Of course, I'd seen his films and always thought he was something special. But his life was a million miles from where mine was, which is here, on Visenya's Hill.
It's one of King's Landing's three crowning hills, topped by the ruined Sept of Baelor that was burned down back in the days of the War. I ended up here after I finished uni, hoping to lose myself among the crowds of people being (or pretending to be) busy and successful. And it's worked, for the most part. I've ended up with plenty of friends, albeit eccentric ones, most of whom have also set up shop in this part of the city.
So this is where I spend my days, on a cramped little street on the side of the hill, which fills every morning with traders flogging everything from food to fashion, the kind of market beloved by bearded, quiffed hipsters.
Every day I merge with the human traffic jam and walk the short distance to work from my house, the one with the blue front door, which I bought with an enormous mortgage with my ex Renly, right before he left me for a man who looked as though he'd just walked out of a Botticelli painting. Work is my little shop, a travel bookshop, which seemed like a great idea after a few bottles of wine and a growing wanderlust never sated by actual travel. It doesn’t make much money, but I always live in hope.
And so my life has gone on. But this day, well, it turned out to be different. As I walked the few hundred yards to my shop, I never dreamed that this would be the one that would change my life forever.
"So... how did we do?"
Sam stands in the doorway to my office, pudgy hands wringing as he anxiously scans my face. I try to give him a reassuring look while I tap the figures into my scratched calculator for the 100th time. Einstein always said that insanity was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. With me, it's hope. Futile hope - probably stupid hope - but hope nonetheless.
"Well," I begin, clearing my throat. "After our major sales push - and you did so well Sam, you really did - profits this quarter are down £1,236.40."
Silence hangs uncomfortably in the air as I run my hands through my short, straggly blonde hair. "Oh." Sam's poor crestfallen face is a massive kick in the gut. I smile weakly at him before closing the crisp Excel sheets that so beautifully display my lack of business acumen.
"It's alright, Sam," I reassure. "I'll come up with an idea. Don't worry."
He brightens at my words, his ill-placed faith in me clearing his worried wrinkles. "How about I get us a coffee?" he chirps. "I could go to our favourite cafe. What would you like?"
I sigh but caffeine does suddenly sound wonderful. "A cappuccino would be great Sam, thank you."
Sam's round face glows. "One cappuccino coming up!" he sings.
"Better make it a half - it's all I can afford," I add bitterly, chucking the traitorous calculator into a drawer. Sam, halfway out of the door, casts me a chiding look before scampering off in search of soothing hot beverages. I follow him out and take up position behind the counter, playing idly with a bookmark and keeping an eye on a dodgy looking red-haired fellow in the back room who has been staring at a book on Dorne for far too long.
So focused was I on the CCTV that the tinkle of the shop door didn't draw my attention right away. When I did glance up I felt a tingle of familiarity prickle through my brain. The man was tall, almost as tall as me, and had a mane of golden hair that fell to his shoulders in artful dishevelment. Could it be… No, why would HE be here?
The man, oblivious to my puzzled stare, was slowly meandering along the bookshelves before he paused at the shelf laden with titles on Essos. He reached up and pulled out a dusty tome on the Dothraki Sea. Before my dull-witted brain could raise the ‘stop’ sign and prevent my mouth from spouting nonsense, the traitorous orifice was already in gear.
“That one’s really not that good.”
The man turns - shit, it really IS Jaime Lannister, god of the big screen - and raises an eyebrow, a look of mild curiosity on his handsome face. I curse my big fat mouth - not only had I drawn unwanted attention to myself, attention that I was definitely not capable of handling without screaming like a fangirl, but I was also doing a fine job of talking myself out of a much-needed sale.
I quickly duck and fumble under the desk for a copy of ‘ Drowning in the Dothraki Sea’ , a particular favourite of mine. Raising my head again, I realise I have Jaime Lannister’s full attention. “This, on the other hand,” I begin in my best sales speak, “is excellent.” I pause and he continues to stare at me, waiting for me to continue. Think woman, THINK! “Er, it has a rather amusing incident with some fermented mare’s milk, which is just one of many amusing incidents…” Fermented mare’s milk? Really? I trail off and the Adonis that is Jaime Lannister continues to look at me, revealing none of his inner thoughts on the possible hilarity of the fermented mare’s milk story.
