Brienne’s first meeting with Jaime Lannister was going just about as poorly as Catelyn Stark had warned her it probably would. His former editor, Barristan Selmy, had retired a few weeks earlier, and despite Lannister’s remarkable success as an author, none of the other editors on staff were willing to work with him. Brienne had already been warned that he was too difficult, too rude, too demanding, disrespectful, a spoiled rich boy. Not to mention, they would whisper, the time he nearly beat a guy to death. Never mind that it had happened years ago, while Brienne was still in elementary school (and Jaime Lannister had been fairly young himself), it was still one of the first things the gossips brought up. It had been a pretty big story at the time; King’s Landing’s Cotillion Ball marred by senseless violence as one blue-blooded escort beat another for reasons unknown. Westeros may have ceased to be a monarchy over a hundred years earlier, but names like Lannister and Targaryen still held prestige in tabloids and business circles. Charges had been filed, but Jaime Lannister took a plea bargain in return for community service— no jail time. The official stance was that he was barely a legal adult, and so they went easy on him, but rumor had it that Tywin Lannister had made a sizable donation to the King’s Landing Police Department to make sure his son didn’t get jail time and the story would blow over sooner rather than later. It was probably one of the worst kept secrets in Westeros.
When Brienne had met with Barristan Selmy the week prior, he had told her that she would need to be firm if she was going to work with Lannister, who liked to make trouble for no reason other than it amused him. There is a price to pay to work with brilliance, Miss Tarth. He will test you, and mock you, and try his best to drive you away. You have to decide if it is a price you are willing to pay.
And Jamie Lannister, with his golden hair and emerald eyes and a carefully sharpened silver tongue, was definitely living up to his reputation for being difficult today.
“Is Catelyn serious? You’re supposed to be my new designated editor? You don’t look old enough to drink legally. Have you even got a degree?” His voice was smooth, each word articulated in a crisp way that spoke of private schooling and aristocratic bloodlines.
Brienne fought the urge to roll her eyes and straightened her shoulders instead. “I assure you, I am old enough to drink. I graduated summa cum laude from King’s Landing University and I have a Master’s Degree in Literature from the Citadel.”
The Citadel was easily one of the most prestigious schools in the country, and was especially renowned for its humanities programs. She wished she had her diploma in front of her, so she could brandish it like a sword in his face.
It at least got him to sit down across the table from her instead of continuing to gawk and leer at her from the doorway of the conference room Catelyn had reserved for them. She resisted the urge to squirm under his careful consideration, his eyes taking inventory of her freckles, her once-broken nose, her broad shoulders, large hands resting on the table. “By the gods, you’re a great beast of a woman. How tall are you exactly?”
She resisted the urge to sigh. This always happened. “I’m 6’3.”
“Gods, you’re even taller than me. Though just barely.” He leaned back in his seat and crossed his arms. “No matter how physically imposing you may be, wench, that doesn’t mean you’re qualified to be the dedicated editor for the most lucrative client Winterfell Publishing has.”
Brienne grit her teeth. Pompous, arrogant asshole. “Well, unfortunately for you, none of the more experienced editors on staff were willing to take you on. Something about your rather difficult personality. You’re really quite notorious. Catelyn trusts me to handle you.”
His smirk turned into a suggestive leer. “Yes, I’m sure you’d dearly love to handle me. Sorry, wench, you’re just not my type.”
Brienne felt her hands curl into fists at the innuendo and easy superiority in his tone, trying to ground herself in the sharp pain of nails digging into her palms. Nope, not holding my tongue this time.
“Don’t flatter yourself, Lannister. You’re not pretty enough to tempt me, and far too old besides. And my name is Brienne.” It was half a lie, he was one of the prettiest men she’d ever seen. But she hoped that if nothing else, the age comment would ding his ego.
She pulled a giant folder out of her bag and set it on the table in front of him with a loud thump before rising to her her full height, taking advantage of her imposing frame. She was enjoying looking down her nose at him.
