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Wolfgirl in Meereen

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Jaime

‘Good gods,’ says Brienne, as we sail nearer. ‘I hadn’t imagined it to be so large.’

I lean in, my voice low. ‘That’s what I always hoped you’d say.’

‘Oh, for seven heavens’ sake,’ she says, just as quietly, as the ship slides into the great, triangular shadow of the old slave city’s pyramid.

If I’d known what awaited some of us in Meereen, I’d perhaps have not been quite so guileless.

***

Arya

‘We’re here,’ you say to Podrick in his cabin, which still smells of shit and piss and sickness. You’ve visited every day, more than once a day, to tell him what you could see – the colour of the sea, which sailor could spit the furthest, whether Brienne has vomited loudly over the side again.

Podrick’s skin is still as pale as limestone but you swear there’s a little more light in his eyes today. He tries to move. Blinks. ‘Meereen?’

You nod. ‘The pyramid’s even bigger than the Titan of Braavos.’ You haven’t seen any dragons yet. You watched the skies all the way up here, and there have only been big oily seabirds and gulls.

You tap the sides of your thighs, feeling the boat shunt against the jetty. Even though your stomach is bruised from the Braavos fight, and even though you’ve been on a rocking boat for ages, you can now walk without your crutch again. You gave it a sailor’s funeral, chucking it over the side two days ago.

It’s hard to look at Podrick. You’d thought he was going to die, and felt almost the same plain blackness you did after hearing about Bran and Rickon. After the Twins. And now he’s not going to die.

He smiles faintly. ‘Good luck, my lady.’ My lady. He must be getting better.

‘We don’t need luck,’ you say, and look at him properly. ‘We’re Starks. She needs us.’

***

Sandor

Seven fucking hells. It makes King’s Landing look like a shit-stained corner of Fleabottom.

We’re led into the palace, the entrance held up by stone-winged harpies with golden crowns. They’re as tall as hills. Flags of pale blue and pale yellow, drooping as there’s no wind in this fucking heat. Camps, which look to be Dothraki, scaling the hills. We’re walking into the biggest trap of all, our eyes wide open.

Soon enough we’re standing in a great hall in the pyramid. Blood-sandstone walls. Complete silence as we come to a stop.

No throne with swords spiking your arse here. The queen is atop a smaller pyramid with steps, arms on the sides of her stone chair, back straight. I keep my hand on the hilt of my sword. I don’t like it one bit.

She doesn’t look much older than Sansa. Maybe a little. This thing has dragons? I think. She’d look a damn sight better on her – I glance at Sansa, who’s standing tall, her hands by her sides, and put away that thought.

There’s a smug-looking fucker on her right and a handmaiden with her hands folded in front of her on the left. Guards everywhere, lined up each side of us with spears near twice their height. Unsullied. How the fuck a load of bollock-less boys can fight is beyond me, and yet here she is. She didn’t get here on a smile and a wink.

Another damned queen. Knowing our luck she’ll be as much of a lunatic as Cersei Fucking Lannister.

***

Jaime

She is extraordinarily beautiful. Her hair is almost white, a different shade to Brienne’s buttergold. There’s a steeliness to her face that’s almost Valyrian. And I see it – shades of her father. I pray to gods she has none of the madness. No sign of Tyrion. Varys had better bloody have got this right.

***

Arya

She’s – quite small, really. Smaller than Sansa. Taller than you, but that’s not saying much. Her dress is quite queenly, you suppose. Sky-blue and a bit like armour. No sword, though. Just guards. Their helms look deadly.

The girl next to her is speaking. ‘Daenerys Stormborn of the House Tagaryen, the First of Her Name, The Unburnt, Queen of Meereen, Queen of the Andals and the Rhoynar and the First Men, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Breaker of Chains and Mother of Dragons.’

I’m Arya, you think, of House Stark, Killer of One or Two Soldiers, Filthy of Mouth. ‘Hello,’ you say, and look around a bit for dragons. There’s no sign of any.

Daenerys Stormborn of Three Thousand Names raises one eyebrow.

‘Your Grace,’ Jaime says, stepping forward. Jaime of House Lannister, Kingslayer, Lover of His Sister Though Not Any More, the Handless, the Fatherless, the Smug. ‘Our thanks for receiving us. I trust that you received Lord Varys’ raven.’

It is pretty funny to hear Jaime speaking like a servant. Or a slave.

The queen looks like she could sit still for a very long time and not fidget. ‘I believe some introductions are in order.’ A sure voice.

There is a silence where you are sure everyone is looking at the floor, deciding who is best to introduce first.

There is a loud clunk, and Brienne – of House Tarth, Swinger of Swords, Lover of Jaime Lannister, Lover of Always Being Right, Most Worried Person In The History of The Seven Kingdoms – steps forward, one hand on her sword-hilt.

‘Your Grace, she says. ‘I have the honour of introducing the daughters of the late Eddard Stark. Lady Sansa Stark and Lady Arya Stark.’ You stand up a bit straighter and try to look like whatever the fuck a lady looks like for about half a breath, before slouching again with your sword. Sansa does a perfect curtsey.

The queen eyes you both, and does not smile. ‘Eddard Stark, who was Hand of the King?’

‘Yes, your Grace.’ Brienne looks quite pleased, her face open.

‘The king being Robert Baratheon, who led the Rebellion against my father,’ the queen says, and there is a thread of iron in her voice.

Brienne’s face falls. She swallows. ‘Indeed, your Grace, but House Stark is a great and noble house, and they have held the North for thousands of years. They have always been trusted wardens of the North, if not the kings of it, and have always worked with those on the throne –’

‘It is an honour to meet you, your Grace,’ says Sansa, stopping Brienne, thank the fucking gods. Sansa of House Stark, The Oldest Surviving True Stark, Annoyingly Tall, Clever, Somehow in Love With A Walking Barn Door.

‘And you are?’ The queen says to Brienne. She sounds bored, like she would sooner be playing cyvasse or stone-curses somewhere, or maybe watching slaves kill each other.

‘Brienne of Tarth, your Grace. I am the ladies’ sworn shield.’

‘And…?’ Her head hardly turns.

Sandor is standing with his hands behind his back, staring at the back wall, past the queen.

‘Bow, idiot,’ you say, through your teeth, and he pretends not to hear.

‘This is Sandor Clegane, your Grace,’ says Sansa. ‘He – he is –’ and you can practically hear her thinking loads of pathetic things. Former Kingsguard, you think, Fireface, Really Annoying, Shit Table Manners, Pretends Not To Be Scared Of Dragons.

‘Clegane,’ the queen says, and the word sounds like two stones being dropped into a very deep, cold lake. ‘Clegane, as in Gregor Clegane?’

There’s a twitch in Sandor’s face, like a wasp has stung him. ‘I’m not my brother.’

Gendry steps forward without being asked. ‘This is Gendry Waters,’ you say. Secretly of House Baratheon, Stupidly Blue Eyes, Excellent Rowing Arms. ‘He’s a blacksmith.’ You sniff and look bored. Gendry has his hands behind his back and does a sort of low nod and you try not to laugh.

Podrick is still on the boat. Podrick, of House Payne, of The Eyebrows That Should Be In A Mummer’s Play, Known World’s Best Squire, Whore, Saviour of Arya Stark’s Life.

***

Jaime

Well, she certainly holds herself like a queen. Daenerys Targaryen has hardly moved after our rather shambolic start. ‘Some might call it brave, she says, in a tone I can’t quite divine. ‘Such a collection as yourselves arriving in Meereen.’

‘Some might,’ I say. ‘We were given reason to believe that coming to you would be the best course of action.’

‘For whom?’ she says, and there’s the trace of a cool smile for a moment.

‘For Westeros,’ I say, and the smile disappears. Her eye narrows. She’s very hard to read.

Brienne shifts again, a loud sound that echoes around the huge hall.

‘Your Grace,’ I say. ‘I feel that we have much to discuss. However, I wonder if I may ask – have you seen my brother? Small man, likes a drink.’

A moment of silence. I do not look away – I’ve stared Cersei out enough times. ‘I have,’ she says finally, in that same glacial, inscrutable tone.

There’s a small, twisting wrench behind my ribs. He is here. Thank the gods.

***

Sandor

The bloody Imp. I’d be happier if I never saw that bastard little cunt ever again. I think of him, and I think of the green fire, lighting up the whole damned sea.

It’s plain to see the relief on Lannister’s face, but something feels odd. A change in the air.

The stupid fucker is too busy turning on what he thinks is charm. I’m glad to hear it, your Grace, he’s saying. I would be delighted to see him. It’s been rather a while since we were in each other’s company.

And see him you will, she says, and then I know, and my heart sinks. Right away, if you insist.

And without her moving a damned bit, there’s a loud slice of metal in the air, the sound of Unsullied guards lifting their weapons and stepping towards Lannister.

You can join him in the dungeons, she says, and the guards surround him.

Chapter Text

Arya

Jaime seems so astonished that he goes without a fight, the Unsullied guards taking him out of the back of the throne room. Sandor doesn’t even bother drawing his sword, so you decide it’s best not to.

Brienne, who was already looking a bit sick, looks green now. ‘Your Grace, if I may,’ she says, sounding totally panicked.

‘If you may what?’ the queen says, and her voice is like a cool wind.

Brienne swallows. ‘Jaime Lannister is an honourable man,’ she says. ‘Much of his family may not be, but he is.’

‘He killed my father,’ the queen says, each word slow and definite. ‘And unless you’d like to join him, I think it’s best you stop attempting to defend him.’

‘She doesn’t want to join him,’ you say quickly, though you know full well Brienne would, so that she could cry and wipe her nose on his shoulder. All they did on the boat was fuck.

Brienne looks at the floor.

‘I have not decided what to do with the rest of you,’ the queen says. ‘I will talk with you, as has been suggested. For now you will be shown to your rooms.’

‘Thank you, your Grace,’ says Sansa. ‘We will welcome the opportunity for rest.’ She glares at you, and then Sandor, who just shrugs and looks like he’s about to be fed to the dragons and hardly cares.

‘I suppose so,’ you say, slightly too loudly.

***

Jaime

‘Tyrion?’

‘Jaime?’

Well, this was hardly the reunion I’d hoped for. My armour was rather unceremoniously removed and I’m thrown into a cell that smells of old shit and dead rats. A scattering of straw on the floor. And my little brother, uncurling himself from a corner.

I kneel, embrace him. Almost weep, for a moment – almost the only Lannister remaining who isn’t either dead or wishing me so – before pulling away. ‘Dear gods,’ I say. ‘You smell like a farmyard.’

Tyrion’s clothes are filthy, and the skin around his eyes black. ‘As would you, had you been here for several weeks.’ He sits back and gazes at me. ‘I would say it was good to see you, but – I’d rather see you on the other side of these bars. Or perhaps in a whorehouse in Pentos.’ He sounds exceedingly tired. The scar running along his face looks like a trammelled cart wheel print. ‘What are you doing here?’

‘Varys sent us.’

He sighs as he sits back and leans his head against the wall. ‘Ah, Varys. No finer eunuch in all the Known World. He has such wonderful plans, you know. How everything can be made right if we can just help a mad foreign queen with three dragons for weapons take the Iron Throne.’ He glances over. ‘Funny, though, how he forgot about the fact that the Lannisters do not exactly have a good reputation amongst the Targaryen family. What with killing them and all that.’

‘I believe he thought that this queen would be able to see past that.’

There’s the old, sanguine humour underneath Tyrion’s admonishing look. ‘You obviously persuaded her admirably.’

‘She didn’t give me much opportunity,’ I say.

Now it was down to other people to persuade her.

***

Sandor

We’re shown to connected rooms that a prince wouldn’t sniff at – clean stone walls, doors with fancy slatted shades – but it doesn’t feel right. The disciplined sound of the Unsullied settling outside the doors for a start. I watch Sansa drift around the room, her head tipped back to look at the ceiling. The blacksmith’s in the corner, hands behind his back, looking awkward.

Are we prisoners? says Wolfgirl, putting her fingers in the holes cut out of the stones in strange designs.

What do you think? I say, sitting down on a long, low seat that curls at the edges. There’s a thick, stodgy feeling in my gut, like this was always going to happen, us coming to this bloody place. We’re fucked. Lannister is just the start. We’re all her bloody playthings.

Arya shrugs. We’re not in a dungeon like Jaime is, she says.

We might as well fucking be, I say.

Tarth has sat down on another seat. She looks as sick as a mutt. This is a disaster, she says, and I know that sound behind her words, because I’ve felt it often enough with Sansa. Pretending it’s a situation that you can cope with, when in truth you want to cut down anything that moves. What will they do to him?

I think of a lot of things I can say, but her face looks bad enough as it is. I don’t want it to get any uglier. The Imp’s here too, I say. Maybe they’ll be used to bargain with.

But Cersei – she glances at the sisters, and lowers her voice, completely unnecessarily. Cersei will hardly want them now. Tyrion or Jaime.

Because you’ve been fucking him? I say.

Because he has harboured Lady Sansa and Arya, she says, ignoring the fact that I harboured the short-arse pretty damned well on my own for long enough.

Oh ay, the fucking hero, I say.

Sansa has stopped drifting around the room touching things and stands to the side of us both, looking calmer than she should. We just need to talk to her, she says.

Fat lot of good that did with the mad king, I say and her face falls. I feel bad, for a moment, and try a gentler voice. She’s no better than her father.

She hasn’t burnt anyone yet, says Arya, turning round from a table, her hand on some dull gold vase. I glare at her. Well, she hasn’t, she says, and nudges the vase, which topples and makes a huge fucking sound as it hits the floor.

In an instant, the door has opened and two Unsullied are there, weapons half-drawn. Brienne and I have stood, hands on hilts, and Gendry would have done if he’d moved more quickly.

Oops, says Arya.

Our apologies, Sansa says to the guards, her voice sure. It was an accident. Thank you for your concern. She almost smiles, but not quite, this damned queenly look she’s been getting of late.

The guards glance at us and at each other, nod and shut the doors again. The sound of their spears against the floor.

***

Arya

The dragon queen’s handmaiden isn’t a handmaiden. She is called Missandei and she introduces herself as Daenerys Stormborn’s advisor. She has really nice eyebrows and hair and wears a dress that is cut away on the sides, which Sansa is pretending not to look at. Missandei invites you all to dine. Sandor looks suspicious, like you have actually all been invited to be fed to dragons, but he still gets up.

‘Are you from Meereen?’ says Sansa, walking alongside Missandei.

‘From Naath,’ says Missandei, who speaks very politely.

‘I do not know anything about Naath,’ says Sansa. ‘Except that it has beautiful butterflies.’

‘It does,’ says Missandei.

‘I heard that they don’t eat meat there,’ you say.

Sandor snorts and Missandei turns round to glance at him, her face just as smooth, but her eyes slightly puzzled.

‘So you just eat vegetables?’

‘There are many things to eat that are not meat,’ says Missandei, simply.

You think of the times you and Sandor, or the Hound as he was then, ate worms and leaves and anything just to fill the holes in your bellies.

‘Do you eat the butterflies?’ you say, thinking that Missandei is a bit like one, all light and delicate. Gendry is looking at her too, and you scowl at him.

‘We do not,’ says Missandei, and steps ahead of you as two guards open a great door.

***

Jaime

‘Brienne,’ says Tyrion.

‘Yes.’

‘Brienne. Of Tarth.’

‘Yes.’

‘The tall one? With the, you know, the face?’

‘Yes. No. What do you mean?’

Tyrion has perked up a little since I told him of all of my journeying. He cannot quite believe the party I had managed to bring with me. A rather odd collection, when you look at it.

‘The face like a cold rice pudding,’ my brother says.

‘It is not,’ I say. ‘It absolutely is not.’

Tyrion leans against the wall. ‘So, let me get this right. The Hound was travelling with Arya Stark. You joined forces. Killed the Mountain, with the help of Brienne of Tarth and Podrick. And you have a blacksmith bastard with you for no reason at all.’

That was all about right. Sounded rather less dramatic laid out like that. ‘Yes.’

‘A great balladeer could have not made that up,’ he said. ‘How is dear Podrick? I miss him. He had some excellent advice for me once, you know.’

‘Gravely injured at the moment,’ I say. ‘Took a sword in the thigh and the stomach.’

His eyes cloud, and I see his concern for the first time.

‘He’ll be alright, I think,’ I say, putting my head against the wall. ‘Assuming that Daenerys Targaryen allows him a healer.’ I try to imagine some Dothraki witchwoman with her hands on him.

‘And your news?’

