For her seventh nameday, Princess Catelyn of Tarth was given a lion cub.
Not a toy made of soft fabric with buttons for features. Not a painting to liven the stone walls of her chambers. But an actual lion cub, with golden fur and sharp blue eyes. It was carried into the garden alcove by Lannister soldiers; their red and gold armour a stark contrast to the blue and silver doublets of the Queen’s household. The men presented the cage to Jaime’s seven-year-old daughter while her grandfather explained his choice of gift. But none of the invited guests were under any illusion as to what Tywin Lannister hoped to achieve.
His grandchildren bore the Tarth name. Their tunics and cloaks were embroidered with moons and sunbursts. Their father was no king; merely the Prince Consort to Westeros’ beloved Queen. Their next Queen, however, would have a lion by her side.
“Father, this is—” Jaime trailed off; unsure what to say when presented with a wild animal in front of his wife and children.
He looked to his wife, then; her jaw tense and blue eyes wide as she absorbed this…gift. In truth, every eye on the room was upon her. The Queensguard; Ser Brynden with a hand upon his hilt as if the cub would leap and attack the young Princess. The Small Council, who had brought their children and grandchildren to celebrate Cat’s nameday. Jaime’s family and Brienne’s father also sat; also waited. Behind Cat lay the rest of her bounty: books and toys and dresses. Lord Stannis had commissioned a small ship to be built in the Red Keep gardens for the royal children to play upon. Selwyn had gifted his only granddaughter a shield bearing her sigil to go along with the sword Jaime and Brienne had given her (dulled, of course, to save the poor legs of the Queensguard).
But, as always, his father had to go one better. “Father, this is far too much.”
“Nonsense.” Jaime was the Prince Consort; his wife the most powerful woman in all seven kingdoms. And yet that tone left Jaime under no illusions that this matter was closed. “The Princess is a Lannister and the future Queen. A lion is the perfect gift for her seventh nameday.”
At that, one of his father’s men undid the latches on the metal cage. Free after Gods knows how long, the cub made tentative steps forward. Piercing blue eyes darted around the assembled guests in the Red Keep gardens before settling upon his daughter. Cat reached forward to pet the creature, but the cub flinched and pulled away. Jaime half-expected his father’s men to beat the cub into submission for the young Princess. Instead, his wife took charge – as she often did.
Drawing to her full height, every eye was upon her once again. There was a time that would have unsettled her. No longer. “Thank you, Lord Tywin, for your gracious gift. Catelyn, thank your grandfather.”
Mimicking her mother, and already taller than her oldest cousin, Cat inclined her head and said, “Thank you, Grandfather.”
Brienne smiled at their daughter and stroked the top of her head. Cat was still wearing her nameday crown; made out of parchment and coloured ink – a gift from her brother. “Sweetling, why don’t we get some water for your cub? It’s a warm day; you know how thirsty you get when you’ve been out in the sun.”
Together, the Queen and the Princess walked to the nearby table of refreshments. Bypassing decanters of wine and ale, plates upon plates of cakes and savouries, Jaime’s two favourite ladies found a small bowl and a jug of cool water. Their guests continued to watch, waiting, but Jaime watched just to enjoy a simple moment between mother and daughter. Brienne helped Cat pour the jug into the bowl, but left their girl to approach the cub by herself. She placed the water a short distance from the cage; letting the cub come to her. Sure enough, thirst outweighed fear. Hunger outweighed fear, too, as moments later, the cub ate some venison from his own little lion’s outstretched hand.
“Be gentle with her,” Brienne advised. “Your cousins can come closer, but not too close. We don’t want to startle her again.”
Tyrion’s son, Gerion, was the first to approach. He sat right beside his cousin and laughed raucously as the cub licked Cat’s fingers. Tish, his younger sister, soon joined him. Cersei’s children, in a rare visit to the capital, toddled over as well. Myrcella held her younger brother’s hand as they walked over, marvelling at their cousin’s nameday gift. His Aunt Genna often wrote about Tommen’s affinity for the kittens at Casterly Rock, and he seemed to enjoy the larger version, too. The last to join the circle was Brynden, who had been safely ensconced in the lap of his favourite grandfather. He took the free spot right beside his sister and was the first approached by the cub other than Cat.
The only one of the Lannister grandchildren not to approach the lion was Joffrey. He sat at his mother’s feet; a cloud darkening his expression. In truth, Jaime could somewhat understand the boy’s displeasure. Joffrey was the eldest grandchild; he had turned seven last year. Yet, his grandfather had not gifted him with a lion. His mother looked equally put out; the real lioness of the Rock preparing to bare her teeth.
