Mummers´ Show

pinkolifant

Chapter 029

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Brienne

Brienne opened her eyes to a thickness of blond waves entering them, smelling of burn and of soot, in contrast with their golden colour. The perfumed mass was already filling her nose and tickling her mouth too. She murmured from sudden satisfaction and thoughtlessly stretched her arms to determine that the rest of Jaime's head and body was indeed near her own.

Until through his tangled hair she saw another pair of young green eyes, sparkled with yellow specks, weary and lacking any trust.

Abruptly, she sat up and looked at the boy whose father slid to the ground, not minding that the new surface he continued to sleep on was nowhere near as soft as the previous one.

"Good morning," Tommen said, and Brienne had never been so embarrassed in her life. "Who are you and what are you doing with my father?"

She was too dazed to say anything else but to start telling the truth. "My name is Lady Brienne of Tarrth. Two years ago, I was sent by Lady Catelyn Stark to accompany Ser Jaime to King's Landing in exchange for her daughters. We were captured and..."

"You were with him when he lost his hand," Tommen interrupted, and Brienne could barely spare some life force to nod.

"Tommen," a very sleepy roar came from the ground interrupted by a more surprised one, "Brienne! Where in the seven hells have you been?"

"The Tyrells had the Red Keep closed. I could not come in." It was everything she offered as an explanation. The rest was too humiliating to tell, especially in front of his son. Maybe she would tell him later when they would be alone.

"Father, is she a friend?" Tommen asked.

"She is the reason I didn't die when the Bloody Mummers cut my hand," Jaime said very seriously to the boy.

"But mother says it was Maester Qyburn who saved your life," the boy objected.

"Qyburn is no maester," Jaime snapped, "and he did save my body, but the Lady Brienne gave me something more important."

"What is it, father?"

"She returned to me the desire to live," Jaime said.

"What is that, father?"

"Tommen, did you ever feel so sad that you wanted to die?"

The boy went pale and turned his eyes to the ground.

"I thought so. Now think of the person who made you forget that feeling, and tell me if that person is a friend, or not."

Tommen

Tommen looked at Jaime with adoration, for the person who had saved him was more than a friend. It was his father. But he couldn't tell him that. Father's friend wore another scared look in her innocent looking blue eyes, prompting Tommen to take in all of his surroundings.

They were not alone.

A man with dark greying hair, wild like a bush of uncut roses, came into view, leading a bit older lad with eyes blue as polished steel mirroring the sky before the tempest.

"Good morning, Tommen," he said. "And welcome. My name is Mance, and this is Gendry. He lived like a royal bastard in King's Landing before you did, and he knows a good man with a soft heart for bastards. He will take you to him until we find a better place for you. If your father allows it."

"If anything happens to my son," Jaime said coldly, "I will have your life for it."

"Ser Jaime," Lady Sansa came in view as well, "when I enjoyed the hospitality of Lord Baelish in the Eyrie, he taught me that the best place to hide was in plain sight. He was right. About that, at least. No one has ever seen Sansa Stark in his natural daughter, Alayne Stone."

"What do you have in mind? Speak plain, my lady. I am not my sister despite sharing her golden looks," father said impatiently while Tommen wished he could trust Sansa. She was always kind to him and Myrcella, his sister, even when Joffrey had her publicly beaten in court.

"Gendry lived with a master smith," Sansa explained. "He will take Tommen to him and get him a good armour. King Aegon seems to have a different Kingsguard now, all made of young lads, almost children. Your former squires are in it and so is the son of Lord Blackwood, all of them alive. But the young king trusts Robert Arryn and Ned Dayne above all. Sweetrobin and Tommen played together as children, and I took care of him in the Vale. If I asked it of him, I am certain that he would help Tom Waters become one of Aegon's guards."

"Jaime," Lady Brienne told his father in sudden inspiration. "It is madness. But it might work." And then to him, the bastard: "Don't you want to be a knight like your father before you? There is no greater honour."

Tommen clapped hands, giddily, considering the words of father's lady friend: "Than I could have a real horse in place of kittens. That's exciting! Joffrey never let me have one, or mother. They said I could not ride well."

