found it enough to address and recount to her mother the details of her life at King’s Landing, leaving a line or two for sending regards to her father.

Brienne was attentively reading the letter, reclined at the edge of the library table, while Jaime waited, sitting in an armchair, his body pushed forward, his hand in his chin.  Brienne’s face denoted confirmation of their suspicions, she did not say anything as she passed the letter for Jaime to read in turn, she just began pacing the room. The message was neither long nor brief, it began with a long sweet -and uncharacteristically flattering- salutation, followed by the conundrum of the issue and finalizing with their daughter’s plea.

"Well, at least it corresponds to what Tyrion says," Jaime said after taking a long breath.

“What are you making of all of this?” Brienne asked.

“You first,” Jaime said.  

“Tyrion vouches that no matter how fond she has become of him, she does not want to be queen.” 

“If she is simply fond of him, that is enough for her to take things into her own hands and put into operation whatever she deems better for all of them... Fuck, we should have married her to Robin Arryn when we had the chance.” 

“Oh, don’t say that,” Brienne made a pause to think, “she is almost nineteen years old, I met you at that age.” 

“Yes, as if it was her my concern.” Brienne looked at Jaime in acknowledgment. “I never told you, in one of our visits he opened up to me about the girl he let go. It was still hunting him, almost twenty years later. She and her brother had stayed loyal to him, carrying him all across the North during his flee from Winterfell. Her brother died for him, her best friend died for him, she did not let go.  When they were safe and sound again, she declared her love, he was in full Raven spirit those days: ‘I am not Bran’ he said, ‘why are you expecting me to care… everything happens for a reason!” Jaime said the last thing with a sardonic, affected tone, “he wasn’t even sorry that he had no feelings whatsoever to speak of… When he recovered he sent people to look for her,  he would even marry her if she wanted him, unfit as he was. He discovered she had gone with the wildings way back, right after the Great War. He pushed to know more, he wanted to say sorry, really, passionately. It was too late, she didn’t want to know, she was already wed… Can you imagine, your loyal woman that got your back all the time leaving you behind to be with a wilding?” Brienne couldn’t help smiling at that remark, fully knowing the reference Jaime was making, “darling, our daughter is almost nineteen years old, I am afraid our poor King, on the other hand, is barely sixteen when it comes to these matters… I love her, I am positive there are lines she would not cross…, poisoning people, for example…, seduction, on the other hand…” Jaime inclined his head and extended his arm. “Meh.”   

Brienne gave a long breath, indicating she was coming to terms with the situation.

“What about you, Arthur, what do you make of this?” She said out loud.

Jaime and Brienne turned to look at the cabinet where they knew their son had been hiding.

“You are going to hurt your neck if you stay there for too long,” Jaime said.

The cabinet door opened from the inside, their long lanky son started to come out form the implausibly limited space.

“What can she possibly have on you to make you her spy?” Jaime asked.

“As if I wouldn’t be doing this out of the goodness of my own heart,” Arthur said now standing up and stretching his body. Neither Brienne nor Jaime pushed it, knowing that the reason was plausible even if -in this case- not completely true.

“Show some of that goodness to us now, please,” Jaime said.

“I cannot simply betray her confidence” Arthur replied.

“Excellent, it means you can complicatedly do so.” Jaime retorted, Arthur seemed unimpressed. “I could make you take the White Cloak and go protect your sister from herself.” Arthur lifted his arms confused as if his father had only uttered a senseless babel. Obviously, that was the emptiest threat Jaime could put, saying it more for his son to take pity on him, given how low he was reaching to fetch information. When you raise children to be carefree, the first thing they are going to be carefree about is you.

 “Arthur, please, we are trying to help,” Brienne said, using a far more serious tone.

“I don’t even know what she wrote to you,” Arthur said, finally showing a little bit of guilt.

Father…” Jaime picked the letter and started reading using the most affected tone he could put “you owe this to him. Mother… you are the bravest living knight in the Six-Kingdoms, in the North, and Beyond the North…” Jaime paused and dramatically pressed the letter against his heart, Brienne rolled her eyes, he continued reading. “I’ve managed to convince the King you two absolutely can do this for him and he won’t consent to send everyone but you… but only if you agree. I know you will because I know you can do this. You should have done it way back then, but let’s not look at the past anymore, now… now you have a chance to make everything right. Love, your daughter.”

You should have done it way back then. For all her ineffective baits and blandishments, it was true there were some pressure points Jo knew exactly how to press. It had been her, back then, who insisted Brienne and Jaime should have gone with Podrick and his men to the mountain quest, for the very same reasons she was stating in her letter now, as a matter of fact. It would have been quite irresponsible for him and Brienne to leave two children behind on the search of some holy spring. She did not understand, she threw a two-week tantrum followed by a month of cold stares and that had been that. It had been Jaime, Brienne, and Bran who had to deal with all the guilt afterwards. Unlike Galloway, Podrick only took three men with him when he set off for the expedition. Like Galloway and his men, they never returned. Like Galloway, Podrick sent a raven to King’s Landing. Unlike Galloway, his message was neither written in blood nor showing any sense of violent madness. It was disturbing in its own way, nonetheless. Here will be peace from now on, a perfect world for each of us. I am sorry but I can’t go back. Neither my men.  After that, Bran would not let anyone else be lost in some hopeless quest, and he cancelled the matter altogether. Suddenly, out of seemingly nowhere, the King was reconsidering things.

“Well, she is truly invested in him being restored, as you can see,” Arthur said.  

“And he is suddenly not that indifferent to the idea,” Jaime said.

Putatively”, Brienne said, addressing her son, “this fondness we agree exists on her part, is corresponded?”

Putatively...” Brienne and Jaime were listening, “she dislikes most men, most people if we are honest, and she likes this person and we know her, when she likes…, wants something… Who can stop her, right?  She doesn't want to be queen, this is true. At the moment, I believe, putatively, she is a very physical individual and she wants… just wants to express her affection.”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake!” Jaime shouted as Brienne put her palm on her face.

“I guess my sister will be satisfied with becoming Hand of the King… if it ever happens; but will never be satisfied only with the King’s hands… if it ever happens.”

Jaime looked around desperately to find something to throw at his son for that last remark, fortunately, his wife already had found a large book that was already being propelled into Arthur’s head; he dodged it with impeccable reflexes, the book falling with a big clatter on the floor.  A great swordsman he would have been if he was not such a stubborn pacifist, Jaime was convinced.   

“Mother! That is a 200-year-old volume on the hidden properties of soldier pines.”

“I am glad it hurt!” Brienne replied.

“So, am I going to report right away that you are not in for this thing, or should I wait for you to tell her?” Arthur said using a more conciliatory tone.  

Jaime closed his eyes for a moment, remembering when he had eavesdropped the conversation between Brienne and his daughter in the baths of Harrenhal. You should not make dreams of me. A part of him wanted to go fetch her from King’s Landing and lock her in a cell, another part of him was relieved. Still a child she had coldly said she might as well turn mean and cruel like the rest and yet… she was growing up to be good, in her own way, yes: calculating and controlling; with all the usual family traits, for certain. But her manipulations were always within the frame of sufficiently fair rules and her goals were never entirely selfish, no matter how much she would like everyone to think otherwise. She had taken in all of her mother’s discipline, determination, and diligence; an excellent, competent support for Tyrion in his exhaustion, his brother the one more invested in her learning all about the ruling trade. And Bran, King Bran, responsibility and melancholy in wheels. Jaime knew if he spoke straight to him about all this he would immediately draw back, not only from the chance of him walking but…

Jaime opened his eyes to look at Brienne, she seemed to be as meditative as he was. Arthur was turning his head to each in turn, waiting.

“You have made promises on your own,” their son reminded them.

“Arthur even if… what we promised to you, we promised; you might have to wait a little bit for it, we don’t know.” Brienne said breaking their silence, Arthur looked at her fearfully.

“I don’t mind that,” Jaime and Brienne knew he minded, though, “you have been given a gift, you cannot be reckless, risk it like this.”

Jaime sighed looking at his wrinkled one hand. When was the first time he noticed it wasn’t wrinkling, aging any further? Or at least not speedily doing so.    

Chapter Text

At the feet of the twisted Heart Tree still standing at the center of Casterly Rock godswood, she began to pray. Her prayers were mostly improvised as she had neither grown up in the faith of the old gods neither taken in the more ritualized practices of the new ones. Arthur had been her guide in these matters, mostly, even if he had stopped having numinous journeys at the age of ten —both by his own choice and the advice of the King.

He would have to earn knowledge ‘the hard way’ from then on. He studied, a lot, trying to connect what he called ‘high-regarded’ with ‘low-regarded’ wisdom. Faith, magic and nature. He had dreams. Dreams of peace. When he was thirteen, he approached Jaime and Brienne, shyly, but very seriously, nonetheless. He said he wanted to be the warden of Tarth (hating the word Lord), he said he dreamed about a ‘peaceful place’ where swords would be left in the shore, and people could ‘talk and listen’, a place where differences between the high and the lowborn would be blurred. What if the island gets overcrowded? Wouldn’t the island need at least some sort of Guard to protect the unarmed against threats? How is it that the work will be divided? Mother and father had tenderly asked the enthusiastic boy.  Two years later, their son barely had any of such details laid down and still, Jaime and Brienne were ready to let him go and try. It was fair, they had let Jo try and fulfil her own dreams at fifteen when she told them she would go to King’s Landing as Tyrion’s personal aid —Tyrion being the one adding the ‘if your parents consent’ clause.

Peace. It was not possible to deny that Jaime and Brienne had known so much peace ever since their return from the Isle of Faces. A peace which causes were hard to pin down. The Western seas were back to normal regarding fishing levels the year following their mysterious journey, but that was the only thing that had changed at the beginning. Lannister bannermen were still hard to keep in check, finances still left much to be desired, plots were still being plotted among the Lannister kin. But Jaime and Brienne were not that much distressed about it.  Did it become contagious? No new weirwood trees had been seen yet, or at least not in plain sight. But the mood in the West began to shift, subtly, tempers would not raise too quickly, pride not hurt that easily. Discreet —almost unnoticeable— cordiality was sprouting among the high and the little. Could everything be credited to a simple change in attitude? Queen Sansa told her once her father used to say that being a Lord was just as burdensome as being a father, a father to hundreds of thousands of people. A father that never sleeps because he has all those children to think of. That was exactly the way things had been for them before. But Jaime and Brienne were sleeping fine now. A week had passed since receiving Jo’s letter. Not even that had taken their sleep, their silent enjoyment of the days and each other. It was tomorrow they were leaving and she had spent most of her morning tranquilly reading a darn knight story.

