If Addam Marband killed Jaime a dozen times the first night, the number rises to two dozen tonight.
Like the rest of the godsdamned day, the session leaves Jaime feeling the worst combination of pissed off and discouraged. He tires of all of it--the nightmare that is his Kingsguard, his sweet sister and the veil that’s been lifted from his eyes, and his father’s insistence that a one-handed man can’t do his duty as Lord Commander of the Kingsguard.
Flat on his back in the training yard, Jaime thinks his father might have a fucking point.
Addam is looking at him, an entire unspoken sentence scrawled across his features.
“Don’t fucking say it,” Jaime nearly hisses.
“I didn’t speak a word.”
“Your face says enough.”
My glory is gone, and it shan’t return.
When Jaime sits up, every inch of his beaten body protests. Addam doesn’t spare his strikes, and every moment with the sword in Jaime’s left hand is wrong and graceless. He’s covered in bruises like he got the shit beaten out of him in a tavern brawl in Flea Bottom. Even if his sister wanted to fuck him, he’d be too ashamed to be seen in such a state.
Addam holds out his hand, but Jaime doesn’t take it; he feels a century old as he tries to stand. It’s the worst he’s felt since he wobbled his way into the baths at Harrenhal, and the wench kept him from drowning. Between the year he spent in chains and the fever from the loss of his hand, Jaime’s physical strength is not what it once was.
I’m old, now, and broken.
At least Brienne is leaving King’s Landing on the morrow; she clearly detested the city as much as he did. Jaime won’t have to look upon her dour, homely face and worry that Ser Loras was going to avenge Renly by killing her.
When Jaime is on his feet, he looks at Addam. “Would you have taken a woman on the City Watch?”
Addam raises an eyebrow, “Do you mean the Maid of Tarth? She looks like she could fell a man with her bare hands. I don’t see why not. Is she of a mind to join?”
Jaime barks a laugh, “No. I merely suggested it. The wench declared she wouldn’t serve with oathbreakers and murders.”
“Lady Brienne doesn’t withhold her judgments.”
The biggest understatement.
“If I tell you something, will you keep it in the strictest confidence?”
Addam grins, “If it’s a secret that shouldn’t be kept, I’ll pretend you never spoke it.”
“I sent Brienne to find Sansa Stark.”
His friend’s expression shifts to disbelief, “You sent a woman, alone, to look for a girl who’s certainly dead or doesn’t want to be found?”
“She fashions herself a knight and has proven quite capable.” Jaime forgoes mentioning Oathkeeper or the fact that, for some godsdamned reason, he has more faith in Brienne than anyone else he can think of.
“Jaime, the Riverlands are in chaos; the girl may fancy herself a knight, but you’re a fool if you think you haven’t sent her to her demise.”
Jaime doesn’t sleep a wink in the Lord Commander’s chambers that night. If his mind wasn’t turning over Addam parting words, every movement presses on a bruise or makes a muscle scream in agony.
What point is there in fulfilling my oath to Catelyn Stark? She’s dead, and the girl probably is, too.
It was an oath sworn under duress, and Jaime broke even oaths he thought he was happy to swear. I’m sending Brienne to her death. The wench is scarcely older than Sansa Stark, and every bit as naive. Her size and relative skill with a blade don’t mask the wide, guilelessness of her eyes. Brienne’s eyes tell Jaime she still believes that being a knight is like in the songs--honor and glory and protecting the innocent.
No, a knightly quest is a snare--a noose, and I’ve sent her to the gallows. Is that the price of Jaime’s inexplicable, but unshakable, faith in Brienne of Tarth? For her to meet her end winning back his lost honor?
The thought of the mulish wench, who was the worst company he’s ever had the displeasure of experiencing, dying alone somewhere makes bile rise in Jaime’s throat. He’d thought of killing her so many times to escape her, and yet--
Perhaps Cersei was right, and every ounce of sense and bravery Jaime possessed was lost with his hand. Sansa Stark is my last chance for honor. He really said that to her? Brienne latched onto the sentiment like a hunting hound to the scent of its quarry.
Before dawn, Jaime rises from his bed, wide awake and with a sense of renewed purpose.
I’m going to go with her.
Of course, Brienne is long gone.
“Left before I even arrived,” the man in charge of the Red Keep’s livery tells him. “I heard she rode toward the Iron Gate just after dawn.”
Couldn’t she just...tarry over breakfast? Or forget to pack something? That wasn’t her way; Jaime had never met a living being with such single-minded determination as Brienne of Tarth. Stubborn, and brave, and miserable company.
It takes Jaime until midday to make ready to leave because he can’t appear like he’s trying to leave. Kingsguard duties eat up half the morning, but he manages to steal a few moments alone with Tommen before Cersei or his father swoop in to spirit the young king away.
Getting Tommen to sign Brienne’s letter of permission had been easy. The lad would sign anything put in front of him, which is dangerous. It’s a danger Jaime meant to mitigate, but Cersei’s lead on Tommen is too short.
Tommen is playing on the floor of the Small Council chamber with an entire bushel of kittens. Jaime kneels beside him and hopes the creaking in his bones isn’t audible.
“Uncle Jaime.” The boy holds out a striped orange kitten, and Jaime takes it.
Who refuses a kitten from the king?
“King Tommen,” he keeps his voice low, “As you know, I’ve lost my swordhand.”
Tommen looks at the golden hand, “Does it hurt?”
“No longer.” A lie, but a fine one. “I cannot fight. I’m not fit to serve on the Kingsguard.” I can’t protect you--not with a sword or without.
His son looks at him for a long moment, “T-Thank you, for your service to the crown, Ser Jaime. If you think you are unfit, I will release you.”
Tommen’s handwriting is better than Jaime’s; although, he helps the king spell half the words. At the end, he signs Tommen Baratheon, first of his name.
And with that, Jaime is free.
Cersei waylays him on his return to the White Sword Tower. There’s a moment where Jaime is, frankly, terrified that his sister will look upon him and know his plan immediately.
We’re one person--a mirror.
His sister looks at him from head-to-toe, a sweeping gesture that might’ve led Jaime to drag her to a dark corner before his entire life was upended. Now, all he feels is her scorn and the fact that while he wanted nothing more than to return to her, she’d been fucking cousin Lancel, and the Kettlebacks, and probably fucking Moonboy.
Tyrion told him that truth when he visited his brother in the Black Cells, awaiting his trial for Joffrey’s murder. His brother would need a champion, and Jaime couldn’t be it. The conversation was both unpleasant and illuminating.
“You don’t look well, brother.”
The concern isn’t genuine; it’s a subtle dig at how he’s diminished. Cersei’s appraisal makes Jaime miss Brienne, suddenly and acutely. Brienne, who told him the white cloak became him, who might think there’s a shred of honor left in him.
“I only slept poorly, sister. I will be well soon enough.”
Her perfect golden brows arch upward, “Tommen mentioned you were with him earlier.”
“What did the boy say?”
“Only that he passed you a kitten.” Cersei pauses. “I’ll see you later, brother.”
It’s quite vindicating to know she’s wrong. No, sweet sister, you won’t.
Jaime has no sense, so he decides to spend the entire afternoon and well into the night pushing his horse to catch up with Brienne. It feels like truancy as he leaves through the Iron Gate, but Tommen’s signed missive is on the Lord Commander’s desk in his chambers. He wrote one final sentence in the White Book. Jaime Lannister was released from his Kingsguard oaths by King Tommen Baratheon due to being unfit to perform his duties.
The page is empty, but Jaime wants to be more than a list of deeds. He’d struggle to write them nicely, regardless.
He dresses inconspicuously, forgoing any crimson or gold. Instead, he dons a brown leather jerkin, a cloak of the same color with the hood pulled up, and leather gloves to hide the golden hand. He nearly leaves the thing, but covered it could pass as real, which might help his pursuit of discretion. Or, I can melt it down and sell the pieces.
He rides hard. If Jaime can’t make it by dawn, Brienne will be too far ahead to catch, and everything will be moot. If the wench has any sense, she’ll stop at the inn halfway to Rosby. It’s a well-paced day’s ride, doesn’t have bed bugs, and serves bowls of stew with identifiable meat and fresh bread.
Then again, Brienne had the endurance of an auroch, so mayhaps she’ll ride through the night and be long gone. Jaime stops that line of speculation as soon as it begins.
All I can do is make the attempt.
The wench makes him a little reckless--jumping into bear pits, yelling about sapphires. It can only get worse.
It’s well past midnight by the time Jaime reaches the inn. He’s running on two days of no sleep, and there’s not an inch of his body that isn’t screaming in protest at every movement.
Even his skin hurts.
A boy, asleep outside the stable, rouses when Jaime approaches and takes his horse. Jaime hands him some coin--probably too much--but he can’t be bothered to count.
The common room is nearly empty. He hasn’t eaten since morning, so he nods when a serving girl offers him bread, stew, and ale. From the way she looks at him as she places it on the table, doe-eyed and bosom heaving from her bodice, Jaime hazards a chance she’d offer him more.
No, I’m looking for a wench much less comely than you.
Ravenously, Jaime eats half the bowl so quickly that he’ll be sick if he doesn’t pace himself. The stew could be made with opossum, the bread of rocks, and the ale of horse piss, and he’d still eat.
Well, perhaps not the horse piss part; he hasn’t forgotten that taste.
The innkeep behind the bar calls to him, “Am I to assume you’ve need of lodging?”
Jaime keeps his hood up, and his right hand in his lap. “I’m seeking someone who may have stopped here for the night. A blonde woman-- huge. In fact, you may have mistaken her for a man in her mail.”
“Aye,” the innkeep laughs, “she stopped here just after dusk. Paid coin for a room and glared at her stew the entire time she was here.”
“What room is she in?”
“I’m not certain I should tell you that; she is a lady travelling alone. What is your relationship?”
The question makes Jaime freeze; he has no idea how to properly convey an answer. “The lady is my--” Companion? Protector? Antagonist? “--friend. She left this morning, and I hoped to catch up with her.”
The innkeep looks skeptical but shrugs. “She’s upstairs, last door on the right. I reckon she’ll make it known if she’s not interested in your company.”
“She’s never been shy about that.”
Jaime goes upstairs and raps on the door with his golden hand. Even through the leather of his glove, it doesn’t sound like a hand made of flesh and bone. Good. Give the wench a moment to decide if she means to grant me entry.
He hears the sound of the door unbolting and holds his breath. It’s not quite fear, just tension. If she doesn’t want his help, if she turns him away--
The door opens a crack; Jaime is greeted with a pair of wide, shocked blue eyes. It opens a inch further, and the rest of Brienne follows--her once-broken nose and broad cheeks covered in freckles. He can barely see what she’s wearing, but it looks like whatever she clothes herself in for sleep.
He grins, “I was worried you’d forgotten my face, wench.”
Brienne’s thick fingers are gripping the rough wood of the door. “W-Why are you--am I dreaming?”
“You dreamed I’d show up?”
She reddens. “N-no, that’s not what I-- why are you here?”
Now that Jaime has sight of her, the last bit of energy holding him together drains, leaving a dry husk of a man. He sags forward, dropping his rucksack, and Brienne opens the door and catches him under his arms.
“Brienne,” he gasps in her chest.
“Why?” she repeats.
I don’t know; it’s just what felt right.
Instead, Jaime says, “I thought you might’ve missed me.”
Jaime wakes to find his jerkin, boots, and golden hand are gone. There’s a disorienting few moments where he tries to figure out why he’s not in his chamber in the White Sword Tower before it all floods back.
