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the time of my life

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The day of Prince Joffrey’s tourney dawned bright and clear. Brienne readied herself without excitement, knowing it would be impossible to watch the jousting all day long without being assailed by memories of Jaime.

“Do you miss him?” Pia asked sympathetically as she braided Brienne’s hair before the looking glass. Brienne could only nod.

“Will you go to watch the jousting, too?” she asked, in an effort to change the subject.

Pia nodded, bright-eyed. “I’ll go down later, for a little while. I so love tourneys. I was sorry I missed the last one.” She finished the braid and surveyed Brienne’s reflection in the glass. “There. You look well, my lady.”

Only by my own standards, Brienne thought, but then she pushed the thought away and made herself smile. Jaime liked the way she looked, she reminded herself, and maybe Pia did too. “Thank you, Pia."

With her hair braided and her blue gown laced too tightly as always, Brienne was just about to leave her room for the list fields when something made her turn back. She found it lying in her trunk, where she had hidden it beneath her training clothes. A scrap of white fabric.

On an impulse, she tied it around her wrist, shook her sleeve over it, and left.

She had barely taken two steps down the corridor before Podrick Payne came running up to her. “A note for you, m’lady,” he said, breathless.

Heartbeat quickening, she took the piece of parchment from him and unfurled it with shaking fingers. Meet me in the armoury. J.

She did not know why, and she did not care. She beamed at Pod, giddy with joy. “Thank you,” she said to him, and all but ran to the armoury.

The door was barred when she reached it. “Jaime?” she said, knocking.

He opened the door, took her hand and pulled her in before barring the door again. Just the sight of him made her heart race. He was grinning at her, a boyish, excited grin. Jaime. She had not thought she’d ever see him again. She threw herself at him.

The collision hurt slightly – he was wearing full golden armour – but she didn’t mind. He laughed and kissed her, a long, sweet kiss, pressing her close to him with an armoured hand at the small of her back. “Good morrow, my lady,” he said, voice low and full of mischief, when they drew apart. “Are you off to the tourney?”

She shook her head to clear it and rested her hand on his chest. “Yes, I – are you?”

“Of course. I missed the last one. And this time I’d rather like to tilt against my lady knight.”

She stared, uncomprehending. “What?”

He grinned at her, eyes sparkling, hair rumpled. So beautiful. “We’re joining the lists,” he told her, as though it were obvious. “You’re a mystery knight. We’re going to tilt in front of everyone, and the whole realm is going to see how good you are.”

Her heart swooped. “Jaime.”

“I’ve arranged it all. Come.” He took her hand, ignoring her stunned protests, and led her over to a suit of armour she had never seen before. It was deep blue in colour, well-made and beautiful. “I had this made for you,” he said. “If I got your measurements right, it should fit you much better than mine did. Put it on.”

She could not think properly. “Jaime.”

 “These are for you, too,” he said, handing her a pile of clothes – soft, expensive breeches, a linen tunic, a dark blue jerkin and fine leather boots. “To wear underneath. You could do with some new clothes, anyway. Those awful roughspun breeches you always wear are getting terribly shabby.”

 Finally, she found herself capable of words. “Jaime, this is lovely, but are you mad?”

“Not in the slightest,” he said matter-of-factly. “We’re going to tilt, you’re going to win, and then you’re going to remove your helm and show the realm who you really are.”

“But my father—”

“And you are not going to worry about what your father thinks,” he said sternly, cupping her face to make her look at him. “Not him, not your old septa, not the court, nobody. Do you hear me?”

Her heart was pounding, but it was impossible to argue with Jaime when he was like this. When he was like this, she imagined he could march up to the sea and order the tide to stop turning, and it would happily obey. People said he was a great commander, and now she could see why.

Besides, she could feel a spark of excitement now alongside the nerves. She could not deny it; she wanted to joust again.

“All right,” she said, and the smile he gave her made her fall in love with him all over again.

When she had changed into the clothes he had brought, he helped her into the new armour, then led her towards the looking glass to see herself. Her breath caught in her throat. The armour fitted her perfectly, hugging the lines of her body in a way that Jaime’s had not. The deep blue of it looked even more stunning now, glinting in the light from the window. For the first time in her life, she looked like a true knight. She turned back to look at Jaime, unable to speak.

“It matches your eyes,” he said simply.

She had to hold back tears.

“Just one more thing,” said Jaime.

More?”

He led to her to a table, on which there lay a bundle wrapped in crimson velvet. Jaime hesitated a moment before unwrapping it. “This isn’t for the tourney,” he said. “It’s for afterwards. It may be that we won’t see each other again, and I want you to have something to remember me by.”

