Master of Men All

In the end, whose power finally ruled in Westeros? A very AU Game of Thrones one-shot FOR ALL THE NARNIANS!

~:~:~

"...Crowns are for the valiant, sceptres for the bold!

Thrones and powers for mighty men, who dare to take and hold!

Nay! Said the Baron, kneeling in his hall,

Iron – cold Iron – is master of men all!

Iron out of Calvary is master of men all!"

(Cold Iron, Rudyard Kipling)

~:~:~

VERY IMPORTANT:

A/N 1 ~ For the Narnians: if you haven't read GoT, Do Not do so because of this fic.

A/N 2 ~ For everyone else: if you like GoT and GRR Martin's world, DON'T READ THIS. And don't leave me flames complaining about it, because I did warn you.

A/N 3 ~ A more minor AU point is that I have made Arya Stark older than she is in the books.

Warning: Theology!

Disclaimer: I wouldn't want Westeros to belong to me...

~:~:~

"The prisoner!"

The guards spoke, saluted and stepped back. The prisoner, who had once been Ser Jaime Lannister, the Golden Knight, the Warden of the West, first a member and then the Captain of the Kingsguard, was left standing alone before the Iron Throne.

He had slain the man who had sat on that throne. He had sat there himself. He had seen half a dozen Kings and King's Hands sit there. It was with an odd sense of detachment that Jaime looked up at the new king of Westeros.

The bastard son of Rhaegyr Targaryen and Lyanna Stark looked back at him.

Strange, said the detached bit of his mind. Strange that the Starks, who could not lie or deceive or connive at anything, even to save their lives – most especially to save their lives – should have managed to keep that one so dark. That no-one, no scheming Lannister, no intrigue-hunting courtier, and most of all not the insanely jealous fool of Robert Baratheon, had ever, ever suspected. The ridiculous thing was that the Starks were so straightforward they had probably never had any satisfaction from pulling the wool over an entire continent's eyes; had probably suffered agonies over each day's deception.

Somewhere off to one side, a Maester or scribe or other worthless official had begun reading something out, seemingly about what 'the prisoner' had been charged with. It wasn't worth listening to.

Jaime focused on the man on the throne instead. A vague tinge of annoyance, at himself, not at any reluctantly deceptive Stark, crept into his mind. He had seen the bastard, as he had been then! Kept carefully out of the way, getting drunk with the men-at-arms on the lower tables of the feasts every night of that awful royal visit to Winterfell! And then there had been Tyrion! Who had practically struck up a friendship with the boy! Tyrion, who had been bright, clever, whose skill had lain in his mind not his sword arm, and even he hadn't guessed!

At the memory of Tyrion, Jaime frowned. For it had been with his – encouragement? Kindness? Friendship? Jaime couldn't think of a word that precisely summed up Tyrion's dealings with the Stark children; but his involvement, anyway, that had triggered all that followed! That had led to this! The King on the Iron Throne, and himself the prisoner!

Or maybe that was unfair on his dwarfed, neglected brother. For behind the King, were the Men Without Fear. His gaze flicked involuntarily to the people about the Throne, but none of the Men Without Fear stood there. Of course they would not be there! Jaime scoffed at himself. What business of theirs was the final condemnation of a ruined prisoner? They would be out in the city somewhere, or in the ruined godswood, or even off out in the countryside – free, a small pathetic stab in his mind put in before he crushed it fiercely – walking and declaiming as they did, without fear.

The Men Without Fear. It was strange, as strange as the King on the Iron Throne, that of all the things these unknown men did not have – like power or weapons or land or money or even any instinct of self-preservation – that they should be known by the absence of a particular emotion.

But it was the first thing apparent when you saw them. Not only that they were usually in some place any man with sense would have avoided like greyscale – but something about them. Without Fear. Something in their eyes, a clarity and certainness before which … Jaime's mind shuddered away from the memory.

No-one knew where they had come from. Only that they had appeared in the north, without fear and with the tidings of their One God. One God who was in some way Three as well – Jaime hadn't really grasped the nonsense, then. The news of the Men and their absence of fear had travelled faster than any particulars of what they had to say, at least in as far as it reached Ser Jaime Lannister's ears. Not that he had then had much time to spare for thinking about it, the harassed commander of the Lannister forces around King's Landing.

