Tyrion followed them out of the Great Hall. Jaime's pace was brisk; they were late to relieve Ser Addam.
“Jaime, what are your intentions--”
“You've already declared yourself lord of Casterly Rock and Warden of the West, Tyrion. Imagine, me, a lowly--”
“I need to know your intent,” Tyrion said, through gritted teeth. “I cannot leave you in command--”
“Brienne is in command,” Jaime corrected.
Leave me out of this, she thought.
Tyrion glanced back at her from where he was desperately trying to keep pace with Jaime. “Yes. My lady I meant no offense. I should like to hear your position as well.”
Jaime stopped as they neared the sept.
“You would have already heard my position if you'd warned me your queen was about to do that,” Jaime said, pointing sharply back toward the Great Hall with his gloved right hand.
“I didn't know she was about to do that,” Tyrion said, his voice low so they would not be overheard. Jaime smirked and Tyrion shrugged. “Yes, I knew it was her intent, eventually, but I had no idea she would do it tonight. She does not consult me on her every whim, despite what you think.”
Jaime glanced around and huffed out an exasperated sigh. His anger was writ plain across his face, the smooth planes of his cheeks moved as the muscles in his jaw worked to hold in his rage. The imperiousness with which he crossed his arms and stared down at his brother was at once familiar and completely foreign. Brienne had to look away from him.
“My opinion doesn't matter, Tyrion. I'm nothing. I can't steal your men away and plot rebellion,” Jaime said, his voice so low and dangerous that it disproved every word he said.
Brienne glanced up see Tyrion hide the glimmer of uncertainty that crossed his face. Tyrion was right to worry. The Lannister men would follow Jaime through each of the Seven Hells. After the last fortnight, half the men in Winterfell would.
Since the swords had flamed and his golden hand had flexed to life, Brienne had seen the change in him. When Jaime Lannister spoke, men listened; when he charged, men followed. She had known him so long, had known the arrogance in him, the entitlement, the confidence, but there had been a new shift, an edge of certainty that she had never known was missing, but when it had returned she had seen it. And she hated it; hated feeling that she didn't know him at all.
She was not watching the brothers, she was thinking of the way the dragon queen had glanced around the Great Hall moments before then announced that Jorah Mormont would now be lord paramount and Warden of the North, when she noticed the slight movement of the sept door.
Brienne walked slowly forward, as quietly as she could, Tyrion and Jaime still muttering in argument about command and allegiances when she pulled open the door of the sept. The two shadowed figures inside were startled. A man and a woman. The man pushed the woman behind him.
Jaime had noticed and joined her at the door of the sept, a knowing smile pulling at the corner of his mouth. “What have we here?” he asked.
Trystane Martell stepped forward; Myrcella peeped over the dark hair on his shoulder. Jaime's face fell as he recognized them and he pushed forward into the sept; the two backed away from him.
Brienne followed, uncertain what Jaime would do. Tyrion closed the door behind them.
“This doesn't seem wise,” Tyrion said, moving between Jaime and the pair. “Anyone could have found you.”
“We were doing nothing wrong,” Myrcella said.
“We were talking,” Prince Trystane said.
“Of course,” Tyrion said soothingly.
Even in the dim light shining through the windows, Brienne could see the boy's shoulders squaring, his chin raising slightly. He wasn't really a boy, she supposed, though he looked so young. She had only seen Trystane from a distance since he arrived with Daenerys; an unofficial hostage, Jaime had called him. He's the same age I was when I sailed to join Renly, she thought.
“There is nothing to concern yourselves with,” Trystane said, trying to sound like the heir to Dorne he had so recently become. “I care for Myrcella.”
Jaime snorted. Tyrion sighed.
“Stop,” Myrcella said, her voice sharp; her ever present scarf had fallen back, her scar faintly visible beneath the lovely golden curls at the edge of her face. “Trystane and I were betrothed, we care for one another.”
Betrothed they had been, until Cersei had broken it. Brienne imagined there was little hope of reviving the match after Jaime had revealed to the world that he was Myrcella's father.
“You are no longer betrothed,” Tyrion said, his voice firm but not unkind. “Let us all go our separate ways. Myrcella, we will escort you back to the Great Keep and speak of this no more.”
“You cannot keep us apart,” Myrcella said, the quaver in her voice belying the command in her tone. The sweet, soft spoken girl struggling to find her inner lioness.
“Tell us, Prince of Dorne,” Jaime said softly, “what will the future hold for you and Myrcella?”
Brienne heard the boy swallow loudly, though his voice was clear. “I hope she will return to Dorne.”
“Return to Dorne?” Tyrion asked, feigning ignorance. “You are no longer betrothed. How will she return to Dorne?”
“She will always be welcome,” Trystane said. “She will always have a place with me.”
“A place,” Jaime repeated, his voice suddenly gentle. “What will her place be?”
Brienne felt a wave of pity. They meant to make Trystane tell Myrcella plainly.
Prince Trystane's gaze dropped for a moment before he looked back up at them. “My paramour. It is a position of respect in Dorne.”
“In Dorne.” Tyrion's voice echoed in the sept. If Trystane's intentions were a surprise to Myrcella, she hid it well.
“And, her children would be your heirs?” Jaime asked.
“No,” Trystane said, realizing where they were leading him. “But, I would--”
“What name would your children be given?” Tyrion asked.
Myrcella was looking back and forth between Tyrion and Jaime. Brienne could see the girl's anger, her hurt. It was heart rending to witness.
“I know what a paramour is,” Myrcella said, proudly holding her chin high. “I would not be ashamed. I have lived in Dorne.”
“What name would your children be given?” Jaime repeated Tyrion's question.
“Sand,” Myrcella said. “Sand. I am not a child. I understand what a bastard is. I am one.”
“And ten years from now, or twenty, when you have a wife and decide you'd like a new, younger paramour, what becomes of Myrcella?” Tyrion asked Trystane.
“I would never--”
“What becomes of Myrcella?” Jaime asked, cutting the boy off.
“She would always be welcome. I would never--”
“Welcome to dwell in Sunspear, with both your wife and your new paramour,” Tyrion said. “Subject to your whims and largesse. Or, she could return home, but of course you would be unlikely to allow her to leave with your children--”
“You do not know me,” Prince Trystane said, anger grounding his tone.
“And if she returned home,” Jaime said, his voice soft and almost sad. “She would be an outcast at court, her children would be mocked. And the sight of their pain would wear at her like the surf breaking against the sand. And when her children grew, and she found one of them secreted away in a sept with a lover who would never deign to wed a bastard, what would she say?”
Jaime paused and stepped closer to the boy, his voice dropping to the slightest whisper. “I can tell you,” Jaime said. “She would say: forgive me. She would say: do not do to your children what I have done to you."
Myrcella stepped in front of Trystane and slapped Jaime across the face. “I will never forgive you.”
“Come,” Tyrion said, stepping forward to take Myrcella's still shaking arm, “let me take you to the Great Keep.”
Brienne watched as the girl allowed her uncle to pull her away. The look that passed between Myrcella and Trystane made Brienne's heart ache even more.
When they were gone, Jaime turned back to the boy. “You are young, and I know you mean well. But a man can make decisions in his youth which will haunt him all of his days.”
“As you did,” Trystane Martell said, sneering.
“Yes,” Jaime said.
“I am nothing like you.”
Jaime smiled and started to leave, but then he turned back to Trystane. “Speak plainly to a woman if you only offer a place in your bed.”
Jaime left then, and Brienne followed him.
“You disapprove?” Jaime said after they'd passed the Great Keep.
“It is not for me to say,” she said. Jaime and Tyrion had been ruthless, but she knew they meant well.
“I asked, so it is your place,” he said. “Or will you tell me to talk to her mother and stop bothering you?”
“What sort of life do you think Lady Myrcella will have?” Brienne asked. “Would it be any worse than what he offers her? Will she remain a bastard?”
“Cersei has refused me, if that is what you're asking.”
Brienne stopped mid-step in the middle of the courtyard. Jaime continued another step before he realized she had stopped; he turned back to look at her.
“She refused?” Brienne asked.
“Yes,” he said. His gaze raked up the Great Keep to the window of the room Brienne shared with Cersei and Asha. “She believes the dragon queen can be prevailed upon to legitimize them.”
