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I Mean To Steal Me That Woman

Chapter Text

"No."

"But I..."

"No. No! I absolutely will not allow it!"

"I ain't askin' your permission."

Jon groaned, leaning back into his chair and closing his eyes. He brought a hand up to rub at the throbbing in his temple. Betrayed by his black brothers, murdered and miraculously brought back to life. How? Why? He'd recently reunited with his sister only to find his brother had been taken prisoner. Now the Bolton Bastard amassed an army to the South while an army of undead marched from the North. Jon felt an ominous chill settling deep within his bones. He was so very tired.

Given the current state of the world it shouldn't have come as such a shock that his most trusted and loyal Wildling ally had formulated a mad plan of his own.

"You can't just steal Sansa's only sworn shield. Not now."

"I can and I will."

"She's a Southron lady," Jon argued, opening his eyes and trying his best to look sympathetic. I must appeal to his nature as a Free Man and hope this is merely some passing infatuation. "A Southron lady with Southron courtesies and Southron values. Southron loyalties. She is a knight in all but name. A kneeler since birth..."

"Aye. But kneelers don't fancy a woman so fierce. Not truly. She'll do well among my people. She's worthy in the eyes of my people. They'll welcome her gladly."

Perhaps I can delay this. Leave him think I plan to let him follow through. Jon sighed heavily. "What if you were to wait? There are wars to come and..."

"No!" Tormund met Jon's gaze over a horn of ale, his jaw set and determination in his eyes. "You said it yourself, boy. Ain't nothin' to greet us but darkness. When my end comes I don't want it muddied with regret. What coulda been. What shoulda been. I mean to steal me that woman, Jon Snow. Before another man has a mind to do the same."

Chapter Text

"He plans to steal her?!"

"Hush!" Jon peered down the long wooden table to where Brienne and Podrick sat breaking their fast, seemingly unaware of the conversation at hand. He lowered his voice to a whisper nonetheless. "Stealing women is a custom among the Free Folk. It means he intends to marry her."

Marry her? Sansa's head swam at the notion. She'd already suffered countless trials and tribulations, experienced more than her fair share of horrors and abuses at the hands of monsters, and had done so with all the grace and dignity she could possibly muster. The tides had finally turned in her favor. Now Sansa must worry some Wildling would make off with her first sworn shield in the dead of the night? "It's barbaric. No better than the Ironborn or those Dothraki savages Maester Luwin spoke of. You can't mean to allow him to follow through with this threat!"

"It's more complicated than that," Jon told her after a long silence. He chewed on his lower lip, obviously struggling to find the right words. "I......what I......when I was with......"

"What is it? What else aren't you telling me?"

"I......It's difficult to explain."

Sansa's eyes flickered to Brienne and Podrick briefly before settling on the red-headed Wildling seated across from them. He was shoveling heaping spoonfuls of porridge into his mouth, thick gray clumps clinging to his tangled beard or falling back into the bowl from whence they came. That turned Sansa's stomach enough, but not so much as the lustful way he licked his lips or his eyebrows danced if Brienne even took a breath in his direction. How had I not noticed this before?

"Sansa..."

"Lady Brienne fought off six Bolton men at once and scores more to see me safely to the wall."

"That is, in truth, part of what makes her so.....desirable..."

"She'll never be taken alive. Never. Your friend might well die trying."

Jon's smile was sad. "I know."

 

Chapter Text

The White Walkers and a massive army of wights could descend on The Wall at any moment. The Night's Watch sorely lacked in food, weapons and men. The odds were.....well, not really odds anymore. A siege would extinguish the few remaining black brothers with certainty. Their final watch had begun.

At least I get to spend some of the time I have left in the company of a beautiful woman. Edd chanced a look at her out of the corner of his eye. Dressed in what rags the Night's Watch could spare, hair loose around her face and cheeks pink from the cold, Sansa still maintained the elegance of a highborn lady. She is like a bright light in this dark and gloomy place.

"Your men fight well," Sansa told him, her eyes never leaving the training grounds below.

The Lady Brienne had taken to the grounds at midday, owing to the need to "toughen up" her dutiful squire a bit more before the ride south. Their sparring had caught the attention of nearby watchmen who, initially, scoffed or laughed at the female warrior. Once her prowess became evident, however, they had quickly picked up arms to practice. She's being kind. The only watchmen left are scared green boys and old men too stubborn to die. The Wildling men and women who remained at Castle Black following the mutiny had also joined in the drills. The worst of the Wildlings was leagues better than Edd's best man. Very kind indeed.

"Have you had much trouble with the Wildlings? Your order has fought them for thousands of years. Every child grows up hearing the stories and songs. Wildlings raping, raiding, stealing women....."

"Outside of a few drunken brawls they've caused little trouble. All were at Hardhome when.... it was attacked. They're people, just the same as us. They have the same needs and wants. Safety. Shelter. Food. To watch their children grow old. A sign of Spring."

"You sound like my brother," a small smile played on Sansa's lips. 

"I.... thank you."

"What of Tormund, though? What are his needs and wants? Is he an honorable sort?"

Tormund prowled around the outskirts of the fighting, nodding approval as steel met steel and barking out commands or words of encouragement. Edd quickly realized that most of his words were directed at Lady Brienne. "Woman! Watch your flank!" and "Woman! Nice block!" only increased the lady warrior's ferocity and the size of the grin spread across Tormund's face. I'm not the only one enjoying the presence of a...... beautiful woman? Hmm. A sheathe for every sword, I suppose.

 

 

Chapter Text

Davos was not much of fighter. Never had been. Brawls were a necessity for survival growing up in the bowels of King's Landing. Unless you were quick and quiet enough to avoid conflict. Davos had learned from a young age that what he lacked in size and strength he more than made up for in speed and stealth. He'd never had need of gaudy armor or a heavy sword. A good dark cloak and a sharp dagger was the mainstay of a smuggler's life.

