Jaime Lannister walked.
Not to anywhere. Not really from anything, either, although when he’d started he’d definitely been walking away from King’s Landing, from Cersei, from all the traces and trappings of his old life, the life he’d never have again.
He’d accomplished that well before he reached the Neck. After that, he was just walking.
Every morning he woke up in his narrow little tent, crawled out of his sleeping bag and broke his fast. If there was a stream or a river or a lake nearby, he washed. Then he packed up his tent and the rest of his gear, stowed it in his backpack and made sure he’d left no trace of himself at his campsite. All of it took far longer than it needed to, than it would have taken him when he still had two hands, but he got it done in the end, every morning.
Then he walked. Past fields and through towns, over bridges and through valleys. Along the Kingsroad when he couldn’t avoid it, ignoring the cars and trucks roaring past. Along country lanes and dirt tracks when he could, where there was no sound but birdsong and his footsteps.
When it started to get too dark for him to reliably find his footing, he stopped, unpacked his gear, set up his tent, started a fire if he was somewhere it was safe to do so. All of it taking far longer than it should have, than it would have.
When he had two hands.
He cooked, he ate, he made sure the fire was out, and he slept. Every day.
Every day the same.
When he’d started, it hadn’t even been a decision. He’d walked out of Tyrion’s front door, turned left, and kept walking. Past the Street of the Sister, through Cobbler’s Square, and out of the Gate of the Gods. That night, he’d slept in a hedgerow, the first night of decent sleep he’d had since it happened. The next morning, passing a roadside café, the smell of frying bacon was appealing for the first time since he’d gotten out of jail.
Someone had snapped a picture of the infamous Jaime Lannister inhaling a fry-up and put it on their socials. That was how Tyrion had found him, in the end: sending Bronn to drive along every road in the vicinity in every conceivable direction until he spotted Jaime.
Tyrion had asked him what in the Seven Kingdoms he’d been thinking, and all Jaime had been able to do was shrug. I have to get away.
So, the tent. The sleeping bag. The maestercard, to buy food and his meds, and to let Tyrion know he was alive and where he was whenever he charged something. A phone, switched off to conserve the battery except for once a week, when he turned it on and ravened Tyrion. Proof of life.
His hair grew. His beard grew. People stopped turning to look at him when he went into a shop or a diner. Instead, they looked away, careful not to make eye-contact. He was no longer Jaime Lannister, the sister-fucking Kingslayer. He was one more homeless itinerant, possibly dangerous, definitely embarrassing. No matter how much his hair and beard grew, his bearing screamed ex-military, which meant he fit right in with all the other veterans sleeping in doorways and under bridges as a collective reproach to the tax-payers of Westeros, one everyone much preferred to look away from. Sometimes some young bravos tried to make themselves look like big men to their friends by heckling, or throwing something, or trying to start a fight. Jaime ignored them as best he could unless they actually went so far as to put their hands on him.
Then they found out that even a one-handed veteran was more than capable of defending himself against pimply youths.
North of the Neck, things changed. There were longer stretches of road without any towns or truck-stops or even any sign of human habitation. When he did reach one, though, people didn’t look away. Not because they recognised him and stared, though. A woman behind the counter of a gas-station shop shoved an extra handful of chocolate bars into Jaime’s shopping bag after the sale was already rung through, added five cans of Red Stallion energy drink, and told him you look like you need it. Passing through Moat Cailin, Jaime was startled when a man locking up his hardware store called him over. The heat’s off till morning, but it’ll stay warm enough for most of the night, if you need a place. In Barrowton, the cashier at the Speedymart refused to take his money. More than my job is worth, which made no sense to Jaime. Crossing the Rills, he woke up one morning to the smell of pipe-smoke and emerged from his tent to find an ancient farmer seated on a tree-stump. You need to come up to the house for a feed, he said, and brooked no argument.
Jaime turned north again, and reached Torrhen’s Square, where a stout matron barrelled out of her front door and demanded he come inside on the instant to assist her. Jaime set his pack down in the hall, straightened the picture in the living room until she professed herself satisfied, and then found himself chivvied into taking a seat on the sofa and plied with more sandwiches than he could possibly eat. When he finally managed to make his escape, she wrapped up the leftovers and sent him off with several days’ worth of meals.
A couple of days after that, a big SUV with black-and-white checks striped down the side drove past him slowly, and stopped just ahead. The Gold Cloaks marked their vehicles in yellow, and the Green Cloaks of the Reach in green, but Jaime knew a police car when he saw one.
He drew level and a slim young man with a long face and dark hair and a giant white dog both turned to look at him. “Can I help you, officer?”
“I thought I might give you a lift,” the copper said.
“And can I say no?” Jaime gave him his sharpest smile. “Just for information.”
The young man smiled, in a way that touched his eyes more than his mouth. “Yes. I’m not trying to arrest you by stealth. But there’s a late spring chill coming, and there’s a shelter in Winterton where you can sleep warm.”
Jaime shook his head. “I can’t sleep under a roof.”
“Then you need to get yourself south. Or some sheep-herder will find you frozen in your tent before long, which I’d rather not happen to you or to them.”
“I can’t go back,” Jaime blurted without meaning to.
“Mmm.” The young man studied him. “Well, then, you’d best get in. There’s one place north of the Neck that might suit you tonight, but you won’t reach it on foot.”
“And will your dog refrain from eating me?”
The man smiled again. “If you refrain from attempted murder.”
Jaime opened the back door of the SUV and slung his pack in. “I think I can commit to that.”
“I’m Jon,” the young man said as Jaime climbed into the vehicle.
The place that might suit turned out to be a Godswood, sheltered by tall stone walls and warmed by hot springs steaming in the chill air. A woman with auburn hair and soft blue eyes brought him a slice of rabbit pie as he set up his tent.
It was cold that night, despite the warmth of the pools. The next morning, Jaime had to admit that the tent and the sleeping bag Tyrion had bought him, however expensive, were no match for the North. Maybe in summer, but not in spring.
He turned south again, back through the Neck, past Oldstones and Fairmarket, along the Green Fork. Skirting around King’s Landing, he followed the Kingsroad until he found himself standing on a dock looking at a huge ferry.
He got on, charged the ticket so Tyrion would know where he was, and sat out on the deck while a cold wind whipped his shaggy hair and salt-spray dampened his wild beard. The ferry pitched and rocked over the choppy waves until it reached a long thin jetty in a precarious harbour.
“Where is this?” Jaime asked the woman next to him as they queued for the gangplank.
She looked at him as if he’d just asked what century it was. “Tarth,” she said after a moment. “You’re on Tarth.”