He stopped rejoicing when he realised that father looked overridden by the enthusiasm of everyone else, worried, and deeply sad.

"All right, Tommen," he said. "Be brave. Remember: only show your face to Lord Arryn as long as the court is full of roses. Aegon might spare you again, but they will not. How else are they going to wed Margaery to Aegon if she is already married to you?"

"But the High Septon can dissolve our marriage easily!" Tommen protested "I… We…"

"We all know that you are a good boy, Tommen," Sansa said with Petyr's wisdom. "But the favour of the new High Septon may come too costly for the House Tyrell. Even their stores of gold and food provisions have to reach an end. Winter is coming."

Tommen bowed his head realising with unmistaken certainty of a former boy king that killing a child only took the service of one man grown wielding a sword. That would come cheap, he thought.

Behind Lady Sansa, on the outside of the open door, the shaggy man, Mance, was giving a dirty light cloak to the Hound: "For safe keeping," he said.

"I have stained my own white cloak beyond recognition," Sandor Clegane said. "Maybe you want to entrust your precious skin to the Elder Brother instead."

"Just keep it," the hairy man told him, not flinching away from the Hound's scars as most people whom Tommen knew always did. "He might be tempted to give it to the poor as a blanket against the cold. Rain will be upon us any time now. And the old gods will laugh heartily when the snow takes over this city and its inhabitants used to the stupor of the long summer."

Then Mance begged the gaunt champion of the Faith, completely covered in deep browns of the servants of the Seven, who was not even a knight; he was a monk, and nothing else. "Wait for me, both of you, at the Mud Gate. Be there some two hours from now. That should be enough if my gut instincts are not all wrong."

"That will be past noon," the monk said. "Won't you be late to meet Princess Daenerys?

"Princess? What is she all of a sudden? A friend of yours?"

"You are my friend, Mance," the monk said. "Like Sandor Clegane is my brother. I am worried about you, is all. Contrary to your opinion of me, I am not the only one in this company with the propensity to do foolish things for the benefit of others."

"Well said, Elder Brother," Mance laughed. "I may yet remember this for my play."

But he did not heed the holy man's warning, his large feet in tight furry boots carrying him smoothly away, his shaggy hair reflecting the rustling of his tunic in the chilly wind from the sea blowing over the capital.

The Fishmonger Woman

The fish market in front of the Mud Gate was large and noisy, brimming with people from the early hours of the morning as if the city had not been under siege.

"Stannis, he was something," said a fishmonger to a fishmonger woman. "That was a serious battle, fleet and all. Until Lord Imp had the grace to burn the sea, and the ghost of Lord Renly Baratheon chased him away."

"Shut up and sell your fish," the woman told him, "before the dragon queen spies hear you and she feeds you to her dragons to break their fast. Dragons eat children, everyone knows that. But if they are hungry, they could feast on you as well."

Her words made a slender, hooded, common woman studying her stall drop a fish she was examining back in one of the wooden crates.

"An excellent choice," the fishmonger woman said, trying to make her customer reconsider. "Fresh from the bay, we set out at night and the black fleet didn't see us."

"The lady will still look further and think about it," said a young voice of a knight, fully dressed in a suit of armour, helm and all, in a company of a tall dark haired female figure in a regal cloak of black and purple.

The fishmonger woman looked after the three odd customers walking away from all the stands towards the Blackwater Rush, its surface a glimmer of gold, where the weak early morning sun could still pierce the rain clouds drawing nearer. She was determined to ignore arrogant, probably highborn customers, who could not distinguish fresh from rotten fish. Fathers from honourable families of commoners luckily already pressed themselves to buy fish for their table, and the occurrence was soon forgotten with the clanking of copper and silver in the woman's ears.

Aegon

"You are early," the young knight spoke first, standing as close as possible to the woman he brought with him.

"So are you," the short thin woman replied casually. "We share that in common, at least, if not the blood you claim to possess. Neither of use seems to be able to wait."

"I claim nothing, but what they told me was truth since I remember myself," Aegon answered honestly, suddenly needing to observe the sky. There were only grey clouds, sailing, but they breathed as his mortal enemy. "You are not alone," he said, realising what must have been flying above them and unconsciously made a step closer to Jeyne, for reassurance, if not protection. There would be no salvation if the fire rained down on him for the sky.

