Jaime missed his wife.
It still felt odd that he had a wife to miss — the Kingsguard was all he'd known for most of his life and when he donned the white cloak, he gave up marriage forever. I shan’t marry anyone other than Cersei, he’d decided so long ago, when he was naught but a child. Since I cannot marry her, I shall marry no one.
What a fool he was.
He used to believe that he and Cersei were destined to be together— she would say that they were one soul in two bodies, that they were two sides of the same coin. He wished he could go back and shake some sense into his younger self, like Brienne did so many times.
“Take me with you,” Brienne had said the morning he left.
“I want nothing more than for you to stay by my side,” Jaime told her, “but what about Lady Sansa? You’d never forgive yourself if something happened to her while you were with me.”
Brienne’s despair had eaten away at his heart. “You don’t have to go, Jaime. Stay. You don’t owe her anything.”
His resolve had nearly broken then. “This is the only way she’ll get a trial, and… and I need to ask her why. I need to know why she’s done this — why she has sacrificed everything for power. Please understand, Brienne. It’s the only way I’ll have peace when she must die.”
“I cannot lose you to her,” Brienne had said, “not after everything we’ve been through.”
Jaime placed her hand over his heart and smiled. “Cersei will never reclaim what is now yours, Ser Brienne of Tarth. My heart belongs to you, wife, just as it always will. I am yours and you are mine, remember?”
“I remember,” said Brienne. “I trust you, Jaime.”
When they made love one last time in the quiet glow of dawn, Jaime swore an oath to himself that he would come back to her. If he could not keep this oath, then he deserved all the shame brought upon him by the title Oathbreaker.
They did not bid farewell at their parting— only made promises that they would soon reunite at Harrenhal. He missed her the moment he rode Honor past the east gate of Winterfell with Arya Stark and the Hound at his side.
They had made good time on their journey so far by taking the Kingsroad from Winterfell to the Neck. They planned to travel through the forest west of the Kingsroad for the remaining leagues, in case Cersei had scouts watching the road from the Neck to King's Landing.
His traveling companions were silent more often than not, which filled him with the apprehension of uncertainty. He was not sure where he stood with either of them — as far as he knew, they could be plotting his demise during their long periods of silence. Jaime was not even sure of how Arya Stark and the Hound stood with each other, for they spoke only to bicker with one another. Their bickering never seemed truly hateful, yet their words were sharp nonetheless. If nothing else, Jaime would be glad to be free of this strange uncertainty once their mission in the capital was done.
“We should make camp before it gets dark,” said the Hound.
They made camp close to the Green Fork, in a small clearing enclosed in a circle of soldier pines. Arya dragged him into a sparring match while the Hound built them a fire.
They sacrificed time for caution by traveling like this, for they could not lead the horses through the forest in the dark. He wondered if Robb Stark’s men traveled like this when they snuck through the Whispering Wood, or if they traveled during the night like shadowcats.
He’d spent most of their trip thus far sharpening his sword, sparring with Arya, and trying not to worry about his return to the capital. The last time he’d seen his sister, he wanted nothing more than to strangle her. He never thought he would see her again, and he didn’t know if he wanted to. She had left him without an army to face the dead. He still loved her as a sister, yet she obviously did not care whether he lived or died.
He still wasn’t sure if she would not have had the Mountain kill him, had he stayed.
Being away from her — at Brienne’s side — had shown him just how terrible his sister was to him. He had loved Cersei wholly, even knowing it was wrong, but he knew now that she had never loved him the same way. He was always just the pawn she used to get what she wanted. And when he returned to her without his swordhand, she discarded him as she did with everyone else that outlived their usefulness.
He was nothing more than the stupidest Lannister to her — all she wanted was his cock and his swordhand, and she found those in other men when he was not there.
Brienne never called him stupid, not even when he struggled to read scrolls as the letters jumbled under his gaze. Father had put him through the Seven Hells as a child to improve his reading, yet all it did was make his head hurt. When he told Brienne about his condition, she had taken some books from the Winterfell library and read them to him by the fireplace. He had cried the first night she’d done that, for he’d never enjoyed a book before.
And somehow, she was not disgusted by his stump. Cersei would not look at him if he was not wearing that damned golden hand.
Despite all her cruelty, he supposed he owed Cersei this much; to look her in the eyes before dragging her to the Black Cells. And he would not look away as the Dragon Queen enacted whatever justice she saw fit. He hoped that the queen would not burn her alive, at least.
No one, no matter their crimes, deserved that fate.
He could still hear the screams — the terrible, terrible screams — of the men and women Aerys burned alive.
He had not been a man grown the first time he watched Aerys burn someone alive. And Jaime, in his innocence, had looked upon the other Kingsguard — the men he called brothers — with disbelief. He had expected that the men he most admired as a child, Barristan Selmy and Arthur Dayne, would question the king’s actions. Yet none of them did anything, not when the king burned innocent folk or when he raped his own wife.
He expected to be thanked when Ned Stark walked into the throne room, and instead he was shunned.
Kingslayer. Man without honor.
Fuck your honor, Jaime had thought long ago under Stark’s disapproving gaze. If honor means standing by as innocents die, then I shall gladly live without it.
He often wondered if Lord Stark would’ve still looked down upon him, had Jaime explained what happened. Brienne, Cersei, Tyrion, and Bran Stark were the only ones still living that knew that story. He had considered telling Queen Daenerys when she had nearly thrown him out of Winterfell, but she never asked.
Nobody ever asked him.
He grunted as his back hit the ground.
“You are troubled,” said Arya as she leaned over him. He shooed away her offered hand and stood on his own.
It was strange to hold a sword with his hook, for he’d not used the muscles of his right arm since he lost his hand. Arya insisted on sparring with him to strengthen his right arm even though they only had live steel.
He fell back into his defensive stance and raised his sword just as Arya lunged at him. She feinted right and then poked his left side.
“Ow!” He said indignantly.
“You’re not here — you’re with your trouble. If you’re with your trouble when fighting happens…” Their swords met and Jaime didn’t notice her right hand moving until a dagger was pressed to his throat. “more trouble for you.” He wanted nothing more than to wipe that satisfied grin from her face.
