Part the Third
Ser Jaime Lannister was the one to greet the party from Riverrun. Ilse was surprised how much he looked like Cerzainya. How much he looked like her. She breathed in sharply at his resemblance to her father, so much so that Edmure’s hand came up to offer her comfort. He was the first one to get off of his horse. He reached up for her, and she slid into his arms.
Fortunately they had practiced this. He took her hand and held it aloft as they made their way to the man Ilse had heard so much about but had never met.
“Ser Edmure, Lady Ilse,” Ser Jaime greeted. “Welcome to King’s Landing. Your rooms are prepared with hot water for baths for you and your men, though we were a little surprised as you were not expected for nearly a week.”
“Plans change, Ser Jaime,” Edmure said kindly but vaguely. “If you would be so kind as to show me and Lady Ilse our room. She is unused to riding long distances, as is her handmaiden.”
“How strange that I have never heard of her House. I understand that Lord Guilles Ever received his lordship and his keep only ten years ago. The Lady is clearly much older than that age, so she has lived perhaps half of her life as a commoner.—a Lannister bastard perhaps given our distinct resemblance?”
“I have lived my life honestly,” Ilse replied, forgetting the last comment. “I daresay certain Lords and Ladies cannot say the same—even knights of the Kingsguard. However, I may be mistaken. I have not made a study of it.”
Edmure clearly was trying not to smile. “Our room, Ser Jaime,” he prompted. A servant came up to them, bowed, and showed them the way.
Ilse barely had a moment to inspect her room, before Edmure picked her up and lay her down on the bed. She kissed him before rolling over on top of him. She enjoyed the surprised look on his face. Lowering her head to kiss him, she sat up teasingly and began to unbind her braids. He watched her intently, even going so far as to sit up, causing her to laugh, and to take a braid in his hand and help her. Soon, her ash brown hair fell down her back in luscious waves and fell into her eyes.
He gently brushed it away from her eyes and kissed her softly. “My wondrous wife,” he complimented. She kissed him teasingly, pulling away quickly, tipping back on her hands so he couldn’t reach her. He followed her on his hands until she was lying down on the bed backward and he was the one hovering over her.
When she rested in his arms, well near an hour later, she murmured, “Cerzainya said little about her father that was not complimentary. She always said he was called the ‘Kingslayer’ because everyone was jealous as he saved the Seven Kingdoms from destruction.”
Edmure scoffed, turning her over so he could look into her eyes. “It is said that the Mad King was screaming in one of his usual tirades, and Ser Jaime proved an oath breaker as he could no longer stand the noise. Many hate him for it although all despised the Mad King, but then his sister became Queen so no one could naysay him.”
“Do you hate him?” she asked. “It is strange how alike he looks to Cerzainya, how much he looks like—.”
“You,” he whispered, kissing her neck. “There is indeed quite a likeness to his daughter.—I do not have a preference for him. I do not like how he greeted you, though it is perhaps to be expected as I chose you over his daughter.” He held her closer. “If anyone bothers you, tell me, darling. You are a Tully. You are sister to the lady of the former Hand.”
She nodded. “It’s strange to be here with such finery. I’m used to staying in Cerzainya’s rooms but only to sew and keep her company.”
“Well, now Lalie will have a chance to make you a dress or two in the Riverrun fashion and in our colors of blue-green and silver.”
“She does not have the pattern,” she chided him.
“I had Father send them here,” he told her. “What do you think Ser Jaime gave me just before we left with the servant when you were looking at the keep?”
“Well,” she said mischievously. “I will leave you to your thoughts. I saw water beyond the garden. I must explore, and you forgot to undress me.” Her eyes shone with happiness and she leaned up to kiss her husband lingeringly as she waited for him to clean her, which he did obligingly. He even took her hand as they hurried from the room to find the garden.
The heat was nearly unbearable, but Edmure bore it while his wife barely noticed, used to the Westron heat. Somehow she had let go of his hand and had pulled up her red skirts. She ran to the wall around the garden and looked down into the city and down to Blackwater Bay. “Oh,” she said to a man who had been standing there. “I do beg your pardon.”