He’s in the inn room’s only bed tucked under a sheet and a wool blanket. Brienne is sitting on the opposite side, back to him and shoulders hunched. She looks like a boulder. She’s about as stimulating a conversation partner as one, too.
Nevertheless, they’ll have to talk.
When Jaime holds his arms above his head to stretch, everything creaks, surely loud enough for the wench to hear. The ache is little better than the morning prior--Addam’s last thumping will leave an entire new round of bruises.
The motion alerts Brienne to his wakefulness, and she looks over her shoulder. “I should’ve been on the road over an hour ago.”
I, not we. She’s angry with him, then.
“Yet, you didn’t leave me behind to fend for myself.”
Jaime wants to talk to her, to tell Brienne why he rode to her. That even though his only talent is lost to him, the thought of her wandering alone was...
Brienne turns away and stands before her has a chance. “I’m going downstairs to see about food and fetch our horses. Come down when you’re ready.”
Well, she didn’t tell me to fuck off.
By midday, Jaime remembers Brienne is a wretched traveling companion.
For some foolish reason, he thought it might be better this time. He’s not bound by a rope. He’s sore and wearied, but not quite as malnourished. He has good clothes and boots and no lice or fleas. He’s not fevered, in blinding pain, and shitting himself. Brienne isn’t grieving Renly Baratheon or Catelyn Stark quite so acutely. She has a Valyrian steel sword and a quest fit for a knight.
At least one of those factors should make some improvement, yet Jaime finds himself remembering fondly being with Cleos Frey in a boat or annoying Brienne by teasing her and singing “Six Maids in a Pool.”
Nothing about their last journey should be an aspiration.
Brienne rides a few paces ahead of him, eyes constantly on the road as though Sansa Stark is going to leap from a bush. Her pace isn’t brutal but steady and uncompromising. She asks every person they pass if they’ve seen her sister, maid of ten-and-three with auburn hair.
Of course, none of them have. There’s little chance that Sansa Stark is so close.
The villagers and farms they pass are in varying states of damage and disuse. Everyone looks wary and haggard. The state of things makes Jaime glad for his non-descript clothes and hooded cloak. Word will spread that he left King’s Landing, but he’d prefer to be well away when it does.
Brienne doesn’t speak to him unless absolutely necessary. Jaime thought she would at least ask him why he chased her down the Rosby Road or condemn him for following her. What Jaime wants is for her to look upon him as she had when he jumped into the bear pit at Harrenhal. She’d been shocked, but glad, for his presence, and it showed in her blue eyes.
It made Jaime feel heroic, like the proper knight he hadn’t been in an age; it made him think he could do the right thing again.
Now, the Wall would probably be warmer than Brienne.
“We’ll camp here,” Brienne proclaims near sunset.
“Yes, ser,” Jaime replies; they’re the first words they’ve exchanged in some hours.
She glares, probably for his use of ser, but Jaime is content to follow her marching orders. The spot Brienne chose to make camp looks well-used, which surprises him. Brienne usually chose far-off spots and refused to allow a fire. It’s a fine spot, surrounded on three sides by rocky outcroppings.
Easily defensible, even alone.
“Gather kindling,” she tells him.
“A task even a one-handed man can manage unaided.” Jaime walks the perimeter of the camp looking for logs and sticks. There’s a grove of trees to the east that provide amply. He bends his right arm at the elbow and stacks the firewood there, tucked against his torso.
When he returns, Brienne has put their horses to pasture, leads tied to a tree, and is skinning a rabbit she caught earlier in the day. Jaime lets the kindling drop to the ground and sits across from her to arrange them in a usable fashion. His legs ache from the saddle, and he tries not to let it show in his expression.
Brienne stares at him for a long moment, then says, “You should return to King’s Landing.”
Her words, and their cold, remote tone, feel like a slap.
Jaime is not without stubbornness, so he looks back and replies, “I’m not doing that.”
Ask me why. He wants to tell her, but he also wants Brienne to desire the knowledge. She turns her focus to the task of their meal for several moments.
Finally, she whispers, “You think me unfit for what you tasked me.”
Seven hells, she’s so far off. “What led you to that conclusion, wench?”
“You abandoned your position, your duty, your king, not even a day after tasking me to find Lady Sansa.” Brienne turns to rinse her hands with some of the water she gathered for cooking. “Why else would you do that?”
Jaime takes a deep breath and scrubs his left hand over his face, “I didn’t abandon the Kingsguard.”
“Well, you’re here and not there.”
“I...resigned.” How ridiculous that sounds.
Brienne’s expression says she concurs. “Kingsguard serve for life, Jaime. It’s not a guard posting, you can’t just quit--”
“I know the godsdamned oath I swore!” Jaime makes to stand, but it hurts; he ends up where he began. The second half of the words come out much softer. “I don’t need you to remind me of it.”
She purses her lips and looks at him, “You...resigned.”
“I told King Tommen I couldn’t fulfill my duties.” Jaime hopes Brienne will leave it at that; he’s not ready to tell her how useless he feels, how he fought so hard to return to his old life, only to find there was naught but smoke and mirrors.
“...You can’t fight.”
“Not worth a damn, Brienne,” he starts laughing bitterly, “I couldn’t protect the king from one of his kittens.”
“...So, you thought to accompany me?”
Jaime nods, “I thought you could use my--” Company? Help? “--friendship, on your quest.”
The look Brienne gives him is quite incredulous, but she passes him a hunk of bread.
As Jaime chews, he thinks it’s progress.
The third day in the saddle is far more taxing.
The only improvement is Brienne’s temperament; she’s less stone-faced and responds with more than single words. More than once, it seems like she wants to ask him something, but she never does. Instead, they talk of inconsequential things--sites they pass, stories from the Stormlands. Jaime even tells her about Casterly Rock-- anything to keep him distracted from how much pain he’s in.
Jaime offered, nobly, to take first watch, and the hours of sleep he caught before dawn are woefully ineffective. The last round of bruises Addam left on his already battered body are a chorus of pain with each step his horse takes.
The chorus repeats a single line over and over: you’re an old, broken man.
Under the bruising, Jaime’s fatigue is bone-deep. His muscles ache, and the phantom pain in his wrist is the worst it’s been since the actual pain. The leather straps holding his false hand in place dig into his forearm. While it’s the least uncomfortable symptom, it’s the one that makes him feel most diminished.
By late afternoon, Jaime slumps forward in on his horse, asleep like the dead. He doesn’t even hear Brienne’s shocked yell as he nearly slides out of the saddle. He remembers little of the rest of the day’s journey, only that he’s fairly certain he shares Brienne’s horse, head lolling against her shoulder.
The wench, however, is as gentle as ever.
This time, there’s rain battering against panes of glass when Jaime wakes. The room is darkened, and he doesn’t need to open his eyes to tell a lamp is lit. If he remains motionless, there’s a moment where nothing hurts, and his mind is wiped clean.
It’s a nice moment, which is why it shatters too quickly.
When Jaime opens his eyes, Brienne is looking down at him. There’s a second of naked concern in her eyes before she retreats into her fortress. It’s so intimate Jaime can scarcely draw a breath.
Brienne stripped him down to his breeches and tucked him into bed for the second time in three nights. This time, there was no way she failed to notice the tapestry of bruises littering his torso. Overcome with a sense of self-consciousness, Jaime’s gladdened for the blanket. He’s uncertain he can handle the concern in Brienne’s expression a second time.
Jaime groans and turns his back to her. “I’m not awake.”
Stubbornly, she replies, “You were in the Red Keep; what happened to you?”
“Did you lie prone on the ground and allow yourself to be beaten repeatedly?”
Brienne sounds so disbelieving that Jaime starts laughing; the movement hurts his bruised ribs like a knife slipped between them. “Effectually, yes, that’s about how it went.”
“And who was this dishonorable?”
Jaime’s next chuckle is more restrained. “Ser Addam Marband. We’re boyhood friends from Casterly Rock.”
“I knew the City Watch were--”
He would wave his lone hand dismissively if it wasn’t trapped under the bedding. “No, wench, I asked him not to pull his strikes. I’m just that shit with my left hand.” That his left hand was uncoordinated and weaker was to be expected, but the year spent in chains meant his footwork and reflexes had gone to pasture as well. “It’s...much worse than I expected.”
“You survived,” Brienne touches his shoulder through the blanket, “So you can learn again.”
She’s why Jaime survived. “I’m--” Exhausted in body and spirit. “...not sure I can. It’s good that I left; it’s only a matter of time before everyone realized.”
Brienne is quiet for a moment, but she doesn’t move her hand; the weight of it grounds Jaime in a way he didn’t know he needed. There’s something about when she touches me. It’s so compelling, so inviting, that Jaime moves onto his back to look up at Brienne.
“When we fought before we were captured, I--I’d never fought anyone like that.” The wench’s pale skin is mottled in a blush, but Jaime doesn’t understand why. “Y-you gave me a blade I’m unworthy of, and I know it’s because you think you can’t wield it.”
“It’s wasted on me, as you can now see.”
“Once you’ve rested some, if you’d l-like to practice, I-I’d be honored to--”
The next laugh hurts and turns into a cough, “ A woman who fashions herself as a knight, honored to train the Kingslayer how to use a blade.”
“It might be dishonorable to spar with a woman.” Her hand pulls back to rest in her lap, “I-If you mean to mock me--”
“No,” Jaime blurts, “I’m not mocking you. It’s just...unexpected.”
“Killing you would’ve been one thing, but to maim you--and it’s my fault.”
Brienne’s misplaced guilt is too much; it spurs Jaime forward, and he wants to comfort her. Even though he’s never been comforted, nor has he comforted anyone except perhaps Tyrion when they were children. Thinking of his brother hurts, so Jaime stops. He frees himself from the blanket and moves closer. Too tired to sit, Jaime rests his cheek against Brienne’s outstretched thigh and covers her two clasped hands with his one.
“Wench, don’t blame yourself. It felt knightly, to protect a maiden so.” Brienne doesn’t say anything, so Jaime continues. “If you want to pound me into the dirt and show me my place, I’m foolhardy enough to let you.”
“I--I won’t--” She curls her calloused fingers around his. Jaime’s surprised at how well he remembers her touch--all the times she’d wiped his fevered forehead, or helped him eat, or, humiliatingly, wiped his ass when he soiled himself. “Jaime, why are you here with me? The king, your family, your s-sister--sending me to look for Sansa Stark is one thing, but--”
“My family.” Jaime squeezes his eyes shut. “My father never cared a whit about me. My brother is in the Black Cells for Joffrey’s murder. When I visited him, he told me of Cersei’s unfaithfulness.”
Brienne knowing is one thing, but Jaime’s never spoken to anyone other than Tyrion about Cersei.
“When we returned to King’s Landing, I saw her clearly. She didn’t wait for me, she never-- ” Jaime’s glad he can’t see Brienne’s expression--both pity or disgust would unmake him. “The thought of Cersei kept me sane. When I stood beside the Mad King, or outside the queen’s chambers as he--in my mind, I always returned to her.”
Cersei was narcissistic and drunk on her own hubris. She was the Stranger, and she always had been. Jaime’s love and devotion was to the image she allowed him to see.
A dozen things Brienne could say flash through his mind, each on more condemning than the last. Instead, she untangles one of her hands from his and rests it on his nape. The gentle pressure there is a greater comfort yet.
Of all the things Jaime has made and unmade in his life, of all the things gifted and taken, what he values now is the truth. Being near someone who upholds it means something.
“It’s fine, wench; this isn’t so poor a tradeoff.”
