Along the Frayed Edge
A/N: This set after "The Bear and the Maiden Fair".
Many thanks to my wonderful beta, Uroboros75, whose infinite knowledge of the ASoIaF universe has been of great aid while writing this story.
Music: "Get Up" – Barcelona
Disclaimer: I do not own Game of Thrones or the book series "A Song of Ice and Fire" which the show is based on. I am simply dipping my toes into the world for a little bit.
"Much talking is the cause of danger. Silence is the means of avoiding misfortune. The talkative parrot is shut up in a cage. Other birds, without speech, fly freely about." - Saskya Pandita
After they stowed away the horses and made camp for the night, he found Brienne quite far from the rest of their campsite, having her wounds tended to by Maester Qyburn. The sight was mildly unnerving; from what little he had learned of the grey-robed man, the maester had a past shadier than the scorched halls of Harrenhal. He hadn't expected her to have withdrawn so far, much less allowing a mistrustful maester to tend to her wounds, but he decided it would be best to keep his reservations to himself.
Qyburn held a damp cloth in one hand to wipe the caking blood from her wounds. A dark bottle was nestled next to the foot of Brienne's tattered gown, housing something that smelled faintly acrid; she gritted her teeth as he pressed the rag against the wound, but made no sound of discomfort. After a moment, he removed it and went about cleaning the rest of her injuries.
Jaime stepped forward from the darkness, calmly and quietly so as not to alarm them. Brienne looked up from the gash on her shoulder, a ghastly thing that stained her pale skin beneath the ruins of her dress, and paused, watching him for a moment. Qyburn looked first to Brienne before turning his head over his shoulder, noticing Jaime for the first time.
"Good evening, my lord," Qyburn said. "Does your arm trouble you?"
"No," Jaime replied. "Would you leave us, maester?" He made a subtle motion towards Brienne.
Qyburn's brows drew together slightly, as if he were suspicious, perhaps even annoyed, but Jaime wasn't greatly concerned. Qyburn doused a fresh cloth and moved to the wounds on Brienne's neck, a crimson triad that blazed against her skin.
"I would gladly do so, but I am not yet finished tending to Lady Brienne's wounds," explained Qyburn. "We wouldn't want anything to fester, would we?"
He looked up at Brienne, and Jaime could see her struggling not to grimace from the oddly unsettling undertone to her caretaker's delivery.
"You will do so now, not later," Jaime insisted. "There must surely be herbs or somesuch laying about in the woods whose properties would be useful for your work."
Qyburn moved his hand from Brienne's wounds and stood, turning to face Jaime. "Very well, my lord," he acceded. "As it is desired, I shall busy myself for a time." He took a long piece of cloth, wound it around Brienne's shoulder and tied it with deft hands, a process that nonetheless took a few minutes more than Jaime would have preferred. When he finished binding Brienne's wound, he departed from their quiet alcove and disappeared into the thicket of brambles and bushes beyond.
Jaime watched him go until even his shadow had vanished, and then continued to observe that spot for a few moments more to be sure that they wouldn't risk any undesired disturbances. He felt the heavy weight of his arm in its sling pulling on his neck, a light sensation flitting about where his hand once was, as though tiny insects were skittering over his skin. He had nothing but the ghosts of old sensation now.
"You're rather quiet," Brienne interjected, drawing Jaime out of his reverie like a cold wave smacking him in the face. He parted his eyes from the dark canopy where the maester had disappeared and looked over to Brienne. "You've hardly said a word over these past three days."
Her tone had turned noticeably more gentle, then. Normally, he would have expected one that was unabashed, almost rough, but this one yielded a hint of concern - possibly even compassion, if he dared to consider it.
He suspected that Brienne was referring to their plodding trek from Harrenhal to this place, wherever it was - some forgotten glade tucked away in the heart of the Riverlands, hidden away from anything resembling civilization. He hadn't said much to her after getting her out of the bear pit, his most pressing concern thus far having been on putting as many leagues between them and Harrenhal as he could.
Brienne touched the wounds on her neck, and when she moved her hand, dark blood smeared against her skin. A few shreds of fabric from her dress dangled loosely from where she had been struck, granted their own movement by the wind that drifted through the brush. It was strange to see her in a light that didn't catch all the hard edges of her being. Here, she was as much a woman as a soldier, if not more. After facing a bear and being nearly torn to shreds by the beast, she remained completely and utterly unshaken.