“Not at all,” he said. “Should you not be in the keep with your mistress?”
Ilse ignored the statement. “Is it safe to swim in the bay?”
He stared at her. “You must be here with the Tullys,” he guessed correctly. “This is not like the sea, miss. The local inhabitants of King’s Landing dump their refuse into the water. Now, I really must insist that you return to your mistress. I heard she is a country lady who has barely had her title for a fortnight.”
“Ten years,” Edmure said, coming up between them. “Lord Stannis,” he greeted.
“There seems to be nowhere to swim, husband,” she threw in just for this Lord Stannis’s benefit. “A whole week without water, and now to be deprived of it again until perhaps those secret underground lakes at Winterfell.”
“There may be lakes along the way,” he tried to comfort her. “Darling, may I present the king’s brother, Lord Stannis Baratheon. Lord Stannis, my wife, the Lady Ilse Tully.”
He merely inclined his head and left.
“He was unpleasant,” she commented when he was out of hearing range.
“Never mind, darling,” Edmure said, kissing her hand. “Let’s explore the garden.” Her arm tucked in his, they wandered between the flowers. Edmure would occasionally nod his head to a courtier.
When they prepared for dinner, Edmure gave Lalie the dress patterns and money to buy the materials she needed. “She also needs ribbons for her hair,” he suggested. “You can place them into the braids so that they look a little more formal.”
Her braids once again in place, only tied and twisted into a more formal arrangement the likes of which Ilse had only seen Cerzainya wear, they headed to the feast. “I should buy new shoes,” she decided looking at hers.
“We can do that tomorrow,” Edmure suggested, “after I’ve seen Lysa.”
“She’s left,” Lalie said quietly. “The servants are full of it. Three days ago she left in the night with her son Robin.”
Edmure blinked at her. “Did she go to the Eyrie?”
“I believe so,” Lalie responded. “I’ll keep my ears open. One of the grooms finds me beautiful and is trying to impress me.” She shared a look with Ilse. Lalie was generally considered the more beautiful of the two with her straw-blonde hair that was more favored, and sometimes they would use it to their advantage to get more food or the occasional scrap of information.
“Tell me if they’re not feeding you enough,” Ilse demanded. “This is not Casterly Rock. I’ll order more food for myself if I must, or go down to the kitchens with a hankering for something.”
Edmure came up to her and kissed the top of her head. Her eyes fluttered down. It was something she didn’t want to speak about. “Shall I shame you?” she asked as she smoothed out her skirt. When he moved back and looked at her with a smile. “The dress is a little worn and only good for a handmaiden.”
“You know I don’t care,” he told her. “And we will rectify the problem soon. When you meet Cat, she will realize you are not only beautiful in your strange Westron way, but intelligent.”
“I do not look Westron!” she laughed.
“To those of the Riverlands and the North, you do look Westron. Your hair is so light,” his fingers skated over her braids, “and your eyes are so pale.” He held out his hand and she took it. “Thank you, Lalie, for making my wife look so beautiful.”
“M’lord,” she said curtseying. “M’lady.”
“Just leave my negligee out, Lalie,” she whispered as she passed. “And a bath tomorrow.”
The hall was bustling but when they entered everyone quieted, which made Ilse nervous. Of course everyone knew who they were, how Ser Edmure had chosen a lady from a barely noble house over the Queen’s own niece who was also an Heiress of the Warden of the West.
They came up to the King and Queen and bowed. “Rise,” the King said. “So, this is the pretty little thing that turned your head. To tell you the truth, I’ve heard my niece is as beautiful as the Queen and this—well, I would almost call her my niece, she looks so much like my wife, only with darker hair and more piercing eyes.”
“Your niece, if I may, your grace, is not a sea nymph,” Edmure replied truthfully. “My wife, however, is. I know not if the Queen can claim such a title.”
King Robert’s eyebrows moved upward in surprise. “I thought she healed you.”
“She did. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t walk at night and that I didn’t fall in love with her when I saw her swimming under the moon. She, naturally, was ignorant of my presence.”