Fortunately, or rather unfortunately, my panicked eyes are suddenly caught by the screen showing the CCTV feed from the back of the store. I stare in horror as the Dorne-obsessed man throws a cursory look over his shoulder before stuffing the ‘Sins and sensuality: The mysteries of Dorne’ book down his trousers.
I drag my eyes away from the feed and feel my face fill with heat, which I knew would be deepening the colour of my skin from a ripe summer strawberry to a robust winter beetroot. But I never back down, particularly when someone tries to nick one of my precious books when I am staring into the abyss of business failure.
“I’m sorry,” I say in a tight voice. “Would you excuse me for just one tiny moment?”
Jaime Lannister raises another eyebrow in a quizzical expression, but otherwise indicates that I am free to go. I take a deep breath, square my shoulders and put on my ‘do not fuck with me’ scowl. I shimmy inelegantly from behind the counter and do my best to ignore the fact that a world famous actor is watching my every move with undisguised curiosity and surprise.
I march towards the back of the store and almost walk straight into a very guilty-looking man, his bright red hair and beard clashing horribly against his slowly reddening face. At least I’m not the only one cursed with that. Annoyingly, the man is of a height with me, not something I encounter often, but I snap my spine as straight as possible and narrow my eyes at him.
“Excuse me,” I begin in a polite voice that does not match the violence on my face. “But I’m afraid I have some very bad news for you.” The man gulps but does not otherwise respond. I point to the corner of the room where the CCTV camera is located, and he turns round to regard it with alarm. “I have a camera installed in this part of the shop, so I actually saw you put that book down your trousers.” From the front of the shop I hear a quiet chuckle. At least someone was enjoying themselves.
“I don’t have a book down my trousers,” retorts the man dismissively.
I fold my arms and dial up my killer scowl to ‘ultra-menacing’. “Yes, you do,” I refute. “So, as far as I’m concerned, you can do one of three things. You can continue to deny the very obvious fact that you have a book stuffed down your trousers and I can call the police, or you can remove ‘Sins and sensuality: The mysteries of Dorne’ and either buy it, or wipe it and put it back. It’s up to you.” I fix him with another glare before spinning on my heel and stomping back to the shop counter.
Jaime Lannister is now openly grinning, his megawatt smile almost dazzling me as I squeeze myself back behind the desk. “I’m sorry about the interruption,” I apologise, trying vainly to project a cool sales persona.
Jaime clearly doesn’t buy it as his grin widens, his jade eyes sparkling in a way that should be too pretty for a man but somehow makes him irresistible. “That’s OK,” he responds. “I was planning to steal one myself but now I’ve changed my mind.” I meet his eyes and cannot stop my lips from twitching in an answering smile. He moves towards the counter and thumps down the book on Essos he had been looking at. “I’ll take this one,” he affirms, digging in his pocket for his wallet.
A sale! My joy at unexpectedly getting some fresh cash into the till was compounded by the fact that the book would now be in the possession of someone I had had a huge crush on since I was a gawky teenager. “Excellent choice!” I beam with a little too much enthusiasm. “This is much better than those silly books one finds with childish fermented mare’s milk stories. In fact, I will throw in a copy of one of those too - you never know, it could come in handy if you ever need to light a fire, or throw it at someone who’s annoying you.” Hopefully not me.
To my surprise, Jaime chuckles and picks up the copy of ‘Drowning in the Dothraki Sea’, flicking idly through the first few pages. He grunts and holds up the opening page. “Signed by the author I see.”
“Oh yes,” I babble as I bag up the books. “We had to wrench the pen from his hand to stop him signing any more. If you find an unsigned one, it fetches an absolute fortune online.”
I am again surprised as Jaime laughs and hands over his money. Buoyed by my success at dishing out jokes, I fight to control my own overjoyed laughter. As I fish out his change, I catch sight of the attempted book thief hastily thrusting the Dornish book back onto the shelf. A moment later and he appears at the counter, staring wide-eyed at Jaime. Jaime eyes him in return and gives him a wary, if polite, smile.
