Jaime Lannister finds himself in an entirely familiar scenario: imprisoned in a dungeon, sitting on the cold ground with a Lady Stark interrogating him and Brienne of Tarth standing watchfully nearby. The only difference is that she is on the other side of the bars now.
Well, not the only difference.
“You are the Kingslayer,” his interrogator says, “and this lady is your wife, Brienne of Tarth. The woman who murdered Catelyn Stark.”
Alayne Stone’s expression is carefully controlled, with only the brief suggestion of anger coloring her words. She is well-contained for a girl of her young age, without a single crack in her surface. One could easily believe her to be Littlefinger's offspring and a young woman of the Vale, with every detail in place to back that assumption. But she cannot disguise her face. The girl’s hair is chestnut brown and not red, and literally everyone at the Gates of the Moon knows her as Alayne Stone, but Jaime knows her at once and knows Brienne will too. The resemblance to her mother is unmistakable.
Particularly when she is this suspicious. "Alayne" keeps a careful distance between herself and the bars of their cage, and watches them closely. She is taking a risk appearing here, even under disguise. She must know they have been looking for Sansa - it's why Littlefinger had set a price on their head. Jaime could reveal the charade easily, even if only to their jailers. Why might she risk that?
More courteously, she asks: “You have been openly seeking out information about me, Kingslayer. Why? I am no one.”
Jaime looks up at the girl. He knows he must play this carefully, but the instinct to be insolent to Starks is nearly irresistible.
“I knew Lord Baelish in King’s Landing many years, when he was on King Robert’s Small Council. In all that time I never knew he had a natural daughter. I wished to see her for myself.” He gives her his most charming smile. “I must say, you look nothing like him, Lady Alayne.”
“I take after my mother,” she answers smoothly. “Would you like to speak to my father then? You could have sent word you were coming. He does not like unexpected visitors.”
“Clearly, seeing as he tried to murder us. Oh, did you not know?” He seizes on a brief flicker of an expression on her calm face. “Before the guards came the sellswords, and they said Lord Baelish paid extra if they came back with corpses rather than prisoners.”
Lady Alayne remains unflappable. “There must have been a misunderstanding. He would only react so if he thought you were a threat. Are you a threat?”
Brienne speaks up. As usual, she is entirely straightforward. “We have ridden to the Vale on a quest to find Lady Sansa Stark and offer her my sword in protection.”
The young Stark looks past Jaime to the looming maid of Tarth, and studies her with careful curiosity. “I think you have come to capture Lady Sansa and take her back to the Queen.”
“I do not serve the Queen,” Brienne insists. “I am the sworn sword of Lady Catelyn Stark. She bade me escort Jaime Lannister to King’s Landing in exchange for her daughter’s release from captivity. And the both of us swore to Lady Catelyn we would see her daughters home in Winterfell.”
The girl’s mouth makes a firm line. “No Lannister would swear that.”
“It’s true, my lady.” Jaime squints at Lady Alayne in the limited light. What is her game? Did Littlefinger send her to question them? Or is she here on her own? “Robb Stark captured me at the Whispering Wood, and I was a prisoner in the Stark camp until Lady Stark let me free.”
“And in return you murdered her.”
He knows without looking that Brienne will be too aghast to respond. He gestures for her to remain silent. “Catelyn Stark died at the Twins. We two did slay Lady Stoneheart, but she was no Stark. A pretender.”
This will be easier to explain than the resurrected corpse of her mother; something he doesn’t understand well enough to explain anyway. They never really knew what Stoneheart was, how she came to be. He had been more concerned with staying alive before, and after that he didn't much care.
That distinction does not seem to interest Lady Alayne either. “Dead at the Twins or dead in the Riverlands, it was a Lannister plot either way.”
“I had no part in the Red Wedding. And Lady Brienne most definitely was not involved. The two of us were in the Riverlands, and I was getting my hand cut off.” He waves the fake hand between them.
Lady Alayne’s hands fidget beneath her cape. “And what of the Brotherhood without Banners? Many of them were slaughtered and the rest dispersed. They would have taken back the Riverlands from the Lannisters, restored the Tullys, rescued the people…”
Brienne steps closer to the bars of their cell, and her voice grows more sure. “They slaughtered the people and pillaged the Riverlands. We saw it first-hand. The things they did in Lady Catelyn’s name would not have honored her. She would never have condoned such acts, I know it. I swore my life to her and she swore to me she would ask no service that would bring me dishonor. Lady Stoneheart was not your mother.”
Lady Alayne blinks several times in succession, stumbles over her words. “Of course not. My mother was a kitchen girl who died of fever past five-and-ten years ago. I know no Stoneheart, nor anyone of House Stark.”
“Lady Sansa…” Brienne tries to reach out to her, her hand slipped between the bars. “You must have suffered greatly at the loss of your family. To be so far from home, a prisoner, and forced to live with the enemies of your house… It must have been awful.”
The girl backs away. “Sansa Stark was a silly young girl and she is surely dead. I am Lord Petyr Baelish’s natural daughter and I am engaged to be married.”
“I think that will be a bit difficult,” Jaime says dryly. "You are already married to my brother.”
She stops to compose herself. The ruse has clearly failed and yet she is reluctant to step free of it. It must have been sheltering her here for some time. Brienne’s gentle sympathy will not encourage her to let it go.
“What is your game here, ‘Lady Alayne’?” Jaime says more harshly. “Are you building a knighthood for Robert Arryn's protection, or for your own designs?"
“The knights will be sworn to Sweetrobin,” Alayne insists. Her startled expression tells Jaime that she did not expect such questioning. "I have no need for knights."
Suddenly canny, Jaime catches her eyes. "Are you staying here in the Vale for good and all, or do you have eyes on your family seat? There are quite a lot of soldiers fighting over Winterfell just now. You would need an army of your own to take it back.”
"If I did have such thoughts..." she answers in a lowered voice, "when I marry Harry Hardyng I will have an army."
“But it won’t be yours.” He seizes on this point. “It would be your husband’s, his and Littlefinger’s. Your “father”. Is that what he has you calling him? Kinky, that.“
"Stop helping,” Brienne says in an undertone.
“As soon as you’re married your last move is made. The game is over for you, you’ve forfeit to other players. If you haven’t positioned yourself well, there’s nothing you can do about it.” He looks at Brienne a moment, wondering, and then refocuses. “You’re at your most powerful right now, at this moment, the true heir to Winterfell and a marriageable girl. And you’re marrying a half wit ward of a castellan in the bloody Vale? That can’t be your idea. This isn’t your move, it’s someone else’s. Do you want to be a pawn or a queen?”
“Wait, is she a player or a piece?” Brienne murmurs as an aside.
