The Long Night has come. The sun has not risen in two turns of the moon and counting. When the living met the dead in the field of battle, it seemed as if victory was within their grasp. The Dragon Queen laid waste to the wights atop her dragon’s back as the ground forces hunted down the White Walker generals controlling them. The Queen put down her lost child, the undead dragon Viserion, with a blast of flames that sent his rider, the Night King, plummeting to the earth. Jon Snow, Ser Jorah Mormont, and Theon Greyjoy rode out to hunt him down in the fray, and just as they were closing in to engage, the Army of the Dead called for a retreat, vanishing into the whirling shadows and snow from which they came.
No one has seen the Night King since, but it is believed he is rebuilding his forces while the living endure an endless night, burning through supplies and moral, in a siege of darkness...
Under the flickering light of torches, Brienne finished her morning training in the yard of Hornwood Keep. Sweat trickled down her back beneath layers of boiled leather and roughspun cotton as she pushed her hair from her face.
“It was a pleasure, as always, m’lady,” Ser Bronn said, puffing in the cold air. “I know I’m not near as pretty as your usual sparring partner, but I hope I’m making due in his absence.”
Brienne scoffed even as she felt a blush creep up her neck. Jaime was gone on a supply run to the coast, a trek that would take him and his men on a journey from Hornwood Keep to the tip of Widow’s Watch and back again. Trade with Essos was the only thing keeping the North fed, and the Essosi tradesmen would not come any closer to the Westeros shores than Widow’s Watch, an outpost at the very end of a peninsula that stretched into the Narrow Sea. Even then the merchants would not dock their vessels, believing the land cursed. She didn’t blame them.
“I’m thinking about riding out to meet them,” Bronn continued. “They’ll be within a day’s ride today, and I want first crack at the supplies. I’d like me a flask of rum.”
The offer was tempting. Brienne hadn’t seen Jaime in over a fortnight, not that she was counting. Well, she was counting, but only in a very practical way; supplies were important… yes, supplies. She also wanted to hear how the journey had gone, if they’d run into any trouble from bandits or wights, that sort of thing. Very important matters having nothing to do with her personal feelings in the slightest.
“I should be able to join you, as long as nothing comes up here.”
“I can tell you tell you without a shadow of a doubt that nothing is going to come up. Nothing’s come up for over a month, what with the wights going all sluggish.”
It was true. The wights had lost all sense of direction or motivation, and had taken to wandering around in packs, bumping shoulders as they stumbled aimlessly around the North. It seemed that without their White Walker generals, they’d become mindless, empty husks. But everyone knew that it was only a matter of time before the Night King returned, and when he did they had to be ready. The living could not survive in this darkness forever.
“Alright, I’ll meet you at the southern gate after the midday meal,” Brienne replied. For as much time as she had spent with the former sellsword, she still did not feel at ease around him. He was like Jaime in a way, teasing and sharp-tongued, but there was something else to him, something jagged and wild, something that made it difficult to trust him.
After a quick meal of hard bread and berry preserves with a hunk of cheese, Brienne made her way through the keep toward the stables. Hornwood Keep was built like a bunker, thick walls and low ceilings with high battlements surrounded by a frozen moat. It reminded her of a fort more than a castle, and looked nothing like the keeps of the south, with their open-air verandas and stained glass windows. Brienne reached out and trailed her fingertips along the blackened stone of the wall, sending flakes of soot wafting to the floor. The fact that every nook and cranny, every wall and floor stone was burned to a crisp didn’t help the keep’s appeal. When Hornwood Keep had been chosen as one of the castles that would be manned during the Long Night, Queen Daenerys had flown her dragon to the abandoned keep. She’d had her big dragon, Drogon, blow fire through the entire castle, the flames charging through like floodwaters, destroying every wight within. Tapestries and linens and mattresses went up in flames as well, but it had been the quickest way to secure the castle and there had been no loss of life.
In the stables, the head farrier told her that her favorite mare was still being reshoed, and then offered her another horse, a long-legged shaggy beast that had arrived yesterday with a traveling party from Cerwyn. Brienne eyed the animal, taking in her thick mane and calm stance, then ran a hand down the horse’s neck. She nodded and then the farrier called for a stableboy to saddle the horse.