“Can I have your autograph?” the redhead blurts out, giving Jaime what he probably assumed was a charming grin.
“Of course,” says Jaime crisply. He turns to me and I anticipate his question, thrusting some crumpled paper and a pen into his hands. Jaime glances back up at the bearded man, who is scratching his head unconsciously. “What’s your name?”
“Tormund!” he booms at a volume that could shatter eardrums. Jaime blinks in surprise before quickly scribbling down a message and signing the paper with a flourish.
Tormund takes the paper as it is handed to him and glances at it. “What does it say?” he asks with puppyish enthusiasm.
Jaime leans over to point at the writing. “That’s my signature at the bottom, and above it I have written ‘Dear Tormund, you belong in the Red Keep prison’.”
We both look at Tormund in shock as he roars with laughter, grinning toothily at the two of us. “Good one!” he guffaws, “Prison, eh? Haha!” Jaime and I exchange looks as he subtly edges away from the chuckling giant. As the laughter slowly dies an awkward pause falls, during which Jaime returns the pen to me with an apologetic glance. I’m just wondering how to get Tormund out of the shop when the redhead suddenly speaks up again. “Would you like my phone number?” he asks Jaime earnestly.
Another comical silence descends and I feel my eyebrows dart into my hairline. Did he really just ask that? A more traitorous voice wonders if I would ever be brave enough, or stupid enough, to do the same.
Jaime tilts his head to the side as if weighing up his options, leaving both Tormund and I in suspense. Eventually he shakes his head. “It is tempting I must admit, but no, thank you. I don’t really go for people who use the front of their trousers as a convenient place to store stolen items.”
I splutter and quickly try to disguise my amusement as a cough. To my relief, Tormund merely sighs and shuffles off, giving us both an awkward wave goodbye.
Well that was… weird.
I glance at Jaime and desperately want to tell him that my shop is not always inhabited by strange red-haired giants, but I’m instantly blinded by another sunlit smile and am robbed of the opportunity. “Thanks for the books,” he says, his eyes sparkling. “And the entertainment.”
I try to stutter out a reply but my mouth has finally given up the ghost and all I can do is watch wistfully as he picks up his bag and exits the shop, the little bell trilling sadly as he leaves. Goodbye! I’m your biggest fan! Please come back! Quiet returns to my dusty shop and I find myself staring mournfully at the receipt I had forgotten to give him thanks to Tormund’s interruption.
My heartbeat is just beginning to settle when Sam bustles back into the shop brandishing two cups of steaming coffee.
“One cappuccino, as requested!” he all but yells at me as he hands it over.
I shake myself out of my stupor in order to accept the scorching cup. “Thanks Sam,” I mutter. We both blow on our hot drinks but I suddenly decide that I can’t keep Jaime Lannister’s visit to myself. “Sam, you would never believe who was just in here!” I blurt out, startling Sam mid-sip.
His eyes light up at my sudden interruption, his mind already ticking through possibilities. “Who? Oh! Was it someone famous?”
I open my mouth to tell him all about it, but then it all seems so silly and surreal and… ridiculous , so my words fail me. I look away from Sam’s excited face, feeling like a traitor, before finally muttering, “No… no, it was no one.”
Sam looks a little crestfallen and takes a sorrowful sip from his cup. “Just imagine if someone famous did come into the shop…” he sighs. “Wouldn’t that be something?”
I absently nod my head, my cheeks reheating with the memory of Jaime’s presence. “Yeah,” I reply. “That really would be something.”
Chapter 2: Chapter two
Brienne and Sam get thirsty
Long time no see!
I apologise for the long wait for this chapter. I wrote it some time ago, re-read it and hated it, deleted it all and wrote it again. Then I hated it again, etc, etc. But now I've finished it and I'm finally happy enough to post it. I hope it has been worth the wait!
Staring at the bottom of an empty coffee cup is becoming really quite boring. The caffeine is also having its usual troubling effect on my nervous system, sending me into a spiral of jitteriness with no discernable outlet.