He focused on how much he wanted to put her in the dirt with each strike and was finally able to sweep her legs out from under her. “Now look who’s troubled,” he taunted.
Suddenly she dragged her heel across his ankles and straddled him as he fell on his back, pinning his hook to the ground while she used her right hand to press her dagger under his chin. “You celebrate too early, Lannister.”
He grabbed her wrist with his hand and wrenched the dagger away from himself and flipped them over, using his brute strength to pin her down. “So do you, Stark.”
Clegane huffed. “You two fight like pompous tourney knights,” said the Hound.
“What is that supposed to mean?” Jaime asked as he got to his feet and helped Arya up.
“You’ll get a sword in the gut if you fight the Ironborn cunts like that,” Clegane said. “You’ll always lose in a fight when your opponent fights with less honor than you.”
If only you knew how I truly fight, Clegane, thought Jaime.
“If I sparred with him like how I fight,” said Arya, “he wouldn’t be hale enough to fight in the upcoming battle.” Arya looked Jaime over before continuing. “And I believe Brienne would be angry with me if I made him infertile.”
Clegane laughed and took a long swig from his wineskin. “Watch out for that one’s teeth,” said Clegane, rubbing a hand over his missing ear. The Hound turned his gaze to him. “Don’t know how you’ve still got a dick married to the Tarth bitch.”
“Call her that one more time and I’ll take your other ear, Clegane,” snapped Jaime. He sat against the tree opposite the Hound and began to sharpen his sword.
“I’d like to see you try, Kingslayer,” Clegane taunted.
“I’ve fought better swordsmen than you, Hound,” Jaime snapped.
“Don’t bite off more than you can chew.”
“That sounds like a challenge to me.”
“Easy, Lannister,” said Arya as she put a piece of rabbit over the fire and sat near the Hound. “We’re all on the same side.”
“You know, I do have a first name, Lady Arya,” said Jaime. He smirked at her sour look.
“Do you prefer Kingslayer?” His smile fell away.
So that’s where we stand with one another, Stark.
Her eyes were narrowed at him as though she was trying to see his thoughts. Gods help her if she could.
He clenched his hand into a fist and went back to sharpening his sword. “Be careful not to sully your honor by speaking to the Kingslayer, my lady — I hear dishonor tends to rub off on people.” He scoffed.
He hated how much the members of House Stark could get under his skin simply by looking down on him. Lions do not concern themselves with the opinions of the sheep, his father’s voice reprimanded. Wolves are far from sheep, Jaime told his father’s voice. Wolves can bite just as hard as lions.
“How many years have you lived with that title?” Arya asked, not letting him answer. “It still gets to you every time.”
It’s not the title, thought Jaime, it’s the venom with which it’s spoken. Slaying the Mad King was his greatest accomplishment, yet his title was not treated like the trophy it was — rather a burning brand that stung each time it was thrown in his face.
“How very irresponsible of me to let it get to me,” spat Jaime. “Next time I’ll simply bar the door to keep it out.” Clegane chuckled.
“Why does it bother you so much?” Arya asked.
“I don’t wish to speak of it,” said Jaime.
“Is it because it marks you as a dishonorable man?”
Jaime huffed and had to force himself to stay seated and not just get on his horse and go to the capital alone. Why is she asking me these damned questions? Her parents and Robb Stark never asked questions; all they ever did was berate me and assume and judge.
“Does it bother you because you want to be an honorable man?” She asked. He glared at her, sick of the questions.
“I said I don’t wish to speak of it,” said Jaime. “Why are you Starks so obsessed with your fucking honor?”
“What’s wrong with honor?”
He shook his head, watching the sparks fly from his sword as he finally broke. “‘What’s wrong with it?’ It doesn’t fucking exist,” he snapped. “The world is never black and white, Stark. You don’t get to just choose between honor and dishonor. Yes, I killed Aerys while I was sworn to protect him. What of it? Do you suppose it would’ve been more honorable of me to obey the king when he ordered the deaths of half a million people? Does that sound like the right decision to you, Lady Stark? I would’ve broken a vow no matter what decision I made that day.
“Defend the king, obey the king, obey your father, protect the innocent, defend the weak. But I had to pick and choose which oaths to break. Obey the king or protect the innocent, defend the king or obey my father. If I had a chance to choose again, I pray I’d make the same decision.” Jaime nearly sliced his palm open with his fast strokes of the whetstone. “Sometimes, Stark, the most just thing to do is be dishonorable.” He whipped his head up, expecting to see the Stark girl with a disapproving glare, yet her face was completely blank. “So call me Kingslayer if you want, but don’t pretend you’re above me.”
“Who said I was above you? I would’ve done the same thing, Lannister,” said Arya. Jaime didn’t bother to hide his confusion. “I never thought less of you for killing the Mad King, I just wanted to hear your reasons from your own lips.”
His anger left him in one moment and he deflated in its absence.
“How come y’don’t give that speech every time somebody calls you Kingslayer?” The Hound asked.
Jaime’s shoulders slumped. “Nobody ever asks.”
“Neither did she,” said the Hound.
Jaime set aside his sword and huffed. “She manipulated me into talking about it!”
“I’m good at that,” said Arya, slightly apologetic. “I didn’t think you’d talk about it unless I made you angry.”
She was right, but the helpless feeling of being out-thought reminded him of Cersei. You really are the stupidest Lannister.
“I’d’a killed the cunt too,” Clegane grunted. “I’ve killed better men for worse reasons.”
“Anybody worth a shit would’ve killed him,” Arya told Clegane. “You’re not special.”
Jaime thought in silence for some time before he found his words. “Your father despised me for what I did to Aerys…”
Arya unsheathed her dagger and twirled it between her fingers. “I loved my father, but he was blinded by honor and it got him killed. I’ve not made the same mistakes, Lannister. Do you really think I would’ve survived if I faced the Night King in a fair fight?”
Jaime’s gaze darted down to the Night King’s handprint scarred into her neck. “How did you kill him?”
