“That’s enough. We’ll practise again tomorrow. Harder.” Brienne lowered her tourney sword, the three boys facing her doing the same with obvious relief. She removed her helm, pushing at her damp hair and rubbing a sleeve across her forehead as she strode across to the large water barrel beside a pillar. Even during all the rebuilding on Tarth, boys needed to be trained at arms, and her father had entrusted her with this task, among so many others. Boys training to be men, trying to grow up quickly because the war had taken so many husbands, fathers and brothers.
Setting down sword and helm, she drew a full dipper and sipped gratefully. The liquid was cool and sweet-tasting, drawn from one of the deep springs that were channelled into Evenfall castle.
"You need more practice against a left-handed opponent.”
She spun round, water sloshing from the dipper. He was leaning against the nearby wall, with that familiar air of relaxed nonchalance.
“Jaime.” Despite the water, her tongue stuck in her mouth and even that one word sounded half-strangled to her ears. It was like being twelve again. Only when you were twelve, no-one could rip the scab from a gaping hole in your heart just by standing there.
“Lady Brienne.” He dipped his head in polite greeting, mouth quirked slightly as though a jest was lurking ready to spring. “It’s good to see you again, my lady.”
Lady Brienne. Since when had Jaime taken to calling her ‘lady'? She swallowed, thoughts whirling, trying to find something, anything, to say. Oh gods, he was alive. Jaime. He was here. Carefully she replaced the dipper on top of the barrel, hoping he hadn’t noticed the tremor in her hand.
“I thought – I thought you must have been dead. I mean – we hadn’t heard – it’s been so long and - and you said ... ” Her voice rasped and she trailed off, stomach clenching and churning. How could Jaime turn her inside out with just a few words or a single look?
“My head is still attached to my body, I believe. Unless of course I am in one of the seven hells. But you're here in front of me, so I can't be in hell. Or at least, not that sort. ” A wry smile, then he straightened and came towards her, holding out his hands.
One good hand, one of steel. Where was his golden hand? Wordlessly, she allowed him to carry her own larger hands to his lips in formal greeting, suitable for the many eyes that she sensed were now watching them in this public place. Courtly, elegant – the politeness of a knight to a noble lady. The gentlest touch that burnt her from ears to toes.
“Jaime ... I thought ... I mean ...” By all the gods, what had she thought? And feared? What had happened - where had he been - why hadn’t he written?
“There are some things that cannot be said in letters. I tried. I - I tore them all up. I'm sorry.” A pause. “I’ve missed you, Brienne.” His voice was low, for her ears only.
She swallowed. Brienne. The word rolled off his tongue in the way that only he could say it. ‘Wench’ had long become a term of affection or jest rather than insult. But sometimes, just hearing Jaime say her name would ... Desperately avoiding the issue, she looked down at his hands. “Your golden one?”
“In my saddlebag. This one’s better for travelling – doesn’t attract outlaws and cutthroats. A one-armed man with a good sword and a steel hand might be dangerous.”
She met his eyes, saw the glint of shared amusement. Jaime Lannister was always dangerous, in ways that didn’t need a steel hand or a golden one. She'd forgotten how green his eyes were. Bright as emeralds, with tiny gold flecks that you only noticed when you were close. They danced wickedly after you had just kissed him, and lent warmth when he smiled before settling down to sleep beside you.
“I am glad you arrived safely then.”
“The crossing was smooth. But I'm disappointed. The sea was grey, and you promised me sapphire waters.”
Sapphires. She swallowed again, the memories sweeping back, knew Jaime was following her thoughts. Releasing her hands, he stepped past her to the barrel, took up the dipper and drank deeply, then refilled it and offered it to her. She sipped again, glad of this simple gesture while she gathered her wits. It really was Jaime. Her Jaime.
“Tell me, my lady – does this Sapphire Isle have quiet coves or streams where we can match our skills? It's time I continued the dunking I was once giving you.”
The dunking he had been giving her? When they fought while his hands were chained? When he’d told the Bloody Mummers that he’d been chastising his wife? She choked on the last mouthful, spluttered and spat the water out, narrowly avoiding his boots.
He jumped back, grinning as only he could grin, smugly mischievous. “Now that’s more like the gracious and well-behaved wench I remember!”
She tried to choke out a retort, only to end up in a coughing fit, bending over and gasping for breath.
“Lady Brienne? My lady, are you all right?” One of the older boys who’d been watching them stepped forward, hesitant about interrupting.
Jaime thumped her on the back, and she straightened, aware that his good arm was suddenly around her shoulders steadying her. “Her ladyship is fine, lad. Alas, unexpected compliments often have this effect on her.” The boy retreated uncertainly.
Brienne regained her breath. His compliments? She stepped back, set her hands on her hips and tried to glare at him. Jaime folded his arms and waited.
Dear gods, but he looked well. Clean-shaven, golden hair cropped above his shoulders, still lean, though this was a healthier-looking muscled lean. His eyes were clear, now regarding her from a face that had lost its gauntness and regained some of its usual tan. Black boots, black breaches, a soft grey tunic and matching grey cloak, lined with Lannister crimson. Not the white of the Kingsguard. What had happened to that? But he was alive, and he was here.
Here, in Tarth. Not dying in a black cell, or his headless body rotting somewhere in an unmarked grave, or at best with the Quiet Sisters on its way to Casterly Rock. She remembered coming to his cell that last night in Kings Landing ...
“They will execute me, you know. I killed Aerys Targaryan. I betrayed another king, sired three bastards, and two of them sat on the iron throne. And I pushed a boy out of a window to protect my affair with my beloved sister.” His voice was flat.
“And what about everything else you’ve done? Doesn’t that make a difference?” She thought of Jaime fighting Lady Stoneheart, of helping the orphans, sharing the quest for Sansa and rescuing her. Of how he’d fought the wildlings and the Others, how he’d battled dragons and risked his life as a member of the Kingsguard to protect the man who now sat on the Iron Throne.
“No. I’m a Lannister. That damns me from the start. The best I can hope for is a quick death, with a swordsman who strikes true.” He turned away from her, staring out the window into the night. “At least they haven’t shut me in one of the black cells yet. I can still see the stars and dream of what might have been. What I might have been.”
She understood the horror he felt at the thought of imprisonment, knew of the nightmares he sometimes had when the blackness overwhelmed his dreams, when the ghosts of his past had come riding in with that darkness. She remembered nights when she’d been woken by his mutterings and cries, when she’d held him and murmured words of comfort to drive away the demons. Just as he had held her and awkwardly stroked her hair when she’d faced her own nightmares, each of them understanding that which could never be put into words.
