Actions

Work Header

The Battle Maiden

Work Text:

This manuscript was recovered in the Black Archives, where they’ve lain for more than seven hundred years, thought lost to antiquity. The postscript attributes this record to Grand Maester Sarella, where she sheds light on the legend of the Battle Maiden.

Once upon a time, Robert was king of the Crownlands. There wasn’t a man in his kingdom that he wouldn’t throw in the dungeon if he dared to break his law or would behead for speaking dissent. He freely gave gifts to those warriors who supported him, gifts of lands, gifts of titles, gifts of coin, gifts of positions of power. This King Robert who ruled over the Westerosi was a very powerful man indeed. He enriched all his friends and placed some on his Small Council, so that he had many allies during the rebellions to help him retain his throne.

This was quite clear to King Tywin, who ruled over the Westerlands. Between him and King Robert, there had been much conflict in the past. War had lasted in the Seven Kingdoms for a long time. Many houses were extinguished, villages burned, the people scattered, the cities pillaged. The country was devastated, and mostly those of the lower classes suffered. The peasants were afflicted with disease and hunger, and the councilors of both kings understood that soon there would be no small folk to rule over.

So an alliance by marriage was proposed between Robert and the daughter of King Tywin. Tywin’s daughter was named Cersei. The people had not seen a more beautiful woman in all the Seven Kingdoms. King Robert readily accepted the betrothal in order to bring peace to the Crownlands, as the marriage alliance was the only way to put an end to hostilities.

King Robert was heard to utter, “Now that I have fought a great war, the battle heats my blood to lust. There is nothing more I desire than to wed her and bed her.”

Robert summoned his septons, his lords, his knights, and his liege lords, for he could not wait to marry the beautiful princess from the Westerlands. He sent his ships from the port of King’s Landing to Lannisport to collect King Tywin’s daughter. As part of the marriage alliance, Tywin provided a hefty dowry of gold to replenish Robert’s royal coffers. The King of the Westerlands also sent a menagerie of bears and hawks and wolves and lions to be part of the nuptial celebrations. When the ships arrived in port bearing the bride and her retinue, King Robert could not control himself and strode down the pier to grab up his bride in a crushing embrace, bestowing passionate kisses on the stunned woman. In return, Princess Cersei gave her groom and king the kiss of peace, displaying all the grace of a dignified woman of royal pedigree and manners.

Robert, overcome with his long endured desire, held the wedding feast in three days’ time. The ceremony was quick, but the feasting and celebrations lasted the better part of a year. All the gold in the queen’s dowry was depleted to pay for the minstrels and dinners and jousts and melees.

It so happened that one of Robert’s liege lords had only twin daughters. The lord married them off to rival lords. When the man died, both knights claimed to be wedded to the older twin, and they fought many debates in the council chambers over who was to take the lord’s hall, lands, and monies. Although one knight was willing to split the inheritance equally, t’other did not want to part with even one copper. And so King Robert judged the case would be decided by the Seven in trial-by-combat. He was always fond of a good fight. Their duel lasted seven days and seven nights, ending with both knights so grievously wounded, there was found to be no victor and both men perished of their wounds.

King Robert was incensed. “Oh! What a loss on the account of two women. We should never lose good fighting men again because of a woman. By the Seven, no woman shall ever inherit again in Westeros!”

Immediately, he summoned his liege lords and knights that had gathered for the duel and had each swear to uphold and defend the newly made law. Most men swore gladly, for they had many sons and nothing to lose. Those lords who only had daughters were made to swear at sword point, and their hearts were filled with bitterness. Robert then buried the two fallen knights, and on each of their tombs, he carved: “The greed of women has robbed this man of his freedom and his life.”

On Robert’s way back to his castle, his procession was set upon in a forest valley by a dragon. The blue dragon swept its tail through the cavalry and blew white hot fire on the standard bearers. The fire wyrm circled the caravan, trying to keep all from escaping. Many of the king’s men lay wounded or afrighted. King Robert lost thirty men to this great beast, and made an escape through a wooded path, and the dragon settled down to eat the corpses, wreathed in smoke as he feasted in the valley of dead men.

King Robert tried to rally his remaining men because he was loathe to return to the castle defeated and without the head of his foe. He offered lands and titles and women to whosoever would slay the beast. One of his Storm Knights, Selwyn stepped forward to offer his shield and sword, for he was in love with a young lady of great beauty and grace. Selwyn’s fear vanished, and his heart burned with love for his lady in the hope he would win her hand by slaying the dragon. Young Selwyn went to a small clearing in the wood, keeping a nightlong vigil. As his squire armed him, Selwyn prayed to the Seven.

“Father, grant me power to mete out justice to this foul beast. Mother, grant me your love and mercy, as I face a merciless foe. Warrior, grant me strength in the battle to come. Maiden, grant me purity to win my lady’s virtue. Smith, grant me endurance for this Good work before me. Crone, grant me guidance through the smoke in the valley.” Young Selwyn lowered his voice to a hoarse whisper. “Stranger, grant me courage in the face of Death.”

