The two weeks back at Winterfell passed quickly. Brienne still had no word from Jaime and she continued with her plan to leave for White Harbor. There had been no sightings of any Wights, only the still, lifeless corpses of what was an army of them, now burning in great pyres from north to south. Soldiers returned to their homes. Families searched for survivors and blessed rains fell almost every night, to wash away the ash and smoke from the smoldering fires and wash the lands clean again.
Those who'd lost everything in the war poured into Wintertown to restart their lives in the restoration of the new north and were making great strides. Hammering and sawing could be heard from dawn until dusk as men, women and children worked tirelessly to restore Winterfell to her former glory. Those nightly rains brought fresh water, grass and wildlife back and with it, despite their many losses, the sounds of laughter and nightly feasts in the great hall where the small folk could share their tales of woe as well as their dreams of this new and blessed spring.
Having arrived back at Winterfell only days before Brienne's planned departure; Sansa had made it her mission to convince Brienne to stay on there and wait until the child was born and to not give up hope on Jaime.
"Is Sam still sending birds south?" Sansa asked, watching Brienne pack her trunk for her journey.
"Daily," Brienne answered.
"I brought all of the things I made for the baby with me. They're still packed in a trunk for you if you'd like to look at them again. I made more, as well as some knitted blankets."
"Thank you, Sansa. I don't know if I'll ever be able to thank you enough for everything you've done for me...for us," Brienne said, finally raising her eyes.
"You and Pod saved my life. I'm the one who should be thanking you."
"And you have my Lady. Has there been any word of your sister?"
"No. Not since before we left the Eyrie. A message came that she and Ser Sandor were heading back here to Winterfell but that was before the letter I sent to you informing you that Pod and I were coming home. I know she's alive. You know what they say; we Starks are hard to kill…especially that one," Sansa said and smiled.
"I wish I could be so sure about Jaime and King Aegon," Brienne replied. She lifted the picture of Jaime that Sansa had drawn for her and tucked it carefully between several linen tunics in her trunk. "I haven't given up hope. I don't want you to think that. But I made a promise to Jaime when we said goodbye. I promised him I'd do whatever it took to protect our child. I intend to keep that promise."
"Isn't that all the more reason to stay here? You're nearly seven months along now. What if you have rough seas and the baby comes early? I'm here now and Gilly too. Gilly knows a lot more about babies and motherhood than me, but I think the practice will serve me well when my own child comes." Sansa looked up from where she sat and waited for Brienne's response with a grin.
"All very good reasons I have to admit. Maybe I'm just homesick and my father isn't getting any younger. With the air growing warmer with each passing day, I can't tell myself I'm fleeing the cold, anymore can I?" Brienne said with a smile. "So, a baby in your future? Does this mean you and Pod, have already spoken of children?"
"Oh we've done more than spoken of it," Sansa said over a soft laugh.
"I was on the road with you quite some time, remember? It's a miracle you don't already have a child," Brienne sniggered.
Sansa continued smiling queerly at Brienne.
Brienne's expression changed to a quizzical smirk. "Lady Sansa, are you with child?"
Sansa blinked slowly and said, "I am. I haven't had my moon blood since before we left the Eyrie. Oh, and before we left, Lord Robin gave me away to my now betrothed husband, Ser Podrick Payne. However, since we will be residing here at Winterfell of course, and feverishly working on rebuilding the Stark family, he has conceded to take the name Stark."
Brienne was speechless. She thought at last, something to celebrate and be joyful about. She tossed her neatly folded garments aside, swept around the bed and scooped Sansa up into her arms for a tight embrace. "Thank the Gods. I thought you might never give in to what was completely obvious to everyone else and marry that lad."
"I needed time and," she said, releasing Brienne at last but resting her palms against the rounded softness of Brienne's belly between them. "Peace. I couldn't bear the thought of the uncertainty of what the world would be like for a child or a marriage for that matter. You see, I wasn't as brave as you. I don't know that I ever have been until now."