Some called her his whore of course, though never in his hearing. The kinder ones assumed they were lovers. No one would believe she was still the Maid of Tarth, not when she and Jaime had travelled so far and so long together, had fought side by side and defended each other, had spent nights huddled close for warmth in beds or bedrolls, had shared baths and traded clothing when occasion demanded. Jaime Lannister would never have been so honourable; the man who had broken the most fundamental of Kingsguard oaths would surely have seduced or forced her by now. That is, unless they believed even he had thought her too ugly to be bothered. The truth - their truth - was not for others to comprehend.
“I will beg the king, Jaime.” She wasn’t ready to give up, not even now. “Surely he will at least listen. You’ve kept your word, you’ve more than shown your honour, you’ve ...”
“No.” He turned back to her, and she was surprised at the sadness in his eyes. “A Lannister always pays his debts, Brienne – you know that. By all the gods, I owe a few. And now it’s time for them to collect.”
She shook her head, unwilling to believe. “What good will it do, to kill you now? Too many have died – there has to be an end to it.”
“Yes, but they need my death to be a part of that end. Someone needs to rule a line at the bottom of the page.” He reached out, touching her scarred cheek with his good hand, brushing his fingers lightly over the puckered skin, pushing at a wayward strand of her hair. “What is between us – is – is more than they will ever know or understand. And they can never take that away.”
She tried to smile. “We should have died gloriously in battle. Then they would sing songs about us.”
“The beautiful maiden and her shining knight. Somehow, that doesn’t sound like us, does it.”
“The Kingslayer and the Maid of Tarth.” She moved into his arms, resting her forehead against his, wondering how long the guards outside would let her stay.
“Brienne, I want you to promise me something. On Oathkeeper.”
On Oathkeeper. She leant back, staring at him.
He glanced down at where the sword hung off her left hip. “I’m surprised they let you bring it in here with you. Or perhaps they weren’t brave enough to try and take it away?” He chuckled. “How many of them are out there in case we make a break for it?”
“Four nearby outside the door. Another four at the end of the corridor, with loaded crossbows. Half a dozen stationed down the stairs.” Odd, how even in her despair a part of her mind had still managed to count possible opponents. As Jaime had known it would.
“Only fourteen? Against Brienne of Tarth and the Kingslayer? Wench, they are showing us no respect at all. Even if we do have only one sword between us.” He gave a dramatic sigh.
“Maybe they now believe in your honour.”
Jaime snorted. “I doubt it. Though it seems they believe in yours.” He reached down to touch the sword’s pommel with his stump. “Draw it, Brienne.”
The sword glittered black and red between them, blood and fire.
“I want you to swear that you will leave Kings Landing first thing tomorrow morning and go home to Tarth. Leave and don’t come back, whatever you may hear on the road. Give my regards to your father. I wish - I wish I could have met him.”
“Yes. I don’t want you standing there in the square with the baying crowd, watching the Kingslayer die. I want you to remember me with my head on my shoulders, a sword in my hand and a smile on my face. And one last kiss, my wench.”
Once she would have argued, but she knew him too well. So she’d promised through unshed tears, her hand on Oathkeeper, because she understood that he needed to believe she was safe and away.
There'd been more than one kiss after he led her across to sit on the edge of his narrow bed, but nothing more. The time for lust and desire had long passed: there would be no desperate fumblings, no first and last passionate sharing of bodies. In the songs, a maiden sent her gallant knight off to war with a kiss and a token, perhaps a ribbon or a glove that would be worn against his heart. And would be found on his body when the knight was gloriously slain. In the real world, they both knew that many a woman sent a man off to die after a night of love, leaving herself with only memories and a bastard child in her belly.
Neither way was their way.
And so at last they'd simply held each other closely, wordlessly, until a guard knocked on the door and came to escort her out. First light found her heading south, but she had blamed herself all the way to Tarth, wishing that she’d had the courage to break her oath. The nights ever since had been haunted by guilt and regrets, and every day another tiny little piece of her had crumpled up inside and died.
I should never have left you, Jaime ....
Something crashed across the courtyard and she jerked back to the present. Jaime was regarding her with quiet amusement.
“You're as talkative as ever. How did I ever stand all your useless chatter on the road?”
“I put up with your compliments.”
He grinned. “Alas, wench, I haven’t paid you too many of those lately. Should I start writing songs about all your finest qualities? Let’s see – where do I begin? Stubborn ... pig-headed ... obstinate ... damn it, nothing rhymes properly with those.”
She could never match Jaime in verbal games. He delighted in teasing her, though the jests had long been affectionate rather than cruel. Sometimes she'd respond in kind; other times she’d ignore him, or roll her eyes and shrug; mostly she'd just smile. She’d been surprised to discover that her smile could usually disarm him, though occasionally she still wished she had the wit to make some clever retort that would startle him and wipe the look off his face. Pig-headed? She half raised one hand, desperately wanting to push him away, or punch him, or do something that would ... . And then, for the first time in those desperately lonely months since she’d returned to Tarth, Brienne started to laugh. It began as a smile, became a chuckle, then exploded out of her as though someone had punched a giant hole in a dam wall.
It felt so good to laugh again, to feel the rush of ridiculous happiness surge up from some deep place inside, to see Jaime’s surprise, then hear his own rich laughter matching hers.
Without thinking, she clasped his shoulders and gave him a quick shake. He grabbed her in return, steel hand hooking onto the shoulder padding of the training tunic she wore, and suddenly she was pulling him into a fierce hug. Friends, partners and companions, comrades in arms who’d travelled down the darkest roads of fear and danger and loss, sharing more than words could ever express, two people whose love bound them together yet had kept them apart ...
“Brienne – my own Brienne.” So soft she could have dreamt it.
Jaime, my Jaime! She couldn’t say whether she answered, or whether she just grasped his shoulders harder as she drew back slowly to hold him at arm's length. There was so much she needed to say, but she didn’t know if she’d ever find the words, or if they’d just stick there like great stupid lumps in her throat. As they’d done so many other times. She hated crying - it was stupid to cry when you were happy anyway - but tears trickled hotly down her cheeks as she gazed at him, knowing that if she ever took her eyes from his, he would vanish once more, just as he'd done in her dreams.
“A-hmmm.” Someone coughed discreetly nearby and Brienne dropped her hands sharply, painfully conscious that they were in full view of what was probably by now half the population of Evenfall. Gods, she was crying! She felt herself going deep red, a blush that would hide even the most obstinate of freckles and stand out like a scarlet beacon for all to see. Hastily she wiped a sleeve across her eyes, trying not to sniff too noisily.
“Ser Goodwin.” At least this elderly face was almost family, with an expression that was affectionate rather than mocking or disbelieving.
“I assume I have the honour to meet Ser Jaime Lannister?” Grey eyes, keen yet kindly, glanced shrewdly between her and Jaime.
Her ears must be playing tricks. An honour to meet the Kingslayer? Even now, few in Westeros would hold that idea. “Jaime, I’d like you to meet Ser Goodwin Harvey, our master at arms who trained me,” she said, managing a half smile. “And yes, Ser Goodwin, this is Ser Jaime Lannister.”