‘Oh,’ he said, leaning his head against the wall. ‘Not much to tell. Cersei threw me in a cell after Joffrey was poisoned. I don’t really think much of cells. And then Varys got me out and put me in a box, which made the cell seem like a castle keep.’ He sighs. ‘A boat to Essos, and then it all went a little wrong. Varys and I lost each other, and a man decided to kidnap me. Ser Jorah Mormont. Low voice, irritatingly noble, clearly in love with our Queen of Meereen. A few stonemen and slave-masters later, and here I am. In another cell, because the supposed saviour of Westeros isn’t quite as forgiving as Varys seemed to hope.’

‘What happened to Father?’

His eyes roll carefully over to mine.

‘Did you kill him?’

He doesn’t blink. ‘He was going to kill me.’

There should be hatred, but there isn’t. If I was the right sort of Lannister, perhaps I would strangle him until he choked. Instead, after a while, I sigh. Strange to share grief in this way, with the man who killed him.

‘You know I didn’t kill Joffrey,’ Tyrion says.

‘I know.’

‘Our family has quite disappeared, has it not?’ he says, quite lightly, the sadness flickering underneath. Watching me.

‘I can’t quite picture Myrcella’s face. It’s there, but not quite.’ Blurred at the edges, the sparkle in my daughter’s eyes a little more dull. ‘My children are gone.’ I never admitted they were mine, not even to him. I see Joff, when he was much smaller, before his maniacal ways became apparent. I see my daughter.

He doesn’t blink. ‘I’m sorry, Jaime. I’m truly sorry. Myrcella was a dear, delightful girl. She lit up every room she walked into. And Tommen. The sweetest boy.’

In an instant, my heart has thickened. Stopped. ‘Tommen?’ I already know, from his look.

‘Yes,’ he says carefully. ‘You did know about –?’

I stare at him. It can’t be. It can’t be true.

Tyrion’s eyes grow desperately sad. ‘You didn’t know.’

He’s speaking, but his words are like dull stones and I do not hear them. I look at the wall, my heart pounding in my eyes, the bile rising.

‘Jaime.’

***

Sandor

But – all of it? Sansa is looking at the dragon queen, who’s sitting at the end of the table.

We’re in another massive fucking hall, all black stone walls and Unsullied standing silently in corners. Dothraki too, two of them. Turns out I’m not invited to eat, and nor is Gendry, the two of us standing like fools a few feet behind their chairs. Arya gives me a vicious grin and is eating everything on her plate as quick as she used to on the road.

The dragon queen has just told us that Tommen Baratheon is dead, and most of the Tyrells. That the Sept of Baelor was swallowed by wildfire.

Seven fucking hells. I think of that young whelp, the opposite of his deranged brother. A gentle, green boy, gazing at his mother, doing as he was told. He used to ask me about Stranger. Liked horses. Once I gave him an apple to feed the big bastard with.

So I am informed, says the dragon queen. My reports are that the entire building, and much around it, was destroyed. You knew them, I suppose.

I did, your Grace, says Sansa, and I see the sadness in her face, hear it in her voice. She’d talked of Margaery Tyrell, called her kind and clever, though I can’t see how anyone with one handful of sense would ever try and marry Joffrey, with being queen as prize or not. Loras will have gone, too, the pretty Knight of the Flowers Sansa mooned over once. Their father, a sow-faced idiot.

Cersei Lannister is calling herself Queen Regent, the queen says. Unlawfully of course.

Is – Sansa has her hands in her lap, her back dead straight. I can feel her mind working, ticking like a broken timepiece. Your Grace, forgive me if I speak out of turn, but I am trying to understand what some people in Westeros might think. A quick look at Arya. Our father believed that because Cersei’s children were born out of wedlock – she’s bloody tactful, I think, not to mention Lannister – that Stannis Baratheon was the true heir, as Robert’s brother.

He does not concern me, the dragon queen says.

He should, I say. All very well living in a dream-world when you’re the other side of the sea. The man knows his way around a battlefield.

The dragon queen glances at me, cold violet eyes, before putting her knife down. You really have been in hiding, she says, and we all look at each other. Stannis Baratheon is dead, she says. There was a battle at Winterfell. He was killed by the Bolton forces.

Tarth isn’t eating. Looks as pale as animal fat.

His daughter then? says Arya, looking at her sister.

Shireen, says Sansa, carefully. Shireen Baratheon.

Dead, I’m sorry to say, says the dragon queen, not sounding the least bit sorry.

Arya turns round and gives Gendry an odd look, her jaw hanging open. A scrap of food falls out of her mouth.

Is there anyone left alive on fucking Westeros, I say under my breath.

Arya

‘I am not interested in Baratheons,’ says Daenerys Stormborn. ‘And I am not interested in Lannisters. It is the Targaryens who reigned over the Seven Kingdoms. The Targaryens who brought justice and freedom to Westeros. And it is a Targaryen who will return it to former glories.’

You’re hardly listening, because Stannis Baratheon is dead.

Stannis is – was the rightful king, because Joffrey, Myrcella and Tommen were in fact Lannister bastards. And they’re all dead now anyway.

If Stannis Baratheon is dead, and Shireen Baratheon too, then that means one thing. That Gendry is the heir to the Iron Throne and the Seven Kingdoms. Gendry, who is currently leaning over on his elbows in his grey shirt with the fraying at the collar and subtly glaring back at you, because you’re staring at him with your mouth open.

He’s the heir to the throne, if you ignore Daenerys Tagaryen, which is hard because she is icy and odd and is still talking as if she’s giving a speech to thousands, going on about breaking a wheel or something.

‘For too long, Westeros has been in the hands of traitors,’ she says. ‘It will not be long before I have enough ships to sail my armies across the Narrow Sea, and deliver true justice to those who have wronged my family.’ She makes the word justice particularly heavy.

‘Your Grace,’ says Brienne. It’s the first time she’s spoken since stepping into the room. ‘If I might ask you to reconsider your imprisonment of Ser Jaime –’

‘No,’ says Daenerys Stormborn, and picks up her knife again.

Brienne looks back at her plate.

‘You’re forgetting something,’ says Sandor, who is obviously very pissed off at not being invited to eat and having to stand at the back.

‘Oh? And what is that?’

‘Cersei Lannister might be a vicious fucking madwoman,’ he says. ‘But she’s got an army. A big one.’ He doesn’t back Brienne up. Maybe he’s enjoying the idea of Jaime sitting in his own shit for a bit.

‘Yes,’ the queen says, and sounds like she might summon her guards to chop his head off at any moment. ‘And you were part of it, were you not?’

‘Once. Not any more.’ He doesn’t give a shit. ‘I’m telling you that she’ll have ways of bringing men from all over Westeros to fight against you.’

You’re forgetting something,’ Daenerys Stormborn says, and you all look at her as she dabs a cloth against the side of her mouth. Her eyes are so purple. ‘I have dragons.’

Chapter Text

Jaime

Night turns into day. Tyrion talks to me and I hardly hear.

Joffrey. Myrcella. Tommen. I saw Joffrey die, the veins purpling in his neck, his eyes straining. Somehow that is better. I can only imagine my daughter’s and my son’s deaths. Poison snaking through Myrcella, clutching at her lungs. The ground coming up to meet Tommen, and his bones breaking.

‘Jaime.’

Did she choke first? Was it quick? Did he fall so that his limbs distorted, or his face hit stone first?

‘Jaime. You have to eat.’

I don’t answer my brother. I don’t touch the thin gruel that is placed inside the door by masked Unsullied guards. What is the point?

***

Sandor

Can’t believe I’m wishing myself back in Braavos. But here I am, stinking hot in my armour, the stone walls not enough to keep off the heat, with Sansa telling me I can’t see her tonight.

There are Unsullied everywhere, she says to me quietly back in the room we were first shown to, where the broken vase has been cleared away. Arya’s with Gendry in the other corner, whispering about something. They’ll be outside our rooms.

I know Sansa’s right, but I can’t help thinking how it didn’t bother her back at the Sealord’s palace, slipping into my room, slipping off her gown and shift, slipping her tongue into my mouth. Everything, slipping.

Not proper, is that it? I say, knowing it helps none. Need to be a lady again now? I don’t say it harshly. I understand. She doesn’t want to be seen too close with the Clegane whose brother tore this dragon queen’s family open.

Her shoulder drops but she doesn’t correct me. I just want to work out how is best to talk to her, she says.

She draws in a deep breath, and I think queen again, and not about the one who owns this pyramid, and I think of how she’s slipping away from me already, as I always bloody knew she would.

I am going to show her, Sansa says. That we can be useful.

You want that woman in charge? I say. She’s fucking mad. Got no damned idea about how to win a war, that’s for sure. I pull the cloth at my neckline away a bit. Hells, the heat.

Sansa looks past me, eyes thoughtful. I don’t know, she says. She doesn’t seem like Cersei. I think she could be better.

Nothing’s better, I think. No one can rule Seven Kingdoms and please everyone. Fucking dragons, not that there’s been any sign of them.

I have to try, she says.

***

Arya

Sansa and Sandor are whispering in one corner of the room. Brienne is sitting quietly, looking up at the high window and the rectangle of sun. You’re stabbing little words at Gendry, because you still can’t believe it. ‘You’re actually the king. Of Westeros.’

He is leaning against a wall, his arms folded, not looking very kingly. ‘I’m not. I’m not anyone.’

‘You are. Stannis was your uncle, and you’re the only living heir –’ you look round at the others.

‘Stop it.’ Gendry pulls at your elbow and wheels you back round. ‘You’re not telling anyone.’

‘But –’

‘Arya.’

‘I won’t,’ you say. He’s glaring at you, and he actually looks a bit angry. ‘I won’t. Promise.’

It seems ages since you kissed him. You’d kissed him loads. If you’d known you were kissing basically the king and not just a blacksmith, would you have kissed him any differently? Maybe with a curtsey or two, you think, and try not to snigger. You grin at Gendry, a stupid one, but he doesn’t smile back. He looks hot, and a little afraid.

You sigh and sit near Brienne, who looks terrible. ‘Maybe you should lie down,’ you say.

‘I am fine, my lady,’ she says.

‘You look almost as sick as Podrick, and he’s got two sword wounds.’

Brienne tries very hard to smile, but it just ends up as a horrible grimace. ‘Thank you for your concern, my lady,’ she says. ‘I’m perfectly well. Just a little troubled.’ She doesn’t exactly need to say Jaime’s name.

‘She’d probably say by now if she had killed him,’ you say, and Brienne goes green again. You sigh and stand up, hearing Sansa discussing plans with Sandor, who seems gloomier than ever.

This is an odd place. An advisor who is a young woman without armour. The main guard seems to be called Grey Worm, though you’re sure you must have misheard. Daenerys Stormborn has no interest in you, or Sansa. She just wants to bring justice, and break the wheel, and kill everyone with her dragons, who don’t seem to exist.

You open the door and look up at one of the Unsullied guards, his face hidden by the helm. ‘Um,’ you say. Neither of them look round. ‘Where are the dragons kept?’

They don’t even seem to breathe. Perhaps they are undead as well as eunuchs.

You sigh and shut the door again.

***

Jaime

The door opens and my eyes shrink from the shallow light. A man, slim, comes in and leans against the wall. I recognise his shape as the fellow who stood next to Daenerys Targaryen in the throne room.

‘Ser Jaime Lannister,’ he says. ‘It is a great pleasure to set eyes upon you.’

‘And you are?’

‘Daario Naharis.’

‘I’m afraid I haven’t heard of you.’ I don’t have the energy to be polite. My spine hurts. My heart hurts.

‘He’s a sellsword,’ says Tyrion. ‘The Second Sons, I believe?’

‘A sellsword who has the ear of the queen,’ the man says. ‘Not so many who might claim that.’ A very subtle, pleased-with-himself smile. Hair as long as mine was, before the Known World turned upside down.

‘Oh, you’d be surprised,’ says Tyrion. ‘Sellswords have a way of getting coin out of noble men.’ I think of Bronn and his shit-eating grin.

‘No coin,’ he says. ‘Only a belief.’

‘In?’

‘In my queen’s cause.’

‘Do you think it helps her cause to have the two of us rotting in here?’ Tyrion says. ‘If you’ve her ear, you might like to advise her that we are not here to trick her or kill her. We are here to help.’

‘The help my queen wants most is fighters and ships,’ he says.

There is a short pause before Tyrion speaks. ‘That we can get you, once we get to Kings Landing.’

‘I would have thought it obvious that we need ships to get to King’s Landing,’ Naharis says, smiling.

Tyrion closes his mouth.

‘I heard you were one of the best fighters on Westeros,’ he says to me.

‘Once, perhaps,’ I say, hardly caring. Everyone is dead. My three children are all dead.

‘Shame. I would have liked to spar with such a man.’

‘That time has passed,’ I say.

‘Is she going to kill us?’ Tyrion says. ‘Because if she is, I’d like to get it over with, rather than lying in my own shit listening to my stomach grumble.’

‘We shall see,’ he says, and leaves the room.

***

Sandor

It’s hotter outside, the heat slamming off the stone walls. Sweat making my shirt stick to me. The sun’s as bright as a cave of coin. Brighter.

I can see the dragon queen below us, on a platform, talking to some Unsullied. Turning and looking out to sea, some of that white hair flying up. There’s a bastard wind here too, throwing the heat about.

Tarth’s still sick. Doesn’t like the sun either, for all that gold in her hair. Gendry’s gone sullen, keeps looking shiftily at everyone. No doubt sees the mistake he’s made, following the little wolfshit to this place, leaving the city where he was safe. Arya doesn’t even seem to care he’s here, much. All she does is go on about the fucking dragons. Haven’t seen one yet. Maybe it’s all bluff, the talk of them. Maybe they’re not real after all.

Sansa’s suddenly here, her thumb sliding into my palm, a place that’s been hollowed by it. I’d have it there forever. I’ve asked to speak with her, she says, sounding hopeful.

And? I say.

And I’m waiting for her to reply to my message, she says, less hopeful, looking down at the queen. Her hair flicks forward, and she moves it away from her mouth and I think of my fingers there, and my tongue, and my cock. I haven’t had my hands properly on her in two days and it feels like two winters.

What will you do, when she says yes to you helping her? I say, knowing it’s not going to happen.

She blinks. Go back to Westeros, she says. Talk to the Northern houses.

Marry a Northern lord, I say, and she glances at me, quick, sharp.

I don’t look back at her.

***

Arya

‘She’s probably mad as a box of toads, like her father,’ you say to Podrick through a mouthful of flour-coated fish.

Podrick has been brought ashore, Sandor and some Unsullied guards bringing him over on his stretcher. Podrick looks a little better again, and seems to enjoy you telling him things. Though you keep the bit about Gendry being a bastard Baratheon-king quiet.

‘She’s not mad,’ says Sansa, who’s seated on the one bench in the room, the sun on her.

‘The Unsullied never speak, except one, who is called Grey Worm,’ you tell Podrick. Grey Worm – that really was his name – seemed to be the leader of the guards, even though he was quite little. You bet he could move really fast.

‘Has there been no word of Ser Jaime and Lord Tyrion?’ His eyes had grown very big when you’d first said about Tyrion. You’d forgotten that he’d been the Imp’s squire, too.

‘Oh,’ you say, shrugging. ‘No, not much. Brienne keeps asking after him and looking sick. Sometimes she is a bit sick.’ She sounded really angry when she did it. You could hear it through the wall.

Podrick looks concerned.

‘Maybe she doesn’t like the food,’ you say.

‘You do, though,’ he says.

‘I’ll eat anything,’ you say, and bite into some more. ‘Want some?’

He blinks, slowly.

‘You need to keep eating. So you don’t die.’ You can say it loudly now, because you know he isn’t going to.

He smiles. Nods. You bring it over, and watch him struggle to sit.

‘Don’t,’ you say, and make him lie back, so you can help feed him.

There’s a noise outside in the corridor, and then Daenerys Stormborn glides in, with Missandei behind her. You can see Dothraki guards outside. She looks at you, and at Podrick. Sansa has stood up, very quickly, and done a small curtsey, like in the old days at King’s Landing.

‘I wanted to make sure I had met all of your party,’ she says, the words cool.

You try not to snort. As if Podrick would be a danger to her. He’s like a little wounded dog, although one who kills people and saves your life.

‘This is Podrick Payne,’ you say.

‘The squire,’ she says.

‘Yes, first of –’ you stop. Probably best not to mention the Tyrion bit. ‘Brienne’s squire.’

Podrick is attempting to sit up, the colour coming to his face.

‘There’s no need,’ says Daenerys, quite lightly, turning her face to you and Sansa. There’s a strange silence. You can feel Sansa thinking very hard about what to say next.

‘Where are the dragons?’ you say, the words louder than you meant.

‘Your Grace,’ says Missandei. ‘You must address the queen as your Grace.’