“She is mad,” Brienne whispered.
Jaime looked back at her, his eyes crinkling as a bark of laughter escaped him. For a moment, he looked like himself again. “She said I was mad. Asked me where we would go, how we would live. I told her I'd been offered a place on Tarth as a shepherd, but the prospect failed to sway her.”
Brienne realized she was staring at him and forced herself to look away. “The sheep are probably all dead anyway.”
He laughed again and turned to continue on toward the Hunter's Gate. “Come, Marbrand's likely cursing our names.”
Atop the wall, Ser Addam gave them the report that all had been quiet and two ranging parties were expected to return presently. In the fortnight since Daenerys Targaryen had brought her dragons to Winterfell, the nightly watch had been halved, then quartered, then halved again. They had taken to sending nightly sorties to try to ferret out any pockets of wights and White Walkers. There was talk of leading a force North, back to the Wall. The mood at Winterfell had shifted from dread to hope so quickly it scarce seemed possible.
“Daenerys Targaryen has just named Jorah Mormont Warden of the North. And lord paramount,” Jaime told Ser Addam. “So tell the men to sleep light. There may be trouble.”
Ser Addam winced at the news. “Why insult the Starks so?”
Jaime shrugged. Jon Snow had not given his fealty to the dragon queen. Stannis brooded but had ceased to demand that Daenerys bend the knee to him. Winterfell was like a cauldron freshly hung over the flame. It had not begun to boil yet, but it would in due time. Only guestright kept bloodshed at bay. But the dragon queen's latest move could not be ignored.
Ser Addam left them and she and Jaime began their first, slow circuit along the inner wall, speaking to each sentry they passed. They had just reached the South Gate when Jon Snow found them.
“What will you do?” Jaime asked Jon softly as they stepped into the nearest guard tower for some privacy.
Jon did not answer, but studied Jaime for a moment, then asked, “Will you join the force that goes north?”
“I do not know. I am here at Tyrion's pleasure and he demands to know my feelings with regard to this business with Mormont. If I speak against his queen, my brother will no longer welcome me amongst his men.”
Jon turned to look at Brienne. “And you, my lady?”
Brienne was taken aback. She would never keep Tyrion's command without Jaime, but knew how it would sound if she said so plainly.
“I serve at Lord Tyrion's whim,” she said. “But my loyalty is to my lady's children.”
Jaime glanced at Brienne from the corner of his eye. She had committed herself with her statement and she knew he would not like it. But then he surprised her.
“Rhaegar left his children in my care and I failed him,” Jaime said. “But you remain. Have you need of my sword, Jon Snow? I fear I have little else to offer.”
“My sword is yours as well,” Brienne said.
Jon, for his part, looked taken aback. “I thank you, but I only came to ask your intentions in furthering the fight. This business with Mormont may resolve itself. I doubt the North will accept him.”
Even Mormont's own family might not accept him back. When Daenerys made her pronouncement, Brienne remembered Asha muttering, “Let's see what the bear women have to say about this.”
“At least you still hold Winterfell,” Jaime said.
“Rickon holds it,” Jon said, turning to leave them. “I am not a Stark.”
Later, in the hours that should have been morning, Asha and Loras came to relieve them. Brienne turned over command and sought her bed in the darkness. Pia woke from the pallet in the corner where she'd been sleeping since Cersei arrived and came to help Brienne undress.
“Really, Pia,” Brienne whispered, “I do well enough on my own.”
“Let me help, m'lady,” Pia said.
“How is anyone to sleep with you two screaming?” Cersei asked, sitting up in bed.
“Oh, I'm always too loud, m'lady,” Pia said, bustling to Cersei's side. “Will you break your fast now?”
“Yes, fetch me something,” Cersei said.
Pia slipped out of the room as Brienne fell into bed.
“Long night in the cold?” Cersei asked. “Or did my brother's burning sword keep you warm?”
“I have my own burning sword.”
“So I've always thought, but Jaime says otherwise.”
“You've seen me disrobe and tended me while I was ill,” Brienne said wearily. “You know I am a woman.”
“Oh, I know you're a woman, Brienne. Of sorts. Jaime didn't lie about that part.”
“What part did he lie about?”
“Well, one might wonder how he came to be so certain you were a woman.”
Brienne stared toward Cersei in the darkness. It had always seemed that Cersei meant to mock her brother by mocking Brienne. Could the woman actually have been concerned? Had she refused Jaime because she questioned his loyalty?
“There have been no other women,” Brienne said. “He has never taken a lover.”
Cersei drew in a sharp breath. “You dare speak to me of this?”
“If you have refused him because you think there has been someone else, or because you think I--”
“You?” Cersei's laughter was sudden and genuine and tearing. “I know he's never touched you. Do you imagine I twist myself in knots fearing you'll take him from me?”
Brienne was angry and blushing in the dark. “Not just me. He hasn't been with anyone. Ask Pia--”
“You think I haven't asked Pia? He sent her out of his bed once when she crawled in it. Did you know that? Pia has told me many things. I know of all the nights he shared your tent because he was afraid some poor soul would become so desperate they'd try to find their pleasure between your giant thighs. I know that the dragon girl looks at him as though she'd like to spend some time loathing him in her bedchamber. I know that the only thing besides me that makes Jaime hard is swordplay. I know my brother.”
“Why have you refused him, then?”
“Of course he told you. You think I worry that he'll take you to bed? No, I worry that he takes you into his head. He and Tyrion parted ways so he had to find some other grotesque to follow him around everywhere and tell him he's clever and assure him he's the greatest warrior ever lived. That is you, poor fool, and if you truly nurse hopes of anything more, that he'll one day look at you and decide he'd like to bed a freakish ruin, you are stupider than I thought.”
“You call me stupid after you have refused him again? You are the fool.”
“He's the fool,” Cersei said.
Brienne closed her eyes and tried to force herself to go to sleep. Even after Pia returned and Cersei began to noisily prepare for her day, Cersei's words rang in her ears, keeping her from sleep.
She tried to think of something else. Tried to remember the looks on Arya and Sansa's faces when the queen had named Jorah Mormont lord paramount. Sansa's still features had showed nothing of the thoughts underneath, Arya's eyes had flashed with ice. Even Rickon who should have been too young to understand had stared at Daenerys Targaryen. And behind them, Jon Snow had stood, flexing his hand as though he would make a fist but giving no other sign of concern.
If she did not go north, Brienne decided, she would stay for a time at Winterfell. At least until Sansa's child was born. There was little on Tarth to make her hurry home. Pod had told her of the day Evenfall's old maester had taken him to see the ruins of her childhood home. “I'm s-sorry, Ser--my lady,” was all Pod had said when she asked if anything remained standing.
Brienne woke the next day with the dawn, the sun emerging over the horizon in the southeast to shine weakly through her window. It would have been afternoon, if the days were not nearly all darkness. In the yard she found Jaime, Daven, and Hyle watching Pod and Tommen spar while there was daylight. She couldn't recall the last time she'd seen squires sparring. There was no room for the luxury of training anymore. A squire learned to fight and kill the Others, or he died trying.
Hyle grinned at her when she joined them. “Your fighting style is infectious. Your tactics must be in the very air on Tarth.”
Jaime glared at Brienne and gestured at the boys. “Look at Tommen; circling, waiting. He fights just like you, now. How am I to correct this?”
It was true, the pair were circling and rarely landing a blow. Pod had grown, but despite being a few years younger, Tommen was the taller of the two. Physically they were fairly evenly matched.
“They've sparred only with one another for too long,” she said. “They know what the other is going to do, that's why they're cautious.”
“Squires training squires,” Jaime muttered.
Loras walked over, freshly relieved from command on the walls. After watching for a moment, he whispered, “Gods, what did you do to Tommen?”
Loras moved between the two boys and began to give them instruction. Brienne noticed Arya, Sansa, and Jon emerge from the godswood, Rickon trailing after them. The sisters were arguing quietly about something when Arya noticed the sparring and came over to watch. Jon and Rickon joined her.
“Do you want to join in, little sister?” Jon asked.
“I want to join in,” Rickon said.