With the evening star still high in the sky, Young Selwyn ventured back down the smoking wooded path mounted upon his barded steed. Reaching the valley floor, the knight saw the dragon fat and sated, with a stomach so distended, it could barely move. He charged with lance lowered and his lady’s favor streaming behind the barbed tip. On the first pass, his lance splintered in the beast’s jowl. The dragon awoke with a roar and he climbed to his clawed feet to trample him. On the second pass, the wyrm disemboweled Selwyn’s horse, who gave a scream not unlike a bog wight. The knight tumbled from his saddle and cart-wheeled along the forest floor in his armor. The dragon pounced and nearly impaled him on its claws. Young Selwyn got to his feet and drew his sword. As the dragon rushed at him once again, he turned to the side at the last moment, slashing downward and severing the evil beast’s spine.

Hearing the pained bellowing of the dying beast, King Robert spurred his horse down to the forest valley in time to witness Young Selwyn sawing off the dragon’s head with his blade. The beast bellowed and cried out in pain as its blood spurted from its neck, but could not escape as it was paralyzed from the blow to its spine. Seeing Young Selwyn had slain the dragon when no other knight had dared, the king granted him the island of Tarth and all its levies and monies, right there on the scene of his battle. He promised to grant the young man his choice of woman once they returned to the castle and renamed him Lord Selwyn of Tarth. In the coming years, the peoples of the land would speak of the brave new lord with awe and would come to call him the Evenstar, after his twilit battle with the evil beast.

King Robert and his retinue returned to the castle, the Evenstar riding at his side. That night after they feasted, Robert retired drunk to his chambers. In the morning, he was discomfited to learn his new lord had not yet arisen. Selwyn lay abed ill from the vile poisons of the dragon and had grown pale and feverish over the night. The king began to panic, thinking he would lose his new champion. In desperation, he summoned the best healer in the Crownlands, promising the woman she could have her pick of husband if she would but save the young knight. Now, imagine the Evenstar’s surprise to learn his nursemaid was the very lady he desired.

The two young nobles fell deeper in love as she nursed him back to health. And who could be surprised? Young Selwyn had a mop of thick yellow hair and eyes of such a dark blue, some called them navy while his maid gazed back at him with eyes the shade of cornflowers. Her hair was like silky, flax in braids woven with blue and pink ribbons. The court tittered behind their hands to see the strapping, barrel-chested knight and his petite maid glow in their affection. Selwyn’s cheeks would burn bright red whenever his kind healer would lay a cool hand upon his brown and his lady would flush prettily whenever he dared to be witty in order to capture one of her smiles. The newly made lord lingered overlong in his sickbed just to continue seeing his healer upon each morning.

It chanced one day neither could withstand the temptation any longer, and their lips met in a kiss of passion.

Breathless, the maiden said to him, “Beloved, you have vanquished me after a long and mighty battle.”

Selwyn understood and replied, “Beloved, there is no one else in the whole world that could restore my health and promote my well being.”

The young lovers rushed from the sick rooms to find the king, each to request their reward, he a wife and she a husband. They found him in the royal sept, praying with a hundred lords and ladies of the court.

“King Robert, I request the reward you have promised to the one who slew the dragon. Before all these witnesses, I ask now for my choice of bride.”

The king, swathed in the black and gold robes of his noble family, affirmed Lord Selwyn’s request.

“Your majesty, I request the reward you have promised to the one who saved your hero. Before all these witnesses, I ask now for my choice of husband.”

The king, with scepter in hand, readily agreed to the healer.

As one, the knight and the healer stepped forward and joined hands. “Sire, we ask for eachother.”

And there, before the High Septon and King Robert, the two lovers exchanged cloaks beneath the watchful eyes of the Seven and the hundred lords and ladies of the court. After a feast of seven times seven courses, the two found themselves on the way to their new home on Tarth. They made landfall on the seventh day, and all the small folk came to the water’s edge to welcome their new lord and lady. To honor her husband’s bravery, Lady Tarth named their fort Evenfall Hall after Lord Selwyn’s battle with the dragon.

Over the years it pleased the Mother to grant Lady Tarth four children, all blessed with the bright hair and deep blue eyes of their parents. The Maiden was pleased with the innocence and purity of Arianne and Alysanne, so she took them back into the ground to play with her. The Stranger, in his cruel ways, saw fit to take away Selwyn’s son and heir Galladon by drowning. Selwyn often worried that his son’s life was due in trade for being granted victory against the blue dragon. The Lord and Lady of Tarth were not without their joys, however, as the Mother granted them another baby in time.

However, the laws against women inheriting still stood in King Robert’s kingdom. In his fear of losing his legacy, Selwyn arranged to have only one woman present at the birth of his fourth child. The Septa agreed to announce the birth of a son, no matter the sex of the babe. And in time Lady Tarth grew heavy with child, suffered the agony of labor, and brought forth into this world a blinking, squalling red baby with eyes filled with devotion. The lady looked upon her fair child and was so overcome with love that she breathed her last breath and died a happy woman. The Mother even now holds Lady Selwyn in her loving embrace.

The septa rushed from the birthing room, holding the swaddled child aloft for the father and his many witnesses. “Rejoice, good Lord Tarth! The Mother has seen fit to bestow a son and heir on your family.”

