Jaime hadn't thought it possible, but the next letter to arrive from Tarth brought him even lower.
It arrived a little over a fortnight after the first, and sat on his desk for a full day and night before he opened it. As much as he wished she hadn't written at all, his heart rate quickened as he unfurled the parchment and looked down at her neatly penned words.
I have the most wonderful news!
I almost cannot believe it's true, but I'm sitting across from him in his solar as I write this, so it must be true. My father is alive! He is sitting up, and smiling, and probably exerting himself far more than he should considering how close he was to the brink, but aside from still being a bit thin, you would almost find it impossible to tell he was ever ill.
It was a most fortunate turn of events. A ship from across the narrow sea pulled into port on Tarth, to restock their provisions and do a bit of trade. Their ship's healer got wind of what ailed my father- it turns out, though it baffled every maester and healer on Tarth, it has been common in Essos for several years, and not all that difficult to cure if you know what you're doing.
I cannot tell you how terrified I was, or what a relief it is to see him thriving again. He wants to go down to the seaside in the morning, and I admit I am worried about it, but the maester and the Braavosi healer agree he's ready. To be honest he seems more spry and lively than he was before I left to join Renly. I am trying to allow myself to look forward to it. It's been a long time since I set foot in the sapphire waters myself, and they certainly are beautiful. I daresay it will be a bit warmer than my last swim, although winter's chill is starting to reach down here as well.
I had hoped I might hear from you after my last letter, but I expect you must be quite busy with the affairs of the realm. The men from Essos had much to say about that Dragon Queen, and it does seem ever more likely those rumors are true. I do shudder to think of what damage fully grown dragons could do to Westeros, though I suspect your brother might be less apprehensive and more excited than I am at the prospect. He did go on about his interest in dragons while I was at Casterly Rock, on more than one occasion.
I do hope you might send news from the Rock. I miss so much about it, and I would very much love to know how you're doing, and Tyrion, and all the lads. Do write, when you can, even if it's only a few lines. It is strange to think of you all so far away, and knowing a little more might ease the distance. I hope you're well, Jaime.
He read the last word, and his heart sank.
Her words painted a clear enough picture. She was home. She was with her beloved father, who was well and smiling. They'd visit the sea together, and delight in sapphire seas the color of her eyes. She had her life back.
He should be happy for her, but all he felt was empty and bitter. He glanced once more at her final paragraph, the one imploring him to write back, and shook his head.
No. He needed to let this go. He'd been on the cusp of a possibility with her, but that future was gone now. It already took all his strength not to mope all day long in his chambers with the curtains drawn. He was already starting to rival his siblings in his wine consumption, which is something he'd never expected would happen. He had a responsibility as the Lord of Casterly Rock and if he had any hope of fulfilling his duties even somewhat admirably, he had to stop dwelling on a past that was lost. He could survive this, if he could only leave the wench in the past where she belonged.
He could not even consider picking up a quill. What would he say? What could he say? It had taken every effort to bury his wounded feelings, and to attempt to write back a friendly letter would only pull everything back to the surface. He must not let it happen.
His chest tight, the squeezed down on the letter with his good hand until it was a crumpled ball, and flung it across the room.
That should have been the end of it, but unfortunately, his noisy brother had once again gotten wind of the arrival of another letter, and of course was unable to let sleeping dogs lie. Tyrion found him after dinner in his solar, striding in on stunted legs, sharp eyes full of purpose.
Jaime stiffened at the sight of him, well aware of what was coming. Tyrion had tried a couple of times to bring up the subject of writing to Brienne since her last letter, but Jaime had always shut it down with savage ferocity and for a time, Tyrion seemed to have given up. But Jaime had no doubt that the arrival of another letter would provide his brother with more fuel to meddle.
"Well then. What did Lady Brienne have to say this time?" Tyrion asked bluntly as he began to help himself to some wine.
"Would you be willing to accept a curt 'none of your business, Imp' as an answer?" Jaime asked through narrowed eyes.
"Absolutely not. This is her letter, I presume?" Tyrion said, inclining his head toward the wad of parchment lying in a corner of the room. "Would you like to tell me what it says, or shall I just read it myself?"
Jaime scowled at him. "What I'd like best is if you'd turn around and waddle out of my sight. But since I highly doubt the likelihood of such a blessing, if you wish to stick what's left of your nose in my business, you'll have to read it your bloody self. I do not wish to speak of it."
