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“You have a letter, my Lady.”

Brienne’s eyes flitted right to observe Podrick Payne. He was standing just inside the doorway of her chambers, nervously shifting from his right foot to his left. She was struck momentarily how a boy, who had seen so much, could still be nervous confronting her. She was a freakishly large woman, that was sure, and ugly, but he’d been her constant companion for some four years. She thought he would have grown more comfortable in her company. When it was clear he was finished speaking she gave the smallest nod she could in acknowledgment. Maester Linton was treating a wound on her right shoulder and had already shouted at her earlier for moving her head when Jaime had first come in, japing about their matching injuries. She didn’t want to upset the young Maester again. She almost told the boy to leave the message on her table, but Jaime piped up in the space left after the boy’s sentence.

“Give it over then, lad,” Jaime said, grinning from Brienne’s side. He was sat beside her on the bed, his stump comfortably nestled out of sight between his thigh and hers. He held his good hand out to the messenger. Podrick stayed still in the doorway, anxiously looking back and forth between his Lady and his Lord. After the Long Night, Pod was knighted and as such was technically no longer in the service of Jaime, Brienne, or Tyrion Lannister. However, seeing as the Dragon Queen had burned the entirety of King’s Landing, they had need of all the able bodied lads they could get and Tyrion had immediately enlisted Podrick in helping to rebuild the Red Keep. He was terribly loyal, Podrick, and still treated Brienne and Jaime as though he were just a squire. Tyrion too, as a matter of fact, which was why Pod was playing the part of glorified messenger for the Hand of the King instead of trying to find a bride or acquire land in the restructuring or the realm. Though, no doubt, he would be rewarded handsomely for his loyalty. A Lannister always pays his debts.

Brienne smiled kindly, attempting to ease the boy. “Go on Pod, there is no harm in Ser Jaime reading it to me. I can’t move and it will give him something to do whilst Maester Linton finishes wrapping up my arm.” At her word Podrick stepped into the room fully and handed the letter to Jaime with a stunted bow.

“How is your shoulder, ser,” he stopped and corrected himself immediately, “my lady?” The maester irritably tightened her bandage as he wrapped.

“Very well, thank you, Podrick. Maester Linton says there will be no lasting damage.”

“I thought it was high time the wench learned to fight with her left hand, for a change.” Jaime smirked at her side and Brienne could feel herself blushing at the old nickname. He’d stopped using it anywhere but the practice yard during their time at the Wall, yet lately he was calling her ‘wench’ more and more often. It delighted him to see her blush and it seemed to amuse Tyrion as well, even when he complained that Jaime was a bad influence on the King. The Maester looked pointedly at Pod and then swung his irritated gaze to Jaime, sitting beside her.

“My Lady, please refrain from swordplay whilst your wound heals. The cut is shallow, but my stitches can easily be torn during a fight, regardless of which arm you use.”

Jaime scowled from his vantage point, on Brienne’s left, at the young man fresh from the citadel. The maester scowled right back, sitting across from Brienne on a simple wooden chair.

“Then you must not be very good, maester-what was your name?

“Linton, ser.” The boy had fair hair, a weak chin, and watery blue eyes. Brienne thought he lacked color everywhere but from the faint blush on his cheeks at Jaime’s insult. His voice was rather soft as well and higher pitched than many men.

“Maester Linton, we had a maester from the Citadel when we were at the Wall, Samwell. That boy could stitch up a wound from a dragon’s claw so fast and so well that you could be back up and fighting in less than a night.”

“Jaime, be kind.” Brienne chastised her companion, though she was smirking when he dragged his eyes from Maester Linton and let them rest on her.

The maester stood up and exited the room without so much as a backward glance or a word, bursting past Podrick and disappearing with a swirl of thick brown robes and the clank of heavy maester’s chains. Podrick smirked too, being used to Jaime’s sharp tongue and Brienne’s half-hearted reprimands. When the boy took the maester’s vacated chair, Brienne held her hand out to Jaime.

“Did you want something from me, wench?” He leaned closer but held his left hand back and away from her.