The Evenstar looked upon his child and saw the babe was the color of lilies and roses and cornflowers and was the most perfect child he had ever seen. Overcome with joy, he rushed past the septa and to the childbed to see to his wife. He saw she lay with eyes closed and a smile on her face, and he fell to his knees, heartbroken.

The septa appeared behind him, closing the door and shutting out the witnesses.

“Lord Selwyn,” said the septa. “Your daughter is named a son just as you planned.”

“A daughter!” the lord exclaimed. He looked then to his last and only child.

The Maiden had spared no ingredients in forming the child of Tarth, for she had made a girl child unrivaled in grace. Her fair skin was freckled as the stars dot the night sky. Her limbs were straight and long and well formed. Her wide mouth and voice were formed for singing sweetly and her lips for kissing. Her heart was fashioned most pure and beat with integrity and her eyes shone like sapphires. The Maiden also granted the child grace of form and movement, with dexterous hands for embroidery and strong feet for dancing. And when she finished forming the child of Tarth, the Maiden sat back on her heels satisfied that she had never formed a more beautiful child.

“I name him Brien, for he is noble.”

And so the Evenstar and the septa raised Brien in seclusion on the island of Tarth with the aid of Lord Selwyn’s squire Goodwin. As Brien grew, he learned his lessons and his letters and his sums from Goodwin. The septa taught the boy all there was to know of principles of good conduct, honor, integrity, and humility. Brien was a natural learner, and the people of Tarth found the little heir to be more beautiful, valiant, and noble than any other child they had known.

There came a day when Brien learned he was born a girl. Lord Selwyn sat with his heir and explained to his son why they chose to make Brienne a Brien instead.

“If King Robert knew what I had done with you, you would have nothing as a woman. The king in his madness disinherited all women of the kingdom because two selfish knights died in a duel he commanded over twin heiresses. My sweet son, I am doing this for you so that you can keep what is yours. Do you understand? Your fortunes will not lay the way of the marriage bed but on your own deeds.”

“I understand, Father. So long as the Warrior gives me strength, I will conceal my true self from everyone.”

Once Brien was old enough, Goodwin began training Brien in the arts of war. No one could match him in archery, dueling, riding, and survival skills. By the time he was twelve, he was already larger and stronger than most grown men. Other boys and knights were ashamed to match against him in jousting and wrestling.

It was in his twelfth year that the Maiden came to speak with Brien, for she was angry that he had turned her gifts to the pursuits of men.

“Shame upon you for taking what I gave you and running about in the scorching sun and swinging a blade! Your feet were made for dancing, but are shuffling in the dirt while you duel. Hands made for sewing are grappling with the bodies of other men while wrestling. A voice for singing has grown hoarse from shouting commands to soldiers. Lips for kissing now only whistle at coursing hounds. But your heart is still a woman’s heart,” warned the Maiden.

The Warrior chanced to overhear the Maiden admonishing Brien and was incensed.

“Maiden, how dare you curse my son! The pattern may have been yours but the weaving is my own. Brien is your child no longer and loves the works of the warrior. No one can compare to his skills with horse and hound, sword and shield, lance and bow. Brien is mine own. Begone, Maiden!”

The Crone arrived, lamp held high, and shrieked at both Maiden and Warrior until they were silent.

“Maiden, see reason. If Brien becomes Brienne, it would be as bad as if he killed himself. Brien cannot abandon his warrior training and embrace feminine exploits.” She turned then, to the beautiful child. “Believe me, Brien, and forbear. Strengthen your resolve and refuse the Maiden, for if you do as she says, you will never train for knighthood. You will lose your horse and armor, shield and sword. Not only will King Robert never retract his law and acknowledge you as heir to Tarth, but when he discovers your true nature, you would risk death and the death of your good father for the deception you’ve lead so far.”

The Crone spoke with the Maiden and the Warrior long into the night, and they reached a compromise. It was resolved that Brien would continue training for his knighthood but that he should suffer a woman’s blood for seven days each month. The people of Tarth were made to understand that the comely youth kept a solitary monthly vigil in the sept, one day and one night for each of the Seven, and so they were none the wiser.

Brien continued in his training, and many of the small folk would gather at the armory to watch Goodwin train with him, for his arms master was the only man still willing to practice with the Tarth heir. However, as time went on, Brien’s thoughts often dwelled on what the Maiden had told to him. In the summer of Brien’s twelfth year, the summer after his moon’s blood began; two minstrels came to Evenfall Hall. Tom Sevenstrings was a master harpist, and he brought with him the journeyman Marillion. Brien sat at the right hand of his father and listened intently as the traveling musicians serenaded the court for several weeks. He began to think that if he should ever be unmasked, and made to live as Brienne instead of Brien, he had not a clue about women’s activities. It suddenly dawned on the young man that music was the demesne of both men and women. He could safely learn the arts of a minstrel and be equipped for life as either maiden or warrior.

Once he knew the minstrels would leave soon for the mainland, Brien told Goodwin and the Evenstar he would leave for the hunt. He made his way into the woodland surrounding the hall and made wait. To disguise his countenance, he darkened his skin with walnut juice. When Brien saw the two minstrels making their way to the harbor, he slipped aboard the ship and introduced himself as Duncan, which means “dark skinned warrior”.

