1. The village

Once upon a time, in a village far beyond the horizon born a maiden of great beauty. She was so fair a maid that one would look at her face and claim he had never seen a more beautiful goddess. Even the gods were jealous of her unearthly pulchritude that they brought a terrible curse upon her family: her parents suffered a gruesome and unusual death while she was only a suckling babe and the pitiable maid herself was made to spend the rest of her living years inside a dark tower, accompanied by none but her own shadow. Any men who dared to approach her enraged the gods and brought divine retribution upon his being.

So the rumor was spread and repeated from kingdom to kingdom, each time with a faint touch of tragedy added to earn tears for the beauty and warn men against finding her. There was no cure for the damned but to let her rot and waste her existence in her stone prison. And while men, nobles and peasants, kings and knights, grieved for the maiden’s cruel fate every time the tale was told, none would try to pay her tower a visit for fear of provoking the gods’ wrath.

Such was only a rumor; the villagers knew better. Because it was them who had breathed life into it.

The fair maiden was indeed cursed and confined in a stone tower; however, there was a crucial twist to that tale that not a soul outside the village was to know. It was men’s hands rather than jealous gods’ that caused her miserable fate.

Long ago, a man had come to this village, a man wiser than all. At first, he came alone at a traveler, seeking a shelter on his long journey. After a while he agreed to stay, to the village head’s insistence. His knowledge was immense and he was generous to share with the humble folks all of what he knew. He taught children and adults about the world outside their gate; he helped the head govern the village; he provided cures for the sick and advised farmers the best time to sow. Most importantly, he was believed to be a powerful mage. And a mage indeed he was, for he was able to glimpse into the future and speak of things that have yet to happen.

A figure of fear and respect, his words were gods’ words.

All but the wise man rejoiced when the birth of the fair maiden was announced. When he said the maid would grow up to be a walking catastrophe to bring doom upon the village, none had the least doubt in his words, even the babe’s parents. Her beauty was a curse rather than a blessing : men who laid eyes upon her face would be enchanted and to win her hand, they would not shy from even the worst blasphemy. But to kill her would enrage the gods, for she was gods’ trial to mortals. Therefore, to prevent the impending disaster, the babe was torn from her mother’s bosom and left in the high tower near the darkswood. The child would be thoroughly provided, yet none was allowed to speak a word with her, let alone the truth of her birth.

There in the tower she grew up, alone and ignorant of the rest of the world. As she matured, her beauty blossomed, hidden, unappreciated, like a pretty rose in the dark.

Even when the cursed maiden was well confined and she had yet to invoke any catastrophes, darkness loomed over the faraway village. From the darkswoods he emerged, a ferocious monster with eyes like blazing embers. With him came the chaos and terror the small folks had never known before. Hunters would rather starve than step into the woods and woodsmen would rather freeze by their dying hearths than risk their lives, for those who had dared never returned.

Every night the beast howled. Its cry, an ominous and eerie mix of mourns and rages, echoed through the village. Men and animals were woken from their slumber to tremble in their imagined terror of his fangs and claws ripping out their soft hearts. Brave men sharpened their weapons in anxiety and gentle mothers barrred their doors, holding their children in utmost fear.

The beast has to be slew, the first brave man raised his fist and soon, his voice was joined by a thousand others, forming an anthem of valor and courage. To leave the beast alone, the wise man pledged but his voice was drown in their thundering footsteps as they marched into the darkwoods with swords and axes and arrows, all shining and new and thirsty for blood.

Many left their homes to join the quest of slaying the monster. Few returned with their limbs intact; fewer with their sanity. Men had left crying for victory; men returned screaming of the horror of the beast, of its eyes dripping blood, of its claws tearing flesh. It was then that the village folks came to the wise man, desperate for an advice. With sad eyes and soothing tone, the wise man spoke :

“To calm the raging beast, you must offer him your fairest maiden.”

His words of wisdom flew through the village like spring wind, carrying hope. One offering and they would all be safe again, in his wisdom the folks trusted. But when it came to sacrifice, who would volunteer? The village maids, all fair and young and lively, what parents would be cold-hearted enough to fling them into the beast’s jaws ?

To the tall tower they looked and a salvation they found. When it came to fairness, the cursed beauty was without competitors. Moreover, as her parents had passed away, drown in their grief and guilt of abandoning their only child, none would be saddened by her leave.

For the sake of the village, the maiden was brought out of her cell for the first time, diamond to be polished so that its glamor would shine the most.

To pray was all that was left.

(To be continued)

The Ugly Rose

Brienne Tyrell

Her family sigil is a golden rose. Roses are pretty, roses are precious, roses are appreciated. Roses are everything she was not and never would be.

This was not applied to the rest of her family though. Her lady grandmother, old as she was now, was said to have been a great beauty in her maiden days. Her lord father, albeit plump and often called an oaf by her lady grandmother, still retained handsome traits. Her lady mother, a silver-haired of Hightower, was still gorgeous even after three labors. Her brothers, Willas and Garlan, many a time she caught the handmaidens giggling and whispering their names with a flush on their cheeks to match. Though none of them would be allowed to marry her brothers, being lower born and all, it did not prevent the girls from fantasizing about being in their arms, touching their lips or even sharing their beds. Brienne knew not whether to be annoyed or to feel sorry for them, knowing her gallant Willas and Garlan would never take a maid to their beds without marital consent. And her younger twin Loras. They said his eyes were liquid gold and his smiles sweeter than the blooming roses in Highgarden. Girls swooned at the sight of Loras and boys showered him with praises. A tourney winner and a knight in shining armor, the youngest Tyrell outshined his older siblings in both look and fame.

It was a cruel jape of the gods, the old ones or the new, to be an ugly duckling in a family of roses. Brienne Tyrell was not the least beautiful by any standards, not even pleasant looking. Some heartless men would even say she looked hideous, grotesque, a monster. Of course they did not have the guts to say so mean words in front of her powerful lord father, her thorny lady grandmother or her gallant brothers, especially her short-tempered, overprotective Loras. However, they were bold enough to say in front of her face, assured by the fact that the only daughter of Lord Mace Tyrell would not report their insults to her family. Bitter as she was everytime she encountered those words, Brienne stomached them all. She might worry them later, when she was alone and teary in her bedchamber but in their presence, she smiled and even thanked them for their honest truth. That, she could do. Brienne Tyrell, square shoulders, crooked teeth, hard jaw and freckled face, bore not a trait of Tyrell fairness. Still, she would always embrace Tyrell grace.

There were times the bitterness overflowed, threatening to burst her throat. If there was a crueler jape than her being a Tyrell, it would be her being Loras’s twin. Brienne did not hate her younger brother; she loved him as much as any sisters did their brothers, probably even more since they were twins. The two of them were always inseparable, even as little children squatting in the garden catching rickets. They had come to the world together, their Maester said, his tiny hand clutching her tiny calf like a drowning man holding to a floating plank. Though they had shared the same womb, the same mother’s milk, why were they so different ? Loras was everything beautiful combined and Brienne the opposite. Loras earned their lord father’s affection and Brienne the pity. Loras was the subject of praises and Brienne only of scorns. Loras was their family’s pride and Brienne their family’s stain. Loras was the beauty and Brienne the beast.

Despite the irony that was her birth, Brienne never had the faintest malice toward her younger twin; in truth, the love she bore him was greater than she ever did herself, for Loras was the brilliance Brienne The Ugly Rose never hoped to attain.

“Monster and Maiden” was their favorite game. Loras insisted on being the “monster” while by right he should be the “maiden”. He who was the fairer child of the pair.

“Boys are no beauties. Beauties are for girls.” Her five-year-old brother puffed his small five-year-old chest and proclaimed with a gleam in his eyes. In spite of his tone, Loras, a witty and proud five-year-old boy, always wanted to make her feel good. The realization bought her mixed feelings. Even at such a young age, Brienne knew the meaning of being an ugly duck in a flock of swan. Loras knew. Their family knew. Others knew.

The boys who stood in front of them knew. Fossoway boys, as the green apples on their chest suggested, were both older and bigger than the Tyrell twins. Brienne was a bit larger than other girls but Loras was skinny even for his age. Lady Olenna often jested that the boy had reeds for his daily meals.

“A Tyrell lady always keeps calm and maintains her grace.”, her septa always told her. So far she had seen her lady mother, her lady aunts and cousins strictly abiding to this rule. “A Tyrell lady does not shed tears easily, for tears ruin her beauty. Instead, she smiles and shows her thorns if needs be.” Lady Olenna often told her, whenever her lady grandmother took her into her laps. “You are my only girl and a Tyrell also. So take my words to your heart.”

“But since I am not pretty, is it fine to shed my tears ?”

“You silly child. Fairness is a gift but grace is a practice. No matter how pretty a girl is, if she lacks grace, she is never a true lady.”

Her septa’s words and her grandmother’s Brienne wanted to follow but somehow, they proved too difficult for a five-year-old. Tears swelled in her big brown eyes as soon as the Fossoway pair began their cruel jests. They liked to make her cry like a wimpy ugly duckling, Brienne knew and she could not help but playing right into their evil little trap.

Her brother’s defending tone mixed with their tauntings yet Brienne could no longer figure out the words or the meanings. Quickly she ran, tears and snots mingled on her freckled cheeks. These boys would probably laugh at her face and tell her how she had managed to become even uglier but Brienne did not care. Let them have their fun, all she wanted was to run and hide.

There was a little alcove at the eastern corner of the castle. There Brienne hid and cried herself to an exhausted sleep.

She opened her eyes to the noises and sight of her brothers.

“There she is, the sleeping beauty.” Garlan, big and plump Garlan, teased her, not unfriendly. No matter where she was, her brothers always found out soon enough.

“Let’s go back before our lady mother kills us all.” A light-hearted jest.  Lady Alerie had never raised her voice, let alone beaten someone.

Garlan held out his hand for her to take. Of all her brothers, Garlan was the tallest and had the surest feet. Only he was able to pull her to her feet without both of them tumbling to the ground.

She refused his hand, stubbornly. “I won’t return when these boys are still in the castle.”

“You must return. Our lord father won’t tolerate this obstinacy of yours.” Seven years older than her and almost a man-grown, Willas would one day be the lord of Highgarden. Right now, he was using his lordly tone.

Garlan’s was less serious. “You should return before our lord father gets angrier and…”

“And ?”

“…punishes little Loras for being rude to our honored guests.”

“Why punishes Loras ?”

Garlan gestured for their brother to come out. Behind his tall and big brother, Loras seemed almost invisible.

Brienne let out a gasp of surprise. His brown curls were all tangled and messed up, his face littered with scratches. There were bits and bits of dirt on his snow-white tunic.

“Loras launched himself at the boys and hit them unmercifully.”, explained Willas.

Brienne immediately understood the reason. “But they started first.”

“Aye. And our brother hit them first. Now they are whining as if Loras had crippled them.” Said Garlan, with a hint of amusement.

“I’d have done so but for Garlan and Willas.” His white skin turned pink with anger.

“You’d better be careful with your words. Lord Mace Tyrell has not decided your punishment yet.” Willas did not seem terribly amused with his younger brother’s manner. Loras, on the other hand, might have made a face at his brother but for Willas’s glare.

“Gods have mercy. Their sister is a thousand times more pleasant company than them.” Garlan jested while Loras and Brienne exchanged a smile. They must look pathetic, to be beaten by a boy thin as a reed.

“When I’m a knight, I will beat the all. Them who dare insult my sister.”

“Aye, aye. There’s no doubt you’ll become a great knight. Even Aegon The Dragon Knight wasn’t so fierce when he was five years old.” Garlan laughed, slapping the boy’s back.