Arya was staring at Jon. Her brother gave her a small smile. The girl took off her sword belts, the small one she had been carrying when she came to them and the slightly longer dragon glass embedded one Gendry had made her. She gave her weapons to Rickon, who took them begrudgingly, and then went to pick up a practice sword.
Jon glanced at Brienne. “She always wanted to fight, but they were always trying to turn her into a lady.”
“Lady Catelyn told me once,” Brienne said.
Jon nodded slowly. “Arya is a wolf. And a wolf can be only what it is. I tried to explain as much to Queen Daenerys, but I don't know if she understood.”
They watched as Arya began to spar with Pod, her methods quick and dirty and effective, though she was not as swift with the practice sword as she was with her own smaller blades. Brienne was lost watching Pod before she realized what Jon must have meant.
“Cersei?” Brienne whispered to Jon. “Did the queen speak to you of Arya and Cersei?”
Jon glanced at her and nodded. “I told her I would have to throw Arya in the dungeons to ensure what she asked of me.”
“And what did she say?”
Jon shrugged. “That I had best throw her in the dungeons.”
Was this why Daenerys had made the declaration about Mormont? Because Jon Snow had defied her? Brienne glanced at Jaime. Was Cersei still in danger?
“Will she kill her?” Brienne asked softly.
Jon shrugged. “I have asked her not to do it here, she has agreed to that much.”
The men cheered as Arya knocked Pod to the ground. Tommen stepped up to take the boy's place.
“She fights like a bloody Braavosi,” Loras said when Arya tapped Tommen's heart three times in quick succession.
Jaime walked over to Brienne. “Gendry said he'd have Pod's sword ready this afternoon.”
Brienne started to walk toward the smithy and Jaime fell into step beside her. Already the sunlight was waning. She would have to ask Sam how much daylight had been lost between yesterday and today. From somewhere in the kennels, one of the dragons roared.
Gendry had tried to make the best of the smithy. It had been destroyed and rebuilt more than once and still looked as though one of the dragons had nested in it, but somehow Gendry was able to use the forge.
“There's your blade,” Gendry said, barely looking up at them as he gestured toward a side table. Jaime picked up the sword and turned it over, tossing it from one hand to the other to test the weight. Brienne watched him, trying to recall the Jaime who only had one hand.
“Oh, m'lord, I do so hope the blade will meet with your approval,” Gendry said sarcastically when he saw Jaime testing the blade.
“Easy, Ser Gendry,” Jaime crooned with a grin. “You're the only knight here. This is a good blade, considering how quickly you got it done. How long for Tommen's?”
“Maybe three days.”
“Is that a dagger?” Jaime asked, looking at the small blade Gendry had been working on. Brienne took Pod's blade as Jaime moved closer to look.
“A dagger?” They all looked up to see Daenerys Targaryen with one of her Dothraki.
Murmurs of greeting issued forth, but Jaime went back to looking at the dagger.
“A dagger for Princess Shireen,” Gendry said, continuing his work.
“Lady Shireen?” Daenerys asked coolly.
Brienne winced and glanced at Gendry. From the look on his face, it was clear he had used the royal title intentionally. Jaime's face was turned away from Daenerys and Brienne saw his wry smile as he prepared to talk Gendry out of trouble.
“I was given to understand that Stannis Baratheon tried to kill you, ser,” Daenerys said to Gendry.
“Oh, Gendry's never been one to hold a grudge, your grace,” Jaime lied.
Gendry bit back a smile. Daenerys stared at Jaime. Brienne remembered what Cersei had said the night before.
“Have you ever forged an arakh, ser?” Daenerys asked. “My men have daggers of dragon glass, but when I heard what you have been able to do with swords I thought to inquire if you could make four for my blood riders, and Khal Jhaqo would likely want one for himself and some for his men as well.”
“Never made an arakh,” Gendry said. “Could do it, with enough time. But it would take time I cannot spare when so many need swords, which I can make quickly.”
“Perhaps swords would do for your Dothraki?” Jaime asked, trying to soothe over Gendry's brusque tone.
Brienne watched as the dragon queen held perfectly still and blinked slowly. She tried to imagine what it must be like for the girl, to have been a queen in Essos and then to come here where no one wanted her or trusted her and she was thwarted at every turn.
“Perhaps what you need are more smiths,” Daenerys said. “A raven is being sent to White Harbor to request supplies. I will also ask for blacksmiths. You can teach them your methods. They can make swords while you set to work on my arakhs.”
Gendry stared at the queen for a moment, then nodded.
“Jaime Lannister,” Daenerys said. “Will you walk with me?”
Jaime nodded and followed the queen and Brienne fell into step with him as they crossed the yard toward the Guest House. Brienne knew the queen had been offered quarters in the Great Keep, but she preferred instead the more self contained Guest House which she had filled only with her loyal retainers from Essos.
Daenerys glanced back over her shoulder and seemed surprised to see Brienne. “My lady, we will speak of a personal matter.”
Brienne stopped cold, but Jaime's hand tugged her arm back into step with him immediately. He shot her a look that nearly begged her to accompany him.
“I have no secrets from Lady Brienne,” Jaime said as they entered the ground floor of the Guest House. “We go everywhere together. She used to be my right hand, but I've got one of those again. What are you now, Brienne?”
“Your sense of reason?” Brienne responded as they walked down a corridor toward a large, open room. The air in the Guest House was warm and moist, full of exotic scents and Essosi in their thin silks without their winter outer garments. It seemed the Guest House, like much of Winterfell, was heated with hot spring water piped through the walls. One of the black hot spring pools was housed within the Guest House, Brienne saw through an open door into an adjoining room where several men and women were bathing.
“Yes, my sense of reason,” Jaime said, following Brienne's gaze into the bathing room. “We're overdressed, I see.”
A servant removed Daenerys's furs to reveal a fine blue silk dress underneath. The queen was beautiful and reserved as she turned to face them.
“Your sister has asked me to legitimize your children,” Daenerys said to Jaime.
Jaime grew still. “She told me she would ask, your grace.”
“I am considering her request,” Daenerys said. “But though I have seen a copy of the missive you sent far and wide, I would hear it from your own lips. They are your children?”
“Yes,” Jaime said, deadly serious. “They are mine. Myrcella and Tommen both. They have no Baratheon blood--no Targaryen blood--they are no threat to you.”
Someone shouted in a foreign tongue in the next room and there was giggling and laughter followed by a great splash. Brienne looked toward the room, trying not to blush at the nude men and women within.
“I will weigh this decision carefully. It may be some time before I am prepared to give an answer.”
Brienne's gaze was drawn back to Daenerys. The threat was implicit. If the queen misliked Jaime's behavior, the children would not be legitimized.
“Your grace,” Jaime said, bowing.
“Your grace,” Brienne murmured, bowing her head slightly. When she looked up she noticed a man exiting the bathing room: the Dothraki who had harassed her. Careful not to look his way, Brienne began to turn to go.
The man called to Brienne in his language. Something foul, no doubt. She glared at him. He was completely nude. She cursed the flush she could feel darkening her cheeks.
Daenerys said something sharply in a foreign tongue and a servant closed the door to the bathing room in the Khal's face. Brienne could hear his laughter from the other side of the door.
Jaime was deathly still at her side and she feared he would say or do something to make the dragon queen decide with a certainty never to legitimize Myrcella and Tommen. Brienne again turned to go, brushing Jaime's arm to jar him into following her.
“Forgive the Khal, my lady,” the queen said, taking a step toward her and touching her arm. “His customs are very different, and--”
“Men are the same everywhere, your grace, you need not worry,” Brienne said, cursing herself when she realized she had just interrupted a queen.
But the queen glanced at Jaime, then met Brienne's gaze with understanding and nodded. “I believe they are, yes. Please accept my apologies.”
“Thank you, your grace,” Brienne said, walking briskly toward the door.
When they stumbled out into the courtyard the sun was gone and it was completely dark.
“I'm going to kill that Dothraki--”
“Jaime,” she hissed. “Someone will hear you.”
Even in the dark, she could see his sneer, the edge of his voice free of any fear. This was the new Jaime. “Let him speak so again.”
“I must take Pod his sword,” she said, walking away from him.
Supper in the Great Hall that evening was somewhat subdued after the Mormont announcement the night before. Brienne sat at her usual table beside Jaime, but oddly both Cersei and Tyrion had joined them; the three Lannisters had not dined together since they'd all arrived at Winterfell.