“My letter, ser, since you seem too preoccupied to read it.” She looked to his hand and then back to his grinning face. His eyes glittered like flecks of sea glass on the bottom of a clear, shallow pool, like the ones so frequently found on Tarth. She hated his eyes, mostly because she loved them. He often complained that her eyes made him open his mouth when he meant to keep it closed. His eyes had the opposite effect on her. Whenever she allowed herself to really look into them, they arrested her, they stole all of the faculties she required to move or speak. There was so much pain there, and yet, so much boyish hope.

“You told the boy I could read it. Are you breaking faith, my lady?” Golden hair fell into his face as he tilted his head to match his lopsided smile. It brushed across his golden lashes and thankfully hid his eyes behind a veil of gilded fringe. He smiled more these days than she had seen him smile the whole of their history, some five or six years total. She could hardly count all the nights she’d slept beside him, fought beside him, or argued with him. She noticed the grey in his beard more now than she did before, but when he smiled like he was, Brienne had a hard time believing he was more than her own six and twenty, let alone every one of his almost forty or so years.

“You’re being childish. I didn’t promise you anything, but if you insist, please. Read.”

He deftly flipped the letter in his one hand, inserting his thumbnail under the wax seal and flicking roughly to open the letter. “The seal is a black trefoil, do you know it?” Jaime looked at her curiously but Brienne only shrugged. He shook the letter out before him and scanned it for a moment. She tried to look over his shoulder, but could only see that it was a short paragraph before he snatched it away to read it more privately. “It is from Fawnton Gower,” he finally announced. “That is Gerold Gower’s brother, is it not?”

Brienne wracked her brain. The Gower’s were a family from the Stormlands. She should know them. Unfortunately she had been gone from her home so long she could hardly recall their sigil. “I’m not sure, perhaps?”

Jaime’s eyes lit up, “well you are going to want to be sure, my Lady, as it seems you are about to find yourself one of them.”

“What?” She knew her face looked stupid, she could tell by the way Jaime’s grin widened.

“It is an offer, my Lady, for your hand. This Fawnton Gower is a second son, says he fought with you at the Wall. I confess, I might remember him. A smallish thing, he was, with dark hair I think. Though everything was dark wasn’t it?” She only nodded solemnly. “Makes no matter as you’ll not have him. Pod, a quill. I’ll dispatch him for you, my Lady. I doubt you’re as adept with your left hand as I am now and we wouldn’t want you opening your stitches.” He wiggled his fingers with a small laugh. Pod jumped up from his chair across from them and grabbed a sheet of parchment and quill from the desk. She had been meaning to write her father but Jaime had monopolized her time in the capitol so thoroughly that she hardly found a spare moment for herself. “Should I let him know it is I who reject the match? Or should I let him think that it’s you? I doubt he would wonder at either of us having abominable handwriting, though yours may still best mine.” Jaime laughed again as he bent over the parchment and Podrick scooted closer to read what Ser Jaime was writing and to hold the ink well.

“Stop.” Brienne’s voice was small but the scratching of the nib halted.

“My Lady, did you want to hear what I’m writing? Or, perhaps you have something to add? I’ve started with ‘Good Ser,’ since I know that is how you start all of your letters. Well, those not for your father or our good Queen in the North. ” Brienne stood swiftly to tower over the men in her bedchamber. One was young and fresh, with milky skin and a naïveté that astounded even her. The other was older, more grizzled than when they had first met, but every inch as strong and golden as the Warrior himself; Jaime was a true Lion of the Rock. Both were wearing identical grins at her expense and it curdled her stomach like sour milk.

“Is it so impossible to think that I should be wed?”

Jaime frowned. Podrick was still grinning, but the action looked stuck on his face rather than true. “No, not at all.”

“Then why do you mock it?”

“I am not mocking the idea of your being betrothed, wench, I am mocking Fawnton Gower. I would have expected you to know the difference.”

“Mocking Fawnton Gower because he is reduced to asking for my hand?”