She smiled. “I ran past his generals and launched myself at him with my dagger.” She demonstrated by holding her dagger above her head. “He caught me by the neck,” said Arya as she tilted her head to the side to expose her neck. Arya then let the dagger fall from her left hand into her right and thrust it forward in the air. “I knew he would’ve caught any stab from my left, but he wasn’t quick enough to catch my right hand.” Arya performed the action again and Jaime marveled at how swiftly she moved. “I did not fight him honorably, but he turned to shards of ice all the same.” Arya sheathed her dagger. “I doubt my father would’ve approved of such trickery.”
“Lord Stark wasn’t always honorable,” he said, attempting to get a rise out of her. “He had a bastard like any other dishonorable man.”
Jaime noticed a sort of subdued mirth in her eyes, as if amused by a private joke. “At least my father didn’t sire a bastard with his sister,” said Arya.
Jaime opened his mouth to retort but came up short. “A fair point, I will grant you that,” Jaime conceded. “But I never—”
“Will you two miserable shits shut the fuck up already?” Clegane interrupted. “I can’t hear myself think.”
“You can think?” Arya joked.
“I’m thinking about how I’m going to kill my brother.” Sandor then snorted from his spot beside her. “And I’m thinking about how long it’s going to take for you to realize that your rabbit is burning, ya dumb shit.”
Jaime laughed at the state of the meat on the fire — he’d not noticed it before.
Jaime watched in amusement as Arya shot up and pulled the stick with her piece of rabbit out of the fire, cursing when it came away with a flame whipping around. She quickly blew out the flame, grimacing at its blackened state.
“Fuck.” She glared at Jaime across the campfire when he laughed.
He clamped his mouth shut and put his hands up. “Sorry, sorry.”
“You couldn’t have told me a little bit earlier, you dickhead?” She kicked Sandor’s leg and sat back down.
“S’not my fucking problem you let your rabbit turn black.”
“It will be the next time I catch one when I don’t give you any,” she said around a mouthful of charred meat.
“I’m the one that taught you how to catch them, you ungrateful little whelp.”
“You’re also the one that taught me how to be a mean and spiteful son of a bitch,” she countered, making him laugh.
“Is this how you two always are?” Asked Jaime.
Arya said no at the same time the Hound said yes.
Jaime shook his head in amusement. What he wouldn’t give to see Ned Stark’s reaction to his daughter fooling around with the Hound.
“What’s your sword’s name?” Arya asked after some time, gesturing to his sword forgotten in the dirt.
“Joffrey named it Widow’s Wail,” said Jaime as he tucked it back into its sheath.
“What a fucking cunt,” the Hound grumbled, and Jaime couldn’t help but agree.
“It was once my father’s sword,” said Arya, “it should have a better name.”
“I’m not very good with words and names,” said Jaime.
“You’ll come up with something,” Arya said. Perhaps Jaime was paranoid, but he heard an unspoken threat in her words. Come up with a name better than Widow’s Wail or I’ll take back my father’s steel.
Jaime would most likely ask Brienne to name his sword rather than name it himself. The moment she named her own sword was perhaps the exact moment he’d fallen in love with her. Brienne of Tarth — the woman with the purest heart he’d ever known — had looked upon a sword gifted to her by a man who’d broken as many oaths as he’d made, and had named it Oathkeeper. He could never hope to conceive of a worthy name for Oathkeeper’s sister-sword.
Jaime looked up to the darkening sky at the croaking of a raven. He saw a single bird circling above them, and he noticed a piece of parchment grasped in its claws. What business does a messenger raven have circling out here in the woods?
The raven glided down towards them and landed next to Arya, and Jaime frowned at the white sheen over its eyes. Arya took the small scroll from the bird and read it quickly, then glanced from the parchment to Jaime.
She turned to the raven and nodded. “Thank you, Bran.” Bran? Jaime looked to Clegane but the man seemed unperturbed. “Tell Sansa that I’ll take care of it and I’ll send a raven once I’m ready.”
“Why did you call that raven Bran?” Jaime asked slowly once the bird had flown away.
“The Starks are wargs, Lannister,” said Arya. “That raven was Bran.”
Jaime shut his eyes for a moment and shook his head. “Okay.”
“Okay?” Arya asked, incredulous.
“A few moons ago, I didn’t believe that White Walkers were anything other than tales meant to scare children. The Starks being wargs sounds pretty damned reasonable.” He noticed that she was still holding the scroll. “What did the letter say?”
Arya simply threw it at him and he barely managed to catch it. Only a few words were written on the scroll.
She has wildfire and will use it to destroy King’s Landing. Send word to Harrenhal when it is safe.
Jaime frowned at Arya. “Cersei won’t do that,” he told her.
Arya raised a doubtful eyebrow at him. She reached over the fire and took the letter from him and then handed it to Clegane. “One whiff of that damned green flame and you can forget my help,” the Hound grunted.
Arya ignored him. “Why wouldn’t Cersei destroy the capital?” She asked. “Your sister knows that she cannot win. All your father ever wanted was for the Lannister’s legacy to survive. Blowing everything to the Seven Hells would be pretty damn hard to forget.”
Jaime shook his head at her. “You don’t understand,” he said. “I killed the Mad King when he…” Jaime shut his eyes and saw the king, shouting from that damned throne for the pyromancers to burn them all. He wasn’t a bloody dragon— Jaime’s sword ran him through like any other man. “...when he ordered for the capital and everyone in it to be burned to the ground.” Jaime glared down at the flames of their campfire. Damn the gods for making fire, Jaime thought. Men should not have the power to create such a thing. He looked back up at Arya and saw something akin to sympathy in her Stark brown eyes. “Cersei knows that I will kill her if she threatens the city with wildfire.”
Arya squinted at him. “Why didn’t you kill her when she blew up the Sept of Baelor?”
Jaime looked away and rested his hand on the pommel of his sword. “I wasn’t there.” His knuckles turned white around his sword. If he had been there… well, Jaime wasn’t quite sure what he would’ve done. “When I returned, the sept was already destroyed.”