“Exactly the point,” he shoots back, exasperated. “All right, It isn’t a perfect metaphor but it’s what I have at short notice. The girl doesn’t realize what danger she’s in.”
“I know exactly what danger I am in.” Alayne walks closer to the side of their cage and stands over him. “I am a young woman alone in the world, and powerful men will use me to get what they want. I have no say in where I go, who I marry, and what those men will do with me. I can only hope to use that situation to build my own safety.”
“You won’t find safety here,” Jaime says. “If this is Lord Baelish's plan, it will be to his benefit, not yours. Once you’ve married Harry the Heir you’ll quickly be made a widow, and Lord Robert is sure to meet a most untimely death soon after. If you become inconvenient, so will you.”
“Lady Sansa,” Brienne says most sincerely, dropping down to her knees. “You are not alone in the world. I can fight better than most men, and I will protect you. If you wish to return to Winterfell, I will get you there. I swear it.”
“I wish I could believe you. But you belong to the Lannisters, and they are monsters one and all. I lived among them, Cersei and the King and Lord Tywin, and I will not let you drag me back to them.” Sansa is staring at Jaime unpleasantly. “You look just like her. Did she send you? I know the Queen accuses me of murdering her son. I did not kill Joffrey, but I am not sorry he is dead.”
"Neither am I, to be honest. Joffrey was vile,” he says tiredly. “And so were his parents.”
“I don’t believe you. And I don’t believe you either,” she turns to Brienne. “If you married him, you can be no better.”
Of course the Stark girl would have been already poisoned against him by Ned; gods know what tales he has told her of the dishonorable Kingslayer. Littlefinger could tell worse ones, and some of them true. He more or less expected this reaction.
But Brienne is another matter. After all Brienne has done to find her, what she has suffered through, this girl should be crying tears of gratitude.
Jaime leans his head back against the cold stone wall and stares at his wife fondly.
“You have no idea how fortunate you are, Lady Sansa. You have before you the greatest knight in Westeros. She bested the Knight of the Flowers at tourney and fought me to my knees, two sworn knights of the Kingsguard. She defended an orphanage of children against marauders all on her own, and suffered the wounds you see as a result. She has bested men twice her age and number and still she has chosen to show mercy and kindness at every opportunity. I've served with the finest knights in the land, people whose songs I’m sure you learned by heart, Sansa, and I tell you they would all kneel in her honor if they knew her as I do. You have a living legend pledging her blade to you, ready to lay down her life to defend you. If you would turn her away then perhaps you are a silly little girl.”
Then he sighs, and looks down at his lap glumly. “Lady Brienne here had no say in the marriage. Like you she was wed to a Lannister without her permission. Do not judge her by me.”
He can feel his lady wife’s eyes on him at this last, with that intensely searching expression. Then, when he has finished, Brienne turns back to Sansa. This is where she should disavow the marriage as she has many times before, tell the girl it was a sham and a fake and they already agreed to annul it. In this way she may regain the girl’s trust, and continue on without him to complete their quest.
But she doesn’t.
“Ser Jaime married me,” Brienne says softly, “when I was gravely ill and wounded, and he cared for me faithfully. I was near death, and he sat at my bedside and watched over me as a husband, and has asked nothing of me in return. It’s true, I am no better than he. A man of honor, a knight, who has saved my life many times over to no reward and no gain. I am honored to be in his company.”
Lady Alayne – Sansa – looks at her quizzically. So does Jaime.
But she is so obviously in earnest that there is no way not to believe her, no matter how unlikely her words.
She goes on: “You don’t know how sorry I am that I could not find you sooner. I am sorry that I could not bring you out of King's Landing myself and take you to safety. I am sorriest of all that your lady mother perished at the Twins, with your brother. It is the great regret of my life that I could not prevent that. If I could have given my life to stop it, I would have. Instead I can only keep to the oath I swore to her, to find you and bring you back to your family.”
“I have no more family,” Alayne says mournfully. “A half-brother on the Wall, uncles imprisoned in the Riverlands. The rest are in their graves.”
“Ser Jaime might be able to do something about that,” Brienne says. He turns to her and mouths I might? and she pretends not to see. “And your sister is alive, though perhaps far away.”
“My sister?” Sansa’s voice is different then. Younger. “My sister is alive?”
“You will need to speak to one of our companions about that, he saw her last. If you will accompany us to our camp by the river, you could at least hear his tale. Lady Sansa,” Brienne bows her head to the girl. “Your mother was a great lady, the first person in all the world to treat me as a knight, and I was proud to be her sworn sword. It is my hope to swear myself to you as well. If you will not allow us to take you away from here, then I will stay in the Vale at your service. Or wherever you would have me go.”
She looks questioningly at Jaime. “What about your lord husband?”
Brienne speaks over him rapidly. “He does not command me. I will go where I will.”
Sansa grimaces. “And he will rush back to King’s Landing and tell them everything.”
“He would not,” Brienne says with absolute certainty.
Jaime is less certain. “I don’t know where I will go. King's Landing has given me up for dead. And I don’t know what use anyone has for a one-handed knight. But…”
He thinks on King’s Landing and his responsibilities, and the life he has left behind.
He does not miss it, really. That man is dead. And there is a certain perverse thrill in the thought of how it would outrage his lord father, his eldest swearing yet another oath to a rival house.
He smiles at that thought. He did after all and above all else always want to be a knight, and to protect helpless maidens.
“… if you would accept Brienne into your service, and would accept my sword as well, I will pledge it. I would serve at your command, Lady Sansa.”
Brienne gapes at him.
Sansa nods thoughtfully, then the girl turns her back on them both. She fidgets anxiously a moment, and then puts her shoulders back and straightens, like pulling on a coat. Or putting on a mask.
“I will… consider it.” Lady Alayne says.
“Consider it quickly,” Jaime advises, “I suspect we have an execution scheduled rather soon, if you don’t intervene.”
Lady Alayne says nothing to that. She ascends the stairs leading from their cell without another word.
It is quiet for a long time after she leaves.
Brienne slides to the ground across from Jaime, her gaze distant. That meeting probably did not go as she had envisioned it would. They found the girl against all odds, on little more than a whisper and a prayer, but she may not want their help. That is, most likely, something she had not expected.
Even if she does want their help, what could she do now? She can hardly overpower their captors. She could speak to her “father”, but there is no chance he would set them free now that their game is revealed. Littlefinger doesn’t want the word to get out that he has Sansa Stark, not until he’s secured his position as Lord of the Vale and her wedding as legitimate. Whatever his scheme, it requires King’s Landing to remain blissfully unaware, and for that he will eliminate Jaime, Brienne, and the rest of their companions.
They do have their companions still free. But Jaime is not hopeful about a daring rescue. They’ve one hedge knight, a gravedigger, and a squire; not exactly the Golden Company.