Tom and Marillion gladly took on Brien as their apprentice, thinking him only Tall Duncan. After their ship reached port on the mainland, Brien’s skin began to lose the walnut stain, and his face returned to the color of lilies and roses, covered in a multitude of freckles. His disguise fallen away, Tom and Marillion quickly realized they had the heir to Tarth with them, but Brien’s pleas swayed their hearts, and the men agreed to keep him on, as long as he still traveled under the name of Tall Duncan.

Before the third summer of his apprenticeship had passed, Brien completely surpassed Tom and Marillion in his talents. This was due in part to the gifts the Maiden had given him. Indeed, his voice was a sweet falsetto and his nimble fingers made for sewing and strengthened on bow strings were natural on the stringed instruments and the pipe. Brien used the determination of the Warrior in his efforts to learn the many songs and tales he must perform. Before long, Brien earned more money for their troupe than the two older men combined. The harpists grew to envy their young charge and begrudge him the accolades he received throughout the Seven Kingdoms for his performances so they abandoned him in the Stormlands at the court of Lord Renly, the brother of King Robert.

The praise of the lords and ladies of the land reached King Robert in the Crownlands. He invited the youth to court, where he was astounded to see Lord Selwyn’s son Brien in place of the harpist Tall Duncan. He was delighted to see the son of his former comrade-in-arms.

There in the court of King Robert and Queen Cersei, Brien astounded the nobility of the land with his martial skills as well as his accomplishments as a journeyman bard. Few knights of the Seven Kingdoms possessed his height or prowess at the tourney. The men-at-arms and lords alike sought him out for conversation and many a lady cast their eyes upon fair-haired Brien, the heir to Tarth.

One day, when King Robert had gone off hunting in the kingswood, Queen Cersei invited Brien to her suite to entertain her with music. As soon as Brien entered the chamber, the queen locked the door securely behind him. Brien turned in surprise at that.

Queen Cersei settled on the cushioned bench next to the youth. As he strummed his harp, she leaned against his arm, pressing her breasts against him.

“My lady, if you please, I cannot play with you pressed against me so,” pleaded Brien.

“Can I touch your instrument? It is so finely made. Perhaps you can set aside your harp and pull out your pipe instead?” the queen insinuated.

Brien was yet a naive youth and did not understand the lecherous queen’s suggestion. He bent to his satchel and pulled a finely wrought flute from within. Cersei laughed at his misunderstanding and his innocence only incited to her lust even more. She leaned forward impulsively and kissed Brien with passion. This so upset the young warrior that he made to get up and leave.

“By the Seven, are you running away? I won’t bite you, Brien,” said the queen. “Are you afraid of being alone with me?”

“Don’t misunderstand, my lady. I am delighted with your company, but let’s call it quits,” Brien implored.

“Quits? Whatever for?” And with that, the queen undid the heavy gold brooch that held her bodice. The fabric slipped from her shoulders and pooled about her waist as she remained sitting next to Brien on the cushion. She held out her arms in supplication. “Look at these arms! They would embrace your. Look at the curve of my breasts! I would have you suckle at them.”

Brien panicked and tried to gather the rich fabric and pressed it back at the exposed queen. “Lady, I beg you stop! In the name of the Seven, have mercy on me.”

Queen Cersei began to feel the sting of rejection and became angry. “You would refuse your queen? I offer you a royal gift indeed, and you are not moved to passion?”

“My lady Queen, I would not commit treachery against good King Robert.” Brien was upset and unsure how to deal with this seduction.

Pfft. I know why you do not rise to the occasion. You are a sword swallower, through and through. I bet even now, your cock falls limp at the sight of a real woman.” The angry queen began to fumble at the waist of Brien’s doublet, so sure of his queer ways when she did not discover a bulge beneath his breeches.

Truly frightened that the queen would expose his true nature as a girl, Brien, squirmed free of her clutches, stood in horror, and made for the door. Finding it still locked, he made to wrest the key from the livid woman to make his escape. It took much strength to wring it free from her clawed hand.

The queen slid to her knees on the floor, screaming, “Get out, GET OUT, GET OUT!”

Brien could not run away fast enough.

Afterwards, Queen Cersei kept quiet on the matter, scheming and plotting a way to exact revenge on the youth who spurned her. Brien, in his way, kept silent as well. To expose the queen’s attempt at seduction would surely lead others to discover the true nature of his sex. And so the years passed, and Brien became more gifted in the martial and minstrel arts. It only served to inflame the hearts of the ladies at court and earn the esteem of the knights further.

For two years, the queen lived with the fear her lecherous behavior would be discovered. When Brien was seventeen, Cersei grasped at an opportunity to finally be done with him. She suggested to her husband that Brien would squire for her brother King Jaime, who had succeeded to the throne of the Westerlands after her father King Tywin had died in battle.

King Robert summoned Grand Maester Pycelle and commanded him to draft a letter to King Jaime. He requested that the king of the Westerlands welcome Brien to his court, be made a member of his household, and to knight him at his discretion in due course. Pycelle immediately began to write, using only the best vellum for the royal missive.