“What a beautiful creature,” his sister said, one hand upon her beloved son’s shoulders as they made tentative steps towards the centre of the alcove. “You share her features, my beloved niece.”
“Th–thank you, Aunt Cersei,” Cat said warily; old enough to understand his sister was saying something entirely different altogether; young enough to not know what or why. “She’s very soft.”
“You should name her.” Teeth bared; the lioness went in for the kill. “How about Ruby? Or Garnet? Something…womanly.” Cersei’s eyes lingered upon her niece, then Brienne, before pulling away. “Something fitting for the pet of our future Queen.”
“Ruby,” Cat said, testing out the syllables in her mouth. A line formed across her brow, but no other names were presented. To all those in attendance, the matter of the lion’s name was settled. Before long, a party game was suggested that occupied all the children. The nameday girl, however, remained lost in thought.
Much later, after the night had drawn in and the Queen had had to forcibly restrain her Hand from exiling his own damned sister, Jaime found himself walking the corridors of the Red Keep to clear his head. He enjoyed seeing his nephews and niece, but there was a reason he’d kept Cersei at arm’s length since her first letter after the Sack of King’s Landing. He could survive her hatred; Brienne’s armour was thick, she could take the blows, too. But their children were still too young to understand why Aunt Cersei cared so little for them.
It was why Jaime wasn’t surprised to find his daughter awake and in her and her brother’s playroom, sitting in the windowsill as her nameday gift pawed at a moth. “I do believe all little lions should be in bed by now,” he said from the doorway, drawing a faint smile from his daughter. Swallowing the urge to yell at his sister until he forced an apology, Jaime, instead, walked over to join his daughter by the window. “You’re not feeling unwell, are you? I can call the healer.”
Cat shook her head. “No, I’m not unwell. I’m…thinking.” Her small fingers brushed the top of her lion’s head. “I don’t like the name Ruby.”
“Well, you don’t have to call her that. She’s yours; she’ll always be yours. Call her what you will.” Jaime ran a tentative hand over the lion’s back and received a nuzzle in response. “She’s a friendly little thing when you get to know her.”
“She is. She snapped at Joffrey, though.” His daughter giggled at her cousin’s misfortune before schooling her face into a neutral expression, lest she be told off in the final hours of her nameday. “Father, why didn’t Joffrey get a lion on his nameday?”
Jaime drew in a breath and tried to formulate a response that was both appropriate for a child and did not contain any of the words he’d heard Olenna rattle off under her breath. “You’re a Tarth. You carry your mother’s name; your brother will inherit the island. But you’re a Lannister, too. Your grandfather, in his own way, wants you to remember that.” He paused. “Joffrey and the others don’t need reminding. Your Aunt Cersei lives at the Rock, and Gerion and Tish have the Lannister name.”
Cat screwed her little face up in concentration as she tried to determine the meaning of his words. “But I like being a Tarth.”
“As you should!” Jaime grinned, leaning down conspiratorially as if to share a secret. “All my favourite people are Tarths.” His daughter giggled. “But you’re lucky, Cat; you’re both. A Lannister and a Tarth. A Sapphire Lion.”
“I should call her something from Tarth, then,” Cat decided, scratching behind her cub’s ears. “That way, she’s both, too.”
Jaime beamed. “I think that’s a wonderful idea, Little Lion.”
Cat grinned, and Jaime just sat, watching his daughter smile his smile. She had her mother’s eyes and nose; both of their desire to wave around a stick at other people carrying sticks. But that smile was all him. She grinned at her lion cub, who had her mistress’ eyes, and Jaime knew the exact moment his daughter settled on the perfect name.
“Sapphire,” she said; the cub sneezing in response. “Saffie for short.”
“I love it. And your mother will love it, too.” He stroked his daughter’s head, earning a content smile from his child and a bop of the head from the newest addition to the family. “Now, will my little lions finally go to bed?”
Cat’s mouth contorted into a frown and Jaime knew in that instant that neither of them would get much sleep, nor would he do anything to stop it. That girl has you wrapped around her little finger, Olenna had once said after a Small Council meeting. Jaime hadn’t denied her then, nor would he deny his daughter now. “Can we wait until the sun rises? I don’t want to miss a single moment of my nameday.”