“Since I was warned that you’d be difficult, I did my homework.” She gestured at the folder as she leaned her hip against the table, aiming for nonchalance, hoping she was pulling it off for once. “This is my work. I’d suggest you take a look at it before deeming me incompetent.”
He flipped open the folder, narrowing his eyes at the top page. “This isn’t your work, this is an essay of mine that was published in The Westerosi two months ago.”
“Yes. And that copy has my edits in the margins.”
“But it’s already been published.” He sounded thoroughly annoyed.
She smirked. “You and I both know that there’s no such thing as a true final draft where writing is concerned. If after looking through that stack you’ve changed your mind, call me in the morning and we’ll attempt a re-do. If not, call Catelyn. I’m sure she’ll be happy to hear that you’ve driven away every editor she has on staff.”
And with that Brienne stomped out of the conference room, hoping that she had not just made the biggest mistake of her fledgling career by betting on Jaime Lannister.
She was dead asleep when her cell phone rang, dreaming of debutantes in blood-stained white dresses laughing and drinking around a boxing ring where two boys in tuxes were throwing right hooks. She answered her phone without even opening her eyes.
“Hello?” Her voice was a gritty rasp. She winced.
“Wench. We need to talk. I’ve been going through your monstrous stack of papers— you should really try to be more environmentally conscious— and while some of your points have merit, I want an explanation for—“
“Mr. Lannister? It is—“ she looked at the display on her phone and groaned, “it is 3 o clock in the morning.”
“Yes, well. I was having trouble sleeping so I started to look through your homework, and—“
“Mr. Lannister, just because you are having trouble sleeping doesn’t give you the right to wake me up at this ungodly hour. I am going to hang up. I am going to turn off my phone. And I am going to go back to sleep. I will call you in the morning and answer whatever questions you have then. After I have had a cup of coffee, and not before.”
It was the first time anyone had hung up on Jaime Lannister without letting him have the last word. He wasn’t sure whether to be annoyed or impressed.
When Brienne finally turned her phone back on the next morning— after her shower and her first cup of coffee— there was a text waiting for her.
Wench. Call me as soon as you wake up. I’m taking you out for coffee.
She decided this was a good sign, even if Lannister was insisting on calling her wench. At least he wanted to talk to her, and buying her coffee might be his way of apologizing for waking her up in the middle of the night. She hoped.
Brienne met Jaime at a coffee shop in between her apartment and Winterfell’s offices. It was her regular coffee shop; she wondered if he already knew that somehow, then wondered if that made her paranoid. She was early, so she got in line to order her coffee, smiling politely at the barista who already knew her order (Hazelnut cappuccino, as usual, Miss?), and took her drink over to one of the tables by the windows. She wrapped her long fingers around the mug, savoring the warmth on an unseasonably cool and damp summer day, and tried to relax. She saw Jaime come in, his hair a wild halo of gold, and noticed with some amusement that he was carrying her folder around like it was a life preserver. He stalked over to her and plopped the folder down on the table without a word before getting in line to order his coffee. She tried to guess what he would order. Something strong and bitter, and very caffeinated. Not espresso, that’s too small and wouldn’t last long enough. A red eye. Or a black eye on bad days. She smiled into her mug as the barista called out a red eye for Jaime.
He slid into the seat across from her. “Alright, wench. You’re smart enough. I don’t know that I would normally choose to read someone’s entire Master’s thesis at four in the morning, but I have to admit, it was good.”
“Thank you. And I gave you that stuff at three in the afternoon yesterday, so it isn’t my fault you chose to read it instead of sleep.”
He gave good natured growl. “Don’t push it, wench. I’m trying to be nice.”
She simply nodded at him. “Alright, so what had you so incensed that you needed to call me in the middle of night? I doubt my thesis was that exciting.”
He opened the folder and shook a packet in front of her nose. “This, wench.”
“My name is Brienne, you know. Brienne Tarth. And I can’t tell what that is with you waving it about like a battle standard.”