However, the queen was busy writing a letter of her own that would do much harm to Brien. The letter she wrote to her brother commanded him to immediately behead whosoever was the bearer of this message. She made an opportunity to review the letters Pycelle was drafting for the king. While in the Grand Maester’s chambers, she managed to switch the letters before the old maester could notice. Pycelle sealed the letter with the black and gold wax of King Robert’s house and impressed it with the seal of the king’s signet ring. And with that, Brien was sent on his way from the Crownlands to the Westerlands, and ever deeper into danger.

Upon entering the keep at Casterly Rock, King Jaime descended and welcomed Brien with the Kiss of Peace. They spoke much of Brien’s training at arms and of the isle of Tarth, whose people shared much with those of Lannisport under King Jaime’s rule.

While the king was chatting amiably with the youth, the King’s Hand and younger brother Tyrion read the missive from King Robert. He was shocked to discover a death sentence in lieu of formal greetings! When the formal receiving was concluded, Tyrion approached his king to show him the letter.

King Jaime found himself in a terrible dilemma and did not understand why King Robert had requested that he execute the youth. “I was a fool to greet Brien so heartily. His noble bearing moved me to give him the Kiss of Peace and embrace him as a brother-in-arms.”

For so the king was right. To execute a guest who had received the Kiss of Peace would violate all the hospitality laws of the Seven Kingdoms. If King Jaime did as King Robert bid and beheaded Brien, it would bring dishonor on the Westerlands. They decided that for their friend to ask them to commit a dishonorable act, it would essentially end the alliance between their houses and sever the good relations between the Westerlands and the Crownlands.

The brothers decided to forestall the execution and they returned the letter to King Robert along with a missive demanding an explanation for attempting to bring shame upon their kingdom. When King Robert read the letter, he was incensed, for he loved the youth Brien very much. In anger, he committed Grand Maester Pycelle to the black cells beneath the keep in punishment.

It didn’t take long for Robert to send a courier back to King Jaime assuring him of his true intentions for Brien to squire for him and be knighted at his discretion. Jaime was rather relieved at this news, and immediately set to welcoming Brien truly into his court. All in the household loved the youth, for Brien was so honorable, valiant, intelligent, noble, and courteous, that all would tell you Brien had no peer in the land. King Jaime knighted Brien on his eighteenth nameday after a vigil in the sept at Casterly Rock and held a tourney in his honor.

There in the hill country outside Lannisport, the people of the Westerlands cheered on their favorite knights. Many excelled at the tilt or the melee. Many were knocked from the lists and recovered in the tents. The common folk cheered on their courageous knights who lead the charge but cheered loudest for Brien, for whom the tournament had been held and who won the tourney prize.

As the newly raised Ser Brien competed each day in the tourney, he marveled that the Warrior’s ways overcame the Maiden so completely in his nature. He had no regrets in his upbringing. He loved being a valiant and noble knight as in the stories of old.

Soon, tales of Ser Brien’s deeds spread past the borders of the Westerlands and into the rest of the Seven Kingdoms. Other knights quickly began to flock to his standard and they called themselves the Knights of Summer.

Occasionally, lords of the Seven Kingdoms sought to challenge the rule of the High King Robert in the Crownlands. One such was Lord Crakehall who had fought beside King Tywin of old in the wars between the Westerlands and the Crownlands. He never accepted the allegiance with King Robert, and now with his leige Tywin taken by the Stranger unto death, he rebelled against the idea of continuing the alliance with the Crownlands. And so Lord Crakehall, whose sigil was the black and white brindled boar on a brown field, met King Robert on the field of battle.

Robert sent for the levies from his ally King Jaime and specifically requested for Ser Brien to fight in the van, as he was already widely renowned for his martial abilities. So King Jaime outfitted his beloved knight with new armor and horse and Ser Brien set forth with thirty of the Knights of Summer. Immediately, King Jaime and the folk of Casterly Rock were plunged into sorrow for they missed Brien dearly.

King Robert, always glad of a chance at battle, lost his patience and attacked Lord Crakehall before Ser Brien and his knights could arrive in the Riverlands at the chosen field of battle. There was heavy loss of life on both sides and the boar lord himself dealt Robert a grievous wound. Brien of Tarth arrived moments later and was determined to join the battle despite being travel weary.

Brien adjourned to a private tent to ready himself. First he slipped on a padded tunic which served to hide his small breasts and also provide protection from his armor. Next came a fine hauberk of meshed steel links and matching leggings. Once he was covered in chainmail, he summoned the squire Podrick to assist with the exquisite blue-enameled plate mail bestowed on him by King Jaime. The young lad helped Ser Brien with the straps for his pauldrons and greaves, finally lacing the sapphire adorned helm over the knight’s straw colored hair and fastening the gorget into place.

Ser Brien girt the Valyrian steel sword Oathkeeper with its lion’ head hilt and mounted the fine bay gelding King Jaime gave him after his knighting. Once settled in the gold embossed leather saddle, the squire handed Brien the shield of Tarth. It bore the Evenstar’s sigil and had been enameled by the finest armorer in Lannisport at King Jaime’s behest. Finally, a long lance was handed up to Ser Brien to carry at the fore of the charge into the enemy.