Jaime smiled. “The honour is mine, Ser Goodwin. Brienne is one of the finest swordsmen I have known. I owe my life to her skills more than once. Her teacher must be a remarkable man.”
Brienne swallowed. Painful experience had taught her to distrust praise, to be wary of men’s flattery and compliments. The wager by Renly’s knights had hammered home that lesson for ever. But Jaime didn’t believe in idle praise, especially on matters such as swordsmanship.
“Thank you, Ser Jaime. Brienne was an interesting pupil.” Ser Goodwin returned the smile. “She’s spoken highly of you and how you also saved her life. With words and wits as well as sword, I believe.” He glanced down at Jaime’s steel hand. “It is no mean feat to learn to use a sword with your left hand, and re-learn everything that was instinct with your right.”
Damn the man. She hoped Jaime wouldn’t think she had been gossiping about him, telling tales in Tarth, speaking of how he was no longer the dreaded Kingslayer but just an average swordsman. Jaime wasn’t ‘average’ of course, not now, but he would never accept that. In truth, he was all the better for not being so carelessly confident about his skill, fighting now with a grim determination and hard steel in his eyes, but a small part of her sometimes wished that she could bring back just a touch of the wild enjoyment she’d sensed when they first crossed swords.
“Needs must, I’m afraid.” Jaime shrugged deprecatingly. “Ser Ilyn Payne was a hard taskmaster, and Brienne is even worse,” he flashed her a smile, “but at least I am still alive.”
Ser Goodwin chuckled. “Indeed. She quite terrifies these lads at times,” he nodded at half a dozen boys watching them with obvious interest, “even when she takes on three or four of them at once. Alas, I am much too old now to trade blows with her myself. It will be good for her to have a worthy sparring partner.” He shot Jaime an amused look before turning to her. “Excuse me for interrupting, Brienne, but a messenger arrived from your father. He’s staying the night at Northcliff with Ser Jeclan - something concerning new boats and repairs to the jetty. He'll return tomorrow. You may want to let Mistress Margitte know.” He nodded pleasantly and took his leave, marching across the courtyard and shooing the spectators away like a flock of chickens.
“Father’s – companion. A widow.” She tried to keep her tone neutral, as in truth this older woman was better than most of the ones she remembered, and she couldn’t really blame her father for wanting female companionship. Especially after his daughter had gone off to war and not returned for several years. She'd been shocked at how much he'd aged while she was gone, but he hadn’t remarried.
Brienne shrugged and turned towards the door into the castle, Jaime falling into step beside her. She'd told him about those women long ago, when they'd talked of her own family. "Did they make arrangements for you, when you arrived?" she asked, suddenly remembering her duties as lady of the castle. "Did you come alone, or bring some men?" They were still restoring Tarth after the war, and though supplies were adequate, large numbers of unexpected guests would be a temporary strain.
"Your castellan had our things taken to the guest chambers. Only three of us. A squire, Clovis Bettley - youngest in his family, says he's eager to see the world. But he's bright enough, and I told him Tarth might mean hard work other than just squiring." She grunted, appreciating the implied acknowledgement of the damage caused by sellswords during the war. "And, ah - I brought Pia." He glanced sideways, sounding ruefully amused.
"Pia?" She checked her stride for an instant.
"Yes." He sighed. "She didn't want to go back to Harrenhall, or stay in Kings Landing. She doesn't know anything else, except being a - a servant - and she's got no family. I'd found her a place with the White Tower servants, but she heard I was headed for Tarth and begged to come along. I hope you don't mind. Says she likes you and will work at anything."
Brienne squeezed his arm, smiling. "No. I'm glad you did." How very Jaime, to concern himself with the fortunes of a camp follower like Pia, and not abandon her to whatever group of men could find a use for her at the time. Few would believe that the Kingslayer had any sort of heart, let alone such gentleness or consideration. It was one of the delicious contradictions that she'd slowly come to learn, and love, about him. As they walked, she remembered the woman who'd shyly looked after her when she and Jaime had returned to the Lannister forces. A washerwoman they called her, a lowly servant who'd been sleeping with Jaime's squire Peck, but who'd been oddly devoted to Jaime himself. Brienne had eventually found out her story.
They reached the door of the guest chambers and stood back while two servants carried in buckets of hot water.
"Doesn't Evenfall have a bathhouse?" Jaime inquired innocently.
"Yes. But we consider it polite to offer important guests a bath in their chambers, at least at first."
His grin was decidedly wicked. "I'm sure the bathhouse ones are much larger."
"Single men and women usually take separate baths," she said, trying not to smile.
"That isn't nearly as much fun. Meanwhile I suppose that asking the Maid of Tarth to scrub my back the moment I arrive would cause a scandal?"
"I'm sure Pia will be happy to help." Jaime, my love, if I stayed to help you, I'm not sure where it would end ...
"Not the same at all." Dancing eyes spoiled his attempt to look miserable.
"You'll manage something," she said, giving him a gentle push as the two servants emerged with empty buckets and hurried off down the corridor. "Go on. I have things to do. I'll see you before dinner."
"I'll look for the saddlebag with my best behaviour in it!" He glanced around, then swiftly leant in and kissed her on the cheek. Her hideous, scarred cheek.
"Jaime?" He stuck his head back round the door and she took a deep breath. "Jaime - I - I'm glad you're here." She turned quickly and strode after the servants.
Brienne finished her hasty wash, dragged a comb through still-damp hair and tugged at her smallclothes. She looked regretfully at the comfortable old tunic and breeches on her bed. Why can't I just pull those on and go for a walk with Jaime instead of playing the lady? She glared at the loose silk robe draped over a nearby stool.
She still wore men's style clothing most of the time, but reluctantly donned proper dresses on occasion, such as when there were important guests at dinner. The gowns were nothing fancy - she hated lace with a passion, and frills and other embellishments merely emphasised her size - but she knew her father was happy to see her make the effort.
The war had greatly aged Lord Selwyn. Brienne had been shocked to see his grey, thinning hair and his lined face, as shocked as he had been to see her own disfigured appearance. He could so easily have died while I was away, she'd berated herself, resolving that she would do her best to be a good and proper daughter to him now she was home again. I have been away so long, he allowed me to go, and I owe him this happiness. Sometimes he looks quite ill, and I'm afraid for him.
She had arrived home exhausted and grieving, and it had been a while before she spoke much to anyone about her experiences. Even then she spared her father some of the worst details, though one evening as they sat talking in his solar, she had broken down at a casual mention of Jaime's name, and had sobbed her heart out on her father's comforting shoulder. Lord Selwyn had wisely allowed his daughter to recover in her own time, glad to have her company once again and pleased that she was now willing to shoulder more of the duties at Evenfall Hall. She still trained each day, and if Ser Goodwin noticed that she often took out her feelings with a wooden sword against a sturdy pell, he said nothing. When reports came in about sporadic outlaw activity in the hills, her father had put her in charge of several patrols. Oathkeeper had once again flashed red and black fire as she'd given short shrift to one small band when they put up a fight. I learnt a lot from you, Jaime, she'd thought more than once as she commanded Tarth's men in action.