Not my queen, you think. Not queen of anything much, apart from a big triangle of stone and lots of dust. And all the Unsullied and Dothraki, you suppose.

‘Where are your dragons, your Grace?’ you say, and blink in a way that might be sweet. Sansa is glaring at you.

Daenerys Stormborn doesn’t say anything. It’s as if she can see straight through you to your puny bones. ‘You seem very keen,’ she says finally. ‘There are some who have seen my dragons and not lived.’

There’s probably a threat in there. ‘I just like dragons,’ you say. You saw a goat being led on a thin rope by a Dothraki guard. It might just have been for them to eat. But it could have been for a dragon.

‘In good time,’ she says, and turns to go.

‘Your Grace, I would like to speak with you further,’ Sansa says, sounding only a little bit desperate. ‘I feel I might be able to offer some counsel, about Westeros, and about the North.’

The queen looks up at Sansa, who is loads taller. ‘Later, perhaps. I have matters to attend to.’ She glances down at Podrick, who has been looking between you all with big eyes. ‘We’ll make sure that you are looked after,’ she says, more gently, before sweeping out.

Sansa sighs, a sound like she’s been holding her breath for days. ‘Why did you do that? Ask about the dragons?’

‘I just want to –’

‘You just want to see the dragons. So you keep saying. You sound like you’re threatening her. Trying to call her bluff.’ She shakes her head at you. ‘Just because we haven’t seen them yet doesn’t mean they’re not here. Look at all the Dothraki camps on the hillside. All the Unsullied. They know how strong she is and that means dragons. It must do. Grow up, Arya.’ She goes out.

You scratch at the frame of Podrick’s bed. The room smells of a sharp, stinging oil that someone has brought him. ‘Well, she likes you, anyway,’ you say.

‘I don’t think I’m very offensive to her,’ he says, with the smallest smile.

‘What, and I am?’ you say, feeling a little hurt.

‘No, my lady.’ You like how horrified he looks at the thought of having offended you. ‘I meant – my House is insignificant to her.’

You look up at the little window. It’s so hot here. You don’t know what to wear. You definitely don’t want to wear what Missandei is wearing, though you’re fairly sure Sansa does, and that Sandor would look at her like he was going to die. You roll up your shirtsleeves and pick up Podrick’s soup bowl.

‘I’d like to see the dragons, too,’ he says, and you straighten to look at him. ‘Once I can stand up. I used to draw them on parchment when I was a child.’

‘Which one did you like best?’ you say.

He gazes at you for a moment, his eyebrows pulling downwards. ‘Grey Ghost, maybe.’

Grey Ghost. One of the wild dragons, never ridden by any man or woman. You remember the pale grey colouring from your own books, and catch sight of your hair, so much longer now, pale grey in the sun.

***

Jaime

‘Tommen is dead.’

‘I know.’

Brienne has been permitted to see us, albeit briefly. The sight of her makes me want to weep and yet no tears come. There have been no tears.

‘My children are all dead,’ I say. Cersei blew everyone up and sits upon the throne. Tommen, stepping from a window. ‘All of my family are dead.’

‘Almost all,’ says Tyrion, from the corner. ‘Though I suppose that might not be for too much longer.’

Brienne is close. I can smell her, that sweet, bready scent. A little more on the bready side at this moment. ‘I know, Jaime. I’m so sorry.’

I think of her hand in mine when I heard about my father. My head on her lap when I knew of Myrcella.

‘I need to tell you something,’ she says, her mouth close to my ear.

I wait for the worst. That she is leaving. Or our execution date, perhaps. Trial by combat, of which a dwarf and a one-handed aged knight have little hope. Trial by dragon.

I stare at her, take in the haygold of her hair, the pale doughiness of her cheek.

‘I’m –’ Brienne draws a violent breath. ‘I’m with child.’

Chapter Text

Jaime

With child.

We conduct the rest of our conversation in hisses – Brienne – and stunned pauses – myself, while Tyrion pretends not to be listening.

‘I don’t know what to do,’ she says.

I simply stare at her, mouth agape.

‘Jaime.’

‘But – the moon tea,’ I say, uselessly.

‘Well, it clearly didn’t work, did it?’ she says, and I can hear the panic in her voice underneath the fury at whichever Braavosi market woman had sold her the ineffectual herbs.

I continue to look at her like a dumb madman.

Jaime,’ she says, through clenched teeth. ‘Tell me what to do.’

In truth, I thought I was rather past all that. Cersei had not had any more children, after all. But perhaps she had been more careful.

I stare at the wall again. It’s too much to take in. Tommen is in the ground, a bruised and battered body, and there is something of me growing inside Brienne. A – child. A child that is not solely a Lannister.

‘Oh, for the gods’ sakes,’ she says, and stands abruptly. Bangs the side of her fist on the door.

***

Arya

‘Why can’t I come?’

‘I think it might be best if I try and speak to the queen alone,’ says Sansa, who has already said this to you five times this morning, and is now giving you a glare from the side of her face.

You are walking with Missandei and Grey Worm. Sansa has requested an audience with Daenerys Stormborn. Again. You’re fairly sure the queen has just been putting her off to annoy her and make herself seem more queenly and not desperate for help.

Missandei has very straight eyebrows and very curly hair. She is very pretty. You can tell that Sansa really, really wants to be her friend. She keeps asking her questions about Naath and butterflies and Missandei answers very simply and politely each time, and you can’t tell what she’s thinking. You cannot imagine her being angry, or shouting.

‘How many languages can you speak?’ Sansa says to her, as you reach the great carved door to the throne room. You can see her waiting to tell Missandei that she can speak Braavosi, and a little High Valyrian.

Missandei folds her hands. ‘Fifty-seven, my lady.’

Sansa’s face falls. You try not to snigger.

An Unsullied guard opens the door and Sansa takes a deep, calm breath and walks in. The door shuts in your face. Grey Worm stays outside the door, his back very straight. You can just see his eyes, small and brown.

You kick the bottom of the door for a bit. He does not move, and nor do the other two guards.

‘Is it true?’ you say to him.

His face doesn’t change. ‘What is true?’

‘You know,’ you say, glancing at the other two, who might as well be statues. ‘That all of you don’t have, you know.’ You nod faintly downwards.

His face stays the same.

‘Balls,’ you say. ‘None of you have balls. That they were cut off.’

‘Is true,’ he says, in that thick accent, like the words are sticky. He’s not even embarrassed. ‘But we fight better than man with –’ he glances at you then.

‘Balls,’ you say.

‘Balls.’

‘Could you beat Sandor Clegane?’ you say. ‘He’s pretty good.’ If a bit old now.

‘I beat anyone,’ he says.

‘Want to bet?’

There is the light scrape of metal as he looks down at you. ‘Bet?’ he says.

***

Sandor

We’re out in the yard, and it’s bastard hot. The eunuch and I are walking round each other, him with his spear, me with my sword. A few Unsullied are watching, straight as pegs, as well as Arya and the Second Son with the unpronounceable name, Nahaar-whatever, in the shadow of the wall. There’s dust in the air.

Wolfgirl said Grey Worm wanted to train with a Westerosi. I’ve nothing better to do, while Sansa’s in with the queen, trying to see if she’s mad or not. Bloody girl insisted on no one else being there, meaning she’s unguarded. I might as well fight my frustration out on someone.

The eunuch hasn’t made any moves yet. He’s a thin as a willow, though there are enough sharp edges to him to be dangerous. What sort of a damned name is Grey Worm? I say.

Aren’t you called the Hound? says the pretty cunt behind me. He’s like Lannister but twice as fucking smug.

Was, I say. Go by my own name now. I think of Sansa calling me Sandor for the first time, and have to work hard for my cheeks not to go warm. Damnit.

Is my name, says the Unsullied boy. Is me.

Thought a man without bollocks would talk like a girl, I say.

I not talk like girl, the boy says, and lunges forward.

I sidestep just in time, the spear whistling past my cheek. He’s fast, I’ll give him that. It’s a little harder trying to get round that weapon. I trust this is a training match and not the real bloody thing.

Back and forth. The boy comes, turns like a fish, the lance catching the light. I’m there, trying to get at his side, not enough to hurt him properly, circling. I can hear Arya breathing in sharply on every movement, and I can’t tell who she wants to win. He comes in again and I only just avoid him. Fuck, he’s quick. I need to keep moving, tire him out, otherwise I’m going to be made a fool of.

This fucking sun. Sweat’s a river down my back. I blink it out of my eyes.

He lunges forward. I turn, grab the lance and shoulder into him, use an elbow. Got him. The boy clatters to the ground, jumps back up, but my sword meets his neck. Hovers, the point just touching his skin.

He blinks, and I move it away. He gives me a small nod.

I win, says Arya.

Win what? I say. I’m the one who’s been fucking fighting. I turn to the sellsword. You next?

He just grins. Ready when you are, he says. There’s a short curved knife in his hand that wasn’t there a moment ago. He pushes himself off the wall.

I realise that Arya’s no longer there. Grey Worm sees me looking, and underneath the helmet his face changes. The first time I’ve seen alarm on it. No, he says, getting up and treading quickly towards the door.

What? I say. Leave her alone. She’s no harm to anyone. That’s a complete bloody lie.

He glances back. She ask to see dragons, he says.

What fucking dragons? I say.

The dragons, he says, and it’s obvious he speaks true. The boy wouldn’t have the first clue how to make a joke.

Fuck. For fuck’s sake.

***

Jaime

‘Well, I must say I did not anticipate that,’ Tyrion says behind me after Brienne has left. ‘Was it a drunken encounter? Too much ale and you thought she was a pretty boy-knight?’

‘I love her,’ I say, irritably, and realise what I’ve said, and sit back on my heels.

Well, of course I do. I have done for a dreadfully long time, it’s just that there was still a semblance of feeling for my sister, wound into it all like a thread. No longer. The woman who has caused the death, inadvertently or otherwise, of all of my children.

Tyrion doesn’t say anything, but I feel his eyes on me. I look up and he gives me a weak, but genuine, smile. ‘I am glad to hear of it, brother.’

I look at my one hand, the lines running through it. Brienne. A child. Our child.

***

Arya

‘You shook my hand on it,’ you say, walking very fast down the corridor.

‘I not know the word ‘bet’,’ says Grey Worm, walking very fast just behind you. ‘No one come here without word of Queen Daenerys.’

‘Queen Daenerys Stormborn Everything Else is busy talking to my sister,’ you say. ‘I only want a little look. ‘Bet’ is a very solemn promise in Westeros. And illegal in Essos,’ you say, glancing over.

Another word he doesn’t understand.

‘Not allowed in Essos. No betting,’ you lie, remembering how much gambling there was on the streets of Braavos. ‘You get the death penalty.’

Grey Worm’s face does not change but you can feel his thoughts all bumping up against each other. He walks more slowly beside you.

You can hear Sandor coming a mile off. You’d almost think it could be a dragon, what with the heavy breathing, but there are solid footsteps and his sword scraping against the stone.

‘What the fuck are you doing?’ he says.

‘There haven’t been dragons for a hundred and fifty years,’ you say. ‘And I am going to be the first Westerosi to see them again.’

Sandor says something under his breath.

***

Sandor

Fuck. Fuck. If there are dragons – if there are, we’re all fucking dead.

Grey Worm stands at the door. Not go past steps, he says.

Arya’s already halfway down them. No fucking fear at all.

Come back here, you little shit, I say, hoping she can't hear the fear in my voice.

It’s as black as hells down here. The air’s hot and heavy. No sound. As my eyes adjust slowly, I see how big the room is, the height of the stone ceiling. No telling how long the room is.

My heart’s a boulder in my throat. All I can hear is Arya breathing.

There’s nothing in here, she whispers.

A sound. The dull clink of metal and something swiping over the stone somewhere in there. Arya stops breathing, and looks into the room. She’s off the last step and onto the floor.

I mean to tell her to get back, but no words come out.

Here, kitty kitty, says Arya, in a small, calm voice.

The swishing sound again, and I sense something, maybe more than one thing, a shape that is darker than the chamber’s shadow.

Come and say hello, she says.

It goes quiet. My gut’s in pieces. I can’t move.

The room’s shadow has lines in it, almost square-shaped. Scales. Suddenly, in less time than it takes to blink, a head and neck come stretching out, the scrape of a chain, and the brightness of fire, lighting Arya up.

***

Jaime

Brienne is pregnant. With my child. A child who would not be incestuous. A child who might not be mad. Who would be ours. I stare at the wall, trying to imagine what it might look like. Handsome, like me. Tall, like her.

Blonde.

***

Arya

‘I saw them. Two of them.’

Pod watches your face. Doesn’t say anything.

You think back to the stifling air. The smell of burnt wood and goat-flesh. The sensation as the first dragon suddenly came towards you, the ear-splitting shriek like giant swords scraping against each other, and the burst of light from its mouth that made your cheeks burn. Your face still feels hot.

You think of Visenya, wheeling on Vhagar. You imagine yourself on one. You look at Pod. ‘They were beautiful.’

***

Sandor

Tarth’s looking gloomily out of a window.

Still sick? I say.

She looks sharply at me, but the sharpness is dampened, somehow. The stuffing’s been taken out of her. Didn't think she'd be so pathetic about it all.A little, she says.

How did they look? I say. I don’t give two fucks about the Imp, of course.

Like you’d look if you’d been in a cell for four days, she says.

There are footsteps in the corridor, and Sansa comes in. She looks exhausted, like she’s been in a fight.

How was it? I say. Dragons, Sansa, I want to tell her. I looked into the face of a dragon. Into the face of fire. I don’t think I’ll ever unsee it.

Hard, Sansa says. She’s very– she puts her lips together and frowns at her lap. Resolute.

Tactful to the last. Light is coming in from the window shades and falling in squares on her face. I want her until the end of all this shite. Until the end of everything.

My lady, may I ask, says Tarth. Have you had any chance to speak about the prisoners?

Sansa’s eyes cloud. I’ve been trying, she says, her voice careful. I told her how good Lord Tyrion was to me. How he was always just, and a better Hand than anyone deserved. How he won the Battle of the Blackwater, even though no one acknowledged it.

And Ser Jaime? Tarth says.

I don’t know how to bring it up, Sansa says. Every time I mention Ser Jaime’s name, her face turns to stone.; She folds one palm in the other and looks at me a little bloody desperately. How am I supposed to tell her that her father was a terrible man, a man who would kill his whole city?

Sansa had told me this, late one night in Braavos, which seems like two summers ago. Lannister, not such a backstabbing Kingslayer after all. Just another bloody way in which it turns out he’s the fucking hero. But I get it. Sansa’s walking a thin rope, and telling the dragon queen how fucking mad her father was is a hard thing to get right.

Tarth’s face drops again. Yes, my lady, she says. It is not ideal.

Sansa sits next to her, places a hand on top of the big woman’s. I’ll keep trying, Lady Brienne, I promise, she says. He shan’t be forgotten. I care for him too.

Tarth takes in a breath, as if to say something, then looks at me and seems to change her mind. Ay, my lady, she says. I thank you for it.

***

Jaime

There’s a shifting outside the door, and it opens. Daenerys Targaryen glides in. Stands there, looking imperiously down at us both, doubtless wondering the best way to kill the pair of us, and who to kill first.

‘Your Grace,’ I say in greeting, rather too flippantly. I’m light-headed from the lack of food. From Brienne’s news. ‘You’ll forgive us if we don’t get up. Rather difficult when we’re chained to the stones.’ I look over at Tyrion. ‘It’s been – what – five days now? I’ve rather lost count.’

Tyrion glares at me. ‘Your Grace,’ he says in a rather measured fashion, though he’s starving far more than I. ‘I’d like to ask you to consider why Lord Varys would choose to send us to you before you plan our execution.’

‘Lord Varys?’ says the queen. ‘The man who arranged my assassination? Who sent a man with poisoned wine to kill me?’

She is like her father, and she is not. Rather more composed than he ever was, and yet so very light, as if partly made of air. But the hair, brighter than a torch in this gloom, is enough to send me right back to that night, and the Mad King’s talk of flames.

Tyrion keeps his voice calm. ‘Lord Varys would have been working under the instruction of Robert Baratheon at that time. It would have been Robert who -’

‘Why did you kill my father?’ she says to me, her words cutting through Tyrion’s like a Valeryian blade.

‘I had my reasons,’ I say.

‘Jaime,’ says Tyrion, the flare of warning in the word.

It’s still so hard to tell. Whether she’d care one bit about why I did it. Or not. I look at her. ‘I’m not the man you think I am,’ I say.

She gazes at me, and I think, there’s a chance. I open my mouth to speak.