No-one in the midst of three bonfires bothers much with the sparks from a tinder box. But the least spark from a tinder box may yet start a wildfire – and no-one can ignore those. The Men Without Fear travelled south, talking, declaiming on highway and byway, and people listened to them. At first, the rumours were only of the sort of silly people who listened to any spouting quack along the roads. But then came the news that was impossible: the Men had turned aside from the kingsroad and gone up into the Mountains of the Moon to the bandit tribes who threatened the Vale. That should have been the end of them. Had not the Men no weapons? No guards?

No fear either. Jaime could not quite forget the face of the young messenger who had stood before him with the news. The boy had twisted his gloves to and fro to match his anxious face. "They're following them," he'd said. "The bandits. Almost one and all. Because … they say they have no fear."

It didn't matter what sense you made of those tangled pronouns. It didn't make sense. The Men Without Fear and their One God had spread like a sea. Whatever anyone did to them, it only seemed to spread faster. They had been denied a crossing at the Twins – they had sat outside the gates and preached and prayed until the Freys had grown sick of it and let them through. They had been forbidden the castle at Riverrun – they had gone out into the fields by the river and most of the castle had followed them out to listen. A Lannister-allied raiding party had killed two of the Men, somewhere south of the Twins – two more of them had apparently gone back to the raiding party's camp that very evening and carried right on proclaiming. That particular fact came with the further news that Jaime had now lost much of the raiding party. It had joined the Men Without Fear and declined to take further instructions from the Lannisters.

At this point, Jaime had rather lost track of them. In the far, far south of Westeros, news came that Danaerys Targaryen had landed, and was moving to join her nephew. In King's Landing, Cersei heard the news in silence – and killed herself that afternoon. There had been nothing left between the two of them, not of a romantic nature, not since she had all too truly suspected him of helping Tyrion to escape. But she had still been his sister, and for the sake of sibling-ship Jamie wished she had picked a slightly neater method than stepping off the battlements.

Had she remembered Bran Stark falling?

He had slain men in battle and council, seen a thousand mangled remains of those who had once lived and loved, but Jaime's mind shuddered away from the memory of that one body lying broken on the ground.

He had had no time then to grieve or lament over much; barely time to arrange a hasty burial. He had had a war on his hands, and an infant king without guiding maternal hand on the throne, and a vast approaching enemy. Not to mention, of course, the day-to-day ferments and dissents and treacheries that bubbled up everyday in the pressure cooker of King's Landing. This! That! The other! And when the Faith Militant had finished whinging down his ear each day, as it seemed they had been wont to do with Cersei and then expected to do with him, they always wound up by complaining about the Men Without Fear. What was he supposed to do about them?! They had the gods – whinge there!

This had earned him some fairly black looks and muttered warnings, along with the new and completely irrelevant fact that in her Scorched Earth policy of advance, Danaerys Targaryen was rounding up the Men and anyone who wouldn't deny supporting them, and putting them to her dragons.

Jaime rather envied the neatness of that solution, as a rule in general for dealing with priests if you wanted absolute honesty. But lacking dragons, he hadn't been in a position to try it. Lacking dragons, lacking dragons... that had seemed to be the key feature of his position, day after day, as the Targaryens crept nearer.

Nearer, nearer … and somehow, lacking dragons, he had been meant to be stopping them. Every moment of every day had been taken up with plans and strategies – and the hearing of reports into how they had failed. Jaime had grown to dread his morning attendance on the king's inspection of the main battlements. One day there was going to be the smoke rising on the horizon, and then nothing would have been left to save them.

It had been after one of these nerve-racking and tortuous progresses, made particularly so because Tommen had wanted to converse with the guardsmen on inappropriate subjects like how their families were, that Jaime had dropped onto a bench for a moment's pause, and woken hours later, stiff and aching and phantom hand prickling with pins, to a squire lad shaking him. "They've come! They've come!"

Only one thing had sprung to his mind: "Dragons?!"

"No! The Men from the North."

