They expect a spring child, inconvenient though it may be, but as the days stretch into the heat of summer they find themselves with empty arms and dwindling hopes. It’s not a long summer, less than two years before the weather turns cool, though every moon turn with no sign of a babe feels an eternity. Even the people of Tarth begin to whisper amongst themselves, that perhaps the Evenstar could not… Jaime ends the speculation with sharp words and a meaningful caress of his sword pommel, and does his best to shield Brienne from it. She is not accustomed to her body failing her, and it is not a weakness she can train away; she speaks to maesters and midwives and an Essosi fortune teller that comes with one of the trading vessels and learns nothing. Drinks tinctures and herbal teas. Spends nearly two months off the training yards, until Jaime entices her back with some bullshit about duty. He holds her close on the nights when her moonblood arrives, wipes away her tears when she admits that she had not… perhaps she had not wanted it enough, in the beginning, or in the right way. Perhaps she ought to have set aside her dreams while youth was in her favour, or that she was not meant to be a mother. He doesn’t know what to say to that, here on this other side with three dead children and only the memory of Myrcella’s I am glad acknowledging it, and so he guards her grief with ferocity and waits.
The same morning the first frost comes to Tarth, she bolts from their warmed bed to be sick in a chamber pot, and she wipes her mouth with the back of her hand and looks to him, a tempered hope in her eyes. A sennight passes from that morn and her sickness does not repeat, but nor does her moonblood come, and so they must wait; he watches her, in the quiet of their quarters, as she absently runs a hand against her stomach in contemplation, or picks up and then discards the embroidered blanket she had begun back when they had been so certain a child would come.
“Your cousin has written, and wishes to visit before the winter sets in and makes the journey difficult,” he says one night as they prepare for bed; he means it to be a reminder that she is not without an heir, but even as he says the words he regrets them.
Her fists clench, and she breathes deeply, dons a mask. “It will be good to see him again. I believe his wife is on their fourth child.”
He rises from the bed, comes behind her and wraps his arms around her waist, rests his chin against her shoulder.
“I am an old man,” he says. “If it is our lot to spend our—”
“But it is not your lot,” she bursts out. “You might beget a hundred more bastards and legitimise any of them you wished.”
“You cannot know that, not for certain.”
“Can I not?” she asks archly, but she sags against his body and does not turn to face him.
“I only meant—” He sighs. “If we have a dozen children or none at all, I am happier than I ever dreamed to be.”
Her hand lays over his. “I know. I only wish… I had grown so used to believing it would happen that I began to dream of it, and now… not to know, to long for those good things and never— I am tired, that is all.”
He kisses the curve of her neck. “I know.”
He coaxes her into bed, and they do not speak again that night.
The cousin has been and gone by the time the maester is confident enough to declare that the Evenstar is with child, and Jaime does not miss the way Brienne’s face pales before she smiles and thanks the man, or the way she appears slightly adrift when she stands. Jaime follows her from the room, down the corridor, into her solar, where she slumps into the nearest chair and stares at her hands.
He kneels before her and lays his hands, flesh and gold both, onto her lap.
“What have we done?” she asks quietly.
“You are unhappy with this news?”
She looks up, her eyes glimmering with tears. “No. I am…” she considers her words carefully. “Unprepared.”
He rises on his knees, kisses her softly. It is the only reassurance he can give. Perhaps it is enough though, because she gives him a watery smile.
“A babe, Jaime.”
The news spreads through the castle, then the island, then beyond, and with it comes advice and opinions by the score. Brienne should exercise, or not. She should not lift her arms above her head lest she knot the cord. She should sleep upright, or on her side, or on her back. Winter babies are likely to be weak and sickly, she should not take any risks at all. Her food is scrutinised, as is her expanding belly. She seeks what little solitude she can find, withdraws even from Jaime, finding her way to him only in the dark, whispering her muddled apology and explanation both.
It is on one of these nights he first feels the babe move—she has slid into the bed beside him, and in the moonlight that comes through the window he sees her grimace.
“Are you unwell?” he asks, though he knows she hates the fuss.
She takes his hand instead of answering, laying it against her stomach—a moment later he feels a rolling press against his palm, distinctive enough it cannot be mistaken for anything but movement.
“It’s been a few weeks,” she says quietly. “But I couldn’t feel it from the outside, and it was nice, to have…”
The babe moves again, different this time—a sharp, short jab that feels like a flutter beneath his hand, and Jaime laughs.
“Thank you,” he says quietly. “I know this has been…”
Difficult is the word that comes to mind, though it is not the babe that makes it so.
She grimaces again. “The maester wants me to stop training. He’s concerned I will take a hit to the stomach.”
