"What do you mean you won't compete, Galladon?" Jaime snarled, feral and hungry for an argument. "With all the time you spend with her, I'd think you’d be the first to put your name in."
Except Galladon is not my name and I care not for the prize. The reply was still quicker than her lies, even after all this time. Perhaps because of the years Brienne had spent in King's Landing, she was even more at risk of letting her disguise slip like silk through her thick, fumbling fingers. But what she actually said, with her voice pointedly deepened to sound like a man’s, was something entirely different. "You know there's someone else, Jaime. I’ll take any chance to fight but I'd win and then what would I do? Make us both unhappy?"
That seemed to satisfy him. Him. The Kingslayer. The Lord Commander. Jaime Lannister. Her friend. Galladon's friend, she chided herself. Him, who believed there was some fair, young maiden who had captured Galladon's affections, before he had been called to squire for the Lannisters. It had been an easy enough lie, one necessary to explain her constant gentle rebukes and disinterest in any of the ladies in the city, but one based in truth. It was Renly Baratheon who had stolen her heart, after all, though that was long ago. Now that young love was something she kicked when she walked, an errant, tumbling pebble at her feet.
Perhaps Galladon would like the hand of Cersei Lannister. She was beautiful and powerful, a pretty thing on Brienne's brother's handsome arm. The minstrels would write songs of their love and attractiveness. But Brienne could not bring herself to win Cersei's hand for him, as him, not when she knew what hateful creature was lurking beneath spun gold stresses, burnished smooth skin, and emerald coated eyes. Not when she knew what her long, fine fingers did to those who gave her their heart.
And it was Galldon who was cocky and sure of his skills, not Brienne. She was good, or so Jaime and others had told her. And it was with a swelling pride, which tasted of tin and roses, that no longer was the compliment followed by any insult to her gender or her looks. Because they do not know. They think me a man. They think me Galladon. And though she was ugly even as such, there was little ridicule for being so, especially when few were looking at her face when she yielded a blade.
"You may win," Jaime said. "But only because I cannot enter."
All knew that he could not, because he was Kingsguard, because he was her brother. But only Brienne knew that there was still a part of him, small and dwindling but ever present, that wanted desperately to enter the tourney to champion to wed Cersei.
When Galladon had received the summons of King Rhaegar to represent Tarth and become a squire for the city, he had been ecstatic, a lithe and bouncing ball of porcelain skin and summer wheat hair as he hollered around Evenfall Hall. But Brienne could not muster even a small smile for her brother, already light and charming and the joy of their father. He was kind to her, even allowing her to practice beside him when he trained with Master Goodwin, but he was destined for a life of adventure. She would never have that freedom, despite being already refused by three suitors. Not that she wanted to marry and manage a household and bear children, but it still pained her to see the pride in Lord Selwyn's eyes when he looked upon his son.
When Galladon had tumbled on the rocks and could no longer feel his legs, she had been the first to find the maester, the first to stay at his side, and the last to know of their father's plans.
"All the houses are sending their sons to the city," Lord Selwyn told Brienne that day. "If we do not, then what will the king think of our loyalty? We are the first defense between our land and Essos."
"Does that not make us the most loyal?" Brienne innocently asked.
"It makes us the most threatening. We must display our allegiance. Tarth must give up Galladon to our king."
But it was not Galladon that went to King's Landing, but Brienne, locks cut to expose her wide ears and dressed in her brother's clothes, though they were a bit tight and short on her. Though none had questioned that this tall, strapping lad with the dry, wild hair hiding bright blue eyes, a face smeared with freckles, and teeth as large as a horse's, could be anyone other than Galladon of Tarth.
At first, it was lonely. All that suffused her was the flashes of Renly Baratheon flitting through the Red Keep with his retinue. And the song of her practice sword, a hum like a taut drum, dulled blade always meeting that of her opponent’s. Her skills made her even more friendless, though, as the greater houses, like the Martells and Tyrells and Starks, did not care to be beaten by a boy from some small Island.
Their snickers and sneers haunted her nights and, even if they had let her sleep, the many bodies of the other boys so near her own would have kept her awake well enough. So, Brienne had begun to take her sword and sneak into the yard to bash at the air or the padded poles, careful not to create too much noise.