Too late. ‘You killed my father,’ she says again. ‘You wanted to crush the Targaryen name so that you could have your own in its place. I know well enough the stories of the golden-haired Baratheon children.’ She turns to the door, looks back, her face set. ‘You’re a murderer. And you’ll be treated as one.’

I look at the back of the door for some moments after she has left.

Chapter Text

Sandor

The wind flays the skin hard here. Bright fucking sun like a punch in the face.

This is where the masters were punished, the wee advisor girl says, gesturing to a stone platform on the side of the pyramid. Queen Daenerys worked hard to crush all the slave cities. She does a lot of explaining whilst the dragon queen stands and stares off into the distance, looking like she’s still trying to decide who to kill first.

The stories were told in Braavos, Your Grace, says Sansa. It is why we chose to come and meet you. Because we had heard of your courage and support of the common people.

Wolfgirl’s here too, and the blacksmith. Tarth’s sick again. We’re all hanging back, knowing Sansa’s got the best chance of having the queen’s ear. She’s been working hard, taking her time.

And do you care about them? says the dragon queen. The common people?

Yes, Your Grace, Sansa says, though I’ve never heard her speak of them much. My father taught us to be respectful to all of the people in Winterfell, and beyond Winterfell. He always said we would be nothing without all the people in the North, not just the nobles. How everyone worked together to create a good world.

It is important to you, isn’t it? says the queen, her voice quiet. Going back home.

I think again of Sansa married to some Northern bastard, because that’s the only way she’ll get the damned North, and imagine twisting that Northern bastard’s balls in my fist until he’s more Unsullied than an Unsullied.

Sansa looks out to sea, the sharp flint-strikes on the surface. It’s where I belong, Your Grace, she says. Winterfell is our home. And our right. She turns to her. I understand how you feel, here on the other side of the Narrow Sea.

The little queen doesn’t say anything. The two of them stand side by side, Sansa’s flame-hair dark next to the bleached bone colour of the queen’s.

Alliances are important, Your Grace, Sansa says. I know you have ten thousand Unsullied, and the Dothraki army, but you need allies in Westeros. Otherwise you will always just be an invader.

I am from Westeros, the queen says.

It’s not enough, Your Grace, Sansa says, and I bite my lip, hoping it isn’t too much. Help us take the North and we will help you by giving you peace there.

You still have given me no evidence that the North will support you, says the queen. And even if they do, there is still the South. I have other ways of conquering Westeros.

I think again of the hot breath of the first dragon in the basement chamber, of how I almost fell backwards.

Dragons are not enough, Your Grace, Sansa says. Not if you want the people to love you. Let me write to the Northern Houses. If they pledge their allegiance to the Starks, it will be evidence of their faith in my House. Faith in my name.

Careful, I think. Don’t sound like more of a fucking queen than her.

The queen stares outwards. Gives the smallest of nods. Very well, she says.

I feel Sansa waiting a moment, waiting to ask about Lannister again. I swear I can hear her thoughts in her these days. I would never have dreamt it, at King's Landing, knowing this girl inside and out.

Your Grace, she says. If I may ask -

There’s an odd shriek on the air. I look up, sharp. It can’t have been the wind.

I hear Arya breathe in, and squint into the hot sky.

And I see it. Something black, like a bit of ash or parchment, except as it moves I see that it’s still far away, and growing. Another shriek, louder, like nails against stone.

The queen is staring too.

Fuck. It’s the other one.

It comes closer, wings wide. The power in it, the heaviness as it nears us. Gods.

I glance over at Arya, and think, well there’s your fucking dragon once and for all, my heart still making me gag.

She’s staring upwards, her mouth open, but then it’s as if a catapult-stone has hit her, and she suddenly runs inside.

***

Arya

You burst into Podrick’s room and he’s sitting up, and he has no shirt on.

‘Quick!’ you say, running round to him. ‘There’s no time.’

He looks red and you don’t know if it’s because his upper half is naked or because he is hot or sick. ‘Are we leaving, my lady?’

You grab his hand, and pull at it. ‘Hurry up.’

Podrick tries to protest, and you know he’s hardly able to stand, and he might be naked underneath, and you’re holding his hand, and you pull him until he is hot against your side, and sling his arm over your shoulder. You drag him over to the window.

‘Look!’

You know Podrick is looking for danger, out on the sea. ‘No,’ you say. ‘Look up.’

There. There it is. You hear his breath catch. The black dragon, the third one, not caged up but free, and flying, back over the pyramid, swooping round, almost as if showing off. You can see the fire from here.

Podrick has gone still, one hand holding his bandaged side. You watch the dragon together, swooping one more time over the harbour, before it heads back out to sea.

It suddenly seems very quiet. He’s wearing knee-length breeches and doesn’t have anything else on. His arm is over your shoulder, and he’s leaning on you quite a lot. All his skin is next to you. You’re still sort of holding his hand.

‘Did you see?’ you say, in a small rodent-voice, starting to feel a bit stupid. But you had wanted him to see the dragon. He’d said he liked them.

‘Beautiful,’ he says, and glances down at you. A moment that’s almost as heavy as his arm. ‘I must be hurting you,’ he says. No my lady. If he doesn’t say my lady, your cheeks go hot, because it’s as if he isn’t a squire at all.

You shake your head. ‘No. You’re not hurting me.’ And just for a tiny moment you think, go on, do something.

But Podrick starts to carefully turn, and you realise how much pain he is still in, and as you turn with him, Gendry is there in the doorway.

You wriggle out of Podrick’s arm.

‘Just making sure you’re alright,’ says Gendry, and his eyes are blank and ice-blue.

***

Jaime

‘I always wondered if I would marry,’ says Tyrion. ‘I mean, marry someone I actually loved.’

Neither of us slept much. What’s the point in sleeping when you might be put to death in the morning? You might as well try and live until your last breath. The queen didn’t quite say that was the end of it, but it sounded as near as damnit.

‘I loved Shae,’ my brother is saying. ‘But that didn’t quite turn out as planned. I suppose it never could have.’

I wonder if I will see Brienne again. Probably at my execution, no doubt all of them made to watch. Clegane probably wouldn’t care too much, one way or the other.

‘I asked Father for Casterly Rock, you know. More than once.’

Arya – it’s always been hard to tell. She won’t lose sleep. I know Sansa cares for me, in the way that a lasting family enemy might care for me. But the thought of seeing Brienne, and knowing that our child grows inside her, and knowing that I’ll never see it –

‘After all, you weren’t ever going to have it. Are you listening?’

I wonder if it will be a girl or a boy.

***

Sandor

The queen has gone off to talk more to her advisors. I imagine Cersei laughing her ugly head off at a small council made up of a bollocks-less boy, a girl who hasn’t said a bad word in her life, and a smug cunt who clearly either wants to fuck the queen or is fucking her already.

I’ve taken Wolfgirl and the blacksmith up onto the hillside to get a look at the Dothraki camps. It’s past the worst part of the sun, but still as hot as the mouths of all seven hells.

Sansa’s looking after Tarth, who still has the sickness. Obviously something’s wrong there. Gods, I can see it now, Lannister bawling his eyes out over her giant corpse.

I told Sansa we might as well get a look at this army of the queen’s. The Unsullied are an odd bunch, but if Grey Worm’s anything to go by, they’re good, and they’ll kill for her without question.

The Dothraki, though. All I ever heard about them was that they live in tents, eat fresh hearts, paint their bodies, have never touched a proper sword in their lives.

***

Arya

‘Bunch of horse-fuckers,’ Sandor says. There’s sweat going into his eyes.

You’re on top of the hill, and now you can really see why the queen has half a chance over in Westeros.

There are so many of them. The whole valley, going for miles, is dotted with tents, large and small. Horses everywhere. There are mostly men, but women and children, too. You imagine them all shivering in the snow.

Gendry grins, but his grin turns thoughtful as he watches them. ‘They don’t like the sea, I heard.’ He’s been acting strangely towards you, watching and not saying much. Like his eyes are ghosts.

‘You heard right,’ says Sandor. ‘But they’re doing it for this one.’ You can hear a thread of thoughtfulness in his voice, too. Perhaps he doesn’t hate Daenarys Stormborn as much as he hates most kings or queens.

He wanders a little ahead.

‘I heard that they can stand on their horses and shoot arrows at the same time,’ you say.

Gendry doesn’t say anything.

‘They start learning when they’re four years old.’

‘You like him, don’t you?’ Gendry says, quite quietly, splitting a piece of yellow, dried grass with his thumbnails.

‘No,’ you say, without thinking.

Gendry looks at the grass for a bit longer. ‘You didn’t ask who I meant.’

Seven hells. You look at him. ‘Who did you mean?’

‘Podrick.’

‘I don’t. Not like that.’ You lean over quickly, and kiss his cheek. Smile a quick, wide smile.

He doesn’t quite smile back.

When you get back inside the pyramid, Sansa’s face is red and wet.

‘What is it?’ says Sandor, sounding like he’ll fight everyone to the death for her, including his own. He holds her arms. ‘Tell me.’

She wipes her nose. ‘The queen. Missandei came to tell us.’ She looks at you, sniffing.

‘What?’

She shakes her head. ‘They’re going to execute Ser Jaime tomorrow.’

***

Jaime

The guard says it plainly, bored, as if he’s just told us what’s for dinner. Shuts the door. Bolts it.

Well, that’s it then. My life, spent in my sister’s arms, loving her and hating her in equal measure. A few fights, cutting men in their prime down for very little reason at all, listening to Robert fuck whores, looking at my children with them not knowing they were mine.

A few good things. Taking Sansa out of King’s Landing. Brienne. Our child. Oh gods, our child.

I ask to see someone.

***

Sandor

For fuck’s sake, I say. I knew it. As mad as her fucking father.

Why Lannister would send for me and not Tarth or Sansa at the very least is beyond me. But it seems it’s me he wants to give his last words to, which he’s doing at huge bloody length.

It’s a test of Sansa, this. A stupid bloody test, trying to see how loyal she’ll be even when Lannister and his brother are put to death.

Tell Lady Sansa and Lady Arya, says Jaime. I care for them very deeply. I’m sorry my family ever hurt them.

The Imp’s in the corner. Greeted me as if I was an old friend, though I didn’t fucking return it. The whole cell stinks of shit.

I sigh.

Tell Podrick to get better, Lannister is saying. Gods, he’s turned into a bloody woman. He’s the bravest damned lad. Tell Brienne – his voice gutters.

Ay, tell her what? I say, thinking don’t fucking ask me to give great big fucking declarations of love because I’d rather fucking hang myself with a length of spiked wire.

Tell her to look after our child, he says, and I blink, and stare at him.

***

Arya

‘Your Grace.’ Sansa’s words echo off the walls.

You have all dashed to the throne room, Sansa, Brienne and you, and now all three of you are standing at the base of the stone steps.

The queen sits on her throne, which at least is less stupid than the Iron Throne, but is still very high up. You suppose she does look like a queen who could kill you all at any moment, even without the dragons.

‘Your Grace,’ says Brienne. She looks terrible. ‘Forgive me, but I must implore you to reconsider your – decision about Ser Jaime Lannister.’

‘Must you,’ she says. ‘A lot of people have implored me for a great many things, Lady Brienne. Some of them have kept their heads.’

Brienne looks at her feet.

‘He’s not all bad,’ you say. ‘Jaime.’

Sansa and Brienne look at you like you’re no help at all.

‘You Grace,’ says Sansa. ‘My sister and I have every reason to hate the Lannisters. Joffrey had our father executed. Under Tywin Lannister’s orders, my mother and brother were killed. Ser Jaime Lannister fought against my brother before he was captured. But it was he who rescued me from my prison at King’s Landing, and took me further north, where we met up with my sister and Sandor Clegane, and then Lady Brienne. We should be sworn enemies, but we have looked after each other. We all have. I trust him with my life. He is brave, and he is loyal. Not all family members are the same.'

The queen fixes her ice-blue eyes on yours. ‘And you? Do you trust him?’

You nod.

‘Then you are very forgiving,’ she says. ‘Tyrion Lannister is in a cell because he is a Lannister associated with those who have done terrible things to my family. Why do you think that I would possibly think of sparing the life of one of those who actually slew my family? He killed my father. He’ll be executed in the morning. If you truly believe in my cause, I should think that you would understand.’

Brienne looks panicked. ‘Your Grace, I beg of you –’ She takes a step forward, and Grey Worm steps forward to her, his spear angled. She steps back again. ‘We were sent here by Lord Varys, all of us, to meet with you and discuss how best to help you take the Iron Throne.’

‘I have seen very little evidence of how Jaime Lannister can help me take the Iron Throne.’

‘You need the North and the South, Your Grace,’ says Sansa. ‘You may simply take it, but you will be ruling a city that resents you for slaughtering its people. That is what will happen. Ser Jaime Lannister – and Lord Tyrion – can help. I know they can.’

The queen looks impatient. ‘Jaime Lannister killed my father.’

‘Yes he did,’ you say. ‘And he was right to.’

She looks at you, and you feel the hairs on the back of your neck rise up, and imagine being eaten by the black dragon. Drogon.

‘You choose to come to Meereen,' she says, 'and tell me that one of your party was correct in killing King Aerys Targaryen? I thought at least some of you would have been happy to sail out of here alive.’

‘Your father was going to kill thousands of innocent people,’ you say.

Her eyes grow wider, and she goes still. ‘I think you need to choose your words very carefully, Lady Arya.’

You fold your arms. She’s getting annoying now. ‘Aerys Targaryen put wildfire everywhere in the city. If it looked like the Rebellion was going to succeed, he was going to have it all set alight, and burn everything to the ground, and all the people with it. And when Robert Baratheon came storming into King’s Landing, the king told Jaime to give the order to do it, and instead Jaime stabbed him.’ You shift onto your other foot. ‘And saved the whole city. The city that you want to rule. Otherwise it would just be a pile of rubble and blackened bones. Children’s bones.’

‘It’s true, Your Grace,’ Brienne says, quietly. ‘He confessed it to me. He hadn’t wanted anyone to know.’

‘He told us later, and with reluctance,’ said Sansa. ‘He could have shouted it from the rooftops, but he never did. He thought it ignoble.’

There is a long quiet moment, as if everyone is holding their breath. The queen does not even blink.

***

Jaime

Morning. Sounds in the corridor.

Tyrion looks at me. ‘Jaime,’ he says.

‘I want you to do something for me,’ I say. ‘If you get out of here.’ There’s been no word of his execution yet.

‘Anything, brother.’

‘Look after Brienne. I don’t mean marry her -’

‘- That would be a sight,’ Tyrion says. ‘Imagine how many stools I’d have to stand on to talk to her.’

I ignore his joke. ‘Just look after her.’

‘Of course I will. We need all the family we’ve got,’ he says, and his voice is as light and dry as it ever was, but I see the solemnity in his eyes.

There’s a knock on the door. Two Unsullied guards.

We’re chained too far away to embrace. ‘I love you,’ I say to him.

‘Up,’ says the Unsullied.

‘I know,’ he says to me. ‘And I love you. May all the gods go with you, whoever they are.’

‘Up. Both,’ says the guard, and Tyrion and I look at each other.

***

Arya

You’ve all been summoned back to the throne room, having been sent away for the night. Everyone is standing at the side of the hall. No one has slept. Daenerys Stormborn is wearing a bright blue dress and a white cloak and, as usual, is sitting very straight on her throne.

The big door at the back opens, and there is the scrape of chains. Jaime and Tyrion Lannister limp in, looking really bloody terrible. Jaime’s face is stubbled with blonde and grey beard and he can’t seem to stand up straight.

You haven’t seen Tyrion in years. You’re way taller than him now. He has a scar sliced across his face, the one from Blackwater, when Podrick had saved him.

You wonder how it’ll be done, if the queen has decided to ignore everything you told her about her father last night. There’s nothing in here, no rope or flaying cross, but Grey Worm could slice them up with his spear easily enough. You really hope you don’t have to watch.

‘Ser Jaime,’ says Daenerys Stormborn, as if welcoming him to a feast. ‘And Lord Tyrion.’

They both just stand there. No witty answers.

‘I have had a long time to think,’ she says. ‘I do not make decisions lightly.’

Sansa nods, as if in great understanding, though Danaerys Stormborn is not looking at her.

‘I have heard many things about my father,’ she continues. ‘I know his reputation for madness. But last night I heard something new. Of the night that he was killed, by you.’ She looks at Jaime.

You see his shoulders move as he takes a deep, sad breath.

‘I want to hear it from you,’ she says. ‘What my father said.’

Jaime looks over at you all.

‘Tell the queen,’ says Sansa. ‘Tell her what you told us.’

He looks at Brienne, and she nods at him.