Escape is no less far-fetched. They two have one useful arm each, and no weapons. Against the Vale Knights, even a chance opportunity will not get them far.
He sighs and closes his eyes. Best to conserve his strength. If it will be his last night, he will not spend it worrying.
Moonlight paces across the cell between them.
“Do you remember any of it?” he asks suddenly.
Brienne understands him. Faintly, looking away, she admits: "I remember some things. Not clearly. It was like a strange dream.”
“What do you remember?”
“I remember you were kind.” She looks closely at her feet. “ I remember you lying beside me, I think. I remember you saying the words - the vows - I didn’t understand what it meant then.”
He knew it. He knew she heard him, when he spoke the vows. He grins at that. “I kept waiting for you to object. I thought you might leap out of the bed in outrage.”
“No,” she says softly. “I wasn’t outraged… I thought it was a dream. ”
"No. A bit confusing, perhaps, but a sweet dream."
He blinks rapidly, trying to understand that.
“So if you weren’t completely horrified to find yourself married to me, then why did you run away? You just… went out and didn’t come back. Slept somewhere else. Avoided me.”
“I’m sorry, Ser, I truly am. I panicked, I think. I thought…"
She trails off, and then takes a deep breath. Looks down at her lap where her hands wring together, and abruptly he realizes she is nervous of him, and of what she is about to say.
"Imagine that your fondest dream came true, and it was a mistake. What might you do then?”
Jaime looks away, his thoughts whirling. Already his mind is taking this apart in the way least flattering to him: what she had dreamed of, what was the mistake. He is ready to defend himself in a moment.
But he knows the answer to her question. What do you do? You pretend you never wanted it in the first place.
“When did I say it was a mistake?” he hears himself ask.
“You didn’t have to. You just… didn’t say anything. You were there but you were different. You weren’t grousing or asking questions or chattering away like you did before. You weren’t yourself at all. And you didn’t breathe a word that they had married us. I had to hear it from the Elder Brother, and he took me aside when he realized I didn’t know.”
“I didn’t know how to tell you. That I had done such a thing without your permission - I thought you would be furious.”
"I was a little.” She smiles weakly. “I had evaded a wedding for so long, to wake up a married woman was a shock, and without so much as a by your leave. But Elder Brother explained that it would be up to me, ultimately. Whether to keep the vows.”
“Ah. And he said nothing more?”
“Nothing helpful,” she emphasizes. A little under her breath, she adds something more. “He did say you were willing, and that you were in love with me. But I knew that couldn’t be so,” she adds very quickly, “it’s impossible. If somehow you were, you would have simply told me so.”
Jaime chokes back hysterical laughter, and it turns into something more like a coughing fit.
“I know it is plainly ridiculous. You have certainly never held back in your opinions before. You even told me of your sister…”
Of course I did, I love jokes.
Jaime forces himself to look away from her quizzical expression. He is probably goggling at her like an idiot, and he is struggling with what to say.
Could it be that simple? To simply put what he wants to words? Is that all he would have to do, tell her so?
Of course not. He already said the vows. She must know he would not take such oaths lightly. Any reluctance here is hers.
"Elder Brother was right." Her expression changes swiftly, and he hurriedly adds, "it will be up to you whether to keep the vows. I would keep my oath, but you never spoke the words. I will abide by whatever you decide.”
From across the cell, her pale face is only a dim shape in the dark. But he knows her face so well now that he can see it plainly. There is realization and hurt, battling each other to some end he cannot see. Did she never think of it? That they might remain married? Or is she surprised that he would agree to it?
But he is tired of trying to guess what she is thinking.
“I suppose that is a problem to be solved once we are free. Not much point worrying over it now.” He slides down slightly, slinging an arm behind his head. "I suspect it will be an eventful day tomorrow. We may as well get some sleep."
He closes his eyes and leaves them closed, no matter how tempted he is throughout the night to look at her and see if she is looking at him.
Jaime awakens abruptly, surrounded by guards. They haul Brienne to her feet, heavily, and quickly tie her hands behind her back.
“Yer being moved. Lord Baelish’s orders.”
Moved into a grave, no doubt. Jaime comes up slowly, alert for any opportunity to grab at a weapon, but they are well-trained guards and prepared for that. They drag him by the left arm and the right could maybe manage a single punch that would hurt him a lot more than his target.
Marched outside they find it is morning. The air is frigid and snow falls silently. Another wagon awaits, with a driver and two guards on horseback. Their legs stay chained together, which makes it difficult to climb up and into the wagon. Jaime at least can hoist himself up with his left arm, but Brienne is unceremoniously hoisted over the end and rolled into it, which leaves her quite spectacularly grouchy. She gets herself upright and scowls at the scenery.
The wagon bumps along at a rapid clip, with little consideration to the comfort of its passengers. “What’s the hurry?” Jaime shouts out at them, and of course receives no answer.
Something gnaws at him. He would expect them to be going further through the actual Gates of the Moon, potentially to wherever Lord Royce of the Gates resides, or Lord Baelish’s residence. Instead they are bouncing barely-traveled paths where the snow is increasingly deep, leading in the opposite direction of the amphitheater where most everyone will be preparing for the tourney.
He keeps his voice low. “Where are they taking us?”
She shrugs extravagantly, hands still bound behind her. Her eyes are on the driver, alert for any weakness they might take advantage of. They cannot reach him through the bars unless he comes much closer.
Jaime watches the riders behind the wagon where their horses pick carefully through the wagon treads in the deepening snow.
“Brienne -” he hisses sharply in her ear. “These aren’t guards.”
She turns her face abruptly and examines them. Under the snow and furs, they are armored more finely than guards. They look closer to the Vale Knights, in the same colors, but for their helms.
Their helmets bear an ornament at the edge of the face plate, just where their ears would be. Small wings. Knights of the Winged Brotherhood? Have they already won their places through the tourney that has just begun? They should be there still, what are they doing guarding two prisoners?
They are both so absorbed in looking at the riders behind them that when the wagon stops abruptly they both fall over to one side, Jaime clanging his head painfully against the metal bars.
He swears and rubs at it, but by the time he straightens and looks up ahead, the pain is forgotten.
Standing in the road is Lady Sansa, and beside her at a quite-familiar distance is another well-familiar figure. Sandor Clegane stands at her shoulder, looking rather more like a bodyguard than a prisoner.
Sansa lifts a hand to the driver.
“Thank you Sers,” she says. “Please release them now.”
The knights dismount their horses obediently, saying, "yes my lady."
“I told you we would be rescued,” Brienne says with some relief and none of the smugness that Jaime is sure he would have shown in her place.
The winged knights open the back of the wagon and loose their bonds. Further down the road come riding Ser Hyle and Podrick Payne, leading Brienne and Jamie's mounts behind them.
