Part the Second
They were married quietly in Lannisport in a Sept where Ilse’s mother was laid to rest. Ilse Ever, with a cloak of deep crimson with a lion sleeping under a tree, was married to Ser Edmure Tully of Riverrun.
Her second kiss was chaste, but Edmure cupped her face with both hands and held her for a second after she pulled away, looking into her pale blue eyes, searching for something and then smiling at her. Despite herself, she smiled back at him.
Edmure had decided that they would spend the night in the encampment that his men had retreated to once the marriage agreement with Lady Cerzainya had fallen through. The tent offered every comfort. The bedroll was covered in rose petals and there was a small looking glass propped up against a table for her benefit. There was even a privacy screen with her small trunk, that held her one other dress and her nightgown and bathing costume in it. It had appeared in her private tent two days earlier, and she had smiled, knowing Lalie was a true friend through this strange turn of events.
“The men have asked for our presence in about two hours, but until then,” Edmure began, “you have my company. Can I get you some wine?” He went to the table with the looking glass and Ilse saw two pitchers and several glasses.
“I’ve never had much wine,” she confessed. “Wine was always for the wealthy…” Her words hung off awkwardly.
“Would you like to try a sip?” he asked. “Perhaps in honor of our wedding? Or would you perhaps prefer ale?”
“Ale,” she said definitively.
“Ale,” he agreed, smiling at his bride. “Please sit, darling.”
Ilse didn’t even realize she was sitting in one of the chairs until a glass of ale was placed in her hand. Edmure had his own glass and sat in a chair close to her. “I thought tonight we might sea bathe,” he told her, “at our cove here, or another if you prefer. The one over the ridge is beautiful and my men are strictly forbidden from going there tonight. They know they’ll be in the brig every night until we reach King’s Landing.”
Her eyes drifted toward the bed. “You would prefer—?” she asked.
“Ilse,” he murmured. “We must—tonight. If the Lannisters learn that we haven’t become one, they could reclaim you as their property as you were their servant and your father refused to give his consent You also possess Lannister blood although they have denied it until this point. I also suspect your father came into some gold as my men reported that he had an influx of male guests since I asked you for your hand.”
She put her forehead in her hand in frustration. “You know.”
“Yes,” he agreed. “However, I do not care. He is just some man to me, Ilse. He was an obstacle. Now we have another obstacle.”
“Edmure, I’m afraid I might make a horrible lady of a keep,” she confessed suddenly. “I only know how to prepare a lady to go face her day. I have no idea what she does. I mend her clothes, I resole her shoes, I set her books in such a way that she can find what she desires, I—“
For the third time, he kissed her, one hand coming around her waist and urging her to stand, while his free hand took her ale and tossed it on the floor. “Edmure!” she gasped, but he simply kissed her again.
He picked her up in his arms and smiled down at her. “I like it when you call me by my name instead of ‘m’lord.’ That certainly has its charms, darling, but to hear my name on your lips is a gift from the Seven.”
When she opened her mouth to speak again, Edmure kissed her gently as he laid her on her back, rose petals all around her.
“Please, don’t think, just feel. Tell me if you want me to stop or if you are in pain.” Edmure murmured.
She looked at him completely confused. No one had told her what to expect. There seemed to only be men in the encampment. However, soon Edmure was next to her on the bed, kissing her reverently, again and again, his hand going to the laces of her simple gold dress. It suddenly became too hot, but when he removed the bodice, she realized she didn’t want to be the only one undressed. She pushed off his jacket, which he shrugged off and threw somewhere. It was Tully blue, mottled with gray. It reminded her of fish scales, she realized, but then lips descended on her again, and this time she tentatively kissed back, grabbing the side of his face and letting her hand reach into his hair, which felt so soft.
Edmure nipped at her lower lip and she gasped again and the outer dress was being pushed off her shoulders, but she hardly noticed as she moved closer to him, the arms of her dress being pulled from her so she was wearing just a shift and the inner skirt that was a lighter yellow.
“You,” she demanded, pulling away. She felt vulnerable although he had seen her so many times in her bathing shift. He gazed into her eyes and kissed the top of her shoulder carefully, sending that strange shiver down her spine she remembered from the first time she met him.
He looked at her warmly, kissing her once before pulling the tunic over his head. Then he was taking off his hose and she was pealing down her stockings and kicking off her simple shoes that weren’t meant to be pretty but meant for a day’s labor and a passable comeliness. When she looked back at her husband, he was under the covers, but he was pulling at her skirt, pushing it off of her and she obliged him, remaining only in her shift.
Carefully, she slid under the covers, and simply looked at her husband, and he stared into her bright blue eyes. She lost herself—and he found her again. His hand brushed up against her arm and he kissed her again, pulling her against his naked chest and legs. “You’ve learned our secret,” she murmured.