Yet here he was, poking through the Night's Watch stores looking for, of all things, some gaudy armor and a heavy sword. I may not be a fighter, but at least I can look the part. Davos would require protection when traveling north seeking allies for the young Stark siblings. And the North is big and wild and bloody cold.

“How about this?” the new Lord Commander asked, holding up a slightly rusted and dented helm.

“Too big,” responded the Wildling known as Tormund. He barely glanced up from the sword he was sharpening.

Unfortunately the Night's Watch stores were in poor condition. The best of the supplies had already been distributed to the few remaining watchmen. They no longer had any brothers capable of forging new armor or arms – merely an apprentice of an apprentice or some such nonsense. It was disheartening. Perhaps we can persuade the Northern houses to send assistance to The Wall as well.

The storeroom door burst open, letting in a bone chilling gust of wind and snow, to reveal a looming figure. Brienne of Tarth.

She stood tall and proud as any knight, Davos would give her that, one hand firmly planted on the sword at her hip. Her narrowed eyes met his for one fleeting second before settling on The Lord Commander. “Might I have a word?”

Davos nodded in acknowledgment and made quickly for the open door. It was clear from their first encounter that the Lady of Tarth bore him no great love. He would give her no further cause to remove his head as she had with Stannis. That is in the past. We must work together regardless. For the future. I hope she begins to see that.

Brienne heaved a great sigh. “In private.” Her words were directed at Tormund, though she did not spare him even a glance.

“I'm leavin', woman,” Tormund's tone was as playful as Brienne's had been stern. He offered her many lingering glances.

There had been talk among the occupants of Castle Black, some of which had made its way to Davos' ear. The Wildling leader planned to “steal” the lady warrior. Davos had dismissed it as folly – some cruel joke at the lady's expense or a simple misunderstanding. Now that he saw them in close quarters he felt there to be some truth to that silly rumor. 

“She's got a commanding presence, that one,” Davos said, testing the waters as he and Tormund walked through the courtyard toward the mess hall.

“Aye.”

“Not bad in a fight either, so I've been told.”

“Aye.”

“I'd hate to see what she was capable of, should she feel threatened or...”

“If you've got somethin' to say, old man, say it and be done,” Tormund stopped walking and faced him, arms spread as if in challenge.

“Fine,” Not at all how I intended for this go. “Put an end to whatever bold scheme you have in mind to carry out. Alliances here are fragile at best. We need to strengthen those alliances, not destroy them. I ain't passing judgment on your.....preference for a particular kind of woman. Or the ways of your people. Truly, I'm not. Be cautious. A gentler approach may aid in gaining her trust and......affections.”

Tormund raised an eyebrow. “What would you do?”

“I'd stop calling her woman, for a start.”

“She is a woman. There's no shame in being a woman.”

The intensity in his voice made the old onion knight smile. “No, there's not. She's still bloody well likely to slit your throat all the same for it. Use her name. Ask her questions. Appropriate questions. Don't eye her like a hound eyes a bitch in heat.”

Davos thought he detected a hint of amusement in the Wildling's eyes and a twitch at the corners of his mouth.

Finally Tormund nodded. “I'll think on what you've said, old man. But I promise nothing.”

 

 

Chapter Text

When the defeat of Stannis and his men became glaringly apparent, Melisandre had panicked. Doubted her abilities and even her god. She'd fled alone and ashamed.

But the visions had not stopped. Her work was not done. A bloody war in the snow. Bolton banners being lowered from Winterfell. The Lord Commander. He too was slain and Melisandre left alone, ashamed and full of doubt.

Then a most wondrous event had occurred, at Castle Black, in the dead of the night. The Lord had bestowed upon her the greatest of his gifts - he had chosen and used her as an instrument in his grand plan. The young Lord Commander awakened as The Prince Who Was Promised.

Afterward? Nothing.

Melisandre continued to gaze into the depths of the roaring fire, as she had for hours beyond count already, praying to the The Lord of Light and pleading with him to send her a vision. A face. A place. The next step in this great battle. My Lord, please let your will be made known. Give me purpose so that I may carry out your plan for the future.

Nothing.

A soft knock on the door interrupted her meditation.“Mi'lady?”

“Come in.”

“I brought you some supper,” The Onion Knight, of course. “Mutton stew. Not half bad either. You really ought to eat something. We ride south at first light.”

“Leave it on the table.”

Ser Davos did as instructed, though they both knew it would remain there untouched.

He once tried to put a dagger in my heart and now he brings me stew. If Melisandre didn't feel so utterly lost and exhausted she might have found humor in that. He's the only one left who does not bristle or cower at the sight of me. And I've betrayed him all the same. The princess....

“You look unsettled.”

“I'm fine.”

“Have you seen something in your fires?”

“No. The Lord of Light shows me no visions. Sends me no signs. Not anymore.”

“Well,” Ser Davos paused to consider this news. “Might be he means to say there's nothing more to be seen.”

“What do you mean?”

“You set out to find your promised prince and spread word of the long night to come. You've done that. I'm not certain what else your lord can tell us that we don't already know. It didn't turn out as you first saw, but life doesn't always work out how we figure. This conversation is proof of that.”

He speaks true. If only others had as much faith as a man who claims to have none.

Jon Snow's rebirth had garnered awe and shock, yet few took seriously to her declaration that he was the promised savior. They distract themselves with petty squabbles and bizarre rumors when they should be preparing for the terrors that await. Earlier today she had overheard two men of The Night's Watch gossiping like old fishwives. Not of their once dead Lord Commander or of the imminent White Walker attack or even the situation at Winterfell. They spoke in hushed voices, giddy with excitement, about a plot to steal a woman. The woman called Brienne of Tarth. They said the wild man Tormund had put forth his intentions for all to hear. He would capture her for his own. Would cut down any man who so much as thought about bedding her. Fool. That beast of a woman will not tolerate such uncivilized behavior. She'll take off his head like....