The lump in her throat grew painful. “You think I would forget you?”

He grinned, but there was a touch of sadness in it. “You have a long life ahead of you, Brienne. You will do great things, I have no doubt. I’m sure your father will make a match for you eventually, and if the gods are good, you’ll love him—”

“Stop.”

“—but as I told you before, I’m a selfish man, and I don’t want you to forget the old, disgraced Kingsguard who taught you to joust. Open it, wench.”

I will love only you to the end of my days, she thought, but she unwrapped the bundle anyway. What was inside made her breath catch.

It was a sword unlike any she had ever seen before. The blade was not silver, but black with ripples of red, its point and edge impossibly sharp. The pommel was gold and encrusted with rubies, shaped like a lion’s head. When she lifted it, it seemed to weigh nothing at all.

“Jaime, this is…”

“Valyrian steel. I’ve named it Oathkeeper. My father had it made for me, but this is a hero’s sword.” He smiled at her from across the table. “I think it would be better suited to you.”

Tears blurred her eyes. “I may never have a chance to use it outside of the training yard.”

“That doesn’t matter. It’s yours.”

She put the sword back down and embraced him blindly, her armour clanging against his as she threw her arms around him. The kiss he gave her was fierce, but he pulled back far too soon.

“Enough, wench,” he murmured against her lips, his voice rough. “Don’t tempt me. We’ll miss the tourney.”

 

 

Armed with shields and lances, they headed to the list fields, where the tourney had already begun. Jaime led her to the same red tent as before. Honour stood outside, tied to a pole, beside Jaime’s white destrier. Brienne patted him happily; she had not seen him since the last tourney. Pod was waiting inside the tent, practically hopping with excitement.

“I can’t wait for everyone to see you,” he told Brienne. “Ser. My lady.”

Brienne could not say she felt the same, but his excitement was touching. She smiled at him.

They were to tilt last, Jaime told her. When she asked him how he had gotten Robert to agree, he only smirked. “I may be in disgrace, but I am still Lord Tywin’s son. Anyway, I’m sure old Robert would just love to see me joust one last time. Barristan, too. I’m sure the old man cried tears of joy when he heard I’d be tilting today.”

She rolled her eyes.

They went out to watch some of the contests, a safe distance from the stands and any prying eyes. Brienne kept her helm on and watched through her visor. Oathkeeper was sheathed at her hip, fully concealed, but every so often she could not help reaching down to touch the hilt, not quite able to believe that it was really hers. Its presence gave her comfort; she might never see him again after this, but Jaime would always be with her as long as she had his sword.

It was indeed a much smaller tourney than the previous one, with all of the competitors coming from within the Red Keep, but it was entertaining nonetheless. Barristan Selmy broke seven lances against the Hound before finally unhorsing him. Osmund Kettleblack, to Brienne’s immense satisfaction, was violently unhorsed by Ser Andar Royce on the third pass. And Hyle Hunt, to her equal satisfaction, was unhorsed on the very first pass by Ser Loras Tyrell. By the look of him as his squire led him off the field, it seemed he would soon have a black eye and a burst lip to match his broken nose.

 They were about to return to the tent to prepare for their own tilt when Brienne glanced over at the stands and saw something that made her heart stop. Her father, making his way to his seat, deep in conversation with Pia.

“Jaime,” she said, cold with fear and confusion, but her voice was swallowed by the blare of the trumpet, and he did not hear.

“Come, wench,” he shouted over the noise. “It’s our turn.”

She followed him blindly back to the tent, suddenly overcome with doubt. Was Pia admitting her part in Brienne’s deception? Would she get herself in trouble, too? And what good could possibly come out of revealing herself after this tilt? Her father would be enraged, humiliated –

 “Brienne.” They had reached the horses, and Jaime put his hands on her steel-clad shoulders, peering into her visor. “Calm yourself.”

She felt sick. “Jaime, this is a mistake. My father will hate me.”

Through the slit of her visor, she could only see Jaime’s eyes. They were green fire. “So why did he train you, then?” he demanded. “Why did he teach you to fight, only to hide you away and not let anyone see how good you are? Whether he realises it or not, he raised you to be a knight. He should be proud of you. Well, I’m proud of you. I won’t hide you. I taught you to joust, and taught you well, and I want every damn fool in King’s Landing to see you and admire you and know that you’re the woman I love, whether I’m allowed to have you or not. Do you understand?”

Her heart seemed to expand until she felt it would burst. Eyes blurry with tears, she opened her mouth to reply, but before she could find the words the trumpet blared again.

“Ser Jaime Lannister of Casterly Rock,” the herald shouted, “and the Blue Knight! Come forth and prove your valour!”

