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Sapphires and Sirens

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Tarth is a beautiful place, its nature great and terrible in equal measure; for every meadow laden with wildflowers, there are sheer rock faces prone to collapse; for every picturesque sunset, there is a sudden storm that dashes ships upon the shore. Its people are cautious as a result, slow and measured and reluctant to welcome outsiders any further than the ports where they dock on their way to more important places, but always ready to be a shelter in the storm.

***

Brienne has just celebrated her 13th nameday the first time she sees Jaime Lannister, only a few years older than herself, his golden hair glinting in the Tarth sunlight as he scampers through the rigging of the family ship. The Kingslayer is infamous in the Stormlands, said to be blessed by obscenely good fortune, but Brienne has never been at the docks when it has been in to port. She tells her father of it over the evening meal, brown bread and baked beans eaten at their driftwood table, and Selwyn Tarth strokes his beard.

“Stay away from them,” he says. “The Lannisters aren’t nothing but trouble. They might claim to be respectable merchants, but they’ve been smuggling since I was a boy, and woe betide any man who tries to stop them.”

He pushes away from the table.

“I’ve got to check the lighthouses,” he says. “The one down by Visenya’s Cove has been giving trouble again, and you know Wagstaff’s gout...”

“Yes, father.”

He kisses his daughter’s head and grabs a slicker, and reminds her to extinguish the lantern before she falls asleep reading those adventure tales she’s so fond of.

She’d only seen him for a moment, but when she dreams there is a golden-haired boy and wide open seas.

***

She sees him again half a year later. She’s shot up, her gangliness gone from awkwardly comical to derided at every turn, her ankles exposed by the hems of the skirts she hates. She’s never been a pretty child, but this new development has driven her deeper into the stories of adventures she will never have. Her family have cared for the lighthouses of Tarth for years, ensuring they are manned and lit and in good repair; it is a noble calling, and necessary, but there are days… well, there is no use in dreaming. They’d lost Galladon to a sudden storm three years ago, when he’d gone with their father for what was meant to be a routine examination of Tarth’s lighthouses along the eastern shores. The Conningtons have the island’s west, and there’s been an understanding for years that Brienne will marry their youngest son and unite the families. But with Gally gone… well, her father is even less pleased and her choices even more limited.

She is thinking of none of that when she enters Old Oscar’s shop—he has a whole shelf of books along the back wall, behind the staples from the mainland and bolts of cloth, and she has saved some coins from odd jobs she’s taken. She’s not expecting anyone else to be there, but there’s a golden-haired boy with his head bowed, his brow furrowed as he reads the book in his hands.

“Hello,” he says when she stands beside him.

She flinches at the idea of drawing his attention, her father’s warning and her own experiences both telling her nothing good could come of it, and focuses on the books instead. But she watches him from the corner of her eye—he’s beautiful in that way she’s only just begun to notice in boys, his skin kissed by the sun and his hand work-roughened but still youthful, and cheekbones positively divine—and feels a surge of sympathy when he huffs and places the book back on the shelf.

“I come here sometimes,” she says, “just to browse. Old Oscar doesn’t mind, so long as you don’t ruin the books.”

“It’s not that,” he replies, then pauses. “You like books?”

“I love them,” she blurts out, then blushes and says somewhat more sedately, “The adventure ones, at least. Sometimes I feel like I’ve seen these places.”

The boy nods slowly. “My brother as well,” he says, with a sort of great reluctance that intrigues her. “Words have never… been easy, for me, though I know all the stories and shanties. But it is his nameday soon and he’s bored with the books we have on the ship. I thought… but I don’t know where to start, I’m afraid.”

And Brienne is young and awkward and ganglier than a newborn colt, but she also knows her books and she knows when to do the right thing. She scans the shelves until she finds the volume she seeks, a sleek story bound in green leather that is wonderful but not well known, and takes it down.

“If you don’t have enough to cover it…” she begins, meaning to offer her own hard-earned coins for a beloved brother, and the boy laughs. Even his laughter is golden, and she should resent it but he seems sincere, and it’s a lovely sound.

“I have enough,” he says. “And I’ll pay for your book too, as thanks.”

She goes to protest, but he smiles and the words die on her too large lips. She chooses the cheapest book she does not yet own—she knows the books here as well as she knows the ones at home—and the boy pays for both, and they leave the shop.