That's when Melisandre noticed the imagine in the fire. Her mouth fell open in surprise. My Lord?  So small to start she thought it simply a trick of light played on her tired eyes. It grew, larger by the second, a swirl of bright colors and vivid details.

Red and yellow roses blooming in Spring?

 

Chapter Text

“Keep your eyes and ears always open, Pod,” Lord Tyrion had said, time and time again. “The smallest detail can change the tide one way or another. Information is power.”

Lady Brienne was a different sort. Not keen to put much stake in whispers or hearsay. She would demand proof. Podrick had spent the better part of their time at Castle Black trying to find that proof and tonight, as he prepared the horses for travel, it had found him.

Podrick wiped the sweaty palms of his hands nervously on his breeches then pushed open the heavy wooden door to their shared sleeping quarters. “My lady?”

Lady Brienne had busied herself packing up the meager belongings they had taken on the journey north. She didn't look up. “Podrick. Have the horses been tended?”

“They have.”

“Were you able to secure rations from the kitchens?”

“Some dried meat, hard cheese and bread. It will hold us a few days. Then it's back to rabbits and squirrels.”

“We'll make due. Did you see to Lady Sansa?”

“She's resting comfortably.”

“Good,” Lady Brienne closed and fastened the leather satchel. She straightened up, stretching her impossibly long arms, and looked him over for the first time. Her brow creased. “Was there something else?”

“I have news, my lady.”

“Well? Go on.”

“That Wildling fellow with the red beard? He....” Podrick took a deep breath and rushed on. Better to get this over with quickly. “There is a plot. I've heard it with my own ears. From his own mouth. He means to steal....”

“Sansa,” Lady Brienne finished for him, hands resting on her hips. She shook her head in disgust. “I knew it.”

Shortly after the letter from the Lord of Winterfell had arrived, Lady Brienne confided in Podrick her suspicions where the Wildlings were concerned. Their numbers had been severely depleted, leaving only a couple thousand capable of fighting. Thousands more now lived on the lands below The Wall – old, infirm or children. She was apprehensive and wondered if the Wildlings may attempt to make peace by returning Lady Sansa to her bastard husband.

“No. Lady Sansa is in no danger. He plans to.... he means to steal....”

“What? A horse? A wheel of cheese? What? Spit it out.”

I wish she drank as much as Lord Tyrion. Podrick swallowed with some difficulty. “You...”

Silence.

“My lady?”

“I'm not certain I've heard you correctly. Did you say the Wildling means to steal me? Me?”

“Yes.”

“Steal and kill me, more like. Better to get to Lady Sansa if I were dead. Tell me what was said. Leave nothing out.”

“Much of what was said is not befit for the ears of a lady.”

“Podrick....” her voice was low and threatening.

Gods have mercy on me. The young boy felt his cheeks growing hot. “I heard.....I heard the Wildling tell his men that you are the most beautiful creature he's ever laid eyes on. More beautiful than the She-Bear he....mounted.... a long time ago. He wants to take you for his wife. Thinks that you will give him the fight of his life before he shoves his big.....um, before he.....beds you. He hopes for many strong sons. Fiery daughters too. His men called him a teller of tall tales. They laughed. He....”

“They always laugh,” his lady muttered. She closed her eyes briefly.

Podrick thought she might be sick. “My lady?”

“Continue.”

“He became angry. Said if anyone so much as touched a hair on your fair head he would beat them bloody, cut off their.....important bits.....and feed them to the White Walkers. He plans to make good on his claim soon.”

“How soon?”

“I don't know....”

“And you believe it to be true?”

“True? No doubt you've noticed the way he stares at you. From the moment we rode through the gates of Castle Black he....”

“Of course I've noticed. I'm not an idiot.”

Podrick recalled suddenly the story she'd told him by the fire one night. Of her coming of age and the malicious jokes and pranks she had to endure. Of how she became known as Brienne the Beauty. Of her broken engagements. She worries this Wildling is of the same mold as those other men. She fears that he's not.

Chapter Text

After the second day of hard riding, while he sat alone by the night fire on the far side of camp, she came to him.

The clinking of bulky Southron armor gave away her approach. As did the crunch of freshly fallen snow beneath each purposeful step. The winter wind carried her scent too. The sweet scent of a woman mingled with oiled leather, sweat and horse.

The Crows called her Brienne the Beauty. A fitting title.

The Free Folk did not desire a woman of great beauty alone. They yearned for women who were fierce in battle, skilled hunters and likely to birth strong sons and daughters. Women who could endure the harsh climate and rugged terrain north of The Wall. Women willing to protect those who could not protect themselves. Following the destruction of Hardhome, the Free Folk severely lacked in capable women.

A fair number of his best fighting men had expressed an interest in Brienne the Beauty. Hundreds more would as well, when the remnants of the Wildling army joined Snow to prepare for battle. Most, Tormund figured, sought only a body to warm their bed. He could not begrudge them that simple pleasure. Others held bolder notions to be sure. They would squabble over the right to take her for their own. No doubt some would die – by the hand of a mightier opponent or the woman herself.

The night of her arrival at Castle Black, with much consideration and a belly full of ale, Tormund had formulated the perfect solution. He would be the first to make his claim known. He needn't truly steal her. Tormund Tall-Talker often shared stories with his comrades. This would be no different. He felt certain none would challenge his claim, thus preventing needless deaths, causing no harm to befall the woman and posing no risk to their alliance with Snow. He would do this for his people!

A few cups later and he had decided it was possible for him to steal the woman. She seemed likely to put up a hell of a fight and carried a big sword, but he was confident he could overpower her. If he desired her. Which he didn't, of course. Not in the slightest. It was simply a story.

