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The Importance of Knocking

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Cersei Lannister, Queen Regent of the Seven Kingdoms, mother to two kings and survivor of marriage to a third, not to mention her trial by the Faith, was not a woman much given to knocking before entering diverse chambers. Knocking was for servants. Other people’s private pursuits were of no interest to her, certainly not as important as whatever Cersei required at any given moment.

When she strode into her brother’s bedchamber, past the pallid, saucer-eyed Kingsguard whose name escaped her, Cersei expected nothing worse than the thrill of disgust she always felt at the sight of her twin’s mutilated arm.

Nothing prepared her for the twin shocks of finding a stranger sharing her brother’s bed and not just a stranger, but a man. All Cersei could see over a heaving mass of bedcovers were a muscular back, broad shoulders, and a head of short, pale hair. Whether the man was riding Jaime or the other way around was difficult to discern.

Cersei had walked in on her fair share of rutting couples over the years. The occasions when she had entered Robert’s chambers with a complaint about poor, dear Joffrey’s tutors or another pressing matter and not found some whore or kitchen wench there, had been rarer by far than the occasions when she had found Robert alone and merely drunk.

The one time Cersei had deigned to march on Loras Tyrell’s quarters and state categorically that the seven hells would freeze over before they were ever wed, whatever stable boy or squire had been bobbing his head vigorously under the Knight of Flowers’ covers had barely paused in his exertions during Cersei’s speech. At least Tyrell had had the good grace to look abashed.

This was more than Cersei could say of her other brother, that disgusting little man, so fond of wine and whores he’d rather reminded her of Robert in miniature. Cersei had fought many a battle for the good of the realm during Tyrion’s unfortunate tenure as Hand of the King – really, what had their father been thinking! – while Tyrion had kept a firm grip on some girl’s hips and thrust away, doing his damnedest to ignore Cersei as she’d ignored his revolting amusements and focused on berating him for his many failures.

Men were pigs. Cersei had never expected anything better from the likes of Robert, Tyrion or that effete fool Tyrell. But Jaime… Jaime had always been hers and faithful to a fault.

Cersei swirled the red wine in her cup. Surely there was some mistake: Jaime would no more bed a man than he would any woman other than Cersei.

“Jaime, I would speak with you,” Cersei snapped in a tone which brooked no argument. The rutting couple had ignored her presence long enough.

The pale-haired beast of a youth on top of Jaime uttered an oddly girlish squeal and tumbled forward, attempting to burrow under the covers, hindered by his size and position. The pair wrestled under the covers for a long moment, while Cersei still waited. Jaime sounded distinctly breathless when he deigned to speak.

“Wench, you’re smothering me!” He was also laughing. It really was too much.

“Jaime!” Cersei would have stomped her foot, but such behavior was beneath her. A queen must be dignified always.

The gigantic youth finally disentangled himself and rolled to the side. A large hand emerged from the covers only as long as it took to drag them over the shock of pale hair protruding from the mess of bedclothes. Beside the mound the youth made under the covers, Jaime emerged at last, flushed and graying and one-handed.

Cersei experienced a brief thrill of desire, more memory than true feeling. He was still beautiful, her twin, though his looks were going. He bore several scars Cersei did not recall seeing on him before his capture by the Starks, he insisted on sporting a beard, and that stump…

Cersei shuddered inside her tight bodice: she could never abide those hideous scars touching her.

“I suppose it is redundant to ask why you didn’t knock,” Jaime said, plumping up a pillow before he settled back, infuriatingly at ease. He ought to be bowing before his queen. “What do you want, Cersei?”

Cersei sniffed, sipped from her cup. “By what right did you instruct the Kingsguard to escort Tommen to that woman’s chambers this evening? You are no longer their Lord Commander, and Tommen is far too young to be bedding down with the little rose.”

If Cersei had her way, the little rose would wither before she could sprout and bear fruit, and Tommen would remain too young forever, despite his unseemly enthusiasm and claims that at ten-and-four he was old enough to make his own decisions. Cersei would not be pushed aside in favor of some fragile, green offshoot of the Tyrell tree and her own young, foolish son.

Jaime raised an eyebrow. “My word as Regent outweighs that of the Lord Commander, even if Payne and I did not see eye to eye in this matter. Ser Podrick will guard the King’s bedchamber personally to ensure there are no interruptions.”