Sandor stays close at Sansa’s side. He looks up and down the road, one hand on his sword, looking much more a knight than Jaime has ever seen him.
“Lady Sansa, again I offer you my service –” Brienne begins to say formally.
Jaime cuts her off, motioning down at the man working on the manacles around his ankles. “Let’s do that part when we aren’t in the middle of an escape. You will be coming with us, Lady Sansa?”
“It happens that I have use for knights where I am going, after all.” Sansa looks around them a little anxiously. “Three is a start.”
“Four,” Brienne says, looking at Ser Hyle, who nods only a little bit reluctantly. “And five, when Pod is ready.”
“A maiden with five sworn knights is a great improvement over Lady Harry with knights sworn to her husband, you’ll see,” Jaime tries to assure her.
“We all shall see,” she says. She looks a little bit frightened. “But first I must be away from here. And–.”
A boy in a fine cape and a fur hat emerges from a bush. He rushes to Sansa’s side and throws his arms around her waist. “Lady Alayne! Can I stop hiding now? I’m tired of the bushes, it’s filthy in there.”
“Oh no. Is that who I think it is?” Jaime is getting a sinking feeling that their little party is about to get rather larger.
Sansa looks up at them both appealingly. “Lord Robert would be in danger if I left. You’re right, Littlefinger will dispense with him eventually, and if I left and his plans changed… he would dispatch Sweetrobin like he did my Aunt Lysa. If we bring the boy with us then his sworn swords will come along.”
Sweetrobin looks back and forth between them. “Of course I’m coming with you! You would not go away and leave me, would you?”
Brienne perks up. “Have you sworn your blades to the little Lord?” she asks the Winged Knights, who nod with an excess of solemnity. Like any newly knighted youngsters they take their position most seriously.
This grows far too complicated, Jaime worries. “Brienne, we can’t… Smuggling the Stark girl north is one thing, but the Lord of the Vale? Littlefinger would have pursued us for Sansa, but all of the Vale will pursue us for the heir to the Eyrie. This is a very bad idea.”
Brienne looks at him, and then she turns and looks at Hyle Hunt, and at The Hound, and at the children, Sansa and Robin and Podrick, and the two green Knights as well, and somehow they are all looking to her for direction. She falters only a moment, and then lifts her chin resolutely.
“If the young Lord needs help then I cannot abandon him. He will come with us to the North, him and his men. Ser Hyle, do we have our camp packed?”
“Yes,” the hedge knight assures her, “and we have your armor and your sword as well. And his. All is ready for the road.”
“Let us be off then, before anyone realizes we are gone.” She turns to Sansa. “Where does this road lead us?”
The two ladies confer together. Clegane, in the meantime, unhitches the horses from the wagon, and then with one great heave overturns it all on his own, leaves it blocking the steep road on its side. He informs the driver that he has been accosted and the prisoners taken and he should run back to the jail and let them know.
“Good thing you suffered no injuries in the attack besides a blackened eye,” Sandor says, and punches the man in the face.
The man agrees, clutching his eye and cowering a little before the imposing bulk of him. “How many of you were there?”
“Too many to count,” Jaime suggests. “Walk slowly.”
The driver staggers back in the direction of the encampment, and the wagon horses are fitted to ride with new bags.
Jaime buckles a saddle to one of them. “This is your idea?”
“Hers mostly,” Sandor says. “She didn't want to trust you, but the escape route was plotted long ago and the bags packed. Those two knights were already in place, she selected them herself. Tourney was just a cover. She must have been thinking on this for awhile.”
“You’d mentioned you met the girl in King’s Landing, but I didn’t realize you were… close. Lucky thing for us.”
Clegane glares at him without a word.
Jaime laughs and mounts his horse. “Let’s be off. I don’t fancy revisiting that dungeon.”
It’s a hard ride away from the Gates of the Moon. Sansa has chosen an obscure route least likely to encounter Vale Knights and other witnesses, a trail ill-used and not well cared for. Down is a lot harder than up when there is snow and ice to contend with, so they cannot go very fast, and that means they cannot stop to rest. The horses pick their way down and slide anxiously on the frozen path and require much coaxing and reassurance. The Winged Knights break their trail, Sansa and Sweetrobin follow on her horse, and the rest follow for the rest of that day, through the night, and into the next day.
There will be a lot of people after them once the Vale realizes Lord Robert Arryn is missing, and once Littlefinger knows Sansa has fallen into Jaime Lannister's hands. Fortunately the falling snow will obscure their trail, but only so long as they stay well ahead of their pursuers.
Eventually the youngest members of their party are falling asleep on their horses. Sansa holds Sweetrobin in place and looks not so steady herself. Pod weaves back and forth on his mount, and at one point Jaime pulls alongside and snatches the boy off his horse before he can fall from it, settling him on his own mount for the next hour. They have to set camp then, for a few hours at least, in an obscure spot not visible from their trail, and set out again at first light.
Brienne takes down Sweetrobin from Sansa’s arms, lays him on the ground gently, and starts building a tent around him. Podrick, yawning, begins working on a cookfire, Sansa offering him encouragement.
Jaime settles down next to Sandor nearby.
“So how did you convince her of us?” he asks the Hound at an undertone. "If she was so skeptical."
“Told her you were too busy bickering to plot and scheme. You’re exactly what you appear to be – moron lovebirds on a knightly quest to bring her home. Unreasonably sincere.”
Jaime eyes him. "Why did you speak for us in the first place? You might have had a head start leaving us in a dungeon."
"Crossed my mind." Sandor smirks. "I've had about enough of Lannisters, it's true. But you're not much like the other ones."
Jaime is surprised. "How so?"
He nods at Brienne. "You're following her around. Those other cunts would have laughed in her face, she tried to tell them what to do. Ugly bitch like that talking to you golden lions."
"You watch your tongue," Jaime snarls at him in a low and threatening tone.
He laughs at that, and actually seems pleased. "See, I'm an ugly cuss myself. King's Landing, I was like furniture to you lot, except when you needed me to bite someone. None of them ever looked me in the face except her." He nods shortly at Lady Sansa, a short distance away. "She's a good girl. And so's your lady. Reminded me of her, actually. Kind-hearted girl, except she looks like me and not a sweet little bird. That's a mean trick to play on a maid."
Jaime frowns at that too. He cannot imagine Brienne looking like Sansa. He does not much like the thought. She would not be Brienne then.
"Anyway, I saw how you tended her on the Isle. That cunt Joffrey would rather die than be married to a woman like that, and his bitch mother would have spit nails about it. But you didn't care about your reputation or your House or any of it and married her anyway. If you'd do that, I figure you must be different."
He sighs a little. "I doubt you'll convince Sansa of that. After all my house has done, what happened to her mother... and Bran..."