As she rested her hands on the tree, Brienne took a good look at them in the sunlight. Oh! Right, there is that... It had been Arthur the first to point out the issue: ‘Weirwood trees live forever, the last person the Raven used as a host lived for 120 years, you should not be surprised if something has changed in you by the way is looking.’ ‘Great, just when I was beginning to look forward to the afterlife you come and tell me we’ll be stuck here up until fu-- who knows when?’ Jaime had retorted taking him half-seriously. With the years passage they became willing to reconsider the significance of the matter, later, when something gave them a pressing reason to do so.

May all those who live in the Father, in the Mother, in the Warrior, in the Crone, in the Smith and especially in the Stranger nurture us with their care on this journey. May the old gods keep us well. May we not make bad choices. She paused the flux of her thoughts for a second. And may I bring Podrick back home instead of him keeping us there.   

Unlike Jo and Arthur, Podrick was born in a time where fate was still something always chosen for you. He followed through the tide, mainly the path she ended up setting for him, more as a foster son turned squire than the other way around. He rose into the highest position a knight could dream of —twenty years ago. Arthur was not the only one having dreams and visions of peace. An entire generation being born after the two great wars had been raised by exhausted lords, soldiers, widows and peasants. Everyone had had enough. Everybody was ‘the broken man’ now. The times were changing. And Podrick was left stuck, much like she had been, between selflessness and personal wishes for happiness. What could he possibly have found there for him to leave all of his responsibilities behind and stay? Whatever her own ulterior motives, Jo was right. It was about time Jaime and Brienne took this matter into their own hands. Their children were old enough to fend for themselves in case the worse came to worst.

Worse, worst? A part of her told her: maybe the place is really good, maybe is good to stay. A part of her, she recognized, wanted to see for herself.

She turned from the Heart Tree to see Jaime approaching, he was carrying their ancient swords, they had given them to the blacksmith in case they needed an edge. It had been so long. When Jaime was close enough, he flung Oathkeeper for Brienne to catch.

“Poor Jor, he was so nervous about touching them”

“They needed anything?”

“Cleaning, that’s all, they were dusty.”

Brienne took Oathkeeper from her scabbard.

“Want to see how dusty we are using them?”

Jaime smiled, taking Widow’s Wail out of the scabbard as well.

“Ok.”

And so they began, slowly at first, sensing the gorgeous weight of the swords. These days they only sparred as a means ‘to keep health’, their combat style almost ludic. Brienne wanted to increase the difficulty, Jaime caught on that and responded accordingly. She started stroking faster, one, two, the swords kissing, he was keeping pace, for all she knew Jaime has left-handed now and he used it to his advantage. The valyrian steel shined with all its colors in the sunlight. This is us, dancing, she thought. And there was something eternal about their dance. It was too coordinated for them to ever really harm each other, they knew, intuitively, what the other was going to do just by locking their eyes together. It was not monotonous, it was liberating. She could be herself, striking as swiftly and hard as she wanted knowing fully well he would take the cue and dance, dance, dance, dance with her. Along with the eyes, they locked the swords, with Jaime pushing Widow’s Wail to one side and Brienne pushing Oathkeeper to the other. It was not a strength but a timing game.

They usually ended like this. If one of them dropped the sword at the right time, the other would fall, if –and only if– a lot of force was being pressed into the blocked swing. But if force was withdrawn from the strike then the sword would be easily pulled  out by the one not giving in. How much force to give or take and when to drop the sword? That could only be guessed or hidden in the eyes of the other. It was always a guess. This time, Brienne guessed correctly, Jaime was just about to drop the sword, she released a little bit of force, giving him the cue not to drop it but to push harder and as he did she let go. It happened in less than a second, he fell into the ground as she laughed. Lying flat, he turned his body to look at her admitting defeat and she came to sit in his chest using her knees for support.

“You are not letting me go, then?” Jaime said.

“I am not.”

Jaime pushed himself up with his arm, she shifted her weight to the ground so he could sit, with her legs still encircling him. He passed his hand through her hair, pulling it behind her ears.

“Have you said your prayers, sweet wife?”

“As far as you can call what I do praying, I have. Have you raised your son’s spirits?”

“As far as they can rise.  Three months as Casterly Lord will do him well, I believe.”

“He will have the whole castle under vegetables and grain in no time.”

“And when the troubles start he will begin to learn.”

“Perhaps they will all learn from him, and we’ll eat our words.”

“I would love to return and see that.” Jaime looked at Brienne more serious now. “Let’s just hope we do, right?”

“Right.”

Brienne stood up, giving Jaime a hand to stand in turn. They then picked up the swords from the ground.

“You realize it is entirely based on superstition that we are taking them with us?” Jaime said.   

“And still, wouldn’t you?”

Jaime nodded conceding then turned his gaze to the Heart Tree, he walked toward it to touch it briefly with his stump as his other hand was holding Widow’s Wail. If Brienne was clumsy at praying, Jaime was simply hopeless. He bowed to the tree as if it was some sort of commander or higher-order knight, saluting it before leaving for mission. A smile drew in Brienne’s face as Jaime turned with such an official gaze in him.   

“Did Robin Arryn confirm our hosting?”

“I was hoping he would not…” He said walking back to her, “but I yet cannot tell, Arthur has taken hold of all the correspondence. Surely trying to intercept the Tarly-boy’s responses to the postponement of their very oh so completely and absolutely secret plans.”

“You know, husband, even if we don’t age that fast… I am relieved we are at least too darn old to care.”

“Me too.” He said, kissing her briefly on the cheek before setting off to walk out of the godswood. She stood there, letting him go ahead for a moment.

Let’s just hope we do return. He had said.

Right. She had said...

 

Right?

Chapter Text

“I told Galloway to shut the fuck up. I told him my mother poisoned my father blaming the Lannisters and that had been the thing that set everything rolling, just like Sansa told me. I told him to shut up about noble house Tully.”

Robin Arryn was in a particularly cheerful mood and Brienne and Jaime were having one of the most outstanding experiences they could remember in a long while. At some point, during the dinner, Robin had suggested them to ‘go drink in the sky cells, fantastic view’. It was a fantastic, eerie view, indeed. Two decades ago, those same cells —if they could think— would never have imagined the playful purpose they would have in the future. Tyrion had been imprisoned in one of them, one of the most horrific experiences in his entire life. The times, they are changing. Robin the man was not that bad. The moon gate had not been used in years, nor the traps at Giant’s Lance, nor —of course— the sky cells…

They had taken their time to get to the Eyrie, loving road journeys as much as they did. Jaime was not looking forward to making a stop there, but they had to, as that had been the last place Galloway and Podrick had been seen. They came to find both knights took on a path that had previously been blocked by ice for centuries. Vale bannermen didn’t even know there was a trail awaiting behind the ice blocks near the Bloody Gate if one turned in direction to the Mountains of the Moon instead of continuing up to the Eyrie. More conspicuously, even if the path had been unblocked, the unruly mountain clans had not dared to step foot in there. Within a decade of ruling the East, Robin had come to befriend some of the leaders, reaching a truce of sorts.  They had told Lord Robin those were places ‘not to be soiled by the feet of men’.

As if Robin could care any less to go. He had cut through all the formalities from the very beginning, the Eyrie dining hall a colourful, loud place full of musicians, performers and —surprisingly enough— wild mountain clansmen. The Lord of the Vale insisted on making Brienne and Jaime retell ‘the stories of old’ about the Great War, about the Dragon Queen and even about the War of the Five Kings. He seemed to have placed bets with some of his recurrent guests about this one fact or the other; most of the company were at least ten years younger than Brienne. There was one man, a singer, that would not take his eyes off Robin, in a tender manner, similar to the way Brienne looked at Jaime whenever he had a sudden idea or was being reckless or was merely not behaving properly according to the circumstances. He caught Robin glancing once or twice back, recognizing the silent admonition. No wonder he did not keep pressing about marrying Jo, Jaime thought, the Warden of the East seemed to have finally found a caring and sensible partner, and it showed in his attitude.

Brienne had been the one asking about the sky cells more out of dark curiosity than anything else. When Robin suggested all of them going the morbidity had passed to Jaime. He was very close to asking the singer to join them, uncharacteristic prudence got the best of him, though. He did not know how far this was the Lord’s own business and he wouldn’t have wanted to make things awkward for them. Only the three of them were there then, sitting with their backs pressed to the wall, looking at the night landscape and into the void, two glass lamps as their only light aside from the moon.

“Why take the poor knight out of his illusions?” Jaime asked, taking the wine from Robin’s hands and drinking from it. Gods, even Brienne was drinking hard that night. As if all of them needed at least a little bit of hazard.

“He came with all the speeches, old-raised chump, old days of honor, the Blackfish and Hoster, the Riverrun siege, and so on and so forth… He asked me what I would do with my own lineage, what would my mother think if she saw I was befriending mountain wildings…” Robin took the wine jar from Jaime’s hands and shrugged.

“How did he take it?” Brienne asked.

“He did not believe me, self-righteous fucker. I let him go on his brave mission and there you have it… Podrick, entirely something else. Fantastic human being.  I told him not to go. The mountaineers told him not to go.  My lover told him not to go.” Brienne and Jaime gave each other a quick glance, indeed, the times they were changing.  “But your friend needed to, it was strong this thing in him, to do something… meaningful.” Robin shrugged again. “You two should not fucking go either, but maybe you are bored as hell, right? Maybe you want to disappear. Maybe this world no longer belongs to any of us…” Robin’s face denoted he knew he was ruining the mood for all of them, he changed the tone in cue. “How is your sweet daughter?”

“Fine, happy, at King’s Landing,” Brienne said.

“You do well into letting her fucking be. I don’t speak for me, at this point I recognize I wouldn’t want anyone’s daughter married to me. But even if the fellow was a catch… you did what fucking brave knights are supposed to do… The fuck with inheritances and titles…”

“Who suggested you marrying her?” Jaime asked traying to put some brakes into the Lord’s rants.

“I suggested it to myself before I came to terms with the fact I wouldn’t be reproducing myself. Now it’s fine. This castle goes to the mountain clans after I am gone, it belongs to them.”

“The King…”

“May the gods bless the King. He can brake war with the mountain clans… ha! Will he? I don’t think so. Your son can give him some toad wisdom…”

The better part of Jaime wouldn’t want to follow up on that comment

“Arthur?” The better part of Brienne wanted to, though.

“Or one of the Tarly scoundrels… I don’t know… You smoke some poison toad you see the connectedness of it all... The rumours say, but I keep the strangest of companies, so who knows what? The thing is hard to get, more of it may become available once your heir takes upon ruling the little Isle… Rumour has it… Don’t tell I told… Or do.” Robin shrugged again.

Jaime and Brienne looked at each other, briefly rolling their eyes.  

“Maybe we should get back inside,” Jaime said.

“Robin…, can we stay here.”

Jaime and Robin raised their eyebrows at Brienne’s petition.

“Of course you can…, never done so myself, not ballsy enough to risk the fall…” Robin rose, not entirely able to balance himself and noticing it. “I’ll make sure more wine and some furs are brought to you…, won’t close the cell… in case you were wondering.”  