Was it all for show? A clever facade that she had erected to keep him on his toes? Or perhaps it had been for the benefit of the Bolton bannermen. Either way, she hadn't let much slip since their departure from Harrenhal. She had yet to confide to him about what transpired in that place, yet he didn't think it would be decent to try and pry it out of her by force, and so he had kept to himself.
"Are you just going to stand there," said Brienne, "or have your boots stuck to the ground?"
Jaime blinked once, and then shook his head gently before moving over to where Brienne sat. She had found a large rock encrusted in the cusp of a small slope. Its small top curved gently with the slope, providing a somewhat suitable seat. As Jaime sat next to her, Brienne placed her hands in her lap, resting on the dirty fabric of her dress. A single drop of blood fell from the wound on her neck, which she swept away quickly. Jaime watched her silently, feeling a small margin of guilt for having sent Qyburn away so hastily, but opportunity was short, and Jaime had learned it was better to not waste it.
Brienne pulled another piece of cloth from beside her, one that she must have gotten from the maester, and placed it against the wound on her neck. She fidgeted a few times, trying to find it exactly, pressing the cloth against her skin, but still being dissatisfied.
"Here, let me," Jaime offered, reaching out his good hand to hold the cloth. He made the motion gently, cautiously, knowing that Brienne could slap his hand away at any instant.
She sat motionless for a minute, her eyes drifting from his hand to meet his eyes like sapphire ships. The corners of her mouth tightened, and she gave him a solemn nod before allowing him to place his hand on her neck. Her skin was warm beneath the cloth, heat curling around the edges against his fingers. He could feel a faint beat that he suspected was her heart, but did his best to ignore it.
"You know that maester?" she asked.
"In a manner of speaking. He tended to my arm after we arrived at Harrenhal."
"A good thing he was at hand, then," she replied. "Who knows how much longer you would have lasted otherwise."
"A question I'm glad was never answered. As for the maester, his help seems to be one of the better things he's done as of late."
"He's missing his chain," Brienne replied simply.
"Indeed he is," Jaime replied with an ounce of smugness.
Brienne pursed her lips at him. "And I take it you happen to know why?"
His next words turned more serious. "Qyburn is a bit... peculiar, as far as maesters go. He believes that to truly understand disease and affliction, one must observe it and study it - to become so intimate with the flesh that by principle alone, it may well constitute a breach of maesterly vows of celibacy."
Brienne's blue eyes widened, like an ocean swallowing up the land on a distant horizon. Concern pooled in her expression, her large lips drooping slightly. "He conducted... experiments..."
Jaime nodded. "He's alluded to as much. Suffice it to say that he knows his way around healing."
"He'll likely go his own way once we reach King's Landing," Brienne added, finding the idea to be of some small reassurance. "Given the size of the city, someone with his talent would undoubtedly be of use to someone."
"Undoubtedly," Jaime echoed, averting his eyes to check her wound. The blood was slowing, but had not stopped completely. He could feel the rhythmic beat of her heart against his fingertips. Brienne did not make eye contact with him, instead staring ahead at the path that lead away from their canopy, and back to the camp where the rest of Locke's men were - likely drinking and bleating The Bear and the Maiden Fair amongst themselves.
"How do you feel about returning to King's Landing?" she asked him suddenly, as if the silence wasn't already begging for interruption.
Admittedly, the question was not one that Jaime had considered. King's Landing had always been a place that welcomed him, shielded him, just as he had done for the city. He had been a member of the Kingsguard since he was young, and he had always known that he belonged in a city like that. When he had first been captured, he had looked forward to returning there once he'd taken care of the aggravating thorns that the Starks had become.
Now… now, he found himself uncertain on many counts. He'd been away from King's Landing for many turns of the moon. What if he found it a world changed when he returned? What would become of him in a place where the sword spoke louder than the tongue? His sword hand was no more, to speak nothing of what might become of his tenure in the Kingsguard.
He only hoped that he would be able to return the Stark girls to their mother, as he had sworn.