Jaime convinces Brienne to share the other half of the bedstead, but when he wakes sometime after dawn, she’s gone from the room.
There’s no panic in him; Brienne won’t abandon him in some random, shabby inn in the crownlands.
Brienne returns by the time his stomach starts to make its desire for breakfast known. His eyes are closed until the other side of the bed dips with her weight. When Jaime opens them, Brienne passes him a chunk of coarse, brown bread and an apple.
Jaime takes a bite, “You found butter?”
“You gave me a lot of gold.” Brienne takes a bite of her own bread. “I’ve put down coin for another night.”
She scowls, “I’m not keen to lose a day in our search.”
“Certainly.” Jaime grins around a bite of apple, “We’ll lose all the leads we don’t have.”
The scowl becomes a full-fledged glare. “ You tasked me with this; perhaps you shouldn’t be so glib.”
“Then what is costing us a day? I wouldn’t call these accommodations luxurious, unless you’re that keen on sharing a bed with me.”
Brienne blushes like Jaime suggested they fuck. Then, she stammers, “Y-you fell asleep in the saddle yesterday. You have a fever and your ribs are bruised.” She reaches out and grabs his right arm. “Your foolish gold hand did this. ”
Jaime looks at the blisters on his forearm; they match the leather straps perfectly.
“I’m fine, wench.”
“Stop saying you’re fine.” Brienne pauses, takes a deep breath, and grabs a small corked crock for her satchel. “There were times, Jaime, when I thought you’d given up. S-some mornings I’d go to rouse you, and it would take a moment, or your fever seemed too high--”
“I thought I died a few times, too,” he whispers, “You loathed me.”
“That’s not the point.” She takes the cork off the crock and a scent so pungent Jaime’s eyes water fills the room. “Rub this on your wrist and your bruises, and sleep. I’m going to go ask after--”
“An auburn-haired girl of ten-and-three?”
Brienne nods and leaves the room.
Three days pass on the Rosby Road. They find not a trace of the Stark girl ever having come this way. Jaime wishes he could say he expected something different, but the odds were never in their favor. Brienne’s determination doesn’t waver, and Jaime has to admire the wench for that.
The journey isn’t without some boons.
Jaime slowly regains his strength. His bruised ribs heal, and breathing starts to feel less akin to a stab wound. Brienne makes him practice sword drills in the mornings before they break camp and again in the evenings. They’ve no practice swords, so she finds a branch to serve as an approximation.
“Well, I won’t accidentally stab myself,” Jaime brandishes the stick. “...Or you.”
Brienne’s response is a dry, “Another fortnight, and perhaps we’ll use my longsword.”
“Not Oathkeeper,” Brienne repeats.
While Addam pummeled Jaime as he tried to parry his strikes, Brienne is more concerned with his footwork and reflexes. She drills him, over and over, trying to burn into him that all his muscle memory has to be relearned backwards. The wench is fine with a blade--no Arthur Dayne or Jaime with his swordhand, but good.
More than that, she’s patient, and that’s what Jaime needs.
Even when he drops his makeshift blade into the grass in a fit of petulance and stomps twenty paces away to scream at the sky.
He does improve.
It should come as no surprise to Jaime that Brienne is far better at caring for him than he is. Yet, Jaime is surprised to find that by the time sennight passes, he feels quite hale. It’s not the same as youth--his days of glory on the battlefield are behind him, replaced by a much steadier assessment of his limits.
Brienne’s a bit of a hypocrite because she’ll run herself ragged while telling Jaime the importance of food and sleep. Her determination makes a mountain of her, but Jaime starts to see the fault lines and starts to learn how to compensate for them.
The wench needs him, and Jaime needs her, too. They both know it but never speak of it.
When they pass an inn, Jaime announces they should stay. Brienne might choose to use the last hour of daylight to push ahead, but they’ll do better the next day if they’re rested. When she protests about the cost, Jaime reminds her of their plentiful reserve of gold dragons. She never pays for two rooms, and everyone is too wary of travelers and preoccupied with rebuilding to question their acquaintance.
It suits Jaime fine; he grows used to the wench’s hulking shoulders on the other half of the bed when he rolls over in the night.
They still don’t find a trace of Sansa. If Brienne has a route in mind other than to follow the Rosby Road and ask everyone they meet the same question, she doesn’t divulge it.
Brienne looks ahead each morning, and Jaime will follow until the day she looks back and tells him to stop.
There’s no clues about Sansa, but they find a boy trailing along behind them on the road. Well, it’s more accurate to say the boy finds them.
It doesn’t alarm Jaime at first--the Rosby Road is often travelled, especially between King’s Landing and Duskendale. Even an unaccompanied boy doesn’t arouse any suspicions; orphans are a casualty of war as much as fallen soldiers. By the third time they spot him, Jaime tells Brienne to keep a wary eye open.
In Duskendale, the boy runs headlong into Brienne in the street, and they get their answer.
“Give us your name, lad,” Jaime says, stern, “then tell us why you’re trailing us.”
“P-Podrick Payne, s-ser.” Jaime sees the boy swallow nervously. “I-I’m looking for Sansa Stark.”
Brienne’s eyes narrow in suspicion, “By whose order?”
“N-no one’s, sers. I-I was squire to Lord Tyrion. With him imprisoned, I thought to look for his lady wife.”
The idea of Tyrion needing a squire almost makes Jaime laugh. It also makes him think of Tyrion, which is why he doesn’t laugh.
“So that’s why you’ve been trailing us?” Jaime might not be able to fight, but he hopes he can manage a stern enough tone to intimidate the boy.
Pod shrinks away from him. “I-I spoke with Lady Sansa’s former maid, and learned Brienne of Tarth was l-looking for her.”
“What would you do if you found the girl?” Brienne asks.
“I-I’d offer her my service.”
Brienne’s stony expression softens immediately, and Jaime knows they’ve gained a travelling companion. The wench has a soft heart. Besides, isn’t that what we’re all going to do when we find Sansa?
An honorless, one-handed knight, a hulking woman who was a better knight than Jaime ever was, and a boy of ten-and-two who looks like a strong wind could carry him across the sea to Essos.
Sansa Stark, should we ever find her, has quite the company coming for her.
They spend the night at the Seven Swords, where Pod eats three bowls of stew and an entire loaf of bread. Brienne manages to pry a bit more backstory out of the lad, but all Jaime cares about is discerning where he’s lying.
Brienne rises from the table to get more ale, and Pod looks up at him with his large brown eyes. “You’re Ser Jaime Lannister, aren’t you?”
Jaime grins at him, “What gave it away?”
“Lord Tyrion spoke about you.”
“Only good things, I hope.”
Pod looks wary. “I-I heard that you left King’s Landing. People were talking about how you abandoned the Kingsguard.”
Wonderful. Even with the king’s permission, everyone hears the worst.
“I didn’t abandon it,” Jaime snaps, “I was relieved of my post.”
“I-I thought Kingsguard served for life.” Pod is tearing the remainder of his bread into nervous chunks.
“They did,” Jaime replies, “and now they don’t.”
Brienne makes her way across the common room balancing three tankards. Two of those absolutely contain water. Both Jaime and Pod watch her large form navigate the crowd.
“So, you’re following Lady Brienne, too?”
Jaime laughs, “I suppose I am.”
Pod is good with the horses, obedient, and quiet. Sometimes, Jaime forgets the lad is even with them until he starts singing a bawdy song to pass the time, and Brienne smacks him on the shoulder as if to say not in front of the child.
That Pod certainly heard, and probably witnessed, worse in Tyrion’s company is a thought Jaime keeps to himself. He’s getting a bit better at that, too.
Brienne agrees to help Pod with his swordwork, which really just means their mornings and evenings are spent with her training both of them. Pod is as clumsy and slow with a blade as he is with his words, but the wench is more patient with him than she is with Jaime.
More than once, Jaime feigns exhaustion halfway through the lesson just to watch. Brienne’s water-blue gaze lands on him, like she might be about to ask if his pride is wounded by training with a child.
That’s not it--in fact, it couldn’t be further from the truth.
If the wench asked, Jaime wouldn’t have the words to tell her that watching her gentle dedication with the lad makes him feel like a candle’s been lit in his chest. Jaime recognizes the feeling--it’s the same as when Brienne held his hand in the inn room.
They’re camped on the road, halfway between Duskendale and Maidenpool, when Jaime sits next to her at the fire and says, low, “Do you like having a squire, wench?”
Pod is across the fire sleeping the sleep of the dead. Brienne only ever makes him take last watch as the sun is rising. It’s another of her kindnesses.
“I’m no knight, Jaime.”
You are, though--a better one than many.
“Tell Pod that.” Jaime pokes at the fire with a stick; there’s just the barest hint of evening chill. “The lad can barely stop himself from calling you ser.”
Brienne blushes in the firelight. This time, after nearly a fortnight in her company, Jaime doesn’t even think to mock her for it.
“I keep correcting him,” she mumbles, “if he wishes to be a proper squire, you’re the more appropriate--”
Jaime laughs raucously enough that he’s certain Pod will wake; he doesn’t. “Me? What need do I have of a squire in my state?”
“You’re still a knight, Jaime.”
“I’m scarcely better than Pod, and not for your lack of effort.” He falls into the grass at his back and looks at the sky--the Moonmaid is visible in the firmament.
“It hasn’t been a moon, and you’re not back to your full strength.” The words should sound like a platitude, like pity, but they just sound like faith.
Brienne’s mulish tone won’t change reality, but for her, Jaime will keep trying.
As they near Maidenpool, the mood of their little processional starts to spoil. The road becomes twisted and rutted, and on the last day, Jaime swears each place they pass is where cousin Cleos died, or where he fought Brienne with his swordhand for the last time. Somewhere near here, I lost my hand. The repetitive and nondescript nature of the terrain frustrates Jaime--it’s absurd that he can’t recall exactly where his life changed forever.
More than once, Jaime opens his mouth to ask the wench if she recalls the exact location, but something stays the query on his lips. If she does recall, what good will talking about it do? Brienne seems to take the loss of his swordhand personally because Catelyn Stark tasked her with returning him to King’s Landing.
Which she did...minus a piece.
There’s something on her mind because Brienne turns even more taciturn than usual, riding ahead and leaving Jaime to entertain Podrick’s stumbling queries. Her cold shoulder transfers onto him, and he snaps at her squire more than once. Podrick certainly notices the tension but bears it admirably. Jaime can tell, more than once, that the boy wants to ask, but he always holds his tongue.
It seems they’re all holding their tongues.
When they’re within sight of Maidenpool’s pink walls, Jaime hears the sounds of hammers and sees the tops of new roofs on buildings. He laughs and says, “Randyll Tarly has really transformed the place.”
Brienne stiffens in her saddle, and her brows set in a frown, “We shouldn’t tarry here.”
“Why not? It looks like they might have a proper inn, now. There’s a port, too. You can go through the whole town asking after your sister. Perhaps they’ve cleaned the corpses from Jonquil’s Pool--”
“Enough,” Brienne halts him. Then, she takes a deep breath. “Fine, but let’s avoid attracting unwanted attention.”
“We were quite poor at that last time.”
Pod guides his horse between the two of them, “Ser, my lady, you were here before?”
“I was your lady’s prisoner,” Jaime doesn’t know why the memory has him grinning. “We fought a duel.”
Wide-eyed, Pod echoes, “A duel?”
“An unfair one,” Jaime continues, “because I was shackled and weakened, and Lady Brienne is very strong.”