And then he looks at Daenerys Stormborn, and he tells her. You heard it from him once before, by a fire in the middle of Westeros, after you’d called him Kingslayer one too many times. You watch the queen, and how she doesn’t move one bit, and imagine Jaime’s words seeping into her skin. Wildfire. Pyromancer. Burn them all.

***

Sandor

The dragon queen takes her fucking time with everything, that’s plain enough. She looks up at the window, at the shaft of sun lancing down through it, makes us wait. No one speaks. At least it’s cooler in here. I shift the weight to my other foot.

Lannister’s half bent over from his time in the cells. I can smell the pair of them from here.

She stands. Walks down two steps. Can’t be good, hearing that the father you probably worshipped the memory of, the father you knew ruled before you, was the maddest of all fuckers, would have killed every man, woman and child, and rejoiced as they crisped up.

Very well, she says. I will free you both.

A breath comes from Tarth like a huge gust of wind, and half a sob.

Lannister doesn’t move, looking downwards. Thank you, Your Grace, he says, and falls to the floor.

***

Jaime

‘I have conditions,’ says the queen, as the Unsullied help me up. I look at Brienne, and see that she is crying, quietly. My heart breaks. I am still alive. I may yet be alive for a little while longer. Gods, I love her.

‘Yes, Your Grace,’ I say, though it comes out mostly as a croak. I try to remember who I am. ‘Of course. My thanks for your pardon.’

I can hear Tyrion breathing through his nose with relief.

The queen walks down the remaining steps, and comes quite close to me. Her eyes are such a curious mix of violet and blue. Just like her father’s. She gazes down at Tyrion, and back up at me. I stink to the seven heavens.

‘What makes you think I’d believe that one of you does not want the throne?’ she says.

‘Your Grace, I was not born to sit on that throne,’ says Tyrion. ‘I’d need a step, for a start.’

I think of our family and how it’s imploded. Ruling, or attempting to, has not been good for us. ‘If I’d wanted it, Your Grace, I could have taken it that day when I was - with your father.’ I think it best not to say killed again. ‘We were always better on the side. The throne doesn’t quite suit us.’ I think of Cersei, and how she’ll likely kill the whole city to in order to kill her brothers after this.

‘Alliances must be made.’ The queen looks over at Sansa, who is smiling, and looking older than ever.

‘Yes, Your Grace,’ I say. ‘I agree.’

‘The strongest alliances we make are through marriage. I have learnt that myself. It is why I have a Dothraki army willing to cross the Narrow Sea - a sea that they have never crossed - to fight for me.’

She does rather like to crow. ‘Indeed, Your Grace.’

‘Lady Sansa and I have spoken of the need to unite South and North. As the Lannisters hold sway in the South and can influence the Boltons in the North, and the Starks can persuade the Northern Houses to cede to my rule, then there is a simple answer.’

I hear Clegane shift loudly behind me, and mutter several violent curses under his breath.

‘I’m not sure I quite follow, Your Grace.’ I feel utterly light-headed. I am still alive.

‘Lady Sansa will marry a Lannister. And as I hear that it did not go quite so well with Lord Tyrion, I suggest that it should be you, Ser Jaime.’

This time I manage not to fall to the floor.

Chapter Text

Jaime

I almost laugh, but there’s a creeping horror at the same time, a dark knot twisting tighter in my chest. I glance over at Sansa, whose eyes are wide. ‘Your Grace,’ I say. ‘That is not necessary.’

‘If you truly wish to help me and my cause, then demonstrate your loyalty and commitment.’ Her eyes flicker past me for a moment, a pretence at being bored. ‘Or I could still kill you.’ A slight smile.

‘It’s – I’m afraid that it’s not possible. I cannot marry. As a Kingsguard.’

‘Whose Kingsguard?’ she says, straight back, and very coolly. ‘Do you serve your sister still?’

Well played. ‘Indeed not, Your Grace.’

The queen folds her hands. ‘Ser Jaime, I am sparing your life. I would think that you would be very lucky to have Lady Sansa by your side.’

‘She is a fine woman, Your Grace, the finest, but –’

‘Give me one political reason why not.’

I stand there. My head’s not clear, after four days of sitting in my own shit. ‘We can find a way to do this, to unite Westeros, a different –’

She cuts me off. ‘I don’t think you can.’

‘Your Grace,’ says Tyrion. ‘The Lannisters and the Starks do not make good bedfellows – politically speaking, I mean. Having Lady Sansa marry my brother is not likely to bring to North to your cause.’

‘Because the Lannisters are not to be trusted?’ she says, coolly.

‘Some are not,’ Tyrion says, but she’s already walked him into a trap.

‘This is the way to show that you can be trusted. At least to me,’ she says, and walks out of the throne room, followed by her young advisor, and the Dothraki and Unsullied guards.

We all stare at each other.

***

Sandor

Fuck it. Fuck all of it. I should have fucking known.

***

Arya

‘It’s bloody hilarious.’

Podrick’s eyes have gone very wide. ‘But – do you think they will?’

You snort. ‘No way. I mean, I can’t imagine it.’ Sandor was being odd though, back there. You would have thought he would have pulled out his sword and tried to decapitate everyone – he’s done that for a cooked chicken carcass, after all. But he just stood there, his mouth jammed shut, staring at the wall. Sansa kept looking at him, her face going red.

‘Marriage is so stupid,’ you say, flicking your fingers against his wooden water mug. Tap tap. No one wants to marry the person they’re told to marry, you think. Kings want to marry servant girls and princesses really want to marry their betrothed’s brothers instead and it’s all idiotic.

Podrick gives a very small nod. You remember holding onto his hand when you showed him the dragon and how his naked side was leaning against you and how he stopped touching you when he saw Gendry. Why hadn’t he just stayed there?

You’ll never do it,’ you say. You wouldn’t have minded if he’d stayed there.

‘My lady?’

‘Marry.’

His eyebrows tussle.

‘Don’t you want to be kingsguard someday?’

A small, careful shrug. ‘Depends who the king is.’

‘Or the queen,’ you say. ‘Don’t let Dragonwoman hear you say that. Maybe I should become a queensguard.’ Tap. Tap. ‘Then I don’t have to marry either.’

Podrick looks at the floor. He never says what you want him to say.

There’s a knock, and Tyrion comes in. He’s changed and doesn’t look quite so awful. ‘I heard that the world’s best squire was resting in here,’ he says, and his mouth twitches into a smile.

Podrick looks more pleased than you’ve seen him since – since forever. A massive smile. It makes your stomach hurt a bit, to see that smile and know it isn’t for you. ‘My lord.’ He sits up.

‘No, no Podrick,’ says Tyrion, his hand out as he comes over, dragging a stool. ‘No need for that.’

You tread lightly out of the room, leaving the two of them beaming at each other.

***

Jaime

Sansa and I are standing in a room with squares cut out of the walls, the sun pouring in. There’s so much more light up here. It makes my eyes hurt.

‘I can’t marry you, Ser Jaime. I won’t.’

Brienne and Clegane are here, too. Clegane is sitting against the wall, banging his head idly. He hasn’t said a word since we’ve left the throne room. Brienne, my beautiful Brienne, looks dreadfully sick.

I’ve washed, unthoroughly, not quite enough to get rid of the stink. ‘Don’t you think I know that?’ I say to Sansa. ‘You know I have only the greatest care and respect for you.’

She’s holding onto her elbows, two spots of colour high on her cheeks. ‘All I’ve known is being a thing to be married off – to Joffrey, to Lord Tyrion –’

‘I know. It’s not going to happen.’ I lower my voice, so that only she can hear. ‘It’s perfectly plain who you want to marry.’

She blinks, forcing the smile, her voice also low. ‘It’s quite plain who you want to marry.’

I glance over to Brienne, who has her eyes closed, and feel a pang at the thought of our child. At the idea of it being brought up quietly, on Tarth, without me.

‘There’s another complication,’ I say, and take her elbow.

***

Sandor

Just the two of us now, standing on a stone balcony and looking at the sea. The sun’s down, and it’s a bit cooler.

I can’t bear it, Sansa says, staring outwards. I thought she was different. More understanding. I thought she’d be better.

There’s salt on the air. Flecks of white still visible on the waves, even though it’s almost dark.

Why aren’t you saying anything? she says, suddenly turning. Why aren’t you angry?

I sigh. I’m bloody tired of being angry. It was always going to happen, I say.

She stares. What? she says.

You, I say. I feel heavy, like I’ve a millstone round my neck. You’re the daughter of a great House, rightful Queen of the North, like you’ve been telling her for the last few days. The woman talks sense.

Sense? she says. I feel the anger start to bubble up in her. You think – you think that I should?

North and South. Defeat Cersei, maybe crisp her up with one of those dragons, join Houses, while I stand on the sidelines, thinking about the two of them fucking and drinking myself to death.

I can’t quite answer her.

Don’t you think there’s someone else I want to marry? she says. Fire in her words.

It slices at my gut, to hear her speak of the thing I’ve thought of for so long. It’s not possible, I say.

Why not? she says, her fists clenching.

I sigh. You know all the reasons why, Sansa, I say.

She steps closer, and I can smell her, lavender and spices and the trace of onion-bread underneath it all. Her words come out in a hiss. You’ll go and look at dragons, she says, dragons that breathe fire, the thing that terrifies you most of all, and you’re too frightened to marry me?

And she slaps my burnt cheek, harder than I would have expected, and stalks away.

***

Jaime

‘I shouldn’t have told you,’ Brienne says.

Sansa and Sandor have gone outside. It doesn’t seem possible to have rooms together, what with guards standing outside every door. Instead, we finally fell towards each other, a few kisses, Brienne angry and half-crying. ‘Told me what?’ I say.

‘About the –’ her eyes flicker down towards her belly, as if there’s something stuck there she’d like to swat away.

‘And if you hadn’t?’

‘I could have just gone away, quietly.’ She looks defeated.

‘You couldn’t go anywhere quietly if you tried.’

She looks tired. The old Brienne would have hit me. She shakes her head. ‘Not now, Jaime,’ she says.

‘I’m sorry. What I mean is – I don’t want you to go away quietly. I want you with me, noisily. I want you clanking about in your armour and shouting at me and our baby having the healthiest, rudest set of lungs in Westeros.’

‘Oh gods,’ she says, and her head tips downwards.

I cradle her forehead in my palm. ‘Brienne,’ I say. ‘I love you.’

She looks at me, a strange, bruised expression, and I remember that no one has ever said that to her.

‘I do,’ I say. ‘With all my – with my very being.’

She breathes in, her chest huge, and exhales, shuddering.

This marriage cannot happen.

***

Arya

Sansa flings herself into bed and sighs. Sighs again.

‘Jaime Lannister is even older than Sandor,’ you say.

‘Please don’t,’ she says.

‘But better looking, if you like that sort of thing. All the ladies at Winterfell wet their smallclothes when they heard he was coming north.’

‘Please shut up, Arya.’

‘Sorry. Just trying to make you feel better.’

‘How can I feel better? I’m never going to feel better.’

‘Just tell her you want to marry Shitface Clegane. Maybe she’ll understand.’

Sansa turns over and starts crying furiously into her pillow.

‘Sansa.’

‘He doesn’t want to marry me,’ she says, into the pillow.

‘Jaime?’

‘Sandor,’ she says, the word still muffled.

‘Don’t be an idiot. Of course he does. He wants to marry you and have ten babies with you.’

She rolls over. Tears are stuck to her face. ‘Then why won’t he fight to have me?’

You think about it, and you understand. All that time you spent with him on your own means you understand him far more than you want to. ‘Because he’s a stupid arse. Because he thinks he’s only a Clegane, and who’s heard of them and all that. Jaime Lannister is rich, and from a proper family, and even though Sandor sort of hates him, he probably thinks he’d be better than some people. Because he thinks he’s not good enough for you.’

‘But he is good enough for me,’ she says, hopelessly. ‘And Jaime can’t marry me. He has to marry Brienne.’

‘She doesn’t want to marry anyone.’

‘Yes, she does. She definitely does now.’ Sansa tells you about the baby.

‘Oh.’ Brienne, pregnant. You can hardly imagine it. You thought she’d never do anything like that.

‘I wish we’d never come here,’ says Sansa. ‘I wish we’d all been killed in Braavos.’

And you think of something you can do, to save them all. ‘Tell her you want to marry him,’ you say. ‘Dare you.’

‘We haven’t done dares since I was ten and you were six.’

‘Well, then,’ you say. ‘Time to start again.’

***

Sandor

I must speak with you, Your Grace, says Sansa.

The dragon queen is breaking her fast, sitting at the end of a fucking long table. Naharis is next to her, looking like’s he’s just got up.

We’re all here. Sansa had knocked on my door first thing, stood there between the guards with her arms crossed. Looking bloody furious and set on something, her jaw all tight. My jaw throbbed a bit from that slap. I almost felt quite proud. You’re coming with me, she’d said. Now.

The dragon queen puts down her fork and looks at us all. Sansa, me, Wolfgirl, the blacksmith, Lannister, Brienne, the Imp.

Your Grace, says Sansa. You loved Khal Drogo. I can tell in the way that you speak about him. The best marriages are built on love.

Gods, girl, what the fuck are you doing? I think. She’s going to get us all killed.

I certainly did not love him at the beginning, the dragon queen says. It took time. And effort. Ser Jaime has spoken of his care for you. These things can turn into love.

Not this time, Your Grace, says Sansa, and stands very straight.

How do you know? the queen says.

Because I love another, she says.

I can see Grey Worm’s eyes move towards me, though his body remains rod-straight. Seven hells.

The dragon queen looks over, those odd violet eyes skimming me and going back to Sansa. It will pass, she says.

Naharis smirks.

Ay, and there it is. Saying what I know to be true. Sansa’s been with me too long and once she gets back to Westeros, she’ll see me for what I am. A scarred old dog with nothing to offer her.

It won’t, Sansa says. It won’t, Your Grace. I love him and it will always be that way and I will not marry anyone else. I vow to do everything in my power to help you in Westeros, but I will not marry Ser Jaime. I will only marry Sandor Clegane.

My heart collapses. Gods, Sansa.

The queen gazes across the length of the table. You’re very quiet, she says, to me.

I shake my head. Words have gone.

***

Arya

‘Your Grace, if I may,’ says Jaime in his smooth voice. He’s all clean now, and he’s shaved, and looks more like he used to, if a bit tired. ‘I know this is not exactly what you wish to hear, but I also wish to marry another.’

Brienne looks over at him, a look like she’s in pain.

‘Do you indeed,’ Daenerys Stormborn says. She seems almost amused except that you still wouldn’t put it past her to feed you all to that black dragon.

‘Yes, Your Grace,’ he says. ‘You see, I also love someone else.’ He looks over at Brienne. ‘And she’s expecting my child.’

‘How convenient,’ says Daenerys.

***

Jaime

We’ve all been sent away, having once again tested the queen’s patience. Poor Varys. If he ever turns up here, he’ll be so very disappointed in us all. If we’re still alive.

‘What are we going to do?’ says Sansa. ‘My congratulations, by the way, Lady Brienne,’ she says.

‘Thank you, my lady,’ Brienne says, trying her very best to look gracious but it turning out rather sour. She glances rather guiltily over at Podrick – who’s managed to get out of bed for the first time – as if she’s setting a terrible example. He goes beet red, which bodes well for his health at least.

We still haven’t had much of a chance to talk about it all. And I suppose I did just about propose to her in front of everyone. Sansa had given me a bit of a spur, what with the undying love speech. Clegane looks like he still doesn’t know what to do with it.

Arya rolls her eyes. ‘I’ll save you all, if you like.’

‘How very kind, Lady Arya,’ I say. ‘And how, pray, would you like to do that? As well-crafted as your dagger is, it’s not going to slit a dragon’s throat.’

‘I’ll marry someone,’ she says, off-handedly.

Tyrion blinks. ‘I don’t think that would be appropriate, Lady Arya. Though you are at least of a more complementary height.’

‘Ugh. No.’ She looks around the room. ‘I mean, sorry. But no. I’ll marry Gendry.’

Gendry stands a little straighter. Podrick’s face slides into a sudden, abject misery.

Sansa sighs.

‘For fuck’s sake,’ says Clegane, the first words he’s uttered since leaving the feast room. ‘Stop with your fucking jokes.’

‘Who says I’m joking?’ she says.

‘My lady,’ I say, trying to quell the urge to strangle her. ‘I’m tremendously happy that you have found a friend, but I’m afraid that a Stark marrying a blacksmith at this point is not exactly going to right the balance in the Known World.’

‘He’s not a blacksmith,’ says Arya. ‘He’s a Baratheon.’

There’s a silence, in which the only sound is Gendry, sighing quite quietly through his nose.

‘A – Baratheon?’ says Sansa.