Lady Phyllis Bolling was one of the new duties she wished she could avoid. The girl was thirteen, only daughter and youngest of four surviving children from the junior branch of the Bollings; her mother and Brienne's mother had been childhood friends. Brienne had protested that she'd be completely useless at training any young lady - she was better at tending horses than doing fine embroidery, and more at home wielding a morningstar than teaching fine manners. But her father had smiled, said that Septa Rouelle would be there to help, and asked her to please do this for him. Caught up in the guilt of her long absence and sadness about Jaime, Brienne had found herself accepting.
Phyllis was pleasant enough, though Brienne found she had almost nothing in common with her other than a shared enjoyment of music. I'm eight years and a lifetime older than she is. At least the girl met with Septa Rouelle's approval: they were now outside in the dayroom, examining fabrics with two seamstresses and discussing the new dresses required for Lord Selwyn's nameday feast in ten days' time, and the subsequent visit of Ser Henry Gower, youthful heir to his family's holdings. Brienne didn't see why she'd need more than one new dress, but Septa Rouelle had insisted that she had a position to uphold and people would expect to see her dress accordingly.
Her tone had irritated Brienne, who'd replied more crossly than usual that she'd wear old breeches and doublet if she felt like it. I'm not a child any longer, Septa - I've killed men and wildings and Others, I've been captured several times and almost raped, I've slept in cells and mud and on makeshift pallets. I've fought bears and wolves and mammoths, I've seen dragons, I've had half my face bitten off, I've watched the man I love lose his sword hand - and you worry about what I wear. No one cares anyway. They prefer not to even look at me. She'd put off the hated task as long as possible, but there could be no further delay if the garments were to be ready in time. Best if she just agreed to something quickly and left them fussing over Phyllis, so she could escape the torture and spend time alone with Jaime before dinner ...
There was a sudden minor commotion outside and a familiar male voice. Brienne grabbed her robe, fumbling at the sash as she strode past a startled maidservant into the dayroom. "Jaime!”
He was standing just inside the entry, a large bundle of folded fabric in his arms, looking quietly amused at the reaction his arrival had caused. The two seamstresses were hastily tidying bolts of material, Phyllis was blushing and trying not to stare too openly at their handsome visitor, and Septa Rouelle was sitting primly upright in her chair. She cleared her throat loudly at Brienne's state of dress.
"Brienne!" The septa glanced meaningfully at the robe, now gaping half open, displaying an expanse of smallclothes and large bare legs.
"Please don't worry, septa. Brienne and I have seen each other wearing much less than that." Jaime was admirably straight-faced. Ignoring the gasps and Septa Rouelle's shocked look, he placed the bundle on a low chest and gave Brienne a polite half bow, his eyes glinting their own message. I'd prefer you wearing nothing at all, wench.
Septa Rouelle would be no match for Jaime, Brienne thought, though she knew it was a little unkind to her old teacher to be almost pleased at the prospect. She drew the robe closed again, re-tied the sash firmly and introduced Jaime with what she hoped was suitable composure. His eyes met hers, and she cast him a mute plea for help. I hate all this. Get me out of here, Jaime!
“I'm sorry for interrupting Brienne, and I won't keep you too long, but Septa Donyse told me you'd left a few things in King’s Landing. I brought them with me.” Brienne frowned: she’d departed in a hurry, but couldn’t recall leaving anything important behind. Unless … She shook out the top item and smiled.
“Jaime - you brought this?” The simple blue dress which Septa Donyse had found and adjusted to fit her, when she and Jaime had first arrived from Harrenhal. She’d left it behind when she went in search of Sansa, and on returning to the capital many months later, she was surprised to find that Septa Donyse had kept it for her. But the only clothing she’d shoved in her saddlebags when she rode home to Tarth had been changes of tunic and breeches. “Oh Jaime … “ She trailed off, a sudden lump in her throat.
“I didn’t know what else to do with it. It’s good fabric, but I’m afraid the cut and style just don't suit me.”
Phyllis spluttered, not quite daring to laugh; the seamstresses stifled giggles.
“You could have made it into a horse blanket,” Brienne retorted.
“I thought about it. But alas, my horse has big brown eyes, not blue.”
Blue is a good colour on you ... it goes well with your eyes, she remembered. Her breath caught and her stomach clenched, turning over suddenly in a way that left her slightly weak-kneed. Jaime, you big sentimental .... She stroked the fabric, so soft under her calloused fingers, and smiled at him. "Thank you for bringing it then," she murmured, passing the gown to a nearby maidservant and returning to the remaining items.
“Septa Donyse would be most upset if you thought that was a horse blanket,” he remarked as she unfolded another garment. "She hopes it's what you wanted." Brienne had entirely forgotten about this dress, ordered more than a year ago on her next visit to the capital. The good Septa had accepted that she preferred practical male attire during the day, but had gently suggested that perhaps Brienne should get another gown in case she was required to attend court, and had produced a bolt of deep sapphire blue wool.
‘Nothing fancy’, Brienne had insisted firmly as they discussed the style. ‘No frills or lace.’
‘Of course not. A simple cut like the other one will suit you much better, with a different fabric around the neck and sleeves. Perhaps a silk, or some brocade.’ But Brienne and Jaime had left again before it was completed, and there’d been no thought of fancy clothing when they returned to Kings Landing for that final time.
She gasped as she shook out the finished dress and held it in front of her. The neck had been trimmed in a wide band of silk brocade, and the softly flared sleeves were bound and lined in the same fabric. But the weave was complex and it rolled in the light with subtle tones of blue, gold and bronze. It was so simple, and yet ... . Brienne swallowed. "Jaime, it's beautiful. This is much nicer than I'd ever thought ... it wasn't finished and I forgot all about it when I ... " She trailed off, not trusting her voice. Who'd chosen the trim? That fabric was expensive: she knew Jaime would have paid.
Phyllis was staring at it. “It’s lovely, Lady Brienne,” she said admiringly, as Brienne slowly smoothed the gown. “But ... but it's very plain. Don't you think it should have some lace or something?”
"No." Brienne was surprised at the firmness in Jaime's tone. "Lace would suit your features, Lady Phyllis," he said more gently, "but Brienne does not like it. Here," he handed Brienne the last item, "Septa Donyse had this made as well."
This was a sleeveless overgown made out of the silk. Brienne draped it out over the dress. It looks - it looks - so elegant. She'd been pitied and sniggered at all her life: gowns which would be beautiful on other women just made her look awkward and even bigger. "The only truths are found in the mirror," Septa Rouelle had told her bluntly. "You are not beautiful, or even pretty. Men only say such things because they want to gain favour with your father. Never trust the sweet words of men."