“No, now you’re willfully misunderstanding me, wench.” Pod’s smile was quickly fading as he watched the two of them wearily. It was true that they hadn’t had a proper verbal battle since the end of the Long Night and the beginning of the Second Spring, but the boy shouldn’t have been all that surprised at how quickly the tide of their conversation had changed. The rows they’d had while they traveled together had been legendary. Brienne even thought she’d heard a song about them not a sennight ago, in a ramshackle tavern on what used to be Eel Alley.

“Then you know this Fawnton Gower? Is he dishonorable? Not good enough to marry a highborn lady?”

“I told you, I can hardly remember the lad. And a lad, he was. He can’t be more than five and twenty, still green.”

“I am six and twenty. What is a year? Am I green?”

“You are different.”

“How? How am I different? Is my father not a Lord? Did we not both fight against the Others on the Wall? Are we not both the lesser of two great houses?”

“You are not the lesser of anything. Or anyone.” His scowl was fierce and his voice was a controlled tenor that bespoke fury. She knew that tone, and was well acquainted with the mood that brought it on. Why he had reason to be so furious she couldn’t tell. He knew she was ugly. He knew she was less likely to find a husband than near every other woman in all the Seven Kingdoms. He knew she was ungainly, ungraceful and lacking in any of the other qualities that so many men admired. He already knew.

“I wish that were true, but my father deserved a real daughter, or a real son. Not a freak. Not me. You know this. And he is dying, Jaime.” She gritted her teeth at the onslaught of pain that welled up in her stomach. “He would see me wed before he dies. He would have a worthy heir. What kind of child would I be to prevent that when I’ve had a good offer? I cannot expect better, if I do I will be disappointed and so will he.”

Jaime was silent for a moment and Brienne didn’t know if she wanted him to tell her she was being stupid and dissuade her from the idea of marrying this stranger, or if she wanted him to agree with her. “Podrick,” he said lowly without taking his eyes from hers, “leave us.” The boy scrambled from his position, sloshing ink onto Jaime’s black breeches, and headed for the door.

“Good day, my lady. Ser.” He nodded once to her and once to Jaime before fleeing the room and slamming the door shut behind him. Jaime stayed seated for only a second longer before surging up with all the will of a man on the battlefield. Before she could so much as take a step back he was before her, his face mere inches from hers.

“You will not talk to me of disappointment. You forget, I’ve met your father, and from what I know of him I can be sure that he knows you are better than this Fawnton Gower. Otherwise Lord Selwyn would have appealed to you on his behalf already. The Evenstar would not disgrace his daughter with an ill match. No. You would be a fool to marry Gower.”

“I would be a fool not to.”

He growled then and Brienne shivered, suddenly reminded of the sigil of his house, a great, roaring, golden Lion. “You will not marry him,” Jaime gritted out and Brienne scoffed. How dare he give me an order? He is not my commander anymore, she thought, we are no longer on the Wall.

“Jaime, you can’t just-”

“Not again.” He turned away from her and paced across the room, like one of the great mountain cats of his house. “I’ll not do this again. I can’t, I can’t and I won’t.”

She couldn’t decipher the meaning in his words but his distress was clear. “Jaime.” His back was turned to her and Brienne gingerly reached out for his shoulder, meaning to calm him. It was clear that he felt she was his only friend in the world. But he was wrong. Tyrion was there, and Pod. Not to mention any number of young, willing, buxom girls that might like to be the Lady of Casterly Rock. “You will not be alone.”

“No, you’re right. I will not be alone. I will have you.” Jaime grabbed her hand on his shoulder and turned to her, his eyes bright.

“I can’t stay here. We both know King’s Landing is not my place.” She was being as gentle as she could but anger was simmering in her chest. He was being selfish. He would deprive her father of a suitable heir to stave off his own loneliness. It would not do.

He squeezed her hand once before gently releasing it at her side. He was smiling again, though he had a strange, almost manic glint in his eye that she thought she was unfamiliar with. Quite suddenly she was less angry than she had been and more concerned for herself. She had seen that look in his eye before, many times in fact, but it had never once been trained on her. It was the look he got before he killed something, be it man or beast, wight or monster of the terrible North. It was the look of a hunter, just before its teeth meet the neck of its prey.

“You’re absolutely right. Your place is not here, nor is it besides fawning Fawnton Gower.”