The Book of the Mother
Jo is sick again, and that is what begins it. She tries to hide it as always, but Bran sees her, back of her hand pressed to her mouth in the middle of breakfast. He feels sick too.
He's done it again, he thinks. He's come to her in the night and planted his seed in her and now she'll have to – it's my fault, I've been putting it off, too worried about my fucking honour and now she might die because of it.
"Excuse me," says Jo, putting down her spoon and making her way to her chambers, presumably. Bran wants to follow her, but doesn't. Still, he drops his knife and fork, knowing he will not eat for awhile yet.
A knock comes on the door just as she wipes her mouth with a towel. She frowns, a little puzzled, but discards the cloth in a basket for the servants and answers. "Come in."
Bran walks through the door with purpose, a worried frown etched in his mouth, brow furrowed so deep she fears it might get stuck like that. Of course it's Bran. Gods, he's gotten tall, she thinks as he almost blocks out the sunlight streaming through the doorway. He seems so much older now. He can't be more than sixteen years, and yet you wouldn't know it to look at him.
"Bran." She smiles. "What's going on?"
He tries, but he does not manage to smile back. "You're sick," he declares.
She shrugs and tries to brush it aside, not wanting to worry him. "I was just now," she concedes, and his frown only deepens. Behind him, he shuts the door, and starts to pace back and forth in front of her. It doesn't make her stomach feel any less woozy.
Suddenly he stops, and looks her in the eye. "What are you going to do?"
She blinks, not quite understanding, and he carries on before she can reply: "Have you spoken to Jaime Lannister?" He's chewing his lip, like his mother, like Arya, and wait, what– "Maybe, maybe if you don't drink so much this time, it will be safer–"
"No, Bran, it's not–"
"But maybe it won't work at all, I don't know, I'm no Maester, I'm just – oh gods, I shouldn't have let this happen, I should have stopped him coming to your rooms, I should have–"
He falls silent and stares at her. She takes a deep breath and wraps her arms around herself – she was really hoping to avoid this conversation. "I'm not – it's not another baby," she tells him, and she watches as the stoic mask he was just wearing – Father, she realises, he was trying to look like Father – crumble, leaving only her little brother before her. "I thought it was at first. But then I went to see Grand Maester Pycelle – or well, he sort of accosted me, telling me he had to examine me before I lost another child. And it turned out – there was no child to be lost, only a stomach bug, one that should pass in a week or so." She pauses. "I'm sorry, I should have told you went I first thought – but I didn't want to worry you."
Bran sighs in relief, a faint smile crossing his lips. "You did worry me," he murmurs. Then he frowns. "Are you sure? I mean, do you really trust Pycelle?"
She shrugs. "Well no, not really, but I don't know why he'd lie?"
Bran doesn't seem to know that either, and so he accepts it, walking slowly closer to her. "I was so scared," he admits, voice breaking on the words, "of what he'd do to you, of what you'd do to yourself so he couldn't–"
"I know," she says, reaching forth and stroking his arm comforting. Truly, he's a man grown now – and yet he'll always be her little brother. She knew it all, was so scared herself, that he'd kill her, that she'd kill herself, that she'd leave her children all alone, that she'd leave Bran all alone and he'd blame himself for it, of course he would. "But it's alright. There's no baby. It's all alright." For now, she thinks but does not say, and from the look on his face she'd say Bran thinks along it with her. She stops and sighs, squeezing his shoulder with one hand. "Come, let's take the girls to the gardens today. Robert should be off with his whores already, he won't notice. Maybe you could help Betta practice her stick-fighting? Since Arya visited she's wanted to do it daily, and I keep worrying she'll take poor Anna's eye out."
Bran smiles at that, but he's hesitating and she doesn't know why. When she reaches out to take his hand, he pulls away.
"No," he blurts out, and she blinks. "I mean – maybe a little later? There's something I have to do first." A pause as she wonders if he's going to elaborate. "There's someone I have to talk to."
She still doesn't really understand, but she nods and lets him go.
He knows he shouldn't. He gave up this place long ago. He took vows. And yet, he knows there is nowhere else that could possibly give him the peace he needs now.
He goes to the godswood.