B****y Rains of Castamere! Dragons might have been better. Jaime had flung himself down the stairs and into the council chamber to take his seat as Commander-in-Chief beside the king, and laid his sword bare on his knees. It hadn't seemed to rattle the four Men who filed in before him. They brought a message: "from the Lord Commander of the Northern Army of Westeros-"

"From the what-?!" Jaime had scoffingly interrupted.

From the Lord Commander of the Northern Army of Westeros, to the Commander of the Lannister forces of King's Landing, apparently. And without turning a hair that they were completely setting at naught the king and any claim of royal power, the Men laid out their message. An army had been raised in the North, had almost raised itself; an army of those fighting men who heard the Men Without Fear, and in that fearlessness had taken up arms to restore "justice, order and the rule of law." There was a great deal more meaningless tripe like that, but the gist of it was simple. Jon Snow, commander and unacknowledged ruler of the North, was advancing on King's Landing and had sent these four chaplains of his to offer aid and alliance to the Lannisters against the approaching Targaryen menace.

The Lannisters of all men had heard that one before. And there was only one answer. As Tyrion had once so neatly summarised: Heads. Spikes. Walls.

And it had been then, Jaime could see now, that the disaster had begun. For he had given the order and failed to notice the expression on Tommen's face. For a moment, Jaime spared a moment out of his seething memory of the past to glance at the ex-boy king sitting in his place on the dais, listening while the herald or whoever it was droned on. Tommen spared no glance for the prisoner. He simply sat there, staring up at the Iron Throne and the King on it. For Tommen too had joined this One God – and how!

The Northern Army of Westeros had apparently decided that, if it was going to go about beheading their chaplains, the establishment at King's Landing was a hindrance to "justice, order and the rule of law." Determined, if not vast, it brushed aside the few, scanty troops Jaime had been able to spare to it as it had all other opposition it had met before, and laid siege to the city. That is: the army had encircled and cut off the city, just as the Tyrrells had once blockaded Storm's End. But this army had the Men Without Fear. And they seemed to think they could talk, not starve, King's Landing out. Beneath the rotting heads of their comrades, apparently quite oblivious to the fact that a single bow shot or well-flung spear – well flung dagger, for that matter! – would have been the end of them, the Men stood on the edge of the ditch and held forth.

For two days – only two days! – they had held out, while the Men Without Fear addressed a captive audience in the form of each guard shift on the walls. And then – then – then! The sheer frustration of it even now made Jaime want to tear his hair out. They could have held out for weeks! Aid would have come from somewhere else! Their own forces had probably been strong enough to relieve the siege unaided! But King Tommen had gone down to the gates and ordered them opened, because he wanted to hear what the Men had to say.

The guard, trained and terrified into unquestioning obedience to the crown, had done so.

Only the Faith Militant, from the barricaded stronghold of the Great Sept, had fought back. The rest of the city, even the Red Keep, had capitulated without a murmur, nay, even with enthusiasm to join their idiotic puppet baby king in flocking to listen to the Men while the king of the conquering army turned his attention to the priests.

The Faith Militant fought well. They, too, could have held out for years. But in the fifth assault from the northern forces, that chance had literally gone up in smoke. The old jars of wildfire, long stored from the Targaryen rule, had gone off. There was no way the attackers could have set them off; their assault had failed to even break the outer barricade. The fire had just – started. The Great Sept of Baelor had burned. Jaime, struggling to lead a tiny cluster of fighters to join the resistance under the cover of the main attack, had been recognised and captured.

They hadn't killed him, of course. That would have been swift and to the point and got matters over, and after the great débâcle of the gates – could no-one have over-ridden an eight year old's command?! – getting it over with seemed to Jaime about all that there was left. But the capturers of lions in cages seem to prefer to spin their pleasures out, or at least not take them hurriedly when they must march on. The prisoner was locked neatly and carefully into a cell – not even flung! – and left to listen to each day's news. They seemed to make a special point of telling it to him, his various gaolers as they came in each day. Each day! That was an understatement! They brought him twice-daily bread and water; once-daily lukewarm stew-mess; emptied the cess bucket every morning; refilled the lamp every evening; and every other day changed and topped up the straw on the floor. It was so much like being a horse Jaime had once snapped out of his determined indifference to their presence and asked them why they didn't just go the whole b****y hog and bring him a carrot?!