He did his best to appear conflicted, but after the day’s events, he would be more than happy to enjoy his daughter’s smile a little longer. “Fine. But as soon as that sun goes up, it’s straight to bed. And don’t tell your brother.”
Jaime settled in the rocking chair where Brienne had nursed both their children; where she had told them stories and had, on occasion, led meetings of state. He pulled both lion cubs onto his lap and let his daughter tell him all her favourite parts of her nameday. I could do this again, Jaime thought, as he felt himself and Cat drift off to sleep. I could do this a thousand times over.
He awoke to a gentle hand pressing atop his shoulder. Jaime blinked; the first rays of sun streaming into the playroom. In his lap, both cubs drooled on his muslin sleep shirt. Beaming down at his daughter, it was soft fingers running through his golden mane that truly alerted him to another presence within the room. Jaime looked up into the face of his wife; into eyes he had seen mirrored in his daughter the previous night. Soft and so very loved.
Brienne continued to stroke his hair; her gentle touch stirring old memories of their first days and weeks together. “I fell asleep without you, and I woke without you. I did not care for it.”
“Apologies, my love,” he whispered, careful not to awaken either cub resting upon his lap. “I meant to bring Cat and Saffie back to their rooms, but—”
“The lion,” he grinned lazily; almost purring at Brienne’s touch. “Short for Sapphire.”
Brienne followed his revelation with a sharp intake of breath, and a gentle hand resting upon their daughter’s head. Cat stirred but did not wake. Neither did the lion cub; just nestled closer to her mistress. “A good name.”
“Agreed.” Easing his hand free, Jaime pulled his wife closer and covered her mouth with his. She hummed against his lips before melting into their embrace. A scuff of boots from the doorway alerted Jaime to yet another unexpected presence. It was, expectedly, a member of his wife’s Queensguard. “Brynden, aren’t you tired of watching us kiss from doorways?”
“Hideously,” he said, with all the fondness of an old friend. “But that’s what I get for guarding a Queen who loves her husband.”
“I’d love him more if we were in bed. Asleep,” Brienne said, scowling at the waggle of Jaime’s eyebrows at the mere suggestion of anything else.
Well, the Lord Hand would not dream of protesting his Queen’s command. So, Jaime lifted himself, daughter and cub from the rocking chair and joined his wife in leaving the playroom for a soft mattress and crisp sheets. Ser Brynden followed them as they covered the short distance to the children’s bedchambers. Ser Jason, stoic in the face of such an early hour, bowed at his Queen before opening the door. Jaime and Brienne laid their daughter and her lion upon her bed, covering her with a blanket handmade from the North. On the other side of the room, her brother snored into his pillow. Smiling gratefully at the gifts they had been given, the pair left their children to slumber and took off in the direction of their own chambers.
“It’s still early,” Jaime proffered as they walked. “We don’t have to sleep.”
Brienne smirked. “It is far too early to spar, Jaime Lannister.” He grinned. “Truthfully, I have been up for far longer than I would have preferred. Ser Brynden had to call for the healer.”
“Essence of nightshade?” Jaime’s brows drew together; concern flooding his expression as he wondered whether Cersei’s words had kept his love up into the early hours.
“A tonic to settle my stomach. Nothing to worry about.” She squeezed his hand as they traversed the halls of the Red Keep. “We should be worried about your father. While I am glad our daughter’s lion bears a name associated with my House, I do wonder if that will only draw more of his ire.”
“He’ll just have to get used to it,” Jaime said, pausing to wrap his arms around his wife in the middle of the corridor. The times they could only embrace in private seemed a world away; a different man and woman. “We are Sapphire Lions and the world is ours.”
“I know,” Brienne said, resting her forehead against his. “All I’m saying is that I would be prepared for another lion in two years when Brynden turns seven. And, perhaps, in another seven, too.”
“Why in another—” His beloved wife took his hand and pressed it against her abdomen. In preparation for his family’s visit at Court, he had not noticed the rounding of her stomach. “Oh.” His face softened as her fingertips brushed his; the phantom sensation of their unborn child stirring a flurry of emotions within him. Jaime then kissed his wife long and deeply; their hands pressed against the place where the newest addition to their pride now grew. “I guess we were gifted two cubs today.”
Brienne beamed. “I guess we were.”
Five moons later, Princess Joanna was ushered into the world. Nearly two years after Cat’s nameday, his wife was, indeed, proved right. And then, five years after that, proved right yet again.