The day was not terribly warm, but Tyrion could feel himself sweating under his tunic.
This would work, this could work. This should work. He shifted, drew in a long breath.
Brienne looked up from her pose, seated to the side of King Bran. “Just because the idea didn’t come from you doesn’t mean it’s not clever, my Lord Hand.”
Tyrion turned in annoyance, as Brienne rearranged the shawls covering her from shoulders to knees. He caught Ser Podrick’s smirk, quickly hidden, but Brienne looked at him with nothing but sincerity in her blue eyes.
“Either this works or it doesn’t. But I cannot think that the Iron Bank would send an ambassador who is not politically savvy,” she reassured him. “He might read your restlessness as unease, though. Sit down and look as if the game is already won.”
Tyrion looks at her, serene and composed, despite her significant trials in the last few weeks.
She lifts her eyebrows, flicks her eyes once in their king’s direction, and gives him a half-smile.
A stir outside the pavilion where they sat in the shade, and another Kingsguard enters, whispering to Pod.
Pod turns to face them. “Your grace, the envoy from Braavos is here.”
“Send him in, Ser Podrick,” said the young king, eyes on his Lord Commander as she adjusted the shawl about her once again.
Podrick did so at once, motioning to someone at the door to send the envoy in. A young man in red, a gold lion rampant at his chest, sauntered forward through the frame, making sure that his expression was as disdainful as possible at the sight of the rough audience chamber, the keep still under repair. His bow to Bran was the merest suggestion of a dip at the waist.
“Greetings, Lord Bran,” the young man smirked, revealing a Braavosi accent. He’d been given orders to be as insulting as possible, Tyrion realized.
The envoy fidgeted, rolling his eyes at crippled young man, not using his true title. “Your name, my lord?” Tyrion asked, sharpening his voice in warning.
“Noho Dimittis,” the man replies, not bothering to address him by name. “I will not waste time on pleasantries. Queen Cersei wishes to inform you that she will be retaking the Seven Kingdoms, and that if you value your life, you will retreat north of the Wall with your pretender of a sister before she arrives, and never once venture south.”
Bran tilted his head at this news, absorbing the insults with the same neutral face that he regarded everyone with.
They were already aware of Cersei’s petitions to the Iron Bank and her secure of a loan. But they weren’t sending as many troops, now that a stable leader was on the throne of Westeros, one worked on shoring up trading contacts with outside kingdoms (relying on the advice of a former smuggler and current Lord of Coin).
War made quick cash, but peace brought a more stable source of funds for the bank. Tyrion suspected the Iron Bank was hedging its bets and playing both sides of the board, with the idea that if the armies she brought encouraged an uprising in Casterly Rock and King’s Landing, they might have a shot at a ruler who was completely indebted to them.
“I remember hearing tales that my sister treated you before. I do apologize for her lack of tact, though I wonder now that you wear the Lannister sigil on your chest,” Tyrion replied.
Dimittis shifts slightly at that. “I deal with many difficult heads of state.”
“So your master is still the Iron Bank, and not my sister? Good information to have,” Tyrion inquired. “Is that all your news?”
Dimittis, who must have expected blustering, angry retorts, nodded uneasily at Bran’s unblinking stare, the odd tableau they must present: a boy in a wheelchair, a dwarf standing at his side, and a giant of an armed woman seated at his other side.
“I believe my Lord Commander can reply to Cersei’s demands more ably than I can, in this respect.” It was only through long hours spent with the young man that Tyrion was able to see the tiny twinkle of amusement in his eyes.
Dimittis turned to Brienne then, his expression clearly betraying a disdain that put Tyrion’s teeth on edge.
“Well, I have nothing to say to Cersei,” Brienne replied. “She lost my respect long ago when she broke a promise to send forces against the Dead that would have threatened her lands if we had not held them back. But tell me, is her twin brother at her side?”
Dimittis nodded, confused.
“Well, then. You may carry a message back to him.”
She turned with a smile to Tyrion. “My Lord Hand, could you help me draw aside this shawl?”
Tyrion moved to do so, glancing up to be sure. But she nodded, and he uncovered the sweet golden heads of Catelyn, Joanna, and Galladon.
“You may inform Ser Jaime that I congratulate him on surviving the fall of the Red Keep and on rescuing his sister. You may also tell him that I have born him three children, and that the future of the Lannister House – and the loyalties of Casterly Rock – now lie with me.”
The cocky envoy’s expression slipped as he took in the three babes on Brienne’s lap, and Tyrion spied a fresh coat of sweat on his forehead.
Smart lad, Tyrion thought, feeling himself relax a bit at Dimittis's expression. Nothing will cause such a quick change of heart in the Iron Bank as this…nor anger Cersei more.
Dimittis looked at the babes, dumbfounded. Joanna waved a fist as if in greeting, and Brienne smiled at last, letting the child grip her finger.