Bronn talked too much, even more than Jaime had on their trek through the Riverlands. They’d been riding for over an hour and the man had not stopped talking since the moment they’d left the southern gate and plodded onto the game trail that led southeast. The real roads had been so long buried by snow that no one could tell where they were anymore, and it was easier to follow a path that had already been well- flattened by herds of deer and other animals. Bronn had his bow at the ready just in case he got a chance to take one down.
“So he says to me, ‘if you think you’re walking out of here with my doeskin gloves and my woman, you’ve got another thing coming.’ So you know what I did?” Bronn asked, then plowed on, not even waiting for her response. “I says to him, ‘well, maybe you should have kept a better eye on both, then neither of them’d be coming home with me tonight.’ Then I put my hand in the glove and I says--” and Bronn had to pause because he started laughing. “I says, ‘And if your woman fits me as nice as these gloves, I don’t think you’ll be seeing either of them again.” Bronn broke out into a grating laugh. “Get it?” Bronn prompted when Brienne didn’t reply. “You know, her--ah, fuck it.”
Brienne said a silent prayer of thanks to the Mother that Bronn had decided to not explain it to her, and then she changed the subject.
“How much of the supplies will Hornwood be able to keep? The Dreadfort will need provisions soon.”
“Aye, we will have to send a third of the foodstores on to the Dreadfort, at least. With the number of men they have garrisoned there, they will burn through their current stories within the month.”
Brienne nodded. Bronn had a surprising knack for the rationing and distribution of supplies. He knew how many mouths there were to feed at each castle, and how quickly they would go through their supplies without having to put the figures down on parchment.
“And our men will be expecting a good meal and some barrels of ale tonight, what with a fresh delivery of supplies. We need to give them that, at least, to keep up their spirits.”
“I agree,” Brienne said, half-listening as she squinted into the darkness ahead. They carried no torch or lantern, relying on the glow of the stars reflecting off the crisp white surface of untouched snow. A torch would attract the wights, and although they had become lethargic, they would still attack if provoked. Then a group of shadowy figures on horseback appeared over a distant hill.
“There they are,” Brienne said, a smile tugging at her lips.
“How the fuck can you see anything out there?” Bronn asked, squinting into the distance. Brienne ignored him and waved her hand high in the air. Someone in the distance waved back, and then she and Bronn spurred their horses into a trot to meet them.
“You got any rum in there?” Bronn immediately asked, gesturing to the wagons packed full to bursting and covered in stretched leather tarp.
“Nice to see you too,” Jaime muttered as he led his horse past Bronn’s and sidled up to Brienne. “Anything to report, my lady commander Ser Brienne?” Jaime smirked, his eyes dancing. He enjoyed tacking on as many titles as he could to her name, and he was adding more every time.
“It was an uneventful few weeks, no attacks, no sightings of any White Walkers. No news from Winterfell.” She wheeled her horse around so they could all start moving back in the direction of the castle. Jaime’s horse nudged into her own, their muzzles rubbing together. It made Brienne’s knee bump into Jaime’s own. Jaime’s horse threw back its huge head and whinnied happily, then went back to rubbing against Brienne’s mare.
“Come now,” Brienne scolded and gave the reins a tug.
“Oh, let them. They missed each other,” Jaime said and patted Brienne’s thigh.
“This horse just came from Cerwyn, they’ve never even met before so how could they possibly miss each other?” Brienne watched as the display of horse love escalated, the animals’ necks rubbing together. Jaime’s horse nibbled playfully at her mare’s mane, which made her animal nicker and puff steam from her nostrils.
“Well, then it must be love at first sight,” Jaime replied, and he gave Brienne’s knee a sharp squeeze, causing her to yelp and then slap his hand away.
“Bloody hells, you’ve been back only minutes and I already want you gone again.”
“And here I thought you’d be glad to see me. I even brought you a present, but I’m not sure I’ll give it to you now that you’ve so wounded me with that sharp tongue of yours.” Jaime spurred his horse ahead, and Brienne’s face fell.
“You brought me a present? What is it?” she called after him, her voice sounding horrifyingly whiny in her own ears, but he only turned back and gave her a self-satisfied smirk, then pressed on.