It had been the little timid man that day, the one who had a thick accent that might have come from somewhere north of the Wall. He had paused in his recital of the day's news, and pointed out timidly that the stew did contain carrots. The smash of the bowl against the stone wall had been briefly satisfying. But beyond that, it hadn't done any good. They had still tended him like a horse; the timid gaoler had been no more or less timid; they had, in fact, said nothing about it! All that had come of it was a miserable night in which his treacherous stomach had rumbled ceaselessly, and a change to a wooden bowl. A clean wooden bowl!

If they had had to stuff him in the same cell Cersei had flung Ned Stark into, couldn't they at least have made it the same pit of black hell as Cersei had flung Ned Stark into?!

At least in his pit of black hell, Ned Stark had got some peace. Externally, Jaime qualified. He didn't want to know what went on inside a Stark's head. Something odiously straightforward and honest, no doubt. But he, Jaime Lannister, had got every comfort a well-tended horse might need – and no peace! What the King had done! What the King had said! What Tommen – stupid, stupid child – had done or said! How the Great Sept of Baelor had burned completely to the ground, leaving only a single column with a horizontal rafter fastened to it part way up: an exact and mysterious copy of the sign of the Men Without Fear.

The Men Without Fear. As much without fail as they were without fear, they cropped up somewhere in each visit's instalment. Not, of course, that Jaime had taken the slightest notice of anything the gaolers told him. But it would have been undignified as well as tiresome to lie with his head under the straw mattress each time they barged in, and that was about all he could have done to avoid hearing their barrage! He had simply sat, a picture of studied indifference, and ignored them. If you were going to knock a man on the head the minute the king came back from his campaign, did he have to be troubled with every minutiae of the campaign before then?

For the king had marched on, taking what was left of his army after garrisoning King's Landing. A tiny army compared to the might of the combined forces of the two true-born Targaryens, even before the dragons came into play. Jaime had not seen it, of course. But he doubted there was anyone in Westeros who had not heard of the new Field of Fire. The little army without fear, as you might call it, had drawn up against the great masses and the dragons. And then – but no-one could explain 'then', at least not to Jaime's satisfaction. The dragons had served Danaerys Targaryen across two continents without fail. Yet they had gone mad, turned on each other and in the death-combat, destroyed the armies beneath them.

Very, very few seemed to have come out of that inferno alive. One was Arya Stark, and anyone in Westeros would tell you, all too tiresomely, of how the king had ventured into the still smouldering wreckage of the battle field to find her. Another had been Theon Greyjoy – and tiresome was not a strong enough word for him.

They had thrust the who-knew-how-many times traitor into the cell with Jaime. Maybe they thought one side-swapper would be company for another, a fallen, failed would-be king and the fallen, failed Kingslayer. Reluctant honesty made Jaime admit he had been bored enough in that cell to be at least mildly interested in the prospect of a companion prisoner when they had first opened the cell door, even if only a Greyjoy. A more up-to-date account of the world outside, a fellow grudge against those who had incarcerated them here – until the moment the cell door slammed shut again, Jaime had looked forward to such things.

Never rely on a Greyjoy. The Late Lord Frey at the Twins was a quarterstaff of reliability and loyalty by comparison. For Theon Greyjoy had switched sides yet again. He had joined this One God, and his one interest was telling Jaime about it, morning, noon and night.

It didn't make any difference whether Jaime argued back or ignored him, and there was no way to muffle it out. He couldn't spend every moment with his head under the mattress! Besides which, the one time he had tried it, Theon's voice had turned out to be capable of penetrating the mattress.

It had always gone the same. The same, blasted phrase to start with:

"...One God..."

(You cannot offer to throttle the next person to say that to you when you only have one hand)

"... Who is also Three Persons."

(Impossible, but not worth the argument)

"He made the world, you know."

(Damn shame. Jaime had tried saying 'Bad job' once, but that only led on to the next point)

"Then it was spoiled by the Serpent."