‘Yes. A proper Baratheon. Well, sort of. King Robert’s his father. He’s a bastard. But he’s the only Baratheon left now.’

Gendry’s staring at the floor.

‘Is it true?’ I say. I suppose he could have something of Robert in him, in the black hair and fierce features.

‘So I’m told, m’lord,’ he says, far more gently than Robert ever would have.

We all stare at him. Even Clegane’s stopped huffing through his nose like a furious horse.

‘As intriguing as your suggestion is, Lady Arya, we should probably keep it to ourselves for now, says Tyrion. 'For this young man's sake, if nothing else.’ He looks a little more himself, his mind sharper. ‘I’d like to talk to her. She does not know how Westeros works. Not enough. She does need us.’

‘I’ve been trying,’ says Sansa. ‘All I’ve done is try and tell her.’

‘Well, then. Two of us can tell her and tell her until she believes us,’ Tyrion says lightly. He makes it sound so easy. ‘Or until she chops our heads off. You’ll join me?’

Sansa glances at Clegane, who looks as if he would fall to pieces if his armour wasn’t holding him together. And at me. She nods.

Chapter Text

Jaime

‘Edvar.’

‘No.’

‘Galen?’

‘No.’

‘Little Jaime?’

‘Definitely not. And you’re assuming it’s a boy.’

‘Jaime could be a girl’s name. Possibly.’

I managed to get into Brienne’s room past the guards. A quiet word in Grey Worm’s ear about the young advisor Missandei needing help with something seemed to do the trick. I’ve still got my eyes and ears about me.

‘You’re getting ahead of yourself,’ says Brienne, as beautifully gloomy as ever. ‘I might die. In childbirth.’

‘You won’t die in childbirth. You’ll push the baby out in the morning and be doing sword training by the afternoon.’

She shakes her head, staring at the ceiling. ‘It’s not as if everything is fine now. She might still cut off your head. Cut off all of our heads.’

‘I think she’s softening. Open to persuasion.’ Brienne glares at me, frowning. ‘Well, if anyone can do it, it’s my brother.’

***

Sandor

I’m sitting out in the training yard, watching two Dothrakis and two Unsullied guards circle each other. If I had coin I’d gamble on the eunuchs. I watch their moves, their lightness, how they predict the horse-fuckers’ turns. On the ground, Dothraki look slow. Still, if they could somehow get across the sea – I’d pay good coin to see Cersei’s cunt-face as they tear through the capital on their horses.

The Unsullied get the points of their spears at the necks of one of the Dothraki, and the other falls over. He hears me laughing, stands, points his curved sword at me, gestures at my cheek, says something in his thick words. I don’t need to know his tongue to know what he says. I spit onto the ground, stand up, beginning to pull my sword out, when she calls my name.

Sansa’s there, up on a balcony, looking down. Part of me wants to scrap with that Dothraki bastard, just to get it out of my system, but – fuck, I can’t help it. After everything she’s said about me in front of the damned queen, even though it risked her life.

I spit again, sheath my sword. You’ll get your chance, I say to the Dothraki, who’s still cursing at me.

I join her on a bench in the shade. What I’d give to slide my hand round her waist, my whole arm round her, my other hand up her skirts. But she’s sitting straight, her head still full of the talk she’s just had, her eyes busy.

How was it? I say. Can’t say I was happy about not having an ear to it, to whatever the Imp was feeding the dragon queen. I don’t trust him and I never will.

She looks tired. No less beautiful, but tired. Better, she says. Good. Lord Tyrion is – I know you don’t like him, but he’s clever. He knows how to talk to her.

And? I say.

It’s been agreed that I’ll write letters to the Northern Houses, she says. To seek their support.

I nod, wanting to ask about Lannister, not wanting to say it out loud.

Tyrion tried to explain again that a marriage between Ser Jaime and I would not send the right message, she says. It turned into a bit of a history lesson. A small smile.

I nod again.

It’s not definitely decided, she says. I think we have to see what the North says.

***

Arya

‘How long does a raven take to fly to House Manderly?’ You’re sitting on a stone bench perch on a balcony, looking out to sea, which has loads of glints on it like a blacksmith’s sparks.

‘I’m not sure,’ says Sansa. ‘Two days perhaps. And Lord Manderly might not reply straight away.’

You sigh through your nose. More waiting, then. You’ve become pretty good at waiting. ‘You really want to marry him, don’t you?’

‘Yes,’ she says, without a single hesitation, and you both look out to sea again. There are two boats out on the harbour and you can hear the horses from here. The Dothraki have been practising going on boats. The ones who guard Daenerys Stormborn most of the time have done it and they looked green for a whole day afterwards.

‘What you said before,’ says Sansa. ‘Do you really want to marry Gendry?’

You go stiff. ‘Why wouldn’t I?’

‘You always said you’d never marry anyone. That marrying was for idiots like me.’ A sneaky, amused glance.

‘Thought a Baratheon and a Stark might be good, that’s all.’ You shrug. ‘You know, for the realm.’

‘Do you love him?’

‘Who?’

She looks over, quickly. ‘Gendry.’

‘Oh. Um.’ You’ve hardly talked to him. He just seems confused and a bit embarrassed and you make excuses and disappear, very quickly. You sort of wish you’d never said anything now. ‘How do you know?’

Sansa looks up at the window, goes all dreamy. ‘I don’t know. You just do. It’s just –’ she sighs and places a flat palm on her breastbone. ‘It hurts here. In a nice way. Or sometimes here.’ She touches her throat, and then her stomach.

‘In a nice way,’ you repeat, trying not to think of the times you’ve felt that.

‘Have you felt that?’

‘Maybe.’

‘With Gendry?’

‘Maybe.’

‘Arya,’ Sansa says. ‘It’s OK. If you like him. It’s lovely. He’s lovely.’

‘It’s stupid,’ you say, wondering if you’re talking about the same person, realising your arms are holding your stomach, and that it hurts a bit. You drop your arms and instead kick your foot on the wall and hope you break it. The wall, or your foot.

***

Jaime

We’re invited to her council room. Tyrion’s already there – he’s done bloody well, worming his way in so quickly – maps spread out on the table.

Brienne stands behind me, as if she’s my sworn shield. I'm sure it should be the other way round. Sandor is behind Sansa, naturally. Arya. Gendry lurks at the back. I’m not quite sure why he’s been asked along, and he doesn’t look too sure either.

‘Your brother has been informing me of the military situation in more detail,’ Daenerys says to me. ‘Both in and around King’s Landing but in the other parts of Westeros. I want to hear it from you.’

I nod. This I can do. I tell her all I can, ignoring Cersei’s furious face in my mind as I betray everything we held dear together.

‘We need the north,’ she says.

‘It would help, your Grace.’

‘You’ll have heard that we await the response of the Northern lords to Lady Sansa’s letters.’

‘Indeed.’

‘I will not have anyone who stands with me in conflict with my claim to the throne.’

‘Of course, your Grace.’ She does go on rather.

The Queen sits back in her chair, her fingers lightly clasped. I think she and Cersei would have monumental staring contests. ‘There is one small issue that has lately come to my attention,’ she says. ‘Something that no one has chosen to inform me of.’

There’s a slight movement behind us at the door, the Dothraki guards standing a little straighter.

‘And that is, your Grace . . . ?’

‘That you have a Baratheon amongst you.’

We all freeze, even Arya, who has been fidgeting. The Queen is looking coolly over towards Gendry, and slowly we all look over at him. The boy’s eyes widen, and he looks back at everyone else. Dammit. The guards have ears, I suppose, even if they don’t have balls.

***

Sandor

Wolfgirl and her big fucking mouth. Fucking perfect. We go from saving our skins, to mayhaps saving Sansa from being wed to Lannister, and then she goes and blurts out about him.

The blacksmith coughs, a false one. Takes one step forward, looking like he’s about to shit himself. The lad’s the least threatening fucking person on Essos.

Is it true? the dragon queen says. That you are a Baratheon?

Gendry puts his hands behind his back. I’m a bastard, m’lady, he says. Your Grace.

A Baratheon bastard? she says.

Apparently so, m’lady, he says and coughs again. Your Grace. I never met my father.

And your father was Robert Baratheon, the Usurper? she says.

He swallows. It’s what I’ve been told, he says.

The dragon queen doesn’t move for quite a while. Murderous thoughts probably ticking over in her skull. Which way to slaughter him. Bastard or no, she says, it will seem rather strange for me to go to Westeros with a Baratheon in the party. Some in King’s Landing might prefer a Baratheon to a Targaryen.

The boy's expression doesn’t change, though I know full well his insides have turned to slop. I have no wish to be on the throne, your Grace, he says.

There are a few more sounds outside the door. Unsullied muttering at each other.

Good, she says. Then you will prove it by bending the knee.

‘Course. It’s all these fucking kings and queens ever want. Everyone else below them grovelling in the dirt, telling them how much they’ll fucking do for them. We’re all looking at Gendry, and he unclasps his hands and stands straighter.

You all will, she says.

Sansa glances over at the Imp, and I think gods, she’s got steel in her. She’s thinking that she doesn’t want to.

Indeed, your Grace, that is one way of continuing proceedings, says the Imp, in his slick voice. Although the fact that we are all here and helping you should demonstrate our commitment.

The tension’s back in the air. You could slice it in half with a dagger.

I don’t see the problem, says the dragon queen. Lady Sansa?

I am not sure that bending the knee is the right thing to do until we have heard from the northern Houses, your Grace, she says.

Careful girl, I think, as the dragon queen narrows one eye, but then the door opens and an Unsullied lad comes in, whispers to Grey Worm, who’s been standing like a bloody stiff tree the whole time.

Grey Worm steps forward. Your Grace, he says. Boats in the harbour. Many boats.

***

Arya

‘I will kill you,’ you say. ‘I’m going to fucking kill you.’

‘A strong greeting,’ says the woman. ‘I’d expect nothing less from a Stark.’

She’s not very tall. Dressed in breeches, a sword at her hip. Dull hair a bit like yours. A way of standing like a man, like Brienne. You can smell the salt on her. But you’re not talking to her. You’re talking to her brother.

Theon Greyjoy is standing next to his sister, Yara Greyjoy. A hundred ships came into the harbour, with squid banners. They were brought to the throne room, where Daenerys Stormborn sits, looking all dangerous again.

Theon Greyjoy looks like shit. Nothing like you remember. You suppose you have grown a lot since you last saw him, but he seems much smaller. Thinner. No shit-eating smile like he used to have. His shoulders curve in and he doesn’t look up much. He is shivering.

You listen to Yara Greyjoy’s strange, booming voice as she announces that they have come to help. You watch Tyrion and Jaime look at each other. Sandor frowns.

‘I will kill you,’ you say again.

Sansa doesn’t say anything. She just watches, and her face is pale.

‘Lady Arya,’ Daenerys says. ‘You will control yourself.’

You feel a rage you haven’t felt for a long time. It burns your stomach. You want to be sick. ‘He killed our brothers. He took Winterfell, the place that was his home, and he killed our brothers.’

Theon mumbles something.

‘What’s that?’ says Daenerys Stormborn.

‘I didn’t kill them,’ Theon says. You put your hand on your sword and go to move forward but Sandor clamps his hand on your shoulder.

‘Not here,’ he says.

‘We heard it all over the country,’ says Sansa, who is trying to stop her trembling. ‘Do not lie to us now.’

‘I wanted them to think that, my lady,’ says Theon, who would never have called Sansa that when you were all younger. His voice sounds jagged and small. Maybe he’d been in a big battle.

‘Speak up, man,’ says Sandor. ‘What the fuck are you saying?’

Yara Greyjoy looks at her brother. A nod.

Theon takes a step forward, and he looks at Sansa, and he looks at you. ‘I didn’t kill Bran and Rickon. I killed two farm boys. I made it look like I had killed your brothers, but I didn’t. I swear it.’ He looks back at the floor.

‘My brother has made many mistakes,’ says Yara Greyjoy. ‘But he is telling the truth.’

***

Jaime

‘My lady, are you well?’ Sansa’s looking paler than ever. But it’s perhaps not often you hear that two of your brothers are back from the dead.

We’re sitting in what has become our meeting room, a room at the front of the pyramid, looking out to towards the sea. There are a hundred boats in the harbour, all with the Greyjoy sigil on their sails. It seems the Greyjoy siblings stole them from their uncle, who has also claimed the throne on Pike.

Theon Greyjoy is certainly a strange one. I recall him faintly from Winterfell, a young man in the shadow of Robb Stark, ward to the family, with a cocksure grin. He certainly seems to have been through a lot. Perhaps we all have, I think, glancing at my steel hand.

Sansa looks at Arya, who is sitting next to her, just as pale. ‘They’re alive,’ Sansa says, and takes her sister’s hand.

I cannot imagine how it feels, to have two become four. Not complete, but certainly better than it was. I imagine being told that Tommen and Marcella are not dead, after all, and how my heart would collapse.

‘My lady, this of course has implications,’ says Tyrion, his voice rather gentle. ‘If your brothers are alive, then it would mean that Bran is the heir to Winterfell.’

‘I know,’ says Sansa, glancing at Sandor, who gives a sort of angry blush.

‘The Greyjoys do not know where your brothers are,’ he says. ‘That is clear. So nothing is certain. They have not been seen for several years. We do not know exactly what has happened. I do not mean to -’

‘Give them a fucking chance to get their heads round it,’ says Sandor. ‘Fuck’s sake.’

‘You’re right,’ says Sansa to Tryion. ‘I know that. Anything could have happened to them.’

The door opens and Missandei steps in. ‘Forgive me,’ she says. She has something in her hand. ‘A raven has come. From the north.’ She holds it out to Sansa.

***

Sandor

It’s too much, says Sansa. Her face is deadly white. Her eyes bright and blinking. If I didn’t know better I’d think she had a fever.

I want to kick everyone else out of here and pick her up and carry her to somewhere quiet, lay her down, let her sleep. She’s just been told her fucking brothers are alive – the ones I remember as two small boys, one brown-haired, one red-haired – and then the raven came. I expect the worse. For good news to be smashed to pieces by bad, one way or the other.

She’s passed it to Arya. Fucking hells, Wolfgirl says, after reading.

My lady? says Lannister. Arya passes it to him.

I watch him begin to read it. His eyebrows come down, then up.

Fuck it. I kneel down next to Sansa. Take her hand.

Well, Lannister says.

Sansa’s looking at me. It’s from Lord Manderly, she says. The first northern House she wrote to. He says Rickon has taken Winterfell.

Chapter Text

Jaime

‘The world moves fast,’ I say.

‘You wait for a raven, and three come at once,’ says Tyrion.

I’m holding a second message brought by a valiant northern raven. My brother holds a third. Mine is from House Mormont – it reads like the missive of an aged male warrior though I’m fairly sure that the Lady of Bear Island is a young girl of not yet ten – declaring victory for Rickon Stark in Winterfell, saying much the same as Lord Manderly’s raven yesterday.

Tyrion’s is from Jon Snow, Ned Stark’s bastard, who I recall as a gloomy boy with a head full of midnight curls. It’s rather less ferocious than Lady Mormont’s, but nonetheless dramatic, and confirms these other messages. He rallied the north around Rickon, who had been harboured by House Manderly for some time. The northern Houses fought together to overthrow the Boltons.

‘He was a sound lad,’ says Tyrion. ‘I can’t say I’m surprised. This other thing, though…’ He frowns and I look at the scribed words again.

‘What does he mean, the army of dead?’ I say. ‘A little fantastical, don’t you think?’

‘As I say,’ Tyrion says thoughtfully. ‘A sound lad.’

‘And he wants to meet at Dragonstone?’

‘That’s what it says. With Manderly ships.’

‘Well, why not,’ I say. ‘The more, the merrier.’

***

Arya

Rickon. You still can’t believe it. That your little brother is alive, and now the Lord of Winterfell. There’s no word of Bran.

And Jon. It has been so long since you heard anything. It seems like a grand story, something from a book – that he has been Lord Commander and then left Castle Black to fight for Winterfell. That there is true danger in the North. White Walkers and an army of dead men. Giants.

A tap at the door. ‘Arya?’ Sansa comes in and lies on the bed next to where you are sitting.

You lie down with her, your head almost touching hers. ‘They’re not dead,’ you say.

‘I know.’

‘We can go back to Winterfell. Back home.’

‘I know.’

‘Where’s Bran?’

‘I don’t know. Jon said in his letter that Bran had left Rickon to go north of the wall.’

‘Why would he do that?’ You try and fail to imagine Bran, who can’t even walk, being carried around by Hodor in deep snow, surrounded by White Walkers.

‘I don’t know.’

‘Maybe he is dead after all.’