Of course it is not a true godswood, there are no weirwoods here, no Heart Tree. Really it's just a garden with ideas above its station. But it's the closest thing Bran has, and so he falls to his knees beneath the great oak with no eyes to watch him with, to judge him with, and prays.
He cannot form his prayer into words, he cannot tell what he is asking the gods for, but he opens his mind to the gods, if they are listening, and lets them hear it all, his fear and his guilt and his fury and his shame, and his love, the deep desperate pure love that could make him do anything, that could make anything of him. Perhaps it is more a scream than a prayer.
A long time he stays there, kneeling in silence, speaking nothing and hearing nothing back. Perhaps the gods abandoned me when I abandoned them. But then, after several painful minutes, a voice comes on the wind. He cannot tell whose it is – so much of him wants to believe it's Father, but it's probably just himself – but whoever is talking, Bran listens.
Do what you must, Brandon Stark, say the gods. She is your sister, you must protect her, you cannot let her die. Blood binds you. The gods will forgive you. They will forgive all else, before a kinslayer.
Bran isn't sure he believes it. But he takes it, because that is what he needs, permission, if only from himself.
And from Jo, of course.
Robert is away on one of his hunting trips. Jo thinks little of it, other than being glad the girls have a little more free reign about the Red Keep. Daeria is starting to walk now.
Of course, if the girls get free reign they're going to tire themselves out, and so she's not surprised when she goes to fetch Betta for bed and finds her already asleep, being picked up by her uncle Bran to carry her to bed. "I let her borrow one of my old practice swords," he explains. "Well. I say borrow. I highly doubt she's going to give it back."
Jo laughs at that, and takes Betta out of her brother's arms, and the girl cracks open an eye blearily, smiles, and then falls back asleep against her breast. She's getting heavy now, and Jo slightly regrets taking her out of Bran's arms, but she doesn't complain as she carries Betta back to her chambers, tucks her in and says good evening to the maids. But Bran doesn't leave either. Jo doesn't really understand that, but he's been acting odd for a couple of weeks now, ever since that incident where she turned out not to be pregnant. She supposes she gave him a scare.
Anna and Dae are already in bed, and so she lets Bran follow her back to her own rooms, still not saying a word. What's wrong? she wants to ask him, but somehow she can't force the question past her lips.
Eventually she reaches her door and stops. "So," she says. "Goodnight then?"
He's nervous. She has no idea why but she knows that he is, when he chews his lip like that, and it makes her nervous. "Actually," he says, "I was hoping I could come in for a bit?"
She blinks. "Oh, of course," she says, opening her door, but she has no idea why. He steps inside and closes it behind him, and when she goes to sit on the end of her bed, he doesn't follow her. Instead he just stays by the door, almost like he's afraid of her, and starts pacing back and forth, which doesn't make her any less nervous.
"Bran?" she asks as she starts to get dizzy, "is something wrong?"
He stops, and raises an eyebrow at her. "...Alright, stupid question," she concedes, and he laughs softly. "Still. What's this about?"
Bran purses his lips together, and then suddenly stares down at the floor. "I've had an idea," he mumbles, more to it than to her.
"Any particular sort of idea?"
He looks her in the eye again, chewing his lip. "I think I might have figured out – how to help you. How to help the girls. Maybe."
She averts her eyes. "Please, Bran, not this again," because she can't put herself through that again, how tempting it is, how tempted she is to get everyone she loves killed and she knows she'll give in one day–"
"No, Jo, it's not like that, not this time," suddenly he's beside her on the bed, hand closing over hers firmly. "No-one has to risk their lives for this, no-one other than us even has to know, I won't let our family get hurt, I promise." A pause. "And as much as he deserves it, your fat bastard husband doesn't even die at the end."
She looks back at him, curious. I won't let our family get hurt. So he's not going to start a war, he's not going to try and use the armies of the North and the Iron Islands and Dorne against the king. "What then?"
"...First, you have to promise me something." His grip loosens and then tightens, like he's not sure whether he wants to hold her hand or not. What is he so nervous about? "You don't have to agree, of course you don't, but just – whatever you say, promise you won't hate me for it. Okay?"