Brien’s warhorse leaped with battle fury and pawed great gouges in to the earth. The knight bellowed a command to his Knights of Summer and they thundered across the meadow and met with the boar lord’s troops with a thunderous clash of lances splintered on shields and breastplates. Brien felled two opponents before his lance shattered into a thousand splinters and he finally drew his greatsword Oathkeeper.

From across the fray, Brien spotted the black and white boar on the brown standard and steered his gelding towards Crakehall. The rebellion could be ended that day. Brien confronted the treacherous lord and knocked him from his saddle after the first charge. Ser Brien, ever honorable, dismounted so as to face the lord knight on equal footing. The two knights dealt such furious blows on one another that their shields shivered and cracked apart. Brien tossed his cracked shield to the trodden, blood-stained earth and adjusted his grip on the hilt of the Valyrian sword.

Ser Brien allowed a glancing blow to his helm, and the sapphires were knocked from their sockets and scattered amidst the prone bodies of the dying soldiers. Once Lord Crakehall assumed he had the upper hand, Brien dealt a sweeping blow, bringing the boar lord’s sword arm down, down, down and cleaved his fist from the rest of his arm. The sword flew free and the lord immediately collapsed to the ground in shock and loss of blood. The standard bearer dropped the boar pennant in the churned earth and ran, and the rest of the rebel troops soon lost heart and lay their weapons down in surrender.

Ser Brien had won the day for King Robert.

But the rejoicing would not last long, for the high king languished with an infection from the wound he had received in battle. Not long after, Robert died of the wound given him by the boar lord, leaving Queen Cersei a widow. As women could not inherit, and King Robert died without heir, the queen’s brother was made regent of the Crownlands.

The lecherous queen still raged over Brien’s rejection. No sooner had Ser Brien returned to the court in the Crownlands than she began scheming. She summoned her brother King Jaime to her chambers and beseeched him to set the hero after a witch of the Riverlands. The witch was called Lady Stoneheart and the smallfolk claimed she roamed the forest near her cave and hung passers-by including children. King Jaime didn’t hesitate to call on Brien’s help, which Cersei had anticipated.

So Ser Brien rode forth without his Knights of Summer, embarking on this quest for his beloved Jaime. Young Brien went to a small clearing in the wood, keeping a nightlong vigil and prayed to the Seven, much as his father Lord Selwyn had twenty years ago.

“Father, grant me power to mete out justice to this foul witch. Mother, grant me your love and mercy, as I face a merciless foe. Warrior, grant me strength in the battle to come. Maiden, grant me virtue and honor in battle. Smith, grant me endurance for this Good work before me. Crone, grant me guidance through the darkness of the witch’s cave.” Young Brien lowered his voice to a hoarse whisper. “Stranger, grant me courage in the face of Death.”

And there in the clearing the Maiden and the Warrior spoke to Brien as they had once before.

“Daughter! You have acted with honor and virtue in all you have done. Although you have turned your Maiden’s form to the Warrior’s pursuits, your heart is still a woman’s heart. Use that strength. The witch Lady Stoneheart is in truth a bereaved mother who lashes out in anger for the loss of her innocent daughters. When you face her, go unclothed and face her as a woman,” instructed the Maiden.

The Warrior would not be outdone by the Maiden’s advice to Brien. “Maiden, how dare you send my son with naught but the naked form of a maid into the clutches of the witch! Heed me, Brien of Tarth. You may approach the witch as a woman, but be sure to bring your strengths as a warrior. Do not enter unarmed.”

The Crone arrived, lamp held high, and shrieked at both Maiden and Warrior until they were silent. “Brienne or Brien. Brien or Brienne. It matters naught. You are Maiden and Warrior both. Use the gifts of both, Brienne the Battle Maiden.”

And with those words, the Crone, the Maiden, and the Warrior disappeared. Brien only hoped the Stranger would not make an appearance next.

Ser Brien began to strip his armor where he stood in the clearing. The plate mail leaned against a tree, his fine chain hauberk and leggings draped over the breastplate. Next, Brien pulled off the padded tunic and stood exposed to the night air. The breeze caused his freckled skin to pimple in the cold. He was about to stride off towards the cave when the Warrior’s words came back to heart. He stooped down and picked up Oathkeeper, slinging the sword belt about his strong, firm waist.

Brien crept in to the cave, which the locals called Hollow Hill. The darkness felt oppressive, but Brien was not afraid. He felt ahead of him with each foot before walking forward blindly. Finally, a dull red light shone as a pin prick in the distance. The knight followed it to discover a large fire burning brightly in an open part of the cavern. Seated on a gnarled log was the witch Lady Stoneheart.

The witch looked up with dead, coal black eyes. Her flesh was like the putrid, pebbly tissue of forest fungus. Beneath her eyes ran deep tracks of rent tissue from her clawed fingers. The witch was crying. Lady Stoneheart looked up at Brien as he emerged in the circle of firelight.

“Sansa, is that you? Arya? Where are my daughters?” the witch called out.

Brien walked closer, uneasy. He much preferred the straightforward battles of war.

