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Two days’ ride to either side of the kingsroad, they passed through a wide swath of destruction, miles of blackened fields and orchards where the trunks of dead trees jutted into the air like archers’ stakes. The bridges were burnt as well, and the streams swollen by autumn rains, so they had to range along the banks in search of fords. The nights were alive with howling of wolves, but they saw no people.  At Maidenpool, Lord Mooton’s red salmon still flew above the castle on its hill, but the town walls were deserted, the gates smashed, half the homes and shops burned or plundered. They saw nothing living but a few feral dogs that went slinking away at the sound of their approach. The pool from which the town took its name, where legend said that Florian the Fool had first glimpsed Jonquil bathing with her sisters, was so choked with rotting corpses that the water had turned into a murky grey-green soup.  Jaime took one look and burst into song. “Six maids there were in a spring-fed pool...”  “What are you doing?” Brienne demanded.  “Singing. ‘Six Maids in a Pool I’m sure you’ve heard it. And shy little maids they were, too. Rather like you. Though somewhat prettier, I’ll warrant.”  “Be quiet,” the wench said, with a look that suggested she would love to leave him floating in the pool among the corpses.  “Please, Jaime,” pleaded cousin Cleos. “Lord Mooton is sworn to Riverrun, we don’t want to draw him out of his castle. And there may be other enemies hiding in the rubble...”  “Hers or ours? They are not the same, coz. I have a yen to see if the wench can use that sword she wears.”  “If you won’t be quiet, you leave me no choice but to gag you, Kingslayer.”  “Unchain my hands and I’ll play mute all the way to King’s Landing. What could be fairer than that, wench?”  “Brienne! My name is Brienne!” Three crows went flapping into the air startled at the sound.  “Care for a bath, Brienne?” He laughed. “You’re a maiden and there’s the pool. I’ll wash your back.” He used to scrub Cersei’s back, when they were children together at Casterly Rock.  The wench turned her horse’s head and trotted away. Jaime and Ser Cleos followed her out of the ashes of Maidenpool. A half mile on, green began to creep back into the world once more. Jaime was glad. The burned lands reminded him too much of Aerys.  “She’s taking the Duskendale road,” Ser Cleos muttered. “it would be safer to follow the coast.”  “Safer but slower. I’m for Duskendale, coz. If truth be told, I’m bored with your company.” You may be half Lannister, but you’re a far cry from my sister.  He could never bear to be long apart from his twin. Even as children, they would creep into each other’s beds and sleep with their arms entwined. Even in the womb. Long before his sister’s flowering or the advent of his own manhood, they had seen mares and stallions in the fields and dogs and bitches in the kennels and played at doing the same. Once their mother’s maid had caught them at it... he did not recall just what they had been doing, but whatever it was had horrified Lady Joanna. She’d sent the maid away, moved Jaime’s bedchamber to the other side of Casterly Rock, set a guard outside Cersei’s, and told them that they must never do that again or she would have no choice but to tell their lord father. They need not have feared, though. It was not long after that she died birthing Tyrion. Jaime barely remembered what his mother had looked like.  Perhaps Stannis Baratheon and the Starks had done him a kindness. They had spread their tale of incest all over the Seven Kingdoms, so there was nothing left to hide. Why shouldn’t I marry Cersei openly and share her bed every night? The dragons always married their sisters. Septons, lords, and smallfolk had turned a blind eye to the Targaryens for hundreds of years, let them do the same for House Lannister. It would play havoc with Joffrey’s claim to the crown, to be sure, but in the end it had been swords that had won the iron Throne for Robert, and swords could keep Joffrey there as well, regardless of whose seed he was. We could marry him to Myrcella, once we’ve sent Sansa Stark back to her mother. That would show the realm that the Lannisters are above their laws, like gods and Targaryens.  Jaime had decided that he would return Sansa, and the younger girl as well if she could be found. It was not like to win him back his lost honor, but the notion of keeping faith when they all expected betrayal amused him more than he could say.  They were riding past a trampled wheatfield and a low stone wall when Jaime heard a soft thrum from behind, as if a dozen birds had taken flight at once. “Down!” he shouted, throwing himself against the neck of his horse. The gelding screamed and reared as an arrow took him in the rump. other shafts went hissing past. Jaime saw Ser Cleos lurch from the saddle, twisting as his foot caught in the stirrup. His palfrey bolted, and Frey was dragged past shouting, head bouncing against the ground.  Jaime’s gelding lumbered off ponderously, blowing and snorting in pain. He craned around to look for Brienne. She was still ahorse, an arrow lodged in her back and another in her leg, but she seemed not to feel them. He saw her pull her sword and wheel in a circle, searching for the bowmen. “Behind the wall,” Jaime called, fighting to turn his halfblind mount back toward the fight. The reins were tangled in his damned chains, and the air was full of arrows again. “At them!” he shouted, kicking to show her how it was done. The old sorry horse found a burst of speed from somewhere. Suddenly they were racing across the wheatfield, throwing up clouds of chaff. Jaime had just enough time to think, The wench had better follow before they realize they’re being charged by an unarmed man in chains. Then he heard her coming hard behind. “Evenfall!” she shouted as her plow horse thundered by. She brandished her longsword. “Tarth! Tarth!”  A few last arrows sped harmlessly past; then the bowmen broke and ran, the way unsupported bowmen always broke and ran before the charge of knights. Brienne reined up at the wall. By the time Jaime reached her, they had all melted into the wood twenty yards away. “Lost your taste for battle?”  “They were running.”  “That’s the best time to kill them.”  She sheathed her sword. “Why did you charge?”  “Bowmen are fearless so long as they can hide behind walls and shoot at you from afar, but if you come at them, they run. They know what will happen when you reach them. You have an arrow in your back, you know. And another in your leg. You ought to let me tend them.”  “YOU?”  “Who else? The last I saw of cousin Cleos, his palfrey was using his head to plow a furrow. Though I suppose we ought to find him. He is a Lannister of sorts.”  They found Cleos still tangled in his stirrup. He had an arrow through his right arm and a second in his chest, but it was the ground that had done for him. The top of his head was matted with blood and mushy to the touch, pieces of broken bone moving under the skin beneath the pressure of Jaime’s hand.  Brienne knelt and held his hand. “He’s still warm.”  “He’ll cool soon enough. I want his horse and his clothes. I’m weary of rags and fleas.”  “He was your cousin.” The wench was shocked.  “Was,” Jaime agreed. “Have no fear, I am amply provisioned in cousins. I’ll have his sword as well. You need someone to share the watches.”  “You can stand a watch without weapons.” She rose.  “Chained to a tree? Perhaps I could. Or perhaps I could make my own bargain with the next lot of outlaws and let them slit that thick neck of yours, wench.”  “I will not arm you. And my name is -”  “ - Brienne, I know. I’ll swear an oath not to harm you, if that will ease your girlish fears.”  “Your oaths are worthless. You swore an oath to Aerys.”  “You haven’t cooked anyone in their armor so far as I know. And we both want me safe and whole in King’s Landing, don’t we?” He squatted beside Cleos and began to undo his swordbelt.  “Step away from him. Now. Stop that.”  Jaime was tired. Tired of her suspicions, tired of her insults, tired of her crooked teeth and her broad spotty face and that limp thin hair of hers. Ignoring her protests, he grasped the hilt of his cousin’s longsword with both hands, held the corpse down with his foot, and pulled. As the blade slid from the scabbard, he was already pivoting, bringing the sword around and up in a swift deadly arc. Steel met steel with a ringing, bone-jarring clang. Somehow Brienne had gotten her own blade out in time. Jaime laughed. “Very good, wench.”  “Give me the sword, Kingslayer.”  “Oh, I will.” He sprang to his feet and drove at her, the longsword alive in his hands. Brienne jumped back, parrying, but he followed, pressing the attack. No sooner did she turn one cut than the next was upon her. The swords kissed and sprang apart and kissed again. Jaime’s blood was singing. This was what he was meant for; he never felt so alive as when he was fighting, with death balanced on every stroke. And with my wrists chained together, the wench may even give me a contest for a time. His chains forced him to use a two-handed grip, though of course the weight and reach were less than if the blade had been a true two-handed greatsword, but what did it matter? His cousin’s sword was long enough to write an end to this Brienne of Tarth.  High, low, overhand, he rained down steel upon her. Left, right, backslash, swinging so hard that sparks flew when the swords came together, upswing, sideslash, overhand, always attacking, moving into her, step and slide, strike and step, step and strike, hacking, slashing, faster, faster, faster...  ... until, breathless, he stepped back and let the point of the sword fall to the ground, giving her a moment of respite. “Not half bad,” he acknowledged. “For a wench.”  She took a slow deep breath, her eyes watching him warily. “I would not hurt you, Kingslayer.”  “As if you could.” He whirled the blade back up above his head and flew at her again, chains rattling.  Jaime could not have said how long he pressed the attack. It might have been minutes or it might have been hours; time slept when swords woke. He drove her away from his cousin’s corpse, drove her across the road, drove her into the trees. She stumbled once on a root she never saw, and for a moment he thought she was done, but she went to one knee instead of falling, and never lost a beat. Her sword leapt up to block a downcut that would have opened her from shoulder to groin, and then she cut at him, again and again, fighting her way back to her feet stroke by stroke.  The dance went on. He pinned her against an oak, cursed as she slipped away, followed her through a shallow brook half-choked with fallen leaves. Steel rang, steel sang, steel screamed and sparked and scraped, and the woman started grunting like a sow at every crash, yet somehow he could not reach her. It was as if she had an iron cage around her that stopped every blow.  “Not bad at all,” he said when he paused for a second to catch his breath, circling to her right.  “For a wench?”  “For a squire, say. A green one.” He laughed a ragged, breathless laugh. “Come on, come on, my sweetling, the music’s still playing. Might I have this dance, my lady?”  Grunting, she came at him, blade whirling, and suddenly it was Jaime struggling to keep steel from skin. One of her slashes raked across his brow, and blood ran down into his right eye. The Others take her, and Riverrun as well! His skills had gone to rust and rot in that bloody dungeon, and the chains were no great help either. His eye closed, his shoulders were going numb from the jarring they’d taken, and his wrists ached from the weight of chains, manacles, and sword. His longsword grew heavier with every blow, and Jaime knew he was not swinging it as quickly as he’d done earlier, nor raising it as high.  She is stronger than I am.  The realization chilled him. Robert had been stronger than him, to be sure. The White Bull Gerold Hightower as well, in his heyday, and Ser Arthur Dayne. Amongst the living, Greatjon Umber was stronger, Strongboar of Crakehall most likely, both Cleganes for a certainty. The Mountain’s strength was like nothing human. It did not matter. With speed and skill, Jaime could beat them all. But this was a woman. A huge cow of a woman, to be sure, but even so... by rights, she should be the one wearing down.  Instead she forced him back into the brook again, shouting, “Yield! Throw down the sword!”  A slick stone turned under Jaime’s foot. As he felt himself falling, he twisted the mischance into a diving lunge. His point scraped past her parry and bit into her upper thigh. A red flower blossomed, and Jaime had an instant to savor the sight of her blood before his knee slammed into a rock. The pain was blinding. Brienne splashed into him and kicked away his sword. “YIELD!”  Jaime drove his shoulder into her legs, bringing her down on top o............
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