Ilse brought up the memory of their wedding night spent in the waves so she would blush.
“I see it is true by your lady’s reaction,” the King decided, pointing at Ilse. “So, Lady Ilse, you swim. I’ve heard tell of a Love Dance in the waves. Have you ever performed it?”
“Once,” she admitted, “without the proper banners. I was imagining what it would be like to have a suitor. Little did I know, I had one. To my knowledge Ser Edmure was a guest on his way to a marriage negotiation to the Queen’s worthy niece.”
“But he came back,” the King determined. “To her twin copy it seems. Tell me, do you have Lannister blood? Cersei, who is this girl?”
“Ilse Ever, so I hear,” she sneered. “Guilles Ever’s mother was a common whore, though married to a soldier, if I remember.” The Queen sat forward. “Do you feel worthy of your husband?”
Murmurs began to spread through the hall. Ilse heard her own breath, in, out, in, in, out. Her hand was still clasped by Edmure’s and she entwined their fingers to gain strength. Her eyes flicked to Ser Jaime and then again to the face of Lord Stannis and then to a woman with dark hair and a kind face. “Is any lady truly worthy of a true and worthy husband? I can promise, your grace, that I did not force his hand in the matter.” She smiled slightly.
Cersei’s face was as cold as stone. “I write to my niece once a week. She had a handmaiden named Ilse. One she said looked like her and had suitors that my father had to keep hidden from her.”
“Did she?” Edmure asked. “How interesting. I wonder if it’s a common Westron name.” He looked at his wife and his eyes gave her strength. “And I would say the two ladies look very little like each other, but I am a man in love.”
“I knew two Cersei’s when I grew up,” Ilse commented, “both named in honor of the Queen, of course.” She curtseyed low and then came up again.
“Well, your upstart House is of little means if that’s the best dress you can wear in front of the King,” Cersei commented cruelly. “Enjoy the meal. You’ve probably never had such fine wine.”
“No, your grace,” she said. “I prefer ale. Thank you for your hospitality.” Her blue eyes flashed and she allowed Edmure to lead her away.
The murmurs started immediately and she took her seat. Everyone was staring at them either covertly or not. A man with a little beard and mustache sat across from them. “Ser Edmure, it’s been many a year since I’ve seen you.”
“Littlefinger,” Edmure greeted. “Ilse, may I present Petyr Baelish. He was fostered with my father in the Riverlands. He is Master of Coin, I believe.—What can you tell me of Lysa?”
“She’s convinced someone murdered the Lord Hand,” he said quietly. Ilse specifically drank deeply from a cup of ale to pretend that something important wasn’t happening. “I have a message in her own hand for Catelyn; however, Lady Lysa made me promise not to send it by raven.”
“A wedding present,” Ilse broke in. “What a lovely thought, Baelish. I will treasure it on our way to Winterfell.” She looked into his eyes calculatingly.
“I thank you, my lady,” Littlefinger said as he bowed his head. “The Riverlands have always been dear to my heart. Would midday tomorrow be acceptable?”
Ilse looked at Edmure. “If I am not present, I will leave my handmaiden, Lalie. She so enjoys to sew in blue-green and silver.”
“I thank you, m’lady.”
Then Edmure led her onto the dance floor, holding her too closely, but she didn’t mind. “You were brilliant back there,” he complimented as he whispered in her ear.
“We handmaidens know intrigue,” she whispered back before she stepped away and their hands connected as they twirled in a circle around each other. They laughed and danced until a boy three or so years younger than Ilse interrupted them. He had a crown on his head, but Ilse had never seen him. “Your grace?” she asked, curtseying.
“Joffrey,” he added for her benefit. “I understand that you live isolated in the country.”
“I do, your grace. I beg your pardon.”
Edmure was bowing beside her and they rose together.
“I would like to dance with your wife,” he stated. “My grandfather is the Warden of the West and my only Lannister cousin lives there.”
“Of course,” Edmure replied, taking Ilse’s hand and placing it in Joffrey’s.