“Thanks, please don’t”, said his wife, smiling.

“You two look well by the way…” Robin said before leaving them, “the lucky few."

Jaime gave Brienne a quizzical look after Robin parted.

“What? You don’t’ think this is a good idea?” She picked up the wine jar Robin had left on the floor and drank.

“You are heavily drinking, you are encouraging unnecessary dangers, what is going on?”

Ah!” Said Brienne shrugging, imitating Robin Arryn’s indifferent mannerisms.  

Jaime laughed, a servant came bringing a new full jar of wine and some bear furs. Jaime picked them, thanking the servant.

 “Close the gate and come here.” His wife said.

Jaime used his body to close the cell door hoping they would not somehow manage to get locked up in there. He handed the wine jar to Brienne which she placed beside her. He then threw the furs to her other side. She was sitting with her knees bent in front of her, she opened them to make a space for him. He sat with his legs circling her and as soon as he did, she began trailing kisses along his neck and up to his chin, untying the laces of his shirt.  

“Wow, I…” Jaime was sincerely not expecting the night shifting in that direction “Have I succeeded in corrupting you?”

“Corrupting me? Jaime, what the heck?”

“I am not complaining” The edge into the void was so close it almost felt they were suspended in mid-air, it was dreadful and extraordinary, “but… let alone the fact of how much we have drunk, if we get too exhausted and fall sleep we may roll into the edge... and…”  

Brienne was not having any of that. She picked up the new wine and gave him more to drink, a lot of it falling into his chest. You always save this wildness for whenever there is something very precious at stake. I guess I’ll figure out what it is in the morning.  His legs still coiled around her, he let his back down into the floor, knowing that night he would be loved well.

“I don’t need no toad poison to know the connectedness of it all…”

Was the last thing she spoke out loud before letting herself unleash into his flesh.

******

The rising sun was hitting her naked body, she was looking at it, her back pressed against the sidewall, her eyes immersed in the unfathomable beauty of the site.

“This has to be, by far, the most beautiful thing I have seen in my entire life.” Jaime was waking up, he wondered if she had any sleep at all; wild as she had been, she would have turned to her responsible self once sleep had come to him, to keep watch of his fall.

“Right?” Brienne said turning to look at him.

“I mean you. And then you-looking-at-this. I mean the whole thing.”

Brienne’s eyes turned uncertain.

“What?” Jaime rose carefully to sit next to her, he caressed her face.

Nothi… not now.” She placed a quick kiss on his lips. “This is our last chance, are we prepared?”

“It’s hard to know, given we don’t know what we are exactly preparing for.

Brienne let herself wander in thoughts for a moment, she caressed his arm looking at the rising sun, there was something firm and serious in her manners that distressed Jaime a little.

“Do we know each other well?” She finally said.

“Perfectly.”

“Because… If we put the Galloway and the Podrick story together, we might come to know everything about each other in this place… And maybe… either we don’t like that at all or we like that too much and we won’t move ever again…”

“A third option is, of course, we do only what we are supposed to do, get out, and that’s it…” Brienne was not convinced. “What?”

“What would you change about me?”

“What are you talking about”

The sunrays were illuminating them fully now. She kept on touching him softly, reassuring him he could talk.

“If I was brought back, restored, like the messages promised the King to be restored, if we were, what would you change?” She continued.

“My love, let me tell you: right now, you are running this fucking gorgeous moment.”

She laughed.

“I think I would change a lot of things about you if I were given a clean slate…”

“What?”

“I am an idiot, Jaime, I wouldn’t know any better. Living is so different from knowing…”

“What is going on?”

“I was thinking of the things I have never asked you in the… what? Twenty-two years that we have been married. I was thinking of the things I keep to myself, of the things you keep to yourself.  Nothing that important… But…”

“What do you want to ask?”

“Do you still believe I am better than you?”

That took Jaime by shrill surprise. He was naively expecting Brienne would say something along the lines of him thinking she was beautiful or if he would rather have her any another way in that sense. He had never asked himself what she just asked. And darn…

“Oh, fuck!” Oh, fuck “I guess, I guess that has always been my underlying belief, so… yes.”

“I don’t like that.” She said it in a simple, matter-of-factly way.

“All right… I will… stop believing that.” Jaime said hesitantly.

“Because it’s false.”

“Right.”

It never stops, it always gets deeper. A thousand sunrises, not one is the same as the other, yet it’s the same thing happening over and over. It’s always new, it never ends.

“Anything you…?”

“You think I would have you looking different?” Right, it was his question, his concern, not hers.  

“Yes.” Again, assertively she said it, a simple fact of life. No, my dear, a lie.

“I will not defend your beauty, you don’t need to defend the beauty of trees, mountains, rain, wolves and sunsets. You know how fixed I can get… I would puke at you being anything else at this point. I have always been singular… single-minded when it comes to my tastes. I didn’t know what arousal was before meeting you. I always had to convince myself about my sister’s supposedly unquestionable beauty. For many years I had to convince myself about your supposedly unquestionable ugliness. I felt free the moment I began liking what I really liked. Freed I also began eying other women that looked like you, by the way.”

She smiled, she believed him.

“It wouldn’t have mattered if you had had to adapt, though, we don’t need a perfect story to love each other truly…”

“I know. But in this case, it’s true. Call me deranged if you want… my tastes are mine.”

Again, she smiled, again, she believed him.

 “How guilty you feel about your own happiness?” She said.

Another question he had never asked himself but that he immediately knew the uncomfortable answer to.

Extremely… but is something I have gotten used to carrying.”

“I carry it too, it’s burdensome, sometimes, the happier and peaceful I get… I don’t know if that ever comes off or if it even should.”

Jaime nodded. There were things there was not much to do about. Perhaps not everything could be fixed.

“What is your biggest regret?” He asked, everyone was so used to his thousand ones.

“Not crying hard enough for my first daughter. Blaming me for many years, not sharing the pain enough with you. Hiding her death within me, fearful of it ruining our precious bliss, wondering how I would make it different…. Feeling her death had crumbled the meaning of you and me…”

“What meaning?”

“Exactly. It probably was crib dead, I lost two sisters that way. Maybe she had a gift like Arthur and was too young to take. We don’t know. But we were very stupid, we placed too much on her being born... as if it was about us.  We placed too much on all three of them. I am happy they are not that nutsy… We forced them into choosing almost everything for themselves... Isn’t that as bad as leaving them few if any choices?”

“That… Time will tell, I guess… But it was right to place too much. It is. That is what you risk when you love. Let our idiot children take it and deal with it as we did in turn.” He said, caressing her nascent tears.  

“Do you dream about the things you would have done different?”

“Yes, it’s a habit,” he said.

“What is the most recurrent?”

“You want to hear it?”

“Please.”

“I somehow go into the past and know everything that is going to happen. I kidnap Joffrey and go look out for you, we raise him in Pentos… and then we have our own kids. It’s my dream so we have the kids we already have. Joffrey corrects himself under your influence and supervision, a pain in the ass, still, but not a violent maniac…, all the Starks live, Robert Baratheon still dies hunting —asshole— and Cersei marries Oberyn Martell, they have happy orgies forever after and everything is well...” He began laughing and crying at his own foolishness, his own innocence, his own desire for restoration.

“It’s a beautiful dream, Jaime.”

“Really? Dornish orgies and all?”

“I wouldn’t give a damn.”

“Yeah, me neither.”

The sun was full in the sky, the entire Vale for them to grasp and gasp at.

“I feel we are truly ready. We rest tonight and then we put an end to this seven-year-itch, whatever it takes.”

It never ended, it always gets deeper, it would go deeper forever.

“I love you, wife.”

“I love you too, husband.”

Chapter Text

They found a clear, almost straight forward path to the ruins. Still, it took them five days to get there.

The beginning of the journey had been common enough, the road neither steep nor entirely flat. Most probably ancient stone tiles paved the way and there was not much snow left covering them. Maybe Galloway or even Podrick had a harder time finding a trail, now the weather —and perhaps the other knights’ passage— had made things far simpler for Brienne and Jaime.

Then the silence began. To their left and right, increasing silence the further in they got into unknown terrain. Silence, but our horses’ strides. She did not lose her hold on Jaime the first night, after making tent. She did not lose it any other night. From time to time she would also grip Oathkeeper, while riding, eating, or lying without gaining sleep. As a charm, as an amulet. By the second day -for no reason whatsoever- Jaime and her began talking in whispers. The air was —felt— different. There was vegetation, though, and weirwood trees, more weirwood trees together than either of them had ever seen in their lifetime. Ravens flew in flocks, occasionally. She felt they were being watched. Always. She felt they were going in circles and yet going forward, if that was possible. She understood why the mountain clans would not step foot in there. This was no place for Men. She thought of names to give to the place, names that would pick in case Jaime and Brienne wouldn’t make it out either: Knight’s Doom; Hushed Trail; Crow’s Dwell.  

It was on the fourth day that they came in front of  the frozen lake in between a narrow mountain passage. It made no sense. The lake should not be frozen, yet it was, solid as stone. The horses were hesitant, but still, Brienne and Jaime managed to ride them on. The landscape looked taken from an olden knight story. I don’t think even Ser Galladon of Morne would claim to have ridden his horse in a place such as this. She thought. Who could have told me as a child, while I was hearing my nurse’s stories, that I would have both dreams and nightmares, all come true?

They left two letters with Robin Arryn: one for Jo and one for Arthur. Just in case. It had been her idea, no matter how uncomfortable writing them had been for them. What was the source of the uneasiness? A still small voice kept on asking: what if? What if she and Jaime could depart forever to an eternal, mystifying place? She kept quieting the voice, she kept pulling the thought behind her.  

The frozen lake ran down below the two mountains where they could no longer follow. To the side they saw a small field at the feet of an almost vertical stairway of stone where the mountains joined. That was as far as the horses would go. That was —for certain— as far as anybody’s horses had gone, yet there was no trace of human passage, so either all of them had taken all their belongings up, or… who knows? Jaime and Brienne made tent that night and they left it as it was perhaps just to make a point on leaving their traces. They also tightened the horses to a weirwood tree, the rope lose so that they could graze. They were determined not to take more than a day or two in coming back.  

Up they went. Only swords and some food with them. Brienne was behind, as Jaime had only one hand to hold in case he slipped. She was regulating her breathing, caring not to get too exhausted. It had been an hour of climb before they got to the top.

And up above they found the ruins, a flat surface that extended itself wide at the top of those mountains, like a small Isle suspended in air.  

And there they finally found the swords and the shields, the traces of knights that had been there. Tents, glass lamps, bags. 

But there were no bodies, living or dead. 

A Stone Godswood. Brienne thought. Weirwood trees made of solid stone, carved to perfection. Carved runes on each of them. Some signs she did not understand. Some signs she understood: Hands, eyes, ears, fire, water, ice. Then what looked like words, unreadable to either of them. 

