By the time they’d reached Dorne, Jaime was tired. Of traveling over rough land, of hiding from everyone they neared, and of Cersei. Most of all Cersei.
If he’d had the nerve, he’d have left her in King’s Landing to fend for herself. She’d never have kept his survival a secret, though, so it was just as well. He’d helped her stage their deaths by dressing two charred peasant corpses in their clothing and putting them under the fallen rocks. He’d helped her get all the way south to Sunspear, to the ship that would take her far from Westeros. He’d even helped secure her a more acceptable dress and a wide Dornish scarf to disguise herself in, when she’d complained about the dead peasant’s dress stinking like a charnel house.
But he had kept only one thought in his mind the entire time, the same thought that had plagued him since leaving Winterfell and especially since arriving at King’s Landing and seeing his sister again. He thought of Brienne, draped in black against a snowy courtyard, her face a mask of anguish, her voice breaking as she pleaded with him not to leave. He thought of Brienne, and of how he should never have left her side, and how if he could only see her again he might somehow, someday, earn something like forgiveness and a chance to see her happy again. It was a slim chance, but it existed. Not because he deserved it — he manifestly did not. But because she was that good. He wasn’t too proud to take advantage of that.
Even now, in the cabin as the ship prepared to embark, Cersei was unhappy, as he now knew she would always, always be.
“How do they bear it?” She shut the cabin hatch and unwound the scarf from her head and shoulders. “It’s too hot to live out there, and it’s stifling in here. And this is cold for Dorne, the sailors say.”
She wasn’t wrong, but he wasn’t inclined to give her the satisfaction of hearing that. “It’s certainly pleasant compared to the last time I was here.” He stared out the porthole at the wharf, gathering his resolve. This one last confrontation, then he would be free.
Cersei endeavored to fold the long, wide scarf. “You haven’t even gone outside.”
“I’ll go out later, after it’s full dark. I’m known here.” He held up his truncated arm, knowing she hated to be reminded of it. “And it’s hard to hide this.”
“You need a new hand. When we get to Volantis, we can have a new one made.”
He didn’t answer, just toyed with the flap of fabric pinned over the stump so she might drop the subject all the faster. Sadly, it didn’t work. She flung her scarf aside carelessly and lolled on the bunk.
“Something lighter, perhaps, this time. Surely Essos has some sort of hardwood that might do. And artisans who could carve you something more graceful.” She sighed and frowned slightly. “Oh…ivory might be suitable. Is it costly there, ivory?”
An ivory hand. As if there wouldn’t be a thousand more pressing needs. And that was that, the opening he had been waiting for.
He exhaled. “I have no idea. I’ve never been to Essos. I’m sure you’ll find out.”
“With what little coin we have left, I suppose the ivory hand must wait. And new gowns. Although this one is disintegrating, so I’ll need something new soon. Perhaps in Lys?”
Oh, for the love of all the old gods and the new. “Cersei…”
He finally shifted his gaze to her, examining her features for the last time. She was pouting at him.
“What?” she demanded again.
“This is where I leave you. Whatever you purchase in Lys or Volantis will be your own affair.” A weight fell from his shoulders, a giddy relief that carried him to his feet. He hefted his single bag, which he’d never unpacked, across his shoulder.
“You can’t mean this,” she said breathlessly, blinking at him in disbelief “You came back. Jaime. You came back for me. For us. We were the only thing that mattered.”
“I came to get you out of harm’s way. I’ve done that.” He pulled his sword across the bunk, rearranged the rags he’d wrapped around it to mask its value, and maneuvered it into place in the loop on his belt. “You’ll come to less harm traveling alone from this point on. Anybody who might be looking would be looking for both of us together, not a woman traveling alone.”
“You’ll come to Volantis some other way, then.” The truth finally seemed to be dawning on her, though. Her face went slack and dull, all her practiced expressions abandoned in the face of this new reality.