“Come here, child. Yes, you are but a shy maid. Come here.” The witch began to beckon. Brien saw her nails had hardened into black claws. “Sit with me, sweet daughter, for I am a mother without children.”

Brien's woman’s heart ached for the witch who lost her children. Over the years, he’d often thought of starting anew and throwing off the mantle of a man and taking a woman’s role, dandling children on her knees or weaving on a loom. But Brien never let himself think of living as Brienne too much, knowing it would bring dishonor and perhaps death on his father for deceiving the king. It was much safer to think of himself as Brien the warrior and not Brienne the maid.

In the shadows behind the witch, Brien saw the forms of children strung up by nooses swaying gently in a draft coming from the cave tunnel. Once he saw the bodies of the dead children, he no longer hesitated to pull Oathkeeper from its scabbard and slice it through the rotting neck of the witch.

Her head hit the cave floor with a hollow sound and the body dropped limply at Brien’s feet. He started when the witch’s head began to laugh. Brien improvised a net from the hanging ropes of the witch and quickly stuffed the head inside.

Brien returned to the clearing and dressed in the trappings of a man and knight once more. He hung the head from the pommel of his saddle and rode back to King’s Landing. The common folk all came out to see Ser Brien return from slaying the witch of the Riverlands.

As Brien passed through the gate, it chanced a peasant was leaving the city carrying a new pair of leather shoes. The decaying head of the witch began to laugh, startling Brien’s horse and setting some of the common folk to running away in fear.

When Brien passed the Sept of Baelor, a beggar capered outside pleading for food or coin from passers-by. The dirty, gnarled man shook a tin cup under everyone’s noses, but reeled back in disgust when he came within eyeshot of Brien on his bay gelding. Lady Stoneheart’s head began to laugh again.

A funeral procession was just entering the sept at the same time. The septas strode swinging their censers of smoking herbs and the septon chanted as he walked behind the bier. The weeping parents of the dead child brought up the rear and disappeared in to the darkness of the sept. The head laughed only louder as decaying bits of flesh dropped from the skull.

Finally, Brien rode through the immense doors of the throne room at the Red Keep and presented the head of Lady Stoneheart to King Jaime. The queen was present as well with several veiled septas attending her. Stoneheart’s laughter became deafening as it echoed in the throne room.

“What evil is this!” hissed Queen Cersei. “Ser Brien seeks to bring the witch’s curse upon these lands. Sweet Jaime, my King, my brother, please end this torment. I ask for Ser Brien’s head.”

King Jaime loved his knight very much and shuddered at the thought of executing Brien. He grabbed the netted bag holding the witch’s head. “Tell me, witch, why do you laugh at us so?”

The decayed head seemed to grin wider. “I laugh in the face of lies, King Jaime. You have been deceived, your majesty, by those closest to you.”

Brien felt fear for the first time creep in his stomach. If King Jaime discovered his true sex, his life and perhaps his good father’s life would be forfeit. “Listen not to the witch, your majesty. I would dash this rotted flesh against the wall or beneath the hooves of my war horse if that would give us peace.”

King Jaime, frustrated at the thought of being lied to, entreated the witch to continue. “I would give you the peace of the grave if you but expose these deceptions you speak of. If you do not, you must live on forever in this form, forever separated from your children.”

“I will tell you why I laughed, King Jaime. When we entered the city, a peasant passed us with new shoes. But he would never wear them, as he would die before he arrived home,” Lady Stoneheart explained.

Some guardsmen were dispatched to find the peasant and found him crumpled on the road, dead from heat stroke.

“Why did you laugh at the Sept of Baelor?” the king asked.

“I laughed at the beggar. As he pleaded to be fed, there were the riches of a crypt a few feet beneath the stones of his begging site.”

Jaime dispatched workers to dig up the flagstones outside the sept and discovered a treasure trove of gems and gold ornaments long buried and forgotten. He used the discovered monies to feed the children at the orphanage.

“And the funeral?”

“Ah, it should have been the septon crying for the loss of his child for the husband was made a cuckold, raising the offspring of another.”

The king discovered this was true as well, and the septon and the wife were run out of town by the pious.

“Lady Stoneheart, I beseech you,” begged King Jaime. “Tell us why you laughed when you came into the throne room.”

“Your majesty, I laugh because in this very throne room there are deceivers and deceived. Two of us are tricked by two of us in borrowed clothes, and I am dishonored for being deceived doubly. The truth is, King Jaime, that the veiled septa is the queen’s lover Osmund Kettleblack dressed as a woman.”

The people of the court gasped at this revelation and the king signaled for the guards to strip the septa, exposing him for a man.

Lady Stoneheart’s head continued. “Ser Brien is brave and honorable, King Jaime, and none could defeat him in battle. But it was a woman who captured me in my forlorn cave, an innocent maid with a tender woman’s heart, else she never could have come close to me in my lair. Ser Brien the warrior is in truth Brienne the maid!”

At that, the king clutched his chest in anguish as he felt his heart break. Of course he felt betrayed by his twin sister, and had never suspected her as a lecherous woman who would so defile the throne. But mostly, King Jaime ached at the thought of his beloved knight Brien deceiving him. He had taken the youth into his household. He had kissed Brien, no, Brienne, with the Kiss of Peace. He had shared with his beloved knight all his most intimate secrets as a dearest friend might.