The crowd roared. She looked at Jaime. “The Blue Knight?” she said with a wavering smile that he could not see beneath her helm.

“I thought it suited you," said Jaime. “Well?”

She looked back at him for a long moment, then took a deep breath and mounted Honour. The smile Jaime gave her was like the sun.

“That’s it,” he said. “Nobody puts Brienne in the corner. Come on.”

He mounted his own horse, lowered his visor and rode away.

Brienne rode to the other end of the lists, suddenly feeling strangely calm. Pod gave her a lance, and she held it up, straightening her elbow.

She looked at Jaime at the other end of the field. For a moment she was worried she would not have the heart to knock him off his horse, but then he lowered his visor and she was back in those midnight training sessions once again, rigid with determination, wanting only to win.

The trumpet blared again, and they were off.

She dug her heels into Honour’s sides, holding her lance poker straight as Honour broke into a gallop, her eyes fixed on the golden lion on Jaime’s shield. Honour’s hooves thundered in time with her heart. Be stubborn, she thought. Watch your opponent. Hold on tight.

Jaime leaned forward.

Now, she thought, and struck.

Her lance splintered on his shield, but his own lance hit her shield at the exact same time and shattered to pieces. She rocked back, very nearly sliding off Honour’s back, but she gripped the reins hard and pressed her knees hard against his sides. Hold on tight, said Jaime’s voice. She recovered her seat.

They rode again. This time, she dodged Jaime’s lance, moving her shield out of his way at the very last second, and the crowd roared. She managed to hit his own shield, but there was not enough force behind it, and her lance did not break. The crowd groaned as one. They are on my side, Brienne realised, and wanted to laugh behind her helm at the absurdity of it.

The trumpet blared for the third pass. She straightened her elbow again and thought, I can count the number of men who’ve unhorsed me on one hand. She urged Honour into a gallop, faster than ever before.

Her blood was singing. She felt calm, focused, determined. She raised her lance and pointed it directly at that painted lion, coming closer and closer and closer. Be stubborn. When she was near enough to strike, she put all her strength into it, her lance shattering hard the instant it hit Jaime’s shield. At the same time, she swerved her body to the left, moving her own shield out of Jaime’s reach. Jaime wobbled in his seat, then fell.

Honour galloped to the end of the lists. The crowd was roaring, the smallfolk on their feet, the lords and ladies looking shocked and curious as they applauded, but Brienne was not paying attention to any of them. The trumpet blew again. “A victory for the mystery knight!” the herald cried.

Dizzy, she dismounted and ran to Jaime, still lying on the ground, and knelt beside him. He took his helm off and grinned at her, and she sagged with relief to see him unharmed. He sat up, pulled her own helm off her head, and kissed her.

The commons were screaming, the lords and ladies in a commotion, but Brienne did not hear them. She was smiling against his lips, taken over by giddy joy as he kissed her again and again and again.

A thin, balding man, presumably the steward of the lists, came hurrying over to them, purple in the face. “Ser Jaime!” he shouted. “What is the meaning of this? This is the mystery knight you spoke of? She is a woman!”

“A lady,” Jaime corrected him. “Lady Brienne of Tarth. And wasn’t she wonderful? See how the smallfolk scream for her.”

They looked to the commons. The smallfolk were on their feet, clapping and cheering at the top of their lungs.

“They know a true knight when they see one,” said Jaime, grinning at Brienne.

The steward frowned. “I will admit she did win, but it is forbidden for women to enter the lists. I cannot possibly allow her to continue to the final.”

Jaime looked as though he were about to argue, but Brienne did not feel like an argument. She felt as though nothing could upset her now, or ever again – she was floating, untouchable. So happy. “It matters not,” she told the steward. They had made their point, anyway.

A shadow fell over them, and they looked up. It was King Robert, red-faced and furious, accompanied by a scowling Prince Joffrey and a glowering Queen Cersei. Even that sight did not provoke as much fear in Brienne as it should have; there was something warm and light inside her that nothing could extinguish. A new confidence, a certainty, that not even Cersei could take away.

Jaime cleared his throat and stood, pulling her up after him. She made an awkward, armoured curtsey.

"You ruined my tourney, uncle," Joffrey whined.

"I disagree," said Jaime. "If anything, I improved it."

“Are you mad, Kingslayer?” Robert roared. “I stripped you of your cloak because of your… your… improprieties with that girl! And now you dress up her as a knight, enter her in the tourney and kiss her in front of half King’s Landing? Lord Selwyn’s noble daughter! Do you think now you’ve lost your cloak you can do what you want, is that it?”