By the time the ale was gone, Tormund had nearly convinced himself that he wasn't already in love with the woman.

Now he lifted his eyes to the endless sea of stars above, listening and waiting. The Thief burns bright in the Moonmaid. What a cruel joke the gods play.

“I've a matter to discuss, Wildling.”

Tormund envisioned her standing behind him in the moonlight, beautiful and untamed. The yellow strands of hair framing her face. The smoothness of her pale skin. The broadness of her shoulders. The hard muscles of her thighs. His flesh tingled.

“I said....”

“I heard you, woman,” Tormund rose slowly to his feet and turned toward her. His heartbeat increased and his stomach tumbled in a way he'd not grown accustomed to yet – the way it had the moment she rode through the gates of Castle Black. Use her name. The old man's words echoed in the back of his mind. “I heard you, Brienne.”

That took her by surprise. She blinked several times, looking as confused as if he'd addressed her in the Old Tongue. Perhaps he had.

“I pledged my service to Lady Sansa. I will keep her safe from danger and give my life for hers if necessary. You've sworn allegiance to her brother. We find ourselves allies, for a time, bound by duty and a common cause.”

Don't eye her like a hound eyes a bitch in heat. He focused on her face. Put all his energy into preventing his eyes from traveling downward. Tried to keep his gaze free of the primitive urges clouding his vision and pumping through his veins. The struggle was great. He failed miserably.

“Be that as it may, any threat to my lady remains a threat still,” Brienne's fingers curled around the hilt of her sword.

A fine weapon. Valyrian steel they say. Tormund wondered if it was passed down through the generations of her family, from warrior to warrior, as Snow's had once been. He wondered if she pried it from a dead man's hand after slitting his throat. He wondered, in earnest, if it belonged to a lover.

“I vowed to protect her from friend or foe alike.”

Tormund nodded. He continued to nod, the lovesick fool he was, until his preoccupied mind finally pieced together the direction this “discussion” had suddenly taken. There was a dull ache within his chest. His mouth fell open. “Are you mad, woman?”

“I will not sit by idly while you threaten the safety of my charge.”

“What threat am I to the girl?”

“You wish to remove me as Lady Sansa's sworn shield.”

“You ride south come morning on her order. Remember that.”

“I've not forgotten. I'll go, as my lady commands. In doing so I leave Lady Sansa alone and vulnerable,” Brienne had her sword drawn and the point pressed firmly to his throat in an instant. “You plot to return her to the Boltons.”

“No.”

“I know of the lies you spread and the plans you make.”

“I've done no such thing.”

“And your men?”

“No. We're loyal to Snow. Only Snow.”

Brienne's resolve wavered. As did her sword arm. Tormund felt a warm trickle of blood running down his neck.

“You mock me then?”

“Mock you?” Plots and lies and mockery? Madness! The woman is mad.

“Brienne the Beauty,” she spat. “The lumbering beast. You'll bed the wretched monster and have a laugh after. What a great joke.”

At that second she was no longer a fierce and powerful warrior. Her eyes exposed the deep pain, rejection and insecurity hidden beneath her heavy Southron armor. Tormund understood. He covered his own hardships and self-doubt with a blanket of fanciful titles and far-fetched stories. They were kin, in some strange way.

What could he say to make her believe she was no joke? That he would slay anyone who thought otherwise? What words could be said to express the affect, from first sight, her presence had on him? That he desired more than just her touch? That she would be his bright light during the long night?

“Woman,” was all Tormund could manage. Sometimes there are no words.

 

Chapter Text

She was a youthful girl again, gown swirling as she moved across the ballroom floor with a smile on her face. A girl who paused to consider that she might not be so different from other girls. A girl who dared open her heart to hopes and dreams. A girl who had been killed by deception and cruelty before she’d ever a chance to truly live.

Brienne hated the Wildling for taking her to that place and time – for putting in the shoes of a girl she thought dead and buried long ago. Brienne hated herself for not really hating him at all.

She stumbled back a few steps, haunted by those old memories, sword arm falling limply to her side. She was trembling. She found it hard to breathe. Get yourself together! He’s a man. Only a man. You’ve faced far worse. And a bear.

No man Brienne had faced, however, stared at her with the intensity of Tormund Giantsbane. Those who played games, showering her with compliments and talk of whisking her away to their castles, never had eyes so full of lust and longing and.......kindness.

Yes. There is kindness in his eyes. A kindness I had not expected to find in a Wildling. It was a kindness she had not seen since King Renly or Lady Catelyn. The Kingslayer had shown it in time. Lady Sansa as well.

Brienne allowed herself a moment to look over the Wildling. Really look at him. To look beyond his gruff exterior to the depths of what he was and what he could be. He watched her silently as she watched him, kind eyes curiously bright in the moonlight.

Tormund lacked in elegance, grace and the chiseled features of the men of legend and song. Tall, broad and muscular, with a mess of wild red hair and those expressive eyes, he was attractive in his own right. Perhaps not in appearance so much as in presence. There was a magnetism to him. Something primal. He was blunt in speech and quick to anger and quicker still to share a laugh over meat and mead. He wore his emotions as most wore their house sigil – proud and on the surface for all the world to see. He could be a loyal friend. A fierce protector. A passionate lover. Everything Tormund did he would do in extremes, to be certain.

That freedom of emotion intrigued Brienne nearly as much as it terrified her. Sometimes she imagined, with a faint smile, how the Northern man might react to seeing the hot sandscapes of Dorne for the first time or attending a Grand Tournament in the Capital City. In recent days, she had imagined his reaction to the vile Bolton forces and the many colorful ways he might dispose of them. Those images always turned into the painful ways he may die in the upcoming battles and kept her up late into the night.

