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The lion and the maiden fair

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Least bothered about the guests who eagerly awaited their turn to please the king with the priceless gifts they had brought him, Jaime patrolled the area, his eyes guarding his ruler, while his mind was far away, swamped with thoughts. He cared a damn about Joffrey’s drawn-out remarks that punctuated every such offering, nor did he wish to partake of the feast before him. The much-coveted Dornish wine that filled their goblets failed to impress him as well. 

The familiar feeling had returned to haunt him again. The boredom and a strange sense of uneasiness that had lingered within him ever since he’d reached home had surfaced once more, making him feel out of place, uncared for and unwanted. 

Sighing in resignation for he had no choice but to put up with the revelry, he allowed his mind to wander farther, his eyes beginning to drift away. Away from Joffrey who enjoyed being the centre of attraction and a figure of authority; away from his sister who did her best to maintain her dignified grace; away from his brother who was still recuperating from the snide comments his gift had invited; and from his father who appeared to be at his snobbish best. 

His eyes reflected his turbulent mental state, never settling anywhere for more than a second. Not until they came to rest on the wench who sat at a distance, the sight before him bringing him back to full consciousness and a state of alertness. 

While his sister had gone out of her way to keep the ugly cow away from the proceedings, Lady Olenna seemed to think otherwise. Within days of setting foot into the Red Keep, Brienne had won the affections of the Queen of Thorns. The old woman was hard to please, they said, but the wench had gained her approval and an invitation to the feast celebrating the soon-to-be union of her granddaughter and the King. 

That was how she'd ended up here, cornered by boredom with many for company, yet no one she could speak to. Like a sheep let loose among the wild, she looked terribly uncomfortable and ill at ease, her eyes shifting from the ground to the table and then upwards, in prayer, perhaps, for this ordeal to end so she could retreat to the safe confines of her chambers. 

The pretty eyes travelled all over before dropping to her hands, and then she glanced up again, this time looking straight into him. 

Jaime came to a halt, mesmerised and completely blinded to his surroundings. An arresting gaze it was, though it lasted barely a second, after which she turned away, her cheeks matching the delicate pink flowers that adorned the bushes by her side.

She can blush, he observed, smiling to himself, noting how the pink flushes on her cheeks did surprisingly well on her skin. As did the blue gown she’d worn. It brought out her eyes, a pair incomparable to any other he’d seen, a mere glance into them leaving him far more intoxicated than a glass of the strongest wine or ale.

“Smiling to yourself is the first sign of madness,” muttered a low voice somewhere below him, and he tore his eyes from her to notice that Tyrion had been following him around. So deeply engrossed in the wench he’d been, that he’d failed to register that the crowd had dispersed and the King was long gone.

“I have to stay by the King’s side,” he hurriedly mumbled, all in an attempt to avert a sticky conversation with his brother. 

Having no will to bear the brunt of his brother’s sharp tongue, he was about to dash off as quickly as he could, when Tyrion tugged at his wrist. “A few minutes with your brother isn’t going to matter much. There were others protecting the King during your absence, and they’ll do it now.” When Jaime could find no excuse to ward him off this time, Tyrion extended his request. “Walk with me.”

Having no way out, he complied while brother led him into the unknown, wondering what could be the reason for this interruption of his duties. “What made you fancy a walk in the gardens?” Jaime couldn’t help asking. “Had I known this was your intent, I’d have fetched your lady wife,” he teased, enjoying the budding embarrassment on Tyrion’s face. “She would’ve made for a better company.”

The effect of his taunts were short lived and Tyrion was back to normal. “It is you I wish to talk to, Jaime.”

“Tell me then,” said Jaime, trying to cut down the impatience in his tone as they strolled deeper into the greenery, where they could be neither seen nor heard by anyone. “And be quick about it.”

“You look lost,” Tyrion said, his shrewd eyes proving, yet again, to be capable of tearing down people’s minds and prying into their innermost thoughts and emotions.

