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Evenfall

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Lord Selwyn has a singular daughter.

He knows the day announcement of her birth is proclaimed to the masses, the day when nobles and commoners come to visit their unveiled lady.  She’s a wee thing, all legs and arms and chubby cheeks, but even so, the room falls silent.

She’s not conventionally pretty, that much is obvious right from the start. She’s not grotesque, or misshapen, not disfigured or half-witted.  She’s not anything bad, but not anything good either; she is simply not. And it doesn’t matter, not to him.

It doesn’t matter, because she is.

She’s here, she’s alive when everyone else isn’t. She’s a survivor when everyone else fell. The rooms are still too small, the memories still half-formed with part joy, part sorrow, part life, part death, but they’re less painful now because she fills them back up again. She replaces the ghosts of their family with her own giggles and cries, her own delights and woes. They may be childish, even ornate in comparison, but her simplicity is her strength: there’s no explaining or admonishing her guilelessness, her purity, her innocence. Death’s memory fades into oblivion at the sheer measure of her youthful spirit, so alive it all but combusts out of her, in shrieks and giggles and cries and splutters. The girl needs a mother, and gods know it’s not ideal or anything close to perfect, but it’s real and it’s here and it’s now. It’s a father and a daughter figuring out how to be and every beautiful pitfall in between. They couldn’t be more different, he’s a lord and she’s a lady but in the night, when the wind howls and the storm rages, he’s just a father and she’s just a daughter who needs him exactly as much as he needs her. When he ushers her into his bed with nary a word, it’s like a dam breaks along with his heart and he knows, his life is forever changed by this remarkable little girl. She’s so small, so delicate, like porcelain glass, yet so wonderfully unaware of the power she holds over his heart.

After the levee breaks, everything else comes loose, too: he’ll return from a week at sea to find his daughter asleep in his room, wrapped in his blankets, warmed by the sheer comfort of his memory. There are far too many rooms in Evenfall to warrant two people sharing one room, let alone one bed, but Lord Selwyn can’t bring himself to do anything except that which is most simple: curl his larger body around her smaller one and breathe in the smell of her, all baby-warmth and baby-oil, and beneath that, the indefinable quality that is precious and pure and utterly his.

She grows, and so does he, though her growth is always more rapid, both physical and otherwise. He grows less solemn, less grim, and learns to laugh again. She exudes such intelligence, such beauty of spirit it both impresses and resorts him to speechlessness on more than one occasion. No matter how much things change, though, the more they remain the same. Such is true for father and daughter of Evenfall, even when the tide is high.

When she is old enough, she joins him for breakfast and dinner every day he is home. In turn, he visits her lessons by surprise on random occasion, so they both can laugh when he pricks a finger during sewing. After, he’ll take her on a long walk, just the two of them, and hold her hand as they skip rocks along the sea. Her hair grows long, a gentle wave of sun streaming down her back, so soft and fine it reminds him of her mother so fiercely it breaks his heart all over again. That is, until she notices his silence and presses her small lips to his cheek, a silent atonement, and the cracks heal themselves whole. Life goes on, but it’s better with her by his side. She’s gentle but impatient, polite yet brash, brave but foolish. She is everything he is, and more, so much more.

The years pass in a flurry of motion, so brief it seems an eclipse of time rather than a full moon. And buried in between the darkest days, is when it begins.

“She’s plain,” says the septa, a note of warning in her voice. “She’s a woman,” the nobles whisper, their rumors as loud as their markets, though their voices more discreet. They bargain on her future the way gamblers bet on prized stallions, eager for results but only caring so long as a race is on and the game is exciting and there is money to fill their pockets.

They list everything obvious about her, then everything she is not, an ever-growing list that grows with every inch of her yarn spun hair, with every new freckle, with every tooth, every blemish, every fault. Lord Selwyn hears and sees it all and he knows, with a hopeless, hollow sadness, this may be the one storm that his bed, or his comfort, or his teaching cannot help her.