Tyrion gave him an annoyed stare through mismatched eyes for a moment, before bending down to pick up the letter, straightening it out and scanning it quickly.
"Oh, Jaime," he said quietly when he'd finished.
"What?" Jaime asked. He'd been expecting harsh criticism, and the soft, sad exclamation was jarring.
"You're really not going to write to her, after this? The poor girl is practically begging you."
"No she isn't," Jaime muttered. "She asked, is all. She'll forget us soon enough."
"You're a fool, Jaime. This is dripping with poorly concealed restraint. How you could spend so many days with such a sweet girl, and then cast it all aside is beyond me. Can you not see how you're hurting her?"
"She'll be fine-"
"I rather doubt-"
"She's bloody happy, Tyrion! You saw it yourself. She's back with her father, where she belongs! She was here as a prisoner. I allowed myself to forget that, but I'm sure she hasn't, nor has her father. But she's free now, and gone, and I'd just...I'd like to be free of her, now that it's done. Won't you let it rest?"
"Jaime, she asked you to write to her. She wants to hear from you."
"I know. I can read, brother, even if I don't burn through a dozen candles a night doing so," Jaime scowled.
"Don't think it's rather cold of you to entirely ignore this girl who's only ever been kind to you?"
"Yes. Yes I do. But I'm all out of kindness, Tyrion. I let her go. I've done enough for the girl. I don't owe her a lifetime of useless correspondence!" Jaime said through gritted teeth.
He wished he could throw Tyrion bodily from the room. He was doing all he could do build up his walls, and this bloody dwarf was determinedly kicking them down faster than Jaime could repair them.
"You're clearly trying hard to be cruel. With a great degree of success, I must say," Tyrion said, looking at him with wide eyes, full of disappointment and a bit of sadness.
"Good," Jaime said, keeping his expression as blank as he could. "That's the intent. She'll understand soon enough I'm not worth wasting any further time on, and she'll slip back into her own life."
Tyrion sighed heavily, and downed his goblet of wine.
"You have ignored one glaringly obvious possibility, you know."
"Ask her back, you bloody fool. Finish what you started. Tell her you miss her, and want her for a wife, and whatever else it is that's in your soft heart."
Jaime felt his heart give a little jump at those words. Could it really be that easy? Jaime pictured himself, trying to write such words, with his useless left hand scratching out child's scrawl worse than Tommen's. He'd never be able to find the words.
"Why not ?" Tyrion asked, exasperated.
Jaime dropped his head into his hands, just as frustrated by this circular conversation.
"She's happy , Tyrion. She's with her father, and her bloody sapphire waters. She might be inquiring about us, out of gratitude for setting her free, and...an interest in the lads she trained, but- no. She's being polite-"
"Jaime, don't be ridiculous. She's as fragile about this as you are, and doing all she can to try and keep her tone light, but it's clear she wants desperately to hear from you. It's callous to keep her in the dark. She won't understand. She'll think you don't care ."
Jaime let out a roar of frustration. Here he was, trying his hardest not to think about her at all, and here was Tyrion, trying to force images of her into his head, images of her sad and hurt and confused. It wasn't fair. He'd made a big bloody sacrifice, letting her go. Did he have to suffer for all eternity, perpetually having the two of them rubbing salt in his wounds?
"Can't you bloody see that I'm trying not to? It was in my grasp for a moment, but it's not anymore. She's gone. I've accept it, and so should you."
"Let it go, Tyrion. I'm done discussing it."
Tyrion stared back at him with an expression of deep disappointment, mingled with no small amount of disgust. Shaking his head, he filled his goblet high, turned around and walked out of the room without another word.
The wench had always been stubborn. It was the very first quality he'd noticed in her, other than her unusual appearance. So he wasn't surprised, really, when a third letter arrived from her, though he had hoped his silence might be loud enough for her to understand he had no intention of writing back.
This time, Jaime left it for two days before he opened it, trying his best to ignore it but never once managing to keep it from plaguing the back of his mind. It was shorter than the others, and much more pointed.
I am writing to you, and young Garreth as well, since it seems you might be disinclined to write yourself.
I cannot pretend I understand why, though I wish you could bring yourself to at least offer a few words of explanation. If you have received my previous letters- I suppose it's possible the ravens did not make it.
Jaime, I know you've never been happy writing with your left hand, but I thought you would know I don't care what your penmanship is like, if that's what's holding you back. I simply want to hear from you, even if you only have a little to say.
I hope at least, that I will get some news out of Garreth. I never could have imagined upon my arrival at your gates that I would miss Casterly Rock as much as I do.