“Oh look,” Cersei said, “the Starks have invited your blacksmith to sit with them. He's been panting after Arya like Robert after Lyanna. And just like Lyanna with Robert, she barely knows he's alive.”
Brienne glared at Cersei, but Cersei only shrugged.
“She knows he's alive, she's kept him that way,” Jaime said.
“Nice boy, Gendry,” Tyrion said, probably to disagree with Cersei more than anything.
“Ser Gendry,” Brienne corrected.
“Ah, yes, Ser Gendry,” Tyrion said.
“Yes, well, he is a knight at least,” Cersei said, “whereas Sansa--”
“Cersei,” Tyrion said in warning, glancing sideways at his sister.
Cersei narrowed her eyes at Tyrion. “Why little brother, are you sensitive to talk about your expected heir? I cannot think why.”
“Mmmm. Imagine passing off some poor fool's children as your husband's,” Jaime said.
“Some poor fool,” Cersei muttered, looking daggers at Jaime.
“If you ever have children of your own, you'll wish you hadn't handed their inheritance to some dog's get,” Cersei spat at Tyrion.
Brienne watched Jorah Mormont approaching their table from across the room. The northman often took Cersei to sit at the queen's table. Jaime had said more than once that he didn't know how Cersei could stand the man. Tyrion said maybe Mormont reminded her of Robert, only uglier and humorless. Tyrion and Jaime had roared with laughter, though Brienne failed to see the jest.
“My lady,” Ser Jorah said, bowing to Cersei and holding out his hand to her. The northman was coarse looking, balding, and had an enormous scar on his face. Tyrion had told her it was a slaver's brand.
“My lord,” Cersei greeted him with a small smile.
Mormont drew Cersei to her feet, but rather than lead her back to the queen's table, he stayed where he was, drawing Cersei's hand up to his lips. Brienne watched, stunned.
“My lady,” Mormont said, his voice raising so it would carry. “Will you be my wife?”
Brienne had heard of such things, declarations of love and proposals of marriage, but she had never seen one. The matches she had seen were all made privately, between fathers, settled over discussions of dowries and inheritances. To even see such a thing was a shock. But to see it with Cersei...
Jaime proposed to Cersei, she reminded herself.
Cersei smiled the sweetest smile Brienne had ever seen at Mormont, the great beauty of her youth still evident in the almost maidenly way her lashes fluttered closed in shyness as a faint blush colored the apples of her cheeks.
“I will, my lord,” Cersei said, her voice full of adoring happiness. Cersei had expected this, Brienne realized.
The Great Hall broke into conversation as it had the night before after the dragon queen's announcement, though tonight the tone was more surprised than menacing. Was Mormont fool enough to think the North would accept Cersei Lannister as its lady?
“Mormont,” Tyrion said, struggling to stand on the bench he'd been sitting on so he could clap the burly man on the shoulder. “Only you could outdo yourself in choice of brides.”
Brienne glanced at the Stark table and saw them all trying to hide the vaguely gleeful looks they were giving one another. The dragon queen looked surprised to the point of annoyance. Stannis and Selyse looked confused.
Then, out of the corner of her eye, Brienne glanced at Jaime, afraid to look fully at him lest she draw attention his way. He did not seem angry, nor did he feign happiness. He only stared at his sister.
Down their table the faces wore various shades of shock. Some of the others glanced at Jaime: Daven, Hyle, Addam. Asha and Mya were whispering. Tommen and Myrcella stared at one another silently.
As Mormont led Cersei away toward Daenerys's table, Jaime stood and exited the hall. Tyrion sat back down and stared after his brother.
“Just as well,” Tyrion said.
Brienne glared at him. “Have you never loved?”
“I have loved, my lady,” Tyrion said.
Brienne looked away. Jaime had told her that story once when he was drunk. “I'm sorry,” she mumbled.
“He told you,” Tyrion said softly, surprise coloring every word. Brienne looked back up at him to see Tyrion was staring at her.
She shrugged. “Yes. He has told me all about you, my lord. He talks enough for ten men. I'm sure he's told you all about me as well.”
“In general terms, in the way anyone may talk of you, yes,” Tyrion said. “But ask him any close question and he acts as though even uttering your name would bring down the wrath of the gods.”
Brienne shrugged again. She imagined she was a boring topic of conversation.
Later in the evening, Asha pulled Brienne aside. “They say Mormont weds without the queen's blessing.”
“That is not surprising. The queen loathes Jaime and Cersei,” Brienne said.
Asha gave her a sly look. “I'm not certain she loathes Jaime. Not the kind of loathing you mean.”
Brienne recalled again what Cersei had said about the dragon queen. Are you truly surprised someone else wants him? she asked herself.
“Ser Loras claims Mormont wanted the dragon queen for himself,” Asha said. “The Hightowers said Mormont demanded proof that his wife's ship had gone down as soon as he returned to Westeros. They say he thought the dragon queen would wed him.”
“I thought Ser Loras said your uncle wanted to wed her.”
“She has dragons and holds the iron throne, Brienne. And she is beautiful besides. Every man in the world wants to wed her.”
“Of course,” Brienne said. “Excuse me please, I should find Jaime.”
She did not know what drove her from the Great Hall and out into the cold, dark courtyard. She heard a clanging noise and realized Gendry had left the hall and gone back to work in the forge. The Guards Hall had been her destination, thinking she might find Jaime there, but the soft orange glow from the broken door of the smithy drew her.
Gendry was hard at work, bringing his hammer to bear on a longsword. Arya and Jaime sat across from one another at a small side table sorting through shards of dragon glass.
“Ah, my nursemaid has come to take me to bed,” Jaime said, glancing at her briefly. She saw the skin of wine beside him.
Arya gave Jaime a faintly disgusted look before she went back to examining the bits of dragon glass.
Gendry scowled at Brienne. “You shouldn't be wandering around alone at night, the Wildlings--”
“Stay well clear of her burning sword,” Jaime said. “Course they'd have done well to stay clear of it even before it was burning.”
Some of his edge was gone. He used the golden hand to sort through the dragon glass, but he sounded like her Jaime, he looked like her Jaime. He had clearly been drinking.
“Jaime, you should go to bed,” Brienne said.
“My bed is cold,” he said. Arya gave him another sneer, but he ignored her.
“Get him out of here before I melt down his golden hand,” Gendry said. “He's nearly fallen in the fire twice.”
“My lady,” Brienne said to Arya, “we could escort you to the Great Keep.”
Arya shrugged and kept her eyes on the dragon glass before her on the table. Brienne looked at Gendry, but he only shrugged as well.
Taking Jaime by the arm, Brienne began to walk him toward the Guards Hall.
“Can walk on my own,” he mumbled.
“Fine,” she said, releasing him. He stumbled but caught himself.
“You think I care about this?” he asked her.
“No, I don't think you care,” she lied.
“I'll have to kiss Targaryen feet to get them legitimized now.”
He stopped walking. “Never occurred to me she'd try to marry her way back to power.”
Brienne turned to stare back at him. It hadn't occurred to her either. But perhaps it should have.
“I'm sorry,” she lied again.
“No, you're not.”
“No, I'm not.”
Before she could think of being embarrassed, he laughed. “Brienne, did I catch you in a lie?”
“It was a kindness,” she said, fighting the smile that wanted to seize her lips.
“You've tarnished your honor as a kindness to me?”
“Not for the first time,” she said, turning back toward the Guards Hall. She heard his footsteps behind her.
“What would your dried up old septa have said about that?”
“Her advice would be to keep more noble company,” she said over her shoulder.
“Ah, and would you take that advice?”
“I haven't yet.”
Jaime laughed again as they came to a stop before the Guards Hall. He tripped as he reached the threshold, knocking her into the lintel as he tried to right himself, his hand on her shoulder for balance.
“Good night,” he said, stumbling through the doorway.
“Good night,” she whispered.
The next several days, Brienne hardly slept. The wedding was to be held within a fortnight. Pia and Cersei whispered at all hours of the day and night, Asha had taken to joining all the late night raiding parties, returning just when Brienne fell asleep, and Jaime had volunteered himself and Brienne for nearly every overnight watch.