“Tommen is too young!” Cersei cried, ignoring for the moment the matter of who was Regent. It was hardly her fault their nuncle had died, and the Faith had insisted Cersei be stripped of all her power and positions before she could exchange her cell in the Great Sept for house arrest in the Red Keep.

House arrest! For a queen! Preposterous. Cersei did not have to feign the tears which crept into her eyes. She would have clasped her hands in supplication, but there was nowhere to put down her cup, and no servants lingered nearby to relieve her of it. “Jaime, you cannot take Tommen away from me, not yet.”

The mound under the covers drew itself up into a tight ball. Jaime’s expression was halfway to sympathetic before he spoiled it by snorting and laying his hand protectively on the mound of covers and flesh at his side.

“The lad is ten-and-four, Cersei. More than old enough to bed his wife. Though he did say something about bringing one of his cats along.” Jaime’s smile turned cruel. “Perhaps if you’re very fortunate, Tommen and Margaery will spend the whole night just petting the kitty.”

The covers erupted as the youth emerged, red of face and ugly as anything Cersei had ever seen. He uttered an outraged “Jaime!” in a high-pitched voice. Then the youth’s startling blue eyes landed on Cersei, the creature turned even redder in the face and dove back under the covers, curling up into a somewhat smaller ball than before.

Jaime patted the covered youth. “All right, wench, I was only jesting. I am certain Tommen will plant a whole passel of children in his wife before morning, or at least try to.”

The mound of covers attempted an angry sputter, but the protest died in the attempt.

Cersei glanced into her cup: it contained far too little wine to fortify her through the unwanted revelation she’d just been granted.

“Is that a woman?” she demanded, certain the poor light in the shuttered chamber had deceived her eyes.

Cersei had only glimpsed Jaime’s bedmate’s scarred face, neck, and shoulders – far less and vastly less pleasing than Cersei had seen of Taena Merryweather the night she’d paid an unannounced visit to Taena and that oaf Orton’s chamber – yet the impression of womanliness, however deformed and hideous, had been unmistakable. Cersei felt torn between relief and outrage that Jaime had not at least had the good grace to bugger some overgrown squire, if he must take anyone into his bed at all.

Jaime was watching her in that irritatingly cockeyed way again, like he was privy to some joke he thought Cersei too stupid to understand. His maiming had altered his character in more ways than one, none of them pleasing.

“I see I must make the introductions yet again.” Jaime sounded weary. Really, Cersei did not have to put up with this behavior from him. He was only Regent and former Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, whereas Cersei was…

Well.

Jaime gestured at the ball of covers with a flourish. “Allow me to present my lady wife, Brienne of Tarth, Wielder of Swords and Scourge of the Vale.” He turned to the bedclothed mound, his voice taking on a tender lilt which sent a jealous pang rushing through Cersei. “Brienne, this is my sister, the Dowager Queen Cersei Baratheon.”

The mound whistled softly like a laughing fool while Jaime stroked it.

Cersei drained her cup, frowning. Dowager Queen! Jaime insisted on making her sound old, when he was the one with silver and ashes in his hair, and that beard!

Cersei vaguely remembered attending a wedding some moons ago, but everyone had kept pointing at her hair, then barely long enough to cover her ears, so she had refrained from dancing or talking to the other guests.

“Wife?” Cersei demanded with sweet scorn. “Yet you call her ‘wench.’ You fool no one, brother.”

The mound gathered itself into the smallest space yet, and still took up nearly half the bed with its quivering mass. Jaime’s hand on it was light, but his eyes were sharp on Cersei.

“Yes,” he confirmed. “I call her ‘wench.’ Anyone else who tries it can have a taste of my hand: the left with a sword in it or the golden, their choice.”

The mound remained still, until a large hand emerged, patted around blindly, finally took hold of Jaime’s hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. Jaime squeezed back, watching the spade-like hand in his with wholly unwarranted tenderness.

Cersei had had enough and was out of wine. She left her brother’s chamber with a scornful swish of her skirts, her head held high, already conceiving of other ways to prevent her son from bedding down with the little Tyrell harpy.

The sound of rustling bedclothes and low voices followed Cersei down the corridor like scurrying mice, until that fool of a Kingsguard had the good grace to shut the chamber door behind her.