King Jaime harbored doubts still, and ordered that Brien be stripped of his armor and tunic there in the throne room will all to witness. Once the knight stood naked before them all, the hall fell silent. All the features that recommended Brien as a comely youth-the strong limbs, the wide, thick lipped smile that spoke only truth, the large callused hands accustomed to a sword hilt, the freckles that testified to toil in the sun, the well muscled torso-all these features were considered hideous in women. Brienne had a muscled chest, not a pillowy soft bosom. Her lips were too thick and wide for a woman and her skin was sun damaged and ruddy, not creamy soft as with women of substance, wealth, and leisure. The folk of the keep held silent and awaited the judgment of the king.

Disrobed, Brienne stood straight and tall, shoulders back and chin up. Her piercing blue eyes flashed defiant under his gaze as if daring him to question her integrity. She felt no shame for her form, but only disappointment that now she would let her father down.

“Brien…Brienne, you have been a knight of worth. I have known no other with more courage and integrity. No king or lord of the land could boast a better child than the Evenstar, Lord Selwyn of Tarth. I know you as I know myself. So I implore you to speak truth now and tell us why you have lived as a man and deceived us.”

“Ser King Jaime,” Brienne began. “I knew not that I was living a lie as I was raised away from the company of others. I was only myself. When I was old enough to understand, my father explained the difference between men and women and that according to King Robert’s law, I should never inherit. He asked me to live and present as a man, to pursue men’s activities and not protect my skin from the sun. I loved the activities that were the normal demesne of menfolk. I loved archery and swordplay, hunting and wrestling, jousting and the wearing of armor. I loved the activities and I love my father, but I could not escape the fear of being discovered. So I left Evenfall Hall and traveled with minstrels so that I would know of at least one pursuit that men and women both practice in case I were to ever be forced to give up the pursuits of a man. When I came to King Robert’s court, the queen came at me, set on seduction. I rebuffed her advances in fear of discovery, and she perceived it as a slight against her person. I am convinced that is why I was sent away to your court.”

King Jaime looked at his sister the queen. He finally understood the letter of execution Brienne had brought with her to his court.

“Brienne, you could have told me,” he said to his beloved knight.

“Could I, sire? I was protecting my father’s inheritance. I admired you, my king. And yes, I loved you too.” The warrior did pause then and a flush grew over her freckled skin. “I dared not tell you for fear of rousing your anger towards your sister, for I knew how close you are to your family. You know I cannot keep the truth from you, and I do not care to keep silent any longer. Do with me what you will.”

“Brienne, you have more honor than any man or woman I know. There is no greater treasure than the virtue of a woman, and by that I mean your integrity, your dedication to what is right and just, and your loyalty to father and king. Brienne, you have saved yourself by your trustworthy behavior. Forever more, you have my protection and my friendship,” decreed the king.

The lords and ladies of the court began to murmur. As a signal from the king, the squire Podrick ran forward to assist the lady knight with dressing once more in the fine enameled armor Jaime had given her in celebration of her knighthood.

King Jaime raised his voice so all in the throne room could hear. “People of the Crownlands and of the Seven Kingdoms, as Regent I declare Robert’s law disinheriting women to be struck down. All eldest children may inherit from their parents, as it was in days of old.”

Ser Brienne smiled at that and gave her beloved king a nod in acknowledgement. “May the Seven reward you for your even-handedness. It is by his acts that one knows who is truly king.”

The throne room erupted in cheers. Many had despised King Robert’s law disinheriting women. And more so, many loved Ser Brien as a mighty, valiant, and honorable knight when they thought she was a man. They were only too happy to keep Ser Brienne in their hearts.

Osmund Kettleblack was sentenced to death for adultery. Queen Cersei was granted leniency but stripped of her royal position as both the queen of the Crownlands and as a princess of the Westerlands. The last sight of Cersei was her walking alone from the keep, past the Sept of Balor, and out the gate of the keep into King’s Landing. King Jaime and Ser Brienne never saw her again.

The king granted Lady Stoneheart her reprieve and dashed the skull against a stone, ending her terror over the Riverlands. Even till the end, the rotting head laughed until the last bone was crushed to dust.

There was talk of dressing Brienne as a woman, but she preferred the blue enameled armor given to her by her beloved King Jaime. Sometimes she chose to wear split skirts, but only when she wanted to and not when the ladies of court pressed her. In time, young girls in the Seven Kingdoms practiced at arms and emulated the Battle Maiden, Ser Brienne of Tarth. Ser Goodwin, her father’s squire and arms master, found he had a slew of new students who wished to be as accomplished in the martial arts as Brienne and much honor was heaped on the household of the Evenstar.

And Ser Brienne? ‘Tis said in time that King Jaime asked for her hand in marriage, for he had loved her as an equal and comrade in arms long before he ever learned of her sex. She agreed, in time, but not before she spent some years adventuring with her squire Pod. In later years, Jaime was heard to jest of the Kiss of Peace when they were at the feast table surrounded by their subjects just to see her skin flush or sometimes Ser Brienne would pull out her harp and play for the lower tables filled with the small folk.