The truth had hurt, though not as much as the mockery of the wager at Highgarden. And after Biter had done his work, Brienne knew she was hideous. She could never be like other women. Yet one evening Septa Donyse had mused that the gods gave beauty in many forms, only most people were blind to all but the obvious. Brienne had her own beauty: she merely lacked confidence. And someone to believe in her.
Brienne fingered the silk lightly. She didn't have to try this dress on to know it would suit her. Perhaps she could feel almost pretty when wearing it.
"The Septa sends her warm regards, and hopes you like the clothes. She thinks very well of you, and prayed for your safe journey home."
Brienne blinked away sudden tears. Septa Donyse was an older woman, round-faced, gentle and almost motherly as she'd attended to Brienne. The septa had revealed little of her own background, only that she had known Ser Jaime Lannister 'since he joined the Kingsguard'. Beyond that, she'd just smiled and said the past was sometimes best left in the past.
"Oh Jaime, I hardly had time to say good-bye to her. She was always so kind to me. Is she - is she well?"
"Yes. She also asked me to give you this." He reached into his tunic to produce a carefully-sealed letter, bulky with something enclosed.
The round silver medallion on its fine chain glinted as Brienne held it up. Three delicately engraved figures, three female figures - the Mother, the Maiden and the Crone. Love, compassion and mercy - innocence and a maiden's virtue - wisdom and guidance. On the reverse, an engraving of a small seven-pointed star.
Suddenly unable to speak, Brienne read and re-read the letter several times. The last lines brought a lump to her throat. "May the gods always watch over and protect you, my dear, and grant that you may follow your heart and find the happiness you deserve."
At last she looked up, realising that the room had fallen silent. They were all watching her, but it was Jaime she sought. Wordlessly she handed him the medallion.
"She told me it once belonged to her mother," he mused, turning it over gently as he examined it. "She has no immediate family and thought you would like it."
"She never said much about herself. Just that she was born in the Stormlands and had been in Kings Landing a long time."
"Yes." He shrugged and gave an easy smile, his tone casual for the benefit of the others in the room. "I remember her attending to Queen Rhaella occasionally."
Queen Rhaella. Aerys's wife. Brienne stared at him, the medallion dangling almost forgotten from her fingers. What had Jaime told her about Aerys and his queen, one night as they sat talking over a tiny campfire? He'd been so very young himself at the time ... "I couldn't stand it - the way he treated her - the beatings and the rapes - I had to stand there outside her chambers and listen to her screams. And I couldn't do anything. Nobody in that whole bloody palace ever lifted a finger to do anything. Because we served the king. But we were knights - where was our honour? What would the noble Lady Catelyn Stark have said if she'd seen and heard what we did? Gods, why didn't we do something?" She'd had no answer to his anguish and bitterness, had just quietly put her arm around his shoulders. He'd leant against her, and they'd watched the slowly dying flames for a long time.
And Jaime had killed Aerys. The Kingslayer, reviled by everyone. But perhaps not quite everyone, after all. Brienne folded the letter carefully. "I will write and thank her. I should have written before. It was very unthinking of me."
"She'd like to hear from you," he agreed, smiling once more. "I should probably write as well. But now I'll leave you to your sewing. Ladies, once again my apologies for interrupting."
"Oh, but you've saved us a lot of work," Brienne replied happily. "I'll wear that new one to my father's nameday feast," she looked pointedly at Septa Rouelle. "Phyllis, choose whatever fabrics you like and have your dresses made. Jaime, if you'll just wait a little, we can go down to the stables ..." She was already shedding her robe on the way into her bedchamber.
"I've got a new horse you'll like," she said, swiftly emerging in breeches, boots and tunic. "Only young but he's a beautiful mover. And my old mare foaled again yesterday ..."
Jaime shut the door behind them on the hated domesticity and chuckled as Brienne heaved a sigh of relief. "The dashing knight risks life and limb to rescue his maiden in distress."
"Hmmph." She strode off down the corridor. "You were enjoying yourself."
"You're the only woman I have ever met who'd rather face down a mammoth or fight a hundred knights in a melee than order a new dress."
"I'd rather order new armour."
"I know. Let's go and ask them to make a breastplate and pauldrons to match Septa Donyse's dress. Though it might make it a little awkward to dance."
"Dance?" Brienne stopped abruptly, frowning as she faced him.
"Yes. I'd like to stay a while, and dance with you at your father's nameday feast. Unless of course he throws me into a dungeon tomorrow, or puts me on the next ship leaving Tarth."
"Throws you into ... ?" She stared at him: surely Jaime couldn't think he was unwelcome. Not after he'd written those letters to her father, without ever telling her, letting Lord Selwyn know from time to time that she was still safe. It took her a few seconds to realise he was joking. "It's lucky I can get the keys to the dungeons then," she muttered as he took her hand and pulled her into a small window alcove.
"We've never danced together, Brienne," he said, cupping her chin gently. "I'd like to."
Dance with Jaime. She swallowed. I haven't danced with any one since ... since Renly ... I never thought ...
"How long since you have danced? Renly's visit to Tarth? Or Highgarden?"
His finger caressed her cheek. She nodded mutely.
"How old were you then - sixteen? Five years is a long time for any young maiden to wait for another dance."
She could lose herself in those green eyes, with their love and their longing. "I'm not very good - it's been a long time - I'm clumsy."
"No woman who moves as lightly you do when fighting could be clumsy when dancing."
"The dances will have changed. I'll probably tread on your toes," she murmured.
"I'll tread right back. Better still, I'll make you stop and give me a kiss every time you tread on me."
"Your toes will be black and blue."
"The reward will be worth the pain." A very Jaime grin.
"I'll wear boots with sabatons and greaves."
"Make sure they're blue to match the dress."
Oh, it was so good to have him back. Only Jaime could ever make her laugh at her own fears and insecurities, could tease her yet somehow give her confidence, could turn her normal dread of this social occasion into near-anticipation. Dancing with Jaime, her golden, handsome Jaime, here at home in Evenfall in the dress he'd brought for her ....
"Come on wench. Let's see those horses. It'll give Bettley and Pia time to find the rest of my good behaviour."
The evening was mild, and they stood comfortably side by side, shoulders touching, looking west over the waters of Shipbreaker Bay. Brienne had always liked it up here atop the small inner tower. It had been one of her favourite retreats as a girl, where she could look out over sea and sky and dream.
When she was very young, the dreams had been of handsome knights, princes even, coming to ask for her hand and sweep her away to a golden happiness. But those dreams had faded by the time she was ten: no handsome knight would ever come knocking at her father's door for a girl as ugly and stupid as she was.