For once Cersei seemed to agree with her husband. “You have made a mockery of our house, brother,” she spat.

Jaime raised his eyebrows. “A mockery, sweet sister? And how is that? Did you not see how well she tilted? I taught her that in two sennights.”

“I’m sure that’s not all you taught her,” Cersei said viciously, but Robert was not listening. His expression had changed; he was still scowling, but she could tell by the slight lift of his bushy eyebrows that he was impressed in spite of himself. He turned to Brienne.

“Two sennights, girl? You did do very well.”

“That doesn’t—” Cersei began, but before she could finish, Lord Selwyn came striding over.

His face was unreadable, and finally Brienne’s fear came back, her heartbeat quickening once again. Be stubborn, she told herself, trying to hold on to that warm, proud feeling, and to her surprise, it worked. She lifted her chin.

But her father surprised her. “Aye, Your Grace,” he said, looking at Robert. “She did do very well.”

Brienne stared at him, uncomprehending. Where was the rage he had shown in the training yard? Where were the vows to disown her? He looked back at her with those clear blue eyes, so like hers. But there was something different in them now, something she had never seen before. Uncertainty. He cleared his throat, then turned to Jaime.

“Ser Jaime,” he said. “You made my daughter an offer of marriage.”

Brienne heard Cersei’s sharp inhale, but could only look at her father. Jaime put his hand on her arm. Even through the steel, she still felt the comfort of his touch.

“Yes, my lord,” he said, his voice steady. “I did.”

There was a pause, and then Lord Selwyn said, “Does that offer still stand?”

What is he doing? Brienne hardly dared to breathe.

Jaime’s grip tightened on her arm. “Yes,” he said. “It does.”

Slowly, Selywn nodded. Then he said, “The first time you asked me, I refused you. But since then, I have spoken with… someone who had more knowledge of this situation than I did, and my mind has been changed. It seems I judged you too harshly, ser, and I apologise.”

Brienne had never in her life heard her father apologise. This must be a dream, she thought dazedly, but Jaime’s grip on her arm felt very real; it was the one thing keeping her from floating away.

Her father looked at her. “Brienne, I owe you an apology, too. You are my only child, and I did not – I have not—”

He stopped, mouth opening and closing silently as he tried to find the words. His eyes glimmered with what looked suspiciously like tears. Finally, with a strange crack in his voice, he said, “I am sorry if I’ve ever – made you feel ashamed. You are – you were –” He trailed off again, swallowing hard, then shook his head. “You looked wonderful out there.”

Her eyes filled with tears of her own. She could not name what she felt; it was like the stitching up of some old wound she never knew she had. She gave him a watery smile, perhaps the truest smile she’d ever given him. “Thank you, Father,” she whispered.

He returned her smile with that same uncertainty. He looks like a child. She had never seen him like this. It felt very strange, but she loved him for it. He had never seemed so human.

“If you and Ser Jaime still wish to marry,” he said, with a nod to Jaime, “then you have my consent. And my blessing.”

She looked at Jaime, dazed, scarce able to believe it. He grinned at her.

“Well, my lady Brienne? Do you wish it? Will you marry me?”

She nodded, not trusting herself to speak, tears sliding down her cheeks even as her smile threatened to split her face in half. Robert was saying something to her father, something confused and indignant, and Cersei was storming off with Joffrey, but she did not hear them because Jaime had pulled her close, her blue armour clanking against his gold, and kissed her.

Behind them, the crowd roared just for her.

 

 

“I believe I remember you telling me that you liked to dive from cliffs as a child,” said Jaime.

It was almost midnight, and they had slipped out of the feast that was being held in their honour at Casterly Rock to go and stand on the cliffs overlooking the Sunset Sea, its waters glittering in the light of the full moon. Brienne felt the tension drop from her shoulders as she breathed in the salty air.

They had married quickly in King’s Landing, with no witnesses but Lord Selwyn, Pia, Podrick and Tyrion, which was exactly how she’d wanted it. The wedding had been easy; the trial had begun when they’d arrived at the Rock. Even with Lord Tywin (whose disapproval of the marriage was no secret) away on business in the Vale, the feast had not been easy – seven courses, about a hundred Lannisters, her stomach cramped with nerves – but she felt much better now, alone with Jaime and the sea.

“Not in a gown like this,” she answered, laughing.

Jaime gave her that wicked smile. “Then I suppose I’ll just have to unlace you.”

She did not object.

“Are you wearing a shift this time?” he asked, kissing the back of her neck as he went to work on her laces. “Or would you like to begin your reign as Lady of the Rock on a scandalous note?”

