There was a moment when she allowed herself to hope.
Jaime had besieged her with questions back at the camp: What had happened to her face? How had she found Sansa? What did the Hound want? She had her story, curt answers that did not please him but that he could not dispute.
“Brienne,” Jaime said, when the quiet had stretched on so long she could almost pretend he was not there, were it not for the footfalls of his horse beside her. “Are you going to tell me what’s happened?”
His latest question was simpler – an accusation, a demand for the truth – and came as a relief after the length of silence. At some point, she supposed he had either accepted that she would not answer him, or had realized beyond doubt her dishonesty. Her betrayal.
It was simpler now. He knows, she thought, some mad elation rising in her belly. Go, she wanted to shout at him. Flee, and do not look back.
If he escaped from her… Stoneheart’s men must be close enough now to see that she had been loyal. That she had meant to bring them the kingslayer’s head, as promised. He was stronger than me, faster, she pictured herself pleading beneath the hollow hill. Surely they could not fault her for that, broken and bloodied as she was.
Brienne would die for it, nonetheless; she was not naive enough to think otherwise. But Podrick, even Hyle… The brotherhood would let them go. She would see to it, would gladly make it her last act. And Jaime cantering back towards his camp, leaving her to the fate she had stumbled into so artlessly… It was the best she could hope for. A traitor’s fate – to Lady Catelyn, now to Jaime – not fit for the heroes of the songs that had once held her enrapt.
They would have to give her that much.
Justice, she remembered the red priest saying, so sadly. I remember justice. It had a pleasant taste.
She felt her cheek sting, sharper than the constant throbbing she was used to, and realized a tear had slid under the bandage.
War makes monsters of us all.
“Brienne,” he sighed. “What trouble have you found for yourself this time?”
“Jaime, please,” she whispered, as loud as she dared. She thought she saw the realization cross his face then. Of course, it was too late.
* * *
She saw it unfold slowly when the brotherhood came for them, as if they moved through air thick as honey.
At least ten emerged from the nearby brush, all of them knights of the hollow hill. Stoneheart's men.
Jaime’s eyes flickered between Brienne and the outlaws, near unreadable. But Brienne knew his face well enough now to see the hurt in it, no matter how stiff he kept his mouth.
By the time the brotherhood had them both overpowered and blindfolded, it was almost a relief not to be able to see the betrayal on his face.
* * *
For a supposed haven, the Quiet Isle was a dreary place. Honest, though, in its naming.
Honesty. It was a nice thought.
Jaime Lannister knew how men spoke of him, that kingslayer did not cover the worst of it by far. He had come to accept such a reputation long ago, had made use of it when he could. His sword hand now gone, that lingering charade was oftentimes all he had.
So perhaps he had been nothing but a sword hand, as he had once despaired in the Riverlands. Certainly, he had never possessed his brother’s fondness for books, nor his father’s political ambitions. That said, Jaime had never thought himself a fool.
Brienne of Tarth, damn her, had changed that.
He cursed himself for following her in the first place, when she had arrived at his camp unannounced and stuttered out her story like a cornered beast. Brienne had muttered out what could only be half-truths at best, her eyes flitting to the ground too often. Guileless and blue, he had once thought them. He rubbed at his brow, wondering why he had trusted her in such a state, why he now kept vigil at her bedside as if she had not almost lured him to his death.
He was not the only one to wonder. Exactly one brother on the isle had spoken to him thus far, the one called Elder Brother, and that voice alone was more than he wished to hear from the dreary order.
“Why not leave her there, if she betrayed you so?” Elder Brother had asked when Jaime first told the him of their brush with the brotherhood, of Catelyn Stark’s vengeful specter beneath the hollow hill.
The man’s voice had a placid benevolence to it, and he delivered the question with a lack of accusation. It irritated Jaime more than he could say.
Because she would not lie for naught, he might have said. Because she was hurt. Because I sent her off alone once already.
Because, maddeningly, she had led him to his death only to offer herself up instead as his champion.
“I am not so poor a knight as they say I am,” he answered instead. “I protect even women such as this.” Traitorous and unsightly and stubborn beyond the point of sense.
Jaime gestured towards Brienne’s still form to make his point, but felt a pang of regret for the comment as he regarded her chalky complexion and shaky breaths. He held his tongue nevertheless.
Elder Brother had fixed him with an odd look, but said nothing for a long moment. Why not leave her now? The question seemed to hang in the air.
The brother spared him that, at least.
“You must leave at nightfall,” he said with a simple finality.
“I will go when Lady Brienne grants me her leave,” Jaime responded. He’d demonstrated a knack for following her commands when she plucked him from his men, after all.
Elder Brother seemed neither threatened nor impressed. Wordlessly, he left the cottage.
Still, his question echoed in Jaime's mind. Why not leave her? It had been a valid question, much as Elder Brother’s mere presence riled him: Jaime had tried to keep his oath to Lady Catelyn, and for his trouble – for trusting Brienne – had been nearly hanged. Now, it had brought him to a dreary isle in the middle of a freezing, muddy bay. For company, he had but a near-silent septry, a sniffling thirteen-year-old, and some lowly knight who undoubtedly clung to meager hopes of gaining Brienne’s favor, if she lived. The latter thought made his blood boil.