When he’d walked into the throne room that day, and saw her sitting atop that throne instead of Tommen, he had not known what to do. His swordhand had twitched in that moment— his instincts were screaming at his heart.
“Margaery was a whore,” she had said. “She was controlling our son, Jaime.”
“And what were you doing?” He had asked.
Tommen never would have jumped to his death if Cersei hadn’t been so determined to control him.
How many dead? How many had perished to satisfy her lust for power?
How many lives could I have saved if I killed her that day in the throne room? Perhaps I would’ve gone north with an army to fight with the living. I would have given the Dragon Queen and the Starks an army, not just an old cripple resigned to death.
“Where were you?” Arya asked.
Jaime forced himself out of his thoughts and refocused on her. “What?”
“You said you weren’t there when she destroyed the sept,” Arya explained.
“The Riverlands,” Jaime said reluctantly.
“That’s why you were at the Twins when I was? Because you helped that old shitbag take Riverrun?”
Jaime grimaced. “Well, technically I gave Riverrun to your uncle Edmure.”
“After keeping him imprisoned for years,” she corrected. “I’m sure my beloved uncle is loyal to the Tullys and Starks and not the Houses that killed his family and held him hostage for Gods know how long.”
“Listen, Stark, Edmure is all yours. I don’t give a shit about who rules the Riverlands. And you killed the Freys, didn’t you? The Lannister alliance with House Frey is broken, so your uncle is free.”
Arya stared at him for a few moments. “You won’t retain his loyalty under pain of death?”
That was what Cersei would do, but not him. “Does it look like I care about politics? I only laid siege to Riverrun because my sister told me to.”
Arya sent him a look of pity. Gods, he hated that look. “Perhaps she sent you away because she knew you would stop her from blowing up the sept.” Jaime blinked and thought back to that day he left.
“I swore an oath to Lady Stark, never again to take up arms against the Starks or Tullys,” Jaime had told his sister.
“A drunken promise made with a sword at your throat,” Cersei said simply. She had always been dispassionate when it came to his oaths. “Who has your loyalty, brother? The deceased Catelyn Stark, or me, your living and breathing sister? Go to Riverrun.”
“Tommen is our last boy, Cersei. How can I protect our son if I am not with him?”
“By defeating his enemies,” Cersei snapped. “Father always said that a swift sword stroke is a better defense than any shield. Admittedly, most sword strokes require a hand. Still, even a crippled lion may inspire fear if it bares its teeth. I want Riverrun. I want Brynden Tully chained or dead. Stand at the head of our army where you belong, where Father wanted you.”
Where you wanted me, Jaime realized.
“I wanted to stay with Tommen and she convinced me otherwise,” Jaime said quietly. “She’s the only reason I went to Riverrun.”
“Perhaps she believes you won’t kill her now, since you did not kill her when you returned.”
Cersei has always been smarter than me, thought Jaime, perhaps she’s right in her belief and I’m not capable of killing her. I may not love her as a lover anymore, but she is still my sister.
What’s one more godsforsaken title? I’ve lived as the Kingslayer for so long, perhaps Kinslayer will make no difference.
The thought of killing her made him want to vomit. How damned was he that fucking her never made him want to vomit, but the thought of killing her did?
At the thought of fucking her, he leaned over and vomitted up his rabbit onto the dirt. The last time he fucked her was before he went to war against the Starks. She had tried to seduce him of course, after he returned to King’s Landing. Whenever she tried to get him into her bed, he would think of Brienne, and he would remember that Cersei fucked their cousin in his absence, and he would reject her. He wondered if she would try it again before it was all over. He wondered what face she would make when she found out that he’d married Brienne, and that he would rather cut off another limb than fuck Cersei.
“The fuck was that for?” Clegane asked.
Jaime turned away from his bile and kicked some dirt over it. “How are you going to deal with the wildfire?” He asked Arya, ignoring the Hound.
She was looking at him as though he were particularly confusing. “Don’t know yet.” She threw him a wineskin and he gratefully washed the taste of bile from his mouth. “Listen, Lannister. Your sister might force me to kill her. I need to know if you will stand in my way.”
If Cersei asked him to save her, he did not know if he could refuse. He had always protected her— always.
He decided to answer truthfully. “I don’t know.”
“If you do, I’ll try not to kill you.” He raised his eyebrows and she continued. “My sister told me not to kill you, and to not let you and Sandor kill each other.”
Clegane barked out a laugh. “You taking orders from the Little Bird now?”
“I trust her not to lead me astray,” said Arya. “I don’t know what she sees in you, Lannister, but I trust her judgement.”
Jaime remembered how often she and her older sister fought in Winterfell and on the way to King’s Landing, so many years ago. Their constant bickering had annoyed him to no end. It seemed that the wars had pushed the Stark sisters together while tearing him and Cersei apart.
“Why ‘Little Bird’?” Jaime asked Clegane. The question had been gnawing at him for some time. Tywin employed the Cleganes for their brutality and obedience, yet he and the Stark sisters seemed to care for each other. The simple fact that he was alive attested to that.
The Hound’s eyes narrowed at him. Were they not on the same side, Jaime would’ve unsheathed his sword. “None of your fucking business, Lannister.”
Clegane scratched at his bandaged fingers and fixed Jaime with a scowl. Jaime glanced from his broken fingers to his face and grinned.
“Who did you punch hard enough to break a finger?” Jaime asked. “I’ve been meaning to ask — was it Bronn?”
Jaime watched as the Hound’s jaw tensed in anger. “Again, none of your fucking business.”
Jaime carried on. “I wouldn’t blame you, really. I nearly killed him for threatening my brother and Lady Sansa.”
The Hound’s glare sharpened. “The cunt did what?”
Jaime smirked. “Truly, I didn’t know you cared for my brother, Clegane.”
“I don’t give a fuck ‘bout the Imp,” Clegane growled. “What did he do to Sansa?”
“So it wasn’t Bronn you punched.” Jaime scratched at his chin and ignored Clegane’s fury. “Was it Tormund? Did he make a move on you?”