“Fierce or not, the Lord Fossoway won’t be pleased when he sees his sons’ swollen faces.” Willas sounded like he wanted to laugh along yet had to suppress his laughters to play the lordly elder brother. “Well, let us get back and pray the Lord Fossoway also sees the folly of his sons.”

Brienne was miserable as a fish out of water when she was seated among her lady mother, her septa and a dozen other girls, doing needlework. Her fingers were blunt and big and the young lady Tyrell kept pricking them instead of her cloth. Sometimes, she even smeared the satin with her bloodied fingers. Needlework was a lady’s pastime; it was not likely the ladies of Highgarden had to sew their own dresses. Lady Alerie insisted that Brienne should work at it to polish her feminine charms. Brienne found it to be a dreadfully efficient way to get her ugly fingers uglier still.

It was a joy that her seat was next to the window, from which she could watch the boys practicing. Swordsmanship was not Willas’s thing, Brienne realized, as her eldest brother kept falling on his rump. But Garlan and Loras shone the most amongst the boys. The practice sword was extension of their arms for them to swing and strike at will. I could be as good as them if I was allowed the sword, Brienne thought with a tinge of envy. Swords fit me better than needles. At least I would not prick my fingers with a sword.

Her younger twin caught her when she was alone in a quieter corner of the garden, swinging her makeshift sword.

“Swordplay is for boys.” He said bluntly.

“But I like swords better than needles. See, needles prick my skin and draw my blood.” She held out her hands for Loras to see.

“Swords do draw your blood. Much worse than needles.”

It was true. Though they never practiced with steel swords, her brothers got wounds often. Some were bad enough to leave behind faint scars. But Brienne knew she would rather have these scars than sitting with a needle in her hand.

“Knowing how to wield a sword decreases the possibility of getting hurt. That, and a bit of luck. If my sweet sister wants to, I will practice with her.”

Her twin’s smile was always sweet but Brienne had never seen it sweeter than it was at the moment.

“Mother would not be pleased if she knows.”

“She won’t, not from you or me.”

Their lady mother knew anyway. Not from Loras or Brienne but from the servants’ complaints about their dirt-covered clothes. Lord Mace Tyrell was more amused than angry when the news reached his ears : his only daughter would rather wield a sword than hold a needle. “One day she will lead her lord husband’s army”, he jested and let the matter slip.

They were both laughing when Brienne tackled Loras to the muddy ground. Grabbing a branch, she held it mockingly at her brother’s throat. “Yield or I’ll slash your throat, ser.”

Trapped between Brienne’s weight and the ground, Loras could only kick feebly at the air, but to no avail. “A knight’d rather die than soil his honor. If you must slay me, ser, be quick about it.”, said the younger twin, dirt and grass spotted his pretty face.

Loras was not yet a knight and Brienne would never be one unless she found some way to switch her sex. However, the Tyrell twins liked to address themselves “ser”, pretending to be knights in a melee rather than two children playing in the castle yard with no one else to see.

It quickly became their favorite game when they had outgrown “Monster and Maiden”. They were growing to be adults and the prospect sometimes frightened and confused them. When they were younger, they did not know enough to feel the dreadful weight of their expected roles and duties. But now that they were entering adulthood, they began to feel it. Children of high lords and ladies carried with them a burden even greater than that of children of small folks. There would come a time when they were unable to play like this and Brienne feared it was coming much, much earlier than she had expected.

“That wasn’t fair.” Loras pouted as Brienne climbed off her brother. Loras might have grown taller but the boy was still skinny. Brienne, on the contrary, had grown to be almost as tall as Garlan and possibly just as big. Other children had stopped calling her ugly duckling; instead, she was compared with a cow. As cows were stronger than ducklings, Brienne had the upper hand in terms of strength.

“It was every bit fair. You’ll meet opponents bigger and stronger than you. Then you have only your skills to blame, sweet brother. I do remember you’ve beaten boys twice your size.”

“They were different. They were boys !”. He blurted out and soon realized her smile vanished.

“Then my gallant knight went easy on me because I am a girl.”

“No Brienne. I didn’t…”

His apology was cut off as his sister suddenly landed herself on him and tickled him mercilessly. “Yield !” She demanded, knowing all his tickling spots.

“Yield ! I yield !” Loras shouted between laughters.

They rolled over, the ground soft and damp beneath their backs. The servant would complaint about the stains later but right now, they did not care. This little yard was their kingdom and they would do as they pleased, as king and queen.

They laid still for a moment, catching their breaths which came out as thin mist. Despite the chill of the night, they were sweating fervently.

“I wonder when we will be able to play like this ?”, asked Brienne, her tone veiled with mild melancholy. From tomorrow on, Loras would be fostered at Storm’s End as Lord Renly’s squire, a requirement for his advance to knighthood.

“When I return, Brienne. It’s not likely that Lord Renly won’t permit me a few visits to Highgarden.” Lord Renly was still very young, they had heard, and King Robert’s brother. Brienne only hoped that he was not like the lords attending Lord Mace Tyrell, all strict and courteous and no fun.

Loras rolled on his side and looked into Brienne’s eyes. Even their eyes were different. Hers were light brown and his were liquid gold. Yet they were twins and the notion of separation seemed almost chocking.

“I’m going to miss you.” He said and kissed her cheek.

“I’m going to miss you also. If you aren’t here, who will practice with me ?”. Brienne returned the touch with her palm pressing to his cheek. Neither seemed to mind the dirt and grasses.

“Garlan will. I know he wants to. Most boys aren’t a match for him.”

Garlan was great and she loved him as she loved Loras. Still, it was not the same.

“I won’t be able to tackle him to the ground. There’s no fun.”

“Tackling isn’t exactly legitimate, Brienne.”

“Now you’re sounding like Willas.”

“I am not.”

“Yes you are.”

The twins were soon caught in another battle of tickling. This time, it took longer for Loras to yield. The boy was prepared after all.

“I wish I were a boy so I could come to Storm’s End with you.”

“Then Lord Renly would complaint about my size compared to my brother’s. “ He jested. “Brienne, you are fine the way you are.”

No I’m not, Brienne intended to say. I’m not pretty as you are. Not as our lord father, our lady mother, our family. People look at me and say that I’m not a Tyrell, that I’m an ugly cow. Yet the earnest look in his eyes prevented her from upsetting him.

“All boys except you, Willas and Garlan are mean to me. None will want to marry me.”

“Brienne, when I get older, I will marry you.”

She bursted into laughing.

“I won’t marry a squire.”

“Just you wait. I’m going to be a knight greater than Aegon The Dragonknight. Then, you will be my lady.”

“You promise, Ser Loras ?”

“I promise, Lady Brienne. On my honor as a knight.”

Brienne’s days passed with boresome needlework and sword practice, which had become a deal less exciting after her twin’s transfer to Storm’s End. When she first appeared at the training yard, the boys, squires and highborn lordings, laughed at her, at the ugly cow that wanted to play with sword.  But she bested them all with her skills, and they began to sneer at her. Where is the chivalry, she wondered. In the end, her brother was her only partner who matched her skills; the others, she would not bother herself with their petty jeers. What brightened her life was, Brienne mused, was Loras’s letters which came on a monthly basis. Of course Loras wrote to all family members but to Brienne, he saved a private one. Just like the days when they had been together at Highgarden, the twins kept secrets that they would only share with each other.

Lord Renly appeared frequently in Loras’s letters for Brienne. Loras would go on and on about his life as Lord Renly’s squire, about how different Lord Renly was to other nobles, about how Lord Renly was young and witty and friendly, about Lord Renly this and Lord Renly that. If Brienne did not have better sense, she would assume this “Lord Renly” was her twin’s love interest. It is not likely, right? He just admires Lord Renly, that is all. The kind of admiration between squires and their lords. Still, part of Brienne was curious about this Lord Renly who had won Loras’s admiration. Her twin was a boy of arrogance; he would not be easily impressed by someone just because he was his lord. Part of her, on the contrary, felt a tinge of jealousy at Lord Renly for stealing her Loras.

Years went by and the long summer dragged on. Brienne had grown up to be a Tyrell lady who knew how to smile at those whispering ill about her appearance. The five-year-old boy was neither here to defend her nor did she wish to be defended with punches and kicks. Courtesy was a lady’s armor and Brienne grew to use her smiles and grace as well as her sword. Didn’t Lady Olenna say she looked much comelier with a smile on her lips?

Still, marriage was a grim prospect to her. A woman grown, she knew better than holding onto the childish promise Loras had made the night before his depart to Storm’s End. Brothers do not wed sisters and although Brienne loved Loras, it was only sisterly love and nothing else. Loras must have felt the same way also.

Men were curious creatures, Brienne realized. Lords and knights shied away from her with a glance but for her wealth and link to Highgarden they all held a deep, abiding lust. They made no attempt hide it either, thinking they would do her house a favor to take her as their spouse. Lady Olenna only laughed and shown them how true her nickname was.

“When I win my first tourney, I will get you a special gift. No, not the ones I buy with father’s money. I’ll get it with my prize. Also, I have a surprise for you. Wait for me, sweet sister.”

“Win first and talk about prizes later, sweet brother. I will be waiting for your surprise.”

She was giggling when she wrote her reply. Still the arrogant but sweet boy who said he would become a great knight to defend his sister. Loras might not be great yet he had been knighted a month ago and was now waiting to enroll in his first tourney. If he was here, he would come to Brienne and talk about how excited he would be when he was on the saddle with his lance in hand. It must be wonderful. Brienne wished she could come to the tourney and watch and perhaps even join and be the champion. However, the chance for her to ride to King’s Landing to watch was unlikely.

Lord Mace Tyrell held a great feast to celebrate his favorite son’s return. Loras looked different from the boy she had seen from last time. Taller and even more dazzling. The most desired third son. The golden boy of Highgarden. Brienne heard the girls whisper and giggle. And if the rumors were true, half the court had already been enamored with her younger twin.

The gift he had promised her was handsome sword. Splendid steel, with a glided sheath and a golden rose pommel.

“I had it forged special for you. The smith charged me all my dragon coins. Quite a price but it was worth it. You must love it better than your thread and needle.”

She grinned and hugged his lean form so tightly he nearly choked. “I miss tackling you, sweet brother.”

The sword was not his only surprise. Loras did not come home alone; he had a guest. Lord Renly had the most amazing eyes and the brightest smiles she had ever known. One look at him and Brienne was enamored.

So were dozens other ladies at the feast. Ladies lovelier than her.

Feasts were a troublesome thing for the young lady Tyrell. Other ladies would enjoy the feast, an occasion for them to show their beautiful gowns and their graceful dances. Brienne had none of those. Though her lady mother spent generously to get her only daughter the finest silk dresses, they never looked right to her square shoulders and thick limbs. Dances were much the same. Some would say Willas with a crippled leg was a more capable dancer than her.

Putting those aside, Brienne was more troubled by the fact that none would ask her for a dance. Most were intimidated by her height, which was a rare thing even for males. Others who weren’t simply had better choices. Her brothers would be her only partners.  She would sit on the bench, waiting impatiently for the proper time to excuse herself or dance with Garlan (and left him with swollen feet later).

But tonight was different. After her turns with Garlan and Loras, Lord Renly came and asked for her hand in front of the ladies’ jealous eyes. His eyes and smiles were lovely; his lead was gentle and Brienne found herself the most graceful dancer that night.

The mention of a marriage to join Storm’s End and Highgarden was brought to suppers more than once and Brienne’s heart quickened with each time. Lord Renly was a fleeting dream she never dared hope. Now, this dream was well within her reach.