Ravens flew. 

They walked toward the center of the Mountain Isle and they spotted the cylindrical construction. A temple? It was the size of a small sept, the circular wall completely smooth, as if made from one single piece of rock.  Its height was about twelve feet. They circled the building and discovered it had one door on its left side and one door on its right. Carved in one the symbol of a left hand with an ear on its palm. Carved in the other the symbol of a right hand with an eye on its palm. 

"Blood." Jaime said, when they were in front of the one on the right.  Something written with that blood, for sure, but the years had faded away the letters. Galloway, probably. The door had no handle and Jaime simply pushed it a little bit open.

“Wait,” said Brienne, grabbing Jaime by the shoulder. He let go of the push and the door returned to its position.  

“This is it, Brienne."

“Yes. But which door are we going to use?” 

"Does it make a difference?”

“The other one featured no blood.”

Jaime made a pause to consider.

“True,” he sighed. “Why don’t we take one each, so we can cover each other?”

A part of her wanted to follow Jaime wherever he might go, but what he said made sense. If one door was safer than the other, they had a chance to rescue each other… She guessed.

“Which door calls you the most?” Brienne asked. 

“The bloody one, of course,” he said.

She wanted to protest but she wanted to get out as soon as possible as well, so she just nodded and began walking to the opposite side of the circle. Why the fuck I didn’t kiss him? She thought. Because everything is going to be fine. She attempted to convince herself.

When she reached the left-side door she made sure it could be opened as easily as the one on the right. It could.

“Ready,” she shouted.

“Go,” he said.  

**********

 

Jaime pushed the door fully open this time and entered.

And as soon as he was inside he knew… that there he would know everything. 

Everything.

Whatever question that would pose in his mind he would know the exact, precise answer. He knew.

Where is Brienne? Was the first thing he asked. 

Left to me. He heard inside his head. 

He turned his head, she was left to him.

And the knights, they were there, all of them. He could see them in plain sight, the temple ceiling was made of ancient resin —he heard inside his head— and it let the sunlight pass as it there was no ceiling to speak of. Galloway? He asked. Took the same door I took. He now knew. His knights, Podrick’s knights, were kneeling in their armors, forming rows around the spring: a tiny fountain at the center of the temple. Their bodies were not decomposed, their eyes were wide open yet they were rigid as rock. They drank from the spring, he knew. Brienne was bending in front of one of them, examining the features; Podrick, Jaime knew and could also see. She was touching Podrick’s face.

This is the source from which the souls living inside the trees drink. This is the spring of restoration. He knew. Galloway took it to escape the nightmare of knowing everything, his men followed. Podrick took it because… he knew the future?  

I don’t know the future. But Brienne does. Now it is all that she knows.

Jaime was slowly realizing Brienne and he would get lost inside the place ir there did not do something fast. Still he was not moving.

Will the water make Bran walk? No, he knew, bus he will be restored. 

I need to get to the spring, pick the water with my scabbard… I can’t… What?

He saw Brienne approaching the spring. Maybe she can take it? No… Not now?

To his absolute horror he saw Brienne take some water from the spring, cupping it with her hands, and taking a sip from it. She turned around and walked next to Podrick. She knelt and then froze.

Why!? 

Because she knows the future, I don’t. 

Had Jaime been a different kind of man, he would have pondered all the options lying before him. Instead he just walked to the spring and cupped the water as Brienne had done.

Will we wake up? Was his last question to the all-knowing voice.

You can wake up. He heard. All right, that is all I need to know. 

He brought the water to his lips and drank

Chapter Text

He was wearing the White Cloak. That was the first thing he noticed. He turned his head around to look at his surroundings. He was inside the walls of a castle — Highgarden? — and he was pacing, going somewhere, where? 

"Jaime, over here!" 

Jaime froze, he recognized the voice. He looked at the direction from where it was coming, indeed, Arthur Dayne.  His brother in arms was beckoning for him to come close. 

"You need to see this, brother!" 

Jaime began following Ser Dayne with no hesitation as if this were a matter of course. What? This life is familiar, it’s mine…, he thought, but I also remember the spring, the knights, Brienne taking the water. Is this a dream? He followed Ser Dayne, he noticed they were heading for the main courtyard of the castle, the season… autumn?  This had to be around 30 years ago... But Arthur Dayne is alive. This must be a dream, but not like the one in the Isle of Faces.

We are here for Renly Baratheon’s wedding. Jaime remembered, somehow.  

Ser Arthur had reached the courtyard, a banquet was taking place, a wedding banquet. Margery Tyrell and Renly Baratheon’s wedding. That was the only thing not entirely off.  The rest of what his eyes saw was pure madness. Robert Baratheon was holding the King’s crown and he was slender, handsome as he had been in his youth, and next to him was Lyanna Stark, his queen. Brandon Stark —Ned’s murdered brother— was sitting next to Catelyn. Right…, she was originally betrothed to him. Good enough, his own sister was also there, for fuck’s sake, holding Ned Stark’s arm of all people, a glass of wine on her other hand.  

A wedding tourney was taking place, two contenders sparring in the yard now. They were wearing helmets, but Jaime knew his wife’s, —yes, my wife—, body and style of fighting all too well. The other one must be… Loras? He was struggling to keep pace, Brienne was striking fiercely, swiftly, everyone was cheering… at her? When her opponent felt on his ass and took his helmet off Jaime got confirmed it had been Loras the one she had completely subdued.


"Interesting woman, isn’t she?” He heard Arthur Dayne say behind him. 

“And behold!, Lady Brienne of Tarth!” Renly said before Jaime could answer, “here is, your Grace, my bravest, fiercest warrior. May you not steal her for the Kingsguard!”

“To Lady Brienne of Tarth,” not-gruesomely-fat Robert Baratheon said, raising his glass.

“To Lady Brienne of Tarth!” Everyone else said on cue.

And Renly’s bravest, most fierce warrior saluted the King, the newlyweds, the rest of the guests and then walked away toward his and Ser Arthur’s direction, fast, as if she wanted to get out from the attention as soon as possible. Not even taking the helmet off. She passed them without giving them much of a look.

It was at that moment that Jaime could sense, in a certain way, the emotions of this other life. From the bottom of this other-him, he felt a strong drive to follow this fierce Lady Brienne of Tarth wherever she was heading —my wife! — Jaime had to remind himself again, though.

“Excuse me,” he said to Ser Arthur, and to his utmost surprise, the other knight just nodded.

******

Brienne opened her eyes to see a plate in front of her. She was sitting, a spoon in her hand. She raised her gaze, father? But not only Lord Selwyn was at the table, as she got accustomed to while growing up, but three other people were there. A young handsome man —with blue eyes like hers— was sitting next to her father. Then, to her side, a girl of no more than six and ten and to her other side one perhaps three or four years younger.

“Galladon, your sister has rejected five suitors already” her father was saying “what makes you think she will like this mysterious new one?” Galladon, my brother! What is going on?  

Galladon gave a little laugh.

“I believe it is fate dear family, and I will explain my reasons by making you guess who this visitor is instead of straightforward telling it…” It was the spark of interest she suddenly felt in her gut what made her realize that, yes, a part of her was panicking, but also, a part of her felt nothing out of the ordinary with the situation that was taking place. I know all these people, she thought, this is my life.

“Go on, brother! I like guessing.” She found herself saying.

“Father will never recognize this” Her brother said with a hint of a smile “but we all know that we are direct descendants of Ser Duncan the Tall”

“Galladon!”

“Ah, please father, let him tell!” The youngest girl said. Alysanne? I only got to hold you while you were a babe.   

“So, legend or history —as you may prefer— tells us that Ser Duncan’s true love was of course…”

“Rohanne Webber, the Red Widow!” Her sister, Arianna!, said.

“Points to you, sweet sister… We all know how that went down, though…”

“Ser Duncan fell ill and when he woke up he found Rohanne was already married” now it was Brienne, which of the two of us?, responding, “Rohanne gave him a beautiful horse which he rejected, they said goodbye with a kiss and Ser Duncan cut her long braid to remember her forever.”

Alyssane gave a long exhalation, clearly taken by the love story. Brienne felt a kind of warmness in her heart she never knew she’d always longed for, the desire to be with all her siblings, to have grown up in a crowded, cheerful family.

“So…” Galladon continued. “Even if Duncan and Rohanne never got their love story fulfilled, their descendants might get a second chance to set things right!”

“Lord Jaime Lannister of Casterly Rock, no way!” Arianne said hitting the table with her palm.

“Arianne that is nonsense” Again, Brienne simply found herself saying.

“Your dear Lancel? I never would have imagined…” Lord Selwyn began saying.

Galladon laughed again, very hard this time.

“I believe, sweet family, our dear Arianne is right on this occasion. It is not my friend but his sullen elder cousin whom I believe has taken interest in my sister.”

Brienne was intrigued and annoyed, and he could not tell which Brienne was feeling what. I should be waking up, if I am dreaming. Right… I should.

The grieving Lord?” Lord Selwyn said,if he finally wants a chance on happiness he should look elsewhere, we don’t want your sister breaking the heart of someone already so bestowed with tragedy.”

Instinctively, Brienne turned the spoon she was holding and tried, discreetly, to take a look at her face. It was her all right, all her distinctive features were there, freckles, swollen lips, big teeth, nothing had changed. In what nonsense had she gotten herself into then? How in all hells can I be a heartbreaker?  

“Why is he called the grieving Lord?” Brienne’s youngest sister asked.

Well I guess you are now old enough to hear the story”, her father said “a long while ago, Jaime’s Lord father served as Hand to the Mad King Aerys, we know how that ruling went down, of course, but what made Prince Rhaegar turn against his own father was the way he gruesomely executed both Lord Tywin and his daughter, Cersei, who was Lord Jaime’s twin sister.”

“Father, please, I don’t think we need to talk about the details”. Brienne said, as an image of severed hands inside a trunk suddenly appeared in her mind’s eye.

“Wise and prudent as usual, my dear daughter…, in any case, Lord Jaime was still a boy of no more than twelve back then and he only had his younger brother, his mother being passed away years ago already. They were raised by his uncle Kevan Lannister, father of Lancel. The grieving Lord name came after he rejected several betrothal attempts, his uncle excusing him with the fact the young man was still grieving and could not do justice to a wife in such a state…When he was old enough to become Lord of Casterly Rock everyone expected he would take a wife, though, he did not.”

“To his defense”, Galladon said, “I know Lord Jaime was adamant in putting all the West affairs in order before even considering making a family, but the grieving Lord nickname stuck, more as a mockery behind his back.”

“People can be so mean sometimes, but is he fine now then, is he a good suitor for Brienne?” Alysanne said.

 “Aside from his sullen character reputation, he is one of the wealthiest and supposedly must beautiful men in Westeros!” Arianne replied.