“These…these are the children of Jaime Lannister?” Important information, but already dispersed throughout Casterly Rock’s remaining nobility.
The kingdom might rise to defend a daughter of the old lord…but given the way she and her brother had abandoned them to the Unsullied, they might not. Especially now that Cersei was likely to provide any more heirs. Especially now that she’d courted disaster several times, to the ruin of the kingdom.
Three children, one of whom could take the throne if Bran wanted, another who could take the Rock, a third who could take Tarth, if they all survived infancy. Three children who could trace their lineage to the Rock without the stain of incest. Three children supported by the North and by the other kingdoms. Three children raised with Ser Brienne’s legendary sense of honor and responsibility.
Three very good reasons for them to ignore Cersei’s calls for another uprising.
“They are indeed,” Brienne affirmed. “There are many in the North who can attest to my liaison with Ser Jaime, along with my Hand, Ser Jaime’s own brother. Legitimized by the grace and good will of my king, and all in good health. Will you deliver my message?”
“I can…surely you wish to write him a missive?” Dimittis stuttered. “I can wait as long as you wish.”
Brienne smiled distantly. “No. Merely those two sentences, which should not be too difficult for you to remember. You are a young lad. Please take my message, and refresh yourself at the kitchens before you return. You may lodge here if you wish, before your ship returns you to Braavos.”
Dimittis bowed, much more deeply than before. “Your grace,” he finally rasped, then bowed once more before he left the room.
Bran turned to Brienne. “This battle required a different sort of strength than any other, my Lord Commander. You have served this realm well, and protected it from a dangerous threat. You and your three children.”
Brienne bowed her head. “You did say that I would save the kingdom without lifting my sword, your grace. I never imagined that this was how it would go.”
Bran smiled distantly. He looked over to Pod, who was watching the tiny babes with warmth. “Ser Podrick, could you please conduct me to the Small Council room? I should like to confer with Ser Davos on funds and Lady Yara on the fleet. I believe we may pin some hopes on increased trade with Braavos.”
Pod bowed and came forward, and Tyrion bowed at Bran’s departure. Brienne bowed her head as low as she could, trying not to disturb the basket of babies in her lap.
“Should we accompany you, your grace?” Tyrion asked.
“Come when the babes are asleep this afternoon,” Bran called back. “You and the Lord Commander need to confer on whomever might arrive on our shores after our news arrives there.”
Tyrion approached, reaching out a hand to stroke Catelyn’s tiny nose. She pouted in her sleep. The babes were still of an age to sleep through the carrying voices that went on above them. Nevertheless, Tyrion found it difficult to speak above a whisper in their presence.
“You can hold them, you know,” Brienne smiled at him. “Just support their neck and head with one hand, their bottom with the other.”
He’d not been allowed so close to Cersei’s babes when they were born. He’d not gotten to touch their soft heads, let their little hands grip his fingers, feel their heavy little bodies in his arms.
Neither had Jaime.
The thought panged, but he ignored it at the wonder of Catelyn, wiggling jerkily in his arms. Babies. They were full of muscle and milk, screams and shit, hope and life.
“Well, my little niece,” he croaked out. “If I do end up dropping you, you won’t have far to fall. We’ll be of a size, at least for a time.”
Brienne nodded absently, long fingers stroking Galladon’s pudgy arm. “They will always need their uncle. He saw them into the world, after all.”
Joanna turned her head to regard him, and Tyrion could swear the eyes were Jaime’s.
“He will come,” Tyrion said quietly, reluctantly breaking the peace of the sleeping child in his arms. “You know he will come. What will you do?”
“I suppose it depends,” Brienne replied, with an expression of both dread and anticipation. “On whether he comes at the head of an army, or as a man wishing to see his children. And on our king’s orders.”
“You won’t kill him?”
“I might keep him guessing on that score for a time, but no. I will not harm the father of my children unless he intends to harm us. And somehow…unless Cersei convinces him…” she broke off, but Tyrion understood.
He understood more than anyone else.
“And if he does neither?”
Brienne schooled her features, a gesture Tyrion had become familiar with.
“Then my children have their Uncle Tyrion, Uncle Pod, and Uncle Davos. All good men that would have been there, regardless. They have me. They will not lack for love, for people watching over them.”
Tyrion wants to ask the next question, the most obvious. But he has already caused Brienne enough pain with his questions.
He thinks he knows. He thinks perhaps she might bend over time.
But there are betrayals, and then there are betrayals.
It will depend on Jaime, and what he wants, and what he is willing to do.
Tyrion looks at Brienne then, almost glowing in the early spring sunshine, sword at her hip, babies in her arms, soft and strong, just and forgiving, at once one of the ugliest women he’d ever seen and one of the most beautiful.
Jaime may have branded himself the stupidest Lannister, but he is the stupidest man alive if he does not come back to her and try once more.