It’s all that Jaime Lannister’s fault. He’d only darkened the door of my shop for a few short minutes, and yet he’d managed to steal away all my equanimity. He’d been gone a couple of hours now and I was still reliving every moment as if it was the most exciting thing to happen to me (it was). Worse still, the prospect of sitting through the rest of the day without any excitement at all is starting to wear away my last threads of patience.
My despondency is obviously contagious as Sam has lost his upbeat sparkle and is simply tracing scratches on the counter with a nail-bitten finger. I’m clearly staring at him with exasperation as he quickly meets my eyes and gives me a fawning smile, abruptly tucking his hands into his pockets.
Silence ensues. The clock I picked up from a battered stall from the market back home in Tarth seems to be ticking very self-consciously, echoing in the stillness of the room. Sick of the sullen quiet, I abruptly fire the empty coffee cup into a nearby bin.
“Um, that’s a reusable one,” Sam points out timidly. “Remember, we said we were going to cut down on waste…”
“I remember,” I reply irritably, fishing the cup back out of the bin. Gods, I can’t even take my aggression out on a container any more.
“Another one?” chirps Sam, waving his own 100% bamboo reusable cup at me.
I’m already tripping on strong coffee, but boredom makes us do the stupidest things. “Fine,” I reply. “But it’s my turn. Same again?”
Sam beams at me, his head bobbing with excitement. Maybe I should order him a decaff - he’s half mad with coffee already. I grab my small work rucksack and I’m almost all of the way out of the door when he stops me with an inhumanly shrill cry. “Wait! Let’s go crazy! I’ll have an orange juice!” he yells.
I look back at him incredulously but Sam continues to grin, obviously delighted by his wild spontaneity. I muster a returning smile and step out of my shop into the pressing human crowd that spills around Visenya’s Hill every day.
It takes me a ridiculously long time to weave my way through the throng of people to our favourite cafe and even longer to wait impatiently in the snaking queue to order our drinks. By the time I’ve paid and grabbed my hot drink and a chilly cup of orange juice for Sam I’m back to my original levels of despondency. Lost in thought, I exit the shop and round the corner - straight into an unsuspecting pedestrian, who promptly receives the full contents of the cup of orange juice.
“What the hell?!”
“Oh gods! I am so sorry!”
I look up from the horrifying sight of a gigantic orange stain spreading across a man’s formerly crisp white shirt and am rewarded with an even more horrifying sight. Not only have I spilt orange juice all over someone, but that someone just happens to be Jaime Lannister.
Yep, the gods really DO hate me.
I whip out a paper napkin and begin to frantically try to blot the sickening orange stain on his chest. Jaime backs away, raising an arm to block me.
“Watch your hands!” he cries, scrambling away from my threatening napkin. Once he’s put a suitable distance between us he looks down at his ruined shirt with dismay.
“I’m so sorry!” I repeat with desperation. “I wasn’t looking where I was going! Gods, I am so, so sorry!” I try to hand him the paper napkin but he refuses it with a shake of his head, turning to walk away.
“The fucking paps are going to have a field day with this,” he mutters as he strides off. “Thanks a lot, Freckles.”
Freckles? I think about responding to that name with the disgust it deserves, but I had just tipped orange juice all over him - not a strong starting point for an argument. “Wait!” I call instead. “Where are you going?”
“Away from you and your orange juice!” he replies.
I run to catch up with him. “Please, let me make it up to you. My place is nearby - you can pop into my house and change. I have spare towels and soap… We could have you back on the street in no time!”
It was a completely ridiculous offer, one born of deep guilt and an unruly mouth, but for some reason Jaime pauses and seems to be weighing it up. “Where exactly is ‘nearby’?” he asks, fixing his jade eyes on my glowing, humiliated face.
Is he serious?! My hand trembles a little as I point over his shoulder. “It’s there… the one with the blue front door.”
Time seems to be suspended as he chews over my offer, but then he catches sight of some teenage girls pointing in our direction and digging out their glittery smartphones. It seems to decide him. “Let’s go,” he says, and he walks purposefully over to my house.