Arya let out an exasperated sigh. “Stop poking the bear, Lannister.” She turned to Clegane. “Bronn threatened to kill her.” Arya raised a hand before Clegane could let out his fury. “Don’t even think about punching another wall, you dunce. Sansa threatened him right back. And besides, I cut off one of his fingers in retribution.”
Jaime decided to employ Arya’s tactics. “Were I as dumb as my sister thinks me, I’d say you had a thing for the Lady Stark.” Clegane’s glare was almost enough to deter him, but he couldn’t resist. “When she gave me your Kingsguard cloak for my wedding, she told me that you bestowed that cloak upon her shoulders. She said it made her feel safe. It’s quite beautiful, wouldn’t you say? It sounds like something out of a song,” Jaime taunted.
“Keep talking, Kingslayer, and I might rip out your tongue,” the Hound growled. “Remember the taste of your wife’s cunt while you can.”
Jaime chuckled, for that taste was not one he was like to forget. “Have you spent much time wondering how my wife tastes? Or are you more of a Northern man yourself?”
Jaime regretted angering Clegane as soon as the man stood and launched himself at Jaime, grabbing him by the throat and holding him aloft.
“Don’t kill him, Sandor,” warned Arya, yet her tone was nearing indifference. She did not seem particularly invested in his survival.
“H-hey, it was a jape, Clegane,” Jaime grunted as he tried and failed to pry Clegane’s fingers away.
“Have you ever seen someone’s guts hang out of their body?” Clegane was completely calm and that scared him more than his anger. “They always try to push their guts back inside, as if that’ll do any good. That’s the price someone pays for hurting the Little Bird. The next time I see Bronn, I’m going to rip his guts out and throw them to the nearest direwolf. If you lay a finger on Sansa, I’ll do the same to you. And if you do anything—” Clegane dragged Jaime’s face closer, “anything — to help Cersei, I will kill you and serve you and Cersei’s heads on a platter to Sansa. D’you understand?”
Jaime grinned. “I think you’ve turned Stark, Clegane,” he managed to say around the hand on his throat, though it was barely a hiss of a sound. The Hound looked confused. “You sounded like Lady Catelyn just then.”
Clegane squeezed harder for a moment. “I asked you a question.”
“I understand perfectly.” The sheer disgust on his face reminded him of his time as Brienne’s prisoner. He managed a small sneer. “Keep on like this and I might just fall in love with you. Only my wife treats me this way.”
Clegane’s anger turned to mirth as he laughed and let Jaime fall to the ground. “I bet she does.”
Jaime coughed and grasped at his throat, sending an indignant glare at the Hound. “Do you try to kill everyone that asks you a personal question?” His voice had turned a bit hoarse. “I was just curious about your relationship with the girl, for the love of the Gods! I have no interest in harming Lady Stark.” Jaime turned serious. “I might be a cunt, but I’m not that much of a cunt.”
The Hound sat back down and sighed, the closest to sheepish that Jaime had ever seen. “She’s been like a daughter to me ever since she lost her father. She was alone in King’s Landing with your bitch sister and her bastard son. Someone had to protect her.” Clegane’s anger had faded away and all that was left was sadness. He took a swig from his wineskin. “She doesn’t need my protection anymore.”
A dog with no master, Jaime thought.
Night fell soon enough, and the Hound’s snores cut through the silent air every few moments. Arya’s watch was first, yet Jaime could not sleep. Too many thoughts swirled around in his head to allow rest.
Apparently Arya noticed since a stick poked him in the back. He rolled over and glared up at her, but her face was blank. “I don’t understand you, Lannister,” she said.
He sat up and rested his back against the log across from her. “What is there to understand?”
“You killed the Mad King because he was terrible and cruel, yet you stood by as Cersei did terrible things to innocent people— one of which was my sister. My mother let you go to rescue me and Sansa, but you stood by as Sansa was forced to marry your brother, and then let Littlefinger take her away. You abandoned Cersei yet you’re trying to protect her from me.”
Jaime stared into the night over Arya’s shoulder, not sure why he wished to explain himself. It seemed he still could not stand the disapproval of the Starks. “I didn’t mean to break my oath to your mother,” said Jaime earnestly. “I liked her.” All of Cersei’s fire without the cruelty, Jaime thought fondly. “When I promised to bring Catelyn her daughters, I meant it. But by the time I got to King’s Landing, my father had already murdered your mother and married your sister to Tyrion. Another impossible oath. I sent Brienne to find Sansa after she fled the capital because I knew she would succeed when I could not.”
“So if I told you to leave the capital right now and find Sansa,” Cersei had asked so long ago, after Joffrey was murdered, “if I told you to find that murderous little bitch and bring me her head, would you do it?”
He had not answered his sister then, for he knew that she wouldn’t have liked the answer.
“Cersei and I…” Jaime began, then stopped. “We’ve always had a complicated relationship. I left the womb holding onto her ankle, and I kept trailing behind her for the rest of our lives together. But everything changed after I was Robb’s prisoner. I spent eight moons chained to a post, doing everything I could to escape and get back to my sister. I— I killed one of my own fucking cousins without a second thought just to get back to her.
“When I finally returned to her, after going through the Seven Hells for her, d’you know what she said? She said, ‘you took too long.’ I was devoted to her — I worshipped her, and she repaid that by fucking other men while I was held captive. After that moment, I began to see the real Cersei. Before then, I was blinded by my love for her and I… I did terrible things to protect her and our children. I obeyed her every command without a single thought. Not after that.
“I love her and I hate her. I love her because she is my sister, but I hate her just as much for all she’s done. I abandoned her to keep my oath to the North, but I’m trying to protect her because she is still my twin.”
A silence fell over them and even Clegane had stopped snoring. The Stark girl sighed. “How do you do it?”
“I know what you did to Bran.” Jaime prepared for the worst, yet Arya’s face was devoid of anger — and any other emotion. “I heard Sansa and Brienne talking about you. I wanted to kill you, right then, but Bran stopped me. He convinced me that it wasn’t your time. I’m asking how you live with yourself, knowing all you’ve done.”