But one evening, in the hush of quiet, a bright blue moon winking out between clouds skittering by, blown by a breeze that tasted of salt and storm, Brienne was found. She was busy hacking at some leather strapped to the arm of a log, sweat burning her eyes like an onion and painting her hair and tunic to her body. The sound of her soft grunts and panting filled her ears and she did not hear anyone approach, not until they spoke, words like rolled up thunder and a strained coil in her belly.
“Your form is exceptional, for your age.”
Brienne spun around, nearly dropping the hilt in shock. She knew that voice, had heard it laughing, curling along the halls, like waves lapping at the shore, or hot and angry, as sharp as dowsed steel. Always it drew her, but not close enough to be seen. The Kingslayer was not a man whose notice she cared to trip over, though she was curious about him. His cloak was pure white and his Kingsguard armor polished as bright as an ocean stone. There was blood on his hands, though, even if she could not see it, and yet, he was allowed to walk freely, to protect the king, to serve his family. She had thought perhaps his name was what had placed him as Lord Commander. Then, she had seen him spar.
“Have you no tongue? Are you a Payne, then?” He smiled and his teeth caught the white glean of the moonlight, flashing brightly against his breastplate.
In the shadows cast, it looked predatory and Brienne stepped back, gripping her useless practice sword. “No…ser.” She did not like having to call him such and it made her hate King’s Landing all the more for forcing her to have to do so. “I’m from Tarth.” No need to lie, unless necessary.
“I’ve seen you with the other collection of boys the king has gathered,” he said as he folded his arms and looked down at her in the small space between their heights. “You’re good, but not popular.”
Perhaps she should bathe in lies, for the truth was a sharp sting that had her sucking her bottom lip to keep her hiss of pain quiet. But the hurt burned up easily enough in a flare of white anger. She had endured the solitude and had come out here to find her peace with it. Yet, still they hounded her like wolves to a doe. “I would have thought the Lord Commander too busy to concern himself with things that are good or popular.” The words roared from her mouth before her tongue could quell them.
Brienne gasped, pausing enough to just catch his shock and blink, before fleeing, fearing to hear him command her to stop or find his steps chasing her so he could run her through with his own sword, one that was very carefully sharpened, she imagined. She had no notion how she had made it back to the chambers she shared, nor how she had not awakened the others with her loud, rattled breaths clutching at air too thick for her. Yet, she managed to her cot, pulling her knees up under her chin and waiting for the men to come and take her for her treachery.
But none had arrived. Her unruly mouth and obvious disdain, rather than fear, for the Kingslayer had made her an interesting, shiny bauble for the man to inspect. She had not been a threat, anyway. Not then, at least. Though she had been as wiry as a hare the next day, jumping at the slightest sound, feeling faint at the any glint of gold. Despite being unable to sleep the following night, either, she had dared not head to the yard to practice. Prey she may be, but she would not be so easily caught.
But the Kingslayer was nowhere in sight. Days later, she had heard he had accompanied the king outside of the city and Brienne slept soundly for the first night since she had come to King's Landing.
Now, many years forward, Brienne did not fear any retaliation from Jaime Lannister. "You think too highly of yourself," she snorted at him. "An old man like you, weighted down with armor, is no match for Oberyn Martell."
"That lascivious creature who has been eyeing even you?" Jaime rolled his darkening green eyes, throat bobbing in his growing humor. "How can you think the Hound wouldn't beat him?"
"We will see," she shrugged.
"Aye." The word petered off like the last drops of rain slumping heavy to the ground. He was not even looking at her now, was probably not even aware she was still there. She cleared her throat, giving a grunt like her father used to do, and Jaime blinked, clearing up the remnants of his smoky memories, and turned to her. "Well," he smiled and it felt warm against her skin. "You can sit with me in the stands and bet on who wins."
She wanted to ask him if he would try somehow to compete, using a disguise, perhaps. She wanted to know if he would always chose Cersei, even now, after all she had done. She wanted to discover what would change if she were to reveal herself. But that did not matter. None of it did. "That would be agreeable, Ser."
"Don't be so cold, Galladon," Jaime laughed and slapped her back, the echo of his palm lightning under her tunic. "If anyone can cheer me up through this mummer's farce, it's you."
It had not always been like that, Brienne recalled, this aggravating and frightening camaraderie. Her thoughts drifted back to when Jaime had been a poison tipped bur imbedded in her flesh…