“Which might have been —though this is solely my opinion— the real reason he is still not married… but my reasons for assuming this are already intertwined with the way he ended up wanting to visit Tarth…”

“Well, my son, you have already revealed the big secret, you might as well finish the story”

Brienne felt a strong impulse to rise from the table, not wanting to listen any further. In what story had she been caught in? I need to be alone with my thoughts, I can’t make sense of things this way, not with everyone here. But her brother from this other life was speaking again and she felt once more compelled to carry on listening.

“We were coming back from training, Lancel and me, we entered the common room to find Lord Jaime there, sit at the table, supposedly minding his own business. Lancel asked me about Brienne, if my father had managed to find anyone that would please her, I told him the last one ended up with two broken ribs, that seemed to caught Lord Jaime’s attention, Lancel noticed and told him that my sister would not marry anyone she could beat in combat and that had proven to be a woe for the Lords and Knights in the Stormlands as her combat style was becoming legendary, while her integrity and her virtue were well known to be unsurpassed.”  Oh dear, how much more ridiculous can this get?  It was becoming easier and easier for Brienne to be reminded this was not her world. “Lord Jaime seemed not to be taken by this information, though, he returned to what he was doing…, still, five days later, right before I was leaving I received a message with his seal. With all proper manners and excuses, he essentially asked me if my Lord father would consent in hosting him, with his brother’s family in Tarth.”

Aryanna and Alysanned looked at each other with complicity, Lord Selwyn looked cautious, though.

“That is it, no other explanation?”

“I can place a wager that he needed an excuse, he surely made his family go on with him not to raise obvious suspicions.”

“You are making a lot of assumptions, Galladon,” this, Brienne really meant to say, “when is he arriving, in any case?” It might as well be Jaime himself coming, gods be good, and then they could sort things out together.

 “When is he coming? I can’t believe how uninterested you were sister… Finally you care then? Tomorrow, for the eleventh time, tomorrow!”

****

Lady Brienne of Tarth was walking fast, away from all the wedding commotions; Jaime was following her, keeping a little bit of distance. He was fascinated. He was letting this other him live in him, letting him feel his feelings. A mixture of effervesce, excitement, entrapment. I am being taken by her, at first sight, for the first time. Gods…, this is the way I would have wanted it.

Where are you going? I want to follow you.

She was turning corners, swiftly, passing walls and doors. This was a chase, an exhilarating chase, his blood was palpitating, he felt alive. There were now fewer and fewer passer-by’s between him and her, I must be careful that she not might hear my footsteps… What am I saying? This is Brienne! But still, he was being careful. He knew now where she was heading, inside the Highgarden’s infamous briar Labyrinth. She knows it well. I might get lost. He thought, his excitement increasing even more if that was possible.

She saw her get inside, he got inside in turn. She was nowhere to be found; the hunt began. Walls of thorns eight feet high, twisting and disorienting, dead ends, silence. I will find you Brienne of Tarth, he and this other self thought in unison.

After a few more turns it was her who found him, though, facing him directly in the midst of the maze.

“Why are you following me?”

She no longer had the helmet on, her gorgeous blue eyes staring straight at him. Gods she is so young, barely seventeen! He knew her well, he knew she had been crying, he could tell.

“My Lady, excuse me” Jaime was letting this other self take full control now, he wanted to see what would happen. “I saw you leaving in such a hurry, I thought something might have troubled you.”

Young Brienne stared at him poignantly, trying to figure him out. She is so beautiful, she looks so innocent.

I want to kiss you.

“I am very sorry, I should introduce myself”

“Who wouldn’t know who you are?” Brienne said, bluntly.      

“Right” The Peacemaker, Jaime thought immediately, the Peacemaker? He would have time to make sense of this other life, not now. “But I have never introduced myself personally to you.

Young Brienne raised her eyebrows, baffled. Jaime bent to his knee in response.

“Ser Jaime Lannister, at your service.” He raised his gaze to meet hers. She still looked surprised, —stunned, actually— but now also a little bit comforted. Jaime rose quickly, satisfied with his move. “Now, if I can guess, were you taken a little bit aback by your Lord Renly getting married?” Was that him or the self he was living in speaking? Now young Brienne looked not only shocked but also angered. Me, definitely me. And, of course, he couldn’t help but be amused at his beloved’s frown. “If it serves as consolation, I believe Loras Tyrell is suffering as much or even more than you…, of course, fortunately or unfortunately, he can see Lord Renly alone without raising many  eyebrows, you can’t though.” That gained Jaime an eye-slap from Brienne.

“If this is how you are in person, Ser, I would have preferred to know you only by reputation.”

That made Jaime throw a big laugh. Not only her quick snarky, reply but the irony that in this world it was preferable to know him only by reputation was filling him with mirth.

“I am sorry, you might be right, I got clumsy because it breaks my heart looking at you so sad.” It was only briefly that her eyes sparked, more than two decades observing the subtle changes in her gaze made him knew how flattered and interested she actually was, it was the shortest of moments, though, because instantly enough she gave the White Cloak a long look. “I am not intending to seduce you, if that is what you are thinking” All these expressions in her, blossoming for the first time in front of him.  I am so in love. I want to be here forever…, what am I saying?

“Ser Jaime.”

Dayne? Brienne changed expression again, hilariously, she looked as if they had been caught kissing.

“And Lady Brienne!, the King sent me to fetch you but I see my brother in arms, true knight as he is, caught his King’s wishes even before he could voice them out loud. Please, everyone wants to talk to you!”

What is this world? Should I take my chances? Jaime had nothing to lose, and he was amusing himself to end, it would be a good way to test the reality of this new dream.

“Ser Arthur, I know I am a sworn brother of the Kingsguard, but I have fallen completely in love, Lady Brienne, honourable as she is, is clearly showing concern for the situation”. Jaime controlled his incoming laughter with all his might.

And again, to his surprise, Ser Arthur nodded and smiled.

“You have done so much for the Realm already, Ser Jaime, were I younger I’ll be in your case.”

What the fuck! Ain’t this so fucking perfect for me? Young Brienne was now looking at both knights a little bit confused but not entirely troubled.  Wait… What a fucking idiot, so far she has shown no indication of knowing me... She… She is not Brienne...

Brienne.

Jaime felt as if being pulled out of the water. For a moment he opened his eyes and saw he was in the temple of the spring, kneeling, his body paralyzed. It was no more than a second, soon enough he was back, young big blue-eyed Brienne staring at him, Ser Arthur beaming.., His hands, two hands, the Highgarden labyrinth...

Oh, shit.                         

 

Chapter Text

She gave herself a long look in the mirror before getting into bed. I am seventeen, she knew and could confirm by her reflection. Underlying this seventeen-year-old self was, though, a sense of confidence she never knew until way later in her own life. This life seems to be good for me… but not for Jaime, is this fair? She feared the more she wanted to be with her siblings, to be in this world, the less she would get to remember about the way she got here. With all her might she tried to picture again the sequence of events from before. She had been overwhelmed by images after entering the temple. The first one of a rainbow tree, not underground, but amid King’s Landing godswood. As if King’s Landing’s Heart Tree had turned into the one below. Then she saw a long table at the feet of the tree; wine, laughter, Spring; her children, Jaime, Tyrion, Podrick, the King, the King was still in his chair, but everything was so merry. Then she saw the King lying down, sleeping, at the same spot where she saw the merry table, and the Heart Tree was not yet full of colors. As if these things were connected, she then saw Jaime drinking the water from the temple spring and she saw herself drinking the water as well. Finally, she saw herself getting close to Podrick’s paralyzed body to caress his face. The vision had stopped there. But then she had seen Podrick amongst the kneeling knights, and so she instinctively bent to caress his face. I saw some future and now I am living it? She had thought. She had felt compelled, pulled, to drink from the water then, her mind had been almost blank at that point. 

Maybe Jaime is in another world now, his own, one made fit for him. But she had seen her children, and in that table, she had seen none of her siblings, we will be back. I need to believe.

The next morning people were running around from one place to the other, in preparation for receiving such important visitors. Arianna, she let her other-self speak, she is the one making a huge deal out of this…, I, on the other hand, am indifferent.

“You look so beautiful,” her sister said bumping into her.  Brienne had done nothing but to get on the first dress she could see, looking as awkward as she remembered she looked at that age.

“Right”

“They might come any minute now, don’t you want to be at the main hall to receive them?”

“I guess…” It is unfair that I am not letting myself enjoy this, but I must resist, there is still a chance that my Jaime is here as well.

There was not much to do in the great hall, though, and she felt she was getting into everybody’s way. Maybe I should go to the training yard, judging by the rules of this place, I am sure I will strike a sword even better than Ser Duncan the Tall did in his better days.  

When she got there she saw part of her father’s guards training, and to her pleasant surprise, she also saw Ser Goodwin supervising them. She was suddenly struck by images –memories- of her and Galladon sparring as children, supervised by the old knight, her father happily watching them, holding her youngest sister. Maybe my yearnings were not so silly if this world is to represent them.

“My Lady, shouldn’t you be somewhere else?” Ser Goodwin said.

“I wanted to train a little, if possible.” Ser Goodwin gave a look at her dress. “Nothing particularly challenging, just to stretch my limbs a little.” The knight nodded, he raised his hand to indicate the guards to stop.

“No, let them finish, it can wait.”

The sparring continued for around ten more minutes; Brienne took a chance to study the guards’ technique. Ser Goodwin left his mark in every soldier he trained, this was consistent here as well, he taught how to fight with wits and to allocate strength, reserve it, never waste it. Brienne wondered why she never passed the technique to Jo, maybe deep down I never wanted her to become a fighter like myself. Fortunately, the sparring was over before she had time to wander in that thought. It was Brienne’s and Ser Goodwin’s turn. She took a tourney sword, Ser Goodwin followed.

She began striking, confident. Her confidence disappeared all too soon: to her horror, she was not the outstanding fighter she assumed she would be, instead, she was clumsy, slow, not bad for a woman she found herself thinking against her will, but no way and no chance as agile and strong as she had grown up to be in her true life. There was no point, she lowered down the sword.

“I am fighting terribly,” she simply said.

“My Lady is so humble,” one of the guards said, Ser Goodwin’s expression was unreadable, however.    

“No, I am not quick enough,” she said not concealing frustration, “is this how I defeated five marriage suitors?”

“Beauty can be disarming, my Lady,” the old knight stated, matter-of-factly. That was just too much.

“This is fucking unbelievable!”

Exasperated, Brienne threw the tourney sword to the floor.  If this is my world, if this is who I am, gods help me, I never knew me. She would have embarked into a dangerous spiral of self-inspection had she not been saved by the roaring laughter she suddenly heard, laughter she immediately recognized. She turned her head, and there he was.

This was, her young self felt, the most beautiful man she’d ever seen in her entire life. He had long blond hair and deep green eyes. He was dressed in red and gold, his gaze was serious, but his eyes were serene and calm. That serenity… my Jaime had taken the better part of a decade to gain that stare. How endearing it is in his younger face. She thought about Arthur, her son had inherited her eyes, but also the hard earn peacefulness his father acquired later in life. 