“It’s not easy,” Jaime said. “You’ll be pleased to hear that it often keeps me up at night. Brienne likes to remind me of all the times I’ve done good things… saving the capital, saving her from Locke’s men and then that bear, coming to the North to help defeat the dead…” Jaime rubbed his eyes. “That’s the only thing that helps me live with myself — trying to do the right thing even when the wrong thing is easier.”
Arya finally tore her piercing gaze from him and stared into the dwindling flames of their campfire. “My father always told my brothers that a lord should always give men a quick death, no matter what their crime.” Is this going to be another godsdamned Stark lecture? “But I don’t agree.” Jaime blinked. “The Freys did not give my family a quick death. They stabbed Robb’s wife in her belly to kill the child inside and then they filled my mother and brother with bolts. Roose Bolton killed Robb in front of Mother, and then they slit her throat. They sewed Grey Wind’s head onto Robb’s shoulders and paraded it around the Twins, and then they threw my mother in the river. Why should I have given the Freys a quick, painless death?” Her eyes were cold as ice. “I killed Black Walder and Lothar Frey first, and baked them into a pie. I served it to Walder Frey and then I slit his throat. He was very afraid, in the end.
“The next day I summoned every single son and grandson and made a toast to the Red Wedding with Walder’s face. They all cheered for it… they were so proud of themselves for killing my family in the most cowardly way possible. They were confused when they started choking on the poison, but I kept wearing Walder’s face because I wanted them all to believe they’d been betrayed as deeply as they betrayed Guest Right.” Jaime frowned, for he did not know why she was telling him this. “I can’t help but wonder sometimes if Father would be disappointed in me, for what I’ve become.” Jaime watched the flames dance in her cold, empty eyes. “I tell myself that the world made me this way, but I don’t always believe it. I chose to be a killer, and I continue to choose it every time I kill someone.
“I asked how you live with yourself because you get this look in your eyes sometimes — the same look I get when I look in the mirror and think of what I am.” She threw a couple sticks onto the fire and finally looked at him again. “I don’t judge you, Lannister, for doing terrible things to protect your family. In the same position I cannot say I wouldn’t do the same.”
Jaime blinked away the tears in his eyes, determined not to let her see how deeply her words affected him. “Thank you,” he managed to say. He attempted to compose himself.
Jaime hoped that if he and Brienne had a daughter, she would be like Arya Stark. She had all of her aunt Lyanna’s beauty and willfulness, but she was far less reckless. He hoped that the man she took as husband was worthy of her.
“So tell me, Stark,” he began with a smile, “which lucky man did you find the time to marry?”
Arya sighed. “Not this again,” she grumbled. “Why do you care?”
“You just didn’t seem the marrying type to me, that’s all,” said Jaime.
“I wasn’t,” Arya said with a small smile.
“Now I’m really intrigued,” he said. “I assume you killed your would-be Frey husband?” Arya frowned and he blanched. “You didn’t marry a Frey, did you?”
Arya furrowed her brow. “Frey husband?”
His smile fell. “Oops.” Jaime scratched at his stubble and sighed. “I suppose you never caught wind of the betrothals…” Jaime then frowned to himself. “Wait, why do you think the Freys killed Lady Catelyn and your brother?”
The confusion laid bare across her face made her look more human. Jaime reminded himself that Arya was barely more than a child, and not just the assassin she showed to the world.
“The Freys killed them because your father told them to,” Arya said confidently. “Because your father couldn’t beat my brother on the field.”
“Yes, but—” Jaime paused and thought about his words very carefully, for he did not wish for a sword in the eye. “Your uncle Edmure wasn’t supposed to marry Roslin Frey; your brother was. Your brother promised to marry a Frey girl and offered your hand to one of the Frey boys, and in exchange Walder would allow Robb’s army to cross.” Arya looked as though Jaime had just slapped her. “When he broke his betrothal to marry the Volantene woman, he offered Edmure as a replacement. Walder Frey did not take well to slights. He was all too happy to accept Father’s offer.”
The only sound for a long while was the crackling of their campfire as Arya pondered Jaime’s words. He had begun to drift off when she finally spoke again.
“Robb wasn’t willing to sell himself to win the war, but he was willing to sell me? He knew how hard that would’ve been for me,” Arya said slowly.
“Perhaps he thought you would’ve killed your betrothed?” Jaime suggested.
Jaime wondered briefly, when her anger bloomed into a blazing fire, if she did not have Targaryen blood. “I wasn’t always a killer!” Arya snapped. “I was a scared little girl alone in the world surrounded by cruel men, barely escaping death every fucking day with nothing but my Needle and the clothes on my back! Robb betrothed her to a Frey, not me. The Red Wedding changed me, Lannister. Before then…” Arya trailed off and shook her head. “I wouldn’t even be an assassin if Robb had kept his stupid promise!”
She sounded so much like her real age that Jaime was too stunned to speak. The firelight glinted off the tears forming in her eyes.
Arya jumped up and grabbed the sword from his side before marching to the nearest tree and hacking away at its trunk.
“Wait,” Jaime said as he stood and followed her. “You’ll dent the steel!”
“Stupid!” Thwack! “Fucking!” Thwack! “Brother!” Thwack! Thwack!
Jaime snapped a twig underfoot and she whipped around, holding the tip of the sword under his chin. Jaime held his hand and stump up in surrender. They stood like that for a moment as he watched her catch her breath. Arya looked from his eyes down to the sword at his throat, and Jaime could only imagine that she was weighing the value of his life.
“Go on, then,” said Jaime. “Strike hard and true, Arya Stark. Take my head with the same steel that took your father’s. I’m sure they’ll have no trouble putting that in a song.”
She lowered the sword slowly and let it fall to the dirt. “I don’t want to kill you,” Arya said softly.
Jaime lowered his arms and tried to give a reassuring smile. “Your brother and Lady Catelyn loved you more than anything — they went to war for you and Lady Sansa. Your brother kept me prisoner for his sisters, and your mother released me for her daughters. If you had been in King’s Landing when they lost, my family would’ve killed you or married you off to a Lannister. Your family had to do everything in their power to prevent that from happening by securing the Twins and winning the war. Having you safe and married to a Frey was a better thought than having you dead or married to a Lannister.”