(Got to be one b****y big dragon, that)

"Not a dragon. Serpent, Devil, power of evil. A fallen angel."

(Now that sounds familiar. And it's a rotten business)

"Which is why there's death and pain and suffering and filth and misery and greed and spite and-"

(In short, Westeros)

At this point, the explanation always grew a bit wordier and Jaime's levels of irritation grew greater, but the basic gist to be picked out was always the same:

"...He cannot tolerate such things..."

(Not the only one)

"...but didn't want to simply abandon His world..."

(Persistence would seem to be characteristic)

"...came to be man, like us. Only good."

(Like the b****y Starks)

"...and men hated Him..."

(With them there)

"...and killed Him..."

(End. Of. Story. Except, all gods, gaolers and Greyjoys be damned – it wasn't.)

"...He rose again..."

(Dead men walking is not something to get so b****y excited about)

"...really alive – eating, talking..."

('Carrots' was the best reply Jaime had managed to think of for that one)

"Fish, actually!"

(b****y sea-obsessed Greyjoys!)

"...because death is the punishment for evil and He had done no wrong..."

(Not much hope for the rest of us then)

"...so His death will stand in place of ours, if we accept it..."

(Nobody does that!)

"...because He loves us..."

(Love? Love? The things I do for love...)

"...whether we live or die, we shall live for evermore..."

(Once, he had tried saying 'Who wants to?' But Theon had looked at him calmly and asked 'Wouldn't you?' Saying 'Humph!' was safer)

"… wants everyone to hear and be saved..."

(Again, would seem to be characteristic)

"...and that is what all the upheavals and doings in the world are towards."

(You got nearly fried by a dragon that you might believe all this and get to sit here spouting it at me?)

Jaime did not grasp how being nearly fried by dragons apparently set on each other by some god won you to that god's service, but it had been a mistake to express this view. Theon had redoubled his efforts to explain, until the day when Jaime had lost the last of his endurance and pointed out the b****y obvious. If this One God Who Was Also Three was so great and so powerful, why didn't he get Theon out of there?

That had also been a mistake. Firstly, because Theon had looked so infuriatingly annoying where he had promptly knelt on the straw-covered floor, held those stupid flayed hands palm-up in front of himself and appealed with earnest madness to a perfectly blank ceiling that he might be let out if it would bring glory to his god. Secondly, because it had been so infuriatingly boring, alone by himself in that cell all the days since. The guards had come for Theon the very next morning, with some rigmarole about the King having sent for him.

Jaime had examined every inch of the cell walls and ceiling for a spy hole. But there had been none. The coincidence was somewhere beyond infuriating. Neither could he get the image of Theon kneeling in the straw out of his mind, nor the nagging temptation to find out what would happen if he too said 'Get me out of here' to the ceiling.

Get me out of here. Five little words. He'd counted them, over and over again; thought them, muttered them; glared up at the ceiling and veritably screamed them in his head. But he hadn't said them. He wouldn't! Jaime had repeated that to himself and the nagging temptation over and over again. He wouldn't! He wouldn't! He wouldn't! For Theon Greyjoy's ridiculous and infuriating petition had made it quite, quite clear and definite that if anything came of addressing the ceiling and the One God beyond, it would be to the One God's glory. At this point the tattered, precious remains of Jaime's pride flared up. He was a Lannister! And so he would rot in this ridiculous horse stabling forever rather than bring glory to the god of the Starks and the Greyjoys!

It was a miserable business, being a Lannister.

And being by himself just meant that the nagging temptation went on all the time, not even taking the various pauses to eat or sleep or even catch his breath that Theon had taken. Jaime had taken up going to sleep with his head under the mattress muttering "Wouldn't … wouldn't ...wouldn't," lest his treacherous mind betray him like Tommen in the night and say the words in his sleep. He was a Lannister. So he wouldn't. He had said that to the ceiling last night.

First thing this morning had been two gaolers and an unknown guard, to tell him the king had sent for him.

Jaime had said "You're joking." The normal response of anyone would have been to speed him out from under there with a boot. They had lifted the mattress off him and asked if he wanted hot water to shave with.