“You were trying to escape,” Brienne replies, “Of course I’d try to stop you.”
“What happened after?” Pod asks.
“We were captured,” Jaime replies, “and I lost a swordhand.”
While he may not be a wanted man in the eyes of the crown, Jaime is always a bit concerned about being recognized. It hasn’t happened, yet, but someone is gossiping about the Lannisters or the loss of the Kingslayer’s hand in every inn and town they’ve passed thus far.
Jaime, used to hearing the slights and rumors secondhand and not to his face, finds some amusement in them. Brienne, however, goes very quiet whenever someone insults him.
Once, early on, Jaime whispered to her, “You can’t look like you want to upend a table everytime someone says my name, wench.” Brienne will ruin their discretion--Jaime’s company and Oathkeeeper’s lion pommel and rubies brand them easily enough.
Since Jaime expects to be the one recognized, he’s quite surprised to find that Brienne is the one who’s known in Maidenpool. Jaime has the displeasure of being introduced to some cunt hedge knight named Hyle Hunt.
Jaime hates him immediately.
Knights like Hunt are a dozen per village--landless upstarts who seek to prove themselves to their liege lords in the hopes of being rewarded a bride or a small keep. Jaime finds him witless and rude, and while he knows little of their past acquaintance, Brienne doesn’t seem to like him. She’s not too pleased to see Randyll Tarly, either. He leaves them to their quest, though, which is good enough for Jaime.
Tarly’s men swarm every inn in the city, but the three of them manage to squeeze into the last available room in one that looks like it might not have fleas. Jaime tries not to get his expectations up.
The tight expression around Brienne’s eyes tells Jaime she won’t be able to withstand an evening spent dining in the inn’s common room. He sends Pod to see to their horses and find them supper.
Brienne has her back to Jaime, broad shoulders hunched, and is sorting through their belongings and counting coins. Jaime would find the sight unwelcoming if he wasn’t so accustomed to Brienne by now.
“Wench,” he opens with, “ I’m used to hearing people crowing about the Kingslayer and Lannisters, but you seem to be the famous one here.”
“Lord Tarly was among Renly’s men at Highgarden.”
“Where you must’ve left quite an impression,” Jaime continues, “Tell me the tale, Brienne; we’ve been together for weeks, and I know so little of you.”
Back still turned, Brienne replies, “...There’s little to know.”
Brienne can’t see his grin. “Spare me your modesty. Renly may be dead, but he did name you among his Rainbowguard. I heard you won the melee at Bitterbridge. Isn’t it better to wear your achievements proudly?”
Hopefully, the wench beat Hyle Hunt into the dirt, too.
“That’s not why Lord Tarly remembers me,” Brienne lowers her voice, “At R-Renly’s camp, he considered me a distraction.”
“Did your comely visage distract the men?”
Brienne whips around to face him, large hands balled into fists at her sides. Jaime meets her gazes and sees tears shining in her eyes. Those eyes that somehow tie the rest of her uncooperative features together. He’s looked upon her so long that he just sees Brienne.
“We’ll inevitably see Ser Hyle again, and I’d like to be spared the indignity of him telling you the story, so I’ll do so myself.”
“I’m all ears.”
“At Renly’s camp, t-they bet on me--on who could court me and g-get me to--” Jaime’s used to Brienne’s blushes, but he’s never seen her look so ashamed. “Like a fool, I thought it might be genuine, at first, b-but they just wanted to see who could take the maidenhead of Brienne the Beauty.”
“And Hyle Hunt was part of this?”
Brienne nods, but before she can finish the gesture, Jaime’s on his feet toward the door. Brienne catches his elbow.
“W-where you are going?”
“To beat the shit out of Hyle Cunt.”
She tightens her grip and shakes her head, “Please, Jaime, don’t--it’s long ago, and reacting makes it worse.”
Jaime deflates a bit; Brienne is right. If I got incensed at every slight, every whisper, I’d burn with rage.
“Lord Tarly told me an army camp was no place for a woman, and I should return to my father before I was raped or worse.”
Stubborn and brave--almost stupidly so. Jaime never knew the right words to comfort Brienne, even when he dared to try. Kindness and courtesies aren’t native to his tongue. He remembers all the times Brienne knew the words he needed to hear.
For that, and more, there’s a debt between them. For that, and more, Jaime cares.
“I’ll obey.” he clasps her hands between his--one flesh and one metal. “A lady--even one who wields a Valyrian steel sword and has a decent squire--might want, just sometimes, for a knight to stand up for her honor.”
And a dishonored, one-handed knight might be the one who wants to do so.
“N-no one would think me a lady,” Brienne glances away, “I can’t be a knight, either. I’m just--”
Singular. The Maiden and the Warrior in one--Brienne is simply more. More than what some knights in Renly’s camp thought of her, more than any scorn she’s ever faced, even what came from Jaime himself.
“They’re cunts, Brienne.” Jaime jumped into the bear pit at Harrenhal without thinking, and it's just the same when he kisses her cheek. He swears he can feel the heat from Brienne’s skin under his lips. “They’re small cunts,” he repeats, “and you’ve nothing to prove to the likes of them.”
Or me. Or anyone.
They spend a wary and damp number of days traveling through the forests of Crackclaw Point from Maidenpool to the ruins of the Whispers. Brienne is convinced Nimble Dick is out to murder them in their sleep, so one of them always keeps watch. The forest is eerie, but Jaime is more concerned about the endpoint than the journey itself.
That the fool Nimble Dick tricked was looking for passage for three on a ship doesn’t mean the other two are Sansa and Arya, but it’s the closest thing they’ve had to a lead. Jaime won’t begrudge Brienne her desire to follow it.
Except that the fool is fucking Shagwell, and instead of Sansa and Arya, the other two are Timeon and Pyg.
Jaime starts laughing; he can’t fucking help it. This is my life now. “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.”
Shagwell laughs at the sight of them, too. “It’s the lovers. Have you come back for more of our hospitality?”
“The lady and her knight,” Timeon adds in his thick Dornish accent, “but I still can’t fucking tell them apart.”
Brienne gives Nimble Dick her longsword and unsheathes Oathkeeper. The black and red blade ripples in the light. Jaime has never actually seen Brienne wield it before a true opponent. It nearly makes his heart stop.
He laughs again because it’s better than fear. What else can they take? “These japes weren’t funny last time, you know.”
Shagwell cackles again.
Jaime knew he was useless, but he doesn’t realize how useless until Pyg comes at him. Brienne shouts for Podrick and him to run. I’m lumped in with a boy of ten-and-two. The wench is right, though; his own blade is cumbersome in his left hand. While he thinks he could dodge fairly well enough, the skill of his strikes are scarcely better than the boy’s.
Podrick looks at him, brown eyes wide and frightened, “We listen to our lady, don’t we?”
It’s shit cover, but Pod scales the ruins of a wall and Jaime follows, albeit much more clumsily.
Oathkeeper is alive in Brienne’s hand. Jaime has no regrets giving her the blade--even with his swordhand, she is far worthier. The wench is supernaturally swift for someone of her size.
Shagwell kills Nimble Dick--a morningstar to the face that nearly makes Jaime cover Podrick’s eyes. A poor way to die.
There’s a terrifying moment where Jaime thinks Brienne won’t be able to pivot between Timeon and Pyg. Then, he realizes the last thing the Brave Companions could take from him, the only thing he truly has left.
Jaime makes to shout a warning, but Podrick, quicker, starts pelting the Brave Companions with rocks.
Brienne’s hands are covered with blood--Shagwell’s, Pyg’s, Timeon’s, and her own.
She cuts Timeon’s hand off before sending him to meet the Stranger. Jaime’s heart pounds in his chest because he can’t see anything in the gesture other than revenge. What she told me to live for. Shagwell is the last to die, stabbed in the belly as Brienne tells him to laugh over and over, until blood pools on the ground around him and bubbles from his lips.
Then, Brienne drops her dagger and cries-- ugly sobs that rack her body and leave her gasping for air. She sobs like Jaime wanted to when Aerys burned Rickard Stark alive in his armor in the Red Keep, powerless and bound to inaction from a duty that had him protecting all the wrong things.
Jaime was always alone in those moments, but Brienne doesn’t have to be.
Pod looks terrified. Jaime rests his golden hand on the lad’s shoulder and passes Pod his own sword. “Keep watch, and yell if you hear anything,”
Solemn, Pod nods, “Yes, ser.”
Jaime kneels beside Brienne, boots squelching in the mud and Shagwell’s blood. “Wench,” he says, but she doesn’t react. “Brienne,” he tries a second time, but that doesn’t cut through, either. His third attempt is his left hand on her shoulder.
Brienne’s face is covered with mud. There’s a spray of blood on one cheek and a cut on the other. Her tears cut tracks through the grim, and her eyes have never looked so blue. The eyes of a girl, one who’s been tasked with too much.
“Come away from there.”
He leads her to lean against a waist-high piece of castle rubble. Then, Jaime grabs his waterskin, pours some over Brienne’s hands and makes her drink the rest. She’s a mess, still, but there’s a little less blood. Part of him wants to hold her, but perhaps the wench wouldn’t welcome an embrace from the Kingslayer.
So, Jaime waits. He’s quite skilled at that.
“I--I didn’t flinch,” Brienne whispers after a moment. “It was them or me-- us, and I didn’t flinch.”
Brienne shakes her head emphatically, “Ser Goodwin, my father’s master-at-arms, always told me that even though I--I looked like this, I had the heart of a maid. A man with a sword would gut me all the same, so I c-couldn’t--”
Fresh tears spring forth, and Jaime gives into his desire. Brienne’s covered in blood and half-a-head taller than him, but she buries her face against his shoulder just the same. It’s unsettling, to see her so unmade when she’s been a source of strength since the day Zollo divested him of his hand.
“Y-you did well,” Jaime stumbles over his words. “This Ser Goodwin trained you admirably. You kept your wits about you and knew when to press your advantage.” I sound like I’m praising a damned squire. It’s not what Jaime wants to say; it’s probably not even what Brienne needs to hear.
“I--I was angry,” she whispers, “Nimble Dick didn’t deserve that death, and you didn’t deserve to lose your swordhand.”
Jaime shrugs against her, “Some might disagree--”
“No. It was cruel, and I won’t hear you say it was deserved.”
“...Is that why you cut off Timeon’s hand?”
Brienne nods quite furiously into his shoulder, “Justice, but maybe I was just as cruel as them.”
For me. Jaime doesn’t know what to make of the feeling that gives him. Brienne’s search for Sansa was her oath to Catelyn Stark, but it was also for his honor. At Harrenhal, she’d looked upon him with such judgment that he’d been compelled to try and save her impression of him. He was used to ignoring scorn, thinking himself better, and something about Brienne of Tarth made Jaime need to tell her.
“I don’t think you’ve the capacity for cruelty, but they all deserved the sword or the noose.” Jaime taps her on the back with the false hand. “For more than just this.”
Brienne moves back to look him in the eyes, “I-I’m glad they’re dead, and I’m glad I did it.”
“Wench, I won’t argue with you on the morals of that. I’m glad they’re dead, too.” Jaime would agree that he's glad he witnessed it and glad Brienne wielded the blade. Few things in the world are resolved so neatly.
“Y-you must think me unsightly,” she shuts her eyes, “weeping like a child--”
Jaime kisses her.
Brienne tastes like the salt from her tears and the acrid tang of blood. He doesn’t care; nothing could stop his lips from crashing against hers in that moment. Pod could scream. The Brave Companions could rise from the dead. Sansa Stark could walk out of the rubble and announce she’d been searching for them. Ned Stark could appear as a ghost and demand to know what fuck Tywin Lannister had done to his ancestral sword.
