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Out Of The Storm

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The storm had lasted for days. It had blown in from the north, battering the cliffs and hills of Tarth. Buildings on the island were made to withstand the harsh weather that gave the Stormlands their name, but even so word had reached Evenfall Hall of roofs being torn from houses and falling trees damaging walls. At least one ship had been lost in Shipbreaker Bay.

The people of the Stormlands were proud and stubborn, and generally reluctant to ask for help from anyone. But when the weather calmed one morning, Lord Selwyn suggested that Brienne and Jaime ride out to see if any of the small folk were in need of aid.

Brienne was anxious to go, taking her duty seriously as usual, and Jaime readily agreed. Although he was more than happy to spend all his time with Brienne in the peaceful warmth of their chambers, it would be good to get some fresh air. Besides, he still felt that he somehow needed to prove himself to the people of Tarth, to let them know that he could be trusted to take care of them just as Brienne could.

Once their horses were saddled, they followed the road north from Evenfall Hall. Everywhere they looked they could see fallen trees and branches, and the road was thick with mud from all the rain. Even wrapped in their woollen cloaks they could feel the chill of the wind.

They had been riding for a while when they came to a hamlet, half a dozen small houses in a hollow between the hills. Families emerged when Brienne called out, the children wide-eyed at the sight of the horses.

The hills had protected them from the worst of the storm, but an old woman told them about a farmer nearer the coast who had lost all his sheep. She swore they’d all been blown off the cliffs and into the sea. Brienne assured her that they would go and see if he needed any help.

“Do you think sheep can swim?” Jaime mused as they rode away.

“I don’t think so,” Brienne replied. “They’re probably hiding under some trees to get out of the wind.”

“Probably.” Jaime agreed.

Nothing in his training as a knight had taught him anything about sheep. He wondered what his father would think if he could see him now. Tywin had wanted Jaime to be lord of Casterley Rock and Warden of the West after him, to carry on the family legacy. But now Tyrion was lord of the Rock, and Jaime was riding through the wind-swept hills of Tarth worrying about sheep.

Father would be so proud, Jaime thought, smiling wryly to himself.

He looked over at his wife riding beside him, and knew that he wouldn’t swap Tarth with its windy weather and its sheep for all the gold in the world.

Brienne noticed his smile.

“What’s so funny?” she asked curiously.

“Nothing,” Jaime replied. “It feels good to be outside doing something useful, that’s all.”

Keeping his left hand on his horse’s reins, he reached over to brush his stump along her forearm. Brienne squeezed his wrist in response, returning his smile.

It didn’t take long to find the farm the old woman had told them about. There were indeed a number of sheep huddled under some bushes. But there was no sign of the farmer when they came to a small house further along the path.

“Maybe he’s out in the fields somewhere.” Jaime suggested.

“Perhaps,” Brienne agreed.

She looked concerned, but the house didn’t seem to be damaged, so they decided to continue on.

The rest of the day passed uneventfully. A few people needed help repairing their homes, and they promised to send men to help fix roofs and mend walls as soon as they could.

By late afternoon they decided to turn back. They had turned inland, riding back down the hills, their horses picking their way carefully over the slippery ground.

Jaime halted his horse by the start of a narrow track that wound its way off the main path between the bracken and low wind-torn trees.

“What’s up there?” he asked.

He had been studying maps of Tarth, trying to familiarise himself with the island, but there seemed to be so many small farms and hamlets scattered among the hills that it was hard to remember all of them.

“I don’t think it’s another farm.” Brienne replied.

She glanced upwards. Dark clouds were starting to gather, moving quickly across the grey sky. The wind had picked up since the morning, and it looked like it would rain again soon.

“I wanted to go back to the farm we passed this morning, to see if we could find the sheep farmer.”

She looked from one path to the other, torn about what to do.

“Why don’t you go back to the farm?” Jaime suggested. “I’ll follow the path and see if there’s anything up there, and then I’ll catch up with you.”

Brienne nodded, still frowning slightly.

“Don’t worry,” Jaime told her. “I know my way home.”