Sandor shrugs. "She knows I killed the butcher's boy for playing at swords with Joffrey. I've done your family's dirty work a good long while, and it wasn't pretty. But it seems by now Lady Sansa will take what she can get."
"Or she likes you."
"... Or that." Sandor stands up. "You'd better straighten things out with that wife of yours. Tell her you love her. You're making everyone miserable."
Jaime throws up his hands. "Didn't I marry her? It should be up to her now. I shouldn't have to tell her anything."
"Tell her anyway. Tell her a lot. You wouldn't understand, but -- well, it's hard to believe, with faces like ours, that someone might care. It could take some convincing."
He wanders off then, setting his own lean-to and a tent for Sansa close beside it. The big man has fallen into the role of the lady's protector very quickly, and rarely takes his eyes off her.
There's a tale there for certain, and not near its ending from the look of it.
Jaime sits awhile longer, lost in his own thoughts. The mention of his House disquiets him. It's true enough, the other Lannisters would eat his new wife alive. Not that he has contemplated any of their reactions to her. He has carefully kept them apart in his mind, Brienne and his family, and the thought of their interaction makes him deeply uncomfortable.
If they would stay with Sansa, and go North, they may not encounter any of them for some time. But he cannot avoid that forever, and he does have Tommen to consider. And Marcella in Dorne. Would Brienne come with him, to see to his children? She has children to look after here now. She seems to be collecting them.
He watches Brienne putting the finishing touches on Sweetrobin's tent, moving most slowly and quietly so as not to wake him. There is something motherly in her, he has seen it with Pod as well. Or perhaps it is just kindness, as Sandor said.
And you want to put her in the lion's den? Have you lost your senses?
He sighs again, and rubs at his beard tiredly. He probably has.
When Brienne finishes she comes to stand over him with a long sigh, as though she has been delaying this conversation herself.
Jaime nods to Sansa and Podrick working on the cookfire. “Three of them now. Are we running an orphanage for children of noble houses?”
“You are not,” Brienne emphasizes. “You are parting ways with us.”
She crosses her arms in front of her.
“Am I?” He says it flatly.
“Ser,” she tells him patiently, like she is speaking to one of the children. “You cannot swear your sword to House Stark. They are the enemies of your own House. You would never be able to return to your home at Casterly Rock, or to King's Landing. Or to your sister.”
Oh. Jaime freezes in place. He has not explained that to her either, that it is over between he and his sister. He assumed she would know it already. He has been away for months and months without sending her word. Did Brienne not notice that his twin had declared him dead with apparently no struggle, no search, no mourning? For gods’ sake, he married someone else!
But he has been away from her longer than this, and with Brienne in the Riverlands, and he had gone back to her then. Cersei was married to Robert, and they had carried on just the same. Of course she expects that of him now.
Brienne is still explaining his situation to him. “You have responsibilities, and so do I. You must return and serve your King. I will see Sansa safely home, and our oath to Lady Catelyn fulfilled. There is no reason for you to stay, Ser.”
He has no argument against it. They found Sansa. There is truly no reason for him not to go back to King’s Landing now.
He stands and catches at her arm, trying to make her look at him. “I swore an Oath to you as well. From that day until my last. I meant it.”
“I will not hold you to it.” Brienne does not meet his eyes. “Go back to Cersei.”
That lands like a punch.
Reeling from it, he lets her go.
“Then I’ll leave now.”
Brienne starts to say something, but he no longer wants to hear her. Jaime turns away.
“You’re right. I’ve been away from my duties too long. I must return to my command and my King.”
Jaime finds his way to his horse, and begins the process of repacking his belongings onto it. Fortunately he had not yet started setting up his own tent. Perhaps he knew this was coming. Somewhere nearby, Brienne is saying that he should stay until the morning, but he pretends not to hear her. If she wants him gone, he will go now. Why drag it out? He has delayed this long enough.
She would send him back to Cersei. He would not want to go back to Cersei even if she begged for him; he burnt her letter and followed Brienne instead. But now Brienne wants to send him back, to Cersei who never really wanted him in the first place. This is his life, following one person and another who don't want him.
“My lord,” Sansa calls out questioningly from the cookfire. “Where are you going?”
“I apologize, my lady, but I will not be offering you my services.” Jaime unfastens the lead from the post and pats his horse on the nose. “I’ll be returning to Casterly Rock instead. But don’t worry, I have no intention of telling anyone I was even in the Vale. I will not reveal your plans.”
“No!” Podrick Payne speaks up quite suddenly, pausing with the flint still in midair over the kindling to appeal to Brienne. “My lady, don’t let him leave!”
“Hush.” Sansa quiets him. “I think this must be worked out between them.”
Jaime turns back to the cookfire briefly. To his surprise, young Podrick looks quite upset. “Please my lord, don’t leave us.”
Pod is sniffling. Sansa has put an arm about him comfortingly, even though she met him not more than a day ago.
“We can’t let this happen,” the boy says. "Ser Jaime should stay with us."
“I’m sure we will be all right without him,” she says reassuringly.
“Yes but… would he be all right?” Pod stops to blow his nose against his sleeve.
Jaime turns back to his horse. He tightens the straps a little more. There is really nothing else to be done but mount and ride away. In a moment he will do just that.
"Let him go," Ser Hyle puts in disdainfully, coming out of his own tent. "He's the one who got us recognized in the Vale. Do you think he'll fare any better in the North? For his good and ours, let the Lannister go back to the South."
Brienne is still hovering beside him anxiously. "I did not mean immediately, Ser. Please stay until the morrow at least. Don't ride away in the dark."
He takes one last look at her. Her dirty blonde hair is plastered to her face from snow and sweat, but he can still see her incredible blue eyes peeking out through it. They are unaccountably watery just now.
"I'll head south," he tells her. "Your hedge knight is right. Littlefinger will locate me easily. They will believe you are with me, and send their forces in the wrong direction. If I set out now, I can be spotted in Gulltown tomorrow, while you ride for the Fingers."
She looks concerned. "Do not let yourself be seen. If they capture you..."
He laughs. "I'll ride fast."
"Which way will you go? Let us plan the safest route..."
"I'm not your problem anymore." He gestures back to the camp. "Worry about them."
He can still hear Podrick sniveling. They both turn to look at him, Brienne and Jaime. The poor lad sounds faintly miserable, speaking into Sansa’s shoulder.
"I know Ser Jaime can be… off-putting. He says awful things. But he treats people fairly, and he was kind to me."
Brienne looks at him questioningly, hearing that. He looks up at her just to frown back. Yes, it’s possible, wench, that I treated the boy decently.
"When my lady was ill he snuck me in to see her. He wasn’t supposed to, because I’m not her family. But he said I was close enough, and that no one had let him in to see his own mother on her deathbed and it was wrong to keep me away, because my lady would want me there. He said the rules are stupid.”