The day of the wedding, the sun barely rose in the southeast, less than half of it appearing over the horizon before it began to dip, ever so slightly to the southwest.
“The histories speak of this,” Sam had told her and Hyle. “The Long Night.”
“What's a long night?” Hyle had asked. “Two or three days?”
Sam had only smiled sadly. But Brienne was not concerned, life was easier than it had been in years. The Others were being driven back at last.
When Brienne had returned from the Great Hall where everyone else was breaking their fast while she only longed for sleep after the overnight watch, she found a strange gift had been left for her on her bed.
It was a gown of pale grey silk, the color muted and watery and too delicate for Brienne to even look at. Asha held the gown up, the flimsy weight of it sliding through her fingers, shapeless. It would be like wearing nothing.
“A gift from the queen, m'lady, for you to wear at the wedding feast,” Pia had said, taking the dress from Asha and laying it out reverently on the bed. “Delivered this morning by her own handmaidens. It was made for you especially at the queen's command as a sign of her deep respect for you.”
“She means to mock me,” Brienne whispered.
Asha stared down at the dress and nodded.
“You'll have to wear it,” Cersei said, upon entering the room. “You'll insult her if you don't.”
“I'll insult myself if I do,” Brienne said.
Cersei came over to stare at the dress with them. She grimaced. “Wear your cloak over it. If she asks about the dress, you can show her you wear it underneath and claim to be too cold in the dress alone. It will only be the truth--look at it.”
Brienne nodded and dropped the dress, climbing into bed underneath it.
“Oh, m'lady, you'll ruin it!” Pia cried, snatching the dress up from the bed, but Brienne was already half asleep.
When she woke, one of Daenerys Targaryen's handmaids was waiting to dress her hair. Brienne tried to send the girl away, but Sansa had come in and encouraged her to accept.
“This is meant as a kindness,” Sansa had said, patting Brienne awkwardly on the arm. “It is the sort of thoughtful thing one lady does for another in need of...”
Sansa had blushed and smiled kindly at Brienne. But Brienne had seen enough of kind smiles. She knew what she was in need of, and no silks or hairdressing would give it to her.
Pia was packing Cersei's things which were slowly being removed to Mormont's chambers in the Guest House, down to Pia's small sleeping pallet in the corner.
When she had been bathed and dressed to the handmaid's demands, Brienne wrapped her dark fur cloak about her shoulders. They had given her strange, soft leather shoes she did not think would survive a walk across the courtyard, and her hair had been braided into tight piles on the back of her head.
Cersei looked her over. “Try not to look as though you're about to be executed.”
Pia was fastening one of Jaime's red cloaks about Cersei's shoulders. He hadn't worn it for a long time; the gold embroidered Lannister crest was pristine, untouched by war. Brienne stared longingly at Oathkeeper. When the Others had come, men had begun to wear their swords at all times, including meals and weddings and everything in between. But she knew it would be out of place to wear a blade tonight. And it would look ridiculous with the gown. Of course the gown was ridiculous enough on its own.
There were no sleeves, so her arms were exposed, their bulging muscles so large and unlike a lady's. The neckline was open and plunged low, showing she had no breasts to speak of, it also made her neck seem even thicker than usual and revealed, in its entirety, the long crooked scar Ser Robert Strong had given her over heart. Her waist was high and the skirts falling away from it seemed to go on for leagues, emphasizing her height, if that was even possible. It was a dress designed to cruelly highlight her flaws, and she pulled her cloak even tighter about herself, knowing it was the only armor she would have.
Pia opened the door and slipped out, and Brienne saw Jaime waiting outside, his back to the doorway as though he were again Lord Commander of the Kingsguard standing on guard for his queen. He wore his golden armor, the warm molten glow of it skimming his form like a second skin. Pia had trimmed his hair so that it was a bit shorter than Cersei's, his golden curls just brushing his shoulder as he glanced back at his sister.
He had told her something, once, about the day Cersei had married Robert Baratheon, but she could not recall what he had said. She did not have to wonder how he must have felt that day, for she could see for herself the anger in him. His jaw, cleanly shaven, looked as though it had been carved from stone. Only his eyes seemed alive, cutting a path toward his sister. If he noticed Brienne standing mutely in the middle of the room, he gave no sign of it. He merely turned back around to face away from the door and crooked his arm for Cersei to take.
The two walked out the door and began to wind their way down the stair, red and gold cutting gracefully through the dark grey stone of the Great Keep. Brienne followed a few steps behind them, trying to be silent, wishing she were smaller.
On the ground floor of the Great Keep, feasting tables had been laid out and musicians tuned their instruments in the corner. The Great Hall could not contain all the revelers, Sansa had told her, so she had arranged several places for celebration. In the courtyard an enormous crowd had gathered. Less than the few thousand people who now dwelled in Winterfell, but still a great many people. The crowd parted for Cersei and Jaime as they made their way to Thoros of Myr and Jorah Mormont, who stood on either side of a small fire in a shallow pit in the ground. There was no septon at Winterfell, and Tyrion had rightly pointed out that if the couple attempted to wed before Ned Stark's own heart tree they might start a war. So Cersei would be wed in the fires of the red god.
Brienne stopped beside Hyle and Mya just as Thoros asked who brought the bride. Asha appeared at Brienne's other side.
“I do,” Jaime said. “This is Cersei, Daughter of Tywin of House Lannister, widow of Robert Baratheon, mother of my children Myrcella and Tommen.”
There were gasps; Hyle grimaced, Asha gave a small chuckle--and she wasn't the only one. Both Stannis and Daenerys stared at Jaime. Brienne could see neither Jaime nor Cersei's faces, but she saw Tyrion's smug smile of satisfaction and knew he and Jaime had planned this. Whatever Cersei may be scheming, Jaime wanted his children removed from any discussion of succession, and any doubt anyone had held about the rumors or Jaime's missives, this would quash them.
Thoros cleared his throat. “Who claims this woman?”
“I do,” Mormont said, stepping forward. His voice fairly shaking with rage as he stared Jaime down and took Cersei's hand. Jaime moved to stand beside Myrcella and Tommen. Myrcella looked embarrassed while Tommen simply watched the ceremony.
The rest of the rite was brief, the only real surprise was when Selyse Baratheon's voice was louder than Thoros's during the prayers. Brienne glanced at Jaime once or twice, but his expression was shuttered and she could see nothing more than mild disdain for the whole proceeding in his eyes.
When it was over, when the bride wore the cloak of her husband's house and the couple had jumped through the flames, Brienne felt something like relief.
The Great Hall was festive and warm, the tables had been moved toward the walls to leave the center open for milling about and dancing, and the air was filled with the scent of a feast which was slightly better than the usual fare. Salted beef and fish were an improvement over the horse stew they'd been eating, the occasion apparently deemed worthy enough for the Starks to dip into the stores. The Starks were celebrating, Brienne knew, for they saw the downfall of both Cersei and Mormont in this match.
Brienne sat quietly at the far end of the room from the high table, hunching and carefully keeping her cloak arranged around her. Asha caught her eye from across the room and mimicked wrapping herself in a great cloak, then hiding under a table. Brienne rolled her eyes. Then she noticed Tyrion walking toward her and almost groaned as he took the seat beside her.
“Cold?” he asked, gesturing at the black fur cloak which covered her from her chin, nearly to the floor.
“Yes,” Brienne said, and it was no lie. Most of Daenerys's Essosi retainers had dressed in the same sort of garb for the wedding and she wondered how most of them could stand the flimsy garments, even if the Great Hall was warm.
“The queen likes you, I think,” Tyrion said. “In spite of herself, in spite of Barristan Selmy.”
“Likes me?” Brienne asked. “She has a strange way of showing it.”
Tyrion's brow wrinkled. “She had this gown made for you, realizing you likely had nothing for the occasion.”
Brienne couldn't believe he was in earnest, and yet he seemed to be. “I am humiliated.”
“She meant no offense,” Tyrion said, turning to her and touching her arm through the cloak. “This was meant as a gesture of friendship.”
Brienne said nothing further.
Across the room, she saw Jaime had been waylaid by the dragon queen. He smiled and looked at ease, but she saw the almost imperceptible tension in him. He wanted to escape. After a moment, he bowed to Daenerys and walked straight to Brienne and Tyrion.