“I--” Jaime paused, the deduction leaving him pondering the actual reason for his continuous restlessness. While it had something to do with the loss of his hand, and a little more with the treatment he’d received at the hands of his father and Cersei, the root of the problem lay far within the depths of his heart, buried under the mask he’d been trying to don. It was something he couldn’t come to terms with, something, despite the repeated reminders that had jolted him, he lacked the courage to admit to himself. “I’m just trying to get accustomed to freedom again,” he said, with a forced dismissive laugh. 

“You haven’t been yourself since you’ve returned, Jaime.” Another painfully astute observation. Another piercing stab to his heart, persuading him to open up to his feelings. “You haven’t been with Cersei either. Trying to get accustomed to her presence as well?”

Taken aback by the twisted question, but glad to be given a chance to push aside his emotions, he glared at Tyrion. “Have you been spying on me?”

“No, I’ve just been studying you from a distance,” admitted his brother, matter-of-factly. “You don’t seem happy to be back to the woman you love--” Tyrion grabbed his sleeve all of a sudden, bringing them both to an abrupt halt, the burst of excitement in his voice leaving Jaime apprehensive about what he might have to confront. 

“Unless the woman you love isn’t our sister anymore,” his brother finished, confirming his fears.

His face on fire and his tongue struggling for suitable words, all Jaime could do was manage a feeble, “I don’t understand what you mean,” before turning away in a huff, ready to abandon his nosy sibling in the company of the frantically chirping birds.

Even as Jaime began to make his way out, Tyrion remained as calm as ever. “Look right ahead of you. You’ll understand exactly what I mean.”

Despite his resistance, Jaime stopped and glanced ahead, his pulse racing at a million per second when he spied the wench who stood with her back to them not far away.

“There she is,” said Tyrion, his eyes on Brienne when he’d caught up with Jaime, his smile indicative of someone who’d achieved the impossible. Flustered, Jaime tried to look elsewhere, but his eyes wouldn’t obey him, seeking none but the wench and a glimpse of her beautiful eyes. “Go on, tell her,” prompted Tyrion in a tone of approval.

“Tell her what?” he demanded, just to put Tyrion off.

“That you haven’t been able to stop thinking about her,” said his brother, driving the nail where it was meant to be. “That you’ve been dreaming of her, yearning for her every night and day, so much that you’ve forgotten what it felt like to have once loved your sister.”

“I--” he was about to object, but stepped away from the argument when he realized that every word his brother said was nothing but the truth.

“Get your arse up there, and be the lion you were always meant to be,” pushed his brother, giving him a little nudge in the ribs with his elbow. “Be a man, and tell her that she’s the one you’re now  accustomed to, and you’d like nothing better than to stay accustomed to her for the rest of your life.” 

All Jaime could do was gape at his brother, and before his mind could digest the suggestion and frame a fitting response, Tyrion was gone, his smile and his mischievous wink encouraging him to go on. 

The state of his legs no better than the trunk of the tree that stood beside him, he couldn’t move for a while, his brother’s advice ringing in his head. His brain instructed him to forget this strange conversation and turn tail, but instinct told him to approach her, to speak out his mind like he’d done in the past with her.

And instinct was what he’d always placed his trust in, far above logic or anything else.

“My lady,” he called, rushing towards her, hoping his legs wouldn’t let him down.

She stopped as soon as his voice floated across to her, but still stood with her back to him. Quickly closing the distance between them, he approached her with a tentative, “Lady Brienne.”

This time she granted him the privilege of her attention, her brilliant eyes meeting his at last. “Ser Jaime,” came her usual customary response.

“I came here to have a word with you,” he blurted out his mind, pushing down the wave of nervousness that was beginning to churn his stomach. 

She stood there in polite silence, waiting for him to speak further, but to his chagrin, he'd lost the ability to speak. “I hope all’s well with the preparations,” she began for the sake of sustaining the conversation, when he continued to remain tongue-tied. Her eyes darting to the white cloak billowing behind him, she noted, “So you’re Lord Commander,” her remark unnecessary empty talk.