“But they lost anyway,” lamented Arya. “Because Robb broke his betrothal.”
“The things we do for love,” said Jaime. “Sometimes love blinds us to what is right and others must pay the price. My love for Cersei cost Bran his legs, and your brother’s love for his lady cost him the war. But we don’t get to choose who we love, no matter how hard we might try.”
Arya clenched her jaw and disappeared into the darkness of the forest.
Jaime went to follow her but Clegane’s voice stopped him. “Leave her be.” Jaime turned and saw the Hound awake and sitting up. “She needs time to herself.”
“How long have you been awake?”
“Long enough to hear you two yammerin’ about killing and marrying.” He winced. “Did you really push the Stark boy?” Jaime nodded. “Did he see you fuckin’ your sister?” Jaime hesitated but nodded once more. “Damn. I thought I’d done some fucked-up shit, but that takes the cake.”
“I’m not exactly proud of it, you know,” said Jaime.
Clegane snorted. “You’d be a right fucking cunt if you were, just like your bastard son.” Jaime had nothing to say to that. “When’d you first realize you’d sired a monster? Was it when he took to killing cats, or when he ordered the death of all’a Robert’s bastards?”
Jaime blanched. “What?”
“Didn’t hear about that? I reckon he heard the rumor that he was not a Baratheon and decided to strengthen his claim. All he did was make the smallfolk hate him. Two of the bastards were naught but babes.”
Tyrion never deemed to tell me that, Jaime thought as he looked away from the Hound. “I barely even knew him,” Jaime said quietly. “I wasn’t exactly able to treat him as a real father would. Cersei never even let me near him for fear of being found out.” He sighed. “I might’ve been his blood, but I was not his father. Monsters are made, and Cersei and Robert shaped him into the boy he became.” It was his deepest regret, not being a true father to his children.
“You’re wrong,” Clegane said guilelessly. Jaime turned to face him and his black eyes were dark with sadness. “Sometimes a monster is born, not made.”
“Have you known many monsters, Clegane?” Jaime asked, curious.
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
This time, Jaime did not push the man.
Jaime dreamt that night of Arya Stark’s eyes filled with hate and of a quick painless death under her dagger. He dreamt of Brienne weeping over his body.
He tried to reach out to comfort her, yet he could not move.
“I’m here, Brienne,” he called to her. She did not hear him. “Brienne!”
He could do nothing as Cersei appeared from the shadows and yanked Brienne’s head up by her hair. Cersei slit her throat and he tried to scream but no sound left his throat.
His sister turned to him and suddenly it was no longer Cersei — it was Catelyn Stark.
“You swore an oath to me, Kingslayer,” said the warped image of Lady Catelyn. Blood began to pour from her throat but she didn’t stop. “Why did you break it?” Her eyes crumbled into dust and fell from her head, leaving only black holes for eyes. “Why, Lannister?”
“I’m sorry,” he cried. “I’m so sorry!”
The woman launched at him and shook his shoulders. “Answer me, Lannister! Ser Jaime!”
“Ser Jaime, wake up!”
Jaime jolted awake and nearly head-butted Arya Stark. “Huh?” He said as he gained his bearings, overwhelmed by too many sounds so soon after waking.
Jaime began to distinguish several distinct, equally unnerving sounds from the surrounding cacophony of noise. Their horses were whinnying in distress, Clegane was shouting, and the thundering sound all around him was a concert of growls.
“Get up!” Arya grunted as she pulled him to his feet with surprising strength.
Jaime blinked the sleep from his eyes and locked eyes with a wolf just a few feet away. Beside it was another wolf. And another, and another, and another, and oh fuck.
They were surrounded.
The wolves left no gaps in their circle, effectively barricading them inside. He realized with no small amount of fright that there were rows of them stretching far behind the first circle of wolves. Their horses, trapped inside with them, were rearing and whinnying in panic.
The Hound was brandishing his greatsword and trying to scare the wolves away with no luck.
“We’re surrounded,” said Jaime, backing up so that his back was against Arya and Clegane’s.
“No shit,” Clegane barked.
“Shut up!” Arya hissed.
Jaime knew that they stood no chance in open combat, so defense was their only option. “We can hold them off if we don’t leave an opening!” Jaime shouted to be heard over the deafening growls. “Dig your heels in and keep your backs to mine!”
Jaime grabbed a stick from the fire and waved it in front of himself. “Get back!” He shouted at the wolves. He looked over his shoulder to Clegane and frowned at the blatant fear in his face. He was not afraid of the wolves, rather of the fire that Jaime wielded.
Jaime returned his gaze to the wolves in front of him and noticed something big moving through the mass of wolves like a fish through water. One by one the wolves made way for a single, much larger beast. Slowly, the beast moved out of the front row of wolves towards Jaime.
Golden eyes met his and Jaime felt cold fear settle in his belly.
“You're held captive by a boy,” Robb had said with a hand carding through Grey Wind’s fur. The beast’s golden eyes had never left Jaime’s. “Perhaps you'll be killed by a boy.”
“Oh, fuck me,” said Jaime. “Grey Wind?” Arya gasped and broke off from their circle, but Jaime held her back. “Stay back, Arya!”
Arya shook him off and walked toward the beast. “Nymeria!” Arya sheathed her sword and smiled as Nymeria howled. The growling around them stopped in an instant. She stepped forward and pressed her forehead to Nymeria’s, but Jaime was hesitant to drop his flaming stick. “What are you doing this far south, girl?”
“That’s your direwolf?” Arya ignored Jaime’s question. Of course it is, Jaime thought. Grey Wind has been long dead, you idiot.
Jaime shook his head at himself and knew that if the Seven Heavens were real, Robb Stark would be laughing his ass off.
“Are you coming with us?” Arya asked the beast. “To protect me?” Nymeria answered by shoving her large head into Arya’s chest. “Alright then. You and your pack can stay in the Kingswood until the battle, but you must travel only by night. We can’t have Cersei spotting you and your pack, now can we?”