As soon as I open the front door I curse myself and my housemate. The dark, narrow hallway is littered with coats, nameless items of fishing equipment and motorcycle parts that Ygritte has dragged in. Mud-encrusted boots sit atop my favourite shoes, a myriad of old takeaway leaflets have been piled into a perilous mountain on the floor and it looks as though Ygritte found her work overalls by pulling all the coats from their hooks and throwing them on the ground.
Once I have escorted Jaime through these dangers it doesn’t get much better. The kitchen has grimy dishes spilling out of the sink and there’s an old loaf of bread growing a fine coat of mould on the table. Home, sweet home.
To his credit Jaime says nothing, although he does give these surroundings a pretty hard look while possibly contemplating the need for a bio-chem suit.
“Please, let me take your bags,” I offer in a hollow impersonation of a top-class hostess. Jaime hesitates before handing the book bag over to me but he keeps a firm hold on a bag with an expensive designer’s name emblazoned on the front. Just when I think he doesn’t trust me with valuable goods, he speaks up. “I’ll need to change my shirt…”
I blush furiously, realising that he was waiting for me to direct him to somewhere private and less mould-infested. “Oh! Of course! You can change in the bathroom. Just head up the stairs and take the first door on the right.” Jaime nods in response and quickly disappears up the stairs. I, of course, do NOT admire the view as he does so.
As soon as Jaime disappears, I become a whirlwind of action. The mouldy bread is launched into the bin, the dishes are scrubbed viciously with hot, soapy water, the floor is mopped, the hallway is emptied of leaflets and coats are hung back on their hooks. I’m furiously wiping down the kitchen table when Jaime descends the stairs. I promptly drop the dishcloth while simultaneously gaping like a particularly startled trout.
As my friend Sandor would say, SEVEN HELLS.
The orange juice-sodden t-shirt is gone, to be replaced with a tailored, navy blue suit shirt that hugs Jaime’s athletic form in all the right ways. It looks indecently good on him and tearing my gaze away from it is proving to be more than a match for my usually immaculate manners.
Jaime seems unperturbed by my flustered response to his reappearance and gazes back at me calmly, reviewing the improved appearance of the kitchen with a slight smirk. I’m at a loss at what to do or say but slowly my fumbling inner hostess reasserts itself. “Er… would you like some tea?” I offer, springing in the direction of the kettle with the agility of a Border Collie.
Well this is going well. “Perhaps something cold?” I venture, now leaping towards the fridge. “Let’s see what we have… some disgusting sugary drink that allegedly contains real fruit?”
“Water? It’s been filtered!”
Jaime quirks an eyebrow up at this and I feel my face heat up to volcanic levels. “Perhaps not,” I admit. “Oh! What about something to eat?” I peer back into my grubby fridge and quickly survey its sparse contents. “Cheese sandwich?”
“Apricots? They’re in a tooth-rotting concoction of juice and honey, which is frankly ridiculous as not only are they disgustingly unhealthy but they also taste of honey. And why would you want apricots that taste of honey? Surely you’d just go and buy a jar of honey?” STOP IT! YOU ARE RAMBLING! I swallow hard and hold out the jar. “Nevertheless, they are yours if you want them.”
I deposit the stupid apricots back into the fridge and shut the door in defeat. “Do you always say ‘no’ to everything?” I query, darting a quick glance up to his face.
Jaime hesitates and assumes a look of deep thought. “No,” he says eventually. He pauses for a beat and then breaks the silence again. “I should really be going.”
My face must surely be glowing as hot as the sun by now. “Oh, of course!” I splutter, and I begin to lead the way back to the front door, a route that is now slightly less perilous thanks to my hasty efforts at cleaning. We stand awkwardly by the door, neither one of us reaching for the handle.
Jaime takes in my fidgeting body with his sharp emerald eyes. “Well, goodbye,” he says. “Thank you for your, er, help.”
Conscious that we are standing really quite close together in the poky hallway, I am struggling to know how to respond. “You’re welcome,” I mutter, “and can I just say, because I will never have another opportunity and you will certainly never visit my dusty little shop again after you’ve read that horrific book, but it really has been, well, nice. Surreal, but nice.” Surreal? Nice? You are definitely going to be up for Wordsmith Of The Year for that one.