Brienne cupped Sansa's face in her hands and said, "My darling, you're the bravest woman I know. You're a survivor, and no one, especially me could fault you for your caution and doubts. You truly are and were always meant to be the Lady of Winterfell."
"So will you please stay? I need you now more than ever; as my friend," Sansa asked, her eyes wet with emotion.
A knock came at Brienne's chamber door. She hugged Sansa tightly again and then went to open it.
"Hello, my Lady, is Lady Sansa with you?" the girl asked. "All the men are at work on the castle and I was so excited I…"
"Who is this?" Brienne exclaimed, looking down at the wobbly and giggling blond toddler at the girl's side. She held his tiny hand tightly as he squirmed and tried to pull away.
"Gilly!" Sansa shouted as she ran for the door. "Little Sam is walking!" she cried as she knelt and smiled. "Brienne, this is Gilly, Samwell Tarley's wife and their son, little Sam."
"I've seen you and the boy many times since I've been back but it's so nice to finally meet you, Gilly. What a handsome little man you have there," Brienne said, unable to shake her smile.
"I'm in trouble now for sure. He's on his feet for good so they'll be no rest for me," Gilly said with a sigh as Sansa swept him up into her arms. "When's yer baby due?"
Brienne looked down and placed a hand atop her belly. "The Maester said two months. He's a busy one for sure. I can already barely sleep with his nightly carrying on but when he doesn't, I can't sleep from worrying until he kicks me again."
"Get used to it. Ye won't get any sleep for the first few months anyway. Then the night will come outta the blue when ye wake up and the sun is shining, and you'll sit up and run to his cradle. There he'll be peacefully sleeping away and yer heart will slide back down outta yer throat and start beating again. You'll most likely just sit and watch until he wakes." Gilly said, as Sansa handed the squirming toddler back to her.
"Sounds lovely," Brienne said, tossing little Sam's blond locks as he swiped her hand away playfully.
"Well, I'm off to find Sam. We'll need a pen now, so the boy doesn't get into everything and hurt himself. There's plenty of builders here now so I'm sure one of 'em will be glad for a few extra coins for the job. See ye ladies at supper?" Gilly asked, adjusting little Sam on her hip as she stepped to the door.
Sansa looked over at Brienne and nodded a pleading smile.
"Yes. Yes, we'll see you at supper," Brienne said and watched Gilly go.
"For the last time, and I am begging, please stay until the baby comes," Sansa said, standing in the doorway about to leave.
Brienne reached down and took Sansa's hand. "I'll send a raven to my father and tell him that I've decided to stay here until the baby comes, but that as soon as we are both healthy enough to travel, I'll be coming home."
Sansa squealed with delight. "I'm so happy. I can't wait to tell Pod." She turned quickly and called for Gilly to wait.
"Sansa, what are you doing?" Brienne shouted after her as she bolted off, her skirts bouncing in her wake.
"To help Gilly find Sam; we need a cradle and a pen now!"
"Has the midwife been called?" Brienne asked as she paced the long hallway outside of her chamber. Her palms were pressed tightly against her spine as she labored.
"Brienne, I wish you'd get into bed and wait for her to come. Yes, she was sent for an hour ago, but Sam is coming too."
"Sam?" she shouted. "Oh, my bloody hell!"
"Yes, Sam helped bring little Sam my Lady," Gilly said, wrapping her arm around Brienne's back and curling beneath her arm to support her as she walked.
"Where is Sansa?" Brienne asked. A pained expression grew on her face until a roar escaped her lips and she buckled. Podrick stood nervously against the wall. He was pressed so hard against it, it appeared he was trying to disappear inside the stones.
"Podrick help me get her to bed please," Gilly said calmly yet her expression was fierce. "It's all right my Lady. Lady Sansa went to gather everything we'll need to bring the baby. I'm sure she'll be back very soon."
Podrick took Brienne up under her other arm once the birthing pain subsided and she again straightened her back. "I'm g-going to help you to bed now my Lady," he stammered.
"Ahhhh!" she cried out again.