“I am, although I wish to be something else now,” he admitted, the picture in his mind suddenly visible in its vivid entirety. The clouds of uncertainty had parted, and with the haziness of doubt now gone, he knew what his heart ached for, the solution to his restlessness. 

The blue eyes, however, were brimming with questions. “What do you---”

“The Lord of Casterly Rock,” he answered before she could ask, eager to put an end to the anguish that had been engulfing him ever since he’d returned to King’s Landing. “I’m going to ask to be relieved from the Kingsguard, my lady, and assume my birthright as the heir to my house.”

A shadow crept across her features, dulling the brilliance of her ever-luminous eyes. “So that you can be one with your sister,” she concluded, assuming, what she thought, was the obvious implication of his decision. Blinking more than a couple of times, she straightened her chin and managed, what was supposedly, a cheerful smile. “I’m happy for you, Ser Jaime,” she said, her attempt to be normal, feeble and futile. 

The twinge of jealousy in her eyes, and the pain in them were motivation enough for him to go on, her reaction flooding him with much-needed relief. Gone were the second-thoughts that had been bothering him, as were all the doubts he’d been harbouring about her feelings for him. “Have a good evening,” she murmured, averting her gaze, ready to flee from the place, but he was too quick for her.

“Not so fast,” he stopped her, gently pulling her by the arm. “I’ve not finished yet, Lady Brienne.”

Her eyes shining, she directed her fiery gaze at him, this time making no attempt to mask her jealousy which was so evidently plain and raw. “I don’t think there’s anything else to be said, Ser Jaime.” 

She tried to jerk her arm free, but he pulled her close. “Who told you I was talking about Cersei?” he said, looking deeply into her eyes.

Anger and envy in those eyes made way for confusion again. “But she’s the one you--”

“--once loved,” he explained, with every word, inching his face close to hers until he could make out every freckle on her pale skin. “Off late, there has come to be another who has captured my heart,” he went on, his words enveloping her face with a glow he’d never seen before. “Tall, blonde, wields a sword and has the prettiest eyes I’ve ever seen,” he complimented, watching the colour deepen along the column of her neck and up her face. When she did nothing except lower her gaze and blush gloriously in response, he continued, “I’m going to tell my father that I wish to make her my lady.”

Her eyes leapt up to meet his again, confusion leading to disbelief, before acceptance gradually began to make itself at home in them.

“If she believes the honour-less Kingslayer is worthy of her,” he finished, hoping she’d agree. 

“You’re no Kingslayer,” she promptly corrected him, the warmth in her voice melting his heart. “Nor is your honour lesser than any knight who has ever sworn the oath. But...” she faltered, the shadow of a doubt, unfortunately, returning to eclipse her face, and she continued in a tone that lacked self-esteem. “I’m no lady--”

Throwing caution to the wind, he silenced her with a kiss, his lips initially taking a moment to get accustomed to a pair other than Cersei’s. Shy, as she’d never been kissed before, she hesitated, her lips merely brushing against his at first contact. He let her take things at her own pace, and soon she gave in to him, her fingers trailing up his chest, whilst her mouth welcomed his intrusion. I could do this every minute of my life, he decided, delving deeper, letting her sink into him and take control of his senses, his tongue twisting into hers as if they’d been engaging in this duel for years. His fingers roamed her neck, the soft skin beneath, burning at his touch, craving for him as much as he yearned for her. He kissed her, for how long, he didn’t know, since time had come to a standstill, making him wonder if this was a lovely dream or the beginning of his future to come. Their breaths mingled into one, and so did their hearts, the strange but stable bond they’d forged over time strengthening with their union, never to be broken, never to be undone.

“You’re my lady,” he said, gazing dreamily into her eyes when they broke apart.

A playful smile danced across her face. “I'm just an ugly wench.”

“You’re my wench,” he affectionately pointed out, watching the rays of the setting sun kiss her features, illuminating her face with a crimson glow. “And you’re much prettier in twilight,” he said, with neither sarcasm nor mockery in his statement this time, and pulled her into an embrace, meaning every word of what he had just told her.