I may be wrong but it does look as though Jaime’s eyes crinkle slightly in the corner, as if amused by my words. But I’m now unwilling to hold him prisoner to my own special brand of conversation any longer so I wordlessly open the door, allowing him to slip through and exit my life for the second time that day.
I take a deep shuddering breath and run my hands through my limp hair. “Oh my Gods,” I breathe, stumbling back in the direction of the kitchen. I’m almost there when the doorbell lets out a shrill peal. Frowning, I pace back across the hallway and throw open the door. To my astonishment Jaime is on the doorstep, grinning at me in a maddenly sardonic way.
“I forgot my other bag,” he says simply and looks at me expectantly.
My mind is blank for a second before realisation dawns. “Your bag? Oh yes! It’s in the kitchen!”
I leave the door hanging open as I hurtle back to the kitchen and I hear Jaime enter behind me, closing the door softly behind him. I snatch up the book bag and scuttle back into the hallway, willing myself to act more normally this time around. “Here it is!” I sing, handing over the bag with the alacrity of a magician. Jaime takes the bag but proceeds to just stand in front of me, his eyes slowly moving over my crooked nose, pink, freckled cheeks and wide mouth. Just as I open my mouth to say something suitably silly, he leans in, his free hand curving round the back of my head and his lips pressing firmly to mine.
To say I’m surprised is an understatement. I can smell a subtle sandalwood scent on his skin, the warmth of his hand on my head, and most of all, the delicious sensation of his lips against mine. The moment seems to be frozen but eventually we draw apart. My brain is short-circuiting and I can’t seem to get over how impossibly green Jaime’s eyes are and how wonderfully, incredibly, superbly amazing his lips felt. “I’m really sorry about the ‘surreal but nice’ comment,” I mutter, shattering the poignant moment.
To my surprise Jaime grins, his eyes dancing mischievously. “That’s alright,” he murmurs, his voice low. “I thought the apricot dialogue was the real low point.”
I’m about to refute this when suddenly I hear a key in the lock. Jaime’s eyes widen in surprise at the unexpected intrusion. “Oh Gods! My housemate!” I gasp. “I’m really sorry… there’s no excusing her…”
We both turn to the door as it springs open and Ygritte barges in, her skinny arms weighed down with shopping. She nods to both of us, acknowledging neither, and storms across the hall and into the kitchen. “I’m going to get something to stuff into my face and then I’ll tell you a story that will make your tits stand on end for a week!” she bellows over her shoulder.
I’m not really sure what to say to this so I turn back to Jaime with yet another full-facial blush. It seems he has the same difficulty as neither one of us say anything for quite a while. “It’s probably best that you don’t tell anyone about this,” he eventually whispers, a little unnecessarily seeing as Ygritte appears to be dismantling the kitchen.
“Of course not!” I cry. No one would believe me anyway.
Jaime flashes me a megawatt grin and leans in a little closer, causing my breath to hitch. “It was… surreal, but nice,” he concludes.
I mutter something incoherent and fumble for the door handle, prising the door open with some difficulty. Once again he slips back outside and disappears into the crowd, that infuriatingly gorgeous grin still on his face.
I close the door and lean heavily against it, raising my weary eyes to regard Ygritte who is now standing at the entrance to the kitchen, furiously spooning something out of a jar into her mouth. “This yoghurt has definitely gone off. It tastes kind of spicy,” she declares.
“It’s not yoghurt. It’s horseradish sauce,” I reply heavily.
Ygritte raises her eyebrows and stares at the pot in wonder. “Ahhhh,” she drawls, before continuing to shovel it into her mouth in great big spoonfuls.
I wonder at the lack of interrogation. After all, I have never brought a mystery man into the house before. “Don’t you want to ask me anything?” I question.
Ygritte frowns, her chewing slowing to a more leisurely pace. Suddenly her face brightens. “Yes!” she exclaims.
I wait in trepidation for what she says, already preparing lies about Jaime’s true identity.
Ygritte swallows and waves her spoon at me. I take a deep breath and get ready to deliver my half-truths. “Brienne…” she begins.
“Yes?” I say, my heart in my mouth.
“What’s for dinner?”
And so ended one very extraordinary day.