"You are not a dragon," Daenerys said, letting show a strand of silvery hair from under her hood. "I know that much now. But it still remains to be seen if you are my nephew or not. I must say that I do not know how to reach the bottom of the truth on that particular matter."

"How can I be your nephew if I am not a dragon?" Aegon asked sardonically.

"Viserys was my brother," his aunt said fervently. "But he was not a dragon."

Aegon laughed incredulously, and the conversation stopped. Fearing the silence, he continued. "I wanted to wait for you in the field when I came to the city but my councillors made me withdraw within its walls. I have regretted my choice ever since. What did the foreign singer tell you to make you talk to me?"

"He made me doubt," she said, carefully. "Of what?" Aegon blurted.

"Nephew," she said with hatred in her voice, "are you as dumb and as honourable as you seem? Or shall we stop joking and start the dance of the dragons and see whom the gods favour? I am weary of idle talk, treason and lies. You have recognised that I have come here with the only child of mine that is left to me."

Aegon did not understand a thing. He opened his helm as much as he could without provoking the eyes of the crowd to recognise their king, and looked at his aunt who seemed small, and suffering, and not what he expected her to be. Yet she was cruel, or she could be, if she so wanted, he had no doubt.

Jeyne started to gurgle insistently, pointing at the sky.

"Your companion wishes to talk," Daenerys noted, slightly amused, her anger gone or carefully hidden.

"She cannot," Aegon said. "She is special."

"Do you know, at all, dear nephew, what she is?"

"I respect her, and I admire her. Isn't that enough to know?"

"Drogon will help," Daenerys closed her eyes, focusing, and Aegon thought how easy it would be to run the Sword of the Morning through his aunt's heart and how maybe the dragons would obey him then, would bow to Rhaegar's son and heir. The thought was intriguing, and appalling, joyful, and sick. Bright as the gleaming of the sun on the swords of the Golden Company when they stormed the Storm's End under his lead, breaking the legend of the unconquerable fortress of the Baratheons, where Stannis Baratheon had held under siege of the dragon loyalists almost until the bitter end of death from hunger.

Daenerys opened her eyes, and Aegon's temptation was over. The purple in them was curious, and unveiled, for the first time.

"Aegon," she told him, "may I ask for the honour of your lady's company to visit my ships. No harm will come to her, I assure you."

"And who would you give me as a hostage?" he asked, standing protectively in front of Jeyne. "Surely not your dragons?"

"The dragons do not allow themselves to be taken hostages. They are beasts, and they can never be fully tamed," Daenerys explained.

Jeyne murmured softly like river water, touching Aegon's vambrace. The cold of her grasp passed through the already cold metal and made Aegon's heart beat faster.

"She accepts it," Daenerys said. "Aegon, I will not say this twice. Please."

Aegon tried to look at Jeyne's face for a clearer sign of her approval, but she just coiled under her hood as was her wont, always hiding from him. An icy grip on his armour tightened. And then Jeyne stood next to Daenerys, abandoning his side, she who had saved his life.

Aegon stepped back.

"Jeyne will return to you before the nightfall," Daenerys said and Aegon dared believe her. There was no other way his aunt could have learned her name if they were not somehow able to talk.

"I will wait eagerly for your return, my lady," he said. "My aunt," he bowed to Daenerys and walked back to the Mud Gate, helm closed, terribly alone, fearing betrayal from all sides, ignoring the clamor of the market and splatter of still wet fish being pushed in front of his eyes as a possible purchase.

When he crossed the gate, five armed sellswords of the Golden Company were dragging between them a man severely beaten up in the direction of the Red Keep. His face was almost unrecognisable, but there was something about the hair and the attire that attracted Aegon's attention. It was Mance Rayder, the man who arranged his conversation with his aunt. Which may have not been entirely successful but Aegon had at least survived it.

"What is this?" he said, unclasping the helm to reveal himself. "By whose order are you apprehending this man?"