He had stubbornly refused to be made presentable. If the new king liked his prisoners neat, Jaime declined to gratify that wish. It had been satisfying at the time. Regretfully, standing now as "the prisoner," he didn't seem to have made much of an impression one way or the other, in his bedraggled state. Not to the King, and not … Jaime summoned a contemptuous leer and scanned the line of people seated to either side of the Iron Throne. Jon Snow had decided to be different, even there; to hold up these absurd ideals he had raised his army under. Westeros was no longer one kingdom with one king. In the name of justice and restoration or some such nonsense Jaime's gaolors had been peddling to him all these last weeks, it was the seven pre-Targaryen monarchies again, under the the rule of the High King on the Iron Throne.

Each monarch sworn in faith and loyalty to their impossibly but apparently triplicate One God.

The King's harem, Jaime reflected scornfully, as he scanned along the line of faces. Impossible, he'd scoffed when the gaolors had told him. But there they were. He skipped looking again at Tommen. There was something unendurable about the boy's face as he watched the king, the open fact on that face that second only to his new God Who Loved was the man on the Throne who had translated it to him, in mercy to the bastard son of the late, treacherous queen.

To Tommen Lannister had been given Casterly Rock and the Westerlands.

At that, Jaime could not quite explain the throb that beat in his chest. Why?! Why could they not have crushed the House of Lannister for evermore?!

He jerked his mind on. There, next, was the enemy. Sansa Stark. The foolish pretty-pretty all gone, a sort of capableness to go with the glow that lit her remaining beauty. Queen of Winterfell and the North.

Did this One God choose his monarchs for their inappropriateness? Stannis Baratheon's Shireen, with her greyscale scars, Queen of Storm's End? Margaery Tyrell, of the Reaches? Mya, once Stone, now called the Baratheon her dark hair and sturdy features proclaimed her, of the Vale? The youngest of the Martells, now ruler of Dorne?

Jaime declined to even think about Theon Greyjoy, seated quietly at the far end from Tommen as King of the Iron Islands once again. He concentrated hard on staring at the others. Let them look discomfited for once! Anything other than so calm and safe and confident in the power that kept them!

Perhaps one or two of them twitched under his stare, but they didn't look back, keeping their eyes politely on the droning official instead. The only exception was the little figure to the left of the Throne.

The things we do for love...

In Jon Snow's case, it would seem to be saving people from dragons – Westeros, and his wife. Little blind Queen Arya sat on the dais, her fingers wound tightly into the chest fur of the great dire-wolf that guided her everywhere.

She – well, you couldn't call it looking back. Those blank, empty eyes stared back at him; a faint, unnerving smile crept onto her face. Could she feel his gaze? Or did she see him? It certainly felt like it – and Jaime suddenly realised the dire-wolf's eyes were trained on his face too. He stared at it fiercely – b****y wolf that should have been killed on that first, disastrous trip from Winterfell! – but it didn't blink. Great, pale gold eyes met his, the Queen carried on smiling...

Jaime jerked his eyes away to the other side of the throne, caught a flash of blue from the almost shut eyes of the white direwolf lying on that side, and finally fixed his gaze firmly on the back of the Iron Throne. It might not be the most edifying view, but at least it didn't look uncannily back!

Of course, this was Westeros under the new King! Even the Iron Throne had changed!

It had never been a seat to lean back in. But the new king seemed to have wanted to make sure he never could. Bright and shining against the old weapons dulled with age and smoke, were two new swords. The wolf-head finial blade which had once been Ser Jeor Mormont's hung vertically; a shorter blade, once called Needle, crossed it horizontally.

The king and queen had hung up their swords in honour of their God.

Jaime fought down a shudder – no one was to think a Lannister was anything other than rightfully contemptuous of them and their silly ideas all! – and shifted his gaze to behind the throne instead. That still didn't help, for there was the Hound – the Hound! – more scarred and maimed than ever, and yet also b****y glowing, at the back of the group. Funny to think of him, who disbelieved in all gods, joining this One God. But perhaps, if this God cared for you if you had flayed skin or greyscale or no sight or no parents, he might care for someone who had no face on one side.

