A/N: I haven't been doing much writing lately due to starting school, but I managed to complete this in only three days in a wild burst of creativity and desperation, as a birthday gift for a friend. Also, this was a very interesting exercise in how excruciatingly difficult it is to write the point of view of a six-year-old. Enjoy! Mel, you can read this. There are no spoilers-some stuff you don't find out until the second book, but nothing of an inflammatory nature.
A little brother may live to be a hundred, but he will always be a little brother.
Tyrion doesn't think he's ever seen anything so huge and powerful as his brother's war horse. The great beast is a mountain of muscle, his golden bay coat glossy as polished armor, and his name is Aemon, for the greatest knight who ever lived. Tyrion would be afraid of Aemon's heavy hooves, but one of Jaime's hands rests on his shoulder, and the other is tangled into the horse's thick mane. So he stands near enough to see where the hairs swirls together at the hip joint, and the white spot on the chest.
It's like the clouds, that spot, Tyrion thinks. A thousand shapes, different to every eye. He tilts his head to one side, then the other, squinting each of his own mismatched eyes in turn. When he looks with the black eye, it looks like a plump partridge. With the green one, it resembles a hat.
Jaime frowns down at him, puzzled.
"Have you got something in your eyes?"
Tyrion bounces up and down on the balls of his feet. He takes in a deep breath, smelling loamy earth, dusty straw, and sweaty horse.
"When are you going to ride him? In a tournament, I mean."
Tyrion is unused to being alone with his brother again, and it's making words trip on his tongue. When Jaime had come back to Casterly Rock, he'd successfully evaded his nursemaid and ran outside as fast as he could, which was not very fast. He had hurried to his brother, and flung himself headlong into Jaime's legs, pressing his face into Jaime's thigh. He had reached down to ruffle Tyrion's hair, laughing.
Tyrion had lifted his face, beaming with excitement.
"It pleases me to see you, Ser Jaime," he'd said, half-formal and half-teasing, emphasizing his brother's new title. The word rang in the morning air, bright and shining and full of promise. They had the same luster as the fine new horse Jaime had dismounted, swinging his long legs gracefully over the broad back. The same luster as the gilded armor their father had ordered made in King's Landing. When an eldest son becomes a knight, Tyrion has noted, many gifts soon follow.
Tyrion used to play at being a knight, when he was even littler and not so smart. He had a wooden sword, and he'd duel against the pillars in the hall outside his bedchamber, hopping as he parried and thrust. When Jaime visited, they'd play together, but otherwise he'd been alone. No one in their right mind wanted to cross swords with Lord Tywin's stunted second son. When Tyrion had turned six, he'd stopped that game. Instead of hammering at the stones themselves with his tiny sword, he'd hammered at books heavy as rocks. He made more progress that way.
Briefly, he imagines Jaime fighting in a tourney, tall and shining and golden. Tyrion tries to picture his brother taking the favor of a faceless woman, but she keeps turning into Cersei. His sister would tie ribbons around Jaime's wrist, gentle as a dove, and then pinch Tyrion as hard as she could the moment their brother turned his back.
Jaime pulls on his horse's mane, thinking.
"There's to be a great tourney at Harrenhal, and I should ride there. And Father's said he'll hold one here when we turn sixteen."
Cersei will be queen of love and beauty at least once before the year is done, then. Jaime can ride, and fight with sword or spear, better than almost any man. Tyrion knows this—that there is nothing Jaime cannot do—with the same certainty that he knows Jaime will always love his twin more than anything else.
He takes a brief, spiteful moment to wish that Cersei and their father will both stay in King's Landing and never come back.
When he was even littler and not so smart, he'd asked Jaime why he kissed his sister on the mouth and not his brother. Cersei is my twin. Twins are different. Even though Tyrion is six now, and a lot older, he still doesn't entirely understand why twins are different. He doesn't know any twins, except for Jaime and Cersei.
Tyrion considers asking whether he can come to the tourney, but remembers he's never left Casterly Rock and large numbers of strange people make him want to hide underneath his bed. Maybe he can watch the twins' nameday tournament from his bedchamber window, and see the sunlight flash golden on his brother's lance and his sister's hair. It's a very lonely thought. Maybe he'll pretend they don't exist, look out the north window instead of the south, and look for partridges in the clouds.