“They are stupid,” Jaime mutters. He lets his arms fall to his sides.
“And I was no good at all when I did see her, because she was suffering so and she didn’t seem to know we were even there and all I could do was cry. I just blubbered like a baby and he didn’t tell me to hush or stop weeping or leave."
Brienne slips her hand into his, without taking her eyes off them.
"He just sat with her on the bed and kind of petted her hair and said ‘Pod’s here, Podrick came to see you' while I held onto her hand and cried and he never said a word about it. He let me stay as long as I wanted.”
Podrick pushes back from the girl and looks up at her.
“I just don’t understand, Lady Sansa. They love each other. Why will they not…?”
Brienne startles, her hand pulling back, would have slipped away had he not grabbed and held it tightly.
“It’s complicated,” they can hear Sansa saying. “I do not know them but… I know what the world is like. I know it is difficult to love when people have been cruel. You forget there are good things in the world, that they can happen to you. I’m trying to remember that myself.”
He looks back at Brienne and she is struggling to master her expression.
They love each other. Podrick thinks so anyway. Well, what else does he have to lose? He’s already leaving. Jaime squeezes her hand.
"I would stay at your side if I could," he says quietly. "If you would allow me."
"I don't think I can." She hangs her head heavily. "I have asked too much of you already."
"You've never asked a thing of me. I rather wish you would."
It strikes him then that perhaps that's the problem. To ask for something you have to have some hope you will get it. And when you are accustomed to getting nothing, even a little loyalty is a pleasant surprise. It would be a risk, wanting more than that. They will both soak it up like sunlight and never think to ask for more.
He is still holding on to her hand. As much out of anxiety as tenderness. He may have to take the risk.
“If we will part ways here then at least be honest with me. You said your fondest dream came true, and it was a mistake. What did you mean?"
She looks so very forlorn she would give a lost puppy in the rain a good contest. She shakes her head just a little, and does not say.
He prompts her gently. "My marrying you. That was the mistake, right?”
“No, my lord,” she speaks up. “That was a good thing, a kind thing, and one I am grateful for. But I know that it was under the condition that I was going to die. And then I didn’t. And now you are stuck with me.”
Jaime breathes out sharply at that, as though he has been kicked in the stomach. In a flash he recalls those long nights when he had sat at her side and listened to her hoarse breathing as though it were the music of angels, dreading its ceasing.
“You cannot think… you could not possibly think that I would regret that you survived.”
Her face is downcast, and he can barely hear her words. “Maybe you are too kind to think so, Ser."
"I am not kind, damn you! Don’t you know me at all?” At once he has forgotten to lower his voice, and surely everyone at camp can hear them now, even the two winged knights in their tents. “I am a unreservedly selfish man, wench. I’ve never done a single thing that wasn’t to my benefit, or at least intended to be. I married you because I wanted to, I wanted to do it, and I wanted you to live, for gods sake, not to die!”
Brienne looks equally startled. “That doesn’t make sense. You couldn’t have wanted to marry me.”
“Why in blazes not?”
“Because no one has.” Her face turns downwards until her hair hangs in front of it, hiding her from his eyes. “No one ever could.”
Thoroughly exasperated with her, Jaime drops the horse’s lead and gestures at the camp. “You have got to be the thickest woman in Westeros. You have two men right here who would be thrilled to be your husband, and if the other one isn’t he’s a thundering fool.”
“Leave me out of this,” Sandor says from somewhere behind him. They’ve forgotten he was there.
“Shut up,” Jaime snaps at him without turning. “And Pod loves you like a mother. You acquire followers everywhere you go and had the whole of the Quiet Isle praying to save your life. These green knights followed you at a moment's notice and Lady Sansa trusted you with her life after meeting you but once. What more evidence do you need? You are the most beloved woman I have ever met.’
“The mirror is all the evidence I need,” she says dully, as though reciting something from long ago.
“Then we are all liars, all of us here, and everyone who has ever cared for you. And there will be more of us, you know. There’s bound to be. You, Brienne of Tarth, are going to go on slaying men’s hearts all across Westeros and they will offer you their Houses and volunteer to keep your castle and you’ll just ride onwards rescuing maidens and righting wrongs and leaving broken hearts in your wake. Yes, and you might have one of them someday, if he convinces you he is sincere. Maybe another knight as pure and virtuous as you, with a spotless reputation. Him you’ll believe. But I tell you, that one, he might love you better, but he will not love you more. He could not love you more than I do.”
It is terribly, horrifyingly quiet after that, as though everyone in a five-mile radius heard him and holds their breath. Well, he cannot undo it now. He barrels on.
“I know I am no knight out of song – not even a bawdy tavern song. If I rate a song someday it will likely be as a villian. But listen: I would be a good husband to you. No man could be more devoted or more faithful. You know I would not abandon you in the worst of times, because we have been through them already. You would never want for anything. All I have would be yours.”
Brienne’s blue eyes are wide with shock. “Jaime…”
“I only ask you to keep me as your husband. I would not ask you to keep my castle or cease your adventuring or be anything other than you are. You would be exactly the same. Just be it with me.”
Brienne closes her eyes. She puts a hand to his horse’s flank as if for balance and leaves it there, solid between them. Jaime covers her hand with his, and holds his breath.
They stand there for some time before she speaks, and the camp is silent around them.
“Stay,” she says softly.
Jaime unpacks his horse.
Podrick collects him in the dark of night, when everyone else is settled in their tents and shelters. He peers into Jaime's tent where he lies staring at the ceiling and beckons to him. "She wants to see you."
He crawls out of the tiny enclosure. The rest of the camp is dead quiet, asleep or pretending to be. He had been tempted to go to her on his own, but decided to wait. To give Brienne time to think it through.
Podrick waits for him. The boy is sharing a tent with Sweetrobin, or he was. Podrick was patient enough with him when the boy whined at him over supper. But though they are of an age, the young lord is not nearly so mature as the squire. The princeling did nothing but weep for his mother, Podrick says, and crawl into Sansa's tent.
"It must be wonderful to have a mother," Pod says matter-of-factly, "if you would weep so much to lose one."
Jaime stretches himself, standing outside his tent. He recalls the young squire weeping quite a lot on the Quiet Isle. "You have Lady Brienne, and that is not so different."
Podrick is quite pleased with that response, and beams as he leads the way to Brienne's tent. "You think so?"
Jaime hesitates outside her tent. Stay. He's not entirely sure she meant stay the night or stay for good. She could tell him the former.
"Are you nervous, my lord?"
He sounds surprised. Well, he's no more surprised than Jaime is.
"I suppose I am. As you'll learn someday, there are few things more nerve-wracking than this." He touches the boy's shoulder. "You're a good lad, Podrick."
Pod grins as he eases away. "I'm glad you'll be staying, my lord."