“I’m Jaime, Jaime Lannister,” the boy says as they stroll down the street, lined with clapboard homes in a white wash, where all the fishermen live. “What’s your name?”

She remembers her father’s warning just in time. Do not tangle with Lannisters.

“It is of no importance,” she says, and when he sends her an irritated look she guffaws in that way that draws the ire of her peers.

“Then I’ll call you Sapphire,” he says, “for the island.”

“Call me anything you like,” she says, knowing they are unlikely to see each other again when he still remembers her. “Here’s where I leave you.”

This road is not, perhaps, the fastest way home, but it would be too easy to follow him all the way back to The Kingslayer and there is still the evening meal to prepare. She’s several houses away when she stops and looks back. He’s still standing where she left him; in the light of sunset he looks half-man and half-god, the last vestiges of childhood still in his face and his build. It is a strange sight; she raises a hand and calls back to him.

“Jaime!” He startles, and suddenly seems entirely human and no less beautiful. “Tell your brother that I hope he enjoys the book.”

***

He remembers the nickname. She blames her height—it’s hard to be forgotten when you tower over everyone around you—but finds she doesn’t mind. He’s a strange boy, sometimes warm and sometimes cool, and the friendship that springs up is even stranger. He can be in port for a day or a sennight and then be gone again for moons at a time, and his return is never certain. Her father hates him, which makes no sense to Brienne because Jaime can be an ass at times but he’s a good man, but Selwyn will not be moved. All it means is that Brienne actually begins to lie to her father. Well, not lie, but she becomes selective with the truth where Jaime is involved and to Selwyn Tarth it would amount to the same thing.

Visenya’s Cove is three miles north of the town—the lighthouse stands at the high jutting cliff and has a view of the cove, so perhaps it is a risk to make it their spot, but there’s a small strip of land out of sight of the lighthouse with a cave and rock pools, and Wagstaff is getting up there in years. And, Jaime tells her with a glint in his eyes that reminds her of the adventures she has only lived in books, he’s always been terribly daring. They go whenever they can; if Brienne was another (prettier) sort of girl, she might harbour romantic notions, but she’s not. They are simply friends. They talk—about Tarth, about all the places Jaime has visited, about stories she has read. When it is particularly hot they wade in the water, rolling their trousers (for she’s given up on skirts entirely except when she absolutely must) and sometimes she brings a meal. They sit on rocks and say nothing, when one of his dark moods rolls in. And then they part, uncertain when or if they will see each other again.

Sometimes she thinks that he, for all his charms, is as lonely as she is.

***

“Evening, Sapphire.”

She spins around and finds Jaime Lannister looking at her, flipping a knife in his hands. She’s 17 now, and gotten impossibly taller but also broader and stronger, and it makes her more freakish but she likes it in her own way, the power she can bring forth, and that’s probably why neither of them really see any threat in the carefully tossed knife for several seconds. When they do, at nearly the same time, Jaime Lannister actually blushes a little as he hastily tucks it away.

“I didn’t know The Kingslayer was in port,” she says—she’s sure she would have noticed the crimson sails.

“Did you look for me, Sapphire?” he asks teasingly.

“Only to avoid you,” she retorts, and it’s sharper than she usually is but there’s something fun in this verbal sparring, there always is, “though I might like to meet that bookish brother you mentioned one of these days. I’m beginning to think he doesn’t exist. ”

He gives a horrified grimace, softened by the amusement in his eyes.

“Oh no, he’d charm you completely and you’d be my good-sister within a moon.”

“And one of us would end up over the side of the ship a sennight after that,” she replies. “Best to avoid it, then.”

“Absolutely,” he agreed, voice amiable. Then he drops his voice slightly. “Can you make it to the cove tonight?”

It is an unusual request, but her father is spending a few nights towards the north of the island, to do some long overdue work on the lighthouses there.

“I’ll try,” she says. “Just before dark.”

He nods and they part, and Brienne cannot shake the uneasy feeling that he would not ask this of her without reason. So after her dinner she leaves the house, intending to tell anyone who asks that Visenya’s Cove’s lighthouse has always been prone to trouble and she’s checking on it.