Despite it all, she can't help but scoff. "Bran, you're my little brother," she says. "I could never hate you."
"Okay." Bran takes a deep breath and, seemingly having made up his mind, holds her hand tighter. "Robert's always hated you because of the children, right? Because they don't look like him, and they don't look like you, they look like Targaryens, like the family that took his Lyanna away."
"He has," Jo says. She knows that. Why is Bran telling it to her?
"So do you think – if you gave him another child, but one that didn't look like a Targaryen. A girl who looked like you, or a boy who looked like Father. Do you think Robert would be kinder then?"
"...Maybe," she says, bewildered. "Probably. But – it's not going to happen; we've had three childen and they've all–"
"I know, I know, but still: three times isn't that many. It could have just been bad luck. If you gave him a dark-haired, grey-eyed babe, who could say that wasn't perfectly normal, more normal than the silver and purple ones?"
"Yes, but – I couldn't know that would be what I'd give him. I couldn't know I'd have a child like that before he got around to beating me to death. I couldn't be sure." She shakes her head. This is his stupidest plan yet. "It's not worth the risk, Bran."
And then Bran leans in closer, biting his lip so hard it's starting to bleed. He whispers: "but what if you could be sure?"
She doesn't understand at first. But then she looks him in the eye, how nervous he is, how scared he was to come anywhere near her, but how much he loves her–
She pulls her hand away.
"Bran," she says, "we can't..."
"I know, I know, I'm sorry, I understand if you're angry but–" no Bran, I could never be angry at you, but she is angry, not at him but at herself, for letting things get to the point where he'd even consider such a thing, even if she has no idea what she could have done differently, "but I can't let this go on, I can't let him do this to you, I don't mind, I don't care what I have to do, I have to protect you, I'm your brother, what's the point of me being here if I can't protect you?"
She shakes her head, unable to comprehend what she's hearing. "He'll kill us both if he ever finds out."
"Then he won't find out."
"It's not that simple!" she says. "Bran, you're my baby brother, I can't let you get yourself killed for me–"
"Jo, this is killing me!" he says, frustration boiling over. It renders her silent. "Being here, watching him – do you think, if he killed you and I did nothing to stop it, I could live with myself?" No, of course he couldn't. Bran is a knight. He was always a little knight she remembers; how could he not try to save a maiden in distress?
(But she is no maiden.)
"I remember when you – drank that tea," Bran says, looking away from her again. "Tea. Poison, really, that's what it is. It almost killed you, and I just – I looked at you, writhing in pain in that bed and I couldn't believe I'd let you do it. I'd murdered you as much as he had."
She stares down at her feet. Will she really let her baby brother commit such a sin, because he feels like he has to, because he thinks it's his duty to protect her?
The thing is, part of her wants to. Because she thinks it just might work, and she is so tired of living like this. She wants to just give Robert what he wants and maybe he'll leave her alone for once. And she loves her children, she always wanted children, and she wants to have one that might have a father – that might have two fathers – to love it too.
But is it worth the risk?
"You're too young," she insists, looking him in the eye again. "Have you ever even–?"
"No," he says. "But I'm willing to go out and buy a whore if that's what it takes."
She can't help but laugh at that, but the mirth dies quickly. "You're only–"
"Sixteen. By most accounts, a man grown." He pauses. "Older than you were."
He's right, damn him he's right. She was married off barely a year after she'd bled. Not that she can claim it was anyone's fault but her own.
"Would it even work?" she mutters, and he looks confused. "I mean – you take after your mother, mostly. What if the babe looked like her?"
"I'm not – I'm not sure," Bran admits. She sighs. "But still, a Tully isn't a Targaryen. It might not make anything better, but it wouldn't make anything worse."
"Unless he realised I'd been unfaithful?"
"He thinks that anyway," Bran says. "And he couldn't prove anything. No-one knows what your mother looks like. It could easily have had red hair and blue eyes, and Robert wouldn't kill you and risk war with the North unless he was absolutely sure."
It doesn't sound like much of an excuse, but it might not matter. Between the two of them, the babe probably would look like Father. Like Father...
She has to look away again. "What would Father think of us?