Brienne felt a connection to this man. It was much like an invisible hand pushing her constantly in his direction. It wasn’t due to his stares or obvious flirtations, nor their similarities in stature or fighting capabilities. No. It had happened immediately and without warning the moment their eyes met in the courtyard of Castle Black. Brienne didn’t understand it. She had felt nothing like it before. She had suspected if she ignored him and distanced herself that it would go away. She was wrong. She could deny it no longer.

Brienne sheathed her sword, though her mind screamed for her to keep it out and defend herself. Her legs wanted desperately to turn and flee. Her throat threatened to close before any words could escape. Her heart won out in the end, bruised and battered thing it was.

“Women should not be……stolen,” The term left a bitter taste in her mouth. “They are not property to be claimed.”

“Property?” Tormund scoffed. “Does a lordly Southron father not want to marry his daughters off like a piece of property? Marry them to men who would claim them only as a means to claim their gold and lands and soldiers? By all the laws of your Southron Kings?”

“It’s not the same.”

“Aye. It’s not. A Free Folk man claims a woman because he wants her. Needs her. He becomes a better man and his clan grows stronger because of her. Not gold or lands or soldiers.”

“If she should resist? What then?”

“He expects her to resist."

“Why?”

“She has that right. She should challenge him every step of the way,” he took a step toward her, as if to demonstrate his point. And another. “A man must prove his determination to win her. He must prove his strength and courage. His cunning. Only then will she decide if she’ll accept what he has to offer.”

“What could he possibly have to offer her?”

“Not flowers or jewels. Not fancy armor or weapons,” Tormund nodded to the sword at her waist. Oathkeeper. His last few steps closed the distance between them. He placed a hand on each of her shoulders. Those intense, wild eyes bore into hers. “He is but a simple man. He has little to offer outside of promises.”

“What promises?” Her heart hammered painfully in her chest.

“He would promise to fight by her side. To slay her enemies and shield her friends. To bed no other. To teach their sons and daughters to hunt and fish and wield an axe. To be equals in all matters, great and small.”

“Oh.”

“Would that be enough to win him a Southron woman?”

“It would,” Brienne swallowed. She wondered if this was the part where he would throw her over his shoulder and carry her off. To where? Perhaps he would drag her by her hair, kicking and screaming, to his tent. How does one know when they’ve been claimed? Will he tell me? Is there some sort of ceremony? Or will we have to….ummm….. Given the desire in his eyes he would likely take her here, in the snow and under the stars, beside the flickering fire. Oh, gods.

“Then I ask you now, woman,” his voice was soft. “Brienne the Beauty, in truth. Do you yield?”

She did.

Chapter Text

Something is wrong.

Jaime watched Brienne go, eyes lingering on her retreating form. He continued to watch long after she disappeared within a sea of red and gold Lannister soldiers and Freys in ridiculous hats. He felt......worried? Disappointed? Saddened? He couldn't quite place the odd churning in the pit of his stomach or the tightening in his chest. Her voice echoed in his mind, so cold and formal and tinged with what sounded like regret. No. I'm making it out to be more than it is.

He hadn't been deluded enough to think their time apart would leave them unchanged. He hadn't expected them to return to the way it was when they'd finally arrived in King's Landing. He hadn't thought it to be a joyous reunion filled with jokes and stories. In truth Jaime didn't know what he had hoped to happen when he met Brienne again, only that the stiff conversation and hallow words shared in his tent did not come close.

She tried to return my sword to me! Why? That bothered Jaime most of all. It was as if she'd slapped him in the face with his own golden hand. Hadn't he made it clear that it belonged to her? He wanted her always to have a piece of him with her - to protect her as she would protect the Stark girls. Was that so wrong? They were friends. More than friends, given what they had suffered and survived together.

“That was a quick fuck.”

“We were talking.”

“Call it what you want. I just know if I was alone with that one, we'd be fucking.”

“Of course you would,” Jaime rolled his eyes at the Sellsword. Small wonder he got on so well with Tyrion.

“While you were busy doing your talking, I did some of my own.”

“Oh? This should be good.”

“I ran into Podrick Payne. ”

“That's a surprise.”

“I figured that little shit would be dead long ago. Says the lady has been training him twice a day. It's working too. He's only half bad with a blade.”

“Podrick's a good lad,” a ghost of a smile formed on Jaime's lips. Brienne had been so against having a squire and yet she's taken the time to train him to fight. Her duty knows no bounds.

“That's not all. The boy went on and on about his lady's Wildling lover.”

“Her what?”

“Wildling lover,” Bronn repeated, putting unnecessary emphasis on the lover portion and suggestively raising his eyebrows.

“Don't be ridiculous.”

“He's some giant savage with a red beard. Big axe. Bigger cock. Two hands. The complete Wildling package.”

“Now I know you're toying with me.”

“Wish that I was. They're bloody well in love, to hear the boy tell it.”

“Enough.”

“Take it easy on the woman next you see her. Those long Northern nights are mighty cold and lonely. I wouldn't fault her for finding a man willing to warm her bed. I'm guessing she.....”

“I said enough!” Jaime very nearly screamed, suddenly seeing an ugly shade of red that belonged to no Lannister. How dare he speak of her that way! The hand that was still his clenched into a first at his side. “Why don't you go....dig a trench or something.”

“That's not likely to happen.”

“Go!”

“Fine,” Bronn shrugged and spit on the ground before walking away. Always the one to have the last word, he turned and called out over his shoulder. “Shoulda fucked her when you had the chance.”

Yes. Jaime realized in that moment the true depth of his feelings for Lady Brienne of Tarth. I should have.

 

Chapter Text

“It's not as big as yours.”

“Gilly!”

“What?”

“You're being rude! Size isn't all that matters. I'm sure Jon's is more than adequate.”

“Does adequate mean big?”

“No. It means that Jon's is likely to meet your needs regardless of size.”

“So yours is still bigger?”