Jaime is sitting on the rocks when she arrives, his head tilted back. He’s beautiful, and it’s odd to think that of her closest friend, and odder still to think of him as her closest friend. She pads over and sits beside him, and they both stare at the water for several minutes.

“We’ll be gone longer than usual this time,” he eventually says.

She remembers her father’s warnings of the Lannisters. They’ve been smuggling since I was a boy. It was always going to catch up with them eventually.

“You’ll stay safe?”

He’s quiet for a moment.

“You could join us,” he says, still staring at the blue waters of Tarth. “See the world. The Captain wouldn’t mind. You’ll never be climbing the rigging, but a woman with your strength would be damned good in a storm.”

He means it, but he also knows she won’t accept—she can hear it in his voice, and hopes he hears how very much she wants to and can’t in her quiet sigh and quieter words.

”I thought sirens were meant to tempt sailors onto land, Jaime, not out to sea.”

He chuckles, then reaches into the bag at his feet, pulling out a spyglass. It’s beautifully crafted, and she takes it reverently; the weight of it in her hands is immense, and she raises it to her eye to peer at the horizon. The image is clear and detailed. Remarkable instrument.

“You’ll find your way back with this,” she says, meaning to hand it back.

“It’s yours,” he replies. “So long as you use it to look for crimson sails.”

The gift is… invaluable.

“Every morning,” she vows.

They don’t speak after that, parting only when the moon has risen high overhead.

***

. It’s almost five years before she sees him again. She’s finally stopped growing, she thinks. She has taken more responsibility for the eastern lighthouses, because her father’s health is failing. She hears rumours of the madness of the king, but here in Tarth they are far away from harm. Marriage to the Connington’s son, an arrogant pillock who cares little for the care and keeping of lighthouses, is pushed more and more often and deflected less and less easily. Sometimes she cannot remember the golden shine of Jaime’s hair, just the silver-moon-tinged glow of his profile that last night.

For all the changes in her life, she still looks from her bedroom window to the horizon every morning.

The Kingslayer actually docks late one afternoon, when she is at Old Oscar’s to browse the books. The news spreads quickly, and she finds herself hurrying to the docks. Jaime is at the bow of the ship—his hair is longer, his skin more golden, every piece of him more beautiful than he’d been when he left. And when he sees her, he smiles and disembarks the ship in haste.

“Sapphire!” he calls.

She rolls her eyes, but does not hug him as she once would have. He has gone so long and come back clearly a man—it would be inappropriate. What once had simply been two young friends would be seen as salacious. Would get back to her father. To the Conningtons. She greets him warmly all the same, and gives a small motion she hopes he still understands.

“You are forward,” he murmurs, laughter dancing in the corner of his lips.

For the very briefest moment, she imagines he is serious. That she was the sort of woman who—but no, they have this friendship precisely because she is not, and it is a friendship she would relinquish for nothing.

They talk for another moment and then she takes her leave, returning home to fetch the spyglass before heading to the cove. He is already there, his bare feet in the surf, and he turns to her with a look of such genuine fondness that she forgets all reservations of propriety and wades into the water to greet him with a hug.

“I’ve missed you,” she says, and with her height her lips are at his ear and it is… nice. “Father said that The Kingslayer was the most wanted ship in the Stormlands, that it is better…” she cannot bring herself to finish the thought, that between The Kingslayer and the crown the damage to untold numbers of people would be immense,and the best thing for the kingdom was for the ship to be at the bottom of the sea, and maybe he’s not completely wrong but Brienne cannot wish for it.

“Let’s not talk politics, Sapphire,” Jaime replies, pulling away to head for the shore. “I have neither the head nor the heart for it.”

He sounds… weary, and she feels every minute of the five years that have passed as she follows him to the rocks.

“You’ll want this back,” she says, reaching into her sack for the spyglass. She quirks a smile. “I looked every morning.”

He looks at it in surprise, then gently reaches out to fold her large fingers around it.

“It’s yours,” he says softly. “It will always be yours. Crimson sails or no.”

She knows she’ll keep looking.

***

The Kingslayer’s return to Stormlands waters send rumours throughout Tarth, rumours that are impossible to ignore. What was once simple and familiar becomes prickly with all the things they do not say to each other. He’s in port a dozen times over the next three years, but the frequency means the ship rarely stays for more than the next tide. Their friendship is nothing but stolen moments, and she feels the absence more keenly than even those five long years.