“What is that?” he chuckled huskily, kissing down her arm.
“When we are alone and are about to swim into the sea, we completely dress in only our skin. In fact, I was planning to disrobe when you arrived at my cove.”
He stopped, staring at her eyes, but after a moment she ducked her head, smiling a little.
“Well, Lady Ilse Tully,” he told her, “clearly you’re over dressed.” He reached down and tugged at the bottom of the shift and she held her hands up so he could remove the offending piece of clothing. “I love you,” he murmured as he kissed her again and again and again, and she was kissing him back now, and they were only a pile of limbs and when he reached down between her legs, she didn’t even think to tell him to stop. “Are you ready?” he asked after kissing the line of where her dress bodice would have ended.
“Ready?” she questioned, a little confused.
“This may be a little uncomfortable, but I’ll be gentle,” he promised her, his eyes as trustworthy as the day he had met her. Then she was on her back, her many braids forming a strange halo around her, petals of red and white caught in nearly every braid. Edmure kissed her again when the discomfort came and, in her shock, she breathed in.
But then she was in his arms again, letting him kiss her, kissing him back, holding onto him, and moving strangely with him. She was confused when a strange painful pleasure overtook her and she nearly passed out in her husband’s arms, but then warmth spread within her and they were exhausted together.
Edmure held her to him, and she rested her head against her husband’s chest.
“I’ve never felt,” she murmured, trying to find the words. “Is it?—I don’t understand. The ladies in the kitchen always complain about their husbands being horrible lovers. Was that—horrible?” Ilse looked up and saw Edmure looking down at her.
“Be happy you have a husband who loves you,” he laughingly told her, kissing the top of her head before sitting up. “I fear it is time for the feasting. Are you well, my love?”
“I think so,” she replied, carefully sitting up next to him. “Yes. A bit of ale might be in order, but I look forward to dancing with you and your men, Ser Edmure. On our journey will you tell me of your sisters?”
He gave her a genuine smile. “Of course,” he responded. “We should see Lysa, the wife of the deceased, Lord Arryn, the King’s former Right Hand at King’s Landing, and then Lady Stark, my sister Catelyn, in Winterfell.”
“One married to the Warden of the East and the other the North. If you had married my lady you would have had the Warden of the West. Do you have another sibling for the South?” she teased, finding her shift and slipping it over her head.
He laughed quietly and came over with a cloth that smelled like lavender. “You’ll thank me later,” he promised before he nudged her knees apart and washed between her legs.
It was then that there was a disturbance at the tent flap and Edmure threw on a tunic. Fortunately he was already wearing his britches. Ilse put on her pale yellow inner skirt and her outer dress of a deeper though muted gold. She didn’t pay attention to the conversation. She was just placing the bodice behind the front laces of her outer dress so she could then put the finishing touches on it.
“Ilse, darling,” Edmure called.
“I’m nearly ready. I just have the laces,” she promised.
Edmure came toward her and helped her with the bottom. “There’s a girl here. Lalie. She claims her mistress has hit her in a violent rage and that you two used to sew together…”
“Lalie?” she said in complete shock. “Straw blonde hair, dull blue eyes?”
He looked shocked. “I didn’t get a description.”
Ilse’s nimble fingers finished the laces off except for tying them and she ran out of the tent and she looked at the man. “Where is she? Take me—quickly.” She gathered up her skirts and walked quickly behind him, the men bowing at her and she nodded to them. She saw Lord Tywin do it after a long absence once.
She was led to a tent on the outskirts of the encampment and she saw Lalie sitting there with her braids half undone. Crying out, she ran to her oldest friend and dropped to her knees before her. “What did she do to you?” she whispered in horror. “She cut your hair?”
“She found out I hid your towel and dried it. I don’t know how, Ilse,” she murmured. “Lady Ilse.” Her hair was hiding her eye, but Ilse could still see it was purple.
Reaching up, she brushed back the hair. “Lady Cerzainya is not strong enough to do that.”
Lalie looked away. “I’ve been sent to Lannisport. To see a cousin. My lady said she could not bear to see my traitorous face.”
“Well,” Ilse said definitively, “you’re coming with us. I don’t know how far, but we’ll get you away, and I’ll give you an excellent reference. I’m certain being married to Ser Edmure Tully, Heir to Riverrun, carries some weight.” She bit her lip.
She looked up at the man who was with her and saw Edmure. “See that she has a safe place to sleep and something warm to eat. If there’s a Maester I’d like her eye seen to as well.” She turned back to Lalie and squeezed her hands. “Everything will be well. She’s just angry because she didn’t like the doll her father sent her this year.”
They laughed quietly together at the shared joke.