He set it down in front of her and pointed to the paragraph she had blacked out. “You cut out an entire paragraph. The essay was only 1,500 words, and you cut an entire paragraph with no notes.”
She simply leaned back in her seat and looked him in the eye. “You didn’t say anything.”
She was fairly certain she could see one of the veins in his temple pulsing, and he was waving his hands around as he spoke. “There are words. On the page. Very carefully crafted, witty words.”
“Yes. It’s a lovely paragraph designed to make you sound smarter than your reader, so they’ll be dazzled by your wit. But it doesn’t say anything. It’s padding so you can reach your word count without having to go the effort of making an actual point that someone might dare to disagree with.” She was surprised he didn’t even have the grace to look offended. “My gods. You actually know that I’m right. You know it’s a bunch of air and you’re just angry at me for calling you on it.”
“I had a word count and a deadline to meet. Most people don’t care what I write anymore as long as it’s my by-line under the title.”
“But you should care. This is what you do. My father always used to say, ‘Words are wind’. And most people take that at face value— that words don’t matter, that they can be ignored. But we live on words, Mr. Lannister. Words are only wind when there’s no substance behind them, when there’s no truth.”
“And what if your father is right? What if words really are just wind?”
She took a sip of her cappuccino to buy time for a response. “What if someone knew a secret about you, a dark and terrible secret, that if it got out, you would lose everything? And maybe they don’t even have proof, but you’re famous enough to know that every gossip rag in Westeros would find a way to put it in print. And this secret, maybe it would just be good press for your next book, but maybe it would be enough to destroy everything you have. Words alone could have the power to bring you down, Lannister or no. Words are weapons in the right hands.”
He was gripping his cup so tightly that his knuckles had turned white. “What did you just say?” That was a leonine growl if Brienne had ever heard one, predator turning on prey.
She leaned back, a careful retreat from his animosity, and put her hands up in surrender. “Okay, we’ll stay away from hypotheticals that make you uncomfortable.” She thought for a moment, wondering how much of herself she could afford to reveal. “Words were enough to get me to beat a guy up in the school yard. He gave me this.” She pointed to her crooked nose. “But he got just as good, and lost a few teeth in the mix. We were both suspended from school for a week.”
He seemed to relax at the change in topic, but she noticed the strength in his shoulders— tensed muscles like he was ready to pounce. “Let me guess, your classmates weren’t terribly polite to Big Brienne? Make fun of your height? Lack of womanly assets?”
Brienne looked out the window and away from his sneer. “Not that time. He said it was a shame that I was the only Tarth kid left. That my father must have been so disappointed when he realized he was stuck with me. And then everything went red. I don’t even remember beating him up. Apparently I was on top of him, about to slam his head into the pavement by the time the teachers pulled me off.” She shrugged and took another sip of her coffee, hoping he wouldn’t push for more information, embarrassed that she had said that much.
He backed off, relaxing into his chair. “Alright then, wench. Enough philosophy for today. Now that I know something about you, let’s play a game, hmmm? It’s called: tell me what you already know about me.”
She laughed. “This is an exercise in narcissism if I ever heard one. You want me to sit here and tell you everything I know about you?”
“Every dirty little rumor you’ve ever heard and all the truths you think you’ve gleaned.” He sounded joking but there was a glint in his eyes that felt like a challenge.
She never could back down from a challenge.
“Fine. You’ve been a client at Winterfell for nearly ten years, and you worked with Barristan Selmy the entire time. Everyone told Catelyn not to take you on, but she did anyway and now you’re a best selling novelist several times over. And yes, I’ve read them all.” She glanced down at his hands on the table. “You’re not married, because you wear no ring. You’re meeting me for coffee on a Saturday, and you called me at three in the morning because you couldn’t sleep— which implies you had no one to fuck— so I’m going to go with single.” She tilted her head, expecting a response, but he just gestured for her to keep going. “You come from an old, prominent family. Old money that’s managed to keep making money. Your father, Tywin Lannister, is CEO of Casterly Enterprises, which is named after your house’s ancestral seat at Casterly Rock. The business has been kept in the family for generations, so you were presumably groomed to take over your father’s place. But you became a novelist instead. I’m guessing your father didn’t like that, and I’m guessing that was half the point. So you’re rebellious, and I would say impulsive. But you’ve stuck the course out for long enough and produced enough material to be taken seriously, so you’re also stubborn.”