Chapter 3: Chapter Three
Brienne gets a letter
Apologies for the delay - I have been pondering how to fit modern lifestyles and appliances into a story that was originally written in the 90s. It's been tricky as nowadays no one leaves messages on home phones, which are certainly NOT listed in phonebooks for megastars to look up and dial.
Anyway, I think I have found a workable alternative that isn't too clunky, so I hope you enjoy this update, which may go some way to compensating us all for the sad ending of the latest episode of GOT.
The following weekend saw the skies above Visenya’s Hill banish all forms of looming cloud, prompting both Ygritte and I to clatter up the rickety staircase to the roof, which was pitched but for a random patch which formed part of an aging extension. In days past, I had rather over-optimistically attempted to transform this area into a hip urban garden - the result was a few dying, over-watered plants and a frankly lethal parasol which had a terrifying tendency to snap shut like a giant Venus flytrap. The overall effect was, to say the least, a little underwhelming.
However, it was a relatively peaceful place where I could sit and catch up with some reading, and sometimes, sometimes, on a particularly warm day I could close my eyes and imagine I was basking in the acrid heat of Dorne, or sunning myself on a stone bench among the fabled rose bushes of Highgarden.
Today was not that day, mainly because I was constantly being distracted by Ygritte, who was puffing away on a fag while dressed in one of my old medieval suits of armour from my time at the Re-enactment Society at university.
“Why, exactly, are you wearing that?” I question, eyebrows raised.
Ygritte shrugs, causing the epaulettes to clank loudly. “No clean clothes.”
I take a deep breath to cover my frustration. “OK… you know that weird square machine with the round glass window in it? Well, it’s called a washing machine. If you use it occasionally, you will actually have clean clothes to wear.”
Ygritte shrugs carelessly again. “If you say so.”
I lean forward to fix my housemate with a stern look. “And that still doesn’t explain why, of all things, you chose to pick that out.”
Ygritte blows a few perfect rings of smoke in my direction, which I waft away furiously. “I was going through your stuff - which is all DULL by the way - and found this, and I just thought ‘cool!’. You should wear this more often. I bet you’d make a well scary knight.”
She grins at me as I roll my eyes and return my attention to the pile of letters and junk mail on my lap. The pile was produced by Ygritte earlier that morning, part of the towering pile of junk that was still taking up a considerable amount of floorspace in the hallway. I leaf through the rubbish, banishing it to a pile by my feet, but then I stumble across a scrunched up envelope heavily stained with coffee. I peer closely at it and eventually make out one word.
Heart pounding, I flip the envelope over only to see that it had already been opened.
“Ygritte!” I shout a little breathlessly. “Did you open this?”
Ygritte squints at the letter. “Oh, yeah. Had no idea who or what ‘Freckles’ was, so I took a look. Made no sense to me.”
I take time to glare at her before pulling out the letter.
You were right about that book.
I’d like to complain to you in person but as I have neither your name nor number, you can call me at The Golden Lion. If you can spare time for a face-to-face discussion, I will make sure I have an orange juice waiting for you.
I stare in horror as the words trail off into the dark coffee stain that blots the remainder of the page.
“Ygritte!” I yell. “I assume this is your coffee all over this?”
She grins at me impishly. “Yeah, sorry mate.”
I peer closer at the letter, hoping to make out the last few crucial details. It’s no good, however. It is completely unreadable. I leap out of my seat and wave it in front of Ygritte’s face. “You idiot! You read it - can you remember what it said?”
Ygritte raises a confused eyebrow at me. “Nah, sorry. What’s got you so worked up? Sounded like an oddball to me.”
I let out of a stream of colourful language (learned after being in close proximity to Ygritte) and tear out my phone to look up the number of The Golden Lion, the flashiest hotel in the city.
He wants to see me again! But why? WHY? Please, Gods, let him still be in the city…
I find the number and dial it with shaking fingers. This is not going to go well…
“Good afternoon, you have reached the reception of The Golden Lion. How may I be of service to you?” chimes an officious-sounding voice on the end of the line.
“Oh hi!” I reply breathlessly. “I, um, I was wondering if you could put me through to Jaime Lannister? I’m not a journalist or anything, I’m, um, I’m a friend.”
