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public promises (to fulfill a private obligation)

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Jaime has not been in King’s Landing long when he is summoned to the Tower of the Hand. His father is waiting, and he barely deigns to give Jaime a disapproving once over before stating his intentions.

“You will leave the Kingsguard and marry the Tarth girl,” he says, settling behind his desk and folding his hands.

Pardon?

Jaime’s first thought, somehow, is not that his father has played him well or how unsuitable Brienne must appear to someone like his father, but how cruel such a declaration would be to her. He had expected the Kingsguard, but not this.

“She’s a Higborn woman, Jaime, and you travelled alone with her for weeks.”

“As her prisoner,” Jaime says. “I assure you, no liberties were taken with her maidenhood, and if she had any concern of that she was welcome to not drag me across half of Westeros.”

Tywin grunts. “And if that is all that had occurred, there would be no concern at all. But you returned to Harrenhal for her, and made an absolute fool of yourself.”

“It was a big bear,” Jaime sneers, but Tywin only arches one eyebrow disapprovingly.

That could have been dealt with. But you offered a ransom, above and beyond the fair price they had rejected, and Bolton’s men have been quite happy to tell the tale far and wide. I’d think it was her hand behind it, if I’d not had her watched every moment since her arrival.”

Seven fucking hells, of course he had. “Lady Brienne is the only reason I have returned, you cannot—”

Tywin waves his hand. “There is naught to do about it now—you will not shame this family any further.”

“The Kingsguard serve for life.”

“A minor detail.”

“No, it is not.”

Tywin jerks his head towards Jaime’s arm. “You think you can protect your king like that?”

It is the first time his father has acknowledged his missing hand, and Jaime wishes he had continued his deliberate ignorance.

“Any knight worth anything knows how to fight with his off-hand,” he counters, though he knows it is not so simple. His father pays it no mind, regardless; Jaime could not have expected anything else.

“No. Vile rumours still surround Joffrey. You will leave the Kingsguard and secure the future of this House, and in doing so secure his place on the throne. Lady Brienne is not who I would have chosen for you, but she is in no position to argue. However she found herself serving Catelyn Stark, her house has been sworn to the Baratheons for generations. Her father was loyal to Robert and now Joffrey. She will do as well as anyone.”

Whatever Selwyn Tarth’s loyalties, Brienne had served Renly, and Jaime doubts she’s the sort to be swayed by patriarchal preferences. Not that he has any intention of saying so—disagreement is the quickest way to make her an enemy to be crushed beneath his father’s heel, and he does not wish for that.

He suspects there is more to his father’s machinations than he acknowledges—Tywin Lannister rarely reveals himself so easily, and he has wished for Jaime to reclaim his place as heir for years; there must be layers upon layers behind this scheme that Jaime cannot see. Perhaps his brother will, though Jaime is not certain he would want Tyrion’s opinions on the matter either.

“I’m sure she’d be a perfectly fine bride, if I were looking for one,” Jaime says. He means it as a defense of one he considers a friend, but the moment he hears the words he knows how his father will take it—a foothold upon which to mount his assault and breach the walls Jaime had so carefully erected with oaths and knighthood.

“Well, you will no doubt be quite content then,” his father says. “On another matter…”

Jaime somehow gets through the lecture of duty to his house as Tywin explains to him that Ned Stark’s sword had been reforged into two, and one will go to him and the other to the King. His grip fumbles when the sword is presented—his muscles are still not what they had been before his imprisonment and he misjudges the weight as a result—but he recovers quickly.

“It is wasted on you now, of course,” his father says, “but you can keep it until your son comes of age.”

The one on the throne, or the one you would thrust upon an unwilling woman? he refrains from asking, knowing that a petty strike will cost him too dearly to be worth the momentary satisfaction.

If Lady Brienne agrees,” Jaime says.

“She would be a fool not to,” his father replies, certain as ever the world will bend to his will. He has never crossed words with Brienne of Tarth, however, and Jaime very much looks forward to the result.