He split it in two, Jaime might say, one half is in the possession of a boy king, but I gave the other to a warrior I think you’d approve of.
Brienne freezes, then flinches. She doesn’t shove him away, but she shrinks back as though struck. Then, Jaime is scrambling to save it, to get Brienne to come back to him. The only thing he can do is tighten his grip.
“Ser--” she starts, and it’s the worst thing Jaime’s ever heard. “I know men’s blood runs high after a fight, but--”
Jaime is so acutely frustrated that he could scream. I didn't even fight. He can’t fight; Brienne knows it better than anyone. He wants to say something gentle, something courtly, but instead he blurts, “Wench, I’ve never fucked someone after a fight.”
Cersei wasn’t near a battlefield, and Jaime wanted no other--until now, apparently. He should’ve said kissed, but what need has Jaime Lannister for delicacies? Brienne knows the man he is; she feels good in his arms and better yet in his heart.
Her response is a tiny, barely audible “Oh.”
Trust me. There’s nothing he longs for more than Brienne’s confidence in him. Jaime will need to tell her--something more, something better-- when he figures out what in the Seven hells it all means.
“Knights earn kisses for valor,” he whispers a breath away from her, “and none in my company has earned more than you.”
Jaime hopes he’s about to be the wench’s prize when Pod’s boyish yell startles them apart.
Hyle fucking Hunt ruins everything.
Jaime would slit the cunt’s throat as he slept when they camped the first night if it wouldn’t make Brienne agitated with him. Instead, Jaime watches him across their cookfire while Brienne and Podrick sleep.
At least Hunt had the courtesy to help them bury the bodies. Jaime will do the same for him when he inevitably decides to end Hunt in his sleep and suffer Brienne’s ire. He believes Randyll Tarly bade Hunt not to harm them, so at least there’s another person to take watch.
Brienne and Podrick need the sleep.
Maybe it’s a little reckless, but Jaime slides the glove off his golden hand. The straps are chafing again, and normally he’d remove it by now. The little crock of salve Brienne got him is nearly empty, too. Maybe we can find more in Maidenpool. It was a silly comfort, a weakness, but it helped.
Now, though, Jaime wants Hyle Hunt to have no ambiguity about the company he keeps.
The gold shimmers in the firelight, and Jaime feels his bravado slipping before he begins. Who am I to intimidate? The Lion of Lannister is no more. There’s only Jaime, one-handed and graying at his temples. Any anonymity his bald head provided is long gone; his golden hair curls around his ears.
“I know who you are, ser,” Hunt says across the fire; he’s picking at dirt beneath his fingernails with the tip of a dagger.
For the first time on this entire trip, Jaime looks Hunt dead in the eyes. “Good.”
“I heard rumor that Jaime Lannister was released from the Kingsguard,” Hunt continues, “I didn’t expect to find you wandering the crownlands with Brienne of Tarth.”
“You’re something.” Hunt pauses and gives Jaime an appraising once-over. “I assume she told you of our time in Renly’s camp.”
Jaime narrows his eyes; in another life, the gesture would’ve inspired fear. Hunt doesn’t look afraid. “I know you didn’t treat her honorably.”
Hunt starts laughing, “What does the Kingslayer know of honor? You murdered your king and defiled your sister.”
“I know better than to bet on a highborn woman’s maidenhead.”
“It was just a jest in good fun. Lady Brienne chose to don a man’s mail and pick up a sword. It’s what’s expected in a camp full of soldiers. ”
“That doesn’t mean she deserves to be threatened with rape. If Lord Tarly hadn’t ended things before they escalated--”
“I’d never forced my advances on the lady.” Hunt flips his dagger from one hand and catches it in the other. Jaime hates him even more for the fact that he can. “Although, Ser Jaime, are you sure yours are welcome?”
Jaime glares, and Hunt starts laughing loud enough to make Podrick stir.
Maybe Brienne didn’t want to be kissed.
Jaime ruminates on the concept repeatedly as they return to Maidenpool. Hunt insists on bringing the heads of Timeon, Pyg, and Shagwell back as proof, and the stench of them ruins Jaime’s appetite almost as much as Hunt’s company.
It also reminds him of wearing his rotting hand around his neck, which, like burning flesh, is a scent Jaime will carry in his memory until he draws his last breath. Even the fact that his captors are now the ones covered in maggots doesn’t cheer him.
Brienne is silent and stony once more. Whether it’s not finding Sansa, her slaying of the Brave Companions, their kiss, or the company, nothing seems to lift her mood. She rides ahead with Podrick, and Jaime keeps to himself.
She still trains Podrick, who now uses her spare longsword, in the mornings and the evenings. In Hunt’s company, Jaime refuses to join in. He tells himself that it’s so the cunt won’t know how wretched he is with a blade, but really it’s just his pride stopping him.
Podrick gives him a pleading look, sometimes, but Jaime avoids his gaze.
Back at Maidenpool, Jaime doesn’t accompany Brienne and Hunt to report their findings to Randyll Tarly. Instead, he and Podrick go to the bathhouse, change into their least disgusting sets of clothing, and try and secure some type of lodging.
There’s no inn rooms available, so they throw a few coppers at a ship captain and bed down in a cabin of a trading vessel called the Lady of Myr. The ship lost its mast and half the crew in a storm, so the captain is glad for the coin. The space is cramped, but there’s a clean pallet on the floor and a hammock for Podrick. Jaime will have to share with Brienne, but he’s grown quite used to that over the last moon.
Brienne does their laundry in silence, save for giving Pod the occasional command. Her squire rinses and wrings things out while Jaime sits there, one-handed and useless.
When she’s washed everything except what’s on their backs, Brienne says to Pod, “Can you take our things and hang them outside?”
The boy nods, hoists an armful of wet clothes, and scampers up the stairs.
Brienne keeps her back to him, rifling through something in her pack that Jaime can’t see. The shift she’s wearing doesn’t fit her well--the seams pull against the muscles of her back, and her stature means that the fabric barely covers her thighs. Jaime is charmed by her continued attempts to pull the fabric down.
When Jaime laughs, Brienne turns around and glares. “It’s the only thing I didn’t wash.”
“And I’m sitting here in my smalls with only a stolen towel to protect my modesty.” Said towel is draped over Jaime’s lap. “Sit with me, wench.”
“Because we’re half-naked and uncomfortable. This is exactly when we’re meant to stumble through a conversation.”
Brienne turns and stalks over to the pallet to sit beside him; the space is immediately cramped. Her shift is equally ill-fitting in the front. Jaime averts his eyes, but it’s not as easy as it once might’ve been.
“So cold,” Jaime clicks his tongue, “and we’ll be close bedfellows tonight.”
She blushes, “I--I can sleep on the deck.”
She always assumes I want her away. It hasn’t been the case in so, so long. “It’ll be cozy,” Jaime says instead. “Unless...you've been avoiding me?”
“I could ask the same of you.”
The lessons with Pod. Brienne doesn’t need to say anymore.
Jaime shakes his head, “Call it my foolish pride, but I don’t want Hunt to see how shit I am.”
“You’re not shit.”
“I don’t need platitudes.” Jaime’s proud that he manages to keep the frustration from leaking into his tone. “It’s horrid, and it’s not getting better.”
“Don’t quit,” Brienne grabs his bare wrist, “if you quit, they keep what they took from you.”
“Hands don’t grow back,” he laughs bitterly, “but if anything could make it happen, it’d be your pigheadedness. Do you ever tire?”
Brienne tips her head back against the wall and shuts her eyes. “Sometimes, I want to take a ship back to Tarth. Lord Tarly told me to, and so did Hyle.”
“Is that what you want?”
“No. Lady Sansa could be alone and--she’s just a maid, Jaime. This world isn’t kind to girls.”
“You’re a maid, too.”
Brienne opens her eyes and turns to him; Jaime feels caught, like he’s looking at the ocean and at the mercy of the tides. He’s suddenly very aware of Brienne pressed against him from shoulder to hip, her hand on his arm, and how he craves more of the intimacy.
“I can protect myself,” she whispers, “I’m ugly, and yet men still--”
“I know you’ve suffered unwanted advances and threats.” Jaime’s worry bubbles to the surface, “Did I upset you when I kissed you at the Whispers?”
“No, y-you confused me.”
Jaime’s mouth quirks up in a grin, “I confused myself, too.”
“I-I’ve been kissed as a trick, but I don’t think you’d do that.”
“What gives you such faith in me?”
“You’re not like the men in Renly’s camp. You’ve always tried to protect me.” Brienne buries her face in her hands, “I didn’t want their tokens; I just wanted to be treated as an equal. I-I thought they’d leave me be. Even still, I-I felt flattered, at first, because I thought someone might actually-- ”
“Feeling wanted-- needed-- is a powerful thing. Cersei led me so easily with that; I never questioned the truth of it.”
“The truth,” Brienne repeats, “that’s what I fear the most.”
“And what truth is that?”
“I’m lacking as a woman. No man will look at me beyond winning my father’s favor. I-I won’t know any softness or care.” She sounds close to tears. “Even if we find Lady Sansa, or if I turn and sail home a failure, there’s no place for me.”
“There’s a place for you. Pod looks at you like you’re the mother he never had.” Jaime means to steady her but hates how rough his voice sounds. “Lady Sansa will have need of you--both your sword and your friendship.”
“We might never find her.”
“Don’t despair, wench; we’ve barely begun our search.” Jaime offers his handless right arm around her shoulders as comfort; Brienne leans into him. “You know, I’ve been quite taken with you ever since I realized you spent weeks wiping shit from my ass.”
Brienne glances up, confused, “Excuse me?”
“We were enemies, but you kept me from death. It shows your character.”
“I-It does?” Jaime can see her ears blushing. “Mayhaps I was just keeping my promise to return you to King’s Landing.”
“I don’t think that’s just it; I think you care about me.”
“I do,” Brienne whispers the words, “you’re maddening, but I’m glad you’re with me.”
“I’m glad, too.” Jaime shuts his eyes and leans his head against hers, “Accompanying you made me realize what I should hold on to.”
“Perhaps it’s selfish,” Jaime tilts her chin up with his left hand and presses his lips against hers, “but I want to see where you’ll take me.”
Brienne steals the second kiss from him. Her boldness is unexpected, so it takes Jaime a moment to register that she desires to move beyond a courtly gesture. When she turns to sit on her legs to better face him, Jaime wraps his right arm around her waist to rest the stump at her hip and pull her closer. It only takes a bit of nudging to get Brienne to straddle his outstretched legs.
Jaime’s world narrows to the tentative and maddening way Brienne’s lips move against his. He doesn’t want to scare her, but all his feelings rush in at once and overwhelm him. The fact that they’ve been together for weeks, yet are only now touching like this, seems like insanity.
Brienne emits a needy whine when he drags her bottom lip between his teeth. She wants me, too. Nothing has ever felt so right. Emboldened by her reception, Jaime slides his hand up her bare leg under the edge of shift. Her thigh is smooth, unblemished skin over hard muscle. Brienne cups his face, and her hands are gentle and steady. Even without a hand, Jaime's right arm fits against the slight dip at her waist, just right for pulling them so their hips meet and create another series of sparks.
When Brienne darts her tongue out to meet his lips, Jaime feels like his entire body catches flame. He opens for her immediately, catching her bottom lip between his teeth once more and licking into her mouth. She moves her hands gently down his chest, tracing the hollows of his collarbones with calloused fingertips before resting her palm over his heart. It’s gentle, and tender-- like she’s trying to map the contours of him, like he’s worth the effort to memorize.