“There’s a man,” she tells Jaime one day, wondering if she’ll be wed the next time he comes to port.
“He never deserved you,” he says, two moons later when her heart is still broken from Hyle Hunt’s betrayal.

“I’m sorry about your father,” he says, “even if he never liked me.”
“He didn’t know you, Jaime. He should have taken the chance.”

He looks older the day he draws her to a public house by the docks, a hasty pint of ale all they can manage—Brienne is to travel to the lighthouses, and only pure chance had her still in town when The Kingslayer made port.
“Be careful with the King’s men, Sapphire,” he says, so quietly she almost fails to hear. “Everything they do comes from a madman’s orders. One day Tarth won’t be far enough.”

“This is…” her hands smooth over the cover, a lump in her throat. She hasn’t seen this book since she’d left it with Galladon in the family crypt. She’s scoured Old Oscar’s shop for years. “How did you find it?”
“Tyrion,” he replies, giving her a small smile. “He found it in some tiny little port in Estermont, if you can believe it.”
“Thank you,” she whispers, ignores the thumping of her heart.

“Cersei is gone,” he says. “The Captain has sent her to the Greyjoys.”
“You’ll see each other though,” Brienne says, but she knows what it is to lose a sibling.
“She’s my twin. I can’t remember… she’s been with me everywhere. All my life.”
As if all their hours have not existed.
“Not here,” Brienne says with certainty. “I hardly remember you have a sister.”
He’s quiet for a moment, then laughs.
“You know, Sapphire, you’re absolutely right.”

There’s a scar on his cheek. He doesn’t talk about it. In the silence, she wonders what it might be like to kiss him. She can’t help but think he’d taste of the sea.

“Children, Jaime! There were children on board. How could you…”
He shakes his head but offers no defense. In twelve years, it is the only time they have parted at odds with each other.

***

He brings her a map, marked with all the places he has been. As apologies go, it’s not a particularly good one. She’s still mad. At him. At herself.

“I have to head north,” she says. “The lighthouse up by Harren’s Hall has been damaged in a windstorm, and it can’t wait.”

“Let me come with you, then,” he says. “We’ll be a few days in port this time.”

She means to tell him no, all her anger mingling with how inappropriate it would be, but words fail her; soon they are riding north as quickly as possible, hoping to complete the repairs before darkness falls. On a particularly clear stretch of road they race the horses, neck-and-neck and laughing too hard to notice who actually wins. The moment will come to her in her dreams many times in the coming weeks, Jaime Lanninster as golden in that moment as he’d been all those years ago when she’d seen nothing but a flash of his hair, but she does not yet know its importance.

The lighthouse by Harren’s Hall is one of the oldest in Tarth, and in a poor state. But she knows its ins and outs as well as she knows breathing, and begins the repairs; Jaime does nothing, mostly, except for talk to her, the company most welcome.

It’s all muddled in her memory later, the scream coming before the crack, the whoosh of falling wood against her ear, Jaime’s weight pushing her aside. The blood. (There is so much blood.) She moves instinctively—lifts the heavy wood beam, stomach churning at the sight of his crushed hand; speaks low and calm as she wraps it to stem the bleeding. He’s pale, shocked, but follows her commands, down the stairs and onto the horses. She ties him to the saddle, sets them off as quick as she dares when every jarring step makes Jaime moan and grit his teeth. It is weird to be the one carrying the conversation, but it keeps him alert. They stop twice to check his hand—it’s bad, but he’s not likely to bleed out on the journey at least.

“Why did you do that?” she asks the second time, her tone harsher than she’d meant to be—she had been mad at him and now he is hurt and none of it makes sense and it’s Jaime and she needs to get him back to town.

“It would have hit your head,” he says, then gives her a Lannister grin that wobbles only a little. “I didn’t fancy the mess.”

She’d kill him, if she wasn’t so worried he was going to die.

They do get back to town. He’s regained his colour somewhat, but wavers a bit on the horse, as if uncertain whether he can manage the dismount; she gives an exasperated sigh that is more for his benefit than any real irritation.