The wedding would be held in Highgarden, her lord father and Lord Renly had decided. Never before had the notion of marriage brought her this much joy. There were times when she had though she could never be wed to a normal man, let alone a charming prince. To call him her lord husband, to share his suppers and his bed, to bare his children, to love and be loved by him. Those had been Brienne’s secret fantasies since the night of the banquet. Despite the obvious political aspect of this marriage, to join the house Baratheon and Tyrell as well as cement Lord Renly and Lord Mace Tyrell’s power, Brienne was genuinely happy about it.

The great hall was bustling with servants, cooks, seamstresses and handmaidens, all busy with their tasks at hand. Brienne found herself restless with waiting. A few days later and Lord Renly would drape the coat of black and gold on her shoulders and say the holy vow that bound them till death. Just a few more days and she would be the happiest lady in the Seven Kingdoms.

Brienne’s steps halted at the suspicious sounds behind Loras’s door. Is Loras with company, she wondered. If that was the case, why wouldn’t he meet his guest at the guest hall instead of his private chamber ? There were whisperings so low she could not make out and occasionally, her brother’s giggles mingled with sounds making her flush fervently. Her guess immediately direct to one of the pretty handmaidens in their castles. Yes, they all adored Loras and were more than willing to fall into his arms. Loras probably found one or two pleasant to his eyes. Her brother was already a man-grown, she should not be this surprised, right ?

Peeping was never proper for ladies but her curiosity had had the best of her. Was it Ellena with doe’s eyes and pouty lips ? Or was it Hayene with her neckline always a bit too low ? Just one glance and she would be gone, Loras would never know.

Her eyes widened at the sight of coal black hair, broad shoulders, toned muscles and a forest green tunic laid discarded carelessly on the floor. Lips savoring her brother’s and long, firm fingers tangling in his brown curls. It was not a woman in Loras’s arms, it was her soon-to-be lord husband.

Brienne did not know how she had made it back to her own chamber, with her eyes teary and her legs trembling. She barred the door and collapsed on her bed. The chamber was strictly soundless and Brienne too, did not make a sound. Her tears silently, freely wetted her pillow.

Pain and despair reigned her heart and she did not know where to direct them. At her brother ? No, he had been with Lord Renly for years at Storm’s End. At Lord Renly ? No, Lord Renly had never said he loved her and most nobles understood marriages were not built on affection or romance; it was all her fantasy that Lord Renly loved and wanted to marry her. At herself ? At her fate ?

One thing Brienne was sure : in the end, the prince would prefer the beauty to the beast.

Brienne held herself with dignity and grace befitted a lady of her house and said the holy vows. Lord Renly, her lord husband now, kissed her gently. It was not tenderness she wanted; it was the fiery passion she had witnessed that day Brienne yearned for.

Even if her lord husband’s affection laid with her twin, Brienne loved him still. She had vowed and the words were of her heart’s honesty. She wanted to be his wife and his wife she would truly be.

His eyes were less brilliant as he gazed upon her and Lord Renly on the dais. Is it jealousy you have for me, brother ? Or is it pity ?

War broke out after her wedding and Lord Renly, king he was now, rode to battle with an immense host, the combined power of Storm End’s and Highgarden. Brienne pled to be with him to war and her king and her husband gave his consent.

He had not bedded her.

Dark wings had bought her the dark news but it was not until her twin’s return, his eyes red and his lovely face stained, that Brienne finally believed her king, her lord husband, was gone.

They held each other tightly for support as they both kneeled on the ground, trembling, sobbing.

“We both loved him.” Brienne whispered to her twin and felt his body stirring in her embrace but otherwise, Loras did not say a word. This truth they held in their hearts was yet another secret they had shared and kept.

Love, pity and jealousy, did they matter when in the end, neither the beast nor the beauty could have the prince ?

But at least, neither had to bear this grief alone.

They said her brother had been so mad with grief that he had slay two of his sworn brothers. Brienne wondered what they would say if they knew it had been King Renly’s young queen under his armor at the battle of Black Water Bay.

Perhaps she, too, was mad with grief.

The Serpent amongst Stags

Oberyn Baratheon

The news of King Robert’s demise painted a gloomy shade over Westeros, which was soon flung into the frying pan of civil war. Everywhere there were kings, raising armies, marching against one another, tearing the kingdom to bloody bits. The King on the Iron Throne was backed by the powerful Lannisters. The boy king himself was likely Lannister too, if the rumors about Queen Cersei were of merit. The boy-turn-King of the North was marching south, with the powers of the North rallied to his call of vengeance. The King of the Iron Islands saw it fit to break free from the mainland monarchy. The King on the Narrow Sea set out to claim his birthright.

Renly Baratheon was one of such kings. The King in Highgarden, they called him, with the power of Storm’s End and Highgarden behind his back. Being Robert’s youngest brother and the fourth in line, his claim of the throne was not the most concrete. But, does it matter ? Was there any place for Robert in the line of royal succession when he jammed his war hammer into Rhaegar’s black heart at the Trident, Renly wondered. No, there wasn’t. Robert had become king because he had been strong and the people had had faith in his abilities. If Robert had been able to sit on the Iron Throne, why wouldn’t Renly ? He had power, that was for sure. He had abilities, too. He would be the king to be loved instead of feared. He had the love of people and the will to make their lives content and happy, which, he doubted, his “fellow” kings had. Joffrey had proved himself to be complete monster by executing Eddard Stark mercilessly. He was only a puppet of his mother, of the Lannisters and the Lannisters’ concern for the people was as much as Lord Tywin’s for the Imp. Balon Greyjoy, with his iron lifestyle, would be yet another terrible king. Even the motto of house Greyjoy seemed to scream that a king like Balon Greyjoy would turn Westeros into a huge Iron Island, rough and barren and starved. The Stark king appeared to be a just king, being Eddard Stark’s blood and all, but he was still a green boy who was better at winning than ruling. Yet, if he agreed to bend the knee…

The real problem lied in his elder brother. Oberyn Baratheon, the first of his name, the second son of Lord Steffon, Lord of Dragonstone and the third in line. Oberyn had better claim than Renly, even Ned Stark had made it clear when he refused to side with Renly. The true heir of Robert if somehow Joffrey and Tommen were proved to be of Lannister blood rather than Baratheon. But claims paled in comparison with the size of host, which, by far Renly Baratheon was having the advantage. However, Oberyn was a seasoned warrior and general, as his nickname “Black Serpent” suggested. Soldiers feared and respected him, his or the enemies’. Should Renly have to face Oberyn in the battlefield, his elder brother would be the greatest threat.

A good warrior he was but when it came to ruling, Oberyn would be just a second Robert. Renly bore no malice toward his brothers; he loved them. But love would not hide the truth. Oberyn rivaled their eldest brother in drinking and whoring. He frequented whorehouses just as often as Robert and sired just as many bastards. If there was any difference between them, it would be that Oberyn was still in shape and that he acknowledged all the fruits of his seed. His “Sea Snakes”, he called them, with pride.

The Baratheon brothers met again outside Storm’s End castle. Oberyn Baratheon was pretty much the same, strong and handsome and proud. However, there was a crown rested on his dark hair.

“What a warm reunion you have prepared, brother. To lay siege on the Baratheons’ ancient seat.”

Oberyn, tall on his jet-black stallion and accompanied by his “Sea Snakes”, only shrugged and  smiled.

“I only wanted to see if out little brother was so busy with his kingly business in Highgarden that he would leave our ancient seat to the claws of enemies. To see that he rushed here to meet his brother, I am very pleased.”

“Now that you have seen, what would be your next step ? If you intend to take Storm’s End, I am afraid I have to stop you. Fight you if needed be.” Replied the younger Baratheon.

“Oh, listen to your dear uncle, my little snakes.” Oberyn turned his head to the eight baseborn daughters behind.”He wants to fight your old man. He who has never fought in war before.”

Heat crept up his face but Renly still remained calm.

“Sooner or later, we will all be on battlefield, brother. What matters is which side you are on, the winner’s or the loser’s. I only wish I do not have to fight my own kin. Especially you, brother, who shares the same Baratheon blood as I do.”

“So do I, Renly. But it seems my place in the line of succession is one step ahead of yours.”

“Yet you are raising host to fight the first in line.”

“Joffrey and Tommen are no Robert’s heirs. I have faith in the words of an honorable man like Lord Eddard Stark.”

A stubbornly honorable man, Renly thought.

“There are people who believe they are. In their eyes, you and I are rebels who fight against our own blood. However, Aerys Targaryen did not name Robert his heir and did Robert care ?”

Renly gestured to the vast field filled with the green and gold. “Look around and tell me what you see.”

“Ah, the Tyrells. I remembered well the time when the lords Tyrell and Redwyne nearly starved us to death. I was a bit surprised when they crowned you king. I suppose they make excellent subjects, no ?”

“They are not my subjects, Oberyn. They are my friends.” Renly took a brief glance at the face of his most precious knight riding beside him.”My friends make me king. A man without friends is a friend without power. And Oberyn, how many friends do you have ?”

For a moment, Renly saw a mischievous gleam in Oberyn’s deep ocean eyes. Though he knew his swordsmanship was no match for his brother’s, his hand unconsciously reached for his sword as he watched Oberyn casually approaching.

“Aye, aye. His friends made Robert king and your friend make you king. Seven hells, not only do you look like Robert, you sound like Robert. I almost see our brother there, minus fifteen years of laziness.”

Oberyn was laughing when the elder Baratheon reached for his crown of bronze. To Renly’s surprise, he threw his crown over the cliff, down the ocean. The embodiment of power was soon washed away by the waves.

Whispers sprouted like mushrooms after the rain but the Black Serpent remained tranquil.

“Spare me this kingly business. I am not made for ruling. Neither was Robert. Just look at what the crown had done to him. Seven hells, I am more fitted to drinking and whoring and fighting. But being a king, no! You are different from the two of us, Renly. Sometimes too different that I begin to doubt whether mother had really given birth to you. You may become a better king than Robert was.”

Renly eyed his brother with awe. It was a queer act for a king to throw away his crown, yet it was so… Oberyn. Spontaneous, proud and strong. The brother Renly admired.

“I was reluctant to don this crown as my men urged me. I promised them that I would see and judge if my brother was a better choice for the Iron Throne. I have seen that he is.”

Pride swelled in his heart. To Renly Baratheon, there were few things as sweet as his elder brothers’ acknowledgement.

“Would you fight by my side, brother ? When I sit on the Iron Throne, you will be lord of Dragonstone as well as Storm’s End.”

“Now you are offering terms, eh, Renly ?” Oberyn laughed. “Storm’s End is fine but it is the fightings that excite me. Even if I join you, no bending knee or ‘Your Grace’ !”

“Of course not. You are my elder brother after all. And my heir till my son is born.”

“Spare me that, too. I have enough of being my brothers’ heir.”

The Baratheon brothers both laughed; their laughters were joined by the waves crashing the stony shore.

“So I will lead the vanguard ?”

The Baratheons brothers were sitting in Renly’s tent, around the map. Aside from Oberyn and Renly, Loras was the only one around.

“Who else is more fitting, my brother? I can almost imagine their fears when seeing the Black Serpent coming to devour them.”

“I can think of a few. Your brave Knight of Flowers, for example.”

“A seasoned general is best suited for this honor, my lord.”

“Humility doesn’t suit you, Loras. Quit that !” Oberyn snarled, not unfriendly.

“I trust you the most for this task, Oberyn. To lead the host and attack King’s Landing while mine will look out for Lord Tywin’s.”

“So I will take King’s Landing for you. What’s my prize ?”

The look Renly gave him was comical.

“Weren’t you who said fighting excited you the most ?”

“Aye, aye. But a little prize only sweetens it, no?”

“Name what you want and I will grant it.”

A devious smile graced his lips.