"Your Grace," the leader bowed to the ground, " he wanted to break into the dragonpit against the standing orders of Your Grace, claiming you have allowed him to use it to rehearse a mummers' show. He wouldn't leave, so we had to persuade him to. He spoke so fervently of wishing to see you in person that we feared he would attack your life and gave him a little lesson in obedience to his king. We were taking him to Lord Connington and Lord Baelish for their judgment."

"I am the king," Aegon said steadily, "Others do not deal judgment in my stead. Release him and do as he says! Moreover, you will let him come and go to the pit as he pleases, and you will guard it from any intruders he doesn't want to have there! Or I will have your heads put on spikes above the Mud Gate tomorrow at dawn."

"Thank you," the northern singer managed to say through swollen lips, one of them still cut open, dripping fresh blood. "I trust that both you and your aunt will enjoy the show one day, and never regret your decision."

Aegon gestured two of the sellswords to follow him to the Red Keep. The others were left speechless, as the criminal they believed they caught straightened up gingerly despite several cracked ribs, wiped the blood from his lips, and flashed them a crooked smile.

"Well, my lords," he told them, wrapping a white cloak around his bruised body, given to him by a huge man who suddenly stood by his side, with an imposing greatsword on his back. "Now that we have clarified this little misunderstanding, I will tell you exactly what I want you to do…"

Mance

The dragonpit was the most abandoned of the abandoned places in King's Landing. No one has set a foot in it for years, not for any purpose, evil or less so. The space was vast and hollow, dug deeply in the ground, the bottom made of stone and clay, many times stepped over. Many old chains and locks still lay where the dragons must have been before all of them were gone from the face of Westeros. Chained and left to die. How could the Targaryens let the magnificent beasts disappear if it is true that the same blood ran through their veins? Mance Rayder wondered. Two smaller cages for a smaller dragon, which could host two great bears kept together, loomed empty on the sides of the dragonpit.

On top there was a huge iron grid allowing the sun in, or any other colour of the sky. Dark clouds sailed slowly over King's Landing that day, mourning for a loss unknown.

The grid could not be forced open by a human hand, only by a turning mechanism set outside the entrance, at the level of the street, which miraculously still worked after centuries of disuse. When the grid would be closed, those inside could not get out, trapped as beasts. The only way out for a human foot was using a rope that was hanging now on one of the sides. The rope could be lowered down and raised back up on one of the sides, and used to scale the irregular wall all the way up out of the cage.

The dragonpit was such that nobody's spies would have access to it. It was doubtful that the old Targaryen kings, even the crazier ones, would have dug subterranean passages leading from the Red Keep to the company of angry dragons abandoned to their sad fate. Baelish, Varys, the queens, any of them, Daenerys, Tyrells, and many others Mance did not hear about yet, would never know what words were about to be spoken in the utmost safety of its horrid walls. And the natural movement of the sound would make any conversation at its bottom sound like gibberish to the oafs from the Golden Company stationed on the street, guarding them from everyone.

It was just as Mance wanted it.

And it was worth one broken, and a few bruised ribs, a few new cuts on his face, and a reproachful look of the Elder Brother when he treated his wounds.

There was only a small problem; the headless body of Ser Gregor Clegane was still twitching in one of the corners, chained, helpless as a newborn child.

Mance gave the Hound only one look. The tall man understood him and sat down, brooding, next to his brother's corpse, nervously picking the ground with the Elder Brother's lance, the weapon that defeated the monster, once. In need, it could do it again, Mance hoped, praying to the old gods not to punish him for disturbing the sleep of the dead.

But Gregor Clegane was not yet fully dead, and he prayed that the ghosts of the dragons would not mind. After all, his song was about them, too.

The King-beyond-the-Wall and the Hound descended to the dragonpit alone with the two unwilling players in its middle. Unconvinced, but eager to pay for their debts, real or imagined. Who was Mance Rayder to object to such noble feelings? It was very good, as long they were able to read.

"This is ridiculous," Jaime voiced his unease as he studied the dragonpit, a glint of mockery in his green eyes.

"Than let's get over with it, and you will be back to your busy life, Lannister," said Mance. "Any feasts to attend? Might be I could sing at them."