He nudged his horse closer to hers and leaned over to kiss her. She brushed her fingers through his beard.

“Don’t be long,” she said.

“I won’t,” he promised, before turning his horse along the narrow path.

The trees swayed in the wind, but there was no other sound. Jaime hadn’t realised how lonely it could be out on the hills until then. A few drops of rain started to fall and he tried to hunch down into his cloak, urging his horse to walk faster. He didn’t want to get caught out in a storm if he could avoid it.

The track started to become more over-grown, prickly branches catching at his horse’s legs. Jaime was thinking about turning around and going back when he saw a flash of grey moving between the bushes. He halted, peering through the branches, waiting tensely. He hadn’t seen any other signs of life for some time. Perhaps it was a wolf. It had looked about the right size. He didn’t know if there were any wolves on Tarth. He would have to ask Brienne later.

His horse didn’t seem frightened, so giving the animal a pat on the neck he moved on a bit further.

Suddenly there was a rustle in a bush and something covered in grey shaggy hair emerged on to the path. It wasn’t a wolf, but a dog. It looked at Jaime inquisitively, not seeming to be alarmed by his presence.

“What are you doing out here?” Jaime wondered aloud.

Looking around, he couldn’t see the dog’s master anywhere. When he looked back at the dog, it had moved up the path ahead of him and was looking back, almost expectantly.

Without thinking, Jaime found himself following as it started walking up the path. Before long he saw a small wooden house in a clearing, no more than a weather-beaten shack. The dog was waiting by the door, and Jaime hitched his horse to a tree before approaching.

There were no lights shining through the dirty windows, but the door wasn’t locked. He pushed it open carefully and the dog vanished inside.

“Hello?” Jaime called into the dark interior, but there was no answer.

Instinctively putting his hand on the hilt of his sword, he stepped inside the shack. It was damp and dark, with a few worn pieces of furniture and a hearth full of cold ashes. In one corner, someone had placed a metal pot to catch the rain that had leaked through a hole in the roof. But it had over-flowed in the recent storm and drenched the floorboards underneath. It seemed that no-one had been there for days.

Stepping further in, he was met by an unpleasant, all too-familiar odour: the smell of death. As his eyes adjusted to the gloom, Jaime could make out the shape of the dog sitting in the corner. Getting closer, he saw a body lying on a small bed. It was an old man, dead a couple of days by the look of it.

The dog was watching him, occasionally wagging his tail across the dirty floor.

“Is this your master?” Jaime asked him. “He’s dead, I’m afraid. I can’t help him.”

Turning away from the body, he looked around the shack again. There were a few meagre possessions on the shelves, a bow and quiver of arrows lying on a table. Maybe the man had been a hunter. Someone from one of the nearby farms might know who he was.

Jaime sighed, wondering if the man had been lonely, living in the hills by himself. Perhaps he had preferred it that way.

The dog nudged his wet nose into his hand. His head was almost the same height as Jaime’s hip, and he automatically scratched him on the head.

“I’ll see if I can arrange to have him properly buried.” Jaime told him, wondering why in the world he was trying to explain that to a dog.

With a last glance around, Jaime walked out of the hut and went to mount his horse. The dog had followed him outside and was standing by the door, his soft brown eyes watching him from under grey hairy eyebrows.

“Do you want to come with me? Is that it?” Jaime asked.

The dog’s ears pricked up.

“Well you can’t stay out here by yourself in the rain,” he continued. “Come on then.”

He patted his leg invitingly. The dog looked back at the hut briefly before trotting towards him.

Satisfied, Jaime mounted his horse and started back down the path, the dog following behind him. He wondered what Brienne would say when he got back to Evenfall Hall.

The rain was falling harder by the time he reached the castle. Riding into the courtyard, he saw that Brienne had got back first. Her look of relief when she saw him quickly changed to confusion at the sight of his new companion.

Jaime dismounted, handing his horse’s reins to a waiting stable boy.

“Jaime, where did you find a dog?” Brienne asked as she approached him.

“By a small hut along that path. His master’s dead. I think he was a hunter.”

“And you decided to bring him here?”