“Well.....yes. As far as castles go, surely,” Samwell reluctantly admitted, shooting an apologetic glance in the direction of their traveling companions.

The young squire Podrick simply nodded and smiled politely. The statuesque Lady Brienne, however, payed them no attention at all. Her lips were set in a hard line and her eyes fixed on the gates of Winterfell.

To say the last few weeks had been interesting would be an understatement.

After leaving Horn Hill in the dead of night, Sam realized attending the Citadel was no longer an option. His father's men would pursue them, starting at Oldtown, and not quit until they were captured. Once returned, Gilly and baby Same awaited a fate far worse than kitchen work and reading lessons. Sam feared what his father had planned for him - the pathetic excuse of a son he was. It is sad indeed when a white walker threat and life on The Wall provides more security than your family home.

Sam had used the last bit of gold in his pocket to buy an old turnip cart and a half blind horse. Traveling throughout The Reach was the easiest part. Most there were too preoccupied gathering crops to pay any mind to those passing by. The nearer the King's Road they came, the harder it was to pass unnoticed. Upon reaching The Riverlands, an area hardest hit by recent battles, Sam was all but certain they were going to die.

And we nearly did. The bandits came out of nowhere – when the sun was high in the sky – crazed from war and starvation and whatever else turned man into beast. Sam barely had enough time to stop the cart and reach for his sword before they were set upon. One grabbed what little remaining food they had, another yanked Gilly and the babe from the cart and a third pointed a dagger at Sam's heart.

In a blur of steel the bandits disappeared as quickly as they had appeared. When the dust settled Sam found himself staring at the stern, freckled face of a lady knight. Brienne of Tarth and her squire Podrick Payne. She demanded to know who they were, where they were going and why they had chosen the most dangerous route possible with a baby in tow. Sam could think of no reason to lie to the woman who had just saved their lives. He told her everything – his ambition to become a Maester, Gilly's true upbringing as a Wildling, his father's cruelty and pursuit, his intent to return to Jon and The Night's Watch. He stammered and rambled and would have kept on talking if the lady had not silenced him with a wave of her hand.

“I met Lord Tarly once,” she had told him.

Judging by the bitterness in her voice, Sam knew it to be true. I doubt father took kindly to seeing a woman in armor and wielding a sword.

Brienne's eyes had flickered between the three of them for a few moments before she heaved a great sigh. “We will accompany you to the northern camp and see you safely to Snow, I swear it.”

“Northern camp? Jon's no longer at The Wall?”

“No. Much has changed since you were last at Castle Black.”

That was all Lady Brienne would say, despite how often Sam poked and prodded her with questions during their travels.

A few leagues outside of Winterfell they had been approached by soldiers from The Vale of Arryn. The Boltons had been defeated, they reported. Ned Stark's bastard lead the attack himself. Thousands were dead or gravely injured. The Starks had finally retaken their family home. Lady Sansa eagerly awaited the lady knight's return. The soldiers offered to finish the task at hand – to see Gilly and baby Sam to the Wildling settlement and Sam himself directly to The Wall.

Lady Brienne had shook her head, frown only deepening.“They have need to speak first with Jon Snow. Did the boy survive?”

“He did.”

Thank the gods!

So here they were, flanked by Vale soldiers, as the the gates of Winterfell slowly opened.

Sam was exhausted from the journey, sick with worry and scared of what was still to come. If Jon has truly deserted the Night's Watch, he should be a dead man. Why haven't they killed him? Why is he fighting the battles of men? What of me? With Grenn and Pip and the rest already dead, and Jon a deserter, what do I have at Castle Black to go back to?

The courtyard was littered with broken weapons, sheilds and fallen Bolton banners. Blood was splattered here and there along the ground, steps and lower walls and still in other places blood really ought not be. Men loitered around attempting to clean the mess and restore some sense of order. Most were men of The Vale or Wildlings, though Sam could pick out the sigils of a few northern houses among them. Very few.

Sam helped Gilly and baby Sam from the cart once the gates closed behind them. They huddled close together, taking in all that was left of Winterfell. It might have been nice once. In a bleak and ancient way. Like The Wall.

Lady Brienne nodded a silent thank you to their escorts and those who came forward to relieve them of their mounts. She turned to Sam and opened her mouth to speak, but a sudden shout cut her off.

“Woman!”

Tormund, looking worse for wear, stepped out from a group of men sifting through a pile of discarded armor. He crossed the courtyard in a rush. His nose was most definitely broken (in at least three different places, the budding Maester observed) and his left eye nearly swollen shut. Dark purple bruises and gashes covered much of his face. Under it all Tormund was paler than Sam could ever remember – paler than even a man from Beyond The Wall should be, paler than when he'd been poked full of arrows at Castle Black and paler still than when he'd returned from the massacre at Hardhome. Sam's stomach turned as wondered what had happened within these castle walls.

“Woman,” Tormund said again, his voice rough as if it too were battle scarred. He grinned nonetheless. “You live.”

“As do you,” Brienne frowned and tilted her head to one side. She bit her lip.“Your face....”

“A scratch,” the Wildling grabbed the Lady of Tarth by the shoulders and pulled her into a tight embrace.

Well, that was....unexpected. Sam looked to Gilly, whose wide eyes and open mouth probably mirrored his own.

Brienne's body stiffened. She did not lift her her arms to embrace him back. Her face flushed bright crimson.  The lady knight....smiled?

She finally smiles! Sam felt his lips curving up into a smile of his own as he watched them. It suits her. She's beautiful, but more so when she smiles.

 

Chapter Text

Sandor knew the time he had spent with Brother Ray and his flock of sheep had changed him. It was difficult for someone not to be changed when they were driven back from the brink of death and given a second chance at life.