‘If we don’t know he’s dead, he’s not dead.’ Sansa sounds resolute. ‘If Rickon’s alive, then so is he.’

You think of Winterfell again. You know it won’t be the same. Mother and Father won’t be there. The idea of Rickon being in charge seems faintly hilarious, but if you’ve grown up, then he will have too.

‘Lord Rickon of Winterfell,’ you say, testing it out on your tongue.

‘Lord Rickon of Winterfell,’ Sansa says, and her hand finds yours, until all of your fingers are intertwined.

***

Sandor

Things have changed since we last spoke, the queen says.

I’m standing a few paces behind Sansa in the throne room, looking at the curve of her waist and her arse and how she holds herself.

Indeed, your Grace, she says. She’s looked taller still since hearing that both of her brothers are alive – or at least that one of them definitely is. That Winterfell is in the charge of her family again. She looks at me coolly and warmly all at once, and like she’s deciding what to do with me. I’d say yes to most things.

The queen is on her throne. Missandei to her right, Grey Worm and Naharis to her left. And all of us awaiting her latest demands. She looks to the window, and the sun falls on that pale face, lights her hair up. I am glad to hear of your brothers, and of Winterfell being yours again, she says.

Only because you bloody want it, I think. Lannister and the Imp are next to Sansa, the Greyjoys behind them.

Thank you for your good wishes, Your Grace, Sansa says. I am glad that we have our home back. It strengthens the North, and if the North is strong, you can be too.

And this brother of yours, the queen says. Jon Snow. He speaks of strange things.

He does, your Grace, Sansa says. I have no reason not to believe him. He would not lie.

She looks thoughtful again. And he will bend the knee on behalf of your brother Rickon?

I cannot answer for him, Your Grace, Sansa says, calm as anything, ducking that arrow.

The queen sighs. Well, at least one person has, she says.

We all look at each other, blank-faced. I turn round, see Gendry standing even further behind me. He looks up at me, at everyone, at Arya. Shrugs.

Yara Greyjoy moves, gets on one knee. And another, she says, in her man’s voice. She looks over at her brother, and he kneels too.

Lightweights.

***

Jaime

‘We pledge our service to your cause, Your Grace,’ booms Yara Greyjoy, who I must say seems a terribly confident woman. ‘For too long, the Seven Kingdoms have been at war, and ruled by madmen. I believe that you may be the exception. That you will rule justly.’

‘You’ve only been here a day,’ says Daenerys Targaryen, lightly.

‘I’m an excellent judge of character,’ says Yara Greyjoy straight back, and I swear there’s the hint of flirtation in there, in an unnerving, mannish sort of way. ‘I only ask one thing in return,’ she says.

‘And that is…?’ Daenerys Targaryen raises an almost coquettish eyebrow.

I glance at Tyrion, who glances back. She seems rather flirtatious, too.

‘That you assist us in defeating our uncle, who has taken over the Iron Islands with no rightful claim,’ Yara says. ‘And that you allow us to return to our home.’

‘Done.’

‘Then you are my queen,’ Yara Greyjoy says. ‘And I look forward to fighting alongside you.’

‘I hear you are an excellent fighter,’ says the queen.

‘There are some things I excel in,’ says Yara Greyjoy, and she gives a mildly dangerous smile. ‘Some more public than others.’

Clegane coughs and shifts his leg. Daario Naharis is looking bemused, or possibly aroused.

‘You may rise,’ says the queen. ‘I thank you for your pledge, and I am glad to have you and your men.’

Well, there we are. Everyone’s at it. Gendry’s knelt at the first opportunity, though I’m not sure that says so much. The Greyjoys are rather more significant, and I can see that even with Daenerys Targaryen doing her best to be officious and queenly, she’s pleased.

Tyrion looks over at me. That little thoughtful puppy dog look that says shall we...? I give the most subtle shake of my head. Not yet.

‘With Lady Yara’s fleet, we have enough ships to sail to Dragonstone,’ the queen says, and seems to be addressing all of us. ‘And we shall add to our fleet with the Manderly’s ships when your brother arrives,’ she says to Sansa. ‘I thank you for writing to the North.’

Sansa gives the slightest curtsey.

‘And for your advice,’ the queen says to Tyrion.

He bows.

Daenerys Targaryen puts her lips together and seems to drift off into a reverie for some time, as if determining once and for all whether she should not simply feed us to our dragons instead. And then she blinks, once. ‘I have decided that I will grant your wish. You may marry whom you choose, Lady Sansa. And you, Ser Jaime.’

She has spoken so airily that I don’t take it in fully at first. There is a long silence, and I realise that my brother is looking at me, and that Sansa’s mouth is open.

There’s a quiet laugh from Arya.

I sneak a look at Brienne. She seems terribly pale, as if she’s just been sentenced to death. I smile at her, and she half-attempts to smile back. She’ll come round.

‘I thank you, your Grace,’ Sansa is saying as if she hardly cares, though I know she’ll feel rather differently inside. Clegane looks dismantled.

‘And I, Your Grace,’ I hear myself say. ‘Truly.’

Truly.

***

Arya

Podrick isn’t in his room.

You wander down the hallway, trying not to feel worried, because he can’t stand up on his own for very long. There’s so much to tell him. More about the Greyjoys, and how odd Theon is now, like a dog that’s been tortured by a vindictive boy, and how Yara Greyjoy seems to have a thing for the dragon queen, which is hilarious, how Sandor looked when Daenerys announced to Jaime and Sansa they didn’t have to marry each other, which was like a big confused baby, and about how Gendry has gone and bent the knee in secret though maybe you won’t tell him that bit.

At the end of the corridor, you look through a window and see him on a lower balcony. He’s standing there with Sansa holding his arm, and you can’t help feeling envious. It should be you with him on his first time outside in all these days.

They’re talking – or rather Sansa seems to be talking and Podrick listening. They look like they’re talking about something serious, you think, and then you have a sudden panic at what it might be, and race down the stone steps, straight into Sandor.

‘Seven fucking hells,’ he says. ‘Watch where you’re bloody going.’ He looks like he was watching them, too, and now is pretending not to.

‘No time,’ you say, and push past him.

You’re breathless by the time you reach the balcony, your chest is heaving. Sansa and Podrick look round, and Sansa puts on one of her pretend innocent faces and carefully releases his arm, nodding to you. You quickly step up and take it, because otherwise he might fall, and then you’re arm-in-arm with him, and blushing furiously.

‘I’ve got to... go and...’ says Sansa. She sees Missandei higher up, and waves. Missandei waves back. ‘Talk to Missandei and then find Sandor,’ she says in a rush and with an odd smile, before she disappears.

You stand there with Podrick. He’s very warm. His side and his arm. He smells of buttery soap, which is a lot better than he was smelling a few days ago.

He looks down at you. ‘I have to sit down now, I think.’

You walk Podrick to the stone bench and sit down next to him in the shade, hoping it will swallow you up forever. They were talking about you. They had obviously been talking about you.

A big black gull-bird flies overhead, like a mini-dragon.

‘You’re outside,’ you say, completely unnecessarily.

‘I am. I can see everything more clearly.’ He seems to have completely stopped saying my lady to you these days.

You glance over at him. He’s looking straight out at the sea, his eyes a little scrunched up in the sun.

‘What were you talking about with Sansa?’

He looks at his feet. ‘Oh. Just keeping me abreast of everything.’

‘Everything?’

His cheeks are very red. It’s hard to tell if it’s just the sun.

‘Everyone’s getting married,’ you say, loudly, stupidly.

He nods, still looking outwards, and doesn’t say anything for a while. Eventually, he takes a breath. ‘Do you really want to marry him?’

‘Who?’ Podrick had been right there when you’d announced that you could marry Gendry Half-Baratheon to make an alliance, which had only sort of been to show Gendry that you did still like him, which wasn’t entirely true.

‘Gendry.’

‘Oh.’ You can’t speak words. It used to be easy to talk to Podrick about anything, and now words are harder to make than weapons out of straw. ‘I thought it was a good idea. At the time.’ You make yourself look over. Shrug. ‘For the good of the realm and all that.’

He nods and folds his fingers together on his lap.

You both sit there. The black gull comes back overhead and flops about.

‘Please don’t marry him,’ Podrick says, in the most ordinary voice, as if he’s just asked about soup ingredients or sword-polishing cloths.

‘Why shouldn’t I?’ you say, very carefully.

The inner ends of Podrick’s eyebrows stretch upwards. He looks like he is being very mildly poked with a hot iron.

‘Tell me.' You hardly dare look at him.

‘Because I don’t want you to,’ he says.

‘Why not?’

‘Because I want to. Marry you. Some day.’

It is as if someone has taken the blade of an axe, like the Burned Man’s axe jamming into your shinbone, except that this time the blade has been very carefully inserted into your breastplate and pressed very slowly, and very firmly.

‘But – it’s me.’ You are small, and idiotic sometimes, and you swear, and prefer boys’ clothes, or at least not proper dresses, and you want to fight and not have babies and nursemaids and knights bowing at you.

He nods. ‘Yes.’ A small smile.

He is of a tiny House. He has no lordly ties to anything that would help your family. He has lovely eyebrows. He would probably look after you no matter what. You would look after him.

‘But what about Gendry?’ you say.

He takes a calm, slow breath, and looks serious. ‘Do you like him?’

‘Not –’ you stop, bite your lip as you think very carefully, even though you know the answer, and have known it for ages. ‘Not in the same way.’

He beams. There’s no other word for it. It’s not like the sun in Meereen, which is white-hot and blasting. It’s like the first rays coming over the hill at dawn outside Winterfell, with the birds starting up their songs.

‘I love you, Arya,’ he says.

You feel like he’s punched you in the stomach. ‘Really?’

‘Yes.’

There's a long moment as you stare at each other, before he leans over as much as his wound allows and kisses you.

You remember kissing him the other time, when you’d asked him, because you wanted to know what it felt like. And all those times you’d kissed Gendry since. And yet how this kiss feels like the very first one you’ve ever had.

You carefully slide your tongue into his mouth and he makes the slightest noise, a gentle unlocking in his throat that is a sound of surprise and pleasure. You kiss him some more before pulling back.

‘I’ll think about it,’ you say.

***

Jaime

I find Brienne standing at a window, glaring out at the sun, as if she’s trying to work out how best to attack it. It makes her golden, glowing.

‘There you are,’ I say.

She turns, the fierceness in her face dropped for a moment, though she tries to retrieve it.

I stand next to her. ‘How are you feeling?’

‘Ghastly.’

‘The sickness?’

‘Mostly.’

‘Brienne,’ I say, gently, and take her arm. She makes a noise like a bellows stoking a fire. ‘Brienne,’ I say again. ‘You heard what she said. You and I can –’

She interrupts. ‘I can’t, Jaime. I’m a fighter.’

‘You once said that you couldn’t be a fighter and a lover. And then you seemed to manage both quite capably.’

‘I know why you want it.’ Her next words were dreadfully quiet. ‘A child to call your own.’

I ignore what she means, which is a child that is not a bastard born of incest. ‘Of course I want it. Because it would be ours. I could help you. I wouldn’t be one of those fathers who didn’t pay any attention, just paid for nursemaids and suchlike. I haven’t any money, for a start.’

She doesn’t smile. ‘What would we do?’

‘Marry me.’

She looks beautifully hopeless. ‘I can’t.’

‘You can. We’ll live on the Sapphire Isle, once all this is over.’

‘All this? You mean war? A war I won’t be able to fight in, because I’ll have a bloody baby inside me?’

‘I’ll do the fighting for the pair of us.’ I look at her. ‘Just this once.’ I smile. ‘Marry me.’

She stares back out at the sun for a dreadfully long time. ‘You’re impossible,’ she says.

***

Sandor

I’ve been lying here in my room, stewing. We were dismissed from the throne room and Sansa said quiet to me, I’ll come and find you. In an odd voice. It’s been half the fucking day. I saw her talking to Podrick about fuck knows what, and then disappearing again.

She’s changed her mind. She’s been given licence to do as she pleases and it’s made it all real and she doesn’t want to. ‘Course she fucking doesn’t. Not now that it’s come to it.

There’s a knock on my door and when I go and open it, Sansa is standing there in some new dress, blue and grey and there’s so much more skin than usual, than even in Braavos, and my heart stops, and I forget all my stupid black thoughts.

Sweet fucking gods, I say. Get in here.

I shouldn’t, she says, giving me a sweet, dark grin. I just wanted to show you it. Missandei had one of her dresses refitted for me.

If you don’t come in here, I’ll have to bite it off you, I say. Here. In the hallway.

She gives me that grin again.

It only seems like minutes later and the dress is in pieces on the floor, though she didn’t let me bite it off. It came apart bit by bit, a drape and a sash and an unfastening, each uncovering a new part of her, revealed to me as if brand new.

I’m lying next to her, spent on the bed, spent in the way I’ve only known with her, my body worked to its limit but my soul, too. I’m half-dressed still, and my mouth hurts, and my heart’s raging in my ears.

There’s an angry flush to Sansa’s chest, as she lies next to me, one long leg draped over my thighs.

Seven hells, I say. All this time in Meereen and we’d not fucked. Lain together, I mean. I thought you were never going to have me again.

Because you’re an idiot, she says, her voice half in a dream, but I still look over at her sharp. She’s never spoken to me like that.

She rolls her head over, lazy. Eyes bluer than the dress she was wearing moments ago. And then her eyes become clearer. Sandor, she says, her voice more serious. There’s only one person I want to marry. I would rather hope you would know that by now, given – all that we have done together. It just – never seemed right to talk of it. It was a different world there.

I look at my hands. Back up at her. Thought maybe you were just using me as a very cheap whore, I say.

She only half-smiles, that tiny curl breaking into her cheek like a spoon in cream, before she rolls her body over, props herself up on her elbow, cheek on hand. I want you by my side, she says. I want to be back in Winterfell with you. I want our children to grow up there.

My heart gives a loud clunk at that, and for half a moment I see them, rolling around in the grass, and another in her arms.

Sandor. She puts a hand on my chest, and I feel her possession of me, and it’s the most frightening and the safest thing I’ve ever felt. I told you I loved you. I told Daenerys Targaryen I loved you. You’ve never said it back.

I see her as a girl, darting around the Red Keep, and her face when she saw her father’s head on a spike, and the look in her eyes when I found her during the Battle of Blackwater, and how she looked when Wolfgirl and I came upon her and Lannister, and our hands’ nearness in some village in Westeros, and how I found her singing to her sister, and how she clung onto my brother and bit at his ear to fight him off, and her hand lifting on that boat to Braavos, and her nursing me there, and how she grinned once, her nose screwed up at the rain outside. I see her as a girl, and as the woman she’s turned into now.

I take a deep breath, and know that there’s no going back once I’ve said it. None at all. I love you, I say, quiet. I always have.

She doesn’t move one bit, and yet there’s a brightening and a deepening in her eyes, like the sun’s slowly rising behind them. I feel the black ghost of my brother lifting off my shoulders.

She takes my hand. Marry me, then, she says. Marry me on Dragonstone.

Dragonstone? I say, wondering why in the hells she would want to get wed on what I’ve heard is a gloomy rock in the sea.

There’ll be a septon there, she says, with a maddeningly beatific fucking look on her face.

Not Winterfell? I say, heart massive and heaving.

She shakes her head, and I understand that she won’t wait a damned moment longer than she has to. Marry me, she says again, and it’s as if the final part of my armour has been peeled away.

I look down at her hand for a long moment, at the paleness against my scars and scratches, before I look up at her and at those sunrising eyes. Ay, I say. Alright.

***

Arya

There are so many ships. Hundreds.

There are the Greyjoy ships, with their kraken sigils. There are all the ones that Daenerys has amassed from Meereen, and on them are horses and Dothraki and Unsullied and all of you, on this first ship, which has a dragon banner.

‘When in the hells did you bend the knee?’ you say to Gendry, who’s next to you.

He shrugs. ‘I found a moment,’ he says.

You try and imagine him asking for a word with the dragon queen, shuffling in with his hands behind his back, and putting one knee on the stone floor, her sitting there all imperious. ‘Not very Baratheon of you,’ you say.

‘I’m not very Baratheon,’ he says, and smiles out at the sea.

Tyrion and Jaime and Sansa and Sandor have spent the last days with Yara and Theon, planning, looking at maps, arguing, planning. The only ones left in Meereen are the Second Sons, Daario Naharis wandering around the pyramid looking sorry for himself.

The boat bumps over a wave, and you stumble a little. Gendry catches your elbow to help you straighten, and lets it go immediately.

‘Um, Gendry,’ you say. You have to tell him about Podrick.

‘I know,’ he says.

‘But –’

‘I know,’ he says again. ‘It’s fine, Arya. I understand.’ He smiles again, gently, and you can see that he means it.