The rest of the afternoon was spent taking inventory of the supplies, then sorting them and rationing out a portion for the Dreadfort. Podrick was stationed there and not a day went by that Brienne didn’t think about his well being. She’d wanted him to stay with her but also knew that he was ready to go out on his own. Brienne did take a bit of comfort from the fact that Sandor Clegane was with him, along with Beric Dondarrion. It was said Lord Beric had been brought back to life more than a few times by his red priest. Years ago, Brienne would have scoffed at that, but since she’d left Tarth she’d seen things, things she couldn’t explain, like the black shadow that had killed King Renly, like dragons, like the walking dead. One of the Wildling women who’d taken up with Bronn had even told her that Jon Snow had been brought back from the dead. Talla was her name, and she’d confided it to Brienne one night while drunk and upset with Bronn.
“He’s got a hundred stabs wounds beneath his cloak,” she’d whispered, lips glistening with the fermented goat’s milk the wildlings favored. Talla was a beauty by both Wildling and Westerosi standards. She was petite with lean muscles and smooth skin, though it had seen its fair share of sun. She kept her black hair held neatly in two slick braids down her back, and her eyes were pale grey. “They say some god’s brought him back,” she murmured and inched closer, “to what end, no one knows.” Then Talla had sat back and looked Brienne up and down. “Bloody fuck, you’re huge,” she said, but instead of disdain in her voice there was awe. “Wouldn’t want to meet you on the battlefield. But I can still tell you’re a fancy lady from the South. You’ve got manners and such, pretty eyes, fair skin. Ah fuck, listen to me, I’m drunk.” Then Bronn had come over to continue their argument that ultimately turned into a very physical making-up in a dark corner of the great hall.
“Alright, so we can roll out three casks of the good ale from White Harbor, twenty pigs, and the boys really liked the flatbread, sauce and goat cheese from Braavos the last time, so we’ll have that too. And might as well put out some of the wine from Pentos, though let's hold that until later so most of them are too drunk to bother with it.” Bronn slung his thumbs into his belt loops and leaned back on his heels, looking rather pleased with himself. “Any objections?”
“Perhaps we should serve rum,” Brienne said, knowing Bronn had hoarded the entire barrel for himself.
“No rum in the inventory, Lady Brienne. You’ll have to get pissed on plain wine, sorry to say,” Bronn replied with a shrug.
“How strange,” Jaime joined in, wanting to take part in the needling while the other men in the meeting looked on, unaware of what was going on. “I swear we picked up a barrel of rum, I made the trade myself. What could have possibly happened to it?”
“Alright,” Bronn cut in. “Meeting’s over. Let’s get these crates put away.” He began delegating tasks to the soldiers around them and then brushed past Jaime and Brienne with a scowl. “You cunts need to find something better to do than fuck around with me,” Bronn whispered. “And I can think of a few things, well one thing, in particular…” Bronn slapped his palm in the middle of Jaime’s chest, giving him a light shove, then walked out.
“Now what is that supposed to mean?” Brienne asked, a furrow forming between her brows. When she looked at Jaime, his eyes were wide and she could have sworn his cheeks were flushed beneath his thick beard.
“I...I don’t know,” Jaime muttered. “I’m just going to, ah, go help,” he said vaguely. “I’ll see you at dinner tonight.”
Brienne returned to her small, unadorned chambers. The walls were scorched black from dragonflame, the window boarded over as the glass had long since been broken, and a newly constructed rough hewn bed and mattress of fresh straw sat in the corner. A trunk of her meager belongings rested against the wall opposite the tiny hearth. Brienne hated to admit it, but she’d gone a bit soft after living at Winterfell, before the Long Night began. As the sworn sword of Lady Sansa, she’d been afforded large, well-appointed chambers next to Sansa’s own, and a bath and hot food were always available to her. Jaime, who had spent long weeks on the road alone on his way to Winterfell, sleeping in snowdrifts and eating stale bread and hard cheese, made sure to mock her at any chance about this.
In reality, she was actually one of the lucky few at Hornwood who had their own private room within the keep. Jaime shared quarters with Bronn and a few other men. Even Talla had a roommate--a woman from Bear Island who reminded Brienne more of a Wildling than a Westerosi in her mannerisms. Occasionally Brienne would indulge her imagination, wondering if she herself had in fact been born on the wrong side of the Wall. Perhaps she would have fit in better with the Wildlings. But no, she couldn’t delude herself. She liked the idea of knighthood and chivalry, or pledging herself to a worthy lord or king. North of the wall, there was none of that. She’d resigned herself to admit that she truly didn’t fit in anywhere.