When they part, Jaime tucks his face against Brienne’s neck and gasps for air. He’s exhausted and alive, like the satisfaction that comes from well-fought combat. Jaime thought he was condemned to never feel that way again. It seems obvious, now, that he’d find life in Brienne’s arms. Brienne’s breathing hard, too, and clinging to him. One of her hands is tangled in his hair.
Jaime chuckles into her neck; Brienne smells like some sweet soap from Jonquil’s Pool.
“I think it was remiss of us not to try this sooner.”
Jaime certainly doesn’t want to linger in Maidenpool, but that doesn’t mean he has the slightest clue where their journey should take them. Brienne and he talk about it after they eat a cold supper together in the cabin on the Lady of Myr. They talk about it more long after Podrick falls asleep in his hammock.
All of their options seem like fool’s errands.
There’s talk of Sandor Clegane being sighted in the Riverlands, traveling with a young girl. Rumors on the wind, Jaime thinks. Brienne posits that Sansa might’ve gone to Riverrun, seeking her uncles. Jaime says the Eyrie is equally likely, if the logic is Sansa seeking out what kin she has left.
The only thing they agree on is that Sansa wouldn’t go north, not with Winterfell razed to the ground and occupied by Roose Bolton.
Brienne repeats their options even as Jaime’s eyes are heavy with the need for sleep, and he ushers her onto the pallet.
“Tomorrow,” he tells her and repeats it again when she starts the loop over. “We’ll just have to choose a route and leave it up to luck.”
“What if we choose wrong? What if Lady Sansa--”
“Enough, wench.“ Jaime presses his back against the wall; the pallet is just as cramped as he assumed. “Then we’ll change course and try the other.”
Brienne’s expression is hard to make out in the darkened cabin; there’s only the smallest round window near the ceiling. “Thank you,” she whispers after a moment.
“Coming with me. I know it wasn’t an easy choice, and mayhaps not the right one, either--”
Jaime throws his arm around her and pulls her head against his chest. Tucked between her and the wall, he thinks sleep will come easy. Brienne nestles against him, and he wonders if she even realizes she’s doing so.
“It was the only choice.”
Hyle Hunt shows up at the Stinking Goose the next morning and announces that he’s coming with them.
Brienne looks at him and says, “Absolutely not.”
Jaime hides his grin around the rim of his cup of watered wine.
Unfortunately, his smug satisfaction is spoiled quite immediately. Hunt pulls a sheepskin map from his boot and unfurls it on the table. Then, he tells them of a rumor that Sandor Clegane was spotted in Saltpans during the raid on the town.
Hunt taps the spot on the map, “The dog couldn’t have gotten far; the area is still swarming with men from a half-dozen armies. If we trap him, he might know where your Lady Sansa is now.”
“That doesn’t mean you’re accompanying us.”
Hunt grins, “Then maybe I’ll start a search for the girl on my own. I reckon she’d fetch a pretty reward.”
Brienne makes a fist on the table, “I’ll not let you sell her--”
“I know other things that might help, and Lord Tarly informed me he has no further need for my services.”
Jaime hates the idea, but he’ll defer to Brienne.
She glares but agrees.
They set out the next day, accompanied by a septon Hunt introduced to them named Meribald. He travels the length of the Trident annually giving food and alms to the poor. Jaime begrudgingly has to admit that Meribald knows the Trident like the back of his hand, and that his knowledge aids their progress.
They stay at inns when they pass them or offer provisions from Meribald’s overburdened donkey in exchange for sleeping in barns on piles of hay. When that’s not an option, they camp in their tents off the side of the road and take turns keeping watch. Brienne doesn’t like the arrangement, but Hunt and Podrick often share a tent or inn room.
“He’s a poor influence,” she tells Jaime one night.
He laughs and replies, “Am I better?”
Brienne shouldn’t worry--Podrick only has eyes for her, and the most Jaime or Hunt are going to teach the boy is crude japes.
Besides, Hunt and Pod bunking together leaves Jaime with Brienne, and that’s something he’s discovering suits him just fine.
They’re three days from Maidenpool when Hunt brings his horse alongside Jaime’s and says, “What is your angle in all of this, Lannister?”
Brienne and Podrick are riding a hundred paces ahead, and the wind carries their voices enough for Jaime to know the wench is giving him a lesson of some sort. Brienne may not be a knight, but Podick couldn’t ask for a more dutiful instructor.
“I didn’t think I had an angle.”
“Bullshit. I’ve been watching you since we left the Whispers, trying to figure out why the fuck you’re not back in King’s Landing sitting on a golden cushion.”
Jaime doesn’t care to explain himself to the likes of Hyle fucking Hunt, but if he breaks away or grows too loud, Brienne will notice, and he doesn’t want that, either. It’s not that he cares if he gets along with Hunt, but he wants to show Brienne he can put his feelings aside for the good of the cause.
So, he glances at Hunt and says, “I don’t think that’s any of your business.”
“See,” Hunt jabs a finger in Jaime’s general direction, “I disagree. What are you going to do when we find the Stark girl? Maybe you want to drag her back to King’s Landing and gift her to your sister?”
“You don’t give a fuck about Sansa Stark,” Jaime lowers his voice. “All you care about is the reward you’re envisioning.”
Hunt scoffs, “At least I’m honest about my aims, Lannister, instead of whatever the hell you’re playing at here.“
“Do you truly think I’d spend two moons searching through the crownlands for a girl just to take her back to my sister? The Starks are dead, and the North is lost.”
“I honestly don’t know what the fuck you highborn cunts do in your castles,” Hunt gives Jaime a pointed look and raises his brows. “Well, I’ve heard plenty of talk of what you do.”
Jaime tightens his grip on the reins; anything he would say would damn him further because Hunt does speak the truth. “If I wanted to further my family’s abimitions, there are better things I could be spending my efforts on than chasing a lost Northern girl.”
“Which leads me, Lannister, back to the question of why.”
If I had my swordhand.
Brienne, ahead of them, draws Jaime’s gaze. Her straw-blonde hair looks almost white in the midday sun. It’s easy to imagine her clear, calm blue eyes looking ahead down the road.
"Not that it's any of your concern, but I'm here for her."
Hyle lips quirk upward in a slow grin, "Sansa Stark's not the only prize to be had at the end of this quest."
Kissing Brienne is sweet.
It’s so sweet that Jaime, like someone half his age, wants to spend an afternoon in her arms. They pass several viable locations as they move along the banks for the Trident--a sturdy looking tree, a soft field of grass.
There’s no time for such a dalliance.
Even if there was, Brienne would probably scold him for sidetracking her. Jaime could accuse her of the reverse, too--the wench is entirely distracting. Even when she dragged him through the Riverlands by a chain, Jaime kept his eyes fixed on her.
Apparently, it takes Jaime a bit to figure out the difference between lust and irritation.
Brienne still irritates him--the way she hunches her shoulders and locks him out when she’s upset, the mulish determination that sometimes overtakes her best interests, that he’s still never seen her laugh or smile. Jaime wants to get closer, to earn his place amongst the gentleness he knows Brienne hides in her heart.
He’s just not sure how.
The tenderness she offers Jaime makes him greedy--the quarter hour before dawn spent kissing, a stolen moment when she’s on watch when he doesn’t want to be alone. Brienne never pushes him away when he throws an arm over her in their tent. She’s content to comfort him, but she rarely lets him comfort her.
Jaime thinks, frequently, of the quiet apology she offered to Nimble Dick’s body as they buried him. I'm sorry that I never trusted you. I don't know how to do that anymore.
She’s much too young to feel that way; then again, Jaime lost his own faith even younger.
Halfway to the Saltpans, Hunt’s demeanor towards Brienne shifts.
He rides beside and chats with her, sometimes adding his input to whatever she’s discussing with Podrick. Brienne seems confused by the conversations, but sometimes Hunt manages to pull full sentences from her, which is more than Jaime does on some days. Her squire likes talking to Hunt, but Podrick has been cast aside by everyone who mattered; he’ll cling to whoever shows him attention.
Jaime doesn’t want to admit it, but Hunt is dependable--he takes his watch shifts without complaint and helps cook and set up camp. He’s more useful than Jaime is simply because he has two hands.
Sometimes, Hunt will look back at him while he’s talking with Brienne and Podrick and give Jaime the most insufferable smirk. Jaime smirks back because Hunt isn’t the one who Brienne sheds tears in front of, or who kissed him as sweetly as any maiden ever kissed a man.
That’s him--for now, at least.
Jaime rides alongside Septon Meribald and his donkey in the mornings. The man is decent at conversation, and listening to his stories hopefully makes Jaime’s seething everytime Hunt speaks to Brienne less noticeable. It’s petty jealousy. Jaime is very afraid that Hunt, even with their history, will say something to engender the wench’s favor, and he will be cast aside like the wretched, faithless, one-handed--
Septon Meribald’s voice interrupts Jaime’s spiraling thoughts.
“The lady,” he says, “How did you come to meet her?”
“I was her lady’s prisoner,” Jaime answers, “She was tasked with escorting me home.”
“I know the tale of the Kingslayer’s maiming; such things are popular gossip among the smallfolk.”
“I’ve heard the tavern gossip; many think my deeds earned this punishment,” Jaime laughs. “Now, the bones of my swordhand lay in the mud somewhere at Harrenhal.”
“Do you think you deserved it?”
“I don’t think the world fucking works that way. The cruel go unpunished, and the innocent suffer violence.”
Meribald nods, “What are your intentions toward Lady Brienne?”
The question rankles Jaime, so he snaps, “Are you suddenly her lord father?”
The septon laughs, “Not at all. I’m merely enjoying the little drama that’s unfolding between the three of you. My yearly pilgrimage has never been so lively.”
“What do you mean?”
“She’s an unconventional maiden with two knights trying to woo her.”
“I’m not trying to woo her,” Jaime replies. I don’t need to woo her. Wooing was what the men, including Hunt, did to Brienne in Renly’s camp. Wooing made her suspicious of kindness and generosity. “We’re...friends.”
Besides, what could Hunt do that was better than a Valyrian steel sword and a quest fit for a knight?
“I see,” Meribald raises both his brows, “Well, I think Ser Hyle might be making an attempt in your stead.”
There’s no sign of the Hound in Saltpans.
There’s no sign of anything, really, except razed buildings and corpses. The only thing left standing seems to be the castle, and the gates are barred.
“Apparently Ser Quincy Cox closed the gates and left the people to their fates,” Hunt tells them.
“A coward,” Brienne spits, “A true knight should give his life to protect those weaker than him, not lock himself in his castle and--”
“He’s an old man, my lady,” Hunt interrupts, “What could he have hoped to do?”
“Die honorably in the attempt.”
Jaime doesn’t think that there’s such a thing as an honorable death; all men meet the Stranger in the same inglorious way. Only knights of summer think of death as glory, as anything other than what it is--the end of life. Somehow, even after all the wench has seen, she still believes in that ideal.
Maybe it’s because Brienne still believes that she’s willing to give her life to protect others.
Jaime thought, long ago, how amusing it would be to see that light stamped out of her; now, she’s made it burn in him, too.
Hunt shakes his head, dismissively, “Well, that’s the end of that. Without the Hound, we have no fucking idea where the Stark girl could be. With the way this place looks, we might do better not to find out what befell her.”
Brienne’s grip on Oathkeeper’s is white-knuckled, “You can do whatever you like, but I’m not quitting.”