"Now Podrick or she's having this baby out here in the hallway," Gilly said.
"My waters, my waters are coming," Brienne said over a gasp of breath as she stopped, and the puddle pooled around her bare feet. Podrick swept her up into his arms and carried her the rest of the way into the room, and gently placed her on the bed.
"Pod, please go find lady Sansa and the midwife, and Sam," Gilly said, as she pushed Brienne's long legs until they were bent at the knees and examined the progress of the birth. Her eyes widened and without looking away she shouted. "Now!"
"Is everything all right?" Brienne asked with concern. She raised her head and looked down at Gilly, who was now gathering the blanket about Brienne's bottom and tucking it beneath her.
"Everything is just perfect. You're doing wonderful. Try not to push yet though. We have to let the baby do the work right now to make his way out." Gilly ran to the wash basin and poured the pitcher of water into the bowl. She hurriedly washed her hands up to her elbows and dried them on a clean cloth.
"Where is she?" Brienne heard someone calling out, out in the hallway.
"She's down here!" Brienne heard Sansa's voice at last and her head fell back in relief.
"Sit up just a bit my Lady so I can get these pillows behind your back. You'll be much more comfortable when…"
The door blew open. "Stop! You can't just bust in here like that!" Gilly shouted, as Brienne roared again as another hard pain overtook her. Her head fell back again as she tried not to push.
"The hell I can't! That's my wife!"
Brienne screamed and closed her eyes. When she opened them again, Jaime was taking hold of her hand and looking down into her eyes. "Gods be good! Is it you?" she cried. "Is it really you?" her other hand flew to his cheek. It was wet with tears. He leaned down and kissed her hard and fast on the lips and then he turned to Gilly and nodded.
"He's ready my Lady. I can see his head. When the pain comes again, push as hard as you can!"
Sansa appeared in the room and let out a gasp and then a shriek. "Ser Jaime!" she screamed. "Thank the Gods!" her arms were filled with bundles of clean cloth and a pitcher of hot water. Podrick swept the pitcher from her hand and she sat the bundle on the bed next to Gilly.
"Look Sansa, can you see?" Gilly said.
Sansa nodded and backed away slightly at the sight. She swallowed hard and looked over at Podrick. He appeared dumbfounded and a bit queasy. "Pod, maybe you'd better sit down."
"Here it comes!" Brienne cried as her body tensed. She squeezed Jaime's hand tightly and sat halfway up. "I can't believe you're here," she cried. "Ahhhh!"
"Push! Push and don't stop!" Gilly shouted. "That's wonderful!"
"I'm here, I'm here! Out of the way!" the midwife said as she rushed into the room.
"No!" Brienne said. "Leave her to finish!"
"His head is out my Lady. Please, give us another good push," Gilly said, giving the midwife a sneer.
"Come on my darling. You're doing so wonderful. Our son is almost here," Jaime whispered to her as she gathered every bit of strength she had left. He leaned over and kissed her forehead. She smiled up at him for a heartbeat and then again, she rose up and pushed.
"Take her legs!" Gilly shouted at Sansa and the midwife.
A moment later, a strange and satisfying feeling of relief overcame Brienne as the child slipped free of her into Gilly's waiting hands. She could hear Gilly patting firmly on the child's back several times until at last, she heard a sharp slap and the wailing cry of her first born.
"It's a girl my Lady," Gilly said, nearly breathless. "A very big, pink and healthy girl!"
Gilly laid the red faced squalling infant on Brienne's stomach and the midwife went to work cutting the cord. "You did a wonderful job young woman. I believe you may have found your place here," the much older woman said to Gilly.
Sansa waved Jaime to the wash basin to quickly clean his hands, so he could touch his daughter for the first time. Brienne barely noticed. All she could see was the beautiful child now cradled in her arms until Jaime reappeared above her and stroked the child's head softly as she quieted beneath their touch.