“If anyone asks,” he said, looking at Brienne, as he sat beside her, “I promised to sit beside you so Tyrion wouldn't bother you about military matters all night.”
“Anything to avoid the head table?” Tyrion asked.
Jaime smiled. “Anything.”
“Very nice wedding,” Tyrion said, looking around the room.
“Very nice,” Jaime said. “But Cersei always did know how to throw a wedding.”
“Oh yes, I recall the last one I attended,” Tyrion said. “It was endlessly entertaining.”
Brienne sat silently between them, crossing her arms under her cloak. All Lannisters found it entertaining to converse in his droll way.
“You know father gave your sword to Joff the morning of his wedding,” Tyrion said to Jaime.
“Oh, I know. I think father meant my blade to be a wedding gift as well,” Jaime said.
“How is that? You were still Kingsguard,” Tyrion said.
“Father thought no handless man should be. He tried to convince me to take Margaery Tyrell.”
Tyrion hooted with laughter. “What name would your blade have carried then? Something to honor your bride? Imagine Lady Brienne carrying a blade called Gentle Rose.”
Jaime laughed as well and glanced at Brienne. “She hates roses, so she would never have touched it.”
“Well, you shouldn't laugh,” Tyrion told Jaime with a smile. “Oathkeeper is a bit obvious, isn't it?”
Jaime put his hand on his hilt. “It's better than Widow's Wail.”
“Well, that was Joff for you,” Tyrion said.
“Yes, that was Joff.” Jaime grinned. “Subtle.”
The brothers snickered.
The musicians had begun to play and platters of food were placed on the tables. As the food disappeared, people began to mingle around the room. Ale was flowing freely for the night and everyone seemed in a mood to celebrate, for life was returning to its natural rhythms. Brienne saw Loras and Asha leave to take the overnight command on the walls and was sorry they would miss the night's reprieve she had been given because Jaime had to attend the wedding.
Most of the musicians were merely fighting men who knew how to play beside their hearths at home, but people began to dance anyway in the center of the room. Brienne leaned back in her chair, thinking the night hadn't been so bad with the cloak wrapped around her.
“Are you really cold?” Jaime asked, his hand bumping her elbow through the cloak.
“Not anymore,” she said honestly, snaking her hand out of the cloak to take a sip of ale.
Jaime stood and sat on the table facing Brienne, peering down at her face. He gestured to her cloak. “How bad is it?”
Tyrion groaned. “Don't ask.”
Brienne felt herself start to blush and tried to stop it.
“It can't be as bad as Harrenhal.”
“Worse,” Brienne said.
“Did you say Harrenhal?” Tyrion leaned forward. “Are you going to tell the tale of Harrenhal.”
Jaime grinned at her. “Let me see. Brienne. It'll be amuthing.”
A smile came unbidden to her lips. He sat right before her, so she parted the cloak just enough for him to see the awful dress. His smile died as his eyes traveled the long length of the scar on her chest.
“That did not heal well,” he whispered.
Brienne shrugged and closed the cloak again, all the amusement dying around them somehow. She glanced to the side to see if Tyrion had peeked at the dress when she noticed he was staring at two of the dancers. A Dothraki woman was being groped by a Dothraki man. Brienne was almost concerned for the woman, but then the woman moved the man's hand from her hip to her breast and Brienne decided she was doing well enough on her own.
On the far side of the room, Selyse Baratheon was making a great show of being offended by the Dothraki display as she hurried her daughter and ladies from the room. Pia was ushering Tommen and Myrcella out of the Great Hall as well and Pod followed them. Down the table, Sansa was trying to hide Rickon's eyes while the boy peeped around her hand.
Unaware of the stir they were causing, the Dothraki man pulled aside the woman's leather vest to reveal one of her breasts. Jon Snow tapped Rickon on the head and sent him from the room with Sansa. Jaime sat down again beside Brienne just in time for the Dothraki man to mount the Dothraki woman on the floor right in front of their table. There were a few more gasps from the remaining Northern ladies in the hall, and a few of the musicians halted their play, but many of the Dothraki were calling enough encouragement to make the hall seem even louder than before.
Brienne tried to ignore the couple, her gaze traveling the hall to see Mya, Hyle, Addam, and Daven laughing in one corner. Arya sat further down the table watching the couple with no expression. Cersei looked displeased but pretended not to see. The dragon queen's face was almost inscrutable.
With a sharp thwack, the Dothraki woman slammed both her hands on the table in front of Brienne, gripping the edge as the man plowed her from behind.
“Try ignoring that,” Jaime said, reaching for his cup of ale.
Brienne knew she was blushing, as she always was, but refused to be driven from her seat. She tried not to feel enraged that Lady Catelyn's dining hall was being so disgustingly disrespected.
“I've always heard Dothraki weddings were particularly festive,” Tyrion said.
She was staring at the ale sloshing out of her cup to splash the table with each of the man's thrusts when she heard the voice of the Khal in front of her. She looked up to see he was standing beside the couple.
“My lady.” Brienne glanced to her side to see Daenerys's young handmaid at her elbow. “Her grace, Queen Daenerys wishes to apologize for this display and hopes no offense has been caused.”
“Thank you, Missandei,” Tyrion said.
“Yes. Thank you,” Brienne said, turning back to stare at the rutting couple, then at the Khal. The Khal looked her up and down and said something in his own tongue.
“Khal Jhaqo says you are a very strong fighter, my lady,” Missandei said.
The Dothraki couple finally finished and Brienne released the breath she'd been holding. The Khal came to stand directly in front of her where the couple had been and spoke again.
“Khal Jhaqo says he is not pleased to look upon you, but believes you would give him sons larger and more powerful than stallions. He says he would wed you as is customary for a woman of Westeros. Tonight, my lady, Khal Jhaqo says like a stallion, he will--”
Missandei stopped, perhaps attempting to find more refined wording than the Khal was obviously using as he mimicked the way the man had just fucked the woman.
“I know what he said,” Brienne told Missandei. “Tell him his horse has a better chance.”
Missandei began to speak to the Khal when Jaime stepped up onto the table and came to stand between Brienne and the Khal, Widow's Wail burning in his golden hand.
“Look at her again and I'll kill you,” Jaime told the Khal.
“No--” Brienne's voice was lost as the Khal's arakh swung up from his side to meet Jaime's blade.
Jaime lazily jumped down from the table, then stalked softly toward the very center of the room as the Khal smiled and held his arms wide, inviting attack. A low, deadly laugh escaped Jaime, his gaze a quiet, confident promise of destruction.
But cold fear knifed through Brienne as she watched their blades clash once more. The Khal was tall as Brienne but far more muscled, his long braid hung down the length of his back, small bells ringing with every movement. Hair so long on a Dothraki meant he did not lose.
Jaime's blade was like a flickering demon, moving almost too quickly to follow. He used his right hand, then switched effortlessly to his left, back and forth so often that it almost seemed he held a blade in each hand. The Khal managed to take a small swipe at Jaime's brow, sending a small flow of blood down from his temple to his chin. Jaime paused, grinned, held his blade straight out in front of him, then whirled to the side and gave the Khal an identical mark.
The sheer audacity of it stole Brienne's breath.
But still, the Khal was deadly. His long arakh turning aside blow after blow as it spun in his hands around and around, more effective than any shield. Jaime assessed the man's technique, corrected, then began to attack, driving the Khal back with nicks to his naked arms and leather clad legs, pecking him endlessly with annoying wounds until the Khal roared and pushed back on the offensive. The arakh twanged a low swipe against Jaime's breastplate and Brienne nearly bit her tongue trying to hold in her cry of horror at how close the blow had been.
But she needn't have worried. Jaime had been waiting for the Khal to stretch himself too far, and in a blink, he tossed Widow's Wail from his left hand to his right, and brought its flaming blade down in a flash. The Khal's arakh clattered to the ground and for a moment, Brienne thought Jaime had merely disarmed the man.
“Gods,” Tyrion whispered, leaning forward.
Then Brienne realized the Khal's hand had fallen with his blade. The big man stared silent, uncomprehending, at the stump of his right arm, barely bleeding thanks to the cauterizing flame of Widow's Wail. Then the Dothraki's eyes rolled back and he crumpled silently to the ground.