I can tell that Ygritte’s eye are now burning holes in my back, so I ensure I remain facing away from her.
“I’m very sorry ma’am,” replies the bored voice on the other end of the line. “But I don’t have any guests by that name. Is there anything else I can assist you with?”
“No! Please, I know he is staying there - he told me himself.”
“I’m sorry ma’am,” repeats the voice, “but I cannot connect you to a guest who does not exist.”
“He does exist!” I cry in desperation. “I think he must be under a different name… A code name of sorts…”
The line remains silent and I can hear the receptionist sigh rather loudly.
“Look, I’m telling the truth! I’m a… friend. The problem is, he left his code name in a letter and my housemate found it. Now, my housemate, she’s… well, think of the biggest, most annoying, messiest person in the whole world…”
“Yes, ma’am, I have her in my mind.”
“And then double, TRIPLE, it and you will have some idea of, quite frankly, the twit I have to live with. You see, she found the letter and then she spilt coffee all over it, so I can’t read it.”
The voice on the other end of the line sighs again. “I’m very sorry to hear that, ma’am, but there really is nothing I can do for you.”
Defeat washes through me, replacing the euphoria the letter had ignited. After a beat of depressed silence, I prepare myself to say my polite thank yous and hang up.
“What?” I blurt, spinning back round to face Ygritte, who has an uncharacteristically thoughtful expression on her face.
“I think he said his name was Kingslayer,” she repeats.
I press the phone back to my ear. “Er, I don’t suppose ‘Kingslayer’ means anything to you?” I ask, my pulse thudding in my ears.
“Oh yes!” chimes the voice. “I’ll put you through right away ma’am.”
The phone is blaring away in my ears and my hands have suddenly become clammy with fear. I am definitely not ready to do this. But before I have time to chicken out like the coward I am, a deep, warm voice replaces the tinny ringing noise.
Crap, crap, crap, crap.
“Er, hi!” I say, a little too loudly and in a pitch several octaves above my normal voice. “Um, you may not remember me, but I work in a bookshop and you left me a note…”
“Freckles!” he responds, and I can hear the smile in his voice. “I do indeed remember you, although I was starting to think you had forgotten me. I left that note a while ago…”
I blush furiously and then thank the Gods that he cannot see it. “Yes, I’m sorry. The letter was found by my housemate and she forgot to give it to me. And it’s Brienne, not Freckles.”
“Brienne.” He sounds as though he is trying the name out for size, rolling it over his tongue to see how he likes it. “You’re right - that’s much better than Freckles. And I’m sorry that you had to call the hotel - it’s just that it’s unwise for me to leave my mobile number lying around.”
His words give me warm tingles up and down my spine so I decide to change the subject before my entire body turns into a puddle. “Er, I think you said something about meeting up? To discuss the book?” I stutter. I can hear Ygritte sniggering behind me, almost choking on her cigarette. “Perhaps I could… pop over for tea?” I add weakly, inwardly cringing over every stupid word that comes out of my mouth.
“Tea?” he replies with a chuckle. “How very sophisticated. Would tomorrow at two o’clock suit you? I’m afraid it will have to be in the hotel - the paps have found out I’m in the city.”
“Two o’clock? Yes, that would be fine!” I trill, wishing to hell and back that I could act cool for once in my life.
“Excellent. I’m afraid I can’t guarantee that the hotel will have apricots in honey, so I hope you will forgive me.”
My face goes beetroot red. “No apricots? Well, I may have to reconsider in that case…” I reply.
“Don’t worry,” he reassures. “I’ll find something better.”
“Impossible,” I argue, still embarrassed by my awful attempts at hosting a megastar.
Jaime laughs, a rich, honeyed sound that makes me feel hot and dizzy. “Well then, I shall see you tomorrow.”
“Yes,” I murmur. “See you tomorrow. Goodbye.”
The line clicks off and I lower my phone in a trembling hand, slowly turning to face Ygritte, who waggles her eyebrows suggestively at me. To avoid the inevitable questions, I brush quickly past her and hurry down the creaking stairs. Halfway down I stop in horror.
What the HELL am I going to wear?