There's a long silence, until she feels his finger gently tuck underneath her chin, tilt her head up to look at him again. "I don't know," he says. "But he is dead. We aren't. It's just you and me now Jo, and I have to protect you. I'm your brother."
"You're my little brother," she reminds him. "I have to protect you."
"Maybe we can protect each other?"
She can't help but smile as she looks at him, firm and resolute. He is a man grown. He knows what he's doing. That, perhaps, is what she needed to know. "Alright," she says.
"Are you sure?"
He smiles back at her, finger still curled underneath her chin, and she wonders whether he's going to kiss her. But before he can, the door swings open.
They jump apart, even if they weren't really doing anything less than innocent (yet), and Jaime Lannister grins when he sees them. "Ah, there you two are," he says. "I was looking for you. Figured you'd choose some place terribly obvious."
"What are you doing here?!" she blurts out in a panic, wondering what he heard, and sure he already knows about the baby and the moon tea, but this is something else–
"Just seeing how you two were getting on, if you'd remembered to lock the door or not. Which you hadn't, so really, you're lucky it was me who came along." Jo doesn't understand. Did you tell him before me? Jo wants to ask Bran, but when she looks at him he seems as bewildered as she is.
"Ser Jaime," Bran says slowly. "We weren't–"
"Yes you were," Jaime says. "But don't worry, I'm not going to tell anyone. I'm here to look out for you poor kids. Really, who do you think gave you the idea?" Bran looks even more bewildered at that, until slowly, realisation seems to cross his face. "You didn't think I knew what I was doing, did you? That naivety won't serve you well here."
"Why should we trust you?" Jo finds herself snapping. "Why should we think you're not going to go squeal to Robert the second you walk out that door?"
He shrugs. "Well, I already gave you the moon tea to get rid of one of his children. If I know Robert, he'd kill us all for that. I sell you out, you'll sell me out in turn." Jo wonders if she would, if her honour would allow that, but either way it's best Ser Jaime think she would. "Besides, if I was planning on betraying you, I wouldn't have let on until after you'd actually done something."
Jo sighs. She can't say the man's right. "Alright, we trust you," she concedes, reluctantly. "Now could you please leave?"
Ser Jaime raises an eyebrow. "What, don't you wish to gaze upon my handsome face so you can forget who you're truly with?" That simply makes her glare at him. "Very well. Someone ought to be playing lookout. Go on, you two, and try to enjoy it."
With that he leaves, ostentatiously locking the door behind him. That leaves Bran and Jo just looking at each other, not entirely sure what just happened.
But of course, everything is still the same. Bran coughs. "So," he says, "should we–?"
Jo nods. "I don't think we'll be brave enough to go through with it if we don't do it now."
"Right." A pause, and then he leans forward and kisses her.
At first, it's not so different from the sort of kiss he would have given her when he was seven, an innocent smack of the lips. It's just longer. But she realises that won't do, and so when she parts her lips for him, she's glad when he takes the encouragement easily. Hesitantly, she lays a hand on his hip to pull him closer, and despite it all he's still just a teenage boy, she can't be surprised when she feels him start to harden against her thigh.
But she is surprised when he breaks the kiss, moving down to press his lips against her jaw and her neck instead. She's always been sensitive there, Robb used to shove snow down the back of her dresses to tease her, and she gasps softly, a rush of heat flooding between her legs. That makes the shame stir once more, and she squirms.
"Bran," she says, "that's not necessary – I mean, all this, to make a baby – you don't have to–"
"Yes I do." He pulls away, staring her straight in the eye, and he always took after his mother but when he fixes his face like that, he looks – gods forgive her – just like Father. "I'm not – I'm not like King Robert. I'm not going to just spend my seed in you and that's it. If we are going to do this, we are going to do it right."
And she is ashamed, but perhaps she is curious. She is curious as to what it would be like to make love to a man who loves her. Because he does love her, and so how he loves her no longer seems to matter so.
She nods and says, "alright." When he returns his mouth to her jawline, sucking gently at her neck – careful not to leave a mark – she doesn't protest. Nor when his hand sneaks around her waist to cup her rear, nor when it undoes her buttons to bare her breasts.
When she moves her skirt aside for him, she does not forget who he is. But she does not mind as much.