You both turn back to the sea and the sun, which is beginning to dip below the horizon to the west.

A harsh, scraping screech fills the air. Drogon, the massive black dragon swoops low, and he’s followed by Rhaegal and Viserion, almost skimming the surface of the waves before they rise up, and up, into the pink sky.

Chapter Text

Arya

Dragonstone is just what Sandor grumbled that it would be, you think as you bob in the rowboat towards the shore. A single, massive black rock in the sea, the waves nipping the stones at the bottom.

Most of the other ships are left behind for now, the Dothraki probably puking what’s left of their guts up, if the few who sailed on your ship are anything to go by.

You watch Daenerys get helped out by Grey Worm, watch her foot go into the water, watch her stride onto the beach, kneel and put her hand in the sand.

You sneak a look at Podrick, who’s not looking at her as everyone else is, but looking at you. He’s not stopped looking at you since everything that was said. You widen your eyes at him, not quite a glare.

He gives you one of his ridiculously tireless, uncomplicated, sort of adorable beams.

***

Jaime

It’s almost affecting, watching Daenerys encountering her first Westerosi soil in most of her young life. We follow, a respectful trail as she ascends the long, dour stone steps in the cliff, and enters the dour, stone castle.

Brienne’s just looking relieved to be on land again. My beautiful, angrily vomiting Brienne.

There’s hardly a soul about – a few servants and guards Stannis left behind. They look rather dour, too.

‘Not exactly palatial comfort,’ murmurs Tyrion.

‘That’s Stannis Baratheon for you,’ I murmur back.

***

Sandor

Here we are, back in Westeros, of a fashion. Stannis was a gloomy fuck, by all accounts, if this shithole is anything to go by. The rain and wind has eaten at the rock.

There’s a young guard, doesn’t look more than ten and six, standing by a big door. This is King Stannis Baratheon’s seat, he says, a bit more boldly than he clearly feels, as his eyes flicker to the line of Dothraki and Unsullied behind me who were on our ship.

The fucker’s dead, I say, and nod ahead to the dragon queen, who’s already ascending the steps to the throne in this big, dark room. It’s hers now.

The guard nods, gulps, steps back.

Is there a septon here? says Sansa to him.

No, my lady, says the guard. His Grace was a follower of the Lord of Light. There’s a sept, though it hasn’t been touched for a long time.

Sansa’s face falls. She did nothing but talk of us being wed the whole journey over, how we’ll wed under the weirwood trees one day up at Winterfell but that being wed under the new gods would suffice for now, and I wasn’t sure what was making me feel sicker, that or the boat, and at the same time her words were like honey being poured into my ear.

There’s a commotion behind me, some Unsullied shifting by the window. Ships, says Yara Greyjoy, a cunt-muncher if I ever saw one, to the dragon queen.

A white merman on a blue-green seat, says Podrick, who’s gone over to look. It’s the Manderlys. The Imp gives him a proud wink.

Right then. Time to meet Sansa’s big brother again.

***

Arya

You see him straightaway. Even with all the years and distance that have stood between you, it’s easy to spot him from the top of the steps. His shape is the same. You push past the Unsullied and Dothraki, take the steps three at a time.

He sees you straightaway too.

You stop, a few paces in front of him, chest heaving. Stare. His hair is longer, tied back. A proper beard. Big black furs.

‘Arya,’ he says, and his voice is soft and disbelieving and happy and just the same.

He smells just the same, you think as you hug him, as you remember the last time hugging him, and how long ago it was, and how time has been crushed to nothing all of a sudden, after waiting so long to see him again.

‘Sansa,’ he says, and she’s there behind you, standing formally, almost uncertain. But he says her name again, in the same way he’d said yours, and she steps forward to be embraced. Sansa lets out a strange sob, and you remember how cold she used to be towards him, and know that she never will be again.

‘You have no idea how happy I am to see you both,’ he says into your hair, and you both hug him tighter, a ring of close-crushed chests and heads and shoulders and even though he’s a Snow, you think Stark. ‘When I heard that you were both alive...’ he doesn’t finish.

You stand like that on the beach for ages, and none of you seem to care about all the important people waiting around you – the Manderlys at the tide-edge, and everyone else on the cliff side.

You all finally pull back at the same time.

‘Still got it, then,’ Jon says, and you don’t understand for a moment until you see him grinning at your sword.

‘Oh. Yeah,’ you say. ‘Needle’s saved me a few times.’ I’ve killed people, you want to say. I helped kill a Burned Man and a Lannister soldier and a sellsword. You have so much to tell him.

‘With your hand holding it,’ Sansa says to you before looking at Jon. ‘Arya saved me a few times.’

‘Sansa bit the Mountain’s ear off,’ you say, blurting it out, sounding stupid.

He is looking at you both, half-horrified, half-amused. ‘I’ve a lot to catch up on,’ he says, before shaking his head in wonder. ‘You’re both so tall,’ he says.

‘You’re just the same,’ you say.

‘Watch it,’ he says, and smiles, before his eyes flicker behind you, to where Daenerys stands with Tyrion, Jaime, Brienne, Sandor and the others. Theon, too. His expression grows more serious then, and you see that he has changed, really. That he is a leader now and a great fighter, that he has seen terrible things and suffered great losses. ‘Right,’ he says, so that only you and Sansa can hear. ‘I’d better meet this queen of yours.’

***

Jaime

It’s a touching sight, Jon Snow with Sansa and Arya on the beach, how the girls got lost in his furs, a three-headed wolf. The long, uncomplicated hug. The sort of relationship a brother and sister should have, I can’t help thinking, morosely.

He’s a quietly-spoken fellow, but determined. Tyrion had him right. There’s plenty of his obdurate father in him, that much I can see. Still, it’s rather strange to listen to him in the map room, banging on about terror in the north, dead men walking and giants.

I see Clegane’s eye narrowing. Yara and Theon glancing at each other.

‘Have you seen these creatures?’ Daenerys says to Lord Manderly, a stout, heavily-bearded man.

‘No, my lady,’ he says.

‘Your Grace.’ Missandei politely corrects him.

He tilts his head in acquiescence, but doesn’t repeat her words. ‘I have no reason not to believe him,’ he says. ‘Lord Commander Mormont and Maester Aemon of the Night’s Watch wrote of the same. Lord Snow is the only one of us to have been north of the wall, and many times.’

Lord Snow, is it? I think. Perhaps it is, while he speaks for his ten-year-old brother in Winterfell.

Daenerys does that thing she does often – gazes distantly above all of our heads.

Tyrion clears his throat. ‘There’s a simple way of finding out,’ he says, looking at her.

‘Yes,’ says Sansa. ‘There is. You can move more quickly than any of us, Your Grace, and more safely.’

She gazes at them both. ‘Very well,’ she says, and turns to Jon Snow. ‘I’ll take a look.’

***

Sandor

The dragon queen has gone off with all three of her dragons, flying north and over the wall to see the army of dead men. Rather her than me, I think, and at least she’ll be high above their rotting fucking heads.

We all hang around here, eating and resting and waiting. Wolfgirl and Sansa and the Snow boy spend much of their time talking quietly, and come back looking exhausted, more of their tales told to each other. I hear it secondhand, stories of mutineers and hangings and his friend Sam and a wildling girl who shot arrows into him, who he loved.

He tells all of us the wider story, the White Walkers and how they can be killed. Wildlings turning into dead fuckers and running at him, stopping at the water. The dragonglass in the rock here. He’s suspicious of the Lannisters – I can see it in the way he looks at them, and I fancy how he looks at me, too – but the girls have vouched for them, I suppose. And hopefully me.

You told him yet? I say, to Sansa on the second evening, and don’t need to say any more, as she knows I mean us. She’s been careful around me so far, no closeness, as if she doesn’t want him to know.

Not yet, she says, and looks guilty. I will. I suppose we can’t get married until we get to the mainland, she says, sighing, as if it will be the easiest thing in the world to invade King’s Landing and have a quick wedding amongst the bloodshed.

About that, I say and slide my eyes over. I got talking to one of the Manderly boys. He says they’ve a septon with them.

She stares at me, and blinks, and sits up very straight. She gives me a smile that would blast its way though the Wall, and one small, sweet kiss that becomes a longer one.

And then she hops off the seat and goes to the door.

Where are you off to now? I say.

To find Ser Jaime, she says. I think he’ll want to know, too.

***

Arya

‘Sandor Clegane?’ Jon is looking more shocked than when you told him about reciting Polliver's words back to him as you slid Needle into his neck, and when Sansa told him about being smuggled out of King’s Landing by Jaime Lannister and camping in the woods with him.

‘Yes,’ says Sansa.

‘But are you sure?’

‘Yes.’ She looks as immoveable as a stone carving.

‘Really?’ You swear that you can see a bit of your father in there, in the wondering disapproval.

‘Yes.’

‘But – but he’s a Clegane.’ Jon looks at her. He seems so confused. ‘And – his face.’

‘I love his face,’ says Sansa, simply.

Jon doesn’t speak for quite a while, looking at the fire that doesn’t do enough to warm this freezing room. ‘And do you approve?’ he says, to you.

You look at the fire for a moment. ‘He’d kill every single person in the entire Known World before letting them hurt Sansa, so – yes.’

Sansa smiles at you. ‘He’d do that for you, too.’

‘Ugh.’

‘If it’s truly what you want, then – I am happy for you, Sansa,’ Jon says, still looking rather baffled.

‘I suppose we should be asking for Rickon’s approval,’ she says.

‘I’ll speak for him. As long as you’re sure.’

‘Are you basically Lord of Winterfell, then?’ you say. ‘Does Rickon do everything you say?’ Both of you had asked for every last scrap of information on your little brother – his height, his hair, his voice, the woman called Osha who seemed to be his protector.

Jon breathes a quiet laugh through his nose. ‘No, he doesn’t,’ he says. ‘But the Lords of the North agreed that I would represent him here.’

‘I want you to do something for me,’ Sansa says, and as she does, there’s a bloodcurdling sound in the air that can only mean one thing.

Well, three things, plus a queen. She’s back.

***

Jaime

‘You look glorious.’

Things have moved rather fast. Daenerys returned from her foray north looking sterner than ever. It seems Jon Snow speaks the truth, which is rather serious for all of us. There’s much discussion, days of it, often heated, a back and forth over King’s Landing and the Wall, Cersei and the White Walkers, and so much talk of bending the knee that it almost becomes a joke. Tyrion and I, Jon Snow and the Stark girls have still not yielded on that front.

But someone has yielded.

‘I feel like an idiot,’ Brienne says.

No time like the present, I thought. We may all die soon enough, after all.

Something has been made for Brienne by a military Manderly seamster that seems to combine the clothes of a man and a woman. It is not soft or flowing but sculpted around her. She’s utterly statuesque. Fearsome. Beautiful.

‘You’ve never been less idiotic than at this moment,' I say. She catches my eye. ‘You’ve never been idiotic, I mean.’

She sighs and looks at the mirror again. ‘Are you sure about this, Jaime? If you’re going to make me look a fool, get it over with now.’

‘I’d kill a king for you.’ I raise my eyebrows. ‘In the back.’

‘How very noble,’ she says, and there’s a trace of warmth in there along with the imperiousness.

***

Sandor

Sure you want to do this? I say, quiet. You haven’t had a knock to the head?

Sansa gazes up at me. It would be a bit of a bloody long knock to the head, she says, just as quietly.

I almost laugh to hear her curse. You’ve spent too much time with me already, I say. Part of me feels like crying.

No, I haven’t, she says, and her eyes deepen, as if the sun’s just taken itself off well-water. And she squeezes my hand, and we turn to the septon.

***

Arya

You kick the stone floor. You can totally kick away now, as if your leg had never been injured.

It is completely unbelievable that you all are here, really.

Podrick is next to you. He can stand up properly now, too.

You don’t know if you will marry him. That seems even more ridiculous, and far away. But Brienne said she would never marry, and now she’s standing next to Jaime, who looks like he’s drunk all the wine and eaten all the food in a castle storekeep, smiling proudly like an idiot. And next to them is your sister and the largest, most stupid shitbreath that ever walked this earth. Sansa is wearing a long purple silk dress thing that Missandei helped her with. The septon from White Harbour is saying stuff, and they’re all saying words back, and Sandor’s are the quietest that you’ve ever heard him speak. You swear he even shivers once.

Jon, who walked Sansa down the aisle in this dank old sept, is looking at Daenerys Stormborn Three Thousand Names Targaryen, sort of thoughtful and wistful at the same time. Then he sees you eyeing him, blinks, stands up straighter and looks to the front again. Yara Greyjoy is also looking at Daenerys, with quite a different look on her face. She sees you eyeing her, and winks.

Daenerys does not notice either of them, as she is looking, also rather thoughtfully, over at Gendry. He is standing formally with one hand folded behind the other, and he gives you a quiet smile, before noticing the queen's gaze, swallowing, and looking very steadfastly at the floor.

Fucking hells.

Brienne is saying some more words, and Jaime is giving her a kiss. They are going to have the biggest, blondest baby ever. Sandor is leaning down to Sansa, and you suppose you've never seen them actually kiss, and it doesn't make you throw up as you thought it might. They are going to have the moodiest and most ginger baby ever. You and Podrick would have – you suddenly feel extremely sick and go a bit wobbly.

Podrick looks over. His face is wide and his smile is wide too.

He takes your hand. You let him hold it.

***

Jaime

Married. A husband, at forty-four. A father, soon enough, though it will be a difficult time to have a baby, what with invading and all that. We’ll work it out.

We spent the night talking and making love and talking and I made Brienne laugh for the first time since we arrived in Meereen, and in the morning, summoned to the war room, we found Lord Varys drinking a cup of lavender tea next to Daenerys and looking like he had drifted in on the wind. Quite how he has always managed to look so effortless about everything I have no idea.

Sansa and Sandor come in right behind us, arm in arm. I introduce Varys to my new wife, and Sansa introduces him to her new husband.

Varys does not even pause for breath. ‘Goodness,’ he says. ‘That is a surprise,’ he says, not looking surprised at all. ‘My congratulations to you both.’ He bows, his hands tucked away in his robe.

Daenerys looks beatific, as if she had ordered the whole thing, not been persuaded thoroughly into it. I suppose that’s why she’ll be a good queen. There’s a graciousness there, underneath all the steel. ‘It was a wonderful day,’ she says, and gives an ice-cool smile. ‘I congratulate you again. All of you.’

Sansa smiles up at Clegane, and I’d wonder about what sort of night they had, except that I rather think I and the whole of Dragonstone heard them.

Daenerys waits until everyone has settled into their places, seated at the table, or standing by the walls, taking in the sight of Varys, who murmurs greetings. The Greyjoys, Jon Snow, Grey Worm and Missandei, Lord Manderly, young Gendry, the highest of the Dothrakis, and Arya and Podrick, nudging each other, all elbows and quiet grins and I’m fairly sure gently bruised marks on both of their necks.

‘I’ve watched you,’ Daenerys says. ‘All of you, and how you work together. Even though many of you should by rights be mortal enemies, you compromise in order to attempt to make this world a better place. And that’s what I want to do. Make this world better. Rule better. And to do that, I need sound advisors, who will not shy away from what I need to hear. I need a Hand.’

The room has gone very quiet.

‘I have decided to have two, if they will accept their roles.’ she says. ‘Lord Tyrion Lannister.’ Tyrion blinks, startled, and bows, low. ‘It would be an honour,’ he says, and kneels. Well, there he goes, with the kneeling. In spite of it, I actually feel rather moved. He’s the best Hand anyone could want.

‘And Lady Sansa Stark,’ says Daenerys. ‘Or perhaps I should say Lady Sansa Clegane, now.’

There’s a great pause. Clegane’s looking at his new wife in an unreadable fashion.

‘Your Grace,’ Sansa says. ‘I don’t know what to say.’ She looks at Arya, and Jon Snow, and back at Clegane.

‘Say yes,’ the queen says, lightly.

Another look exchanged between husband and wife, and I possibly detect the slightest nod. Sansa looks over at her brother, for a much longer moment.

Jon nods. There’s the slightest shifting from Lord Manderly, but he doesn’t say a word.

‘Yes,’ Sansa says, and I see her father in her, too, and believe she could be a better Hand than he. She kneels, very briefly, and with poise, before rising again and looking at Tyrion. This is a strange new world.

‘We shall deal with the formalities later,’ the queen says, and puts her hands out on the end of the large stone table on which has been carved the length and breadth of Westeros, all its cities and villages, rivers and mountains, the North, the South, the Reach, the Iron Islands, the Wall and the unknown wastes beyond it.

‘Now,’ she says. ‘Let’s go to war.’

END