We shall see.
He looks into her tent. Brienne is seated on a blanket, out of her armor. The small tent only just covers her head even when she slouches, and her wide shoulders stick out of the sides. She has her knees pulled up to her chest like a shield against him.
“My lord.” She takes a deep breath. "Tell me, do they truly believe you dead? Your house? Your sister?"
He stays crouched at the opening. "I don't know what they think. They wasted no time announcing it, and I have not corrected them." Jaime thinks on that a bit more. There is a question under that question, he suspects. "We're not together anymore. Cersei and I. It was over between us before I left King's Landing."
Brienne examines him closely. "Truly?"
"I swear it. Finished for good and all." He eases himself into the tent, letting the flap close behind him. He could tell her all the details, about the affairs, and the manipulations, and the wildfire, but he really does not want to discuss Cersei with Brienne. "I was lingering in the Riverlands because we couldn't stand the sight of each other any more."
She looks dubious, but clearly she will not question him further.
"My lady," he goes on, "to be perfectly honest, from the day you appeared in my tent, I have hardly thought of anyone or anything else. That life is over for me now. I'm glad of it."
Her mouth sets itself defiantly. Her eyes flash with something that is not anger, not exactly.
“Then if you are willing, then take your rights as a husband.”
Take your…? Startled, Jaime begins to laugh. “Well, I have heard more appalling seductions, but not many.”
She’s blushing most furiously. The bright red flushing on her cheeks extends to her chest and disappears into her tunic. She may actually burst into flames this time.
Brienne bites her lip, and she is surely not doing it to entice him but it works all the same.
“You offered to stay married, and that is how it can be done,” she explains quite matter-of-factly. "The year ends tomorrow."
“That’s between us. It doesn’t have to be now.”
“I would have it be. To settle matters.”
“And no other reason?” He rubs his beard. “I must say, settling matters, it is not the most stimulating circumstance.”
This is a lie. He is already most eager right now, his blood heated and pulse quickened. But he wants to be sure that she feels the same.
“I don’t know anything about stimulating.” Brienne shifts uncomfortably. “If you don’t wish to–”.
He comes nearer, crawling over the blankets until he can sit beside her. “I do wish it. I spoke the vow. You know what I want.”
“I do not,” she says tightly. “I have known all my life I would be no one’s wife. You must know it too. You know you are a beautiful man, and I am hideous.”
“Beautiful?” He snorts. “Maybe once. When I was young, and a swordsman, and a knight. Now I am aging, and a cripple, and nothing.”
He interrupts her. Leans closer. "You are not hideous to me. Not to me.”
Brienne’s breath catches painfully, she looks about to burst into tears. Her chest heaves. “You said that you would not touch me.”
“Not unless you wanted me to, Brienne,” he tells her forcefully. “Only that. So I ask you again: do you want this? Do you want me?”
She stares at the fabric of the tent as though it is the most fascinating thing she has ever seen.
“You want me,” he says again, more insistently this time.
She bites her lower lip again, until she releases it reddened and swollen. He cannot take his eyes from it.
“I know well the value of my maidenhead. It has been promised to more than one man and turned down, and more than one man has threatened to take it from me by violence. Ser Hyle has offered to relieve me of it in exchange for Tarth. But only you, Ser, has valued my virtue enough to defend it, and you are the only one I would willingly give it to.”
He reaches over and brushes his thumb against her plump lower lip, thinking what a tragedy it is for such lips to go unkissed, what a terrible waste. He will happily rectify that, but he must be sure. She is so tense and nervous and he must be sure.
“Say it.” He breathes the words, barely above a whisper. “Say you want me to take you to bed.”
She whispers back, “I do, Ser.”
That’s good enough. No sooner has she said it then he is on her, sealing her lips with kisses, clutching her to him fiercely.
Again she softens against him, turns liquid in his arms. His tongue finds hers; he feels the jolt go through her at the discovery. Then she is trying it again, and then again, pulling at the collar of his shirt eagerly.
The kissing alone is heavenly. Long, dizzying kisses, hot and sweet. Her lips are full and soft and he loves to worry at them with his teeth for the little sounds she makes in response. He would have quite happily kissed her like this all night, if she preferred. But things are progressing all on their own. Their lips negotiate and their bodies follow. Pushing and pulling, straining against each other.
They part only reluctantly, to catch their breath. Even the air between them is heated.
“Must you call me Ser? Even now?” He buries his fingers in the hair at the back of her head.
She touches his face in return, trailing her fingers lightly in his beard. “What shall I call you?”
“My lord, perhaps. Darling? Sweetling? Try them on.” He pulls her close and barely brushes his lips against hers, again and again. “Jaime will do, in a pinch.”
She hums it into his mouth. Nothing in words, but an endearment still.
“Wench,” he murmurs. “Woman. Wife.”
“Husband,” she breathes in response.
It gives him a little shiver of pleasure, that word in her mouth.
She uncovers herself reluctantly, shame-faced, eyes downcast. He is startled by her fear, and touched that she would reveal herself anyway. It makes him want to hold her very tightly. Instead he traces the spray of freckles down her arm with eager appreciation. “It has been too long since I saw these last. I have had to imagine them all myself. Very tiring. There are so many to remember.”
“My freckles?” Brienne makes a face. “I always called them pox.”
“I must be most beautiful then.” She sounds most terrible then, her rich contralto voice flat and self-loathing.
That he does not like at all. “I like your freckles. I should like to kiss them. All of them.”
He makes a good start, lips visiting all down one arm and up the other, until she melts into his arms. His hand presses the skin of her bare back and she lays her head on his shoulder and he holds onto her until she stops quivering and her hands are exploring the muscles of his forearms in tender appreciation. He lets her pull the shirt over his head, smoothing down his unruly hair afterwards. When he holds her after that, skin to skin, the touch is so heated they might both catch fire despite the cold outside.
There is not room in the tent for the both of them without one lying atop the other. It is easier for him to lie back in the other direction and pull her on top of him.
“I am not too heavy?” she whispers anxiously, holding herself up with her arms.
“I am not an old man quite yet, woman. Come here.”
She falls down on him, and he cradles her eagerly. She is a most pleasant weight, substantial and muscular and yet yielding.
Their kisses grow hungry, and more hurried. She sets about trying to remove his trousers. He frustrates her efforts gently, fending off her insistent hands, and she gets her own trousers open instead.
She thinks I will change my mind, it strikes him suddenly. Well, he does not want to leave her in quite so much suspense. In a quick shift of weight he has rolled her over and under him, and he’s grinding his hardness against her until she gasps.
She cannot mistake his intention now, but he would slow things down. He sits up over her and caresses her body, acquainting himself with every bruise, every scar. He has seen them before, on the Isle, but not touched. Not the way he wanted. He traces the marks reverently, visiting most lingeringly a crisp faint line along her thigh. He made this scar, he thinks, when they crossed swords so long ago. Her skin remembers.