“How about your pretty Knight of Flowers for a night ?”

Renly and Loras were looking at him with eyes wide as a goose’s egg. Oberyn tried hard to suppress his laughters.

“What madness are you talking about, Oberyn Baratheon ?”

Both king and knight shouted in perfect unison.

No “my brother” or “my lord”, eh ?

“Come on Renly. Just one night. It isn’t like I claim your beloved knight as my concubine.”

“Oberyn I…am….”

“Not into boys or not like you ?” Oberyn finished the sentence for him. “We are brothers, Renly. We are bound to have something in common.”, said Oberyn, with mock solemnity. “How about allowing your brother a taste of that lovely face ?”

Both looked as if they were about to cut him in half.

“Gods have mercy. It’s a jest. You two are no fun.”

Adding any more heat to their miserable faces would be a crime, Oberyn decided. As he advanced to the entrance, Oberyn looked back one more time. “You just keep your rose, brother. I have mine already.”

Laughing, he walked out, leaving the puzzled pair to decipher the meaning of his words.

Ah, what should he bring to his rose the next time they met ?

Of Wolf and Man

Jaime Stark (or how Jaime prefers dying with a sword in hand than being put behind iron bars)

Their sigil was a direwolf and the Starks often referred to themselves as a pack of wolves. They even had wolf blood in their veins, some would say. Of all Lord Rickard Stark’s children, Jaime was the most wolf-like.

He had barely grown from a pup when Jaime Stark came to King’s Landing, chosen by King Aerys himself to be one of the White Cloaks. One year younger than Lyanna and pretty much a boy who had rarely ridden past Riverruns, the prospect of being one of the seven to plead their life to the king excited him like none other. It was an honor few would dare refuse and however he grudged giving up a son to celibacy, a bright and talented sword to boost, Lord Rickard sent Jaime to the capital.

Thus began the separation of their pack.

The rumors about King Aerys’s gradual descendant to the pit of insanity were not quite convincing in his early days at King’s Landing. Young and bold and proud with his sword also, Jaime had a boyish naiveté about chivalry and loyalty of the Kingsguards. The finest, truest knights of the kingdom, he often heard the songs praise. And most loyal too, for they put the king’s well-being above all else and follow orders to a lethal degree. To protect and obey the king, the Lord Commander had reminded him on his first day as a sworn brother. He understood but had not quite grab the true meaning of the words until he learned it the hard way. Once he dared beg King Aerys’s mercy lord who had offended him, raising his voice in the court, in front of all the high lords and ladies, which was even worse. The vicious glow in the king’s purple eyes boiled his blood and sent a chill down his spine as the same time.

The lesser noble’s fate was certain and Jaime’s own had taken a downward turn since then.

Jaime was thoroughly convinced of King Aerys’s madness when he was ordered to come to the king’s chamber. There he made the Stark pup attend his frequent “sessions” with his queen, which, in Jaime’s vocabulary, could only be defined as “rapes”. Again and again, the poor queen was ravaged by the king. It was not until she was almost a limp, dead body lying in the tangled bed sheet smeared red by her own blood that King Aerys shown his mercy to both of them. “You’re my dog now, not your father’s pampered pup. Here dogs obey, dogs bark and bite as ordered and dogs don’t question. Though I mislike having to teach my dog, a few lessons might do well to his behaviors.”. The king did as he pleased and his ‘guard dogs’, the Kingsguards, had better stay silent and obey. However bitter, the lesson began to carve its way into him. Though the wolf inside him growled and snarled everytime he came to the king chamber, “Maul him!”, the wolf howled, “Tear out his chest and see what color his heart is!”, the human Jaime calmed him down by drifting both his senses and mind to the godswood of the North, to the grey old walls of Winterfell, to the familiar faces of Brandon, Ned, Lyanna and little Benjen. He wondered if Lyanna still poured wine over his head everytime their little brother teased her.

Thus the wolf pup became tamed as a guard dog.

The news of Rhaegar Lannister took Lyanna Stark and ran away spread across the whole kingdom like a toxic wind, rocking the already unbalanced political state. More than anyone could give him credit for, Jaime was dreaded by this twist of event. Few years by King Aerys’s side had taught him more than just obedience; he had learned how political problems were handled here in King’s Landing. He knew Rhaegar Lannister enough to be sure the eldest son of Lord Tywin Lannister was not the type to simply go out and steal a girl. He also knew Lyanna too well to be sure his sister was not the type to be helplessly stolen. Lyanna was always a fierce she-wolf, sometimes even fiercer than her brothers. But Jaime also knew his lord father and Lord Tywin Lannister were both men of ridiculously high pride. Lord Rickard Stark would not stand with his arms folded while his own blood was being abducted; similarly Lord Tywin Lannister would not stay silent when another noble came and demanded his daughter’s return.

Just as Jaime had feared, a few days later, Lord Rickard Stark and his eldest son strode the length of the Red Keep, asking for the king’s justice.   King Aerys’s state of mind had worsened since the news of his goodson reached his ears. Knowing this, Jaime was terrified by what he would do if Lord Rickard somehow provoked his anger. But no matter how he tried to convince them, his lord father and brother’s determination would go unshaken. Have you forgotten that you are a Stark of Winterfell ? Have you forgotten that you are a wolf instead a craven guard dog ? For the first time in front of his lord father, Jaime Stark understood the meaning of shame.

The human Jaime sprawled on the marble floor, crying at the top of his lung for the king’s mercy. The proud wolf would not beg, the proud wolf would sprout to his feet and launched at the man, at the loose sack of blood and meat and spilled its content on the floor. Lord Rickard’s words from earlier throbbed in his head. No, he did not forget the wolf blood flowing in his veins nor had he become something else other than Jaime Stark of Winterfell. But the human Jaime would not dare risking their lives by enraging Aerys. Silently he prayed that there was still a shred of sanity in the Mad King, that some high lords or ladies or even his sworn brothers would raise their voice in defending his family. To his utter despair, The Throne Room remained mute as a grave save for Jaime’s pleads.

Did you forget your lessons so fast ? Aerys’s tinted purple orbs seemed to speak to him as the Mad King’s pyromancer lit the pyre. Jaime’s mind temporarily went blank as he watched with hollow eyes the fiery starving beast hastily devour Lord Rickard.

The sickening sound of Brandon’s neck snapped in two was the final signal for the wolf within Jaime. He did not recall when or how he unsheathed his sword, his claw then, or how he gained such astounding speed to spring forth and plunged his sword into Aerys’s belly. He hacked and slashed and hacked and slashed, spraying bits of flesh and guts all over the Iron Throne. He did not hear the shrieks and screams of those high lords and ladies, nor was he aware of the cold steel grabbing his limbs. Later people would say he had slain two of his brothers in the midst of frenzy. They had never been his brothers. His brother was up there, swaying, with a thick noose around his neck. When Jaime the human returned in control, his white cloak and armor seemed to be bleeding themselves.

War had started outside, Jaime had heard vaguely, in which he was certain the Starks had a role. The only explanation as to why his head and body was still a whole. The son of late Lord Rickard Stark and brother to Eddard Stark would make a valuable hostage should terms be negotiated. Jaime could almost smell the powdery hand of Varys on this notion. What negotiations Jaime wondered. It was blood and murder to pay for blood and murder. Feel free to send me to the headsman or the pyre, I have no regret. A wolf is not meant to be confined in cage. I would rather die with a sword in hand than rot slowly in piss and shit. It would be fine if Ned just ignored him and focused on the war.

“Kingslayer” they called him, an unerasable stigma to mark the day he stained his holy vows; many of whom were the high lords and ladies in the Throne Room that day, witnessing the massacre. People were a curious thing. Had they been too appalled by his blood frenzy that they had somehow forgotten Aerys’s atrocity? Was killing with sword more barbaric than roasting a father alive and let his sons watch? Had they been in his shoes, wouldn’t they have wanted vengeance? Jaime had only done what was expected of a son, of a brother. But had revenge been his only reason for butchering the king he had sworn to protect? Years later and still Jaime was uncertain. Vague was the moment he had drawn his sword yet the ineffable sensation was vivid. Was it rage, was it despair, Jaime didn’t know. That day, he had finally unleashed the wolf within. The pain was unbearable and only by setting him free had Jaime’s mentality have any hope of remaining intact. The Throne Room was his hunting field, the lords and ladies trees and grass, and King Aerys his prey. Jaime even recalled how… good it felt when cutting Aerys to bloody pieces. It was not the kind of melancholic satisfaction when justice was served but rather the one predators gained with savaging their preys. The moment he sheathed the sword in the king’s bowel, the boundary between man and beast dissolved, leaving Jaime a wolf in human skin. The wolf had not sought justice; the wolf had only desired blood. That, only Jaime Stark was aware and none other.

The nickname “Kingslayer” was still haunting him even after King Robert had restored his status as a Kingsguard. Behind his back they sniggered; in front of his face they shown a blatant disdain. They who hadn’t watched helplessly as their father cooked and their brother strangled to death. Was this the final curse Aerys Targaryen had laid before going down to Seven Hells, to have Lord Rickard’s son forever scorned and the honor of House Stark forever tainted?

He had tried to warn Ned of Queen Cersei’s plot. He had tried to convince Ned to support Lord Renly’s cause. Renly might not be the best man to sit on the throne, but at this moment he was the closest in help. Jaime knew how the game was played here, years spent at the court by Robert’s side. Ned did not listen to him, his stubborn rock of brother, the same when he had shouted to Brandon when the noose slowly tightening around his neck. Brandon had not listened and Brandon had died. What would become of Ned, Jaime feared.

He set his wolf free again, after nearly twenty years of slumber. Red cloaks, gold cloaks or white he did not care, Jaime cut them down if they stood in his way. It was their only chance, to kill Queen Cersei and her son-king or be killed. Unlike Ned, she knew how to play the game and well she played, turning Ned’s painstakingly prepared plan to naught. As his guards laid scattered around the Throne Room and Ned crippled, Jaime was their last chance of escape.

Janos Slynt fell first, followed by Petyr “Little finger” Baelish, Boros Blunt, Mandon Moore. Jaime had love for none of them so his sword went through them as hot knife through butter. Somewhere he heard Queen Cersei’s panicked shrieks and the boy king Joffrey’s angry shouts but the blood boiling in his veins prevented any meaning to his mind. There, in his head, was only the raging urge to kill.

Close. If only he could get a little closer then both heads would be his to claim. If only he could get pass Ser Barristan Selmy and The Hound.

Ser Barristan Selmy’s cloak was snow-white and The Hound was ink-black. Black and white was the last he saw before Jaime’s heart was impaled by a pair of swords. As Jaime Stark fell to floor, his white cloak was bleeding with his own blood.

Jaime the wolf had fused with Jaime the human the moment Jaime drew his sword. Together they killed and together they perished.

“Kingslayer”, “Queenslayer”, people who saw his head mounted atop the spike would jeer. “Oathbreaker”, “Turncloak” they might call him but craven they might not.

None would dare say Jaime Stark had not died with a sword in his hand.

Note : I’m not certain this is the last installment; there may be more in the future. But now, this series has come to a stop. Many thanks to people who have followed this series.

Family always comes first

Jaime Tully (or Jaime and his creepy obsession with his sister)

He always had a queer affection for his sister : Catelyn Tully. When he was very young, he would follow her everywhere like a little tail. Her puppy, Catelyn called him, despite their sigil was a leaping trout, and Jaime found proud in that nickname. Although he had his own chamber, often at night Jaime would sneak to Catelyn’s and pled to share her bed. It was not proper for brother and sister to share the bed, their septa told them once she discovered Jaime’s little “endeavors” but Catelyn only shrugged off and smiled.  He’s only a boy, she said and Jaime took that as her approval. There was a time she turned him down, her brows furrowing to make her countenance a little stricter, and Jaime only stood there with tears swelling in his Tully blue eyes, until it was Catelyn who gave up and let him in. Jaime had their mother’s eyes, Catelyn told him, and she could not bear to see them teary and puffy. Catelyn’s heart was soft and loving and Lord Hoster Tully often said she was spoiling her little brother. And a spoiled little brother indeed he was, for Jaime knew how to take advantage of Catelyn’s heart.