"Can you check her splint?" Stannis blurts, thrusting out his arms in entreaty to Maester Cressen.
His hands are cupped around his wounded bird, soft feathers tickling at his skin. She used to peck at him with her sharp little beak, but he's coaxed her into trusting him with scraps of rabbit and gentle pats, and she'll let him hold her now.
Cressen sighs, shifting bottles of pale green tonic around his medicine chest. The dusty glass tinkles as it strikes together. A harsher man would refuse; Stannis would in his place. The maester has much and more to do. Stannis's mother is with child, half the groomsmen have cowpox, and Robert's wrist is strained and swollen from over-vigorous swordplay. The broken wing of a small, bedraggled bird is of little consequence to anyone, except for Stannis. But Stannis is of consequence to Cressen, and so the old man complies.
The hawk squeaks in fear as the maester's well-trained fingers delicately poke at the wooden bracing on her wing. Stannis pats her head awkwardly, ducking out of Cressen's way, and she quiets. It's odd, that he should be able to calm her, and not Cressen, who is one of the most able men Stannis knows.
"She is free of infection. But…her wing will heal crookedly, nonetheless." Cressen says, his voice deep and quiet, as if to soften a blow.
Stannis flinches at his words anyway, and then lifts his chin defiantly.
"She's going to fly. I know it."
Speaking stubbornly does not always kill doubt, but he tries anyway.
"Do you have a name for her?"
A name means she won't die.
Stannis named her the day he found her, but no one's yet asked him.
"Her name is Proudwing."
The name floats on his tongue; its sounds fall the same as Windproud, his father's flagship, swift and soaring. It sounds magic, hovering in the air. He's said it before, but only to her.
If someone else hears me say it, that means it's real.
"A fierce name for a small bird."
"Stannis of house Baratheon is a fierce name too, but I'll grow into it."
The maester snorts with laughter. Stannis smiles awkwardly.
Behind him, the door bursts open, slamming suddenly against the wall. Stannis reflexively clutches Proudwing to his chest, and lets go of the smile.
"Could you at least knock?" Stannis asks his brother peevishly. Robert ignores him, and charges straight for the maester, chattering eagerly.
"Cressen, Cressen, did you feel the baby kick? I haven't yet; Mother let me try, but the stupid baby decided to stop moving."
Stannis has felt the baby kick. Perhaps Robert is too loud, and scares it into stillness.
"Robert, please knock before you come in. And yes, I did."
"Do you think it's going to be a boy or a girl?"
"I have no idea. Not even a maester can tell."
Robert glances at Stannis, grinning. "I hope I get another brother, but a more interesting one."
Cressen sighs. "Robert, please."
Stannis would prefer a sister. He doesn't like brothers, and besides, Robert shouldn't always get what he wants.
"Is Stannis's bird going to die?"
Stannis looks down at Proudwing, his scowl softening as he touches the feathers above her clear amber eyes.
"No. She's going to live."
"Is she?" Robert demands of the maester, as if Stannis hasn't spoken.
"I just said she was!"
"I am confident that she will indeed live."
"But she's not going to fly properly. She's too weak, and her wing won't work right. Stannis, you should get another bird, a better one."
"I don't want a better bird. I want mine."
"Suit yourself. I can go hunting with mine, and you can stay home and try to get it to fly."
"I don't want to go hunting with you," Stannis mutters.
For a moment, he thinks Robert will yell at him. But he just laughs.
"I don't want to hunt with you either. You'd spoil it."
Somehow, the laughter hurts more than shouting would.
Theon kneels before the thin line of brackish water, a narrow channel down from the rock to the great wide sea. The stone beneath him is wet and slick, and the knobs of his knees slip back and forth. He spreads his arms for balance, teetering uncertainly. Theon glances up at his brother, worried."What if I fall in?"
Waiting for a response, he anxiously pokes the tip of his tongue into the unexpected gaps left by his missing milk teeth.
Maron rolls his eyes.
"It's shallow enough, stupid. You won't drown."