There'd been Renly of course, sweeping her off her feet in her youthful innocence. She'd worshipped him, would have died for him, had grieved when that terrible shadow had killed him. But that was several lifetimes ago. With hindsight, she knew that she hadn't known him at all, that what she'd adored had been a girlish dream, a naive fantasy, and that despite all his fine words, Renly Baratheon had thought her absurd with her armour and her simple devotion.
She had still been mourning for Renly when Ser Jaime Lannister had been thrust rudely into her life. A golden, tarnished, dishonourable knight, with a fearsome sword arm, a sharp tongue and an oathbreaker's reputation. She'd almost hated Lady Catelyn for it, but she'd been sworn to her service, so she had vowed to take the Kingslayer to Kings Landing in return for getting the Stark daughters back to their family.
The gods have strange ways, she thought. Sometimes they seem to laugh and make fun of us; sometimes they grant our wishes, while at others they appear deaf to all our prayers. Sometimes they are cruel. And sometimes they answer us, but not in any of the ways we expect.
At times on that terrible journey from Riverrun she'd felt the gods had abandoned her completely, or were mocking her innocence and faith. Even the Maiden and the Warrior had apparently turned their backs on her, though the Stranger had been ever-present. But now she knew the gods had understood her far better than she knew herself. Jaime had been their test - and their answer.
She turned her head a fraction to look at him. He was staring out over the bay, where the almost full moon had emerged between clouds to spread a silvery path across the water. Its light gave gilt edging to his hair and features.
"Fisherman? Or merchant?" His eyes were good: a small black dot had moved out of the darkness and was slowly making its way across the moonlit stretch.
"Probably fisherman. When it's calmer, there is good fishing between the mainland and the northwest of Tarth. The waters can be deadly in a gale."
"Mmmm. The captain was telling me as we crossed."
Two more dots had appeared some distance astern of the first. "Definitely fishermen." She assessed their course. "They'll clear Southclaw Point – they are probably from one of the villages around Refuge Bay."
"On our south coast. Boats often shelter there if there is a storm coming. Saves them being blown onto the cliffs at Dragonstone or Griffins Rest."
They lapsed into agreeable silence again, watching the little dots and content in each others' company. Strange, she thought. We've been apart for so long, we're alone in the moonlight together, yet we just stand here and talk about fishing boats and harbours. And yet it wasn't strange at all. She'd missed Jaime desperately, had longed and ached for him in so many ways, had tried to bury her grief and guilt in the business of everyday life. His reappearance had ripped open those scars, and the tumble of emotions had left her feeling confused and exposed. But now as they leaned on the battlements together, the simple truth settled around her like a soft invisible shawl. She was comfortable with Jaime in a way that she had never been comfortable with anyone before. There was no pretence between them, no need to hide who they were: they understood each other's moods, they knew each other's secrets, acknowledged each other's strengths, and accepted each other's faults. She loved him, and just being with him.
That afternoon they had explored some of the castle, inspecting horses, patting dogs, talking easily with grooms and other staff, chatting about Evenfall and Tarth. They’d even snatched a hungry kiss in the dim privacy of one horse’s stall, until the animal had turned around to see what they were doing and pushed his nose curiously between them, snuffling softly and nibbling at Brienne’s hair.
“Get away, you idiot!” Jaime had spluttered, fending off the affectionate beast while Brienne turned red and dissolved into silent laughter. “I’m the one kissing her.” I hope no one noticed us, she’d thought, stifling another unexpected giggle as they emerged from the stall. Being found kissing Jaime in the stables, like some moonstruck young serving girl … Judging by Jaime’s expression and quick wink, he’d had the same thought.
There had certainly been many curious looks cast their way as they walked, not just because word of their visitor’s identity had spread rapidly, but because the normally taciturn daughter of Tarth was so at ease with him. Brienne smiled inwardly. Everyone knew she was usually tongue-tied and awkward at polite social conversation: anyway, apart from her father, most people didn’t seem to think she’d have much of value to say. Except for Jaime. Their early insults and prickly exchanges had later grown into longer conversations, and she'd realised that like her, he was a keen and surprisingly sensitive observer of people and the world around them. They'd talked of many things as they rode or shared a meal - their homes and childhoods; men they had known or fought against; horses, weapons and fighting; places they'd visited and stories they'd heard; the old gods and the new; history and legends. The war and politics. At first she was surprised that he listened to her and didn't dismiss her ideas, or say she was stupid just because she sometimes thought for a while before answering. She had come to understand that Jaime liked it that way, noting his acerbic replies or even quick flashes of anger when others gave him unnecessarily glib or flippant answers. He had a wry and often wicked sense of humour when he relaxed in trusted company; slowly she'd begun to laugh with him and even at him. And bit by bit, hidden walls had crumbled and they had spoken of things that were deeply personal and often painful - regrets and failures, hopes and dreams, fears and nightmares. And their families. How many people really know Jaime? He hides himself as much as I do.
Jaime himself had seemed completely at home as they wandered, meeting curiosity and occasional wariness with courtly manners and easy good humour. At dinner she’d seated him between herself and Lady Ermeline Dent, wife of Evenfall’s castellan, with Phyllis on Ermeline’s other side. Jaime quickly charmed the two women, but although he answered questions politely, Brienne noted how deftly he would divert the conversation to more general matters or to the ladies and their own families. Jaime could be direct and brutally honest, but for those who understood him, it was what he didn't say that was usually most important. An unspoken understanding had kept their afternoon casual, and tonight at dinner he had been carefully avoiding several issues. Up here though, there were things that needed to be said between them, questions to be asked.
"So what do you want to know first?" He was smiling slightly as she turned to face him.
"Do you always know what I am thinking?"
"Even a Lannister would not be brave enough to claim he always knew what any woman was thinking!"
"Not even a mad Lannister? The sort that jumps into bearpits? Or fights a dragon?" She elbowed him affectionately and he laughed.
"None of those tonight. And you're not just any woman. You're carefully working out which question to ask, and how to ask it."
Trust Jaime! She sighed and reached out to rest her hand on his right arm. He'd worn his golden hand at dinner, but had removed it before they came up here. Gently she pushed back the sleeve and ran a finger lightly across the scarred stump. She sensed the slight hitch in his breathing; this was an intimacy only she would ever be permitted.
"Jaime, what really happened? Why did they set you free?" Apart from confirming that he was no longer in the Kingsguard, all he had told her today was that 'they changed their minds'. She’d left it at that: Jaime would talk when he was ready.
"I'm not sure even now." A pause. "I suppose it started with Barristan Selmy."
"Barristan Selmy? Why? Didn’t Joffrey dismiss him? Or was it Cersei?"
"Cersei. Not one of her better decisions."