Catelyn was not Jaime’s only sister though; there was another- Lysa. However, as willing as Jaime was to be Catelyn’s pet, he and Lysa were ice and fire. Close in age, Jaime and Lysa should have been closer than he and Catelyn; yet he could hardly recall any moments of peace between them. It often fell on the eldest Tully girl to have her quarreling younger siblings reconciled. However she tried, peace only lasted for a while until the next war began.

Sometimes Jaime wondered how he was so attached to one sister and was always at odds with the other. His strong attachment to Catelyn might have something to do with the untimely death of their lady mother. She had died bringing him to this world, Jaime was often reminded by the Maester, sometimes too often that Jaime felt he was to be blamed for her death. Catelyn never let that thought wandering for long in his mind. The gods took a soul when they saw fitted; therefore none was at fault for their lady mother’s leaving. Her words gave Jaime comfort, especially when his head was on Catelyn’s lap. Though he could never feel familiar with his lady mother’s face despite all the paintings on the castle walls, and begrudged himself for it, he was content with imaging Catelyn’s face in place of Lady Tully’s. There were traits of her in every of her children, Jaime’s eyes and Lysa’s skin; however, it was her eldest daughter that inherited her beauty.

Catelyn was more than a sister to him. When he was young, Catelyn was his surrogate mother. Though there were several servants for tasks as bathing, feeding or dressing, the eldest daughter of Lord Hoster Tully made herself responsible for taking care of Jaime. She bathed him everyday, taking time to scrubbing clean every inch and getting her gown wet with soap and water. She fed him till he reached five, running with him all the length of the hall so he would finish his porridge. After that, his sister still reminded the cooks his favorite dishes.  When the Maester told his lord father that his son refused to learn, being unable to read the letters, it was also Catelyn who sat with him for hours, helping him. Their motto was “Family. Duty. Honor” and Lord Hoster Tully often said Catelyn was most dutiful with her family. That, Jaime did not doubt.

Jaime suspected that Petyr Baelish boy had something for his Catelyn. The way Petyr looked at his sister, the way his eyes glued on Catelyn’s early womanly curves, the way he sneaked out in his duty hour to tail her everywhere she went, Jaime liked none of these. It also irked Jaime that Catelyn was gentle with Petyr like he was also her little brother. I am her only little brother, Jaime thought and felt no qualms in giving Petyr a piece of his mind whenever they were on the training yard. It gave him small pleasure to know Petyr was a complete failure when it came to sword and shield. That made him an easy victim for a gifted sword like Jaime. Catelyn was none too pleased with his bullying the boy but Jaime could not help it.

For a long time Jaime had been confused with his feelings. He loved Catelyn, that was for sure. Yet was it the kind of affection shared among siblings ? If so, why hadn’t he felt the same toward Lysa ? He did not hate Lysa, despite frequent quarrels; still, he did not hold the same feelings toward Lysa as he did Catelyn. He did not grow angry to watch Lysa swoon over some boy, nor did he flare up when boys tried to win her favor. It was a different matter with Catelyn though, the proof being his bullying attempts to Petyr Baelish while he had no personal grudge against him. Also, most boys of his age had fantasy about pretty girls they met. Jaime was the same, only that his fantasy directed to Catelyn , which often left him confused and guilty days later. Worse, he could not tell his little secret to anyone. His lord father would beat him bloody for storing such thoughts for his own kin. His septon would preach about the grievous sin called “incest” (which was the word he feared most) and told Lord Hoster Tully. He could not tell Lysa; the two of them were never close. He could not tell Catelyn either; the least he wanted was to see her eyes filled with disgust. And how could he expect her not to abhor him while Jaime himself was sometimes disgusted at his own thoughts ?

The Starks of the North came to Riverrun to ask for Catelyn’s hand. Brandon Stark, with his solemn Stark face which somehow Catelyn found endearing, almost doubled Jaime in age and height. The gleam in her Tully eyes seemed to admit Brandon Stark had won her favor. Such notion unconsciously enraged Jaime and for the first time, he snarled at Catelyn for no obvious reason.

The overwhelming, choking sensation he had felt when he heard Lord Hoster Tully announce Catelyn’s marriage with the Stark man Jaime could recall even years after. However, what had been inside his head that time was only a blinding fury. Jaime did not remember how he had gotten there, out in the training yard. But when he was there, he slashed and hacked at the training dummy with all the strength a one-and-ten year old boy could muster. What happened next was a blurry memory.

Jaime had not been the only one intrigued by Catelyn’s betrothal that day. A day later, Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish challenged Brandon Stark for Catelyn’s hand and earned himself a terrible scar coupled with shame. I could do much better than Petyr. Jaime had had half the heart to follow the older boy’s path; yet when he looked his lord father and the tranquil fury in his eyes, all courage fled him.

He had had a wicked delight when the news of his soon-to-be brother’s death reached Riverrun. Murdered by the hand of the Mad King they said. If Brandon was no more, Catelyn would not have to marry him and his sister would stay with Jaime and be his forever.

He had been too naïve. Not long after Brandon’s death, his brother came to Riverrun. Eddard Stark, with a face grimmer than Brandon’s, came to replace his brother and fulfilled the promise between the Starks and the Tullys. This time, Jaime had watched as Eddard of house Stark drape the coat of white and grey over her shoulders, proclaiming her Catelyn Stark.

Jaime had grown from the one-and-ten year old boy with a jealousy for his sister’s suitors. Though he disliked the grim and dark walls of Winterfell, Catelyn seemed to blend in well enough. And what would Jaime hope for but his dearest Cat’s happiness ?

His bannermen constantly urged the handsome heir of Lord Hoster Tully to find a bride, all the while offering their own daughters to him. My lord father is still the Lord of Riverlands; there is no need for his heir to find an heir yet, Jaime shrugged and answered. To calm them, he promised he would choose his bride and get a son, but he never said when. Part of him deep down inside was still yearning for Catelyn with a secret passion. It is wrong, he knew and loathed himself for it. Jaime was neither the baby brother clinging to Catelyn nor the green boy who had mocked and defied and wanted to challenge Catelyn’s suitors for her hand. Jaime had grown and Jaime knew better than to let his feelings roaming freely. And Jaime knew he wanted Catelyn all the more.

He did not expect her to return to Riverrun, to him this way, with the rivers in her Tully eyes and the smiles lost on her lips. Twice the Stark men had failed her and twice Jaime had witnessed his Cat crying her eyes out for them. This time, he would stand in front of her chamber till she opened the door and allowed him to share her bed, just like the days they had been children both. There they would sleep together, like twenty years past, bodies snuggling and limbs tangling.

But this time, it would be Jaime who held and cooed his sister into a sleep.

Their motto was “Family. Duty. Honor”. No one would dare say Jaime was not a Tully who put his family above all else.

A Lion that Walks Alone

Rhaegar Lannister

The gods had played jest with the Lannisters twice, the second far grievous than the first.

It was a lesson, or perhaps a test for the high lord Tywin Lannister when Tyrion had been delivered to him through Lady Joanna’s womb. The gods were just, Cersei sometimes overheard her lord father mumble those words, his hard jaw clenched and his teeth ground. And just indeed they were, for they had taken one life and given another. Only they had replaced her sweet, gentle and beautiful mother lady mother with an ugly, freakish dwarf.

Tyrion remained a bastard in her lord father’s eyes but Lord Tywin’s firstborn son, Rhaegar Targaryen, was a completely different sort. Rhaegar had come to this world together with Cersei, only a minute earlier. And one minute was all needed to create the difference. Even in childhood, Cersei had often wondered why the two of them were so… not alike. They were twins, weren’t they ? Sharing the same mother’s womb, the same mother’s milk, the same nameday, weren’t they supposed to be mirror of each other ? But no, Cersei and Rhaegar were anything but alike. While Cersei had the gold of Casterly Rock for her hair and was extremely proud of it since even their lady mother did not posses such fine golden shade, Rhaegar’s was pure silver. While Cersei’s eyes were the color of jade, Rhaegar’s sported a violet shade, a result of dragon mating lion some generations past, she was told. Sometimes she would naïvely ask Lady Joanna whether their appearance was the reason for their opposite treatments, to which Lady Joanna only smiled and shook her head. As she was taught to sing, to dance and to please, Rhaegar was taught to fight, to lead and to rule. Although Cersei earned the rare moments of tenderness Lord Tywin only showed Lady Joanna, it was Rhaegar who had all the attention of their lord father, at which Cersei held a deep envy.  As she grew up, Cersei gradually came to understand the reason. Born Lord Tywin’s firstborn son and the heir to Casterly Rock, Rhaegar bore all their lord father’s expectations. He might not show it but Lord Tywin wanted for Rhaegar to be the son worthy of his legacy and thus, tried to groom the boy into the same man as himself. Yet it seemed the gods had not lost the interest in Lord Tywin Lannister. Just as Rhaegar was nothing alike to his twin Cersei, he was never the son Lord Tywin desired. Their lord father wanted for him to be a great warrior and his son appeared to detest the very notion of taking up the sword. Swords made wars, Rhaegar mused and all he loved was peace. This enraged the Warden of the West, who believed wars were necessary to power, who had won many battles himself. It was not as if Rhaegar did not possess the gift for swords; her twin could do almost anything once he put his mind to it. However, Rhaegar mostly neglected his training in favor of songs, verses and silver harps. Their lord father often berated him for his “womanly” interest but notes and tunes seemed to reach his son’s ears far better than his words. All the threats and insults did little to move him, for Rhaegar was always silent and melancholic as the winter moon.

His relationship remained at odds with their lord father and his connection with his twin did not fare any better. Aside from their appearance, Cersei and Rhaegar were opposite as the sun and the moon. Cersei was proud, ambitious and had a silent thirst for power , a true Lannister both inside and out while Rhaegar’s presence rarely lacked an air of melancholy. He seemed most quiet everytime, musing whatever inside his mind that produced a distant look in his violet eyes. What Cersei longed for, Lord Tywin’s attention, Rhaegar had; what Cersei desired, Casterly Rock,  Rhaegar did not muster a thread of care. Sometimes Cersei thought she hated Rhaegar; other times, she yearned for him with a fervent passion. Cersei knew they were day and night but that only proved Rhaegar was the one for her as Cersei for him. Day and night were opposite yet they were also the same and inseparable. Without day night would never come and without night day would never rise. They were meant to exist together, to be together.

Somehow Cersei had let it slip her mind that day and night were never together. Day would not last when night came and night ceased when day arrived. Much as Cersei yearned for her twin, Rhaegar never reciprocated her feelings. To him she was only a sister, a sister who too resembled their cold, unyielding lord father. Some would say Rhaegar took after Lady Joanna’s gentle heart, which was at odds with Lord Tywin’s cruel one. Cersei knew she was Lord Tywin’s daughter and found pride in it; still she would not accept it was the reason for their estrangement. Hadn’t they been together for years, until the dwarf’s arrival tore them apart ? If Lady Joanna could love Lord Tywin, why couldn’t Rhaegar love her just the same ? Despite she always reached out to him, Rhaegar was always distant, avoidance, a league out of her hand. And to salt the wound, he was much closer with their dwarf of a brother. Many a time she saw him with Tyrion, a smile so broad and warm on his lips as her Rhaegar sung and played the harp to him, to the freak that caused their lady mother’s death. How could it be, Rhaegar ? Why him and not me who listens to your music and shares your joys ?