Instead of dancing, however, he led her to the high table and placed her in a chair next to his. “My sister Myrcella went to bed,” he explained. “Some red wine, perhaps?”
“I would prefer ale.”
“You really are from the country!” he exclaimed. “I thought all Westron people were blond.”
“Most are,” she said, sipping on her ale. “My mother, Alya, was from the northern regions, and her hair was darker, like mine. I believe, however, it is still pale compared to the other six kingdoms.”
“My father, the King, wants to make a match for me with a Stark girl. He thinks our Houses should be united.” He sounded disgusted with the idea.
“Well,” she began carefully, ”it is a good match on both sides. I know nothing of my two nieces so I can say nothing of their beauty or breeding. However, apart from a princess of Dorne, you will find no one equal except for your cousin or a Tyrell.”
“I only know of Ser Loras,” Joffrey explained. “I want the lioness. We can give Tommen her land, don’t you think?” His green eyes cut to her.
She took a drink of her ale. “That I could not say. It would certainly take political maneuvering. From the little I know of the match between my husband and your cousin, Ser Edmure would have had to give up Riverrun, which would have been difficult for him as it was in his blood and he was born to rule it. Your cousin was not quite born to rule the West, but it soon became her fate when Ser Jaime became a knight of the Kingsguard.”
“I still favor the match. I am glad that Ser Edmure found you.”
“Then send a raven to your grandfather, Lord Tywin. He may like the idea of his granddaughter one day being Queen. I do not know him so I could not say. I can tell you that the lady is beautiful and accomplished from what I hear.”
“Thank you,” he murmured. “You have my permission to join the festivities.”
She nodded and stood, Edmure instantly finding her and dancing with her even though she didn’t know the steps because she had never been taught. She and Lalie would sometimes watch and then practice if they had a moment free to themselves.
They laughed in each other’s arms, twirling in her old gown, her braids catching the light. After Joffrey’s endorsement of her, soon Ser Loras was dancing with her and with him came Lord Renly and of course Petyr Baelish and men whose names Ilse wouldn’t remember. She was startled when Ser Jaime asked for a dance after she had been dancing with Edmure for several dances.
The slow music played and their hands were held palm to palm, two inches between them so they didn’t quite touch, and they twirled around each other. “What can you possibly have that my daughter doesn’t?” he asked in confusion.
“Conversation,” she told him immediately. “Honesty. I never pretend anything that I don’t mean. Apparently that is rare among the nobility.”
“You speak harshly of the House of Lannister.”
“I speak as I find,” she remarked as they turned as their opposite hands took up the position. “Your wife wasn’t quite of your station, was she? The talk of the land is that she was a Frey, a House that owes allegiance to the Tullys.”
His mouth thinned. “That rumor is false.”
“Well, it is the only rumor to be had, unless you believe she was one of your sister’s handmaidens who potentially forced your hand. You must admit a Lady, even a newly created one is slightly better than a handmaiden.” Of course, it wasn’t since she wasn’t truly a Lady. The song ended and she curtseyed to him before leaving.
“Do you love him?” Jaime whispered in her ear as she was about to leave him.
“Do women not love easier than men and does not my husband adore me?” she questioned him back.
Ale was poured again and she laughed with some of the young unmarried girls who were trying to decide which courtiers were handsomer. They were all wondering if Ser Edmure was handsome given that he was brother to Lady Lysa who was not at all attractive.
“I married the man,” she announced to the shock of some of the girls. “I must say that he is excessively handsome.”
When it became quite late, Edmure took her hand and escorted her back to their chambers. He undressed her carefully and then dressed her naked body in the silk negligee. Placing her in their bed, he stripped completely before taking into his arms, letting her fall asleep. He woke her up with his hands floating down her curves, she sighed happily and turned her head for a kiss. The kiss turned into five, ten, thirty, and soon she was in his lap and they were kissing with her arms around his shoulders as he was sitting up. He pushed her up, and she fell down upon him.
Ilse was glad she swam as she pushed up and he lifted her up with his hands. Their foreheads pressed against each other, and her heavy breathing told him when he should speed up his lifting. He flooded into her, and then he turned her over so he hovered over her, his fingers touching her until she was screaming out her pain and pleasure that was strangely combined. She wondered if she would ever understand the feeling.