“No.” He was already to the door, his hand on the latch. “I’ve left most of the gold for you, and a good dagger. You might consider stopping in Lys, not going on to Volantis at all. It’s less predictable. The Lyseni are fair so you’ll blend in, the climate is mild, and the place runs on money not bloodlines. After a time I can treat with the Iron Bank to send you funds, and you can buy all the safety you’ll ever need.”
This was probably not true. She would only be as safe as she was careful, and he doubted Cersei would be careful. She thrived on attention too much to deprive herself of it for long. And Bran Stark would probably know where to find both of them if he chose to, no matter where they went. At least if the stories were true.
She seemed frozen to the bunk, her hands knotted into the scarf she’d dropped earlier. “What you said when the rocks fell…”
“I thought we were dead. I didn’t want you to die thinking…you were alone. But we lived.”
“And what of this child?” She pressed a hand to her belly, making another prettily distressed face he knew she’d practiced in the mirror. It was as false as everything else about her, and he only wished he’d realized the difference sooner. Months sooner. Years sooner. The moment he’d met a woman who was incapable of falsehood.
“Cersei, you and I have had three children. I watched you carry them and watched you birth them. Do you honestly believe I haven’t paid attention to the passage of time since you announced this?” He dropped his hand from the door and faced her head-on, needing her to grasp what he said before he left her. “I lied too, did you know? I truly did believe you. I came back in part because of that, because I felt a duty to the child, if not to you. And when I arrived, although it had been months, your belly was still flat. There was never a baby. I was a fool to think there was, to think that you wouldn’t lie to me as you had about everything else. You sent a sellsword to kill me and our brother, and still I came back. I got you out of the keep, I brought you here…and now I’m through with you. You won’t see me again. Do you understand?”
She turned away from him slowly, gazing out into the gathering darkness. She didn’t answer.
After a moment, he realized it didn’t matter whether she responded or not. He was done with her. He wrapped his own scarf around his head to cover everything but his eyes, then left the cabin and the ship without looking back once.
Even at dusk, the air of Sunspear was so hot it felt strangely thick to breathe. Truly, though, not anything like as hot as it had been the last time Jaime had visited. Winter of a sort had come to Dorne, even if it was still warmer than summer in the North.
The scarf itched across his brow and bothered the backs of his ears, but it kept the sweat from dripping and filtered the sand that would otherwise end up in his nose and between his teeth. And it hid his fair hair and all too recognizable face.
From the ship he’d left Cersei on, he made his way along the waterfront to another that would take him north again. He couldn’t return to King’s Landing, not if he valued his life—and he did, he still did, though his life’s purpose had changed so much he hardly recognized himself. But Brienne wouldn’t have stayed in Winterfell once news of Cersei’s defeat had reached her. She and the Stark girl would want to be there in King’s Landing to help sort out the mess. To crown a new King.
Everyone would want to be there. Sansa Stark might even make a play for the throne. Brienne would never let her do that alone.
On the new ship he boarded, he had no private berth, only a rough bunk among the crew. It was the best he could secure on short notice. It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered except going north again and trying to pick up the thread of the new life he’d started to weave in his own mind over the course of those weeks in Winterfell.
The rest of that life would probably be very short, because Ser Brienne of Tarth would most likely kill him on sight. But he would have achieved his purpose. She would know he’d come back for her. She would know he had loved her. That he regretted ever leaving, ever being stupid enough to think that Cersei deserved rescuing. Ever being stupid enough to put anyone before Brienne.
If she didn’t kill him immediately—although she would, of course she would, and rightly so—she would definitely do so after learning that he’d let Cersei live. That he’d helped her escape not only King’s Landing but Westeros entirely. He would have to answer for that. But at least he would see Brienne one more time first. Her fine, silky hair clinging to the sweat on her face, holding an awkward curl at the back from where her helmet sat. Her nose and cheeks red from the cold, over the existing crop of freckles. Her eyes, too pale to be any color at all, really. The perfect angle of her sword arm as she swung for his neck.
What a way to go.