Another reason to loathe the Imp.

Cersei remembered well the look in Rhaegar’s eyes when he caught her pinching Tyrion. Whenever she looked into the cage, disgust and hatred raged in her heart. He should not have been here, wrapped in silk and wool, while her lady mother was six feet underground, embraced by earth and kissed by worms. He should have been out in the woods or under the sea, where he belonged with his kinds. No matter how Cersei denied that he was not her little brother, that he should have been thrown away, no matter how she had entreated Lord Tywin to do so, all her had received was a shake and a scold. Once he had nearly raised a hand to her for bringing up this matter. The world had acknowledged Tyrion as his son and Lord Tywin could not have said otherwise, however he loathed the fact. While her lord father gave Tyrion care befitted a noble’s son, Cersei found a joyous delight in making that twisted meat lump wail like a piggy. Until Rhaegar caught her in the act. “Don’t touch him !”, her twin growled threateningly, hurrying to the dwarf’s side and scoping him up like a little treasure. The way he looked at her was as if he was looking at a wicked monster and not his twin. For a moment, Cersei had thought he might struck her. Rhaegar hadn’t, for all the gentle boy could manage to show his anger was a look of disdain.

She almost tasted despair the day Lord Tywin announced Rhaegar’s betrothal. With the king’s princess, no doubt. As Lord Tywin always said, only a princess was worthy of his heir. Am I not worthy of Rhaegar, father ? I, the child of your own seed ? For once, Cersei wanted to shout in an unladylike manner but as usual,  she managed to keep her calm façade. Rhaegar accepted the deal stoically.

The night before his wedding, she came to her twin’s chamber, clad in her thinnest silk. There she found him, playing his precious silver harp. As his mind drifted to the music, the melancholy was written all over his handsome countenance. Do you regret this marriage as well, brother ?

She closed the door behind her, the sound waking him from his trance, and Rhaegar looked at her coolly. Whether he noticed her meager cover, he did not show.

“It’s quite late already. Shouldn’t you be in your chamber ?”

She did not hear him, she determined not to. Cersei silent strut her gown and stood in front of him naked like her nameday, their nameday.

She dashed forward, all her actions in one mere second and she held him, pressing her naked wonder against his clothed form, hoping for a reaction of his flesh beneath.

“Isn’t it great, Rhaegar ? We should have done it long ago. We’re meant to be together, like when we were in our mother’s womb.” In a hushed tone she said, her hands fumbling at the laces of his breeches.

His fingers, firm and lean, her fantasy to be caressed the way he touched the strings, caught hers at once. In a moment Cersei thought she had met the look of disdain in his eyes that day. Quickly, his eyes shifted back to their familiar, quiet grief.

Her heart sank nonetheless.

“Please go back, Cersei and let us pretend this incident never happened.”

“I don’t want to go back ! I don’t want you to marry that princess ! I want you !” She wailed, pathetically.

Rhaegar had no response. His fingers peeled hers off, one by one before he put his cloak around her shoulders.

“It was a mistake, Cersei.” He said and left the chamber.

His or hers ?

Cersei stood pondering for what seemed like hours before silently crept back to her own chamber, tears flowing like summer rain.

No servants saw her and their lord father never knew. Whether Rhaegar had really forgotten or he was too good a pretender Cersei could not tell. The next day her twin’s wedding went at supposed. Beside Rhaegar who was melancholic by default and Lord Tywin who never smiled, Cersei was perhaps the only one who did not feel the joys.

If gazes could kill then Rhaegar would have to take a corpse to his bed that night.

That his son, his heir had stolen the Stark girl and run away was a grievous blow to Lord Tywin’s dignity and pride. Soon the Starks would march to the court and demand their she-wolf’s return. To what rights do the wolves demand the lions ? She overheard her lord father and her lord uncle. Lord Tywin Lannister had never been more furious before.

Cersei wondered if it was Rhaegar or the Starks that infuriated him so.

Foolish Rhaegar. Selfish Rhaegar. Had it not been for his folly, the Lannisters would not have to endure such shame. Had he never enrolled on the tourney at Harrenhal. Had he never met that Lyanna of Stark. Had he never fallen in love with the wolf-bitch but with her instead. Yes, had he loved her, yearned for her the way she did him, none of these would have happened. However she wanted to hate her foolish brother, to loathe him like she did the Imp, Cersei could not bring herself to. But there had to be someone, something for her to direct her wrath. And it would be the Starks and Lyanna, Cersei decided.

War broke out. Rhaegar fought. And Rhaegar died. His death bought not doom upon himself but the lost of the Lannisters. The proud lord Tywin Lannister had to suffered defeat and shame beyond his tolerance. In the end, he grudgingly bended the knee to the winner and offered his only daughter to the new crown. A mare to be ridden whenever he pleases, Cersei seethed.

A Lannister always pays his debts. Though not a man, Cersei Lannister knew her debts she would definitely pay one day. There would come a time when she would crush those who had shamed her family : Baratheons and Starks. And then they would learn the lions feasted on them all, wolves and stags alike.

What Rhaegar had failed she would accomplish. What Rhaegar had wronged she would make amends. If Rhaegar was the lion which had tore the pack, she would be the lioness to keep her family together.

Because Rhaegar was the lion that had lost his way and Cersei was the lioness that knew the game.

Note: Somewhat a parallel to the sixth chapter: Of Wolf and Man.

A Cat of Different Coat

Margaery Lannister

Sometimes Tyrion doubted that the three of them had been born to the same mother and father.

It was often said every Lannister was born with a certain degree of arrogance and Lord Tywin was by far the most arrogant Lannister alive. This particular trait was inheritably strongest in Cersei Lannister, firstborn of Lord Tywin and Lady Joanna. With the gold of Casterly Rock for her hair and jade for her eyes, Cersei had her mother’s look, only even more ravishing. In her Lord Tywin saw his deceased wife, Lady Joanna, one of the few who earned his smiles and love. Because she was the first beautiful and whole gift Lady Joana gave him, Cersei remained his favorite out of the three. But for her womanhood, she would have been the heir of Casterly Rock, of all the wealth and power her father had traded with blood and battles. That was where her bitter grudge took root. Born the only male, it was only Tyrion’s birthright to inherit Casterly Rock. It would not be changed, no matter how their lord father begrudged him about it. All dwarfs were bastards in their father’s eyes, Tyrion knew it painfully. His seed giving birth to such a twisted, grotesque thing, such was a grievous shame for a father as proud as Lord Tywin. Cersei even had it worse with him. She loathed him to the core, that was plain to see. She loathed him because he was a grotesque, a stain on their family name. She loathed him because people would look at her and say she was sister to an imp. She loathed him because it was him, not her, who would be their lord father’s heir. She loathed him because he was a little filthy thief who had robbed Casterly Rock from her. And if it was not Casterly Rock she lusted after, what would it be ? But for Lady Joanna’s intervention and Lord Tywin’s forbiddance, she would have tried to kill him many a time and succeeded. Tyrion’s safety was not Lord Tywin’s top priority; however, he would not tolerate a kinslayer in his house.

Unlike Cersei, their youngest sibling Margaery was sweet to him even as a toddler. Since their gentle lady mother had died giving birth to Margaery, the little girl unintentionally earned their lady sister’s hatred and their lord father’s indifference. Lord Tywin Lannister had been expecting a son to inherit his legacy, a son that would give him a cause to set his twisted first aside. Margaery’s birth came with Lady Joanna’s death and the end of Lord Tywin’s hope. For that part Tyrion supposed he had to be grateful to their little sister. As for Cersei, she hated their young sister as much as she did Tyrion, probably even more. Tyrion might steal Casterly Rock from her but he also gave her pleasure in jeering his hideous form. Margaery was different. Margaery was not a freak. Margaery would grow up to be very beautiful. Margaery would be the ultimate rival to Cersei.

Before long, it had felt on Tyrion, an eight-year-old dwarf, to protect their baby sister from Cersei.

Margaery was one of the few who would look at Tyrion with an honest gleam in her eyes. The younger siblings of Lannister were always close. The Imp found out with delight that his little sister shared much of his wits. They were also terribly alike in their political ambition. However, while Tyrion had only his wits and his fragile claim of Casterly Rock to compete, Margaery had finer weapons. She had her intelligence , that for sure. She had her youth and her ravishing beauty, which Cersei envied. She had her soft, sing-song tone that was always pleasant to the ear. She had her feminine charms which, as far as Tyrion considered, made her a better and more threatening player than Cersei ever was.

“You know, sweet brother” Margaery said, kissing his cheek as the two of them were looking up at Cersei on her seat by the king’s side. “One day I will replace Cersei’s position as queen. I will not be just a queen, I will be the queen that holds all Seven Kingdoms under my reign. By then, I would like you to be my Hand.”

“Without a doubt, sweet sister. Without a doubt.”

Margaery was sweet as Jonquil in the songs but deep down, she was a lioness to the core. Tyrion realized he was glad to be on her side rather than the opposite.

Two of a Kind-Diarmuid’s side

Credit: deviart.net

 

Fandom : Fate

Rating : T

Pairing : Medusa X Diarmuid

Genres : Humor, Romance

Characters : Medusa, Diarmuid

Preview : Prejudices are not always right. As fate pulls together two very different people, an unlikely romance blossoms. Prequel to the “When Mystic Eyes Meet Mystic Face” series.

Diarmuid’s side

He had known her before he even met her. Frankly speaking, no warriors of any eras would not be familiar with the legendary monster whose gaze could turn men into stone. For a long period, she had been a blasphemy to gods and terror to humans until a young hero of great valor finally ended her sinful existence.

That was common knowledge.

In the time of the war, he had not been privileged to meet her face to face. An order from some high figure in the Mage Association had brought an abrupt end to the 5th Holy Grail War, coupled with the Grail itself being sealed away for good. Though it was not exactly that he rejoiced at the news, being able to cross weapons with heroes from all times and ages was itself a miracle, the termination of the brutal war brought him a sense of relief. Blood would no longer be spilled on this already blood-soaked land of Fuyuki.

Since he had never seen her before, it struck him as great surprise to find out that Medusa was such a beauty. Her attire consisted of a black turtleneck and a pair of form-fitting jeans. Though modest, her choice of dressing was a charming compliment on her luscious curves which his keen eyes did not fail to notice when her tall figure entered the shop. Her overly long hair was tied back by a loose ribbon and flowed like in a lavender fountain as she bended down to take a book on a lower shelf. How such gorgeous beauty could be associated with a sly, venomous creature as snake, he wondered.

Her eyes were probably her most valuable asset. Despite the brief moment their eyes met, Diarmuid already found himself captivated by the striking color of amethyst. As his heart skipped a beat, his instinct took an alarm as he remembered well and through how men were captivated by her gaze and turned into stone. A silent exhale of relief when no traces of magic was detected, the knight resumed his relaxed state. It was safe to assume that the pair of glasses she was wearing was no ordinary object; they served as a seal to her demonic power so that she could mingle with normal humans.

Her sharp glare, accompanied with her oddly shaped pupils, gave him a mild chill; it was not long before she noticed she was being eyed by a man, and a former Servant on top of that. Medusa had mistaken his silent admiration of her beauty as a sign of challenge; at least, that was the meaning Diarmuid could decipher from her icy glare.

Fighting was strictly prohibited and even friendly sparring was restricted after the end of the Holy Grail War. A short conversion between the two mythical figures helped him confirm that notion to Medusa. She seemed to accept the idea; nevertheless, while she did not see him as an adversary that she either killed or died fighting, she maintained her cold and distant demeanor.