“Nonsense. You’re too good for that, and so is anyone who would spar against you.”
“And if you are wrong?”
“Then I’ll demand their head,” he says simply. “But do as you will.”
“There is no need to be surly,” she counters. “So many things could go wrong, this is no sacrifice at all.”
He grunts and says nothing, as if he does not see every sacrifice she has made and the toll it has taken. There are days it weighs on her so heavily he barely recognises her.
It does not improve as her pregnancy progresses. Women are quick to tell her she bears it well—her height and general good health mean that her stomach is not so cumbersome as it might have been, and she remains well—but there is always the warning that something could go wrong so easily. Winter babes are sickly. She is old to be a first time mother, and had taken so long to fall. She ought to do this or that, and not consider the other. And the constant, constant refrain that she cannot be trusted, that no matter her achievements she knows nothing of her own body, nothing of children, until she doubts herself so entirely that Jaime wishes he could run every advice-giver through with his sword.
A winter storm had just blown through when her time comes, and the world outside is covered in unblemished white snow. It is early morning, before breakfast, and for the first few hours she attempts to attend to what duties she can in her solar. Jaime is the only person she will allow in her rooms for more than a moment, though she mostly ignores his presence as she reads reports and grimaces from time to time. By the time a small luncheon has been delivered, cold meats and cheese she can nibble on when hunger strikes her, she has set aside the papers and taken to pacing the room. The pains are still infrequent enough that she refuses to admit them for what they are, until one has her exhale so sharply that Jaime rises for his chair.
“Should I call for the maester?”
“No!” she barks, shaking her head.
“You need not—”
“Jaime, leave it.”
She resumes her pacing. There is so much waiting; minutes between pains, hours upon hours of the rhythm. It is quite late in the evening when she doubles over; Jaime rushes to her side, catches her elbow to hold her steady.
“I can do this,” she says, teeth grinding together as she breathes through the pain. “I must do this.”
He does not stray far from her side after that, letting her hold onto him when the pain comes, pressing the heel of his hand against her back when she asks, and more time passes in this endless cycle of waiting. Moonlight streams through the window when she finally sinks into a chair, her knuckles white as she grips the table’s edge.
“Fetch the maester,” she says. “I am not certain that—” Her eyes close and she moans quietly, rocks her hips as the pain peaks. He can only watch. When it passes, she looks to him. “I am not certain I can do this.”
He kisses her temple briefly before hurrying from the room. The maester is expecting the summons, for he waits in the corridor, and when he enters the room he chides Brienne into undressing and then onto the bed so he may assist her more easily. She does not seem to mind—the pains are near constant now, and she merely holds onto Jaime’s arm as she bears down time and time again, no respite upon this battlefield. There is a scream, and then a sob of relief, and then—
The maester takes the babe away. Winter babes are sickly. So many things might go wrong.
“Let me see,” Brienne demands, as red-faced and sweaty as the aftermath of any battle.
“Now!” Jaime demands as her fingers tighten on his arm. He will give her this, at least.
The maester brings the wrapped bundle and Brienne reaches for it, letting out a sob as she pulls it close. The babe’s impossibly dark eyes are open and their lips parted, and they breathe.
“I only meant to clean him,” the maester says, “and call for a nursemaid.”
Him. A son. Jaime gives a choked sob of his own, reaches out to stroke the babe’s cheek even as he begins to root against his mother, taking to the breast with ease. He looks so small, cradled in his mother’s large hands—small and so delicate, and yet she holds him with such certainty.
“Thank you,” Brienne says, stalwart and certain, not looking up from the child in her arms, “but there was no need. He will stay with us, until we choose otherwise.”
The first few weeks are an ever-shifting balancing act as they find their feet. Advice is considered, and taken or discarded. Routines are made, and changed, and made anew. A nursemaid is used or not, depending on the time of day and Brienne’s other duties—servants have grown accustomed to delivering letters to the Evenstar and finding a babe on her breast, though she has refrained from bringing the boy to council meetings. But whatever else comes, good or bad, Jaime finally sees the woman he married, competent in this as in everything else, and unafraid to ask for help.
When the boy is a moon old, they take him for his first walk around the gardens of Evenfall. They had expected a babe as the flowers blossomed and buds filled the trees, a new life amidst new life. Instead they bundle their small child into heavy furs from the North and take him to the white-blanketed gardens; many of the flowers slumber and branches are bare, but the pines are evergreen and the hardy bushes still hold berries to feed the winter’s birds, bright red against the snow. Unexpected, and unconventional, but right.
Jaime watches as Brienne carries the boy to a bench, chatting softly to him as she does, and smiles softly before going to join them.