"We've still much to do," the midwife said softly. "Now comes the unpleasantries of birth. Ser Jaime, if you and the other gentleman would mind, this is a woman's deed. I assure you, everything is fine, and we'll come get ye as soon as we're through."
Jaime kissed Brienne as he wept and gently cradled their daughter's head and kissed her too. "I'll go find a bath. It's been a long journey," he whispered. "I'm never leaving you again and this time, I mean it." He struggled a bit to his feet and grimaced, as his hand lifted gently from the baby's head and then flew to his side.
"You're hurt," Brienne said. Her expression filled with worry.
"I'll be fine. You do what these ladies tell you and I'll see you as soon as they're done."
With her child bathed and swaddled, and cradled to her chest, Brienne gazed down at the angel in her arms as she slept peacefully. She'd counted her fingers and toes and already committed every little wisp of blond hair on her head to memory. "Is she not the most beautiful baby you've ever seen?" Brienne asked as Sansa lowered herself into the chair next to the bed.
"She's marvelous Lady Brienne. She's like an angel," Sansa replied, appearing in awe of the plump and peaceful infant.
"May my husband come in now?" Brienne asked the midwife, who was tying up the sack of soiled linens.
"Yes m'lady. We're through here. I've examined the afterbirth and it appears intact. You're to remain in that bed with your babe for three days. No less or you could start the bleeding before the healing clots are ready. You may sit to use the chamber pot but if you see any sign of running blood or have any sharp pain at all, you send for me straight away," the woman said sternly. "Save your afterbirth rags. I'll need to examine them when I return. I'll be back to check on ye tomorrow morning."
"I'll be nearby as well," Gilly said. "The baby will be ready to eat sometime this evening when she wakes. Poor little things are just as tired as we are right after they're born. They can sleep for hours but when they wake, it's best to get them started on the breast straight away."
"Gilly, I can't thank you enough. I don't know what I'd have done without you," Brienne said, reaching out for Gilly's hand.
"I'm just grateful to have helped. A healthy baby and mother is twice the blessing." Gilly washed her hands again and smiled at Sansa. "You're next I suppose. And then, me." Gilly smiled, placing her hand over her stomach.
"Well it appears Winterfell is springing back to life faster than I'd dreamed," Sansa said. "Congratulations Gilly. Please give Sam our congratulations as well." Immediately her face grew cold as she remembered the tragedy of Queen Daenerys own birth the month before. The baby girl was healthy and strong but losing Daenerys, with Aegon away in Kings Landing had been the saddest day Winterfell had seen since the war started; perhaps even more so. The child was a beautiful black-haired babe and grew stronger each day with her wet nurse. She was well cared for and loved. Sansa prayed for Aegon's safe return every time she held the child. That night, Drogon flew off had hadn't been sighted since.
Brienne looked down at the baby and then over at Sansa. "You know I love you but as soon as we're able, Jaime and the baby and I will be going to Tarth as I'd planned," Brienne said, pulling Sansa from her sadness.
"I know," Sansa said solemnly. "Let's just enjoy what time we have left." Sansa kissed the baby atop her head and then kissed Brienne's cheek. "Soon enough I'll have plenty to keep me occupied and to keep my mind from those hauntings. I will miss you more than you know."
"We'll miss you too. I'd like to say we can visit but let's not make promises we may not be able to keep."
"May I come in now? It feels like hours since I've seen my ladies," Jaime said, smiling wide and dimpled from the doorway.
"They are all yours Ser Jaime. You are indeed the luckiest man alive today," Sansa said as she passed him on her way out. "I'll come back later to check on you," she said and closed the door.
"Alone at last," Jaime said, sitting down slowly next to Brienne, on the bed. Again, he winced slightly as he settled.
"You bathed," Brienne said, pretending to sniff him. "Thank the Gods." She laughed softly. "Would you like to hold your daughter?"
"I thought you'd never ask," he answered, as she lifted the baby and rested her into the crook of his right arm. "She's like the beautiful white wing of a dove." Jaime stroked her downy white hair softly with his fingertips.