For her to be on good terms with him (as he and the King of Knights were) was no easy task, the knight of the Fianna mentally took note.

Though she was dismissive and indifferent, it was still a pleasant surprise for Diarmuid that a fellow Servant applied for a job at the bookstore he was working. Of all the Servants he had the privilege to get acquainted to, there was only Cú Chulainn who seemed to enjoy working; the others were either too indulged in their wealth to bother themselves with working or so well supported by their Masters that they did not need to get a job. For him, the former Fianna knight, he was already grateful that Cú Chulainn’s Master had taken him in and provided him with a decent amount of mana to continue his existence, he could not burden her with his living expenses (he ate little and needed only a few sets of simple clothes, though). That was why he had taken upon himself the responsibility to find a job and contribute to the income.

It was a small but nice bookstore he was working at. The elegant decorations caught his eyes and since there was a need for workers, he decided to take the chance. Funny enough, he who was the first warrior of a group of fighters was very interested in reading. Books were his other passion besides sharpening his skills and back in the old days, he often came to Oisín’s place to borrow the poet’s books (and got himself in a rather sticky situation when other warriors caught him going to the poet’s tent alone at night). The owners of the shop were an old couple who, due to health problems, needed some assistants in taking care of the shop and a (presumably) young man was much welcome.

Sometimes after his employment, Medusa appeared at the front door, seeking for a job. The old man was quick to receive her while his wife, after some moment of hesitation, was convinced by her decent manner and finally agreed. The old woman’s reservation about taking Medusa in was understandable; any wives would think twice about hiring a woman with such beauty while their husband was around. In Diarmuid’s opinion, worrying about the husband’s fidelity was a small thing compared to the fact that they had just welcomed an ancient, ill-reputed creature into their store.

So far, no fighting had occurred. Like Diarmuid, Medusa also abode to the rule of non-violence and it appeared that she earnestly wanted to maintain the peace after the termination of the war. Still, the atmosphere between them was relatively tense. He approached her with cautious politeness and she replied with cold, ever business-like attitude. Conversations were almost non-existent and whenever they had to exchange some information, “Yes/No” questions were much preferred. Their awkward distance and silence were noticed even by the old couple and once, they asked him about the reason for their two employees’ lack of interaction. Diarmuid’s answer was that she was rather shy around the opposite sex. This was not entirely a lie, though. According to her legend, it was fine to assume that her aversion to men was rather intense.

However, Medusa’s apathy did not prevent him from stealing a few glimpses at her lovely figure whenever he had a chance. Strangely, he was pretty sure he felt her icy gaze fixing on him when he was surrounded by the female customers.

During the war, he had only heard about her from other Servants. Saber and Cú Chulainn were those who had actually tested her battle skills. Though they did not quite approve of her style of combat, they both agreed that Medusa was a fearsome opponent. Because Diarmuid believed in the validity of their words, he was struck with profound surprise that Medusa was pretty clumsy in normal life situations. “Clumsy” was only a mild way to put it. If he had to put it into words, “disaster” was the first to come to his mind whenever she tried to get a book on the higher shelves. She who could stand on high walls and jump from building to building could not balance herself on a 3-meter ladder. It was either her falling hard on the floor or the entire shelf of books tumbling down. Sometimes, both. Thanks to her nature as a Servant, Medusa did not suffer from any grave injuries like normal humans would if they were in her case. Nevertheless, cleaning after her mess was tiresome and it was fortunate (for her, not him) that the owners were rarely present at the store to witness their employee’s “destructive behaviors”.

He politely offered her a hand to help her up the first time she fell off the ladder. Her head hung in what he could surmise was embarrassment and shook lightly. He took that as a cue and lived her alone to collect herself; instead, he set out to rearrange the scattered books. Her silence he accepted as an unspoken gratitude.

The second and third time her clumsiness got her into accidents, Medusa still kept her distance, all the while refusing his offering hand. The forth was almost the same. It was not until he pointed out that her unusually long hair that kept getting her into troubles that Diarmuid earned her very first response. A muttering “thanks” from her usually tight lips was not much; yet it was a promising sign. The Irish hero suggested that pulling her hair into a pony tail might be helpful (he did think she should have a haircut but restrained himself from speaking out the idea, knowing how the woman treasured her hair). Her silence did not tell him whether she appreciated his suggestion.

The next day she came to work, her hair was tied up into a pony tail with a violet ribbon. The color well suited her hair. Moreover, he was given a perfect view of the slender curve of her back. Maybe he should stop checking her out. Such was never a proper manner for a knight, well, former knight to be more precise. He just could not help it.

That man was starting to get on his nerves. Fairly speaking, he had not done anything to directly offend the Irish hero; it was just his frequent visits to the shop that aroused a kind of irritation in Diarmuid. He was not sure this word really described his feelings but for the time being, he could only name it ‘irritation’. He did not usually experience this sort of emotions with regular customers but…

The first time the man set foot into this store, he came to find a rather rare book. Diarmuid was busy arranging the books on the top shelves (he had taken upon himself the task of cleaning and arranging the books since it spared him the sight of her falling off the ladder) so Medusa was in his servitude. Though the book he wanted had been sold out days ago, the man shown not the slightest sign of annoyance despite he had claimed that book was of great importance to him. There was something in the way that man flashed his smile at Medusa that struck him as a bad premonition, which he was able to confirm later as the man shown up at the shop more and more often. His focus was entirely on Medusa and Diarmuid was ignored the whole time as if he was invisible. Diarmuid did not mind being ignored; it bugged him that the man’s intention was rather obvious. The Lancer just could not explain why his attempt to court Medusa so profoundly exasperated him that only his mere sight could provoke Diarmuid’s anger.

One thing Diarmuid noticed was Medusa did not welcome the man’s presence anymore than he did. Somehow, it gave him an inward sense of delight.

The man proved to be quite a persistent fellow. Many a time he had himself turned down by the icy Greek beauty (who happened to be a Greek monster). Not getting the cue, he kept on advancing while Medusa kept on withdrawing, all the while not bothering to hide her blatant indifference. But today he was taking it too far. Noticing the gleam in her oddly shaped pupils, Diarmuid started to fear for the man. However distasteful a man he might be, he did not deserve to be turned into a stone statue. In a fit of pity, Diarmuid approached the pair, hoping to drive the man away before he earned Medusa’s fury.

His right arm felt a strong pull and before he had a chance to react, he heard a female voice speak up.

“I’ve told you already. I have a boyfriend. This is my boyfriend.”

Was that really Medusa’s voice ? Were those arms hers ? Did she just proclaim him her boyfriend ?

Questions were reeling in his mind. Too much information and too little time to digest. Since when did he have a girlfriend ? Not to mention that said girlfriend happened to be a man-hating Gorgon.

His purpose in approaching the pair forgotten, Diarmuid was struck speechless. The man, who sported a similar look of perplexity, began to eye Diarmuid from to toe. The more he inspected the former knight, the more he flushed with what Diarmuid could define as defeat and jealousy. In the past, he had encountered several times this kind of expression. The following actions varied : some challenged him to a duel (and experienced defeat a second time); some gave up and walked away.

“You only say he’s your boyfriend to drive me away, eh ?”

The man was sharp he had noticed the awkwardness in the way Medusa held onto Diarmuid’s arm. Anyway, it was not that difficult to see the confusion so obviously written on Diarmuid’s face.

The grip on his arm tightened and Diarmuid could tell that Medusa was really infuriated; the pair of glasses serving as a seal of her power was dangerously on the verge of being put off. This fellow really had no idea of what mortal peril he had stepped into, otherwise he would not have endangered himself by trying to woo a woman as Medusa. Diarmuid feared for the man’s life. On one hand, he wanted to say something harsh enough to drive the man away; on the other, whatever he said at this moment only meant he had conceded Medusa’s lie. A knight should not lie and Diarmuid was, of course, found no comfort in lying.

A not-so-gentle tug on his collar was immediately followed by the sensation of Medusa’s lips on his. Her pair of full, pouty lips that rarely opened since Medusa was not a loquacious type now slightly parted for her tongue to lick his bottom lip. Swept away by the sweetness of her mouth, Diarmuid more or less forgot the fact that Medusa had forced herself on him. Damn if she wasn’t a good kisser.

That man must be really pissed off to be forced to watch an intimate show in which the actor and actress were too focus on their little acting that they did not mind an awkward audience. It was only when the door was slammed hard that the pair of Servant snapped out of their trance. Cheeks flushed, lips swollen and the ecstasy seemed to linger in the way they were hesitant to restore the usual distance. A moment of silence and the only sound heard was the gentle rustling of the old curtain. Finally, as Medusa turned on her heel, she left behind s short statement :

“They do that on television.”

It took him a while to figure out what she meant by ‘that’.

Neither spoke a word about that incident for the following weeks but Diarmuid was sure both of them remembered it to the smallest details. At least  he did.

Plus, that man never showed up at the entrance again.

The weather was certainly bad today. It had been raining since early in the morning and appeared to get heavier and heavier with each hour passing. Though he was not particularly concerned about the weather, he had heard the weather forecast at the subway station on the way to work. There was a storm coming.

Customers were scarce on days like this. In fact, there had been only one in the whole morning and afternoon. He had considered closing the store early but the idea had been delayed. To tell the truth, Diarmuid did not know what to do after leaving the shop. Cú Chulainn had agreed on a date with his master; other Servants also seemed to be occupied. It was lonely, he admitted, as he did not mix well with people in this era and could only turn to those from ages similar to his own. A ‘generation gap’, perhaps.

But Diarmuid was not the only case. As far as he could tell, Medusa did not mix well with the modern era either. And that was partly the reason he wanted to spend a little more time with her, even if she was not very open to conversations.

Diarmuid was putting the curtain down when he saw a blur figure gradually coming to focus. It was Medusa, Diarmuid could immediately tell. Leaving behind a brief note, Medusa had left the shop to bring an umbrella to her Master who had forgotten to carry one. Knowing well how deep the bond between Medusa and her Master was, it did not surprise Diarmuid to see the usually cold and indifferent Medusa hurry out in the middle of the heavy rain just to give her Master an umbrella.

Droplets of water formed a small pool on the wooden floor. The freezing rain did little to affect her, being a Servant and all, but from head to toe, she was soaked like she had just been out of the swimming pool. Since she had brought only one umbrella, Medusa had come all the way back here uncovered. It was either she had forgotten her own umbrella or she had not cared about getting wet at all.

Upon returning, she did not say a word and went straight into the bathroom. Diarmuid was more or less used to her silence so he did not make any comments. Instead, he went to take the mop.

Some moment later, Medusa came out, dressed not in her usual clothes (which were already drenched with water anyway) but in a bathing robe probably belonged to the shop owner. Her hair, wrapped in a towel, was dripping with water. A few violet strands got loose, dangling in front of her features. It was actually a lovely sight, to see her after a shower, fresh and clean and Diarmuid could not help but linger his gaze on her figure. She noticed but paid him no mind and went to take the hairdryer in the cupboard. For some minutes, there were only the sounds of the pounding rain and the noises of the old instrument.

He watched the sight of her fumbling with a few tangled locks with half amusement, half curiosity. How she managed to keep her hair untangled in combats despite letting it loose most of the time was a mystery to him.

His suppressed chuckles did not fail her hearing and Medusa shot him an icy glare. He uttered an apology and approached her, offering his help in dealing with the stubborn knots. She hesitated for a minute, contemplating her alternatives and finally handed him the comb.