Lalie kissed her hand. “You look so beautiful. I’m so happy for you, Ilse. Go to your festivities. Drink too much ale, dance, be merry, and then go swimming.”
“You know me too well,” she responded before she left her friend in the hands of the knight who had come to get her.
The revelries were wonderful. Ale was to be had in large quantities and Ilse stood up with Edmure and then any man who would ask her, before returning to Edmure’s arms, as he kept on reclaiming her until, about halfway through the dance, he would kiss her senseless to the clapping and catcalls of everyone around them.
Instead of a bedding, a knight came up to them and gave them two Tully Sigils and gestured toward the nearby cove. Ilse blushed. “Does everyone know?”
“Oh yes,” he responded, as he kissed her hand and led her away from the bonfires. “I would come back every night to the castle and my guard would ask if I had seen Lady Cerzainya and if I was falling in love with her, and I would answer that I had met a sea nymph and she was stealing my heart. By the second day I was proclaiming that I wanted to marry you but I was afraid of taking you away from the sea.”
“But you are doing just that,” she asked in confusion.
He looked down at her. “I am,” he agreed. “But going into the water with you, I began to think that perhaps the river could be enough if I brought you back here every year. I believe it’s not the sea that is in your blood, but water.”
She was silent, but wondered at the idea. Ilse turned away from him as she took off her gown for the second time that day, but she strode off into the waters after him with no fear, loving the feel of the waves against her legs. But then there was a rushing sound behind her and she was picked up and thrown into deeper waters. She shrieked in joy as she fell, flailing, only to splash Edmure in the eyes—intentionally. The splashing turned to foreplay, and in the end he held her in his arms and they were kissing softly, water trickling down her hair onto her back as they tried to hold each other closer, closer, closer still, until he foisted her up so she had to wrap her legs around his waist. Then they were joined, and her head fell back and she was breathing in and out, just paying attention to that. Their lips were close, nearly kissing, but not, each thrusting, pushing her slightly farther away, and then his face was buried in her chest, and she held his head there, loving the raw feeling of his tongue. She felt wicked, decadent, to be in the sea and making love with her husband. And then-then-just there-the pleasure that was almost pain came and her head fell onto his. She released him, and he instantly looked up at her, and she leaned down to kiss him, although he was still thrusting within her.
Edmure was the first to come apart, breathing out in puffs of air, but he held her closer, his fingers coming onto her, making the precious feeling even worse and worse and then she was holding his shoulders so tightly that she knew she was leaving marks and scratches from her nails, but he never complained, even when she shouted out to the darkness and left claw marks on his upper back.
Ilse floated in the water, still held by her husband, and she hummed in happiness. “Please tell me this is not what you had in mind that last night before we were introduced.”
He laughed against her neck. “No,” he argued. “I just wanted to hold you. I knew I was going to anger Lord Tywin, and I didn’t know where he was going to hide you away, so I was hoping that if I could make you love me just a little, you might come with me. At the least, I would forever have the memory if I never again found you.”
She hummed and then disengaged herself carefully, letting her legs touch the sand bed. Her arms wrapped around his waist.
“Would you like Lalie to be your handmaiden?” Edmure suddenly asked. “The one time you spoke of her it was with such praise…”
Ilse looked at him in shock. “I’m not a great lady,” she argued.
“You are now,” he returned. “You will soon have dresses that are a little more complicated. There are no other ladies your age at Riverrun; you’ll need a friend. She must leave Lannisport anyway.”
“All right,” she smiled. “I’ll ask her tomorrow. Lord Tywin gave us food and a bed and four days off a year. Can I tell her to expect that?”
Edmure looked at her askance. “She’ll have two days off a month and more time if there is an emergency as well three silver pieces every month.”
“What for?” Ilse asked in confusion.
“A pretty dress?” Edmure shrugged. “I know not. It is hers to do with as she likes. I never knew the Lord of Casterly Rock was so uncaring for his servants. You have no money,” he checked.
“No. You didn’t ask for a dower—I assumed you knew.”
“I wasn’t going to ask your father. I want nothing from that man, and Lord Tywin certainly wouldn’t pay even ten silver pieces. I wanted you, not money, otherwise I would have married Cerzainya. I will admit that I did not want to give up Riverrun to my uncle, known as the Blackfish.”
After she was almost lulled to sleep in his arms, he carried her to shore, where the two Tully sigils were waiting, She could feel him tuck her safe before he dried himself off and redressed, carrying her dress and underclothes back up to the encampment. She was vaguely aware of the soft bed and another body next to her, but she was so tired that she did not realize a warm body held her close.
Soft kisses woke her and she opened her eyes in surprise.
“Arise, dear one,” Edmure said. “We have twenty minutes to eat and dress before the tent is taken down.”