The Hound chuckled, and the Lady Brienne gave Mance a hurt look, scorning him: "We agreed that we would read your verses, not listen to your insults."

And so they started. Mance sat on the ground and crossed his legs in front of him, wondering how Jaime Lannister would sound when the trial was over.

Brienne

"Ashara," Jaime exhaled with relief, opening the door to one of the inner cages of the dragonpit, as the wildling king asked him to do. "I'm home," he told Brienne, sounding like he wished he were telling the truth.

"You took my child!" she accused him, as if she had been waiting for him only to throw those words in his face. She wondered where the unseemly conversation was heading, and how would she, Brienne, respond in life if she were a mother and her child was taken away. It was a thing too difficult and too distant to imagine. So she chose to relive the loss she felt when the evil shadow of Stannis Baratheron pierced Renly's heart with the cursed sword, and hoped that the trembling in her voice was convincing enough. The singer, at least, did not object. "You rode away, and you let them have him! And now you return to me, wanting everything to be the same."

"Rhaegar was generous in this, Ashara," Ser Arthur Dayne begged of his sister. "And both Elia and he were in need of help. Aerys would have sent her away if she didn't bear an heir, or done worse to her. You know him. And if she bore another child of her own, she would have died. The maester Rhaegar had brought from the Citadel, the one not paid by his father, was very clear on that. I could not entrust these tidings to a mere raven. This protects everyone."

"Will it protect me when I cry in the deep of the night and my breasts run dry of milk, and my mind goes mad from missing my son?" Ashara asked of the unmoving air in the pit.

"Ashara," Ser Jaime Lannister read his next words and froze, visibly, forgetting his self-assuredness from moments ago, "our son will be Rhaegar's son and heir and the future King of the Seven Kingdoms. Both Rhaegar and Elia will adore him. You will see him grow and become a greater knight than I ever was."

"But never hold him as my own," Brienne said imagining Renly's dead body in her mind. The image soon disappeared when a familiar hoarse whisper crept to her through the dark glimmer of the pit, while pale daylight lingered over the players through the great iron bars very high above them, too distant to seem real. Brienne understood in fear that from that moment on it was neither Jaime talking to her, or Ser Arthur Dayne to Lady Ashara.

It was Ser Jaime, a knight of the Kingsguard, who spoke to Queen Cersei, his sister.

"Do you think it was easy for me? Not to be able to call him my son, not to be able to hold him in my arms, not to be proud when he makes his first steps? It is killing me! But it's better than that he grows in Starfall as a Stark bastard, to be sent away to the Wall or to die in some ignoble battle."

"Ashara, I love him as I love you! I was afraid to have a child but now that we have it I love him more than I ever thought possible. Please, believe me..."

"I do believe you Arthur," Brienne said, and she didn't have to search in past memories to find the feeling for her next line. It was exactly how she thought about Jaime, her affection for Renly a mere whim of the child in comparison with what the Kingslayer had stirred somewhere in the pit of her soul. "When you sought me out first, I thought it a cruel jest. The gods have not made us one for another. But the truth is, I have loved you even before you reached for me. Before you raised a finger to touch me in a way that was not brotherly. I would just not be able to tell. It is one thing to be called a Beauty among many beauties of Dorne and another to love a man outside your reach. The only thing that frightens me, Arthur, is the wrath of the gods. They will see us and they will remember. Brothers and sisters are not meant to be lovers."

"Ashara, what else can the gods do to us that they have not done already? People already gossip even in the capital that Brandon Stark was your child's father. Isn't that enough?"

"Isn't that what you wanted?" the lines on the parchment were underlined, and the word angry written under. Brienne evoked the feeling of their first days on the road when she hated Jaime with all her heart. "You wanted it! You asked for it!" she forced herself to scream where all she wanted was to let him weep in her arms, to forget the cruel scene he had been forced to read with her.

"I wanted what?" Ser Arthur asked, uncertain.

"That I go to Brandon and…" Ashara stuttered. "There was only one way to let the spies we have even here to take such word to Aerys as would protect everyone, as you say…"

Ser Arthur paced around his sister in mute understanding, stung.