It’s a different kind of sadness than the empty rooms, or the space where his wife, her mother used to be. He looks into her eyes, so blue and curious and yearning, and what he sees pains him in ways he can’t explain. She wants. The world is at her fingertips, but the world is not so welcoming to one such as she. They can already see her figure taking shape, but not in the conventional way; her mind expanding, but not with comprehension at the whispers behind her back. For Lord Selwyn, it’s both wonderful and terrifying to know with certainty the day is coming soon when everything will come to a head: when her idealism will meet the world’s cynicism in a clash and it will only end one of two ways.

But for this moment, he still has this. He still has now. She’s still here, she still is. So he clutches her a little closer, envelopes her in his arms a little tighter, breathes in her scent a little deeper. And poised there, at the precipice of change, he makes a promise into the sun of her hair. You will always be my little survivor, he thinks, you will always be mine.

My little sapphire.

 


 

Of course, nothing is simple.

The more she grows, and grows and grows, the more rumors that circulate, the more whispers become japes and snickers become outright sneers.  Lord Selwyn does what he can to circumvent the worst of them, but their silent judgment is often far, far worse than any of their words combined. All it takes is one glance for them to take her measure; they give her stocky frame, her gangly limbs, her too large nose a brief onceover and just like that—her fate is sealed.

“A beast,” they whisper behind her back.

It irritates him, of course it does, but mostly it sets him on the offensive. He enlists the help of a Septa, Roelle is her name, and embarks on a new quest. If he cannot convince the masses to see what he sees, then so be it. All he needs to find is one person who agrees with him, who sees his daughter for the beautiful, miraculous survivor she is.

A husband.

It looks promising, at the start. He finds a young lord on a neighboring island, introduces them, and grins a mile wide when not a single grimace shows on the lad’s face. He’s young, to be sure, but grimaces come from all shapes and sizes, and there is not a single one found on the man’s youthful face.

But then the sickness comes and the sickness goes and it takes one young boy from a neighboring land with it. A boy who dies with a smile on his lips instead of a sneer and it’s like a little light has gone out from the world, for his family and for the lord of Evenfall.

Selwyn stews about it for a time, lost in have-beens and maybes, but like always, Brienne finds him and sets him straight in her usual forward, curt manner.

“Papa,” she asks, twisting her fingers in little knots, “why must I get married?”

He’s quiet for a long time, picking his thoughts carefully, ever mindful of her youth, her vivacious spirit, her sweet, but explosive temper. He takes both her little hands in his big ones, gentle.

“So you can have someone to take care of you. To love you, like I do.” He smiles.

Her sweet blue eyes stare up at him, blinking in tune with her thoughts, confusion etched in a single line across her brow. “But, I don’t need anyone else. I have you.”

His heart stops, then restarts. His callus fingers caress her soft ones, back and forth then back again, stunned into silence. The power of her words, so simple but so profound, never cease to amaze him.

“Yes, you do,” he agrees at long last. “Always.”

She’s still confused, he can see. There’s a look in her eye that means she’s going to ponder this conversation for some time, but Selwyn simply doesn’t have the heart to answer all her questions right now. He doesn’t have the heart to explain the customs of the world, the hierarchy of lineage, the rumors and the murmurs just outside their door and all because of her face.

He holds his daughter close, envelopes her in his arms, and prays to all the gods above for protection and valor and steadfastness.

But mostly, he prays for more time.

 


 

He means well by her.

In his desperation, he fails to see that which is right in front of him. He’s spent years cultivating a proper image of her, trying and failing to show the world how wrong they are, how beautiful she is, that he doesn’t realize he’s doing his own daughter the worst disservice of all.

It’s not all bad, but it’s bad enough, and all the good intentions in the world don’t make up for a singular, unforgivable sin.