Nymeria howled to the sky, and the following chorus of howling wolves raised gooseflesh on his arms. Jaime looked around at the swirling mass of beasts under the leadership of one direwolf and wondered if he should be kneeling to Arya Stark.
Gods be good, Westeros has another Young Wolf.
He finally dropped his stick back into the fire and Clegane sheathed his sword.
“You could’a warned us about the wolves,” said Clegane.
Arya scoffed. “Did it look like I knew they were here? I thought they were still in the North.”
“We should get going,” said Jaime as he put the fire out. “The horses need to be away from the wolves.” He gestured to their panicking steeds. “They’ll break a leg at this rate.”
They packed up their things and left the wolfpack in surprising peace. The wolves gave the horses a wide berth as they led them by the reins away from camp. Not a single wolf tried to take his hand, though one wolf did sniff curiously at his hook.
Jaime discreetly slipped Honor a cube of sugar as they left the forest and mounted their horses.
Their ride was quiet and uneventful until the rushing waters of the Trident reached their ears. They needed to use the Kingsroad to pass the Trident, and for that they had to risk being seen by a scout or someone with loose lips. He had no doubt that Cersei had put a price on his head by now.
Lannisters always pay their debts.
They were all on edge by the time they finally crossed the Trident, and Jaime nearly didn’t see the man by the side of the road trying to shoe his horse. The man’s horse whinnied at the three of them and the man dropped the horse’s hoof.
“Easy now,” the man cooed. “What’s got you spooked, Buell?”
A scout? Jaime and his companions hid their faces in the shadows of their hooded cloaks. Best to err on the side of caution.
The stranger turned around and faced them, but did not seem to see them. Jaime looked closer and noticed the translucent white sheen over his eyes.
Not a scout. Jaime thanked their luck.
Their horses began to shift impatiently, giving away their position.
“Who goes there?” The blind man called.
Jaime sighed. “Just a few refugees looking for shelter.”
“Yes,” Jaime answered reluctantly.
“Bandits took our home up in Fairmarket,” Arya lied easily before Jaime could even start to think of a cover. “Lord Edmure told us that there wasn’t no room for us in Riverrun, and to go ask the queen for shelter.”
“Don’t bother.” The man waved dismissively. “You won’t find shelter going that way, milady. I heard Queen Cersei’s been refusing entry into the city.” The man went back to shoeing his horse but continued to speak. “You’d be better off going north — I hear the Starks are housing refugees.”
“The queen is refusing entry?” Arya asked.
“Mhm,” said the man. “Word has it that the queen thinks the Dragon Queen will send spies into the keep.”
Jaime shared a look with Arya. She got that one right, Jaime thought to himself.
“Do you need help, milord?” Arya asked.
The man shook his head. “I may be blind, but I’ve still got me hands.” He patted his horse on the rear. “Farewell now!”
“Be careful not to stray into the forest, milord,” Jaime warned. “There’s wolves about.”
They turned west away from the stranger and rode alongside the Trident until they could no longer see the Kingsroad, then turned south. Well, he and Clegane turned south at least.
Jaime turned back and saw Arya facing the Trident. “What are you doing, Arya?” Jaime asked, trotting slowly to her side. She was staring at the rushing water, but she seemed very far away.
“They threw my mother into this river,” said Arya.
Watching the Trident, at Arya Stark’s side, reminded him of all the times he and Tyrion watched the waters of Sunset Sea crash into the rocky beach and erupt into walls and mountains of foamy white water.
“I don’t believe in the gods or the Seven Heavens,” Arya continued, “but I would’ve liked to have buried her in Winterfell. She was born a Tully, but I think she would’ve liked to lay by Father. It’s funny...” Arya began, and Jaime could tell by her tone that her next words would not be funny at all, “she did not live long enough to even tell her children how she wished to rest.”
Jaime didn’t know which words would comfort her, for he himself was never comforted when struck with grief. Father’s absence, Cersei’s anger, and baby Tyrion’s obliviousness never brought him comfort— and that was all they could offer him in the wake of Mother’s death. Aunt Genna’s hugs were a balm on his heart, yet they never quite soothed his grief.
Jaime thought perhaps he should try to comfort Arya the way he wished he was comforted.
“How do you wish to rest, Arya?”
She was silent in her contemplation. “With my family in Winterfell, I suppose.”
“And if your children or your siblings, by some terrible circumstances, were unable to lay you to rest there, would you want them to despair over your lost body?” Arya shook her head. “I know it is little comfort to think what the dead would want from you, but it is something. More important is what you want from the dead.
“I didn’t want to forget my mother,” said Jaime. “I gathered things connected to her — a comb, a dress, her knitting things, her favorite books, her lavender bath oil — and I made a shrine to her. I would light a candle by the shrine everyday and I’d think of her.”
When he’d told Brienne this, he told her of the day Father found his shrine and destroyed it. He never rebuilt the shrine for fear of Father, and his memories of Mother faded into oblivion with Father’s heart. He decided Arya’s day was already too dour for that part of the story.
Jaime knew by Arya’s tight expression that she was finished talking about grief, so he relented. “You said you don’t believe in the gods?”
He was pleased to see a small smile ease her tense features. When did I become fond of Arya Stark?
“There’s only one god, Lannister,” said Arya, “and his name is Death.”
Jaime chuckled. “I hope I do not have to meet him anytime soon.”
“We all must meet him eventually.” Arya rested her hands on the saddle horn. “If he tries to take you, all you must tell him is ‘not today’, and he will come back another day.”
“Have you done that many times, Stark?”
“Once or twice,” said Arya. She sighed and finally tore her gaze from the Trident. “The Blackfish,” she said, “my great uncle. Is he dead?”
Jaime nodded. “He went down with a sword in his hand,” said Jaime. “His blood was the only Tully blood shed during the siege — I took the castle peacefully with Edmure’s help, but the Blackfish would not surrender. If it’s any comfort, I gave him a proper Tully send-off.” He’d done it himself in the middle of the night with a single flaming arrow, and a silent prayer for peace.
“It is,” said Arya. “Thank you.”
Jaime gestured south. “Come now, Stark, let’s get going before Clegane decides to go without us.”