For the next nine moons, Bran is terrified someone will find out. Well for the first few weeks, he is worried it hasn't worked, that they'll have to do it again (and perhaps he's worried because the possibility doesn't terrify him as much as it should). But then Pycelle announces that the queen is pregnant once more, and mutters about how the girl finally came to him at once this time.
Robert seems to think little of the fact, but to his credit, he stays away from Jo for the most part. He doesn't want to let himself beat his wife when she's with child, even if he might not actually believe it's his.
Bran is not there when the babe is born. Robert is off on another hunting trip, which he's told was his habit for all of Cersei's children and most of Jo's (every one but Betta, and that did not go as hoped), and so Bran doesn't see the problem. But Jo talks him out of it. "We can't let anyone be suspicious, Bran," she says, and surely the queen's brother being there wouldn't be so strange? "I'm sorry. I promise I'll bring the babe to see you as soon as I can."
She is the queen, after all, and she's his big sister – she probably knows best. And so he nods, and she smiles and kisses him on the cheek. He's taken aback for a second. Neither of them has dared kiss one another since – since (he kissed her everywhere that night, until she had to bury her face in a pillow so as not to scream, and afterwards as he awkwardly redressed himself he wondered why). But it doesn't feel odd. It feels much the same as it always did, years ago back at Winterfell, and he remembers what Arya said. Maybe it's not that different.
So Bran spends the night his sister brings his child into the world not with them, but with Jaime Lannister, drinking until that swirling mess in his stomach of fear and shame and hope settles slightly. And somewhere between his fifth and eighth mug of ale (if this babe does nothing else, it has increased his capacity to drink massively), he finds himself asking questions.
"Your sister," he says. "Queen Cersei. How did she die?"
Jaime gives him a sad smile.
"Robert didn't kill her, if that's what you're worried about," he says. "Believe me, king or not, he wouldn't still be alive if he had. Besides, he might be a drunken oaf, but even he wouldn't be fool enough to think he could murder Tywin Lannister's daughter and get away with it."
"Oh." Of course, Robert wouldn't have to have actually murdered Cersei for her to have died of him, but he thinks Ser Jaime means it all – all the ways Bran's feared Jo could die at Robert's hand – none of them happened to the queen before her.
"No, one day there was just a lump on her breast. A year later she was gone." He pauses and takes a long drag of his ale. "She thought it was nothing, of course she did, she was always too proud to think mere illness could destroy her. But then she just got sicker and sicker. At the end – we always thought we were the same person in two bodies, but even I couldn't understand a word she said. She laughed a lot. She talked about her children, and our brother Tyrion, and she spoke some strange words I couldn't make any sense of; they could have been another language, could have been pure nonsense, I don't know."
Bran feels overwhelmed by pity, and wishes he could say something, but he's not sure Ser Jaime would take that well.
"It was the worst moment of my life, watching her waste away and not being able to do a thing to help her. Robert didn't care at all, of course, if anything he was relieved," Jaime says. "She always said – we entered this world together, and we'd leave it together. And yet she's gone, and I'm still here."
Bran still doesn't know what to say, but he reaches across and squeezes Ser Jaime's shoulder gently, in comfort. That surprises the man, seemingly, but he smiles.
Then he's dragged out of the moment from by a scream. Jo. She's in the maester's chambers, halfway across the Red Keep, and it must hurt a lot if he can hear her from here. Of course, it always hurts, he still remembers how Mother screamed when she bore Rickon, but–
"She'll be alright, lad," Ser Jaime tells him. He scowls.
"You can't know that." Because it's always a risk, his mother's mother died in the birthing bed, and a babe born between brother and sister can't be too healthy, and gods, if it was his babe that killed her, what a joke that would be–
"No, but someone ought to tell it to you," says Ser Jaime. He squeezes Bran's shoulder in return. "There's nothing you can do right now, Ser Brandon. You have to wait."
The man's right, damn him. Bran sighs, and reaches once more for his ale.