“Hand on my shoulder,” she orders, holding him steady as he slides from the saddle. Then it’s his good hand over her shoulder and her arms around his waist, and together they hobble up the gangway of The Kingslayer.

“Who is this?” booms an imperious voice as they reach the deck.

It’s a woman, her Lannister gold hair streaked with steel grey. Brienne’s seen her once or twice, but Jaime’s the only Lannister she really knows. Her father’s warnings had some impact, and Jaime wasn’t particularly forthcoming.

“‘Salright, Captain,” says Jaime, “this is…” his brow furrowed, “Sapphire.”

“Brienne,” she corrects. “You’d better be blaming the blood loss for the fact you don’t know my name, Jaime Lannister.”

He gives another wobbly smile.

“Nahh, Sapphire for your beautiful eyes.”

“And now I know it’s the blood loss,” she says dryly.

The woman—Genna, she learns later, Jaime’s aunt and an iron-fisted matriarch who had run The Kingslayer since her brother’s death nearly a decade before—catches sight of Jaime’s bandaged hand.

“What happened?”

“An unnecessary act of heroism,” Brienne says. “I’ve stopped the bleeding, but…”

Genna nods curtly.

“He’ll need to go below decks,” she says. “I’ll have—”

“I can do it,” Brienne says, feet already moving.

Genna steps between Brienne and her destination, but stands down when Jaime waves his injured hand.

“We can trust her,” he says.

She takes him down, and in the dim light below decks she is greeted by a hold full of people. Refugees. She walks through them to take Jaime to the small infirmary Genna had directed her to.

“That’s why the Mad King hates you,” she says quietly, lowering him on to the narrow cabin bed.

“Don’t get the wrong end, Sapphire. We’re exactly who we’ve always been,” he says, giving her his usual insolent smile, the one she absolutely doesn’t believe. “The smuggling just pays well enough that we can do this too, now my father’s gone.”

There is such… pain in his eyes, warring with warmth and a need to be understood, and she has to look away. She turns her focus to his hand, cradling it in her lap as she unwraps the layers, wincing at every indrawn hiss of pain.

“You might lose it,” she says, looking at the injury.

“Presuming corruption doesn’t carry me off first.”

“We’d never be so lucky.”

For one completely disorienting moment, Brienne thinks that she’s the one that’s said the words despite the fact she very much hadn’t been, but then she sees the man in the door and hears Jaime laugh.

“You wound me, brother,” Jaime says.

“Looks like you’ve managed that yourself,” Tyrion replies. “And I brought milk of the poppy, so you’ll thank me later.”

He steps into the room and encourages Jaime to drink, then carefully examines the hand still in Brienne’s lap. It’s only after several long minutes that he looks at Brienne.

“You must be the infamous Sapphire,” says the man, raising his eyebrows. “Jaime has told us… very little about you, actually. He’s always been a jealous man. Pleased to finally meet you.”

And because there was approximately fifteen confusing sentiments in that short exchange, Brienne says the only thing that comes to mind.

“Brienne,” she mutters. “My name is Brienne.”

“Brienne, the Sapphire Siren of Tarth,” murmurs Jaime, who is clearly feeling the effects of the drink.

“Piss off,” she replies. “And get some rest so we can get this cleaned.”

His lips quirk, but he actually complies, which may very well be a first. When she is certain he is unconscious, Brienne looks up to realise that Tyrion is watching both of them, his face unreadable. Then he motions to his own neck.

“You should wash that,” he says. “I’ll take care of Jaime.”

Confused, Brienne raises a hand to her clavicle and pulls it away to find dried blood, realising only then that the beam had grazed her on the way down.

When she returns to the docks the following morning to check on Jaime, The Kingslayer is gone.

***

It is nearly a year before The Kingslayer comes back to Tarth. Brienne catches sight of it from her bedroom window one morning and her feet are set to fly towards the docks, to see Jaime at the bow as he always is, but the fear that she may not roots her in place. She is not a fool. She’d seen the blood and bone, the pain, the fear in Tyrion’s eyes as he’d watched his brother.

They’ve been friends half of her life. She’s not certain she can know a world without Jaime Lannister in it.

She is going about her day, pretending that she is occupied and not still summoning her courage, when there is a knock at the door. Jaime is on the other side—he’s grown a beard and the sun has begun to weather his skin, but he is whole and smiling.