The Great Hall was utterly still for a moment, and Jaime leaned forward, grabbed Khal Jhaqo's long braid, sliced it off next to his scalp, then tossed it down with derision.
Chaos erupted as servants and Dothraki rushed forward to tend the Khal. Sam appeared and directed that the unconscious man be taken to the Guest House. Brienne glanced at Daenerys Targaryen; the queen was on her feet, but she did not look angry as she stared at Jaime who was giving her a very exaggerated bow.
Brienne found her feet and left the Great Hall. She walked out into the cold night air and drew a deep breath. She could hear Gendry was back at work in the forge and she turned that way.
Gendry barely glanced at her as she went in and sat at his small side table. She stared at the dragon glass he had laid out there. Each blow of his hammer reminded her of the sword blows of the fight.
Jaime had been hurt and furious watching Cersei wed another, she knew. It had taken little to goad him into a duel. But the idea that he might have been killed over a silly insult to her honor terrified her, left her feeling shaken and ill. The idea that he danced so much more readily with death now that his golden hand was alive filled her with dread.
“You wearing a dress?” Gendry asked her, pulling her from her thoughts.
She looked up and nodded.
Gendry laughed. She glared at him, wishing he was more like Renly.
She sat with Gendry for hours, cold with only her cloak for warmth, until Arya appeared at the door of the smithy and showed a slight hesitation at the sight of her. Brienne stood and excused herself, making her way through the cold yard toward the Great Keep. She could hear that the celebration continued in the Great Hall, and as she neared the Great Keep she could hear that Sansa's secondary celebration continued there as well, though the tables were only half full. The musicians continued to play, the sound of the Wildling drums following her, thrumming with each step she took up the round tower stair.
She neared the small landing of her room when she heard someone descending the rounded stair toward her. A torch further up threw just enough light for her to see Jaime's face, his armor was gone, his cloak thrown back over his shoulders to reveal his simple linen tunic. She knew he had just come from the room Sam shared with Rickon and Jon, as Sam's stitches were fresh on his brow. Only Jaime could become more beautiful with the addition of a scar.
He stopped when he recognized her, staring down at her.
She felt a flash of her earlier fear for his life followed by a flash of anger.
“How could you?” she demanded, her voice low and angry.
“How could I?” he repeated softly.
“Risk your life for--”
“How did it feel?” he asked, his voice deep and bitter. “How did it feel, Brienne? To watch someone throw their life away and be helpless to stop it?”
She felt as though he had dealt her a blow.
“It's not the same--”
He scoffed and took another step down.
“I don't want to fight, Brienne.”
“You do,” she said. “You did. You were desperate to fight, to vent your rage. You left that man maimed--”
He barked out a laugh. “Oh you pity him, do you?”
“Better to kill him than leave him humiliated. What life is that for a Dothraki?”
He took two more steps down, his face almost lost in shadow.
“Did you want him?” he asked, his voice a whisper.
“Want him?” she repeated, stunned.
“Never mind,” he said as he continued down the steps toward her.
“You're the one I want.”
He stopped again, staring at her, though she couldn't see his face.
Brienne supposed she was blushing, but she was beyond caring. She took the two last stairs to her door and pushed it open, cursing the light that spilled out from the torches the servants had lit within. She slipped inside and pushed the door closed.
But the door stopped before it latched and swung open again. Jaime was in the doorway and he walked over the threshold of the room, crowding her back from the door as he closed it behind him. She could not meet his gaze, she was looking down, so she watched as his golden hand reached for her, his fingers grazing her cloak over her hip, then closing in a firm grip, pulling her toward him.
She managed to raise her gaze, just slightly, and saw that he was watching his hand as well; her nose brushed his wounded temple as he closed the distance between them and looked up into her eyes. He stared at her as though she was his enemy, as though they met on a battlefield. The fingers of his left hand brushed the skin of her neck, making her draw a sharp breath that scraped along her teeth. He held her face, his thumb caressing her jaw as he tilted her head and pulled her into a kiss.
A kiss had been stolen from her once, but this kiss she gave, scarce believing hers were the lips he sought. The touch of his lips was like the clash of steel on steel, sparking, clanging, jarring her very bones.
The kiss ended after the briefest moment, but she gasped for air as though she had not drawn breath in hours. His hand was hot on her nape, the other gripped her hip pulling her roughly against him. She met his scorching gaze, disbelief clawing at her, then he pulled her down and kissed her again, this time catching her mouth open, holding her bottom lip with his teeth, his tongue darting forward as she gasped and took him inside.
Brienne wanted more; she wanted everything. Even as her hand found its way to his cheek and he turned into her touch, even as she felt his low growl when her fingertips grazed his scalp behind his ear, small doubts tugged and nipped at her. Why tonight? Why me? What will he think on the morrow?
But then he would kiss her again and she didn't care what tomorrow brought. She pushed his cloak off his shoulders. She untied her own and let it drop. When his hand slid up to palm her breast through the thin silk, she didn't let the blush that flared in her cheeks stop her from arching into his touch. When he pushed the silk aside, ripped it when it wouldn't move far enough, then touched her budded nipple with the heat of his fingers, she didn't stop the moan that came to her lips. When he backed her toward her bed, she fisted her hands in his tunic and brought him down with her, the weight of his body awakening a hunger greater than any she'd ever known.
His golden hand pulled up her skirts, slid up her leg, smoothed over her hip, made her want to beg for his touch; she would have, if she could have spoken, if he hadn't been too busy devouring her mouth.
Her legs fell open when his hand dropped back to her knee, then skimmed up the inside of her thigh. Then his fingers trailed toward where she wanted them, tracing the seam of her, but not touching where she needed, going past the little nub that longed for his touch, his fingertips circled lower, around her entrance, where she never touched, using the moisture that was waiting there to dip ever so slightly into her. And her hips rose, shivering, to ask him for more.
She understood now. Every time he'd asked, she should have said yes.
Do you want to fuck?
Do you want to fuck?
Do you want to fuck?
Yes. Yes. Yes. Please. Yes.
He had two fingers inside her now, the slow thrusts of his hand jarring her out of their kiss as she threw her head to the side, choking back a cry. His lips peppered her jaw, slipped lower, his teeth were on her neck, his breath seemed to stutter in time with her own. One of his legs was between hers, and she could feel his cock on her thigh through the leather of his breeches. She knew what it was, she had seen it, she wanted it, she moved her hand between them, scarce able to think as his fingers drove her mad, but she worked at his laces.
Jaime hissed and drew his hips back from her, raising up to stare down at her as she reached out to begin again, undoing the laces more gently this time. His gaze never wavered from hers as she freed him. Then his thumb moved below, touching her taut little nub at last and she gasped, her hips raising off the bed as she pushed against his hand, her climax coming in a bright, sudden burst as she reached out and pulled him down to her.
He kissed her again, and she spread her legs, settling them on either side of his hips. She felt him grab his cock, felt the thick head of it at her entrance and she moved against it, needing to know what was left. Afraid if they stopped to think for a moment this cloud of intoxication would evaporate around them.
He barely entered her, then backed away and before she could reach for him, he entered again, pushing a bit further and then he did it again and the feel of his cock filling her drove the breath from her and she had scarcely tried to breathe again before he thrust once more, deeper, and she stopped caring if she breathed. There may have been pain or discomfort, but Brienne had been cut to the bone, her flesh had been torn away, she had known pain. This was something else. This was Jaime moving deep in the core of her.
She was breaking under him, bending, becoming something new, and he seemed to want to see it, to watch her, his hands, his chin, his jaw, his lips all nudging her to look at him when she could not hold herself still, when her eyes would not stay open, when it was all too much. Steadily, he tried to hold her gaze as he thrust between her thighs. Look at me, he seemed to be saying, but it was too much and she feared if she let him see her, if she let him look into the soul of her, he would realize his mistake, see that she wasn't the one he wanted, and it would all fall apart somehow.