When the babe is placed in her arms, Jo's first thought is it worked. She half-expected the thing to be born twisted, mutant, with three hands and four toes, or for whatever part of the dragon lays in her to have risen up, perhaps woken by the fact she was doing just what the Targaryens did, and left her with another silver-haired babe to explain away. But no. The child in her arms is whole and healthy, giggling merrily and grasping for her teat, with deep grey eyes and a tiny bit of black hair.
"It's a girl, your grace," says one of the maids.
Jo is too exhausted to try and tell whether that's better or worse than having a son, and so she merely says: "Oh."
Robert doesn't return until a couple of days later, and she knows he only comes to see her out of obligation. Still, she smiles when he lays the pelt of a fox he shot in front of her. She could make a babe's blanket out of that.
Speaking of babes.
She passes the girl to Robert, and her heart sinks as his face remains fixed in indifference. This changes nothing. He doesn't care about this one any more than the others.
But then the babe wakes up, lets out a happy cry and reaches up towards the man holding her. And Jo knows Robert can see – those Stark grey eyes, the eyes he once saw in her and decided she would be his bride. She watches as a look of absolute wonder crosses his face.
He looks between the babe and her, and suddenly he's walking to Jo's side – for a moment she's terrified, she thinks, somehow he knows, and he's about to beat her to death right here in this bed – but then he leans over, her brother's bastard still in his arms, his huge gut almost squashing her, and he kisses her brow.
Perhaps she'd rather he have hit her.
When he stands up again, he sniffs, as if he's holding back a sob. "They say it's a girl," he says. "What have you named her?"
"I – I haven't, your grace." Truth be told, she's been too tired to do much more than feed the girl and sleep.
Robert nods, and then looks into those grey eyes once more. And Jo knows, she just knows what he's going to say.
Princess Lyanna Baratheon's naming ceremony is one of the grandest occasions King's Landing has seen in years. No-one seems to understand why; Bran hears all sorts of whispers about how when the Princess Daeria was born, the king wouldn't even let anyone see her, and they thought the girl must have been born with some deformity, with wings or a tail, or three heads.
But they can see Daeria now, a beautiful little girl who's only just mastered walking, and is clinging to Anna's hand just in case. Anna looks like she wants to be holding Betta's hand, but Betta is busy, resplendent in her purple and gold gown as she holds little Lyanna's swaddling clothes, whilst the babe is bathed in seven oils. Robert casually mussed her hair as he approached the altar, not even looking at her, and oh how that made Betta grin.
Bran wonders if, now he's not so ashamed of his daughters to let anyone see them, he might let Jo send them to foster with her family. With men who might actually learn to love them.
Bran watches it all from a balcony, far away from his own daughter, and once the babe is officially named Lyanna Baratheon in the sight of the Seven, he hears someone coming up behind him. "They say King Robert's going to finally make you a member of the Kingsguard," says Jaime Lannister, and of course it's him. "Now the Starks have given him what he always really wanted, your family has to be rewarded."
He always wanted to be appointed to the Kingsguard on his own merit, not just for his family name, but for something he actually did. Of course, he supposes he is being appointed because of something he did. It's just Robert doesn't know about it.
Across the room Bran spies Prince Joffrey, watching the proceedings with a look of absolute, undisguised hatred. Robert looks at Lyanna with more love than he's ever looked at all his other children combined. He'd kill her if he could. Of course, Joffrey can't kill his (alleged) sister, not while his father still rules. But Robert isn't a young man anymore, and he's never taken care of his health. A shudder runs down Bran's spine. What will happen when Robert dies?
Robert might love Lyanna better than his other children, but he couldn't disinherit his firstborn to leave his crown to his youngest child, to his daughter. He wouldn't get away with it.
But a son perhaps–
Bran stares Joffrey's golden hair, he remembers how Jaime told him of the lump on Cersei's breast, and opts against mentioning any of this to him.
He is still there, incidentally. "You know, you did the right thing," he says. Bran finally turns around and faces him. "No-one else will ever say you did. If anyone knew, they'd be disgusted. They'd say you dishonoured your king, dishonoured your house, dishonoured your sister." Ser Jaime smirks. "And you did. But you also saved her life."
Bran says nothing, and Jaime Lannister merely chuckles as he walks away. Bran looks out across the Great Sept of Baelor, shining in the light of the Seven-Pointed Star, and thinks of Father.