***

He finds Brienne in the Godswood, watching Sansa as she does every day. She’s dressed in a split skirt and tunic, a vague concession to being at court; she looks well, whatever reception she has received in the capital, and he is almost loath to disrupt it with his news. Still, he must. She does not approach Sansa, preferring to watch from afar, which suits him well. He sidles close, slightly offended when she barely reacts to his presence.

“You’ve caught the attentions of my father,” he says, leaning against the rail that overlooks the bench where Sansa sits.

“And what is that supposed to mean?” she replies; weeks of testing every boundary between them, seeking every weakness to press upon, tells him there are nerves beneath her calm exterior, even if others might not see.

“It means you’ve become a cyvasse piece upon the great board Twin Lannister calls life. Welcome.”

She snorts, her grip on the rail tightening. “Does he know…”

“That you intend to see Sansa Stark safe? I doubt it occurred to him you might ever consider it.”

“That is… good,” she says quietly, nodding.

“Perhaps. You may be less pleased when you learn what he plans instead.”

She sighs. “He wishes me to pay, for my failures.”

“Your—” Oh, the hand. He tries to give his most sardonic grin. “Lady Brienne, this” —he raises his arm— “was entirely my own actions, and I will not have you taking the acclaim for it. No, I’m afraid it is far worse.”

“Renly, then?”

“He probably wishes you did kill him,” Jaime says, regretting the flippancy of his tone when she winces. “No, he means to reward you with marriage.”

“Marriage,” she repeats, incredulous. She tilts her head back, as if to feel the sun on her face, and sighs. “I suppose it is some comfort that he is no more likely to find a willing groom than my father was.”

“He already has.”

Fuck.”

“Now now, my lady wife should not use such language.”

She laughs, a short, sharp bark. “Ser Jaime, this is not amusing. I thought you sincere at first.”

“I am. I’m sorry to say he’s already begun arranging the septon. It must be small, so as not to eclipse the much greater marriages to come, and tasteful, as befits the future Lady of the Rock.”

She turns to face him fully, crossing her arms as she judges whether he is in earnest. She must find he is, because she drops her arms and turns back to Sansa.

“This is brilliant,” she says. “Better than we could have hoped.”

“Not the response I expected,” he replies.

“No, it is— I thought he had meant to marry me off to some old man in… the Reach, perhaps. The Iron Islands. Somewhere far from Lady Sansa. But you? I will finally have reason to befriend her, and when there is a chance to make our escape, you will not stop me.”

“Serendipitous indeed,” he says dryly.

“And when I disappear,” she continues, “you will be free to do as you will without fear of being married off, or you can plead your case to the king to reinstate you to the Kingsguard if you can have the marriage annulled. It will benefit us both.”

“You forget, Lady Brienne, that marriage comes with expectations.”

“I would not hold you to them.”

Jaime shakes his head. “I’m afraid my father would.”

She bites her bottom lip, her gaze focused entirely on Sansa. “If we… Would it upset your sister greatly, if we…”

“Fucked?” Jaime supplies, and Brienne blushes furiously, blotches spreading across her cheeks and down her throat.

“Lead your father to believe we had,” she says. “Soiled sheets, the occasional overseen moment… It is nothing I have not seen before.”

He considers it. It is not a lie they would have to play at for long, and there’s an odd sort of satisfaction at the idea of spiting his father so cleverly. Not that he would have imagined Brienne of Tarth, the great lumbering woman with honour for a spine, would have ever dreamt of such a scheme, but it seems she is full of surprises yet.

Jaime looks down at Sansa Stark below them, her head bowed and her face hidden. She is still only a child, and he made a vow. A vow he could have easily kept if his father had not defied guest right in a bid to win the war.

“Very well,” he says. “If you’re in agreement, then we shall.”

“And your sister?” Brienne asks. She still does not look at him. “I do not wish to— I will not ask anything of you but that you do not… If you would be discreet, with your sister, I… I do not wish to be made a fool of, even if the marriage is a facade.”

Jaime snorts, because it is easier to jape than to examine the truth. “Believe me, whatever desire my dear sister once held for me was lost in a Riverlands forest along with my hand. This will be no sacrifice at all.”