“Do you want to go to Riverrun?” Hunt’s voice grows in volume. “Maybe we can meet this Lady Stoneheart or the bandits that did this ourselves, if you’re so eager to die.”
“If my death will protect Lady Sansa, I’d gladly--”
Hunt gets louder yet, “Or maybe we could traipse to the Eyrie? If they’d even let us through the Bloody Gate without filling us full of arrows. Mayhaps the girl is there, mayhaps she’s not.”
“I’ll try both if required.” Jaime’s heard that tone, stubborn as an ox, in Brienne’s voice an uncountable number of times. “And there’s no need for you to trouble yourself any further. I was prepared to make the journey alone.”
“N-not alone,” Podrick speaks up, “I’ll follow you, ser. M-my lady, I mean.”
I will, too. Somehow, Jaime can’t make his mouth form the words. Brienne looks at him, and there’s a flash of hurt in her eyes. The shocking blue of them is the only color Jaime sees. Then, the gate is closed, and he’s lost his chance to speak.
Meribald, speaking for the first time, looks at the four of them and says, “Regardless, we should make for the Quiet Isle while the tide is low and there’s daylight left. They’ve beds and food and always grant succor to travelers.”
The meaning behind the Quiet Isle’s name becomes clear from the moment one of the penitents, dressed in brown robes, takes their horses from them without a word. Another, dressed in the same drab color, silently leads them to the stone sept where they are introduced to the Elder Brother.
Elder Brother informs them that the Hound was seen with the younger Stark girl, Arya, and not Sansa. The look on Brienne’s face at even the slightest chance of both girls being alive tells Jaime all he needs to know.
Nothing on the island seems touched by the conflict across the water; it’s so peaceful Jaime finds it eerie given the destruction they just witnessed. Jaime doesn’t know the sins of these men, but it’s unfair they get to sequester themselves away from the horrors of the world under the guise of repenting.
Repenting is facing things--it’s action. The gold hand, heavy on his arm, reminds Jaime of how far he has to go. He’ll fulfil his oath to Catelyn Stark, and if he dies trying, he’ll laugh in Ned Stark’s principled face.
For now, Jaime is happy for a tub of room temperature water to wash with and a delicious, if very silent supper.
After supper, Hunt and Brienne are talking outside the cabin where she’s been lodged.
Apparently, on the Quiet Isle, unmarried men and woman are housed separately, which Jaime thinks is pretty fucking stupid. The wench is mine; we stay together. He doesn’t say that to the Elder Brother, of course.
Jaime is unfastening the straps on his golden hand when Pod knocks on the door of his cabin and pokes his head in.
“Ser,” the boy whispers, “My lady and Ser Hyle are talking.”
“They seem to do a lot of that these days.”
Podrick’s eyes dart away, “Ser, you should come listen, I think.”
“Did your lady not teach you that eavesdropping is poor manners?”
There’s no reason to refuse the lad’s request. Jaime lets the golden hand drop onto his pack with a dull thud and follows.
Brienne is facing Hunt, but her expression is hard to read in the moonlight. However, her tone is angry when she says, “I’ll find them both.”
Hunt, the cunt, starts to laugh, “Are you trying to collect children, my lady?”
“I’m trying to uphold my oath.”
“To who? The girls’ dead mother? There’s no gain.”
Brienne bristles, “It’s not about reward, ser. You wouldn’t understand.”
“...Because I’m not a knight like you, my lady?”
“I’d be a finer knight than you,” Brienne replies. “Y-you, who made unchivalrous wagers and think only of the coin you can earn--”
“A man has to eat and make his way in the world, my lady.” Hunt shrugs, “You should consider your own place.”
“What do you mean?”
“Despite the sword and your appearance, you’ve a woman’s heart. There’s a mother inside you--I’ve seen the way you look at orphan children in rags beside the road. Even Pod you treat him more like a son than a squire.”
Brienne stammers, “H-he’s been abandoned--”
Podrick looks back at Jaime, wide-eyed; he puts his hand on the boy’s shoulder. Brienne treats both of us the same.
“It’s the same with the Stark girls,” Hunt continues. “If you want to collect children so badly, take a husband and return to Tarth.”
“A-and who would have me?”
Me. I would. The thought hits Jaime like a flash of lightning that illuminates the world in perfect clarity. He’s plunged back into darkness afterwards, but the outline--the truth-- is burned behind his eyes.
“Pod,” Jaime whispers, “I’m in love with your lady ser.”
The boy just stares at him.
Meanwhile, Hunt takes a step closer to Brienne and says, “Take me.”
Brienne recoils, “You still care about the wager after all this time?”
“No. I want Tarth, and you want a keep full of babes.”
“You’re not beautiful, but in the dark a woman is a woman.”
Seven hells, that’s the worst proposal I’ve ever heard. Jaime half expects Hunt’s next line to be telling Brienne that his cock works. Jaime would laugh if the thought of Hunt touching Brienne didn’t make him feel like wildfire is burning through him. Cersei always told him she hated it when he got jealous.
Brienne would hate it, too.
Hunt wouldn’t treat Brienne as she deserves; he’d spill in her, hope for his seed to quicken, then fall asleep. He doesn’t love her.
“I have a promise to keep,” Brienne repeats softly.
“To Jaime Lannister?”
Jaime really hates the way Hyle fucking Hunt says his name. Brienne doesn’t answer, but Jaime sees her nod.
“And why does he matter so much?”
“He trusted me with his honor.”
“And what honor is that?” Hunt crosses his arms. “He fucks his sister and sends you off to find his enemy’s children. You let him into your bed, but you won’t marry me. I won’t ask you to give up your sword.”
“I-I---Jaime and I haven’t--”
“But you want to, my lady. I can see it in the way you look at him.”
Foolishly, the only thought Jaime takes away from that is Brienne wants me, too. She responded to his kisses sweetly enough, but Jaime never pressed her for more.
“It’s not like that,” Brienne says weakly, “It’s just--”
“If you’d rather be named the Kingslayer’s Whore than my wife, I’ll drop the matter,” Hunt starts laughing, “If you change your mind, I’m certain I can sneak into your cabin and convince you further.”
Jaime still has his hand on Podrick’s shoulder, gripping so tightly that he winces.
I’ll gut you like a trout if you so much as look in the direction of Brienne’s cabin.
It doesn’t matter that he would absolutely lose to Hunt in a duel.
A half hour has passed, at least. Jaime wanted to burst out of his hiding spot the moment Hunt walked away from Brienne. Instead, he decided to wait and order his thoughts. Brienne won’t listen if he flies at her in blind jealousy; it’s not a flattering look for him.
Brienne refused him; that doesn’t mean she wants me. They’re both lonely--perhaps when she shyly returns his kisses, that’s all it means.
Jaime knocks on the door of her cabin, Before Brienne has a chance to speak, Jaime blurts, “You can’t marry that cunt.”
Brienne’s cheeks color, and her brows come together in a frown. “Y-you were eavesdropping?”
“Blame your squire,” Jaime replies, “he thought I’d like to be privy to the conversation.”
“I’ll have words with him.”
The cabin door is only open a fraction; Jaime pushes it further with his foot. “Don’t scold the boy; he’s trying to help you.”
“By listening to a private conversation?”
“Don’t marry Hunt, Brienne,” Jaime repeats, “He’s unworthy.” He hopes the wench won’t choose the course just to be contrary.
“If you had knowledge of the matches my father made for me, you’d see that Hyle’s offer is the most generous I could hope to receive.”
“That’s shit, Brienne. Hunt just wants Tarth--he said as much.” Jaime pounds the door frame with a closed fist. “What about your fear that no one would want you beyond getting your father’s lands? Does that not matter any longer?”
“I-It matters,” Brienne lowers her gaze to the ground. “I won’t marry him. I promised to find Sansa, and now Arya might still live as well.”
Good. Let Brienne understand she deserves more than settling. “What if you hadn't taken up my quest?”
Brienne ducks her head even more; all Jaime can see is the lank curtain of her hair. “I’ve a duty to my father. I’ve run from it once already. F-few people marry for love.”
“My parents married for love,” Jaime argues. It’s hard to imagine Tywin Lannister loving anything or anyone more than the family reputation, but Aunt Genna told Jaime that his father would’ve moved the sun and moon for his mother.
That part of Tywin Lannister died with her.
“Lady Catelyn grew to love her husband, too,” she almost whispers. “I don’t think that’s my fate.”
“Brienne.” Jaime bumps her chin with his stump; she looks up at him, but doesn’t recoil from the touch of his maimed aim. Cersei wanted me to keep it hidden. “Hunt might as well have proposed by telling you his cock works.”
“I won’t marry him,” she repeats, “but Hunt was honest about his intentions, and he didn’t want to change me.”
“You deserve better-- to be loved and doted upon.”
Brienne’s eyes fall shut; Jaime doesn’t think he’s ever seen her look so sad. “Jaime, who would?”
Her hands are balled into fists at her sides; Jaime takes one in his left hand, uncurls it, and presses her palm against his chest. The contact prompts Brienne to open her eyes.
“You know, don’t you, that you have my whole heart.”
Brienne whispers, “I don’t know that.”
Why can’t anyone ever just understand? Even Brienne, who feels closer than anyone, closer than Cersei, doesn’t read him correctly.
“Brienne,” Jaime sighs, both fond and frustrated, “why do you think we’ve been kissing?”
“I’m familiar,” she sounds so certain, “You’re unused to being alone; I thought if I could be comforting--”
“You’re wrong,” Jaime blurts. “Absolutely, laughably wrong. I was always alone. Like a fool, I only thought I wasn’t.”
“B-but your sister--”
“--Is irrelevant. I never truly knew her, and she didn’t know me.” Brienne’s hand is still over his heart; Jaime squeezes it. “We’re much more aligned--though, you’re an aspiration.”
“Your faith means more than I can say.” Jaime is very anxious, suddenly, because he knows his heart and knows what he means to ask. In fact, he’s never felt such clarity. “Brienne, if you’re keen to be wed, marry me.”
“You heard me,” Jaime can’t stop the grin spreading across his face. “Marry me. I’ll love you better than Hyle fucking Hunt.”
“I suppose Casterly Rock is mine again--if I care to take it. Your father can object to my reputation and wretched personality, but not my pedigree.”
Brienne stares him down for a long moment, as stubborn and defiant as Jaime could ever wish. “Y-you know how I... am.” The last word is laden with layers of meaning. “What would you ask of me as your wife?”
“I gave you a Valyrian steel sword, so you can’t be laboring under the delusion I’d ask you to give it up and waste away in a keep.” That’s no more than what Hunt offered; Jaime can do better. “I’d ask nothing you wouldn’t give freely.”
“There’s nothing you long for, Jaime?”
Just you. “I’d like you to trust me better; I feel...shut out, sometimes.”
Brienne’s expression softens, and her eyes are filled with that tenderness he’s always seeking. Then, she bends down and kisses him, slow and sweet like honey, until Jaime is surely holding her hand too tightly.
“I’m a coward,” Brienne whispers, “No matter what you say or do, I’m afraid to see it as more. If I’m wrong, I can’t face it.”
“Do you think the Elder Brother is still awake?”
“I don’t want to waste tonight.”
“We shouldn’t abuse their hospitality by breaking their rules or bothering--”
“What the hell else are they doing here? The Elder Brother should be thanking us for the liveliness.”
Brienne reddens, but it’s accompanied by the sweetest smile Jaime’s ever seen.