“What is so funny, if I may ask?”

Jaime stared at her for a moment, as if pondering his reply. Pondering? The chances of this man being her Jaime were dropping by the second. Please, gods, let him be playing me.

“Your pride, my Lady.”   

My pride! He looked so composed, none of the boys my father tried to betroth me with ever came close to this... Ah, stop it. Balancing two selves inside of her at once would prove maddening sooner or later, she was sure.

“Lord Jaime Lannister, I presume,” the beautiful man nodded, “wouldn’t you feel your pride hurt if you were in my case?” She didn’t know if her case was being such an ingenuous fighter or such an ingenuous dreamer.

“I suppose, my Lady… though, to be perfectly honest, I could not tell that much, as I am quite clumsy with a sword myself… You see, when I had the time I did not have the will to properly train, but when I had the will I no longer had the time.”

She knew how to read those green eyes. He was being disarmingly candid. It was fascinating and disheartening, this was not Jaime, yet how beautiful would it have been for us to happen this way. Again, she felt overwhelmed by youth feelings and yearnings, buzzing all over her, excitement and anticipation, way beyond the hitches and excruciating troubles Jaime and she had to endure to be together.

The hell with everything, she thought, I want to feel this.

*****

“Ned, he is waking up.”

Jaime opened his eyes to see his sister and freaking Ned Stark staring back at him.

“What the…”

“You fainted,” Cersei said before Jaime could curse.

“We assume you were too taken by the fighting Lady,” Ned said.

“She carried you in her arms all the way to us, she is such a sweet, she was worried.”

How romantic. The feelings were mounting again, Jaime pushed them down, he needed a clear head. I fucking hate this world.

“She has such an endearing story as well, we got a chance to talk to her,” Cersei continued “she would not admit it, but Renly’s men are extremely jealous of her, they don’t make her feel like she belongs. She has no one but her father. I have told Ned to convince the King to nominate her for the Kingsguard, she deserves all honors.”

“How sweet of you sister,” I want to fucking wake up, aren’t dreams supposed to be dreadful, senseless? What if they are truly good? What if they are fucking better? What the fuck is better? He kept staring a Cersei’s caring, concerned face…, a memory came, it was from this world. You are fucking kidding me…

“Ain’t I right that my sister is sweet, Ned? Did you mind me keeping her warm for you before you took her North?”

Ned Stark laughed as if Jaime was just a little child who had just said something hilarious and tender, Cersei rolled her eyes.

“I understand the pains and troubles of this life, Jaime. My own sister was in love with the Targaryen prince before marrying Robert, had it not been for you freeing Brandon and her from the Red Keep, she would have probably run away with Rhaegal… imagine that! In the end, who can predict what will result in what? We can only hope that our impulsive, precipitate actions of youth work for the better in the end.”

“Oh, how wise and understanding you are,” Jaime said resigned.

“He is,” Cersei said absurdly sheepishly.

“Now, why don’t you two keep such kindness going and go fetch the Maid of Tarth for me?” She is not Brienne, but at least she is also not this fucking mawkish.  

As if Ned and Cersei were nothing more than a pair of servants they nodded and left the room. Jaime exhaled and closed his eyes. If everything and everyone just bends to my will and wishes then there is no difference between them and me, everyone is just me, which means I am completely alone… Which means that I am in hell.

The young Maid of Tarth entered the room.

Hell is so fucking sweet.

“Hey there.”

“Ser Jaime, are you feeling better?”

“Not really. Worse, but not because of the fainting.”

“What troubles you then?” she was coming to sit… at the freaking edge of the bed! She noticed Jaime’s expression. “Do you mind? There are no chairs.”

“Er...”   She stood up from the bed immediately. Please don’t, he heard himself thinking. There you are, young lad. But opening his eyes for a brief second in the temple had disrupted everything for him. If he let himself forget again and feel the feelings of this self he would be doing so disingenuously. Idiotically, he chose despair instead: he turned his body away from her sight, and curled up in a ball. “Sit, please, I won’t be seeing you, anyhow.” He was freed from looking at her reaction to such absurd behaviour, but he felt her weight on the bed again. “So what about making some little talk… tell me… tell me about yourself.”

“What would you like to know?” He heard her ask.

“How you grew up?” What is the kind of life you had that would have been convenient for me?

“I was an only child, just me and my father.”

“Were you treated well, were you appreciated, had a happy childhood?”

“I would not call it happy, or sad, lonely perhaps… My father taught me not to let anyone look down on me… ‘well that is turning quite impossible by the minute’ I told him, ‘that’s right’ he said, ‘and that is why you should become brave and confident before I let you out into the world’, I was… well, a little bit caged by him.”

“He did not try to betroth you, then?”

“Lord Renly was the first man he ever allowed even close to me…”

 “Safe choice,” Selwyn, another wise man in this perfect world… for me, thanks for taking care of my sweetheart while I was not around.  

“Aren’t fathers supposed to protect their daughters?”

“I eventually rebelled, but I guess so. We live in a world in which honor and bravery are valued over anything else, after all, so I was ready for it when I finally left.”

Seems that this world is made for the likes of us, my Lady,” Jaime said after sighing. He felt repentant but could not point out exactly of what. He felt like a bloated, perpetually satiated pig. Everyone just feeding him, constantly, with whatever was convenient. Here I am the King; here I am fat-Robert while Robert is still slender and good. He let go of his curled position and lifted his torso to finally face her. What if I touch you now? Would you put resistance? Would you put it only because resistance suits me? For the first time in his life, he felt love, actual love for his son Joffrey —fat-Robert’s son — instead of regret. He was a boy born, truly born into a nonsense not so dissimilar to this. Wouldn’t I become cruel as well? Fucking cruel just to see how far… when, at what fucking point would people turn real?”

“Ser Jaime, what’s the matter?”

He could feel the stream of tears over his cheeks.

“I am sorry.”

“Of what?”

“I am just sorry, my Lady,” he cleared his throat. “You know Highgarden well I presume; can you take me to the godswood?”

“For certain,” the big blue eyes felt pleased they could be useful, somehow.

Chapter Text

By pure instinct, he searched for Widow's Wail before leaving the room with the young Brienne. This sword hasn’t been born herenever will. Jaime imagined his and Brienne’s swords merging back into Ice, then again, that other sword had to be forged, for sure, because somebody else had fucked it up before. Life goes only in one direction, I guess, you can only mend-it forward.  

“Ready?” For the briefest of moments, Jaime caught something else behind those innocent blue eyes, something timeless.  

“Is there something to be ready for?” She didn’t answer, she simply opened the door and got out.

And Jaime followed. 

 

****

 

Dear Jo and Arthur:

Here I sit looking at my blank parchment, your mother in front of me, having no clue of what she can possibly be writing to you. She writes and writes and I just stare at her, as I usually do when she is not noticing, I don’t know if you have figured this out, but I have always been quite fascinated by her. That has to be the one and only thing me and my own father had in common. He married for love as well, he married for love but he also needed heirs, and kin and alliances. I was born with five thousand duties already upon my shoulders. In your case, don’t take offence, but you were quite the consequence more than the goal of me and your mother marrying. Tiny and charming bundles of flesh, I had no idea, no clue what I could ask of you. I loved you, from the start, that was all. I wanted nothing out of you..., but it is true that I also feared everything.

 

****

"Don't you think trees get bored?"

It had been a cruel joke that the moment she decided to let go, let her other self take charge and enjoy the ride of a perfect life, that had been when the magic halted. Little Brienne played and acted and danced to a tamed and composed Jaime, tamed before I got to tame him, while she, she became only an  onlooker. They had walked along the shore; they had spoken about his life at Casterly Rock, about the kinds of waters and creatures that dwell in the West, about Knighthood history and Ser Galladon and Ser Duncan and the rest. The world she was in seemed to be always fair for the honorable ones, not that much for those prompt to havoc and fire and greed and blood. Their ploys always eventually disrupted by an ever-acting mysterious justice.  Perhaps this Jaime grieved that much because, in this world, the kind of deaths his father and sister had, were an indication that they were not good, not worthy of being here.  I might be the monster, if this is a good world for me, I am the monster.  She remembered Cersei’s soul inside the trunk and Arthur giving her the water. Is that the water we took? The same water the dead take? They would come and go from their own perfect worlds, until, perhaps, they were ready to share the world again. 

“What a question”, tamed Jaime said, “I have never been a tree.” A truly puzzled look, a nice living puppet. They have walked uphill to be close to one of the cliffs, the sun slowly setting, a beautiful oak near the edge completing the landscape. Trees might get bored, but it would be hard for me to get bored with this... The kneeling knights in the temple, dreaming, seven years for Podrick, more for the others. Podrick wrote he had found peace, he sent a raven, how? He woke up and then went back? How? 

"My son loves trees.” That was it, she wanted to end the game. Not only did tamed Jaime looked puzzled now, but also troubled. “He is fifteen, but he loves them since he was six.”

“That is a peculiar way to speak about one’s wishes for their future children, a tree enthusiast at fifteen, that is how you would picture your son?” He remarked, his features softening, naturally assuming this conversation was all jest.  

“I would have never pictured anything of the like, when it was about picturing, I imagined silly, unchanging portraits, embracing things no one ever truly grasps: honor, bravery, gallantry…”

“Good things…”

“Naturally, but we never know how that really looks like, day to day.”

“I see.”

He, on the other hand, was the perfect portrait of all that. Stable, immovable, like a coat of arms painted on a shield, everything all those coats of arms of all those houses are supposed to represent, to defend. But isn’t the coat of arms the true culprit? Should we reproach the human for failing to represent the symbol or the symbol for failing to represent the human?

 

****

Right now we are in the Eyrie’s armory, me and your father, we wanted to be left alone to write to you and this place is seldom visited these days. Surrounded by all the swords and shields and armors I cannot help but be brought back to that day your father gave me a sword and sent me in a hopeless quest to retrieve his honor. I needed that, I needed it or I would have died of shock and madness and grief from the horrors that engulfed the Realm those days. Kings rose and fell in gruesome deaths, and yet not one of those deaths were as dreadful as the things I got to see in every village, in every forsaken town I came across. Those days I would often think that had my first betrothed not died at young age, I would have been a mother of two instead of an absurd warrior woman riding through devastation. That thought made me feel sad and relieved at the same time… I would carry on. Honor. Honor was everything, honor… honor was nothing, whatever would take that pain away, whatever doing the right thing was, whatever would mend the passage through that wasteland, that is what that young girl called honor.

****

Young Brienne was as quiet as her Brienne had been at that age. He remembered their last part of their journey to King’s Landing after he had rescued her from the bear. I thought how I almost regretted saving her because she would still not talk to me, I wanted her to like me so bad.  They had walked already too much, roses everywhere, but this Brienne did not dislike roses that much.