“Of course,” she said, hurrying about, looking for her gold dress. Finding it, she quickly put it on without a mirror, and sat down to cheese and grapes. Edmure watched her lovingly and sat down across from her.
At the end of the meal, she was presented with a boy’s britches, and, confused, she put them on. “We have no extra horses,” Edmure explained. “You’ll be riding with me.” Ilse was swung up on the back of his horse, not seeing Lalie anywhere, and she held tightly to her husband, her head resting against his back.
After about an hour, Edmure spoke. “One of my men parlayed with Lord Tywin this morning. A raven was sent to the queen, telling her negotiations fell through because I was already in love with a minor lord’s daughter. You were the Lady Ilse Ever of Ever Hall, one of the Lannister’s Bannermen. The title is only ten summer fields old, which is why the queen has not heard of it. Your father served Lord Tywin faithfully in the Rebellion.”
“He does not want the truth to come out that Lady Cerzainya was jilted for a handmaiden—for a bastard cousin,” she murmured softly.
“No,” Edmure agreed.
“How did we meet?”
“We stopped there for the night. I had a minor injury to my hand, and you wrapped it. I was instantly enchanted and I found several pretexts to keep us there for a week. I made love to you until I was reminded the reason for our journey. Within two nights at Casterly Rock, I had informed Lord Tywin that I had no intention to join my House to his and I sent a raven to your father.”
“And I accepted despite reservations of displeasing Lord Tywin.”
Edmure placed a hand over hers. “Yes. We had fallen in love with each other.”
“But—you know I do not—“ The words were difficult to get out. She knew this man adored her and although she was fond of him and her body reacted to his every touch, she could not call it love. In fact, she was uncertain what love felt like.
He squeezed her hands and his face turned so that she could see his profile. “Hush, my love. I know. That does not mean that others need know. What matters is whether or not you are happy. I hope from that very first night at the cove, I have brought you some happiness—that the water dance meant something to you.”
Her throat almost choked and she tried not to cry. “It meant something,” she confessed. “It meant that you were my sweetheart.”
Ilse was aware that he was smiling at that confession.
“Then we are sweethearts. Love is perhaps too much, too soon. I understand. You are a young girl and your entire world has been your father and his—tastes—and the knowledge of your relations and the precarious situation they placed you in. Neither could have been a good example of love. Then you had Lady Cerzainya. I don’t believe that creature feels love, even for a grandfather who clearly adores her.”
“No,” Ilse agreed. “She does not love him or her father, Ser Jaime, who seems to have done everything he can to show how much she means to him although duty keeps him at King’s Landing.”
“She is no longer your problem,” he promised. “You need only worry about what new gowns Lalie will hopefully make for you and the Queen’s ire.”
“She’s fond of her niece,” she said pitifully. “Perhaps I can hide from her.”
“For a month?” he questioned in disbelief.
“I was a handmaiden. I know how not to be seen.”
Edmure chuckled. “I will remember that if you ever go missing at our keep.” He picked up her hand and kissed it once before placing it back with the other.
When the day’s ride was finished, Ilse was sore. She had never ridden on a horse, and Edmure lifted her down gently. It took her thirty minutes to find Lalie, who gratefully accepted her new post, and then it took about an hour to find her own bed with her husband.
When she finally entered, he didn’t notice as he was looking at a map. She grabbed a loaf of bread and carefully tore of a piece and sat down on the bed, waiting for him to notice her. “Ilse,” he greeted her five minutes later, “How long have you been here?”
“Not long,” she told him. “I’m so sore. All I want is sleep.”
“Then sleep, my darling,” he whispered as he helped her to stand and began undressing her. “Where’s your night shift?”
“The silly one in there,” she pointed to her trunk. “Lalie made it for me. I do not know why it’s the same material as the dresses that our mistress wore.”
“Because you are a lady,” he returned, staring at it in awe. He carefully placed it over her head and then let her crawl into the bed, wasting no time at all in joining her. He held her close to himself and whispered words of love and devotion until she drifted off into slumber.
She woke up to kisses that hovered over her nose and hands stroking her sides. Sighing, she moved toward the source of this sweet torture and she heard Edmure chuckle.
“I ask my lady’s permission…”
“Your lady is sleeping,” she countered.
“Methinks she is awake—“
“Your lady refuses to move.”
“That is not a hindrance.”
Her nightgown was tucked up around her waist and she felt Edmure enter her from behind. She gasped when his fingers came around to pleasure her, every thrust bringing them closer and closer together. Reaching a hand up, she grabbed his hair from behind, his head already buried in the crook of her neck.
She tried not to call out given the early hour of the morning, but it was hopeless. Ilse was in lust with her husband, she realized. The problem was, he had already figured it out.