The Elder Brother is awake and gives them the most quizzical of expressions. Jaime supposes two people bursting into sept near midnight asking to be wed isn't a common occurrence on the Quiet Isle.
"We'll ruin the quiet later, too, sweetling," Jaime whispers into Brienne's ear as they walk to the front of the sept.
He just grins at her.
With no cloaks or guests, the ceremony is brief. Jaime doesn't mind--it's the after that matters. The Elder Brother leads them though the vows, but they feel pale compared to Brienne's hands clasped in his. Brienne and he have other ways to promise to honor and be faithful to one another. They'd been doing it since he followed her from King's Landing, day-by-day and deed-by-deed.
Jaime makes sure to lead them past Hunt’s cabin, just so he can gloat about his wife. Unfortunately, Hunt’s inside and the window is dark.
It’s fine--there’s plenty of journey left to be smug in the cunt’s general direction.
Brienne, holding his hand, whispers, “D-did you take us past Hyle and Pod’s cabin on purpose?”
“Because you’re my maiden. He can look somewhere else to end his status as a hedge knight.”
Brienne’s confusion is very charming.
Hunt’s probably asleep, but Jaime kisses Brienne within sight of his cabin; maybe the cunt will have a bad dream.
The door to Brienne's cabin bolts shut, and while the bed isn't luxurious, it's filled with clean straw and wide enough for two. It also doesn’t give up the ghost when Jaime topples the two of them onto it with Brienne atop him. She moves, trying to give him some space, which is the exact opposite of what Jaime wants.
In the end, he ends up sitting next to her on the bed, backs against the stone wall.
“Have you given your wedding night thought before, wench?”
“...Not any good thoughts.”
Jaime clicks his tongue, “Septa tell daughters so many strange things.” Cersei used to report the lessons she learned; they would laugh and ignore them.
“What do they tell sons?”
“Truly?” Jaime replies, “Nothing.”
“Perhaps that’s why girls get the lessons they do.”
“We’ll tell our daughters something different.”
Brienne’s eyes are wide and surprised. “Daughters,” she repeats, “Not sons?”
“Both,” Jaime answers, “Equally valued.”
“I want--” she bites her lip in uncertainty, “Jaime, you’ll be a fine father.”
We might die long before that. For tonight, Jaime can dream, and it’s sweet enough to propel him forward the last bit of distance. He sits on his knees beside Brienne and kisses her, trying to pour into the gesture all feelings he can’t form into words.
Brienne’s answering kisses are shy, but her hands grasping his are steady; she’s telling him what she has trouble saying, too. Words are pale compared to her touch. When they break apart, Brienne darts her tongue over her lips, like she can taste the kiss lingering. There’s nothing inherently erotic about the gesture, but in the face of all the things they haven’t done, it sends Jaime into a frenzy.
Hungry, Jaime drags his tongue against hers and kisses her again. Brienne tastes like the sweet cider she drank at dinner, and it’s sweeter and more intoxicating yet. She puts one hand on his back as an anchor, and, in a burst of boldness, pulls him across her lap. Jaime settles easily astride her, cock half-hard from her display of strength.
Possessive, Jaime thinks; he always did want to belong to someone.
Then, like an arrow loosed from a bow, Brienne is all hasty momentum, tugging at the fastenings on Jaime’s jerkin. When it’s undone, Brienne reaches under his shirt at his waist and touches parts of him she’s never touched before, at least not in desire.
Then, her hand stutters to a halt.
Jaime, kissing her jaw, asks, “Why’d you stop?”
“I...got ahead of myself.”
“Are you my shy maid now?” He nuzzles his nose into her hair; the soap on the Quiet Isle doesn’t have a scent. “Where’s the wench who was brazen enough to call me Kingslayer to my face and didn’t flinch when drawing her sword? I was very good, you know.”
“You were,” Brienne whispers, “I’d never have bested you at your prime.”
“Few would.” Jaime supposes hubris over something lost to him is the least of his sins. He was the best, and now he spars with Podrick.
“I just recalled--y-you called me your wife, then.”
“Wishful thinking. Although, I couldn’t have known it.” Jaime presses kisses to the column of her throat. “You might’ve stood a chance if you tired me out. I was quite taken aback when I realized you were stronger.”
“Ser G-Goodwin.” Jaime adds a hint of teeth, and Brienne squeaks. “H-he told me men would underestimate me.”
“Count me among the fools who did.”
Brienne touches him again--an embrace, hands sliding up his back under his shirt. “You take me seriously, and you try, even when I’m pig-headed and naive.”
“And you’ve given me grace I’ve neither earned nor deserved.” Jaime slides his stump against her hip again; it still fits--like the finest use for his truncated sword arm is to hold Brienne close.
“That’s not true.”
Once more, the words can’t fit his feelings, so Jaime kisses her.
Jaime’s never really had to think about fucking.
Cersei took from him without giving, but Jaime knew what it meant to please her. They were one, and he didn’t need to ask. He never felt uncertain--maybe he should’ve, but he didn’t.
Brienne’s tenderly disrobing him, hands steady and eyes trained on him, and Jaime is unraveling like a ball of yarn. His boots have been discarded, and his jerkin and shirt are at the end of the bed. He glances down at himself in disappointment. Two years ago, five years ago, I was...
Not in Brienne’s company and poorer for it.
Besides, there’s desire in her gaze, and that makes up for a lot.
Jaime hasn’t been idle; he’d removed Brienne’s shirt a few moments ago. She moved to cover herself; then, stubborn, she stared him down as if waiting for his scorn. Instead of scorn, Jaime lavished Brienne with attention from navel to nape, until she gave in and answered him with fluttering sighs and hitched breathes. She stumbled his name when he put his lips to her breast and grabbed at his hair.
Now, Jaime’s flat on his back on the bed, and Brienne is killing him slowly by tracing her fingers over the outline of his cock. She’s watching him like she’s trying to read him for some sign or tell.
He shuts his eyes from the heat of her gaze; the only tell for Brienne to see is how much of a wreck she’s making him. Jaime had been fucking for two decades, yet somehow not a bit of it is aiding him now.
Maybe that’s the gift--that it feels new with her.
His name sounds soft and intimate from her lips, and Jaime wonders if he’ll always hear it like that from now on. I hope so. He wants to look, but the whole thing is too devastating.
Brienne continues, “You seem--”
“N-nervous.” She’s still tracing over him, slow and delicate. “I thought I’d be the the one who--”
“No,” Jaime’s reply is choked, “I’m wholly underprepared.”
A one-handed man has fewer tools to pleasure a woman, but Jaime’s learned to be resourceful, and Brienne is almost unbearably gracious. He uses his stump to part her thighs, to nudge her where he needs her to go, and she acts like his swordhand is touching her and not some maimed, useless thing.
The light from the bedside lantern is weak, and Brienne’s expression is obscured when Jaime kneels between her thighs. It’s fine--her eyes on him keep proving to overwhelm him. Jaime is trying to do everything he can think that a septa would say a lord husband wouldn’t do.
From the way her thighs shake at the first touch of his tongue, Jaime guesses she wasn’t expecting it. He grins, smug, against her skin and keeps lapping at her cunt until Brienne, shaking and needy, screams his name surely loud enough for Hunt and Podrick to hear three cabins down.
“You know,” Jaime nips at the soft skin of her inner thigh, “I bet Hunt heard that.”
“I bet the whole island heard that,” she hisses back.
Jaime kisses his way back up to her lips and says, “Good.”
“Husband,” Brienne pauses after the word, as though testing the way it sounds. “If you are, I’m ready.”
Unrelenting, Jaime teases, “For what?”
“You’ve a duty to me.”
“Ah, my rights as your lord husband.”
Brienne touches his hair, then moves to his cheek, her nails scratching gently into his beard. “If you’ll have me; there’s no one else I want.”
“Not Ser Hyle Hunt, the hedge knight?”
“My lord.” Jaime is certain she’ll never address him that way in earnest. “Are you jealous?”
“Incensed with it; stupid with it--like a bull in heat.”
“There’s no need.”
They shift on the bed--Brienne welcomes him into the cradle of her hips, strong thighs holding him close. Jaime watches her expression the whole time, but Brienne only gives that fluttering sigh he finds so entrancing.
When they’re together, Brienne kisses him. Jaime moves, then they move together, and there’s no space for anything between them.
At dawn, Brienne’s hair is pale in the new light. Jaime traces the strands of it on the pillow. After enough repetition, she stirs. Her eyes open, familiar blue, and Jaime’s heart races at the sight. She looks charmingly confused for a moment, blanket clutched to her chest.
Jaime doesn’t mind reminding her.
“You married me last night, wench.”
“I recall, ser,” Brienne sounds churlish, “Elder Brother is probably tired this morning.”
“After you refused Hyle fucking Hunt.”
“Is that part important to you?”
“It is,” Jaime softens his tone, “I hoped that I earned your affections.”
Brienne pulls him close; Jaime spent the night in her arms, but he’s always eager to return. “Long ago.”
“Last night,” Jaime angles his head so his face is obscured by her hair; this will be easier to say if she can’t see his face. “I told you that you had my whole heart, but not what that means. You deemed me fit to be your husband, and I’m honored, but you deserve the words.”
“The words,” she echoes, and it’s not a query.
“I do love you,” his voice wavers, but Brienne won’t think him weak. “For your care, and your faith, your sweetness and your strength.”
Brienne’s grip tightens, but she answers without hesitation. “I love you, too.”
Relief washes over Jaime, and he starts laughing. “Gods, if you didn’t--”
“I do,” she repeats. Then, she freezes in his arms, “M-moon tea, Jaime, we can’t--”
“I...forget entirely,” Jaime says sheepishly. The first time, and the second, and the third. “We’ll find some and be more cautious.”
“For now,” Brienne nods, “I want to find her.”
“You trusted me with Oathkeeper. I wanted to do what you asked, but I despaired at going alone. When you showed up at the inn and collapsed in my arms, I felt like a prayer had been answered.”
“That must have been quite a thing to pray for, sweetling.”
“I failed my father. I failed Renly and Lady Catelyn. I don’t want to fail you.”
Jaime puts his hand on Brienne’s shoulders and pushes her back gently. My wife. Brienne’s eyes are shining, and Jaime doesn’t want to see her tears on their first day wed.
“You never could,” he squeezes her shoulder, “Where should we go next?”
Brienne is silent for a moment, considering, “North, to the Vale. Even if Lysa Arryn is dead, that doesn’t mean Sansa didn’t seek refuge there first.”
“As fine a plan as any.”
“And you...don’t mind accompanying me?”
“Once this quest is through, I’d like to see what help I can be to Tommen. Uncle Kevan and my father are with him, but the boy is deep in Cersei’s clutches.”
“He’s your son.” There’s no judgment in Brienne’s voice. “I’ll come with you, if I can.”
“You hate King’s Landing.”
“I’ll hate being parted from you more.”
“Do you want to leave today?”
“The Bloody Gate is a hard ride. We’ll need supplies,” Brienne replies. “A day’s rest, for Pod’s sake.”
Jaime kisses her with the promise of more. “Let Hunt and Pod shake down the island for provisions.”
“A fitting task for a squire.”
Tomorrow. They’ll begin chasing the lost Stark girl again, and who knows what might come to pass after that. They could die in the attempt, or in another dozen stupid ways. Or maybe they’ll live, and Jaime can see Tarth’s blue waters for himself. Maybe their sons and daughters will hit each other with sticks in the yard.
Today. For today, Jaime’s only task will be making sure Hunt hears how much he enjoys pleasing his lady wife.