The moment Brienne stepped onto the sand, she felt a wave of emotions wash over her. It wasn’t Tarth, not even close. But it was a beach, or the nearest thing to it. Really, it was just a stretch of sand that spread along one edge of Blackwater Bay, near her job in King’s Landing. But still, it was sand and water, it was waves and salt air, it was her childhood with Galladon by her side.
It happened so suddenly, so unexpectedly- they still didn’t know how Galladon died. She got the call from her dad, and within the week she was in Highgarden, where Galladon had been living the last few years, saying goodbye to the chaotic constant she’d always known and loved.
And now here she was, just two weeks later, celebrating Galladon’s birthday without him, in his favorite place. Growing up on Tarth, the two naturally spent their childhood in the water. Days of summer would fall away, the two seeming to rise only to run to the beach and swim until the sun went down again. Even after they’d gone separate ways, as siblings were wont to do as they grew up, one similarity that remained was their love of the ocean.
Brienne slipped her shoes off, stepping close to the beckoning waves. She let them fall over her feet as the tide came and went, looking into the horizon. This particular place held no memories, but Galladon was everywhere around her. Leaving footprints as he ran along the shoreline, climbing the rocks that jutted out further back from the water, swimming out so far that it was hard to tell if he was even still there.
All her life, Brienne worried for Galladon- he lived adventurously, so completely freely that she would’ve been envious if she hadn’t been so terrified for him. He crammed so much into life, never staying still for long, as if he’d known he’d run out of time too quickly.
Brienne sat down on the sand, digging her hands into it, picking up a seashell or two. A sad smile caught her lips- as kids they’d always bring home buckets full of rocks and seashells, only to have to return them when they started to pile up to high. When she found a small, nearly perfect scallop shell, she rinsed it in the water and slipped it into her pocket. Something tangible to hold onto to keep Galladon close.
She hadn’t realized it would be so hard to go to the beach. She’d handled the past few weeks reasonably well- breaking only when no one was around, keeping it together as much as she could for Selwyn. As much as she grieved for her brother, she also held regret that they had allowed so much distance to build up between them over time. She knew it was partially due to Galladon’s impulsive nature, and partially her walls that had built up over the years. But now, the grief was fresh as she mourned the loss of their childhood, her partner in crime on those long days by the water.
She stayed at her quiet little place on the sand for a while, reminiscing, watching the waves come in. It was comforting, though as the time stretched on, it grew lonely. She didn’t want to leave, but she didn’t think she could manage much longer either.
As she started to get up, a mid-size dog came barreling towards her. It circled her a few times, looking up expectantly for pets. It looked to be a type of spaniel, but Brienne didn’t know enough about dogs to be sure.
“Casterly, no.” A voice came from behind, accompanied by the sound of running steps. “I’m so sorry about that.”
Brienne turned, still standing up straight, unsure what to do about the dog still dancing around her feet. The dog’s owner was now only a few feet away, slowing to a jog. He was nearly as tall as her, with golden hair that flew away from his face in waves. He seemed athletic, the sprint to catch up with his dog not phasing him at all. He just smiled at Brienne.
“Sorry, he’s very friendly. Usually he’d be on a leash, but there usually aren’t people down here this time of day and he likes to go into the water.”
That made sense- Brienne had taken a half day, knowing Galladon’s birthday would be difficult. She had come here in the late afternoon, between the lunch crowd and anyone who would come here after work.
“It’s ok,” She said. She looked down at the dog again, “May I pet him?”
“Go for it,” The man said, still smiling at her. Brienne knelt back down and instantly the dog was trying to lick her face. She held him back, unable to hold back a smile, and started petting him. Bronn happily flopped down onto the sand next to her, willing her to continue. She realized the man had been saying something, but she hadn’t been paying attention.
“Sorry, what was that?” Brienne asked.
“I just said that that’s Casterly. And I’m Jaime.”
Brienne scratched Casterly’s belly and looked up to answer Jaime, “I’m Brienne.”
“Brienne,” Jaime repeated, as if committing it to memory. He paused a moment, then knelt down beside her, giving Casterly a little scratch behind his ears. “I hope I’m not overstepping, but I got here a little while ago and saw you sitting out here and you looked, well, a bit sad. Are- are you alright?”
Brienne hesitated, glancing up at Jaime, “I’m-“ She faltered, unable to brush off the question as she usually would. “Not really, no. It’s just a difficult day.” She paused again, unsure if she wanted to elaborate, but she continued, “It would have been my brother’s birthday today.”
The implication of ‘would have been’ hung in the air, Jaime quickly picking up what she meant.
“Oh, I’m really sorry.”
Brienne shrugged, biting her lip to keep the tears at bay. She looked back at Casterly, who was nudging her hand with his nose. She gave him another pet.
“We could go, if you need space, that is.” Jaime said, somewhat awkwardly, not wanting to intrude.
Brienne shook her head, “No, it’s ok. Casterly was a pleasant distraction.”
Jaime nodded, “He’s been a huge help to me too in that way.” Brienne could see the empathy, the understanding in his eyes.
They stayed there for a few moments in silence, attention on Casterly. Brienne was surprised that the stranger’s presence wasn’t oppressive, but comforting. After another minute, she sighed, not wanting to take up any more of their time, “I should be going. Thank you, though. It was nice to meet you.”
As she stood up, so did Jaime. “You too. And look, I know I’m just a stranger, but I get what you’re going through, and if you need someone to talk to, or even just want somewhere to go, I run a little coffee shop down the road. It’s called the Red Keep.” He shrugged, “Just if you want to stop by sometime.”
“Thanks, I’ll keep that in mind.” Brienne nodded, giving a small, genuine smile, “Goodbye, Jaime.”
She waved as Jaime and Casterly continued down the sand, and she headed back towards the tree-line, and the city beyond.
The last few weeks, she’d felt a bit directionless, just moving through the days. But that night, she thought about going to the Red Keep later in the week, finding something to look forward to.
As she took off her cardigan and got ready for bed, she took the seashell out of her pocket. She placed it on her bookshelf next to a few other mementos from her past and whispered, “Happy Birthday, Galladon.”