For the last time, Jaime pushed aside the idea that perhaps such a god might care for a broken, forsworn wreck with only one hand, as well. The King, leaning forwards in the Iron Throne, was speaking to him.

"Have you anything to say?"

Jamie toyed for a moment with the idea of saying he hadn't caught it all, could it be repeated? But the King's eyes were firmer than his maternal uncle's. If not the colour or the madness, the Targaryen determination had been passed on, and Jaime had no desire to find himself told off like a school boy missing a lesson.

"No!" he said, loudly.

Someone must have shifted a lamp, for the crossed swords on the back of the throne seemed to shine brighter. "There is mercy and forgiveness and resurrection and new life," said the King. "Will you accept it?"

Mercy? Forgiveness? Resurrection? He had heard about all those from Theon Greyjoy. They are everything a Lannister is not. Lannisters are ruthless and unyielding and when they are dead, they are dead, for all the golden splendours beneath Casterley Rock that try to pretend they are not. And when they have fallen and failed and lost and still somehow not died – Jaime gritted his teeth. It wasn't that he doubted, in the least, that all those things were true, given the final infuriating evidence of Theon Greyjoy's resurrection following his address to a perfectly blank stone ceiling. It was that if he accepted it, the whole b****y glowing lot of them would be so b****y nice to him!

He scowled up at the King. "No!"

"No?"

"Yes!" Jaime retorted, feeling that if 'no' was used in a meaningful fashion again in this absurd cat-and-mouse delay before execution, he might just stick his tongue out at the King. "I don't accept it!"

For one moment of silence, the King looked at him. Then, without breaking their locked gazes, he inclined his head. "Very well."

Very well? Of course it was very well, for him! Drag the prisoner outside and very well execute him, or very well flay him or very well hang him or whatever fate had been very well chosen! This whole scene had been a farce! Jaime bristled, even as he glared back into those calm grey eyes – and then his annoyance took another massive leap and he looked away without meaning to. For the King had held out his hand to the side of the Iron Throne, and Samwell Tarly had stepped forwards.

No. Just no. Jaime's hand reached for his sword before his mind could remember he had neither sword nor sword hand now. For he was not – not – NOT going to be dragged out and executed by a fat useless fool of a Tarly who had been too fat and useless and foolish even to take the black! Then he realised that Tarly had knelt beside the Throne, to hold out a sheathed sword to the King. The King, no longer staring down his prisoner, turned his head to smile even as he took the sword. "Thank you, Sam."

Youth! Weakling! Fool! The same torment of trying to stand still which had racked his frame watching old Rickard Stark burn while he screamed for someone to fight him, shook Jaime again. So he might be going to be killed by the King – but a King who had the time and b****y trust to have a fat fool of a Chief Maester and call him 'Sam' ?! Jaime curled his lip in contempt as the King turned back to him. The Starks had always made a big thing of looking a man in the eye before killing him, but it would have been an idea to unsheath the sword...

"Since you will not accept mercy," said the King, still not drawing the sword, "for your crimes in this realm of Westeros, you are henceforth banished."

Banished?

The word kicked Jaime in the gut like a mule. For his crimes – and pick your crime: incest, murder, treason, blasphemy, he'd committed it – he was Banished?

"You have one day to leave the city."

Something in the way the King said it, or rather in the way he didn't say it, irritated Jaime beyond the point of enduring silence. "And what then?" he demanded loudly and rudely.

He had the satisfaction of seeing some of the bystanders definitely twitch this time, in shock or outrage. But the King – well, presumably the bastard Snow was used to being insulted or something! He simply looked at Jaime, a long, calm, grey stare that somehow quite contradicted the rule that only a weak king would stand to be insulted to his face, by a condemned prisoner moreover.

"After that," he said simply, "you have chosen your path."

And before Jaime could even try and work out what might be meant by that, amidst a rustle of movement by the Guards against the walls, the King drew the sword, turned it nimbly in his fingers and held it out by the sword tip. "Take your sword."

Jaime looked at the sword and looked at the King. "You trust me? With a sword?"

The King did not flicker one fraction from his steady gaze into Jaime's face. "No," he said calmly. "I trust my God."