“I couldn’t leave him there, Brienne. He was all alone, and it’s raining.”

The dog walked over to Brienne, sniffing around her boots before looking up at her with a hopeful wag.

“He’s a good boy,” Jaime continued. “He needs a new home.”

Brienne regarded her husband with a mixture of affection and exasperation. She was reminded of a similar conversation they’d had the day she’d left King’s Landing and Jaime had somehow persuaded her to take Podrick with her as a squire.

She nodded.

“I’m sure the kennel master will have room for him.”

“But he’s so cold and wet.” Jaime protested, giving her his most appealing look. “And he hasn’t eaten for days. He needs to be inside in the warm, at least for tonight.”

“Jaime...” Brienne began, but she was cut short by a loud crack of thunder overhead.

“Alright, fine,” she agreed.

Jaime grinned and walked over to kiss her. The dog barked happily, his wagging tail splashing wet mud against Brienne’s legs.

At dinner that evening, the dog sat under the table near Jaime’s feet, occasionally poking his head out to see what was going on. The serving girl almost dropped the platter she was carrying in surprise when he barked at her. Jaime made shushing noises, stroking the dog’s head as he disappeared back under the table while Brienne reassured the girl.

She noticed Jaime take a bit of meat off his plate and slip it to the dog. He gave her a sheepish grin when he realised she was watching.

After dinner, Brienne went out to the courtyard to make sure that everything was secure before nightfall. The wind was even stronger than it had been before, blowing rain sideways as thunder rumbled in the distance.

Once back inside she made her way to their chambers, opening the door to find the dog lying on the rug in front of the fire, chewing on a bone, with Jaime sitting on the floor beside him.

He looked up, giving her a slightly guilty smile when he saw her.

“He’s not staying in our room.” Brienne told him, trying not to smile herself.

For a moment, Jaime thought about protesting.

“Alright,” he conceded. “I’ll find somewhere else for him to stay.”

As she watched, Jaime patiently tried to untangle the dog’s shaggy hair with his fingers. Somehow, just when she thought she knew everything about him, small things like this still managed to surprise her. After a moment, she left their room to find a servant.

By the time Brienne had changed out of her wet clothes, the servant was back with the things she’d asked for: two grooming brushes from the stables. She went over to the fire and handed one to Jaime, before sitting down next to him on the rug. She started brushing the dog’s head, his scruffy grey fur becoming softer as she worked. He had lighter grey hairs around his muzzle and on his chest, making him look a bit like an old man.

Jaime had looked a little surprised when she’d joined him, but his expression soon changed to a smile as he watched her work. He didn’t say anything, instead starting to brush the dog’s back.

For a while the only sound was the crackle of the fire and the howling wind outside.

“We need to find out who his master was. He might have family somewhere. If not, we’ll have to arrange to have him buried.”

Brienne nodded in agreement.

“I’m sure someone will know.”

“I hope so,” Jaime replied.

She reached over with one hand to stroke the hair at the back of his head.

“You’re a good man,” she told him, leaning to kiss him on the cheek.

Jaime briefly rested his forehead against hers, a silent gesture of love and acceptance.

“We need to give him a name,” he said after a while.

“Hmm. Any suggestions?”

Jaime thought for a moment.

“Duncan,” he said. He shrugged slightly when he saw Brienne’s bemused expression.

“I think he looks like a Duncan.”

Brienne couldn’t help smiling at him.

“What do you think?” Jaime asked the dog. “Do you want to be called Duncan?”

He scratched the dog’s belly, making him roll onto his back, gangly legs in the air as his tail thumped happily against the floor.

“I think he likes it,” he said to Brienne.

“I think you might be right,” she replied.

Duncan let out a short bark as he flopped onto his side, tail still wagging as he went back to his bone.

Smiling to himself, Jaime continued to brush Duncan’s belly. Since coming to Tarth he was learning to find contentment in small, quiet moments like this. It was very different to the glory of battle or the prestige of his former position in King’s Landing, yet he was happier now than he had been for a long time. He lent his shoulder against Brienne’s, enjoying the closeness and warmth as they sat together.