Theon looks down at the white foam dotting the top of the channel. He can see the bottom, murky as it is, but the current is faster than he would like. Theon is a strong swimmer, but small for his age, and even strong swimmers can drown, no matter what Maron says. A knot of anxiety curls in the pit of his stomach.
Theon looks back up. Maron is staring at him with disdain in his eyes.
"Come on," he scoffs. "Rodrik did it to me when I was your age. Don't be such a whiny little girl."
The nervous knot expands and hardens, but Theon's resolve hardens too.
You'll captain a longship one day. If you fall overboard, you'll want to keep the air in.
Dagmer Cleftjaw can hold his breath for nearly two hundred counts. Theon's watched him do it, his great ugly face growing first red, then purple. When he finally opens his mouth, his breath comes in gasps and wheezes, and he clutches his chest like he's been stabbed. But afterwards, he barks laughter into his mead and beams bright as anything.
"All right. I'm ready."
"Finally," Maron grunts, shifting closer. He curses when his boots slide on the wet rock.
He ought to have left his feet bare, to give him better leverage. Theon curls his own exposed toes and waits.
Maron's heavy hand clamps down on his shoulder.
"I'll hold you steady."
Theon tilts forward, dipping his head down. Closing his eyes to keep the salt out, he takes a huge, shuddering gulp of air, and slides down on his belly, shoving his face into the water.
For long moments—the space of several breaths, were he breathing—it's oddly calm, with the white noise of the water buffeting about his ears, and the soft chill of it pressing in on his eyelids.
The cold is just starting to numb his submerged skin when, suddenly, something comes down hard on his back, pinning him to the rock.
Theon breathes in, a sharp jolt of surprise, and what seems like half the ocean comes coursing into his nostrils. The salt burns his throat on the way down, and trickles into his lungs.
I'm going to drown.
He starts to thrash, spitting water like a madman. His eyes shoot open, and, though they're stinging and blurred, he can still see grey pebbles speckling the streambed. Whatever's holding him down doesn't move. Theon forces out a sound, muffled by the water, half scream and half choking.
The weight on his back shifts, and something grabs his hair at the base, where it's tied back, and drags him up.
Hunched over, in an awkward crabbed position, Theon gasps and retches until he no longer feels like his insides are sloshing with water.
When he's finished, he looks accusingly at his brother. His eyes are burning with tears, both from the salt and from his fear.
"What did you do?"
Maron at least has the grace to look disconcerted.
"It was a jape! I could have pulled you up anytime. You weren't supposed to practically drink the stuff!"
Theon scrubs at his eyes angrily.
"You weren't supposed to try and drown me."
"You were perfectly safe," Maron grumbles. "Every proper sailor almost drowns at least once."
Theon looks down at his hands. He must have scrabbled at the rocks, trying to free himself; the tips of his fingers are scratched and raw. A droplet of blood blooms at the corner of his left thumbnail.
"I was scared," he says in his smallest voice.
"You were stupid." Maron says.
"Maron's stupid," Asha says quietly at dinner that night, frowning. She stabs at a long, slimy length of boiled herring, and glares at their brother as if she's picturing his face on the fish.
"He should have known better."
Theon squirms in his chair, and picks at the chafed skin on his fingers.
"Rodrik did it to him too."
Asha removes his left hand from the ministration of his right, clasping it in her own.
"Stop doing that. It's even worse than when you bite them. And besides, it doesn't matter that Rodrik did it first. Rodrik's only two years older than him and he's twice your size."
"I'm not that small," Theon yelps indignantly.
"You're two-thirds of his size, then, little brother."
"I'll be taller than you someday. I'll be taller than Maron someday. And Rodrik. And even Father."
"If you're going to be that tall, you'll need to eat that lovely herring I see lying untouched on your plate."
Theon wrinkles his nose.
"I hate herring. I'd rather starve than eat herring."
"If you starve, you'll never be tall. And if you don't eat your herring, you won't eat my pudding."
"I get to eat your pudding?"
Asha puts on an exaggerated grumpy expression.
"Eat the herring, and we'll see. Don't make me regret my kindness."
Theon smiles broadly up at her, eyes shining.
"I won't. I really want your pudding."