When he replaces his fingers with his lips she makes a small hungry sound in her throat that sends a thrill rippling all through him.
He looks up at her from her lap, grinning. “All of this, and you so unfriendly to me earlier. I was sure you liked me not at all.”
She frowns only a little. “And you are so vexing, ser. If you did not make a joke of me I would not need to defend myself.”
“I think we are no good in the daylight,” he says, laughing, kissing her stomach. “The joke is never you, sweet girl. It’s me, it’s always me.”
Her hands are in his hair while his lips are exploring her, fingers caressing his scalp pleasantly. When his mouth finds her breast she pulls at it, perhaps involuntarily. It sends a stab of longing through him almost painful in its intensity. He will endure that as long as he can stand, lathing her nipple with his tongue, for the way she writhes beneath him. The sounds she makes are a sweet torment. If his hand was not already occupied holding him up he would alleviate the pressure himself, but as it is he has to make do with grinding himself against her muscular thigh.
She puts one hand over her mouth then, stifling her moans.
“Dont quiet yourself,” he insists, sliding back up to kiss her mouth. “I will not slink around ashamed. If you will be mine I would have all the world know it.”
She smiles shyly and all the motley features of her face arrange themselves into a dazzling whole. No one who ever saw that smile could think her ugly. Maybe no one else has seen this smile, maybe it is only for him.
“If I will truly be yours,” she murmurs back, “I will be truly proud of it. It was only the thought that you would not want me that I was sorry for.”
He goes on kissing her long neck, murmuring, “I want you, I want you.” Leans his pelvis into hers, between the cradle of her long legs, fevered. He follows the line of those scars around her throat, tracing the marks with his lips.
“I wasn’t honest with you, my lord,” he hears her confess. “The choice was noose or sword, not right or wrong. I didn’t care if it was right. I would rather have died than harm you.”
Any inclination he had to take things slow crumbles in a moment; he has to have her right away. He pushes himself up onto his right elbow and fumbles with his trousers, urgency overpowering him.
Moments later he is sinking into her, slowly as he can stand it. Her eyes are wide below him, they swallow everything in his view. If he could manage it he would like it to be his last view in this world, her blue eyes. He could look at them forever.
“Are you all right… my sweet?” He pants, holding himself still with some effort. “Gods, you feel so good.”
“I am well my lord.” She looks gloriously flushed, only a twinge of discomfort showing around her eyes. He kisses her tenderly there, waiting for the tension to pass.
When it eases he moves a little, a slow stroke that makes him shiver from head to heel. Her eyes squeeze painfully shut, but the low moan she releases says there is pleasure too.
He waits again, leaning on his stump, and brushes the hair out of her face tenderly.
Brienne opens her eyes, looks at him with something like awe. She holds his gaze and she says slowly, “I am yours, and you are mine.”
The wedding vow she couldn’t say on the Quiet Isle. He goes utterly still, staring into her face in the dim light.
She looks at him steadily, as confident and sure as she ever is.
“From this day, until the end of my days.”
He collapses onto her, her legs wrapped around him, and groans into her neck. Then he starts to move his hips more firmly, driving into her in a steady rhythm. She clutches at him more and more strongly, fingers digging into his back, pleading for more of him. Before long he’s pounding into her frantically, all caution forgotten, and it is the purest heaven he has ever known.
“I love you,” he whispers fervently, again and again. It is not so potent as a wedding vow, but it has a similar effect on her. She gasps, and clings to him, and trembles. He tries desperately to stay inside this moment as long as he can, which is perfect and beautiful and full of love, until he finally bursts. His release is intense, enormous, it goes on and on and she blazes around him and they burn together.
After, when he is flat on his back and panting, a lazy grin stretched across his face, he pulls her in to lay across his chest and he thinks: my wife. Really my wife. For the rest of our lives.
“This does not make me Lady Lannister,” she says into his chest.
“Doesn’t it?” He presses his lips to her hair. He could take offense, and the instinct twitches like a missing limb. But she said the vow, and she is his. Any dark thoughts are distant just now. “Well, to be honest I am not overfond of that name myself just now. I will not argue the point.”
“But I shall tell everyone we meet that you are my wife. Innkeepers, barmaids, people we pass on the road. This astonishing lady is my wife, Brienne of Tarth.”
“I suppose I will have to get used to that,” she says, but she is smiling.
“We will have to find you moon tea soon.” He drapes his arms over her. “And don’t mistake me, I only would not get you with child when you are still recovering. And we have to get the Stark girl somewhere safe.”
“We do,” she says, sounding sleepy and relaxed. “After, perhaps, we could discuss it.”
They can discuss it. It’s a possibility. He sees in a flash the image of Brienne big with his child and his pulse quickens at it.
“I will have to marry you again, I think,” he murmurs.
Much more deliberately this time he reverses their position, so that he is atop her again. He trails kisses down her neck, and she shifts slowly, baring him her shoulder.
“Are you not satisfied, Ser?” A little bit anxious, and a little bit sly. It delights him.
“I would satisfy you again.” His hand drifts below her stomach, and she gasps. “I can do a great many more things with my tongue than speak.”
He shows her.
Only hours later he is waking wrapped all around her, their legs entangled under the blanket. Around them the camp is stirring, and surely all are aware of Brienne’s choice. They could hardly have missed it, they were not restrained in their enthusiasm and it is a small camp.
He smiles at that, against her skin. No more secrets, no more shame. They are truly married now, and he will never have to share her, nor will he part from her fearing he will never know what has become of her. Their future is a shared one now, whatever happens from here.
One flesh, one heart, one soul, now and forever.
Forever. It is a nice fiction, and he is too cynical to believe it entirely. The seven kingdoms are crumbling around him and they have responsibilities that may pull them apart. There will be dangers in the North, and he will be a lion walking into a den of wolves. But they are married now, and so long as he draws breath it will be so. Even if they are separated, she will be somewhere in the world, and his wife, and wonderful. The rest will be more bearable for that.
“I love you,” she whispers to him, and her fingers comb gently through his hair. “I think I didn’t say that. I have loved you for a long time.”
Happiness takes some practice, it seems. Already it is easier to simply feel good and not take some offense or say something to ruin it. The impulse is there, but just now he is simply, truly happy, and the feeling is so large that it crowds out the rest.
It is something strange and new, but he thinks he could get used to it. Someday, perhaps, he will not even remember why it had been so difficult simply to look up into her beautiful blue eyes and tell her, in complete sincerity, “With all of my heart, I love you.”
His wife smiles back at him. No tears, no reluctance or doubt this time. Perhaps she is learning too. They will learn this happiness together.