At least he could now say her name calmly, though she could only guess at the emotions it still evoked. But Cersei wasn't at issue now and Brienne turned back to what she knew of Ser Barristan Selmy. She had only met the man briefly, in the aftermath of the Kings Landing fighting. A much older man, grey thinning hair but still clear-eyed and upright. He and Jaime had been the only surviving members of the Kingsguard when Robert Baratheon took the throne, and Selmy had then sworn allegiance to Robert rather than go into exile. Saved his own skin to become Lord Commander, she’d always suspected. "So after that, he went to Daenerys Targaryan? "
"Not immediately. According to him, after thinking things through, including a lot of what he knew about Robert, he decided he couldn't support another Baratheon king, so he went looking for the supposed Targaryan heirs - Rhaegar's siblings. Viserys was dead, but he found Daenerys. It's a long story - he served her loyally at first, but in the end, he realised that she too was more than a little mad and the last thing Westeros needed was another insane Targaryan on the throne. Especially one with dragons.”
"Took him long enough to realise that. So he packed up and went to Stannis after all?"
"Stannis and Jon Snow."
Brienne grunted scornfully. "And they say you broke your oath! He's changed sides more often than some men change their breeches. What's his sigil - a spinning wheel?” Jaime chuckled.
"The Selmy stalks of wheat. They bend and blow in the wind.” He shrugged. “Anyway, several days after you left, he sent for me and said there were things we needed to talk about."
“Things?” She frowned. Jaime’s face confirmed her suspicions. " Aerys. You never talked about it? In all those years you were together?"
"No. He despised me as the Kingslayer and oathbreaker. Nothing I could have said would have made any difference and anyway, I was too damned proud to offer excuses or explanations. So Selmy and I just learned to live with it. I was there to take the butt of Robert’s jokes and make the others look even more honourable.”
Brienne was silent. She had known that Jaime had never discussed his actions with his family, even Cersei, but she’d never really thought about the Lord Commander. Wouldn’t the truth have to be recorded in the White Book? Jaime had told her about that: he’d always been fascinated by the history of the Kingsguard, and she’d listened eagerly as he’d occasionally related tales of the knights whose lives and deeds were recorded there. What will they write about you, Jaime? Or have you already written your page?
A sudden gust of wind swirled around them, chilling their faces. Brienne looked up, where dark clouds were covering the moon. “We’d better go in. It will be pouring soon.” The first fat raindrops spattered them as she opened the door to the stairwell. A maidservant leapt to her feet as they entered Brienne’s dayroom, looking startled to see Jaime. The girl scurried round adding logs to the fire and lighting several racks of candles; Brienne sent her off to bring some refreshments and pulled two chairs nearer the hearth. She settled into one while Jaime wandered around the room, now mercifully free of the afternoon’s sewing. She watched him examine the colourful cushions, rugs and wall hangings that added warmth to the timber beams and painted wooden furniture. It’s not fancy but it’s comfortable and it’s home.
“How old were you when you made this?” Jaime had picked up a faded blue cushion and was examining a strange-looking cat awkwardly embroidered in black and grey. Small figures around it looked like fish. “One of your pets?”
“Cinders. I was eight or nine.” He knows me so well, to pick that one. One of the few hated sewing efforts she had kept. Her big fingers could never master the intricate stitches they expected of noble girls. Even now, the criticism and laughter at her efforts was a painful memory: it was a wonder that the cushion wasn’t streaked with the tears she’d quietly shed while stitching it. “Septa Rouelle wanted me to work flowers around it, but I told her that Cinders ate meat and fish, not flowers.”
He chuckled and sank into the other chair with the cushion propped behind him, legs outstretched to the fire. “This is a nice room. Lots of colours, pictures of animals and birds and flowers. It suits you.” She remembered the stark simplicity of the Lord Commander’s room in the White Tower, how she’d thought that the white cloak had looked so well on Jaime. The shining knight of her dreams? Yet somehow Jaime himself was too colourful for that, was neither black nor white, but a myriad of tones and shades. He leaned back, eyes half closed, saying nothing more until the maidservant returned with a tray, another servant following with more firewood. Brienne dismissed them both, and poured two goblets of drink. Jaime sipped and smiled appreciatively. “Mead. I like it.”
“Tarth honey is said to have a distinctive taste.” Brienne kicked off her shoes and regarded Jaime calmly. “So, what happened after you talked to Barristan Selmy?”
She was a good listener - she’d always found it easier to listen than to talk - and so she said little as Jaime continued his story. How somehow Barristan Selmy had spoken to the king, had obtained a reprieve for Jaime, had then spent hours and days with him discussing the Kingsguard and its future, assessing possible candidates, reading the White Book and drinking to times gone by and past glories. And how others had apparently spoken up for Jaime, saying that he had dealt fairly and honourably with them, and had played his part in the war against the White Walkers and Others. Sansa Stark had recounted how he had helped protect her, how he had kept his oath to Lady Catelyn, how he with Brienne and Sandor had fought to protect her and other innocent lives. And, most surprising of all, how young Bran had somehow also pleaded his cause. “I don’t know how he did it – something to do with wargs and weirwood trees and messages – it’s something I will never understand.” Jaime met her eyes. “I didn’t expect that. Don’t know why he did it – I didn’t deserve it. Of all the people in this world to speak on my behalf, having a good word from the kid I tossed out the window …”
“Perhaps because you helped to save his sister, and kept your word to his mother.”
“Perhaps.” He sighed. “I was really past caring. I expected to die, so I just lived from day to day, answered their questions, gave them my opinions of this or that if they asked. It seems that some of them thought I actually had something to offer.”
“I wish you had written.” There was gentle reproach in her tone.
‘I told you – I tried. And then I kept thinking that I hadn’t been pardoned, that they could come in and drag me out to the block at any time. What was the point in telling you I was still alive if they were likely to execute me anyway? By the gods, Brienne – I didn’t want to hurt you all over again! We’d both accepted I was going to die. How could I give either of us any hope if it was only going to be a false one.” He rose abruptly and paced around the room, then refilled their goblets before settling back in his chair.
“So they just decided to set you free?”
“Apparently. Of course, I had to give up any claim to Casterly Rock or Lannister lands, but I told them I had done that when I joined the Kingsguard, no matter what my father thought. So Martyn has it all. He’s still young, but he’ll listen to Daven and people like Adam Marbrand if he’s wise. And of course, the usual oaths of loyalty to the throne and all that.” He rolled his eyes and took another swallow of mead. “I felt like asking them why they would even bother about an oath from the Kingslayer, but it seems even Stannis was prepared to accept my word. I don’t give a damn who’s on the Iron Throne as long as they do a reasonable job and don’t turn into some mad despot. I’ll be glad if I never have to set foot in Kings Landing again.”
“And the Kingsguard?”