“My Lady, are we close?”

“We should be seeing the pool in a few minutes…” She slowed down to look at him, “you know the story of this godswood? There are three weirwood trees in the center, the Three Singers, so entangled together they look like a single one, it is said they were planted by Garth the Green.” 

“I remember something of the sort, about this king or god deflowering maidens at their wedding night to make their fertile…”

“Stories are always changing depending on who gets to tell them, perhaps, the written story is that from him came the Tyrells, the Tullys and the Baratheons, that he taught them how to farm the lands.”

“All great Lords are supposed to come from gods, My Lady, by what other prerogatives would they be given the right to rule…”

“Indeed,” she said as she stopped in front of the pool that laid between them and the godswood. Jaime expected to be seeing The Three Singers there, he only saw empty land instead.  

“Where are… The weirwood trees, where are they?"

“Yes, of course”, it was the uncanniest of sights, Brienne walked over the pool as if it was glass and not water what she was standing upon. “Come, Jaime.” He stood put, not following, he stood put as young Brienne crossed the pool and came to stay put in the place where the Three Sisters should have been.

“Here we are, Jaime, is there something you would like to ask?” She was smiling, her blue eyes not concealing now the eternity he had got to glimpse before. 

****

I… I played the Lord role for many years, doing as best as I could, trying not to be this or that. Not to be my father, trying for you not to be… Lannisters. I am aware of how painfully confusing it must have been for you. And it is not as if your mother was free of her own ghosts either. But behind all of our clumsiness, there it was, the love we had for each other, real love, and because we knew what real love was, I can see now that we managed, to the best of our abilities, to give that to you. You have grown up to be good even if we did not fill your head with that many codes or ideas. I think of the million advises and commandments my father gave to me, half of them contradicting the other half…  but the only one I could give to you is… whatever you choose to do, just assume yourself responsible for that, and for the pain you might inflict if that’s the case, because it will haunt you. It does not go away. It haunts you.

*****

“Why do you think we dream and want for our dreams to come true, My Lord?”

It had not been Jaime Lannister with whom she had dreams like this as a girl. Dreams of promenades under the sun; dreams of love declarations and intimate conversations.  It had been with Renly, the Renly in her head would come to play exactly those parts. She had grasped at them like air to live by. Ten years, some knights have been dreaming for ten years, and the dead? How long do they dream before they no longer do so?

“To be perfectly honest, I don’t dream that much, My Lady, I assume this world is fair, why would I want it otherwise?”

But it isn’t. The sun was finally setting.  

“So we would only have the need to dream if the world was no good? What if the world is not fair but we don’t want to dream either?”

“Then, I guess either you choose to love it or to hate it. Loving it would be more sensible, though.” 

Ten years, the knights have been dreaming for ten years, how much, how much will the dead keep on dreaming? 

“What really brings you here, Lord Jaime?” Maidens of stories wake up with a kiss, will I wake up if I kiss him?

“It might be time, indeed, that I reveal my intentions…”

Marrying me, of course… If my Jaime doesn’t wake up. If he likes it, if he stays forever in his own perfect world, while I get out…  But I could not… I can live in an unfair world by myself, but I could not live in a fair world fearing the chance, only the chance that he has woken up alone, left to himself in the unfair one.   

Lord Jaime Lannister of Casterly Rock came close to her, but Brienne started to walk backwards, backwards toward the cliff edge. I might as well say yes, not to his kiss, but to the life I still got to live and want to keep on living. She would jump and fall and wake up, another step, another, the last one…

 But his arm took a firm, almost painful grip on her.

No… please, let me go.

“That won’t be necessary.” The man that looked like Jaime softened the grip a little. “Ten years, Brienne? The knights… All of you have been dreaming way much longer…”

 

****

I think I lived for a world that did not exist and it was oh so very painful for me to come to terms with that. I could have died alone and broken on many occasions. I got lucky. Extremely lucky. But it was not luck what brought the world you were raised in, my children. It was not luck that we ended up ruled by a good King. All of us made tiny choices along the way, and many you did not get to know gave their lives for this. None of us —the ones that got to live— is entirely free of crimes. I tell you this because I know how much you two are eager to leave your own mark in the world. A part of me would love to say: please don’t, don’t bother, don’t try, just be happy; the other part says: please don’t listen to me. You don’t, most of the time, I know you love us, but you also do your own damn will and I would not expect less.

*****

“I understand now, the Heart Tree of my world is you.” He had followed her to the center, where she was standing, traversing the glass lake as she had done.  

“Jaime Lannister, always the romantic.” The eternal blue eyes said, except that they aren’t hers.  He knew that gaze, he had seen it in Brandon Stark years ago when he had stopped being Brandon Stark. I am talking to that thing now.

“You are wondering… Many things. The gods make no mistake. This is the perfect world for you. This is the world that would serve you best.”

“A one-person world is no world at all, Raven.

“A two-person world then, perhaps? Tell me, Jaime, if these two persons in the world made for them are sparring in a yard, how do you arrange who will yield the sword first? To whom do we give the advantage?”

“Well… If it were Brienne and me, these persons we are talking about -presumptively- it wouldn’t matter.”

“Why?”

“Why, because we love each other.”

“And if you didn’t, we force you to, then, so you can be amicable once again?”

“That’s not love.”

Ah!” Raven Brienne smiled, the knowledge of the world suited her better than it ever did Bran Stark, but maybe that was not an entirely unbiased opinion. “It’s a challenging world, the one you get to share, but only in a shared world…”

“…Can love be truly possible.” Jaime said, the realization slowly sinking in.

“We would not have wanted any of you to miss that. Most of the time you make such a disaster of the lives you were given, but we would not have wanted you to miss that. Alas! The things we do for love.”

 

****

You were given a ridiculous amount of power just by the fact of being born out of me and your mother. But I really don’t want to put some senseless weight upon your shoulders, in case we don’t come back, I mean, even if we do, you have choices. Always. But if you really want to take an active role in caring for the world, then do. It will be hard as hell, trust me, preserving the good is far more difficult than getting out of one catastrophe after the other. I sound like an old man. I know. I am an old man.

***

 

She walked out of the edge slowly, not releasing her gaze from the man in front of her. It was still Jaime, it was tamed Jaime, it was also her Jaime, and it was more than Jaime, it was the life living inside of Jaime. It was Jo and Arthur… And Shyla, and all the siblings she actually did not get to know, and it was Podrick and Tyrion and Sansa. It was the Heart of the World staring back at her, softly, tenderly.

“Why did you come all the way here, Brienne?”

“I had to, I was asked to…” I needed to, I was curious.  

“Who asked you to come?”

“My daughter.” She might as well answer straight.

“Why did she want you to come?”

“The King… There was supposed to be here… We were to fetch a reward for the King, the water from the spring.”

“Who is the King?” If the eyes were not looking at her so caringly, she would have felt irritated by such interrogation.

“Brandon Stark.”

“Brandon Stark is not the only who is King. What you appointed, aware or not, was the knowledge living inside Brandon Stark.”

“What difference does it make, Brandon is not that anymore.”

“A King is no King if he does not take care of his people.”

“I don’t understand.”

“It was not Brandon Stark that seized that knowledge, it came from others, but it was never supposed to be held by a single human, he is the one who rejected it. But if he takes the water, who would dream the dream, and who would renounce the dream?”

“Both?”

The ancient man that looked like Jaime and was Jaime and wasn’t Jaime nodded.

“When you broke the alliance, the children gave you a quick way out, a Long Night that would put you all to sleep as it was proving more and more difficult for you to be with each other in one single world. The only way out of the Night was agreement, and you managed, to some extent, you choose the brightness of daylight.”

“That was no easy way out. It was dreadful.” Her deepest scars came from that night.

“It was dreadful. But it wasn’t as troubling as what the brightness can be. Look how beautiful a world is after you shut your eyes. Your own Lord Commander knew it. You were not ready. For the day in which the truth would not hurt anymore. If you take the water to the King, the knowledge of the world will wake up. Would you like that?”

I want to be with my husband and my children, that is what I want.  

 

***

You two are the living proof that nothing is written in stone. You were born in a peaceful time where you got to choose the kind of lives you would like to live. You are something new, so new that is hard for me to forestall what will come forward. It is exciting. I feel like an idiot for risking my chance to see it. I hope I get to see it, this is a proud mother speaking.

****

“…The things we do for love” Young Brienne said again and her legs began to transform into roots. It was not an unsightly sight, but Jaime felt a little sad. She was becoming the tree, torso into trunk, her head encircled by wood, the tree growing tenfold times taller than she already was.  When it was all tree and no longer Brienne, Jaime came close to touch it, to his surprise, his hand traversed it. If he carried on, he would get his whole body inside of it.

“Jaime, are you sure that you want to wake up?” It was her voice, he heard it inside of him. “You could carry on dreaming for as long as you wanted… needed… away, away from the bad memories.” He hesitated, pulling out his hand. Brienne had drunk the water first, what if she was not waking?

“Is there such a thing as a bad memory? You are memory, you tell me.”

“Better to have them for what they were than to have them all wiped out, rewritten, it cannot be for nothing, if you ask me.”

“Is it… is it possible for me to wake up only when she does?”

“It is possible. I could keep you safe until it happens, you can learn some things…”

“Have we… will we succeed?”

“You have succeeded, you have reestablished the alliance, and you will bring the water to the King if you choose to.”

Jaime stared at the tree, this time with attention. It was definitely not High Garden’s Three Sisters, it was a different tree altogether.   

“It was said that new weirwood trees would be planted... We have not seen any out there.” Jaime said.

“They have been planted, they are growing, you agreed to it.”

Jaime looked at his hands, the young body he had in this dream world. Could it be? He would have time to figure that out. He extended his arm again into the tree and saw it disappear inside.

He followed through.

***

I would not have chosen any of the things you have chosen for yourselves, that is all that I mean to say. And the fact that you don’t feel in any way wrong for it makes me happy, it makes me a truly proud father, it means… that I have loved you well.

****

“The truth won’t hurt anymore… So we will stop… dreaming.”

“A Long Day, yes, that is the offer. Your King, as the representative of you all, can bring it about. But don’t imagine anything picturesque and clamorous, it will be subtle… some of you have already been living that. ”  

“I suppose it will be for our King to choose, then. Is this it? Can we wake up now?”

We? Speaking for your husband now as well, Lady Brienne?”

“As a matter of fact, I am.”

The man looked truly bemused.

“I meant it, My Lady, when I said your pride filled me with mirth.”

“Who… What are you?” Brienne was confused again, she thought she had gotten out of the charm.

“What am I?” He was getting closer “I am Jaime Lannister, of course, and I am definitely not the man of your dreams.”

And with that, the man kissed her.

 

Jaime kissed her.

 

Jaime...? She opened her eyes, she was inside the temple and she was hearing… roaring laughter? He turned around to see Jaime bent on his stomach, his laughter not stopping.