Trust...

A word so very close to 'thrust'...

The thought beat at his brain, just like his heart pounded in his chest. No thong of leather held him back, as it had Brandon Stark. One thrust, and the debts of the Lannisters would be paid. Against the Starks, against the Targaryens, against this One God who had brought them this low...

One thrust, and it would do no good that the Kingsguard at this very moment stood with twitching fingers on their sword hilts. They were too far away: they might cut him down after, but no vengeance could bring a man back to life...

One thrust, and it would go straight and true, for they had in their foolishness even gone to the trouble of finding a left-handed sword. It balanced there, waiting: the leather of the hand-grip newly rebound, clearly rough and firm and easily to be grasped; the blade shining and glinting as sharp and fatal as only Valyrian steel could be...

One thrust, and between him and that thrust remained only the moment it would take to lay his hand on the hilt and look the most foolish Stark or Targaryen ever born in the eye...

Jaime reached out and looked up – and stopped. The prisoner's disregarded old gods or the king's new God alone knew how long they stood there, holding either end of a sword. Perhaps the room was tense. Perhaps it was not. All Jaime knew was what he felt – a sudden, utter, catastrophic let-down. The King – was Without Fear. He simply sat there holding out the sword for Jaime to take, as simply as he had passed down the sentence of banishment. He was not afraid, he was not – anything. Jaime had said 'No' and that was, suddenly, the end of the matter. It was all Jaime could do not to drop the sword. Its grip rested leaden, meaningless, in his hand.

Will you?

No!

Very well, then.

It was over. No! Not that any thing was over! It was as if Jaime himself was over! He drew the sword back; thrust it, for want of any better hold since the King had not passed him the scabbard, through the loose belt of the grubby tunic he had refused to change. And then, by some mad force of long-ingrained habit, Jaime drew himself up and saluted with his handless arm. He turned before he could see the King acknowledge the salute.

Let me out of here! And all the powers that be had said 'yes.' To what purpose?

Doors, gates, pathways opened before him. Men stepped aside and let him pass – not because they feared him, as men had always done – but because he was … nothing. That was it. The detached part of Jaime's mind repeated the word in a dull echo. He was … nothing. By, the detached part added unhelpfully, his own choice. A ghost, a wraith, a whisp of lost smoke in this new world where men lived and breathed a thing called Life. A Life he could have known. A Life he had chosen, finally, not to know.

Somewhere, Jaime realised dully, he had walked into something. It turned out to be a bollard at the very end of the quay. Somehow, he got himself past it, down off the quay, and onto the sandy shore beyond. The port was, he supposed dully, the place to start his banishment.

Banishment...

Gods! Shield us! But there are no gods left … only the One. One God, vaster than the ocean. Jaime went down the slope of the beach, dipped his fingers into the water. In a dull way, it was cold. The waves rolled in slowly, and wet his feet through his broken shoes.

When they had been children at Casterly Rock, after their mother had died Cersei had always spoken of the sea mourning. But this sea wasn't mourning. It rolled in, in jolly little whispering waves, as if it was as pleased with the new situation in Westeros as all the other idiots were! And its voice was that of Theon Greyjoy's:

He made the world, you know …

Oh yes. He, Jaime, knew it. Every single one of those waves was saying it. Wherever he went in this unwanted banishment, the waves would say it. And if not the waves, the hills, the trees, the wind: each one that pestering voice, and himself stuck listening to it! As the guards had been on the walls – forever!

Forever … yes, he'd heard that too. Whether we live or die, Theon Greyjoy had said, we shall live for evermore. And the king believed that – so much! so calmly! so b****y completely! – that he was prepared to give an enemy a sword at point blank range! And not out of recklessness either! In a last ditch hope his enemy might see and believe and be b****y saved!

He wouldn't! He wouldn't! He wouldn't!

Sudden, final rage gripped Jaime. To hell with them! And gods! And life! And himself!

Jaime thrust the sword hilt into the sand until the grip was buried, and flung himself onto that shining Valyrian steel. His last conscious thought was to wonder where, begotten as Tommen was between Cersei and himself, he had managed to acquire common sense.