“Your hand?” she asks.

He raises it to show the mass of scars, the way he cannot make a full fist.

“Would have been better to lose it,” he quips, the truth hidden in his eyes, “At least a hook would have been useful.”

She should thank him, but maybe it is better not to. If she does, all the other unsaid things will spill from her lips. Thank you. I’m sorry. You never should have saved me. I trust you. (I love you.)

“Tea?” she says instead, and his smile broadens and makes his green eyes sparkle.

“Always.”

***

The King grows madder, and even Tarth is not far enough. Fears are whispered behind closed doors, neighbours grow suspicious of each other, and King’s men come too often. Brienne keeps her head down, and does what she can.

***

Meet me where we always do, says the letter slipped beneath her door one afternoon, in Jaime’s messy scrawl. She heads into town for extra supplies, speaks with Wagstaff who has come in from the Cove for his own shopping. Spies the King’s men prowling the docks. The Kingslayer must be somewhere offshore, a pressing need driving them to risk Jaime coming in a dinghy. It is not the first time, she doubts it will be the last.

She’s halfway to their meeting place when the skies open; in a matter of moments a clear evening is swept away in a storm so wild it makes the one that claimed her brother seem a mild shower. A sleeting, driving rain makes it impossible to see and turns the dirt road into treacherous mud, and the wind threatens even her sturdy mount. Brienne does not care—the inlet where he’ll be waiting can flood without warning, in weather like this; she urges the horse faster, swings from the saddle as they reach the beach.

“Jaime!” she screams, the wind whipping her words away. “JAIME!” She can barely see in front of her face but she pushes forward, her feet slipping against the sand. “JAIME!

BRIENNE!

It’s impossible to tell where it came from, but she keeps moving, trusts she will find him. Then there’s a shape in the distance and they battle to reach each other, arms clasping and then bodies and then…. He tastes of salt water, just as he does in her dreams.

They make their way to the cliff, take shelter in the lighthouse, and make love beneath the lit lamp until the early morning hours.

***

The routine is the same as it has always been, stolen moments subjected to the whims of tides and cargo. But she is his, now, and he is hers, as much as they can be. It is more than she ever dared dream.

***

The king is dead, and the people of Tarth breathe a little easier. Jaime has been gone three moons. She builds a small walkway where her bedroom window once was; a widow’s walk, most men call it, but she prefers to think of it as hope. She stands there whenever she can, spyglass in hand, and ensures the lighthouses are always lit.

***

“Come with us,” he says.

His hair is longer than the last time he was here. They are tangled in the sheets on her bed, a summer storm pounding against the windows and his mangled hand skimming across her sweat-slicked skin.

“Jaime…” she warns. She misses him, when he is gone. Spends too much time on the walk. “You know I can’t.”

“Then I’ll stay,” he says. “Learn to repair lighthouses.”

She buries her face against his shoulder and breathes. It’s an impossible dream, but until the rain abates they will allow themselves to believe it.

***

“I have a gift for you,” he says, the next time he is on Tarth.

It’s a boy. A young man. He stands at his full height, which is not particularly tall, a hopeful, gormless smile on his face.

“Podrick was apprenticed at a lighthouse in the Westerlands, before his master… well, he is without a place now,” Jaime explains. “I thought you might…?”

She shakes her head and sighs.

“Room and board are all I can pay,” she says to the boy. “It’s hard work. Miserable weather. The Westerlands will not have prepared you for Tarth.”

“I can do it,” says the boy.

To her surprise, within half a year he does.

***

It is a strange life; when The Kingslayer comes to Tarth, they sail with her, and when it returns they stay ashore until the next visit. It’s adventure and duty, sea and land. When she stands on the decks of the ship she dreams of Tarth’s green mountains, and when she is surrounded by the island’s verdant beauty she thinks of endless horizons, but she is always home.

“Evening, Sapphire,” croons a voice from behind her, Jaime’s arms coming around her waist and his forehead pressing against her shoulder. She tucks her spyglass away and places her hands over his, lacing their fingers together.

Even with her bare eye she can make out the shape of Tarth in the distance, though the fog has begun to roll in, its every peak and valley familiar to her. And as she watches, the lighthouse at Visenya’s Cove ignites, guiding them safely back to shore.