Jaime, thankfully, did not need to tolerate the hedge knight’s presence. Hyle Hunt had gotten himself just injured enough to require the brothers’ care in another cottage, though they unfortunately seemed to think he would recover quickly enough.
The boy Brienne had risked their necks for, Podrick Payne, cowered by the end of the straw pallet, though he was so quiet that Jaime periodically forgot his presence. From what Jaime had gathered, Brienne had taken him on as a squire of sorts. It did sound like the wench, he mused. The boy is loyal, at least.
That all of them had left the hollow hill alive was astonishing.
As for Brienne, pale and feverish in the pallet before him, she would not be giving him commands any time soon. The soiled bandages on her cheek had been replaced with cleaner ones now, crisp and white. Inevitably, the blood and infection would seep through those as well. Jaime could still feel his stomach churn at the mere memory of the angry wound that marred Brienne’s face. She had broken her body in at least half a dozen other ways as well, bones snapped and flesh torn.
Elder Brother said she was to die.
Jaime brushed back a strand of sweat-soaked hair that had plastered itself over Brienne’s face, wished he could simply leave her there.
“I abandoned my men for her,” Jaime muttered aloud, to no one in particular. Abandoned my duty. Abandoned Cersei.
Cersei. He had not thought of her since burning the letter, he realized. He wondered if she still lived. It all felt so distant now, the letter and following Brienne away from the camp.
She had dashed his trust in her as well, of course, as had Tyrion. None of that should have surprised him. Brienne, though. He had foolishly thought her incapable of such dishonesty. Perhaps that was why it stung in such a peculiar way.
Why not leave her there? Elder Brother’s question echoed in his head once again.
Already, the weak, wintry sunlight filtering into the cottage was fading into an even gloomier dusk. Before long, Jaime knew Elder Brother would return, would try to banish him in that unperturbed tone he carried so easily.
We’ll see how unperturbed he is when he tries to send me away.
When they came, it was just one brother, and a face that Jaime did not know. To his surprise, the man spoke.
“It is nightfall,” the brother declared. “I must see that you leave.”
Jaime raised an eyebrow at the brother’s vocalization. So Elder Brother was not the only one allowed speech on this island.
“I am Brother Narbert,” the man responded, as if reading Jaime’s thoughts. “A proctor of Elder Brother, allowed to speak one day of every seven.”
A thrilling existence, Jaime thought, but held his tongue; best not to rile the man if he wanted to remain beside Brienne.
“You’re welcome to try removing me if you liked,” Jaime said breezily.
“Ser Jaime,” the man said, his words suddenly sharper than any speech he had heard from Elder Brother. “Lady Brienne is a good woman, and we have extended you our hospitality for the dedication you have shown in bringing her here – and for the good will we know she bears you. But we do not grant shelter and aid to those who threaten us and scorn our practices.”
“Your practices,” Jaime shook his head. “Elder Brother said she is to die, and you would have her perish alone to uphold your practices?”
“If it comes to that, we will guide her into the Seven’s light,” Brother Narbert said simply.
Jaime let his head fall back and shut his eyes, saw Brienne drawing Oathkeeper beneath the hollow hill.
Let the wench scorn him later. What difference was it, really?
“Very well,” he said. “If only husband and wife can spend the night together on this island of yours, then I will take Lady Brienne as my wife.”
Brother Narbert eyed him warily. “This is no time for your japes, ser.”
“I assume you do know the ceremony?” Jaime raised an eyebrow. “I am deathly serious, Brother Narbert. I have no Lannister cloak on me, I’m afraid, but the one on my back is stained red enough from our misadventure.”
Brother Narbert still did not look convinced.
“I will fetch Elder Brother,” Narbert said nonetheless, shaking his head. “He must grant your request – an absurd one, given the lady’s current state. And yours – I am more concerned with your white cloak than your red and gold.”
“There have been marriages under worse circumstances,” Jaime said. And what was one more broken vow?
“Then you must convince Elder Brother you are true.” Narbert turned and left. “I shall hear no more of this.”
At the foot of the bed, Podrick’s jaw had dropped to the floor.
Brother Narbert had been correct; it was all madness. But for the first time since they had been taken, Jaime felt almost grounded.
The wench would be livid when she woke; already he could see her face burning fiery red when she learned the truth of it. Good, Jaime thought. It was almost enough to make him smile; she will wake, and we will be even, then.
* * *
Later, Brienne would only remember fleeting fragments of what had happened beneath the hollow hill – things that, when she first woke, she would think must be nightmares conjured by her guilt-ridden, fever-addled mind.
There was one part, though, that she knew to be a dream.
In the frenzied fantasy, Oathkeeper sprung to life in her hands, silver-blue flames catching at its hilt and licking up the blade.
Beside her, Jaime drew his own sword. The blades burned so bright that the brotherhood melted to naught, their ashen leader a glowing ember.
The flames burned ever lighter until they had drowned out the hollow hill in its entirety, drowned out the world into a white-hot glow.
The foes vanquished, Ser Jaime placed a cloak around her shoulders, as he had in a different dream. It was not the rainbow array donned by Renly’s guard this time, but crimson and gold.