“Dismissed from that of course. Selmy is Lord Commander for the time being, but I think between us we have sorted out a few things about its future. You are a fool if you don’t learn from the past.” A shrug. “So they gave me a small allowance for the next two years and sent me on my way. Two horses, my armour, clothing and a few simple possessions. My golden hand. Young Clovis Bettley insisted on coming with me as my squire. As a younger son he didn’t stand to inherit anything, so he said he’d take his chances on the road. And Pia you know about.” Another shrug. “I thought about writing to you, but I could hardly ask them to send a raven to Tarth. I knew I would reach here almost as soon as any messenger … so here I am.”
Brienne nodded, the import of Jaime’s tale slowly sinking in. He was no longer Lord Commander of the Kingsguard. He was no longer even in the Kingsguard. He wasn't lord of Casterly Rock, he had no claim on the Lannister lands and wealth.
She turned it over. Ser Jaime Lannister had nothing - no lands, no inheritance, only a tiny allowance sufficient for a knight and a servant. And still the name and reputation of 'Kingslayer', whatever other good he had done. Along the way he had lost father, brother, sister, uncles, and three children whom he could never acknowledge as his. Born to inherit the wealth and prestige of one of the greatest houses in Westeros, he was now little more than a lonely and disreputable hedge knight. Oh Jaime, Jaime.
Yet he had come here to Tarth, to her. It would be so easy to go and put her arms around him, kiss him and say that she loved him, that Tarth was surely more than enough for both of them. She had certainly never wanted or expected Casterly Rock. But that would be the wrong thing to do. For Jaime still had his dignity. And his pride. Lannisters repaid their debts, but this one would never crawl or beg. And she would never ask him to.
He sat silently watching the flames, waiting for her response. He looked somehow - vulnerable. Gods, how she loved him. When had she started loving him? When he'd lost his hand? When he'd rescued her? When he'd given her Oathkeeper? It didn't really matter. She had fallen in love with him, and he with her, even though they had each known that it could never come to anything. Because Jaime was Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, and he was committed to restoring its honour along with his own.
And that was the crux of it. Their love was intense and powerful, yet until now it had been a 'safe' love for both of them. More than friendship, more than platonic, a love that had sustained them through all the horrors of the war. As he had awkwardly helped her out of mud-and blood-stained clothing and into a bath one night, he'd even jested that it was part of his sworn knightly duties to protect her virtue, and she had accepted this and trusted him, feeling completely safe when they had shared rooms and occasionally beds at inns, or curled up together on freezing nights on the road. He had been aroused at times - there was no mistaking that - and she had wanted him too. Yet somehow the honour of 'the knight and the maiden' had kept them apart whilst bringing them together.
The war had destroyed people and families and Houses, had left the land ravaged and battered. But now the flames had died and the smoke had cleared: the bodies had been buried or had disappeared under new-growing grass, the sun was shining again to push aside the snow clouds and ice, and those who had survived could at last emerge and start rebuilding. It was a new world. She and Jaime were both free, as they had never been before, and there was a choice to make. She just needed to find the right way for both of them.
"Who is Septa Donyse? I mean, who was she before she became a septa."
He looked startled at her sudden change of subject. "She was a Hasty. Lady Donella Hasty. She's Ser Bonifer Hasty's cousin."
Brienne frowned. "The one they called Ser Bonifer the Good?"
"Yes. He was a useful tourney knight in his youth, but something happened and he turned to the Faith. Septa Donyse told me the full story before I left Kings Landing. Ser Bonifer had fallen in love with Princess Rhaella Targaryan, and apparently she with him. They’d never have been allowed to marry of course - the Hastys are a good family, but they were far too low for her. But he loved her."
"If Septa Donyse served Queen Rhaella, did she know what went on? With Aerys? "
"Yes. She often attended Rhaella the next morning, after Aerys had been. Ser Bonifer was her favourite cousin."
A lot of things suddenly made sense to Brienne, including the septa's letter. She never blamed Jaime for killing Aerys. She knew that he had done the right thing, even if most saw it as being dishonourable. I wish I had known her better, had been able to talk to her more. There is so much I will need to say when I write to her …
"I love you, you know."
"I know." She smiled.
"I have nothing to offer you. I am a one-handed landless knight who's a good deal older than you. I cannot even offer you the benefit of a good name - I will always be the Kingslayer and the Lannisters are not exactly popular. I had an affair with my sister and sired three bastard children. One was a vicious little monster, the other two ... I’m not exactly a wonderful marriage prospect."
"Yes, a beautiful woman like me should certainly have preferred the likes of Ser Humphrey Wagstaff or Ser Ronnet Connington over Ser Jaime Lannister." Brienne stretched out a stockinged foot and kicked him lightly on one boot. "They had such a lot to offer. To me and to Tarth.”
Jaime’s grunt dismissed both men.
“Or Ser Hyle Hunt. At least his proposition was simple - he'd make me very happy in bed in return for my father's lands."
"An honest man."
"I can do without his sort of honesty. Or maybe I should have accepted the drunken little innkeep at The Three Swans on my way home. Said I was strong enough for two, and he could use a woman like me. I locked my door, but of course he had another key." Jaime raised an eyebrow. "I left him downstairs tied to a chair. With his breeches around his ankles."
"I only nicked him slightly. He can still piss straight."
Jaime burst out laughing. "You mean I was mad to cuddle up to you on all those cold nights without disarming you first?"
"You could have tried."
"I could. It would have been an interesting struggle." He winked. "Of course I might just have pulled you down and then surrendered meekly." The look on his face made her flush and set her insides quivering rather oddly.
"I didn't think that Jaime Lannister ever surrendered meekly," she murmured.
"Only to stubborn wenches with beautiful blue eyes and Valerian steel swords. And I've only ever met one of those."
She knew what she wanted to say, but the words scrambled themselves before they reached her lips. A log crackled and shifted; she covered her confusion by rising to poke at the fire and add another one. Tiny flames licked at the edges, caught on the bark and ran eagerly up the sides. When she straightened, Jaime was there beside her. She reached out to touch his cheek, feeling the light stubble, moving softly upwards to stroke his hair. He turned his head slightly, lips warm on her palm as he kissed it gently. But he said nothing further, waiting for her. If only … if she wasn’t as stupid as Septa Rouelle had always told her … if only … Septa Rouelle. Brienne smiled, the way suddenly clear.
“I love you too.” She paused. “So I think I should follow Septa Rouelle’s advice.”
“And what sort of advice would that be?”
“She said that a woman must always be careful of her virtue, and should never share a bed with any man other than her husband.”
“Ah.” Jaime’s lips twitched. “Very sensible advice to young maidens. Only,” the twitch became a grin, “I think you may have missed something there, wench. A husband. We've shared plenty of beds, but shouldn't the wedding come first?”
“Yes.” She drew him into her arms. “But she always said I was slow and stupid, so I must have got things round the wrong way.”
* * * *
"Father!" She hugged him.
"Ah, my dear, it's good to be home," he said, kissing her cheek.
"Father, this is Jaime. He's come home too."