It’s not that he agrees with them, because gods know he doesn’t. But he’s spent countless months, even years fitting his daughter in a definition of beauty she was never meant to hold. She has always stood apart, bold and unyielding, and who is he to take that from her? Who is he to conform her to their standards? His eyes are opened the day she stands above Wagstaff’s bloodied form, tall and gangly but also victorious in every sense of the word. The townsfolk shrink back in fear and that is the moment Lord Selwyn realizes all of them – the whole damn lot – bet wrong.

For all their musings, they never expected her to win.

He wants to clap, he wants to sing, he wants to clasp his arm about her shoulders and hug her tight, but he does none of these things. He just watches, stunned into immobility, as his daughter all but shines. 

There’s sweat on her brow, a cut on her upper lip making a river of blood down her chin, a limp in her right shoulder that droops her entire body somehow, but when she smiles, she puts those crooked teeth on display for every prospector to see, uninhibited and unashamed and it’s terrifying, probably, to the lot of them, but not to Lord Selwyn. To him, it’s beautiful.

She’s beautiful.

The rest of the world fades away, the voices inside his head quiet, and when Brienne finds him in the crowd, he smiles with such joy and such sorrow his eyes sting.

And he knows what he must do.

 


 

“Brienne,” he says, quiet. There are no raised voices here, no snickers or sneers. Just a father and a daughter, the way he wishes it always could be until the end of his days. He knows now it cannot, no matter how he wishes or dreams. She was always his butterfly, wrapped in the security of his cocoon, but that time has come to an end. It is time for her to make her own way, time for her to fly.

“Brienne,” he tries again, firmer this time, “what do you want?”

Two blinking, confused eyes peer up at him like when she was but a girl, and just as blue. A single tear leaks out at the sight, but he pushes it away, upset at his own weakness, for his inability to let go, despite full knowledge at what must be done.

“Father?”

Her voice is sweet, kind but confused, and it’s painful, how the memories of her youth flock to him now, of all times.

“I know I haven’t been—” Selwyn’s voice quivers and shakes, but he can’t bring himself to care how unbecoming it makes him appear, not right now. Not to her. “I know I haven’t been the father I should have been. For you.”

He takes a breath, averts his gaze to their joined hands.

“But I’d like to start.”

When he finds the courage to look up, Brienne’s composure appears just as fractured, though forever more stoic than his own. The knot of confusion between her brows grows with each exhale but she waits, patient even in the face of her own broken heart.

“You—” those beautiful eyes flutter a rapid pace, like a pair of wings almost, and Selwyn knows she’s thinking, picking the words in her mind before they are spoken aloud. She is his daughter, after all. “You are everything I could ever want in a father. I’m the one who failed you.”

“No,” he says at once, firm and unyielding. He won’t speak of this nonsense, won’t give credence to the thought that she is anything less than magnificent, after everything he’s seen. “No, you are everything I have ever wanted. You are my family, and I am proud of you. No more betrothals, no more lessons. You are of age to make your own decisions, and your decisions they shall be.”

He pauses, staring her straight in the eye for one heartbeat, then two.

“So I ask you, my dearest Brienne, what do you want?”

She’s silent for so long he would think her unhearing, if not for the way those blue eyes bore into his, magnetic and full of feeling. A single tear ekes out; he brushes it away with a callus finger.

“To be a knight,” she says in a voice so quiet it’s barely a whisper.

“Then a knight you shall be.”

“They will laugh at me.”

“Let them. Let them joke, let them sneer. Listen to me, Brienne,” he clasps her hands tight, steers her closer, so close their knees brush together. “They can take everything from you, but they can never take your pride. They can never take your spirit. Everything in this world will become ash, but this,” he points to her heart, “this they can never steal, this will never fade. This is yours, to do with as you please.”

His own heart hammers like a drumbeat, steady and firm but beneath that terrified of the goodbye he knows is forthcoming. He ignores the part of himself that’s part wary, part worried, part broken, part spent. He must to see this through to the end, he must.