"It'll be a welcome sight," he said nonchalantly. "Though I wonder how much has changed in the time since I last was there.
"No more than what has changed in you, I would suspect," Brienne replied, bringing her hand up to her neck. Jaime moved his fingers away slowly, allowing her to take it without the slightest touch of their fingers.
"And to what degree do you see change in me, my lady?" he asked her, daring a slight smile.
"More than you're like to realize," she quipped, pulling the cloth from her neck, which was now stained with crimson streaks.
"I'd hardly call that fair," he retorted.
"Only because you've walked on golden rugs your entire life and been able to request everything you could ever ask for!" she snapped back at him. She stopped, then shook her head, her eyes turning away from him. When she looked back up, her face was stoic. "Some things we can't take from others. Some things we must learn for ourselves."
For a minute, he's silenced by her words and the unhindered honesty that they carried. There was a shred of truth to what she said, but Jaime would never allow himself to admit it, as much as he wanted to. Brienne was as much a highborn as himself, certainly by name, though not nearly as much by spirit. She spoke of the japes and jests of men that she had defeated; perhaps their footsteps had stained that golden carpet before she ever had a chance to set foot upon it.
"What have you learned during our little escapade?" he asked.
"That people are untrustworthy," she quipped, obviously meant to insult him.
"I thought we've already established that," he said, feigning disbelief.
She studied him for a moment, her eyes calm and her face expressionless. It was a wonder how she managed to maintain such composure, but Jaime supposed it was no different than for any other soldier - and Brienne, like many others he had known, was a soldier through and through.
"Well then," he began, "how do you feel about going to King's Landing?"
She takes a few moments with her answer, and he doesn't press her. Arguing with Brienne is an exercise fraught with futility, and though he still enjoys it on occasion, this was not the time for it.
"Intrigued," she replied at last. "I'm very interested to see the city - as well as seeing if your family's notoriety holds true."
Jaime pursed his lips. "Oh, you have no idea," he said, imagining his sister's reaction to a woman like Brienne. "You would do well to watch yourself in there."
She raised an eyebrow. "And what makes you think I won't?"
"I said nothing about that," Jaime said. "I'm giving you a fair warning. King's Landing is no place for those without vigilant eyes."
"Are you always so paranoid?" she asked as she tosses the cloth aside. "You're all so concerned with what the other is doing that you forget about yourselves. That's what gets people killed. It's because they are watching others instead of watching themselves!"
"You didn't seem to object my watching out for you in that bear pit," he replied, instantly regretting the words.
"I didn't have the option to," she responded. "As I recall, you told me to 'get behind you' and blatantly ignored my objections."
"There was a bloody bear!" he exclaimed. "You don't seriously think that I was about to let you fight the beast by yourself, do you?"
He watched her brow furrow, her sapphire eyes taking on a shade of navy, her jaw tightening. She was unimpressed - Jaime could tell all too easily, and he tried to resist the urge to grimace at the thought of her impending retaliation.
"I can look after myself," she snapped, and promptly stood up to leave.
"By the gods, woman," Jaime hissed. "They gave you a wooden sword!"
She stopped, but didn't turn to face him. Her large hands were curled into fists at her sides, nestled into the pale pink fabric of her dress.
"It wasn't a fair fight," Jaime added.
"There you go again," Brienne noted, turning back to face him. "It wasn't fair. Do you know how many times you've whined about things not being fair? Every bloody time something doesn't go your way, you whine about it. Things are not always fair, Kingslayer, and when they aren't, you have to make the best with what you have."
Her words stung, more than he cares to admit - and all the more since the loss of his sword hand, a loss that was ironically all too palpable. He doubted that Brienne intended any jest at his condition with her comment, but even that failed to comfort him.
"I'm not trying to make this a contest," he muttered. "Hell has come knocking at both our doors, and we've been left to deal with it ourselves."
Her expression softened slightly, caught in the nimbus of shadow and light that fell from the trees above her. Light tangled in her golden hair, scrambling amongst the dirty strands like stray birds. It was almost flattering.
"Hell comes for no one, Ser Jaime," she replied. "Some just have the misfortune of finding it one time too many." And she walked away.
Jaime held back a sigh as he watched Brienne leave and thought what an unfortunate sight it was.