"Are you going to tell me now about your injury?" she asked, resting her hand on his where it sat cradling the baby.
"Battle wounds my love. I took a good beating in Kings Landing. I'm an old man now you know." He smiled. "It takes us longer to heal. Please, don't worry. I'm here now and we can discuss all of the bloody nonsense next week or next year for all I care. This little dove is all that matters now."
"She needs her father. I need her father. I trust you're always honest with me, Jaime. I won't worry as long as I know you'll be fine."
"Father," he whispered softly. After several moments he asked, "Podrick explained to me that we are going to Tarth as soon as you and the baby are well enough to travel."
"Yes. I'm certain my father would love to meet his first grandchild as well as his son in law."
"I think that's a lovely idea, don't you little dove?" Jaime whispered to his daughter. "Do you know your mother is the bravest and most honorable knight in all of the seven kingdoms? She nearly bested your father once. I know you'll be as strong and beautiful and honorable as she is…as will your brothers and sisters," he said, leaning down to kiss her head and then looking up from under his brow at Brienne with that devilish grin she loved.
"So, it's over? All of it?" Brienne asked. Her tone was pensive and cautious. "You do know what I mean?"
Jaime sighed, and his gaze turned cold. "It's over. King Aegon has remained in Kings Landing to sort the rest. I've given Tyrion Casterly Rock. He's always wanted it and I really couldn't care less where we live as long as we're together. We are free to live our lives as we choose. I choose to get fat and make beautiful children and grow old with you," Jaime said, leaning over as Brienne sat up and met him above their daughter's peaceful slumber with a deep and loving kiss.
"How many children and just how fat?" she asked, kissing him again.
"Slow down darling. Not too fat to make more children." He winked. "One a year perhaps?" he chuckled softly as he sat back.
"Dove," Brienne said over a sleepy sigh.
"Yes, she is indeed a beautiful dove," Jaime said, gently rocking their daughter in his arms.
"Her name should be Dove. Dove Joanna Lannister of Tarth."
"It's perfect," Jaime said. "What do you think? Shall we name you Dove?" Jaime whispered to her. Her big blue eyes fluttered open and she stretched long in his arms, making a soft cooing sound. "Well mother, it appears our Lady of Tarth approves. Brienne? Brienne?"
The room was silent but for Brienne's soft breathing as she drifted off to sleep. Jaime slowly stood with Dove cradled in his arms and walked to the window. The sun had begun to rise over the new Winterfell, and as its beams reached across the lands before him, the fingers of light crept from the ground below up the castle wall and into the window, illuminating Dove's golden hair. "Here's your new world, Dove. I want to tell you a secret, but you must keep it between us. Promise? I was a knight you see. I fought for many years with a sword and then, one day, I met this glorious and beautiful lady knight. For years we fought battles in the dark and then one day, fate brought us back together. Before we knew it, there you were. Now here is the most important secret of all so you mustn't tell all right? Your mother believes I did it all for honor, but the truth is, I did it all for love."
Author's Note: This evening, I dozed off and took a nap. I had a dream I was in some strange place, sitting on the ground leaning back against a stone wall. My mother had been in the dream, but she wandered off and said goodbye. Suddenly out of nowhere, I looked up and there stood Jaime Lannister himself in all of his beautiful glory. He was speaking with someone else and then turned and noticed me sitting there. He stepped towards me and knelt in front of me and said, "Well hello there." Oddly in my dream, we knew each other and apparently very intimately as when he knelt in front of me, I reached up and took his face in my hands and said, "Can we talk later?" and he replied, "You have a story to finish. Perhaps after that."
Suddenly, I awoke. My cat was still perched next to my head on the sofa. I closed my eyes because I wanted desperately to return to the dream, but I couldn't. Instead, I did what he asked.
I hope you have all enjoyed this story. I have another in my head fr these two crazy kids. If Jaime - Nikolaj comes to me in a dream again, I'm sorry but I refuse to wake up and write the entire night. I'd rather keep on dreaming.
All the best to you my lovies. See you soon.