Brienne washed up in her basin, scrubbing her hands clean with rough lye soap and running a bit of water through her hair to slick it back into place. Then she took off her boiled leather and put on a heavy woolen cloak, plain and black, but it was finely made upon close inspection. She’d traded Jaime for it, giving him a nice pair of breeches in exchange. Then she added a few logs to the fire before heading down to the main hall for dinner.
After she filled her plate, Brienne sat with some of the younger soldiers she was training. They’d seen so much in their short fighting careers, so much suffering, pain and death. They were a sharp contrast to the young soldiers and knights she’d seen in Renly’s camp so long ago. Those young men had been well-fed and chomping at the bit for a fight, full of grandiose talk. These boys sitting around her never had a chance for that, and she felt it her duty to keep up moral and hone their skills so they had the best chance they could at surviving the Long Night.
After she’d eaten her fill, she poured herself a goblet of watered wine and joined Jaime and Bronn who were sitting before one of the smaller side hearths of the hall. Talla was with them, sitting next Bronn with her hand slipped behind his back.
“Brienne, please, join us,” Jaime said. They’d dropped the formalities months ago, once they’d become comrades-at-arms. The battlefield was no place for niceties.
Brienne sat down, relishing in the heat from the fire on her skin and the warmth of the wine in her belly. Jaime recounted his journey; he’d already done so once in the meeting earlier that day, but this time it was informal, full of jokes and gossip for Brienne’s ears only. Talla and Bronn were keeping one another occupied, and soon enough Talla was straddling Bronn, gyrating against him in a rather obscene way.
“Bloody hells,” Brienne finally said, and Jaime turned to look at Bronn and Talla. Talla had her tongue halfway down Bronn’s throat and Bronn’s hand was so far into her pants that Brienne could only assume his fingers had reached their intended destination.
“Yes, Bronn, please,” Jaime added. “We are trying to enjoy the fire and a drink. Perhaps you would like some privacy?”
“Ah, fine. See, I told you this one’s got a stick up his ass,” Bronn said as he stood and took Talla’s hand. “We’ll find some privacy in my room. I hope you have somewhere else to sleep tonight,” Bronn said to Jaime, then gave Brienne a wink. Talla shushed Bronn and then waved goodnight to them as they walked away.
“Well, now that they're gone, I can give you your gift,” Jaime said, and swiftly produced a ball of cloth from his pocket. He handed it to Brienne, and it felt like a ball, a bit squishy, not too weighty. “Well? Open it.”
Brienne undid the tie and as the fabric fell open she saw an orange, and she gasped in excitement. She hadn’t had fresh citrus since she’d been at Joffrey’s wedding in King’s Landing. She put it to her nose to smell the tangy sweet aroma.
“Thank you, Jaime.”
“You're welcome. I figured you would have eaten a lot of fresh fruit on Tarth, what with Essos and Dorne so close.”
Brienne felt her heart swell in her chest. It was such a thoughtful thing for him to get her. She gave him a real smile, and his eyes lit up, plainly pleased with himself that the gift had been a success.
Some of the young soldiers joined them and they drank another round before Jaime offered to escort her to her quarters.
Jaime had been in her room so many times, she didn’t think twice about it. He walked in, knelt to stoke the fire and then tossed his heavy gambeson on the chest against the wall. Brienne shed her black cloak and pulled a couple of three-legged stools out so they could sit in front of the fire.
“So, shall we get into that orange?” Jaime asked as he settled himself on the stool.
“I thought it was for me?” Brienne said, trying to keep her expression serious. Of course she would share with him, but she took any chance she could to tease him back.
“Well, I figured someone as honorable and chivalrous as you would find it in your heart to share with a poor foot soldier such as myself.” He scooted his stool closer to hers and then handed her a goblet he’d filled with the last of the watered wine. “I haven’t eaten an orange since I tragically lost my hand defending an innocent maiden… my noblest act.” They’d come to a point at which they could jape a bit about their journey through the Riverlands together. The trauma was still there, but at least some of it had been soothed by time.