He kissed her slowly before he pulled out of her and they lay side to side, trying to settle their breaths. Edmure took her hand and entwined their fingers, laying their hands on his chest. “I love you,” he murmured and she turned toward him, smiling.
“I know,” she murmured.
Soon Lalie came in and filled the tub with hot water that smelled of lemon and Ilse soaked in it. She was surprised when Edmure appeared behind the screen and told her to move forward. He climbed in and took a spunge and began to wash her arms. She laughed when he started to kiss her shoulders. She sank into him, the water lapping against her chest and upper arms.
“This is decadent,” she murmured as the water cooled and she pulled out the towel that was meant for her. She stood and draped it around her, looking for another. It was hiding just beyond the screen and Ilse thought kindly of Lalie’s thoughtfulness. She moved out into the room to dress for the day, when she saw Lalie putting the final stitches into a blue-green dress, which had ruffles of gray at its collar, which plunged down to reveal a hint of her breasts.
“I hope,” she began, “that this suits, Ser Edmure. It is a dress for the court. The day dress for riding is only half complete.”
“It is beautiful, Lalie,” Edmure replied. “I think my lady should be well placed in it and her braids styled accordingly.
“Just a few more stitches,” she remarked. “Georj was looking for you not too long ago.”
Edmure kissed the side of Ilse’s head and gathered his clothes, going behind the screen again, coming out in something similar to a lesser Lord, which was what had confused Ilse at first meeting him.
The dress was strange to Ilse. It fit her beautifully, but the neckline seemed oddly singular to her.
“I believe you adorn it with a necklace,” Lalie remarked, going to the few pieces Ilse owned. There was only one piece suitable. It held two coins with holes in them: krone from the north, that were only held as currency among the northern tribes in the west. After Ilse put them on, she felt slightly better, but she still felt strangely in the gown. “You are a great lady. You need to remember that now. You are as good if not better than the courtiers here. Your origins matter not.”
“How can you say that? Although you are my handmaiden now, I was subservient to you at the Rock.”
“We just need to adjust,” Lalie commented.
She wasn’t sure why, but Ilse sought out the man they called Littlefinger. She was carrying a note to Cerzainya carefully written by Lalie, warning her of the crown prince’s entire plan, for she was certain it wouldn’t be fully presented to her. “Lord Baelish,” she offered. “You seem like a man who knows many secrets.”
He smiled slyly at her. “I like to think that I am.”
“I can read characters well. You are not fond of the Queen, and I believe the King. You like the wealth you have. You like your position. You also have a connection with the Tully family that goes beyond the fact that you were their ward. I don’t need to know what it was. If I needed to know, I’d ask my husband. But whatever it was, I ask you to help me for this reason.”
He made a motion for her to continue.
“I am not fond of Lady Cerzainya, but I do not wish her ill. The prince has plans for her and I do not believe he would be entirely candid with her. However, I believe that he was candid with me, or as candid as he would be.—I wish to warn her.” She took out her scroll. “Can you get this to her?”
“You know I might read this.”
“Yes,” she supplied. “Then you will know my history specifically with her. But I do not believe you will tell because the honor of House Tully would be tarnished and that is the last thing you want.” She held his gaze for several moments and then he nodded to her.
“To have a wife like you, to have so much fire, such honesty, a beauty unlike I have never seen and yet unaware of the power you have over men—is something greatly to be wished. I know you haven’t heard the whispers of men wondering how best to seduce you.”
She stared at him in shock.
“And so innocent,” he murmured, touching a braid, “and exotic. This will leave the city by the end of the day and I will see to it that it is placed in her hand and her hand only.”
Ilse bowed her head in her thanks.
“Consider us even as you have accepted my wedding gift.”
She laughed. “I never would have thought of it that way, but thank you, Petyr Baelish.”
“Lady Ilse,” he said, opening his arms straight and bowing to her. He then turned and walked his way out of the gardens.
There was nothing she could do but walk away.