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…”
“…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.