A chance I don't bloody deserve. Or want. He had been ready to die for a very long time. Sandor couldn't recall how long exactly, but figured he'd made amends with the inevitable as a young boy when the flesh had melted from his face. He'd welcomed death at every opportunity in his pathetic life since – each time he picked up a blade to fight, each time he carried out a grim Lannister order, each time he closed his eyes at night. Instead this fearlessness served him well and, quite ironically, kept him alive. Combined with his natural brute strength, blinding rage and deep hate he was a force to be reckoned with. He was as ferocious as a mad dog. A filthy beast. He was simply, as the people whispered, a smaller version of his brother. That truth had sickened him. If he was a braver man he might have ended it himself.

He had asked the Stark girl to end it. Sandor had grown fond of her in their travels. Saw a little bit of himself in her. Couldn't help but grin as she practiced with her tiny sword in hope of slaying a list of grown men five times her size. He had been on that list. As he lay broken and dying he had asked her to make good on it. Sandor could protect her no more. He planned at least to give the gift of crossing a name off her stupid list. Better her than some thief passing through. Better to look into her eyes as the darkness came. And she'd left him begging and bleeding on that rock all the same. The little shit.

Brother Ray had found him at some point, barely breathing and covered in maggots and flies, and was determined to nurse him back to health. Half a year that had taken. Sandor vaguely remembered pleading with Ray several times to end the suffering. To bring on the sweet release of death he so desperately craved. And Ray had left him begging and bleeding in that bed all the same. The fool.

When his wounds had finally healed he awoke not as The Hound but as Sandor. Gone was the rage always bubbling right below of surface of his being. Gone was the hate that twisted his heart and chewed away at his mind. Gone was the need to hurt others as he had been hurt, to relish in their pain all the while secretly wishing one had the skill to put a mad dog down. Sandor wanted to believe Brother Ray's kind words. He wanted to believe the gods had a plan for him. He wanted to believe he had changed enough to make amends for the terrible things he had done. Mostly, he wanted to believe that happiness, in some form, was within his reach.

Yet Brother Ray and his followers were dead. The Stark girl was likely dead too, raped and murdered and left in a gutter somewhere to rot. Sandor lived to see another day. Damn Ray and his gods. Damn that little girl.

Try as he might to fight it, The Hound had returned. A bruised and altered beast, but a beast nonetheless.

Sandor found himself a member of a new flock. The Brotherhood without Banners. They were an odd assortment of outlaws, disgraced knights, sellswords and other unsavory characters. The perfect sort of company for a dog. They had sought to kill him once upon a time and to no avail. Their god, The Lord of Light, still had plans for Sandor they said.

All these fucking gods with all these fucking plans. There were no gods, he was sure of that more than ever.

Still, he'd accompanied The Brotherhood north, joined himself to their cause of ridding the world of the dangers from beyond The Wall and promised to fight the Great Other who opposed their Lord of Light. He'd done so not to serve their imaginary god or to make peace with those he wronged or to earn glory and gold (though he wouldn't turn away gold if it were offered). Sandor rode north clinging only to the hope that there existed a monster beyond The Wall capable enough to finally put The Hound to rest. If nothing else, the cold would eventually take him. There was comfort in that.

Then he saw her as they approached the new bastard King of the North. The little bird. Alive and well and with fire in her hair and eyes. The bright smile she granted him and the softness of her voice as she explained his true worth to her bastard brother. A woman grown. Every second he stood in her presence a little more of The Hound melted away. Perhaps all roads had brought him to that moment. Perhaps he had something to fight and live for after all – to protect her, as he had attempted to protect her sister, from the so-called long night to come. Perhaps she would sing for him again before he left for battle.

With a hesitant nod the bastard King accepted the Brotherhood's service and Sandor's heart had known purpose and the briefest touch of happiness.

In the blink of an eye it was gone, when Sandor had noticed the two figures on either side of the little bird. The Bitch of Tarth, more man than woman, who had beaten him bloody and neglected to finish the deed. Littlefinger with his beady eyes and knowing smirk, one hand stroking at the pointed beard on his chin. Both whispered warnings in the little bird's ear night and day, provided guards to follow her everywhere and to keep him at a distance. They looked all the more smug for it.

So he did what he always did - drowned his sorrows in ale. Bad habits were as hard to kill as he was, it would seem. Days and cups beyond counting later Sandor felt that old rage stirring in his gut. He needed to yell at someone. He needed to hit someone. He needed to be yelled at and hit in return, until Brother Ray's influence was purged from him completely and he held no memory of kindness or hope or a caged bird singing.

Despite the late hour, the Great Hall of Winterfell was filled nearly to capacity. The Brotherhood was present in spades, drinking and singing merrily. I wish them no ill will. Knights of the Vale sat around swapping “war stories” from the single battle they'd fought in the last ten years. None would put up much of a challenge. Hardened northern men sat around loudly discussing the Pricks of the Vale and their foolish tall tales. Now, them I like.

Sandor had all but given up when a tuft of blonde hair in the far corner caught his eye. Yes. That cunt will do nicely.

His head swam as he rose from his place on the wooden bench and his body swayed as he staggered in her direction. A couple of the more daring men stood and reached out to steady him as he passed, telling him to return to his bed and sleep, but Sandor shrugged away from them with ease and stumbled onward to the cunt's corner.

She was not alone. She sat with Wildlings by the look of their tattered furs and uncombed beards. Five or six of them at best guess (he lacked both the patience and ability to count at this stage of drunk). He'd heard talk among the soldiers that the woman had been claimed and bedded by a Wildling, never dreaming it could actually be true. No. They had said she was “stolen”. Whatever the fuck that means.

“Brienne of Fucking Tarth!” he bellowed, flopping down in the empty space beside her. She didn't turn or acknowledge him in any way, though her spine was stiff and straight as an arrow. “Didn't expect to see me again, I'll wager.”

“No, I hadn't.”

“I suppose you thought me dead.”