She smiled. “I am wearing a shift.”

“Pity.”

He divested her of the dress, then stripped down to his breeches. There were few sights more beautiful than Jaime in the moonlight, she had learned, but Jaime half-naked in the moonlight was evidently one of them. She ogled him shamelessly. He winked at her over his shoulder, then did a perfect swan dive over the edge of the cliff.

It was a steep drop, but she had dived from greater heights on Tarth. She watched him disappear beneath the inky waves, then reappear, tossing his long hair back from his face. He waved up at her, grinning.

Barefoot in her shift, that scrap of white fabric still tied around her wrist, she stepped up to the edge and dove without hesitation. She had always loved cliff diving. For those few short moments as she sailed through the air, everything else ceased to exist -- and then the sea caught her, embraced her, took her home. She crashed beneath the surface and then surged back up, gasping at the cold of the water but happier than she’d been since they arrived at the Rock three days ago.

Jaime swam to the shallows, and she followed him. When they reached a pretty little cove where the water only came up to their necks, he stopped, pulled her into his arms, and kissed her.

This was what she'd needed, she thought, sighing into his mouth. She kissed him back hungrily, cupping his face with both hands, and he reached for her leg beneath the water and hitched it up against his hip, hand caressing her bare thigh. She opened her mouth to deepen the kiss, turning it sloppy but sweet, her tongue sliding against his, a pleasant ache building inside her. She wanted to take it further, wrap both legs around his waist, but when she tried he nipped playfully at her lip and drew away. She made a small, frustrated noise, and he laughed.

“Don’t think that just because we’re married, your lessons are over, wench,” he said with a smirk. “I don’t want your skills going to rust. I brought you here to spar.”

She frowned. “To spar?”

There was a little bundle hidden in a dry corner of the cove, and Jaime splashed over to it and unwrapped it. Two piles of clothes and two Valyrian steel swords.

“Oathkeeper!” she said, blinking. “Did you bring these here earlier?”

“Just before the feast. I thought you might want a respite. I did, too, if truth be told. I’m very fond of my Aunt Genna, but she does love to ask uncomfortable questions.”

He raised the other sword. It looked similar to Oathkeeper, a little shorter and less ornately decorated, but with the same beautiful red and black blade. “Do you like this one? It’s a twin of yours, forged from the same steel. I thought I’d keep it for myself.”

“Twin swords,” she said, smiling. She liked the thought of that.

“That’s right, wench. The other half of yours.”

“Does it have a name?”

He made a face. “Widow’s Wail. Joff named it, but mayhaps I’ll change it.” He raised the blade. “Shall we try them out? Just try not to kill me. We’re not armoured, and they’re bloody sharp.”

She waded out of the water to join him, and took up her own sword. She struck out first, almost tentatively; she had not had a chance to properly swing Oathkeeper yet. The feel of it amazed her – it was almost weightless in her hand, and the blade seemed to sing as it cut through the air. Jaime raised his own blade to meet it, lightning quick, and then they were dancing.

Sparring with Jaime was always exhilarating, but with Valyrian steel it was something else. The lightness of the swords meant they could move much quicker. Their swords kissed, sprang apart, kissed again. He pressed the attack, and she dodged out of his way, slipping almost teasingly from his reach. Move your feet, he had told her, so long ago. How far she had come since then.

She danced back into the water, and it lapped at her bare ankles. She almost slipped on a wet rock and he took the opportunity to slash at her, but she blocked his strike and righted herself just in time. He whistled, impressed.

They went back further into the water, and the dance went on. He got her on the left thigh, tapping it harmlessly with the flat of his blade, and she got him on the elbow. Somehow she gained the advantage, and then she was the one attacking while he tried to keep her blade at bay. She got him on the knee, then the shoulder, and was about to lunge again when Jaime tossed his sword down dramatically into the water.

“I yield,” he said, and grabbed her around the waist. She squealed, overbalanced and fell, crashing down into the water, and he went with her.

“I’m sorry, my lady,” he said when they resurfaced, breathless with laughter. He pulled her close and kissed her, then growled in her ear, “You looked so magnificent just there I couldn’t help myself.” He bit her earlobe gently for emphasis, and she shivered.

She looped her arms around his neck. “I’ll forgive you. Though I thought that duel was far from over.”

Jaime’s hand crept underneath her sodden shift, fingertips brushing her thigh, her hip, tugging her closer. “We’ll come back to it, wench.” His voice was low and full of promise. “We have the rest of our lives to spar.”

The rest of our lives. Suddenly, a future at Casterly Rock did not seem so terrifying. She smiled, leaned in, and kissed him again.

And again, and again, and again.