“How does sticking to a career path that I chose make me stubborn?”
“You worked hard to make yourself a career writer in as short an amount of time as possible and then kept up that level of production as a way to make sure your father couldn’t force you back into the business fold. You refused to fail. If I had to guess, you and he are actually alike in several ways.” She noted the tightening of his jaw. “But you hate me for saying it.”
“Oh no, wench. Do continue. I’m enjoying myself.” His smile was sharp as a razor blade. She hated herself for thinking that glint of danger made him even more attractive.
“Then you’re also a masochist.” He let out a barking laugh. “You have two siblings. A brother, who’s CFO at Casterly…I can’t remember his name.”
“Tyrion Lannister, CFO. And you have a twin sister, Cersei, who works in…marketing, I think, also at Casterly. She married Robert Baratheon almost six years ago in a ceremony overlooking Blackwater Bay. The wedding colors were red and gold— Lannister colors— so the bridesmaids wore red dresses and the groomsmen wore gold ties.” She noted his surprise with amusement. “You were a groomsman at that wedding, but not the best man. Neither were either of Robert’s brothers, which everyone understood as an intentional slight. It rained that day, and I heard your sister throwing a fit during the reception that there had been no point paying money for a view of a rainy body of water. But you could see the lightening strikes over the bay from the windows all through dinner.”
“How could you possibly know…”
“I was there, of course. Your sister informed Renly Baratheon that he was under no circumstances allowed to bring a boyfriend to her wedding. So I was Renly’s revenge.”
Jaime shook his head, “I don’t understand.”
“Renly’s boyfriends were always the same: beautiful, charming, well-dressed, from a prominent family. If they hadn’t been gay, any one of them would have been quite the coup for your sister. So instead Renly brought me: an ugly girl from an old house that no one up here has heard of, with no money to speak of. But Renly knew I was just as annoyed at Cersei as he was, so I played along.” It didn’t hurt that I was still half in love with him at the time, but let’s not talk about that.
“You were at Cersei’s wedding? The whole time?”
She nodded and took another sip of her drink. It was getting cold. “But we’ve gotten off track. Cersei had children not too long after that, so you’re an uncle.”
“To twins. Tommen and Myrcella.”
“Twins must run in the Lannister gene pool.” Another pause as she figured out where to go next. “I know that most people find you difficult, and that your sharp tongue has a tendency to get you in trouble. You expect people to dislike you; you expect them to use your name and the incident with Aerys Targaryen against you.” She saw him tighten up, watched the tension run through his entire body at Aerys’s name. “See? I haven’t even expressed an opinion about it and you’re already coiled tight as a spring. You orchestrated this whole game just to see if I would bring it up.”
His razor blade smile was back. “Well, come on then. Tell me I’m a monster for nearly beating a kid to death at my sister’s Cotillion. You won’t be the first, and you won’t be the last.”
“And I attacked a kid on a playground because I was mad with grief and guilt and he said the right words to set me off. The only difference is that people were around to stop me.” She leaned forward, resting her arms on the table. “What I don’t understand is why. You’re not naturally vicious, by all accounts you’re capable of behaving quite rationally— but you never said what Aerys did to set you off. Never even tried to defend yourself.”
“It would have never made a difference. No one wanted to hear why I did it, they just wanted to bury the whole story.”
He looked at her appraisingly. “Yes, well. A story for another day, wench. Finish your coffee.” He took a sip of his, eyeing her over the rim of his cup. “I’m not firing you. Yet.”