"I never wanted you to lay with him! Only to make them believe…" his gaze supplicated her to contradict him but there were no words written on her parchment that would help him out. Taken by despair, the fingers of his left hand grabbed a mass of gold on top of his head that should have been silver if Jaime had been the Sword of the Morning.

"Won't you raise your hand on me, Arthur?" Brienne read, blushing prettily from the content of her next line. "It's what a whore deserves…"

Ser Arthur Dayne stood still in his steps and set a quivering hand and a stump on his sister's shoulders. Willing to calm them both down, he said quietly, "When Rhaegar is King, Ashara, we will not have to hide any more."

"Won't we?" Ashara asked. "Kingsguard is for life, sweet brother. And what of Elia? Moon tea is not always safe as I should know best. I have been drinking it for years, and then we had Aegon."

"They are not... they haven't been, not any more, not since Rhaenys was born…" Arthur mumbled, afraid of the walls of his own keep.

"But she loves him," Ashara had to note. "As deeply as he respects her, but he loves her not. Alas for Elia, beautiful and kind beyond the ordinary of this world!"

"Surely," Arthur said, "yet her destiny is many times better than that of many other women of noble birth, who marry a man who manhandles them, or kills them in the end to receive their inheritance. Rhaegar will keep her safe."

"But he will never love her..." Ashara said. "Safe is not enough."

"That is why I will not marry, brother. It's not because I fear the dominion of men. No husband could overthrow Ashara Dayne into subservience. But marriage without love is like a land without water, withering before reaching its spring." Brienne could cry from beauty of the dead woman's words, but she forced her ugly face to stay even, for Jaime's sake.

Ser Arthur Dayne went to his knees. "Marry me, then," he begged, "I will abandon the Kingsguard and make everything known. Everything except Aegon. I can no longer take him away. We can go to Essos where no one will know about our parentage. We can have more children."

"If it were only that simple," Ashara said sharply, and turned to leave. "I will not marry you, brother. You have taken away my son without asking my approval. We are no longer."

"Ashara, wait," Jaime said and advanced to Brienne, forcing her to turn back, unbothered by the fact that she was several inches taller. Brienne noticed how his parchment contained a scribbled instruction in the end, not a line to say, but another thing entirely.

Instead of instinctive falling back, Brienne waited, and found herself kissed in front of where others could see it, wishing the gloom of the dragonpit to hide her deep shame. Which only lasted for a second. It was different than in the dungeons of the Red Keep, searching, violent, tense. It must have been that he was reliving the kiss he had given Cersei before or after they parted last. So Brienne decided to ignore anyone who was watching. That was Jaime, and he needed the intimacy, almost like an abandoned animal in the street, the singer be damned. So Brienne kissed him freely, the best way she learned how, and whispered to him, hoping that the scarce audience would not hear.

"I'm not Cersei. Please, remember that."

He understood her, but only after a while, his kiss changing from frantic to eager, relaxed, almost sweet, before he abruptly stopped, nearly biting her lip when he moved away. The Hound was staring mutely at them, the singer howled in approval.

"Outstanding!" he said, "when you read it in front of the Targaryens, please, ignore the crowd, and stick to the lines written for you, but the longing and the tension you showed should remain. Those were two honest people. He hurt her thinking he was doing it for the best. And she decided to shut herself away from him in return.

Jaime looked unmanned. As if a flock of clouds of thick autumn rain had discharged their wrath over his handsome forehead and left him behind. Ravaged. Desolate. Cold.

"Ser Arthur and Lady Ashara," Lady Brienne voiced her understanding carefully, to break the silence, "they were parents of the young King Aegon?"

"I strongly believe so. But it would be best if you all forget that knowledge for now. It's a revelation that has to come as a surprise to both Aegon and Daenerys, not give her time to kill him first.

"Why not? If he's no true Targaryen," the Hound asked with cruelty.

"Because Rhaegar would have never let her. He truly took Aegon as his son, his blood. He was never able to see anything wrong in Arthur and Ashara's passion. They were faithful to each other, apart from the episode with Brandon as far as I was able to learn. Rhaegar knew well he would have married his own sister if Queen Rhaella had had a girl child. As far as I understand your southron customs, the arrangement was pretty normal for the Targaryens."