“From this day forward, you answer to no man save the one of your choosing.” He breathes out a long gust of air and sits back, relinquishing his hold in more ways than one. “Least of all me.”

Tears are raining down her face, her eyes are bloodshot, her cheeks are stained red but even so, she’s a beautiful sight. Forget the world, all that matters is this.

“I will make you proud,” she replies, voice remarkably firm, and there she is, there is his daughter, his heir, his knight.

“Oh Brienne,” he says, and strokes her face once more. “You always do.”

 


 

The following day is a new beginning, of sorts.

The usual lessons are cancelled, all of them except swordplay with Ser Goodwin. Brienne now visits the master-in-arms both morning and night for an hour each, and Lord Selwyn’s only instruction is a straightforward one. “Train her as you would a knight,” he says, and the man nods, a thin smile on his face.

After her fighting lesson she visits Septa Roelle for the last time, where she cuts her long, yarn-spun hair. When she is unveiled in the evening sunlight Lord Selwyn thinks it to be a more masculine style, to be sure, but it eliminates the fine, loose strands into a fuller, more coordinated frame about her face. It’s still not traditionally pretty, but it’s more becoming of her, and in the end, that’s all that matters. 

She’s a new kind of woman now, her father thinks.

Mostly though, she’s happier. Perhaps as her father Lord Selwyn is the only one who notices the change, or cares about its appearance, but the results are plain as day for anyone to see. It’s in the newfound confidence of her long, wide stride, in the sword hanging along her hip, in the loose blonde waves tucked behind her ear. Under Ser Goodwin’s tutelage, she smiles more freely in a handful of minutes than she has in the other lessons combined and it’s like a missing puzzle piece has clicked into place at long last. It’s a part of herself no one knew was missing, but has been found nonetheless. She’s found her purpose, and Selwyn is fortunate to watch the transformation occur before his very eyes.

Then, the storm comes.

Except this time, it’s not Brienne’s storm. There are no worries or woes, no crass words or broken spirits. There is nothing amiss the day Selwyn hosts his daughter a final party, nothing amiss when Renly Baratheon asks his daughter’s hand for a dance. There’s nothing amiss in the smile gracing both their faces, not just one, nothing amiss at all except the way Selwyn’s heart sinks, then sinks some more.

There’s nothing to be done, this is not the type of heartbreak she can prevent or circumvent, not without shedding apart of herself that has only just been freed. There’s nothing he can do, when she approaches him near twilight and begs in an overeager tone he hasn’t heard in a decade, “Can I go, papa? Can I travel across the sea?”

There’s nothing he can do but say yes.

She’s all but bouncing on her feet, big hands clutching the blue skirts dangling a foot in the air and just there is that sparkle of excitement, that thirst for life he hasn’t seen in scarce a decade, when she was but a babe.

Somehow, he always knew this day would be his storm.

“Of course,” he replies, drawing her in a close embrace so she won’t catch sight of his sorrow. This is not her burden to bear, and he won’t diminish her happiness, not now, when it is finally here, within reach.

“Of course,” he repeats, and holds her tight. He fixes the moment in his mind, memorizes the feel of her, and promises he’ll never forget.

He’ll never let go.

 


 

He hears from her once and precisely once.

Even then, he doesn’t precisely hear from her, but rather her captor at the hands of some small lord or other who thinks he’s clever. It’s about her, certainly. About the beautiful island she hails from, about her being far from home, about her capture with Jaime Lannister, of all people. It says enough about her just fine, it says everything a veiled threat is required to say without leaving any information in between.

Selwyn offers three hundred gold dragons for his daughter’s safe return, and he waits.

He tries not to worry, he does, and most days he’s relatively successful. He can control his child’s wellbeing the same way she can control which way the wind blows, which is to say not at all. Still, if there’s one thing Lord Selwyn despises it’s idle hands, it’s sitting by when he could be doing something, anything to help. But he can’t very well travel across the sea and steal her and away without starting a war or least a small battle, so instead he does everything else that comes to mind: he prays, he fidgets, he asks after lords and lands as though he cares for political intrigue.