As promised, we have sent as many soldiers as we could spare to join Tommen, in gratitude for your kindness in allowing me to go free. As a result, it has been rather quiet here. I have thought about trying to train some of the young lads who are left, as I did at Casterly Rock, but I do not think I'd be able to earn enough respect to get started without you here to intimidate them into it. Tarth has not changed much in that regard.
Well, I cannot think of much else to say, other than that my father is well- better than ever, and now talks the ears off any visiting lords about the wonders of Braavosi medicine.
My real purpose in writing is to ask once again for news from you, if you are willing. I truly hope you're well, Jaime, and I miss you, even if you do not feel the same.
As expected, there was yet another unpleasant conversation with Tyrion after it. His brother found him just as he'd been about to toss the letter into the fireplace, and snatched it away from him before he could.
When he finished reading it, Tyrion had that same disappointed expression on his face that he wore so often these days when looking at Jaime.
"She deserves better than this, Jaime," Tyrion said with disgust. "She deserves better than you."
"I'm well aware," Jaime said flatly. He was already deep in his cups. "Soon enough, she will realize that too. The wench is thicker than aurochs about a great many things, even she will figure out someone so cold is unworthy of her thoughts." And she'll stop this torment.
"Don't you realize your silence is breaking her bloody heart?" Tyrion asked.
"I doubt that," Jaime muttered. "But even if it...She's young, Tyrion. It'll mend." She'll find some honorable, upstanding type to pledge her sword to, to follow around the country on some useless endeavor...
"Fine then. You're a bloody coward, Jaime. To think I was once deluded enough to think otherwise," Tyrion scowled in disgust, walking away and making it the shortest conversation they'd ever had on the subject.
The fourth letter came not long after that and Jaime did not even open it. For four days it sat on his desk, and a dozen times he'd nearly thrown it into the fire unopened, always stopping himself at the last moment.
Finally, Tyrion lost patience and stepped in, snatching it off his desk in plain sight of Jaime.
"You're really not going to open it?" Tyrion asked, waggling it in the air.
"No," Jaime said. "There's no point. Give it back."
"What's the point?" Tyrion shot back, rolling his eyes. "If it's only going to sit on your desk? You're not making any use of it. No, I think I'll have a look and see what damage you've done to the poor girl now."
Jaime made a grab for it, but Tyrion evaded his attempt with surprising grace. He took several steps back and began to read it aloud.
"'Jaime, Forgive me if-"
"Stop it," Jaime snapped. "I don't want to hear-"
But Tyrion ignored him, reading more loudly. "'Forgive me if this letter is but another nuisance to you. I promise that if I don't hear from you after this, I'll not write again. I allowed myself to hope that perhaps my first and second letters never made it to you, but as I've received word back from Garreth, I cannot delude myself into such a fanciful explanation again.
I cannot pretend I understand why you won't spare just a few moments, after all the time we spent in each other's company, but I won't continue begging to hear word from you. I know you're alive at least, thanks to Garreth, and I suppose that shall have to be enough.
Perhaps our friendship no longer holds value for you, when I am no longer a presence in your daily life. That does not change that it has value to me. Your kindness at the Rock meant a great deal to me, as did your decision to allow me to return to my father when he was dying, and I thank you for it. I wish you the best, Jaime."
Tyrion read the last words and slowly rolled the scroll back up. Jaime watched him wordlessly. "Well?" Tyrion asked, impatient, when Jaime remained silent.
Jaime stared across the room at him. "'Well' what?"
"You don't have anything to say about this?"
"The pigheaded woman has finally taken a hint. I suppose that means it's over at last," Jaime said, leaning back in his chair.
There ought to be relief, but there was none. His insides were burning ice, but he kept his expression neutral.
Tyrion gave him a long hard look. "Very well, then," he sighed, placing the scroll into his pocket.
"What are you doing with that?" Jaime asked sharply.
"Oh," Tyrion blinked. "Did you want it back? I thought you said it was over..."
Jaime glared at him, suspicious.
But then a deep weariness came over him, and he found himself lacking the energy to care about what game his brother was playing. If he was trying to manipulate him into doing something about it, it wouldn't work. He finally had what he wanted. An end to these bloody ravens that reopened his wounds with every flight they made.
"It is. Keep the bloody thing, then. I don't care."
"Very well. I will. Goodnight, brother," Tyrion said, smiling falsely and giving him an insolent bow before leaving the room.