He was driving into her now, moving her with each thrust, and when he groaned, she knew it was ending. Somewhere outside, a horn sounded and she looked toward the window, moving to meet his thrust with her pelvis. His hand cupped her cheek, tried to turn her to face him, he groaned again. She closed her eyes. The horn sounded again. She wrapped her legs around his back, wishing this moment would never end as he ground his cock deep within her and touched somewhere new that made her gasp as his hand gripped her hip and he finished with a strangled moan above her. He still moved, thrust once, twice more, but she knew it was over. The horn sounded again and his head turned wearily to look at the window.
Somewhere one of the dragons roared, then the other two. Jaime looked down at her, drew breath as though to speak, but then a new roar sounded. Aching, cracking, deep with rage and ice. Jaime pulled out of her and jumped up, quickly lacing his breeches. He glanced at her. She still lay frozen where he'd left her, looking down at herself. The dress was in tatters, the middle ripped wide apart, her breasts exposed. Between her thighs, she could feel the drying moisture, could feel his seed sliding out of her.
He tossed her real clothes at her, threw her boiled leather on the bed, then turned and left, strapping on Widow's Wail as he went.
She rose in a daze, noticed the blood on the dress as she stepped out of it. Her hands moved to pull on her breeches and her tunics and her leathers, but her legs trembled ever so slightly and the world was somehow askew. Outside she could hear screams, the dragons, the cracking icy refrain of the Others, the strange new roars, but somehow it was too far removed to be comprehended. She pulled on her boots and exited the room, trying to buckle Oathkeeper as she descended the stair.
I climbed these steps a maid, she thought.
The lower floor was chaos as women and children, woken from their beds, ran screaming for the cellars.
When she reached the courtyard, Brienne almost panicked. Everywhere was fire and ice. Before her, in a solid block of ice, three men were caught, two frozen solid, another screaming as only his head and an arm were free. Above she heard the great roar again and looked up. In the sky above the Great Keep, a giant dragon made of ice shot a flame of ice from its mouth toward Daenerys Targaryen's dragon. The ice flame just missed, then fell like a stone to pierce the roof of the sept. The ice had been the length of three horses end to end.
Someone tugged her arm. She looked down to see Hyle was tugging her away.
“To the walls,” he shouted. She nodded and followed him toward the Hunter's Gate, she could see ice spiders already spilling into the inner ward. She drew Oathkeeper and met the attack head on. Around her men were fighting, and men were dying. Every time the ice dragon roared, the first instinct was to look up, or to run, and either move gave the spiders and White Walkers the opening they needed to kill a man.
Brienne began to use Oathkeeper to clear swaths of the enemy, swinging almost blindly, trying to force her left hand to grip the hilt of her blade so the strength of her blows was strong and rending. And she was gaining ground, they were pushing the Others back toward the walls.
From the corner of her eye, she saw Widow's Wail clearing a path toward the walls on the other side of the yard and tried to take heart that they were making progress. As she fought her way up the stair and looked down over the wall, her heart sank. Wights, White Walkers, and ice spiders covered all the ground she could see. Above, the ice dragon roared again.
She realized by the sound that it was coming close. Before, the Others had sought to avoid the flaming blades, but the ice dragon seemed to be driving its forces toward her. Down the wall, she could see Jaime had made it up another set of stairs. The ice dragon turned the Others toward him as well.
Above, one of the dragons tried to chase the ice dragon away from them. From the corner of her eye she saw a flash of white gold in the sky and realized it was Tyrion trying to draw the ice dragon off them. The attack lulled and more men were able to join them on the wall and soon the western wall was secure, though from the sound of things, the north and east were still being overrun. Brienne was trying to make her way to Jaime, to suggest they walk toward the north wall, when overhead a dragon screamed and she looked up just in time to see that the ice dragon had blown solid ice all around the tail of Tyrion's dragon. The dragon tried to flap its wings, but wheeled hard and crashed into the forest just beyond the outer walls.
Daenerys and the other green dragon were chasing the ice dragon away, but Brienne could hear Tyrion's dragon crying out in the trees. Jaime came running toward her and passed her without looking at her. It took her a moment to realize what he was doing as he began to cut his way down the sharp incline where stone had been dumped to repair the wall.
Brienne was terrified as she saw the Others close in around him, but he pressed forward and without the ice dragon to drive the Others toward him they began to break and fall away from Widow's Wail. Shaking her head to break her stupor, Brienne moved as quickly as she could to the breach in the wall and began to pick her way down after Jaime. Her lame leg was sturdy enough if she moved slowly, but the rush of the Others was almost overwhelming. Forcing the palm of her left hand onto the hilt of her sword, even if she could not truly grip it, she was able to sweep them back, making her way down to the bottom of the wall, then out through the gate toward the forest. Jaime had already entered the trees ahead of her, so she tried to follow the sound of the dragon's cries.
The enemy grew fewer as she neared the wailing dragon. When she finally sighted the creature, she felt her stomach drop. One of its leathery wings was impaled on a young chestnut and though the ice had broken away from its tail during the fall, the beast was bleeding from where the ice had torn into its flesh. Jaime was trying to pull Tyrion's limp body out of a pine tree it had fallen into.
“You're stronger,” Jaime said. “Cut down the tree!”
Brienne knew the dragon had to be saved at all costs, any cost, but she had to try hard to fight her fear as she edged around the snarling beast, toward the tree piercing its wing. The dragon's low growl of warning as she drew too close made the hair on the back of her neck stand on end.
“I mean to help you,” she told the thing, in the low, stern voice she would use with an injured horse. “Let me help you.”
As she drew back Oathkeeper for her first swing at the trunk of the tree, she heard the dragon draw breath to roast her.
Make the swing count, she told herself, it will be your last.
“Watch your flank,” Jaime cried out, but it was too late, Oathkeeper was stuck deep in the trunk and the dragon was already blowing fire. But it did not kill her. She glanced back to see three ice spiders melt away.
Again she swung at the tree trunk, and the dragon snapped in her direction, but did not hurt her. She heard footsteps in the snow behind her and saw Jaime lay Tyrion on the ground as he turned to guard her back.
One more strike and the tree groaned and fell. They jumped out of the way, Jaime dragging Tyrion away by his foot, as the dragon fell sideways with the tree. But when it shook itself and rose up, it was free. The dragon took a step toward them, sniffed Tyrion, then looked skyward and flew awkwardly away through the trees.
“Let me carry him,” Brienne said as Jaime slung Tyrion over his shoulder.
“You're slow enough on that leg,” Jaime said. “Now hurry.”
They trudged through the snow, Brienne trying to stay ahead of Jaime to clear a path. By the time they reached the Hunter's Gate, they were both exhausted and struggling to breathe as Brienne tried to cut their way through to the inner wall. Above came the ominous roar, and Brienne knew the ice dragon had spotted them again, their flaming swords like beacons identifying them from afar. There was no way she could clear a path to safety in time.
She turned around and reached for Tyrion, hooking his body over her left shoulder and holding Oathkeeper in her right hand.
“You're better,” she gasped. “Get us up that wall.”
Jaime didn't hesitate, plowing his way forward. As she tried to protect herself and Tyrion.
Above them the ice dragon roared again, but this time it sounded like it was in pain. She glanced up to see Daenerys's dragon blowing fire at the ice dragon's head while the green dragon threw flame at its body. The ice dragon stilled, then liquified, drenching a horde of ice spiders beside the Hunter's Gate.
There was no time to celebrate as more White Walkers and ice spiders began to pour out of the forest behind them. Brienne had to climb backward up the steep incline of the patched wall, one slow step at a time while Jaime cleared their way forward at her back. The spiders were swarming at her, sensing her weakness, and she was breathing so hard with exertion her vision was beginning to blur. Then someone took Tyrion from her, and she almost stabbed them before she realized it was Ser Addam. Someone grabbed the back of her collar and jerked her up to the top of the wall.
She heaved, trying to draw breath as she lay atop the wall. Jaime sat beside her, his fingers slowly releasing their grip on her collar. Ser Addam disappeared toward the inner ward with Tyrion and Brienne turned to look at Jaime, to assure herself he was whole and unharmed.
He was staring at her, breathing as hard as she was. His fingers slipped from her collar and faintly brushed her cheek before his eyes lit with horror and he thrust Widow's Wail out, over her head, to kill an ice spider that had just topped the wall beside her. Jaime struggled to his feet, and she closed her fingers around Oathkeeper's hilt, forcing herself to stand and fight beside him.