His fingers glided smoothly through her wet locks, down the entire length and stopped at the knots. Carefully he disentangled them. Combing Medusa’s hair reminded him of the time he had spent eloping with the woman who would later became his wife. The traveling lifestyle allowed them little luxury and to a princess who had never had to comb her own hair like Grainne, it was a huge challenge. So, whenever he had the time, Diarmuid would seek to compensate for her hardships by tending to her hair. Grainne always told him how she loved the way he gently combed her hair.

In doing her hair, he noticed the layer of hair at the back of her head was still damp since she was not able to properly dry this part.

“May I ?”

She was a tad confused when being asked. The damp sensation was not in her favor and slowly, she nodded her head.

He swept aside her fountain of hair and tended to the damp locks at the back of her head. She was rather sensitive here; he attained the knowledge by seeing her raising a few goosebumps. It was an actual surprise that Medusa would be open enough to let him, a man, touch her, even if it was just the hair. He tried not to associate this change of attitude with the kiss incident. It was hard not to, especially when he could still recall the flavor of her tongue and lips on his own.

“I was about to close the store anyway. Why didn’t you just go home with your Master ?”

She held onto her silence, a sign he interpreted as a refusal to start a conversation. That was why he was surprised to hear her soft, velvet voice.

“Sakura’ll stay at Saber’s Master’s house. It’d be a burden to her…my presence…”

Diarmuid had seen Medusa’s Master and Saber’s Master together once or twice and the chemistry between them was pretty obvious, even to outsiders. What startled him was the way her voice trailed off at the end of the sentence and the lingering bitterness in her tone. He decided not to dwell deeper into this subject.

“And you- did you say you were about to close the store ?”

“I’ve already done.”

“Why are you… “

She did not finish her question, having already realized the reason. She had left a note saying she would be back and he had stayed to wait for her.

“Cú Chulainn and his Master are on a date. My presence would only disturb them. Besides, I have no particular thing to do at home.”

“So we’re the same.” Medusa spoke softly, as if speaking to herself.

He made no comments.

As he finished, he gave a slight tap on her shoulders.

When she stood up, her long hair had been neatly braided and tied into a bun very similar to Saber’s. Medusa curiously checked her new hairstyle in the mirror.

“You don’t like it ?”

She gave a faint shake of her head.

“I do think it helps you avoid accidents with the ladder.”

His light-hearted humor earned him a glare. Maybe glaring was part of her nature, being a Gorgon and all.

“My clothes aren’t dry yet.”

Medusa gave a vague statement and sat down on the nearby chair.

“It should take about an hour, I guess.”

“What are we supposed to do in the time being ? Since we’re both going to stay here.” The purple headed Servant ask, her eyes wandering off to vacant space between shelves.

He could not answer her question. Partly because he did not know the answer himself. He had finished every tasks required: books had been arranged in their proper shelves; the floor had been swept and cleaned. Simply, there was nothing else that needed taking care of. Partly because he was startled by the difference in the use of pronouns. Up until now, it had strictly been “you” and “I”; this was the first time he heard her refer to them as “we”. How should he react to this spontaneous change ? Should he express his surprise ? Should he let it pass like it was nothing out of the common ?

Her sitting posture expressed idleness but her eyes were boring attentively into his figure. Though there was no trace of magecraft, Diarmuid still experienced a stiff tension from her gaze. It left him uncomfortable so he opted to avert his eyes. Somehow, his sight unintentionally landed on her lips, which provoked in him the memories of their intimacy days before.

It seemed that Medusa saw the faint blush on his cheeks when she abandoned her seat and came to his side.

“How did you feel about it ?”

“By ‘it’ you mean…” It was awkward when she was invading his comfort zone, especially when she was having a strange look in her eyes.

“The kiss the other day.” She said matter-of-factly.

“Ah well…uhm…”

“Felt good, no ?”

She kept advancing toward.

“It was kind of…uhm… good.” Diarmuid stammered to choose the right words while slowly backing off. “Why did you… well, kiss me ? It was really sudden.”

“I did say they did it on TV. It helped chasing off that annoying human.”

“That was not really the point. There were plenty other ways…”

“Like ?”

He was speechless.

“Want to try it again ?”

His back touched the shelf and Medusa, without regarding of personal space whatsoever, stood in front of him with only a mere few inches separating her chest and his. It was not like he was focusing on her bosom; it was just her cleavage was the first to catch his sight. Seriously, Diarmuid had a feeling that he was being a pervert.

“Well ?”

“It’s just…”

“You don’t want it?”

A tinge of disappointment in her tone. Or was he imagining ?

“It’s not…”

As soon as the last syllable escaped from his mouth, he immediately felt her lips on his. It also took him by surprise but unlike the first time, he was quick to adapt and welcome her invading tongue. Soon, they found themselves engaged in a primeval and sensual rhythm of licking, sucking and lacing of tongues. The sensation was intense and foreign at the same time. It had been a real long time since he kissed a woman with such passion. He did not mean to compare Grainne with Medusa. Grainne was gentle and shy and he was endeared by those traits of hers. Medusa, on the other hand, was fiercer than any women he had known. Her fervor was overwhelming and he could not help but be swept away. Strangely he found the pleasure in it and tried to reciprocate the sensation to her, utilizing all his experiences. A soft moan at the back of her throat spoke of his success.

There was a pleasant silence when their lips parted, connected only by a thin string of saliva. Medusa licked her lips and smiled for the first time since starting working at this bookstore. Her smile, he admitted, lacked the innocence but again, he was remined that Medusa was far from being a normal woman. Her countenance possessed a frigid pulchritude but as soon as she smiled, the icy façade melted and her second nature was revealed: Medusa was a lustful beauty that aroused men’s instincts and coerced them into committing crimes. Diarmuid was under such effect and he was scared by it. On one hand, there was an alarm ringing at his conscience, warning him not to proceed further into this circumstance; on the other, an equally strong force urged him to follow his desires. God knew at this moment he wanted it so much.

“You do enjoy it.”

A mischievous smile adorned her lips as she, having crossed the border between them, boldly snaked her arms around his waist. The front of her body pressed against his, hard enough for him to feel her womanly curves underneath the bath robe. He knew she could probably feel something from him too.

“Can’t argue with you.” He admitted.

“Feel like advancing a little more ?”

Her knee brushed his thigh suggestively, her eyes locking with his, demanding a reply.

“If you’re fine with it.”

“All of these are not enough to tell ?”

“Where’s preferable to you ?” He looked around, searching for a possible place for them. “The sofa?”

“Anywhere’s fine.” She smirked. “I’m going to be on top anyway.”

“Were Greek women more fond of the top position?”

“Were Irish men not very fond of being ridden by a woman?”

“It can be a new and exciting method. Doesn’t hurt trying once or twice.”

“Since it’s your ‘first time’, I’ll be gentle to you. One more thing, I do like being carried.”

He responded to her demand by snaking his arm under her knees and gently lifted her up, his other arm resting on her back for support. Things were progressing at an abnormal speed. It was hard to believe some minutes ago, she was still cold and distant; yet, at this very moment, the fearsome ancient Greek creature was being scoped up in his arms, flushed and eager to engage in intimacy with none other than himself.

By the way, she was a bit heavier than he had imagined.

There was no romance.

There was no romance, only raw lust. Tongues lacing, hands boldly roaming, two bare bodies bonding in the most primitive way. There were no figures of Heroic Spirits; only a man and a woman giving into their desires. At this moment, nothing else in the world beside the steady rhythm of their conjoined bodies mattered.

Passion buried for thousand years awoke. Vehemently, the flame of their lust threatened to set their beings ablaze.

Deafening thunders were roaring and the storm had yet to show any signs of calming down. No matter how violent the weather outside was, inside the store there was only a pleasant heat and a musky scent of sweats. Aside from heavy breathings and the crackling of the old sofa, it was strangely quiet.

He had never had to catch his breath like this in hundreds of years; not even the fiercest battles could wear him out this profoundly. Though fatigue embraced his being as he was lying on the sofa and spent, it was not necessarily too bad a feeling. That aside, when the urge decreased, his heart began to swell with affection. Affection was s strange emotion. Somehow, it brought back nostalgia- he had fallen in love before and quite deeply he might add; however, time had already swept it away, leaving behind a vague trace. It was for such reason that affection struck him as familiar and foreign at the same time. All of sudden, he wanted to strongly embrace this woman who was nestling against his chest, sharing with him what little space the sofa could offer.

She was extremely beautiful. It needed not to see her nudity to have that fact confirmed. Yet, her pulchritude had never astounded him to such extent. She had been cold; she had been seductive; her cruelty and passion he also had witnessed but never before had she been so innocent as she was now, asleep on his chest. Right at this moment, Medusa was neither the ruthless monster nor the Servant Rider; she was the purest embodiment of youth and beauty that Diarmuid was fortunate enough to claim.

His fingers found their way through her locks of violet hair. The neat bun from earlier had been undone in the heat of sex since he had wanted to feel her flowing hair as it streamed down like a curtain over their naked bodies.

A soft scent elegantly rose from the damp, musky air trapped between the closed window and the many bookshelves. Curiously, he weaved a lock of purple with his fingers, inhaling the scent. Her hair smelled like the fresh fragrance of spring fountain.

“You’ll have to comb my hair later.”

Her glassy lavender eyes behind the pair of glasses met his golden ones. Though awake, Medusa did not bother to move, finding his chest a pleasant pillow for her head. Her manicured fingers fondled the bite marks she had left on his collar bone. He, on the other hand, had also littered her bosom with some prominent hickeys. She had not minded his little ‘revenge’.

“If you enjoy it.” He smiled softly and proceeded to take off the pair of glasses that prevented him a straight look into her eyes. Medusa stopped him.

“I really want to see your eyes without the glasses.”

“I’m sure you’ve already been familiar with my legend.” Her tone expressed a grim edge as if he had unintentionally scratched a touchy part.

“I have confidence in my resistance to magecraft.”

“You’re no Saber, don’t you know ?” She asked, with a tinge of sarcasm.

“Mine isn’t quite far from Saber’s. As a matter of fact, I could be summoned as Saber, too.”

“If you insist, then feel free to.” She replied, dropping her hands.

Her eyes without the glasses were even more mesmerizing. The oddly shaped pupils were an exotic touch on the lavender irises. At first, they gave a chill sensation on the person beheld. However, the more a person looked into her eyes, the more he found himself hypnotized by the bewitching magecraft. The legend about men being lured by her gaze and turned into stone was true and he, Diarmuid, was under that very effect. And though he was yet a statue, for he could still the warmth and smoothness of her skin, he could tell something strange was occurring to his body. Something that made a part of him hard, stone-hard.

Medusa leaned forward, her eyes a mysterious gleam and her lips a cunning smile as she whispered into his ears.

“I see you didn’t boast of your magic resistance. But…”

A sudden jolt was sent through his being and his face became crimson as her hand ghosted over his thighs.

“There’s a problem here. Some part of your body is apparently not very magic-resistant.”

He silently gulped upon catching the  peculiar glints in her eyes.

End.

Wish-Peace-End

His wish of redemption of his lost honor as a knight was realized when he yielded the Grail to his Master.

He had also fulfilled her last wish by assuring her Master’s safety. The tranquil smile she was having on her lips before her body dissolved to thousands sparkles told him her heart had finally found its peace.

His face sported the same smile as he pointed the tip of the spear to his heart.

Wedding-Gown-Imagination

Everyday he passes a wedding shop on his way to work. Each time, he lingers for some good minutes, contemplating a particular wedding gown, before moving on. It is a wine-colored gown accompanied by a bouquet of red roses that  has caught his eyes and everytime he stands in front of the glassdoor, he imagines her lovely figure in the dress, the bouquet in one hand as she holds out her other hand for him to take.

He never tells her about his little delight.