“I suppose you’re going to tell me there was no one available to peel an orange for the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, the Golden Lion of Lannister?” Brienne replied as she split the pebbled skin open.
“Yes, exactly. I’d sent my only friend away to complete some damned-fool oath, so I had no one. It was, as I said previously, quite tragic.”
Brienne split the orange open, juice squirting at her face. She squinted and Jaime laughed as she swiped the juice from her cheek. Then she handed him a slice first before biting into one of her own.
“Mmm, this is delicious,” she said as the juice burst on her tongue. Not only was it an orange, but it was a perfectly ripe and flavorful one. She tried to show restraint, savoring each piece, but before long they were down to the last wedge. Brienne held it between her fingers, weighing her options on how to best rib Jaime about this. She’d give it to him, he’d been the one to procure the orange after all, but she wanted to make him work for it.
“Only one piece left,” she mused as she eyed the slice. “We could break it in half, I suppose.”
Jaime drained his goblet, then looked at her. “But where’s the fun in that?” Then he launched himself at her, wrestling her to the floor.
“Jaime!” Brienne shrieked, and when Jaime tried to pry the orange away from her, she grunted and flipped him onto his back. So that’s how it was going to be. It had been some time since she’d had a proper tussle anyway. When she leaned back, holding the slice over her head, Jaime took his chance and grabbed her around the waist, then pushed forward so she landed flat on her back. His lone hand caught one of her wrists, and his stump pinned her other hand--the one holding the orange--to the floor.
“Are you going to let me win or do you plan on fighting to the death?” Jaime panted as he grinned down at her.
“I suppose I will have mercy on you tonight,” she relented and held up the last slice of orange for him to take, but instead of freeing up his hand by releasing her, he leaned forward, parted his lips, and took the slice from her fingertips with his mouth. His lips were warm and dry, his beard scratchy against her wrist, and then she felt the tip of his tongue brush the pad of her finger, and that sent a startling shiver down her spine, and she shuddered. But he wasn’t done yet; he sucked her finger tip into her mouth and dragged his teeth along the pad. A whimper escaped her lips and heat bloomed low in her belly. Without thinking, she shifted, letting her thighs part and he let out a ragged grunt as he settled between them. Something hard poked into her belly, like the hilt of a sword, and she was just about to ask him why he was wearing a sword at this hour when the reality of the situation dawned on her….that was not a sword hilt nudging into her. Her breath caught in her chest and she felt as if she had to say something to break the tension, even though it would certainly sound foolish.
“I didn’t know you liked oranges so much,” she said.
That produced a raw chuckle from Jaime, and the mood lightened as he rested his forehead on her shoulder and shook his head. His breath was warm against the crook of her neck. “I fucking love oranges.” His hand snaked around the back of her neck, toying with the short hair there, and when his eyes met hers they were so hopeful but also scared at the same time, as if he was awaiting judgement.
“Jaime,” she said softly, and then she leaned up and pressed her lips against his, her heart thudding wildly in her chest. Then she pulled back and braced herself for whatever he would say.
“Brienne… my lady, that was quite forward of you,” he purred. Then he grinned, his cocky swagger back, and he pulled her mouth to his this time, his hand in her hair, as her arms wrapped around his waist. His kiss went from chaste to unseemly in short order, his tongue moving with hers, until they finally parted, breathing hard in the firelight.
“You can stay here tonight,” Brienne blurted out.
“Oh, thank the gods,” he murmured as his lips went to her neck, leaving a trail of fire in their wake as he pulled her shirt aside and kissed down her shoulder. Brienne took him to her bed and he lay back, and then patted the bed on either side of him and quirked a brow at her. “Brienne, I know you want to be on top, don’t deny it.”
“Jaime!” Brienne scolded. Gods, he had a foul mouth sometimes. Alright, if that’s how this was going to go… she steeled her courage and climbed atop him as if he was a warhorse and she was about to charge into battle. He grunted and looked up at her in surprise.
“Now, let me get one thing clear,” Brienne said with authority.
“Anything, my lady,” Jaime replied as he ran his arms up her thighs, grinning with satisfaction.
“When you said you love oranges, what exactly--”
“I love you,” he said, his voice steady and soothing. “I love you, Brienne.” Then, without giving her time to respond, he pulled her down for a kiss.