Jaime

Ser Jaime was still speechlessly staring at the empty edge of his parchment, embarrassed to lift his regard towards Brienne. He had shamed her in front two other men, not worthy of her. Imagining she was Cersei, cruel and detached in her calculated anger when she accepted him in her body but refused him in her life, upon his return to the capital as a cripple.

"Do you still believe you are reading the wrong role in my play?" asked Mance Rayder before he concluded his thought in a serious voice tinged with profound unjudging knowledge. "Kingslayer..."

The familiar offence Mance uttered for the very first time since the two men met woke up Jaime from his trance. And while he still didn't look his best, at least he felt somewhat alive.

"I knew who you were and what you all did before I had the good fortune to meet you in person, in the firepit of Lady Stoneheart." Mance spoke further. "I learned my lesson of the south as good as I could before attempting my luck under the Wall. Would that any of you had ever done the same with my frozen homeland in the middle of nowhere! Not even the honourable Lord Eddard Stark bothered. Yes, he wanted to ride against me, that was all. Thought of my uniting of the wildlings as too daring and dangerous. Denying the reasons behind my actions where they were yelling in his face."

Jaime stood at the door of the small cage, deeply ashamed of the wisdom of a wildling who had seen through him better than most people did. Who gave him to read words that corresponded better to the painstakingly hidden part of his nature than most descriptions he could fast provide himself.

"You were right about my role, I will give you that," Jaime said. "I don't know if this was the story of Ser Arthur's life or of your imagination, but this part, at least, closely resembles mine. The part of the sister fucking story people do not know about. Not in detail, I mean. I am ashamed for the disdainful ways I used to deal with you before. And also about taking advantage of the Lady Brienne during the reading, when I relived some of my more complicated feelings for my real sister. But don't forget that I was also right about one thing. You still need someone to read the role of the real me, of young Jaime Lannister who will stab Aerys in his back."

"We will come to that," Mance said giddily, "I have a few ideas and I will ask for your opinion about them. But we are done for today. I need to learn how the parley between the dragons went, if that will be possible at all."

The Hound gave one last careful kick to a twitching carcass of Gregor in chains, before they yanked the rope for the Golden Company to pull them up.

"So long, brother," he said, "I fear this is not the last we will see of you."

And with that blunt farewell the mummers' company left the gloom of the dragonpit of King's Landing, some in search of the real dragons, animal or human, and some with no direction at all.

Brienne

The bells of the Great Sept of Baelor tolled, and Brienne wondered who had died.

Rain, autumn hardy and cold, started to fall slowly, chasing away the last vendors on the fish market, their reluctant customers, and people from the streets. The soldiers withdrew in inns and brothels, not to let their armours rust, to the merriment of the owners and the unoccupied whores. When the city was almost calm, a harsh cry of a monster flying above the towers and the walls resounded in the dark grey vastness, calling for his lost brothers.

The raindrops grew in number, dense and unpleasantly cold like little balls of ice. Brienne and Jaime soon lost all sight of Mance Rayder and the Hound, finding their own way through the raging shower of the gods, old and new.

Brienne took Jaime's stump in her rough skinned hand, leading him carefully over the slippery stony slabs of the streets as a blind man. They both opened their ears to listen to the dragon's cry above.

"You have truly seen it?" he asked, shy and reluctant to speak.

"Yes," she reconfirmed, glad he started a conversation about anything that had nothing to with the two of them, the mummery or Cersei.

"How was it?" he asked with a beaming curiosity of a young boy.

"Wild," she said, "and marvellous." Like you are, she thought, but she couldn't tell him.

The cry of the dragon still echoed through the streets, as a peculiar song of sadness and longing from the times long gone, incomprehensible in its intensity.

Jaime smiled peacefully, tired, much less young than he normally appeared to be. He pulled his stump away, and she wanted to seize it back. But it was only to approach her from the other side and coil his left arm around her not so thin waist, firmly. His arm just painfully long enough to serve as her point of anchor.

"There," he said, "as it should be. The Kingslayer finally protecting his wench, and not the other way around."

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