“I did.”

“Well, I'm not,” Sandor told her needlessly, voice dripping with contempt. He noted the crease in her brow and her lips pressed together in a hard line. In this light she was far less intimidating than she had been atop that mountain in the Riverlands. “So far as I see it, you owe me another go.”

“What? I do not.”

“I say you do.”

“You've been permitted to stay here at the request of Lady Sansa. I will not violate her wishes by.....”

“Fuck Sansa,” he scoffed dismissively, as much as those words hurt to say. His leaned in close to her ear and whispered the kind of whisper that wasn't a whisper at all. “Fuck your duty and fuck your honor, too. You and me. Right here for all I care. Let them watch. Let your halfwit squire watch, as he did before, and might be this time his lady finishes a man off good and proper. Might be I.....”

“Leave us,” growled a Wildling sitting across the table from them. “Or you'll be made to leave."

“Who's this? Your Wildling lover?”

“That's none of your concern,” she sputtered, somehow managing to appear horrified, embarrassed and furious at the same time.

“Leave us,” the red bearded man repeated, voice low and menacing.

“Can't say I really blame you,” The Wildling was a big fellow, no doubt as strong and stubborn and stupid as an ox, but Sandor had lived in the shadow of The Mountain all his life. He didn't scare so easily. “After a life of fucking snarks and grumkins, a bitch like this one must be a welcome a sight.”

Hands were on Sandor then, strong ones, rough and unlike the hands that had initially tried to usher him to his sleeping quarters. More soon joined, lifting him to his feet and dragging him from the hall in a blur of dirty furs and bitter insults. He resisted, as much as he could with a belly full of ale dulling his senses and reflexes, the woman's protests ringing through the stone corridors of Winterfell.

They dumped him face first into a pile of snow in the courtyard. A swift kick connected with his ribs, followed closely by a second and a third, leaving him gasping painfully for breath. Sandor struggled to his knees and fumbled blindly for his sword. It wasn't there. They must have striped it from him on the way out.

A hand reached down, fingers tangling in his hair and yanking his head back. A powerful punch landed on his jaw and then his cheek.

“Stop!”

Hard blows came one after another. He bit his tongue and tasted blood. There was the unmistakable crunch of his nose breaking. A hit to his temple had him seeing stars.

“Stop! That's enough!”

The Wildling let out an angry snarl before releasing his grip and stepping back.

“Coward,” Sandor spat a mouthful of blood and a broken tooth onto the snow at the Wildling's feet. “Finish it. Go on. You want to. You know you do. I know you do. Or have the woman do it. She hits harder, if you were wondering. Do it. What are you waiting for? Do it!”

The Wildling would have for certain, judging by the madness in his eyes, had the woman not been there.

“Tormund,” she said his name softly, placing a gentle hand on his shoulder. They shared a look in the moonlight. At once the beast inside the wild man was calmed.

“End it,” Sandor pleaded. Memories flooded his mind in a great rush. The girl with her tiny sword. Brother Ray with his booming laugh. The little bird with her beautiful song. They had been the ones to calm him. The Hound. The filthy beast. All he had left were memories. Memories are shit compared to a sword or a laugh or a song. “Please.”

And Brienne and Tormund left him begging and bleeding in the snow all the same.

Chapter Text

In his mind's eye Bran flew over The Battle for The Dawn. Man and boy, raven and wolf, the embodiment of past, present and future.

Jon had escaped the hordes of undead, wielding Lightbringer, the Dragon Queen and her children by his side. They approached the Night King and now the end was upon them. Or is it the beginning? I should be there.

Bran was drawn instead to the expansive field of darkness where the true heroes of this war had fought and died. He soared overhead, seeing their faces float up and knowing them all as well as his own. There are so many. His uncle Benjen. The Kingslayer and The Imp. The Hound. Thousands of Dothraki Blood Riders. Sam and Edd of The Night's Watch. The Crannogman. Nymeria, his sister Arya's direwolf, and her entire pack. Grey Worm and an army of Unsullied. Four of Prince Oberyn's bastard daughters. The old Onion Knight.

Among the corpses of both friend and foe, amid ice and fire, the last two warriors battled on. There was an essence of magic to the way they moved, covered in blood and ash, enemy after enemy falling to his axe or her sword.

Fluid and seamless, as if of one body.

Tactful and adept, as if of one mind.

Passionate and protective, as if of one heart.

A White Walker stalked closer, unnoticed until his blade plunged deep into the side of Tormund Giantsbane. The Wildling's cry was muted by the howling wind, yet Brienne of Tarth appeared to hear him all the same. She pivoted toward them with Valyrian steel raised high above her head. Then the lady warrior brought down her sword hard and the White Walker shattered into a million tiny pieces.

Ice. Father's voice echoed loud in Bran's ears. Winter is coming.

Brienne dispatched the final few wights with new found vigor, though it bought precious little time. More scurried from the shadows - a massive legion armed with only coldness and death.

“Woman,” Tormund struggled to his feet, breathing heavily, a hand pressed to his wounded side. Dark blood seeped through leather and fur and from between his fingers. He smiled at her, tender and full of adoration.

His woman shook her head, unwilling to resign herself to the cruel fate that lay before them.

Time stopped the moment they embraced, lips meeting in a rough and desperate kiss. The first and the last.

Tormund and Brienne carried on, side by side, until the enemy's numbers swelled beyond measure. He fell first and without any regret. She fell soon after, her final thoughts lingering on that shared kiss.

Family. Mother's proud voice replaced Father's. Duty. Honor.

When the snows clear and the grass turns green, their sacrifice will be remembered. Not in stories and songs. By the old gods. Bran saw it in the distance, on the cusp of what was and what would be, even as their bodies lay broken and bloodied on the battlefield. Red and yellow roses will bloom here in Spring. And in all the Springs to come.