He does care, but only at the expense of one remarkable blue-eyed girl.

Mostly though, he thinks of her. He wonders which camp she’s being held in, wonders at her choice of companion. He wonders if she grew any taller, if she’s made allies. Wonders who she serves, who she adores, who she loves. Wonders all manner of things, some great some small, but always, always centered around her.

He wonders and he worries and he prays in a cycle on repeat.

When Tarth finally receives a raven two weeks later, it’s not from a man with an ounce of power who thinks he’s clever. It’s not from a mystery of a man, her captor. No, the message Selwyn holds is a message from King’s Landing, a scroll with a Lannister sigil that may as well be declaring war or death and Selwyn’s heart stops cold.

For all his impatience leading to this moment, Selwyn opens the parchment slowly, carefully, as though the knowledge held within might destroy him if not handled with care. He has questions, so many questions, but he’s also afraid, utterly struck at whether his heavy heart can handle the answers. The paper catches on his clumsy fingers and his breath hitches when he sees.

Inside is a flower, a folded well-worn thing stuck in the creases and beneath that, the elegant penmanship of his daughter, his Brienne. She writes him from within the capitol, from within the Lannister ranks. She doesn’t write of it, doesn’t mention houses or loyalties at all, but Selwyn knows she would not have allowed the seal if she didn’t harbor some affection for someone within those halls.

I have a sword, she writes, and his heart sings. I’ve learned so much.

It’s a simple phrase, straightforward as ever, but Selwyn can’t help but sense there’s much left unsaid, brimming beneath the surface. A scroll can only contain so much, and his heart is near bursting with feeling, both written and unsaid. He hesitates, ink and parchment at hand, pondering how to reply in a way that will express his gratitude, his blessing for both everything she shares with him as well as everything she does not.

Selwyn thinks of her, thinks of her crooked smile and her rosy cheeks and the words don’t seem so complicated after that. The lord of Tarth may not have sapphires, may not have power and authority as some men crave it, he may not even be inordinately clever, but he has something better and more precious than any of those things combined.

He has the knowledge of making his daughter smile.

The best swords have names, he writes. I cannot wait to hear it.

Selwyn addresses the scroll to Ser Jaime Lannister and prays an oathbreaker might keep his word once more.

 


 

Years later, when buildings fall and empires crumble, when darkness comes and fire reigns, Lord Selwyn does not think of gods and kings. He thinks of fathers and daughters, of swords and shields, he thinks of his daughter, his Brienne. He wonders where she is now, who she is sworn to, if she ever found love as he once hoped she would. 

He thinks of Brienne and part of him hopes, however selfish, that she'll be the one to rescue him, before the end. Part of him hopes, just to see her one more time. To see her scars and her eyes and her smile, just like her mother's. He knows he won't, knows it's selfish to put thought to it, but a little selfishness is warranted, perhaps, when the sky is dark and becoming darker and death is close and looming closer.

It won't be long now, and he has little time for regret. Brienne was always his little force of nature, bending the world to her will, breaking the rules in her quiet, precise way. No matter his idle dreams, he knows she will survive and find her way like she always has. She doesn't need his blessing, but he writes it to her anyway because he can, because there’s still time. It’s a reminder, perhaps, to have and hold, should this war bring a storm too harsh for her precious soul, for her perfect, undulated heart. 

It’s not his most eloquent script, to be sure, but it's raw and it's honest and it's heartfelt, the same way she lives her life. It’s something she'll appreciate, he thinks. It’s a link between father and daughter of Evenfall, the way there always has been and always will be.  

I love you, he writes in shaky script. The seawater makes the parchment thin, but the ink is black, black as this night, and it’s enough. It has to be enough. You will always be mine, Brienne.

My little sapphire.