“Jaime!” She said now out loud, standing up, walking to where he was. He lifted his head with an apologetic yet decidedly playful look in his eyes.

“It was not my fault, I swear, they sent me to your world… I had gotten out from mine… I… I wanted to wait for you! But seriously, Brienne, what the fuck!” He laughed again.

“You could have told me! Since when you were there? You… you idiot!”

“And miss the fun?”

 

****

Raising you free gave us the reward to be surprised by you, always, sometimes anxious, yes, but most of the time amazed by what you were becoming.

 

We wouldn’t have known what we were missing had we been prompted to mould you to our own liking.

****

“It was not you! I saw the Life of the World in your eyes, you knew everything!”

“You love me too much, my darling, that is it. And I knew what I was told while I was waiting for you.”

“Since when it was you? Since when?”

Jaime pulled her down to his lap.

“That is my secret.”   

****

Let me tell you one last thing I learned: it never ends... when you love.

“I will love you forever” the songsmith may happily sing… but ‘I will love you… the second day of the next moon turn as the sun is setting’ is a far more difficult and far more rewarding promise. It is the promise I made to your father and your father made to me. It is the one we made to you.

Take care of each other. Watch your back. Tell each other the truth when the other will not like to hear it. Do not let go.  

****

“Come on Brienne, why don’t we see if somebody else wakes up, we take the water and get out of here, huh?”

“I want to kill you.”

He pressed his lips into a kiss.

“I really missed you.”

 

***

I love you,

Your father

Your mother

Chapter Text

Laughter. Noise.

The gods promised me I would wake up... when the time was right.

William, Roderick, Gregory.

He had known the mother that never took care of him; she hugged him and cared for him and taught him how to be kind, brave and good. He saved the village he grew up in from the menace of a terrible hellhound. His deed was recognized by none others than Ser Jaime and Ser Brienne, —Guardians of the Realm— who took him on one glorious adventure after the other. They battled against krakens and dragons and harpies; they discovered ancient treasures, magical artifacts and secrets kept hidden since the foundation of the world. They saved the Realm a thousand times over. He rescued the most beautiful Lady in Westeros. And when he saw she was not loving him, not really, not meaningfully, he desperately sought the gods and pleaded.  

And then the gods had explained.

William, Roderick, Gregory.

They had followed the path the other knights had followed, along the circled road that seemed to take them forward, somehow. They saw the frozen lake, the steep stone-stairway. They found the temple at the top and the door with the mark of an eye inside a palm. They saw the words: I am sorry, written in blood. 

“Do not open that.” 

The Lord Commander along with Ser William and Ser Roderick turned their heads to where the voice was coming, they recognized the rags of one of the youngest knights that were sent in Galloway’s expedition. Gregory , he believed was his name. 

“What happened here, what is this place?” Podrick said calmly, he immediately felt pity for the young man standing in front of him. He looked dishevelled and troubled as if he had been put through some ordeal he had yet to recover from. It reminded him of Ser Brienne’s face when they came escorting Lady Sansa to find King’s Landing in ashes, so many years ago.    

“Our leader… Ser Galloway, he forced us all to take the water, I… I disobeyed… I didn’t… But I walked through the door. Don’t do it. I don’t want to sleep. But I could not go back… My brothers are here…”

He was stumbling in his words, his eyes deranged, his whole demeanour dented.

“Can you please… If you don’t mind… Go slower…”

“Would you like something to eat, how you survived?” Ser William asked. 

“Here is no place for the living or the dead, it is the in-between . You don’t… need food and water here…”

There was not much to do with the young lad, he was disturbed. They might as well take it one step at a time. 

“You mind if we all sit down?” Podrick said, pointing at one of the stone weirwood trees. William and Roderick waited for the young knight to assent. He did, after a moment, he walked to the tree and sit, in an eerily calm way. The other knights gave each other wary looks and followed. They formed a circle around Ser Gregory. 

 “The other knights, are they dead? Are they inside? Your Captain sent a disturbing raven written in blood,” Podrick said. 

“The raven appeared as soon as he got out the door.” Gregory said, matter-of-factly, “he was the first to enter, he made us wait outside…, he passed through the door and he entered. It was day, it is always day in here, we did not know the passage of time, we obeyed… when he got out, he was changed.” 

“Then what happened?” Ser Roderick said. 

It was plain to see that Ser Gregory did not want to remember. 

“He told… He told each one of us everything that we had done … he exposed our darkest secrets, the times we failed our honor, the maids we had deflowered, the men we had loved, all of it… He said he had been bestowed with knowledge and Judgement, he said he knew the world was doomed, and that if we wanted to be saved from the punishment we needed to enter the door and drink from the water and go to the place where we would be saved.”

“He was outnumbered… Why listen?” Podrick asked. 

“How could they not? He knew all our secrets. All of them believed him. I did not. I was the one… outnumbered. So I walked through the door with them, and I knew everything… the knowledge we were not supposed to have, he watched as we drank and I pretended, but I held the water in my mouth, I kneeled like the others and closed my eyes and then Galloway was the one who drank last, he was bleeding, he had hurt himself, when he took the water I spat and got out. The things I know in my head, only the water will cure me, but I cannot… I could not sleep… I could not leave.”

“You could have sent another raven, asked for help!” Ser Roderick snorted. 

“They came and went the ravens…, This place has its own rules, if I don’t drink the water I won’t be able to leave, but I had to wait...” 

It had been Ser William the one to stand up quickly and run toward the stone stairway. Podrick watched as he began looking for it. Circling the place, clearly not finding it. This has to be some cruel joke.  

“The stairway is gone, maybe we can climb down…” Ser William began to mutter, as he returned to where they were. 

“You can’t,” Ser Gregory said patiently as if he suddenly was the most sensible of them all. “There is another door, though, I cannot enter it, maybe you will have the chance. It is the door for those who listen . ” 


“If you know everything about the gods, then can you tell me what happened here?” That was her voice. 

“I asked all that… I think.. . I don’t remember that much…” That was his voice.

“You are teasing again…”

“Ser Jaime, Ser Brienne.” He uttered, he opened up his eyes. 

“Podrick.”

Ser Brienne was rising from Ser Jaime’s lap. 

They look as always… Maybe not that much time has passed. His body, nothing ached, his knees, he could feel them. Had he become one of the stone weirwood trees? William, Roderick, Gregory.  Ser Brienne was rushing to him. 

“Podrick.”

“I told them… to wake me up when the time was right. The others… Has anyone else…?” 

 

As soon as he entered the door with the carved ear, the visions began. He saw himself with her in the Great Hall. They were old; they were happy. Then he saw Ser Brienne drinking the water, then his men and poor Gregory, then himself. He saw the letter and the raven coming, standing in one of the stone branches, waiting for him. The visions halted.

He saw the knights and the spring. He got immediately out.

“Lord Commander…”

“It will be alright, Ser William. You, we will all take the water, but it will be alright. Can you trust me?” Podrick himself did not know where the certainty was coming from, but he knew. 

“The future.” Ser Gregory said. “That is the only thing I could not know… Did they show you? You saw it?” 

 

***

“Are you sure you don’t want to…”

“I have made up my mind, Ser Jaime”, the top of the stairway was there, all right, inviting them to climb down. It was over , he could continue with his life, my own life . The two knights that had made him were looking at Podrick intently, a clear trace of parental concern in their eyes. They had heard his story, part of it , he had heard theirs, he now knew how much time had gone by, at least since Ser Brienne and Ser Jaime came . “It was … It is still their choice.” 

“Was it your choice to wait this long, Pod?” Ser Brienne asked.

“I could have returned sooner, I could have… Galloway and his men were left quite disturbed… I could not simply wake up not knowing if I were to cause more havoc than good. I asked if it was right, for me to wake when I finally wanted to… The tree, the gods said I could, but that I could wait as well… For the time when I would not be alone with the weight.” Podrick was repeating the words as he had heard them… When I pleaded. “I chose to trust.” 

“Maybe you were waiting for us…” Ser Jaime said, not concealing guilt, “the three of us, we all have been Lord Commanders of the Kingsguard…” He sighed, touching the hilt of his sword as if a thought that was willing to form had ended up vanishing instead, “I don’t know Podrick, we are here, we are returning, that is what matters.” 

“Time to go home.” Ser Brienne said. 

“Time to go home.” He said calmly. “Maybe this is what the dead do when they wake up, they wake up for good and nothing haunts them anymore.”

Husband and wife looked at each other, the concern back in their faces. 

“Now don’t go deep and melancholic on us, Podrick, we already have His Grace for that.” 

“Let’s go, then, please.” Ser Brienne said, her body already turned to position herself downward. 

The older knights could not believe their eyes when they saw the two horses waiting for them. They had made peace with the idea that perhaps years had passed since they had climbed up. All the other knights, maybe they’ll get the chance.  

“Let me be the one on foot, I have played the vigilant statue for far longer.” 

 

Podrick had a sense that the return would be way faster than the going. When it was time to make camp they could already spot the Eyrie in the distance. He remembered the hundredths of nights he and Ser Brienne had made camp through the war-wrecked lands. In the songs all knights are gallant, all maids are beautiful, and the sun is always shining. So few of the summer knights had lived through the war, but Ser Brienne and him, they had been knighted in Winter.

  Will there be any need for knights of Spring, though?  

“Pod... where are your thoughts going? What did we tell you about the melancholy?” Ser Jaime put a halt in his wanderings. 

“Want to share… Some of your dreams?” Ser Brienne said. 

“Sorry, Ser, no. That is… private.”

Ser Jaime laughed.

“Private, now you have private dreams and thoughts, I thought you were the docile and compliant of the tree.”

Does he mean the tree of us or the tree... of their own children?  

“What about you?”

“Oh! Ser Brienne dreamed of me with long golden hair and absurdly pretentious red lion clothes that…” Ser Brienne gave him a quick punch in the stomach. 

“You have not said anything about your dream!”

He turned to look at her, putting a serious face. 

“I was you in my dreams.” Ser Brienne returned that answer with amused disbelief.  “It was the perfect world for me… To be actually in your body, swinging my sword with those strong arms of yours…” 

“Cut the shit, Jaime! I am sure you had a thousand knight brotherhoods exulting you as the most valiant knight that has ever…” Ser Jaime placed his palm on Ser Brienne’s mouth.  

“My dreams are also private.” 

The banter continued. Podrick was only half-listening, paying more attention to their faces myriad of expressions, their skins were not that wrinkled but still, they look aged, mature, ancient perhaps like their own swords. They were so different from the knights he had travelled with as the young willful squire and then as the hero he thought himself to be in his make-believe world. William, Roderick, Gregory. And all the others, they were dreaming of having choices. Choices none of them were given in this world. 

“Sers!” The knights turned to look at him. “Have you thought… I … I wanted to ask, what do you think is the future… for all of us?”